The Old Lord’s Castle
It was quiet in the old castle which lay deep in the forests of Scotland at the foot of a high mountain chain. Softly like an eiderdown quilt the night settled over the old walls. This castle, which once had been a church, had seen several centuries, here and there the stonework began to crumble away. All this belonged to the McShredder Clan, and the present owner was Lord McShredder, almost 90 years of age. Together with his faithful, a little clumsy butler Frido McClown he lived in the lonely, sinister building.
It was about midnight, when Lord McShredder called his butler.
“Hey, McClown, where are you fooling about? I feel cold.”
The faithful butler approached slowly and said with an innocent look:
“Your Lordship certainly knows we have a power failure and the heating does not work. But how about a nice cup of tea?”
“Eh?” Lord McShredder cried, outraged. “Why should the mice sup at the sea?”
McClown rolled his eyes for it was no secret that Lord McShredder was rather hard of hearing.
“Tea, I said, Milord.”
“The sea is laid out?” McShredder shook his head. “Well, yesterday it was still alive. Why don’t you make some tea for me when I feel cold?”
With a groan Frido McClown went to the kitchen to put the kettle on when he realized that there would be no hot water without power. Sadly he shuffled back to milord and explained that without power there would be no tea. Lord McShredder thought this over quite a while and suggested to fetch him a thick pullover or, better still, a fur coat if there was no tea.
“Sir, all our cloths have been eaten by the moths”, the butler reminded him.
“Eh?” the hard hearing lord retorted. “Allah and the carrots have beaten the maggots?”
“THE MOTHS HAVE EATEN THE CLOTHS!” the butler bawled and desperately tore at his hairs.
“No need to shout”, McShredder angrily said. “I’m not deaf.”
While the butler was close to a nervous breakdown milord took his pipe, but found that he had no more tobacco. The day before he had had such a fit of sneezing that now all the tobacco was well spread over the whole castle.
“Oh, my dear McClown, just another matter”, Lord McShredder said. “Please remember that tomorrow you don’t hoover the castle but use a broom. If all is swept, please put everything into my tobacco pouch. We have to economize.” Milord rubbed his hands and added: “And another matter. I need a thick pullover or, better, a new fur coat. My rheumatism gets worse and worse.”
“Fine”, McClown groaned. “Then I’ll go to the town.”
“Row in a gown?” McShredder was bewildered. “What kind of idea is that?”
“GO TO THE TOWN!” the butler crowed. “Early in the morning.”
“Curly as a form ring? What nonsense is that, McClown?”
Milord shook his head in puzzlement.
Shrieking, the butler ran out of the room and kept to his chamber for the rest of the night. Why, he thought, why do I have to serve such a complete moron?
The next morning McClown got up early. While going downstairs to the great hall he saw His Lordship still sitting and sleeping in his armchair. He went to the kitchen, put the kettle on, took a pan and broke some eggs into it. When he found a tea bag he prepared the teapot and put two slices of toast into the toaster. Satisfied, he put the pan to the stove and turned it on. Then he went over to His Lordship, calling:
„Wake up, Milord, breakfast will be served in a minute.“
“What was that?” Lord McShredder asked sleepily. “Miller’s back was shaved in a Mini? Why do they do that?”
“O well”, McClown grinned. “Now and then the back should be shaved, you know.”
“I see”, McShredder replied. “Perhaps I should do that, too.”
Before the befuddled butler could answer, milord continued: “Where are my scrambled eggs? Aren’t they ready?”
McClown hastened to the kitchen and with a shock he realized that without power there would be neither tea nor scrambled eggs.
“Hurry up!” milord shouted. “I am starving!”
“Coming”, McClown called back, poured the raw eggs from the pan into a soup plate, took a spoon and placed everything on the table in front of His Lordship.
Lord McShredder spooned up the raw eggs, looked at McClown and said: “Delicious, my good man, you surpassed yourself! By the way, yesterday I read an article in the newspaper. It was a report about the Syrian desert. Just imagine, McClown, thousands of hamsters are living there. It said those animals are only active during the night. And do you know the reason, McClown?”
“Probably during the day it is too hot”, the butler replied.
“Wrong”, McShredder said triumphantly, “because during the day it is too hot!”
“Indeed”, the butler said angrily.
“You wouldn’t have thought so, would you?” Lord McShredder said. “As matter of fact, those animals have a thick fur against the cold. And do you know which idea came to me?”
“Well”, the butler replied, “probably you want to grow a fur, too.”
“Fiddlesticks”, milord croaked. “I need a coat made of hamster fur. You have to leave immediately to get me a coat of hamster fur. But first you’ll sweep the castle. I need something to smoke after all.”
“But Sir”, the butler said, “we may take sheepskin.”
“By no means. You will make no sleep thing. Hurry up, McClown!”
“Your Lordship, I’ll need thousands of hamsters for a fur coat!” the butler shouted, shocked.
“So what?” McSchredder retorted. “I may ask for some engagement. In my days every sheep around here was sheared by hand. So you have no reason to make trouble about some hamsters.”
“Do you mean I am to shear every single hamster?” McClown asked appalled.
