|Newspaper Title||The Dawn (Sydney, NSW : 1888 - 1905)|
|Trove Title||Green Peaches|
By LOUISA LAWSON.
GERTIE BROOKS picked herself up from the dust of the road and looked indignantly after the flying figure of a companion. It was that of a schoolmate who had accosted her under pretext of asking where she was going, but really for the purpose of giving her "last tip." This she did with such vigor that she succeeded in backing poor Gertie on to the top of a short stump at the side of the road, over which she tilted into the dust behind.
Gertie felt naturally indignant, but the day was too bright and she too happy to give much attention to her bruises, so, after a hurried dusting of her sleeves and skirts she bounded away to meet her playmates at the
It was Saturday, and a glorious Saturday into the bargain. No school, no work, no lessons, no baby to mind, and the whole afternoon to herself. What healthy girl of twelve could fail to be happy under
such fortunate circumstances ?
A short cut across the small village square, a run down a narrow by way, and over a paddock of rubbish heaps brought her to the park by the river bank, the meeting place arranged for on the previous day.
A gleeful shout greeted her appearance, and the happy gathering scampered away through the long grass that grew by the river. They climbed, they paddled, they screamed at clinging leaches and caterpillars, they cap- tured locusts, collected pretty pebbles and scattered them, found flowers and reeds and lost them, chewed dock and sorrel and ate yams ; till at last, like a flock of geese, they went flying up the river path followed by Willie James, who held a huge crayfish by the back,
while its greiat cruel claws went reaching out in an awful anxiety for everything and anything.
" Oh, the horrid thing. Throw it away !" shrieked the flying girls.
'Oh, you cruel boy, Willie James," cried Gertrude severely. " Put it back into the water at once."
" One word for grabby and two for yourself. Here I come !" shouted the incorrigible Willie,.
"I'll write to Miss Levy, and have you put in the ' Band of Mercy Journal,' f or cruelly to animals," said Cissie Mears, boldly. " See if I don't."
"Ah, don't?" said Willie, entreatingly. "Here I come." And away flew the girls, shrieking again.
" Aren't boys cruel ?" gasped Flo Casey, indignantly, coming to a sudden stop, "Look here, girls, let's make a bold stand and defy him."
But before the words were well out of her mouth the
great kicking crayfish came sprawling through the air and fell on the path in the midst of them.
Another stampede followed, which brought the party up to old Mrs. Blackman's orchard fence. They squeezed through a little division which extended from the lower corner down into the water. There was
practically no thoroughfare there, but as the question of who should claim any portion of land lying between high and low water mark had been an open one for years the children took French leave and ran along the path on the river bank leading from one fence to the other. When about half way through the girls came upon Tom Brown and Jim Jones, who had climbed the Bleak House fence proper, and were pulling large, hard, green peaches from a tree which slightly overhung the fence at
the bottom of the Bleak House orchard.
"Oh, you naughty boys," exclaimed Gertie, in dis- may. " That is stealing."
" Shut up," came from the boys.
"You'll be shut up in gaol, every one of you," said Flo Casey threateningly.
"Take that," said Jim, and a trio of hard peaches came bouncing down upon the crown of her hat.
Flo stooped and picked them up. She had not tasted a peach for months, and the temptation to take just one little taste was great.
" Oh, don't bite it,'' implored Gertie. "It is not yours, and you are breaking the commandments."
But her companion was powerless to answer, for the peach had slipped whole into her mouth, and she was endeavouring with great facial contortions to reduce the bulk of it by rasping the sides with her back teeth.
"Oh, I'm going," cried Gertie uneasily. "What would Miss Taylor say ?"
Just then the boys, with bulging pockets, came backing down from the fence, and the garden hat of Mrs. Blackman could be distinctly seen on the rising ground inside the orchard.
"A narrow squeak that," said Tom breathlessly. " But the old lady is very near sighted, and I am sure doesn't know who we are, so slick out and get away np to old Tarrant's melon garden. Willie Mitchell says he is giving them away for nothing."
