Frewyn Fables: Part 3 #amreading #amwriting
The afternoon passed agreeably, spent in the happy throes of shoveling the caved-in tunnel, and with the arrival of gloaming came the rumbling of Miss Sniffle’s stomach. She had cleared the path enough to open the door and resolved on finishing the rest tomorrow, resigning herself to the comforts of a warm fire, rosehip tea, and acorn pancakes. The hearth was lit, the water was boiled, the batter was mixed, but she had not begun to cook the first of the pancakes when she heard a loud thump outside. She glanced out the window to find snow once again in front of her door. She sighed and looked up: the snow from the boughs had been shaken down by the howling gales. “I guess I’ll have to shovel the entire thing again tomorrow,” she sighed to herself, and she returned to the kitchen to resume her work when a knock at the door gave her a start.
A knock at the door? Impossible. Who could it be, in this weather and at this hour? The Rabbits had all gone to bed by this time of the night, and Mr Hedgehog was far too old to roll through more than one snow bank in a day. Who could have burrowed their way to the door in so short a time? Her curiosity overpowered her. She leapt to the door and threw it aside, and there, on the threshold was the old mole, wearing little more than a red covering, gazing up at her with a toothless grin, her eyes closed under the power of heavy wrinkles, her face crumpled and creased, her hands working and gnarled.
"Hello, deary,” said the mole, her nose twitching. “Lovely evening, isn’t it?”
“Lovely,” said Miss Sniffles, in astonishment. She looked about and observed that all the snow which had lately fallen had now been cleared away. “Did you clear all this snow by yourself?”
“Just a trifle,” said the mole, waving her gnarled hand at her. “I am a bit cold and my nose is a bit wet, but that I do not regard. My, you are a young and pretty thing, aren’t you?” narrowing her gaze, “My eyes are not what they used to be. A mole’s eyes never are, you know.” Her nose twitched, she sniffed the air, and peering into the hawthorn, she said, “And what is that you have on the range, deary?"
Miss Sniffles shook herself from her reverie and looked back at the range. "Acorn pancakes.”
"Acorn pancakes,” the mole exclaimed, rubbing her hands together. “Why, I haven't had those since I was a young mole. You wouldn't mind sharing a pancake or two with an old mole, would you, deary? I’m a terrible long way from home and I’ll need something to keep me for my journey. If you will be so good and share what you’ve got there, I’ll give you my kerchief as a thank you in return. It belonged to my sister Milka, but she's gone these many years. She had nothing to leave behind, you know, but she gave me this, her most valuable possession, in hopes that it would be of use one day. There have been such terrible rains this year that all the root crop is rotted through, and I haven't had anything to eat these past few weeks that wasn't a rotten rutabaga. Rotten carrots will do, but" and she hesitated as she spoke, "but I must eat what I can find, and with conditions like these, who knows when we'll see fresh fruits again! Well, I was going to trade my kerchief at the market for food, but as the snows have done the market in and if you'll share with me," eyeing her complacently, "I'd much rather give it to you."
The benevolence of the invitation had been so thoroughly done away by this recital that there was nothing more for Miss Sniffles to do but invite the mole inside and share her supper with her. She prepared a few pancakes and placed them on the table, but the moment that Old Baba Mole sniffed the wafting scent of their freshly made meal, the first of the pancakes was gone before the mouse could ask whether the old mole would take any butter with it.
"These are delicious," the mole declared, with full cheeks. "You must have one."
Miss Sniffles sat to eat what was left, but the instant she pulled close her chair and took up her utensils, the second pancake was gone.
"What a wonderful cook you are," cried the mole, brushing the crumbs from the corners of her crinkled mouth. "Never have I tasted a pancake so well done. But, my dear, you ate nothing for yourself. And why didn't you make more? Two pancakes is hardly enough for a mole and a mouse."
Miss Sniffles could have said that there was enough for a small mouse who understood the importance of moderation, but she checked herself and let it pass with a "Oh, I suppose I'm not as hungry as I thought," and gathered the plates from the table. "Can I get you any coffee or maple sugar?"
"No, coffee, thank you," said the mole, wiggling her nose, "but I will take a tannin tea if you have one."
Miss Sniffles did have one, only one, in fact, and she was ill-disposed to part with it. Her dinner had been all eaten up, and not even her sense of charitableness could recommend her kindness toward a mole who was determined to eat and drink everything in her stores.
"Ah! I see you have a box of tannin tea on the top of the range there. I will take one cup with a few lumps of sugar. But what’s this? You have only one sachet leaf. Very well, I will boil the water and we will share it."
Before the mouse could make any remonstrances or offers of anything else, Baba Mole was upon her: she was at the range, she was filling the kettle, she was divesting the tannin powder and asking whether she were married or in want of a husband- for she had three grandsons giving away- and when the kettle sounded, Old Baba Mole had chosen a husband for her, poured the tea, and had sat again at the table, nibbling on some of the leftover rosehip biscuits that had been tucked away in the cupboard.
"These are lovely, my dear," she cried, the crumbs blanketing her whiskers. "Are these made with lemon?"
Miss Sniffles gave her a flat look. "Yes," she said begrudgingly, "they are made with lemon."
"Delightful! You should have one with your tea. I'm sure they would complement the roasted flavour of the tannin."
They would complement the tea, which is exactly why Miss Sniffles had got them, but when her hand reached out to the biscuit tin to take one, her fingertips were met with scarcely a crumb. She looked inside the tin and was hardly surprised to find it devoid of any biscuits at all.
“Delectable," the mole cried. "But, deary, you did not have any. Are you really not hungry?"
Miss Sniffles sniffed. "No."
"Well, you should finish your tea before it gets cold."
Miss Sniffles almost feared putting down her cup, lest the Old Mole contrive to take it, and she therefore kept it close to her and sipped her tea in a deadly calm while the mole went on about grandsons and lawyers and not minding that they were all balding or hideous when they were sure to be good boys who earned an excellent living.