|Newspaper Title||Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||Studies in Bush Life. On a Gippsland Selection|
STUDIES IN BUSH LIFE.
ON A GIPPSLAND SELECTION.
BY A. MABEL STOCKS.
Oh, girls are girls, and boys are boys And have been so since Abel's birth. —Eugene Field. CHAPTER IV. The kitchen was cool, with shingled roof and cement floor. Hop vines outside on the
verandah shaded the window from the north- ern glare. " Graphic" illustrations papered the walls in Gippsland fashion, with plain newspaper where the pictorial supply had run out. " What a dinger shot," Geordie cried. " Viv., just look. There's a parrot waiting to be shot out there on the apricot tree. I guess it knows it's Sunday. Couldn't I take just one little shot ?" He looked longingly at the pea rifle prop- ped in a corner of the kitchen. " I'll just sight it to see if I could hit it." He took up the rifle, rested it on the win- dow sill, laid his head on one side, and sighted a flame of purple and crimson on the tree top. "Ee, couldn't I just—knock it to smither- eens—if I pulled the trigger—it might go off by accident. Shall I Vivien ?" " Judge for yourself, my son. What does your conscience say?" Geordie looked up with a laugh, then the rifle went back to its place with a derisive thump. Vivien and Geordie were used to keeping house together. Their's was a perfect com- radeship. Perhaps she loved him a little better than anyone else in the world, and he made no secret of the fact that she was his favorite sister. Mollie talked too much ; he saw enough of Effie going to school ; but " there's something about Vivien that a fel- low likes," he said. Geordie was just awakening to the mys- tery of the universe. He could not under- stand why, if the earth were round and he on the under side of it, he did not find him- self suddenly slipping and sprawling through space. As for the solar system, and further systems and the strange central Pleiades, he used to despairingly clutch his head when his small brain was distracted with talking and pondering over these questions. To-day something else was troubling his mind. He jumped off the table and ran out to the verandah. " There, now," he said, coming back, " there's a leatherhead I shot yesterday. I want to know where it's life went. It was in it, wasn't it ? And when the bullet made the hole in its head it came out." " Perhaps it came from the Fire of Life in "She," said Vivien, laughing, for Geordie was reading that exciting book. " No," he answered, thoughtfully, " that's too fabulous. It's queer though, I don't think I'd shoot them if they didn't eat the grapes and peaches." He threw the leatherhead out to the nine cats, which immediately cropped up from their shady resting places. Being baffled by the extent of his duty to his neighbor, he strolled into the front room and fingered Rousseau's Dream on the piano. He chased a fly over the window, and brought it, buzzing wildly, to bay in a corner. Then he saw a figure coming up the orchard path with a genuine Gippsland swing, dip and roll in its walk. Geordie scampered to the kitchen.
" Vivien, your sweetheart's coming." " You are not to speak to me like that," Vivien said, sternly. "Oh, I didn't say you were his sweetheart. I said he was yours." She did not appreciate the nice distinction. " Never mind what you said. It's not nice for little boys to talk to their elders in that way." " Now then, don't get your wool off." He patted her arm soothingly. " Tom is togged up in his Sunday best, and he's got a black bottle sticking out of his pocket and a paddy tie on, and he's coming to the front door be- cause it's Sunday. There he is—knocking." The doors were wide open from back to front. The big form of Tom Watts blocked the front one, but he politely had his back turned, and stared down at the garden. Still Vivien stepped back out of sight while she pulled down the sleeves of her blouse and linked the cuffs. Then she went up the linoleumed hall. " Good morning, Tom. How are you ? I'm very glad to see you," she said, to the big, round shoulders. Tom, caught napping, came round with a start. " Good mornin', Vivien." " You didn't think I could get out so after you knocked, did you ? But then, one is always tidy on Sunday morning," she said, smiling at him from the step. Tom murmured something that attempted to be a denial and yet not a fib. " Don't trouble, Tom," said Vivien. " I know so well myself you see that I can quite understand other people's minds. When I make a morning call. I always allow them five minutes' grace after my first knock. How did you know I was at home?" " Met your lot drivin' to church before they turned off on to the Miyallam-road. Mother, she's been makin' ras'b'ry vinegar." " Yes," said Vivien. " Dugald, he was tellin' me your ras'b'ries wasn't doin' much this year. We 'ad a grand crop. Tremendous ! Dad's a real dab at makin' fruit grow any weather. Well, dad, he says mother couldn't do better than send over a bottle of ras'b'ry vinegar"—Tom began extracting something that was a tight fit from his pocket—"to Mrs. Campbell." Then the tight fitting part of the bottle came out with a Jerk. Vivien thanked him. From behind came a sound of smacking lips. " I love raspb'ry vinegar. It's very good for the constitution, Tom, and highly es- teemed in this house," said Geordie's voice. " Hullo, old fellow. Like it, do you ? Well, you let me know when that there bottle's done, and I'll bring you another." Geordie sat on the step and nursed the bottle in his arms. Tom, by Vivien's invita- tion, took a verandah chair, and she leaned back