by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"

-  Auksford, 2004/2011 -

© Copyright Robin Gordon, 1995/2004

For Elizabeth


Robert Rabbit and the Smell Well

Dick Duck and the Black Duck

The Tale of Rexy Fox

Robert Rabbit and the Witch's Imp


"Hooh! Robert Rabbit! Hooh, Robert Rabbit, where's your tail? You've come out without it. Yes you have. You've forgotten your tail, Robert Rabbit!"

Robert Rabbit tried to slink away, but Rexy Fox wouldn't let him go.

"Look, look!" he sniggered. " Robert Rabbit hasn't got a tail. He's forgotten his tail, or someone has stolen it. What happened to your tail, Robert Rabbit? Did someone pull it off? There's only a little white tuft of fluff left. Oh dear, don't you look silly, Robert Rabbit?"

Rexy Fox swished his own magnificent russet brush and sniggered. He was very proud of that tail. It was the most splendid tail in all the wood. Cyril Squirrel's might be bushier, but Cyril Squirrel was only a silly little animal who was as frightened of Rexy Fox as all the other silly little animals. Rolf Wolf's tail might be longer, but it was shaggy and grey and no one liked Rolf Wolf. He was the biggest young animal in the woodland school, but he wasn't popular. He slouched round by himself, growling and sulking and looking so fierce that even Rexy Fox kept out of his way, but he wasn't handsome and reddish, and he couldn't make jokes like Rexy Fox could.

Rexy Fox thought Robert Rabbit's little scut of a tail was the best joke of all. He never stopped teasing him about it. Poor Robert tried to explain that rabbits were supposed to

have little fluffy tails, but Rexy Fox never let him get a word in.

"Where's your tail, Robert Rabbit? You shouldn't come out without your tail. Everybody will laugh at you. Sheee-hee-hee-hee-hee."

"Rabbits have white scuts ..."

"... to show where their tails have been pulled off. Hee-hee-hee."

"To signal when there's ..."

"Who pulled it off, Robert Rabbit? Was it Joel Vole?"

"White scuts show up in the evening ..."

"Or May Gosling and Flick Duck? Fancy letting little girls pull your tail off! Shee-hee-hee. Shee-shee-shee."

"It's supposed to be like this."

"Where's your tail, Robert Rabbit? Poor Robert Rabbit, he's lost his tail. Hee-hee-hee-hee."

Robert Rabbit didn't even try to explain about rabbits' white scuts helping them to see each other at dusk and signal when there was danger. Rexy Fox had teased him so often about his little tail that he almost began to believe there was something wrong with it. He almost began to believe that he should have had a proper tail, a long bushy tail that he could wave and swish. He felt as if something was missing, and he just wanted to crawl away and hide whenever Rexy Fox came near him.

One day Rexy Fox teased Robert Rabbit so much, that after school poor Robert went to hide in the bushes instead of going home with the others. He saw Rexy Fox looking for him, so he crept deeper and deeper into the undergrowth and then sneaked away by himself into the forest.

Deeper and deeper into the wild wood he went. Nobody lived in the dark, savage part of the forest except the Wolf family. Everybody was afraid of them, even the Foxes.

Robert Rabbit crept through the forest as quietly as he could, until he came to an old well. He was very tired and thirsty, so he let down the bucket to bring up some water to drink. How good the water smelled, how fresh and delicious -but when the bucket came up again it was empty.

Robert Rabbit couldn't believe his eyes. The smell of cool fresh water rose to his nose, but there wasn't a single drop in the bucket. He lowered the bucket down into the well and raised it again. Up came the smell of cool, fresh water - but not a drop was in the bucket.

"What's wrong with the stupid well," said Robert crossly.

"Nothing," said a croaking voice, and out of the bushes came a big, green frog.

"There's nothing wrong with the well, young rabbit," said she, "nothing at all. You see, it's not a well of water, it's a well of smells."

"What do you mean?" asked Robert.

"It's a magic well," croaked the frog. "You can draw from it any smell you want. You can draw the smell of cold fresh water, or anything else."

"Even peppermint?" said Robert.

"Easy!" croaked the frog. "Just send the bucket down and ask."

Down went the bucket.

