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Authors: Siobhan Rowden

Wild Moose Chase

BOOK: Wild Moose Chase
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SIOBHAN ROWDEN was born in Scotland and brought up in England. She has a degree in English and has worked as a holiday rep in Corfu, at Disney World in Florida and for a production company in London.
The Curse of the Bogle's Beard
was her first novel followed by
Revenge of the Ballybogs
. She lives in Brighton with her husband and children. She doesn't like blue cheese.







To Pete, for keeping me warm
inside and out.

The Curds of Whey Farm

Camilla and Bert Curd were twins. Not identical twins. They hated being compared and were quick to point out that Cam's long hair was fairer and Bert's eyes were greener. To keep them happy, their grandpa called them
. Bert was convinced that he was slightly taller, a lot faster and generally much better at everything. Cam was equally certain that she was the fast one, at least three millimetres taller and far superior in every way.

However, much to their annoyance, there were certain times when they did look exactly the same. It was usually when they were scared or worried. One half of their mouth would pull down and the other half would go
up in a strange diagonal line.

They were both wearing this expression as they raced across the top of a steep gorge in the pouring rain. A flash of lightning lit up the grey evening sky, revealing a vertical drop on one side, a herd of cattle on the other and a shrieking old woman behind.

The cattle scattered as they leapt over a rough wooden gate away from the cliff edge and towards a ramshackle farmhouse in the distance. Cam tripped and rolled over on the wet grass, narrowly missing a huge cowpat. She scrambled to her feet, glancing nervously behind her. The old woman had stopped at the fence. She was still shrieking but the wind carried her voice away.

“Bert, wait for me!” panted Cam, sprinting after her brother. “She's right behind us.”

“No way!” shouted Bert over his shoulder. “I think she's given up, and anyway – a race is still a race!”

They sped past the cows and vaulted a five-bar gate leading towards the ancient farmhouse. One wall bowed dangerously out and the whole building looked like it was about to collapse. A heap of crumpled bricks stood where the garden wall should have been. Wild flowers and weeds poked through the rubble. Bert tore up the path towards the crooked wooden porch.

“I win!” he cried.

Cam came scrambling after him. “That's not fair! I tripped over!”

“Loser! Loser!” chanted Bert, falling against the front door.

To his surprise, the thick wooden door creaked open under his weight and sent him tumbling inside. Cam almost laughed but stopped suddenly as a large figure emerged from the dark hallway. It was cloaked from head to foot in white and breathing heavily. Two enormous gloved hands reached out and hauled Bert to his feet. The twins looked up into the rasping masked face.

“Hi, Gramps,” they said together.

The figure pulled off the mask, revealing a crinkled old man.

“Phew, it's hot in that beard net,” he puffed. “Shut the front door and take off those muddy coats before you contaminate my cheesemaking overalls. I've just come from the dairy.”

Cam nervously checked outside before pushing the old door shut.

“Is she coming?” whispered Bert, wriggling out of his wet jacket.

Cam shook her head and hung her coat next to Bert's on a large cow horn sticking out of the wall.

“What are you whispering about?” asked Gramps, stepping out of his overalls.

“Nothing,” said Bert.

Gramps studied the two
faces in front of him. Droplets of water still sat on their grubby noses, magnifying the odd freckle.

“What were you up to out there in this weather?” he asked. “You weren't racing again, were you? These competitions of yours always lead to trouble.”

“It was just a running race,” said Bert, “and I won.”

“You cheated!” shouted Cam. “I fell over and you didn't stop to help me.”

“That's not cheating! It's not my fault you have butter-toes. You're always tripping over your own feet.”

“I do not have butter-toes!” cried Cam. “I couldn't see where I was going. The storm clouds came and it got really dark. We ended up somewhere we shouldn't have been.”

“You better not have been climbing the cliff,” grumbled Gramps, marching through to a cosy living room where a huge fire blazed. “Cheddar Gorge is nearly one hundred and forty metres high. You mustn't go in the caves either. Some of them are prone to flooding, and if you got lost…”

The twins followed him into the warm room.

“We weren't in the caves or climbing the cliff,” said Cam, slumping into a deep sofa. “Stop fussing, Gramps.”

The old man's eyes clouded as he stood with his back to the fire. He began jingling the change in his pockets, which he always did when he was cross or upset.

“Stop fussing?” he repeated. “It was a stupid racing competition that killed your parents ten years ago and I will not let the same thing happen to you!”

The twins glanced guiltily at each other. Although they couldn't remember their mum and dad, they still felt sad, especially when their beloved Gramps welled up at the memory.

