The Rat Hunters By–Smaran SithamrajuArthur had had a shower, he brushed his teeth and was ready for bed. He got into bed, but couldn’t get to sleep. Grandfather walked past his room and in a kind voice called out “ Good Night Arthur”. Arthur was about to reply when he had an idea. “Grandfather” he said. “ I can’t get to sleep, can you tell me a story?”
Grandfather smiled and walked over to him. He sat on Arthurs bed. “Well I guess it isn’t that late, and perhaps it would be good for you to hear a story from your grandpa.” said Grandfather. “ Lets see here..hmm.. I know, I’ll tell you what your great grandfathers occupation was!” Grandfather said after a lot of thought. “ Huh? My Great grandfathers occupation?” asked Arthur. “ That’s right.” said Grandfather. “ You mean like what he did? What did he do?” asked Arthur. “Well your Great Grandfather was a ratcathcer!” replied Grandfather.
“A Ratcatcher? I hate rats!” replied Arthur in a somewhat disgusting tone. “ Oh no. Great Grandfather lived in the start of the 20th Century. Back then, being a ratcacher was a very important job. Said Grandfather. “ In fact it was so important that they paid handsomely to those who caught rats”. Grandfather stated. “ Really?” questioned Arthur. “ Oh yes, now I’ll get on with the story.” said Grandfather.“ Back in the day, your Great Grandfathers day, rats were a pest. They hid in little corners, ate and poisoned the food, and worst of all brought the plague.”
“And not only the plague. Oh no. Several other diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid, diarrhoea etc. These diseases were deadly. Yes they were. But back in those days hygiene wasn’t taken into consideration as much as it is today. But the deadliest was the bubonic plague. Black spots grew on people and they eventually died. It was brought from rats. Rats that ran free. Rats that crawled out of the ships from the convicts. This was becoming a wide spread problem, there was nothing anyone could do. No. There was nothing anyone wanted to do.
“Doctors were expensive so people usually prescribed themselves. Something had to be done. In a time of turmoil, when rats roamed the streets freely, spreading disease almost as freely as air. Your great grandfather and a group of men decided to do something. They got together and planned. After a long session of planning, and with only a few trips to the outdoor dunny, they came up with the idea. They called themselves the “Rat Hunters”. They caught rats and disposed of them. But it was not done for free. They would get paid for each rat they caught, and hence would gain a little richer.”
They began a week later. Roaming to the flee ridden streets. Shouting and screaming their new job. Advertising in the newspaper was too costly then, and they diddnt have that kind of money. Slowly, slowly they got hired. First by the towns barber, who claimed he was outnumbered by rats. So your grandfather and his men, strode in and caught and killed the rats. There were 5 in total. They were payed handsomely. Almost four pounds in total. But as this continued, the rats were getting bigger and bigger. And at the same time, they seemed to be getting larger in population and harder to catch.
“That’s when, Your grandfathers second in command had an idea. Nickel was his name. He suggested that they use dogs to catch the rats. A brilliant idea that was. They immediately, set out to search for dogs. Wasn’t long before they found ‘em either. A couple of strays which were in need of a good feed were just asking to be taken in. They were taken in and were trained, to sniff out rats especially. Took your grandfathers men a month to finish the training. But it twas’ worth it.
“ They set off a dawn. When the smells were still an a hour or two away. The buzz of the town and the horses weren’t naying. The town, was almost, peaceful. But the Rat Hunters knew they had a job to do. They went right to the biggest factory. It wasn’t a big factory, in fact it was poorly constructed. The bricks were showing cracks, and the foundation itself wasn’t the best. Yet it housed over a hundred workers. Poor people from the rural areas, or the Aborigines. The Rat hunters ventured into the factory. Suprisingly, it was empty. The Rat hunters had everything planned out. A week before they came and investigated. The rats had a main area, which was located between the outer and inner walls. Then they’re “lounge area” was close by, yet was smaller. There were three entrances and exits but the smartest of the lot, Digger, had no trouble figuring it out.
