One summer day, Emily Susan Mouse invited her friend Squi Squirrel to join her for lunch. Leaning out her kitchen window, Emily Susan called to Squi who lived high in the big oak tree that shaded her house.
“Squi, would you like to join me for lunch? I just took a nice blueberry pie out of the oven. We’ll have a piece for dessert.”
Squi had been having his morning snooze. He opened one eye and peered over the edge of his nest. Waving at his neighbor he replied, “I certainly am hungry, Emily Susan and lunch would be most welcome. You know how fond I am of blueberry pie. I’ll be right down. Thank you so much for inviting me.”
Squi stood up and stretched both front paws high over his head. He fluffed his bushy tail and gave a big yawn. My, how warm it had been lately. Even the breezes that blew through the branches of his tree and rocked his nest didn’t seem to cool him one little bit. He hoped Emily Susan’s house was cooler than his home was.
Scampering down the tree, Squi spotted Solomon Skunk stretched out under the pink rose bush beside Emily Susan’s back steps. Solomon looked very warm and uncomfortable. His eyelids drooped, beads of sweat were trickling down his face and he was panting. His red tongue hung limply out one side of his mouth. Yes, Solomon did indeed look most miserable.
Usually, whenever Solomon and Squi met they greeted each other warmly and shared a bit of Milkweed town news. Today Solomon didn’t pay any attention to his friend. He didn’t greet him or smile. He didn’t even open his eyes. Squi became quite concerned. Was Solomon ill? Leaning closer and peering under the rosebush, Squi called out, “Solomon, my friend, are you okay? You do look a bit under the weather today.”
Solomon let out a deep sigh and opened one eye. “No, Squi,” he replied. “I am not okay. It’s the weather. It’s been hot for so many days now that I’ve lost count. Heat makes me feel terrible. I have so much black fur, you see, and only one narrow white stripe.”
Squi was confused. He had lots of fur himself and, although he was very warm, he wasn’t suffering the way Solomon was.
Solomon could see Squi didn’t understand. “It’s this way, Squi,” he said. “The color black draws the heat from the sun like a magnet. Something black is always warmer than something white. So my black fur makes me extra warm while a white rabbit would hardly notice the heat.”
Suddenly Squi understood. “So that’s why you’re hiding under Emily Susan’s rose bush! Under there the sun can’t find you.”
“That’s right,” panted Solomon. “Only today it’s so hot even the shade barely helps. And I’m so thirsty, Squi! Panting is supposed to help keep me cool but it also makes my mouth dry.”
Solomon pulled his tongue in and tried very hard to swallow. He made a face which told Squi he wasn’t having much luck. His mouth was just too dry.
Squi reached out and gently rubbed Solomon’s head. “My poor friend,” he said kindly. “I’m sorry that you feel so poorly. I’ll be right back. I have an idea that might help you.”
Solomon looked weakly at the squirrel and whispered, “Oh Squi, I would indeed appreciate any help you can find. Please do hurry.”
Squi gave Solomon’s head a final pat and hurried up the back steps to Emily Susan’s door. Knocking once, he let himself in. “Emily Susan,” he called. “Solomon needs our help. He’s hiding under your pink rosebush and he feels quite miserable. He’s very thirsty and I’m worried about him.”
Emily Susan had just finished preparing their lunch. She wiped her paws on her red checked apron and replied, “Why is Solomon hiding, Squi? And why is he under my rose bush instead of in his den deep below your tree’s roots? It’s so nice and cool down there.”
“He’s hiding from the sun because of his black fur,” Squi answered. “His black fur attracts the heat more than my red fur. Solomon told me that’s why he’s so hot. And he’s very thirsty. Please, Emily Susan, we must hurry and take a cool drink to him right now. He looks quite unhappy.”
“Of course we must help him, Squi, but I do think we should bring him inside first. It’s quite pleasant in here despite the heat outside.”
Emily Susan and Squi hurried down the back stairs and found Solomon still sprawled under the rosebush. A few of the pink petals had floated down onto his head but he was too unhappy to notice or to brush them off. Both eyes were closed, his pink tongue was again hanging over his lower lip and his usually fluffy black and white tail drooped on the grass beside him. Solomon was in trouble.
