Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson told a lie. It wasn’t a very big lie, but even a small lie can you into a lot of trouble. He was going to the playground to play with his friend, Mick. He got his hat but he couldn’t find his water-bottle anywhere. Then he remembered he must have left it down at the creek the day before.
When his mother said, “Have you got your hat and your water-bottle?” he didn’t feel like waiting and explaining, so he said, “Yes,” even though it wasn’t true, and he ran out the door.
He decided to go to the creek and get it. He wasn’t supposed to go down to the creek by himself, but it would only take him a couple of minutes if he was quick, and his mother would never know. He went straight down to the creek, and there it was, sitting on the bank. He picked it up and a voice said, “Hi, I’m Nesbit. You must be Benson.”
A small, wet creature climbed out of the creek and grinned at him. It had a long, whiskery nose and sharp, pointy teeth and a long tail. Benson stepped back. It was a rat. “How did you know my name?” he asked the rat.
The rat grinned and its beady eyes glittered. “It’s on your water-bottle,” he said. “Where are you going?”
Benson said, “Just to the playground.”
The rat said, “The playground! That sounds like fun. I’ll come with you.”
Benson didn’t want the rat to come with him so he walked off as fast as he could, but the rat was very quick and caught up with him. The rat said. “I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking, yuck, a disgusting dirty rat, but it’s okay, I’m not a black rat, I’m a swamp rat. We’re completely different. We’re native rats. We’re very friendly and good-looking.”
Benson didn’t know any rats, and he didn’t want to start now, no matter what kind of rat it was. He walked as fast as he could to get away, but the rat scurried along beside him.
When they got to the playground, Mick said, “Who’s your new friend, Benson?”
Benson wanted to say that Nesbit wasn’t a friend, just someone he’d met, but Nesbit jumped in first and said, “Hi, I’m Nesbit. I’m a swamp rat. Benson and I are mates.”
Mick didn’t like the look of his dirty teeth or his beady eyes any more than Benson did, but if Nesbit was Benson’s friend, he couldn’t say anything.
Nesbit hung around with him all morning, climbing over everything and chewing on scraps of food that he found, while Benson tried to ignore him. Then Mr Fenn arrived. Everyone stopped playing and looked. Mr Fenn never came to the playground.
“Benson, could I talk to you, please?” he said. “Have you been down to the creek this morning?”
Benson’s stomach jumped up into his mouth and then it dropped down again to his feet. “No,” he said in a shaky voice.
“The reason I’m asking,” Mr Fenn said, “is that the water dragons are very upset. Someone has been digging up their eggs and eating them. They said you were there this morning.”
Nesbit spoke up and said, “Benson was with me. We walked all the way here together, and we never went anywhere near the creek.” His beady eyes glittered.
Mr Fenn looked sharply at Benson. “Is that true?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Benson, looking at the ground.
Mr Fenn looked hard at him, but he didn’t say any more.
Benson decided he just wanted to go home.
“I’ll come with you,” Nesbit said. Benson never wanted to see Nesbit again, but he didn’t say anything. They walked along together, until they came to the middle of the track. Nesbit stopped and said, “I think I’ll go down to the creek. I feel like a bit of a snack.”
Benson was horrified. “Did you eat those water dragons’ eggs?” he asked.
“No, of course not,” Nesbit said, grinning. “Swamp rats are vegetarians.” But his shifty, beady eyes glittered and Benson knew he wasn’t telling the truth.
“You can’t eat their eggs!” he said.
Nesbit winked at him. “You don’t tell on me, and I won’t tell on you,” he said, and he scurried off.
Benson walked the rest of the way home feeling horrible.
When his mother saw his face, she said straight away, “What’s the matter, Benson?”
“Nothing,” he said. A tear rolled down his face.
“Where’s your water-bottle?” his mother said, and he burst into tears.
His mother sat down and lifted him onto her lap. “Tell me about it,” she said. “No matter how bad it is, you can tell me.”
Benson told her. He told her about the water-bottle and about Mr Fenn and Nesbit and the water dragons’ eggs.
When he finished, his mother was very quiet. Then she said, “What are you going to do?”
Benson said, “I’m going to get into bed and pull the blankets over my head and stay there forever!”
His mother said, “Benson, what you did was wrong, you know that, don’t you?” Benson nodded, and sniffed. “What you have to do now is try and make it better, don’t you?” she said.
Benson nodded again, but it was hard.
“I think you need to go and see Mr Fenn,” his mother said.
They went together, straight away, because thinking about doing it was so awful, it was better to get it over with. When they got to Mr Fenn’s house, Benson told him everything.
Mr Fenn was angry with him, but he was sad too. He said, “Benson, don’t you know how important it is to tell the truth? If people don’t tell the truth, you can’t trust them.”
Benson felt like crying again, but Mr Fenn said, “Still, I’m glad you came and told me, even though it must have been hard for you. Now, what are we going to do about the water dragons’ eggs?”
They all went down to the creek. Nesbit was there, lying in the sun with his hands clasped over his full little tummy. He jumped up when he saw Benson. “Hello, Benson!” he said. “Come to play?”
Mr Fenn said, “Benson tells me that he was here this morning, and you were here too. Did you eat those water dragons’ eggs?”
Nesbit said, “No way! I’m a swamp rat! We’re vegetarian, I told you!”
Mr Fenn said, “You’ve got the longest tail for a swamp rat I’ve ever seen. Every swamp rat I know is shy, and not one of them can climb a tree.” He gave a sudden, angry growl.
Like a shot, Nesbit ran up the nearest tree. He sat on a branch and laughed. “Okay, you got me,” he said. “I’m not a silly, swamp rat, I’m a clever, wily, black rat. You’ll never catch me!”
“Maybe not,” Mr Fenn said, “but I never want to see to see you around here again.” He shook the tree hard until Nesbit fell out, clunk, onto the ground. Nesbit picked himself up and ran away as fast as he could. His long tail disappeared into the bush behind him, and they never saw him again.