A Strange Occurrence

Suspicious paw-printsSunday morning: we were getting lunch ready before going to church. Hilary, my wife had just put a couple of things out on the line, and put some bread out for the birds. I'd just got out the loungers for coffee on the patio before we went, having been in again for the cushions. When I came back indoors I was surprised to notice some muddy paw-prints on the new pale fawn carpet in the back room. Since we don't have a cat or a dog, I was naturally puzzled. (We buried the hamster under the hedge several months ago. It was dead.) I called Hilary, who was equally puzzled. On examining the first print closely, she found to her amazement that it was still damp! Clearly, some creature with just one muddy paw had come in through the back door, through the hall and into the back room. The new carpet had relieved the muddy paw of its filthy burden in half a dozen progressively fading prints. The last two or three revealed that the beast had then headed back in the direction of the hall. And in the last few minutes! Jasper, the neighbour's cat, attracted by the smells of cooking? But the distance between the prints was far too great for a cat. (A domestic cat, that is.) And a cat, being a fastidious creature, would have washed its paw clean if it'd been sufficiently careless as to tread in something unpleasant. A dog? But the side gate was shut and the fence is fairly secure. A fox even? At 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning? Get real! And how had it got in with neither of us noticing? If a thing that size had slipped in behind me while I was chopping the leeks, surely I would have heard the pad of its feet, if not the sound of it panting. A horrible thought simultaneously struck us both. We looked at each other, aghast. Whatever it was, it could still be lurking somewhere in the house!

Paw-print close-up I delicately curled the ends of my Hercule Poirot moustache. (Or I would have done if I'd had one.) I carefully adjusted my Sherlock Holmes hat. (Ditto previous comment.) Which of those masters of detection was it who declared that when you've eliminated all the likely explanations, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the solution? Aha! The Hound of the Baskervilles!? No? The Beast of Bodmin Moor holidaying in Harpenden?? Harpenden's a nice place, but as a holiday destination, it's not quite in the same league as Mallorca.

I decided to address the problem scientifically. Judging by the spacing of the prints, the creature's legs must have been at least .. so long .. 18 inches? And that's assuming it was running fairly fast. I paced it out. It's stride was similar to my own. Very similar. In fact, one might even say, very similar indeed. I looked at the bottoms of my sandals. There in the recesses of the deeply sculptured sole was the remains of a large pigeon-dropping. The print it had made looked for all the world like a paw-print!

©Philip Le Riche, 2005

Return to the Random Jottings