Aunt Effie and Mrs Grizzle (10 page)

How Jared Blew Up, Why Aunt Effie Fired Her Cannon, How My Little Mother Grew Down as I Grew Up, and Why the School Inspector Lassoed Euphemia and Shouted, “Gotcha!”

We didn’t want
to wake Aunt Effie by making a noise under her window, so played a quiet game of hopscotch. But the little ones said the big ones wouldn’t let them have a turn. Then we played marbles, but Daisy said Alwyn was cheating.

“I were not!”

“Your bad grammar shows your guilt!”

“I was not!”

“You were so.”

“So were you!” said Alwyn so Daisy coughed.

“Shhh! We’ll play kingaseeny.” Marie glanced up at the window. “Daisy can go ‘he’ and we’ll see who’s right.”

Straight off, Daisy caught Alwyn and held him down while she smacked him three times on the head – hard. “Kingaseeny, kingaseeny, one, two three!” she chanted. “So there!”

“You’re supposed to pat, not wallop!” Alwyn rubbed his head.

“The Maori kids at school don’t like kingaseeny,” said Jessie. “They don’t like being patted on the head.”

“It’s rude to touch Maoris’ heads,” Marie told us.

“But we’re Maori,” said Jessie.

“Only a bit,” Alwyn told her. “You’re mostly Scowegian!”

“What about me?” asked Lizzie, as Jessie bawled noisily.

“You’re Eskimo.”

“I’m not Eskimo. I’m a Polar Bear!”

“You’re a Red Indian!”

“I’m a Redskin!”

“No, me!”

“What am I?” “What am I?” “What am I?”

“We’ve all got a bit of Scotch and a bit of Maori and a bit of Irish and a bit of Pom,” said Marie. “And a bit of Chinese. Aunt Effie said so. ‘And heaven knows what else!’ Remember, she said we’re a bunch of mongrels?”

“Which one am I?”

“I’m a Chink!”

“You’re not allowed to say Chink. You’ve got to say Chinaman. Mr Jones said.”

Alwyn sang with gestures:

“Chink! Chink! Chinaman! Feeling velly bad
.

Chop! Chop! Head off! Velly, velly sad.”

“Oooh! I’m going to tell Mr Jones! He said we’re not allowed to sing that song,” Daisy told him. “How would you like it if you were Joe Nugget, and somebody sang it?”

“Joe taught it to me!” said Alwyn who sat with Joe Nugget.

Over the shouting, Marie said, “We’re all a mixture.”

“You make us sound like a chocolate assortment,” said Daisy. She went and sat on the steps on her own.

“I’m a strawberry chocolate!” said Lizzie.

“I’m a boiled lolly!” yelled Jessie.”

“Look at me!” Casey screamed. “I’m a liquorice all-sort!”

And Jared bellowed, “I’m a bull’s eye!”

We got noisier. We played Cowboys and Indians, and we played Cops and Robbers, and punched each other, but Ann punched Jazz back a beaut and said, “That’ll teach you!”

Then we got the little ones on our shoulders for cockfighting. Jessie fell off Alwyn and cried, Lizzie fell off Jazz and cried, and Jared fell off Isaac and got winded.

“His face is going blue!” said Alwyn.

“Is he dying?

“It looks like it.”

“Jared’s dying! Alwyn said so!” The little ones cried noisily.

We all shouted and yelled and pushed each other. “It’s your fault!”

“It’s yours!”

“You done it!”

Peter shoved us aside, sat Jared up, and bent him in the middle. He sucked in air and made a harsh noise like a cockerel learning to crow.

“You’ve spoiled it,” Alwyn told Peter. “All the blue’s gone.” As we shouted and struggled to see Jared’s blue face turn white again, there was a huge boom.

“Jared’s blown up!” shouted Alwyn. There was a terrible silence.

Bits of burning wad drifted down on our heads. Aunt Effie had got sick of our noise and fired the cannon she kept in her bedroom.

“Come away from under her window,” Marie hissed.

“It was just a blank charge,” said Daisy. “I’m sure Aunt Effie would never fire a real shot at us.”

“Do you call that a blank?” asked Jazz. Down in the bull paddock, one of our footy posts snapped and fell over. The cannon-ball ricocheted towards the bluegums. The bulls galloped with their tails up.

“Daisy-Mabel-Johnny-Flossie-Lynda-Stan-Howard-Marge-Stuart-Peter-Marie-Colleen-Alwyn-Bryce-Jack-Ann-Jazz-Beck-Jane-Isaac-David-Victor-Casey-Lizzie-Jared-Jessie!”

