Dot and the Kangaroo/Chapter VI
It was terrible to Dot to see the Kangaroo hop off into the dark bush, and to find herself all alone; so she crawled out from under the ledge of rock into the moonlight, and sat on a stone where she could see the sky, and watch the black ragged clouds hurry over the moon. But the bush was not altogether quiet. She could hear an owl hooting at the moon. Not far off was a camp of quarrelsome Flying Foxes, and the melancholy Nightjar in the distance was fulfilling its mission of making all the bush creatures miserable with its incessant, mournful "mo-poke! mo-poke!" As Dot could understand all the voices, it amused her to listen to the wrangles of the Flying Foxes, as they ate the fruit of a wild fig tree near by. She saw them swoop past on their huge black wings with a solemn flapping. Then, as each little Fox approached the tree, the Foxes who were there already screamed, and swore in dreadfully bad language at the visitor. For every little Fox on the tree was afraid some other Flying Fox would eat all the figs, and as each visitor arrived he was assailed with cries of, "Get away! you're not wanted here!"
"This is my branch, my figs!"
"Go and find figs for yourself!"
"These figs are not half ripe like the juicy ones on the other side of the tree!"
Then the new-comer Flying Fox, with a spiteful squeal, would pounce down on a branch already occupied, and angry spluttering and screams would arise, followed by a heavy fall of fighting Foxes tumbling with a crash through the trees. Then out into the open sky swept dozens of black wings, accompanied by abusive swearing from dozens of wicked little brown Foxes; and, as they settled again on the tree, all the fighting would begin again, so that the squealing, screaming, and swearing never ended.
As Dot was listening to the fighting of the Flying Foxes, she heard a sound near her that alarmed her greatly. It was impossible to say what the noise was like. It might have been the braying of a donkey mixed up with the clattering of palings tumbled together, and with grunts and snorts. Dot started to her feet in fright, and would have run away, only she was afraid of being lost worse than ever, so she stood still and looked round for the terrible monster that could make such extraordinary sounds. The grunts and clattering stopped, and the noise died away in a long doleful bray, but she could not see where it came from. Having peered into the dark shadows, Dot went more into the open, and sat with her back to a fallen tree, keeping an anxious watch all round.
"Perhaps it is the Blacks. What would they do with me if they found me? What will happen if they have killed my dear Kangaroo?" and she covered her face with her hands as this terrible thought came into her head. Soon she heard something coming towards her stealthily and slowly. She would not look up she was so frightened. She was sure it was some fierce-looking Black man, with his spear, about to kill her. She shut her eyes closer, and held her breath. "Perhaps," she thought, "he will not see me." Then a cold shiver went through her little body, as she felt something claw hold of her hair, and she thought she was about to be killed. She kept her eyes shut, and the clawing went on, and then to her astonishment she heard an animal voice say in wondering tones:
"Why, it's fur! how funny it looked in the moonlight!" Then Dot opened her eyes very wide and looked round, and saw a funny Native Bear on the tree trunk behind her. He was quite clearly to be seen in the moonlight. His thick, grey fur, that looked as if he was wrapped up to keep out the most terrible cold weather; his short, stumpy, big legs, and little sharp face with big bushy ears, could be seen as distinctly as in daylight. Dot had never seen one so near before, and she loved it at once, it looked so innocent and kind.
"You dear little Native Bear!" she exclaimed, at once stroking its head.
"Am I a Native Bear?" asked the animal in a meek voice. "I never heard that before. I thought I was a Koala. I've always been told so, but of course one never knows oneself. What are you? Do you know?"
"I'm a little girl," replied Dot, proudly.
The Koala saw that Dot was proud, but as it didn't see any reason why she should be, it was not a bit afraid of her.
"I never heard of one or saw one before," it said, simply. "Do you burrow, or live in a tree?"
"I live at home," said Dot; but, wishing to be quite correct, she added, "that is, when I am there."
"Then, where are you now?" asked the Koala, rather perplexed.
"I'm not at home," replied Dot, not knowing how to make her position clear to the little animal.
"Then you live where you don't live?" said the Koala; "where is it?" and the little Bear looked quite unhappy in its attempt to understand what Dot meant.
"I've lost it," said Dot. "I don't know where it is."
"You make my head feel empty," said the Koala, sadly. "I live in the gum tree over there. Do you eat gum leaves?"
"No. When I'm at home I have milk, and bread, and eggs, and meat."
"Dear me!" said the Koala. "They're all new to one. Is it far? I should like to see the trees they grow on. Please show me the way."
"But I can't," said Dot; "they don't grow on trees, and I don't know my way home. It's lost, you see."
"I don't see," said the Native Bear. "I never can see far at night, and not at all in daylight. That is why I came here. I saw your fur shining in the moonlight, and I couldn't make out what it was, so I came to see. If there is anything new to be seen, I must get a near view of it. I don't feel happy if I don't know all about it. Aren't you cold?"
