Mr Tiggs searched endlessly for his tea towel, until he spotted in the mirror that it was stuck to his back. Bother these bristles! Taking the tongs he kept especially for such circumstances, he removed the tea towel and proceeded to dry the polished acorn cups, before setting one down on the low round dining table. He poured himself a cup of nettle tea, and settled into his most comfortable armchair. The bright early morning sun streamed in through the window as he leant back in his chair, casting an eye around the neat walls of his cosy burrow; the shelves lined with the finest cups and plates, the skilfully rendered pictures of forest life, the rows and rows of books in his library, and his cosy feather-down bed tucked away in the corner. Actually, his life was pretty good. He enjoyed his job as forest librarian, but at times he wished it could be a little more exciting.
Now take Mr Red, for example. Dynamic, engaged, bush tail swaying magnificently in the wind. The steely blue eyes, the smouldering look. Heart throb of Little Acre and forest captain. Now that was his dream job. He would make a pretty good forest captain. He pictured himself now, striding purposefully through the forest making sure things were in order, shouting instructions here and there and watching the people scurry away to carry out their tasks. He had seen the long, sultry looks that Miss White aimed at the captain every time he passed by, and imagined himself on the receiving end of those looks, until he found himself getting hot under the bristles.
He was jerked out of his reverie by a sharp rat tat tat. Jumping out of his chair, he opened the front door to his surprise on Mr Black. The stern striped face of the badger stared at him over the top of his half moon glasses until he remembered his manners, and bid the badger welcome, opening the door wide and ushering him in.
“Now I shan’t stay long, Tiggs,” said Mr Black, settling himself into the armchair and looking expectantly at the cup of nettle tea. “I’m here on forest business.” He paused whilst Mr Tiggs handed him a cup, then continued. “There’s been an unfortunate accident. Our brave Mr Red was trying to rescue one of the mice who became stuck in a tree, when the branch he was on snapped, and he came tumbling down. Broke a paw, poor fellow, so he’ll be out of action for a while. You’ll have to take his place whilst he’s on the mend. What do you say?”
Mr Tiggs stared open mouthed at the badger, then made a few strangled noises before he finally found his voice. “Me? Be forest captain for a while?”
“Well yes,” said the badger, “but don’t worry, it should all be fairly straight forward, and you probably won’t have to do very much. Just walk around a bit and give help to anyone who needs it. Oh, and keep an eye on the weasels. They’re meant to be repairing the bridge but they keep buggering off on long tea breaks. Slippery fellows, but the best we can do at the moment.”
“Weasels,” he repeated, feeling slightly faint. He gave himself a shake, and stood up a bit straighter. He was forest captain! He felt himself swelling up with anticipation, and it wasn’t just the thought of Miss White. He would prove to everyone that it wasn’t just squirrels who make great forest captains! “You can count on me sir,” he said, only just managing to resist saluting the badger.
“Well, yes, you’re a good fellow, Tiggs, and I know I can trust you. Oh, you’ll need this of course.” He handed Tiggs a red and black striped armband, the sign of forest captain. “Well, good luck, Tiggs,” he said, pushing down on the chair arms to heave himself out. “I’ve got other business to attend to, so I’ll let you get on.” He ambled to the front door and let himself out, turning once to look back at Mr Tiggs. Nodding in approval, he closed the door behind him.
Mr Tiggs slipped the armband around his upper arm, and admired himself in the mirror. He practised a few dynamic poses and smouldering looks, before he took a deep breath and opened his front door. He was ready to meet the world head on as captain of Little Acre.
The day was already warm and bright as he marched down the lane which led from his house and sloped gently down into the forest. As he passed by the Great Wall, he saw that someone had scrawled Miss White is a hussy in rough lettering at the bottom of the wall. He smouldered with indignation – damn those weasels, that was just the sort of mean stunt that they would pull. He decided to pay them a visit now, to make sure they were pulling their weight on the bridge repair. When the path forked a short while later, he took the track to the right which wound it’s way down towards the brook. He found the weasels at the bridge, smoking cigarettes and playing a raucous game of cards. They looked up when he coughed to get their attention.
“Ooh, look, it’s the librarian,” cackled Biffy. “Billy, did you forget to return a book?”
For some reason this sent the weasels into howls of laughter, and they rolled around, clapping each other on the back.
“I’m not here as the librarian, I’m here as the forest captain,” he said, pointing at his armband. “I’m here to check on the progress on the bridge.”
“Okay captain, keep yer shirt on,” replied Billy. “Weez on our tea break, that’s allowed in the regulations.”
“Yeah, weez going by the books,” sniggered Biffy.
“Ooh, careful, or you’ll overdue it,” deadpanned a third, and they all collapsed again in howls of laughter.
