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Authors: Elizabeth Beresford

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BOOK: The Wombles
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‘Amazing,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, sounding quite astounded.

‘Astonishing,’ murmured Tobermory.

‘Do have another go,’ prompted Alderney, ‘please’, and she tugged at the elderly gentleman’s sleeve and whispered in his ear, and he smiled and put his hand down into the tub, and this time he came out with a large tin and inside it was a special blackcurrant cake, which is a very special cake indeed as you can eat it slowly slice by slice, and even if it takes you six months it never goes stale, as the elderly gentleman subsequently discovered.

‘One more for luck,’ said Bungo and this time the elderly gentleman’s hand came up with six white handkerchiefs, all clean and beautifully ironed and one of them actually had ‘D. Smith’ on the hem, which, as it was his name was really a remarkable coincidence, as everybody agreed.

‘D for Donald, the same as my son,’ said the elderly gentleman, and then added something more but in such a low voice that none of the Wombles could quite make out what it was, and Great Uncle Bulgaria took him gently by the arm and drew him over to a chair at the side of the Common Room, and they sat and watched the younger Wombles playing games and at the end of a particularly noisy round of Blind Womble’s Buff the elderly gentleman, or Mr D. Smith, said, ‘Best Christmas I’ve had in many a long year.’

‘Is that so? Glad to hear it,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, and then he clapped his paws together and everyone stopped laughing and dancing and Great Uncle Bulgaria said quietly, ‘Listen.’

And everybody held their breath and listened and sure enough they could just hear the sound of distant singing.

‘What is it?’ asked Mr Smith, blowing his nose on one of the new handkerchiefs.

‘Shall we go and see?’ asked Great Uncle Bulgaria. They put on their coats and mufflers and, in Great Uncle Bulgaria’s case, boots and gloves and a tartan shawl as well, and then they made their way down the long corridors, all of them decorated with paper chains and streamers and coloured lights, till they came to the main door, where Tomsk was on duty.

The moment Tomsk saw them all coming he opened the door and the sound of the voices grew louder, and as the Wombles came out on to the Common they saw that the ground was glittering white from a deep frost and that the stars were shining with a clear white light in the cold night sky. Beyond the edges of the Common the yellow lamps of London had turned the air to a misty amber, but where the Wombles stood there were no lights at all except for three small red lanterns which were held by a group of the youngest Wombles. Their small eyes and furry faces were lit by them and their paws shuffled a little nervously, but when they saw Great Uncle Bulgaria slowly coming out into the open followed by the tall figure of Tobermory and the round shape of Madame Cholet, they stopped fidgeting and cleared their throats and for a few moments there was silence apart from the distant roar of traffic which never stops, not even on Christmas Day. Then all the youngest Wombles fixed their eyes on their leader and took a very deep breath and began to sing in their small, clear voices one of the very old Christmas carols. They didn’t always sing in tune and at least one of them forgot the words and had to go ‘la la la’ for a few lines, but nobody noticed and at the finish several of the older Wombles and Mr D. Smith had to blow their noses and stamp their feet and say things like ‘It’s cold tonight’ and ‘How clear the stars are, to be sure’.

‘I must be getting back,’ said Mr D. Smith. ‘I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this evening. How very,
very
much.’

‘Delighted to have you,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, who had himself enjoyed having a long talk about The Good Old Days.

He nodded to Bungo and Tomsk, who took two of the red lanterns – which had
WBC
on them – and they led the elderly gentleman across the Common to the black and white path, and as he seemed to be in rather a dreamy state they crossed it with him and took him all the way back to the room where he lived.

‘I can’t begin to tell you . . .’ he said.

‘Please don’t mention it,’ said Bungo, half of whose mind was wondering if there would be any mince pies left by the time he and Tomsk returned to the burrow.

‘Wonderful, wonderful evening,’ said the elderly gentleman, and he went up to his cold room and went to bed and slept right through to the following morning, when he woke up and told the ceiling about the remarkable dream he had had. And the most astonishing part of it was that there on the table beside his bed was a blackcurrant cake, six handkerchiefs (one slightly used) and a splendid black silk umbrella. He never could quite account for all that and after a time he gave up trying and decided just to accept the fact that they were his and very nice too.

‘But supposing he had told other Human Beings about us?’ said Bungo, when he was helping Tobermory to put away the decorations for next year.

‘They wouldn’t have believed him,’ said Tobermory. ‘That’s what comes of telling fibs, you see. You can’t tell the difference between truth and stories in the end. Hand us those electric lights, young Womble, and stop asking questions for once in your life.’

‘All right,’ said Bungo cheerfully. ‘Still, I’m glad that umbrella came in useful after all,’ and he glanced at Orinoco, who was sweeping crumbs off the table.


Woof
,
bark
,
grrrrrr
to you,’ said Orinoco, ‘likewise Dalmatian dogs.’

And he tipped the last of the crumbs into his mouth and licked his lips with a satisfied smile.

g

Chapter 8

g

The Snow Womble

 

Of course it was too much to expect that the young Wombles could go on behaving so well once the excitement of Christmas had worn off, while the Midsummer outing was still six months away, so when Bungo went off to work one morning and found that it was actually snowing something like pandemonium broke out.


