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   Chapter 9 DOROTHEA'S FRIENDS

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9576

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Alma Montague, a wealthy doctor's daughter; Elsie and Minnie Stevenson, daughters of a Queensland squatter; and Nellie Harden, only child of a Supreme Court Judge, were Dorothea Bruce's "intimate" friends. Mona Parbury was her only "bosom" friend. Thus she defined them herself when speaking of them to members of her family and to the girls themselves, who were one and all eager to stand a "bosom" friend to pretty Thea Bruce as they called her.

The difference between an "intimate" friend and a "bosom" friend is too subtle to be described, but school-girls all the world over, and those who have left school days just behind them, will know and understand.

Mona Parbury was one week older than Dorothea and one inch (they measured upon the verandah wall) taller. Her waist was two sizes larger; her boots and gloves were three. In every way she was cast in a different mould from Dorothea. She was a heavily built girl, who looked at sixteen as though her teens were a year or two behind her. Her features were pronounced-high cheek-bones, square chin, high forehead; her hair was black and straight and plentiful, and she wore it in a heavy plait down her back. Her eyes were brown, clear, faithful, good eyes, and her mouth was distinctly large and ill-shaped.

Such was Mona in the days when Dorothea loved her-in the days when Dorothea told her all her hopes, and dreams, and often very foolish thoughts; when she made her the heroine of her stories; and wrote little poems to her as-"her love"-and little loving letters if the cruel fate which sometimes hovers over such friendships separated them for half a day.

We have seen Dorothea before. She was small and fairy-like; slender-waisted and light in movement. Her hair was golden and curly, and was usually worn quite loose about her shoulders; her eyes were blue and sunshiny and lashed by dark curling lashes; her mouth was small and red, and her complexion delicate pink and white. All of her "intimate" friends gave her the frankest admiration-they all loved her, and they were all eager to stand first with her.

But it was Mona who loved her the most. Mona who kept and treasured every one of the little "private" notes sent to her by Dot. She worked out all her most troublesome sums, brushed and curled her hair; bore many of her punishments; brought her numberless fal-lals (keepsakes she called them); wore a lock of her golden hair in a locket around her neck, and told her all of her secrets-she had as many as ten a week sometimes.

Miss Weir, the "principal" of the school, had, many years ago, given to Dorothea's mother much the same sort of love as Mona Parbury now gave to Dorothea. And it was owing to this old love that Dorothea was now admitted on very low terms to the most fashionable school in Sydney.

No one among all the pupils (there were fifteen) knew anything about poverty-no one but Dorothea. As she once said in a burst of anguish to her mother-

"They are all rich, every one of them. They live in beautiful houses and have parlourmaids and housemaids and nursemaids, and kitchenmaids and cooks and carriages, and as much money to spend as we have to live on, I believe."

It was very rarely, though, that any of her troubles ruffled her calm serenity. Dorothea was usually as placid as the placidest baby. She longed to be rich, and to have pretty things to wear and a handsome house to live in, but she never talked of her poverty. Instead she draped its cloven foot gracefully, and turned her back on it-and imagined she was rich-from Monday till Friday.

She discussed "fashion" and "society" with Alma Montague and Nellie Harden, and grew quite familiar with the names and doings of the great society dames. She even learned-at considerable pains-a "society" tone of voice with a drawl in it and a little lisp.

School life was a great happiness to her-the regular hours, the beautifully ordered house, the neat table, the daily constitutional, the morning and evening prayer-time, and the hour in the drawing-room at night, everything that made life from Monday till Friday.

It was Friday till Monday that was the cross, Friday till Monday, the days when the cloven foot would not be draped, when the elegancies of life were left behind in the city, when the twins and the babies were everywhere, when the meals were often but suddenly thought of snatches of food.

Sometimes the thought of the looming future-the time when all the days would be as Friday till Monday, when there would no longer be any school days to be lived by her-would quite break down her placidity, and make her feel she could put down her head anywhere and cry.

Yet away they were marching, one by one, all the beautiful school-days, all the days of discipline and pleasant duty,

and the ugly slack days, when there would be nothing but home with house-work to do, were drawing near.

