When I was a child of eight years of age, a curious incident occurred in the house in which our family lived. The place was Mosman’s Bay, one of the many picturesque indentations of the beautiful harbour of Sydney. In those days the houses were few and far apart, and our own dwelling was surrounded on all sides by the usual Australian forest far back from the main road.
The building itself was in the form of a quadrangle enclosing a courtyard, on to which nearly all the rooms opened; each room having a bell over the door, the wires running all round the square, while the f ront-door bell; hung in the hall.
One cold and windy evening about eight o’clock, my mother, my sisters, and myself were sitting in the dining-room awaiting the arrival of my brothers from Sydney – they attended school there, and rowed or sailed the six miles to and fro every day, generalIy returning home by dusk. On this particular evening, however, they were late, on account of the wind blowing rather freshly from the north-east; but presently we heard the front-door bell ring gently.
«Here they are at last,» said my mother; «but how silly of them to go to the front-door on such a windy night!»
Julia, the servant, candle in hand, went along the lengthy passage, and opened the door. No one was there! She came back to the dining-room when the bell again rang – this time vigorously. My eldest sister threw down the book she was reading, and with an impatient exclamation herself went to the door, opened it quickly, and said sharply as she pulled it inwards – «Come in at once, you stupid things!» There was no answer, and she stepped outside on the veranda. No one was visible, and again the big bell in the hall rang!
She shut the door angrily and returned to her seat, just as the bell gave a curious, faint tinkle.
«Don’t take any notice of them,» said my mother, «they will soon get tired of playing such silly tricks, and be eager for their supper.»
Presently the bell gave out three clear strokes. We looked at each other and smiled. Five minutes passed, and then came eight or ten gentle strokes.
«Let us catch them,» said my mother, rising, and holding her finger up to us to preserve silence, as she stepped softly along the hall, we following on tiptoe.
Softly turning the handle, she suddenly threw the door wide open, just as the bell gave another jangle. Not a soul was visible!
My mother – one of the most placid-tempered women who ever breathed, now became annoyed, and stepping out on the veranda, addressed herself to the darkness – «Come inside at once, boys, or I shall be very angry. I know perfectly well what you have done; you have tied a string to the bell-wires, and are pulling it. If you don’t stop you shall have no supper.»
No answer – except from the hall bell, which gave another tinkle.
«Bring a candle and the step-ladder, Julia,» said our mother, «and we shall see what these foolish boys have done to the bell-wire.»
Julia brought the ladder; my eldest sister mounted it, and began to examine the bell. She could see nothing unusual, no string or wire, and as she descended, the bell swayed and gave one faint stroke!
We all returned to the sitting-room, and had scarcely been there five minutes when we heard my three brothers coming in, in their usual way, by the back door. They tramped into the sitting-room, noisy, dirty, and hungry, and demanded supper in a loud voice. My mother looked at them angrily, and said they deserved none.
«Why, mum, what’s the matter?» said Ted; «what have we been doing now, or what have we not done, that we don’t deserve any supper, after pulling for two hours from Circular Quay.»
«You know perf ectly well what I mean. It is most inconsiderate of you to play such silly tricks upon us.
Ted gazed at her in astonishment. «Silly tricks, rnother! What silly tricks?» (Julia crossed herself, and trembled visibly as the bell again rang.)
My mother, at once satisfied that Ted and my other brothers really knew nothing of the mysterious bell-ringing, quickly explained the cause of her anger.
«Let us go and see if we can find out,» said Ted. «You two boys, and you, Julia, get all the lanterns, light them, and we’ll start out together – two on one side of the house and two on the other.»
We ran out, lit three lanterns, and my next eldest brother and myself, feeling horribly frightened, were told to go round the house, beginning from the left, and meet Ted at the hall door, he going round from the right.
With shaking limbs and gasping breath we made our portion of the circuit, sticking close to each other, and carefully avoiding looking at anything. We arrived on the veranda, and in front of the hall door, quite five minutes before Ted appeared.
«Well, did you see anything?» he asked, as he walked up the steps, lantern in hand.
«Nothing,» we answered.
Ted looked at us contemptuously. «You miserable little curs! What are you so frightened of? You’re no better than a pack of women and kids. It’s the wind that has made the bell ring, or, if it’s not the wind, it is something else which I don’t know anything about; but I want my supper. Pull the bell, one of you.»
Then Ted, raised his lantern so as to get a look upwards, and gave a yell.
«Oh, look there!»
We looked up, and saw the twisting coils of a huge carpet snake, which had wound its body round and round the bell-wire on top of the wall plate. Its head was downwards, and it did not seem at all alarmed at our presence, but went on wriggling and twisting.
Then the step-ladder was brought out, and Ted, seizing the reptile by the tail, uncoiled it with some difficulty from the wire, and threw it down upon the veranda.
It was over nine feet in length, and very fat, and had caused all the disturbance by trying to denude itself of its old skin by dragging its body between the bell-wire and the top of the wall.
- indentation – извилина (берега);
- step-ladder – лестница-стремянка;
- carpet snake – большая неядовитая змея до 3 метров в длину.