- Stocky – 튼튼한, 풍신
- Muscular – 근육질의
- Efficient – 효율적인
- Splinted – 굳힌, 고정된
- Scrutiny – 면밀한 조사
- Lee – 안쪽
- Plough – 쟁기로 갈다
- Furrow – 밭의 주름
- Haul – 끌어당김
- Baffled – 당혹스러운
A Powder for Dragon
The strange rat was named Arthur. He was stocky, square and muscular, with bright, hard eyes. He looked efficient.
‘You might call him our chief engineer,’ said Nico-demus to Mrs Frisby, ‘as, indeed, you might call Justin the captain of the guard – if we had any such titles, but we don’t. Mr Ages thought Arthur should come along, though he didn’t say why. So we still don’t know what your problem is.’
Isabella was gone. She had dropped her papers on the floor again when the others had entered, and Justin, to her intense confusion and visible delight, had helped her pick them up.
‘Hello, Izzy,’ he said. ‘How’s the reading coming?’
‘It’s fine,’ she said. ‘I finished the Third Reader last week. Now I’m on the Fourth.’
‘The Fourth Reader already! You’re getting quite grown up!’ At that she had almost dropped the papers a third time and made a dash for the door. It did not matter, Mrs Frisby noticed, if Justin called her Izzy – just so long as he called her something.
Nicodemus closed the door behind her, then sat down on one of the benches, facing Mrs Frisby; the others sat down, too, Mr Ages stretching his splinted leg in front of him. Nicodemus took the reading glass from his satchel, opened it, and through it gravely examined Mrs Frisby’s face. ‘You will forgive the glass and the scrutiny,’ he said. ‘When I lost my left eye, I also damaged the right one; I can see little close-up without the glass – indeed, not very much even with it.’ At length he folded the glass and put it on the table.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘what is it we can do to help you?’
So Mrs Frisby recounted once more the events that had led to her coming there, and at the end repeated what the owl had advised her to say – move the house into the lee of the stone.
She added: ‘I don’t understand just what he meant by that. Jeremy – the crow – says it means the side where there’s no wind. But what good would that do?’
‘I think I know what he meant,’ said Nicodemus. ‘In a broad sense, lee means the sheltered side. A bird,
flying over Mr Fitzgibbon’s garden, would notice something most of us would miss.’
He reached down into his satchel and took out a sheet of paper and a pencil; he opened the reading glass again. As he talked, he drew a sketch:
‘When a farmer ploughs a field with a big rock in it, he ploughs around the rock – close on each side, leaving a triangle of unploughed land on each end.
‘Mrs Frisby’s house is beside the rock, and will get ploughed up – and probably crushed, as the owl said. But if we can move it a few feet – so that it lies buried behind the rock – in the lee – then she and her children can stay in it as long as they need to.
‘From the air, the way the owl sees it, the garden would look like that.’ He inspected the sketch through the reading glass and then placed it on the table.
Mrs Frisby climbed up on the bench and looked at it. It was a rough map, showing the garden, the big stone near the middle, and the way the furrows made by the plough would curve around it, rather like waves around a boat.
‘Show me where your house is buried,’ said Nico-demus. Mrs Frisby pointed to the spot on the sketch.
‘I know where that cement block is,’ said the rat named Arthur. ‘In fact, I thought about bringing it in, but I decided it was too long a haul. They had it tied on top of the harrow for weight, and it fell off just as they were finishing the garden.’
‘Can you move it,’ asked Nicodemus, pointing at the sketch,’to this spot right there, and bury it again?’
‘Yes,’ said Arthur. ‘That shouldn’t be hard.’
Mrs Frisby was delighted; looking at the map, it all became clear, and she could see what a beautifully simple idea it was. When Mr Fitzgibbon ploughed, he would go right past their house; they would not have to move until Timothy was well and until the weather was truly warm. She remembered again what her husband had said – how easy to unlock a door when you have the key. She had found the key. Or rather, the owl had found it.
Nicodemus asked Arthur: ‘How long will it take?’
‘Depends. With a party of ten, a couple of hours. With twenty, maybe an hour.’
‘We can spare twenty. But it’s still too long.’ He looked worried.
So did Arthur. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘We’ll have to work at night – but even so… There’s just no cover at all. It’s wide open.’
‘We’ll have to take care of Dragon,’ said Justin.
‘Yes,’ said Mr Ages, ‘and with this leg, I can’t do it. I’d never make it to the bowl, much less get back again.’
