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   Chapter 12 BETTY IN THE LION'S DEN

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 12213

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


So that it was John who showed Betty the thing in all its beauty. It was he, who, so to speak, called her to the mountain top, and pointed out to her the cities of the world to be climbed above. And it seemed to little independent-hearted Betty to be the most glorious thing in the world to climb upon one's own feet, pulling oneself upwards with one's own hands.

She wondered how she could have ever wanted such a very ordinary happening as for her grandfather to adopt them and give them his money. Here was this wonderful John Brown actually longing to give up her grandfather-his grandfather. For he had soon convinced her that Captain Carew was his grandfather too, and while allowing that he might be hers, he showed her how very little in the eyes of the world her relationship counted for. He, he said, was the son of his grandfather's eldest son-that their names were different was solely owing to the fact that his father had changed his name for private reasons. She and Cyril and all the rest of them were merely the children of his grandfather's daughter. And, as he impressed upon Betty, women didn't count for much in the world's eyes.

Yet Betty was very earnest in her intention to be something great-something self-made, and John was willing enough not to stand in her way. He himself was going to start at once; he was not going to waste any more time over going to school and doing lessons. He pointed to his grandfather as a fine example of a man who had risen because he had not wasted time in learning. He told Betty they could not begin their "career" too early.

It was Betty who suggested waiting till the Christmas holidays, and it was John who said-

"Perhaps you'd better wait till the next Christmas. I will have got a bit of a start by then and will be able to help you."

But Betty was indignant at that.

"I won't be helped!" she said. "I won't be helped by you, John Brown. Stay at home till Christmas yourself-I'm going now!"

Her career had to be decided upon, and very little time remained in which to decide. John intended beginning life as an errand boy. In his spare time, he said, he would go on with his drawing, and if an opportunity occurred, he would work his passage out somewhere in some ship. He was rather vague about all but the errand running; that he saw to be the first step towards greatness.

Betty was not long before she decided he was keeping some part of his design from her. And every afternoon when they had left school and each other, she was nervous lest he should have gone by morning-gone and left her to find her way into the world alone!

And here was she unable to decide upon her career! She even asked questions about Joan of Arc and Grace Darling, and set herself to find out if there were any other women in the history book.

"It isn't fair!" she said at last to the thoughtful John Brown. "You'd never have known about being an errand boy and an artist only for your books. You've got a lot of books to help you."

But John told her how he had been decided upon his "career" all his life, ever since his father had left him alone on the station in the country which time was, as the reader will be aware, situated somewhere about his first birthday. But he magnanimously proposed to place his grandfather's library at her feet, or rather to place her feet within his grandfather's library.

"You can come and take your pick," he said.

At this period of her life Betty was not troubled with pride-the pride of the slighted and poor relation.

She accepted his offer rapturously, only adding, "You'd better keep my grandfather out of the way when I come."

"Come when he's having his afternoon sleep," said John.

So Betty was smuggled into her grandfather's library.

It was Saturday afternoon when she went to the great house. She had to slip away from Dot, who was making elaborate alterations to a pretty blue muslin frock (she was invited to spend the next Saturday and Sunday with Alma Montague, the doctor's daughter); her mother was calling "Betty, come here," in the front garden as she reached the track through the bush, and Cyril and Nancy had implored her to "come and play something."

But Betty had a "career" to think of. She ran through the bush and arrived breathless at that part of her grandfather's fence which ran past their coral islands. At a certain hour every afternoon, John said, his grandfather went to sleep. It was during this sleep time that Betty was to search the shelves of his library for a book that should enlighten her as to the best way to become a "self-made woman."

She slipped under the fence, and into the little belt of bush that bounded the emu run, and where she, as a ghost, had waited.

John's signal came very soon, and Betty immediately took off her bonnet and rolled it up under her arm-the better to hear-and marched boldly across the gravel paths to the library window where John stood.

"Where is he?" asked Betty.

"Asleep on the little verandah," said John; "he always sleeps a long time after dinner."

Betty stepped into the room and looked around her curiously.

It was such a room as she had never seen yet, and it pleased her greatly. Two enormous bookcases full of books stood side by side against one wall. Another wall was book-lined for about eight feet of its height and ten of its length. The centre-table had a dark blue cloth upon it and bore magazines, books and newspapers and writing materials.

Betty's feet rested pleasurably on the thick rich carpet and her eyes went from easy chair to easy chair.

"My father ought to have this room," she said, "he writes the most beautiful books, and I know he'd write ever so many more if he lived here."

"Here's the book I got myself from," said John, advancing to a bookcase.

But Betty was oblivious of her errand. She lingered by the table, turning over the covers of the magazines, and picture after picture caught her eye.

One in particular she lingered over. It represented a bric-a-brac strewn room.

"The boudoir of Madam S--," it said.

"Oh!"

exclaimed Betty, and dropped her sun-bonnet into her grandfather's chair. "Oh, John, when I've made myself, I'll have a room like this!"

