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Now a good little bear would have been quite contented to live for ever quietly and safely up in his tree, after exciting adventures like those of Blinky’s—but not he! As the weeks went past he became tired of climbing and playing on the same branches, and even grew tired of Snubby. He quarrelled, and kicked, and sometimes, I’m sorry to say, actually bit his playmate’s nose. Of course Snubby immediately cried, and Blinky teased him all the more.
Poor Mrs Koala had a very trying time in keeping the peace. Sometimes Mrs Grunty got quite snappy and wouldn’t speak, which upset Mrs Koala very much, as she knew it was all Blinky’s fault.
“That boy of yours will come to no good!” said Mrs Grunty one day. “If he was mine, I’d try a little of the stick around his hind parts.”
“What am I to do?” sighed Mrs Koala. “I can’t smack him all the time. Where he gets this wild manner of his from I don’t know. I believe his great-grandfather was very wild—on his father’s side of course. My people were always very quiet.”
“Well, most probably he’ll grow out of it, if he doesn’t fall out of it,” said Mrs Grunty. “Have one of these leaves and forget all about it.” So the mother bears patched up their little differences, until naughty Blinky did something extra bad and mischievous; then all the trouble started again. Mrs Grunty loved to have her noonday snooze, and became very irritable if she did not get it, or was disturbed during that time.
“A mother must have a few minutes to herself, otherwise she becomes old and wrinkled, and goodness knows my nose is funny enough without lines round it,” she mumbled away, as she crawled to her favourite corner.
Sometimes just as she got to sleep, all nicely curled up, and was dreaming of peaceful things, Mr Blinky would creep along the branch, and nip her ear, or poke her side with his paw.
“Go away, go away, or I’ll eat you!” Mrs Grunty would growl as she reached out to cuff his ear, but Blinky was always too quick for her and would dodge behind the tree.
“Impertinent young fellow,” Mrs Grunty would mumble as she dozed off again.
One day, never to be forgotten, she was awakened from her snooze by muffled giggles and grunts. Cautiously she opened one eye slowly and peeped around. What was that peculiar feeling in her ears? Brushing her head quickly with her paws she found a bunch of gum-tips poking out from each ear. It was too much for Mrs Grunty, and she decided to take action quickly. Blinky by this time was far up on a topmost branch, safely away from angry mothers.
“Come down at once,” commanded Mrs Grunty and Mrs Koala together.
But Blinky pretended he was deaf and took no notice of their angry calls.
“Blinky, come down this minute!” Mrs Koala demanded.
“I’ll go up and get him,” said Mrs Grunty in a determined voice. “No bear of that age will get the better of me.” And she stamped a hind leg on the tree to show that she really meant it.
Blinky began to feel things were getting a little uncomfortable, and he really didn’t want to go on eating so many leaves all at once, so he decided to face the enemy.
“Are you looking for some nice young leaves, Mrs Grunty?” he inquired in a polite voice.
“No!” snapped Mrs Grunty, “I’m looking for a bad young bear!”
“Snubby’s not up here,” Blinky replied in an innocent tone.
“Now, no cheek,” grunted Mrs Grunty, “you’re bad enough as it is; come down out of that branch!”
“Just wait a minute,” Blinky replied, “and I’ll bring you some beautiful juicy leaves.”
“Where are they?” Mrs Grunty asked excitedly, quite forgetting her anger.
“Up here,” said Blinky. “Would you like a few?”
“Yes, I would,” replied Mrs Grunty. “And bring some for your mother; she has a bad headache.”
Blinky gathered the very freshest tips he could find and, chatting gaily all the while (for he was a cunning young bear), he came down the tree and held them out to Mrs Grunty.
“You’re a dear little bear!” said Mrs Grunty as she nibbled the leaves. “I’d be proud to have a son like you.”
Naughty Blinky stood behind her back and screwed up his nose at her, and Snubby, who was watching from a branch close by, gave a loud, squealing grunt.
“Well, well, how kind of Blinky!” said Mrs Koala, as she munched the leaves with her friend. “He is a thoughtful son.”
