Read Third Slice of The Magic Pudding , free online book, by Norman Lindsay, on ReadCentral.com.

‘After our experience of yesterday,’ said Bill Barnacle as the company of Puddin’-owners set off along the road with their Puddin’, ’we shall have to be particularly careful. For what with low puddin’-thieves disguising themselves as firemen, and low Wombats sneakin’ our Puddin’ while we’re helpin’ to put out fires, not to speak of all the worry and bother of tryin’ to get information out of parrots and bandicoots an’ hedgehogs, why, it’s enough to make a man suspect his own grandfather of bein’ a puddin’-snatcher.’

‘As for me,’ said Sam Sawnoff, practising boxing attitudes as he walked along, ’I feel like laying out the first man we meet on the off-chance of his being a puddin’-thief.’

‘Indeed,’ observed Bunyip Bluegum, ’to have one’s noblest feelings outraged by reposing a too great trust in unworthy people, is to end by regarding all humanity with an equal suspicion.’

‘If you ask my opinion,’ said the Puddin’ cynically, ’them puddin’-thieves are too clever for you; and, what’s more, they’re better eaters than you. Why,’ said the Puddin’, sneering at Bill, ’I’ll back one puddin’-thief to eat more in a given time than three Puddin’-owners put together.’

‘These are very treacherous sentiments, Albert,’ said Bill sternly. ‘These are very ignoble and shameless words,’ but the Puddin’ merely laughed scornfully, and called Bill a bun-headed old beetle-crusher.

‘Very well,’ said Bill, enraged, ’we shall see if a low puddin’-thief is better than a noble Puddin’-owner. When you see the terrible suspicions I shall indulge in to-day you’ll regret them words.’

To prove his words Bill insisted on closely inspecting everybody he met, in case they should be puddin’-thieves in disguise.

To start off with, they had an unpleasant scene with a Kookaburra, a low larrikin who resented the way that Bill examined him.

‘Who are you starin’ at, Poodle’s Whiskers?’ he asked.

‘Never mind,’ said Bill. ‘I’m starin’ at you for a good an’ sufficient reason.’

‘Are yer?’ said the Kookaburra. ’Well, all I can say is that if yer don’t take yer dial outer the road I’ll bloomin’ well take an’ bounce a gibber off yer crust,’ and he followed them for quite a long way, singing out insulting things such as, ‘You with the wire whiskers,’ and ‘Get onter the bloke with the face fringe.’

Bill, of course, treated this conduct with silent contempt. It was his rule through life, he said, never to fight people with beaks.

The next encounter they had was with a Flying-fox who, though not so vulgar and rude as the Kookaburra, was equally enraged because, as Bill had suspicions that he was the Possum disguised, he insisted on measuring him to see if he was the same length.

‘Nice goings on, indeed,’ said the Flying-fox, while Bill was measuring him, ’if a man can’t go about his business without being measured by total strangers. A nice thing, indeed, to happen to Finglebury Flying-fox, the well-known and respected fruit stealer.’

However, he was found to be six inches too short, so they let him go, and he hurried off, saying, ’I shall have the Law on you for this, measuring a man in a public place without being licensed as a tailor.’

The third disturbance due to Bill’s suspicions occurred while Bunyip Bluegum was in a grocer’s shop. They had run out of tea and sugar, and happening to pass through the town of Bungledoo took the opportunity of laying in a fresh supply. If Bunyip hadn’t been in the shop, as was pointed out afterwards, the trouble wouldn’t have occurred. The first he heard of it was a scream of ‘Help, help, murder is being done!’ and rushing out of the shop, what was his amazement to see no less a person than his Uncle Wattleberry bounding and plunging about the road with Bill hanging on to his whiskers, and Sam hanging on to one leg.

‘I’ve got him,’ shouted Bill. ’Catch a hold of his other leg and give me a chance to get his whiskers off.’

‘But why are you taking his whiskers off?’ inquired Bunyip Bluegum.

‘Because they’re stuck on with glue,’ shouted Bill. ’I saw it at a glance. It’s Watkin Wombat, Esq., disguised as a company promoter.’

‘Dear me,’ said Bunyip, hurriedly, ’you are making a mistake. This is not a puddin’-thief, this is an Uncle.’

