Read The Wombles Online

Authors: Elizabeth Beresford

The Wombles (2 page)


That
,’ said the voice, ‘is
my
hat, I’ll have you know.’

Bungo opened one eye and looked up, and into the eyes of somebody who was leaning right over the edge of the seat and looking down at him. Although the face was, of course, upside down, Bungo recognised it and his heart stopped making a loud banging noise and he said weakly, ‘It was a joke.’


Poof!

‘It was,’ said Bungo, climbing out from under the seat and smoothing some of the grass off his fur. ‘I knew it was your hat all the time, Orinoco.’


Poof
,’ said Orinoco, who was the stoutest (and laziest) of all the Wimbledon Wombles. He sat back on the bench and put on the straw boater and tilted it over his eyes. He was also wearing sunglasses and a long overcoat – rather strained about the middle buttons – and at his side was a walking stick with a very pointed end and an extremely small paper carrier bag which was quite empty.

‘I’m Bungo now,’ said Bungo.

‘I always like to sit in the sun,’ said Orinoco, taking no notice. ‘A bit of sun does you a power of good. Hallo, there’s a dog coming.’

‘What shall we do?’ asked Bungo, starting to tremble and quite forgetting that only a short while ago he had been so brave about dogs. But then he’d only seen a small one before now, and this dog was enormous with white fur and black spots and a long tongue.

‘Do? I shan’t
do
anything,’ said Orinoco. ‘I haven’t had my forty winks yet.’

Bungo looked at Orinoco, who had folded his paws across his stomach and then at the dog, which was racing towards them, and one second later Bungo, that adventurous and fearless Womble, was running too. Across the grass he went with his ears back and his breath coming in great gasps until he reached the nearest tree and up that he clambered until he was lost among the golden yellow leaves.

The dog pranced and danced round the bottom and far up above Bungo shut his eyes and dug his claws into the wood and wished very hard indeed that he was just a young Womble again and safe deep inside the burrow.


Grrrrrr
,’ said the Dalmatian, pawing at the tree trunk.

‘Come here, Fred,’ said the Dalmatian’s owner, striding across the grass towards the bench where Orinoco was now gently snoring.

Much to Bungo’s relief the Dalmatian shook its head and then reluctantly retreated to where its owner was about to sit down on the bench. Bungo parted the leaves and watched with his mouth open as he remembered Great Uncle Bulgaria’s words of warning about mixing with Human Beings. There was a terrible story that once long, long ago a Womble had been taken away by some men and had never been seen again. What had happened to him nobody knew and Bungo shivered so hard as he remembered this awful tale that the leaves shook gently.

‘Lovely morning, sir,’ said the man, sitting down and hanging on tightly to his dog’s collar to stop it from sniffing round Orinoco’s ankles.


Zzzzzz
,’ said Orinoco sleepily. He was dreaming of breakfast and he scratched his stomach contentedly at the thought of food. The man moved away slightly, pulling his dog with him. The dog whined and showed his teeth and Bungo trembled so violently that some leaves drifted down off the tree.

‘A very mild autumn we’re having,’ the man said.


Slup
,
slup
,
slup
,’ said Orinoco, licking his lips as a picture of blackberries and cream slid before his eyes.

‘Well, I must be getting along,’ said the man rather nervously. ‘
Slup
’ is a strange noise, especially when made by a stranger.


Oooof
,’ said Orinoco, blowing out his cheeks and having a really good scratch.

‘Nice meeting you,’ the man said. ‘Come along then, Fred,’ and he caught hold of the Dalmatian’s collar and pulled him away and went off very quickly without looking back. It wasn’t until he was quite out of sight that Bungo slid down the tree and then, still feeling rather shaky, went over to Orinoco and nudged him.

‘Whassat?’ said Orinoco, sitting bolt upright. ‘Oh, it’s you again. What a restless creature you are. Isn’t it breakfast time yet? Where’s my hat?’

‘On your head,’ said Bungo. ‘Weren’t you frightened of that man and his dog?’

