A steaming cup of Assam in one hand, a good book in the other, I settled back into the comfy armchair, intent on enjoying an hour?s quiet reading. That, at least, was my plan. I allowed myself to sink deeper into the book?s plot, and had approached the bottom of page five, where our hero finds himself thrust into deadly danger, when I suddenly became aware of a loud thumping sound coming from the hallway to my left.
Apart from myself and the dogs that lay slumbering at my feet, the house was entirely empty, so this was the last thing I had expected to hear. I sat for a moment bemused. Could I have imagined the sound perhaps? No, there it was again, and this time even louder!
I sprang to my feet and threw open the door to the hallway, half expecting to be confronted by an intruder, but found nothing more than an empty hall and a silent staircase. By this point both dogs were awake and bustled past me with hackles bristling.
A trail unseen
Having always had an open mind where the subject of the supernatural is concerned, I was beginning to wonder whether the house might have acquired a poltergeist when from beneath my feet resounded three loud thumps. I stared incredulously down at the carpet, only for the banging to be repeated several feet to my right. Had I not known better, I would have sworn that somebody was hammering on the underside of the floorboards in an effort to escape.
By now even the dogs were staring at the floor, a fact that prevented me from questioning my own sanity, but still provided no answer as to the cause of the mysterious noise. After a few moments of silence the thumping sound could be heard again, but this time coming from the downstairs bathroom. I burst into the room closely followed by an excited spaniel and Labrador, and located the hammering noise to the left of the washbasin. This time, however, the thumping was accompanied by a high-pitched squealing, which sounded for all the world like a rabbit in mortal peril.
The two gundogs now sniffed furiously at the carpet making a sound like a hunted whale coming up for air, the spaniel even scratching at the floor as if digging.
Countless questions whirred around my brain, but principally, how the devil had a rabbit come to be under the bathroom floor, and what on earth was going on down there? The banging and squealing continued under our feet, but was steadily moving back towards the hallway. As the dogs tracked the subterranean commotion, I followed closely behind, the puzzled procession now heading down the hallway towards the sitting room.
All the while the dogs had their noses pressed firmly to the carpet as they frantically followed a trail unseen, stopping every now and again to listen to sounds beyond the range of my hearing. Entering the sitting room, I knelt down and pressed my ear hard against the floor. As I listened I could distinctly hear the sound of shuffling, rather like something being dragged along the ground, and now near the outer wall of the house.
Black, bead-like eyes
I strode over to the bay window and looked down into the surrounding flower beds, hoping to catch sight of the underfloor intruder. It was then that I noticed a rather large rabbit hole, dug directly under the outer wall of the house.
As I stared at the hole, I caught sight of a movement not 3ft below the bay window, and then a large male pine marten emerged with a dead rabbit clamped firmly between its jaws!
By now my canine companions had joined me, and were both standing with paws on the window bottom, staring intently at the unfolding scene. It might have been possible for dogs to look more surprised, but frankly, I doubt it.
With a quick glance around to make sure that the coast was clear, the pine marten gripped its long-eared burden firmly by the small of the back and then, leaving the safety of the rabbit hole, disappeared momentarily among the border shrubbery, to emerge seconds later on the well-manicured lawn. Here it put down its lifeless quarry, reared up on to its haunches and looked around blinking its black, bead-like eyes. Every inch the hunter, the creature?s fine foxy features were set against an amber throat patch and pale, pointed ears.
The surprisingly large paws were tipped with coal-black nails.
Unable to control its excitement any longer, the spaniel standing by my side let out a long, low whine. As it did so, the pine marten looked directly at the bay window, aware at last that it was being observed. Those black eyes met my own for only a second, before the pine marten grabbed the dead rabbit, and with lightning speed streaked across the lawn with its prize to vanish into the hedge bottom.
Moments later I caught sight of the fleeing mustelid again as it crossed the open ground between the house and the surrounding pine woods, there to vanish into the forest gloom, the rabbit still firmly fixed between its jaws.
These days numerous homes around the country can boast such technological innovations as underfloor heating, but how many of them, I wonder, can claim to possess an underfloor pine marten?