“Nonsense, why should you tear and mingle hamsters?” milord answered. “You simply don’t get me, McClown, you are to shear the animals. Enough now. I’d like to have some tea.”
The butler shuffled back to the kitchen, swearing softly. In the kitchen, he angrily threw a tea bag into a cup filled with cold water. Water splashed on the old gas stove and while he cleaned away the drops with one hand, he tried to get at the sugar pot with the other. He did not seize it properly, and the sugar pot landed on his head. It ached like hell. While he held his head, he heard His Lordship calling impatiently: “How long do I have to wait for my tea?”
Now McClown’s patience was spent. He took the two toast slices, stuffed them into the tea cup and pressed them in firmly. Then he took the cup and ran to milord. That is, he wanted to run to him, but his sleeve got caught at the toaster and it banged to the floor. Enraged, the butler kicked the toaster so that it bolted into the shelf with the dishes. It clinked and jangled, the shelf came down on the poor butler who desperately tried to steady himself at the gas stove. A moment later he was buried under broken dishes and the splintered shelf. McClown heard a loud hissing. Buried under the shelf as he was, he could see nothing, took a match from his pocket and stroke it. The moment it flared up, he realized that the hissing was caused by the old gas stove.
Gas! he thought. That’s it! We don’t need electricity, we can use gas as power. Who would have thought that the old gas stove still works. So I don’t need to catch hamsters and…
McClown making Tea
His thoughts were interrupted by a big bang. McClown felt like lifted by a giant’s hand. Then he catapulted through the kitchen door into the great hall. All the time he was clinging to the tea cup with the toast mush. Another bang, and the butler landed beside His Lordship.
“You see”, Lord McShredder said, “you can if you will. Why aren’t you always that quick? Did you hear the noise? It sounded as if someone knocked at the door.”
Frido McClown got up with a groan, handed the tea cup to milord and staggered to the front door. It took him some moments to open it. As he could not see anybody, he closed it again.
“Where am I, what am I doing here?” he asked and held his buzzing head.
“Thank you, the tea is delicious”, he heard a croaking voice say.
He looked around. Somehow that old guy was familiar, but McClown did not know why. With the gas explosion he had lost his memory.
“McClown, now is the time to look for hamsters for my fur coat. Best thing would be you go to Syria or suchlike. A good butler keeps his master warm, doesn’t he?”
“Certainly, Sir”, McClown replied.
“Here is some money for your journey”, His Lordship continued. “If you’re in trouble, tell them that you’re travelling by order of Lord McShredder of the McShredder Clan. That should do. Hurry up – and enjoy your journey!”
With shaking legs McClown walked to the front door, opened it and went into the garden. The fresh air did him well as the castle had a smelly smell. He thought things over thoroughly and murmured: “So, I seem to be a butler named McClown. The old guy named McShredder is a lord in the castle – needs be my boss. I’m to fetch hamsters for a fur coat. Quite nuts! Well, so what, I can’t remember anything and only hope my memory will come back.”
So the butler took the road to the next airport which was Glasgow. On his way he had an embarrassing experience. When he sat in the train to the airport, pondering about a way to transport such a lot of hamsters, a conductor entered the compartment. In Scotland it is usual to get onto the train and buy the ticket from a conductor. So the conductor came to the butler and asked: “How many persons, Sir?”
McClown, deep in his thoughts about how many hamsters were necessary for a fur coat, answered: “Thousands – if not more.”
The conductor needed a few minutes to recover from the shock, but then handed a ticket to McClown.
The flight to Syria brought no problems. However, after wandering through the Syrian desert for a week, McClown had found not a single hamster and was finally picked up, almost parched, by a desert patrol.
After a two weeks’ stay in the hospital he was released. For safety reasons they put him from the sickbed into the next plane which took him to Paris. From Syria he was banished, and in Paris he did not understand anybody. Somehow he managed to cross the border to Germany near Strasbourg. Due to the gas explosion McClown no longer knew that he had German ancestors. He was happy to discover that he had hardly any language difficulties. But this did not solve his problem, for how was he to get any hamsters? Within the next days he was held up by the police several times because he was loitering around pet shops in the middle of the night. It seemed to be hopeless, but then chance helped McClown. In a rainy night he lay down on a park bench and as usual covered himself with an old newspaper to be protected against cold and wetness. Before settling to sleep he read a little, until he found an article which alerted him immediately. It was the thrilling story of a group of children and the emergency landing of a plane near Aubachtal. Unfortunately part of the newspaper was missing, so McClown only understood that it was something about hamsters and Syria.
After having slept a little, McClown set out for Aubachtal to get to the bottom of this matter. In the archive of the library he found quite a treasure trove of information. Most interesting seemed to be a report on one certain Carlo Killjoy.
That is my man, McClown thought and went to the next post office to find out Carlo Killjoy’s address.
Short time later he was in front of Carlo Killjoy’s villa. It took Carlo Killjoy some time to understand what McClown wanted of him.
“Ah, if I get you right, pal, you wanna be big in hamster deals.”
