by John Pilling
“Jesus Christ,” the curse was jerked out of him simultaneously with his wife’s scream as they saw the flicker of movement in front of the car and felt the bang of the impact. Brakes locked, he fought to control a screeching slide stopping the car inches from the ditch buried in the grass of the wide verge.
“Stay here love,” he said, opening the driver’s door. Dreading what he would see he walked back to where a sprawl of long limbs lay twitching on the road, a young hare one side of its head swollen and bloodied. Kneeling, he removed his coat and gently wrapped the body in it before carrying it back to the car and the sanctuary of his wife’s lap.
* * * *
“In a way, it would be better to put it to sleep now,” the vet said, “wild animals, particularly hares, very seldom survive road accidents. If they don’t die of the shock of their injuries, the terror of being restrained and treated usually results in heart attack.”
“Surely there is something we can do?”
“I can treat the head injury, it looks like it’s just badly bruised, the eye seems ok and it’s a young animal in good condition…if you want to try and nurse him back to health, I do have a book I can lend you… you may be lucky.”
“What about food?”
“He’s off milk by now of course, so plenty of fresh young greens, water. The main thing is to keep him somewhere warm and quiet with as little disturbance as possible. I can give you some mild sedative for him but I must warn you it may well be a long, thankless task.
“We’ll try anyway…thank you very much for your help.”
* * * *
Six weeks later, on a day of sunshine and breeze and high cloud, they drove back into the countryside. The hare, wrapped in a blanket and resting quiet in his wife’s arms, vivid testament to many hours of patient care. Leaving the high road he drove along twisting narrow green lanes until they came to the spot they had picked out on the map. A long swathe of open arable land sloping gently down from the moorland above. They pushed through a gate and there on the edge of a wide field speckled with green shoots of new growth, his wife bent down and placed the hare on the ground, gently unfolding the blanket as she did. They took a few steps back and waited. For a few moments the hare crouched still then straightened and slowly walked forward, he stopped and sat up, his nose wrinkling to the scent laden breeze funnelling across the land. His long ears twitching, he turned his head and looked at them for a long moment then in an explosion of movement he was gone. Spellbound, they stood entranced, watching the flickering shape dancing and leaping in the ecstasy of freedom. Joyous youth and strength effortlessly racing the cloud shadows sweeping across the fields until finally he was lost to sight against the distant hedges. For a few minutes they stood quietly remembering what they had seen then smiling at each other they picked up the blanket and made their way back through the gate and along the lane to the car.
“I noticed a country hotel about half a mile back,” he said, “it looked quite nice, how about having lunch there? Bit of a celebration.”
“What a lovely idea,” his wife said, “yes please.”
Two hours later leaving his wife happily finishing her coffee he went to the reception desk to pay the bill.
“Trade seems to be good,” he said to the landlord, nodding towards the bar where the steady hum of voices was audible
“Yes indeed sir, always the same this time of year, lots of people come down for the shooting and those who can’t stay at the hall always come here. It’s the only hotel hereabouts so I reap the benefit.”
“That’s right sir…it’s the first of the big hare drives on the duke’s estate this afternoon.”
“Oh yes, the duke owns all the land round here and he reckons the hares cost him thousands every year what with all the damage they do to the winter wheat. Fair hates them, his lordship does, there won’t be a hare left for miles around by the end of the week…there’s your bill Sir, I hope you enjoyed your meal.
“Yes…yes indeed,” he said, paying with suddenly fumbly fingers.
“Thank you very much sir, and if you happen to be back this way in a few days time I’ll be able to serve you the finest hare pie you’ve ever tasted.” Somehow he managed a smile.
“We don’t get round here very often… thank you anyway.”
As he re-entered the dining room, his wife looked up, her smile fading as she saw his face.
“Is everything all right dear?” she said.
“Yes of course,” he smiled, “just a bit taken aback by the size of the bill, somehow I don’t think we’ll be coming back here in a hurry.”
“Never mind,” she said, “it was a nice meal and we’ve done our good deed for the day, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the hare dancing like that, it was as if he was thanking us.
She chatted happily all the way home…he never told her.