Lulu And the Duck in the Park
By Hilary McKay, Priscilla Lamont
ALBERT WHITMAN & Company Copyright © 2011 Hilary McKay
All rights reserved.
Lulu and Mellie
Lulu was famous for animals. Her famousness for animals was known throughout the whole neighborhood.
Animals mattered more to Lulu than anything else in the world. All animals, from the sponsored polar bear family that had been her best Christmas present, to the hairiest unwanted spider in the school coat room.
Lulu loved them all. She was always rescuing and comforting and carrying animals home.
Lulu might have been famous for other things, such as the way she ate apples, which left no apple at all, except the stalk and the seeds.
Or for jumping off swings, right at the highest point of the swing. (Swing jumping was a bad and dangerous habit of Lulu's that caused her many sore hands and scraped knees.)
"Crazy!" said Lulu's cousin Mellie when Lulu jumped off swings. It was usually Mellie who hauled Lulu up after a swing jump and carried her bag while she hobbled home.
"Crazy! Nuts! Don't do it!" Mellie would say while Lulu inspected her new bruises, and she would nearly always add, "If you're going home now, can I come with you to see the animals?" Because whatever else Lulu did, it was her huge collection of animals that she was known for most of all.
"You know you can," Lulu would reply. "You always can. You know that."
Lulu and Mellie were best friends, as well as cousins. Mellie was famous for very long silences, sudden attacks of the giggles, and losing things. Hats and gloves, pencil cases and gym bags, school clothes and school books never seemed to stay long with Mellie. They waited until she looked away, and vanished.
Mellie was very, very famous for losing things, but not as famous as Lulu was for animals. It was lucky for Lulu that her father was famous for peering at the latest arrival and saying, "Hmmm. Well. Ask your mom."
And it was very lucky for Lulu that her mother was famous for saying, "The more, the merrier."
That was Lulu's mother's law on pets.
The More, the Merrier
As Long as Lulu Cleans up after Them.
Lulu did not just clean up after them. She played with them and talked to them. She exercised them and fed them. She looked them up in library books and Googled them on the Internet. She thought about them.
"What would I want," wondered Lulu, "if I were a hamster in a cage? A spider in a bath? The Class Three guinea pig?"
Lulu's hamster had cardboard mazes to explore, and surprise parcels of nuts to unwrap. The spiders in Lulu's house had a little rope ladder to help them out of the bath. The Class Three guinea pig went home with Lulu for holidays and had a wonderful time going on outings to the park.
"Thank goodness I don't have to take him home," said Mrs. Holiday, Lulu's class teacher (famous for her cookie tin of exotic cookies, and her icy-blue glares).
"Mrs. Holiday!" said Lulu, shocked. "He's an amazing guinea pig! For a guinea pig."
"I'm sure he is," agreed Mrs. Holiday. "But I am not a guinea pig sort of person. In fact," added Mrs. Holiday, "I could manage quite happily with no guinea pigs at all."
When the Class Three guinea pig was more annoying than usual (his bathroom habits were awful and he chewed up anything leaning against his cage), Mrs. Holiday would glare at him and say, "Hmmm!"
"Don't you like animals, Mrs. Holiday?" Lulu asked once.
"I like animals," said Mrs. Holiday, "in the wild. Perfectly happy, but a long way off!"
Lulu agreed about the animals being perfectly happy. That was good. But she did not agree about them being a long way off. The closer the better, Lulu thought.
"Perhaps you don't know many animals," she suggested to Mrs. Holiday.
"Hardly any," said Mrs. Holiday cheerfully.
Lulu tried to help with that.
She thought of lots of ways.
Mrs. Holiday would not be helped. She said, "No, no, no, absolutely not," when Lulu offered to organize a pet show for the school summer fair.
"I'm not sure I want to look!" she said when Lulu brought in photographs of the Snail world she had built at the end of her garden. "Snails are just not me, Lulu! In fact, I'm afraid I don't like them much at all."
"It's not just snails," said Lulu. "Slugs too!"
"Even worse!" cried Mrs. Holiday.
Lulu bought a packet of dog treats, and a few days later her old dog, Sam, cleverly trailed her all the way to school.
Mrs. Holiday was not a bit pleased about that. Lulu was allowed to give him a drink of water, but after his drink Sam had to go to the janitor's room and be tied up until the end of the school day.
"Can't he stay with me?" begged Lulu.
"Certainly not," said Mrs. Holiday.
"He would be so good! You wouldn't even notice him!"
"I am noticing him already!" said Mrs. Holiday, glaring icy-blue glares at Sam, who was panting around the classroom, banging into things.
"He's a very nice dog," said Lulu pleadingly. "Look how friendly he is!"
Sam was now snuffling like a vacuum cleaner at the guinea pig cage. His snuffling made the guinea pig squeak and charge around, spilling wood shavings out through the bars.
"Woof!" said Sam, loudly and happily.
"Lulu!" said Mrs. Holiday, handing Lulu a jump rope that she had cleverly knotted to make a collar and leash.
"Please take that very nice dog away AT ONCE and ask the janitor to keep him until it's time to go home."