“Yes, Sir”, the butler replied. “I would be very grateful if you could assist me in this, Sir.”
“Well, and how big will my share be?” Carlo Killjoy wanted to know.
“Sir, I believe Lord McShredder of the McShredder Clan will come to an arrangement with you, Sir.”
Carlo Killjoy thought this over, wondering how much money such a lord might have. No matter: if this type was wild on the hamsters, it could be useful for the revenge of Carlo Killjoy against the hamsters. There were quite some things to settle with them little rodents. He, after all, was the founder of the Hamsterton Bank, which went bankrupt as everyone knew.
After that he had opened a restaurant, which went well up to the day when Carlo Killjoy got the idea to serve baked rubbish to the hamsters. When that was laid open at last, he was driven out in a way he would not easily forget.
“Right, pal, I’ll tell you what to do and you put in a good word for me at the lord’s side. I think about a cosy little castle estate for my holiday? Got me?”
“All right, Sir, I will see what I can do for you.”
For a long time they sat together talking. Some hours later McClown left the villa of Carlo Killjoy. He went to a drugstore and bought some ingredients. Then he bought two steel tubes at an ironmonger. After getting a big card box, a marker and few more things, he took the bus Carlo Killjoy had described to him and finally reached the Magic Forest. There he poured the ingredients into the two tubes and mixed them with gun powder. The tubes he fastened at his back, placed himself in front of a rock face and fired both tubes at the same time. It hissed and banged, and with a loud shriek McClown flew through the rocks right to Hamsterton. It was noon and so of course everybody was asleep in Hamsterton. He could prepare his plan and filled the remaining ingredients into the tubes for his voyage back. When he was ready, he fastened the tubes on his back again. Now he wrote in big letters those words on the card box which Carlo Killjoy had noted down for him in hamster language:
AMENIC – EERF ECNARTNE!
That stood backwards for: Cinema – Free entrance! Then he cut a small piece out of the card box – this was the entrance to the cinema. Now McClown only had to wait – and really: When it got dark, hundreds of hamsters came to the card box and one after the other went into it. Patiently the butler waited until the last hamster had walked into the card box. Now he sneaked towards the box. Bewildered, he listened for he heard curious sounds like ‘TRATS, TRATS1’. McClown quickly shoved a big, flat piece of carton under the card box, turned it round and closed the box with adhesive tape where it was open.
Done! Now he only had to take the card box back to Scotland. He dreaded the voyage back but it had to be. He fastened the card box with the hamsters at his back, between the tubes. After the weight had pulled him backwards, after he came down on his bum twice, he was ready.
McClown fired the tubes, and with a bang he and the hamsters were catapulted back into the Magic Forest. His flight was held up painfully by a heavy bump against an old oak tree, but luckily the hamsters had a soft landing on his back.
All his limbs aching and his head pounding, McClown woke up. By the bump his memory had returned and he immediately realized that he was not in Scotland. Everything looked strange and there were no high mountains. And by no means he could anyhow understand why he was carrying a big box full of hamsters. He also had no idea why he had fastened two steel tubes at his back. He shook his head, threw away the tubes, took the hamster-box and followed a path through the wood. Many hours later he reached the small town of Aubachtal, lay down on a park bench and slept. It was to become an uneasy night because the hamsters made a hell of noise. Again and again he was aroused by curious shouts like ‘PLEH, PLEH2!’
Next morning we went to a bakery, got himself a few buns and shared them with the hamsters. His next goal was the railway station, where he took a train to Frankfort Airport. But it was impossible to go home by plane, for living animals were not permitted to be imported to Great Britain. McClown did not know why he was transporting these animals and what he was to do with them, but he thought that it probably was an order from his sappy deaf Lordship. So he had to get back to the castle, no matter the costs.
After a several days’ walk McClown reached Calais, ragged and tired. So he finally had reached the Channel which separated Great Britain from the continent. He wondered what to begin now for certainly living animals were also forbidden on a ship. One foggy morning McClown decided to take his hamster-box and secretly board some ship. He hid in a lifeboat and exhaustedly fell asleep. Many hours later some loud hooting woke him up and he glimpsed threw the canvas of the lifeboat. He met with cold air and fog. So he decided to wait for darkness before he started further researches.
He dreamt of a warm cabin with a comfortable tub for he had been silly enough to place his warm pullover over the hamsters, and now he was cold. He had wanted to warm the hamsters with it and they thanked him by biting the pullover to hundreds of small pieces. Now each hamster had a cosy little cover, but McClown no longer had a warm pullover. When it was dark he left the lifeboat and took a look around. It came as a shock when he suddenly realized that this was no passenger ship to Newcastle but a fishing cutter. At least he found a good piece of dried fish and took it with him. Then he scrambled back to the hamsters in the lifeboat and had not the least idea how to go on.
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?”
“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!”
“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?”
“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.
