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Chapter 2

The Hamsters are gone

I hate homework!” Elfrida grumbled and kicked her desk. That was no good idea for 20 crayons, a ruler and all school books came down. When at this moment Bruno came in, she snapped: “Why are you always traipsing into my room? I’ve got work to do. Did you do your homework?”

Bruno gaped at Elfrida.

“What’s on?” Elfrida asked impatiently. “No homework?”

Bruno shrugged.

“Don’t you note down what you’re to do for homework?” Elfrida pressed him.

“Nope!” Bruno grunted and started to play soccer with Rudy the dachshund. Bruno was pushed aside and Rudy brought to safety.

If you don’t do your homework”, Elfrida continued, “you won’t finish school and never find a decent job and never will earn decent money. Perhaps you’ll be at some boring stuff like cleaning cars all the day. Or you get a job at the garbage. Would you like that?”

“I would”, Bruno beamed. “Cleaning Ferraris and driving around with the swell new Mercedes-dust truck…”

At this moment their mother shouted: “Elfrida, if you finished geography, please get Bruno and come down for lunch.”

“Why geography?” Elfrida shouted back. “That’s what I did yesterday. I’ve finished maths and am sitting at English homework.”

“Time enough for that”, Gertrude Bobble shouted. “It’s teachers’ council tomorrow and then weekend!”

Elfrida stared at Bruno. Bruno grinned and ran to the door.

“That little scumbag knew it all the time and I totally forgot about it. You just wait!” she hissed and ran after him.


Close to the kitchen door she caught up with him and kicked his bum so that he was dashed to the kitchen table. Elfrida stayed where she was and waited in the hall. She did not want to have anything to do with what was to follow. At the kitchen table it clattered and rattled and mother Bobble scolded.

When a minute later Elfrida came in, she could see that her mother was cross. Bruno worked at some broken dishes with hand brush and dustpan.

“I'm fed up with you, you know!” Mamma Bobble shouted. “You will go out immediately after lunch.”

“But Mummy, it isn’t my fault and I want to meet with my friends. We want to go to the Magic Forest.”

“Do what you like, just take along Bruno!”

Bruno looked at Elfrida with sparkling eyes, while his sister poked in her pasta bake listlessly. Taking Bruno along to the Magic Forest, she thought. That will be disaster.

When they reached the Magic Forest bus stop, Elfrida’s friends were already waiting.

“Sorry for being late, but my mother told me to take Bruno.”

“So?” Jenny asked curiously.

“On his way he discovered some most interesting earthworms and wanted to play with them.”

“That’s disgusting”, Bertha said and remembered with horror the day when Elfrida had stayed overnight with Bruno. It had taken weeks to get the house back to the state it had been in before Bruno’s visit.

“Earthworms are not disgusting”, Bruno protested, pulled one of the animals out of his trouser pocket und marched over to Bertha. He let the earthworm dangle in front of Bertha’s face and she took a step back.

“Did you know that earthworms build a new mouth if you cut them in two halves…”

“Nooooo, take that monster away!” Bertha shrieked and took another step back.

“That’s enough, Bruno”, Elfrida grinned. “Put away your earthworm friend.”

“What does such an earthworm eat?” Rosie inquired curiously.

“Leaves and organic remains”, Bruno replied. “So of course he also swallows earth, but he gets rid of that as humus through his after and that…”

“Stop!” Bertha yelled. “I’m going to be sick!”

“By they way, it’s different with sowbugs and centipedes, they…”

Elfrida put a hand over Bruno’s mouth and whispered: “You do not want Bertha to vomit, do you?”

“But then all those dear little beetles would have nourishment, because…”

“That will do”, Daisy called, “or I’ll be sick, too! Shall we leave or not?”

“Right”, Bernie butt in, “our new friend can tell us more later on.”

“By the way, do you know that humus is Latin and means earth?”

“Shut up”, Daisy laughed, “no more lessons.”

In the best of tempers the children walked on into the Magic Forest. Except Bertha, who followed slowly and green-faced. Today was special for after months of work the tunnel to Hamsterton was ready. Yesterday when it got dark they had finally succeeded to dig the last ten metres to their hamster friends. So the grand opening had to be delayed for one day. The birds in the forest twittered, the sun laughed in the sky, and the air in the forest smelled wonderfully fresh. The friends were happy and up to now nobody knew what a horrible discovery they were to make soon.


