AFTERMATH


I read a book by Enid Blyton when I was about ten years old. It struck me as being especially funny and happy, which chimed with something deep inside me. I even thought there was something authentic about the humour and the happiness, though that's not how I would have put it to myself back then. I've now got a good idea of why I was so struck by the material.

Below is the book's cover. That is, the edition I first read fifty years ago, though not the actual copy. The JJ and DD scrawled above the book's title are the initials of this copy's previous owners. That's Jane Davies and Michelle Nichols. Hang on, that's not right! It seems that you have to look at the initials the the other way round. Up-down rather than from left to right. In which case, it's Jane Davies and Jane Davies! NIce one, Jane. Exactly the way that Binkle might register the ownership of a book owned by himself and Flip

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Enid Blyton got married to Hugh Pollock, a Scot, on August 28, 1924. The marriage was a love match from the start and that's why Binkle and Flip is such a happy and funny book. In Barbara Stoney's biography of Enid Blyton she tells us that the couple used to refer to each other as 'Bun' (Hugh) and 'Little Bun' (Enid).

Enid kept a log book of work done, and so we know that the book was begun in November 1924, just a couple of months into the marriage.

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Yes, the book was begun on November 17 with a 3000-word chapter called 'Swee-ee-eep!' The next day Enid wrote 'Bill's New Job', and on November 20, 'The Wonderful Doctor'. These are chapters 1, 2 and 8 of the 12-chapter book as published.

The early names of Binkle and Flip were Sandy and Bill (hence 'Bill's New Job'). Sandy is a Scottish version of Alexander, Hugh’s middle name. Significant? Bear in mind that in 1928, Hugh would interview Enid for
Teachers World, signing the piece only 'H.A.P'. And in 1942, Enid would write under the pseudonym of Mary Pollock (her middle name and her married surname). Once Binkle is thought of as Hugh, and Filp as Enid, something fundamental about the book falls into place.

Binkle and Flip are both ostensibly male rabbits, but they seem to live as man and wife, sharing a double bed. This is how the book opens:

"Is there any food in the cupboard, Binkle?" asked Flip, opening one eye, and looking at BInkle, who was dressing.
"No, there isn't, and you know that very well!" snapped Binkle, who was in a very bad temper. "You just jump out of bed, you lazy thing. We've got to work today, if we want any food to eat."
"Oh, oh!" groaned Flip. "I do hate work! Whatever can we do Binkle?"


The jokes have started already. First, Enid-Bill-Flip loved work and could toss off a 3000-word chapter at the drop of a hat. One day's work. (You try it!) Second, Hugh had a bad temper, though he usually apologised after losing it, and became very considerate and loving. Third, Hugh-Sandy-Binkle and Enid-Bill-Flip had been working very hard together. Just a month before, Hugh as editor, and Enid, as writer, had published The Zoo Book and The Enid Blyton Book of Fairies.

Now these weren't the first books that Enid had had published, a slim book of poems had appeared in 1922 and another in 1923. And Birns had published some stories for young children in 1924. But these Newnes books were big books, full of creamy white paper and packed full of beautiful illustrations. Packed full, most of all, of Enid's prose. How could these not be the subject of joy and celebration in the Blyton-Pollock household.

Enid and Hugh had newly moved into flat in Chelsea was surely stuffed with fine food, and if it wasn't then they could pop round to Rules in Covent Garden or the Chandos Grill off the Strand, where they did regularly eat. No food in the cupboard, indeed. Ha-ha-ha!

In 'Swee-ee-eep!' Binkle steals the chimney brushes of Brock Badger and persuades Flip to help him clean a few chimneys in Bracken Hill Town. It is a disaster and by the end of the chapter the bunnies have been brought to book, having blackwashed Mary Mole's home.

Their next money-making scheme is when Binkle (Sandy) persuades Flip (Bill) to look after four baby foxes ('Bill's New Job'), echoing Enid’s teaching job at Southernhay, which began with her looking after the four Thompson boys. Enid worked there for four years, giving it up just two months after meeting Hugh in February, 1924. So the bits about how Flip makes a dramatic escape from the clutches of the parent foxes would also have had an in-joke factor for its author and editor.