"Let him," said Jim. "Didn't he give us leave last season, and we thought he was getting good, but it was a sell. The frost had been on them and they nearly killed us. No more frost bitten melons and castor oil for me, thank you. '
"Yes," and he preaches, too," said Flo Casey, orac- ularly.
" Look out for snakes, " shouted the barefooted leader over his shoulder as the party dashed down the deep cool path through the ferns and docks which led to the
Over the stepping stones they went and down the opposite bank towards the deep waterhole.
Here they caught tailors till it was time to start home,
but unhappily, on reaching the stepping stones, whom should they see waiting to receive them, with book and pencil in hand, but old Mrs. Blackman !
Gertie Brooks was the last, but her heart sank with fear as she heard the lady in a determined voice demand
the name of the first.
" Billy Leonard," said Tom glibly.
The old lady wrote this down, and glancing severely at Flo, made a second demand.
" Athalantus Gawthorpe, mam,'' said wicked Flo, meekly.
Gertie shuddered as she heard every one of her com- panions follow Tom's dishonourable example, and all eyes were turned upon her as she said in a clear, calm voice, "Gertie Brooks."
"Oh, the mug !" muttered Tom, in sotto voice.
" Now, then," said the old lady, "do you know what I intend to do ? I mean to write all these names in
large letters and hang them upon the wall of the Sunday School so that everyone can see."
"The mean old thing," said Flo Casey, "to ask us what Sunday School we went to. And I told her the truth, too."
"Yes," said Tom, "and our mothers will see to if that we go."
" What ever ails the child ? ' said Gertie's mother per- plexedly. "I never knew her so trying. I have been an hour if a minute getting her ready for Sunday School this morning."
" Whatever is the matter?" she said anxiously, as she pulled her little daughter's hands down from her hot face. " Can't you tell me what ails you? Answer me, Gertie?" she exclaimed at the end of her patience.
This capped the climax, and Gertie burst into tears.
"There," said her mother, "a nice object you will be for Sunday School, won't you ? Are you ill, Gertie?''
"No-o." was the prompt reply.
" Then have you lost anything ?"
'Well go, or you will be late."
Gertie went out the gate and down the street towards the small village chapel reluctantly. She was met at the porch by the superintendant, ever on the lookout for lagging pupils. She entered her class with downcast eyes, and remained looking down for the rest of the lesson. She had quite forgotten her tasks and was so nervous and restless that her teacher said she was sure she was going to be ill, as she had never seen Gertie so inattentive before. She was one of her show scholars
and was always up to time with her lessons. Toward the end of the meeting she glanced apprehensively round and seemed relieved and better afterwards, although the absence of her companions of yesterday seemed to puzzle her not a little.
" Do you know why Flo Casey, Cissie Mears, Tom Brown, Jim Jones, and Willie James are not in class this morning?" asked her teacher towards the end of the
Gertie, visibly agitated, replied in the negative.
" Strange," remarked Miss Taylor, " I never knew so many of them to be away at one time before."
Gertie made no reply, but took another swift and searching glance round the walls as she passed out of the schoolroom.
It was not until later, when on her way home from afternoon class, that the reason of her companions' abs- sence was made known to her in an unexpected way. As she was passing a pretty cottage at the corner of the street a door opened ever so little and a slender finger beckoned her, accompanied by a soft " Get rude."
Geitie knew this to be Miss O'Brien's way of pro- nouncing her name, so she readily turned in at the gate in answer to the call.
Miss O'Brien was the eldest of three sisters, at whose house Gertie was at home. The three girls, Margaret, Bridget, and Mary, were dressmakers, and were kept very busy. In fact, being near Christmas, they were unusually so, and, in consequence, had tumbled into bed at midnight for a week or more. This left them tired and disinclined to dress and go out on Sunday , so, being lonely, they were glad to have Gertie's company to help to shorten the afternoon. Gertie ran messages and did all small services for the Misses O'Brien during the week, for which she received odd bits of millinery, silks, velvets, dolls' pieces, and not infrequently sweets and even sixpences.
