مهمانی بزرگ

کتاب: آقای روباه شگفت انگیز / فصل 17

مهمانی بزرگ

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17 - The Great Feast

Back in the tunnel they paused so that Mr Fox could brick up the hole in the wall. He was humming to himself as he put the bricks back in place. ‘I can still taste that glorious cider,’ he said. ‘What an impudent fellow Rat is.’ ‘He has bad manners,’ Badger said. ‘All rats have bad manners. I’ve never met a polite rat yet.’ ‘And he drinks too much,’ said Mr Fox, putting the last brick in place. ‘There we are. Now, home to the feast!’

They grabbed their jars of cider and off they went. Mr Fox was in front, the Smallest Fox came next and Badger last. Along the tunnel they flew… past the turning that led to Bunce’s Mighty Storehouse… past Boggis’s Chicken House Number One and then up the long home stretch towards the place where they knew Mrs Fox would be waiting.

‘Keep it up, my darlings!’ shouted Mr Fox. ‘We’ll soon be there! Think what’s waiting for us at the other end! And just think what we’re bringing home with us in these jars! That ought to cheer up poor Mrs Fox.’ Mr Fox sang a little song as he ran: ‘Home again swiftly I glide,

Back to my beautiful bride.

She’ll not feel so rotten

As soon as she’s gotten

Some cider inside her inside.’

Then Badger joined in:

‘Oh poor Mrs Badger, he cried,

So hungry she very near died.

But she’ll not feel so hollow

If only she’ll swallow

Some cider inside her inside.’

They were still singing as they rounded the final corner and burst in upon the most wonderful and amazing sight any of them had ever seen. The feast was just beginning. A large dining-room had been hollowed out of the earth, and in the middle of it, seated around a huge table, were no less than twenty-nine animals. They were: Mrs Fox and three Small Foxes.

Mrs Badger and three Small Badgers.

Mole and Mrs Mole and four Small Moles.

Rabbit and Mrs Rabbit and five Small Rabbits.

Weasel and Mrs Weasel and six Small Weasels.

The table was covered with chickens and ducks and geese and hams and bacon, and everyone was tucking into the lovely food.

‘My darling!’ cried Mrs Fox, jumping up and hugging Mr Fox. ‘We couldn’t wait! Please forgive us!’ Then she hugged the Smallest Fox of all, and Mrs Badger hugged Badger, and everyone hugged everyone else. Amid shouts of joy, the great jars of cider were placed upon the table, and Mr Fox and Badger and the Smallest Fox sat down with the others.

You must remember no one had eaten a thing for several days. They were ravenous. So for a while there was no conversation at all. There was only the sound of crunching and chewing as the animals attacked the succulent food.

At last, Badger stood up. He raised his glass of cider and called out, A toast! I want you all to stand and drink a toast to our dear friend who has saved our lives this day – Mr Fox!’ ‘To Mr Fox!’ they all shouted, standing up and raising their glasses. ‘To Mr Fox! Long may he live!’

Then Mrs Fox got shyly to her feet and said, ‘I don’t want to make a speech. I just want to say one thing, and it is this: MY HUSBAND IS A FANTASTIC FOX.’ Everyone clapped and cheered. Then Mr Fox himself stood up.

‘This delicious meal…’ he began, then he stopped. In the silence that followed, he let fly a tremendous belch. There was laughter and more clapping. ‘This delicious meal, my friends,’ he went on, ‘is by courtesy of Messrs Boggis, Bunce and Bean.’ (More cheering and laughter.) ‘And I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.’ He let fly another colossal belch.

‘Better out than in,’ said Badger.

‘Thank you,’ said Mr Fox, grinning hugely. ‘But now, my friends, let us be serious. Let us think of tomorrow and the next day and the days after that. If we go out, we will be killed. Right?’ ‘Right!’ they shouted.

‘We’ll be shot before we’ve gone a yard,’ said Badger.

‘ Ex-actly,’ said Mr Fox. ‘But who wants to go out, anyway; let me ask you that? We are all diggers, every one of us. We hate the outside. The outside is full of enemies. We only go out because we have to, to get food for our families. But now, my friends, we have an entirely new set-up. We have a safe tunnel leading to three of the finest stores in the world!’ ‘We do indeed!’ said Badger. ‘I’ve seen ’em!’

‘And you know what this means?’ said Mr Fox. ‘It means that none of us need ever go out into the open again!’ There was a buzz of excitement around the table.

‘I therefore invite you all,’ Mr Fox went on, ‘to stay here with me for ever.’

‘For ever!’ they cried. ‘My goodness! How marvellous!’ And Rabbit said to Mrs Rabbit, ‘My dear, just think! We’re never going to be shot at again in our lives!’ ‘We will make,’ said Mr Fox, ‘a little underground village, with streets and houses on each side – separate houses for Badgers and Moles and Rabbits and Weasels and Foxes. And every day I will go shopping for you all. And every day we will eat like kings.’ The cheering that followed this speech went on for many minutes.

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