For the Want of Youth
by Rosey Collins

        Foxglove was tired from trying to get the stubborn Danielle into a bath, so now the unfortunate Dale had been charged with the challenging task of getting their daughter into bed. Shrieks of protest came from the child's room as her mother entered the living room and parked herself on the sofa. Chip was there, channel-hopping.
        "That's not like you," Foxglove observed.
        "Well, I miss the unnecessary blare of the TV," Chip explained, though he turned the contraption off anyway. "Dale seems to watch it a lot less now that he has Dani to cope with."
        "Sorry, that might be my fault," Foxglove japed.
        "But Daddy, I went to bed last night!" came in ringing tones from the adjacent room.
        "I'm never having children," Chip decided.
        "Actually, I've been meaning to talk to you about that," was the unexpected reply, and Chip looked a little worried for a second.
        "Well, not children as such," Foxglove continued. "Not children at all, actually - not yet."
        "What on earth are you talking about?"
        "But you just went five minutes ago!" came Dale's despairing voice.
        "I need to go again," Danielle reasoned.
        "Oh, all right," and he ushered his small daughter out of the room and towards the bathroom.
        "So," Foxglove went on, "what are you going to do about Gadget?"
        "What... are..."
        "Yes, I heard. What do you mean?"
        "You know what I mean. I've always thought you'd been holding back because Dale had a thing for her, but I guess it's because you're a whuss. You see, Chip, Gadget is a little bit like laundry."
        "Can I have a glass of water?" Danielle asked, once out of the bathroom.
        "All right," Dale sighed.
        They went together to the kitchen, and Chip and Foxglove heard the sound of running water, and then a few moments' silence, followed by, "Can I have another one?"
        Dale emerged from the kitchen with Danielle under one arm, and he carried the struggling child back into her room.
        "G'night, Mom!" she called as Dale kicked the door shut.
        "Goodnight, Dani!" Foxglove shouted back. "Ok, where was I?"
        "Uh... Gadget is like laundry."
        "Oh yes. See, if you don't do your laundry, it won't just walk into the machine all by itself."
        Chip furrowed his brow and briefly considered this.
        "Am I the washing machine?" he asked eventually.
        "No..." Foxglove thought carefully for a moment. "No, you're you. Your potential relationship is the washing machine."
        "I see," Chip said, looking completely blank.
        "Look, do you want me to talk to her for you?"
        "Oh, that's awful nice of you, Foxglove, but I think I should probably - uh - do my own laundry."
        "Come on, Chip, I wouldn't be doing your laundry. I'd just be..." Foxglove sought for a suitable addition to the laundry metaphor - "...picking up a few odd socks."
        "Well... I guess it couldn't hurt," Chip relented.
        "What are we talking about?" Dale asked, entering the room and joining them on the sofa.
        "I'm persuading Chip to ask Gadget on a date," Foxglove explained.
        "Oh. Well... that's a good idea, Chip, I definitely think you should."
        "You're just saying that so I won't think you still have feelings for Gadget," Foxglove challenged him.
        "This is true," Dale admitted.
        "You don't, though, do you?"
        Dale put his arms around his beloved's neck and looked her sternly in the eye.
        "That doesn't even deserve an answer," he said and then, turning to Chip, "Ok, but seriously, if you really want to make a go of things with Gadget, you should definitely try."
        "Ah, but what if it all goes pear shaped?" Chip replied.
        "Well, then I guess Gadget leaves and we only ever hear of her through Monty."
        "Exactly," Chip said. "Maybe:-"
        "Don't you maybe me," Foxglove interrupted. "If you don't do your laundry, somebody else may steal it, and then you'll spend your whole life wondering how your laundry would have turned out if you'd have only bothered to do it in the first place!"
        "What does laundry have to do with anything?" Dale asked.

        Whilst Foxglove was explaining the laundry metaphor to Dale, she was oblivious to the goings on a few miles from where she sat. Winifred - yes, the very same - was looking over a short list with Bud and Lou watching her.
        "Uh... Winifred, about that thing you want us to do," Lou began.
        "Look," Winifred said, with meritable patience, "Bud is going to do this for me tomorrow morning, and you... are... going... to help him."
        "Yes, Winifred," Lou muttered miserably.
        "But Winifred-" Bud began.
        "Oh, not you as well!" the woman screeched. "If you really don't want to do this for me, I can think of plenty of worse jobs for you."
        "Couldn't be much worse," Lou muttered to Bud.
        The snake and the spider left, and Winifred began looking through her list, saying "Aha" at brief periods. However, she soon came across something on her list that she clearly had overlooked, and screwed up the small sheet of paper in annoyance.
        "Dam it," she hissed to herself. "This isn't going to be as easy as I thought."
        She paced the room two or three times, and then wandered over to a table on which rested a dusty hardback volume. She picked the book up and it fell open at the page she required. She looked enviously at a worn pencil sketch of some kind of jewel, and tutted at it reproachfully.
        "How am I ever going to get hold of this thing?" she asked herself. "I really need Foxglove for this one."

