Aunt Effie and Mrs Grizzle (3 page)

Why We Licked Dust off the Floor, Caught by Masked Body Snatchers, Shrivelled Brains and Shrunken Heads, and Why Mr Jones Said Aunt Effie’s Great-Nephews and Nieces Were a Delight to Teach
.

When you’ve saved
your country from bankruptcy, and the Prime Minister says you’re her dearest friends, you don’t feel much like going back to school on Monday.

It was no help when Daisy said, “I told you so. I said, ‘Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall.’ Didn’t I?” she said. “Didn’t I?”

We tried crying. We tried being nice to Aunt Effie and made her lots of cups of tea and pikelets. When she called us, we tried hiding in the old outside dunny, but the dogs sniffed us out. When we whispered about running away, Caligula pricked his ears and growled.

On Monday morning, we thought we’d be smart, and we knelt and licked the thick dust off the floor under our bunks. We stuck out our tongues – furry, thick, and grey – and whimpered, “Our tummies hurt.” Aunt Effie laughed heartlessly, tipped us out on the cold lino, and got a big blue bottle out of the medicine cabinet.

“Just the thing for sore tumboes!” She waved an iron tablespoon.

“What’s that stuff?”

“Castor oil!”

“Our tummies feel all right now. True!” we grovelled.

“Then sit up to the table, and eat your soggy porridge!” Aunt Effie said. “I’ve cooked some black blood pudding for you. Sausages so fresh they’re still barking. Eggs still clucking! And bacon still grunting!”

We gulped down our soggy porridge, and barked, clucked, and grunted through the rest of breakfast.

“Can we have a diamond out of the treasure to buy our lunch today?” Jessie asked, but Aunt Effie said, “Some people think money grows on trees! I’ve made some lovely wet red tomato sandwiches for your lunch.” She kissed us and shoved us out the door.

“You’ll be sorry if the Bogeyman catches us on the way to school and eats us!” Lizzie told her.

Aunt Effie laughed heartlessly again, stuck her fingers in her mouth and whistled. “Caligula-Nero-Brutus-Kaiser-Genghis-Boris! Chase 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 over the cattle-stop. Close the gate behind them and, if they try to get back in, you can bite them.”

She stood on the back step, waved, and mopped her eyes with her pinny.

“Aunt Effie’s crying,” said the little ones.

“She’s just pretending,” Alwyn told them. “I’ll bet she’s going to play with the treasure while we’re at school.”

The dogs bayed at our bare heels and chased us over the cattle-stop. They grinned, closed the gate, and bounced home stiff-legged, their tails turning round and round.

The gate had a white enamel sign with black letters:

 

Please Close the Gate. We Use the Bevin Harrow
.

 

“We’ll show her!” we said. We opened our pocketknives and scratched out some of the letters.

“Lease! Lose! He! At! We! E!” Alwyn read aloud. “We! We!” he said.

“We! We!” we all laughed.

“Wee! Wee!” Alwyn said.

“Wee! Wee!” We laughed louder.

“Wee-wees!” said Alwyn. “Aunt Effie does wee-wees!”

We laughed so hard, we had to lie down in the middle of the road and kick our legs in the air. “Aunt Effie does wee-wees!”

“Otchagay!”

Kicking, helpless, tangled in huge butterfly nets, we’d been caught by three Masked Body Snatchers.

They put handcuffs on our wrists, leapt on their horses, and whipped us all the way to school. The Masked Body Snatchers wore thick-rimmed spectacles without any glass in them, false noses made out of play-dough, and spoke in a secret language.

“I’m sure I’ve heard their voices before,” Marie said, but they cracked their whips.

“Onay alkingtay!” the first shouted.

“Ehavebay ourselvesyay!” shouted the second.

The third shouted, “Eakspay enwhay ou’reyay okenspay otay!”

And the three of them shouted together, “Ildrenchay ouldshay ebay eensay andway otnay eardhay!”

Weeping bitterly, we ran ahead of their whips. “What are they speaking!” Colleen asked.

“I think it’s French,” said Daisy who liked to think she was good at languages.

“It sounds like Pig Latin!” said Alwyn.

“Iway aidsay onay alkingtay!” shouted the first and cracked his whip.