But life seemed very monotonous to Blinky. He knew every branch, twig, and leaf of that tree off by heart, and Snubby never seemed to think of any new games, so he decided to start on another adventure. The more he thought of it, the braver he grew, until one evening, when the moon shone extra brightly, and the leaves looked silvery-green, he decided the time had come to make a start. His mother and Mrs Grunty and Snubby were sitting together away out on a distant branch, quite out of view, so stealthily and quickly Blinky slid down the tree and on to the ground. “Ha, ha, it’s good to be away again,” he said to himself as he looked around. How pretty everything looked in the moonlight, and the dew on the grass and leaves sparkled so brightly.
“I love mother and Snubby very much,” Blinky murmured; “but they don’t seem to think I’m grown up and want to see things. And what a funny bear Snubby is. I’m beginning to think he must be a girl, as he never wants to go adventuring.”
“Hi, there!” called a loud voice from somewhere in the bushes. “What do you think you’re doing down here?”
“Who are you?” panted Blinky with fright, for certainly he didn’t expect anything to happen so soon.
“Who am I? Come over here and see,” came the reply in a gruff voice.
“You won’t eat me, will you?” Blinky asked in a frightened voice.
“Eat a bear. Ha, ha! Well I’ve never tasted one, and I’m not going to start now. I’m not too fond of swallowing fur and eucalyptus in one mouthful.”
And just as he said those words Mr Wombat shuffled out of the bushes.
“Oh!” gasped Blinky, “what a big fellow you are! What’s your name?”
“The cheeky young rabs call me ‘Womby’; but to a stranger like you I am Mr Wombat.”
“Where do you live?” Blinky inquired, still just a little nervous at seeing so large an animal standing right in front of him.
“That’s a secret,” replied Mr Wombat. “But if you know how to keep quiet about those things I’ll take you to see my home.”
“I won’t tell a soul, Mr Wombat,” Blinky whispered.
“Very good! Well, come this way,” said Mr Wombat. He led Blinky through the thick undergrowth, crashing the bracken down with his sturdy legs, and grunting loudly as he went. It was rather difficult for Blinky to keep pace with him, as he went at such a rate; but he paused now and then to give a glance over his shoulder and waited for his little friend to catch up with his steps.
The bush grew thicker, but presently Blinky noticed the ground had a “dug-up” look about it. Roots of bushes had been undermined, plants eaten down to the ground, and altogether everything looked very untidy.
Right ahead a very large tree grew up to the sky, and Blinky thought he had never seen such a big gum. The trunk was enormous and the roots spread out in all directions.
“This is my home,” said Mr Wombat proudly. “Don’t you think it fine?”
“Yes,” replied Blinky. “It’s a very grand place. But how do you climb that huge trunk?”
“Climb!” said Mr Wombat scornfully, “I’ve no need to do any stunts here. I live under the roots.”
“Oh!” gasped Blinky, “not in that big black hole?”
“Yes! That’s my home,” replied Mr Wombat. “And the rain can come down as hard as it likes and the wind blow and shake the tree as long as it likes; but I just lie here underneath, safer than all the bears up in the trees.”
“Come in and have a look round.”
“Everything’s lovely and dark; and there’s a very nice muddy smell inside.”
“I don’t think I’ll come in, Mr Wombat,” said Blinky in a quiet voice. “I’m in rather a hurry. But if you don’t mind I’ll sit down on the ground for a few minutes to rest my legs.”
“Please yourself,” said Mr Wombat rather gruffly. But seeing Blinky’s startled eyes, he felt sorry for the little bear and offered to hunt round for a few shoots of plants to eat.
“I’m not hungry,” Blinky said. “But I wish you would tell me all about that big black hole,” pointing to Mr Wombat’s home.
Mr Wombat at once came and sat down beside Blinky and started to tell him the story.
“Well,” he began, “I’ve lived here for many years now. Long ago I lived out in the open near Farmer Brown’s house; but it became too dangerous. He was a bad-tempered man, and had no time for a wombat. He sowed his fields full of potatoes and peas, and juicy carrots and turnips, then expected a wombat to look at them and not come near.”
“How silly!” interrupted Blinky. “I’d have eaten all his peas up in one mouthful.”
Mr Wombat turned suddenly to have a look at Blinky’s mouth, then shrugged his shoulders and went on with his story.
“Yes, he was silly. He even fenced his paddocks with very strong wire, and didn’t I laugh to myself as I lay behind an old tree-stump hearing men digging in the hot sunshine, then ramming down posts and nailing wire all round them.”
“What did you do?” Blinky inquired.
