The voles in Chestnut Lane were getting excited, in a few weeks' time, it was their summer holiday. Barnaby Vole had already packed his suitcase with important things like his bucket and spade and model yacht. He did this every year, and every year, Mrs. Vole took them out and put in boring things like socks. But this year, some of the other animals weren't thinking of holidays. The foxes who lived on the other side of Folly Brook were getting excited about something else. A bossy fox had told them they'd be a lot happier if they formed an army and took over every wood in the area. He told them they'd be the mightiest animals in the whole land, and the other animals would have to jolly well do as they were told. All the foxes thought this a very good idea.
When at last the foxes had practised enough so they could march without biting each other's tails, the bossy fox told them to leave their dens and march down Chestnut Lane to the hedgerow where the voles lived.
Voles don't like foxes. Foxes are crafty and have sharp teeth – lots of them. So as soon as the voles heard, they did what voles always do at the mention of foxes; they started to dig. They dug new burrows, longer burrows, deeper burrows, and twistier burrows, which didn't solve the problem at all as they kept meeting other voles who were digging their burrows in the opposite direction.
As none of the voles wanted to turn around and go back, a lot of fur was ruffled as they tried to push past each other, which made the voles very cross indeed.
Mr. Vole decided this couldn't go on. He called the voles to a meeting under the oak tree. After a lot of shushing to stop them talking, he told them his idea.
"Fellow Voles, we can't go on like this. We must do something about the foxes. They're much bigger than we are, and so to beat them, we've got to outwit them. I say we need to nip them when they're not looking." Every vole nodded and said 'splendid' and 'excellent.' Eventually, some of the bravest voles offered to join Mr. Vole, and they formed a secret club which they called the 'Resistance.'
Members of the Resistance wore black berets, coats with their collars turned up, and dark glasses, which looked really cool. The only problem was that when the Resistance went out at night, they couldn't see a thing and kept falling over and bumping into things.
It wasn't long before there were fox spies everywhere, and it became too dangerous for voles to find food. As their food stores were nearly empty, some voles started to look rather thin. Mr. Vole called the Resistance to a meeting in his burrow under the Yew tree. Before any member arrived, Mrs. Vole gave the young voles their nightly spoon of elderberry syrup. As soon as they'd had their goodnight kiss, they started their nightly chant of:
"Story, story, story!" Mr. Vole raised his paw for silence.
"Not tonight, my dears, there will be double tomorrow. Now, you mustn't listen to anything that is said at the meeting." As Barnaby's bed was in the parlour where the meeting was to be held, that was difficult as even under his duvet, he could hear everything.
The members of the Resistance squeezed into the parlour. Soon there was an ear-splitting commotion as they tripped over each other's tails and all talked at once. As they had their dark glasses on, no one had any idea who was speaking, except Barnaby, who peeked out from under his duvet.
After a while, with a lot of helpful heaving and pushing, a rather fat, important-looking vole climbed onto a chair. Then, standing rather unsteadily on his hind legs, he held his jacket lapel with his front paw, cleared his throat, and, looking at them over the top of his glasses, made an announcement.
"Fellow voles, this is a very serious situation." Everyone agreed. "Something must be done because right is right and wrong is...well, it's wrong, isn't it?" They clapped and cheered, but nobody had a clue what it meant. Encouraged by the applause, the fat vole waved his paw in a grand gesture and was about to continue when he lost his balance and fell off the chair with an undignified squeak. When several voles had helped him up and found his beret, Mr. Vole raised his voice.
"Fellow voles! Is it to be a dandelion then?" He looked around rather nervously. To his relief, they all said 'yes.' Eventually, Mr. Green was chosen to go to the meadow and get one. He turned his coat collar even higher and crept out of the burrow. He returned a few minutes later, carefully holding a dandelion puff and looking pleased with himself. They inspected it, then gently carried it outside again. Barnaby could barely contain his curiosity. He tiptoed out of bed and followed them.
Looking rather suspicious, the members of The Resistance sneaked to a corner of the meadow. Barnaby raised his paw to ask why everyone tiptoed when you couldn't hear a vole move anyway, then realized that was rather silly.
Four voles were set as lookouts. The other voles crowded around Mr. Green, who held the dandelion above his head. Then, after more whispering and nodding of heads, they closed their eyes tight, each took an enormous, button popping breath, then started blowing.
They blew and blew till they went dizzy, and the dandelion seeds floated away on the breeze. The voles seemed very pleased; so, they ate the dandelion stalk, then went home.
The following morning at breakfast, Barnaby thought he'd burst if he didn't ask.
"Dad, what are dandelion puffs used for?" Mr. Vole gasped and dropped his acorn cup, spilling his blackberry tea on the table cloth.
"Shush!" he said, raising his paw to his lips. "You mustn't talk about such things…you mustn't even think of them… you..." But he didn't get further because Barnaby interrupted him.
"But what are they used for Dad?" Mr. Vole looked around nervously, waived his paw in agitation, then put his beret and dark glasses on and turned his coat collar up. He beckoned Barnaby to come closer, then whispered quietly.
