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Title: Bush Cobbers
Author: Musette Morell
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Language: English
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Bush Cobbers

by

Musette Morell


Illustrated by Edwina Bell


Illustration


Australasian Publishing Company
Sydney Wellington London
First Published 1948


To
Cecil Fraser
whose music helped the Cobbers on their way
over the National Children's Session.


CONTENTS

I. OFF THEY GO
II. HOWLS IN THE NIGHT
III. WATER IS WET
IV. A SLEEPY POSSUM
V. THE BUSH DANCES
VI. "HISS, Hiss!"
VII. THE CATERPILLAR CRAWL
VIII. AN ANT IN THE EAR
IX. "TORTIE"
X. THE SHAME OF A NAME
XI. "IT TAKES WINGS TO FLY"
XII. AFTER ALL THE SEEKING


CHAPTER ONE — OFF THEY GO

SPINY ANT-EATER shuffled out of his bed inside the hollow log, scrambled up the side, and curled himself into a ball on top. When Spiny curled up, the quills on his back made him look for all the world like a large round pin-cushion, with dozens and dozens of large pins sticking out of it; or like a specially large prickly-pear. Well, Spiny was curled up, looking about him, sticking out his long thin nose to sniff the air. Spiny was a cheerful fellow, but just now he wasn't a bit pleased with what he saw. For it was just what he always saw, every day.

Illustration

"Same old bush, same old rocks and stones, same small ants running about, making patterns that never stay put. Same old everything!" snorted Spiny.

And it was just then and there that he thought of the really great idea that was to lead to all the adventures.

"I know what I'll do," he thought; "I'll leave all this and go and seek my fortune—that's what!"

So, uncurling himself, and standing up on his four feet, the two front feet pointing front and the two back feet pointing back, Spiny set out at a trot through the trees.

Illustration

He was passing the pool when he had another thought: "Think I'll ask cousin Plat to come with me—that's what!"

He looked to see if Platypus was floating on top of the pool. No. But way down under the wavering water was a dim shape that might be Platypus, so he shouted: "Platypus, hi, Platypus!"

But way down near the bottom of the pool Platypus couldn't hear, for, when under water, what scrap of ear he had was always folded away in a furrow of fur. However, a friendly frog heard Spiny call, and diving down, croaked with his mouth full of water:

"Your cousin wants you, Platypus,
Swim up now, or he'll make a fuss."

And the little fish lent their voices and all shouted together:

"Hi, Platypus—hi, Platypus!
Go up now and don't make a fuss."

Soon a duck's bill appeared, followed by the furry skin of an animal and the webbed-feet of a water bird—and all that was Platypus. Without seeing Spiny, he reached up out of the water and drew himself into the opening of a burrow made in the side of the sand-bank. He stood there in the entrance to his home, blinking the water out of his eyes, wringing his coat, wiping his feet on the earthy mat, and would have gone inside without seeing Spiny at all if Frog had not tapped him with a green foot and cried: "Look, stupid, your cousin waits!"

Platypus looked, then quickly scrambled up the steep bank and stood before Spiny, preening his brown velvety coat with his duck's bill, as he asked:

"You wanted me, Spiny?"

"Yes, Plat; I thought you might like to cone along."

"Where to?"

"Wherever I find it, Plat."

"What are you looking for?"

"My fortune. Why don't you look for yours, Plat?"

"H'm; well, this pool is a bit small."

"That's what I thought, Plat."

"And it'll be getting smaller if the weather keeps dry."

"Yes. I know the ants around here are getting smaller and smaller. That's what decided me to go—that's what."

"Well, I'll go with you, Spiny. We'll go together."

"Hurrah! You're a good fish—er, I mean, a good animal—bird—oh! a good Platypus—that's what! Come on!"

And, as they rambled along, Platypus shuffling on his webbed-feet, and Spiny snuffling, with his long nose poking out before him, and wagging from side to side, they talked of the great times they would have when they found their fortune. Then just when the sun was going to bed:

Swish!

"Oh, what ever's t-that?" stuttered Platypus. "I hear something but I can't see it."

Spiny couldn't see either, that's why he had stretched his long nose out in front, snuffling fast. Suddenly he said, "I smell fur!"

SWISH!

"It's my fur you can smell," said a pretty little voice from a bough above their heads which was swaying to and fro, and up and down. "It's only me, having a swing. I'm awake early to-night. I'm awake before the moon."

Illustration

"Why it's a possum, hanging by her tail from a bough of that tree—a ring-tailed possum," cried Platypus.

"Yes, I've just been counting the rings on my tail. Do you admire them?" asked the sweet voice.

"They re tip-top," breathed Spiny, and his quills quivered with admiration.

"We really haven't time to admire things. We've got to seek our fortune," said Platypus, primly.

"Oh! Are you going far?" asked the gentle Possum.

"Maybe round the world and back," said Spiny.

"Oh!"

"Maybe to the end of the rainbow," said Platypus.

"Oh!"

"Maybe to the top of the highest mountain," said Spiny.

"Oh!"

"Maybe to the deeps of the deepest sea," said Platypus.

"Oh!" exclaimed Possum and added wistfully, "Someday I will seek my fortune, too. The leaves I eat here aren't as green as they used to be; and if the weather keeps dry, they won't even be as green as they are now."

Platypus and Spiny looked her over. She was a pretty, soft little thing with her wide gently staring eyes and the end of her tail looped like a ring. Spiny was the first to speak.

"Why don't you come with us and seek your fortune—now?'

"Oh, I'd love to—could I?" And Possum dropped to the ground.

"If you come with us, you'll have to be a cobber," warned Platypus.

"What does a cobber do?" asked Possum.

"A cobber is a friend," began Platypus, but Possum interrupted:

"I know what a cobber is, but what does a cobber do?"

"A cobber sticks to other cobbers, of course," said Platypus. "Hi, Spiny, do you reckon a girl can be a cobber?"

"I reckon a girl that can stick by her tail to a tree could stick to anything," answered Spiny.

"Oh, I'll stick—I'll be a cobber!" cried Possum, clapping her pink paws.

"Dinky-di?" asked the boys.

"Dinky-di."

"Then, come on!"

Just then there was a little clicking sound. A round earthy door had opened in the ground by their feet and a angry-looking brown spider, covered with black hairs, stood in the door-way glaring at them.

"It's Mrs. Snap, the trap-door spider." whispered Spiny, "that's what! She'll set a trap for us; she always does,"

"And where do you three think you are going?" asked Mrs. Snap, snappily.

"We're going to seek our fortune," answered the cobbers.

"What do you call your fortune?" asked Mrs. Snap.

"Mine's a bigger pool," said Platypus.

"Mine's the bigger ants," said Spiny.

"Mine's the greener leaves," said Possum.

"There's no bigger pool. There's no bigger ants and there's no greener leaves," snapped Mrs. Snap. "You'll learn."

"Learn what?"

"That everything's the same—even when it's different. That the best things are close at hand, but you can't see them because they're not far away."

Illustration

"Oh, why do you talk like that?" wailed the cobbers.

"Like what?"

"Like that."

"The wise talk in riddles," said Mrs. Snap, grandly.

"That's why I talk in riddles. And what I say is true. You'll learn." And she sang:

If another land you'd find,
Look around, look around.
What is it that you have found?
Only ground.
If a different pool you'd seek—
Think you oughta, think you oughta!—
You will learn that every pool
Is only water.
So travel far and travel wide,
Till you lose your wish to roam,
Then creep—back—home.

"Thank you for the song," said Possum, politely. "But we'll have to leave you now."

"We're going to seek our—" began the boys.

But Mrs. Snap interrupted, "Oh, don't spin me that fortune-yam again. It's too stupid." And running inside, she slammed her trap-door in their faces. So after calling "Good-bye!" to her through the key-hole, Possum, Spiny and Platypus set off on their journey. And as they bounced along the track they sang a happy song:

To fortune-O! To fortune-O!
To find our fortune, off we go.
And when we find it, we will be
The merriest three you ever did see.
To fortune-O! To fortune-O!
Well travel night and day.
We know good luck is waiting us:
Possum, Spiny and Platypus.
So yippy-ho! And away we go.
HURRAY! Away and away!
Away,—
away,—and away!


CHAPTER TWO — HOWLS IN THE NIGHT

Possum, Spiny Ant-eater and Platypus looked as though they meant business as they went bouncing, flouncing along the track. But after a while they stopped and Platypus and Spiny had a conversation.

"I reckon we'll soon have to look for a camp for the night, Spiny."

"It's too soon to call a halt yet, Plat. Why, I can still see my home rock."

"Um, come to think of it, I can still see my home pool."

"Wish old Sun would stay up a bit longer to shine for us. It gets so dark when he goes to bed and draws the curtains."

"Better get on, then, before the dark gets darker."

So off went the three again, Platypus waddling along, on his webbed feet; Spiny shuffling along, looking like a walking pin-cushion, with his nose poking out and snuffling as it waggled from side to side; and Possum scrambling in between, or sometimes running ahead to turn a somersault.

Then suddenly a loud noise split the air.

Platypus opened his eyes and duck-bill wide, and kept them open. Spiny hurriedly wedged himself in under a rock, and curled into a round ball. And Possum went flip up into a branch of the nearest tree and crouching low, shivered.

"Ooooooo!" shivered possum. "Ooooooo!"

When Platypus heard Possum shiver he puffed himself out very big and said in his bravest voice, "D-don't be scares-flarey. Possum—I'm here!"

And Spiny uncurled himself, wriggled out from under his rock, and said, "Don't get upsey-dupsev, Possum—I'm here." Then his nose twitched as he sniffed the air. "Uff, uff!...I smell dog."

Possum, high in her tree, shivered, and her shivering set the leaves quivering. Then the loud noise sounded again. Possum shivered herself nearly out of the tree, and Platypus cried in his loudest voice, "Whichever animal is frightening Possum will have to stop, or I'll get annoyed."

And Spiny made his quills bristle as he shouted, "And I'll get annoyed, too—that's what!"

Then they both bellowed, "So there! Take care! Beware!"

A sneering voice replied, "I presume you are talking to me?"

And Platypus shouted, "Yes, we are, whoever you are."

A large strong animal with short upright ears, a tawny-coloured coat, white throat, waistcoat and paws, and a white tip to his thick brush of a tail, stepped out from behind a clump of bushes. The boys drew together as they saw it was the wild dog, Dingo.

Dingo snarled, showing his yellow fangs, and turning to Spiny asked, "Why do you poke your snout out? Do you think it helps you to see?"

