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   Chapter 10 RICHES OR RAGS

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9565

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Captain Carew and John Brown-big John Brown in Betty's parlance-sat at dinner together.

Although not an elegant dinner table it was very far removed from being a poor one. The linen, silver and glass were all of the best, the very best; the man-servant was decorous and swift of eye, foot and hand, and the menu was beyond any that had entered into John Brown's knowledge, before he came to Dene Hall. Yet he was out of love with it all.

Captain Carew had his glass of clear saffron-coloured wine at his right hand. His silver fork was making easy journeyings from a slice of cold turkey on his plate, to his mouth, and his eyes were now and again running over a long type-written letter that lay before him.

He was well pleased, well fed, and interested, and he had no reason to suppose John Brown was in any other humour than himself.

He had heard that the thoughts of youth were of vast length, and perhaps he believed it. But he did not think John's had reached quite as far as wishing to be a cobbler in a country village.

And it must be confessed that few, seeing the appetite the boy brought to his plate of cold turkey and "snowed" potato, would have suspected him of longing for a "crust of bread and a drink of cold water."

The truth was, he had been of late ransacking his grandfather's library and had found besides sea-stories and stories of wrecks, and foreign lands and pirates and deep sea treasure-what interested him more than all, a volume of biographies of self-made men.

He had lingered longingly over their boyhoods; their brief school times (when such times were lacking altogether he liked both man and story better); their privations, struggles, self-reliance and success. The success interested him the least. That came, of course, he decided, to all who tried hard enough. But the privations! The struggle! The self-reliance! How his eyes shone and his heart beat at it!

There was the story of Richard Arkwright, the great mechanician. He was never at school in his life-never forced to do ridiculous sums, to spell correctly, to parse, to drill, to sing! His biographer said that the only education he ever received he gave himself-that he was fifty years of age when he set to work to learn grammar and to improve his hand-writing. He did not waste the precious hours of his youth over such things. When he was a boy he was apprenticed to a barber, and when he set up in business for himself he occupied an underground cellar and put up his sign-"Come to the subterraneous barber; he shaves for a penny." This caused brisk competition, and a general reduction in barber's prices. Yet not to be beaten, Arkwright altered his sign to "A clean shave for a halfpenny." Then he turned his attention to wig-making, and from that to machine-making. And years and years passed. Years filled with patient labour, privations, obstacles, and at last Success! "Eighteen years after he had constructed his first machine he rose to such estimation in Derbyshire that he was appointed High Sheriff of the county, and shortly afterwards George III conferred upon him the honour of knighthood." So said the book.

Shakespeare, he read, was the son of a butcher and grazier; Sir Cloudesley Shovel, the great admiral, a cobbler's son; Stephenson was an engine-fireman; Turner, the great painter, came from a barber's shop.

Life after life he had turned over of men who had risen from the ranks and gotten for themselves fame and riches. So that at last he came to regard humble birth and poverty as the necessary foundations of ultimate success. He noticed that his heroes all worked hard and patiently; were all brave and sternly self-disciplined, plodding onwards past every obstacle and hardship. But he forgot to notice that they all made the best of that sphere of life into which they were born.

He had quite decided to be a self-made man. That was simple enough. The question that troubled him was what sort of a self-made man to be! A Newton? A Shakespeare? A Stephenson? A Turner? An Arkwright?

The wide choice worried and perplexed him. It was pitiful to his thinking that he could, try and strive as he might, only be one.

He had put himself through several examinations. He had lain under a pear tree and watched the leaves fall; he felt another man had the monopoly of apple trees. And he had decided that the leaves fell because they had become unfastened from the branches, and that they did not fall straight because the wind blew them sideways. And there was an end of the leaves.

He had studied kitchen furnishings and their ways, avoiding only the kettle, since some one else had risen on its steam.

He had tried himself with a pencil and paper, but he had composed nothing even reminiscent of Shakespeare. In

fact, he had composed nothing at all.