We tore inside and up the stairs into the lovely reek of gunpowder smoke.

“Do you want to hear some more of this story or not? Well, if you do, you’d better make me a cup of tea. And I’d like a pikelet with strawberry jam. And don’t be mean with the condensed milk!”

We made the tea and pikelets, and we weren’t mean with the condensed milk. We’d just got ourselves comfortable on the foot of her enormous bed when the dogs bounded up, shoved us aside, took back their pillows and pulled the eiderdown off our feet.

“Now where was I?”

“The little girl with golden ringlets in your mother’s bed, she said, ‘My name is …’” Lizzie’s voice petered out.

“She was going to start school that morning,” said Jessie. “Can we have a look at the treasure while we listen?”

Aunt Effie snarled at Jessie, and went on with her story.

“I
RAN DOWNSTAIRS
. Mrs Grizzle was stirring a spoonful of gunpowder into her tea. She said, ‘It doesn’t taste the same without it.’

“‘There’s a little girl in my mother’s bed! She says her name’s Euphemia and she’s starting school today.’

“Mrs Grizzle tipped her tea into her saucer. She blew on it and sucked it up: ‘Slurrrp! The gunpowder makes all the difference!’

“‘Where’s my mother?’ I asked.

“‘Last night,’ said Mrs Grizzle, ‘while you were growing up, your mother was growing down.’

“I glanced at my feet – and felt dizzy. My old dungarees that I always wore for milking split with a crack! Mrs Grizzle tossed me some clothes. The trousers had gold stripes down the side. The jacket had medals.

“‘This is my father’s uniform,’ I said. ‘I recognise his medals.’

“‘He doesn’t need them where he is,’ Mrs Grizzle laughed. ‘Dress yourself, and then you can get your mother up.’

“The little girl who called herself Euphemia lay singing ‘Hickory-dickory-dock’, to my old teddy bear. She sat up and said, ‘Finish the song you were singing me last night. About a rock-a-bye baby.’

“‘There isn’t time. Not if we’re going to get you to school by nine o’clock.’

“Over the back of little Euphemia’s chair was a freshly-pressed navy-blue gym frock with a sash, black stockings, a white blouse, black bloomers with elastic in the legs, a school tie, and a Panama hat with a band which said ‘
Who Does His
’ on the front, and ‘
Best Does Well!
’ on the back.

“My little mother put on her gym first. I had to take it off again to put on her bloomers, singlet, and blouse. As she lifted her arms for me to pull the gym over her head, I saw my hands were twice as big as hers.

“‘There,’ I told her, ‘you look like a real, big, grown-up schoolgirl!’

“Euphemia stood in front of the mirror and put on her Panama with ‘
Who Does His Best Does Well!
’ around the band. She looked at herself with the hat on, and she looked at herself with the hat off. I had to brush her golden ringlets again so they hung evenly. Her big blue eyes smiled adoringly into themselves.

“‘You can blink your eyes. Mrs Grizzle says the gunpowder’s gone.’

“‘Who’s Mrs Grizzle?’

“‘Hurry up!’ a gruff voice roared downstairs.

“Euphemia was scared but exceptionally vain. She pinched her cheeks, bit her lips to make them red, and swung down the banisters, one step at a time, her finger in her mouth. She pointed her foot and drew a circle with the toe of one new button shoe.

“‘You look like a real, big, grown-up schoolgirl!’ said Mrs Grizzle.

“Euphemia smiled, climbed into her high chair, and waved a spoonful of porridge. ‘Yummy!’ she said. ‘
Through the teeth and past the gums … Look out stomach, here it comes!
’”

“‘Do you want me to feed you?’ I asked.

“‘I’m a big girl. I can feed myself.’

“‘Still, you don’t want to drop porridge on your new gym.’ I tucked a tea-towel around her neck.

“Down at the shed, the cows had milked themselves, the pigs had had done the separating and fed the skim dick to themselves, and Bonny had sledged the cream down to the gate.

“Euphemia put her school bag over her shoulder. I put her Panama on her head, and she took it off, put it on again, and arranged her golden ringlets in the mirror. We sailed across the Great Waharoa Swamp, mounted, and Mrs Grizzle led the pack-horses.