In the meantime McClown faced several problems. First he still did not know whereto the fishing cutter was heading, second he had nothing to eat. Furthermore he was troubled about the hamsters for by now they were quite dear to him. In the evening he told them Scottish fairy tales and every time this caused the hamsters to have a party. So McClown had another problem: He hardly found any sleep. On the one hand the noise of the feasting hamsters kept him awake, on the other hand he always had to think of their beady eyes which looked at him hungrily. He had to do something, and so the desperate butler decided to surrender. Certainly the times were gone when a blind passenger was thrown over board. In the worst case they would hand him over to the police in the next harbour.
McClown threw a glance at the sleeping hamsters and scrambled out of the life boat. Cold wind met his face and he had the feeling that his ears were freezing off. Cautiously he looked around. It was rather a small ship and nobody of the crew was in sight. An old net was lying on deck and McClown got the impression that it had not been used for a long time. He knew nothing about seafaring, but something told him that this was no normal ship. After stumbling over an old fender, he opened the door to a cabin. He expected to be seized and questioned by a dozen sailors, but nothing happened.
“Get yer right in an’ shut yer the door tight!”
McClown got a fright but did as he was told and walked in. In an old armchair an old man with a white beard was sitting, his feet at the wheel and a pipe in his mouth.
“Me asked m’sel’ when yer shew up, pal”, the captain continued. “Din’ yer freeze yer ass orff?”
“Well, Sir”, McClown answered stiffly, “it is a little nippy indeed.”
“Little nippy!” The captain laughed heartily and turned round. “Me lad, me take ter yer!”
“Thank you, Sir. If I may ask a favour of you: Do you have some nourishment for my hamsters and me?”
“’amsters? D’yer bring me rats aboard?!”
“No, Sir, hamsters are no rats, they are peaceful little animals, Sir.”
The captain sucked at his pipe, took a coffee pot, and filled a cup standing on a big compass.
“Get yer a tambler o' the caboose”, the captain said. “Me rumbled fer long that ye’re in the tub. ‘ad yer not shewn, me’d got yer. Peer o’ the scuttle, storm’s abrewing ter blast yer o’er board ’elter skelter.”
“That’s very kind of you, Sir.”
“‘Sair’ me not, say Cap’n.”
“Very well, Sir Captain”, McClown replied. “If I may put another question, Sir Captain…”
“’nither ‘Sair Cap’n’ and yer’ll be back ter the tub.”
“As you like, S… Captain”, McClown said, embarrassed. “Begging pardon, S… Captain”, he added, “but where, please, is this ‘caboose’ you mentioned and what, please, is a ‘tambler’?”
The captain laughed aloud and said: “Jus’ new in the world, are yer? Landlubber! Caboose is a kitchen and tambler is a mug, see?”
“Very considerate, S… Captain, I found the mug. May I fill it with coffee now?”
“Say, pal, d’ye think ye’re ter pish in? For sure yer’ll ‘ave coffee!”
“Many thanks, Captain, I really appreciate your kindness.”
The captain turned to McClown the butler, sucked at his pipe again and said in a low voice: “Stop yer all that cootchie-cooing, pal. Ain’t used ter it aboard. Nuts enough ter ‘ave ye and yer zoo as stowaways on such a ran-down cutter. Yer tell me where ye’re from and wot yer do when ye’re not skipperin’ the sea wi’ yer fur-mice.”
So the two men sat together in the cabin, and McClown told the captain everything he could remember. He told about Scotland, about his master and all the things which had happened to him. However, how he came to carry about a box with hamsters he could not really recollect.
“Well”, the captain said, relighting his pipe which had gone out in the meantime, “ye’re right in the sod, pal. Me’s faring ter Reykjavik, up ’n Iceland ter ‘ave some ‘oliday. But get yer fur-mice in ‘elter-skelter, gale’s comin’ on.”
McClown ran to the door and was almost blown over board, such a strong wind had come up in the meantime. He hurried to the lifeboat, took away the tarp and gripped the box with the hamsters. Quickly he walked back to the cabin, but again he did not see the fender which of course was still lying on deck. The butler stumbled and the box with the poor hamsters whirled high up into the air. Lying on deck, McClown watched in desperation how the storm took the box and carried it towards the sea.
“No!” he yelled, but he could do nothing. Horrified, he imagined how his poor little friends would be drowned in the ocean. Sobbing, he stayed where he was, on the cold deck, and decided to stay here until the waves took him and also washed him overboard.
“Sayin' yer prayers or wot?”
With tears in his eyes McClown looked up. There the captain was standing in front of the cabin door and held the box with the hamsters.
“Jus’ thought a landlubber wouldn’ get along wi’ the gale. Well, gogglin’ out o’ the cabin, me sees yer pals whirl about. Jus’ got ‘em.”
Overjoyed, McClown stammered “Thank you, Captain” and then had no end of trouble to shut the cabin door against the strong wind.
“Well, our Frido”, the captain grinned and lit his pipe. “The worst’s ter come still. ‘obgoblin will be at us.”
“With your permission, Captain, he’ll get a sound thrash.”
“Tha’s the way me like yer. Now yer go ter the caboose an' see that yer gang fill their bellies! Elsewise we ‘ave a sound uproar aboard.”
