“Oliver, are you at home?” came a call from outside, followed by knocking at the door.
Professor Oliver MacCrumb was hunched over his work table, intent on his task, growing irritable at the many distractions this day had brought. Ignoring the visitor he peered through his magnifying glass at his current contraption. Carefully he inserted a tiny cog using tweezers. Immediately the devices wings began to flap and it shot around the table knocking things about and on to the floor. It made quite a racket which prompted the visitor to only call out again, then knock more loudly.
“Drat and darn it all. I did it again.” the Professor mumbled as he snatched the contraption and pulled its winding key, which made it stop its disastrous flopping about. He did learn something though. The new synchronizing gear he just installed was indeed the right size. Now to work on the optics! He was rather enthusiastic as he thought of this, but an even louder knocking issued from the door.
“Oliver! I know you are at home. How rude of you to ignore me.” Mrs. Whiskers called once again.
Now all in the Woodlands knew that Mrs. Whiskers, of all good folk, could hardly be ignored. Sighing with resignation, the Professor shuffled through the mess of his work shop and opened the front door. Without hesitation the little mouse woman barged in. Just as he thought she might begin a tirad she stopped and let out a long sigh.
“It is beautiful.” she exclaimed as she stepped over to a tall antique clock. She ran her fingers over the freshly sanded and polished case. “And it is working.” she continued excitedly, noticing the swinging pendulum and the ‘tic toc’ sound of the devices inner workings.
“Yes of course. How ever it was never broken. Please allow me to explain.” moving over to the clock he opened the cases glass front, stopped the pendulum then pointed out a small lever. “By gently pulling this, it actually unlocks and opens the face of the clock. Like so.” As the face swung out, the devices inners were exposed and Mrs. Whiskers eyes went wide in wonder.
The inside was so complex with pins, coils and many gears of various sizes. It was unimaginable to her how it all possibly worked. To enhance her experience, the Professor sent the pendulum swinging once more. Some gears ticked with each swing, some after several. Then a hairspring went loose and a big gear turned changing the position of the weights. She jumped and giggled in delight at this. Professor MacCrumb loved his work, and moments like this made it all worthwhile.
“As you can see. One must merely set the pendulum into motion.” He concluded in satisfaction as he closed the clock.
“Marvelous. And such a fine job restoring the wood as well.” Mrs. Whiskers replied as she traced the scroll work with her finger. “Can you bring it today?”
“Of course I will.” he said happily. “If you could send some of the boys over to assist I would greatly appreciate it. We would not want to knock it out of alignment in the transport.”
“Certainly. I am assuming that the agreed price will be less, now that it wasn’t actually broken?” Mrs. Whiskers asked in her snooty way as she moved to leave.
“Indeed,” Professor MacCrumb frowned thinking to himself that he should have expected that. He wouldn’t be getting what he sought this time either. “The restoration still took some time ma’dam. What do you say to one watermelon and five pounds of your delicious potatoes?”
“Very well,” The little mouse woman responded and gave a slight curtsy. “I will send my two oldest immediately.” And with that she was off, skipping merrily down the road. She was in fact in a fine mood, as she once again avoided trading the old lamp to the Professor. He had been trying to trade for it, ever since Miss Tittles traded it to Mrs. Whiskers for work she desperately needed done. After a terrible Spring storm, everyone was busy with clean up and repairs. Mrs. Whiskers made the offer and did stop all of her own work to send many of her oldest children to help Miss Tittles. It was a fair barter, nevertheless Miss Tittles always regretted it, and Oliver had been trying to get it back since.
Professor MacCrumb shut the door and looked about his workshop. ‘What a mess,’ he thought to himself. He had much to do today and hoped the Whisker boys hurried to assist him. After delivering the clock he had to get over to Daryl the Wainwright’s home. Today they would apply the Professor’s organic rubber solution to the wooden wheel frames, of the wagon they had been building.
Togather, they had designed the rear axle for easy pulling, so that the wagon could carry larger loads yet not put so much burden on whomever may be pulling. Daryl had designed the perfect wagon, sturdy and accommodating for the heavy loads. Professor MacCrumb had spent much time calculating the gear ratios, and working with the blacksmith, to get the axles just right.
