Copyright ©1996, 1997 A.D. Sullivan
A Stranger at Pooh Corner
The next-to-last lost manuscript of Winnie the Pooh, found in the vault of Walt Disney, hidden all these years out of Jealousy, where Winnie the Pooh meets the Stranger, Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl, Piglet, Tigger and goes to the Enchanted Place at least one more time.
It was a bright and sunny day in late Autumn, and for Pooh, Autumn was both the best and worst time of year. The best because he liked to see the changing colors of the leaves, liked the wind and the way it blustered and shook the tops of trees, as if trying to shake loose the very last leaf. Sometimes, when Pooh had nothing better to do (which was quite often), he would sit on the stone on the top of the hill and stare at that last leaf, waiting for it to fall. It took a very long time sometimes, teetering and tottering spitefully at him in the wind, saying in its own quite way that it might never fall. Pooh didn't mind. He had plenty of time. The air was clear and clean and bright. Yet that cool, bright day often made him think of eleven o'clock when he could go home and have a little something from jar in his cupboard. This, of course, reminded him of the worst thing concerning Autumn -- which meant there would be no more bees until Spring, and where there were no bees, there was no honey. The thought made him feel sad. It made him think of just how very careful he would have to be when he had a little something at eleven o'clock. If he took too much that little something wouldn't last him until Spring when he could get more. Yet as careful as he was, he always managed to take more than he intended, taking a full jar when he meant to take a half. This particular thought occupied him on this particular November morning as he sat and watched the last leaf clinging to the top of the Old Tree. The leap seemed immune to the furious wind which blustered and blew but could not loosen the leaf. The cold made Pooh shiver.
"Oh bother!" Pooh thought, disturbed more by the time than by the cold. It was curiously close to eleven o'clock and he could hear those jars of honey calling from his cupboard, their sweet voices reaching him across the meadows from his and Piglet's house. The leaf did not look at all ready to fall from its perch in the tree, and Pooh found himself wondering if he went away -- say for a little smackeral of something -- might that leaf still be waiting when he returned, perhaps even a little more willing to flutter down? Yet Pooh knew if he turned his back and took his attention off his frail five-fingered friend above, it would come scurrying down behind him. It would certainly be terrible to miss a thing like that.
So there he sat. Waiting. Not impatiently, mind you. For even in the most dire moment, Pooh rarely hurried. He was like the honey in those jars, quicker with a little warmth, but never quick. Perhaps Piglet would be considerate enough to bring one jar along, Pooh thought cheerfully, trying to picture the small pink creature clutching such a very large jar.
"Pooh!" a voice said suddenly from just down the hill and at the edge of the woods. "Winnie the Pooh!"
This rather startled Pooh and took his thought away from his jars at home. He eyed the woods with one brow raised, unable to place the voice and yet sure the voice had a place. If only Pooh had a brain in which he could put these things, like the cupboard where he put his jars, peeping in now and then just to be sure of what he knew. He stared carefully at the woods, yet did not take all his attention away from the leaf.
"Don't you go falling down before I have a chance to see," he told the leaf firmly.
The leaf fluttered as if to agree, but the minute Pooh turned away to look at the woods, the leaf came fluttering down with a sigh. Pooh, however, hadn't completely turned his back and twisted around with his small paw out, catching the frail leaf as it came.
"Got ya!" Pooh yelped gleefully, and gently laid the leaf to rest on the yellowing grass and pushed the other already-fallen leaves up around it. "You'll be safe there."
Then, with another (and contented) sigh, he tumbled down the hill, rather happy, rather sad. He was happy he had managed to see the last leaf fall, teetering down like a tiny kite. It reminded him of the times when his big kite had looked that small, high up in the air, times when Christopher Robin had still been around to tell Pooh the kite was high up in the air and not really small like a leaf. Christopher Robin had told him so many things it sometimes made Pooh dizzy.
But Pooh had no brain, and even the memories of Christopher Robin tended to fade. The boy had gone away such a long, long time ago, Pooh could hardly remember his face. Pooh could hardly even remember the leaf he had just laid down, though he did know it would be a whole year before he could see the last leaf fall again.
"Oh bother!" Pooh said, looking glum, but brightening immediately as he thought of his little something at home. "Well, at least I can go get a little taste now."
He turned towards home, forgetting entirely about the voice from the bottom of the hill -- forgetting it, that is, until it came again. "Winnie the Pooh!" Pooh stopped, his soft beary features looking quite puzzled by the voice. He scratched his head as if this was the first time hetd heard it, struck again by something he should have remembered.
"I'm Pooh," he said slowly. "At least, I think I am -- or was when I left Piglet. Maybe I should go ask Piglet if I still am?"
Actually, Pooh felt a little silly talking to the air as he did. A tree or leaf would have been different, even a twig deserved a word or two from time to time. But the air, despite its blustering, seemed too insubstantial to deserve such attention, let alone be capable of calling Pooh by name. Still the silly bear stood and listened, trying to spot something to which he could attach the voice. An old man stepped out from behind the Ancient Oak, his back nearly as bent as the tree and his face equally gnarled. He walked with a wavering brown cane prodding the uneven ground before him. His gray cape, lifting and flapping to the urges of the wind, matched the silvery color of his hairtthin gray hair that streamed from his head when he lifted his hat. "Hello, Pooh," the Stranger said, pursing his lips around the word as if unable to stop himself from repeating it. "I can't believe it's really you -- after all this time. Winnie the Pooh!"
"That's me," said Pooh, rubbing his grumbling belly. "At least I think it's me." Again, he wished Piglet was there to tell him one way or the other. But more importantly, Pooh wished for the jar of honey his little friend would be carrying -- just for Pooh. Yet the Stranger's voice distracted Pooh, making him frown over its familiar tones. Pooh could almost put a name to that voice had his head been a little less empty.
"Don't you remember me, Pooh?" the Stranger asked, in a tone so strained it sounded sad. He stepped forward with a hobble, cane bending this way and that under his heavy hand. He peered up at Pooh through a set of thick glasses, his blue eyes bloated by the lenses. Blue as the marbles Christopher Robin played with. A gold chain glittered between the wings of the cape, drawing Pooh's attention away from the wrinkled face. The gold reminded Pooh of those jars of honey waiting for him at hometand about that particular jar of honey Piglet would be struggling to bring. Pooh sudden began to worry about a jar that big being too heavy for his small friend to carry. What if Piglet should stub his toe on a stone on the path and fall? Certainly Pooh should go and look for Piglet and save him.
But toward the Stranger, Pooh only shook his head doubtfully. The old man leaned back and sighed, his watery blue eyes surveying the rough terrain, acknowledging it as if in confirmation of some earlier picture formed in his mind. He sniffed at the air and smiled -- though in that smile Pooh sensed great sadness which, of course, he didn't understand.
"Am I supposed to know you?" Pooh asked, venturing the question carefully, aware of the Stranger's familiar smell, one more thing he could not quite recall from memory.
"I thought you might," the Stranger said, looking up the hill again. "I knew you and this place a long time ago."
"Me?" Pooh said with great surprise. Hunger nagged at him, those terribly sweet jars of honey calling to him from home, telling him over and over that it was long past time for a little something. "I'm rather used to stopping for a little something at this time of day. I was wondering if -- if you would like to come home with me and have a little something, too?"
The Stranger stared, his glasses misting a little, his smile wavering nearly as much as his cane.
"Why... I would like that very much indeed," he managed to choke out. Much to Pooh's relief, the stranger stuck out his hand, grasped Pooh's paw and started off. Oddly enough Pooh's paw seemed to fit there, and the old man's step seemed to gain strength from the contact. His voice grew firmer and his stride more sure, and he laughed a lot without saying why. Pooh thought of Piglet's house where so many jars of honey waited, all of them dancing now in Pooh's empty head like falling leaves. Which one would he select? Or should he take the one Piglet struggled to bring him, small arms wrapped around the jarts big belly? For a moment, Pooh wondered what Piglet would say about his bringing home the Stranger.
"Oh bother!" he said to himself. "It's my house, too, and I'm sure Piglet won't mind at all. He's rather fond of guests."
So hand in paw they went down the hill, down to Piglet's and Pooh's house, down to the doortwhich was suspiciously open when they arrived. "Hmmm," Pooh said, chin in paw. "Piglet must have been in a terrible hurry."
"Piglet? In a hurry?" The Stranger said, leaning forward on his cane, gray brows folding down as he stared at the open door. "That certainly isn't the Piglet I remember. Rabbit, yes, even Tigger in his own bouncy way. But Piglet?"
"Oh, oh," Pooh said, staring down at the sand just outside the door, where tiny Piglet footprints showed.
"Piglet feet," the Stranger remarked, smiling to himself. "He seems to have been carrying something heavy."
"Something heavy?" Pooh said, slowly blinking, as he pictured again that earlier vision of Piglet coming to meet him, small arms drawn around a big jar of honey. "Maybe we should look for him in case he fell or something."
"Perhaps we should," the Stranger agreed.
But Pooh hesitated, the scent of honey wafting out from the open door. He could hardly just go away without a little taste.
