Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch II; Leaf II

Walk out in the rain…

And one young mouse was so much braver than the rest; although only just as wise. However, what drove him to such courage, currently, was so much more than a need to protect his brethren – he was in love! Every week, therefore, he left his country burrow behind, and trekked the miles – so very far, for such tiny legs – to the nearest village, to ply his favours. But such distance only added fuel to his avidity: and he always reached his destination stronger, and more vital. (“Oh, to have a BUSHY tail!” he exclaimed, one day, upon arrival.) The long walk home seemed dreary in comparison.

Until one day, after his habitual trudge through the fields, roadside ditches, and then back gardens, he had been rewarded, not just with the embrace from his beloved, but her leading him by the paw to a room not unlike the Mole’s study – only on a much grander scale. “Why have you brought me HERE?” he asked, impatiently. “Well,” she responded: “wouldn’t YOU like to know!”

And soon he did. For on the circular table that filled the room lay the same heavy, dark-blue sheets that decorated the Mole’s desk – but plastered with stuck-on notes in a squiggly script that was, as yet, hard to unravel. “We haven’t got long. The Master will be back, soon. I just wanted you to see them; and see if they could help.”

He held her harder and longer than ever before, leaving her cheeks a becoming shade of rosy perfection. “What a wonderful, wonderful mouse you are!” he almost sang. “A genius above ALL other mouses… – as well as the most BEAUTIFUL, of course…” he added, hurriedly. “Why, I could…” – and then they perceived, over the tapping of the rain on the window, which wanted to come in and share the warmth with them, the sound of heavy boots, slightly muffled by the thick wooden door and threadbare kitchen rug, growing, growing, until the handle of the door was turned, and a slightly round, authoritative-looking giant of a man entered, with a mug of steaming coffee in one hand. By which time, of course, they had concealed themselves hurriedly in a dark corner of the room, under a tired, leather, tub-shaped chair.

“I must go home and tell Mister Mole”, whispered the young mouse, torn between staying and going, going and staying. “This might be important….” His already quiet voice faded, as he realized the sacrifice he must make. But he knew his partner’s discovery was BEYOND important. “Come with me. PLEASE…” he pleaded: holding her fading face in his outstretched paws. “I can’t. But you’ll be back soon. You HAVE to be. For me; and for the sake of your home.”

He knew she was right. And sooner than soon, he was deep in the Wild Wood, yoyoing up and down on that familiar bell-pull with all the might he had left, both feet well off the ground, listening to the deep-toned knell responding far, far away. This was no time to be sneaking in through the back, that was for sure.

“Not AGAIN,” said a weary and suspicious voice. And the heavy door creaked open, slowly, followed by the appearance of a stern-looking cudgel (not that there are many friendly ones), and then a sleepy-looking, shimmering, candlelit Mole, in his oversized dressing-gown and shuffling slippers.

“What, Mouse, my dear little fellow!” exclaimed the Mole, now brighter and awakening.“What ARE you doing in such foul weather? You look EXHAUSTED – and look at the state of your feet, all muddy and sore. Well I never! Ratty – it’s MOUSE!” he called, down the long corridor. “Come in with you,” he encouraged his young visitor, turning back to face the doorway. “Come IN with you; and have a wash and a warm-up. And then you must tell us why you are out on such a HORRID night. Ratty – put a pan of water on, won’t you, good fellow; and see what we have to eat…!”

An hour or so later, the Mole was lying back in his snug chair, next to the revivified fire, still chuckling at the appearance of their young guest; and the Water Rat and the Mouse were together on one of the settles in front of it, scarfing down the remains of some hastily assembled cheese, chutney and gherkin sandwiches, crumbs flying everywhere. The Mouse had not taken well to the proffered whisky: coughing like a dying steam train; and, therefore, a cooling mug of half-finished hot chocolate sat next to him, adding to the interlinked and overlapping circles branded into the ancient varnish: evidence of many previous toe-toasting callers in many previous storms.

“So, what brings you here, on such a terrible night?” asked the Rat, turning to his young friend, his eyes glistening with the reflected flames. “It’s the plans, sir; the PLANS.”

As the lightbulb switched on inside the Mole’s head – with remembrances of absent dust and thoughts of present tidiness – its glow emerged in his eyes as a bright tickled twinkle. “The PLANS?” he proclaimed, raising himself up a tad, and trying to sound as stentorian as possible for such a small furry animal (“and one with creaking bones”, he thought) – whilst looking a great deal less serious than he had intended: as that twinkle spread to his whole face, and the corners of his mouth began to curl. “The PLANS? WHAT plans?”

“Oh, sir, sir, just like the ones in your study, sir….” The Mouse’s voice faded as his shoulders drooped: realizing what he had revealed. But the Mole was desperately trying to stay in character, and thoroughly enjoying the sensation of power. “Do you mean to say – young Mouse – that YOU have been in MY study?”

But it was all too much: and, catching sight of the Rat – almost bent double, trying to suppress the shaking that comes with deep-seated laughter, then looking up, with tears of joy streaming down his face – the Mole let go of the last vestiges of pretence, and both he and the Rat exploded with paroxysms of shared merriment.

Knowing that he had been found out, and that this was Not A Bad Thing, the Mouse finally relaxed; and, when they had all wiped their faces of tears, and their small earthquakes of glee had subsided – and after being told never to call either of them “sir”, ever again, or to suffer the extremely ill-defined consequences – the Mouse explained – his words and phrases tumbling over each other in his haste to get the story out – how his family had been cleaning Mister Mole’s study (“we couldn’t ENDURE leaving it…”); found the blueprints; realized their significance; then their mistake in cleaning them; then their mistake in leaving them dusty; then seeing the same plans (“the same numbers in the corner, Mister Mole; the same strange shapes…”) at the old man’s house (“…and he’s as hairless as a newborn!”), where he had been visiting his umpteenth cousin, so many times removed; how very clever she had been; and how he had realized this was important, as well; and that maybe the two of them had chanced upon some sort of help, or ally; and then that he had rushed here to tell them. Immediately. Of course.

“Except I don’t remember anything between leaving her, and ringing the doorbell,” said the Mouse, bemused. “It didn’t even go by in a rush, like sometimes. One moment I was there; next, I was here. All I could think of was Mister Mole. I didn’t know YOU were back, sir… – sorry, Mister Water Rat, sir, Mister Rat, Mister RAT…. I’m sorry if I woke you both up…. But… did I do the right thing?”

“Of COURSE you did,” replied the Rat, soothingly, placing his paw gently on the young animal’s shoulder, and a big comforting grin on his own increasingly happy face. “You did BRILLIANTLY!”

“Although I’m not quite sure”, pondered the Mole, stroking his chin, “what to make of it all. A little cogitation; a little more sleep; and, when the sun rises, maybe it will shed a little light on it all. We… shall… see….”

No comments: