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   Chapter 13 IF I WERE ONLY YOU!

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 13752

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The third Saturday and Sunday before the ending of term, Dorothea spent with her "intimate" friend, Alma Montague.

Alma's home was a very beautiful one at Elizabeth Bay, and, as Dot told her mother, there were parlour-maid, housemaid, kitchen-maid and every other sort of maid there.

Dot slept in one of the visitor's rooms, and had a bathroom and a sitting-room opening off her bedroom for her exclusive use. The sitting-room and bedroom were "treated" with the same colouring-a tender wonderful shade of blue. The wall paper was just suggestive of blue; the ceiling was delicately veined with blue; the curtains were, Dot felt certain, blue. The easy chairs and the lounge, the footstools and the cushions were dull blue.

Such a beautiful room.

Again, in the bedroom, there were delicate suggestions of blue among the whiteness.

And the bathroom! How different in every way from the little wooden unlined room at home. There the ceiling-joists were gracefully festooned with cobwebs, the floor had many a great hole in it, caused by white ant and damp. No water was laid on-only a tap came from a tank outside, which in its turn was fed from an underground well. And whenever Dot wanted a bath she had to coax or bribe Cyril or Betty to work the pump. Dot herself hated working the pump-it blistered her little hands.

Here the floor was leaded the walls tiled, the bath itself painted a delicate sea blue. There was a square of carpet just beyond the edge of the lead; a cushioned chair, two hospitable taps, one offering cold, one hot water. All sorts of toilet luxuries were at hand, pretty coloured soaps, loofahs, lavender-water, ammonia, violet powder, violet scent.

No wonder poor Dot was in an ecstasy with her surroundings, and that she roamed round her rooms and sighed with happiness because she was here, and with sorrow because she was going away in two days.

On Saturday morning she and Alma went shopping. They breakfasted alone at nine o'clock, Alma's father being in his consulting-room and her mother in bed (she had been at the theatre on Friday evening and Dot had not even seen her).

So the two girls lingered over a very dainty breakfast table till nearly ten o'clock, when Alma suggested "shopping."

Dot had only two frocks, besides her morning pink print with her. One was a blue muslin that had to last her for next week at school; the other was a white muslin and her best. She had taken them out of her dress-basket and hung them carefully in her pretty wardrobe, and now that Alma spoke of shopping she was in miserable doubt which to wear.

"I'm going to wear a blue," said Alma, "you wear yours, too, Thea dear, and then people will think we are sisters. Sisters! Oh, don't I wish I had a sister!"

Dot, who possessed three, shook her head as she handled her muslin dress.

"I think it's very nice to be the only one," she said. "The only child! It's lovely!"

"But I'm so lonely except when I'm at school," said Alma sadly.

Dot opened her eyes. She was just slipping her blue frock carefully over her shining curly head, but she stopped with her head half through to wonder at Alma.

"Lonely!" she said. "Here! In this house! And you've got your father and mother!"

Alma shook her head dolefully.

"Father is always busy," she said, "and mother is always out-or entertaining. Oh, Thea, I would love to have you for my very own sister. I would give everything I have if I could have you."

Dorothea smiled kindly. Mona Parbury had told her the same-and Minnie Stevenson, and Nellie Harden. They all wanted her for their very own sister. It was only such little madcaps as her own sisters, Betty and Nancy, who were indifferent.

Alma was small and undeveloped. She was seventeen and looked hardly fifteen. Her large dark eyes looked pathetic in her thin sallow face. Her lips were thin and colourless, her hair straight and dull brown. No prettiness at all belonged to her. Only wistfulness and gentleness.

So they went shopping together, the two little girls in blue. And they had no chaperon at all with them, no schoolmistress, or governess, or mother, or aunt-no one to direct their eyes where they should look, and their smiles when they should be given out and when withheld. No one to carry the purse.

Dot had two shillings and sixpence halfpenny in her small worn purse. Her mother had slipped the money in. "I can't bear for you to be without money, Dot dear," she had said, "but try your best not to spend it."