"Do you think it would hurt anything if we -- stopped for a little smackeral of something before we went?"
The Stranger looked down and chuckled. "No, Pooh," he said softly. "I don't think it would cause harm if we did that. Maybe we could have that little something -- together?"
Pooh nodded enthusiastically and climbed the steps to the porch. But this time, the Stranger lingered, knocking the tip of his cane against the banister, the sound rising like the tap of a woodpecker. The old man's smile looked kind of sad.
"All these years, Pooh," he said in a low voice, "and you haven't changed one little bit."
Pooh stared into the cupboard, slowly scratching behind one ear, his gaze searching over the empty spot where a whole jar of honey once stood. A circle showed in the dust. Pooh had counted the jars three times, each time coming up with a different figure, but no figure could fill in the empty space nor explain the mark of Piglet's hands also visible in the dust. "It does look like our little friend has been here," said the Stranger with a hum. "But darned if I know why he would take a jar of honey." "For me," Pooh said quickly, "He took it to bring to me."
Since there was nothing else to say, they both sat down, opening another jar for a little taste of something. When they finished, Pooh sighed. He didn't mind sharing a little something with a friend -- or even a Stranger. But Spring seemed terribly far away and now he had two less jars of honey instead of one. Worse still, Pooh could not keep his gaze from wandering towards the cupboard again, tickled by the disturbing thought of another little taste, and the longer he sat, the sweeter the idea was, the rich golden liquid calling to him louder and louder.
Yet, the Stranger did not seem inclined to move, his blue gaze sweeping over the interior of the house, brows folding forward, puzzling out each and every cracked floorboard or seam in the ceiling. His eyes looked wide behind the two thick lens, like a child's caught in some wondrous dream. "It's still the same," the Stranger muttered. "It doesn't look one day older than when I..."
Then, with a complete change of mood, he threw back his head and laughed. So hearty and infectious was that laugh that Pooh laughed, too -- though Pooh had no inkling as to why. Finally, the Stranger's laughter turned into a hacking cough and his expression reddened into one of pain. He pulled himself up, one shaking hand on the table, the other on his cane.
"I think we should go look for Piglet," he said in a weak voice -- too weak a voice for the giant shape he made in Pooh's small kitchen.
"Oh, Piglet!" Pooh yelped and leaped to his feet, the Stranger's remark drawing his attention away from that one jar in the cupboard with the loose lip and drip of honey down its side. "We must go find Piglet!" "The question is, where do we look first?" the Stranger said, half to himself. "Maybe Piglet went to visit Eeyore at Pooh Corner," Pooh suggested, drawing yet another misty glance from the Stranger.
"Eeyore," the old man said, turning the name over on his tongue, pronouncing it, then pronouncing it slightly differently. "Eeyore! How is that poor miserable donkey? Indeed, I would like to see that fellow myself!" "You know Eeyore, too?" Pooh asked, eyes wide, yet with a regretful last glance at the cabinet as he and the Stranger moved out of the kitchen again and onto the porch, where the air smelled of pine instead of honey. The wind blustered, whispering through the empty trees with a tale of coming winter. The Stranger sagged against the porch rail, his weak hands catching the banister. With the help of his cane, he pushed himself straight again. He squinted out at the trees, the bare maples and dogwoods divided by a few green spruce and pines, nodding slowly at Pooh as he carefully regained his breath. "I knew him once... very well," he said. "But we're wasting precious time, come on."
So off they walked, hand in paw, the large, bent stranger and the small, swaggering bear, each of them caught in his own thoughts: Pooh again though of that last leaf falling from the tree, its red face now lying in a pile of brown, a sad last leaf somehow signaling the end of something and the possible beginning of something else. Pooh knew this was some sort of occasion, some sort of change; he knew also this called for some kind of song. But he couldn't think of anything to sing. It had been a long, long time since he had sung even the old songs -- pleasant as they were. He only remembered bits of them, even after having sung them over and over and over... "Why don't you sing a walking song, Pooh," the Stranger asked, casting a knowing glance down at the silly bear.
Pooh blushed, holding his other paw over his open mouth.
"I remember you used to sing them all the time," the Stranger persisted. "The old ones...?" Pooh asked doubtfully.
"New ones, too. As I remember, you were quite a poet."
"That was before Christopher Robin went away."
"Yes," the Stranger said softly, staring at the long and rutted trail that lay before them, his face showing the same deep tracks of time. His eyes grew misty and sad as he nodded slowly. "I suppose his going caused a bit of problem. Yet you had fun singing them?"
"Oh bother, yes!" Pooh replied with glee.
"Do you think you could do a new one now?"
"A new one?" Pooh said, lowering his paw as his eyes widened. He looked like a shy child suddenly asked to sing before a host of relations. "I don't know. I'm sure to be rusty."
"Please try, Pooh," the Stranger said, as much like a little boy pleading for candy as Pooh was a bear thinking about honey. "I'm sure you could if you put your mind to it."
"Well...," Pooh said, clearing his throat in the way he always did before getting ready to sing. "I suppose I could try." And this is what came out:
Oh, I like this way of walking,
Don't you, too?
Skipping and a-hopping
me and you.
Off to see a nice old pair
Piglet and Eeyore will be there
on the corner and the house
named by Pooh.
"That's me!" Pooh exclaimed, then blushed deeply over his exuberance. "See," said the Stranger, his eyes bright and laughing, seeing visions of another time and place remarkably like this one. "I told you could do it. Try some more."
"More?" Pooh said, shaking his slowly. He had no idea where the first song came from, whether it was old or new, or a combination of both. He seemed to remember having sung something like it long ago, yet different enough now to give him immense delight. He went on:
Oh, I like your way of speaking
Yes I do,
Squeaking and a-peeping
Just for Pooh.
Staying for a taste of something,
There's always time for a little something,
Just for Pooh.
If anything, this verse embarrassed Pooh more than the first, for he had mentioned his own name -- not just once, but twice -- and that made him most shy. But again, the Stranger beamed, and seemed to walk less heavily on his cane. "Yes, yes," the Stranger said, his voice sounding somehow happy and sad at the same time. "It's just the way I remembered you doing it. Just that way. Could you sing one more for me, Pooh?"
The old man's eyes looked pale and watery, causing an odd pang in Pooh that the silly bear did not understand. Again, the thought struck him that he had seen those eyes before. But where? No old man had ever lived in these parts. "I suppose I could try," Pooh said. But the more he thought, the less he could come up with. If only he had had a brain, then may be something would have popped up. "Oh bother!" he said to himself.
"Surely, Pooh, one more verse won't hurt -- especially since you've already come up with two."
"I did make two, didn't I?" Pooh said proudly, beaming up at the man. Pooh gave another little cough and then sang:
Oh, I like this way of walking,
Yes I do.
Walking and a-talking
Just me and you.
Down the path to see Eeyore,
Down the path where we've been before,
Down to the corner and the house
Named by Pooh.
"It isn't a very grand song," Pooh said after some time of moments of silence. "On the contrary, it's a wonderful song," the Stranger said in the same voice that was both happy and sad.
"On the contrary?" Pooh said, scratching behind his ear. "You're beginning to sound like Owl now."
"Owl?" the Stranger said, looking puzzled, and then stunned. "My, it has been a long, long time since I've thought of that feathery fellow. How is the dear old bird? Does he have the same head for details he once had?" "He certainly does!" Pooh said, not remembering Owl having ever changed his head. Down they walked. Around they walked. The Stranger swung his cane, pointing this way and that, saying things like, "My, my, how small these things seem now!" -- then, after a pause -- "No, they are just the way they ought to be. It's me who has changed."
At other times, he paused and stared into this gully or at that ridge, letting out long sighs, his round eyes wet behind his thick glasses. He seemed to see things in those places Pooh could not, sad and happy things, things remembered from long ago. Pooh felt sorry for the man, but could only stand beside him, his paw in the man's wrinkled hand, waiting.
Pooh was good at waiting. Waiting for leaves to fall. For his little something at eleven. For Winter to go and Spring to come. For Summer to grow and fade. He took great pleasure in watching each of the seasons pass, always coming around to that time when the leaves fell. Leaves that needed Pooh to watch them fall. It seemed such a shame that leaves should take all the trouble to change their color and to fall all that distance with no one there to see. In a way, Pooh felt the same way waiting for the Stranger now as he did waiting for the leaves to fall, as if the old man and the leaves were part of the very same thing.
Finally, they came to the house at Pooh Corner. The Stranger stopped, swaying on his cane before the rickety structure. His gray brows raised, and his mouth formed a crooked smile that spread his thin old face into a startling happy expression. "This is exactly how I remembered it," he said with a laugh.
"Piglet and I built this house in the snow," Pooh stated matter-of-factly, as he glanced at the accumulation of sticks which made up the slanting walls. It looked more like a tent than a house, with the now-gray sticks of one wall leaning against the sticks of the other. Both walls held each other up, and it was a surprise that no wind had come along and blown the whole thing down. Out of the house's open end a tail waved, looking more like a furry-headed snake than the pinned-on tail of a stuffed donkey.