"Dandelions, my boy, are used to send messages." He looked around the parlour again, "secret messages," he whispered, tapping the side of his nose with his paw. "If the Resistance get a dandelion puff and everyone thinks of the same message and all blow together, the message is carried by the dandelion seeds to our special friends who live in Hester's Wood."
"So, can anyone read the messages, Dad?" Mr. Vole laughed and shook his head so hard his glasses fell into his porridge and slowly sank below the surface.
"No, of course not, the messages are in a Top Secret code, no one can read them."
"If the code is secret, how can our friends read them?" Mr. Vole went strangely quiet as he fished his glasses out of his porridge.
"Umm," he said and absent-mindedly put them back on. "Perhaps we should have told our friends the code. Maybe that's why they haven't answered any of our messages." Now, this was an important thought, but Barnaby wasn't paying attention to what Mr. Vole was saying, he was too busy watching porridge slide down his glasses and drip off his whiskers.
After breakfast, Mr. Vole asked Old Crow to call the members of the Resistance back to a special, urgent meeting. Later that day, they squeezed into the burrow again, berets and glasses on and coat collars turned up. Mr. Vole called for silence; then announced in a hushed voice:
"Someone must go to Hester's Wood and tell our friends the mice the code so they can read our messages. It's an important and dangerous mission. Who'll go?"
There was an awkward silence, and everyone became busy. One blew his nose in a red hanky, and several polished their dark glasses. Four Paws Vincent inspected a valuable jug on the dresser till Mr. Vole took it away from him.
Eventually, Mr. White said he'd love to go, but he couldn't leave the bakery, or no one would have any bread. Three others announced they had important appointments. Mr. Black said, unfortunately, he'd hurt his paw, and he started to limp, which was strange because he wasn't limping when he'd arrived. Everyone else went quiet. No one offered to go.
Now, the following day was Wednesday – bath day. Barnaby hated bath day. On bath days, Mrs. Vole filled the bath with warm soapy water and put Barnaby and his brothers in together. When Mrs. Vole wasn't looking, Barnaby's big brother used to push him under the water, hold him down, then let him go. Barnaby would hurtle to the surface, coughing and spluttering, and every Wednesday, Barnaby was sent to bed without any supper for larking about. Barnaby had a brain wave. Without thinking further and standing on his duvet, he piped up in a clear voice.
"I could go, Dad, I'm only a little vole, and I haven't got a beret, a coat, or dark glasses, so no one will suspect me."
Before Mr. Vole could say 'absolutely not,' other voles said 'what a marvellous idea,' and 'how brave!' So, Mr. Vole reluctantly agreed. Suddenly, Mr. Black's paw got better. Mr. Vole took Barnaby to one side.
"This is a very dangerous mission. I'm afraid you'll have to miss your bath, but if you succeed, you'll be a hero of the Resistance. You must go to the big Willow tree in Hester's Wood, knock three times and tell the mice the secret code. Then they will be able to read our messages." He held his paw up with a raised claw which meant 'pay attention!' Go straight there, don't talk to anyone, and be very careful. Now, you know how to get to Hester's Wood, don't you?" Barnaby nodded.
Despite several voles carefully explaining the code to Barnaby, he couldn't remember it. He kept getting it backwards, so Mr. White made up a catchy little song to help him. Mrs. Vole fussed around and brushed Barnaby's fur one way, then another, then she licked her hanky, wiped his face, and for some reason, started to cry. After a lot of 'good lucks' and 'take cares,' off he went, humming his song.
The meeting had taken so long that when Barnaby left, it was getting dark. Stars started to twinkle, and his whiskers twitched as he sniffed the sweet, scented air. He went as fast as his legs would carry him, scurrying under leaves and bushes and avoiding open spaces. As he scampered through buttercups and ivy, he hummed his little song, but as he went, he got hotter and hotter. Eventually, he ran around a small gorse bush, and there, in front of him, lay the cool, clear millpond. Moonlight glistened on its surface.
Barnaby stood panting and gazed at it. It was so inviting, so cool, so refreshing. He put his front paw in the water and closed his eyes in bliss; it was even better than he imagined. He thought for a second or two, then forgot his secret mission, and dived in.
The millpond was as good as it looked. He swam and swam. No one else was in the water to watch him, so he decided to try a flip dive. He climbed onto a large log and dived in, but the dive went completely wrong, and he hurtled down, waving his paws and tail in all directions, and hit the water with a loud kerploosh!
When Barnaby eventually stopped blowing bubbles and came back up, he found he wasn't quite as alone as he thought. A large pike had come over to watch him. He was a very friendly fish.
"Well, young vole – in all my days, I have never seen," he stopped to lick his lips, "diving quite like that." He licked his lips again. "Remarkable. You must show me how you do it." Now, although Barnaby had been taught it was bad manners to leave when someone was talking, he suddenly remembered his mission. He pointed to the other side of the pond.
