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Title: Fern Vale, Volume 2 (of 3) - or the Queensland Squatter
Author: Munro, Colin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  FERN VALE

  OR THE
  QUEENSLAND SQUATTER.

  A NOVEL.

  BY COLIN MUNRO.

  IN THREE VOLUMES.
  VOL II.

  LONDON:

  T. C. NEWBY,

  30 WELBECK STREET, CAVENDISH SQUARE.
  MDCCCLXII.


  EDINBURGH: PRINTED BY THE CALEDONIAN PRESS,

  "The National Institution for Promoting the Employment of Women in the
  Art of Printing."



CONTENTS.
                        PAGE
     CHAPTER       I       1
     CHAPTER      II      32
     CHAPTER     III      48
     CHAPTER      IV      77
     CHAPTER       V     105
     CHAPTER      VI     128
     CHAPTER     VII     146
     CHAPTER    VIII     180
     CHAPTER      IX     205
     CHAPTER       X     232
     CHAPTER      XI     253
     CHAPTER     XII     287
     CHAPTER    XIII     325



FERN VALE.

CHAPTER I.

  "What are these,
  So withered, and so wild in their attire,
  That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth,
  And yet are on't?"

MACBETH, _Act 1, Sc. 3_.


"Those fellows have been up to some mischief I am certain," said Tom
when the blacks departed, as described in the last chapter. "I am
confident my brother has not given them anything; and if they have got
any rations at Strawberry Hill, they must have stolen them. However, if
you intend going over to their corroboree, I'll accompany you."

"I do intend going," said John, "for I have never seen them in such
force as they'll be to-night, and I am curious to see the effect. Do
you know what is the nature of the ceremony of their kipper corroboree?"

"I can't exactly say," replied Tom, "their ordinary corroborees are
simply feasts to commemorate some event; but the kipper corroboree has
some mystery attached to it, which they do not permit strangers to
witness. I believe it is held once a year, to admit their boys into the
communion of men; and to give 'gins' to the neophytes, if they desire to
add to their importance by assuming a marital character. I believe it is
simply a ceremony, in which they recognise the transition of their
youths from infancy to manhood; though they keep the proceedings veiled
from vulgar eyes."

"When, then," continued John, "the kippers are constituted men, and get
their gins, are their marriage engagements of a permanent nature; I mean
does their nuptial ceremony, whatever it may be, effectually couple
them; and is it considered by them inviolable?"

"I believe," replied Tom, "the ceremony is binding on the gins, but
their lords are permitted to exercise a supreme power over the liberty
and destiny of their spouses. The gins are merely looked upon as so many
transferable animals, and they are frequently stolen and carried off by
adventurous lovers from their lawful lords and masters; and as
frequently made over with the free consent of their husbands, the same
as we should do with flocks and herds. Most of the quarrels among the
tribes arise from such thefts; and the wills and inclinations of the
gins are never for a moment considered."

After this remark the conversation of the young men turned into other
channels. About sundown they prepared themselves for their visit, and
mounting their horses started off to the Gibson river; which, owing to
the darkness of the night, and the difficulty they experienced in
threading the bush, and avoiding the fallen logs, they did not reach so
quickly as they had anticipated. They, however, crossed by the flats,
and guided by the noise of the blacks, and the light from their fires in
the scrub, they soon came upon the "camp;" where they found Dugingi,
true to his promise, waiting for them.

The camp was composed of about fifty "gunyas" or huts, formed in a
circle; in the midst of which were several of the natives, talking and
gesticulating most vociferously and wildly. The gunyas were small
conical structures of about five or six feet in diameter; formed by
pieces of cane being fixed into the ground in an arched shape, so as to
make ribs, which were covered with the flakey sheets of the tea tree
bark, and laid perfectly close and compact, in which position they were
fixed by an outer net-work of reedy fibre; making, though primitive and
meagre in accommodation, a dwelling perfectly impervious to the weather.
Into these burrow-like domiciles, crowd, sometimes, as many as five or
six human beings, who coil themselves into a mass to economize space,
and generate caloric in cold nights; when they have a fire in front of
the opening which serves for a door. In warmer weather, however, they
generally stretch themselves under heaven, with only a blanket to cover
them; and, with their feet towards the fire, a party may frequently be
seen radiating in a circle from the centre of heat.

When the camp was approached by the young men, the host of dogs, which
are the usual concomitants of a black's tribe, gave warning of the
visitors' presence; and Dugingi, who was by that means attracted, first
removing their horses to a place of safety, led them within the
mysterious periphery. As they emerged suddenly from the obscurity of the
scrub into the open space where the corroboree was in full progress,
they were not a little startled at the scene before them. In the centre
was an immense fire; and around it, about one hundred and fifty men were
assembled in a circle, except at a gap at the side from which the
visitors approached. Here sat, or rather squatted, the gins, the
piccaninies, and the males incapacitated from senescence or infirmities.
The blacks having ceased their exertions as our friends arrived, the
latter had a good opportunity of surveying the picture at their leisure.

In the spot where the blacks had made their camp the ground was
naturally clear, and was covered with a smooth sward; while immediately
beyond the circumscribed limits of the natural clearance, the thick
scrub was, to any but a black fellow, perfectly impenetrable; thus
presenting to the eye of the beholder, the appearance of an umbrageous
amphitheatre especially created for those savage orgies. The men were
all more or less bedecked and besmeared; and, at the moment of our
friends' contemplation of them, stood taking breath preparatory to the
repetition of fresh exertions. The immense fire was being continually
replenished by the gins, and threw a fitful glance over the whole scene
that struck the mind with an indescribable sensation of mingled awe,
dread, and disgust. While those sensations were traversing the minds of
John and Tom Rainsfield Jemmy Davis stepped forward from amidst the
group, and saluted them with the greatest urbanity. But such was his
metamorphosis that our friends did not, until he had declared himself by
speech, recognise in the painted savage before them an educated and
civilized black.

His hair was drawn up to a tuft on the top of his head, and into it had
been thrust numerous of the most gaudy parrot and cockatoo feathers.
When he walked this top knot acquired an eccentric oscillation, which
gave his head the appearance of a burlesque on the plumed cranium of a
dignified hearse horse; and was the only part of his ornature that was
of a ludicrous character. His forehead was painted a deep yellow; from
his eyes to a line parallel to his nose his skin shone with a bright
red; while the rest of his face showed its natural dirty brown colour.
His body was fancifully marked in white, delineating his ribs; with
grotesque devices on his breast and back. His legs and arms were as
black as charcoal could make them; and with a necklace of bones and
shells, his toilet was complete. It has been facetiously stated that the
New Zealander's full dress consists of a shirt collar and a pair of
spurs; but Jemmy Davis had no such useless appendages; and, as he stood
before his guests in the conviction of his costume being complete, and
in the pride of conscious adornment, he never dreamt but that his own
self-gratulation was also shadowing their admiration and delight.

In a few minutes John and his companion were left alone; and the
corroboree commenced afresh by the resumption of the musical
accompaniments, which, as they were peculiar, we may as well describe.
We have already said, the gins were squatted on the ground near the
circle; and, we may now add, they had composed their ungraceful forms
in the oriental fashion. Some of them had their hands half open, or
rather their fingers were kept close together, while the palms were made
to assume a concave shape, as if for the purpose of holding water. With
them in this form they struck them simultaneously on their supine
thighs, with a metrical regularity, which made an unearthly hollow
noise, and formed the base of their orchestral display. Others of them
beat a similar measure on their waddies, or sticks; while the whole
burst into a discordant vocal accompaniment, in which they were joined
by the men and piccaninies in a dull and monotonous cadence. This was
their song; which, to adequately describe, would be impossible. Some
idea, however, may possibly be formed of it, when we say that they all
commenced in a high mournful key, in which they unintelligibly mumbled
their bucolic. On this first note they dwelt for about half a minute;
and descended the gamut in the same metre, resting only on the flats,
and expending their breath in a prolongation of the last, and deepest,
note they could utter; terminating in one eructation something between a
grunt and a sigh, or a concentration of the idiosyncratic articulation
of the London paviers. And as they dwelt upon this note for about a
minute, the combined effects of their mutterings, and the noise of their
feet, were not unlike the distant fulmination of thunder.

Their dance too, was conducted totally different to the wild gestures of
other savages. The participators in the ceremony, as we have already
explained, stood in a semi-circular line. Slightly stooping, they swung
their arms backwards and forwards before their bodies, and with their
feet beat a measured tread on the ground; while they continued to
contract their frames, almost into a sitting posture, and to accelerate
their pendulous and stamping motions; until, with an universal
convulsion, the last sigh or grunt was expatriated from their carcasses.
After a dead stop of some few seconds, with a recommencement of their
femoral accompaniment, they erected their bodies with their voices, and
proceeded _de capo_; presenting a scene more like a festival in
pandemonium than a congregation of human beings in "this huge rotundity
on which we tread."

The feelings of the young men, as they stood and watched this
performance, were varied; neither of them had seen a corroboree on so
grand a scale before; and they were for a time lost in wonder at an
exhibition, which no description can truthfully depict. John was
dreaming of the emancipation and improvement of a race, which he
believed, could be made to ameliorate their condition; and felt
sorrowful that, in the midst of civilisation (with its examples before
their eyes, and the inculcations which had been instilled into the
nature of one of their number), the blacks should be still perpetuating
the emblems of their barbarity and degradation. Tom's meditations were
of a different nature; though he advocated kind treatment to them in
the intercourses of life, he still believed them an inferior race of
sentient beings; if not altogether devoid of the mental attributes of
man. He, moreover, thought he read in their manner, despite all the
suavity of Jemmy Davis and Dugingi, something that portended evil; and
fancied he heard more than once, his own name uttered by them in their
song. It might have been only fancy, he thought; but an idea of
something premeditated had seized upon his mind, and he could not divest
himself of it.

Our young friends by this time, having seen quite enough to satisfy
them, and being unnoticed in their position, quietly left the spot;
and, having procured their horses, retraced their steps to the river.
They there mounted, and having crossed the stream, returned almost
silently to Fern Vale, and retired to rest. On the following morning Tom
took his leave of his friend; while, almost contemporary with his
departure, John's black boys, Billy and Jemmy, presented themselves to
resume their former life on the station. We may remark that Billy had by
this time perfectly recovered from his castigation, though he, and also
his companion, did not fail to stigmatize in very strong, if not in very
elegant, or pure English, phraseology, the conduct of Mr. Rainsfield;
and as much as insinuated that the tribe were in no very friendly way
disposed towards him.

This, John Ferguson was seriously grieved to learn; for he dreaded the
consequence of an open rupture between the aborigines and his neighbour.
He knew, if the blacks became more than ordinarily troublesome, that
Rainsfield would enlist the sympathies of his friends, and his class
generally; when blood would inevitably be shed, and the poor natives
hunted from the face of the earth. He therefore determined, if he should
not see Tom in a day or two, to ride over and call upon Mr. Rainsfield;
and while adverting to the treatment received by his black boy from
him, warn him of the danger, not only to himself, but to all the
settlers in his neighbourhood, by his persisting in his stringent
course. With this intention, a few days after the corroboree, not having
seen his friend in the interval, he rode over to Strawberry Hill.

As he approached the residence of the Rainsfields, despite his struggles
to suppress it, he felt his heart beat high with the anticipation of
seeing Eleanor, for the first time since his meeting with Bob Smithers.
John had, of late, striven hard to wean himself from what he attempted
to believe was his wild infatuation; and thought that he had
sufficiently schooled his mind, so as to meet her without the slightest
perturbation. But he had deceived himself; and as he approached the
house, and felt a consciousness of her proximity, he experienced that
strange agitation over which mortals have no control. He, however,
determined to avoid giving any outward indication of his mental
disquietude, so as not to cause any uneasiness to Eleanor from his
visit; and for that purpose he stopped his horse in the bush, before he
came within sight, and collected himself into a settled calmness. Having
performed this little piece of training he proceeded, and was passing
the huts on his way to the house, when he was accosted by Mr. Billing;
who informed him that Mr. Rainsfield had desired him to intimate, that
if he, Mr. Ferguson, desired to see that gentleman, he would meet him at
Mr. Billing's cottage in a few minutes. This request John thought rather
singular; but he turned his horse's head to the direction of the
cottage, at the door of which he alighted; and, after fastening his
horse to the fence, he entered.

"You will no doubt think it exceedingly rude in me, Mr. Ferguson,"
exclaimed the little man, "to intercept you in your road to the house.
Though you perceive me, sir, in a menial capacity, I am perfectly
conversant with, as I am also possessed of the feelings of a gentleman;
therefore I feel a repugnance, sir, in wounding those feelings in
another. You are doubtless aware, sir, we have had another marauding
visitation from those insolent savages; and Mr. Rainsfield is not only
greatly enraged at them, but has become, sir, extremely irascible and
truculent towards myself; and has conceived a notion that you are in
some way influencing and encouraging them in their depredations. The
pertinacity with which they annoy him, sir, is certainly marvellous; and
he is confirmed in the belief that it is in a great measure owing to
your instigations; therefore he gave instructions that, in the event of
your calling, I should request you to step under my humble roof, while I
sent him notice of your presence. This, sir, I have done, so you may
expect to see him in a few minutes. I merely mention these
circumstances, sir, not in disparagement of my employer; but to account
to you for my rudeness, and exonerate myself from the imputation of any
voluntary violation of good breeding."

"Pray, don't mention it, Mr. Billing," replied John; "I don't imagine
for a moment that you would intentionally commit any breach of decorum,
even if the interruption of my passage could be termed such; but I must
confess, I can't understand why Mr. Rainsfield should wish to prevent me
from calling upon him in his own house." Though John said this, his
heart whispered a motive for such interruption.

"I am flattered, sir, by your good opinion," said Mr. Billing, "and I
thank you. I believe, sir, you're a native of the colony, and have not
visited Europe; but you are a man of the world, sir, I can perceive, and
will readily understand the anomalies of my position. I, who have been
bred, sir, in the mercantile community of the cosmopolitan metropolis,
being subjected to the petty tyrannies of a man, whom I consider
mentally my inferior. I am disgusted, sir, with the incongruities of my
situation, and harassed by the thought of my trials being shared by
Mrs. Billing (who, I assure you, sir, is an ornament to her sex); and
the total absence, sir, of all those comforts, which a man who has been
in the position I have been in, sir, and who has come to my years,
naturally expects, tends to make this occupation distasteful to me."

John, we are ashamed to say (at the moment forgetful of his own) felt
amused at the sorrows of the little man; though he smilingly assured him
that he thought a man of his evident abilities was thrown away in the
bush, and that he believed it would be considerably more to his
advantage, if he forsook so inhospitable a pursuit, as that in which he
was engaged, for something more congenial to his nature and compatible
with his education.

"My dear sir," replied the enthusiastic storekeeper, "I again thank you.
I perceive, sir, by your judicious remarks, you are a gentleman of no
ordinary discernment. The same idea has often struck me, sir; in fact, I
may say the 'wish is father to the thought;' but, unfortunately,
'thereby hangs a tale.' If you have no objection to listen to me, sir,
for a few minutes, I will explain the peculiarities of my position."

John having expressed himself desirous of hearing the explanation, Mr.
Billing proceeded. "You must know, sir, that after finishing a sound
general education at one of the public schools of London (you will
forgive me, sir, for commencing at the normal period of my career), my
father, who was a medical man of good practice but large family, sent
me, sir, to the desk. I, in fact, entered the counting-house of my
relatives, Messrs. Billing, Barlow, & Co., of Upper Thames Street, in
the city of London, a firm extensively engaged in the comb and brush
line, and enjoying a wide celebrity, sir, in the city and provinces. I
continued at my post, sir, for years, until I obtained the situation of
provincial traveller, which place I continued to fill for a lengthy
period. I need hardly say, sir, that in my peregrinations my name was
sufficient to command respect from our friends and constituents, who
naturally imagined that I must have been a partner in the firm I
represented; consequently, sir, my vicissitudes were almost imaginary,
and my comfort superior to the generality of commercial travellers. I
did not, of course, sir, enlighten the minds of our constituents on
their error, the effects of which I every day enjoyed; more especially
as the firm, from my long services, had solemnly pledged themselves to
receive me into their corporate body as a partner. The mutations of even
our nearest relatives, sir, are not to be depended upon; for I found in
my experience, that the word of a principal is not always a guarantee.
Upon urging the recognition of my claims, I found a spirit of
equivocation to exist in my friends; and such conduct not agreeing, sir,
with my views of integrity, I uttered some severe strictures on their
scandalous behaviour, and withdrew, sir, from the connexion.

