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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook Title: Blinky Bill Author: Dorothy Wall eBook No.: 0400571h.html Edition: 1 Language: English Character set encoding: HTML--Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit Date first posted: July 2004 Date most recently updated: July 2004 This etext was produced by Jon Ingram, Ted Garvin, Susan Skinner and PG Distributed Proofreaders Europe. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
The bush was alive with excitement. Mrs Koala had a brand new baby, and the news spread like wildfire. The kookaburras in the highest gum-trees heard of it, and laughed and chuckled at the idea. In and out of their burrows the rabbits came scuttling, their big brown eyes opening wide with wonder as they heard the news. Over the grass the message went where Mrs Kangaroo was quietly hopping towards her home. She fairly leapt in the air with joy. "I must tell Mr Kangaroo!" she cried and bounded away in great hops and leaps. Even Mrs Snake, who was having a nap, awoke, gave a wriggle, and blinked her wicked little eyes. The whole bushland was twittering with the news, for a baby bear was a great event. Mrs Koala had a baby every two years, and as Mrs Rabbit had very, very many during that time, you can just imagine how surprised everyone was. In the fork of a gum-tree, far above the ground, Mrs Koala nursed her baby, peeping every now and then at the tiny creature in her pouch. This little baby was the funniest wee creature. He was only about an inch long and covered with soft baby fur, had two big ears, compared to the size of the rest of him, a tiny black nose, and two beady eyes. His mother and father always had a surprised look on their faces, but they looked more surprised than ever now as they gazed at their baby.
He peeped at them and blinked, as much as to say, "Aren't you glad I'm here?"
Mr Koala puffed out his cheeks with pride, and his wife hugged her baby tighter than ever.
There had been quite a lot of quarrelling and jealousy among the bush folk as to who should be the baby's nurse.
Mrs Kookaburra was the first to offer her services, and she came flying over to the tree where the Koalas lived. Knocking on the tree with her strong beak she asked if she might come in.
"Certainly," said Mrs Bear, "if you don't laugh and wake the baby up."
"Do you want a nurse for him?" Mrs Kookaburra anxiously inquired.
"Yes, I do," Mrs Bear replied.
"Will I do?" Mrs Kookaburra asked.
"Oh, no!" said Mrs Bear. "Your laugh is so loud and you chuckle so long that you'd wake the baby up."
Poor Mrs Kookaburra was very disappointed and flew off to tell Mrs Magpie about it.
"I'll go over and see if I can be the nurse," said Mrs Magpie. "Mrs Bear is very particular and I'm sure I will suit." She gave her feathers a fluff and sharpened her beak, then straight to the Koalas' home she flew.
"Come in," called Mrs Bear on hearing the peck at the tree.
"Good morning, Mrs Koala. I hear you are wanting a nurse for the baby. I'm sure I could keep the young scamp in order as I've had a few dozen myself."
"Thank you, Mrs Magpie," said Mrs Bear very politely, "but I don't like the look of your beak. You could give a very nasty peck with it."
"They all want a peck sometimes," said Mrs Magpie in a very cross tone. At this the baby bear popped his head right out of his mother's pouch and blinked very hard.
"If you are so particular, I'll send along a friend of mine who will suit you very well." And saying this Mrs Magpie gave the tree a savage peck and flew off. Imagine Mrs Koala's surprise when she peeped down the tree later on and saw Mrs Snake slowly wriggling her way upwards. Oh, she was frightened!
"Go away, Mrs Snake!" she called in a loud voice.
"I've come to nurse the baby; Mrs Magpie sent me." And Mrs Snake wriggled higher up the tree. Right on to the branch where Mrs Koala sat she came, and coiled herself round the fork.
"I don't want a nurse." And poor frightened Mrs Bear tried to push the baby's head back in the pouch. But he would peep out.
"He's a nice little fellow, and like his daddy," said Mrs Snake slyly. "I can take him along on my back for such lovely rides up and down trees and in and out big black holes."
Hearing this Mrs Bear nearly fell off the tree with fright, and began to cry.
Now Mr Koala had been listening to Mrs Snake as he sat on a branch just round the corner. Slowly he climbed over to Mrs Snake and caught her in his claws. Before anyone had time to see what was happening he pushed her off the branch and she went tumbling to the ground below. Two very frightened bears peeped down from the tree, and there they saw Mrs Snake slowly crawling away in the grass.
They were just beginning to recover from this fright when a thump, thump, thump, was heard on the ground at the foot of the tree.
"Who's there?" called Mrs Bear in a very frightened voice.
"It's just me!" came the reply.
"Who's me?" growled Mr Bear.
"Angelina Wallaby," called a very soft voice.
"Come up, come up," Mrs Bear replied.
"I can't climb; my tail is all wrong," said Angelina.
"Well, I'll come down, if Mrs Snake is nowhere about," said Mrs Bear. And she slowly started to scramble down the tree. Very carefully she went, always grasping the tree with her strong claws, her back showing all the time, while she cleverly looked over her shoulder now and then to see that all was safe below. It took her quite a time to reach the ground and she felt very nervous.
Angelina Wallaby hopped over to her and gazed in wonderment at the baby.
"What a dear little fellow!" she said, her great brown eyes rounding with excitement. At the same time she put out her paws to touch him.
"Oh, don't!" cried Mrs Bear. "He is so small and your nails might hurt him."
"I've been all the morning blunting them on a stone so that I could pat him," said Angelina in a disappointed voice.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Mrs Bear. "I did not mean to be rude, but Mrs Snake gave me such a fright."
"I'll be ever so gentle," said Angelina, "if you let me pat him just this once."
"Very well," smiled Mrs Bear as she opened her pouch.
Angelina Wallaby patted him twice, then sniffed him all over with her soft muzzly nose. Now her eyelashes caught in his little toes: but Angelina did not mind, as she had had babies herself and knew just what to do.
"I wish I could mind him for you sometimes, Mrs Bear. I'd be so gentle with him."
"I'm sure you would be the very kindest nurse," replied Mrs Bear. "But what could you do for him?"
"I would come along in the evenings, and take him out for a walk. I've got a pouch just like yours, and I'd tuck him in it and hop along very gently, so he wouldn't feel the bumps."
"I think that is a good idea," said Mrs Bear.
So it was arranged that Mrs Bear should climb down the tree every evening and meet Angelina Wallaby who would take the baby for a walk in the bush.
Imagine how proud Angelina felt! She hopped home very quickly that evening to tell her friends the news.
Next day, just as the sun was setting, she came to the foot of the gum-tree and thumped three times on the ground with her tail. Mrs Bear peeped around the corner of her home and, seeing Angelina at the foot of the tree, called out:
"I'm coming down with the baby, so watch for Mrs Snake." Then she carefully and slowly climbed to the bottom of the tree.
"Is the coast clear?" she anxiously asked.
"Yes, Mrs Bear. I passed Mrs Snake on the road a mile away."
"Well, do be careful, Angelina; and bring him back before the day breaks. Is your pouch warm?" And Mrs Bear inspected Angelina's pouch.
"Yes, Mrs Bear. It may be a trifle large, so I padded it well with grass; but it's very warm and not a bit draughty."
So the baby was carefully taken from his mother's pouch and gently placed in Angelina's.
Waving a paw to Mrs Bear she took a hop and then peeped down at the baby to see what he thought of it. Taking several more hops she soon started away for the bush track and in no time came to Mrs Rabbit's home. Thumping her tail on the ground, she waited a moment. Mrs Rabbit popped her head out of the burrow.
"Good evening, Mrs Rab. I've brought the baby to show you."
"Good gracious, how lovely!" said Mrs Rabbit as Angelina gently drew the baby bear from her pouch. Several more bunnies came round to inspect the new arrival.
"Just look at his ears!" cried Mrs Rabbit. "I'm sure I'd never hear with those furry things. And, oh dear, no tail!—Well, well! Take care he does not catch cold. I really think he should have a tail to keep him warm. I have a spare one hanging on the wall of the burrow. Poor Mr Rabbit was shot, and I found his skin near by; but I managed to bite off the tail and bring it home." Here poor Mrs Rabbit burst into tears.
"Never mind, my dear," said Angelina soothingly. "If it will please you, we will tie it on the baby."
Mrs Rabbit dried her eyes with her paw and went sniffling down into the burrow.
"I won't be a moment," she called from somewhere down under the ground.
Up she came in a very short time carrying the tail in her two front paws.
"What can we sew it on with?" inquired Angelina.
"We'll tie it on with a piece of grass." And Mrs Rabbit hopped round until she found a nice long piece.
"Here's just the thing!" she cried, and came hopping back with it in her teeth.
Angelina excitedly pulled the baby out of her pouch, and together they fastened the tail on. It did look funny, as it was almost as long as the baby; but it certainly would keep him warm.
Bidding her friend good night she hopped on her way. The moon was now shining brightly and all the bush was hushed, except for the sound of those little animals who are always busy at night-time. Angelina sniffed the night air with delight and felt very happy as she thought of the baby in her pouch. Hopping along between the great grey gum-trees she was suddenly startled to see Mrs Snake lying right across her pathway.
"Ha, ha, Mrs Wallaby," called the wicked Mrs Snake, "so you're the baby's nurse. Well, I want to have a look at him."
"Oh, you can't!" cried Angelina. "He'll catch cold if I take him out of my pouch."
"No, he won't, the night is warm," said Mrs Snake. "Show him to me at once."
Angelina thought very quickly, and darting her paws into her pouch she untied the rabbit's tail and pulled it out.
"There you are, Mrs Snake," she cried. "Isn't he beautiful?"
Mrs Snake did not stop to look. She sprang at the tail and bit it savagely.
"Ha, ha, ha," she laughed, "there will be no baby to take home now."
Poor Angelina got such a fright she did not waste a moment, but hopped away as fast as her legs could carry her. On and on she went, breathless with fear, not daring to look behind. She reached the foot of the gum-tree and thumped wildly with her tail. Mrs Bear came scurrying down the tree and listened to the story. Then grabbing her baby she quickly climbed to safety. Angelina waited at the foot of the tree until she saw Mrs Bear safely home, then hopped away to the bushland.
After that, Mrs Koala decided to keep her baby at home. Every day he grew bigger and stronger, until he was six months old. Then his mother thought it quite time he learnt to ride on her back, as the pouch was getting too small to hold such a big baby. So with Mr Bear's help they taught the baby to cling to the long fur of her back and only during the cold nights was he allowed to climb into her pouch. He was now growing very big. When eight months old he could no longer crawl into the snug pouch at all. So his baby days were over. He became very cunning too. When his mother was feeding, he learnt to stretch out his arms and pull the tenderest leaves into his mouth. He soon reached the age of one year, and measured ten inches, while his weight was about three pounds. Strange as it may seem, Mrs Koala had not thought of a name for her baby. Now, she thought it quite time he was christened; so one day she talked the matter over with his father. "Shall we call him 'Walter' or 'Bluegum'?" she inquired.
