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Title: A Romance of Canvas Town And Other Stories
Author: Rolf Boldrewood
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607131.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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A Romance of Canvas Town And Other Stories
Rolf Boldrewood



TABLE OF CONTENTS

A Romance of Canvas Town
The Fencing of Wandaroona: A Riverina Reminiscence
The Governess of the Poets
Our New Cook: A Tale of the Times
Angels Unawares



A ROMANCE OF CANVAS TOWN



DWELLERS in Melbourne during 1851 and the immediately succeeding
years of the golden age in Australia will remember Canvas Town. Good
cause, doubtless, have certain prosperous citizens to recall the
strange suburb of Melbourne across the river, in which they, with
hundreds of strangers and pilgrims, were fain to abide, pending
suitable lodgings or employment. It arose mushroom-like from the bare
trampled clay, a town of tents and calico, at no great distance from
Prince's-bridge, shouldering the road which then led to the
fashionable suburb of South Yarra.

Its raison d'tre was briefly this. When tidings of the wondrous
yields of Ballarat and Forest Creek--of gold dust and ingots, so
profuse, so easily won--reached Europe, fleets of vessels bearing
armies of adventurers set sail for Eldorado. When the flotilla
anchored in Hobson's Bay, disembarking in crowds, the young and the
old, the rich and the poor, the delicately nurtured with the rudely
reared, there was simply no place to put them, nowhere for them to go.

For in Melbourne, houses and cottages, huts and hotels were alike
full, more than full, with legitimate occupants. The verandahs and
even the back yards were utilised as dormitories. A list of the
extraordinary makeshifts for bedrooms then in common use would read
like a chapter from the Hunting of the Snark or kindred literature.
Only with this difference, that the nonsense would all be true,--
terribly true.

What, then, was to be done? Filled with auriferous fancies and
fables, it was yet impossible for all of these inexperienced,
untravelled innocents to march at once for the diggings. Many had
imagined that they could 'step over,' on arrival, to the golden
fields, and commence the colonial industry of nugget gathering without
loss of time.

To fathers of families--some of near kin to Mr. Micawber--to raw
lads, to the feeble, the sick, the penniless--there were many of these
last--it may easily be imagined how terrible was the first experience
of the strange, inhospitable, and apparently savage land in which they
found themselves.

Landed at Sandridge or on the wharves of Melbourne, in the midst of
rude, jostling crowds, what misery must many of them have undergone! I
fear me that the complacent colonists, thriving and experienced, fully
aware of the fact that all property, whether of stock, land, stations,
or houses, had become enormously enhanced in value, must have seemed
to the forlorn emigrants hard and unfeeling. There was a savour of
selfishness, surely, about the way in which the herd of helpless
strangers--gentle and simple, good, bad, or indifferent--was permitted
to go its own road, to sink or swim, with but little aid or counsel
from their countrymen in Victoria.

The deadly wharf-struggle over, it became a vital question with the
houseless horde where to go and how to shelter themselves. There,
indeed, was the rub! Melbourne, as before stated, was crammed full.
They could not camp in the streets. They were unprepared for the bush.
They knew not which way to turn. Whether, in some semi-official way,
directed to locate themselves upon the site, long famous and
memorable, or, whether as being within reach of the Yarra, of the
town, and apparently unoccupied, and unowned, the bright idea of
"pegging out" struck some smart pilgrim, and the rest followed suit,
cannot be known. But almost in a night Canvas Town arose, and became a
localised, tangible fact.

About that time there lived in the pastoral region of Victoria,
occasionally visiting Melbourne like his brethren, when a decent
excuse offered, a squatter named Evan Cameron. This young person had
lately brought a draft of fat cattle from his station near the mouth
of the Glenelg. The season being that of winter, the weather bad, and
his assistant strictly unreliable, he had been sorely tried and
endured hardship. But, as he had sold the drove at an unprecedentedly
high price, and was even now enjoying a well-earned holiday, the
memory of his privations was becoming faint and obscure.

One of his recreations during his season of idlesse was to ride a
handsome blood mare of his own breeding, which he had brought down
with some such intention, around the suburbs where his visiting
acquaintances and friends abode. Carmen was a grand, upstanding,
hunter--looking animal, and when thus mounted, and by no means badly
dressed, Mr. Cameron judged that he was not unlikely to produce a
favourable impression upon any stray princess or other feminine
personage whom he might encounter.

This curious hamlet in the track to South Yarra and St. Kilda
fascinated him. He used to ride quietly through its chief
thoroughfares, observing the manners and customs of the variously
differentiated dwellers therein. It was with no unkindly feeling that
he did this. More than a barren spirit of curiosity and idle
questioning actuated him. With regard to newly-arrived people--the
men, of course--he had been in the habit of asserting that no one need
fare badly in this country who chose to work. That they could always
find well-paid employment. That there was no such thing as bad luck;
and so on. Some of which dogmatic utterances he found occasion in the
after-time to modify considerably.

'What a curious sight,' he used to say to himself, 'is this!' as the
big, bright-skinned mare went lounging down the narrow paths, snorting
occasionally, and pretending to be afraid of the people and things she
saw. For they performed most of their household offices in front of
their dwellings. Misery and hard usage had made them callous. Whether
they thought no one could possibly recognise them, or because nearly
all of us are creatures of circumstance, some who plainly had seen
better days and far other surroundings were singularly careless as to
appearances. 'Don't be affected,' he said one day to Carmen, who was
turning up her nose, so to speak, at a piebald horse in a baker's cart
standing across the way.

The baker stood talking to a stout young fellow in a fur cap, who had
'Seven Dials' legibly imprinted on his visage. He was sitting on a
wheel--barrow, while a pale woman was washing in a tub placed upon two
buckets on the side of the road. 'Why, I thought you was off to the
diggings, Towney!' said the baker.

'Not if I knows it,' answered the Londoner. 'The missus here's
getting twelve shillin' a dozen for washin'. That'll keep us until I
can get some light work about the town. I'm not agoin' to kill myself
at the diggins, don't you believe it. I'm on for a beer-shop, or
somethink in that line, as soon as we can rise it.'

Evan Cameron listened to this statement with deep disgust, noticing
at the same time that two tents immediately above in the row were
closed, as if the occupants were out, or did not wish to be seen. As
he moved away, knitting his brows and cursing this nefarious burly
costermonger living upon his wife's hard earnings, longing also to
knock him head first into his own barrow, a young girl came from the
direction of the town towards the two men, who were directly across
her path. She was plainly but not poorly dressed, and was followed by
a handsome retriever. Her whole air was of the deepest despondency,
and as she walked slowly and falteringly along, Mr. Cameron thought,
looking at her slight figure and downcast, drooping countenance, that
no painter could have fallen upon a finer model for hopeless misery
and despair.

As she approached the baker's cart she looked up suddenly, thereby
exhibiting, as Evan thought, an exceedingly pleasing, refined cast of
countenance; also large, plaintive brown eyes, with a startled,
deerlike expression. What with the men and the wheel-barrow, the
washing-tub and the baker's cart, the thoroughfare was completely
blocked. The men looked at her in a way which increased her confusion
but did not offer to stir. The girl had stopped and commenced a
detour, but the retriever, anxious to make a short cut, walked between
the two men. As he did so the man called Towney gave the poor brute a
savage kick. At the dog's sharp cry in agony the girl turned hastily,
and confronted the man. 'Oh, don't hurt Friend, don't, pray! He is my
poor sick brother's dog.' Here sobs prevented further speech, but as
she stood with upraised, tearful countenance, forgetful of her natural
timidity, Evan thought that the enterprising painter above referred to
would have found an equally good model for another successful sketch,
'Innocence defending the helpless.'

As he dismounted hastily, leaving Carmen to her own devices, he was
just in time to hear the rough growl out, 'You be hanged and your
brother too; you're too fine to pal in with my missus; for two pins
I'd sarve you as I did the dawg.'

'Not while there's a man within reach, you scoundrel!' shouted Evan,
giving the grinning baker a shove, which sent him staggering against
his cart, and the next minute administering a scientific 'taste of the
upper cut' to Mr. Towney, which sent him down with such emphasis that
the back of his head knocked against one of his wife's buckets.

'You had better walk towards your tent, I think,' Evan said to the
young lady, offering his arm politely. 'I will guarantee that you are
not further molested. Did I understand you to say that your brother
was ill? I may perhaps be of some slight service.'

The girl looked doubtfully in the stranger's face, and then, perhaps
reassured by the honest expression of Evan's gray eyes, answered, 'I
have just been to see him at the hospital. He is worse to-day; and oh,
I am afraid he is dying! What shall I do, what shall I do in this
strange country, alone and friendless that I am?' Here she burst into
a passion of sobs and tears, and for a few minutes was unable to
speak.

At that moment the flap of the other closed tent was pushed open and
a tall man appeared. His face was ashen pale, the gloom of despairing
sorrow lay over it like a pall.

'What is wrong, Miss Melton?' said he, in a half-absent manner, with
his eyes fixed on vacancy. 'You must pardon my inattention. Is there
anything that I can do for you?'

'I am selfishly forgetting others in my own distress,' she said,
hastily drying her eyes. 'I was annoyed by that rude man next door;
but this gentleman came kindly to my assistance. How is your poor
wife?'

'She is dead. Dead!' he gasped out. 'Gone for ever! My love could not
keep her here. How could she leave me? You see the most wretched of
living men; Isora, O my beloved! But I shall not live long after you.'
Here the miserable man made as though he would cast himself upon the
earth, wailing and lamenting in passionate abandonment. 'O God, why
hast Thou suffered this? Was she not angelically patient, sweet,
humble, fearing Thee, keeping Thy laws, in charity with all? and Thou
hast permitted her to die. Her! In pain too, and dire wretchedness! Is
there a God of justice, or are all the creeds but mockeries of the
Fiend?'

'Hush, Mr. Montfort,' said the young lady softly. 'Oh, do not rave so
wildly. She would not have suffered it. You will think of her soft
pleadings now, will you not? How good and patient she always was.'

'She was an angel!' cried the mourner, striking his forehead. 'What
is Alan Montfort that he should have been the love of her youth, the
husband of her choice? If he had been a man, with the instinctive
sense of the humblest labourer, her life would have been saved. You
will come, Alice, and look on her now? She loved you in life--ah, so
well!'

Together they turned towards the opening in the tent, when Evan
Cameron, who had looked pityingly on, awe-stricken in the presence of
the stranger's irreparable sorrow, tied Carmen to a fortunately placed
stake, and came forward to make adieu, being no longer necessary in
any capacity that he could imagine.

The young lady halted, and cordially thanked him for his timely aid.
Her face was grave, but her eyes conveyed the idea to Evan's mind that
but for the sadness of her present surroundings her gratitude would
have been more feelingly expressed.

Suddenly the stranger, whom she had called Mr. Montfort, after gazing
at him with widely-opened, rayless eyes, exclaimed, 'Your face is
familiar, as of one whom I knew in youth. My boyhood was spent in
Australia. Surely you are Evan Cameron?'

'As certainly as you are my old schoolfellow Alan Montfort. Great
God, what a meeting! What would I not have given to have known of you
being here these weeks that I have been in town?'

'It matters not. Nothing matters now in this world, Evan! But you are
an old friend; come into this wretched hovel with this dear girl who
loved her--cherished her--and see my beloved while still her beauty is
untouched.'

With a groan Montfort walked forward, followed by Miss Melton;
bareheaded and reverently Evan Cameron also entered, then stood silent
and heart-thrilled, while the wretched husband sank upon a rude seat
and covered his face with his hands. The sobs which shook his whole
frame told the depth of his agonised grief.

On a meanly-draped but scrupulously neat bed lay the corpse of a
supremely beautiful woman. Her long black hair, drawn back from her
ivory forehead, lay in silken masses upon the pillow; her large dark
eyes were open; the delicately-pencilled eyebrows, the long-fringed
eyelashes, all, as in life, perfect and unchanged. Her slightly-parted
lips seemed but modelled for a smile, almost could one fancy that she
was recovering from a faint, and would commence to live and love
afresh.

'Surely she is not dead? Oh, can there be hope?' exclaimed the girl,
stepping to her side, and pressing her lips to her forehead. Cold,
alas, was the pearly brow, rigid the lovely lips, rayless with fixed
regard the wondrous eyes, that never more would look on him she loved
too well--loved better than home and friends, than the world's honours
and gifts, the favour of Royalty, the adoration of the great.

All these had Isora Delmar quitted to follow her love to a far-off,
unknown land. To live for months in a hovel such as her father's hinds
had never entered. To pine and waste silently for lack of needful
things, nay, of the common necessaries of life. And at length,
patient, hopeful, loving to the last, to lie dead on a miserable
pallet in this hamlet of outcasts, in a strange land, with but one
friend of her own sex, and she, alas! oh bitter fate! forced to be
absent when she drew her latest breath.

The girl threw herself on her knees by the bed-side, and taking the
wasted hand of the dead woman in hers, kissed it, weeping bitterly.
Evan Cameron's heart ached, as he could not but observe in the mean
abode the painful evidences of the gradual tightening of the grasp of
poverty. The man's costly outfit had been sold long before; her
trinkets, and indeed less superfluous possessions had, no doubt, gone
gradually. These piteous sales of the goods of the strangers--too
literally sacrifices--were then matters of such everyday occurrence in
Melbourne as to call forth no remark. With the exception of a few
cooking utensils, the smallest assortment of crockery, a table, a rude
sofa, two wooden chairs and a portmanteau, there was nothing more to
be seen in that bare tenement, in which these two well-born, misguided
victims had lived for months.

It may be asked, How could such things be in Melbourne in 1852? Was
not the place running over with money? Was there not work for any man
with strong arms and a willing heart? Had this Mr. Montfort a tongue
in his head? Had he not friends who would have helped him? We refuse
to believe it.

It is hard to persuade the prosperous people of the world--whether
that world be old or new--that persons in want of money or the
necessaries of life are not culpable, if not criminal. If the true
history of that terrible time were written it would be abundantly
proved that many of the poor, innocent, inexperienced souls who came
here 'in the fifties' in all good faith to seek their fortunes,
underwent deadly dangers and sad privations--were often reduced to
depths of utter despair ere good fortune or 'colonial experience' came
to their aid.

What were they to do? let me ask, in their interest, as amicus
curiae. They had miscalculated their means, they had shrunk from going
straight to the diggings, and if with sisters, wife, or children, what
wonder? The money began to run short. What next? Try to get work? It
was not so easy; few people were inclined to take as groom or
gardener, cook, or waiter, a man obviously unused to such employments,
and without references. I am thinking of the gentlefolk who, sick at
heart, day by day, wandered about, fruitlessly trying to comprehend
Australia. Pinched with hunger in a land of gold, amid millions of
beeves; starving in the most plenteous food--producing country under
the sun! Too proud to beg or to apply to relatives! Small wonder that
in the very midst of our careless, hard-judging, hastily--gilded era,
tragedies like the one I have sketched were almost of weekly
occurrence.

'You had better both go, now,' the girl said gently. 'I will close
her eyes--dear, lovely, lost Isora! Take him with you,' she whispered
to Evan; 'you are old friends, it seems. It will relieve him to tell
all his mind to you. When he returns I shall have dressed her in her
last robes.'

'Allow me to call to-morrow,' said Mr. Cameron. 'You may trust me for
all aid and counsel in his affairs--and your own,' he added. 'No! you
must really not deny me the pleasure of helping you. Our meeting was
providential.'

With a warm pressure of the hand the newlymade friends and fellow--
workers parted. He drew Montfort away, and listened to the sad
recital, mingled with bursts of passionate grief, in which he told the
tale of their hurried marriage, and his illjudged determination to
quit his regiment and sail for the land of gold.

'But I will never leave her,' he cried aloud in conclusion. 'She
shall stay with me until her fair body is committed to the earth, and
then I will die on her grave rather than quit the place where she
lies.'

On the morrow Evan Cameron arranged with a disposer of the dead to
perform his mournful office, and privately gave directions for an
inner coffin of lead to be provided as well as the more ornate casket
in which the jewel of Alan Montfort's existence would be deposited.
Yet, mindful of the claims of the living, in whom he had commenced to
feel a strong and increasing interest, he betook himself to the
Melbourne Hospital. There, gaining audience of the resident surgeon,
to whom he was fortunately known, he requested information concerning
one Arthur Melton.

'Fever ward, No. 3; new arrival; very low yesterday,' answered that
gentleman, with professional brevity. 'Sister, nice girl; will be here
directly. Report better to-day; taken a turn towards recovery, I
think. See what the escort brought down this week?'

No! Mr. Cameron had not seen it, and didn't care if every rascally
digger was kicked out of the country again. The gold epidemic was a
kind of cholera or yellow fever (no pun intended). The country was
going to the devil, fast. But he was glad to hear the poor young
fellow was better.

'How about the price of bullocks, Mr. Squatter?' said the doctor,
laughing. 'Besides, the gold brings nice people to the colony,
relatives of patients, and so on! Well, if this young fellow rallies--
and I think he will--a little country air will do him good and the
young lady too. Ah, sly dog! Now goodbye! Patients don't like
waiting.'

Mr. Cameron rattled Carmen along Swanston Street, and across the
Yarra bridge, much faster than he generally did over metal. In
consequence of which imprudence, he met Alice Melton coming along
towards the Yarra, on her way to the hospital. It was only natural
that he should dismount and offer to walk beside her, while he
communicated the welcome news of her brother's improvement in health.
Carmen led well too, having perhaps had previous practice.

The girl's face lit up with an expression of joy and gratitude, which
Evan thought perfectly heavenly, as she exclaimed, 'Oh, how kind of
you! How shall I ever be able to thank you sufficiently?'

Evan thought it might be managed, but was too wise to say so. Then he
told her of his arrangement as to poor Mrs. Montfort's burial, of
which she expressed approval.

'I am afraid she must have suffered much,' he said. 'Poor Alan! when
we were boys together, how little could we foresee a meeting like
this!'

'No one knows what she went through,' said the girl. 'Bravely, and so
sweetly, she bore everything. Mr. Montfort did what he could, but he
is one of those helpless men who either do things wrongly or not at
all. They must have nearly starved often. My brother was so different
before the wretched fever took him. He used to chop wood and draw
water for people, catch fish, and shoot ducks, that poor Friend used
to swim in for; kept up his spirits too, and said he was sure he could
save enough to get a nice little cottage for us both before long. He
liked the country from the beginning.'

'And then?' queried Evan.

'Then he took ill after a long hard day's work in some back lane in
Melbourne. We spent nearly all our money before he was removed to the
hospital. He was at his lowest the day I saw you, and I was then the
most wretched despairing girl in the world, I really believe.'

'But now you begin to hope?'

'Yes, really I do,' she said, smiling in spite of herself (she had
beautiful teeth, certainly, thought Evan), 'and, but for poor Mrs.
Montfort's death, and his misery, poor fellow, I could feel almost
happy.'

'Evidently of a cheerful disposition,' he reflected; 'sensitive and
sympathetic, but easily recalled to her original sunshine.'

Miss Melton came out from the hospital much cheered and comforted by
her visit to her brother, in whose face she saw tokens of certain
recovery. She insisted upon returning at once to Canvas Town, however,
for the purpose of attending to the despairing Montfort, who, she
said, sat gazing at his dead wife for hours. She was really afraid he
would destroy himself. It was her duty to remain with him. It relieved
his mind at intervals to talk to her of his lost Isora.

When Evan Cameron rode next day to Canvas Town, another phase of the
tragedy with which he had come to be so strangely mixed up, was
presented. Miss Melton issued from Montfort's tent, and motioning to
him hastily to enter, went into her own dwelling.

He pushed aside the canvas and, to his great surprise, saw another
man, whom he recognised as Alan Montfort's elder brother. He greeted
Cameron warmly, and appeared much gratified at meeting him. The dead
woman lay in her coffin, her pale, calm beauty still unchanged, while
near her stood her husband, gazing with the same rapt, intense
earnestness, apparently still unable to divest himself of a feeling
that her case was not past hope.

Leaving him unchanged in posture, the two men walked out and stood
for some seconds gazing silently at the busy scene beyond the river.

'What an extraordinary chance,' said Charles Montfort, at length,
'that you should have discovered my unfortunate brother here. You of
all people! When we were schoolfellows together who could have dreamt
that we three should meet thus?'

'That young lady who has just gone out and the dog, Friend, were the
principal agents,' replied Cameron. 'How I wish we had met a month
earlier--and it might so easily have been. Hard that all came so
late!'

'Hard indeed. That girl is an angel, poor Alan says. Nursed his wife
and her brother till her own life was nearly the forfeit. But we have
no time to lose. It is the saddest fate. Alan, it seems, eloped with
his wife. Her friends, wealthy and aristocratic, would not hear of
their marriage. He had only his commission and was in debt. But you
know his headstrong, reckless nature. Handsome and attractive to women
always, Isora Delmar fell in love with him. Their flight and voyage to
this country followed--most unhappily for all.'

'He intended, I suppose, to go to the goldfields?'

'Yes, of course. On reaching Melbourne he found it inexpedient to
take his wife there. His money came to an end. We had paid his debts
twice before, and he was unwilling to apply to his family again.
Buoyed up with the hope of finding employment, official or otherwise,
he deferred writing home until it was too late. Too late! Last week I
got his first and only letter, and came at once by the steamer from
Adelaide. She returns to--morrow. I must take him back there if I can
only persuade him.'

'Time may change the nature of his grief,' said Cameron. 'But is he
unwilling to go?'

'He declares that he will not leave his Isora. We must take the body
with us. And here, now, is the difficulty. He refuses to allow the
coffin lid to be nailed down. He insists upon a daily visit from a
medical man. He believes that she will revive.'

'A young doctor at my hotel told me that he wanted to get to
Adelaide. Bob Wilson is a very clever fellow. I will find him out to-
night. For the rest, the lid of the coffin can be rendered movable at
will. The man that made it can manage that. Poor Alan! Poor fellow!
Let us go in and talk to him.'

After long argument the unhappy man seemed dimly to comprehend the
necessity of the step proposed. To Cameron he appeared grateful, and
eventually promised to go with him. After nightfall a vehicle was
procured, in which the friends conveyed the corpse of the ill-fated
Isora Montfort to the steamer Admella--herself a fated ship--under the
still-continued jealous watchfulness of her husband. They reached in
due course the Montfort estate in South Australia, and in a secluded
dell, where others of the household slept their long sleep, all that
was mortal of that incarnation of grace, beauty, and virtue which men
once called Isora Delmar was laid. Here could Alan Montfort wander and
muse--outwatch the midnight hour! Here he chafed at the slowly passing
days of a ruined life. Here he prayed for the hastening of that hour
when the Death Angel should unlock the gates of the spirit world and
relume their immortal love.

For Evan Cameron, the strangely-initiated adventure bore a far
different termination. Lodgings for Miss Melton and her brother were
procured with a lady of his acquaintance, who had herself known
bereavement in the land of light and shadow. He sent for Arthur to his
station, when able to travel by easy stages, the doctor having
advocated removal to the pure air of the country. 'A manly, plucky
young Englishman, really a splendid fellow,' Evan told every one.
Arthur Melton took to bush life from the first. As men were scarce in
those disturbed days, he soon became useful, then valuable, on the
station. He wrote such delightful accounts of life at Barrawonga to
his sister that, backed up by 'proper representation' on the
proprietor's part, Alice Melton was induced to make trial of it, and
indeed, in due time, as Mrs. Evan Cameron, to take up her permanent
residence there. They all agreed in the aftertime, that it was a
fortunate hour in which Evan rode the unwilling Carmen through the
narrow, uninviting main street of Canvas Town.



THE FENCING OF WANDAROONA: A RIVERINA REMINISCENCE


Chapter I


'I INTEND to stick to the house this morning. What a sensation the
very cutting of the leaves of a new magazine gives one! There is the
tale you wish to see the end of, the fresh, clean pages, the certainty
of something new, if not original--why! hosts of literary ideas seem
to issue from the very paper-knife. Surely, few people can enjoy
reading so thoroughly as we squatters do,' pursued Gilbert Elliot
(dividing the inviolate pages of his Cornhill). 'All conditions so
favourable. Appetite sharpened by abstinence, and an occupation
permitting priceless intervals of true leisure, by which I mean
seasons of repose succeeding unremitting toil. For instance, until
this morning, we have hardly had an hour's rest for the last
fortnight--no respite from riding, drafting, sheep-counting, or sheep-
hunting. Sheep from morning to night; from night till morning. What a
blessed thing to be able to abstract one's thoughts for a few hours
from what men call business, and to realise, however faintly, that
this beautiful world is not a partially--stocked run, waiting to be
filled with merinoes.'

Thus Mr. Gilbert Elliot of Wandaroona Station, Lower Murrumbidgee, in
the colony of New South Wales, on a certain fine Sunday morning.

'Thoroughly jolly, as you say--did I catch the exact words?' assented
his brother Hobbie, lazily looking up from the Home News. 'I feel like
a Red Cross Knight having a lounge in the castle of his lady-love,
though how the unlucky beggars managed to pass the time when there was
no fighting on hand without books or tobacco, I cannot imagine.
Luckily, the said fighting unspoiled by gunpowder, was a steady-going
leisurely sort of recreation. Apparently, also, getting drunk was a
work of time. Our Border forefathers that the dear old governor used
to tell us about, gave and took a good deal of banging before any one
was killed outright, like Sir Albany Fetherstonhaugh in the ballad; he
had odds against him too.

'Heigho! I wonder if ever we shall make money enough at Wandaroona to
see the old country and look up the ruined keep into which my ancestor
and namesake chivied the Red Reiver of Westburnflat; wouldn't it be
grand?

'Ha! do my eyes deceive me or is that a man on foot turning into the
station track?'

'A man sure enough,' pronounced Gilbert, dropping the Cornhill as he
spoke, 'and confoundedly like a shepherd too.'

'A shepherd!' echoed Hobbie despairingly--as who should say 'a
bushranger!' 'No! Fate couldn't be so unkind.'

'It's that new fellow we hired for the weaners at Pine Hut, or I'm a
Chinaman,' persisted the elder. 'I know him by the fur cap the
scoundrel has on. May the devil fly away with him! I wish every
shepherd between here and Carpentaria was boiled down. It's all they
are fit for. Here, Flying Mouse! Mouse!' (Goes to the back door and
shouts loudly.) To him enter an elfish mite of an aboriginal boy.

'You plenty run up yarraman--saddle that one Damper and Kingfisher--
you man 'um Squib--burra burri.'

Some explanation of these incongruous acts and deeds so closely
following far different intentions, and evoked by nothing more
startling than the appropriate apparition of a shepherd, is plainly
demanded. During the ordinary and satisfactory transaction of life on
a sheep station shepherds are never seen by day except in charge of
their flocks. They are not permitted, for any reason whatever, to
leave them by day, and only occasionally at night, when, their flocks
being safely yarded, they elect to walk in to make necessary purchases
at the station. At all other times a shepherd unattached, seen
approaching the homestead, is a precursor of evil, a messenger of bad
tidings, causing general alarm and excitement.

Nearer and still nearer came the personage in the fur cap, rueful of
countenance and ludicrously important as the bearer of a tale of woe.

'How many sheep have you lost?' bluntly demands Hobbie.

'Bin and 'ad a smash, sir,' quoth the hireling in hoarse tones,
intended to convey deep regret and concern--'bin and dropped a wing o'
my sheep. They was as quiet in the yard as old ewes till I heard 'em
rush in the middle of the night, and afore I could get anigh them they
was off into the scrub on the hill--in a body--as one might say.'

'When was this?'

'The day before yesterday, sir.'

'Then why the deuce didn't you come in, as you ought to have done,
and report the loss at once?'

'Well, sir!' pleaded the delinquent, swaying his body backward and
forward, 'I was next to certain as I'd drop across 'em every moment--
I'm well aware, sir, as I ought to have started in, but I walked all
day yesterday till I was footsore and too dead-beat to come in at
night--'

'You knew perfectly well,' retorted Gilbert, 'that I've always told
you in case of lost sheep to come in that moment and report. By trying
to find them yourself, you have left them a day and a night out,
giving them every chance to get killed by the dingoes. It would serve
you right if I made you pay for all losses. There--go into the kitchen
and get something to eat.'

'Oh dear!' groaned Hobbie. 'I thought our quiet morning over books
and papers was too lovely to last! Think of that idiot wandering about
on foot all day and yesterday. Shepherds always fancy they can find
their sheep themselves and so escape the blame of the situation. Come
along!'

In a few seconds after this dialogue--how different, alas! from the
philosophic calm of the preceding one--three horsemen might have been
noted, who rode at speed towards the north. The pace was reckless, the
expression on the countenances of the riders darkly anxious. A sullen
silence was maintained for several miles, then a slackening of speed
took place, also a slight escape of steam.

'Hang all shepherds!' jerked out Hobbie, with such concentrated
fervour that Gilbert in the midst of his woes could not help smiling.

'Think of our dear day's reading that we had chalked out, and this
precursor of the fiend coming nearer and nearer all the time, to
change it with one word into this kind of thing.'

'Amen! to the first part of the prayer,' cordially assented Gilbert.
'Shepherds are about one degree better than wild dogs, with which
beasts of prey, by the way, they seem rather to sympathise.'

'Hunting for lost sheep is the most depressing work I know. You have
a long, dreary ride, you must lose a few sheep--you may lose many,
especially if they have been a second night out.'

'If that fur-capped lunatic had only come in the first morning! But
we must hit out. It is sixteen miles to his hut, and then we have the
tracks to find--'

Away, away, through box-forest, plain, and pinewood; Flying Mouse
pulling hard as Squib, a narrow, wiry blood weed, fully convinced that
he was in for some species of Scurry Stakes--such being the style of
contest in which he annually acquired glory--came racing past his
masters, jumping over logs and rocks like a goat, and grazing the legs
of the imperturbable Flying Mouse against saplings. In considerably
under two hours they halted at a hill, one side of which was thinly
wooded, sloping gently towards a plain. On the hillside was a small
hut, and a large brush yard. 'Now then, Flying Mouse--you look alive,
you see 'em track--they've made this way, no, t'other way, feeding in
a circle just to bother us.'

'That one jumbuck yan 'longa scrub, plenty track all about,' said the
blackboy authoritatively, with his keen roving eyes nailed to the
ground as he moved off across the wooded portion of the hill.

'Leave them alone for that, the troublesome brutes,' grumbled Hobbie,
morbidly prejudiced in this dark hour against the innocent merinoes,
'Get on, Mouse!'

The trail, once hit off, was never lost by the swart child of the
waste, who showed where the disbanded flock had crossed the belt of
scrub into a gully, spreading out after a fashion which seemed
expressly calculated to mislead; then, that they had headed straight
for the river--where they had suddenly turned short in their tracks at
the apparent dictation of the evil one; farther on another abrupt
divergence, and lastly, a sudden halt and rounding up.

Gazing long at the trampled grass, Flying Mouse raised his head with
the air of a diplomate, who, by unerring steps of evidence, had
arrived at his adversary's position.

'Me thinkum dingo,' he said conclusively.

'Ha! you seeum crow?'

It was even so. Under a tree upon which sat the bird of doom, lay
half a dozen well-grown weaners, bearing about fourteen months' wool,
their torn throats and flanks showing that the tyrant of the fields
had been at his usual work.

'Six killed and I suppose about twenty bitten,' said Gilbert--'pretty
work for a beginning--of course they have split up and scattered here
to make things nicer.'

'No use grumbling,' remonstrated Hobbie. 'Spoils one's digestion, and
does no good. We must accept the inevitable and make up our minds to
be glad if we get out of this smash with a loss of thirty or forty.
There are sheep! Hurrah!'

In a glade of the forest a few sheep were espied just about to join a
respectable body of others, from which they had temporarily separated.
Having counted them, which was effected by driving them round the end
of a fallen log, it was apparent that they had recovered nearly one-
half of the flock, but among them a dozen or more with red stains amid
the wool, showed by their languid movements that they had felt the
fangs of 'the Australian wolf.'

'These bitten sheep will die,' remarked Gilbert gloomily. 'I wonder
how many lots the others are in? You go towards the half-way waterhole
with these, Hobbie; I will keep on after the rest.'

'All right; I'll wait there till you come.' After much riding hither
and thither, and tracking and hunting, three other small lots of the
sheep were found by Gilbert and Flying Mouse and driven to the half-
way waterhole. Being counted there it was found that only 227 were
still missing of the 2300 which had but a week since been carefully
counted out to him of the fur cap. Nothing more could be done that
night, so the brothers, having deposited their sheep in an unused but
dog-proof yard, started for home, which they reached about midnight.

There they unsaddled their sobered horses, upon whose backs they had
been sitting for the last fourteen hours without food or rest for man
or brute. They were not on this account treated with extraordinary
marks of attention. Popping their saddles and bridles into the
harness-room they left their hardy nags to 'browse beneath the
midnight dews,' a refreshment which they were not too fastidious to
decline.

All hands were on the war-path early on Monday morning, where, after
an hour's riding, they met one of the other shepherds with his flock.
'Well, Growlson, good-day, sheep all right?'

'Good-day, sir,' returned the Arcadian gruffly, 'dessay it's all
good-day with you--my sheep's all adoin' as bad as can be.'

'Sorry to hear that, Growlson--catarrh broke out, eh?'

'Well, I don't know as they've got it yet, sir, but if that new
shepherd's allowed to come backards and forrards through my bit of
run, my sheep'll soon be that poor that they may get the "guitar," or
the scab, or anything else, as only comes from poverty of blood, in my
opinion. Then that ration--carrier ain't brought me the right 'bacca,
nor the soap as I sent in for more'n a fortnight ago, and there's a
lump of bone in my meat; I know that storekeeper's got a down on me,
and my yard wants making up, and there's a sheet of bark off the roof
of the hut, and I'd be glad if you'd have my account made out, and let
me know how I stand, I'm a-thinking of leaving next month, sir, and--'

'Confound it, Growlson, I can't stand here all day listening to your
grumbling. If you want to go, go! but don't come bothering me about
it. That new man at the Pine Hut lost his sheep the day before
yesterday.'

'Lost his sheep, did he?' asked the shepherd with an air of cheerful
interest. 'Well, I thought he seemed a blowin' sort of fool. Was they
branded No. 5?'

'Yes,--have you seen any?'

'Well, my leading sheep picked up a few this morning--about a
hundred, I should say. Just agoin' to tell you when you stopped me.'

'Round up your flock and let me have a look at them.'

Shepherd (to dog): 'Go round 'em, Balley.'

The obedient collie runs round the head of the flock, which he drives
violently back upon the rearward sheep, then rushes behind, driving up
the rear rank with great precipitation, and lastly flies round the
whole circumference of the flock, jamming them into one terrified and
panting mass.

Shepherd: 'Good dog, Balley!'

Hobbie looks keenly through the flock, after which he says--'Well,
you have 200 good if you haven't the whole lot. You shepherds never
can guess at a small number of sheep. Go into the home station to-
morrow and get drafted. Your flock looks well as usual. If you want
anything get it at the store.'

Shepherd: 'Oh, I don't want nothin', besides you always charges a
pore man so high for everything. Speak to 'em, Balley!'

Hobbie turns, and going quietly back takes it very easily for the
rest of the day. Gilbert, who has heard nothing of the fortunate
'picking up' of the remainder of the lost sheep by Growlson, goes into
some 'back country,' where he searches zealously but unsuccessfully
the whole day. Finally reaches home very tired and rather cross, long
after dark. He is, however, mollified by the good news that the flock
is comparatively all right. There are fourteen missing, most of which
have been seen dead, and twenty-five bitten more or less badly. Few of
these last will survive. The fangs of the dingo strike wolfishly deep;
moreover there is a taint of poison, as old shepherds declare, in the
wild dog's bite--so disproportionate often is the mortality to the
appearance of the wounds.

The lately jeopardised flock is handed over to another shepherd who
had opportunely arrived at the travellers' hut the night before. He is
a clean--shaved elderly man, of grave and respectable air, followed by
two collies evidently of value--as they are provided with the wire
muzzle of the period. 'Where were you last?' inquires Hobbie.

'Furlong's Outer-back-Mullah, been shepherdin' five-and-twenty year
come Christmas. Been at Mullah four, just "knocked down" a cheque for
seventy-two pound--worse luck.'

'Then you won't want to get drunk for a year at least,' said Hobbie.
'Had your breakfast?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Got your blankets?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Well, go up to the yard and I'll come now and count the sheep to
you. Feed them along the track by the edge of the plain till I catch
you up. I'll send your rations after you.'

The deposed pastor in the fur cap having had his account made up, is
accommodated with a small cheque, and is requested to go and lose
somebody else's sheep, but if so to report the affair more quickly. He
accordingly departs--giving out 'all down the river' that 'them
Elliots' entreated him to stay with the tears in their eyes--couldn't
stand the rations--bad flour--post and rail tea--and nothing but old
ewe mutton.



Chapter II


ALL the day has been consumed in depositing the new
shepherd at his station; also in regulating two other flocks that have
taken the opportunity to get 'boxed' or mixed up. So that they have to
be brought in and carefully drafted. This little duty being finished,
word comes in from the farthest out station--twenty miles back from
the river--that, in the opinion of the shepherd who sent the message,
something was wrong with old Bill Bolton at the Sandhill Hut; had seen
his sheep all round the hut in the middle of the day--called out, but
got no answer; was obliged to go on, as his (the shepherd's) sheep
were 'running on young feed.'

This was the substance of the message--apparently not alarming. To
the instructed, however, in the ways of sheep and shepherds the aspect
of matters thus disclosed was ominous.

'I don't like the look of things at all,' said Gilbert. 'Old Bill is
our best shepherd--never given the least trouble during the five years
he has been with us. I can't understand his sheep being at home at
mid-day unless the old man was sick--it is a bad sign. He cannot have
gone away for a "spree," as, besides being a straightforward, plucky
old fellow, he has a large sum (for a shepherd) at his credit.'

'Something must have happened,' replied Hobbie thoughtfully. 'The
night is fine, there will be a moon in two hours; suppose we ride out
after dinner? These men rarely grumble when there is real occasion,
curious to say, but die and make no sign.'

'The best thing we can do,' assented Gilbert; 'we shall only be
worrying ourselves all night, and we may be in time to help the poor
old fellow. Here, Flying Mouse! run up yarraman--the gray for me--Mr.
Hobbie's mare, and you take Curlew for a treat. You put on saddle when
that one moon look out 'longa sky; we go long o' Sandhill Hut; that
one old man Bill very bad, I believe.'

'Strange life is that of a shepherd,' pursued Gilbert, 'especially in
these latter days of economical management. In the old days a hut-
keeper was necessary--if only to keep the blacks from robbing the hut,
or to report the death of the shepherd when they killed him and took
the sheep. One can think of the shepherd as a man not altogether
without the minor pleasures, as returning at night he found the mutton
chops, the freshly baked damper, and the quart-pot of tea ready on the
table. At this season of rest and refreshment, the hut-keeper would
walk forth with hair brushed and oiled, his whole get-up denoting
study and leisure, to put the flock within the hurdles which, during
the day, he had shifted on to fresh sward.'

'Yes,' said Hobbie, who was meditatively appropriating a succession
of slices from the ample breast of a wild turkey which Flying Mouse
had succeeded in stalking a few days previous, victualling the
fortress on the principle of the late Dugald Dalgetty, formerly of
Mareschal College. 'Yes! it was not such a bad life, for a man who was
old or an outlaw; misanthropical or merely lazy. If he could not
fraternise with his hut--keeper he could always fight with him, nearly
as pleasant a break in the monotony of his life. It is curious that
two people, as wholly dependent on each other's society as if they had
been on a raft, generally did quarrel, often for weeks, not
interchanging a word. I always hated the "hatter" (or solitary
shepherd) system, and gave in to the fashion reluctantly, as you
know.'

'We must be governed,' answered the more arithmetical brother, 'by
the laws of supply and demand. A shepherd who keeps his own hut
profits pecuniarily to the amount of ten pounds per annum. He
undertakes the work and the Alexander Selkirk life voluntarily; we
save two-thirds of the hut-keeper's wages and all his rations.'

'There's a money profit and a trade success, I grant,' retorted the
unconvinced Hobbie, 'but I don't like it, as I said before. It's like
giving a fellow-creature every facility for becoming a lunatic. I have
no doubt of the tendency of the lonely life, the unbroken solitude,
the brooding soliloquy of which the shepherd gets the habit, to weaken
or destroy the intellect.'

'People lose their brains in many avocations now,' said Gilbert; 'I
don't know whether shepherds are madder than other people.'

'A man must have incipient dementia who adopts the life at all. It's
lucky all men don't think alike on these subjects. I think I hear the
boy whistling and the horses pawing in the yard--vamos!'

Out into the fresh atmosphere of an Australian autumn night. O'er the
dark-blue heavens rose nor cloud nor mist: golden-bright gleamed the
star--clusters above them. The track was smooth, the red sand grateful
to the feet of the horses. Fragrant the air with the aromatic scent of
the shrubs through which the bridle-track led. Indescribable and
profound the hush in which wood and plain alike were steeped. They saw
the white half-Arab mare which the boy rode, flitting ghost-like
through the weird woodland; and somewhat of gloom, as of a savour of
death, seemed to associate itself with the night, as, each thinking
his own thoughts, they rode fast but silently after their unflagging
guide.

In an hour they reached a plain at the farther boundary of which was
a wooded knoll. The pendulous streamers of the myall, stirred by the
night breeze, swayed to and fro with an undertone scarcely audible.
Gilbert thought they resembled funereal hangings--pall fringes, so
mournful of hue were they.

At this moment the moon lifted her full orb above the dark-blue sky-
line, a flood of light bathed the lonely plain, the darksome myall
streamers. Far off, amid the sea-like expanse of the mallee
(Eucalyptus dumosa) rise sombre, sharply defined peaks and ranges--the
solitary isles of a far--distant sea rarely visited save by wandering
tribes or scarce less savage outlaws. The scene was strangely solemn,
even to gloom, in the weird silence which pervaded all things.

'Road good, plenty moon now,' chirped Mr. Flying Mouse--impervious
to all influences save those derived from a rapid computation as to
the distance from home and the improbability of supper at the Sandhill
hut.

'Quite right, Flibbertigibbet!' said Hobbie, 'twenty miles out and
back means forty. Come, Gilbert--' Gilbert responds by sending his
snorting gay-going hackney at a hand gallop along the now plainly
visible track, exhilarating to travel upon, from the perfection of its
condition as a natural road. In less than two hours they reined up at
a sandhill rising out of the level park-like country; a few noble
pines grew around, towering above the banksias, the luxuriant growth
of which bore testimony to the depth of the sand formation and the
underlying moisture, one of the marvels of this 'terra caliente.' They
rode slowly up the gently ascending track which, indistinct from the
constant trampling of the flock, led to the hut where successive
shepherds had spent many a lonely year. The building itself was neatly
built from pine logs horizontally arranged after the American fashion;
the roof was covered with shingles, split from the same valuable tree.
An immense balah or forest oak grew immediately before the hut door.
As the brothers dismounted, every feature of the lonely outpost was
sharply defined in the magical glow of the moonbeams. In the faint
night breeze the sombre sad-voiced tree gave forth the dirge-like
sighing moan which the lightest air elicits from its melancholy tribe.
The front of the little dwelling had been carefully swept, and no
trace of disorder told of lawless violence.

'Me seeum sheep camp 'longa yard,' whispered Flying Mouse, pointing
ahead.

'Not mind 'um sheep now,' said Gilbert gently; 'get off, hold 'um
horse.'

'How awfully still everything is,' said Hobbie as they entered the
hut together. 'I wouldn't have come by myself for the world. Halloa,
Bill! is that you, old man? I see you, what is the matter with you?'

'Hush, Hobbie,' said Gilbert, 'I see him too; he would have turned
round if he could; he is ill and weak, or dead.'

Side by side the brothers walked up to the rude pallet; rude was it,
but neither poorly nor scantily covered, on which lay the old
shepherd--he whose wild life had been passed on land and sea, an actor
on both elements in many a strange adventure.

He lay in an easy posture, with his face slightly turned from them,
one arm behind the head, the other stretched out by his side.

'As I feared,' said Gilbert, 'the poor old fellow has gone to his
account; I wonder if he was long ill? He was too weak or too proud to
leave his sheep; could he have suffered much?'

'My God!' cried Hobbie, 'look here!' and he pointed to the throat of
the dead man, in which an awful gash told the tale of reckless
despair. 'There lies his razor on his blanket under his hand; he has
done the deed deliberately!'

There could be no doubt as to the coolly-arranged suicide. The old
man lay stark and stiff, but his rugged features were calm. The death
agony had marred not nor convulsed them.

Wondrous in their calmness are often such faces, even after violent
death.

Short and passing had been the death pang; the corpse lay motionless
as in sleep.

All was over! The brothers gazed long on their dead servant in
silence. How desolate seemed the stillness, in which the wailing cry
of a night-bird alone sounded sadly, as they stood, at the midnight
hour, by the corpse of the suicide.

The little dwelling was scrupulously neat and cleanly, the hearth was
swept, the few clothes and personal effects of the old man
methodically disposed, the last half-eaten meal, the pannikin of tea,
the rude arrangements of the tiny table made from a sheet of bark, all
testified to the coolness with which the strange old man had planned
to end his days--the darksome days of which he had long said, 'I have
no pleasure in them.'

Gilbert, with a sigh, broke the silence--'God have mercy upon his
soul! He alone knows how sorely His creature was tried ere he raised
his hand against the life he gave--. We can but give him a Christian
burial. Let us be doing. You had better go home at once and send the
express waggon with a couple of men. Mouse and I will bring on the
sheep, until we're met. We must abandon this out-station for a while;
we should never get a man to live here till the story was worn down a
bit.'

'I should think not,' said Hobbie; 'fancy dooming an unfortunate
wretch to sleep here night after night, solitary after solitary days.
Here, Mouse, round up that one sheep! you and Mr. Gilbert drive 'em
alonga home station--'

'What come 'long ole man Bill?'

'Poor old Bill dead--cut 'um throat,' answered Hobbie.

'Ah! mine thinkit that one ole man die soon! him talk 'longa himself;
me seeum cry, go down on knee and pray to de Lord and de Jesus Christ;
what for white fellow go bad 'longa cobbra, baal blackfellow likit
that--'

'Blackfellow head too thick, like yours. Now, you fetch up sheep;
away you go! You keep alonga road--'

'No fear! baal mine loose im road alonga this one place--me too much
big one frighten.'

Hobbie thereupon put spurs to his good horse, and long before
daylight was back at Wandaroona, where the necessary dispositions were
made for the removal and burial of poor old Bill.

Gilbert and the boy drove the flock before them on the homeward road,
until met by a mounted shepherd. The flock was then counted through an
improvised break, and Gilbert discovered to his great relief that of
the 2500 fat wethers none were missing.

'So much for good shepherding,' said he (for the benefit of the fresh
functionary). 'These sheep had justice done to them; therefore they
came home of themselves, and very likely would have kept on doing so
till the wild dogs got at them. It is a miracle they had not done so
before we came.'

That afternoon the men returned with the waggon in which was the
corpse, with the scanty personal effects of the dead man. A grave had
been dug in the little station burying-ground, the site of which had
been selected with care. It lay under a rocky hill, which rose
abruptly before it. A few pines, having in their cypress-like forms a
certain fitness for the place, shaded the mound, where within a neatly
paled enclosure rested the ordinary station casualties: A drowned
sheep-washer; a horse-breaker taken unawares, and 'smashed' by a
savage mustang; a nameless wayfarer who had prolonged his stay at the
travellers' hut, 'feeling bad' as he said--on the next day dying and
making no sign. Besides these, under a neatly carved headstone, the
former owner and pioneer of Wandaroona, whose constitution, impervious
to privation, had succumbed to prosperity and whisky. To this
unconsecrated but picturesque resting-place was borne the coffin made
by the station carpenter, which contained the mortal remains of
William Bolton, aged 65, born at North Shields, England, as a lettered
inscription told. The station hands, with the exception of his brother
shepherds--who under no circumstances whatever could be spared,
followed him to the grave and stood silently around while Gilbert read
the burial service of the Church of England. Then the grave was
filled, the gate locked, and the spot deserted until Death should
again claim his 'teind' from the little community.

Some days after this occurrence, disposition having been made of the
usual morning's work and the agents thereof, certain men whom it was
found necessary to send forth, to ride, to drive, to carry rations for
messages, to escort and watch travelling sheep, having been despatched
accordingly, Gilbert thus delivered himself. He had been walking up
and down the verandah puffing, smoking meditatively, in more than
usually cogitative fashion.

'Hobbie, like a good fellow, put away that confounded newspaper and
listen to me. If you would read less (in a desultory way) and think a
little more (connectedly, that is), you would do what you call your
mind far greater justice.'

'You don't say so!' replied Hobbie, looking up good-humouredly from
the study of a wildly improbable Tale of Australian Life, in three
parts, which he was gleaning from the back page of the Wallandra
Watchman and Lower Oxley Advertiser. 'Really now, if you were to smoke
a little less, and dig in the garden a little more, you would improve
your digestion, strengthen your nerves, and correct that habit which
gives your affectionate junior so much uneasiness. And so, drive on,
old man. What's the idea?'

'The idea is this, Hobbie--I am weary of this barbarous, expensive,
antediluvian system of shepherding. It is a waste of time, of money,
of the lives of our fellow-men. I am determined, as far as we are
concerned, to make an end of it. Here we stand in the year 1865, with
all its modern appliances and labour economies, content to crawl along
with a system only suitable to those pre-auriferous days when a man to
every thousand sheep was a fixed unalterable necessity. Now we have
strychnine, fencing wire, dams, wells, hot-water soaks, steam engines,
spouts--things then undreamed of. Why should we cling to this
intolerable obsolete absurdity? Poor old Bill's miserable death has
decided me. I have been collecting information and statistics on the
matter. We must make an end of the anxiety, expense, and injustice.
Let us go in boldly and fence Wandaroona.'



Chapter III



'HURRAH!' shouted Hobbie, dashing down Stephen Shelton, or the
Adventures of a Gentleman in Australia, with all his perils,
privations, and pitched battles with blacks, bushrangers, and immoral
squatters. 'Hurrah! here's the adventure I've been looking for. I'm by
your side, most deliberative senior; but have you gone sufficiently
into "Cocker"? Won't it cost a heap of money? Won't the dingoes have a
grand general go-in at our enfranchised muttons? 'He saw the wild dogs
beneath the wall Feasting, for this was their carnival; Growling and
gorging on carcass and limb, They were too busy to bark at them.

