In the last episode we left Mike in the sprawling park searching out Benjamin the blue jay with the help of Tilly, a tiny fieldmouse.
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Tilly darted her way winding though the hedge, jumping and winding her way around the dense growth on all fours. Her grass purse bounced against her back as she went. Mike did his best to keep up with her but after a few minutes of climbing over and ducking under branches and scrambling over stones, it was clear that he couldn’t travel this way.
“Tilly, wait a wee bit, I need to catch my breath.”
The young mouse stopped and turned before making her way back, a look of concern painted her face. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t think-”
Mike interrupted her. “It’s quite alright, I would have been just fine had I been a touch smaller.” He looked to either side of the hedge. “Perhaps there’s another way to the crabapple tree?”
Tilly stopped and sniffed, her slender nose high in the air. “I suppose we could go along the edge of the hedge that meets the grass. There is good cover there, not quite as good as within the hedge, but the way is certainly clearer.”
“That sounds the perfect path for me, lead the way.”
For a moment the mouse stood still, as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words. She twitched her tail and looked towards the edge of the hedge and back to Mike before clearing her throat. “Alright then, here we go.”
“What’s the matter lass?” I don’t want to force ye into doing something ye aren’t comfortable with.”
“It’s just…” She shuffled her feet. “I’m a bit scared, that’s all.”
“Of what, m’dear?”
“Jasper. He’s a grass snake. He sometimes hunts along the border. He ate my cousin last year.” Her whiskers trembled as she spoke.
“Is there another way that we could go?”
“No, not really. He’s rarely around, especially as the weather gets cooler. We should be fine.” She tried to smile and reassure him, but it looked more like a grimace.
“You don’t have to come with me if it scares you.” He leaned on his cane. “With your directions I should be able to find it on my own.”
“I want to come and make sure you get there alright.” She stood straighter and gripped the strap on her purse. “I like you.”
Now it was Mike’s turn to blush. “Well alright little miss. I guess we go together then. But if ever you change your mind, let me know. I won’t mind.”
She nodded with a smile, this time a happier one. “We best be going then, we don’t want to be caught out in the dark.”
With a flick of her tail she turned and then led them out where there hedge met the grass. The path reminded Mike of shady avenues where the trees had grown into a tunnel. On one side the grass grew tall and straight and on the other the leafy canopy of the hedge arched overhead. The dirt underfoot had been packed hard and smooth by the recent rain. If it wasn’t for the threat of a snake it would have been a very pleasant place to walk and think.
Tilly darted rather than walked, taking several small quick steps and then stopping to sniff the air. Mike tried to remain alert but found the walk so relaxing that he started feeling almost giddy and had to remind himself not to whistle. The evening drew on and the greens and browns of the path changed to golds and yellows with the setting of the sun. As the light faded Tilly’s darting grew more frantic.
“We must hurry along Mike, it’s nearly dark. We can stop at my Auntie Marie’s burrow for the night and then I’ll show you the rest of the way in the morning.”
“Is it far now? Could I make it to the tree before dark?”
“Well yes, but then you would have to climb it and that’s something that you really shouldn’t do at night.”
Mike swallowed hard, he never considered that he would have to climb the tree. He figured that he’s would have to get to the trunk and the blue jay would come to him. The thought of climbing made his head swim, he never liked heights. “I suppose you’re right, that is something best done when there’s light.”
From off to the side they heard a rustle in the grass. They both froze, neither wanting to make a sound. Tilly’s whiskers twitched back and forth trying to catch a hint of scent in the air. Mike’s heart pounded in his chest and he held his cane at the ready, although he had no idea what use it would be against a snake. He hoped whatever he could do would be enough to save them both.
A shadowy shape burst into the path in front of them with a ear splitting screech, knocking both Mike and Tilly to the ground. In their mad scramble to regain their feet they heard something completely unexpected – laughter.
Tilly lunged at the shape, crying, cursing, and laughing all at the same time. Her tiny fists pummeled into the creature who against all reason continued to laugh.
Mike approached, cane at the ready.
“It’s alright Mike.” Tilly sat up and wiped a tear from her face, still chuckling. “This is my idiot brother, Jacob.”
Jacob stood and brushed off the dust. He was tall with glossy dark fur and kind but serious eyes. He helped Tilly to her feet and looked her over, picking off a stray blade of grass from her back.
“Idiot! You call me idiot! Fat lot of thanks I get from you for me coming all this way to make sure you get home.” He turned to Mike. “Who are you?”
Tilly answered before Mike had a chance to catch his breath. “This is Mike, he’s a tinker. It’s alright, he’s my friend.”
To be continued…
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