This rude remark about Spiny's nose made Platypus angry, and he said, "Spiny can see with his nose—so there! He sees things when he smells them."

"Ho, ho," sneered Dingo. "Ho, ho, is that so? And this time it's a platypus yapping."

"Yes, it is a platypus yapping, I mean talking. And I'd like to say I think it's very rude of you to howl at the top of your bark and frighten our girl friend; she's our cobber, too—that's what!"

Illustration

"I wasn't trying to frighten your silly Possum. Possums are afraid of me anyway. There'll be a full moon to-night and, as I don't like full moons, I was saying so." And Dingo tilted back his head and let out an extra loud howl, so that the leaves around shivering Possum rattled as though the wind was shaking them.

"Why should a grown-up Dingo bark at the moon?" asked Platypus.

"Dingoes never bark, they howl and bay," snapped Dingo.

"Anyway, barking or baying, it's a very rubbish thing to do, it's—it's puppyish," said Platypus.

"Don't you call me rubbish or puppyish, you childish Platypus," snarled Dingo. "Why, you haven't grown out of your duck's bill yet. And your toes are webbed together like the feet of a chicken. To look at you, one would think you couldn't make up your mind what you meant to be. Ha-ha!" And Dingo sang:

When Platypus was born, his mother
Loved him like she loved his brother.
But no one, even wise old Owl,
Knows if he's flesh or fish or fowl.

This rude song about Platypus made Spiny angry. He stuck out his nose, and turned in his toes and stuttered, "Y-You may not know what my cousin Platypus is, old Dingo, but I—I know. He's a Platypus—that's what!"

Then Dingo flashed his eves back on to Spiny. "And what sort of a what's-this are you?" he asked, and stared first at Spiny's feet, and then at his nose, while he sang:

When Spiny Ant-eater shuffles about
He walks with his front feet pointed out,
And walks with his back feet pointed back.
Will he go forward, or shunt down the track?

He snuffles and waggles his long thin nose.
He waggles his nose wherever he goes.
He's full of conceit, though he's not very big,
And he grunts like his father, old Grunter, the pig.

And Dingo laughed a loud ha-ha!

If an ant-eater could blush, Spiny would have blushed a very bright red; as it was he spluttered so much, he couldn't speak. But Platypus could speak, and he shouted:

"Spiny's father isn't a pig, and don't you tell fibs about him or there'll he a ding-dong row and I'll—"

What he would do was never known, for Dingo laughed so loudly Platypus could not be heard.

But Platypus and Spiny were kindly little fellows, and they didn't like quarrelling. So Spiny said, "If you'll stop laughing at us we'll tell you what we're doing."

"Well, what are you doing?" demanded Dingo.

"We're seeking our fortune—that's what."

"Oh, are you. Well, I know where my fortune is."

"You know?" gasped Spiny and Platypus together.

"Yes, it's down by the creek, where I buried it. And if you want to know what it is—it's three large bones." And Dingo ran off laughing.

"Three bones, that's not much of a fortune," said Platypus. "Well, we'd better get on after our fortune. Slither down from your tree, Possum."

But Possum didn't slither down. She had got over her fright at the dingo and was enjoying herself, having a swing in the trees.

Swish...swish...swish...swish!

"Possum! Come on, Possum!" called the boys.

"Oh, boys, boys, come up and have a swing. It's such fun," cried Possum.

"But we can't swing, Possum."

"Oh, yes, you can. Watch me."

And Possum ran to the tip-end of a high branch so that it dipped down to a neighbour. Then hanging by the curl in her tail, and swinging her body free and over to the new branch, she clutched hold of it tightly with her pink paws, and scrambling up, ran along it to the tip, till it, in turn, dipped to a neighbour. And so on went Possum, turning somersaults in the air from branch to branch and giving her little bird-like cry. The boys could see she was having wonderful fun.

Illustration

"It looks tip-top—that's what," smiled Spiny.

"It does too, smiled Platypus.

"It is. Come on, come on." Swish...swish!

"We'll try it," said Spiny and Platypus.

Huffing and puffing and tripping and slipping, and sometimes giving each other a leg-up, they at last managed to scramble up the gum. Then, looking around nervously, Platypus said to Spiny and Spiny said to Platypus, "I-I'm the biggest, Spiny, so it's only fair for me to go first."

"I'll try f-f-first if you like, Plat."

"No; i-it's O.K., Spiny."

"B-but really, Plat—"

This might have gone on for ever if Possum hadn't called to them. "Oh, do hurry up boys. You're missing the fun. Why don't you both go together?"

"We will."

Illustration

So, not wishing to disappoint Possum, and really hoping it might be fun, Spiny and Platypus shut their eyes tight and—. But somehow, Plat's thick flat tail just wouldn't cling. And as Spiny had no tail at all, try as he would, he couldn't hang by it. So, bang! Biff! Bash! Down they crashed through the tree, not on to the ground, but splash into the creek.

And Possum clasped her pink paws and cried, "Oh. dear, now they'll get wet!"


CHAPTER THREE — WATER IS WET

To Platypus the creek seemed gentle and kind, for Platypus could swim, and was used to spending two hours out of each twenty-four in the water. But Spiny couldn't swim, and to him the creek seemed rough and cruel. Platypus was floating on his back, when he heard a strange sound:

Glug...gurgle...glug!

And looking around, he thought he saw the part of Spiny's body where Spiny's tail should be—just supposing Spiny had got a tail, which he hadn't—sticking up out of the water. Possum, who was still in the tree above the creek, shouted, "Yes, it's Spiny. And by the look of him, he can't swim."

Platypus shouted back, "Then I'll teach him to swim."

And, putting his best claw forward, he swam till he came to the bundle of quills. Then he said, "Don't keep your head under water, Spiny. That's no way to learn to swim."

But the only reply Spiny made was, "Glug...glug."

And as Spiny gurgled he made really horrid grimaces, so that some little fishes, away down under the water, thought he was poking faces at them, and they called out:

"Rude old por-cu-pine
Can't poke faces good as mine."

And each of those little fishes twisted his face into the most horrible grimace. Well, of course, an Ant-eater hates above everything to be mistaken for a porcupine, but when it comes to having a crowd of fishes poke faces at him as well, it is just too much. Spiny began to sob. And as his head was down under, he swallowed quite a lot of water.

Then Possum called from her tree to Platypus, "Why don't you lift his head up?"

And Platypus said, "That's quite an idea."

And grasping some quills in his front claws, he hoisted them out of the water.

"Oh-h-h!" gasped a voice from the quills.

"Don't you like the water, Spiny:'"

"Oh-h-h!"

"Can't you swim?"

"N-n-n-no."

"Well, watch me and I'll show you how," said Platypus, and letting go of poor old Spiny, he struck out with his front and back claws, in his best swimming style.

"Like this, old chap. Like this. Anyone can swim, if they like," he said, and sang a little song:

Stretch out your front paws. Out—out—so!
And kick with your tack legs down below.
Hold up your head, and array you go.
For that's the way to swim-O.

Yes, that's the way to swim-O,
To swim-O, to swim-O!

Yes, that's the way to swim-O,
So—off—you—go.

And the little fish, who dearly love a song-o, all joined in:

Yes, that's the way to swim-O,
To swim-O, to swim-O!
That's the way to swim-O,
So—off—you—go.

But Spiny couldn't see Platypus swimming; the only thing Spiny could see was the bottom of the creek. For, yes, of course, his head was under again.

Gurgle...gurgle...glug...glug!

They say that those who look on see most of the game, and looking from her look-out in the tree, Possum saw that what Spiny needed at the moment was not a lesson in swimming, but a stretch of dry land. So she called to Platypus, "I think we'd better pull him out of the water."

Platypus said, "That's an idea, too."

And sometimes pulling, and sometimes shoving, and always puffing and panting, Platypus at last got Spiny out of the water and on to dry land.

Possum scrambled down from the tree. "He's safe now," she said.

"Yes, he's safe as a bird in the air," said Platypus.

But though Possum and Platypus smiled and smiled at him, Spiny didn't smile back. He lay very still, and the only thing he said was:

"O-o-o-o-o-h!"

And what was more, he kept on saying it, with his eyes shut tight and his long nose looking very white and sort of blue about the tip. Possum and Platypus looked worried.

"Does he always go on like this after a dip?" asked Possum.

Illustration

"I've never seen him have a dip before," answered

Platypus.

"Oh dear, his nose looks sort of—sort of—unhappy."

"And it's very blue!"

"Poor old Spiny! Perhaps, if he got interested in something he'd feel better. What does he like best in the world, Platypus?"

"Well, Possum, he seems to like eating best."

"Oh, good. We'll get him something to eat."

And away they ran, Platypus off back to the creek to burrow and burrow with his great front claw in the mud by the bank for worms; and Possum off back up the tree, to crop the tenderest green leaves. Then they came puffing back.

"Here's a long juicy fellow, Spiny. And you'll like this one. Look, a big pink prawn," said Platypus proudly.

Illustration

"Here is a gum-leaf, Spiny, and see, a gum-blossom, brimming with honey," cried Possum.

But Spiny, who was a fat little fellow and loved eating, didn't even open an eye. Of course, ant-eaters don't eat worms or prawns, or leaves or blossoms, but that wasn't the reason Spiny's eyes stayed shut.

"He—he must be sick." And, feeling quite helpless, and very sad, Platypus and Possum sat down and cried into their paws.

Then a glad thing happened. First one of Spiny's eyes blinked, then the other; and sound issued from his long thin nose as it began to wag, slowly, from side to side. Possum and Platypus stopped crying.

"I think the nicest sound in all the world is a snuffle; especially when it's old Spiny who snuffles. He must be better," said Platypus.

Illustration

They both laughed for joy. And Spiny said, "Oh, you're laughing. I thought I heard you crying." Then he told them he would feel much better if he had a good long sleep. The shadows closed in about them; it was night. They'd been walking all day, so it was time for a rest. Plat lay down beside Spiny for a nap.

Illustration

But as to Possum—you know what possums do at night? Yes, Possum was racing, chasing shadows through the bush; springing from tree to tree; sometimes swinging on a branch—swish!—or crouching against the trunk to nibble a leaf, while she stared at the staring owls. But whatever she did she was wide awake all the time. So when morning came and Platypus and Spiny were ready to set off again, they found Possum hanging upside down by her tail, fast asleep.

Try as they would, the boys couldn't wake her. Platypus snorted with disgust.

"Isn't that just like a girl?"


