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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook Title: Blinky Bill Grows Up Author: Dorothy Wall eBook No.: 0400591h.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
Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty had talked matters over for nearly a whole night, and towards the dawn had decided upon a plan.
"You know, my dear," said Mrs Grunty, "Blinky needs a firm hand over him now that he has grown up; and who could you find better than Mrs Magpie to give him just the discipline that all young bears require?"
Mrs Grunty used all her powers of persuasion. She secretly longed to give Blinky a good smack occasionally, and at times found her right paw fairly itching to be used hard on that naughty bear's pants.
"And you know, Mrs Koala," she continued, "Snubby is a different child since Blinky came here. He was always so good and obedient before, but now—" and she sighed deeply, right down in her bear tummy.
"Well," replied Mrs Koala, "I wouldn't change Blinky for fifteen Snubbies." And she gave a decided sniff.
"Of course not! I quite see your side of the question," Mrs Grunty answered. "But this everlasting mending of pants and cleaning of ears, while all the time wondering when I'll get a hit on the nose again with a gum-nut.—Well, it's too much for any mother bear."
"But think of all the lovely gum-tips Blinky has brought you to eat," said Mrs Koala, bristling with indignation. "All the same, I must admit he has been very trying lately. I sometimes think it is the new pair of knickerbockers that is to blame, because he's been twice as naughty ever since the day he first put them on."
"Then take them off again," growled Mrs Grunty. "They're always hanging half-way down his legs, never fastened as they should be. If there's one thing I can't stand it's knickerbockers half-mast."
"Oh, I don't mind that so much," Mrs Koala replied. "Every real bear at that age seems to wear them that way; but he loses the buttons, and I can't find any at all now."
"We don't seem to be any further ahead in our discussion," said Mrs Grunty coldly.
"If I send Blinky to Mrs Magpie's school for a month, perhaps he'll return a little quieter," Mrs Koala said sorrowfully. "But you'll never make a man of Snubby!"
"What did you say!" Mrs Grunty exclaimed snappily.
"You'll never make a man of Snubby!" and Mrs Koala glared as she repeated her remark.
"Come, come, my dear, we must not quarrel over our children," said Mrs Grunty kindly. "After all it will do Blinky no harm and give you a good rest."
So it was decided. Blinky was to be packed off to Mrs Magpie's school the next evening and the two mother bears became friends again.
Up in the gum-tree snuggled together, two little bears had listened to all this with big ears opened wide.
"Did you hear that, Snubby?" Blinky asked with wide open eyes. "I'm to be sent to Mrs Magpie's!"
"How dreadful! She'll peck you ever so hard," Snubby whispered.
"She won't, 'cause I won't go!" Blinky boldly replied.
"You'll have to. Your mother will make you," Snubby answered.
"I'm nearly as big as she is; and besides I'm grown up now. Look at my bockers!" And Blinky proudly pulled them a little farther down his short stubby legs.
"I wish my mother would make me a pair of bockers," sighed Snubby.
"I'll leave you mine, 'cause I won't be wearing them again," Blinky replied.
"Oh, you can't go to school undressed!" And Snubby looked very shocked.
"I tell you, I'm not going to school, now or never. I'm going to run away; but I think I'll take my bockers with me as you'd look silly in them." With that Blinky puffed out his tummy till a few stitches gave way.
"Where are you going?" Snubby inquired in a frightened voice.
"Oh, just away, over there." And Blinky waved a little paw in all directions.
"That's where the men are!" Snubby whispered, holding his breath.
"And adventures, too," Blinky replied excitedly.
"I know where Mr Smifkins's farm is and I know where Mr Willie Wagtail lives, and where the flying squirrel plays, and lots of other things, and best of all where the lyre-bird dances. I'll go and see all these things, while you're up here in the gum-tree just eating leaves all night long and listening to old Mrs Grunty growling."
Snubby longed to go too, but he was such a good little bear. When he thought of all that Blinky said, his heart went pit-a-pat so loudly that he became frightened at the very thought of running away. Much better to be safe in a tree even if his mother did growl sometimes. But he knew he would miss his playmate and tears slowly trickled down his little face.
"How could you wear bockers when you're crying?" said Blinky scornfully.
Snubby brushed the tears away with his paw.
"I don't think I'm crying," he said bravely. "Mother's eyes go like that when she has lost her glasses."
"What will you eat while you're away, and where will you sleep?"
"There are juicy plants to find and I'll sleep in a tree; but if I get to Mr Smifkins's place I'll find a cosy corner in his house. But I can't tell you any more just now—it's wasting time. The sun will be up soon and I must hide before mother finds I'm gone. Just watch how quickly I slide down this tree."
The naughty bear climbed down past Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty, who were snoozing in a corner. Quickly and silently he slid to the ground leaving a patch of his bockers on the last branch as he went. He looked very funny, pattering over the ground, one leg of his bockers torn and draggled. But he didn't care a fig—anything was better than Mrs Magpie's school.
"The old pecker!" he mumbled to himself as he trotted along. "And it's all through Mrs Grunty. I wish I'd hidden her glasses before I left!"
The sun peeped through the bush warming the leaves on Blinky's pathway, and shy little lizards poked their heads out from under the stones, surprised to find a bear wandering through their bushland.
Blinky began to stumble, and his knickerbockers caught in every bramble and twig on the way. At last, feeling so tired, he decided to find a suitable tree for a sleep.
A large gum stood straight in his pathway, just the kind made for bears. Smooth and tall, protecting branches high up from the ground, and hundreds of leaves to shelter a little chap like himself. Struggling along he reached the foot of the tree and began to climb. He was an expert climber, much stronger now than when we first knew him, and his claws were longer so that his grip on the trunk of the tree was very sure and strong. Up and up he climbed and had almost reached the top when he heard a great commotion.
"Goodness! What's that!" he exclaimed. "Sounds like Mrs Grunty again," and pausing just under a branch he peeped round the bough to see what all the noise was about.
Feathers were flying in all directions, pecks and squawks disturbed the morning air and the leaves of the tree trembled with fright. Strangest of all, rows and rows of little dead birds hung from the twigs. It looked like a jeweller's shop. The sun caught the bright colours of beautiful feathers on the breasts and wings of tiny feathered folk. Little heads hung down with dull eyes that had glistened only a short time before, and teeny claws curled up—gripping nothing. Tears came to Blinky's eyes. Something terrible had happened. The bush he knew was so kind, everything was alive and sparkling, rustling with life and twittering with gladness; but here everything was still and songless, except for the dreadful fight that was in progress. Two butcher-birds were fighting savagely, each trying to knock the other out of the tree. At last Blinky could not bear to look on any longer.
"Here, you two birds," he shouted, "stop fighting and pecking one another."
He really felt terribly brave, but was surprised to hear his own voice sounding so loud.
"Oh, it's funny nose!" called out one of the butcher-birds.
"What do you think you're doing in our tree?"
Blinky thought very quickly for a moment, then, summoning up all his courage, replied:
"I just called to show you my knickerbockers!"
"Is that the name of the funny looking thing on your face?" called back the rude butcher-birds again.
This was too much for Blinky. He scrambled on to the branch where the birds stood, and glared at them savagely.
"I might have a funny nose," he cried, "but I've got very sharp claws."
The butcher-birds twittered and trembled. Their hooked beaks opened with fright and they clung to the tree very tightly.
"What's all the noise about?" Blinky demanded in a gruff tone.
"Well, you see—it's this way," the largest bird began. "Mrs Possum is holding a bazaar in aid of the poor rabbits who came through the bush-fire. Their homes have been wiped out and all the grass burnt, so that there is no food. Some even had their whiskers and tails singed."
"They shouldn't have whiskers and tails," Blinky remarked. "Look at me—no tail—no whiskers. Tails are stupid things," he said rudely, gazing at the butcher-birds' tails. "Always getting in the way and making animals squeak and yelp when they're trodden on. And, besides, think of the extra washing to be done; as it is my ears take an awful time to clean."
"What polish do you use for your nose?" the butcher-birds asked.
"No polish," Blinky grunted, "only paws." But feeling the conversation was becoming personal he asked more about the bazaar.
"Where is the bazaar to be held?"
"Down in the gully," both birds echoed.
"What's a bazaar, anyway?" Blinky asked, pretending not to be very interested.
"We all sell things and make things, and there's lots to see and hear. Last bazaar Mrs Thrush sang for us, and Gertrude Spider spun her finest web and showed us how to catch flies, and Mrs Spotty Frog's pupils gave an exhibition of jumping."
"Yes," chimed in the other butcher-bird, "and just to make things more exciting Mrs Snake shed her skin, her very own skin—even the part that covered her eyes!"
"It must have been wonderful!" exclaimed Blinky in wonderment. "And what did you do?"
"We help to supply the supper," said the big bird, "and that's just what we were talking about when you came along."
"It seemed to be an angry talk," Blinky replied.
"It's all your fault!" the little bird piped looking at his companion. "He stole my nicest bird that took me hours and hours to catch."
"Stuff and nonsense!" croaked the big bird. "Look at the fine birds I've caught, and yours was such a teeny thing."
"But it has the brightest feathers," complained the little bird.
"I think you're both very cruel," said Blinky, looking at the rows of dead birds. "If I had a gun I'd shoot you!"
Hearing this, the big bird put back his head and pealed with laughter. Blinky stood amazed. Such beautiful clear flute-like notes rang through the air. There was Mr Butcher-bird, the cruellest of birds, singing as no other bird could sing, except of course, Mrs Thrush. Note after note rang out and his mate joined in the chorus. The trees seemed to hush their rustling leaves to listen to such beautiful music.
When the song had finished all thoughts of unkindness had left Blinky's mind. Everything had its own way of being cruel and kind he thought, and after all he must not say rude things to the butcher-birds as he wanted to see the bazaar.
He sat down in a corner of the tree and presently began to nod his little head. His eyes blinked and wouldn't stay open. The tree was so comfortable and he was so tired. He fell asleep and into dreamland. A dreamland of bears. His mother, Mrs Koala, seemed to be patching bockers, and Mrs Grunty, with her spectacles perched right on the tip of her nose, was shaking her paw and saying over and over again:
"He's a bad lad, that boy of yours—he'll be the death of us all!"
Snubby was there, too, peeping timidly round the back of the tree. He looked different, though; something was wrong with his face. And, as Blinky dreamed, he had another look at Mrs Grunty and his mother. Oh, how funny they looked! Their noses had turned into ears and their ears into noses. "How dreadful!" whispered Blinky to himself. "I wonder if my nose is a nose still?"
And putting up his paw, he woke up to find himself patting that part of his face in a very doubtful manner.
"Hey! you butcher-birds," he called out, "is my nose still here?"
"Still there!" the big bird replied scornfully, "I should say it was. Who wants to steal that? We don't hang up noses in our tree!"
"Well, don't you dare to touch it!" muttered Blinky angrily. "By the way, when is the bazaar?"
"Tonight!" the birds replied.
"May I come?" Blinky smiled his sweetest smile.
"You'll have to take something or do something if you come, there's no free admittance. Mrs Possum is very strict about that. Last bazaar Percy Bull Ant tried to sneak in by clinging to Mrs Rabbit's tail and only that he nearly lost his balance and fell off and gave Mrs Rabbit such a nip, he'd have sneaked in. Mrs Rabbit gave a tremendous leap, and let out such a squeal, that of course he was discovered."
"There you are!" cried Blinky excitedly. "Just what I said about tails. Always in the way."
"Just as well she had a tail or the sting might have been much more serious," the big bird replied. "What would happen to you I'd like to know, if a bull ant stung you where your tail ought to be? Tails are a great comfort at times."
"Oh! I didn't mean to be rude," Blinky quickly answered. "But if Mrs Rabbit hadn't had a tail Percy Bull Ant might have chosen a gum-leaf to hide him."
"Not him!" the butcher-bird scoffed. "Why, he even stood up to fight and waved his front legs at Sergeant Hornet when he was ordered to put him out. Such boldness. It caused so much commotion that Mrs Possum fell in the lucky dip and the Rev. Fluffy Ears had to help her out. There she was, covered in sand from head to foot and some impertinent young fellow, who I really believe was Willie Wagtail, called out at the top of his voice: 'Sweet pretty little creature'. Oh, it was really terrible! And all through Percy Bull Ant trying to get in free!"
"I can't take anything and I can't do anything," said Blinky sorrowfully. "But I could look after the lucky dip for them if they want somebody."
"That's a good idea," said both butcher-birds together. "There'll have to be someone this time to keep an eye on things, and watch most carefully that Mr Wombat does not burrow under the 'dip'. He's a cunning fellow and always has an excuse ready. He walks round and round the refreshment stall, sniffing everything and pretending he doesn't like the look of juicy leaves; and just as Mrs Wallaby thinks he is quite safe and turns her back to have a chat with some friend, he snatches a mouthful of the very best he can see."
"Well, that's settled!" said Blinky gladly. "Now I think I'll have another sleep. I always feel dozy in the daytime, and this corner is so warm and soft. Be sure you wake me in time for the bazaar."
