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Authors: Elizabeth Beresford

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BOOK: The Wombles
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Mud and leaves, twigs and bushes, flew in all directions and there was a great deal of noise and then silence except for the rain.

‘Tomsk,’ called Great Uncle Bulgaria, and if there was a slight shake in his voice nobody but he noticed it.

‘Up here,’ called Tomsk huskily, and as Great Uncle Bulgaria raised the lantern they could just make out the dark shadow of Tomsk among the roots.

‘I’ll get him,’ said Tobermory. ‘Bungo, Orinoco, follow me.’

Their eyes had got used to the darkness and they plunged through the bushes to where the tree was balancing like a see-saw with all the branches at one end and Tomsk at the other. It was caught in the fork of another tree, and Tobermory shinned up it and then pulled the other two Wombles after him.

‘I’ll slide down towards Tomsk,’ he said. ‘You two hold the tree steady here.’

Orinoco and Bungo edged round, one on either side of the balancing tree, and braced their back paws against it and wound their front paws round the two branches, and then very slowly and cautiously Tobermory slid down the wet trunk, which shook and shivered and groaned and then began to tip down towards the ground. Tomsk, who had been jolted and jarred and shaken almost out of his senses, just clung on until he heard Tobermory’s heavy breathing, and two strong paws very gently but firmly unclasped his own. And then with a cry and a thud Tomsk fell to the ground and lay there.

‘Up you get,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria’s voice, and Tomsk looked up, and through the dripping twigs he saw a sou’wester and a pair of spectacles and a storm lantern. So he got up, but very stiffly, and his teeth were chattering with cold and tiredness.

‘March,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘One two, one two, back to the burrow with you.’

‘The tree,’ said Tomsk in a whisper.

‘It fell away from the burrow, so there’s nothing to worry about,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria briskly. ‘Now
I
don’t want to get wet through at my time of life, even if you do. Hurry up, there’s a good Womble.’

And so a very weary, wet and bedraggled Tomsk shuffled through the bushes to the door of the burrow where he was joined by the others.

‘It wasn’t my fault, really it wasn’t,’ said Tomsk, who could hardly keep his eyes open, and who was yawning yawn after yawn so that his face felt as if it were splitting in two.

‘’Course it wasn’t,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘In with you. My word, what a sight you are, to be sure. I’ve never seen such a drowned-looking Womble in my life before.’

‘I’ll leave
two
dirty pawmarks this time,’ said Tomsk, looking doubtfully at Tobermory.

‘Well, the floor’ll clean, I suppose,’ barked Tobermory who, like Great Uncle Bulgaria, was showing his relief at finding Tomsk all in one piece by being very gruff.

‘And there are cracks in the wall. I sort of made one of them,’ went on Tomsk, who liked to take troubles one at a time.

‘So I noticed,’ agreed Tobermory. ‘That tree’ll make nice useful props. I’ve thought for a long time that we needed some new building in this bit of the burrow. We’ll start on it first thing in the morning. Bungo, Orinoco, pick up those boots and raincoats and put them in the Workshop. Then get a broom and sweep up this lot and shut the door. I’ll nail a board across the bottom and that’ll hold the mud back for the present.’

In any other circumstances Bungo and Orinoco might well have started grumbling at this point, but for once both those young Wombles felt thoroughly subdued, so they hurried off without a word to do as they were told, and by the time they had finished they were yawning almost as much as Tomsk had been.

‘He must have been hanging on to that tree for hours,’ said Orinoco, leaning on his broom.

‘Hours and hours,’ agreed Bungo.

The two young Wombles looked at each other, thinking their own thoughts. Would either of them have been brave enough or determined enough to do the same thing? They weren’t at all sure about it, so they both decided to keep quiet on the subject.

‘I tell you what,’ said Bungo, ‘let’s go and clear up that mess we made in the Workshop. We might as well while we’re at it.’

‘I’m ever so hungry,’ said Orinoco. ‘Oh, all right then. Perhaps if we do Great Uncle Bulgaria won’t be too furious with us.’

As it happened the wet paper fight in the Workshop was never mentioned again, although the threat of it did hang over the heads of Bungo and Orinoco for some while. Great Uncle Bulgaria watched them with a thoughtful expression and once or twice he had to put up his paw to hide a smile when he noticed the new, respectful way in which they now treated Tomsk.

‘Ho-hum,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria to himself and got out the plans which Tobermory had made for strengthening the burrow against further tree falls, landslides and floods.

‘Concrete,’ muttered Great Uncle Bulgaria, reading Tobermory’s neat list of building materials. ‘Now where could we Wombles possibly find some concrete, I wonder . . . ?’

