By the same author
|© Copyright 2003-2009 K S Mulholland|
Chapter 13 - Please don't snack on the wafers.
Monique and Priscilla were both shocked and speechless. They were lying on the grassy bank of Hedgeley Dene lake, water draining from their sodden jeans and joggers, a drowned girl that they had both tried to save only meters from them, and here was someone, pushing through the crowd, who was accusing them of trying to kill the child.
'I saw them!' said their red-faced accuser, who was about the same age as the girls. 'They were holding her under. Then they dragged her back, pretending to save her! They did it!'
Everyone seemed frozen to the spot except for Barry Garland, who kept working away until, moments later, a wailing ambulance hurtled up, swerving over the green lawn without hesitation; the gathered people parting like the Red Sea. Paramedics leapt from the vehicle bearing oxygen resuscitation equipment and were by the still girl's side in seconds. Then there followed a kaleidoscope of images, actions and reactions, all so swiftly that Priscilla and Monique were hard-pressed later to relate the events in logical order. The inert body of the child suddenly choked back into life: coughing and retching, desperately striving for life-giving air. The onlookers around the group fell back, momentarily uncertain, then filled with joy at the saving of a life. A woman burst from the rear, screaming out the name of her child, 'Nisha! Nisha!'
People were brushed aside, others held back by restraining arms. Many more were pouring in to gawk and generally get in the way. Both Priscilla and Monique were buffeted by the feet and legs of those too stupid to be more than obstacles to the ambulance staff who, no matter what, did their work with absolute efficiency. The tiny figure of the girl was swiftly borne into the ambulance, together with her mother and another older girl, probably her sister, and driven away, sirens blaring and lights activated.
'Well you two, what have you got to say for yourselves?' demanded Sonia Poe, bringing her severe gaze to bear upon Priscilla and Monique. Suddenly there was a gallery of faces peering at the pair, and every one of them was hostile. Even Barry Garland, who was now on his feet, stared down at them with contempt, as if they had already been found guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt.
'I...that is...we...' Priscilla shook her head in disbelief. 'We tried to save her!' she managed, tears springing to her eyes. 'We didn't...'
'There is a girl here who says she saw you pushing that small child's head under water. Why would she make that up?' demanded Sonia Poe.
'Head Mistress, we only heard her scream, and when we got here she was already in the water. We jumped in to pull her out!' said Monique emphatically, and Priscilla could see by the way that Monique struggled to her feet, that she was not about to be bullied by anyone.
'Young Lady!' said Sonia Poe, and now she was not the rather jolly person that Priscilla had thought she might be, 'I am not your Head Mistress, yet! And perhaps I shall not be at all, Miss Black!'
'I am not Miss Black,' Monique replied coolly, 'even if that is my colour. You mistake us, she is Miss Black,' she gestured toward Priscilla, 'I am Miss Bateleur!'
There was a moment's silence as Sonia Poe realised her mistake then, gathering steam again, she said, 'Be that so, you both are still accused...'
'Pardon me,' said a soft voice from amongst the onlookers.
Faces turned and people moved aside as a figure emerged between them. He was tall, and Rachael Black, (if she had been there) might have called him rather regal. (in an Oriental way) He was dressed in a pale cream suit and at his side was a girl of Priscilla and Monique's age. 'I believe that I may be of some assistance here,' he said, in a voice that seemed to have the faint ringing of bell-chimes in it.
'Yes, and who might you be, Sir?' said Miss Poe, slightly reddened after her gaff about Monique.
'I am the person who witnessed the entire situation with these two young ladies,' he replied in the same liquid voice. 'I happened to be standing not very far away from them at the moment when they heard the child cry out and I saw these two girls run to her assistance. They did, indeed, plunge into the waters and draw her to the bank. And in so doing, I am certain, helped to save her life.'
'But what about the girl who said that they had been trying to drown...' Barry Garland looked around the sea of faces, 'where is she? Come forward Young Lady!'
There was a muttering amongst the crowd, but the girl did not appear.
