|Chapter Title||UNDER THE GREENWOOD.|
|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 VI.— UNDER THE GREEN- WOOD.
The two girls were down by the creek. Tall tree-ferns rose high, and waved their green crowns over them. The slender, dark brown stems, like pillars, stretched away in shady aisles.
The lightwoods above darkened the green shadows, and shook little flutters of early, red pods among the wild confusion of fallen fern stems, green with moss, and half de- cayed. The earth was soft and spongy with moss. Dead fronds from the withered necklaces of the tree ferns were scattered on it. Mosqui- toes were well in evidence. Mollie sat on one of the mossy trunks, and worked her tray-cloth. Vivien sketched a group of sheep that were resting in the shade of a cluster of tree-ferns, on the sun- stricken hill-slope. The old ram, his big horns curling over his ears, suddenly stood erect in stately watchfulness. " Oh, he is bonny," Vivien said, hastily perpetuating him. "Why ever didn't he stand like that before ?" " Some one's coming, I think. Oh, yes, It's Gwen Delaney." Gwen came down the springy, dead brack- en of the hill-slope. She tripped on one of the brown knobs that we're all that Dugald's ruthless slasher allowed to remain of many tree-ferns. " And her boots were number nine," Vivien hummed. " Mollie, she had better keep her hat on while she's in here, or we shall have these dead fronds blazing." " Hush, hush, Vivien, she'll hear you," Mollie whispered, laughing, but anxious. Vivien felt a sudden start of fear lest Gwen should have heard, therefore she said with even more than her usual sweetness, " Hullo, Gwen, how are you ?. I'm glad to see you. However did you the the way down here ?" " Your ma told me you was down here," she said, seating herself on the trunk by Vivien's side. She clasped her hands round her knee, and stared with her sombre eyes at the sketch. " Those sheep look like real," she said. " You've got those ferns exactly. I wish I could paint. I love Nature and ferns and trees." Vivien thought she detected in Gwen's praise a relenting toward herself. She made haste to secure the advantage by apprecia- tion of Gwen in return. " I'm sure you could paint, Gwen," she said. " I know it by the way you look about
you. Perhaps it's all in your brain, ready made. Take the brush, and try." Gwen shrank back, frowning. " No," she said, " I don't know how to do it." " Ah, but do try. We might be on the track of a wonderful discovery." Gwen made a few ineffectual dabs, not in the least indicative of genius. " It ain't no good, I tell you. I can't do it." Her eyes were sadder than ever. Mollie could not stand It. " Have you done any fancy work lately, Gwen ?" she asked. " Look at this lovely pat- tern Ella sent me. You can go shares in it if you like, and we'll cut out the Allonby and Marsh girls." Gwen brightened. " It's awfully pretty," she said. "I'm mak- ing a couple of anchors now, one silver and the other gold for my cousin ; she's goin' to be married in February. But dad and me have to do all the work, and there ain't much time for fancy work. I was slashing scrub this morning, and the two don't go together. Perhaps when the winter evenings come on." " What a pity you haven't got a brother, Gwen, to do the heavy work," Vivien said, sympathetically. " We ought to lend you Dugald—— " " Mollie ! Mol-lie !" thundered that same young gentleman's voice down the hill. " Now what does he want ?" Mollie said, regretfully. " Don't go, he can't want much ; it's no- where near cow time," Vivien said. "He might." " Let him come down unless he's ill." " It don't sound like it anyhow," Gwen said. " Mollie !" came over the hill. " I'm going, anyhow," said Mollie. "Good- bye, Gwen, if you go before I come back, and you shall have this pattern as soon as I've done with it." Gwen's eyes followed her admiringly up the sunburnt slope. She liked Mollie. A little embarrassment fell on her, left alone with Vivien without a mediating third. She watched the long, supple fingers that held the brush, and tried to think of something to say that would smooth the way for a not too abrupt departure. Vivien, strong in her determination to make Gwen like her, chatted