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An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9725

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Mrs. Bruce was down on her knees caressing tiny Czar violets. Quite early in the morning (before the breakfast things were washed or the beds made) she had slipped on one of Dot's picturesque poppy-trimmed hats and declared her intention of planting the bed outside the study windows thick with these the sweetest-scented of all flowers.

"And all the time you are working and thinking and plotting, daddie darling, the sweetest scents will be stealing round you," she said.

For some little time she was quite happy among her violets. But presently a richly hued wall-flower called her attention to a cluster of its blooms, drooping on the pebbly path for a careless foot to crush,-all for the want of a few tacks and little shreds of cloth. A heavily-blossomed rose-tree begged that some of its buds might be clipped, and a favourite carnation put in its claim for a stake.

"So much to do!" said Mrs. Bruce, as she flitted here and there in the old-fashioned garden, which was a veritable paradise to her. "The roses must be clipped, the violets must be thinned, the carnations must be staked. And there are the new seedlings to be planted. Oh, I think I will take the week for my garden-and let the house go!"

A flush of almost girlish excitement was in her cheeks, her garden meant so very much to her. Certainly the house had strong claims-and it was Monday morning-the very morning for forming and carrying out good plans and resolutions! Meals wanted cooking, cupboards and drawers tidying; garments darning and patching! But then-the garden! Did it not also need her. Ah! and did she not also need it!

Even as she hesitated, balancing duty with beauty, Betty's voice floated out through the kitchen window, past the passion-fruit creeper and the white magnolia tree, past the tiny sweet violets and the study windows, right to where she stood among the roses and wall-flowers.

"I am so tired of washing up," it said, "it wasn't fair of Dot. She had four plates for her breakfast-I only had one. She might remember I've to go to school as well as her."

Then Mrs. Bruce advanced one foot towards the house, and in thought wielded the tea-towel and attacked the trayful of cups and saucers that she knew would be awaiting the tea-towel.

It was Cyril's voice that arrested her. It came from the kitchen too.

"What's washing up!" said Cyril contemptuously. "Washing up a few cups and spoons-pooh! How'd you like to be me and have to clean all the knives, I wonder."

Whereat Mrs. Bruce relinquished thoughts of the tea-towel. It would never do, she told herself, to assist Betty and leave poor Cyril unaided. "And I couldn't clean knives," she said.

But she ran indoors to her bedroom, whence came an angry crying voice. Six-year-old Nancy was, in the frequent intervals that occurred in the doing of her hair, frolicking about the small hot bedroom and trying frantically to catch the interest of the thumb-and-cot-disgusted baby.

"Do your hair nicely," said Mrs. Bruce to her second youngest daughter. "I will take baby into the garden. Button your shoes and ask Betty to see that your ears are clean. And your nails. A little lady always has nice nails."

She carried her baby away, kissing her neck and cheeks and hands, and telling her, as she had told them all, from Dorothy downwards, that there never had been such a baby in the world before.

And she slipped her into the much used hammock under the old apple tree, and left her to play with her toes and fingers, whilst she went back to her violets and roses singing-

"Rock-a-bye, Baby on a tree top,

There you are put, there you must stop."

and trying to be rid of that uncomfortable feeling, of having done what she wanted and not what she ought.

In the study Mr. Bruce sat before a paper-strewn table. Most of the papers related to his beloved book-which was almost half-completed. It had reached that stage several times before, and what had been written thereafter had been consigned to the kitchen fire.

Now it was necessary that he should put it away, even out of thought, and turn his attention towards something that would bring in a quick return. For Dot's school fees would be due very shortly, and he remembered, with a smile-lit sigh, that this quarter she had taken up two extras, singing and dancing.

His income would not admit of extras-and yet, as Mrs. Bruce frequently put it, Dot was the eldest and was very pretty. She certainly must be able to dance and sing!

He gathered up a few stray leaves of his manuscript, rolled them up with the bulk, and heroically put them away.

But, as he returned to his seat, he caught a glimpse of his wife, kneeling on the path, and making a little trench with a trowel in the bed outside his window.

"Well, little mother!" he called, and felt blithe as he said it, and young and fr

esh hearted, just because of the bright face in the poppy-trimmed hat.

