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   Chapter 20 THE DAY AFTER SCHOOL

An Australian Lassie By Lilian Turner Characters: 9749

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


A great day had dawned for Dorothea Bruce, a day long dreamed of and alas, long dreaded!

The first day after school life!

She would joyfully have taken another two years of school-days, with their sober joys and sweet intimate friendships; their griefs and small quarrellings; their lessons and their play hours; their meetings and their breakings up.

But yesterday she had "broken up" for ever. Yesterday she had mournfully given eight locks of her beautiful hair away as "keepsakes," although it must be owned to-day she had examined her hair carefully, looking over her shoulder to see how it bore the loss of its tendrils.

Yesterday she had wept separately with each of her "intimate" friends, excepting only Alma Montague, at this dreadful parting that had come about.

Alma was not to lose Dorothea at all, instead she was to have her all to herself at Katoomba for the holidays, and her queer little yellow face wore a superior smile as she saw the other girls' sorrow at parting from their "darling Thea."

Many things were promised and vowed in this touching season. The little band of intimates were to write to each other every week; still to tell each other every single secret; to think of each other every night; to be each other's bridesmaids as long as there were maids to go round, and to visit each other in their married homes.

For of course they were all going to be married-every one of them.

It was Nellie Harden who had first alluded to the time "When I am married," "When you are married," etc. She said she was rather curious to see who would be married first, and even plain little Alma felt cheerful in looking forward to the time when she would be engaged. They simply took it for granted that in the great beautiful world into which they were going there were lovers-lovers in plenty; lovers who vowed beautiful vows, and performed gallant deeds, and wore immaculate clothing, and still more immaculate moustaches.

Dorothea had decided to be "elder sister" to the best of her ability. She intensely admired the beautiful elder sister in The Mother of Eight, a book Mona had just lent to her.

The mother of eight was a girl of eighteen, who had promised her mother on her death-bed to be a mother to all the little ones. Lovers had come to her, imploring her to "make their lives," friends had put in their claims, pleasures had beckoned; but the mother of eight had shaken her beautiful head and stood there at her post until the eight were married and settled in homes of their own, when the "mother" had suddenly died of a broken heart.

This book formed the basis of Dorothea's day-dreams. She, too, was going to be an "elder sister" and reform the home. In the flights of her imagination she saw herself making Betty and Nancy new frocks, mending Cyril's trousers, trimming her mother's hats, correcting her father's manuscripts.

Wherever she looked she seemed to be wanted. A great place gaped in the household, and it was for the elder sister to step in and fill it. And Betty, wild madcap Betty, would want talking to, and training and putting into the way in which she should go. And, of course, lovers would come for Dot, but until Baby was well started in life she would have none of them. And when she married, "a few silver threads would be discernible in her golden hair, and there would be patient tired lines at the corners of her mouth."

But it was only the first day after school now, and she had much to think of. She was not going to commence the new order of things by being an elder sister, although the home needed her sorely.

As things had fallen out, it was necessary, she found, to set duty aside for a while.

She was invited to spend the end of December and the whole of January with Alma Montague at Katoomba. They were to stay at the best hotel there-Mrs. Montague, her sister Mrs. Stacey, Alma and Dot. Rooms had already been engaged for the party (Alma's and Dot's adjoining each other's), and all sorts of intoxicating details been settled.

Dot, indeed, spoke to her mother once about coming home to help, instead of going away, but even if she had meant it-which must be questioned-Mrs. Bruce was quite decided that she should go.

"It will do you good," she said, "and we don't need you at home at all. Betty will be here-it will be holiday-time and she must help."

For February Dot had an invitation to Tasmania. In her wildest imaginings she did not dream of accepting it, but Minnie Stevenson, whose school-days lay behind her too, was going down before Christmas and declared she could not be without Dot longer than the middle of February.

And Mona-Mona, her nearest and dearest friend, said it was very hot on the Richmond River till the end of March, but April was a perfect month there, and in April she would take no refusal. She must have Thea in he

r own home all to herself then.

