Mrs. Grunty's story was interrupted by a sharp whack on the nose.
"Good heavens! What's that?" she cried, rubbing the sore spot with her paw.
"Good Heavens! What was that?" Mrs. Grunty cried.
"Those young imps are fighting already," said Mrs Koala, peering up above at the branches.
But Mrs Koala was wrong. Blinky and Snubby were having a lovely game, dodging in and out the leaves, and pelting everything visible with gum-nuts.
"Let's have a shot at mother," whispered Blinky, his beady eyes twinkling with mischief.
"You go first," said Snubby under his breath.
"I'll hit her right on the nose," whispered Blinky as he took aim; but he was giggling so much, his shot went wide, and hit Mrs Grunty's nose instead.
"O-o-h!" he whispered. "I've hit the wrong nose."
"Chew leaves quickly," advised Snubby. So when Mrs Koala eventually spied the naughty cubs, they looked the picture of innocence, quietly perched on a limb chewing like two little cherubs.
"Must have been a stray nut falling," said Mrs Grunty. "They do sometimes."
"The bush seems to be very quiet here," Mrs Koala said as she looked around.
"Pretty quiet," said Mrs Grunty, "except when the possums give a party. Their screeching makes me sick sometimes, such a lot of jabbering and rushing about. What for, I don't know. They are not nearly so rare as we are. Do you know, we are the only bears in this bush for miles around?"
"Can it be true?" Mrs Koala murmured in surprise. "You see, I've never been one to travel. I am content to stay in the same tree for a very long time."
"I've lived in the district for ten years," said Mrs Grunty, "and you and Blinky are the only bears I've seen during that time. I remember well the little girl's father telling her when they first saw me that not so many years ago the bush was alive with us bears from Queensland to the south of Victoria. Now, we are so rare that we have become a curiosity, something to be put in zoos, for children to see; and actually in museums. I believe our grandparents sit there in glass cases, stuffed with something inside to make them appear alive, and, oh dear, glass eyes. In New South Wales, I think we could wander for miles from one corner to another and never meet a bear. I don't know why we were all killed. As you know, we don't eat the farmers' crops or ruin their orchards. All we asked for were our own gum-trees."
Mrs Koala moved nervously. "I hope we are safe here," she whimpered. "How are we to know when a man may come along with a gun?"
"I know we are safe," said Mrs Grunty contentedly. "The nearest human being to us is a lady who keeps a store a good many miles away. Sometimes I have ventured out to peep at the motor cars as they rush along the road, and I've heard men asking her: 'Are there any possums or bears in this bush?'"
"'No!' she says in a snappy voice. 'Only snakes!'"
"Snakes!" cried Mrs Koala. "Where?"
"Oh, they are quite harmless, if left alone. But of course, if animals and humans go poking about them, they naturally become very angry. I've passed many in the bush; but I mind my own business, and they take no notice of me."
The days and nights came and went, and Blinky grew into a strong bear. Always up to some mischief, he kept the older bears in a constant state of watchfulness. He was very venturesome and scrambled up to the highest twig on the tree, or out to the farthest branch, scrapping and hugging his playmate or grabbing a nice tender leaf from him just as it was about to pop into Snubby's mouth.
One night Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty decided to go for a walk. They gathered their cubs together and in a stern voice Mrs Koala gave her orders.
"I'm going for a walk over the hill, Blinky, and don't you move out of this tree. No skylarking and romping while I'm away; and be good to Snubby."
"Yes, mother," said Blinky demurely, "I'll mind Snubby till you come back."
So Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty climbed down the tree and, after ambling along the ground in a comical way, they disappeared over the rise of the hill.
Blinky had been watching their progress and he also had heard Mrs Grunty telling his mother about the store on the road where the motor cars went past, and he had a great longing to see these things.
"Stuck in a tree all the time!" he grunted. "I'm for adventure, snakes or no snakes. I'm not afraid."
