Who Stole The Magic Stones?

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Squirrel and Crow by Samuel Batley

Illustration by Samuel Batley

Except when the naughty young elves were up to mischief, The Hollow was a very quiet place. The elves, fairies and gnomes who lived in The Enchanted Wood got on very well with all the animals that lived in The Hollow. But one summer there was a terrible fuss. Mr Gnome’s magic stones were stolen. They were very fine stones indeed and shone brightly like magic stars.

At home, Mrs Rabbit told Mr Rabbit about Mr Gnome and the magic stones.

“It’s very bad,” said Mr Rabbit. “Do you know Old Grandfather Mole is really enjoying himself? He goes up to every animal that passes Mole Hill and asks ‘what were you doing last night? Did you take those magic stones?’”

“Oh dear,” said Mrs Rabbit.

“Oh! He gets some animals quite cross you know,” said Mr Rabbit. Why only just now he said it to Mr Badger and Mr Badger was not happy.

Only Mr Squirrel sitting up on his branch seemed quite happy. He just sat and whistled and ate a nut now and then.

“Poor Mr Gnome,” he muttered to himself as he watched the other animals down in The Hollow.

Mr Gnome had been born in the deep dark Enchanted Wood under a big oak tree. He had lived there ever since with his gnome family, close to the fairies and elves.

“I know,” Mr Gnome had said to himself one day. “I’ll invite Mr Crow to tea.” Mr Gnome had got to know all the animals of The Hollow apart from Mr Crow, who seemed very secret and had not visited any of the other animals of The Hollow or folk from The Enchanted Wood. Maybe Mr Crow knew something about the stones?

Mr Crow always wore a black suit with his large beak stuck up in the air. His nest was at the very top of the tallest tree in The Hollow and the animals thought he wasn’t very friendly. Everyone, including Mr Gnome, was very surprised when he accepted the invitation.

“Never known him to visit anyone,” said Mr Rabbit to his friend Mr Squirrel.

“Hm,” said Mr Squirrel, “It’s very strange indeed,” he said, sitting back in his chair.

Mr Gnome rushed out of the wood and ran at top speed down the hillside.

Mr Gnome burst into Mrs Rabbit’s kitchen. Mrs Rabbit was taking a big drink of her 11 o’clock cup of tea.

“What’s wrong? Is it a fire?”

Every animal in The Hollow and The Enchanted Wood was terrified of fire. There was so much in The Hollow and The Enchanted Wood that would burn very easily.

“No! No!” cried Mr Gnome– almost breathless after his run downhill – “you’ll never guess – not in a million years!”

He was right! Mrs Rabbit couldn’t guess.

“Well!…,” said Mr Gnome, “Mr Crow is coming for tea!”

“He’ll never come,” said Mr Rabbit when Mrs Rabbit told him about it

As was the way in The Hollow, very soon everybody knew about the invitation. The whole Hollow was buzzing with gossip about Mr Crow. He hadn’t lived in The Hollow for long and not many animals had met him. That didn’t seem to matter. Ask anybody and they all had the same opinion as Mrs Rabbit. Mr Crow would not go to Mr Gnomes house in The Enchanted Wood for tea.

But they were all wrong. The very next day Mr Squirrel was sitting as usual outside his house with his feet up enjoying the sunshine. From his high branch, he had a perfect view of The Hollow spread out below like a map.

“Well! Well!” he said suddenly, “why in the world would Mr Crow do that?”

“Do what?” said Mrs Squirrel sneezing loudly – she was in the middle of her spring cleaning and was almost invisible in a cloud of dust.

“Mr Crow has just crossed The Hollow and is going to Mr Gnome’s house. Can you believe it?”

“He’s gone for his cakes!” said Mrs Squirrel.

“Hmm?” said Mr Squirrel doubtfully. Like everyone else, he knew quite well that Mr Gnome was a very good cook. On the days he baked fresh cakes, a wonderful delicious smell floated around The Hollow and The Enchanted Wood. Even reaching the top of Mr Squirrel’s tree, who thought it would be wonderful if Mrs Squirrel’s kitchen could produce magical smells like that. Though, he never said this to Mrs Squirrel.

“There’s something funny about that bird,” Mr Squirrel said to himself, staring up at the beautiful blue sky.

Mrs Waterfowl, like most of the animals, had seen Mr Crow striding across The Hollow and guessed he was heading for Mr Gnome’s house.

“You see where he’s going?” she said shortly afterwards to Mrs Rabbit. “Well, it’s certain to take his mind off those stones. Things can quieten down and that’ll be great.”