“I waited until the night came, as I’m as blind as a bat during the day, then I crept silently over to the new fence, and had a look at it. Poof! I burrowed under it in a few minutes and had a great supper of potato roots; then just to show Farmer Brown how strong I was, I burrowed another hole from the inside of the fence to get out again. In the morning as I lay in bed I heard Farmer Brown and his men shouting loudly and using very strange words.”
“One night I had a narrow escape. Carefully treading over the ground, I had just reached my favourite roots, when, snap! something caught the tip of my toe. I howled with pain and rage. What new trick was this of Farmer Brown’s? Then to make matters worse men came running from all directions, shouting and calling at the top of their voices. Dear me, how excited they were—and all over a wombat in a potato patch!”
“What did you do?” asked Blinky breathlessly.
“Huh! I just gave a tug at my paw, and out it came. I lost a toenail—but what’s that! Then the excitement rose. Guns began to crack and a bullet flew past me very close to my ear—too close for my liking. Fortunately for me it was a dark night, with only the stars overhead, and luckily I remembered just where my burrow was under the fence. I raced along, wild calls coming behind me and heavy boots thudding the ground. But I won! Under the fence I rushed; out the other side, and into the bush I raced. I did not stop at my home; but kept running for miles, as far away from Farmer Brown as I could manage. When I finally fell down exhausted, my foot was causing me a great deal of pain, so I licked it for a long time and then fell asleep. After that adventure I decided to look for a new home, and here I am.”
“Well, you’re safe here, Mr Wombat,” said Blinky. “And if I were you I’d stay here and never wander again.”
“I’m safe enough,” replied Mr Wombat. “But the food is not up to much, and pretty dry in the summer; but I manage to scrape along. I’m not in fear of my life like my grandparents were.”
“Why, what happened to them?” Blinky asked anxiously. “They lived up in the north-west,” said Mr Wombat, “a wild place if you like! The black people there used to hunt them with yam-sticks. Poor grandad and grandma were in constant danger of being killed.”
“How?” asked Blinky.
“Well,” continued Mr Wombat, “the black people would go out in hunting parties and when a wombat-hole was found a boy was usually chosen to go down feet first. As he wriggled his way down the burrow he tapped on the roof of the tunnel with his hands. Those above the ground were listening and followed the taps as he went, until at last when the boy’s feet touched a wombat, he would give a signal and then the men above would quickly dig down into the earth and right on to the wombat. A few moments and he was dead. No chance of escape at all——”
“It’s just as well for you, Mr Wombat, there are no black fellows here,” said Blinky.
“And just as well for you too!” replied his new friend. “But where are you going, anyway? You haven’t told me yet.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Blinky said in a doubtful tone. “Do you know of any adventures round here?”
“Adventures! What do you mean exactly?” Mr Wombat asked.
“Oh, you know—things to see—not gum-leaves all the time,” replied Blinky.
“Ho, ho,” laughed Mr Wombat. “So you’re looking for new sights, are you? Well, now I come to think of it, there’s Mrs Spotty’s school down in the hollow.”
“Who is Mrs Spotty?” Blinky asked.
“Mrs Spotty Frog. She has a boarding-school for young frogs and tadpoles. A very select school, so I’m told, and there’s lots to be seen if you happen to pass that way.”
“I’ll go that way, Mr Wombat,” said Blinky with a smile. “Is it down this track?”
“Yes, follow your nose, and you can’t miss the place. You’ll hear it long before you come to it.” And Mr Wombat grunted with disapproval.
So bidding him good-bye, Blinky started down the track towards Frog Hollow.
It was not a great distance, and before very long sounds of croaking and gurgling reached his ears. Scrambling along, he came to a clearing in the bush, and what a sight met his eyes! He held his breath in astonishment. There, right in front of him was a large pool, surrounded with bells and every bush flower he had ever seen. It was a green pool with water-lilies floating on the surface and round the edges brown and green rushes stood very erect: but strangest of all—hundreds and hundreds of frogs. All sizes, from the babies upwards, were squatting on the lily-leaves, or poking their heads just through the green water. The noise was deafening. Every frog croaked. Big frogs with deep throaty croaks, smaller ones with a shrill note, and baby frogs piping in unison. On a large leaf in the centre of the pool Mrs Spotty waved her leg. Every frog watched her with the greatest attention.
