The narrow trail seemed to wind quite illogically across the expanse of bracken, undergrowth, gorse, furze.
Suddenly she tripped, and the last thing she remembered was sliding, sliding, sliding.....
She briefly wondered if that hole had always been there, before she lost consciousness.
Sliding, sliding, sliding.....
When she came to her senses, she was surprised to discover that she was comfortably tucked in. Her shoes were off, she no longer had her bright red jacket on, and also, she noted with alarm, her pearl necklace was missing! She sat up in the bed and looked around. What had happened? Where was she?
And who had removed her shoes, jacket, and pearls?
Near the bed was a short cabinet with a Shek-Wan figurine of Chung Kwei - she recognized the familiar bearded visage, and the folding fan outstretched with good luck bats perched upon it - and several short tables with books stacked upon them. Whoever lived here was a bit messy, there was a layer of dust on some of the volumes. The cluttered room was dark, with pockets of black in the corners. The reading light near the bed was not turned on. But thank heavens it was warm. Warm!
In the orange light at the far side of the room was an armchair with an indistinct shape in it. As her eyes adjusted, she could see that whoever sat there was furry.... a whiskered snout in profile, with a pipe jauntily stuck out issuing whisps of smoke.
A stubby paw turned a page in a book.
The feet on the ottoman were hairy and clawed.
"WHO ARE YOU?!?"
The short thickset creature that got up and came toward her introduced himself as mr. Badger, then explained: "I heard a frightful bump at the door, and thought 'darn it, the UPS man has simply thrown my parcel down the hole again'. That's when I discovered you, my dear, lying in a heap on the welcome mat. You were quite frozen, so I carried you in and put you to bed."
"But where are my shoes, my jacket, and my pearls?"
"The footgear is next to the bed - nice sensible loafers, by the way, and you have small feet - and your coat is on the rack. The pearl necklace is on the table, as I was worried it might break if you tossed around too much. You were twitching and shivering so."
While he talked, his eyes twinkled at her over the tops of his reading glasses. As he put the pipe back in his mouth he said "there's a bathroom down the hall, why don't you soak a bit, it will get you nicely warmed up. I'll put a cup of tea outside the door."
A hot bath sounded incredibly appealing - she still felt the effect of the bone-chilling San Francisco fog.
While she dreamily reclined in the soapy water, she heard a clink outside the bathroom, then footsteps receding back towards the other room. She happily picked up the teacup the badger had left and got back in the tub. This was exceedingly nice.
And he had one of her favourite soaps! Ooh, indeed marvelous!
What a kind creature!
A while later she heard him outside the door saying "when you get out, there will be a bowl of jook waiting for you".
And there was. It was a beautiful bowl of rice porridge, and mr. Badger explained that what he had done was add dried oysters and a little thinly sliced smoked bacon to the pot, plus a bit of chopped carrot at the start of cooking to fall apart in the duck broth, and some slivered ginger at the end. Minced scallion and cilantro on top. It's all about rounding out the flavours, you see.
While he talked, he made another pot of tea.
This was utterly delicious, quite the best bowl of jook she had ever had!
The aroma of his pipe tobacco combined with the other fragrances in his kitchen, and she felt supremely comfortable and content.
"Now, when you've finished eating, join me in the main room and read a while. Once you are fully recovered from your misadventure I'll walk you home".
A few hours later, she put her shoes and her red jacket on again, and he draped a thick great-coat around her shoulders. She had had a lovely time just dozing with a book, perched up against the pillows in his bed under a throw rug, and she was nice and toasty from the jook, the cups of tea, and the tiny shot of Scotch whisky he had poured. Perhaps just a little bit woozy. He had insisted that she have some Scotch before they set out, as it would be even colder than it had been at twilight.
Together they walked up the steps from the hollow toward the path she had been on earlier. He held her hand to guide her, because it was too dark to see. No wonder she had fallen down to his front door, the path was so overgrown and twisty. An unwisely chosen shortcut across the park, but thank heavens it had all ended so well.
She was extremely happy that she had met mr. Badger. Such a nice gentleman!
When they got to her house, she thanked him for being so kind.
He smiled, took the great-coat, and wished her a very good night.
As she went upstairs she wondered if perhaps it had all been a dream.
But she could still smell his tobacco, a trace of it lingered in her hair and on her clothes. Smoky. He had told her it was a Latakia blend - he preferred English mixtures. She would have to see if the local tobacconist carried something similar that she could buy him to thank him for his hospitality.
It would give her the most perfect excuse to visit him again.
She really hoped he would invite her in for more tea.
And let her read in the warmth of his house.
It had been a truly wonderful evening.
* * * * * *
This is posted in answer to the person who, reading a previous piece, felt prompted to ask me precisely what my praedilections actually are.
The fairy tale above accurately reflects them.
Badgers love rice porridge, by the way.
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