Birrung the Secret Friend

Birrung the Secret Friend by Jackie French Read Free Book Online

Book: Birrung the Secret Friend by Jackie French Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jackie French
where Elsie slept with Sally and Birrung. Soon as I heard Sally’s snores, I tapped on the door.
    Footsteps sounded on the dirt floor. Elsie peered out, in her petticoat. I beckoned her out onto the grass. She sat cross-legged, with her hands in her lap, and looked at me curiously.
    I handed her the slate Mr Johnson had lent me to practise writing on.
    That was my brilliant idea. Elsie was as good at her letters as Birrung. ‘How about you write your name?’
    Elsie stared at me. She picked up the chalk and wrote something.
    Excitement prickled me like the thorns in the summer grass. I waited till she finished and handed me the slate, then looked down.
    â€˜ E . . . l . . . s . . . i . . . e. ’ I shook my head. ‘I meant write down your real name.’
    Elsie pointed to the word on the slate.
    â€˜I know that’s your name now. But what was it afore I met you?’
    Elsie pointed to the word on the slate again. I looked at her, frustrated. Did she mean that her name really had been Elsie all along? I’d met two other Elsies, and three Sallys too, so I supposed it might have been.
    â€˜What about your last name?’
    Elsie took back the slate.
    Ah, I thought. Now we were getting somewhere. If she wrote Smith or Ramsbottom , then I could ask Mr Johnson to look up the colony records to see who her ma was, or her pa if he’d been a soldier or one of the sailors who had brought the ships here, then sailed off.
    Elsie wrote slowly on the slate. She gave me a funny look, and handed the slate back to me.
    It took me a bit to work out what it meant. Like I said, Elsie was better than me at her letters.
    â€˜ Noname ,’ I read out loud. Elsie had written it like it was all one word, like ‘Noname’ really might have been her last name.
    Except no one was called Noname.
    I looked back at Elsie. She crossed her arms at me, and put her chin out. I knew that look. I wasn’t going to get no other name than that from her. Elsie was stubborn.But so was I. If she wouldn’t tell me her real name, then I’d ask other questions.
    I reckoned I had to keep them simple, so she could write yes or no . That way I’d be able to read them too.
    â€˜Are you a convict?’
    Elsie’s writing was slow and careful. No.
    â€˜Is your pa a soldier?’
    This time she shook her head, just like she had when I first found her. I didn’t know if she was saying, ‘No, he’s not a soldier,’ or, ‘I’m not going to answer,’ or even, ‘I don’t know.’
    â€˜Is he a sailor?’
    Elsie stared at me in the starlight. She seemed to think. She picked up the slate again and scratched on it. My heart began to beat faster. This was longer than yes or no . It had to be a proper answer! Maybe even her pa’s name, and the name of his ship! Because every single person in New South Wales was a convict or a soldier or a sailor, or the son or daughter of one, except for Mr and Mrs Johnson. Even the governor and surgeon worked for the navy. The only other people were the Indians. Elsie was tanned from the sun — we all were. But you only had to glance at her to know she wasn’t an Indian.
    She handed me the slate again. I concentrated, making out the words. Then my excitement drained away, like the custard from the jug at dinnertime. She’d written Is Birrung prettier than me?
    I looked at her, irritated. We’d been through a lot together, Elsie and me. I had a right to know who she was! And instead of telling me now we had a chance, she asked a stupid question like that.
    â€˜Of course Birrung is prettier than you,’ I said.
    Elsie scrambled to her feet, glaring down at me.
    â€˜What’s wrong?’ I asked. ‘I’m only trying to find out —’
    I stopped as Elsie stamped into the lean-to. She slammed the door. Sally asked sleepily, ‘What is it?’ Then I heard her snores

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