“Well, just make sure you get back to work soon,” replied Mr Tiggs. “I’ll be coming back later to check on your progress.”
He turned around and started to walk back, determined not to witness the silly faces the weasels were surely pulling. He fumed to himself all the way back up the slope, but by the time he had reached the fork again, he was panting and out of breath, and had forgotten all about the weasels. He paused briefly to mop his brow. The day was going to be a scorcher, and it was already feeling quite humid. He turned to the right now into the forest, where fortunately it was a little cooler, and made his way along the trail.
Rounding a bend, he smiled as he saw Mrs Nibs and her three mouse children Timmy, Tommy and little Tammy all carrying a huge picnic basket. The children spotted him at the same time, and dropping the basket, they ran to greet him.
“Hallo Mr Tiggs!” cried Tammy, jostling with her brothers to be the first to tell the exciting news. “We’re going on a picnic by the brook, and look Mr Tiggs, I’ve got a new hat!” Tammy took off her bright red hat and bounced up and down almost shoving the hat into Mr Tiggs face so that he got a good look at it.
“My my!” exclaimed Mr Tiggs wide eyed in mock astonishment. “What a wonderful hat Tammy! And you’re off on a picnic? Well, you’ve picked a splendid day for it. But look! You’ve left your mother all alone to carry the basket!”
The children looked guiltily at one another for a brief instant, then walked with Mr Tiggs back along to the path where their mother was waiting patiently.
“Hallo Mr Tiggs,” she smiled, as they came reached her. “My goodness, are you captain today? I heard what happened to poor Mr Red, but I so glad they’ve put you in charge. Don’t take any trouble from the weasels, Mr Tiggs! Mr Red had them under his grip, but I wouldn’t want them taking advantage of you.”
“Oh, don’t worry Mrs Nibs,” he scoffed, waving his hand dismissively. “I’ve got those weasels exactly where I want them!”
Mrs Nibs looked dubious, but was interrupted from saying something by Tammy, who was hopping from one foot to another trying to attract Mr Tiggs attention.
“Mr Tiggs, do you have any books on things you can find at the brook, like coloured stones, or shells, or stuff like that?” She looked up at him with such big wide eyes that he had to chuckle.
“Why, yes Tammy, I think I do,” he said, “Why don’t you come and have a look in my library when you get back from your picnic? I’m sure I’ll find something for you.”
Tammy looked like she was going to explode with happiness. Smiling her thanks, Mrs Nibs gathered her children together again to get them to help with the basket, and with many a wave and goodbye, they continued on towards the brook. Mr Tiggs chuckled to himself as he made his way further into the forest. Old badger was right, being captain really isn’t so hard after all. I’ve put those weasels in their place, and stoked the interest of an inquiring young mind. He was so occupied with thinking about all the ways his new position would enable him to do good deeds around the forest, that he didn’t notice the lithe body leaning nonchalantly against the old willow tree until it was too late.
“Why, is that really Mr Tiggs?” crooned Miss White, hopping over to intercept him. She moved gracefully, her silky white fur shimmering in the dappled sunlight. “And they’ve made you captain now, my my, you must be very brave.” She looked at him with wide, dark eyes, letting one of her long ears flop forward in a teasing gesture.
“Oh, well, it’s nothing really,” stammered Mr Tiggs, feeling himself blush beneath his bristles. “You know, just the usual stuff, sorting out the weasels, helping people out.” His voice trailed off as she placed a soft paw on his arm.
“You sorted out the weasels?” she breathed, “My, I thought those rogues were untameable.” She slunk lithely around him, and he struggled with himself to remain focussed on her face, and not be distracted by her fluffy bob-tail which quivered ever so slightly as she moved.
“You must come visit me, and tell me all about it.” She winked, her deep brown eye disappearing momentarily behind a silky white lid. “I’m all ears.” She sauntered off the way Mr Tiggs had come, giving him a little wave as she looked back over her shoulder.
Mr Tiggs realised he was rooted to the spot and grinning stupidly. Being forest captain really does have perks. He shook himself, then walked a while further until he came to the clearing with the Great Oak. The mighty tree had stood here for centuries. It’s thick branches and dense leaves created a lovely shade in summer, and also served as a natural protection against the inclement elements. Mr Tiggs felt drained from the scorching sun and stifling humidity. Everything was as it should be in Little Acre, and even captains need to rest once in a while. He found himself a little hollow in the roots of the tree, and settled down for a short nap.
The crash of thunder woke him up with a start, and he looked wildly around him. How long had he been sleeping? The world was now a changed place. Huge dark clouds rolled around in the sky, the wind was whipping up, and outside of the protection of the oak tree, the rain lashed down like a waterfall. Another roll of thunder made him jump up, and he stood now, indecisive. Such heavy rain could cause real problems for the small creatures who lived here. The best course of action would be to go back the way he had come, and see if anyone needed his help. Steeling himself for the onslaught, he rushed out into the rain.