‘A what?’ exclaimed Bill, letting go the whiskers.

‘An Uncle,’ replied Bunyip Bluegum.

‘An Uncle,’ roared Uncle Wattleberry. ’An Uncle of the highest integrity. You have most disgracefully and unmercifully pulled an Uncle’s whiskers.’

‘I can assure you,’ said Bill, ’I pulled them under the delusion that you was a disguised Wombat.’

‘That is no excuse, sir,’ bellowed Uncle Wattleberry. ’No one but an unmitigated ruffian would pull an Uncle’s whiskers.

’Who but the basest scoundrel, double-eyed,
Would pluck an Uncle’s whiskers in their pride,
What baseness, then, doth such a man disclose
Who’d raise a hand to pluck an Uncle’s nose?’

‘If I’ve gone too far,’ said Bill, ’I apologize. If I’d known you was an Uncle I wouldn’t have done it.’

‘Apologies are totally inadequate,’ shouted Uncle Wattleberry. ’Nothing short of felling you to the earth with an umbrella could possibly atone for the outrage. You are a danger to the whisker-growing public. You have knocked my hat off, pulled my whiskers, and tried to remove my nose.’

‘Pullin’ your nose,’ said Bill, solemnly, ’is a mistake any man might make, for I put it to all present, as man to man, if that nose don’t look as if it’s only gummed on.’

All present were forced to admit that it was a mistake that any man might make. ‘Any man,’ as Sam remarked, ’would think he was doing you a kindness by trying to pull it off.’

‘Allow me to point out also, my dear Uncle,’ said Bunyip Bluegum, ’that your whiskers were responsible for this seeming outrage. Let your anger, then, be assuaged by the consciousness that you are the victim, not of malice, but of the misfortune of wearing whiskers.’

‘How now,’ exclaimed Uncle Wattleberry. ’My nephew Bunyip among these sacrilegious whisker-pluckers and nose-pullers. My nephew, not only aiding and abetting these ruffians, but seeking to palliate their crimes! This is too much. My feelings are such that nothing but bounding and plunging can relieve them.’

And thereupon did Uncle Wattleberry proceed to bound and plunge with the greatest activity, shouting all the while

’You need not think I bound and plunge
Like this in festive mood.
I bound that bounding may expunge
The thought of insult rude.

’An Uncle’s rage must seek relief,
His anger must be drowned;
It is to soothe an Uncle’s grief
That thus I plunge and bound.

’I bound and plunge, I seethe with rage,
My mighty anger seeks
So much relief that I engage
To plunge and bound for weeks.’

Seeing that there was no possibility of inducing Uncle Wattleberry to look at the affair in a reasonable light, they walked off and left him to continue his bounding and plunging for the amusement of the people of Bungledoo, who brought their chairs out on to the footpath in order to enjoy the sight at their ease. Bill’s intention to regard everybody he met with suspicion was somewhat damped by this mistake, and he said there ought to be a law to prevent a man going about looking as if he was a disguised puddin’-thief.

The most annoying part of it all was that when the puddin’-thieves did make their appearance they weren’t disguised at all. They were dressed as common ordinary puddin’-thieves, save that the Possum carried a bran bag in his hand and the Wombat waved a white flag.

‘Well, if this isn’t too bad,’ shouted Bill, enraged. ’What d’you mean, comin’ along in this unexpected way without bein’ disguised?’

‘No, no,’ sang out the Possum. ‘No disguises to-day.’

‘No fighting, either,’ said the Wombat.

‘No disguises, no fighting, and no puddin’-stealing,’ said the Possum. ‘Nothing but the fairest and most honourable dealings.’

‘If you ain’t after our Puddin’, what are you after?’ demanded Bill.

‘We’re after bringing you a present in this bag,’ said the Possum.

‘Absurd,’ said Bill. ‘Puddin’-thieves don’t give presents away.’

‘Don’t say that, Bill,’ said the Possum, solemnly. ’If you only knew what noble intentions we have, you’d be ashamed of them words.’

‘You’d blush to hear your voice a-utterin’ of them,’ said the Wombat.

‘I can’t make this out at all,’ said Bill, scratching his head. ’The idea of a puddin’-thief offering a man a present dumbfounds me, as the saying goes.’

