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   Chapter 5 JOHN BROWN

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 7756

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


John Brown's life had hitherto been a curiously rough and tumble sort of existence. There had been a season, brief and entirely unremembered by him, when his home had been in one of Sydney's most fashionable suburbs; when a tender-eyed mother had watched delightedly over his first gleams of intelligence, and a proud father had perched him on his shoulder for a bed-time romp. When he had been taken tenderly for an "airing" by the trimmest of nursemaids, and in the daintiest of perambulators. When he had worn tiny silk frocks and socks and bonnets. When hopes and fears had arisen over "teething-time." When he had been carried round a drawing-room, to display to admiring friends, his chubby wrists, his dimpled fat legs, his quite remarkable length of limb and growth of bone.

Then Death slipped in unawares, and called the sweet young mother from that happy home, and little John Brown became a perplexity and a care to a grief-maddened father.

For a space it was conjectured that the baby, pending the arrival of a step-mother, would be handed over to the cook, a rotund motherly person who was fond of asserting that she had buried thirteen children and reared one.

But conjectures have a way of falling beside the mark.

One morning an old schoolmate of poor little Mrs. Brown's arrived from "out back," packed up the baby's things with her own quick brown hands and returned "out back" the same evening.

The perambulator, the cradle, the cot, the dainty baby basket and a multitude of other things were sold the next week along with the tables and chairs and other "household effects," and Mr. John Brown, senior, a cabin box and a portmanteau, left by a mail steamer for Japan.

And the small suburban house became "to let." Thenceforward the pattern of little John Brown's existence became altered. He was one of three other children, and not even the baby, although scarcely one year old.

His elegant lace-trimmed silken and muslin garments were "laid by." He wore dark laundry-saving dresses and neither boots nor socks. He was never carried around for admiration, for the very good reason that visitors were few and far between-and there was (except to doting parents, perhaps) very little to admire about him. He lost his chubbiness and his pink prettiness and became thin and wiry, brown faced and brown limbed.

He was always abnormally tall and abnormally strong, so that he became almost a jest on the station. He learned to fight at three, to swim at four, shoot at seven, ride, yard cattle, milk, chop wood, make bush fires and put them out again, ring bark trees all before he was eleven. In short, to do, and to do remarkably well, the hundred and one things that make up a man's and boy's existence on an Australian station.

At thirteen he learned that his name was Brown, and that he had a father other than the bluff squatter he had grown up with. And at thirteen he was taken from the station-life he loved, and, after much travelling, delivered by a station-hand into his father's care in Sydney.

Before he could form any idea as to what was about to happen to him, and to this grey-bearded father of his, he was taken across the blue harbour water, and thence by coach to the little township over the northern hills.

They walked past the small weather-board school together, and few, if any, words passed between them. For the man's thoughts were away down the slope of many years, and the boy's were away in that flat country "out back" where he had been brought up.

They were close to the great iron gates when the man broke the silence; pointing beyond them he remarked-

"This is where your home will be in the future, John."

John considered the prospect thoughtfully and shook his head-

"I'd rather go home," he said. "Let me go home."

"No," said his father, "it can't be done. I ought to have fetc

hed you away sooner, only I shirked a duty. Open the little gate, I see the big ones are padlocked. Push, it's stiff."

They walked up the long red drive, John's mind busy over the questions he wished to ask his father and he began to lag behind considering them.

"This will be your home," repeated Mr. Brown quietly, "and it's a marvellous thing how life has arranged itself. The turn of Fortune's wheel, we may say. Walk quicker, John."

When they stood before the great front door, Mr. Brown became retrospective again.

"We played here together," he said-, "down these very steps, along these very paths. It is strange how life has fallen out-how my boy will be--" He put out his hand and pulled the bell vigorously, then turned his back to the house and surveyed the garden.

"Is it a school?" whispered John. But before his father could reply the door had rolled back and a man-servant stood looking at them.

Mr. Brown walked in, put his hat on a table, motioned to John, and opened a door at one side of the wide hall.

"It's me-Brown," he said as he entered the room. "I've brought the boy."

John followed very quickly, being curious now. His father stood half-way across the room, looking hesitating and apologetic.

A man of sixty or so, with a red, merry-looking face, and an unmistakable sea-captain air, glanced up from a paper he was reading.

"Eh?" he asked.

Then he sent his look-it was a quick darting look that saw everything in the twinkling of an ordinary person's eye-to the thin badly-dressed figure in the rear. "Eh? The boy? Oh-ah! My newly-found grandson."

"He is scarcely what I had hoped to find," said Mr. Brown, apologetic still. "Yet his mother was a good-looking woman and--"

"Be hanged to looks," said Mr. Carew. "He'll get on all the better without 'em. And you were never anything to boast of yourself you know. What's his name?"

"John."

"Um! John Brown. John Carew-Brown, we'll say. It's a pity it's not John Brown Carew."

"That's a matter that can easily be altered. It can be merely John Carew, if you like, and let the melodious Brown go hang."

"Eh? What does the boy say? What do you say John to changing your name and letting the Brown go hang?"

To Mr. Brown's surprise and consternation, the boy gave an emphatic "No."

"Ah!" said old Mr. Carew, "and how's that? Speak up, John."

"The boys 'ud forget me," said John anxiously, "and I'd have to begin all over agen."

"What with?-Leave him alone, Brown."

"Thrashing 'em. They know me everywhere about Warrena. I can make 'em all sit up. I don't want to change my name."

A sparkle came into the old man's eyes.

"Well said, my lad," he snapped. "I'd not have given a rap for you if you'd have cast your name away as easily as a pinching pair o' boots. Stick to your own name, John, and you'll look all the better after mine."

He waited a bit, eyeing the boy up and down keenly. The thin brown face, with its square determined mouth, quiet grey eyes and high forehead; the sturdy figure, countrified clothes, copper-toed boots, all passed under his scrutiny.

"So you're of the fighting kind?" he asked at last.

"Yes," said John proudly.

"Ah! You never were, you remember, Brown. Things might have been different if you had been."

He waited again. Then he smiled queerly.

"John," he said, "your father's going away again to-night. You're my grandson. It may not seem a great matter to you now-but it is, all the same. You stay here. You and I have to take life together, boy-though you're at one end of the ladder and I'm at t'other. Your name's your name right enough, but I want you to be good enough to tack mine on to it, and to do a bit of fighting for mine too if necessary. I've fought for it hard in my day too. And now, John Carew-Brown, we'll have a bit of lunch if it's all the same to you."

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