        Leaving their friends with their sleeping daughter, Dale and Foxglove had decided to take a break from the pressures of parenthood and were now sharing a ridiculously large ice cream in a quaint little cafe.
        "If Chip and Gadget got together it would certainly help the bedroom situation," Dale was saying. "It seems silly with Gadget all by herself while Chip and Monty and Zipper are all in the same room."
        "Yes, but I'm just wondering what's going to happen if and when they have children." Foxglove replied. "That'll really mess up the bedroom plan, especially when we have another one."
        Dale stopped eating abruptly, his spoon halfway to his mouth and weighed down by a huge heap of ice cream.
        "Another one?" he repeated.
        "Sure. We want to have more children, don't we?"
        "Well, maybe," Dale began uncomfortably, "but I mean... heck, Foxy, isn't Dani enough for you?"
        "Come on, Dale, I thought you liked kids."
        "So I do but:-"
        "Besides, it's always a good idea to have more than one child."
        "Why?" Dale wanted to know.
        "Well, companionship for a start, and only children always end up being spoilt by their parents."
        "That's a bit of a sweeping statement."
        "Dale, are you saying you don't want any more kids?"
        "Not at all." Dale replied, slightly intimidated by the look Foxglove was giving him, "but if you're planning to have any more, I'd kind o' like to know about it."
        "Oh, you're upset because I haven't discussed it with you," Foxglove said.
        "Just a little bit, yes."
        "Relax, Dale, I'm not saying we should have any more kids tonight. I've only just got over having the last one."
        At that moment none other than Bud and Lou entered the cafe, and sat themselves down at the nearest table. Lou was still looking a little bit sickly from the conversation - if that is the correct term - with Winifred.
        "We really can't do it, you know, Bud," he said.
        "We have to," the snake answered. "Remember the eternal youth Freddie promised us?"
        "Yes, but I'm not sure if eternal youth is actually all it's cracked up to be," Lou said.
        "Well, if you have eternal youth you don't die, do you."
        "No, that's the whole point."
        "Well, that sounds great, but if you really did live forever you'd get a bit bored of it after a while, don't you think?"
        Bud considered, and then said, "No, not really."
        "Just think about it, Bud. I mean, eventually you... Is that who I think it is?"
        The snake turned in the direction of Lou's pointing figure, and stared momentarily at the sight that met his eyes.
        "It certainly is," he replied, "and it looks like she got it on with that Rescue Ranger after all."
        "Hey, Foxglove!" Lou called, waving his arms frantically above his head. Foxglove instantly recognized the voice, and spun round in disbelief.
        "Lou?" she said. Deciding it would be rude to ignore the frantic gestures, Foxglove looked apologetically at Dale and then wandered over to the table where Bud and Lou sat.
        "Hi, guys," she greeted them, half-heartedly.
        "Foxglove," Bud murmured grudgingly.
        "Hiya, Foxglove. How have you been?" Lou asked politely, with a lot more enthusiasm than Bud had managed to muster.
        "Oh, fantastic," the bat replied. "I'm married to Dale now. How about you?"
        "Oh... great," Lou answered, somewhat unconvincingly.
        "Oh, good," Foxglove said through a forced grin. She stood awkwardly by the table for a while, and then said that she really should get back to Dale.
        "What was that all about?" Dale asked suspiciously, once she had taken her seat.å
        "It's nothing to worry about, Dale, they were just trying to be friendly."
        "Who said I was worried?" Dale demanded, watching Bud and Lou cautiously from the corner of one eye.
        "Come on, Dale, those guys are harmless," Foxglove assured him, "and you have to remember that we were friends once upon a time... kind of."

        Evening turned to night, and both parties went their separate ways; Dale and Foxglove sat up all night discussing the possibility of extending their family whilst Bud and Lou worried about the task that lay ahead of them.
        The following morning, Danielle woke up at a ridiculous hour and, finding that nobody else had risen, she wandered into her parents' room. Dale and Foxglove had only been asleep about half an hour, as their discussion had been a long one. Dani looked from one to the other, wondering which it would be safer to wake up first. In the end she opted for her father, and scrambled onto his side of the bed.
        "What are you doing here?" Dale murmured sleepily.
        "I'm bored," Dani complained. "Come and get me some breakfast or something."
        "If you're bored, don't get up so early."
        "I wouldn't, if you didn't put me to bed so early," Dani returned.
        "She's got you there," came the dreary tones of Foxglove.
        More or less awake now, Dale sat up in bed and took his small daughter on his knee. In turn she wrapped her small wings around his neck and proceeded to play with the label in the back of his night shirt.
        "Daddy, some of my friends were saying yesterday that they wanted to play baseball in the park later. Can I go?"
        "You mean like all by yourself?" Dale asked.
        "No, there'll be like eight million people there, and there's bound to be at least one responsible adult with us."
        Dale considered the proposal, and then decided that it was not unreasonable one.
        "Of course you can go, my little boa constrictor," he said, loosening the grip of his young child's wings. "Just be careful, ok?"
        This was a decision that Dale regretted forever afterwards. He saw his daughter safely to her friends all right, and was satisfied that she'd be safe when he saw a mother he knew through their children supervising their baseball game, but when Danielle didn't come back by lunch time everybody started to worry. Soon enough all six of Dani's guardians were gathered at the porch, all anxiously awaiting her return.
        "I'm sure we shouldn't be worrying too much yet," Monterey Jack was saying.
        "Oh yeah? Then where is she?" Dale demanded impatiently, then scolded himself for his harshness and added, "Uh... Sorry, Monty."
        "Look, I'd probably better go and see what's keeping her," Chip said, looking worriedly at his best friend.
        "You don't have to do that, Chip," Foxglove said.
        "No, really, it's ok," Chip assured her as he opened the front door. "Just try not to worry, you two."

        "I can't believe we just did that," Lou was saying miserably to Bud. "I still think we should find her parents and:-"
        "And what? Tell them?" Winifred interrupted disdainfully. "Don't be ridiculous. They'll have her back soon enough - perhaps."
        "You still have to find the Diamond of the Muses," Bud reminded her.
        "Yes," Winifred replied shortly. "I still have to find the Diamond of the Muses. I really wish I had a pair of wings."
        Lou looked automatically at the young child in the cage by Winifred. She had wings all right, but the spider wondered if they would be powerful enough to carry her anywhere. Winifred suddenly bustled out of the room, so Lou went over to the old bird cage and peered inside.
        "How are you doing?" he asked the child inside.
        "What the heck is going on?" Dani demanded. Her voice was choked, but she felt somehow unable to cry.
        "Hey, it'll be fine, I promise," Lou told her, as cheerfully as he could. "So... do you have a name?"
        The girl said nothing, so Lou thought it best to leave her be, but then something about her struck a chord in him and he found himself looking curiously at her facial features.
        "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.
        "You just... seem really familiar to me," Lou said.
        Bud regarded the child's countenance and agreed entirely; he felt that he definitely knew this girl from somewhere.