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Chapter 5

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Bungo and the Concrete Mixer

 

There’s a saying that troubles always come in threes, but when Tobermory happened to mention this rather unwisely to Great Uncle Bulgaria the old Womble said crossly, ‘I’m perfectly well aware of it. And
I’d
like to point out that there’s another motto
you
might do well to remember. Never meet trouble halfway.’

‘There’s going to
be
trouble, all the same,’ said Tobermory, who always liked to look on the black side of things. He took his screwdriver from behind his ear and tapped the map on the wall. ‘And
that
’s where it’ll come. Good morning.’

And he went off leaving Great Uncle Bulgaria scowling and looking so fierce that when pretty little Alderney brought him in his mid-morning cup of hot bracken juice, she was quite scared and nearly upset it.

‘Do you think something dreadful’s going to happen?’ Alderney asked Bungo when he came out of the Workshop. ‘Great Uncle Bulgaria looked ever so cross.’

‘Never,’ said Bungo. ‘Don’t you worry; we working Wombles’ll look after everything.’

‘I’m a working Womble too,’ said Alderney, who had just started helping in the kitchens. She wasn’t allowed to do much yet, but it made her feel very important when she was sent off with the trolley piled high with cakes, buns and biscuits and a big steaming urn of bracken juice. She did it twice a day, in the middle of the mornings and the afternoons, and as the Common was still very wet and muddy Great Uncle Bulgaria had ordered all work there to be stopped for the time being. So every working Womble was now employed in the burrow, either sorting in the Workshop or helping Tobermory put up wooden planks to strengthen the walls, ceilings and floors. This meant, of course, that Alderney was kept very busy, as there’s nothing like sawing, hammering and sorting to put an edge on a Womble’s appetite. Or anybody else’s, for that matter.

‘I wouldn’t mind having your job,’ said Orinoco, squeezing through the queue and looking at the food with his eyes glistening.

‘There wouldn’t be anything left for anybody else if you did,’ said Bungo.

At which everybody else laughed and Orinoco turned his back and pretended not to hear as he carefully chose the three largest chocolate and peppermint buns. Alderney stopped looking anxious and went off down the passage ringing the bell at the side of her trolley so that the other Wombles would know she was coming.

However, in spite of his firm words, Bungo’s mind was bothered by doubts. He was sensible and observant enough to notice that some of the floors had sunk a little and that every now and then a few drops of water would drip through the ceilings. It gave him a nasty feeling in his inside to realise that the nice comfortable burrow he had known all his life might not be so safe after all. It even made him lose his appetite a bit, so that he couldn’t eat all his berry biscuit; but as Orinoco generously offered to finish it for him it wasn’t wasted.

As soon as work was over, Bungo went to sit near some of the older Wombles in the Common Room. And by keeping his ears open and his mouth shut – which was a great effort for Bungo – he soon learnt that what was needed to make every- thing safe again was some stuff mysteriously called concrete.

‘What is it?’ Bungo asked Tomsk.

‘White stuff,’ said Tomsk somewhat breathlessly. He was doing his exercises, lying on his back and pedalling with his feet in the air.

‘Like flour?’ asked Bungo.

‘Sort of, I think,’ said Tomsk, rolling over and starting on his press-ups. ‘One, two, three, four . . .’

‘Flour’s what you make cakes out of,’ volunteered Orinoco. ‘I don’t think you use it for buildings and things. Do you know, it makes me feel quite tired watching Tomsk. I think I’ll just have . . .’

‘Forty winks,’ said Bungo, and went to find Alderney, who was washing up.

‘What’s concrete?’ Bungo asked, without much hope of a helpful reply.

‘I don’t know,’ said Alderney, wiping her face with the back of her paw. ‘Would you like to dry for me?’

‘Busy,’ said Bungo, and braced himself to have a word with Tobermory.

Tobermory’s face was even more gloomy than usual and he said gruffly, ‘Don’t you go worrying your head with things that don’t concern you, young Womble. Now get out from under my paws, do.’

‘How can I help if nobody’ll tell me anything?’ Bungo grumbled to himself, and then because he disliked being kept indoors for days on end he decided to go and have a look at the outside world. He took a pair of boots and an oilskin and a large hat and went off very stealthily, taking care to avoid the main door, as there was still some sawing and hammering going on there. Instead Bungo used one of the smaller, more deserted passages which went past the place where Tobermory’s electric motors hummed and sang to each other and there were large notices on the doors saying:

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DANGER. KEEP OUT!!!

g

Bungo had no intention of going in, and soon he was in a part of the burrow which was hardly ever used. It was a little frightening, for the lights were dim here, and there was no sound at all apart from a distant rumbling and crashing. This strange noise grew slowly louder and when Bungo opened the door which led to the Common it was very, very loud indeed. Even the ground was shaking with it, and Bungo looked as though he was doing a kind of bouncing dance as he parted the bushes and looked out.

