Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson and his mother went down to the creek one day for a swim, and Benson brought home a whole pocketful off beautiful, smooth, flat stones, the kind that are perfect for skipping across the water. His mother was excellent at skipping stones. She could make a stone skip as many as seven times before it disappeared into the water, but he wasn’t very good at all. Every time he tried, his stone just went ‘plop’ and sank under the water, but then it was hard to practise skipping when all your stones did was plopping.
He was in the backyard, feeling the smooth, white stones in his pocket, trying to imagine skimming a stone across the top of the water and watching it skip once, twice, even three times. While he was imagining, his fingers took one of the stones out of his pocket, and before he knew it, they threw the stone across the grass, skimming the dandelions and hitting the big peppermint tree sharply.
“What do you think you’re doing?” a loud voice shouted angrily.
It was Aunt Lillibet’s friend, Gordon. He was standing by the fence with his friends, Fenella and Babette. He yelled, “Throwing stones is very dangerous, young man! You could have someone’s eye out!”
Benson knew he shouldn’t be throwing stones. His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss had told him hundreds of times never to throw stones, and really, he hadn’t meant to. His fingers just did it without him meaning them to. He hung his head, ashamed and embarrassed.
“You should know better!” Gordon went on. “Wait till your Aunt Lillibet hears about this!”
Benson’s insides squirmed. Now Gordon was going to tell Aunt Lillibet and he would really be in trouble. He crept inside and lay on his bed and read a book and tried not to think about it.
A while later, there was a thundering knock at the door. Benson’s mother went to answer it, and there was Gordon, looking extremely angry.
“Where’s that young menace, Benson?” he shouted. “Bring him outside, and see what he’s done!”
Benson went outside with his mother, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. There was a big crowd there, Gordon and Fenella and Babette, and lots of people from the bushcare group.
“Look at this!” Gordon shouted. He held up a pigeon, dead, with its neck broken. “Look what that boy’s done!”
“I didn’t!” Benson gasped.
“What makes you think it was Benson?” his mother asked.
“We saw him,” Gordon said, “didn’t we, Fenella?”
“Yes, we saw him,” Fenella said. “We were walking past earlier and we saw him throwing stones into the trees, and when we were walking back, we found this poor little bird, with its neck broken. It’s appalling!”
Everyone in the crowd murmured, “Awful! Terrible!”
Benson’s mother turned to him and said, “Benson?”
His face went all red and his insides all seemed to bunch up into a hard lump. His voice came out in a funny squeak. “I didn’t do it! I didn’t kill anything!”
Gordon said, “We saw you throwing stones, didn’t we?”
“Just one stone,” Benson said, feeling very bad.
“His pockets are full of stones,” Babette said. “Just look!”
Aunt Lillibet felt in Benson’s pockets, and brought out a handful of stones. “Benson,” she said, her face very grave, “I never thought you would do a thing like this.”
“But I didn’t!” Benson said.
Gordon said, “He’ll have to be punished properly. The bushcare group will have to decide what sort of punishment he deserves. It’s a very serious matter.”
Benson was so frightened he couldn’t speak. What were they going to do to him? Put him in jail?
Aunt Moss stepped forward and took Benson’s hand. “You’re all wrong!” she said loudly. “Benson is telling the truth. If he says he didn’t kill a bird, then I know he didn’t.” She stood by his side, holding his hand tightly, facing the crowd.
Benson held onto her hand so tightly it hurt.
His mother looked at Aunt Moss, and Aunt Lillibet. She looked at Gordon and the crowd, and then she looked at Benson. Benson had never seen her eyes like that before, so full of love for him.
Before she could open her mouth to speak, they heard someone shouting. Mr Fenn was pushing his way through the crowd. “Gordon!” he called angrily. “I’ve been looking for you! Do you know what you’ve done? You and your leaf-blower!”
“What are you talking about?” Gordon said.
Mr Fenn came up and stood in front of Gordon. “That stupid leaf-blower you got from Elton! I saw you this morning, when I was up on the hill. You were blowing away the leaves in your front yard with that ridiculous machine, blowing dust and sticks and stones all over the place. One of the stones you blew up hit a young pigeon and killed it!”
“What?” Gordon said. “I had no idea! I was just tidying up the yard. I never dreamed it was dangerous.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “So it was you that killed the pigeon, not Benson?”
Gordon looked embarrassed. “I suppose it could have been,” he said.
Benson’s mother said, “Well, Gordon?”
Gordon looked down at the ground, ashamed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing.” He looked up at Benson. “It looks like I was wrong when I said you did it. I’m sorry.” He walked away, and the rest of the crowd followed him.
Benson felt as if an enormous heavy weight had been lifted off him. Aunt Moss put her arms around him and hugged him tight.
“I think it’s time for some lunch,” his mother said.
Benson said, “Just a minute.” He got all the stones and gave them to his mother. “Maybe we can take these back to the creek, and leave them where they belong?”
His mother smiled at him and took his hand, and they all went inside together.