"Peppermint!" cried Robert Rabbit.

He drew up the bucket. Up came the smell of peppermint.

Down went the bucket again.

"Lettuce and cucumber!" cried Robert Rabbit.

He hauled up the bucket. Up came the smell of lettuce and cucumber.

"Yum yum!" cried Robert Rabbit.

"Delicious!" croaked the frog. "I'll take some of that home if I may."

She dabbled her handkerchief in the bucket, held it to her nose, then hopped happily away.

"I'll try carrots next," said Robert Rabbit, but just then there was a rustling in the bushes - and out popped Rexy Fox.

A bully never likes to leave his victim while there is still a bit of blub in him, so Rexy Fox had kept on searching for Robert Rabbit until he found his trail through the bushes and undergrowth.

"What are you doing here, Robert Rabbit?" he grinned. "Are you going to drown yourself in the well because you haven't got a proper tail?"

"N...No," stuttered Robert Rabbit.

"Best thing, really," sniggered Rexy Fox. "Better to be dead than live without a tail, shee-hee-hee. Perhaps I'll help you. Anyway, you can get me a drink. I've had to come a long way to find you, and I'm very hot and very cross, and you're going to pay for it. Hurry up! Get me a drink!"

"Yes, Rexy," said Robert meekly, sending the bucket down. "I didn't come to drown myself. I came to meet Rolf WOLF." He shouted the last word down the well.

Rexy Fox looked round uneasily. "Why did you shout like that?" he snapped.

"Sorry," said Robert Rabbit. "I was looking down the well and I thought you might not hear me."

He hauled up the bucket, glanced at Rexy, then looked at something behind the fox.

"H... hello, Rolf," he said timidly, and pushed the bucket into Rexy's paws.

Up came the smell of wolf, fresh and strong.

Rexy Fox jumped back.

"I have to go home now," he gabbled. "I've just remembered. My granny's coming to tea. Goodbye Rolf!"

Rexy dropped the bucket and ran through the wood as fast as his legs could carry him, with his russet tail streaming out behind.

Robert Rabbit laughed. Then he sent the bucket down again, called for carrots, drew it up, dipped the end of his scarf into the delicious odour, and skipped off home with the smell of carrots all around him.


Felicity Duck gazed at the Honourable Jonathan Swan and sighed. The Hon. Jon, with his noble profile, impeccable manners and dazzling white feathers, was by far the most elegant bird on the lake.

"Come on, Flick!" called her brother, Dick, who was dabbling in the muddy margins. "Come and play in the mud!"

"She's got no time for mud, Dick," cried Mick Duck. "Can't you see she's got her eye on the Hon. Jon Swan?"

"Oh my downy feathers!" cried Dick Duck. "Ain't 'e a swell though, wiv 'is smart white suits? An' it's 'ardly not no time at all 'at 'e was as brown an' fluffy as you an' me, Mick, an' paddlin' about in the mud like all the rest of us."

The Honourable Jonathan turned smoothly away and continued his elegant glide across the water. He gave no sign that he had heard a word.

Flick Duck was furious. She flew at Mick and Dick and showered them with lake water. Mick and Dick quacked with joy and sprayed her with pondweed. A fast and furious battle raged, and other young waterfowl came swimming to join in. There were Nick and Jack and Becky and Vicky, and their cousins Mac and Jock from Scotland, not to mention May Gosling and all her sisters. They splashed and sprayed, they dived and ducked, they flapped and they quacked. They had a wonderful time in the mud, while the Honourable Jonathan Swan and his sister, Yvonne, sailed smoothly round the lake murmuring to one another.

"Look at those awful little ducklings."

"Just look at them squabbling in the mud."

Then the two swans fluffed up their wings, arched their necks and admired their reflections in the water. They used their beaks to smooth down their beautiful, new, shining white, grown-up feathers, and whenever they found a brown baby feather they pulled at it to see if it was loose, and, if it wasn't, they hid it carefully under the white.

"You're a frightful little beast, Richard Duck!" Felicity complained. "Why did you have to be so rude about the Swans?"

"Oh dear, oh dear," cried Dick Duck. "Don't say we've got our heart set on romance with a scion of the noble house of Swan?"