And at last he became convinced it was the circumstances of his life that were at fault, not he himself. If he had only been a cobbler's son, a tailor's, a barber's!

But alas! he was well-dressed, well-fed, well-housed; sent to a good school. He had a pony of his own and a man to groom him; a bicycle; a watch; every equipment for cricket and football; a dog; pigeons and most of the possessions dear to the heart of a boy.

He had almost finished his dinner to-day when he put a question to the Captain sitting there smiling over his letter.

"Grandfather," he asked, "are you rich?"

His grandfather sat straight immediately, which is to speak of his features as well as his figure.

"Well, what do you think, lad?" he asked.

John shook his head dolefully.

"I think you are," he said, "but are you?"

"That depends on how riches are counted," said the old man cautiously, "and who does the counting. King Solomon, now, might consider me but an old pauper."

John went on with his dinner thoughtfully.

"Are you wondering what I am going to do with my money?" asked the old man, watching him closely.

John looked him straight in the face.

"I expect you're going to leave it to me," he said.

"Ah!" said his grandfather. "And who has been talking to you now? Who told you that?"

"Oh, Johnson and Roberts and Mrs. Wilkins. Mrs. Wilkins says you'll give it me in a will," said John carelessly.

"Who the dickens is Mrs. Wilkins?"

John opened his eyes widely. Not to know Mrs. Wilkins was indeed to argue oneself unknown.

"Why the lady at the store next our school," he said. "She sells pea-nuts and chewing gum and everything."

"And she says I'll leave all my money to you, eh? Hum. Well, how'd you like it if I do?"

"I don't want it," said John with blunt force. He went on sturdily with his blanc-mange, arranging his strawberry jam carefully, that he should have an excess of that for the last spoonful.

Captain Carew stared surprisedly at him.

"Eh? What's that?" he asked.

"When you were as old as me," said John, lifting his carefully trimmed spoon to his mouth, "were you as rich as now?"

The question stirred the old man immediately. His eyes brightened, he put down his letter, pushed his glasses up high on his forehead and struck the table with one hand.

"I should think not," he said excitedly, "I should rather think not. As rich as now-God bless my life!"

"I thought you weren't," said John calmly.

"I can't remember my father and mother," said Captain Carew, speaking a little more quietly as his thoughts began to run backwards. "I lived with my uncle in London; he kept a ham and beef shop, and had thirteen or fourteen youngsters of his own to bring up. He was going to put me to the butchering, but I settled all that myself. I ran away."

"You ran away?" asked John breathlessly, and regarding the old man with more interest than he had ever given him yet.

"Ay! When I was no older than you. Half a crown I had in my pocket, I remember. It was all the start in life I ever got."

John put down his spoon and stared at his grandfather earnestly, eagerly, admiringly.

"You're a self-made man!" he said. And old as the Captain was, and young as was his admirer, he warmed pleasantly at the words.

"Ay!" he said exultingly, "I'm a self-made man right enough. Every bit of me! I started life as an errand boy in the London slums, and it seemed for a time as if I was going to die an errand boy in the London slums. At least, it might have seemed so to most people. I'd made up my mind how it was to be, how it had got to be."

"What did you do?" asked John eagerly.

"Do-well, I had about a year at errand running and then I got a chance to go to sea, and I took it. I went first to China. By gad, how well I remember that trip!"

And forthwith he launched into a sea-story more enthralling by far to the boy than any in that library so stocked with sea-stories.

At dinner again, at night, the talk was the same. The usually silent ruminative old man was positively loquacious, and John gave him a rapt attention.

When nine o'clock struck a dim remembrance come to the boy that he was still a pupil of Wygate School and had home tasks to prepare for the morrow.

But he had slipped too far out of his groove to go back again that night.

He began to wander in and out of the lower floor rooms; out of the front door, round the verandah, and in by the French windows to the dining-room.

"I'll chuck school," he said. "Catch any of those self-made men going to school when they were thirteen. I'll have to struggle and screw and put myself to a night-school. That's what they did. A self-made man is good enough for me."

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