        Chip stood outside the front door for a good three minutes before he plucked up the courage to go inside. When he entered he found Dale and Foxglove waiting expectantly, which was exactly what he had been expecting.
        "Well?" Dale demanded.
        Taking a deep breath, Chip prepared to tell them what had happened on his search. He decided that there was no point in beating about the bush by telling them to sit down at such - the was, after all, a sofa close at hand.
        "Well, I didn't find her with her friends," he began, "and they said she'd gone home ages ago, so I had a hunt around the park and..."
        "And you didn't find her?" Dale hazarded.
        Chip nodded apologetically, then rushed over to the horrified parents to offer some support.
        "Look," he said, as he put one hand on each of their shoulders, "I'm sure we'll be able to find her. Somebody somewhere must know something. Maybe she's just..." Chip instantly wished that he had never started this sentence, for he could think of no suitable ending for it and he knew how much this would worry Dale and Foxglove.
        Both felt sick. Dale grabbed the back of the sofa for support, and Chip instinctively put an arm around his shoulders in a vain attempt to comfort him. He sought desperately for something positive to say, but could think of absolutely nothing.

        Dani, meanwhile, had managed to more or less pull herself together and was trying to distract herself from what was happening by chewing furiously at the bars of her prison. Bud and Lou watched her for some time, both feeling sorry for the poor kid.
        "Uh... You're wasting your time, you know," Lou said, and Dani looked up.
        "Yeah," Bud continued. "You'll never get anywhere like that."
        "Well, I won't get anywhere sitting on my butt all day either, so it makes no difference to anyone whether I do this or not," Dani retorted.
        They were silenced when Winifred bustled into the room, looking agitated.
        "Bud," she said sharply. "How am I going to get hold of the Diamond of the Muses?"
        The snake's expression was totally blank, and looked at Lou as if the answer was written on his face.
        "Exactly," Winifred continued. "I can't, unless I find somebody who can fly."
        "Well, you know who you need for that," Lou chimed in.
        "Shut up, Lou. We can't know what happened to her, but whatever it is, let's hope it hurt. I'll just have to find somebody else. In the meantime, you two can be preparing the other ingredients."
        The witch departed, and Bud and Lou set to work. Everything they had collected for this spell had been thrown haphazardly into one corner, where Dani was still wrestling with the rusty bars of her cage. As Lou wandered over, a thought struck him and he looked again at Dani.
        "What?" she snapped, irritably.
        "Nothing," Lou said, trying to pull his eyes from her face. "It's just... Do we know your mother?"
        At the sound of that word, Danielle's heart instantly sank. She was at once reminded of her parents, and she felt tears welling up in her eyes. The child felt suddenly weak; her knees buckled and she collapsed into a sitting position.
        "Awe, hey, come on, kid, don't cry," Lou pleaded, suddenly at a loss. "Look, you can see your mom again real soon... maybe."

        The Rescue Rangers spent the entire afternoon asking around the park. For the first few hours they had no luck, until Chip and Gadget bumped into each other as dusk was approaching.
        "Hi," Gadget said. "Any luck?"
        "None whatsoever," was the reply. "We'll have to go home soon. It's getting dark."
        "Well, that won't stop Dale and Foxglove. I really can't believe that nobody knows anything. You don't suppose..." She couldn't finish.
        "Hey, we mustn't suppose anything yet," Chip said, grabbing her shoulders as he had done with Dale and Foxglove a few hours before. He could feel her shaking, and almost embraced her, but something stopped him.
        "Come on, Gadget," he went on. "Don't do this. We have to stay strong, for Dale and Foxglove's sake."
        "You're right," Gadget said, wiping away a tear. "I just..." She couldn't finish.
        "Excuse me," came a voice from behind them, and spinning round Chip saw an elderly sparrow. "If you're looking for a little girl, I may be able to help you."
        "Oh?" Chip breathed, trying not to get too excited; this could, after all, be a false alarm.
        "Well," the sparrow went on, "I saw a small girl while I was digging for grub this morning - she was just leaving a - erm... a baseball game, I think it was."
        Chip caught his breath, and Gadget grabbed his elbow for support.
        "Yes," she said. "Go on, what happened next?"
        "Well, I could be wrong; my eyes aren't what they used to be, you know," and the sparrow shook his head sadly.
        "But?" Chip said impatiently. "Come on!"
        Gadget squeezed his arm and signalled him to be patient with the old bird. Chip acknowledged this and waited tetchily for the sparrow to continue.
        "It... It looked to me like someone took her," he said at last.
        "Took her?" Gadget repeated in disbelief. "Who?"
        "I couldn't say," the sparrow replied. "Of course, she might not have been kidnapped as such, but... I say, are you the Rescue Rangers?"
        "Yes! Well, we're some of them," Gadget replied.
        "Oh, good. When I saw the girl had been taken I went to your place, but there was nobody home. Of course, it may just be nothing, but..."
        "If it was Dani, it certainly wasn't nothing," Chip broke in. "I knew somebody should have stayed behind."
        "Yes, it was rather unintelligent, us all going," Gadget agreed. "Thank you very much, sir. At least now we know more or less what's happened to her."
        "It might not have been Dani," Chip pointed out. "Sir, can you describe this child?"
        "Well, actually I don't remember too well. Let me see..."
        "Was she a bat, by any chance?" Gadget asked. She could feel frustration and impatient oozing from Chip and she felt herself tightening the grip on his arm.
        "Now you mention it, she was rather like a bat, yes," the sparrow said, brightening, "although I can't be sure of that. From some angles she looked more like... well, like one of you," he said to Chip.
        "It was Dani all right," Chip said to Gadget, and then to their benefactor, "thank you. That is just... really helpful. Thanks."