Mrs Rabbit didn’t think it would and it didn’t.

Mr Gnome was certainly very proud that there was Mr Crow sitting in his house, at his table, eating a 2nd  or 3rd lot of freshly baked cream buns. But he thought what a shame it was that he hadn’t got my magic stones to show to Mr Crow.

While Mr Crow was busy eating his way through his 3rd – or 4th or maybe even be his 5th cream cake, Mrs Rabbit was busy back at her house in the kitchen making Mr Rabbit’s tea.

As Mrs Rabbit was thinking about the magic stones, Mr Rabbit spoke as if to say the final word that anyone could say about it.

“No…there’s not a thing anybody at all can do about the magic stones.”

Mrs Rabbit looked at Mr Rabbit. Somebody must do something about it. And that somebody was her. She would tell Mr Badger, there wasn’t any problem he couldn’t solve. She knew this wouldn’t be easy. So it would have to be done now. Straight away. Mrs Rabbit knew very well that if you have anything difficult to do – you put it off – and put it off again – and again. It’s always easy to think up a reason for not doing something. So it had to be now. Without a word to Mr Rabbit, she left the house at once.

From his branch high above The Hollow, Mr Squirrel saw Mrs Rabbit leave her house and head to The Enchanted Wood. She looked very determined he thought but his mind was on something else. It was on Mr Crow. Mr Squirrel put his head right back and gave a long sigh.  Mr Squirrel talked quietly to himself. He often did this when he was trying to puzzle something out.

Usually, Mr Crow flies right out of The Hollow – and he doesn’t come back till late. Now! Where does he go? And what does he do?

Mrs Squirrel was busy in the kitchen. Where she was peeling potatoes. She said, “That Mr Crow is a mystery and I’m going to solve it!”

Mr Badger lived in The Enchanted Wood on the very edge of The Hollow. Unless you knew where to look, Mr Badger’s house was very difficult to find. And that was exactly the way he liked it. Mrs Rabbit almost never went into The Enchanted Wood, she didn’t like the gloomy darkness with not very much sunlight. It was when she was in The Enchanted Wood that she remembered. Mr Badger didn’t like to be disturbed at any time, especially not during the afternoon.

“Oh dear!” she thought, “I’ve come at the wrong time! I’d better go back. Come another time!”

“No!” she told herself, “I must do this and I must do it now!”

She knew that if she turned back she might not have the courage to come again. So she straightened her shoulders, gritted her teeth and said out loud:

“I am not afraid! I will not be afraid.”

And as she marched on she wasn’t afraid – not the least bit – not until she banged very hard on Mr Badger’s door.

“Oh dear!” she said to herself as soon as she had done it, “that was too loud, it’ll upset him!”

She had the feeling again that there was time to turn back and disappear into the bushes before Mr Badger opened the door. Once again she said out loud to herself:

“Mrs Rabbit you will stay where you are. This is very important!”

The door was flung open. Mr Badger’s huge body filled the entire doorway. In one glance Mrs Rabbit saw the great paws ending in claws like sharp spikes – the size of those brown stained teeth. Mr Badger’s black and white striped head thrust forward.

Mrs Rabbit surprised herself with what she did next. She stepped forward closer to Mr Badger and stared straight into his eyes. She knew Mr Badger would be furious! She knew she should be afraid. But she wasn’t. The reason was that she saw – or thought she saw – a twinkle in Mr Badger’s eye.

And surely there could be no mistake – that was a smile curling around the corners of his mouth. Then he gave a wink and in a voice that was nothing like the deafening roar she expected he said:

“It’s Mrs Rabbit isn’t it?” she nodded. “You’re a brave little animal to come here alone in the middle of the day. It must be something important, you’d better come in and tell me all about it.”

Mrs Rabbit was almost in tears as she told her story about the magic stones. About how The Hollow had become a different place and full of gossip.

Mr Badger listened in silence, but Mrs Rabbit was sure she could hear the grinding of those massive brown-stained teeth.

Mrs Rabbit did burst into real tears as she finished. Mr Badger gently put a huge paw on her shoulder.

“You were quite right to come Mrs Rabbit. I hadn’t heard about these magic stones. It’s a pity somebody didn’t tell me sooner. This has got to be sorted out! And quick. Now, will you take a message from me to The Hollow?”

Mrs Rabbit nodded.

“Good! Well you see it gets around – I’ll be in The Hollow myself tomorrow. At the usual meeting place. 12 O’clock! Sharp!”

