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Authors: Elizabeth Beresford

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BOOK: The Wombles
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Orinoco rose with great dignity and went down to the water’s edge and took off his scarf and wrung it out, and then he shook his hat, which would never be the same again, and then he cleaned his fur and shook himself. And finally he picked up the umbrella and still without a word and with his nose in the air he led the way back to their patch of Common, with Bungo still snorting and sniffing, trotting along behind him.

At last Orinoco spoke.

‘I’m worn out,’ he said. ‘Abso-lutely ex-haus-ted. What I need is a good forty winks.’ And he began to flatten out his little nest in the bushes. Bungo looked at him and then at the umbrella, and then at Orinoco’s very nearly empty tidy-bag and finally at the patch which they were supposed to keep tidy, and which was now covered again with newspapers and bus tickets and even some rusty old tins.

‘No, you don’t,’ said Bungo daringly. ‘What you need is something to warm you up. Like work.’

Orinoco stopped nest-making and looked at Bungo over his shoulder.

‘Dalmatian dogs,’ Orinoco said.

‘Black umbrellas, zip, bang, crash, wallop,’ said Bungo.

There was a long silence, which was only broken by the roar of the wind and the rattling of the trees and then very, very slowly Orinoco straightened up and shook his head sadly.

‘All right, young Bungo. Very well. But just this once, that’s all.’

When Tobermory saw the umbrella he shook his head over it, said ‘
Tsk
,
tsk
,
tsk
’, and put it on the end of his workbench to be mended later.

‘Haven’t got time to attend to it at the moment,’ he said. ‘It’s been a very busy day.’

And indeed the usually neat Workshop had mounds and mounds of things all over the floor, and a number of Wombles were hard at work sorting through the piles.

‘I hope you managed to keep your paws on the ground all right,’ said Tobermory as Bungo reached the door.

‘Oh rather,’ said Bungo, ‘
I
didn’t have any trouble at all.’ And he went off whistling and with such a wide smile on his face that Tobermory spent at least ten seconds scratching his head and wondering what he had been up to. And as Bungo was, after all, a very good-hearted Womble he never mentioned the umbrella to Orinoco again. Unfortunately Orinoco was not cured of his laziness; it would take much more than an air trip across the Common to do
that
. And as for the umbrella itself – well, once Tobermory had mended it and cleaned it he decided to . . .

But that’s another story altogether.

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Chapter 3

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The Tree that Moved

 

The terrible wind died down almost as suddenly as it had started, and for half an hour or so the Common was quiet and hushed, and the roar and rumble of the traffic on the roads could be heard quite clearly. The trees stood still as statues and every creature small and large let out a sigh of relief and began to get its breath back. Even the youngest Wombles, who were fast asleep, stirred and muttered and turned over, for the noise of the wind had been heard deep down in the burrow and for a week doors had banged and the electric lights had swung backwards and forwards, making leaping shadows on the walls.

But now it was quiet. So quiet that Great Uncle Bulgaria, who had been making out the Midsummer party timetable with Tobermory, put down his pencil and listened with his head cocked on one side.

‘Wind’s dropped,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria.

‘Good thing too,’ grunted Tobermory, who was tired out. Of all the Wombles he was the tidiest and it irritated him to see his precious Workshop piled high with all the things which had been collected from the Common. There just hadn’t been time to get everything sorted out, and for the last two nights he had been dreaming about being overtaken by an avalanche of hats and scarves, papers and boxes, bus tickets and milk cartons. Even the smallest Wombles had been made to help with the clearing and sorting out, and although they did their best they weren’t properly trained and they
would
get underneath Tobermory’s paws.

‘Worst wind I remember,’ said Tobermory, rubbing his eyes. His fur felt sticky with tiredness.

‘Ho-hum,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, whose memory went further back than his friend’s and who could recall the Great Storm, which had blown down dozens of trees. ‘Well, time you went to bed.’

