One look into the bathtub was enough to send her hurrying to get Angus. As usual, he awoke from the deepest of sleeps with his mind instantly tuned to his chief pleasure in life.
Excerpted from The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith; illustrated by David Parkins. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
"I'm hungry," said Angus. "Is breakfast ready?"
"Ssssshh!" said Kirstie. "Don't talk so loud. We mustn't wake Mother or Grumble."
"Because it's hatched. The thing. In the bathtub."
"Blow me down!" said Angus.
Angus enjoyed using what he thought to be terrible swear words, and his father, on his last shore leave, had taught him a careful selection of sailors' oaths.
They crept into the bathroom and stood side by side, gazing into the water.
"Look!" said Kirstie.
"Shiver my timbers!" said Angus.
The giant mermaid's purse lay on the bottom at the plug hole end like a sunken wreck. Wrecked it was, too, with a gaping hole in one side where something had emerged. At the other end of the bathtub swam that something.
When Kirstie was a grown woman with a family of her own, her children would ask her time and again to describe what it was she saw in the bathtub that early March morning when she was eight years of age.
"It was a little animal," she told them, ""such as neither I nor your Uncle Angus had ever seen before. Such as no one in the world had ever seen before, in fact. In size, it was about as big as a newborn kitten but quite a different shape. The first thing you noticed about it was its head, which was sticking out of the water on the end of quite a long neck. More than anything, it looked like a horse's head, with wide nostrils like a horse and even a suggestion of pricked ears. But its body was more like a turtle's. I don't mean it had a shell--it had kind of warty skin like a toad's, greeny grayish in color--but it had four flippers like a turtle has. And then it had a tail like a crocodile's. But just like you usually look at people's faces before you notice anything else about them, the thing that struck us was the look of its head. We didn't think about a crocodile or a toad or a turtle. We thought about a little horse."
Now, as Kirstie and Angus watched, the creature, which had been eyeing them in silence, dived with a plop, swam underwater with strong strokes of its little flippers, and surfaced again right in front of them. It looked up at them and chirruped.
"What does it want?" Kirstie said. The answer to this question was obvious to someone like Angus.
"Food, of course," he said. "It's hungry, like me."
"What shall we give it? What do you suppose it will eat? What do you suppose it is anyway? We don't even know what sort of animal it is."
"It's a monster," said Angus confidently. He had a number of picture books about monsters, and obviously this was one of them.
"But monsters are big," Kirstie said.
Angus sighed. "This isn't a monster monster," he said. "This is a baby one."
"A baby sea monster!" said Kirstie. "Well, then, it would eat fish, wouldn't it? We'll have to catch some fish for it."
A happy smile lit up Angus's round face. "We don't need to," he said. "There's some sardines in the pantry. I like sardines."
Opening the sardine can was difficult, but Kirstie managed to turn the key far enough to winkle one out, and they tiptoed upstairs again, carrying it on a saucer.
"Don't give it everything. It might not like it," said Angus hopefully, but when Kirstie pulled off a bit of sardine with her fingers and dropped it into the bathtub, the little animal snapped it up and gulped it down and chirruped loudly for more.
"It likes it," said Angus dolefully. He broke off another piece of fish, his hand moving automatically toward his mouth, but Kirstie said "Angus!" sharply, so he dropped it in the tub, contenting himself with licking the oil off his fingers. And, one after the other, they fed the creature the rest of the sardine. Then they went down to the pantry again to see if they could get another one out of the can."
With a great effort, for the key was very stiff to turn, Kirstie had at last got the can fully open when suddenly they heard footsteps on the stairs and Mother came into the kitchen.
"Kirstie!" she said. "Whatever are you up to? Who told you you could help yourself to sardines--and long before breakfast time, too?"
"It's for our sea monster," said Angus.
"Don't be so silly, Angus!" said Mother sharply. "Look at your fingers, all oily, you greedy little boy! And you, Kirstie, you're old enough to know better!"
"We haven't eaten any, Mother, honestly," said Kirstie. "And we have got a sea monster, truly we have."
"Now you listen to me, Kirstie," said Mother. "Whatever it is that you two have brought home--a lobster, a crab, whatever it is that you're wasting my expensive sardines on--you will take it straight back, d'you hear me?"
"Oh, no, Mother!" cried Kirstie. "Please not."
"First thing after breakfast it goes back in the sea," said Mother firmly. "Where is it anyway?"
"In the bathtub," said Angus.
"In the bathtub!" cried Mother. "Oh, no!"
"It's quite happy there," said Angus.
"Well, that's more than your grandfather will be by now. As I came down, I saw him going along the corridor with his towel and his shaving kit. He'll have a fit!"
"Specially if it's still hungry," said Angus.
But when the three of them reached the bathroom, the door was open and there was Grumble kneeling by the bathtub. With his bald head and his droopy mustache he looked like a walrus about to take a dip. He was staring silently at the little animal as it paddled about the water, now glistening with sardine oil. To their amazement they saw that he was smiling broadly. Grumble, smiling!
"It's that thing you found on the beach after the storm, isn't it Kirstie?"
"Yes, Grumble. It hatched in the night."
"I made her put salt in the water," said Angus.
"I doubt you need have bothered with that," said Grumble. "It's an air-breathing beastie, you see, like a seal. Fresh water or salt, I doubt it matters, so long as it has plenty of fish to eat."
"We've given it a sardine," said Kirstie.
Grumble got to his feet. "You've a clever couple of kids here," he said to Mother. "How I wish I could have found such a thing when I was their age. There were many stories then of this creature and I believed all of them, but I never thought I'd see one."
"You sound as though you know what this thing is," said Mother.
"I should," said Grumble. "Wasn't I born and brought up on the banks of Loch Morar? And wasn't there supposed to be one of these living in that very loch?"
"What is it, Grumble?" asked Kirstie.
"Before I tell you," said Grumble, "you must promise faithfully to tell no one outside the family. Not a word to any of your friends at school. Understand?"
"Oh, yes," said Kirstie. "Cross my heart." She crossed it. Angus crossed his stomach, perhaps by mistake, but possibly because it was to him the most important organ.
"Right," said Grumble. "Then I'll tell you. It's a monster."
"I told you," said Angus.
"Always there've been tales of sightings of such a beastie, sometimes at sea, more often in a loch," said Grumble. "Oh, when I was a boy, how I longed to see the kelpie."
"Is that what it's called?" said Kirstie.
"That's one name for it," said Grumble, "but the other is the one that I like. Most folks call it the Water Horse."