"Now?" asked Lulu.
"This instant!" said Mrs. Holiday. "And while you are there, please borrow a dustpan and brush!"
So Lulu very slowly led Sam away, and when she came back the guinea pig was a lot calmer, and so was Mrs. Holiday. Until Lulu, busily sweeping, remarked, "I think the poor guinea pig needs a friend. I have some black-and- white mice. If you like I could bring them in to visit him. And I bet lots of the others have pets they could bring in too."
She was right. They did. They all offered at once to bring friends for the guinea pig. Class Three bounced in their seats in their eagerness to describe the friendliness of rats and lizards, cats and fish, turtles and tame(ish) beetles.
"No, no, no!" exclaimed Mrs. Holiday, and called an emergency meeting for Class Three. And at the meeting she explained to everyone very carefully and plainly that if the Class Three guinea pig ever had a single friend brought in to visit ... any sort of friend, a snaily friend or a whiskery friend, a very large friend like Sammy, or a very small friend, like a black-and-white mouse, then the Class Three guinea pig would unfortunately have to leave Class Three forever.
"But where would he go?" asked Lulu.
"We would swap him for the Class Two stick insects!" said Mrs. Holiday. "Class Two would be very pleased to swap," she continued, ignoring the howls and groans all around her, "and I would not mind a bit. I much prefer quiet unsmelly stick insects to squeaky rowdy guinea pigs. So. You have been warned!"
Class Three was silent with shock.
They all gazed at the guinea pig and thought how gloomy things would be without him. No more cheerful noisy interruptions of squeaks in quiet lessons. No more guinea-pig food to chew in hungry moments. No more useful sausage-shaped guinea-pig poops to flick around the classroom.
At the end of the afternoon everyone grumbled at Lulu for making Mrs. Holiday think of such an awful idea.
They grumbled a lot, and the one who grumbled most of all was Mellie.
"Mrs. Holiday really meant it," said Mellie as she and Lulu swung in the little park together on their way home from school that day. "She would swap, I'm sure she would. And just looking at those stick insects makes me feel itchy all over. I think I may be allergic to them actually. So ..."
There was a very long, swinging Mellie-style silence.
"I suppose I'd have to change schools," said Mellie.
"Oh," shouted Lulu. "Don't be silly!" And she swallowed the last of the apple she was eating, stuffed the stem and seeds in her pocket, jumped at the highest point of the swing, and after a wonderful, but very brief, time flying through the air, landed with a smash.
Then she gathered up Sam's jump rope leash and hobbled away.
So Mellie, who was to have dinner with Lulu that day, stopped her swing by scraping her toes on the ground, and ran after her (leaving her sweater hanging forgotten on the jungle gym).
They walked back to Lulu's house, arguing.
Lulu said it was not fair that the poor guinea pig had to live all alone with no friendly visitors.
Mellie said it was not fair if Lulu made Mrs. Holiday so angry that he had to be swapped for the Class Two stick insects.
Lulu made a list of all the quiet, peaceful animals she could bring to school that Mrs. Holiday would never notice. Mellie got angrier and angrier. The animals on the list got bigger and less quiet, just to annoy Mellie.
They did annoy Mellie.
"You just dare!" she said, when Lulu said rabbits in a backpack would never be noticed.
"Anyway, it would be cruel to the rabbits," said Mellie.
"Not at all," said Lulu. "They could wear sweaters and bounce around the play—"
"Lulu!" wailed Mellie.
"Where's my sweater? My sweater's gone! Didn't I have it when I came out of school? Didn't I? I did! I know I did!"
"You must have left it by the swings," said Lulu, and they ran back together to see.
It was gone.
Mellie's things were always gone. Mellie tipped her school bag upside down on the pavement to see if her sweater could possibly, magically, be at the bottom. Pencils and pens rolled everywhere and disappeared. A quarter spun neatly on its edge for a moment and vanished down a drain. Mellie sat down in the middle of the muddle and wailed, "It's all your fault, Lulu!"
She hated losing things.
Lulu collected books and pencils, hairclips, water bottles, homework sheets, and crumbled cookies. Sam licked Mellie's face, enjoying the taste of tears.
"I wouldn't have lost it if I hadn't been worrying about stick insects," said Mellie, sniffing and feeding Sam cookie crumbs while Lulu repacked her bag for her. "I just DON'T like stick insects!"
"Well, we won't have stick insects!" said Lulu kindly. "You can stop worrying. I won't bring visitors for the guinea pig, and Mrs. Holiday won't get mad and ... I know what will cheer you up!"
Lulu scrambled out of her sweater, chewed off the name tag with her teeth, shook it out, and pulled it over Mellie's head.
"I've got another one at home," she said.
Morning in the Park
Tuesday was Class Three's favorite day at school.
This was because Tuesday was swimming day.
The big swimming pool in the center of town was so close to school that Class Three did not have to take a bus to get there like other schools did. They could get there in a few minutes by walking.
First thing every Tuesday morning, Class Three walked down the hill from school, around the narrow cobbled streets by the church, and across the town park to the pool.