Down in the gully hidden from view by tall gum-trees, banksias, and tea-trees, right against a huge rock the bazaar was held. Dozens and dozens of birds, insects, and animals, all dressed in their very best, chattering and squeaking, calling and singing, spreading their goods out on the rock, under it, and around it. No little boy or girl could see this wonder show, unless they wandered far off the beaten track, through the tall spear grass, deep, deep in the heart of the bush, away from all noises and people, and far down the valley where the maidenhair fern grows. Then you may be lucky enough to see a bush bazaar. But faces must be clean, hands washed, and hair combed, as every animal and bird has plumed and preened himself and herself to look their very best. But hush! the Rev. Fluffy Ears is ready to make a speech and declare the bazaar open.
He looks splendid! I'm sure he has been hours and hours brushing his ears, they look so silky. There he is perched on the branch of a tree looking down on all the bush folk, as they sit and hop around, trying to find a patch of grass or rock to rest upon. There is very little room left for even a grasshopper to squeeze in, and some grumpy old ladies like Mrs Owl and Miss Goanna, glare at the younger ones as they try to find a spare seat. The colours are wonderful. Red and orange and purple berries are clustered in huge piles over the rock. Bright green leaves and the softest brown toadstools lie together. Birds' eggs of every colour imaginable are there in dozens to be sold and right up against them are the little dead birds the butcher-birds have brought. This is the produce store and guarding it with glittering eyes is Mrs Wallaby. Woe betide any creature who tries to steal even a berry. Farther away is a wonderful collection of birds' nests, all shapes and sizes, with a notice standing in the centre:
Then there were small piles of grit, some red, others black and brown. The notice above these read:
Under the ledge of the rock sat Miss Gertrude Spider with a very patient look on her face. But cunning, crafty eyes spoilt her appearance. Every hair on her legs was shining, and her body was polished like a door-knob. She had dozens and dozens of webs for sale, and knew very well that the fairies and goblins would be her best customers. Such folk dwell in the gullies and wait eagerly their chance of buying new webs for their clothes. Some webs were made of the finest thread (far finer than silk the silk-worm spins) and were glittering with dewdrops. These were the very best and most expensive: only for fairy queens and princesses. Others were just as beautiful, though a little coarser, and had no dewdrops. But, as Gertrude said, they will "stand wear and tear". Every now and then she pulled a web, tugging it this way and that to show how strong it really was. Curly leaves on the ground were crammed full of flies—some dead, some alive. Others held mosquitoes and sand-flies and some even held small beetles. These were labelled according to their value:
Another was labelled:
The beetles had a special notice above them:
Gertrude Spider had dozens of customers round her stall. But the beetles who had come to see the bazaar stood aside in small groups, whispering in undertones and glancing nervously in her direction. Farther away in a dark musty corner hidden from view by a huge web was her parlour, and she even had the boldness to suggest to small customers that they should "walk into my parlour". Just as if no one knew what that meant!
The frogs were in charge of the swimming-pool and had a grand slippery-dip made from a rock covered with slithery moss. Their customers were mostly frog friends, but wild ducks also patronized the slippery-dip. A swoop and a swish and one after another they splashed into the pool, amidst jeering and croaking from the onlookers. The bravest frogs did double-bankers and back somersaults and all kinds of fancy flips and flops. Right across the centre of the pool a branch of a tree rested on either side, and on it squatted a big fat mosquito. This was the greasy pole, and the fellow who was lucky enough to keep his balance while he crossed, had the thought of that fine fat mosquito for a prize.
The mosquito was tied to the branch by the finest spider-web; so he was a prisoner, trembling from head to foot as he watched each new frog take his few steps, lose his balance and go flopping into the pool.
Shh! Shh! There was a sudden silence, and all the bush folk turned to look at the Rev. Fluffy Ears. He waved his paw and flicked his ears, then spoke in a clear dignified tone.
"Ladies and gentlemen, spend all your money at this bazaar, as you know it is in aid of our poor friends who are homeless through the fire. Those who have no money can give their services free. Mrs Possum has worked hard for months to make this bazaar a success, so I hope to see a friendly spirit among you all. Don't spoil things by scratching or kicking your neighbour (as I saw Mrs Magpie and Mrs Peewit doing) or biting and nipping a friend's tail when his back is turned. It is not kind. And above all remember there is to be no stealing."
A flutter in the tree and an angry voice from Mrs Flying Fox prevented Rev. Fluffy Ears from speaking further.
"A nice thing to suggest!" she screamed. "Stealing indeed! As if anyone would do such a thing!"
A painful look came over the Rev. Fluffy Ears' face, he patted his nose, and felt his collar.
"It's an insult! That's what it is," roared Mrs Flying Fox. And she made a lunge at the Rev. Fluffy Ears.
"It's time I interfered," muttered Blinky to himself. Up to the present he had been sitting very quietly in a corner of the tree, too surprised and amazed at everything he saw to speak or even show himself. But he was not going to see another bear get the worst of a fight with all these creatures looking on.
"Stop that!" he commanded at the top of his voice. "Stop at once, or I'll push you out of the tree!"
Mrs Flying Fox darted round to see where the voice came from.
"Oh, it's only you, is it? Another one of the Koala family poking his big nose into other people's affairs." Blinky became very angry, and poor Fluffy Ears began to cry.
"Someone stand below and catch her when I push her off!" he shouted; and before Mrs Flying Fox could believe her ears she was given a kick that sent her flying out of the tree; but to everyone's horror Blinky's bockers caught in a twig just as he gave the kick, and there he hung, suspended in mid-air.
"Help! Help!" he screamed. "I'm falling."
A rip and a split and Blinky parted from the best part of his knickerbockers. Down he fell—thud, right in the middle of a squealing and kicking crowd. It was not on the programme to find a fat, plump bear squashing and kicking everyone within reach.
"Grab her legs!" Blinky shouted, but no one could get near enough, as he seemed to be raising all the dust it was possible for anyone to do.
"I'll settle this hubbub!" said Percy Bull Ant, blowing out his chest and advancing cautiously with his two front legs waving threateningly. Edging round the fighters he managed at last to get a grip on Blinky's paw. Nip, nip, nip he bit with all his might. Blinky gave a spring in the air and came down right on top of Mrs Possum.
Mrs Possum bit him savagely and naughty Blinky at once kicked her, scratching and ripping her best hat to shreds.
"Oh!" wailed Mrs Possum. "Look at my hat, my very best hat!"
"It wasn't his fault; it's all through Mrs Flying Fox."
Here was Angelina Wallaby of all people, and you can imagine how pleased Blinky was to see her.
"Oh! dear Angelina. Where did you come from?"
"I happened to be watching you from the bush, and when I saw you fall, I thought it high time I came along to save you. Just look at your best bockers! What will your mother say?"
"I-I don't know," Blinky said nervously, feeling the back of his pants.
"Is it a very large hole, Angelina?"
"It's so large, that you've no bockers at the back at all!"
"Serve you right! I hope you get a good smacking when you arrive home. I hope your mother wallops you."
"You!" Blinky exclaimed, too surprised for further words.
It was Mrs Flying Fox speaking. She grinned spitefully at Blinky. Certainly, she was bruised after her bump on the ground; but what's a bump or two, and now, there she stood as cheeky as ever....
"It's time to start the lucky-dip," called out Blinky, and trotted over to his stall.
The lucky-dip was a wonderful attraction. A burnt-out stump of a great gum-tree was filled with marvellous things, all tied up in gum-leaves. Everyone who wanted a dip had first to place a present at Blinky's feet, and a row of bull ants kept guard over these.
The first customer was Miss Silver-eye.
"Please may I have a dip?" she inquired.
"Where's your present?" asked Blinky.
"Here it is!" she piped as she placed a beautiful red berry at his feet.
"Hurry up and have your dip," Blinky commanded. So Miss Silver-eye dipped her beak into the lucky-dip.
"What's in it?" everyone demanded.
"A feather!" said Miss Silver-eye delightedly. "Just what I want for my nest."
"Next please!" shouted Blinky.
Up came Mrs Lizard.
"Where's your present?" Blinky asked.
"Here it is," she said, and placed a dead fly at his feet. Crawling into the bin she came out with a parcel between her teeth.
"Open it!" they all cried, craning their necks to see what treasure it held.
"Poof! It's only a stone," said Mrs Lizard disgustedly. "I think the dip's a take-down." And tossing her head in the air she wriggled away.
There seemed to be an air of dissatisfaction at once among the customers who waited their turn as each had come with a present that had taken quite a deal of thinking about, to say nothing of the hunting for it.
"No remarks are allowed in future," said Blinky. "Take the good with the bad. Now who is next?"
"Me!" called out a tiny voice.
"I can't see you. Stand in front please," Blinky shouted in his bassiest voice.
"I'm here!" came the reply. Looking down Blinky saw Master Trapdoor Spider at his feet.
"Where's your present?" he asked.
"I haven't brought one," Master Trapdoor said boldly. "But if you don't let me have a dip I'll poison you."
"A nasty fellow! Let him have his dip," whispered Mrs Possum.
"I'll get your prize out for you," said Blinky, in a generous voice, and Master Trapdoor's eyes glistened with excitement.
Blinky pulled out a parcel, unwrapped the leaf and a huge frog jumped out.
In a twinkling he had gobbled up Master Trapdoor.
"That's what comes through being rude!" said Blinky, as he eyed the rest of the customers sternly.
Several very quietly crawled or flew away, as they evidently did not want the same thing to happen to them.
"Come on, who's next?" Blinky called.
"I am!" cried Madam Hare.
"Where's your present?" Blinky asked.
"Here it is, and a very valuable one too!" Madam Hare replied, as she placed a whisker at his feet.
"Looks as though it's been used," muttered Blinky. "Take your dip quickly please." He had good cause to remember Madam Hare, and thought it best to be polite.
With a bound Madam Hare sprang right on top of the dip. Blinky bit his lip and clenched his paws, he was feeling so savage.
Madam Hare gave a kick with her hind legs and sent dozens of parcels flying out of the dip.
"Hey! Stop that!" cried Blinky angrily. But Madam Hare only gave another kick. Out came more parcels.
"Stop it! Stop it at once!" cried Blinky, and pounced on Madam Hare, biting her ear.
She turned suddenly and sprang out of the bin with two parcels in her mouth.
"Catch her! Catch her!" Blinky called, as he raced away after the thief.
Madam Hare was too quick for him. Away she bounded, over the stalls, knocking things down as she went and not caring a button for the shouts and screams behind her. Into the bush she raced and didn't stop until she came to her home. There she untied the parcels, and savagely kicked them about when she saw what they contained. One was a bundle of straw and the other the leaf of a stinging-nettle.
"The robbers!" she cried, as she kicked them again and again.
Losing no time, Blinky raced back to the lucky-dip, just in time to find all the customers opening the parcels that Madam Hare had kicked out.
"Put them down! Put them down!" he roared. The customers scampered away, each carrying a prize. As Blinky stood and gazed at the empty lucky-dip, feeling very sorry about it all, and still very angry, his friends the butcher-birds hopped round.
"Was it a success?" they inquired.
Blinky said nothing.
"Where are all the presents?" they asked.
"Go away, or I'll eat you both," Blinky growled.
"He's in a bad temper!" whispered the butcher-birds, and flew off while it was safe.
Curling himself up in a corner Blinky decided to have a sleep, as chasing Madam Hare and fighting Mrs Flying Fox had made him very tired.
Nodding his little head, and curling his toes up he was soon dreaming again of Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty. He did not wake until daylight, and looking around he was surprised to find all the bush folk had vanished. The presents and goods had all gone too, and only an old owl gazed at him from a nearby tree.
"It's time you made a start for home," said the owl.
"I'm not going home," replied Blinky.
"Wise little bears won't stay here too long," said the owl.
"Why?" asked Blinky.
"This is Mr Smifkins's favourite shooting-place," replied the old owl. "He has a gun and a big dog, and when they come along and find you here you'll be rabbit pie in two twos."
"Where does Mr Smifkins live?" Blinky inquired.
"Down behind the moon! Whoo! Whoo!" answered the owl.
"Whoo! Whoo!" echoed Blinky. "I'm not afraid of Mr Smifkins. I'm going to see where he lives."
"Whoo! Whoo!" cried the owl.
"I beg your pardon?" said Blinky.
"Whoo! Whoo!" the old owl called again, his great round eyes gazing at Blinky.
"Will you show me the way to Mr Smifkins's, please, Mr Owl?" Blinky pleaded.
"Follow me. Whoo! Whoo!" the owl answered and flew away to another tree.
Blinky trotted along, his funny little legs going wobbly, wobbly as he went.
The old owl waited patiently until his little friend was under the tree, then crying whoo, whoo, off he flew again to the next tree.
Here he waited for Blinky and flew to the ground to meet him.
"Little bear," he cried softly, "it is too light for me to see farther, we must sleep now until the sun goes down. I am as blind as a bat in the day time and here is a tree with nice young gum-leaves on it waiting for you to taste."