"What are you saying?" inquired Snubby in a tone of wonder.
"I'm going to see those motor cars and the store," said Blinky in a bold voice.
"Oh! you can't," said Snubby, quite frightened at the idea. "Our mothers will be very angry, and besides you'll get lost!"
"I'm going!" said naughty Blinky in a bold voice, "and you may come too if you like."
"No! I couldn't," said Snubby in a terrified whisper. "Mrs Snake might chase us."
"If we don't poke faces at her, she won't," said Blinky. "I'm going."
"Please don't go, Blinky," implored Snubby.
"Cry-baby," mocked Blinky. "Just show me which way the road lies."
"Over there," said little Snubby, pointing his paw to the direction.
"I'll be back in no time; and while I'm away, don't fall out of the tree." And Blinky started down the tree with a very brave look in his eye.
At the foot of the tree some of the braveness left him. Everything was so strange and the world seemed so large. Even the bushes appeared to look like big trees, and he fancied he could see all kinds of strange faces looking at him round the corners and through the grass. A cricket popped up, just at his feet. Blinky stood still with fright, his heart going pit-a-pat at a great rate.
"Good evening, young bear, and where do you think you're going?" the cricket inquired.
"To see the motor cars and the store," Blinky replied in a very subdued tone.
"Great hoppers!" said the cricket. "A very bold lad, that's what I think you are."
"A fellow can't stay at home all the time," replied Blinky.
"Well, take care you don't come to harm!" And the cricket hopped on its way.
"Cheek," muttered Blinky to himself. "Why can't a bear go and see motor cars?"
On he went, sometimes stopping to nibble at a plant that looked extra sweet. It was a great adventure to taste something new and see and smell the bush flowers. After travelling many miles he began to feel tired, so looked around for a gum-tree where a little bear could have a nap in safety.
Finding just the kind he wanted, up he climbed, and there, in a cosy fork between two large branches, he cuddled up and went to sleep, his head snuggled down on his tummy, and his two front paws folded over his ears. He looked just like a ball of fur, but to anyone trying to spy him in that tree—well, it was impossible. Towards daylight he opened his eyes, and was a little surprised to find himself in a strange land. He had to think quite hard for a time to find out where he really was, then remembering he was on an adventure, he snatched a few leaves and gobbled them up in a great haste, for he wanted to travel before the sun rose too high in the sky. Very carefully he climbed down the tree, as a slip would mean a broken leg or arm, and Mr Blinky knew how to use those strong claws of his. He spread them out in a masterful way, not losing his grip with one leg until he was sure of the other. Once on the ground, he gambolled along just like a toy bear on being wound up with a key.
As the sun climbed higher in the sky he found the tall trees growing thinner, farther apart, and more open ground, also the bush tracks branched off into other tracks. It was puzzling to know which to take, but he kept in mind the direction Snubby had pointed. Another rest during the midday and he felt that his journey must be nearing its end. He could now hear strange noises, and smell the dust.
"I must be near the motor cars and store," he thought as slowly he crawled up a tree to see what was in view.
There just ahead of him was the road, and that surely must be the store.
"What a funny place," thought Blinky.
Down he came, out of the tree, and toddled to the edge of the bush. There he lay in the scrub, waiting to see all the wonders of the outside world. The sun was setting and something came rushing along the road with two bright lights twinkling. Astonished, Blinky gazed at it. Bu-r-r-r and it was gone, leaving behind a cloud of red dust that nearly blinded him.
"If that's a motor car, I'm sorry I came," said Blinky slowly, as he brushed the dust from his nose.
Peeping through the bushes again he saw lights in the store and some strange being moving about inside. Waiting until all was quiet, he walked across the roadway. Here was adventure indeed, and just the smallest quake of fear ran through him. Glancing over his shoulder he looked to see how far the bush lay behind, in case he needed to run back at any moment, and then walked right on to the veranda. Over the door were large letters that looked like this:
Puzzled, he gazed at everything, never once thinking of his home that lay many miles behind him. He poked his little nose round the doorway. No one was about, and what a lovely lot of new things to see. Rows and rows of strange things in tins and jars.