“Solomon,” called Squi. “Here’s Emily Susan. She’ll help me get you into her house. You’ll feel much better inside than you do out here. We’ll carry you up the stairs.”
Solomon couldn’t answer Squi. He kept both eyes closed. He was very ill.
Emily Susan reached out and felt Solomon’s paw for his pulse. Yes, he was still breathing but they must hurry and waste no time getting him inside and cooled down.
“I’ll take one front leg and you take the other, Squi,” she said. “Once he’s on his feet he may be able to walk a little bit.”
With the mouse lady on one side and the squirrel on the other side, Solomon was soon standing—well, sort of standing. His body sagged between them and he was quite heavy.
“My,” gasped Squi as he took a deep breath. “Solomon is a bit on the plump side, isn’t he? I never thought he’d be this heavy. I’m glad we don’t have to move him very far.”
Huffing and puffing, the two friends half dragged and half carried the poor old skunk up the back stairs and into the house. With their last bits of energy, they plopped him into Emily Susan’s rocking chair which was in the kitchen.
“Whew!” exclaimed Emily Susan. “You’re right, Squi. Solomon has put on a pound or two but we made it. We got him inside. Now we must revive him quickly.”
Emily Susan poured a tall glass of water and added some ice cubes, two fresh raspberries, a teaspoon of sugar and a slice of lime to it. After stirring it with a long straw, she put the straw into Solomon’s mouth and said gently, “Here, Solomon. You must drink this. Drink every last drop. If you don’t get some liquid into you I’m afraid you will become dehydrated. Please take some big sips.”
Solomon’s eyes were still closed but slowly he began to sip the iced berry water. How wonderful it felt going down his dry throat. What a delicious flavor! Surely, he had never tasted anything so wonderful in all his life. Bless Emily Susan and Squi for saving him. Opening his eyes, he looked around the kitchen and spotted something delicious on the table.
Emily Susan had baked a blueberry pie just that morning. Now she put a generous slice on a plate and brought it to him. “Eat this pie, Solomon,” she said. “It will give you a bit of energy. Right now you need all the energy you can get.”
Solomon took first one bite and then another. It was delicious! Emily Susan was famous for her pies. Everyone in Milkweed said her pies were the best they’d ever eaten. Solomon had to agree. This was the tastiest pie he’d had in a long time.
Oh, how much cooler it was in Emily Susan’s kitchen. Solomon was truly grateful to the little mouse for her kindness and to Squi for seeing he needed help and caring enough to help him. What dear friends they were.
Solomon enjoyed the last bite of pie, ran his tongue over his lips and whiskers just in case he’d missed a few crumbs and swallowed the last remaining drop of iced raspberry-lime water. There! He felt better already.
Solomon beamed at his friends. “I dare say you saved my life. I can’t thank you enough for your kindness. I shall never forget it and perhaps one day I may do something for you.” Having said that, Solomon gave each friend a big smile.
Emily Susan and Squi were delighted to see Solomon returning to his old self. But—something still wasn’t right.
The mouse lady knew Solomon’s black fur attracted the heat more than if his fur had been light but it didn’t explain why he was hiding from the sun in the first place. His home under the tree roots should be cool and comfortable. Why didn’t he stay there?
Looking at Solomon, Emily Susan said kindly, “Squi and I are happy we could help you Solomon. You have always been a good neighbor to us. How many times you have shoveled snow from my front step and pathway? And often you have helped Squi pick and store acorns for his winter meals. We are indeed pleased to be able to return the favors. But, there is one thing that puzzles me, Solomon,” she continued. “Why did you hide under my rose bush? Surely you knew the hot sun would filter through the leaves.”
Solomon slumped back into his chair as he remembered why he’d left his home. Such a terrible mess he was in. He wondered if any of his friends could help him now. Taking a deep breath, Solomon looked at his friends and said sadly, “I fear my home is no longer my home. I’ve been evicted, tossed out. I’m homeless.”
Emily Susan sat up very straight and cocked her head to one side. “Evicted? Tossed out? But, Solomon, you own your own home. You’ve lived there—oh—forever. How could you be tossed out?”