"I'm very hungry," said Blinky. "They never think to have food for bears at bazaars. Only nasty flies and frogs and mosquitoes."
"Well, come up into the branches and I will show you gum-leaves made specially for young bears," said the kind old owl.
Blinky climbed up the tree and sat next to his friend chewing young tender leaves until he could eat no more.
"Whoo! Whoo! It's time to sleep!" said the owl.
"I feel tired, too," replied Blinky. And so cuddled together, a strange-looking pair, they snoozed and waited until the moon arose.
Blinky was awakened by a soft "whoo, whoo". He sat up and blinked his eyes. There was the moon shining through the leaves like a big golden penny and Mr Owl's eyes looked almost as large as he gazed at Blinky.
"Time to get up," he said very quietly.
"Is Mr Smifkins's far away?" Blinky inquired.
"About six tree stops from here," Mr Owl replied. "We'd better make a start while the bush is cool."
Grunting with glee Blinky crawled down the tree and as he reached the ground the old owl flew on ahead. After they had reached six-stopping places Blinky looked up in the tree as Mr Owl hooted.
"This is as far as I come," he said.
"Where is the farm?" Blinky asked.
"Follow the track you are now on and in a very short time you will come to a fence. That is where the Smifkinses live."
"Thank you so much, Mr Owl, for showing me the way," Blinky called out.
"Whoo, whoo!" the old owl cried and on noiseless wings he was gone.
"Seems to be very quiet and lonely just here," Blinky thought as he pattered along.
Presently he came to an opening in the tree and peering through he saw the fence just a few yards ahead. Farther on he could see a house with a light gleaming in the window and smoke rising from the chimney. Under the fence he crawled and through a potato patch, then very quietly he crept through the orchard. Here he sat and waited. Mr Smifkins's dog was barking and Blinky remembered what Mr Owl had said about that dog.
He waited until the light went out in the window and then crept nearer and nearer the house. On to the veranda he climbed and softly tiptoed round to the back door. Everything was locked up there, so he decided to explore the side of the house.
Peeping round the corner he saw a bed on the veranda and thought he'd have a look to see what was in it. So softly as a cat he went and sniffed the end of the blanket. Some very funny sounds came from under that blanket.
Blinky held his breath with fright.
"What a dreadful noise!" he thought. "I must see where it is coming from."
Climbing up on the bed he crawled along the side, and—oh dear, what a funny sight he saw!
Mr Smifkins was fast asleep making such queer noises with his mouth open; and over his head was a long white net.
Blinky gazed and gazed at him. Never had he seen anything so funny. Why, he even had whiskers just like Mr Wombat, only much thicker, and they drooped all over his chin, while Mr Wombat's stuck out straight and stiff.
"I must take some of those whiskers to show Mr Wombat," Blinky whispered to himself. Wouldn't Mrs Grunty like some to pad her gum-leaf cushion with! and then his mother could make use of them for sewing on buttons.
Snore, snore. Mr Smifkins had no idea he had a visitor.
Lifting the net very cautiously, Blinky put out his paw and made a sharp tug at the whiskers.
"Good heavens!" Mr Smifkins jumped six feet in the air.
"Gee whizzikins! What the dickens was that?" he cried.
As he shouted he made a leap out of bed quite forgetting the mosquito-net over his head. Down it came, right over him, tangling up his legs and arms. He seemed to have six pairs of legs and dozens of arms.
Blinky made a dive under the bed, terrified beyond words, and lay there panting with fright.
"Fancy whiskers doing that!" he murmured.
The whole bed was shaking in an alarming manner, and such terrible words and growls came from Mr Smifkins.
"To billy-o with his net!" he roared; while rips and kicks rent the air.
Just as the commotion was at its worst Mr Smifkins's dog came round the corner, snarling and growling. Blinky did not want to see what was going to happen. He raced from under the bed and down off the veranda and right into the legs of Mrs Smifkins.
"Burglars!" she screamed at the top of her voice, and kept on screaming.
Hearing this, Mr Smifkins took one leap off the veranda, the net all over him, and as he rushed along he waved his arms, frantically trying to get rid of it.
Poor Mrs Smifkins took one look and raced for her life round the house.
"Ghosts! Ghosts!" she yelled, as she tore round to the back door, with Mr Smifkins in hot pursuit. "Help! Help! Burglars! Ghosts!" she kept calling at the top of her voice, and ran right into old Neddy the draught-horse, who was snoozing under the kitchen window. He looked up, surprised to hear such dreadful screams on such a quiet night, and caught one glimpse of Mr Smifkins coming round the corner.
Hoosh! Up went his hind legs and with a frightened neigh he raced off for the paddock, crashing over the lettuce bed, through the tomato frames, and away into the night.
Mrs Smifkins reached the back door in a flash. Bang! and she was inside, still screaming "Ghosts!"
All this time Mr Smifkins was using those strange words at the top of his voice. He roared like a bull and made mad lunges at things that got in his way. Just as he rushed past the old apple-tree the net caught in the branches and thank goodness it stayed there. Mr Smifkins's dog added to the uproar with his yelps and barks and tried very hard to bite his master's legs as the chase was in progress.
Panting and very, very cross, Mr Smifkins banged on the back door as his wife had locked him out.
"Don't be a fool!" he roared. But Mrs Smifkins refused to open the door.
She knew it was a ghost she had seen.
Suddenly Mr Smifkins thought of the cause of all this trouble. What on earth could have pulled his whiskers? So once again he set off to investigate.
Blinky was very thankful that Mr Smifkins's dog chased his master, as it gave him a chance to hide.
After colliding with Mrs Smifkins he was nearly collapsing with fright. Over the garden he rushed and through a gate that had foolishly been left open. Here was shelter at last he thought, as he saw a shed in front of him. Stumbling and rushing on he darted through a hole in the wall, and—landed right in the middle of the fowl-house where all the silly old hens and roosters were asleep. They cackled and crowed with fright; fell off their perches, and floundered around all over the fowl-house in the dark. You never heard such a row!
Somewhere Blinky was in the middle of it. Feathers flew, and the old hens became hysterical. To make matters worse Mr Smifkins and his dog were coming.
"I'll have you, whatever you are!" he called at the top of his voice.
"A fox. I'll bet my hat it is!" he cried as he came nearer and nearer. Blinky was lucky in being able to see in the dark and through the feathers and straw that flew about he spied a box in the corner.
With a bound he was in, and, ugh! something soft cracked under him. He did not know he was in a nest and had sat on Mrs Speckles's best egg. He lay there huddled up, straw and feathers all over him, one eye peeping round the corner watching for Mr Smifkins. It was a terrible moment and his breath seemed to leave him altogether.
"What the dickens did I do with my matches?" Mr Smifkins growled, as he crawled into the fowl-house. His entrance caused more cackling and the poor old hens flapped about madly. They were not used to midnight visitors. But Mr Smifkins took no heed of the cackling and squawking, he was determined to find the animal that had caused all this disturbance. Worst of all he called his dog in.
"Here Bluey! Skeech him out of it," he ordered at the top of his voice.
Bluey was a cattle-dog and it did not take him many moments to nose his way to the nest.
Blinky scratched his nose as hard as he could and kicked with all his might. Bluey yelped with pain and fright and darted round to the back of the box.
"Here, let me there!" called Mr Smifkins, who had found his matches by now and was holding the light in his hands. Carefully peering into the box he saw Blinky, shuddering with fright, one paw raised, ready to scratch.
"Well, I'll be blowed!" Mr Smifkins cried in astonishment. "A koala—of all things. You young beggar. Come out of it my lad, and let me have a look at you."
But Blinky had no intention of coming out. He growled louder and louder.
Mr Smifkins bent his head lower to have an extra good look at the mischief maker. At the same moment, Blinky kicked out a bundle of straw, feathers, and a broken egg, right into Mr Smifkins's face. The match went out and—oh! Mr Smifkins lost his temper.
"You young devil!" he roared. "You bad young egg-stealer! You'll come along with me now, and I'll teach you how to behave like a gentleman. Sneaking round a fellow's bed in the dark—frightening the wits out of his wife and hens, and driving old Neddy into twenty fits all at once. Come out of it or I'll rake you out!"
Blinky only huddled up all the closer in the nest and growled his loudest.
"So you won't come out!" shouted Mr Smifkins, seizing the rake he kept to clean the fowl-house with. "Out you come, and no nonsense," he cried as he poked the end of the rake in the box. Blinky bit it and scratched with rage. Mr Smifkins poked harder and poked Blinky right in the tummy.
This was too much for him. With a scurry and flurry he bounded out of the box. But Mr Smifkins was waiting and grabbed him by a hind leg as he tried to dart past.
"I've got you! I've got you!" he yelled. "You bad young turnip!"
Blinky was too angry to be frightened any longer. He turned like lightning and bit Mr Smifkins on the arm, at the same time clawing and scratching for all he was worth.
"A nice kettle of fish, you are!" Mr Smifkins cried. "Just wait a moment my boy, and we'll soon settle this argument."
With one hand firmly holding Blinky's hind leg he managed with the other to take off his pyjama trousers. Wrapping them tightly round Blinky, he crawled out of the fowl-house with a struggling, kicking bundle under his arm.
He did look funny, as he walked away, his shirt-tails flapping behind him and his pyjama coat torn in patches.
Blinky kicked and kicked; but it was useless. He was held a prisoner. Goodness knows what would happen now. Perhaps he would be made into rabbit pie as wise old Mr Owl said.
Mr Smifkins stumped home with a very determined step, saying the most frightful things all the time. He hammered on the back door.
"Who's there?" Mrs Smifkins called.
"Open the door at once!" her husband replied. "I've caught the burglar!"
"Has he any guns on him?" she asked in a frightened voice.
"No! but he's got claws like a tiger," Mr Smifkins replied.
"We can't keep a tiger here!" his wife screamed. "Shoot him! Kill him quickly."
"Open the door!" Mr Smifkins roared. "I'm catching cold in the legs."
Very slowly the door opened an inch or two and Mrs Smifkins peered out with one eye.
"Where's the tiger?" she asked trembling.
"Here he is!" said Mr Smifkins, pushing the door wide open with his foot and holding up the struggling bundle.
"Whatever is it?" Mrs Smifkins asked, her eyes wide with amazement.
"A young bear, and a very lively one, too!" her husband replied as he walked into the kitchen and carefully placed the bundle on the floor.
"Oh, how beautiful!" Mrs Smifkins cried. "I'll have him for a pet."
"Will you!" Blinky thought to himself as he struggled to get free.
"He's as fat as a young pig," Mr Smifkins remarked as he untied the pyjama trousers.
"Good heavens! He's in knickerbockers," Mrs Smifkins cried. "He must belong to some child."
At last Blinky was free. He looked a sorry sight. Torn bockers, fur all rumpled, and straw and egg sticking all over him.
"I'll give the poor little thing a bath!" said kind Mrs Smifkins.
"Indeed you won't," thought Blinky, as he darted away under the table.
"I don't think it would be wise to bathe him to-night," Mr Smifkins advised. "Wait till the morning and we'll have a good clean up then."
"Where will he sleep?" Mrs Smifkins then asked. "Will I take him in my bed? Or perhaps he'd be happier in yours, as he knows you better."
"To billy-o with the bed!" said Mr Smifkins. "Look what he's done to mine already."
"Well, I'll find a nice little box and he can stay here by the stove. That'll keep him warm and comfy," said Mrs Smifkins.
"That's a good idea," said Mr Smifkins.
So a box was placed by the stove with an old jacket in it to keep Blinky warm. But, he had been watching preparations carefully, and had made up his mind that no box would be his bed, as the last box caused him to be caught. He looked all round the kitchen trying to find some way of escape, but there seemed to be none. The window was closed and the door also.
"Come to your bed, little bear," called Mrs Smifkins kindly.
Blinky only grunted savagely and glared at her.
"Leave the little chap alone, he'll find his way into the box when we put the light out." So Mr Smifkins and his wife said good night to Blinky, turned out the lamp, closed the door again and were gone.
"Thank goodness!" sighed Blinky. "Now I can explore." He waited till his little heart stopped pounding so loudly, then softly crept from under the table. There was the box, all cosy and warm. Blinky took one look at it, growled, and walked around the kitchen to see if there was a way of escape.
"Yes!" he thought, as he came to a door not quite shut, "here's where I escape."
Pushing his little fat body through the opening he was disappointed to find himself in another room, much smaller, with rows and rows of shelves running all round it.
"Looks like a shop!" he said to himself. "I'll find out what's in here."
Climbing on a chair he stood on tiptoe and had a good look all round.
There were dozens of jars of jam and preserves, boxes with lids on, bags filled with things, and piles of apples and oranges.
He sniffed an orange, and felt it with his paw. "Don't like the smell of it," he thought, then finding he could squeeze himself on to the shelf, he had a look at the bottles of jam.