At once he saw where all the din was coming from. He was very near the edge of the Common and there were only a few small trees between him and the road. Bungo’s eyes widened as he watched the traffic hurtling past. It had actually stopped raining, but there was a kind of mistiness in the air as though it was full of millions of tiny drops of water. And as the cars went past making a soft
shushing
sound they sent up great sheets of dirty spray from the puddles.

‘Oh my,’ said Bungo, and wriggled further out into the open.

An enormous great red thing came down the road. It was glowing with lights and it was quite the largest object Bungo had ever seen close to. It appeared to be coming straight for him and Bungo gulped and dived head first back into the bushes. The thing roared and rattled past without taking any notice of him, and as Bungo slowly lifted his head he realised that it was no monster, but only an ordinary London bus.

‘Ho-hum,’ said Bungo, trying to sound like Great Uncle Bulgaria, and he dusted a few leaves off his coat and stepped out jauntily into the open. Opposite him, on the other side of the road, was a strange-looking machine, and as Bungo had never seen anything quite like it before he was puzzled and curious. Being Bungo he just had to have a closer look, but how was he to get across the road? His bright little eyes searched this way and that and then he noticed a yellow light flashing on and off beside a black and white path which was painted across the road. When a Human Being – it was an elderly man – stepped on this path all the cars stopped for him to cross over.

‘Now or never,’ said Bungo, and scampered out of the bushes and on to the path before he could lose his nerve. There was a dreadful screaming, tearing sound as cars coming from both directions drew up, or tried to. They skidded and skittered about, but somehow managed to avoid hitting each other, and several of the drivers leant out of their windows and shook their fists furiously at Bungo. Bungo waved back and went over to have a closer look at the machine. It was very dirty and splattered with mud, but on the sides he could just make out the words:

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CONCRETE MIXER

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Bungo was beside himself with excitement. He had found the one thing which the Wimbledon Wombles needed most in the world. Alone and unaided he had discovered the magical concrete. It’s true that it did not look very exciting and it certainly smelt rather dull. What about its taste? Bungo put out his paw and scraped a little of the fine, gritty stuff off the machine, sniffed it and then put it on his tongue. He spat it out at once. Horrible, you certainly couldn’t make cakes out of
THAT
.

‘Oh, I’m clever,’ Bungo sang to himself. ‘I’m so clever and fearless and brave. One, two, three . . .’

And over the crossing he danced, making a cyclist swerve into the pavement and almost into a letter box.

‘I’ll have the law on you!’ the cyclist shouted.

‘I’m so clever and fearless and brave . . .’ sang a voice in the distance, and Bungo’s sou’wester vanished into the bushes on the Common. He ran all the way back, and a quarter of an hour later an extremely breathless Womble was standing in the Workshop with his lungs heaving and his tongue hanging out.

‘C-c-concrete,’ said Bungo, leaning up against Tobermory’s table and panting.

‘What about it?’ snapped Tobermory, who had just hit his paw with a hammer, and was sucking it and blowing on it by turns.

‘F-f-found some,’ said Bungo.

Tobermory dropped the hammer, narrowly missing his toes, and leant across the table and gripped hold of Bungo’s oilskins.

‘If you’re pulling my paw . . .’ he said grimly.

‘I’m not, honestly,’ said Bungo, between pants. ‘I found some. Lots of it. There’s a machine that makes it and . . .’

‘Come with me,’ said Tobermory, and Bungo found himself once again being propelled towards Great Uncle Bulgaria’s room, only this time he was not in disgrace, as he tried to show the other Wombles by nodding and smiling at them as he passed. He was still too breathless to speak properly.

‘Calm down,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Now then, young Bungo, can you show me on this map where exactly –
exactly
mind – you found this machine?’

Bungo peered at the map which was spread across the table and found the black and white path.

‘There,’ he said, pointing.

Great Uncle Bulgaria and Tobermory breathed over his shoulders, and then all the excitement and triumph went out of Bungo with a rush as Great Uncle Bulgaria said crossly, ‘But, you silly young Womble, that’s not
ON
the Common. We can’t tidy up concrete on the far side of the road.’

‘Oh,’ said Bungo, and felt himself shrinking.

‘The need is desperate,’ said Tobermory in a low voice.

‘It would be stealing,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria in a still lower voice, and he shook his head, ‘and Wombles never steal. Borrow sometimes, yes, but not take. Or in times of dire necessity there’s barter or . . .’

‘Or . . .’ said Tobermory.

The two older Wombles looked at each other and Great Uncle Bulgaria slowly stroked the snow-white fur behind his ears while Bungo looked at them with his mouth turned right down at the corners.


Dire
necessity?’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria.

‘Astonishingly dire,’ said Tobermory.

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BOOK: The Wombles
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