pleasantly und easily. " Gwen, let me paint your eyes," she said, suddenly. Given colored angrily through her freckles. " Not much," she said. "Why don't you say you want to paint my hair, and make a picture of the whole of me and show it to— Tom Watts ?" Gwen was not learned in educated re- serve. The whole of her heart had a trick of suddenly leaping into the view of profane eyes. " Why, Gwen, " I never said a thing about your hair but your eyes are so beautiful— enough to make other unblessed mortals wild with envy." Gwen seemed thawing, but Vivien's eyes suddenly sparkled wickedly. " No, not your hair, Gwen, because ——" " Well, because what ?" Gwen demanded, instantly on the defensive. " Because vermilion is a rather expensive paint," Vivien said, and repented instant- ly. But Gwen was blind to the penitent appeal in Vivien's eyes. Her temper had taken fire. She stood erect. " Which is vermilion ?" she demanded, de- laying the storm for a moment. Vivien squeezed a little vandyke brown from a tube. " What do you say to that ?" she said. Gwen exclaimed incredulously. Vivien point- ed to a patch of glowing red on the palette. Then the storm broke. " I'd like to know," she blazed, " I'd like to know, Vivien Campbell, if, because some people have got everythink it gives them a right to insult them that haven't nothink. You pretend to be a lady and an artist, but you've got to milk as many cows as me. If I could paint and didn't have red hair I'd be ashamed to make personal remarks to people, anyhow. You needn't be so stuck up and conceited"— Vivien's head went back —"you're nothink to be conceited about. I may be a pumpkin 'ead, but I know that stealin's disgraceful, and there's other kinds of stealin' than takin' people's property." Gwen found words coming to her tongue which she knew by heart, having aforetime favored Vivien with them in imaginary inter- views. " What on earth ——— " began Vivien. " Don't try and make out you don't know. I consider you're dishonorable." Then Gwen, realising that she had over- stepped the bounds of that politeness due to a girl on her own ground and under her own tree ferns, scrambled precipitately to the sunshine. Vivien threw down her sketch-block, and dropped her brush into the paint box. She followed quickly ; but a withered, dangling fern frond caught her hair. She disen- tangled it with a slow patience that beto- kened overwhelming haste, then went out into the hot sun, reckless of sunstroke. Gwen had nearly reached the old bridge. Vivien did not wish to run for dear dignity's sakc. " Stop a minute !" she called Gwen trudged on. " Stop !" Gwen turned defiantly, balancing herself on one of the supporting beams that were all that was left of the bridge. The cross- slab were fallen into the rushes and cracked mud of the creek bed. " I should like to know what you meant by what you said," Vivien demanded, as she came to the other log, anger in her face. " Just what I did say." " You've no right to say such things when you can't prove them," Vivien said, slowly. " You speak so vaguely. What did you call me that for?"
Hot color rushed over Gwen's face. " Because you're a heartless flirt," she said. Vivien looked too astonished to be angry. " Gwen, I never flirted in my life. I don't think it's nice ; and I shouldn't know how to, besides." " Oh, don't you, though ?" " I do not. Who is there to flirt with ? Tom Watts ?" Vivien laughed, innocently, as if she thought Gwen, too, must see the joke. " Gwen, I tell you plainly I don't know what you mean. You're too metaphorical for me ; but unless you can control your temper you'd better not come here. I beg your pardon if I hurt your feelings just now. Good afternoon." Gwen turned and went up the little track that led over the paddocks to the road. Clusters of sheep ran from her, and turned to watch behind the logs. Vivien went back to the shady ferns, and painted a while with her mouth set firmly. Suddenly her whole face softened. She leaned back against the rough brown stem of a fern, and thoughtfully bit the end of her brush. " Poor soul, I'm afraid she's very un- happy," she said to the yellow robins. The look in Gwen's eyes stayed with her hauntingly. (To be continued.)