CHAPTER FOUR — A SLEEPY POSSUM

PLATYPUS and Spiny, like all of their kind, liked sleeping in the daytime, but when they were out seeking their fortune they were out seeking their fortune, and didn't go snoring about it.

"This is what comes of your idea of bringing a girl with us, Spiny. Now we'll have to go on and leave her up a tree," grumbled Platypus.

"We can't leave a cobber behind, Plat. Cobbers always stick together," said Spiny.

"It's hard to stick to a sleeping robber."

"Perhaps if we shouted very loud in her ears, it might wake her—that's what," said Spiny.

"Okay, you stand that side and I'll stand this. Ready?"

"Ready," answered Spiny.

"One—two—three—shout!" ordered Platypus, and then he and Spiny yelled, "Wake up—wake up!" so loudly that a frog-faced owl gave a frightened hoot and didn't stop flying till he was twenty trees away. Several lizards, basking in the sun, darted under the nearest stones. Even the mosquitoes buzzed off.

But as to Possum—Possum snored blissfully on.

"It's no use," sighed Platypus.

"I've got another idea," said Spiny.

"It will have to be better than the last one."

"It is. Listen, Plat, Possums are scared of dingoes, aren't they? Well, let's both howl loudly like a savage dingo. That'll wake her up."

"Okay. One—two—three—GO!"

Oh, what a howl those boys gave. It set all the dogs within earshot barking in chorus, which caused terrified rabbits to scamper to their burrows, and startled roosters crowing, which in turn caused nervous worms to wriggle frantically under ground. Only the lizards seemed not to care; but then they knew they were safe. They slid out curious faces from under their stones. What's more, they poked out their tongues—slender blue tongues that flashed like knives in the sun.

That howl did the trick, for it woke Possum. She gave a little cry and sprang into the nearest tree and crouched there, shivering, whilst her round eyes grew rounder and bigger with fear. The boys scurried to the foot of the tree to comfort her.

"Don't be scarey-flarey, Possum."

"Don't be upsey-dupsey, Possum."

"Ooooo! W-where's the dingo?" stammered Possum.

"We are the dingo, Possum, dear."

"Are you?" asked Possum, very surprised. "Who changed you into a dingo? You still look like a spiny ant-eater and a platypus to me."

"Oh, we're still us, Possum. We just became a dingo to wake you up," said Spiny.

"And now you're awake, Possum, come down or well never, never get to finding our fortune," said Platypus.

So Possum came down from the tree the way possums always do come down—head first. Down, down, she came, sticking her sharp little claws into the bark for a foothold. Then she dropped to earth and said, "Here I am, boys. O-oo-ah!" and Possum gave a big yawn.

"Look out, Spiny, she's going off again." cried Platypus.

"No use, Plat. She's off!" groaned Spiny.

"What can we do? What can we do?" wailed Platypus.

"Well, we could carry her," suggested Spiny.

"She should walk."

"I know, Plat; but possums never walk around when they're asleep."

"Oh well, I suppose we'll have to carry her," sighed Platypus.

So the boys ran as fast as they could through the bush, searching the ground till they found a branch that had fallen off a tree. It was longer than Possum, and stout. Just the sort of branch they needed. Gently lifting Possum, they laid her on it, and wound her front paws and her back paws and her curling tail around it. Then, hoisting it on their shoulders, they marched off along the track with a great flourish.

But even at the best of times the boys' legs were too fat and short to be very good for walking. They never could keep a straight line, but walked with a lurch to the left, and a lurch to the right—more like sailors than soldiers. And really, Platypus's feet were webbed for swimming, and the long curved nails on Spiny's toes were made for digging under rocks and stones. So that when these two not very good walkers had to carry a sleeping possum, the branch upon which Possum hung jerked up and down and from side to side, like a ship in a stormy sea. But Possum didn't mind, for she was dreaming that she was in her favourite gum-tree with the wind blowing and tossing the branches, and her pink nose twitched and her lips curved in a smile. But the boys didn't smile.

"When—when—do we—stop for—a rest, Plat?" panted Spiny.

Illustration

"When—when—we can't walk any more," gasped Platypus.

And could you believe it? Those two brave fellows staggered on, huffing and puffing, and sometimes slipping and almost tripping. On and on, while the sun sailed right around the sky, till about tea time it came to rest in the west. Then the boys laid the branch, with their sleeping cobber, gently on the ground, and sank down, too tired even to eat.

But as to Possum I Possum sat up, gave her bright bird-like call, counted the pretty rings on her tail to see if she still had them all, and said,

"I'm awake early to-night. I'm awake before the moon. Come on, boys; have you forgotten we're going to seek our fortune?"

"We—we've—been seeking—our fortune. Look—where—we—are."

Possum looked. The scene had changed. She couldn't see even the top of the gum-tree where she used to sleep, or the creek where Platypus used to swim, or the log on which Spiny used to lie. This puzzled her and made her wrinkle her pink nose as she asked, "But how did I get here? I couldn't have walked in my sleep."

"We carried you here."

"How could you?"

The only answer the boys gave was a low rumbling snore. Then Possum, who wasn't too bright, except about the eyes, put together the branch at her feet and her dream of the wind rocking the branches, and they added up to the boys' having truly carried her. When she thought of those two fat fellows shuffling and snuffling along, bearing her weight between them, she felt really terrible. So then she made up her fluffy little mind that she would sleep all through the night, so that she could stay awake the next day.

"I'll sleep with all my might," Possum promised herself.

But, although Possum had winning little ways, and a pretty little face, and a sweet little voice, she really had very little memory, and ideas blew in and out of her shaggy head like the wind blew through the trees she loved so well. So in the morning Possum was rather sleepy, and after the boys had breakfasted and were about to set out on the track, she was very sleepy.

The boys sighed and said, "Oh, dear, I suppose we'll have to carry her again."

"Oh, no, no!" cried Possum, quickly. "I'll walk. But I do wish you boys would walk at night instead of day."

"But we have to sleep at night, Possum," cried Spiny.

"Other ant-eaters and platypusses don't sleep at night," said Possum.

"But we have to sleep at night now that we're looking for our fortune," said the boys.

"Well, I'll try to keep awake to-day," said Possum, blinking her eyes very fast in an effort not to let the heavy lids stay shut. "I'll try, and try, and try."

"There must be something to keep even a possum awake," grumbled Platypus.

"A band is a good way to keep one awake," whispered Possum, drowsily.

"What is a band?" asked the boys eagerly.

"A band is a loud noise pleasant to the ear."

So then, yawning, Possum told the boys how one night when she was just settling down to sleep in a tree in the park where she had once lived, some men came under the tree and blew on funny things called trumpets and she couldn't go to sleep until they stopped.

"But we haven't any trumpets, Possum," said Spiny.

Suddenly Platypus remembered he had seen some Aborigines blow on gum-leaves to make a loud noise pleasant to the ear.

"Oh, then let us get some gum-leaves," cried Spiny.

So flip! Off went Possum up a tall gum to pick the leaves. "Here they are, boys."

The boys tried the leaves out and said they were the very thing.

"Now we can go to seek our fortune without stopping for Possum to sleep," said Platypus. "We had better blow very loud so as to be sure to keep her awake."

Illustration

Off went the Cobbers, playing their very loudest.

Oh, a gum-leaf band
Is simply grand,
Ta-ra, ta-ra, ta-ra.
We'll fling along
And sing our song.
Tra-la, tra-la, tra-la
Doh—te—la—soh—
Fa—me—re—doh.
We play our band and away we go.
Oh, a guns-leaf band
Is simply grand,
You blow—and—blow—and blow!


CHAPTER FIVE — THE BUSH DANCES

"THIS band is the best band we've ever played in—that's what," cried Spiny.

And Platypus said, "We've never played in any other band. All the same it's the best band in the bush."

And Possum said, "It must be a good band because it keeps me awake. Oh, we'd better start playing again or I might go to sleep."

So on went the cobbers, blowing hard on their leaves, puffing out their fat chests, stretching their short legs, tramping and stamping down the track. But suddenly they stopped. Possum's ears stood up and her pink crinkly-wrinkly nose twitched nervously as she said, "Can you hear something, boys?"

"I can hear a little something, Possum," answered Spiny.

"So can I," said Platypus.

"Yes, it is only little," agreed Possum, "but it is growing bigger. It's as though all the trees and bushes were coming alive. Listen!"

"It's just the leaves singing to the breeze, that's what. Isn't it, Platypus?" said Spiny.

"No, Spiny, it's the leaves on the ground being trodden on, and the leaves on the bushes being brushed aside. That means something has roused the bush and the creatures are coming this way."

Platypus was right. Creatures were popping out from every bush and tree, while from far off came the sound of wings. Creatures and birds, birds and creatures, everywhere the cobbers looked they could see them. And then it suddenly dawned on them that all the creatures they were looking at were looking at them.

From behind the biggest bush stepped the biggest creature of all. It was an emu. Standing with his heavy feet apart and flapping his heavy wings, he said,

"We came here, from there and everywhere, to learn the cause of the noise we heard. Can you, Spiny Anteater, or you, Platypus, or you, Possum, tell us where the noise came from?"

Spiny looked at Platypus and Possum, Platypus looked at Spiny and Possum, Possum looked at Spiny and Platypus. And then all three of them asked in one voice, "What sort of noise was it'"

"It was a loud noise pleasant to the ear."

"It—must—have—been—our—band," gasped the cob-bers, and they giggled a bit.

"It was very pleasant, wasn't it, mates?" said Emu.

All the bush creatures nodded their heads, meaning. "Yes, rather!"

When the cobbers heard their band praised by all the creatures and all the birds, they giggled still more. Spiny's quills stood up stiffer than ever with pride, while Platypus opened and shut his beak several times, and Possum went flip up the nearest tree to hang by her tail. Then Emu made the cobbers even more happy and proud by saving, "Could we hear the band again?"

Illustration

In less than two shakes of a lamb's tail, Possum had dropped to the ground and stood in a row with Spiny and Platypus. Then the three smiling cobbers swelled out their chests and blew very, very hard on their gum-leaves.

Oh, a gum-leaf band
Is simply grand,
Tara, terra, terra!

And then as the cobbers played their band, a wonderful thing happened. The birds began to sing and whistle, and the creatures began to dance. Till very soon it seemed all the bush was either dancing or singing.

To be sure, some of the tiny chaps, such as worms, merely wriggled, and the frogs couldn't do much more than hop. Kangaroos hopped, too, but what a mighty hop! Emus flapped their great wings and stamped about; water fowls screeched, and ran up and down. Birds jigged on the air, or went wheeling round and round, in ever larger circles. But best of all were the brolgas. Silvery-grey, with glowing red throats, black wings and long black legs and feet, they danced as though in a dream; smiling down their long beaks, shutting their eyes with the sheer joy of it; spreading their fine wings, arching their slender necks, kicking their slender legs, they danced because dancing made them happier than anything else in the world.

