Getting Elmer Down

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

Aunt Moss made some of her very best lime butter, and she decided to take some over to Uncle Elton. “Elton loves lime butter,” she said.

“Everyone loves your lime butter,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson nodded enthusiastically. He went over to see if there was a spoon or a saucepan that needed licking.

“I’ll come with you to Elton’s place,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson has grown out of his racing-car pyjamas, and I think they will fit Elmer.” Benson’s cousin Elmer was younger and smaller than Benson.

“Can I come?” Benson said. He had finished licking the last bits of lime butter off the spoon and the saucepan, and he expected there could well be some lime-butter-tasting and maybe even some lime butter sandwiches over at Uncle Elton’s place.

They all put on their hats and took their water-bottles and set out. Aunt Moss took two jars of lime butter.

Uncle Elton was pleased to see them, and extremely pleased to see the lime butter. “Wonderful!” he said. “Excellent!” He gave Aunt Moss a kiss and thanked her.

“Why don’t we have a cup of lemon grass and aniseed tea and I’ll make some lime butter sandwiches?” he said.

Benson volunteered to hold the jar while Uncle Elton made the sandwiches but Uncle Elton said he could manage.

They were just about to sit down and try the sandwiches when a fleck of dust dropped onto the plate.

Uncle Elton looked up. “Look at that nasty, dirty spiderweb on the ceiling,” he said.

Everyone looked up except Benson who was keeping a firm eye on the sandwiches.

“I’ll just get the duster and get that down,” Uncle Elton said. He whisked the plate of sandwiches out of the way, onto the kitchen bench. Benson went over to watch them and make sure nothing happened to them.

Uncle Elton poked at the cobweb with the feather duster but it was too high to reach. He said, “Elmer, climb up on the table and see if you can reach it.”

Elmer climbed onto the table, but the spiderweb was still out of reach. “I know,” said Uncle Elton. He went outside and fetched the ladder, and set it up on top of the table.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Aunt Moss said.

“It’ll be fine,” Uncle Elton said. Elmer climbed to the top of the ladder, but he still couldn’t reach the spiderweb.

Uncle Elton said, “I know!” He got a stool and balanced it on top of the ladder.

“Elton, I don’t think that’s safe,” Benson’s mother said. Aunt Moss went pale and closed her eyes.

Uncle Elton said, “Don’t fuss, ladies! Elmer might not be as good a digger as Benson is, but he’s the best climber I know. Go on, Elmer, show them!”

Elmer went up the ladder and then he climbed onto the stool. Balancing carefully, he swept the spiderweb off the ceiling with the feather duster.

Uncle Elton clapped. “Well done, Elmer! See, I told you he was a great climber!”

Elmer was still standing on top of the stool balanced on the top of the ladder standing on the table. “Dad,” he said in a small voice, “I don’t think I can get down.”

“You’ll be fine,” his father said, but Elmer wasn’t. When he tried to get down, the stool wobbled and the ladder shifted and the table shook.

“Elmer, stand still!” Benson’s mother said quite sharply. She and Aunt Moss grabbed the legs of the ladder and held it firmly.

“I’ll come up and get you,” Uncle Elton said, but when he tried to get onto the table, the ladder jerked and the stool wobbled even more. Elmer gave a frightened sort of squeak and Uncle Elton got down again quickly.

Aunt Moss said thoughtfully, “This reminds me of an old riddle about an elephant.”

Benson’s mother said, “You mean, ‘How do you get an elephant out of a tree?'”

Benson knew that one. He said, “You make him sit on a leaf and wait until autumn.” He was taking very good care of the lime butter sandwiches.

Uncle Elton said, “This is no time for joking!”

Aunt Moss said, “No, I was thinking of ‘How do you get down off an elephant?'”

Benson’s mother said, “You don’t get down off an elephant, you get down off a duck.”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Aunt Moss said. “You don’t get down.”

Uncle Elton was wringing his hands. “But we don’t have any elephants or any ducks. How are we going to get Elmer down?”

“We’re not,” Benson’s mother said. “We’re going to get him up.” She pointed to the ceiling above Elmer’s head. “If you go outside and dig down from the top, you should be able to lift him out that way.”

Uncle Elton said, “But how will I know where to dig?”

Benson’s mother said, “If Elmer thumps on the ceiling with the handle of the feather duster, you should be able to hear it from outside. Try it, Elmer.”

Elmer hit the ceiling as hard as he could. It made a loud thump. “Good boy, Elmer!” his father said. “Keep on thumping, I’ll get you!”

He ran outside and ran back and forth, trying to hear where the thumping was loudest. When he found the spot, he started to dig.

Inside, bits of dirt and dust rained down on Elmer and everybody and everything. Benson decided that there was only one safe place for the lime butter sandwiches.

In a few minutes, a hole appeared in the ceiling, and in another minute Uncle Elton’s face popped through. “Dad!” shouted Elmer.

“Hang on, son, I’m nearly there!” Uncle Elton said. He made the hole bigger and bigger, until it was big enough to lift Elmer through. He reached in and pulled Elmer up out of the hole. “Got you!” he said. Everybody cheered.

When they were all inside again and the stool had been lifted down and the ladder, and all the dirt was swept up, Elmer said, “But what are we going to do about the hole in the ceiling?”

Uncle Elton said, “I think it’s a perfect place for a skylight, don’t you? Now, where are those sandwiches?”

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