Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One rainy, windy evening, Benson was snuggled under a blanket with his warmest socks on, reading a story about a princess and a gardener, when there was a knock at the door. When Benson’s mother opened it, a wet bedraggled pademelon tumbled inside.
“Pascoe!” Benson’s mother said. “What’s wrong?” She called Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss quickly. “It’s Pascoe,” she said. “I think she’s hurt her leg.”
Pascoe was a story-teller. Usually she travelled with her mob, gathering stories and telling them to people everywhere she went. Benson hadn’t seen her for a long time.
Aunt Lillibet brought a soft towel and they washed her and dried her gently and wrapped her in a blanket and put her to bed in Benson’s mother’s room.
“What’s wrong with Pascoe?” Benson asked his mother.
“Her leg is hurt – I think it’s broken,” his mother said. “She’s got a fever and she’s been out in the rain too long. She’s frozen through.”
Benson could see his mother was very worried. “Will she be okay?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said his mother. “She’s very sick. We’ve given her some willow and camomile tea, and Aunt Lillibet has bandaged her leg with comfrey ointment, and now she needs to sleep. We’ll keep very quiet so we don’t disturb her.”
Benson kept as quiet as he could. He read quietly and he drew quietly and he cleaned his teeth very quietly before he went to bed.
The next day and the next day, Pascoe was still very sick. Benson was finding it hard to keep quiet so his mother sent him over to Zali’s place to be as noisy as he liked. When he got back, Pascoe was still in bed and still no better.
Benson’s mother was so worried that she sent for Nanna.
Nanna came with lavender and tea-tree oil for Pascoe’s leg, and eucalyptus ointment to rub on her chest, and some nourishing tomato and lentil soup for everyone. She went in to see Pascoe, but when she came out again, she was as worried as Benson’s mother.
“She doesn’t want to eat,” Nanna said. “She’s doing very poorly.” She considered for a while, then she said, “Benson, I think you should go and sit with Pascoe and keep her company.”
“And be very very quiet?” Benson asked.
“No, just talk to her quietly. It would be good if you could tell her a story,” Nanna said.
Benson said, “I can’t tell stories!”
“Read to her, then,” Nanna said.
Benson took his book in and sat beside Pascoe’s bed. She had her eyes closed, and he thought she must be asleep. Everything smelled like tea-tree and lavender oil.
He started reading. “Once in a country far away, a tree grew in a beautiful garden beside a palace. The king who lived in the palace used to visit the tree every day and eat one of the pears that grew on the tree, because they were the sweetest, most delicious pears in the whole kingdom.”
The more he read, the more he forgot where he was and his voice got louder and more excited. “Carlo began to climb the tree. The trunk of the tree was completely smooth and straight, with not a single branch. It took all of Carlo’s strength to climb it. He had passed halfway when he slipped and began to fall. Annabelinda screamed.”
In the bed, Pascoe stirred and sighed and opened her eyes.
Benson whispered, “Sorry, was I being too noisy?”
“No,” said Pascoe, “it’s good. Don’t stop.”
Benson kept reading to the very end where the princess puts on her beautiful white dress with blue ribbons and Carlo gives her the snowflower he had promised and she takes his hand. Benson closed the book.
Pascoe was looking better. She said, “Thank you, Benson.”
Benson said, “Are you a bit better?”
Pascoe said, “Yes, I think so.” Then she said, “It was a good story.”
Benson said, “What happened to you?”
Pascoe said, “Boys. With sticks and rocks.” She thought quietly for a minute, gathering her strength. “We were in a big clearing, not far from a big dam. There’s a new campsite with lots of tents and barbecues. Some boys came and threw rocks at us. The rest of the mob scattered, but they hit my leg and I couldn’t run fast, and then they started to hit me with sticks. But I managed to get away and I ran.
“Then it got dark and I rested for a bit, but my leg was hurting a lot. The next day it rained and rained and I got so cold I nearly couldn’t go on. But I knew your place was close so I kept going. Just a bit further, I kept saying to myself, just a bit further, and then I was here!” She smiled at Benson. “Now tell me the rest of the story!”
Benson said, “You knocked on the door and everyone looked after you and washed you and put all sorts of ointment on you and wrapped you in a blanket, but you didn’t get better so Nanna came and she brought some really good soup.” Benson started to feel hungry again just thinking about it. “She said I should tell you a story, but I can’t tell stories like you can, so I read you one instead.”
“Your Nanna is very wise,” Pascoe said.
“She makes extremely good soup,” Benson said.
“You know, I think I’m hungry after all,” Pascoe smiled. Benson went and got a big bowl of soup for her and one for himself. They sat eating soup together, and Pascoe told him stories about where she’d been since the last time he saw her, and Benson told her all about Aunt Moss’s kayaking lesson, and the landslide, and his mother’s cleaning rampage.
They talked and laughed and talked until Pascoe drifted off to sleep again, and Benson went to sleep right beside her, holding tightly onto his book.