Susie and Mary were a little ahead of the others and first at the site. They began to clean away branches and twigs. The friends had cloaked the entrance well so that nobody could find it. But after a few minutes the entrance lay open.

“Fuzzy!” Daisy called into the dark entrance. “The party will start soon!”

Elfrida, Jenny, Susie, Mary, Rosie, Bertha, and Bernie laughed while they spread a rug on the ground. They wanted to be cosy for their party with biscuits, cakes, and nuts.

“Hamsterton, hurry up, the party’s going to start!”

Daisy tried to look down the tunnel as far as possible, then she took a torch to light the tunnel. Jenny frowned and said: “What if the tunnel at Hamsterton end has collapsed?”

“I don’t believe it”, Bernie soothed her. “The tunnel is clad with clay, nothing can happen there.”

“Well”, Elfrida said, “then we must take a look what’s the matter with our little friends.”

“And if Carlo Killjoy is behind that?” Rosie wondered anxiously.

“Or the witch found the entrance and is waiting for us?”

“Nuts”, Elfrida retorted. “If the witch were inside, how was she to arrange all the twigs and branches so neatly?”

Now they all turned to Bertha who looked quite aghast and raised her hand in protest: “Me? Forget it! I still feel sick of the stuff your brother told, Elfrida. I’m not going to crawl into the mud to be eaten by beetles and worms! Let Bruno go. He just seems to love them bugs!”

“If we send Bruno, he’ll find dear little earthworms and charming beetles and won’t come back before dusk.”

“No, Elfrida, I will not go in there – basta!”

“O well”, Elfrida sighed, “then it is Bruno’s turn. Bruno! Where is that guy? Brunoooo!”

“I’ve seen him go to that shrubbery over there, perhaps he had to pee”, Mary said.

So the friends all ran to the shrubbery Mary had indicated and searched for Bruno. Nobody was there and the friends made up two search parties.

“My mother will make minced meat of me if I come home without him”, Elfrida groaned.

The friends looked and searched. Finally they sat down for a moment on the rug to talk things over. The hamsters had not come and now Bruno had vanished. While the friends brooded, rather at a loss, they suddenly heard a voice: “Did you know that a stag beetle can be up to 5 centimetres long?”

Bruno! With a large beetle on his hand he approached Bertha.

“Look, how his antennae…”

“Take that away!” Bertha shrieked. “That poisonous beast will bite me!”

“But it isn’t poisonous”, Bruno replied calmly and fondled the beetle. “Well, yes, he can bite, but not very much. A dog is more dangerous.”

“Bruno”, Elfrida said, “we need your help. Our hamster-friends don’t show up and you’re the only one to fit into the tunnel entrance. Bertha does not want to go today.”

Bertha got up and looked at Bruno earnestly: “It’s important that you hurry up and don’t play around with your beetle stuff, got me?”

“Sure”, Bruno replied. “Take care of Alfred in the meantime.”

He put the stag beetle into Bertha’s hand, turned and marched towards the tunnel entrance. It did not interest him overmuch that Bertha shrieked and fainted. All his concern was on the dark tunnel now.

“Hey!” Jenny called after him. “Take along my torch.”

Bruno took it with a grunt and crept into the tunnel. Slowly he disappeared until only the soles of his shoes were to be seen. Then he was gone.

“Well, if we have to wait, we may as well have a little snack”, Rosie proposed and turned to Bertha. But Bertha was not in the mood to answer her. She still lay on the ground dizzily and stared after the stag beetle which sprinted to the underwood.

“Okay, let’s eat something, I’m quite starved. For sure my brother will be more than an hour. I hope he doesn’t dawdle. And I hope nothing horrible happened in Hamsterton.”

“It’s certainly very harmless”, Daisy said. “Perhaps our hamster-friends busy themselves with something else. I’m sure your brother will hurry.”

“I’m not that sure”, Elfrida said sceptically. “Yesterday he was two hours late for lunch. Our mum almost went bananas and lunch was cold anyway. You know, being late for a meal is the worst thing you can do to a mother. You can make your room a pigsty, you may leave your shoes in the way if she comes along with a full washing basket, but you may not be late for the meals.”

My room always is tidy, and the shoes are in the closet”, Bertha butt in, who had bucked herself up. “But how can one be two hours late for lunch?”

