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   Chapter 8 THE FIGHT

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 14042

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Betty was in the belt of bush that lay between the wicket-gate of her home and the road. Her idea was to be sufficiently near to home to gather from the sound of the voices that might call her if she were really needed and yet to be so far from sight that the continual "Betty, come here," and "Betty, go there," could not be.

She had come home as soon as school was out, come home leaving Cyril and Nancy behind her, flung herself beneath the shade of one of her favourite old gum trees, and begun to write.

When Mr. Bruce was busy over a story, or an article, or a book, every one in the house knew. Then the study door would be closed and the window only opened at the top; then the children would be banished from the side garden into which the study looked, and from the passage outside the study door; then Mrs. Bruce would carry his meals to him upon a tray, and he would have strong black coffee in the early evening. And then at last a neatly folded missive, gummed and tied with thin string, with a mysterious "MS. only" inscribed in one corner, would be carried to the post by either Cyril or Betty.

When Dot wrote a story, as she very frequently did now-a-days, portions of it would be carried into the study for her father to see, and her mother would proudly read page after page of the neat round hand, and wonder where on earth the child got her ideas from.

But when Betty wrote her stories, no one in the house-excepting Cyril, of course-knew anything about it! no one kept the house quiet for Betty, and no one wondered wherever she got her ideas from. And yet she had quite a collection of fairy stories and poems of her own composition. She and an exercise book, or a few scraps of paper and a stumpy bit of pencil were to be seen sometimes in very close companionship.

But for all that no one did see; or seeing, they did not understand.

Still Betty wrote her stories-not necessarily for publication like her father-nor as a guarantee that the scribbling genius was within her, like Dot-but for the love of story writing alone.

Her fairy story to-day had to do with the bold and handsome Waratah which ran mad in the bush behind her home, towards Middle Harbour. Her fertile fancy had suggested many roles for these flowers to take.

It occurred to her as she wrote that she had intended to write a poem which should stir Cyril-not one of her sort of poems, about streams and flowers and dells and birds, but a dashing sort of poem, one that would make Cyril say "By Jup-i-ter, Betty," and learn it off by heart without any asking.

For a space she laid down her story, which began, "Once upon a time," and asked herself what there was that she could make a poem of for Cyril.

"It must be something brave," she said. "A horse, a dog, a fire, a man-a St. Bernard dog saving a boy-a soldier-I think a soldier would suit Cyril!"

She stared through the bush to the red road consideringly, holding her pencil ready to write. As she looked she became aware of a small figure running along the road, and entering the bush track. It was Cyril, and Cyril in woe. She could see that at a glance, and of course the first thing she did was to throw down her paper and pencil and run to meet him.

As she got nearer to him she saw tears were running down his face and she heard, ever and anon as he ran, a great sob, half of anger and half of fear, come bursting from his lips.

"Oh, my poor boy, whatever is the matter?" she cried in her most motherly way.

"The g-g-great big bully!" sobbed Cyril.

"Oh dear!" exclaimed Betty in distress.

"Oh the b-b-big bully. Let's get home."

"Big John Brown?" asked Betty, for only yesterday this same John Brown had sent her small brother home weeping over a sore head.

"Yes, of course. He-he said he'd knock me into next year. Come on, can't you?"

Betty was running by his side at quite a brisk trot to keep up with him.

"I-I hope you knocked him down," she said.

"He said grandfather isn't our grandfather at all."

"Oh!-and you did give him a black eye Cywil dear?" asked Betty eagerly. Her "r's" had a way of rolling themselves into "w's" whenever she was excited.

They were at the wicket-gate now, and Cyril slackened his speed, and looked over his shoulder. No one was in sight.

"Oh, I will do!" he said boldly. "I told him no Bruce was afraid!"

"That's right," said Betty eagerly. "That's right Cywil. No Bruce is afraid. But you did knock him down, didn't you."

Cyril hesitated-then his trouble broke from him in a burst. "We fight to-night down at our coral islands at seven," he said.

