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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook Title: Blinky Bill and Nutsy Author: Dorothy Wall eBook No.: 0400581h.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
Do you remember that bad lad called Blinky Bill? Yes? I thought you would. Well, just listen to the news I have to tell you. He has escaped from the zoo! Yes, escaped! He is back in the bush again. More exciting still, his mother is there too, and a little girl koala called Nutsy, who Blinky says is his girl friend. You can imagine how bold he is when he talks like that. I really think he has become fifty times worse since he lived at the zoo. I suppose it is the environment. All those cheeky monkeys, next door to him, and all kinds of little boys passing cheekier remarks as they discussed the animals in the zoo. No wonder the poor child has grown so bold. And less wonder that Mrs Koala has two deep wrinkles on her forehead, and an even more surprised look than usual on her face. She told me in confidence that she's surprised at nothing nowadays. So you can imagine what sort of a time she's been having. Splodge, a gentleman of the bush, a kangaroo also in captivity at the zoo, proved himself a loyal friend by helping the koalas to escape—while he also did the vanishing trick. Peanuts, were the cause of it all. When I tell you how it all happened I know you'll clap your hands and say "Good old Splodge". He told me the news himself. So I know it's perfectly true.
"Bold little wretches!"
Splodge the largest kangaroo in the zoo lay on his side, eyes tightly shut, teeth grinding with anger, and his tummy fairly boiling with indignation.
"I wish I could spit like the llamas next door." ... Bang! Another peanut hit him right on the nose. "That makes the tenth!" Splodge mumbled opening one eye just the tiniest bit to have a look at his tormentors. "Wait till the next arrives! I'll give that kid with the freckles on his face the biggest fright he's ever had in his life. As for that old woman with the umbrella—she'll jump sky-high. I had to move from my favourite corner because she insisted on poking me with her gamp just to see me jump. Now, I'll see who jumps the highest." Closing his eye again he waited tensely for the moment of battle, listening with ears pricked to the conversation of the freckled boy and his companion.
"You watch me plant one on his tummy!" freckle-face laughed as he took aim.
"And you watch me pepper his nose," his companion shouted as he dived into the bag of peanuts for ammunition.
"What funny boys you are!" the old lady giggled watching the performance with great amusement.
"Here she goes!" freckle-face shouted as he threw a peanut straight at Splodge's tummy.
Whack! It hit and bounced right off again. Instantly a wild fury came hurtling through the air, over the fence, and plop!—right on top of the old lady, knocking her down amid shrieks and high-pitched screams of terror. She hadn't a chance to jump. In a flash Splodge went bounding down the path. The boys, too overcome with surprise and scarcely realizing what had happened, just stood and stared in amazement. The whole zoo became electrified. Lions roared, monkeys screeched, parrots chattered, the macaws cawed, the kookaburras laughed, and amidst all the noise and confusion keepers came racing down the path to find out what it was all about. Splodge, being a cunning kangaroo, knew this was the opportunity to hide. He made straight for the fence where the undergrowth lay thickest, and, as dusk was falling, it was quite an easy matter to take cover.
Thump! Thump! Thump! He bounded in great leaps, getting nearer and nearer his objective. Round the koala's compound he came like lightning, just catching a glimpse of the little bears out of the corner of his eye.
"Hi! You! Where are you off to? Kicking up the dust like an elephant in a fit!" This cheeky voice came from a koala. You can guess who.
Splodge hesitated a second, then started to hop away again.
"Hi! Hi! Can't you spare a moment? I won't eat you!" the cheeky voice called again. "Come back! I've got something most important to ask you."
Splodge put his back pedal on, and came to a standstill, nervously glancing all round him.
"For goodness' sake keep quiet," he hissed. "Can't you see I'm escaping?"
"Where to?" the cheeky bear asked excitedly, climbing nearer the wire fence that divided him from Splodge.
"That's my business," Splodge replied coldly. "Anyhow, what do you mean by stopping me? You can see I'm in a desperate hurry. Why—I don't even know your name, let alone recognize you. For all I know you might be a spy."
"I'm not! I'm Blinky Bill, Mrs Koala's only son. And what's more I'm going to escape too—seeing that a great big animal like you can do it."
"Do be quiet! Hold your tongue!" Splodge growled. "You'll have the keepers down here in a minute if you make such a noise. Can't you whisper?"
"Of course I can, only don't go—please don't go," Blinky pleaded. "Can't you help me to escape too?"
"And me!" a voice whispered so softly that it could hardly be heard.
"Oh dear! Why did I stop?" Splodge growled. "Can't a fellow escape from zoos and peanuts without having to take the raggle-taggle with him?"
"Raggle-taggle! Indeed! Do you know I'm Mrs Koala, and come from the same bush as you?" She squeezed her nose against the wire enclosure and looked angrily at Splodge.
"I'm not at all interested," he replied. "And I've no more time to waste. If you had a tail you might have escaped long ago."
"The monkeys have tails and they don't escape," Blinky replied quickly. "It must be your brains that helped you. You must be a very clever animal, in fact the cleverest animal in the zoo, because you're the only one that's escaped."
"Piffle!" Splodge said with a sly look at Blinky. "It's peanuts and umbrellas that did it; but I'm not denying that I didn't use what brains I have.... Now you've mentioned the matter, I really believe it was my brains."
Splodge licked a paw to hide his feelings.
"'Course it's your brains!" Blinky replied immediately. "And, if they were extra special brains they'd get to work and think out a way of helping mother and me to escape. But of course, they couldn't do that. They're only kangaroo brains after all."
"Ump!" Splodge grunted. "Well, just to show you what excellent brains I have, I'll find a hiding-place until dark, then, when I'm alone I'll think out a way for you to escape; then I'll come back and tell you—only, mind, it's to be kept a strict secret. If you dare to breathe a word to any one about it I'll leave you to your fate and jump the fence to freedom without even so much as looking your way."
That was the most dreadful thing Splodge could think of at the moment to enforce quietness on his young friend.
"I won't breathe until you come back," Blinky replied, his eyes wide open in excitement.
"In that case you'll die," Mrs Koala interrupted rather tersely. "And we don't want dead bodies around here. At least, I don't!" She snapped her little jaws together and folded her paws across her tummy, just to show the whole world what she really thought of the position.
"Don't get off your bike: I'll pick up your pump!" Blinky retorted cheekily. "We'll never escape if you are going to be haughty."
"Bike!" Mrs Koala said coldly, raising her eyebrows. "Where did you hear that word? Another dreadful expression you've picked up since we've been at the zoo, and for all I know it might be a naughty word." Mrs Koala began to cry.
"Fancy my son calling me a-a-bike!" she sobbed.
"Nonsense!" Splodge interrupted quickly. "He didn't say any such thing. I'd give half my tail at the present moment if I could get hold of a bike."
"Hurry!" Blinky whispered. "Hurry, for goodness' sake. Here comes a keeper."
"I hope he hasn't heard us," Mrs Koala whispered with fright. "Dear, dear, how dreadful! Hide yourself, Mr Kangaroo, as quickly as you can."
But Mr Kangaroo needed no advice. He was gone like a flash, and as silently as a mouse.
"Serves me right for stopping to gossip," he mumbled to himself. "Those keepers never can mind their own business. My goodness! Where's that fence? If I don't find it in a moment I'll be discovered."
Panting with excitement and fright he stopped for a second to look around. With a peculiar little grunt of satisfaction he noticed the fence showing above the undergrowth only a few yards away. Working his way through lantana bushes he sought the thickest cover, then flopped down on the earth to await results. It was dark by now, so it just needed a little patience on his part to escape the searching keeper. Splodge heard him running down the pathway, then for a few breathless minutes saw him peering into the lantana bushes, carefully pulling aside a few branches and stooping to gaze underneath.
"A pretty sharp fellow!" he grumbled to himself. "Getting away like that, right under my very nose. He can stay there till daylight, because I'm not hunting around in these snake-holes for all the kangaroos in Australia."
"Good shot!" Splodge whispered. "That just suits me nicely."
The keeper gave the lantana bushes a savage kick with his boot to show the contempt he had for that rubbish, then quickly disappeared the way he had come.
"There he goes!" whispered Blinky to his mother as the keeper hurried past the bears' compound, "and he hasn't caught Mr Kangaroo."
"I'd have been surprised if he had!" Mrs Koala exclaimed with satisfaction. "That proves what I've always said to you in the past. A bush animal is a very clever being once he gets among the cover. Keep quiet, don't clatter about like humans do, and you'll elude them nearly every time."
"What's all the fuss about? You two seem to have a great deal to say to one another." A most inquisitive looking old lady bear eyed Mrs Koala with suspicion. "You're not plotting are you?"
"No! We're just minding our own business," (Mrs Koala glared at the intruder as she snapped out her reply), "and I'd give all I possess for sixpenneth of privacy."
"And I'd give the same," her neighbour remarked angrily. "Ever since you came here with that son of yours, we older bears have had no peace. Why only this morning I was preparing to have my doze and had picked a beautiful branch in the sunlight, when that impudent cub came along and broke a twig right under where I was going to sit. A good thing for him I happened to hear it, otherwise I'd have fallen to the ground and injured myself."
The indignant bear waddled off, ruffled with annoyance.
"Did you do that?" Mrs Koala gritted her teeth as she looked at Blinky with a stony stare.
"Yes I did!" he replied. "She's always giving me a nasty nip whenever I go near her, and bumping me if I pass her on the tree. I wanted her to come a cropper."
"A cropper!" Mrs Koala repeated the words slowly, "and what's a c-r-o-p-p-e-r? It is any relation to a hopper?"
"Yes, only it's upside down," Blinky replied quickly. "Instead of jumping up, you turn a somersault and come down with a bump!"
Mrs Koala grabbed her son by the scruff of his neck and shook her paw angrily in his face.
"Don't you ever let me see or hear of you making croppers. You bad cub! You dreadful child! I'd no idea what terrible things croppers were."
She gave Blinky a good shaking, making his teeth chatter until he hit back with a naughty kick from a hind leg.
"What did I tell you? Didn't I say he's the worst bear in the zoo!" This remark came from the old bear who had been the cause of the argument. Mrs Koala very wisely said nothing in reply; but grabbing her son by an ear toddled off to the farthest corner of the compound. There she sat deep in thought, one arm round Blinky who, feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself, patted her nose every now and again, just to show how sorry he really was. By now, all the other bears were enjoying supper, nibbling at the gum-leaves and grunting with satisfaction, so that when a large, dark form silently hopped up to the wire fence, no one saw him except the two little bears who were waiting so anxiously for his appearance.
"There he is!" Blinky whispered excitedly, poking his mother in the ribs.
"Sh-h!" she replied. "Keep very quiet. He has seen us."
"Do as I tell you and ask no questions. Don't say a word," Splodge whispered through the wire. "Stay where you are, and when I jump the fence scramble on to my back as quickly as possible. There are spies all around us, I'm sure."
Mrs Koala and Blinky watched with their hearts pounding as though they would burst.
"Get ready! I'm coming!" Splodge whispered, and at the same moment sprang right over the fence of the compound and landed in the middle of the enclosure. He did it very silently and cleverly; but the other koalas in the trees nearly fell from the branches with surprise. Blinky and Mrs Koala made a wild scramble up Splodge's back, gripping his ears and fur, determined not to fall off and waste time.
"Hang on!" Splodge called out, "and look out for a bump."
"Hi! Hi!" Blinky cried as he felt himself being hurled through the air. Then, plonk! down on the ground Splodge landed, his little friends still gripping his fur for dear life. Away he bounded, down the path, and into the lantana bushes again.
"Poosh!" he grunted. "That's over. Now for the big fence and away to freedom."
Back in the compound twenty or more little koalas sat blinking at one another in sheer astonishment. They had nothing to say, as everything happened like a whirlwind and left them stunned with surprise. Even the old lady bear could not believe her eyes, and just sat and stared and stared.
Splodge lost no time in looking about for a suitable place from which to make his big spring over the zoo fence. Blinky too, was busy helping to find a suitable place for escape. He scrambled about on his funny little legs, poking here and there and stumbling over the undergrowth in his hurry. He never was happy on the ground. The tall gum-trees were his element; he climbed those as easily as winking. Suddenly he stopped, clawed a paling in the fence, then forced a paw behind it.
"What luck!" he whispered to himself. "It's loose, and Mr Kangaroo can easily rip it down." He hurried to Splodge.
"Quickly! Come here! I've found a way of escape," Blinky said.
He showed Splodge the loose paling, and in a twinkling Splodge had his powerful claws at work, ripping away that paling and the next, until a gap was made that with a tight squeeze he could crawl through.
"So much for fences!" he exclaimed with a grin, while his pretty brown eyes danced with joy.
Mrs Koala and Blinky scrambled through with the greatest of ease.
"Free! Free!" Splodge cried happily. "No more beastly peanuts and umbrellas; but the hills and the trees to roam in for the rest of my life."
"Yes, that's all very well," Mrs Koala replied quietly; "but we've got to get there yet."
"And we can't fly," Blinky interjected.
"We'll do the next best thing to flying. Hop on my back as quickly as you like, and I'll do the rest," Splodge laughed.
"I knew you had brains, Mr Kangaroo," Blinky puffed as he scrambled up his friend's back.
"My name's Splodge!" that gentleman replied with a pleased look on his face.
"What a nice name," Mrs Koala panted as she finally squatted well up on her friend's shoulders.
"Well! I didn't think I'd have company on my journey," Splodge remarked as he made a bound.
"Have you a speedometer?" Mrs Koala asked as they flew along at an incredible speed.
"Not what you'd strictly call one," Splodge replied. "But my tail tells me what speed I'm travelling at. Just now, it is over sixty miles an hour: it becomes slightly cold when I exceed that limit."
"Oh gracious!" Mrs Koala cried. "Please don't go sixty miles an hour. I think speeding's terribly dangerous, especially when you're riding pillion and no brakes."
With a frightful jerk Splodge stopped dead. Mrs Koala screamed, while Blinky laughed.
"How's that for brakes?" Splodge inquired slowly, turning his head to take a look at his passengers.
"Bosker!" Blinky cried, while poor Mrs Koala only gripped tighter than ever the clump of fur that saved her from a nasty spill. She gulped slowly and turned very pale, but said nothing.
"Well, off we go again!" Splodge called. "Grip tightly, because I'm going to make this trip a record. We must reach the bush by daylight unless we want to be recaptured."
It was not an easy matter to go bounding through suburban streets with blinding motor-car lights dazzling his sight, and evading curious policemen at street corners. But no motor-car travelled as quickly as Splodge. If he'd had a tail number-plate no policeman could have seen it in time, as Splodge simply flashed along the roads. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty miles were behind them in no time. As the night drew on tall gum-trees, wattles and scrub took the place of paved roads and houses. Deeper and deeper into the bush he pressed, slackening his speed only when necessary to avoid a dead tree that straddled his pathway. These he took with long graceful bounds, always to Blinky's delight and Mrs Koala's terror. They saw the trains in the distance rushing along like huge glow-worms, and heard the shrill shriek of their whistles. But all had only one thought in their minds, and that was to get as far into the bushland as possible.
"This is where we branch off!" Splodge cried, slackening his speed. He turned his head from side to side, paused for an instant, stuck his nose out as far as possible, then took a long deep sniff. "We're near the mountains," he said cheerily. "I can smell the mist and creeks."
Mrs Koala began to whimper.
"Take us far, far away in them," she pleaded. "Take us back to our old home. Take us away from men and zoos, and where I can make Blinky a good boy again."
