This is the fourth part of a story – read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Not all of those who lived outside the forest were so vocal in their disapproval. In fact some had managed to rise above the peer pressure and met with the missionary squirrels. Anthony Cornstook, father to the small family vaguely recalled that his great-great-great-grandfather had dwelled beneath leafy boughs, and well – what a place: word was, the food was good and prospects were bright. When they arrived, they would find a rich social life (including the promise of old friends) and a more secure home. There was a lot of appeal there. Why not shift nest? And that was that.
Harvest mice aren’t particularly materialistic but they had enough to warrant hiring a young hare as guide-cum-porter. Tonight was the night and a nervously excited family finished strapping down everything within their round apartment.
Anthony sat at the door, overlooking the fields from their vantage point up in the wheat. A pair of long ears rose out of the long grass, twitching and turning. Satisfied, Everett hopped over the rise and tapped the wheat stem twice. The high house rattled under the hare’s touch and five mice scurried down the stem leaving Anthony at the door. When they reached the ground and greeted Everett, Anthony climbed on the roof of the apartment and bit through the twine binding it to the stem. Anthony rode their home down like an elevator to the bottom where he hopped off. Everett snapped the wheat stem and placed their home on the ground.
“All set then are we?” asked Everett cheerfully. Anthony took a last look at the old wheatfields, knowing in his little heart that he had made the right decision, for him and his family. Then the hare bounded off for the forest with the nest strapped tightly to his chest, the six harvest mice nestled inside.
It was a hell of a journey, or a journey through hell, depending on which of the mice you asked. Finally, Everett reached a small clearing near a stream. He stooped to crawl into the middle of a dense thorny bush, bumping the mouse house along the ground.
“Right, this is it. Welcome to The Oval!” he declared and released the dizzy harvest mice. “There’s loads of mice round here, I moved the Barleywhites and Cornflowers down here just last new moon,” Anthony knew them well but was trying to find a single point to focus on while the ground stopped lurching around.
“It’s been great actually,” Everett continued, “I’ve lost track of how many folks have come back, not just mice but birds, and frogs of course, so you might want to stay close to home for a bit. Oh – do watch out for owls if you leave the hedgey bits and don’t worry about food – ah I see you’ve brought some anyway. Either way you’re expected, people know you’re arriving this evening, so I’m sure someone will pop in once you’re unpacked. I don’t know whether you’ve thought about going diurnal yet? Well, I’ll leave you to think some more about that – it’s a family decision I’ve always thought,” the hare paused to draw breath so Anthony interrupted him,
“Well, all that sounds splendid. Could you lend us a paw to place the apartment?”
“Naturally, I’d be delighted to help,” They heaved (well, Anthony heaved as Everett easily lifted) the little home high up into the thorny branches where it would be safe from almost anything. Everett left them with only a few more words of advice and then leaped off, satisfied. The family unpacked anything which hadn’t already been unpacked by the journey and settled down for the night.
Two of the mice stayed up for a little while longer peering out through the thorns of their new home. Anthony’s youngest daughter, Lizbeth smiled sleepily at him. He stroked his daughter’s ear fur fondly and sighed with satisfaction. He and his wife had been worried about uprooting the kids. But they seemed happy, if very tired by the move so far. Lizbeth was delighted just by being surrounded by trees: they were high up, but the trees themselves were still higher around them.
How odd, thought Anthony. You go your whole life quite contentedly in a field – regular food, known enemies, then one day you wake up and realise you need something completely different. When that squirrel had bumped into him in the field one day, he found that he didn’t just want to go, he could go. In fact, Anthony had been so impressed that he brought the squirrel straight home to meet his wife. That there was such a nice and polite rodent from the forest quite outweighed her suspicions. The children had been won over especially quickly. It turned out that several of Lizbeth’s creche-mates had already gone.
“The Order of Squirrels has always been interested in providing assistance to our emigrating cousins,” the squirrel had explained, “and in encouraging others to help them. How can I help you?” Anthony had explained how he felt, the Order was sympathetic and it was all arranged there and then. Elated, he explained to the family that “It’s a ‘boom’ time for moving! The thickets have never been thicker!” And so here they were.
Looking out at the night sky, it all looked so different than in the fields. The branches of trees framed the rising moon beautifully. Anthony began to yawn with Lizbeth asleep under his forepaws, snoring gently. He stopped mid-yawn as the moon was blotted out by the silhouettes of a bat and an owl gliding side by side.
“Not in the country anymore,” mumbled Lizbeth in her sleep. He picked her up by the scruff and went to bed.