"Oh my bwave Cywil!" exclaimed Betty admiringly. "Oh, I am so glad-oh, I am so very glad!"

But Cyril looked doleful, and was lagging behind his small eager sister.

"I'm not so sure that he meant us to fight," he said. "He-he never asked me to."

"What did he say?"

"He only said something about a challenge and things."

"Oh," said Betty, eager again in a minute; "if he said 'challenge' you must fight. There's no get out."

"But I've hurt my leg."

"Oh never mind your leg-think of the honour of the Bruces!" said the fervent Betty, who regarded the family cognomen as something sacred and against which no breath of evil must be allowed to come.

"Honour of the Bruces be hanged, if I'm lame," said Cyril savagely.

A sense of foreboding swept over Betty as she followed Cyril into the house. Her imagination showed her willows and the "coral islands," and only John Brown-big square John Brown-there. She knew the story that would soon be all over the school-all over the neighbourhood-that Cyril had been afraid to fight. Of course she, Betty, his own twin sister, knew there would not be a grain of truth in it. She knew he was shy and delicate, and had hurt his leg. But for all that, she wished eagerly that he were not shy and delicate, and did not always have some bodily ill when fighting time came. And more than one sob shook her, for she beheld the honour of the Bruces being trampled under John Brown's big boots.

She set the table and went about her usual household tasks in a very half-hearted way. Cyril would not look at her, and crept off to bed at six o'clock, complaining of the pain in his leg. Tea was over by then, and Betty, with her woeful look still on her face was helping "wash up" in the kitchen.

Cyril in his bedroom turned down his stocking and examined the little blue bruise near his knee. That there was some outward and visible sign of his hurt he was very thankful. It raised his self-respect and brought tears of self-pity to his eyes, that Betty should have expected him to fight under such circumstances! So much did the sight of his wound upset him that he only went on one leg while undressing, though it must be confessed it was not always the same leg that did the hopping.

Presently, after he had been lying in bed for some little time and commiserating with himself over his sad fate, the door opened and Betty, with the wistfu

lness quite gone from her face, came in. And such a Betty! Her brown hair was bundled away under one of Cyril's battered straw hats, and thankful indeed had she been that she had so little hair to bundle. She wore one of Cyril's sailor jackets, and a pair of his serge knickers, and few looking at her casually, would have insulted her with the supposition that she was a mere girl.

Her face was alight with eagerness as she besought her brother to "just see if he'd know her!"

"It'll be almost dark when I get there," she said, "and he'll never dweam I'm not you."

"But what'll you do when you get there?" asked Cyril, sitting up in bed; "perhaps a challenge does mean a fight!"

"Fight him!" said Betty stoutly; "I've been wanting to ever since he went above me."

"You can't fight," said Cyril disgustedly. "You're only a girl."

Betty's face positively flamed with eagerness.

"Can't fight!" she said. "Why Fred Jones taught me. He says I've got the knack, but not very much strength. Anyway, I fought that Barry kid the other day, I can promise you!"

"But John Brown is three times as big as Ces Barry."

"I know!" she sighed dismally. "Anyway, it's better to be beaten than not to fight at all. And if you don't fight, they-they might say you were afraid." Her face grew scarlet as she put the horrid thought into words.

When the door was shut, Cyril jumped out of bed to watch her go, and so occupied was he over her danger, that he forget his own hurt and did not limp at all.

Up and down the garden paths his mother and father were walking, his mother's arm through his father's, and a happy peaceful look on her face. The thought ran through the boy's mind, how little grown up ones know of the troubles of childhood. Nancy was rolling with baby on the little lawn, singing-

"John, John, John, the grey goose is gone,

The fox is away o'er the hill, Oh!"

and he thought how good it was to be a girl-a goose-a fox-anything but a boy!

Then he crept back to bed, covered up his head and began to cry. For he was afraid that Betty would be hurt-and once again had he hung back when he should have gone forward. And his heart told him that again he had been a coward.

Down by the willows John Brown was waiting. He had very much enjoyed issuing his "challenge" but he felt morally certain that it would not be accepted. He was therefore surprised when he saw his small adversary approaching him in the dusk.