        "Ok, there it is," Bud said, looking down into the silver bowl at the concoction he and Lou had just made. "Is it supposed to be that colour?"
        The snake and the spider peered at the yellow-brown liquid, and both came to the conclusion that they might as well have thrown up into the bowl.
        "It certainly is," Winifred assured them.
        "In that case I think I'd rather go without eternal youth," Lou decided.
        "Don't worry," Winifred said. "It'll turn gold once the final ingredient is in there."
        "Yeah, but we can't get hold of the Diamond of the Muses," Lou reminded her.
        "Thank you, but I'm aware of the problem we are facing," Winifred returned. "There must be some way of getting that diamond."
        "Excuse me, but what does all of this have to do with me?" came from the cage which held Dani. "You're not going to make me drink that or anything, are you?"
        "No... No, it's more the other way around," Winifred said mysteriously, and then Danielle was left to ponder this on her own.

        Dale and Foxglove both felt sick. This, after all, could mean any number of things; they certainly had plenty of enemies who would not hesitate to hold their child hostage.
        "Well, at least we know what's happened to her," Gadget said, as brightly as she could.
        "Yeah, and we've got some idea of where to look," Monterey chimed in, the words "Fat Cat" going round and round in his head.
        "Come along, you guys," Chip said pleadingly. "Whoever's got Dani won't hurt her if they're keeping her hostage. We'll find her soon enough, and we'll have her home in no time."
        Dale felt a little better for hearing this, but Foxglove refused to be comforted. She was grateful for the support, however, and did her utmost to find some sense in what Chip was saying.
        "Look," Monty went on, "how's about we go lookin' for her right now?"
        "Who d'you think's got her?" Dale asked, shakily.
        "Well, the obvious person to try is Fat Cat."
        "That's very true," Gadget agreed. "Ok, let's go."

        As the Rescue Rangers were setting off, Dani found that she was missing them all terribly, in particular her parents, and whenever she tried to think of something else her thoughts always wandered to the potion sitting in the middle of the room. Bud and Lou were already making up some more of it opposite her; whatever was going to happen to her, it was going to happen a lot.
        "Lou," she said at last, and the spider turned round. "What are you going to do with me?"
        "Uh... Sorry, kid, but I really shouldn't tell you anything."
        "When can I go home?"
        "I don't know. Uh... when we get the Diamond, I guess."
        Lou sighed deeply. He felt extremely sorry for this child, and he hated lying to her. The first answer he had given her was more accurate; there was no telling what state she would be in once they had finished with her.
        The spider's train of thought changed drastically as Dani turned to face the wall, and he noticed for the first time the stripes on her back.
        "Hey, kid," Lou said. "Those markings on your back..."
        "What about them?"
        "Are they... Is one of your parents a chipmunk?"
        Dani was again reminded of home, and her eyes welled up with tears. Lou watched her for a moment, desperate to re-approach the subject but not wishing to upset the child any further.
        "Kid, please," he went on, gently, "I really have to know. Is your father a chipmunk?"
        Dani nodded miserably. Lou did not know what he should do next, but before he could decide on anything, the impatient voice of Bud cut into his thoughts.
        "Hey!" the snake shouted. "Quit daydreaming, will you? If we don't finish this by the time Freddie gets back:-"
        "That's Foxglove's daughter!" Lou interrupted.
        "The kid - she's Foxglove's daughter!"
        "You think?" Bud said, eyeing the youngster up and down.
        "Ok, so... what are we going to do?"

        Needless to say, the Rangers were disappointed by Fat Cat. They had all searched the place high and low, and finally encountered Fat Cat himself, who informed them that not only had he not kidnapped Danielle, but he was also unaware of her existance. Though he resented himself for it afterwards, he had let them leave out of pity.
        "When they get the kid back, I'll kidnap her for myself and kill them then," he promised himself after they had gone.
        Minutes later, Chip found Gadget pacing up and down the kitchen and looking very thoughtful. She seemed not to notice his entry, and was startled when he spoke.
        "Is something wrong?" he asked.
        "Huh? Oh, hi, Chip," she said absently. "Actually, something is wrong. I was just..."
        "Yes?" Chip prompted her.
        "Well, I was just thinking. If Dani was kidnapped to get at us, surely we'd have heard about it by now. I mean, you don't take a child to get to its parents and then not tell them about it."
        "What are you suggesting?" came accusingly from the kitchen door and, spinning round, Chip and Gadget saw Dale standing there.
        "Nothing!" Gadget said, defensively. "I was just pointing out that:-"
        "She's probably lying in a ditch somewhere?"
        It suddenly occurred to Dale that this might very well be true, and he felt an overwhelming need to sit down right where he was, in the doorway.
        "Oh, Dale, you mustn't think like that," Chip said, moving over to his friend and joining him on the floor.
        "But don't you see?" Dale cried, in a sudden outburst of emotion. "She's right!"
        Dale started to sob uncontrollably, so Chip put his arms around him and said, "Hey, come on, try not to worry so much." (Not, "Don't worry", Gadget noticed.) "We'll find her, ok? Everything's going to be fine."
        They remained like this for some time, while Monty and Zipper were in a similar situation with Foxglove in the living room. Monterey had the poor creature sobbing into his stomach, while Zipper sat on her shoulder and patted her affectionately.
        "Look," Monty said, "tomorrow we'll try Rat Capone, and if we have no luck there, there are plenty of other people who might have her. Uh... that sounded a lot better in my head."
        "I just... I wish she was here right now," came Foxglove's muffled tones.
        "We all do," Monty said, "and she will be, really soon, you'll see."
        The frantic parents were finally persuaded to go to bed. Neither one of them slept, but they just held each other all night, both feeling guilty that they were not doing anything. In the early hours of the evening, Chip had heard bits of their conversation coming from their room, so he had ventured in and told them that they weren't helping anything by losing out on sleep. When satisfied that he had done all he could, Chip had wandered back into the living room where he started watching television with the volume down, and it was here that Gadget found him around midnight.
        "What are you doing up?" she asked, joining him on the sofa.
        "I couldn't sleep."
        "Me neither."
        "I feel kind of hypocritical, after forcing Dale and Foxglove to go to bed."
        "Look, Chip," Gadget began. "I just... I have to say this. I think you're being great."
        "You're being really terrific with Dale," she went on. "You're just being so... so... supportive. I mean, we're all trying and everything, but you're being fantastic. I think he'd fall to pieces without you, I really do."
        "Well, that's what friends are for," Chip said modestly.
        "Yeah, I guess. What you have with Dale... That's really special, isn't it."
        "I suppose so," Chip answered, wondering where all of this was coming from.
        "It's kind of like Monty and my dad. I guess you and Dani are kind of like me and Monty."
        "Um... I guess." Having said this, Chip noticed that Gadget was now several inches close to him than she had been moments ago. He concluded that she was feeling Danielle's absence almost as much as Dale and Foxglove; after all, this sudden rambling must be coming from somewhere.
        "I wish I had someone like that," Gadget went on. "Anyway, I just had to say that... well, that you're being great."