"Yes, I am, a little, since my Kangaroo left me," Dot said.
"Now you make my head feel empty again," said the Koala, plaintively. "What has a Kangaroo got to do with your feeling cold? What have you done with your fur?"
"I never had any," said Dot, "only these curls," and she touched her little head.
"Then you ought to be black," argued the Koala. "You're not the right colour. Only Blacks have no fur, but what they steal from the proper owners. Do you steal fur?" it asked in an anxious voice.
"How do they steal fur?" asked Dot.
The Koala looked very miserable, and spoke with horror. "They kill us with spears, and tear off our skins and wear them because their own skins are no good."
"That's not stealing," said Dot; "that's killing"; and, although it seemed very difficult to make the little Bear understand, she explained, "Stealing is taking away another person's things; and when a person is dead he hasn't anything belonging to him, so it's not stealing to take what belonged to him before, because it isn't his any longer—that is, if it doesn't belong to anyone else."
"You make my head feel empty," complained the Koala. "I'm sure you're all wrong; for an animal's skin and fur is his own, and it's his life's business to keep it whole. Everyone in the bush is trying to keep his skin whole, all day long, and all night too. Good gracious! what is the matter up there?"
A terrible hullabaloo between a pair of Opossums up a neighbouring gum tree arrested the attention of both Dot and the Koala. Presently the sounds of snarling, spitting, and screaming ended, and an Opossum climbed out to the far end of a branch, where the moonlight shone on his grey fur like silver. There he remained snapping and barking disagreeable things to his mate, who climbed up to the topmost branch, and snarled and growled back equally unpleasant remarks.
"Why don't you bring in gum leaves for to-morrow, instead of sleeping all day and half the night too?" shouted the Opossum on the branch to his wife. "You know I get hungry before daylight is over and hate going out in the light."
"Get them yourself, you lazy loon!" retorted the lady Opossum. "If you disturb my dreams again this way, I'll make your fur fly."
"Take care!" barked back her husband, "or I'll bring you off that branch pretty quickly."
"You'd better try!" sneered his wife. "Remember how I landed you into the billabong the other night!"
The taunt was too much for the Opossum on the branch; he scuttled up the tree to reach his mate, who sprang forward from her perch into the air. Dot saw her spring with her legs all spread out, so that the skinny flaps were like furry wings. By this means she was able to break her fall, and softly alighting on the earth, a moment after, she had scrambled up another tree, followed by her mate. From tree to tree, from branch to branch, they fled or pursued one another, with growls, screams, and splutters, until they disappeared from sight.
"How unhappy those poor Opossums must be, living in the same tree," said Dot; "why don't they live in different trees?"
"They wouldn't be happy," observed the Koala, "they are so fond of one another."
"Then why do they quarrel?" asked Dot.
"Because they live in the same tree of course," said the Koala. "If they lived in different trees, and never quarrelled, they wouldn't like it at all. They'd find life dull, and they'd get sulky. There's nothing worse than a sulky 'possum. They are champions at that."
"They make a dreadful noise with their quarrelling," said Dot. "They are nearly as bad as the Flying Foxes over there. I wonder if they made that fearful sound I heard just before you came?"
"I expect what you heard was from me," said the Koala; "I had just awakened, and when I saw the moon was up I felt pleased."
"Was all that sound and many noises yours?" asked Dot with astonishment, as she regarded the shaggy little animal on the tree trunk.
The Koala smiled modestly. "Yes!" it said; "when I'm pleased there is no creature in the bush can make such a noise, or so many different noises at once. I waken everyone for a quarter of a mile round. You wouldn't think it, to see me as I am, would you?" The Koala was evidently very pleased with this accomplishment.
"It isn't kind of you to wake up all the sleeping creatures," said Dot.
"Why not?" asked the Koala. "You are a night creature, I suppose, or you wouldn't be awake now. Well, don't you think it unfair the way everything is arranged for the day creatures?"
"But then," said Dot, "there are so many more day creatures."
"That doesn't make any difference," observed the Koala.
"But it does," said Dot.
"How?" asked the Native Bear.
"Because if you had the day it wouldn't be any good to you, and if they had the night it wouldn't be any good to them. So your night couldn't be their day, and their day couldn't be your night."
"You make my head feel empty," said the Koala. "But you'd think differently if a flock of Kookooburras settled on your tree, and guffawed idiotically when you wanted to sleep."
"As you don't like being waked yourself, why do you wake others then?" asked Dot.
"Because this is a free country," said the Koala. While Dot was trying to understand why the Koala's reason should suffice for one animal making another's life uncomfortable, she was rejoiced to see the Kangaroo bound into sight. She forgot all about the Koala, and rushed forward to meet it.