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   Chapter 11 THE ARTIST BY THE WAYSIDE

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9727

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Elizabeth Bruce was "detained for inattention."

No one else out of all the four and thirty scholars of Wygate School was kept in to-day. One after the other, hands folded behind them, they had marched to the door. Then delightful sounds-the scuffling of feet, stifled screams, gigglings and low buzzings of talk-had stolen over the partition that separated the cloak-room from the class-room, and Elizabeth, sitting on the high-backed form, with all the other empty forms in front of her, nibbled her pencil in melancholy loneliness.

She wondered if Nellie Underwood and Cyril would wait for her. Only yesterday she had waited a dreary hour for them and had carried Cyril's bag home for him to ease his wounded spirit.

Then she began her task. She seized a slate, arranged two slate-pencils to work together and expedite her task and wrote: "Elizabeth Bruce detained for inattention."

When she had written the statement ten times the silence in the cloak-room struck chill upon her. All the rest had found their hats and bonnets then and gone outside.

She sat on the floor under her desk and tried to see the playground through the open door. Two small pinkly-clad figures dashed past the door, chased by a maiden in blue-all screaming and laughing.

"Nell Underwood!" ejaculated Betty gladly, and went back to her slate warmed and cheered.

She made her pencils work harder than before, kneeling upon the form in an excess of industry.

Even as she wrote the statement for the fortieth time, voices and laughter came from the playground-but a cold silence had come by the fiftieth.

At the sixtieth her little moist hand was cramped, and she had to stay to work her fingers rapidly. At the seventieth the tears were trickling down her cheeks, for she was only Elizabeth Bruce "detained for inattention," the schoolroom was only a schoolroom, and the forms were only forms-and empty. And that was the master down at the desk there, exercise books and slates around him and a pen behind his ear. For a space the tears splashed down hard and fast upon her slate and the sight of the big drops aroused her self-pity. The larger the splashes the larger her self-sorrow.

A sharp "Go on with your work, Elizabeth Bruce" waked her to the necessity of drying her eyes and slate and adjusting her pencils for again writing, "Elizabeth Bruce detained for inattention."

But at the eightieth time of writing it, she was no longer Elizabeth Bruce, the daughter of a moneyless author. Her name was now Geraldine Montgomery, and she was the adopted daughter of a millionaire. Her mother, she had decided, was a gipsy, and was even now hovering near at hand to steal back her beautifully dressed child.

By the time she had written the melancholy statement of Elizabeth Bruce's detention, her face had all its old smiling serenity again.

She rose, sighing thankfully, and collecting her slates, walked down soberly to the busy master at his desk.

"Let this be a lesson to you, Elizabeth," he said, running his eye down slate after slate. "Ten times each side, twenty times each slate, five slates-one hundred. More punishments are meted out to you than to any other child in the school. I shall find it necessary, if this state of things continues, to write to your father. Clean the slates and return them to their places-then go."

Elizabeth found the cloak-room empty. She assured herself that every one had gone home-of course; but her eyes flashed round the press room, and to that corner between the press and the door, for a blue-frocked little girl with red hair. And, of course, as she was now Geraldine Montgomery, the disappointment of finding the corner empty was not so keen as it would have been merely to Elizabeth Bruce.

"I think," said this foolish little girl aloud, "I'll wear my leghorn hat with the ostrich feathers in it to-day. Papa always likes that." And she took her old pink bonnet down from her peg and slipped it upon her head. Then she stuffed her books into her black school-bag and turned to the door.

Elizabeth Bruce fancied Cyril would be away there under the saplings playing knucklebones impatiently, and her eyes eagerly scanned the deserted playground. No kneeling figures, no Nellie Underwood, no Cyril, no knucklebones. For a second the tears trembled in her eyes at the thought that no one had waited for her, but in a minute Elizabeth Bruce slipped away, and Geraldine Montgomery in her leghorn hat was treading the homeward way.

Behind her, she told herself, an old gipsy woman was skulking-she had seen the ostrich feathers, the "rare lace upon the simple rich dress."

It was just behind the store that the gipsy and Geraldine both disappeared.