'How a great poet anticipates all life, adventures--even the least
improbable! Could he have forecast Australia with her dulness, debts,
deserts, dingoes? Won't all the dingoes get boxed? Won't all the lambs
die? Won't the Wallandra Watchman have this paragraph some fine day:--
"New insolvents: Elliot Brothers of Wandaroona; cause of insolvency:
costly improvements, commercial agents, and bad seasons"?'

'I have considered that aspect of the question very carefully, my
dear Hobbie,' commenced the aroused senior, sailing out with his
proposition in full majesty into battle line. 'I have calculated the
relative expense, and have fully convinced myself that shepherding is
costly as well as criminal! Here are the figures! Our run has ten
miles of frontage to the river by twenty in depth--two hundred square
miles. We depasture at present on it over nineteen thousand sheep;
horses and cattle none to speak of; the country is partly river flat,
partly plain, with a large proportion of open forest and some thickly
timbered but well-grassed ranges. Pine is plentiful on the boundary,
log fencing therefore might be cheaply put up across the plains; on
one side we must have wire. Consider the labour department. We have at
this moment ten shepherds to pay and feed; a ration carrier who does
nothing but attend upon them; then Mr. Countemout, who with ourselves
is kept hard at it--active fellow as he is--finding lost sheep,
verifying the flocks, and acting as first whip to those exasperating
shepherds; more than that, the extra attendants at lambing time--my
blood boils when I think of the army of incapables that we are obliged
to pay, feed, house, and tenderly entreat, during that season of
trial. Hutkeepers, motherers--save the mark! a man for the first green
mob; another for the second green mob; double shepherds, the flock
being halved. Every kind of useless vagrant fattening upon you, and
giving himself airs of importance, for doing what a black gin could do
much better; whereas turned-out sheep--'

'But you would not surely turn the ewes at liberty,' interrupted
Hobbie--aghast at this wild departure from all tradition.

'Of course I would. Why not?'

'Why not?' echoed Hobbie. 'Why, who ever heard of such a thing? Will
they not all mix up in one immense trampling multitude? I have visions
of them moving along excitedly, five thousand strong, with the tender
new--born lambs striving to keep up--listening all vainly for the
maternal baa among the bleating masses; finally falling and perishing
by the wayside in hundreds. The picture is too painful!' Here Hobbie
covered his eyes.

'Don't be a goose!' went on Gilbert sternly. 'You are as senseless as
an old shepherd, who (I always think) knows less of the nature of the
animals he has wasted his life over than any other human being. He
believes that a ewe can't suckle her lamb except he and his confounded
Balley are in sight to distract the (perhaps) limited intelligence
granted by Providence to the female sheep. Why should not a ewe, if
not troubled and worried--arrange her maternal duties as well as a
heifer? I am certain the sheep will gain in all respects by non-
interference, and whatever it costs I am resolved to see how it
works.'

'Has anybody else tried the experiment; and with what success?'
demanded Hobbie.

'Lots!' asserted Gilbert, regardless of grammar in his enthusiasm.
'Those Victorian fellows have been at it for years--if we may trust
the papers; they are rather bumptious, certainly, but if they get hold
of a new idea they don't wait, like an aloe, till a century produces a
flower.'

'Hurrah! hear, hear!' called out Hobbie, clapping his hands, 'you're
not going in for the House, are you? But who is this riding across the
flat? 'I know the light gray charger, I know the beard of flame, So
ever rides Jack Bulmer, Chief of the whatsy-name.

'I hadn't quite time to polish that last line--bears signs of haste,
doesn't it? I'll go and order lunch. Jack is on his way back from
Victoria, after selling those store cattle. Doubtless full of new
ideas.'

The welcome guest--as indeed any decent friend, acquaintance, or
stranger always is in Bushland--rode rapidly up, and flinging his
bridle--rein over the garden fence, advanced to the verandah.

He displayed a broad, powerful frame, a determined visage, illumined
by bright blue eyes and fringed by an abundant beard, the colour of
which had so materially aided Hobbie's audacious parody.

'Well, old fellow!' said the visitor in a big jolly voice, 'how goes
it? how do you get on in the wilderness? Lost any sheep lately? had
any bush fires? You see I am adapting my conversation to your
capacity. Where's that scamp Hobbie?'

'Not far off--went to see if there was any grog in the house directly
he saw you coming. Get into that rocking-chair in the shade. Mouse!
take Highflyer 'longa stable. What's the news in Melbourne?'

'Opera very good; Club full: some pleasant Indian fellows there just
now; lots of balls, two or three picnics; spent all my money and left
at least two hearts and a half behind. It amazes me how you fellows
contrive to live in this confounded burning desert!'

'I hear you, you old humbug,' called out Hobbie in a menacing tone,
as he entered; 'how refined and repolished we have become after our
five weeks in town. But wait till you get back to Indragyra. The
mailman said last time he passed that there were two lots of sheep
lost and such a bush fire.'

'That be hanged!' said the guest with startling emphasis. 'What the
deuce was Holmwood about? What's the use of being bothered with a
partner if a man can't be away for a month on business without
everything going to the dogs--Partners! Confound all of them,
they're--'

'Nearly as bad as shepherds,' interposed Hobbie; 'ask Gilbert about
that. Look here, Jack! have a long cool drink after your ride. It's
all right--they got the sheep again and put out the fire; luckily it
came on to rain. Holmwood was here on Saturday. Yours is the old room;
and when you have taken the dust off, lunch is ready.'

That refection over, and the three friends comfortably seated in
easy--chairs, to the full comfort of the mid-day pipe, John Bulmer
thus delivered himself:

'Precious slow set of fellows you are in this part of the country.
Shepherding away as usual?'

'Of course,' answered Hobbie, with a look at Gilbert, who smoked
silently; 'what else is one to do?'

'Do?' shouted the energetic guest, throwing back his broad shoulders
and gazing fiercely at his entertainers, till his eyes sparkled--'do?
what every man with a grain of sense is going to do; what these
Western fellows in Victoria have done years ago--Fence in your run! I
declare on my honour, as I travelled through their country the other
day, to deliver those W.D. cattle I made such a good sale of, I felt
ashamed of myself, and of you, and every one in this benighted
region.'

'Why, what did you see, Jack, after all?' inquired Hobbie; 'the sheep
coming up to be counted by an Arcadian shepherd with a tuneful reed,
foot-rotting themselves, or having their boots laced up? There was a
reformer in those parts, it was said, who ordered two thousand pairs
of boots for his sheep one wet winter!'

'Devil take the boots!--it showed energy at any rate. Why, I saw as
many sheep in one paddock as you have altogether in this fleabite of a
Wandaroona, with one man at a pound a week looking after them on a
cheap horse, and finding his own saddle.'

'No doubt he wanted a horse,' suggested Hobbie; 'I suppose the sheep
looked like hunted devils.'

'Better sheep, better wool, better lambs than we have here, and not a
fourth of the expense,' affirmed Mr. Bulmer, slowly and emphatically.
'I suppose you've sense enough to understand that! You've caught the
name of the "Merra-Mellum" clip, and the price it reached at home last
year? Through that run I passed and saw thousands of full-mouthed ewes
which had never been shepherded for a day in their lives.'

'What do you say to that, Hobbie?' at this juncture asked Gilbert,
who had so far been enjoying the effective corroboration of his
programme supplied by their enthusiastic friend. 'All your prejudices
are dashed to the ground now. The fact is, Jack, that I was labouring
to convert Hobbie to the new faith in fencing when you hove in sight,
and appeared as counsel for the party of progress. But what are you
going to do yourself? That's the proof.'

'I have two tons of fencing wire on the road, old fellow;
advertisements are in the local papers for contractors and teams. I'm
going to turn out twenty thousand ewes to lamb loose! I shall fence a
frontage paddock right off the reel, and go on with the rest of the
run after shearing.'

'Well done!' responded Hobbie heartily. 'I was only chaffing you and
Gilbert as a sort of advocate for the devil, in order to bring out the
weak points of the scheme. For there is a slight risk, you know. How
about dogs and eagles? do they fence them in Victoria?'

'There is a dingo in the Melbourne Museum,' defiantly retorted the
reformer; 'you would be puzzled to find one anywhere else. What do you
suppose strychnine was furnished by Providence for? The poison cart
settles that.'

'Do they send out a cartload of strychnine at once?' inquired Hobbie,
with an assumption of economical terror. 'Then I give in; only, at a
guinea an ounce, a ton would come to 34,840. I've always heard that
they were opulent in that colony; but it seems to require capital--it
does indeed.'

'You're getting a little "touched," Hobbie. In this infernal climate
if a man doesn't take to drinking he goes mad. You want a trip to
town, my boy! or else you'll have one to the district hospital. Does
he ever talk to himself, Gilbert? That's the way it comes on. Our cook
began to soliloquise last summer, and in less than a week awoke me,
standing by my bedside, saying: "The Lord had delivered me into his
hand. That we had always been good masters, but that we must now
permit him to cut our throats, previous to the whole of the station
hands starting for the New Jerusalem." I told him I fully agreed with
him, but that Holmwood, being the junior partner, must of course be
operated upon first. He adopted my suggestion, and as he turned to go
to old Bob's room, I muzzled him, and secured the regenerating steel.
We had to strap him down and send him to the gaol for medical
treatment. So beware, my ingenuous patient.'

'You do well to be careful about incipient dementia--it's easily
accounted for,' returned Hobbie, with great affectation of candour.
'People say that you and Holmwood are more than half mad as it is; so
that of course the least eccentricity will land you over the border.
But chaffing apart, how are we to work these ranges at the back? They
are full of dogs, every one knows.'

'Well, what then?' replied Bulmer scornfully. 'Wild horses are cheap
enough--you can buy them for five shillings apiece--cut them up into
chunks and put poison in every bit; send a man out with a cart and
some old crawler of a horse; let him drag a trail and spread the baits
everywhere. Any dog crossing the run must get a bait in one place if
not in another. Besides strychnine is not a guinea an ounce, not much
more than half, wholesale. I have a lot coming up, pure crystal; you
can have all you want at cost price. In the summer you can always get
a cancered bullock or two from old Duffersleigh at the back. Send the
poison man out to stay with him for a week so that he can strew the
tracks leading to water with baits, and in a short time you will clear
out all the dogs in the country.'

'But the shepherds' dogs?' said Hobbie, bent on extracting every
unfavourable fact. 'There will be a general strike if their dogs take
the baits; and the fences are only up on paper as yet.'

'Get up wire muzzles, and give each fellow a couple,' replied Bulmer,
armed at all points. 'If they are too lazy to use them it is their own
lookout. They will soon get tired of losing them and their wits
together--and now, boys, you know as much as I do. I'm a fencing man,
fixed and inflexible. If Holmwood won't be converted I'll dissolve the
partnership. I'll have a "deoch-an-doruis," Hobbie, if you'll send the
small savage for Highflyer, and make tracks for Indragyra.'

'Nonsense, it's fifty miles, and three o'clock--you won't get home
to--night!'

'Some time before to-morrow morning--I must go--the night is fine,
and plains the last thirty miles.'

He proved inexorable, and the grand old gray having been brought
round, John Bulmer, the younger, formerly of Beaumanoir, Bucks, now of
Indragyra, Lower Oxley, Riverina, departed for a rather extended
afternoon ride.

'Just like Jack,' said Gilbert, as the horseman's rapidly receding
figure faded away in the mellow distance. 'What a fellow he is to ride
late! Just as if he couldn't have stayed the night and made a good
start early to-morrow morning.'

'He's a bad starter,' admitted Hobbie, 'but once away it takes
something to stop him. River or range, dark night or summer day, plain
or forest, on foot or horseback, all things are the same to John
Bulmer on the war-path. He is a man of immense energy, only foresight
bores him. I always think he is so perfectly certain of getting along
somehow, that he disdains to take the precautions weaker men are
obliged to use. Don't you think there is a sort of a hint of a natural
law in these things?'

'I don't quite follow,' said Gilbert, with a tinge of sarcasm.
'Without underrating Jack's splended physique and utter fearlessness,
you do not surely defend a want of calculation, or that power of
computing future necessities which is one of our higher faculties?'

'I don't go so far, of course, but I have certainly observed that men
who sketch out their programme with scrupulous accuracy, providing for
all possible contingencies, are, when unforeseen difficulties confront
them, often very helpless. Now, men like our friend Jack, who think of
little beforehand, and march all unheeding into misfortunes and
obstacles, are wonderfully fertile in resources and almost
unconquerable when the supreme hour of danger arrives. If Jack is too
late he can ride all night; if he loses his horse he can walk; if he
comes to a river he can swim it; if he loses his way he can find a
blackfellow or a stock-rider or a star. He is never too cold or too
hot, or hungry or thirsty, or cross or ill at ease, in circumstances
where most other people would be suffering from one or the other, or
most of these evils together. He will have dinner and a smoke with
Haughton down the river, make another start as they are going to bed,
knock Holmwood up in the small hours, and be at breakfast after a dip
in the creek, as fresh as if he had been in bed, instead of in the
saddle all the previous night.'

'So mote it be,' appended Gilbert to this panegyric upon their
nearest neighbour, whom a passing drover, sore beset with weak horses
and worthless road hands, had once described as 'a very able
gentleman, and very friendly.' 'All the same a good look-out and a
good reckoning are not to be despised. For want of them the best ship
may get among breakers, where strength is useless and courage vain--do
you remember King Haco in the maelstrom? 'He grasped the wheel with a
giant's grasp.

But were he ten thousand men, In vain that moveless wheel might he
clasp.

Earth's millions were nothing then.

'Haco, you see, was a Norse Jack Bulmer, and had been drunk or
indifferent to probabilities which eventuated in total loss, possibly
in serious complications to the insurance companies of the period. And
now let us desert the abstract for the concrete--I am about to talk
sheep, and pour out figures like a Chancellor of the Exchequer. Having
definitely made up our minds about the fencing, the sooner we get the
contractors on the line the better; the season appears to me to look
like a drought, and if we are to have it, the turned-out sheep will
fare the best. So up the advertisements go to-night.'



Chapter IV



'DIDN'T you say something about calculations, Gilbert? I'm afraid it
will amount to something terrifying.'

'I have been working up the expense of a paddock to hold ten thousand
ewes for lambing,' answered Gilbert, with the air of a man who has
facts and figures, like a hand at whist, ready to play at a moment's
notice. 'I have jotted down roughly the ordinary expense of lambing
the same number by hand; you will be rather surprised at the
comparative outlay. The question stands thus,' he added, producing a
sheet of figures neatly arranged in columns: 'we have ten thousand
ewes to lamb in May. These sheep are at present kept in five flocks.
Let us take their ordinary expense for six months, including the
lambing. I put it down on one side. We will reckon the cost of fencing
the paddock on the other. And you will be rather startled to see that
the amount needed for fencing, which is a permanent improvement and
economy, only slightly exceeds that of shepherding, which is annual.'

'I can't believe it,' asserted Hobbie; 'you must have left out
something, or added up the Year of Grace in the shepherding column.'

'I challenge you to check my arithmetic. You know of old that I was
always pretty accurate; however, look for yourself, here we go.

'ORDINARY STATION EXPENSES FOR THE LAMBING OF TEN THOUSAND EWES (SHEPHERDED)

Five shepherds for six months, wages at  40 per annum                100
Rations for ditto                                                       50
Five extra shepherds, on halving the flocks, 8 weeks at 20s. per week   40
Rations for ditto                                                       20
Ten brush yards at  5 each                                             50
Hut-keepers and extra men, three to each half flock
(ten half flocks), at  1 per week                                     240
Rations for 30 men for two months                                      120
Ration carrier for six months                                           25
Rations for ditto                                                       10
Extra horses, wear and tear of tools, cartage, etc.                     20
Other expenses, bonus to lambers, etc.                                  15

TOTAL                                                                 690

'That sounds a lot of money,' remarked Hobbie ruefully. 'I had no
idea odds and ends ran up so. What a thing is addition! it's the
principal branch of arithmetic in one's bank pass-book, and how it
tells there!'

'Not a penny of all this is reproductive,' explained Gilbert. 'That's
the worst of it. Next year sees exactly the same necessity for
outlay--brush yards, shepherds, motherers, rations, and cheques, all
da capo.

'Now for fencing, which, once done, like the brook "goes on for
ever." What is the first cost? Here we are again. Behold this picture.

'FIRST COST OF FENCING PADDOCK FOR TEN THOUSAND EWES TO LAMB

Six miles of zigzag log fencing at  40 per mile                 240
Three miles five wire fence, pine posts, at  50                  150
Three miles zigzag pine log fence at  40                         120
Six miles chock and log, back line, at  30 per mile              180
Boundary rider for six months                                      25
Rations for ditto and poisoner                                     25
Strychnine, labour, etc.                                           50
TOTAL                                                            790

'The river, of course, is our southern boundary, saving five miles of
fencing. What do you think of that, old fellow, only  100 more than
your miserable shepherding? Nearly all the money back in six months,
and the fencing to the good! I had no right either to charge all the
poison to the debit of the fencing, as it is an economic benefit to
the whole establishment. As to the boundary riding, we shall have so
little to do when a few more fences are up that we shall be glad to
take the home paddocks ourselves for the sake of exercise. We'll begin
to suffer from ennui, I foresee, that's the worst of it.'

'There is but one Allah in Salt-bush-land,' confessed Hobbie, 'and
the Fencer is his prophet. I give in. I am an apostate from the
ancient faith. I am ready to retract and turn Turk. From this moment I
am a sworn convert to the new religion of wire plus chock and log.'

'I thought that would convince you as it did me,' said Gilbert. 'I
was in great doubt about it when I first made the calculations, and
went backwards over the figures, feeling like you that there must be
some mistake. They're all right; and now, the first act being over,
let us drop the curtain and go in for some mild refreshment.'

The ukase once issued, a new and foreign element was introduced into
the routine of station management. Constant interviews were held with
sunbrowned teamsters who had come to contract for a few miles of log
or wire fencing as the case might be. Camps were formed along the
boundary lines, while the felling and drawing in of straight-barrelled
pine trees warned the shepherds of the ewe flocks that their
employment was wearing to its close. Many were the dire forebodings
and darksome prophecies uttered by these actors in a drama being
played 'positively for the last time,' passing into the limbo of
formless inutilities.

'My word! wait till them bloomin' sheep's turned out. Won't the cove
see a difference in them this day three months! Why, they'll get as
wild as kangaroos, and there won't be a mossel o' flesh on their
bones.'

'Why not, old Beard and Billy?' I demanded one of the fencers--a
shrewd specimen of the new rgime. 'I was boundary rider on Ahla
Lahwa, a big down-the-river run, where the sheep did middling well
with none of you old growlers to bother 'em.'

'Why not?' retorted the shepherd, champion of the dim and glorious
past. "Cos they goes rambling and walkin' about all night, 'stead of
lyin' down in a good yard and resting of theirselves! Stands to reason
they can't do so well as sheep that's minded by a man as knows his
work, and as for lambs--'

'Well, lambs?' persevered the new man. 'I've seen eighty-five per
cent of lambs marked off forty thousand ewes, and never a dog nor a
shepherd nor no other varmint near 'em from March to November. And
they was lambs, not 'possums.'

'Well, you'll see, you'll see! I believe they'll get out and be boxed
1 along of old Jerry Graball's sheep half the time, and then we'll see
who gets the most lambs.'

'Boxed be hanged!' continued the friend of fencing warmly. 'Why, you
can't drive turned-out sheep through a broken panel in a fence; they'd
walk past one for days, or go through and come rushin' back,
frightened, to their own ground. You old chaps had better go away back
to the Bogan and the Paroo where you're wanted and gets twenty-five
shillin' a week--you ain't wanted here no more, unless they chop yer
up for baits.'

'You shut up, young fellow!' concluded the justly incensed elder,
with dignity. 'You might be glad enough to take a flock yourself some
day, for all ye're so jolly now. Go round 'em, Balley; he ain't got no
tongue now, with that there cussed muzzle on.'

All this time the poison-cart was kept going well. Bits of horse-
flesh, duly death-loaded with strychnine, were scattered profusely in
every paddock, along every road or track, by every creek and
waterfall, while dead dingoes here and there testified to the efficacy
of the system.

Far different were the results of the old fashion of giving each
shepherd the eighth part of an ounce of strychnine, and exhorting him
to lay it around his sheep-yard. This, of course, he never did, being
far too much concerned for the safety of his own dogs. Besides, as old
Jack Lagger openly propounded, 'If there was no blacks nor dingoes the
squatters wouldn't want no shepherds.' The wild dog was regarded by
the average shepherd as an animal whose existence was by no means an
unmixed evil--on the contrary, useful in his generation, as keeping up
in the minds of the masters a wholesome regard for that indispensable
variety of working man, the 'experienced shepherd.'

It became apparent to the brothers that the sooner the paddock was
finished, the sheep turned out, and the shepherds discharged, the
better it would be for the great experiment. No labour or cost to this
end was spared. To the sole charge and superintendence of Mr.
Countemout were delivered the fat wethers, the four-tooth and six-
tooth sheep, with the last year's weaners.

These were all shepherded 'at the back,' whither, in consequence, he
betook himself, often long before daylight, and did battle ceaselessly
with the crimes and misfortunes of the shepherds. He, a man of
tireless energy and sleepless watchfulness, was as yet unconverted to
the new-light tenets. Perhaps the idea presented itself that in the
strange economy of labour rendered possible by fences, not shepherds
alone, but even overseers might be discovered to be superfluous.
However that might be, he worked loyally at his post, leaving the
losses and crosses so confidently predicted by the 'old hands' to
evolve themselves from the sensational future of Wandaroona.

The fencing had been let in several contracts with a view of securing
greater speed and efficiency, so that Gilbert and Hobbie were at work
from dawn to dark, so organising the commissariat for the various
camps that no delay might occur.

The contractors were paid in cash at a certain fixed rate, say from
30 to 50 per mile, they finding the teams, labour, rations, and
tools. Strict agreements were made in all cases, wherein the
contractors bound themselves to use only certain length and thickness
of rails, and to complete the work within a specified time. The
proprietors, on their part, agreed to supply meat, flour, tea, and
sugar at certain specified prices, the whole amount of such and other
stores to be deducted from the gross total due when the work was
completed satisfactorily. Work of this nature is chiefly performed by
contract. At weekly wages men lack the enthusiasm generated by the
encouraging conviction that the harder they work the more money they
will make. Much of the despatch necessarily depends upon the working
bullocks and horses. Station teams often stray, but it is matter of
remark that the teams of contractors, to whom time is money, are
rarely missing.

The fencers, therefore, aware that each economy of time would pass to
the credit of the ration bill, worked hard, late and early. The
contractors were chiefly native-born Australians, small farmers from
the settled districts, who migrated periodically with their teams, to
earn what money might be available between seed-time and harvest. They
engaged the better portion of the wandering labour of the district,
and paid high wages; but working hard themselves, and being judges of
the quantity of fencing contained in a good day's work, they compelled
their men to keep abreast of them. If unwilling or unable, they were
discharged without notice. And harder labour is not performed under
the sun, as very literally it may be described. In wire fencing the
digging of the post-holes, the splitting of the posts, the wiring and
putting up the fences, are generally in sub-contracts. In the
scorching summer days, in the long breezeless afternoons, how often
have we seen the sun-baked, brow-bathed toiler casting into his task
all the unflinching energy which his forefathers had built up in the
national type under such widely different climatic conditions.

The zigzag fence, better and cheaper than any, where the Murray
River pine (Frenela verracosa) can be easily procured, is simple of
construction. The logs, cut in lengths of sixteen or eighteen feet,
are placed resting by their ends upon each other, at an angle
sufficient to secure solidity. A few strokes of the axe form a bed for
each log upon the one below. Four logs--the heaviest placed
uppermost--will make a barrier which neither sheep nor lambs will jump
or penetrate. It is superior to its relation 'the chock and log,'
which requires more timber and more labour. The contract for all the
zigzag fencing of Wandaroona was taken at 40 per mile--the contractor
to find everything. The wire fencing cost 50 per mile, or even a
little more; the first cost and carriage of the wire being paid for by
the proprietors.

The season was dry--too dry, indeed--bordering on a drought, but the
preceding year had been so prosperous that there was a reserve capital
of grass--'old feed,' as the shepherds call it. The grass of the
Australian interior retains its nutritive quality even when dried and
withered. Like the soil, the timber, and the animals of 'Australia
deserta,' it can dispense with the rainfall for an almost incredibly
protracted period. There was plenty of water artificially supplied, so
that no delay took place. By the last week of March, therefore, all
lines were completed. As a main high-road ran by the river through the
whole length of the 'frontage' of the run, as it was called, gates
were constructed of easy habit of hinge and latch, so that the
traveller, whether careless or irritable, might have no excuse for
leaving them open. In after days, when subdivision came generally into
operation, the gradually perfected invention of the semicircular lane
superseded gates. These lanes were always open--had no gate, and
wanted none. The sheep never dreamed of going through--inasmuch as the
entrance, beyond which they could not see, looked like a yard--feeding
peacefully past them, as if they had been the park gates of the lord
of the manor. 1 'Billy,' a tin camp-kettle carried by shepherds.  1
'Boxed,' mixed up together.



Chapter V



'So, Gilbert!' called out Hobbie on Saturday evening, 'we have
reached the last week in March, and, praise we the gods! we have ended
the fencing. The next month is momentous; are you nervous?'

'Not in the least,' answered his brother, looking up from a book,
which he closed and returned to its place on the shelf in a methodical
and preparatory way. 'Not in the slightest degree. You know I rode
down to Jack Bulmer's last week and stayed a night with him. We went
into the subject exhaustively, when he gave me experiences and
statistics in a more leisurely mode than when we saw him here.'

'I daresay you two had a stupendous yarn--I can imagine it,--Jack
doing the talk, and you the listening and most of the smoking.'

'You have hit upon the proportion,' replied the senior. 'I have an
idea I can talk a little myself when I see fit. Only, at the time you
mention, I wished to acquire, you may observe, another man's
experience.'

'Well! what did you acquire from the impetuous, impressionable Jack?'

'This much: that in the minds of all thinking men fencing is a proved
success as applied to sheep-farming. The outlay is fully repaid
through the increased profits and decreased expenses in two or three
years--often in less time. The sheep do not, as stated, become wild.
They arrange their hours of feeding, watering, and camping so well
that all interference is injurious. Finally, the station expenses are
wonderfully lessened; the losses are small, and the fleeces materially
improved in length, purity, and weight.'

'About the lambs?' demanded Hobbie.

'Well, he admits that the percentage is not so high as in favourable
seasons by hand. But when the difference in expense is taken into
consideration, as also the fact that only strong lambs are reared, the
balance is undoubtedly in favour of the "turned-out" system. Besides,
you can lamb any number of ewes in paddocks in any season, and you are
wholly independent of labour until shearing approaches.'

'What about the fattening sheep?'

'It is agreed,' explained Gilbert, 'that a single flock of wethers
with a very good shepherd, and about three times as much run as they
require, might probably reach the Melbourne yards more prime in
condition than paddocked sheep; but a far larger number, if turned
out, could be fattened on the same ground. However,' continued
Gilbert, 'Jack Bulmer, with his customary noble disdain of trimming,
is going to back his opinions in spite of Holmwood's disapproval by
turning out twenty thousand ewes in a week or two.'

'All in one paddock?'

'No, in separate paddocks; he has fenced his frontage and divided it,
and next year will further subdivide. But at present he goes in for
lambing loose in two big lots.'

'So then on Monday morning?'

'On Monday morning, all being well, we pay off five shepherds; count
and turn out the five ewe flocks. The gates are made, and I passed the
last few miles of fence last week. We shall have some heavy cheques to
pay, but, as I have had the honour of proving to you, most of the
money will be returned soon after shearing.'

'So be it,' assented Hobbie; 'I am Brutus and you are Caesar. We are
good for the Rubicon.'

On the fateful Monday morning the five flocks, having been ordered
in, arrived at the drafting yard. Each was counted over carefully as
received from its respective shepherd, and being found correct, was
then and there left to wander at will. Great was the bleating and
apparent confusion--two flocks incontinently 'boxed' (or mixed
together), the others, having been headed different ways, had the
decency to keep apart while within sight.

Then the five discarded Arcadians walked up to the house to receive
their cheques, full of dark sayings and moody imaginings, relieved by
visions of the imminent holiday, with a 'spree' at the adjacent
township, such being invariably the end of all things with them after
payment for protracted service.

'Well, Mr. Hobbie,' said one of them as they were awaiting their
arithmetical doom, 'I suppose you'll give a man a job of work at
shearing time? We ain't hunted off the place for good and all?'

'Nonsense!' answered Hobbie cheerily, not wishing the experiment to
wear the appearance of total obliteration of labour, 'of course you
will get work whenever it is going on here. It's only a few months
till shearing, when we shall want no end of spare hands. Besides,
there will be lots of work to let afterwards--more fencing, dams, and
wells at the back. It seems to me we shall want more hands than ever
for the next two years.'

'That's all very well, sir,' answered the ex-pastor, ruefully, as one
who saw himself 'improved off the face of the earth,' and to whom in
the autumnal stage of life there was no comfort in visions of dam-
making and well-sinking; 'but all the same, sir, it's very hard on the
poor man. Here's you squatters have got all the country to yourselves,
as one might say; and if you're allowed by Government to go on like
this, you won't want no hands from shearing to shearing, except two or
three Jackaroos. I don't see as it's right myself.'

'Pooh, pooh! you'll take to boundary riding, and have a horse of your
own and go galloping about like gentlemen. We don't happen to want any
one just now, but be sure to call next time you pass. Besides
Wandaroona is not all the world. There'll be shepherding till we're
both old men. You have a middling cheque, I believe?'

Hobbie was not indisposed to let his reduced retainers down easily;
for though he and his brother were, like all straightforward, liberal
employers, so popular that no one would have thought of harming them,
yet the proletariat in those parts had occasionally accented its
remonstrances against the rule of capital by burnings of woolsheds,
burnings of fences, and most strange direction of incendiarism,
conclusively antipodean--burnings of wells. In a dry country each
lucifer match contains an invisible 'diablotin' magically ready for
evil.

This slight grumbling apart, the shepherds departed contented with a
state of temporary solvency, and, as is usual with their class,
splendidly indifferent about the morrow. On that morrow, but earlier
than usual, the Messrs. Elliot Brothers sallied forth accompanied by
Mouse to reconnoitre in a general way, and to do their first boundary
riding.

The season of autumn in Australia affords weather which is simply
perfect. Cool nights, bracing mornings, and mild Indian-summer-like
days, are the rarely broken rule in this charmed time. The day was
wondrous fair as they rode across to the river, where the dewy grass
glistened, as the sun--rays lighted up the hills, the meadow, the far-
stretching plain. A few crows--there are crows everywhere (except in
New Zealand) in all seasons of the year, flew softly up and down,
cawing in a meditative, noncommittal manner. There was evidently no
recent robbery or murder on the cards; even they had surrendered
themselves to the calm influences of the hour.

'Superb weather, isn't it?' commenced Hobbie. 'I always feel like
another man as soon as the autumn sets in--and oh! what a jolly life
with two or three trifling drawbacks ours is! Think of our fellow-
creatures penned up in offices and banks, while we are so free--free
to ride, to run, to stay at home, or to quit it as we please, "Please
the pigs,"--or rather please the sheep, for our boasted liberty
availeth nought if anything happens to these preposterously delicate
creatures. We ought to see some of them about here, by the way. Yes!
there they are, Gilbert, a big mob, too, just turning out to feed, and
some still in camp; now for the trial.'

Riding to a point where the creek, an anabranch, probably an ancient
channel of the river, made a wide sweep, they saw a large number of
sheep which their practised eyes at once decided to be but little
short of four thousand; they were mostly feeding peacefully on the
fresh herbage, some still lying or standing meditatively as mouton qui
rve, on the 'camp' where they had passed the greater part of the
night.

'There,' said Gilbert, 'are the two flocks that joined forces just
after they were let out. How full and jolly they look! most likely
they have been feeding all the earlier part of the night. Now, they
are strolling off camp at their leisure, instead of being hurried up
by a violent young dog and a cross old shepherd.'

'They certainly appear to have the best of it,' agreed Hobbie, 'but
there are some things to be proved yet, such as keeping tame and
quiet, going into smaller lots, etc. But I catch myself repeating the
usual shepherd's jeremiad; let us go back amongst the timber and pick
up the others.'

After taking a look at the ewes, now spreading out over the creek
flat or meadow, the brothers turned their horses' heads towards the
uplands and rode briskly through the box-tree forest (Angophora) which
bordered the alluvial level.

The day wore on; the sun became decidedly warm. The dew had dried
upon the crisp herbage which did not entirely conceal the red-brown
soil. Birds were not plentiful; still from time to time they heard the
harsh saw--like notes of the great black macaw, and marked the crimson
bars which adorned his wings and tail. He was engaged in crushing with
his tremendous mandibles the hard seed of the balah or forest oak
(Casuarina). Now a late-returning opossum, a strayed reveller,
scuttling up the nearest tree, his life in much jeopardy the while
from sticks hurled with accuracy at him by his congener Flying Mouse.
Then a cloud speck in the blue cloudless sky told of the great wedge-
tailed eagle soaring above them, not wholly uninterested in sick sheep
or early lambs. A distant group of 'brumbies' (wild horses) threw up
their heads, and with a shrill neigh raced off to 'the back,'
apparently the sole denizens of the waste.

'Well,' said Hobbie, 'we have seen no traces of Master Dingo at any
rate, I think we have thinned his family circle; and those wretches of
eagles too--many of them went down last summer, and we shall get the
claws of ever so many more before lambing, I trust. Hallo! fresh
tracks "all about," as Mouse says!'

That retainer, whose small faculties were always concentrated upon
the business in hand, came swooping down at a gallop, and waving his
hand, cried out, 'That one jumbuck, him big one feed here; run him yan
away altogether, likit Dead Swamp.'

'All right, Mouse,' said Gilbert, who had been scouting on the other
side, 'I believe the tracks do run that way, so let us ride straight
for it.'

A strong trail leading due north, made in old days by half-wild
cattle and wholly wild horses coming in from the waterless deserts of
the 'outer back country' to the river, was then struck, and noting
that it was thickly covered with fresh sheep tracks, they pushed on.

The 'Dead Swamp,' as by the shepherds and stock-riders the place had
been named, was an extensive tract below the level of its
surroundings. From the elevation of its borders and uniform central
depression, it had evidently been filled in former floods. The water
had evaporated during a succession of dry seasons, and seedling
eucalypts having sprung up, the lake basin had become a forest. Such
changes are strictly antipodean. Then, as the cycle altered in
character, a rainfall of exceptional duration had fallen upon that
waste land, filling the long-dry, half-forgotten lake. Eucalypts do
not support growth in permanent water. So in that period of protracted
irrigation every tree in the lake forest perished. Then another
succession of rainless years succeeded. Islanded, as it lay now, amid
the pale evergreens of the slopes, this leafless melancholy woodland
had a weird aspect. From exposure to light and air, the sward of grass
grew thick and sweet. Hence, the locale was a favourite haunt of
whatever lawless stock could reach its rarely disturbed pastures. As
they crossed the banks which centuries since had faintly felt the wash
of the surges rising with every breeze, what time the stone-weaponed
savage roamed around, the boy, sending his beady black eyes far
through the distance, gave a yell of triumph, and, dashing his heels
into his horse, rode straight and fast through the whitened skeleton
timber. Following him for a mile, the brothers came suddenly upon
another flock of considerable magnitude, reposing peacefully upon a
knoll, where the forefathers of Flying Mouse had roasted shells,
roots, and game apparently in tons, judging from the size of the
mound, the subsoil of which was chiefly composed of ashes.

'So far well!' said Gilbert, looking cheerfully over the tranquil
muttons; 'they don't seem inconsolable for the loss of their pastor.
What can look better than they do? About three thousand by their
appearance--this is not far from where they used to feed. Don't seem
wild yet, do they?'

'Couldn't look more comfortable if they had been in a feather-bed
all night,' graciously assented Hobbie. 'How clean they are! full as
ticks too. I begin to believe in fencing, I must say. Four and three
are seven, we've seen seven thousand now, rather more than less, if I
know anything of the look of a flock; now for the odd thirty hundred
or so. I think we might as well go to the north-west corner of the
fence, run it down easterly, and so home. We shall most likely drop on
them that way.'

Leaving the flock (no doubt to the great surprise of the sheep, who
from long habit must have concluded that they were 'wanted,' when they
saw the horsemen approach) to wander at will, the brothers rode
towards the mid-day sun, till they struck the paddock-fence not far
from the north-west corner. No sheep being visible, they drew back
just sufficiently far to see the ground between; Hobbie retreated
still farther, keeping in sight of Gilbert, while Flying Mouse betook
himself swiftly to the outer edge of the scouting parallel. Moving in
this order they rode on, until they reached the north-east corner of
the fence, seeing nothing living save a score of 'paddymelons' (dwarf
kangaroo), bolting out of cover like hares, and always holding up one
foreleg as if hurt, and four 'soldiers' or forest kangaroo, with their
reddish fur, the colour of the soil they bounded over. Then they
turned south and made towards home, still following the line of fence.

'Gilbert!' inquired Hobbie, 'confess, don't you feel just a little
anxious? I could have sworn we should have seen them before now.
Suppose they found a hole in the fence, and got out last night. By
this time they might be twenty miles back, split into as many lots, or
boxed with Jerry Graball's sheep. Those shepherds of his would not be
sorry to pay us off for setting the fashion of fencing, and ruining
the country, as they call it.'

'Suppose they have started for the Gulf of Carpentaria or climbed up
a tree,' retorted Gilbert testily. 'There are thirty-six square miles
in the paddock--you can't suppose that we are to find all these sheep
in an hour or two.'

'Little Bo-peep has lost his sheep,' sang Hobbie, 'that is,
temporarily, but he needn't lose his temper also. As you say, there is
a good deal of finding in a forty-mile paddock. I thought I heard a
yell, though; yes, 'tis the war--whoop of Flibbertigibbet!'

That restless indigne had impatiently widened the gap between
himself and his masters, and was not to be seen, but from the far
distance came faintly at intervals the shrill clear cry of his race.
'The young rascal has them,' quoth Gilbert, much relieved, though
loath to confess it. 'I believe he could see through a flight of steps
and a deal door, Sam Weller notwithstanding. This way,' and turning at
right angles, they rode at best pace in the direction of the sound. At
length they caught sight of the successful wood-elf seated at the foot
of a tree, from which he had just extracted a large maternal opossum
by the questionably humane process of screwing a stick into her fur,
and dragging her from her nest far up in the hollow trunk.



Chapter VI



'WHERE jumbuck?' demanded Hobbie; 'you didn't bring us all this way
to see a 'possum?'

'Ha, ha!' laughed the imp, puckering up his goblin-like face into a
grin of triumph; 'close up me lose 'em. Me see 'um piccaninny track,
ground very hard; then two fella sheep come out 'long o' scrub--run
back when him see me. I believe big one mob 'longa flat top hill. Me
hear 'um.'

'I believe this urchin is a transition type of the Darwinian
system,' asserted Gilbert in a leisurely tone, delivering himself over
to the fanciful analysis. 'He is a runaway ear evolved in some atomic
scramble from the lower human forms. He has been joined by an eye
floating unclaimed through space. The remainder of his organisation is
entirely subservient to these two senses, and exists only for their
physical protection and locomotive needs.'

'Didn't Sydney Smith say Jeffrey's intellect was improperly
exposed--that he hadn't enough body to cover it decently? Nothing new
(except boots) you see.'

'Why, Hobbie, I begin to believe that you read sometimes--your
memory is so good that you might do something if you had any
application. Let us go up the hill and leave Mouse to roast his
'possum. He'll soon overtake us.'

Before them lay an isolated irregular mass of sandstone running
transversely for several miles. Its sides were thickly clothed with
the forest oak and varieties of the myall, all low growers, having
scented wood and leaves which, greedily eaten by stock, are at once
palatable and fattening.

Lofty crags and deeply-furrowed ravines denoted the extensive
denudation that had taken place. The soil was rich and the grass thick
in large patches where the timber had been cleared off by periodical
fires. Leading their horses and ascending the range in a leisurely
manner, they noticed signs of a large body of sheep, which had
evidently been feeding and cropping the bushes at their ease through
all the thicker portions of the scrub. 'Behold another of the numerous
advantages of fencing; we have always known there was capital feed on
the spurs of these hills. Besides the untouched grasses, sheep enjoy
nothing more than these young oaks and low-growing aromatic shrubs.
Then at the top of the range there is a splendid tract of table-land
naturally cleared. I don't believe any flock of ours has been twice a
year upon it.'

'Of course not,' answered Hobbie. 'Fancy old Growlson wearing out
his boots among the stones, and his breath swearing at Balley one
moment for breaking the sheep's legs by doubling them up on this rough
ground, and the next moment, directly they began to spread, dogging
them together and making sure "he'd lost a wing of them." So here we
are at the table-land, and there is the remaining lot of sheep safe
enough. We must give Mouse a farm selection some day or a tail coat,
as a slight tribute to his talents. What a glorious view!'

As they remounted their horses on the plateau and gazed over the wide
champaign, which lay spread out far as eye could reach in the clear,
bright--hued mid-day, less sympathetic hearts had stirred. A landscape
of varied beauty and vast extent! For many a mile the level was
unbroken, save for an isolated formation similar to the one on which
they stood. Their position gave them a panoramic coign of vantage. On
the west stretched immense plains o'er which a faint gray line
occasionally denoted the rare myall woodland. Southward a loftier and
more densely green forest line marked, in well-defined undulations,
the course of the 'river timber.' A lake fringed with dwarf eucalypti
lay glistening in the sun-rays a short mile distant, but seeming
beneath their feet. To the northward 'all is sea'--a forest sea--an
ocean of which the billows are undulating tree-tops, the wavelets
branches green of every shape, tossing in the breeze and lifting their
leafage on high; of every hue from palest green to darksome cypress.
But ever faintly tremulous with a murmurous monotone stretching now,
as from immemorial ages, unbrokenly to the farthest horizon.

A solitary far-seen monolith broke the sky-line. So rises o'er the
ocean rim in the charmed summer seas of the south the verdurous summit
of Tahiti or Ovalau.

Over this fair waste, fresh from the hand of God, brooded a solemn
stillness--a desolation perfect, yet scarce melancholy. It was the
still mid--day hour. Bird nor beast nor insect sang nor cried nor
chirped.

Gilbert drew a long breath. 'It is very beautiful. One always wishes
for leisure and congenial appreciation of scenes like this. But
revenons  nos moutons.'

'There they are,' said Hobbie, 'every mother's child of them!'

'So I suppose,' continued Gilbert, 'yet I feel the afflatus of the
Lake school. At this instant I defy the world, the flesh, and the
"Dingo," which means the "Devil" as far as sheep-owners are concerned.
These lines always come into my head, time and place befitting--'And
here on this delightful day

I cannot choose but think
How oft a vigorous man I lay
Beside yon fountain's brink--
Mine eyes are dim with childish tears.
My heart is idly stirred,
For the same sounds are in mine ears
That in those days I heard.

'Heigho! I suppose we shall get old some day; dreadful to think of,
isn't it?

'Well, yes,' answered Hobbie cautiously. 'Experience is in favour of
the theory. But sheep-owners have an existence so torn by the passions
that they can hardly expect to grow calmly old. Now, let us go and
look at the adventurous mountaineers before we make tracks for home
and a little dinner, by which time we shall not have done a bad day's
work.'

Nothing could have surpassed the comfortable, well-to-do aspect of
this enterprising remainder of the liberated flocks. They were full.
They were quiet. No torn fleece or bloody stain showed that
proceedings under the law of natural selection had commenced. Lying
down or indolently cropping the unused herbage, the flock presented a
picture of reposeful enjoyment perfect in its degree.

'Too good for this wicked world, quite Arcadian, by Jove!' said
Hobbie, after a long admiring review.

'Always excepting the shepherd with or without his pipe. He could
say, with Death, "I too in Arcadia." Surely they enjoy the view?'

'Shouldn't wonder,' graciously returned Hobbie, 'I begin to think
everything possible to the awakened intelligence of turned-out sheep.'

Weeks have passed. The lambing has fairly commenced. Save and
excepting the man with the poison cart no one is permitted to go into
the sacred paddock. That trusted official moves about deliberately, as
befits his responsible duties, with an old horse and an ex-ration
cart, from which medical comforts are liberally dispensed. The eagles
are gathered together, but they have a bad time of it. They are
brought in as return loading by this modern Borgia. Hundreds must have
perished, he avers; they lie about in all directions. The crows are
fellow-sufferers, although their superior power of digestion saves
many. The long howl, so frequent, so unpleasantly suggestive in the
cold nights, has become a tradition. Old Bill Jones on his way to the
back blocks, seeking employment as a 'lamber,' believes the end of the
world to be imminent. 'They'll lay baits for the swagmen and
travellers next,' says he, with grim unsmiling visage, 'and just as
well for 'em too, if these here fences is allowed to smother the whole
bloomin' country. Ten thousand ewes a-lambin', and never a extra hand.
Well! well! Wish I'd never seen the--country.'

The end of the first week in June. There has been a steady outpouring
of prophecies up to the day when the tender sheeplets are due; so soon
to fill the air with their bleatings and the pastures with their
frolicsome groups. Doubts, fears, and bodings of evil are rife. Mr.
Countemout during his long experience had never witnessed a similar
experiment. All the sheep successes, known and proved by him, had been
due by the ceaseless watch and ward kept by and over shepherds. By
main force and ceaseless attention to detail had profits been made and
numbers kept up. The elaboration of a plan such as this, which, when
finished, was self-acting, had no place among his memories. Not being
a man of original mind, he distrusted all but the well-beaten tracks,
which he knew by heart. 'The sheep were in large lots still.' He
expected they would have broken up more. If the weather came bad, 'a
tremendous smash' might take place. There might be only 40 or 50 per
cent of lambs instead of the well-known high average of Wandaroona. He
thought if they had a few steady men, just to go among the ewes and
separate them judiciously or put them together when they wandered from
their lambs, it might be as well.

Hobbie, acted upon by these discouraging suggestions, began to waver.
Suppose the thing didn't work right all at once. Suppose they lost
three or four thousand lambs. That would be ruinous. 'What do you
think, Gilbert? Isn't it a little rash? You hear what Countemout
says?'

'Yes, I do hear, and am not in the least degree changed in my
opinion! Countemout is a good fellow, but like most men of his
occupation, has ceased to use his brains, except on lines which long
habit has stereotyped. His great physical energy carries off any
tendency to any logical reasoning which he may ever have possessed. I
look upon the mental processes of such men--though he is as well born
and bred as ourselves--as but a few removes above those of the
shepherd. They are also, involuntarily, affected by the fact that this
movement is antagonistic to their prestige and interest. Fencing once
universal and in prosperous practice, the experienced "overseer"
becomes merely advantageous, not as with shepherds indispensable. As I
have said for the fiftieth time, how do other men manage? We have
borne all the expense. We have made full preparation. We must now
stand the shot. I won't hedge a farthing!'

'Hurrah, old boy, stand to your guns! Gentlemen of the Guard, fire
first! The battle is about to begin. I own to having felt slightly
nervous. But "Richard is himself again!" Let us wait till Tuesday, and
then see the first division mobilised.'

Behold the 10th of June! A wild dawn. Red glaring glooms. A rolling
cloud rack. Rain had fallen in the night. The temperature was low, the
wind high, altogether bordering on severe weather.

'We shall know our fate to-day, Hobbie,' said Gilbert, as they looked
at the driving masses of cloud from the breakfast-table. 'We must take
a long ride round, to get a fair idea of our progress or otherwise.
It's a week to-day since lambing began. There has been a man outside
the fence daily, and he reports it as perfectly secure. Joe the
poisoner (it has a queer sound, hasn't it? might have exposed him to
misconstruction in the Middle Ages) tells me that the eagles are lying
dead all over the plains, and except a few tame dogs, which have
fallen victims to the absence of muzzles, nothing canine has been
noticed since the autumn poisoning round the water. Now we shall see
for ourselves.'

Outwardly calm, but somewhat impatient withal, the brothers were soon
mounted and inside the first gate. Flying Mouse was left behind as
perhaps lacking the high degree of discretion necessary for so highly
responsible an errand. No dog of course was permitted to follow;
indeed the station kennel had been seriously thinned; only those
animals whose owners considered them of sufficient value to be
regularly chained and muzzled had escaped old Joe's profuse exhibition
of lethal crystals. The day had slightly cleared, though still
uncertain, the ground had been somewhat dried by the wind. Rain had,
however, fallen heavily in the night. Shallow pools lay over the
plains and the creek flat, giving those unsheltered localities a damp
and cheerless appearance.

'What a pleasant morning this would have been at an ordinary lambing
station,' quoth Gilbert, grimly. 'Can't you fancy the old fellow in
charge with three or four half-dead and twice as many wholly dead
lambs round a fire? The other hum-bugs pottering about, each with an
armful of callow, crying lambs, and their mystified mothers following.
Half a dozen truant ewes, naturally sick of the whole matter,
imprisoned each in a hurdled cell; the muddy yard, the instant demand
for more rations, better meat, a rise in wages, and the dismissal of
the ration carrier; a complaint about the shepherd, sure to be at feud
with everybody, and accused of playing the deuce with the flock; the
affair ending with general pacification by submission of employer,
till lambing was over; he naturally not caring to offend persons who
had power of life and death over his increase. Multiply this
arrangement by ten, and judge of what we have escaped!'

'If the experiment turns out well, I will consider everything. But
now, Gilbert, let us ride, for I don't see a sheep on the open country
where I should have remained had I been one.'

'"If ye had been a sheep ye wad ha' had mair sense," as the old
Scottish shepherd told the Duke. Now, I think it would have occurred
to me, as a sheep at large and therefore capable of reasoning, that
hills and the timber thereon were created for shelter, so now let us
make for the hillside.'

When they reached the timbered slope that bordered the range, the
ceaseless cries of hundreds of woolly infants testified that they were
on the actual arena wherein the melodrama of the Great Experiment was
then and there being enacted. 'Now for it, Hobbie! I see no end of
ewes and lambs lying about, and sheep in all directions on the
hillside. They have evidently drawn up here for shelter, and having
arranged themselves satisfactorily, well away from the wind and the
damp lowlands, are in no great hurry to quit.'

Slowly and cautiously did they thread the ovine groups. 'Thick as
leaves in Vallombrosa' were knots and clusters of lambs, from a
weakling of a few hours, bleating piteously and staggering wildly, to
the well-mothered frisking lamb over whose head a whole week had
passed benignantly. Hither and thither passed the maternal sheep,
occasionally feeding and anon returning, each one recognising
wondrously her identical unit, even when helplessly mingled with the
clamorous crowd.

Hobbie scrutinised the assemblage with a severely practical eye,
looking in vain, however, for any sign of the confusion and sundering
of ewes from the feeble offspring which all experienced critics had
foretold.

