The Attack by the Wolves
Now Berengaria trundled away from the castle, and down the sloping track that led into the little valley where the Professor had his orchard and his garden.
The first part of the journey was the very narrow dangerous bit and Umbrage, standing on his wooden box so that he could see forward better, had a fierce concentrated expression on his face, very carefully steering the great machine, its big iron wheels crunching along and sending stones hurtling out over the precipice on one side to fall far down into the gorge below.
Mr Bagley stopped looking out of the trailer’s windows at this point and closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Doctor Johnson was drumming his fingers on the arm of his seat and uttering a low, tuneless whistle from between his teeth, but they were soon past the difficult part and down to where the little valley was sitting in the sun.
The Professor and Umbrage jumped down from the platform and from a small hut they brought out a large basket, some bunches of dried greenery, and some little pots. They then gathered herbs and plants from the garden and brought all this back to Doctor Johnson and Mr Bagley in the trailer.
‘I think that we have got virtually everything from here that we are likely to need.’ said the Professor. ‘There’s some feverfew and bogbean and mugwort, and jimpsonweed and spindle leaves, and jack-in-the pulpit, and great hogweed, and vipers bugloss, and hairy bittercress. And here is rosemary and juniper and camomile and thyme, and geranium and bergamot and lavender and sage, and here’s lemongrass and marjoram and peppermint and pine. And then there’s henbane, cowbane, and molebane; and hare’s tail, weasel snout, and newt nostril, and foxglove and stoathat and badgerboot. And some catnip, and some batnip, and, (perhaps you had better keep this nice and handy, Doctor Johnson), here’s some nice fresh wolfnip as well.’
‘I have some knowledge of Culpepper.’ said Doctor Johnson, ‘Yet much of which you speak is strange to me.’
‘Ah,’ replied Professor Paragon, ‘Probably because these include rarer varieties to be found in the compendium of Androgynous Sphincter, a little known medieval herbalist. I will lend you my copy when our travails are concluded. I am sure you will find much of interest therein.’
‘I have discovered so much in the short time of our acquaintance sir,’ smiled Doctor Johnson, ‘That my credulity is unlikely to be any more undermined.’
They packed the plants and herbs neatly away in the cupboards of the trailer, and off they set again.
The sun had clouded over now, the day seemed darker, there were some big black clouds about, and a few drops of rain started to fall as Berengaria puffed and chugged up the rising road that led out of the Professor’s valley.
Then they heard it – a solitary, eerie howl, from high up amongst the rocks on the mountains above them.
‘There’s that wolf again.’ said Boswell. ‘We heard him when we passed here before.’
‘Ummm…’said Professor Paragon, obviously concerned but anxious not to alarm his companions. ‘Well, one wolf won’t worry us, will it Umbrage?’
‘One?’ said the dwarf, peering up at either side of the pass. ‘No, one don’t worry us, do it? But they don’t come in oneses, do they? They come in twoses and threeses and tenses, they do. When the wolves come they come in packses don’t they? Looks like Barney just got away in time.’
Sure enough, another howl now came from the other side of the track, then another and another. And now they could see the wolves, not running yet, but moving at a loping pace along the mountain on either side of them, working their way deliberately down through the rocks and obviously intending to meet on the road together.
‘I suppose that we can’t go any faster?’ said Boswell, as he picked up a stout club from amongst some of the weapons from the Great Hall that they had brought on to the traction engine’s platform.
‘We’re going uphill at the moment, in case you hadn’t noticed.’ snapped Umbrage. ‘We couldn’t outpace that lot anyway.’ The wolves were now getting much nearer. ‘Oh buggeritts – We’d better have some of that “M” stuff now Guv’nor!’
Doctor Johnson was now leaning out of one of the trailer’s windows.
‘Professor Paragon…’ he called. ‘There appear to be some wolves on either side. Er, catching up with us apace I fear.’
‘We had noticed Doctor.’ called the Professor, tugging at his beard. ‘I was afraid that this might happen – hence the wolfnip.’
‘What do we do with it?’ shouted Mr Bagley, much agitated. ‘Whatever it is, we had better do it quickly.’
He was right. By now the wolves had nearly reached the road. There were fierce eyes and lolling tongues and white fanged teeth and hungry looking faces getting closer and closer.
‘Tear the leaves off the plant – Get down, you beast.’
The nearest wolf was now trying to jump up at the traction engine but the Professor hit him on the nose with the coal shovel.
‘Alright,’ called Mr Bagley, by now quite desperate. ‘We’ve torn the leaves off – what next?’
‘Put some honey on them. Have a care Mr Boswell, there’s one on the tow bar behind you…’
Now the wolves were all around the engine and the trailer, snapping and snarling, and jumping up at the platform and the windows where Doctor Johnson and Mr Bagley stood. The sight of the blazing eyes, gnashing fangs, and lolling tongues, was really quite disturbing, and even Umbrage’s teeth were chattering as he desperately tugged at levers and turned handles, trying to get the maximum speed out of Berengaria, as the Professor and Boswell were doing their best to repel the vicious creatures with shovel and club.
‘Are the leaves ready?’ shouted the Professor. ‘(Take that, you presumptuous lupine.) Very well. I’m going to ring Miss Minima – that will give us a tiny pause. (Back again, are you, you foul fanged fellow – well, there’s another for you…) As soon as they stop attacking throw out the wolfnip leaves on either side .(Get down I said…)’
The howling and growling was now very frightening, and there was a triumphant note to it, as though the wolves were loudly confident that the travellers would soon be sharing lunch with them, not just as guests, but as the first course, the second course, and probably the pudding as well.
But the Professor took out Miss Minima from the depths of his pocket, and, as a particularly fearsome beast sank its fangs into the sleeve of his jacket, he dropped his club, and raised the bell high, ringing it several times and calling out the words ‘Lupentius silentium!’ The gentle tinkling sound could at first hardly be heard above the din of the attack, but then the howling died away, the sun seemed to glow again all around them, and the wolves fell silent, apart from the odd puzzled whimper, as they slowed down and looked round at each other, grinning vacantly and even wagging their tails.
‘Quickly,’ called the Professor, ‘Throw the leaves out as we pass through the pack.’
On each side of the trailer Doctor Johnson and Mr Bagley scattered the now honey covered leaves of wolfnip on to the road, with some difficulty, for the sticky morsels were reluctant to leave their fingers.
Now the glow that came with the ringing of Miss Minima began to fade, and the animals started to bare their teeth and snarl again and looked as though they were about to renew their attack. But then one sniffed the air and then bent low and began to lick at a leaf. Soon all the noses were twitching, and then the whole pack began greedily sniffing and chewing the leaves and panting contentedly.
‘We’ll be alright now.’ called the Professor, and, sure enough, looking back as Berengaria crunched up to the crest of the pass, they could see that the wolves were in a totally different mood.
Some were guzzling at the leaves, drooling over the obviously tasty fare, others were lying on their backs, rolling from side to side and grinning inanely, and a particularly large and battered looking beast who was probably the leader of the pack, looked up at them from his helping of wolfnip, wagged his tail, and gave a friendly bark of farewell in their direction.