Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch I; Leaf II

Never gonna be the same again…

The Badger had died content with the small world he had made for himself – his close band of chums; his guardianship of the Wild Wood, and all the various animals who lived in and close by it – but intensely angry at the Wide World, and its gradual, mechanical incursion into the countryside he so loved: where he was familiar with the name and place of every creature, every tree, every flower; and where, he was sure, they knew, and looked up to him, with equal reverence.

“I’ve become such an everyday part of the landscape, since you two young ruffians dragged me from my solitude,” he once said sternly to the Rat and the Mole; wagging his finger at them, but with a wry grin spreading across his aging, grizzled face: “that I don’t believe even the youngsters are convinced anymore by the warnings their parents tell them about my FEROCIOUS FANGS, and my TERRIBLE TEMPER. In fact, I seem to be ‘Uncle Badger’ to every tiny pipsqueak from here to the river!”

As he had gotten older, though, the less time he had spent outside, the more reclusive he had become – not just because of his declining health or his grand age, though; or his innate dislike of Society; but because the world he loved was narrowing, tightening around him; constricting and diminishing his circles of friends, acquaintances and familiar faces.

Then, when the Water Rat had decided to leave – having hung on for far longer than was comfortable: “The River will never be the same again: what’s left of it, that is. And soon, there’ll be none of that, neither…” – it was the final straw for the Badger: and he retreated forever to his snugly-fitting armchair, in front of the kitchen fire, with only the Mole for companionship. “You might as well stay here, now that your hole has gone, my little man. Pick any room you want, and make it yours; and we can while our time away nattering about our Daring Exploits, and moaning about What’s to Come.”

And talk they did. All day, and everyday. Of Toad. Of stoats and weasels. Of how much they missed their co-conspirator, Ratty. And what they would do to those who would disrupt their peaceful existence – if only they had the energy (and knees) of their younger selves! And then they would both drift off to sleep, sated by their stories and a surfeit of chilled beer in summer, and mulled ale in winter; with occasional snores, and mutterings of “Onion-sauce” or “The hour is come!” or, sometimes, sadly, “It’s all over…”.

And, then, one morning, woken by a faintly smoking log, falling from the fireplace, with a gentle fizz and a whispered hiss, onto the hearth, the Mole awoke to find himself alone. The body of his best friend, his mentor, his only real family, was cold – even though a thick woollen blanket lay on his lap, and his finest dressing-gown and his down-at-heel carpet slippers enveloped him. “Goodbye, my good fellow,” said the Mole, to himself – hoping that the Badger could still hear him, wherever he was gone to – “and thank you. My life would not have been the same without you, you know. Toodle-pip.”

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