" Sing something, Get rude," Miss O'Brien suggested lazily.
'Do sing," the others added.
Gertie blushed and declared she couldn't. ' Try," said Miss Margaret.
Gertie shook her head in great embarrassment. She felt too miserable to sing.
"Oh, you might as well," Miss Bridget said, coax-
Still Gertie declined.
" I'll tell you what," said the vivacious Mary, " there is half a pot of black currant jam in the pantry. We will give it to you if you do. Come, just one."
This proved too much for Gertie. She was very fond of black currant jam, so she hesitated.
" What shall I sing ? ' she said.
"There is a Happy Land," suggested Miss Mary, promptly.
Gertie looked at her for an instant. She never could tell whether Miss Mary was in earnest, or only poking
fun at her. But she had little time to deliberate, as the was gently pushed behind the door, a position stipulated
She had nervously managed the first verse when a peremptory knock sounded upon the front door.
Miss O'Brien was hastily putting the pot of preserves into Gertie's hand and whispering, "Come in again at 5 o'clock, dear, and finish the hymn and have some tea with us," when the sound of old Mrs. Blackman's voice paralysed the child.
"Oh, you are here, are you?" she said in a severe
"Yes," said Miss O'Brien, putting a protecting arm round the agitated girl's shoulders, and drawing her to herself, " she is our good little friend. The best we
have in the world."
" The best," gasped their visitor. "Then all I can say is that bad, very bad, is the best."
" I don't understand you," said Miss O'Brien, draw-
Continued on page 24.
BY LOUISA LAWSON.
(Continued from page 20.)
ing the now trembling child closer to her. " How can
she be bad !"
"How?" exclaimed the old lady. "By fibbing, stealing, and keeping bad company."
" None of these, I am sure, she does," said her friend
" What is your right name ?" said the lady in a softer tone, noticing Gertie's agitation and pallor for the first
"Gertie Brooks," was the answer.
" Yes, but they all gave me their wrong names,'' said
the old lady.
" I did not," said Gertie, a little warmly. " I gave you my real name. I would not tell tell a lie, although you have told Miss O'Brien that I would."
The thought of losing her friends' love overcame her
and she burst into tears.
" Don't cry," said the old lady, " but tell me this — Why are you not ill in bed, like all the rest."
" Because," almost shrieked Gertie, hysterically,"I —never—ate—your—green—peaches."
"I am afraid a great wrong has been done you, child," said her tormentor, "but you have at any rate escaped the awful suffering that your companions are enduring. They must have eaten a large quantity of the unwholesome things. I'll have the tree cut down immediately, and avoid a repetition of this bother,
at any rate."
"Oh, don't cut it down now," pleaded Gertie, " with all those beautiful peaches upon it."
Mrs. Blackman deliberated a moment.
" Well, then, Gertie," she said, " I will agree not to have it cut down upon one condition, and that is that you accept the full crop when ripe in compensation for
the wrong done you. '
" And I will accept your generous offer upon one condition also," replied the child.
" Very well, I agree, whatever it is." cheerfully re-
sponded the lady.
"It is that you allow my companions to come with me into your orchard and eat them under the
" Very well then, little girl," smilingly responded the
So it transpired that upon a lovely Saturday afternoon a few weeks later that a well dressed and orderly gather- ing sat down under the peach tree to a lovely fuuit
luncheon and dainty cakes, with glasses of milk supplied
by the now pleasant and friendly owner of the Old Peach Tree. And better still, an invitation was given to each and all present to meet in a similar gathering annually upon the same date.
They broke up with hearty cheers for Mrs. Blackman,
who cordially shook hands at parting, and addressed
each little visitor this time by his or her proper name.