Elfrida grinned. “He watched a snail race.”

The children roared with laughter, while Bertha almost vomited.

“How glad I am not to have a little brother like that”, Bertha said disgustedly.

“That’s better by all means”, Rosie said with a big smack. “I’d pity the poor child who had you as elder sister.

“Oh, do you indeed?” Bertha snapped.

“To have such a telltale as you for a sister would be the worst plague!”

“Telltale? Me?!”

“You indeed, Bertha, or have you forgotten the last day before summer vacation?”

“Why, I just called teacher’s attention to the fact that she had forgotten to give us homework for the vacation time.”

“Just so”, Rosie snorted. “You’re lucky you’ve left the building alive. We were pissed off, I can tell you.”

“I thought it was something like that”, Bertha mumbled. “I wondered why my satchel was gone and I later on found it in the garbage. The vexing thing was that a banana peels stuck between every page of my books. That was quite disgusting. And I didn’t understand why there was a wet sponge in my gym bag. The meanest thing was my bike hanging in the oak tree on the schoolyard. Headmaster and caretaker were really angry when they had to stay late because of me. The fire brigade finally got my bike down with a long ladder.”

“Haha”, Rosie jeered, “and the squishy tomatoes in your trainers…”

“How do you know?” Infuriated and with rolling eyes Bertha stormed at Rosie: “My mum found that stinky ketchup in the trainers only in the evening. My, she fumed! But do explain to me how you know about that, dearest Rosie.”

“Ehm, well, I, ehm”, Rosie stammered. “I’ve somehow heard about it.”

“And I’m to believe that?” Bertha hissed. “You know what I believe? I believe…”

“Shh!” Daisy hissed excitedly. “I think I heard a noise in the tunnel. Bruno’s coming back!”

Bruno indeed scrambled out of the tunnel entrance. It was a bit difficult for him to get to his feet because he held something in each hand.

“Bruno”, Jenny called out, “what did you find?”

“A centipede. Look at, these are never thousand legs. He’s only named thus. Did you know that centipedes…”

“Bruno!” Jenny shrieked. “The hamsters!”

“Hamsters have got four legs, why do you ask?”

“Where are they? What’s the matter in Hamsterton?”

“O that!” Bruno shrugged. “Nobody at home in Hamsterton.”

The friends looked bewildered. They had no idea at all what that meant. What was the matter? Where were their friends, the hamsters? Elfrida looked at her little brother in desperation.

“Was there something unusual? Did you see or find anything?”

“I found this button”, Bruno said and handed a gold coloured button to Elfrida.

With big eyes Elfrida took it. It seemed to be made of brass. A curious symbol and a name were to be seen on it. Elfrida read the name aloud: “Clan of McShredder.”

“Clan of McShredder?” Daisy asked and took the button.

“That means this button belongs to the family McShredder. The word Clan is Scottish and means something like family.”

“Perhaps the button belongs to one of the hamsters?” Rosie said hopefully.

“Lord, Rosie!” Daisy shook her head. “They are all from Syria. The only country they’ve ever been to is here around Aubachtal. Where would the hamsters get a Scottish button?”

Elfrida had stared at the tunnel entrance thoughtfully. Now she lifted her head, went over to Daisy and said: “If the hamsters did not come to the button, then the button came to the hamsters.”

Daisy and the others obviously did not understand, so she explained: “The hamsters have disappeared. All Bruno found was a centipede and a button with inscription and emblem of some Scottish clan. We surely can delete the centipede from the list of suspects, he has nothing to do with that. Remains the button. It doesn’t belong to the hamsters, so either it came by mail or someone lost it there. I don’t believe in the mailing, so someone must have lost it.”

“Okay”, Rosie grunted. “But why did the hamsters disappear?”

“They did not disappear, Rosie”, Elfrida said and looked at her friends earnestly. “They have been kidnapped. Probably they are in Scotland now. I don’t know why, but we should learn something about this fine clan. Let’s go to the library, perhaps we’ll find something there.”

When the friends were on their way to town, Elfrida noticed that Bruno was no longer with them.

“Anybody seen Bruno?” she asked and looked around.

“He’s gluing to some slimy beetles for certain and talks with them”, Bertha jeered.

Elfrida rolled her eyes and sulked: “It’s always the same with him. I’ve got to wait for him forever. Come on, we’ve got to go back to find him.”