"As I remember things, Pooh," the Stranger said with a curious glint in his eyes, "You relocated the house. You didn't build it."
"Oh bother!" Pooh said, his face flushing red with embarrassment. "I forgot." "Quite all right, my silly bear," the Stranger said kindly. "Over the years I've forgotten many things. Some of them supposedly important. But I've never forgotten you, Pooh -- not once."
"Eeyore!" Pooh called, turning away before his face grew so heated with confusion and embarrassment that it would melt. "Eeyore, it's us." The tail that looked like a fuzzy-headed snake shook a few times. "Eeyore isn't home," said a voice from inside the tumble of sticks -- a slow, deep, sad voice, but one that was clearly Eeyore's.
"Eeyore! How can you be in the house on such a wonderful day as this?" Pooh asked, pushing his nose past the tail to peek in on the occupant. "Wonderful?" the gloomy voice continued. "Don't you know that Winter is coming? The cold -- the snow -- and all those terrible things. How can anyone dare to call that wonderful?"
"It isn't Winter yet," said the Stranger, his smile again looking somewhat sad. "No," admitted Eeyore, giving his tail another swish. "But it soon will be. The cold will come and I'll freeze out here. Just like I do every Winter. Do you know what it's like to grow icicles on your tail?"
"I don't have a tail," the Stranger laughed.
"Well, then you can't know. But let me tell you, it's no fun." "But Eeyore," Pooh said, "Spring comes after Winter, and then comes Summer." Pooh, of course, was thinking about the return of the bees in Spring, and where there were bees there was Honey, and the thought of that made his wish for a little something so he could celebrate the Spring.
"Then comes Fall and Winter again," Eeyore said with a sigh. "You just can't win."
"Nothing changes," the Stranger said with a slow shake of his head and a laugh. He glanced around and smiled at the crooked tree half way up the hill, with the groove along the side of its roots where in late Spring water gushed down to fill the gully below.
"Have you seen Piglet?" Pooh asked, suddenly remembering the reason for his visit.
"Piglet? No, have you lost him?"
"He wasn't at our house," Pooh said. "Though we found some footprints and the front door was open."
"Oh my, that sounds bad," Eeyore said. "I hope he hasn't gone near Rabbit or Owl. They'd be sure to enlist him."
"They'd be sure to what?" Pooh asked, yanking his nose out of Eeyore's house as the small gray donkey backed out from the pile of sticks into the open air. "Enlisted?" the Stranger said, alarm rising in his voice, "Into what?" Eeyore's head turned in response to the old man's tone. Pooh also found something disturbing in the Stranger's face, the suddenly stiff features showing shock and anger.
"Enlisted! Enlisted!" Eeyore repeated, one ear bent like a crooked branch. "How am I to know into what? I don't ask questions. No one gives me answers anyway... Say, who are you?"
"Me?" the Stranger shrugged. "I'm nobody -- just a Stranger, it would seem, from the way folks like you and Pooh react." "Oh my, oh, my!" Eeyore moaned. "Then things have gotten bad." "What do you mean, bad?" the Stranger asked, staring down at the poor donkey, his old face stern and his voice sharp. "Bad, that's all," Eeyore said, still shaking his head. "Ever since Christopher Robin went away, things haven't been right around here. Not that they were good when he was here, mind you, but they were a little better." For a moment, the harshness eased from the Stranger's face, and his thin lips twitched as if attempting a smile. But the eyes took on a look of concern. "You must know something about this -- enlistment -- if you think it might have happened to Piglet," the Stranger said, with a kind -- yet strained -- voice. "Oh that," the donkey said with a sharp swish of his tail. "Rabbit and Owl are up to something they call Worr."
"Worr?" the Stranger repeated softly to himself, his gaze taking on a puzzled stare. "Worr?" he said again. Then, the eyes widened with great dismay.
"Do you mean WAR?" the old man asked, his voice booming. Echoes of it resounded from the hill, rattling the pieces of Eeyore's house. "What's Worr?" Pooh asked, scratching at his ear, wondering if it had anything to do with Honey.
"Nothing that belongs here," the Stranger said, his voice clear and angry, his face taking on a resolute expression. "Anywhere else, it has its place. Let the world have its madness. But not here. We have to do something about this -- right now."
"Oh sure," Eeyore said with one doleful eye aimed at the stranger and a sour look of disbelief around his mouth. "While you're at it, could you do something about Winter, too?"
"Come on, Pooh," the Stranger said. "You and I are going to see Rabbit and have this out."
"But what about Piglet?" Pooh protested, not bothering to mention his missing jar of honey. Something inside him made him feel funny about all this, as if he would have been happier still sitting on top of his hill waiting for that leaf to fall, wishing and waiting for his little something at eleven o'clock. Maybe it was something in the way the Stranger reacted to this thing called Worr. It seemed to make the old man older and more bent, despite the anger. "Piglet can wait right now," the Stranger said. "We have to put a stop to all this 'war' nonsense."
Pooh nodded, the thought coming to him that maybe Rabbit would have word of Piglet -- and some clue as to the whereabouts of Pooh's jar of honey. And maybe clever Rabbit would have a little smackeral of his own to share when finally they found him.
So off they went again, hand in paw, the forest around them, then a field, and a stream after that. Everywhere something seemed missing -- a feeling Pooh couldn't explain, though when they reached the edge of the stream, many tiny sets of footprints showed in the mud, all of them in rows as if little tin soldiers had marched straight into the water from the shore. Here, the Stranger stopped and leaned on his cane, peering down at these marks. He shook his head in a gesture of helplessness.
"Nonsense," he said sharply. "Absolute nonsense!"
"Should I sing another walking song?" Pooh asked quietly, glancing nervously up at the Stranger's face, seeing the old man's eyes as hard as diamonds. "I don't think it would be appropriate right now," he said in a distant tone of voice.
"Ap... what?" Pooh asked, drawing down the Stranger's stare. The eyes softened and the mouth lifted at its edges, though his face still bore an expression of pain and doubt.
"Oh nothing, Pooh," he said and looked away at the woods around him. "It's just one of those unimportant big words I've picked up in my travels. All such words are useless here. Forget them."
By this time, Pooh and the Stranger had reached the banks of another small, gurgling stream. Before they could cross it, however, a shout came from the other side and out of the woods bounced the black and orange shape of Tigger. "Halt! Who goes there!" Tigger growled, trying with great difficulty to look stern and serious. "Or was that: Who goes there, halt! I forget." "Tigger!" Pooh cried.
"No, no, I'm Tigger. You can't be Tigger if I'm Tigger. At least, I was Tigger the last time I looked."
Tigger lifted his paw, examined it closely, sniffed it, pinched it with his other paw, then turned his head to peer at the orange and black tail waving at him from behind. "Yep! I'm still Tigger," he said, one brow raised as he eyed Pooh again. "So who are you?"
"I'm Pooh," said Pooh. "Wetre looking for Piglet. Have you seen him -- maybe carrying a large round jar marked HUNNY?"
"Piglet?" Tigger said, looking startled by the question. "Piglet? Tigger not see Piglet. Tigger see you and..." Again, Tigger stopped, this time both brows folding sharply down as he growled and sniffed.
"Tigger knows Pooh, but who are you?" Tigger asked, looking up and down at the bent old man, staring at cane and cape as if they were evidence of some dark mischief.
"I'm just a Stranger," the Stranger said, with a voice that could barely contain its mirth. "You can call me... Stranger."
"A stranger? A stranger?" Tigger yelled. He bounced up and down in place, finally stopping when he'd turned completely around to stare over his shoulder suspiciously, as if Pooh and the Stranger had moved and not he. Then, with bright and victorious gaze, he crowed. "I knew I'd find one! I knew it! Just a matter of time before one popped up. Yessir-ee!" "Found one what?" the Stranger asked, his own eyes bright with affection for the black and orange creature.
"Why, a stranger of course!" Tigger said. "Rabbit said I should go out into the forest and Ar-rest any stranger I found there. And," Tigger held his paws out indicating Pooh and the Stranger, "Here you are."
"Ar-rest?" Pooh said, scratching behind his ear. "What does that mean?" Tigger stopped. He expression shifted from joy to bewilderment, black eyebrows folding down over his friendly eyes. "Rabbit never told me that," he said, and then grew enthusiastic again. "But whatever it is, Rabbit said I should do it to a stranger."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Pooh said, as confused as he ever got about things Rabbit said, though not nearly a confused as when he tried to figure out what Owl told him. Pooh just didn't have a brain to keep the details straight, or follow the paths of what Owl called Logic. "Don't worry, Pooh," the Stranger said with a laugh. "It's just another one of those silly words brought in from the real world. It has no business here, and if you understood what it meant, you wouldn't be Winnie the Pooh, but some mean old angry bear too full of himself to care about anything else." "Oh," Pooh said, even more confused by the Stranger's explanation than he had been by Tigger. He was a little disappointed, too, having hoped it all might have to do with having a little something later on.
"Well, Tigger," the old man said, his eyes gleaming. "Shouldn't you bring us to Rabbit?"
"Is that what Ar-rest means?" Tigger asked.
"Pretty much," the Stranger sighed, his eyes losing their gleam as he stared sadly at the orange and black creature.