The mess would have to wait. Quickly he darted about getting his tool bags organized. He told himself that he would only need certain tools to complete his task at Daryl’s, but Olivar was after all, Olivar. ‘But what if this?’ he thought and grabbed two more tools. ‘And what of that?’ he thought again grabbing more tools. Now, his tool bags were overflowing and…
Knock, knock, knock, to late. He went to the door and the two oldest Whisker brothers were there. He didn’t expect them this quickly. “Good afternoon boys,” the professor greeted them.
“Young men!” they both retorted in unison. And just like their mother, barged right in and headed for the clock.
The Professor rolled his eyes. Noticing outside, he saw they had brought their own cart. It was a rickety old thing, and he hoped it would hold the weight of the clock. He was skeptical and was about to suggest using his when…
“Pardon us Oliver.” the brothers spoke in unison once more.
The Professor leaped aside as they rushed right out the door with the clock. One had the bottom and the other, the top. They had apparently tilted it back, hosted both ends and decided to just run off with it, most likely not even stopping the pendulum!
Eyes wide and very annoyed he went after them. “That’s Mr. MacCrumb or Professor to you, lads.” They seemed to be ignoring him as they loaded the clock. It was clear they made the motions of carefulness, but hastiness won over the young mice. Bang, scuff, drop!
“There perfect fit,” proclaimed one.
“I told you it would.” said the other.
The Professor stood staring as they started to pull the cart off. They hadn’t secured it with ties or padded it with anything. With each little rut or rock in the road, the clock would bounce. He wouldn’t even be able to collect his fruit and vegetables without redoing his work now. And probably having an actual, internal repair! He even considered chasing after and trying to make them be more careful, or at the least point out to Mrs. Whiskers that her sons were reckless. Deciding not to add that stress to his life, he went back inside to gather his things. He would just make time tomorrow to go over to Mrs. Whiskers and clean it up.
Once inside, it didn’t take him long. He resolved himself to just the basic tools then loaded his own cart. It was a nice cart, with only straight axles but the large wheel size aided in its ease of pulling. Not only that, Daryl and him also designed a ‘semi-elliptical spring’ suspension system. Daryl used it in all his carts and wagons now. The Whisker brothers did not have one of these newer designs…
Looking over his load one last time, he was satisfied that everything he needed was there. With determination and eagerness, for the next task, he set forth across town towards Daryl’s. He took a brief glance at his garage and smiled. ‘It wouldn’t be long now. No more pulling a cart for me,’ he thought to himself. He had been working on something special for almost three years now. It was a difficult project so he worked on it when he had the time. He called it his, ‘Hydro-Conveyance’, and he was sure it would change the world forever!
Lost in thoughts, and happily eager about all the wonderful things he and his friends were doing, the Professor wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. His name had been called several times and slowly he snapped out of his daydreams.
“Professor!” a final cry came and Oliver jumped, startled, as he took in his surroundings. “Are you deaf?” A very short hedge hog was standing on his porch not to far away, and did not appear amused.
“Oh. I am so sorry dear Pattis. I was merely lost in thought.” Professor MacCrumb replied apologetically, then moved to greet his friend.
“I know you are on your way somewhere Professor, but would you mind having a look at my oven?” Pattis pleaded.
‘An oven?’ Olivar thought to himself. Well that was hardly his expertise, but perhaps he could be of assistance. Pattis was, after all, the best baker in town so the Professor knew how important the oven was to him. “Of course I will my friend.” he replied and the two of them headed inside to the kitchen.
Pattis had a very large oven. There were three doors on its front side and twelve burners on its top! It also had two chimney vents, which was necessary when the hedgehog was in full swing for festivals or parties. Professor MacCrumb stared at the impressive oven a moment and deduced that its functions and components were still quite basic.
“What is the exact issue?” Olivar said after several moments.
“It keeps smoking up the house, everytime I try to warm it up,” Pattis replied.
“Did you clean it?” Olivar asked. Not sarcastically of course but merely a question to narrow down the possibilities.
“Yes. Several times,” Pattis insisted.
“Humm… and you checked the chimney flues?
“Of coarse, of coarse.”