in the hammock among the jessamine. " Couldn't we have a little afternoon tea. Viv?" said Geordie, mournfully, "I'm fam- ishing." " Afternoon tea in the mornin' ; ha, ha !" said Tom. " Well, I'm sure it seems afternoon, it was 5.30 when we had breakfast. Now then, Viv, don't you trouble, I'm going to get afternoon tea, besides it wouldn't be hos- pitable to let Tom go away without some- thing to eat." Tom was just a little uncertain whether Vivien was approving, but she was looking after her little brother with smiling tender- ness in her eyes. " Dear little rascal," she said, swinging gently in the hammock, and yielding her- self to the dreamy warmth and Sabbath quiet of the day. Far away a rooster crow- ed, the thrushes piped drowsily, and jack- asses gave half-asleep chuckles. There came a tinkle of cow bells from out on the road. One of the nine cats, ornamented with a black pattern on a white ground, walked in a businesslike way down the sunny box- bordered path, then stopped and gazed in an abstracted fashion out to whore the blue bills lay drowned in sunshine, quivering and dancing in the heat waves. Vivien liked better to listen than to talk. Tom generally, had some local news to out- pour, so she let him do the work, and she put in little attentive words here and there. He was a couple of years older than she. Their friendship dated from the old school days, when Vivien helped Tom with his arithmetic and parsing, and they halted be- hind the school porch to compare exercises. Very recently Tom had suddenly discover- ed Vivien to be the girl of all the world for him. She laughed at him, and liked him for his kind heart, but did not reciprocate his warmer feelings. They heard the rattle of the bread boiler lid, then presently Geordie appeared with the bread board, a loaf upon it, and the bread knife. These he set on the step, and departed down the passage with a bright spark in his eye. There next arrived three plates and knives. " I suppose we might open that bottle now," Geordie hazarded. Vivien thought it quite possible ; thereupon there came three tumblers and a corkscrew to the doorstep. " You would find a tray an immense sav- ing of labor," Vivien remarked, "and it would be much cosier on the linoleum." " Eh?" said Geordie, and his eyes were such that she wondered what was coming next. A thick paper bag of brown sugar under his arm, a can of golden syrup hanging in one hand, and a butter dish in the other— Vivien broke into laughter ; and Tom, though he had been endeavoring to maintain a po- lite indifference to the preparations, gave a little chuckle. The last articles were forced to overflow on the verandah floor, to give Geordie room to work. " Now, then," he said, eyeing the loaf with his head aside, and measuring with the knife the exact thickness of the slice, "I'm going to make each of you a most delicious concoction."
For the next few seconds there was a bit of genuine hard work. " What a horrible mess you're making of the loaf." said Vivien. Geordie shook with laughter. " Never mind." he said. "I'm denuding one of you of the crust, though." " I'm thinkin' it's a blessin' your mother ain't 'ome, young feller," said Tom, watch- ing interestedly. " She'd be givin' you pad- dy drumstick, I'm thinkin'." " Oh, no you wouldn't," Geordie answered. He spread butter generously, then a thick layer of golden syrup, and a plentiful sprinkling of brown sugar. Then—the lashes of his eyes wet with tears of laughter, but with a face of extreme gravity—he passed the plate with the sweet compound to Tom. " Geordie, don't cut a slice for me, be- cause I'll not eat it," said Vivien. " Ah, yes ; go on, do—just for fun." " Don't put any sugar on it, then." " Oh, you must have it all complete. There now, go on, Viv, do." As usual she humored him. He took his own slice in two hands, and ran his tongue round the edge to catch the little cascades of errant syrup. He bit into the crumb, and the silky horns of the crescent crust left sweet marks on his cheeks. " There," said Vivien, wiping her sticky fingers in her handkerchief. " I hope you are satisfied, laddie. It was the most atrocious thing I ever tasted." " Ah, no, delicious. Eh, Tom ?" " Well," said Tom, rubbing his hands and month in a voluminous red handkerchief. " It was very good, though I ain't over fond of sweet things. It's too extravagant for every day though. It 'ud make me mother's hair stand on end." Vivien had a sweet vision of Mrs. Watt's tightly screwed little knob, and the utter impossibility of it ever escaping from its bristling hair pins. She gave a little laugh. " Mother's a great 'and at bein' economical," Tom went on, glad to be amusing. " Not that she's stingy in the least, but she don't like waste." The conversation lagged a little then. Vivien tried to think of something to say, and was familiar enough with Tom not to be embarrassed by non-discovery. She sat with her eyes dreamily riveted on his green tie. " I'm very sorry," said Geordie, as he came to the door. " What for, old feller ?" " Very sorry to interrupt, but if Vivien wants to have the potatoes cooked by the time they get home from church she better be getting them on." She watched him down the orchard path. " Don't you ever walk like that, Geordie," she said stroking his hair. " I don't know, where's the good of being fash'nable and stuck-up?" " No good at all." She put her arms round him and kissed him. "Dear old chap." But Geordie reserved his kisses entirely for his mother. He drew himself away. " You're forgetting those potatoes again, I believe," he said. (To be continued.)