If the cobbers hadn't been playing their band so loudly, they would have heard the brolgas sing:

First we lift the right leg high, then low.
Next we lift the left the same. Then, Oh!
So sedately
Slow and stately,
Round and round and round we go.

Down we droop our beaks, our heads droop, too.
Up we strain our necks towards the blue.
Wings out-spreading,
Feet light-treading,
Sailing round as brolgas do.

At last the band ceased playing, the birds ceased whistling, and the creatures, even the brolgas, ceased dancing.

The concert was over. Saying good-bye, the cobbers started down the track.

But Emu cried out: "Wait! Possum, Spiny Anteater and Platypus, don't leave us. We want you to stay with us. Then we can have a concert every day."

But Platypus explained that they were going to seek their fortunes, and that they really had to hurry about it. The creatures were very sad, and all said so.

Waving good-bye again, the cobbers set off, singing as they went:

To fortune-O! To fortune-O!

To find our fortune, off we go.

But suddenly Platypus stopped dead, and stared at something at his feet on the path. And he looked very, very scared.


CHAPTER SIX — "HISS, HISS!"

SPINY stopped to sniff what Platypus stared at, and—oh, the quills on his back stiffened 'as, snuffling loudly, he shuffled to the nearest rock to dig himself in beneath it.

Then Possum looked. Flip went Possum up the nearest tree, with ears aprick and the tip of her pink shivery-quivery nose twitching madly.

Only poor old Platypus didn't run away. Not that he wouldn't have liked to; but he just couldn't move, and stood helplessly staring at something that looked like a long black stick stretched across his path, and which, in turn, stared back at him with hard beady eyes that shone like two green lights in its narrow black head.

"Hiss!" said the snake.

"Oooh!" said Platypus.

A trembling, frightened nose and two near-sighted blinking eyes thrust out from under the rock where Spiny was hiding. He snuffled tearfully and asked, "Why don't you run for it, Plat?"

"I-I-can't move while Snake looks at me."

And it was true. Snake was holding Platypus with the glare from his bright hard eves, just as strongly as if be held him by a rope.

Then, way up in her tree. Possum got an idea, and running along a low branch, she wound her hail around the tip of it and—swish!—down swung her body till it hung just above Platypus. Then she cried, "Quick, Plat, take hold of my paws and I'll haul you up into the tree."

But Platypus couldn't move, even to clutch hold of the pink paws Possum held out to him.

"Don't be mis-er-ab-le, Plat, I'll save you," called Possum softly. And, putting her shaggy head on one side, she gently scratched the white spot behind her ear, as she always did when she was trying to think. It was very hard for Possum to think, but as she slowly scratched and scratched, she suddenly remembered what mother possums do when danger threatens their babies. So, pretending to be a mother possum, she pounded heavily up and down the branch, making a loud chattering like an excited squirrel, for in this way she hoped to take Snake's attention away from Plat.

But Snake merely reared his head, gave one glance at her round gentle-staring eyes and pink quivery-shivery nose and then fastened his gaze back onto his trembling victim. Possum and Spiny saw that things were in a very bad way with their cobber, and that if they didn't do something quickly, Snake would eat him up.

"Can't you think of something, Spiny?" asked Possum.

"N-no, Possum."

"Can't you think of anything, Spiny?"

"N-no, Possum. Well, yes, I can think of one thing we can do. But it's very hard."

"Nothing is too hard to do to help a cobber. What is it, Spiny?"

"W-w-well, I thought if we both got up near snake, he might take his eyes off Platypus."

"And look at us instead?"

Illustration

"Y-yes, Possum."

"And then he'd eat us instead of Platypus?"

"Y-yes, Possum. Can you think of anything else we could do?"

"N-no, Spiny."

"Then, what do you think of what I thought, Possum?"

"I suppose it's the only thing we can do. C-come on."

"I-I'll go first, Possum."

"Why?"

"Well, because I'm a boy, Possum."

"But I thought ladies always went first."

"Only when going first is nice."

"It's not nice, so we'll both go first. Wait till I come down to you."

Illustration

And Possum scrambled down the tree, and stood in line with Spiny. Then they walked slowly forward; so very slowly that they scarcely seemed to move at all, and, indeed, when they were quite close to Snake, Spiny even seemed to walk backwards; but he said that was because there were pebbles between his toes, which made him roll back.

But even though you walk slower than a snail and wobble more widely than a crab, you do, finally, get to where you started for. And so at last Possum and Spiny stood right in front of Snake. They shut their eyes tight so they wouldn't see when snake pounced.

But though they waited, and waited, and waited, nothing happened. They waited even longer, and still NOTHING HAPPENED. Snake wasn't eating them. Snake wasn't even stinging them with his long sharp fangs. As far as they could tell, snake wasn't doing anything, except making a sound like a kettle does just before it comes to the boil.

"Hiss-sssss!"

So very carefully each of them opened one eye. Snake's green headlights were still fixed on Platypus, and by the look on poor old Platypus it was plain that he thought "It won't be long now."

But Snake was the sort of a reptile that, though it likes very much to eat, it also likes to think about eating. He was thinking about eating now; gloating over his dinner and humming a gay song.

When I first saw fatty Plat-y-pus,
I wished that I could see
Young Fatty on a platter
To be served me for my tea.

He paddled in his puddle-O,
Then waddled home again.
Oh, how I wished he'd toddle—
Doddle way down my red lane.

NOW I'll open up my jaws for him
And when he's waddled in,
I'll snap them shut. Then gobble-O
Till Fat is gobbled thin.

Oh gobble-O! Oh gobble-O!
I'd crunch and munch that Waddle-O.
I'd snap my jaws on bill and claws
Till Fat is gobbled thin.

Thinking about eating Platypus made snake so happy that he floundered about, looping first this way, then that way, or coiled round and round on top of himself like a stack of children's hoops; or tied himself in large knots. Once he got so excited he even tied himself into a true-lovers' knot.

But whatever he did, he still kept his eyes glued on Platypus.

As to Platypus, he seemed to have turned yellow all over, a sickly greenish-yellow. He had made himself as small as possible, but still snake's terrible eves glared at him, seeming to bore and bore themselves into him like a gimlet, till poor old frightened Platypus shivered and quivered like blancmange, and his bill chattered like teeth chatter when the weather freezes.

But now that Possum and Spiny knew snake wasn't interested in eating them, they didn't feel frightened, or so they told themselves, till suddenly, snake moved. Then they both scampered away, Spiny to dig under a rock, and Possum to go flip up the nearest tree.

But they needn't have worried. Snake wasn't thinking of them; he wasn't even thinking of Platypus at the moment; he had moved because he felt uncomfortable, for his last loop had landed him on top of two sharp pebbles. He wriggled the part of his body in the third coil away from the pebbles, but then they stuck in his fourth coil. He wriggled his fourth coil, but then they stuck in his fifth coil. He wriggled his fifth coil, but then they stuck in his sixth and last coil. That got him really mad, and he thrashed the ground furiously.

It was then Spiny had one of his brightest ideas, and it was just as well for, at every move, snake had gone closer to Platypus. Now he quickly coiled his long thin body up into a stack of hoops, stuck out his long neck till his face was only an inch off his victim, darted out his tongue, and smacked his lips, as though practising eating.

"Hissssssssssssss!"

If Platypus hadn't been too scared to listen he might have heard Spiny say:

"Possum, Possum, I've got an idea. Snake doesn't like stones sticking into him, so he wouldn't like the sharp spears that grow on my back sticking into him. And I'm going to roll myself into a ball, and then roll on him. That'll make him take his eyes off my cousin. That's what."


CHAPTER SEVEN — THE CATERPILLAR CRAWL

"You are very brave, Spiny," said Possum, making up her fluffy mind that from that moment Spiny would be her hero. (But then, of course, Possum never could remember anything for longer than it takes a crab to walk from here to there.) However, she smiled sweetly at Spiny, which helped him a lot as, looking like a walking pin-cushion, he went waddling bravely up to Snake. When he was very close, he curled himself up into a prickly ball, with his spiny armour in full display. And then he rolled on Snake.

"Hiss! Hiss!" Snake felt as though at least a thousand pins had been stuck in him all at once, in different places. He hissed furiously and spun around, and quickly uncoiled his long thin body. This gave Spiny just the chance he needed, and he rolled up and down...up...and down...Snake's quivering length.

Then Snake twisted his neck, turning his head round till he faced the tip of his tail, and struck out at Spiny. Again and again he struck. But that only hurt him more and didn't hurt Spiny's sharp spines one little bit.

At last Snake could bear it no longer, and slithering his body out from under those needle-sharp spears, he slid, like a flash of black lightning, into the bush.

Possum clapped her pink paws and cried: "He's gone. He's gone. Oh, Spiny you are brave. You're a hero."

Illustration

"Yes, aren't I?" smiled Spiny, uncurling himself out of the ball; and then he and Possum went bouncing up to Platypus to give him a big hug, and cry: "You re saved, Platypus."

Poor old Platypus could only gurgle as though his head was under water, for the lump in his throat wouldn't let him speak. Seeing Platypus so upset, upset Possum and Spiny, and they all three each wept at least one big tear.

"Thanks for frightening snake away, Spiny; you're a real cobber," sniffed Platypus.

"Oh, that's all right, Plat," snuffled Spiny, flicking away his tear and feeling as happy as if he'd already found the bigger ants.

Then Platypus took a deep breath, pulled himself together, and said, "Well, we'll have to get going again; remember we're out to seek our fortune. That old snake wasted a lot of time."

So off went the cobbers, singing their gay song. But after they'd been going a bit, they found they had to slow down. The broad road had narrowed to a very thin track, so that instead of tramping along three in a row, the cobbers had to walk one after the other, in single file. They also found they had to walk slower and slower, and then Spiny, who was at the head of the trio, saw why. They had come up behind a procession of caterpillars.

Caterpillars have never been famous for their speed, and these caterpillars were no different to any others. They passed one blade of grass at a time and very slow time at that. But far from being impatient with themselves, they were very pleased. The cobbers thought them quite the vainest caterpillars they had ever met; especially when they heard the boastful song they sang:

When caterpillars walk abroad
Oh, how the scenery flies,
Tall trees and bushes scamper by,
And rocks flash past our eyes.