I
can’t control them,’ said Tobermory.

‘Shouldn’t try if I were you,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. Although he hadn’t actually seen the snow himself, he could sense it in the atmosphere and it always made him feel uncommonly sleepy.

Tobermory muttered to himself and went back to the Workshop and began to tinker with a secret project that he had started on just before the Awful Rainstorms. He found it very soothing, and after a while he forgot all about the mutinous behaviour of the younger Wombles and settled down quite happily to oiling and greasing and taking apart and investigating whatever-it-was that he was so interested in.

Meanwhile Bungo and Orinoco and Alderney were having a look at this strange new outside world. None of them, not even Orinoco, had seen snow before and they found it the most wonderful stuff imaginable. For a start it looked so lovely as it lay glinting in the sunshine, and secondly it meant that all work was suspended out on the Common as no Human Beings, however forgetful, were going to drop or abandon their belongings on this clean white carpet.

‘Look, look, look,’ shouted Bungo, running down a slope and turning to glance over his shoulder at his own prints.

‘Look, look, look,’ called Alderney, and she put down her head and went head over heels, leaving a funny bumpy track behind her.

‘Look, look, look,’ cried Orinoco, and he lay down and rolled over faster and faster until he reached the bottom.

‘You look like a snow Womble,’ said Alderney, pulling him to his back paws.

‘Let’s build one,’ said Orinoco.

‘Not allowed,’ said Bungo, who was gazing entranced at his own rather flat-footed pawmarks. There is something about leaving a trail of one’s own pawmarks in the snow which is extremely exciting.

‘Why not?’ asked Alderney, sticking out her underlip and looking very sulky.

‘’Cause of them,’ said Bungo, jerking his head towards the road at the side of the Common where the traffic was moving very slowly and the snow had already turned to a dirty yellow mush.

‘You’re a ’fraidy Womble; who’s a ’fraidy Womble?’ said Alderney, dancing round and round.

‘I’m not!’

‘It’s like sugar icing,’ said Orinoco dreaming, picking up handfuls of glittering, gleaming snow. He hadn’t been able to get out recently on his bicycle because of the weather and he was growing stout once more.

‘I’m
not
afraid,’ said Bungo angrily, ‘but if a Human Being found a snow Womble it could lead to all kinds of difficulties, so there.’

‘Well, I’m not scared even if you are,’ said Alderney, more unfairly still. And she began to pick up great pawfuls of snow and to pat them and mould them, with her little pink tongue hanging out of the corner of her mouth and her breath making steamy clouds in the cold, frosty air.

Bungo dug his heel in the ground and kicked some snow about and muttered under his breath. He knew he was in the right, but Alderney had a trick of making him feel stuffy and cowardly, and so after a moment or two he forgot Tobermory’s lecture on the subject and went to help.

‘It’ll be the best snow Womble in the whole world,’ said Alderney, giggling with excitement. ‘I know, Bungo, let’s make it . . .’ and she whispered into his ear behind her paw.

‘We couldn’t,’ said Bungo with his eyes popping.

‘I’m not scared,’ said Alderney, and began to shovel up snow faster than ever, and soon the two young Wombles were hard at work on Alderney’s idea.

Now Tobermory’s words had been very sensible, for although someone like the elderly gentleman could be invited to the Womble’s Christmas party and no harm done, he was the exception, for there are a great many Human Beings in the world who would not only say that Wombles don’t exist, but who would go to an enormous amount of trouble to prove it. And it was these very people that Tobermory had in mind when he gave his lecture, as he knew that a great Womble Hunt (to show that there were no such creatures) might lead to discovery and disaster. Unfortunately, however, at this moment Tobermory was busy on something else and he did not notice when Bungo and Alderney returned to the burrow looking rather guilty and yet pleased with themselves at the same time. Orinoco, of course, hadn’t noticed anything at all as he had been too busy trying to work out whether snow could be turned into icing sugar. As it looked so similar he was certain in his own mind that it could, and he hurried off to have a word with Madame Cholet on the subject.

So, by an extraordinary chance, it was Tomsk who happened on the guilty secret of Bungo and Alderney. For Tomsk had become rather bored with just doing exercises hour after hour, and as no Wombles were going out to work on the Common he hadn’t got to do any door-keeping, so he was rather at a loose end. Golf was out, of course, as everything was covered in snow, so Tomsk went along to have a look at Tobermory’s small library of technical books, and it was there under ‘sports’ that he came across
Skiing
.

Tomsk was a slow, but deliberate reader, and after a few hours he began to understand what the book was all about. Skiing sounded rather good fun, so Tomsk went back to the Workshop to ask for two long pieces of wood.