"And please Mr Splodge take me where there are slippery gum-trees, the ones all smooth with no branches sticking out for a long way up, so's I can have slides down them in the moonlight."
"Don't do any such thing!" Mrs Koala ordered, changing at once from her sweet kind mood into an angry mother bear. "The very idea! And in your good knickerbockers too! Remember, my lad, I'll have no monkey tricks when we get home. Obedience is what I'll have—or look out!"
"Don't argue on my back!" Splodge exclaimed. "It makes me feel most uncomfortable when you two wriggle and twist about like a couple of snakes."
Harmony reigned again, and no further arguments took place. Splodge, travelling ever ahead into the mountains, only stopped occasionally to drink at clear running streams. Sometimes he dipped his nose in the water without drinking, just to feel the delight of the clear cold stream, just to make sure once more that he was back in the bush. Daylight was heralded by the laugh of the kookaburras and the glorious notes of the magpies. All bird-land awoke with song in its heart. The inhabitants of hundreds of trees and bushes set about the day's task of looking for food, and what a joyous undertaking it was, judging by their song.
"There goes old Wombo!" Blinky cried clapping his paws with glee. "Hullo! Old Wombo, we're back!"
"So I see. So I see." Mr Wombat stood by the side of the track he'd made through the bush on his many excursions when looking for roots and other delicacies to stock his larder with. "My cupboard's empty or I'd ask you to breakfast with me," he said sadly. "I'm getting old and can't go far afield for my tucker nowadays; but I'm glad to see you back. Your home is just as you left it a year ago. Sometimes when I've seen strangers about I've ordered them on to other parts, always hoping you'd come back some day."
"That is kind of you, Mr Wombat." Mrs Koala's eyes filled with tears. How dear everything was in the bush, and how wonderful to be home again. "We'll be giving a tree-warming as soon as I have time to settle down, and you must come along, Mr Wombat."
"Gosh! don't miss that!" Blinky interrupted. "I wish I'd brought you back some peanuts."
"They're my favourite dish," Mr Wombat said, licking his whiskers. "Pity you didn't think of it. I hear that a man's growing them over the next hill, and there's acres and acres of them dying to be picked—but my old legs won't carry me there. I smell them all right, and that makes me feel very sad."
"The look of 'em makes me sick!" Splodge said crossly. He'd listened with great patience to this conversation, but could stand it no longer.
"I'll get you some peanuts," Blinky said as he looked at Mr Wombat's quivering whiskers.
"Ah, you're a good lad, Blinky. I always did say you were not as bad as they made out."
Old Mr Wombat shuffled off along the track, poking his nose here and there, sniffing for something that may have escaped his notice when last he was that way.
"You'll not steal those peanuts!" Mrs Koala said under her breath, as she grabbed her son's ear. "Don't you dare to steal one of them."
"No, mother," Blinky said meekly. "It was only the look of old Wombo's whiskers that made me say I would. They twitched so quickly when I said I'd get peanuts."
"Don't look at them again—that's all," Mrs Koala replied shortly.
"Good gracious! Here's our home," she cried almost in the same breath. "Look at it! Look at it! Just the same dear old tree—and not a branch missing."
"What about Splodge? Where's he going to sleep?" Blinky asked anxiously as he slid off his back and ran to look up into Splodge's face. "Can't you climb our tree?" he asked.
"I'm afraid I can't. But I have cousins who could," Splodge replied. "I'd rather camp on the ground at the foot of the tree."
"You'll stay here and not hop away then?" Blinky asked.
"I'm staying here for the tree-warming—after that I can't promise." Splodge lay on his side idly flicking his tail. "What joy it is to be home again," his eyes said as they roved all over his surroundings. Meanwhile, Mrs Koala was making rather slow progress up the tree, followed by Blinky. "Move on, mother! You're as slow as a snail," Blinky remarked as he climbed up behind his panting parent.
"Don't be cheeky, and don't ruffle me. I'm out of practice since being at the zoo," Mrs Koala replied. "And I believe I've put on weight as well."
"You're t-e-r-r-i-b-l-y fat from here," Blinky remarked.
"That'll do! Not another word!" his mother snapped, as she eventually came to rest on a branch high up from the ground. "We'll curl up for a nap here," she said, settling down in the comfy fork of the branch.
"But I don't want to go to sleep," Blinky protested.
"Oh! bother you—run away and let me have forty winks. My patience is frayed." Mrs Koala just nodded her sleepy old head and fell into slumberland, too happy to worry over her naughty son for once. Needless to say he took full advantage of this opportunity to explore his old home—with the most startling results.
As Blinky Bill climbed higher up the tree his sharp little eyes noticed that gum-leaves had been picked and chewed very recently from the nearest limbs.
"That's funny!" he murmured to himself. "Someone's been here stealing our supper. If it's old Mrs Grunty I'll have something very nasty to say to her. The cheek of her! Our very own tree, and our very own leaves!" He became quite angry the more he discovered the loss of the leaves.
"It's time we had a policeman in this bush. For two pins I'd turn policeman myself. Now I come to think of it that's what I will do!" Suddenly a twig snapped. Blinky looked up like a flash; but there was no one to be seen.
"Come out of it, you stealer!" he shouted. Silence as deep as the sea greeted his command.
"Come out of it or I'll eat you to death!" he shouted at the top of his voice.
"Oh! don't do that! Please don't do that! I didn't mean to steal leaves. I just wanted to taste them," a frightened little voice replied.
"Are you a girl?" Blinky roared, angrier than ever. "'Cause if you are you'll be dead in a minute. I hate girls."
"I'm not a girl. It's only my dress that makes me look like one," the little voice replied.
"Show yourself at once! Do you think a fellow can hunt round this tree for hours looking for robbers?" Blinky shouted.
"Here I am—please don't eat me," and the sweetest little girl koala poked her head around the tree not two yards away from where Blinky stood.
"Hum-n!" he grunted. "You're a girl. I can tell by the silly way you're looking at me; besides, you're too clean for a proper boy."
"I'm a boy!" the little bear said defiantly, stamping a tiny foot.
"Do-you-wash-behind-your-EARS?" Blinky asked in a slow cold voice, trying to freeze his little visitor with a glare that would have made any bear shudder.
"Of course I do!" the little koala replied indignantly.
"Then that settles it! You're a girl. No proper boy washes behind his ears. Come out here while I take you in charge! Don't you know I'm a policeman and this is my tree?" Blinky advanced towards the little bear who stood too frightened to move an inch.
"Don't kill me, will you?" she pleaded.
"I'll see about that later on. What's your name?" Blinky shouted, at the same time grabbing the little bear by the ear.
"My name's Nutsy," she cried, tears trickling down her funny little nose. "I'm an orphan."
"An orphan! What's that?" Blinky demanded.
"I've no mother or father," Nutsy wailed, "and no brothers or sisters. There's only me."
"Well—you'll have to be locked up just the same, because the law says 'all animals, specially orphans, mustn't steal'." Blinky gave her ear a pull.
"Stop it or I'll bite you!" Nutsy exclaimed, shrieking at the top of her voice.
Mrs Koala awoke, rubbed her eyes and listened. "What is that bad boy up to now?" she sighed. "Blinky! Come down here immediately." She called her son with a decidedly angry voice.
"I can't!" he replied, shouting, "I've found an orphan and she won't come."
"An orphan!" Mrs Koala repeated loudly. "How did an orphan get in our tree? That's that old Mrs Grunty! She's been stealing our leaves, and cooking them—of all things. Well, she won't get her orphan back. I'll keep it for the tree-warming. It'll be very useful to make a cup of tea in. Bring it down to me, Blinky. Has it any holes in it? Are they stuffed up with rag? Because if there are holes and rag I won't use it."
"It's an orphan—not a saucepan," Blinky replied, shouting loudly.
"What's the difference?" Mrs Koala called.
"It hasn't a mother or father," Blinky shouted.
"No orphans have," Mrs Koala replied. "Has it a handle?"
"No! It's got ears and eyes and it bites," Blinky answered.
"Good gracious! Hold it until I come up and have a look," Mrs Koala cried excitedly, scrambling up the tree as fast as her old legs would go. "Dear, dear," she panted. "What a strange thing an orphan is. I've never seen one before."
Grunting and puffing she reached the bough where Blinky and Nutsy stood. Taking one look at Nutsy she raised her paws in surprise and delight.
"That an orphan! What nonsense! Why, it's a little girl. The dear little thing! Come here darling while I have a look at you. And tell old Mrs Koala you name."
"She can't. She's under arrest," Blinky roared.
"Whatever for?" Mrs Koala inquired. "And who's going to arrest her?"
"I am!" Blinky replied, throwing out his chest. "She's been stealing our leaves, so I've turned into a policeman and I'm going to lock her up."
"I'll box your ears if you do any such thing," Mrs Koala said stoutly. "And don't talk rubbish to me. A policeman indeed! You're my son. If there's any locking up to be done, I'll do it and you'll be the first to taste it if you're not careful."
"Gosh! Aren't mothers awful?" Blinky sighed. "Can't even be a policeman but what she spoils it. Go on, sweet little darling; go to the kind lady." These last words he addressed to Nutsy, giving her a sly pinch as he pushed her forward. "I'll make her sorry for being a girl," Blinky muttered under his breath.
"Well, if this isn't a surprise!" Mrs Koala said, smiling all over her face, and gently taking Nutsy's paw. "Won't Mrs Grunty be jealous? And I've always wanted a little girl."
"Don't tell stories, mother!" Blinky said angrily. "You've always said you're glad I'm a boy, and you wouldn't have ten girls if they were given you."
"How stupid of me! I must have had a bad headache when I said that," Mrs Koala replied. "Here—Blinky, help me to get this little girl down the tree."
"I don't want him—he pinches." Nutsy drew nearer Mrs Koala. "And anyway I can climb up and down by myself."
"That's wonderful!" Mrs Koala replied. "We'll all go down and have some supper."
"I can't come!" Blinky said, staring at Nutsy with looks of contempt.
"Why not?" Mrs Koala asked.
"I'm on my beat!" Blinky answered.
"Come down here and have your supper or I'll be on the beat!" Mrs Koala ordered sternly. "And put this policeman business out of your head at once. The idea of living in a tree with a policeman!" Mrs Koala mumbled away to herself. She was very annoyed.
Once down on the cosy corner of the gum-tree that she liked so much her ruffled temper subsided. She asked Nutsy where she came from and how she came to be in the tree. "You must have a mother and father somewhere, child," she said, patting Nutsy's soft ears.
"No! I just woke up one day and found myself in this tree," Nutsy replied. And no further questions of Mrs Koala's produced a different answer.
"Oh well, from now on, you'll live with Blinky and me. I'll be delighted to have a little daughter, as I've been feeling lately I'd like to twist a little girl's curls up every night in gum-leaves. I can't do that with a boy—specially Blinky. There's no knowing what he'd do next if I started." Mrs Koala heaved a big sigh of contentment.
Together the three bears ate their supper, chattering and grunting with the pure joy of living. Out of the corner of her eye Mrs Koala noticed Blinky pass Nutsy several young juicy leaves—not once, but on several occasions. Smiling to herself she wisely said nothing.
"We'd better write out an invitation to the tree-warming," Mrs Koala said when they had finished their meal.
"Don't ask Mrs Grunty," Blinky said instantly. "She'll spoil everything."
"We can't ignore her like that. It would be so rude," Mrs Koala replied. "But we needn't make a fuss of her."
"Well, don't kiss her when she comes," Blinky said, looking very glum. "When you kissed her, before we went to the zoo, I always used to notice she thought that was the sign to gobble up all the best leaves and give you bad advice about me."
"I never thought of that, let alone noticed it," Mrs Koala replied. "She always had such a lot to say that my head would become a whirlwind in no time—being a simple body. However, let's get that invitation printed."
"I'll do it!" Blinky exclaimed, "and we'll stick it on the bottom of the tree." Later in the evening three little bears stuck a notice up on the tree.
"What's the P.C. for?" Splodge inquired as he gazed at the notice.
"Possum's Companion," Blinky replied loudly. Then drawing Splodge aside whispered in his ear: "It means Police Constable. But don't you say a word to mother. She won't let me be a butcher man or anything I want to be."
"Well, I'm glad we're to have a P.C. because some of the kangaroos round here want sending about their business. Hanging about gum-trees all night long and frightening respectable lady wallabies out of their skins. It's a scandal!" Splodge thumped his tail on the ground. "For a few bushels of peas, I'd become a policeman myself!"
"No you won't!" Blinky said crossly. "There's only work for one policeman here, and I thought of it first, so it's mine."
"Oh, I don't want the job really," Splodge said, chewing a straw thoughtfully. "You'll have your work cut out if you have to run Mrs Snake in, or a couple of dozen of those Bull-jo ants when they become obnoxious. And there's also the bees. I remember seeing a whole colony drunk one day. Been stealing the sugar from Farmer Scratchet's home brew. How would you like to arrest them for disorderly conduct?"
That certainly made Blinky think.
"Well, I'll make you my assistant if you like," Blinky said condescendingly.
"That'll do me!" Splodge replied, "as long as I can do a bit of kicking when it's required. Now, I can sign letters after my name. Mr Splodge—Police Assistant. That's fine!"
"It's far too long," Blinky interrupted. "You'll sign yourself like this"—picking up a twig he scratched on the tree:
Splodge examined it closely.
"You don't mean to be rude or clever do you?" he asked uncomfortably.
"Of course not!" Blinky replied. "Can't you see that's short for assistant?"
"Oh! very well," Splodge answered, still looking doubtfully at the signature. "Perhaps I'm over self-conscious."
"Stop talking so much and come and help me to prepare the tree-warming," Mrs Koala interrupted. "Talk about women gossiping—"
"Tut! Tut!" Splodge replied. "Tell me what to do and I'll get to work."
"There's a patch to be cleared round the foot of the tree to start with," Mrs Koala remarked, "and the supper to collect."
"I'll get the gum-nuts!" Nutsy said, half-way up the tree.
"Blinky—you gather some of the best leaves off the tree—only don't take the very best—and I'll see what I can collect."
Mrs Koala padded away through the bushes. Splodge set to work with a will. He scratched all the dead leaves and rubbish away from the foot of the tree, and scraped the lichen off a large flat rock with his sharp nails, preparing it for the table. He carried small bunches of wild berries in his mouth, laying them across the table. Nutsy threw from the branches overhead, dozens of gum-nuts, and Blinky sent down a shower of leaves. Certainly not the very best, as some had clearly been well nibbled beforehand. Mrs Koala returned, delighted with her find: an armful of watercress. Blinky and Nutsy scuttled down the tree to see the treasure.
"Don't touch it!" Mrs Koala commanded. "It will probably kill you if you eat it. You know, as I've often told you, only special gum-leaves are for koalas. This is for Splodge."
"Thanks awfully!" Splodge said. "Do you mind if I have a taste now?" He licked his lips at the very thought of that delicious meal.
"Well—well—I'd rather you waited for the party," Mrs Koala replied. "We want to make the food look as much as possible."
"Quite so. Quite so," Splodge replied, licking his lips all the more.
"What do you think? I met Mrs Froggles down at the creek. She had her family of taddies with her, and fine lads they are too!" Mrs Koala carefully spread her watercress on the ground, giving Splodge a doubtful look at the same time.
"You didn't ask Mrs Froggles and the tads to the party, did you, mother?" Blinky inquired.
"Yes. The dear thing's coming. And how excited she was at the thought of it," Mrs Koala replied.
"Oh bother! Now I'll have to catch spiders and flies," Blinky growled, "and I s'pose the tads only eat mossies."