"I don't understand," Tigger said, looking even more puzzled than usual. "Why didn't Rabbit say: 'Tigger, go bring the Stranger here?'" "Well, Tigger," the Stranger said, bending down to look Tigger in the eyes. "Sometimes people just can't say what they mean. They have to invent all sorts of big words to hide what they really want." "Oh bother!" said Pooh. "That seems awfully silly."
"Yes, Pooh," the Stranger said straightening again, "It is. But they do it just the same, making bigger and bigger words, making simple things seem terribly complicated. Sometimes, after they've spent a very, very long time doing this, they forget what they meant in the first place." "Which is?" Pooh asked, scratching his head. "I forgot." The Stranger laughed.
"Rabbit wants to see us," he said, touching the poor bear's head tenderly with the tips of his fingers. "So off we go! Tigger, lead on!" "Yes, yes," Tigger said, leaping up and down before them, bouncing and bounding without going anywhere. "Rabbit will be proud of Tigger. Tigger caught the Stranger." "Just go on, Tigger," the Stranger said. "We'll see what Rabbit says when we get there."
So off they went, Tigger bouncing, Pooh strolling, and the Stranger hobbling behind with his cane, looking older than before. They crossed the stream and came to Owl's old house. The Stranger paused, tapping the tip of his cane against the roots of the gnarled and fallen tree. He seemed to grow sadder, his face taking on the same deep lines as the wood. "So things do change here after all," he muttered, eyeing each broken board as if it meant something more than a simple change of a living place for Owl. After a long while, the Stranger sighed.
"I don't like it," he said softly, and then added more harshly. "I don't like any of this at all."
"Like what?" Pooh asked, standing nearer to the Stranger than Tigger who might have asked the same thing had he not bounced out of earshot, bounding up and down on another fallen tree trunk farther on.
"Any of this talk of War," the Stranger said, loud enough to raise a echo in the trees and the startled gaze of the bounding Tigger. The old man waved his cane around at the forest. "This isn't the place I remember. War doesn't belong here any more than those silly, useless words I mentioned. Out there, maybe..." He waved his cane again, but in a vague manner, "Not here." "Out where?" Tigger asked, bouncing back, drawn by the Stranger's sudden outburst.
The Stranger's eyes focused again and examined the two figures before him. Softness came into his face, smoothing out the harsher lines. "That isn't important, Tigger," he said. "What is important is our putting an end to this madness before this place becomes like that place, and neither place worth living in. Come along!
Then -- surprising both Pooh and Tigger -- the Stranger marched past them, through the Hundred Acre Wood and towards the bramble and underbrush where Rabbit made his home. With Tigger and Pooh scrambling to keep up with the Stranger's suddenly quick pace, they crossed another patch of grass, then another stream, the emptiness of the world growing more and more evident as they went.
"Where are all the living things that used to be here?" the Stranger asked, turning sharply as if accusing Pooh and Tigger. "The Small Relations and such." Pooh glanced around, his black button eyes trying to locate something in the woods, but all was equally empty to him. He shrugged. The Stranger grumbled, and on they marched again. Before long, a high pitched voice like Rabbit's echoed in the wood ahead of them.
"Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two, three, four! Will you please get back into line! Youtre supposed to be soldiers. Small-Small, get back into line." "That's Rabbit's camp! That's Rabbit's camp!" Tigger yelled, bouncing out in front again as the Stranger and Pooh came to a stop.
"Camp?" Pooh asked, remembering Christopher Robin mentioning such a thing a long, long time ago, and gradually, when he pressed himself, a memory emerged of Pooh and the boy setting up camps of their own during their imaginary trips around the world.
"Yes, yes," Tigger said, growing even more excited than usual as his bounces took him higher and higher. "That's Rabbit's camp. Owl's camp is on the other side of the big stone. Right now I belong to Rabbit's camp." "Why?" asked the Stranger, his gray eyes hard and angry. "Because Rabbit made me a Scout," Tigger said, beaming with pride. "Tiggers just love to be Scouts." "I'm sure," the Stranger said sourly. "Just let me talk to that scoundrel Rabbit and we'll see about such things as camps and scouts and War." He plunged ahead, through the thicket and into Rabbit's camp. Pooh and Tigger emerged into the small clearing behind the Stranger, who had stopped just inside. The anger washed from his face as he stared down at a line of Small Relations, each tiny creature standing with a stick over its shoulder. They struggled to keep the line straight, only some faced this way, some faced that, while others faced in an utterly different direction altogether. "All right," Rabbit growled, standing to one side, his tall ears stiff as pink reeds. "We'll try this again. Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two, three, four." The Small Relations began to march. The ones facing this way went that way. The ones facing that way went this way. While the ones facing sideways walked straight into the woods. They bumped. They stumbled. They fell. They dropped their sticks. Soon, there was nothing but a pile of Small Relations and sticks, legs and arms squirming to Rabbit's cadence.
"No-no-no-no-no!" Rabbit shouted, his big pink-bottomed foot thumping the ground. "That's not the way this thing goes at all. Not at all. You're all supposed to be in a line facing the same way. Don't you understand? You're supposed to march in a line."
"Who says?" the Stranger asked, swaying a little as he leaned on his cane, his face holding an expression half angry half amused. The eyes bore a tenderness even as they fumed.
Rabbit's head jerked up, one flopping ear rising sharply. "Who is this?" he asked, sharply, with a darting glance at Tigger.
"This is the Stranger! This is the Stranger!" Tigger said with glee, bouncing up and down in place, his four broad paws just avoiding crushing the many Small Relations that had wandered between his feet. Each tiny face glanced up at the Stranger with sudden horror then scurried out from under Tigger to hide behind Rabbit's thumping foot, eyeing the whole scene with very wide eyes.
"I got the Stranger in the forest like you told me," Tigger boasted, pushing his chest out as if expecting a medal, then began a manic series of bounces. Rabbit's head bobbed up and down with each bounce, until he began to wobble.
"Tigger, stop that Bouncing and tell me all that again!" Rabbit yelled. Tigger's bouncing slowed but did not stop.
"Tigger found us in the forest," the Stranger said, stepping towards Rabbit who shrank back and cringed, one ear folding down again like a wilting flower. "In t-the forest," Rabbit stuttered. "Y-yes, I can see that. Are you a Heffalump?"
"A Heffalump?" Pooh murmured and glanced up at the frowning Stranger. "What do you mean, Heffalump?" the Stranger said, unable to keep back the laugh, though his clear eyes seemed puzzled again -- the mind behind them dusting off the cobwebs since he'd last heard the name. Rabbit, looking a bit bolder, braced himself and stepped forward. "We heard Owl had enlisted a Heffalump." "Did he now?," the Stranger said, his smile broadening. "Where on earth would Owl get a Heffalump?"
"From Piglet!" a small, small voice peeped. Looking down, Pooh and the Stranger saw that one of Rabbit's Small Relations, called Small, had spoken. "Piglet said he would find a way to end this Worr."
"Piglet!" Pooh cried. "You know where Piglet is?"
"No," said Rabbit. "Piglet's from the other camp. I have enough problems keeping track of my own army without worrying about Owl's, too. If you must find Piglet, go ask Owl."
"Camps?" the Stranger said, spitting out the word with disgust. "Camps! Why do there have to be camps at all?"
"Because of the Worr," Rabbit said, his pink nose wiggling as he grew nervous again, pink eyes saying he wanted them all to go away. "But why War?" the Stranger asked, leaning closer on his cane, his long shadow growing over the Rabbit with increasing anger. "Why do you need armies?" "Go ask Owl," Rabbit said defensively. "He started this." "I'm sure he'll tell me that you started it."
"Well, it isn't so! It was Owl," Rabbit said with a decisive nod. "It was most definitely Owl that started the Worr."
"Oh bother!" Pooh moaned, looking first at Rabbit then at the Stranger. "I don't understand any of this."
The Stranger glanced down and the look in his eyes softened a little. "It's really simple, Pooh," he said. "Those that start wars are always most careful to tell you it was the other side that started it. Always the other side, no blame for themselves. With every war you hear the same tired words. This person started it and that person started it. No one wants to take the blame for their own greed."
"But why would they say that if Worr is such a good thing?" Pooh asked, his round eyes still looking puzzled.
"Ah Pooh," the Stranger said, face taking on a warm glow. "It does make you wonder, doesn't it?" The old man drew back his shoulders and stared into the woods, each breath slow and deliberate.
"Maybe we should go talk to Owl," the Stranger said finally. "And Piglet," Pooh said with some concern. "We must go talk to Piglet, too." "Yes," laughed the Stranger. "We'll go see Piglet, too."
Owl stood stiff before his house, one crooked talon gripping a pointer with which he tapped insistently upon a tall black board. With each tap, his sharp voice spouted words of instruction to his troops t which just happened to be Roo and Kanga. The house behind the feathery leader had at one time belonged to Piglet, but so long ago Pooh could hardly think of it now as anyone else's other than Owl's.
"These," Owl said, tapping the pointer against some crookedly drawn Xs on the blackboard, "Are the accumulated Enemy."