‘No harm is intended,’ said the Possum, and the Wombat added: ’Harm is as far from our thoughts as from the thoughts of angels.’

‘Well, well,’ said Bill, at length. ’I’ll just glance at it first, to see what it’s like.’

But the Possum shook his head. ‘No, no, Bill,’ he said, ‘no glancing,’ and the Wombat added: ’To prove that no deception is intended, all heads must look in the bag together.’

‘What’s to be done about this astoundin’ predicament?’ said Bill. ’If there is a present, of course we may as well have it. If there ain’t a present, of course we shall simply have to punch their snouts as usual.’

‘One must confess,’ said Bunyip Bluegum, ’to the prompting of a certain curiosity as to the nature of this present’; and Sam added, ’Anyway, there’s no harm in having a look at it.’

‘No harm whatever,’ said the Possum, and he held the bag open invitingly. The Puddin’-owners hesitated a moment, but the temptation was too strong, and they all looked in together. It was a fatal act. The Possum whipped the bag over their heads, the Wombat whipped a rope round the bag, and there they were, helpless.

The worst of it was that the Puddin’, being too short to look in, was left outside, and the puddin’-thieves grabbed him at once and ran off like winking. To add to the Puddin’-owners’ discomfiture there was a considerable amount of bran in the bag; and, as Bill said afterwards, ‘if there’s anything worse than losing a valuable Puddin’, it’s bran in the whiskers’. They bounded and plunged about, but soon had to stop that on account of treading on each other’s toes especially Sam’s, who endured agonies, having no boots on.

‘What a frightful calamity,’ groaned Bill giving way to despair.

‘It’s worse than being chased by natives on the Limpopo River,’ said Sam.

‘It’s worse than fighting Arabs single-handed,’ croaked Bill.

‘It’s almost as bad as being pecked on the head by eagles,’ said Sam, and in despair they sang in muffled tones

’O what a fearful fate it is,
O what a frightful fag,
To have to walk about like this
All tied up in a bag.

’Our noble confidence has sent
Us on this fearful jag;
In noble confidence we bent
To look inside this bag.

’Deprived of air, in dark despair
Upon our way we drag;
Condemned for evermore to wear
This frightful, fearsome bag.’

Bunyip Bluegum reproved this faint-heartedness, saying, ’As our misfortunes are due to exhibiting too great a trust in scoundrels, so let us bear them with the greater fortitude. As in innocence we fell, so let our conduct in this hour of dire extremity be guided by the courageous endurance of men whose consciences are free from guilt.’

These fine words greatly stimulated the others, and they endured with fortitude, walking on Sam’s feet for an hour and a half, when the sound of footsteps apprised them that a traveller was approaching.

This traveller was a grave, elderly dog named Benjimen Brandysnap, who was going to market with eggs. Seeing three people walking in a bag he naturally supposed they were practising for the sports, but on hearing their appeals for help he very kindly undid the rope.

‘Preserver,’ exclaimed Bill, grasping him by the hand.

‘Noble being,’ said Sam.

‘Guardian angel of oppressed Puddin’-owners,’ said Bunyip Bluegum.

Benjimen was quite overcome by these expressions of esteem, and handed round eggs, which were eaten on the spot.

‘And now,’ said Bill, again shaking hands with their preserver, ’I am about to ask you a most important question. Have you seen any puddin’-thieves about this mornin’?’

‘Puddin’-thieves,’ said Benjimen. ’Let me see. Now that you mention it, I remember seeing two puddin’-thieves at nine-thirty this morning. But they weren’t stealing puddin’s. They were engaged stealing a bag out of my stable. I was busy at the time whistling to the carrots, or I’d have stopped them.’

‘This is most important information,’ said Bill. ’It proves this must be the very bag they stole. In what direction did the scoundrels go, friend, after stealing your bag?’

’As I was engaged at the moment feeding the parsnips, I didn’t happen to notice,’ said Benjimen. ’But at this season puddin’-thieves generally go south-east, owing to the price of onions.’

‘In that case,’ said Bill, ’we shall take a course north-west, for it’s my belief that havin’ stolen our Puddin’ they’ll make back to winter quarters.’

‘We will pursue to the north-west with the utmost vigour,’ said Bunyip.

