ROBBIE AND THE DINOSAUR

Robbie sat on the garden-swing and swung slowly to and fro, turning the pages of his book, and sighing a big sigh. Even his special book, the Big Book of Dinosaurs that went everywhere with him, couldn't hold his attention this afternoon. Usually he found it very interesting, though it was a rather serious book for a small boy. But then, Robbie was a serious small boy.

All the same - and he sighed again - on a day like this he could do with some action.

It wasn't that he didn't like staying at Nanna's. It was just that there was no one to play with. It was all right when Uncle Andy came home, but he was at his office today. And what with Ganga banging away at his typewriter, because he was a very good writer, and Nanna in the kitchen banging her saucepans, because she wasn't a very keen cook, no one had any time for Robbie.

He slid off the swing, tucked his book under his arm, wandered across the lawn to the garden-shed, opened the door and peered inside.

And there it was !

All shiny new and with bright red paint. It must be the present that Uncle Andy had promised him - the present, Robbie supposed, that he'd been working on in secret all weekend.

And now it was finished, and painted on the side was the name.

THE HELITRACTORPUNTAVAN !

Uncle Andy was a super inventor, thought Robbie, to be able to make such a beautiful machine out of a large packing-case, a set of pram wheels, an old electric fan, and a few planks of wood. Or even to have thought of it in the first place. Just imagine ! He'd be able to fly through the air, drive over the most bumpy ground and sail over the water - and all in the same machine !

Best of all, the packing-case part had a bunk-bed and a table inside, so Robbie could camp out in it. And, since Uncle Andy had made it, the machine was probably magic and capable of going anywhere. 'All you'll have to do,' he had told him, 'is to close your eyes and concentrate very, very hard !'

He opened the door of the packing-case and climbed aboard the Helitractorpuntavan, sat down at the controls, and looked around.

Where would I like to go ? he wondered. Perhaps I could go to the Natural History Museum and see a real dinosaur ?

He switched on the controls, curled up on the bunk, closed his eyes, and concentrated very, very hard on the picture of the dinosaur in his head.

The engine made a low humming noise, and the machine began to get rather warm inside.

Then, suddenly, the engine stopped . . .

Robbie looked out of the porthole to find out what was happening.

The deep green waters of the loch sparkled in the sunshine. The mountain opposite climbed out of the water and seemed to go up for ever and ever.

He looked out of the other porthole.

Right outside, and looking in, was a large red eye. A very large red eye. He stared at the eye and the eye stared at him. After a few moments, the eye blinked a long, slow blink and moved away from the porthole. And now Robbie could see that there was another eye with it and that both of them were in a very small head on the end of a very long neck.

Then he noticed something else. The eyes looked as though they had been crying for a very long time.

Robbie opened the door of the Helitractorpuntavan and climbed out. Now he could see the whole of the creature and knew at once that it was a Dinosaur. The poor thing seemed very frightened, and tried to hide behind a large rock. But of course it was far too big to hide behind anything.

'Hello, there !' said Robbie. 'I'm Robbie ! What's your name ?'

The Dinosaur gulped. The gulp made an awful lot of noise and took a long time to travel all the way down that long neck. Then it said, in a strange echoing sort of voice,

'Name ? What's a name ?'

'A name is what other people call you by,' said Robbie.

The Dinosaur looked puzzled, and Robbie went on.

'Your Mummy and Daddy give you a name when you're a baby. And then everybody calls you whatever it is when they want you. For dinner. Or tea. Or bedtime, perhaps.'

He could see that the poor thing still didn't understand, so he tried again.

'I'm Robbie ! And my whole name's Robbie Stanton, because my Daddy's name is Stanton, and I'm his son. What's your Daddy's name ?'

Tears welled up in the two huge red eyes, making them redder than ever. Then the tears began to spill out, making huge puddles on the ground. A huge sob travelled all the way up that long, long neck and. after a long time, there came a hiccough out of that surprisingly small mouth.

'Och ! I have nae Daddy ! And I have nae Mummy !'

Another tear splashed noisily into the puddle.

'I hae naebody at a' !'

Robbie stretched out to pat his head, but there was no way he could reach it.

But now that the Dinosaur had started to talk it didn't seem able to stop.

'The two of them went off. Mummy and Daddy, A mean. A week ago. Or maybe a month !' It paused and thought for a while. 'Might even have been a year or two. Aye, come to think of it, it's a long time they've been gone. Left their only son, they did. And me nobbut a bairn when they went !'

