One day, when he was naughty, Mr Bunnsy looked over the hedge into Farmer Fred’s field and it was full of green lettuces. Mr Bunnsy, however, was not full of lettuces. This did not seem fair.
– From Mr Bunnsy Has an Adventure
They chased the dogs and bit the cats, they-
But there was more to it than that. As the amazing Maurice said, it was just a story about people and rats. And the difficult part of it was deciding who the people were, and who were the rats.
But Malicia Grim said it was a story about stories.
It began-part of it began-on the mail coach that came over the mountains from the distant cities of the plain.
This was the part of the journey that the driver didn’t like. The way wound through forests and around mountains on crumbling roads. There were deep shadows between the trees. Sometimes he thought things were following the coach, keeping just out of sight. It gave him the willies.
And on this journey, the really big willie was that he could hear voices. He was sure of it. They were coming from behind him, from the top of the coach, and there was nothing there but the big oilcloth mail-sacks and the young man’s luggage. There was certainly nothing big enough for a person to hide inside. But occasionally he was sure he heard squeaky voices, whispering.
There was only one passenger at this point. He was a fair-haired young man, sitting all by himself inside the rocking coach, reading a book. He was reading slowly, and aloud, moving his finger over the words.
‘Ubberwald,’ he read out.
‘That’s “Uberwald”,’ said a small, squeaky but very clear voice. ‘The dots make it a sort of long “ooo” sound. But you’re doing well.’
‘There’s such a thing as too much pronunciation, kid,’ said another voice, which sounded half asleep.
‘But you know the best thing about Uberwald? It’s a long, long way from Sto Lat. It’s a long way from Pseudopolis. It’s a long way from anywhere where the Commander of the Watch says he’ll have us boiled alive if he ever sees us again. And it’s not very modern. Bad roads. Lots of mountains in the way. People don’t move about much up here. So news doesn’t travel very fast, see? And they don’t have policemen. Kid, we can make a fortune here!’
‘Maurice?’ said the boy, carefully.
‘You don’t think what we’re doing is, you know… dishonest, do you?’
There was a pause before the voice said, ‘How do you mean, dishonest?’
‘Well… we take their money, Maurice.’ The coach rocked and bounced over a pot-hole.
‘All right,’ said the unseen Maurice, ‘but what you’ve got to ask yourself is: who do we take the money from, actually?’
‘Well… it’s generally the mayor or the city council or someone like that.’
‘Right. And that means it’s… what? I’ve told you this bit before.’
‘It is gov-ern-ment money, kid,’ said Maurice patiently. ‘Say it? Gov-ern-ment money.’
‘Gov-ern-ment money,’ said the boy obediently.
‘Right! And what do governments do with money?’
‘They pay soldiers,’ said Maurice. ‘They have wars. In fact, we’ve prob’ly stopped a lot of wars by taking the money and putting it where it can’t do any harm. They’d put up stachoos to us, if they thought about it.’
‘Some of those towns looked pretty poor, Maurice,’ said the kid doubtfully.
‘Hey, just the kind of places that don’t need wars, then.’
‘Dangerous Beans says it’s…’ The boy concentrated, and his lips moved before he said the word, as if he was trying out the pronunciation to himself, ‘… It’s un-eth-ickle.’
‘That’s right, Maurice,’ said the squeaky voice.