Who shall say what fancies were running riot in his head! He was a squire going to punish a rash youth for trying to thrust himself into their family. He, his grandfather's grandson, was going to thrash a foolish boy for taking his grandfather's name in vain!

Meanwhile his little foe came on, over the rough sun-burnt grass, over a fallen tree through a small stretch of denser scrub, to the very shores of the "coral island sea." And the baby-moon chose the moment of their meeting to slip behind a cloud and leave the world in semi-darkness.

"Well done, Bruce!" said Brown coming forward and speaking in a hearty tone; "I didn't believe you'd come-I didn't think you had a fight in you."

"We Bruces fight till we die!" piped Betty, and bit her lip to still its quivering.

Brown laughed. He detected the nervousness in his opponent's voice, and had fully expected it. If he had found "Bruce" over-bold, he would have been surprised indeed. As it was, the reply in some way pleased him.

"Well," he said, "you're not going to fight me. I'm not in a fighting mood; I'm going to thrash you."

Betty caught her breath. It certainly entered into her mind to cry out and run away, but she did nothing of the sort, she only clenched her hands, and stood her ground-having as usual a sufficiency of courage for the occasion.

The next minute Brown's great hand had grasped her coat collar, and she felt herself swung round, stood down and swung round again. Then a sharp swish lashed her once, twice, thrice.

Whereupon Betty began to fight on her own account, forgetting all the advice Fred Jones had given her about "hitting out from the shoulder," etc. etc. She kicked Brown's legs with all the strength she could put into her own. She pinched his wrists and his cheek, and lastly and to his disgust she set her sharp little teeth into his hand.

He dropped her quickly, her hat rolled off, and down tumbled her short curly hair. And the moon chose that moment to sail from under the cloud and put Betty's face in a soft silver light.

Brown whistled. "By Jove!" he said, the "sister."

Betty crammed her hat down upon her head again.

"I'm not," she said. "It's not! It's me, Cyril. Come on, coward, bully!"

She made a little rush at him, but Brown threw down his switch.

"Thanks," he said. "I'm not taking any this trip."

"Come on," urged Betty.

"I don't fight girls, thanks."

Betty began to cry in a heart-broken desperate way.

"It's not me," she said. "It's Cyril. It's Cyril. Oh, it's Cyril!"

But Brown, smiling darkly, turned from her, jumped over the fence, and took his way through the banana grove to his home.

And what pen could tell of his heaviness of heart, and great shame in that he had thrashed a girl. He could feel her light weight yet as he swung her round, hear her girlish voice crying, "We Bruces fight till we die!" see her thin white face in the moonlight as her hat fell off, and she looked at him and said-

"Come on, coward, bully!"

How he tingled with shame. Coward, bully! Yes, he had hit a girl.

Betty started for home at a brisk run, for during her adventure the night had advanced, and her imagination peopled the surrounding bush with bogeys, and imps and elves.

And as she ran, sobs broke from her, solely on account of her physical woes.

Within the wicket gate she walked slowly. How could fear of outer darkness remain, when the dinning-room window sent such a bar of light beyond.

She crept softly along the verandah to the window and peeped in. Her father was lying on the old cane lounge, his eyes upon her mother who sat at the piano, in a pretty fresh dress, flower-like as ever. For a space, while little boy-Betty looked, she just touched the keys tenderly as if she loved them like her flowers, then she struck a few chords, and began to sing "Home, Sweet Home," in her sweet girlish voice.

And Betty turned away, the tears running down her cheeks, and her small heart aching.

"I've been bad again," she said, "and I meant to be good always. I don't believe you can be good till you are grown up." She ran along the passage into the little bedroom which she and Dot and Nancy shared, and she fell down by Dot's quiet white bed and buried her face in the quilt.

"Bad again," she sobbed. "I've been bad again. Oh, I'm glad I got thrashed, it ought to do me good." But it is to be feared her gladness was not very deep, because a sense of great satisfaction swept over her as she remembered, she had kicked, really kicked, big John Brown.

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