Across the grass came a little flying figure, Judy in a short pink frock with her wild curls blowing about her face.
"Are you a candidate for sunstroke—where IS your hat, Miss Judy?" Mr. Gillet asked.
Judy shook back her dark tangle:
"Sorrow a know I knows," she said—"it's a banana the General is afther dyin' for, and sure it's a dead body I shall live to see misself if you've eaten all the oranges."
Meg pushed the bag of fruit across the cloth to her, and tried to tilt her hat over her tell-tale eyes.
But the bright dark ones had seen the wet lashes the first moment.
"I s'pose you've been reading stupid poetry and making Meg cry?" she said, with an aggressive glance from Mr. Gillet to the book on the grass. "You really ought to be, ashamed of yourselves, SICH behaviour at a picnic. It's been a saving in oranges, though, that's a mercy."
She took half a dozen great fat ones from the bag, as well as four or five bananas, and went back with flying steps to the belt of trees, where the General in his holland coat could just be seen.
He was calmly grubbing up the earth and putting it in his little red mouth when she arrived with the bananas.
He looked up at her with an adorable smile. "BABY!" she said, swooping down upon him with one of her wild rushes. "BABY!"
She kissed him fifty times; it almost hurt her sometimes, the feeling of love for this little fat, dirty boy.
Then she gathered him up on her knee and wiped as much of the dirt as possible from his mouth with the corner of his coat.
"Narna," he said, struggling onto the ground again; so she took the skin from a great yellow one and put it in his small, chubby hand.
He ate some of it, and squeezed the rest up tightly in his hands, gleefully watching it come up between his wee fingers in little worm-like morsels.
Then he smeared it over his dimpled face, and even rubbed it on his hair, while Judy was engrossed with her fifth orange.
So, of course, she had to whip him for doing it, or pretend to, which came to the same thing. And then he had to whip her, which did not only mean pretence.
He beat her with a stick he found near, he smacked her face and pulled her hair and bumped himself up and down on her chest, and all in such solemn, painstaking earnestness that she could only laugh even when he really hurt her.
"Dood now?" he said at last anxiously. And she began to weep noisily, with covered face and shaking shoulders, in the proper, penitent way. And then he put his darling arms round her neck and hugged her, and said "Ju-Ju" in a choking little voice, and patted her cheeks, and gave her a hundred eager, wide, wet kisses till she was better.
Then they played chasings, and the General fell down twenty times, and scratched his little knees and hands, and struggled up again. and staggered on.
Presently Judy stood still in a hurry; there was a tick working its slow way into her wrist. Only its two back legs were left out from under the skin, and for a long time she pulled and pulled without any success. Then it broke in two, and she had to leave one half in for little Grandma and kerosene to extract on their return.
Two or three minutes it had taken her to try to move it, and when she looked up the General had toddled same distance away, and was travelling along as fast as ever his little fat legs would carry him, thinking he was racing her. Just as she, started after him he looked back, his eyes dancing, his face dimpled and mischievous, and, oh! so dirty..
And then—ah, God!
It is so hard to write it. My pen has had only happy writing to-do so far, and now!
"You rogue!" Judy called, pretending to run very quickly. Then the whole world seemed to rise up before her.
There was a tree falling, one of the great, gaunt, naked things that had been ringbarked long ago. All day it had swayed to and fro, rotten through and through; now there came up across the plain a puff of wind, and down it went before it. One wild ringing cry Judy gave, then she leaped across the ground, her arms outstretched to the little lad running with laughing eyes and lips straight to death.
The crash shook the trees around, the very air seemed splintered.
They had heard it—all the others—heard the wild cry and then the horrible thud.
How their knees shook what blanched faces they had as they rushed towards the sound!
They lifted it off the little bodies—the long, silvered trunk with the gum dead and dried in streaks upon it. Judy was face downwards, her arms spread out.
And underneath her was the General, a little shaken, mightily astonished, but quite unhurt. Meg clasped him for a minute, but then laid him down, and gathered with the others close around Judy.
Oh, the little dark, quiet head, the motionless body, in its pink, crushed frock, the small, thin, outspread hands!
"Judy!" Pip said, in a voice of beseeching agony. But the only answer was the wind at the tree-tops and the frightened breathings of the others.
Mr. Gillet remembered there was no one to act but himself. He went with Pip to the stockman's hut; and they took the door off its leather hinges and carried it down the hill.
"I will lift her," he said, and passed his arms around the little figure, raising her slowly, slowly, gently upwards, laying her on the door with her face to the sky.
But she moaned—oh, how she moaned!
Pip, whose heart had leapt to his throat at the first sign of life, almost went mad as the little sounds of agony burst from her lips.
They raised the stretcher, and bore her up the hill to the little brown hut at the top.
Then Mr. Gillet spoke, outside the doorway, to Meg and Pip, who seemed dazed, stunned.
"It will be hours before we can get help, and it is five now," he said. "Pip, there is a doctor staying at Boolagri ten miles along the road. Fetch him—run all the way. I will go back home—fourteen miles. Miss Meg, I can't be back all at once. I will bring a buggy; the bullock-dray is too slow and jolting, even when it comes back. You must watch by her, give her water if she asks—there is nothing else you can do."
"She is dying?" Meg said—"dying?"
He thought of all that might happen before he brought help, and dare not leave her unprepared.
"I think her back is broken," he said, very quietly. "If it is, it means death."
Pip fled away down the road that led to the doctor's.
Mr. Gillet gave a direction or two, then he looked at Meg.
"Everything depends on you; you must not even think of breaking down," he said. "Don't move her, watch all the time."
He moved away towards the lower road.
She sprang after him.
"Will she die while you are away?—no one but me."
Her eyes were wild, terrified.
"God knows!" he said, and turned away.
It was almost more than he could bear to go and leave this little girl alone to face so terrible a thing. "God help me!" she moaned, hurrying back, but not looking at the hot, low-hanging sky. "Help me, God! God, help me, help me!"