A few load-bearing beams short of a tunnel

July 15, 2011

Cobb and Noel exited the cellars and emerged onto the sun-bathed grounds of the Abbey.

“Noel, that be a big hole to fill-in in th’ graveyard. Oi’ll need help with th’ supports. Maybe we’m should do that later. Oi can hoide it naow.”

“Sounds good. You and Tam’s family must have plenty to do before the, ah, funeral.”

Cobb nodded and sighed. The deaths of the last few days were starting to take a toll on him. That, and losing so much sleep.

The weasel noticed the weary look his friend wore and changed the subject. “Now, how do we carry on an investigation about a beast we’re not supposed to get near?”

“Oi not be sure,” Cobb said. “But how do we’m know who is in th’ Socoiety? Who can we’m ask about Brother Tompkins?”

Noel thought a moment. “It’d have to be somebeast from outside the Abbey, but still knows the beasts in here….” He let his eyes wander as he thought about the predicament.

“Maybe we’m should talk to Bludd about him. An’ ask Tam what she’m thinks. Oi doan’t think we’m have to do it naow.”

“You’re right. Let’s have a think on it and decide when we close up the tunnel. We have to be careful of who we cross.”

“Roight. Oi’m going to hoide th’ hole naow. Oi’d better be done before tea-toime.” The mole waved a claw at his friend and loped off towards the graveyard.

Cobb wandered toward the back of the graveyard, dragging the woven mat he had found in the storage shed. He glanced around, making sure nobeast was watching him, but with Colm and Emmerich in the workshop preparing for Ripple’s funeral, there was nobeast to worry about.

When he reached the hole, he left the mat sitting at the side of it and descended.

We’m need to put supports here. An’ build a ceiling. The mole sighed. It be easier for Oi to dig a new tunnel. But that be the slower way, too.

Looking at the hole above his head, Cobb saw the simple complex of beams they would make, wood straining to support the weight of freshly-packed dirt. It would take some time, but the three of them could close it up before going to sleep that night.

We’m can use th’ mat for th’ ceiling. Oi’ll just put some slats across for support.

Cobb sat down in the tunnel, feeling the soil beneath him. He savored the sensation as it sank a bit, accommodating his body. The earth moved and sighed around Cobb, filling his nose and mouth with its musky scent. He breathed it deep into his lungs and, regretfully, released it back into the air.

Standing up, Cobb nodded; the moment was over.

He marched back up the ramp and unrolled the mat over the hole after taking a surreptitious glance around to make sure he was still alone. Lining the edges with sod was but the work of the moment, and he began preparing patches to cover the middle. The mole rolled the sod into strips and pushed it over the mat to fill it in. Some dirt and loose grass were all it took to disguise the edges so they weren’t raised above the ground around them.

He stood back to admire his work. Oi done a good job. Only a mole be able to see it.


The mole turned his head to look back at the fox family’s house. Tamarack was striding towards him.

She yelled to the mole again, “Cobb, you missed tea with the family! Grannie saved some back. We’re waiting for you. Where you been?”

He met the vixen half-way. “Oi be with Noel. We’m went to see Foremole. An’, well, Oi covered up th’ hole.”

Tamarack paused, glaring at the ground with a gravedigger’s eye. “Looks right enough!”

The pair linked arms and returned to the house for a late tea.

Althea laid the simple spread out on the table. Helping himself to a scone, Cobb sat down and poured the cream into his tea. He inhaled the scent as he stirred it.

“Now, Cobb,” Althea said, setting her teaspoon down with a precise click, “just what’ve you and my grandbaby been up to? I don’t sleep quite as sound as you two think.”

The mole started and looked up at the old vixen, coherent words explanation wriggling away from him like earthworms. “Oi… we’m… we’m didn’t do nothing wrong!” He looked at Tamarack, who was clutching her teacup like it was the last beaker of water in a desert.

“Reckon sneaking out in the middle of the night means the same thing now as it did when I was young.”

Tamarack’s head snapped up.

“Oi be going with her to keep her out of trouble,” the mole protested. “You used to go investigating evil Abbots, Miz Althea?”

“Cobb!” He narrowly avoided her footpaw as she tried to stamp down beneath the table. “You just…. She thought we were out… you know?” The vixen motioned with her paws. “Grannie, that’s disgusting!”

Realization dawned on Cobb and his eyes widened. “No, Miz Althea, Oi was only troiying to keep Miz Tam safe.”

