"I thought we were friends!"
The voice belonged to Lucky Snow-Warren and it was unusual to hear this young rabbit raise his voice. Particularly polite to his elders, sometimes excessively so, I not only liked the lad - I believed him to be a positive influence on Brendan. The boy had been friends with my son since they were in nursery together. It was comforting in a way - his father Clarence and I had been inseparable during our schooldays. I didn't like the idea of conflict between them - it was out of character - and the lad sounded genuinely upset.
As I approached them to find out the problem, I heard Brendan reply.
"You're my very best friend, Lucky. I'm sorry if I've hurt you."
Noticing my presence, the two looked at me.
"What's wrong, Lucky?"
"It's nothing, Mister Butterglove," the boy smiled weakly. "Please don't worry, sir."
"You mean the cellar you and Chervil found?" I smiled at Lucky. "I know it isn't always easy being apart from your friends. I was the same with your dad when we were school chums. But it's useful sometimes. Remember how you went to Kittie Camp separately?"
"That wasn't our choice, dad," said Brendan.
"Maybe not, son, but you did make friends with Nolly and Hughie as a result. How about you, Lucky? Did you make any new friends?"
Lucky nodded. "I did get to know Hamish McWalkies, Mister Butterglove."
"That's not the point, dad..."
"No? What about the science fair? That worked out well, didn't it?"
The boys glanced at each other.
o 0 O 0 o
I had better explain about the science fair.
This school event had been scheduled towards the end of term time, shortly before the children finished for their summer break. It was a new feature of the school system, proposed by the new teacher, Professor Isaac Merryweather and he thought he'd try it out in one of Eve Wildwood's small classes.
Although the professor's main duties were to teach the more advanced subjects, he had wanted to promote a greater interest in the sciences for all students.
We assumed his plan was to attract youngsters to subjects they wouldn't ordinarily consider. It had been a success, so I understood, but a few children weren't totally happy with the original plans. Brendan had been one of those who had issues with the structure of the science fair.
"He wants us to work with different people. Lucky and I always work together. But no; Professor Eyepatch has paired Lucky with Herschel Deerheart. I've got Grover Chestnut."
"Professor Eyepatch? That doesn't sound very respectful, Brendan."
"What? Well, he came up with the name, not us - and he does look like a pirate, dad. Anyway, he says it's okay if we call him that just as long as we show that we're trying hard at our schoolwork. We all think it's cool. But splitting us up isn't cool."
"He says we must learn to work with new people."
"Stick with it. Remember how you made new friends at Kittie Camp."
Brendan had nodded, half-heartedly. "I suppose so."
o 0 O 0 o
Brendan had been paired with Grover Chestnut. Because of skills Grover developed helping his father in his furniture making workshop, their project didn't have any problems when it came to the construction element.
Thanks to Brandon's imagination, they had put together a device to compare the relative weights of objects using floaty-pods*. The boys had started with a stool made by Grover and added a measuring scale. They could then note where a laden dish would settle when lifted by a balloon containing a floaty-pod.
The professor remarked upon the inventiveness of the concept.
(*see editor's note regarding floaty-pods. DF)
Lucky and his partner had chosen an optics project. Herschel had convinced his mother to lend him one of the shiny stones she uses in her mystic rituals. Lucky provided a spark-fly lamp to supply a strong light source.
They had managed to obtain a well-designed housing box and when all of this was assembled they were able to produce some impressive but unusual rainbows.
The Professor was intrigued with the rainbows, puzzled because light wasn't refracted in the same manner as prisms. He asked Herschel to lend him the unusual stone but the boy had been unwilling.
Reportedly the lad had said, "Sorry, Professor Eyepatch. My mum said I could borrow one of her mystic stones but insisted that I mustn't let it out of my sight and then bring it straight back home."
It seemed that Isaac Merryweather was to remain puzzled.
Nolly Persis and Hughie Grunt had been separated too. Nolly had been assigned to work with Arlo Polaris and that had helped guide them to a novel project. Arlo was familiar with the general details of his family's refrigeration business. He knew how to combine the correct minerals used to create coolsalt. It wouldn't be as efficient as the blocks made in the Polaris's workshops but Arlo could manually create the mixture at the heart of the process. With this invaluable help, Nolly designed something to create icy slushies from water and fruit juice. It was very popular with other students!
Hughie was paired with Lester Thistlethorn and they had decided to do something about volcanoes. The young pig became interested in volcanoes when Eve Wildwood was teaching the class about them.
I remember Brendan and Lucky telling me about this.
"I know they don't show up much here on the mainland," said Brendan, "but Miss Wildwood told us that there are some outer islands that have some volcanoes, letting the magnets spew out to become red hot loofahs."
Lucky had nudged him, quietly saying, "that's 'magma' and 'lava', Brendan."
Brendan had looked at his friend. "Magma?"
"Oh. Well, it was Hughie's project, not ours."
Apparently Hughie had wanted to make a model volcano. Lester had known that one could simulate an eruption using easily available ingredients. This had given them a plan. They mixed together bread flour and lactola juice, put it in a bowl and made a strong cardboard cone to go over it. They put a hole at the top and a funnel at the side where one could add some peppermint soda. That would make the mixture expand and if all was well it would come out the top like Brendan's "loofah" out of a volcano. They even placed some earth on the outside to stabilise it and make it look better.