When they reached the spot where a few minutes ago they all had been together, there was no trace of Bruno.

Again they formed two search parties and called him, but with no success.

“Pointless”, Jenny groaned, “we simply can’t find him. Where might he be?”

At that moment they heard the coarse croaking of a crow.

“Brute!” Jenny called out. “Why must you crows always laugh in such a mean way?”

Rosie, who just sucked at a lolly, looked at Elfrida and anxiously said: “And if the witch kidnapped him?”

O no!” Elfrida yammered. “First the hamsters are kidnapped and then my beloved little brother. What’s to happen next?”

“Perhaps Bertha falls into a big mudpuddle full of worms and beetles”, Rosie suggested, still sucking her lolly.

“Pooh, I don’t listen to people who talk while eating and even smacking. Especially if they squeeze dirty fruit into innocent classmates’ trainers”, Bertha answered pertly.

“Tomatoes are not fruit, but vegetables”, Daisy corrected. “How about paying a visit to the witch?”

They all agreed and walked on into the wood cautiously. Half an hour later they were near the witch-house and decided that Elfrida and Jenny were to creep closer. Slowly the girls approached the blockhouse of the witch, when suddenly both bumped against something with their heads.

Ouch, what was that?” Jenny groaned and held her head.

Elfrida felt about in the air like along a glass pane. First she struck her hand against something, then her fist.

“An invisible wall”, she whispered. “We can’t pass it, let us creep back.”

A few minutes later they conferred with their friends what to do.

Bernie suggested to blow up the invisible wall with explosives. Susie thought it better to dig a tunnel under the wall.

Finally Elfrida said it was time to pay a visit to Alberich, the King of Dwarfs.

“He’s sure to know a counter-spell!” she said.

“Or he’s got a key or something the like”, Rosie added.

This time it was Bertha’s turn to roll her eyes desperately: “How do you think to find an invisible key hole in an invisible wall?”

“Well, with a secret spell or suchlike”, Rosie uncertainly answered.

“Never mind! We only can find that out if we ask Alberich, so come on!”

If you ever have seen a map of the Magic Forest, you know that the road is quite difficult. There is no bridge over the river which separates the territory of the witch from the empire of the King of Dwarfs. The friends had to find a suitable tree trunk to put over the river. One after the other balanced over the trunk and they all reached the opposite bank sound and safe – except Bertha.

“Why always me?” Bertha wailed. “Look how I'm looking!”

“I’m sure Bruno would be beside himself with joy”, Rosie squeaked. “If we stick some earthworms to you, he’ll find you really interesting.”

Bertha thought it quite beneath her to answer that. As well as possible she tried to clean her dress of mud, however, without success. The mud would not go off, and the more she rubbed, the more the mud spread over the dress.

By now they had reached the house of Alberich the King of Dwarfs. It was high noon and Alberich lay on a lawn chair in his garden and snored. Beside him stood Jule, his faithful white horse. When the friends approached, Jule whinnied and looked at Alberich, but he snored on. Jule prodded him with her nose to wake him up. Unfortunately, Jule had prodded him too much so that the King of Dwarfs and his chair tumbled to the ground.

“Gosh, Jule”, he said, rising, “can’t you wake me up more cautiously?”

Then he saw the friends and walked towards to them with a big smile.

But when he saw their sad faces, he stood in front of them and said in a low voice: “Old Carla again?”

“Yes”, Elfrida replied and nodded. “This time the wretched witch has kidnapped my little brother and built an invisible wall around her daft witch house.”

“That shouldn’t be much of a problem. At witch school Carla never really paid attention. There certainly will be breaches in the wall. There is a trick to find that out. Let’s set off immediately.”

The King of Dwarfs went into his house, fetched his magic hat and a basket with herbs. The basket he put onto a wooden wagon. The wagon had a shaft bar which he took into both hands, then he whistled. Jule approached in a trot and the King of Dwarfs fastened the bar to the harness.

“All hands on board”, he cried, looked at Bertha and added: “We do not want to fall into the muddy river, do we?”

Bertha pressed her lips together and feigned not hearing anything, while Rosie snickered. When they all were in the wagon, Rosie still could not quiet down: “We do not want to fall into the muddy river, he he, we do not want to take a mud bath, he he, mud bath, he he he!”

