Read The Wombles Online

Authors: Elizabeth Beresford

The Wombles (7 page)

‘Be that as it may,’ said Tobermory, who was so tired he was almost asleep on his paws, ‘but don’t you forget what
I
said. Troubles come in threes. Look.’ And he pointed to a newly laid strip of concrete. Right across it was a line of pawmarks.

‘That Bungo,’ said Tobermory. ‘I told him it was still soft, but he wouldn’t listen.’

‘And the third trouble?’ asked Great Uncle Bulgaria.

Tobermory’s usually dour face split into a smile.

‘Orinoco,’ he said. ‘It was the pudding basin he was using that did it. He forgot that it was concrete he was carrying and he tasted some out of sheer force of habit. He thought it was some sort of cake.’

‘Ho-hum,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, ‘perhaps that’ll teach him to be less greedy in future, though I doubt it. Even
his
stomach won’t take kindly to concrete. Well, goodnight, old friend.’

And very slowly, and with aching limbs but contented hearts, the two old Wombles made for their beds.

g

Chapter 6

g

Orinoco and the Rabbit Hole

 

Orinoco did have a nasty stomach ache for a couple of days but he soon forgot all about it and went back to eating as much as ever. Perhaps even more, to make up for lost time.

‘You’re getting dreadfully fat,’ said Bungo.

‘I’m not. I’m a fine figure of a Womble,’ replied Orinoco. ‘
I
wouldn’t like to be skinny.’

And he glanced meaningly at Bungo who, like all the other Wombles, was a nice, comfortable, round shape. This was because they were lucky enough to have an excellent cook called Madame Cholet. She wasn’t really French, but when years ago the time had come for her to choose her name, she had picked out a town in France because she had once heard that was the country where the cooking was wonderful. She was small and round and cheerful, and she loved her work so much that she was always in the kitchen doing something. Orinoco had once offered to go and help her, but Madame Cholet had dug him in the ribs with a wooden spoon and said, ‘Oh no. Your paws would be into everything.’

‘No, honestly not,’ said Orinoco, making his eyes look as large and truthful as he could. ‘I really would help.’

‘Hum,’ said Madame Cholet, ‘in that case we will give it a try. You shall help me for one week. It is agreed, yes?’

‘Rather,’ said Orinoco. ‘Where do I start?’ And he looked hopefully at a delicious stew which Madame Cholet was stirring. ‘Shall I do that for you?’

‘No. You must begin by learning something more simple. You shall top and tail the hawthorn berries. Then you can chop up some grass. After that there are the nettles which must be stripped off their stalks. Then you can peel the mushrooms and finally you must help Alderney with the washing-up. Here is an apron – my word, what a splendid waist you have – now please to begin.’

Poor Orinoco! He stuck it as long as he could, but no matter how hard he peeled and cut, stripped and chopped, there was always another job for him to do and none of the food with which he was working tasted at all nice till it was cooked.

The funny thing was that by the end of that week in the kitchen with Madame Cholet he was actually thinner than when he started. And what was more there was never a chance to slip off to the pantry or the larder to have a nice forty winks, because Madame Cholet seemed to have her eyes in the back of her head and she would whisk him off to the next job.

So Orinoco admitted that he was beaten and Madame Cholet cuffed him affectionately round the ears and gave him half a bar of chocolate and sent him back to Tobermory. It was really quite a relief to get out on to the Common again, and it took Orinoco another week to recover his strength. He was still recovering with his battered old hat tied over his head with the long woollen scarf when Bungo came bouncing up to him and said, ‘Look what I’ve found.’

‘It’s an egg,’ said Orinoco, opening one eye. It was really quite a nice day for December, with plenty of bright, if not very warm, sunshine.

‘At this time of year?’ said Bungo. ‘No, it’s a ball, but it won’t bounce much. Look . . .’ and he threw it hard on the grass, which it hit with a thud, bounced just a little and then rolled away.

‘It’s a goluff ball,’ said Orinoco.

‘What’s that?’

‘There’s a game called goluff. Human Beings play it. They hit those little balls with sticks and shout at each other. Tobermory’s got hundreds of those things, and the sticks too.’

‘Why do they shout at each other?’ asked Bungo. His basket was full and he felt he could take it easy for five minutes. Not like Orinoco, who worked the other way round and took it easy for fifty-five minutes and then worked like mad in the remaining five.

‘Human Beings like shouting,’ said Orinoco through his hat. ‘Haven’t you noticed
that
yet? They shout when they play goluff and they shout at their dogs and they shout at their children. They like it.’

‘Very odd,’ said Bungo, wrinkling his forehead, for Wombles, although they are great talkers, are quiet creatures by nature. ‘I wonder if we could play goluff?’

But Orinoco’s only answer was a gentle snore, so Bungo put the question away to the back of his mind and waited until he caught Tobermory in a good mood.

‘Goluff?’ said Tobermory, who was working on a bicycle that a Human Being had dumped behind a bush. ‘Oh, you mean
golf
. They play it for exercise, even quite old people. You take one of these little balls – hold on and I’ll show you.’

And Tobermory disappeared into one of his small storerooms and then reappeared with a wicker hamper that was full to the brim with small golf balls. Under his arm was a stick with a metal piece sticking out at the end.

‘Like this,’ said Tobermory, putting a ball down on the floor and swinging the stick over the top of it. ‘This is called addressing the ball.’

‘What do you address it as?’ asked Bungo, deeply interested. It really was astonishing how little one knew about Human Beings even if one had been a Womble of the world for three months.

‘Ball, I suppose,’ said Tobermory. ‘Now then, ball, I’m going to hit you,’ and he gave it a gentle tap and the ball rolled across the floor and into a milk carton which was lying on its side.