'It would seem the accuser has decided not to take this matter any further,' said the tall person, a faint smile playing at the corners of his mouth. 'I believe that this belongs to you,' he continued looking down at Priscilla, who hadn't moved. 'You dropped it when you ran to the rescue. He handed the car rug to the girl standing beside him saying, 'Give this to your new school friend, as I am sure she shall be. Miss Priscilla, may I present my ward Tsu.'
Tsu took the rug and wrapped it about Priscilla's legs. Both she and Monique were beginning to shiver and even though the afternoon was still warm this was not unusual, considering that they had been up to their necks in water and were suffering mildly from shock. Someone else in the crowd produced another rug and this was quickly wrapped around Monique's shoulders.
'Your name is?' queried the Headmistress, now somewhat more apologetic towards the stranger.
'I am Jien Fon and this is Tsuang Tsu. We arrived here in these gardens only a short while ago and had not the opportunity to meet you earlier. Unfortunately my business interests in the city kept us away. Oh,' he added, turning to the girls and handing Monique a business card, 'I think that you both deserve a reward for your endeavours. Please come to the Green Dragon for a meal on Tuesday evening at seven. You may bring your parents along.' He gave a slight bow.
'My parents are not here in Melbourne,' said Monique, a little shakily.
Fon nodded, almost imperceptibly, the same smile hovering around his mouth. 'Quite so,' he said.
When Mathew Black, with Henry hustling at his side, arrived on the scene most of the crowd had dispersed and only a huddle of adults, mainly Hopewell Hall staff, were clustered about the two girls.
'What's happened? What's going on here?' shouted Mathew, breaking into a run as he saw Priscilla and Monique both standing, wrapped in car rugs.
'Mister...er...Black, is it?' said a tall, thinish woman, striding forward. 'I'm Sonia Poe, Headmistress of Hopewell Hall. Do not be alarmed, everything is under control.'
'I'm so sorry about the car rug Dad,' Priscilla called out. 'It's a bit wet and muddy. Me and Monique will wash it ou...' Half way through the word, Priscilla fainted.
Less than a minute later she opened her eyes to find her father and several other people bending anxiously over her.
'I think she's coming round,' said a fairy-like voice that resolved itself into the presence of Roger Dance.
'Who else could it be in that revolting pink shirt,' came a thought, swimming in and out of Priscilla's muzzy head.
'It's alright Sweetheart, you'll be fine, just got to get you both back home,' said Mathew, gently lifting her.
The rest became something of a blur. Priscilla closed her eyes, partly because she still felt wobbly and partly because she felt the need to avoid what was happening around her. She could hear Henry questioning Monique, and other voices speaking over each other, and she hoped that they might all go away, if only for a little while.
'It's been a big day,' said a voice that was Priscilla's granny Amelia. 'How are you feeling now Dear?'
Priscilla snuggled into the arms surrounding her. 'I'm O.K. I suppose...Monique? Where is she ? Is she alright? What happened? What about the little girl? Is she alive? Who was that tall man and the girl with him? Are we still going to school...'
'Slow down Priscilla, I am here with you,' came a caramel reply that could only be Monique.
Priscilla lifted her head from her granny's embrace and found the broad grin of her friend, her BlackEagle friend, confronting her. 'Oh Monique! Granny, tell me what's been happening?'
'Well for a start, you're home and in your bed,' said Amelia, smoothing the sheets and allowing Monique to take her place as she stood up. 'And as for your other questions, I'll leave them for Monique to answer. I have to get downstairs and talk with Mathew.'
'Your Father has been on the phone, talking to the Alfred Hospital where the little girl was taken. She is going to be fine. Her Mother, Mrs. Upaday is very grateful to you and me, and said to give you a hug.' Without hesitation Monique leaned across the covers and drew Priscilla into an embrace and for a few moments they hugged each other in silence then Monique, drawing back and looking into Priscilla's hazel eyes, said, 'Miss Poe told your Father that she would like to speak with us on Friday before enrolment and that we are to report to her office at eight-thirty.'