Plum, apricot, orange, peach, loganberry, pineapple, and melon. Each bottle was labelled. But Blinky did not stop to read the name—he did not know the meaning anyhow. So the quickest way, he thought, to find out the contents was to taste. The plum jam was the nearest. Breaking the paper top with his claws he dipped his paw in and scooped up the lovely red jam. He tasted it, licked his lips and decided to try the next bottle. Loganberry it was labelled; scratching away the top, in went his paw and out came the sticky jam. It dropped all over the shelf and down Blinky's front. But it was good! So the next bottle must be tasted. Every pot of jam was sampled, and that naughty bear's paws and face were covered with a mixture unlike anything ever seen before. All his pretty fur on his chest and tummy dripped jam. Every bottle was covered with the sticky stuff and the shelf too. As he carefully walked in and out of the things on the shelf he left jammy foot-prints behind.
He quite forgot to look for an escape as he was having such a glorious time.
Suddenly he caught sight of a dish full of eggs. "They look funny things. I must see what they are," he murmured.
Patting one with his paw he found it cold and hard, and decided to taste it; but he could not catch it in his paw so put out his claws to get a firmer hold.
Crack! The egg broke and out came everything.
"That's funny!" laughed Blinky, and gave another egg a smack with his paw. Crack! It went just like the other one.
"Goodness! What silly things!" And Blinky laughed. Then he stood on his hind legs and with his two front paws came down smack! smack! on all the eggs. Oh, what an awful mess there was! Eggs and jam were all over his paws; and such nasty things, too, for a little bear to have on his fur. He licked one paw after another to shake the sticky stuff off.
Poor Mrs Smifkins's best tea-cups, standing so neatly on the shelf, in a jiffy were spattered with eggs and jam.
Still exploring the wonderful shelf, he found a jug of milk. In went the paw and up to his mouth. "Um, um," Blinky grunted, as he licked his paw all over. The milk tasted good, another dip in the jug and another lick followed. Finding it so nice, he stuck his head in the jug to have a good long drink. The milk was the best taste of all.
"Ker-chew! Ker-chew!" Blinky sneezed as the milk came up his nose, but he drank and drank until the jug was empty. Then, grunting with satisfaction, he sat down to see what next he could taste.
Some cakes under a wire cover looked very nice, and just as Blinky was crawling along the shelf to try one, he caught sight of a tiny mouse peeping out of his hole.
Blinky gave a grunt.
The mouse popped his head back in his hole. In a few minutes he had another look out.
Blinky gave another grunt. But the mouse became brave and gazed up at Blinky with bright little eyes.
"Good evening, Mr Bear," he said in a tiny squeaking voice.
"Good evening, Mr Mouse," Blinky replied. "What are you doing in here?"
"I've come to look for my supper."
"Do you like sticky things?"
"No, Mr Bear," the mouse answered. "I like cheese and crumbs."
"Cheese? What's that?"
"The best thing in the world to make your whiskers grow," the mouse replied. "And I smell some somewhere."
"Then come out of your hole and I'll help you to find it," Blinky said boldly.
"You won't eat me, will you?" the little mouse asked anxiously.
"No," said Blinky softly. "I've seen Mrs Kookaburra eat dozens of your relations, but I don't like tails!"
"I'll find you some cheese, then," said Mr Mouse. "And once you've tasted it, you'll eat nothing else."
Coming out of his hole Mr Mouse scurried here and there; into corners he popped, and bags and boxes he'd gnaw so quickly and silently that Blinky was astounded.
"Wait a minute, Mr Mouse," he whispered. "I'll come down and help you."
Very carefully he walked round the shelf again, all through the sticky muddle until he reached the chair. He climbed down, leaving jam everywhere. The pretty blue chair that Mrs Smifkins had just painted was decorated with paw marks and blobs.
"What a fat bear you are!" Mr Mouse remarked.
"I've just had a nice drink," Blinky replied. "But where's this cheese?"
"Let's look over in that corner behind the sugar-bin," Mr Mouse advised.
"You go first," Blinky whispered.
Mr Mouse scampered away and Blinky saw his tail disappear round the bin.
"Here it is! Come and smell," Mr Mouse called. Blinky crawled over to the corner, but he was far too big and fat to squeeze round behind the sugar-bin.
"Let's have a look," he said in a whisper.
"See, here it is, right in the corner!" Mr Mouse said, pointing to a funny looking object.
"It looks like wood to me," Blinky replied as he squeezed his nose and eye round the end of the bin.
"It looks different to what it usually is," said Mr Mouse. "But I can smell it, and the smell's the same."
"Stick your paw in and see," advised Blinky.
"All right," said Mr Mouse. "You keep an eye open for Mrs Smifkins."
"Hurry up, then," said Blinky. "She may be in any minute." Really and truly he had forgotten all about the Smifkinses, and now that Mr Mouse mentioned them, he felt rather nervous.
Mr Mouse crept closer to the strange object. He put out his whiskers and sniffed. Yes, it was cheese, and no mistake.
"Grab it," Blinky whispered.
Mr Mouse became braver and made a dart at the cheese.
"Goodness! What was that?" Blinky asked, frightened beyond everything. Mr Mouse made no reply.
"What was that noise?" Blinky asked again. But still Mr Mouse did not reply.
"Are you gobbling up all the cheese?" Blinky asked angrily. Still Mr Mouse did not reply.
Becoming alarmed at his friend's silence, Blinky pushed his other eye into the narrow space and—oh, how dreadful! He turned pale with fright and sprang out of the corner.
Poor Mr Mouse was lying on the floor, his head caught in the trap and his body as flat as a pancake. Even his tail looked dead, Blinky thought. It lay so still and straight.
"Well, if that's cheese, I don't want any," he muttered to himself. "And I'm getting out of this Smifkins place. It is too dangerous."
Trembling with fright and still quite pale, he pattered around the pantry, and imagine his joy when he saw a tiny window open not far above the shelf. He wasted no time in climbing up again, and in his excitement knocked down Mrs Smifkins's very best fruit dish.
"Poof!" he said as he took a hurried glance at the broken dish. "Serves her right for killing Mr Mouse." Up to the window-ledge he climbed. It was a very small window, just large enough as it happened for him to squeeze through, and best of all, outside stood a big gum-tree, with one branch right up against the window. Blinky was in that tree in no time. But when he had time to think about matters, he thought it wisest to go right away from the Smifkinses' house; so softly he climbed down out of the tree. Over the orchard he went, and back into the bush again.
Oh, dear! it was beautiful to see all the gum-trees again. And he felt very, very happy as he heard the different birds calling to one another just as day broke. Finding a comfortable tree, one that was very tall and straight, he climbed to the topmost branch and there, cuddled up in a corner, closed his tired little eyes and went to sleep.
Tug, tug, tug. "Whatever is that?" Blinky thought as he opened his eyes and looked around, still feeling rather sleepy. Something had pulled his ear.
Before he had time to make quite sure that he was not dreaming, another tug fully awakened him.
"Could it be Mr Smifkins again," he wondered, and carefully put up his paw to feel his ear.
Imagine his surprise when he felt a little bird, and screwing up his eyes he tried to see what cheeky fellow was trying to nest there.
All he could see was a very pretty tail that kept bobbing about, first in one direction and then in another.
"Ah! I know who you are!" Blinky said very cheerily. "You're Willie Wagtail."
"Quite true," came the reply. "I'm sorry I woke you, Mr Koala, but I'm in such a hurry to finish my nest. My wife is growing quite impatient because she wants to lay her eggs and the nest is not quite ready. Do you mind if I gather a few more hairs from your ears? They are so silky and pretty, and besides, I think the colour will look very well with the grass I have gathered."
"Go ahead," Blinky answered. "Only don't pull too many at once."
"Thank you very much," Willie replied. "You know it is very difficult to gather the necessary materials for our nest right here in the middle of the bush."
"How is that?" Blinky inquired, as the tug, tug at his ears proceeded.
"There are no cattle or sheep," Willie replied.
"What use are they to you?" said Blinky curiously.
"Why, we gather the hair from the cows' and horses' backs, and the wool from the sheep," Willie Wagtail explained. "It makes a nest so cosy when lined with wool, and of course the hair binds the grass together."
"Don't pull so hard!" Blinky cried impatiently. "And for goodness' sake keep that tail of yours still."
"Sorry," said Willie in an apologetic voice. "I forgot for the moment that I was plucking a bear's ears and not a cow's back. Their hair is much harder to pull. Do you know, I actually pulled hair from the back of Mr Smifkins's cat once."
"You were brave."
"Yes, it was rather a daring thing to do," Willie replied. "But the cat did not seem to mind."
"Did you ever try pulling Mr Smifkins's whiskers?" Blinky asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Goodness gracious, no! I wouldn't be so bold!" Willie replied.
"Well, I did," said naughty Blinky, "and he did get cross. In fact, he went quite mad for a time."
"You must be a brave bear," said Willie. And he gave an extra sharp tug at Blinky's ear.
"That's enough!" Blinky cried. "You'll leave me bald soon; and I've been very kind to give you so many."
"You have, indeed," Willie said politely. "You've no idea how pleased Mrs Wagtail will be with these hairs. They are quite a novelty."
"How often does your wife lay eggs?" Blinky inquired. "Because if you are short at any time I know where you can get heaps and heaps."
"She lays them twice a year," Willie replied. "But I never know the day when she will stop, so I'd be pleased to know where I could find some—just in case of emergency."
"Well, you fly into Mrs Smifkins's pantry," advised Blinky, "and you'll see dozens and dozens of them."
"That's strange," said Willie Wagtail. "I wonder if my wife has been 'laying away'?"
"These are huge eggs, some white and some brown," explained Blinky, who began to realize he may have said something that was not quite right.
"Oh, then they are none of ours," said Willie. "You mean hen eggs, I think."
"I believe you're right," said Blinky, "because now I come to think of it, I sat on one in a nest in the fowl-house."
"Oh! Whatever did Mr Smifkins say?" Willie asked in a shocked tone.
"Nothing, nothing at all!" Blinky carelessly murmured. "By the way, Willie, what do you do with all your children? You must have hundreds of them by now."
"Possibly," said Willie, very seriously. "But as soon as they are old enough to feed and take care of themselves, we shoo them off. One can't feed dozens of birds all the time, you know!"
"Well, my mother has only me for a child, and she says: 'Thank goodness there are no more.' That is, of course, when she is angry with me. But at other times she says: 'I don't know what I'd do without my son. I wish I had more.'" Blinky's eyes had a far-away look in them as he talked to Willie.
"That's just like all mothers," said Willie Wagtail, knowingly. "But I'll have to be going, or I'll get into trouble."
"Take care of those hairs," Blinky called as Willie flew off.
"Of course I shall," called back Willie, and Blinky watched him as he darted this way and that until he was out of sight.
"A nice little fellow," said Blinky softly, still watching the trees through which his friend had flown.
"I beg your pardon. Were you speaking to me?" said a tiny voice.
Blinky turned round in surprise. He thought he was alone.
"Oh, it's you, Miss Possum! How are you?" he said bravely. He was not going to let anyone see he had been startled.
"Very well, thank you," Miss Possum replied. "You're a long way from home, aren't you?" she asked.
"Oh, no, not so very far," said naughty Blinky. "Anyway, a change of trees is good for a chap."
"Quite so," agreed Miss Possum, "providing you're in the right one."
"Is this a private tree?" Blinky inquired.
"Not exactly," Miss Possum replied. "But we don't allow all the ragtag to come here."
"Who are the ragtag?" Blinky asked.
"Well, there's Mrs Snake, and old Granny Goanna, and a few more grumbly things. We don't want them in our tree. They're always crotchety and creeping around, peering round corners when we least expect them; and their eyes seem to be everywhere. If we make the least noise, they complain and hiss."
"Why don't you push them out?" Blinky asked.
"We did," said Miss Possum proudly. "And what do you think we found when they had gone?"
"Don't know," Blinky said carelessly.
"They left a note to say that they would come back some day and steal our babies." And Miss Possum's eyes nearly dropped out with fright.
"The old thieves," Blinky exclaimed. "Old Granny Goanna would eat a possum as soon as look at it, and as for Mrs Snake, she tried to kill me when I was a baby."
"How dreadful!" cried Miss Possum. "What do you think we could do to frighten them away?"
Blinky thought very hard for a minute, his nose wrinkled and his eyes blinking rapidly.
"I know!" he cried. "We'll dig a big hole at the bottom of the tree and when the rain comes it will fill, and then, when they come to steal the babies, they'll fall in and be drowned."
"But Mrs Snake and Granny Goanna can swim," exclaimed Miss Possum disappointedly.
"Well, that won't do," said Blinky. "I'll have to think of something else."
"We could carry stones up the tree and when they come along, pelt them with big ones and kill them."
"I can't carry stones and climb as well," Miss Possum replied.
"Oh, well," Blinky said impatiently, "I'll have to go and see Mr Owl. Perhaps he could think of something to do."
"I'll come with you if you'd like me to," Miss Possum said quietly.
"No thanks!" Blinky replied. "I'll manage by myself, and I'll be back before long."
Down the tree he climbed and scrambled through the bush, gazing up at every tall gum-tree in search of Mr Owl. Presently he heard away in the distance a soft "Whoo, whoo."
