Excerpt of The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky
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All on a Summer's Day
The year began with the hanging of one man and ended with the drowning of another. But every year people die and their ghosts roam in the public gardens, hiding behind the gray, dark
statues like wild cats, their tiny footsteps and secret breathing
muffled by the sound of falling water in the fountains and the
"Today, girls," said Miss Renshaw, "we shall go out into the
beautiful garden and think about death."
The little girls sat in rows as the bell for morning classes
tolled. Their teacher paused gravely. They gazed up at her, their
striped ties neat around their necks, their hair combed.
"I have to tell you that something barbaric has happened
today," said Miss Renshaw in a low, intent voice. "At eight
o'clock this morning, a man was hanged."
Hanged! Miss Renshaw had a folded newspaper in her
hand. She hit it against the blackboard. The dust rose, and the
little girls jumped in their seats.
In Melbourne! They did not really even know where
Melbourne was. Melbourne was like a far-off Italian city to
them; it was Florence or Venice, a southern city of gold and
flowers. But now they knew that it was cruel and shadowy, filled
with murderers and criminals and state assassins. In Melbourne
there was a prison with a high wall, and behind it in a courtyard
stood a gallows, and a man named Ronald Ryan had been
hanged at eight o'clock that morning.
Hanged . . . Who knew what else went on in Melbourne?
That's what Cubby said. But Icara, who had been to Melbourne
with her father on a train that took all night, shook her head.
"It's not like that," she said. "It's just like here, only there
aren't so many palm trees."
Trust Icara to notice something peculiar like palm trees when
people are being cut down on the street and carried away and hanged,
Miss Renshaw beckoned at the little girls to leave their
seats and come forward. They gathered around her, their long
white socks pulled up to their knees.
"What did he do, Miss Renshaw?" asked Bethany, the
smallest girl in the class. She had small legs and small hands and
a very small head. But her eyes were luminously large. "The
man who was hanged?"
"We won't worry about that now," said Miss Renshaw,
avoiding Bethany's alarming stare. "Whatever he did, I ask you,
is it right to take a man and hang him, coldly, at eight o'clock in
It did seem a particularly wicked thing to do, the little girls
agreed, especially in the morning, on such a warm and lovely
day, when everything in it was so alive. Better to hang a person
at night, when it was already sad and dark.
Miss Renshaw banged the newspaper again, on the desk
this time. The little girls huddled backward.
"So today, girls, we will go outside into the beautiful garden
and think about death."
Miss Renshaw was nuts that's what Cubby's mother
said. "Still, you've got to do what she says, Cubby. Remember,
she's the teacher."
"But what if she tells us to jump in the river seven times to
cure us of leprosy?" asked Cubby, thinking of the Bible story
that one of the senior prefects, Amanda, had read out loud in
And Eli'sha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in
the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and
you shall be clean!"
Up rose the voice of Amanda like smoke from behind the
wooden eagle upon which the large Revised Standard Version of
the Bible was laid out. Amanda's name meant "fit-to-be-loved"
in Latin; Miss Renshaw had told them so. She was fit-to-beloved,
with her long, fair plaits as thick as the rope that the
deckhands threw to tie the ferry to the wharf on the trip
home from school. Everyone admired Amanda, and not only
for her hair.
Excerpted from The Golden Day
by Ursula Dubosarsky. Copyright © 2013 by Ursula Dubosarsky.
Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.