"I must remark, sir, that about three years before this event (ah, sir!
that was a soft period of my life), I took unto myself an accomplished
lady as the wife of my bosom. I had been at great pains and expense,
sir, to consolidate our comfort in a nice little box at Brixton; and had
been blessed, sir, with two of our dear children. About this time the
fame of the Australian _El Dorado_ had spread far and wide; and, after
my rupture with my relatives, I was easily allured, sir, from my
peaceful hearth to seek my fortune in this land of promise; I say a land
of promise, sir, but I impugn not its fair name when I add that if it
ever was one to me, it failed to fulfil its obligations. I fear, sir, I
am tedious," said Mr. Billing, breaking off in his discourse, "for this
is a theme I feel I can dilate on;" but being assured by his companion
that he was by no means tiresome, he continued: "I told you, sir, that I
had taken great pains and expense to furnish my house at Brixton; and I
felt a reluctance to submit it to the hammer, and to sever myself and
family from the blissful fireside of our English home. However, sir,
avarice is strong in the minds of mortals; and visions of antipodean
wealth decided my fate, and caused the sacrifice of my contented home on
the altar of Plutus. I had heard that the difficulties of the diggings
were insuperable to genteel aspirants after gold; and I, therefore,
determined, sir, to be wise in my own generation, and, instead of
digging for the precious metal, to open an establishment where I could
procure it, sir, by vending articles of every-day use. For this purpose,
sir, I invested my capital in stock of which I had had practical
experience, that is, in combs and brushes; conjecturing, sir, that they
would be articles which most speculators would overlook, and,
consequently, be in great demand. In due time, sir, I arrived in the
colony with my goods, and lost not a moment unnecessarily in repairing
to the diggings. I need not recount, sir, the many difficulties which
beset my path; I believe they were common to all in similar
circumstances; and you, are no doubt, sir, sufficiently acquainted with
such scenes yourself. Suffice it to say, sir, that eventually I reached
my destination, and discovered, as we would say in mercantile parlance,
that my goods had arrived to a bad market. I assure, you, sir, the
horrid creatures who congregated at those diggings, notwithstanding that
their heads were perfect masses of hair, disdained, yes, absolutely
disdained, sir, the use of my wares.

"I then asked myself what was to be done; and while meditating on a
reply, sir, a viper was at hand to tempt me to my ruin. A plausible,
well-spoken gentleman, sir, introduced himself to me as a Mr. Black;
and proposed that as my goods were of no value on the diggings, but
were very saleable in Melbourne, I should take them back and commence
business there. He at the same time remarked, sir, that to commence
business it would be essential for me to have 'colonial experience;'
and doubting if I possessed such an acquirement, he, therefore, begged,
sir, to offer his services. He, in fact proposed that he should join
me in the undertaking; stating, sir, that through his general knowledge
of business, he was convinced that the speculation would succeed;
and suggested that we should at once proceed to Melbourne, sir, with
my goods. He would embark, he said, his capital in the concern, and
purchase an assortment of goods for a general business, which we were
to carry on under the name and style of 'Black and Billing.' This
he facetiously made the subject of a witticism, by remarking that
it would be rendered into 'Black Billy'[A] by the diggers when they
visited town; and would of a certainty ensure our success. I must
confess, sir, I was taken in by the scoundrel's wiles, and readily
entered into his scheme; the result of which is easily related. With
the expense of carrying my goods and myself backwards and forwards from
the diggings, my spare cash was all but expended; and when, sir, I
rejoined Mrs. Billing, whom I had left behind me, sir, in Melbourne,
until I should have become settled, I found myself almost penniless.
However, sir, although I'm a man of small stature, I am possessed of
considerable energy and, therefore, sir, set myself earnestly to work.
I soon procured a shop, though with miserable accommodation, and at
an enormous rental; but my partner assured me it was no matter, as we
would soon reap our harvest. I got my goods, sir, into the place, and
shortly afterwards my partner procured an extensive assortment also;
when we commenced our business, as I thought, under very favourable
auspices. But I soon discovered my mistake; for one fine morning
I found Mr. Black had decamped with all the money of the concern,
after converting as many of the goods into gold as he could. I then
discovered, sir, that the stock he had procured was upon credit, on the
strength of that which I had in the place at the time; and finding his
defalcations were greater than I could possibly meet, and my creditors
being fearful that I would follow his example, I was compelled to
relinquish my property to liquidate their claims. I then, sir, found
myself not only destitute, but homeless; with my wife and children
dependent upon me for their subsistence.

[Footnote A: A name applied by the diggers to the tin pot in which they
boil their water, as also to black hats.]

"I managed, sir, however, to procure employment by driving a cart; and,
after saving sufficient money, succeeded in getting round to Sydney,
where my wife, sir, had relations. They, sir, promised me assistance,
and after a short interval fulfilled their promise by establishing me in
a store at Armidale; where I got on, sir, pretty well, and would have
succeeded, but for the chicanery of some scoundrels, sir, by whom I lost
considerably, and was a second time reduced to labour for a support.
Through various vicissitudes, sir, I have come to this, and, you may
well imagine, that a man of my sensitive feeling and appreciation of
honour, in this menial capacity meets with nothing but disgust and
mortification. But, sir, I do not repine; however dark is the horizon
of my fate, despair does not enter my mind; the clouds of depression
must necessarily some day be removed; and then, sir, the sun of my
future will burst forth with a refulgence, the more resplendent from its
previous concealment. I desire, sir, in fact it is the fondest wish of
my heart, to return to Old England; but at present that cannot be, for
means, sir, are wanting; the all potent needful is required; money, sir.
But things must improve, they cannot last for ever thus; to think that
I, a gentleman, and Mrs. Billing a gentlewoman, should waste our very
existence, sir, in this wilderness; banished, sir, from the very
intercourse of man; expatriated, sir, from all we hold most dear, and,
forsaken, sir, by the society whence we are ostracized. The thought,
sir, is harrowing; yes, sir, harrowing beyond measure."

Mr. Billing was now getting pathetic and rather lachrymose; and his
confessions might have become of a confidential, and a painful nature,
had they not, very much to the relief of our hero, been cut short by the
opportune entrance of Mr. Rainsfield, who, when Mr. Billing had left the
room, addressed himself to John:

"I must apologize for keeping you waiting, Mr. Ferguson, but I was
engaged at the moment I heard of your call; and I thought by your
meeting me here it would save you from that pain which, otherwise, your
visit might have occasioned you, after the circumstances which
transpired when you last favoured us with your company."

"I am particularly indebted to you for your solicitation," replied John;
"but I may remark, I had sufficient confidence in myself to feel assured
that I would have neither received, nor given any pain in the manner in
which I presume you mean. And I may also state that, but for the desire
I had to give you some information that may be of vital importance to
you, I would have disdained your bidding."

"Then, may I beg to know the object of your call," enquired Rainsfield.

"I have two," replied John, "first I have been informed by one of my
black boys that you severely maltreated him; and considering myself
aggrieved by the act, as it was the means of depriving me of his
services, I beg you to explain the cause for so unwarrantable a
procedure."

"I justify my acts to no man," exclaimed Rainsfield, "and recognise no
blacks as others than members of their general community; who take upon
themselves to perform various acts of aggression. The laws of our
country not being potent enough to protect us from their marauding, we
do it ourselves; and if you think fit to gainsay our right, you know
what course to pursue; and now, sir, for your second object."

"I might with equal justice," said John, "decline to afford you the
information I by accident obtained, but I have no desire to show such
churlishness, and I believe that by judiciously acting upon it, you may
save yourself from some calamity; which I have good cause to believe is
impending. My two black boys who left me after your assault on one of
them, and who were only persuaded to return after their great corroboree
by my conciliating their chief, have informed me, in an imperfect
manner, that some overt act of aggression, on the part of the tribe, is
meditated; and it is to put you on your guard against this that I have
ventured to trouble you with my presence."

"Then it was at that corroboree on the spoliation of my property that
you heard this?" exclaimed Rainsfield. "My goods were purloined to feast
those imps of darkness, and you lent your presence to grace their
proceedings? I always thought you encouraged the villains in their
infamies, and I now perceive my suspicions were well founded. However,
sir, I am perfectly independent of you, and your so called information.
I have decided upon my course of action, and will not therefore trouble
you further to interest yourself in my behalf. You will no doubt
readily perceive that your presence here at any time would be extremely
unpleasant; and I must therefore request that you absent yourself from
my house as much as possible. I shall now wish you good day;" saying
which Rainsfield quitted the room.

John Ferguson was so taken by surprise at the violent tirade he had just
listened to, that he had had no idea of defending himself from an
accusation, the manifest absurdity of which merely struck him as
contemptuous. But he felt a source of grief at being summarily estranged
from the other members of the family; and whatever his feelings had been
when he came to the station, he left it with a heavy heart, and returned
home to meet the cavalcade, which we have seen in a previous chapter had
gone over.



CHAPTER II.

  "I have it, it is engender'd: hell and night
  Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light."

OTHELLO, _Act_ 1, _Sc._ 3.

  "Then should I know you by description;
  Such garments and such years."

AS YOU LIKE IT, _Act_ 5, _Sc._ 3.


Despite his professed contempt for John Ferguson's information Mr.
Rainsfield felt an uneasy apprehension at the growing confidence, and
contumacious freedom of the blacks. He even began to doubt if he would
be able to maintain his position single-handed against them, and thought
seriously of the advisableness of calling a meeting of the surrounding
settlers, to organize a league for their mutual protection. But then he
remembered the blacks directed all their _animus_ against himself, and
it was therefore questionable, he imagined, if he could induce more than
two or three of his neighbours to join him; besides which, even they
could not constantly be on the alert; while he must, consequently, be
frequently open to surprisal. A thought, however, struck him, or rather
we should have said, a diabolical idea suggested itself to his mind;
and, after cogitating and arguing with himself for some time, he
determined to act upon it.

The pestilence, so he mentally soliloquized, had now reached its height,
and something must be done; for he was not only robbed of his station
supplies, but he was frequently losing even cattle; while, instead of
seeing any prospect of amendment, he only perceived that the successes
of his despoilers were emboldening them to fresh adventures. He knew
that an application to the government for protection was absolutely
useless; for they hadn't it to give. It is true he might stir the
district to agitate the settlement of a native police detachment in that
quarter; but he also knew, even if he succeeded in obtaining such a
location, that the force would be necessarily so miserably small as to
be perfectly inadequate to the contingencies. (Possibly three or four
men stationed in the centre of fifty square miles to protect the
scattered population against as many hundred savages.) The idea was
preposterous, and he scouted it. No, he thought, he must depend upon
himself for protection, and would therefore adopt a line of policy that
would check, if not annihilate, the nuisance; while the exigencies of
the case would justify him in his measures. Such, then, were the
thoughts that passed through the mind of Mr. Rainsfield after his
interview with our hero.

He returned to Mr. Billing's cottage after John Ferguson's departure,
and accosted his _employé_ in his blandest and most suasive manner. "Mr.
Billing," said he, "I am about to enter upon a crusade against the
native dogs, which I find are becoming very troublesome to the sheep
in the upper part of the run; and, to effectually destroy them, I intend
to poison some carcasses to be left for them to make a meal of. I would
therefore like you to ride over to Alma, and explain the matter to Mr.
Gilbert, the storekeeper there; and procure for me a supply of
strychnine and arsenic. I would not trouble you, but you are aware that
he would not give it to a shepherd without a request from me; and it is
hardly safe to send any of the men. I would be particularly obliged to
you if you would undertake the task, as I can confidently depend upon
your judgment to prevent any mistake."

This little piece of what the Yankees would designate "soft sawder" on
the part of Rainsfield, had the effect, not only of removing any
objections his diminutive confidential might have had to such a journey,
but of inducing him to acknowledge the compliment in a series of
corporeal oscillations; while he replied to the blandishment, in the
following strain: "It would afford me, sir, the greatest earthly
pleasure to comply with your wishes; even to the considerable personal
inconvenience, sir, and bodily suffering of your humble servant; but you
must be aware equestrianism sir, is an accomplishment I never deemed it
necessary to acquire. During my mercantile career, sir, I was reputed,
and I think I may add justly too, sir, one of the best amateur whips in
the city of London; and had my transit, sir, to be effected by a
vehicular means, I flatter myself, sir, none could accomplish the
mission better."

"That I am convinced of," replied Mr. Rainsfield; "but I fear, Mr.
Billing, I shall have to defer the pleasure of witnessing your skill in
handling the ribbons until I am induced, by the existence of roads, to
treat myself and my family to the luxury of a carriage. But, with regard
to the journey I have mentioned, I can provide you with a quiet horse;
and I have no doubt a man of your various accomplishments will find no
difficulty in adding to them the art of riding. In fact, unless you had
mentioned it, I would never have imagined but that you were a perfect
equestrian; your stature and figure are just such as would show to best
advantage on horseback; and, with the constant opportunities which
present themselves here, I really am surprised that you don't ride. You
know 'it is never too late to mend;' so you must really permit me to
persuade you (irrespective of this journey) to commence at once
practising the art, and take a regular course of riding. I am convinced
you will not only find it pleasant, but beneficial to your health."

"I appreciate your kindness, sir," replied the little man. "As you say,
it is never too late to mend, and I really think, sir, it is ridiculous
that I should not be able to ride; but the fact is, to be candid, sir, I
have always dreaded the first lesson."

"There is really nothing to fear, Mr. Billing," said Rainsfield. "You
will find, once on your horse, riding will come natural to you; the
only inconvenience you will experience is being at first a little stiff
after it."

"When would you desire me to start, if I took this journey?" enquired
the would be equestrian.

"Well, I should prefer it at once," replied his tempter. "If you were to
start within half an hour you would have at least six hours of daylight;
and the distance is only about twenty-five miles, so you could reach the
town at your leisure before dark, and return to-morrow."

"I have decided then, sir," exclaimed Mr. Billing; "you may command my
services, and I will be at your disposal before the expiration of half
an hour."

"That's right, Mr. Billing," replied his superior; "and I'll get a horse
in from the paddock for you; and by the way, will you just leave the
keys of the store with Mrs. Billing. When you are away I purpose
removing all the stores into the house, and have prepared a room for
their reception; so if our black visitors should favour us with a call
during your absence they will find themselves disappointed."

"Most assuredly, sir, as you desire," replied the quondam commercial; "I
will hand the badges of my office into your hands myself, to prevent,
sir, the possibility of any mistake:" saying which the two separated;
Mr. Billing filed with the importance of his mission, to communicate it
to his wife, and obtain her aid in a speedy preparation for his
hazardous journey; and his employer, with a complaisant smile of
satisfaction on his features, to give instructions for the immediate
capture of a steed.

Within the specified time an animal was brought by Mr. Rainsfield up to
the door of Mr. Billing's abode duly caparisoned for the journey, and
with an old valise strapped upon the saddle. At the same time the
adventurous storekeeper also made his appearance; having undergone by
the careful assiduity of his wife a perfect transmutation. On his head
stood erect a black cylindrical deformity, designated in the vulgar
parlance of the colony "a Billy," but which he, while he smiled benignly
at the ignorance of the _canaille_ (as he gave it the extra rotary
flourish of the brush, while he read "Christy's best London make" in the
crown), called a hat; and the only proper head-dress for a gentleman. He
was encompassed in a coat of the gigantic order, possessed of many
pockets; a garment truly noble to look upon, and one that had done
service to its owner in days of yore; when on cold and wet mornings Mr.
Billing nestled himself in his wonted position in the Brixton 'bus, to
be conveyed to his diurnal bustle in the city. In this habiliment
evidences of an affectionate wife's forethought were visible in the
protrusion from the pockets of sundry pieces of paper, denoting the
occupation of those receptacles by certain parcels; the contents of
which, should the reader be anxious to know, we are in a position to
disclose.

In the lower pocket on the right hand side, we are enabled from our
information (which is from the most reliable source) to inform the
curious, was a parcel (thrust by Mrs. Billing with her own hands)
enclosing two garments, of a spotless purity, essential for a
gentleman's nocturnal comfort. In the contemporary pouch was a package
of humbler pretensions, containing sundries to appease a traveller's
appetite; while in another was deposited that necessary paraphernalia
for a morning's toilet, embraced in the apparatus known as a
"gentleman's travelling companion." His legs were encased in trousers
that had been brought specially to the light. They were of a
questionable colour, something between that of kippered salmon and hard
bake; and were strapped down to his feet with such powerful tension that
he was threatened every moment with a mishap most awkward in its
consequences. When he walked he effected the exercise with a
sprightliness that appeared as if galvanic agency was that which had
set his nether limbs in motion; and his feet started from the ground at
every step with a spring that promised at each evolution the protrusion
of some part of his crural members.

In this perfect costume Mr. Billing considered himself adjusted for the
road; and construing the smile of amusement that played on the features
of Mr. Rainsfield as a mark of affability returned it in his most
winning style.

The horse provided for this Gilpin excursion was an animal of no mean
pretensions. He boasted of having in his veins some of the best blood of
the country, though, now perhaps, that blood was somewhat vapid, and he
rather patriarchal. He had served many masters, and performed various
duties; from racing to filling the equivocal position of a station and
stockman's hack. Though once possessed of a spirit that required a
strong arm and determined will to maintain a mastery over, he was now as
quiet and subdued as a lamb; although he was as sagacious as most of
his riders, and as knowing as any "old hoss" in the country. He had
settled into an easy-going stager, that neither persuasion nor force
could induce to deviate from the "even tenor of his way;" while his
general appearance, at this stage of his life, was long-legged,
raw-boned, lean and screwed, with the additional embellishment of being
minus his near eye.

Mr. Billing surveyed the beast that was to carry him to Alma with about
the same comprehension as a ploughman would contemplate a steam engine;
while the horse returned the gaze from the corner of his sound eye, and
winked in a manner that might have been interpreted into a request "to
wait until he got him on his back." Mr. Billing, however, was perfectly
unacquainted with the significance of his horse's looks, and perhaps
well for him that he was; for we are convinced, had he known what was
in store for him, he would never have risked his valuable person and
life on the back of so perverse a dispositioned animal. We have heard
that an inclination of the head is equivalent to the closing of one eye
to a quadruped whose ocular organs are in a state of total derangement;
and we therefore presume that the momentary stultification of our
quadruped's vision had the same effect upon our Cockney-born viator
as the craniological recognition mentioned in the aphorism would have
had on his horse. Consequently, he was in blissful ignorance of the
trials that awaited him; and, under the directions of Mr. Rainsfield,
he prepared to mount with an alacrity which he prided himself as
pertaining to a "city man of business," and which he still retained in
his animated anatomy.

