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   Chapter 14 JOHN'S PLANS

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 13772

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


On Monday morning Betty took the road to school with running feet. A fear was at her heart that John Brown had set out upon his expedition into the world this day. Had gone-and left her behind! Had begun "life" and left her at school!

And it must be confessed that she liked the thought of two waifs facing the world together, very much better than one.

She was not at all disturbed (when it was over) about the interview with her grandfather. It had not, like its predecessor, sent her to bed weeping and ashamed and resolved upon the expediency of "turning over a new leaf."

She had been vexed that her grandfather had had so short a sleep-and that John had not given her warning of his approach-as he had promised to do.

And she was very much distressed to find she had left her pink bonnet behind her. Her mother had discovered its loss when giving out the week's clean one, and had insisted upon her searching every corner in the house for it.

"It's was Dot's," said Mrs. Bruce. "Dot never lost a bonnet in her life. You will have done with bonnets soon, but yours will do for Nancy. I expect you left it at school, you tiresome child."

It certainly would have electrified Mrs. Bruce if her small daughter had confessed to her bonnet's whereabouts. But Betty's scrapes were many and various at this period of her life, and it never entered into her head to tell them to her mother, who was absorbed in her garden and her books, nor to her father, who was supposed to be always "thinking stories."

So Betty ran to school with her clean bonnet tucked under her arm, after promising that she would "try to bring the other one home with her."

Her mind was now at rest upon her future "career." She had quite determined to be a second Madam S-- with this sole difference in their lives-Madam S-- faced the world at her street corner at the age of eight, and Betty was not beginning till she was "twelve and a bit."

Still, she had a few worries.

She was worried over John-lest he should have gone and left her; and she was worried over the great question, "What song to sing?" as many singers have been before.

She had thought of "God save the Queen," but the words did not fulfil all requirements, while "Please give me a penny, sir"-that song she had found among a heap of yellow old ones with her mother's name-maiden name, Dorothea Carew-upon them, seemed to have been written just for the occasion. The only pity was, that whereas Betty knew "God Save the Queen" perfectly, "Please give me a penny, sir" was almost a stranger to her.

She had learnt a verse of it on Saturday night when she ought to have been doing her arithmetic; and on Sunday evening she had coaxed her mother to the piano, and begged her to sing "just this one song, please." Her mother sang very prettily-like Dot-and she had thrown a good deal of pathos into the old song, so that Betty's ambition was fired, and she had almost decided upon the song straightaway.

This morning she arrived at school flushed and hot, before either Cyril or Nancy, and she began at once to explore the playground for John Brown the artist. Two little lines of boys and girls were playing a sober game of French and English away under the gum trees, and Betty ran her eyes along the lines-but no John Brown was there.

Two boys were skirmishing just behind the cloak-room, but neither of them was John Brown. Five were playing "leap frog," but John Brown was not there. One sat on the doorstep learning a lesson, but that was only Artie Jones.

Then a motley crowd of boys and girls came trailing in at the gate, and the bell began to ring.

Betty drew into the shadow of the new wing, the "Babies' Wing," and scanned the new arrivals eagerly.

Fat Nellie Underwood gave her a bunch of jonquils and fell into line to march into the schoolroom. Minute Hetty Ferguson begged to be allowed to do her hair in the dinner-hour. "Please, Betty dear," she urged. But Betty was looking for John and did not heed.

Cyril was there and grumbling. He was pushing a boy who had pushed him, and pressing his lips together as he pushed, when, all at once, he saw Betty, and left the field to the other boy.

"You're going to catch it, Betty Bruce!" he whispered. "You'll just see! I'm going to tell of you when I go home. Teach you to sneak off to school by yourself."

But Betty's eyes were looking past Cyril, looking for a squarely built figure in grey.

Cyril drew nearer. "You never washed up the porridge plates," he said. "I found them in the dresser cupboard. An' the knives an' forks. An' baby's basin. I'll tell of you."

