The Little Girl who Lived on the Verandah
Outside the verandah stood the house, with a grandmother, a high white bed, and a biscuit barrel in it, and a garden with cherry plum and pine trees and gums and magpies and a sandy strawberry patch.
The little girl had round eyes for looking at the garden, a round nose for smelling the biscuits baking, and round ears to hear the magpies in the early morning. She had a collection of pieces of broken china, the best ones showed patterns of roses or leaves or violets.
The little girl was very happy on the verandah because from it she could see everything she loved best, and on it she had her china collection, and a Wicker Chair and sometimes, Will.
From one end of it she could look out at the white bed and the ivy leaves on the wash stand and jug and basin and soap dish and wallpaper. Then, usually singing rather loudly, she could march round two corners to the other end and look out onto the living room, where the biscuit barrel stood. The verandah had a very large front door from which the little girl could look down a broad passage to glimpse the grandmother's flowery pinny as she whisked about minding the biscuits and the white bed. The little girl never remembered this door to be shut.
The little girl was far too big to bite the Wicker Chair now but she knew that it tasted like burnt dusty walnuts. The chair had a tall back and a hard circular seat, and the little girl enjoyed sitting on it very much because of the wonderful squirly patterns it pressed into her fat legs. She would go round and round, trying to see them better, until she felt very funny and fell over, which made her laugh.
Sometimes a tall curly haired Aunt came to the verandah to feed a magpie called Moggie with pieces of chopped-up raw meat. Moggy had an open beak with a little bobbing red tongue and when the meat was gone he looked beadily at the little girl's legs.
Sometimes, Will came to share the verandah. Will dug the garden and weeded the strawberries and chopped wood and fed the fowls for grandmother. The little girl had heard the children call him "silly Willy", but she never did - because he wasn't. Will was interested in her china collection and sometimes he brought her a piece with a pretty pattern - once it was nearly the whole of a picture of a bird.
Will liked blue best, and the little girl liked pink or gold. Will's face was pink and he was always smiling and he had tufty gold hair.
Will always brought his lunch to the verandah - the grandmother added a tray and Will and the little girl would sit side by side in the sun with their legs sticking straight out in front. As they ate they talked about the china pieces and the biscuits. Will wore big dusty boots which the little girl admired, and patched overalls and a floppy whitish cloth hat - the little girl wore small round spectacles, a pinny and square shoes with brown buttons.
Once a week grandfather came to the verandah, up the long path through the garden. Grandfather seemed tall as the pine trees and the little girl knew that he knew everything. Sometimes when he was very pleased, he would give a snorting laugh through his great nose into his red beard, and sometimes he gave her half-a-crown. Half-a-crown was a smooth silvery coin, like a very big button and half-a-crown could buy almost everything the little girl could imagine and still leave some for her money box.
Uncle Ned sometimes came to the verandah. He was quite different from grandfather - he was grandmother's brother. The little girl had no brother and her sister was big enough to live on the other side of the Door. Uncle Ned was much smaller than grandfather - his head was a beautiful smooth pink all over and he had a white moustache which stuck out on each side of his mouth. Uncle Ned put wax on the ends of this moustache and twirled the two ends into sharp spikes which the little girl found interesting. Uncle Ned also rubbed scented oil on his head - the little girl wondered why when he had only a tiny white edging of hair around his ears. Whenever Uncle Ned came to visit, he carried a brown bag called a Grip, and he wore a cap and leggings.
The train crossed the bush road not far from the little girl's verandah and sometimes in the night, in the high white bed, she would wake to hear its long strange whistle as it reached the road. If the train went across very slowly, and the little girl heard voices, she would know that Uncle Ned had been dropped off near the gate. Uncle Ned lived in another township - he knew all the train men and had no bother about stations.
In the Grip, Uncle Ned usually carried his washing for grandmother to do. In his pocket he might have a bag of raspberry drops for the little girl and occasionally he brought fish he had caught, called blackfish - or dead rabbits, at which the little girl would not look.
The little girl found Uncle Ned interesting, but he was not like grandfather.
Now and then Linda came to the verandah - she helped grandmother with the black stove and the biscuits and Uncle Ned's washing and the white sheets. The little girl loved Linda. She had black hair and black eyes and round red cheeks. Linda laughed often and when she did her apple-cheeks wore deep dimples.
When she did come to the verandah, Linda often brought biscuits or milk or grandmother's home made raspberry vinegar, or even special currant pattycakes, made with marrow fat - one for Will and one for the little girl. Whenever that happened it was a Secret between the little girl and Linda - grandmother made those cakes only for grandfather!
Linda always listened to the little girl's questions and the little girl hardly minded that Linda had often forgotten the answers, because if it was really important, grandfather would be sure to know.