"No. She's going to bring her own flies," Mrs Koala explained. "I told her we usually threw any flies or spiders away that we found on the tree."
"Here's a special gum-nut for you, Mrs Koala," Nutsy said as she handed out an extra large nut from her pocket.
"Such unselfishness I've never seen before," Mrs Koala said as she took the nut.
"That's what I hate about girls," Blinky whispered to Splodge. "Always trying to be pets!"
"Men haven't time to bother about that," Splodge replied—"specially policemen. By the way, Blinky, where's your baton?"
"Should I have one? And what is a baton?" Blinky asked.
"It's a piece of wood, that dangles from your belt. All real policemen carry one. It's for banging people on the head who don't behave." Splodge explained.
"Gee! I'll have to have one," Blinky replied thoughtfully.
"Leave it to your assistant. He'll see to that!" Splodge announced, bounding away into the bush.
"He's a real fellar!" Blinky said to himself.
"Come children, we'll wait up in the tree until the guests arrive," Mrs Koala said as she placed the last gum-leaf on the table. So up the tree they all climbed, and sat waiting anxiously for the first visitor to appear. Who should it be but old Wombo!
"Good night Wombo!" Blinky called out. "Read the notice."
Mr Wombat being near-sighted had to screw his old eyes right up against the notice to read.
"Are there any peanuts?" he asked immediately.
"No! But there are gum-nuts!" Nutsy called out.
"And watercress!" Blinky shouted.
"Watercress!" Old Wombo sprang at the table.
"Leave it alone! Leave it alone!" Mrs Koala screamed. "It's not supper time yet." But old Wombo already had a mouthful of the luscious green.
"Put it back!" Blinky shouted. Mrs Koala was already half-way down the tree to rescue her precious dainty. "How rude of you!" she said angrily. "Eating up our party before the guests arrive."
"I thought I was to have supper," old Wombo said in a surprised voice. "And it was so nice."
"Oh well—as you're very old I'll overlook it this time," Mrs Koala said kindly. "But please don't eat any more."
"Funny sort of a party," old Wombo growled to himself as he sat on the ground to wait.
The next visitor to appear was Mrs Wallaby. She carried a baby in her pouch.
"I'm glad to hear you're back, Mrs Koala," she said with a sweet smile.
"We're giving a tree-warming," Mrs Koala replied. "Do stay and have some supper."
By this time the news of the great event had been flashed through the bush, and animals and birds arrived in dozens—Mr and Mrs Possum, several families of wallabies, the kangaroos of course, flying foxes, rabbits, weasels, mice and bush rats, kookaburras and willy wagtails. Away in a tree all by himself sat Mr Owl, looking at everything and every one in silence.
"I didn't expect so many friends," Mrs Koala said nervously. "I'm afraid we won't have enough to eat, and I've no grubs for the birds."
"We'll all bring our own!" several birds called, and flew off to gather their supper.
"I'm going to eat that watercress," old Wombo growled to himself.
Meanwhile Splodge had returned and fastened a knotty stick to Blinky's belt. "Just to keep order in case it's needed," he explained.
When the supper commenced, Nutsy helped Mrs Koala by handing round the nuts. The guests were at their gayest, calling and squeaking at the fun of it all. In the excitement of chatter and hopping, no one noticed old Wombo silently gobbling all the watercress round at the back of the tree. He munched with delight; then, when he had finished, took a last look at the visitors, turned, and slowly ambled home.
"Look at the ants!" someone cried. Immediately there was confusion. "Where? Where?" they shouted. Blinky grabbed his baton and rushed in the direction where all the guests pointed.
Dozens and dozens, in fact hundreds of ants stood on tiptoe, surveying the scene. Their antennae waved with excitement as they thought of the grubs and flies that could easily be theirs when they decided to advance.
"Hey! you fellows!" Blinky called out, swinging his baton, "Get back to your dug-outs."
The ants took no notice whatever.
"Don't-you-know-we've-an-ant-eater-with-us?" he asked deliberately, "and he'll eat you all in one swallow." As he delivered this dreadful news he banged his baton down on the ground with a—crash!
Quicker than that every ant had vanished.
"That scared them!" Blinky chuckled and walked back to the party, feeling very proud of himself; but no sooner was he there than a piteous cry went up.
"Quickly! Quickly! He's choking!" Poor Mrs Froggles was beside herself with fright. She hopped all over the place, on the table, over the guests' heads, and right into Mrs Kangaroo's pouch. All in mistake of course.
"Get out! Get out!" Mrs Kangaroo screamed, as she took a leap over Mr Pelican's head. Out flopped Mrs Froggles, her eyes, that usually popped, now seemed to be almost out of her head.
"Save him! Save him!" she croaked louder than ever.
"What's the matter?" every one asked in chorus.
"My poor child—my taddy—he's choking. A grub's stuck in his throat," Mrs Froggles croaked between hops.
Nutsy rushed to the rescue. Grabbing Freddie Taddy who was black in the face, she turned him upside down and shook him violently.
"You greedy little wriggler!" she scolded, shaking all the harder.
"Thump him on the back!" someone called.
Nutsy did so, and out popped a grub almost as large as Freddie Taddy himself, while he lay on the ground gasping for breath.
"Throw some water over him," Mrs Magpie advised. But there was no water near.
"I'll make him come to life in a second," a nasty crawly voice remarked, "or it's supper for me, and no mistake."
With a horrified cry every one ran, for there lay Mr Carpet Snake eyeing poor little Freddie with a cruel look in his eyes. How he came to the party unnoticed no one ever knew.
Mrs Froggles gave one ear-splitting croak and fainted.
"Get your baton out!" Splodge called to Blinky. Scarcely were the words out, when Blinky rushed to the rescue. Waving his baton over his head and calling out at the top of his voice, he made a vicious blow at Mr Carpet Snake. He missed. A groan went up from the excited spectators and all kinds of advice was shouted at him.
Mr Snake reared his head and prepared to spring. Mrs Koala and Nutsy screamed. Blinky was ready to strike again, when something came flashing through the air, struck Mr Carpet Snake on the head, and there stood Splodge.
"That was a good kick!" he calmly remarked, as he looked at the body of the dead snake.
Every one rushed to congratulate him, patted him on the back and nose, until Splodge reminded them that poor little Freddie Taddy was still on the ground. He was saved and, after some gentle stroking, soon recovered. Mrs Froggles decided to go home at once, as sixty children were too many to watch at one time. So calling her taddies to her side, she ordered them to hop on her back and away she went, croaking loudly.
The party ended by those who were able to climb or fly inspecting the old gum-tree and wishing its occupants the best of luck.
When all was silent, and three little bears lay cuddled together in sweet sleep, an army of ants dined on Mr Carpet Snake. Such a supper they'd not had for a long time. And, after it, a constant stream of black and brown bodies carried little pieces of Mr Snake down to their home underneath the ground.
All day long the three bears slept. Mrs Koala snored a great deal; once she even woke herself up with the noise. Turning to look at Blinky whom she was sure had made the noise, she sighed and murmured:
"Poor little chap—he has adenoids very badly. I'll have to see Dr Owl about it." Then, snuggling down again, she fell asleep once more.
At dusk, when the bears were awake, and busily collecting their supper, Mrs Grunty came along. She was alone, having left Snubby, her son, at home; for "Goodness knows what mischief that bad boy Blinky will put in his mind after being in the zoo," she said.
"Nice goings on in the tree last night!" she exclaimed, before she'd even said "How do you do," or any other polite greeting to her friend who had been absent for so long.
"Oh, how are you? I'm very pleased to see you again, Mrs Grunty," Mrs Koala said sweetly.
"Nice goings on!" Mrs Grunty repeated. "We'll have our bush talked about next. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to hear you were letting the gum-tree out in flats."
"You seem all worked up," Mrs Koala replied coldly. "Can't a widow bear give a tree-warming if she wants to?" "Such city notions!" Mrs Grunty scoffed. "And I was not invited."
"Every one was invited," Mrs Koala replied. "Didn't you read the notice?"
"Me read the notice!" Mrs Grunty sniffed. "As if I'd have time to go round the bush reading notices. I was far too busy turning the heel of Snubby's new winter socks."
"Dear, dear, I'm sorry," Mrs Koala said meekly. "I know how busy children keep one."
"Especially one like you've got," Mrs Grunty snapped.
"She'll be sorry for saying that!" Blinky exclaimed from behind the tree where he and Nutsy were hiding. "She's always poking about and saying 'noxious, nauseous, nasty things. And as for her Snubby—he's a twink!"
"What's that?" Nutsy whispered.
"Something awful and dreadful," Blinky replied, while Nutsy looked at him in wonder.
"How shocking!" she said in a whisper.
"Yes! and I'll be just as pleased, Mrs Koala, if you tell that Blinky of yours to keep away from our tree." Mrs Grunty flung these words at her friend as she prepared to depart.
"Pass me that stick!" Blinky ordered Nutsy.
"Good night, madam!" Mrs Grunty said, just as Blinky poked the stick right in front of her feet. She tripped, stumbled and fell, wildly clutching at a branch to save her fall, then turning a somersault landed on the limb of the tree immediately below.
"She's come a cropper!" Blinky shouted at the top of his voice, while Mrs Grunty roared with temper. To make matters fifty times worse, Nutsy threw down a pawful of gum-nuts right on top of Mrs Grunty.
"I'll see the policeman about this! I hear we've got a policeman in the bush now! I'll have you punished. I'll have you exported!" Mrs Grunty shouted as she regained her feet and climbed down the tree.
"Who threw those nuts?" Mrs Koala demanded. "And who made the cropper?" She waggled her paw at the two culprits.
"I made the cropper," Blinky said nudging Nutsy.
"And I threw the nuts," his little companion whispered, looking very ashamed of herself.
"A nice hotch-potch!" Mrs Koala growled. "All the same I'm glad—perhaps she'll mind her own business after this."
"I'm sure she will," Nutsy said meekly, very relieved to find Mrs Koala's temper had subsided so quickly.
Mrs Grunty growled all the way home.
"There'll be no peace now!" she said aloud. "I've a good mind to move. If I stay here my Snubby's bound to get into trouble with that lad. My word! he's an outlaw."
"It's awfully stale up here," Blinky said one night, after just a week of being as good as an angel. He and Nutsy were playing together while Mrs Koala was holding a consultation with Splodge at the bottom of the tree about starting a guest house.
"Would you like to travel?" Blinky whispered to Nutsy.
"I don't know!" Nutsy replied, her eyes opening wide with excitement.
"Well what does your tummy say?" Blinky asked. "Does it jump when you think of it, or does it just keep on being still?"
"It jumps!" Nutsy exclaimed.
"That means you want to travel," Blinky explained. "So it's best to do as it wants; 'cause if you don't the jumps get bigger and bigger till they make you feel sick and want to cry."
"How dreadful!" Nutsy said in a low voice. What a lot of things Blinky knew.
"Yes! it's best to do as it wants," he repeated. "And, as mine wants to go, I'll have to do it."
"What will your mother say?" Nutsy asked nervously.
"She won't know till it's all over," Blinky replied. "That's, of course, if you don't tell her. If you do—I'll—I'll—I'll take you to old Wombo and tell him to put you in his dark muddy house, where rats peep in at night just to see if any girls are in there who've told tales. If they find any, they eat them!"
"I'll never, never, tell," Nutsy whispered.
"Better not!" Blinky replied. "Come on, we'll start right away."
"But we can't!" Nutsy objected. "Mrs Koala's at the foot of the tree talking to Splodge."
"We'll have to wait a while then," Blinky sighed. "I—forgot all about mother. I wonder what she's talking about. I'll go and see."
"I'm coming too!" Nutsy said scrambling down the tree behind Blinky.
As they neared the ground they could hear Mrs Koala talking very confidentially to Splodge.
"He's a problem," they heard her say. "He'll be leading that dear little girl, Nutsy, into trouble too if I don't do something to keep him employed. Apart from that, I find, now he's a lad, his clothes are a big item and I've very little to buy him new ones with. Once upon a time I could cut his dear dead father's clothes down to fit him. But they're all gone now. And the other animals all seem to have had babies since I've been away. Before, they gave me any clothes they'd no need for, now they have to use them themselves."
"Yes," Splodge remarked, "it's very hard. No doubt Blinky needs something to do to keep him out of mischief. Have you any ideas, Mrs Koala?"
"I thought of doing a bit of crocheting; but Mrs Rabbit advised me not to. She said no one wants crochet work nowadays. They've all gone mad on cross-stitch, and goodness only knows I get cross enough at times, without sitting down and turning it into doilies and mats," Mrs Koala said with a deep sigh.
"Quite right!" Blinky murmured to Nutsy.
"I'm ambitious, you know, Mr Splodge," Mrs Koala continued. "Since my visit to the zoo and seeing with my own eyes the quantity of food the animals over there, stuffed, positively stuffed into themselves, especially the elephants and kangaroos——"
"Pardon!" Splodge exclaimed placing his paw behind one ear as if to hear better.
"Oh! I didn't mean to be rude," Mrs Koala explained, "or personal. I always noticed you never gobbled. In fact I thought what a gentleman you were, compared to the rest."
"Quite so. Quite so," Splodge returned. "But what's that got to do with your ideas, Mrs Koala?"
"Simply this—as I was saying, when I saw those animals eating so much, I thought some day if ever I escaped from the zoo I'd start a guest house! Now what do you think of that?" Mrs Koala beamed all over her face.
"Capital idea!" Splodge announced. "Of course you'll want a manager."
"What for?" Mrs Koala exclaimed.
"Well, for instance, say Mr Fox came along and wanted board and residence for the night, and then tried to steal silently away without paying—and he's a sly fellow, mark my words, a sly, cunning fellow—what would you do then, Mrs Koala?"
Splodge flung out his paws in a hopeless gesture.
"It would be awkward. I never thought of that happening," Mrs Koala replied.
"And then there are the possums. I've great regard for them, and I'm not suggesting for one moment they'd do such a thing. But what if one got to your potato bin—and, mind you, I wouldn't trust them for a second where potatoes are concerned—what would you do then?"
Again Splodge flung out his paws, and stared with a sorrowful look on his face, while poor Mrs Koala felt her hopes suddenly dashed to the ground.
"Then again," Splodge continued, "there are the rabbits to think of. You know me well enough, Mrs Koala, to realize I'd think badly of no one; but 'pon my soul those rabbits need watching with ten pairs of eyes. Just imagine—you having gone to all the trouble of making a delicious watercress salad"—(here Splodge licked his lips)—"Just imagine your feelings if, when you went to put it on the table, you found it had gone, that some sly, quiet-stepping animal had actually pinched it while your back was turned. What would you do then?"
"It couldn't hurt a salad very much if it was pinched," Mrs Koala replied. "Only a few leaves bruised."
"I should have said purloined," Splodge returned. "In other words, stolen; but I'm not saying the rabbits would do such a dastardly thing, I'm only s'posing."
"I wish you would not use such big words," Mrs Koala said in a meek voice. "I'm only a plain body and it takes very little to start my headaches."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to bamboozle you," Splodge said kindly. "But what would you do if such things happened? And they are likely to happen to any widow."
"How dreadful!" Mrs Koala managed to say. Really, she was almost speechless.
"But there's no need to worry!" Splodge laughed, hopping around in great bounds, until Mrs Koala muttered to herself, "He's daft!"
"No need to worry a teeny, weeny bit!" Splodge laughed again. "A manager will see to all that. He'll see that no one steals things."
