It was a blustery afternoon in early spring, a few months after the Mole’s adventure in the Wild Wood. The short cold days of winter were gone. With them had passed the recollection of his fear on that expedition, when the Rat had brought him through the snow to the sanctuary of Badger’s house.
The Mole sat, now, in a comfortable chair in front of a cheery blaze.
‘Ratty’, he said tentatively, ’do you remember when you rescued me, when I was lost in the snow in Wild Wood?’
The Rat poked the coals ‘of course’, he said.
‘There were a lot of creatures in the wild wood’ said the Mole, ‘I saw them – or sort of saw them’, said the Mole cautiously.
‘Yes’, said the Rat.
‘I wondered what they were’ said the Mole in a small voice.
‘All sorts’, said the Rat, briskly. ‘Hedgehogs, shrews, squirrels, rabbits. Bats probably; voles’. He numbered them off on his fingers. ‘Lots of different kinds. Mostly pretty decent sorts.’ He hesitated. ‘And others, of course’.
What kind of others?’, the Mole asked, quickly.
‘Well’, said the Rat, ‘there are the deer of course. Rather a lot of them these days, what with all the foreign ones. Still, by and large they’re decent folk’. He thought for a minute. ‘Although they will eat the bluebells’.
The Rat looked up. ‘And then there are the hunters’.
‘Hunters?’ squeaked the Mole.
‘Oh yes. All part of the community. Weasels, of course, always quite a few of them, and these days stoats. There used to be mink a few years ago – they were rather a handful. Still, when Otter came back he saw them off quick enough. And the foxes, of course. Mustn’t forget them’.
‘Are they dangerous?’ said the Mole, a slight quaver in his voice.
‘Dangerous?’ Oh no, I wouldn’t exactly say dangerous’, said the Rat. Not usually. Not on a good day anyway. Not exactly dangerous. But not what you would call friendly. No, not friendly at all. Rather wild in fact’. He laughed, a little tightly. ‘But then that’s what you would, expect. After all, they do call it the Wild Wood!’.
His chuckle was interrupted by a loud knocking on the door.
‘What’s that?’ said the Mole in alarm. The Rat opened the door, to admit the bluff, honest, face of the Badger.
‘Let me in old chap’, he said’ got some news. He caught sight of the Mole, and said ‘Humph! You’ve got company’.
But the Badger was persuaded in, and was soon sitting in a high-backed settle next to the fire, with a mug of hot ale in his hand. He had said no more, and the Rat, having bustled and tidied, eventually sat down opposite him.
‘OK, old chap, what’s up? The Badger looked uneasy. ‘Oh don’t bother about Mole. There’s nothing that worries him these days, is there Mole? ‘ The Mole shook his head slightly doubtfully. ‘We were just talking about your neighbours in the Wild Wood, weren’t we Mole?
‘That’s just it’, said the Badger. ‘That’s just what I have come about’. He drew a sheet of paper from his waistcoat pocket, and passed it to the Rat. ‘Read that’, he said, ‘it’s from that confounded wretch Toad’. He watched closely as the Rat put on his glasses and began to read
‘Well’, said the Rat eventually, ‘that’s a bit much. He seems to have given permission for some kind of experiment in the Wild Wood.
‘It’s a disaster’, said the Badger, ‘it will change everything’.
‘What will?’, said the Mole.
‘They want to rewild the Wild Wood,’ said the Rat.
‘What?’ said the Mole. ‘How can they? Surely it’s already wild. I mean’, he laughed, ‘it is the Wild Wood!’ The Rat looked at him levelly.
They want’, said the Badger heavily, ‘to change all that. They want to resettle immigrants’.
‘Immigrants?’ said the Mole, a little querulously.
‘Yes’ said the Badger. ‘Outsiders. Strangers: foreigners!’
‘Who?’ said the Mole.
‘Beavers’, said the badger, ‘and wild boar. And moose. And then the hunters – polecats and pine martens, which are like stoats but twice as big. And cats – big cats – wildcats, and even lynx. Wild types, uncivilised – totally unreliable; every last one would eat you as soon as look at you’.
The Badger stood up and began to pace the little sitting room. ‘And that’s not all. Toad even wants to introduce wolves. Wolves! We will be murdered in our beds. And even’, he swallowed, ‘even bears.’ Unbelievably, the Rat thought, the solid Badger was starting to sound slightly shrill. ‘Everything, all lumped together, no plan, no careful get-to-know your neighbours, no thought for the existing community – they’re just going to be dumped here!’
‘I am sure they will be very careful’ said the Rat in a conciliatory tone.
‘Careful?’, said the Badger ‘Nobody has thought about it properly. They’ll all be running round getting in everybody’s way, and interfering with everything. What if they start eating each other?’
‘But’, said the Mole…
‘They just don’t belong here’, went on the Badger loudly. ‘Toad says their ancestors used to live in the neighbourhood. Well, I’ve lived here longer than anyone else, and I tell you it’s not true. He’s making it up.’
‘But why?’, said the Mole.
‘Oh mark my words, there’s money in it’, said the Badger darkly. ‘Management agreements, visitors, journalists… you can be sure he has worked out some new scheme. We’ll never hear the last of it’.
But Badger, old fellow, there’s nothing really wild about the Wild Wood, is there’, said the rat in a calm voice.
‘Isn’t there?’ said the Mole.
‘No, of course not’, said the Rat. At least, its wild all right, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change. People come and go, that’s the way of things’.
The Rat looked at the Badger, ‘Even the wood itself hasn’t always been here, has it Badger? Go on, admit it’.
‘The Rat’s right’ said the Badger, reluctantly. ‘Before the Wild Wood grew, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city here. People lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their business. But one day the people gave up and moved – that’s their way, you know. And gradually the trees took over’.
‘And that’s when the badgers arrived’ said the Rat.
‘Well, I’ve been told there were badgers here long before the city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we are patient, and back we come’.
‘And the same is true for everyone else,’ said the Rat.
‘Well, yes’, admitted the Badger.
‘Including Toad’ pursued the Rat.
‘Is Toad an immigrant, then?’ said the Mole.
‘Of course he is’, said the Badger scornfully. ‘His grandfather lived over a pet shop in Putney’.
After an interval, he said ‘I suppose it’s not Toad’s fault really. I blame his father. I really don’t know why he came down here in the first place. He never really understood the countryside’.
‘We are all immigrants really’ said the Rat, gently: ‘the brown hare, and the rabbits, and lots of the deer. Even us, my dear old Badger, if you think about it’
The Badger stared at the fire. Eventually he said ‘Oh its no good. I suppose you’re right. We all came here from somewhere, but it was all a long time ago. Now we belong here. We can’t just let Toad bring along every rag-tag Tom Dick and Harry that he fancies. It’ll be a disaster’.
You just don’t like change, Badger’ said the Rat accusingly.
‘Quite right Ratty! Don’t like change, never have ’.
‘But there’s always been change’, said the Rat
‘Humph’, said the Badger. ‘Some kinds of change are the wrong kind’.