For some time he experienced considerable difficulty, in fact he found
it absolutely impossible, to so far stretch his limbs as to get one leg
high enough from the ground to reach the stirrup; and not until, at the
suggestion of his highly-amused employer, his loving spouse produced a
chair from the cottage, had he any prospect of reaching the saddle.
However, being elevated by the chair, he made a bound on to the back of
the steed, but unfortunately with too great an impetus; for he lost his
equilibrium in attempting to gain his seat, and measured his length on
the ground. This mishap tended to cast a gloom upon his spirits, but he
was soon rallied by Mr. Rainsfield, who told him he would be all right
when once in his saddle and on the road. Upon a second attempt he
exercised more caution, with better success; and, as he seated himself
in his saddle bolt upright, he gazed about him, and below him, with a
proud consciousness of the elegant symmetry of himself and horse; and
doubted not he would, as he then stood, be a prize study for any
sculptor. His following remark will not therefore be wondered at.

"As you a few minutes ago affirmed, sir, now that I am possessed of my
seat, I do feel myself all right. I experience, sir, a confidence in
myself that, if called upon, I could do any equestrian prodigy, even to
eclipse the stupendous leap of Martius Curtius; or to perform, sir, any
other feat that my destiny may decree."

"I am equally confident in your abilities, Mr. Billing," replied his
master; "but I trust they will never be put to so severe a test. I will
walk with you to where the roads to Alma and Brompton diverge. It is not
more than a mile beyond the Wombi, so, though I can tell you yours is
the left hand road, I may as well accompany you to the junction. From
that you will have no difficulty in keeping to the track, if you just
give the horse his head; for he has been so used to the road that he
will know perfectly well where he has to go. You will perceive I have
strapped a valise on your saddle; it is for you, when you procure the
poisons, to put them into it, and keep them out of harm's way; while it
will save you the annoyance and trouble of carrying them."

When they arrived at the spot where the tracks separated Mr. Rainsfield
parted from his colleague; and looking after him for a few minutes,
until he was lost from view by a turn in the road, he burst into an
inordinate fit of laughter, and turned on his heel to retrace his steps.
After walking for some time in abstracted silence, apparently absorbed
in deep meditation, he suddenly started with the ejaculation, "Yes! by
Jupiter, that'll stop them. I expect they won't trouble me much after
that."

But while we leave him to his cogitations and silent walk, we will
pursue Mr. Billing and accompany him on his ride.



CHAPTER III.

  "His horse which never in that sort
  Had handled been before,
  What thing upon his back had got,
  Did wonder more and more."

COWPER



When he departed from his master, as we have described in the last
chapter, Mr. Billing went on his way with a joyful heart. But, thinking
the slow walking pace of his steed might safely be improved upon; and
also considering, that if he could only prevail upon the horse to walk a
little faster, it would facilitate his journey amazingly; he commenced a
series of exhortations that were excellent adjuncts to the theory which
advocates the superiority of persuasion to the application of force,
but extremely ineffective in practice, when the subject is a quadruped
of rather a stubborn nature, and perfectly ignorant of the vernacular in
which he is addressed. Thus, when Mr. Billing endeavoured to accelerate
the speed of his animal, by the utterance of such pathetic and endearing
appeals, as "now, come along, poor old horsey;" "there's a good old
horse;" "ge up;" "now, don't be angry" (as the beast showed signs of
uneasiness); "walk a little faster, like a good old horse;" we say we
would not have been surprised, had the horse paid no more heed to Mr.
Billing's entreaties than we should be likely to do, were we addressed
in a lively asinine interpellation, by one of those animals, whose
peculiar idiosyncrasies are proverbial. But, strange to say in this
case, the horse did notice the requests of his rider. Whether he was an
animal of superior discernment, and detected the wishes of Mr. Billing
in the tone of that gentleman's appeals; or, whether the intonation
sounded to his ears strange and novel, and stimulated him with a desire
to accommodate the applicant; or, whether he himself became anxious to
reach his destination, to realize his visions of a stable and a feed, we
cannot venture to say. But we simply record the fact, that Mr. Billing's
request to the "old horse" was complied with; and the quadruped went off
in a step, which was an incongruous mixture of a shambling walk, a
canter, and a trot.

That fable of the frogs, who in answer to their prayer for a king,
obtained a carnivorous monarch of the aves genus, has no doubt been
forcibly impressed on the memories of our readers during their
scholastic probation. They will readily, then, understand the feelings
of Mr. Billing, when he imprecated his rashness for disturbing the
equanimity of his horse's pace; and we are convinced that the animals in
the apologue never prayed more fervently for a discontinuance of their
visitation than he did for an alleviation of his misery. All his
"woa's," and "stop old horse's," were perfectly unavailing; the
quadruped proceeded without the slightest notice, and with the greatest
unconcern. But the torment to the biped was dreadful. What was he to do?
He had uttered the talismanic syllable, that had called up the spirit;
while he was not possessed of the power to exorcise it. His agony of
body, was only equalled by that of his mind. He remembered Mr.
Rainsfield had said the animal never went out of one step; and if that
in which he then was should be the step, which he would of a necessity
continue during the whole of the journey, what would become of him? The
thought was horrible and insuperable; but he, Mr. Billing, the quondam
pride of Thames Street, could not answer it; and in a stoical distress
of mind he gave vent to a sigh, which seemed to jolt out by inches the
centre of his little fastidious anatomy. He a thousand times wished
himself back again, safe alongside the partner of his bosom; when no
power on earth should persuade him to submit again to so ignoble a
position and spectacle, as a ride on horseback. But something must be
done, he thought; for as the horse proceeded in his jogging step, so did
Mr. Billing continue to be battered by his jolting.

The unfortunate equestrian was a perfect picture of distress. At every
step of the animal, he was almost bounded from his seat. He could not
speak, for the breath was almost shaken out of his body; while he dared
not look around for fear of losing his equilibrium. He had also lost his
hold of the bridle, which he dropt on the horse's neck; while he seized
the pommel of the saddle for his further security, with the air and
grasp of a resolute man who preferred even torture to the indignity of
being unseated.

What Mr. Billing's appearance was, when he was undergoing this ordeal,
our readers who have witnessed a first riding lesson can easily imagine;
and would, no doubt, were they witnesses of the scene, be ready to laugh
at the victim's sufferings as we penitently confess ourselves to have
done. Our friend's torture, however, continued as he turned over in his
mind the best means of obtaining relief. If he should be so far
fortunate as to meet any one in the road who would kindly stop the
refractory animal, he thought, how grateful he would be; but of that he
feared there was little chance. A thought, however, struck him and
suddenly illumined his perturbed spirit. Why could he not stop him
himself? It never occurred to him before, but now he experienced a gleam
of hope; he thought, if he could but pull the bridle, the animal would
cease his torturing career. But then how was he to effect this? If he
relinquished his hold, he might lose his seat; however, he determined to
try, and, summoning all his energies to his aid, he suddenly relaxed his
grasp of the saddle, seized the bridle, and gave it as violent a tug as
his strength would permit. His object, however, was not gained; for in
his avidity to stop the horse he had pulled on the one side of the
bridle, and his Rosinante, instead of slackening his speed to the
desired pace, turned his head and looked Cyclops-like at his rider, in a
way that said as plainly as looks could: "What is it you want?" But we
have already stated that Mr. Billing was not versed in the significance
of horse's looks, so he understood it not; but continued to tug with a
violence that threatened his own downfall, and the dislocation of the
quadruped's jaw.

Servants, however industrious and painstaking, may sometimes find it
difficult with petulant employers to ascertain the precise wishes of
their superiors; and not unfrequently have we witnessed some truculent
master abusing his menials for an act, the very nadir of which had
previously met with his disapprobation; leaving the abusees in a state
of doubt as to what really were the desires of "the master." In the same
way was the horse in our narrative. He turned his head in the direction
indicated by Mr. Billing's tug; and finding it still continued, he
followed with his whole body; and, possibly under the impression that
he was required to return home in the same leisure trot, he commenced a
retrogression. That was not, however, what his rider required, at least
while his journey was unaccomplished; for though, for his personal
comfort, he devoutly desired it, such a course of action could not be
thought of. Mr. Billing was a man of honour, and volunteered to perform
the duty; had even pledged his word; while his respected master had told
him that he relied upon his good judgment; therefore, was such a
confidence to be misplaced, and his integrity to be called into
question? "Never!" Mr. Billing mentally ejaculated; even if his life
were to be sacrificed in an expenditure of sighs. An imputation of such
a dereliction had never been cast upon the name of Billing, and should
he be the first to disgrace the family? He mentally replied with an
emphatic and forcible negative, and tugged away with increased energy at
the bridle he continued to hold in his hand.

It is needless to say the horse became bewildered at the manoevering
of his rider. He had never experienced such treatment before, and could
not comprehend its meaning. He stopped; the tugging continued. He turned
again, and the tugging ceased. He thus discovered the desire of his
director; and being at the time somewhat accommodatingly disposed, he
proceeded at a snail-paced ambulation. Our readers will have by this
time discovered that Mr. Billing's Rosinante was an animal of rather a
peculiar temperament; and will therefore be prepared to hear that,
having gained some experience of the style of individual on his back, he
gave evidences of a disposition which caused no little uneasiness to the
sensitive mind of the Strawberry Hill Mercury. This highly to be
deprecated perversity, displayed itself in various "little games" of his
own, which were performed with a degree of _nonchalance_ highly edifying
to an admirer of coolness, though extremely alarming to our friend.
Some of the most salient we may mention, were, grazing in the bush at
the side of the track; rubbing himself against the trees; taking erratic
turns in search of water-holes; and finally stopping altogether.

This trial was worse than all, and brought Mr. Billing's patience to a
culminating point. That the poor animal should desire a drink he thought
in no way extravagant; but to coolly stand still, and decline any
further progression, was the height of assumption; which even he could
not tolerate. He therefore grew importunate in his demands for
locomotion; and vibrated his legs like pendulums, while he shouted in a
voice that betrayed anger. He again seized the bridle, and tugged away
with equal violence as before, only varying the operation by pulling
alternately, one side, and the other. Under this, or some unaccountable
influence, the horse regained his amiability, and returned to the road;
and, moreover, took the right direction for Alma; which, though at a
pace by no means so fast as Mr. Billing could desire, yet in one which
he thought preferable to that, the inconveniences of which he had had
such tangible proof. However, he now jogged on at his leisure, and would
doubtless have continued to have done so without any further adventure,
had he not been disturbed from his equanimity by the unmistakeable
sounds of an approaching bullock dray. The idea of meeting this threw
him into a perfect state of perplexity, and he therefore thought of
getting off the track to allow it to pass; but how to guide his perverse
animal he knew not. The sounds came nearer, but his horse paid no
attention to his admonitions; so, with visions of being gored to death
by bullocks, he relinquished the contest with his animal, and gave
himself up for lost.

The dray slowly dragged its course along, and approached within sight of
our adventurous friend; when its companions, amused at the figure before
them, halted their team to have a little conversation with one whose
appearance was truly enough to excite their risibility. Mr. Billing's
horse, in like manner, aware that it was expected of him to halt, also
did so; and the individual, who officiated as driver to the team,
addressed the equestrian in the following easy style of familiarity:

"I say, mate, don't you think you'd better get inside?"

The force of this coarse joke was duly appreciated by the utterer's
travelling companions; though it was entirely lost upon our friend, who
gazed in mute astonishment at his questioner. While he indulges in this
visual inspection, we will crave permission to make a slight digression,
for the purpose of describing the parties thus unceremoniously
introduced to the reader's notice.

The driver of the dray, and the individual who had addressed Mr.
Billing, was a man of ordinary stature; slight in make, and past the
meridian of life. His features were sharp; his hair was tinged with
gray; his eyes were of the same colour, and somewhat sunken in his
head; on his chin and lip was hair of about a week's growth, having very
much the appearance of a worn-out scrubbing brush, and of quite as
course a texture. He was clad in the usual bushman's style, and carried
the long whip of his order. At his side walked a young man, in
appearance and manner a considerable improvement on the old one; and
high upon the laden dray were perched two females. One was an old dame
with features of the nut-cracker cast, and apparelled with an evident
desire to combine in her person all the prismatic hues. Her more
juvenile companion, while emulating the same laudable disposition, was
certainly superior in looks to her, in the same proportion as the young
man was to the old. The appearance of the whole party was such as
proclaimed them at once, to the practised eye of Mr. Billing, to be of a
class having no pretensions to gentility; though there was an air about
them of careless freedom and easy comfort that, to him, ill accorded
with their position. He had satisfied himself on this point, by his
scrutiny, when he ventured to reply to the before mentioned remark of
the old man by making the following observation:

"May I be permitted, my good sir, to enquire the nature of the
expression you just made use of? I presume you must have spoken in
metaphor."

"Not a bit, old cock," replied the man, "I guess I spoke in English. You
didn't seem to enjoy travelling that ere way, so I just axed you if
you'd get inside."

"And pray, sir, what did you mean by that?" asked Mr. Billing, whose
choler began to rise at what he considered the rude insolence of his
interrogator.

"Oh! nothing," replied the young man, who saw that their new
acquaintance was likely to be a little irascible, "my father was only
joking."

"And pray, young man," said Mr. Billing, "is not your father aware that
it is a gross breach of decorum his attempting to pass his jokes off on
a gentleman? eh, sir?"

"Certainly," replied the young fellow, "he is quite aware of it, but he
has got such a way of joking with people that he does it all the same
with friends and strangers; and I have no doubt he could not resist the
temptation of having a slap at you, when he saw so elegant a rider and
gentleman."

This attempt of the young witling, while it highly amused the various
members of the travelling menage, pacified Mr. Billing; who failed to
perceive any irony in it; and, addressing the elder of the party with
his usual suavity, he said, "May I be so bold as to enquire sir, the
point of your destination? As I am not aware of the expectation of any
one at our place, I presume you are bound for our neighbours at Fern
Vale?"

"No, we ain't, old fellow," replied the party addressed, "we are going
to our own place, t'other side of Fern Vale. I 'spose you don't know us?
My name's Sawyer, and this 'ere chap's my son: that there's my old
woman on the dray; and our gal alongside on her. I've bought a run on
the Gibson river, and am going to settle on it now. So, as you know all
about us, take a 'ball,' and tell us who you are." With which he handed
to Mr. Billing a bottle, containing some alcoholic fluid; and took out
his pipe which he inserted between his teeth, and made to give forth a
whistling sound, to satisfy himself upon the non-obstruction of the
passage, preparatory to replenishing it with the weed.

Mr. Billing having smelt the contents of the bottle, which had rather a
rummy odour, returned it to old Sawyer with the remark: "You really must
excuse me, sir, for I invariably make it a rule to abstain from spirits
in the middle of the day, and never at any time drink them raw."

"We can give you water old 'bacca' breeches, if you like it best that
way," replied Sawyer, sen.

"Not any, I thank you," said Billing, "I would prefer, I assure you,
sir, to be excused; at the same time I value your kind attention."

"Well, here's luck to you, old feller," said the other, as he took a
pull at the bottle. "I don't believe in watering grog, it spoils good
liquor. But I say, old cock, who are you?"

"I, sir," said Mr. Billing, not exactly relishing this unceremonious
style of questioning, and with difficulty suppressing his indignant ire,
at being so vulgarly addressed by a low-minded besotted man. "I, sir,"
he repeated, "am Mr. James Billing of Strawberry Hill, and late of the
firm of Billing, Barlow, & Co., of the city of London." He said this
with the air of a man who would strike his interrogator with a sense of
that forwardness that could prompt so rude a query as that which had
been made by the head of the Sawyer family; and as one resolved to
maintain the honour of his position, and claim that respect which was
due to him as the representative of that class which is the
acknowledged source of England's greatness; viz., the mercantile
community.

"I 'spect Strawberry Hill ain't yourn?" said Sawyer, unmindful of the
reproof conveyed in the tone and language of Mr. Billing. "I believe it
belongs to a chap of the name of Rainsfield, don't it?"

"Mr. Rainsfield is the proprietor of the station, sir," replied Billing,
"and I am his confidential assistant."

"Oh, the 'Super?' I suppose," exclaimed the other.

"No, sir," replied our friend, "his accountant."

"Oh, I see," cried the old man, as the nature of his interlocutor's
position flashed across his mind, "the storekeeper, that's all, eh? and
where are you going now, mate?"

"I can't see, sir," replied Mr. Billing, "how that can interest you in
the slightest degree. I am not called upon to submit to your
catechising; you must be perfectly aware that your questions are
bordering on the impertinent; and but that I am a man of peace, I would
resent your inquisitiveness, sir, as an insult."

"My father meant no offence, sir," said the young man, while his parent
gave vent to his amusement in a prolonged whistle, "it is only his way."

"And a most unwarrantable way too, sir," said the now irate commercial
man.

"You need not get your rag out, old fellow," said the senior Sawyer, "if
you can't take a bit of chaff you oughtn't to live in the bush."

"Of that, sir, I'm the best judge," replied the indignant Billing. "No
man is justified in offering chaff, as you call it, to a gentleman;
more especially when the parties are perfect strangers. I made no rude
and inquisitive remarks to you; and am surprised that you should have
ventured to utter them to me."

"Well, old fellow," said the other, "I ain't agoing to quarrel with you
no how, so if you don't mean to tell us where you're going, why, you
can just please yourself."

"That, sir, I intend to do," replied Mr. Billing; "so, if you have no
further enquiries to make, we may just as well part company."