‘Man? What man? Dog? What dog?’ said Orinoco, yawning. Then he took off his sunglasses and looked at Bungo and his eyes weren’t at all sleepy as he added, ‘When I’ve got these spectacles on there’s a lot I don’t see, although I’m not saying that I miss
much
. Such as young Wombles who run away from dogs . . .’

‘But . . .’ said Bungo, shuffling his paws.

‘Or,’ said Orinoco, picking up his stick, ‘I might notice that my tidy-bag’s rather empty while somebody else’s basket seems quite full.’

‘But . . .’ said Bungo and then stopped and thought for a bit. And then he sighed and picked up his basket and began to take out some of the things and to put them in the bag.

‘Nothing like a nice nap in the sun to make you feel fit,’ said Orinoco, shutting his eyes again.

That evening Tobermory went along to have a goodnight chat with Great Uncle Bulgaria, who was just finishing the back page of
The Times
.

‘Sit down, sit down,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, pushing over the stool. Tobermory sat down and spread out his paws to the electric fire.

‘Nothing to read in the paper these days,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, hitching his tartan shawl more firmly round his shoulders. ‘Well, how’s young Bungo – silly name that – how’s he coming along?’

‘He’ll do,’ said Tobermory and smiled to himself behind his paw. ‘Thinks he’s the greatest Womble in the world at the moment, but he’ll soon get
that
knocked out of him. One way and another.’

‘He’s young yet,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria and for a moment the two wise old Wombles looked at each other and then Great Uncle Bulgaria got out the chess game which he and Tobermory had been playing for years and years and quite soon both of them had forgotten all about Bungo.

And as for Bungo himself, he was fast asleep with a happy smile on his face, for he was dreaming that he was chasing an enormous black and white Dalmatian clean across Wimbledon Common while all the other Wombles watched him admiringly . . .

g

Chapter 2

g

Orinoco and the Black Umbrella

 

‘Good morning,’ said Bungo, putting his nose round the Workshop door.

‘You’re late,’ said Tobermory, looking at the shelf which held the clocks and watches. As he had got most of them in working order and wound up they made a busy ticking noise, like dozens of pecking birds.

‘I overslept,’ said Bungo.

He hadn’t got used to being a working Womble yet and in the evenings he was often so tired that he couldn’t keep his eyes open and he would nod off with his head on another Womble’s shoulder, lulled by the steady rumble of voices; for if there is one thing that Wombles are really fond of it’s the sound of their own voices. And there was a great deal to discuss at the moment with Christmas only two months away and after that the planning of the Great Womble Outing. Midsummer’s Eve is the most important night of the year as far as the Wimbledon Wombles are concerned. They have a tremendous party and it takes a great deal of organising. So it just goes to show how tired Bungo must have been to go to sleep while all
that
was being discussed.

Perhaps Tobermory understood, for after a quick glance at Bungo he only said, ‘
Tsk
,
tsk
,
tsk
. Well off you go then, and remember to keep your back paws firmly on the ground.’

‘Why?’ asked Bungo.

‘Wait and see,’ said Tobermory, and began putting a camera together on his workbench, his paws neatly and carefully picking up each tiny screw, and examining it through a jeweller’s glass which he had fixed into his eye.

It didn’t take Bungo long to discover what Tobermory had meant, for the moment the main door of the burrow was opened he was nearly blown backwards by the wind. Small dry leaves and dust and tiny scraps of paper whirled past his head and his fur was quite flattened.

‘Whoops,’ said Bungo, dragging the door shut behind him and leaning against it. He had never been out in a gale before as a high wind is dangerous to small Wombles and can blow them clean off their paws. Bungo turned his back on it and felt his eyes watering as he worked his way through the bushes, while all the time twigs and leaves were rattling about his head and the trees up above were bending and creaking and throwing their branches about.

‘Thought you were never coming,’ said Orinoco, who had made himself a comfortable nest in among the bushes. ‘Well, there’s a lot of work to be done.’