Bottles on a shelf filled with pretty colours. Some marked "Raspberry" and others "Orange". And good gracious! there were some gum-tips in a bottle standing on the counter.
"I must eat those," said Blinky to himself, "they look very juicy."
Softly he scrambled on to a box, and then another climb, and he stood on the counter.
Looking round all the time to see that no one came unawares, he tiptoed to the gum-tips. From his position behind the bottle he could see Miss Pimm moving about in her kitchen, and judging by the smells that reached his nose she was cooking her dinner. He ate and ate and ate those gum-tips. Such a wonderful "tuck-in" he had. His tummy grew very round until at last he found he could see Miss Pimm very clearly, as only a few stalks stuck out of the neck of the bottle. They looked very strange standing there, without a leaf to show, and a fat little bear gazing through them all the while. Next to him stood some big jars of sweets. All labelled in the same strange writing: "Boiled Lollies", "Ginger", "Chocolates", "Caramels", "Peppermints".
"They look nice," thought Blinky, as he touched the jar with his paws. "P-e-p-p-e-r-m-i-n-t-s. Perhaps they are really gum-leaves," he thought, and very quietly lifted the lid. His claws were handy for more things than climbing gum-trees.
He scooped a pawful out of the jar, and cautiously tasted one. Finding it hot and very like some plants he had tasted in the bush, he ate more. He went on eating Miss Pimm's peppermints and put in his paw to gather more from the jar. Just as he did so, the lid on which he had been standing slipped from under him, and down it rolled with a terrible thump and bang.
Miss Pimm came rushing through the house.
"What a smell of eucalyptus! I must have upset a bottle," she cried to someone in the kitchen.
Blinky got a dreadful fright. He was too frightened to move and just sat there and blinked, one paw in the peppermint jar and the other in his mouth.
"Oh, you robber!" shrieked Miss Pimm, as she caught sight of him. "Stealing my peppermints. I'll teach you—you young cub," and she grasped a ruler that lay on the shelf.
"It's life or death," thought Blinky very quickly, and made a dart off the counter and round the corner, right into a large tin of biscuits. Fortunately the tin was nearly empty, so there was plenty of room to hide.
"You young scallawag," cried Miss Pimm, "wait until I catch you. All my gum-tips gone as well." This seemed to put new vigour into her actions and she fairly flew round the shop. To Blinky, hiding away in the biscuit tin she sounded more like an elephant rushing round than anything else. Round the corner she came and then, catching sight of Blinky in the tin, she banged the lid down with an awful crash.
"I've got you now, you young thief," she called out triumphantly. "You won't get out of there in a hurry, and to make sure of you, I'll get a box to put you in."
Blinky was breathless. Whatever was going to happen? Would he be killed or taken to one of those zoos that Mrs Grunty spoke about?
I must get out of here, he thought, and waste no time about it.
Listening with his ear to the side of the tin, he heard Miss Pimm's footsteps going towards the kitchen, then pushing open the lid a little way with his head he peeped out. Everything was safe. She was still away, but he could hear her talking and rummaging about outside. Quickly he climbed out of the tin and was walking round the back of the counter looking for a good place to hide when he heard Miss Pimm's footsteps coming back again.
"Oh dear, what shall I do?" he panted. "She'll catch me for sure this time." He dived into a sack of potatoes just as she came through the doorway.
"You'll stay in this box now, young man," said Miss Pimm, "and I'll sell you to the first person who wants a young thief." She tramped round to the biscuit tin. Imagine her rage when she found the tin open and no bear there.