“As we rode past Mr Weeks’s bush, the School Inspector galloped from behind the sawdust heap, lassoed Euphemia, threw her over his saddle, and galloped towards the Hopuruahine school. “Gotcha!” he shouted. “Gotcha!”

“Dear little thing!” Daisy cried. “I’d like to be lassoed by the School Inspector.”

Aunt Effie looked at Daisy, nodded to herself, and went on with the story.

“M
Y LITTLE MOTHER

S
Panama hat blew behind on its elastic band. She was already too far away for me to read ‘
Who Does His Best Does Well!

“‘Be brave, Brunnhilde,’ said Mrs Grizzle. ‘She’s going to love school.’

“But I couldn’t help having a little cry. ‘She is my mother,’ I wept, ‘even if she does call herself Euphemia….’”

Locked in the Dark Spidery Dunny, the Indian Deathlock and the Octopus Clamp, Kraw-Poocka-Kacko, the Anvil and the Cannon, Whack-a Pukeko, and a Tiny Forlorn Cry
.

Lizzie started
to repeat Aunt Effie’s last word “Euph–”; Jessie hung upside down and had a quick look for the treasure; and Casey and Jared giggled. Aunt Effie whipped out her false teeth, gave each of them a sharp nip, and popped her teeth back in. The little ones sat up straight with their hands on their heads, and Aunt Effie continued her story.

“M
RS
G
RIZZLE AND
I picked up the groceries and the bundles of papers from Mr Bryce’s general store, and the mailbags from the post office. We took the horses to the blacksmith’s. Mr Whimble bent over a hoof and tried on a shoe. Mrs Grizzle held the horse’s head. They didn’t see me tiptoe away and run to the school.

“I peeped in the window and saw they had put my mother in primer one. She sat with her hands on her head – a smile all over her face. The teacher gave her a slate, a wet rag, and a slate pencil. ‘Copy the letters off the blackboard, and don’t dare squeak the pencil!’

“I could see A, B, and C, and a row of squiggles that must have been the rest of the alphabet. I was trying to work out which ones spelled Brunnhilde, when my mother’s slate pencil squeaked.

“‘Who did that?’ Cracking his whip, the School Inspector galloped his horse into the primer room, made my mother stand on top of her desk, and roared, ‘What do we do to people who squeak their slate pencil?’

“A girl with black curls waved her arm and flicked her finger. ‘Please sir! Oh, please, sir!’

“‘Peggy Carter?’

“‘Please, sir, give her the strap, and lock her on her own in the dark dunny with the spiders.’

“The School Inspector smiled at Peggy Carter. ‘Hold out your hand!’ he shouted at my little mother. Her first day at school, and she was going to get the strap and be locked in the dark spidery dunny. She smiled trustingly and held out her tiny hand.

“The School Inspector stood in his stirrups and swung the strap above his head. I drew my father’s sword and started climbing in the window, but there was a bang like a Double-Happy going off, and Mrs Grizzle appeared out of a cloud of chalk dust.

“She pulled the School Inspector off his horse and put a Boston Crab on him. He tried to get her in a Half Nelson. Mrs Grizzle wriggled out of it and put the Indian Deathlock on him. The School Inspector broke free, but Mrs Grizzle got him down on the floor in the Octopus Clamp which Mr Lofty Blomfield had just invented.

“‘You’re hurting!’ the School Inspector shrieked. ‘Ow!’ he hammered the floor. ‘I give in!’ Mrs Grizzle tied his arms behind his back in a Granny Knot.

“I tore back to Mr Whimble’s and was watching him nail on Bonny’s last shoe when Mrs Grizzle appeared, her red hair white with chalk dust.

“‘The manager of the dairy factory won’t give us our cheque because he reckons we haven’t sent any cream for six months,’ she told me. ‘Those monster pooks have been stealing it again.’

“Just then Mr Bryce came running with his wheelbarrow. ‘The manager of the dairy factory tells me you’re broke!’ he said. He took away our groceries, the bundles of
New Zealand Heralds
, the
Auckland Weekly News
, the
New Zealand Listener
, the
Free Lance
, the
Woman’s Weekly
, and the
Girls’ Crystal
.

“The blacksmith pulled out the nails and took off all the new horseshoes. Bonny held up her bare feet, looked at them, and cried big horse tears.

“‘Let’s ride for the scow before they take anything else!’

“Mrs Grizzle shook her head. ‘Without shoes, the horses can’t gallop on the metalled road.’

“As she spoke, we heard a terrible sound: ‘Kraw-poocka-kacko!’