Olivar was perplexed but determined to aid his friend. He rolled up his sleeves and opened the middle oven door. Looking inside he saw that it was indeed very clean. He then removed the racks and stuck himself inside to look into the flues. He couldn’t tell if they were clean or not as it was to dark.
“Interesting,” He said aloud and thought for a moment. He must have caused some sort of anticipation because Pattis started fidgeting.
“What is interesting, do tell?” he blurted after an impatient moment had passed.
The Professor backed himself out of the oven and despite it being well cleaned, he still had soot upon his hands and jacket. It couldn’t be helped of course. It was, after all, a well and often used oven. Pattis handed him a towel but the cleaning was futile. Unfortunately he did more smearing then cleaning.
“Well?” asked Pattis, still awaiting a response.
“Well dear friend. I should be able to see a little light within the flue from outside. Do you have a ladder?” Professor MacCrumb responded.
“Of coarse!” Pattis said excitedly and they both hurried outside to the tool shed. Pattis then dragged out an old, wooden extension ladder. “Still good as new!”
“I remember when we made this! It was my first one.” Oliver exclaimed. Many years ago the Professor had come up with this design. It was two ladders laid atop one another and connected in a slide track. Then a pulley was attached to one side and a rope ran through it and tied to the other.
They spent a moment reminiscing over the time spent together making it. It was a lot of fun for them, especially since it was being made for the Spring Festival which marked the day of the vernal equinox. It happened to be the favorite holiday of them both. That year, and every year since, they were able to get very high with the birds and do some very elaborate decorating.
Still laughing they made their way to the back side of Pattis’s home and set up the ladder. Then Professor MacCrumb climbed all the way up to where the top of the vents were located. Using a screwdriver he then removed the flue hoods and peered inside.
“Just as I suspected,” He called down. “I knew I should have been able to see some light from below.” He then reached inside pulling out wads of dough. Gooey, uncooked wads of dough…
“That is impossible,” Pattis cried. “My dough can’t go up the pipe like that.”
The Professor finished his cleaning, reattached the hoods and climbed back down. Giving Pattis a serious look he replied, “I suspect someone has pulled a prank on you.”
“Well that is just very rude. Who would go through so much trouble for a prank?” Pattis seemed very annoyed.
“Did you pick mushrooms at the Faerie Circle, again?” Professor MacCrumb asked.
“No way. I learned my lesson. Yikes!” replied Pattis and they both laughed.
“Well then. I have my suspicions but I suppose we shall never know. You should be good as new, now though.” said the Professor as he lowered the ladder and carried it back to the tool shed.
With thanks and farewells, the two friends parted, and Professor MacCrumb continued on his way to Daryl’s home. He wasn’t far now and he hoped there were no more distractions. There were many more friends about in the village this afternoon. Many waving and wishing him well, with Olivar returning the kind gestures. Professor MacCrumb was passing the Library now and a fox named Emily Rosewood, the librarian, stepped out the front doors.
“Good afternoon, Olivar.” Her silky voice reached his ears. She had a way of speaking that made every syllable an innuendo, and this made most men blush. Professor MacCrumb was no exception. He mumbled something incoherent, lowered his head and picked up his pace. The Professor was easily flustered and was more than a little embarrassed. As he moved off as quickly as he could, he could hear Emily giggling behind him.
Rounding a corner, in the path that ran through the village, he saw a commotion ahead. It was the Whisker brothers and they had broken a wheel on the rickety cart. To their utter dismay, their mother must have been close by. Because there she was, giving a tongue lashing, that only a mother could give. As the Professor drew nearer he began to hear what was being said.
“And just look at Olivers finish job. There are gouges!” she seemed aghast at the sight of it. Just then she noticed his approach. “And you!” She started in with raised voice and marched straight towards him. “You were supposed to help them.”
“B-b-but…” he stammered.
“There is no way I am paying for any of this until you fix it,” Mrs. Whiskers said stubbornly.
“Well the cart certainly wasn’t the Professors fault,” To the rescue came Daryl the Badger. He and Oliver were about the same height, but Daryl had shoulders twice as wide and a belly twice as plump. Olivar sighed with relief as his friend interrupted the verbal assault.
“Yes.” Professor MacCrumb said, his courage returning as an idea came to mind.
