Authors: Nette Hilton
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography/Editors Journalists & Publishers
Nette Hilton is an established author of children's literature and has won several awards for her books, which range from early childhood to novels for older readers. Her work includes the forever popular
A Proper Little Lady
both of which have won awards and have been translated into many languages.
Nette's recent novel for older readers, was shortlisted for the 2009 NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Her recent picture book
My Silent World
was included in the prestigious 2010 International Youth Library's White Ravens list. Her work beyond teaching and writing includes regular workshops and author talks at many writing venues, including literature festivals around the country.
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Copyright Act 1968
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First published by Woolshed Press in 2010
Copyright Â© Nette Hilton 2010
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Woolshed Press is a trademark of Random House Australia Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.
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Missie Missinger was nine years old. Old enough, her mother had said, to do as she was told without argument. It was wearing her into the ground and if she didn't watch out, Aunt Belle would be looking around for someone who didn't have a quarrelsome little girl to put up with and get herself another live-in and then where would they be? Missie wasn't sure but, as she rather liked living in âCharmaine' at No 1, River Road, Lansdale, she didn't pursue it. And so on the day it happened, on the Saturday when Judith Mae, who wasn't even invited, had been sent upstairs in order to give her father some peace and quiet, Missie hadn't argued.
She hadn't even pointed out that the book that was to keep Judith and her amused was babyish and anyone could see that. It was full of fairies.
Allan Mae was off with the fairies. He had even suggested, the dopey big drip, that they go and find Max.
As if Max might welcome them.
If Max had wanted to welcome them he would have done it downstairs. He would have said that as Judith Mae was his cousin, she was going to be his guest and that would have been that. However, as Max couldn't stand Judith Mae ever, he'd taken to his room with the door shut.
Judith Mae had opened it though and she wouldn't come out. Not even when Max left.
That was when Judith had run off with Buster.
And that was when Missie left.
She'd come back to her room and collected water for the jar and scrambled around and found another painting brush. She'd painted the elf's jacket. It was green. You didn't even have to choose. Colours appeared wherever the wet brush hit the page.
And then she heard it.
The book was open now on the little table. Waiting for Judith.
She wouldn't be coming.
Missie forced her fingers from the banister and moved back into her room. She didn't look down to the base of the stairs, but her eyes were still so full of Judith Mae, down there on the tiles with her head all crooked, that she didn't need to.
It would be with her forever and forever and she knew that even if she did forget, the sound of a falling bundle would bring it back into focus.
When you travelled with death as your constant companion you learned to sense it. You heard the earth emptying of any sound as all creatures silenced themselves and slowed their pulses. Birds, animals, men. Nobody was willing to be picked out.
Oleksander Mykola Shevchenko sensed it now. His hands moved slowly as he placed his brush on the windowsill. Silent. Alert. Fingers still poised. Frozen in a painter's position.
The girl below went on with her washing, her strong arms bent to the task as she hauled sheets from the copper up to the wringer. There was something about her that, at first sight, caught at his breath so he felt the thud of a missed heartbeat. Her hair, that thick block of dark curls that clung in sweaty ropes down her back; here was the breathlessness. Here was Anichka Pavlovich.
She'd turned and waved to him and his breath came, once again, easily. The bright sunlight on her skin showed a different girl. A brash girl with wide-open mouth, laughing.
Anichka Pavlovich smiled. Her face, her eyes had shone with her laughter.
He'd drawn her, that laundry girl with the sunlit skin. He'd worked quickly to capture the Vermeer of her as she stood in the laundry doorway. He made sure he captured her laughter and the openness of her. She would not confuse him again with her long dark hair.
His brush was drying on the sill and a small crimson puddle was leaking into the curtain. He was practised in waiting for death to pass and knew this was the sound a body makes as it falls. It is not as a ball, or a pumpkin.
Now he could hear nothing beyond the door and no board had creaked. He moved as a shadow into the other shadows of the long hallway. Silently. Each step close to the wall, taking him closer to the main corridor. In this country he was safe but the old habit was still with him. The path of a threat when it might come. An escape route. Easier to settle the old fears by playing the game.
He saw the girl, the child, hurry to her room.
And smelt death passing. He heard it in the wailing and grief and panic as he turned back to his room.
He did not pick up his brush.
His paints still littered the washstand. Soon he would attend to them. And the painting. It was not for display and would live in his suitcase under the bed.
For now he lay down on the bed.
A child had been chosen this time. Another child. One who should have survived in this land. Air, trees, warmth, food, so much food, and water that was clean and didn't carry the faint odour of bloodshed.
Oleksander Shevchenko wondered that he could not cry for this child. His hands covered his eyes. His fingers pressed at the dryness of them. Where were his tears? And what was the use of him if he was so sucked dry that even a little girl, broken and bleeding, didn't move him?
Oleksander lay still. He did not move for a very long time.
It was serious.
There was no doubting it. Aunt Belle didn't often come home from the race meetings in such a rush and hardly ever talked to both of them in Max's room.
Max's room was
room. That's what she always said, and it wasn't a good place for young ladies to go. Pity the same rule didn't apply to boys going into young ladies' rooms. Max wandered in whenever he felt like it.
