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   Chapter 16 THE NOTE ON THE PINCUSHION

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 10844

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Every morning there was a skirmish between Betty and Cyril as to who should have the first bath, and Betty generally won, because as she pointed out, she had Nancy to bath, too, and to make her bed, and set the table, and cut the lunches, whereas Cyril only had to bring up two loads of wood.

But this morning, to Cyril's delight, he was first and he got right into the room and fastened the door with the prop (a short thick stick which was wedged between the centre of the door and the bath, and was Mr. Bruce's patent to replace the handle that "lost itself"), and still Betty came not. And he loitered in the bathroom and played, and half-dressed, and then undressed, and got back into the bath, and out again, and dressed, and still no Betty banged at the door.

"Can't make out where Miss Betty's got to," said Mary sulkily, "I'll tell your mother on her. She's not set the table, and she's not cut the lunches, and she's not done nothing."

Cyril, who had brought up his wood and otherwise and in every way performed his morning's duties, waxed indignant at Betty and her negligence, and went down the passage to her room, muttering-

"I'll tell mother of you, Betty Bruce, so there!"

But no Betty Bruce was there. Only Nancy in her nightgown still, and playing with poor faded Belinda.

Mary had to set the table, and Mary had to cut the lunches, and Nancy had to miss her bath, and go to Mary for the buttoning of her clothes. And all because Betty had gone out to make her fortune!

Mrs. Bruce came out of her room late-which was a very usual thing for her to do-and she called:-

"Nancy, come and take baby. Betty, find me a safety pin quickly. I think I saw one on the floor near the piano."

And Mr. Bruce followed her in his slippers, and called-

"Nancy-Betty-one of you go down to the gate and bring up the paper."

Cyril ran to them breathless with his news-

"Betty's never got up yet. Mary's had to do all her work an' she's not got breakfast ready yet. And Nancy's had to dress herself an' all."

Mrs. Bruce opened her eyes-just like Dot did when she was very surprised, and said,-

"Then go and make Betty get up at once." But Cyril interrupted with-

"She's not in bed at all. She's out playing somewhere; I daresay she's gone to school so's to be before me and Nancy. She's always doing that now."

Mrs. Bruce had to hurry to make up for lost time-as she had perpetually to do-and she could not stay to lend an ear to Cyril's tale. So he was left grumbling on about Betty, and school, and a hundred and one things that were "not fair."

Nancy had a bowl of porridge and milk in the kitchen, superintended in the eating of it by Mary, who was giving baby her morning portion of bread and milk.

Cyril carried his porridge plate to the verandah that he might watch if Betty was lurking around in the hopes of breakfast.

And Mr. Bruce read the paper and sipped a cup of abominably made coffee serenely.

They were such a scattered family at breakfast time usually, that one away made little difference. No one but Cyril missed Betty at the table. Her services in the house were missed-so many duties had almost unnoticeably slipped upon her small shoulders, and now it was found there was no one to do them but slip-shod overworked Mary.

Just as Cyril was setting off to school Mary ran after him with a newspaper parcel of clumsy bread and jam sandwiches.

"I'm not sending Miss Betty's," she said-"it'll teach her not to clear out of the way again."

Mrs. Bruce put her head out of the kitchen window-she had not had "time" for any breakfast yet beyond a cup of tea.

"Send Betty home again," she said; "she shan't go to school till her work's done."

But even at eleven o'clock no Betty had arrived. Mary, who had done all the washing-up-and done some of it very badly-was sent by her mistress to strip Betty's bed and leave it to air. And she found the note on the pincushion, and after reading it through twice, carried it in open-eyed amazement to her mistress, who was eating a peach as she sat on the verandah edge, and merely said, "Very well, give it to your master."

So Mr. Bruce took it, and opened it very leisurely, and then started and said: "Ye gods!" and read it through to himself first and then out aloud.

"Dear Father and Mother" (it said)-

"I am going away from my childhood's home to make a fortune for all of you. My voice is my fortune. When I've made it I shall come back to you. So good-bye to you all, and may you be very happy always.

"Your loving daughter,

"Betty."

Mrs. Bruce put down her peach and said: "Read it again, will you, dear," in a quiet steady way as though she were trying to understand.

And Mr. Bruce read it again, and then passed it over to her to read for herself.

"She's somewhere close at hand, of course!" he said. "Silly child!"

"She couldn't go very far, could she?" asked Mrs. Bruce, seeking comfort.

Mr. Bruce shook his head.

"One never quite knows what Betty could do," he said. "She's gone to find her fortune, she says. I wonder now if that is her old crazy idea of hunting for a gold mine. No! 'My voice is my fortune,' she says. Good lord! Whom has she been talking to? What books has she been reading?"