“Ay ay, Captain”, McClown said and went to the kitchen. He took salad and bread and put it into the hamster-box. For certain this meant party time for the half starved hamsters and they fell on the forage like mad while outside the storm was howling. The waves grew higher and higher and broke over the ship’s side like into a white wall. The vessel rolled to and fro and within the box it squeaked merrily.
“Well, well, yer crew sound fit as a fiddle”, the captain laughed. “Say, our Frido, ‘ae ye e’er been ter Iceland?”
“Nay, Captain, I only know that Reykjavik is its capital and that there are pixies and trolls.”
“Ay”, the captain laughed. “An’ jus’ imagine, the ‘ottest summer ‘as lousy 8 degrees. Then them there collapse of ‘eat, say. An’ jus’ imagine, them there kids ne’er ‘ave ‘eat vacancy! Yer knows why there’s such a bulk o’ fish?”
McClown thought this over. “Close to Iceland, in the northern Atlantic, the offshots of the warm Golf Stream and the currents of the polar regions meet. The sea is rich with oxygen and plankton. So there is much nourishment for fish, Captain.”
“Bit slipshod, but a’ right”, the captain laughed. “But know yer wot none knows? Scotland’s not the ain seamonster-quarter!”
“Impossible!” McClown shouted. “Give me proof.”
The captain put aside his pipe and descended a short ladder down to his bunk. After a few minutes he came back with a thick book tucked under his arm. The brown cover was quite worn out and the book looked very old.
“See ye, tha’s a guide-book o‘ me great-great-gran’dad.”
The captain opened the book and cautiously turned the leaves. After a while he found the page he was looking for and held it under McClown’s nose. McClown took it and read: “By the way, Iceland also has to offer monsters living in lakes like Nessie. The most famous of these monsters is living in the Lögurinn lake in the eastern part of the country. The saying goes that once upon a time a woman gave a golden trinket to her daughter. The daughter wanted to know from her mother what best use she could make of the gold. The mother advised her to put the gold under a worm. Everybody knows that a lindworm lying on gold grows tremendously and the treasure on which he is lying grown with him. The next day the girl found a snail in the garden and put it onto the gold. In the evening she took the snail and the gold into the house and hid both in a safe place. When after a few days she went to take a look, the snail already had grown so much that the girl got rather frightened. She took the snail and the gold, ran to the river and threw in both. But the snail grew on and on and by and by became the much feared monster in the Lögurinn.”
McClown looked thunderstruck. It just was not possible that there were monsters outside of Scotland. He shook his head and poured himself another cup of coffee.
“See ye? Now yer dangle yer ears, our Frido!”
Before Frido could answer, the captain sharply altered the course and shouted: “All people ‘old on, we’re landing!”
Frido McClown looked out of the window and could see a mountainous landscape in the distance. This had to be Iceland! Skilfully the captain steered the ship into the narrow port entrance, and after a while they had made it.
“Our Frido, d’ye know ‘ow ter fasten a ‘awser?”
“No problem, Captain, will be done in a moment!”
McClown left the cabin and one minute later was back.
“What is a ‘awser?”
“Tha’s a rope ter moor the cutter, din’ yer know?”
Redheaded, McClown hurried out again and in his cabin the captain distinctly heard the thud of a falling body.
I’ve got to put that fender somewhere else, the captain thought while the ship was moored at the pier. A short time later he and McClown disembarked to the island of Iceland. They bid farewell to each other, McClown took the box with the hamsters and decided to walk inland.
Where is Professor Hasty?
Next morning all children were still rather sleepy. With closed eyes Elfrida stumbled into the bathroom and sat down on the toilet lid. Her head was heavy and her eyes did not want to open. She bedded her head on the washbasin and dreamt about her warm, cosy bed. Now Bruno plodded into the bathroom half asleep. When he blinked a little to check the situation, he saw Elfrida lying with her head on the washbasin. Immediately he was wide awake. Cautiously he crept to the washbasin, turned the cold water on and saw that he was off. Elfrida woke up with a jerk. All she wanted was revenge and she ran out into the corridor. There Bruno was lying. He had slipped on one of his toy cars.
“Ha”, Elfrida cheered, “harm set, harm get.”
Vengefully she thrust herself on the wailing Bruno to slaughter him, when their mother came up the stairs.
“Have you gone nuts?” she cried. “Go frolicking elsewhere. Right after breakfast you are out, you hear me?”
“But, Mummy, I’ve got a date with my friends.”
“So you may, Elfrida. Just take Bruno along.”
So it happened that Bruno marched merrily beside Elfrida when she met her friends at the Magic Forest bus stop.
“I thought you wanted to leave your brother at home”, Daisy said grumpily.
“I did, but my mother had a different opinion.”
“I don’t see the fun of it”, Daisy grouched, and Bertha added: “Promises have to be kept, my mummy always says.”
“Right”, Daisy retorted. “So send him back!”
“I can’t”, replied Elfrida.
“Then you’d better both stay here”, Daisy nagged on.
That was enough for Elfrida.
“You listen now, you’ve got your problems, I’ve got mine. How would you like it if I got off with you that way?”