"Those are what? Those are what?" Roo squeaked, bobbing up and down beside his mother, Kanga, with all the excited energy of a rubber ball. "Those are what?"
"The Enemy," Owl repeated, pronouncing both words with strained patience. "But they look like Xs," Roo said. "They look just like Xs." "They are Xs," Owl replied archly, his voice rising a whole octave as his patience evaporated. "They only represent the Enemy."
"I don't understand," Roo persisted. "How can they be the Enemy and Xs, too?"
"They can! They can!" Owl screeched, then with great effort of will said more calmly. "Just take my word for it, all right?"
But Roo's attention had already wandered. His small head and pointed nose turned towards the woods as Pooh and the Stranger approached, his tall yet tiny ears twitching with the sound of the breaking twigs. "Look, it's Pooh! Look, it's Pooh!" Roo cried and leaped away from in front of the black board to meet the new guests as they emerged from the woods. "Come back here!" Owl yelled. "I haven't told you the secret plan yet!" "But it's Pooh! It's Pooh!" Roo repeated excitedly, then greeted Pooh as best as a Roo could, with much leaping and yelping and bobbing up and down. "Did you know wetre going to have a Worr, Pooh? Did you know, that? Did you know? Isn't that grand, Pooh? isn't it? I don't even know what a Worr is, Pooh! Do you? Maybe we should ask Owl what it is. Don't you think we should ask him, Pooh? Don't you think?" Roo's bobbing up and down around him, drawing a deeply perplexed expression from the small bear.
"I know what War is," the Stranger said.
Roo -- who apparently hadn't noticed Pooh's companion before -- turned his small head, then lifted it higher and higher to take in the whole leaning form of the old man. Roo's eyes opened wide and went perfectly round. Pooh didn't even see the poor little creature spring for cover. One minute Roo stood next to Pooh; the next, Roo was cringing from out of his mother's pocket, long nose sniffing at the air . When the air seemed safe enough, out popped the eyes, looking at the stranger with all the mistrust someone so small could muster. "Will you stop playing these atrocious games!" Owl protested, still tapping at the black board with his pointer. "I don't think this is ..." Owl's pointer stopped mid-tap. A stirring kind of motion spread through the feathers of his entire white body until it reached his wings. Up, he fluttered, wings slapping at the air, leaving tiny feathers floating in the air as he passed up, up to the most immediate branch of the nearest tree.
"W-w-who are you?" he stuttered from behind a branch of evergreen, his brownish beak moving the needles as he spoke.
"I'm the Stranger," the Stranger said, sounding as soft now as he had sounded harsh earlier, with even a glint of something like humor in his clear eyes. For a moment, no one spoke or moved. Owl, seeing that perhaps there was no imminent danger, shuffled out from behind the evergreen needles to a clearer section of the branch
"My word," he said. "You are someone new. I don't believe we've met before."
"Oh but we have," the Stranger said, his eyes laughing now, as his gaze moved from face to face as if he remembered them all with fondness. "I certainly do not remember having met you," Owl said pointedly, "And I have an almost perfect memory for such details. Now, where was I before we were so rudely interrupted?"
"You were going to tell your army your secret plan," the Stranger said. "Well... I suppose I was," Owl said. "But I don't see how I can do that with you standing here. That's the problem with undependable scouts. I should court-martial that Tigger for letting strangers sneak up on our camp like this." "Tigger is your scout?" the Stranger said, brow folding down over his deep set eyes, his mouth twitching with an unexpressed laugh. "Of course he is," Owl said. "But where is the scoundrel when I need him? Tigger! Come here!"
"Tigger? Did someone call Tigger?" called a voice that sounded like Tigger from not too far away.
"Yes, someone called you!" shouted Owl. "Come here this instant!" Out of the forest bounced Tigger, as gleeful as ever Tiggers can be, looking nowhere in particular, since there was nothing in particular that he wished to see. "Tigger?" the Stranger said, now laughing openly as he leaned on his cane. With his free hand, the old man wiped the tears from his cheeks. "How can this be? I thought Tigger was a Scout for Rabbit's side?"
"This side? That side? What do Tiggers know of sides?" said Tigger, bouncing into camp. "Tiggers got to eat, and we eat with Kanga." "Of course," laughed the Stranger. "How could I have forgotten that?" "Yes, yes, quite so," Owl concurred, flapping his wings with a great fluster as he floated back down to his original position beside the blackboard. "Tigger is a most reliable double agent."
"Tigger? A double agent?" the Stranger said, his laughter booming through the forest like the early rumble of an oncoming thunder storm. The others looked at each other with confusion. None seemed to understand the joke. Roo stepped out from behind Kanga. He looked straight up at the Stranger, pointy nose twitching and small bright eyes intent on the old man's face. "But who are you? Who are you?" Roo asked.
The humor vanished from the Stranger's face, replaced by a sad expression. "You don't remember me either?" he asked.
"N-No," Roo said with an uncertain shake of his head.
"I'm a Stranger," the old man said, his voice as deep and sad as the echo in an old cave. He seemed to have expected more from Roo, and Pooh, and Owl, and even Kanga. He shook his head, took a deep breath, then stared hard at Owl. The Stranger's jaw shifted from side to side as his eyes fired up again with rage.
"What is all this nonsense about War?" he asked sharply. "Worr is Worr," Owl said, adjusting the feathers on his right wing. He didn't look up as he plucked and groomed. "It's a perfectly natural event." "Natural?" the Stranger exploded. "What on earth makes it so Natural? I seem to remember there were no wars here before I left." "Before, we had Christopher Robin," Owl hooted. "There was no need for Worr." "And just exactly what do -- I mean, does Christopher Robin have to do with any of this?"
"He was our Leader," Owl said, tapping the pointer on the lip of the blackboard.
"Leader? Leader?" the Stranger said with apparent exasperation. "He was a boy, not a leader. And his leaving...." The Stranger sighed. "...his leaving should not have affected any of you in the least. Life should have gone on without him. That was the way he would have wanted it."
"We must have a Leader," insisted Owl.
"Because someone must Lead."
The old man sighed again, and glanced around the clearing with narrowed eyes: at the house, at the distant forest, at the branches hanging heavily overhead like great evergreen tears. His face sagged and he looked even older, most of the years added to his watery blue eyes. He leaned weakly on his cane. "So why don't you pick a leader, then?" he asked. "It doesn't seem to matter what you call each other as long as you all remain the same." "Now there's the difficult point," Owl said, waving the pointer in the general direction of Pooh.
Pooh examined the tip most thoroughly, and finally shook his head. "Where's the point?" Pooh asked.
"Here, there and everywhere," Owl hooted, waving the pointer even more wildly about. "You see we're trying to be Democratic about this..." "Trying to be what?" Pooh asked in a whisper up at the Stranger, as he scratched behind his ear.
"It's nothing, Pooh," the Stranger whispered back. "It's another one of those words people are constantly misusing. They don't know what it means; so it means anything they want."
The Stranger glared at Owl, and then asked, "And?"
"And," Owl said, now facing the blackboard with his head slightly tilted, his large lidless eyes studying some unimportant detail he had written on the board. "Only two votes were cast."
"One vote was for Rabbit, no doubt cast by Rabbit for himself," Owl said in a voice descending in volume. "And one vote was for me." "No doubt cast by yourself," the Stranger added. Owl turned and coughed uncomfortably, his large white feathers stirring as he did. "Well -- yes, no doubt," he said. "But all this is beside the point! Rabbit could be advancing even at this very moment. We must prepare. we must be ready. We must have a plan. Tigger! Away with you. Go locate the Enemy and report back."
"Tigger bounced away -- stopped within a few feet of the first trees, then bounced back, his white face looking troubled.
"What is this you want Tigger to do?" Tigger asked.
Owl sighed and said great patience, "Go find Rabbit and tell me where he is."
"Oh, oh," Tigger said gleefully, obviously thrilled with the sudden permission that allowed him to bounce. "Go find Tigger! Go find Tigger!" "That's Rabbit!" Owl screeched after the vanishing orange and black striped cat. But Tigger had already vanished into the forest -- in the exact opposite direction from where Rabbit should have been.
"Incompetence!" Owl screeched. "That's what I've got here." Roo and Kanga clutched each other and stared fearfully at Owl and then at the Stranger. But the old man did not reply to this at first. He looked into the woods, then at the faces of his companions. He leaned hard upon his cane, swaying slightly like the old tree Pooh had waited for the last leaf to fall from, but without the wind. Indeed, the Stranger's wrinkled features reminded Pooh of an old and textured oak, but one from whom the leaves had fallen a long, long time ago, replaced by a silvery frost. Yet, there was life in this man. Pooh could feel the old man's anger, a growing flame that fed not on wood, but on this land itself full of Poohs, Tiggers, Rabbits and Owls.
"It was never like this before," the Stranger said, more to himself than to any of the others. Then, his face changed, the lines growing taunt around his mouth and eyes. He almost looked young again, and for an instant, Pooh thought he recognized the face, and could almost put a name to the man who wore it. But the Stranger's voice exploded, sending the thought completely out of Pooh's head. "And it won't be like this now!," the old man growled. "I've had enough of this kind of thinking in the other place. Wars and Greed just won't do. They won't be a part of this world if I can help it!"