âNow then,' she said. âA very sad thing has happened as I'm sure you both know. Poor Judith Mae has fallen...'
More than anything Missie wanted not to be here. She wanted her own mother to hold her and take away the awful picture that too quickly filled her head when she thought of Judith Mae.
âI know I can rely on you both to do as you're told,' Aunt Belle was saying. âAnd Max, you're going to have to be the man of the house for the next few days. A lot of people will be calling and I'll need you to be here.'
Missie wasn't too sure the man of the house would sit with his knees tucked up under his chin while he pushed a train backwards and forwards on its bit of track.
âRemember, you're a chosen child. Especially chosen.' Aunt Belle was backing out the door. Downstairs someone had just arrived and Missie could hear her mother ushering them into the front room. âOn my way, Marcie...'
The chosen child sank deeper.
âWhat's that, then? A chosen child?'
âNone of your business.'
Missie squatted down. Max's train set covered the whole floor but tonight bits of it were in the wrong place. She collected a carriage and started to set it right. Max would let her have it any time now but it was better than going back to her own room.
The book was there, and the desk and the water...
âHow'd you get chosen?' As far as Missie knew all babies were chosen from the banks of them in hospitals, like she'd seen at the pictures. If Max was special because he was chosen, what did that say about everyone else?
âMy mother really wanted me, that's what it means. And give me that!' The carriage was snatched out of her hands.
âWell, my mother really wanted me, too.' The hallway rang with strange voices and hushed whispers and the scent of phenyl from the buckets that had been carried in today was everywhere. âI wouldn't be here otherwise.'
âYes, you bloody would.' His mouth barely moved as he glanced up at her and then went back to his task.
Max stood up. He walked around the track and leaned right over so his face was inches from Missie's nose. She could smell his teeth smell. Hot. Mouldy, sort of. âYour mum just goes to the hospital and the baby comes out. My mum had to go to all sorts of places and fill in all sorts of things and then she had to go and get me from a special place. Not like you at all! I'm chosen!'
It was something that Missie was going to have to sort out later. She slid past, her hand brushing Buster as she went. She picked him up and started to tidy his old jacket. His ears were a bit twisted as well and she found she was smoothing them out.
âWhat happened to Buster?
Buster was a favourite. He was just an old felt rabbit as far as Missie could see. Not even one that she particularly liked touching. All her teeth went funny and goosebumps rippled up her arms. But it was a very special rabbit and had been with Max since he was a baby. Missie's mum reckoned it still needed a tub, no matter how special it was, but Max had screamed long and hard and kicked a big hole in the door so Buster simply stayed grubby.
âI said leave him!' Max shoved and snatched at the same time.
Missie fell backwards onto the bed. Her blouse popped out of her skirt as she tried to wrestle Buster away. âDon't push me!' She spun around and finally, with Max breathing down her neck, clipped a loose button into place. âI've fixed it now. There!'
She thrust Buster into Max's arms. âI don't care if you are chosen, Max Winterman! You're just a great big sook.'
Max's shoulders seemed to swell as he lowered his head. In the instant before he charged, Missie thought he looked like Davo's bull.
âSook! Sook! Sook!' Missie hissed as she lunged for the door. She considered snatching Buster and taking off. Max in the hallway was another thought altogether. The stairs were there. And he was strong.
âBet you weren't chosen anyway! Bet your mum had to choose you because nobody else wanted you!'
She wasn't quick enough. Max grabbed her skirt and hauled her back into the room.
âYou don't know anything about it!'
Max shoved her. His hand in the middle of her chest. Missie pushed hard at his face until she felt him move away.
âLeave me alone,' she said and stepped back. There were footsteps on the stairs and they'd be in trouble if they'd made too much noise.
âI'll leave you alone when I feel like it.' Max was moving closer. His face was still blotched from her hands. âI'll do whatever I like. I could bloody kill you if I wanted to!'
Missie put her hands on her hips. She'd had enough and when her mother did that, you knew it was time to step right back. âYou're a big fat sook, Max Winterman. And I don't care if you kill me! You get hanged if you kill someone so you'd just finish up hanged. You'd be dead. D.E.A.D!'
The door burst open. Missie's mum was already in and sweeping up trains and straightening skirts and blouses and beds before they had time to step aside.
âWhatever's going on up here had better stop right now.'
Max didn't say a word. He kept his head down and leaned against the wall.
âMax was shoving me.'
âAnd what were you saying that made Max want to shove you?'
Missie considered telling the truth. That Max reckoned he could bash her up any time he liked but then Max would tell about being called a sook. Missie wasn't to pick on Max. Not at all.
Picking on Max meant that Aunt Belle got involved and then there'd be trouble.
Missie kept her mouth shut.
âGo to your room, Missie, and get yourself tidied up.' Buster was plonked onto his spot on the pillow. âNow. Off you go.'
It was best to go slow because Max might dob if she didn't hang about. She dragged one foot after the other and had just reached the outside of the door when she heard him speak.
âIs it true that you get hung if you kill someone?'
She didn't hear the answer. Best to be as far away from that as possible. There was every chance her mother would want to know who said what.
But it hung around her. Like a sneaky fart inside a woollen skirt. That question.
Is it true...