"All right, old chap," said Mr. Sawyer, "we'll go;" and while he put his
team in motion, with his whip, he imparted a slight titillation to the
flanks of Mr. Billing's horse, which caused that eccentric animal to go
off in the step most torturing to his rider, amidst the united
cachinnations of the Sawyer family.

Mr. Billing experienced a return of all his former horrors; but his
efforts this time to reduce his horse to a tractable obedience were
fruitless; the animal persisted in keeping to his own pace,
notwithstanding the various tugs, bridle sawings, admonitions, and
solicitations of our disconsolate equestrian. He was fain at last to
give up the contention, and submit to his fate; and, be it mentioned to
his commendation, he bore his torture to the end of his journey with a
degree of fortitude perfectly astounding.

It was night when the horse stopped in front of the "Woolpack" inn, at
Alma, and well was it for Mr. Billing's sensitiveness that it was so;
for it saved him from the cruel jeers and laughter of the unsympathising
ignoramuses who would have been sure to have made his misfortunes a
subject for merriment. He was aroused from the abstraction of his calm
resignation by the cessation of motion; and he perceived, with a lively
joy, that his troubles were for the time at an end. How he got down from
his saddle we are as ignorant as he was himself; though we can affirm
that he scrambled off in such a manner as to bring himself to the ground
in a prostrate position. Upon recovering from his surprise, after
carefully brushing the dust from his apparel, he noticed that his horse,
who was apparently well acquainted with the _locale_ of the place, had
entered the yard, and was standing at the stable door, waiting with an
exemplary patience to be admitted. Leaving him there, to be attended to
by the proper authority, our friend entered the house with a step
somewhat resembling the progression which, is to be assumed, would be
that of an animated pair of compasses. He was met in the passage of the
hostel by an individual of the masculine gender, who, with a sardonic
grin, asked him "if that 'ere 'oss what was in the yard belonged to
him;" and being answered in the affirmative, and that the repliant
desired to be shown to the coffee-room, and required supper and a bed,
he remarked, "I suppose you come from Mr. Rainsfield's? I know'd his old
'oss the moment I seed him, and he knows us as well as he does his
master."

"Indeed!" replied Mr. Billing, "it's very probable, my good fellow; but
I have no desire to enter into a discussion with you respecting the
merits or acquaintances of the animal. I would be exceedingly obliged to
you if you would show me to my bed-room, and let me have some supper as
soon as possible."

"I don't think you've been much used to a riding of 'orses, sir," said
the cool stable functionary, as he eyed our travel-worn friend from apex
to base. But Mr. Billing was too indignant to answer him. He really
thought that all the vagabonds in the country had conspired to insult
him, and he determined to submit to their contumelies no longer; so,
turning round upon his questioner, with a look of indignant scorn, he
said:

"I'll suffer no impertinence from you, sir, and I have to request you'll
refrain from indulging in any further offensive remarks and queries,
sir. If you are the landlord of this hostlery, sir, you are evidently
unacquainted with your business; and if you are a servant in the
establishment be good enough to inform your master that I desire to
speak to him."

"All right, sir," replied the man, "if you want to see the gov'ner I'll
tell him." Saying which, the facetious servant took his departure with
an evident risible excitement. In a few minutes the landlord himself
made his appearance; and received Mr. Billing's order, and complaint
against the domestic, with as much indifference as if they were matters
not worth noticing; and without deigning any acknowledgment or reply
beyond that which he put to his visitor in the following words.

"Do you want anything to drink?"

"Not at present, I thank you," replied the urbane son of commerce; "I
desire first to have something to eat."

"Oh! then you'll have to wait," replied the landlord, "for we don't cook
meals at this time of night."

"Well, my good friend," replied Mr. Billing, "I don't wish to
inconvenience you, and your household; but I am perfectly voracious, and
desire something solid. I am not fastidious and would be content with
something cold, if your larder contains such."

"No, we ain't got nothing cold," replied the master of the "Woolpack;"
"we never keep it:" and with a grunt this specimen of politeness left
the room.

The unfortunate Mr. Billing was now subject to another species of
annoyance; and we verily believe, had he not been the personification of
patience, he would have been perfectly driven to distraction. Though
shouts of revelry, and indications of drinking, emanated from the bar,
he was not surprised or disturbed, for he expected it; but he heard
sounds in the passage as of suppressed laughter, accompanied by stifled
expressions in a strong Hibernian dialect. Whether the utterance was by
male or female, it was difficult to conjecture; but Mr. Billing's doubts
(if he had had any on the subject) were soon put to rest, for he plainly
discerned the frontispiece of a biped; which, by the manner of arranging
its natural scarlet covering, plainly proclaimed itself as belonging to
the order of feminine. The features displayed a broad grin; and an
inquisitive glance met that of our friend, as he stood facing the door.
The head was hastily withdrawn when its owner perceived it had been
noticed; but a laugh succeeded its withdrawal, and another cranium was
protruded into the aperture, and retired in its turn with a laugh, to
make way for another.

Mr. Billing submitted to this scrutiny with the assumed fortitude of a
stoic; and attempted to allay his rising ire, and deceive his perturbed
spirit, by whistling one of the favourite airs from Norma. Now, Mr.
Billing prided himself upon the accomplishment of whistling; for he did
consider it an accomplishment, notwithstanding that some people call it
vulgar. He had given it his study; and when in the height of
conviviality, when he was at any time induced to favour his friends with
a specimen of his art, he would throw his whole soul into the
performance, and remain an unconscious spectator of passing events until
the last note of his Æolian melody died away amid the vociferous
plaudits of his friends. He therefore, on this occasion, resolved to
indulge in a little music to save himself from a knowledge of the
annoyance of the menials' gaze, and to show them his utter contempt both
for them and their unparalleled rudeness. With his eyes, then, firmly
fixed upon a cleanly-dispositioned fly on the canvas ceiling of the
room, as it was going through various crural manipulations on its
cranium, he warbled forth a stanza in his most enchanting strain; so
exquisitely sweet as to have softened the hearts of heathens had they
been present. At least so says Congreve, in his oft-used sentiment, such
is the opiate influence of phrygian chords on unsophisticated natures;
but in the auditory of Mr. Billing it was otherwise. They possessed no
taste for music, and only greeted his performance with screams of
laughter.

Human nature could not quietly submit to this fresh indignity, and Mr.
Billing advanced with undisguised chagrin, and banged the door upon the
sounds of retreating merriment. He was annoyed, disgusted, and ill at
ease; and mentally made a resolution to get out of the place as speedily
as possible, and never to darken the door again. It was fully an hour
before his expected repast was put upon the table; and with a disturbed
spirit, and body racked with pains of unutterable puissance, he partook
of his meal and early sought the consolation of his pillow.

On the following morning he habited and arranged himself with
punctilious neatness; and waited upon Mr. Gilbert, the principal or
rather the only storekeeper in the town, for the purpose of obtaining
the articles required by Mr. Rainsfield. Upon his procuring these he
arranged them in the valise prepared for them, and settled his reckoning
at the inn previous to taking his departure. At his desire the horse was
brought to the door; and, being provided with a chair, he effected a
mounting with less difficulty than on the previous day. But his trials
were not yet at an end; for not only the whole inmates of the Woolpack
inn, but almost the entire population of the township (some hundred
people), assembled _en masse_ to witness the start of the potent
personage. The horse was set in motion by an admonitory application of a
stick by one of the bystanders, which started him off in the step which
was the dread of our friend; while he was hailed on all sides with a
deafening cheer and shouts of laughter, which rung in his ears for some
distance on his journey.



CHAPTER IV.

  "What dire offence from amorous causes springs,
  What mighty contests rise from trivial things."

POPE.


We last left John Ferguson returning to Fern Vale after his interview
with Mr. Rainsfield; and he had reached his home, and had actually
dismounted from his horse, before the merry laugh of his sister roused
him from his reverie. When Kate and the rest of the party had reached
the house, they were surprised to find John absent; the more so as they
were informed he had ridden over in the morning to Strawberry Hill. They
certainly had not passed him on the road, and they thought there was no
probability of his having been diverted from his purpose; they
therefore could not understand where he had got to, though they agreed
the best thing they could do was to await his return.

William had taken them all over the place, and through the house that
was only waiting the arrival of the furniture, to claim its pretty
little visitor as its mistress; and the party were just emerging from
the building, when Kate spied her brother John approaching, apparently
absorbed in deep thought, and perfectly deaf to the sound of the voices
of herself and her friends. When she, however, saw him alight from his
horse, at the huts a short distance off, and perceived that he was
perfectly abstracted, she could restrain her spirits no longer, and ran
laughingly to throw herself in his arms. It was at this moment, that
John Ferguson was made alive to the fact that his home had been honoured
by the visit of his friends; and he advanced to meet his sister, and
greeted her with a fond inosculation, as a token of fraternal affection.

We do not approve of the constant eduction of scenes of affectionate
union, where the thoughts, contemplations, and utterances, the
spontaneous ebullitions of love, are dragged before the gaze of all. We
deem them at all times too sacred to be made subject to the comments and
criticism of uninterested parties; and therefore, in the case of Kate's
meeting with her brother, would beg to draw a veil over the scene, and
wait, in the resumption of our apologue, until they join their friends.

The various greetings and congratulations were soon ended; and Tom
Rainsfield commenced the general conversation by asking of his friend:

"What on earth became of you, John? When we arrived here we were told
you had gone over to our place; but you had not been there before we
left, and if you had gone by the track we should have met. I suppose you
were emulated with a desire for discovery, and attempted to find a short
cut through the bush, eh?"

"No indeed," replied John, "I kept to the road; but, I imagine, I must
have been at Strawberry Hill just before you started, for, as I was
coming up to the house, I saw saddled horses at the door. I was called
in by Mr. Billing as I was passing his cottage, as he said he desired a
little conversation with me; so I presume that, owing to that
circumstance, I missed you."

"What could have induced that inordinate old humbug," continued Tom, "to
have drawn you into his den? I suppose to tell you all about his family
affairs."

"Yes," replied John, "he certainly did treat me to a long dissertation
on his misfortunes in life; the greatest of which was his coming to the
colony, and which appears, _prima facie_, to be the head and front of
his offending."

"But didn't you ask for us?" enquired Tom; "or did you see my brother?
and did he not tell you that we had gone over to your place?"

"I did see Mr. Rainsfield," said John, "but to tell you the truth, I did
not go up to the house."

"And you didn't even ask for me?" enquired Mrs. Rainsfield. "I could
hardly have believed in such thoughtlessness in any of my friends, and
especially in you. Pray, sir, will you make some explanation? I am
almost inclined to be angry with you. But, as we intend to retain
possession of your sister for some time, we shall demand of you, as
penance; a constant attendance upon us at 'The Hill.'"

"I fear, my dear Mrs. Rainsfield," replied John, "I must decline to
enlighten you on my remissness; and I am afraid also I shall prove a
refractory penitent; for, in the first place, I think it highly
improbable that I shall have the pleasure of visiting Strawberry Hill
again; at least for a time. And I must take an early opportunity of
relieving you of the protection of Kate."

"What does the man mean?" exclaimed his good-natured lady visitor, in
mock astonishment. "Am I to understand that you not only refuse to come
and see us, but that you are churlish enough to desire to seclude your
sister with yourself in mutual confinement? You are really becoming
perfectly mysterious, John Ferguson. I do not understand all this, and
must insist upon a solution. Tell me, now," continued she, as she went
smilingly up to him, "what is it that makes you estrange yourself from
us, and studiously avoid our society? I think I can read you better than
to ascribe it to that little fracas at our pic-nic."

"I do not wish to pain you, my dear madam," replied Ferguson, "by making
an explanation that I am confident will be extremely disagreeable to
you; rather let me remain as I am, and retain your esteemed friendship,
and believe me I have good cause for absenting myself from your house."

"Nay, I will not be satisfied with that," replied Mrs. Rainsfield, "you
are only intensifying my curiosity by endeavouring to evade my demand;
something has occurred, I am sure, to make you so determined in your
avoidance of us; and I must know what it is. If you decline
enlightening me on the subject I must seek information from Mr.
Rainsfield, or Eleanor; so you had better make a virtue of necessity,
and tell me at once."

"I had much rather the subject had not been broached," said John; "but,
as you are determined to know the cause of my elimination, I suppose I
must communicate what I would sooner have buried in oblivion. It appears
that your husband has formed some prejudice against me, the cause of
which I am unable to account for. I accidentally learnt from my black
boys that some espionage, in connexion with your station, was meditated
by the Nungar tribe; and I took an early opportunity of going over to
Strawberry Hill to apprise Mr. Rainsfield of the fact. He received me
with marked coolness, for what reason I am at a loss to conjecture; and
actually accused me of exercising an incentive influence over the tribe
to his detriment. I would willingly believe that he has formed some
misconception of my actions; but to impute such a motive to me is
simply ridiculous. He loaded me with invective, and wound up his
inflammatory tirade by requesting that I would discontinue my visits to
his house; and before I recovered from my surprise I found myself alone;
though, even if he had remained, I question if I should have succeeded
in disabusing his mind, for he seemed in no disposition to listen to
reason. I have no doubt but that he will very soon discover his error;
but until then, you will perceive, Mrs. Rainsfield, it is utterly
impossible that I can pay my respects to you at 'The Hill;' and it would
also, under the circumstances, be highly inconsistent in Kate stopping
longer with you than can be helped."

"I am truly grieved," replied the lady, "to hear of your rupture with my
husband, Mr. Ferguson; it gives me great pain, I can assure you. I can't
think he can be prejudiced against you, for he always entertained the
highest esteem for you. It is possible he may have formed some
erroneous impression with regard to those horrid blacks; but, whatever
is the cause of the ill feeling, I will endeavour to dispel it; and have
your friendship reestablished upon the old footing. But, in the
meantime, it is impossible that you can take Kate away from us; you
can't put her into an empty house, and you certainly would not have the
cruelty to lodge her in those huts of yours. You must leave her with us,
at least until you have made a comfortable home for her; and even then,
I don't think the poor girl will have a very enviable life, living in
seclusion, without a female near her."

"I have already thought of that," replied John, "and have hired a man
and his wife; the latter, who is a professed cook, will be entirely
under Kate's direction. Besides, our little black fellow, Joey, whom we
brought from New England with us, is as useful, if not more so, as half
the female servants in the country. So I think, on that score, we will
be able to make our sister perfectly comfortable."

"At all events," said Mrs. Rainsfield, "it is understood you leave her
with us until your furniture arrives."

"Very well," replied John, "I suppose it must be so. I need not beg of
you to refrain from mentioning to any one in your house, not even to
Kate, that any unpleasantness exists between our families; your own good
judgment will convince you of the non-necessity. But suppose we join our
friends, for we appear to have wandered quite away from them during our
conversation;" and John Ferguson, and Mrs. Rainsfield, returned to the
spot where the rest of the party stood.

"Well, it is to be hoped you two are satisfied with your 'confidential,'"
remarked Tom, as the parties thus addressed joined the _menage_. "We
were beginning to think you were meditating an elopement, and were just
proposing giving you chase. We are agitating the question of return.
Miss Ferguson says she does not like this dreadful wilderness of yours,
John, and is anxious to get back to Strawberry Hill, and within the
bounds of civilisation."

"Oh, what a dreadful falsehood!" cried Kate, "you know I never said such
a thing; for that I am half disposed to stop here at once, and if I
thought it would be any punishment to you, I would. I am sure my brother
would make room for me if I desired it."

"I offer an abject apology, my dear Miss Ferguson," exclaimed the
culprit; "we could not dream of losing you now; so I will make any
reparation necessary to appease you."

"Well, then behave yourself, sir, and adhere to the truth," said Kate.

"I think, my dear," said Mrs. Rainsfield, "we really had better return,
or it will be dark before we get home; so if Tom did not read your
thoughts, his fib suggested an expediency." Kate now took leave of her
brother; and Mrs. Rainsfield, she, and Tom mounted their horses, and
departed; the latter turning in his saddle as he left the station,
called out to John, "I'll be over in the morning;" and the party were
speedily lost to sight.

Mr. Wigton and the brothers turned into the hut, and were soon engaged
in a conversation, which, though interesting to themselves, it is
unnecessary for us to follow. Towards the close of the evening as they
sat before their hut, the brothers enjoying their pipes over the fire
that was boiling the water for the infusion of the temperate beverage
that graced their board at the evening meal; and while Joey, who
officiated in the culinary department, was preparing the repast in the
interior of the domicile, the dray that we have met already on the road
from Alma, was seen to wind slowly off the face of the ridge and down
the vale to the creek that ran through it. Here it stopped, while the
driver seemed to hold an altercation with his companions, and appeared
to be undecided as to some course they were meditating.

"Who are those people, William?" said his brother. "Where on earth can
they be going? Just step down and see; for they must surely have gone
out of their way, and find themselves now at a stand still."

William walked down to the spot where the dray had halted; and returned
in a few minutes with the information, that the travellers were on their
way to take possession of a "run" one of the party had bought, on the
river below their own place, from Bob Smithers; and stated that he had
told the fellow that he might camp where he was, and go over and form
his station on the following day; he had also invited him to come up to
the hut in the evening and smoke his pipe, which the man had promised to
do. His name, William said, was Sawyer; and he appeared to be an
individual who had not been blessed with either much cultivation or
education. "He is," said William, "a regular specimen of an old hand,
and I expect has seen much service."

In the course of the evening Mr. Sawyer made his appearance with his
"old woman," as he familiarly designated his wife, and daughter. The
family was unaltered in appearance since we last introduced it to the
reader; and while the females took their seats on two stools, provided
for them by the Fergusons, in a stiff and formal manner which they
intended for a distinguishing mark of good breeding, the old man threw
himself down on the grass before the fire. After collecting a few
sticks, and throwing them on himself, he lit his pipe with a "fire
stick," and commenced the following conversation; which he continued
between the intervals of his smokey eructations.