“Idday, ouyay earhay atwhay at-thay oybay aidsay?” shouted the second.

“Ebay ietquay, at-thay oybay!” shouted the third.

“It is! It’s Pig Latin!” Alwyn danced as they cracked their whips at his toes. “Ouch!”

“At’llthay eachtay ouyay!”

Mr Jones, the headmaster, waited at the school gates. The first Body Snatcher, the one with a tattooed face, said to him, “Erehay areway omesay ickedway ildrenchay owhay iedtray otay ayplay ethay agway omfray oolschay, Istermay Onesjay.”

“Oh, you wicked children!” Mr Jones said to us.

“Atthay illway ebay ourpencefay eachway, easeplay,” said the pointy-headed Body Snatcher.

“Last week they were only threepence!” exclaimed Mr Jones.

“Esethay ereway arderhay otay atchcay,” said the third Body Snatcher, who had his collar on back to front.

“Atthay illway ebay inenay andway eightpenceway, easeplay,” said the tattooed Body Snatcher.

Mr Jones puffed through his moustache, but opened his purse, counted out nine and eightpence, and paid it over.

“Ankthay ouyay!” said the Body Snatchers. They licked their lips, and rode across the track to Mrs Doleman’s shop.

“They’re going to buy ice-creams,” said Lizzie.

“Or sly grog!” Jazz told her.

The tattooed Body Snatcher turned in his saddle and shouted at us, “Elltay Auntway Euphemiaway atthay eway ovelay erhay!”

“He said The Name We Dare Not Say!” Peter and Marie whispered. “Aunt Effie will fix them.”

“Get inside at once,” said Mr Jones. “I’ve a good mind to give you all the strap for playing the wag.” We ran inside crying noisily. We knew Mr Jones never gave anyone the strap, not if we cried loud enough.

He made us stand against the classroom wall, put a ruler on our heads, drew a line with a pencil, and measured how much we’d grown since the last time. “So I’ll know which class to put you in,” he said.

“You’re all undersized! It’s because you ran away to sea and didn’t come to school last year. Your brains shrivelled, your heads shrunk, and your legs got shorter. The whole lot of you will have to start all over again in Primer One.”

“Aunt Effie said we don’t have to go to school,” Lizzie said, and we nodded our shrunken heads up and down. But Mr Jones didn’t believe us.

“What if the School Inspector comes and finds you don’t know your spelling and your times tables?”

“Will he give us the strap?” asked Lizzie.

Mr Jones burst into tears. “He’ll give it to me because I haven’t taught you properly!” He blubbed so much, we made him sit down, lifted his feet up on to the table, and gave him his newspaper to read. We were very fond of Mr Jones.

“We won’t let the School Inspector give you the strap,” we told him.

We heard each other’s spelling. We sang our times tables to each other. “Once one is one; once two is two; once three is three …” all the way up to, “… once thirteen is thirteen, and thirteen times thirteen is a hundred and sixty-nine.” We practised our writing. Lizzie was left-handed but practised with her right hand, just to please the School Inspector. All so he wouldn’t give Mr Jones the strap.

We practised sitting up straight, and getting in and out of our desks without slamming the seats – to please the School Inspector. We pulled in our chins, pulled back our shoulders, stuck out our chests, pulled in our tummies, and tucked in our behinds to give us good posture for when the School Inspector came.

We practised speech training. We looked in little mirrors, made our lips round, and said, “Oh!” and pulled back the corners of our mouths with our fingers and looked in the little mirrors and said, “Eee!” to give us good vowels. We said “Prunes” and “Prisms” and clicked our tongues against the back of our top teeth to give us good consonants.

Although we were barefooted, we practised reaching down and pulling up our socks for the School Inspector. We heard each other’s spelling. We even learned the difference between diarrhoea, torohi, trots, and Turangaomoana.

“Turangaomoana. Spell it!” said Daisy, and Alwyn said, “I-T!”

We thought of a number, divided it by the number of letters in Hopuruahine, doubled the result, multiplied it by three, took away the number we first thought of, and got it wrong. All of us but Daisy who got everything right.

By lunchtime, Mr Jones finished reading his paper and measured us again. Our heads had grown bigger, our legs had got longer, and we’d all grown several inches.