Tobermory was very busy in his back office working on whatever-it-was and merely shouted to Tomsk to take what he wanted. Tomsk had a good look round, and finally chose two long pieces of sapling which seemed to resemble the pictures in the book. He had a long and rather painful afternoon trying to get the wood into shape, during which he managed to hammer all his paws, but at the finish he was quite satisfied and rather surprised at what he had managed to achieve. He went to bed with a happy smile on his face and never noticed the rather guilty-yet-smug expression on Bungo’s.

It snowed again during the night, and when Tomsk left the burrow it was to see a world which was white and sparkling and quite untouched by either Human or Womble paw. The only marks on the gleaming, glittering surface were the claw-marks of the birds, who were having a hard time of it searching for food.

Tomsk tucked his home-made skis under his arm and made for the steepest, least wooded slope he could remember. It was a really beautiful morning, with the sun just up and the snow almost blindingly white except where it was in the shadows, where it turned to deep blue.

Tomsk fitted on his skis, with his tongue caught between his teeth and, remembering all that he had read in the little book, he pushed himself off down the slope. It was a glorious, most wonderful feeling – like running, like jumping, like flying – and Tomsk, who although he was not very clever, and who took half an hour to read a page of print, was a born athlete. He shot down that slope with a marvellous
shushing
sound, and braked at the bottom with no trouble at all, sending up a dazzling fan shape of snow crystals as he did so.

Tomsk was breathless with the wonder of it all, and after three more runs, each better than the last, he decided to have a go at something even more adventurous, so he pushed himself off across the Common, bending low over his skis in exactly the same way as the picture of the Human Being in the book. There was not a soul in sight so there was nothing to worry about and Tomsk hummed between his teeth in a tuneless sort of way as he travelled.

Since the affair of the toppling tree he had been treated with far more respect than ever before in his life, but all the same respect isn’t everything, and he still felt lonely sometimes. But now he had discovered something at which he knew instinctively he really was rather good, and at the back of his mind he couldn’t help wishing that there was another Womble there to watch him.

Tomsk reached the steepest slope of all, checked that his home-made skis were tightly fastened, took a deep breath and pushed himself off. Oh, what a satisfying sound it was to hear the
shush shush
of his skis over the crisp, unbroken snow! How wonderful to feel the icy cold air against his fur and to narrow his eyes against the dazzle of the rising sun! How glorious to track his path down this steep, steep slope, and how sad there was nobody there to see him.

But there was!

For there, fast appearing out of the blue shadows was someone who Tomsk very much wanted to impress. Great Uncle Bulgaria himself! There he stood at the bottom of the slope wearing his two pairs of spectacles, and his tartan shawl, and with
The Times
under his arm.

‘Look at me,’ shouted Tomsk, bending his knees in an expert fashion and hunching over his skis. Great Uncle Bulgaria watched him with an expressionless face, but Tomsk was too excited to notice. In fact, he was showing off dreadfully, taking his turns too tightly and sending up far too much icy spray as he hurtled down the slope faster and
FASTER
and FASTER. Indeed too fast, for at the last bend he missed his timing altogether and to Tomsk’s horror he suddenly realised that he was heading straight for Great Uncle Bulgaria and that he
COULD NOT STOP
!

‘Look out, look out,’ howled Tomsk, and shut his eyes and bent down double. But still Great Uncle Bulgaria refused to move, and the next moment Tomsk hit him, travelling at at least thirty miles an hour.

There was a tremendous
THUD, BANG, CRASH
, and then Tomsk was going head over heels and Great Uncle Bulgaria had dissolved into a thousand pieces. Tomsk dug himself painfully out of the snow, shook his head and got to his knees, his eyes round as buttons as he stared horror-struck at a tartan shawl, two pairs of spectacles and
The Times
newspaper – and nothing else! Poor Tomsk went as near green as a Womble can and got very shakily to his back paws.

He felt awful. Worse than awful, dreadful. His strong legs would hardly support him as he crawled up the snowy slope. But search though he might he could find no trace of the Oldest Womble but his belongings, which he gathered together with trembling and gentle paws.

Tomsk never knew how he managed to get back to the burrow. It was sheer will-power and muscle-power that did it, and he crawled through the main door with his awful burden (the shawl, spectacles and newspaper) and on trembling paws made his way towards the Workshop. He was just passing the door of Great Uncle Bulgaria’s room when – oh horror – it swung slowly open!

Tomsk stopped dead in his tracks with his eyes bulging, as from inside the room there came the sound of shuffling footsteps, and then the door swung wider still and Great Uncle Bulgaria himself came into view.


Eeeeeeeee
,’ whispered Tomsk, and fainted dead away.

‘I see,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria some while later, ‘so you went right through me, eh?
Most
interesting.
Most
illuminating.’

‘I didn’t mean to do it,’ Tomsk said huskily.

‘There, there, I’m sure you didn’t,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria in a soothing voice. ‘Just you have a nice sip of blackcurrant juice and leave the rest to me, my boy,’ and the old Womble shuffled back to his own room and spread his paws to the electric fire and pursed up his lips and looked extremely thoughtful. And then after a while he began to smile, and if any young Womble had seen that expression he might well have had cause to feel very, very worried.

BOOK: The Wombles
9.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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