Daisy had no answer to this. Embarrassed, she murmured: “Sorry, but I didn’t sleep much and I had trouble with my parents. They rumbled that I’ve been out last night.”
“Anyhow”, Bertha insisted, “a promise has to be kept and you said that Bruno… Aaah, take that monster away!”
“Did you know that snails can go over razor blades?” Bruno stood in front of Bertha and held out a grapevine snail.
“Bertha, I think he likes you”, Daisy laughed.
“I would like it if he hated me”, Bertha shrieked.
Bruno looked at her sadly.
“Oh… Er, I didn’t mean it that way”, Bertha stammered.
“Well, you should make up for your words”, Jenny proposed.
Bertha was sorry for the sad Bruno and made a momentous remark: “Bruno, how about telling me something about your little naked – er – friends?”
Bruno was all smiles and started: “Snails belong to the gastropods. They prefer to live at damp places, under stones, in the earth or the water. When moving they leave a slime trail. On this mucus they creep on their sole. Movement takes place by means of expanding and extracting muscles in the foot.”
“Wonderful, Bruno, that was very interesting”, Bertha groaned, but Bruno continued, unpertubed:
“Ramshorn snails belong to those robust snails settling even in polluted water where many other animals no longer feel comfortable. Though living in the water, ramshorn snails are lungsnails. A skin flap works like gills so that the ramshorn snail seldom has to come to the water surface to get fresh air. It feeds on algae and dead plants which it grazes with its radula.”
Now Bruno crammed a handful of candies into his mouth and Bertha interrupted him once mores: “Thank you, Bruno, now I’m in the know!”
“No, one snail species is missing, that is the grapevine snail, a land-living lungsnail, which buries her clutch in the earth. The grapevine snail is a delicacy. Its consumption is said to be strengthening. Today it is forbidden to go on wild living snails. Like the grapevine snail, the smaller garden snail belongs to the grove snails. The big red and the big black slug are not so popular. When the weather is damp you may find them in hundreds. They pitch into the vegetable gardens and of course the gardeners…”
To the general relief the bus was now arriving.
“Sorry for being late”, the driver said to the children. “There was a traffic jam at the crossing.”
“What happened?” Rosie curiously asked.
“Oh, I think it was the fault of Elfrida’s father.”
“What?” Elfrida cried. “Not again!”
“Yes, I could see it clearly”, the bus driver said. “Your father’s car was directly in front of me. In the middle of the crossing stood a policeman and he suddenly started to shout at your father. It was something about dachshunds and mud puddles.”
“Muddy feet”, Elfrida corrected.
“That’s it. However, the policeman did not want to let your father pass until he just drove around the bawling policeman. He almost made it, but then the policeman bit into the fender of the car and let not go. It took quite some time until two colleagues of that madman came and dragged him away. Any idea what that meant?”
“Nooooo!” answered a chorus.
The bus stopped and they got out quickly and ran to the beach.
Elfrida was the first to reach the lighthouse where the professor was living and rang the bell. Nothing happened and also after several trials nobody answered. The friends were at a loss.
“Perhaps he’s gone on holiday”, Jenny said with a shrug.
“Or gone to get new spare parts”, Bernie guessed.
None of them paid attention to Bruno who was digging in the sand near the lighthouse.
“We still have some time left”, Elfrida soothed her friends, “till Mona and Moyo will arrive. Until then we have to try… Ey, Bruno, what did you find there?”
The children got moving again and ran to the place were Bruno was digging in the sand.
“But that looks like the tail fin of a jet.” Bernie was thrilled.
“I think it’s just irresponsible of a grown up man like the professor to leave his garbage about on the beach”, Bertha ranted.
“This does not look like garbage”, Elfrida stated. “Look, it’s not at all rusty. Come on, let’s dig together.”
It was a long, hard work. When the tail fin lay open they noticed to their astonishment that a complete plane was buried in the sand.
“Oh, how ghastly!” Bertha suddenly cried out and they all looked at her terrified. “Just look, I have ripped my fingernail!”
“My, what a pity”, Rosie grunted with a grin, “And I did not take along my manicure set.”
Angrily, Bertha dug on and the next moment she shrieked again and ran away.
“Well, what it now?” Daisy asked impatiently.
“S-something m-moved there.”
“In the sand?”
“N-no, b-behind window!”
Elfrida summed up the situation at once and shouted: “Hurry up, we’ve got to dig on or we may be too late!”
Now they doubled their efforts and after a while the cockpit of the plane lay open. They could see now what Bertha had seen: Professor Hasty was in the cockpit. He was lying in the plane and it was clearly to be seen that he still was breathing.
“We’ve got to get him out there, or he’ll suffocate”, Jenny cried desperately and banged her fists against the glass of the cockpit.
“No use”, Bernie said, “that’s safety glass. We can’t break it.”
“What can we do?” Elfrida mused. “The professor obviously cannot open the cockpit from within and we cannot open it from the outside. How thick may this glass be?”
“9 millimetres”, Bruno said, interestedly watching some mussels.
“And how can we open it?” Elfrida hopefully asked.
