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   Chapter 18 ALMA'S SHILLING

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9261

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


By ten o'clock Betty had made another shilling, having caught the workers of the city as they were going to their day's toil.

And it must be owned it was a mysterious "something" about the child herself that arrested what attention she drew. Perhaps it lay in the fresh rosiness of her face, in the clearness of her sweet eyes, in the brightness of her young hair; for her courage ebbed away so soon as two or three were gathered around her; her voice sank to a whisper, she drooped her head, trifled with one wristband or the other, stood first on one foot and then on the other, and displayed the various signs of nervousness Mr. Sharman's stern eye provoked her to.

At eleven o'clock, John, who had made threepence by carrying a bag for a lady, looked Betty up at the appointed corner and proposed lemonade and currant buns, for which she was quite ready.

Afterwards they stood for a valuable half-hour outside the waxworks and explored the markets, where Betty sang "Scatter seeds of kindness," in spite of John's solemnly given advice to keep it for Sunday. Here she only made a penny halfpenny by her song, but as she said to John-

"Every one must expect some bad hours."

Then, too, there was in her heart a feeling of certainty that a keen eyed, bent shouldered old gentleman would be passing soon, and carry her away straight to the very threshold of fame, as Madam S--'s old gentleman carried her.

When they had become thoroughly acquainted with the markets, John suggested she should again "count up," with a view of deciding what sort of lodgings she could afford for the night.

Betty had not thought of such a trivial thing, leaving it possibly for her old gentleman to settle. But she was more than willing to "count up" again.

So they went into a corner behind a deserted fruit stall, sat down upon an empty case, and made little stacks of pennies and half-pennies and small silver coins.

She had two shillings and a penny, she found in all, and John told her she could afford to go to one of the places he had seen this morning, where a bed and breakfast were to be had for sixpence.

"I have seen some places where they charge a shilling," said John. "It seems an awful lot to pay for a bed and a bit of breakfast. But a sixpenny place will do for you, and as you're only twelve they might take you for threepence."

"And where will you go?" asked Betty anxiously.

"Oh, I'd be sixpence, you see, because I'm thirteen and a half," said John. "I can't afford to pay sixpence. It's always harder for a fellow to get on than for a girl. That's why you hear more about self-made men than self-made women-they're thought more of. No bed for me, I expect, for some time to come. I'll have to sleep in the Domain. I heard a fellow talking this morning, and he said he's been sleeping there for a week now. And, you know, Peterborough, the artist I told you about-well, he slept for a week in a barrel!"

"How much money have you got?" asked Betty.

"Eightpence!" said John. "No one seems to want an errand boy to-day."

Betty began to feel very doleful at being one step above John in this the beginning of their career. But she dared not offer to lend to him, he had been so very insistent upon paying her back her penny, and paying for his own breakfast and lemonade and buns.

He took her and showed her two houses which bore the words, "Bed and breakfast, 6d.!" and then he led the way to the Domain, having been through it many times with his grandfather, while to stay-at-home Betty it was no more than a name. Macquarie Street lay asleep as they travelled through it and past Parliament House and the Hospital and the Public Library.

It never for a moment occurred to Betty that Dot was domiciled in that street of big high houses and hushed sounds. She knew Dot's school address was "Westmead House, Macquarie Street," but she had not the remotest idea that she and John were travelling down Macquarie Street past Westmead House.

Just inside the Domain gates they paused to admire Governor Burke's statue, and to count their money again in its shade.

Then John pointed out to her the tree-shaded path that runs to Woollomooloo Bay and the great sweeping grass stretch that lay on one side of it.

Many men were there already, full length upon the grass, their hats over their eyes, asleep or callous to waking.

Betty at once signified her intention of spending her first night out here, also, and pointed to a seat under a Norfolk Island pine tree.

"We could be quite cosy there," she said, "and you could lend me your coat."

"But I'd want it myself,"

said John.

"John in Girls and Boys Abroad used always to give Virginia his coat," said Betty.

It was slightly to the right of Governor Burke's statue that Betty was inspired to sing "Yield not to temptation," standing with her back to the iron railing.

And it was just as she was being carried out of herself and singing her shrillest in the second verse that Miss Arnott, the English governess in Westmead House, brought her line of pupils for their daily constitutional down the Domain.

Pretty Dot, and the judge's daughter, Nellie Harden, were at the head of the line, and were conversing in an affable manner and low voices upon the newest trimmings for summer hats, when the little couple near the statue came into view.

Betty's eyes were downcast that she might not be distracted by her audience, but John, who was clinging to the railing near her, saw the marching school, saw Dot, and knew that she had seen.

"Each victory will help you

Some other to win,"

sang Betty shrilly.

Dot's face went white, sheet white. She heard the judge's daughter speak of eau de nil chiffon, and a hat turned up at the side. She was at the head of thirty fashionable "young ladies," and a fashionable young governess was close by. She wore her best shoes (the ones with the toe-caps of Russian leather) and her best dress (white with the gold silk sash given by Alma Montague).

And there was Betty-dreadful scapegrace Betty, barefooted, dirty faced, bare-headed (her bonnet was of course under her arm), singing songs for coppers!

Dot coughed, went white, choked, and walked on. She simply had not the courage to step out from that line of fashionable demoiselles and claim her little sister.

But Alma Montague, who carried her purse for the purchase of chocolate nougats should a favourable opportunity occur, had her tender little heart touched by Betty's face and song.

"Each victory will help you

Some other to win."

spoke directly to her, and her longing for chocolate nougats. She only had a shilling in her purse, wonderful to relate, and she and her conscience had a sharp short battle. Chocolate nougats or-pitiful hunger! Her face flushed as conscience won the battle.

The next second she had slipped out of line and run across to Betty.

"Here; little girl!" she said, and thrust a shilling into Betty's hand.

The little singer looked up, shy and startled, and her song died on her lips while her eyes plainly rejoiced over the shilling.

Then the English governess awoke from a happy day-dream and sharply ordered Alma back to her place.

"You should have asked permission," she said stiffly. "I cannot have such disorders. I will punish you when we return to school!"

Just as if the lost chocolates were not punishment enough.

The deed and the reprimand travelled along the line, whispered from mouth to mouth, till it came to Dot.

"That silly Alma Montague," the whisper ran, "has just broken line to give her money to that little beggar girl. She gave a shilling. She was going to buy chocolate nougats. Miss Arnott's going to punish her."

Dot's sensitive soul shuddered over the terrible Betty. If she had been looking up instead of down! If she had rushed forward and claimed her before the eyes of the wondering school! If Miss Arnott had known! If Alma Montague had known! If any one of all those thirty girls had even guessed!

The very possibility was so dreadful that Dot found herself unable to discuss fashion for all the rest of that constitutional.

But later on in the day, in the evening, when the lamps were alight, she had crept away by herself to wonder where madcap Betty was. She felt quite sure she would go home again quite safely, she was always doing terrible things without any harm coming to her.

The tears that fell from Dot's eyes were not for Betty, but altogether for herself. She had disowned, by not owning, her sister! She had been afraid to step forward before those thirty pairs of eyes and say, "This is my sister!" And she felt as one guilty of a mean and dishonourable deed.

"I will tell every girl in the school in the morning," she said; and then, as her repentance increased: "I will tell them to-night."

And to her credit be it spoken, she descended to the schoolroom and weepingly told her story.

Some of the girls laughed, most of them "longed to know Betty," and all of the "intimate" friends tried to comfort Dot.

"You're such a darling," said Mona. "You've made us all love you more than ever."

She was very enthusiastic for she felt that Dot had been afraid and had conquered fear.

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