Frewyn Fables: The House Guest by Michelle Franklin @ MrsDenAsaan
When winter comes early to Frewyn and the first snowfall of the year traps a young mouse in her home, fate brings an old mole to her door, but is the young mouse prepared for all the challenges that catering to a fussy house guest can bring?
Enjoy an excerpt:
When the tea was over, Miss Sniffles was very ready to be inhospitable. She had done with unwarranted visits and voracious house guests, regardless of how thoroughly she had cleaned the snow from the door, and was rather determined to rid her house of the officious mole by the time the teaboard had been cleaned. She took the cups and empty tin away from the table and went to the basin to begin the washing, but when she turned to ask if there were anything else the good mouse could get the old mole, she was astonished to find the mole leaving the table and moving to go.
“Well, deary, it was a lovely time, and you were so very good to me, but now I believe I must be off. The skies are beginning to dim and the clouds are lifting. Best for me to hobble home now. My grandsons will be worried if I tarry any longer.”
Miss Sniffles was certain that she was only going three miles off to give her reports to her grandson of a pretty young mouse who could cook and keep house and who was evidently in want of a husband, but she only smiled and said she was sorry that the old mole could not stay the evening.
“And as I promised, my kerchief,” said the mole, laying the red cloth down on the table. “Thank you for sharing your delicious meal with me. I’ll be seeing you.” And in a moment, she was gone, scurrying out the front door, much to the relief of her host.
A wave, a pleasant smile, and the mouse closed the door with a sigh. She was quite ready to do nothing more than sit in her rocking chair by the fire and finish knitting her acorn trivets, but the red cloth, which caught her eye as she went to the fire, brought her back to the table. She sat down, examined the fabric and wondered whether she might make anything out of it, when she noted a small message on the inside fold reading thus: Dear Camilla, you have always been a most caring and generous sister. Please take this as a token of my affection. Your beloved Milka.
Here was a pang: what she thought was a frivolous article was a token of love, given with great affection from one sister to another. How long had she kept that kerchief and under what circumstances may be conceived, but regardless of how it was obtained, it could not be accepted. The guilt of taking it from the mole was too great, and she could not keep such a token without it weighing on her heart forever. She leapt from her seat, raced out the door, hastened down the road, and called after the old mole, who was just beginning to burrow away. “Wait,” she shouted, in a voice much oppressed by a full breath. “Please, wait.”
And wait, she did. The mole turned back, narrowed her gaze, and was only moderately surprised at the mouse’s coming after her. “Why, it’s you deary. Is there something the matter?” said the mole, her nose twitching.”Oh, but my kerchief. Is there something the matter with it?”
“No,” Miss Sniffles huffed, trying to catch her breath. “I cannot take this from you. Please keep it.”
The old mole was all aghast. “But you shared your meal with me and more, deary. I would be very ungrateful if I did not offer something in return.”
“Please,” the mouse entreated, forcing the kerchief into the mole’s gnarled hand, “I absolutely cannot keep it.”
“As you will, deary, but—oh! What luck! Here comes my grandson to meet me and bring me home.”
A sudden rumbling from below the nearest snow bank, and the large heap was piled over and a young mole materialized from the niveous rubble. He was tall, grey, and balding, the lirks around his mouth curling in a shy smile, his nose long and wriggling, and his whiskers rife with snow. He seemed ashamed, as though he had not expected to be met with company upon his arrival. His wrinkled hide darkened and he made a little bow to introduce himself.
“Deary,” said the old mole, addressing the mouse and drawing the young mole forward forcibly by the arm, “this is my eldest grandson. This is my Edmond.” She winked at the mouse, looked coy, and whispered behind a raised hand, “He’s the lawyer.”
A few nudges and eager smiles were all Miss Sniffles had to suffer for this untoward introduction. She spied the dirt-encrusted mole, at first thinking him looking rather ill, dirty, and somewhat stout, but once he had cleaned himself and removed the chief of the dirt and snow from his face, he was not so terribly unhandsome, and his underhung jaw granted him an appeal that must be acknowledged. “How do you do?” said she, offering her hand.
He took her hand, inclined his bald head, and kissed her small fingers.
“He’s looking to marry,” said the old mole. “He wants a sweet girl who would like a family.”
“Baba, please don’t tell her these things,” Edmond said, laughing nervously. “You’re embarrassing me.” He hemmed, looked askance, and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“That’s what I’m supposed to do, Edmond. If you won’t look for a wife yourself, I must be on the watch. And here I have found a nice girl for you. Isn’t she pretty? I told you she was.”
“Told him?” Miss Sniffles repeated, with a chary glance.
Edmond seemed mortified and looked away.
“He has done nothing but talk about you since you waved at him this morning,” said the mole.
“Waved at him?” The mouse gave a small start. “You mean, that was you?”
“Of course it was, deary.” The old mole hobbled close to the mouse and whispered, “I wanted to see if you had a good heart, so I told a little fib and said I had not eaten much in a while just to see if you would be kind enough to help an old mole. You’ll forgive me, won’t you? Edmond is the dearest boy, but he has a soft heart, and I wanted to be sure that you were worthy of his affection. A grandmother cannot bear to see her little ones hurt, but you are all goodness, deary, for putting up with an old mole—”
“Very well, Baba,” Edmond kindly interposed, taking his grandmother’s arm, “I’m sure you’ve troubled her enough. Say goodnight and I’ll take you home.” And stepping closer to the mouse, he added, “I’m sorry she disturbed you. She likes playing matchmaker. I think all grandmothers do.” He stared at her lovely face for a moment, and then hemmed and turned aside. “Come along, Baba.”