"Will he really?" Mrs Koala exclaimed with joy. But her face fell almost immediately. "Where can I find a manager?" she asked looking all round. "Do you think old Mr Wombat would do?"
"He!" Splodge yelled and hopped with surprise. "Old Wombo a manager! Why, you'd have nothing left in your larder after one night. Nothing!"
"Well what am I to do? Where can I find a manager?" Poor Mrs Koala was nearly in tears.
"Why, here!" Splodge shouted, patting himself on the chest.
"Oh! You will be so kind as to be the manager?" Mrs Koala asked joyfully.
"'Course I will," Splodge replied. "With my experience and worldly knowledge I'll see that even a mouse gets away with nothing. Tush! Just let me catch them trying."
"That's a load off my mind," Mrs Koala sighed.
"We'll shake paws on the agreement," Splodge replied holding out a paw to Mrs Koala who solemnly took it, and both shook with a grunt.
"That's done it!" Blinky whispered to Nutsy. "A guest house of all things! Rabbits and rats in the best beds, and snails and spiders using the bathroom. I'm off! And I'm going in a minute too."
"I don't think I'd like living in a guest house either," Nutsy remarked.
"'Course you wouldn't!" Blinky exclaimed. "You'd be made a waitress. And you'd have to carry plates of soup up and down the tree all day long, and peel potatoes and onions till your eyes drowned."
"And what would you do?" Nutsy asked, not very impressed with this horrible picture.
"Me? Oh, I suppose I'd just ring the dinner-bell and sit down to eat with the guests and laugh and tell them my 'speriences," Blinky said with a bored look on his face.
"Indeed you wouldn't!" Nutsy replied indignantly. "You'd have to clean Mr Centipede's boots every morning, and help your mother to make stews and stews, and you'd have to eat porridge, lumps and all!"
"'Ndeed I won't—and wouldn't—and shan't"! Blinky replied, and started to scramble through the thick bracken fern that grew at the foot of the tree. Nutsy hurried after him calling out in a whisper:
"Wait on! Wait on! I'm coming."
Mrs Koala and her manager were too busy to notice what was happening just round the gum-tree.
Blinky pushed straight ahead, while Nutsy stumbled and struggled to catch up with him.
"Where are we going?" Nutsy panted as she came up to his side.
"I'm going to see the pelicans," Blinky announced.
"I'm coming too," Nutsy replied.
"Gosh! Can't you see you're in the way?" Blinky asked crossly. "Can't a fellow go pelicanning by himself?"
"I might be useful," Nutsy replied. "Anyhow I'm coming." She tossed her little head in the air and pushing past Blinky took the lead.
"Stand back! Halt! In the name of the policeman!" Blinky shouted, scarlet with rage. (How dare a girl be so rude to him!)
"I won't stand back; and I won't halt; and you're not a policeman!" Nutsy called back, still scrambling ahead.
"You're arrested!" Blinky shouted. "Stop!"
"Here! Here! What's all the noise about?" A stern voice demanded, frightening the two little koalas almost out of their skins. There, right in front of them, stood Wally Wombat junior. He was old Wombo's great great grandson, and very like his great great grandfather he was. Had the same small eyes, wide brow, and that arrogant air of his ancestor.
"Oh, it's you, Wallo!" Blinky gasped with relief. "My word, you did give me a fright."
"And who told you to call me Wallo?" Mr Wombat junior asked, looking very displeased. "I'm Walter Wombat—Wally to only my oldest acquaintances. Remember that!"
"He's snaky!" Nutsy whispered to Blinky. "Be polite or he might kill us."
"Where are you going?" Mr Walter Wombat asked.
"To see my great great grandmother," Blinky replied, never blinking an eyelid.
"Is she ill?" Walter inquired.
"Terribly ill. If we don't get there very soon she'll be dead."
"Oh well, under those circumstances I'll let you pass," Walter declared. "Only remember, next time you meet me, salute and say: 'Good morning, Your Eminence. How goes it?' Then pass on."
"What's that?" Mr Walter Wombat roared.
"I didn't say a word," Blinky replied, shaking with fear.
"Keep on that way, my young man, and some day you'll be as great a fellow as I am." Mr Walter Wombat gave his walking-stick a swish and passed on.
"How would you like to have to carry his shaving-water to him every morning at the guest house?" Nutsy asked mockingly.
"I'd put gum in it so's it would gum up all his whispers," Blinky replied coldly.
Nutsy remained silent after this remark, and found herself once more padding behind Blinky. He had taken the opportunity to get in the lead again, and things went along much more smoothly. Presently, to Blinky's surprise, he found himself walking along paw-in-paw with Nutsy as the journey progressed.
"How far is it to the pelicans' place?" Nutsy inquired.
"A long way off. Over two hills and then down along the swamp until we come to the lake," Blinky answered.
"How do you know?" Nutsy asked.
"I saw it when we were coming back from the zoo," Blinky replied, "and I counted all the hills home from that place.
"What's that noise?" he asked suddenly. "Listen! Someone is coming."
"Hide," Nutsy whispered.
Together they scuttled under the bushes and crouched silently peeping through the leaves.
"Dear, dear! This is dreadful—terrible—shocking," the voice was saying, as its owner pit-a-pattered nearer and nearer.
"I wonder what's the matter?" Nutsy asked in a whisper.
"Keep quiet," Blinky said, giving her a pinch.
"She'll die, I'm sure, if I don't get help," the voice was saying, "and I'll never have such a kind friend again." Here the poor animal started to sob.
Blinky and Nutsy, peering from their hiding-place, saw Mrs Field Mouse wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron. Over her arm she carried a basket almost as large as herself, and in it was a bottle almost as large as the basket.
Blinky gave a cough.
Mrs Field Mouse sprang in the air. "Good gracious!" she cried. "Are there robbers or cats about?"
"It's only us, Mrs Field Mouse. Don't be afraid," Nutsy called, scrambling through the bushes to her side. "What is the matter? You seem to be in trouble."
"Oh, my dear, such a dreadful thing has happened! I don't know what to do," Mrs Field Mouse sobbed. "My very, very best friend is terribly sick, and I've run and run for miles to get a bottle of eucalyptus oil from Dr Owl. And now I don't know how I'm going to rub it on her chest. What will I do?" She sniffed back her tears and wiped her whiskers with a tiny paw.
"Why! We'll come and help you. Won't we, Blinky?" Nutsy turned to her companion who looked sorrowfully at the poor distressed little mouse.
"Only too pleased," Blinky replied. "Let me carry your basket, Mrs Field Mouse."
"How lucky I am to meet you," Mrs Field Mouse said as she dabbed her eyes.
"Is your friend terribly, terribly sick?" Nutsy asked sympathetically as they started to walk along.
"She's got whooping-cough most dreadfully," Mrs Field Mouse replied. "All last night I sat beside her; listening to her whoops. And the sneezing—it was dreadful too. So this morning I set out to see Dr Owl and tell him all about it. I've been away all day, and I've run for miles. Oh dear! I hope we're in time to save her."
"What did Dr Owl say?" Nutsy asked.
"He told me to put the patient in a mustard bath and poultice her chest and back," Mrs Field Mouse replied; "but I said I couldn't do it, as I'm not a nurse, so he gave me this bottle of oil, and told me to rub her chest with it."
"That'll make her better," Nutsy said. "And I'll do it for you and help you all I can. Where does she live?"
"At the bottom of my house," Mrs Field Mouse answered. "I have the attic and she has the ground floor. It's over on the other side of the hill. It's in one of Farmer Scratchet's wheat fields."
"Oh!" Blinky said with a knowing look at Nutsy. "Is it anywhere near his peanuts?"
"Not exactly near; but not very far away," his tiny friend replied—"but of course we don't go near his peanuts," she said hastily.
"Of course not!" Blinky said cheekily. "Does your friend like peanuts?"
"No, they give her indigestion," the little mouse replied. "Besides, she likes wheat much better, so we always have supper together. Oh! I hope she doesn't die. I hope she doesn't die!" And poor little mousie started to cry all over again.
"Let's hurry!" Nutsy said. "We might get there in time to save her."
They ran and ran; then stopped for a few moments to get their breath; then ran on, until the top of the hill was reached. Down the other side they rushed, panting and puffing. Farmer Scratchet's house came into view, and to save time they scrambled under the fence instead of going through the new wire gate. Over the cabbage patch, and over the lettuce and asparagus beds, and through the potato field they rushed. Past the pigs' pen—giving Mrs Hog the most dreadful fright. She and the squealers were on a fossicking expedition, rooting up everything within sight.
"It's disgusting the way this farm's run!" she declared. "If Farmer Scratchet isn't discussing bacon in a most untactful manner, he's allowing dogs, cows, and all the rest of the good-for-nothing animals to tear and rush about this place, upsetting the nerves of the most important tenants. Come on, piglets, root in this corner." Squeals and a grand rush greeted her command; and to an onlooker one would have thought great earthworks were in progress.
"We're nearly there!" Mrs Field Mouse announced as they hurried through the wheat field. "Just another few yards to go," she panted.
She zigzagged through the tall grain stalks until a loud hacking cough was heard.
"She's still alive!" Mrs Field Mouse cried with joy. More coughing came, and sneezes by the yard.
"Good gracious!" Nutsy said in an alarmed voice. "Your friend has a terribly big cough and sneeze. She must have double whooping-cough."
"She has!" Mrs Field Mouse exclaimed. "But don't make too much noise; it may frighten her."
Now they were almost at the spot where the patient lay, hidden from sight.
"We're here," Mrs Field Mouse called encouragingly. "Don't give in! Keep up, 'cause I've got the medicine and friends." Another hacking cough came from the ground.
"It must be a terribly big mouse!" Nutsy whispered to Blinky, then—straight in front of them lay the whooping animal.
"Why it's a porcupine!" Blinky shouted. "That's not a mouse."
"Is that the name of her?" Mrs Field Mouse asked looking surprised. "I always call her 'friend' as I'd no idea who she was, except I knew she wasn't a cat."
"You've come at last; but I think you're too late," Mrs Porcupine gasped. "I can't even raise my quills now."
"You're not going to die," Mrs Field Mouse replied with a tear, the tiniest tear in the world, trickling down her nose.
"See! Dr Owl has sent this eucalyptus oil along and we're to rub your chest and back with it. That'll cure you in no time, and these friends are going to do it for you."
"How can we rub a porcupine's chest and back? Look at the spikes!" Nutsy whispered in dismay.
"Gosh!" Blinky half whistled, "we'd better pour it all over her and tell her to wriggle about on the ground." Then suddenly he thought of something. "Does it say rub her with it? All that writing on the bottle! Those are the directions. Let me see what it says."
Nutsy handed the bottle to Blinky while the others waited expectantly for his verdict.
"I'm sure Dr Owl said rub it on," Mrs Field Mouse remarked.
Blinky gazed at the label on the bottle. He didn't understand a word of it; but his little brain was working quickly.
"Hu-u-m!" he declared with an important air. "I thought so! It doesn't say anything at all about rubbing it on; it says, POUR THE OIL DOWN THE COUGHER'S THROAT!"
"Ah!" the others sighed with relief—that is, Nutsy and Mrs Field Mouse. The porcupine had other thoughts.
"You can't do that!" she whined. "I never drink."
"Well, you'll have to!" Blinky announced. "Unless, of course, you want to be a corpse."
"What's that?" Mrs Field Mouse asked anxiously.
"All stiff and cold, and no breath coming," Blinky explained.
The porcupine sighed, then commenced coughing again, rolling from side to side.
"Grab her spikes!" Blinky commanded, "while I pour it down her throat."
Instantly the porcupine raised her quills until they stood up like a pin-cushion.
"I thought you said they wouldn't work!" Blinky cried angrily. "She's only pretending."
"I'm sure she's not. I'm quite sure she's not," Mrs Field Mouse said crossly. "She nearly shook me out of bed the other day when she was whooping, and being upstairs you can imagine how the house shook and quivered."
The house of Mrs Field Mouse was a few wheat-stalks cleverly bent together, while her bed was nestled amongst the ears. That of the porcupine was directly on the ground underneath.
"Something must be done!" Nutsy said, looking with sorrow at the patient. "I know!" she cried excitedly, as she broke off a wheat-stalk, "we'll paint her throat."
"What colour?" Blinky asked immediately.
"No colours," Nutsy remarked. "We'll paint it with the oil."
"That's a blessing," the porcupine gasped, withdrawing her spikes.
Nutsy pushed the wheat-ear into the bottle, then stooped over the porcupine.
"Open your mouth wide," she said gently, "and don't gurgle when I poke it down."
Blinky and Mrs Field Mouse watched in silence, while the porcupine opened her mouth the tiniest bit.
"Open it wider!" Nutsy ordered.
The porcupine did as she was told and, losing not a second, Nutsy poked the wheat-ear right down her throat.
A dreadful spluttering and coughing was the outcome of the operation; in her fright the porcupine almost sprang in the air.
"She's taking convulsions!" Blinky shouted, scrambling for safety as the porcupine rolled and wobbled about in a most distressing manner, all her quills on end.
"How awful!" Mrs Field Mouse cried. "What will we do?"
But the porcupine gradually quietened. When the last quill lay flat on her back, she crawled under a tuft of dry grass; then, looking at Nutsy, she smiled weakly and whispered:
"I'm better—much better, and after a snooze I'll be quite better."
"How wonderful!" Mrs Field Mouse exclaimed running up a wheat-stalk with joy; then, taking a nibble of the ripe grain, ran down again.
"We'll go now!" Blinky said immediately. "Come on, Nutsy. We've to find the pelicans, and its getting late."
"I'm sure she's better," Nutsy said as she was bidding good-bye to Mrs Field Mouse. "If she coughs again poke the stalk down her throat."
So with the little mouse's thanks and tiny laughs ringing in their ears, the two bears proceeded on their way. Daylight found them on the outskirts of the lake, where hundreds and hundreds of pelicans were in residence. Unnoticed, they climbed a great gum-tree overlooking the birds' domain and, tired out with their journeying, fell asleep after a good meal of the finest leaves. Here, all through the warm day and late into the afternoon they slept. Just as the sun was sinking they woke and, presently, started to scramble down the tree again.
"I believe they're going to bed," Blinky remarked disgustedly. "What silly things! Why don't they play in the moonlight as we do?"
"Let's wake them up!" Nutsy said. "When they see who we are probably they'll have games with us."
"They might gobble us up in their big beaks," Blinky said doubtfully. "Golly! What big beaks they have. Look at them!"
"I'm sure they won't be angry if we speak to them politely," Nutsy remarked, "anyway I'm going to try. I'm not afraid."
"Neither am I!" Blinky exclaimed boldly. "You're only a girl and I'm ten times braver than you."
"Well—you go first then," Nutsy said slyly.
"No. Ladies always go first. Splodge told me that," Blinky replied, pushing Nutsy ahead as he spoke.
"Poof! You're afraid!" Nutsy said, with a note of contempt in her voice, as she bravely padded down to the water's edge.
"You shout at them," Nutsy ordered.
"You've got the biggest voice."
"Gee up!" Blinky yelled. "Hip, hip, hooray!"
"That's done it!" Nutsy said, as dozens of pelicans ceased paddling about in the water and all, as if by command, faced the intruders with looks of great surprise.
"Caught anything?" Blinky shouted, waving a paw.
The pelicans just looked all the harder. They seemed rooted in the water.
"How's the fishing going?" Blinky asked at the top of his voice.
"You're too cheeky," Nutsy said, poking him in the side. "Ask them politely. No! Keep quiet and I'll ask."