In 'The Wonderful Doctor' Binkle is asked to take over his uncle's chemist shop for a short while. Binkle gets Flip to dress up as a wise old medicine man from a foreign land and persuades the people in Oak Tree Town to buy fake potions. Binkle has no problem selling the stuff, but the next day there are all sorts of difficulties as complaining customers come back in droves. Both bunnies get a good spanking from their uncle, who takes half the money they made.

Enid took a break after this having set out her stall. She'd set out her stall in her own territory. The place names in the book come from her own personal mythologising of Beckenham, where she'd grown up. In particular the house, 34 Oakwood Avenue, where she's been living when she'd met Hugh and which she'd only left on getting married in August, 1924.In the map below, 34 Oakwood Avenue is in the middle of tthe road on the south west flank of Oak Wood.

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Binkle nd Flip live in Heather Cottage, Oak Tree Town. In the first chapter they do their disastrous chimney sweeping in nearby Bracken Hill Town. Enid thinks of Beckenham Park Place as the site of Bracken Hill and Bracken Wood which she mentioned several times in her From My Window column in
Teachers World.

In the second chapter, Flip's hob as a nursemaid to four baby foxes is located in Cuckoo Wood. That is the name that Enid gave Oak Wood (see above map) in her From My Window column, especially in the summer of 1924, just a few months before the writing of
The Enid Blyton Book of Bunnies (as The Adventures of Binkle and Flip was first called).

In 'The Wonderful Doctor', the chemist shop is in Oak Tree Town and the uncle goes away to Bracken Hill Town. So it's perfectly reasonable to say that the book is firmly located in Enid Blyton's beloved Beckenham as well as in her marriage to Hugh.

I don't think at this stage, Enid necessarily knew she was writing a book, as such. But she'd obviously enjoyed writing the first three chapters, and a couple of weeks later she wrote four more. Although three of them are a bit shorter, she writes two per day, so she's still obviously well into it. 5000 words a day. As I say, you try it!

EB-02-01-05-05 Work Done 1924 13 Nov-11 Dec - Version 3

That's chapters 5, 3, 10 and 9 of the published book, but let's consider them in the order they were written.

In 'Bing-Bong the Paw Reader', Binkle gets wind that there is going to be a bazaar held in Oak Tree Town. So he dresses up as a paw reader and, with Flip as his assistant, Binkle has a great time tricking people who he already knows well. He impresses Creeper Mouse by telling him about his present and past, then terrifies him by disclosing that he is going to have 29 children. Things start to go awry when Binkle predicts that Herbert Hedgehog will find gold under his cabbages, because Herbert goes straight home and digs away to find no gold and in the process spoils his cabbages. Binkle is exposed as a fraud and has to give Herbert the money he's made from reading paws so that new cabbages can be bought.

The other story Enid wrote on December 8 was 'Sandy has the Doctor'. Sandy/Binkle observes that when someone is ill, other folk brings gifts such as soup and jelly. So Binkle pretends to be ill and Flip puts the word around Ok Tree Town. However, Sammy the Squirrel is soon on to the trick and he dresses up as a doctor and pays Sandy a visit. A scene beautifully captured by Kathleen Nixon who illustrated early editions of the book, including
The Enid Blyton Book of Bunnies (1925) and The Adventures of Binkle and Flip (1938). This from the latter:

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At the end of the story, Flip sums up the situation:

"It's - it's - it's very f-f-funny, Binkle," he said, between the gurgles of laughter. "You pretended to be ill, and Sammy pretended to be a doctor - and Sammy pretended you were ill - and you thought you were and weren't. Oh my!"

Hardly surprising that when Enid got up the next day she thought she'd write another couple of chapters. It was all going so well!

First, Enid comes up with 'The Whistling Biggle-Boggle' (a bit of alliteration there with the day before's Bing-Bong). This is a creature that Binkle dreams up to scare away two polecats that are upsetting the folk of Oak TreeTree Town. Flip's part is to persuade the polecats that what it says on a notice that Binkle has pasted all over town is true - that the whistling biggle-boggle is dangerous to polecats and foxes, and in fact likes to eat them. By the end of the chapter, the polecats have been scared out of town and so Binkle and Flip have shown that their cleverness can be put to good ends, not just naughty ones.