'Well,' he said at length, 'I can't see any damage. Everything looks
as well as we could wish. I haven't noticed a motherless lamb
anywhere. The "strong mobs" are by themselves and the very young and
weak ones are in separate divisions, self arranged. All the howling
about general loss and unutterable confusion seems unjustified.
Nothing could be more nicely managed, and by the sheep themselves,
better than an army of 'motherers' could do it. My doubts are over.'

'Well, it is gratifying--it repays one for some thought and anxiety,'
answered Gilbert, his face lighting up with subdued triumph.

'I daresay a good bark from the redoubtable Balley would change the
face of matters, and an experienced shepherd would have a good
percentage of killed, wounded, and missing by sundown. Thank heaven!
their day is over at Wandaroona. Ha! look at that ruffian of an eagle
sitting so close, "regardant," as the heraldry people have it.'

'He is more likely to be couchant directly'--laughed Hobbie. 'To me
he looks unnaturally solemn; something has disagreed with him. See!
his mate lies dead yonder; he has taken a bait, for a pound!'



Chapter VII



AS they charged the monarch of the air, he rose slowly, and
spreading his enormous wings and wedge-shaped tail, essayed to soar.
But the sweeping fans moved feebly. Mortal sickness was fast
paralysing the pinions that had floated through endless azure in long
summer days, or whirled with fierce joy amid the eddying thunder-
gusts. Slowly he descended to earth, where, though facing his foes
royally to the last, the hautes oeuvres of the law were not to be
evaded; the lmmergeier soon lay lifeless near his mate.

'Sic semper tyrannis,' quoth Gilbert gratefully. 'The market will be
indifferently supplied with eagles next year, I should say. It is
evident that if we destroy their natural enemies and provide effectual
fences, the sheep may be safely trusted to manage their own
parturition. Dame Nature is apt to be trustworthy. Watch that single
ewe, for instance! She is a good way from the flock, yet she feeds but
a few yards from her tiny lamb, lying snugly under that bush, and goes
back from time to time to assure herself of his safety. How she stamps
her foot as we approach, and falls back prepared to do battle! We know
by her earmark that it is her first lamb. Does she look as if she is
likely to desert it?'

'I stand reproved! No argument, sir!--as old Jackie Down used to say,
"Seeing is believing." Now let us skirt all these delightful clever
creatures, and take a look at the head of the flock.' Making a
circuit, and riding so as to avoid awakening apprehension in the mixed
multitude that they were about to be 'put together,' they reached the
main leading portion of the shepherdless flock. These were feeding
peacefully, looking in fine condition, having improved much in this
respect since their liberation. Very few lambs were in this division.
What there were had evidently been amongst the first born, and drew
forth compliments as to their growth and general appearance.

'Couldn't be better, could not be better,' affirmed Hobbie, with
tremendous emphasis. 'Nothing is needed now but for us to take it in
turns to ride through the paddocks. A dog might turn up, you know? But
what a jolly thing to think of, that blow high, blow low, with ten
thousand lambing sheep, we have not an earthly thing to do, or a
single man to pay till the time comes for taking off their tails. By
the way, that will not be so easy to manage, as we must get it all
over in one day or two at the furthest.'

'Of course,' assented Gilbert, 'the yarding of 18,000 sheep, great
and small, which I hope our number of ewes and lambs will then reach,
is a sort of battle of Waterloo affair. It is to be done, however,
and--for the present--lunch.'

June and part of July have fleeted by since the first lambs of the
season made their appearance in the world of Wandaroona. During this
period, a strict supervision has been maintained of all things
connected with their safety. The proprietors have taken it in turns to
ride through the paddock. The outside of the same has been carefully
watched. None but prosperous indications have been observed. The
lambing, with all anxieties about weather and conjectures as to
percentage, is past and over. It but remains to arrange the yards for
the transaction of the first act of sheep-farming as applied to the
increase, and for the verification of the exact number thereof. For a
week past, great preparations have been made for the capture and
amputation of the unconscious 'tail-bearers.' It seems odd that the
intentions of Nature, and the opinions of sheep-owners should be so
diametrically opposed in the matter of tails. The former high
controlling power has furnished all manner of sheep, including the
merino, with reasonably long ones. All persons having authoritative
management of Australian sheep believe that the elongated caudal
appendage conduces to untidiness and unprofitableness. Hence the edict
of amputation goes forth--and millions of innocents are 'docked'
annually. This universal practice affords a cheap and accurate method
of enumeration. The process of reasoning, by which it may be inferred
that every newly-severed tail represents a lamb, from which it has in
all probability been reft by force and bloodshed, is within the reach
of the humblest intelligence.

A large brush yard, formerly used under the old rgime as a lambing
station, after being topped up and added to, was fixed upon as the
operating theatre. Happily the sheep had been accustomed, while at
large, to 'collect' here as a central position, and had used it for
camping purposes. On three sides was a far-stretching plain; an abrupt
stony hill at the back with a thinly timbered forest made up the
surroundings. Lines of provisional fencing were now put up, in order
to act as 'wings,' extending far into the plain. The extremities of
these were a considerable distance apart. All arrangements had been
carefully carried out before the time of muster was fixed.

'My idea,' said Gilbert, as the time drew near, 'is to have a crowd
of hands and get it all over in one day. We are now taking on men for
the shearing, and giving them free rations until we start, so we shall
have lots of fellows on hand for whom it is always difficult to find
work. They will go at it like niggers, or rather like Britons, and we
shall do it in a day.'

'We must do it in one day,' persisted Gilbert, 'because we can't
draft the ewes and lambs, and it is vitally necessary to turn out all
the lambs and get them mothered as soon as they are "tailed." It's a
fine open place where they will be able to see one another well, and
make their "mothering" arrangements as accurately as the unavoidable
fuss will admit. We can try, at any rate, but it will push us hard.
The confusion will be terrific; some of the lambs are sure to lose
their mothers permanently, and the driving in will be no joke. The
strong lambs that have never been rounded up by a dog will gallop like
scrub colts. I suppose one mustn't hint at a dog?'

'Not half a one,' earnestly returned Gilbert; 'with care and giving
them plenty of time, we shall manage, I daresay.'

The dreadful day of trial arrived at length. All the expectant
shearers and hangers-on who have been gathering for various work at
the wool-shed for the last fortnight are paraded, and a certain number
mounted. Breakfast, as on all great occasions--battles, executions,
duels, etc.--is a truly early ceremonial. Thus, ere the sun rises
golden clear over diamond-glistening woods in the dew of an early
spring morning, all the horsemen are in the saddle. They are divided
into four troops led by the two brothers, Mr. Countemout, and lastly
the redoubtable Flying Mouse, who, enveloped in a red shirt several
sizes too large for him, mounted on Curlew, and bearing a big
stockwhip, is in the highest state of pride and satisfaction. Several
of the men carry whips, a certain amount of noise and intimidation
being necessary for the driving.

The general order is to go round the outside of the paddock, cracking
their stockwhips from time to time, so as to start all the lots of
sheep towards the centre; when gathered, to drive very quietly to the
'pretty plain,' as the ancient shepherds had christened the locality
of the mustering-yard. The different lots of sheep, in high health and
condition, are rather nimble on their feet at first, but are soon seen
converging in long lines and widespread array. They run and skip at
the outset; then attempt to halt, when there is the usual turning
hither and thither--a tremendous chorus of bleating lambs, and the
aimless fussy journey backward and forward of ewes in wildest anxiety,
which makes them (except milch cows with very young calves) the most
difficult, exasperating, and saint--provoking animals to drive that
ever tried the temper of man.

Now they come slowly forward in one vast mixed-up mass; a new danger
peculiar to paddocked sheep arises. Great troops of the older lambs,
mad with frolic spirits, separating themselves from the main army,
gallop away like antelopes. They sweep off, wheeling and darting like
birds, from the main body, and sometimes head back with instinctive
obstinacy straight for the particular corner of the paddock in which
they were born. Some of the younger members of the party turn to
gallop after these flying squadrons, which are apparently bent on
deserting the army at all hazards. An elderly knock-about-man observes
sardonically, 'That all comes along of havin' never seen a dorg; a
good sheep dorg, now, he'd soon round 'em up, my word!'

'Very likely,' returns Gilbert, who catches the criticism, 'and the
very first bark would frighten the very lives out of these strong
lambs, which would break and scatter so that we should lose half of
them. Hold hard,' he shouted in a tone of command which at once
arrested the eager youngsters. 'No galloping, sit still on your
horses, and they will come in of their own accord when they see no one
following them. Nothing but time and patience will do any good with
these fellows.'

This prudent order being followed, the juvenile battalions come
quietly back to greet their anxious mothers, who in long stringing-out
files were permitted to join them. Following these matrons they were
merged in the great sheep ocean until a similar outbreak, similarly
treated, takes place.

By dint of the utmost patience and strict avoidance of unnecessary
noise the great ovine mass is moved and hustled up to the wings. Once
between them the battle is won, and the gates of the large yard soon
close behind them.

By the time this first success--not inconsiderable--is accomplished,
the day is nearly done. There is abundance of grass and water in the
moderate--sized paddock, called the receiving-yard. A night's
confinement in such quarters not involving privation, it is decided to
leave them there. The outlets are carefully closed, and everything
left in order for the morrow's deeds of blood.

'Wonder what percentage we shall have?' queried Hobbie; 'not very
low, by the look of the mob; splendid strong lambs they are, too, not
a waster or a weak one amongst them.'

'We have seen very few dead lambs,' answered Gilbert. 'They have all
the advantages of savage life, only strong ones survive. There is
little profit in saving the life of a weakling. He never comes to
anything. I am rather sanguine as to the result.'

'At any rate, they will not have cost much, that is one comfort,'
said Hobbie. 'Do you remember the cheques we used to draw at this
season? Lamber so much--lamber--lamber--it was nearly as bad as
shearing time.'

The mustering party stands steady at the yards as the sun upheaves a
crimson disc o'er the green billows of the sylvan sea into a pearly
sky. At this comparatively early hour all have breakfasted, dressed,
smoked, and are ready for a 'big day's work.' The sheep are safe and
serenely comfortable. From the spring cart are drawn shirts and
trousers of such antiquity as render damage difficult and
deterioration impossible. These are donned by the leading operators. A
long lane has been filled with sheep and lambs. From these, smaller
yards are packed closely. Outside stand ten men, including the
brothers and Mr. Countemout, armed with sharp knives. Twenty others--
two to each operator--are told off, who at once jump in, and seizing
each a victim, 'unconscious of their doom,' hold it breast high to the
executive.

'The tip off near ear,' shouts Gilbert, 'for the ewe lambs; off ear
for the others--tails rather short.'

As he spoke the tender pink skin of the lamb's ear is divided like
paper, and the astonished little creature dropped upon the grass, its
tail being simultaneously severed by a sharp wooden-hafted knife.
Almost at the moment, nine other miniature sheep are deftly cropped,
docked, and tumbled bleating beside them, just in time to keep them
company. The work is ceaseless after this for half an hour, when the
subdivision was cleared of lambs, only the ewes remaining. The
Elliots, Mr. Countemout, and the others are by this time covered, as
to face, neck, and shoulders, with the blood which had spurted from
the ears and tails of the wounded. Now appears the value of the aged
garments. The ewes of the lamb--emptied small yard are then carefully
counted out and duly entered in a notebook. As the last sheep goes
out, the catching-yard is refilled, and the 'cutting and wounding,
without the statutory intent to do grievous bodily harm' recommences.
The tails as severed are thrown into heaps, close to the feet of the
performers. Still as the day wears on, the same process of yarding up,
catching, and cropping proceeds with unslackened speed. Higher and
higher grow the mounds of tails; larger the released body of sheep on
the plain outside. Many of the lambs at once find their mothers, who,
after one glance at their altered appearance, march off into the less
dangerous interior of the paddock. Others, not so fortunate--ewes
whose lambs are yet in the yard, and lambs whose mothers are not
released--remain bleating around the enclosure. Small time is given
for the mid-day meal. A crust of 'damper,' a glass of grog, a cup of
tea, and at it again. The calculation is tolerably close. As the sun
dips behind the range, the last yard of ewes is counted out, and the
great operation is over.

'Far from a bad day's work,' quoth Gilbert, with a grateful sigh. 'I
feel (and probably look) "a man of blood" all over. 'They were weary
at eve when they ceased to slay, Like reapers whose task is done.

'Give the men another tot. They've worked like bricks; catch the
horses, some of you, while we count the tails. Just enough light.'

Every one upon this, whose education had not been neglected,
commences to sort the small mountains of tails into heaps of one
hundred each. These are placed in rows, clearly and separately, for
Gilbert to make a final computation thereof. All told, there are
eighty-seven of them, and nearly half a one over, which contains
forty-three. 'Hurrah!' sang out Hobbie, after checking Gilbert's
count. 'Eight thousand seven hundred and forty-three lambs. Eighty-
seven per cent, and a fraction. Who dares to say a word against
fencing now? The battle is won, and now, "all tails being told," give
me the reins, and jump in, you fellows!'

The next day being conscientiously devoted to doing nothing, there
was leisure for discussion.

'I can hardly realise now,' said Hobbie, 'that matters have turned
out so splendidly. Here is lambing well over, a famous percentage of
strong lambs which nothing can hurt; what is better, we have not an
extra man or meal to pay for till their jackets are off; even after
that we can wean for nothing by simply drafting and removing the ewes,
and leaving the lambs inside. Being where they have been born and
bred, of course they will settle down more easily.'

'It is wonderful, when one sees the result,' agreed Gilbert, blandly
philosophising. 'Strange that so few people, comparatively speaking,
should have had enterprise sufficient for such an obvious improvement.
It only demonstrates the slow growth of the idea.'

'Slow indeed!' assented Hobbie. 'I don't wonder at Jack Bulmer's
vehemence. It must seem so intensely thick-headed of us all, to a man
who has seen the advantages of fencing proved.'

'Fancy our state of Egyptian bondage to the lambing stations we
should have had, if all these ewes and lambs had had to be shepherded;
how did we ever endure the drudgery, anxiety, and expense of the old
system!

'We shall have a pull, too, at shearing time,' pursued Gilbert,
'along of the fencing; we can shear all the "dry sheep" first, and
have them back at their yards, before we commence at the ewes and
lambs, which will be in clover all the time. We ought to make up our
minds, then, about fencing the rest of the run.'

'I should say so,' returned Hobbie with enthusiasm. 'We'll have every
sheep in thin fences, wire, zigzag, and chock-and-log, before next
shearing after this. Then, life will be worth having. When I think
that those praiseworthy ewes had "mothered" all their offspring, and
were out of sight of the yard this morning at sunrise, when Countemout
passed in from Burnt Hut Station, and that we need not go near them
for a week, I could almost weep with the overflow of real
unadulterated happiness. The golden age has revisited the earth. We
must change the name of the place from Wandaroona to Arcadia. 'Round
Arcady's oak, its green The Bromian ivy weaves, But no more is the
satyr seen Laughing out from the glossy leaves.

'Heigho! I wonder if we shall ever see the classic land, or whether
we are, like the 'possums, doomed to gum-leaves for ever?'



Chapter VIII



LAMBING is, after all, chiefly an affair of outposts. There is a
large infusion of guerilla warfare; but shearing is the real campaign,
when the entire military force of the kingdom is displayed; when the
reserves are called out to the last man. This 'protomachia,' with its
sallies and repulses--its anxiety and triumph--its feverish energy and
reactionary repose, has come to an end. The men are paid off, the huts
are empty--the wool-teams are gone, the heat increases, the travellers
decrease. All the land seems settling down into a torrid, lotus-eating
stage, when everybody is too hot to do anything, and labour of every
sort has become extinct by process of desiccation. At this season in
the 'Terra Caliente,' even Riverina, as day by day the sun plants his
flaming banner in the face of shrinking nature, so the water
disappears, the flowers fade, the grass shrivels, breaks off, and is
blown away into infinite space by the fiery breath of the desert wind.
A great horror of dulness and lassitude settles upon all things. By
reason thereof the dogs will scarcely bark, the shepherds have barely
sufficient vitality to cut up tobacco, the sheep decline the
recreation, at once so easy and so pleasantly wrong, of getting lost.
With the thermometer one hundred and ten in the shade, the millennium
of the 'dead certain' sets in. There has been a slight ripple in the
breezeless calm, owing to the sinister influence of grass-seed! This
does not sound very dreadful. It rather has a tone of nature's
luxuriance, lush herbage, waving meadows, and all the rest of it. It
does wave, my malison upon it! Of all the permitted diabolism with
which the Enemy is suffered to torment man and his poor relations, the
animals, this corkscrew member of the Gramineae, Anthistiria
infernalis, is the deadliest. Barbed, involuted, needle-pointed, the
tiny javelin, which ought to be a grass seed, is in summer hardened to
the temper of steel. Borne by the wind, or falling ripe from its
stalk, it matters not which, it is launched forth and buried in the
sides of the innocent lambs. 'The pity of it!' Up to a certain age,
say six months, a man may have ten thousand--twenty thousand lambs
which are 'a sight to see,'--plump, strong, splendidly developed,
looking nearly as big as their mothers; in value so many half-
sovereigns walking on four legs. The sun flames, the grass ripens, the
waving prairies upon the slopes and the long levels of the angophora
woods have a pallid appearance, dismal and uncanny in the eyes of Mr.
Countemout and the elderly shepherds. Let the bounding, vigorous
lambkins but once gambol through this fatal field, and they come forth
pierced through their tender pink skins in a hundred places with the
barbed arrow-heads, stricken nigh unto death.

Fancy! my favourite friend, who thinkest lightly of the sorrows of
the 'lower classes,' brute or human, what thy sufferings would be if a
howitzer suddenly discharged at thee a thousand tiny barblets,
striking deep into every skin crevice and by a kind of natural rifling
action tending to bite more and more deeply with each movement into
the agonised flesh. Think, too, if thou hadst no hands, no tweezers,
no speech, no friends, nought but dumb agony, and an occasional
spasmodic kick for relief! Riddled and pierced through every pore have
I seen lambs and young sheep. Through skin and the underlying muscles
and nerves went the steel-pointed tiny needle. The helpless victim
pines, lies down, wastes, weakened and worn to death with agonised
endurance; it refuses food. Then the friendly crow picks out its eyes
as it lies gasping on the sward, afraid to move and so provoke the
intolerable agony of locomotion. The remainder of the flock struggle
through the period and eventually arrive at maturity. They tell up in
a count, and if the station is sold are as others. But 'they never
make sheep,' and are always referred to by Mr. Countemout and other
disciplinarians as those confounded undersized wretches of the year
187--that were regularly ruined by grass seed, have grown up stunted
and bad constitutioned, will never be worth a curse the longest day
they live. Great pity they were not all knocked on the head directly
they opened their eyes.

This was the sort of thing our young friends found imminent.

Fortunately for them between the anabranch and the river there was a
splendid green grass meadow averaging two miles in width.

'I did think of a run to Sydney for a month,' quoth Gilbert
plaintively, 'but now this confounded grass seed is so bad, I shall
defer it. Bush fires will be in season when the first difficulty is
disposed of. Nature is the unkindest step-mother to squatters!'

'We must humour the ancient dame till she sends us a wet season,'
answered Hobbie. 'That is our only chance for a holiday; and then we
might have two thousand ewes and lambs drowned like Athelstane's in
the great flood.'

'Served him right,' said Gilbert ruthlessly. 'He was as unready as
his namesake in Ivanhoe and took no precautions when he saw the
anabranch filling up before his eyes. Now what precautions are we
going to take? We mustn't lose all these fine lambs now that we have
them.'

'Well,' returned Hobbie, 'the flat between the anabranch creek and
the river is all clover and meadow-grass together. Except on the small
sandhill there is not an acre of corkscrew grass in the lot. The creek
is high; if we swim the lambs over and brush-fence one or two of the
shallow places, they will be safe, sound, and literally "in clover"
for the next three months. By that time all the wire-grass seed will
have been shed.'

'First-rate idea!' assented Gilbert. 'We must get them all in and
draft off the ewes; the lambs will then be weaned and out of harm's
way at one and the same time.'

This project was duly carried through with the full concurrence and
assistance of Mr. Countemout. The weaners were drafted out, and being
taken to a yard at a narrow part of the creek, a rope stretched across
as a guide, were after considerable intimidation and coercion forced
over. Sheep, especially when young, are nearly as unwilling as cats to
wet their feet. There was no likelihood of their volunteering to swim
back. So they roamed unattended over the great river meadows till the
autumn, enjoying abundant food and water with perfect immunity from
the graminaceous scourge.

'I don't like the look of the weather,' said Mr. Countemout, apropos
of nothing, one evening as they were all sitting smoking in the
verandah.

'What's the matter with it?' said Gilbert, looking up at the starry
heaven of a cloudless autumn night, 'seems fine enough now.'

'A deal too fine,' returned the experienced resident. 'It has
threatened rain at times lately and there have been a good many
clouds, but no rain--no rain--that's what I look at. I could swear
that the winter was setting in dry.'

'You don't say so?' asked Gilbert with some anxiety. 'To me there is
nothing uncommon in the appearance of clouds and the absence of rain.'

'I've been watching the signs of the season,' continued Countemout,
with a grave and earnest expression upon his darkly-bronzed features,
'and everything tells the same tale. I hear that the stock are moving
in from the back all through the lower country. I saw an ibis to-day,
too. My belief is that we are on the edge of a drought.'

'God forbid!' ejaculated Hobbie.

At the ominous word the brothers were obviously moved. In the land in
which they lived it was a sound of dread, an image of desolation,
which few stock-owners who had lived a decade in Riverina recalled
without alarm. In the great plains of the interior, even in the more
temperate regions of Australia, the awful spectre of drought had
appeared at uncertain intervals in the history of the land. Before its
gradual approach and deathlike presence verdure flies the earth. The
streams and springs disappear. The stock which have multiplied in
happier seasons pine and die from sheer starvation, or in the distant
scantily-watered solitudes from which their owners have not had the
foresight to drive them before the last water is exhausted, perish in
thousands, maddened by the torture of thirst. The labour of years is
rendered fruitless in a single season. The unlucky squatter, overtaken
and distracted, finds the small portion of his stock which has escaped
the famine utterly unsaleable. Even at the lowest prices men are
unwilling to purchase, having but scanty pastures for their own
attenuated flocks and herds. I he be free from debt he may bear the
loss, trusting to make a fresh beginning with the remnant of his
stock; if he has been erecting 'improvements' on credit, however well
considered and certain to pay eventually, or if he have engagements to
meet dependent on the sale of stock, he is a ruined man.

Such, or similar, ideas passed through the minds of the proprietors
of Wandaroona as Mr. Countemout delivered himself of his prediction.
They knew that he had lived for many years in the neighbourhood and
had passed through the ordeal of such visitations. Of his general
sagacity and powers of observation they entertained no doubt.
Therefore the danger loomed sufficiently near to be confronted. Hobbie
was the first to speak.

'It will be awfully mortifying, after all our expense and successful
carrying out of the great fencing idea, if we have to retrace our
steps, advertise for shepherds, and travel the sheep to the mountains,
which is the obvious course, if Countemout is dismally right--and I'm
afraid he is!'

'I am not so sure of that,' answered Gilbert, who had been smoking
savagely and corrugating his brow, as if with unusual mental effort.
'I am not sure but that the fencing will stand to us in our extremity;
and we may have another paean to sing in praise of it. We have not as
yet fully stocked the run. We have a large part of the back country
fenced. We have one good well, twenty miles back, which will water ten
thousand sheep. I vote for completing the fencing, putting down
another well, and standing the shot!'

'We shall certainly save the expense, trouble, and partial loss of
travelling. My "blood runs cold,"' pathetically continued Hobbie, 'at
the bare idea of fresh shepherds, dogs, carts, rations, billies,
tents, brush-yards, reporters, hobbles, bells, and all the antiquated
nuisances I fondly hoped we had got rid of for ever. We have lots of
rough feed in those scrubby ranges at the back; with one more well and
a few more miles of fencing, I believe we could weather it out. I am
for trying; what do you say, Countemout?'

That veteran removed a richly-coloured pipe from his lips, and
thoughtfully made answer, 'I am not sure but what Gilbert is right,
and considering that the feed just now is very fair, and that there is
plenty of three-year-old grass at the back that a well would bring
into play, we might see it out without unreasonable loss. But there's
this to be looked at--if we start from here, say next month, we can
make the mountains, with thirty thousand sheep, in five weeks and have
first-rate quarters on the road. On the other hand, if we stand by the
run with all the stock, get the sheep regularly down in condition, and
find at the worst of the drought that we can't hold on longer, why
then--' and he gave a puff at the darkly red meerschaum, which sent
the clouds of strong 'negro-head' towards the ceiling, causing them to
fold and swim like the vapour of a locomotive.

'Why then, we can travel when we can do nothing else,' continued
Hobbie.

'By that time,' solemnly made answer the old bushman, 'the road
between Wandaroona and the mountains will be like a stockyard, there
will be no more grass upon it than upon the floor of this room. The
sheep will be so weak that they could hardly bear the journey, even if
there was feed; only one thing can happen, if the rain keeps off when
you get to that stage.'

'And that is?' inquired Gilbert, who had been following the speaker
with deep attention.

'That you will see every sheep you have in the world die before your
eyes, without the ghost of a chance of saving anything but their
skins. A sorry sight it is. And I, John Cumnor Countemout, have seen
it happen, ay, and to my own sheep too. I wasn't always a super; I
started with a tidy little capital, when I first came to Australia,
and I lost nine thousand sheep, to the last tally, within six months.'

'What, from drought, old fellow?' asked Hobbie sympathetically; 'why,
you never told us that.'

'No; from catarrh. I was left with two horses and as many suits of
clothes, when all was paid. It's an old story; there is a bit of bad
luck now and then, or I shouldn't be here on 200 a year. All the same
I couldn't be in a better place. But I've seen five thousand fat
wethers, splendid sheep too, die of thirst on a back block. The owner
nearly went mad at the same time. But I think we've had enough of
these old stories for one night. I've got to be at Long Ridge at
sunrise. Good-night.'

The grizzled, stout-hearted, iron-sinewed pioneer drained his glass
of grog and strode off to bed--leaving to our friends considerable
material for thought.

'Poor old Countemout has had hard luck, as it would seem,' said
Hobbie after a rather long interval of smoking, during which they
gazed silently at the dark-blue starry heavens. 'The race is not
always to the swift, truly, or he would have been named in the
running. He is strong, shrewd, economical, upright in all his ways,
and close on fifty years old--his working life nearly told out, and a
couple of hacks, three brood mares, and a ten-pound note or two are
his sole possessions.'

'There's apparently an ingredient of what we are content to call
"luck" in the affairs of life,' said Gilbert. 'I fancy it has been
remarked before. When one sees some of our neighbours, who are neither
clever, strong, nor even particularly honest, in possession of famous
country, that even their gross mismanagement cannot render
unprofitable, the riddle of life does seem difficult to unravel.'

'We shall find the difficulty increased,' quoth Hobbie, returning to
the concrete, 'when this drought in all its glory, is upon us. What
are we to do? According to Countemout, Riverina is about to be like a
pastoral edition of Campbell's "Last Man," the last squatter will boil
down the last sheep, and gracefully subside amid a grand concluding
conflagration--'The Sun's eye had a sickly glare.

The grass with drought was wan, The skeletons of stations were

Around that lonely man--Some had expired of fright--the "brands"
Still rusted in their bony hands;

Of scab and foot-rot some, The woolsheds had no sound, or tread,
Shepherds and dogs and flocks were dead

In scores, and therefore dumb.

'Parodies are gloriously easy, are they not? I feel very like a
poet.'

'My dear Hobbie, remember the lady in "Hyperion"--"Sir," said she,
with dignity, "you have been drinking"--you must have mixed a second
grog, unconsciously, or you would not joke about our probable ruin,
and make ruffianly parodies.'

'Well, old fellow,' said Hobbie, 'I stand reproved; and now for
business. What are we to do?'

'I have been thinking,' answered Gilbert, 'and I adhere to our first
idea maugre Countemout's gloomy possibilities. We are not above three
parts stocked. Let us get the remaining fences at the back finished,
while there is a little grass left.'

'Advertise at once for another set of well-sinkers, and if we strike
water at a reasonable depth, we shall have feed to keep us going,
unless it's a worse drought than anything since 1837. I think we may
risk it,' asserted Hobbie, much assured by his elder's confident
bearing. 'We are not like Jack Bulmer, who is fully stocked and has a
lot of cattle. I suspect he must travel.'

'Most likely; the run looked bare when I was down last, and three
thousand store cattle which he put on last season, all at once,
destroy much grass. All the same, he will fight his way through
somehow, as of yore. But his movements need not govern ours.'



Chapter IX



SINCE the foregoing council of war months had passed. No rain had
fallen. None appeared likely to fall. The skies were as iron and the
earth as brass. Day followed day, clear but monotonously cloudless.
The glory of the dark-blue summer sky, in which burned nightly 'the
stars in their courses,' was fast becoming to the souls of the gazers,
as they sickened from hope deferred, emblematic of sorrow and despair.
They looked upon the unchanging heavens, which during a long
succession of weeks had scarce been flecked by a cloud, as the
shipwrecked mariner regards the ocean calm, which, if unbroken, dooms
him to the most fearful of deaths. The grass on the frontage flats had
long been eaten, trampled, and dried up, so that the dusty level
looked as if green sward were never again possible. Jack Bulmer's
contingent of thirty thousand sheep, one-half of his whole stock, had
long since passed en route for the mountains. He himself had gone on
ahead to inspect a mountain plateau, which, cleared of snow in the
warm spring weather, was now waving with green grass, and traversed by
clear, cool mountain streams. He was in great spirits as usual on his
return, and declared he wouldn't have missed the drought with its
attendant adventures for any pecuniary consideration whatever.

'What's the use of jeremiads about the drought?' demanded he, 'and
why this despondent tone? Go up to the Devil's Punch Bowl and see for
yourselves. Scenery there you never dreamt of. Regular sanitary
station; another Simla, by Jove! Lots of nice fellows. Sheep splendid
fleeces next year. Extra clip, pay shearing expenses, give you my
honour!'

'Is it open country or timbered?' inquired Hobbie.

'Rather thick until you get into the plateau, and then glorious downs
and rolling prairie. Famous green grass, a little coarse or so, lovely
little brooks--regular brooks, by George, running the summer through;
sheep in clover. Cold at night, quite enjoyed a fire, grand snow-
peaks, regular Alpine region, native inhabitants cattle-stealers to a
man, but simple and friendly. Why don't you fellows come? I can rent
you some country on the mountain plain. I've got more than I can use.'

'To tell the truth, Jack,' answered Gilbert resolutely, 'we are not
so fully stocked as you, and have decided to stay at home. We believe
that with the two back paddocks, especially as the wells have turned
out so good, we can keep all the sheep unless things are worse than
they have been known to be.'

'Well, of course, you can try, old fellow, and you certainly have
more grass than any run I know except "Tungamain" and "Maradheree,"
but don't you hang on too long.'

'We must risk that, I know,' replied Gilbert, 'and a terrible hazard
it is. But we have thought the matter well over, and we are resolved
to abide the issue.'

'Well, you will save the expense of travelling, which is fearful,
absolutely fearful,' said Jack with much feeling. 'The cheques I've
drawn since the blessed sheep started would bring tears to the eyes of
a stock agent! It's shearing time all the year round--give you my
honour! But there's no help for it. You can't exactly cut the beggars'
throats. I suppose it will rain some day or another; I must be off
now. Holmwood tells me his milkers at the station are living upon
water-lilies in the lagoons, ha, ha! They'll soon have to dive for a
subsistence at that rate. I hear there are thirty thousand sheep from
the Bogan passing up to-morrow; look out for your frontage, Hobbie.'

So Bulmer the Berserker departed, leaving his friends troubled in
mind, and doubting somewhat of the prudence of putting so large a
stake on the board as thirty thousand sheep and the lives thereof.

'By Jove, it's an awful risk, Gilbert,' said Hobbie, after a long
pause, during which they listened to the hoof echoes of Jack's
wonderful gray dying away in the distance. 'Suppose the rain keeps off
for six months we shan't save a sheep; they begin to look weak now. I
almost wish we had taken Jack's offer and rented some of his country.'

'Too late now,' answered Gilbert; 'we've made our election and we
must stick to it. The sheep are a long way from being "crawlers" yet.
Mind you turn out early, and take Countemout to meet those Bogan
sheep. If you don't watch them well, they'll strip every blade of
grass within miles of the road.'

The morning was fresh and almost cool. A blood-red sun was slowly
ensanguining the dim outline of the distant alp as Hobbie Elliot and
Mr. Countemout rode briskly along the dusty road towards the western
gate. How changed was the colour of the vast meadow or 'river flat'
from the garb of spring! Instead of a prairie, a natural hay-field,
rich with wild oats and tall with many a waving tassel, the wide brown
level lay bare and arid. Far as the eye could reach on either side
there was not only no sign of vegetation, green (save the mark),
yellow, or brown, but the whole desolate area looked as if eternally
devoted to barrenness. Looked as if grass could never grow there
again--as if not only the stalks and tufts, but the very roots of all
grass and herbage had perished, now and for evermore. The broad
lagoons, deep and cool, with floating silver-petalled water-lilies,
and populous with waterfowl, were now dry, dusty, and swept clear of
every suspicion of reed or weed.

'They say these Bogan sheep are frightfully weak,' remarked Hobbie,
'dying by hundreds. Poor devils! they won't get much better here if we
keep them to their half mile on each side of the road.'

'Of course we must do that,' said Countemout, 'or starve our own
sheep. They do say that they lost three thousand between Baradine and
Wilbandra; even worse than that since. Jefferson summoned the man in
charge, and made him pay two men to kill and burn all the sheep left
on his run.'

'That was sharp work, if you like. He might have been contented to
take the risk of their dying or living. It was too bad to make the
unfortunate beggar pay for the murder of his own stock. We had better
push on; I see them drawing off camp and the first flock passing
through the gate.'

As they reached the boundary fence the first of the fifteen flocks
had passed, and the long narrow line of sheep had extended itself
along the dusty highway.

'Look at them, for God's sake!' said Hobbie. 'Did you ever see sheep
walk along a road with their heads up like these? They don't seem to
think it worth while to look for feed; what a fearful array of
skeletons! If I met them at night I should take them for the ghost of
a sheep station. I have scarcely the heart to tell the men to keep
within the half mile from the road.'

They rode up to the advancing flock, which on closer inspection
realised all the wretchedness of aspect which Hobbie had referred to.
The delusive covering of their half-grown fleeces prevented the
emaciation from being apparent. But the hollow eyes, the trembling
limbs, the attenuated frames of the feeble creatures, were signs
easily read by practised eyes. Flock after flock, file after file, the
melancholy procession passed along. The worn and desperate animals
never lowered their heads or walked from side to side after the manner
of grazing sheep. Hopeless and nerveless, they had not sufficient
energy to quit the beaten track in the vain search for pasture. Sullen
and wayworn they passed slowly along the road. They neither halted nor
wandered; all sensation seemed obliterated except a mechanical
tendency to move aimlessly forward till they dropped. And this process
in one flock or other was continually taking place.

The men and shepherds who were driving the sheep assisted at the
sombre function with morose countenances--even they felt distressed
and demoralised.

'Good day,' said Mr. Countemout to the shepherd, 'this is a bad
look-out. I never saw so large a lot of sheep so weak before; you will
lose half of them before long.'

'Can't lose 'em faster than we're a-doin' now, unless the whole
boiling drops down dead on camp some night,' answered the shepherd, an
elderly man of acidulated aspect; 'and they'll do that soon unless
rain comes. We're three thousand short since last week.'

'How do you come to be so late on the road?' asked Hobbie. 'All the
down-river sheep have been at the mountains months ago.'

'Well, I believe our boss thought the water would hold out; the feed
was middling good, but the back lakes dried up all of a sudden, and
then we was started on the road with a rush like.'

'The river was all right, though, I suppose?'

'The river!' said the sun-scorched weather-beaten ancient--' the
river!'

'Well,' retorted Hobbie tartly, 'I suppose there is always plenty of
water in the river--enough for a hundred thousand sheep where you came
from.'

'Water enough,' slowly returned the wayfarer. 'The stock might drink
till all was blue, or drown theirselves in it for that matter; as to
feed, I wish you could see it!'

'Pretty well picked over, I daresay,' assented Hobbie.

'Picked over!' growled the injured stranger, 'see here,' and he
stirred the fine dust on the road with his foot, 'there's no more feed
within twenty mile of the river then there is where we are standin',
nor hasn't been for months.'

'What an awful state of things! what will become of the other stock
down there, with three more months' dry weather?'

'God knows! there was Jackson's, and Hunt's, and Ronaldson's sheep
back of us, as can't travel; they'll lose 'em in heaps and thousands,
I am thinking. Here, wake 'em up, lass!' The dog he addressed, a wiry,
restless, intelligent collie, with one blue eye and one brown ditto,
had been ambling backward and forward behind her flock. She now barked
and advanced. A feeble rush was the result, when half a dozen sheep
fell instantly, and lay patiently, utterly incapable of rising. 'Come
away, old woman,' said the shepherd apologetically, 'you've got more
sense then I have. I'd never have told you to wake 'em up, only I was
talking to the gentleman and thinking of somethink else. You see what
it's like, sir. They've been like this for the last two hundred mile.'

'Where's the gentleman in charge of the sheep?' said Hobbie, 'Mr.
Delafield, isn't that his name? I think the reporter said so.'

'Well, he went to Jildebah last night. We was camped close handy; he
and the super had a barney, I believe, and a traveller told us to-day
as Mr. Delafield was in Jildebah lock-up.'

'In the lock-up!' said Hobbie, much astonished, 'what in the world
for?'

'Well, they tells me the Jildebah super has a rough side to his
tongue, he has, and Mr. Delafield, though he is so quiet-looking,
won't stand no nonsense from no man, and so Bouncin' Bill, as they
calls 'im, fell off his 'orse.'

'And was that any reason to put a gentleman in the lock-up?'

'Well, sir, you don't tumble, if Bouncin' Bill did, perhaps he might
have got a tap promiskus like. He's very quick with his hands, Mr.
Delafield is, and uncommon neat--I don't know as ever I see a gent
neater.'

'So,' said Hobbie, 'that's it! Now, this is Saturday, so he stands a
good chance of being locked up till Monday, if I don't find him bail.
Well, good--bye! Don't you fellows get straggling over my run, or I'll
put you in the pound, shepherds and all. This gentleman will keep
along with you while I go to Jildebah.'

Leaving Mr. Countemout to his monotonous but necessary occupation of
riding at a foot-pace by the funereal flocks, thus restraining the
shepherds from wandering into the heart of the run, pretending to lose
themselves, and having to be fetched back after devouring every blade
of grass in their way, Hobbie rode into the city of Jildebah. This
imposing township seemed to be compounded in equal parts of dust,
delirium-tremens, dulness, and broken bottles. It boasted several
public-houses, two stores, a large graveyard, a small school, a
blacksmith's shop, and a police barrack. To this latter establishment
was affiliated the aforesaid lock-up, popularly known as 'the logs,'
from the preponderating quantity of these massive timbers displayed in
the floor, the wall, and indeed the ceiling of the edifice.

'Senior Constable Ryan,' said Hobbie, J.P., in magisterial tones, as
a good-looking, well-got-up police trooper came out of the barrack and
saluted, 'what's this you've been about, confining a gentleman (the
Governor's nephew, for all you know) in Jildebah lock-up, just like a
horse-stealer?'

'Assault upon Mr. Rougham, your worship! Aggravated--Mr. Rougham's
face much cut, sir.'

'Did you see the assault?'

'No, sir.'

'Then you had no right to arrest; I am surprised that you don't know
better, Ryan, after all your experience. Bring the gentleman to the
inn parlour, and ask Mr. Jones and Mr. Williams, with my compliments,
if they will walk up.'

Ryan departed crestfallen. He was a smart fellow, and a staunch
sleuth--hound on the trail of bushrangers, or horse-stealers, but from
living in a poky place like Jildebah, had become too autocratic, and
occasionally rendered himself open to proceedings involving damages.

Proceeding to the Jildebah Hotel Hobbie seated himself in an
armchair, behind the table, at the upper end of the dining-room, and
presently the 'prisoner' arrived, escorted by Ryan in full uniform,
and stood in an easy nonchalant attitude before him. Messrs. Jones and
Williams, burgesses of Jildebah, came in and, bowing respectfully,
seated themselves upon the unyielding horsehair chairs of the imposing
apartment. The ordinary loungers of such a settlement, a shepherd or
two whose cheques were only partially melted, a teamster, two
Chinamen, and a blackfellow, and lastly, the hotel book-keeper, an
aristocratic-looking personage with a large black beard, ranged
themselves at the lower end, and awaited such tragedy as might be
imminent.

'Cecil Delafield,' commenced Hobbie, in a matter-of-fact tone of
voice, 'you stand charged with an aggravated assault upon William
Rougham of Jildebah. How do you plead?'

'Not guilty, your worship,' replied the captive knight, for such
indeed he looked, in a soft manir tone, as if he was talking to a
pretty girl at a flower show.

'Very well,' said Hobbie. 'Senior Constable Ryan, go into the witness
box!' That official did so by the fiction of advancing to the corner
of the table, and, having been sworn, deposed as follows:--'My name is
Patrick Ryan, I am senior constable of police, stationed at Jildebah;
on the evening of yesterday, the 7th instant, at about half-past six,
Mr. William Rougham gave the prisoner in charge for violently
assaulting him. His face at the time was bleeding, and one eye
contused and swollen. He said prisoner had assaulted him without
provocation. I rode over to where I saw prisoner and arrested him.
When I charged him with the offence he said "All right," and asked if
the lock-up was empty. I locked him up. Upon searching I found four
five-pound notes and some silver, which I produce, a tooth-brush, a
gold watch, a penknife, and a photograph.'

Cross-examined by prisoner: 'Did not see you commit any assault.'

'Sign your deposition,' said Hobbie, who had duly written down this
important evidence, 'and at this stage I will adjourn the case till
Friday next, when the police magistrate of Moona-Warraban will attend.
Cecil Delafield, bail is allowed, sureties, two in 25 each, yourself
in 50. Mr. Jones, Mr. Williams, are you content to be bound?' These
worthy tradespeople bowed. 'The prisoner stands remanded to Friday
next--Mr. Delafield, you can go.'

Mr. Delafield duly appeared before the Court on the afternoon of
Friday, as did also Mr. Rougham. Consequent on the arrival of the
police magistrate of the district, a leading solicitor made his
appearance, who was at once retained for the defence.



Chapter X



AFTER Mr. Rougham had told his tale and exhibited his injuries, the
first witness for the defence was sworn and deposed as follows:--

'My name's Bill, leastways William Dickson, mail driver. I was a-
lookin' for horses in the crick, I see most of this row. Billy
Rougham, he gallops down swearing at this gentleman as if he'd eat
him. Asked him why the h--l he come down their frontage, stealin' all
the grass and starving people's sheep. Said he was travelling for
feed, and grass stealers was worse nor sheep stealers, why didn't they
keep on the road, and not go through his river flats, making believe
they'd lost theirselves? Said he'd knock his damned head off for
sixpence. This gentleman said he thought it was the main road. "You're
a liar," says Rougham, "fellows as steal grass would tell a lie for
sixpence any day. You go off this private land, it's a pre--emptive
right, or I'll make you." The gentleman said he didn't think it was
private land. Would go off when he chose--not afore.'

'Now, did any one do anything?' inquired the police magistrate.
'Never mind repeating these conversations.'

'Yes, they did, my word!' said the witness. 'Your worships, I'm just
a--comin' to 'em. "I shall not go," says this gentleman, "how do I
know it's private land?" "I'll soon show you," says Rougham--with that
he shoves his horse right agin the gen'leman's, as was that weak and
low, as he pretty nigh fell down, and makes a crack at him. Ha! ha!'

It was demanded by the Bench of the witness why he laughed--and he
was sternly ordered to proceed.

'I couldn't help it, your worships, to see how old Billy, as fancies
he can welt any man about Jildebah, was took in. The gent threw back
his 'ead, and as Billy having missed 'is stroke, was drawed a bit
forrard, he lets him have it--one, two, right atween the eyes. Mr.
Super Rougham tumbles off his 'orse, with 'is face altered
considerably for the wuss, and makes for the bobby. That's all I know
about it.'

The Bench having heard this with other evidence, cross-examination,
re--examination, and all the usual inventions for filling up the time
of the Court, held as follows:--

That Mr. Delafield was probably feeding his sheep on the Jildebah
pre--emptive right in ignorance of boundaries; that the assault
complained of appeared, though technically illegal, to have been in
self-defence; and that Mr. Rougham had been proved to have acted
violently and abusively. Under all the circumstances, they would
dismiss the case with two guineas costs--of Court. Mr. Delafield went
home with Hobbie and stayed a couple of days at Wandaroona. He was not
obliged to be always with his sheep, having a deputy upon whom he
could depend for counting, and the like. He was an entertaining man of
the world, once a thriving squatter, now a salaried superintendent. He
did not appear to repine greatly at his altered fate. 'After all,' he
said, 'health and spirits are the great facts of existence. I am
pretty hard worked, but I enjoy my pipe, my meals, a book, the society
of gentlemen, and sleep like a top. I don't know that I was happier
when I was rich.'

'Awfully depressing work, I should say,' said Gilbert, 'travelling
with weak sheep in weather like this.'

'You may say that,' assented their guest sincerely, 'even the men
feel it, though of course their pay is all the same. What with no
feed, a scarcity of water, the terrible losses we have had since
starting, and the present uncertainty of rain, I feel pretty reckless.
I cannot help matters. I can only see the sheep die. I don't intend
even to count them till rain comes.'

'I daresay you're right,' said Hobbie. 'You can't stop them dying,
and you can have the melancholy satisfaction of knowing how many are
killed, wounded, and missing all at once.'

'Quite my idea. We are five thousand short now, and if it does not
rain for another two or three months (and I see no likelihood of the
drought breaking up) not a sheep will go back to the lower Bogan.'

'Had you any stages without water, before you got to the Oxley?'
asked Gilbert.

'We had two nights and a day; awfully hot weather, too. I shall never
forget it,' said Delafield. 'We had travelled all one night, it was
fairly cool, though dusty. The next day was hot, the sheep became
obstinate and we could hardly get them along. At night they seemed
utterly beat and exhausted. We had a miserable attempt at a meal, a
short smoke, and then orders were given to march. We dogged the
sullen, tired brutes along the dusty road the long night through. It
was breezeless and sultry, though comparatively cool after the
scorching day. All night we toiled on, however, knowing that if we
stopped another day, without reaching water, we should lose every
sheep.

'The men behaved well too. They kept going and said little, as is the
custom of Englishmen when there is danger or need. As the dawn broke--
I thought it would never come--and the clouds of dust rolled back from
the host of panting sheep, I saw a dark line on the horizon. It was
the "river timber" of the Oxley.'

'By the beard of the Prophet!' exclaimed Hobbie, 'that was a touch of
the Great Desert; and so the caravan was saved, and all of you
performed your ablutions with water instead of sand, and returned
thanks to Allah, like devout Mussulmans.'

'We shall all turn Mahometans, I believe, if we live here long
enough. Religion is partly a matter of climate.'

'How did you contrive to water them?'

'That was the difficulty. After a short rest, we went slowly on,
having hope before us in the actual course of the river, but for which
I think we should have lain down and died--dogs, horses, men, and
sheep. When we got a reasonable distance from the river, I ordered one
flock forward, intending to detach them, and water gradually for fear
of accidents But we were nearer the water than I had reckoned. As soon
as the happy first flock scented the water, they began to bleat and
run--the other flocks caught the infection. All commenced to run and
made one grand stampede in spite of our efforts, so in a wonderfully
short time, considering our late rate of progression, the whole
twenty-five thousand sheep, mad with thirst and excitement, hurled
themselves into the deep clear water, where many were drowned and as
many more smothered. They drew back by degrees into the polygonum flat
which at that point bordered the river. We had a comparatively happy
camp of it that night. They didn't need watching. But when morning and
the usual count came, there was a considerable deficit. However, that
disaster is mourned and buried, and we are nerving ourselves for the
next. Do you feel inclined to speculate?

'Would you sell them?' asked Gilbert. 'What's the price? though it's
a superfluous question, as no one can buy now, unless he cuts the
throats of his own sheep as a preliminary. However, let us hear, that
we may have the mournful pleasure of knowing what good sheep are worth
in a drought.'

'I had a telegram yesterday from Melbourne,' said their guest, slowly
and deliberately, as if enjoying the flavour of the jest, 'permitting
me to sell the whole lot for two shillings per head. Six months'
bill.'

'Death and all the furies! Hades and destruction!' shouted Hobbie;
'are we live and sane assessment-paying squatters? Well-bred, well-
framed merino ewes, with seven months' wool on, offered at two
shillings per head! and refused at that!'

'Isn't it awful?' chimed in Gilbert; 'we have thirty thousand sheep,
and at that rate they are worth just three thousand pounds--exactly
one-sixth of what we gave for store sheep four years ago--and glad to
get them.'

'Now is the time to buy,' said Delafield, 'if you want to back the
field against the season. I would if I had the cash or credit. I
always liked a long shot, or I should not be here. Deuced comfortable
place it is too! I know of two thousand fine full-fleeced weaners
being sold the other day for nine--pence a head!'

'Don't tell us any more,' entreated Hobbie; 'it's dreadful either
way. If no rain comes, we be all dead men--horse, foot, and dragoons.
If it does come--we shall be ready to cut our throats at having lost
such glorious chances of a rapid fortune. Let us smoke and turn in.
Life is becoming lurid and oppressive.'

Their pleasant guest had gone. Weeks had passed. Still the endless
succession of cloudless days and starry nights. Drier still and more
dismal was the face of all nature. As the autumn wore on and the
winter--in name--approached, the nights became longer, colder--the
enfeebled sheep more wan and shrunken. Other troops of ovine spectres
had passed in sad array, foreshadowing to the brothers the probable
fate of the whole stock of Wandaroona. The river was low; creeks,
water-holes, and dams were drying up; every day hands were sent forth
to pull sheep out which, hopelessly bemired, and too weak even to
struggle, stood or lay in rows around each watering-place. Yet again
another month--another month of monotonous work, of anxiety, of
increasing though as yet inconsiderable loss. The drought still
relaxed nothing of its cruel grip, in which the whole country from
Albury to Adelaide, from the Wimmera to Roma, was held. Tales of
terrible losses--of widespread ruin and desolation--came from every
side and filled the journals with lamentation and woe.