‘Swearin’ never to give in till revenge has been inflicted and our Puddin’ restored to us,’ said Bill.

‘In order to exacerbate our just anger,’ said Bunyip Bluegum, ’let us sing as we go

THE PUDDIN’-OWNERS’ QUEST

’On a terrible quest we run north-west,
In a terrible rage we run;
With never a rest we run north-west
Till our terrible work is done.
Without delay
Away, away,
In a terrible rage we run all day.

’By our terrible zest you’ve doubtless guessed
That vengeance is our work;
For we seek the nest with terrible zest
Where the puddin’-snatchers lurk.
With rage, with gloom,
With fret and fume,
We seek the puddin’-snatchers’ doom.’

They ran north-west for two hours without seeing a sign of the puddin’-thieves. Benjimen ran with them to exact revenge for the theft of his bag. It was hot work running, and having no Puddin’ they couldn’t have lunch, but Benjimen very generously handed eggs all round again.

‘Eggs is all very well,’ said Bill, eating them in despair, ’but they don’t come up to Puddin’ as a regular diet, and all I can say is, that if that Puddin’ ain’t restored soon I shall go mad with grief.’

‘I shall go mad with rage,’ said Sam, and they both sang loudly

’Go mad with grief or mad with rage,
It doesn’t matter whether;
Our Puddin’s left this earthly stage,
So in despair we must engage
To both go mad together.’

‘I have a suggestion to make,’ said Bunyip Bluegum, ’which will at once restore your wonted good-humour. Observe me.’

He looked about till he found a piece of board, and wrote this notice on it with his fountain pen

A GRAND PROCESSION OF
THE AMALGAMATED SOCIETY OF
PUDDINGS WILL PASS HERE
AT 2.30 TO-DAY

This he hung on a tree. ‘Now,’ said he, ’all that remains to be done is to hide behind this bush. The news of the procession will spread like wildfire through the district, and the puddin’-thieves, unable to resist such a spectacle, will come hurrying to view the procession. The rest will be simply a matter of springing out on them like lions.’

‘Superbly reasoned,’ said Bill, grasping Bunyip by the hand.

They all hid behind the bush and a crow, who happened to be passing, read the sign and flew off at once to spread the news through the district.

In fifteen minutes, by Bill’s watch, the puddin’-thieves came running down the road, and took up a position on a stump to watch the procession. They had evidently been disturbed in the very act of eating Puddin’, for the Possum was still masticating a mouthful; and the Wombat had stuck the Puddin’ in his hat, and put his hat on his head, which clearly proved him to be a very ill-bred fellow, for in good society wearing puddin’s on the head is hardly ever done.

Bill and Sam, who were like bloodhounds straining at the leash, sprang out and confronted the scoundrels, while Bunyip and Ben got behind in order to cut off their retreat.

‘We’ve got you at last,’ said Bill, sparring up at the Possum with the fiercest activity. ‘Out with our Puddin’, or prepare for a punch on the snout.’

The Possum turned pale and the Wombat hastily got behind him.

‘Puddin’,’ said the Possum, acting amazement. ’What strange request is this?’

‘What means this strange request?’ asked the Wombat.

‘No bungfoodlin’,’ said Bill sternly. ‘Produce the Puddin’ or prepare for death.’

‘Before bringing accusations,’ said the Possum, ‘prove where the Puddin’ is.’

‘It’s under that feller’s hat,’ roared Bill, pointing at the Wombat.

‘Prove it,’ said the Wombat.

‘You can’t wear hats that high, without there’s puddin’s under them,’ said Bill.

‘That’s not puddin’s,’ said the Possum; ’that’s ventilation. He wears his hat like that to keep his brain cool.’

‘Very well,’ said Bill. ’I call on Ben Brandysnap, as an independent witness whose bag has been stolen, to prove what’s under that hat.’

Ben put on his spectacles in order to study the Wombat carefully, and gravely pronounced this judgement

’When you see a hat
Stuck up like that
You remark with some surprise,
“Has he been to a shop,
And bought for his top
A hat of the largest size?”

’Or else you say,
As you note the way
He wears it like a wreath,
“It cannot be fat
That bulges his hat;
He’s got something underneath.”