“I promised to take care of you and you're not making it easy for me,” he continued. “Why does everything have to be a competition? Who's the fastest, who's the tallest, who's going first, who's going last! It's getting out of control. One of you is going to get seriously hurt – or worse!”

He wearily crossed the room and slowly sank on to the sofa between the twins.

“You should appreciate each other,” he sniffed. “Stop competing and look at what you have. You are ‘the incredible Curd twins', full of potential. Bert, you have your father's special way with animals – a very rare gift. If you were as nice to your sister as you are to our cows then we'd all be a lot happier. Cam, you're as bright as a button, and you've got your mother's caring nature. It would be nice if you could extend that towards your brother. Your parents would have been so proud.”

They all sat for a moment staring at the fire in front of them. Eventually Cam put her arm around her grandpa.

“Sorry, Gramps,” she whispered.

Bert did the same on the other side. “Yeah, me too,” he said. “I'm

There was a mild scuffle of arms behind Gramps' neck.

“I'm really
sorry,” murmured Cam, as she pushed Bert out of the way.

“Not as sorry as me,” said Bert in a loud whisper, shoving his sister.

Gramps sighed again and shook his head. “Just no more competitions – OK?” he said. “Anyway, if you weren't climbing the cliffs or exploring the caves, where were you?”

Bert pulled a face. “When we were racing, we might have accidently on purpose ran across Primula Mold's farm and jumped over a few goats. It was the quickest way home.”

Gramps' eyebrows knotted together in a deep frown. “Primula Mold?” he muttered. “I've told you to keep away from that monstrous old crow next door. Stay off her land! She will be furious! She'll have your guts for garters, your ears for ornaments, your toes for tinsel, your—”

He stopped talking as a large cowbell hanging above the doorway jerked from side to side, dinging loudly. Gramps eyes swivelled from the bell to the twins.

“That's her!” wailed Bert, diving under the sofa. “She can't have my ears or my toes. I like my toes! Hide!”

Primula Mold

Gramps stood up and pulled Bert out from under the sofa by his ankles.

“Go and answer the front door,” he said. “This is your own fault – both of you.”

The twins crept along the hall. Bert pushed Cam in front of him.

“This is your chance to come first,” he mumbled.

“Age before beauty,” muttered Cam, trying to pull him in front of her.

“I'm only two and a half minutes older!” cried Bert. “And it was your idea to run across Primula Mold's land.”




They fell against the big front door as the bell rang again. Gramps stood behind them, his hands on his hips.

“Stop fighting and open that door!” he said.

They both pulled the heavy door ajar. A flash of lightning lit up a thin old woman. Her blue-rinsed hair was pulled back into a tight bun, stretching the skin across her hollow face. The twins shrank back behind Gramps. They couldn't bring themselves to look at their neighbour. She produced blue cheese, and Gramps said never to trust anyone who injected their cheese with mould.

Primula Mold's bulging black eyes swivelled angrily from the twins to their grandpa. A large wet basset hound emerged from behind her, his long ears dragging on the muddy ground.

“Good evening, Miss Mold,” sniffed Gramps. “What brings you out on a night like this?”

“Those children are out of control,” she barked, stabbing a bony finger at them. “They were trespassing on my land today, worrying my goats.”

“We were just running home,” murmured Cam.

“Screeching you were!” shrieked Miss Mold. “Screeching like a pirate's parrot and scaring my animals. If it happens again I'll set Fungus on you.”

They all looked down at the wet dog. A pair of large brown eyes stared back at them from beneath a wrinkled brow.

“Fungus wouldn't hurt a fly,” said Gramps. “But the twins would like to apologize.”

He looked pointedly down at Cam and Bert.

“S-sorry,” they said together.

“And in future,” Gramps continued, “I'll make sure they walk around your land and keep the noise down. Now, if that's all? Goodbye.”

He began to close the door but Miss Mold stuck her large muddy boot in the doorway.

“No, it's not all,” she snapped. “I have some other very important business to discuss with you.”

Gramps sighed and peered out again.

“Concerning the World Cheese Fair,” added Miss Mold.

Gramps looked up sharply. “Well, in that case, you had better come in,” he said, opening the door wider.

The twins pressed their backs against the hall wall as Miss Mold barged straight past them into the living room.

“I can't believe you let her in,” hissed Bert.

“I had no choice,” whispered Gramps. “Tomorrow is the biggest day in the cheese calendar and if she's got some news, I want to hear it.”

“The World Cheese Fair,” said Cam, brightening up. “I'd forgotten it was coming. Will there still be lots of delicious food and fairground rides and animal shows and hot air balloons and—”

“Competitions?” finished Bert.