Robbie thought it must have been a very long time since this huge creature was a wee bairn. And it surely must have been a lot more than a year or two ago since his parents had left. But he didn't like to say so, when the Dinosaur seemed so very sad.

Then he suddenly remembered something. His Big Book of Dinosaurs ! That was it ! He scrambled to his feet and went to fetch it from the Helitractorpuntavan.

'Look !' he said. 'There'll be a picture of you, or a dinosaur like you, in here. And we'll be able to find your name !'

He sat down on the grass beside the Dinosaur. The creature bent its long, long neck down, and the two of them carefully studied each picture in turn, searching for a likeness. But it was very difficult. There were quite a few almost the same. One creature had the same kind of head but it also had nasty-looking teeth. Another had the same number of legs, but toes instead of flippers. And one or two of them frightened the Dinosaur so much that he tried to hide behind the rock again, and wouldn't come out until Robbie turned the page.

But at last they found one almost the same. Except for its neck, which was nowhere near as long as this Dinosaur's neck. Robbie sighed.

'Well,' he said, 'that's the nearest one we've come to, and that's a Plesiosaurus. But your neck isn't right. You really shouldn't have such a long neck, you know !'

The Dinosaur - or rather the Plesiosaurus - sniffed rather crossly.

'Just as well I have ! I'd have gone very hungry if I hadn't had such a long neck !'

Robbie couldn't see how having a long neck could stop anyone from feeling hungry. Quite the opposite, he imagined. He was quite sure that his own tummy would get very hungry between bites if he had such a long neck.

'How can a long neck stop you from being hungry ?' he asked.

'Well,' said the Plesiosaurus, 'when I got too big to swim out of the cave, I just had to stick my neck out !'

Robbie frowned.

'Cave ?' he said. 'What cave ?'

The Plesiosaurus tossed his head and clicked his tongue impatiently.

'The cave under the mountain that goes out to the sea, of course ! We always went down to the sea through the cave. Mummy and Daddy went out that way, the day they left !'

'Oh, I see,' said Robbie, not quite truthfully.

'Yes ! the Dinosaur went on. 'They went out to get the dinner while I was having my mid-morning nap. Then there was a loud noise that woke me up, and lots of rocks fell and blocked up most of the passage-way !'

'Ah !' said Robbie. 'That's probably why they never came back. They couldn't get in again and they thought you'd been buried !'

The Plesiosaurus shook his head sadly in agreement. Nobody had ever been around to tell him you should nod. Perhaps with that long neck it was more comfortable to shake than to nod. Robbie found it all most confusing. All the same this business about the cave was very interesting.

The Plesiosaurus went on in that strange, echoing, mournful voice,

'Anyway, at first I found enough to eat in the loch, d'ye ken. So I didn't need to get out to the sea. But, as you know, any growing creature needs plenty of food. So, as I got more hungry, I used to swim through what was left of the passageway into the loch to catch food. Then one day a dreadful thing happened !'

'Go on !' said Robbie. 'What was that ?'

'I'd just eaten a very large dinner.' the Plesiosaurus replied. 'And I found I couldn't get back through the passageway.'

'Gosh !' said Robbie. 'How awful ! What did you do ?'

'Well,' said the Plesiosaurus, 'I waited till I was hungry again and thin enough to squeeze through.

'That was very clever of you !' said Robbie.

The Plesiosaurus seemed quite pleased to be told he was clever, until he appeared to remember what had happened next.

'Not so very clever, really ! When I got back in the cave I realized I was hungry again !' He shook his head sadly and heaved a big sigh.

'So what did you do ?' asked Robbie.

'Well, I poked my head out of the passageway and sort of - well - fished with it !'

Robbie stared at him.

'Fished with it ? How ?'

This time the Plesiosaurus actually smiled. It was a peculiar sort of smile, but a smile for all that.

'Well, I'd often sat in the shallower bit of the loch with my eyes just above water and I'd watched your sort of creatures catching fish. Ye ken, by casting a line with a hook. And it occurred to me that I could cast my neck the same way and catch the fish in my mouth. So that's what I did !'

He sat back, clearly pleased with himself. Then a thought seemed to strike him. 'Perhaps it was all that casting and stretching that made my neck extra long !'

Robbie was most impressed, and the more he thought about it, the more excited he got.

'Plesiosaurus !' he began, and then paused. 'Look, I can't go on calling you a long name like that ! It doesn't suit you anyway ! We'll have to find you a new name !'