They set off, Jule trotted faster and faster. Finally the horse took off, und the friends travelled through the air.

During the flight again and again Rosie’s cackling was to be heard: “We do not want to take a mud bath, he he, that’s funny, snort, mud bath, he he, I'll collapse in a minute!”

Bertha turned away from Rosie disgustedly and looked to the other side. But when deep down she saw the forest, she turned pale and latched onto the wagon seat. Why had that always to happen to her who had no head for heights? Why need she have a nutty girlfriend like Rosie? She looked at Rosie, and when their glances crossed, Rosie snorted again: “Mud bath, he he, to take a mud bath, that’s cool, he he!”

Finally Alberich the King of Dwarfs landed cautiously about one hundred metres off Carla‘s witch house.

“That’s that”, he said. “Now we have to be very quiet.”

“He heeee”, Rosie suddenly bawled, “take a quiet mud bath, he he!”

“She'd better stays in the wagon”, Alberich sighed, pointing at Rosie, who roared with laughter on the wooden wagon seat.

So while Rosie stayed with Jule and the wagon, the others cautiously and quietly approached the blockhouse of the witch. It was odd, but just as the roaring and chuckling of Rosie died down in the distance, there came noises from the direction of the witch house. It sounded like swearing and yelling. Curiously the friends crept to the point of the invisible wall. The King of Dwarfs fetched a bunch of reddish-greenish plants out of his basket.

“Common heather”, he said and grinded it with both hands. Then here and there he threw it against the wall and, behold, some of the heather stayed in the air and some fell down. For several minutes he repeated this, then he said: “You see? Where the heather catches, the invisible border is stable, and where it doesn’t, there are openings. Ah, this is an especially large one, here we will slip through.”

Alberich went first and the friends followed him. The noise from the witch house by now had grown so loud that they paused to listen. After a short time they brightened and took new courage.

“You blasted little toad! Drop that! Take your dirty fingers from my witch brew! What are you doing with my magic wand, you’ll blast us all up! And open the door of the prison or you will pay for it!”

“Carla seems to be in trouble”, the King of Dwarfs grinned.

If you don’t mind my saying so”, Bertha said, “your dear little brother seems to be the specialist for chaos and shock!”

Elfrida grinned and was really proud of her little brother. Even if he mostly was a menace, she thought him to be a genius in some things. But how had he lured the witch into her own prison? She absolutely had to find out and went towards the door of the witch house.

“Noooo!” she heard the witch’s shriek. “Not the crack-herb! No, don’t put it into the pot, you will make us all…”

A loud bang interrupted her desperate cries. Quickly Elfrida threw herself to the ground and held her breath. She put her hands to her face for safety and squinted through her fingers to the witch house. Smoke came out of the roof, more and more, until the whole roof lifted off and sailed over the tops of the trees. The walls of the house faltered, bent and finally crashed down.

When the smoke had gone, Elfrida saw what had happened. The witch house now had no roof and no walls, only the floor was left. In the former kitchen Bruno stood with the magic wand in his hand and looked embarrassed. On his right side were the remains of the prison which Elfrida and her friends knew only too well. Between the remains of the prison lay the witch. She grinned and said: “O my dears, do come in! What can I do for you? O, what am I doing on the floor, and who is that charming little boy there at my hearth?”

“Wow”, Jenny groaned, “she’s quite off her trolley!”

“The explosion really seems to have confused her a little”, Elfrida grinned. “Can anything be done there, dear Alberich?”

“I could, Elfrida, but why should I? I like her much better as she is. I hope she remains like this for a while.”

Elfrida took her brother and the friends merrily walked back to Rosie and Jule. The witch called after them, inviting them to dinner, but the friends were not interested.

When Rosie saw her friends returning safe and sound, she ran to them excitedly, embraced Bruno and wanted to know what had happened.

“Bruno blew up the witch house”, Bernie explained.

“You can say that the witch had her big bang”, Alberich added.

“The witch had her big bang, that’s good”, Rosie shouted, “that’s even better than mud bath, he he he!”

“She’s doing it again!” Bertha groaned and climbed into the wagon.

Laughing, Rosie sat down beside her, looked at Bertha’s still dirty dress and snorted again with laughter.

“You – you big bang mud bath, he he he”, Rosie croaked, while the wagon took off and flew back to the King of Dwarfs’ house.