’But whether or not
It’s a Puddin’ he’s got
Can only be settled by lifting his pot.
Or by taking a stick,
A stone or a brick,
And hitting him hard on the head with it quick.
If he yells, you hit fat,
If he doesn’t, well that
Will prove it’s a Puddin’ that’s under his hat.’

‘Now are you satisfied?’ asked Bill, and they all shouted

’Hurrah! hurray!
Just listen to that;
He knows the way
To bell the cat.
You’d better obey
His judgement pat,

’Without delay
Remove the hat;
It’s tit-for-tat,
We tell you flat,
You’ll find it pay
To lift your hat.

’Obey the mandate of our chosen lawyer,
Remove that hat, or else we’ll do it faw yer.’

‘No, no,’ said the Possum, shaking his head. ’No removing people’s hats. Removing hats is larceny, and you’ll get six months for it.’

‘No bashing heads, either,’ said the Wombat. ’That’s manslaughter, and we’ll have you hung for it.’

Bill scratched his head. ‘This is an unforeseen predicament,’ he said. ’Just mind them puddin’-thieves a minute, Ben, while we has a word in private.’ He took Sam and Bunyip aside, and almost gave way to despair. ‘What a frightful situation,’ wailed he. ’We can’t unlawfully take a puddin’-thief’s hat off, and while it remains on who’s to prove our Puddin’s under it? This is one of the worst things that’s happened to Sam and me for years.’

‘It’s worse than being chased by wart-hogs,’ said Sam.

‘It’s worse than rolling off a cowshed,’ said Bill.

‘It’s worse than wearing soup tureens for hats,’ said Sam.

‘It’s almost as bad as swallowing thistle buttons,’ said Bill, and both sang loudly

’It’s worse than running in a fright,
Pursued by Polar bears;
It’s worse than being caught at night
By lions in their lairs.

’It’s worse than barrel organs when
They play from night till morn;
It’s worse than having large-sized men
A-standing on your corn.

’It’s worse than when at midnight you
Tread on a silent cat,
To have a puddin’-snatcher who
Will not remove his hat.’

‘All is not yet lost,’ said Bunyip Bluegum. ’Without reverting to violent measures, I will engage to have the hat removed.’

‘You will?’ exclaimed Bill, grasping Bunyip by the hand.

‘I will,’ said Bunyip firmly. ’All I ask is that you strike a dignified attitude in the presence of these scoundrels, and, at a given word, follow my example.’

They all struck a dignified attitude in front of the puddin’-thieves, and Bunyip Bluegum, raising his hat, struck up the National Anthem, the others joining in with superb effect.

‘Hats off in honour to our King,’ shouted Bill, and off came all the hats. The puddin’-thieves, of course, were helpless. The Wombat had to take his hat off, or prove himself disloyal, and there was Puddin’ sitting on his head.

‘Now who’s a liar?’ shouted Bill, hitting the Possum a swinging blow on the snout, while Sam gave the Wombat one of his famous over-arm flip flaps that knocked all the wind out of him. The Wombat tried to escape punishment by shouting, ‘Never strike a man with a Puddin’ on his head’; but, now that their guilt was proved, Bill and Sam were utterly remorseless, and gave the puddin’-thieves such a trouncing that their shrieks pierced the firmament. When this had been done, all hands gave them an extra thumping in the interests of common morality. Eggs were rubbed in their hair by Benjimen, and Bill and Sam attended to the beating and snout-bending, while Bunyip did the reciting. Standing on a stump, he declaimed

’The blows you feel we do not deal
In common, vulgar thumping;
To higher motives we appeal
It is to teach you not to steal,
Your head we now are bumping.
You need not go on pumping
Appeals for kinder dealing,
We like to watch you jumping,
We like to hear you squealing.
We rather think this thumping
Will take a bit of healing.
We hope these blows upon the nose,
These bended snouts, these tramped-on toes,
These pains that you are feeling
The truth will be revealing
How wrong is puddin’-stealing.’

Then, with great solemnity, he recited the following fine moral lesson

’A puddin’-thief, as I’ve heard tell,
Quite lost to noble feeling,
Spent all his days, and nights as well,
In constant puddin’-stealing.

’He stole them here, he stole them there,
He knew no moderation;
He stole the coarse, he stole the rare,
He stole without cessation.

