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, thought Cubby.
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 the morning?"
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 chapel.
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.
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