― 70 ―

The Awakening of Peggy.

In the midst of the big scrub, many miles away from any township, there stood, nestling in the foliage of a great myrtle tree, and embraced by trailing passion-vines, a tiny cottage. It was approached by a road which wound round the side of a hill, and which was in many places overhung like a fairy bower with lawyer-vines and Lantana, while on the side of the path palms, ferns, and beautiful semi-tropical plants grew in the wildest profusion.

From the spot where the cottage stood, the country, as far as the eye could reach, spread out a lovely panorama. There were fields after fields of pale green cane and corn, interspersed with the darker green patches of virgin scrub. The great Dividing Range and the Macpherson Range formed an imposing background in the blue distance. Far below, the Tweed River wound along like a silver ribbon, or spread out into broad waters that flashed like mirrors in the sunlight. Across the narrowest part of the river a ferry plied, and an old ferryman wearily turned the windlass which urged the cumbersome craft along. “Ahoy! Ferry, ahoy!” borne upwards on the breeze, could be faintly heard at intervals in the cottage above.

From the door of the cottage a winsome-faced, blue-eyed girl emerged. Her face and bare arms were as brown as the radiant sun, the sea breezes, and the healthful existence could make them.

She did not appear on this occasion, however, to be perfectly happy, for her pretty brows were contracted, and her usually beaming eyes had a discontented look in them. She was petulantly swinging a sun-bonnet as she walked along into the depths of the neighbouring scrub. The lawyer vines caught her flimsy white dress and held her, but she angrily pulled away, heedless of the holes which their tiny hooks made in her dress.

She even brushed carelessly aside the scarlet blossoms of the hibiscus which tried to nod her a welcome, and waved her bonnet to scare away the cooing scrub pigeons and the orange-breasted regent birds that used to be her friends. The green lizards, basking in the sun, scurried off in fear, and hid themselves under fern-covered logs. The tiny wrens, the white-eyes, and the wonga pigeons, which sometimes came to chirp to her, flew off into the deepest recesses without even a farewell greeting. The wise wild creatures of the bush knew that Peggy was in a bad humour, so they showed at once their wisdom by leaving her to recover alone.

Yes, Peggy was in a very bad humour—very cross and very discontented. In spite of all the loveliness around her, in spite of all the charming companions in fur, feather, or blossom, Peggy was feeling an ill-used little maiden.

  ― 71 ―

“The bush is horrid! There's nothing but insects and trees, and lawyer vines which tear my frocks, and silly birds. I'm tired of it all!” So ran Peggy's unhappy thoughts, but here she sprang to one side as a green tree lizard sped swiftly past her feet in pursuit of a dragon-fly that had alighted on a leaf. “And nasty lizards! Hugh! Horrid things, horrid bush! I hate it all! Nobody to play with! I wish I could go to the big city to see Cousin Lucie.”

As Peggy uttered these words aloud, her expression changed, and she drew a book from under her arm. She opened it and looked at the inscription: “To my darling little namesake from Cousin Lucie.” A dimple crept out of one brown cheek, then another to keep the first one company. Peggy read the inscription again lovingly. Cousin Lucie was grown up, while Peggy was only approaching the borderland of teens; but this cousin in the great city, whom she had never seen since she was a wee baby, was Peggy's ideal.

She did not remember her, but from her father and mother had often heard of her, for they were very proud of Cousin Lucie, who wrote for the papers. To these quiet people that seemed something very wonderful. Peggy had read some of Lucie's writings, and admired them all the more that she could not understand them. Although there were years between them, they shared the same birthday, and every year brought Peggy a gift from the city. This year it had been a book of fairy tales, and Peggy had revelled in them, yet—sad to say—her discontent with her bush home was the outcome of the reading.

Beside the glories of the world of enchantment, the real world of everyday life seemed dull and monotonous to Peggy. The little round of duties and simple pleasures was growing strangely distasteful to her. Nothing seemed to happen. One day was just like another, and everyone was “horrid,” in the naughty little girl's phrase.