The next day the animals began to gather early at the meeting place. This was a grassy mound with an old tree stump in the middle. At exactly midday, Mr Badger shambled out of the woods. Without a word to anyone, he made his way to the meeting place. He climbed onto the stump and glared around at the animals. Mr Badger had a quick temper so when he called a meeting everybody came.

Almost everyone. This time Mr Squirrel didn’t go – from his tree, he could hear and see everything. Mr Badger sat on the tree stump and his deep voice. Now Mr Squirrel had spent hours and hours puzzling about Mr Crow. He had the feeling that if he could find out more about Mr Crow then that would also solve the mystery of the magic stones.

Mr Badger on the tree stump was standing well above the heads of the animals around. He roared in a voice that sounded like a thunderclap and frightened almost everybody.

“Somebody here!” he said sweeping a great paw around, “somebody here is a thief.” As his arm moved around each animal thought that Mr Badger was pointing at him – or her!

Now Mr Badger’s roar became louder. Some of the younger animals scooted off to hide under the bushes

“I have never before heard of a thief in The Hollow or The Enchanted Wood– and – when we find him – or her,” he said  “and”, he said this time glaring at everyone,  “and, when we find the thief he or she will leave, and forever!”

No animal in the crowd moved. They seemed like statues carved out of stone.

Each animal looked at his or her neighbour and thought: Is it you?

And then, where will you go when you leave?

Mr Badger had announced a dreadful punishment. No animal had ever left The Hollow or The Enchanted Wood. Not even in their dreams.

Mrs Rabbit now felt she must speak to Mrs Waterfowl.

“Where could anyone go?” Her eyes filled with tears at the thought, some poor animal will have to pack – with all the family as well – turn their backs on The Hollow or The Enchanted Wood  – leave their friends – and go into the wide world! She couldn’t bear thinking about it anymore. Whatever anyone had done – no matter who was the thief surely all that was too much.

Mr Badger’s thundering voice again echoed around The Hollow.

“I’m going to give the culprit one last chance!”

Mrs Rabbit felt a sudden great relief.

“If the thief returns the magic stones to Mr Gnome by 12 o’clock tomorrow – then we’ll forget all about it. Now, I want to give this animal the best possible chance to make up for what he or she has done. I want you all, every member of every family, to go to bed early tonight. Close the curtains. Do not look out of windows or doors at all until morning. The thief can put the magic stones outside Mr Gnomes door tonight, in secret! No one must know who it is!”

“Do you think the thief will do that?” said Mrs Squirrel. But Mr Squirrel wasn’t listening, he was now climbing up the tree.

The Squirrel’s home was right at the top of their tree.  But there were more branches even higher up. Very thin branches. Even for Mr Squirrel – The Hollow’s prize climber – there could be danger. A broken twig and he could fall to the ground down below.

“What are you going up there for?” cried Mrs Squirrel.

“There’s something I want to see,” Mr Squirrel shouted as he clambered up through the wildly swaying branches. Mrs Squirrel watched as he disappeared in the leaves.

Mrs Squirrel waited anxiously for her husband’s return. At last – after what seemed like hours – Mr Squirrel reappeared.

“Well, I hope you found what you wanted!” said Mrs Squirrel trying to sound very cross but she was really only too happy to see him back safe and sound.

Mr Squirrel sat down and said  with a mischievous wink, “I found out everything I need to know.”

Mr Squirrel would say nothing more. He just sat – feet up on another branch whistling to himself. Until after dark. Then he moved. First, he made sure that Mrs Squirrel and the little ones were asleep. Then he set out to do what he had to do – which wasn’t far away.

He crept along several branches, and then did a flying leap through the leaves and landed on Mr Crow’s tree, right next to his front door.

The door opened suddenly before Mr Squirrel could knock. The shiny black head – two very angry eyes – and the great yellow beak filled the doorway. Close up, the beak was huge – threatening – and thrust almost into Mr Squirrel’s face.

“What do you want?”

Mr Squirrel remained quite calm. This seemed to enrage Mr Crow who shoved his beak even closer. Mr Squirrel simply held up a paw and said, “I’m your neighbour. I thought I’d just drop in to see your collection of magic stones.”

Mr Crow staggered back. All his fierceness had disappeared. It was like when somebody sticks a pin in a balloon. All the air rushes out and it goes flat. Mr Crow didn’t go flat but he did look ready to faint.

Mr Squirrel pushed past him into the room. He stared around in amazement. All around shelf after shelf was crammed with shiny objects. Bits of stone, bits of glass, rings, beads, bottle tops, buttons. All shapes. All sizes.