"I suppose you ain't been here long, mate," said he, addressing John;
"you look as if you had newly settled, and the country here can't have
been long taken up."

"It is true," replied John, "we have not been resident here very long,
not yet twelve months. My brother tells me you have purchased the block
of country below us; may I ask if you are about to stock it?"

"Well, I ain't agoing to do nothing else. You see I have got my dray
down there with my rations, and traps; and I am now going over to fix
upon a place for my station, and put up some huts and yards. We have
bought our stock on the 'Downs,' and my other son is there now, waiting
for me to go back, to be there while the sheep are drafted. We must get
a place up first to put the old woman and the girl in, and then we will
look after the stock."

"But," said William, "you surely are not going to leave your wife and
daughter alone, while you go back to the Downs for your flocks? It can't
be your intention to leave them unprotected, in this part of the bush?
Are you aware of the freedom of the blacks here?"

"No," replied Sawyer, "I don't know much about the blacks in these
parts; 'cos I ain't seen much of them yet; but I know just exactly what
they were on the Hunter twenty years ago; and I be sure they arn't
worse here than they were there; and my old woman has had as much to do
with them as me. Do you think I am afraid to leave her by herself? Lord
bless you, sir; my word! she is 'all there' to take care of herself; and
in her own house I'll back her against any dozen white men and any fifty
blacks."

"You are quite at liberty," said John, "if you like, after you have
built your huts, to leave your wife and daughter and your stores and
things here to await your own return."

"I am obliged to you, young man," exclaimed old Sawyer; "but I'd rather
leave them at our own station, and I reckon they would rather stop there
themselves; besides if I built my huts, and then left them, the
blackguardly blacks would most likely burn them."

"Well, Mr. Sawyer, you can please yourself," replied John, "but you are
quite welcome to make use of our place if you like."

"All right, sir," replied he addressed, "I've no doubt; but you see
I've no fear of my old woman being alone, so I shall just leave her to
bide until I come back. Howsomdever we shan't be long away, and I don't
think I shall be so lucky as to find, when I do come back, that anybody
has run away with her."

"I trust, Mr. Sawyer," continued John, "you may have no cause to
reprehend yourself for your confidence in your wife's ability to protect
herself and her daughter; and, if we can be of any service to them, I
trust you will make no scruple in commanding us; for we desire to live
on terms of amity with our neighbours, and it is essential to be
mutually obliging at times."

"In course, young fellow; you are a brick, so give me your hand," cried
the head of the Sawyer family, as he started to his feet, "we must have
a nobbler on the strength of that;" saying which he abstracted a bottle
from the breastine recesses of his garments, and handed it to John, who
called to Joey to bring some pannikins and water.

"I must apologize," said he, "for not offering you a glass of grog
myself before this; but, to tell you the truth, we have not got any on
the station, and here we don't usually drink it; but to keep you
company, I don't mind taking a small drop."

The bottle was handed to Mr. Wigton, William, and the women in
succession; the two former of whom declined, and the latter partook;
while the dispenser himself filled out a jorum for his personal
libation, and drank success to himself, and the world generally, in that
comprehensive aphorism which seemed to him to answer for all occasions;
viz., "here's luck." He felt disappointed, however, when, upon a second
presentation of the "homiletical stimulator," he found no one to join
him, and he remarked with an apparent degree of truth:

"Why, I never did see fellers like you refuse good liquor. I can't think
how you can do it; for my part, I'm blow'd if I ever do: it's a sin."

"Don't you think, my good man," said Mr. Wigton, "it's rather a sin to
indulge too freely in its use? If you do not think so, I can assure you
that it is; to say nothing of the moral degradation of the drunkard, the
lavish squandering of your means, and the injury to your health."

"Lor' bless you, sir," replied Sawyer, "I never felt the worse of my
liquor. I might ha' been a bit drunk now and then, but what's the odds
of that? I get all right again in a giffey; I wouldn't give a snuff for
a fellow that couldn't take his grog, and get drunk now and then like
other men. When I was an overseer on the Hunter some years ago, a mate
of mine and me got two gallons of rum up to my hut, to have a spree one
night. One of my fellows, who was an assigned 'un, was a decent cove,
though he never spoke to the other men, 'cos he thought hisself a real
gent. Well I pitied this coon; and seeing him that evening, I asked him
if he'd come up to my hut, and have 'a ball' or two with us; but bless
you, he flew into a pelter, and called us all sorts of names, because,
he said, we wanted to make beasts of ourselves; just as if having a bit
of a spree, was making of beasts of ourselves, and as if we hadn't a
right to drink our own grog. Well, thinks I, you are a chicken; but I
lets him 'ave his own way; and what do you think, sir? He took to
bush-ranging and was hanged. Now, do you think he was better than me,
for not getting drunk that time?"

"In his refusal, he certainly showed an appreciation of right, whatever
his previous or after career may have been," replied Mr. Wigton. "But,
Mr. Sawyer, you must really permit me to impress upon you the absolute
uselessness of drinking to excess; its sinfulness I will be able to
convince you of afterwards. In the outset of your spree, as you call it,
you provide a stock of spirits, which you lay yourself out to drink,
uninterruptedly, until it is finished. After the first hour you become
quite unconscious of everything around you, while you continue to drink
mechanically, without actually knowing you are doing so, and certainly
without your palate experiencing any gratification. So that the greater
portion of the spirits you have drank has been consumed without
affording you any satisfaction; in fact, wasted; and your money thrown
away. Now, consider, what are the effects of this spree? If you are of a
good constitution, and escape _delirium tremens_, are not your
sufferings still very acute? far more so than to be commensurate to the
wild excitement of the debauch? You are sick, your head seems every
moment ready to split; you are for days absolutely wretched and ill; and
not until your constitution works off the ill effects of your
dissipation do you recover your wonted health; whereas, if you had
confined yourself to drinking your grog in moderation, you would have
enjoyed it for a lengthened period, escaped all the unpleasant symptoms
I have mentioned, and not injured your health; so you will perceive
that drunkenness is useless. I am well aware that it is difficult to
convince men such as you, who like their grog, to such a belief; but if
you could only be induced to try abstinence I have no doubt you would
readily agree with me, with regard to its sinfulness."

"Oh, never mind that," cried Sawyer, "I don't want to have no sermon; if
I like to buy grog, and drink it all at once, it don't hurt nobody but
me; and if I choose to do it, why, it is my look out, and don't matter
to anybody else. But come along, old woman," he continued, addressing
his wife, "we must be going down to our camp;" and turning round to
John, he said, "we left our boy down with the dray, and he will be
thinking the time long without us."

"I'll come over to you in the morning," said William, "I may be of some
assistance to you, as I have no doubt you will want to get up a covering
for the females as soon as possible."

"All right, young man, we will be glad to see you," replied Sawyer;
saying which, and uttering a general "good night," that was echoed by
his accompanying helpmate and progeny, he bent his steps towards the
light of his own fire; and was speedily lost in the gloom.

"I could have desired," said Mr. Wigton, as the Sawyers departed, "more
eligible neighbours for you than those people, and should recommend you,
at the outset, not to permit too much familiarity from them; nor to
cultivate a very close degree of acquaintanceship. It is as well to
preserve a good feeling as neighbours; but for Kate's and your own sakes
I would recommend that you let them understand at once, by your manner,
that you do not intend to admit them on an equality. The example they
would set to you all, especially to your sister, I consider highly
reprehensible; and it is better to avoid at once the possibility of
contamination than discard it when once the infection is made palpable."

"I think with you," said John, "that they are by no means desirable
neighbours; and I will certainly follow your advice. I did not like the
appearance of the people from the first; and the offer I made them to
remain here I could not in common civility avoid; however, I am happy
they did not accept it, and only regret that William should have
promised to go over to them."

"Oh," said William, "I only want to learn something of that man's
history. I know his life must have been an eventful one from the few
remarks he made while here. You may believe me, otherwise I have no
desire to devote much of my time to his or his family's society."

"You are quite right William," said Mr. Wigton; "but tell me," said he,
turning to John, "what arrangements have you made for the reception of
your sister? I see you have got a very nice little cottage, but it will
surely take you some time to put things in perfect order for her."

"I expect," said John, "a dray up every day with furniture, and the
necessity utensils for the commencement of our housekeeping. If
anything is amiss we must fall back on William, for he selected them.
When they arrive they shall be put in as good order as possible; I have
engaged a man and his wife, and with the assistance of the latter, I
think Kate will get on swimmingly. She will have very kind neighbours at
Strawberry Hill, who are extremely anxious to keep her with them; and I
am sure will be very attentive to her when she settles herself with us.
So I think, so far, everything appears auspicious; though I would
considerably have preferred having the house ready for her at once.
To-day I came to an open rupture with Rainsfield, and he forbade me his
house for the future; under which circumstance I think it is hardly
right for one member of our family to be partaking of his hospitality."

"I am grieved to hear of your quarrel," remarked Mr. Wigton; "how did it
occur? is it possible to heal the breach?"

"Why, for my own part," said John, "it were easy; but, judging from the
animus displayed by my opponent, I do not think it would be readily
accomplished. Mr. Rainsfield is under the strange hallucination that I
am influencing the blacks in their depredations on him; and when I
called upon him, to put him upon his guard against impending danger, he
attacked me with surprising virulence. I fear the quarrel is
irremediable, and I only now desire to get Kate away; I have got every
thing here comfortably arranged for her, and am only waiting for the
furniture to complete her home."

"I think you are perfectly right," replied the clergyman, "in your
desire to bring your sister under your own roof; though, I have no
doubt, she would desire to remain a short time longer with the kind
ladies whose friendship she has been fortunate enough to secure. But
it is only proper that she should join you when you complete your
arrangements, in which, I think you have certainly shown some judicious
management. I am sure Kate will reward you by settling into a
first-rate little house-wife. She is a good, kind-hearted, affectionate
girl; and, from what I have witnessed, I only think you will be speedily
called upon to part with her; for, you may depend, such a treasure as
she is will soon be discovered, even in this remote spot."

"I expect that will be the result of our training," said John,
laughingly; "but, if our sister's happiness will be furthered by the
severance, I will be truly happy to make the sacrifice; though I don't
think we have much fear of losing her for some time to come. But tell
us, my dear friend, about your own movements. I trust you intend
favouring us with your company for some lengthened period."

"I can remain with you for some little time," replied Mr. Wigton,
"perhaps a fortnight or more; but next month I am expected to be in
Brisbane, and will, therefore, have to leave you in time to reach town
before the middle of next month. I am particularly desirous of having
some interviews with the blacks of your neighbouring tribe, to
endeavour, if possible, to ameliorate their wretched condition; and, if
you have no objection, I will get you to pilot me to their camp."

"With all my heart," said John, "I am quite at your service whenever you
desire to go, and I am sure William will join us too; what do you say,
Will?"

"By all means," replied he, "I'll go over with you, if you like,
to-morrow afternoon, when I return from those people below us. You will
have a good opportunity of speaking to them, Mr. Wigton, as the greater
part of the tribe is assembled in the scrub just now."

After making the best arrangements they could for their visitor in their
limited accommodation, the brothers and their friend retired for the
night; and, on the following forenoon, William mounted his horse and
rode over to the Sawyers' run, to satisfy his curiosity with regard to
the Sawyer paterfamilias.



CHAPTER V.

  "I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
  Would harrow up thy soul."

HAMLET, _Act 1. Sc. 5._


William leisurely followed the track of the Sawyers' dray for about an
hour, when he came up to their encampment, where they had apparently
fixed upon a spot for their station. They must have been early in their
departure from Fern Vale, and industrious in the interval; for, at the
moment of William's arrival, they had got up a tent, under which they
had placed the loading from their dray; while, amongst the various
packages, the fair Hebe of the previous night was to be seen busily
plunging, tugging, and sorting. Already pegs were placed at various
distances in the ground to point out the boundaries for their respective
enclosures and establishments; and a large tree lay stretched on the
sward, in the spot on which it had fallen when succumbing to the axe of
the younger Sawyer. The paternal couple were engaged dissecting the
monster in sections of about nine longitudinal feet, and were plying the
cross-cut saw with a will; while the son was driving an iron wedge into
one of the lengths, thus dissected, to split it up into slabs for the
erection of their hut.

William had approached close to this industrious family, before their
attention was diverted from their work by a knowledge of his presence;
and the old man raising his head from his stooping posture, as the saw
cut through the log, greeted him with a "good morning," that was echoed
by the group.

"There, old woman," said her husband, "you can go help Mary Ann in the
tent, and I'll go on splitting with Reuben. Well, young un," said he,
turning to William, "yon chap at your place, last night, I guess was a
parson; he wanted to give me a sermon, but I didn't see it, so I cut it
short; what does he do there with you?"

"Nothing," replied William, "he is merely a friend of ours, and only
came to the station with me yesterday; he is a kind-hearted excellent
man, and I am sure whatever he would have said to you would have been
sound advice."

"Oh, I never doubt him," said the other, "only I don't like those
parsons, and never get into any arguments with them; whatever you say
they twist so to suit their own ways and sayings. Who would ever have
thought that he would have said that fellow, as I was a talking of, was
any better for a blackguarding of me for offering him of my grog."

"What were the particulars of that story?" enquired William, "you did
not tell us last night."

"Well, if you wants to hear it," replied Sawyer, "I don't mind having a
pull at my pipe for a few minutes while I tell you."

"I would like exceedingly to hear," replied William. Whereupon the old
man took his seat upon the log he had been splitting; filled his pipe
and lit it; while Rueben was resting on his maul, and William, who had
affixed the bridle of his horse to the stirrup, and allowed him to graze
about the spot, took his seat at the old man's side. After ejecting from
his mouth a volume of smoke he commenced the following narrative; which,
for the sake of perspicuity, we will take the liberty of clothing in our
own words.

Old Sawyer was "an old lag," and had been a long time in servitude (and
afterwards in freedom) on the Hunter river. During the latter part of
his career in that district he had been pretty successful as a farmer,
and had accumulated some little means; but agriculture, in his opinion,
ceasing to be a profitable occupation he had determined to turn to
squatting; and had consequently sold his farm, and taken up the run on
which he was then settling. It is of his early career, however, that we
have at present to speak.

At a primary era of his penal servitude he was, in common with most of
his class, assigned to a master in the district in which he was located;
and, after a time, was made by his master an overseer over the other
servants. Amongst those under his supervision, were two young men who
had held some posts of trust in England, and either from some fraudulent
delinquencies, or culpable dereliction of duty, had made themselves
amenable to the then stringent laws of their country, and were
transported to the penal colony. They were both men of education and
gentlemanly bearing; and, from a life in a clerical appointment, they
were both totally unused to manual labour, and unfit to grapple with the
trials of the convict discipline. They were, consequently, awkward and
clumsy in the performance of their allotted tasks; while their inability
was construed, by their truculent master, into perversity and
stubbornness; and he swore, by increased toil and exactions, to break
their gentlemanly pride, as he termed their unskillfulness.

The two young men were put on one occasion, by the direction of the
master, to fell some large trees, and they were given a cross-cut saw
for the purpose; but on the first tree, on which they tried their hands,
they broke their saw. As soon as the circumstance became known to their
employer, he sent them to the magistrate; and had them sentenced to
fifty lashes each for insubordination; and, after the execution of the
sentence, to be sent back to work. They returned to their work, but from
that moment they were altered men. The crushing influence of the convict
system had done its work; they had undergone the demoniacal transition;
and two more victims were added to that mass who breathed only for
vengeance on their tyrants. It was during the period between this
punishment, and the accomplishment of their vengeance, that Sawyer, who
really pitied the poor fellows, had given the bibulous invitation, and
met with the rebuff.

Not long after this, the two convicts made their escape, and took to the
bush; which was scoured for months, over an immense extent, for their
recovery, but ineffectually. Nothing was heard of them for nearly two
years, when one, famished and emaciated, gave himself up at the
settlement; reported the death of his companion; and confessed to the
participation in one of the most horrible crimes on record; that which
we are about to relate.

About six months after the escape of himself and his companion, when it
was supposed they had perished in the wilds of the bush, the man whom we
have mentioned as their master was suddenly missed. Upon instituting a
search his body was found; but in such as state of putrefaction, and
presenting such a hideous spectacle, that it was not removed; but a
hole dug at the spot where it was discovered, and the remains, like any
other vile carcass, shovelled into its last resting-place. The event at
the time was thought of little moment, as the man was generally
detested, and had no friends to agitate the matter; so it was hardly
conjectured who were the perpetrators of his murder, and not until the
criminal himself had confessed to the crime, were the authorities at all
acquainted with the matter.

It appeared that the young men, when they effected their escape,
secreted themselves in gullies and crevices of the rocks; only venturing
out in search of food during the darkness of night. In this way they
existed; enduring the greatest privations, and living only for the hope
of revenge. They waited for the opportunity that was to throw their
victim into their hands, with a patience worthy of a better cause; and
watched with an eagerness and vigilance, almost perpetual, until the
happy moment arrived, and they possessed themselves of the person of
their late detested master.

He had been returning over-land from Sydney, and was leisurely
approaching the settlements of the Hunter, when he was espied by the
convicts. Great was their joy at this moment; though they knew, that
even now that he was within their reach, they would experience great
difficulty in securing him; more especially, as they were convinced he
would be armed, while they were not. However, they determined to risk
their lives in the attempt, for his death to them was sweeter than the
preservation of their own lives.