“One, two, three,” she called, and waved her leg in a downward motion. The croaks came loud and long.
“Stop!” she called in a shrill voice. Instantly the frogs were silent.
“Miss Greenlegs, fourth from the left in the back row, you’re flat. Flat as a lily-leaf. Take your note and try it alone.”
Turning to a large frog that sat a little to the right of her, she waved her leg.
He drew a straw across a blade of grass and listened intently, his head bent sideways against the grass. A tiny note floated across the pool and, reaching Miss Greenlegs’s ears, she puffed out her throat and gave a beautiful croak. It was clearness itself.
“Excellent,” exclaimed Mrs Spotty. “Now, all together please.” And again she waved her leg.
“Croak, croak, croak,” every frog puffed and rolled his eyes in a wonderful way.
Blinky was spellbound. Slowly he tiptoed nearer to the pool. But a twig snapped under his feet. Instantly every frog dived into the water. Not a sound was heard, and only a few ripples and bubbles broke the surface of the pool. Blinky gazed and gazed. Where have they gone? he thought, and ran down as fast as his legs would carry him to the reedy bank. Not a frog was in sight. But he felt that somewhere down in that pool eyes were watching him very closely. He kept perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe, watching a few bubbles floating to the surface only to burst and leave nothing at all. It seemed hours to Blinky before he saw a green body silently lift itself out of the water and slide on to a lily-leaf where Mrs Spotty had stood. The big frog eyed Blinky curiously, never moving and ready to slip back again into the water at a moment’s notice.
“Are you Mrs Spotty?” Blinky quietly inquired.
“Yes, that’s me,” came the reply. “What do you want?”
“I came to see your school and hear the frogs sing, and I wish you’d let me come to school too,” said Blinky plaintively.
“We don’t have bears in our school as a rule,” said Mrs Spotty; “but I’ve no objection to you joining the class if you behave yourself. Have you been to school before?”
“No, Mrs Spotty,” Blinky replied, “but I’ve travelled quite a long way.”
“Can you play leap-frog and swim?” asked Mrs Spotty. “No, I can’t do any of those things,” Blinky replied, “but I can climb gum-trees.”
Mrs Spotty’s eyes looked more like those motor-car lights down by Miss Pimm’s store than anything else he had ever seen, Blinky thought; and they were such poppy ones too.
“Can you jump?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Blinky joyfully, “I can jump very high.”
“How high?” asked Mrs Spotty.
“Oh, as high as a tree,” Blinky replied.
“Well, I think you may be of assistance to me in teaching the tadpoles how to jump. Come over to me, while I have a good look at you. But stop!” and Mrs Spotty turned three shades paler in green. Balancing herself on the edge of the leaf she looked at Blinky and said in a very slow voice:
“DO YOU EAT FROGS?”
“I’ve never tasted them, so I don’t know,” Blinky replied.
“Well, don’t start,” Mrs Spotty said in a cross voice. “Now you may come over and sit on the leaf beside me.”
“I can’t swim. I told you I couldn’t,” Blinky wailed.
“Oh, well, sit on the bank and watch me put the class through their paces. By the way, what’s that funny looking thing in the middle of your face?”
“That’s my nose,” Blinky replied, trying to look very unconcerned.
“A queer looking nose,” said Mrs Spotty rudely. “But never mind, I’ll call the class for the swimming lessons.”
She gave three loud croaks, and at once dozens and dozens of frogs popped up from beneath the water and out from the rushes. They eyed Blinky nervously, until Mrs Spotty told them he did not eat frogs.
“Now, you young gentlemen with the slender legs, take your places ready for the diving.”
“Don’t push and crowd, it’s very rude and if I find any frog standing on another’s tail or causing an unprepared-for jump, I’ll punish him severely.”
The frogs arranged themselves on the leaves and waited for the word to start. A great commotion was taking place up in the shallow end of the pool, and Mrs Spotty looked sternly in that direction.
“Tadpoles!” she cried, “stop that mud-larking and pay attention to your lesson.”
“Now! One, two, three—Dive!” she called at the top of her voice, and dozens of green slippery legs flew through the air and into the pool.
“Too much splashing!” Mrs Spotty declared. “Again: one, two, three—Dive!” And once more the green legs and bodies sprang into the pool.