And there were Mr Gnome’s magic stones.

Mr Crow sat down at the table and looked very ashamed of himself.

“How did you find out?” he asked Mr Squirrel in a very low voice.

“Well,” said Mr Squirrel looking rather pleased with himself, “if you wanted to keep all this secret – you should have kept your door closed!”

Mr Crow looked very puzzled.

“You see,” said Mr Squirrel, “in the afternoons on a bright day like today – the sun shines straight on your door and if the door is open then from the top of my tree I can see straight into your house!”

Then Mr Squirrel tried to sound very angry – which was difficult because he was very good-natured.

“Those magic stones”, said Mr Squirrel in a pretend deep voice and pointing to Mr Gnome’s magic stones, “were stolen and that has caused terrible trouble in The Hollow. You ought to be ashamed!”

Mr Squirrel stood on tiptoes, thrashed his bushy tail from side to side and tried to look fierce.

It seemed to work because tears began to fill Mr Crow’s eyes.

“I can’t help it! Whenever I see anything small, bright and shiny, something takes over me! I’ve just got to have it. I can’t stop myself. I’ve tried. I can’t help it!  All my family are like me. It’s just the way we are. There’s my Uncle Jim – and all the other family – my Grandfather – who’s a Raven and his family. We’re all the same.”

Then with tears rolling down his cheeks and dropping off the edge of his beak, he said in a small sad voice.

“It’s not on purpose. I wish we were different but we’re not! I think we’re just born that way!”

Mr Squirrel felt his own tears coming. He patted Mr Crow on the shoulder and sat down next to him at the table.

“Well,  Mr Crow, don’t worry my friend we can sort this thing out, I’m sure, I’ve got an idea,” said Mr Squirrel cheerfully.

The next morning Mr Squirrel was up bright and early. He took his breakfast cup of sweet tea with him as he sat on the branch. He didn’t want to miss a single minute of what would be a thrilling day in The Hollow. Mr Badger arrived at the meeting place at 12 o’clock. That was most remarkable. Mr Badger in The Hollow for two days in a row! Sometimes he was not seen for weeks at a time. His appearance at the tree stump in the meeting place was the signal. The animals steamed out their homes and soon Mr Badger was surrounded by a big crowd. Every single animal keen to know what has happened.

“My friends,” said Mr Badger, words which every animal knew meant the news was good. They all cheered loudly even before Mr Badger could explain.

Mr Badger raised his arm for silence. And got it immediately. One didn’t disobey Mr Badger.

“Mr Gnome’s magic stones are back!” This time the roars of cheering were accompanied by waving of arms and clapping of hands.

Mr Badger raised just a single finger and the noisy crowd was quiet.

“And most importantly, no one here stole them. So – as I expected – there is no thief in The Hollow.”

Now the real celebrations began. Dancing, singing, animals holding hands and skipping around.

This time Mr Badger didn’t call for silence. He decided there was too much noise, and that he had been there too long. Without another word, he set out for home and bed.

Mr Squirrel on his branch watched him go. He stretched happily feeling very pleased about his visit to Mr Badger. He told Mr Badger about what he had seen at Mr Crow’s and the sad story Mr Crow had told him about himself. Mr Badger had thought for a long time then said:

“Well, thief or no thief, you can’t really blame him. The poor bird can’t help it!”

“And he told me he was leaving The Hollow anyway. He said he doesn’t stay long anywhere – then moves on to somewhere else, that’s what the crows do and what makes them happy”

So, Mr Badger and himself had agreed not to mention Mr Crow’s name.

“Well,” said Mr Squirrel sitting down next to Mrs Squirrel, “looks like The Hollow is back to normal.”

“It certainly is,” said Mrs Squirrel pointing, “just look at that!”

There below they could see all the animals arm in arm crossing The Hollow towards Mr Gnome’s house in The Enchanted Wood. Mr Crow and his family headed off to their new home with a friendly wave back at The Hollow, Mr and Mrs Crow and the children had learned how important it is to be friendly, honest and help each other.

The other folk of The Enchanted Wood, the elves and fairies were also heading towards Mr Gnome’s house.

Mr Gnome, with a big smile, rushed out and kissed everyone. Then they all held hands and went inside. Although they were all a bit different, it didn’t matter, they could all be friends.

Mr Squirrel closed his eyes, gave a big smile, and said cheerfully, “Mr Gnome’s been busy baking cakes to celebrate!”

THE END

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- Total nr. of readings: 286 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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