They secreted themselves, one on either side of the road along which he
had to go; and, at the moment when he was just about passing them, they
simultaneously rushed from their ambush; and, before he was hardly aware
of their presence, they had seized him by the arms, dragged him from his
horse, and deprived him of the fire-arms he had had no time to use.
They then bound him, and led him away into the bush, leaving his horse
to find its way home at pleasure.

The captors, after pinioning the arms of their victim, took him through
the country, over ranges and across gullies, into the recesses of the
bush, where they had taken up their abode; not deigning to enter into
any conversation with him by the way. He, however, treated his captivity
lightly, imagining that they were merely removing him from the road, to
give themselves a surer opportunity of escape when they released him. He
had no doubt but that their object was simply to rob him; and, by
withdrawing him from the chance of assistance, they were only securing
their retreat, in the event of his returning to arrest them after
regaining his liberty. He was therefore consoling himself that he had
very little on him to lose; and would experience very little difficulty
in finding his way to the settlement. Very different ideas traversed the
brains of his captors; though they preserved a uniform taciturnity to
his jocular sallies; and, except that they well guarded against the
possibility of his escape, they took not the slightest notice of him,
and treated him with the most marked contempt.

After walking thus for about two hours, they came to a deep gully,
through which rippled a small limpid creek; on the sides of which, and
extending up the faces of the gorge, were masses of rock piled in
endless confusion. Here they halted, and having secured their prisoner
to a tree, while one lit a fire, the other disappeared among the rocks,
and returned with some edibles, scanty in quantity, and mean in quality.
Having with these appeased their hunger, and quenched their thirst at
the stream; they sat down by the fire, and conversed together in a low
tone; protracting their conclave until darkness enclosed the scene.

The fears of the wretched victim were at length aroused by these
mysterious proceedings. A horrible sensation crept over his mind; he
felt no doubt that the convicts were holding a consultation as to how
they would dispose of him; and he entertained a secret suspicion, that
their object was not plunder, but murder. He still, however, argued with
himself, that they could have no object in taking his life, by which
they would gain nothing; whereas they might enrich themselves by robbing
or ransoming him. He therefore attempted a parley to induce terms.

"I say, young fellows," he shouted, "how long are you going to keep me
here? you may as well take what I have got and let me go; or if you
demand a ransom, let me know the amount, and provide me with pen and
ink, and I will give you a cheque on the bank in Sydney."

"Silence, wretched man!" replied one of the convicts, advancing to him
and presenting one of his own pistols at his head, "or I'll blow out
your brains; we scorn to appropriate an article belonging to you. Even
these instruments of death shall be left with you when we leave you; we
do not desire booty. Your time has come, when you are called upon to
atone to man for your many iniquities: and to-morrow you will have to
account to your God."

"What! you surely do not mean to kill me?" screamed the terrified
captive, in a voice that echoed in a thousand keys through the cavernous
glen: "what have I done to deserve death from you? I have never wronged
you to my knowledge; if I have, I will make all the reparation in my
power; but spare my life, and I will give you whatever you demand."

"'Tis useless, you dog," replied his inquisitors. "If we desired
plunder, we know you too well to believe in promises, extracted from you
under such circumstances as these; and we are also aware of the
impossibility of our procuring the ransom you may offer, or, even if we
got it, of enjoying it."

"No, by heaven!" exclaimed the frantic wretch, "I swear to you on my
soul, spare me my life, and I will give you whatever you ask, one
hundred, five hundred, or a thousand pounds."

"Your prayers to us," replied his captors, "are of no avail, to-morrow
you die; so in the meantime, make your peace with your Maker, if such be
possible."

"But why kill me?" screamed the agonized man, "what have I done to
deserve death?"

"Wretch! do you want a recital of your sins?" replied his quondam
servant; "have they been so insignificant that you cannot call any to
present recollection? Are they not rather as numerous as the hairs on
your head? does not the black and heinous catalogue rise before you, and
darken your very soul? You have asked us why you are to die; I will tell
you, and let God judge between us whether your fate is not your just
reward; while you, vile reptile that you are, answer if you can, if we
have not just cause to require your death to expiate your crimes.

"How have you fulfilled the government requisitions to your assigned
servants? How have you fed them and clothed them? Have not their
coverings been such, as to be as bad or worse than none? insufficient
for any season; causing paralysis in winter, and sun-strokes in summer?
Has not their food been unfit for pigs? Have you not tyrannized over
them, and submitted them to unheard-of cruelties; simply to gratify your
insatiable thirst for witnessing torture? Have you not, when you had a
willing servant, who was anxious to conduct himself orderly and give
satisfaction, made some paltry excuse to have the man punished; because
you feared you would lose his services, by his obtaining his 'ticket of
leave,' for good conduct? Have you not done all this? Yes! and more. You
have even compelled your men to intoxicate themselves; and then accused
them before a magistrate of stealing the spirits, to obtain the
cancelling of their tickets. You have by your cruelty driven men mad, to
the bush, or to a lingering death; you have crushed the germ of
contrition in the breasts of hundreds, and degraded them to the level of
beasts; while the only sounds grateful to your ears, have been the yells
of anguish of your victims; and the only spectacle pleasing to your
sight, the application of the lash. You have done all this, and even
more in hundreds or thousands of cases. You have done so to us; you have
heaped ignominy upon our heads; and with starvation, exposure, and
accumulated toil, you have caused unjustly our backs to be lacerated by
the lash, and our spirits to be broken by your barbarity. Life to us has
lost its charm; we thirst only for your blood; vengeance is now in our
hands, and you shall die."

The yells of the wretched man, that followed this denouncement, sounded
through the glen as the shrieks of a demon or a maniac; and his cries
might have been heard far into the bush, had there been any one near to
help him. But they were lost on the wilderness' air; and he at last sank
exhausted in his bonds, while his captors watched alternately at his
feet, with his own loaded pistols ready for use in case of emergency.

The morning dawned as brightly as ever; though the stillness of the bush
cast a gloom upon everything within its umbrageous influence. The
convicts were up and stirring by daylight, and their first task was to
arouse their unconscious victim (who seemed to doze in a lethargic
indifference), and prepare him for his approaching fate.

He was speedily denuded of his attire, and bound hand and foot; in which
condition he was laid over the bed of an ant's nest, and tied by his
extremities, in a state of tension, to opposite trees; in such a manner
as to keep his body immoveable over the nest. The wretched man soon
awoke to the horrors of his situation, and implored, with the
earnestness of a dying man, of his murderers to save his life. But he
appealed to feelings and sympathies that were dead; that had, in fact,
been strangled by himself: it was in vain. After the most desperate
resistance he was secured in his place of torture, while the very skies
rang with his cries of anguish and despair.

His body was no sooner prostrate on the heap, than the ants in myriads
attacked it vigorously; in a few minutes making its surface black with
their swarms; penetrating into his very flesh, and making use of the
natural channels to affect ingress to his inner system; and travelling
in continuous streams in and out of his nostrils, ears, and mouth. The
horrors of the picture it is impossible to describe; and the expression
of his features it is equally difficult to conceive. The colour of his
skin speedily changed to deep blue; the veins and muscles stood out in
bold relief; his eyes projected from his head, and rolled, bleared as
they were, in sockets of livid flesh; he gnashed his teeth in his
unutterable agony, and rent the air with horrible and impious
imprecations; while the utterance was almost diabolical by the vermin
that choked the passages of his system.

No human being could long bear this excruciating torture; and at last
the body perceptibly swelled, the coeliac or cavernous parts becoming
horribly distended, and the spirit fled to its heavenly judgment. Not
till then, did the two calm spectators leave the spot, where they had
witnessed the death of their victim, and where they now left "nature's
scavengers" to finish the work they had commenced.

The sufferings of the two convicts from this time must have been
fearful; for one shortly succumbed to them, while the other bearing it
for some months longer, gave himself up to the authorities, and met his
fate on the gallows.

After the relation of the above tale of woe the elder Sawyer and his son
resumed their work, and the conversation took a general turn; while
William, who found he could not be of any service to the settlers,
caught his horse and took his leave.

When he returned to his own place he found that, during his absence, the
expected dray had arrived from town with their furniture, which lay
strewn on the ground, in front of the cottage, where it had been
discharged. And he at once became busy in unpacking and sorting the
things; while his brother superintended the refreighting of the vehicle
with what return loading they had for it. The man and wife who had been
hired for them, and who had accompanied the dray, busied themselves in
arranging the things in the cottage.

The proposed visit to the blacks, by this opportune arrival, was
necessarily postponed; and it was determined that William should, that
very afternoon, ride over to Strawberry Hill; inform Kate of the orders
of things; and desire her to join them as soon as possible. John
impressed upon his brother the necessity of urging Kate to lose no time,
as the place would be quite ready for her by the following day; and he
did not think, under the existing circumstances, it was consistent for
her to remain longer with the Rainsfields than was absolutely necessary.
"Of course," he said, "Kate would be perfectly ignorant of the rupture
between myself and Mr. Rainsfield, and might therefore battle against so
speedy and abrupt a termination to her visit." But he left the matter,
he told William, to himself to manage, without entering into any
explanations to their sister, which would necessarily be painful to all
parties; besides which, he had no doubt, when Mrs. Rainsfield perceived
it was his desire to have Kate home with them, she would offer no
objection to her departure, as she would understand his motive for
desiring it.

William was accordingly dispatched on the errand; and returning in the
evening, in company with Tom Rainsfield, gave an account of his
diplomacy. As was anticipated by the brothers, Kate could with
difficulty be persuaded to break off her engagement with the
Rainsfields; but that when she saw that both her brothers desired it,
and that she was not pressed to prolong her visit, she reluctantly
acceded to her brother's request; and promised to be ready to come over
to Fern Vale on the following morning. So William had engaged to return
for her the next day.

"It is lucky for you, my fine friend," said Tom, "that I was not at
home, when you persuaded your sister to such an ungracious
determination; for I, most assuredly, would have annihilated you, and
kept her in captivity. It is really cruel just to leave her with us
sufficiently long to cause us all to adore her; and then snatch her away
from us in such an unceremonious manner. What on earth can you mean by
carrying her off in this way?"

"Why," said John, "we are afraid of losing sight of you altogether, Tom;
you would have forgotten us entirely while you retained possession of
our Kate; and besides we want to make some use of our idle little
sister. But tell us now, if you were not at home when William was at
your house, pray, where did you spring from?"

"I have been over to the black's camp, to try and conciliate the
rascals," replied Tom, "but I am sorry to find they are death on my
brother for his treatment of them."

"You seem to have agitated them by your visit," said John, "for they
have made a fearful disturbance all the afternoon."

"They were holding some discussion when I arrived there," said Tom, "but
they were quieted upon my presenting myself."

"They appear then only to have been 'called to order' by you," said
John, "and maintained it simply during your stay; for did you ever hear
such a Babel of voices as are screaming now; it is enough to deafen us
even at this distance."



CHAPTER VI.

  "If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well
  It were done quickly."

MACBETH, _Act I, Sc. 6._


When Mr. Rainsfield parted from Mr. Billing, after escorting him to the
junction of the Alma and Brompton roads, he returned home to carry out
his contemplated arrangements; in the concatenation of which, his first
step was to remove the stores from the building used as a store to an
apartment in the house; and he had barely effected this, before Tom, his
wife, and Kate returned. When the ladies retired in the evening Tom
asked his brother if John Ferguson had been at Strawberry Hill in the
morning; and how it was that he had not been seen by any other inmate
of the house.

Rainsfield replied that John Ferguson had certainly been there in the
morning; and that the cause of his not having been seen by the family
was an interview that had taken place between himself and Ferguson by
which he, Mr. Rainsfield, had learnt that the blacks were meditating
some fresh outrage; and he would therefore be glad if Tom would
undertake a mission to them to mediate a pacification.

Rainsfield was playing a deep and hazardous game, and he felt it
himself. Even to his brother he had recourse to dissimulation to blind
or divert him from a perception of a stratagem in which he was aware he
could not procure Tom's concurrence. He therefore wished to get him out
of the way while he worked his diabolical machinations. He knew that
whatever the purpose of the blacks might be, they would not be diverted
by the persuasion of Tom; and, as he naturally conceived their object
to be pilfering, he intended to be perfectly prepared for them. At the
same time he wished none of his own family to witness the preparations
he was making.

"Very well," said Tom, "I will go to-morrow; for, to tell you the
truth, I have myself thought for some time that they were hatching some
mischief; and my suspicions were the more aroused when I witnessed,
along with John Ferguson, their last corroboree. It struck me then, more
than once, that I heard your name uttered by them in their song."

"Were you then at the corroboree?" enquired Rainsfield.

"Yes," replied Tom. "But tell me what information John Ferguson imparted
to you, and how he obtained it."

"Well, I can hardly tell you now," said Rainsfield, "for I was so
agitated at the time that much of it was lost to me; but I believe he
said his blacks boys, who had returned from the camp after the
corroboree, had informed him that the tribe intended something; though
what the exact nature of the meditated aggression was, they were unable
or unwilling to explain."

On the following day Rainsfield was anxious to get Tom off before the
arrival of Billing, whose absence he had not perceived. And he wished,
if possible, to prevent the necessity of accounting for the
storekeeper's journey to Alma; the very circumstance of which, unusual
as it was, he knew would excite the wonder of Tom. While, if not
perfectly satisfied with his explanation, he feared his brother might be
induced to seek further information from Mrs. Billing; whom Rainsfield
felt no doubt was a confident of her husband, and acquainted with the
object of the journey, at least such object as was assigned to it by
himself. So he urged upon Tom the advisableness of dispatch, to prevent
the blacks from carrying out their plans, if they meditated anything
that night.

Tom promised to go about mid-day, or early in the afternoon, and to stop
with them until late in the evening, so as to detain them, if they
meditated any outrage on the station, from its execution; and about one
o'clock he took his departure, much to the relief of his brother. Not
long afterwards the horse that was supposed to be carrying the burden of
Mr. Billing's body presented himself at the door of the house, though
minus his rider. The valise was instantly removed by Mr. Rainsfield, who
perceived that the desired articles were therein; and he then dispatched
one of his men, with the horse, to go back and look for the missing
equestrian; without allowing the sensitive nerves of that doating
creature, the sharer of all his earthly troubles, to be unnecessarily
agitated by a knowledge of her husband's abasement.

The rider was not long in returning with the lost representative of
commerce, who had in the agony of his motion, and in a futile effort to
stop the career of his carrier, lost his balance in his saddle, and
described what in skating counties is designated a "spread eagle." He,
however, found himself less hurt than he at first anticipated, and he
speedily adopted a sensible resolution to make the best progress he
could on foot. While the horse, after relieving himself of his
encumbrance, and getting beyond the reach of capture, must have taken
his leisure, for Mr. Billing was no very great distance behind him.

"Well, Mr. Billing," said his master, as that individual addressed made
his appearance in a sorry plight, "how did you enjoy your excursion to
Alma? I am sorry to see you have got thrown; I trust you have not hurt
yourself."

"I am happy, sir, to assure you," replied Mr. Billing, "that, through
the gracious dispensation of Providence, I have sustained no osseous
fractures; though, sir, I may add, my mental agony, and bodily
sufferings, have been such as I never wish again to experience."

"You must expect to have some inconvenience in your first ride, Mr.
Billing," said his master; "but you will find, upon your second attempt,
that the unpleasantness will be diminished."

"That second attempt, sir," replied the little man, "will never be made
by me. I have a positive abhorrence for a horse, sir, and no power on
earth, sir, would induce me to become a chevalier."

"Very well, Mr. Billing," replied the other, "I'll not attempt to
persuade you against your own inclinations; I can only thank you for
your services on this occasion, and if you will meet me in the store,
when you have recovered yourself a little, we will proceed to business;"
saying which, the couple parted.

In the store where Rainsfield entered were, besides sundry articles that
were not strictly alimentary, the carcass of a sheep, suspended from one
of the beams, and a bag of flour; or rather a bag that had contained
flour, for the bag was suspended supinely by two ropes, with its mouth
open; and on a sheet on the floor was heaped the flour it had contained.
To this heap, after closing and locking the door, Rainsfield advanced;
and, first taking a furtive glance around, to satisfy himself that he
was unnoticed, he stooped down and deliberately mixed with it the
arsenic that had been brought by Mr. Billing. He had performed this
operation, and had just rebagged the flour, when Billing turned the
handle of the door, at the sound of which Rainsfield started like a
detected thief.

At no time are the words of the immortal bard, "thus conscience doth
make cowards of us all," more forcibly displayed than when an honourable
or upright man steps from the straight path of honour and integrity to
perform a despicable or criminal action. Thus Mr. Rainsfield could not
quiet the chidings of his conscience, which did not disguise from him
the enormity of the crime he was committing; and when he heard the step
of his storekeeper at the door he felt the weight of contemplated
guilt, and for some moments had not the power of articulation.

Mr. Billing was just turning away, thinking his master was not in the
building, when Mr. Rainsfield opened the door with a blush on his cheek,
and a lie in his mouth, to support his first deception and subsequent
interruption.

"I hardly heard you, Mr. Billing," said he, "when you tried the door, as
I was busy, and I had locked it to prevent being disturbed. You see," he
continued, as his confidential entered, "I have had a sheep killed for
our purpose. This we will now inoculate with the strychnine you have
procured; and we will send it out to the plains for the dogs to consume
to-morrow; and we can continue the operation at frequent intervals until
the animals disappear. The arsenic, I think, we may keep for the
present, and see first how this acts. You will perceive I have removed
all the stores into the house with the exception of this one bag of
flour, which I discovered to be slightly damaged, so had it sifted. I
was just packing it again as you came to the door, and being so much
occupied I did not hear you. By the way," he repeated to himself, "I may
as well close it up;" and turning to Billing, he resumed: "will you be
good enough to step into the house and get me a needle and string?"

