Desmond the Dormouse
By Dave Gregson
Desmond, the eldest son of Mr and Mrs Dormouse, woke up one morning quite determined. He was going to live in his own house. The idea has been in his mind for a long time, but suddenly it was settled.
“What a foolish idea!” said Mr Dormouse to Desmond at breakfast. “I think you must have a headache or something. Do you want all The Hollow to laugh at you?”
Desmond sat opposite his father with a stubborn look on his face. He didn’t say anything.
“Oh! Do listen to your father,” said Mrs Dormouse. “He always knows what’s best.”
Nothing would move Desmond. He was a very bold and brave Dormouse, and once he had made up his mind that was that. Many times Mr Dormouse scolded Desmond for doing very dangerous things, but Desmond went right on doing them. He was very fond of sneaking into Farmer George’s barn and eating grain and playing in the hay. And with Tabitha the cat around, that was a very dangerous thing to do.
It was on one of those visits to the barn that Desmond stopped and had a really close look at the farmhouse. He was delighted. It looked so cosy, and warm and bright – with the door open, curtains at all the windows, and blue smoke coming from the chimney. Quite different from his family’s dark home.
“Oh! To have a house like that,” thought Desmond to himself. He was in so much of a daydream on that occasion that Tabitha almost caught him. From that first little thought, the idea grew every day until now Desmond’s mind was made up.
“Don’t worry, Mother,” said Mr Dormouse to his wife when Desmond had gone out, “he’ll soon come to his senses. How on earth could a little chap like him build a house?” And Mr Dormouse laughed.
But Desmond had thought of that. Just below the Blackberry Patch near the farm was the very thing he wanted. A large, empty, wooden egg box.
“The very thing for my house,” thought Desmond when he had seen it. It was far too big and heavy for Desmond to move by himself, but he had thought of that as well.
Mr Squirrel and Mr Rabbit rolled around, laughing and almost crying when Desmond told them of his idea. Mr Squirrel had been eating a nut, but before he could swallow it, he started laughing and almost choked. Mr Rabbit had to thump him hard on the back. Finally, when the two animals were too weak to laugh any more, Mr Rabbit said, “We’re sorry Desmond. We don’t mean to be rude, but it is a very strange idea of yours.”
Mr Rabbit looked at his friend Mr Squirrel, and the two of them fell down laughing again.
“Well, if you won’t help me,” said Desmond, rather annoyed and hurt, “I’ll get someone else.”
“Oh! No, Desmond,” said Mr Squirrel still almost helpless on the ground. “It’s a silly idea, but if you want any help, we’ll be glad to give it. Won’t we?” He was looking at Mr Rabbit, who was so overcome with mirth that all he could do was nod his head.
“Why does it have to be on the top of the hill?” said Mr Squirrel a little later as he and Mr Rabbit were struggling up the hillside with the old egg box.
“All the best houses have good views,” said Desmond, scurrying along through the long grass. “And the best view of all is at the top of the hill.”
By the time the egg box had been set upside down on the top of the hill, Mr Squirrel and Mr Rabbit were tired out. Desmond clambered on top of the box and looked around. His whiskers twitched, and his chest swelled.
“I shall have my front windows on this side,” he said. “Just look at that view, the best in the Hollow. Wait till it is finished and my father sees it. He’ll see how much better it is than that poor hole in the bank.”
Weeks passed by, and Desmond worked on his house. At first, all the animals laughed when they heard of Desmond’s plan, and they laughed even louder when they saw the egg box perched on top of the hill. But Desmond didn’t mind.
“You just wait till it’s finished,” he would say.
He worked very hard. He cut out a doorway and the windows, a hole in the roof and made a chimney to fit it. He built some little steps leading up to the front door and a porch over the top. He even made a door in the back of the box and said to Mr Squirrel, “And out here I’m going to have my kitchen-garden.” He was thinking of the kitchen-garden down at the farm.
By the time Desmond’s house had reached this stage, many of the animals came to look. They didn’t laugh any more.
“How pretty,” said Mrs Rabbit.
“What a lovely house,” said Mr Waterfowl, clucking around it.
They were so pleased that many offered to help. Mrs Rhode Island Red made some bright yellow curtains for the windows, Mrs Rabbit had a piece of matting which she said would look very well on the floor, even Mr Badger came from him den to look, and said that he might have a tin of red paint somewhere if Desmond wanted it. Desmond did want it, and so the egg box house was painted bright red.
