Paul T. Gilbert

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Bertram and the Hippopotamus

by Paul T. Gilbert, Illustrations by Minnie H. Rousseff
published in Child Life Magazine, March 1932
and in Bertram and his Funny Animals

Once there was a little boy named Bertram. And he wanted a hippopotamus. He wanted a hippopotamus very much. And so he teased his mamma for a hippopotamus. "Mamma," he'd say, "I want a hippopotamus."

"But you can't have a hippopotamus," his mamma would tell him. "It's out of the question."

"But, Mamma, I want a hippopotamus."

"Now, you run along," she'd say, "and stop teasing. You can't have a hippopotamus, and that settles it. If you ask me for a hippopotamus again, you can't have any gooseberry tarts for supper."

Bertram liked gooseberry tarts, so he stopped teasing.

But one day, when he was walking down Elm Street, he saw a hippopotamus. He tied a string to it and wheeled it home in his wagon.

And he kept the hippopotamus in the basement because he didn't want his folks to know he had a hippopotamus. He tied it up behind the coal bin.

Then he went upstairs to supper. And he was eating his gooseberry tarts when he heard a funny squeaky noise. It went, "Wee-eek, wee-eek, wee-eek."

And Bertram's mamma asked, "What is that funny squeaky noise?" But Bertram did not answer. "I hope it isn't mice," said Bertram's mamma.

Afterwards, when Bertram went to bed, he heard the squeaky noise again. It went, "Wee-eek, wee-eek, wee-eek," all night. And nobody knew what it was.

The next morning before breakfast Bertram went downstairs to see his hippopotamus. And it began to squeak. And Bertram asked, "Was that you who was squeaking last night?"

And the hippopotamus said, "Yes," and began to squeak some more.

"What are you squeaking like that for?" Bertram asked.

"Because you didn't give me any supper and it's time for breakfast now."

"Well, if you'll stop squeaking," Bertram said, "I'll bring you down your breakfast."

So, instead of eating his mush, he stuffed it into his pocket for the hippopotamus. And he stuffed some pancakes into his pocket, too, and a hot soft-boiled egg. He didn't eat a thing himself, but gave his breakfast—even the soft-boiled egg, which broke—to the hippopotamus. But the hippopotamus said, "Huh! Is this all you brought me? I can eat lots more than this." And it began squeaking again.

It began squeaking very loud.

So Bertram said, "Now you stop squeaking, and when I come home from school, I'll give you all my lunch."

When he came home from school, instead of eating his peanut butter sandwiches and spinach, he stuffed everything into his pocket for the hippopotamus. His mamma thought that he was eating, but all he really ate was just a little soup because he couldn't put that in his pocket. Then he went down to the basement with his lunch.

But the hippopotamus just said, "Huh! Is this all you brought? I can eat lots more than this."

And Bertram said, "Don't squeak, and I'll give you a nice dinner."

When he came home from school that afternoon, Bertram was just awfully hungry, because he hadn't had a thing for breakfast and only a plate of soup for lunch. Everything else had gone down the hippopotamus. So he asked his mamma, "Mamma, may I have a cracker? I'm just awfully hungry."

But his mamma said, "No, Bertram; not now. It isn't good for you to eat between meals."

But Bertram said, "I'm not eating between meals. Can't I have just one?"

So Bertram's mamma gave him one cracker, and he ate it.

When dinner time came, they had no end of things that Bertram liked. They had mince pie and apple dumplings and baked beans, and they had angel cake and beefsteak. And they had nice, juicy ham. Bertram was so hungry that he forgot about the hippopotamus, and he was just going to bolt a big mouthful of the juicy ham when that terrible squeaky noise was heard again. And Bertram's mamma said, "What is that squeaky noise? I do hope it's not mice." But Bertram's daddy said it sounded as if something needed oiling.

Of course, when Bertram heard it, he didn't eat a bit of ham, but stuffed it all into his pocket for the hippopotamus and passed his plate for more. His daddy said, "What an appetite Bertram is getting! I never saw him eat so much."

"Yes," his mamma said, "he eats like a pig."

But all this time poor Bertram wasn't eating anything. When they passed the pie, he stuffed that into his pocket because he was afraid the hippopotamus would squeak. And the apple dumplings and the angel cake and the beefsteak, he stuffed all those into his pocket, too, and got up from the table hungrier than ever. Then he flew downstairs to make the hippopotamus stop squeaking.