“Several ways”, Bruno answered. “There is a rectangle lever to open the access from outside and a round level to open it from inside. Some planes have an aft entrance to the cockpit and some have a cockpit where from outside 8 screw nuts have to be opened to get into the machine.”
Everybody just stared at him. Embarrassed, Bruno pointed at the mussels and said: “Over there are more of these.”
“I found a rectangle lever”, Jenny shouted. “Do help me, I can’t manage alone.”
Elfrida, Daisy, Bernie, and Jenny pulled at the lever and with a ‘plop’ the glass dome sprang open. They all looked at the professor who lifted his head a little and drew in the fresh air.
“That w-was a n-near thing”, he gasped. “A thousand thanks!”
“Thank my little useless brother. Sometimes he really knows what’s what. But what happened, why have you been buried in the sand with your plane?” Elfrida asked the professor who with shaky legs now got out of the plane.
“I w-wanted to pay a visit to my brother in Australia, b-but something went wrong.”
Soon they all sat in Prof. Hasty’s lab and told him why they had come. Of course the professor was willing to help them with the ‘readjustment’ of the magic bottle. Elfrida took the small bottle out of her bag and handed it to him. Then our friends said good-bye and walked back to the bus stop because the time became short. Certainly Mona and Moyo had already landed in the Magic Forest and waited for them. Luckily it did not take long until the bus arrived. The children got in and set off to the meeting with their alien friends.
In the meantime McClown did not know whether to be happy or not. He had always wanted to travel to Iceland, but as Lord McShredder never permitted him to stay away for more than three days he never had had a longer holiday. With horror he thought of the endless discussions with the hard-hearing lord.
“Sir, I need a vacation”, he often had said.
“I read in the canalization? How dare you say so?!”
“Sir, I said VACATION !”
“Why do you shout so, McClown, and why vacation? Don’t you like it here? Many people would be grateful to live a castle.”
“Certainly, Sir, but I would like to see another place now and then.”
“You want to go out to space with cow and hen? What fustian are you talking, McClown!”
“ANOTHER PLACE, SIR!”
“You know you should not shout at me, my dear McClown. In my time there were no such newfangled things like vacation. But if you by all means want to go to another place, I have an idea. Pack your things and go!”
The butler’s heart bounced in joy and McShredder continued: “You will move from your room in the east wing of the castle to the room in the north wing. You will have a completely different view from there, McClown, and I’ll give you a day off for moving. What do you say?”
“I am most happy, Sir!” McClown shouted and had to control himself not to strangle His Lordship.
“You see, McClown, the McShredder Clan has always been generous. Of course you will catch up that day.”
“Your kindness goes to the utmost, Sir”, the butler mumbled.
“Your mind flows to the atmosphere? For pure joy, I guess, McClown – ha ha. Back to work now, but get me some tobacco first.”
After such mindless discussions with His Lordship McClown usually went to the kitchen and smashed some dishes to calm down a little.
By now McClown had mounted a small mound and sat down on a tree trunk at the roadside. It did him good to rest a little because the box with the sleeping hamsters had grown heavier and heavier. He wrapped himself in the plaid which the captain had given him as a farewell present and closed his eyes. It did not take long until he slept soundly. But all the adventures of the past days had left their traces and McClown had uneasy dreams. He dreamt that he was back in Scotland chasing monsters. In this dream he was the commander of an army and his soldiers all wore whiskers and furs. They were just chasing the most bloodthirsty monster the world ever had seen: the McShredder-Clan-Monster.
Commander McClown and his true followers had come over the sea in their heavy-armed ships to finish off this monster. Just when he and his army faced the McShredder-Clan-Monster and he wanted to draw his sword, it happened: In his sleep he had moved violently and the tree trunk beneath him started to move as well. McClown and the hamsters tumbled down the mound. The poor butler rolled first, then the trunk and finally the hamsters. As bad luck would have it they had fallen out of the box and by no means knew what was happening. McClown was firmly convinced to be fighting dragons when he saw something dark and big coming towards him.
Another monster, he thought and crashed against a tree. When he wanted to get up, the tree trunk had reached him and hit his neck. Butler and trunk were lying on the ground and the hamsters were stopped by the trunk. The small animals sniffed and when they discovered nothing interesting, they crawled to the butler to nestle to him as he still was wrapped in the plaid.
The sun was just setting when McClown woke up with a tremendous headache and looked about him.
“We lost the battle against the monster”, he said, “but we have not lost the war.”
He rose, took the box and looked up to the mound.
“You just wait, you damned McShredder-Clan-Monster! My army will hunt you down. We will free the world of monsters like you!”
After yelling this he felt better. The hamsters, awakened by the noise, saw that it was dark and looked for forage.
“O my true army”, McClown cried, “are you ready for new battles?”
The hamsters looked bewildered, some of them scratched their heads. They discussed the matter and decided that it would be better to follow this man. He had fed them up to now after all and seemed to be their friend. So they followed him up the mound and inland.