“Who did it, Solomon? Who tossed you out?” asked Squi. Like Emily Susan, Squi was concerned and beginning to get angry.
“You both know who it is. Everyone in Milkweed knows him and has had a run-in with him at one time or another,” replied Solomon.
“Who?” asked Emily Susan.
“Who?” echoed Squi.
“It’s our old foe Budgie Badger,” Solomon said with a sigh. He was very sad and very tired. Worst of all it looked like he would have to spend another night sleeping under the rose bush—and those crickets had kept him awake last night with their endless chirping.
The mouse and the squirrel looked at each other in distress. Beauregard Badger. Budgie Badger. This was indeed a sad and serious turn of events. Nobody wanted to deal with Budgie or any other member of his clan. They were the meanest, nastiest residents of Milkweed. They had long, sharp teeth and very short tempers. It was dangerous to have a disagreement with any of them for they were most unreasonable and always had to get their own way—or else. Solomon certainly was in a desperate situation.
Emily Susan spoke first. “Oh dear, Solomon. I do fear you are in a predicament. How did this all come about?”
Solomon took a deep breath and told Emily Susan and Squi the whole story right from the very beginning.
Early yesterday morning, while Solomon was having his breakfast, Budgie had scurried into his home through the front tunnel. He hadn’t even knocked on the door. After snarling and growling and showing Solomon all of his big, pointy teeth, the badger had plopped down at the kitchen table and ordered Solomon to leave at once. When Solomon asked why, Budgie told him this burrow was much nicer and much cooler than his was and he wanted it right now. Solomon had protested saying this was his home but Budgie had only snarled and growled and snapped his teeth again. Then he had lunged at Solomon as if to bite him. Solomon was very frightened and fled out his back tunnel to seek safety under the rose bush. There he’d stayed all day and all night with no food and no water. He’d thought and thought about what to do and then the sun had caused him to become so ill he simply couldn’t think any more. He was terribly thirsty and very weak. It was then Squi found him.
“Oh, my goodness!” exclaimed Emily Susan. “I’ve never heard anything like that in all my life! Budgie has such bad manners. This simply will not do at all. He must be made to leave at once.”
“But, Emily Susan,” protested Squi. “How are you going to do that? Badgers do only what they want to do. They’re such mean, dangerous creatures—and they bite. Budgie almost bit Solomon, remember?”
“That’s no excuse, Squi,” Emily Susan said. “Bad manners and mean spirits are not acceptable excuses for bad behavior. Milkweed cannot tolerate this. Just think, if Budgies gets away with it, how long before some of his relatives try to take over someone else’s home. It could be mine or any of our neighbors. Oh, no! He must be made to leave.”
“But how, Emily Susan?” wailed Squi.
“How?” echoed Solomon.
Emily Susan grabbed her straw hat off the peg by the door and replied, “I don’t know yet. But there must be a way. You two sit here and try to come up with an idea. I’m going out to my garden and sit on my thinking stone. Perhaps my garden has an answer.” With that, she opened the door and scurried out to sit among the flowers. The little mouse lady loved all kinds of flowers and some of her best thinking was done when she was surrounded by them. The flowers seemed to speak to her and share their wisdom. Their cheerful faces were soothing and calming. The garden was Emily Susan Mouse’s Happy Place.
Scrambling onto her thinking stone, the mouse lady pulled the brim of her hat down to shade her eyes and began to think. She felt very sorry for Solomon. Budgie Badger had treated him in a most unpleasant way. Now Solomon was tired and ill and still scared. Nobody wanted to tangle with any of the Badger family and Budgie was the worst of them all. In his present condition, Solomon would not be able to deal with his problem. He was simply too tired and weak. After all, he was an elderly skunk. Well, she, Emily Susan would deal with it for him. Solomon was her neighbor, her friend and he needed help. The question was, just what could she do? How could she make that mean badger leave Solomon’s home?
While the skunk and the squirrel sat in Emily Susan’s kitchen drinking red raspberry-lime water and trying to find a solution to Solomon’s problem, Emily Susan sat on the thinking stone in her garden. How could Budgie be made to return to his own home?