‘What about you?’ said Tobermory, putting his paw over his mouth to hide a yawn.

‘You don’t need much sleep when you get to my age,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Besides . . . well, never mind. Off you go, old friend, and no more nightmares.’

Great Uncle Bulgaria drew his tartan shawl more closely about his shoulders and put his paws up on the footstool and blinked at the electric fire. He didn’t like sudden silences. A stillness in the air was all right on a lovely summer’s evening or a spring night, but in November it didn’t feel right, and Great Uncle Bulgaria could sense his fur prickling, which was always a sign of something being not as it should be.

‘Ha-ho-hum,’ muttered Great Uncle Bulgaria, and he got up very slowly and felt for his stick and then shuffled quietly out of his warm room and down the passages, where the only sound was the gentle breathing of the sleeping Wombles and the ticking of the clocks in the Workshop.

The lights were turned down low and the old Womble’s shadow was pale grey as it now kept up with him, then leapt ahead, and then fell behind as he passed each small beacon of light.

In spite of his age Great Uncle Bulgaria moved so softly that he almost surprised the Womble who was on duty at the main doorway. Luckily for the Nightwatch Womble, Great Uncle Bulgaria just happened to drop his stick.

‘What? Who? Which?’ said the Womble, leaping to his paws.

‘It’s me,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, shuffling round the corner, and peering through his spectacles. ‘Who’s that?’

‘Tomsk,’ said the Womble.

He was twice the size of Great Uncle Bulgaria, indeed he was the largest Womble on the Common. He was also the bravest and the most daring for he would climb the highest tree or dive to the bottom of Queen’s Mere, and he had once chased after an Alsatian. Fortunately he had not caught it, for he would not have had the least idea what to have done with it. For the truth of the matter was that Tomsk had no common sense at all.

He had nearly driven Tobermory demented on the one occasion when he had been sent to help in the Workshop, for he had put everything away in the wrong place. He was not much good at tidying up either, for he ambled about in his slow, deliberate way, completely forgetting to keep clear of dogs and Human Beings. So now he was working as a Nightwatch Womble where even he could hardly make any mistakes. But it was rather a lonely job, so he was quite glad to have someone to talk to, even if that someone was Great Uncle Bulgaria, who could be very fierce.

‘Asleep?’ growled Great Uncle Bulgaria, prodding Tomsk with his stick.

‘Yes,’ said Tomsk, hanging his head and twisting one paw round another. A Womble can never, under any circumstances, tell a lie.*

* To call another Womble ‘a liar’ is the worst of all insults.

 

‘Should be ashamed of yourself,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Womble safety depends on you. Well, don’t do it again and open up.’


Now?
’ said Tomsk. ‘Open up
now
? It’s the middle of the night.’

‘I know it’s the middle of the night,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Go on. Go on.’

Tomsk shook his head and slid back the bolts very slowly and then opened the door a few inches.

‘More than that,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘I want to go
OUT
.’


Now?
’ said Tomsk.

At which Great Uncle Bulgaria blew out his cheeks and hooked the door open with his stick and shuffled out into the cold, still air. He was glad of his shawl as he made his way through the bushes and out into the dark night. He saw the white and black face of a badger watching him from the shadows and muttered, ‘’Evening.’

The badger, which like the Wombles had been disturbed by the sudden silence, grunted deep in its throat and ambled back into the darkness. A couple of rats squeaked and for a second their eyes shone in the starlight and then they too were gone.

Great Uncle Bulgaria looked up at the sky and saw that the stars were vanishing one by one as the clouds came rolling in from the west. He sniffed the air, turning his head from side to side and again his fur prickled for he could smell rain coming. Not just a shower, or even a good soaking, but a real downpour. There were thousands of gallons of water up in that clouding sky and Great Uncle Bulgaria didn’t care for the smell of it at all.

‘Anything the matter?’ whispered Tomsk, looming up behind him.

‘Going to rain,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, and pattered back towards the burrow, leaving Tomsk more puzzled than ever.