"That's him!" thought Blinky and hurried along as fast as he could. Nearer and nearer came the call of Mr Owl, and in a very short time Blinky saw him sitting away up in a very high tree. He trotted along to the tree, and then began to climb. Half-way up, just as he reached the lowest branch, Mr Owl flew down to meet him.
"Hulloa, little friend," he said. "I see you've returned safely from Mr Smifkins."
"Yes," replied Blinky, "but I've come to ask you a very serious question."
"What can it be?" the old owl asked.
"Miss Possum is very frightened," Blinky explained. "She says that Mrs Snake and old Granny Goanna are going to steal the babies, and we don't know what to do. Could you advise us?"
"Whoo! whoo!" Mr Owl said, as his eyes opened wider than ever. "They're a wicked old pair. Just you wait a moment while I go away to think."
Dear old Mr Owl flew into a branch higher up. Here he sat very, very still, gazing at nothing really. His eyes never blinked, and not a feather on his body stirred. Presently he shook his head and called "whoo! whoo!" then down he flew to where Blinky was waiting.
"Have you thought of something?" Blinky asked excitedly.
"Yes, little bear," replied Mr Owl. "But tell me first, do you know where Percy Bull Ant lives?"
"Yes, I know," replied Blinky.
"Well, go to him and tell him everything," Mr Owl said softly. "You can say I sent you, and give him my respects at the same time. Tell him I thought the matter over, and decided that an army of his relations, if hidden in suitable places, could suddenly march out and attack Mrs Snake and Granny Goanna, as they come to steal the babies."
"That's a fine idea," cried Blinky. "I don't know why I didn't think of it. Good-bye, Mr Owl, and thank you ever so much."
"Whoo! whoo!" said Mr Owl, and flew off immediately.
Blinky hurried through the bush in the direction of Percy Bull Ant's home. All along the way he passed the homes of Percy's relations, and as hundreds lived in one nest he could see a very large army mustered when they all marched to fight the old robbers. Not a bull ant was to be seen above ground, they were all so busy in their homes, nursing the babies, storing the food, and cleaning out the parlour.
At last Blinky reached Percy's home. It was not much to look at. A litter of tiny sticks and twigs, small pieces of charcoal, loose sand and clay, all heaped in a mound; and everything about it looked very dry and ugly. It certainly looked quite harmless, just as other mounds did; but as Blinky gave a poke at it with his paw, it instantly bristled with life. Angry ants rushed out from nowhere, big red fellows, bristling with indignation, to see who had had the impudence to disturb their peace.
"Ah! Percy Bull Ant," said Blinky as he cautiously moved backwards a little. "I've come with a message for you from Mr Owl, and he sends his respects."
An ant larger than the rest advanced to Blinky and eyed him curiously, still waving a leg in a dangerous manner, and a nasty fighting look about his whole body. Blinky did not feel too safe and moved another step backwards.
"Look here, Percy," he said very politely, "kindly put that leg of yours down, and don't look so bristly."
"You're Blinky Bill, aren't you, if I'm not mistaken?" said Percy Bull Ant.
"Yes, I am," replied Blinky. "And for goodness' sake send all your brothers back in their nest. I feel quite nervous. They seem to have such a lot of legs."
"Oh, they're harmless," said Percy in an off-hand manner. "All the same, I'll do as you wish."
"Back to your work, all of you!" ordered Percy, and instantly they disappeared back to nowhere. "Now, my lad, tell me what Mr Owl said." And Percy carelessly picked up a stick and started chewing the end of it, his head on one side and his wicked big eyes pausing to gaze at Blinky in a cold rude manner.
"Please, Percy," Blinky began, "Miss Possum is very frightened. Mrs Snake and Granny Goanna are coming to steal all the babies that live in her tree. She's nearly dead with fright, and fainted twice while I was speaking to her."
"Dear, dear," said Percy Bull Ant.
"Yes, Percy, it's very serious, and Mr Owl thought the best thing to do would be for you to gather all your relations together and fight the old robbers when they came for the babies."
"Um," said Percy, as he threw down the stick he had been chewing, "so that's their caper, is it? Well, I'll hold a meeting and let you know what we decide to do about it. Hold on a minute, I'll not be long." And Percy disappeared into nowhere.
Blinky waited patiently, keeping his eyes glued on the ant-nest. He did not trust any of them.
In a very short time Percy appeared again and slowly advanced to Blinky with a decided tread. His head was downcast, and anyone at a glance could see he was deep in thought. He kicked a grain of sand out of his pathway, and nearly fell over a tiny ball of clay.
"Ants' pants!" he shouted. "I nearly broke my big toe."
"I'm sorry," said Blinky in a whisper, as he did not feel a little bit safe. Percy Bull Ant was such a queer fellow. Good-natured one moment, and bad tempered the next; in fact, he was what is known as temperamental.
"Oh, quite all right, old fellow," said Percy. "Some careless ant has left things about where they've no business to be. Now about this matter of the babies. I've had a talk to all the young bloods down there, and they're keen for a fight. At the moment they are sharpening their nippers and filling up with poison at the bowser. How would a couple of thousand warriors do?"
"Splendid!" cried Blinky, dancing around with glee. "How pleased Miss Possum will be! And I hope you kill Mrs Snake and old Granny Goanna."
"Leave it to me," said Percy, winking an eye.
"When will you come?" Blinky inquired.
"In a few moments," Percy replied. "You'd better lead the way, or get back as quickly as you can. When the boys are on the fighting track they're pretty nasty." Blinky did not wait to hear more. He hurried as fast as he could. The more distance between Percy's boys and himself the better for any bear, he thought. He puffed as he ran, and felt terribly hot, but came to the tree where Miss Possum waited in a very excited state.
"I'm nearly dead with fright," she called from the topmost branch. "I'm sure Mrs Snake is not far away. I can almost smell her."
"Stuff and nonsense!" Blinky exclaimed as he excitedly climbed the tree. "I've good news for you," he said as he plumped himself down beside her.
"What is it? Do tell me," she cried excitedly as she clapped her paws together.
"Well," said Blinky, with a brave air, "Percy Bull Ant is bringing along two thousand soldiers. They'll be here any minute now and then Mrs Snake and Granny Goanna will be feeling pretty sick I think. They're coming armed to the teeth, with a fresh supply of poison and extra sharp nippers."
"You're wonderful!" said Miss Possum, blushing, and Blinky just managed in time to avoid being hugged.
"Gosh!" he exclaimed. "Don't you ever dare to do that again. I'll tell Percy if you do, and he'll set all his boys on to you."
"Oh, don't, don't, please!" cried Miss Possum. "I was so excited for the moment, that I quite forgot you were a bear, and grown up, too."
"It was bold of you!" said Blinky sternly. "And, anyhow, I hate girls."
"Oh, how dreadful," sighed Miss Possum. "I am sorry."
"Here they come! Here come the soldiers!" shouted Blinky, as he danced up and down and nearly knocked Miss Possum out of the tree.
Blinky was right. Percy Bull Ant marched at the head of a vast army, bent on business.
"Left, right, left, right," Percy called. There seemed to be hundreds of thousands of bull ants as they advanced along the pathway. Everything scurried out of their way. Lizards rushed helter-skelter and many dropped their tails with fright. Some of the soldiers stopped to taste the tails; but, Percy, catching sight of them, ordered in a stern voice:
"No eating at present. Drop the loot and attend to business." The ants cast wistful eyes at the tails they had to leave behind.
"Such waste!" they murmured to one another.
When they came to the foot of the tree where Blinky and Miss Possum were sitting, Percy gave his order in a ringing voice and he looked every inch a soldier, as he stood as stiff as a poker.
"Halt!" he called. Immediately the long line came to a standstill.
"Form fours!" he ordered, and the soldiers obeyed in a twinkling.
"Numbers 674 and 675 stop kicking, and stand to attention. Now, boys," Percy called, "listen to me, and carefully follow my instructions. There's to be no fighting among yourselves. Keep your nippers sharp, and don't waste your poison, as you'll need it later on. When I give the order, advance four at a time and climb half-way up this tree. Each four must take its place until the trunk of the tree is a living mass of soldiers. When Mrs Snake and Granny Goanna come along wait for my order to advance. Keep perfectly still; don't blink an eye; then, when I call out 'Charge!' fight and poison with all your might."
"Good, captain!" came the chorus.
"For the present, stand at ease," Percy called.
Every ant lounged in the most amusing way. Some twisted hind legs round one another; others leaned on his neighbour's shoulder, and many were tempted to use their nippers.
"Attention," called Percy. Instantly heels clicked, and there stood the bristling army ready for attack. "Advance," he ordered in an anty voice. "Left, right, left, right—keep in step—left, right." Up the tree they swarmed; nearer and nearer to Blinky and Miss Possum they came.
"Let's climb higher," Blinky whispered. "They look so dreadful." So Miss Possum immediately took his advice and a higher branch was sought.
Percy waited at the foot of the tree, watching and ordering the army into position, until the last ant was off the ground. The tree was a living mass of bull ants, right up to the first branch.
"Silence!" roared Percy as he gazed at the soldiers; then creeping very quietly away into the bushes, he lay in wait for the robbers.
He had not to wait long. Presently a hissing and slithering announced the coming of Mrs Snake and her companion. Percy kept very, very still and listened intently.
"You steal Mrs Ringtail's baby and I'll steal Mrs Siever's," whispered old Granny Goanna.
"What a fine supper they'll make," hissed Mrs Snake. "That'll teach them a lesson for chasing us out of the tree."
Softly they crept nearer and nearer, and Percy Bull Ant quivered with rage. He tiptoed back to the tree and called in a very quiet voice: "They're coming, boys; prepare to kill and poison."
Not an ant stirred. The tree looked lifeless, and Percy hid behind a stone at the foot.
Hiss! Hiss! Along came the old robbers; stealthily they crept through the bushes.
"The tenth joint in my tail is rather stiff," grumbled Mrs Snake. "It makes things very awkward for me."
"My nails are not as sharp as they were," replied Granny Goanna, "but I've a few good teeth left."
Nearer the tree they came, and both paused to whisper.
"Seems to me," said Granny Goanna, "that the tree looks redder than usual. Do you think we've made a mistake?"
"No, no," replied Mrs Snake. "This is the right tree. Don't I know it well!"
"Well, my eyesight must be failing," sighed Granny Goanna, "because I'll bet my last scale that the tree looks very red."
"Nonsense!" said Mrs Snake impatiently. "You've no doubt got dust in your eyes."
"Maybe, maybe," sighed Granny Goanna, as she floundered along.
"Now, then, boys, be ready for your order," called Percy in a whisper.
Right along to the bottom of the tree came the two old robbers. Old Granny was actually licking her lips, as she thought of the supper in store. She slobbered at the very idea of a baby possum.
"Come along, dear," she called to Mrs Snake. "Everything is quiet and safe."
"You go first," whispered Mrs Snake, "and I'll follow."
Granny Goanna placed her two front legs on the tree and prepared to climb. Mrs Snake waved her wicked head to and fro and gave Granny a nudge which had the desired effect, for she made a plunge and lifted her hind legs from the ground. Mrs Snake gave a wriggle and started up behind her.
Percy Bull Ant sprang out from his hiding-place and called in a terrible voice:
Like lightning, the whole tree became alive. The soldiers sprang at the enemy. In a second they were swarming all over Granny Goanna and Mrs Snake.
"Oh, my tail!" screamed Mrs Snake as she tried to wriggle away, lashing her body in the air in agony.
"For heaven's sake save me, save me!" moaned Granny Goanna, as she hissed until all her hisses had gone.
"Go for them, boys!" shouted Percy. "Kill them as quickly as you can."
No order was necessary, as the ants covered the robbers from head to tail. They bit with all their power. Several were killed as Mrs Snake's tail and Granny Goanna's lashed them against the tree; but the numbers seemed never to end.
"Oh! Oh! I'm dying!" groaned Mrs Snake, and she fell with a thud to the ground. In another second down plopped Granny Goanna, as dead as a door-nail.
"Eat them up!" ordered Percy. At once the feast started, and hungry soldiers bit and ate all through the night until only skeletons of the two wicked old things were left.
"It's time we went down and had a look," said Blinky to Miss Possum, just as daylight was dawning. So, scrambling down excitedly, they were just in time to see Percy marshalling his soldiers in readiness to depart.
"How is that for good work?" said Percy Bull Ant proudly, as he pointed to the skeletons.
"Wonderful!" cried Miss Possum and Blinky together. "Your soldiers are very brave."
"They're a husky lot," said Percy, blowing out his chest. "Would you care to have a look at our homes? They're very interesting, although you may not be received with open arms."
"Thank you very much," replied Blinky nervously, "but I really must hurry home now. I've been away for a long time and I'm sure I can hear my mother calling me this very minute." And he began shuffling about very uncomfortably.
"Well, good-bye," called Percy, as he gave the order to march, much to the relief of Blinky and Miss Possum.
"Gosh!" sighed Blinky. "That was a narrow squeak!"