"Huh! Is that all?" said the hippopotamus. I can eat lots more than that. For breakfast I should like some hay."

The hippopotamus swallowed the nice dinner all in one gulp, and Bertram, seeing it vanish, began to cry.

He couldn't sleep that night because he was so hungry. Once he started to get up and sneak into the pantry for a cracker, but his mamma, thinking she heard burglars, said, "Who's there?" and looked under the bed.

The next morning Bertram felt as if he hadn't eaten anything for a whole year. And they had waffles for breakfast, but Bertram didn't dare to eat any for fear the hippopotamus would squeak. And it did squeak. So Bertram stuffed the waffles in his pocket, syrup and all.

And his daddy said, "How that boy is eating!"

"It's a wonder he doesn't burst," said Bertram's mamma. "He's a regular glutton."

But Bertram couldn't have burst if he had wanted to, and when he got up from the table, he was just awfully hungry. He wanted to take one of the waffles out of his pocket and eat it, but he knew that if he did the hippopotamus would squeak. So he fed all the waffles to the hippopotamus.

That day at school Bertram couldn't remember his lessons because he was so empty. And his teacher stood him in a corner. When he came home, Bertram was crying.

And his mamma said, "What are you crying for now? If you don't stop this instant, you can't have gooseberry tarts for luncheon."

Bertram fed the gooseberry tarts to the hippopotamus and went back to school. And the teacher stood him in the corner again for not knowing his lessons.

He came home to find his mamma frying doughnuts in deep fat and they smelled simply delicious. "Mamma, can't I have a doughnut? Can't I have just ONE?" asked Bertram.

But his mamma said, "No. It isn't good to eat between meals. You will spoil your appetite."

Then Bertram began to cry again because he hadn't had a thing to eat, except a cracker and a plate of soup, since day before yesterday, and he was just awfully hungry.

But his mamma said that if he didn't stop immediately, he would have to go to bed without his supper. "And maybe it will do you good," she said, "the way you have been stuffing yourself lately."

So Bertram winked his eyes to keep the tears from falling out. He could hardly wait for supper time, although he knew he'd have to give his food to the hippopotamus. The doughnuts made Bertram's mouth water, especially the doughnut man that his mamma had made, and it hurt when he had to stuff that into his pocket for the hippopotamus. And his daddy saw him doing it, but didn't say anything.

So, after prayers, he took the doughnuts to the hippopotamus and said, "There, you old thing!"

But the hippopotamus only said, "Huh! This all you got? You'd better bring me hay tomorrow or I'll squeak."

"No, please don't squeak, Mr. Hippopotamus," said Bertram.

When Bertram went to bed that night, he just didn't know what to do. He knew that if he didn't eat, he couldn't live, and that if he did eat, the miserable hippopotamus would squeak.

It squeaked some more at breakfast time, and Bertram's daddy said, "I'm going to see what it is that needs oiling in the basement."

Now Bertram was afraid that if his daddy went down cellar, he would find the hippopotamus, and so he said, "No, daddy. Nothing needs oiling. I looked yesterday."

"What is it then," the daddy asked, "that makes that awful squeaky sound?"

"Maybe it's a—a hippopotamus," said Bertram.

"A hippopotamus—nonsense!" said Bertram's mamma "All that boy can think about is hippopotamuses."

But it was a hippopotamus, and when Bertram's daddy went down cellar, he found it. "Hello! here's a hippopotamus," he said.

And the hippopotamus said, "Hey! Have you got any hay?"

The daddy said, "what! Didn't Bertram give you any hay?"

And the hippopotamus said, "No, he just gave me mush and pancakes and an egg that was all squashed, and angel cake and ham, and I'm just awfully hungry." And the hippopotamus began to cry.

"So that's where all your food has been going?" said the daddy to Bertram. "There, there! Stop your crying, both of you." (For Bertram had started up, too.) "Run upstairs and tell your mamma to give you some more breakfast. I'll go and buy some hay."

And Bertram ate thirty-nine pancakes, and the hippopotamus ate three bales of hay.

Then Bertram's daddy sold the hippopotamus for $29 and bought Bertram a new suit of clothes.

And Bertram never teased his mamma for a hippopotamus again.