The wealthiest stock-holders commenced to speculate on the chances of
total loss. The banks, long-suffering and forbearing, less from any
uncommercial sentiment of mercy than from calculation and the dread of
precipitating a general insolvency, were hardly pressed. Rumours
floated in the air of coming financial revolutions, of depreciated
shares, and darksome days of reckoning.

All the portents of the day were storm signals, so to speak--
combining to foretell a financial earth-quake; the toppling down of a
grand structure of pastoral prosperity, reared by the energy and
intelligence of less than two generations of Britons. All the social
croakers in the land (the frogs being chiefly mute by reason of the
absence of water, and the conversion of all marshes and pools into
brick-dust wildernesses) set up their consolatory chorus--'Drought
coming to an end? Not the slightest chance of it; might last years
yet. The present race of colonists had never seen a drought. Sheep and
cattle poor? Nothing to '37 and '38. Every one would have to live upon
rice and gum leaves as they did in the great three years' drought in
the thirties. In their youth, the blacks had a tradition of a drought
which had lasted six years and had killed whole tribes of their own
people; when you could catch dingoes by the tail, they were so weak;
when the Murray and Murrumbidgee were simply chains of water-holes. As
for stock, they had always known that when they increased without
check or drawback they would become as valueless as in South America,
where cattle and horses are killed for their hides. But that didn't
matter much, as before next year there would not be a cow, a sheep, or
a horse alive. Why did they come to such a country, or stay in it
either?' it was demanded of them. 'Why? because they were fools--like
every one else in the infernal country, except the rogues, and they
were the only people in accord with the requirements of the place.' A
good deal of this cheerful and encouraging talk was indulged in about
this gloomy period. The larger minds decried these theories, but
backed up by unkind fate they had a harmony with nature that gave them
adventitious weight and power for evil.

It was on the sixteenth day of June 1867 that Gilbert and Hobbie
Elliot, with the faithful Countemout, sat in the verandah at
Wandaroona smoking as of old. It might have been a council of war, but
no one spoke. Gloom, if not despair, sat on every brow.

All looked worn, moody, hardly so resigned as reckless. The untasted
liquor stood before them as they smoked and gazed upon the soft-hued
sky on this 'night of all nights in the year,' having less than the
ordinary fatal splendour which had become of late so ominous.

'I feel as if I could lie down and die, like the sheep,' said
Gilbert wearily, at length. 'I see nothing but destruction, total ruin
indeed, before us if this weather lasts. Such an awful pity too, after
our successful fencing. I was out to-day looking at the wretched, low-
conditioned sheep. A large lot was coming in from "the back" to water,
just as an equally large lot was leaving it, and going back for
twenty-four hours' feed. In spite of my misery, I could not help
smiling to see how cleverly the two flocks managed matters.'

'What did they do?' asked Hobbie languidly--'box up together?'

'Not a bit of it; they met and parted, just as store and fat cattle
would separate from each other. The sheep, three or four thousand,
which had watered, marched soberly and solemnly outwards, without
turning to right or left, right through the advancing column. The
unwatered sheep held straight on towards the creek; finally the
outgoing flock extricated itself, and entered the timber, without the
admixture of a single sheep. And now, all our hopes and time, labour
and money are--'

'Not irretrievably gone to the bad, for all that is said and done,'
interrupted Hobbie. 'Don't throw up the sponge till the fight is over.
A good rally makes all the difference at the finish. Matters look
blue, of course, but we have had no losses yet, to speak of. We can
send away some as a forlorn hope, and it may rain yet!'

'The travelling dodge won't wash, anyhow,' struck in Mr. Countemout.
'The time is past for that, and they may as well die here, where we
can get their skins, as on the road. I was round the back wells to-
day, and the sheep are all as nearly as possible in exactly the same
state of strength, that is of weakness. They can walk and keep on
their legs, and that is about all. If we wait to travel them on that
stockyard of a road, they would drop in hundreds and thousands. If
rain does not come within a fortnight, they'll begin to die at the
rate of five hundred a day.'

'I'm afraid you're not far wrong,' agreed Hobbie. 'But if it doesn't
rain next week, I'm off to the mountains with twenty thousand sheep--
die or no die, I'll make a fight for it.'

'We can do our best, of course,' said Countemout. 'I'll go with you;
we'll leave Gilbert in charge of the house and the crawlers.'

'It's a pity now we didn't start in November with Bulmer. His sheep
are doing first-rate in the mountains.'

'One can't say what the country is coming to,' pursued Gilbert.
'Another six months of dry weather, which is quite possible, would
make all this Riverina country a perfect valley of dry bones. I see,
from the Pastoral Times, that Fossill's herd at Lake Warringong has
had to shift. Fancy Warringong dry! next thing to the Bay of Biscay--
and ten thousand head of cattle travelling for food and water!'

'It won't ruin Fossill if they all die,' remarks the superintendent.
'He has many another station, though I remember him when all the stock
he had were two kangaroo dogs.'

'Ha! ha!' shouted Hobbie, surprised into a laugh--and his cheery
natural outburst infected slightly the melancholy seniors. 'Fancy the
great squatter--The Honourable Abraham Fossill, M.L.C.--a slender
super, on his promotion! Always economical through, and saving up his
money to buy a few cattle. What an inconvenient memory you have,
Countemout. Come, Gilbert, laugh like a good fellow, and put your
trust in Providence. I don't say that in jest. As I live, the clouds
are gathering, and that was a drop of rain.'

'A Riverina sham,' said Gilbert bitterly. 'How many scores of times
has the sky clouded over lately and set fair again! I am half sick of
shadows, like the Lady of Shalott. Hope deferred, you know.'

'Four drops upon five acres,' chimed in Countemout. 'That's about the
regulation quantity up here. Hand over the brandy, Hobbie, if you
please. I feel as if a glass of grog would do us all good to-night.'



Chapter XI



'"LET us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die"--is that your
philosophy?' said Gilbert. 'Eating is necessary and drinking is
pleasant, but to-morrow is the inevitable cross-examiner, and what a
bad quarter of an hour the witness has of it, if he has exceeded the
modest tumbler the night before. If ever I take to poverty as an
habitual practice I shall drink nothing but tea and smoke mild
tobacco. With a sound digestion, regret may be borne and adversity
faced, but alcoholism dips the sting of remorse in poison. Then the
knight must fare forth. "Out over the wall, out into the night, three
hundred feet of fall."'

'I'll trouble you for the "battle-axe,"' inconsequently returned
Hobbie. 'I agree in the main with your reasoning, but this is a night
of electrical disturbance, as if strange events were imminent.'

'"Too much of anything is not good," said the Indian, "but too much
fire-water is just enough." What heads fellows must have though who
overbrandy themselves! What awakenings and fearful looking for
judgment; I don't wonder that they suicide now and then.'

'It's all luck,' quoth Countemout, 'or Circumstance. I knew a station
of which all the owners--and there were four, that followed one
another--drank themselves to death. There was a mineral spring on it,
and the temptation to mix brandy therewith was irresistible.'

'What an ill-omened spot--as gloomy a legend as you could hear about
a ruined castle, with melancholy sighing trees and weed-grown avenue,
in the old country!' remarked Gilbert. 'A place where the heir always
went mad or died young, and which the irreverent Croesus gazed at
wistfully, but dared not buy.'

'Your probable losses are beginning to bring on softening of the
brain, Gilbert, or are you and Countemout going in for literary
enterprise when the sheep are all dead? Why, there never was even a
ghost in this dried-up, miserable, new country of ours.'

'No ghosts, did you say?' asked Countemout in a strangely altered
tone, as he gazed out into the distance with fixed and staring eyes.
'Did you never hear of the "Grey Woman"?'

'You don't mean to say, old fellow, that you've seen her,' said
Hobbie, 'and that the story is all true? Excuse me for laughing. I
didn't remark how serious you were at first. Is it a true tale?'

'It may not be true that we are sitting here in the flesh; it may not
be true that the season is dry, that the flocks are starving,' said
the overseer, with all trace of jesting banished from his face. 'But
if these be facts, it is no less one that I saw the Appearance of that
foully murdered woman, long after she had gone to her doom.'

'Let us have it then, by all means,' said Gilbert, who had noted
their companion's changed manner. 'Countemout, help yourself and pass
the brandy. I feel rather in need of a sensation. Now, go ahead, old
man, we can't be more miserable than we are.'

'What I am about to tell,' commenced the bushman, 'came to pass many
a year ago. Things were different then--men lived a wilder life; there
were not a police station and half-a-dozen magistrates round every bit
of a township like Jildebah. The stations were far apart. The masters
mostly lived away from them. Money was scarce, stock cheap, and good
men who knew their work and could do it were hard to get. They had
more of their own way than in these days; and what they had been, or
what their moral tone was like, were matters little heeded as long as
the brandings and musters went on all right.

'I was a youngster when I went to live as a kind of offside manager
at one of old Captain Grimwood's cattle-runs. It had been a bad place
for blacks. Stock-riders had been speared; bloody reprisals had taken
place there. This happened before my time; I heard tales though from
the stock--riders that were enough to make one's hair stand on end.

'There was one distant out-station at which lived a man, commonly
called "Black Ned"--a saturnine, silent sort of fellow whom I
instinctively shrank from. A splendid stock-rider, he was held in some
kind of estimation by the overseer, old Driver, and other wicked
veterans of the place, for having defended his hut from an attack made
by blacks. He shot many before they raised the siege, and an unknown
number afterwards, by which ruthless deed he had acquired honour and
renown of the old bush pattern.

'He was a good-looking ruffian in his way. He had just the gaudy,
scene--painted kind of outward appearance that attracts foolish women.
Good Lord! they are foolish! For the rest, he was tall and muscular,
with coal--black hair and beard. His eyes were remarkable enough--when
he was crossed and dared to show his temper.

'He and I were never friends; I had heard of a brutal act of his long
ago--nailing a wretched black by the hands to the stockyard--and I
could not conceal my abhorrence. He hated me and I knew it; he was not
so young as he looked at first sight, and in his cups--for, of course,
he drank hard at times; what bushman in those days did not?--he let
slip hints of more important villanies.

'This respected person was despatched by his master (I don't mean the
Devil, but old Captain Grimwood) on an overland journey with a heavy
drove of store cattle to one of the coast towns. He remained away
three or four months; he was successful as usual (let us give the
Devil his due), and the cattle sold well. His return produced a kind
of revolutionary excitement in the population of the station and of
the neighbourhood. An event had occurred which no one, in the wildest
stage of delirium tremens, had figured among the fancies of a fevered
brain--Black Ned had brought back a wife!

'A curiously large proportion of the strayed stock of the surrounding
runs, as well as our own, from that time must have concluded that
Ned's out-station was the land of Goshen, or in the direct line
thereto. Horses were picked up just close by. Cattle, it was thought,
"might have made out that way." Even lost flocks of sheep were last
seen heading in that direction.

'It might have been the flat in front of the hut; it might have been
the cool depths of the Wild Horse Waterhole, the deepest pool in all
the creek, which attracted the stock. But, in consequence of these or
other reasons, it became necessary for every stock-rider to call at
Black Ned's hut, which involved necessarily a sight of Black Ned's
wife.

'"What was she like?" How many score times was that question asked--
women were scarcer in those days in the bush--and generally answered
in this wise: "Well, not so much to look at--slim and rather pale,
with yellowish hair, but very genteel-like; didn't talk much--perhaps
might be afraid of Ned ('And well she may be,' added one of the
audience). Flash Jack, who went with the cattle, told Bill Davis she
was a lady, or leastways a governess; but could not vouch for the
latter fact, not having seen any since he was a boy."

'The nine days' wonder ceased. The stock-riders' wives and other
humble women who went to see the wonderful stranger, spoke of her as
wearing a subdued air, talking pleasantly, but without interest, to
her simple visitors.

'Ned seemed kind enough, quite a different man; they pitied the poor
thing shut up there, with never a soul to speak to, and she not used
to the bush, any one could see with half an eye; always wore a gray
dress too--pretty made up, but always the one colour. "Well, sooner
her than me." This was always the wind-up; every one felt, who had
known her ill--omened mate, that hers was a fate that the meanest
among them would have shrunk from.

'I never went there myself, hating the brute as I did, and thinking I
should see his wife time enough. I was worked off my legs also, and
had not that abounding leisure which leads to curiosity about other
men's wives. But one day I had been out since sunrise, and on my
return fell in with some strayed stock which took me near the Wild
Horse Waterhole. I was watering mine there, and standing by him when I
saw a woman walking down from the hut with a bucket in her hand. I
noticed the gray dress--the yellow hair--the slight figure. It was
Ned's wife, of course. She did not see me till she came close to the
water, when, my horse making a movement, she stopped and raised a pair
of dreamy blue eyes wonderingly to my face. It was a clear spring
morning. The air was clear, the sun-rays, scarce above the darkening
range, touched with faint fire her hair, her form, her parted lips,
her delicate features--I can see her now. What a vision of loveliness
she seemed to me then. I was a youngster, no wonder my head was
turned. More than all, I had seen her before.

'A wonder of wonders, but it was true. How the old Devonshire village
came back to me for a moment, all fresh and life-like, at the glamour
of a woman's face. The bright green meadow, the rippling brook, the
old hall, the russet-coloured farm-houses, the mill-stream near which
I had spent so many a holiday, and the miller's daughter--I saw the
whole scene as clearly as that creeper on the verandah for one moment;
then came back the strange new-world landscape--the far ranges, the
wild forest, the sullen pond, and the miller's daughter--here, here! I
rushed up to her, seized her hand in both of mine, and sobbed like a
child. "Jane Maythorn! is it indeed you, all the way from Enderby and
the old mill; or are my thoughts about home driving me mad, and is
this the beginning of it?"

'Her look of settled sadness passed away, and for a moment I saw a
faint reflection of the merry look I knew so well flit over the pale
face. It had faded when she said, "What, Elmtree Jack of the Barton?
Who ever expected to see you in this wretched, wretched-country?
But"--drawing herself away with a frightened expression--"you mustn't
be sentimental at the sight of an old friend; you used not to be so.
Bring your horse up to the hut, and surely we may have a talk about
the dear old times." She turned away as she spoke, and as I went for
Walk-over, who was feeding stock--horse fashion with the reins under
his feet, I saw that her whole frame was shaken; that tears were
trickling fast through her slender fingers which she pressed
passionately to her brow.

'She told me her story--not uncommon, perhaps, but sad enough. The
old miller had lost money, then lost heart, fallen ill, and died. Her
friends were not too kind to a penniless girl. She was persuaded to
emigrate, had fallen in with Ned at the Port, where, well dressed and
flush of money, he had passed himself off as an up-country squatter.
Confused and desponding, in a strange land, she had consented to a
hasty marriage, and had realised doubtless--though this she would not
own--the hopeless misery of her present position as the wife of one of
the most ruthless scoundrels that ever disgraced humanity. I comforted
her as well as I was able. I told her she might trust me in any need
as a brother; that I would for her sake make friends with Ned as far
as was possible. She thanked me with a sad smile, and as she held out
her hand at parting, a look of such unutterable despair was in her
mournful eyes, that I could not repress a groan as I mounted old
Walkover, and striking spurs into his sides, left the lonely hut far
behind.

'"Pretty Jane Maythorn, merry Jane," thought I, "has it come to this?
Half playmate, half sweetheart, in the girl-and-boy days, when I lived
with my uncle, old Mark Countemout, at the Barton, and he used to joke
me about fishing so near the mill. 'Eh, lad! fond of fishing--must be
some good trout there! Young blood--young blood--ha, ha!' She was a
shy lass of sixteen or so, when we sat under the old spreading alders,
and played in the long happy summer days at fishing. Didn't I climb
the old elm-tree because she was looking on, and breaking my arm by
the fall from a rotten upper branch, gained my village sobriquet,
which never afterwards left me? And now she is here--living at the
Wild Horse Waterhole! How inscrutable are the ways of Providence!
Emigration, which has led tens of thousands of poor souls into
unaccustomed liberty or sudden wealth in Australia, has brought her to
a veritable house of bondage--to a living death."

'By Jove, it's raining steadily!--I'm making an awful long yarn of
it.'

'Never mind the rain,' said Hobbie; 'if you allude to it, it will
stop at once--I wonder you don't know that. Go on, old man.'

'Fill your glass and go on,' said Gilbert. 'Too much is turning upon
this night's rain for us to think of sleep. There's ruin or reprieve
in the clouds this night before morning dawns; so tell us your tale of
the life ruin that looks so imminent. Time enough for sleep
afterwards.' He lighted his freshly filled meerschaum, and lay back in
his armchair with watchful eyes. The overseer drained a full glass,
which gave no glow to the bronzed features; and to the faint rhythmic
measure of the ceaseless rain-drips, the strong man told all-tenderly
of his unburied dead.

'I kept my promise to poor Jane. I smoothed the bloodhound her mate,
and patched up a sort of half-and-half friendship. I arranged
opportunities for the decenter women on the station and in the
neighbourhood of the place to afford her a little social intercourse.
I carefully avoided any appearance of special interest which might
rouse his supicious nature. My efforts were aided by those around me,
and a slight increase of apparent cheerfulness on Jane's pale face
showed, in the rare intervals when we met, that I had done good. But
no one hoped for much. All knew him too well. Jane was looked upon as
a doomed creature, and no one who had ever known or heard of Black Ned
thought of hers as anything but a tragic ending.

'I was compelled to visit a distant station in what was called "the
new country." On my return the station was full of a new story. Black
Ned had been drinking, had been jealous, and had cruelly beaten his
unfortunate wife. What else, indeed, it was said, could be expected?
It was the old thing over again. Hadn't he, etc. etc. etc.--if she
didn't get away she was a dead woman,--and so on.

'I felt inclined to kill the ruffian myself, but thought it prudent
to dissemble, lest I might lose all chance of assisting my ill-fated
playmate. So I said little, and determined to see her somehow.

'An opportunity soon offered. He was sent away to fetch horses from a
distant run. Starting from the home station in another direction, I
took a circuit, and once more found myself at the Wild Horse
Waterhole. Jane was sitting in an attitude which implied the stupor of
dejection, and hardly raised her head as I entered. She looked wildly
at me for a moment, and then, falling on her knees, cried out, "Oh,
Jack! dear Jack! take me away from this dreadful place. I shall go mad
if I stay--that is, if he" (and she shuddered) "does not kill me
first. What a wicked man he is! I am like a woman who has sold herself
to the fiend. I am most truly in hell--in hell! What have I done that
I should be so tortured?"

'I comforted her as much as I could. I told her that in some way I
would get her to the Port, and she might then go by sea to one of the
other colonies, or even to England, and that I would pay her passage-
money myself. "Oh, let me go home--home to the old village and die!"
she said, like one praying for life. "If I could only see the cottage,
and the meadow, and the mill-stream again, I could die like a child
asleep in its mother's arms. I could work, do anything, only to live
or die there--it matters not which now." She told me how she had been
frightened by his fearful looks and words during his dreadful debauch;
how some trifling act had excited his causeless jealousy; and how,
after a savage accusation, he had cruelly beaten her with his stock-
whip; that she had thought of drowning herself, and might yet, if no
help came of God or man.

'I could no longer resist her entreaties. It might be scarcely
justifiable to aid in her flight from her lawful custodian, but I was
young and rash, and could not stand by without striking in. I arranged
that she should leave the hut on a certain evening and meet a trusted
ally of mine, who would ride with her to the nearest point, many miles
distant, at which the mail-cart--no coaches then--could be met. When
she reached the Port arrangements would be made for her voyage. She
thanked me with her sad eyes, in speechless gratitude.

'I made my preparations carefully. I was not without dread of the
spies which exist in all communities, and Black Ned had his familiars.
I was confirmed in this by his suddenly drawing up to me as we were
mustering cattle one day. "Look here, young fellow!" he said. "You've
been seen at my place more than once while I've been away. I don't
want to say much now, but if ever I find you and her talking and
colloguing together I'll knock her brains out, and yours too, as sure
as my name's Ned Charlock. She won't be the first woman I've put away,
if you believe the yarns about here." Here the ruffian sneered, as if
I might choose whether I should credit him or otherwise.

'I was taken by surprise, and lost my temper wholly. "How dare you
talk about your wife in that way," I said, "you murdering scoundrel,
that the gallows ought to have had long ago! I know how you've ill-
treated her, and, by the Lord God! if I ever hear that you ill-use her
again, I'll flog you from here to the next Court-house, and back, if
they don't keep you there. Come off your horse and strike a man, you
cowardly, black-shooting, woman-beating dog!"

'He turned paler as I spoke, his eyes burned with a baleful glare,
and he made as though to rush at me, as several of the station hands
rode up. I was as strong as a bull then--always in training; and he,
though a known bruiser, was none the better, like me now, for twenty
years of hard life and hard--' Here the overseer drained his glass
with a half sigh.



Chapter XII



'THE men gathered round with the sincere interest that the
expectation of a fair fight always arouses in Englishmen or their
descendants. They were disappointed, however, for Black Ned put an
evident constraint on himself, merely saying, with a hellish curl of
his lip: "You mind your business, youngster, and I'll mind mine."

'"Now, then, you staring fools, are you going to let all the cattle
draw off the camp, and be hanged to you!" growled Driver, swearing at
the men as they dispersed. Then he muttered, "I never saw Ned turn
tail before, and if murder don't come of it, I'm a myall blackfellow."

'I was full of self-reproach for letting my temper out, all the more
that I knew Ned would visit his discomfiture before the station hands
upon the head of his unhappy wife. I heard in a general way that his
conduct to her was systematically brutal, almost unbearably so. But I
trusted that she would be able to avail herself of my plan for her
escape. As the time wore on I received one day a few hurried lines by
a hawker: "Do not fear as to keeping the appointment on Saturday
evening. I will do so if I am alive.--J."

'The day arrived. I made the excuse of seeing some back-country
cattle, and rode at evening to where the man I had sent with the horse
for Jane was to wait for the mail. She never came. The driver waited
good--naturedly as long as he dared, but no one came. Heart-sick and
foreboding I retraced my steps, and, bold in despair, rode through the
night till I came to the Wild Horse Waterhole. I looked; I rubbed my
eyes. Did my senses deceive me? No hut was there. A mass of charred
timber, a heap of smouldering ashes, showed where the building had
been. I learned when I returned to the home station that Black Ned had
ridden hard in the direction of the hut just before dark. A search was
made in all directions next day. Black Ned said his wife had
disappeared--run away to her friends, he supposed--and set the hut a-
fire before she went. But from that hour to this she has never been
seen or heard of alive.'

'I suppose he had found out your friendly conspiracy and
misconstrued it,' said Hobbie.

'God only knows!' answered the overseer; 'I knew the hawker was a
rogue, and may have shown the letter he gave me. My heart to her was
as pure as a brother's. I should have as soon thought of murdering a
babe as wronging the helpless creature that was cast upon my charity
in her sore need.'

'And was nothing ever heard or discovered to clear up the mystery?'
asked Gilbert.

'Nothing that amounted to much. I scoured the country in all
directions, put the blacks on the tracks; did everything; nothing was
discovered. One man, a traveller, who was camped near the spot on that
evening heard shrieks and cries, as of a woman being beaten, but did
not go up to the place. He was not a strong man, and he thought Black
Ned, if he was interfered with, capable of knocking him on the head,
or cutting his throat (as it was said he did--'s). This was all. It
might have been her, abused, beaten, murdered--who can tell? There was
no further evidence; all was mystery and gloom. The earth had
swallowed them up as far as I was concerned. Jane was never seen more
on this earth. But something tells me that her murderer lives; and if
I ever hear of his being sentenced to death for any other crime, I
will ride a thousand miles to see him hanged. How the rain comes down!
doesn't it?' he continued, lighting his pipe.

'It does seem heavier,' said Gilbert; 'but I am not an impartial
witness. The clouds are lower, and the air feels strangely sultry. It
may rain to some purpose yet. Good Lord! if it only kept on for
twenty-four hours, the country would be saved.'

'Two o'clock in the morning!' said Hobbie; 'not that I feel the least
sleepy, Countemout, but I think you said something about--Did you ever
think you saw the poor girl's apparition?'

'Think?' said the overseer,--' think? I saw her, as I hope for mercy
hereafter. It was this way. I left the place, hating all belonging to
it, and led a reckless overlanding life, earning money fast, and
spending it after the same fashion. Years afterwards I happened to be
travelling with sheep over the same country, and by a succession of
accidents was compelled to pass near the Wild Horse Waterhole. I had
been back on our trail, and came on at night-fall to find that Jim
Hayward, an active young native, my second in command, had camped the
sheep at the accursed spot. He seemed surprised at my displeasure, but
held his tongue.

'The night was cloudy, with a faint struggling moon. The hut had
never been rebuilt, and we were not far from its still visible ruin.
The sheep were troublesome for the early part of the night, and gave
us both enough to do. Towards morning we lay down beside our fire,
wrapped in blankets, and fell asleep. It may have been an hour before
dawn, when my companion roused me hurriedly. "Listen!" he said. "Did
you hear that? Good God! what can it be?" I sat up, then started to my
feet, as a cry, a succession of cries, came distinctly from the spot
where the hut had been. Agony and mortal fear were in the wailing
sounds which, at times low and sobbing, rose to the wildest shrieks.

'"By--! some brute is beating a woman," said Jim; "where on earth
could they have been, and we not seen them before dark? Oh, Lord!
look--look!"

'I had been spellbound, for even in the strange unnatural sounds,
impossible to account for, at the time and place, I had recognised my
old companion's voice. As Jim Hayward spoke, his bold tones changing
to a hollow whisper, I looked and saw--yes, I saw a shape passing
quickly from the mound, where the hut had been, down the path to the
waterhole where I had first seen Jane. My heart stood still; like one
in a dream I saw and was speechless. Jim buried his head in his
blanket, and then looking out, said, "It's a woman in a gray dress.
Lord deliver us! She's no living creature. Here, Smoker! Hector!"

'These were two kangaroo dogs, favourites of my companion. Like many
of their kind they were fierce and bold, not particular about the
quarry upon which they were loosed. "They come of old Hughes's breed,"
Jim used to say; "and the story goes, they killed and ate a traveller
one day at Warragundra. There's no doubt about their eating him; as to
killing him, of course, that was not so easy to know about; but man or
beast, dog or devil, I'll warrant they go at the throat and hang on
like bulldogs--they have a strain of that in 'em." So, a wild fancy,
half involuntary, took him to watch them as they approached the
figure, which was hurrying down the steep bank before us. The dogs
went a pace or two, and, howling, came back to us for protection.

'"It's no living thing," said Jim, "or those dogs would never behave
like that!" and he wrapped his head in the blankets and refused to
look more.

'I looked steadily at the shadowy figure that, with a hurried, yet
floating motion, descended the water path. The height, the air, the
gliding step, all were alike. Whom did it resemble but her? As she
reached the turn in the rocky hillside where I had first beheld her,
the moon cleft a path through the sullen cloud-masses, and her light
fell for one instant upon the Appearance. I saw the yellow hair, the
pale face, the horror-stricken eyes of my old playmate--my old love, I
may as well say so. I fancied she looked towards me with a reproachful
look. I uttered a cry. The shape passed swiftly on down the path to
the sullen pond. "The moonbeam strook and deepest night fell down upon
the heath," as Sir Walter Scott says, and Jim and I were left gazing
upon the sights and listening to the sounds of an Australian forest.

'"There's been murder done here!" said Jim. "May her poor soul rest
in peace!" I answered.'

'Amen to that!' said both the Elliots solemnly, as they rose with one
impulse and shook Countemout's brown sinewy hand.

'Thank you, thank you both,' said he. 'I've opened my heart to-night
as I haven't done for many a year. And now I'll have an hour's sleep,
and get away to the back at daylight. Cannibal's in the stable and
pretty fit. Good--night.'

He strode off. At daylight Gilbert looked through his open bedroom
window, and saw the overseer lead the great raking roan out of the
stable, light his pipe, and ride away through the pouring monotonous
rain. He saw the roan send up the mud in a shower with the first dash
of his powerful hindquarters, and watched until horse and rider
disappeared across the river flat.

'Thank God for the rain, anyhow!' he said, as he turned over on his
pillow, and prepared for additional slumber. 'If this lasts the
twenty-four hours through, the drought is over!'

The drought was over. Within that week fell more rain than had fallen
during the whole previous year. That quantity was little more than six
inches. Though not sufficient for a year, it was pretty well for a
week, and Riverina, with Lower Warroo, Outer-back Jandra, and all the
wilds of the inmost deserts, was moistened to a degree which suited
its thirsty nature 'all to pieces,' as the men said. The herbage grew
as in a greenhouse. The sheep at once were sent 'back,' water being
abundant, and quitted the bare frontages. The mild climate prevented
the stock from suffering from the rain, as might have chanced in a
colder territory. In little more than a week Mr. Countemout reported
the whole of the sheep as 'kicking up their heels,' and from that hour
they improved uninterruptedly. Seasonable rains followed. The long
agony of the drought was over, the battle was won.

Mr. Delafield's sheep came back in six weeks, half fat, and with
patches of wool off, by reason of their sudden increase of flesh. Jack
Bulmer's thirty thousand came down like the hosts of proud
Sennacherib. Peace and plenty reigned in the land, so lately abandoned
to famine and despair.

The next season was equally as good. Stock, wool, all squatting
property, rose in value, until the old prices--long derided by the
croakers--were reached.

The Messrs. Elliot Brothers in a few years sold Wandaroona with
sixty--three thousand sheep, having bought and fenced more country.
They then departed to the land of their forefathers, and the last news
was, that Hobbie had killed, in the river that runs by the ancestral
home of the great Border family of the Elliots, more salmon to his won
rod than any man had been known to do for two seasons.



THE GOVERNESS OF THE POETS



Chapter I



I WAS young--that is, twenty-three--healthy, active, well-bred, and
well-taught--if it comes to that. I had been carefully educated.
Almost too well, in a partial great-aunt's opinion--there hardly being
a sphere in the colonies (as she remarked) for a girl of so high an
order of culture. I thought her singularly wrong, but did not say so.
I plume myself on my tact--a nicely balanced faculty which I try not
to let degenerate into dissimulation. There are so many disagreeable
things you need not say, or indeed do. But, on reflection, I partly
agreed with her. I was, apparently, of the nature of a superfluity.
Nobody wanted me, it would seem, for I was not sought in marriage with
any amount of eagerness. I was not bad--looking either, though equally
far--perhaps a little farther--from being a beauty. I had a well-set-
up, well-developed figure. I could ride well, and walk too, if
necessary. And I always found it necessary in cold weather, or indeed
in any weather, when there was not much to do. It helps the general
tone, and improves--yes--the temper, mightily. People with thick
boots, and the sense to wear them, generally have even tempers. If
they get into a pet, as the best of people do sometimes, there is no
such complete way of getting rid of the uncomfortable, unchristian
mood as by walking it off. No matter how hot, how cold, how wet, how
windy, go out and half-tire yourself before you turn homeward. You can
change your chaussure, you can hang up your waterproof; then you will
find yourself in a calm, tolerant, forgiving mood, unknown to people
who stick in the house.

From this slight digression it might be inferred that I am fond of
exertion. So I am. I like real downright hard work, or exercise of any
kind. But I dislike worry, or that kind of half-and-half maddening,
unending struggle which some people contrive to spread more or less
thickly over their whole lives. Muddle is neither one thing nor the
other; it degrades the woman and infuriates the man. I like work, as I
said before. I also like repose. I appreciate to the depths of my
being the luxurious feeling of the day's work, or the week's work,
being put away and done with until a specified and regulated time. I
like to be free to read or think, write letters, or do ridiculous
fancy work. I can't quite justify that, but I suppose it's an
inherited tendency from the days when we used to weave shells and
feathers into chaplets, aprons, and such like primitive precursors of
millinery. Yes! I like to be free to follow my bent, or do nothing at
all, when the day's work is over. If there's anything I detest, it's
being asked to do something useful out of working hours. At the same
time, let me not be misunderstood; I must have work, hardish work,
bordering on self--sacrifice, amounting to mortification of the flesh.
Sheer idleness I simply abhor. Now, all my life I have found a
difficulty in choosing the kind of work that was most morally
healthful to me. To do without work altogether, I can honestly say,
never occurred to me in this twenty-three--year-old life of mine.

Most people are obliged to work. I always think it settles the
question so nicely for them--saves a world of indecision and trouble,
which last is another word for distilled misery. I, unluckily, am not
in any way obliged to work, otherwise than by this restless nature of
mine, backed up by a ruthless conscience which seldom lets me alone
for long. I wonder if everybody is driven about in the same fashion?

Ever since I can remember it has been my lot. I find myself
appealing, too, against what are called the 'dictates of conscience,'
which makes matters worse.

If I had been an advanced ritualist, all this would have been
practically settled for me. I should have been told, more or less
paternally, 'Dear child, you are to do this, or abstain from that, to
believe this, to condemn that'; and, after a certain number of acts
and deeds, recitals and repetitions, said more or less sleepily or
hysterically, I should have been absolved and set finally right. But
by whom? By my fellow-man, who tells me that he has power to loose and
to bind, to save and to condemn--to wield, in fact, all the dread
powers inextricably mingled with our mysterious human existence.

No! thrice no! I have been gifted, happily for me or otherwise, with
an intellect. That intellect has been, perhaps imprudently, cultivated
from childhood. I have inherited a tendency to weigh evidence, with
the obligation to abide by logical proof, though I am a woman. So I
distrust mere assertion, and am prone to deny conclusions which do not
proceed from the grounds stated.

If I am to hand myself over hand and foot to a belief, it must
possess the sanction of my own freely exercised judgment, and not the
mere sounding threat of 'authority.'

We--that is, our family is--no, that won't do; the Middletons are so
comfortably off, that there is but little inducement to 'work and
labour truly,' as says the dear old Catechism.

'Our own living' was got for us a generation or two back by a
grandfather, whom, unhappily, I only of all the brothers and sisters
appear to resemble. His unresting energy caused him to despise his own
land and home, brought him out to Australia, and drove him over land
and sea in search of the fortune which he captured, and we enjoy, or
at least possess.

There is now no need of making any more fortune, and indeed father
grumbles much at times at the labour cast upon him in merely keeping
what we have got. On that, or on a variety of small cares and trifling
tastes, the most serious of which is connected with the menu, he
occupies his life. Mother's responsibility is even greater, with
reference to the dinner; certainly more than half her waking thoughts
are connected with cooks and relate to dinners, which she has come to
hate, as less calculated to nourish than to rack and torment the human
frame. She, good, easy soul, would like to spend all her days in
reading, sleeping, and the established family tasks. A six-o'clock
tea, with her share of the children's dinner, would be her ideal of
happiness here below. This she is not permitted to dream of, and
possibly never will enjoy. It is wicked, I know, but I think if
anything happened to father, she would make some excuse of economy,
and send away the professed cook at once. We should have a series of
picnic lunches and tea-dinners for a year to come.

I have three brothers and two sisters. The boys are in banks and
offices, or making believe to learn to be squatters. They require no
aid. My sisters are not imperfect variations of what dear mother must
have been at their age. Both pretty and soft-looking, easy-tempered,
and unambitious, not to say lazy, but in a graceful and lady-like way.
They are perfectly satisfied with their lives.

They think everything 'so nice,' and wonder that dear Portia should
worry herself so about things which really do not matter. What were
such questions to them? They had everything they wanted, and really it
seemed ungrateful to Providence to be dissatisfied.

They felt and acted according to their natures. I was impelled by
mine almost from my birth, for there were nursery traditions of my
revolutionary tendencies. I ought to have been the eldest son; then I
should have had scope for the wildest vagaries, for any at least that
tended towards money--making.

But with girls, once threaten departure from the beaten way, and you
are driven back by the word and the idea, 'improper, unfeminine,'
thrown at you like a stone at a dog that enters a forbidden avenue. It
does seem hard that, with the utmost cleanliness of purpose, a woman
should be always liable to have her robe smudged or calumny-spotted
directly her feet move out of the beaten path--the dusty, prosaic
highway of society.

However, in spite of disapproval and the deadweight of family
remonstrance, I held to my determination to seek out some sort of work
under the sun whereby I might do good to others, or even to myself. I
must say I thought myself and my own character perfectly legitimate
objects of sympathy. I wanted experience--knowledge of the good and
evil of life,--much the same, I suppose, as men often wish for, and of
course contrive to procure--so unfair is the measure of criticism
meted out to either sex. I had no family duties to neglect; that was
one good thing. My mother's health was excellent. My father had no
hour of the day unoccupied in his solemn round of trivialities. My
sisters supplied the exact kind of sympathy, assistance, and
conversation that was needed. Our household possessed the unvarying
comfort, not to say luxury, of a club. There was nothing to desire,
nothing to complain of, nothing to wish changed, nothing, in my mind,
to fill the heart, to satisfy the soul.

Ere my teens were passed I had resolved to find work, and to grind
down my unrest upon it, if such could be.

I tried the poor, whom we are told we shall have always with us.
There were years in Melbourne when the poor, in any true sense of the
word, were wondrous hard to find. The sick, being continuous and
plentiful, were more satisfactory subjects.

I generally found that the poverty, if admitted, which was rarely the
case, was of a temporary and ephemeral nature, mostly brought on by
the dissipation of the head of the family, who was, at that moment
perhaps, concluding a bout of revelry which had cost as much as his
bread and meat bill for a quarter.

Then came a week or two of repentance and starvation, the culprit
performing the repentance, and his wife and children the starvation,
after which he resumed highly paid labour, and his family was floated
out into wasteful plenty and forgetfulness of benefits.

I commenced finally to perceive that I was acting as a kind of
Inebriate Assurance Company, my benefactions merely enabling my infirm
clients to afford another bout or more yearly, inasmuch as they could
rely on my support of the family when in extremis.

As for the sick, I tended them in their homes, truly and loyally,
through many a hot summer day and sleety winter eve. Then I brought
home an infectious fever, which imperilled not only my own life but
those of others, upon which my father aroused himself and, using his
tardily-executed authority, forbade visitations. 'There are asylums
and institutions to which I subscribe,' he said, 'as did my father
before me. They take in, not only everybody who is sick, but everybody
who is worn out or troubled with unconquerable dislike to labour.
Every kind of comfort, medical and otherwise, is lavished on them.
Hospital nurses, often young ladies who, like you, are tired of their
lives and disdainful of their families, wait upon them to their
heart's content. I am not going to have my house turned into a fever
ward, and I think I have reason for what I say.'

I didn't think it was in him. I went over and kissed father with more
tenderness than I remember feeling for years.

We people who talk a good deal and demonstrate our feelings freely
forget, perhaps, that other people think and feel not less intensely.

'You are quite right, father,' said I. 'I submit, and beg pardon for
anything in my conduct that may have appeared unkind. It really was
not in my heart; now, could it have been, my dear old daddy?'

'I'm sure it wasn't, my darling; but, dear me, why any daughter of
mine should have so much superfluous energy I can't think. What's the
use of it, except to drive themselves and other people distracted.
Can't you keep still and enjoy all your home comforts? You are fond of
reading--order a box of new books from Mullen's once a week if you
like. I'll buy you a pair of ponies and a phaeton, a new hackney;
anything in the wide world, if you'll only keep still and let other
people rest in peace and quietness.'

'If I'll only sit on a stool all day and be a good child, you mean,
father?'

'And that you never could do in your life, I'll answer for it,' said
mother, arousing herself and shutting up her novel; 'though really why
you shouldn't have taken after me, or your dear father, I can't think.
Still, my dear, there are plenty of things to do, which a young lady
might, with perfect correctness, devote herself to.'

'I don't seem to find them,' I answer wearily. 'I have tried many
things, and they don't satisfy me or you either. I suppose you
wouldn't like me to become a lay sister like Martha Fletcher?'

'These sisterhoods do a great deal of good,' my mother said
reflectively, as if the question had but that moment suggested itself,
'but I cannot say that I approve of young girls separating themselves
completely from their natural counsellors, their parents and
relatives; any work of charity can be equally well performed with the
sanction of their best earthly friends.'

'But I seem to have no place or use in life,' I said. 'I am sick to
death of the daily routine, and feel at times like the French stage-
driver, who blew out his brains because he saw himself driving along
the same road every day for years to come. Oh, if I could only do some
real good!' Here--it was unphilosophical, I confess, but--I began to
cry.

Mother got up, drew me over to her, and put her arms round me, and
took me tenderly to her comforting bosom.

'You are only out of sorts, my child,' she said. 'I do not think you
ever got over that nasty fever; you want a change, don't you think so,
dear father? She takes after you a little, you know, and can't bear
too much sameness' (I trust that pious--white whatsyname--tarradiddle
will never endanger dear mother's future bliss). 'You must take a nice
trip somewhere--and--dear me! only think now' (this was mother's
strongest asseveration), 'this very day I had a letter from poor Jane
Quartzman, full of complaints and despair and rather hinting about
help.'

'What does she want?' I say cynically; 'hasn't she got a husband and
family, a home, and all the rest of it? She must have plenty of
occupation.'

'You seem to dwell upon occupation as an alderman does upon
appetite,' said my father, rather neatly for him. (I suspect father
occasionally of resembling the sailor's monkey, who won't talk lest he
should be made to work.) 'Do you suppose there are no people who have
not too much occupation and too little rest?'

'Can't imagine it,' I say. 'But what about Jane?'

'She has seven children,' he said, 'the eldest a girl of fifteen.
Quartzman lost his money in a justifiable but unlucky speculation.
They cannot afford a governess, so, as she says, the children are
growing up in ignorance. She herself has wretched health, and with all
the wish for exertion breaks down miserably every now and then.
Quartzman is a good fellow and clever, but bad luck and hard work have
left him worse off than he was twenty years ago; he has a store now
somewhere near Waronga.'

'Poor thing--poor thing!' mother says mechanically, looking round at
our extremely comfortable, not to say luxurious apartment,--papa's
easy--chair, with the week's papers beside it in a species of
portfolio, his reading--lamp and table arranged to the inch, and
graduated to his eyesight; mother's lovely general repository, out of
which she constructs the needlework web which represents her life; the
girls' ottomans, print--stands, china--shelves, fern-baskets--
everything perfect in taste and harmonious in grouping.

'Yes, very dreadful, isn't it?' says father, reaching for the
Australasian, and turning his lamp up with exactitude. 'I always
wonder why people will marry with insufficient means.'

'I often wonder why they marry at all,' I say, 'judging from the
limited measure of happiness it seems to secure; but that is hardly
the question, is it? There will always be the poor, the Bible says,
even if our relations did not impress that fact upon us. The problem
is, how to help them?'

'It's no use sending them money,' says father, with decision.
'Quartzman gets to the end of it somehow, and in six months is as
badly off as ever.'

'I didn't mean that,' I said. 'It's the worst kind of help I know,
though no other will do at times. What they want is some one to
organise the household, who isn't sick or nervous, like Cousin Jane,
or worried with bills and worn out with work, like her husband,--a
kind of benevolent free-lance. I really think I shall go and teach
their children for a year, and if that does not mortify the flesh to
some purpose, I am a Maori girl.'

My mother ran her needle into her finger, thus accentuating her next
remark. 'Portia, love, you are not going deranged!--are you sure, dear
child?'

Father dropped the newspaper and stared at me. The other girls jumped
up and said, 'Oh, Portia, you don't say so! Just like a regular
governess! And fancy--think what people will say!'

'My darling,' said mother, again; 'you cannot have considered what
you are saying; leaving your family and going among comparative
strangers; such a distance too!'

'And to think of going into the bush--the horrid, rough, far-away
bush!' said Jessie.

'I daresay they dine in the middle of the day and have a general
servant,' remarked Isabella.

Father had been kept so long waiting--indeed prevented from making
his remark, which from its rarity was always listened to with respect,
that he must have become nettled, for he said--

'I see nothing whatever to be astonished at. After all, Quartzman is
a gentleman, and his wife was as nice a creature as I ever saw in her
early days; so pretty too! He has had bad luck--some one must have
their share of that in this world. I think Portia's proposal rather
Quixotic, but it's no worse than strumming a piano all day, or turning
oneself into a sewing--machine, or playing at nuns and nunneries with
an Anglican curate for director. As for being a governess, not so many
people have the pluck, patience, and brains required for that sort of
fancy-work. I see nothing to be astonished at. Portia can go to
Waronga by rail in eight or nine hours. And the bush is by no means
bad in its way or the people either. So, there now!'

It was 'there now' indeed. Very rarely did father so far commit the
indiscretion of getting into a decent pet. Of course, like women, we
admired him all the more for it. I saw that my project was secure. It
was far too much trouble to father to make up his mind, for him to
think of changing it again. Mother and the girls looked awe-stricken.

I clinched the opportunity by saying, 'Mother dear, it will be a real
charity to help the poor, overworked, feeble soul, will it not? Then
the work and change will do me good. I was seriously thinking of going
for a nurse's place at the new infirmary. This will serve instead. I
shall do something more erratic if I stay at home. You had better give
me your blessing and let me go. A year soon passes.'

'But a year is so dreadfully long,' pleaded poor mother.

'Nonsense, my dear!' said father, who now began to take all the
credit to himself for the proposal: 'Portia is not bound to stay a
month if she doesn't wish. You can go up and see her and take one of
the girls any time. Why, I could go up myself if that was all!'

We all laughed at this. Father had gradually given up visiting any of
his properties that lay more than fifty miles away from Melbourne, and
had not slept a night away from home for years; but he evidently
thirsted to distinguish himself in that way again. Enterprise is
contagious. We were clearly to be partners in this wild adventure.

'To be sure you could, daddy! Why not go up with me?'

'Well--er--perhaps--we'll see.'

When father got to that stage, I could generally get anything I
wanted. So I made my preparations accordingly. I packed up a carefully
picked general assortment of utility wearables, including some
unapproachable walking--boots. I commanded mother to write to Cousin
Jane, telling her that I was coming up for a year for change of air;
that town life had undermined my health; that if she would give me
room and bread and butter, I would teach the children and help her
generally with her house and needle-work. But that it was a crotchet
of mine that I was to be styled and known as Miss Middleton the new
governess, and not as a relation. That unless she fully and solemnly
acceded to this, I would not come. 'Tell her I'm a little eccentric in
some things--mad, if you like, mother,' said I. 'That will account for
any girl choosing to be rated as governess rather than visitor. And
tell her to reply by telegram. I can't endure suspense just now.'

Next day came the message--'Come by all means--delighted. John meet
you Redgum.--JANE QUARTZMAN.'

So that was settled; nothing remained but to say good-bye. Nothing
more than that. To bid farewell to the kind hearts that had loved and
cherished me all my life; that had borne with my fancies and freaks;
had watched fondly over the growth and what they deemed the
improvement of body and mind; wept at my childish ailments and
agonised over serious illness; that had never consciously done me
wrong or injustice since the day of my birth! Where should I find
better friends than these? Yet I was going to make the attempt far
away, among comparative strangers! No wonder that I found it hard to
say good-bye, and nearly broke down ignominiously, to the amazement of
my sisters, who believed implicitly in Portia's adamantine firmness
and pitiless resolution.

'She must be ill, very ill, Jessie!' said Isabella, the youngest. 'I
saw the tears in her eyes. Do you think her mind is going? That is
what makes her so restless, perhaps?'

Partings are got over somehow. I respected my dear easy-going mother
more in that five minutes of love and grief than I had done for years
previously. 'Work as hard as you like, dear,' she said, 'consistently
with health, but, mind, I trust my girl to avoid anything
unconventional. A man may do what he likes' ('I have heard that
before,' I said through my tears, 'and don't believe it'), 'but a
woman is bound by every principle of honour and feeling of delicacy to
do nothing that may raise a question as to her character for
modesty,--I do not say may injure, but may cause gossip or sneering
comment. The bare supposition of indiscretion is of itself an evil
which a whole future life may be powerless to repair.'

'And a great shame it is,' sobbed I, 'that every woman should have a
millstone round her neck in the way of a ridiculously over-weighted
Theory of Propriety, that a slip from a stepping-stone in the
shallowest brook may drown her; while men float luxuriously over seas
of delightful mystery and danger. But you may trust my father's
daughter and yours, mother,' I said, throwing my arms round her neck,
'to do you no discredit in word and deed; though she may have ideas
that seem advanced, her conduct will be as prudent as Mrs. Hannah More
herself could desire. Till I return, of course, that is understood;
then I may choose to go in for a few well-earned imprudences.'



Chapter II



RAILWAY journeyings are supposed to be much alike. But when father
and I were fairly off, the smooth steady rush of the iron steed over
hill and dale, forest and plain, calmed my excited nerves and swelling
heart. Once in a way it is delicious to get clean away from your old
life--to make a fresh departure. You leave behind Tradition and
Routine, and are charmed to behold the faint but grand outlines of
Adventure and Romance. To me, change had always been another name for
enjoyment. Even my ordinarily placid parent was roused into a
congenial mood. He commenced to tell of half-forgotten feats and
successes of his youth, ere a fatal plenitude of the world's goods had
fixed the doom of indolence and unreadiness upon his after life. The
day passed pleasantly enough. The sun was gradually, wearily
westering, as if even he felt it tedious in the provinces, when the
train commenced to slow down and finally stopped at a terminus, the
whole aspect of which was so palpably characteristic that I
involuntarily murmured 'Sleepy Hollow!'

Everything was unmistakably countrified, from the men and women who
came confessedly to stare at arriving strangers, to the horses,
buggies, and other vehicles which awaited guests and travellers; I
could not help smiling at the sudden incongruity with the sternly
fashionable metropolis I had left but eight hours before.

'I hope Quartzman has come to meet us,' said my father. 'Likely
enough to mistake the day. Oh, here he is; how are you, old fellow?'

This unusually florid greeting, for father, was addressed to a
tallish, dark, spare man, who hastily advanced through the crowding
people, having on his face that look of concentrated welcome with
which a dweller in the wilderness greets a guest from the city. Why
metropolitan visitors should be considered especially valuable I can't
say. I don't know that their intrinsic worth is so stupendous. But
such is the case. Probably novelty of form and idea is the exciting
cause. When the guest is wealthy, the welcome is intensified; even the
best of men and women add fervour to the glance or handclasp with
which the pecuniarily fortunate individual is welcomed.

I looked narrowly at my cousin's husband, whom I had not seen since
childhood. The face was kindly and intelligent, though worn with
anxiety; the man a gentleman too, beyond doubt, in spite of old-
fashioned garments and a shabby hat. 'So this is Portia?' he said,
shaking me warmly by the hand. 'You are the best of girls for coming,
though what you can see in a household crowded with children, in an
out-of-the-way part of the world, I can't imagine.'

'A pleasant change of scene and occupation,' said I hastily. 'But we
shall find out all about each other before you get rid of me.'

'Well, we shan't starve you, and we have plenty of fresh air; I can
promise so much. But have you turned romantic, Godfrey? You haven't
been across the Campaspe for ages, have you now? Give me your
portmanteau, there stands the buggy.'

