Read The Wombles Online

Authors: Elizabeth Beresford

The Wombles (13 page)

‘It’s to make up for you-know-what,’ said Orinoco.

‘Is it, indeed?’ said Madame Cholet. ‘Well, whatever it may be I’m sure it’s all over and done with now. Sit down and have your porridge and then you can tell me about your adventures.’

The adventures lost nothing in the telling and although Wombles don’t lie perhaps Bungo and Orinoco did make the most of what had been happening to them.

‘Chased you out of the shop!’ said Madame Cholet to Orinoco, her eyes wide with horror.

‘Well, not
exactly
chased perhaps,’ said Orinoco, shifting round on his stool, ‘but this Human Being did sort of take hold of my scarf. He was quite polite, but he didn’t let go until I was in the street again. He was wearing a coat with tails on it.’

‘Tails! Never!’ said Madame Cholet, throwing up her paws.

‘Tails,’ said Orinoco firmly. ‘May I scrape out the saucepan, please?’

Which showed that he was fast recovering from all his harrowing experiences – experiences which were at this very moment being recited to Great Uncle Bulgaria by Cousin Yellowstone. The oldest Womble had hardly been able to believe his eyes when that elegant American relation first entered his room. He had got up very slowly from his rocking chair and looked through one pair of spectacles and then the other and then both at once while Tobermory stood smiling in his rather grim way by the door.

‘Yellowstone?’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘I did hear a rumour many years ago that you might have got to America, but I never knew whether it was true or not.’

‘It sure was,’ said Cousin Yellowstone. ‘My, it’s good to see you again, Uncle Bulgaria. Or perhaps I should say Great Uncle Bulgaria now to avoid confusion. You’re just the same.’

‘No, I’m not. You’re thinking what an old doddery Womble I’ve become, and in those days my fur was only starting to turn grey. Yours was dark brown I recall. Well, sit down, sit down.’

And he clasped Yellowstone’s paw and patted it fiercely before leading him to a chair.

‘And now, my dear fellow,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, ‘were you really kidnapped in – er – ’14, wasn’t it?’

‘Spring of ’15,’ said Yellowstone, holding out his paws to the fire. ‘I was a foolish young Womble in those days. Thought I knew everything and the answer to it . . .’

‘They all do,’ agreed Great Uncle Bulgaria, ‘which reminds me, Tobermory, you might tell Bungo and Orinoco that I’d like a word with the pair of them in the morning. So sorry, Yellowstone, pray proceed.’

‘It had been a hard winter for us, rather like this one,’ said Cousin Yellowstone, whose bright eyes had not missed the sorry condition of his two old friends, although he was naturally far too polite to refer to it directly, ‘and I went off early one morning to make my fortune. Rather like your young Orinoco, I fancy. I believe I got about as far as Putney Bridge, when a policeman came up to me and asked what I was doing. Naturally I told him and the next thing I knew I was being marched off to the station house. In those days Human Beings were nervous about spies and enemy agents. I was questioned at great length and, of course, I had to stay silent a lot of the time otherwise . . .’ and he shrugged.

‘Quite, quite,’ agreed Great Uncle Bulgaria.

‘So they locked me up. It wasn’t too difficult to get free. I had been working with Tobermory in the store and knew quite a lot about locks and keys. But I was now a hunted Womble and, I’ll admit, panicky. Instead of making for Wimbledon I struck east and I eventually found myself in the dock areas. Some sailors were having a fight and soon the cops – er, policemen – came running up blowing their whistles. In my fear that it was me that they were after I took refuge on the first ship I came upon and there, quite exhausted, I went to sleep.’

‘And woke up in America?’ prompted Tobermory.

‘No, indeed. In Lisbon, Portugal.’

‘Dear me,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, polishing his spectacles on his tartan shawl. ‘And then?’

‘I moved from ship to ship, always trying to get home and yet somehow managing to travel further and further away. I visited many places, Africa – which I may tell you is no place for Wombles as it’s far too hot – then on again to India, where I met a most charming and cultivated Womble who had himself travelled down from the Khyber Pass. Did you know there was a Womble community there?’

‘I had heard it talked of in my youth,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, nodding.

‘Is that right? This Womble’s name was Quetta and we got on very well. I liked him and would have stayed, but by that time travel was in my blood. One thing he did tell me was that there were some snow-white Wombles, larger than us, up in the Himalayas in Tibet. Only there they go under a different name. Jeti or some such.’

‘Really?’ said Tobermory, who had just slipped back into the room after delivering Great Uncle Bulgaria’s message to the two young Wombles. ‘I didn’t know that. Fascinating.’

