Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch I; Leaf IX

Revised from The Wide World arrives... – 13 May 2014

When the night comes falling from the sky…

It was a cold, spring day, and the Mole, the Water Rat and the Badger were sat around a blazing log fire in the Badger’s kitchen: the Mole and Rat perched on one of the high-backed settles; the Badger sunk into his customary armchair. Half-drunk refills of coffee, and the remains of a plain but ample breakfast – bread crusts, and the odd, crispy bacon rind – lay around: evidence of a long and deep discussion, requiring much sustenance.

“If only life were ALWAYS so simple and satisfactory,” muttered the Mole, wiggling his outstretched feet; but with regret etched into his sad eyes and drooping whiskers.

“But it never is,” stated the Rat, wearily, “when the Wide World moves through the Wide Wood, and an evil wind blows through the willows.”

The previous evening, the monthly Council of Animals had met, and – contrary to the promises made to the Badger: their saviour, the first time an invasion had appeared at their borders… – they had entrusted their defence against the Wide World, this time, to the Chief Weasel.

“I’m so sorry,” said the Mole, directing his sad gaze at the Badger: “you must feel awfully let down – especially after everything you did for all us weaker, less clever animals, before. I know you don’t care one fig about glory; but to be betrayed like that – again – when you gave so much of your life, your solitude – and even your hibernation – for us all; and in favour of the dastardly bullies who nearly ruined things the first time around. Damn them, I say: damn the lot of them.”

“Don’t fret, my little chap,” replied the Badger, soft and smoothing in his tones – not, for one moment, displaying any of the deep, tortuous feeling that both his friends knew was searing through every bone, sinew and nerve in his body. “If all they care about is themselves; and the kudos they think will come from associating themselves with the stoats and weasels of this world; they will get what they deserve – and not the peaceful time they think will come.

“It does seem, sadly, though, that coercion and tyranny now rule not only in the Wide World; but that it has crept through the Wild Wood – where my word was once cherished, was even law; my actions praised… – to the local animals, to the river bank itself. Even Otter acts like the most feeble mouse, when picked on…”

“…as he knows you are too noble to act the tormentor; too dignified to remonstrate or complain,” interjected the Mole, anxiously.

“You are SO right, my furry chum,” added the Rat, patting the Mole generously on the arm; and glancing for approval at wise, old Badger – who, it seemed, did not mind the interruption one jot. “But I wonder how many of the other animals, down by the river, know what is REALLY going on?” He stroked his chin, thoughtfully. “Just because Chief Weasel has taken over Toad Hall surely doesn’t mean that all the others think he is now Lord of the Manor…?”

“Not that there ever was such a thing, really,” stated the Badger, almost to himself. “Although they tug their forelocks as if he was KING! If ANYONE is due allegiance as Lord, then it’s the fine gentleman that lives in the big house over the hill. Mind you – sensible chap that he is – he keeps himself very much to himself; and that’s what I shall go back to doing, too. Living here, in the Wild Wood, I am still an outsider, and always was: ’though I fear for what will become of the river, the willows – to you two, my companion friends and campaigners – when the true spirit of the water, the grass, the air, the hearts that beat in all true country animals, is represented in the Wide World by something so selfish and ignorant – so utterly unrepresentative – so arrogant. It is not in our nature to fight even the cruellest enemy but with wisdom… – and, yes, I do see you, Ratty, looking meaningfully at the cupboard where our stash of cutlasses and pistols lies from the last battle!

“But we MUST NOT fight our fellow creatures. They have made their decision – however badly and stupidly it was reached. It is THEY who have divided US; and we should not fall into the trap – especially as we do not have it in us to act the bully; to crave fame and glory; to desire to crash and bang about like the Toad in one of his infernal motors (oh, how I miss silly old Toad…!) – of following in their footsteps, and applying the tactics of the frightened, OR the frightener.

“We must keep our wisdom and wits about us for when the realization dawns that intelligence, graft, research and application of knowledge are what is REALLY needed – even if my now very full stomach tells me that I should close the door FOREVER on them: stoats and weasels that they have all become.”

There was a keen silence: a quiet which seemed to stretch out from the crumbling ashes of the fire, beyond the breeze creaking at the door at the end of the passageway, to the very river itself – listening not only to the murmur of the water, the whispering of the willows, but for the very thoughts of the local animals themselves (many of whom were still asleep; most of whom were yet to learn of the far-reaching decision the council believed – wrongfully – they had been forced into; and had not had the courage nor integrity to fight: not having learned from the exemplary comrades now on the verge of sleep themselves…. It might be division they had wanted to AVOID; but it now seemed inevitable that, instead, they had CREATED such division…). Empty-handed, the draught returned, to spark the glowing embers for a moment, and then die.

“Fie!” exclaimed the Mole, from nowhere. “O blow; and bother! What a load of idiots they are. Otters reduced to mice; stoats made toad. So this is what the Wide World is like. You were right, Ratty. I want NONE of it. Hang the council; and hang all weasels.” He ran out of breath as quickly as he had started; and all the energy slumped from him, from his shoulders to his now-still toes. “Onion-sauce,” he finally whispered, fitfully.

“Aye to that,” said both the Rat and Badger, quietly together in thought and deed. “Onion-sauce.”

“And that’s my last memory of Badger,” said the Water Rat, raising his drink.

“To BADGER!” The Mole and the Rat, comfortable in their shared memories, clinked their glasses together: with a mixture of love, sadness and Happy Times all swirled together in the remnants of one of the Badger’s many single malts.

“I could get used to this,” said the Rat.

“Well, there’s plenty more where that came from,” replied the Mole, wearing the Rat’s stupid grin: “thanks to Badger.”

“But I can’t get used to not having him around… – especially HERE.”

“I know….”


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