LITTLE MR. WOFFLES
" I'm much lighter than you! " called Bessie. " Come down, Tom, and let me climb up! I'm good at climbing."
So down Tom came and pushed Bessie up on the branch. She swung herself up it and came to the tree-trunk. She looked down and saw that the tree was hollow inside. The ball rested on a little ledge of bark just inside the tree. Bessie was sure she could reach it. She swung her legs down into the middle of the tree, and groped about for the ball.
Then, to her great surprise, she heard a cross voice say: " Who's this? What are you kicking me on the head for? "
Bessie was so astonished that she lost her balance and fell right into the tree. Tom saw her fall and cried out to her.
" Bessie! Have you hurt yourself? "
But there was no answer. No answer at all! Tom was frightened and shouted again.
" Bessie! Are you hurt? "
Nobody answered. Tom listened, and the only thing he thought he heard was something that sounded rather like a far-away chuckle. But who could be laughing?
" I must climb up and see what has happened to Bessie," he thought. So up he went. He climbed carefully along the branch, hoping it wouldn't break. It held him and he came to the hollow trunk. He peeped down, expecting to see Bessie there—but the tree was empty! Nobody was there at all.
" Well, what's happened? " said Tom, in astonishment and alarm. " Bessie slipped down there—and now she's gone! There's no way out of the tree except above, and I know she didn't climb up again. Wherever can she be? "
There was nothing for it but to climb down into the hollow tree himself. It was a big tree, and there was plenty of room inside it. Tom slipped down and felt round it. To his great surprise he found a little bench set all round the tree! Then he saw a tiny cupboard high up, and found a little flap against the trunk, which, when set up, made a tiny table!
" Goodness! " said Tom, in surprise. " Someone has been using this tree as a house to live in! I wonder who it was! And have they taken Bessie away? If they have, I must follow her and rescue her. But where can she have gone? "
He looked everywhere in the tree but he couldn't find a door of any