“Your brains must have come unshrivelled,” said Mr Jones. “You can all go up a class. I always say Aunt Effie’s great-nephews and nieces are a delight to teach!”

Saying Pies in Proper Waharoa English; the Bogeyman, the Boggle, and the Boggart; What the Williewaw Did; and Why Aunt Effie Said Not to Let the Eels Drag Us Into the Ditch
.

Over at the schoolhouse
, Mrs Jones rang the bell for twelve o’clock, and Mr Jones ran home for his lunch before she hid it from him. We stuck our lovely wet red tomato sandwiches across the front wall of the school so they said, “S.O.S!”

When nobody came to save our souls, we sneaked over to the shops. Peter withdrew five bob from his Post Office School Savings Account, led us to Mrs Besant’s bakery, and bought each of us a hot pie for lunch.

Alwyn wouldn’t let the little ones eat theirs till they learned to say pies in proper Waharoa English. Then they ate their pois too fast, burnt their tongues, and had to dangle them in cold water from the school tap.

Mr Jones rang the bell, handed out bulls’-eyes to shut us up, and chased us inside. He stood us against the wall, put a book on our heads, and drew a line with a pencil. “Look how much you’ve grown during lunchtime. It must be the lovely lunches Aunt Effie gives you. You can all go up to Standard Four.” And, for a reward, he read us
The Wind in the Willows
till little playtime.

At quarter to three, Mr Jones said, “Run straight home. Dawdle past the Haunted House, and the Bogeyman will catch you, sink his fangs into your neck, and drink your blood.”

“The Bogeyman!” we shrieked.

“Dawdle under the Dark Trees that hang over the track, and the Boggle will catch you and suck the flesh off your bones with his toothless mouth.”

“The Boggle!” we shrieked.

Mr Jones looked into the corridor and out the windows to see nobody was listening. “Dawdle going up Chapmans Hill,” he whispered, face white, “and the Boggart will catch you!”

“What does the Boggart do?” we asked.

“I’d rather not say,” Mr Jones’s voice shook. “But it’s very painful.

“Now,” he said cheerfully, “the first one to give the right answer can go home early:

“Four thousand, eight hundred and fifty-two pounds, five shillings, and eightpence multiplied by six hundred and fifty-seven?”

“Twenty-one,” shouted Alwyn.

“Please, Sir! Three million, one hundred and eighty-seven thousand, nine hundred and eight pounds, ten shillings, and ninepence. Please, Sir,” said Daisy.

Mr Jones looked at something written on the back of his hand. “Off you go home, Daisy,” he said. Daisy smirked and trotted off, schoolbag bumping on her behind.

“What’s three times one?”

“Twenty-one,” shouted Alwyn.

“Please sir, three!” said Jane.

“Off you go, Jane.”

“Spell diarrhoea!”

“Twenty-one!” shouted Alwyn.

One by one we got out early, sat in the bamboos across the road, and waited for Alwyn. We knew Mr Jones had to let him go so he could get home himself in time for afternoon tea. If he wasn’t there on the dot of three when Mrs Jones rang the bell, she poured his tea down the sink and gave him the strap.

“You hold us up every time,” said Daisy to Alwyn.

“Time every up,” he said back to her, and we ran for our lives. When we came to the Haunted House, Alwyn said, “Here comes the Bogeyman!” and we ran faster. And when we came to the Dark Trees that hung over the track, he said, “Here comes the Boggle!” and we ran faster again.

We were puffing up Chapmans Hill when Marie said, “We’ve lost the little ones!”

“They’re coming!” we shouted, but Peter said, “They’re nowhere in sight. Somebody will have to go back and find them.”

“We’ll tell Aunt Effie that Mr Jones kept them in,” said Alwyn.

“You know we can’t do that,” Marie told him. “It would be lying.”

“What say we tell Aunt Effie there never were any little ones?” Alwyn suggested, but Marie said that would be a bit like lying, too.

So since Victor and David were the next smallest, we sent them back to find the little ones and tell them to hurry up, or the Bogeyman would drink their blood. When they didn’t come back, we sent Jane and Isaac. “Tell them if they don’t hurry up the Boggle will suck the flesh off their bones!” we said.

