One of the best Animal Stories ever [one] – Scruffy, by Paul Gallico

It is the big War and the British Garrisons are guarding the Rock on Gibraltar.  Obviously whoever controls the Rock is in control of the shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, and much of the supply routes East and West.

 The original inhabitants of the rock are Apes.  Yes, no monkeys, but big Apes born without tails.  The military must survive on rations because provisions are always in short supply and the Apes must be fed too, though they steal from everyone to supplement their rations.  The native human population suffers most from the escapades of the ape population.  Torn laundry lines, destroyed vegetable patches and anything that is not bolted down is part of their daily life but they love the Big Apes because an old saying dictates that the Apes are in charge of the welfare of the Rock.  The old saying was clear “If the Apes go, the Rock is gone” and the military needed the locals for many reasons so they had to feed the Apes.  War brings many sorts together.

 I will only give you One name [yes with a capital] because I detest people telling me the whole story [I want to read the book myself] and this name is Scruffy, the undisputed leader of his pack, the chief destroyer of laundry lines and vegetable patches, and the fastest to get away over the rooftops on the Rock; he could move at the speed of a low missile.

 Then disaster struck.  Apes started dying mysteriously, one and then another, then in great numbers.  Alarm bells rang and the military after much grumbling put a senior officer in charge to find out why the Apes were dying.  He reported that there was no discernable reason; they had even looked for sabotage by the Germans because large numbers of migrant laborers entered the Rock every day.  They found no evidence of sabotage but more apes were dying every week now.

 The locals became restless, saying the signs are there, they fear the Rock will go and the military raised the eyebrows but did send an Alert Code to the brass in London.  When more Apes died, the locals started begging and threatening; only then did the Garrison Commander added “the safety of the Apes” to the portfolio of the young Officer who had investigated for sabotage and had found no evidence to suggest that.  But, as even in the military, this young Officer did care and he appointed an old soldier who was known that he actually loved the apes, in a newly created position as “Keeper of the Apes.”  I wish I could tell you these two names but I won’t; you will kill me afterwards or call me names as Bloggers do to each other.

 The Keeper actually had a kind of a relationship with Scruffy; it came down to mutual respect.  One day he realized that he actually loved this big mischievous “Leader of the Pack” as Scruffy was often called and he started moving in on him to get closer to talk things out.  Scruffy initially eyed him with mistrust but soon realized he was a friend.  And the Keeper realized that within as few weeks Scruffy was going to be the only live Ape on the Rock, no female, pretty soon no Rock.

 The young Officer believed the Old Keeper of the Apes and though the CO at the garrison grumbled the Highest Code Red Alert was sped through to London where it reached the Office of the Prime Minister and some military idiot had the wisdom to suggest that the Prime Minister might want to see this RED HIGH ALERT without delay.

 Churchill issued and signed the command: “Keep Scruffy alive and find him a Female Ape.”

 The old Keeper went to Scruffy and the two now trusted each other explicitly.  Scruffy got the choicest bits of food, his cave was cleaned and fresh straw was put in every week.  He even stopped shredding the laundry lines because he had put his trust in the hands of the Keeper, and to some extent in the hands of the young Officer who was now promoted to command the rescue operation, and he [this young Officer] was going to go over any heads to save that Ape.

 He somehow wrangled it the way you can if you want to, to provide the Keeper with free unrestricted immediate transport and accommodation whenever he wanted to and anywhere he deemed fit to go for mission “Find the Scruffy Ape a Female” and he was in a hurry; every second counted.  Red tape was brushed aside, the commands were issued that the whole military would join the search and report to the Keeper.

 It was only days before word came of the right lady in a remote little town in a far corner of England and the Keeper was on the first plane out; some big brass still wanted to complain that he wanted the flight for other “business to King and Country” but he was rudely told to shut up and stay out of the way.