"I think you're awfully clever," said Miss Possum. "Perhaps you'd like to come back and meet my mother. She'd be so pleased to thank you for saving the babies."
"Sorry, I can't," said Blinky, looking very important. "I've such a lot of people to see before I go home. Good-bye." And hurriedly looking around him, he darted into the bush.
"Stupid creature!" he muttered to himself. "All possums are silly, specially girls."
"Hey! Where are you going?" Oh, dear, whatever was that? The bush seemed to be full of voices when one least expected them.
"Where are you?" Blinky called. "I can't see you."
"Just here," came the reply.
Then something pricked Blinky's paw and gave him such a fright that he fell head over heels in the dust.
"Good gracious! What a stupid fellow you are!" said the voice.
Thoroughly annoyed, Blinky picked himself up and gazed about.
"Why, it's Mr Hedgehog!" he cried gladly. "You did give me a fright. I thought for a moment one of Percy Bull Ant's soldiers had bitten me."
Mr Hedgehog raised his bristles in surprise.
"Indeed!" he said. "As if I'd hurt you on purpose. Where are you going, by the way?"
"Home," said Blinky meekly.
"Did you run away?" Mr Hedgehog inquired.
"Oh, no, I just wanted to see a friend," Blinky replied coolly.
"Come and see my home. It's so snug and cosy," said Mr Hedgehog, "and I'm sure you must be tired. You could have a sleep and then, when the moon rises, go on your way."
"I'd really like to, Mr Hedgehog, if it's not very far away, 'cause I'm dreadfully tired," Blinky replied.
"It's just over here," said Mr Hedgehog, "in amongst that bracken fern."
"Thank you! I'll come," said Blinky, as Mr Hedgehog led the way.
"Mr Hedgehog is such a long word to say. Couldn't I call you something else?" Blinky inquired.
"I'm generally called Spikey round here," Mr Hedgehog replied. "Mrs Snake is called 'Snakey'; Miss Goanna, 'Ganna'; Mr Wombat, 'Womby'; and Miss Wallaby, 'Walley'. So what does it matter?"
"Did you know Mrs Snake and Granny Goanna were killed?" Blinky said in a whisper.
"Good heavens! Is that true?" Spikey could hardly believe his ears. "Who did it?"
"Why, Percy Bull Ant and his soldiers!" Blinky replied.
"Well, that's great news," said Spikey. "If I'd only known about it in time, what a feast of ants I'd have had!"
"You don't eat ants, do you?" Blinky asked, his eyes nearly popping out of his head.
"I should just say I do. Why, they're the finest meal I know of—except perhaps a few fat worms."
"Ugh! Don't you eat gum-tips?"
"What's the good of those things to me?" Spikey laughed scornfully. "But I can tell you like them. You smell like a gum-tree."
"And you smell like a thousand ants!" said Blinky rudely.
"Get out!" Spikey replied. "Why I haven't had more than six dozen to-day."
"Well, they must have been the smelly kind, 'cause you do smell of ants," Blinky answered sharply.
"Look at my house, and don't be so grumpy. Isn't it a beautiful place?" And Spikey raised all his quills with pride.
Blinky bent down to peep inside, just as Spikey raised his quills, and gave a loud cry of pain.
"Oh, that's my nose!" he screamed. "Can't you see I've got a nose?"
"No one could miss it for one minute," Spikey said, very annoyed. "It's nearly your whole face."
Blinky felt very angry and raised his paw to hit Spikey; but the quills bristled more than before.
"Can't you put those things down?" he asked in a very rude manner.
"Yes, when you ask me nicely I will," Spikey replied.
"Oh, well, please put those things away," Blinky said. But he still felt very annoyed. His nose was actually bleeding where the spike had pierced it.
"Use your handkerchief," Spikey advised.
Blinky grabbed the torn leg of his knickerbockers and wiped his poor little nose.
"Now come inside and rest," said Spikey as he flattened all his bristles.
"You look very nice now," Blinky remarked as he crawled inside the house.
"Isn't it cosy!" Spikey said proudly, as he curled himself up in a ball.
"Yes, it's very pretty and warm," Blinky replied as he looked around.
The house was just a snug hole under the bracken fern. A few twigs and dried grass helped to make it cosy, and no one could believe that a little home was hidden away under the ferns so safely.
The sun made everything warm, and a drowsy little bear fell asleep, in a nest not meant for koalas.
"It's time to get up!"
Blinky rubbed his eyes. Where was he? Oh, yes, of course. There was Spikey standing a few feet away eyeing him very seriously.
"Don't you feel hungry?" he asked.
"Yes, I do. And I'm going to look for some supper," Blinky replied. "These nests are all very well for folk like you, but I like my own home best. I've only to wake up and climb a few branches and my supper is all there."
"Well, I'm going ant-hunting now, so I'll bid you good night," and Spikey raised all his quills and proceeded to walk away.
"Hey! Wait a moment," Blinkey called. "I want you to show me the way home."
"I'm going the other way," Spikey answered.
"Which way?" Blinky inquired.
"Down by the Lyre-bird's home," Spikey replied.
"Could I come, too?" Blinky asked in his most polite tone.
"S'pose you can," Spikey replied. It was certainly not a very pressing invitation, but Blinky was a bear who poked himself everywhere, whether welcome or not. He was out to see the world, and if he waited for invitations—well, he'd see very little.
"Follow me. But don't start any capers, because I feel rather bilious to-night," Spikey said in an irritable way. "I think I'll have to give up eating sugar ants. This is the second time they've upset me lately, and my head's splitting."
"I'm very sorry," Blinky answered. "Is there anything I can do for you? Mrs Grunty always has bad headaches, specially when she's been extra nasty."
"What does she do for them?" Spikey inquired as he slowly crawled along, dragging one leg after the other in a very painful manner.
"Oh, she just wants us all to fuss around her, and pretend we're awfully sorry. But I'm terribly glad and wish she'd have two headaches all at once," Blinky retorted.
"You're not very kind," Spikey mumbled.
"Well, you shouldn't eat ants. It's a wonder you don't get tummy ache, too!" said naughty Blinky. "But I s'pose it couldn't get in your tummy through all those spikes."
"That's enough!" Spikey roared in anger, and his quills stood straight up and quivered with rage.
"Dear me, I'm sorry," said Blinky, quite frightened. "But those spikes sticking out of you from everywhere, must be the cause of your headaches. What if someone stroked you the wrong way?"
"Hump!" growled Spikey. "They'd better not try."
"Is it very far away to the Lyre-bird's home?" Blinky asked.
"No," his friend replied. "I don't travel far from my home, just keep on behind me and you'll be surprised how soon we'll be there."
The little animals pattered along, brushing the ferns and grass aside as they went. The moon showed the way, shining through the trees and only the soft pad, pad of Blinky could be heard.
Suddenly quite close at hand a kookaburra laughed.
"Jacko's very merry to-night!" Blinky remarked.
"That's not Jacko," Spikey replied. "That's Mrs Lyre-bird. She's so clever at mimicking all the bush birds that sometimes she deceives me for a minute."
"She must be clever," Blinky replied. "I could bet that was Jacko laughing."
"She's mighty clever," Spikey replied. "I've heard her mimic the butcher-birds so that you couldn't tell the difference; and she simply loves to call like the magpie and old Mr Owl. There isn't a noise in the bush that she can't imitate. Why! One night when I was prowling round, looking for a few ants I got a terrible fright. I made sure Mr Smifkins's dog was chasing me. The yelping and barking drew closer and closer as I neared the Lyre-bird's home, and I hurried along, to see if they would shelter me. Imagine my surprise when I found Mrs Lyre-bird imitating the Smifkinses' dog. I was very annoyed at first, as I was all out of breath, and hot, and my bristles were cold with fright. But it was a relief all the same to find I had been mistaken."
"Did you tell Mrs Lyre-bird how she had frightened you?" Blinky asked sympathetically.
"Yes, and she only laughed. She said she'd frightened many bush folk that way; and just to show me how really clever she was she made a noise like Mr Smifkins chopping wood. Then, seeing me more surprised, she pretended to strike matches. I had to laugh. It sounded so funny."
"Listen! What's that?" Blinky stopped still, and listened very closely.
"That's a train coming up the hill," Spikey replied. "There are no trains here," Blinky answered. "Chuff, chuff, chuff, chuff," came the noise again.
"Well, they must have put a train here in the night," Spikey laughed, as they trotted along.
Nearer and nearer came the chuff, chuff until Blinky became quite frightened. He'd never seen or heard a train in his life and he wondered if it would eat him. He grew quite pale, and held on to his knickerbockers very tightly.
"Ha, ha!" laughed Spikey. "She's tricked you, too!"
"Is that Mrs Lyre-bird?" Blinky was astounded. But before he could make any further remark, he saw with his own eyes that Spikey was right.
At the feet of some tall trees a wonderful sight was seen. Just close your eyes for a minute and try to imagine you're in Blinky's place.
Great gum-trees standing erect, with the moon peeping through the leaves, out of a blue, blue sky. The grass and bracken a soft brown, fading away to grey, and right in front of you, only a few yards distant four grown-up lyre-birds and six little ones.
A dancing lesson was in progress and the ground was cleared for a little space, to give the dancers room to perform. That is what Blinky saw, as he gazed at the enchanting scene.
"Shh!" whispered Spikey. "Keep very quiet, and you'll see wonderful things."
The mothers and fathers were dancing in the daintiest way, stepping ever so lightly, and then running backwards and forwards, pirouetting, bowing, and hopping, while the little ones looked on, watching every movement, and occasionally giving a little squeak of delight.
"Come, children," called Mrs Lyre-bird. "It is time you learned to dance."
The little ones twittered with delight, as they took their places in the centre of the ring.
"One, two, three; hop, skip, and a jump," called one of their mothers, and the children very clumsily tried to imitate their parents.
They toppled over one another, fell on the ground and squawked with delight when one managed to pirouette for a moment.
The parents were very patient and showed them over and over again how to perform.
At last one little chap did a surprisingly clever dance and the mothers and fathers became very excited, as they danced up and down, encouraging the dancer, and calling to him all kinds of nice things. As time went on the children became quite clever and the dancing lesson ended with very happy results.
Nearby was the playground. Here a wonderful collection of toys—in the shape of pretty leaves, pebbles, and bright feathers—were spread on the ground. The children and the parents played all kinds of games, until Blinky disturbed their peace and fun by stumbling over a stone.
"Hey! It's only me," he called as the birds ran for safety. But all his pleadings and promises to be friendly were useless. Being very timid, they vanished into the bushes and had no intention of coming out again.
"They're very scared!" Blinky remarked, as he turned to Spikey. But Spikey had vanished too.
"Gosh! The place must be haunted," Blinky muttered to himself, as he nervously glanced around. "A fellow's all by himself."
"Well, I'll go home," he decided. And he suddenly thought what a long time it was since he had left his mother and Mrs Grunty.
He looked at his bockers, and tried to pat them, or what remained of them, into shape. They were just hanging by threads, and a very sorry spectacle he looked.
"I s'pose old Mother Grunty will say all sorts of things when she sees me," he growled. "I'm not going to stand it any longer. If she growls very hard at me, I'll run away again—and I'll get married next time. Then they'll be sorry, and want me home again." And Blinky gave a savage kick at the grass.
"Spikes and scissors! Look where you're going with your big feet!" a little voice cried.
"What's up now?" Blinky said, as he came to a standstill. "As if there's not enough growling without you starting, too!"
"Well, look what you've done to my web, and I've been hours and hours weaving it. Now it's all spoilt, and I'll never catch my supper, and I'm starving."
"Are you another ant-eater?" Blinky asked rudely.
"No, I'm not!" snapped the spider. "I eat gnats and mosquitoes."
"Gnats! I've never heard of them before," Blinky said. "Do they taste good?"
"Not as good as you'll taste if you don't get your big feet out of my way," the spider growled as he glared at Blinky.
"Oh! I see you've a red spot on your back, so I think I'll be going."
Blinky very quietly stepped aside and continued on his way. The moon was kind and showed him the pathway quite clearly and he thought by travelling all night he would reach home by daylight. But he had not considered what may be round the corner.
On he went, one minute feeling very brave as he thought of what he'd do to Mrs Grunty if she grunted, and the next, feeling rather frightened as he imagined her cross face round the gum-tree.
Pit-a-pat! Pit-a-pat! Someone was coming through the bush, and someone in a great hurry, too.
"Oh, dear! I'll be late, I'll be late," said a voice that came nearer and nearer.
"What for?" Blinky called out from behind a tree where he had hidden.
"For the meeting," came the reply. "But what's it got to do with you? Who are you?"
Blinky cautiously peeped round the tree and there stood Belinda Fox of all people, dressed in her best coat of brown, with a very fine tail.
"You're up to mischief, I'll bet!" Blinky said as he came from his hiding-place.
"Me!" said Belinda Fox in surprise. "Why, I've not tasted a fowl for ages and ages."
"Where's the meeting?" Blinky asked.
