Illustration by Helen Ward
Armistice at Toad Hall (with apologies to Kenneth Grahame)
Badger and Toad and Mole and Ratty had agreed that the reprehensible antics of the miscreants in the Wild Wood must be brought to an end. The year was turning from summer to autumn and Toad would soon be hibernating. In very cold or wet periods Badger, though not hibernating, would spend several days in his underground sett away from the perils of inclement weather. Toad and Badger could not bear the thought of little Mole and Ratty being left on their own to counteract the disruptive behaviour of the wily weasels and sly stoats and concluded they must make a mammoth attempt to engineer some sort of entente cordiale.
To this end they decided to hold a party at Toad Hall and invite the stoats and weasels. ‘Know your enemy,’ said wise Badger, quoting from the Chinese.
Toad scratched his head, ‘We do know our enemy,’ he said. ‘We know them only too well and I know what I’d like to do to them.’ He puffed himself up. Mole and Ratty, recognising the signs of impending inappropriate action in their excitable friend, laid their paws on his arm in an attempt to pacify him.
‘What Badger means,’ said Mole in his quiet voice, ‘Is that if we can befriend the Wild Wooders we can understand them and avoid confrontation in the future.’
‘And if they get to know us,’ said Ratty in a reasonable tone, ’They may find they like us and don’t want to fight us any more.’
‘Sounds like utter rot to me,’ Toad sniffed.
‘At least let us try,’ said Badger. ‘A running battle upsets everyone’s equilibrium.’
Toad allowed himself to be persuaded and in the following days immersed himself in arrangements for the party. He printed invitations and ordered succulent delicacies for the banquet.When the day of the festivities arrived he and Badger, Ratty and Mole dressed in their finest clothes – Toad had commissioned a new suit especially for the occasion - and stood at the door of Toad Hall to welcome their guests.
The first to arrive were the stoats, swaggering in and smiling broadly, showing their wickedly sharp white teeth. They grabbed paper hats and jammed them on their heads then fell upon the food as though famished. Just as they were cramming trifle and cakes into their jaws their smaller cousins, the weasels, strutted into the dining hall. There were cries and whistles of recognition and exhortations to try this or that dish. Toad and his friends looked on in amazement. Never had they seen such a display of bad manners. There were no polite interchanges such as, ‘Could you pass the cream, please?’ or ‘Might I trouble you for the salt?’ Instead the sharp-eyed little creatures shoved and pushed, grabbed and snatched until the table and the floor beneath it was a litter of mashed and smashed food and crockery. Not once did any of the guests look at their hosts or thank them. Replete, they put their hind legs up on the table and stretched back in their chairs, burping and hiccoughing and laughing uproariously at old jokes. Gradually the hubbub ceased and was replaced by sonorous snoring.
‘Do you reckon we know them now?’ said Toad rudely to Badger.
Badger shook his great head and said, ‘We tried our best. They are not creatures with whom we can have anything in common. I think the only thing we can do now is avoid them insofar as that is possible and make sure our own premises are secured when we are away from home.’
‘But they’re already in my home,’ protested Toad. ‘It was your idea to invite them in. Now how shall I be rid of them?’
He need not have worried. When the Wild Wooders awoke they left quietly. The oldest stoat, grizzle-bearded, shook the friends’ paws and thanked them for their hospitality. ‘It’s not the end of the war,’ he warned them, ‘But it was a pleasant interlude, a temporary ceasefire.’
The four animals set about clearing up the mess left by their guests. They found a small stoat still asleep in a milk jug. He woke with a start and helped them to tidy up then skipped out of Toad Hall, saying, ‘Thanks, Mister. It was fun.’
‘There’s hope in the younger generation,’ said Badger and Ratty nodded his head as he closed and bolted the heavy oak door.
Mole giggled and said, ‘I overhead a joke they made.’
‘Do tell,’ said Toad.
‘What's the difference between a stoat and a weasel?’ said Mole.
Badger and Ratty looked mystified while Toad tried to look as though he knew the answer.
Spluttering, Mole said, ‘A weasel is weasily wecognised and a stoat is stoatally different.’
Their laughter rang out into the night and the Wild Wooders, hearing it, laughed too. The armistice at Toad Hall had been a great success. Maybe there would be another one, one day.
Thanks to Tess for this prompt. Go here to read other offerings.