Emily Susan believed it was always best to tackle a problem head on. She would march right over to Solomon’s house and confront Budgie. Perhaps he would listen to reason and leave.
Standing up, Emily Susan straightened her hat and took a deep breath. Hopping off the thinking stone, she marched directly to Solomon’s front door tunnel under the great oak tree.
Snarling and growling and showing his big pointy teeth, Budgie had frightened Solomon badly. How mean he was. He had no reason, no right to treat Solomon so unkindly. Just thinking about her poor friend suffering under the rose bush made Emily Susan angry all over again.
Knocking sharply on Solomon’s door she called out, “Budgie! I know you’re down there. Come up here right now! You have behaved very badly and we must discuss it. Budgie! Do you hear me?” Emily Susan stamped one small foot as hard as she could to show she meant business.
There was no answer from Solomon’s home. Just as Emily Susan was deciding what to do next, she heard Budgie’s voice floating up the tunnel and through the screen door.
“Hear you? Of course I heard you Emily Susan. I daresay, with that wretched squeaky voice, everyone in Milkweed heard you. Your voice is so shrill and piercing it makes my ears hurt. Badgers have very sensitive ears, you know. I demand you lower your voice.”
Obviously, Budgie was not in a good mood. Never mind, thought the angry mouse lady, he still had to answer for his actions.
Peering through the door and into the tunnel once more, Emily Susan replied, “I’m not here to discuss my voice, Budgie. I’m here to tell you that you must leave Solomon’s house at once.
Inside Solomon’s home, Budgie squeezed his eyes shut and covered both ears with his front paws. What pain! Emily Susan’s voice was so squeaky Budgie felt sure she could damage his hearing. Why didn’t she speak softly? Slowly he uncovered one ear and heard nothing. Beautiful silence. How he loved it! Perhaps the nosy, noisy mouse lady had left. Oh, he hoped so. Budgie had no intention of leaving Solomon’s wonderfully cool burrow. This heat spell had caused the badger many a sleepless night and even more uncomfortable days. When he’d seen the old skunk going cheerfully about his business every day as if he didn’t mind the heat at all, well Budgie had to find out why. One evening he’d followed Solomon home to his burrow under the big oak tree and he knew he had the answer. The tree shaded the ground beneath it and the cool ground made a perfectly insulated roof for Solomon’s home. Right at that very moment, Budgie decided Solomon was going to move out early the next morning. He, Beauregard Badger, would move in immediately. He would spend the rest of the heat wave being cool and sleeping well.
Just as Budgie thought, getting the elderly skunk to move out had been easy. All he had to do was rush at him and show all of his very scary teeth, and with a few snaps of his jaws, Solomon ran up the back tunnel like a flash—or as flashy as an old skunk could flash.
All that day Budgie had been cool and comfortable in his stolen home. Not once did he give a thought to poor Solomon and where he might be or if he was okay. Budgie was very self centered. He thought only of himself. Maybe that was one of the reasons he didn’t have any special friends. Budgie never thought of that either. Here he was, nice and cool, but he didn’t have one friend who would come to call on him.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Emily Susan Mouse was outside the front tunnel right now but she hadn’t come to make a social call and she wasn’t Budgie’s friend. Instead, she had come to make his life miserable with her demand and her most unpleasant, squeaky voice. Whatever was Budgie going to do? His nice peaceful day was turning very unpleasant and he didn’t like it. He must do something before things got any worse.
Once more Emily Susan called Budgie’s name and insisted he come up and have a discussion with her. Once more Budgie’s ears began to hurt at the shrill sound and he clamped his jaws together tightly. Mercy! Even his teeth hurt. What a nuisance that mouse lady was becoming. Suddenly something else caught his attention. What had Emily Susan called him? Budgie? Budgie! His name was Beauregard Beauville Badger the Third. Nobody had ever called him Budgie before. What a disrespectful name for such a fine member of a distinguished line of badgers. Why, many of his family members were famous. Beauregard Lincoln Badger, for example, had been Mayor of Puddle Pond, a neighboring village. Budgie indeed. This simply would not do. Emily Susan must show him more respect. Why, if she called him Budgie then soon everyone in Milkweed would be calling him Budgie. Just thinking about it made his head begin to ache. There was nothing to do but go right up the tunnel and set things straight. Budgie only hoped Emily Susan would listen to reason and not chatter at him in her irritating voice.