        There was a knock on the door early the following morning. By now everyone was asleep except Dale and Foxglove, who had not slept a wink all night. Not daring to hope that the knock on the door was news of his daughter, Dale leapt out of bed and answered it. He was surprised to see Lou standing before him, but waited patiently to hear what the visitor had to say.
        "I know where your daughter is."
        "You what?"
        "I know where your daughter is."
        "Yes, really."
        This was too good to be true. Before he wholly believed what he was hearing, Dale did all that he could to make absolutely sure that he was not asleep and that his hearing was in perfect order.
        "Where is she?" he demanded, once he had invited Lou inside.
        "Winifred's got her."
        "Does that mean you and the snake kidnapped her?"
        "Well... yes, but we're really really sorry!" Lou added hastily.
        Dale had to sit on his hands to prevent himself from doing something he might regret. By now Foxglove had heard the familiar voice, and entered the room to see what was going on.
        "Lou?" she said. "What are you doing here?"
        "I'm here about your daughter," Lou hastened to explain. "We've... er... we've got her locked up in a cage."
        Once this information had sunk in, Foxglove managed to compose herself and asked, "Who's we?"
        "Um... Winifred."
        "Winifred? You guys are working for her again? Ooh, I hate that woman!" Foxglove said through clenched teeth. "What does she want with Dani?"
        "Well... it's, er... it's..."
        "Oh, just tell us!" Foxglove ejaculated. "Why has Winifred got Dani?"
        "Eternal youth," Lou mumbled, almost inaudibly, but Foxglove's sharp ears picked up both words and she found herself having to clutch the door frame for support.
        "Eternal youth?" she cried. "Oh my... I can't believe you guys could do anything so heartless!"
        "Hey, I came and told you, didn't I?" Lou defended himself.
        "But taking someone's kid, and for that! There's no knowing what could happen to her!"
        "Well, she might be all right."
        "Yes, and she might turn into a potato," Foxglove pointed out. "Does Winifred have the Diamond of the Muses?"
        "Oh, thank God! Is she going to have it any time soon?"
        "It looks pretty doubtfull. She really needs a pair of wings."
        "Oh, really?" An idea was beginning to form in Foxglove's mind; a shaky one, certainly, but it seemed their only hope.

        "Are you sure this is such a good idea?" Lou was saying, once the other Rangers had been roused and Foxglove had outlined her idea to them. "I mean, remember what happened the last time you saw Winifred."
        "And if she sees you again, she might work out who Dani is," Monty pointed out.
        "I have to try, you guys," Foxglove reasoned, "and Lou, you said yourself that Winifred's desperate."
        "It sounds awful risky to me," Dale said.
        "Dale, have you forgotten why I'm doing this?" Foxglove asked.
        Looking guiltily at his feet, Dale mumbled, "Well, just be careful."
        "I will, and you guys will be right outside if I run into any trouble," Foxglove reminded him. "Ok, let's go."
        "So, are you going to explain this eternal youth thing?" Gadget asked as they boarded the Ranger Wing.
        "Sure," Foxglove said. "It's something that Winifred used to talk about a lot. According to one of her spell books you can make youth into matter by extracting it from a young child and putting it into a liquid made from magical ingredients, and anyone who drinks it will be eternally young."
        "We've made the liquid," Lou continued, "but to get the youth out of the kid we need the Diamond of the Muses, which Freddie needs Foxglove to find for her."
        "Are you going to?" Dale asked.
        "Well, retrieving it for her would increase the great deal, but I may find I have to," Foxglove replied. "I mean, the Diamond is the only reason she'll even consider taking me back, and how's it going to look if I refuse to fetch it for her?"
        "But doesn't that mean she'll use it?" Gadget asked.
        "No way, it's five hours there and five hours back, at least, and it'll take me a while to find the thing; it'll be dark before I even get back, and she won't want to do anything until morning. I can get Dani out while she's asleep."
        They reached their destination and parked the Ranger Wing. Everyone wished Foxglove luck, and she had to assure Dale that she would be fine several times before she would let her go. However, she and Lou finally got away.
        Lou and Foxglove found Winifred with her nose in a book, presumably looking at the picture of the Diamond of the Muses and wondering how she would ever get hold of it. Foxglove had to contain herself when she saw Dani sitting in the rusty bird cage. The youngster started up immediately, but her mother signalled to her to remain silent.
        "Uh... Winifred..." Lou began meakly. Winifred looked up impatiently, but her disdain soon turned to anger when she saw what Lou had with him.
        "Foxglove!" she cried. "What are you doing here?"
        "I'm sorry, Winifred," Foxglove began, as feebly as she could. "I... I've come to ask you for a second chance."
        "Second chance? Why..."
        "I know I'm probably the last person you want to see right now, but I'm sorry, Winifred, I really am. See, after... what happened, I felt so guilty. I don't know what came over me. And then when Dale blew me off, I..."
        She broke off, and feigned a few tears. She stole a glance at Winifred, who was now eyeing her thoughtfully. Dani could not help beaming; this was some kind of rescue operation!
        "You do need her, Winifred," Lou reminded her. "She'll have the Diamond for you by tomorrow morning."
        "Yes," Winifred agreed. "Yes, my dear, I will give you another chance, but if you blow it this time..."
        "Oh, I won't!" Foxglove hastened to assure her, lying through her teeth. "Give me any job needs doing, Winifred, and I'll do it."
        "Very well then..." Winifred began.