In 'Flip's Sunstroke', Binkle buys some paintings from a fox, gets Flip to dress up as an old man in a bathchair, and writes a notice saying: 'ALL MY OWN WORK. PLEASE SPARE A PENNY TO KEEP ME AND MY OLD FATHER.'

People in Bracken Hill Town are generous towards the pair, but ii is hot work and soon Flip, all muffled up as he is, is in need of refreshment. BInkle goes off to get lemonade but he is away for ages and Flip falls asleep. He is wheeled to Hanna Hare's place by Dinky Dormouse, and, when he wakes up, Flip has to be careful not to give away his real identity. Escaping at last, he bumps into Binkle who himself fell asleep after ordering lemonade. The usually meek Flip is furious with Binkle for leaving him alone for so long, pounces on him and teaches him a lesson.

So the two stories Enid wrote on December 9, developed the characters of both bunnies. What next?

Enid was busy with Xmas, something she took very seriously, and with other writing commitments, but she did come back to her bunnies on December 18, 1924, to write what would be the eleventh and penultimate story in the book as published: 'The Fair at Oak Tree Town'. This is how the chapter starts:

"I say, Flip," cried Binkle, rushing into Heather Cottage in great excitement. "What do you think is coming to Oak Tree Town?"
"What?" asked Flip.
"A fair!" said Binkle - "a fair with roundabouts and swings and everything! Won't it be fun!"
"Yes, but we haven't got any money to go on the roundabouts," said Flip, dolefully.
"No, that's a pity," frowned Binkle, and pulled at his whiskers and rubbed his nose. Suddenly he stopped and his eyes opened wide.

(I should say at this point that in May, 1924, when Wembley hosted a huge British Empire exhibition, it included three special train rides that Hugh was especially keen on. Enid wasn't as keen, but she was persuaded to go on all three.The third of which made Enid dream of riding a bucking bronco all night.)

"Flip!" he said - "Flip!"
"What?" asked Flip crossly. He was trying to read.
"Oh, Flip!" said Binkle again, in a voice of deepest excitement - "Flip!"
"Stop Flipping me!" said Flip, "and tell me what you want to say."
"Flip," said Binkle, "I've got the most
wonderful idea I've ever had!"
"Then I'd rather you kept it to yourself," said Flip, hurriedly folding up his newspaper. "You oughtn't to let yourself have ideas, Binkle."
"Flip, listen.!" cried BInkle, catching hold of him and sitting him down plump in his chair again. "Wouldn't you like to have enough money to go on
all the roundabouts and all the swings and see all the sideshows?"
"Rather!" said Flip.
"Well, I'll tell you how we can," began Binkle. "You know how folk love to throw balls at things in a fair, don't you? They l
ove throwing at coco-nuts and things like that."
"Yes," said Flip.
"Well, Fliip," said Binkle, "wouldn't it be lovely if we could somehow have Herbert Hedgehog to throw at? Think how exciting it would be to see if you could throw a ball and get it stuck on one off his prickles!"
"Binkle!" said Flip in horror, "whatever will you think of next? As if Herbert would ever agree to that, anyhow!"
"No, he wouldn't
agree," said Binkle thoughtfully, "but I might be able to think of some way that didn't need his consent."

That brings to mind
Fawlty Towers. The maniacal Basil Fawlty thinking of a way to use his much put-upon Spanish waiter, Manuel, so as to drum up business for his hotel!

Anyway, sure enough, Herbert is persuaded by Binkle that people at the Fair have taken against the hedgehog's face and that the best thing would be to sit facing a wall, pretending to read a newspaper, and ignoring any aggression. And so Binkle puts up the sign: 'SIX THROWS A PENNY! SPIKE A POTATO ON HERBERT!'

Poor Herbert is frightened once the potatoes start flying around him. But Flip is there to reassure him.

The crowd was delighted. Everyone though Herbert was making a noise to amuse them, and more and more folk came up to join in the fun. The potatoes whizzed merrily through the air and stuck on Herbert, or burst into a score of pieces on the wall behind and spattered into poor Herbert's face. Flip picked up the whole ones and threw them back to Binkle as fast as he could.
"Don't you fret, Herbert," he panted, "I'm keeping them off all right."


For just a second the image of Kafka's Gregor Samsa in 'Metamorphosis' comes to mind. A member of his family embedding an apple in the giant beetle's vulnerable back.