"No, no," Owl muttered, tapping his pointer on the black board. "We must have a plan, and that should settle the Worr one way or the other." "But Rabbit has an Army," Pooh said, trying to remember if the Stranger or Rabbit had bothered to tell him exactly what an Army was. Did that have something to do with his missing jar of honey?
"We have a Secret Weapon," Owl retorted. "That is..." The feathery creature frowned and glanced towards the dark woods. "...That is if Piglet ever gets back with it."
"Piglet!" Pooh cried. "Where is Piglet?"
"Searching for our Secret Weapon, of course," Owl stated with a tap of his pointer on the blackboard.
"Which is what?" the Stranger asked, leaning threateningly over Owl, his gray eyebrows lifted.
Owl looked up, a tremor rustling through his feathers like a breeze. "If I told you," Owl said in a very quiet voice, "it wouldn't be much of a secret." "Piglet went to look for the Heffalump!" Roo squeaked, drawing a sharp glance from Owl.
"The Heffalump is your secret weapon?" the Stranger asked, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.
"It's not a secret now," Owl grumbled, still staring at Roo. "It never was much of a secret," the Stranger said. "We heard all about it from Rabbit." "Rabbit knows?" Owl hooted, his gaze shifting abruptly from Roo to the Stranger. "Rabbit knows?" The poor feathery creature was so flustered, he actually fluttered and flew a few feet up in the air, his wings like the arms of a swimmer doing a backstroke.
"Batten up the hatches!" Owl screeched. "Seal up those leaks! Clamp up the dam! Fight off the sneaks! Somebody's been spilling all our plans. I'll have that foul fiend in irons. I'll..."
"Oh bother," said Pooh, his brows drawn down in deep concern. "It's not good for Piglet to be out in the forest by himself. We must go and look for him." "What?" Owl said, dropping back to the ground with a puzzled expression. "Look for Piglet? What do you mean? Is it possible he's been captured by the Enemy? What about the Heffalump then?"
"More than likely, Piglet is lost in the forest," the Stranger said. "We should search for him before he gets hurt."
"Hurt?" Pooh said with a paw on his head. "I never thought of that. We must go search the forest."
"Search the forest?" Owl said. "Do you know how large the forest is?" Owl tapped his forehead with the tip of his wing. "No, no, don't tell me. I'll tell you. Four times the number of trees by the number of leaves, by the number of breezy...."
"We must gather everyone and set up search parties," the Stranger said. "We are all together," Owl scowled, spreading his wings. "This is all of us." "What about Rabbit?" the Stranger asked.
"And Tigger," put in Roo.
"And Rabbit's Small Relations," added Pooh.
"Them?" Owl hooted with scorn. "How can we even consider them? They're the Enemy. We can't just go and ask them to..."
"Tigger!" the Stranger said, shouting through cupped hands in the direction Tigger had vanished in, a faint echo carrying through the woods. "Tigger, come here!"
The Stranger looked taller now, his gray face less tight with anger than stiff with concern. He leaned less heavily on the cane. His sharp eyes stared into the forest, searching the undergrowth for signs of Tigger -- who then appeared, bouncing in the very same way he had when he'd vanished earlier. "Go find Tigger?" the striped creature chanted, shaking his head again and again. "Go find Tigger?" He stopped his bouncing in front of Pooh, Owl, Roo, Kanga and the stranger, his thick brows folding down over his searching eyes. "Did someone call for Tigger?"
"Yes, Tigger," the Stranger said, a warm smile filling his deeply lined face. "We need you to deliver an important message."
"Tigger stiffened with pride, thrusting his white chest forward as if wearing a medal of distinction. "Important messages are what Tiggers do best!" he said. "Yes, I'm sure," the Stranger said laughing. "But this is all quite serious. Quite serious indeed! Piglet is lost in the forest." "Tigger is lost in the forest," Tigger repeated.
"No, no!" Owl said. "Piglet is lost in the forest. Piglet is lost in the forest!"
"Piglet is lost in the forest," Tigger repeated more assuredly. "That's what I want you to tell Rabbit," the Stranger said. "Tell him to come here with his -- army to help look. You understand?"
"Tigger nodded enthusiastically. "Tigger is lost in the forest." "No, no, no, no, no!" screeched Owl. "You're Tigger. It's Piglet that's lost!" "I'm Tigger?" Tigger asked, looking puzzled for a moment until a light came into his eyes. "So I am!"
Finally, Tigger bounced away into the forest, this time in the general direction of Rabbit's camp, repeating his own name over and over. The Stranger stared after the poor creature shaking his head, his expression a struggle between humor and concern. He turned to Owl. "All right, now let's go look for Piglet," he said just sternly enough to quiver Owl's feathers. "I can't believe you let poor Piglet go after the Heffalump alone."
"Well," Owl said indignantly. "Someone had to go."
"Why didn't you go?" the Stranger asked.
"Me?" Owl said. "Me? Who would be here to make the plan? You don't think the Worr could be won without one, do you?"
"No," the Stranger said sadly. "Few wars are won without plans; few wars are fought by the planners either. Which is more the shame. Send a few leaders out into the battlefield and you'll see how fast there comes an end to war." "Leaders never fight Worrs," Owl said.
"That's precisely my point and that's the reason wars are so easy to wage," the Stranger said. "But enough of this. You can make amends for this madness by helping us find Piglet. Wetll separate into teams of two. Pooh and I will go that way. Kanga and Roo will go..."
"Hey!" Owl hooted. "Who's to team up with me? You don't expect me to go out into that forest alone!"
"Oh not," the Stranger said. "Not you, Owl."
"No, no," Pooh said, shaking his sweet silly head. "That wouldn't be right." The Stranger looked down at the bear.
"I suppose youtre right, Pooh. But the temptation..." The stranger mumbled, slowly shaking his head. Then, he brightened. "Of course you won't go alone. Youtll wait here until Tigger gets back with Rabbit, then you and Rabbit can look for Piglet together."
"Me and Rabbit?" Owl squawked. "But we're sworn enemies." "Then become sworn friends," the Stranger said, taking Pooh by the paw. "Come along, Pooh." And off they went, up the hill to look for Piglet in the forest.
They wandered near and they wandered far. The light of day grew dimmer and so did their hopes. They could hear the voices of the others crying: "Piglet, Piglet," in the distance. But they could hear no reply. The Stranger often stopped to listen. So did Pooh. But after a while the only thing Pooh heard was the wind, and the only thing he smelled was the crisp smell of autumn's End, the dry leaves rolling out with their earthy smell. The Stranger sniffed deeply, noting the rich scent, too, and he laughed sadly.
"You don't know, Pooh, how much I've missed that smell. How much I've missed all of this -- you most of all."
"Me?" Pooh said, face growing red with embarrassment.
"Yes, you. For years I thought about you. How simple things had been here. No greed. No poverty."
"Pooh-ver-ty?" Pooh asked, scratching his head. "What's that?" The Stranger laughed. "Nothing you should ever have to worry about, Pooh. No one should. It means not enough food to eat and not enough clothes to wear." "You mean like running out of Hunny before winter is over?" The Stranger smiled. "Something like that, Pooh," he said, dropping a hand down onto the bear's small head. "Something like that indeed!" He stopped near a small clearing where gray stones rose from the ground like giant teeth. The old man lowered himself with a groan until he sat on one, his cane leaning beside him like an extra limb. "I wonder how far Piglet has gone?" he said wearily.
Pooh sat, too, trying to keep his thoughts on the missing jar and not the Heffalump. It wasn't his fault the jar kept popping into his head. Certainly it was well past time for a taste of something. Rabbit had been less generous than Pooh expected, and Owl even less than that. "Now," said the Stranger, "I wonder how a Piglet so small goes about capturing a Heffalump?" Pooh, still pining over his lost jar, sudden sat up. If he'd had a brain, he might have thought of it sooner. The missing jar of Hunny? The missing Piglet? The missing Heffalump? And in the quiet evening, it all came together. Pooh sniffed and caught the faint yet quite distinct smell of honey floating in the air. He could almost hear the jar calling to him through the woods like a long lost friend.
"This way," Pooh said, suddenly leaping to his feet.
"What's that way?" the Stranger asked, gray brows lowered, caught halfway between a grin and a frown.
"This way!," Pooh said, pointing towards the east path out from the clearing. "Piglet went this way."
"Now, Pooh, let's not get ourselves lost in the forest, too. I think we should stick to the regular paths. That one looks rather unused." But Pooh shook his head, trying to sort through the bundle of feelings that he couldn't put into words.
"This way," he said again. Those words would have to do. The Stranger frowned, studying Pooh's face, then slowly, as if acknowledging Pooh's instinct, he nodded.
"All right, Pooh," he said softly. "We'll do it your way," he said rising with a groan, stretching himself the way Tigger did sometimes. Then he took up his cane, looking old and sad. The day's events had taken something important from him, something he could never get back. "Wetll do it your way," he repeated. "Because I've had my sixty-odd years of logical answers and they haven't done much for me in the long run, or done much for the world either. Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn't be better off forgetting logic altogether. Stick to feelings. It's our minds that deceive us, not our hearts. Lead on, silly bear, lead on."