        It was a strenuous journey, and a trying search, but Foxglove eventually located the Diamond of the Muses in a very obscure cave; in fact she felt quite pleased with herself for noticing it in the first place. It was getting towards ten o'clock when she returned and gave the artifact to Winifred, and between them Foxglove and Lou were able to persuade her to save doing any magic until the morning.
        Foxglove thought it would be wise to wait until at least midnight before she attempted to abstract Dani from the cage and get her home.
        Whilst Winifred was preparing herself for bed, Bud found Foxglove in the bathroom looking impatiently at what looked very much like a strip of white card.
        "What are you doing?" he asked.
        "Pregnancy test."
        "No way!"
        "Way," Foxglove said. "I definitely might be pregnant. In fact I'm sure I'm pregnant. If this thing turns blue, I'm the tooth fairy."
        "So how long's it been?" Bud asked politely.
        "About two minutes."
        "Well, I think you need to wait a little bit longer than that."
        "Why do these things have to take so long?" Foxglove demanded. "It's ridiculous! All it has to do is look for a tiny little hormone in a bit of urine. Why does that take such a long time? If I was a pregnancy test, I'd be much more efficient."
        "I think you're nervous about tonight," Bud said, thinking that Foxglove comparing herself to a pregnancy test was conclusive evidence of this.
        "Well, of course I'm nervous. What if Winifred catches me?"
        "You're people are just outside, don't forget."
        "Yes, that's true. I must say, Bud, I'm surprised you're supporting me on this. I always thought you hated me."
        "Yeah, well, I never really liked you," Bud admitted, "but I feel kind o' guilty about taking your kid."
        Foxglove looked again at her pregnancy test; still blank. She glowered at it, willing it to change.
        "Are you just going to stay with that thing until changes?" Bud asked.
        "Well, I can't let Winifred see it. Aha! It's changing!"
        "Really?" Bud said, suddenly feeling strangely excited. "It's blue for not pregnant, is it?"
        "So, come on, are you pregnant or not?"
        "Yes! Yes, I am!" Foxglove threw her arms around Bud and the snake found himself coming out with heart-felt congratulations, until Winifred entered the room.
        "What's going on?" she demanded.
        "Nothing, Winifred," Foxglove lied, releasing Bud and hastily concealing the pregnancy test behind her back. "Absolutely nothing."

        Having to wait in the Ranger Wing twiddling his thumbs, Dale felt not only entirely useless but understandably agitated; he knew that his daughter was a few yards away, just asking to be taken home and put safely to bed, and yet he could not go anywhere near her. Chip was doing his utmost to keep Dale's mind occupied, with Monterey Jack chiming in every now and again.
        "Don't look so anxious," Chip was saying. "They'll be out real soon."
        "Yeah, real soon," Monty added encouragingly.
        "But I really hate bnot knowing what's going on in there," Dale protested. "What if something happens to either of them?"
        "Then Lou will come and fetch us, and you can do the heroic husband/father bit," Chip reassured him. "You have to think positive."
        "What time is it now?" Dale asked.
        "It's just gone half past midnight," Gadget said, squinting through the darkness at her wrist watch.
        At that moment, Lou came scuttling towards them. Dale's heart skipped a beat - something must have happened.
        "What's wrong?" he demanded.
        "Foxglove's run into some trouble."