"May we come and see you Mr and Mrs Pelicans?" Nutsy called as loudly as she could.
"Who are you?" came a guttural reply, as the largest pelican of all advanced to meet the bears.
"Only Nutsy and Blinky," the two koalas responded.
"I'm none the wiser," the big bird said shaking his head from side to side as he met the strangers.
"We're friends," Nutsy said meekly, holding her breath as she looked up at the huge bird with that very large bill.
"Do you mind telling me what's in your scooper?" Blinky asked as he eyed the great pouch attached to the pelican's bill.
"Nothing!" the pelican replied, and to show them how true it was he opened his mouth to its widest.
"Oh!" Nutsy gasped. "Gosh!" Blinky exclaimed.
With a snap the pelican closed his mouth, so quickly and decidedly that the two little bears jumped with fright.
"Don't open your gate again," Blinky said when he had at last recovered his self composure.
"Be quiet!" Nutsy hissed giving Blinky's foot a kick. "He could swallow us in one gulp."
"Now you see what the day's fishing has been like," the pelican remarked, "and we're holding a meeting to-night to discuss the whys and what-nots of it all."
"May we come?" Nutsy asked excitedly. "We'll be very quiet."
The pelican looked at her for a minute, tilting his head on one side, then on the other, eyeing her with curiosity.
"They're strictly private—our meetings," he said at last. "Only the aldermen are admitted. I'm the mayor, as no doubt you can see by my large paunch, and it all rests with me whether I say yes or no."
"How important," Nutsy said admiringly. "Couldn't you take us to the meeting as guests?"
"S'pose I could if it came to a scratch," the pelican replied, still looking very thoughtfully at the two little bears. "You'll have to be prepared for a rumpus," he said warningly. "And if there is one it's a case of every man for himself."
"What happens to all the womans?" Nutsy interjected.
"They're crushed to death," Blinky replied immediately.
"No such thing!" the pelican said with annoyance. "Women are not admitted to our council meetings, they're held in camera."
"Do-you-mean-to-tell-me-you-all-sit-in-a-camera?" Blinky asked in amazement.
"Yes! that's so," the pelican replied, puffing out the pouch in his bill.
"For goodness' sake don't open the gate again," Blinky said excitedly.
"Sh-h-h!" Nutsy scowled at him.
"And who takes the photos?" Blinky asked, returning to the former discussion.
"What photos?" the pelican asked.
"When you're all sitting in the camera," he replied.
"Well—upon my soul! You're goofy," the pelican retorted. "Don't you know what sitting in camera means? Well—really, I didn't think it possible." Here the pelican opened his mouth and gave a terrific yawn.
"Look out! You'll break the hinges," Blinky shouted as he quickly edged away.
The pelican ignored his remark completely. But coming right over to where Blinky was standing, half in and half out of a prickly bush, he snapped his bill at him and asked very crossly: "Didn't your mother send you to school?"
"No! I wouldn't go!" Blinky shouted, trying to cover up his nervousness by making as much noise as possible.
"That explains it!" the pelican said coldly. "That's why you don't know what 'sitting in camera' means."
"For goodness' sake tell me, and don't talk so much," Blinky retorted. He was clearly annoyed.
"It means sitting behind closed doors," the pelican replied. "And what a smack you'd get if someone suddenly opened it," Blinky said with a sneer. "No closed doors for me."
"You're worse than I thought you were," the pelican said with disgust. "I've no more time to waste on such silly simpering people." Taking a huge watch from under his wing he shook it violently, then looked at its face.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "the meeting will have started if I don't get a hurry on."
"Do let us come!" Nutsy pleaded. "I'll see that Blinky behaves himself, Mr Pelican."
"Mr Mayor—if—you—please!" the pelican said looking sternly at the two bears.
"I beg your pardon. You see, you're the first mayor I've ever met in my life."
"That's quite understandable," the pelican replied. "Mayors are very rare."
So taking it for granted that they were to be admitted to the meeting, the koalas followed the pelican, round the edge of the lake to a secluded swamp fringed with tall reeds. Here thousands of pelicans had forgathered, and the snapping and scraping of beaks made a noise like a gale in the trees. As the mayor appeared, all those hundreds and hundreds of pelicans opened their mouths to their full extent and snapped three times.
"If there's that thing the mayor called a rumpus, for goodness' sake keep away from their snappers." Blinky whispered to Nutsy. "We'd be cracked in halves like walnuts." Twenty superior looking pelicans stood in a semicircle, to the centre of which the mayor advanced.
"Are the aldermen's wives at home?" the mayor solemnly asked before commencing business.
"Yes! Your Worship," came the chorus.
"Then we'll open the meeting," the mayor announced with great dignity.
Blinky heard a reed rustle close to where he and Nutsy were sitting on a water-worn stump of mangrove-tree. Quickly looking in that direction he saw many eyes peering through the reeds.
"They're the wives," he whispered to Nutsy. "Will I tell the mayor?"
"'Course not!" Nutsy replied indignantly. "Mind your own business." Just at that moment the mayor rapped his large webbed foot on the stone that served as a table.
"Off we go!" he shouted. "Any complaints barring the usual one of pilfering fish?"
Such a clamour arose, so many bills snapped and opened, that it was impossible to hear an intelligible remark.
"Order! Order!" the mayor shouted, while the twenty aldermen began to mark time rapidly with their large webbed feet.
Squish, squash, squish, squash, they pancaked the mud.
"Stop that squelching!" the mayor shouted.
"They're the cause of all the trouble!" several angry pelicans screamed.
"Why? What? How?" the mayor asked above the noise.
"They're the cause of the famine," the others shouted. "Playing the organ all day long in the swamp; kneading the bread just where the mud's the thickest, until the fish all swim away, and no respectable pelican can wade in up to his knees without becoming covered in mud."
"What about our bills?" someone shouted above the uproar.
"Yes!" came a chorus of shouts. "What about our bills?"
"What about them?" the mayor shouted.
"Do you think we're all mud larks?" someone else asked. "Our pouches were made to catch fish in—not scoops for mud. Any one would think we were two-legged dredges."
"Sit down!" the mayor ordered, "or I'll close the meeting."
"And a jolly good job if you did," a pelican in the back row shouted.
"What about the frog banquet you and the aldermen had last night?" a tiny skinny moulting pelican piped.
"Your nose is too long!" the mayor shouted amid the uproar. "Aldermen, see that his nose is decapitated."
The aldermen hastily scribbled in large books that hung around their necks: "One nose—decapitate."
"Shame! Shame!" came a chorus of cries.
"Next complaint!" the mayor demanded, snapping his beak so that Nutsy and Blinky jumped with nervousness.
"He'll break his snapper, for sure," Blinky whispered.
"What about relief for the widows?" someone asked.
"Bother the widows!" the mayor mumbled under his breath. Aloud he asked: "Can any one suggest something?"
"I can!" came a squeaky voice from behind the reeds. "All you fat aldermen, the mayor included, go out and catch some fish for us poor widows."
The mayor puffed his pouch out with indignation. "The very idea!" he exclaimed. "I thought all the wives were at home," he shouted. "How did women get into this meeting?"
"They're the widows!" someone called, "and we're not responsible for them."
"Make them go themselves," the aldermen shouted. "They're always stirring up trouble."
"That's a jolly good idea!" the mayor declared. Pointing to the reeds he called out in a loud voice. "Widows—stand before me!"
With a rush the reeds parted in all directions, and out marched a hundred widows.
"Eavesdroppers!" the mayor hissed at them as they stood two deep in front of him.
"Traitors!" the aldermen whispered to one another. The widows ignored the remarks, and an old lady pelican stepped out from the rest. Advancing towards the mayor she astounded every one by rapping him sharply on the bill.
"Look here, my lad!" she exclaimed. "There's been enough of this nonsense. Frog banquets, eel snacks, and all the rest of it. Cut it out, or out you'll go!"
"What do you want?" the mayor asked looking very subdued.
"Equal rights!" the old lady shouted. "No puddling in squashy mud holes. No sitting in the background while you and the aldermen fish in the best and cleanest water. Give us permission to hold a fishing party—Now!"
"Here, hear!" the other ninety-nine widows screeched.
"And we want a permanent fishing-ground," the old lady pelican demanded. "None of your fished-out pools and corners with half a dozen tadpoles in them," she cried.
"Give them the weedy end of the lake," an alderman whispered to the mayor, who seemed to be speechless with anger and surprise. He nodded his head upon hearing this advice.
"Madam!" he said in an icy tone, "you and the rest of the widows can have the south end of the lake."
"It's full of weeds!" the old lady shouted.
"Take it or leave it!" the mayor thundered, now regaining his self-composure. "And in future," he added to the whole of the meeting, "you others keep away from that part of the lake. Those are the widows' weeds. I'll have no arguments. The matter's closed." And to emphasize his words—snap! went his beak.
And so, to this day that particular part of the lake is known as "The Widows' Weeds", and a jolly good fishing-ground it is too.
Seeing the determined look in the mayor's eyes the widows wisely said nothing more; but the old lady pelican, as she was retiring from the meeting, gave one of the aldermen a nasty dig in the side with her beak.
"Put that down in your book," she hissed. "South end of lake, reserved for widows only. And don't let me catch any of you aldermen snooping around."
"A nasty individual!" the mayor whispered to the nearest alderman.
The widows tramped as loudly as they could, leaving the meeting; snapping their beaks, tossing their heads, and causing as much commotion as possible.
"We've avoided a rumpus," the mayor said with relief. "And now gentlemen, we'll discuss the important business of aviation. There's been far too little gliding and soaring going on lately; we must keep our reputation of being the finest soarers in the bird kingdom."
"Let's follow the widows!" Blinky whispered to Nutsy. "I'm not interested in soaring and nose-diving. Are you?"
"I'd like to see them nose-dive with those big noses," Nutsy remarked regretfully as she followed Blinky through the reeds.
"We'll see the real nose-diving if we follow the widows," he said excitedly. "Keep in the shadows. Old mother widow will kill us if she sees us."
In and out of the reeds they stumbled and crawled, keeping at a safe distance from the widows. Suddenly, the procession halted.
"What's up now?" Blinky asked.
"Be quiet!" Nutsy whispered. "They're talking."
The little koalas crept closer, and peeping through the reeds saw to their surprise a large flat sandy clearing at the lake's edge. All the widows lined up with a great deal of chattering and pushing.
"Contact!" the old lady pelican shouted.
"My goodness! They're going to fly," Nutsy whispered.
"The cheek of them!" Blinky said crossly. "How are we going to follow them?"
Before they had time to discuss the matter, the old lady pelican shouted: "Soar!" and up the whole company of widows went.
"That's that!" Blinky said decidedly.
"Look at them!" Nutsy exclaimed. "Aren't they wonderful?"
The little bears were held spell-bound as they watched the great birds soar higher and higher, with the most effortless, noiseless and graceful action, then away—away to the south they flew in formation.
"Now we can't see the fishing party," Blinky wailed.
"Yes we can! Yes we can!" Nutsy cried dancing up and down. "Look! They've landed again."
And sure enough they had; but it was fully a mile away.
"Come on, let's hurry!" Blinky said, scrambling ahead. Round the lake they bustled and into the reeds again, always keeping the widows in sight. It was a long journey for little legs not used to the ground; but the excitement of what lay ahead kept their courage up, and after many rests and many exclamations of "Oh!" and "Bother!" when they stumbled, they at last came within a few yards of the Widows' Weeds. And weedy it was! Up to their knees amongst weeds of all descriptions, including beautiful yellow and pink water-lilies, the widows dabbled with their beaks. Filling their pouches with all kinds of rubbish, they cleverly washed away the unwanted collection, then tipping their heads back swallowed the fish.
"Heck! I wish I had a fishing trap like that!" Blinky remarked, then laughed at the top of his voice.
"Look at them!" he said, pointing to two pelicans who were quarrelling over a catch.
One had her strong beak around the other's neck, just like a pair of scissors, trying to force back a fish that the second one was swallowing.
They tussled and wriggled, all the time the scissors held firmly round the victim's neck. But the owner of the fish was quite determined not to lose her catch. After fully five minutes of his wrestling she gave a quick jerk with her head, released the grip of the robber and swallowed her fish.
Frogs croaked in terror as they were gobbled up by the dozens. It was a great party for the widows. After the first excitement had died down, the fish became wise and swam farther into the lake. But the widows were prepared for this. Very quietly they waded out, forming a semicircle. The water was shallow, and great quantities of fish leaped in the air as they were pursued. Closing in, the widows began slowly to wade towards the shore, driving the fish before them. What a time they had! Each escaping fish was pounced upon and stored away in the pouch, until the pouch began to swell, then a quick jerk of the head, and many poor little fish went down a slippery dip into a dark tummy.
Now, as the fish were driven right up to the edge of the lake, a great noise arose. Wings flapped, beaks opened and shut like lightning and the widows dined as they'd never dined since their husbands died.
Nutsy and Blinky watched in silence. This was something they'd never seen before. For many hours they watched. Then, when the last widow had taken flight back to her home, two little koalas crept from their hiding-places.
"I'm going to try to catch a fish," Blinky announced.
"Me too!" Nutsy replied.
"Look out an eel doesn't bite you," Blinky said as he dipped one foot in the water, then the other.
But Nutsy was as brave as he. Carefully wading into the water, she showed Blinky that she was quite capable of looking after herself.
"Don't touch the frogs," Nutsy called, "only the biggest fish."
"Clear out of here and let me get some sleep," an irritable voice growled. "This poking about in the water all night long nearly drives me mad."
"Who's that?" Nutsy whispered.
Blinky stood still, water up to his tummy.
"Beg pardon!" he shouted. "What did you say?"
"Clear out! Clear out! and let me get some sleep," the voice came again.
"It's not your lake!" Blinky replied, "and we'll fish in it if we want to."
Almost at the same moment he gave a howl of pain and surprise; then flopped right on his back into the water.
"My toe! My toe!" he yelled. "Help me, Nutsy!"
Nutsy waded as quickly as she could to where Blinky was floundering and yelling in the water.
"Get up!" she cried with fright. "You'll drown."
"I can't," he shouted. "Help me! My toe's being bitten off."
"Here! Take my paw," Nutsy half sobbed with fright. "I'll pull you up."
Blinky grabbed with all his might, nearly pulling Nutsy down as well.
"My toe!" he kept crying. "My toe's gone."
"Put it up and let me see—quickly!" Nutsy said, trembling from head to foot.
With a great effort, still shouting with pain, Blinky lifted his foot from the water. Just as he raised it, a great ugly red crab fell with a splash, back into the water.
"Oh!" Nutsy gasped. "Oh!—Run for the shore or he'll bite you again."
"I will, and you too, if you don't clear out," came the angry voice from under the water.
Struggling and splashing the two little koalas raced for the brink of the lake.
"The brute!" Blinky cried. "The bad-tempered old thing!"
"No cheek!" came a deep command from the mud.
"Don't answer him. Run quickly," Nutsy said, still terrified.
But Blinky remained just long enough to hurl a large stone into the water, then scuttled away as quickly as he could.
"You're asking for trouble," Nutsy scolded. "Now we've all the way home to go, and you with a sore toe too!"
"It's not hurting! It never hurted!" Blinky remarked brazenly.
Nutsy was not surprised to hear this. She sighed, and gently taking Blinky's paw, they walked along, back past the pelicans' meeting-place, where all was quietness, and into the bush track again.
"Where are we going?" Blinky asked.
"Home, of course!" Nutsy replied.
"No I'm not!" Blinky announced, stopping in his tracks. "I'm going to see Mr Crocodile!"
