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   Chapter 1 WYGATE SCHOOL

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9615

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Emily Underwood, 19; Stanley Smith, 20; Cyril Bruce, 21; Nellie Underwood, 22; Elizabeth Bruce, 23-bottom of the class!"

Mr. Sharman took off his eyeglasses, rubbed them, and put them on again. Then he looked very hard at the little girl at the end of the furthest form, who was hanging her head and industriously biting a slate pencil.

"Stand up, Elizabeth Bruce. Put down your pencil and fold your hands behind you."

Elizabeth did as she was told instantly. Her rosy face looked anxiously into the master's stern one.

"Yesterday morning," the master said, "you were head of the class. This morning I find your name at the end of the list. How was that?"

Elizabeth hung her head again, and her dimpled chin hid itself behind the needlework of her pinafore.

A small girl, a few seats higher, held up her hand and waved it impatiently.

"Well?" asked the master.

"Please sir, she was promptin' Cyril Bruce."

"Silence!" thundered the master sternly. Then his gaze went back to the bent head of the little culprit.

"Stand upon the form," he said, "and tell me in a clear voice how it is you went down twenty-two places in one afternoon."

The rosiness left the little girl's face. She raised her head, and her brown eyes looked pleadingly into the master's, her white face besought him, for one second. Then she scrambled up to the form by the aid of the desk in front of her.

Down the room near the master's desk stood a new boy, an awkward looking figure of twelve years old or so, waiting to be given a place in the class. Elizabeth knew that her disgrace was meant as a solemn warning to him. So she tossed back the short dark curls that hardly reached her neck, and looking angrily at him, said-

"I was top and I pulled Nelly Martin's hair, and was sent down three. Then I was fourth, and my pencil squeaked my slate and I was sent down six. Then Cyril had to spell 'giraffe,' and I said 'one r and two f's,' and she sent me to the bottom."

All of this speech was directed to the new boy who stood on one leg and grew red. It was an immense relief to him when the master rapped the front desk with his cane and said-

"Look at me, miss. Whom do you mean by 'she'?"

At the end of the room a sharp visaged lady of forty-five was watching the proceedings of the first class from over the heads of a row of small students who comprised the "Babies' Class."

"D-o, do; g-o, go," she said mechanically, and looked anxiously from little Elizabeth to her stern son, the master of Wygate School.

Elizabeth jerked her head, "Mrs. Sharman," she said.

"Sit down and fold your hands behind you," ordered the master. He turned to the new boy. "John Brown," he said, "go and take your seat next to Elizabeth Bruce-but one above her."

The new boy moved across the room, red-faced and clumsy in every movement. When he found himself in front of the class he grew still redder, and hung hesitatingly upon the step that led to the platform upon which the form was placed.

Elizabeth looked at him disdainfully and drew her dress close around her.

"Sit down, you silly," she said in a sharp whisper, and indicated with a little head toss the seat above her.

John Brown slunk past her and dropped heavily into his seat. The master retired to his desk and made an entry or two in his long blue book while silence hung over the schoolroom.

In Elizabeth's heart a flame of anger was spreading. That this boy, this new boy, should be placed above her, was in her eyes the greatest injustice. A small voice within told her that she had been punished sufficiently yesterday afternoon.

Her head moved slightly in the direction of the new boy and her rosy lips opened.

"You cheat!" she whispered.

The boy sat motionless and the anger burned hotter in Elizabeth's heart.

"Cheaty, cheaty; go home and tell your mother!" she said in a sing-song way.

Still Brown did not move.

Elizabeth slid her hand along the seat and gave him a sharp pinch, and he started uneasily.

"Stand up the boy or girl who was speaking," ordered the master, without looking up.

A small fair-haired fair-complexioned boy, two seats above Elizabeth, flushed. His name was Cyril Bruce and he was Elizabeth's twin brother-twelve years old.

"I was only talking to myself-that's not speaking," he murmured.

Elizabeth rose slowly to her feet and stood working a corner of her pinafore into a knot. The master looked around, and his brow grew dark when he saw the small offender.

"Repeat aloud what you said, Elizabeth Bruce," he ordered.

