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O The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night  by Lindelea

Chapter 23. In which Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Pimpernel hefted her stick, testing its weight much as a warrior would weigh a new sword in hand to try the balance. She nodded satisfaction, drew a deep breath, and stepped to the opening, stick held before her, in the event of the charge of some outraged wild beast, maddened by the assault upon its den.

'Take care, Nell!' Rosemary shouted.

Pimpernel nodded, not taking her eyes from the opening. With a sudden lightning motion, she thrust the stick down the hole and then sprang back, landing lightly, listening with all that was in her.


She stepped forward again, inserting the stick with more caution this time. She poked and prodded, hearing a rustling as of leaves, and then feeling something soft. Soft? She shuddered as her mind pictured some frightened animal, crouching, but she fished a bit with the stick, trying to feel out the dark interior of the log.

The stick seemed heavier as she began to withdraw once more, feeling resistance to her pull, and she stopped and swallowed hard, fighting down her fear. Something was clutching at the stick, and if she drew it out into the dim daylight, it would launch itself into her face.

Ah, my Nell. My bonny, brave lass.

She let go of the stick for a moment, hooking one of its broken-off branches over the edge of the log so that it couldn't slide (or be pulled) out of reach, and picked up a stone, holding it ready in her fist. Then she took the very end of the stick once more in her other hand and slowly began to tug it out.

It was a little like fishing, she thought, the feeling that something was adding weight to the end of the stick. Slowly, cautiously, she pulled it free—and there, hanging from the end, was a filthy mass that might have been blue under the clinging dirt and leaves.

'I've got it!' she shouted, turning round to wave the stick in triumph, the blanket swinging like a banner. Leaves flew free and caught in her hair, but she didn't care.

She marched back to Rosemary. 'There,' she said. 'That's a job well done.'

'If you do say so yourself,' Rosemary said wryly.

'And I do,' Pimpernel said, lifting her chin. 'And now, to get us back.'

'Easier said than done, I fear.'

Pimpernel wasn't listening. She'd taken the blanket from the stick and stepped a little way away from Rosemary, in order to give it a good shaking. Debris cascaded down, some of it carried away on the breeze, and Rosemary, watching, blessed her cousin's foresight.

'There,' Pimpernel said, returning. She draped the blanket around Rosemary's shoulders. 'That'll help, a bit,' she said.

'You want me to look after it, whilst you go and fetch help,' Rosemary guessed.

'Go and fetch help! Leave you here, alone, with wild beasts all about!' Pimpernel was indignant at the thought. 'I hope you're joking!'

'Of course,' Rosemary said, cowed, though she was the elder by a year. 'Of course I am. We're safer together, after all. So do we wait until they miss us, and the hunt is up once more?'

'Will you be serious?' Pimpernel hissed. 'You're as bad as your Uncle Ferdibrand for making light of heavy matters!'

Rosemary sighed and clamped her mouth shut tight.

'Now,' Pimpernel said, evidently thinking hard. She was clutching the stick-turned-club-turned-fishing pole, turning it over in her hands, examining it closely. 'I think it'll do.'

'Do you?' Rosemary said in her driest tone.

'I do. Up you come, Rosie, lean on me, there's a dear,' Pimpernel said, sounding much like Eglantine at the moment, and began to tug at Rosemary's elbow.

It was difficult, but Rosemary managed to gain her feet, or foot, rather, without putting weight on her injured limb.

'There now, stand still a moment.'

Rosemary stood still. Her only other choice was to sit down again, after all.

'Don't move,' Pimpernel said, letting go to draw Ferdi's blanket from Rosemary's shoulders.

'I'm not going anywhere,' Rosemary said, rather obviously. She only hoped that Nell would hurry up whatever she was about.

Pimpernel wrapped the blanket about the larger end of the stick and eased it under Rosemary's arm. 'Here,' she said. 'Lean upon this, and grab it with your hand.'

It might tickle a bit, but the blanket softened the wood, and Rosemary found she could balance on her good foot and the stick.

'Right-o,' Pimpernel said. 'Now for it.' She grasped Rosemary's other arm and waited.

Rosemary moved the stick forward, then leaned on it and took a hop, steadied by Pimpernel. She looked up, her face brightening. 'I think it might work!'

'Don't be daft,' Pimpernel said. 'It is working.'

They made slow and painful progress, having to rest often, but they made progress all the same.

By the time the Sun was nearly at her highest point, they were only halfway back to the smial. Rosemary was puffing with effort, and frankly feeling sick at her stomach, but toiling grimly along. She could only imagine her mother and father, should she be missed. Another search...! No wonder Pimpernel had scolded the idea of waiting until they were found.

Pimpernel, of a wonder, had abandoned her plain talk and was murmuring steady encouragement as she helped Rosemary along. 'That's it, dearie. You've got it.' It rather reminded Rosemary of doing her needlework under Auntie Eglantine's tutelage. Auntie Aggie was every so much more patient than Rosemary's own mum, and she had to stifle a giggle at Auntie Aggie's voice coming so strongly from Pimpernel. Of course, she was a little dizzy, and the Sun was beating down on their heads, and they hadn't thought to wear their hats as they left the smial...

There was a distant hail, and neither of the little lasses heard it, so intent were they on their hobbling progress. Both shrieked a little at the sudden advent of a grown hobbit, coming up behind them and stopping them with a large, work-worn hand on the shoulder of each, but Pimpernel calmed quickly, knowing him for one of her father's hired hobbits.

'Here now,' he said. 'What's to do?' He caught up Rosemary in his arms as she sagged.

Pimpernel, ever mindful of what was important, caught hold of Ferdi's blanket as the stick fell from Rosemary's grasp. 'I'm so glad to see you, Ned,' she gasped. 'We were playing, and Rosie hurt her ankle...'

'Well now,' the hobbit said. 'Tis a good thing I saw you as I was ploughing...' and he gestured to the field beyond, ponies standing where he'd left them. He shifted Rosemary in his grasp, waved to his fellow worker, took good hold and began to jog down the dusty farm lane. Nell hastened to follow. 'We were just about to unhitch and return to the yard for noontide, and a rest... Tom'll bring the ponies in. I'll have ye home safe in two shakes,' he said.

Pimpernel gasped her thanks.

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