“Yes, all of that,” said Gramps. “Come on; let's hear what she has to say.”

They followed Primula Mold into the lounge. She was wandering around their living room slowly examining the faded furniture and chipped ornaments. Her damp green overalls clung to her skinny frame. Bert thought she looked like a giant stick insect. She had neglected to take off her mucky boots, which were now making dirty footprints on the hearthrug. Dangling from a long chain around her neck was her “lucky Stilton”. It was a round cheese the size of a saucer, given to her twenty-five years ago by her father on his deathbed. The pungent smell of old cheese began to fill the room. Fungus waddled over to them and Bert bent down to stroke him.

“Are you prepared for tomorrow, Mr Curd?” asked Miss Mold.

“I've just been putting the finishing touches to my prize cheese,” said Gramps.

“You shouldn't have bothered,” she said, smiling smugly. “I'm fully expecting to win ‘Best Cheese in Show' for the fourth year running.”

Gramps bristled. Miss Mold rubbed her lucky Stilton.

“My past wins have really boosted international sales, allowing me to upgrade my dairy,” she continued, “and I need to expand. Mold Farm has been catapulted into the twenty-first century, whereas Whey Farm…”

She trailed off and looked around the tired room, sighing theatrically.

“We prefer the traditional methods here,” stated Gramps.

“How quaint. But rumour has it you've fallen on hard times.”

The twins frowned and looked across at Gramps. He slowly lowered his hands into his pockets and began jingling furiously.

“I heard on the cheese-and-grapevine,” continued Miss Mold, “that if things don't improve, you might have to sell up.”

A loud crash of thunder shook the farmhouse, rattling Gramps' ornamental cheese graters, which were proudly displayed on the mantelpiece. Cam and Bert gasped in dismay. Fungus, who was resting his head on Bert's lap, let out a low howl.

“Who told you that?” bellowed Gramps. “Whey Farm has belonged to the Curd Family for generations. It's one of the oldest dairy farms in the country.”

He walked proudly round the room, straightening his ornamental cheese graters and patting the chimney breast.

“Four hundred years ago. King Charles the First purchased the finest cheese from our very own farm. Back then, the caves of Cheddar Gorge were used for maturing the cheeses. And that wasn't our only royal connection. Queen Victoria was very partial to a bit of cheddar too. Things may have been slow lately, but if I win ‘Best Cheese in Show' at the World Cheese Fair then everything will be fine. It will bring our cheddar back into the international market where it belongs.”

“And if you don't win…?” asked Miss Mold.

Gramps didn't reply, but the jingling coming from his pockets was unbearable.

“We've been neighbours for a long time,” she said. “I would be willing to buy your land when the time comes.”

“The time will never come!” cried Gramps. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I really haven't got time for this conversation. I have to prepare for tomorrow.” He gestured towards the door.

“I see,” said Miss Mold. “Then I suppose you won't have time to hear about another royal connection.”

“What? Who?” asked Gramps.

“Apparently, we are to expect a special visitor at the fair tomorrow. Royalty of the highest order – the big cheese – the top dog.”

“Is a corgi coming?” asked Bert hopefully.

“No, you cheese-brain! It's the Queen!”

The twins leapt up in excitement and Fungus began barking. Gramps' cheeks flushed red, making his whiskers glow.

“She's obviously heard about Queen Victoria's love of our cheddar,” he cried.

Primula Mold shook her head. “I'm afraid it's well known that the blue bloods prefer the blue cheeses,” she said.

“Rubbish!” spluttered Gramps.

“And besides,” Miss Mold continued, “apparently, the Queen is coming to announce a competition.”

The twins stopped bouncing around the room and stared at Miss Mold.

“Competition?” they said together.

“That's all I know,” said Miss Mold, walking into the hall. “I suppose we'll find out more tomorrow. We must all be on our best behaviour. I do hope you can control those unruly urchins, Mr Curd. Come, Fungus. We have to go. I haven't had dinner yet and my mildewed macaroni is in the oven. I'll let myself out.”

The small dog toddled after his mistress.

“Bye, Fungus,” called Bert.

A cloud of leaves blew in as the front door opened, then slammed shut.

“Well, well,” said Gramps, sitting down. “The Queen at the World Cheese Fair, eh? What do you think of that, kids?”

“I can't believe it!” cried Bert.

“It's fantastic,” agreed Cam, “but what about the farm? Was Miss Mold telling the truth?”

“Don't you worry about that. Everything will be fine. Tomorrow is going to be
special. We're going to see the Queen.”

The twins were excited. Very excited. A competition set by the Queen! Surely Gramps couldn't say no to that.

BOOK: Wild Moose Chase
7.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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