Pooh moved forward sniffing, the scent growing stronger as he walked. Yes, yes, it was most certainly honey, though it was long past the time for bees. Yet, vaguely, the silly bear thought it might be nice to find a hive and... He stopped and rubbed his eyes, but the vision of the jar remained, a jar sitting in the middle of the path, its lid, off and to one side, as if someone had been sampling its contents. But when Pooh came and looked into the jar, he found the golden honey nearly to the brim.
"Ho, ho," said the Stranger, stopping just behind, leaning on his cane as he swayed over the top of Pooh and the still-full jar of honey. Pooh took another sniff at the jar and there was a slight but discernible smell of Piglet around it. Only Piglet wasn't anywhere to be seen. "Where's Piglet?" Pooh asked, his voice a little wobbly as he glanced around, half expecting a Heffalump to appear.
"We do have a mystery here," the Stranger said. "That jar didn't get here by itself. Yet if Piglet brought it, where did he go?"
Pooh seemed to remember something about Heffalumps and Hunny, but the memory was so vague -- coming from so very long ago -- that the connection escaped him. He didn't even recall what exactly a Heffalump looked like. But thinking and remembering was hungry work, and Pooh eyed the jar and licked his lips. He glanced up at the Stranger.
"Do you think we could have a little taste of something?" he asked in a very shy voice.
The Stranger peered down. "Don't you think we should find Piglet first?" "Piglet!" Pooh cried and leaped up from beside the jar. With all this thinking and remembering, Pooh had forgotten poor Piglet!. Or perhaps it was the honey. Somehow when Pooh came close to open jars like this, he could think of little else.
Pooh stared around and scratched his head. The trees and the shape of the gorge looked familiar to him. But like the face of the Heffalump, the memory dangled just at the edge of recollection like a kite stuck in a tree, just out of reach.
"Do you think Piglet could have used the honey as a kind of bait?" the Stranger asked.
That was it! Pooh thought. Bait! Piglet had carried that heavy jar all the way from Pooh and Piglet's house to here to use as bait!
"But where could Piglet have gone if the honey is here?" Pooh asked out loud. "Could... the Heffalump have..." The Stranger smiled. "And leave the honey? What right-minded Heffalump would take a Piglet over a full jar of perfectly sweet honey?"
Pooh scratched his head.
"I think, Pooh," the Stranger said. "Piglet must be around here someplace. He must have grown tired carrying that jar so far and decided to sit down and have a rest. I'm sure if we look we'll find him fast asleep. Come along, Pooh." But Pooh hesitated.
"What is it, Pooh?" the Stranger asked, his forehead crinkled with a frown. Pooh glanced over at the jar which sat so lonely in the center of the path. "Do you think," Pooh said, "we should leave it there like that? Maybe it would be better if we took it along -- just in case we happened to come upon the Heffalump?"
The Stranger nodded, though his lips showed a small bud of a smile and his blue eyes twinkled with fondness.
"Certainly, Pooh, take the jar," he said. "It is wise that you should think of it. A Heffalump can be a terrible beast, from what I've heard." Pooh wrapped his arms around the jar, struggling to lift it, and then only managed to lift it a few inches from the ground. He waddled as he walked and followed the Stranger down the little-used path with great difficulty. The jar grew even heavier as he walked, every few feet seeming to add pounds. So that after only a little way, Pooh's arms began to ache. But worse was the fact that his nose was nearly pressed against the top of the jar out of which the smell of its sweet contents came, making him only too much aware that Rabbit had not given him a little something as he had expected.
"Oh bother!" Pooh said to himself. "I don't suppose a little taste of something would hurt."
The Stranger paused and looked kindly down at the bear.
"Maybe not," he said. "But what about the Heffalump?"
"Hmmm," Pooh said after a little thought. "You don't think a Heffalump would notice a little missing, do you?"
The Stranger's gray brows descended in apparent doubt.
"I suppose not," he said, though his stern expression was marred by his shimmering eyes, eyes that looked as sad as they did happy. So they stopped -- Pooh struggling to seat himself on a low stone as the Stranger leaned against a larger one. The lid was sticky, and it took all Pooh's strength to lift it off. But inside, the golden liquid greeted him with its usual sweet sigh. Pooh smiled, his eyes delighted at the such a grand sight. "I'll just take a finger full," he told himself, and dipped his finger deep into the thick golden liquid. He licked every drop, and then had a second finger full, and a third, until -- to his amazement -- half the jar was gone. "Oh my, oh my!" Pooh exclaimed, seeing the dent for the first time. A drip of honey hung from the tip of his nose. The Stranger smiled as Pooh sighed. "I suppose a half a jar is better than nothing at all," the Stranger said and started off looking for Piglet again.
For Pooh, the jar was much lighter at first, but as they walked it seemed to grow heavier and heavier until Pooh could not tell the difference between the weight of the half-full jar and when it was full. The effort was making him exceedingly hungry. He paused, wiped his brow with the back of his hand and glanced up at the Stranger.
"You don't suppose the jar could have gotten itself full again, do you?" Pooh asked, turning his suspicious gaze on the jar.
"I wouldn't think so, Pooh," the Stranger sighed. "But perhaps you'd better check it, hmm?"
"You really think I should?" Pooh asked, licking the last of the old honey from around his mouth.
"How will you know if you don't look?"
So down they sat again, Pooh pulling the lid from the jar to examine the interior. The level of honey inside looked just about right for half a jar. "It seems the same," Pooh told himself, but couldn't quite remember what a half jar looked like.
"Perhaps you should measure it with your paw," the Stranger suggested. "Just to be sure."
"Hmmm!" Pooh said, then did what the Stranger had suggested. So much golden liquid stuck to his paw as it sank to the bottom that just had to be licked off upon the paw's removal. "Oh bother," Pooh said. "It's just the same." But again and again, Pooh had to stop, the jar having grown so heavy as to make him suspicious, and each time, he dipped his paw into the honey to check. Each time, the liquid seemed just the tiniest bit less.
"Isn't that odd?" Pooh said.
"What's odd, Pooh?"
"Oh, that the jar should grow heavier and heavier while what's inside grows less and less," Pooh said and licked his paw and replaced the lid on the now nearly-empty jar.
The Stranger only smiled. Someone called to them, but neither the Stranger nor Pooh saw anyone around.
"Hello?" the voice said, coming out of nowhere again. Pooh and the Stranger exchanged startled glances.
"Hello? Hello?" the voice came again.
Pooh turned round and round, but no one was there.
"Oh bother," he said. Even the Stranger scratched his head. "Hello, hello," the voice said again. "I know someone is there because there's dirt falling down on me."
It was a squeaking voice and a familiar voice and Pooh thought he recognized it, if only it wasn't so muffled.
"Hello? Are you the Heffalump?" the voice asked.
"No," Pooh said cautiously. "Are you?"
"Hello? It's me," the voice said again.
"Me?" Pooh asked. "Me who?"
"Me, Piglet," the voice replied.
"Piglet?" Pooh said in a hushed voice, glancing up at the Stranger to see if the old man had heard the same thing. Piglet was certainly a small fellow, as Pooh remembered him, but hardly so small as to totally escape Pooh's attention. Had he shrunk? Or was this some plot by the Heffalump to capture Pooh and the Stranger -- and the now empty jar of Hunny?
"Do you think the Heffalump is trying to fool us?" Pooh asked the Stranger in a whisper.
"Perhaps," the Stranger replied, though he wore an amused expression. "Maybe if you held out the jar of honey..."
"Oh bother," Pooh said, lifting the empty jar. Perhaps Heffalumps were fond of jars that once had honey in them, he thought, then held the jar straight out and slowly walked forward. But even this precaution did not protect him when he came to the hole in the ground. For, with the jar held out just the way it was, Pooh could not see the hole, and with the very next step he fell into it.
He landed with a thump. The honey jar had somehow slipped over his head during the fall, and now Pooh -- disoriented, though still uprightt saw only darkness and smelled only honey all around him. He blinked. He could not see. He sniffed and sniffed, and wondered how he could have fallen into a place where there was so much honey yet he couldn't see it. Something squirmed under him.
"The Heffalump! The Heffalump!" Piglet squealed, pushing and pulling at the bulk of the silly bear who had unfortunately landed on top of him. "Piglet?" Pooh asked.
"The Heffalump!" Piglet cried again.
"Are you two all right down there?" The Stranger asked, leaning over the hole to peer in.
"Down where?" Pooh asked.
"I found the Heffalump!" Piglet yelled. "I found the Heffalump!" The Stranger laughed. "I think the Heffalump has found you, Piglet," the old man said fondly.
"Ooh! Ooh!" Piglet howled, squirming again, not quite able to get himself out from under Pooh. "Owl will be proud of me!"