We really go so very fast,
We seem to fly indeed;
But caterpillars have no wings;
It's just that we have speed.

So on and on. Step one. Step two.
And should you wonder what to do,
Or where to go, or after who,
Just follow on—ahead—of—you.

Yes, on and on. Step one. Step two.
No need to wonder what to do,
Or where to go, or after who,
Just follow on—ahead—of—you.

And each caterpillar crawled slowly on, following the caterpillar ahead of him; really believing that he was walking very fast and that the scenery flashed past him, and all the other strange things caterpillars believe.

The cobbers didn't like the slow pace.

"This is too slow to catch worms," snorted Platypus.

"It's too slow to catch ants," snuffled Spiny.

"It's even too slow to catch gum leaves," wheezed Possum.

And then the cobbers shouted with one voice: "Hurry! Hurry! Flurry! Scurry!"

But do you think those caterpillars would get a move on? Not they! On they crawled, chanting their conceited ditty:

When caterpillars walk abroad
Oh, how the scenery flies.
Tall trees and bushes scamper by,
And rocks flash past our eyes.

The cobbers had one comfort—the scenery. Platypus liked it. "That's a very nice pool," he remarked.

And later, "That's a very pretty pool," observed Spiny.

And later still, "That's a very nice, pretty pool," said Possum.

And the cobbers would have thought there were one, two, three pools along that part of the track, if a feathery old owl in the tree above their heads hadn't given a loud hoot, and cried:

"Tu-whit, to-whop! Hoo! Hoo! Who are you? Don't tell me; don't speak! I hate noise. But what I would like to know is why you three great animals come marching round and round my tree, hooting `That's a very nice pool,' and `That's a very pretty pool,' and `That's a very nice, very pretty pool,' so that a respectable owl can't get a wink of sleep all day."

The cobbers looked at each other in amazement, and Spiny asked: "Please, Owl, did you say we were tramping round and round your tree?"

"Yes, of course, that's what I said. Can't you even hear straight? I'm not so very surprised to see a stupid spiny ant-eater and an idiotic platypus stamping about at day-time, but why a possum should do it too beats me. All respectable possums sleep through the day. What have you to say for yourself. Miss?"

"W-well, you see, Mr. Owl—" began Possum, but Owl interrupted:

"Yes, of course, I see—though not very well in sunlight. I can see your round eyes blinking and your pink nose twitching, but that doesn't tell me why you stay awake at day-time."

"I stay awake for the same reason as Spiny and Plat stay awake, because we are travelling to seek our fortune," said Possum.

This made Owl snort so hard that he almost fell off his branch. "Your grandmother and your aunts should be told about it, Miss, and then they might put you in a tree and see that you sleep. Where do you live?"

"Excuse me, Owl, but I have to go now." And Possum scampered off to where Spiny and Platypus were waiting for her by the side of the one little pool they had thought was three.

The boys looked up to greet Possum, and then Platypus noticed that the procession of caterpillars was still marching round and round the same tree. "Silly creatures!" he scoffed.

"They'll never get anywhere going round in a circle. Don't you think we ought to tell them?" asked Spiny.

So back went the cobbers, just in time to see the tail-end of the procession of caterpillars disappearing around the left side of the tree bole.

The cobbers waited, and soon the head of the procession came into view.

"We'd better tell the leader, Plat," said Spiny.

"Yes. I'll tell him." said Platypus, suddenly very important. "Er! Excuse me, First Mr. Caterpillar, but do you know you're all marching round and round the same tree?"

"When caterpillars walk abroad

Oh, how the scenery flies."

sang the procession.

"The stupid creature wouldn't listen; he's gone past," grumbled Platypus.

Illustration

"I'll speak to the next one," said Spiny. "Ahem! excuse me, Second Mr. Caterpillar, but you're not going anywhere, you know."

"We really go so very fast
We seem to fly indeed,"

trilled the procession.

"He wouldn't listen either," growled Spiny. "You speak to the next one, Possum."

"All right, Spiny. Er-er-excuse use, Third Mr. Caterpillar, er-er-er—"

"So on and on. Step one. Step two.
And should you wonder what to do,
Or where to go, or after who,
Just follow on—ahead—of—you,"

warbled the wobbling procession, as slowly, very slowly it disappeared around the tree trunk.

"He wouldn't listen, either," grizzled Possum.

"They're the most pig-headed mules I've ever met," said Platypus.

"I think so, too," said Spiny.

"And I think so, three," said Possum.

"It shows that they just follow the leader and never once think for themselves," sneered Platypus. "Well, we'll have to leave them and go off after our fortune. Come on, Cobbers!"

"Wait a tail-flap, Plat, Spiny's not ready," said Possum.

"What's wrong with him?" asked Platypus impatiently.

Illustration

Something was certainly wrong with Spiny. One minute he stood on his head, the next he rolled over on his back, and tossed from side to side; and, in between, he seemed trying to stick his two back feet, as well as his two front feet, into his left ear, while he muttered and spluttered in what seemed to be a dozen foreign languages.

"I'm afraid he's in trouble," said Possum.


CHAPTER EIGHT — AN ANT IN THE EAR

Possum and Platypus couldn't think what in the world was wrong with Spiny. And they were even more puzzled when they heard him yell:

"Get him out! Get him out!"

"Get out who, Spiny," asked Possum gently.

"Get out who, from where? What are you talking about?" shouted Platypus.

How were Possum and Platypus to know Spiny was talking about an ant who, at that moment, was running wildly about inside his ear, tickling him till he was almost insane.

This is how it came about.

A smart young ant had left his nest early that morning to go foraging for food. As he was a very good worker, and especially good at foraging, he had soon found a tasty speck of melon and two sweet blackberry seeds, all of which he hoisted on to his shoulder, before setting off through the tall grass for home. He skipped along, winding his way through the blades of grass, and although he was brave and not easily scared, he knew that it was dangerous for him to be near a bird. So when one flew down from the sky, Ant scampered away, only to find himself up against a long procession of caterpillars. Off he scampered again. This time he came up against something that he thought was a thin twig off a bush. He ran along it, but what he thought was a twig was one of the spines that grew on Spiny Ant-eater. So Ant was lost in a dark forest of spines. He ran in and out and around them.

"Oh, dear! I must be lost in the great Australian bush," he panted.

His feet running round, tickled Spiny and caused him to snuffle and gruffle. Hearing the snuffles, Ant guessed he had done what all his kind wish never to do, and that is, run into an ant-eater. Oh, his brothers and cousins would have fainted away with sheer fright, but Ant drew a deep breath, and made a final dash for it. He went so fast, he bumped head-first into one spine, then another spine, and then into a third, and a fourth spine.

Crack—crack—crack—crack I went the spines.

"Oh, my poor head!" wailed Ant, whilst his six feet got hopelessly tangled—three of them seeming to like to go one way round a spine, and three of them the other way.

Suddenly he saw a large pink space before his eyes. He didn't know what it was, but at least it offered a way out from the sharp spikes. He made a last effort and took a last jump and landed—bump!

"Well, here I am. But where is that?" gasped Ant.

He didn't know his jump had landed him right inside Spiny's pink ear.

Spiny gave a loud snort, and snuffled louder than ever. That startled Ant, and springing to his feet, he tore madly round and round inside the pink circle, crying:

"Let me out! Let me out!"

Whilst Ant screamed "Let me out!" Spiny roared "Get him out!" tossing and rolling on the ground, and performing all the strange acrobatics that so surprised Possum and Platypus, and caused them to ask:

"Get who out, Spiny?"

"Get who out of where? Who are you talking about, Spiny?"

"I don't know, but he's galloping around inside my ear. Oooooh!" And Spiny rolled on the ground and snuffled loudly.

Round and round ran Ant, looking for a way out. At last he came near the opening of Spiny's ear, just at one of the times Spiny was standing on his head; and there, straight before him, Ant saw green grass.

Illustration

"Hurrah! Here I go," he cried, and bolted for the green. Faster than ever he ran, which tickled Spiny more than ever, so that he couldn't make up his mind to stand on his pointed toes or his long thin nose. He tried to do both at once and missed, and rolled over and over and over. Bump! Bump! Bump!—which tossed Ant head-over-heels—one! two! three!—out on to the cool soft grass.

"Oooooooh!" gasped Ant, sitting up and counting his six feet to see if they were all there.

"One, two, three, four, five, six."

Standing up, he was just about to race off, when Spiny, who had been sniffing the air with his long thin muzzle, smiled widely and said:

"I smell ant."

Ant nearly did faint then, but luckily at that moment Possum and Platypus called out:

"Are you all right now, Spiny?"

"What ever was wrong with you?"

And Spiny answered: "I had an ant in my ear, but he's out now. Ooooooh! and is he a nice fat juicy little fellow? Look at him....Why, he's gone!"

Of course Ant had gone. The moment Spiny turned his head to speak to the others he ran, quicker than an ant had ever run before, till now he was far away, safe-hidden behind a pebble, saying to himself:

"Let me see, have I still got my load? One speck of melon and two blackberry seeds. Yes, they're all here. Well, I'll take them home now for tea."

And he set off briskly for his nest, singing as he skipped along.

Meanwhile, Spiny Ant-eater was poking his long thin nose about in the dirt, and mumbling over and over: "Now where ever did he get to?"

Illustration

"Oh, don't fuss about one old ant, Spiny," grumbled Platypus.

"He wasn't an old ant, Plat; he was a young one."

"Well, whatever he was, we've got to get going again. Don't you want to find your fortune?"

"Oh yes, I'd like to find my fortune, Plat, but I'd like to find that young ant, too."

"There are plenty of other ants. Come on! Oh, now look at Possum; she's asleep!"

"No, Plat. I'm—only—half-asleep," yawned Possum. But the boys saw she was stretched full-length along a branch with her tail curled round it, and her furry cheek cushioned on a pink paw.

"We'd better play our band; that's the only thing that can keep you awake in the day-time," said Platypus. "Got your gum-leaf?"

"Er—er—!"

"Possum, don't tell me you've eaten your musical instrument?"

"Well, yes, I—I ate that leaf. But there are lots more leaves in the trees. I'll just get one. Would you like a new leaf, Spiny? Oh, Platypus, just look at Spiny."

"Oh dear! Oh dear! What is he up to now?" groaned Platypus.

Plainly, Spiny was up to something. With that long muzzle of his grubbing in the earth, he was running round and round in circles, smiling happily and sometimes giving an excited whoop.

"Spiny! Spiny! Have you forgotten about our fortune? Leave whatever you are doing and come on," shouted Platypus.

