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An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9484

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

They were round the corner and away from school-Cyril, Elizabeth and Nancy. Behind them were all the trials and vexations of the day, among which may be counted Mrs. Sharman, Mr. Sharman-and John Brown.

Cyril spoke with awe of John Brown's big hands and feet, and looked over his shoulder as he spoke. For that small hope of the Bruces had in the cloak-room inadvertently trodden upon Brown's hat, and had been startled by the way in which Brown had swung him round by his collar.

"I pinched him," said Betty proudly. "He shouldn't have gone above me. I'll pinch him every time."

Her sun-bonnet was tucked away under her arm, her boots and stockings were in the family lunch-basket that she carried, boy-like, swung over her shoulder, and she covered the ground most of the time with a hop, skip, and a jump, aided by a long stout stick.

"I suppose," she said, "we'll have to try the dangerous little coral islands this time. I know that's where the black pearl is hidden."

"Oh dear," sighed Nancy, "I don't like curral islands a bit. Let's go home to-day."

"Silly!" said Cyril loftily. "We've got to find the black pearl somehow."

"It'll be worth hundreds and thousands of pounds," said Elizabeth. "Just think of taking that to mother, just think of all we could do. It wouldn't matter then grandfather not speaking. We could drive past him in our carriage then! Come on my lass." This last was to Nancy.

"I want to go in the water, too, Betty," said the small lassie, following at a trot. "Don't want to be your old wife. I've been your wife for a lot of days now."

"I don't know who you mean when you say Betty," declared Elizabeth, and leapt forward so far that the other two had to sharpen their pace suddenly.

"Peter Lucky," said Nancy imploringly. "Oh, Peter Lucky, let Cywil be your wife a bit-do."

"Cywil's"-it may be stated that Betty was still very backward sometimes in the matter of r's-"Cywil's got to be my chum-don't be such a stupid Nancy-er-Polly. He's got to try to murder me in the middle of the night to get the pearl. Look here, we've only just put you in to amuse you a bit, we can just as well do without you."

Nancy's face fell. Such statements were lavishly used by these two elders of hers towards herself. But the indignity she feared most was to be told to go home and play with the baby, and she looked at her sister with an eager smile now to stop the words if possible.

"Oh, don't do wivout me, Betty dear," she said. "I'll love to be your wife. I was only thinking it would be nice to have your feet in the water."

"You're six," said Betty. "You ought to be able to be my wife well now-cook the dinner, and wash up, and all that. If you do well at this, we'll see how you'll do as a man some day."

For a second they stopped before their grandfather's gates and peered up the long drive. It was an old habit of theirs, varied for instance by challenges of who dared to walk the furthest distance up the drive. Betty had once advanced just beyond that mysterious bend, but she had scudded back again soon, declaring her grandfather had a gun and was coming after them, with it aimed at her head. Oh, how they had run home that day!

Another time she had climbed upon the topmost rail of the gate and, scrambling down quickly, had set off madly for home, followed breathlessly by the others who were afraid even to look over their shoulders. "He's set the emus loose," Betty told them as they ran, "and emus are like bloodhounds for scenting you out. And besides, they can fly."

But that was fully a year ago now, and much of the terror had departed from their grandfather's gates for the two elder ones. It was only Nancy who had cold thrills down her back and shudderings at passing the dread gates.

To-day Betty did no more than peep through the railing, declare there was nobody about, and swing off again with her long pole. "Nobody there to-day," she said, and Nancy breathed easier and ran after her.

They were on the well-trodden bush-track now, the track that led home between great gums and slim saplings. The iron roof of the cottage came into view and the row of tall pines that stood like grim sentinels between the two-rail fence and the sweet-scented garden. A small wicket gate stood invitingly ajar, and a black dog, lying meditatively outside it, pricked up his ears and raised his head as the trio came into sight.

They took a cross-track, however, and disappeared into the bush again, and the dog shook off his thoughtful mood and ran gleefully after them.

For he had not grown up from puppyhood to doghood with these children without knowing what tracks led to school and home, and what to the wonderful realm of play and fancy.