"No," grunted Mr Koala. "Let's call him 'Blinky Bill'." So Blinky Bill he became from that moment.
"Well, my dear, I'll arrange about the christening," said Mrs Koala. "My cousin the Reverend Fluffy Ears will perform the ceremony. And, of course, we must choose his godfather and godmother."
"Jacko Kookaburra will be his godfather," said Mr Bear. "We will send him a message over the wireless, as he is so well known; and Angelina Wallaby would be sure to jump with joy if we asked her to be godmother."
So that night when all was quiet Mr Koala tapped out a message on the gum-leaves calling the Gippsland bush folk.
"Will Mr Jacko Kookaburra speak, please—Koala senior is calling."
Rat-a-tat-tat—came the reply on the leaves.
"Jacko here. What can I do for you?"
"Will you be Blinky Bill's godfather?" Mr Koala tapped back.
"Only too pleased," came the quick reply.
"I'll be along next week. Sorry I'm broadcasting every night this week."
Angelina, who seldom uttered a sound, purred with pleasure when she was asked to be godmother, and hurried home to make a present for the christening.
The great day arrived. In a quiet corner of the bush, down by a little stream surrounded with bells and flannel flowers, everyone came from far and near to see young Bill christened.
The Reverend Fluffy Ears looked very important with a white collar made from the bark of the paper-tree. He also held in his paws a book of gum-leaves, from which he read.
Mr and Mrs Koala smiled at everyone, and everyone smiled at Blinky Bill. Jacko looked spick and span, and of course, being a widely travelled gentleman, he took things very quietly. At the same time, he gave a dig in the ground with his beak every now and then and swallowed a fat worm. Angelina looked sweet in her nut-brown coat, and her large eyes watched Blinky Bill all the time. She had made a ball of fur for him to play with, and he cuddled and hugged it closely all the time.
Mrs Rabbit rang the bells and everyone sat down or perched.
The Reverend Fluffy Ears spoke as he took Blinky Bill in his arms.
"What shall I name this young bear?" he asked.
"Blinky Bill," said Mr Koala.
At once the bush was filled with laughter. Wild kookaburras who were no relation to Jacko had flown into a nearby tree, and they made a terrible din, chuckling and laughing at the top of their voices. Nobody could speak for the noise.
"Silence!" roared the Reverend Fluffy Ears. But it was useless. They took no notice.
"I'll speak to the young larrikins," said Jacko, and he gave the call for all to listen.
Immediately the laughter ceased.
"I'm Jacko," he said, "and if you birds up in that tree don't keep quiet I'll tell everyone over the radio what rude kookaburras you are and that you are no relation to me."
Hearing this, the wild kookaburras became very quiet, as they wanted everyone to think they were related to Jacko. He was such a wonderful bird that if they were asked in turn who was their cousin or uncle all would reply—"Jacko". So you see, they had good reason to keep quiet. Blinky Bill had water from the stream sprinkled on his head, much to his surprise, and the ceremony ended without any more interruptions. He was carried home again on his mother's back, feeling very important after all the fuss and petting. That night up in the fork of the white gum-tree Mrs Koala told him that he was now a youth and that if he were a human being he would be put in knickerbockers.
The Koala family lived so happily; never thinking of harm, or that anything could happen to disturb their little home, as all they asked for were plenty of fresh gum-leaves and the warm sun. They had no idea such things as guns were in the world or that a human being had a heart so cruel that he would take a pleasure in seeing a poor little body riddled with bullets hanging helplessly from the tree-top. And they had no idea this same being would walk away, after shooting a bear, content to see him dead, no matter if he fell to the ground or not. That same being might just as well take his gun and shoot baby kookaburras, so helpless were they all and so trusting.
Poor Mr Koala one day was curled up asleep in his favourite corner, when the terrible thing happened. Bang! He opened his eyes in wonder. What was that? Did the limb of the tree snap where that young cub of his was skylarking? He moved very slowly to take a look and, bang! again. This time he felt a stinging pain in his leg. What could it be? And peering over the bough of the tree he saw a man on the ground with something long and black in his arms. He gazed down in wonderment. Whatever was that, and how his little leg hurt. Another bang and his ear began to hurt. Suddenly a great fear seized him, he slowly turned and tried to hide round the tree, peering at the ground as he did so. Bang! again, and now his poor little body was stinging all over. He grunted loudly and slowly climbed up the tree, calling Mrs Koala and Blinky as he went. He managed to reach the topmost branch and now turned to see where his family were. Tears were pouring down his poor little face. He brushed them away with his front paws and cried just like a baby. Fortunately Mrs Koala and Blinky Bill were hiding in the leaves, quite motionless, and the shadows of the tree made them appear as part of it. The man with the gun stood and waited a long time, then walked away, whistling as he went—the only sound to be heard in the bush except the cries of a little bear far up in the tree.
All that day and night the little family lay huddled together, not daring to move, or to think of the sweet gum-leaves that hung from the tree inviting them to supper. As the sun rose the birds woke with a great chattering, the earth stirred with the feet of small animals running backwards and forwards; but up in the gum-tree a mother bear and her baby sat staring in surprise at another bear who did not move. They grunted and cried, and even felt him with their soft paws, but he still did not move. All that day and the next night they sat patiently waiting for him to wake, then at last Mrs Bear seemed to understand that her husband was dead. She climbed down the tree, with Blinky following close behind, and went to another tree where they had a good meal of young leaves and tender shoots.
"Why are we eating so much?" Blinky inquired.
"We are going away, dear," Mrs Bear replied. "We must find a tree farther in the bush where those men with guns can't come, and as we may be a long time in finding a suitable home, these leaves will keep us from feeling hungry."
Together the mother and her cub slowly climbed down the tree, and great was their surprise to find Angelina Wallaby waiting for them.
"Where are you going, Mrs Bear?" she asked.
"Far into the bush with Blinky, away from the man with his gun," Mrs Bear replied.
"What will I do?" asked Angelina. "I shall miss Blinky terribly." And her big eyes filled with tears.
"Come with us," grunted Blinky.
"Oh, that will be splendid," said Angelina. "I know a gum-tree far away with a baby in it just like Blinky. Blinky can crawl up on to my back when his legs are tired, and I'll carry him along—you too, Mrs Bear, if you feel the journey too long."
Thanking her the three started away. Mrs Bear turned and gave one sorrowful look at the tree that had been their home for so long. It had been a kind tree, sheltering them through all weathers and feeding them every day of the year, but not strong enough to protect them from tragedy.
After travelling for a mile or more the bears began to feel very tired, as they were not used to walking along the ground. Very rarely they leave the branches of the trees; occasionally one will climb down to feed on some vegetation in the grass; but they feel very strange having to use their four legs to walk with. It is so different to sitting on a limb of a tree, hind paws firmly grasping the branch while the two front paws are busily pulling down tender leaves to their mouths. So it was no wonder when Mrs Koala and Blinky began to limp.
"Let us rest here under this bush," said Angelina, hopping up to a thick scrubby tree. "We can have a sleep, and when the moon is up we will go on."
"I think you are wonderful," said Mrs Koala, and all three lay at the foot of the bush, the two little Koalas glad to rest sore little toes and tired little legs.
In the cool shade they slept until the sun went down, then waking up, and feeling very hungry, Mrs Koala and Blinky climbed a sapling. Blinky rushed ahead as they neared the top and stuffed his mouth as full as full.
"Don't gobble," said Mrs Bear, cuffing his ear.
"They're so juicy," said young Blinky, as he peered over the branch and threw a few leaves down to Angelina.
"They are nice," said Angelina, as she munched them ever so gently, "I have never tasted these leaves before; but we must not stop here any longer. This is strange country, and we have a long way to go."
"I don't want to go," wailed Blinky, "I'm tired."
"Both of you hop on my back and we'll be there in no time. I can leap along in the moonlight like a kangaroo."
After some arguing over the matter, Mrs Bear and Blinky climbed on her back, and away they went. It was great fun. Flop, flop, flop, through the grass, ducking their heads to miss the branches and twigs of low-growing trees, and then racing along through open country.
Many a rabbit looked up in surprise from his supper-table to see the strange sight, and possums screeched in the branches as they looked down at some new kind of wallaby, as they thought. At last, breathless and tired Angelina stopped at the foot of a tall, straight gum-tree. Silver white it stood in the moonlight with branches spread far up in the sky.
"Here is your new home," said Angelina.
"How beautiful," murmured Mrs Bear, as she and Blinky crawled down from their friend's back.
"It is safe, and you will be very happy here, and Blinky will have a playmate." Angelina flopped on the grass, her long legs sprawled out, and she panted loudly.
"Where are you going to live?" Mrs Bear inquired. "We want you near us, please."
"I'm going to live just round the corner," said Angelina. "I have a friend who is waiting for me."
"Is she a relation?" asked Mrs Bear kindly. "No!" replied Angelina. "She is a he!" And, blushing, she looked very slowly down at her paws; then suddenly turned and hopped away.
"Dear, dear," grunted Mrs Bear, "the world is full of surprises."
"Now, you young scamp, come here and climb this tree with me," and Blinky scrambled on to his mother's back.
"I think it's quite time you used your own legs," said Mrs Bear. But she made no attempt to shake him off.
Slowly she crawled up. A new tree was no joke, and this one was ever so high and straight. With many grunts she eventually reached a fork in the branches and stopped to take in her surroundings.
Everything seemed very quiet, but her eyes glistened as she looked at the young gum-tips. A young cub to feed was a matter of no light concern, and he was so particular. Only the youngest leaves he ate.
Blinky was the first to discover other tenants in the tree. "Look, mother," he whispered. "There's a little bear, just like me."
Sure enough, peeping at them from between leaves above their heads, two funny eyes and a small black nose could be seen.
"Now, no quarrelling!" said Mrs Bear sternly. "I've had enough for one day, and I want peace."
Another climb and they came to a branch where sat Master Bear.
"Hulloa," called Blinky.
"Hullo," replied the other.
"Where's your mother?" Mrs Bear asked. "Tell her I would like to speak with her."
He crawled up the tree slowly. Then many grunts were heard to come from that direction until Mother Bear looked down and called in high-pitched grunts:
"Come up, and bring your son to tea."