And there was, for the wind had driven across the streets and gardens of South-west London before it reached the Common and on its journey it had picked up everything in its path. There were newspapers and paper bags, handkerchiefs and hats, scarves and gloves, bus tickets and shopping lists and notes left for milkmen, and a lot more besides, all scudding happily across the grass and through the bushes.

Orinoco had already found a scarf (red and white stripes), and had wrapped it round and round his neck and then over his straw hat to keep it in place.

‘We’ll never tidy up all this,’ said Bungo in dismay.

‘Got to try,’ said Orinoco. ‘I’ve made a start.’ And he twitched at the scarf. ‘Now off you go, young Bungo, while I get my breath back.’ And he settled down and shut his eyes.

For the next hour Bungo trotted backwards and forwards chasing the papers and stuffing them into his shopping basket. But as soon as he had cleared one patch of Common the wind sent another shoal of bits and pieces dancing through the air. In spite of the cold – it was a north wind – Bungo was soon very warm indeed, so he wedged his basket firmly between two tree stumps and went puffing and panting down to Queen’s Mere to have a drink of water.

There was nobody about apart from the ducks and Bungo stopped to watch them riding on the water, which was quite choppy and full of leaves. He was just thinking about going back to work when he noticed something long and black caught in the rushes, and although the pond was not one of the places which he had to keep tidy, being Bungo he couldn’t resist going to have a closer look, so he slid into the water and swam across.

‘It’s a stick with stuff on it,’ said Bungo, circling round the thing. One of the ducks came quacking over and Bungo slapped the water with his paws and the duck sailed away again.

‘Silly thing,’ said Bungo, who like most Wombles didn’t think much of ducks, rabbits and squirrels. He got hold of the long black thing between his teeth and pulled it free and began to swim back to the shore rather slowly, for the object was large and awkward. Once on firm ground Bungo put it down and shook himself thoroughly, and then put the thing under his arm, collected his shopping basket and hurried off to Orinoco.

Orinoco was sound asleep, but he woke up at once when he heard Bungo and sat up and pretended to be very busy looking through the three bus tickets in his tidy-bag.

‘Look what I’ve found,’ said Bungo, laying the thing at Orinoco’s paws.

‘That’s nothing to get excited about – it’s only an old umbrella,’ said Orinoco.

Now Bungo was a good-hearted Womble who would never do anyone a bad turn, but it did occur to him at this moment that it was rather unfair that he should work so hard while Orinoco hardly did a paw’s turn. Perhaps it was because Orinoco was being so squashing about the umbrella.

‘It’s a very splendid umbrella,’ Bungo said. He had actually never seen one before because he hadn’t yet been all round the Workshop, where, as it happened, Tobermory had a very good selection of umbrellas and even a couple of parasols. ‘Look!’ And he picked it up and twirled it round and round his head in exactly the same way as Great Uncle Bulgaria twirled his stick sometimes.

‘That’s not the way to use it,’ said Orinoco, and he got up out of his nest and took the umbrella from Bungo’s paws and opened it up. Now although Orinoco was quite fat (no Womble is what you might call
thin
, but Orinoco was fatter than most), the wind was exceptionally strong, and the umbrella particularly large, and before Orinoco or Bungo knew quite what was happening Orinoco was being swept over the grass as fast as his short back legs would carry him.

‘Hang on, hang on,’ said Bungo, dancing up and down.

‘I am hanging on,’ Orinoco shouted back, for a Womble, once it’s attached to something, simply will
not
let go.

He was on the top of a high ridge of ground by this time and suddenly the wind lifted him clean off his paws and took him straight up towards the sky.

‘Come back,’ shouted Bungo.

‘I can’t,’ shouted Orinoco.

Up and up he went, peering over his shoulder at the ground, which was now spreading out beneath him so that he could see the tops of the tossing trees and the ruffled water of Queen’s Mere. And beyond that there was the Windmill and the Golf Course and beyond
that
the road to one side of the Common with the early morning rush-hour traffic just starting to build up. He could even see the roofs of the houses and a building site where the workmen were coming on duty. He only needed to go a little bit higher and he might have been able to see the dome of St Paul’s far away to the east.