"I'll be proud of whom?" Owl asked, his wings fluttering as he landed beside the Stranger at the mouth of the hole. Rabbit hopped out from the woods to stop beside him, foot thumping as if with great impatience. "What's with the hole in the ground?" Rabbit asked. "Another house for me? One is enough, thank you. Now can you please tell me what was so important that you interrupted our Worr?"
"I found the Heffalump!" Piglet shouted up from in the hole. "A Heffalump?" Owl cried, with a sudden fearful gleam in his eyes. "Where?" "Down here!"
"Preposterous!" Owl said.
"I disagree," the Stranger said, smiling. "It is quite possible. For you see this hole was dug a long, long time ago by Pooh for just such a purpose. And I do believe Piglet has caught his prey."
"Oh dear!" said Rabbit, foot thumping a great deal harder. "Well, well," Owl said, shoving his feathery chest forward like a victorious general expecting a metal. "I suppose this clears up just who is Leader and who is not."
"Oh dear! Oh dear!" Rabbit moaned, and then grew grim as he glared at Owl. "Our Worr is not over! We have only the word of a Stranger that there's a Heffalump down there. Let's see this Secret Weapon yours!" Down below, Pooh struggled, trying with both paws to dislodge the jar which he suddenly realized was on his head. Yet try as he did, the jar would not move, for it struck his jaw every time he tried to pull it off. Worse, Pooh was confused. He didn't know exactly who or what he had fallen on and all this talk about the Heffalump, he didn't like the idea of not being able to see. Even Piglet's voice sounded strange through the thick shell of the jar. "Oh bother!" he said, wishing he was still on the hill with the windy and blustery air around him which was -- strange to say -- much nicer than air filled constantly with the smell of honey. Although Pooh did love honey, he didn't want to smell it all the time.
"Hello?" Pooh said, his voice coming back at him twice as loud as when he spoke. "I do believe I'm going to sneeze. Oh bother!"
Yet Pooh did not sneeze, nor did anyone appear to have heard him. Owl, Rabbit, Piglet and the Stranger seemed to be locked in an argument above him. Pooh didn't hear the words clearly, but knew the voices. When Owl spoke, it was most definitely Owl's voice Pooh heard. And Rabbit's voice was Rabbit's, and Piglet's Piglet's. But when the Stranger spoke, Pooh stiffened -- because for the first time, Pooh could almost put a face to that voice other than the old one he'd seen, a younger face without wrinkles or sadness. "All right, Heffalump!" Piglet shouted, poking Pooh in the rump. "You can get up now!"
Up? Was the Heffalump down here with Piglet and Pooh?
"How dreadful," thought Pooh, though with a tinge of disappointment. He had always wanted a glimpse of the creature, and had missed seeing the Heffalump on any of its previous visits. Now with the jar over his head, he was likely to miss it again. Pooh gripped the edge of the jar and gave a mighty tug -- resulting in a mighty stab of pain to his jaw.
"Hold still, Pooh," the Stranger said, reaching down into the hold to lift Pooh out. Then, with a more gentle tug, the Stranger removed the jar from Pooh's head. The sun reappeared. The smell of honey lessened, and in the clear air Pooh saw the others standing around him staring.
"Rabbit! Owl! Tigger!" Pooh cried, aware of their concerned expressions. "But where's Piglet?"
"One moment," the Stranger said, reaching into the hole again. Out popped a ruffled but quite familiar Piglet with a smudge of dirt on his face. "Piglet!" Pooh cried "It's you!" Then, more cautiously, Pooh whispered. "Is the Heffalump still down there?"
"I'm afraid the Heffalump got free again," the Stranger said with a laugh. "Oh," said the disappointed Pooh.
"Now that we're all here," Owl said, using his most official tone of voice. His feathers were once more smooth, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. His wide open eyes surveyed the faces. "I think it's time for another election." "No, no," Rabbit said, thumping his foot furiously. "We'll have none of that!"
"We should have what?" Pooh and the smudged Piglet said at the very same time, glancing at each other afterwards with equal blushes. "He wants you to decide between himself and Rabbit which one you want as your Leader," the Stranger explained.
"Hmmm," said Eeyore just stepping out of the woods. "That seems like a good idea."
"And what makes you think so?" asked the irritated Rabbit. "Then wetll have someone to blame when things go wrong," Eeyore moaned. "But what do we need a Leader for?" squeaked Piglet.
"Why," Owl said in a flustered tone. "To make things Work." "To Organize," Rabbit put in.
"To Lead," hooted Owl, not to be outdone by Rabbit.
"To Command!" shouted Rabbit, till he and Owl were yelling back and forth, paying little attention to anyone but themselves.
A hush fell over the forest, and everyone turned with wide eyes towards the Stranger, out of whom the shout had come. Even Rabbit and Owl fell quiet, looking at the Stranger with alarm and eyeing each other distastefully, blaming each other for the argument even in their silence. When the Stranger had their full attention again, he coughed slightly and smiled. His eyes shimmered with an odd affection. He seemed to regard them all with a fondness none of them could explain from their brief acquaintance.
"I think you should have a Leader, too," he said. Owl fluffed up his feathers with pride. Rabbit tapped his foot with growing anger. "But," the Stranger continued, "I think that Leader should be Pooh."
"Pooh?" screeched Owl. "That's absurd!"
"Ridiculous," agreed Rabbit. "He couldn't take Command or Lead or..." "He has no brain," Owl interrupted.
"Which is exactly why we should appoint him," the Stranger said calmly. "What?" yelped Rabbit.
"Outrageous," moaned Owl.
"I vote for Pooh!" Piglet shouted.
"Me, too! Me, too," echoed Roo.
The Stranger smiled, his wrinkled face losing some of its age. "So there you have it," he said lifting the pudgy bear to his shoulder. "Two votes for Pooh which is one more than either of you two have. Now, if you were to pool your votes, then we would have a tie. That would force us to hold another election. But," the Stranger said, eyeing Rabbit and Owl with one gray brow lifted doubtfully, tthat would mean one of you would have to give up his ambition and vote for the other. Well, Rabbit? How about giving your vote to Owl?"
"Never," Rabbit snapped without looking at Owl.
"And you, Owl?" the Stranger asked. "Won't you give your vote to Rabbit? Surely with your mind you must think even Rabbit an improvement over a brainless Pooh?"
"Preposterous," quoted Owl.
So with that, Winnie-the-Pooh became Leader. No brain. No ambition to command. Which of course made him perfect for the job.
"Come, Pooh," the Stranger said, after the celebration had ended. Pooh took the Stranger's hand and walked beside him.
"Where are we going?" Pooh asked, too tired to care much, wanting more than anything to go back to his and Piglet's house to rest. He was, for the first time in a very, very long time, extremely content, and happy that his friends were friends again. "To a special place," the Stranger said. "Oh," Pooh said, because that was all he could think of to say. The Stranger hummed a little and sang in a low voice. Pooh walked in silence, too weary even for a walking song. Oddly enough, he seemed to recognize the path from some similar journey taken a very, very long time before. "Are we going to the Enchanted Place?" Pooh asked without understanding exactly where the question had come from.
The Stranger's eyebrows rose as the old man stared down. A soft, sad smile touched his lips.
"Yes, Pooh," he said and began to gradual climb.
It wasn't a long walk or a difficult climb. But each walked with a certain reluctance that always comes with uncertain memories. In Pooh, those memories took the form of feelings. He knew the place. He knew how he felt when he was in that place. He simply didn't know why he felt that way.
The Stranger, however, seemed to know everything about the place, as if he had retraced his steps there a million times, regretting that first and unforgettable journey, each of the placest sixty-odd trees representing a year since hetd last seen them. A gentle snow began to fall, covering the ground; snow that filled in their footprints as they walked.
"`Look!" Pooh said, pointing to their own disappearing tracks. It seemed as if they both had walked out of nowhere into nowhere and now, standing on the knoll, stared back at the invisible world. Pooh knew something important was passing between them -- just as it had passed between them their last time here.
"Do you remember when -- Christopher Robin knighted you, Pooh?" the Stranger asked.
Pooh shook his head.
The Stranger seemed disappointed. He shook his head too, and swallowed with apparent difficulty. Age descended upon his shoulders again, making him lean heavier on his cane.
"You made a promise, Pooh," the Stranger said. "Surely you remember that?" But Pooh remembered nothing t except for the feeling, and that grew in him like a pain. He shook his head again.
"Oh! The stupidity of it all!" the Stranger shouted. The snow muffled his voice, making it sound younger than it was. Pooh was again struck by the voice's familiarity. Pooh knew that voice. "How damned unfair all this is," the Stranger continued. "I know they say you can never go back. But I had to try, and did, despite what they said tonly to find that no one here even remembers me."
"I... remember... you," Pooh said softly, and the Stranger's head jerked around to stare down at the bear.
Pooh nodded. It was the voice that had given it away.
"I'm so tired, Pooh," the Stranger said, leaning back against one of the trees, allowing himself to slide down its trunk. The can fell into the snow beside him, unnoticed. The old man hung his head. "I'm so tired, Pooh," he mumbled again. "And so very glad to be home again."
Pooh nodded gravely, and sat down beside the Stranger in the snow. Christopher Robin was home at last -- and would never go away again.
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307