AbyssiniaAuthor: Ursula Dubosarsky
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'It says in the encyclopedia,' said Mary, 'that Pythagoras forbad his followers to eat animals.'
'That is so,' said Miss Lothian. 'Because he believed that animals had a soul, like you and me.'
In fact, Miss Lothian told them Pythagoras believed that when a person died, their soul did not go to heaven, but travelled into another being, a person or an animal. Perhaps even other things. On and on, for ever.
'So you never die?' said Grace.
'No,' said Miss Lothian. 'Pythagoras called it "the transmigration of the soul".'
'So if Mary had died when she was sick,' said Grace, 'her soul could have gone into a cow.'
'But I didn't die,' said Mary. 'Remember? I'm still here.'
But Mary did die in the end. Miss Lothian had said she would not, but she did. And even when Grace grew up to be a very, very old lady with nothing to do but sit and gaze at the sea, she would remember.
And she would remember the dolls house, and tears would fill those old, old eyes.
When Sarah woke up and looked out the window she saw things she didn't understand, so she stopped looking out. There was plenty to see inside the house anyway. There were things everywhere. Not just furniture, although there was enough of that: tall dark cupboards, high bookshelves, a dressing-table with an oval mirror. No, it was the things that made her stare, so many things – books, bottles, cups and plates, balls of wool, gardening tools, boxes, crayons, pots and pans, clothes and, rather surprisingly, a grandfather clock.
Ah, thought Sarah. That explains it.
Because her dreams had been full of bells and the ringing sky. She sat herself up a little on her elbows.
I suppose all houses have these things, thought Sarah, trying to be reasonable. But you don't notice because they're kept in the right place.
She certainly hoped no one expected her to tidy up. Back home – of course, she still called her old house home although perhaps, well, really there was no perhaps about it, she knew that she would never see it again. Anyway, back home everything had been remarkably tidy and definitely in its right place. When she thought about her old home she was filled with longing for it, but strangely she found it impossible to picture – all she could see now were wide gleaming walls, the shining wooden chairs and table, the curtains, beautiful curtains: stretches of dark purple flowers and thick green leaves falling elegantly from the windows. But these were not hers, her house did not look like that. Did it?
Sarah stretched out her arms in bed above her. She remembered the darkness when she had left in the middle of the night, woken in deep sleep and bundled up in a blanket, carried out into the cold air. Then the train – how frightened she had been of that waiting train with the steam rising, its huge lights, gasping and creaking, the jolting, the clack-clacking.
At one point she had been near enough to a window to look out and she saw the black shining liquid track and the disappearing gum trees and shadows of cows in the fields. Suddenly, with a terrible rush, another train had come past, right past the window, like a silver wall, and she had fallen down onto the floor. Of course they had
Her new life. Now it was day and she saw that she had been laid down in a very small bed in the corner of a big room. At her feet there was another bed even smaller than hers, almost a cot, where that odd little girl had curled herself up like a sleepy kitten in the dark room last night. Then in the opposite corner of the room was a larger, wider and higher bed where the boy had slept, that boy who had sat up under his blankets and gazed at her as they brought her in. He had wild grumpy eyes that looked like they had fallen out of his face and someone had glued them back on, and not done a very good job. He was all lopsided and cross and thinking bad thoughts.
The boy was not in his bed now and neither was the girl. It must be morning. The bedclothes were on the floor along with their pillow, just tossed there as if to push them out of the way. They had both of them got up without her! Why, in her home no one would do something like that to a visitor. In her old home everyone was very polite and considerate of each other. Weren't they?
'Oh, stop it!' said Sarah to herself. 'Stop thinking about it. You're not going back there. You're never going back and that's it, so just stop it!'
She did not want to cry, so she hopped out of the bed and stood in her bare feet on the swirling red carpet and tried to remember where she might have put her shoes. They must be somewhere about – one thing she could be sure of they had not, in this house, been carefully put away.
Suddenly there was a clatter coming up the stairs. Through the door, running almost on top of herself, came the little girl.
Sarah jumped a little. She wasn't used to shouting. 'Gus! Gus!' continued the child, clapping her hands together, her voice still raised. 'She's up!'
The boy with the lopsided eyes, whose name presumably was Gus, sauntered into the room. He had his hands in his pockets and he looked as cross as Sarah had remembered.
'You must have been very tired,' said the little girl. 'You've been asleep for hours, hasn't she, Gus?'
Sarah bent down and looked under the bed – there were her shoes, tightly wrapped in a ball with her stockings.
'What nice feet you have!' said the little girl sitting down next to her. 'Look at her lovely feet, Gus.'
'You can't go around talking about people's feet, Gussie,' said the boy, but he did look, Sarah noticed. She quickly tugged on her stockings and shoes. They felt rather tight, as though she had swollen up in the night.
The little girl leaned her head against Sarah's side affectionately. She was small for her clothes – she was dressed in a kind of white gauze pinafore thing that was at least two sizes too big for her and the hem of it trailed on the ground and was very grubby. She wore a little bonnet on her head over strands of fair hair.
'What are you doing in our house?' asked the child. 'I've come to live here,' Sarah said, surprised. Well, she supposed she had. What else could all this mean? Of course, no one had explained anything to her, but she did not expect that. No one explained because nobody knew. 'Oh,' the child replied clapping her hands together again. 'Did you hear that, Gus? She's come to live with us!'
The boy heard and stared at Sarah very hard with his lopsided eyes and turned away.
'What are your names?' said Sarah.
'I'm Augusta and he's Augustus,' said the little girl, 'but we won't get called that till we're grown up. So we're just Gus and Gussie.'
'I don't believe you!' said Sarah who was rather quick to speak the thoughts that fell into her mind. 'That's the same name. Nobody would call their children the same name.
'It's not the same.' said Gussie, frowning. 'I'm Augusta and he's Augustus. Like Caesar Augustus, in the Bible.'
'Well, I think it's peculiar,' said Sarah. 'It's like being called – I don't know, Hansel and Gretel or something like that:
'Who are Hansel and Gretel?'
'You know,' said Sarah. 'From the story.'
'What story?' asked Gussie.
Now Sarah was the one to frown. How could anyone not have heard of Hansel and Gretel?
'They're a brother and sister and they get lost in the woods and they meet a witch who wants to eat them . . .'
'I don't want a witch to eat me!' wailed Gussie.
'Look what you've done!' said Gus. 'You made her cry!' Sarah looked at her, feeling helpless.
'She's always crying,' said Gus.
'I'm not! I'm not!' said Gussie, and she was bawling now.
'It's all right, Gussie,' Sarah said, leaning over the sobbing child. 'They kill the witch and go home to their parents.'
'Oh,' Gussie sat up and stopped crying. 'Is that true?'
'Of course it's true. Everybody knows that.'
'That's good,' said Gussie smiling, quite recovered. 'And you won't call us those names, will you? You won't call us Hansel and – you'll call us Gus and Gussie.'
'Yes, yes, of course,' agreed Sarah quickly.
'What's your name, anyway?' said Gus from the other side of the room, sounding furious.
'Sarah,' said Sarah. 'It's from the Bible, too.'
'No it's not,' said Gus at once.
'Yes it is!' retorted Sarah.
'It's not,' said Gus.
Sarah shrugged. Clearly this Gus was one of those contradicting sorts of boys. Not that she knew anything very much about boys. In her old home there were no boys, so what she knew about them was taken mainly from books and newspapers, where she had noticed they were often telling each other how wrong they were.
She felt Gussie tugging at her hand. 'Come and play with me,' said Gussie.
'Play?' said Sarah. 'Where?'
'In the playroom of course,' said Gussie.