"You don't know anything!" rejoined his irate sister. "You'll just be a puddleduck all your life. You haven't any feeling for the finer things."

"I know where there are some jolly fine worms," replied Dick.

"I'm talking about art and beauty and gliding about on the water looking a picture of elegance. I wish I had a long neck like Yvonne Swan. I wish I could fluff up my wings like they do."

"Us Ducks is as good as any Swans!" cried Dick. "Why should a Swan be Duke of the Brook and not a Duck? We're as old a family. Why, we've even got a family ghost."

"What's that?" shouted cousin Mick, who had been lurking close by, hoping the squabble was going to turn into another pondweed fight.

"Haven't you ever heard of the Black Duck?" said Dick.

"Tell us!" quacked Mick, and Nick and Jack came swimming up to hear. Even Flick looked interested. A family ghost was quite romantic, she thought. It might impress even the Honourable Jonathan.

"It was Uncle Buck Duck who saw him first," said Dick. "He'd been out late visiting his pals on the water meadows, so he was a little bit confused and missed his way in the darkness and ended up at Badgers' Pool. There he saw another Duck in the shadows, so he called out to him, I shay, you there, can you tell me the way home? Hic!

"Then the other duck swam out into the moonlight and Uncle Buck could see that he was black all over. Well, he came right up to Uncle Buck, and, in a voice that made Uncle Buck's feathers all bristle, he said, Do you know me?

"No, said Uncle Buck.

"I am the Black Duck, the mysterious stranger said. None seek me for I am the Duck of Death. Never before have I been hailed by living bird, but it is not to you that I come this night, Buck Duck. Next time you see me your hour will have come.

"And ever since then Uncle Buck has never left Duckspool for fear of meeting the Black Duck."

"Gosh! Is that true?" cried Mick Duck. "Does the Black Duck come for all ducks when they die?"

"Not just for Ducks," answered Dick Duck. "The Black Duck is the most dreadful spectre there is. He brings doom to all wicked animals. He was at Badgers' Pool that night waiting for Scadger Badger, the miser. The Black Duck took him, and all his treasure was lost forever."

"Is all this true?" Flick demanded suspiciously.

"Cross my bill and hope to dabble," relied Dick, with such a pious expression that no-one but his sister could possibly have disbelieved him.

The tale of the Black Duck flew around the woodland school. Claire Hare came up to Dick and asked him about the Duck family ghost, and Dick quickly made up a story about the Black Duck and a mad March hare.

"The mad March hare kept rollicking about the woods," he said, "bouncing about, not caring where he went. One day he crashed into a mother duck and a lot of baby ducklings and knocked them over, and then he just lolloped away without even saying sorry. That night the Black Duck appeared to him and said, We've all had enough of your larks, Hare, and this time you've gone too far. When you wake up tomorrow you'll find you've turned into a goon. Next morning the hare was a goon, and all the other hares began to cry and to search for the Black Duck to beg him to change the hare back. But they could never find the Black Duck. All they ever heard was a mysterious quacking in the marshes, and do you know what it said?"

"No," breathed Claire Hare.

"Hare today and goon tomorrow," quacked Dick.

"Ha-ha-ha ha-ha-ha!" quacked Mick and Nick. Claire Hare was furious.

Dick Duck swaggered off across the school playground. He was interesting. He had a family ghost, he was never at a loss for a story, and no-one dared touch him for fear of the Black Duck.

"You can't touch me," he jeered at Rexy Fox, "or the Black Duck will get you."

Rexy Fox scowled at him. He was furious that a cheeky little duckling, still with half his baby down, should dare to speak to him like that. He looked at Dick Duck and thought what fun it would be to grab him and pull out his new tail feathers. Then he thought of the Black Duck and shivered. If the Black Duck had really taken old Scadger Badger then no-one was safe.

Dick Duck strolled down to the pond. "You haven't got a family ghost, have you, Jon, old chap?" he said condescendingly to the Honourable Jonathan Swan. "Only the best families have family ghosts, and I bet not many of them have ghosts like the Black Duck. He's not an ordinary ghost. He's a terrifying spectre who punishes anyone who annoys the Duck family. You're very lucky my sister Felicity has taken such a liking to you. Just you remember that."