As always Great Uncle Bulgaria was perfectly correct. The rain started with a soft sighing sound at ten minutes past two. As the night wore on the rain grew heavier and heavier and when the first Wombles stirred just before dawn it was coming down in steady driving sheets which were so thick you could hardly see through them.

‘It’s raining,’ announced Tomsk as Bungo came bouncing jauntily down the passage.

‘How can you tell?’ said Bungo cheekily.

‘Because I’ve seen it,’ said Tomsk, ‘and it was wet.’

‘Oh, you
are
clever,’ said Bungo very rudely indeed, and went to get his basket from the Workshop. Tobermory issued him with a pair of gumboots, an oilskin, and a sou’wester as well.

‘I don’t mind a drop of rain,’ said Bungo.

‘This isn’t a drop, it’s a flood,’ said Tobermory. ‘Don’t argue.’

He had slept quite well, but he still wasn’t in the best of tempers. Bungo made a face to himself and put on his rainclothes and went clumping off to the main door. He thought it was all a lot of fuss about nothing until he got outside, and then he blinked and choked because it was exactly like stepping into a waterfall. The rain plopped on to his hat and ran down the brim and fell on to his collar and slid down his coat and pattered on to his boots. It turned the grass into mud under his paws and it turned all the bits of paper into a horrid, pulpy mess as he tried to pick them up.

But the rain did much more than that, for it loosened the earth round the roots of the trees and gently but firmly swept it away in little rivers of mud. And the mud ran down the banks and the little rivers grew larger and they bit deeper and deeper into the ground until they made narrow valleys and everything got swept along before them. Sticks and stones and old leaves and bits of rubbish, they went tumbling downwards, leaving behind them uncovered roots which had nothing on which to take a grip. And at the same time the water in Queen’s Mere began to rise; little by little and inch by inch it rose, until it lapped over on to the paths and met and mingled with the muddy streams coming down their sides.

‘It’s raining,’ announced Bungo when he finally straggled back to the the burrow.

‘Told you so,’ said Tomsk. ‘You do look wet.’

‘I
am
wet,’ said Bungo, taking off his rainclothes and shaking himself violently. ‘Give us a paw with these boots.’

Tomsk took a good grip on them and pulled, and because he was so strong the boots came off at once, and Tomsk went staggering backwards and sat down with a thump which made his teeth rattle.

‘Thanks,’ said Bungo, and went off whistling, without even bothering to find out if Tomsk was hurt. Like a great many other Wombles Bungo didn’t bother much about Tomsk, so Tomsk just sat still for a moment feeling rather sad for some reason. And it was while he was sitting that he noticed that a few leaves and bits of stick by the doorway were moving.

‘That’s funny,’ said Tomsk, sitting on the ground with the boots in his lap. ‘That’s
very
funny.’

‘What is?’ asked Orinoco, coming in and stepping over Tomsk and shaking himself just as Bungo had done.

‘The ground’s moving,’ said Tomsk. ‘It’s wobbling like a jelly.’

‘Jelly?’ said Orinoco, brightening up. ‘Jelly, did you say? I hope it’s blackberry jelly, because that’s one of my favourites. Hang up my coat for me, will you? I’ve had a very hard morning.’

And off went Orinoco with six wet bus tickets in the bottom of his tidy-bag, and the firm belief in his head that he had been working every minute of the last three hours, instead of trying to find somewhere to shelter and have a nice forty winks.

‘It
is
moving,’ said Tomsk, who once he had got hold of an idea stuck to it very firmly. But all the other Wombles were too busy about their own affairs to take any notice of him, so Tomsk put the boots in a nice neat line and hung up the raincoats and hats, and then went back to watch the leaves and twigs creeping down the track towards the main door. It was really quite a frightening thing to see, but Tomsk was not a nervous Womble so his fur didn’t prickle as Great Uncle Bulgaria’s would have done if he had been there.

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BOOK: The Wombles
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