How Many Ducks?

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, cosy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

As the summer days grew longer, Benson and his family decided to go on a camping trip with some other families. At the camping ground, they built a big camp fire and cooked corn and potatoes and damper with golden syrup, and made a big stew full of sweet potatoes and carrots and lentils. When everyone was as full as they could possibly be, they all sat around the camp fire, watching the flames and putting sticks on now and then.

Mr Fenn started to sing old folk songs about shearers and bushrangers, and everyone joined in. Aunt Lillibet sang a song about heather and thyme that nobody knew and everyone listened politely until she was finished.

Alejandro went to sleep and Bonnie Lou was going to sleep too, snuggled up against her mother. Benson was wondering if there were any potatoes that everyone had overlooked, somewhere among the coals. Mr Fenn said, “Does anyone know any good riddles?”

Benson knew lots of riddles, but he could never remember the answers.

Roly whispered to him, “What are riddles?”

Benson said, “You know, tricky questions, with tricky answers. Like, why did the chicken cross the road?”

“To get to the other side?” Roly said.

“That’s right!” Benson said. “You’re really good at this!”

Mr Fenn said, “I’ll start. The best riddle wins the last piece of damper. Are you ready? What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?”

Mick said, “A woolly jumper.” Mick was good at riddles. He remembered all the answers. “My turn,” he said. “What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with an elephant?”

“Great big holes all over the country,” Mr Fenn said.

Everybody laughed and Bonnie Lou woke up. She said, “Can I have a turn? What do you call an echidna that’s afraid of ants? An eek-chidna.”

Mr Fenn laughed and asked her, “How do you know the ocean is friendly? Because it waves to you.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I know an old riddle that my mother used to ask. ‘Two ducks behind a duck, two ducks in front of a duck, and a duck in the middle. How many ducks?”

“Seven,” Mick said straight away.

“Six?” said Bonnie Lou.

“In the middle of what?” said Benson.

“It’s seven, definitely,” said Mick. “Two and one and two and one and one, that’s seven.”

Aunt Lillibet shook her head. “No, it’s not seven.”

Mick got some stones and started lining them up and counting in his head.

“Is is ducks doing ballet?” Bonnie Lou asked hopefully.

“Five!” shouted Mick, waking everyone up. “It’s five, look!” He had five stones lined up. “Two ducks in front of the middle one, and two ducks behind the middle one, and the middle one. One, two, three, four, five!”

“That’s very good, Mick,” said Benson’s mother, but Aunt Lillibet shook her head.

“No, that’s not the answer,” she said.

Mick said, “Yes it is! It must be!”

Benson didn’t really care. Ducks in woolly jumpers were crossing the road inside his head, making him sleepy. Next to him, Roly said quietly, “It’s not five.”

Benson woke up, and said more loudly than he meant, “It’s not five.”

Mick jumped on him and sat on his head. “How would you know?”

Benson wrestled with Mick for a minute until he could get his face free, and then he said, “I don’t know, but Roly does.”

Roly didn’t want to say anything in case Mick jumped on him next, but Mr Fenn said, “What do you think it is, Roly?”

Roly said, “I think it’s three.”

Mick laughed. “How could it be three? Can’t you even count?”

But Mr Fenn said, “Show us what you think, Roly.”

Roly got Bonnie Lou to sit in front of Benson, and then he got Mick to sit behind Benson. “Look,” he said. “Mick and Benson are in front of Bonnie Lou, that’s two in front of one, and Benson and Mick are behind Bonnie Lou, that’s two behind one, and Benson is in the middle. Three.”

Mick looked, and counted, and looked again. He changed places with Benson and counted again until a big smile spread over his face. “It is three!” he said. He said to Roly, “That’s really smart.”

Aunt Lillibet nodded. “Three is the right answer. I think Roly should get the last piece of damper.”

Roly was very pleased. “I think we should share it,” he said. “Who wants to share it with me?”

“Me!” said Mick.

“Me!” said Benson.

“And me!” said Bonnie Lou. And they all did.

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