After arriving there, they all sat together and debated what they were to do now. In between Rosie was thrown out because with her steady snickering nobody could concentrate. After an hour’s council Elfrida outlined their conclusions: “We have to go to Scotland. As none of us has the Scottish language, we need the wristbands of Professor Hurry. You remember these translation wristbands, by which we could speak with the Aborigines in Australia.”

Her friends nodded, so Elfrida continued: “Unfortunately, we’ve got only one of them, so we need the duplicator from Mona and Moyo. We have to contact them. Anyone any idea how to do it?”

“Morse”, Jenny suggested. “We take a strong torch and flash to them.”

“Fine”, Elfrida continued, “then that’s our next task. If we have enough wristbands, we can talk with the Scottish people. I hope we need not search too long. Question: How do we get there? The magic bottle will help but we never know where we’ll arrive with it. Professor Hasty has to help us, perhaps he can adjust the magic bottle to Scotland. So let’s get gone. Any questions?”

“Yes, I have a question”, Bertha shouted. “Do we have to take your brother along?”

They all looked at Bruno who just was lying in a corner watching ants.

“I don’t think so”, Elfrida said. “He better stays at home.”

“What shall we do with the morsels?” Rosie asked when later on they all sat in Elfrida’s room.

“Morsels?” Mary asked bewildered.

“W-well”, Rosie stammered, “those things by which we’ll get Mona and Moya here.”

“But you don’t know anything”, Bertha jeered. “It’s called morse.”

“And where’s the difference, Miss Cleverpig?”

“Ehm, morse is something beeping.”

“He he”, Rosie hooted and rolled on the carpet. “Something beeping, that’s cool, Miss Supercleverpig, he he, some beeping big bang mud bath, he he!”

“There we are again!” Elfrida groaned.

At that moment it knocked at the door and Bobble entered.

“Good evening. Er, did somebody see my slippers? I’ve been looking for them this half hour.”

“They banged and took a beeping mud bath”, Rosie cackled and wallowed on the floor. “Slippers, he he!”

Bobble shrugged. “Why mud bath?” he asked Rosie in a puzzled voice.

“Oh, you know, Mr. Bobble, pigs are clean animals, really banged-up, he he!”

Bobble could see that Rosie made no sense and left the room to look for his slippers somewhere else.

“Last time he found them in the tub. Bruno had established a ferry service for the sowbugs.”

She grinned at her brother, but when she saw him fumbling at her doll’s house, the grin vanished.

“Hey, take your hands off”, she snapped, “or I’ll throw your cars out of the window.”

That helped. Bruno left the doll’s house alone and sat up straight.

“By the way, how did you lure the witch into the prison?” Elfrida now wanted to know.

“When that old hag dragged me into her house, I bit her finger and she let me go. Then she chased me and when she stumbled, her magic wand fell out of her hand. Well, I threw the wand into the prison, and she ran after it. When the daft witch wanted to get out, I slammed the door, and she bumped against it. By that she lost the magic wand a second time. She was inside, the door was locked, the wand was outside.”

Rosie started cackling again: “She was inside, the wand was outside, he he he! Wonderful big bang, he he!”

“And then you tried her cooking recipes?” Elfrida asked.

“Nope, I couldn’t read that claw of hers, but I was hungry and thought to cook something for me.”

“He cooked something”, Rose cackled, “and with wand he stirred the magic herbs. Whamm, the house was gone! You get me rolling on the carpet again!”

“Very nice, Rosie”, Elfrida yawned, “may we go on now? Where had we been?”

“Morse and all about it”, Jenny said and continued: “That’s a coding system invented by a man named Samuel Morse. At a time without wireless or phone he had the idea to use electricity as means of transmitting information. If you lay a cable from here to the next town and connect a bulb to one end, you only need to put power on the cable from this end and in the next town the bulb lights up.”

“They are enlightened, he he”, Rosie snickered. “On, off, on, he he, then they know it’s time for a mud…”

She got no further for Bertha held on her trunk.

“Thank you, Bertha”, Jenny said and continued:

“Now both sides only have to agree how often and how long the bulb has to flash up to give a certain information. So Morse rewrote the alphabet to short and long signals. That’s known as morse-code. If I flash the bulb once short and once long, that means ‘A’. You can also do it with a torch over long distances. That way we can send signals into the space to give notice to Mona and Moyo.”