‘Then there was Melbourne, Australia. Christchurch, New Zealand – both have Womble communities who were most welcoming – and then I did the long Pacific haul and found myself in Canada . . .’

Cousin Yellowstone’s voice died away and his eyes narrowed as he recalled those bitter months in the snows when he had so nearly died. He had run across traces of other Wombles, but they had all gone underground to sit out the winter, and so, slowly and painfully, he had made his way south to the United States. He shivered at the memory and then went on more cheerfully, ‘And so I came to the States and it was there that I found a most flourishing community. They were very old-established and had travelled out shortly after the
Mayflower
and had settled down in Yellowstone Park. As you may recall that was the very name which I had always liked and had chosen for my own. It seemed such a good omen that I stayed. I meant it to be for just a short while, but time passes . . .’

‘How very, very interesting,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘And you make a good living?’

‘Fantastic,’ said Cousin Yellowstone. ‘You would not believe just how much American Human Beings leave lying around. Why, do you know that nearly every Womble in the States could run a Cadillac if he so desired.’

Tobermory started slightly at this, but neither of the other two noticed it.

‘However, most of us prefer to travel by paw. It’s healthier and more independent. Yes, gentlemen, Womble-wise, the States is a
great
country. But enough of me and my affairs. I trust you didn’t want this Orinoco to follow in my pawprints – at least not yet awhile?’

‘Far too young and silly,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘How did you come across him and Bungo?’

And so Cousin Yellowstone filled in his side of the story and Great Uncle Bulgaria and Tobermory listened and chuckled and said ‘
tsk
,
tsk
’ and ‘ho-hum’ as the case might be.

‘I trust you’re not going to be too hard on him?’ said Cousin Yellowstone finally.

‘No, no, he’s learnt his lesson,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, ‘and he appears to have brought back some food, which is useful. Things have been a little short with us recently.’

‘If a loan would be of any help . . .’ suggested Cousin Yellowstone, reaching for his wallet.

‘No, no, wouldn’t dream of it, thanks all the same,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Anyhow, what with Orinoco’s two contributions and Bungo’s and the thaw setting in at last we’ll be all right again.’

‘The trouble is, you see,’ said Tobermory, scratching his ear with a screwdriver, ‘we can’t store sufficient quantities of food. There’s plenty of it about in the warmer months, but we’re unable to keep it for any length of time, apart from the bottled goods of course.’

‘Is that right?’ said Cousin Yellowstone. ‘Well, a Womble with your brains should be able to solve the problem. What you need is a Deep Freeze.’

‘A deep what?’ said Tobermory, scratching harder than ever.

‘Freeze,’ said Cousin Yellowstone. ‘First thing tomorrow I’ll try and explain how it works.’

‘I suppose we couldn’t start now?’ said Tobermory hopefully.

‘No, we could
NOT
,’ snapped Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘I want to have a nice civilised talk. Now tell me, Yellowstone, do you remember the time in ’12 or was it ’13 that we had that perfectly splendid Midsummer party and . . .’

g

Chapter 12

g

Great Uncle Bulgaria’s Day Out

 

As though to make up for the bad winter the spring was very mild and what with the soaking which the ground had received with the rains and the snow, followed by the warm weather, the Common bloomed and blossomed. The Queen’s Mere melted and the fish reappeared apparently none the worse for having been deep frozen. The birds, those that had survived, started building nests in every available tree. Squirrels, badgers, rats, field mice, moles and, to everyone’s surprise, a pair of otters, all came out of their winter quarters and wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

The Wombles, who once again were looking sleek, well cared for and plump, took no notice of these cheeky questions, as they had always followed a policy of ignoring lesser creatures, although in a perfectly polite way.

‘Badgers are all right up to a point,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, ‘but slow. Got no conversation at all. And as for otters, well, they’re as stupid as ducks and you can’t get much sillier than
that
.’

‘And squirrels,’ said Tomsk, who had been doing his early morning exercises up in the trees and had had pawfuls of nuts thrown at him by the squirrels.

‘Don’t start mixing with that riff-raff,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Give them an inch and they’ll take over a whole burrow before you can say Jack Womble; which reminds me, all ideas for the Midsummer outing must be put in the Suggestion Box by Friday at the latest.’

‘I wish we could do something really tremendous this year,’ said Bungo.

‘I thought it was lovely last year,’ said Alderney. ‘Boats on Queen’s Mere and coconut shies and a diving display.’