Very rarely grandmother came. Grandmother was beautiful. She had a long quiet face and big brown eyes; her hair was black and silver and she was only about half as wide and half as high as grandfather. She wore an all over black pinafore with little blue flowers on Monday, pink flowers on Tuesday, mauve for Wednesday and so on - a different print for each day except Sunday after-noon when she never wore a pinny.
Grandmother had many busy things to do and came to the verandah least of all, though she was often in the garden. When the little girl was on the verandah and could see grandmother busy in her garden, she felt especially happy and she would march harder and sing louder than ever.
One day the little girl had a birthday. She had seven candles, which meant that she was old enough to begin school. Of course the little girl could already read and write, and tell the time - she read her books to Will and sometimes to grandfather.
She had a very happy day on the verandah - everyone came to share her cake - Will and Moggy and Linda and grandmother and the curly-headed Aunt, and even Uncle Ned and grandfather.
Grandfather gave her a book called "The Cousin From Town", grand-mother a little red handbag with a handkerchief, a mirror, and a shilling in it. Uncle Ned brought a whole jar of raspberry drops. Moggy didn't bring a present, but Linda had made a beautiful necklace of pink beads.
Her favourite present came from Will - a piece of china for her collection - with a whole spray of pink sweet peas twined with little squiggles of gold. Of course the little girl didn't mention which was her favourite in case others might feel hurt - but Will knew.
The little girl had forgotten she was old enough to begin school, but after she was in bed she remembered so she called grandfather.
"I want to stay and play on the verandah," she said. "I can read. Why Do I have to go to school?"
Grandfather patted her round head.
"There are lots of other things to learn," he said.
"You could teach me," said the little girl. "You and grand-mother and Will and Linda."
Grandfather snorted in his beard.
"Perhaps we could," he said. "But you can't live on the verandah for ever."
"Why not?" asked the little girl.
Grandfather didn't answer for a minute, and the little girl thought he sighed.
"Because," he answered at last, "you have to grow up - you must come inside the Door."
The little girl was sad when he had gone. She heard a horse and cart - clop-clop - clop-clop - on the road that wound by the garden. She heard the long sad whistle of the train as it passed slowly over the road and knew that it was taking Uncle Ned home. Very quietly she slid from the high white bed and went to the window to look into the verandah. The Wicker Chair seemed a little lonely. She remembered to put on her warm dressing gown and slippers. She tiptoed quickly to the verandah and climbed onto the high Wicker Chair. She thought of Will and her china pieces and the Chair and the verandah and a tear slid off her round nose and splashed onto the Chair. Then to her surprise a crackly creaky voice spoke right in her ear.
"Little girl, little girl, why are you crying?" it asked.
The little girl looked all round the verandah. She looked out into the garden, then she turned and looked again at the Chair.
"Is that you talking, Chair?" she asked.
"Of course it is," crackled the Chair.
"Why have you never talked to me before?" asked the little girl.
"You never cried on the verandah before," said the Wicker Chair. "Why are you crying little girl?"
"Because I must leave you all to go to school," said the little girl. "Because I must go through the Door."
"That's not a crying thing," said the Chair, "that's an Adventure!"
"Is it?" asked the little girl.
"Yes." answered the chair, "if no-one goes through the Door, there will be no white beds, no biscuits, no grandmothers in flowered pinnies and no tall grandfathers."
"I like the verandah best," said the little girl.
"There are many lovely things on the other side of the door," said the Chair firmly.
"I like you and my china pieces, and Will and the verandah," said the little girl again. If I go through the door, I may forget you all."
"Listen," said the Chair. "You know the patterns I make on your legs when you sit on me?"
"Yes," said the little girl.
"Well," continued the Chair, "I can make a pattern on your mind like that. A pattern of Will and china pieces and the verandah and grandmother and rosy Linda and tall grandfather. Would you like that?"
"Yes," said the little girl, "but the patterns on my legs go away. Will the pattern of the verandah go away too?"
"No" said the Chair. "I promise, and tonight I have special magic. But when you are older you must tell someone you love about us, and we will never be lost. Turn your head towards me. Press your forehead against me."
The little girl turned her head to the high back of the Chair and pressed. The Chair held her safely - warm and safe. She heard the strange crackling voice once more -
"Now little girl you can go through the door. Now little girl you can take us with you. Now little girl we are yours for ever."
Later when grandfather found the little girl asleep and smiling in the chair on the verandah, he lifted her gently and carried her back to the high white bed.
Now, so long afterwards,
the pattern of the chair
is as clear to the little
girl as it was then. The
loved world of the verandah
still holds special magic
and here it is offered
to you with love.