by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre
It was a cold winter’s day on Dartmoor. The wind was howling and the rain was raining and the sleet was sleeting, you’d have hated it. Just think yourself lucky that you’re nice and snug at home reading this instead of walking around in it.
But someone was walking around it, and that someone was Lucy. She was looking for the Dartmoor Christmas Tree, and she wasn’t going to let a bit of wind and rain and sleet stop her, oh no. She had heard how, every year, people came to hang decorations on the lonely little fir tree which grew on the top of the moor. She had made a special star, and she planned to climb up the tree and stick it on the very top. (Lucy was exceptionally good at climbing trees.)
As she squelched up the steep, cold hillside, she suddenly heard a fitter-flap of wings above her. Down out of the sleet and rain came a fat flying pony. Lucy had heard about him, too: he was Kevin, the Dartmoor Pegasus. He was famous for rescuing people who got themselves stuck in the moor’s many bogs and mires.
Lucy was far too clever to get herself stuck in mires or bogs, but she was starting to get a bit tired, and her wellies were leaking, so she called out to the plump pony as he flew over her.
“Hey, Kevin!” she shouted. “I’m not lost, or stuck in a bog or anything, but could you give me a lift to the Dartmoor Christmas Tree? I’ve made a star for it.”
Kevin had been having a nice flap about in the sunshine up above the clouds, and he had been on his way home to his nest when Lucy called to him. But he was a helpful sort of pony, and Lucy looked like the sort of right-thinking girl who would have plenty of biscuits in her pockets, so he flew down, took a firm hold with his teeth on the back of her waterproof jacket, and lifted her into the air. He wasn’t sure where the Dartmoor Christmas Tree was, but Lucy had her map and compass with her, and she shouted directions while he flew. (Lucy was exceptionally good at shouting directions.)
But when they reached the hilltop where the Dartmoor Christmas Tree grew, a horrible surprise was waiting for them. Someone had cut it down!
Lucy tried balancing the star she’d made on the tree stump, but it wasn’t the same. So she had a bit of an angry stomp about. Then she had an IDEA.
“We’re going to find a new tree!” she said. “We’ll find a new tree, and plant it here, and then everyone can come and decorate it and it will brilliant and Christmassy.”
“But where do we find a tree?” asked Kevin.
“Kew Gardens,” said Lucy firmly. “That’s a place in London, where they have all sorts of trees. I suppose it’s a sort of tree shop.”
Kevin looked a bit doubtful. “It’s a long way to London,” he said. And he looked at Lucy’s pockets in a hopeful sort of way.
Luckily, Lucy had some peanut cookies with her, which she’d baked earlier. (Lucy was exceedingly good at baking peanut cookies.) So they had one each, and then Lucy climbed up onto Kevin’s fat back and he took off like a pony-shaped rocket.
Up through the clouds he soared, into the sunshine, and he didn’t come down again until they were at London.
It wasn’t rainy or sleety or windy in London. It was just foggy. (But it was really thick fog.) With the help of her map and compass Lucy managed to set them down in Kew Gardens. There was nobody about, because it was after closing time by then, but after a bit of wandering around they spotted a tree which they both thought would look really nice on top of a hill on Dartmoor.
It was a spiky, twisty, prehistoric-monster-looking tree, and the sign beside it said, Rare Monkey Puzzle Tree. There wasn’t a price label, but there was a spade stuck in a wheelbarrow of poo nearby, so Lucy dug the tree up. In the hole where it had been growing she left all the money she had brought with her, which was 25p and a Lego owl . (She thought 25p and a Lego owl was a pretty fair price for a tree, and she had two more Lego owls at home).
Back up through the clouds they went, and back down again on Dartmoor, where Lucy dug a nice hole for the tree, and Kevin helped with the fertilizer. She didn’t put her star on the top, though, because she wanted to make sure the tree was happy in its new home before she declared it an Official Dartmoor Christmas Tree. Then Kevin dropped her back at her house, and flew off home to his nest.
* * *
Next day, Kevin picked Lucy up from her front garden and flew up to the hilltop. The new tree looked fine. In fact, it even seemed to have grown a bit. A Dartmoor National Park person had arrived in his landrover and he was looking at the tree with a look of Puzzlement. So the tree works, thought Lucy - and not just on monkeys, either.
“Here! Do you know who put this here tree here?” asked the Park person, peevishly.
“I did!” said Lucy. “It’s the new Dartmoor Christmas Tree! Isn’t it brilliant!” And she got out the star she’d made, ready to stick it on the top of the tree.
“Oh no you don’t!” said the Park person. “You can’t just go planting any old tree up here! Look, it’s got Mysterious Lumps all round its roots. That could be some kind of tree disease!”
At that moment a helicopter came thundering down out of the sky and a man with a loudhailer leapt out and shouted. “Stop where you are! This is the Tree Police!”
It turned out that Kew Gardens wasn’t a tree shop at all, it was more a sort of tree museum, and you weren’t actually supposed to just turn up and help yourself to trees. “Who knew?” said Lucy. “I bet literally NOBODY knows that!” The Kew Gardens people had reported the theft of the tree as soon as the fog cleared and they noticed it was gone. The Tree Police had been searching for it all night.
A Kew Gardens lady had come with the Tree Police to help them identify the tree. “Yes, that’s our Rare Monkey Puzzle Tree,” she said. “I’d know it anywhere. I’m sorry Lucy, we’ll have to take it back to Kew Gardens. It’s the only one of its type in the world. Here’s your 25p back.”
“What about my Lego owl?” asked Lucy.
“I’m not parting with that,” said the lady. “It’s exactly what I need for my Lego collection.”
“Oh well,” said Lucy. “I’ve got two more at home.”
“What about those Mysterious Lumps?” asked the Dartmoor National Park person. “Some sort of tree disease, I reckon.”
The lady from Kew Gardens stooped down and studied the lumps. “Gosh!” she said. “We’ve been trying for ages to get this little tree to produce some seeds, but we’ve had no luck. I do believe the change of scene has done the trick! It’s going to have some baby trees!”
But it wasn’t baby trees that were growing around the Rare Monkey Puzzle Tree. It was baby monkeys. Sea Monkeys to be precise, which, as everyone knows, are by far the most mischievous type of monkey. Pretty soon they were scrambling out of the earth all around the tree’s roots, yibbering and yabbering and throwing stuff and pulling the Kew Gardens lady’s hair. It was a right faff. In the end, the Tree Police and the person from the National park had to dig the tree up, and the helicopter carried it away with a big lump of Dartmoor earth still attached, and a load of monkeys climbing all over its branches, making faces and singing a rude song about bums.
The helicopter clattered away over the hills in a Kew Gardenswards direction, and the Park person drove off too, wishing he had a helicopter. Lucy and Kevin were left alone on the hilltop. They were both feeling a bit miffed. Lucy was out a whole Lego owl and there still wasn’t a Dartmoor Christmas Tree.
But then she noticed that the Kew Gardens lady had left her spade behind. So she got Kevin to fly her to a nearby forest, and they found a little fir tree which had seeded itself near the forest’s edge. “This is probably what we should have done to start with,” said Lucy thoughtfully, as she dug it up. “It would probably have saved a lot of trouble.”
They flew back to the hill with it, and Lucy dug the hole and planted it, and Kevin did the fertilizer. (Lucy was exceedingly good by then at planting trees, and Kevin was exceedingly good at fertilizing them.)
The rain and sleet had turned to snow, just in time for Christmas. From all over the moor people came to hang their decorations on Lucy’s new Christmas Tree. And when they had finished, Kevin flew up and put Lucy’s star right on the very top.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!