She opened the book and began to read. It was part of the description of the Fairy Queen's palace. “The roof was a dome of shining turquoise encrusted with precious stones, which sparkled with the most brilliant and many-coloured hues, and with their lustre lit up the hall.” Peggy shivered with delight. “I wish I could get there. Oh! wouldn't it be lovely to see the Fairy Queen on her throne?” And she looked round to see whether she could catch a glimpse of any fairy messenger to lead her, like the girl in the story had been led, down to gaze on the wonders of Fairyland, and receive a gift from its tiny queen.

But only the trees waved in the breeze, the grass bent their tasselled heads, the ferns bowed and nodded their green fronds. The discontented expression gathered once more, and quite spoiled the pretty face.

“I wish father would take me down to the city to see the trams, and the ships, and the people, and the museum, and”—but here her list of the wonders of the city ended. “It's much better than here,” and little Peggy seemed almost inclined to cry.

“Peggy! Peggy!” Her mother was calling in a tone that somehow told Peggy she had news for her.

“All right, mother! I'm coming!” she cried, and ran swiftly towards the house. Her mother was smiling and holding out a letter.

  ― 72 ―

“What do you think, Peggy? Father has just brought a letter from Cousin Lucie. She has been very ill, and is coming to spend a long holiday with us to get strong again.”

“Cousin Lucie coming!” Peggy shrieked with delight. “Oh! mother, I'm so glad! I'm so glad!”

The dimples were chasing one another across the little girl's face; her blue eyes were shining with joy. Her discontent had vanished, she was happy again; her cup of bliss seemed running over. To see Cousin Lucie was almost too good to be true. The days until her coming would not pass quickly enough for the eager child.

At last Cousin Lucie came, and although it was late at night when she arrived, little Peggy was allowed to stay up to welcome her.

Lucie Hill was a tall, fair girl, a “rare pale Lucie, a fair pale Lucie,” just as Peggy was a real “nut-brown mayde.”

Poor Lucie looked sadly weak and ill. City life, with its rush and fret and fever, had been too much for her. She had been beaten down, and had been driven from the field for the time. But Lucie was not of the stuff that remains beaten; she would but tarry till her strength came back to renew the fight again.

For the first few days Lucie did not attempt to leave the pretty cottage, but in spite of her weakness Peggy found her a delighful companion. She had brought with her pictures of the big city, and she could make word pictures so that Peggy saw it almost as if she were there—the crowded trams, the gay ferry-boats, the brilliant shops, the beautiful harbour, the eager, bustling crowds.

“Oh! how lovely it sounds!” cried the enraptured child. “I wish I lived in the big city, too.”

A shade passed over Lucie's face.

“Don't wish it, Peggy; you don't know what you are saying, dear.”

Peggy had not felt shy with her cousin from the first, for Lucie was one of the few privileged mortals who never lose the key of childhood, and so can enter it again at will, to be the best of playmates.

“Don't I?” cried Peggy. “I do hate the bush! It is quiet and dull—hateful, I call it. I wish—I do wish father lived in the city. Wouldn't it be lovely to be there?”

But her cousin, to Peggy's surprise, did not agree with her, and said Peggy was far better off here in the bush.

“Lucie!” Peggy's tone was a little hesitating, for even a bush girl sometimes gets infected with unbelief. “Are there really fairies—true and honest, now? Has the fairy queen a hall with a dome of gold, encrusted with precious stones, and all the rest, like it tells us in the books you gave me?”

Lucie smiled slightly. “Are there really fairies, Peggie? Why, of course there are. There is a fairy lives somewhere here. I am going to search the bush to-morrow, and see if I can find her at home. I will not rest till I've explored the dim recesses, the secret retreat of this fairy, who, breathing upon the sick and the weary, makes them strong again.”

Next day they took their first walk. Lucie was anxious to see everything; Peggy was proud to be her guide.

  ― 73 ―

As they walked along Lucie broke into exclamations of pleasure at the beauty of the scenery, the great variety of the vegetation.

Peggy wondered at her enthusiasm. She could not see anything to rhapsodise over. The scrub was commonplace to Peggy; she wondered what one who had come from the city could find in it to admire. But she was pleased with Lucie's pleasure, though surprised that such poor things could please her.

“The bush is horrid,” she said again, the red lips pouted. Her cousin did not reply, but drew her attention to some beautiful orange and black birds that flashed across the track.