"Down at the flat, under the trees," Belinda answered. "And I'll be later than ever if I stop and talk to you."
"What's on at the meeting?" Blinky called as Belinda started to walk away. "Stop a moment and tell me."
"It's those rabbits," Belinda complained. "They're holding a meeting—a race-meeting, I mean—and I'm just about tired of their noise. So I'm going to act as umpire, and the very first one I catch, I'll eat, toes and all."
"Good gracious!" Blinky exclaimed. "You're feeling very annoyed."
"Annoyed is no name for it!" Belinda answered sharply. "And what's more, I'm hungry."
"Well, what about some juicy gum-tips? They're scrumptious!"
"Huh!" Belinda grumbled. "Gum-tips, indeed! A juicy young rab is what I'm after. So good night to you, Mr Koala. I'm in a hurry."
"Yes," said Blinky to himself, "I'm in a hurry, too. I'll take a short cut down to the flat and tell the rabbits all about it. Belinda Fox will have no young rab for supper if I can help it."
Dashing into the bush he scampered along at a great rate.
Down the track, through the saplings, and over the hill, until the flat came in view. There the bunnies were—mothers and fathers and their babies, grandmothers and grandfathers and bunny uncles and aunts. Such a crowd of them! And they scampered backwards and forwards, frightfully excited, their little white tails bobbing about ever so prettily and their long ears twitching with the thought of all the fun.
"Oh, dear, I hope I'm not too late!" Blinky thought, as he rushed down to the flat.
A line of baby bunnies were standing in a row, waiting for the signal to start the race.
Mr Grandfather Rabbit stood at the farther end of the flat against a blackberry-bush. He waited with one paw raised, ready to wave a "four o'clock" as the signal to start. The young rabs were skylarking and delaying matters considerably, for just as everything seemed ready for the word "Go!" some young scamp rushed away before his time and then the whole line had to wait again until all was ready.
Blinky dashed across the flat and right into the middle of the spectators. He was breathless.
"Stop! Stop!" he cried. "Don't let the babies go!"
At once there was great excitement. Rabbits scuffled and hopped around him, their eyes popping with curiosity.
"What's the matter?" they cried. "What have you come for?"
"For goodness' sake don't let the babies race," Blinky gasped. "Belinda Fox is coming along, and she's going to catch the first one and eat him."
"Shiver my whiskers!" a father rabbit called out in alarm. "That Belinda Fox is just a bit too smart. She's been poking her nose round here too much lately."
"Well, hurry up and do something," Blinky cried. "She'll be here any minute."
"Just a moment, dearie," piped up old Great Granny Rabbit, "I've an idea, a splendid idea."
"What is it, granny?" all the rabbits asked.
"I've a surprise for Miss Belinda Fox. Just you wait here while I get it. I won't be a moment," and she hobbled away to her burrow.
The rabbits crowded round the entrance waiting to see what great granny's idea could be.
"I suppose it's one of those stale old turnips she's been collecting for weeks," said one bold young rab.
"Or perhaps an old tuft of grass," another chimed in.
The rabbits danced with excitement as they waited and one of them thumped impatiently on the door-way with his hind leg.
"Don't do that, you silly old pop-eye," said a big father sternly. "She'll think it's the alarm signal and never come out."
But great granny rabbit was not a scrap alarmed and presently she appeared tugging and pulling at something almost as big as herself. The others rushed to her assistance and imagine their surprise when they pulled out a dead rabbit, very fat, so fat indeed that he looked as though he'd had twenty suppers.
"Gee whiskers!" they exclaimed. "Where did you get this old fellow? What's he for?"
"Ah ha!" great granny smiled; "he's very very old; but he'll make a fine supper for Belinda Fox. I've had him longer than any of you young fellows can remember, and I've kept him for just such an occasion as this."
"He's very fat!" Blinky said, as he patted him with his paw. "And—oh! he's prickly!"
"He's prickly right enough," great granny chuckled. "Haven't I stuffed him with Scotch thistles and nettles? Just you wait and see the surprised look on Belinda's face when she takes the first bite."
"Oh, lovely, lovely! That's a wonderful supper for Belinda!" said the rabbits, laughing.
"Give me a hand to push him along!" great granny called.
She was nearly knocked over in the rush, as all the rabbits scrambled and pushed, and tugged the old thing full of prickles.
Away down to the flat they rolled it, and over to where the bunny still stood with his paw raised ready to give the signal.
"Prop him up here!" great granny called as she pointed to the blackberry-hush, "and then Belinda Fox can have a good look at him before she dines."
The rabbits all helped, and stood old Prickles up on his hind legs. They placed one of his ears over the back of his head and the other over one eye. Then they stuffed a few blades of grass in his mouth to make him look just as though he were eating his supper. They pushed him a little farther into the blackberry-bush so that he seemed to be peeping out. Then, quite satisfied with all they had done, they scampered back to the starting place. Just as they lined up, ready once more for the race, Miss Belinda Fox strutted into view. Down she came lipperty-lop, lipperty-lop, until she reached the bunnies.
"Good evening, young rabs," she said politely, with a wicked smile on her face. "I see you're having a race, and a fine night you have for it."
"Good evening, Miss Belinda," the rabbits replied. "We're so glad to see you."
"I'm sure you are," Belinda replied, with a sly look at the babies. "I came along to see if I could be umpire."
"So Blinky was telling us," said an old rabbit, scratching his ear, and looking very unconcerned. "Well, I think it's a fine idea, and shows a very kind nature. We've just been having an argument as to who should act as umpire, and now the question is settled. We'll gladly accept your services."
"Just tell me what to do, and I'll be only too pleased to help," Belinda replied with eyes glistening. Such a fine plump lot of babies she'd never seen before. What a feast she was going to have!
"Their tails and all I'll gobble," she thought to herself as she patted one gently on the nose.
"I'll line up the babies," Blinky said, as he trembled with excitement. "And you, Belinda Fox, walk down to the other end of the flat; and when we're ready, give the signal to start."
"What's the signal?" Belinda asked slobbering all down her front, and showing her cruel teeth while eyeing the babies all the time.
"Oh, just wag your tail, that'll do," Blinky replied. Off raced Belinda Fox, down to the end of the flat. She was so thrilled that she didn't bother to look around, but came to a halt just in front of the blackberry-bush.
"Get ready," Blinky called to the babies. "But when you're half-way down the flat, run very slowly, and if Belinda has not seen old Prickles by then, turn round and race back to your burrows as quickly as you can."
"Hurry up. Can't you move things along?" Belinda called impatiently, as she waited, panting and moving about restlessly. She turned suddenly to look behind as something made a scratching noise. Now the cunning rabs had ordered one of their number to squat behind old Prickles and at the right moment to scratch the ground, so that Belinda would turn round to see for herself what a fine fat rabbit awaited her. Needless to say, the scratcher was well hidden from view and ready to make his escape at a moment's notice.
Scratch, scratch, scratch, came the noise.
"Gobble me up!" Belinda exclaimed in rapture, "if that's not a fine supper right under my very nose, and much fatter than the babies all put together! The silly old grass-eater must be blind."
Pretending she did not see Prickles, she hastily turned round and faced the crowd at the far end, but she kept old Prickles in view out of the corner of her eye.
Such a fine supper was not going to escape her, she thought and dribbled most terribly.
"The silly old flop ears," she remarked aloud, "fancy thinking he could hide from me."
"Are you ready?" Blinky called at the top of his voice, beckoning to Belinda.
"Yes. Let them go!" And she gave her tail a very frisky wag.
"Ready! ... Set! ... GO!" called Blinky in a loud voice.
Away raced the bunnies, their tails bobbing up and down as they went helter-skelter down the flat.
At the same moment Belinda Fox made a spring in the blackberry-bush, and with a snap, grabbed Prickles in her teeth. As it happened she grabbed him right round the tummy in the most prickly part. She gave a leap in the air and a scream of agony, as she shook her head from side to side. She could not cry as her mouth was full of prickles. They stuck between her teeth and pierced her tongue, and as she swallowed with rage they stuck in her throat. With a yell of anger she made another bite at old Prickles and shook him violently, so violently that he came in halves. Then realizing that a trick had been played on her, she raced round and round, biting at the air and snapping at the remains of Prickles. She coughed and spluttered, and tried to tear the prickles out of her mouth, but it was useless, they pricked like a thousand needles. Exhausted at last, she fell in a heap, right in the middle of the blackberry-bush and lay there gasping for air.
The baby rabbits seeing what had happened when half-way down the flat, turned and raced back to their burrows, chuckling with glee, and dancing around on their hind legs.
"She's caught this time!" Blinky laughed. "Let's go down and have a look at her."
Even old great granny joined in the rush. Her left hind foot was swollen with rheumatism, caused through living in a very dark and damp burrow, but she forgot all about it for the moment and trotted along on her three legs with a queer hop now and again. Her old whiskers (the few she had left) twitched with enjoyment and her eyes looked brighter. She grinned and showed her poor old teeth, worn to the gums with many years of hard work on tough grasses and plants.
"Come on, great granny!" a baby bunny called. "Shake a leg, or you'll miss the fun."
"I'm shaking the three of them as fast as I can," she chuckled, and gave an extra spurt just to show the cheeky young rabs what she could do.
Belinda Fox heard the rabbits coming and took a look to make sure. Oh, how mad she was! She kicked the blackberry-bush with all her legs at once and only added more prickles to her skin.
The rabbits stood round in a circle laughing at the top of their voices, poking fun, and calling her names.
"And now, Miss Belinda Fox," old great granny cackled, "how do you like rabbit for supper?"
Belinda gave a leap and tried to grab great granny, but she fell back in the blackberry-bush with a cry of pain and closed her eyes.
Blinky felt sorry for Belinda, because it was not really her fault that she liked rabbit for supper. "Perhaps," he thought, "if I'd been a fox I'd like rabbit, too." So, walking quietly up to Belinda, who looked as though she were dead, he said in very kind tones:
"If I help to pick the prickles out of you, will you promise to never never eat bunnies again?"
Belinda opened one eye and looked at him sorrowfully. She could not speak, so nodded her head weakly.
"How do I know you'll keep your promise?" Blinky asked. But Belinda could not answer; she only nodded again.
"Cross your paws," Blinky commanded. "Then I'll know you mean it."
Belinda raised her front paws very slowly and crossed them.
"Now, I'll pick all the prickles out, and you'll be able to run home." And Blinky cautiously stepped up to Belinda and sat down beside her.
The rabbits were amazed to see Belinda Fox so sorry and offered to help with the prickles. But Blinky ordered them home, saying:
"Go while the going's good."
And the rabbits wisely took his advice.
All night long, until daylight, Blinky picked the prickles out. There was such a pile of them; but as Belinda's mouth and throat were clear after Blinky had spent two whole hours unpricking, she felt better and sat up and helped to pick the nasty things from her paws and tail.
"How do you feel now?" Blinky asked when all but a few were out.
"Much better, Mr Koala," Belinda answered. "Now I think I'll go home. And I'll never come down this way again."
And Belinda Fox ever after kept well away from the flat. Even when she was terribly hungry, she would not for a moment look at a rabbit. If one happened to cross her pathway as she rambled through the bush, she immediately sat on her haunches, crossed her front paws, and looked the other way.
Blinky's life was certainly full of adventure. But once more he set out to find his way home, feeling very happy that he had done a good deed, and saved the baby bunnies from a horrible death.
"What's that noise?" said Mrs Grunty, as she peered through the branches.
"Must be a possum," Mrs Koala replied as she also gazed through the branches.
"That's no possum," Mrs Grunty answered in a decided tone. "I wouldn't mind betting my spectacles it's that son of yours returning."
"Oh, how wonderful!" Mrs Koala cried, "Do you really think the dear little chap has come home?"
"Dear little chap," sniffed Mrs Grunty with a stern look on her face. "I'd like to see Snubby running away from home! He wouldn't do it the second time. And I'd also like to know what you intend to do with that son of yours?"
"I suppose I'll have to spank him," and Mrs Koala sighed very deeply.
"Suppose, indeed!" Mrs Grunty scoffed. "Why, if he belonged to me I'm warm his pants for him. My word I would!" And she folded her paws over her tummy in a very determined way, and glared through the branches again.
"Is anyone there?" she snapped and nearly fell headlong out of the tree as she bent over to look.
"Just keep cool. This is my business," Mrs Koala said firmly, as she broke a twig off the tree.
"It's my business, too," Mrs Grunty growled. "I won't have that young runaway playing with Snubby. Goodness knows what ideas he'll put in his head."
"There isn't room in his head for many ideas!" Mrs Koala said snappily as she began to climb down the tree.
"Dear, dear," Mrs Grunty sighed. "More trouble. That boy of hers will be the death of her yet."
Mrs Koala quietly climbed down from one branch to the other.
"Blinky!" she called in a whisper. "Is that you?"
"Yes, mother," came a meek little voice.
"Come up here at once!" Mrs Koala ordered.
"I'm not coming if Mrs Grunty's there," naughty Blinky answered.
"Do as I tell you this minute," his mother commanded.