Digger had figured the main area connected with the rest, and the times which the rats went out to feed and such. But these were no ordinary rats, as the saw. They were big gruffy rats. Fur that made them larger than they were, and teeth were vicious even on a snake. The Rat hunters entered as planned. Armed with guns, powerful trained dogs and strong willed, they entered the factory.
As soon as they entered they were hit with a strong, ghastly smell. It was overpowering. It filled the air, and it hung heavy. Your great grandfather and his men almost decided to leave because of the smell. I still wonder, if it was that bad, how did the workers take it? Anyway. The Rat Hunters, marched on. In a somewhat orderly fashion. They’re dogs whimpering, only taken forward by the leash. If they had their way, they would of ran out immediately. But the factory was in a poor state. The Equipment was rusty, and the wooden floor was uprooting splinters. The walls inside were worse, with cracks almost at every corner. The once dark brown wooden tables were now almost a shade of black. As they were observing this humid factory, a scuttling of feet caught they’re attention. They immediately turned and their eyes lit up.
“ Barking echoed through the empty factory, the dogs roaring with excitement. The whimpering of a minute of ago were long forgotten. Nickel aimed and fired. A Lound bang rang in the Hunters ears. After the light smoke of the shotgun cleared a single massive rat, lay there in the floor, with a big hole through it. Nickel smiled, kill one he thought. The rat hunters smiled, and your great grandfather ordered them to keep going. After all, they had a plan. They strode into the right hand corner of the factory and found the hole, which led into the rats den. As planned Nickel, and another Rat hunter went to the other side of the factory and waited next to another rat hole. The same went for Digger and another member. Your Great Grandfather was alone at the main. A dog by his side, he created a small pocket fire and lay it near the rats hole, and let the smoke waft into the hole. And he waited.
Almost immediately there were hundreds of scuttling feet, almost like a mini stampede. As soon as they started pourng out of the main hole, Your Great Grandfather, let go of the dogs leash. It was amazing seeing the dog. It bark was almost like a war cry. The rats poured out, but were killed in the masses by the dog. As expected the rats ran back in, and crossed the hole and started appearing from the other side. But men were positioned there. They made easy work of the rats. As shotguns fired and barking was heard, and the squeals of dying, plague ridden rats.
The slaughter last for a mere seven minutes. But it was a slaughter none the less. Out of the corner of his eye, your grandfather saw the workers staring in a mixed expression of fear and passion. The last rat, squealed its last squeal and fell. Its body unable to move, its mouth the only thing able to move. It stopped moving and its eyes fell away from a black to a dark red. The factory was silent. Only the panting of the dogs and the occasional huff and puff of the Rat Hunters were heard. Even the workers were silent. Everyone was taking in the moment.
The clapping started slowly. First it was only one. Then two. Soon all the hundred and fifty odd workers were clapping and cheering. Your grandfather commented “ It twas better for ‘em to fall ‘ere than a slow death from them diseases”. The Hunters, all nodded in agreement. The dogs sat down, blood dripping from their teeth. Sadly, they may have to be put down aswell. The factory owner, walked over and shook hands with the hunters. He had a big grin on his clean shaven face. A contrast to the workers whose faces were sweaty.
The hunters were happy to be outside. But surprisingly the smell had disappeared with the rats. There they stood bags of rats their sides. Your great grandfather as the leader, agreed on the payment. And were happy to smell the disgusting smell of the streets of Australia. The shops, the waste littered on the street and the sewage which wasn’t properly gotten rid of. They walked along the streets, sacks of rats at their sides. The start of the Rat Hunters. No. The legend of the Rat hunters began, with your great grandfather at the helm. And that is the……” Grandfather paused and smiled. Smiled because his grandson was already fast asleep. Grandfather covered Arthur with a blanket and whispered to him, “Goodnight Arthur.” Walked to the door and whispered to himself, “ He was a great man, he was. My Old mans, Old man.” Flicked off the light and closed the door.