"He's the devil himself," she cried, and started to open every tin she could find. Next she looked round the boxes of fruit, and under the counter, then sniffing loudly, she came to the sack of potatoes. "So you'd make all my potatoes taste of eucalyptus. Well, we'll see about that. Where's my box?" She rushed over to the door to get the box, and at the same moment Blinky jumped out of the sack of potatoes. But she saw him. Round the counter she came, the box under her arm, and round the other way rushed Blinky.
"Stop! Stop! I tell you," she screamed. But Blinky had no idea of stopping. He popped in and out of corners, over tins, under bags, and Miss Pimm after him. It was a terrible scuttle and the whole shop seemed to shake. Bottles and tins rattled on the shelves, the door banged, papers flew everywhere, and in the middle of all the din Miss Pimm tripped over a broom that was standing against the counter. Down she fell, box and all. The clatter was dreadful and her cries were worse. Blinky was terrified. How he wished a gum-tree would spring up through the floor. Suddenly, all in a twinkling, he saw a big bin standing open beside him and without any thought of what might be inside, he climbed up the side and flopped in. It was half full of oatmeal.
Down she fell—box and all.
Using both paws as quickly as he could, he scratched a hole in the oatmeal, wriggled and wriggled down as far as he could until he was quite hidden: all that could be seen was a little black nose breathing very quickly. He kept his eyes closed very tightly, and felt very uncomfortable all over: but he was safe at last.
Miss Pimm slowly picked herself up. Her side was hurt and her leg was bruised. The box was broken and also the broom handle. She seemed quite dazed and felt her head. Then, holding on to the counter with one hand she limped round the back of it once more.
"You'll die this time, when I get you," and she seemed to choke the words out.
Every tin, every sack, and every box was moved and examined, but no bear was to be found. She didn't stop to have her tea, but went on searching, hour after hour, and all the store had to be tidied up again. After a very long time she locked the door leading on to the roadway, and Blinky, feeling the benefit of his rest and becoming bolder each minute, peeped over the top of the oatmeal bin. He saw Miss Pimm taking a little packet from a case marked "A.S.P.R.O." He popped down again as he felt quite safe in the bin, but he listened with his large ears to any sound she made.
He ate—and ate—and ate those gum-tips.
Presently the lights went out, and after mumbling to herself about the "young cub", she went through to the kitchen. Blinky could see the moon shining through the window-panes and he very, very quietly and gently crawled out of the bin. A shower of oatmeal flew over the floor as he landed on his feet and shook his coat and ears, so that oatmeal was everywhere. Right on to the window-ledge he climbed, trod all over the apples in the window that Miss Pimm had so carefully polished, and sat down for a few minutes on a box of chocolates, then noticing more peppermints in the window he pushed a pawful into his mouth and munched away in great content. The window was open half way up so he climbed up the side and sat on the open sill, feeling very brave and happy. What a tale he would have to tell Snubby when he reached home.
He sat down for few minutes on a box of chocolates.
"Click!" The light in the store was on.
Blinky wasted no more time on thoughts. He was off that window-ledge and across the road in a few seconds. He reached the edge of the bush safely and turned round to see what was happening. Miss Pimm stood in front of the store with a big policeman, pointing to the open window, and then they looked across the roadway to the bush where Blinky lay hidden behind a tree.
"Well, it's a pity he got away," Blinky heard the policeman say, "as the Zoo would have paid you well to have had that young bear. I didn't know there were any about here; and I've lived in the district for thirty years."
"I'd have given him gladly to the Zoo and no payment in return," said Miss Pimm savagely, "if they had offered to replace the peppermints and oatmeal."
The next day when some motorists stopped at Miss Pimm's store and bought some biscuits, they wondered why the biscuits had such a strong taste of eucalyptus.
Blinky now felt a "man of the world"; but he thought it wise to go home before any more adventures came his way. So walking along and running sometimes as fast as his funny little legs would take him, he came to the tall tree where he had rested the night before.