Alma's purse seemed full of half-crowns and shillings and sixpences!

Dot bought herself a new hat-band and a pretty lace-trimmed handkerchief; and she tried to hide from Alma how very little both had cost.

Alma made several peculiar mistakes in her purchases. For instance, she bought just twice as much gold liberty silk as she would need for a sash, and she had to beg Dot to accept the part that was too much, as she would be so tired of the thing if she had two just alike. And she bought a pair of size two evening shoes, and remembered when they were going home that size two was a size too big for her. She wished she knew of any one who wore two's. Dot wore three's, didn't she? No?-two's! How lovely! Then Dot would take the shoes, wouldn't she, and save them from becoming mouldy! And she bought two pretty lace-trimmed collars, just alike-and she hated two of her things to be alike. So Dot would take one off her hands, wouldn't she?

Only each time she said "Thea," or "Thea darling!" And she bought her a silver "wish" bangle as a keepsake, and a little scent bottle and fan for "remembrance."

Before they went home they went into an arcade shop and had strawberries and cream, and a big ice cream and sponge cake each. And they met several straw-hatted youths to whom Alma bowed.

She told Dot to count how many hats were taken off to her, and Dot counted, and behold, the number was ten.

Dot herself felt rather envious. She only knew one grammar-school boy, who smiled from ear to ear and blushed with delight on seeing her.

Then they went home.

When they opened the dining-room door the table was set for luncheon, and a bald-headed gentleman was waiting at the head of it, a book propped up before him.

When the girls came in he went on reading just as before, deaf to their chatter, blind to the pretty blue of their dresses.

Alma ran down the room to him, and kissed the top of his head.

"Home again, father!" she said.

And then he looked up smiling, and stroked her little sallow face with one finger.

"This is my very dearest friend-Dorothea Bruce!" said Alma delightedly, and drawing Dot forward.

The great doctor, who was small in stature, stood up then and took little Dot's hand in his, and a very kindly smile came to his eyes as he looked into her lovely childish face.

"I'm very glad to see

my daughter's dearest friend," he said, and he patted her soft pink cheeks also.

The door opened again just as this introduction was over, and a new nervousness attacked Alma. Another tinge of yellowness crept into her skin, her eyes grew wistful, and she began to stammer.

"My f-friend, mother-Thea-Dorothea Bruce," and Dot turned curiously and shyly round to the door. Entering there was a very beautiful woman in a tea gown. Her eyes were like Alma's, only far lovelier, her complexion was only a few years less fresh and perfect than Dorothea's own-and her hair was red-gold and beautiful.

When her glance rested on Dorothea's face, a look of pleasure crept into them-just pleasure at seeing any one so flower-like and sweet as this little maid from school.

"I am very pleased to see you, dear," she said graciously, and she stooped forward and kissed the girl's cheek.

Then she looked at Alma-poor undersized Alma, with her yellow skin and bloodless lips-and she sighed. But she kissed her also, and asked how she had spent her morning and whether she had come from school this morning or yesterday afternoon.

When luncheon became the order of the day conversation died out. Dr. Montague, indeed made two or three attempts at light talk-but Dot was shy and Alma was nervous and Mrs. Montague was apparently elsewhere in thought, so that presently silence fell.

Dinner was at seven that night. It was a meal of many courses, several wines two servants, and finger glasses. And again Dot was perfectly if silently happy-although the finger glasses (of which she had seen none before) threw, her off her balance until she had stolen a glance at Alma to "see how she did," whereupon Dot performed the operation with infinitely more grace than Alma.

Alma wore a white silk dress and gold sash, and Dorothea white muslin and gold sash, and the doctor's eyes went from one little whitely clad maid to the other, smilingly.

The happy look on his small daughter's face pleased him greatly.

His wife often said he neither saw nor heard what was going on around him, but he had very soon discovered his little girl's supreme contentment.

He asked Dorothea if she were going away for Christmas and the holidays, and Dorothea shook her golden head and said, "No; she was going to stay at home."