“Wait,” said Miss Sniffles, placing a hand on Edmond’s arm. “I have some tea, if you like. It’s not tannin tea, of course, but you’ve come all this way…” She left it there, fearing to be forward while the grandmother was by, but she need not be uneasy, for the instant the invitation was made, Old Baba Mole scampered away and burrowed home, happy to have found a match for one of her grandsons and was off to find a match for the other.
A few awkward looks and blushing smiles passed between them, and after the first fever of nervousness was over, Edmond made a civil apology for his grandmother’s connivance. “She’s very anxious for us to marry,” was his good-natured explanation. “My mother and father died when we were young, and she wants to see us well off and happy before she goes. I have told her many times that not everyone is inclined to marry, but she is from an older generation where everyone of a certain age must want to marry and she thinks she has to arrange everything herself. Please excuse her, and forgive me for not saying hello to you earlier. I was overcome with shyness and dared not say or do anything that would give you a bad impression.”
Miss Sniffles was inclined to believe that guilt ran everywhere in this mole family and rather than stand about in the cold to hear Edmond make further apologies, she invited him in with a proposal of maple wine, which she had been saving away for the long and unpleasant winter months.
“I’d like that,” said Edmond, smiling fondly at her, and before anything more could be said of grandmothers, lawyers, fibs or tea, the mouse put her hand in his and guided him into the hawthorn.
Edmond’s arm shook as the mouse guided him over the threshold and he trembled in terror: never before had a creature so lovely willingly taken his hand, never before had he felt a gesture so poignant, fingers so slender, a palm so padded, a sentiment so like affection. He was sorry to lose the connection when she released him, but as she entreated him to sit and went to the cellar to retrieve the maple wine, he stared at his hand and felt all the happiness that the warmth of her touch had supplied.
She returned with two glasses and a clay decanter stopped with an acorn, and before Edmond could thank her for the kind gesture of inviting him to share in a glass, the wine was poured, the mouse was sitting beside him and propinating to his good health. Together, they indulged in one another’s company, talking and laughing until late in the evening, and when the chairs at the table had grown too uncomfortable, they removed to the hearth, where they continued their conversation until the early hours of the morning. The rising of the sun was to see their parting, and when the aubade of the winterfowl echoed across the lane, Edmond finally declared that he must be going, and Miss Sniffles made a lamenting sigh and walked with him to the door.
“May I see you again?” he asked, his cheeks in a glow.
Miss Sniffled smiled most warmly. “Yes. I would like that.”
She gave her ready concurrence, and when Edmond at last took his leave, kissing her hand as he went, he burrowed into the snow bank and scurried away, happy that his grandmother had embarrassed him after all.
Tired of the length and the fatigues of the day, Miss Sniffles was ready to resign herself to sleep. Her door had been cleared, her forbearance had been tried, her affection had been kindled, and thinking of Edmond and the agreeable time they had spent together furnished her thoughts as she went up the stairs to her room. She could have done without the schemes and machinations of the old mole, but to have gained a friend in Edmond she reckoned worth all the designs of old mercenary moles everywhere.
She had not been asleep a few minutes when a knock at the window roused her. It was the Sparrow, come to give her the daily letters and inquire whether there were anything he might convey to Lucentia. She thanked him for his offer but declined it, and when he had flown off to continue his duties, she noticed that he had left a small note for her in the mail basket. It bore the Northern Continent postmark and came from her mother. She rolled her eyes and sighed and dreaded opening it. “I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t read it,” she murmured to herself, and tore the letter open with due alacrity, reading thus in her mother’s firm tone: “What is this I hear from the Finches about you and a mole? My dear, it will not do for you to be meeting with odd moles. Is he a local mole? Does he belong to the mole family that lives on the other side of the markets? I hope he is not a mole from Varralla, for you know, my dear, I told you not to allow any strange mice from Varralla in the house, but the same is to go for the moles. And what is this I hear from the Ravens about your finishing all the maple wine? It will not do to drink all of your stores before the winter is out. And remember to dry the dishes before you put them away, my dear.”
Mothers would have eyes and ears everywhere, and though Miss Sniffles was hardly surprised at her mother’s having already heard of her new friend, she could wish her mother not to make grand lectures on the subject of acceptable associates. She placed the letter aside, half afraid of her parents returning from Lucentia before the evening was out, but when she thought of Edmond, his rumpled face, his wiggling nose, and his kindly manner, she was sure that if her parents did return during their evening together, they should like him and be ready to accept him as a frequent visitor. She turned her features toward the sunlight, smiled in spite of herself, and drifted into a gentle doze, and as she surrendered herself to a pleasant sloom, she thought that perhaps the old mole was not such a troublesome house guest after all.
About the Author:
Michelle Franklin is a small woman of moderate consequence who writes many, many books about giants, romance, and chocolate.
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Official website: http://thehaanta.blogspot.ca/