“What are these?” she cried, eagerly.

“Regent birds,” returned Peggie. “There are heaps of them about; they are quite common.”

“Look at their brilliant colouring,” said Lucie. “Why, in the city they'd give pounds and pounds to have one of them.”

“Why don't they come and get them, then?” said practical little Peggy. “I am sure there are plenty. See those birds over there? They are satin birds.”

“Oh, what glossy plumage! How it flashes in the sunlight!” broke in her cousin, but Peggy hurried her on.

As they went further and further into the scrub, Lucie was entranced. Such palms and ferns she had never seen before.

“Why, Peggy!” she cried, “this is like fairyland. No, indeed; it is far better than any fairyland could be.” Peggy sniffed, but was politely silent.

A perfect wilderness of vegetation surrounded them. There were burrawangs, bangalows, and mageen in the wealth of varied green, while on the trees, high up in the branches, were clusters of orchids, birds' nests, ferns, or mistletoe. Wild honeysuckle trailed over the smaller trees by the side of the track. Never had Lucie seen such luxuriance of glowing, throbbing life, such riot of colour.

“Peggy,” she said at last, “I showed you the picture of our Botanic Gardens, and they are nothing compared to this—nothing.”

Peggy's eyes opened, and she looked around, trying to comprehend what it was that her cousin found so marvellous.

Lucie stood still; she forgot her small companion. “This is the Australian bush,” she thought, “the big scrub! How glorious! What a delightful land is this Australian land of ours, and how few have an idea of its beauty.”

Peggy was silent, too, and as she saw the flush creep into Lucie's face, the light into her grey eyes, her own vision began to widen. She caught the contagion of her cousin's enthusiasm, and her little heart swelled with pride as she gazed around her.

“What colour!” said Lucie. “Look, Peggie, at all those wonderful shades of green, all harmonising, yet none the same. How can anyone prefer the city, with its dull grey tones, to the ever-changing bush?”

As they were making their way along, ever and anon being caught by the tiny claws of the lawyer vine, they heard a peculiar crying sound, like a little child in distress.

  ― 74 ―

Lucie started. “Oh, Peggy! what is that?” she cried. Peggy laughed joyously. “Oh, that!” she cried, “that's only a catbird up in the big myrtle tree.”

They made their way to the tree, and, sure enough, there were the catbirds making their peculiar sound. They saw numbers of cooing green flock pigeons and wonga pigeons feeding on the berries as they passed by.

The wonders of the scrub seemed inexhaustible. They heard the “pat, pat!” of the brush turkey as she strutted along a narrow leaf-sprinkled track, and Peggy made the woods ring again and again with her merry laughter as she saw the affright of her cousin when a timid little paddymelon jumped up almost from beneath their feet, and hopped rapidly away into the depths of the forest.

But Lucie's astonished admiration when she first saw a flame tree in the distance—one glow of burning scarlet and orange—awoke a new pride in Peggy. She was stimulated to think of fresh marvels to show the city-bred but appreciative cousin.

“Come with me,” she said, “and I will show you a water-vine.” She explained how if but one cut were made through the vine no water would flow, but if another incision were made, a yard above the first, a clear, cool drink could be obtained.

Peggy, though but a child, was wise in bush lore, for the bush had loved her, and had yielded up to her many a secret.

She pointed out the cedar trees, the tulip and the flgs, which envelop all other trees and crush them to death. She told Lucie how the top and the pith of the bangalow palms could be eaten, but to obtain them a big tree would have to be destroyed—and it was cruel to destroy the trees ruthlessly.

The more Lucie saw the more her wonder grew. She looked in astonishment on her little cousin, so strangely learned in woodcraft.

Just then the scrub opened up into a little green glade, bordered by the scarlet hibiscus, the wild holly, and the quaint cunjeboys.

“Oh, Peggy! Peggy!” she broke out. “Although you don't know it, you're a real princess living in a real fairyland.”

Peggy glanced archly up.

“A sleeping princess, Lucie, like the one in the story-book, and you're the prince come to waken me.”