Then he fell into line and carried his fair pretty face into the schoolroom, where Miss Sharman patted his cheeks when he went to present a little bunch of Czar violets to her.

Miss Sharman presided over Class A for grammar upon Mondays and Thursdays, and Cyril, who was but very weak on adverbs and prepositions, always gave her a sweet-smelling nosegay to begin the day with.

And Miss Sharman had a very tender spot in her heart for pretty Cyril, where she had none for scapegrace Betty. She had doctored Cyril for bruises, had washed his face in her own room and brushed his wavy hair; had kissed him, and given him cakes, and acid drops, and bananas. And although these small sweet matters were just between Miss Sharman and Cyril-their influence might be felt upon grammar days.

Nancy came into school crying-crying noisily. She was rubbing her eyes with one hand, a moist dirty hand, and leaving her face the worse for the contact.

The master inquired sternly what was the matter, and called her to his side. And Nancy told him sobbingly that she "fort she was late, an' now she wasn't." And he patted her head so kindly that the little maid lowered her sobs at once and finally let them die away in an occasional hiccough of sorrow.

Betty came in at last. She had run as far as the store and back again in search of John Brown-and had found him not. She felt quite certain now that he was away practising his genius upon some wall in the great world.

When she came into the schoolroom her face was red with running and excitement, her hair was rough, and her bonnet under her arm still, so oblivious was she to the things of this very every-day and commonplace world.

"Elizabeth Bruce, what is that you have under your arm," Miss Sharman inquired, as Betty walked to her place, which was somewhere in the second form.

Betty looked in surprise-and there was her bonnet. She had to walk out and hang it up, while the class, and even the babies tittered at her blunder.

But there in the cloak-room she found John Brown. He was in the act of hanging his hat upon his own particular peg-the highest one in the room.

"Oh!" said Betty, "here you are!"

"You're a nice one," said John Brown.

"What have I done?" asked the

little girl eagerly.

But John Brown simply looked his scorn, and it made his face very ugly indeed.

"Oh, what have I done?" begged Betty. "Do tell me."

"Trust a girl to mull things up," said John.

"Elizabeth Bruce, return to your class," said a stern voice from the schoolroom, and Betty shot herself back through the door in the twinkling of an eye.

A lengthy space of valuable time was given over to moods and tenses, perfects, pluperfects, pasts, futures; and Betty, whose fortitude was much shaken by John Brown's remarks, sat listlessly five places above him, caring not the least about such mighty words as "cans" and "coulds" and "shalls" and "shoulds," although the air was full of them.

She went down a place, through not being able to find a passive participle for the verb "to bid," Miss Sharman shaking an angry head at her eager "bidded." And she went down two for knowing nothing of the present tense of "slain."

That brought her one place removed from John Brown, and all her eagerness now was to go one lower and learn at once wherein lay her offence.

So, although she knew perfectly that the verb "to fall" had "fell" for its past participle, she uttered an eager "failed" and sat next to John Brown.

"Disgraceful!" said Miss Sharman. "You could not have opened your book, Elizabeth (which was only too true). Your little sister Nancy, in the babies' class, could have told you that."

But Elizabeth saved herself with the verb, "to sing," and sat uneasily in case John should blunder over "to fight." But he was quite correct and did not need his small neighbour's eager whisper.

And then Miss Sharman passed on to other verbs and other pupils, and John and Betty were left in peace, side by side, outwardly two indifferently intelligent pupils, inwardly perplexed, distressed and elated by their new ambition.

"What have I done?" whispered Betty.

"Silly!" whispered John.

"But-what have I done?"

"Girl!" whispered John in scorn.

The trouble at Betty's heart stirred and hurt her. Was it not enough to be a girl, without being called one-and in such a whisper. She sat still, and, to save herself from tears, bit her lips and pressed them together, and pinched her left arm with her right hand, as she sat there with her arms folded behind her.