“That’s better. Now for a swim.” And leaning over the leaf she called her directions to the frogs.
“Scissors! Scissors! Scissors!” she cried as they swam round her leaf, and back again to the starting-point.
“Now for the Tads.” And Mrs Spotty lined them up in a row, the fattest ones to the front and the tiny ones at the back.
They behaved like young outlaws—pushing and wriggling and flipping about in a very bold way.
“Not so much of that tail waggling; and, Jimmy Tadpole, don’t use your tummy for pushing. Oh! dear, I’m sure I’ll never make ladies and gentlemen of you,” sighed Mrs Spotty. “You’re the most brazen lot of Tads I’ve ever had in my school.”
But the tadpoles didn’t care, all they thought about was swimming.
Mrs Spotty gave them their lesson and sent them back again to their own end of the pool, much to the relief of the frogs, as no self-respecting gentleman could swim in the same place as a tadpole.
Blinky by this time had come right to the edge of the pond, and was enjoying himself immensely, until an extra large frog suddenly leaped right on his back.
“Oh, oh, you gave me such a fright!” Blinky cried. “Get down please. I’m not a log!”
The frog took no notice whatever, but hopped on his head instead. Blinky touched him with his paw, and jumped with fright. He was so cold and slippery—not a scrap like touching Snubby.
“Get down at once!” called Mrs Spotty in a stern voice. And to Blinky’s further surprise the frog went helter skelter down his nose and into the water.
“Let’s use his nose for a spring-board,” the frog called out at the top of his voice.
The very thought of such a thing sent shudders down Blinky’s back. Just imagine hundreds of frogs sliding down his nose, one after the other!
“You’ll do no such thing!” retorted Blinky indignantly.
“Well let’s use his back for leap-frog,” another cried. “I don’t mind that,” said Blinky, “as long as I have a turn too. I could jump over one of your backs.”
“That is a fair thing,” said Mrs Spotty. “Now get in places, please.”
One after the other the frogs lined up behind Blinky croaking and hopping about, treading on one another’s toes and goggling their eyes with excitement.
“Bend down, please,” Mrs Spotty called to Blinky. He bent over, making sure his nose was well out of the way.
“Flip—flop—” and the frogs started, one behind the other, jump after jump; and the highest hops were greeted with croaks from the onlookers.
“I wish you’d warm your toes first,” said Blinky. But still they came. Flip-flop-flip-flop.
When the last frog had jumped over his back, Blinky raised his head.
“It’s my turn now,” he cried. “And I want to jump over the biggest frog of all.”
Mrs Spotty’s pupils looked rather nervous and eyed one another to see which was the largest.
“Go on, Fatty,” they called to one big fellow. “You know, you had more mosquitoes for tea than anyone else.”
Fatty looked very uncomfortable and glanced at his tummy.
“It’s not mosquitoes,” he said crossly, “it’s muscles——”
“All the better,” called Mrs Spotty. “Stand over here and be ready.”
Fatty frog hopped beside Mrs Spotty and stood there quaking. What if he slipped! That bear on top of him would be nothing to laugh about.
Blinky stood ready, and Mrs Spotty, who was standing in front of Fatty, called out in a loud croak:
Blinky made a funny little run, then a few stumbles and with a grunt he flopped over Fatty, and plonk! right on top of Mrs Spotty. She fell with a dreadful thud, and tried to croak; but she was smothered in fur.
Blinky rolled over and over with laughter. When he managed to stand up—there he saw a very flat looking frog that had once been Mrs Spotty.
“Oh, I’ve killed her!” he cried in a frightened voice. “Come and pick her up!”
All the pupils hopped to Mrs Spotty’s assistance. She certainly did look flat; but her throat was puffing and one eye moved a little.
“Water! water!” the big frogs called as they dragged her to the edge of the pool.
“Push her in!” cried naughty Blinky, and before any frog had time to think, he gave her a push with his paw, and in she went, head first.
“Now you’ve done it!” called the frogs in cries of horror. “We’ll tell the policeman.”
“Policeman,” thought Blinky, “where have I heard that name?” And then he remembered Miss Pimm’s store.
In the excitement, while the frogs were hopping about and trying to rescue Mrs Spotty, he hurried away to the edge of the bush. Peeping behind a log he saw the frogs hunting everywhere for him; under leaves, behind the rushes and even down in the pool.
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