Whereupon he asked Alma if she wouldn't like to carry her "dearest friend" up the mountains with her, and Alma went quite pink with delight and said-

"Oh, Father! Oh, Thea dear!"

And Dot raised her pretty shy eyes and said-

"Oh, Alma!" and then looked at Mrs. Montague as if to ask if such happiness was possible.

Mrs. Montague laughed.

"I will write and ask your mother," she said, "but we really can't take 'no.'" And she said it so graciously that the tears came into Alma's eyes.

"It would be too lovely!" said Dot breathlessly.

On Sunday afternoon, just as the evening shadows were stealing out and the daylight was growing grey, Alma ran into the little blue sitting-room, her great eyes luminous.

"Oh, Thea darling!" she said, and then she stopped in surprise. Only a little while ago Dot had tripped upstairs, her hair in a golden plait down her back, her dress not so low as her boot-tops by quite three inches.

And now! She was sitting in an easy chair, her dress skirt lowered till it reached the floor, her hair loosely done up on the top of her head, her blue, blue eyes staring through the windows to the darkening harbour waters, afar off.

She blushed rosily red when Alma ran in.

"I-I was just thinking," she said.

"What were you thinking of, Thea?" asked Alma, "and what have you done your hair like this for? You do look so pretty-I wish the girls could see you."

Dot pulled her friend towards her and patted the arm of her chair for her to sit there. Then she leaned her head upon Alma's shoulder and held one of her hands between her own two.

"I was wishing I were grown-up, really grown-up," she said; "I did my hair up to see how I looked. I tried to do it like your mother does hers."

Alma stroked her head gently.

"My mother is in love with you," she said. "She has just been saying all sorts of beautiful things about you. She says she wishes you were her daughter."

"Oh!" said Dot. "Her daughter! How I wish I were!"-and no disloyalty to her own mother was meant. "To live here always! To be rich! To--"

She paused. "Oh, Alma," she added, "you are a lucky girl."

But Alma only sighed.

Dot began to think again, comparing in her own mind this home of Alma's with her own little bush home.

"Oh!" she said at last; "How happy you ought to be. How would you like to change places with me!"

And to her surprise Alma burst into tears, covering her face with her little trembling hands.

Gentle ways belonged to Dorothea.

She stood up and put her friend into her chair and then she knelt beside her, and slipped her arm round her waist.

"Dearest Alma!" she whispered.

"Oh," sobbed Alma, "if only you were my very own sister Thea-I couldn't love you more. I'm so lonely. Father is always busy, and mother-mother is disappointed in me."

Dot opened her eyes in surprise. She had never dreamed of a mother being disappointed in her child.

"I'm not pretty-or clever-or anything," sobbed Alma. "She's always been disappointed in me-ever since I was a tiny baby-and I've always known it-and-and-she doesn't know I know. Oh dear!"

Dot was shocked. "Darling Alma!" she said again.

"It's dreadful to be the only child-and to be a disappointment," said Alma. "I think father is sorry for us both."

Dot stroked the girl's straight hair.

"You've got lovely eyes," she said, "and you're very clever at crotchet work."

"What's that!" said Alma drearily. "Mother wouldn't mind if I never touched a needle. She says if a girl hasn't beauty she has only one other chance in the world-and that is to be brilliant. I do try to be clever-but it's no good."

Dot kissed her.

"When you are grown up you'll look different," she said. "You'll wear long trailing dresses-and-do your hair like this-and--"

But Alma sprang to her feet.

"What a croaker I am," she said. "I never told this to any one before. Thea-it is my very biggest secret. You'll never tell any one, will you? Never! never! Father says if I'm good I'll be beautiful enough for him. But oh, I wish I were you!"

"And I've been wishing I were you," said Dot.

"I suppose," said Alma, with one of her most wistful looks, "I suppose we're meant to be ourselves for some reason. And we must make the best of ourselves just as we are!"

And the two girls kissed each other tenderly.

"I've to be an elder sister," said Dot, with a sudden thought towards Mona Parbury.

"And I've to be an only child," said Alma, "and we've both to make the best of our state of life-eh?"

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