Packed into a faded elderly vehicle, which looked as if it should not
have claimed kinship with anything American, we departed along a dusty
track. The horses, however rough in coat and high in bone, were better
than they looked, for we rattled briskly over the four miles which
intervened between the terminus and the township of Waronga.

It was dusk when we drove down the main street of the bush township,
halting at a gate which led through a small garden to a plain
weatherboard cottage. The noise of the wheels brought out the mistress
of the house; she stood in the verandah with a baby in her arms, half
a dozen children crowded through the gate for close inspection of the
new arrivals.

'Harriet, this is Miss Middleton,' said Mr. Quartzman to a tall
untidy girl of sixteen in a print dress. 'Show her at once to her
room, she is tired after the journey. Charlie, take the horses and let
them go.' The boy drove off with the buggy, while we followed our host
inside, father wearing a half--distrustful expression, as if prepared
for whatever might happen. Wicked old parent! did I not know that
there was in his heart an unholy joy, in that he would be compelled to
leave on the next day, or, at farthest, the day following?

Cousin Jane apologised for not coming farther than the verandah, on
the score of dear baby's teething, which necessitated caution as to
taking cold. But that she was unaffectedly glad to see me was evident
from the childishly pleased tone of her voice. At the same time she
partly distrusted me as an inhabitant of cities, whose habitudes might
lead me to be contemptuous of provincial ways. From the babe in her
arms to the unformed girl who stood staring placidly, there seemed to
be a graduated scale of continuous childhood, all in a state of eager
curiosity. Their maternal parent was in complexion fair and an
erstwhile pretty woman. But long years of warfare with indifferent
servants or muddling with none at all, of contracted or rude lodging,
of anxiety about matters of money, with total denial of social
advantages, had written their record in enduring characters upon every
feature. It was not so much an expression of suffering as the ever--
present necessity to 'take heed for the morrow,' to obey some
household summons ringing in her ears, that gave a painful tone to the
facial expression. She was well millinered, but evidently for the
occasion. Her silk dress had seen service, but was still effective. An
extra ribbon or two, with a scrap of good lace, had completed her
preparation. Had the look of unrest been absent from her face, she
would still have been fair to look upon. But she was evidently
incapable of abstracting her mind from the catalogue of household
ills, one or another of which momentarily assailed her.

'Delighted to see you, Miss Middleton,' said she, with a meaning
look. 'I hardly thought we should be so fortunate as to get you after
all. You will have to put up with all kinds of things, and excuse our
bush ways, but we will do our best to make you comfortable and happy
too, though I feel one is as little in our power as the other in this
terrible out-of-the-way place.

'Ethel! do go into the kitchen and see if Mary is ready to send up
tea, and Susan--where's Susan, that she has not come to put you little
ones to bed? John, you might have taken Mr. Middleton to his room
before this; I am sure he must be awfully tired. There will be just
time for him to wash his hands before the bell rings, and when I'm to
get this baby out of my hands I really don't know. It seems to me that
I'm expected to do half my servants' work in every department.'

All this was said in a sweet-toned, monotonous, complaining voice.
Before I had done speculating as to whether, under any circumstances
of marriage, however disastrous, I should publish such an official
catalogue of my household exigencies, a rapid dispersion of the family
took place. The baby was captured, all unwilling, and carried off by a
servant. Father was judiciously provided by his host with a glass of
brandy-and-water, which acted in a strictly medicinal sense after the
toils of the day, enabling him to dress with comparative comfort. In
my room, which was very neat, there was a vase with lovely flowers on
the table, and when we came in to tea, that meal was served in an
appetising and generous fashion, which caused us both some little
surprise.

Ushered into a small but by no means uncomfortable dining-room, the
tea-dinner was certainly good of its kind. We did ample justice to it.
Travelling sharpens the appetite as well as the wits. The chickens
were tender and well cooked; the sweets were Jane's own composition; a
bottle of light wine, from a celebrated vineyard hard by, soothed and
satisfied father. The tea was excellent, which soothed me. The whole
thing being such a success, I began to ask myself why such people are
called unfortunate, and have to be pitied.

After the pangs were allayed, and the observing faculty got into
range again, I thought I descried a reason. We were assisting at an
effort. I could see in the anxious face of my hostess a score of
struggles, small and great, which the entertainment had cost her. I
tracked the cause of inward disquiet, from the first start she gave
when the parlour-maid appeared with a message and without the soup, to
the stony despair which commenced to settle on her face when the
second course hung fire a few minutes, and, for all she knew, might
never make its appearance at all.

Mr. Quartzman talked amusingly, producing literary and other
materials for conversation, which interested father and me. But ever
and again would come a look upon his face, as if his thoughts had
taken unbidden flight to a region of sordid cares, with bills and
promissory notes hovering vulture--like over the peace of home. I had
been only too closely enwrapt in security and repose. These people
scarcely knew what it was to have an hour free from care--from the
galling pressure of poverty.

Next day father made a shameless excuse and went away, so I was left
alone with my new friends and new duties. He and Mr. Quartzman had a
longish talk before Charlie drove him over to the station, and I could
not help fancying that some of the lines of that thoughtful
countenance were temporarily smoothed out.

Breakfast over, I proposed to have a serious talk with Mrs.
Quartzman, as I resolved to call her forthwith, lest our relationship
might leak out through the incautious use of Christian names. There is
nothing like having a clear, rigidly-defined understanding at first.
Why will not people accept this most obvious truth? What a world of
losses and crosses, failures and recriminations, it would save!

Dressed in a dark, close-fitting stuff, with the plainest of cuffs
and collars, I flatter myself that I looked like what I meant--work in
its most uncompromising aspect.

I had prepared myself for the important interview by rehearsing my
part. My cousin looked gratified when I entered her sitting-room (it
would have been a mockery to call it a drawing-room, though they had
the comfort, not invariable in Australian country dwellings of the
smaller sort, of a separate apartment for feeding purposes). She
raised herself from the sofa on which she was reclining, in company
with a large basket filled with stockings of all sizes, colours, and
degrees of continuity.

'Oh, my dear Portia! I am so glad to have the chance of a good talk
with you, now that John has gone out for the day. I never can get him
to enter into things with me, and there is so much for me to think
about, or else I don't know really what would become of the place and
the poor children. Isn't it a curious thing that men don't take an
interest in what ought to concern them quite as much as it does women?
Now we are always ready to talk about household matters day or night,
and why shouldn't they be? But no; though I don't say that John isn't
a good husband, and does all he can, poor fellow, for his family, yet
he's more interested in something that goes on at the other end of the
world, or in these bothering politics that always seem to me to be
exactly the same whoever is in or whoever is out. Indeed, when he
comes home at night he often seems tired and worn out, and yet gets
quite cross if I begin to tell him anything about the servants or the
children, or ask him how we are to manage for the next month's
butcher's and baker's bills. I always tell him that if he'd give his
mind to these little matters when he came home at night, instead of
reading useless books and smoking, it would make a wonderful
difference in the way we have to live.'

While my distressed relative was running on with these somewhat
disjointed remarks, I was prevented from stopping her and commencing
the clear-cut statement which I had prepared for her benefit.

My mind would revert to a passage in my very early life, when the
worn matron before me, with her faded apparel and mental attributes
similarly threadbare--it appeared to me--had been our guest for a
short time. Such a pretty, sweet young woman, bright with the
freshness and high spirits of early youth. I still retained a vivid
mental picture of her. How I stood with childish envy admiring her
dressed for a ball!--a vision of loveliness, with her fairy-like,
floating dress, her dazzling ornaments, her snowy neck and arms. And
was this--could this be really the same human creature--this faded,
feeble, querulous woman, nearly as empty of all but the most primitive
ideas as a sawdust doll; who had so nearly lost all trace of beauty,
and who gently whined because her ill-fated husband, at the end of the
day's conflict with care and customers, revolted from her catalogue of
broken plates and domestic shortcomings?

I remembered mother's saying that 'poor Jane had been a bit of a
flirt' in her ephemeral butterfly span. Full permission to have
indulged in that agreeable, if hazardous pastime, had she from me,
when I thought of her long after years of struggle and privation.
'Doubtless,' mused I, 'she was the unthinking, uncultivated flirt of
the period, graceful of mien and winning of manner, as are often the
outward presentments of the "fair woman without discretion," whom so
few, wisely prescient, are found to condemn. And now that I am brought
face to face with results, I can peer over the moral grave into which,
in after life, the woman wholly devoid of intellectual culture must
perforce descend.'

Before I commenced my siege operations I made a leisurely
reconnaissance, and calculated my range, so to speak. With all her
emptiness and inconsequence of talk, I thought I could perceive that
the even temper, which had been one of her early attractions, had not
wholly deserted her. It may be a small matter in the eye of the moral
analyst this half-instinctive, chiefly material endowment, yet is it a
wondrous factor in domestic happiness. Sorrow, poverty, care, had
rubbed off the gloss--no doubt had imparted an occasional acerbity--
but the half-childish power of frank acknowledgment of error, of
generous sympathy with the good fortune of others, was still there--
still capable of shining brightly with judicious burnishing. Better
again, there were some poor remnants of the girlish graces of long ago
in the attenuated face and form. Could any human care and skill
renovate the worn outlines, 'the light of those eyes relume'? It would
be a good deed, an exciting task. It was well worth a trial, and
success in such a case would outweigh, in my eyes, the conversion of
all the heathen from Natal to the source of the Umbelitza.

The deck being thus mentally clear for action, I grappled, and, so to
speak, boarded at once. 'Mrs. Quartzman,' I said. 'Now, don't look
hurt or surprised, because it's part of my plan, and I am not going to
call you anything else, for reasons of my own, while I am here. Just
answer me a few questions, after which I will explain myself fully. Do
you think your children need teaching?'

'They are growing up in positive ignorance--I always tell John so,'
she said. 'Harriet can hardly play the simplest tunes; Charlie is
beginning to like bad companions; the little ones know nothing more
than their letters. I try to teach them, indeed I do. But you see what
making and mending I have to do. When I look at Harriet, and think
what mamma and papa had paid for me at her age, I often cry by the
hour over it.'

'That answers my question,' I said; 'now, can you afford to pay a
qualified governess?'

'We can hardly pay Mary Anne's and Susan's wages as it is,' said she
piteously; 'how then could we afford a good governess's salary?'

'Very well answered,' I said; 'now for number three--if I teach the
children English, French, and music, with a little Latin for Charlie,
keep them out of harm's way, and help you with your mending and
dressmaking for a year, would that be an advantage to you?'

'If you can do this, and live contentedly in our poor house, with our
dull ways, you will be to us as an angel from heaven,' sobbed poor
Jane, with her handkerchief to her eyes. 'It's too good to be true.'

'I will guarantee to do this and more without fee or reward, chiefly
because you are my relation, whom I think it is a duty and pleasure to
help,' said I, with an unsmiling face, 'but on conditions, and these
you and your husband must pledge yourself to observe.'

'I was going to say we would promise anything,' she said, 'but I know
John likes to look before he leaps, and will want to hear what they
are, so I can only promise and vow on my own account, and declare that
you shall have the utmost respect paid you in all ways, and will be to
us as a daughter of the house.'

'That is just what I should prefer not to be, Mrs. Quartzman,' said
I, 'so let me at once, and for ever, give you my opinions and price
list. In the first place, I wish to be known to your visitors only as
Miss Middleton, the governess engaged for a year. These facts are
literally true, you need only suppress the information that I am your
relative, and do not receive a salary.'

'But why object to let the real facts be known, my dear, when they
are all to your credit?'

'That is my affair, Cousin Jane,' said I; 'one of my reasons is that
I prefer only to appear in connection with my work--and, between you
and me, I foresee plenty of it before me. I don't think you will find
fault, but I wish to do everything my own way. I am well-meaning, but
rather obstinate. However, you must take the good with the bad. You
can spare me the lumber-room to teach in. Harriet might share my
bedroom, it will be a mutual advantage. And now, will you kindly call
in the children and solemnly hand them over, with the injunction that
I am to be strictly obeyed in everything, whether in school tasks or
otherwise.'

This was done; much emphasis being laid on the fact that Miss
Middleton would 'bring them on' in a surprising manner, if they were
only sensible enough to be guided for their good, and that she had
been kind enough to take full charge of them, both in and out of
school.

The children looked astonished at this, but the novelty of the
situation had charms for them, and they retired with gratification
visible on their countenances. Charlie alone lingered, and presently
said, 'Miss Middleton, do you know Latin and Euclid?'

'Yes, Charlie, a little of both; if you work steadily with me, I
promise you that you will not be called a dunce when you go to
school.'

'I am so glad of that. You are a regular brick, I believe, Miss
Middleton.'

After this day I took 'full charge,' as Cousin Jane expressed it, of
my young kinsfolk, and addressed myself to my arduous task with great
earnestness of purpose. My work was 'cut out for me,' as Charlie said
in his boyish slang.

'My word, Miss Middleton! it will give you fits; I hope you'll be
strong enough for the place, for I like the look of you awfully.'

'And I like you, Charlie,' said I; 'so I trust you to give me all the
help you can in dealing with your brothers and sisters, and performing
the task that you say is so difficult.'

'Difficult!' he said; 'it's next door to impossible--only you're not
like some governesses--girls are such donkeys generally. But just
think of all you'll have to do; why, there's Harriet first of all--
she's not a bad sort of girl, only awfully lazy and untidy; wants ever
so much watching to make her do her own work, let alone getting the
little ones to do theirs. You'll have to bully her to keep her room
right, to come down to breakfast, to learn her lessons, and do her
practising on the piano, which she never does, right on to the end,
unless when I've got a headache. Then the little ones, careless little
monkeys! Just like white Indians. I used to make them climb up a tree
and sit there, and tell them I'd masthead them into a sense of their
duty.'

'You've been reading one of Marryat's novels, Charlie,' said I;
'which was it?'

'How in the world did you guess that? Yes, Peter Simple--what a jolly
story it is! I never enjoyed a book half so much before.'

'You are quite right, Charlie; have you read Mr. Midshipman Easy?'

'No; is that as good?'

'Better, and ever so much more fun, my brothers thought.'

'By George! you don't say so. Oh! how I should like to get it, but we
never get new books here; father says he can't afford them.'

'Then listen to me; if you are a good boy, learn your Latin well, and
set a good example to your brothers and sisters, I'll send to
Melbourne for it for you.'

'Will you? you are a regular trump, Miss Middleton. But when? I shall
be longing to read it.'

'Boys who are to grow up successful men ought to learn self-control,'
say I gravely; 'suppose a month, or, perhaps'--noticing the
unconscious elongation of his countenance--'the last day of this
month, that's about three weeks. But, mind, not a line wrong with the
Latin, and the arithmetic perfect.'

'Oh, Miss Middleton! oh, Miss Middleton! I'll work like a horse,'
gasped out the boy, 'you see if I don't, and I'll coach the kids up
too; I never thought I should like a governess so much.'

I had suggested to Cousin Jane that Harriet and I might share a room.
I like comfort as much as most people, but was not sufficiently
elderly to make a fuss about a bedroom to myself, in a manifestly
small house. Besides, I intended to gain control over the eldest
daughter, knowing how much of the family well-doing depended upon her
training at this critical juncture. Her mother was immensely relieved
by this suggestion.

'Oh! if you only would,' she said, 'it would be such a good thing for
Harriet; but her room is never fit to be seen, and how ever you, who
are so orderly, will bear with her, I don't know.'

'I hope she will bear with me,' I said, 'for I shall have to make
myself disagreeable at first. But we shall be good friends in the long
run.'

'Harriet is a good girl, you know--in her way, that is,' said the
mother, 'but between my not being strong enough to look after her, and
her father being so fond of her, she has been a little spoiled. I
cannot get her to keep her chest of drawers, or her dress, or indeed
anything, tidy. Then, though she's very quick, she will only learn
what she likes, and spends too much of her time in useless reading. I
can do nothing with her, I've given her up.'

'I think I see a way to effect a change,' said I, wondering much how
the querulous woman beside me expected to work beneficially upon the
mind of youth, or to inculcate qualities, none of which she exhibited
the faintest symptom of possessing in her own person.



Chapter III



THAT afternoon I devoted to a complete rearrangement of the humble
apartment which was, jointly with my youthful cousin, to be my chief
nightly abode. I sent off Charlie to buy me a hammer and a packet of
tacks; with these and a few nails I made a strong alteration in the
carrying capacity of the room.

I enlisted Harriet as a volunteer assistant in the great task of
unpacking and arranging my things, and, in the process, softened that
young person's heart by the opportune gift of a few ribbons and a
winter hat, which I had brought with me for the purpose. When all was
completed, I glanced round approvingly and said--

'What a nice room! I'm sure we shall be so happy and comfortable in
it. What do you say, Harriet?'

'I never thought it half so pretty before. These pictures of yours
give it quite a new expression. It looked so dull and pokey always.'

'The expression of a room, as you happily put it, my dear, is in
nearly all cases derived from the tastes and habits of the occupants.
I hope this room will always express cleanliness, order, and industry.
Harriet, won't you try and keep up our reputation?

'I see what you mean,' she said, kissing me impulsively. 'But,
indeed, everything seemed so hopeless that I had not the heart to try
to be tidy or anything.'

'To-morrow morning, Harriet,' said I, with a look of mock severity,
'work commences, and Miss Middleton will meet her young friends at
nine o'clock precisely. You see this travelling clock of mine is going
well. I am a great stickler for punctuality in all things. I am afraid
the one in the dining-room is not to be trusted; it must be seen to.'

'Nine o'clock! is not that very early? We shall hardly have finished
breakfast.'

'Your mother told me that you breakfasted at eight, which gives a
whole hour, quite sufficient for that meal and family prayers to be
concluded in. Besides, everything will be ready in the schoolroom, so
that not a moment need be wasted.'

'Who is to do that?'

'You will, I hope,' I said, looking at her steadily. 'I shall ask you
to get up with me at six o'clock in the summer, and seven in winter.
There will then be ample time for your piano practice before breakfast
and the arrangement of the schoolroom.'

'But I hate getting up early, and there is so little to do before
breakfast.'

'If you study or practise you will find the time pass quickly enough;
you will have three hours and a half for steady work in the forenoon,
and then, the day's work being nearly completed, as it always is if
people save every minute of their mornings, we can enjoy ourselves a
little in the afternoon.'

'Enjoy ourselves! Miss Middleton, how can any one do that at
Waronga?'

'You will see. There are many pleasures even in the country if people
earn them by honest work, and take a little trouble to organise
properly. Pleasure needs thought and perseverance to develop it,
though it is not generally allowed.'

'I shouldn't have thought it for one,' said Harriet. 'I always
supposed that half the battle was having nothing to do, and that
pleasure came of itself, or next thing to it.'

'You will find that is a view not much carried out in real life. But
I feel rather tired. I shall sleep well to-night, and that will be one
pleasure at any rate.'

My anticipation was verified. The sun was up next morning when I was
awakened from a sound slumber. I arose at once, and, opening the
window, looked out across the dim, gray-green, far-stretching forest,
which monopolised the foreground, to the sombre purple mountain range,
which the level sun-rays scarce irradiated. 'Get up, Harriet, at
once,' said I, 'remember your good resolutions; don't parley with this
enemy, but be ready to follow suit when I return from the bathroom.'

'Oh, oh dear!' said the unwilling girl, 'it's so frightfully early,
but I promised, so I must; I suppose the water will be desperately
cold. Oh, I wish I was energetic like you!'

I had urged an early retirement the night before, so the young,
growing creature had received her full allowance of sleep.

Between the excitement of a new departure in her stereotyped life,
and her desire to act up to her word, Harriet made a praiseworthy
effort, and the giant was slain--for that day, for that day only,
alas! He takes an awful amount of slaying, that most ancient giant,
Sloth, whose joints, unlike his brothers of the Pilgrim's Progress,
are by no means rusty.

When we were dressed and equipped for the day, on leaving our room
(for upon that point I insisted) neatly arranged, so that little
remained for the servant to do, I felt that we had commenced the
week's work hopefully. There was just time for Harriet to superintend
the breakfast table, to adjust a few flowers, to see that her father's
favourite dish had not been forgotten, for me to glance over and note
that everything was in order in the schoolroom, when eight o'clock
sounded, and the breakfast was served.

I must here explain that between my senior pupils and the baby there
were four intermediate elves calculated to alarm the timid instructor.
Harold, a strong, resolute boy of twelve, with a preternaturally acute
sense for all woodland sights and sounds, denizens, and products.
Jenny, a mischievous romp of ten, in a permanent state of torn frock
and dishevelled hair. Ethel, aged seven, was shy and quiet, but averse
to control, it was stated; while Jack and Jill, as two bright-eyed,
curly-pated outlaws had by common consent come to be called, owed no
allegiance to any one, it seemed. They passed their lives in repeating
the traditional performance of their namesakes, and crying lustily in
and out of season; dressed, washed, cuffed or lectured by any of the
elder children to whom such tending might chance to be convenient. The
baby was good-tempered, and so far a non--combatant.

These were, then, the raw material of the small regiment which I had
guaranteed to bring into order and discipline. I did not despair.
Indeed, strengthened by the pure, bright, bracing atmosphere, I felt
eager to begin my task. Method was the one thing needful. And
patience, what a mine of it I should require!

Still, when I thought of the alteration I could mentally foreshadow
in the household, I seemed to hold on to my project with yet more
tenacious grasp.

The first morning passed by no means tardily. The children, pleased
with the unwonted excitement, worked steadily--the younger ones,
receiving timely, encouragement and explanation, were not too
difficult. Fortunately for me, they were all highly intelligent, which
quickness of apprehension made their tasks less irksome on both sides.
As the hands of the clock moved towards half-past twelve, however,
there was a universal feeling of relief and satisfaction. Jack and
Jill had been consigned to the housemaid, who appeared on the scene at
twelve precisely, to be washed and dressed for dinner, as also to
enjoy pardonable recreation, that young woman informing the company of
her conviction that they had never been so quiet and well behaved for
three hours consecutively during their whole previous existence.

When I rejoined Cousin Jane, a few minutes before dinner, in company
with Harriet, both of us specially prepared in dress for that repast,
she cried out, 'Oh, my dear Miss Middleton! there has been quite a
heavenly peace pervading the house this morning. The servants have
gone about their work without being called off every minute. I've had
a little time to sew and consider things; altogether, I feel as I
haven't done for years.'

'Glad you like my government,' I said. 'I see my way to helping you
more yet if you humour me by letting me have my own way in all things.
If I am autocratic it will all be for a good end.'

'You may do and say anything in the wide world that you like in this
house, if you can only go on as you have begun. John will think me a
helpless dawdle--that is all. But I don't care as long as things move
so delightfully. Now I wonder why I could not manage things like
this?'

'Don't think me so awfully superior,' said I, touched by poor Jane's
humility. 'I haven't half a dozen children and a weak back to pull me
down. It is easy to do things when people feel as strong as I do now.'

'You are very good to say so; and nobody ever will know to my dying
day what I've suffered with my back. Ach, ach, ach,--all day and all
night for weeks. Men really don't consider women when they're ill half
as much as they ought. I know John often thinks I make too much of my
ailments. But if you knew all my feelings.'

'Never mind, my dear, you will have all your aches and pains coming
back if you talk of them. There's the dinner bell, I feel quite a
wonderful appetite.'

The early dinner was announced--the regulation solid repast of the
middle classes, not too well provided with the good things of this
life. In a general way I had been accustomed to a late dinner, and
enjoyed it as a restorative at the end of the day. One's spirit seemed
loosened from its shackles, and was free to roam through the fair
domain of fancy.

Then whatever there was of novelty, social or other experience, among
the assembled guests, was displayed for the general enlivenment.

Far otherwise was the mid-day meal to which we were now bidden.
Still, I could not but observe its perfect suitability to the
circumstances of a large, indifferently provided family. The children
made a hearty and wholesome repast--eating with appetite, and
disposing of soup, meat, vegetables, and pudding with full and natural
enjoyment; while their elders, ourselves, were secured against any
serious injury for want of food for, I should say, the next twenty-
four hours.

At two o'clock school was resumed and carried on, with more or less
success, till four. I was surprised to find that the day scholastic
had come to an end, by no means wearily, as far as I was concerned,
either. But until every book and slate, pencil and pen was carefully
bestowed in their various receptacles, the impatient children were not
suffered to depart. I had discovered that method was the particular
faculty wanting in the household, and this vitally necessary quality I
was determined they should acquire, if I died for it.

Just before tea-time, when the autumn day was closing in, Mr.
Quartzman made his appearance from his store, looking, I thought, worn
and fagged. However, after making some slight change in his dress, he
appeared at the tea-table much brightened up, and apparently disposed
to comport himself in a sociable manner, striving to throw off, if
possible, a portion of the burden of care which, like Christian in the
Pilgrim's Progress, he bore about with him alway.

'What do you suppose has happened, Miss Middleton?' he said, making a
commencement upon the cold beef which chiefly represented his dinner.
'We have just heard by telegram that the Ministry have resigned. They
were supposed to be so safe too. This will give our side a chance. We
have suffered many things during their reign; far too long for the
good of the country.'

Before I could make answer, and declare my distrust of the party
referred to, Cousin Jane broke in, not having caught the political
announcement, amid her Martha-like preoccupation.

'My dear John, do you know that I am afraid the children are going to
get measles or some horrid thing, and what to do, now that Dr. Jones
has gone to Charters Towers, I can't think. I noticed dear baby had a
kind of rash last week, and that's just the way, I know, that measles
commence, for Mrs. Stayathome told me that when her children had
chicken-pox--'

'Now, really, my dear Jane,' said her husband, with a slight but
distinct expression of annoyance, 'don't you think you could find some
more appropriate topic of conversation?'

'Oh, of course! if you don't care about the children's health, and
would rather talk about these absurd Government people, who will never
help you, at any rate, well and good. But I must say that I think it
very extraordinary that you should prefer nonsense of that kind to
your children's welfare.'

'My children's welfare is very dear to me, as you well know, Jane,'
he replied, and again the wrinkles upon his brow, in process of
smoothing before, began to corrugate afresh. 'Still, I do not think
any harm would result from leaving the consideration of possible
measles until to-morrow morning; do you, Miss Middleton?'

'All depends upon whether the danger is imminent,' said I; 'in this
case I may almost pronounce it not so, as I was present at a
consultation with a lady of experience about an hour ago. But, Mrs.
Quartzman,' said I insidiously, 'do you remember promising me that I
should have my own way in everything?'

'Yes, certainly I do; and, John, if you had only been lying on the
sofa this day instead of me, in the house, and seen the beautiful
quiet way in which Miss Middleton got all the children to work with
her in school, and how even Jack and Jill obeyed her, you would have
promised her anything.'

'I am sure you have my full permission, wife,' said he, gratefully.
'We cannot do enough for such a friend in need as she has been to us.'

'Well, then, Mrs. Quartzman,' said I, 'I warned you that I was
eccentric. One of my peculiarities is that I can't bear to hear
household matters spoken of, or the slightest discussion raised upon
what are called practical subjects during the time set apart for
meals, more particularly in the evening. The mere hint of such a thing
gives me indigestion, which produces a feeling of irritability, almost
like derangement. Would you mind then omitting all reference to such
topics on account of my state of health? I am asking too much, I feel,
but I have always been indulged in this respect.'

'Dearest Miss Middleton!' she replied enthusiastically, 'your wishes
shall be a law to us hence-forward; neither I nor John will ever'
(here I observed a slight, perhaps involuntary, contraction of that
gentleman's left eyelid) 'offend in that way in future; I daresay you
will be sure to have a book or something of that kind in your head.
But don't despair, you will take to domestic concerns quite kindly by
and by, I feel sure. Let me see, have you been reading any new books
lately?'

'Only Herbert Hazelmere by Mrs. Geoffrey Watch. It is very thoughtful
and rather brilliant. They say she is to get seven thousand pounds for
it.'

'Seven thousand pounds!' echoed Cousin Jane, 'for a book written by a
woman too! I can hardly believe it. I never thought women had such
fair play shown them. John, why don't you write a book? You used to be
fond of scribbling in the newspapers; you might easily do that instead
of reading or smoking all the evening.'

'The writing which people pay you for doing is not so easy as you
seem to think, my dear, though I daresay I might make a few pounds
that way now and then, if you would look up authorities, and take some
of the "plain work," as you say in sewing, off my hands. Is it a
bargain?'

'I should really be delighted to do it, if you can make it pay, and
you think me clever enough,' said poor Jane. 'I really had no idea
that novel--writing was much more than an idle amusement, hardly
better than novel--reading.'

'There are novels and novels; you and I must think of a few
subjects,' I said to her. 'If two women put their heads together, they
can surely discover something that will interest mankind, not to
mention their own sex. If Mr. Quartzman will promise to work out our
ideas he will distinguish himself, I feel sure. Shall we begin to-
morrow?'

'I am ready to begin now,' she said eagerly; 'but truly now, John
dear, do you think I can help you, or are you laughing at my
ignorance?'

John replied suitably, so that was arranged, as I thought, to the
general benefit of the household. I took care to keep Jane up to her
engagement.

At first she was sure she had no time. I proved to her that, after
working all the morning, it was economy in the widest sense to stop
her needle precisely at half-past twelve, and take up a book or
newspaper. I also secured another half-hour in the afternoon. These
intervals of leisure served to arouse her long-dormant intellect. She
gradually began to take an interest in the books and magazines I chose
for her. By using a little forethought, she effected even greater
results in her needlework department than (She confessed) she had ever
managed before. We were lucky in our first selection of a subject, and
Mr. Quartzman, who had a ready pen, was happy in his treatment of it.
So he was rewarded, by a newspaper proprietor, with a compliment and a
cheque. Never was there a more fortunate remittance. Mr. Quartzman
handed it gallantly to his wife for a pressing household need, and
she, sobbing out her thanks, from that day abandoned her objection in
favour of the subjective conversational method, and ever afterwards
confined her crockery and cooking reports strictly to business hours.

Meanwhile, day be day, the moulding of this life-study grew under my
hands. My pupils were affectionate, and, after a while, reasonable and
obedient, though to such an extent were they deficient of all
comprehension of order that I almost doubted whether it was not an
incurable hereditary defect. However, I was determined to subdue them
in this particular, cost what it might. Did I mention before that I
was of a tenacious, and what superficial people might call obstinate,
disposition? Never mind! everybody worth a straw is obstinate. I was
determined to drill my youthful recruits to the verge of oppression
rather than fail. Of course in the end I conquered. I used to cover
the walls of the schoolroom with mottoes, printed in large type, on
cardboard, such as this--' A place for everything, and everything in
its place,' 'Never delay business,' 'Thrift makes rich,' 'Order is
heaven's first law,' 'Self-control is the flower of civilisation.' I
instituted a system of prizes for those who chose to compete in the
good-conduct line, by means of which I stimulated my younger charges,
notably. Occasionally I made speeches, not too long, such as: 'My dear
children! I only punish you for want of punctuality, industry, and
order to save you from harder punishments in that much more severe
school--the World--which you will all enter some day. No mercy will be
shown you there for these faults, the punishments--of which you will
have no warning--may break your hearts, or ruin your lives. Don't you
think it real kindness of me now to try and break you all in
beforehand?'

'Then we shall be steady in harness when our time comes, Miss
Middleton,' said Charlie, appreciating the bush simile. 'But I wish
people weren't born careless and lazy, though. It would make work, and
doing things properly ever so much easier.'

'People are nearly all alike in that way, Charlie, it is only that
some try harder than others to do what is right.'

'Oh! but they're not,' objected the young casuist. 'That's where it's
unfair. Some coves at the State school were quite fond of their
lessons; always knew them and never got into scrapes, but then, they
didn't know games, couldn't fight, and were just like great girls.'

'Well, but there are other fellows, Charlie, at school and in the
world (I think I asked you not to make use of the word "coves" again,
as it is vulgar and not even slang of a good kind) who are clever at
their books, also at games, and even fighting--what you would call
"good all-round fellows." Don't you think it worth while to try and be
like that? Think how it would please your mother and father, besides
it might give you the means of doing ever so much for your brothers
and sisters.'

'And I suppose it would please you too, Miss Middleton, wouldn't it?
You'll see--I'll work at my Latin and Euclid like a horse; I never
thought I could tackle them as well as I've done lately.'

Harriet was open to influence through her music lessons. With a
strong natural taste for music, though backward for want of teaching,
she had arrived at the ambitious stage when she grudged no labour to
excel. I spared no trouble, in school and out of school, as long as
she was patient with her other tasks and duties. If she showed
indolence with these I discontinued the music lesson.

Having discovered the power of this lever, I did not fail to work it
for her mental advantage.

My pupils soon came to understand that, although from the moment I
entered the schoolroom I overlooked no fault and received no excuse
for nonperformance of tasks, my transformation into the friend and
playmate, once the lessons were over, was thorough and complete. I
shared their games, I took them long walks, and extemporised picnics
for them on holidays. I saw that their comforts were attended to in
all lawful ways, constituting myself their advocate whenever they
received less than their due. Having a liberal home allowance for
dress, I contrived to purchase for them little luxuries and toys which
further cemented our mutual confidence.

Gradually, therefore, I succeeded, like a sort of benevolent Jesuit,
in controlling the habits and moulding the characters of the different
members of the family with which I was domiciled. The head of the
house thanked me in his heart, I could see, for the change wrought in
his wife's mental proclivities by my artful charity in weaning her
from the eternal treadmill round of mechanically performed household
tasks, to the occasional contemplation of the glorious universe of art
and literature. She, poor hard--worked matron, thanked me with the
tears in her eyes, for the invaluable benefit of education which,
through me alone, her children were enjoying, and for the joy and
peace of the household which had resulted from my successful
administration.

'One would think I had rescued them all from slavery,' said I to
myself, one day. 'And yet, if one comes to consider, it may be that I
have after a fashion. I hope I am not growing vain. I certainly am an
enthusiast. It is a bore, with that temperament, if one goes wrong.
Like an engine running off the rails, the more steam on, the farther
it gets from the line.

'But in a good cause, the more enthusiastic one is the better. And
this is a righteous cause, Portia Middleton,' said I fiercely to
myself, 'if ever there was one; a good deed in every sense. So I shall
go on with it to the very end.'

Even in the kitchen I did not disdain to exhibit my powers of
reasonable suasion. The maid-servants were very good indeed, as
domestics go. They were hard-working, neat-handed, and intelligent, as
indeed are many of the Australian-born house-servants. But they are
not always easy to manage, because of their extreme independence of
character. Cousin Jane humoured them too much, being afraid of
speaking in tones of disapproval, and more afraid of the dreary time
of 'home rule' which generally succeeded an exodus. One of these high-
contracting personages, the cook and laundress, had for some reason
taken in bad part remarks made by me on my first arrival. In a passive
fashion, she contrived to annoy me in many ways. She was frequently
unpunctual in serving up the meals, particularly of the early dinner,
and as she declined to take orders from me, Mrs. Quartzman was in
despair as to our future relations. She always fell back on the fact
that 'Mary Anne was a good girl.'

'I am aware of that,' I said; 'but I could suggest some improvement
on her management, if she would let me, by which better results would
be attained with increased economy.'

'Oh! for goodness sake,' said Cousin Jane, 'don't think of that; both
of them would give warning on the spot, and then whatever should I
do?'

'I will ensure their not giving warning,' said I; 'but I must have my
own way for all that; I will bide my time, and wait for an
opportunity.'

This latter re-arrangement was not long in coming. One Saturday
morning Harriet came to me with a face of less concern than annoyance,
saying, 'Oh, Miss Middleton! isn't it a nuisance, Mary Anne has got
one of her headaches, and says she is so dreadfully ill she is sure
she can't cook the dinner; it's Susan's day for scrubbing the floors,
and mother doesn't know what to do. Isn't it provoking of Mary Anne?'

'My dear Harriet,' said I, 'you don't suppose Mary Anne would have a
bilious headache if she could help it? I know from experience what a
wretched feeling it is. Surely you pity her; do not let a trifling
inconvenience prevent you from showing mercy to your humbler and
poorer fellow-creatures.'

'Mary Anne is not a bit humble, nor half as poor as we are, if it
comes to that,' said the girl; 'but I suppose, as you say, Miss
Middleton, that she didn't half kill herself with a headache on
purpose. She's as pale as a ghost; what can we do?'

'It is luckily Saturday, and a holiday,' I said. 'Now wouldn't you
like, Harriet, to put on your brown holland apron and help me to do a
day's cooking? I think we could manage dinner, and your father's tea.
Then poor Mary Anne can lay her throbbing head upon her pillow, and
recover herself just as if she were a lady.'

Harriet opened her eyes--'Oh, Miss Middleton! can you cook? Why, I
believe you know everything. Wherever did you learn?'

'I was a kind of lay Sister of Mercy,' I said, 'once for a whole
winter. We used to cook and wash for the poor women whom we visited in
our district. I have sometimes thought it was a winter well employed.'

'Dear me! and do you really think it is our duty to do such things
for these kind of people, Miss Middleton?'

I whispered, 'Who was it that said, "If ye have done it for the least
of these little ones ye have done it unto Me." Tell your mother not to
fret herself, and leave me to talk to Mary Anne.'

I found the young woman alluded to, having braced up her courage
after a fashion worthy of a higher sphere, attempting with a pale face
to peel the vegetables for the day's dinner, and ever and anon putting
a trembling hand to her burning brow.

'Mary Anne!' I said; 'you are not fit for work to-day. Your headache
must be very bad.'

'It's that bad that I feel as if I should fall down dead every
minute; but who's to cook the dinner if I give in? Thank you all the
same, miss.'

'I will, and Miss Harriet will help me--this is a school holiday, you
know, and it's not the first time I have done a little cooking.'



Chapter IV



I SPOKE to Mary Anne persuasively, assuring her that Miss Harriet and
I could easily do the cooking, and give her the rest she so badly
needed for her aching head.

'So if you will go to bed, like a good girl, everything will go right
till to--morrow morning.'

'You, miss!' said she incredulously. 'You cook the dinner, and wash
up and leave everything tidy--however could you manage it? Why you'd
spoil them teeny little hands of yours--and the dinner too, like
enough! No, I'll manage it somehow. Oh! oh!'

Here an acute spasm of pain seemed to rack the girl's very temples;
brave as she was, she could not repress a groan, which went to my
heart. 'Here,' thought I, 'is the same degree of courage displayed,
which, under favourable circumstances, makes the heroine of high life
in fiction. Now, poor Mary Anne, whatever her constancy under torture,
can hardly rise above the position of a good plain cook. Certainly it
is a valuable diploma in Australia!'

'Don't be a goose, Mary Anne,' said I good-humouredly. 'If you half
kill yourself, and have to go to bed, that will be worse for Mrs.
Quartzman and the family than a spoiled meal--but I'll bet you a neck-
ribbon that I give them all a good dinner, and if good cooks were not
so scarce, I might deprive you of your place. I've sent Miss Harriet
to tell her mother; so go and lie down at once, and I'll come and see
you by and by. Take this eau--de-cologne with you and bathe your
forehead.'

'You're too good to me, Miss Middleton,' said the poor girl, overcome
both with pain and remorse. 'I'll go now. I'm quite ashamed to take
your kindness after all my rudeness to you; but I'm that bad, I really
can't hold up a minute longer.'

We accomplished that dinner; we covered ourselves with glory. After
all, there are worse ways of spending a day than producing certain
results, with given materials, in a quiet, clean kitchen. I had taken
the trouble to learn thoroughly how to roast and boil, cook
vegetables, and make jellies and puddings for the sick, at the St.
Martha Charitable Home, or, as unpleasant people persisted in calling
it, the High Church Nunnery. Convent, or not, we learned many useful
things there, though I came ultimately to doubt whether it could be
wise to devote the whole of my expensively trained entity to acting as
cookmaid for people who, but for extravagance or dissipation, might
have been as rich and as occupationless as ourselves.

The charitable 'craze,' as father called it, waned and disappeared
finally, but the cooking remained. Hence I was able to show Harriet,
to the great increase of her respect for me, how to make pastry, as
well as to play on the piano; to comprehend French dishes, in a small
way, as well as French exercises.

'Why, Miss Middleton, you're a female Crichton!' she said; 'I daresay
you could wash and iron and get up fine linen on a pinch.'

'Yes,' I replied, in a matter-of-fact way, 'I can do that fairly
well, for which I have to thank the Sister of Mercy period. We did the
laundry work in turn; it was especially necessary to be able to assist
our poor families in that department. Want of soap sets in long before
want of bread becomes imminent.'

'I would give all the world to be like you,' said she, with
enthusiasm. 'What shall I do when you go away? We shall be lost in a
sea of muddle, as we used to be.'

'Not if you show your love for me, Harriet, by carrying out my
wishes. I shall be quite contented if I hear that you have striven
earnestly to take my place, as the eldest daughter should, at the head
of the household. Think how you could help your mother, how you could
comfort your father, and mould the minds of your younger brothers and
sisters, now so likely to follow your example. You will try, will you
not?'

'Indeed, indeed I will, Miss Middleton! I shall not be able to come
near your standard, but I will try, for we shall never see any one
like you again. Mother will never, never, as long as she lives, get
such another governess.'

'I don't think she will,' said I, sotto voce; and perhaps I may be
pardoned this morsel of vanity.

Having concluded our cooking, washed our dishes and plates, and left
everything clean and orderly for Mary Anne to return to, we arranged
the tea-table, parading our clear soup and a successful curry, as a
treat for Mr. Quartzman, besides a mould of calf's foot jelly, by way
of still greater surprise.

That gentleman was late, and entering the sitting-room just before
the usual hour of serving, rather hurriedly, was greeted with the news
from his wife that 'Mary Anne was ill with one of her terrible
headaches, and had been obliged to go to bed, and--'

'My dear,' said he, somewhat impatiently, 'I thought that you had
relinquished this style of entertaining conversation; only I hope to
goodness there is something to eat, as I have brought Hugh Wharfedale
home with me, and he is at this moment in my dressing-room.'

'Good gracious! Mr. Wharfedale!' said Cousin Jane. 'You don't say
so. Why, he has not been here for ages.'

'All the more reason why he should have some dinner now. It's too
bad; I really believe--'

What Mr. Quartzman really believed, now that the conversation had
reached this, for him, appalling point of denunciation, cannot with
certainty be known, because Cousin Jane at this juncture wisely threw
her arms round his neck and whispered something which caused his
countenance to clear, and his voice to undergo perceptible modulation.

'Oh! if that is the case,' he exclaimed, 'well and good.'

'You must pardon me, my dear.' This to me. 'Really, it appears as if
we were to owe you everything we have in the world.'

'Allow me to introduce Mr. Wharfedale.'

At this proposal, a tall man entered the room, greeting Cousin Jane
with the freedom of an old acquaintance, sure of his welcome. 'Ah,
Harrie,' said he to my eldest pupil, 'how you've grown! Long frock,
too. Forgotten how to run, I daresay; capital time you used to make,
you know; lost any sheep lately?'

We were introduced, and bowed gravely. Part of the conversation with
Harriet was hieroglyphic, but it was explained by the young lady
herself.

'It's too bad of you, Mr. Wharfedale, teasing me about that unlucky
visit of yours, when we lived at Back Creek. We had no butcher within
twenty miles, Miss Middleton, and father used to buy a sheep at a
time. One poor thing, shut up in the stable, managed to get out. We
saw the week's dinner making off, so Charlie and I and all the
children had to run after it. I was first up, and stooping to catch
the creature's leg, fell down, still holding on, till Charlie came and
secured it. Mr. Wharfedale was wicked enough to come up just then.'

'Never mind, Harrie, it was a most exciting chase. I saw the whole
run. The way you made play down the hill was splendid. I burned to
join the hunt but I had a young horse. I hope Miss Middleton doesn't
discourage outdoor exercise?'

'Quite the contrary,' I said. 'But Harriet is nearly a young woman
now, so we have to modify our games. Society is exacting where girls
are concerned.'

'It's a pity, too,' he said, 'that so much restraint should be
thought necessary. I suppose there's a reason for it.'

'There's also a reason for having tea when the bell rings--especially
when one's been bothered with small vexations all day,' said Mr.
Quartzman. 'If Hugh hadn't turned up, I was coming home in a real bad
temper.'

'Nobody would believe him, would they, Mrs. Quartzman?' said the
guest, offering her his arm, and making for the dining-room door, as
if he knew the way perfectly, while I followed with the host. He took
occasion to whisper to me--

'Capital fellow Wharfedale; old friend of ours, knew us when we lived
at Holmhurst--rather in a different way, certainly. I'm so glad we
have a decent dinner to give him. Puts me in mind of old times; ah!
what pleasant days they were, and--bless me! what a grand spread!'

Nothing could have turned out more fortunately. Cousin Jane and I
having dressed the modest tea-table with as much ornament in the shape
of flowers as we dared, had ventured upon a bottle of Albury Reisling
for the delectation of the head of the house and to do honour to a
dinner of my cooking, and lo! enters to us unexpectedly the favoured
guest, in whose praise she (as well as her husband, Harriet, and
Charlie) was unable to say enough.

'Squatter, of course,' thought I to myself. 'No other man in a colony
has such an air of mingled complacency and self-possession. When
things are looking well, the squatter on leave has a manner that is a
sort of mixture of a sailor, a soldier, and a country gentleman, with
the best traits of each in solution.'

I always liked squatters, I must say; and this particular specimen of
the genus was handsome and stately-looking, with the air of a man of
the world.

To do him justice, it did not seem to occur to him to concern himself
about my approval or otherwise. He and his old friends were too happy
together to think of any one less intimately acquainted, so
relinquishing all expectation of notice by the lion of the evening, I
devoted myself to the duties of the tea-table, and somewhat
unselfishly amused myself by noting the mutual pleasure which the
meeting afforded to my cousin, her husband, and his guest.

They certainly revelled in reminiscences of that pleasant time long
past, when they lived near a mining metropolis, with a by no means
contracted society of which she was the belle, and he a leading and
prosperous mine--owner. How they went to Melbourne by rail whenever
they had a week to spare! How balls, pic-nics, and vice-regal
entertainments were as common as Sunday school feasts! How even a trip
to Europe was contemplated, if the shares in the 'Great Intended' had
kept up. Ah me! even the memory of past joys is something. The light
came to poor Jane's eyes--those soft blue eyes which had long since
'forgotten to shine'--the colour to her faded cheek, the very tone of
her voice changed in 'timbre and sweetness, as the days of her
triumph came back. Her husband was almost equally transfigured, as old
stories, allusions, and well-remembered jests came forth from their
laughing lips. And in him I commenced to notice an air of dignity, a
marked distinction of manner, which I had never observed before.

As for Mr. Wharfedale, his stern features relaxed, his dark eye
glowed and glittered in a way I should never have thought possible,
as, lying back in his chair, he laughed and gesticulated at so many of
the crowding old--world memories.

His unconscious bearing interested me in spite of myself. Those who
had seen him in everyday society could never, I felt certain, have
believed that so much benevolence, affectionate friendship, and
delicate sympathy could be expressed by the haughty features only seen
in repose. It was a revelation most rare, but accurate and complete
for the benefit of whom it might concern. I ought, perhaps, under
other circumstances, to have felt a tinge of disappointment that my
efforts in the culinary line, after the first compliments, seemed
unrecognised. They appreciated the clear soup, they feasted on the
curry with evident appetite, they praised the flowers, emptied and
replaced the flask of Reisling; but all the time they spoke and acted
as if they had been dining together  la carte in that bon vieux temps
when entres and entremets were matters of course, and iced champagne
habitual as table beer.

'Never mind,' thought I to myself, as the two friends adjourned to
the verandah to smoke and Cousin Jane to the nursery, leaving Harriet
and me to clear away and, with the help of the housemaid, conduct that
most prosaic occupation known as 'washing up.' 'I have done my duty at
any rate. This is a change and a study as well. On Sunday we shall
have some rest, thank goodness! when perhaps Mr. Wharfedale may have
leisure for general society.'

Of course this had not been my first experience of social intercourse
other than with my cousin and her husband, since I had arrived. Only
it was one decidedly new to our habit of life. Waronga was not devoid
of the ordinary component parts of provincial society in Australia.
But, carrying out my intention of being merely known as 'Miss
Middleton, the governess,' I was studiously let alone, when not
treated with contemptuous toleration by that moderately large section
of ordinary people who seem to consider that a girl with sufficient
intelligence to teach her youthful fellow--creatures, must be below,
rather than above, the general feminine average; also, that if the
pecuniary circumstances of her family, for which she is never
responsible, render a salary indispensable, that fact should also be
reckoned to her demerit. By these good people, I was, therefore, much
to my amusement, either mildly patronised, or quietly ignored in any
conversation which took place in my presence. Certain male members of
the local families appeared not disinclined to relax these austere
tenets in my favour, but a studied indifference in my manner caused
them, after a while, to relinquish any small attentions. I was
gradually set down as 'a girl they could not quite make out,' and so
permitted to possess my soul in peace.

But here was a specimen wholly distinct from the ordinary class of
visitors whom Mrs. Quartzman, partly from her husband's business
connection, and partly from the intellectual barrenness of the land,
was compelled chiefly to receive. He was not altogether unknown to me
by name, for I had heard of Hugh Wharfedale in Melbourne, which
metropolis he visited at intervals, although his stations lay
principally within the colonies of New South Wales and Queensland.

Rich, unmarried, inclined to be eccentric, he was one of those
exceptional persons who, by some means or other, have power to awaken
special interest in the female breast. I had heard more than one girl
of my acquaintance in town speak with great decision of his general
'niceness,' to use the rather absurd phrase which, with them,
characterised Hugh Wharfedale. He was accused of being difficile,
cynical in his ideas, and by no means too amiable in female society.
If they only knew it, men are far more valued who thus hold themselves
out of reach of the ordinary female blandishments. So whether it was
because of his wealth, his talents--for he was said to be clever--or
his averseness to gaiety of the ordinary pattern, he was over-valued
rather than otherwise, and as certain acidulated critics phrased it,
'run after' accordingly.

So here was this phoenix, like an eagle newly alighted in a farmyard,
walking about with folded wings among the commonplace Gallinae of
Waronga, comporting himself as meekly as though he had never known
more romantic surroundings. Certainly he was in an atmosphere of
intense appreciation--the bienvenu most unmistakable. Every one
delighted to do him honour.

Mr. Quartzman was boyishly enthusiastic about him--splendid fellow,
firm friend, clever, shrewd, generous, full of fun underneath, 'and I
don't know what all,' as my nurse used to say. Cousin Jane had never
met any man like him (except John of course), he had been so good to
them, and the truest friend to poor John in time of need. He was
associated, too, with all the pleasantest time of their married life.
Charlie reverenced him--'what horses he always rode and drove!'
Harriet looked upon him as a demi-god. Had any rash mortal dared to
question the right of Mr. Wharfedale to be invariably associated with
the superlative degree, it would have gone hard with him at Waronga.