 The Keeper had long been without a woman himself and he was a bundle of nerves [but freshly dressed and with his beard trimmed and washed] when he knocked on the door where Scruffy’s lady resided in the care of an elderly spinster.  She was emotional when she took the Keeper to meet this lady in the back but she had been told of the disaster on the Rock and she loved her Country, but she loved this Ape as well; thus she stood aside when the Keeper walked around the cage and she had the chance to observe him.  The way he spoke to the Ape, and the way the Ape reacted made her feel better, and as they talked she began to realize that this stranger in her house could be trusted with the well-being of her companion of many years.

 A deal was worked out and Lady Ape, the Spinster and the Keeper were on a plane that had been prepared and was standing ready [they said Churchill had by then commanded progress reports every five minutes on Operation Save the Apes] and the plane soon lifted with it’s precious cargo on their way to the Rock.

 The garrison CO had been told what would become of him if any, even the smallest mishap, should occur after the plane touched down on the Rock and the Lady in Question was treated like the crown jewels in cotton wool on her way to the cave, which had by now, as ordered by the Keeper and approved directly by Churchill, been fitted with strong double steel gates to keep danger out and enough food to save a pack of Apes because Scruffy was by that day the only survivor and on this Union rested the fate of the Empire and the Free World.

 Near the gate the Keeper asked the ageing spinster if she would kindly allow him just a few minutes alone with Scruffy to inform him.  She was puzzled but consented because she had now come to trust this man with his obvious genuine concern for her Ape.  He reported back and asked her if it would be OK with her if the handlers would now take the lady’s transport cage up to the gate of Scruffy’s cage to arrange it such that with both sets of double doors open, it would allow free passage between the cave and the new cage.  She consented again when the Keeper asked if they could then go and leave the two for a while, though she did ask whether it was absolutely essential, to which the Keeper mumbled how scared he had been when he knocked on her door just recently and how he would not have had the guts to do so if anybody else were present.  She understood.

 An hour later they approached the cave, the Keeper coughed at the right moment to let Scruffy know he had to come in for a brief exchange of a few words, and then he led the spinster to the cave.  It was more than she ever hoped for and she was in tears because her Ape had turned into the most delectable young Queen and Scruffy was feeding her a red apple; this beast was actually so proud of his Queen that he looked every bit of the Gallant King himself.

 When the spinster wiped her eyes she noticed the Keeper was doing the same to his and as they turned to leave they briefly touched hands, by pure accident, and they looked each other in the eyes when that mystery that has been there ever since man an woman first met, happened to them.

 Two lonely hearts reached out over unknown space and touched each other.  When he offered her his arm she took it and way above where the names of both hearts were entered the book in Heaven they both knew they were never going to be lonely again.

 And of course, the Empire prevailed over evil and the troops came home victorious because it would not be long before the first young apes could start stripping the laundry lines and the veggie patches.

 PS:  Scruffy is but one of a number of animal stories by Paul Gallico.  I started collecting his books way back but you should still be able to find them at good book stores.  Look out for Snowgoose, and for Ludmilla, the Lonely.  And all the others; you want to laugh and cry, find Mathilda.

6 Responses to “One of the best Animal Stories ever [one] – Scruffy, by Paul Gallico”

  1. sam Says:

    i LOVE the story its great

  2. sam Says:

    wish i could read some more books like that

  3. Ike Jakson Says:

    Thank you Sam, and for two comments too. I had about given up looking for comments on this Post when I looked in and there you were. Try the other books that I mention. Ludmilla will make you cry. Mathilda will make you crawl with laughter. I don’t want to tell you more because it will spoil your fun. But Gallico is the master in this genre. There are a few other animal storywriters but they all differ. Yorkshire England James Herriot is to my mind the other Master, but he has a different approach. Try him as soon as you can but first get Ludmilla from Gallico.

  4. frances gill Says:

    forgot how lovely Paul Gallico is to read,got this book at a car boot sale last year,had nothing to read so started this …..hooked from the first page I love scruffy!!!!

    • Ike Jakson Says:

      Thanks Frances

      I am pleased to see your comment.

      Now you have to treat yourself to a journey of the animal World with Gallico. There is Jennie, Matilda, The Snow Goose; and finally my other favorite Ludmilla the Lonely. He wrote others too; for me it is almost impossible to name the top one between Scruffy and Ludmilla.

      Get Matilda; you will love them all.

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