Outside Emily Susan was becoming madder by the minute. It was late afternoon now and the sun was beating down on her head. Even her wide-brimmed straw hat was not much help. She was tired and hot and becoming very out of sorts. This whole matter was taking way too much time and she feared Solomon might not be able to return home before nightfall. Emily Susan was happy to offer him a bed for the night but she knew that all the poor old skunk wanted was to be back in his own home in his own bed.
Emily Susan cocked her head to one side. Did she hear footsteps coming from the tunnel? Was it possible Budgie was actually going to come out and speak with her?
A few moments later the dark angry eyes of the badger glowed in the dim light of the tunnel. Emily Susan took a deep breath. This was not a good sign. She could tell Budgie was not in a mood to be reasonable.
Slowly the irritated badger came to the tunnel opening and glared at the mouse lady. “You are a most bothersome lady, Emily Susan. Not only are you bothersome, but you are disrespectful. You have done a good job of ruining my afternoon and I do not appreciate it,” Budgie said in a mean hissing voice. “Go away and leave me alone! And do not call me Budgie. My name is Beauregard—Mister Badger to you. Now leave!” Budgie snarled at Emily Susan so she could see all of his shiney white teeth and, for good measure, he made the fur on his back stand up straight. He looked very fierce indeed.
Emily Susan stood up as tall as she could and put on her bravest face. Placing both front paws on her hips, she stared Budgie right in the eye. She must not let him see she was afraid of him and his sharp teeth or his claws.
“Beauregard, indeed. How preposterous! That is a name for a fine southern gentleman,” she retorted. “You are neither southern nor a gentleman. What you are is a bully and nobody likes a bully. I refuse to call you Beauregard but I will call you Budgie and you are a bully.” And with that, Emily Susan raised her voice so the entire neighborhood could hear her.
“Budgie has driven our dear friend Solomon Skunk from his home and now he dares to threaten me,” she cried loudly. “This certainly won’t do—not for a moment.”
Nearby was a large stone very much like the thinking stone in Emily Susan’s garden. Walking over to it, she hopped on top and sat down. Making herself as comfortable as possible, she folded her front paws in her lap and looked at Budgie.
“I’m going to sit right here until you move out of Solomon’s house, Budgie. I’ll sit here all day and all night if necessary. And I’ll sit here all day tomorrow, too, if you’re still here,” Emily Susan announced to the surprised badger. “And just for good measure, since you enjoy my voice so much, I’ll sing to you. I’ll sing one song after another and I know a lot of songs.”
Budgie now had something to worry about. Emily Susan sing? Just the thought of her voice raised in song made him cringe. Whatever was he going to do? Well, he would just have to endure it. He couldn’t let her drive him out of Solomon’s nice, cool burrow. He was so much more comfortable here than in his own home. Surely, such a magnificent badger as himself could out sit the troublesome mouse lady.
Budgie glared at Emily Susan. With a hiss and a snarl, he turned and slowly scuffed back into the tunnel. Over his shoulder he said to Emily Susan, “We’ll see who can sit the longest!”
Emily Susan’s shoulders slumped in relief. At least Budgie was back in the den and not right in front of her behaving in a threatening manner. She had been quite frightened by his temper. Never had she seen such a mean face. Budgie was a dreadful creature. No wonder poor old Solomon had been scared out of his wits. No wonder he had taken refuge under the rosebush. In the same situation, Emily Susan was sure she would have done the same thing. How fortunate that Squi had seen Solomon and gone to his aid. No telling what might have happened to the elderly skunk if he had remained there another day. Emily Susan shuddered to think of it.
Beverly Bear and Squi had been hiding in the bushes while Emily Susan confronted Budgie. They weren’t hiding because they were afraid, well, maybe a little afraid. They were certain Emily Susan could deal with Budgie very nicely all by herself. And she had. Now Beverly and Squi came forward to congratulate her and to be sure she was all right.
“Are you okay?” they asked in unison.
“Did Budgie frighten you badly, Emily Susan?” asked Squi.