It did not take Mrs Koala and Blinky long to find the way, and there all night the little bears ate and gossiped. Mrs Koala told her story, and it was agreed that she and Blinky should have the branch two limbs higher up for their new home. Very carefully she told Blinky he must behave as a good little cub should: "Don't rush about; lift your feet when you walk; don't slide down the boughs; and don't drop your food over the side of the tree as Mrs Bear below us might object."
"I'll be a good cub," said Blinky very seriously, and straightaway started to nibble some young leaves.
During the evening Mrs Koala's friend came up to see how she and Blinky liked their new home. She brought her young son, Snubby, with her, and a dear little chap he was. About the same age as Blinky, and in fact so like him that it was hard to tell the two apart.
"Now you two young eucalyptus pots, run off and have a game," said Snubby's mother. "I want to talk to Mrs Koala."
Blinky and Snubby needed no second bidding, and were up the branches playing and climbing in the most dangerous corners in no time.
"You have not told me your name," said Mrs Koala to her friend.
"My name is Mrs Grunty."
"Oh, what a nice name. I'm sure you must be proud of it," said Mrs Koala.
"Well, no—not exactly," said Mrs Grunty. "I got the name while I was in Queensland."
"Good gracious! Where is that?" asked Mrs Koala.
"Have you never heard of it? Is it possible?" said Mrs Grunty. And she looked more surprised than ever. "Well, I must tell you my experiences. I was taken from my mother when I was about six months old, by a man who was trapping bears. I don't know how I escaped from being killed like all my relations; but I heard the man say to his friend as he caught me and popped me in a sack: 'This little fellow's a pretty one and I've been promised a ten-bob note for a baby'. The sack was very dark inside and I felt very frightened as I was slung over a horse's side and carried for many miles in this manner. I knew when we left the bush track, because the smell of the gum-trees faded away; and all I could smell for many miles after seemed to be horse. Sometimes he snorted and I could have jumped out of the sack with fright if there had been a hole to jump through. After many hours we stopped, and I was taken out of the sack and handed to a lady and a little girl who were waiting outside a big house by the roadside."
"Isn't he a darling!" said the little girl as she patted me. "None of them seemed to think I might be a little girl. They all called me 'he'. I was squeezed and hugged and petted; and needless to tell you Mrs Koala, I scrambled up her arm and on to her shoulder. It was the nearest thing to a gum-tree I could see; but, alas, no gum-leaves grew there—only funny stuff all round me called hair. The little girl's mother and father said I looked 'so surprised'. Well now, Mrs Koala, wouldn't any bear be surprised to find herself up a gum-tree that talked?"
Mrs Koala was too amazed to reply. She just grunted.
"The next thing that happened," continued Mrs Grunty, "was to place me on a thing they called a cushion. It certainly was soft and cosy—but where was my snug tree-corner I wondered, and I also felt very hungry."
"Oh, I forgot to ask the trapper for leaves for the pet," said the lady.
"Give him some cake" said the man.
"They offered me some dreadful looking stuff, and of course I could not eat it, and I began to cry for my gum-tips. Then the little girl said perhaps I would like bread and milk, and she ran away to get it. I was so hungry that I ate a little and then fell asleep, as the jogging about on the horse had made my body ache and I felt very tired. They placed me in a box with a bear just like me, only he didn't breathe and his eyes didn't blink, and he had no smell of eucalyptus; but he was soft and cuddly like my mother. I woke in the morning, and what do you think they brought me for breakfast? Bananas!"
"How shocking!" gasped Mrs Koala. "And still no leaves?"
"No leaves," sighed Mrs Grunty. "And as the day went by they became concerned about me. They offered me cheese, lollies, and even pudding to add to my sorrowful plight. I heard the little girl's father talking about something he read in a paper in which it said: 'During the year 1920 to 1921, two hundred and five thousand six hundred and seventy-nine koalas were killed and their skins sold to the fur market, under the name of wombat'."
Hearing this Mrs Koala gave a jump with fright and nearly fell off her perch.
"Oh! how dreadful! It is only a short time ago that my husband was shot. And we are supposed to be protected and allowed to live. What will I do if Blinky is killed?"
"You need not worry," said Mrs Grunty, patting her paw in a comforting way. "We are safe here. No man ever comes into this part of the bush. But I must tell you the rest of my story. These people were really trying to be kind to me. They did not wish to lose me, but it was the worst kind of kindness. As you know, I would die very quickly if I had no gum-leaves to feed on. After two more days of tempting me with everything they could think of, they became alarmed and decided I must go back to the bush."
"We would never forgive ourselves, if the dear wee thing died," the mother and father said. "But the little girl began to cry. She brought me her best dolly and put it in my arms to try and comfort me, but I felt too sick and hungry to take any notice of it."
"That night when she was asleep, her father put me in the sack again and once more I was on a horse's back, but he rode with me this time and rode all through the night. Just as day was breaking I smelled the bush and, oh, the gum-trees! Already I felt better, for I knew I was home again. Very soon the horse stopped and once more I was taken from the sack. I blinked my eyes, scarcely able to believe that I was in my own world again."
"The little girl's father put me down on the ground at the foot of a tall gum."
"'There you are, little fellow!' he said. 'I hope you are happy now. And I'll do my best to see no more of you are trapped. So long!' And staying just long enough to see me on my way up the tree, he turned on his horse and rode through the bush."
"And how did you find your way home?" asked Mrs Koala.
"It took me a long time, as I was very weak," said Mrs Grunty, "and I had to find our own white gum-tree, as you know. But I travelled gradually, at night-time, and went on travelling until I found this very tree, which I liked so much that I stayed here. And besides," she gave a little giggle, "Mr Grunty happened to be in the branches."
Mrs. Grunty's story was interrupted by a sharp whack on the nose.
"Good heavens! What's that?" she cried, rubbing the sore spot with her paw.
"Those young imps are fighting already," said Mrs Koala, peering up above at the branches.
But Mrs Koala was wrong. Blinky and Snubby were having a lovely game, dodging in and out the leaves, and pelting everything visible with gum-nuts.
"Let's have a shot at mother," whispered Blinky, his beady eyes twinkling with mischief.
"You go first," said Snubby under his breath.
"I'll hit her right on the nose," whispered Blinky as he took aim; but he was giggling so much, his shot went wide, and hit Mrs Grunty's nose instead.
"O-o-h!" he whispered. "I've hit the wrong nose."
"Chew leaves quickly," advised Snubby. So when Mrs Koala eventually spied the naughty cubs, they looked the picture of innocence, quietly perched on a limb chewing like two little cherubs.
"Must have been a stray nut falling," said Mrs Grunty. "They do sometimes."
"The bush seems to be very quiet here," Mrs Koala said as she looked around.
"Pretty quiet," said Mrs Grunty, "except when the possums give a party. Their screeching makes me sick sometimes, such a lot of jabbering and rushing about. What for, I don't know. They are not nearly so rare as we are. Do you know, we are the only bears in this bush for miles around?"
"Can it be true?" Mrs Koala murmured in surprise. "You see, I've never been one to travel. I am content to stay in the same tree for a very long time."
"I've lived in the district for ten years," said Mrs Grunty, "and you and Blinky are the only bears I've seen during that time. I remember well the little girl's father telling her when they first saw me that not so many years ago the bush was alive with us bears from Queensland to the south of Victoria. Now, we are so rare that we have become a curiosity, something to be put in zoos, for children to see; and actually in museums. I believe our grandparents sit there in glass cases, stuffed with something inside to make them appear alive, and, oh dear, glass eyes. In New South Wales, I think we could wander for miles from one corner to another and never meet a bear. I don't know why we were all killed. As you know, we don't eat the farmers' crops or ruin their orchards. All we asked for were our own gum-trees."
Mrs Koala moved nervously. "I hope we are safe here," she whimpered. "How are we to know when a man may come along with a gun?"
"I know we are safe," said Mrs Grunty contentedly. "The nearest human being to us is a lady who keeps a store a good many miles away. Sometimes I have ventured out to peep at the motor cars as they rush along the road, and I've heard men asking her: 'Are there any possums or bears in this bush?'"
"'No!' she says in a snappy voice. 'Only snakes!'"
"Snakes!" cried Mrs Koala. "Where?"
"Oh, they are quite harmless, if left alone. But of course, if animals and humans go poking about them, they naturally become very angry. I've passed many in the bush; but I mind my own business, and they take no notice of me."
The days and nights came and went, and Blinky grew into a strong bear. Always up to some mischief, he kept the older bears in a constant state of watchfulness. He was very venturesome and scrambled up to the highest twig on the tree, or out to the farthest branch, scrapping and hugging his playmate or grabbing a nice tender leaf from him just as it was about to pop into Snubby's mouth.
One night Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty decided to go for a walk. They gathered their cubs together and in a stern voice Mrs Koala gave her orders.
"I'm going for a walk over the hill, Blinky, and don't you move out of this tree. No skylarking and romping while I'm away; and be good to Snubby."
"Yes, mother," said Blinky demurely, "I'll mind Snubby till you come back."
So Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty climbed down the tree and, after ambling along the ground in a comical way, they disappeared over the rise of the hill.
Blinky had been watching their progress and he also had heard Mrs Grunty telling his mother about the store on the road where the motor cars went past, and he had a great longing to see these things.
"Stuck in a tree all the time!" he grunted. "I'm for adventure, snakes or no snakes. I'm not afraid."
"What are you saying?" inquired Snubby in a tone of wonder.
"I'm going to see those motor cars and the store," said Blinky in a bold voice.
"Oh! you can't," said Snubby, quite frightened at the idea. "Our mothers will be very angry, and besides you'll get lost!"
"I'm going!" said naughty Blinky in a bold voice, "and you may come too if you like."
"No! I couldn't," said Snubby in a terrified whisper. "Mrs Snake might chase us."
"If we don't poke faces at her, she won't," said Blinky. "I'm going."
"Please don't go, Blinky," implored Snubby.
"Cry-baby," mocked Blinky. "Just show me which way the road lies."
"Over there," said little Snubby, pointing his paw to the direction.
"I'll be back in no time; and while I'm away, don't fall out of the tree." And Blinky started down the tree with a very brave look in his eye.
At the foot of the tree some of the braveness left him. Everything was so strange and the world seemed so large. Even the bushes appeared to look like big trees, and he fancied he could see all kinds of strange faces looking at him round the corners and through the grass. A cricket popped up, just at his feet. Blinky stood still with fright, his heart going pit-a-pat at a great rate.
"Good evening, young bear, and where do you think you're going?" the cricket inquired.
"To see the motor cars and the store," Blinky replied in a very subdued tone.