The town park was wonderful. Twenty times bigger than the little playing-field park where Mellie and Lulu swung after school.
It had huge trees and grassy slopes and twisting paths.
It had a climbing wall and a giant slide.
It had a candy shop and a life-size pirate ship becalmed in a sea of bark.
It had a lake with two little islands and a hundred noisy ducks.
Getting Class Three past the climbing wall without anyone climbing, and the candy shop without anyone darting in, and the lake without anyone getting wet, was the hardest part of Mrs. Holiday's week.
Getting them back to school again, wet- haired, starving, and weighed down by soggy swimming bags, was nearly impossible.
Mrs. Holiday didn't even try.
On Tuesday mornings after swimming, Mrs. Holiday marched Class Three to the bandstand by the lake. In the bandstand bags were dropped, boxes were opened, and Class Three ate their shivery bites.
That was what Mrs. Holiday, who had been brought up in Scotland, called the cookie-ish, appley, peanut-butter-sandwichy snack that came after swimming.
A shivery bite.
Mrs. Holiday was quite old. She had taught many, many classes of children. Some of them were grown up now, with families of their own. The things they had learned at school, the Romans and the Vikings, the way a bean grows in a jam jar, how to carry an egg on a spoon, and the names of the planets, had faded from their minds.
But none of them ever forgot their shivery bites.
After the shivery bites were eaten, Lulu and Mellie and the rest of Class Three were allowed ten minutes to climb aboard the pirate ship, or slide down the giant slide, or get stuck on the climbing wall.
Lulu always saved the end of her shivery bite for her favorite duck. It was a brown one, with one white wing.
The white-winged duck had a nest under the bushes on the bank by the path. It was so tame, it let Lulu come right up to visit.
"I would like to have a duck," Lulu often remarked.
For Class Three, that ten minutes in the town park was the best part of the whole cheerful morning. After it was over they went back to school and were good for a week so that they could do it all again after the next swimming lesson.
That was what usually happened on Tuesdays.
But this Tuesday was different.
This Tuesday—the day after Lulu's dog Sam trailed Lulu to school and Mellie lost her sweater and Class Three learned the very real danger of their guinea pig being swapped for a box of stick insects—the day after all that happened, things were very different and terrible in the park.
It was early spring. Every tree was exploding like a firework with bright green leaves. Every flower bed blazed with tulips and daffodils. And every one of the hundred ducks that lived by the lake had a nest of eggs, or newly hatched ducklings. The white-winged duck was not the only one to make her nest among the bushes by the path. There was a whole line of them. "Duck Street," the park keepers called it.
There was a fine view of duck Street from the bandstand.
Class Three had just unpacked their shivery bites when the trouble began. The park was suddenly filled with noise. Shouting and barking and running footsteps. The splashings and quackings of a hundred frightened ducks.
Two enormous dogs came tearing across the park toward Duck Street. Two big black dogs with thick leather collars. They were chasing the ducks, and chasing each other, and snarling and snapping. Flower beds were flattened. Ducks squawked in panic and beat their wings. Ducklings fluttered and cheeped. And all along the duck Street, under the new green bushes, nests were trodden on and scattered and smashed.
"NO!" screeched Lulu, and ran to try and rescue her white-winged duck.
"No!" cried Mrs. Holiday, and grabbed her just in time.
So Lulu had to watch.
For a long, long time no one could catch those terrible dogs. Not their owner with his two empty leashes, nor the park keepers who came running from every direction.
Those dogs were wild. And they ran so fast, and they appeared so suddenly in so many unexpected places, that it seemed like there were far more than two.
"Keep those kids in the bandstand!" a park keeper yelled at Mrs. Holiday, and she did. She stood at the top of the bandstand steps like a soldier on guard.
Class Three was screaming and pointing and shouting, and some of them were crying.
"Class Three, be silent, please!" commanded Mrs. Holiday.
Class Three became silent.
Then Mrs. Holiday took roll call, calling each person's name in turn, just like she did every morning at school. All through roll call she stood at the top of the steps, guarding the open entrance of the bandstand.
Now the bandstand was the quietest place in the park, but all around still the dogs ran wild.
One of them ran right up the bandstand steps.
"SIT!!!" bellowed Mrs. Holiday in a voice that no one in Class Three ever guessed she possessed.
A miracle happened.
Right in front of Mrs. Holiday, right under her icy-blue glare, the dog sat down.
His owner was there in a moment.
And two seconds later he was back on his leash.
The second dog did not even have to be told. He slunk toward the other dog with his tail between his legs.
Class Three yelled and cheered and clapped their heroic Mrs. Holiday, and as rapidly as they had arrived, the dogs vanished.
But the park was wrecked, and duck Street was tragic.
Terrified ducks, huddled on the islands.
Smashed and sticky eggs.
Class Three, walking two-by-two along the path by the lake, stepped carefully to avoid the scattered leaves and feathers of trodden nests. They tried not to look at the broken shells. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Lulu And the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay, Priscilla Lamont. Copyright © 2011 Hilary McKay. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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