The little girl grew white, then red, then white again, and went on twisting her pinafore.

"Do you hear me?" shouted the master. "Stand upon the form and repeat your words."

Once again Elizabeth clambered into a higher pos

ition.

"I said-I said, 'Cheaty, cheaty; go home and tell your mother,'" she said in a clear voice that sounded all over the room.

A shocked expression passed over the face of the class.

"To whom were you addressing yourself?" asked the master.

"The new boy," said the little girl.

"Sit down, and stay in the dinner-hour and write out the sentence fifty times."

Elizabeth sat down, and again her anger against the new boy blazed high.

She put out her foot and kicked the heel of his boot, but this time she eschewed words, for the face of the master was towards her, and an expectant silence hung over the schoolroom.

The clock struck ten, and the boy at the head of the class immediately began passing slates down-one to each pupil, with a piece of pencil upon it.

The sight of the well-cleaned slate and nicely pointed pencil brought a feeling of great uneasiness to Elizabeth.

It had been in her mind how nicely she could climb above the new boy, and the tell-tale girl, and all the other boys and girls, and now the order of the day was-sums.

The master was writing them down on the blackboard, making them up as he went along, with due care working nines and eights and sevens into his multiplicand and dealing but sparsely with fives and twos and threes.

Elizabeth copied it down and rubbed it out. Copied it down and rubbed out half, by judicious breathings directed judiciously; looked up the class to see how Cyril was progressing, and back to the board to see if a pleasant little short division sum was lurking near this obnoxious multiplication; then back to her slate to count the number of nines once more. And by that time the master was giving out his order: "Pencils down. Hands behind you. At-tention."

Brown's face expressed such placidity that the master asked him to stand and give out the answer, and he gave it gladly enough-999.009-which sounded particularly learned to a class not yet introduced to decimals.

The master nodded. "You are right," he said, "but no one is up to decimals yet."

So it happened that Brown made his reputation straightway, and with such ease did he solve every arithmetical puzzle, that dinner-time saw him sitting smiling and covered with laurels at the head of the class, and Elizabeth still at the bottom cleaning her slate to write "Cheaty, cheaty; go home and tell your mother," fifty times.

Wygate School was a preparatory school for boys and girls, although the girls out-numbered the boys. At the present stage of its existence it had eighteen girls and twelve boys. Not half a mile distant was a public school, to the precincts of which flocked fifty pupils daily, each of whom paid a modest threepence a week for educationary advantages.

Wygate School was the only private school in the district, and was regarded respectfully by the neighbourhood. So many "undesirables" were precluded from its benefits, by its charge of one guinea a quarter.

John Brown, the new boy, whose age it appeared was thirteen years, was the eldest pupil in the school, and Floss Jones, who was four, was the baby.

The neighbourhood frequently moaned that there was no private school for those of riper years-fifteen and sixteen or so; but in some cases it called in a governess, in others it forewent its dignity and adopted the public school, and in others again it sent its young folk over the water to Sydney-a matter of three miles or more.

But the North Shore Highlands was at this time uncatered for by the tramway authorities. An old coach ran twice daily from Willoughby to the steamer-a morning trip and an evening-tide one-there and back. It was largely patronized by the Chinese, and parents of the artisan class hesitated and frequently refused to allow their young folk to make the journey.

The three young Bruces went every day across a beaten bush track, from their weather-board cottage home, past the big iron gates of Dene Hall, a house built of grey stone in the early days of the colony, where their irascible grandsire dwelt, up a red dusty road to the little school-house on the hill.

And special terms were arranged for them because they were three-Cyril, and Elizabeth the twins, and six-year-old Nancy.

They had always been three. For even in the days when Cyril and Elizabeth had belonged to the baby class there had been Dorothea, Dorothea who was sixteen and quite old now, who was a weekly boarder in a fashionable Sydney school (for a ridiculously small quarterly fee).

And when Dorothea had left Wygate School little Nancy's hand had been put into Elizabeth's and she too had taken the long red road to school. And after Nancy there was still a wee toddler who, it was said, would make the number up to three again when Cyril went to a "real" boy's school.

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