But Enid is careful to make clear that Herbert is not actually hurt, just shaken, and that there is no evil intent on the part of the crowd, who are just exercising high spirits and going along with the novelty of the situation. The scenario clearly caught the imagination of the book's illustrator, who came up with this for the cover.

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That is not a high quality reproduction, so when I was in the National Library of Scotland recently, I made this. Which is not much better but at least you can read the sign.

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When Wily Weasel lands six potatoes in a row on Herbert's prickles, an enraged Herbert turns round and berates him. Then poor Herbert sees the sign! Binkle and Flip try to escape but are brought to book. They are saved from a spanking only when Herbert agrees to take half of the afternoon's takings.

As Flip and Binkle go home, Binkle observes with a chuckle that they'd been let off lightly.

Enid again left off the book in order to concentrate on having a good Christmas with Hugh. On January 1, 1925, she wrote the poem that serves as prelude to the book. Calling it 'Bill and Sandy Bunny' though by the time the book was published the title was Bad Bunnies:

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I suppose the last line reading 'BILL AND SANDY BUNNY!' would have worked just as well.

Enid then took a long break from her
Book of Bunnies, not coming back to it until May. In the meantime, other things need to be recorded. She devoted two of her weekly columns in Teachers World to the subject of happiness. On January 19 (published Jan 28), she wrote that she thought Happy People were the best in the world because they inspired other people to be likewise.

'The Happy People are such jolly, friendly get-at-able folk. The world seems such an exciting, adventurous place to them, and everything is “fun”. They love a tremendous lot of things and people, and people and things love them back. Flowers grow better for them than for most people. Birds, cats and dogs never think of being frightened. Strangers always do their best to help them. Little surprises and delights come their way, because people know they will be appreciated. It seems to me that the Happy person can’t help appreciating things. Delightful persons!'

She may not appear to be talking about herself, but then she says:

'They are in every walk of life. Some are creative, and paint, or make music, or write. Then they are, indeed, to be blessed, for their pictures preserve their happy outlook on life, and thousands of lookers-on feel it reflected momentarily in their own lives. Their books and music are always a delight, for their lovely spontaneity and laughing spirit wake an eager response in less fortunate folk. There is something irresistible and friendly about any product of theirs. It does more good to a person’s soul than a hundred cleverer and more brilliant products of any ordinary-natured creator of beauty.'

It becomes clear that Enid does have herself in mind as a Happy Person when she wrote 'Happiness' on February 9 (published Feb 18):

'When, a few weeks ago, I wrote about “Happy People”, I didn’t foresee the increase it would bring me in correspondence. Everybody does so want to be happy. The children are now, and seem delightfully sure of being so in the future. The grown-ups seem to feel that happiness, real springing happiness, is always tantalizingly just round the corner.

'It isn’t. It’s here “right now,” as the Americans say. You don’t need to look for it round any corner. Some people say it’s no good looking for it at all. They say it’s a by-product of other things. Well, I’ve been looking for it straight ahead all my life, and I’ve always found it. I don’t mean Content – though that is a very lovely thing – but real, proper, exultant happiness that makes you want to sing, and gives that lilt of the heart which is so well-known in childhood at the thought of some delightful treat!

'Happiness is simply an interest in, and a keen appreciation of, everything in life. A sense of humour doubles the ability to appreciate it.'


A few days later, on February 18, she wrote this:

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Overleaf:

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Enid is a fairy?. I thought she was a bunny called Flip. Stop flipping about, Enid. Are you a flipping bunny or a flipping fairy?

Come the beginning of May and she wrote three more Binkle and Flip chapters.

May 1 Binkle Tries To Be Funny 3,600
May 4 Binkle's Wonderful Picture 3,700
May 6 Binkle Tries To Be Good 3,150

The great thing being, that when I re-read
The Adventures of Binkle and Flip when I was fifty, ten years ago, I underlined precisely these three stories as being especially enjoyable. (The marks down the right-hand column only being made ten years later, when I embarked on this bit of research.)

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Why would that be? I think Enid, who had clearly been thinking hard about happiness, had realised just how strong the material was - how happy - and was exulting in its qualities and making a special effort to do herself justice.