The store turned one blank wall upon Carlyle Road-which was the home road-and Elizabeth came round the corner sharply and then stood stil

l. There, kneeling upon the red clayey earth, his face to the wall, was big John Brown.

Elizabeth made out that he was writing or figuring with blue chalk upon the wall's blankness, and although her heart feared the big rough boy she had "fought," she drew nearer.

"Hulloa!" said John Brown, flushing when he saw the small pinafored maiden he had an unpleasant recollection of beating so short a time ago, and whom he had carefully avoided ever since.

"Hulloa!" said Betty, surprised into speaking to him.

Brown made a seat of his boot-heels and surveyed her, being much too bashful to open up a conversation.

But Betty was not bashful.

"What are you doing?" she asked, and a very inquisitive face stared at him from the depths of the pink sun-bonnet.

"'Is it a horse?' queried Betty."

"H'm!" said John, and made a few more strokes with his pencil.

"Is it a horse?" queried Betty. "Yes it is-there are no horns, and it's too big for a dog or cat. Yes, it's a horse."

"H'm!" said John again. Then he looked at his handiwork, drawing further off to see it from Betty's point of view.

"Yes," he said, with badly concealed pride; "it's a horse right enough. It's a race-horse. I drew him from memory."

"Why didn't you draw him on paper?" asked the small girl.

"Won't be let. And no sooner do I see a bit of blank wall than I begin drawing something on it," said the reader of Self-made Men.

Betty only heeded the first part of his sentence.

"Who won't let you?" she asked, standing on one leg as she put the question.

"My people," said John. "They don't want me to be an artist."

Betty's eyes rounded themselves.

"Are you going to be an artist?" she asked. She was intensely interested. The boys who played in her kingdom had not arrived at the stage of thinking what they were going to be. What they were was all-sufficient unto them. Cyril had once declared his intention of keeping a sweets' shop, but that was quite a year ago now.

Betty had read many stories about artists, and they were always set in romantic or tragic circumstances. The look she gave to the one before her warmed him into becoming confidential on the spot. He did not tell her all at once, not all even that first afternoon, although they took the homeward way together.

But he gave her a rough outline of the lives of several artists who had sprung from the ranks, and of one in particular who lived in a cellar, and tasted of starvation as a boy; one who, denied paper, could not yet deny the genius within him, but drew in coloured chalks upon any vacant wall that came in his way. And he always drew animals-and usually horses and dogs.

The little brown face under the sun-bonnet glowed with delight. Never in all her life had the imaginative small maiden come across a boy like this. Big John Brown, indeed! Bully, indeed! Gardener's boy, indeed! How could she and Cyril ever have said, ever have thought, such things?

Presently, for the boy had never had such a listener in his life before, he told her of other men-Stephenson, Newton, Shakespeare-and Betty took off her bonnet as her earnestness increased, and tucked it under her arm after a way she had when agitated.

"Oh, I wish I was a boy," she said. "What's the good of a girl? What can a girl do? Don't you know anything about self-made women?"

John knew very little. In fact he too very much doubted the "good of a girl." He told her so quite bluntly, but added that she'd better make the best of it.

"There must be some self-made women," insisted Betty. "I'll ask father to-night."

John thought deeply for a few minutes, seeing her distress. He really ransacked his mind, for besides sorrow for her sorrowing he could plainly see the admiration with which she regarded him, and he wanted to show her that he knew something about women too.

"There's Joan of Arc," he said, "and-there's Grace Darling!"

But Betty was indignant. "They're in the history book!" she said.

John thought again, but could only shake his head.

"All women can do," he said, "is wash up, and cook dinners, and mend clothes!"

Betty's lips quivered.

"I won't be a woman," she said, "I won't!"

John owned to sharing her craving to be rich, but he wanted to make his wealth himself-which set Betty's imagination galloping down a new road. She had only thought hitherto of her grandfather's riches, which had seemed to her and Cyril to be all the money there was in the world.

But now John had slid back a door and let her peep into all the glories of a new world, and she had seen there wealth and fame to be had for the earning-by men and boys!

"Try and find out about self-made women," she said, when he left her at the turn through the bush. "See if there were any women artists, or women inventors, or women pirates, or anything. Good-bye."

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