'What's she going to do, tell us off for spoiling the picnic?' said Priscilla petulantly. Then as an afterthought she added, 'Anyway, did the little girl say what happened and who pushed her in?'
'The girl's name is Nisha, she had come along with her Mother to pick up her older sister. I think your Father said her name is...um...Narenda, or something like that. They are Indian. And yes, from what I have been told, Nisha, who is only nine, wanted to have a look at all the water birds and her Mother left her unattended at the lake whilst she went off to find Narenda. From what Nisha said, an older girl came up to her and began abusing her, saying that she should not be at the lake and that it was only for new pupils at Hopewell Hall. She said that she thought the girl was hearing voices because she kept talking to someone who wasn't there. Then this girl, who seems to be one of the school's First Year students flew into a rage, screaming something about Asians and Black people, and suddenly pushed her into the lake. Nisha has been treated for concussion, probably from striking here head on a rock in the water. If we hadn't pulled her out she would have drowned.'
'Oh, how terrible,' said Priscilla. 'Could Nisha give a description of the girl who attacked her?'
Monique's face broke into a broad grin exposing her brilliant, white teeth. 'No, not really. Nisha said that all white people look alike to her.'
In the early minutes before dawn, Priscilla was awakened from a troubled sleep by the muted sounds of crying. 'Monique, are you O.K.?' she whispered, peering into the gloom of their faintly lit bedroom.
There was a silence for a short time, then Monique answered, 'Yes, I am alright. I was just having a dream... You know how you can have those dreams.'
'About your Parents?'
'But yes, of course, I...I just have some dreams...You understand...They do not leave me...Nothing...No word all these days...I am so very much afraid...What will happen...if they do not come back? I am afraid for them...And I am afraid for me...'
Priscilla sat up and thought for a moment. 'Have you ever tried prayer? Do you belong to a church?'
'Of course I have prayed, but not in a church.'
'Well, what say we both do that today, look the sun will be up soon!' Priscilla gestured toward the open window and the outline of the great tree that raised its branches to the sky. 'Why don't we go to Saint Dominic's Church. Doesn't matter what denomination we are, they won't mind. It's not very far away and any church has an open door. Why don't we just go there and give our thanks for saving a life, and pray for your Mum and Dad?'
'I think that is a perfectly fine idea Priscilla, perhaps it will help to ease my pain. Forgive me for awakening you,' Monique answered, wiping the tears from her now smiling face.
Outside, high up in the branches of the tree, a bird began its morning song.
After breakfast, the girls asked Granny Black if they might go out for a walk to shake off the events of the previous day.
'Well,' said Amelia, looking somewhat doubtful, 'Rachael and Mathew have already gone off to various appointments this morning, are you both sure that you feel up to it? I'll come with you. I could do with the exercise, although I've plenty to get done around here at the moment.'
'Oh there is really no need Granny Black,' said Monique. 'Priscilla and I are feeling fine. We just want to spend some time together and talk about yesterday.'
'Yes, of course, and we are all very proud of you both for what you did,' said Amelia, beaming. 'By the way Priscilla, if you two want to take up the kind invitation of Mister...er...Jien...for dinner at his restaurant tomorrow night, your Dad said that he'd be able to take you.'
'Oh yes!' cried Priscilla, almost dancing on the spot, 'Monique and I would love to go, especially if Dad can take us!'
Amelia smiled, it was a smile that said, 'You'd love to go anywhere with your Dad, because it so seldom happens.' Then she flustered about for a moment before saying, 'Well, what are you both waiting for? Off you go. Don't wander too far though!'
Saint Dominics Church on the peak of the hill in Riversdale Road is an imposing structure. From A distance its twin spires soar toward the heavens with a majesty that surely must have made its architect proud.
'Louis thinks the Batmobile should come racing out of its front doors.' said Priscilla when they were still a block away. 'He reckons that from a distance the church looks like a gothic Batcave out of Gotham City.'