"You're what?" Nutsy gasped.
"Going to see Mr Croc!" Blinky said, not daring to look at Nutsy.
"Do-you-know-what-he'll-do?" Nutsy asked with deliberation.
"Yes!" Blinky retorted cheekily. "He'll say 'Good day, Blinky! Would you like a ride on my back?'"
"And would you go?" Nutsy asked in amazement.
"Rather!" Blinky announced. "It would be most 'citing."
"You're coming home!" Nutsy said sternly. "And you're coming home with me." She grabbed him firmly by a paw and started to drag him along the track. He lay on the ground and kicked.
"You bad, bad boy!" Nutsy scolded. "Wait till Splodge hears of this!" She started to struggle with him again, dragging and pulling the kicking little imp along the track.
"Hey! What's this?" a gruff voice demanded. "What's all this dust kicking about?"
Out on to the track stepped Mr Walter Wombat again.
"He won't come home! He says he's going to see Mr Croc!" Nutsy cried. "And he'll be killed for sure."
"Going to see Mr Croc, is he?" Mr Walter Wombat remarked in a cold voice, grabbing Blinky by the ear. "You're going home my boy—that's where you're going," he said sternly.
"I was only pretending!" Blinky said sulkily. "Let go my ear or I'll bite you."
Mr Walter Wombat shook Blinky until his teeth chattered. "Get home at ONCE!" he roared, releasing his grip on the little scallawag.
Blinky scrambled away, far quicker than he thought it possible, Nutsy following.
"You big tell-tale," he said. "I hate girls!"
Growling and grumbling he trotted ahead, a very tired and irritable little bear. Dawn was fast approaching. A dim grey light appeared in the east and the trees gradually shed their dark shapes of the night. The birds awoke, calling and singing their morning greeting. Rabbits scurried from their burrows in search of breakfast.
"There's our tree!" Nutsy cried. "I'm so glad to be home again—and there's Splodge hopping about."
"I wonder where mother is?" Blinky remarked a little nervously.
"I s'pose she's up in the tree getting our breakfast ready, and crying and crying 'cause she thinks we're lost," Nutsy replied, looking very sad.
"You don't know my mother when she's angry," Blinky said with scorn. "She's most probably getting a big stick ready to whack us with."
"Will it hurt?" Nutsy whimpered.
"You bet!" Blinky replied, "specially if it's a new green stick."
"Oh! I've never been whacked before," Nutsy now began to cry in earnest.
"Fancy crying!" Blinky scoffed. "It's all over in a minute, and then my mother usually kisses me, and gives me the nicest gum-tips that she's collected specially for the occasion. Besides—she's not a bit grumpy for a long time afterwards. If I'm naughty right on top of the whacking she only says 'Don't do that, Blinky darling,' or 'Try and be a good boy now.' So you see its worth the minute it hurts."
"But I don't want to be hurt," Nutsy howled.
"S'pose I'll have to let her into my secret," Blinky mumbled to himself, "and it's such a good secret too. Bother her!"
"Stop howling!" he commanded. "Come over here and help me to collect some leaves."
"What for?" Nutsy asked between sobs.
"For padding, of course!" Blinky remarked, looking with a very bored expression at his companion. "Hurry up, and don't look so vacant."
Scratching a pile of leaves together, Blinky then began to stuff pawfuls down Nutsy's little dress, then, when that had been completed to his satisfaction, he stuffed the back of his trousers with more leaves.
"Won't she notice how fat we look?" Nutsy asked doubtfully.
"And I rustle terribly when I walk." "She'll be too cross to notice anything 'cept we're back," Blinky replied. "Come on, let's get it over!"
"You're in for it!" Splodge remarked as he spied the two little bears.
"Is she very mad?" Blinky asked hurriedly.
"Ramping!" Splodge said waving his paws about. "I've never seen your mother so snaky before. She says she's going to give you the biggest, soundest, hugest whacking you've ever had in your life."
"Gee!" Blinky whispered. "She must be mad."
Nutsy began to whimper again.
"Stop that noise!" Blinky gritted the words out between clenched teeth. "Don't you know you're whack-proof?"
"Get up the tree as quickly as possible," Splodge advised, "Every minute makes a difference."
Half-way up the tree Mrs Koala saw them.
"My goodness!" she said in a quivering voice. "Wait until you get up here!"
"We're both sorry!" Blinky shouted, "and I'll do all your messages for you if you want any."
"Come up here!" Mrs Koala commanded in cold tones. She reached down for Blinky's paw and landed him up on the branch beside her with a jerk. Then Nutsy followed. Both little bears began to talk rapidly and offer explanations.
"No excuses!" Mrs Koala said angrily, grasping a fresh green twig in one hand and Blinky by the scruff of the neck in the other.
"Get it over quickly!" he said, bending the well-padded region uppermost.
Whack! Whack! Whack! came Mrs Koala's stick. "That'll teach you to run away!" she said, panting from the exertion. "Go up to the highest branch and don't dare to move from there until I tell you."
"Yes, mother," Blinky meekly replied, rustling alarmingly as he crawled away.
"Are you going to whack me too?" Nutsy asked, looking at Mrs Koala with tears in her eyes.
"I won't this time," Mrs Koala replied, "as I'm sure Blinky put the idea into your head; but next time I'll do it, Blinky or no Blinky. Go over to that corner and stand with your nose in it until I get you to come away." Mrs Koala pointed to the cosiest corner of the old gum-tree—a corner well overhung with nice green leaves.
"The pet!" Blinky growled shrugging his shoulders as he climbed to his appointed place, then taking out the padding from his trousers, flung the leaves in a shower right on top of Nutsy.
"What's that?" Mrs Koala demanded, looking at the pile of leaves.
"It's only the tree moulting," Blinky explained, screwing his nose up at Nutsy, who was watching him out of the corner of her eve, not knowing what was going to happen next.
"Pet!" he hissed at her. "I hope those leaves in your dress prick you most dreadfully."
Forgetting that Mrs Koala might he watching, Nutsy began to pull out the leaves.
Mrs Koala coldly watched the proceeding until it was over, then, stepping over to where Nutsy stood, asked in a slow deliberate voice, "What is the meaning of this?"
"That's the whack-proof!" Nutsy said trembling.
"The what!" Mrs Koala exclaimed, a glint of anger reappearing in her eyes.
"We've brought you back padding for the guests' beds!" Blinky called out from above, where he'd been watching everything in suspense.
"How thoughtful of you," Mrs Koala said, her anger changing immediately to joy. "Just what I needed, as Mrs Possum is coming to-morrow and she was most emphatic that I should prepare a soft bed for her."
"I can get you plenty more," Blinky shouted, "only of course, I'll have to come down and get them off the ground."
"And I could help him!" Nutsy said instantly.
"I don't want any help!" Blinky shouted.
"Well, I don't see why you both shouldn't help me," Mrs Koala replied. "After all, that's what children are for. Both of you go down and bring me up as many leaves as possible. Altogether, I've ten guests arriving to-morrow, and clean, soft beds are most necessary. My manager told me that!"
Mrs Koala spoke with a note of pride in her voice. The two little bears took no notice of this last part of her conversation, as they weren't a scrap interested in the guests' beds. All they wanted to do was to get down on the ground and collect leaves. It was much nicer than being confined to one spot.
Mrs Koala fussed and fussed about, poking and patting corners into cosy beds, while Splodge gave orders to Blinky and Nutsy who collected piles of leaves. Up and down the tree they climbed until Mrs Koala was satisfied that all lumps and bumps in the beds had been padded so well that all the guests would be most comfortable. Then a supper of leaves for themselves, eaten between calling out remarks to Splodge who sat at the foot of the tree, completed all arrangements.
Much to Blinky's and Nutsy's relief, Mrs Koala never mentioned the running-away again.
Towards evening of the following day the guests began to arrive. First of all came a most distinguished gentleman, Mr Tree-Kangaroo. He was cluttered up with luggage—all attached to his tail, by the way—and judging from his appearance he had come a long way. "A-hem!" he coughed, as he approached the manager's office, where Splodge sat on a flat rock, underneath the bough of a pretty sapling. A large book and pencil lay before him on the stump of a tree.
"Is this the 'A Home Away From Home', guest house?" Mr Tree-Kangaroo asked, looking disdainfully down his nose at Splodge.
"Yes, sir!" Splodge replied politely. "Are you seeking accommodation?"
"Yes, providing the house is select and no gay parties at night," Mr Tree-Kangaroo said with a look upwards to where Mrs Koala was busily engaged preparing the supper.
"Only people with references taken," Splodge snapped. "And I'd like to see yours before you sign the visitors' book. All terms to be paid in advance."
"That's a bit sudden, isn't it?" Mr Tree-Kangaroo answered, feeling in his pouch for the necessary papers and money.
"We have to protect ourselves against impostors," Splodge replied.
"Of course, of course," Mr Tree-Kangaroo said hurriedly, still fumbling in his pouch.
Splodge eyed him suspiciously, while the traveller slowly emptied all sorts of odds and ends on the ground.
"There's my pipe, and there's my tobacco," he said as he pulled out a twig with a gum-nut attached to it, also several dry leaves, "and that's my hanky," pointing to a grubby piece of rag. "But where in the world is my money? Ah—here we are!" he exclaimed with a big sigh. "I knew I had it, and there's my banking account for reference." He handed Splodge a shiny sixpence, together with a piece of torn newspaper.
"That's all right!" Splodge said clapping him on the back, and dropping the sixpence in a rusty tin. "Don't think for a minute I distrusted you," he added. "But one has to be so careful in this business. Think what would happen if a couple of locusts got loose in the pantry!"
"Low fellows!" Mr Tree-Kangaroo sniffed.
"Please sign the visitors' book," Splodge said handing the guest the pencil, "and do you mind not wetting it first—it's that bluey stuff. If you jab hard enough it will show up."
Mr Tree-Kangaroo jabbed right through the page.
"That's a nuisance!" Splodge remarked ripping out the underneath page. "That's all loss!" And flipping the paper over his shoulder, he called to Blinky to help the guest carry his luggage up the tree.
"Oh!—by the way, do you want breakfast in bed?" Splodge asked.
"Is there any extra charge?" Mr Tree-Kangaroo asked.
"Not if you get up and carry it there yourself," Splodge answered.
"Is this a cash-and-carry business?" Mr Tree-Kangaroo demanded crossly.
"My apologies, sir!" Splodge said at once. "Perhaps I was over-eager to please you."
"And just a little too eager to please yourself," the guest remarked haughtily. "Boy!" he shouted. "Help me up with my luggage."
"He doesn't mean me, does he?" Blinky asked Splodge, pointing to the guest.
"Yes, yes," Splodge whispered hurriedly. "Help him up and be most polite. He's a bit ruffled already."
"So am I!" Blinky declared. Then walking over to the guest he announced in a loud voice: "I'm Blinky Bill, and that's what you've got to call me—not Boy!"
"A modern child I suppose," the guest remarked. "Never mind, we won't quarrel over names; give my tail a lift up, boy—and be mighty careful the way you handle it. I've had rheumatiz in the end of it very badly lately. That's why I've come here. A change of climate and a little warmth may work wonders."
"I'll teach him not to call me Boy!" Blinky muttered as Mr Tree-Kangaroo started up the tree.
"Lift it! Lift it!" he shouted irritably as Blinky made no effort to help with his tail.
Rushing to his aid, Blinky grabbed the tip of the guest's tail and lifted with all his strength.
"That's the idea!" Mr Tree-Kangaroo grunted with satisfaction—then a howl of pain came from his lips, as Blinky bit savagely the very tip of the gentleman's tail. "That'll teach him!" he grunted to himself.
"It must be acute rheumatiz!" he said aloud, as Mr Tree-Kangaroo turned to inspect his tail.
"The worst twinge I've ever had!" he remarked. "Let's get up quickly. Another one of those and I'd die!"
"They must be pretty painful," Blinky replied, staggering under his load.
"Dreadful! Dreadful!" the guest puffed, mopping his head with his handkerchief.
Mrs Koala stood ready to receive her visitors, smiling and bowing graciously, while Nutsy stood behind her, peeping at the newcomer.
"Ah! Here we are at last!" Mr Tree-Kangaroo remarked as he shook paws with his hostess. "You really need a rope and basket to heave people up," he puffed.
"That's a fine idea!" Mrs Koala replied. "I'll mention it to my manager."
"I'll work it!" Blinky cried. "I'll haul them 'cause it's a man's job."
"You go and speak to the manager about it," Mrs Koala said to her son, "and ask him to make arrangements about fresh cabbages and potatoes, also carrots.
"I've been so busy making up beds that I've forgotten to order food," she explained to Mr Tree-Kangaroo.
"That doesn't sound like a home away from home," he replied coldly. "Haven't you anything for supper?"
"Oh, yes! I've provided for that," Mrs Koala said with a smile. "Let me show you to your room." Leading her guest to a very large comfortable bed, padded well with leaves, she pulled a few branches together to make it more private.
"This looks good!" her guest said turning back a few leaves and peering anxiously among them. "No spiders I hope!" he remarked off-handedly.
"Dear me, no!" Mrs Koala said with a shocked expression. "This is a select guest house."
Mr Tree-Kangaroo flung himself on the bed with a sigh of relief.
"Kindly take your boots off!" Mrs Koala said sternly. "This is a home away from home, and I'm sure you wouldn't do that in your own home."
"I quite forgot!" her guest apologized. Taking his boots off he flung them on the floor—as he thought; but they went sailing down through the branches to land right on top of the manager's head.
"Dog's body!" Splodge roared. "What was that?"
"The guest's feet," Blinky remarked as he dodged the boots.
"Disgusting fellow!" Splodge expounded. "For two whiskers I'd throw him out."
"But you can't climb," Blinky said looking at his friend.
"I'll shake him out if he doesn't behave," Splodge replied. "Anyway, what are you here for? Can't you see I'm up to my tail in work."
Blinky gave his message to the surprised Splodge. "Now, where in the world am I to get all those things from?" he said scratching his head.
"I know!" Blinky exclaimed. "Over at Farmer Scratchet's. He's got dozens and dozens of cabbages and carrots, and piles and piles of potatoes."
"You mean we're to steal them!" Splodge asked.
"Not exactly," Blinky replied. "We'll only borrow them."
"Borrow cabbages! And how do you think we're going to return them when the guests have eaten them?" Splodge asked.
"No! I'll have to ask Farmer Scratchet if he'll sell them to us."
Meanwhile three more guests had arrived all asking for accommodation.
Mr and Mrs Goanna, and their daughter, a fair-skinned, shy little thing, who darted around the back of the tree and hissed loudly when Splodge looked at her.
"We want a double bed and a single one!" Mrs Goanna said.
"Run up and tell your mother to make up a double bed," Splodge ordered Blinky.
"She's not going to sleep near me!" Blinky said pointing at little Daisy Goanna. "She makes noises like ginger-beer bottles going off!"
"Are you referring to my Daisy?" Mrs Goanna asked with indignation.
"She's making awful noises," Blinky retorted, "just like escaping steam."
"Go up and deliver my message to your mother!" Splodge thundered, while he made efforts to calm Mrs Goanna.
"A double bed!" Mrs Koala exclaimed, upon hearing the message. "That's strange—well—I'll have to do it," and straight-way she began piling the leaves from one bed on top of the other. "Fancy wanting a bed as high as that," she said when the work was completed.
"P'rhaps the guest's a bower bird," Nutsy suggested.