"Great hoppers!" said the cricket. "A very bold lad, that's what I think you are."
"A fellow can't stay at home all the time," replied Blinky.
"Well, take care you don't come to harm!" And the cricket hopped on its way.
"Cheek," muttered Blinky to himself. "Why can't a bear go and see motor cars?"
On he went, sometimes stopping to nibble at a plant that looked extra sweet. It was a great adventure to taste something new and see and smell the bush flowers. After travelling many miles he began to feel tired, so looked around for a gum-tree where a little bear could have a nap in safety.
Finding just the kind he wanted, up he climbed, and there, in a cosy fork between two large branches, he cuddled up and went to sleep, his head snuggled down on his tummy, and his two front paws folded over his ears. He looked just like a ball of fur, but to anyone trying to spy him in that tree—well, it was impossible. Towards daylight he opened his eyes, and was a little surprised to find himself in a strange land. He had to think quite hard for a time to find out where he really was, then remembering he was on an adventure, he snatched a few leaves and gobbled them up in a great haste, for he wanted to travel before the sun rose too high in the sky. Very carefully he climbed down the tree, as a slip would mean a broken leg or arm, and Mr Blinky knew how to use those strong claws of his. He spread them out in a masterful way, not losing his grip with one leg until he was sure of the other. Once on the ground, he gambolled along just like a toy bear on being wound up with a key.
As the sun climbed higher in the sky he found the tall trees growing thinner, farther apart, and more open ground, also the bush tracks branched off into other tracks. It was puzzling to know which to take, but he kept in mind the direction Snubby had pointed. Another rest during the midday and he felt that his journey must be nearing its end. He could now hear strange noises, and smell the dust.
"I must be near the motor cars and store," he thought as slowly he crawled up a tree to see what was in view.
There just ahead of him was the road, and that surely must be the store.
"What a funny place," thought Blinky.
Down he came, out of the tree, and toddled to the edge of the bush. There he lay in the scrub, waiting to see all the wonders of the outside world. The sun was setting and something came rushing along the road with two bright lights twinkling. Astonished, Blinky gazed at it. Bu-r-r-r and it was gone, leaving behind a cloud of red dust that nearly blinded him.
"If that's a motor car, I'm sorry I came," said Blinky slowly, as he brushed the dust from his nose.
Peeping through the bushes again he saw lights in the store and some strange being moving about inside. Waiting until all was quiet, he walked across the roadway. Here was adventure indeed, and just the smallest quake of fear ran through him. Glancing over his shoulder he looked to see how far the bush lay behind, in case he needed to run back at any moment, and then walked right on to the veranda. Over the door were large letters that looked like this:
Puzzled, he gazed at everything, never once thinking of his home that lay many miles behind him. He poked his little nose round the doorway. No one was about, and what a lovely lot of new things to see. Rows and rows of strange things in tins and jars.
Bottles on a shelf filled with pretty colours. Some marked "Raspberry" and others "Orange". And good gracious! there were some gum-tips in a bottle standing on the counter.
"I must eat those," said Blinky to himself, "they look very juicy."
Softly he scrambled on to a box, and then another climb, and he stood on the counter.
Looking round all the time to see that no one came unawares, he tiptoed to the gum-tips. From his position behind the bottle he could see Miss Pimm moving about in her kitchen, and judging by the smells that reached his nose she was cooking her dinner. He ate and ate and ate those gum-tips. Such a wonderful "tuck-in" he had. His tummy grew very round until at last he found he could see Miss Pimm very clearly, as only a few stalks stuck out of the neck of the bottle. They looked very strange standing there, without a leaf to show, and a fat little bear gazing through them all the while. Next to him stood some big jars of sweets. All labelled in the same strange writing: "Boiled Lollies", "Ginger", "Chocolates", "Caramels", "Peppermints".
"They look nice," thought Blinky, as he touched the jar with his paws. "P-e-p-p-e-r-m-i-n-t-s. Perhaps they are really gum-leaves," he thought, and very quietly lifted the lid. His claws were handy for more things than climbing gum-trees.
He scooped a pawful out of the jar, and cautiously tasted one. Finding it hot and very like some plants he had tasted in the bush, he ate more. He went on eating Miss Pimm's peppermints and put in his paw to gather more from the jar. Just as he did so, the lid on which he had been standing slipped from under him, and down it rolled with a terrible thump and bang.
Miss Pimm came rushing through the house.
"What a smell of eucalyptus! I must have upset a bottle," she cried to someone in the kitchen.
Blinky got a dreadful fright. He was too frightened to move and just sat there and blinked, one paw in the peppermint jar and the other in his mouth.
"Oh, you robber!" shrieked Miss Pimm, as she caught sight of him. "Stealing my peppermints. I'll teach you—you young cub," and she grasped a ruler that lay on the shelf.
"It's life or death," thought Blinky very quickly, and made a dart off the counter and round the corner, right into a large tin of biscuits. Fortunately the tin was nearly empty, so there was plenty of room to hide.
"You young scallawag," cried Miss Pimm, "wait until I catch you. All my gum-tips gone as well." This seemed to put new vigour into her actions and she fairly flew round the shop. To Blinky, hiding away in the biscuit tin she sounded more like an elephant rushing round than anything else. Round the corner she came and then, catching sight of Blinky in the tin, she banged the lid down with an awful crash.
"I've got you now, you young thief," she called out triumphantly. "You won't get out of there in a hurry, and to make sure of you, I'll get a box to put you in."
Blinky was breathless. Whatever was going to happen? Would he be killed or taken to one of those zoos that Mrs Grunty spoke about?
I must get out of here, he thought, and waste no time about it.
Listening with his ear to the side of the tin, he heard Miss Pimm's footsteps going towards the kitchen, then pushing open the lid a little way with his head he peeped out. Everything was safe. She was still away, but he could hear her talking and rummaging about outside. Quickly he climbed out of the tin and was walking round the back of the counter looking for a good place to hide when he heard Miss Pimm's footsteps coming back again.
"Oh dear, what shall I do?" he panted. "She'll catch me for sure this time." He dived into a sack of potatoes just as she came through the doorway.
"You'll stay in this box now, young man," said Miss Pimm, "and I'll sell you to the first person who wants a young thief." She tramped round to the biscuit tin. Imagine her rage when she found the tin open and no bear there.
"He's the devil himself," she cried, and started to open every tin she could find. Next she looked round the boxes of fruit, and under the counter, then sniffing loudly, she came to the sack of potatoes. "So you'd make all my potatoes taste of eucalyptus. Well, we'll see about that. Where's my box?" She rushed over to the door to get the box, and at the same moment Blinky jumped out of the sack of potatoes. But she saw him. Round the counter she came, the box under her arm, and round the other way rushed Blinky.
"Stop! Stop! I tell you," she screamed. But Blinky had no idea of stopping. He popped in and out of corners, over tins, under bags, and Miss Pimm after him. It was a terrible scuttle and the whole shop seemed to shake. Bottles and tins rattled on the shelves, the door banged, papers flew everywhere, and in the middle of all the din Miss Pimm tripped over a broom that was standing against the counter. Down she fell, box and all. The clatter was dreadful and her cries were worse. Blinky was terrified. How he wished a gum-tree would spring up through the floor. Suddenly, all in a twinkling, he saw a big bin standing open beside him and without any thought of what might be inside, he climbed up the side and flopped in. It was half full of oatmeal.
Using both paws as quickly as he could, he scratched a hole in the oatmeal, wriggled and wriggled down as far as he could until he was quite hidden: all that could be seen was a little black nose breathing very quickly. He kept his eyes closed very tightly, and felt very uncomfortable all over: but he was safe at last.
Miss Pimm slowly picked herself up. Her side was hurt and her leg was bruised. The box was broken and also the broom handle. She seemed quite dazed and felt her head. Then, holding on to the counter with one hand she limped round the back of it once more.
"You'll die this time, when I get you," and she seemed to choke the words out.
Every tin, every sack, and every box was moved and examined, but no bear was to be found. She didn't stop to have her tea, but went on searching, hour after hour, and all the store had to be tidied up again. After a very long time she locked the door leading on to the roadway, and Blinky, feeling the benefit of his rest and becoming bolder each minute, peeped over the top of the oatmeal bin. He saw Miss Pimm taking a little packet from a case marked "A.S.P.R.O." He popped down again as he felt quite safe in the bin, but he listened with his large ears to any sound she made.
Presently the lights went out, and after mumbling to herself about the "young cub", she went through to the kitchen. Blinky could see the moon shining through the window-panes and he very, very quietly and gently crawled out of the bin. A shower of oatmeal flew over the floor as he landed on his feet and shook his coat and ears, so that oatmeal was everywhere. Right on to the window-ledge he climbed, trod all over the apples in the window that Miss Pimm had so carefully polished, and sat down for a few minutes on a box of chocolates, then noticing more peppermints in the window he pushed a pawful into his mouth and munched away in great content. The window was open half way up so he climbed up the side and sat on the open sill, feeling very brave and happy. What a tale he would have to tell Snubby when he reached home.
"Click!" The light in the store was on.
Blinky wasted no more time on thoughts. He was off that window-ledge and across the road in a few seconds. He reached the edge of the bush safely and turned round to see what was happening. Miss Pimm stood in front of the store with a big policeman, pointing to the open window, and then they looked across the roadway to the bush where Blinky lay hidden behind a tree.
"Well, it's a pity he got away," Blinky heard the policeman say, "as the Zoo would have paid you well to have had that young bear. I didn't know there were any about here; and I've lived in the district for thirty years."
"I'd have given him gladly to the Zoo and no payment in return," said Miss Pimm savagely, "if they had offered to replace the peppermints and oatmeal."
The next day when some motorists stopped at Miss Pimm's store and bought some biscuits, they wondered why the biscuits had such a strong taste of eucalyptus.
Blinky now felt a "man of the world"; but he thought it wise to go home before any more adventures came his way. So walking along and running sometimes as fast as his funny little legs would take him, he came to the tall tree where he had rested the night before.
Climbing up to the same branch he was asleep in no time and slept all through the night until the birds woke him at dawn, with their chattering. Two kookaburras flew into the tree where he lay and laughed very loudly as they saw Blinky curled up in the corner.
"I'll tell Jacko, if you laugh at me," he said, in a loud voice. "He's my godfather."
"We were only laughing at the white stuff on your nose," the kookaburras explained. "It looks so funny." Blinky rubbed his nose with his paw, and found it still covered with oatmeal, then grunting angrily he stood up and gave himself a shake. "I must be going," he said. And down the tree he climbed and on to the ground again.