“How dare you team up on me like that,” Mrs. Whiskers gave them both a glare of loathing.
“What I mean to say is, I will of course fix the clock as agreed,” the Professor continued in a kind and apologetic tone.
“You don’t have to do that,” Daryl scoffed. “And madam, you shouldn’t been so mean to your very fine friends!”
“Now, now…” the Professor started seeing that Daryl could be just as stubborn as Mrs. Whiskers. “As agreed. I will come fix it at your home so we will not need to transport it again.”
“Well that seems just fine,” Mrs. Whiskers responded but kept her gaze fixed upon Daryl. “But just how am I supposed to get it the rest of the way home? We are out of spare wheels, my sons tell me.”
“We will trade for new ones, as per our usual agreement, madam.” Daryl spoke up.
The Professor smiled and stepped forward to Mrs. Whiskers, placing a comforting hand upon her shoulder. “That just won’t do,” he said softly. “That cart has seen it’s final days i’m afraid. You need a new one. A better one.”
“Well I can’t. I just don’t have the time,” she said stubbornly. They all knew it would take a fair amount work to trade for a brand new wagon. The Whisker family had a tendency to run things to their limits, and they were hoarders, so “new” was difficult for them. But to that end the Professor continued.
“I’ll trade you mine.”
“Really?” said Daryl and Mrs. Whiskers, one echoing the other.
“For what?” Mrs. Whiskers asked skeptically.
“The lamp,” Oliver replied matter of factly.
Mrs. Whiskers was in a bind now. She knew the Professor would do almost anything to get it back for Mrs. Tittles. The cart was probably the best deal she was going to get for it, and honestly the cart was worth much more, “I accept.”
The biggest smile appeared on Professor MacCrumb’s face. Not only was he very happy that he would finally get the lamp, but Mrs. Whiskers did truly need a new cart. He knew she could be rough around the edges, yet the Whisker family played a very important role in the Woodland community, and the cart would aid in that role for years to come.
“Well let’s get the cart unloaded,” Daryl the Wainwright said as he moved to pull the Professors cart over to his portico workshop. There they unloaded Olivars tools and buckets of organic rubber solution. Then, carefully, they moved the clock from the rickety broken cart to the new one.
It was easy to tell that Mrs. Whiskers and her sons were excited to have a new, and modernized cart. The boys grabbed hold of the handle and tugged hard to get it started rolling. When it jerked and moved with ease, the two almost fell over. Smiling wide as they both held the handle with one hand, they walked off with the cart easily trailing behind them.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Whiskers said as she turned to Oliver and Daryl. She appeared humbled and gave them a look of gratefulness that neither of them had seen from her before. She glanced to the old cart and spoke directly to Daryl, “Keep that one. Perhaps you can fix it and it will find its way to another in need.”
“Of coarse madam.” Daryl responded softly.
With that she turned, hoisted up her dress from dragging on the ground and hurried after her sons. Oliver and Daryl looked to one another in surprise, then both smiled patting each other on the shoulder. They then turned to the workshop, rubbed their hands together and got to work.
Applying the solution to the wooden framed wheels was a tedious task. They used jackscrews to lift the wagon off the ground and install the wheels. Then they built molds around the outer edge of the wheels to pour the solution into. While the Professor started pouring he instructed Daryl to turn the wheels slowly. He explained that this would aid in an even application. In the final step they capped the molds and all there was left to do was let it finish drying.
“For proper set up, we should let it sit for two days,” Professor MacCrumb said.
“Sounds good. I am eager to see this one in action,” Daryl replied. He looked to the Professor thoughtfully then, and waited in silence for the Professor to finish his task and notice.
“What is it, my friend?” asked Olivar.
“So… it is late now. When are you going to retrieve your lamp?” Daryl answered with a not so subtle smirk splayed across his face.
“In the morning,” the Professor blurted. Easily flustered, he barely got the sentence out with coherency. He started fidgeting and his blush got deeper as Daryl continued to stare. Trying to hide the fact, and avoid the Badger, he started picking up the workplace. Daryl started laughing, and poor Professor MacCrumb knew he wouldn’t hear the end of it, until he delivered the lamp to its rightful owner.
Author: JB Miller