‘Let me, let me,’ pleaded Bungo, wriggling down from the work table.

‘Not in here you don’t,’ said Tobermory. ‘Try outside in the passage. And before you hit it, shout “four”.’

‘Why?’

‘Why, why, why; you and your questions, young Womble. Because you do, that’s why. Off with you, I’m busy.’

And Tobermory returned to his bicycle and began to unscrew it and take it to pieces. He was always short of bolts, nuts and bits of wire. So Bungo took the stick out into the corridor and put the ball down on the ground and shouted ‘four’, which seemed a bit silly, and then he swung the stick with all his might. The next thing he knew he was sitting on the ground and the ball was still in the same place.

‘Missed,’ muttered Bungo, scrambling to his feet.

‘Hallo, what are you doing?’ asked Tomsk, coming round the corner. He had finished his exercises and he wasn’t on duty until the evening, so like Bungo he had some time to spare.

‘Playing golf.’

‘Can I play too?’

‘Yes, if you like,’ said Bungo in an offhand way. ‘Go and get a stick from Tobermory. And your own ball.’

Tomsk did better than that, for Tobermory had gone to his office and found a tattered little book called
How To Play Good Golf In Six Easy Lessons!
and he handed this over as well.

‘It’s early yet,’ said Bungo, who had just succeeded in hitting the ball and had narrowly missed breaking an electric light bulb into the bargain, ‘so there won’t be any Humans about. Let’s go and play outside.’

They found the place where the Humans usually played and settled down to have a go themselves. Although the pictures in the book made it seem quite easy to do, Bungo and Tomsk soon found that it was extremely difficult.

‘The ball’s too small,’ grumbled Bungo, when he missed it for the third time. He was getting rather tired of sitting down with a thump on the frosty ground.

‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ said Tomsk in his slow way, and he planted his paws apart, just like the picture in the book and swung back his stick and hit the ball with all his might. As he was very strong the ball lifted up into the air and fairly sailed along until it finally came down in some bushes beside the course. There was a howl and a moment later a very indignant face appeared underneath an old straw hat.

‘That hit me!’ said Orinoco.

‘Sorry,’ said Tomsk.

‘What are you doing there?’ asked Bungo.

‘Nothing much,’ said Orinoco, twisting round in a rather uneasy fashion.

‘I’m coming to see,’ said Bungo, and went lolloping across to Orinoco, who dived back into the bushes, which quivered slightly. Tomsk thudded over to look for his ball and arrived just after Bungo, who was ferreting around with his stick.

‘Now look here,’ said Orinoco, ‘if a Womble can’t just have a nice nap for a moment or two, I don’t know what the world’s coming to.’

Orinoco was sitting down with his paws folded in his lap and his paper carrier bag at his side. There were one or two coloured wrappers in it, a comb and a shoe for the left foot.

‘Just sunning myself, you know,’ said Orinoco airily. ‘That’s all.’

‘Come and have some exercise,’ said Bungo, pulling him to his back paws. ‘You’re getting too fat.’

Orinoco looked rather anxious, but after a moment’s hesitation he gave in and followed the other two on to the course. He was even more hopeless at the game than Bungo and he panted and snorted as he was made to walk from one hole to another, blowing out his cheeks and grumbling when he had the breath left to do so.

‘You’ll never be able to eat any Christmas dinner,’ said Bungo.

‘Yes, I will.’

‘No, you won’t.’

‘Are you going to have a fight?’ Tomsk asked with interest. He had been hitting golf balls in all directions and thoroughly enjoying himself. He came ambling back now, looking at the two angry young Wombles with polite interest.

‘No,’ said Orinoco furiously, ‘it’s just this silly game. I don’t care if I can’t play it, so there,’ and he picked up Bungo’s stick and swung it with all his might and by some lucky chance the metal part connected with the ball and it went flying up into the air in a lovely great arc.

‘Oh, well played,’ said Tomsk, dropping his own stick and clapping his paws together.

‘Not bad,’ Bungo agreed grudgingly.

‘There, told you so,’ said Orinoco. ‘I can hit it all right, but not in the right direction and –
OH
!’

And he dropped his stick and began to run very fast (for him) towards the bushes where the ball had landed.

‘Mad,’ said Tomsk.

‘Batty,’ agreed Bungo.

A howl of such awful misery reached their ears that both Wombles felt their fur rise on end. They raced for the bushes, but there was no sign of Orinoco, only the howling, which was now very muffled.

‘There,’ said Tomsk, who had seen one of the bushes moving, and he plunged in with Bungo close behind him. Tomsk parted the bracken and then stepped back right into Bungo as he saw before him the back paws of Orinoco waving in the air.

‘What is it?’ whispered Bungo.

‘Smee,’ said Orinoco’s muffled voice. ‘I’m stuck.’

‘But what are you doing down there?’ asked Bungo.

‘Get me out,’ wailed Orinoco, kicking harder than ever.

‘You take one leg and I’ll take the other,’ ordered Bungo. He and Tomsk seized a paw each and pulled with all their might, but Orinoco had spoken the absolute truth: he was completely wedged in a rabbit hole.

‘Get a spade,’ ordered Bungo, and off went Tomsk, running across the golf course with his arms tucked into his sides and his head well back, just like a four-minute miler. He vanished over the skyline and Bungo was left with the kicking paws of Orinoco.

‘Never mind, old chap,’ said Bungo, trying not to laugh. ‘We’ll soon get you out. But what were you doing down there anyway?’

‘Nothing much,’ said Orinoco’s muffled voice. ‘Just looking, you know.’

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