He wondered if he had been away from home very long, and began to feel a little uncomfortable about his greeting when he did arrive. Would mother be very angry? Perhaps she was still away with Mrs Grunty. But his fears did not last very long, as a bee flew across his pathway, and he became very curious about that bee. It flew to a flower to gather the pollen. Blinky trotted along to see what it was doing and watched very closely as the bee buzzed about dipping its small head into the heart of the flower. Something warned him not to touch it; but being a little boy bear, he just couldn't watch any longer without giving a poke. So out came his paw, and he reached to pat it. He tried to play with it; but the bee objected, and with a loud buzz stung him right on the nose. Oh, how he cried, and danced about, rubbing his nose with his paws. He ran on blindly, not looking to see where he was going, and after some minutes, when the pain stopped, he found he had lost his way. He had taken a wrong turning on the bush track, and now—what would happen?
Blinky sat down to think things over. While he was puzzling his brain, and wondering which way to turn, a kind little green lizard peeped through the grass and said in a very small voice:
"What's the matter, Blinky? You look very sorry for yourself!"
"I'm lost," replied Blinky, "and I don't know how to find my way home."
"I know where you live," said the lizard joyfully. "You follow me, and I'll lead the way."
"I'm so glad I met you," Blinky replied. And, as the lizard walked ahead, he followed, never taking his eyes off her. In and out of the grass and under bushes she ran at an amazing speed, until they reached the path again.
"You're safe now," she said, turning to Blinky, "keep straight ahead and your gum-tree is not far away."
"Thank you, Miss Lizard," said Blinky politely. "I must hurry as my mother is waiting for me."
On he ran. It seemed a long way to him, and how he wished Angelina would hop along and take him on her back.
As he came to the top of the hill, he saw his home down in the hollow, and he was quite sure he could hear his mother calling for him.
Hurrying along, faster than ever, he now heard grunts and cries, and his heart went pit-a-pat as though it would jump out of his skin.
Suddenly his mother saw him. She grunted loudly with joy, and Mrs Grunty and Snubby joined in the chorus.
"I'm here, mother," Blinky called. "I'm at the foot of the tree."
"Oh, you naughty cub. Where have you been? Just wait until you climb up the tree—"
"Don't smack me, mother," Blinky whimpered. "I'll never run away again."
Bit by bit he climbed the tree, all the time imploring his mother not to spank him. He was so long in reaching the branch where Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty and Snubby were waiting, and they were so pleased to see him safely home, that Mrs Koala forgot to spank him. She hugged him and petted him and Snubby laughed and danced on the branch. It was good to be home, but Blinky still wondered if his mother would remember to punish him. But she didn't. She did not forget. Mother's don't do those things, but she wanted Blinky to think she did.
"Where have you been all this time?" she inquired.
"I saw Miss Pimm and a big policeman," Blinky said in a loud voice. "And I ate Miss Pimm's peppermints."
"Wonder it did not kill the young lubber," said Mrs Grunty.
Snubby's eyes nearly fell out of his head as he listened to Blinky's story, when later on in the evening they sat together in the fork of the tree whispering and giggling as Blinky told him all about his adventures. When at last he cuddled up and went to sleep, close to his mother, Mrs Koala could be seen rubbing a gum-leaf over a very swollen little nose.
Now a good little bear would have been quite contented to live for ever quietly and safely up in his tree, after exciting adventures like those of Blinky's—but not he! As the weeks went past he became tired of climbing and playing on the same branches, and even grew tired of Snubby. He quarrelled, and kicked, and sometimes, I'm sorry to say, actually bit his playmate's nose. Of course Snubby immediately cried, and Blinky teased him all the more.
Poor Mrs Koala had a very trying time in keeping the peace. Sometimes Mrs Grunty got quite snappy and wouldn't speak, which upset Mrs Koala very much, as she knew it was all Blinky's fault.
"That boy of yours will come to no good!" said Mrs Grunty one day. "If he was mine, I'd try a little of the stick around his hind parts."
"What am I to do?" sighed Mrs Koala. "I can't smack him all the time. Where he gets this wild manner of his from I don't know. I believe his great-grandfather was very wild—on his father's side of course. My people were always very quiet."
"Well, most probably he'll grow out of it, if he doesn't fall out of it," said Mrs Grunty. "Have one of these leaves and forget all about it." So the mother bears patched up their little differences, until naughty Blinky did something extra bad and mischievous; then all the trouble started again. Mrs Grunty loved to have her noonday snooze, and became very irritable if she did not get it, or was disturbed during that time.
"A mother must have a few minutes to herself, otherwise she becomes old and wrinkled, and goodness knows my nose is funny enough without lines round it," she mumbled away, as she crawled to her favourite corner.
Sometimes just as she got to sleep, all nicely curled up, and was dreaming of peaceful things, Mr Blinky would creep along the branch, and nip her ear, or poke her side with his paw.
"Go away, go away, or I'll eat you!" Mrs Grunty would growl as she reached out to cuff his ear, but Blinky was always too quick for her and would dodge behind the tree.
"Impertinent young fellow," Mrs Grunty would mumble as she dozed off again.
One day, never to be forgotten, she was awakened from her snooze by muffled giggles and grunts. Cautiously she opened one eye slowly and peeped around. What was that peculiar feeling in her ears? Brushing her head quickly with her paws she found a bunch of gum-tips poking out from each ear. It was too much for Mrs Grunty, and she decided to take action quickly. Blinky by this time was far up on a topmost branch, safely away from angry mothers.
"Come down at once," commanded Mrs Grunty and Mrs Koala together.
But Blinky pretended he was deaf and took no notice of their angry calls.
"Blinky, come down this minute!" Mrs Koala demanded.
"I'll go up and get him," said Mrs Grunty in a determined voice. "No bear of that age will get the better of me." And she stamped a hind leg on the tree to show that she really meant it.
Blinky began to feel things were getting a little uncomfortable, and he really didn't want to go on eating so many leaves all at once, so he decided to face the enemy.
"Are you looking for some nice young leaves, Mrs Grunty?" he inquired in a polite voice.
"No!" snapped Mrs Grunty, "I'm looking for a bad young bear!"
"Snubby's not up here," Blinky replied in an innocent tone.
"Now, no cheek," grunted Mrs Grunty, "you're bad enough as it is; come down out of that branch!"
"Just wait a minute," Blinky replied, "and I'll bring you some beautiful juicy leaves."
"Where are they?" Mrs Grunty asked excitedly, quite forgetting her anger.
"Up here," said Blinky. "Would you like a few?"
"Yes, I would," replied Mrs Grunty. "And bring some for your mother; she has a bad headache."
Blinky gathered the very freshest tips he could find and, chatting gaily all the while (for he was a cunning young bear), he came down the tree and held them out to Mrs Grunty.
"You're a dear little bear!" said Mrs Grunty as she nibbled the leaves. "I'd be proud to have a son like you."
Naughty Blinky stood behind her back and screwed up his nose at her, and Snubby, who was watching from a branch close by, gave a loud, squealing grunt.
"Well, well, how kind of Blinky!" said Mrs Koala, as she munched the leaves with her friend. "He is a thoughtful son."
But life seemed very monotonous to Blinky. He knew every branch, twig, and leaf of that tree off by heart, and Snubby never seemed to think of any new games, so he decided to start on another adventure. The more he thought of it, the braver he grew, until one evening, when the moon shone extra brightly, and the leaves looked silvery-green, he decided the time had come to make a start. His mother and Mrs Grunty and Snubby were sitting together away out on a distant branch, quite out of view, so stealthily and quickly Blinky slid down the tree and on to the ground. "Ha, ha, it's good to be away again," he said to himself as he looked around. How pretty everything looked in the moonlight, and the dew on the grass and leaves sparkled so brightly.
"I love mother and Snubby very much," Blinky murmured; "but they don't seem to think I'm grown up and want to see things. And what a funny bear Snubby is. I'm beginning to think he must be a girl, as he never wants to go adventuring."
"Hi, there!" called a loud voice from somewhere in the bushes. "What do you think you're doing down here?"
"Who are you?" panted Blinky with fright, for certainly he didn't expect anything to happen so soon.
"Who am I? Come over here and see," came the reply in a gruff voice.
"You won't eat me, will you?" Blinky asked in a frightened voice.
"Eat a bear. Ha, ha! Well I've never tasted one, and I'm not going to start now. I'm not too fond of swallowing fur and eucalyptus in one mouthful."
And just as he said those words Mr Wombat shuffled out of the bushes.
"Oh!" gasped Blinky, "what a big fellow you are! What's your name?"
"The cheeky young rabs call me 'Womby'; but to a stranger like you I am Mr Wombat."
"Where do you live?" Blinky inquired, still just a little nervous at seeing so large an animal standing right in front of him.
"That's a secret," replied Mr Wombat. "But if you know how to keep quiet about those things I'll take you to see my home."
"I won't tell a soul, Mr Wombat," Blinky whispered.
"Very good! Well, come this way," said Mr Wombat. He led Blinky through the thick undergrowth, crashing the bracken down with his sturdy legs, and grunting loudly as he went. It was rather difficult for Blinky to keep pace with him, as he went at such a rate; but he paused now and then to give a glance over his shoulder and waited for his little friend to catch up with his steps.
The bush grew thicker, but presently Blinky noticed the ground had a "dug-up" look about it. Roots of bushes had been undermined, plants eaten down to the ground, and altogether everything looked very untidy.
Right ahead a very large tree grew up to the sky, and Blinky thought he had never seen such a big gum. The trunk was enormous and the roots spread out in all directions.
"This is my home," said Mr Wombat proudly. "Don't you think it fine?"
"Yes," replied Blinky. "It's a very grand place. But how do you climb that huge trunk?"
"Climb!" said Mr Wombat scornfully, "I've no need to do any stunts here. I live under the roots."
"Oh!" gasped Blinky, "not in that big black hole?"
"Yes! That's my home," replied Mr Wombat. "And the rain can come down as hard as it likes and the wind blow and shake the tree as long as it likes; but I just lie here underneath, safer than all the bears up in the trees."
"Come in and have a look round."
"Everything's lovely and dark; and there's a very nice muddy smell inside."
"I don't think I'll come in, Mr Wombat," said Blinky in a quiet voice. "I'm in rather a hurry. But if you don't mind I'll sit down on the ground for a few minutes to rest my legs."
"Please yourself," said Mr Wombat rather gruffly. But seeing Blinky's startled eyes, he felt sorry for the little bear and offered to hunt round for a few shoots of plants to eat.
"I'm not hungry," Blinky said. "But I wish you would tell me all about that big black hole," pointing to Mr Wombat's home.
