Dot and the Kangaroo/Chapter I

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The Red Kangaroo[edit]

Little Dot had lost her way in the bush. She knew it, and was very frightened.

She was too frightened in fact to cry, but stood in the middle of a little dry, bare space, looking around her at the scraggy growths of prickly shrubs that had torn her little dress to rags, scratched her bare legs and feet till they bled, and pricked her hands and arms as she had pushed madly through the bushes, for hours, seeking her home. Sometimes she looked up to the sky. But little of it could be seen because of the great tall trees that seemed to her to be trying to reach heaven with their far-off crooked branches. She could see little patches of blue sky between the tangled tufts of drooping leaves, and, as the dazzling sunlight had faded, she began to think it was getting late, and that very soon it would be night.

The thought of being lost and alone in the wild bush at night, took her breath away with fear, and made her tired little legs tremble under her. She gave up all hope of finding her home, and sat down at the foot of the biggest blackbutt tree, with her face buried in her hands and knees, and thought of all that had happened, and what might happen yet.

It seemed such a long, long time since her mother had told her that she might gather some bush flowers whilst she cooked the dinner, and Dot recollected how she was bid not to go out of sight of the cottage. How she wished now that she had remembered this sooner! But whilst she was picking the pretty flowers, a hare suddenly started at her feet and sprang away into the bush, and she had run after it. When she found that she could not catch the hare, she discovered that she could no longer see the cottage. After wandering for a while she got frightened and ran, and ran, little knowing that she was going further away from her home at every step.

Where she was sitting under the blackbutt tree, she was miles away from her father's selection, and it would be very difficult for anyone to find her. She felt that she was a long way off, and she began to think of what was happening at home. She remembered how, not very long ago, a neighbour's little boy had been lost, and how his mother had come to their cottage for help to find him, and that her father had ridden off on the big bay horse to bring men from all the selections around to help in the search. She remembered their coming back in the darkness; numbers of strange men she had never seen before. Old men, young men, and boys, all on their rough-coated horses, and how they came indoors, and what a noise they made all talking together in their big deep voices. They looked terrible men, so tall and brown and fierce, with their rough bristly beards; and they all spoke in such funny tones to her, as if they were trying to make their voices small.

During many days these men came and went, and every time they were more sad, and less noisy. The little boy's mother used to come and stay, crying, whilst the men were searching the bush for her little son. Then, one evening, Dot's father came home alone, and both her mother and the little boy's mother went away in a great hurry. Then, very late, her mother came back crying, and her father sat smoking by the fire looking very sad, and she never saw that little boy again, although he had been found.

She wondered now if all these rough, big men were riding into the bush to find her, and if, after many days, they would find her, and no one ever see her again. She seemed to see her mother crying, and her father very sad, and all the men very solemn. These thoughts made her so miserable that she began to cry herself.

Dot does not know how long she was sobbing in loneliness and fear, with her head on her knees, and with her little hands covering her eyes so as not to see the cruel wild bush in which she was lost. It seemed a long time before she summoned up courage to uncover her weeping eyes, and look once more at the bare, dry earth, and the wilderness of scrub and trees that seemed to close her in as if she were in a prison. When she did look up, she was surprised to see that she was no longer alone. She forgot all her trouble and fear in her astonishment at seeing a big grey Kangaroo squatting quite close to her, in front of her.

The Kangaroo finds Dot

What was most surprising was that the Kangaroo evidently understood that Dot was in trouble, and was sorry for her; for down the animal's nice soft grey muzzle two tiny little tears were slowly trickling. When Dot looked up at it with wonder in her round blue eyes, the Kangaroo did not jump away, but remained gazing sympathetically at Dot with a slightly puzzled air. Suddenly the big animal seemed to have an idea, and it lightly hopped off into the scrub, where Dot could just see it bobbing up and down as if it were hunting for something. Presently back came the strange Kangaroo with a spray of berries in her funny black hands. They were pretty berries. Some were green, some were red, some blue, and others white. Dot was quite glad to take them when the Kangaroo offered them to her; and as this friendly animal seemed to wish her to eat them, she did so gladly, because she was beginning to feel hungry.

After she had eaten a few berries a very strange thing happened. While Dot had been alone in the bush it had all seemed so dreadfully still. There had been no sound but the gentle stir of a light, fitful breeze in the far-away tree-tops. All around had been so quiet, that her loneliness had seemed twenty times more lonely. Now, however, under the influence of these small, sweet berries, Dot was surprised to hear voices everywhere. At first it seemed like hearing sounds in a dream, they were so faint and distant, but soon the talking grew nearer and nearer, louder and clearer, until the whole bush seemed filled with talking.

They were all little voices, some indeed quite tiny whispers and squeaks, but they were very numerous, and seemed to be everywhere. They came from the earth, from the bushes, from the trees, and from the very air. The little girl looked round to see where they came from, but everything looked just the same. Hundreds of ants, of all kinds and sizes, were hurrying to their nests; a few lizards were scuttling about amongst the dry twigs and sparse grasses; there were some grasshoppers, and in the trees birds fluttered to and fro. Then Dot knew that she was hearing, and understanding, everything that was being said by all the insects and creatures in the bush.

All this time the Kangaroo had been speaking, only Dot had been too surprised to listen. But now the gentle, soft voice of the kind animal caught her attention, and she found that the Kangaroo was in the middle of a speech.

"I understood what was the matter with you at once," she was saying, "for I feel just the same myself. I have been miserable, like you, ever since I lost my baby kangaroo. You also must have lost something. Tell me what it is?"

"I've lost my way," said Dot; rather wondering if the Kangaroo would understand her.