They both thought hard for a while. Robbie looked once more at his new friend's strange shape, and suddenly had a brilliant idea.

'I know ! Necky ! That's exactly right ! Necky !'

The Plesiosaurus beamed, and shook his head in agreement.

'Right, Necky !' Robbie went on. 'Now I'll tell you something. For hundreds of years people have been saying there's a monster in the loch.'

'Monster ?' Necky asked. 'What's a monster ?'

Robbie sighed. Being interrupted like this made him most impatient.

'Oh, a monster is a - well - a creature no one really knows much about. So they're frightened of it !'

'Frightened ?' said Necky. 'What's frightened ?'

'Just stop asking questions and listen for a change !' Robbie said. 'Some people say that there's something strange in the loch and some people say that's nonsense. And a few people - mostly journalists and scientists - keep trying to find out.'

Necky sighed. He really couldn't understand a lot of what Robbie was saying.

'Don't I know it !' he said. 'Years ago I used to try to make friends. But they all ran away screaming, so I gave it up. So much noise, you see. All that screaming round the loch gave me a splitting headache. And then - he stopped, as though it was all too much for him - 'then they started bringing all sorts of things. Things to chase me round the loch, and even - !' He paused, and took a deep breath. 'Even one that went under the water with lights that flashed about. I hid in the cave. I was very - !' He stopped, as though at a loss for words.

'Frightened !' said Robbie. Necky looked surprised.

'Oh ! Is that what frightened is ?'

Robbie nodded, and Necky went on,

'Well. yes ! Frightened ! It felt very - nasty ! And I wish they wouldn't do it ! Can't you tell them to stop ?'

'The trouble is,' Robbie replied, 'everybody's so curious !'

He could see out of the corner of his eye that Necky was about to ask him about 'curious' and he hurried on.

'You see, they want to know about you the way you want to know about words. That's what curious means ! And once they know about you they'll put something called a Con - Conservation order on you and leave you alone !'

And, before Robbie could stop him, Necky was in there with his curiosity.

'What's that ? What's a Con - whatever it is ?'

Robbie drew a long breath and tried not to sound cross.

'Well, you see, most of my people are very kind, and like animals to be happy, and left alone to get on with their own affairs. But some are cruel and greedy. They want to kill wild creatures just for fun. Or else they capture them and put them in a Zoo and make people pay to see them. A Zoo,' he added quickly, 'is a sort of prison for animals.'

Necky thought for a long time about all this. Then he said,

'So what's a Conservation order ?'

'Well, the authorities make an order saying you're a very special sort of creature and you're to be left alone!' He hurried on before Necky could ask about 'Authorities'.

'Oh, never mind what they are ! How are we going to get them to leave you alone ? They'll never believe me, you see ! They'll never believe that I've seen a dinosaur ! Never mind talked to it ! They won't believe me - at least until I'm much bigger !'

The two of them sat for a long time in silence, trying to think what to do. Suddenly Necky gave a huge yawn, bent his long neck, and rubbed one red eye with a flipper. Robbie was beginning to feel tired himself. It was tiring work explaining things.

'Well, all I can think of right now is for me to grow up as fast as I can, and become a Zoologist. No, no ! Never mind what it means ! Then I can come back here and find you, and explain to everybody what you are, and it'll be official. I mean', he said hurriedly, 'you'll be safe, and they'll make sure that you've got enough to eat. OK ?'

Necky stared at Robbie, and seemed about to ask him another question. But, instead, he gave him a smile and a fat wink.

'OK !' he said. 'If that's what it means. Now I'm rather tired with all this talking. So you pop off home and grow up. I'll meet you here in a week or two - ! Well, perhaps you'll need a year or two.' He yawned again. 'Now I'm just going off to bed. 'Bye !'

'Goodbye !' said Robbie.

Necky hesitated, and seemed about to make a speech of thanks to his new friend. But he was clearly too tired, so he just waddled into the water and swam off across the loch. His strange echoing voice grew fainter and fainter.

'Goodbye, Robbie - ! Robbie - ! Robbie !'

The Helitractorpuntavan rocked gently. And there was Nanna peering in through the door.

'Robbie ! Dinner's ready, darling ! I've been calling you for ages ! You must have fallen asleep in there !'

Robbie picked up his Big Book of Dinosaurs and climbed out of the Helitractorpuntavan. He hugged his book and his beautiful secret close to his chest, and followed Nanna across the lawn, smiling to himself.

'Yes !' he said. 'Yes, I expect I did !'

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