'That is the place where Batman and Batwomen live, non?'
Priscilla giggled, 'Yes and non. Batman doesn't live with Batwoman, he lives with Robin.'
'How very queer, I should have thought Batwoman would be a better...how do you say it...Batperson to make Batbabies with,' replied Monique earnestly.
For a moment Priscilla seriously stared hard at her, then the black girl burst into laughter, and Priscilla quickly followed.
By the time they reached the steps leading up to the open doors they had calmed down and in silence entered. Both were struck immediately by the great open space before them. The ceiling was very high and the rows of pews stretched away to the distant altar.
'Makes you want to speak in a whisper,' whispered Priscilla, 'even though nobody seems to be at home.'
'There is a lady kneeling down at the very front, see, she has a scarf over her head,' said Monique, pointing.
'Oh yeah, I see her now, in the aisle between the seats. Well, guess we can't expect to have the whole church to ourselves,' said Priscilla in a low tone, as they made their way down toward the altar. 'Wait a sec!' she suddenly went on, clutching at Monique's arm, 'That looks like Mum!'
'How can you tell from here?' Monique whispered back.
'I saw her go out this morning dressed like that and she had a brown scarf around her neck, said it looked fashionable or something...quick, don't let her see us!'
'Why ever not?' hissed Monique.
'Because it might embarrass her, come on I'll tell you in a minute.' Priscilla grasped Monique's hand and began towing her through the pews to one side. A door to a small room stood open and after taking a swift look inside the two girls darted in. There was nothing much to see: the roof was very low, giving the chamber a claustrophobic feeling, a couple of old chairs, looking much the worse for wear, were set side by side and between them there seemed to be the remains of a partition that had mostly been removed. Boxes were stacked at the door end and then the girls noticed another closed door at the other end. Pale light issued from a small opaque window set just below the ceiling line.
'Why are we hiding from your Mother in here?' asked Monique, clearly mystified.
Priscilla shook her head, 'I'm not exactly sure, I just needed some time to think this through. Listen, Mum being in a church of any kind is like me being in a cage full of tigers, it just isn't her thing.' Priscilla drummed her fingers on the armrest of the nearest chair, thinking outloud. 'Maybe it's to do with her new acting role...yeah, probably a scene in a church where the wife goes to pray after killing her husband...I know she's into method...must have decided to get the atmosphere of a real church...'
'You think she's down there on her knees at the altar pretending?' Monique asked in disbelief.
'I never know with Mum, she's so into what she does, you know, being an actress, that it's always hard to tell when she's being real. I mean...Oh sometimes I wonder if she actually knows about the real world, about any of us. Rachael Davies is an actor, as she would say, Rachael Black is...I don't know.' Priscilla sighed, 'I've never known. She's my Mother, she's our Mother, but we're all sort of set aside...I don't want to break in on whatever she's doing, so let's just pray in here.'
'In this tiny room?'
'What's it matter? We're in a church, we can pray where we want to here, and maybe when we've finished Mum will have gone, O.K.?'
Monique gave a puzzled look and then sank to her knees in the dust of the floor. Just as she was joined by Priscilla, a robed figure entered carrying a stack of boxes.
'Oh!' said the young man, startled, 'this Confessional is no longer in use. If you wish to have your confession heard I can arrange for Father to hear it.'
'No!' said Priscilla abruptly, 'no, we didn't realise where we were, my friend and I only wanted to pray.'
'Ah! Very well, we have a perfectly good church beyond this door, it is excellent for prayer and,' he added with a cheeky grin, 'definitely not so stuffy.' He set down the boxes of wafers that he carried and ushered the two girls to the doorway.
'What about the lady at the altar?' Priscilla asked, tremulously, 'Is she still there?'
'There is no one else in the Nave,' said the young Brother, looking back and forth, 'you have the entire church at your convenience. Please don't snack on the wafers. Pray, and may your prayers be answered.'
Chapter 14 [Next]
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