"Ah!" said the Kangaroo, quite delighted at her own cleverness, "I knew you had lost something! Isn't it a dreadful feeling? You feel as if you had no inside, don't you? And you're not inclined to eat anything—not even the youngest grass. I have been like that ever since I lost my baby kangaroo. Now tell me," said the creature confidentially, "what your way is like, I may be able to find it for you."

Dot found that she must explain what she meant by saying she had "lost her way," and the Kangaroo was much interested.

"Well," said she, after listening to the little girl, "that is just like you Humans; you are not fit for this country at all! Of course, if you have only one home in one place, you must lose it! If you made your home everywhere and anywhere, it would never be lost. Humans are no good in our bush," she continued. "Just look at yourself now. How do you compare with a kangaroo? There is your ridiculous sham coat. Well, you have lost bits of it all the way you have come to-day, and you're nearly left in your bare skin. Now look at my coat. I've done ever so much more hopping than you to-day, and you see I'm none the worse. I wonder why all your fur grows upon the top of your head," she said reflectively, as she looked curiously at Dot's long flaxen curls. "It's such a silly place to have one's fur the thickest! You see, we have very little there; for we don't want our heads made any hotter under the Australian sun. See how much better off you would be, now that nearly all your sham coat is gone, if that useless fur had been chopped into little, short lengths, and spread all over your poor bare body. I wonder why you Humans are made so badly," she ended, with a puzzled air.

Dot felt for a moment as if she ought to apologise for being so unfit for the bush, and for having all the fur on the top of her head. But, somehow, she had an idea that a little girl must be something better than a kangaroo, although the Kangaroo certainly seemed a very superior person; so she said nothing, but again began to eat the berries.

"You must not eat any more of these berries," said the Kangaroo, anxiously.

"Why?" asked Dot, "they are very nice, and I'm very hungry."

The Kangaroo gently took the spray out of Dot's hand, and threw it away. "You see," she said, "if you eat too many of them, you'll know too much."

"One can't know too much," argued the little girl.

"Yes you can, though," said the Kangaroo, quickly. "If you eat too many of those berries, you'll learn too much, and that gives you indigestion, and then you become miserable. I don't want you to be miserable any more, for I'm going to find your 'lost way.'"

The mention of finding her way reminded the little girl of her sad position, which, in her wonder at talking with the Kangaroo, had been quite forgotten for a little while. She became sad again; and seeing how dim the light was getting, her thoughts went back to her parents. She longed to be with them to be kissed and cuddled, and her blue eyes filled with tears.

"Your eyes just now remind me of two fringed violets, with the morning dew on them, or after a shower," said the Kangaroo. "Why are you crying?"

"I was thinking," said Dot.

"Oh! don't think!" pleaded the Kangaroo; "I never do myself."

"I can't help it!" explained the little girl. "What do you do instead?" she asked.

"I always jump to conclusions," said the Kangaroo, and she promptly bounded ten feet at one hop. Lightly springing back again to her position in front of the child, she added, "and that's why I never have a headache."

"Dear Kangaroo," said Dot, "do you know where I can get some water? I'm very thirsty!"

"Of course you are," said her friend; "everyone is at sundown. I'm thirsty myself. But the nearest water-hole is a longish way off, so we had better start at once."

Little Dot got up with an effort. After her long run and fatigue, she was very stiff, and her little legs were so tired and weak, that after a few steps she staggered and fell.

The Kangaroo looked at the child compassionately. "Poor little Human," she said, "your legs aren't much good, and, for the life of me, I don't understand how you can expect to get along without a tail. The water-hole is a good way off," she added, with a sigh, as she looked down at Dot, lying on the ground, and she was very puzzled what to do. But suddenly she brightened up. "I have an idea," she said joyfully. "Just step into my pouch, and I'll hop you down to the water-hole in less time than it takes a locust to shrill."

Timidly and carefully, Dot did the Kangaroo's bidding, and found herself in the cosiest, softest little bag imaginable. The Kangaroo seemed overjoyed, when Dot was comfortably settled in her pouch. "I feel as if I had my dear baby kangaroo again!" she exclaimed; and immediately she bounded away through the tangled scrub, over stones and bushes, over dry water-courses and great fallen trees. And all Dot felt was a gentle rocking motion, and a fresh breeze in her face, which made her so cheerful that she sang this song:—

If you want to go quick,
I will tell you a trick
For the bush, where there isn't a train.
With a hulla-buloo,
Hail a big kangaroo—
But be sure that your weight she'll sustain—
Then with hop, and with skip,
She will take you a trip
With the speed of the very best steed;
And, this is a truth for which I can vouch,
There's no carriage can equal a kangaroo's pouch.
Oh! where is a friend so strong and true
As a dear big, bounding kangaroo?

"Good bye! Good bye!"
The lizards all cry,
Each drying its eyes with its tail.
"Adieu! Adieu!
Dear kangaroo!"
The scared little grasshoppers wail.
"They're going express
To a distant address,"
Says the bandicoot, ready to scoot;
And your path is well cleared for your progress, I vouch,
When you ride through the bush in a kangaroo's pouch.
Oh! where is a friend so strong and true
As a dear big, bounding kangaroo?

"Away and away!"
You will certainly say,
"To the end of the farthest blue—
To the verge of the sky,
And the far hills high,
O take me with thee, kangaroo!
We will seek for the end,
Where the broad plains tend,
E'en as far as the evening star.
Why, the end of the world we can reach, I vouch,
Dear kangaroo, with me in your pouch."
Oh! where is a friend so strong and true
As a dear big, bounding kangaroo?