Sunday was truly a fine day. Not simply free from rain or storm, but
one of those visions of Paradise proper to the almost perfect winter
climate of the north-east corner of Victoria. We all went to the
little church in the village, where the tall figure and conspicuously
foreign aspect of our guest created much natural curiosity. In the
afternoon, we strolled along the bank of the Murray, towards a
favourite colour-study of mine, where a rivulet ran below in a lofty
red bluff, and a noble reach of the river was visible. The elder
children were wild to come; Mr. Quartzman and his friend, as usual,
brought up the rear.

Apparently they had an interminable number of subjects of great
mutual interest still undiscussed, for they kept on talking with
undiminished eagerness, while we others scrambled on in front. The
spot where the brooklet came rushing over its rocky steep was reached,
the ferns gathered and bepraised, before a word was interchanged
between the stranger knight and me. Suddenly, without preface, he
addressed himself to me; Mr. Quartzman had been dragged off to gather
ferns.

'You must allow me to compliment you, Miss Middleton, on the
improvement you have effected in my young friends; I could hardly have
believed it possible. Don't I remember them a few years since? Always
affectionate, fine-natured children, but wild as hawks. However did
you gain such perfect control over them in so short a time?'

'Partly by kindness, partly by firmness,' I made answer; 'a good
share of patience was needed, you may be sure.'

'I can quite understand that,' he said. 'My astonishment is how you
could ever make up your mind to such a mode of life. Personally, I
would rather starve than act as a tutor.'

'People take it for granted that teaching is intolerably tedious. It
is really not so bad in reality; besides the results are often
gratifying.'

'In this instance doubly so, I feel sure,' he said, coming back to
his first idea. 'And, pardon me, your influence appears to have been
felt in the household as well. With the warmest friendship for my old
friend Jack Quartzman and his kind-hearted loyal wife, I used to laugh
at their housekeeping a good deal.'

'I have a turn for arranging other people's business,' I said; 'it is
not always thought to be a pleasant trait; but where everything is
surrendered to one, as in this case, the temptation is great, you must
own.'

'I have always cherished a prejudice against the esprits forts of
your sex,' he said, half reflectively, 'yet I suppose energy and
foresight--horrid idea--are needed by women as well as men.'

'When they do not exist, the results are sometimes disastrous.'

'But what becomes of that beautiful fancy, the soft and clinging
nature of woman, her dependence upon man, the ivy and the oak; in
fact, the grand central idea of chivalry?'

'If it ever had any real existence, you may depend upon it,' I
answered, 'that the affairs of mediaeval society were managed after
some prosaic fashion that did not appear on the surface.'

'Possibly,' he assented reluctantly; 'still it is a fair dream
vanished--an ideal shattered--unless one can believe that the softer
feminine qualities, such as one observes in the useless graceful
individuals of your sex, are retained unimpaired.'

'Really, I cannot say,' I replied, finding the conversation a little
awkward. 'It is one of those problems which can only be solved by
experience.'

'A ruinously expensive plan,' he said musingly.

'Oh! what lovely ferns these are,' cried Harriet, now coming up with
her father, full of girlish delight, and bearing an armful of great
delicate fronds. 'We found them near such a wonderful cave, with the
water trickling down over moss like green velvet. Do you think we can
find out the botanical names when we get home?'

'I daresay,' said I, knowing them perfectly well, but not choosing to
be oppressively well informed. 'How beautifully green they are; I see
you have three different sorts.'

'And I saw a platypus,' called out Charlie, 'worth all your bothering
ferns. If I'd had a gun, I could have shot him easily. He had such a
jolly bill, just like a duck.'

'Or a tailor,' said Mr. Wharfedale; "a beast with a bill," though the
same definition applies to other tradesmen we can't do without. Do you
know, Quartzman, we ought to turn homeward, it's a longish walk? Won't
you be tired after it, Miss Middleton?'

'Only reasonably so. Harriet and I walk a good deal. I suppose I
ought to be ashamed of my want of feminine delicacy, but I can't do
without my walks abroad, and this is an enticing neighbourhood when
you know, what Charlie used to call, the "lay of the country."'

Ere we saw the cottage, the stars had commenced to shine out--first
one or two, then more, lastly a gathering host in the deep blue
southern sky. Faint fire-points were they at first, then lambent,
scintillating, flame--brilliant, wondrous company! The half-seen
silver sheets of the broad stream reflected them irregularly, through
ebon shadows cast by swaying river oaks gleaming in the hushed eve.
The preceding week had been dry, so that the winding woodpaths were
firm to the footstep, while the night air was deliciously cool, pure,
and even exhilarating.

When we reached home, Cousin Jane was important and cheerful, drawing
attention to the fact that she had laid the tea-table, Mary Anne being
out on a recreational visit to her friends, and Susan, as usual,
engaged with the children. 'I really thought you were lost,' she said.
'I couldn't remedy the matter, but thought the next best thing was to
take care you had something to eat when you did return. Miss
Middleton, you look rather pale. Harriet, did you put the comforter
round your neck that I gave you? I think you had better go to bed a
little earlier, and put your feet in hot water.'

Our distinguished guest remained for about a week, during which time
Cousin Jane and I saw very little of him in the daytime, as he
regularly 'took himself off,' as she expressed it, with Mr. Quartzman,
having, he explained, correspondence to get through, accounts, etc.,
which he could manage more easily at the little office at the
township.

'He can smoke more comfortably there too,' said Jane plaintively.
'Dear me, I wonder what men can find in those nasty pipes--cigars are
worse, though they look more refined--that they spend so much time in
burning tobacco and breathing it?'

'There is a reason,' I said, 'or millions would not be of one opinion
on the subject. Men say that it calms the nerves, assists meditation,
and tends generally to a satisfactory condition of mind, even when
circumstances are most adverse. I must say I have met a good many men,
and nearly all women, who would be improved by smoking--
metaphorically, of course.'

'But the scent is so dreadful.'

'Not worse than others which we have to put up with in our
households, and cannot complain of. The odour of tobacco is acrid and
pungent, not in any sense noisome, but simply disagreeable. We make a
mighty pother about it, and, I think, unreasonably. It's a habit to
which we ought to accustom ourselves. It cannot be wise to drive men
from home to indulge it with greater freedom abroad.'

'Well, I daresay there is something in that. I must say I never could
break John off it. The most I could do was to prevent it growing upon
him, by never letting him smoke in peace in the house, if I could help
it.'

'Then you have not reasoned the subject out, Mrs. Quartzman, but have
started with a prejudice, and followed it up all your life. When I am
married--that is, if ever I do such a commonplace thing--my husband
shall smoke in the drawing-room if he likes, and I will light his pipe
for him.'

'In the drawing-room! But it's such a dirty habit.'

'I assume that my husband, like yours, will be a gentleman. How,
then, can any of his habits be such as you describe? If he be
delicately clean in his person, as all gentlemen are, and smokes good
tobacco in a nice pipe or a cigar, what can there be dirty about the
matter? However, the girl of the period--though I don't approve of
that--is smoking cigarettes herself in society. That will soon settle
the question.'

'How dreadful! how very dreadful! It makes one almost thankful to
live in the bush. But I was going to say that Mr. Wharfedale is such a
nice man, and so really good in every way that I shouldn't so much
mind his smoking. Just suppose he should take a fancy to you,
Portia,--I mean Miss Middleton.'

'That doesn't come out of the cross-examination, as I once heard
Judge Carteret say to father,' I answered. 'Why suppose anything so
absurd? It is time for afternoon school.'

Some days after this conversation Mr. Wharfedale departed, sincerely
regretted, as the papers say, and unaffectedly bewailed by the younger
members of the family. In spite of the daily absence at Waronga, there
was ample time for talk in the evenings, and occasionally during walks
before breakfast. Strangely, however, we nearly always disagreed in
argument. He strongly objected to didactic utterances on the part of
our sex; and I am afraid, from my habit of thinking out questions for
myself, I had acquired, unconsciously, a tendency that way.

'If there is anything,' he used to say, 'calculated to make a man
behave like a savage, it is to hear a woman lay down the law in an
authoritative manner. It is so alien to all true theories of the sex,
that one is tempted to wish she, if otherwise nice, had never learned
to read or write. One might love a belle sauvage, but a blue stocking,
never! not if she were Hypatia herself.'

'One doesn't defend pedantic women,' I mildly pleaded; 'but surely a
cultured intellect, with the power of imparting knowledge, was a good
thing in either sex. It refined society, was beneficial to the
young,'--here he gave a gruff token of assent--'besides,' I went on to
say, 'if culture were universal with both sexes, there would be no
occasion for conceit in the possessors.'

'Very likely there was sound argument in what I said, but (present
company, of course, specially excepted) where there was a combination
of the utile et dulce to a degree he had hitherto deemed impossible'
(this was his first, last, and only compliment, I beg to state), 'he
never did like strong-minded women, and he never should.'

In this unsatisfactory state of mind he departed for Queensland or
Patagonia, or some other inconceivably remote region, whence he might
return next year or nevermore.

So uncertain were his movements that the Quartzmans, I could see,
calmly made up their minds never to set eyes on him again.

Somehow the school duties did not go on so satisfactorily as before.
I did not know why. A kind of chronic dulness, a lack of hopefulness,
seemed to oppress every one. I caught myself wondering whether, after
all, the game was worth the candle, this wearing-out life in the
wilderness, teaching a commonplace 'decayed family'--they were not
that,--but I was in a froward humour. A kind of Quixotic enterprise,
which no one else could have dreamed of. Why should I have immolated
myself to it? And what would be my reward? How pale and void my
present life, still more my future, seemed! I was weak enough to cry
myself to sleep that night. But I awoke before dawn, and getting out
of bed prayed penitently and contritely; after which my heart was
lightened, and I soon wore myself into the old path of daily care and
daily gratification at the results of my humble labours.

Charlie, about this time, was sent to Melbourne to the Church of
England Grammar School. And a very good thing for him. He was a fine,
honest, affectionate lad, but getting beyond the age when a healthy
boy can be successfully instructed by women.

It seems that Mr. 'Monte Cristo' Wharfedale had insisted upon this
step being taken forthwith, and had charged himself with his
maintenance, until he should be old enough to go into bush or bank
life, whichever might be thought suitable for him.

'Good-bye, dear old Mammie Middleton; you are such an old grannie,
you know (I told Mr. Wharfedale so one day, and he laughed, and said
you were not so very old, and very nice--looking besides); but I
should have been a shocking dunce when I went to school, if it hadn't
been for you. Now I shall have a show at Latin, and History, and
Euclid; you see if I don't; and I intend to work and let them see a
fellow isn't such a muff if he has lived at Waronga. And I'm to choose
in two years whether I'll go into a bank or on to a station. None of
your stuffy banks for me though, if I know it. I'm an open-air man.'

I kissed the frank, hopeful boy, rich with the possibilities of
youth's untouched exchequer, and felt thankful that I had been able to
rescue him from the state of comparative ignorance in which I had
found him. 'This, at any rate, has been a good deed,' I said to
myself, 'so I ought to be contented and self-sustained by the
thought.'

The season wore on. Soon the self-imposed term of my labours would
arrive. Then I should be free to resume my place among my social
equals. Once more I should be permitted to taste the sweets of gaiety,
of congenial companionship, with new books, new ideas, all the
thousand-and-one glories which go to compose civilisation, so richly
to be enjoyed in companionship with a full purse. Yet as the month
approached I did not feel the joy at my expected emancipation which I
expected. No one alluded to the separation now so imminent. The
children said little, but they all looked, poor dears! as though the
prospect was a melancholy one.

For myself, I felt that though, of course, perfectly free to carry
out my original compact, having but made a promise for a fixed period,
yet there would be a certain violation of the spirit of it if I
relinquished my task for at least another half-year.

After that time Harriet, who had been lately developing fast and
showing a gratifying desire to walk in the paths I had laid down for
her, would be able to take upon herself the education of the younger
children and the management of the household.

I should then be assured that the work I had with so much care
initiated would be followed up. I might hereafter comfort myself with
the assurance that I had at least been the light of one home, and had
gladdened the hearts of my necessitous kindred with such as I had to
give.

When the actual week came, I made up my mind. I had thought over the
condition of the children, of the household, when I arrived, as
contrasted with the present state of matters. Progress had been made;
improvement in every respect was visible. Was it entirely owing to me
and to my exertions? I could honestly say that it was.

Then came another question to be as honestly answered.

If I left them finally now, would the state of matters last? I hoped
it would; I trusted it would. But, probing my innermost heart, I could
not with sincerity believe that such would be the case. Harriet was
promising now, and eager to take my place in the management of the
household, the teaching of the children. But her self-control could
not as yet be confidently relied on. Her experience was brief, her
education not sufficiently advanced, while any recurrence of the old
worry and fatigue of housekeeping might cause an alteration for the
worse in Jane's improved health, by which the fruit of a year's labour
might be lost. Mr. Quartzman's face came before me as I thought over
this, his air of security and peace when he returned from work in the
evening, so different from the look he wore when I first saw him. No!
Finally I told myself, 'I cannot risk the fall of the edifice I have
built up. It is the work of my hands. I will return after a month's
holiday and bestow another year of my life to complete what I have
begun. Then I may rest secure that all has been done that could be
done. I shall then have every hope that my work will be enduring and
"not in vain in the Lord."'

When I communicated this determination to Cousin Jane and her family
the day before that fixed for my departure, their emotion was
unaffectedly deep and genuinely expressed. None of us could say a word
for some minutes, but wept in unison. I thought myself fully repaid
for any sacrifice I might have made.

Harriet threw her arms round my neck in an ecstasy of joy. Jane wept
silently on her sofa. Jack and Jill danced a lively measure, as more
appropriate to their feelings, and even the little toddler said, 'I so
glad oo not doin' 'way, Miss Midditon.'

Mr. Quartzman returned at night, and being promptly informed of the
important news made as though he would have embraced me, and taking
both my hands in his, held them until I thought he never intended to
let them go again. He then said, 'My dearest Portia, no words of mine
can express the joy I feel at the prospect of your return. You have
been our guardian angel. You have done for this house what I scarcely
deemed it was in the power of a mortal to do. If you had left us, and
we dared not hope otherwise, we should have mourned you as a heavenly
visitant fled away to a happier sphere. I do not exaggerate. But you
will return, to be our hearth fairy! to brighten our lot again, and we
shall be happy as heretofore. God bless you, my dear girl, and reward
you for your good works!'

To all this I could say nothing. Too much was made of my paltry
sacrifice. What had I given? only of the time which was to me a
superfluity, of the energy which caused me unrest and pain, of the
educated faculties for which I had before found no use. But my eyes
were again full, and my voice of no present avail as an interpreter of
feeling. So I discreetly retired till we were all summoned to tea,
when greater cheerfulness, not to say jollity, prevailed than had been
known since the passing of Mr. Wharfedale.

I took care that there should not be any tearfulness at my departure.
'Write me a letter once a week, Harriet,' I said, 'and tell me
everything that goes on--down to the speckled hen that Harold is going
to set. He is to get on with his spelling, holidays notwithstanding,
otherwise he will never get on in the world, and I shall have him sent
to school when I come back.

'Such a ten-bladed knife as I am going to buy him in Melbourne, if he
is good! Jack and Jill are to have a Chinese kite that sings and a
doll that can walk--always supposing they are good and obey Harriet. I
will send Jenny and Ethel a parasol and a bangle. I think that must be
all now; the rest I will say in a letter. Good-bye, Mrs. Quartzman.
Good-bye! don't starve yourself in my absence, whatever you do.'

'Starve myself?' she inquired.

'Yes, starve yourself! I don't mean the pink and white part of you,
but the immortal, imperishable, divine Jane, endowed with an
intellect, Mrs. Quartzman! Don't settle down to the stocking basket
and darn yourself into a nonentity. Think of your poor husband, when
he comes home "weary with the work of life."'

'Oh!' said she, much relieved, 'is that all? What a strange girl you
are! Of course I will not, if it's only to please you. But, really, I
am fond of reading now, and John thinks I am quite clever. I fished
out an article on "Hereditary Transmission" the other day, which
interested him ever so much.'

'That's the way to distinguish yourself. If women would oftener--
Never mind. I'll send you up a box of books from Mullen's. Good-bye,
dear!'

When I met dear father at the Spencer Street terminus that evening,
what a Babylon Melbourne appeared, with its wide, crowded streets and
busy population, after the distant outpost of the Empire I had left,
with its meagre unchanging garrison!

As he folded me in a loving embrace, before about a thousand people,
I failed to realise that a year had passed since he had convoyed a
discontented, ennuye damsel on the outward-bound journey.

'Welcome back, my darling Portia!' he gasped out. He was so plump--
looking after Mr. Quartzman, who was lean, and Mr. Wharfedale, who was
muscular. 'But you don't mean to say it's a year since you went away?
And how well you are looking! wonderfully well; such a complexion! and
stouter--certainly stouter than you were. Mother herself will hardly
know you. I think we must send up Bell in your place. She looks older
than you, I tell her. But come along. They're all dying of impatience
to see you.'

My modest belongings were hoisted into a cab, and as father and I
entered our very comfortable close carriage, I could not help
temporarily considering myself in the light of a country cousin, all
unused to so much magnificence. That feeling might be trusted to wear
off. But what went along with it, and which was worth any sum of
money, was the delicious, real, schoolgirl sensation of unalloyed
delight in the world of novelty, which now surrounded me and which I,
city-bred as I was, had never before realised. Then the genuine,
loving welcome of dear mother, the girls, and my brother Bob, who was
at home on a visit, went to my heart. When I thought that all these
luxuries and novelties were the direct results of my originality and
daring, I was in danger of being puffed up. But I repressed all
feeling, save that of gratitude to Him who had granted my prayer for a
sphere of usefulness and brought me safely home.

How delightful everything was! How charming was this crowded earnest
metropolis, after the quiet country town from which I had been
translated. Every breath I drew henceforth was a pleasure; every walk
down the street was a luxury; every drive in the carriage a sensation;
every dinner-party as one of childhood's feasts; every picnic was a
Paradise peep; every dance a delirious revelry; every friend's house
was a palace; every shop was an exhibition. If this state of mind was
created by a year's voluntary exile, never was time better bestowed.

It was fairyland for the first month. Father and mother were
touchingly affectionate, the dear girls quite faultless. I wondered
that I had blamed them ever so slightly in my heart. Yet after a
month--I was to stay two, during the great heat of January and
February--I began to recall that little flock in the wilderness, and
to catch myself in the afternoons thinking of the tasks that made the
hours pass so quickly till the sun was low.

How were they getting on? Did they miss me? Was Jill's frock
regularly mended, and was her honest little dark-eyed face as merry as
ever--as suddenly o'ercast with tears? Did Harriet steadfastly uphold
the weight of the task I had committed to her? And was Cousin Jane
cheerful, or had her manifold duties 'collapsed her' utterly, as in
the days before my despotism?

As I said before, I suppose I must be of a restless and
unsatisfactory temperament--no sooner having realised happiness than
desirous of the contrary sensation, by way of a change. I cannot
account for my desire to return to Waronga gradually gaining force in
any other way.

When I mentioned it during the first month, the girls were in
despair, mother hysterical, and father really--that is not quite
seriously--but what another man would have called vexed. Then I
judiciously let the question drop. At the beginning of the eighth week
I observed, smiling a little to myself, that there was not the same
violent opposition to my departure. How few are the people in this
world of whom one does not--or others, as the case may be, do not--get
just a little tired! Certainly, I was not a visitor or a dependant.
But I had--for imperfect sympathy with my own flesh and blood, and for
generally flourishing about a purpose of some kind--got to be voted a
trifle too prononce for the family club. You see they were such very
comfortable, methodical, regular folk, that the merest trifle of non--
complaisance put them out--' got on their nerves,' as they expressed
it. I am afraid I did so a little, latterly, as I used to rouse the
girls with questions as to whether they ever thought of any one's
well-being but their own, and if they would be satisfied with doing
'more nothing' to the end of their days?

They replied to me with great sweetness and politeness, but I could
see they did not quite like it.

When the day (the second time of parting) came we were all softly
resigned. I had promised mother to return 'for good,' at the ensuing
Christmas; and that being the case, I received absolution. She had
listened with much interest, good kind soul, to my description of the
change I had wrought in Jane's household, and the help and benefit I
honestly believed I had been to her. All this Jane herself had
confirmed in a letter overflowing with gratitude, which she had
written to the old lady.

'Well, my dear Portia,' she said finally, 'we are told that "it is
more blessed to give than to receive," and I cannot complain of your
putting in practice--unusual as it appears--the lesson you have been
taught in your childhood; I have been thinking much over your present
occupation and I believe you are acting unselfishly, and that your
work will have a blessing on it. God send you safe back to us at
Christmas time!'

Poor old daddy was really sorry to lose me, I think. We used to have
nice long talks, and I don't think I contradicted him as much as I
used to do. He did not go up with me this time, but handed me over to
an old squatter friend of his, whose sheep station was on the other
side of the Murray. The whistle sounded, cutting our last kiss rather
short, and I was literally going back to school after the holidays.

We had come early, however, on purpose to have a good quiet talk, and
towards the end of it father said--

'Now, my dear Portia, you're no longer a girl--'

'I'm so sorry,' I said; 'daddy, are you quite sure?'

'I mean you're a young woman, my dear. In another year you'll be
five--and-twenty.'

'Dreadful to think of,' I interposed, 'what then?'

'Well, my dear, you know you've all a little money of your own--and,
in a general way, there's plenty of it in the family, thank God! so
what I wanted to tell you was that if for any purpose, at any time,
you wanted three or four hundred pounds--good investments are often
met with in the country and Quartzman might see a chance now and
then--why, you can draw on me for it.'

'I shall never want all that money. My hundred a year does a good
deal more than dress me, I know, and very handy I find it.'

'I only said if, my dear,' said father, mildly astonished at my
failing to see the advantage of being able to 'draw at sight.' 'Never
mind! I hope you may never want money all your life more than you do
now.'

I kept thinking of this strange idea of daddy's as we went along.
What could I do with five hundred pounds? 'It would not set Charlie up
in a station, would it?' I asked Mr. Grizzley, and he said 'Not at
this time of day; though the time had been when five hundred pounds'
worth of stock, and a good block of country (to be had for the taking
up and ten pounds a year rent) would start a man well, ay, and had
done so with many that held their heads high enough now.'

I took courage to ask, 'How much then?'

'Nothing under two or three thousand pounds; say three thousand at
the very least--and that will only buy a partnership in a far-out
district, which, after all, was the best way for a youngster to
begin.'

When we arrived at Redgum terminus--so called from its being
originally a sawmill, with a tiny township tacked on to it--nearly the
whole family had come to meet me. Poor things! how delighted they
were! The tears came into my eyes also, rather to Mr. Grizzley's
astonishment, as he delivered me over. He told Cousin Jane that he
thought I was quite a different sort of girl.

Charlie had borrowed a double buggy, and came up in all the glory of
a pair of fresh horses looking nice and sleek--the grass on the
riverside common being good. It held his mother, with Harriet and the
baby, Jack and Jill, with continuous smiles all over their pretty
faces, which deepened into wonder as my unreasonable quantity of
luggage, with so many parcels and bandboxes, was put out.

However, all were finally stowed in, and we drove off triumphantly
before a crowd of at least twenty Waronga people.

The faithful Mary Anne, who had not given warning or got married, or
done anything dreadful in my absence, had impressed herself as to the
tea prepared in my honour. Mr. Quartzman returned shortly afterwards,
and we sat down, a most joyous family party. I was, of course, incited
to pour forth my narrative of adventures; on the other hand, I was
speedily informed of the wonderful things that had happened at Waronga
in my absence. One thing was certain, that they had not been very
lonely without me, though everybody had been 'good' in my absence, and
could not sufficiently express their delight at having me back again.

As is usual with travellers, it cost me some consideration to get my
mental focus duly accommodated to the landscape; but in a week or two
all was much as usual, and I was drilling and denouncing during the
day; walking by the river bank with Harriet in the evenings, much as
though I had never quitted Waronga. Such creatures of habit are we
all!

My presents--of which I had been careful to bring back a varied
assortment--kept up a sustained interest for a full month after my
arrival. Among these was the last sweet thing in bonnets, with which I
recalled to Jane her lost Paradise, after having had her assertion
that she had carefully read every book I had sent her, confirmed by
Mr. Quartzman. He, I thought, scarcely looked as well as the rest of
the family. I recognised the old careworn expression deepening into
depression. When I taxed him with it, he admitted that times were bad,
money scarce; he had an annoying bad debt of greater amount than
usual; still, nothing of any moment or likely to cause serious
inconvenience.

What really had troubled him was a letter from an old friend with
whom he had held mining shares and interests in days gone by at
Sandhurst. This friend, a clever man of business, and thoroughly
acquainted with mining property (a good deal to say of a man, he
laughingly observed), had sent him valuable information. Among the
initiated it was known that a revival of the quartz-reefs of Sandhurst
was imminent. He mentioned several which were about to be worked by
companies, and of which the shares were at present low and unnoticed.
'I am behind the scenes, Jack,' was his concluding paragraph, 'as in
the old days--and I say, buy into the "Southern Cross" or the "Right
Hand Pocket" for every shilling you can raise. If you don't, you'll
repent it all your life, or my name isn't Frank Ferretter.'

'And why are you cast down, Mr. Quartzman?' said I, with the
careless courage of youth. 'It ought to raise your spirits, I should
say.'

'Because I am miserably undecided. I ought to back Frank up. He is a
man of strict honour, an old friend, and so shrewd and clear-headed
that I have never found him wrong. But I look round on these children,
and haven't the heart to do anything that might imperil their well-
being or the roof above their heads, poor as it is. But I ought. I
ought to put five hundred pounds into one of these reefs, and I may be
missing a chance now, perhaps a fortune, never to be offered to me
again as long as I live.'

'Why not talk it over with your wife?' I asked.

'I have spoken of it to her,' he said, with a grave smile, 'but she
has such a prejudice against mining speculations (I lost heavily by my
last investment in that way) that she will hardly bear the subject
mentioned. She conjured me, as I valued the welfare of my children, to
have nothing whatever to do with it.'

'Let us have a council of war, then,' I suggested, 'and go warily
over the whole plan of campaign.'

He assented, but without enthusiasm. However, after breakfast next
morning, we had our talk. Cousin Jane was, of course, present. I had
been thinking over the matter since sunrise. A hard look came over her
face when Sandhurst was casually referred to.

'I have had enough of mining ventures to last me all my lifetime, and
I should think that you had too, John, unless you wish to be without a
roof and a dinner again.'

'My dear Jane,' he answered, 'if you reflect for a moment you will
see that we were never quite so hard up as that, though I will own
that the "Great Intended" cleared me out in 186, when the lower
levels were flooded by those "Hand over Hand" ruffians.'

'I hate the very name of mining--shares and reefs and companies, they
are all alike,' she said, more passionately than I had ever heard her
speak, 'and shall do so to my dying day.'

'But won't you hear reason?' he said. 'Suppose a few hundreds would
be sufficient to buy an interest in a real good thing, and we get back
the twenty thousand pounds I lost, what then?'

'Why will you talk in that way, John, and break my heart? If it be a
good thing, you will be sure to be out of it. You know you are unlucky
in mining matters, and did nothing but lose in every venture you
tried--since I knew you, at any rate. I can't think, for my part, how
you ever did make any money.'

A pained look came over his face, then, with the old weary smile, he
said sadly, 'Men spoke differently of John Quartzman once upon a time,
and for many a year too. I don't like my wife to lose all faith in my
business capacity. The fact appears patent to me that shares in mining
companies never were so low as now. A rise is certain, consequently
this is the time to invest.'

'I have heard it said,' I interposed, before Cousin Jane had time to
denounce the fiend of the mine and all his works, 'that more men are
ruined by letting previous failures confuse their calculations than by
imprudence. The player distrusts his system just when he should back
it. The rise and fall of values must be calculable. It is we women, I
fancy, who, over sanguine in success, mistake despondency in adversity
for prudence.'

'Why, you are as bad as John,' said Cousin Jane. 'The world must
surely be coming to an end when you advise him to gamble in mining
shares.'

'I do not advise anything of the kind; but I wish him and you too to
consider what may be the most important act of your life with calmness
and without prejudice. Do what you will, accept or refuse, but decide
upon reasonable grounds.'

'Well, John, you and Portia had better settle it between you. I wash
my hands of it. However, I will say I never knew her wrong in
anything, and all may come right this time.'

'Very well. Now, Mr. Quartzman, is your information really good?'

'I can trust Frank Ferretter as if he were my brother. I have proved
his friendship in fair weather and foul.'

'Utterly trustworthy man--not likely to be taken in?'

'There does not live a miner from San Francisco to Hokitiki, and
that's a wide word, that can teach him anything.'

'And the reef will either make the shareholders rich, or they lose
every penny they invest?'

'That, of course. Limited liability, though. We are not liable for
more than we put in.'

'Have you five hundred pounds available?'

'Yes; could just manage, with great scraping together, to lay my hand
on that sum.'

'Then I advise you to buy in at once and I will invest the same sum.
Draw on father for the amount in my name; he will honour it, I know.
Then Jane, if I win, it will be all the better for Charlie.'

Mr. Quartzman looked half puzzled, half delighted. Jane regarded me
evidently as a philanthropist whose intellect voluntary teaching had
overthrown. We stared at each other, and finally burst out laughing.
'It's all right,' I said. 'I am as sane as usual, my dear Mrs.
Quartzman.' We had been rather careless about Christian names lately.
I then explained father's parting words.

'I'll wire Ferretter to buy in for the whole amount,' said Mr.
Quartzman, who was the first to recover his faculties permanently. 'I
am so delighted I can hardly speak. I feel quite another man again. I
have a presentiment we shall win this time, wife! If we do, we shall
be only adding a trifle to the national debt which we owe to St.
Portia here.'

He kissed his wife, who stood half amazed, with a wondering smile on
her face, and was gone.

Next day came a letter, such a kind one, from daddy, saying that he
sent a draft enclosed for the money, and that he believed the old
Bendigo Deep Leads were going to have their turn at last, in which
case the obsolete tradition of fortunes made in Victoria by mining
would be revived. Except that mother and the girls felt the heat
lately, their health was pretty good.

'Felt the heat, did they? I wonder what they would have thought of my
low-roofed schoolroom?'

One evening I had kept in the children pour cause later in the day
than I did generally. It was the last hot month. In the interior of
Australia the languor of the whole summer, unrelieved by sea breezes,
seems to culminate in the lingering pre-autumnal days. My pupils had
been, perhaps, rather inattentive, so I had persevered past the usual
time, and was still quietly, but unyieldingly, working up the
irregular French verbs.

'There now, you may all go,' I said; 'you have given me a headache,
I know. Do you think you know them well enough to say to-morrow?'

'Oh yes,' said Jenny, now a slender, fast-growing girl. 'I really do
know them now, tiresome things; but does it always give you a headache
when we are stupid, Miss Middleton?'

'Sometimes,' I said; 'and you'll try not to give me another this
week.'

'I promise,' shouted Harold.

'So will I,' said Ethel. 'We all will. I feel lazy this hot weather,
but I never will again if it's cruel.'

'Come and walk by the river, Miss Middleton,' said Harold. 'It's so
cool there, and there's beautiful green moss and shady ferns, and I
know a woodduck's nest up a tree. The young ones are gone now; I think
she must have carried them away on her back.'

'Help me up, then,' I said. 'Oh, how tired I am! I shall be glad
when the cool weather sets in.'

Languidly I pace the winding path that leads to the river, Harold
holding one hand, and Jill disputing the other with Jack--Ethel
running in front shouting 'River, river, flowing river!' at the top of
her voice, when some one says, 'May I be of the party, if I am not too
dusty and disagreeable?'

The children gave a shriek of delight, which informed me that Mr.
Wharfedale had arrived, even before I turned and saw his bronzed face.
He had been regarding us in a leisurely manner--it is impossible to
say for how long--and upon my greeting him condescended to join us.

'I have just come by the coach,' he said, 'and am looking a fright,
I know, as girls say--horribly tired too. But though I have been
jolted about all night, I think, Miss Middleton, that you look more
fagged than I do.'

There was a kind inflection in his voice that nearly made the tears
come into my eyes. But I resisted the tendency fiercely. What does
Nature mean by letting women make fools of themselves, in season and
out of season, over and above their manifest opportunities in that
line?

'You must have heard me lamenting my small woes,' I answered. 'It is
a safety-valve we women make use of in private.'

'I don't wonder. Teaching must be atrociously trying this weather.
Really it's hard work to live, even when one has little or nothing to
do. I find it so.'

Mr. Wharfedale underrated his occupation, his attainments, and his
principles, always professing to do little, and to know nothing worth
mentioning. He carried a dislike to egotism and pedantry to the
opposite extreme.

'It's like all other work, I suppose,' I said, while we strolled
nearer the broad river, and the children ran shouting forward to the
shingly shallows, dabbling in the swift-flowing clear water, and
plucking bulrushes and willow streamers; 'not half so bad when you're
in it. And then the after taste is good.'

'I suppose nobody would be a governess, if they could help it,' he
said reflectively, 'and yet, excepting those of artists or writers,
there seems hardly any other occupation for gentlewomen whose parents
are not rich or independent.'

'They ought to be thankful for that,' I said. 'It is honourable work,
and provides the means of living. That should suffice, ought it not?
Women are so easily contented, you know--not like men.'

'Now you are laughing, and I am serious. If you know how deeply I
respect--how warmly I admire a woman whom I see unobtrusively doing
her duty in the life which Fate has apportioned to her, you would not
be sarcastic with me.'

'Thank you for your compliments. But do you mean to tell me that you
have the same feeling of respect for Mrs. Quartzman's governess as you
have for Marion Walsingham or the Clara Vere de Veres of Melbourne or
Sydney?'

'As much respect? Far more, a thousandfold, if you will believe me.
What constitutes a woman's patent of nobility, if culture of mind and
refinement of nature do not? Self-denial for worthy ends is another
factor in the sum. Who is more likely to possess these qualities--rare
in both sexes--the spoiled child of fortune, who has never had a wish
ungratified, or the patient worker, compelled to mould her will, and
withstand her impulses?'

'Would not such a paragon border upon the strong-minded woman, that
too successful product from which men, "uncertain, coy, and hard to
please," instinctively flee.'

'I confess to talking nonsense occasionally,' he replied; 'who does
not? When I was here last I must have been airing some of my favourite
affectations. However, I have been rather the prey of the gods lately.
I have had a wearisome overland journey, some indifferent luck, with a
touch of fever and ague thrown in. If you see me more humble-minded
than usual, it is not to be wondered at.'

'Mrs. Quartzman will wonder why we are so late for tea.' I feel it
necessary to interpose. 'Children, come away from that island,
directly. Do you hear, Harold? Never mind the kingfisher's nest on the
bank. It's getting too late to see. Jack, don't fall off that log!
Jill, it's naughty of you to wet your shoes and stockings! Ethel, look
at the state of your frock!' And we walk quickly homewards.

We were again a happy family party that night, around our humble
tea--table. Mr. Quartzman produced an inspiriting telegram from Mr.
Ferretter: 'Just in time with your thou' (thus he expressed that
modest morsel of capital) 'Etna and Vesuvius going up like smoke'
(code names he explained). The cooled Reisling had been produced, and
in this he was about to drink my health, and make embarrassing
statements, when I looked over at him so imploringly that he, being a
person of quick apprehension--much as Cousin Jane doubted the fact--
turned the conversation to a general congratulation of himself and his
luck in this instance.

'Why, Quartzman!' said Mr. Wharfedale, 'you are getting like your old
self again. No longer "wasting in despair," but with pluck enough to
have a flying shot at good investments. Nothing like perseverance.
Delighted to see your shares are up. Quite a flavour of old times, eh,
Mrs. Quartzman?'

That matron looked first at her husband, then at me, and, finally,
with a pleased, mysterious expression at Mr. Wharfedale, who could not
think what it all meant.

'Miss Middleton does not approve, perhaps, of such a bold venture in
shares?' he said smilingly; 'but Mrs. Quartzman knows, none better,
that seeming rashness in mining matters is often the truest wisdom.'

'I can't say John acted upon my advice this time,' that lady said
humbly. 'I am delighted though, that it has turned out so well.'

'Better and better,' he said; 'acted on his own judgment, with both
the ladies against him--for I feel certain he asked Miss Middleton's
advice if she was in the house when he thought it over. I know his
respect for her opinion. Now, didn't he, Miss Middleton?'

'He certainly did,' I said, blushing, in spite of myself.

'And then went and bought in with noble obstinacy after all. I really
didn't think him such a brilliant operator. I revere a man who
believes in himself.'

'Don't you think the principle may be carried too far?' I asked,
suppressing a strong inclination to laugh at the ingenious self-
mystification of my masterful acquaintance.

'Hardly ever--excuse the slang,' he said, 'but it's so hard to say
anything without quoting Pinafore. I forgot, though, you haven't had
the opportunity of hearing that comic miracle.'

'No, indeed!' said Cousin Jane, boiling over with the sense of the
injustice of my being thus ignored; 'Miss Middleton is buried up here
from year's end to year's end, and never has the chance of seeing
anybody or hearing anything. I think it's a great shame.'

'So it is, when you come to think of it,' said Mr. Wharfedale,
rather wondering at this excessive consideration for 'a young person,'
'but you must consider that you are also secluded from pleasures and
palaces.'

'That is of very little consequence,' said Jane, with true humility.
Long and hopelessly impoverished, therefore permanently doomed to
Waronga, or other purgatorial provinces, she was past pitying herself,
but felt at the same time exasperated that she could not wither up her
guest's indifferentism by suddenly disclosing my real virtues, or,
what alike in kingdom and colony stands for the same thing, the wealth
of my dear old daddy. Foiled, however, in this generous purpose by her
promise to me, which I did not allow her to forget, she betook herself
to bed rather suddenly. I was not sorry to retire at the same time,
leaving Mr. Quartzman and his friend to their pipes and confidences.

Mr. Wharfedale only remained for a few days on this occasion, having
affairs in Melbourne which interfered with the 'lazy ally' business he
professed so deeply to appreciate. I could not help thinking there was
a difference in his manner since he had left Waronga last. Something
had occurred to soften him. He spoke more tolerantly of the
shortcomings of others, less decisively of his own opinions. One day
he paid me the compliment of making the same observation as far as I
was concerned.

'Perhaps you will permit me, Miss Middleton, to say that I see a
difference in your style since last year. You are less fixed in your
convictions--is it not so?--less warlike in your dislike of
indifferentist tendencies.'

'I am only like the rest of the world then,' I answered. 'I had a
difficult task to perform when I arrived, and I braced myself for the
occasion. I may have relaxed a little, now that the battle is over,
who knows?'

'If you only knew how doubt and diffidence increase the charm of
womanhood, you would make fresh concessions.'

'And lose my self-respect!' I said; 'not for a century of idle
admiration, if, indeed, so unlikely an experience should come my way.
When a man sees his duty clearly, and lets nothing interfere with its
accomplishment, he is thought to have done something noble. Why not
allow the same meed of praise to a woman?'

'He is not told that he would be better loved if he were less true
to his ideal. He would despise the speaker if he were. I have little
patience with such half-contemptuous flatteries of women. It makes
them the silly dolls or ineffective workers that half of them are.'

'But yet the softer attributes,' pleaded he, with a malicious twinkle
in his eye, 'have from time immemorial been sacred to the fairer half
of creation.'

'You are trying to provoke me, Mr. Wharfedale,' said I, mortified at
being placed in a false position, 'but if good temper be considered a
softer attribute, it is more frequently found among the cultured
section of the sex than among the sweetly smiling simpletons by whom
men say they are attracted.'

'Please not to be angry, only hurt at my obtuseness,' he said, with a
peculiar air of gratification, as of one who is pacifying a child. 'I
am really on the road to conversion--obstinate as some people find me.
I know you can keep counsel, Miss Middleton, for Quartzman told me.
Shall I confess why I returned to Waronga, overland too--in this
scorching summer?' he continued, fixing his deep eye on me, now
lighted by a warmer glow than I had ever seen there.

'To see Mr. and Mrs. Quartzman. They are your true friends--glad to
greet you and sad when you depart.'

'We are more than friends in name,' he said, 'and for that reason I
shall always be grateful to a benefactress who, in their children's
training and their household happiness, has done them an invaluable
service. She may have regarded it as an ordinary contract, and as such
to be compensated. Payment! nothing could recompense such benefits.'

'You can't mean that, Mr. Wharfedale,' I gasped out. 'Why, every
governess undertakes--'

'You must not--pardon me, Miss Middleton--undervalue gifts as rare as
priceless, rare as the mind that designed the heart that offered them.
Believe me, under a mocking manner, I have noticed your unselfish
labours, your brave battling with discomfort from the first. You
aroused a fresh interest in me (pray let me speak on) from the time of
our first meeting, an interest which has since deepened into the love
of Hugh Wharfedale, which he now offers you.'

I looked at him in amazement. I stood spellbound. I conscientiously
declare that I was honestly surprised if ever a girl was under the
circumstances. My head was so filled with education and abstract ideas
that there was no room, I suppose, for the self-conscious, indolent,
introspective pastime for an empty brain and an over-excited
sensibility, commonly dignified by the name of love.

'You surely will not tell me,' he said, in softly reproachful
accents, 'that you never thought of me in this relation for one
moment? You look as if the idea was untenable; or am I so unhappy as
to have incurred your disapproval?' Here the haughty face became set
and rigid.

'Oh! it's not that,' I said hastily, as I began to confess to myself
that I had always admired, respected, placed him mentally on a
pedestal, as the nearest available demi-god, and so on.

But it had so little occurred to me that he, the unapproachable Hugh
Wharfedale, would ever be likely, as he was now actually doing, to
propose to an unattractive girl like myself--a mere governess--that I
was very nearly turning away and saying in the haste of instinctive
feminine evasion, 'it can never be,' or some such untruthful denial of
pure and honest liking. I swear I had no love for him then. But have I
not now? Yes, enough for a conversazione of wives! Then a voice with
low tones of reason, not emotion, kept on saying, 'Why throw away
happiness, power, success, the natural rank and position of wedded
womanhood.'

I looked full in his face. Our eyes met. I saw in those dusky fires
an indescribable expression of strong tenderness, manful kindness,
kingly protection; I bowed my head in token of surrender, until it
seemed quite natural, and by no means dreadful, that the said head was
pillowed on his broad breast.

'I must tell my dear mother,' I said at length, 'and father too. How
wicked of me to have forgotten them!'

'Ah! of course,' he said, in the tone which showed me that he could
not help thinking their consent a foregone conclusion.

'Governesses have fathers and mothers, you know,' I said, smiling at
the surprise that was in store for him.

'I shall always revere them,' he said, and his voice really trembled,
'as the wise and loving ones who made my treasure what she is.'

'And you will never allow people to sneer at governesses before me?'
I said softly.

He smiled. 'People will not sneer at my wife, darling!'

'But surely you are above such small--such paltry prejudices.'

'Now, suppose I told you a secret,' I whispered, 'that I am not a
governess at all, though a teacher.'

'I dislike mysteries,' he said shortly, and I thereupon resolved not
to be playful till I knew my ground. 'And what are you, then?' he
continued.

'I am not a governess,' I replied, 'I am a young lady.'

'Permit me to remark,' he said, still looking keenly at me, 'that I
am well satisfied of that fact, or our present relation would scarcely
have existed. I presume you did not do anything very wicked, which
necessitated your exile to Waronga?'

'I only mean to say--and you are not to look at me like that, sir--
that I came up here to live with Cousin Jane Quartzman of my own free
will, and because she was poor--and--needed help--' Here I
disgracefully began to cry.

'Great Heaven! and do you mean to tell me that you came voluntarily,
chose to live in this hot, dull, out-of-the-way place; to share the
privations of my poor friends here for nearly two years, all pour
l'amour de Dieu and true womanly kindness? I, who believed so little
in goodness, taking it for granted too, that you were merely working
for pay like every other governess. I honoured you all the more for
it. I will say that for myself. Thank heaven! I told you of my love
before I knew all. But I will never forgive Mrs. Quartzman. Why didn't
she tell me?'

'I had her promise not to do so. I had a foolish fancy for mortifying
the flesh after that fashion, and keeping free from condolences by
remaining incognita.'

There is little more to add. These jottings down of the small
incidents of my uneventful career are nearly at an end.

Mr. Quartzman and Cousin Jane were transported with delight when they
heard of my stupendous good fortune, as they evidently considered it
to be. The former, apropos of another telegram received from the
faithful Ferretter, in which the shares in the Right Hand Pocket were
stated as having fabulously risen, insisted upon relating my share in
the famous council of war. Again, in imagination, he and Cousin Jane
saw themselves replaced in their former station of social rank and
consideration, with a house in town, the boys at good schools, the
girls provided with masters, music, and drawing-lessons--all the
hardly-borne privations fading rapidly out of memory and regret. The
unavoidable misfortune of losing Portia Middleton was swallowed up in
an ocean of new hopes and pardonable fancies.

I shortly regained the family circle in Melbourne, to be welcomed as
a sort of lost Pleiad, and to become the centre of a host of admiring
friends and relatives; more particularly after Hugh--my Hugh--had
undergone an indispensable interview in daddy's study.

'Who would have thought Portia would have made the match of the
season?' said Jessie; 'all through insisting upon going to that
frightful Waronga, and helping Cousin Jane, too! The idea of meeting
that delightful Hugh Wharfedale there above all people! I never
dreamed the Quartzmans had ever heard his name.'

'The good things of this world are promised to those who do their
duty,' said mother reflectively. 'Why should we wonder at what we have
read in the Bible coming true? But we all of us read it a good deal,
and practise it very little, I am afraid.'

'And Hugh declared at Mrs. Hauton's, last year,' said Isabella, 'that
he hated governesses. You know you did,' she added, as the individual
referred to entered the room, 'say you hated governesses--didn't you?'

'Once for all I plead guilty to having talked nonsense in my time.
How could I know,' he continued, possessing himself of my hand, 'that
Fate was even then arranging that my happiness should be placed in the
safe charge of the "Governess of the Poets"--the ideal governess, if
ever there was one.'



OUR NEW COOK: A TALE OF THE TIMES



Chapter I



I WAS at my wits' end. I was almost at the conclusion of my stay in
town. I had been searching diligently from the first day of my arrival
for a young woman (we had had enough of old ones) who would consent,
for a liberal wage, to proceed to Bundaburramah, and there go through
the form of cooking our food. I say, go through the form. My wife and
I, taught by long intervals of self-help, were not exacting. I could
broil chops and steaks fairly well. I could put a piece of corned beef
into a pot, and leave it to simmer when I retired for the night. I
could manage potatoes. But my free spirit rebelled at the 'washing
up.' The half-used plates and dishes were to me as things loathsome.
They operated prejudicially upon my dinners in prospect even, as well
as upon those which had 'gone before.' So, as a man, a gentleman, and
a squatter, I 'jacked up' at the cookery.

My poor Isabel tried it many times; and I am bound to say, as a
truthful though oppressed employer, accomplished miracles. But the
children could not be kept out of the kitchen when mamma was so
delightfully engaged. Narrow escapes occurred of cremation of little
dresses, and the little treasures contained therein. And how could I
bear to find my dainty darling, hot, uncomfortable, and perfumed as to
her peerless person, not with lavender or millefleurs, but actually,
as her younger brother roughly expressed it, 'smelling of fat'?

We tried men cooks, but they were surly or drunken. We placed
occasionally adjacent bush-girls between us and the unwonted toils and
miseries. They augmented the toils by their awkwardness. They
sharpened the misery by their waste, extravagance, and sudden
abscondings. And this is how it all came to pass.

While at our worst, I received a sudden summons to town on business.

'I am sorry to leave you, my dearest,' said I, as I bade farewell to
my tearful wife. 'I feel almost cowardly in going away to a region
where cooks can still be obtained for money. I shall, in spite of
myself, be revelling in hotel banquets, and real actual dinners (not
meals); while you, my poor darling, will be dwelling in the desert
alone, subsisting upon the burned chop, the underdone "gigot," the
unleavened bread. My heart bleeds for you. Why did I ever marry you?'
Here the mail, which passes our door, came rapidly towards us.

'Oh, Edward!' said she, hiding her face in my breast, 'don't say such
dreadful things. But you will bring up a cook from town, won't you,
like a dear? I am willing to do my best, but I am almost worn out.'
Here the up--mail drove up.

'If I do not,' said I, 'may I--' here I swore an oath, not too
dreadful to repeat, for I remembered I was a family man, and member of
the local school board, in the midst of my natural indignation--' be
forced to sell Bundaburramah, and turn mining agent, stockbroker, or
even member of parliament. If I do return alive, and if there is only
one cook in the whole metropolis, that cook shall be yours.'

She thanked me with one half-bright glance from her tender brown
eyes. I climbed to the box seat, the impatient leader reared, the off-
side wheeler stubbornly refused to move, the near-side one gave a
playful kick, and in about ten minutes we were fairly off.

I reached the metropolis after a journey during which even the modest
fare of the roadside inns appeared to me in the light of astonishing
delicacies, so unaccustomed had I been, of late, to the most
rudimentary results of the culinary art. I may mention that I had not
left Bundaburramah for three years previously; domestic difficulties,
and a certain disobligingness on the part of my banker, being both in
favour of home--keeping. Though the latter conflicting element was in
a state of unwonted rest, the domestic difficulties were as sharp as
ever. The general prosperity seemed to have intensified them. What was
the use of my getting grand prices for my wool and sheep if my wife
was to be the slave of the lamp, as the man says in the Arabian
Nights, or, rather, of the saucepan?--flesh and blood couldn't stand
it. I am a moderate man, and believe in the liberty of the subject,
and all that, but fancy a cargo of nice strong young slaves just
arrived, with a score of cooks among them! Wouldn't I have bid up?
Yes, I grieve to say--like Mr. Salem Scudder himself.

I was almost comforted when we pulled up, or rather, the train
stopped at the refreshment station on the mountains. 'Come,' I said to
myself, 'this is something like. Here is no violent contrast here to
shock the consciences of men long ignorant of cooks! The Government
have shown their usual delicacy of feeling. Nothing but bread and
butter, the mature sandwich, the almost warm tea and coffee. No wicked
wine or spirits.' I fed uncomfortably, as I had done for years, and
felt free from the crime of wallowing in luxury, while my absent
spouse was alternately starving or suffering from indigestion.