The Honourable Jonathan turned away and looked at his reflection in the river. Perfect white elegance! Not a brown feather to be seen. How annoying to he addressed in such familiar terms by a silly little duckling who was still just learning how to quack properly. Jonathan thought briefly of grabbing Dick and giving him a quick ducking, but, Black Duck or no Black Duck, it really was beneath his dignity.

"You geese," quacked Dick Duck, "you're nobodies. Not from good families like my friend Jonathan and I, are they Jon?"

Jonathan Swan turned lazily away and paddled off. He really couldn't stand any more duckling silliness.

"I don't blame you, old boy," called Dick. "I wouldn't be seen talking to them myself if I didn't think it my duty to warn them about the Black Duck. Noblesse oblige, and all that. They could be on a very sticky wicket if they don't learn to know their place."

"Right!" snapped May Gosling. "Get him , girls!"

May Gosling and her sisters swarmed round Dick Duck, hissing and cackling.

"You can't touch me," laughed Dick, "or the Black Duck will get you."

The Gosling sisters hesitated, and Dick pushed past them and sailed away with a cheeky flick of his tail.

May Gosling and her sisters stared after him in baffled fury, then they turned for the bank. There they found Rexy Fox.

"I heard what that dreadful little Duckling said to you," he sniggered. "What a pity you didn't teach him a lesson. I happen to know that he just made up that story about the Black Duck. Hare today and goon tomorrow! It's an old joke, shee-hee-hee-hee. And Roger Badger told me that old Scadger isn't dead. He moved away from Badgers' Pool because the damp was giving him rheumatism. He took all his treasure with him. That's why he sneaked away at night, in case anyone stole it. If I were you I wouldn't let Dick Duck speak to me like that. I think you should pull out his tail feathers ... shee-hee-hee-hee ... sheee-hee-hee-hee-hee."

May and her sisters would have like to mob Dick Duck and jostle him and spray him with pond water, perhaps duck him and peck at him a bit, but they would never have though of pulling out his tail feathers.

"We couldn't do that," said May. "It wouldn't be fair. He's only just got them. He won't be able to fly properly with no tail feathers to guide him, and he's nearly fully fledged."

"They'll grow again," sniggered Rexy Fox. "A few more weeks on the ground will teach him to be more respectful to ladies like you. If you don't teach him a lesson while he's a duckling he'll be absolutely insufferable when he's a young drake. There's no such thing as the Black Duck. He's making it all up. His family's no better than yours. Eunngh, eunngh, eunngh, teach him a lesson. Pull out his tail feathers. It'll be a good joke, sheee-hee-hee-hee."

Rexy frisked off, swinging his magnificent red brush, and thinking to himself, "If they pull out his tail feathers he won't be able to escape when I want to have some fun with him. It's not fair that birds can all fly. I wish foxes could fly."

May and her sisters settled down in the shade. They couldn't really pull out Dick Duck's tail feathers, could they? It would be fun and it would teach him a lesson, but perhaps Rexy Fox was just trying to get them into trouble.

The duckling boys heard them, and Jack and Nick went to find Dick.

"You go on like this, Dick," said Nick Duck, and one of these days you're going to lose your tail feathers."

"That's right," said Jack. "The goslings are in such a rage they're talking about pulling them out."

"What?" scoffed Dick. "Nobody would pull out Dick Duck's tail feathers. Little Dickie Ducky, the most adorable little fluffy duckling that ever was? 'Im wot's growing into a fine 'andsome young drake fit to break ve 'eart of every girl duck in ve kingdom. Sighin' for love of 'im vey are. Pull out 'is tail fevvers? Don't make me laugh. Nobody could bear to hurt Dickie Duck. He's a lucky duck, that's what he is, with a guardian angel all of his own."

"They'll have your tail feathers," jeered Jack.

"And you won't be able to fly when the rest of us take off," jeered Nick.

"Nobody'll dare touch me," said Dick Duck confidently, "cos if they do the Bla - a - a ..."

He broke off suddenly.

"Wh-what's that?" he gasped.

On the bank of the pond, in the shade of an overhanging tree, stood a dark figure. It was a duck, and it was black - black all over.