'Binkle Tries to be Funny' opens with Flip coming back with the shopping to find Binkle sitting in a corner of the garden with a wet towel tied round his head.

"Binkle," cried Filp, "what's the matter? What have you got that towel tied round your head for? Have you hurt yourself?"
Binkle sniffed.
"Go away Flip," he said. "I'm writing poetry."


One might think that Enid had got her characters mixed up. After all, she was the writer. But Hugh was a writer as well. He had an article printed in the
Daily Mail in April 1924, and Enid had made a fuss about it in her diary. I dare say Hugh made a fuss about all the writing he did. And I've no doubt that he found it more difficult to write than Enid did. For Enid, writing was the easiest thing in the world. No need to tie a wet towel around Enid's head while the muse was with her!

Binkle reckons that if he flatters individuals in his poems, they will buy them from him. This proves to be the case, Dilly Duck buys hers, and spreads the word. Mowdie Mole does likewise. By the time Binkle writes a poem for Herbert Hedghog, he is beginning to show signs of overconfidence:

Herbert Hedgehog's a good old fellow,
He lives in a house that's painted yellow
His prickles are long and sharp and brown
He's very well known in oak Tree Town
He's rather fat and he's certainly funny.
This poem is written by Binkle Bunny.


The next poem, being a stream of sharp insults, enrages its recipient, Wily Weasel. But it's in writing a poem to commemorate a proposed visit of the King to Oak Tree Town that Binkle goes too far. He insults all the good people of the town and ends with:

The only persons in this town
Who're really worth your trip,
Are Binkle with his whiskers fine
And naughty little Flip.


Flip is scared to think of the impact the poem will have on the townsfolk when they hear it. Binkle reassures him that he's got a nice poem as well as a naughty poem, and its the nice one he'll read when the King comes. Alas, Binkle brings the wrong poem with him on the day, so its that one that gets read. He gets a spanking from Wily Weasel, but not a very hard one because by then Wily had read the respectable poem that Flip had hurried off to fetch.

"If you hadn't tried to be too clever, you'd have been a lot happier," said Flip, giving Binkle his lettuce.
And for once Binkle thought Flip was right.


Whereas the reader is thinking that Flip's wrong as usual. It was Binkle trying to be clever that always led to such hilarity!

'Binkle's Wonderful Picture' begins with Binkle waking up and trying to remember a dream he had had.

"I know!" he cried suddenly, banging the bedclothes, "I painted a wonderful picture!"
"Binkle!" shouted Flip angrily, waking up with a jump, "Stop hitting me!"
"You shouldn't be so near me, then," said Binkle.


Binkle goes on to explain that Rombo, the famous painter-Rabbit, told him it was the best picture he had ever seen. But Binkle couldn't see any picture at all.

Flip thought it was rather a silly dream, but it gives Binkle an idea. Binkle gets Flip to go and buy paints and easel and to put the word round that Binkle was painting something special. In fact, Binkle leaves the canvas blank, but he gets his cousin Rab the Bunny from Bracken Hill Town to dress up as Rombo and to declare in public that the picture is brilliant. The idea being that this will intimidate other people into pretending that they think the painting is brilliant too.

And this is exactly what happens. Everyone pays a penny to see the painting. No one dares look stupid by saying they can't make out anything. When prompted by Binkle, everyone comments on the blueness of the sky and the accuracy of all the figures painted. Herbert claims to like the painting so much that he buys it in return for six cabbages. Then when Binkle goes round to Herbert's house to admire his work, he expresses outrage that Herbert has washed the picture off the canvas. Herbert realises that Binkle has tricked him but can't say so, in order to save face.

So this is a story where Binkle ends up on top. With the folk of Oak Tree Town seen to be stupid!

And so to 'Binkle and Flip Try to Be Good'.

Binkle has got into trouble so often that he feels like turning over a new leaf. But he wonders what Flip will say.

He decided to tell him that night as they were getting ready for bed.
:Flip," he said solemnly, "what about being good for the rest of our lives?"
Flip brushed the hair on his long ears and sniffed scornfully.
"Don't try to be funny."
"But I mean it," said Binkle, rather cross with Flip's sniff.
Flip stopped brushing and stared at Binkle in surprise.
"But you couldn't be good, Binkle!" he said, at last.