It was the most memorable project of the science fair, but not as expected. This was because Hughie thought there should be some smoke too. He made a late alteration to the experiment.
Don't assume this had anything to do with fire. Hughie had a smoke pellet that he got from his dad's work. It was normally used to check chimneys for blockages and it involved chemical reactions rather than burning anything.
I was surprised when Brendan and Lucky told me about this.
"Hughie stole a smoke pellet?"
"Come on, dad! He wouldn't do that! No, his dad gave it to him. You know Hughie likes to go fishing? Well, sometimes when he catches a fish he likes to smoke it. He says that you squish the pellet and that mixes together some tree sap and some sort of crushed seeds. That creates the smoke."
"Well, when demonstrating the project he had put a pellet in the volcano mix before squishing it. He figured that would delay the smoke. When the cone was in place, he added the soda. That's when it went wrong..."
I remember Brendan trying not to laugh and he was having difficulty finishing his tale.
"Lucky," I had said, "Can you tell me what happened?"
The young rabbit had regarded me with a serious expression. "Boom, Mister Butterglove."
"It sort of exploded. The cardboard ripped and green sludgy stuff squirted onto Hughie. Lester Thistlethorn avoided it, but Hughie's trousers were covered."
"Was he hurt?"
"No. Just a bit stained."
"Boom!" Brendan had laughed.
o 0 O 0 o
"You see," I tried to explain to the two boys, "working apart with new partners created some memorable work - even Hughie's explosion."
"He needed new trousers," said Lucky with a solemn face.
"Just as well his hat was okay," Brendan added, trying unsuccessfully to cheer up his friend. He sighed and said, "But there's stuff you don't know, dad."
He explained how he and Grover had joined up with Lucky and Herschel. The friends decided that they would still be following the spirit of the rules by both of them working with two new people, and doing two projects instead of one. Professor Merryweather had found out but decided that the teamwork the four children had shown had compensated for the bending of his instructions. Professor "Eyepatch" was cool again.
I tried to process this. Clearly, my idea of reminding them they were capable of working apart wasn't the argument to use. "So you didn't work separately at the fair... but you were apart for the hideaway... Is that why it seemed hard?"
"No, no, Mister Butterglove," said Lucky. "It's not about being apart at all. We like to work together but in this case it really isn't the problem.
Brendan looked a little exasperated at my inability to grasp the situation. "It's because I couldn't tell Lucky about the hideaway. But I couldn't say anything. I wanted to - but I promised."
Lucky's face was a picture of unhappiness. I berated myself for not listening properly to the boys and wondered how I could help with the real problem. I decided to try and use information from my son.
"Brendan. Do I take it you gave your word to Chervil?"
"He made me promise not to tell anyone until Uncle Colt found us."
"But I thought that wouldn't mean me, Brendan," mumbled Lucky.
"It shouldn't have," said Brendan. "It's my fault, dad. I shouldn't have promised Chervil to keep a secret unless I could tell Lucky."
"I see. I think. It was purely about being bound to keep your word."
Brendan nodded. I decided to try another argument to mollify Lucky.
"Hey, do you remember your sister's last birthday, Lucky? The surprise present you gave her?"
"And I believe you and Brendan worked on it together for weeks. Didn’t you swear him to secrecy so Sophie wouldn't find out?"
"I did, I suppose."
Brendan, clearly understanding what I was trying to do, took up the tale.
"Sophie wanted to know if I knew anything and got Beverley to interrogate me. She's good at that but I didn't tell. You remember we had a dummy present? I used that to put her on the wrong track as we agreed."
"So you kept your word, Brendan," I prompted.
"I did!" he said, and then he switched his attention to Lucky. "You can always trust me, Lucky. I really am sorry that I couldn't tell you about Chervil's hideaway. That was the worst thing about it all."
Once again Lucky took time to consider his response before beckoning Brendan closer. With uncertaincy my boy complied and was rewarded with a warm hug before they separated.
Lucky gave me a sheepish grin. "All's well, Mister Butterglove. Best friends weather storms and reach port safely."
Clary's young lad is an old-fashioned little chap. I'm so pleased that Brendan has him in his life. Long may it continue.
o 0 O 0 o
Just in case it is unknown in the human world, a floaty-pod is the colloquial name given to the large seed of the lavender ash tree that grows in parts of Sylvania. It was discovered that, when the pod is boiled in salt water, it undergoes an internal transformation and becomes lighter than air. Exactly how this was discovered is unclear; there are a handful of explanations - some of which have become urban legends - but there's no evidence as to the correct attribution.
Those pods that rise too high and become too cold supposedly lose their ability to stay aloft and fall back to ground level. If they are not destroyed when they plummet to the earth, the warmer temperature can rejuvenate them. However, since this unusual attribute of the pods was discovered, Sylvanians ensure that they are captured before they rise out of reach.
Floaty-pods have been used to add buoyancy to rafts and boats, assist in lifting heavy objects, and they have other uses within assorted commercial enterprises.
If a floaty-pod appears to be losing its ability to rise, shaking them also tends to rejuvenate them. The Sylvanian Research Group have developed means of measuring their efficiency and with their pod monitoring devices there is an indication when a pod needs to be replaced.