"I ought to be in the kitchen making a pudding," she said, screwing up her face into a grimace.

"You are far better where you are," he said fondly.

"Yes. But, oh, dear! I wish I had a cook, and laundress, and a housemaid. Oh, and a nursemaid, too! It is dreadful to be poor, isn't it, daddie?"

She went on with her gardening, just as happy as before, but the face that the little author took to his work-table had grown grave in a minute.

"She was born to have servants," he said, "servants and ease. I must work harder."

Cyril's voice broke into his reverie. He had come beneath the study windows to interview his mother.

"Can't I be raised to twopence a week now I'm going on for thirteen," he said. "Bert Davis gets threepence, and he's only nine."

Mr. Brace did not catch the reply. But he told himself that most men would have been more liberal in the matter of £. s. d. to their only son.

He began to pace round and round his study.

"I must work harder-harder-harder!" he said. "I must put my book away, and grind out those articles for Montgomery!"

Nancy, in a big white sun-bonnet, clean for the new week, passed under his window and turned her face to the wicket gate. He could hear that she was crying in a miserable forsaken way, crying and talking to herself away within that capacious bonnet of hers.

He called "Baby!" and leaned over his window sill to her. But she did not hear him. She just went murmuring on to the gate.

Then two other hurrying little figures came along. Cyril, with a battered hat crushed down on his head, and his school-bag over his shoulders, and Betty with her boots unlaced, a white bonnet under her arm, and a newspaper parcel, which she was trying to coax into neatness, in one hand.

"It's all through you and your ghosts," Cyril was saying grumblingly. "I know I'd have done my lessons only for you, Betty Bruce."

"What is the matter with Nancy?" asked their father, leaning over the window sill once more. "Why was she crying?"

"'Cause she thinks she'll be late," said Betty easily. "She always cries if she thinks she's late."

Down the road they went, Nancy hurrying and crying, Cyril grumbling, Betty silent.

To none of them had Monday morning come exactly right-fresh and uncrumpled.

Betty sat down, just outside her grandfather's gate, to lace her boots, and Cyril went grumbling on about a hundred yards behind Nancy.

Then did a fresh crease get into the new week's first day for Betty. Looking under her arm as she bent over her boot, she beheld three figures walking down the road, and at the first glimpse of them her face grew hot.

"Geraldine and Fay!" she exclaimed.

The centre figure was dressed in a lilac print, and wore a spotless apron and a straw hat. Upon either side of her walked a little golden-haired girl, one apparently about Betty's age, and one Nancy's. Their dresses were white and spotless, and reached almost to their knees; their hats were flat shady things trimmed with muslin and lace. Their hair was beautifully dressed and curled, their boots shining-and buttoned, and their faces smiling and happy-looking.

They were Betty's ideals! Little rich girls, who rode ponies, and drove-sometimes in a village cart with a nurse, and sometimes in a carriage with a lady who invariably wore beautiful hats and dresses. Sometimes, again, they were to be seen in a dog-cart with a dark man who seemed a splendid creature indeed to Betty.

The little girl by the roadside grasped her unbuttoned boot in one hand, her bonnet and newspaper parcel in the other, and in a trice had squeezed herself under her grandfather's fence, just at a point where two or three panels were broken down.

Then she peeped out to see if they were looking. But no-they had not seen her. Betty gave a great sigh of relief as she watched them. How beautiful they were. How dainty! Betty looked down at her own old boots, old stockings, old dress. She turned her bonnet over disdainfully and thought of their lace-trimmed hats-their golden hair!

"Oh, I am glad they didn't see me!" she said aloud fervently.

Just then a voice shouted, a rough word to her from the path, and Betty awoke to two alarming facts. The one, that she was in the emu's enclosure and that one great bird was bearing curiously towards her already; the other, that her grandfather was the one who had called to her, and that John Brown, who was careering down the path on his bicycle, had stopped and was evidently giving information about her.

Her grandfather waved an angry hand.

"Out you go!" he shouted. "If you come here again, I'll set the dogs loose!"

Betty squeezed herself under the fence just before the emu reached her, and once more faced a very crumpled Monday morning.

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