Nellie Harden had her mother's consent to ask Dot to "come out" with her. The début was to take place in June, at a big ball, and Nellie had "set her heart" on Thea and herself coming out at the very same ball, on the very same night as each other, "All in white, you know, Thea darling, and we will look so nice."

So it will be seen Dot's idea of being elder sister and home daughter had every chance of remaining an idea for the present. With such alluring pleasures, where was there room for duty?

"I'll do my best every time I am at home," said Dot to herself, weighing pleasure and duty in the balance and finding duty sadly wanting, "and I'll write Betty good letters of advice, and take some mending away with me to do."

But all that belonged to yesterday.

To-day Dot was at home, and in the important position of being about to set out upon a journey. She was to start early in the morning and to go direct to the Redfern railway station.

Mr. Bruce had gone to town to draw a five guinea cheque for his eldest daughter. He also had to do a little shopping on her account. All his instructions were written down in Dot's fair round hand-writing upon a piece of foreign notepaper and slipped into his waistcoat pocket.

For those who are at all curious to know what the items were we will steal a look at the paper-

Pair of white canvas shoes, size 2.

One cake of blanco (for cleaning them with).

Two pairs of black silk shoe laces-not boot laces-(all of those things at the same shop).

1? yds. of white chiffon (very thin-for a veil).

1 bunch of scarlet poppies-just common ones (both of these at same shop-draper's).

At a chemist's: sponge (6d.), tooth-brush (9d.), Packet of violet powder (6d.).

Mrs. Bruce was letting down Dot's dresses, and altering a pretty blue silk evening blouse (bought ready made). Cyril had cleaned her shoes and the family portmanteau, an ugly black thing, and run half a dozen errands grumblingly-all for Dot!

Betty was locked in her room in disgrace, for running away to seek her fortune. No one was allowed to speak to her, even Baby's "Bet, Bet," was sternly hushed; two slices of bread and a glass of water were placed outside her door three times a day; three times a day she was permitted to walk for five minutes, each time alone in the garden, then back again to her room.

This state of things, which had commenced on Wednesday morning, was, if Betty showed proper penitence and meekness, to terminate on Saturday morning.

Yet even prisoner Betty was employed on Dot's behalf. She had Dot's stockings to mend, and to add insignificant things like buttons and tapes and hooks and eyes to those of her garments which had an insufficiency of such trifles. And she was sewing away industriously as she brooded over her woes.

Dot herself was unpacking and packing up. Unpacking all her exercise books, and notebooks, and stacks of neat examination papers; her lesson books and Czerney's 101 Exercises for the Pianoforte; her sewing samples and wool-work; her study of a head in crayon, and waratahs and flannel flowers in oils, and peep of Sydney Harbour in water colours.

"When I come home again," she told herself gravely, "I will arrange life: I'll practise at least two hours every morning; I'll do some solid good reading every day-some one like Shakespeare or Milton or Bacon! I'll paint every afternoon. I really have a talent for landscapes. And I'll finish writing my novel. For some things I'm really glad I've finished learning."

A keen observer, regarding Dot's new scheme for life, would detect very little time or thought for reforming the household, and training Betty and teaching the younger ones. But then, Dot's schemes varied, and a day seemed to her a very big piece of time to have to play with as she liked, all in her own hands. Hitherto it had been given out to her in hours by Miss Weir-this hour for French, that for English, this for a constitutional, that for sewing, this for the Scriptures, that for practice, and so on.

What wonder that the felt she could crowd all the arts and sciences into a day when all the hours belonged to her for her very own.

When she went to bed at night, by way of beginning the home reforms she looked at Betty very earnestly and shook her head, words being forbidden.

And she removed her own particular text from above her bed to above Betty's, feeling very old and sedate the while, for it must be owned conscious virtue has a sobering effect.

But the action threw Betty into a towering rage.

"If you don't take down your old text I won't get into bed at all. I've only been trying to make you all rich."

And Dot, who was always alarmed into placidity when she had provoked wrath, returned "Blessed are the pure in heart" to its own position on the wall.

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