"Where?" said Jack.

"I can't see anything," said Nick.

"There! There!" gabbled Dick. By the tree. It's the Black Duck."

"You don't think we're going to fall for that, do you?" jeered Jack.

"There's no such thing as the Black Duck," laughed Nick. "You made it up."

"But it is the Black Duck," stammered Dick.

"I can't see anything," said Jack.

"Nor can I,"said Nick.

The Black Duck opened its bill. "Dick Duck!" it quacked in a hollow voice.

"I..., I... quack ... help!" spluttered Dick Duck.

"You don't look well, Dicky," said Jack.

"Looks as if he's seen a ghost," laughed Nick.

"It's there! It spoke to me!" quacked Dick.

"Ha ha, nice try, Dick, but it won't wash," said Jack. "Come on, Nick, let's leave him to the Black Duck."

"No! No! Don't leave me!" cried Dick, but the other two ducklings were already half way across the pond. He was about to follow, but the Black Duck spoke again.

"Stay where you are, Dick Duck!" it quacked. "No-one can escape the Black Duck when his hour is come."

"Qua-a-ack!" honked Dick Duck.

"You've been boasting, Dick Duck," said the Black Duck. "You've been telling the other birds and animals that I'll protect you, and that's not true, is it?"

"No," sobbed Dick miserably.

"You deserve to be dragged off to the Eternal Marshes," said the Black Duck.

Dick was so frightened that he lost his quack completely and could only cheep like a baby duckling.

"No! Please! Not that!" he peeped.

"There's only one way to save yourself, Dick Duck," quacked the ghostly apparition. "You must apologise to everyone and tell them all that the Black Duck isn't your personal protector."

"Yes, yes!" gabbled Dick.

"Everyone, mind," insisted the Black Duck. "Claire Hare, Jonathan Swan, the Gosling sisters ..."

"Not the Gosling sisters," sobbed Dick. "They'll pull out my tail feathers."

"You should have thought of that before," said the Black Duck. "I said everyone and I mean everyone - except Rexy Fox. You needn't tell him. Off you go, and be quick about it, or else!"

Dick turned and fled across the pond, and the Black Duck waddled off, leaving black, sooty footprints on the grass.

Dick found Jack and Nick with his sister, Flick, and he apologised most humbly for having tried to scare them with tales of the Black Duck. Jack and Nick seemed to find it all very funny, but Flick said she would come with him to see that he apologised properly to the Swans.

"Think nothing of it," said the Honourable Jonathan loftily. "I didn't believe a word of it anyway. Ducklings will be ducklings, I suppose," and he sailed grandly away, admiring his reflection as he went.

"Ooh!" said Flick furiously. "I'm glad we ducks aren't as pompous as those swans." And she glared balefully after the Honourable Jonathan.

Next Dick swam up to the goslings. "I say," he quacked nervously, "I've come to say I'm sorry. The Black Duck isn't my guardian angel. I just sort of got carried away and made things up, but I won't do it again. You can peck me if you want, he won't do anything to you."

He hesitated. "You can even pull out my tail feathers," he added. "I deserve it."

Dick looked so forlorn and doleful that the Gosling sisters hadn't the heart to peck at him. They jostled him a bit, and splashed him with water. When Dick realised that his tail feathers were safe, he joined in with a will, they all had another splendid water fight, and from that day on Dick never boasted again - well, not very much anyway.

Meanwhile Jack and Nick were round the corner under the old willow, helping Mick to wash off a coating of thick, clinging, sticky, black soot.

As for Rexy Fox, he saw Dick swim up to the Goslings, and he sniggered. Dick Duck would lose his new tail feathers, and if the Black Duck punished anyone it would be the goslings. It was a foolproof plan - and Rexy never understood why it didn't work.


One day when Rexy Fox was on his way to school he saw Cyril Squirrel walking along ahead of him.

"I'll roll that little beast in the mud," thought Rexy Fox, so he crept up quietly and suddenly sprang at Cyril. Cyril heard him at the last moment, dodged and scrambled into a tree.

Rexy Fox looked up at him shivering in the branches.