‘The food was good too,’ said Orinoco. He still wasn’t
quite
his old fat self of pre-rabbit-hole-sticking days, but he looked very plump and well fed all the same. A strange change had come over his attitude to Bungo during the last few months. He no longer called him ‘Young Womble’, or ‘Hi, you, Bungo’, but treated him almost with respect, and Bungo in his turn had rather taken to hanging round Cousin Yellowstone, whom he admired enormously, for Bungo was never tired of hearing of his American relation’s exciting world travels. One day perhaps he too would go off and see all those wonderful places.

‘What would
you
like to do for the Midsummer outing?’ he asked.

‘Can’t say I have many ideas on the subject,’ said Cousin Yellowstone. ‘Mind you, I remember the days when I was about your age and I went to Wimbledon. My, that was great.’

‘Wimbledon?’ said Bungo, frowning. From what he had seen of it he didn’t think it was anything so remarkable.

‘Sure, the tennis tournament. I went just the once with my great-great-aunt Thessaly. It was quite an experience. We saw all the great players of the day. Yes, it was quite an occasion.’

‘What were they doing?’ Bungo whispered to Tomsk.

‘Playing this game called tennis,’ Tomsk whispered back. ‘It’s not as exciting as golf, but it’s not bad in its way. I did the course in sixty-six yesterday, did I tell you?’

‘About three hundred times,’ said Bungo, but he spoke under his breath.

‘At the first hole . . .’ said Tomsk and he was off once again while Bungo nodded and said ‘ho-hum’ and ‘
tsk
,
tsk
,
tsk
’ without listening to one single word because his mind was on what Cousin Yellowstone had said. And so, as always, Bungo finally took his problem to Tobermory.

‘Tickets for Wimbledon?’ said Tobermory. ‘Hold this vice for me, will you? Steady now. You might as well ask for gold dust. Haven’t you seen the advertisements in
The Times
Personal Columns for them?’

‘Perhaps if we wrote and asked to buy some, that way we might be lucky?’ suggested Bungo, hanging on to the vice with all his strength while Tobermory hammered away at some mysterious piece of machinery.

‘And where would you get the money? And what address would you put?’ shouted Tobermory above the din.

Life was full of problems, thought Bungo. No sooner had you solved one than another sprang up to take its place. However, he was not a Womble to give up easily so he pinned a notice on the board by the main door saying that two tickets for Wimbledon were wanted urgently, and signed it ‘Bungo Womble’. In the course of the next few days he was offered a single seat at the London Palladium, a return ticket to Bristol, and a season holder’s pass for Lord’s cricket ground.

‘Cricket? That’s kind of like baseball only slower, isn’t it?’ said Cousin Yellowstone, a remark which made Great Uncle Bulgaria’s fur rise, until it occurred to him afterwards that in his young days Yellowstone had often watched cricket matches on the Common and that the American Womble was gently pulling their paws.

‘Say, young Bungo,’ Cousin Yellowstone said, ‘about that question you were asking me; one summer a whole gang of my Wombles went to Coney Island for their party and it was a great success. Don’t you have the same thing here on Hampstead Heath?’

‘Yes, but it’s too far,’ said Bungo. ‘Still, there’s a Funfair in Battersea Park. That might be a good place for our outing. Only that’d be difficult to get to because the trains stop running quite early, I think. I’ll check.’ He was picking up a lot of American ways of speech.

‘We could take cabs,’ suggested Cousin Yellowstone, but this remark was not greeted with any degree of enthusiasm as, although the Wombles’ reserves of money were swelling again, they were still not too healthy and Great Uncle Bulgaria steadfastly refused to accept any kind of loan from his American relation.

‘There must be a way to get these tennis ticket things,’ said Bungo, setting his jaw. ‘I do so want to give Cousin Yellowstone a really
good
present.’ He still remembered with gratitude the way the American Womble had come to his rescue on the dark evening of the Great Adventure when he himself had been so desperate and felt so alone.

However, it wasn’t Bungo who solved the problem, but Tomsk, who was now playing two rounds of golf a day. He set off one pearly dawn to put in some practice shots and was soon so engrossed in what he was doing that he failed to notice that a Human Being was following him round until he reached the last hole.

‘Oh, good on you,’ said this person, stepping over to Tomsk just as his ball trickled into the hole. ‘My, that was a fair dinkum shot.’

‘Thanks,’ mumbled Tomsk.

‘I haven’t seen you out here before, have I?’ went on the stranger, peering at Tomsk in some perplexity, as well he might since Tomsk was wearing Orinoco’s straw hat, an enormous pair of dark glasses and a long red jacket. Tobermory, a stickler for doing things correctly, had insisted on this, as he had noticed that all the regular golfers (Human) wore red blazers.

‘No, don’t suppose so,’ said Tomsk uneasily. He always tried to keep clear of Human Beings himself.