“‘The monster pukekos are attacking Hopuruahine!’ shouted the blacksmith. He pulled his leather apron over his head, jumped into the barrel of water he kept for tempering horse-shoes, and turned it upside down.

“‘Kraw-poocka-kacko!’ A ragged cloud flapped above, hid the sun, and the sky went dark.”

“I don’t like the monster pooks!” said Lizzie, and stuck her head under the eiderdown.

“Okcak-akcoop-wark!” said Alwyn. He made claws of his hands and pecked his nose at the little ones till they cried.

“What happened?” we beseeched. “Tell us!”

“T
HE MONSTER PUKEKOS
dived on Hopuruahine,” said Aunt Effie. “Mrs Grizzle wound the handle of the blacksmith’s bellows. Her double-jointed elbows bent the wrong way each time the handle turned. Sparks leapt from her red hair, and flames roared in the forge.

“‘Bring me a barrel of gunpowder!’

“‘Mr Bryce took everything back!’ I yelled, but ran down the string of pack-horses. There was one barrel of gunpowder the compassionless storekeeper had missed. I heaved it off the pack-saddle hooks.

“‘Don’t bring it near the forge!’ Mrs Grizzle huddled over the anvil and heaved, but it was so heavy that her double-jointed fingers bent backwards.

“The monster pukekos peeled off and came down like Stuka dive bombers screaming, ‘Kraw-poocka-kacko!’ Their droppings splattered and stank on the red iron roofs of Hopuruahine.

“I squatted, gripped the anvil, kept my back upright, and straightened my knees. My ears rang.

“‘I said you’d be a hero, Brunnhilde! Carry it outside.’

“The anvil was so heavy, I sank to my knees in the ground at each step. The air ponged as the monster pooks dive-bombed again. I dropped the anvil upside down and saw the bottom half was the barrel of a cannon.

“Mrs Grizzle tipped in the gunpowder and loaded horse-shoes down the barrel saying, ‘I learned this trick at the Battle of the Eureka Stockade. In Australia in 1854.’

“‘Kraw-poocka-kacko!’

“Something went splat on Mrs Grizzle’s foot. Angrily, she leaned over the touch-hole of the cannon and shook sparks off her red hair on to the priming powder.

“‘Hiss! Boom!’ The air shook, black smoke gushed, and the sky filled with spinning horse-shoes that donged the monster pooks on the head. ‘Whack-a-pukeko!’ the last one cried and fell, knocked silly.

“One by one the horse-shoes curved home like boomerangs and clanked themselves into a neat stack beside the cannon, ready for another shot.

“We tucked the heads of the monster pukekos under their wings. They came to, thought it was night-time, pulled up one leg, and went to sleep standing on the other. And while they slept Mrs Grizzle and I clipped the feathers of one wing on each monster pook so they couldn’t fly.

“The pusillanimous blacksmith crawled out of his water barrel,” said Aunt Effie. “Grinning sideways, the compassionless Mr Bryce shuffled out from under his wheelbarrow. The egregious postmaster squeezed out of his letterbox.”

Aunt Effie nodded, and the little ones nodded back as if they understood her long words.

“T
HE POSTMASTER BEGAN
makingaspeech:‘Neverbefore in the history of the Southern Hemisphere …’ but Mrs Grizzle stuck his head under his arm. He pulled up one leg, stood on the other, and went to sleep.

“We drove the monster pooks, hopping on one foot, their heads under their wings, down the Turangaomoana Road, and chained them to ringbolts on the deck of the
Betty Boop
.

“Back in Hopuruahine, Mrs Grizzle pulled the postmaster’s head out from under his arm. He put down his other foot and went on talking from where he’d gone to sleep. He presented us with a picture of Mooloo the Cow and stamped the date on the back of our hands. The station master gave us a free railway ticket halfway to Wardville. Mr Bryce brought back our stores in his wheelbarrow, and the parsimonious manager of the dairy factory came running with our cream cheque.

“Only Mr Whimble complained, ‘How am I supposed to get my anvil back inside?’ Mrs Grizzle whispered something into the cannon barrel, and the anvil hopped back inside by the forge.

“A trumpet blew, and the School Inspector came riding across Mrs Doleman’s paddock, driving the children and teachers ahead with his whip. He handcuffed a couple of grown-ups for giving cheek and not paying attention, and presented Mrs Grizzle with a framed, signed photograph of himself.

“I glanced at it and gasped, ‘He’s got a tattoo!’”

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