Sydney at length. More temptation, with the usual human result--more
indulgence. I sinned and sorrowed. Daily I feasted on fish, soup, and
entres, nightly I bewailed my guilty pleasure, and excused myself to
my absent sufferer, by ingenious explanations, in which figured the
recovery of a lost palate, and a stern determination to wrest a cook
from the clutches of the registry office-keepers, or to stay in Sydney
till I did.

To this end I visited every one of those remarkable establishments,
where domestics have of late years condescended to meet for the
purpose of selecting employers. Daily I presented myself for
inspection by the proud daughters of the kitchen--alas! unavailingly.

My appearance, I flatter myself, is not unimpressive. A judicious
mixture of paternal benevolence, with the merest soupon of dignity,
has always marked my manner, more especially with the younger and
better-looking female domestics. Wages, if not altogether 'of no
object,' were decidedly liberal. The duties certainly comprised a fair
knowledge of cookery, but the sum was not high. No willing student of
ordinary intelligence could be plucked. We saw no company. Old Jubley,
P.M., once a month, a wandering squatter, and a rare inspector of
stock, were our only guests.

I did not particularly care what they got, as I, in my turn, took my
chance of compulsory potluck when travelling. 'Why then this morbid
hatred of the fox? Why did I always break down on the cross-
examination? Why was the invariable answer of the young and giggling,
the middle-aged and wary, the old and vinous aspirant, "That she was
afraid the place wouldn't suit"?' In other words, why couldn't I get a
cook? The distance, no doubt, was the fatal objection--two hundred and
twenty miles. I couldn't decently make it less than that, though I
softened the last mail stage. Then the name--Bundaburramah--confound
it! it had the smack of the Lower Darling.

I thought seriously of changing it into Belvoir, or Hampton Court,
when I saw the effect it had upon the countenances of the most likely
candidates. The way the more smartly dressed among them used to bring
out, 'The bush! oh! I'm afraid it's a great deal too far off.'

Some made such a point of going to church regularly every Sunday,
that I regretted that I had not subscribed munificently to that
Wesleyan edifice, which might have been completed now, under other
circumstances; that is, if there had been a sufficiency of Wesleyans
in the neighbourhood, which it afterwards turned out there were not.
For the first few days, I did not mind it so much; I went as a regular
thing to the next registry office on my list. I had checked them all
down in my pocket-book. I was, indeed, so constant an attendant at
these exasperating domestic clubs, popularly supposed to tend to the
distribution of servants, but in reality being secret societies for
the circulation of gossip, and the intimidation of employers, that I
began to be taken for a relation of some of the young persons. Little
notice was therefore bestowed upon me, and I heard as many pieces of
private intelligence and unmasked conversation, bearing upon the
manners and customs of the species female servant, as if I had been
the 'amateur casual' himself. I was not, however, as yet satiated with
the pleasures of the metropolis, and day by day I resumed my
stereotyped inquiry of the politely indifferent lady registrars, and
kept guard for the regulation period until we all (I was getting quite
identified with the ways of the societies) went home to lunch, after
which, few of us troubled the institution again that day.

Obviously, however, this mode of life could not last for ever. I had
merged my whole existence and staked my reputation for success upon
this mad quest for a cook.

From that fleeting delusive from I was apparently as far as the crowd
of fated worshippers in Noel Paton's grand picture, 'The Pursuit of
Pleasure.' I could, perhaps, have supported the ennui and fatigue of
another month's quest with the aid of fresh and congenial society, the
theatres and concerts by night, an occasional voyage to Manly Beach
and the Garden promenade. But other forces began to manifest
themselves. My wife's letters, at first full of sympathy with my
ardent pursuit, began to show first incredulity, then disapproval.

'She was afraid I was not trying in earnest, or else I must have got
a cook by this time. Then, was I going to take up my abode in Sydney
altogether, and leave my family and the station to take care of
itself? She must say she thought it strange, to say the least of it,
that I should have been in Sydney a whole month and have done nothing.
If I did not return soon, she thought she would start down with the
children in the mail. Besides, there had been a bush-fire, some of the
sheep were away, and she was afraid the overseer had been drinking.'

Alas! alas! (as I am writing and not talking I may make use of this
interjection) how my enjoyment shrivelled up, as grass before a bush-
fire, under the last paragraph! Human nature is weak.

Here had I gone on, patiently searching for this philosopher's stone
of a cook, while my stock was decreasing, my wife becoming deranged,
and my overseer in a chronic state of delirium tremens. I knew that
nothing short of this stage would have aroused her suspicions. Off I
must go, cookless and hopeless, by Saturday's mail. Words fail to
describe my humiliation and despair. 'Why did I not marry a cook?' I
asked myself in my agony. I have seen those of that persuasion that
were fair to look upon. Then should I have been saved this anguish,
this degradation, this mental, physical, moral, most complicated
misery!

Friday arrived. I had advertised from the first day of my visit,
directing applicants, with bitter irony, to call between nine and ten
o'clock at the Royal Hotel, that being the hour when I am immersed in
the morning papers. I was not reading, far from it, but, with
corrugated brow, considering how many of my commissions, left to the
last moment, it would be safe to neglect, when, enter the waiter.

'A young person has called, sir, about the situation as cook.'

'What!' said I, 'show in the angel--I mean the young woman.' In a few
moments, however, my spirits fell--'She will leave me, as other hopes
have left before,' I murmured; 'why should I be so ridiculous as to
expect anything but disappointment, a little more ingenious than
usual? Here she comes.'

The door opened. A young woman of twenty, very quietly dressed,
presented herself, with an air of slight timidity, rather different
from the assured elegance to which I had been accustomed.

'Pray take a chair,' said I. 'I understood that you had come with
reference to my advertisement for a cook?'

'Mr. Steadman,' said she, 'of Bundaburramah?' inquiringly.

'The same,' said I, breaking out into a cold perspiration--(She's
going to ask whether it is at the North Shore, or what the distance
from town is).

She did nothing of the sort. She took from her black bag a letter
which she handed to me. As soon as my trepidation permitted, I read
it. I knew the handwriting well. It was from a dear old family friend,
who had known me from a boy, a lady, though of warm benevolence, not
less noted for clear-sighted dislike to imposition. It ran as follows:
'I willingly testify that Mary Dale has a thorough practical knowledge
of cookery. I consider her likely to prove valuable to any family in
which she may engage herself. I have known her for some years, and
vouch for her perfect trustworthiness.'

I looked up from this document as the ruined heir lifts his eyes from
his grandfather's long-lost (favourable) will. My glance encountered a
look of mingled expectation and anxiety. The face itself was a good
one. Clear dark eyes, fair features, well-kept, neatly-arranged hair.
'Fully good--looking enough,' thought I; 'thorough knowledge of
cooking--too good to be true--must end in failure.'

'Hem--ha!' said I. 'Very good character Mrs. Longworth gives you
here. How long will you engage for? Not less than six months?'

'I am willing to engage myself for twelve months,' said she.

I gave myself a severe pinch at this statement. I must be dreaming,
or is she an escaped lunatic? Or, somehow, the wording of Mrs.
Longworth's letter is rather ambiguous. No allusion to other places.
Is there anything--hum--ha?

'You have been cook in other families, I suppose?' said I, with an
easy air of unconcern. 'Where Mrs. Longworth acquired her knowledge of
you?

She was slightly confused, as I thought, for a moment, then looked up
and said steadily:

'I have never been away from home before; but I can cook very fairly,
as Mrs. Longworth has kindly stated. If you do not approve of my work
after a month, you need not pay me.'

I hesitated, only for a moment. There was a little mystery; but in
one second there flashed across my mind the tremendous extent, the
ruinous depth of the domestic gap that this female Curtius was
volunteering to close by self-sacrifice. I looked at her clear eyes
and earnest face. I call myself a bit of a physiognomist. The die was
cast.

'It is arranged,' I said. 'Our wages are so-and-so for twelve
months.'

She inclined her head.

'Will you meet me with your trunk at the terminus at five o'clock
to--morrow afternoon?'

'I shall be sure to be punctual, sir,' she said, in a pleased voice,
and departed.

I never missed a train in my life, though not punctual to a fault. I
sometimes linger, I often procrastinate. But I contrive to energise as
the time grows short. I double the cabman's fare. I omit my least
important (family) commissions. By this process of addition and
subtraction, I have hitherto avoided failure.

But on this momentous occasion I ran no imprudent risks. There are
moments in life when, stupendous issues being involved, no sane man
leaves anything to chance.

I was more than prepared. I went down to the terminus after
breakfast, and set my watch by the railway time. I mustered my parcels
in the most methodical way, and arrived with them hours beforehand. I
dined sparingly, lest caution should be lulled by liquor, and half an
hour before the five-twenty train, I was wandering up and down the
platform, arousing the interest of the railway officials. One of them,
expectant of subsidy, touched his hat, as he asked, pointing to my
luggage, which included bandboxes--'Was there a lady in the case?'
'Yes, there was.'

The appointed time drew nigh; but five minutes, at the expiration of
which the inexorable train would start. Already the warning cry of
'Take your seats for---' was heard. Anxious or timid passengers
hastened to ensconce themselves in the carriages. I had taken two
first-class tickets; I had seen my multifarious packages, comprising
all things indispensable to the home-returning paterfamilias, from a
crate of crockery to a box of toys, safely bestowed. I am aware that
second-class accommodation is usually considered suitable for domestic
servants; but I was not going to be trammelled by the usages of a
bygone state of society, where cooks were doubtless plentiful and easy
to replace. No! Was I to run the risk of a headlong proposal from a
fortunate miner? An offer of double wages from a desperate employer
like myself? No! By the recollection of my past anguish, by the dread
of a servantless period to come, I would run no insane risks. 'Safe
bind, safe find.' Once in my charge, this gifted maiden should be
guarded and cherished as a ward in Chancery, until I deposited her
with triumph in the kitchen at Bundaburramah. But was she coming after
all? Agonising doubt! I felt as if the disappointment would shatter my
overtasked faculties.

All fears on that score were set at rest by the appearance of the
inestimable maid, accompanied by an elderly woman of great
respectability of aspect, who looked at me keenly, as I hurriedly
advanced.

I could have clasped her (our new cook, I mean) in my arms. But I
controlled all outward signs of joy, and calling a porter directed him
to take charge of the moderate-sized trunk that the cabman deposited
on the pavement.

'Here is your ticket; perhaps you had better take your seat,' said I,
leading the way to a saloon carriage.

'I am sorry to be late,' said she; 'but I am quite ready now. Good-
bye!' Here she spoke in low tones to the elderly person, who by this
time, from the attention she bestowed upon me, must have had a correct
mental photograph of my features and expression.

'You can tell them you saw me safely off.'

'Good-bye, my dear child,' said the old woman.

I discovered no family likeness. I opened the carriage door a little
impatiently, pointing out an unoccupied corner, of which Mary quietly
took possession--the signal sounded, and, joy of joys! we were off.

When the 'gentlemanly' dealer in Uncle Tom's Cabin, who bought his
slaves in small parcels, a wife here, a husband there, a child
somewhere else, as prices suited, had got his valuable lots safely on
board the steamer, he (erroneously, as it turned out) relaxed his
watchfulness, under the impression that they couldn't very well get
way. Here let me remark that I at least never for a moment wondered
why the Southerners fought so desperately for their slaves. Could I
not enter into their feelings? Had I been possessed of--say
inherited--a good cook or two, a housemaid, a prize laundress, would I
not have shed the last drop of blood ere they should be torn from me.
Don't tell me! human nature is the same everywhere. Wilberforce
himself would have done it, had he been the prey of servants and the
scorn of registry offices.

But revenons  nos moutons, or to the artist mostly concerned with
the post-mortem experiments made on their hapless bodies.

I sat within a convenient distance of my prize, and only occasionally
satisfied myself by a cautious glance that she was there. I fancied
that a look of regret had succeeded the one of quiet determination
which I had remarked upon her face as she ascended the platform. 'Only
natural,' thought I; 'but she can't well draw back now. She doesn't
look the sort of damsel to burst into tears, and entreat to be sent
back to her mother. No! I think I've made a hit for once. Quietly
dressed, in a well-fitting, almost too plain material. Gloves, yes;
all the world wears gloves now; a pair of half--worn gauntlets, very
sensible. Hat, unobtrusive; veil, thick and defensive. Hem! most
unexceptional attire.'

Worn out by my late severe mental conflicts, I must have dozed, for I
was suddenly awakened by the stopping of the train at the half-way
station, where refreshments are popularly supposed to be obtainable. I
went over to her. 'Mary,' said I, 'do you feel hungry? would you like
anything to eat or drink?'

She started slightly as I spoke; then with an effort, said, 'Thank
you, Mr. Steadman, I should like a cup of coffee.' The refreshment was
procured, and I thought it a suitable occasion to ask if she felt
rested, and ready to take the coach journey, which commenced at
midnight.

'Thank you,' she said, 'I am quite well, and I daresay I can manage
it.'



Chapter II



I OBSERVED that she disposed of the sandwich with evident appetite.
'Good constitution,' thought I; 'persons who can't eat can't work--a
good appetite goes along with good temper and a reasonable habit of
mind. Indigestion is another name for irritable nerves, which mean--
the devil, and all his works.'

I continued my paternal care during the coach journey, and at the
roadside inns where we put up. The demeanour of my domestic was marked
by gravity and seriousness even beyond her years. But occasionally I
noticed a sudden expression, an appreciation of bits of scenery, an
amused look as she read in a book with which she came provided, which,
while not detracting from the respectful admiration with which I
regarded her, led to doubts as to the light in which these traits
would be looked upon by Mrs. Steadman. In fact, as we came nearer
home, mild misgivings, deepening into fears, arose in my mind, as I
pictured my introduction of this very good-looking and well-mannered
young woman. I knew the hard criticisms, the groundless suspicions of
the best, the most sensible of women, where their own sex is
concerned. However, I sternly beat down these ungrateful feelings.
'Pooh!' said I to myself, 'haven't I got my dear old Mrs. Longworth's
guarantee, worth a score of any one else's. She can cook, at any rate.
Everything else is the merest bagatelle.'

In this liberal and intrepid state of mind I found myself, as we
drove up, on a fine sunshiny morning (nothing very unusual in that),
to the Bundaburramah homestead. My heart began to beat a little. Was
everything well at home? No sudden illness. No child tumbled into a
waterbutt. No 'smash' among the sheep. All kinds of possibilities
occurred to me.

'What a pretty spot!' said the new cook suddenly. 'I had no idea
there were such nice places in the bush. I am sure I could be very
happy here.'

'I hope you will, Mary,' said I, with the deepest sincerity; 'and
your--er--mistress and I will do everything in our power to make you
comfortable.'

She smiled, as if her train of thought had been casually interrupted,
and then answered, 'I hope I shall be happy and contented here, sir. I
will do my best, I promise you.'

'Thank you,' said I, and our existence as fellow-travellers
terminated, as I jumped down and was embraced by my family, with a
warmth proportioned to the length of my absence and the success of my
efforts.

'This is the--er--Mary Dale,' said I to my wife. I could not say the
cook, somehow.

'Oh! very well,' said the partner of my cares, with no great display
of feeling. 'Come with me, Mary, and I will show you your bedroom and
kitchen.'

I had brief time for conversation just then. In half an hour I was in
the saddle, and the moon was up before my overseer and I returned from
our rounds. After the evening meal was over, and just a slight
suspicion of drowsiness was creeping over me, my wife fixed her eyes
upon me, in rather a searching manner, and thus commenced--

'Now, don't go to sleep, Edward, the moment you come home. I want to
speak to you about the new cook.'

'Good Heavens!' said I, sitting bolt upright. 'She's given warning--
says the place doesn't suit her? Don't tell me another word! And yet,
I did think she was better than the ordinary run of girls. Confound
all!'

'Now don't swear, Edward,' interrupted my wife. 'You appear to be
very much concerned about her. Just answer me this,' and the little
woman looked like a valiant pigeon which has just cast away all
mildness of demeanour, and pecks ferociously at your finger. 'Did you
ever see her before she answered the advertisement?'

'Of course not,' said I testily. 'How could I? I was very glad to see
her then, I promise you.'

'I daresay; are you quite sure you never saw or heard of her before?
Oh, Edward!' said the little woman, relinquishing her expression of
stern investigation, and seizing my hand in hers, while the tears came
into her eyes, 'why, that girl is a lady!'

'Suppose she is,' said I coolly, 'how does that concern us? She
evidently can perform the duties she has engaged for--witness those
chops; best I've had since I left town.'

'Oh, Edward, Edward!' pleaded the perplexed advocate, now driven to
her last entrenchments. 'You know what I mean. There must be some
mystery about her. For what I know, she may be--I don't know what. And
I'm to take her into my family, and the dear children. Oh--oh!'

Here the undefined picture of mysterious danger became too painful,
and my helpmate broke down utterly, and sobbed upon my manly breast. I
soothed her.

'Dearest little woman, and best of wives, don't you think you're
going rather too fast? We have Mrs. Longworth's certificate of
character, and you always said how wise as well as benevolent she was.
No taking her in, you know.'

'Still, this once,' remonstrated the unconvinced.

'I have a great mind to say,' I replied, 'that women are always
suspicious, and so pay their sex a bad compliment. Men are more
trustful; and they must necessarily have seen much more of the bad
side of human nature than any good woman. Now, do you think you are
doing your duty to your neighbour, by first of all unreasonably
suspecting the girl of concealed evil, and following it up by the
actual injury of dismissal? For, of course, she must go, if you insist
upon it.'

'Well, but, Edward, what reason can she have, with her appearance
and manner? though nothing could be plainer or in better taste than
her dress, and she hasn't an ornament. She is a lady, or I never saw
one.'

'Perhaps she is poor; perhaps she has a father in a lunatic asylum;
perhaps her brother has broken his back, and her grandmother is
bedridden; perhaps she wants to help her mother, who may keep a
boarding-house; perhaps she is a romantic goose (though she doesn't
look it) who wants to prove that in any station we may be respected;
perhaps--'

'That will do, sir,' interrupted my mollified tyrant, stopping my
mouth with an unanswerable argument. 'Perhaps I have been a silly,
uncharitable little woman, saying my prayers, but not acting them out
in real life. You always bring me round somehow, with that clever
tongue of yours. I'll promise to do my duty, and to help her in all
ways, and if she really is a good girl--'

'And a good cook,' said I, frowning sternly. 'I will have my pound
of flesh. Then we shall get on very well, and be happy for a whole
year. Think of that!'

'Think of that!' echoed the little woman, clapping her hands.

On my next return from my daily jog round the run, I made an
ejaculation at the altered appearance of our humble table. There was a
delicious salmi; there were one or two slight but artistic
compositions; there was a simple but novel rendering of the inevitable
pommes de terre--in short, it was a minute and accurate section of a
Parisian dinner, such as I had read of.

'For what we are about to, etc.--shall I include the cook, my dear?'

'Don't be profane, Edward,' said my wife gravely; 'but really,'
added she, breaking into an approving smile, 'I am quite charmed with
our new domestic. She is such a manager, so neat and careful, and so
beautifully clean. She told me she had some lessons at a school for
cookery, which has been lately established. It does not take her half
her time to do her work, and she told me she should be glad of some
sewing to do in her leisure hours. What a help that will be with the
dear children's dresses! for here's the summer coming on, and I
haven't a cool frock even cut out yet.'

'All very well,' said I. 'But don't you think, really, that there
may be a little risk. She may be--eh?'

'Come, come, sir! you're laughing at me now. No! I'm converted, and
content to take her as she is, and make no impertinent inquiries; in
fact, conduct myself like a lady, in spite of her being one.'

'I suppose she was quite knocked up after all this?' inquired I,
finishing the potatoes  la matre d'hotel.

'Knocked up! I really believe she could cook a dinner in a drawing-
room. It's all method, arrangement, and accurate weighing of materials
(as she says). I couldn't have believed that such a dinner could have
been turned out with so little effort.'

'How lucky for us that she had sense enough to attend these said
cookery classes! How much more rational than devoting hours of
fruitless labour in acquiring that very limited knowledge of music
which a girl generally gets.'

'Every lady should play a little and sing if she has a voice,' said
my wife, with decision. 'But oh, what would it not have saved me, if I
had been taught like this girl?'

'Well, my dear,' said I, closing the conversation with a practical
suggestion, 'as we are so fortunate in our domestic arrangements, let
us endeavour to keep so. You understand?'

'I understand, sir,' said the chtelaine archly. 'I know that you
think we women have no self-control. Do you always restrain your
feelings and keep back your words?'

'Women are capable of such superb emotional repression in certain
directions,' said I, 'that it has always grieved me that they should
ever fall short in the management of their domestics. This I state as
a general proposition, of course.'

'Of course; well, I feel as if I were going to be good and happy,
and everything that could be wished now that we have such a charming
cook.'

About this period, happiness had evidently alighted upon the humble
roof-tree of Edward Steadman.

It was a lonely place, as stations are apt to be, and in the long
days, when I was necessarily absent, my wife had often suffered from
being too much alone. Of visitable neighbours we had hardly one. Our
small establishment had been built half a mile away from the station
huts, so that the overseer and station hands were rarely near the
cottage. When they did come, to be paid off, or the like, they were
not suffered to enter the kitchen. An order to that effect had been
long issued--as it was found inexpedient to have Currajong Jack, or
other bush celebrities, lounging about the fireplace smoking, when the
mistress of the house was giving orders, or personally preparing the
frugal meal.

This obviated any little difficulty which our new cook might have
met in a bush kitchen. This apartment she renovated, and beautified
till it was quite a pleasant room in the coldish autumn evenings, or,
later on, in the frosty winter nights. For we have frosts, and sharp
ones too, in the bracing climate of Bundaburramah. All the real work
seemed to be done before mid-day, when, with the neatest of morning
dresses, and a protecting apron, this mysterious domestic flitted
fairy-like among her beautifully clean saucepans and stewpans, placing
therein arithmetically correct quantities of meat, vegetables, herbs,
and spices, in a way which gave an appetite even before the culinary
process set in.

'You seem wonderfully particular with your weights and measures,'
said I, as I looked in one day, after an accidentally early return. 'I
thought high--art cooking was more poetical, and not so mathematical;
throwing in a flavour here and a little material there, with the
careless inspiration of the moment.'

'Cookery resembles poetry in one respect,' she answered, without
looking up from her work, 'that a false quantity does damage in either
case.'

I smiled, perhaps a little mischievously, like a schoolboy who has
discovered a sensational secret; as she looked up our eyes met, and
her face was suffused with a glow, certainly not derived from the heat
of the fire.

'Mr. Steadman,' she said, with a quiet air of reproof, 'cookery and
conversation cannot be carried on without discomfort, slight perhaps,
but not less marked, to the--person cooking.'

'Pray excuse me,' said I, as I prepared to depart. 'I should be very
sorry to pain you in the slightest degree. Surely you will acquit me
of any desire to do so.'

'I know that,' she said quickly, 'you have been most kind and truly
considerate; don't think that I do not see it; but--sometimes--I
feel--'

'Don't trouble yourself to explain anything. Mrs. Steadman and I are
your very good friends; and whenever the time comes that you choose to
confide in us, and ask our advice, you shall have it, with all our
hearts. Good-morning.'

So I retreated, more than ever convinced that there was a mystery
about our estimable--what do I say?--inestimable domestic--but quite
contented to wait upon Time, his 'whirligigs and revenges,' for
elucidation. When I thought of her quietly dignified manner, her
pleasant though rare smile, her conscientious care and steady
industry, I longed to unravel the stupendous puzzle. When I thought of
the delightful breakfasts and lovely dinners I daily revelled in, I
was more than ever confirmed in my prudential resolution to leave well
alone.

As I was going to say before, Mrs. Steadman by degrees, and having
got over the feeling that it was not the thing to enjoy the society of
your domestic, charm she never so wisely, began to form a strong
attachment to the self-contained, reserved girl, who so effectively
and unostentatiously performed what she had always found to be very
distasteful work. After a certain hour of the day, as I have said, all
the uncomfortable part of the work was over, even that part being
dignified and reduced to its lowest limits of exertion, by the
methodical arrangement and delicate cleanliness with which the
operation was performed. Mary had made a request, after the first few
days, to be allowed to sit with the nurse, who was an old family
servant. With her and the children, joined by my wife, the afternoon
passed cheerfully in the everlasting, never-palling pleasures of the
needle--that virtuous substitute for I know not how many recreations
indulged in by impatient mankind.

Gradually, as Mary Dale saw that her secret was respected, and her
decision to take an unusual step unquestioned, she became less timid,
and permitted herself to relapse into her natural manner. She showed,
in an unaffected way, considerable knowledge of the great world, that
is, the world of metropolitan fashion. She was accomplished, though
she firmly objected to exhibit her proficiency in any way, lest gossip
might be aroused, and she went through the contents of our modest
library at a pace which showed that she had been an eager and by no
means superficial student.

Letter from Miss Seyton to Miss Charteris

BUNDABURRAMAH, 12th June 187--.

DARLING KATIE--You see that I was safely deposited at the place in
the desert with the unpronounceable name, as you used to call it. I
carried out my purpose in spite of friends, relations, and a
contemptibly undecided heart, which nearly betrayed me at the last
moment, when I parted from dear old nurse at the train.

You know very well my reason for taking the step which I did. You
were among my principal dissuaders and scolders about the naughty,
wicked, quixotic, unconventional plan which I had formed. I suppose
you, none of you, knew how near I was to bursting out crying and
abandoning the whole grand project. I should have been very sorry
afterwards, for now that I have got over the difficulty, I am well
pleased with myself and everybody else. I always said there was
nothing like perseverance. Nor is there. Only there comes a time when
the most beautiful cut-and-dried arrangement looks full of flaws and
mistakes; and then firmness (which men call obstinacy where girls are
concerned) comes in. You always accused me of having too much of that
useful quality. I assure you every grain of it was wanted when the
train moved off, and I found myself alone, under the protection of a
total stranger, and in what my conscience occasionally assured me was
a false position.

However, mamma had made all kinds of inquiries about Mr. Steadman, my
employer, and hearing nothing but good about him and his wife, she
finally permitted me to make the engagement. Well, away we went.
Luckily, Mr. Steadman was considerate or careful enough of that rare
domestic, a decent cook (this I afterwards suspected to be the true
reading), to take a first-class ticket for me. So I had no troubles to
start with; and when we had to change for a coach, at midnight, he
took much the same care of the 'young lady,' as all girls, gentle or
simple, are called indifferently when travelling, as if I had been a
'real lady.' Do you think I am growing just a little vulgar? Mind you
tell me--the very first faint symptom--there's a dear. Well, I enjoyed
the journey so much.

I am pretty strong (you know cooks couldn't be delicate), and don't
get headaches. The lovely fresh air, so different from a wretched
street. The glorious dawn; the sun heaving up a great golden shell
above the purple--crowned brows of the calm mountains. Oh! I could
have screamed with delight. But I looked as prim as prim, I declare to
you. I couldn't tell for certain whether Mr. Steadman suspected my
masquerade or not. He is one of those men who think a great deal, see
everything, and don't get surprised out of their opinions. On second
thoughts, I think it's probable he did guess something, though I was
most careful in my get-up; so plain, though rather neat, and perhaps
the least thing incongruous as to cuffs. But he had reasons of his own
for taking no notice, so he was as gravely kind as if I had been old
nurse herself--bless her old heart! Goodness gracious, what a
dreadfully long letter! My candle is just going out, and I shan't get
another till to-morrow, so I must rush to the conclusion, which is,
that Mrs. Steadman is a kind little woman and a lady--that we get on
very well, and that I am in capital health and spirits and have such a
colour, tell Roland--or rather don't tell him, poor fellow. He must
wait a little like me. Dearest, best, and carefullest of Katies, good-
bye.--Your own eccentric friend.

MARY DALE SEYTON.

Letter from Miss Charteris to Miss Mary Dale

WOOLLAHRA, 20th June 187--.

Oh! my own loved and lost friend (to sight, I mean, to memory dear),
you wicked runaway, pirate of the dark blue sea, no, I don't mean that
exactly; as you have gone up the country, you must resemble a
bushranger more when he or she--oh dear! what has become of my verb? I
must begin again. I was charmed to get your good-for-nothing letter,
though I never will forgive you, Miss, and I hope your hands will get
ruined, and that you will die of freckles, for I was just beginning to
get low-spirited about you, and pictured you slaving away in some
dismal hole in the bush, surrounded by rough people, and without the
power of getting back. And I knew you would never, never give in, you
obstinate puss! However, I am so glad to hear that you have fallen on
your feet, after casting yourself violently down the social ladder,
which is more than you deserve. No! I won't scold you again--I promise
you, dear-loved and lost gazelle. Really though, I don't think you
ought to be encouraged, though, from your description, a girl might be
worse off than doing real, and not make-believe, work in a nice, neat,
cool kitchen, all by one's self, and sewing peacefully in the
afternoons with a nice nurse or a cheery good little woman, as you
describe your mistress (much laughter--as they say in the papers). I
believe Fanny Westfield, who teaches, says she is worried and worked
to death, and has dreadful headaches, and is as thin as she can be,
while you seem to be enjoying your duties and getting quite a colour,
which is all, Reggy Dalton used to say, was needed to make you
perfectly lovely. Isn't there some 'grand dame' that has all ladies
for servants? I don't know whether I should care for that kind of
thing. I'm afraid I should squabble dreadfully with my fellow 'helps.'
Now, you are safe from such a state of things. How dignified you must
look! I can scarcely help screaming when I think of (possibly) Mrs.
Steadman's little girl saying, 'Mary, ma says do make haste with the
dinner'; or, 'Ma says the beef's underdone, and you're to put it into
the oven again.'

I went to a ball last week and had an ecstatic galop with Claud
Slidlesley. He saw Roland in the bush somewhere, and said he was
working so hard, and looking grave and miserable. You might write him
one wee letter. There's the dinner-bell. Beg your pardon--dearest
Molly--oh, there I am again. Good-bye, my darling old girl; take care
of your dear self, and oh, be careful of your hands! Of course you
wear gloves always--that is, nearly always. He used to admire a
'refined expression of hand' as he said to me once. Oh! that dreadful
dinner-bell! Now, I hate dinners; I wish we could do without them, and
those worrying--ah! what was I going to say?--Your loving, blundering,
dearest of all old friends.

KATE CHARTERIS.



Chapter III



THE current of our family life, once all whirlpools, cascades, what
not, from the turbulence or treachery of female domestics, flowed on
now so peacefully that we were in danger, like other prosperous
persons, of having no history worth the writing. What with her talent
with the needle, her loving sympathy with our children, her
unobtrusive attention to my taste in culinary composition, Mary Dale
was rapidly becoming dangerously indispensable, and as the year turned
I found myself pensively wondering what we should all do when the busy
shearing was over, and the bush-fires, hot winds, and anxious
festivities of Christmas were upon us. What should we do? Sit down and
weep when the mail bore away our peerless Mary--our companion,
comforter, and cook? Delightful word! New honours clothed it, enriched
by the tender association of Mary's calm, sweet, gravely cheerful
features. She had lost much of her armour now, and made confidences of
the most thrilling nature to my wife, which were unhandsomely
concealed from me.

When I say that perpetual serenity reigned, perhaps I may be
permitted to retract that too unconditional statement. A month or two
after I returned from the metropolis, a short, but sharp and decisive
conflict took place between the two high contracting parties. What
were the mental ingredients which precipitated so frightful a result?

I believe the proximate cause of the aggressive demeanour of the
ordinarily mild and tender mistress, and the untranslatable haughty
attitude of the maid was, like the North Pole, never actually
discovered, perhaps, like it, never will be. My readers will recall
the statement--souvent femme varie. No other explanation can I offer.
Whether my wife was 'put out,' whether the wind was in the east or in
some occult quarter, whereof ordinary males deem not, whether a sudden
lack of sympathy with the maid's extra-domestic graces had transformed
them into 'airs and graces,' I know not. But the facts simply were,
that when I returned at eve, as is my custom, decently tired, hungry,
and perhaps a little--but no! say with just sufficient nervous
quiescence to last me till dinner-time, I was received with a
thrilling embrace from my overwrought partner, and this plaintive
announcement, 'Oh--Edward! Mary has behaved with want of proper
respect to me, and she says she must go at the end of the month.'

Here the little woman looked doubtfully at me, and sobbed
unrestrainedly.

I am afraid I disengaged her from my embrace a second or two before
the regulation period, and looking at her (she says) very sternly,
thus spoke--'Of course you could not possibly contrive to exist
without a quarrel. Women certainly have no more brains than flies; no
more self-control than children! An overseer has sense enough not to
quarrel with his men just before shearing; even a commercial traveller
knows enough not to flog his horses in the middle of a plain; a
captain isn't hard upon his crew with the breakers in sight--but, hang
me! if a woman isn't capable of doing anything on the impulse of the
moment, no matter what ruin is imminent.'

'Oh, Edward, Edward, don't speak and look so dreadfully. But you
always take part with this--this Mary Dale. You don't think it
possible I can be in the right.'

'Well, well,' I said gloomily, 'let us look forward to another year
of misery. Tell me how it happened.'

'Well,' said the little woman plaintively, 'now I come to look back
upon it, it all seems to have sprung out of nothing. I wished to have
a particular dish to-day for dinner, and Mary reminded me that I
myself had arranged the menus for the week on Monday. She pointed out
that it would lead to an alteration of the whole dinner, as she had
used some of the materials for another dish. I am afraid now,'
confessed my ordinarily meek-voiced dove, 'that I was silly enough to
think there was a tone of calm superiority in her voice. I hadn't felt
quite well all the morning, and I told her hastily that I believed I
was mistress in my own house, and that I did not intend to be ruled by
any servant. I knew it was cruel, mean, if you will, to say so, but it
came out in a moment, and I felt as if I could have given anything to
recall it.'

'And what did she say to this polished little stiletto stab?'

'Oh, Edward, I know you won't forgive me, and it will serve me right
if I have to work my fingers to the bone. Well, she looked at me for
an instant with an expression of great surprise, then her face
flushed, and her eyes half filled with tears. She turned away for a
moment, and then said in a very cold haughty tone:

'"Mrs. Steadman, I had hoped when I first saw you that I should have
met with the consideration yielded by a lady to--every one. I find I
was mistaken. I must decline to remain longer in your service." Her
tone, more than the words, irritated me; so I said she might go
whenever she pleased, and that I was sorry to find I was mistaken in
her. She made no reply. Bowing gravely, but still haughtily, she went
into her bedroom, leaving me oh, so dreadfully sorry and ashamed of
myself!'

'Well,' said I thoughtfully, 'perhaps after all it is better for
one's wife to cook and drudge generally. It rubs off the poetry of
married life, and so saves both from the jars and aches of over-
sensitiveness. Then, of course, she can't give warning, and you are
relieved from all anxiety. In the state of muddle to which the
household is henceforth doomed, you cease to require anything.'

'Oh, Edward,' shrieked my repentant wife, throwing herself upon her
knees, 'don't talk in that horrid, cold-blooded manner. I'd far rather
you would scold me well.'

'My poor darling,' said I, passing my hand over her bright, soft
hair, as the dinner-bell rang; 'why should I scold you for immolating
yourself? Upon you directly will fall the burden of the consequences
of this step; I only suffer indirectly, and besides,' continued I,
with studied malice, 'I may be a good deal away from home.'

The dinner was faultless as usual; the fatal dish upon which war had
been declared was there. It went out untouched. My usual appetite had
abandoned me; it was like a meal before an execution. All was perfect
as heretofore, but the hideous future unmanned me. I was gloomy and
distrait.

Next morning at breakfast, while sorrowfully surveying the broiled
kidneys, as who should say, 'grief a fixed star and joy a vane that
veers,' 'we all do fade as a leaf,' 'nothing is certain but misery,'
and so on, till the string of depressing statements founded upon the
general frowardness of existence must have been nearly finished--to me
entered my wife, but of a radiant and undimmed countenance. 'What has
happened, O herald of good tidings?' asked I, with an inspiration of
hope. 'Is it peace?'

'All is forgiven and forgotten,' cried she, almost hysterically. 'I
went in before breakfast to apologise for my rudeness, but before I
could get a word out she stopped me, saying, "Mrs. Steadman, I don't
think I behaved well yesterday. I am sorry for it. Perhaps I felt
aggrieved, but I acknowledge to--well--not being nice in my manner. I
daresay you were put out about something, and I ought to have been
more patient."

'"It is I, Mary, who did not behave as I should have done," I burst
out. "And I feel more grieved and ashamed than you."

'"You must not say any more," said she, so nicely and kindly, I could
have kissed her. "It's all over now. Cooks have proverbially hot
tempers, you know. I daresay you won't turn me away."

'The tears were in both our eyes. Oh, Edward, she's an angel!'

'Fancy two in one house,' said I, as I welcomed my repentant house--
angel to my bosom; 'that's why this slight disagreement took place,
but if birds in their little nests agree, how much more so, etc. I
suppose this will be the last of these terrific combats and heart-
shaking uncertainties. Really, my dear, I'm not equal to them now. I
am getting old, you know.'

As I think I said before this painful reminiscence, white-robed peace
dwelt henceforth under my lowly iron-bark-shingled roof. I was free to
devote my unshackled energies to the improvement of my stock, the
enlargement of my water privileges, and the reformation of my
fortunes. When I returned from my day's work to my home, now the scene
and theatre of modest comfort and permissible luxury, I felt daily
that I was developing a larger nature, a more highly cultured
intelligence.

Yes, I must have alluded at an earlier portion of this simple
narrative to the approaching departure of our incomparable Mary.
Departures are always approaching somehow; those most undesired glide
forward like railway trains, with flaming eyes of doom or derision, as
the case be. Bills have that peculiarity, perhaps some one may have
noticed. Bills payable I mean. Perhaps the best hitherto undiscovered
way of getting over an uncomfortable period of time would be to draw a
bill maturing at its expiration. If that wouldn't spur old Chronos
into a slight increase of relative speed, wouldn't tend to a total
cessation of ennui, I am unable to offer a more practical suggestion.

Well, I must drag myself and my tale nearer the dreadful day, when,--
but oh! I was very nearly forgetting a most important episode. Just
sit down again, dear reader; it isn't long, and is vitally necessary
to the satisfactory--ahem--to the real facts of the case. Half an hour
after sundown, one dusty, hot, windy day, up drove old Mr. Ralph
Ratcliffe of Ratcliffe Heath, 'down the country,' as the exterior
provinces are wont to be described, who had just been 'up the country'
visiting some of his dozen or two stations. The old man was not easy
to beat, and was popularly supposed to be much harder than nails, or
whatever might be the appropriate simile for the endurance of a man
who was never tired, or, apparently, hungry, thirsty, or in need of
sleep at any hour of the day or night, when there was any work to be
done.

However, nec tendit arcum, without some slight reactionary symptoms.
So, whether it was the slow o'ertaking foot of Time, or whether
sixteen hours of fever heat, dust glare, and bush-fires had proved
'trying' (as my wife said) to a frame which had for sixty years
experienced a good deal of adverse exercise, certain it is that old
Ralph looked just about done as he alighted slowly from his buggy at
our gate.

'You don't look well, Mr. Ratcliffe,' said I, as I walked in with him
to the house--he had indignantly refused my arm--'let me give you some
refreshment before you go to your room.'

'Well? Why shouldn't I be well?' demanded he, as if travelling in a
simoom was an exercise of the most invigorating, not to say
exhilarating nature. 'There's nothing to hurt a man in driving sixty
or seventy miles, is there?'--he had come nearer eighty. 'But I will
take a glass of brandy-and--water before I pay my respects to Mrs.
Steadman. I've had deuced little to eat or drink to-day.'

The restorative, with carefully cooled water, was exhibited, after
which the old gentleman was decidedly more reasonable. He reappeared,
after a leisurely toilette, much more like a respectable landowner,
and less like a bear, than at first. He permitted himself to be gently
entreated by my amiable helpmate, who was of the opinion that the
'good old gentleman was working himself to death,' and that he ought
to stay a week at Bundaburramah and rest himself, before he tempted
sunstroke, fever, and ague, what not--in fact, all the dangers of the
road. But she had not quite sufficient courage to make this
proposition to our venerable guest. Fancy old Ralph resting for a week
anywhere but in his grave! The very thought would have been enough to
send him half way to it. The dinner-bell rang, but our guest declined
to go in, saying it would be a mere matter of form, as, from whatever
cause, he had not the smallest shred of appetite, and in spite of his
long day's fast could not touch a joint to save his life.

'Joint!' said Mrs. Steadman playfully, glancing at the thermometer.
'We don't have joints at this time of the year. You must come in, Mr.
Ratcliffe, or else I shall stay and keep you company.'

The old boy was too gallant to refuse after this statement, so in we
went, and I thought I saw a slight air of astonishment as he took in
the general expression of the table. An adaptation of the diner  la
Russe, at any rate involving flowers in the centre, and the keeping
off the table of masses of hot meat and steaming dishes, is to be
commended for summer custom.

As it happened, this particular day had been fixed for the rehearsal
of a lunch that we were going to give to some friends the following
week, and the dauntless Mary had insisted upon having it in duplicate
to ensure a perfect success on the day of performance.

I saw no harm in having our wine properly cooled in such hot weather;
and after a glass or two of hock, and an introduction to the entres,
Mr. Ratcliffe began to look upon the dinner with less indifference.

'Really, Mrs. Steadman,' said he, 'such a dinner as this tempts a
man; and I have a higher opinion of cookery, as one of the fine arts,
than I ever had before. I have seen nothing but rounds of beef, legs
of mutton, and chops half warmed in frying-pans for the last month. I
have always been careless about diet; but I must, I really must begin
to value the proper preparation of food. Only young people, I begin to
think, can afford to neglect digestion.'

'I am so glad to hear you say so,' said the flattered hostess; 'but
we have not always been able to give our friends such good dinners.'

'I should think not, I should think not,' said the old gentleman,
actually making a second request for a 'happy thought' in the shape of
an entremet. 'But wherever did you get such a cook? Steadman, you
luxurious dog, don't be led away by the price of stock; it won't last,
my boy, it won't last--trust old Ralph Ratcliffe, who has seen every
rise and fall for the last fifty years. Why, you've brought up an ex-
club cook! Must had have done so, eh?'

'Nothing of the sort,' said I; 'haven't quite stock enough to stand
that sort of thing.'

'Good woman cook, elderly, but drinks, of course,' said the old
gentleman, with bland certainty. 'Have to give her a glass of grog
last thing at night to keep down the hankering. Red face--old
soldier--that sort of woman--sure as if I had seen her.'

'Wrong again,' said I, 'wonderfully wrong. My dear,' said I--we were
at the second bottle of Rudesheimer by this time--' can't we contrive
somehow to get Mr. Ratcliffe a sight of Mary?'

'Really, I don't know,' answered my wife, without entering very
strongly into my suggestion. 'I daresay, if you wish very much that
Mr. Ratcliffe should behold our pretty, as well as very good, cook, it
could be managed. I'll ask her to go into the drawing-room for
something, and she will have to pass through here, as you chose to
build your house without passages, Mr. Steadman.'

'No passage of arms, I hope, will ever be found in this house,'
replied I. But she had left us. We did not immediately rise, and at
the conclusion of the bottle, in which I was ably assisted by my
previously exhausted guest, Mr. Ratcliffe asserted that he had never
eaten so good a dinner before--'done me a world of good,' he continued
to aver, 'world of good, world of good--in point of fact, saved my
life, not a doubt of it, Steadman, old fellow!'

At this juncture Mrs. Steadman informed me that there was a cup of
tea awaiting us in the drawing-room, but that, unluckily, Mary had a
very severe headache, and had gone to bed.

Mary was sufficiently recovered to rise early and prepare what was
needful for the breakfast; but, unfortunately, her headache
recommenced, and so incapacitated her for the slightest exertion that
she was compelled to retire again to her room. Mr. Ratcliffe,
therefore, after bestowing much praise upon the breakfast, was
compelled to depart without seeing her. His last words were:

'My dear Mrs. Steadman, never forget your kindness, never forget your
dinner, very sorry I could not tell the cook so; give her my love, as
she's a young woman; best dinner I ever tasted. Good-bye.'

'My dear Mr. Ratcliffe,' wheedled the young person who had
successfully wheedled me, 'just write it upon this card. Mary will be
so proud when I show it to her; do write it, send your love and all.'

'My dear madam, of course, of course I will,' answered the now
renovated senior, with all the ardour of youth, under the influence of
my wife's still effective hazel eyes, and drawing forth a stout
silver-cased pencil, he scrawled:

'Best dinner I ever ate, best cooked, best served, my love to the
cook.--Ralph Ratcliffe.'

The wiry buggy horses declined to stand any longer. Mr. Ratcliffe
handed the card to my wife, with a bow like that of a marquis in the
days of the Regency, and 'dusted out' at the rate of twelve miles an
hour to one of his desirable properties.

'Is the habit of flirting so ingrained in women,' I demanded sternly,
'that even a grandfather is considered better than no one? What
audacious correspondence is this that you carry on before the eyes of
your trusting husband, madam?'

'Never mind, never mind, my dear!' said this shameless young woman,
concealing the document. 'I only told him Mary would be pleased with
it, and so she will.'

'I am glad to see that her headache is better,' remarked I, as I
beheld the convalescent gazing after the vehicle of Mr. Ratcliffe with
an eager abstracted air. 'Has she fallen in love with him, too? Well,
there's some comfort in store for a middle-aged man if he can be
certain that his power to interest the sex will not practically cease
at the age of threescore and ten.'



Chapter IV



Letter from Miss Mary Dale Seyton to Miss Kate Charteris

BUNDABURRAMAH 25th November 187--.

MY DEAREST CATHERINE--Oh, my dear, I have just had such a fearfully
narrow escape! I was always afraid of being recognised by some old
acquaintance, though there could not be a better place than this for
being quite out of the world.

Now, who do you suppose, of all people under the sun, came here
unexpectedly and stayed all night? No one but old Mr. Ratcliffe! Think
of that--fortunately I was near the door, and heard his voice, which I
should know anywhere, before he came past. I had just time to dash
into my bedroom, and as the old gentleman was remarkably tired for
him--it was the most awful hot-wind day--he went very soon into his
room and did not see me. I am not sure, after all, whether his visit
may not be productive of good. It seems he thought himself too tired
to eat, and there being rather a well-composed little dinner (though I
say it--professional vanity being allowed for) he enjoyed it very
much, praised the cook, and even had the curiosity to want to see her.
Fancy my feelings! However, of course, I had a headache, and could not
be seen either that night or the next morning. The best of the joke is
that he sent his love to the cook, and dear little Mrs. Steadman got
him to write it on a card--so that I am in possession of his written
statement that it was the best-cooked dinner he had ever tasted. Such
testimonials are sometimes of value.

My visit to the country draws to a close. My time is nearly up.
Really I am less glad than I thought I could be at the prospect of
returning. Mr. and Mrs. Steadman have been very kind to me. The
climate is fine. I have grown so fond of the children; and if anything
awfully sudden and serious--and--well, impossible, happened between me
and Roland, I really believe I could go on contentedly and happily
here, year after year. However, I shall not, perhaps, be altogether
sorry to feel the fresh, briny blast, and to hug my dearest darling
Kate again.--Your ownest and lovingest friend.

M. D. SEYTON.

Miss Charteris to Miss Mary Dale

WOOLLAHRA, 13th December 187.

MY DEAREST MAID (of all work)--No, I suppose you are not so fully
occupied. So you are really going to leave that charming retreat
Bunda--and all the rest, and return to your family and friends. I
wonder whether we shall ever tread on your toes, mentally, or whether
we shall hail in you a princess released from captivity, whose
experiences and adventures will throw us all into the shade. You
always had a habit of posing as a leader of your monde. Oh, dear, I
would have given anything to have come up and seen your respectful
demeanour to your mistress!

So you saw old Mr. Ratcliffe, or his back? I can imagine your
consternation. And you cooked him an irresistible dinner? Food has
played its part in the world's great dramas before now. 'This, by no
means to be inwardly despised, art--profession--life-habit of good
cookery (some say Gallic-derived), all respect secretly as a minister
of enjoyment--nay, an elixir-vitae'. I have been reading Carlyle, you
see. What an old dear he is! When young ladies do not get married at
twenty-one, and have no kind destiny to pitchfork them into a
'situation,' they must read a little.

Isn't it a wonderful coincidence; I saw Roland yesterday. He has
just come down from some horrid place a thousand miles off, and is
burnt black, and has had the ague, and--looks handsomer than ever. He
goes back to-morrow.

He says he thinks some one will relent some day. In the meanwhile,
though he has fits of despondency, he is fidelity personified.

This I know for a fact.

So now, I hope you will sleep well after that and your lawful day's
work. Heigho! Do you think Mrs. S. wants a laundress? If you don't
come soon, don't be surprised if you see me by the mail some fine
day.--Ever (or nearly always) your true but unsettled friend.

CATHERINE CHARTERIS.

From Mr. Roland Ratcliffe to Robert Stanley, Esq., Woods and Wastes
Office, Sydney

LOWER BACK DARGIL.

15th December 187, 4 P.M.

MY DEAR BOB--How I envy you, just taking down your coat from its
peg, filling your pipe, and sauntering off for a stroll in the Domain,
or an hour's practice in the boat. In either of these occupations you
are safe, at this time of year, for a glorious whiff of sea-breeze--
maddening thought! Here I am stuck for another month in this howling
wilderness, in the society of Blacks, Chinamen, inebriated shearers,
and all the demons of this Lower Dargil! Taking the heat, torment, and
profanity, it cannot be very far from that other, perhaps lowest
abode. What a life it is! I have had ten years of it now, and I abhor
it deeply and daily. Work, of course, is work, and as such to be
accepted. But it ought to have an end, or hope of end some day. Now
this end, hope, or expectation, I do not at present catch a glimpse
of. The governor was up here the other day, and said he thought it
rather a pleasant place to live in--not by any means hot overmuch.
Told me (as usual) how much harder he worked and saved before he
permitted himself to think of a wife.