When Jane and Isaac didn’t come back either, Peter and Marie sent back the rest of us. “Tell them if they don’t hurry up, the Boggart will be waiting for them on Chapmans Hill,” they said.

We found the four little ones right beside the front door of the Haunted House. Victor, David, Jane, and Isaac were trying to make them run.

“Our feet are stuck to the ground!” the little ones cried. “They won’t lift.”

“Shhh!” whispered Ann. “The Bogeyman will hear you.”

We pulled together, got them unstuck, and were hitching them up – to give them a piggyback – when we heard footsteps coming down the hall towards the front door of the Haunted House. We tried to run, but our feet stuck to the ground. The footsteps stopped inside the front door. We watched terrified as the door handle began to turn.

The door of the Haunted House creaked open slowly. “Whooo-ooo!” said a tall black shadow standing in the hall.

We screamed and bolted. The little ones hung on our backs with their hands over our eyes so we couldn’t see where we were going. They screamed and kicked to make us go faster.

We had to stop to catch our breath when we came to the Dark Trees. The leaves were so thick it was always night under them. Something rustled, a twig cracked, and a branch creaked against another. “Wheee-eee!” said a tall black shadow.

We tried to drop the little ones and run, but they hung on tighter. As we bolted screaming out the other side of the Dark Trees, we met Peter and Marie coming back to find us. They took the little ones on their backs. Puffing up Chapmans Hill again, we heard, “Whooo-ooo!” and “Wheee-eee!” and there was another terrible noise. “Whaaa-aaa!”

“The Boggart!” Marie and Peter tried to drop the little ones who flung their arms so tight around their necks, Peter’s and Marie’s eyes bulged out like ping-pong balls. We shot up Chappies Hill, and didn’t stop running till we got to the boundary of Aunt Effie’s farm.

“What’s that?” said Bryce, who had good hearing. We stared at him. “I heard something. Like the sound of the Prime Minister’s Zeppelin.”

“I hope she hasn’t been trying to pinch our treasure and all the gold dollars,” said Isaac.

“Shhh!” Bryce stood with his head on one side, and we all listened. “I can hear it!” the little ones yelled.

“I saw something,” said Alwyn. He pointed through the trees. “Something huge, and silver, and taking off.” But since it was Alwyn, nobody took any notice, and even Bryce couldn’t hear anything more. None of us really believed it could have been the Prime Minister’s Zeppelin.

We climbed the stile and were taking the shortcut when a twisting column of dust, grass, and leaves hummed down the middle of the road: “Whooo-ooo! Wheee-eee! Whaaa-aaa!”

“That’s your Zeppelin!” Peter told Bryce.

“I did so hear a Zeppelin!”

“Whooo-ooo! Wheee-eee! Whaaa-aaa!” the williewaw whizzed round us, making our hair stand on end.

“They must have followed us!”

“Now they know where we live!”

“They’re going away!” We watched the williewaw disappear down the road.

“I said we should leave the little ones for them to eat,” said Alwyn. That made Casey, Lizzie, Jared, and Jessie start crying again.

“Peter and I won’t let anyone drink your blood and suck the flesh off your bones,” said Marie and shepherded the little ones over the plank across the ditch by the bull paddock. We ran after her, stamping to make the plank jump up and down so the one behind us would fall off and get wet.

“Whooo-eee!” went Alwyn, to speed us up, but we stopped when we saw Aunt Effie cleaning the ditch. As she flung the weeds on to the bank, eels flapped and wriggled back into the water.

The bulls were sitting with their arms folded, watching through the fence. When they saw Alwyn, they jumped to their feet, tossed their horns, and muttered threats.

“You behave yourselves,” Aunt Effie told them. She climbed out of the ditch and took off her waders. “Don’t just stand looking! We’ll take some of these eels home for our tea.”

“‘Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters that shall be an abomination unto you,’” Daisy said. “Leviticus, eleven, twelve.” Fortunately for her, Aunt Effie didn’t hear.

The eels wrapped themselves around our arms and legs and tried to strangle us, while a real whopcacker snarled and tried to hook the little ones on his tusks.

“Don’t let them drag you into the ditch, 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, Jess,” Aunt Effie said, “or you’ll be a goner.”

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