’He stole the steak-and-kidney stew
That housewives in a rage hid;
He stole the infant’s Puddin’ too,
The Puddin’ of the aged.

’He lived that Puddin’s he might lure,
Into his clutches stealthy;
He stole the Puddin’ of the poor,
The Puddin’ of the wealthy.

’This evil wight went forth one night
Intent on puddin’-stealing,
When he beheld a hidden light
A secret room revealing.

’Within he saw a fearful man,
With eyes like coals a-glowing,
Whose frightful whiskers over-ran
His face, like weeds a-blowing;

’And there this fearful, frightful man,
A sight to set you quaking,
With pot and pan and curse and ban,
Began a Puddin’ making.

’’Twas made of buns and boiling oil,
A carrot and some nails-O!
A lobster’s claws, the knobs off doors,
An onion and some snails-O!

’A pound of fat, an old man rat,
A pint of kerosene-O!
A box of tacks, some cobbler’s wax,
Some gum and glycerine-O!

’Gunpowder too, a hob-nailed shoe,
He stirred into his pottage;
Some Irish stew, a pound of glue,
A high explosive sausage.

’The deed was done, that frightful one,
With glare of vulture famished,
Blew out the light, and in the night
Gave several howls, and vanished.

’Our thieving lout, ensconced without,
Came through the window slinking;
He grabbed the pot and on the spot
Began to eat like winking.

’He ate the lot, this guzzling sot
Such appetite amazes
Until those high explosives wrought
Within his tum a loud report,
And blew him all to blazes.

’For him who steals ill-gotten meals
Our moral is a good un.
We hope he feels that it reveals
The danger he is stood in
Who steals a high explosive bomb,
Mistaking it for Puddin’.’

The puddin’-thieves wept loudly while this severe rebuke was being administered, and promised, with sobs, to amend their evil courses, and in the future to abstain from unlawful puddin’-snatching.

‘Your words,’ said the Possum, ’has pierced our brains with horror and remorse’; and the Wombat added: ’From this time onwards our thoughts will be as far removed from Puddin’ as is the thoughts of angels.’

‘We have heard that before,’ said Bunyip Bluegum; ’but let us hope that this time your repentance is sincere. Let us hope that the tenderness of your snouts will be, if I may be permitted a flight of poetic fancy, a guiding star to lure your steps along the path of virtue

’For he who finds his evil course is ended
By having of his snout severely bended,
Along that path of virtue may be sent
Where virtuous snouts are seldom ever bent.’

With that the puddin’-thieves went over the hill, the sun went down and evening arrived, punctual to the minute.

‘Ah,’ said Bill. ’It’s a very fortunate thing that evenin’s come along at this time, for, if it hadn’t, we couldn’t have waited dinner any longer. But, before preparin’ for a night of gaiety, dance, and song, I have a proposal to put before my feller Puddin’-owners. I propose to invite our friend Ben here to join us round the camp fire. He has proved himself a very decent feller, free with his eggs, and as full of revenge against puddin’-thieves as ourselves.’

‘Hospitably spoken,’ said Bunyip Bluegum, and the Puddin’-owners sang

’Come join us we intreat,
Come join us we implore,
In Friendship’s name our guest we claim,
And Friendship’s name is law.

‘We’ve Puddin’ here a treat,
We’ve Puddin’ here galore;
Do not decline to stay and dine,
Our Puddin’ you’ll adore.

‘Our Puddin’, we repeat,
You really cannot beat,
And here are we its owners three
Who graciously intreat
You’ll be at our request,
The Puddin’-owners’ guest.’

‘For these sentiments of esteem, admiration, and respect,’ said Ben, ’I thank you. As one market-gardener to three Puddin’-owners, I may say I wouldn’t wish to eat the Puddin’ of three finer fellers than yourselves.’

With this cordial understanding they set about preparing the camp fire, and the heartiest expressions of friendship were indulged in while the Puddin’ was being passed round. As Bunyip aptly remarked

’All Fortune’s buffets he can surely pardon her,
Who claims as guest our courteous Market Gardener.’

To which Benjimen handsomely replied

’Still happier he, who meets three Puddin’-owners,
Whose Puddin’ is the equal of its donors.’

And, indeed, a very pleasant evening they had round the camp fire.