And at last she could bear the thought of it by herself no longer.

It was early evening, and she was on the schoolroom verandah, watching the young moon rise over a distant chimney. Every moment she expected the prayer-bell to ring, and meanwhile, as it was not ringing, she filled up the time by counting how many more evening prayer-bells would ring before the end of term.

She counted on her fingers, out aloud, and found there were just twenty-nine-twenty-nine without Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. Twenty-nine days, and then came the end of term, and the end of her school-days.

It would then be Betty's turn-larrikin Betty's! The moon sailed over the chimney, and Dot put her head down on the verandah railing and began to cry. She did not cry in the vigorous whole-hearted way in which Betty cried, but she sighed heavily, and sobbed gently, and allowed two or three tears to run down her cheek before she brought out her dainty handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes.

And at that precise moment Mona was crossing the schoolroom floor, and she saw her darling Thea in tears! She was not given to light impulsive movements at all, but this time she really did spring forward and kneel at Dot's side.

"Dear, darling Thea!" she whispered, "what is the matter? Miss Cowdell has been bullying you for the silly old French? That's it, isn't it dear?"

"Oh, no!" said Dot hopelessly, "nothing half as small as that."

"You've lost the new sleeve-links Alma gave you? Never mind-there are plenty more. Not that? What then? Tell your own Mona-tell your own old Mona."

Two more tears ran down Dot's cheeks.

"It's-it's nearly the end of term," she said.

Mona nodded.

"And I'm going to leave school," she said.

Again Mona nodded and waited.

"I've to go home," said Dot, and she put her head down on Mona's shoulder heavily.

"I've to go home too," said Mona, and she sighed, "right away to the Richmond river, where you girls never come."

"My home," said Dot, "is like a little plain, hedged round with prickly pear, and put on the top of a mountain. No one ever comes in, and we never go out."

"Poor little Thea," said Mona.

"And we're very poor," went on Dorothea with strange recklessness; "we ought to be rich, but we're not, and the house is full of children, and there's never any peace from morning till night."

Mona grew crimson. She wanted to say something very much, and she lacked the courage. Instead she asked how old were the children, as if she did not know!

"There's Betty," said Dot, "she's to come here when I leave, and she won't enjoy it a bit-she's such a romp-and there's Cyril, they're both about twelve. And there's Nancy, she's six, and the baby."

"I wish," said Mona, "I wish they belonged to me."

"How can I practise with them everywhere about. How can I read, how can I paint even, write my book, do anything, with them everywhere?" asked Dot dismally. "They just fill the house."

Again Mona stumbled to what she wanted to say, and stopped. Dot would say she was "lecturing." It would never do.

"You're rich," said pretty Dot pouting; "you can have everything you want, do anything, go anywhere."

A few puckers got into Mona's high forehead.

"Once," she said, "I had four sisters, all younger than myself, and they all died. I told you, didn't I?"

"But it's long ago," said Dot. "Three years ago since the baby died. You must have forgotten."

"I'd promised my mother, when she was dying, to be a mother to them. Father and aunt made me go to school, and all the time I was counting on when I should leave, and be an elder sister."

Dot opened her eyes very wide.

"Why did you want to be an elder sister?" she asked.

Mona still looked red and ashamed.

"You should read The Flower of the Family," she said, and "The Eldest of Seven, Holding in Trust. You'd know then."

Dorothea had read the last, and she began to see and understand.

"You've got your mother and sisters," said Mona shyly.

And then for the first time it occurred to Dorothea that she herself was an elder sister, that she was the eldest of five, and that infinite possibilities lay before her.

"There's only my father and my aunt and brother when I go home," said Mona. "And I've only twenty-nine days, too, and then, oh! Thea darling, I have to lose you."

"We'll write twice a week always," whispered Dot, twining her arms round her friend's waist.

"And always be each other's bosom friend," said Mona.

Then the prayer-bell rang, and the four intimate friends scanned Thea closely, seeing that she had been crying, and feeling angry with "that" Mona Parbury for letting her.

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