"Why should a little beast like you have a long, bushy tail?" he snapped. "Long tails are for big animals like me. I'm going to look out for you every day from now on, Cyril Squirrel, and when I catch you I'm going to bite your tail right off. Shee-hee-hee-hee! Won't you look silly with no tail, Cyril Squirrel? Shee-hee-hee-hee!"

After that Cyril Squirrel was so frightened that he did not dare run along the path to school. He climbed and swung his way through the trees instead, dragging his schoolbag with him.

Rexy Fox always liked to start the day by making someone miserable. He was especially pleased with himself that morning after frightening Cyril Squirrel. He swaggered into school, jostling the boys and pulling the girls' fur and feathers, and frisking his tail with pleasure.

"Hooh! Robert Rabbit," he called. "Where's your tail, Robert Rabbit? What are you doing at school with no tail?
Robert was caught by the farmer's wife.
She cut off his tail with a carving knife.
Did you ever see such a thing in your life
as Robert without any tail?"

Next day Rexy Fox saw Joe Crow marching along the path to school with his lunch box clasped under his wing. Joe always had a large and delicious lunch. Rexy's eyes gleamed. He looked round quickly: there was no-one else about.

Quietly Rexy Fox sneaked up behind Joe Crow, then, suddenly, he pulled out one of his tail feathers. Joe gave a loud squawk and dropped his lunch. Rexy sprang, but Joe snatched it up in his beak and flew up into a tree out of Rexy's reach.

Rexy sat down under the tree.

"You can't fly all the way to school carrying that heavy lunchbox, Joe Crow," he sniggered. "Why don't you give it to me? Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee."

Joe said nothing. He just sat there gripping his lunchbox as hard as he could.

Rexy grinned.

"Joe Crow up in a tree," he chanted.
"Joe Crow's afraid of me!"

Joe was furious, but he said nothing and held on tight to his lunchbox.

"Joe Crow's such a fine fellow," chanted Rexy.
"His feathers are black but really he's yellow."

Joe thought he would burst with fury, but still he said nothing and held on tight to his lunchbox.

"Joe Crow's stuck in the tree," sniggered Rexy,
because he's yellow and scared of me."

Joe thought of several things he wanted to say, but still he kept his beak shut and held on tight to his lunchbox.

"I shall sit here," sniggered Rexy Fox, "all morning. You'll be late for school, Joe Crow. You'll get into trouble.

You'll really catch it. Hee-hee-hee-hee."

"So will you then!" squawked Joe Crow crossly - and down fell the lunchbox.

Rexy Fox picked it up and danced round the tree, frisking his fine tail.

"Thanks for the lunch, Joe Crow," he jeered. "I'm going to enjoy this."

And off he went.

Joe Crow told his friends at school and they shared their sandwiches with him at lunchtime. Cyril Squirrel told the others how Rexy Fox had threatened to bite off his tail, and Robert Rabbit just sighed. He did not need to say anything. Everyone had heard Rexy jeering at his little scut of a tail. Robert just sat thinking, watching his friend Roger Badger playing with a piece of old rope and biting at it with his strong, sharp teeth.

"I've got an idea," he murmured.

Next morning, on the way to school, Rexy Fox saw Robert Rabbit sitting against a tree, reading a book. His lunchbox lay unattended beside him.

"If Robert Rabbit doesn't look out," sniggered Rexy to himself, "someone's going to steal that lunchbox of his. Shee-hee-hee-hee, I wonder who that someone could be."

Rexy watched Robert. Robert was engrossed in his book. Rexy coughed. Robert did not stir. Rexy sniggered silently and moved out of sight behind the tree. Silently he stole forward, inching his way towards the lunchbox with one eye on Robert all the time.

Still Robert did not stir. He was intent on his book. Rexy kept moving forward until at last he had the box. He gripped it tight and sprang away: one bound, two, three ...

"Owwowowoowowwwh! Ouch!"

Robert Rabbit looked up.

"Hello, Rexy," he said. "Anything wrong?"

"Ow! Ow! Help!Something's got me! Something's got my tail!" wailed Rexy.

"Has it?" said Robert Rabbit. "I wonder what it is."

Rexy Fox turned round. "It's a rope!" he snarled. "Cut me free!"