Mr. Billing went for the required articles, and during his absence,
Rainsfield removed the sheet on which the flour had been spread, and
destroyed all traces of his labour; so that, upon Billing's return, the
work, or that portion of it, was accomplished, and the bag was placed in
an upright position against the wall.

The sheep was then removed from the beam, and the inside was well rubbed
and besmeared with the poison; after which it was placed in its former
position, and the outside submitted to a similar manipulation. This
completed the pair left the store; the door was locked by the master,
and the key taken away by him to prevent, as he said, the possibility
of accidents.

"Do you not think," suggested Mr. Billing, "we had better have the flour
removed into the house?"

"Oh, no, it does not signify to-day," replied Rainsfield, "it will take
no harm there until the morning, and we can have it removed then when we
send the fellows up to the plains with the meat."

In the meantime Tom took his way to the blacks' camp, where he found a
large number of the tribe collected; and all in apparent agitation. He
at once perceived that some event was about to take place, and he
conjectured that what was intended was a sortie on his brother's
station. The men were mostly standing before the entrances to their
"gunyahs," facing one another in the circular enclosure; and carrying
on a united disputation at the highest pitch of their voices, all at one
and the same time. They were supported occasionally by the opinions of
the gins, which, though volunteered by those soft, if not fair
creatures, were, as is usually the case even with their civilized
contemporaries, totally unheeded by their lords; who continued their
ratiocination with unabated ardour. Whatever was the nature of the
discussion in progress, it ceased as Tom rode into the midst of the
disputants; and to the sound of the human hubbub succeeded that of the
canine, which, but for the reverence the blacks had for their dogs, Tom
would have silenced by knocking the brains out of a score of the brutes.
He, however, resisted the temptation, and made his way straight up to
the abode of the chief, dismounted, fastened his horse to a tree, and
advanced to the sable scoundrel with a smile; which was returned by a
malignant scowl. This was not lost upon Tom, though he pretended not to
have seen it; and, as he sat down upon a log in front of Dugingi, and
lit his pipe from a fire-stick, he said:

"Well, Dugingi, what are you up to now? I see you have got something in
the wind."

A grunt was the only answer he got to this query; but he pushed his
enquiries and demanded: "Are you going to pay us another visit at
Strawberry Hill, Dugingi?" Still he elicited no information, and began
to be rather disgusted.

"Do you mean to answer me at all, you black thief?" he exclaimed; "see
here! if you won't be civil and open your mouth beyond those grunts,
I'll break your head." And he raised the heavy riding-whip he carried,
as he spoke, in an attitude of menace that made the black shrink to the
entrance of his gunyah.

"What's the matter, Mister Tom?" said Jemmy Davies, who came up at this
juncture, "why are you 'riled?' Has Dugingi been saying anything to
you?"

"No, Jemmy, it is because the wretch won't speak that I am put out. I
have asked him what is the cause of this uproar; and what he is up to
with the tribe; and the brute won't utter a word, but only answers me
with grunts. I am of a good mind to treat him to a sound thrashing for
his insolence; but you tell me, Jemmy, what you are after here?"

"Nothing particular, sir," replied the black; "some of our fellows are
kicking up a row, and they won't be quiet."

"Well, what are they kicking up the row about, Jemmy?"

"One feller said, that another feller hit the other feller's gin,
because the gin beat the other feller's gin's piccanini."

"Well," said Tom, "that is a very lucid explanation of the subject of
discussion in your conclave, Jemmy; but I strongly suspect it is not
strictly true. Now, tell me, were you not hatching some mischief against
us?"

"No, sir, 'pon my honour," exclaimed Jemmy Davies, "we never thought of
such a thing."

"Now, it's no use telling that to me," cried Tom, "I am confident you
were; and I know you have been thinking of it for some time. Were you
not talking about it in your last corroboree; and was not this talk
to-day the continuation of the plot? You may as well confess it to me,
for I know it all; you intend my brother some injury."

"Well, sir," replied the black, "suppose we were talking about Mr.
Rainsfield we would not hurt you."

"I am not at all afraid of your hurting me," exclaimed Tom; "for it's
short work I'd make of a score of you, if you were to try any violence
to me; but why annoy my brother?"

"You see, sir," replied Jemmy, "we all like you, because you are good to
the black fellows; but your brother is bad to us, and the tribe hate
him. They would not kill him because he never killed any of them; but
they still hate him and take his rations."

"That's it!" said Tom; "it is just because you steal his rations that he
is so severe on you; if you had not molested us, he would not have
molested you; but we are obliged to keep you away, because you have
made yourselves dangerous. Why don't you behave yourselves to us, the
same as you do to the Fergusons? and we wouldn't prevent you coming to
the station; but if you persist in stealing I am afraid my brother will
some day be disposed to shoot some of you."

"We don't interfere with Mr. Ferguson," replied Jemmy Davies, "because
he is good to us; and I have told you the reason why we hate Mr.
Rainsfield is because he is bad to us. I don't believe the tribe would
ever like him now however good he would be."

"Will you just try and persuade them, Jemmy, to be a little more civil,"
said Tom, "and depend upon me to get you justice. It is of no use our
always living like this; and you may be sure my brother will shoot some
of you if you continue to steal. Tell me now the truth; are you thinking
of robbing us again?"

"No, sir," replied the black, "don't you believe it. Some of them want
to, and some do not; I don't; I will try and keep the others back."

"That's right, Jemmy," exclaimed Tom, "exert yourself, for depend upon
it it will be better for you, and the tribe too, to remain friendly to
us."

Tom Rainsfield had some confidence in, not only the word of Jemmy
Davies, but also in his influence with the tribe; and therefore believed
the ingenuous story the black told of the animated discussion; his
refusal to acquiesce in the meditated theft; and his desire to deter the
others from its committal. He therefore felt relieved in his mind for
the time being; and determined to impress upon his brother the
necessity, for his own security, of adopting some lenient measures
towards the blacks. In this train of thought, and accompanied by Jemmy
Davies, he left the camp, and returned to the crossing-place of the
river, where he parted with his companion, after obtaining a
re-assurance from him that no outrage would be committed with his
concurrence.

Tom, after crossing the Gibson, and directing his steps homewards, fell
in with William Ferguson, returning from Strawberry Hill, and was easily
persuaded to accompany him and remain the night at Fern Vale; where, in
the meantime, we will leave him to revert to Mr. Rainsfield and his
expected visitors.



CHAPTER VII.

  "Of darkness visible so much he lent,
  As half to show, half veil the deep intent."

POPE.

  "Man's inhumanity to man,
  Makes countless thousands mourn."

BURNS.


After he left the store with Billing Mr. Rainsfield gave particular
instructions that the flocks should be well watched; and he anxiously
waited for the approach of night. When the family retired to rest he
found some excuse to detain him in the sitting-room; and, wondering at
the protracted stay of his brother, he paced the room with a disordered
step and agitated mind. He desired to see Tom back, to hear his report,
and see him retire to his bed; but he waited in vain; while the idea
never occurred to him of the probability of his going over to the
Fergusons. He, however, as the night grew on, extinguished the light in
the room; and, the night being pitch dark, sat with the French light
open, with his eyes and ears strained to their fullest distention to
catch the appearance of any moving object, or any sound in the direction
of the store.

He had remained thus until past midnight when he thought he detected the
sound of voices uttered in a low cadence; and he strained his auricular
organs so as to endeavour to catch some convincing proof of the
proximity of his victims. Again the same sound struck him. It must be
the voices of the blacks, thought he. "It is, by heaven! they are here,"
he mentally exclaimed, as their subdued conversation (which could
plainly be distinguished in the still night air) was again heard. He was
not long either before he had ocular demonstration of their approach;
for round the corner of the store, he could discern, through the
obscurity, the dusky form of a black stealthily and cautiously creeping.

The vision, however, was only transitory, for in a moment Rainsfield
lost sight of the figure, and believing that the fellow's mission might
have been to steal up to the house, and reconnoitre while his
confederates were effecting an entrance to the store, he all but closed
the window; though he still kept his eyes and ears on the alert through
the aperture. Again his ears caught a sound: "ah! the fellow's trying
the door," he muttered; "perhaps you would like the key, my friends?
However, I suppose you won't allow yourselves to be disappointed by a
trifle of a lock; burst it open," he continued, "no one will hear you.
Ah! there you are again! back to your companions, practised burglar! I
suppose your confederates keep in the background, while you try the
premises. You are quite safe; I'll guarantee you shan't be disturbed
this time. Get in any way you like, but don't burn the place."

Such were the mental ejaculations of the proprietor of Strawberry Hill,
as he continued at the window of his sitting-room, holding open a leaf
in each hand, and gazing with breathless attention at the quarter where
the late apparition momentarily disappeared; and with intense anxiety
did he continue to pierce the darkness, in the hope of witnessing a
reappearance of the nocturnal visitant. Nor had he to wait long to be
gratified; for presently a similar object showed itself at the point
which was the focus of Rainsfield's gaze; and almost immediately after
another, and another; and then the obscurely luminous passage was
perfectly darkened with human forms.

This incident was not lost on Rainsfield; he saw at once that the blacks
were determined to effect their purpose; and he secretly indulged in a
fiendish gratulation at the pertinacity with which they were throwing
themselves into his trap. "Ah!" said he, continuing his meditations,
"you are in force are you? why, you must have your whole tribe with you.
Well now, how are you going to manage your business? hark! surely that
must be the door unlocked; yes! there the hinges creak! Well, you
beauties, you have done that cleverly." So he continued to cogitate, and
watch the progress of his scheme's effect, till the dark forms of the
sable thieves could be discerned evidently treading on each other's
heels, while they bore off their purloined prize. Desirous as he was to
satisfy himself whether or not they had decamped with the poisoned meat
and flour, he dared not venture out for fear that some of their number
lurked about the station to cover the retreat of their friends; and not
until he heard from the distance the call of the blacks vibrating in the
bush did he consider himself safe to examine his own premises.

He crept from his ambush with as much stealth as the thieves had
approached his own property; his heart beating almost audibly, and his
eyes glancing furtively around him, attempting to pierce the darkness;
while he started at the sighing of the faintest breath; shrinking at the
sound of his own footsteps, and conjuring the wildest phantasies in the
midnight air. Conscience was at its work, and he felt already the hot
blast of guilt searing his very soul.

He approached the store; the door was open; he entered; the darkness
seemed doubly dark, and nothing could be distinguished in the internal
gloom. He mechanically went to the spot where he had left the bag of
flour; groped with his hands about the wall and on the floor, and found
it gone. He walked across the room, with his arms extended in such a
manner as to come in contact with the suspended carcass if it had been
there; but he found it gone also; and when he had satisfied himself upon
that point, his arms dropt to his side, while he stood musing in the
middle of the building.

"So they have robbed me again, have they?" he muttered; "well, they
will have to answer for their own deaths; it is their own voluntary
action." Conscience, however, refused to be silenced by such sophistry,
and, as the homicide wrapt himself in his self-justification, startled
him from his quietude by uttering in the still small voice, "Thou shalt
not kill." The effect of the rebuke was but momentary, for the man
argues: "I do not kill them, they kill themselves. Surely I may poison
meat for the extermination of vermin; and how more securely can I keep
it than under lock and key? Then if they steal it and eat it, and meet
their death in consequence, surely no blame can be attached to me."

"Thou shalt not kill," still urged the silent monitor; "thou knewest
well the poisoned food would be stolen by the ignorant savages, and thou
didst poison it for that purpose."

"But if the villains persisted in stealing what was poisoned," urged the
guilty man, "they commit the crime of theft; and thereby evoke the
punishment in the death which follows. The fact of its being poisoned
involves no criminality on the part of the owner, because the property
is surreptitiously acquired; thereby relieving him of any participation
in their death by the fact of its means being obtained, not only without
his sanction, but in violation of his precautions to preserve it. If,"
continued the mental disputant, "I had given them the meat intentionally
to destroy them, then would I have been guilty; but having placed it in
what I believed a perfect security, the blacks having voluntarily rushed
upon their doom, am I to be blamed? Did not Achan, when he appropriated
of the spoils of Jericho, meet with the just reward of his disobedience
in his death?"

"Thou shalt not kill," repeated conscience; "and God hateth false lips,
'he that speaketh lies shall perish.' Thou knewest the blacks would
steal the meat, notwithstanding your boasted security of it; and,
moreover, thou didst desire that they should. Their death will not be
upon their own heads, notwithstanding that they meet it through the
committal of a sin. Their sin they commit in ignorance, and God only
shall judge them of it; thou takest their life knowingly, meanly, and
cowardly, and God shall judge you for it. Achan met his death by the
command of the omnipotent Judge, for the disobedience of the divine
command; while your victims have no conception of their infringement of
any law. Dost thou remember the judgments that fell upon David for the
murder of Uriah? Your act is far more atrocious than his; for with him,
the victim was one, and might have been said to have been through the
fortunes of war; while your victims are many, and are murdered in a
cold-blooded way, to screen you from the laws of your country, and the
opinions of men. Heavy is the curse on him who sheddeth man's blood, and
verily the curse of the Lord will smite thee, thou worker of iniquity.
If thou desirest not their death hasten now after them, and prevent
them from eating of the food."

"They would not believe me if I told them it was poisoned," argued
conscience's opponent, "but would simply imagine that I was endeavouring
to recover my property."

"Offer them other for it, or tell them to try it first on their dogs,"
suggested conscience.

"I dare not show myself to them at all," replied the man; "I believe
they would kill me if I did; besides, if they choose to poison
themselves let them. It is no business of mine to prevent them; they
have long been a source of annoyance to me, and no one can blame me for
their death. No jury in the world would convict me of murder; then why
should I fear? Is not self-preservation the first law of nature? and is
not a man perfectly justified in adopting any measure to preserve his
life and his property. If I am to be taxed with the death of these
wretches, whose riddance from the earth will be an inestimable blessing
to the district and civilisation, no one would be justified in killing
an attempted assassin or a burglar; and a landowner, who sets
spring-guns for the protection of his preserves, becomes a murderer if
his instruments of destruction take effect. In fact the law itself has
no right to exercise its jurisdiction in the disposal of life; and the
execution of a condemned criminal is nothing more than a forensic
murder. But why need I allow my morbid fancies or sympathetic feelings
to overcome justice and my own judgment, or frighten me into a belief
that I am committing a sin? No! if it be necessary, I will blazon the
matter to the world, and let my fellow-men judge me; and I am convinced
I will be exonerated from all criminality."

Conscience was stifled for the time; and Rainsfield left the store,
taking care to leave the place precisely as it was vacated by the
blacks; and as the first gray streaks rose above the horizon, heralding
Aurora's approach, he returned to the house as cautiously as he left it;
entering by the open window of the sitting-room, and seeking his bed to
sleep the troubled sleep of a disquieted mind.

At an early hour of the morning, as Mr. Billing resumed his daily
vocations, the robbery on the store was discovered; and the intelligence
was speedily communicated by that individual to his master, who affected
the utmost surprise at the theft, and the deepest concern at the
inevitable fate of the wretched aborigines. "Poor creatures," he
exclaimed, "I would not have cared for the loss of the rations; but to
think that the poor deluded beings are unconsciously the instruments of
their own deaths, through the gratification of their own cupidity, is
truly melancholy. I am vexed at myself for leaving the meat in the
store, for now I see it was the most likely place where it would be
molested. I would give anything to save them; what can be done, Mr.
Billing? can they be warned of their danger before it is too late? I
would not for worlds that the poor wretches should be poisoned, even
though it were through the consumption of stolen food, and,
notwithstanding the thorn they have been in my side; I wish Tom were
here. Speak, Mr. Billing, what can be done?"

Shall we say that this philanthropic consideration for the poor ignorant
blacks was the spontaneous ebullition of a genuine contrition; or a mere
verbose eruption of assumed sympathy, studied and expressed with the
view of disarming suspicion of the sheep being intentionally poisoned
and placed in the store as a trap? Without wishing to be harsh or
uncharitable, we must conscientiously express our fears that the latter
was the case; and that Rainsfield's apparent sorrow for the fate of his
victims was a predetermined link of his scheme.

"I fear nothing can be done, sir," replied Mr. Billing to the query of
his master; "they have evidently been possessed of their booty, sir,
some hours; and, doubtless, by this time it is consumed. I cannot
venture, sir, to suggest any remedy; and would merely recommend that
until we are aware, sir, of the extent of the evil, you would not allow,
sir, the circumstance to prey too much on your mind."

"Do you not think, my dear sir," said Rainsfield, "some good might be
done by sending some one over to warn them of their danger?"

Instant visions of his late journey occurred to the mind of Mr. Billing;
and when he hastily replied, "no, sir, I really think it can be of no
service," he might have been under the impression that it was the
intention of his master to send him as the warning messenger he alluded
to. "I assure you, sir," he repeated, "it can be of no use; for as I
have already stated, sir, I believe that ere this the whole of the
provisions have been consumed."

"But tell me, Billing," enquired the suddenly created philanthropist,
"how was the store entered? because I imagined, that having locked it,
it was perfectly secure."