Lucie kissed the little brown face. “You dear little Peggy! what a pretty little idea. I wouldn't mind being the prince to waken you. Perhaps I can waken you, too, and make you see the wonders and beauties that are around you. Far, far better to be here, Peggy, child, than in the big city you long to see.”

“Ah! but I want to see the big city,” she said.

Lucie sat down on the grass and drew the child into her arms.

“Listen, Peggy, and I'll tell you about the big city. The houses, the shops, the trams, the ferries, the beautiful harbour, the busy crowds of people are all there, just as I showed you in the pictures. But, Peggy, life is hard in the big city. It is all rush and flurry and worry from morning till night, if you have to work in the big city. It is a selfish life, little one. People hurry and rush past one another, and there is little care for anyone, but

  ― 75 ―
each for his own self. Oh, little Peggy! if you saw the stream of people flowing into the city in the early morning—the weary, white-faced girls, the hollow-eyed men, and the same crowd, more faded, more saddened, streaming homeward after toil—you would know how blessed you are in your happy, sheltered bush home.”

Peggy glanced up at her cousin's moved face. Her blue eyes grew thoughtful, but she did not speak.

“What would not the pale-faced little girls in the city, Peggy, give for a glimpse of this pretty spot?—the girls who see nothing day by day but long streets, and tall buildings, and trams.”

Peggy stroked her cousin's slender hand, and nodded her small head.

“You talked of a fairy, little one,” went on Lucie, yet though she addressed the child she spoke almost to herself. “A fairy lives here, a fairy called Health. You meet her every day; she touches and embraces you.”

Peggy smiled, yet she looked slightly puzzled.

“Yes,” continued Lucie, “she smiles upon you, this kind fairy, and your eyes grow bright, your cheek becomes rosy red, with the glow of the hibiscus over there. Ah! Peggy, this fairy has a dome of deepest blue. See that sky over the trees. Do you remember how it looked yesterday afternoon, when the sunset tinged that blue, and the clouds grew golden, then rose, then faded into tender grey? Think of the stars sparkling as no poor jewel could sparkle. Think of the green earth. Think of the flowers and trees, the birds and insects, and tell me, Peggy, has not the fairy Health a far lovelier home than any jewel-bedecked palace under the ground could be?”

Peggy's large eyes opened still wider, and again she nodded her sunny head.

“Think of the sea, Peggy, that we can catch a glimpse of from here. Look across at it now, and think—can you imagine anything more wonderful? Then the song of your birds, the manifold life of the bush—all for you, happy little Peggy—all for you. Love Nature, and Nature will love you in return, and show you all her treasures.”

The flush on Lucie's face was answered by the heightened colour of the ardent young face lifted to hers, as Lucie ceased speaking.

Peggy almost felt as if she grew in mind and body as she sat silently gazing at the scene before her. Her bodily vision seemed to become clearer as her mental vision broadened. She nestled closer to her cousin, and thought the long thoughts of childhood.

The sun set while they lingered, and they watched the glory of the heavens deepening into splendour, and fading into the brief shadows of the twilight. As they retraced their way the night came on, the fireflies were flitting before them like sparks from a blacksmith's anvil, and soon the moon rose to lighten the homeward track.

The trees looked eerie and shadowy in the misty light. It seemed indeed a world of fairy to the wondering, thoughtful eyes of the city girl.

Peggy's warm hand slipped into her cousin's. “Oh! Lucie,” she said, half shyly, “thank you for showing me all the beauty of my home. I'm sorry for the little girls in the big city who cannot come and see our bush, and who

  ― 76 ―
cannot meet the fairy Health to make them strong and well, to kiss the red of the hibiscus into their white cheeks. I'm glad I'm a bush girl, after all.”

It was not long afterwards that Lucie returned to the city, taking with her for a visit her little cousin.

Peggy saw Sydney, with all its wonderful sights. She rode on the trams, she went round the harbour in the gay ferry-boats. Lucie took her to all that was strange or beautiful in the city. Yet after the visit was over and the time came to say “good-bye,” though Peggy wept at leaving her beloved cousin, she was glad, so glad, to return to the tiny cottage, and the big myrtle tree, and the wild honeysuckle, which nestled together in the bosom of the big scrub.