Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch II; Leaf I

Let’s keep it between us…

There was a reason for Badger’s books staying safe and secure on the tall study shelves, as well as dust-free. In fact, there were several reasons: all of them rather small.

The Mole – who had long since lost the description of timid (probably somewhere in the Toad’s banqueting-hall: but he had never thought about it enough to go back and look) – had fallen into the same trap as those who could not see past his slightly shy, slightly bumbling, slightly muttering-to-himself exterior: assuming that the wood-mice who loved and looked after him (as saviour, friend, and a sort of great – in size, as well as generosity of heart and mind – uncle) were as timorous (“PusillaniMOUSE! Oh, amn’t I a clever, clever Mole!”) and nervous as he had been, before the Water Rat and the Badger had helped him find what he now – mostly – thought of as his “courageous core” (although, sometimes, it felt as solid and enduring as the pinkest, wobbliest blancmange).

Partly it came from numbers; but mostly it came from knowledge, habit and necessity. In a world that was changing faster than the seasons, they had soon determined the exigency of their – and of all the other animals they knew (whether they cared for them, or not) – situation. Something had to be done; and, having discovered the large blueprints in the study, they knew that these held the key. But the Mole was correct in one regard: they understood the significance of these large sheets of heavy paper; but not their detail. And, yes, they were frightened by the scale of change: but this did not mean that they would not face it full on, given the chance. One mouse may not be very strong – although containing more concentrated fortitude than you could possibly imagine – but multiply their courage by the hundreds of kindred groups scattered throughout the shrinking meadows and dwindling copses, and there you have an army: as determined as any mole, water rat or badger; and with as big a united heart.

These tiny, almost hidden foot-soldiers – only visible to most others when they desired – were, in reality, as ever-present as early-morning spring dew and fledgling love; common as sudden summer thunder and cowslips; pervasive as autumn rust and squirrelled nuts; ubiquitous as frosty days and cutting winter’s winds. And, therefore, wherever you stood – from here in the newly-tamed Wild Wood to where the river had swept wide and languorous from before recorded times to the day that man’s greed had vanquished it (exiled, temporarily, to never-fading memories and perennial hand-me-down bedtime tales) – you were never far from one of their extended family groups: be it of tiny harvest-mice, or larger field- or wood-mice (some of whom had beautiful golden collars); and, consequently, always close by one of their numerous discreet dwellings and ancestral byways – linking cousin to cousin, uncle to nephew, aunt to niece, sister to brother, parent to child. Secretive as these creatures could be – often moving quickly from place to place – their expansive labyrinth was, nonetheless, the most efficient way any animal knew of moving significant news and notices around – sometimes seemingly faster than the original thought had taken to form; and so much more reliable than the whispering, rumorous breeze!

Their urge to keep their conspirations hidden from the Mole, for the moment, though, had clashed with their instinctive compulsion to keep his inherited home spick and span; and by leaving the plans subsequently unswept of dust, whilst applying their usual conscientiousness to the rest of the study (where they should not have been, of course), they had almost – through too much supposition and deliberation – drawn attention to their machinations. Luckily, every time the Mole entered this room, he was intent on one thing, and one thing only: solving the riddle that those drawings represented, so that they could never come to fruition; or, if they did, then be wiped from the face of the meadows they had so desecrated. He knew something didn’t quite add up, when he looked around his workspace – hence the umming and head-scratching – but those parts of his brain involved in adducing, deducing and inducing were too brimful of unresolved ideas and blind alleys for that particular something to register.

When the Badger had made his first appeal, under the old lime tree, it was therefore to the mice that he had turned to spread the word; sharing the heavier part of the burden with the rabbits: who were also scattered near and far; and who, it appeared – although only they knew the true extent, of course – had a similar network of extensive paths and burrows. The problem was – or, the problems were – the Twisted Pair of weasels: who had easily persuaded all these malleable “fluffy bunnies” that they were on a between-you-me-and-the-gatepost mission of the Badger’s; not helped, in turn, by the young, almost-minuscule-as-a-mouse rabbit recruit to the committee being both innnately gullible and readily intimidated – unnerved not only by its own shadow, but everyone-else’s: especially when larger, and in larger numbers (than one). Thus it was that the Chief Weasel so thoroughly usurped the Badger’s powers: dividing the animals into long-forgotten – once-traditional, perhaps – rôles of predator and prey.

The mice, however, had wisdom beyond their diminutive size – and this, too, came from their propensity to share, and always discuss matters of import amongst themselves, before reaching any decision with their collective circumspection: a custom that had served them well many, many times. (Proof that the Mole’s views on committees weren’t always correct!) It helped that they had never trusted the weasels and their collaborators, though: knowing them to be, in such matters, false prophets. Thus they had helped the Badger undermine the equivocating stoats and weasels – but, sadly, only so far as to convince those who were already on the Badger’s side. And not for long enough.

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