The old vixen nodded, then pursed her lips at the pair of them. “Now what’s all this nonsense about evil Abbots? Carter ain’t quite right, but evil?”

He felt Tamarack sag beside him. “In for a copper, in for a gold, Mr. Cobb. You let the worm off the hook… you go catch it.”

Cobb took a deep breath and began their story. “See, Miz Tam and Oi be out in th’ graveyard one night and we’m found this pin. We’m didn’t know what it be, so we’m started askin’ about. An’ then Andrew died, but Fowel an’ Bludd say it be Abbot Carter that murdered him. Then Oi found a tunnel in th’ ground under th’ graveyard. We’m followed it an’ it went to a cellar in Redwall City. There be some beasts there that were going to kill us, but instead they’m said they’m trying to get rid of Carter an’ they’m made us spies.”

Tamarack took the cloakpin out of her pocket and showed it to Althea. “I showed it to Colm, first, but he wouldn’t have none of it. Shaking well enough to last out through a blizzard. And the beasts in the cellar – they was led by Julian Case and a marten named Cassius.”

Althea sat back in her chair and held a paw out for the cloakpin. “Colm was right to be scared about that pin. Durian went to his grave asking too many questions about one just like it.”

She gave the pin back to Tamarack and steepled her paws beneath her chin, thinking. “You two idiots’ve run too deep into the swamp for me to pull you out. You step light, Tam. And Cobb, like as not you’ll be thrown in the dungeon again if you’re caught. You know that, right?”

“Oi know it, Miz Althea. But, Oi can’t let Miz Tam go boi herself. Oi have to do this.”

Althea nodded at the mole, then leaned forward in her chair again. “Now you listen here, both of you. If you smell even a whiff of trouble, you run. I can’t abide heroes and fools as don’t know when to let well enough alone. You watch over my grandbaby, Cobb. She got too much of Durian in them bones for her own good.”

Cobb and Tamarack nodded. The admonishment over, Althea took a long sip of tea and grinned a gummy grin at the mole.

“Cobb, I reckon you’ll be taking up a reading primer soon enough. The bunny, Saskia, has them, and we’ll need one to get you onto more than just letters.”

“Yes, Miz Althea. Oi’ll foind her after dinner.”

After finishing their tea, the trio started cleaning up. A knock at the door interrupted just as they were finishing. Tamarack bounded over to open it.

“Hello, Miss Coffincreeper,” Isidore said. “Is Cobb available? An old friend would like to have a word with him.”

She nodded and let the rat into the kitchen. Something about his manner unsettled Cobb.

“Cobb, please come talk with me in the orchard. Don’t worry.” He glanced at Althea. “I’ll keep a good eye on your help.”

The rat escorted Cobb out the door and the two of them made their way toward the drone of bees and the rustle of leaves.

“You mind if I smoke my pipe, dear friend?”

“No, Isidore, Oi koind of loike th’ smell.”

Isidore spent some time tamping the tobacco into the bowl and lighting it. It was a ceremony, one he performed in silence. Cobb simply walked alongside his old neighbor. With a few puffs, blue smoke billowed out of the end; Isidore spoke again.

“The Coffincreeper girl is causing trouble in the Abbey. Did you know that, Cobb?”

Cobb looked at the rat, not sure what to say.

Isidore continued, “If you persist in following her around, you’ll find yourself in trouble too.” He paused, and his tone became brighter. “Why don’t you come stay in the orchard here with me? The good Father Abbot has given me permission to train you in the ways of the Abbey Brotherhood. You would be done with all of this. No more digging graves to pay for your crimes.”

“But, Oi loike working with th’ Coffincreepers. Oi get to dig. And Miz Althea be teaching me to read.”

“If you become a Brother, you could work in the gardens here. And I could teach you to read, too. Remember, I told you to come to me with your problems. What are friends for?”

“Thankee, Isidore, but Oi need to work off moi croime th’ honest way. Otherwoise, Oi couldn’t be proud of moiself.”

“You wouldn’t be proud to be a brother of this fine abbey? Well, take some time to think about it. The offer still stands. Just remember, that vixen will only bring you trouble; I’m trying to help you.” With that, the rat took his leave and left Cobb to himself.

The mole stood beneath the flowering trees his thoughts like so many petals swirling in the breeze. Something be different in him. But he still be Oi friend. Cobb shook his head, trying to shake loose the doubts the rat had brought. No. Oi have to look out for Tam.

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