Mr Wombat at once came and sat down beside Blinky and started to tell him the story.
"Well," he began, "I've lived here for many years now. Long ago I lived out in the open near Farmer Brown's house; but it became too dangerous. He was a bad-tempered man, and had no time for a wombat. He sowed his fields full of potatoes and peas, and juicy carrots and turnips, then expected a wombat to look at them and not come near."
"How silly!" interrupted Blinky. "I'd have eaten all his peas up in one mouthful."
Mr Wombat turned suddenly to have a look at Blinky's mouth, then shrugged his shoulders and went on with his story.
"Yes, he was silly. He even fenced his paddocks with very strong wire, and didn't I laugh to myself as I lay behind an old tree-stump hearing men digging in the hot sunshine, then ramming down posts and nailing wire all round them."
"What did you do?" Blinky inquired.
"I waited until the night came, as I'm as blind as a bat during the day, then I crept silently over to the new fence, and had a look at it. Poof! I burrowed under it in a few minutes and had a great supper of potato roots; then just to show Farmer Brown how strong I was, I burrowed another hole from the inside of the fence to get out again. In the morning as I lay in bed I heard Farmer Brown and his men shouting loudly and using very strange words."
"One night I had a narrow escape. Carefully treading over the ground, I had just reached my favourite roots, when, snap! something caught the tip of my toe. I howled with pain and rage. What new trick was this of Farmer Brown's? Then to make matters worse men came running from all directions, shouting and calling at the top of their voices. Dear me, how excited they were—and all over a wombat in a potato patch!"
"What did you do?" asked Blinky breathlessly.
"Huh! I just gave a tug at my paw, and out it came. I lost a toenail—but what's that! Then the excitement rose. Guns began to crack and a bullet flew past me very close to my ear—too close for my liking. Fortunately for me it was a dark night, with only the stars overhead, and luckily I remembered just where my burrow was under the fence. I raced along, wild calls coming behind me and heavy boots thudding the ground. But I won! Under the fence I rushed; out the other side, and into the bush I raced. I did not stop at my home; but kept running for miles, as far away from Farmer Brown as I could manage. When I finally fell down exhausted, my foot was causing me a great deal of pain, so I licked it for a long time and then fell asleep. After that adventure I decided to look for a new home, and here I am."
"Well, you're safe here, Mr Wombat," said Blinky. "And if I were you I'd stay here and never wander again."
"I'm safe enough," replied Mr Wombat. "But the food is not up to much, and pretty dry in the summer; but I manage to scrape along. I'm not in fear of my life like my grandparents were."
"Why, what happened to them?" Blinky asked anxiously. "They lived up in the north-west," said Mr Wombat, "a wild place if you like! The black people there used to hunt them with yam-sticks. Poor grandad and grandma were in constant danger of being killed."
"How?" asked Blinky.
"Well," continued Mr Wombat, "the black people would go out in hunting parties and when a wombat-hole was found a boy was usually chosen to go down feet first. As he wriggled his way down the burrow he tapped on the roof of the tunnel with his hands. Those above the ground were listening and followed the taps as he went, until at last when the boy's feet touched a wombat, he would give a signal and then the men above would quickly dig down into the earth and right on to the wombat. A few moments and he was dead. No chance of escape at all——"
"It's just as well for you, Mr Wombat, there are no black fellows here," said Blinky.
"And just as well for you too!" replied his new friend. "But where are you going, anyway? You haven't told me yet."
"Well, I don't know," Blinky said in a doubtful tone. "Do you know of any adventures round here?"
"Adventures! What do you mean exactly?" Mr Wombat asked.
"Oh, you know—things to see—not gum-leaves all the time," replied Blinky.
"Ho, ho," laughed Mr Wombat. "So you're looking for new sights, are you? Well, now I come to think of it, there's Mrs Spotty's school down in the hollow."
"Who is Mrs Spotty?" Blinky asked.
"Mrs Spotty Frog. She has a boarding-school for young frogs and tadpoles. A very select school, so I'm told, and there's lots to be seen if you happen to pass that way."
"I'll go that way, Mr Wombat," said Blinky with a smile. "Is it down this track?"
"Yes, follow your nose, and you can't miss the place. You'll hear it long before you come to it." And Mr Wombat grunted with disapproval.
So bidding him good-bye, Blinky started down the track towards Frog Hollow.
It was not a great distance, and before very long sounds of croaking and gurgling reached his ears. Scrambling along, he came to a clearing in the bush, and what a sight met his eyes! He held his breath in astonishment. There, right in front of him was a large pool, surrounded with bells and every bush flower he had ever seen. It was a green pool with water-lilies floating on the surface and round the edges brown and green rushes stood very erect: but strangest of all—hundreds and hundreds of frogs. All sizes, from the babies upwards, were squatting on the lily-leaves, or poking their heads just through the green water. The noise was deafening. Every frog croaked. Big frogs with deep throaty croaks, smaller ones with a shrill note, and baby frogs piping in unison. On a large leaf in the centre of the pool Mrs Spotty waved her leg. Every frog watched her with the greatest attention.
"One, two, three," she called, and waved her leg in a downward motion. The croaks came loud and long.
"Stop!" she called in a shrill voice. Instantly the frogs were silent.
"Miss Greenlegs, fourth from the left in the back row, you're flat. Flat as a lily-leaf. Take your note and try it alone."
Turning to a large frog that sat a little to the right of her, she waved her leg.
He drew a straw across a blade of grass and listened intently, his head bent sideways against the grass. A tiny note floated across the pool and, reaching Miss Greenlegs's ears, she puffed out her throat and gave a beautiful croak. It was clearness itself.
"Excellent," exclaimed Mrs Spotty. "Now, all together please." And again she waved her leg.
"Croak, croak, croak," every frog puffed and rolled his eyes in a wonderful way.
Blinky was spellbound. Slowly he tiptoed nearer to the pool. But a twig snapped under his feet. Instantly every frog dived into the water. Not a sound was heard, and only a few ripples and bubbles broke the surface of the pool. Blinky gazed and gazed. Where have they gone? he thought, and ran down as fast as his legs would carry him to the reedy bank. Not a frog was in sight. But he felt that somewhere down in that pool eyes were watching him very closely. He kept perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe, watching a few bubbles floating to the surface only to burst and leave nothing at all. It seemed hours to Blinky before he saw a green body silently lift itself out of the water and slide on to a lily-leaf where Mrs Spotty had stood. The big frog eyed Blinky curiously, never moving and ready to slip back again into the water at a moment's notice.
"Are you Mrs Spotty?" Blinky quietly inquired.
"Yes, that's me," came the reply. "What do you want?"
"I came to see your school and hear the frogs sing, and I wish you'd let me come to school too," said Blinky plaintively.
"We don't have bears in our school as a rule," said Mrs Spotty; "but I've no objection to you joining the class if you behave yourself. Have you been to school before?"
"No, Mrs Spotty," Blinky replied, "but I've travelled quite a long way."
"Can you play leap-frog and swim?" asked Mrs Spotty. "No, I can't do any of those things," Blinky replied, "but I can climb gum-trees."
Mrs Spotty's eyes looked more like those motor-car lights down by Miss Pimm's store than anything else he had ever seen, Blinky thought; and they were such poppy ones too.
"Can you jump?" she asked.
"Yes," said Blinky joyfully, "I can jump very high."
"How high?" asked Mrs Spotty.
"Oh, as high as a tree," Blinky replied.
"Well, I think you may be of assistance to me in teaching the tadpoles how to jump. Come over to me, while I have a good look at you. But stop!" and Mrs Spotty turned three shades paler in green. Balancing herself on the edge of the leaf she looked at Blinky and said in a very slow voice:
"DO YOU EAT FROGS?"
"I've never tasted them, so I don't know," Blinky replied.
"Well, don't start," Mrs Spotty said in a cross voice. "Now you may come over and sit on the leaf beside me."
"I can't swim. I told you I couldn't," Blinky wailed.
"Oh, well, sit on the bank and watch me put the class through their paces. By the way, what's that funny looking thing in the middle of your face?"
"That's my nose," Blinky replied, trying to look very unconcerned.
"A queer looking nose," said Mrs Spotty rudely. "But never mind, I'll call the class for the swimming lessons."
She gave three loud croaks, and at once dozens and dozens of frogs popped up from beneath the water and out from the rushes. They eyed Blinky nervously, until Mrs Spotty told them he did not eat frogs.
"Now, you young gentlemen with the slender legs, take your places ready for the diving."
"Don't push and crowd, it's very rude and if I find any frog standing on another's tail or causing an unprepared-for jump, I'll punish him severely."
The frogs arranged themselves on the leaves and waited for the word to start. A great commotion was taking place up in the shallow end of the pool, and Mrs Spotty looked sternly in that direction.
"Tadpoles!" she cried, "stop that mud-larking and pay attention to your lesson."
"Now! One, two, three—Dive!" she called at the top of her voice, and dozens of green slippery legs flew through the air and into the pool.
"Too much splashing!" Mrs Spotty declared. "Again: one, two, three—Dive!" And once more the green legs and bodies sprang into the pool.
"That's better. Now for a swim." And leaning over the leaf she called her directions to the frogs.
"Scissors! Scissors! Scissors!" she cried as they swam round her leaf, and back again to the starting-point.
"Now for the Tads." And Mrs Spotty lined them up in a row, the fattest ones to the front and the tiny ones at the back.
They behaved like young outlaws—pushing and wriggling and flipping about in a very bold way.
"Not so much of that tail waggling; and, Jimmy Tadpole, don't use your tummy for pushing. Oh! dear, I'm sure I'll never make ladies and gentlemen of you," sighed Mrs Spotty. "You're the most brazen lot of Tads I've ever had in my school."
But the tadpoles didn't care, all they thought about was swimming.
Mrs Spotty gave them their lesson and sent them back again to their own end of the pool, much to the relief of the frogs, as no self-respecting gentleman could swim in the same place as a tadpole.
Blinky by this time had come right to the edge of the pond, and was enjoying himself immensely, until an extra large frog suddenly leaped right on his back.
"Oh, oh, you gave me such a fright!" Blinky cried. "Get down please. I'm not a log!"
The frog took no notice whatever, but hopped on his head instead. Blinky touched him with his paw, and jumped with fright. He was so cold and slippery—not a scrap like touching Snubby.
"Get down at once!" called Mrs Spotty in a stern voice. And to Blinky's further surprise the frog went helter skelter down his nose and into the water.
"Let's use his nose for a spring-board," the frog called out at the top of his voice.