Moreover, his anticipations were always aroused when Elizabeth changed her habit, and he had seen in the twinkling of his eye that she was bare-legged and bare-headed and provided with a pole. So he barked joyously and scampered away upon that cross-track too.

Down in the gully where the growth was thicker, and where the wattles and willows made many a fairy grove, a small creek ran. The widest end of it ran into their grandfather's grounds, and had at one time in its career broken down the two-rail dividing fence, which now lay submerged in its waters and formed the "dangerous coral islands" alluded to by Betty.

It pleased Elizabeth's fancy to state that her grandfather was unaware of this creek, but that some one would tell him soon, and then he would send men and have it well examined by divers.

To-day, however, a dire disappointment awaited them. Seated on a partly submerged post, and holding a fishing-line in his hands, was John Brown. The three stared at him for a minute in speechless disgust, but he returned their stare with a nod and a small smile and looked at his line.

"Better come home," whispered Cyril, with a lively recollection in his mind of the big hand that had played with his collar so short a time past.

But Betty was trying to swallow her indignation and to keep her voice quiet.

"This is our place," she said. "This was our place before yours."

"Well," said Brown, "it's mine now."

"It isn't yours," said Betty shrilly; "it belongs to our grandfather-so there!"

Again Brown smiled.

"Well, that's a stuffer," he said, "it belongs to my grandfather."

Betty's eyes widened in horror at the new boy's depravity. "Oh, you story!" she said in a shocked voice, then turning to the uneasy Cyril, "Hit him, Cyril!" she said. "Hit him one in the eye for taking our place and telling such a wicked story."

But Cyril was already widening the distance between himself and John Brown, and a feeling of anger was beginning to stir in his small breast against Betty for trying to mix him up in this quarrel.

"Come on home," he said, "what's the good of having a row with a fellow like that?"

"But it's our water," said Betty, her face red with anger towards the fisher. She stooped down and picked up a stone.

Brown turned and looked at the little group; Cyril a good distance in the rear; and angry-faced Betty, with Nancy cowering in terror behind her.

"Look here," he said, "I'm not going to have any of you people poaching on my grandfather's property. You can come as far as the fence if you like, but I advise you to come no further."

Betty's stone flew through the air-many yards distant from the boy on the post.

"Good, again," he said. "There are plenty more stones and I'm here yet."

Again Betty repeated the process, and with even worse results. She never could aim straight in all her life!

"Good shot!" said Brown, laughing again.

"Oh, Cywil, do smash him," begged Betty in desperation.

"He daren't, he hasn't the pluck," mocked Brown.

"No Bruce is afraid," said Betty, using her favourite taunt. "Come on Cyril!"

But when she looked over her shoulder Cyril was nowhere in sight, and Nancy was scudding away, like a terrified rabbit, through the scrub around her.

Through the air rang a clear shrill voice-it belonged to golden haired Dorothea-"Betty, come home."

"You're called," said Brown, winding up a yard or so of his line.

Betty stooped, grasped another stone, took aim at a distant wattle in sheer desperation, and caught Brown on the hand.

The pain of it drew a sharp exclamation from him, and brought him from his post in a towering rage.

And Betty took to her bare heels and ran-ran as though her grandfather and all his emus were after her.

Near the wicket-gate she ran against Cyril, who was throwing stones in the air for the dog to snap at as they fell.

"Bwoun!" she gasped. "He's coming!"

Cyril looked down the track and beheld no one.

"It's all right," he said; "go inside and shut the gate. I'll give him what for. I'd just like to see him touch you. I'd knock him into next year as soon as look at him."

But no Brown appeared.

Cyril put his hands in his pockets and strutted towards the track through the bush-to the intense admiration of Elizabeth.

"No Bruce is afraid of any one," he said. "You and Nancy go in."

A girl in a short long print dress ran down the verandah steps. A mane of golden hair hung down her back and some of it lay over her shoulders, and when she stood still she tossed it away.

"You're to come home at once, Betty," she said, "and mind baby. And oh, you naughty girl, you've got your boots and stockings off again. What will mother say?"

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