Mrs. Bruce sighed and smiled. As no immediate danger seemed to threaten Betty, there appeared no reason for instant action. They could still take lif

e leisurely, as they had done all their married days. It was only madcap Betty who ever tried to hurry their pace or upset the calm of their domestic sky-Betty with her ways and plans and pranks.

So Mrs. Bruce leaned back on the verandah post.

"Where one has only one child," she said, "life must be a simple matter. It is when there are several of several ages that the difficulty comes in. Now we, for instance, need to be-just a year old-and six years old-and twelve and seventeen-all in addition to our own weight of years."

Her husband smiled. "You do very well," he said. "I saw you playing with Baby this morning, and I've heard you and Dot talk, and could have imagined she had a school-friend here."

"Dot-yes! But Betty-no!"

"Betty is at an awkward age," said Mr. Bruce. "I confess I know very little of her. What is her singing voice like? I think, dear, you'd better give me a list of the clothing she has on, and I'll go down the road and make a few inquiries."

The only dress they could discover "missing," to Mrs. Bruce's horror, was the tattered Saturday frock. And Mary found the boots and stockings under the dressing-table, so the conviction that she had gone barefoot was forced upon them.

At twelve o'clock Cyril was startled to see his father enter the schoolroom, and he observed that Mr. Sharman shook hands with him in a very affable manner, which was, of course, very condescending of Mr. Sharman. In fact, it led Cyril to hope for leniency from him in the looming arithmetic lesson.

A low voiced conversation took place, and then Cyril was called down to the desk and questioned closely about his truant sister.

But of course Cyril knew nothing.

Then another very strange thing happened.

While Mr. Bruce and Mr. Sharman and Cyril were standing in the middle of the floor-Cyril feeling covered with glory from his father's and Mr. Sharman's intimacy in the eyes of the whole school-another shadow darkened the doorway. And the other shadow belonged to no smaller a person than Captain Carew, of Dene Hall, Willoughby, N.S. Wales.

Miss Sharman went out to meet him before the little trio knew he was there, and his hearty "Good morning, ma'am! I've come for news of that young scapegrace, my grandson, John Brown," filled the room.

Whereat Mr. Bruce turned round, and he and the captain faced each other, and Cyril, in great fear, looked up to see if Arthur Smedley, the dread bully, had heard how the great captain of Dene Hall had absolutely, and in the hearing of the whole school acknowledged John Brown to be his grandson, and had not so much as glanced at Cyril, who stood there quite close to him.

It was the first time for more than seventeen years that Captain Carew and Mr. Bruce had been so close together, despite the fact that the fences of their respective properties were within sight of each other.

To-day Captain Carew grew a deep dark-red from his neck to the top of his forehead, and Mr. Bruce went quite white and held his head very high.

And Mr. Sharman drew back nervously, for he, like most other people, knew all about the relationship of these two men to each other, and about their deadly feud.

But the captain strode down the room, just as though he owned Mr. and Miss Sharman and every boy in the school, and he raised his voice somewhat as he repeated his statement about his grandson, "John Brown."

"And if you'll kindly excuse Cyril, I'll take him with me," said Mr. Bruce quietly, continuing his sentence, just as if no interruption had occurred at all.

In the playground Cyril received his commands, glad indeed to have them to execute instead of the arithmetic lesson and play-hour which the ordinary happenings of life would have brought about.

"Go into the bush," said his father, "and search there for her. Look everywhere where you are accustomed to play. She may have fallen down somewhere and hurt herself."

"Yes, father," said the boy obediently. "How'd it be to see if she's fallen in the creek?"

His father gave him an angry look.

"Afterwards go home," he said. "Let the creek alone, and don't talk such folly-Betty is more than five. Tell your mother I'm going to give it into the hands of the police."

Cyril went into the bush-not very far-because the growth was thick, and he had a great dread of snakes.

"S'pose I were bitten," he said, "and I just had to stay here by myself and die! Wonder where Betty is; it's very silly of her to go and lose herself like this. I never lose myself at all."

He came to a two-rail fence, and climbed up and sat on one of its posts, and then he looked around as far as the bush would let him see.

"It's better to keep near a fence," he said. "Then if a bull comes, you're safe. If he jumped over I could roll under, and we could keep doing it, an' he couldn't catch me.... 'Tis silly of Betty to get lost. I wouldn't get lost. You never know how many bulls and things there are about."

He looked round again, and then he climbed down and ran back to the road.

"I'll go home now," he said, "I can't find Betty anywhere. I've looked and looked. And school will be out soon, and how do I know Arthur Smedley took his lunch to-day; he might be coming home."

Whereat this valiant youth looked over his shoulder, and saw the boys running out of the school gate. So he took to his heels and ran home as fast as ever he could.

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