The very thought of such a thing sent shudders down Blinky's back. Just imagine hundreds of frogs sliding down his nose, one after the other!
"You'll do no such thing!" retorted Blinky indignantly.
"Well let's use his back for leap-frog," another cried. "I don't mind that," said Blinky, "as long as I have a turn too. I could jump over one of your backs."
"That is a fair thing," said Mrs Spotty. "Now get in places, please."
One after the other the frogs lined up behind Blinky croaking and hopping about, treading on one another's toes and goggling their eyes with excitement.
"Bend down, please," Mrs Spotty called to Blinky. He bent over, making sure his nose was well out of the way.
"Flip—flop—" and the frogs started, one behind the other, jump after jump; and the highest hops were greeted with croaks from the onlookers.
"I wish you'd warm your toes first," said Blinky. But still they came. Flip-flop-flip-flop.
When the last frog had jumped over his back, Blinky raised his head.
"It's my turn now," he cried. "And I want to jump over the biggest frog of all."
Mrs Spotty's pupils looked rather nervous and eyed one another to see which was the largest.
"Go on, Fatty," they called to one big fellow. "You know, you had more mosquitoes for tea than anyone else."
Fatty looked very uncomfortable and glanced at his tummy.
"It's not mosquitoes," he said crossly, "it's muscles——"
"All the better," called Mrs Spotty. "Stand over here and be ready."
Fatty frog hopped beside Mrs Spotty and stood there quaking. What if he slipped! That bear on top of him would be nothing to laugh about.
Blinky stood ready, and Mrs Spotty, who was standing in front of Fatty, called out in a loud croak:
Blinky made a funny little run, then a few stumbles and with a grunt he flopped over Fatty, and plonk! right on top of Mrs Spotty. She fell with a dreadful thud, and tried to croak; but she was smothered in fur.
Blinky rolled over and over with laughter. When he managed to stand up—there he saw a very flat looking frog that had once been Mrs Spotty.
"Oh, I've killed her!" he cried in a frightened voice. "Come and pick her up!"
All the pupils hopped to Mrs Spotty's assistance. She certainly did look flat; but her throat was puffing and one eye moved a little.
"Water! water!" the big frogs called as they dragged her to the edge of the pool.
"Push her in!" cried naughty Blinky, and before any frog had time to think, he gave her a push with his paw, and in she went, head first.
"Now you've done it!" called the frogs in cries of horror. "We'll tell the policeman."
"Policeman," thought Blinky, "where have I heard that name?" And then he remembered Miss Pimm's store.
In the excitement, while the frogs were hopping about and trying to rescue Mrs Spotty, he hurried away to the edge of the bush. Peeping behind a log he saw the frogs hunting everywhere for him; under leaves, behind the rushes and even down in the pool.
"I think I'd better be going home," thought Blinky. "Anyway I'm not sorry for Mrs Spotty, she had such googly eyes."
He glanced at the sky and noticed the moon was sinking, so thought it time to make haste, as perhaps his mother may be looking for him by now. Past the gum-trees and thick bushes he scrambled, and just as he reached a clearing in the trees he paused to listen.
"The crickets are busy to-night," he thought as their chirruping came through the bush. "I'll just see what they're up to."
Quietly he tiptoed into the grass, and suddenly stood quite still. In front of him, not many yards away the crickets were holding a cricket match.
Blinky chuckled as he looked at them. The batsman had a leaf for his bat, while the bowler had a spider's cocoon for a ball. They were too interested in their game to notice Blinky; but he missed nothing. A deafening chirruping rent the air. Most of the spectators were perched on the blades of grass, as high up as they could climb, and were waving their legs in the air, and shaking the grass they stood on.
"He's bumping the ball!" they shrieked in cricket voices. "Pull him out! Pull him out," they shouted, and at once the umpire hopped over to the bowler and soundly boxed his ears with his front leg.
The bowler lost his temper, and jumped on the cricket ball, breaking it in pieces.
"Shame! Shame!" shouted the crickets. And in the next instant they surged on to the ground. Springing in the air they pounced on him and gave him a terrible kicking; and as Blinky turned to walk away he saw them piling earth on top of the bowler.
"I must hurry now, as I'm sure it's getting late," he thought, and he was beginning to feel very shaky. What if his mother found he was missing. That Mrs Grunty could be very cross at times, and she might persuade his mother to use a stick round his hind parts, as she once suggested. In his haste he stumbled over a stone and hurt his foot, so sat down to wait until the pain left him. Just behind the stump he was sitting on, a rabbit had made her home, and as she came scurrying through the grass she did not notice Blinky sitting so quietly. Between her teeth she carried some flannel flowers and a sprig of boronia.
"Good evening," said Blinky.
"Oh! What a fright you gave me!" whispered the rabbit. "I know who you are all the same."
"Who?" asked Blinky.
"You're Blinky Bill, and my mother knows your mother," said the rabbit.
"Then you are only a bunny," said Blinky gladly. "How old are you and where do you live?"
"I'm one year old, and I live in that burrow right behind this log."
"What's your name?" Blinky asked.
"Bobbin!" the bunny replied.
"That's a silly name," said Blinky quite rudely.
"That's my christened name, and my mother says it is very suitable for me."
"What does suitable mean?" Blinky asked.
"Well, mother says I'm always bobbin' about, and never still. I make her quite nervy at times."
"What does she do when you run away?" Blinky asked rather anxiously.
"Run away!" said Bobbin, looking very surprised. "I never run away. Only bad children do that!"
"Well, where have you been, and why have you those flowers? You look very stupid carrying them in your mouth," Blinky remarked.
"I've been gathering flowers for the birthday party," replied Bobbin; "and how can I carry them without breaking their petals, if I don't hold them between my teeth?"
"Haven't you a pouch or a pocket somewhere?" Blinky retorted. "But am I mistaken? Did you mention a birthday party?"
"Yes," said Bobbin excitedly. "It's my brother's party, and ever so many friends are coming, and there's lots and lots to eat. Thistle cakes, with the prickles all over the tops; dandelion milk, lovely and frothy, that's to be drunk through a grass straw; daisy creams with pink edges; and, oh! best of all, buttercups, full of butter. And I nearly forgot—gum-leaves to chew, for those who like chewing-gum. Then last of all, there's grass salad for the mothers and fathers."
Bobbin hopped about with glee and twitched her ears in a most surprising manner, while Blinky's eyes bulged with excitement.
"Could I come to the party?" he inquired breathlessly.
"You haven't a present to bring!" Bobbin answered.
"I know that," replied Blinky sorrowfully; "but I'll let them play with my ears if they like."
Bobbin looked at his ears and considered the matter for a moment.
"Well, perhaps that will do," she replied. "We could hide the peanut in them when we play 'hunt the slipper'."
It sounded rather a muddle to Blinky; but he was prepared to take any risks if only he could get to the party.
"Could we go now?" he inquired anxiously.
"Yes, but wipe your feet on the grass, before we go inside, as mother's been cleaning all night long," Bobbin advised.
Blinky did as he was told, and followed Bobbin through the doorway. Fortunately for him the burrow was a large one, so he had no difficulty in crawling along.
"Isn't it dark!" he said in a frightened voice.
"You'll soon get used to that," Bobbin replied cheerfully, as she padded ahead. "Do you hear the scraping and thumping? That's the party," she said excitedly.
"What are they doing?" Blinky asked.
"Dancing!" Bobbin replied. "Let's hurry ..."
In and out of passages they ran, round corners, up and down, and at last came to a large cave. The floor and the walls were bare earth, but over the ground a carpet of grass was spread, and the ceiling was bright with flowers. From the centre a bunch of Christmas bells hung, and directly underneath, the table was spread with all the party cakes and drinks. In the middle of the table a birthday cake stood, glittering with dewdrops that fell from the flowers surrounding it. It was made from corn husks and thistledown, so you can imagine how crunchy it must have tasted.
As Blinky and Bobbin appeared the guests stood and gazed in wonderment; their large brown eyes opened very widely and nervous noses sniffed the air.
"Here's Blinky Bill," Bobbin called as she hopped to the middle of the cave, "and he's come to see the party."
"You're very welcome, I'm sure," kind Mrs Rabbit said, as she took Blinky's paw. "Come along and meet my friends. This is Madam Hare; shake paws with her. She is very shy, but is an old friend of mine; and this is Brer Rabbit, my husband, who is a great hunter; and here is Bunchy, my son, whose birthday it is." Each one shook paws with Blinky, and he wondered if it would ever come to an end, and the party start, as he was feeling very hungry and wanted to taste those gum-tips. Bunchy thought it great fun to have a bear at his party and followed Blinky wherever he went.
"You've lost your tail!" he said in surprise as he hopped round him.
"Don't wear a tail," Blinky mumbled.
"Why does everyone pass remarks about my tail or my nose," he wondered.
"Tea's ready," Mrs Rabbit called. And everyone made a rush for the table.
"Don't rush, and don't grab," Brer Rabbit thundered in a loud voice.
Madam Hare may have been shy, but Blinky noticed she reached the table as soon as he, and rather rudely pushed her way right beside Brer Rabbit.
"The bold hussy," someone whispered and gave her tail a nip. She gave a little scream and spitefully bit the ear of the rabbit who sat next to her; but it wasn't Brer Rabbit's ear.
"Order! Order!" Brer Rabbit commanded. "This is a party, and no fighting, please. If your tails are in the way, sit on them."
The party went on pleasantly after that command. Everyone nibbled and munched, except Blinky who forgot his manners completely and gobbled the gum-leaves as fast as he could. It was just as well nobody else liked them, for in a very short time they had all vanished. The cake was a great success and Bunchy handed a piece to each guest, quickly taking a nibble from one or two when nobody was looking.
His mother gave him a sharp nip on the ear when she found him poking his paw in the dandelion milk, and slyly sucking it when he thought he was safely hidden from view.
"You naughty young rab!" she exclaimed. "Didn't I tell you a dozen times to behave yourself, and not to poke the cakes and things, and not to put your paws on the table? And while I think of it, eat with your mouth closed, and don't lick your whiskers. Now take that dandelion milk that you've had your paws in round to Madam Hare; only don't tell her what you did."
"No, mother," said Bunchy obediently, and he hopped to Madam Hare and handed her the milk.
"You dear little rab!" she cried in a very high voice. "I do like dandelion milk."
"So do I," remarked Bunchy as he hopped away.
"What's that? What's that?" said Brer Rabbit in between mouthfuls of grass salad.
"Father, you're speaking with your mouth full; and it's so bad for the children to see," gently reprimanded Mrs Rabbit, much to Blinky's amusement, as his mother had often corrected him for exactly the same thing.
