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The Black Opal   By: (1883-1969)

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E text prepared by Amy Sisson & Marc D'Hooghe (




Author of "The Pioneers," "Windlestraws," Etc.

London: William Heinemann 1921



A string of vehicles moved slowly out of the New Town, taking the road over the long, low slope of the Ridge to the plains.

Nothing was moving on the wide stretch of the plains or under the fine, clear blue sky of early spring, except this train of shabby, dust covered vehicles. The road, no more than a track of wheels on shingly earth, wound lazily through paper daisies growing in drifts beside it, and throwing a white coverlet to the dim, circling horizon. The faint, dry fragrance of paper daisies was in the air; a native cuckoo calling.

The little girl sitting beside Michael Brady in Newton's buggy glanced behind her now and then. Michael was driving the old black horse from the coach stables and Newton's bay mare, and Sophie and her father were sitting beside him on the front seat. In the open back of the buggy behind them lay a long box with wreaths and bunches of paper daisies and budda blossoms over it.

Sophie knew all the people on the road, and to whom the horses and buggies they had borrowed belonged. Jun Johnson and Charley Heathfield were riding together in the Afghan storekeeper's sulky with his fat white pony before them. Anwah Kaked and Mrs. Kaked had the store cart themselves. Watty and Mrs. Frost were on the coach. Ed. Ventry was driving them and had put up the second seat for George and Mrs. Woods and Maggie Grant. Peter Newton and Cash Wilson followed in Newton's newly varnished black sulky. Sam Nancarrow had given Martha M'Cready a lift, and Pony Fence Inglewood was driving Mrs. Archie and Mrs. Ted Cross in Robb's old heavy buggy, with the shaggy draught mare used for carting water in the township during the summer, in the shafts. The Flails' home made jinker, whose body was painted a dull yellow, came last of the vehicles on the road. Sophie could just see Arthur Henty and two or three stockmen from Warria riding through a thin haze of red dust. But she knew men were walking two abreast behind the vehicles and horsemen Bill Grant, Archie and Ted Cross, and a score of miners from the Three Mile and the Punti rush. At a curve of the road she had seen Snow Shoes and Potch straggling along behind the others, the old man stooping to pick wild flowers by the roadside, and Potch plodding on, looking straight in front of him.

Buggies, horses, and people, they had come all the way from her home at the Old Town. Almost everybody who lived on Fallen Star Ridge was there, driving, riding, or walking on the road across the plains behind Michael, her father, and herself. It was all so strange to Sophie; she felt so strange in the black dress she had on and which Mrs. Grant had cut down from one of her own. There was a black ribbon on her old yellow straw hat too, and she had on a pair of black cotton gloves.

Sophie could not believe her mother was what they called "dead"; that it was her mother in the box with flowers on just behind her. They had walked along this very road, singing and gathering wild flowers, and had waited to watch the sun set, or the moon rise, so often.

She glanced at her father. He was sitting beside her, a piece of black stuff on his arm and a strip of the same material round his old felt hat. The tears poured down his cheeks, and he shook out the large, new, white handkerchief he had bought at Chassy Robb's store that morning, and blew his nose every few minutes. He spoke sometimes to Michael; but Michael did not seem to hear him. Michael sat staring ahead, his face as though cut in wood.

Sophie remembered Michael had been with her when Mrs. Grant said.... Her mind went back over that.

"She's dead, Michael," Mrs. Grant had said.

And she had leaned against the window beside her mother's bed, crying... Continue reading book >>

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