Illustration

"Oh, I couldn't leave them, I really couldn't," answered Spiny. "You come over here, Plat, and you too, Possum. I've found something tip-top, and there's hundreds and dozens of them. And, oh, come quickly or they'll get away."


CHAPTER NINE — "TORTIE"

IT seemed that just whenever the three Cobbers got started on the track to seek their fortune, something always happened to hold them up. And now here was Spiny snuffling in the earth with his long thin nose, giving a loud whoop and shouting to Possum and Platypus to come and see what he had found.

"Here we come, Spiny. What is it now?" panted his friends as they galloped across and saw him standing open-mouthed and goggle-eyed, gazing at something spread out on the ground at his feet; something that looked like a large piece of brown lace, but didn't star put like lace, for it bobbed and jerked about. It didn't move in one piece, either; different bits of it moved at different times, whirling and swirling around, forming crazy patterns and breaking them up again.

"What is it, Spiny?" asked Possum.

"It's not an it, Possum. It's a they. Do you know what they are, Plat?"

"Yes, I do; but I'm sure no one else does," said Platypus, looking pompous and important.

"Oh, what are they, Plat, what are they? I found them and I can see they're alive, but I don't know what they are."

"Try and guess what they are," said Platypus grandly.

"All right," said Spiny, trying very hard. "And Possum can guess, too."

"Yes, ladies first," said Platypus.

Possum put her head on one side and considered.

"Well—are they little teeny weeny rocks, Plat?" she asked.

"No, Possum. Your turn now, Spiny."

"Are they brown pebbles rolling around, Plat?"

"No, Spiny."

"Are they autumn leaves?"

"No, Possum."

"Are they shells?"

"No, Spiny. I'll tell you what they are. Look at them all running this way and that way, in and out, up and down, but mostly round and round. They're tortoises, that's what they are."

"Tortoises?" giggled Possum and Spiny.

"Tortoises," repeated Spiny. "I was just poking my nose in the sand to see if there were any fat ants about and—and—and I must have dug up these fellows, and now here they are, hundreds and dozens of tortoises."

"I wish they'd stay still so I could see them better," grumbled Possum, looking at the blobs of brown which were still bobbing in and out and round about each other.

"I'll scare them, that'll make them stand still," said Platypus. "Watch me stamp and hear me shout at them. Hi! Hi I Hi I See, that stopped their goings on."

It was true, for the tortoises, standing quite still, were making a long low sound, like a lot of s's joined together.

"They hiss like that when they're scared," explained Platypus.

"I think they're sweet," said Possum. "And I don't want them to be scared. They're very small and they don't look very old."

"They're only just hatched out of their eggs," said Platypus.

"Ooooo! I'd love to see them pop," giggled Spiny.

Then Possum clapped her pink paws and cried: "Oh, oh, look, there are one—two—three—four eggs that aren't chipped at all! Does that mean that there are baby tortoises inside them, Plat?"

"Yes, baby tortoises inside the eggs waiting to be hatched."

"Waiting to pop out? Let us help them pop," giggled Spiny, and he snuffled so hard he almost smothered himself. "You sit on two of them. Plat, and I'll sit on the other two. That's how birds hatch their eggs."

"Sit tight, so as to keep them warm. Righto, Spiny, I'll do this pair."

"And I'll do this pair, Plat."

"Oh, no, no, no, boys, you mustn't sit on those little eggs. You'll break them all up and break the tortoises," cried Possum.

"Oh!" said Spiny, and his quills drooped with disappointment.

"Perhaps if we leave them alone, they might do something themselves," suggested Platypus.

So the three cobbers settled down to watch the four shiny eggs. And presently from inside each of those four eggs sounded a tapping and a rapping, as four tiny beak-like mouths pecked and pecked at the shells, trying to force their way out. And soon the Cobbers heard four baby tortoises singing from inside the four little eggs.

Tap! Tap! Tap!
Rap! Rap! Rap!

And then four skinny little heads peeped out of four splintered shells as, one after the other, four tiny voices piped:

"I'm out!"

"I'm out!"

"I'm out!"

"And I'm out!"

Illustration

And what do you think those four baby tortoises did the moment they were hatched? Why, join all the other tortoises in the crazy lace pattern, and go bobbing backwards and forwards, in and out, round about in an ever-blending, breaking and mending, never-ending design. Spiny poked his long thin nose in among them and shuffled them about, while he said:

"They keep on running, but they don't run very fast."

Perhaps Spiny's nose poking at them annoyed them, or perhaps they just grew tired of running round and round with no place to go; but whatever it was, all the tortoises suddenly stopped dead, and then went tearing off as hard as they could tear, over the sandy ground to the creek, just as though a bell had rung, calling them to dinner. The Cobbers shouted after them: "Hi, hi! Where are you going? Come back!"

But the tortoises didn't come back, and anyone could see where they were going. They even sang about it.

To water, to water, O!—O!—O!
Where water gleams that's where we go.
For water's wet is all we know.
Then race for the water, O!—O!—O!

And away raced the tortoises towards the little creek that shone blue like a bit of sky that had fallen to earth. Not that the tortoises ever really raced—at best their pace was a little quicker than a snail and slower than a caterpillar—but if anything could give them speed it was the sight of water. And soon they were diving headlong into it while they sang:

To water, to water, O!—O!—O!
Where water gleams that's where we go.
This lovely water's wet! And so
We'll swim and we'll swim for all we know!

"They re swimming away. They're gone," groaned Spiny and Platypus.

"Even the four babies have gone," moaned Possum.

But no, all the four babies hadn't gone. The last baby to pop out of his egg was still there. He hadn't gore splashing into the water with his brothers and sisters, because he just couldn't. Spiny's long nose poking in among his relations had pushed hint over on his back, and everyone knows that once a tortoise turns upside down on his shell it takes all the king's horses and all the king's men to put that poor tortoise together again, unless there is a kindly possum close by to lend a helping paw, and say:

"Look at the poor little chap lying on his back. Upsey-dupsey—over—over! There! Now you're right side up again. What do you say?"

"Tank you!" lisped baby tortoise in a tiny just-out-of-the-shell voice. "An' now I will go down to de water."

"But all the other tortoises have disappeared," said Possum.

"Oh!" said the baby, and his eyes grew very wide.

"Don't be miserable; I'll think of something you can do," said Possum in her drowsy, gentle way, and she put her shaggy head on one side, slowly scratched the white spot behind her ear and considered what could be done. At last she scratched an idea and said:

"He could come with us and seek his fortune, couldn't he, boys?"

"If he'll be a cobber, he can," said Spiny and Platypus. "Will you be a cobber?"

"Is it nice to be a tobber?" asked the baby.

"Why it's the grandest thing in the world. And you can seek your fortune with us, too."

"Then, I'll be a tobber and seek my fortune. But it had better be a good one."

"Off we go!" shouted the Cobbers gaily, and they started down the track singing their favourite song:

To fortune-O! To fortune-O!
To find our fortune off we go...

Baby tortoise was a quick-witted little chap, but very slow on his feet, so that every now and then the Cobbers had to stop to cry to him:

"Come on, Tortie. Hurry—hurry—flurry—scurry!"

And then that baby tortoise would come panting up to them, very much out of breath and looking smaller and younger than ever. At last Platypus said crossly:

"Get a move on, Tortie, and put your best toot forward."

But at that Tortie squatted bang down in the middle of the track and hoisting up each of his feet in turn, held them close to his shining eyes. Not noticing the cunning gleam in Tortie's little eye, Possum asked:

"Why are you looking at your feet, Tortie?"

"I'm looking to see which is my best foot to put forward," said Tortie in his teeny-tiny voice, and his teeny-tiny eye winked cunningly.

"Tortie should really have a mother to tell him things," said Possum, looking worried.

"Tortoises never see their mother," said Platypus, who seemed to know all about it. "The old lady tortoise lays her eggs in the sand by some water and then she covers them up and leaves them there, and after a very long time the eggs crack and the baby tortoises pop out, like Tortie here. So they never have a mother.

"Well, I could be a sort of mother to Tortie," said Possum slowly.

"And Plat and I could be a sort of a father to him, couldn't we, Plat?" cried Spiny.

Illustration

"Righto, Spiny," said Platypus. "And now, Tortie, let's get going."

"I can't walk till I find my best foot," gurgled Tortie, and he looked more cunning than ever, but, of course, the Cobbers didn't see it.

"Mother Possums carry their babies on their backs—" began Possum.

"You could carry me, Possum," cried Tortie eagerly.

So the boys hoisted him up between Possum's shoulders, where he snuggled down into the warm, brownish fur, well satisfied. The Cobbers set off down the track, singing their travel song.

Tortie seemed to like riding pip a-back, except that he wanted to slither off whenever he saw the tiniest gleam of water, so that Possum had to cry to him:

"Hold tight, Tortie; it isn't time to swim yet."

On went the Cobbers, shouting their song:

To fortune-O! To fortune-O!
To find our fortune off we go.
And when we find it we will be
The merriest three you ever did see
To fortune-O To fortune-O!
We seek it night and day.
We know good luck is waiting us:
Possum, Spiny and Platypus.
But yippy-ho! And away we go,
Away, away and—

But suddenly the Cobbers stopped and Spiny cried:

"Ooo! Look, Plat; look, Possum; there on the track in front of us! What is it?"


CHAPTER TEN — THE SHAME OF A NAME

THERE on the track in front of them was a dark, shadowy something, and from it came a sobbing and a moaning and a groaning. The Cobbers stopped and asked:

"Who is crying their eyes out?"

"I—I—am,' came a voice almost drowned in tears.

"Who is I?"

"Me."

"But who is me?"

"I."

Illustration

This conversation seemed silly to Platypus, who said in a fussy voice:

"We know who I and me is. What we want to know is, who are you?"

"I—I—," the voice choked and couldn't go on.

"What is your name?"

But at that the one who was weeping, wept louder than ever, which nearly made the kind-hearted Cobbers weep, though Platypus managed to say:

"Why are you crying louder?"

"You—made—me—cry louder."

"All I did was to ask your name," said Platypus.

"There you go again," cried the weeper, and off he went again, sobbing louder than ever, till he got hiccoughs and nearly choked.

The Cobbers were puzzled.

"What's wrong with a name that it should make you cry?" asked Platypus.

"It's because my name calls me names, that's why."

Spiny snuffled wildly in sympathy. "What names does your name call you, brother?"

"It calls me a—a—a bandy—coot."

"Oh! You're a bandicoot?" cried the Cobbers, grateful to know even that much. There he was straight in their path, so sopping wet with tears that he looked more like a heap of soggy leaf-mould than a live animal.