While he was working on the house, Desmond went home each evening to the river bank. Mr Dormouse was still rather annoyed.
“What is wrong with this house then,” he would say to Desmond and sit looking crossly into the fire.
“It’s too dark,” said Desmond, “and there aren’t any windows to look out of.”
“What do you need windows for?” said Mr Dormouse. “If you want to see anything, you can go to the door.”
“Well, you can live here,” said Desmond with that very stubborn look on his face again, “but when my house is finished, I shall go and live in it. You can come to visit me whenever you want.”
“I shan’t go near your house,” said Mr Dormouse. “Dormice were meant to live in river banks, not in houses.”
Mr Dormouse meant what he said, but secretly he was very proud of what Desmond had done. He was especially proud when some of the animals of The Hollow came up to him and said what a wonderful house Desmond had built and what a fine young Dormouse he was.
At last Desmond’s house was finished. Bright, gleaming, and full of furniture. All ready for Desmond to move in. It was just about the time of The Hollow Picnic, so it was decided to have the picnic on the hillside just below the house so that everyone could look up and admire it.
After a very happy picnic, when he ate and drank more than he should, the time came for Desmond to go to his new house. All the animals stood and cheered him as he clambered up the hillside to his house.
He stood in front of it with a contented smile on his face. On the left of the door was a little white nameplate which said “DESMOND DORMOUSE”.
Desmond gave it a little polish with his handkerchief. Then he went inside.
The animals gave him a final cheer and settled down to eat the remains of the picnic.
Suddenly there was a groaning noise. Everyone looked at Mr Squirrel, who always ate too much. Then the noise came again much louder.
“Look, it’s Desmond’s house,” shouted Mr Rabbit. “It’s falling.” It wasn’t really falling, but it was beginning to roll down the hill. Very slowly, it tipped forward.
“There’s Desmond!” screamed Mrs Rhode Island Red, pointing towards the upstairs windows. There was only time to get a short glimpse of him before the house toppled right over and came down the hill. The animals rushed out of its way, and the house passed right over the remains of the picnic and squashed them flat. All the animals managed to scramble out of the way in time. Desmond’s gleaming red house went rolling down the slope towards the river. It went fast and faster, and it turned over and over so quickly that it didn’t look like a box any more – it was just a red mass.
“Oh! Help!” screamed Mrs Rabbit bobbing up and down in great alarm. “It’s going to fall into the river!”
Desmond’s red house reached the top of the steep bank and seemed to leap into the air and then splashed in the river. For a moment, all was quiet, and no one moved.
“Come on!” shouted Mr Squirrel. He dashed towards the bank, and all the other animals followed him.
There was no sign of Desmond. And the river was moving so swiftly that already the little red house had been carried quite a way away.
“Oh! My Goodness,” shrieked Mrs Waterfowl when she saw it and she fainted. There was only a small part of the house above water, and still no sign of Desmond.
“Come on,” said Mrs Rabbit jumping off along the bank. “We might still get it around the bend.” He secretly knew there couldn’t be any real chance because the house was full of water, but he didn’t want to say so.
“Yes, come on,” said Mr Squirrel and set off after his friend Mr Rabbit.
“What’s happened?” said a voice. It was Mr Dormouse. Desmond’s house had dropped into the river at almost exactly the place where his father lived.
“Poor Mr Dormouse,” said Mrs Rabbit. “Desmond’s house rolled down the hill and fell in the river, and the poor little fellow was inside it.”
“Don’t worry,” said Mrs Squirrel, trying to cheer him up, “some of the animals have gone off down the river. I expect they’ll get Desmond out safely.”
Mr Dormouse said nothing but he looked hard into the river. He wiped his eyes.
“Hello there,” said another voice. Everyone looked around.
“Over here,” said the voice again. There was Desmond across the other side of the river, sitting in the long grass and rubbing his head.
“Are you alright, my boy?” shouted Mr Dormouse, almost falling into the river in his excitement.
“I’m alright,” said Desmond gazing downstream where his house had disappeared. “I was thrown over here.”
Mrs Dormouse gave Desmond a large bowl of soup and sat him in father’s armchair by the fire.
“Well, at least that’s the end of your silly idea of a house,” said Mr Dormouse. “You’re a very lucky Dormouse.”
Desmond ate a spoonful of soup. Then he said very thoughtfully, “Yes, I shall be very careful to build a stronger house next time.”