Climbing up to the same branch he was asleep in no time and slept all through the night until the birds woke him at dawn, with their chattering. Two kookaburras flew into the tree where he lay and laughed very loudly as they saw Blinky curled up in the corner.
"I'll tell Jacko, if you laugh at me," he said, in a loud voice. "He's my godfather."
"We were only laughing at the white stuff on your nose," the kookaburras explained. "It looks so funny." Blinky rubbed his nose with his paw, and found it still covered with oatmeal, then grunting angrily he stood up and gave himself a shake. "I must be going," he said. And down the tree he climbed and on to the ground again.
He wondered if he had been away from home very long, and began to feel a little uncomfortable about his greeting when he did arrive. Would mother be very angry? Perhaps she was still away with Mrs Grunty. But his fears did not last very long, as a bee flew across his pathway, and he became very curious about that bee. It flew to a flower to gather the pollen. Blinky trotted along to see what it was doing and watched very closely as the bee buzzed about dipping its small head into the heart of the flower. Something warned him not to touch it; but being a little boy bear, he just couldn't watch any longer without giving a poke. So out came his paw, and he reached to pat it. He tried to play with it; but the bee objected, and with a loud buzz stung him right on the nose. Oh, how he cried, and danced about, rubbing his nose with his paws. He ran on blindly, not looking to see where he was going, and after some minutes, when the pain stopped, he found he had lost his way. He had taken a wrong turning on the bush track, and now—what would happen?
Blinky sat down to think things over. While he was puzzling his brain, and wondering which way to turn, a kind little green lizard peeped through the grass and said in a very small voice:
"What's the matter, Blinky? You look very sorry for yourself!"
"I'm lost," replied Blinky, "and I don't know how to find my way home."
"I know where you live," said the lizard joyfully. "You follow me, and I'll lead the way."
"I know where you live," said the lizard joyfully.
"I'm so glad I met you," Blinky replied. And, as the lizard walked ahead, he followed, never taking his eyes off her. In and out of the grass and under bushes she ran at an amazing speed, until they reached the path again.
"You're safe now," she said, turning to Blinky, "keep straight ahead and your gum-tree is not far away."
"Thank you, Miss Lizard," said Blinky politely. "I must hurry as my mother is waiting for me."
On he ran. It seemed a long way to him, and how he wished Angelina would hop along and take him on her back.
As he came to the top of the hill, he saw his home down in the hollow, and he was quite sure he could hear his mother calling for him.
Hurrying along, faster than ever, he now heard grunts and cries, and his heart went pit-a-pat as though it would jump out of his skin.
Suddenly his mother saw him. She grunted loudly with joy, and Mrs Grunty and Snubby joined in the chorus.
"I'm here, mother," Blinky called. "I'm at the foot of the tree."
"Oh, you naughty cub. Where have you been? Just wait until you climb up the tree—"
"Don't smack me, mother," Blinky whimpered. "I'll never run away again."
Bit by bit he climbed the tree, all the time imploring his mother not to spank him. He was so long in reaching the branch where Mrs Koala and Mrs Grunty and Snubby were waiting, and they were so pleased to see him safely home, that Mrs Koala forgot to spank him. She hugged him and petted him and Snubby laughed and danced on the branch. It was good to be home, but Blinky still wondered if his mother would remember to punish him. But she didn't. She did not forget. Mother's don't do those things, but she wanted Blinky to think she did.
"Where have you been all this time?" she inquired.
"I saw Miss Pimm and a big policeman," Blinky said in a loud voice. "And I ate Miss Pimm's peppermints."
"Wonder it did not kill the young lubber," said Mrs Grunty.
Snubby's eyes nearly fell out of his head as he listened to Blinky's story, when later on in the evening they sat together in the fork of the tree whispering and giggling as Blinky told him all about his adventures. When at last he cuddled up and went to sleep, close to his mother, Mrs Koala could be seen rubbing a gum-leaf over a very swollen little nose.