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No. 20 (November 1957)
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Short Story

They came to the door in the afternoon when the children's brother Paul was out on the farm fixing a part of the fence. They were all dressed in black and the woman had a black handkerchief tied over her hair and when her eyes lighted on the children her face drooped and she turned her head to one side and said, “Oh, don't they look so like William.”

“This is your Auntie and Uncle,” their Uncle Ben said. “We've just come to look the old place over.” He was smiling with his hands clasped in front of him and standing very straight. Then he moved a little to one side and said to the woman:

“Joyce, this is the little girl I was telling you about. William called her after you, you know. She's the one I think looks very like William.”

The woman came across the room and looked down at the little girl. “Oh, yes,” she said. “Those eyes are just like William's. I think he did write and tell me about her.” She bent over and kissed the girl and her lips were warm and dry and soft.

“The poor things,” she said looking at the heads of the children after she had kissed them all. “It's a shame to be left without a mother and father.”

“Yes,” the children's Uncle Ben said. “I know you would like to help them Joyce, but there isn't much we can do about it you know.” Then to the children: “Your Auntie and Uncle were just passing through and we thought we'd come down and see the old place. I used to stay here once myself, you know.”

The girl Joyce said, “Paul is over fixing the farm fence. We could go and get him if you want.”

“No, it will be alright,” her Uncle Ben put in quickly. “I think I know the old place well enough to look around.” The last part was said with a chuckle looking at the other two. They looked down at the floor and then up and the other man rubbed his nose with his finger and they chuckled a little too.

The visitors went into the passageway and they moved slowly down towards the sitting room looking about at the walls and up at the ceiling. They were talking in lowered tones and the children's Uncle Ben kept leaning sideways and talking into the sides of the others faces. The other two kept nodding their heads all the while he spoke, not looking at him but straight ahead.

The woman was big and the black fur coat she wore made her look bigger and bulky. She had a deep liquid voice and a habit of turning her head on one side when she spoke laying it on her shoulder and then raising her eyebrows. Her face was strong and her eyes wide and beautiful and the handkerchief around her head bulged with the mass of black hair beneath it.

The children stood in the kitchen a little awed, huddled in a group around the stove. They were very quiet, looking at one another and then watching about at the wal's up at the ceiling. They hear their relations moving about in the passageway and looking into the rooms, talking in lowered tones.

“Our father and I put this in,” they heard their

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Uncle Ben saying. “We had a little trouble getting it to fit beneath the ceiling, but we put it in to last.”

“I think that's very good.” They heard their Auntie say.

“Yes, it wasn't a bad job.”

The group moved on further down the passageway and the voices became muffled. And when their Uncle Ben spoke they could hardly hear him. “We added this half of the house on afterwards you know, when the family began to get a little larger.” Their Uncle Ben chuckled a little. “William got married, then my family and I moved in to this half of the house. Our father stayed with us. He was very sick at the time. William and I could never get on together, you know, so after our father died I moved.”

The group was quiet for a while, then the children heard the sitting room door open and the voices of their Auntie and Uncles came to them quite clearly through the wall by the stove.

“You know,” their Uncle Ben said, ‘our father was always sorry that you two stayed in the city. He often used to talk about you.”

“Oh, there's William,” the woman cried. “It looks just like him.” The children knew she was referring to the large frame photograph of their father that hung on the wall of the sitting room.

“And this is his wife, I suppose.” The other uncle spoke for the first time.

“The children heard their Uncle Ben grunt and then their Auntie was saying, “William had such beautiful eyes. Didn't he and Rita look alike. I wonder he didn't marry that girl back home.”

“You know this house is still in good condition.” The other Uncle spoke again. “Those boards on the ceiling are hardly even touched. And the farm, could we look around before we go? I believe it came up very well when our father had it.”

“Yes, there's some good land there still. A little neglected now, I think.”

“William was never for the farm, was he?”

“No, he just wanted the land in trees. It was our father and I who wanted it as a farm.”

“It should bring in a good price when we've sold it. I think we should put it on the market straight away, before it goes back too much.”

“Yes,” they heard their Uncle Ben say. “There's a few acres of virgin land along with the estate. I've had a few clients asking about the bush on it. I think we could go ahead and sell it over these people's heads. This Paul, William's oldest boy, doesn't know much about it you know. I think he believes the place is theirs.”

“Don't you think we'd better tell them, Ben?”

“I don't think there's any need. My lawyer said it wasn't necessary. Anyway it would only cause a bit of trouble. This boy, William's son, you know, would be against it. And it would all be unnecessary. Anyway they will get their father's share. We could let them use this house till they find somewhere else to stay. Very stubborn boy this Paul. I talked to him once before about it, you know.”

“Yes, I think they should be satisfied with having this place all that time.”

“I think it would pay to get rid of the whole estate at once. The block of bush would be a good tempter for a lot of people. Otherwise we might not be able to sell some of that useless land you were talking about.”

“Oh, they're such beautiful children.”

“Yes, William's wife was a very pretty womman before she got sick.”

“Poor William, we must visit his grave before we go. I would like to have brought out sonme flowers, but we left in such a hurry.”

“They say the place is very neglected. Not even a fence around it.”

“Oh, what a shame. Fancy neglecting their father's grave like that. And his wife here. Rene, was that her name? Is she buried beside him?“

“Yes, we didn't want it. We wanted a place for our family alone. Our father and us you know.”

“No, I don't think that would have been posible. I've arranged to be cremated and sent back home.”

“I don't see what the advantage of that would be.”

“Oh, it's just…” the woman broke off.

The group came back into the kitchen and the children were still standing wide-eyed by the stove.

“Well, this is a nice place you've got here.” Their Uncle Ben said. And he was smiling. “We just going to go and look the old farm over. I'll show your Uncle and Auntie round. We've all got shares in this place you know.” He came to the children and shook their hands and he tried to kiss the girls and they thought he was funny just because he was their Uncle Ben. And they knew he was doing it because the other two were in the room.

“They do not know me very well,” he said looking at the other two. “I'm hardly around here you know.”

“Good-bye sweethearts,” the woman said. “Good-bye little Joyce.”

The children did not say anything but stood with their heads down, watching the floor.

“Well, I hope we see you again soon,” the woman added and they began walking out into the passageway and through there onto the verandah.

“Give Paul our best regards,” their Uncle Ben called looking back in through the door. “Tell him we're sorry we could not stay to see him.” The little group walked out across the yard and through the gate an dthe children heard the low mumble of their voices, stil guarded and serious.

Then they heard their Uncle's car start up and the girl Joyce said, “Hurry Johnny, go and tell Paul.” And a little boy ran out across the yard and up through the orchard and they saw him climbing through the fence and his shirt flying about his body as he ran on the other side.