"Boo-hoo!"

It seemed that Bandy's tears would never run dry: they kept welling up into his eyes, and overflowing down his long nose, to drip off his whiskers and go splash on to the ground. Soon he was squatting in the middle of a large puddle which gleamed with the wet gleam Tortie loved to see. Tortie's eyes began to gleam like the water. He said "Oooo!" and then, quieter than a mouse, slithered down from Possum's back, scampered over the ground to Bandicoot, and took a header into the puddle of tears.

Illustration

Possum cried: "Oh, look at Tortie," and went lolloping across to make a rescue. Indeed, Tortie needed rescuing, for though turtles may swim in salt water, tortoises like their water to be fresh, and Bandy's tears were very, very salt.

"Quick, boys, lend a paw!" cried Possum.

"We're on the job, Possum!" cried the boys as they fished a spluttering Tortie out of the tears.

Possum dried him with the brush of her tail, and set him high on a sunny rock to warm up. "There, you needn't splutter any more, Tortie dear. You're all right now," she said kindly.

Meanwhile Bandy was so interested in the goings-on that he forgot to shed one single tear. Platypus noticed this, and thought it a good time to say: "We don't want to upset you again, but if you wouldn't mind telling us, we'd really like to know why your name makes you cry."

"Well—I'll—tell—you. But first look at me; would you say I was bandy?"

The Cobbers looked at the sleek little chap, who was a little bigger than a rat and a great deal smaller than a kangaroo, and a bit like both of them.

"Well, would you say my legs were bandy?"

"Oh no," said the Cobbers, warmly.

"And—would you call me a—a coot?"

"Oh no."

"I'm not bandy and I'm not a coot, and yet to think I'm called—a—a—"

"Don't think of it," warned the Cobbers.

"But it isn't only that my name calls me names," went on Bandy, "they give me a bad name as well."

"How?"

"They say I spoil their gardens—and—and—that I dig up their vegetables, and I never do, boo-boo!" And through his sobs, Bandy sang:

I don't dig for veg'tables,
I don't dig for roots,
I never spoil a bud or fruit,
Or eat the tender shoots.
The little holes I make
Are quite misunderstood;
No one knows
I'm digging those
For reasons that are good.

"If you don't dig for vegetables or roots, what do you dig for?" asked Platypus.

"For grubs and beetle-eggs and for trap-door spiders." spluttered Bandy, and he sang again:

I don't dig for veg'tables,
I don't dig for roots,
I never spoil a bud or fruit,
Or eat the tender shoots.
My instinct tells me when
A spider is below.
I probe his trap,
Then—snappy-snap!
That spider's soon poor show.
But,
The little holes I make
Are quite misunderstood;
No one knows
I'm digging those
For reasons that are good.

"Well, we know now why you dig your holes," said the Cobbers, "so don't fret any more."

"But I've got another reason for fretting. You see, I used to have lots of aunties and uncles and a dear little cousin, but they all went and left me just because I couldn't help crying when I think of being called a—"

"Don't think of it," shouted the Cobbers.

And then they put their heads on one side while they thought and thought how they could help their new friend. Platypus opened and shut his duck's bill, but nothing came out of it, not even a quack. Spiny snuffled furiously and waggled his long thin nose, and as to Possum, she scratched the white spot behind her ear. At last she said shyly: "I could be a sort of auntie to you, if you like."

And Spiny snuffled eagerly and said: "And Plat and I could be a sort of uncle to you; and Tortie could be your dear little cousin, couldn't you, Tortie?"

"If he cwied a puddle of fwesh water, I would," and Tortie's eyes gleamed cunningly.

"And he can be our cobber and come with us and seek his fortune," said Platypus. "So dry your eyes, cobber, that ought to make you smile."

Then he and Spiny hoisted Tortie up on to Possum's back and they all set off down the track. Bandy hopped along like a small kangaroo behind the Cobbers, but only for a while. Presently he stopped, sniffed, sighed, and the fountain of tears began to flow again.

"Don't cry and I'll give you a gum-leaf," promised Possum.

"If he doesn't cry I'll give him a big fat ant," promised Spiny.

"And I'll take him for a swim in the next pond we come to," promised Platypus.

But it was no use, even though Tortie, who was only as big as one of Bandy's ears, jeered and said:

"Cwy Baby Bunting, Cwy Baby Bunting, and try to cwy fresh water tears this time. Yah!"

And Tortie stuck out his neck and his tongue as well.

Luckily just them Spiny got one of his great ideas and shouted: "I know what!"

"What, Spiny?" asked Possum and Platypus.

"If he didn't have that name he needn't cry."

"But he must have a name, Spiny."

"Oh, he'll have a name all right. Why, he can have any one of three other names or all three of them if he likes."

"What are they, Spiny?"

"Yartini, Menaak or Kurkulli," said Spiny.

"But those aren't his names."

"Yes, they are. Those are the names the Aborigines call him: Yartini, Menaak, or Kurkulli. Kurkulli's the best. Let's call him Kurkulli. What do you say to that, Band—er—I mean, what do you say to that?"

"Yah! Look at him smiling," piped Tortie.

And it was true. Bandy had wiped his eyes on his pointed ears and his screwed-up mouth had actually straightened and stretched out into a wide smile.

"Kur-kurkilli. I—I—like that," he stammered.

So off they all went once again. And it really seemed they might get somewhere this time. But no, they hadn't gone very far when Bandy stopped. "It's no use," he blubbered. "I can't go on. Leave me. I'm not Kurkulli, not really."

"But you are," insisted Spiny. "Our Aborigines always call you Kurkulli, Yartini or Menaak."

"But my name is really—"

"Don't think of it," cried the Cobbers.

Illustration

But nothing they could do or say would make the weeping one weep less or even agree to go with them. At last Platypus said:

"Perhaps he's only happy when he's crying. Anyway we can't stay here all day; we have to seek our fortune."

So sadly they said goodbye. Slowly they turned down the track, and then Tortie shamed the kind-hearted Cobbers by sticking out his neck and yelling in his very rudest voice:

"Yah! You can call him Kurkulli or Yartini or Menaak, but I call him Old Cwy Baby."


CHAPTER ELEVEN — "IT TAKES WINGS TO FLY"

THE Cobbers were still marching along the track, seeking their fortune, but—oh!—they were tired, so that they went slower and slower and slower, till at last they just didn't go at all, and Possum said: "I simply can't walk another step on the ground."

"Where else could you walk?" asked the boys.

"I would walk on the trees," said Possum.

At this baby Tortoise, who was still travelling on Possum's back, tucked away comfy and cosy in the soft fur, poked his head up and shouted: "Yah! Nobody can't walk on twees."

"I can, Tortie; the boys have seen me do it," answered Possum, mildly. "I jump from branch to branch. Like this, Tortie—swish!"

And before Tortie could wink one wicked eye, Possum had leapt into a tree and the next moment, much to Tortie's horror, was swinging from branch to branch high up in the air.

Swish! Swish! Swish!

Oh, Tortie held tight to the fur on Possum's back; held tight with his feet and his teeth and his whole heart, as he yelled with all his might: "Hi! Stop! Stop! Stop!"

"Swish! Did you speak, Tortie, dear?" asked Possum, sweetly.

"Yes, I did 'peak! I said stop!"

"Very well, Tortie, I'll come down from the tree."

Tortie didn't answer till Possum was safely on the ground once more. Then he said in his high piping cross little voice: "You must be a bird, twying to fly like dat."

"Fly! Oh, if only I could," exclaimed Possum, clasping her pink paws. "Or if I could even glide like a glider possum."

Spiny snuffled excitedly; "If you were a bird, Possum, you could fly. If we were all birds we needn't walk at all. We could just fly and fly and never get tired, that's what."

"And we'd soon find our fortune, then," cried Platypus.

"Yes, we would, Plat. I reckon it is a tip-top idea of Tortie's," and Spiny's quills shivered and shook, whilst he almost smothered himself, he snuffled so hard and fast.

There was a merry whistle, and a small bird in trim black-and-white feathers, with a handsome fan-shaped tail, swaggered over the grass into view.

"There's that bird," lisped Tortie.

"That's Willie Wagtail, Tortie," said Possum, watching the cheeky looking bird, who swung from side to side as though he were trying to face both ways at once, and made a rattling noise for all the world as though he was a box of dice.

"Yah, go away, 'ticky-beak!" yelled Tortie.

"Oh, Tortie!" sighed Possum, for really Tortie had no manners at all.

Illustration

"Well, he's the bird that tells," said Tortie, making a face.

"Yes, that's what the Aborigines say about him," said Spiny. "You ask him, Possum."

But the little bird that tells had flown away, though not very far. He hadn't gone further than three trees off, when he met Mrs. Cockatoo and told her what he heard the three Cobbers say about wishing they could fly. Mrs. Cockatoo, who was quite a motherly soul, in spite of her loud shrill voice, said: "Oh well, I'll give them a lesson. Where are they?"

Willie Wagtail pointed down to where the three shaggy creatures lay stretched out beneath a coolabah tree.

"I see them!" shrilled Mrs. Cockatoo, swooping down to earth.

When Tortie saw Mrs. Cockatoo coming he pulled his head in and lay still as a stone, for he thought Willie Wagtail might have told on him. But Mrs. Cockatoo came to help, not to scold.

"Which one of you wants to learn to fly? Do you, Possum?"

"Yes, please, Mrs. Cockatoo."

"Do you, Spiny Ant-eater?"

"Yes, please, Mrs. Cockatoo."

"Do you, Platypus?"

"Yes, please, Mrs. Cockatoo."

"Well, climb up a tree," ordered Mrs. Cockatoo, "all three of you."

Away ran the Cobbers to the coolabah and, with many wiggles and giggles, scrambled up the bole.

"Higher!" screamed Mrs. Cockatoo. "Higher! Higher!" And in spite of Tortie's objections, the Cobbers did as they were told, till at last Mrs. Cockatoo was satisfied, and said:

"That'll do. Now each of you get ready to jump."

"J-Jump!" stammered the boys, suddenly feeling frightened.

They shivered, and Tortie trembled so much he almost fell off Possum's back. Then he crept up to Possum's ear and whispered into its pink shell:

"Don't let that old bird fool you into twying to fly. 'Member you have to look after me and I might get hurt."

Then, seeing Possum wasn't listening to him, Tortie gave the pink ear a sharp bite.

