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An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9842

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Betty's boots and stockings were on once more, and her school frock exchanged for one whose school days lay far behind it. In spite of "lettings down" and repeated patchings and mendings it was in what its small wearer called the "ragetty tagetty" stage of its existence, and was donned only when she was about the dirty part of "cleaning up."

It was Saturday morning now, and she was very busy. Her mother could never capably wield a broom, or scrub, or dust, or cook-she had done all four, but the results were pathetic. Even Nancy knew the story of her life, which began with "once upon a time, almost twenty years ago," and was told in varying fragments whenever a story was begged for.

There was the story of the jolly sea-captain and his one wee daughter-their own mother-and of how they had sailed the seas and seen many people and many lands. There was the story of the old house within the iron gates-built by convicts more than fifty years ago-and of how the sea-captain had bought it and built a tower and spiral staircase and a roof promenade, which he called his "deck." And of how he and his small daughter settled down in the great house together; and how her wardrobe was always full of beautiful clothes and her purse full of real sovereigns; and two ponies she had to her name, and a great dog that was the terror of the neighbourhood, and a little dog that lived as much as it could in her lap. There was the story of her garden full of rare flowers, and her ferneries of rare ferns, and her aviary of rare birds.

Then there was the story of the little girl "grown up," with hair done on the top of her head, and long sweeping dresses, and a lover chosen by her father himself-by name John Brown; and of the pale young author who lived beyond the iron gates, in a small weather-board cottage with an iron roof who wrote dainty little sonnets and ballads, which he read to her under the old gum trees.

And lastly, there was the story of the captain's pretty daughter slipping away from the great house-to become mistress of the wee cottage behind the pine trees. And of how the captain returned all letters unopened and sailed away to other lands for five years; of how afterwards the poor author lay ill unto death, and the little wife-"mother" now-carried pretty Dorothy to the great house and sent her trotting into the library, saying "grandpa" as she ran; and of how the little girl had been lifted outside the house by a servant, who had civilly stated the orders he had received, never to allow any one from the author's house to "cross the threshold" of that other great one.

And now it was to-day-and besides Dorothea there were the twins (Cyril and Elizabeth), Nancy and the baby; a goodly number for the small weather-board cottage to shelter and for the author, who had only had one book published, to bring up.

So it fell out that there was only a rough state girl to do the work of the cottage, and much sweeping and dusting was Elizabeth's "share"; much "washing-up" and tidying. To Nancy belonged the task of setting the tables and amusing the baby; and Cyril was engaged at a penny a week to stock the barrel in the kitchen with firewood and chips, and bits of bark to coax contrary fires. He was the only one who received payment for his work, and no one demurred, for was he not the only boy of the family and in the eyes of them all a sort of king!

So Betty was dressed in working garb and was bestowing her usual Saturday morning attention upon the "living-room"-drawing-room they had none. The little room that had evidently been destined by its builder to fulfil such a mission, had been seized and occupied by the author in the beginning of his residence at The Gunyah.

The living-room was a low-ceiled room with French windows leading to the verandah. It had a centre table, several cane chairs, a small piano, a rocking-chair and a dilapidated sofa. Its floor was oilclothed and its windows uncurtained-only Dorothea had arrived at the stage that sighed for prettinesses.

Betty was quite happy when she had swept the floor, shaken the cloth, put all the chairs with their backs to the wall, and polished the piano.

She was surveying the room with pride when Dorothea walked in. Dorothea in the frock she had worn for five mornings during the week, and which was still clean and fresh; with her wonderful hair in a shining mass down her back, and a serviette in her hand (an extempore duster). It always took her the better part of Saturday to even find her own niche in the home.

"I was going to dust this room, Betty," she said-"someway, everything I am going to do, I find you've done."

Elizabeth smiled drily. She could not even sweep a room and be just Elizabeth Bruce. Saturdays usually found her in imagination Cinderella; and consequently harsh words from Dorothea, who in her eyes was a cruel step-sister, would have found more favou

r with her than kind ones.

"There is the kitchen to be swept," said Betty; "the ashes are thick on the hearth and the breakfast things are not washed up."

Dorothea looked startled. Betty's voice sounded tired and resigned.