"Good heavens! Hide my blue slippers," Mrs Koala said excitedly. "They'll steal anything blue, those bower birds."
"When is the dinner-gong going?" came from Mr Tree-Kangaroo's direction.
"Any time now," Mrs Koala replied, still thumping and pushing the double bed into shape.
A great deal of hissing suddenly sounded at the foot of the tree, and Mrs Koala peering down nearly fell from the branch with astonishment.
"Good gracious! If it's not the Goanna family, all hissing like a lot of boiling kettles. Quick, Nutsy! Get the tea ready."
The Goanna family hissed extraordinarily as they climbed the tree. With studied care they advanced step by step, their great banded bodies bending from side to side, while their eyes were fixed on one spot—Mrs Koala's front door, or, in other words, the stout branch that served as a doorstep to the upper regions of the tree.
"Here we are!" Mr Goanna hissed as he wriggled on to the branch, followed by his wife and daughter. Mrs Goanna peered through a lorgnette made from grass. "It could be made a little more attractive," she hissed with her head in the air.
"I hope the menu will tempt our jaded appetites."
"Do you think it is quite select enough for us?" Daisy Goanna asked, peeping this way and that.
"It all depends on who the other guests are," Mrs Goanna replied. "We at least will give tone to the place."
"Sh-h-h! There's the proprietress!" Mr Goanna hissed as Mrs Koala scrambled down the tree to greet them.
"How do you do?" Mrs Goanna wheezed. "Is our suite ready?"
"Come this way, please," Mrs Koala replied with a bow. "Everything's in readiness. One double bed and one single bed."
"We'll rest for a few minutes before tea," Mrs Goanna replied.
"Follow me," Mrs Koala said, leading the way until the suite was reached.
"Where's the double bed?" Mrs Goanna asked, raising her eyebrows.
"There it is!" Mrs Koala replied pointing to the pile of leaves.
"That's a single bed!" Mrs Goanna said haughtily.
"No, it isn't!" Mrs Koala replied indignantly. "Look at all the leaves I've piled up. I took the top lot from another bed—that makes it double."
"How pathetic!" Mrs Goanna sniffed, turning her head away. "One can see yours is not a select guest house."
"It is select!" Mrs Koala replied crossly. "And I'm the selector. I'll be pleased if you and your family will go elsewhere. I entertain only the best people."
"Oh! Did you hear that?" Daisy Goanna hissed in horror. "We the banded monitors, to be spoken to like that."
"Take your bands and your hissing away!" came a deep growl from Mr Tree-Kangaroo's direction. "I'm waiting for my dinner and you're holding it up."
"What's for dinner?" Mr Goanna suddenly asked, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. "Any rabbits?"
"Certainly not!" Mrs Koala replied tartly. "The rabbits are our guests, and not to be put on the menu."
"Guests!" All the Goanna family hissed loudly. "Rabbits for guests!"
"Do you know, we eat them by the dozen?" Mrs Goanna said with her head in the air.
"I wouldn't be surprised!" Mrs Koala replied. "In fact nothing you did would surprise me."
"Come! Bertram. This is no place for respectable people like us," Mrs Goanna said turning to her husband, and in less than a minute all three were shuffling down the tree again.
"Old coppers! That's what they are!" Mrs Koala said to Nutsy. "Hissing and spluttering around my place like a wash-day at the zoo."
"You should have poked them overboard," Nutsy said sympathetically. "I wish Blinky had been here. He'd have done it!"
"Is my tucker ready?" Mr Tree-Kangaroo sounded as though he was becoming impatient.
"Yes, yes," Mrs Koala called. "Come this way into the dining-room."
"Tie your apron and cap on," she whispered to Nutsy. "And when he comes up, hand him a few gum-nuts to chew while I prepare his tea."
Mr Tree-Kangaroo climbed with great alacrity to the dining-room, where Nutsy stood, holding some gum-nuts. She bowed ever so sweetly as the gentleman sat down on the branch, and offered him the dainties.
"What's this? What's this?" he said with a grunt, eyeing the nuts with suspicion.
"They're to chew. To keep you quiet till your tea is ready," Nutsy replied sweetly.
Then Mr Tree-Kangaroo did a dreadful thing. The rudest thing I have ever heard of. He raised his paw, gave a nasty smack with it, and sent the nuts sky-high. Poor Nutsy opened her mouth to cry; but Mrs Koala, who had seen everything (and very nervous she felt about it too), cried out:
"I'm coming! I'm coming! Don't get mad! Here's your tea!"
"What's for tea?" Mr Tree-Kangaroo asked Nutsy, looking at her sternly, while she shivered from head to toes.
"Chewing-gum or leaves," she replied stuttering.
"What's chewing-gum?" Mr Tree-Kangaroo asked, glaring at Nutsy. "Is it something new?"
"Not 'zactly," Nutsy replied, fumbling with her paws. "It's the same as gum-leaves, only you chew some leaves, and the others you just gobble."
"I see," Mr Tree-Kangaroo said in a slow deliberate manner, while his whiskers seemed to be quivering in all directions at once. "And that's what you expect guests to eat in a select house?"
"Here you are! Here you are!" Mrs Koala cried, fairly pushing the leaves under his nose. "They're the first of the season."
"And the last!" her guest roared as he pitched them in the same direction as the nuts.
"My goodness!" Mrs Koala said under her breath. "What a dreadful temper!"
"Give me my sixpence back!" Mr Tree-Kangaroo demanded loudly. "And my bank-book too!"
"Inquire for them at the office," Mrs Koala replied with her nose in the air. "Come, Nutsy, we will see if Blinky has returned with the cabbages."
"Cabbages!" Mr Tree-Kangaroo fairly shouted. "Have you any cabbages?"
"They're on order," Mrs Koala replied with dignity. "But they are only for gentlemen. Good day!" and so saying, she and Nutsy climbed higher in the tree.
"Pity I lost my temper;" Mr Tree-Kangaroo murmured to himself as he slowly climbed down the tree. "It's years since I tasted a cabbage; but I suppose their cabbages would have slugs in them, so I've not missed much.
"My sixpence and bank-book, please!" he announced to the astonished Splodge.
"Aren't you satisfied?" Splodge asked in surprise.
"My sixpence and bank-book!" Mr Tree-Kangaroo thundered. "And look slick, my lad!"
"There'll be a penny charge for resting on the bed," Splodge replied coldly. He, too, was beginning to get cross.
"My sixpence and bank-book!" Mr Tree-Kangaroo roared.
"Oh, for the love of spiders, take them!" Splodge shouted as he hurled the rusty tin containing the treasures at the guest.
Mr Tree-Kangaroo tucked his sixpence and piece of newspaper carefully in his pouch, eyeing Splodge all the while. "I'll have a boxing-match with you some day, my young codger," he said shaking his paw at Splodge.
"Mind the step as you go out!" was Splodge's reply, then turning his back on the irate guest he spotted that gentleman's shoes.
"Hum-m-m!" he growled to himself. "He won't get those anyway!"
Mr Tree-Kangaroo had entirely forgotten his shoes, and it was not until his feet became sore, many, many miles farther on that he remembered them. "That's goodbye to them," he sighed sitting down to rest. Back at the office of "A Home Away From Home" the manager was slowly and carefully writing in a large book.
"Not too bad for the first try," Splodge said to himself. "But I can see things want livening up a bit if we're to make this business pay. Moonlight picnics, dancing in the bush, fishing excursions, snake-hunts—that's the idea! I'll go now and tell Mrs Koala what must be done. By the way it's time that young shaver, Mr Blinky, was back. I wonder where's he's got to." Almost simultaneously with Splodge's thought Blinky came tumbling through the bush, a large cabbage tightly held between his front paws, and a very pleased look on his face.
"Where'd you get that?" Splodge shouted, staring coldly at the cabbage.
"Over at Farmer Scratchet's," Blinky said proudly.
"Did you come by it honestly?" Splodge demanded.
"Yes!" Blinky replied, hugging the cabbage more tightly. "I asked Farmer Scratchet if he'd lend me a few cabbages and carrots, and Mrs Scratchet's clothes-basket, and instead of saying 'Certainly, Blinky!' he roared at me and said he'd 'give me 'zactly one minute to get off his premises.'"
"And how did you come by that cabbage under those circumstances?" Splodge said sternly, pointing to the cabbage.
"I just walked out of the gate, round the back of Farmer Scratchet's house, popped under the fence and grabbed it before it had time to call out for help."
"That's stealing!" Splodge thundered, "and sure as eggs that very same cabbage will choke you if you attempt to eat it."
"O-o-o-h! I didn't know that!" Blinky said in surprise. "Will it choke all the guests too?"
"No, only the stealer of it," Splodge replied. "Here—hand it over while I taste it to see if it's perfectly fresh."
Blinky handed over the big crisp cabbage not without some misgivings. Splodge pulled a juicy leaf and quickly gobbled the dainty; the second and third leaves disappeared in the same way with startling rapidity.
"Here! You'll have the lot if you don't stop," Blinky shouted indignantly, making a grab at the cabbage.
"The outside leaves are no good for guests, and I'm only eating them," Splodge replied, holding the cabbage at a safe distance from Blinky. "You shin up the tree and tell your mother to come down and have a look at it. Besides, I want to talk business with her."
"Don't you eat another leaf, or I'll not be responsible for my actions when I come back," Blinky said as he started to climb the tree.
"Stuff and nonsense!" Splodge mumbled to himself as he crammed his mouth full of cabbage. "I'll just taste one more leaf, from the heart, and then I'll not touch another." Saying this, he pulled apart the creamy heart of the cabbage and instantly gobbled half of it. The remainder looked very silly indeed, so he decided to finish it, and be done with the whole affair. "A half cabbage will only cause ill-feeling and jealousy—so here goes!" Splodge added. And away went the last little particle of that beautiful green cabbage. "The very idea of stealing a cabbage!" he said to himself. "That'll be a lesson to young man Blinky. I can't bear the thought of him stealing."
In a few minutes Mrs Koala, Nutsy and Blinky stood in front of him.
"Where's the cabbage?" Blinky demanded, glaring at Splodge.
"I decided it was best to destroy it," Splodge explained. "Stolen goods only cause trouble."
"I hope you have the biggest and longest stomach-ache you've ever had in your life," Blinky shouted with rage.
"I think you might have waited until we could hold a consultation over the cabbage," Mrs Koala remarked, looking at Splodge. "After all, it was my son's cabbage and not yours."
"We'll say no more about it," Splodge replied, dismissing the subject with a wave of his paw. "More urgent business requires our attention."
"What's that?" Mrs Koala inquired.
"This place wants pepping up," Splodge said impressively. "Amusement for the guests—- parties, dances, excursions, picnics, and a bit of whoopee here and there."
"I'd like to give you a bit of whoopee here and there," Blinky said still glowering at Splodge.
"That'll do!" Mrs Koala said sternly, giving her son a gentle push.
"I think we'll adjourn to my office, Mrs Koala, and discuss the matter in quietness and privacy," Splodge said, ignoring Blinky and Nutsy.
"Quite so, quite so," Mrs Koala replied. "Blinky—you and Nutsy play about for a little while, until I call you."
"Come on, Nuts, let's go for a walk," Blinky whispered. "That Splodge is the greediest gobbler I've ever seen."
"Can't we get another cabbage?" Nutsy asked. "I'm sure Mrs Koala would like one."
"'Course we can! We can get dozens of 'em," Blinky said with a worldly air. "We can get carrots and potatoes too—and Mrs Scratchet's basket as well."
"What a surprise Mrs Koala will get," Nutsy said excitedly.
"Come on, let's hurry," Blinky replied, running ahead through the bush.
It was moonlight. As the two little bears approached Farmer Scratchet's house, they saw a light gleaming in the window.
"He's in bed," Blinky whispered. "We'll crawl round to the laundry first and get the basket."
Nutsy was trembling with excitement. "Has he a dog?" she asked.
"He's chained up, and besides, he's a friend of mine," Blinky answered.
Nearer and nearer they crept towards the laundry. The door was open and everything looked very simple and easy. A few more steps and they stood in front of the door. There was the clothes-basket, full of linen on top of the copper.
"We'll have to tip all that rubbish out," Blinky remarked. "I'll get up on top of the copper and throw the stuff down. You be ready to help me down with the basket."
"Well, hurry up," Nutsy said nervously. "Someone might catch us."
Almost immediately Farmer Scratchet's dog began to bark.
"He'll catch us! He'll kill us!" Nutsy whispered. "Hide in the copper."
"Come on then," Blinky said excitedly. "Hurry up or he'll be here."
The two little koalas scrambled into the copper, pulled the lid over them, and lay there with hearts thumping, while Farmer Scratchet's dog barked furiously.
"Lie down!" a voice roared from the house; but the dog still kept barking.
In a few moments heavy footsteps came padding down the path.
"What's all the noise about?" Farmer Scratchet demanded.
The dog barked and tugged at his chain.
"I've a good mind to let you off," Farmer Scratchet said.
"I wouldn't if I were you," Blinky said softly.
"Tell him not to," Nutsy whimpered.
"Be quiet," Blinky ordered. "We're as dead as turnips if he finds us."
Nearer came the footsteps, and then—horror of horrors, Farmer Scratchet came into the laundry.
"If there's any one about he's in here," Farmer Scratchet said under his breath as he turned over boxes, moved the gardening tools, looked behind the door, and actually in the clothes-basket.
"That dog's a fraud!" he exclaimed. "Yap, yap, yap, and no cause for any of it. For two pins I'd give him to the butcher."
Blinky gave Nutsy a nudge. They held their breaths, not daring to make the slightest sound.
"Kerchoo!" Farmer Scratchet sneezed, making the windows rattle, and nearly, very nearly killing the two little bears with fright.
"A plague on that dog," he said loudly and crossly. "Here am I catching my death of cold, all through his yapping. Bed's the best place for me!" Saying this he stamped out of the laundry and to Blinky's and Nutsy's delight, hauled his dog, chain and all, round to the front of the house.
"Isn't he kind?" Blinky giggled as he and Nutsy wriggled out of the copper.
"I think I'm going to faint," Nutsy said weakly.
"I'll push you under the tap if you do," Blinky said sternly. "Just you try any of those silly tricks and you'll soon be sorry. Get down on the floor while I empty the basket."
Nutsy did so, without any further comment, while a shower of linen came hurtling through the air. Piles of it flew in all directions, and finally the basket arrived after a good kick from Blinky on top of the copper.
"Look out for your shins!" he called as the basket toppled at Nutsy's feet.
In another few seconds both little bears were tugging and pushing the cumbersome basket out of the door and over the lawn. Under the fence, and across the paddock to where the vegetables grew, they heaved and tugged, determined to accomplish their mission. Farmer Scratchet's best piece of rope, that he always used for hauling logs and iron about, was the cause of at least half an hour's tussle, as Blinky and Nutsy came upon it lying on the ground. They lifted and grunted, sighed and heaved, as they pushed it into the basket, then off once more to the cabbage patch.
"It's no use taking more than one cabbage, and one potato, and one carrot," Blinky said puffing. "We'll never get home if we do."
"I wish Splodge was here," Nutsy remarked. "We could harness him to the basket and drag home lots of cabbages then."
"It's a good idea," Blinky said looking at Nutsy. "But he's not to be trusted after what happened to the last cabbage—besides, he'll say its stealing, and we're only borrowing."
"But he'd be such a help," Nutsy persisted. "I could run home and get him while you fill the basket up, ready to pull off when he comes."
"If I get him he'll have to promise not to eat our things, and not to growl," Blinky answered, "and that means—we've got to get the rope out again."