"Can't we have games, Mrs Rabbit?" he asked when at last he sat before an empty plate.
"Games and dancing—that's the idea," roared Brer Rabbit. "Clear the floor."
Everyone helped, and Blinky gave Madam Hare's tail another pull as he passed her with an armful of grass.
"Dear, dear, I think there are rats about," she said in an injured tone. "My poor tail has been pulled again, and you all know it's moulting time. I'll catch a dreadful cold is I lose any more fur."
Nobody seemed to take any notice of Madam Hare's complaints, and Blinky and Bunchy both agreed to give it another pull later on in the evening.
When the last piece of grass was cleaned from the floor Mrs Rabbit clapped her paws three times and a dozen large locusts appeared out of the ground. It was a surprise, as nobody expected anything like that to happen.
"Who are they?" Blinky whispered to Bobbin.
"That's the orchestra," she cried jumping up and down excitedly.
Each locust walked to a corner of the cave and quietly sat down with an expectant look on his face. The conductor, who was a "double drummer", scraped his hind legs on his wings. "Gurra-gurra-gurra" Came the vibrating notes. That was the signal, and instantly all the other locusts started scraping their legs.
"Girr—girr—girr—gurra—gurra—gurra." The cave echoed with the drumming noise and beads of perspiration rolled down the conductor's face as he worked himself up (or down, to be correct) to a slow deep "Gurra". The air throbbed with the music. It was really inspiring, and soft furry rabbit feet began to thump the ground. Lady rabbits looked coyly at the gentlemen, and odd little twitches of the ears and twinks of the whiskers were to be noticed.
"Take your partners for 'The Bunny Hug'," Brer Rabbit called in a deep voice.
There was a scampering and rushing, as each rabbit grabbed a partner. Madam Hare didn't even wait to be asked to dance, but seized Brer Rabbit in her arms and began rolling from one side to the other, also jerking her arms up and down in a forward manner.
"That Madam Hare is not as shy as I thought she was," murmured Mrs Rabbit as she was led away by an elderly partner.
Blinky was delighted. His very first dance. Now he would have something to tell Snubby when he reached home. Taking Bobbin in his paws he rolled from one side to the other, just like Madam Hare, whom he kept watching closely.
"You're treading on my toes," whimpered Bobbin.
Blinky looked down at her paws quite alarmed.
"Your toe-nails are too long," he said rudely.
"They're not!" Bobbin replied indignantly. "How could I dig burrows with short toe-nails?"
"I forgot," said Blinky politely. "But look out, here comes Madam Hare, and I'm going to pull her tail again."
Bobbin began to giggle, as she did not like Madam Hare a bit. She "showed off" such a lot.
As the dancers neared Blinky he cautiously grabbed Madam Hare's tail and gave it a very hard pull, so hard in fact that a pawful of fur flew into the air.
Before Madam Hare knew what she was doing, she boxed Brer Rabbit's ears. He was astonished, and looked very pained.
"Did you pull my tail?" Madam Hare demanded in an angry voice.
"Certainly not!" Brer Rabbit replied. "And I'm not going to dance any longer with you."
That was the end of everything for Madam Hare. She hopped right into the middle of the floor and kicked every one as they passed in their dance. It was the beginning of a wild fight. Fur flew through the air, teeth gnashed. And, oh, the savage kicks! Everyone kicked, and the dust began to make them sneeze and cough. The orchestra made a gallant attempt to soothe the ruffled dancers, and dinned louder than ever; but the scuffle grew worse.
Bobbin thought it time to tell her father who it really was that had caused all the trouble. When Brer Rabbit heard her story he at once made for the culprit.
Blinky saw him coming and tried to hide; but Brer Rabbit never moved his eyes from that young bear. Tapping another big rabbit on the shoulder he asked for his assistance and together they grabbed Blinky, firmly holding his front paws. Blinky kicked with his hind legs as hard as he could, but he was handicapped.
"Let go!" he screamed. "You're hurting me."
"You young trouble maker!" Brer Rabbit cried, as he gave Blinky's arm a pinch. "Out you go!"
By this time all the other rabbits had ceased fighting and stood watching the excitement. The orchestra kept playing and an angry note crept into their drumming.
"I've a good mind to take the young bounder to old Mother Ferrit," Brer Rabbit exclaimed.
"No, don't do that," called out Madam Hare. "Let me punish the young rascal."
Blinky shivered with fear. Madam Hare had such big feet and could give a very big kick. How he wished he had a tail round his hind parts. Scowling and showing her teeth Madam Hare pounced on Blinky.
"You little wretch!" she screamed, "you've ruined my tail, and its moulting time. I'll have none for a long time now."
"You're a bully, and I'm glad I did it," roared Blinky trying to kick her.
"Hold his arms!" Madam Hare commanded, as she turned her back to Blinky; then quickly looking over her shoulder she measured her distance.
Blinky waited for the kick. His eyes screwed up tightly and he tried to tuck in the part where his tail should have been.
"Thud! Thud! Thud!" Madam Hare certainly forgot to be shy.
"Oh! Oh!" wailed Blinky, "Stop! Stop!"
Roars of laughter came from all the rabbits.
"Throw him out! Throw him out!" they called loudly.
Blinky was pushed towards the opening of the cave and Madam Hare gave him a parting kick as he shot through the doorway.
He landed on his paws quite ten feet away. But thank goodness he was safe from the angry rabbits and Madam Hare.
He shook himself and gently patted the place where the kicks had struck.
"Savage animal!" he called at the top of his voice; and at once a head appeared in the opening.
"Chase him! Chase him!" the rabbits cried; but Blinky did not wait to be chased. He was running as fast as he could, colliding with corners, bumping his head and snubbing his nose.
Panting, he reached the entrance of the burrow; but oh! horror of horrors, Madam Hare's large feet came thudding behind him.
"I'll catch you; I'll catch you!" she called. "And off to Mrs Ferrit you'll go!"
Blinky nearly fainted with fright. He felt quite giddy, and his breath seemed to catch in his throat.
His heart pounded and thumped and his legs would not go fast enough.
Out into the moonlight he raced, crying and whimpering, stopping just a moment to look behind to see where that Madam Hare was.
Now her head came through the burrow and on she raced.
"Save me! Save me!" Blinky called at the top of his voice; but he hadn't the faintest idea who could rescue him.
Suddenly the branches cracked and a brown form came hurriedly hopping through the undergrowth. It was Angelina Wallaby.
"Quick! Quick! Angelina," Blinky called. "Madam Hare's going to take me to Mrs Ferrit."
"Is she? Well, she's not," said Angelina in a determined voice. "Here! hop on my back as quickly as you can. Hurry up. She's coming!"
Blinky scrambled on to Angelina's back as quick as winking, and before he'd settled down safely she gave a hop and away they went.
Madam Hare was stupid enough to think she could hop as quickly as Angelina and she plunged through the bushes calling wildly; but Angelina's hops were too long for her, and very soon Madam Hare gave up the chase.
She looked a sorry sight with her stumpy tail showing bone, where only a few hours ago a beautiful white tuft reposed, her whiskers were bent and broken, and her ears hung limply sideways. Her coat, that had taken hours to polish and brush, was covered with dust and tiny twigs, and her eyes were blood-shot.
She flung herself on the ground and kicked the dust in temper. If only she could have seen Blinky at that moment, she would have eaten anything that chanced to pass her by, for he was having a beautiful ride, flying along on Angelina's back—not caring tuppence for Madam Hare and her tail.
"Lucky for you, Master Blinky, I happened to be out looking for supper," said Angelina in between hops.
"I'm so glad, dear Angelina, you came along. That Madam Hare has a very nasty temper."
"And what about your mother's when you arrive home?" chuckled Angelina.
"Do you think she'll be very angry?" Blinky inquired, quite frightened at the thought of it now.
"She's ramping," exclaimed Angelina, "and so is Mrs Grunty."
"What will I do?" asked Blinky in a whisper.
"Oh, tell the truth!" said Angelina. "If she spanks you, well—you know you really deserve it."
Things must be pretty bad at home thought Blinky when Angelina speaks like that. However, if he was to have a spanking, the sooner it was over the better. Very soon Angelina hopped to the bottom of the tree where Blinky lived. The moon had sunk behind the hill, and the first kookaburra's chuckle could be heard. A galah screeched in the tree as she looked at Blinky and Angelina.
"Stop that noise!" Blinky grunted as he shook his paw at her.
Everything was extraordinarily still. No Mrs Koala was to be seen, no Mrs Grunty and no Snubby.
"They must be asleep!" Angelina whispered in a low voice. "Climb up to your bed quickly and don't make a noise."
"All right, Angelina," Blinky replied. "Good night, and thank you for saving me."
"Good night," Angelina purred. "Keep sitting if your mother spanks you." After giving this good advice she hopped away into the bush.
Blinky climbed quietly—ever so quietly up the tree. He peeped over the branch where his mother usually slept. There she was, and Mrs Grunty with Snubby too, all curled up together, sound asleep, with their noses snuggly tucked down on their tummies.
Up past them Blinky climbed, hardly daring to breathe, and he kept climbing until he reached the highest branch, then, too tired to think any more about a spanking, he fell asleep.
Mrs Koala awoke when the sun peeped over the hill. "Oh, dear," she sighed, "that naughty Blinky! I wonder where he is. Now I'll have to start hunting for him, and when I do find the young cub he'll know all about it."
Peering up among the branches to see if any leaves would tempt her for breakfast, she was astonished to see a furry body that looked very much like her son.
"Blinky!" she called in a stern voice, "is that you?"
"Yes, mother," came a meek little reply.
"Come down here!" she ordered.
Blinky thought it wise to do as he was told, so slowly climbed down to his mother.
"Where have you been?" Mrs Koala demanded.
"Looking for some leaves," Blinky replied, his nose quivering with fright.
"Now, no stories, my son, where have you been?"
Blinky had never seen his mother look so angry, so he decided to tell the truth.
By this time Mrs Grunty and Snubby were awake and sat staring with eyes of amazement.
"Smack him!" Mrs Grunty exclaimed.
"Wait till I hear his story," Mrs Koala replied, and she felt rather annoyed with Mrs Grunty, as it was not her business to tell her what to do with her own son.
Blinky told his story, keeping several parts to himself, about pushing Mrs Spotty in the pool, and grabbing Madam Hare's tail.
"Very well, Blinky," Mrs Koala said when he had finished his tale, "you are going to boarding-school after this."
"Not Mrs Spotty's?" Blinky asked in a frightened voice.
"No!" Mrs Koala replied, "you'll go to Mrs Magpie's!"
End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall
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