"Oh dear!" said Dorothea, "I do so hate doing kitchen work. It makes my hands so red and rough, and just spoils my dress."

"The work is there and must be done," remarked Betty.

Mrs. Bruce looked in at the door. Her face was just Dorothea's grown older, and without its roses; her hair was Dorothea's with its gold grown dull; her very voice and dimples were Dorothea's. A large poppy-trimmed hat adorned her head, and a basket with an old pair of scissors in it was swung over her arm.

"Of course you'll not do kitchen work, my chicken," she said gaily; "slip on your hat and come and gather roses with me. It's little enough of you home your get-that little shall not be spoilt by ashes and dust.

"It's Mary's work, and Betty can see that she does it well."

Betty stalked into the kitchen and regarded the fireplace in gleeful gloom, sitting down in front of it and staring into the heart of the small wood fire.

Mary, the maid-of-all-work, took her duties in a very haphazard way. She had no particular time for doing anything, and no particular place for keeping anything. And alas! it is to be regretted her mistress was the last woman in the world to train her in the way she should go.

To-day she had taken it into her head to try the effect of a few bows of blue ribbon upon her cherry-coloured straw hat, before the breakfast things were washed or the sweeping and scrubbing done. But the washing-up belonged to Betty.

Outside in the garden Mrs. Bruce was drawing Dorothea's attention to the scent of the violets and mignonette, and her gay voice caused Betty to sigh heavily.

"If my own mother had lived," she said gloomily, "I too might gather flowers. But what am I?-the family drudge!"

Cyril entered the back door, his arms piled up with firewood.

"I'm getting sick of chopping wood," he said grumblingly, "it's all very well to be you and stay in a nice cool kitchen. How'd you like it if you had to be me and stay chopping in the hot sun? I know what I wish."

"What?" asked Betty, glancing round her "nice cool kitchen" without any appreciation of it lighting her eyes.

"Why, I wish mother had never run away and made grandfather mad. And I wish he'd suddenly think he was going to die, and say he wanted to adopt me."

"How about me? Why shouldn't he adopt me?" demanded Betty.

"'Cause I'm the only son," said Cyril. "He's got his pick of four girls, but if he wants a boy there's only me."

He went outside and loaded himself with wood once more.

"Cecil Duncan's father gives him threepence a week, and he doesn't have to do anything to earn it," he said when he came in again. "He says every Monday morning his father gives him a threepenny bit and his mother's always giving him pennies."

"H'em," said Cinderella, and fell to work sweeping up the hearth vigorously. Her own grievances faded away, as she looked at Cyril's-which was a way they had.

"And he's not the only boy neither," said Cyril. He threw the wood angrily into the barrel. "There's Harry and Jim besides. I suppose they get threepence each as well. What's a penny a week? You can't do anything with it."

Elizabeth lifted down a tin bowl and filled it with water; placed in it a piece of yellow soap, a piece of sand soap and a scrubbing brush, and then began to roll up her sleeves. She was no longer Cinderella. A new and wonderful thought had flashed into her mind even as she listened to Cyril's plaint. It certainly was hard for him, her heart admitted, very hard.

"How would you like to be rich, Cywil?" she asked, turning a shining face to him.

Cyril thought a reply was one of those many things that could be dispensed with-he merely showered a little extra vindictiveness upon the firewood and kicked the cask with a shabby copper-toed boot.

Betty danced across to him and put her sun-tanned face close to his fair freckled one.

"How would you like to be very rich?" she said, "and to have a pony of your own, and jelly and things to eat, and a lovely house to live in, and--"

"Don't be so silly, Betty," said the boy irritably.

Betty wagged her head. "I've got a thought," she said.

"Your silly-old pearl-seeking is no good. There are no pearls, so there," said Cyril crossly. "You needn't go thinking you really take me in. It's only a game-bah!"

Betty was still dancing around him in a convincing, yet aggravating way.

"How'd you like to be adopted, Cywil?" she asked-"really adopted, not pretending? Oh, I've got a very big thought, and it wants a lot of thinking. You go on getting your wood while I think."

And Cyril gave her one of his old respectful looks as he went out of the kitchen door.

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