Nutsy was already in the basket trying to heave the rope out. They pushed and poked, puffing and grunting until the rope lay on the ground.
"Go for your life," Blinky ordered, "and don't be long, 'cause Farmer Scratchet might come around again."
Nutsy flew along the track, while Blinky pulled up carrots and potatoes by the dozen. Into the basket they went, with six fine cabbages perched on top. By the time he'd completed his job, Splodge and Nutsy came in sight, Nutsy perched on top of her friend's back, while he made big bounds over to where Blinky stood.
"What game is this?" Splodge demanded looking as cross as he possibly could.
"Private business," Blinky replied loftily. "If you care to drag this basket home you'll be paid with one potato."
Splodge was speechless. Such impudence—and from so small an animal too.
"Hook your hind legs to the basket with this rope," Blinky began to command.
"Now look here, my young fellow. I'm not hooking any of my hind legs to any baskets for any one for only one potato," Splodge said definitely. "One potato, one carrot, and one cabbage is my price. Take it or leave it."
"It's overcharging," Blinky announced sternly, "but I'll have to hire you."
Not a word was mentioned in regard to stealing as Splodge licked his lips while helping Nutsy and Blinky to tie the rope to the basket handles, and then loop it over his shoulders.
"You and Nutsy had better get in the basket too," Splodge said as he eyed the load, which to him was a mere trifle.
"Hooray!" Blinky shouted. "Come on, Nuts, now for a joy ride."
Up the two of them scrambled, perching themselves between cabbages and clinging to the basket sides.
"All aboard?" Splodge called. "Off we go!"
With a tremendous jerk the basket bounded off the ground. Bump, bump, bump, over the paddock it went, Splodge leaping ahead, while Blinky and Nutsy were bounced about among the cabbages and potatoes.
Round the corners they bounded, in and out of the trees, missing branches and rocks by a hairbreadth. Mrs Rabbit and her toddlers were out for an evening stroll. She looked with amazement at this new kind of danger that came tearing along the bush track, then with one startled scream called her babies to her side, and she and they dashed into the undergrowth away from the hideous monster.
"It's enough to turn all my children cross-eyed," Mrs Rabbit panted, as she lined her babies up under cover of a big gum-tree and examined each carefully.
Meanwhile Splodge and Co. went bounding along. "The quicker home, the quicker I'll get my cabbage," Splodge thought. Mrs Koala up in the tree could not believe her eyes as she saw Splodge and the contraption come tearing through the bush.
Wallop, wallop, wallop, they came, amid calls and shouts from Blinky and Nutsy.
Down the tree Mrs Koala scrambled, nearly slipping in her excitement.
Splodge came to a standstill, streams of puff coming from his nostrils.
"Look what we've got!" Blinky shouted.
"Potatoes and carrots and cabbages!" Nutsy shouted at the same time.
"'Pon my soul!" Mrs Koala exclaimed. "And how am I going to pay for it all?"
"It's all borrowed!" Blinky replied, dancing up and down, "and the basket too—and the rope."
"'Pon my soul!" Mrs Koala repeated. She was amazed.
"Of course we'll have to return the basket and rope," Splodge explained, "but I don't see how we can manage about the vegetables. Anyhow, there's acres of them over at Farmer Scratchet's going to waste—sheer waste—and just asking to be picked and eaten. It's a kindness to do it."
"Quite right," Mrs Koala agreed. "I never can understand humans allowing fields and fields of cabbages and carrots to remain there, week in and week out."
All through the night Splodge, Mrs Koala, Blinky and Nutsy worked at top speed. The whole place was transformed. From a stout limb of the gum-tree dangled a rope, on the end of which Mrs Scratchet's basket swayed to and fro not far above the ground. At the foot of the tree, neatly arrayed in rows, lay the carrots, potatoes and cabbages, interspersed with watercress and gum-leaves. A large notice bravely planted in the heart of the largest cabbage bore the following words for all the bush folk to read:
Mrs Koala feeds her guests on these things. Take good look. Have a good sniff (no tasting allowed). Then order your meals and beds from the manager.
P.S. Under no circs need snakes apply. Ants may apply for employment as garbage removers.
Signed, SPLODGE, Manager of this concern.
Either the smell of the good things to eat, or that strange thing called bush telegraphy, had the effect of bringing animals of all descriptions from all corners of the bush. They peered and sniffed with their noses against the vegetables, dangerously close to their mouths. But Splodge had his weather eye open. When he found an animal a little too interested in the cabbages or carrots, he smartly rapped the offender on the back with the order:
"Sniff and move on, please."
Guests were booked in bunches. The climax came when Farmer Scratchet's old plough horse wandered upon the scene.
"How much for dinner?" he asked Splodge.
"Sorry, sir, we're full up," Splodge replied thinking very quickly. One dinner for Mr Plough Horse would mean no dinner for any one else.
"Fine cabbages you have there," Mr Plough Horse remarked nodding in the cabbages' direction. "They're mighty like Farmer Scratchet's, the ones I helped to plough in."
"They're first cousins," Splodge replied without twinking a whisker.
"Look here, my boy!" Mr Plough Horse said under his breath, thrusting his nose right into Splodge's face, "you give me a couple of carrots, or I'll let Farmer Scratchet know about this—cousins or no cousins."
"I don't usually bribe people," Splodge said haughtily, "but business is business and I hate the way you snoop around, so take a couple of carrots and go. Mind you—if I catch you holding private conversations with Farmer Scratchet it will be a bad day for you."
Mr Plough Horse gave a loud long neigh and grabbed the carrots between this teeth.
"I hope they get stuck in his wind-pipe," Splodge said to Mrs Koala who had been standing by, nervously watching the whole business.
"He's a pimp!" Blinky shouted. "We all should chase him off our premises."
Amid an uproar of growling, screeching and howling, Mr Plough Horse was sent about his business. After that everything proceeded quietly. From a branch of the gum-tree Nutsy, at a given signal from Mrs Koala, rang the dinner-bells, that is to say, she waved a pawful of Christmas bells backwards and forwards, making the sweetest tinkle imaginable.
"Hooray!" the guests shouted. "Hooray for a gobble!" All the eatables had been carefully hoisted up in the basket on to the biggest limb of the tree and there they were in full view of the guests below.
As the dinner bell sounded, a wild scramble up the tree commenced by those who were able to climb, while the birds flew like darts up on to the bough.
"What'll we do?" Mrs and Mr Wombat wailed.
"And me too?" Mr Wallaby echoed.
"You'll go up in the basket," Blinky exclaimed triumphantly, as he proceeded to grab the rope. "Get in—one at a time, and no pushing and shoving," he ordered.
"Ladies first," Mrs Wombat simpered shyly as she waddled towards the basket.
"Hurry up and get in," Blinky shouted.
Very clumsily Mrs Wombat fell into the basket with a shrill little scream.
"Let her go!" Splodge said beckoning to Blinky to haul at the rope.
He hauled and hauled, pulled and tugged; but the basket didn't budge an inch.
"You're the fattest wombat I've ever met," Blinky said crossly, the perspiration running down his nose.
"He's insulting me!" Mrs Wombat complained in a whining tone.
"I'll soon fix it!" Splodge remarked, bounding over to the basket. "Let me there, Blinky, and when I say 'Go!' pull with all your might."
"Get ready!" he shouted. "Now—go!"
With a rush Splodge sprang away in the opposite direction, the rope well around his shoulders. Up shot Mrs Wombat in the basket, while Blinky was tumbled over and over in the rush. Away the basket went, right up to the dining-room in the tree. Mrs Wombat gave a nervous shriek then, grabbing the limb of the tree with all her might, she pulled herself out of the basket and sprawled all over the cabbages.
"A most awkward landing," Mrs Koala remarked as she rushed forward to grab her guest, while the basket went whizzing to the ground again, ready for the next passenger.
All were hoisted up in time, not without great excitement and many howls of dismay as the basket swung perilously near to going over the limb on occasions; but no accident happened and every one was elated when the sign to start dinner was given.
It was a strange sight. Never before in the history of bushland had wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, rabbits and such-like ground animals, had the pleasure of dining up in a tree. The chatter and grunting was deafening. Shrill calls from the birds only accentuated the din. The whole bush rang with mirth.
Just when the fun was at its height—for Mrs Wombat had suddenly swayed backward, and finding no branch to support her, had nearly fallen head over heels out of the tree, had it not been for Mr Wallaby grabbing her around the leg and saving her from certain death—Mrs Grunty and her son Snubby came padding through the bush. Mrs Grunty had a scowl on her face. She was clearly annoyed. Hurrying along to the foot of the tree, she demanded in a loud voice to know the reason of such "goings on" in the bush. Splodge hurried out of his office.
"Anything I can do for you, Mrs Grunty?" he politely asked.
"These larrikins—all this noise and cackle—what's the meaning of it?" Mrs Grunty asked, spluttering with indignation.
"That's our guest house," Splodge explained pointing to the multitude up in the tree.
"I wish I had a chopper—I'd give them all a bump if I had," Mrs Grunty snarled.
"How about going up and having some dinner?" Splodge said soothingly. "You don't know what you're missing."
"Me-go-up-there!" Mrs Grunty gasped. "Take my Snubby up there where that bold cub of a Blinky is. Shame on you all," she shouted.
"Go up and have some dinner," Splodge repeated. "We're all going to have a hop in the moonlight afterwards."
"Oh—oh! How scandalous!" Mrs Grunty could hardly speak with horror.
"You'll have the time of your life," Splodge said, laughing at the top of his voice, and gradually edging Mrs Grunty and Snubby over towards the basket, without her noticing what was happening.
Still arguing loudly and protesting strongly about everything, Splodge managed to get her right up to the edge of the basket, then without a beg pardon or gentle argument he gave her and Snubby a quick push and head over heels the pair of them lay flat in the basket.
"A-hoy!" Splodge yelled, as he rushed out with the rope. Up shot the basket, yells and screams coming from its occupants, while those in the tree all leaned out to see what the noise was about.
"She's stuck!" Blinky called at the top of his voice, and stuck she was.
In mid-air the basket was rocking violently, while Mrs Grunty walloped about inside, only making the basket swing more dangerously, as she clawed at one side and then the other.
"Sit down!" Blinky shouted, amid cheers and yells from the onlookers. One kookaburra had the impudence to fly down and perch on the handle of the basket, laughing loudly as it almost tumbled upside down. Mrs Grunty made a wild lunge at the bird and out she fell—but not altogether; her wild grabbing at the side of the basket saved her from the final plunge to earth.
"Oh—how dreadful. How ghastly!" she moaned as she flopped back into safety, and then to every one's surprise fainted on top of Snubby.
Splodge in the meantime worked terrifically with the rope. In his lightning-like rush he had tangled the rope round a short tree and there it stuck, refusing to move until he backed and whipped it loose. That was the sign for further excitement, for, as the rope freed itself, the basket came with a rush down to earth again. "Bump!" it landed. Snubby gave a little squeal and popped his head over the side, while Mrs Grunty gave a deep sigh and opened her eyes. The bump had bumped her back into consciousness.
Splodge rushed over to the basket and fanned Mrs Grunty with a bunch of leaves, bringing the colour back to her face.
"You scoundrel!" she snarled. "Help me out of this trap at once."
Every animal that could climb down the tree came with amazing speed, and all rushed over to Mrs Grunty. Willing paws helped her to her feet, while Mrs Koala waved a few of her very best gum-tips under her friend's nose.
It had the desired effect. Mrs Grunty grabbed the leaves and ate them immediately.
"Poor soul!" Mrs Koala said sympathetically.
"Don't speak! Please don't address me," Mrs Grunty replied weakly.
"I'll take her home," Splodge said to Mrs Koala; but Mrs Grunty overheard him.
"You'll do no such thing," she snapped. "You're the cause of it all. And where's my Snubby?" She suddenly remembered her son.
Snubby was enjoying himself at the moment, being made a great fuss of by Nutsy, who offered him as many leaves as he could swallow.
"Let him stay for the hop," Nutsy pleaded, as Mrs Grunty ordered him home.
"Yes—do!" every one begged.
"It'll be the end of him," Mrs Grunty sighed. "The end of my discipline—the end of his childhood."
"Nonsense," Mrs Koala said softly. "Let him play with Nutsy, she's the sweetest little bear."
"Oh, very well, very well," Mrs Grunty sighed. "I wish I'd brought my knitting. It's a waste of time sitting around and doing nothing."
"But you're going to dance," Mrs Koala replied with a cheerful smile.
"Nonsense!" Mrs Grunty remarked shortly. "The very idea——"
Already the frog quartette were tuning up their drums and croakers, while Walter Wombat, who was generally considered the finest band conductor in the bush, was sitting in a corner all by himself, working up his deep gump, gump, gumps. Piping crickets sounded their notes, and then, without further notice, a butcher bird started to carol. That was the signal for all to commence. Walter Wombat sprang to his feet. "Gump—gump—gump," he grunted waving a stick in his front paws. Down it came with a crash on a rock, splitting it to smithereens.
"Pests and bothers!" he exclaimed, hastily grabbing another stick that lay at his feet.
"Whacko! Let her rip!" he shouted and once more raised his baton above his head.
"Look out for the splinters!" Blinky shouted; but Mr Walter Wombat was too much of a gentleman to even pretend he heard this rude remark. The band started. Every one jumped to his feet, grabbing the partner who happened to be nearest. Then as the music suddenly changed into "The Teddy Bears' Picnic", laughs and shouts started the greatest and happiest dance ever seen in the bush. Round and round the foot of the old gum-tree the animals danced, hopped and flew. Old Mr Wombat grabbed Mrs Grunty before she had time to protest, and Splodge rubbed his eyes to make sure he was seeing correctly when he spied these two fox-trotting, if you please. Mrs Koala waltzed with Mr Kangaroo, or tried to. His big feet would get in the way until he ended up by seizing her around the waist and whirling around with her in mid-air. Splodge danced with Mrs Wallaby and caused quite a sensation when both of them exhibited new steps to the audience. Splodge explained that the new dance was called "The Zoo Rush".
Nutsy danced with Snubby, until Blinky butted in and then all three decided to have a dance on their own. On the outskirts of the other dancers, these three little bears tumbled and hopped, laughed and pranced, until Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty joined in. Alone the little bears danced, and if ever you've tried to imagine a teddy bears' picnic, just close your eyes for a moment at present, turn on the music of that famous melody and you just can't help seeing them as plain as daylight. The dear little cuddly bears.
This happy dance was the means of many bush friendships being made, and more important still it was the cause of Mrs Grunty becoming quite gay and hospitable. Ever after, she and Snubby paid regular visits to Mrs Koala, while Blinky and Nutsy were overjoyed to have another playmate. The last peep I had of Blinky before I left the bush, was to see him instructing Snubby how to use a catapult, and Nutsy how to make frogs hop when they didn't want to.
If any little girl or boy should be the proud owner of a koala, please remember the poor wee thing cannot eat sweets, fruit, nuts, or all the nice things you like so much. His digestive organs are very primitive and all he needs is his own food—gum-tips; but remember not every gum-leaf is good for him, only those from the York, Flooded, Manna, and White gum-trees are suitable.
These little animals need a great deal of petting and attention when in captivity, as petting is very necessary for them. They fret and grieve and finally die, if they are left alone, just as a baby would. The kindest action of all would be to leave the koala baby in his own bushland, among his own playmates, with the sun, the sky, the birds, and the gum-trees, where he will grow to manhood and live for many years—happy as he should be.
End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook Blinky Bill and Nutsy by Dorothy Wall
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