"Shan't," Blinky answered in a very trembly voice.
"Well, I'll soon see about that!" And Mrs Koala climbed right down the tree to the ground where Blinky stood. What a sight met her eyes! A grubby little bear, bockers torn to ribbons and dirty; dirty paws and face.
"Good heavens!" Mrs Koala cried. "Where have you been? Just look at you. Dirt from head to foot. It's no use, its no use!" poor mother bear cried. "I can't keep you clean."
"It's only dirt," Blinky whimpered, as he looked at his mother very sorrowfully.
"Where have you been all this time?" Mrs Koala asked angrily. "I've been worried almost to death, and my hair's turned grey with fright."
"I didn't want to go to Mrs Magpie's school, and I hate Mrs Grunty. She's always growling," Blinky said, and a tear ran down his face.
Mrs Koala put her paws behind her back and gently dropped her stick on the ground.
"She is an old growler. You're right, Blinky. I think we'll both go away from her," and Mrs Koala patted Blinky's head.
"Oh, do let's go!" Blinky implored, "and I'll never run away again."
"Very well, dear," Mrs Koala said kindly. "We'll go to-night."
"Oh, good!" Blinky cried as he hugged his mother.
"Wait here until I go up and collect a few leaves, as we'll probably need them on the way," Mrs Koala said kindly.
"Say good-bye to Mrs Grunty for me, and give her a scratch," naughty Blinky called out as his mother climbed up the tree again.
"Don't be cheeky, Blinky," Mrs Koala replied. "Mrs Grunty can't help growling."
"She's got an extra big growler inside her," Blinky mumbled. He waited patiently until his mother returned. Her apron was full of juicy gum-tips and she seemed very pleased at the prospect of leaving.
"Where are we going?" Blinky inquired.
"I don't know," his mother replied. "You should know a good place for us to make a new home after all your travels."
"I know of lots!" Blinky cried joyfully, and danced up and down.
Just as they were ready to start a big gum-nut came hurtling down and hit Blinky right on his nose. He looked up at the tree in surprise. Surely Snubby wouldn't do a thing like that. He was such a good little bear.
"It's that horrid Mrs Grunty," he said at the top of his voice, as he caught sight of her hiding among the leaves, and looking down at him. She was shaking her paw savagely.
"Hope you fall out of the tree," Blinky called to her.
"It'll be a bad day for you if I do," she called back.
"Good-bye, old Grunty legs!" he answered, and scrambled after his mother, who had started on the pathway into the bush.
"It's good to have you back again," dear old Mrs Koala said. "I'm sure we'll be happy now."
"As happy as spiders," Blinky replied. "I know a beautiful big gum-tree, away from Mrs Grunty."
The two bears trotted on and on, the stars shining seemed to wink and laugh at them, and a breeze dancing through the bush played with them as she blew leaves in their faces.
"Shh!" Mrs Koala whispered. "I can hear voices, I'm sure."
"It's only Mr Owl."
"No, no! There are men coming," Mrs Koala whispered again. "Where shall we hide?"
"Behind this bush," Blinky replied. "Quickly, mother, and don't breathe."
The two bears crawled under a wattle-tree and waited with thumping hearts to see what would happen.
"Here they come!" Blinky whispered. "Don't move an eyelash." He was right. Two men with guns and sacks came tramping through the bush, crushing the leaves underfoot and whistling loudly.
"It's a funny thing we haven't seen a possum yet," one remarked.
"Bears are what I'm after," the other replied.
"Oh, is that all!" the first one answered. "Well, you'll have a long tramp after them. There are none round here."
Blinky and his mother looked at one another terrified. "What if they find us?" Blinky whispered.
"We're safe, if you keep very still." And Mrs Koala patted Blinky in a comforting way.
"How about boiling the billy?" one man suggested as they stopped right opposite the wattle-tree where the two bears were hiding.
"A good idea," his friend replied. "I feel like a cup of tea. Here's a good tree to rest under." And pointing to the wattle, he flung his sacks down only a few inches from Blinky and his mother.
"You'd better have a look round for snakes, before you sit there," the first man advised.
Mrs Koala gave Blinky's arm a squeeze. They were trembling with fright.
The man who had thrown his sacks down started to kick away the leaves and twigs. Nearer and nearer his boots came to the little bears, until he kicked Blinky on the back.
"Hulloa! What have I struck?" he called out. "Something soft, and not a snake."
"A possum, you may be sure," his friend replied as he dashed over to have a look.
Pushing aside the low branches of the wattle, they discovered Blinky and his mother, huddled up together and growling savagely.
"Well, I'll be blowed!" said one of the men. "If it isn't Mrs Koala and her son! What luck!"
"Get the sack and be very gentle with them," his friend replied. "They're grand little fellows and I wouldn't hurt a hair on their heads."
"Very healthy looking bears, especially the young chap," the other man remarked.
"You grab one and I'll get the other, then we'll put them in the sacks," the first man said.
"Easier said than done, I think," his friend remarked as he approached Blinky and Mrs Koala. They growled louder than ever, and snarled at the man.
"Come here, old chap," the man said kindly as he reached towards Blinky; but Blinky decided there and then that he'd fight before he'd be popped in a sack.
"So you want a scrap, do you?" the man asked, as he tried to pat Blinky.
With a growl Blinky darted out his paw and scratched the man's arm.
"You young beggar!" the man cried. "It's time your toenails were cut." And as quick as lightning he grabbed Blinky by the back of the neck.
"Caught!" the man called excitedly. "Now for the mother."
When Mrs Koala saw Blinky caught she wisely decided to give no trouble, but to go with her son, wherever they were taken to. She allowed the other man to catch her and stroke her pretty ears. In fact, she rather liked the feel of those hands. They were very gentle and the man spoke kind words. Surely no harm would come to them from these men.
But Mr Blinky thought otherwise. He was mad. Fancy being caught just as he was out on another adventure! And he had such a wonderful lot of things to show his mother.
"This young fellow's like a jack-in-the-box and as savage as a lion," the man remarked who held him.
"Pop him into the sack," his friend replied, "but be very careful not to hurt him. His mother's behaving like a little lady."
Blinky was put in the sack, feet first.
"Tie the bag round his neck, and let the little fellow see his mother," the first man said, so a string was tied round the bag, and Blinky looked very funny as he was propped up against the tree, with just his head showing. His ears looked larger than ever and his eyes glistened with anger. He kicked and kicked the sack and altogether behaved shockingly.
The men laughed loudly as they watched his antics.
"The young nipper's in a bad temper," one remarked. "I'll sit beside him with his mother on my lap. That might quieten him." He did so, and Mrs Koala put out a paw and patted Blinky's nose. It was hot and dry. "Dear me, Blinky," she said. "Don't get so angry. You're making yourself quite ill."
"They'll kill us," Blinky cried.
"No, I'm sure they are kind men. I heard them say something about a zoo just now," his mother replied.
"Well, I don't want to go to a zoo," he wailed.
"Oh, we'd have great fun!" Mrs Koala said. "We would meet other bears and see all kinds of strange things."
"It sounds like an adventure, and I suppose we'd be taken great care of, and if you're with me, mother, I don't think I'd mind so much," Blinky replied quite cheerfully.
"That's the boy!" Mrs Koala said. "Now, if you stop that kicking and growling and behave very nicely, perhaps the men will take you out of that sack."
Blinky did as his mother advised, and sat there as quiet as it was possible for him to sit. Presently, after the men had finished their tea, one turned to look at Blinky.
"The little fellow's quite tame now," he remarked. "I guess he's tired after all that kicking."
"Poor little chap!" the other said kindly. "How about letting him out for a while?"
"Do you think it wise?" his friend asked. "I wouldn't lose him for the world."
"He won't wander away while his mother's here," the other replied. "Let him out and see what he'll do." So Blinky was taken out of the sack and held in kind arms up to his mother.
"Don't kick or scratch," Mrs Koala whispered, "or they'll pop you back in the sack again."
But Blinky was cunning enough to know that, and instead kept very still until at last the man placed him on the ground. He cuddled up to his mother and felt ever so much happier.
"Well, it's time we made tracks home again," one of the men remarked, as he stamped out the smouldering fire. "Pop the two of them in the sacks and we'll ride very carefully."
A long journey followed through the bush; to Blinky it seemed days and days. The gum-trees were gradually left behind, and in their place green fields and houses came into view. The earth had not the sweet smell of the bushland, the air seemed dusty, and the songs of the birds disappeared altogether.
Both bears were held very gently and patted and talked to in a caressing way by the men, so all fear of harm had left them. Indeed, they were enjoying this new adventure, especially dear Mrs Koala, who had never been from home before. She could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the first train pass by in the distance, and wonder after wonder caused her and Blinky to utter queer little grunts as they came nearer to the township. The next day, the men took the bears on the train and it was very amusing to Blinky to have such a fuss made of him. It was better than any adventure he'd ever had before. Mrs Koala enjoyed it, too, and in her mind wondered however she had lived so long with crabby Mrs Grunty. After the train journey they were carried on board a boat and taken across the water.
"Good gracious!" Mrs Koala exclaimed, as she gazed on Sydney harbour. "They seem to have a great deal of rain here. I've never seen such a lot of water over the ground before. The rabbits will be in a bad way."
Blinky was too surprised to reply. He tried to look at everything at once—boats, people, flags, wharves, and very tall buildings. It was really marvellous. He was too surprised to even grunt. The men still carried them in their arms, and patted them as before.
The boat drew alongside a jetty and the men carried the bears ashore. Through a big gate they went and along paths bordered with beautiful flowers, and oh, joy! gum-trees grew all around.
Mrs Koala and Blinky were enraptured as they saw the trees of the bushland, and every moment they became happier as an old friend was seen.
"Why, there's Mrs Wallaby, I do believe!" Mrs Koala cried in excitement. "And, oh, dear, what a great number of children she has now! When I first knew her she had only one; now she has dozens."
"Good heavens!" she cried in alarm as they passed along the path. "Just look at Mrs Snake. How fat she's grown since last I saw her! And I'm sure as can be she hadn't all those children then. Oh, there's her husband, I suppose. See, Blinky, that big snake lying asleep in the corner."
"That's not our Mrs Snake," Blinky replied with a worldly air. "She's dead and eaten by the bull ants."
"Dear me," Mrs Koala sighed. "I've heard so little living away in the bush. There's no doubt about it we koalas have seen very little."
"I hear Jacko!" Blinky cried with excitement. "He's here, too!"
Sure enough—the kookaburras were giving the little bears a grand bush welcome to their new home.
"Good afternoon," Mrs Koala called. "You've also added to your family, Mr Kookaburra, since I saw you last."
Another hearty laugh greeted Mrs Koala's words.
"Great gum-trees! What on earth is that?" said Mrs Koala, pointing to a giraffe.
"Well, well, I've never seen a tree like that before. What a funny looking branch that is growing out of the stump. It's spotted like the gum, but the spots are larger. Good gracious, Blinky, it's moving! Look at the branches walking along the ground. And, oh, the spotted branch has eyes and ears on the top!"
"Silly!" Blinky retorted. "That's not a tree. That's an animal, mother."
"And is that huge thing over there an animal?" Mrs Koala asked as she pointed to an elephant. "I've never seen an animal with a nose like that! Just look at it—all crumpled and so very, very, long. I'm sure it's not an animal."
"Look! Look!" Blinky cried excitedly. "He's picking up something with his nose! And now he's curled it into his mouth!"
"That's not a nose," Mrs Koala said decidedly. "It's some kind of fishing-line he's stuck on his face. Whoever saw anyone pick up things with their nose?"
Blinky and his mother had no further time for argument as the men carried them into a building, where they were at once surrounded by several more men who admired them, patted them, and offered some delicious fresh gum-tips for refreshments.
"Remember your manners, Blinky, and don't eat so quickly," Mrs Koala whispered, as she nibbled her leaves.
"They are so good, mother, and it's such a long time since we've had our own gum-tips. I hope we'll get plenty more." And Blinky crammed his mouth with leaves until a smart smack on the nose from Mrs Koala made him remember his manners.
"Aren't they the quaintest little bears," someone said as Blinky and his mother continued their meal. "And what a delight for the children!"
They have indeed been a delight and joy to thousands of children—and grown-ups as well—in Taronga Park. Such cuddly, trusting, amusing little bears. How many of you children who visit the zoo long to steal Blinky just for your very own? No wonder, especially when he reaches out a furry paw to shake hands with you. But while you are longing to cuddle and steal him, remember how sad he would be if parted from his mother. He would die in a very short time, as his natural food is most necessary, that is—his special gum-tips; and although Blinky has been through so many bold adventures, he must have his bushland surroundings to make his life happy.
As I walked past the koalas one day recently when paying a visit to the zoo, I asked Mrs Koala how she liked her new home. Before she could reply naughty Blinky pushed his way in front of her, held out a paw for me to shake, and said in a very cheeky voice:
"It's just the juicy gum-tip!"
So there I left the two little koalas with other friends from the bush feeling very happy and looking quite contented.
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