And John thought she didn't care!

He looked at her out of an eye-corner and added, "I'm done with you," as a final stab.

Betty said, "Oh no, John," imploringly, and Miss Sharman caught her whisper and saw her lips move, and said-

"Elizabeth Bruce-don't let me have to look at you again this morning. You are very troublesome. Why can you not take a leaf out of your brother's book, I wonder?"

The morning wore on, and tenses and moods gave place to drill. Then they all went into the playground, and armed themselves with poles, and formed into lines.

John, as the tallest and straightest-backed and sturdiest-limbed pupil in the school, was always at the head of one line. While Nellie Underwood and Betty Bruce, being of a height and age, headed a line alternately.

It fell to Betty's lot to be head of a line to-day, and though she had to "right wheel and march," with John for a partner, down the middle and up again, and "left wheel and march" from John to meet again, and "right wheel and march," and all of it over and over and over again, John's eyes only ignored the little distressed face in the cotton bonnet, or told her contemptuously that she was a "girl."

At eleven o'clock recess he was skirmishing with four smaller boys (using only one hand to their eight) and Betty walked up and down under the gum trees arm in arm with two other girls in sun-bonnets.

At dinner-time John scampered home to roast fowl and bread sauce, and Betty and Cyril and Nancy carried their lunch bag to a shady corner and ate bread and jam sandwiches with relish, finishing up with a banana each.

It was not until afternoon school was well over that Betty found John in any way approachable. He was skimming stones along the dusty road with practised skill, and Betty, alone and hurrying, caught him up.

She artfully admired a stone that sped for a couple of hundred yards an inch or so above the earth, without, to all seeming, ever touching it. And John condescended to be pleased at her praise.

When she had at his command tried her hand at throwing and been condemned by him, she put her question again.

"Why aren't you speaking to me, John? What have I done?"

"I'm speaking!" quoth John. "But I'm done with you."

"But what have I done?"

"Done! Only got me into a row with my grandfather. Only got me to bed at six o'clock without any tea for speaking to you. That's all."

"And shan't you speak to me any more?" asked Betty.

"Only just speak," said John.

"And-and--" Betty's voice quavered with anxiety-"shan't you run away with me?"

"Mightn't" said John. He sent another stone speeding down the road, and Betty watched it with misty eyes, as she trudged along behind him. She did not speak.

"You should have cleared when I coughed," said John. "I told you I'd cough, but you sat there reading and wouldn't look up."

Still Betty was silent.

"You'd give the whole blessed show away," said John. "What's the good of running away and being brought back to school. That comes of being a girl."

And then he looked at her and saw the tears were running down her cheeks and her lips quivering.

"You're crying!" he said, turning round to her sharply.

"Oh, I'm not," said Betty, and dragged her bonnet further over her face. "That horrid stone of yours made a d-dust, and its-it's got in my eyes."

John laughed. "If you do run away," he said, "what shall you do?"

Betty's ambition leapt to life, and her tears dried themselves on her cheeks and in her eyes.

"I'm going to sing," she said. "I'm going to stand at a street corner and sing, and I'm going to wear a tattered old dress and no boots and stockings. And then an old gentleman will pass by and he'll hear me and stand still, and he'll take me away to make a singer of me; and even lords will come to hear me sing, and kings and queens."

John was stirred.

"I'm going without boots, too," he said, "and I shall be in tattered things. I shall get a place as errand boy first, and--"

"When are you going?" asked Betty artfully.

"To-morrow," said John.

"Why, so am I," said Betty. "How funny."

"If you like," said John, "I'll see you to some street corner. I'm going at five o'clock in the morning."

"Why, so am I," said Betty. "Oh, yes; let's go together."

"You can be down at the store by half-past five," said John. "That'll give us time to get a bit of breakfast. And we'll be in Sydney early, before they find out we've gone."

"She went back to her bedroom, to place by Nancy's side her only remaining doll."

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