        Foxglove, meanwhile, had begun the rescue operation and was already flying towards Danielle's cage with the key to the padlock in her hand, with Lou watching her back. She soon reached her daughter and for a split second it looked like everything was going to turn out fine, but then there came a peculiar noise from Lou's direction and Foxglove found herself in Winifred's strong grip. It was now that Lou departed.
        "Hey!" Foxglove cried as Winifred, wearing a most unbecoming dressing gown, switched on the light to observe her struggling captive.
        "I knew you weren't to be trusted," she hissed.
        Foxglove glanced anxiously at Dani, who looked totally dumbfounded, and then looked frantically around for the key. In her alarm she had dropped it from her feet, and it now lay a few feet from the rusty cage.
        "Now," winifred continued, "what is to be done with you? Well, obviously your first punishment will be to watch me take the youth out of your child."
        "Winifred, please, be reasonable!" Foxglove pleaded as the witch retrieved the Diamond of the Muses. "Do whatever the heck you want with me, but Dani's just a kid."
        Winifred only laughed and said, "Please, I've been planning this for years now and I always knew what it would entail. Do you really think you can change my mind?"
        At that moment Dale came rushing into the room and skidded to a halt, followed by Lou and the remaining Rescue Rangers. Dale looked from his wife to his daughter, wondering which he should help first.
        "We'll get Dani for you," Chip said to him. "You take care of her."
        As Chip, Gadget and Monty all made for Dani's cage, Dale went bounding towards Winifred. She appeared not to see him coming, being too busy focussing on the other three heading for her captive. They first had to ascend the table leg, and as Chip and Monty did so Winifred wondered how on earth she was going to deal with them and Foxglove at the same time.
        "Is there a key to this thing?" Monty asked, looking blankly at the padlock.
        "Dang!" Foxglove said. "Should have showed you where that was first, huh?"
        "I've got it," Gadget called, and made a run for the table on which Dani was still imprisoned. Winifred decided that she could be easily dealt with, being slightly smaller than her shoe, and was about to do so when Dale grabbed the hem of her dressing gown, scrambled up it and sunk his front teeth deep into the flesh of the hand holding the Diamond.
        Winifred gave a yell of surprise and pain, and dropped Foxglove and the Diamond. Foxglove quickly composed herself and flew safely to the ground, where she pursued the rolling Diamond until it came to a stop. She picked it up and then stood with it in her wings, unsure of quite what to do next.
        Gadget, meanwhile, was still struggling with the padlock, and surprisingly enough Dale was still attached to Winifred's hand. She was waving him about frantically, screaming "Get off, you filthy rodent!"
        "I can't!" Dale cried, now extremely dizzy.
        "I'm stuck, but what might help is if you stopped waving me - woah! - around like this!"
        This, of course, made perfect sense, so Winifred rested her hand on the nearest surface, which happened to be a low shelf, where Dale attempted to struggle himself free.
        "I'd better give them a hand," Chip said, feeling slightly useless just standing about while Monty attempted to comfort Dani and Gadget cursed at the difficult lock.
        Chip slid agilely down the table leg and then managed to clamber over a chair and on to the low shelf where Dale was still trying to detach Winifred from his teeth.
        "Do you need a hand?" Chip asked.
        "Yes," Dale said, as best he could. "If you could just sort of grab my waist and pull..."
        Chip did so, and Dale was finally freed. As Winifred recovered her composure, the two Chipmunks risked the dangerous jump to the floor. As the landed, the padlock on Dani's cage finally snapped open. Delighted, Danielle slid down the table leg as Chip had done and leapt into Dale's waiting arms. He almsot squeezed the life out of her, but she didn't care one bit. There was an overwhelming sense of relief as the two made contact, and Dale told himself that he would never let go of his precious child again.
        "Daddy," Dani gasped. "Boy, am I glad to see you."
        "Ditto," Dale said, crying with joy. "Are you ok?"
        "Yeah, I'm totally fine. What's happened to Mom?"
        This, Dale realized, was a very good point. Where was Foxglove? Chip spotted her first; she had once again been ceased by Winifred, who was now trying to prise the precious Diamond of the Muses from her grasp.
        "Just give it to me, you wretched creature," she said.
        "No way!" Foxglove said, amazed at her own strength. She then decided that it would probably be best to dispose of the Diamond, and she threw it down to Chip.
        "Hey, Chip!" she called, and he managed to catch it. As Winifred threw Foxglove to one side and started heading towards him, Chip instinctively threw the Diamond to Gadget, who at once threw it back to Foxglove.
        "Monty, can you take her to the Ranger Wing for me?" Chip asked, handing his child over to the Australian Mouse. Monty obliged, and Dale at once joined in with this strategic game of catch.
        "Look," Winifred said, pausing after a while to catch her breath. "You can't go on like that forever."
        Gadget was now holding the valuable object. Dale signalled to her to take it away whilst distracting Winifred with whatever came into his head.
        "That's true," he said, "but even if you do get the Diamond from us, you won't be able to do very much with it."
        Looking around, Winifred noticed for the first time that Dani had gone. She somehow managed to contain her emotions, and simply said, "There are plenty more where she came from. As long as I have the Diamond, that's all that matters."
        "Yes, but you don't have that either," Foxglove pointed out. "In fact, all you have now is a huge bowl of sick."
        Outraged, Winifred made a grab for the bat, but she managed to avoid it and flew down to Dale. They embraced momentarily, but knew how unwise it would be to drop their guard.
        "Don't think I'm going to let you get away with this," Winifred fumed.
        "Um... Winifred, I have a question," Foxglove said.
        "Well?" For some reason Winifred was curious to know what this question was.
        "How did you know Dani was my daughter?"
        "Well, I've always suspected, or at least since I saw you again. You are very similar."
        "Is that all?" Foxglove asked.
        "Actually, no. The real giveaway was the pregnancy test."
        Foxglove could have kicked herself. How could she have been so stupid as to have left that thing lying around?
        "Pregnancy test?" echoed Dale.
        "Oh yeah, I was meaning to tell you about that later tonight," Foxglove said, "but now seems as good a time as any. I'm pregnant."
        Chip was about to embrace them both and congratulate them in no uncertain manner, but one look at Winifred warned him that now was not the best time. As she made another grab at them, the trio ran swiftly under the door and made their way back to the Ranger Wing.
        "Better get rid of this thing, then," Gadget said, turning the Diamond over and over in her hands.
        "Like how?" Dani asked, now in the security of Foxglove's lap. "That thing's indestructable, isn't it, Mom?"
        "I'm afraid so," Foxglove replied. "That's why the last person to find it hid it in that obscure cave instead of destroying it then."
        "We should probably set it in stone or something," Chip said.
        "And then what'll we do with the stone?" asked Dale. "I'll bet anyone who finds it can get through it."
        "I think the wisest thing would be to keep it ourselves," Foxglove said solemnly. "If we locked it in a cupboard or something and then forgot about it, it would be pretty safe."
        This they did, and came across some pretty interesting things in the process. Dale was delighted to see his old bucket of lego again, and for the better part of the following evening he and Dani had done fun playing with the king of Scotland - the former perhaps having more fun than the latter.
        "Help, I've broken my leg!" he cried, in a phoney Scottish accent when a stray sword sent the king flying. "Aye, that's all right, your majesty, you can borrow mine," came the reply from one of the knights. Danielle giggled as Dale pulled both the characters apart and swapped their legs over.
        "I think that's beyond the call of duty," Monty said, for by now everyone had come to join in the game.
        "Oh, I don't know," argued Gadget. "These people used to do pretty much anything for their kings."
        "Ok," Dale said, glancing at the clock, "it's time for bed, Dani."
        "Actually, I am kind o' tired," Dani answered sleepily.
        "That doesn't surprise me."
        Everyone wanted a hug before Dani went to bed, so it was some time before Dale finally managed to drag their daughter away to her room.
        "So what would have happened to Dani if Winifred had done the spell?" Gadget asked, once they had gone.
        "Well, that's the thing - nobody knows," Foxglove replied. "She might have been totally fine, but on reflection something pretty terrible would probably have happened." She thought about this for a moment, then said, "I'd better go and say goodnight to her."
        She did, and then Monty and Zipper politely declined, leaving Chip and Gadget together on the sofa.
        "That must be like, the worst thing that can happen to you, having your kid taken away," Gadget said.
        "I guess so."
        "I still think you were being really great."
        "Do you think youíll ever have kids?" Chip asked.
        "Well, it would be nice, wouldnít it. I'd need at least a boyfriend first, though."
        Chip shuffled awkwardly and said, "Y'know, it seems like only yesterday that Dale and I were living here all by ourselves."
        "And I was all by myself in that junkyard."
        "Yeah. It's interesting, isn't it, how you just wake up and find that everything's changed. I mean, I never thought that Dale would get married and have kids."
        "He's only got one," Gadget pointed out.
        "So far. Gadget, if I tell you something, will you pretend to be surprised when Dale or Foxglove tells you?"
        "Sure, ok."
        "Foxglove's pregnant."
        "No way! Wow. I guess that means we need another room."
        "It's a strange living arrangement, isn't it. I mean, there's me, my best friend, his wife, his child and you three."
        "And to think it used to be just the two of you. Well, I'd better get some shuteye," Gadget said, standing up and making for her room. " 'Night, Chip."
        "Good night," Chip said, and then he thought, Foxglove's totally right. I should do my laundry before somebody else does.
        Dale then emerged from Dani's room, and joined Chip on the sofa.
        "You look a little ticked off," he observed.
        "Yeah, well, I just had a really good opportunity to - um - do my laundry, and I completely blew it."
        "You've been doing that a lot lately."
        "I know, but I can't help thinking, what if it all ends in tears? Gadget and I will never be able to look each other in the eye again, and then she'll leave."
        "The baby could have her room," Dale said thoughtfully, and then added, "I didn't mean to say that out loud."
        "Dale, do you think I should ask Gadget out?"
        "I think that's something you have to decide for yourself."