That last thrice-blessed word makes me think of my darling Mary. If
she had not more sense than I have, we should have run away and
married years ago. She wouldn't hear of it. 'Patience, my dear Roland
the brave,' she would say; 'better practise voluntary self-sacrifice
now, than compulsory ditto all our lives after. If we are true to each
other, fortune and your stern father will come round some day.' She
took it into her head to pay a visit to a country friend last
Christmas--where, I could never learn, just leaving a line to say she
would be back that month next year. It isn't long now, thank God! I
shall start for Sydney at the end of this monotonous, murderous month.
By George! it's enough to make any fellow drink, or go mad. You know,
for I told you, old fellow, how the governor wouldn't hear of our
marriage. He had absurd ideas that I never could disabuse him of. 'You
shall never marry one of these Seyton girls,' he said, over and over
again; 'that is--not with my consent. They're a proud, useless lot,
and they haven't a penny to bless themselves with. I don't believe one
of them could do a bit of real work, if she had a house of her own, in
the bush, where you'll have to live for the next ten or fifteen years,
no! not if she was to die for it. All they think of is dressing, and
drawing, playing the piano, and reading useless books from Monday
morning to Saturday night. You'll have to travel like a circus, with
half a dozen vans to carry the servants and luggage, if you marry a
girl out of that house; and you'll not do it--not with my money, at
all events.' This was his general argument. In vain I implored him to
see that the girls, if well dressed and well educated, were
economical. That cultivated minds did not necessitate indolence or
extravagance. No, of course he wouldn't hear reason, old men never do.
Why, I wonder? Don't they gather wisdom? It appears not. Well, I told
Mary all this. She smiled when I came to the work part, then paused
and thought for a while, as she often does. By George! here's the
mail--boy's horse has bucked and thrown him. He has to go sixty miles
with this letter. I must stop for the present, and help catch him, and
pick up the mail.--In haste, your unlucky friend.

ROLAND RATCLIFFE.

From Robert Stanley, Esq., to Roland Ratcliffe

WOODS AND WASTES OFFICE, SYDNEY, 7th January 187.

MY DEAR ROWLEY--The frog who would a-wooing go fell into
misadventure, so you have a precedent from earliest lyric history.
Being in love, and, not as yet in possession of the angel referred to
in your short note of the 15th ult., of course you are miserable,--to
suppose otherwise would be an insult to her charms and your passion.
Still, all is not lost. It appears to my calmer intelligence that your
Mary has shown the possession of qualities which will add to your
happiness, when all this heart and dart business is over. Excuse my
plainness. She is prudent, and counsels you to patience and self-
denial. You have nowhere accused her of being cold. Women seldom are,
so they tell me; therefore, she is coercing her own inclinations, and
urging you to do likewise, for your mutual advantage. That shows
enlightened foresight, not a common quality of the sex, as I gather
from authorities. Being a bachelor, I speak with diffidence. Of the
young lady's personal graces and accomplishments, I can depose with
certainty, from actual observation. It appears to me, putting two and
two together, as we officials are wont to do in our despatches, that
you are a most fortunate fellow. I advise you to abide for the present
by her decision, particularly as you deplore, from experience, your
power to alter it. I am not sure whether this will find you still at
Lower Dargil. Farewell. I go to play a game at billiards. Excuse my
lack of pity. The temporary inconveniences of dusty Dargil are cheaply
purchased by the potentiality of unlimited travel and independence,
when you come into your kingdom. To that end follow the wise counsels
of a certain ladye fayre. Bye-bye. If you feel very hot, think of the
grateful ices of town; they are very soothing this year.--Yours as of
old.

ROBERT STANLEY.

The year 187belonged to those fortunate seasons which occasionally
compensate the toils and anxieties of habitans in sicco and his sun--
scorched brethren. Wool was very fair; stock were at once plentiful,
in good condition, and high in price. I hardened my heart as the days
grew more fiercely hot, while the dust-storms swept through the naked
stems of the eucalypti, wailing a requiem to the dying grasses and
fading streams. However, dead grass in Australia is good to eat, and
fattening withal. And if the creeks cease to run, the waterholes, when
permanent, answer much the same purpose. So, except for poetical
reasons, there was not much the matter with the season.

'Little woman,' said I to my wife, 'don't you think a trip to Sydney,
combined with sea-air, would do you and the children good, this hot
weather?'

'Edward!' shrieked the delighted housewife, who had been patiently,
but somewhat sorrowfully, looking forward to three months of heat,
dust, flies, and lassitude. 'You don't mean it, surely? Oh--you dear--
good--!'

'You know, dearest,' said I, resuming the conversation which had been
temporarily interrupted. 'I am always willing to give you any
reasonable enjoyment, when I have the money to spare. I have often,
much against the grain, been compelled to deny you indulgences; now,
the same cause no longer operates.'

'You are always my dear, good, thoughtful Edward,' said she,
forgetting apparently the trifling differences of opinion which we had
had upon this sore point of allowable entertainments. 'Then we can
take Mary down, too, as her year is just up. Yes? Oh, I must go and
tell her!'

It is hard for the dwellers in cities to realise the deep joy, the
childlike eagerness with which the 'route' is greeted by a squatter's
family in the far interior after a lengthened absence from town. Not
altogether comfortless may be the nest to which the sanguine dweller
in the woods has borne the bride, who has given up cheerfully, for
love of him, friends, home, all that went to make the cherished
portions of life up to that hour. There are the household duties;
there is the garden; there may be the blessed, purifying companionship
of children to fill up the long hours; but there is little society,
there is no recreation; and, more particularly, perhaps, in the
cloudless summer days, the most tender, the most domesticated wife may
well feel an oppressive monotony--a pining, craving sensation--when
the thought of change, society, all the charms of highly-organised
social life, flits across her musings. Such was our present mental
condition. My wife lay awake half the night thinking of possible
delights, like a schoolgirl before the holidays. The children dreamed
of countless toys and castles by the sea, with delicious bare-legged
paddlings therein. Mary was unusually demonstrative, and sincerely
gratified at the idea of going home under my wife's chaperonage. While
I--as I looked over the bolts of the waggonette, and scrutinised the
condition of my buggy horses, fat and frolicsome, but hard as nails,
upon the faultless pasturing of midsummer--thought that iced claret
and the club smoking-room would not be a bad exchange for the 'after-
shearing' existence of Bundaburramah.

We reached town with not more than the ordinary number of slight
accidents and narrow escapes; and oh, that first week of change of
air, change of scene, change of diet, change of friends, change of
books, change of dress! It was a daily ecstasy. It was a week carved
out and forwarded fresh from fairyland. Why do these first weeks
refuse to repeat themselves? Why does the bloom cease to remain on the
rose? Why halt not the coursers of Phoebus when first their eyes shine
through the tender dawn and their manes are damp with dew from the
lawns of paradise? Why fade the dreams of love? Why presses forward
glorious, bright-haired, bounding youth, himself returning not, though
we call to him, weeping bitter tears, and scorning the joyless life
that alone remains?

We established ourselves in a pretty furnished cottage, overlooking
one of those terraced garden lawns, heavy with flowers, shrubs, and
lustrous trailers, through thickets of which you saw the blue,
untroubled deep, or watched the free breeze summon the white-fringed
billowy ranks. I used to lounge in the cool stone-paved verandah for
hours in the calm evenings and starry nights, smoking, dreaming, while
the rhythmical plash of the waves on the beach soothed my spirit and
well-nigh extinguished all consciousness of the outer world, so
largely compounded of toil and strife.

I hope it is superfluous to explain that our first duty, duly
performed by my wife, was to deliver over our Mary--no longer so, but
Miss Seyton--to her mother and sisters. With the help of a mysterious
package, which had arrived by coach about a month before our
departure, she appeared 'disguised as a lady'; and to guess from the
flattering comments of her delighted family, by no means the worse--on
the contrary, conspicuously the better--in health, figure, and
complexion, for her mysterious visit to the bush.

'I can never be sufficiently grateful, my dear madam,' said Mrs.
Seyton, a high-bred-looking old lady of majestic mien, 'for your
goodness and for your motherly care of my daughter. She certainly had
my consent, but it was given unwillingly. Words cannot tell my
thankfulness to see her back safe and well.'

Here the tears would come into the old lady's eyes.



Chapter V



'WE never can be sufficiently grateful, I assure you,' said my wife,
in her pretty way (and between ourselves, when the little woman likes,
she has a manner quite irresistible). 'We had quite a "year of
consolation," as Fanny Kemble says, while your dear Mary was with us,
and I don't look upon it as a year altogether thrown away. We shall
see.'

'Mary is the most obstinate girl in the whole world,' said Brenda
Seyton, a mischievous-looking younger sister; 'but then she has such a
way of making you believe that everything she does is wise and
expedient. Usen't she to over-persuade you, Mrs. Steadman? and didn't
you have any fights?'

'Your sister Mary will always be the dearest friend I have in the
world,' said the small diplomatist, with great dignity. 'I could never
be brought to believe that anything she did was not the very best
thing--done with the very best intentions.'

'It's the old story, I see,' smiled Miss Brenda. 'You're one of the
victims, Mrs. Steadman. It's a pity that one old gentleman should be
the only one in the world who can't see what a dear, unselfish thing
she is, far too good for Roland or any other man, I believe.'

'We must trust that time may make a little improvement even in this
unpromising matter, Miss Brenda,' said my wife, smiling and preparing
to depart. 'You are all coming to our picnic, you know, next
Saturday?'

We had, upon the time-honoured principle of 'in for a penny in for a
pound,' resolved to give a picnic. We were fairly intoxicated with the
odour of the briny main, and under that glamour bethought ourselves of
the luxury of spending a whole breezy, bright day fishing, oystering,
scrambling, and otherwise diverting ourselves and such of our friends
as we could entice. Then the sail home under the starlit heavens, over
the moon-silvered rippling wave!

'I had no idea I could feel so young again,' said my wife, as we
added up the probable joys of the day.

'Nor I either,' acquiesced the sympathising head of the house. 'Mind
you get plenty of nice girls.'

My wife was fully of opinion that much of the success of such a party
depended upon the lunch.

'You be sure to have lots of ice, Edward, and let there be no mistake
about the hock and Moselle (I piqued myself upon my acquaintance with
these vintages), and I'll show you such a luncheon as Sydney hasn't
seen for many a day!'

'But how will you manage that without a Mary Dale?' asked I, with a
half-perceptible tribute to memory and regret. 'She doesn't go out to
little affairs professionally now, I suppose?'

'Miss Seyton is coming to me to-morrow, and is going with us. Perhaps
we may both look into the kitchen the day before.'

'Beware,' said I, 'or you will make some tremendous disclosures, the
consequences of which will be on your own small head.'

'Some women can keep secrets, sir, though I know you despise us and
our wisdom. By the bye, if you see Roland Ratcliffe at the club, or
anywhere, mind you ask him.'

'He has not come down the country yet, nor the old buffer either;
they are expected daily.'

'Well, ask them both if you see them, Edward. Do you know, I love old
Mr. Ratcliffe; he puts me in mind of Front-de-Boeuf or some of Sir
Walter's delightful creatures.'

'H'm!' responded I. 'Perhaps there is a slight resemblance. The Jews
have the best of it, though, in these latter days, now that we cherish
a weak aversion to bloodshed. Still, I think old Ralph could hold his
own with any Jew that ever drew cheque.'

The day arrived. Golden-clear were the waters, soft the breeze,
azure--bright the skies, as our boats, with their merry crew of care-
defying men and sportive maidens, slipped down the Bay of all Bays. By
a curious chance I happened to meet old Ralph Ratcliffe the very last
thing the day before, and, more wonderful to relate, he consented to
come.

'I have such pleasant recollections of your last hospitality, my
boy,' said he, 'that I feel bound to honour Mrs. Steadman's
invitation. Besides, I must be dusty, like the wool-bales, a good inch
inside the skin. Roads awful. I daresay a blow in the harbour will do
me good.'

So when the desert-worn veteran appeared with a silk coat and a fly--
away blue tie, Mrs. Steadman greeted him with such warmth that you
would have thought that he had just made us a present of a station or
two. I could not quite understand this excessive appreciation of a
very stern old gentleman, but I knew from experience that when the
little woman 'put on side' it was for somebody's good, and I 'backed
up' by taking the old boy about and introducing him to all the pretty
girls I fell across.

Did we have a pleasant day? In the after-time, when occasionally
mopes and worries would intrude into ours as into all households, it
was only necessary to recall some incident of that peerless frolic to
throw every one into high spirits. Such walks, such talks, such
scrambles, such flirtations, such careless, innocent, unchecked mirth!
It was the childhood of the world come again--a sea-bordered Arcadia,
a vision of the golden age, when the happy dwellers in wood or grove,
by vale and mount, wandered and joyed, wooed and feasted, fearless of
sorrow, untempted by gold.

The lunch had been arranged under a gigantic wild fig-tree. We were
sheltered from the mid-day sun by a channelled and beetling crag. The
thick green couch-grass made a perfect table, upon which our damask
was spread.

'What pretty girl is that?' said old Ralph, who was in great spirits.
'What a figure she has; don't see such a complexion about Sydney.
Comes from the country, I could swear.'

I immediately introduced him to Miss Mary Dale, partly from a spirit
of mischief, and partly because I knew he had a prejudice against the
Seyton family, none of whom he had ever seen. He devoted himself to
her with old-fashioned gallantry, and Mary, bewitchingly attired, and
having caught the spirit of the hour, replied to his cheerful
statements with so much spirit and readiness that the old gentleman
told me in confidence, just as we sat down to lunch, that she was the
nicest girl he had met for years. 'Something like a girl, not one of
those wasp-waisted dawdles that were fit for nothing but to read
novels, loll in carriages, and send their husbands at full speed along
the road to the Insolvent Court.'

My wife's eyes sparkled as she saw Mr. Ratcliffe lead in Mary, and
she motioned them to sit next to her, saying she could not manage
without his assistance in carving. Lunch lasted a long time. Those who
were qualified to appreciate artistic performances soon discovered
that the first and second courses contained culinary treasures not
generally granted to so informal a banquet. Among the explorers fresh
from recent journeying was Mr. Ratcliffe, who apologised more than
once for the positively surprising appetite which he developed.

'Haven't done so well since that wonderful dinner of yours at
Bundaburramah, Mrs. Steadman, which I remember with gratitude--shall
always remember. I was really tired that day. Dinner brought me to,
Miss Dale. Quite wonderful effect. May I ask for some salmi of wild
duck? Why, bless my soul!'

This exclamation was elicited from the ancient capitalist after the
second mouthful of this meritorious composition, after partaking of
which he had put down his fork and gazed wildly around.

'What's the matter?' said I. 'Too much pepper?'

'Pepper be--! Beg your pardon, Mrs. Steadman, but this delightful
dish reminds me of the identical one at your great dinner. Must have
been prepared by the same hand. That astonishing cook of yours,
whoever she was--didn't see her next morning--the same hand must have
prepared both.'

'Well, it's a little secret between you and me, Mr. Ratcliffe,' said
my wife. 'And I'll promise to tell you if you'll escort me down to the
boat after lunch. Mary here knows it--you needn't blush, my dear; and
if you'll just restrain your curiosity till we're thinking of the
homeward voyage, you shall know all.'

'Certainly, my dear madam, certainly,' quoth the gallant old
gentleman. 'I say, Steadman, it won't do to stow away a bottle of hock
here, each, if we are to have a life on the ocean wave afterwards.
Must take care of the ladies, you know, eh?'

The sun was low, the long glorious day was done, as Mr. Ratcliffe,
according to promise, rejoined Mrs. Steadman and Mary, who had
prudently been superintending the final basketing of the glass, china,
etc., the permanent absence of which would have communicated an
unpleasant after-taste to our enjoyment. I took Mary with easy
promptness, leaving the aged Ralph to the wiles of the temptress, in
the shape of my wife.

'Now, Mrs. Steadman,' I heard him say, 'you promised to let me into
the secret of this wonderful cookery. Do you do it yourself? or do you
carry about a familiar spirit in a tin box, who turns out lunches and
dinners at a moment's notice?'

'The same young woman cooked the salmi at Bundaburramah and the one
you were pleased to recognise to-day; and more than that, our cook of
Bundaburramah was at the picnic to-day.'

'I suppose the hot weather has not turned my brain?' said old Ralph
thoughtfully, feeling his cranium with a distrustful air. 'I have seen
nothing to-day but lovely faces, becoming dresses, young ladies,
middle-aged ladies, fine ladies. Now, could any one I have met here
to-day have been your cook?'

'Mary, my dear,' said my wife, with a quick but slightly tremulous
tone, 'will you please to hand to Mr. Ratcliffe the note which I gave
you this morning?'

Mary stopped, and, producing the document in question, advanced shyly
towards the old gentleman.

'My dearest Miss Dale,' he said, 'are you in this conspiracy? I feel
deeply interested. Are you sure you were not the cook yourself? You
will excuse me for opening this mysterious billet?'

'I was the cook,' said Mary, holding up her head, with all the
hauteur which had never deserted her even in the unromantic kitchen of
our bush home.

'What's this?' gasped Mr. Ratcliffe. 'Best dinner, etc. etc., best
cooked--best cooked. Love to the cook.--Ralph Ratcliffe. My writing--
my signature. I remember--I remember; now I see it all. You were
staying with my charming friend Mrs. Steadman, and as they were short
of a servant, you went into the kitchen and cooked the dinner. Well,
never be ashamed of it, my dear; any young lady who had cooked such a
dinner as that, could make two such salmis, ought to be proud of it to
the day of her death. If my son had only the sense to choose a girl
like you, my dear.'

'Don't praise me before you know all,' said she. 'I don't want your
approbation under false colours. I was, for a full year, the cook at
Bundaburramah. I am Mary Dale Seyton.'

'Seyton, Miss Seyton!' said the old man, changing his tone wholly,
and looking steadily at her, at me, and at my wife. 'So that is the
key to the whole cipher. And how did you come to be a year at
Bundaburramah as cook?'

'Because I knew that you had said that neither I nor my sisters had
capacity for sensible work; and I was determined to show you, said our
Mary, standing up and looking him fearlessly in the face with her
honest eyes, 'that I could work, and that we were not the useless,
frivolous girls you chose, without knowing us, to take it for granted
we were.'

'And I can depose and testify on oath, if required by my Queen and
country,' said I, striking up at this somewhat embarrassing juncture,
'that such a cook we never had before, and never shall have again. If
anything happens to my wife here, I am ready to--'

'Not if I know it,' interposed our elderly friend, with considerable
briskness. 'This young lady has contracted a written engagement, or I
am misinformed. Mrs. Steadman, I shall indict you for a conspiracy for
the purpose of providing one Ralph Ratcliffe with the best daughter-
in-law in the whole world. And my dear Miss Seyton, accept the very
humble apologies of a conceited old idiot, who thought he could choose
a wife for another man.'

We separated into different groups and parties after disembarking,
and Mr. Ratcliffe insisted upon escorting Miss Seyton as far as my
house. When we arrived there it was comparatively early in the
evening, though quite time for all picnic parties to be concluded. In
the moonlight I observed a tall figure leaning in statuesque pose
against one of the verandah posts.

'Not unlike Master Roland,' observed old Ralph, whose eyesight was by
no means dimmed, nor his bodily strength abated. 'I expected him down
to-night.'

It was indeed that ill-used personage. After a long day's journey he
had arrived at Mrs. Seyton's house, only to find that his idol had
gone forth on seafaring pleasure bent. Then, having discovered my
abode, he had kept vigil since sundown, wearily awaiting our somewhat
leisurely return. Virtue, however, was close to the proverbial reward.
As we came up, full of spirits, and somewhat in contrast to his
subdued air, his father was the first to speak.

'Roland, my boy, there's been a trifling mistake rectified to-day,
principally by the good sense and high feeling of Miss Seyton here--a
young lady, sir, whom I shall be only too proud to welcome to our
family.'

Here Roland was suddenly transformed into another and wholly
different individual. Shaking his father's hand warmly, he all but
embraced my wife, in his indiscriminating fervour.

'Don't you speak to Miss Seyton yet,' said old Ralph, retaining his
grasp of that maiden. 'You're not half worthy of her, sir. Do you
think I'd have been bullied out of a girl like her by all the fathers
in the world? No, sir! At your age I should have run away with her--if
I had had the distinguished honour to have gained her affections. And
snapped my fingers at my old governor; and he wasn't a man to be
played with, either.'

'It wasn't my fault, dad,' quoth Master Roland, with cheerful
defiance; 'don't make any mistake there. I had arranged when to go,
and what to do, in case you--well--cut up rough. But she stood firm,
though we nearly quarrelled about it. Would not hear of anything but
time and patience. I'm afraid she's pretty obstinate. But you seem to
know each other pretty well by this time, if I'm to judge by
appearances.'

'You're a lucky dog, sir, a lucky dog,' chuckled old Ralph. 'Here,
take the greatest care of her,' and he handed the somewhat discomposed
young lady over to the enraptured Roland. 'I very much regret,
Steadman, that I can't come in, as I have some letters to write at the
club. I daresay Miss Seyton will be able to render a full account of
all her proceedings. Mrs. Steadman, my warmest thanks for all your
kindness, which, as well as this memorable picnic, and the dinner, I
shall never forget.'

So Ratcliffe senior went off, and Ratcliffe junior came in, and as my
wife had necessarily a few household matters to arrange, and I thought
a smoke on the balcony would be a pleasant finale to the day's
exertions, the lovers had a good hour to compare notes and otherwise
clear up mysterious doubts.

We were all very merry in the drawing-room before we turned Roland
out, and when, on the following morning, I delivered Mary to her
friends, I found Roland seated there, the centre of an admiring group
of probable sisters-in-law.

The sequel was not long delayed. Old Ralph, who generally did a thing
well, when he decided to do it at all, gave the young couple a
magnificent wedding, and was truly liberal in his after arrangements
for their welfare.

'Whatever doubts I may have had about Roland,' the old man said, 'are
now at rest--with such a wife he can't go wrong.'

We saw our Mary decked in the 'sweetest' possible inspiration of the
artiste of the day, presumably equal to 'all that Worth could offer.'
We wended our way home to Bundaburramah in due time, having secured
reasonable, if not transcendental, domestics. But whenever we visit
the metropolis, upon our annual trip to the seaside, we generally fall
across that happy and prosperous couple, Mr. and Mrs. Roland
Ratcliffe, and never fail to extract some fun from the still pleasant
remembrance of 'our new cook.'



ANGELS UNAWARES



THERE was more than the usual mild excitement in the quiet country
town of Barradoo, when it became known that a couple of travelling
Englishmen had taken up their quarters at the Woolpack Hotel, with the
intention of remaining in the neighbourhood. Further particulars,
obtained from Joe Drummond, bank clerk in the National, who lodged
there, amounted to this:--'The strangers were young,' he should say,
'not bad--looking, very swell in their ways, and stand-offish in
manner.' Thus the young gentleman expressed it. 'One of them--
Grandison,' he thought was his name, 'talked about wanting to see
station life. The "Captain," so the other chap called him, was a
smart-looking card. They played billiards AI. Seemed to have money
too, else old Bowstead would never turn the house upside down for them
as he did. Always went about together. The Captain did most of the
talking. The tall man took it out mostly in smoking.'

Such a conjectural basis was hardly equal to a letter of
introduction from a friend or of credit from a financier, in the case
of two utterly unknown persons. Still, in the country, agreeable
strangers are scarce. Visitors of mark are always at a premium, and
though Englishmen are wrong in thinking that people may do all sorts
of unconventional things in Australian society, the canons of
hospitality are construed leniently.

It was decided, therefore, in conclave or otherwise, that the
strangers were to be called upon and invited out by the lite of
Barradoo.

No time was lost. The police magistrate, and the bankers, the two
doctors, the three lawyers, the clergyman, the civil engineer, a
retired military officer--most of them family men--called formally,
and gave general or special invitations. Besides all these social
minnows, the Triton of the vicinity, the mammoth squatter, whose vast
freeholds elbowed the little town on all sides, even he presented
himself.

Mr. Blocksleigh happened to be at home, for a wonder, spending the
winter in his ancestral halls, as Mrs. Butters, the overseer's wife,
had been heard to call them. Being a trifle hard up for decent
society, as he expressed it, the Barradoo people not being quite up to
the mark in his opinion, soon after hearing this last intelligence, he
ordered out the mail--phaeton, and rattled up to the door of the
Woolpack, where he was received by Bowstead, and ushered into the
presence of the illustrious strangers with all befitting reverence.
They were at that moment in the billiard room.

'So glad to make their acquaintance; knew they must find it
fearfully dull in Barradoo. Hardly a soul to speak to, of course.
Since Lord Eustace and the Hon. Mr. Wander had left, Blocksleigh Hall
had been infernally dull. Daily fit of the blues, give them his
honour! Must take pity on him! Come next week and stay a month.
Weather glorious just now.'

'Would be most happy,' made answer the Captain. 'Had a few
engagements just now, but in about a week--say ten days--delighted to
pay him a visit. His friend Grandstone wished, above all things, to
see the life of the Australian bush.'

The gentleman alluded to, who had left off staring absently at Mr.
Blocksleigh and was knocking about the billiard balls, turned round
and murmured, 'Bush life--delighted--thing I came out on purpose to go
in for.'

'As to that,' said the squatter, 'I'm not sure I can promise you
much just now. Blocksleigh Hall is not exactly a--a station--not in
the back-block line, you know. We don't call this "the bush," you
know.'

'The da-vil!' exclaimed the tall Englishman, facing round and gazing
through the window, from which, if the truth be told, some hundreds of
miles of the unpicturesque ring-barked woodlands of the Lower Wammera
were apparently visible. 'Then what the dooce do you call it?'

'We call it the country,' said Mr. Blocksleigh majestically. 'But,'
and here he relapsed into his cheery society manner, which he reserved
for the distinguished persons who occasionally quitted the Union Club
to relax amid the fresh air and unstinted hospitality of Blocksleigh
Hall, 'you come over and I'll put you up to that, and a few other
Australian wrinkles.'

'Haw!' commenced Mr. Grandstone, when the Captain, with a marked air
of decision, interrupted--

'You will see us to-morrow week. Thanks very much. Bowstead will
send us over, and we shall be most willing to be your guests for a
fortnight.'

On the appointed day, Mr. Bowstead, in person, had the gratification
of driving his distinguished guests to the Hall, an experience to
which he duly referred with honest pride before and after the event.

But, previous to this auspicious occurrence, their entre to the
best Barradoo society had been frankly availed of by the strangers.
They had been dined by the police magistrate, and entertained at a
'small and early,' 'not quite a dance, you know--just a social
evening,' at the house of the 'National' banker, who had three
daughters. The lawyers had done their part: Mr. Rondell, a portly,
loud-voiced bon vivant, with a small, quiet wife and two cheerful
daughters; Mr. Ventnor, an elderly, slightly acidulated bachelor,
famous for his whist parties, port wine, and conservative opinions.
With the fewest exceptions, the stranger guests were the admired of
all beholders--the general theme and topic of approving converse.
'They were so good-looking, they dressed so well.' 'Their manners were
so simple and unaffected.' 'Good form'; this from the men. 'So unlike
anything you see out here. There's a stamp upon them which you can't
mistake'; this from the young ladies. The only dissenting voices from
the chorus of admiration which swelled and rippled around the objects
of all this hero-worship, were Mrs. Towers of Sandy Creek, the mother
of Charlie Towers, who had been previously held to be the favoured
admirer of Miss Kate Bellenden; and old Miss M'Causland, a maiden lady
of Scotch extraction, whose acute perceptions had probably not been
dulled by much flattering attention.

'Dashed if I can see what there is to make such a howling about in
these two English fellows,' said Charlie Towers to his chief chum and
crony, Jack Ainslie, as they were starting for a day's fishing one
Saturday morning; 'I don't say that the Captain, as they call him,
isn't well up in things generally. I've nothing to say against him.
The long chap is a fine upstanding fellow; he can play billiards and
shoot no end. Very neat with the gloves, too, for all his haw-haw
ways. But there are plenty of as good all-round men out here. Not over
clever about books either, or says he isn't. One would think the women
here had never seen a man before. Besides I can't get it out of my
head that there's something crooked about them. Not above-board, I
mean.'

'Letters of credit wrong,' laughed his friend. 'Big swindle. Miranda
business, eh? We're a little hipped, Charlie, my boy.'

'Not at all--nothing of that kind. Besides, Carton of the 'Asia had a
private line. He'll back them to any extent. No; I'm riled, I admit,
at being dropped and so on. Still, I'm fair, I hope. It isn't that.'

'What then, old man?'

'Why, about this never taking anything to drink, teetotal business,
etc. You've remarked that?'

'Haven't I? Wasn't I referred to them by Aunt Dorcas when she saw me
taking a long beer one day? Said it would lead to excess. Didn't I
notice that Mr. Grandstone and Captain Wilton never took anything? And
they were men of fortune and position at home.'

'And what did you answer?'

'Said it was a bad sign. I was wild, you bet. Told her straight out
that men with nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of took their liquor
like gentlemen. So I say now.'

'Your aunt would be ropeable?'

'I believe you,' answered his companion. 'Blew me up sky high. Said I
was going headlong to perdition, and had lost the power of recognising
high principle and self-denial when I saw them before my eyes. She had
no patience with the young men of the present day.'

'Didn't one of them make a sort of explanation the first time they
dined out?'

'Oh yes, neatly enough. The swell chappie--big man--asked for
lemonade. Said very few society fellers took wine or spirits in
England nowadays. Bad form and so on. He and Wilton had agreed not to
touch anything stronger than "sodah" till they saw the old country
again.'

'H'm, ha! Bad sign--fishy, I think so too. Of course all the women
admire them more than ever.'

'Quite so. Been a run on lemonade ever since. Binns, at the cordial
factory, says he'll make a fortune this year. Calls a new brand of
soda--water "the Grandstone." Bowstead--where they stay--not so
enthusiastic.'

'Time will tell, of course,' quoth Charlie oracularly. 'Nothing like
a waiting race. By jove, what a bite!' as his float went down head-
first like a dabchick, and his line tightened as if a young shark had
impounded the bait.

'Patience, Jack, is our best ally. These temporary disturbances will
subside. Some day all may yet go well, and after a little play we may
each land our fish, just as this lovely silver bream--five pounds if
he is an ounce--comes slowly but surely to grass.'

If there was any one in Barradoo who thought she possessed a slight
advantage in the confidence of the reserved but interesting strangers
it was Miss Bellenden. That young lady, a statuesque brunette, had
from the first been singled out by the tall, fair Grandstone, and
felt, naturally, somewhat flattered by the preference. Mary Woodrose,
the Major's only child, thought Captain Wilton 'a most interesting
person to talk to, so well read, had travelled so much, quite
unaffected too; her father enjoyed his society; she liked seeing them
together. Then his descriptions of the foreign countries he had seen
were so graphic--they quite carried you away from this dull country.'

In her artless way she essayed to discover more than had been
confided to the public. 'They must be travelling merely for
amusement,' she was sure. 'Did Mr. Grandstone really want to buy a
station and settle in Australia? Was he so very rich as was stated?
Had he known him long?'

These inquiries, hazarded now and then as chance queries, were
answered after a fashion. 'They had been friends in England. Both had
a strong love of travel. Grandstone thought station life would suit
him, but was uncertain in his movements. When their visit to
Blocksleigh was over, he would make up his mind. For himself, he had
fully decided upon his course. He would return to Australia, if--if--
only--other arrangements'--here his eyes became bright and
expressive--'if, that is to say, everything went right.' Over Mary
Woodrose's delicately fair cheek stole a tell-tale blush, and the
conversation took another turn.

Miss Bellenden, on her part, tested her influence, with a view to
unravel the mystery. She secured an apparently larger and more
unexpected slice of information. Stroking his blond moustache, and
assuming a diplomatic expression, borrowed from practice in private
theatricals, Mr. Grandstone asked the young lady whether he could rely
on her secrecy. In an agitated voice she gave the required assurance.

'Well, then, my dear Miss Bellenden, let me confide to you that upon
leaving England, Wilton and I, in order to avoid the bother of
curiosity and attention, agreed to change names and characters.'

'Changed names!' said the girl, with a sudden tone of intense
surprise. 'What an extraordinary thing to do! And characters? What do
you mean?'

'If I had had the slightest idea that Australia was such a charming
place, with such cultivated fascinating people, I should never have
been a party to the innocent deception, I assure you.'

'But what can your reason be? You raise my curiosity,' almost gasped
the damsel. 'Was he a duke's eldest son? What could it be?'

'Fact is'--here the diplomatic expression stole over his naturally
frank features--'Wilton is a man of fabulous wealth, slightly affected
here' (he tapped his forehead significantly). 'He is really Walladmor
of Walladmor--tremendous estates in the North, don't you know? Well,
nothing but continuous travel and change of scene prevents frightful
fits of despondency, in any one of which he may destroy himself.
You've remarked his expression of eye? Sort of glare?'

'I always thought they were too bright,' murmured Miss Bellenden.
'But what a dreadful thing! And poor Mary--that is--and you are--'

'Point of fact, I'm his guardian-keeper, if you like--pro tem.
Captain Mark Wilton, late Sixth Dragoon Guards, very much at your
service. Assumed the business as a blind. Family give me two thousand
a year to look after him.'

'Good gracious! How sad--how very shocking!--I mean what a dreadful
pity that anything should be the matter with him! And you're quite
sure that he's beyond recovery? Might not a happy attachment--you know
there have been such cases.'

'Worst thing in the world for him,' said Mr. Grandstone, in a wholly
different tone from that employed by him at first. 'Bring on cerebral
excitement. Quite frightens me to think of it. But you'll keep our
secret? I've never breathed it before to a living soul.'

'You need not fear my revealing one word,' replied Miss Bellenden,
with a slight accession of coldness and dignity. 'But I can't see why
you should have taken all this trouble to mystify people, when there's
nothing to be gained by it. Poor Mr. Walladmor--that is, Captain
Wilton, I mean--it's horribly confusing. I shall never believe you are
a military man, somehow. The character doesn't seem to suit you.'

Shortly after this momentous disclosure the two friends went to pay
their promised visit to Blocksleigh Hall, leaving behind them such a
stock of conversational matter as the dwellers in Barradoo had not had
in hand for many a day. The coming election of a member to represent
the district fell flat before its fascinating mystery. When the
teatable authorities remarked upon the attentions which Captain Wilton
had been paying to Mary Woodrose,--as to what a suitable match it
would be, with regrets that he wasn't a medical man, as the town
wanted another--Miss Bellenden sighed and remained silent.

When the friends of Miss Bellenden triumphantly alluded to Mr.
Grandstone's fortunate position and great expectations, Mary Woodrose
didn't respond, giving an impression that she didn't attach as much
importance to these gratifying facts as the inhabitants of Barradoo.

'She's a trifle jealous of Kate Bellenden, poor dear,' suggested one
interlocutor charitably. 'It must be hard upon her to see such a prize
captured before her eyes--but what girl in Barradoo has a chance with
Kate?'

In three weeks or thereabouts, the illustrious strangers returned to
the town. They had been induced to lengthen their stay at Blocksleigh
Hall. There had been picnics and shooting parties for their especial
benefit, kangaroo battues, improvised dances, all manner of
festivities and excursions. Men had been specially invited up from the
Union Club, and between riding and driving, coursing and billiards by
day, with a trifle of whist and nap at night, their time had been
fully occupied. Mr. Grandstone was lost in amazement at finding the
'bush' so redolent of 'beer and skittles,' so to speak, and never
ceased wondering how the money had been made which supported so costly
an entourage.

'Monstrous pleasant, I'm sure,' he was heard to remark, 'but not much
of the younger son about it, except going to a far country, you know.
Might as well be in Wales or Scotland.'

'Never mind, Grandstone, my boy,' said Mr. Blocksleigh, slapping him
familiarly on the back, 'wait till the Agricultural Show in Barradoo
is over. I've promised to go this year. Chance of his Lordship coming
up, I hear. Then I'll drive you and the Captain to one of my places,
Outer Back Balah. There you'll see bush-life in earnest.'

'Suit me down to the ground. Should like a change to backwoods life.
What do you say, Wilton?'

'First-rate idea; but hadn't we better go quietly up there before the
Show, and wait there till our good host here joins us? Better, I
think, in many ways, eh?'

Mr. Grandstone was evidently undecided, a strange look of hesitancy
stole over his face. But Mr. Blocksleigh broke in.

'What, go before the Show--and the Ball too! Why, no girl in Barradoo
would ever speak to us again. Besides I'm President of the P. & A.
Society. I daren't be absent. Say it's a settled thing, and we'll
drive four-in-hand to the Willandra Cowall afterwards.'

'Afraid we're putting you to an awful lot of inconvenience,' said the
Captain formally; 'but really, we have business in Sydney which may
prevent us from staying to the Show after all.'

'No use, old man,' said the host, with imperious good-nature; 'you're
bound to go through with it, once you've begun. Grandstone, I'm sure
Miss B. expects to see you at the Ball. Most likely His Excellency met
some of your people at home, too. Must stay. No get-away.'

Mr. Grandstone looked at one and the other with doubtful gaze, before
he spoke with his usual deliberation.

'A fellow must have his way sometimes, Wilton,' he said. 'Partly
promised to be at the Show, don't you know. Awfully well worth seeing,
they tell me. We can look up the desert afterwards. What do you say?'

'Just what I did at first. But as you are determined to take your own
way, I suppose you must. You know my reasons.'

'Don't think they hold good, in this case. Blocksleigh, old boy, I'm
your man till the Carnival's over.'

That afternoon all Barradoo was in possession of the fact that the
visitors had returned to their quarters at the Woolpack, and were
pledged to remain over the Show. Nothing more was wanted to complete
the felicity of the inhabitants, already exhilarated by the crowning
triumph of the Governor's promised visit.

During the week that elapsed between the settlement of this truly
momentous question, and the wildly exciting opening day of the Show,
things apparently settled down into something like their normal
condition of cheerful monotony. Whispers, of course, circulated in the
social atmosphere--some of a thrilling and melodramatic nature, others
of the light and sportive kind, which in the air of the interior
settlements would seem to be spontaneously generated. Then the ball; a
fancy ball, too--certain to be the best since the one Mr. Blocksleigh
gave in the Town Hall the year he won the wool trophy at the
Exhibition, in honour of that worldwide triumph. That he did the thing
well, when he set about it, nobody could deny. It was some time since
he had done anything for the good of the town, though. Perhaps in the
expansion of his feelings, as the Governor was coming, he might.
Whether or no, a man-of-war was in, and some of the officers were
coming up with the Governor's party.

Then beneath the smooth surface of the social tide there were eddies
and currents of distinct sway and tendency. Captain Wilton had
continued to be so 'marked in his attentions' to Mary Woodrose that
all the best-informed tea-tables were unanimous in their vote that the
Major ought to 'speak to him,' in case he exhibited indecision at the
hour of departure.

About Kate Bellenden and Mr. Grandstone no satisfactory conclusion
was arrived at. He seemed calmly appreciative, as usual. But was no
longer 'in her pocket' perpetually, as one fair critic graphically
described it. Certainly he did not pay any one else any attention.
That was something. Perhaps Kate herself had cooled off. She was a
wide-awake girl when you knew her (this from a school friend). And
more than that, Charlie Towers had come on again. Anyhow, he was seen
driving her out to the racecourse last Saturday, to see Miss Gaythorn
take Lorraine over the steeplechase jumps. Though this was held to be
suspicious by the conclave, it separated without any definite
deduction being formulated, if we may except the exclamation of a
severe matron: 'How men can be such fools as to let that girl play
fast and loose with them, I can't imagine.'

Finally the great day arrived; the great man also--His Excellency
Lord Warrington, with certain military and naval magnates in his
train, the very thought of whose uniforms caused the hearts of the
country maidens to palpitate strangely; other nobles and notables
also. The town was more than crowded. In the hotels rooms had not been
procurable for weeks previously. Mr. Blocksleigh's four-in-hand and
turn-out excited nearly as much attention as the Governor himself,
from the fact of his being enabled to exhibit the English strangers
thereon, though good judges declared Ralph Wardour's team superior in
style and breeding. As for spectators--Shame on the false Etruscan Who
lingers in his home, etc.

Which means that every squatter, free selector, farm labourer, and
station hand, within a hundred miles of the township, was present at
that most memorable of all the Barradoo Shows.

It was a paradisal day, all blue and golden. Dustless, for a smart
shower had fallen within forty-eight hours, yet bright-hued, tender,
glowing, breezy as an Arcadian summer morn. Every one--horses
included--was in the highest possible spirits. The drags, phaetons,
buggies, dogcarts, and waggonettes rattled and rumbled out from the
town in one long procession. All the society personages, arrayed in
the freshest of spring fashions, if they did not eclipse Solomon in
all his glory, nevertheless made a requisite and desirable impression
upon those whom it was intended to subjugate.

The Governor was, as usual, most affable and intelligently
appreciative. The Mayor, the Police Magistrate, and all the principal
inhabitants were duly presented, lastly the two illustrious strangers,
through the medium of the Aide-de-camp, who was personally acquainted
with Mr. Blocksleigh. The Viceroy was politely pleased to make their
acquaintance, even vouchsafing the remark that he was sure he had seen
Captain Wilton before in the old country, but could not at that moment
recollect where.

Then the Aide-de-camp directed His Excellency's attention to the
Amazonian troop as they filed into the fenced arena below the grand
stand, and took their places, preparatory to facing the jumps. That
high official had seen numbers of fine horses, good sheep, and well-
bred cattle in the show-yards of Britain before landing on Australian
shores. He frankly admitted, however, that never before had he beheld
a cavalry troop of pretty girls so exceptionally well mounted, who
rode so fearlessly over timber so stiff. When Miss Gaythorn, a South
Coast native, disdaining the regulation fence, ran her horse at the
wing, a foot higher, and after a flying leap came down, sitting as
composedly as if she had just pulled up from a canter, His Excellency
was strongly moved to admiration. When Miss Queenbie, reared on a
cattle station amid the mountain ranges of the Upper Hume, forced the
unwilling gray, after an unsuccessful attempt to baulk, to take the
fence at the rate of forty miles an hour, throwing up her whip hand as
he landed from a tremendous fly over the middle post, His Excellency
made as if, but for State reasons, he would have liked to shy his
vice-regal hat in the air. But a yet more exciting surprise was in
store for the genial Pro-consul, for the great congregation generally.

Captain Wilton and Lord Lacrosse, one of His Excellency's suite,
were evidently having a confidential conversation, much to the wonder
and admiration of all Barradoo, in which they evidently, for the
moment, forgot their surroundings. Suddenly the Captain said, 'Bless
my soul! where's Grandstone? I've not seen him lately. Have you?'

'I suppose he won't get lost,' answered the other. 'You seem anxious
about him. When I saw him last, he was walking towards the booths at
the back of the ground.'

'I'll look him up, if you'll allow me,' said Wilton. 'We're so used
to hunt in couples that he feels quite lost out here--you've just hit
the expression--if I'm not near him.'

'Good Gad!' exclaimed his lordship, 'who, in Heaven's name, can that
be? Is it part of the Show?

For at that moment a tall man, bareheaded, and in his shirt sleeves,
walked through a side gate, and planted himself immediately in front
of the Governor's private compartment. In his hand he held a high-
crowned hat, not unlike a fool's cap, with bells attached, which he
shook violently from time to time. He waved his hand scornfully
towards the Amazons, who, having just finished their contest, were
retiring towards the starting-point, pending the final allotment of
prizes by the judges.

'Then he placed the hat solemnly upon his head, and thus addressed
the Governor in a loud voice--

'Unworthy delegate of the Royal power, you sit there like a Roman
Emperor of the decadence, amusing yourself amid a degraded populace
with paltry contests, while the British Empire is endangered. Know you
not that within this very hour Russia has declared war with England,
while France and Germany are at death grips? A hostile fleet, ordered
here, may be expected at any moment. Would you ask who I am? Learn,
minion, that you see Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, despatched here
by telegraph to warn this people of their danger and deprive you of
your rank and office. Consider yourself under arrest!'

All this was uttered so rapidly that there was scant time for
interruption. The people generally were under the impression that it
was some kind of impromptu performance of the minstrel bands or other
mummers always permitted at Show time. They had not recognised the
speaker, and it was only when he concluded his tirade with a loud
whoop, and, casting his cap and bells into the arena, prepared to
ascend the steps of the grand stand that misgivings assailed them.

Captain Wilton was the first to speak. 'Great God!' he said, 'it's
Grandstone. He must have been drinking brandy at the booths. It always
makes him fancy himself the Prince of Wales. He did the same thing at
Ascot last year. Whisky turns him into the Emperor of Germany.' And
with this brief explanation he rushed frantically down the steps, and,
grasping the illusionist by the arm, led him unresistingly to the
rear.

The murder was out. Mr. Grandstone was evidently 'off his head.'
Whether the derangement was chronic or merely dipsomaniacal none could
say. The excitement was unparalleled. Some of the ladies screamed; one
fainted. His Excellency's expression was one of surprise, tinctured
with sympathy. Mr. Blocksleigh, the A.D.C., and a few of the young
men, among whom were Charlie Towers and Jack Ainslie, hastily followed
the Captain, and arrived just in time to see Mr. Grandstone hustled
into a cab, which dashed off in the direction of the town. Fortunately
the hunter trials came next, as to which there was a trifle of
betting. This, combined with the interest produced by the stiff jumps
at which they were ridden, absorbed the chief attention of the crowd.

At the Ball that evening everybody was aware that Captain Wilton had
called for his account directly after arriving at the Woolpack,
recommending his friend to lie down and rest the while. After a prompt
settlement, and most liberal douceurs to all the servants, they had
left by the late train for Sydney. Beyond regretting to Bowstead that
his friend should have been taken suddenly ill on the show-ground,
owing to the heat of the weather, the Captain had not volunteered
further information. Within a week their names were seen in the list
of outward-bound passengers by the Messageries mail steamer Marengo,
on board of which luxurious paquebot the passengers were alternately
fascinated by the social qualities of 'le Capitaine Villeton,' and
distressed at the mysterious attacks which compelled 'Sir Grandstonne'
to keep his cabin for days at a time.

In lonely and deserted Barradoo, meanwhile, the germs of sound,
satisfactory, complicated, and mysterious gossip have been safely
implanted. With careful nursing the crop might be trusted to last
nearly to the next Show.

'Wasn't it like Kate Bellenden to draw off at the last moment from
the poor fellow?--after all the encouragement she gave him too!
Positively shameful, I call it. No wonder he went off his head. And
now that fool of a Charlie Towers is as mad about her as ever. Serve
her well right if he had dropped her for good and all.'

This was the charitable and forbearing line taken by one section of
the community, not wholly unprejudiced, it may be surmised, as
comprehending the mammas with marriageable daughters and unappreciated
sons.

'Serve all you girls right for running after a couple of strangers
fit to break your necks, without knowing anything about them in the
wide world. Might have both been married men for all you knew to the
contrary.' This was the moral enforced by the chief banker, a middle-
aged but susceptible bachelor, whose ascendency, previously
unquestioned in matters of sentiment and fashion, had declined visibly
since the advent of these meteoric strangers.

'But they were so nice,' pleaded a mischievous little debutante, with
a plaintive trainante voice, who enjoyed teasing the financial Adonis.
'One had such lovely eyes, and both seemed so different from all the
Barradoo people. Mary Woodrose said the first evening she saw them
that there was nothing like a thorough-bred Englishman.'

'Thoroughbred fiddlesticks!' growled the provincial autocrat. 'We're
all that, I hope, though we've had the luck to be born in a decent
climate. Even you--unpatriotic little humbug as you are--I'd back for
looks against any girl I ever saw at home. Nice thing Mary Woodrose
has made of it! Likes wearing the willow, I suppose?'

'She got a long letter from the Captain last mail, though, with such
a nice likeness of himself,' retorted the defender of the absent.
'He's coming out to marry her in a year, or she's going home, I don't
know which. But she's satisfied.'

'If she doesn't mind living in a lunatic asylum it won't matter,
perhaps,' muttered the indigne gloomily. 'Can't say I admire her
taste.'

'Do you want to make me scream, Mr. Plumpton? Is he mad too? Is
everybody that's nice out of their mind?'

'Hope not,' replied he, with practised readiness, 'or you would have
to be locked up straight. But the A.D.C. told Blocksleigh and me
before His Excellency that he was the well-known Captain Blank, a
great authority on monomania, and owner of one of the best private
lunatic asylums in England. Partly out of friendship, partly for an
endowment to his pet hospital, he had undertaken to travel in charge
of "Mr. Grandstone," who is in reality Sir Tudor Walladmor of
Walladmor--terribly old family and immensely rich. Most exemplary
fellow, but can't drink a glass of grog without fancying himself
somebody else, royal personage mostly. Runs in the family. Dreadful
affliction, isn't it?'

'Is that all?' demanded Miss Darrell, with scorn and indignation in
every line of her expressive countenance. 'What a ridiculous fuss to
make about a little eccentricity. You men are so jealous. Talk of
girls, indeed! It's a lucky thing he didn't ask me. I'd have accepted
him quick, and we might have been on our way to England, and left
Barradoo to tattle about it till the day of judgment.'

'My dear Dollie,' quoth Mr. Plumpton paternally, 'you had better
speak to your mamma, or wait till you are quite grown up before you
decide on matters of importance. If you want to cure or reform people,
suppose you commence a little nearer home. I should have no objection
to test your--'

But here the deeply displeased damsel, first casting upon the
speaker a look of scorn, which became her style of feature immensely,
darted out of the room.

The substance of the foregoing conversation proved to be only too
true. His Excellency and Lord Lacrosse had, after a while, recognised
'Wilton' as Captain Blank, a well-known reforming specialist in
certain phases of lunacy. A man of iron nerve and active philanthropy,
he had devoted an unexpected legacy to the practical exposition of his
theory with regard to presumably curable cases. At the solicitation of
General Grandstone, an early friend, to whom he was under obligations,
he had undertaken to be Sir Tudor's guardian. How the trial of
complete change of scene and surroundings terminated has been related.

For the rest, matters arranged themselves more or less
satisfactorily, with the help of that experienced Master of the
Ceremonies, old Father Time. Miss Mary Woodrose saw fit to accompany a
married cousin to England in less than a year after all these wonders
and surprises. In due course also appeared in both the Times and the
Argus the following notice under the head of 'Marriages':--

'At St. George's, Hanover Square,----, Esq., late Captain of 14th
Royals, to Mary, only daughter of Major Woodrose, late of Her
Majesty's 50th Regiment, and now resident at Barradoo, New South
Wales, Australia.'

The names of certain titled personages appeared in the list of guests
at the wedding, including--strange as it may appear--that of Sir Tudor
Walladmor, the mention of whose marriage gift, a complete set of
diamond ornaments, nearly brought tears into the eyes of some eager
readers in far Barradoo.

Mrs. Plumpton (ne Darrell) declares she doesn't believe he was mad
at all, and only did it to get clear of Miss Bellenden, that all men
are mad more or less, excepting that some are handsomer lunatics than
others. As Charlie Towers and the Kate aforesaid had been married, and
gone to live at Sandy Creek before the Captain's final surrender, it
is possible that they understood the undercurrents, and as their
mutual contentment is manifestly extreme and all-sufficing, perhaps it
is no one's business to speculate upon what might have happened if--
if--the sun hadn't been so hot on that memorable Show day. That day
will never be forgotten in Barradoo, amid whose chronicles it is
destined to flourish till its peppermint gums turn into poplars, and
the avenue of eucalyptus globulus into cocoa-palms and bananas.



THE END



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