Emily Susan smiled weakly at her friends. “Yes,” she replied. “He certainly did his best to scare me, but I’m fine. At least he went back into Solomon’s house and I don’t have to look at him.”
Squi put one arm around Emily Susan’s shoulders and said, “You were so brave and I’m very proud of you. Standing up to a badger is hard but standing up to Budgie is the hardest of all. And you did it!”
“Bravo, Emily Susan!” exclaimed Beverly Bear. “You were indeed the bravest mouse I’ve ever seen. I’m proud of you too.”
“You are most kind, my friends,” answered the mouse lady. “I may have looked brave to you but inside I was shaking like a leaf. When he snarled, I thought he would gobble me up any moment.”
The three friends sat quietly together thinking about the danger the brave little mouse had faced. Finally, Emily Susan took a deep breath and said, “We may have won this battle but we haven’t won the war by any means. There is much work left to do if we’re going to get Solomon back in his home and I can’t do it all by myself.”
“What can I do?” asked Squi.
“And what can I do?” queried Beverly.
Emily Susan had known her friends would be ready and willing to help her. Smiling at them she replied, “That’s the spirit! We must work together. With that attitude we will succeed in evicting Budgie from Solomon’s home.”
After thinking for a few minutes, Emily Susan turned to Squi and asked, “Could you please find Bonnie Blue and her two oldest babies ? Ask if they would join us here as soon as possible.”
Squi stood up, stretched and fluffed his magnificent tail. “I’m on my way,” he said as he hurried off in search of their blue-feathered neighbors.
Seeing that Beverly was anxious to be helpful, too, Emily Susan asked her to round up the Frogg family. “Find as many of Freddy’s family as you can, Beverly. And while you’re at it perhaps the Snakes, Cybil and Cyrus could be of help as well. They travel slowly so you must get them moving as soon as possible. We won’t start the meeting until you return.”
“Consider it done, Emily Susan. The Snakes and the Froggs. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” said Beverly as she turned and lumbered towards Emily Susan’s garden.
A short time later, Emily Susan heard footsteps and saw Squi hurrying towards her. Flying above his head was Bonnie Blue and her two older babies, Baxter and Blessing. They were twittering excitedly. Emily Susan invited them to sit with her while they waited for Beverly Bear to return from her mission. A few minutes later, hopping and slithering along the path came the Snake family and the Frogg clan. All were eager to be of assistance.
When each neighbor had found a comfortable place to sit, Emily Susan thanked them for coming. “We have a very serious problem in the neighborhood,” she began. “Budgie Badger has driven our dear neighbor and friend Solomon Skunk out of his home. Budgie refuses to leave. Solomon must have his home back. We have to deal with this right now for, if we let Budgie get away with evicting Solomon, who knows what he or his family will do next?”
The neighbors shook their heads in agreement.
“What a dreadful situation,” hissed Cybil.
“We must help poor Solomon,” croaked Freddy.
“What can we do, Emily Susan?” chirped Bonnie Blue.
“Well,” replied the mouse lady, “Here is my plan.” For several minutes all the neighbors talked excitedly. Emily Susan hopped up and down once or twice. Squi waved his tail back and forth. Baxter’s and Blessing’s chatter got louder and louder. Cybil and Cyrus hissed softly and rattled the leaves with their tails. Ferdinand’s family stared around with bulging eyes and cleared their throats loudly in anticipation. Soon everything was ready.
Emily Susan clapped her front paws with glee and cried, “How marvelous! You know exactly what to do. This will most certainly do the trick. Budgie won’t know what hit him. Let’s begin at once. The sooner the better.”
“I’ll go first,” offered Bonnie Blue. “Baxter and Blessing and I will chatter for the first half hour.”
“Let us take the second shift,” pleaded Cyrus and Cybil. I’m sure we can drive Budgie out if the Blues haven’t already done it.”
Ferdinand announced that he and his family could sing all night if they needed to. They did that anyway and they could do it here in front of the tunnels as well as on the lily pads in the pond. “Our summer evening song has been known to drive some animals quite mad,” Freddy croaked proudly. “There are so many of us that we can split up and some will sing at the front tunnel and some at the back.”