“Okay”, Elfrida said, “we’ll begin this very night. At midnight we’ll meet in our garden.”

The friends stayed for a few minutes, then the meeting ended and they went home. Elfrida and Bruno were alone in their room and wondered what to play now, but before they had any idea, their mother called them to supper.

“Well”, Daddy Bobble said, while he shoved a piece of cheese into his mouth, “which results did your awfully important meeting bring?”

“Oh, we will send signals into space to get help from aliens”, Elfrida answered in a lackadaisical voice.

“That’s it”, Bruno said, chewing. “Morse!”

“But of course”, Bobble grinned, “that could have been my idea. Bruno, pick up the salami. When you talked it fell out of your mouth and is under the table now.”

Nothing worth mentioning happened, but Mr. and Mrs. Bobble were a little surprised that both children abandoned the telly and wanted to go to bed early.

“The fresh air”, Gertrude Bobble explained to her husband, “it works wonders. The two of them ran right riot and have done with today.”

About midnight, when Mr. and Mrs. Bobble were peacefully asleep and snoring, the house became alive again.

“Careful!” Elfrida hissed. “Don’t tramp over my handcrafts!”

“You leave your rubbish everywhere about”, Bruno hissed back.

“That’s no rubbish and look where you are going, or the wrinklies will catch us!”

Cautiously they sneaked through the hall, down to the cellar and out to the gate. Their friends were already waiting for them.

“Everybody here?” Elfrida asked and Bertha answered: “Except Rosie. I’ve seen what happened. Her mother caught her when she sneaked along the kitchen. Just imagine: her mother was at the fridge in the middle of the night to get a little something.”

“And how do you know that?” Daisy asked.

“Me? Er, well, I looked through the keyhole of the front door. I had to know what was going on, after all.”

“At least nobody cackles around here and betrays us”, Susie grinned.

“Okay, then let’s start.”

Jenny got out her torch, while Bernie watched the sky. He pointed to the direction of Mona’s and Moyo’s home planet. Jenny directed her torch to the spot.

“Short-short-short, long-long-long, short-short-short - short-short-short, long-long-long, short-short-short…”, she said aloud and explained: “Three times short for ‘S’, three times long for ‘O’, and another three times short for ‘S’. That is SOS and means Save our souls, and that just means: Help us!”

After a few minutes Jenny paused and together with Bernie intensely watched the sky. Then she continued until she paused again.

“Will an answer take long?” Mary asked excitedly. “An answer to a letter sometimes takes very long.”

“The speed of light is the fastest there is. Light is pure energy and has now frictional loss.”

Amazed, they all turned to Bruno and Bernie nodded appreciatively: “Not bad, Bruno.”

Then he looked up to the stars again. Jenny’s finger was by now quite weary and Bernie just wanted to continue the signals, when Jenny shouted: “There! They’re answering!”

She took a pad and a pen which she had brought and noted down: “Long-long-long, long-short-long – that it OK! They gave their okay, so they’ll come!”

“Interesting! Who else will join the party?” they heard a deep voice behind them.

Terrified, the friends turned round. A policeman stood in front of them.

“Am I late?” Rosie’s coarse voice said in exactly this moment. “It wasn’t my fault, my mother caught me!”

“At the fridge, wasn’t she?” Bertha jeered.

“No, dear Bertha, it was pure chance. My mother said she’d just wiped up the kitchen!”

“Dearest Rosie, at midnight, you don’t believe that!”

“And why not, dearest Bertha? My mother takes no mud baths after all.”

“And I do not stuff rotten tomatoes into other people’s trainers! Constable, what do you say?”

“I – er – well, I once wiped up my kitchen in the middle of the night when my washing machine leaked, but…”

“You see, dearest Bertha, Constable also wipes up his kitchen in the middle of the night!”

“Perhaps you heard that his washing machine was defect.”

“So what? A constable is outside all the day long and if he comes home with muddy feet, he has to wipe up everything. Muddy feet, he he, that’s funny, Constable’s got mud feet, he he he!”

“Be quiet!” Bertha whispered to her. “Or we all will be arrested.”

“May I ask what you young folks are doing outside at this time of the night? Would it not be high time to be in bed?”

“Er, Constable, I’m no party of this, I only woke up from the noise”, Bertha lamented. “Please don’t arrest me, I’m only a poor victim, and my trainers never became really white again!”