There is something inspired about this set-up. Kathleen Dixon thought so as well, and one of only two colour images in the original book is this classic:

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Binkle and Flip try doing good deeds for Mowdie Mole and Herbert Hedgehog, but their neighbours are so suspicious that their actions are misinterpreted and go wrong. Binkle then gives up on being good, but Flip carries a sack of carrots for Brock Badger. Unbeknown to Flip, there is a hole in the sack, and Binkle gathers up the carrots as they fall out, one by one. When Brock realises the sack is nearly empty he blames a plot by Flip and Binkle and gives Flip a good shaking. When Flip gets back to Heather Cottage he comes across Binkle eating carrots and gives him a good shaking. Brock sees this, and so when he retrieves his produce he gives Flip a single big carrot for being good.

And that's it. The story is not as good as the sublime beginning. But then how could it be?

Enid may have thought she just needed one last chapter to complete her book of happiness. On May 13 she wrote 'Binkle gets his own Back', a 2,200-word story that doesn't make it into the book. And on May 21 she wrote 'Binkle Makes a Muddle'. Unusually, no wordage is associated with this piece. In any case it didn't make the book. However, on May 27, Enid wrote 'Binkle gets a Dreadful Shock', and this 2,200-word story makes for a suitable last chapter.

Binkle is at it again. He thinks that if the people of Oak Tree Town think that Flip has been captured by foxes who demand a ransom, then they will pay to get Flip's safe release. Flip is asked to hide in Cuckoo Wood while Binkle spreads the word. But the people of Oak Tree Town smell a rat and when Wily Weasel stumbles across Flip in Cuckoo Wood they realise what Binkle is up to. So Binkle is left a note suggesting that Flip really has been captured by foxes. What surprises the folk of Oak Tree Town is how upset Binkle is. He is willing to give himself up to the foxes if they will only let Flip go. And so the people of Oak Tree Town let Flip go.

Flip's paws were untied and he scampered to Binkle, who could hardly believe his eyes and hugged him as if he would squeeze him to death.

It's a nice note to end on. The depth of Binkle's love for Flip. His promise to the folk of Oak Tree Town to be good.

Actually, Enid ends the book in this way:

That's just six months ago, and as far as I know, Binkle has kept his word. But I am told he is already beginning to find it rather a nuisance to be good. So I shouldn't be at all surprised to hear that he and Flip have become bad bunnies once again.
I hope not, but if they do, you may be sure I'll let you know.


I'll end this story five months later, on September 23, 1925, when
The Enid Blyton Book of Bunnies was published by Hugh's firm, George Newnes Ltd. Earlier in the month, Birns Brothers had brought out four 'readers' by Enid, little books she had written between January and April of 1924. A re-writing of Brer Rabbit, a rewriting of Aesop's Fables and two books of her own stories. How lovely to have her own work juxtaposed with her own rewriting of Greek-Roman antiquity and a masterpiece from America's Deep South!

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Aesop's Fables includes the story of the tortoise and the hare, the over-confident hare being beaten in a race by the steadfast tortoise. And in one of the Brer Rabbit stories, Brer Rabbit is beaten in a race by Brer Terrapin, because the latter cleverly arranges to get the help of the rest of his family.

Hugh: "Pity you don't have Binkle and Flip racing turtles in your new book!"

Enid: "Oh, do you think I should have?"

Hugh: "I think the book is perfect as is."

Enid: "You're not just saying that, Bun? Like the folk in Oak Tree Town said what they did about Binkle's 'wonderful picture'.

Hugh: "No, Little Bun, this book of yours is as delightful as a book could be."

Enid: "Are you proud to have published it?"

Hugh: "This is how proud we are at Newnes to have published it:

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Enid: "Thank-you, Watson, I think that concludes another case."

Hugh: "I don't know how you do it, Holmes. Damned if I do!"

Enid: "Actually, I think I'm Watson, the writer up of the cases, but your Sherlock Holmes, the man who figures everything out."

Hugh: "Darling, I think you're Sherlock Holmes and Watson rolled into one. Just as you're Flip and Binkle, both. I'm just the ordinary bloke who is lucky to be allowed to kiss your sweet feet."

Enid: "Kiss them, then. Oh, Hugh, I'm
so happy!"