The road was difficult but some hours later they reached a plateau. ‘Langjökull’ was written on a sign. Now and then big rocks were to be seen. Billions of stars shone in the sky above them and McClown could not get his fill of this view. While he watched the starry sky, the hamsters by and by became cross. They were hungry and wanted to have a party. Angrily they started to squeak, some of them even plucked at the butler’s trouser cuffs.
“You raise against your leader?” McClown angrily asked. “What is the matter with you, my faithfuls?”
The hamsters squeaked even louder and their little paws pointed to their bellies.
“Ah, my army is hungry and thirsty! So let’s stop for a bite and relax.”
McClown looked about him: In the distance he could make out a farm building.
“Forward, o you brave!” he shouted and marched on. When getting closer he saw to his joy that there was light in the farm windows. A short time later he knocked at the door. A little girl opened and told him that her parents were on a party in the neighbourhood and she was not allowed to let anybody in.
“You don’t deceive me”, McClown cried. “You are a white fairy turned into a little girl to test our loyalty!”
Before the dumbfounded girl could reply the butler and the hamsters had stormed the kitchen and ransacked the pantry. The little girl followed them, repeating that she was not allowed to let anybody in and that her parents would scold.
“Don’t worry, lovely fairy”, McClown soothed the little girl, “it’s all the fault of the McShredder-Clan-Monster!”
The girl shrugged and shuffled to the living room to watch TV.
It did not take long until the pantry was empty and the bellies of the hungry troop filled. The kitchen looked like a battle field. McClown and his hamster army left the house and walked on northwards.
After a short while they reached a small village with several shops. As all people were already asleep nobody noticed this curious group. They left the village behind them and passed a fish smokehouse. Close to it was the shop of a basket maker.
“Forward, my brave soldiers!” McClown encouraged the hamsters. “We are close to our goal! I can already smell the stinking breath of the monster.”
There was indeed a smell, and the hamsters wrinkled their delicate noses. They would have walked out on him, but they moved on because they thought the kind man was taking them to a party. The stink grew worse. In a distance McClown and his little friends saw smoke coming out of the earth. If McClown’s head had not been between two tree trunks before and he could have thought clearly, he would have known what this was. It was geysers. Geysers develop when hot volcanic rock heats the water. The hot water is transported upwards under high pressure. It was the sulphur vapour which was stinking.
seeing the vapours, shouted: “Forward, my brave soldiers, you can see the hot breath of the monster. Forward, go and get it!”
The hamsters looked at him inquiringly. Was this to be the promised party? They really did not like smoke and bad smells. They hesitated to follow the butler and that was quite a good decision. For when McClown almost had reached the spot, the geyser erupted like geysers now and then do. A hot water column of 15 metres shot up and splashed over McClown. Shrieking, he fled back to the hamsters and cried: “Hurry up, my brave ones, he attacked your leader!”
The hamsters did not understand anything.
“He fled, went underground!” McClown groaned and sat down. Up he was again with a scream for the ground was boiling hot. He ran to the spot were the hamsters were waiting and sat down there. For a long time he thought things over, then his face lit up. He took one of the hamsters – it was Fuzzy – who was sitting directly in front of him.
“The matter is settled, my little friend! We cannot follow him into the hot earth and we have no ship. So we will follow him by air. He certainly looks for an underground way to Scotland. Do you know, my brave little friend, what we are going to do?”
“My hero!” McClown shouted and pressed Fuzzy to his breast.
“Pleh! Pleh!” the terrified hamster yelled.
“That’s it”, McClown cheered. “Flee, that’s what he does. The monster flees us, but we will catch it. Come along, I have a plan.”
After having said so, he got up and walked into the direction they had come from. Bewildered, the hamsters followed him. An hour later they reached the village again. After some search the butler found the shop of the sail maker. He kicked in the door, walked right in and came back with a large canvas and lots of hemp rope.
To the puzzled hamsters he made a sign to follow him and walked back towards the geysers.
At the basket maker he paused, tossed canvas and ropes to the ground and kicked in also this shop door. He came back with a very large basket and ran on to the geysers.
The hamsters with their short legs were quite spent from all the running, but they never had experienced anything that exciting. Bravely they followed until they again reached the hot vapours of the geysers. McClown had to hurry because from the village infuriated voices were to be heard. Quickly he knotted some ropes to the canvas and connected them to the basket. When he was ready, he put the canvas over the hot spring and shouted: “Hurry up, my brave soldiers, we are following the monster!”
The hamsters were very sure that now the party was to start and happily hopped into the big basket. How disappointed were they when they did not find anything to eat in there! Angrily they abused McClown but became quiet as soon as the hot air ballooned the canvas. The canvas grew bigger and bigger. When the basket finally took off, the infuriated villagers had come very close. Excited shouts were to be heard: “Stop, my sails… My basket… Come back, you thief!”
“Daddy, that is the man who stole our stocks”, a little girl blurted out.
The butler bent over the edge of the basket and shouted to the upset people: “Don’t you worry, good folk, this serves a good cause. It is all the fault of the McShredder-Clan-Monster. You hear me? It is all the fault of the McShredder-Clan-Monster.”
Then he lay down beside the hamsters exhaustedly. It did not take long and they all were asleep, while the balloon carried them high through the air.