Orinoco gave a dreadful groan and gripped the umbrella handle harder than ever. Because of his fatness he had stopped climbing trees some time ago and he had rather lost his head for heights, and in any case this was a great deal higher than any Womble had ever been before. If he could have gone green with fright and airsickness Orinoco would have done so, but as it was all he could do was to groan.

Far, far below Bungo was nearly as worried as Orinoco. Supposing he was blown right over London? Supposing he hit some tall trees or a building or got caught in some wires? Supposing he was never seen again? All kinds of dreadful ideas went through Bungo’s mind as he ran puffing and panting over the grass trying to keep up with Orinoco’s progress through the sky.

It was the umbrella, which had started all the trouble, that put an end to the awful journey. It had never been made to be blown through the air with a fat Womble hanging on to it, and quite suddenly there was a horrible creaking sound above Orinoco’s head and as he looked up he saw the umbrella shiver and shake and then there was a ripping noise and all the spokes rushed upwards and the umbrella turned itself inside out. It was Orinoco’s good fortune that it chose to do this just as they scudded over Queen’s Mere.


Yow!
’ yelled Orinoco.

The air rushed past him, flattening his fur, and he began to fall faster and faster until there was a whistling sound in his ears.


Yooow!
’ roared Orinoco and shut his eyes and the next moment he hit the lake with a tremendous smack, sending up a great shower of water and making every duck swim for cover as hard as it could go. Down and down went Orinoco right to the muddy bottom, and then with his head whirling and his mouth – which had been open at the time – full of weeds he rose slowly to the surface, the umbrella still tightly grasped between his paws.

‘I’m coming,’ panted Bungo, sliding and slipping down the steep bank, and he dived into the Mere for the second time that morning.

Orinoco rolled over on to his back and lay quite still with his eyes closed, his paws crossed over his stomach, the umbrella held between them.

‘I’ve got you,’ puffed Bungo, fighting his way through the ripples, for Orinoco’s fall had set up a widening circle of tidal waves which were now splashing on to the ground. And he put his paws over Orinoco’s ears and began to pull him towards dry land, paddling as hard as he could go. Orinoco, as stiff as a poker, was hauled wet and extremely muddy on to the path.

‘Are you dead?’ Bungo asked anxiously.

‘Yes,’ said Orinoco in a feeble voice, without opening his eyes.

‘Oh dear,’ said Bungo.

‘Very, very nearly dead anyway,’ said Orinoco, opening one eye a little. ‘What are you laughing at? Being nearly dead is not at all funny.’

‘No, rather not,’ said Bungo, snuffling behind his paw.

‘When I think of what I’ve been through,’ said Orinoco, opening the other eye and looking sternly at the quivering Bungo, ‘I expect sympathy, not giggling. If you only knew what it was like!’ And he shivered violently.

‘I’m sorry, truly I am,’ said Bungo, putting both paws over his mouth. ‘But all the same, Orinoco, if
you
only knew what you look like with weeds in your fur – and your hat’s gone very p-peculiar.’

‘My hat?’ said Orinoco weakly, and sat up.

Instead of a boater he was now wearing what looked like a bonnet, for the straw had gone all soggy and, what with that, and the mud and the weeds and the relief, Bungo could contain himself no longer and he flopped down on the ground and laughed until his stomach ached and the tears squeezed out of his eyes.

‘If you only knew what you l-looked like,’ Bungo said wheezily. ‘Flying through the air and groaning and moaning and then zip, bang, crash, wallop, down into the water and then bubble, bubble, slosh, bosh, up again and now – ho, ho, ho,
HO
!’

‘I don’t think it’s at all
funny
,’ said Orinoco coldly. ‘Not funny in the least little tiny bit.’

‘No, oh no, rather
NOT
,’ said Bungo, flapping his paws feebly. ‘Not funny at all really.
HO
,
HO
,
HO
,
HO
!’

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