Possum was listening to a new sound, a low, lovely twittering sound, a sound that was filling the air as birds, more birds and ever more birds came hopping, and jumping, tittupping and flying over to the coolabah tree, to see what Mrs. Cockatoo meant to do.

Mrs. Cockatoo greeted them: "Hello, pals! I'm just going to give these three young animals a lesson how to fly."

"Fly?" tittered the birds, looking surprised.

"Yes," screeched Mrs. Cockatoo. "Why not? Now Possum, Spiny and Platypus, listen to what I say," and she sang in her high voice:

When a little bird begins to fly
He stands on tippy-tip toe,
On the end of a branch be does a little dance,
Then jumps off and lets himself go.

He floats through the air with the greatest of ease,
That daring young bird on the breast of the breeze,
On the breast of the breeze he floats over the trees,
And that's how he learns how to fly.

And then all the birds joined in and sang in chorus.

"Now you know what to do, do it," commanded Mrs. Cockatoo, as though it was just as easy as that.

Feeling very excited, the Cobbers each scrambled to the end of the branch. So excited were they, they didn't hear Tortie yell:

"Hi, let me down out of this! Let me down!"

"Now animals, fly! And wall fly with them, pals," said Mrs. Cockatoo. "One, two, three! Jump!"

"He floats through the air with the greatest of ease,
That daring young bird on the breast of the breeze."

The birds went shooting—low, high—wheeling and circling in the sky; skating and skittering on the air—flying, flying. But as to the Cobbers. Yes, the Cobbers could jump. But—

Bump! Bump! Bump!

Illustration

"Ow!" yelped the poor old Cobbers.

Tortie yelled: "I told you so. I told you so. Lucky I'm not hurt."

"I'm hurt, even though I fell light," wheezed Possum.

"I fell heavy," moaned Spiny.

"And I fell heavier," groaned Platypus.

"Well," said Mrs. Cockatoo, "you had a buster that time, but better luck next time. Let us show them how to do it, pals. See, you spread your wings like this and—"

But at that moment the mocking bird of Australia, perched on the top of the highest tree, burst into laughter.

"Koo-koo, kee-kee! Trying to fly without wings, trying to fly without wings!" and Kookaburra laughed till he almost split his feathers. "Koo-koo, kee-kee, ka-ka, ka-ka!"

Then the round-eyed boys turned to a puzzled, dreamy-eyed Possum and explained: "Oh, that's it, we have no wings."

"Yah, I could have told you that!" jeered Tortie.

But as for Mrs. Cockatoo and the rest of the birds, they said nothing at all. Perhaps they felt a little foolish. Anyway they flew off as quickly as could be. Picking themselves up, and dusting themselves down, the Cob-bers turned their best front to the track and went slowly off once more in search of their fortune, which somehow seemed further off than ever.


CHAPTER TWELVE — AFTER ALL THE SEEKING

Suns had risen and gone to bed,
Moons had blossomed and faded overhead,
Stars had winked and blinked and gone,
Only the bush stayed on.

THE tall stately gums looked down on the three trudging figures—one of them prickly, two of them hum. The gums were too high to see the fourth figure, which was Tortie, for he was snuggled deep in the soft fur on Possum's back.

"How long have we been seeking our fortune. Spiny?" asked Platypus in a weary voice.

"Oh it must be months—weeks—and dozens of days," sighed Spiny.

On, on went the Cobbers, but still that fortune didn't come into view.

Platypus began to whimper.

"Look here, Spiny, it was your idea that we should set out to seek our fortune. But are you sure we hair one?"

"Oh yes, Plat. Every animal has a fortune. Its waiting for him if he'll only seek it."

"Well, ours doesn't seem to wait for us."

"Perhaps ours ran away," yawned Possum.

"No, no, Possum, fortune's can't run," said Spiny.

"Why, Spiny?"

"Well, because—because they can't, Possum. That's what."

"Oh," said Possum, and she seemed satisfied, even though Tortie snorted loudly and said, "Yah!"

Off they went again, Platypus waddling along on his webbed feet; Spiny shuffling along, looking like a walking pin-cushion, with the old muzzle poking out and snuffling as it waggled from side to side; and Possum scrambling along in between the two boys. They went very slowly and sighed as they went. They even cried a tear or two into their paws.

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Then, turning a corner, they met a view so sweet and smiling that they, too, began to smile and quite forgot they were tired. For Platypus saw the pool he had longed to see; and on a large grey rock Spiny saw the biggest ants, and more of them, than even he had ever hoped to see; and Possum's drowsy eyes flew open, for there, before them, was the very gum-tree that had beckoned to her in her dreams.

"Oh, oh, oh!" cried the happy Cobbers, bouncing up and down. "We've found our fortunes; we've found our fortunes at last."

But suddenly a loud sound split the air. Platypus opened his eyes and duck's-bill—and kept them open. Spiny hurriedly wedged himself in under a rock, curling himself into a round ball. And Possum went flip up into a tree, which annoyed Tortie so that he called out:

"Hi! Do you want me to fall off your back and cwack my shell?"

"Oh, no, Tortie dear," shivered Possum.

"Well, don't go leaping about like a fwog."

"But, Tortie, I heard a loud—Ooooo! There is it again."

"Yah, that's only the wild dog, Dingo," sneered Tortie. "And he's laughing."

And that's just what Dingo was doing; and doing it very loudly as he came prancing out between the bushes.

"Ho-ho! Ho-ho! So here are the three world travellers come back. Well, did you find your fortune?" he barked.

"We haven't come back," said the Cobbers.

"Haven't come back? Oh, that's a good one, that is," laughed Dingo. "You're here, but you haven't come back," and he sang in a jeering voice:

There was once a silly possum with rings on her tail,
And a flea in her ear and water on the brain,
And she went to seek her fortune and she walked right out,
Then she walked back home again.

"Possum's not walking home." snorted Spiny.

But Dingo just stared at him with scornful eyes and sang:

There was once a silly creature with four funny feet
And a long skinny nose that wagged across the track,
And he went to seek his fortune and he walked right out,
Then he turned and walked right back.

"Spiny's not walking back," shouted Platypus.

So then it was his turn to be glared at while Dingo sang:

There was once a silly Platypus. Ho, what a sight!
Though he looked like a duck, he couldn't even quack.
And he went to seek his fortune with the first bright pair,
And with them he walked right back.

And throwing up his head and yelling with laughter, Dingo raced off into the bush.

"What did he mean about us coming back?" asked Possum drowsily, looking quite dazed.

Then Tortie, still clinging to Possum's back, as Possum clung to the tree, stuck his neck out and spluttered into her pink ear: "I know what he meant. And get down on to the gwound again. I'm a tortoise, and tortoises don't climb twees."

So the ever-polite Possum came scrambling down, head first, the way she always did, but this time she scrambled down so quickly that Tortie lost his balance and hurled head-over-heels over her ears.

"Oh, Tortie, dear, are you hurt?" cried Possum, hurrying to him where he lay sprawled in the dust.

"This just about finishes everything, this does." And pulling away from Possum's friendly paw, Tortie made a face, first at her, then at Spiny, and then Platypus.

"Oh, Tortie!" exclaimed the surprised Cobbers.

"Never mind, I'll help him up on to Possum's back," said Spiny.

"Yes, we'll have to get going to seek our fortune," said Platypus.

"Yah! I'm not going," piped Tortie.

"Why, Tortie?"

"Yah, 'cause of what Dingo said. Dingo knows."

"Knows what, Tortie?"

"Dingo said I was bright. I wonder what he meant," drawled Possum.

"He meant you were dumb," yelled Tortie, and made off, running as fast as his short legs would carry him towards the pool. When he got to the gleaming blue circle, he gave one loud whoop and jumped. And that was the last the Cobbers saw of him for at least two days.

"He—he—always did like water," murmured Spiny sadly.

"He's only a baby. I hope he can swim," sighed Possum in a lonely voice.

"All tortoises can swim," said Platypus, "just like all platypuses can swim." And he looked lovingly at the water.

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Just then a round brown earthy door at their feet flew open and a dark angry-looking spider stood in the doorway glaring at them as she said:

"Ha! So it's the three crazy fortune-hunters back again, is it? Well, did you find your fortunes?"

"I have just found my bigger pool," smiled Platypus.

"I have just found my bigger ants," smiled Spiny.

"And I have just found my greener leaves," smiled Possum.

"H'm, so you found them where you left them, did you? Do you remember the song I sang to you when you were starting out? Well, here it is again." And Mrs. Spider sang:

If another land you'd find,
Look around, look around.
What is it that you have found?
Only ground.
If a different pool you'd seek,
Think you oughta, think you oughta?
You will learn that every pool
Is only water.
So travel far and travel wide,
Till you lose your wish to roam,
Then creep—back—home.

"And so now you creep back home."

"Oh, no, Mrs. Spider, we're not going home. We're still away, and have just found our fortunes," said the Cobbers.

"Not going home? Just look around, will you? Use your eyes and ears. Shake the dust out of your eyes and the fur out of your brains. You must have been travelling in a circle, your legs going round, like your silly heads. Not going home? Take a look, a good look." And running inside, she slammed her trap-door in their faces.

The Cobbers stared, shook their heads, and said slowly:

"She said to—take—a—good—look."

And then a wonderful thing happened. For as the Cobbers looked round they saw what they hadn't noticed before, that they truly and really were back home. And it was as though they were seeing it for the first time. Everything looked different and far more beautiful than they had ever remembered.

"Why, why look! That biggest pool of all is my own home pool," squeaked Platypus.

"And—and—all those big beautiful ants are running round my own home rock, and they're the biggest ever," gasped Spiny.

"And, oh boys, that large gum-tree, the one with the sweetest and greenest leaves in all the world, see, it is my very own home tree," cried Possum.

And then those three fat, squat, fluffy-brained Cob-bers looked at each other in round-eyed amazement, for they had suddenly thought of something—which Possum said:

"Perhaps, home is best."

"Yes."

"Then we needn't have gone to seek our fortune at all," chuckled Possum.

"No," giggled the boys.

The three cobbers laughed so heartily that all the birds stopped singing, and every creature stopped doing whatever it was doing, in order to listen. And when the last silvery tinkle of laughter faded, the bush echoed to the cobbers' favourite song; but this time it wasn't about going places, but about staying home:

To fortune-O, to fortune-O!
We'll stay at home for fortune-O;
And now we've found it we will be
The merriest three you ever did see.
To fortune-O! to fortune-O!
We sought it night and day,
We knew good luck was waiting us:
Possum, Spiny and Platypus,
So yippy-ho for fortune-O.
Hurray, hurray and hurray!

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THE END


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