Meanwhile, Budgie was resting quietly in Solomon’s home. He was tired and on edge after his encounter with the busybody mouse lady. He was very angry. Every once in a while, he’d gnash his teeth together and then cringe because they were still sore from the grating sound of Emily Susan’s voice. Worst of all, his ears continued to ring painfully. What he needed was a nice glass of iced tea and a nap.
Sitting in Solomon’s big comfy chair, sipping Solomon’s tea, Budgie began to relax. Slowly his ears stopped ringing and his teeth were no longer sore. Finishing his tea, he dosed off, his chin falling onto his chest. He was having a lovely dream. He was in a field of sweet-smelling flowers and he had found a batch of strawberries to munch. Life was very good indeed. Suddenly, just as he was about to pop a luscious red berry into his mouth, his eyes flew open and he was wide-awake. What was that? Cautiously he listened, trying to determine what had awakened him. There it was again! Budgie clamped his jaws tightly together, clenched his front paws into fists and growled deep in his throat. Of course! He’d know that sound anywhere. Nothing sounds worse than a squeaky mouse except angry bluejays. Bonnie Blue was having a dreadful argument with other members of her family. Or were they? Bonnie Blue was known for her sweet temperament and the fact she rarely argued with anyone. Budgie bet Emily Susan was behind this mischief. He bet she’d set the Blues to quarreling just to annoy him. Well, he’d show her! She’d have to do better than this if she expected him to give up his new home.
Pulling his earflaps down over his ears, Budgie went back to sleep. Well, he tried but sleep but it was impossible. Bits of the Blues’ chatter slipped in around his earflaps. It was quite irritating but he felt certain he could put up with it and after awhile, it was again quiet and peaceful in the burrow.
Budgie began to relax. He was almost comfortable when a blast of hot air hit him from both sides. It hissed down the tunnels, front and back, and enveloped him in a humid mist. Budgie clutched at his throat and coughed. Then he gasped. What an unpleasant odor. It smelled exactly like dead dragonflies. Oh, no! The Snake family. They ate dragonflies and any other bugs they could find. Emily Susan must have enlisted the services of Cyrus and Cybil. This was quite a different problem. Budgie’s stomach began to toss and turn as the smell continued to pipe into the living room. Quickly he ran into the bedroom and closed the door. To his dismay, he saw the mist curling up from under the door. There was no place to hide. Budgie was beginning to feel very ill indeed. What could he do? Blast after blast blew down the two tunnels and filled the burrow with a foul smell. Budgie’s stomach rolled. Holding both front paws over his mouth, he scurried into the living room and squeezed under the couch. Things were getting desperate. Looking at his wristwatch he realized he had been trying to hide for nearly an hour. Suddenly he had a thought. The Blues had argued for just about a half an hour before the Snakes had taken over and started blowing their foul breath down his tunnels. What if they stopped after a half-hour like the Blues had? That meant they would soon be done. Budgie fervently hoped this was the case.
Sure enough, soon fresh air once again filtered down into the den and Budgie breathed a sigh of relief. He’d never before realized how wonderfully sweet fresh air is. He took several deep breaths and smiled happily—or as happily as a badger can smile.
By now, Budgie was truly tired. In fact, he was too tired to eat his supper. Instead, he brushed and filed his long, pointed teeth and climbed into Solomon’s featherbed. If Solomon had known Budgie was in his featherbed, he would have been filled with dismay for that bed was Solomon’s pride and joy. Bonnie Blue had saved feathers for him for a very long time and she had even helped him make the bed. Luckily Solomon didn’t know where Budgie was because the exhausted skunk was peacefully sleeping on the couch in Emily Susan’s living room.
Just as Budgie pulled the quilt up under his chin and closed his eyes, Freddy Frogg and his clan took their turn at the tunnel entrances. Verse after verse of frog “music” floated into the burrow. They sang hymns and Broadway show tunes. They sang some blues and some bebop. All the time they sang very loudly with no rest between songs. On and on it went until Budgie thought he would surely go mad. Even a pillow over his head could not shut out the chorus. Budgie the Badger wanted to weep. He’d finally found a wonderfully cool den and now it appeared he would have to give it up. Worst of all, he had to admit Emily Susan mouse and her friends had defeated him. They had succeeded in making him so miserable he would have to give up.