Roger Badger strolled round from behind the tree.

"Hello, Rexy," he said. "Why have you tied your tail to a tree? Is it a new game or are you trying to stretch it?"

"You did it!" howled Rexy Fox. "You did it! Let me go! I'll tell my father!"

"Why are you holding Robert Rabbit's lunchbox?" enquired Roger Badger.

"Lunchbox? What lunchbox? Oh that ... nnngh, yes ... well ... Robert left it lying on the ground and I thought it might get lost ... so I picked it up to look after it. Hee-hee-hee ... nnngh, here you are, Robert."

How very kind," said Roger Badger. "Just like you looked after Joe Crow's lunch yesterday."

"No! Well ... it was only a joke ... hee-hee-hee?"

"Like threatening to cut off Cyril Squirrel's tail?"

"Nnngh nnghh nnngh ... Cyril knows it was only in fun. I didn't mean to frighten him ... he's my best friend ... so is Robert ... aren't you, Robert? Hee-hee?"

"No," said Robert Rabbit.

"Untie the rope, please!" sobbed Rexy Fox. "I'll never play any more jokes, I promise."

"You've pulled the noose really tight," said Roger Badger. I can't undo it. The only way I can set you free is by biting off your tail."

"No-o-o-o-o!" howled Rexy Fox. "Not my tail! Not my beautiful tail!"

"Oh well," said Roger Badger, "there's nothing I can do. We'll have to go now or we'll be late for school, but perhaps the dog that comes for a walk in the wood will be able to help you."

"No! No!" squealed Rexy Fox. "I don't like dogs! Don't leave me!"

"Well, perhaps the man who brings the dog will help you," said Roger Badger.

"No! Men don't like me!" wailed Rexy Fox.

"I wonder why," said Roger.

"They say I killed their hens," snivelled Rexy, "but it's all lies. It was a mistake. I just looked into the henhouse to say goodnight, and the silly creatures flapped around ... and ... and I tried to say there was no need to be afraid, but they kept on flapping and some of them broke their silly necks on my teeth, but it wasn't my fault."

"Well, you'll be able to explain that to the man when he comes," said Roger Badger. "I'm sure he'll understand. Goodbye, Rexy."

"No! Wait!" wailed Rexy Fox. "Don't leave me to the man and the dog. Set me free! Bite off my tail!"

"If you insist, Rexy," said Roger cheerfully. "You won't feel a thing. My teeth are even sharper than yours," - and he snapped them proudly.

"No-o-o-o!" howled Rexy. "I mean, yes! Bite it off!"

"Shut your eyes, then," said Roger, "and pull forward on the rope. Keep your tail taut."

Rexy shut his eyes and pulled forward so that his tail was held taut by the rope. He heard Roger Badger's teeth snap shut behind him, and he was free.

He gave a great howl: "My t-ai-AI-L!!" and ran off into the wood whining.

Roger Badger and Robert Rabbit shouted with laughter. Cyril Squirrel and Joe Crow came down from the tree, laughing too.

"How long do you think it will be before he finds he's still got his tail, and Roger only bit the rope," chuckled Robert Rabbit.

"Do you think we'll get into trouble when he tells his father?" asked Cyril Squirrel anxiously.

"He won't tell anyone," said Roger Badger.

"But we will!" said Robert Rabbit. "Just think how they'll laugh!"


It was Robert Rabbit's birthday and he was having a party. All his friends were there: Cyril Squirrel, Roger Badger, Joe Crow, Dick Duck, and Dick's sister Felicity whom everyone called Flick, and lots of others - not Rexy Fox, of course.

They were all sitting round the tea-table. Mrs Rabbit brought in the birthday cake and everyone sang "Happy Birthday." Robert took a deep breath and blew out all the candles at one go. Everyone clapped.

Just then there was a flash! and a bang! and a puff of smoke, and there on the hearth-rug stood an ugly grinning imp.

"The time has come!" he yelled in a peculiar, high-pitched voice with a rather nasty accent. "I said I'd come back for 'im, and I 'ave. It's time to pay the bill!"

Mr and Mrs Rabbit sat down suddenly and stared at him with their whiskers trembling.

"What does he mean?" Robert asked.