“She’s a bad tattletale, Constable”, Rosie shouted angrily. “A few days of solitary confinement would do her good! Best thing would be if the aliens took her with them!”

The next moment a window of the neighbouring house opened where the Baconrinds were living. The annoyed voice of Rosie’s father was to be heard: “Be quiet down there! I’ve got to get up early in the morning! Shut up, or I’ll fetch the bloody cops!”

The constable did not believe his ears and walked over to the fence which separated the gardens of the Bobbles and the Baconrinds.

“Mister”, he snarled at Mr. Baconrind, “how about setting an example? Stop bawling!”

When Mr. Baconrind saw that it was a policeman, he immediately was very friendly and smiled bashfully.

“Yes, of course, Chief Sergeant. Good night and have a nice time!” he stammered. Then he shut the window. The constable was about ten metres away from the children at the fence and got out his notebook to write a report. At this moment Bobble entered the scene. He saw the friends and yawned: “Come on, kids, stop that noise. Do you want the cops down here? I don’t want to have them daft cops trampling down my beautiful lawn with their hooves.”

“Daddy, er, over there…”

“It’s all right, Elfrida, them cops won’t come. Especially not if you need them, ha ha! By the way, do you know my cop jokes?”

“Daddy, perhaps you should…”

“Exactly, little Elfrida, I should tell them now. So listen: Why don’t cops get their bum up? Because they’re always sitting on their ears. Ha ha! And what looks like a dachshund but isn’t one? A cop after 20 years of service! Ha ha, because he always sat on his ears, ha ha!”

Bobble had tears of laughter in his eyes. He just wanted to tell the next joke, when the constable tapped him on the shoulder with a smile.

“O Consternable”, Bobble murmured, embarrassed, “have you already been told that you have very beautiful ears?”


“No ears?”

“I want to see your identification, Mister!”

Daisy, Elfrida, and Jenny stepped forward.

“It’s all our fault, Constable”, Daisy said.

“We just were watching the stars, because, er, we need that for school.”

“That’s it”, Jenny nodded. “We just wanted to go to bed.”

“Well, well”, the policeman growled and still look angry. “Then I’ve heard nothing. But now to bed and presto!”

“Thank you”, Elfrida said, “and good night, Constable!”

Together with Bruno she hurried into the house.

The others left, too, and as the last one, Rosie, trotted off.

“Good night”, she shouted and climbed over the fence to her parents’ house.

Bobble was the last one to walk to the front door, turned to the constable and said: “Good night, Consternable. Did you ever consider wearing earrings?” Then he quickly went in and shut the door.

“You impudent fellow, I will keep an eye on you!” the enraged constable shouted.

Now at the Baconrinds’ the window opened again. All that noise had awakened Rosies father once more and he shouted: “And that will be a black eye very soon, you sod!”

Constable Bertrams turned round very slowly. Somewhere far off a dog was barking. The moon had come out by now, and Mr. Baconrind could see who had been that noisy in the garden. Quickly he shut the window and switched off the light.

“I will finish you all”, Constable Bertrams yelled, who had quite lost his nerves. “I will question and pump each of you!”

Now a police car passed. The two officers in the car just were off duty and on their way home, but they were interested in what happened here.

“You think I’m your tomfool”, Constable Bertrams raged and kicked the garden fence. “Mud feet I’ve got? A dachshund I am? You know what the dachshund his going to do? Piss at your fence!”

But before he could do so, the two policemen got out of their car and held the constable tight.

“You better come with us, mate!” they said and dragged the swearing Bertrams along.

You think you can finish me? Clean your own trainers! Ha, I’m an alien!”

While the one policeman dragged the scolding constable into the police car, the other one took a look at Bobble’s garden. He could make out Bobble who looked out of the window, grinning.

“Ey, you!” the policeman shouted and took his note book out. “Can you tell me what happened here?”

“No idea”, Bobble retorted. “That guy has been rioting here for quite some time. I think he’s gone nuts.”

“Thanks a lot, Sir, we will take care of him.”

The policeman nodded to Bobble kindly and walked back to the car.

From his window Bobble could see that by now Constable Bertrams was sitting in the rear of the police car. He wore handcuffs. Bobble drew the curtains and merrily went to bed. He could not know, of course, how soon he was to meet Constable Bertrams again.