Slowly, Budgie dragged himself out of Solomon’s featherbed. Covering his ears with his front paws, he slouched up the dark tunnel.
In the light of the full summer moon, Budgie could see Emily Susan sitting on the rock right where he had left her. On one side was Beverly Bear. On the other side was Squi Squirrel. Bonnie Blue and her two oldest babies, Baxter and Blessing, sat on a branch of a nearby maple tree. Cybil and Cyrus Snake were coiled under a large fern, their beady eyes watching him angrily, their forked tongues flashing in and out. Freddy Frogg was squatting directly in front of Budgie. Even now he was still singing.
Budgie tried to snarl and growl at all the neighbors but he was simply too tired to do anything but hang his head in defeat. His ears hurt. His teeth hurt. And his pride hurt most of all.
Emily Susan hopped down off her stone and came right up to Budgie’s face. “Well, Budgie, do you finally give up? Are you ready to give Solomon’s home back to him?” She demanded.
Budgie could only nod miserably.
“Speak up, Budgie. We can’t hear you,” demanded the angry mouse.
“Yes,” whispered Budgie. “I give up, Emily Susan. You win.”
“Winning isn’t what’s important, Budgie,” Emily Susan told him. “What’s important is for Solomon to get his home back. What’s important, Budgie is that you understand being a bully won’t get you anywhere. Sooner or later you’ll meet something or someone bigger and stronger than you are. This time it was us, Solomon’s friends and neighbors. We all came to help protect our dear friend. That’s something for you to think about Budgie.”
Budgie hung his head in disgrace. How embarrassed he was. A crowd had gathered outside Solomon’s den. Everyone in the crowd had heard each and every word Emily Susan had uttered.
As Budgie tried to slink off into the bushes, Emily Susan called after him. “Not so fast, Budgie. There’s one more thing you must do.”
Budgie cringed. Now what? Was there no end to his humiliation? Slowly he turned around. Emily Susan and Solomon Skunk were standing there. Budgie swallowed hard. The elderly skunk did look very tired. Was he really responsible for Solomon’s condition? Budgie actually felt a small amount of remorse. “What must I do now, Emily Susan?” the tired badger asked.
“You must apologize to Solomon, Budgie. You behaved very badly. You caused him great stress. The least you can do is tell him you’re sorry and assure him you will never again enter his home uninvited. Or anyone else’s home for that matter. And that must be a promise you keep, Budgie, or you will be in severe trouble,” Emily Susan said sternly.
Budgie wanted to hide. He wanted the yard to open up and swallow him. But of course it didn’t. Taking a deep breath, Budgie looked sadly at Solomon. “I am most sincerely sorry for the distress I caused you, Solomon,” he said. “I promise never to do it again to you or to anyone in Milkweed and I beg your forgiveness.” Budgie stood looking at the ground. Never had he felt so disgraced, so humiliated, so sick at heart.
After a few moments, Solomon put one front paw on Budgie’s drooping shoulder. “I accept your most gracious apology,” he said. “I know how difficult it was for you to offer it. Perhaps we have all learned from this unfortunate incident. I certainly hope so. And besides, how nice it would be if you could be a member of our neighborhood instead of an outsider”
Budgie couldn’t believe his ears. The elderly skunk had not only forgiven him but was offering him friendship and a place in the community with all the other neighbors. A big tear formed in Budgie’s left eye and rolled down his cheek followed by three tears from his right eye.
Before the badger could further disgrace himself, Emily Susan stepped forward. “Well said, Solomon. Now I suggest we put this behind us and get on with life. What better way to do that than with one of my blueberry muffins and a glass of ice tea? You are all invited to my home right now.”
And with that, the confrontation in Milkweed was settled to everyone’s pleasure and they went to Emily Susan Mouse’s home to celebrate with iced-tea and blueberry muffins. And, Budgie the Badger went, too.
. . .
Patricia Reed is a children's story writer living on an island off the coast of Maine. The stories were inspired by her first grandchild—the real Emily Susan.