"Ho-ho!" squeaked the Imp. "What does 'e mean, eh? What does 'e mean? 'E means it's time ter pay for them radishes wot your fine upstanding papa stole out o' the Witch's garden, 'at's wot 'e means. Oh, yus. I said I'd be back, an' I am!"

"I don't understand," said Robert.

"You tell 'im," snapped the Imp.

"Well, you see," began Mr Rabbit, "before you were born, Robert, your mother had a craving for radishes. I looked all over the wood for radishes, but there were none to be had - and then I saw some long rows in a garden. I thought nobody would mind if I just took a couple out of each row ..."

"All the best 'uns 'e took!" screeched the Imp. "All the very best!"

"I just took a few," continued Mr Rabbit, "and I brought them home for your mother. Just as she'd eaten the very last one, this Imp appeared and told us the garden belonged to a Witch. He told us she would make us pay for the radishes. Then he disappeared, and we haven't seen him from that day to this. When you were born we were afraid the Imp might come and carry you off. We never left you alone for a second at first, but as the years went by we forgot all about him ..."

"And I've come back!" screeched the Imp. "I've come to collect the payment. She wants 'im" - he pointed at Robert - "for a servant. Babies is no good to 'er. She wants 'im for a slave. Now 'e's grown up a bit 'e can make 'imself useful. Unnersta-and?"

"Yes, I understand," said Robert. "Gosh! What an opportunity! It isn't every young animal gets the chance of going to work for a Witch. I'll work really hard. I'll clean out her hovel and make it shine like a new pin. It'll be the cleanest Witch's hovel in the world."

"She don' wan' it cle-e-an!" wailed the Imp.

"I'll scrub it from top to bottom," continued Robert. "Why don't you come with me, Roger? If there are two of us we'll get the whole place spick and span in double-quick time. She'll be so grateful she'll send us back loaded with gold. We'll be rich for the rest of our lives.

"Yes, I'll come," cried Roger Badger. "Let's take brooms and buckets and mops in case she hasn't got everything we'll need."

"She don' wan' it cle-e-an!" howled the Imp. "She likes it dirty. She's a Witch. She don' like cle-e-an!"

"I'll come too," said Cyril Squirrel. "I can get up among the rafters and sweep out all the cobwebs."

"She likes cobwebs," screeched the Imp. "She likes it filfy. She don' wan it cle-e-an."

"We'll come too" shouted Dick and Flick Duck. "We'll get buckets of water and scrub out her kitchen. It'll be so clean she'll be able to eat off the floor."

"She eats off've floor anyway," howled the Imp. "She likes it dirty. She's a Witch. She don' like cle-e-an. She only wants 'im."

"Come on!" called Robert Rabbit. "Let's get the brooms and mops and buckets and scrubbing brushes. She won't know the place when we've finished with it, it'll be so sparkling clean."

The young animals raced out into the kitchen and came back laden with mops and dusters and brushes and brooms and buckets and packs of cleaning powder.

"Link arms!" called Robert.

They bustled into a circle, clutching their cleaning materials as best they could while they linked their arms.

"We're ready now," said Robert to the Imp. "Goodbye, Mother and Father. Tell all the others' parents that we'll be back in a few years' time. Let's go, Imp! We'll soon clean up the Witch's hovel!"

"Wait a minute!" snarled the Imp. He stamped his foot and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

A moment later he was back.

"She don' wan' it cle-e-an," he grumbled. "She wants 'im for a slave, 'at's all."

"Well she's got a bargain," said Robert. All five of us at once. We'll soon have her hovel shining clean."

She only wants 'im!"

"We're all coming!" said Roger Badger. "Think we'd miss a chance like this?"

"I can't wait to begin sweeping down those cobwebs," cried Cyril Squirrel.

"We're ready with our buckets and mops," cried the Ducks.

"Wa-ait!" howled the Imp and disappeared again. A moment later he was back.

"She don' wan' it clean!" he snarled. "She likes it filfy! She only wanted a slave. Nah I s'pose I'll 'ave ter do it all. She don' wan' any of yer. She don' like it cle-e-an!"

With that he stamped his foot, disappeared in a puff of smoke, and was never seen again.

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