‘You’ve got a marvellous follow-through,’ went on the man, ‘best I’ve seen since I left home. I’m an Australian, in case you haven’t guessed that already.’

‘No, I hadn’t,’ said Tomsk truthfully, only having the vaguest idea where Australia was.

‘Too right I am. Over here for the tennis at Wimbledon. Suppose you wouldn’t care to have a round with me? I’m not up to your class though; I’d better admit.’

‘Tennis?’ said Tomsk, dimly remembering some of Bungo’s remarks. ‘Yes, all right, I’ll have a go, but I can’t be too long. Got to get to work.’

‘At this hour? It’s only six o’clock,’ said the Australian. ‘OK then, sport. You tee off.’

Luckily Tomsk had been studying his golf manual throughout the winter so he knew what his opponent was talking about, although the Australian did appear a little startled when Tomsk said, ‘Now I’m going to address you, ball,’ and did.

It was really no match at all, for Tomsk had reduced his handicap and could now get round in sixty-three, an achievement which made the Australian say wonderingly, ‘But you’re amazing. You should take the game up professionally.’

‘Can’t,’ muttered Tomsk, ‘got a job already. I’m a Nightwatch Womble.’

‘A what?’

‘Sort of like a caretaker,’ said Tomsk in an agony of embarrassment.

‘Well, you’re certainly a good golfer,’ said the Australian. ‘For such a small fellow your long shots are terrific. I can’t say I like being beaten by you, but one thing I
do
know. I could knock the hide off you at tennis – I’m competing in the Wimbledon Championships.’

‘Ho-hum,’ said Tomsk.

‘Would you like to see me play?’ asked the Australian.

‘Couldn’t get in, no ticket,’ said Tomsk, who was never a Womble for long speeches.

‘Sure you could. I’ll give you a double,’ said the Australian, and took out two tickets and a card with his name on it and scribbled across the bottom. It was a very famous name in the tennis world, but Tomsk didn’t know that.

‘Well, so long, cobber, and thanks for the game.’

‘Pleasure. Goodbye,’ said Tomsk politely, and the moment the Australian was out of sight Tomsk went scampering back to the burrow, and was just in time to catch Bungo coming out to start his day’s work.

‘Got something to tell you,’ said Tomsk.

‘If it’s about golf,
please
don’t,’ said Bungo.

‘Well, ’tis and ’tisn’t. Just thought you might be interested in a ticket for this Wimbledon thing. It
was
you who was asking about it, wasn’t it?’

‘What!’ said Bungo, stopping in his tracks. ‘Yes, it was. I say, Tomsk, old Womble, you’re a genius.’

‘Not really,’ said Tomsk. He took a deep breath. ‘It was like this. At the first hole I teed off and . . .’

‘For me? Truly?’ said Cousin Yellowstone, when Bungo rather shyly handed over the tickets and the card. ‘Well, that’s just marvellous. Just wait till I tell Great Uncle Bulgaria about this. He’ll be thrilled.’

Great Uncle Bulgaria was not exactly thrilled, but he was extremely pleased, and he sent for Bungo and thanked him very much.

‘Wasn’t me really,’ said Bungo. ‘It was Tomsk who got the tickets, actually.’

‘You’re coming along, young Womble, coming along,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria and went hurrying off to see Madame Cholet about packing up a picnic tea for the great day. He also paid a visit to Tobermory’s storeroom to choose a panama hat for himself, binoculars, and a very smart long white coat which only needed the arms shortening a trifle to fit perfectly.

‘Can’t let the side down, can we?’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, admiring his reflection in the hand mirror which Tobermory was holding up for him. ‘And dark glasses I think. The glare’s very bad on the Centre Court.’

‘Fuss, fuss, fuss,’ said Tobermory under his breath. To his way of thinking he had far more important matters on hand than going to see a lot of silly Human Beings running round a small piece of grass in pursuit of a ball. The truth of the matter was that Tobermory’s nose had been put slightly out of joint ever since the arrival of Cousin Yellowstone. Nobody realised this, least of all Great Uncle Bulgaria, who had put his old friend’s tetchiness down to whatever mysterious something he was up to in that back room of his.

As the Wimbledon Wombles had provided the tickets it was felt to be perfectly all right for Cousin Yellowstone to be responsible for the transport and, well hidden in the bushes, Bungo, Orinoco, Tomsk and Alderney watched them go off in a taxi.

Other books

The Hawk and the Dove by Virginia Henley
Heat by Michael Cadnum
Forever Young by Sawyer Bennett
Blindsided by Natalie Whipple
The Lemoine Affair by Marcel Proust
Nathan's Run (1996) by Gilstrap, John
Mummies in the Morning by Mary Pope Osborne