"Look!" He shouted. The pike turned around, then swimming for his life, Barnaby tore over to the bank and leapt out before the pike realized he was gone. Panting and feeling very frightened, he shook himself dry, then ran like the wind.
At long last, Barnaby reached Hester's Wood and found the big Willow tree. He knocked three times on the door. Shortly, the door opened a paw's width. A voice demanded:
"Friend or foe?" Barnaby's heart raced, and he felt dizzy. No one had told him what to say.
"I – I don't know." He screwed his eyes closed, wishing he'd never offered to come. Resistance work was far more dangerous than he'd thought.
"Oh, that's all right then," the voice said. The door opened, and in he went. A rather stern-looking mouse stood in front of him. "Yes, young vole, what do you want?"
Barnaby told him and sang his song. The mouse motioned with his paw and pointed to a chair.
"Sit there, young vole, and don't move!" Barnaby sat on the edge of his seat and tried to keep still, which was difficult as he was trembling so much. The stern mouse went away then returned with a lot of other mice who walked around and around Barnaby, staring at him.
"Tell us your story again." The stern mouse said, so Barnaby did, trying not to cry. When he'd finished, there was a long silence. Eventually, a thin mouse spoke:
"That explains why we couldn't read the vole's dandelion message." An older mouse was sent to get the messages. As the mice now knew the Top Secret code, they could read the messages, and they did, one after the other.
As they read, Mrs. Mouse came into the room and took Barnaby to a table. She sat him down and gave him a jug of elderflower cordial and a ginormous, incredibly sticky, iced bun. Barnaby was ravenous. He nibbled, chomped, and chewed his way through it, getting sticker and sticker as he went. In the meantime, the mice made good progress reading the messages.
'Please send carrots - urgent.' So, they got some carrots and put them on the floor. The following message read: 'Can we have some carrots and acorns, please?' So, they got more carrots and acorns and put them on the floor. The third message said: 'we're out blackberries, we're desperate, please send carrots, acorns, and berries.' So, yet more carrots, acorns, and berries were added to the pile.
Eventually, feeling near to bursting, Barnaby finished his iced bun, and the mice had read all the messages. Mrs. Mouse came back into the room and walked around the mountain of carrots, acorns, and blackberries. She stood, looking at Barnaby with her paws on her hips.
"Well," she said with a smile, "will you just look at the state of you, young vole! We'd better do something about you before your mother sees you." Barnaby looking sheepish, tried to rub his sticky fur down, but it only made it worse.
Mrs. Mouse went away and returned with a huge bowl of warm water and a sponge. Holding Barnaby's neck firmly with her paw, she gave him a good wash. When she'd finished, Barnaby shook himself dry.
"You're a very brave little vole," she said and gave him a big hug, then brushed his fur with a badger brush till his eyes watered. As there was now so much food on the floor, every mouse in the wood was summoned to help.
They got the biggest cart in the district and carried the food out of the willow tree and piled it in, and sat Barnaby on top. They harnessed four dormice to pull it. Everyone was told to put their berets on and turn their coat collars up. The stern mouse gave them strict instructions:
"Now mice! Don't make any noise in case the foxes hear. This is an important mission. Good luck everyone." He turned and looked up at Barnaby perched on top. "Hold tight," and they all set off with two visiting fireflies lighting the way.
The mice didn't stay quiet for long. As they were wearing dark glasses, they kept falling over and bumping into each other. By the time they reached Bluebell Wood, there was such a commotion of squeaks and squeals, it sounded like a huge army approaching, which frightened the foxes, who ran away, never to return.
The mice eventually arrived at the hedgerow. It was nearly dawn when the voles had exchanged news and unloaded the cart. As they were all so tired, they fell asleep in a big heap.
When it was daylight, Mr. Vole sent the voles home to fetch wheelbarrows and hand carts then he shared the food among them. Everyone was given plenty, then Mr. and Mrs. Vole dug a bigger store to hold theirs.
As Mrs. Vole and Mrs. Mouse were busy baking acorn cakes, primrose biscuits, and rose petal buns, Barnaby licked the bowls until Mrs. Vole thought he was going a rather odd colour, so after being sent to collect jam and honey from the larder, he was sent outside with the young voles to play.
The mice prepared a big party to celebrate, and after a lot of games, which the mice seemed to win, they had a huge feast in the meadow. Tables were piled so high with food, they started to sink under the weight. Mrs. Vole rescued the jugs of cordial and cowslip wine, which were sliding to the edge. Then, before anyone was allowed to have even one nibble, Mr. Vole said Grace.
When the voles and mice opened their eyes again, the stern mouse banged his spoon on the table. He beckoned Barnaby to come to the front. With a big kindly smile, he presented him with his very own beret, dark glasses, and the biggest, juiciest carrot that ever was. On it, tied with a blue ribbon, was a label on which was written:
'Barnaby Vole, Hero of the Resistance'
And everyone clapped and cheered, and Barnaby went a pretty shade of pink.
. . . . . . . . . .