She began to read and her eyes smiled. Then she sank down on the floor, carrying the book with her, and leaning her back against a table-leg she lost herself in an interview with Madam S--.

Madam replied to several searching questions blithely. She told a little story about her large family of brothers and sisters, their extreme poverty and her own inordinate love of music. Then there was a pathetic touch when sickness, poverty and hunger darkened the poor little home, and she, a mite of eight, had stood at a street corner in a foreign city and sung a simple song. A crowd had soon collected, and a keen-eyed, bent-shouldered man had been passing by hurriedly, and had stopped, caught by a "something" in the little singer's voice, and face, and attitude. He had finally pushed his way through the crowd and stood beside the little girl in the tattered frock.

That song and that interview had been the beginning of a great career. Hard work and small pay had intervened, but success had followed success, and now not one of her concerts to-day meant less to her than hundreds of pounds. Dukes threw flowers at her feet, Princes loaded her with diamond brooches, tiaras, necklaces, bangles; kings and queens and emperors "commanded her to sing before them," and gave her beautiful mementos.

Betty was breathing quickly as she came to this stage of Madam S--'s career. She turned a leaf, and a face smiling under a coronet looked at her.

"Madame S--, present day," the words below said.

A neighbouring photograph showed a mite with a pinched face and a tattered frock.

"Madame S--, at eight years old!" was the inscription.

"And I'm twelve," said Betty. "Twelve and a bit."

She turned her head, then raised it sharply. There standing beside her was her grandfather.

The two looked at each other.

What Betty saw at first-it must be confessed-was the keen-eyed, bent-shouldered individual who had appeared to the little street singer, and the silly little imaginative maiden waited for him to speak.

What the grandfather saw was a small girl of "twelve and a bit," in a pink print frock; a small girl with a brown shining face, golden-brown hair and brown eyes, and parted red lips, a little person in every way different from the pale-faced ghost who had visited him awhile back-so different that he did not know her.

He simply took her for a little school-girl and no more.

Then Betty remembered who he was-who she was-where she was-and a few other matters of similar importance, and a red, red flush spread over her face and to the tips of her small pink ears.

The sea-captain opened his mouth in a jocular roar.

"Who's been sitting in my room?" he demanded. "Why, here she is!"

Betty's lip quivered. She was beginning to be afraid-or rather she was afraid.

"I-I just wanted to see a book," she said.

"And what book did you just want to see?"

He took the magazine from her and noticed two things-how her hand shook and how bravely her eyes met his.

His glance wandered over the open page, and a wonderment came to him what there was here to interest such a child.

The next second the fatal question was on his lips.

"And what is your name?" he asked.

Betty's lips moved, but no sound left them. She just sat dumbly there gazing into her grandsire's face.

The old man sat down on the pink bonnet. He was not in the least anxious over her name. She was a schoolmate of John's, of course; he had often stumbled over these active eager little creatures in the back yard, in the near paddock, by the emus' run, near the pigeon-boxes, on the staircase. Only hitherto they had been of John's own sex. This pretty little nervous girl interested him.

He drew her magazine towards him.

"We're waiting for the name-aren't we, Jack?" he said.

Then Betty realized that her hour was indeed come. She rose to her feet and stood in front of him gulping down a few hard breaths.

"I-I didn't come to get us adopted this time," she quavered.

"Eh?" said Captain Carew. He spoke dully, yet the faintest glimmerings of light were beginning to break on him. Her attitude, something familiar in her voice, her height and shining curly head brought that evening to his mind, when she had owned to an intention of wishing to frighten him. A slow anger stirred him, anger against this child, her parents, and himself.

"Your name!" he said harshly.

And at the sound of his own voice his anger grew. His lip thrust itself out when he had spoken, and his whole face wore its hardest, most unlovely look.

"Your name, girl?"

And Betty hesitated no longer. Her only point of pride at this age lay in assuming bravery whether she had it or not. "We Bruces are afraid of no one," being her favourite speech, and as inspiriting to her as the sound of the war-drum to a warrior bold.

She stood straight and her brown eyes looked straight into his brown eyes.

"Elizabeth Bruce," she said.

The old man's anger blazed fiercely.

"Look here my girl," he said, "you can tell your father it's a bit late in the day for these games. Tell him I've got the only grandchild here that ever I want. Now-go."

But Betty stood her ground.

"My father didn't send me," she said, and her face went from red to white. "He didn't know I was coming at all-and-sure's death! he never knew anything about the ghosts. I came to get Cyril adopted because he's getting tired of cutting wood an' only getting a penny a week."

The old man broke into a hoarse laugh.

"And this time to get yourself adopted," he said.

But Betty shook her head vigorously.

"No, I only wanted to see what sort of woman to be," she said. She walked to the open window.

"I'm not going to adopt you," said the old man, "so go-GO! Never let me see you inside my gates again-by day or by night. Go!"

And once more Betty took a swift departure by way of the balcony door. And again she left a bonnet behind her.

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