It was worse than he could ever have imagined. The rain was so heavy it felt like hammer blows to his body, and the ground, hard from the prolonged good weather, was now awash with deep puddles and rain water. He fought his way along the path, little feet dragging through the mud, half blinded by the water running down his face. He could hardly see, but after a while he thought he heard someone calling. He stopped to listen, and above the howl of the wind he was sure now that someone was up ahead. He pushed onwards, and the face of Mr Nibs appeared from out of the wall of rain.
“Mr Tiggs!” he cried. “I’m so worried about my family! They were going to go for a picnic by the brook, but they haven’t returned!”
They weren’t back yet? He imagined the little mice children out in this weather, and an icy hand gripped his heart.
“Come with me,” he shouted, “we’ll go to the brook and see if we can meet them!”
Together they struggled through the mud and rain, straining against the wind which buffeted them from all sides. They came to the junction without any sign of the mice family, so they turned left and started down the slope to the bridge. This path was even more dangerous, as the rain had formed rivulets which threatened to wash Mr Nibs away.
When they got to the bridge, they stopped and stared, unable to believe what they were seeing. The bridge was gone, washed away by the brook which was now angry and swollen. Mr Tiggs spotted something in the water. A piece of red cloth, snagged on a branch. With a terrible lurch, he realised it was little Tammy’s new hat. Mr Nibs broke down in a wail of sobs. Mr Tiggs was in despair. They were surely washed away with the bridge, and that would sweep them to the wide river, and certain doom. Oh, how could this happen in such a short space of time? Why did he think that he could be captain? He should be in his warm burrow, drinking tea and looking after his books!
“Mr Tiggs!” sobbed the mouse, “You’re the captain! Please, save my family!”
He thought furiously, then had a flash of inspiration. The brook wound it’s way down to the river, but there was also a shorter way. A little way ahead, if you left the path, the ground sloped steeply downhill, and eventually you would meet the brook again, but much further down. If he could get there first...
“Mr Nibs!” he cried, “There’s still hope!” running a short way ahead, he looked down the steep slope. Taking a deep breath, he charged down the slope, then curled himself into a little ball as he gained speed. He shot like a cannonball down the slope, crashing through the undergrowth, narrowly avoiding tree trunks and branches. Everything was a blur, and he couldn’t really steer himself, so he just had to hope. After what seemed an interminable time he felt the ground level, and by sticking his arms out he was able to slow his progress, till he came to a sodden stop next to the raging brook.
He had come a long way, and he prayed that he wasn’t too late. His eyes scanned the water. There! Was that something? Wiping the water away from his eyes, he looked harder, and his heart gave a little jump of joy. It was the mouse family, and they were clinging desperately to the picnic basket as they were swept along. He grabbed the longest branch he could find, and held on with all his strength as he laid it across the water.
“Mrs Nibs!” he shouted across the din of the water, “Grab hold of the branch!”
The mouse mother held on to the branch with one hand for all she was worth, with the other she held on desperately to the handle of the picnic basket. The mice children struggled around her, and when they were all clinging to the branch she let go of the basket, which was swept away in the swirling water. Heaving with all his might, Mr Tiggs slowly pulled the branch onto the shore.
The sky was inching towards dusk, and the animals were gathered solemnly around Mr Nibs, still standing by the wreckage of the bridge. The storm had broken hours before, and the evening was warm and sultry, but everything was different. He had lost his family, and he was now just a shivering little ball of misery.
Mr Black spoke solemnly. “We share your grief, Mr Nibs, for your family, and for the brave Mr Tiggs. He gave his all to save them, but now there is surely no hope.”
Mr Nibs broke down in a further flood of tears, and Miss White laid a gentle paw on his shoulder. Just then though they heard a cry from the down the slope. “Daddy!”
Mr Nibs looked up, and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. There was Mr Tiggs, and he was carrying little Tammy! Timmy and Tommy were also there, holding their mother’s hands left and right. They were muddy, wet and bedraggled, but they were alive! They all fell on their father in a joyous heap, and Mr Tiggs looked on, exhaustion and pride etched into his features.
“Well done, Mr Tiggs!” cried the badger. “In commemoration of this heroic achievement, this path shall from now on be called Tiggs Way!”
The animals cheered, and Mr Tiggs beamed with pride. He felt a soft paw on his arm, and looked up into the gentle face of Miss White.
“Well done, Mr Tiggs,” she said, her eyes sparkling with admiration. “You really must tell me all about your adventures.”