        Spirits were high the next morning, but a slight dampener was put on things when Dale answered the door to Bud and Lou.
        "Hi," Bud said, sounding ever so slightly nervous. "Um- we were just wondering how the kid was."
        "She's fine," Dale replied shortly.
        "Oh," Bud said. "Good."
        Eventually Foxglove saved the situation just by showing up.
        "Hi, guys," she said, pleasantly. "What are you doing here?"
        "We're just asking after Dani," Lou answered. "I'm sorry we kidnapped her and everything. Look, Foxglove," he continued, hurriedly, "we thought you should know that we're blowing Winifred off."
        "Yes. I mean, it's a steady job and everything, but she's a total cow. Oh, and Bud told me you're pregnant. Congratulations."
        "Well— bye," Lou said, and as they left Dale shut the door.
        "You could have been a little more civil," Foxglove said to him.
        "But Foxy, they kidnapped Dani."
        "Yes, but I don't really think it's a good idea to bare grudges."
        "Oh? I seem to remember that you've got a pretty huge one against Winifred."
        "Well, that's true. Do you think she'll be any more trouble?"
        "You know her better than I do," Dale reminded her.
        They wandered into the living room just as Dani was coming out of the kitchen.
        "Chip and Gadget are kissing in there," she said.
        "Really? Wow!" was Dale's reaction.
        "What have I been saying?" Foxglove gloated. "If you just do your laundry, everything else will work out."
        Monty came in just as she said this. He was not aware of the laundry metaphor, so he looked smewhat puzzled and said, "I should do the laundry more often."
        "So when should we tell him the good news?" Foxglove asked, once Monty had gone.
        "Whenever Chip and Gadget announce that they've finally got it together. It'll be interesting to see just how much good news he can take," Dale replied.
        "What's the good news?" Dani asked.
        While Foxglove explained to Danielle that she would soon "have a little brother or sister", Dale went to see what the situation was in the kitchen. The face-eating seemed to have stopped, but Chip was looking very smug.
        "What have you been doing?" Dale asked mischievously, once Gadget had left the room.
        "Well, it's about time."
        "Actually, Foxglove wasn't absolutely right. Gadget did more or less walk into the washing machine all by herself; I just had to give her a little push."
        "I wish real laundry worked like that," Dale said with feeling. "Dani found you kissing her, you know?"
        "I told Gadget that Foxglove's pregnant."
        "Oh. So I guess it's just Monty and Zipper who don't know anything. Do you think they'll just black out, or go into a coma?"
        "Let's find out."
        Chip and Dale went together to find Monty and Zipper, both about how, not long ago, this place had been their batchelor pad.

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