Mrs Frisby, looking at their baffled faces, felt her delight subsiding. Obviously something was wrong.
‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘I know about Dragon, of course, but…’
‘At night,’ said Justin, ‘Dragon prowls the farmyard like a tiger. And you don’t see him until he’s on top of you.’
‘Then you can’t move my house after all.’
‘Well,’ Justin said, ‘ordinarily…’ He turned to Nicodemus. ‘Should I explain it to her?’
‘Yes,’ said Nicodemus.
‘Ordinarily,’ said Justin, ‘when we have a long project to do at night – sometimes even by day – we make sure Dragon won’t bother us: We put sleeping powder in his food. Mr Ages makes it. It doesn’t do the cat any harm; but he stays extremely drowsy for the next eight hours or so. We station a sentry to watch him, and we’re free to work.’
‘You did it yesterday!’ cried Mrs Frisby, remembering the figures toiling with the wire through the grass, remembering how strangely disinterested Dragon had seemed when he saw her. ‘I saw the cat sleeping in the yard.’
‘Yes,’ said Justin, ‘but today Mr Ages has a broken leg.’
‘Then he can’t make the powder?’
‘It isn’t that,’ said Mr Ages. ‘I’ve plenty of powder.’
‘The trouble is,’ said Justin, ‘it’s Mr Ages who puts it in Dragon’s dinner bowl, inside the farm kitchen. With his leg broken, he can’t move fast enough.’
‘But why Mr Ages?’ said Mrs Frisby. ‘Can’t someone else do it?’
‘I’d be glad to do it myself,’ said Justin, ‘but I’m too big.’
‘You see,’ Nicodemus explained, ‘Mrs Fitzgibbon feeds the cat in the morning and in the evening, and his bowl is always kept in the same place – next to a cabinet in one corner of the kitchen. There’s a very shallow space between the floor and the bottom of the cabinet. A few years ago when we conceived the idea of putting Dragon to sleep, we cut a hole in the floor just behind the cabinet – if we put it anywhere else they’d see it. To reach the bowl, Mr Ages crawls under the cabinet. When he gets to the edge, he makes a quick dash to the bowl, drops in the powder, and dashes back out of sight. But with a broken leg, he can’t dash.’
‘We might try leaving some bait outside the house,’ said Justin. ‘That worked once.’
‘Once out of a dozen tries,’ said Nicodemus. ‘It isn’t dependable, and we don’t have much time. To be safe, we ought to move that block tonight.’
‘If we had some catfood…’ said Justin, thinking aloud. ‘He might eat that, even on the porch, because he knows it’s his. Maybe tonight I could go in through the attic and down to the kitchen…’
‘No use,’ said Mr Ages. ‘They keep it in a metal cabinet up on the wall. You couldn’t get it without a crew. And that would make too much noise.’
‘Anyway,’ said Nicodemus, ‘it would put off moving the block until tomorrow night.’
‘Then,’ Justin said, ‘I guess what we do is stake our scouts wherever we can, try to keep track of Dragon, and hope for the best. Some nights he doesn’t go near the garden at all. We might be lucky.’
‘Or we might not,’ said Arthur. ‘I don’t like it. We can’t dig that block out without some noise, you know.’
Mrs Frisby interrupted quietly. ‘There is another way,’ she said. ‘If Mr Ages can get into the kitchen, so can I. If you will give me the powder and show me the way, I will try to put it in Dragon’s bowl.’ Justin said quickly: ‘No. It’s no job for a lady.’ ‘You forget,’ Mrs Frisby said. ‘I’m Timothy’s mother. If you, and Arthur, and others in your group can take risks to save him, surely I can, too. And consider this: I don’t want any of you to be hurt -maybe even killed – by Dragon. But even more, I don’t want the attempt to fail. Perhaps the worst that will happen to you, with luck, is that you will have to scatter and run, and leave my house unmoved. But then what will happen to us? Timothy, at least, will die. So if there is no one else to put the cat to sleep, I must do it.’
Nicodemus considered, and then spoke: ‘She’s right, of course. If she chooses to take the risk, we can’t deny her the right.’ To Mrs Frisby he added: ‘But you should know that the danger is great. It was in the same kitchen yesterday, running from Dragon’s bowl, that Mr Ages got his leg broken. And it was in doing the same thing, last year, that your husband died.’
Paul Hoets is a freelance maker who lives in South Korea. If you liked this article and would like to contribute to his empire of dirt, silicon and tech. education, buy him a coffee!