"It appeared, sir," replied Mr. Billing, "that the cunning scoundrels,
when they discovered the door to be secure, managed, sir, to wrench one
of the slabs out of the back; and from the inside, after effecting an
entrance by that means, they opened the door, sir, for their greater
convenience, and decamped; performing the whole so noiselessly, sir,
that even I who was in their vicinity was not disturbed. And, sir, both
Mrs. Billing and myself are extremely uneasy in our rest. I can assure
you, sir, the slightest noise is likely to arouse either of us. I
remember on one occasion, sir (if you will permit me to make an
observation on my private experience?), before my evil genius prompted
me to break up, sir, my pleasant and comfortable little home in the
mother country, to seek my fortunes, sir, in this inhospitable land, I
resided, as I believe I have already informed you, sir, in the genteel
suburban neighbourhood of Brixton. My means then, sir, enabled me to
possess some of the luxuries of life, of which a cheerful and
comfortable home, sir, I believe to be not the least. However, upon one
occasion, sir, when Mrs. Billing and I had retired to rest; for we were
early people, Mr. Rainsfield, very early people and had a strong
objection to late hours; believing, sir, that they destroy the
constitution, without imparting any satisfaction commensurate to the
loss. Well, sir, as I observed, we had retired early to rest one
evening; and the reigning stillness of the house, sir, was hardly broken
by the musical voice of my wife. I will do her the justice to remark,
sir, that she is a sensible woman, a very sensible woman, sir;
notwithstanding that she was treating me on that occasion, to a little
dissertation on her system of housekeeping; though I would have you
distinctly to understand, sir, not in a style of eloquence peculiar to
that good lady, Mrs. Caudle. That, Mr. Rainsfield, is not one of my
wife's idiosyncrasies; but she prided herself upon her domestic economy,
and she was making a voluntary explanation of her expenditure; while I
was dozing under the influence of her soporific lullaby. My spirit would
have speedily fled to the land of dreams had not my sense of hearing,
sir, detected a sound that was inimical to our peace, and I started
erect in my bed, sir, with my forefinger raised to Mrs. B. to enjoin
silence; while I listened with an ardent attention.

"'What on earth is the matter, James?' exclaimed my wife, sir, 'you
quite frightened me; what made you start in such an extraordinary
manner.'

"'Don't you hear anything, my love?' replied I; 'can't your quick ear
detect sounds that portend to an unpleasant visitation?'

"'No,' she replied, sir, 'what do you mean, James? what sounds?'

"'The sounds of the housebreaker,' I replied, 'attempting to violate the
sanctity of our dwelling. Are you so deaf, my love,' I said, 'that you
cannot hear the regular grating of a saw at work on some of our doors or
shutters?'

"'I can certainly hear some sound,' she replied, 'but it is only the
gnawing of a rat, or a mouse in the wainscot of the room; rest your mind
easy, James,' she continued, 'no thieves would think it worth their
while to molest us.'

"'I am not so sure of that, my dear,' I replied; 'but, even if I were,
do you imagine that I would lie dormantly in my bed (while I was
convinced some nocturnal villain was attempting to enter my premises),
perhaps to see the wife of my bosom murdered in cold blood before my
very eyes, and possibly have my own throat cut afterwards to complete
the tragedy?'

"My apprehensions were not entertained by my wife, sir, for she urged me
to lie down. 'Do not frighten yourself at nothing,' she exclaimed, 'and
alarm me so at your dreadful imageries; allow me to convince you it is
all fancy; besides if thieves tried to get in, all the places are too
well secured for them to gain an entrance.'

"'Ah, my wife!' said I, 'there you show your inexperience; a practised
housebreaker would not be deterred by the presence of bars, bolts, or
locks; the greater the supposed security, the greater are the chances of
his success; besides while my suspicions are aroused, I could not rest
until I had satisfied myself that they are groundless, and that is
speedily done. So I am determined to see;' with which I got out of bed,
and with many cautions from my wife, in the event of my discovering any
thieves, not to venture into danger or to allow myself, sir, in my
indignation, or courage, to be exposed to either the ruffians or the
night air, I hastily threw some clothes over me to guard against the
risk of catching cold; for I was always susceptible to cold, sir. I
quietly crept down stairs, sir, and the sound that greeted my ears
distinctly proclaimed the fact that the thieves, sir, were at their
nefarious work. When I reached the passage I perceived, sir, they were
not at the front door; so, hastily entering the parlour and convincing
myself, sir, that they were not there, I seized a poker for my personal
protection, and descended, sir, towards the basement of the house. As I
turned for this purpose, sir, the sound which had momentarily ceased,
now recommenced, and I could detect it, sir, almost in my very presence.
It was at a door leading into our garden and back premises, and in the
indistinct light of the spot, I had almost said total darkness, sir, I
perceived a saw at work cutting through the panel of the door. It was
being industriously plied, sir, by some one on the outside, and at the
time of my arrival, sir, had almost completed its work of extracting a
piece sufficiently large to allow a man's arm to be thrust through, by
which means I imagine, sir, the operator intended to unfasten the door.
However, sir, the instrument, which I discovered was of a tender
description, I snapped asunder with one blow, sir, of the weapon I held
in my hand; and, with as truculent a voice as I could assume, informed
my visitors, sir, that unless they instantly decamped, I would fire on
them. My interruption to their proceedings, sir, was hailed with a
volley of combined expletives; after the utterance of which, sir, I had
the satisfaction of distinctly hearing the sounds of their retreating
footsteps, and could see from one of my back windows, to which I had
removed to prospect, two ill-favoured looking rascals clambering over
the garden wall. So, sir, if it had not been for my quickness of hearing
on that occasion, I should of a certainty have been robbed, and most
probably murdered."

"You certainly made a happy escape, Mr. Billing," said Rainsfield, after
listening, or appearing to listen, to this episode in the history of his
storekeeper; "but I regret your hearing did not render you much service
on this occasion, and surely the blacks, to have taken out one of the
slabs in the store, must have made some considerable noise."

"No, Mr. Rainsfield," replied the bland _employé_, "I assure you, sir,
there could have been no noise; otherwise, sir, with my keen hearing, I
would of a certainty have been disturbed; but their movements, sir, are
like cats, and I defy any one, I say, sir, any one, to hear them, even
were an individual awake, and as close to them as I was when sleeping."

Rainsfield smiled, possibly at the conceit of the little man, but at the
same time, probably, at his knowledge to the contrary; however, it was
not his object, either to quarrel with Billing, or to enlighten him, so
he remarked:

"I think you had better go over to the Fergusons, Mr. Billing, and see
if Tom is there; I imagine he is; and explain the circumstances to him,
and tell him I would like him to see what effect the unhappy event has
had at the camp. I think it is better that you should go in preference
to any of the men, as the circumstances are better known to you. You can
either ride over, or if you prefer it, which possibly you may, you can
take the ration cart; and I have only to entreat you to use as much
speed as possible. I am desirous of disabusing the minds of the blacks
(if any, indeed, survive) of any intentional harm to them being
meditated by me; and I am aware no one could better undertake such a
mission than my brother."

Mr. Billing readily agreed to visit Fern Vale, the more so, perhaps, as
he imagined by offering any objection he might be required to perform a
less agreeable journey. So as he was not to undergo another edition of
the punishment of the Alma trip, he readily agreed, and was, therefore,
speedily on his way to Fern Vale, to look for Tom Rainsfield.

After Billing's departure, Mr. Rainsfield again visited the store, to
witness in daylight the success of his trap; and he contemplated the gap
in the wall, and the absence of the flour and meat with a degree of
complacency and satisfaction that would almost have impressed a beholder
with a belief that he was inwardly comforting himself with the
meditation of a recently performed charitable action.

"Well, I begin to think," said he to himself, "that my plans have been
executed pretty cleverly. Everybody will believe that the blackguards
have been poisoned by mistake; and their own mistake too. So that no
blame can be attached to me; and I shall have the immense advantage of
having effectually stopped their depredations. I wonder what my friend
John Ferguson will do for his _protegés_? will he pine for them? Perhaps
he may recriminate me for my treatment of him, and try to accuse me of
their murder; but he can't, and he dare not. The law will protect me;
and if he dares to breathe one word against my name he shall rue the day
he uttered it. I hate that young viper as intensely as formerly I liked
him. He has thwarted me in more ways than one; he dares to oppose
Smithers in his suit with Eleanor, and to show his contempt for me by
carrying on his intrigue under my very eyes, and in my own house too.
But he shall not have her; so long as there is breath in my body I will
not permit it, in fact I cannot; she must be Smithers', and, by heaven!
she shall. He has dared to show fight after I cautioned him; the
villain! and then to inflame those infernal blacks against me; the vile
dog! he shall smart for it. His lively blacks have already got their
deserts; and, I have no doubt, by this time are rotting on their own
ground."

"Thou shalt not kill," suggested conscience.

"Oh, bah!" exclaimed the culprit, "what a fool I am, to be continually
chiding myself for the fate of these wretches. They die by their own
act, so let their death be answered for by themselves;" saying, or
rather thinking which, the conscience-stricken man turned on his heel
and left the store.

In the meantime let us retrospect for a few hours, and trace the
movements and proceedings at the camp. When Jemmy Davis left Tom
Rainsfield at the crossing-place, he returned to the camp, where the
discussion, interrupted by Tom's arrival, was renewed with increased
force. The excitement of the disputants ran so high that any one
unacquainted with the verbose inanition of such argumentary proceedings,
and the natural antipathy of the blacks to bellicosity, would have
imagined that the termination of the meeting would have been of a
tragical character. However, it ended, as all such meetings usually do
with them, viz., in words; and, towards midnight, the animated
disputants sank under the fatigue of their disquisition, and in a short
time all was hushed.

As the embers of the fires gave a fitful glare on the now silenced camp
a head might have been seen protruding from the aperture of one of the
gunyahs; and, after surveying the scene for some time, and putting its
ear to the ground to catch, if possible, any sound that would denote
watchfulness on the part of the tribe, it, or rather the body to which
it belonged, crept from the habitation in that posture designated in
nursery parlance "all fours." With spear in hand it passed round to the
back; where the individual assumed a more upright position, though he
still crept under the shade of the gunyahs. Then lightly striking in
succession the bark structures with his spear as he went along he was
joined by about twenty men; whose appearance was so sudden that they
almost appeared to have been called into instantaneous existence by the
potent wand of the conjurer.

This was Dugingi and a select band of confederates, his supporters in
the late discussion; and they moved away from the camp, to carry out
their predetermined plot of robbing the store of the Strawberry Hill
station. The opposition to the scheme had been strenuous; and the
disapproving blacks, headed by Jemmy Davies, being the most numerous and
loud in their condemnation of the project, had retired, fully convinced
that the idea had been abandoned by Dugingi and his party. But they had
been deceived, for Dugingi was only quieted, not dissuaded; and the
present secret expedition was the result of the defeat on his motion for
a general movement. He was determined, in his own mind, to rob the
premises of Mr. Rainsfield; and, if he could not obtain the concurrence
of his tribe, he was resolved to perform it simply with the assistance
of some of his own party.

We have already seen how he affected an entrance to the store; so we
need not trouble our readers by tracing his movements while perpetrating
the theft. Suffice it to say, that at an early hour in the morning, the
party returned to the camp with all the rations they could lay their
hands upon in the store; and which, we have already noticed, consisted
of the carcass of a sheep and a bag of flour.

Their first proceeding, then, was to heap up their fires; on which they
threw their meat to roast, and then set the gins to work with the flour
to make "damper." These preparations soon aroused the entire camp, who
were in a moment alive and stirring. At the first glance Jemmy Davies
detected the state of affairs; and saw that he had been outwitted by
Dugingi; who, while he (Jemmy) and his party slept, had committed the
theft, and were now preparing to feast on the spoil. He was grieved at
the sight; because he had given his word to Tom Rainsfield that he
would prevent any outrage if possible, and he had a sincere desire to
pacify his countrymen in their animosity towards Mr. Rainsfield. He
therefore cautioned his partizans against tasting the food; and, in the
language of his tribe, addressed them in the following words:

"My brothers--our brother Dugingi has behaved bad to us; and bad to the
white fellow. Bad to us, because he went away to the white fellows'
'humpey,' when we wanted him not to go, and when, if we had known him
going, we would have prevented him; and bad to the white fellows because
he steals his 'rations.' The white fellow is very strong, and very
brave; and has plenty of horses and guns; and he will take revenge on
the black fellow. Dugingi steals the white fellow's rations, and the
white fellow thinks all the Nungar tribe steals it, and he will hate all
the Nungar tribe. I have been to the great country where the white
fellows 'sit down.' Our fathers thought once that when the black fellow
dies he afterwards 'jump up white fellow;' but white fellows come a
'long way more farther' than big waters, and have gunyahs higher than
the tall bunya tree; and with very many humpies in them. Some of them
would hold all the Nungar tribe. Now, my brothers, do you think we can
fight against the white fellows? The white fellows will fight us, if we
steal their rations; and we cannot fight them, for they must kill us if
we do. Now, the white fellow _will_ fight us, for Dugingi has stolen his
rations; he has brought upon us this trouble; for he did it when we
wished him not to; and the white fellow will think all the Nungar black
fellows did it.

"Now this is what I say. I have been telling the white fellow Tom
Rainsfield, that we would not steal from his brother; and I've been
telling him that we want to live, and we want to be friends with him and
his brother, as we are friends with the white fellow Ferguson and his
brother. And the white fellow Tom Rainsfield says he is friends with us.
Now what do you think he will say when he finds the black fellow has
been stealing his rations? He will say all black fellows are rogues, and
all black fellows liars; and he will no longer be our friend. But, my
brothers, you take not the food from Dugingi that he has stolen from the
white fellow. Touch it not; but let him and his friends eat it if they
will, and let them give it to their gins if they will; and may it choke
them, and may they die. But I will go to the white fellows, and will
tell them myself, that Dugingi and his friends did steal the rations,
and not the Nungar tribe; so we, my brothers, will be friends with the
white fellows."

At the conclusion of this address Jemmy Davies left the thieves in
possession of their prize, and was followed by the majority of his
supporters; notwithstanding that the savoury smell of the roasting meat
was particularly grateful to their olfactory nerves, and they were sadly
tempted to remain and partake.

Dugingi little heeded the harangue of his opponent, which was greeted
with a shout of derision from the whole of the foraging party; who
continued with their culinary operations in the highest possible state
of hilarious loquacity; rending the air with their shouts, and making
the bush reverberate with their laughter.

The sheep was speedily so far cooked as to serve their purposes, and
tearing it to pieces amongst them they were soon busily engaged in the
process of mastication. The "damper" was devoured with equal avidity;
and when they had all eaten to satiety, as the sun rose resplendent to
walk his diurnal course, they stretched themselves to sleep with the
complacency of satisfied gormands.

No such comfort, however, was allowed them. First one, and then another,
became restless; a gnawing pain devoured their stomachs; an insatiable
thirst consumed them; and then the first painful wail was heard that
proclaimed the poison at its work. The wail increased; the agonies of
the victims became insufferable; and, in their anguish and suffering,
many rushed to the river to drink their last draught; while others threw
themselves into the fires or on the ground, gnashing their teeth and
biting the earth in the intensity of their torments. All now bemoaned
their fate, and cursed their participation in what they plainly saw was
their funeral feast.

Jemmy Davies calmly, though sorrowfully, gazed upon the scene. He
imagined the cause of his countrymen's sufferings, for he had, in the
days of his civilisation, seen his master poison meat for the native
dogs, and he had seen them die from the effects of the poison. He
therefore understood its mysterious workings, and at once detected its
operations in the suffering beings before him. Not so his countrymen;
they imagined their fate was produced by his curse; believing that he
possessed the secret power of working their death by some spells or
occult influence he had acquired from the whites; and they therefore
crouched before him and implored his relief. But he, poor semi-savage,
could do nothing for them, and he knew they must die. The melancholy
scene before him overcame his fortitude, and he burst into tears as he
exclaimed:

"I can't help you, my brothers; I do not kill you, it is the white
fellow that kills you for stealing his rations. He has made his meat to
kill you because you eat it; if you had not eaten it you would have
lived."



CHAPTER VIII.

  "In Lybian groves, where damned rites are done,
  That bathe the rocks in blood, and veil the sun."

CAMPBELL.


As the residents of Fern Vale early bestirred themselves on this
eventful morning their astonishment was great at the continued
altercations which seemed to agitate the black's camp. None of the party
had ever heard them continue their discussions so unceasingly; and the
Fergusons and their friends were disposed to think that it presaged some
evil. They therefore proposed, that their intended visit for that day
should be made at once, so that they might learn the cause of the
strange agitation; and acting on this decision the four horsemen were
speedily mounted and on their way to the "flats."

They had reached the bank of the river, and were about entering the
water to cross, when they were stopped by hearing a voice in their rear
calling upon Tom Rainsfield. He instantly turned towards the new comer,
whose appearance greatly surprised him, and anxiously demanded of him
the nature of his message. This was given in as few words as Mr.
Billing's habitual sinuosity of expression could devise utterance; and
hastily desiring the storekeeper to remain where he was with the cart
until his (Tom's) return from the camp, he joined his friends and rode
through the ford.

"What is the matter with you, Tom?" said William as they passed through
the water, "you seem quite nervous and agitated? Has Billing brought you
any news that has annoyed you?"

"He has indeed, my dear fellow," replied Tom, "brought me news that
overwhelms me. How my brother will be able to reconcile the act to his
conscience I do not know; when I, who, as God knows, had no
participation in it, feel the weight of murder on my soul."

"Murder!" exclaimed his friends. "What on earth do you mean Tom? you're
surely raving! How murder? explain yourself," said John.

"I wish to God I was raving," replied he; "that my fears were only a
fantasy of the mind; or that that prating idiot Billing had merely
dreamed the story he has just now told me. But it seems too substantial;
all the circumstances that have transpired, and those that are at this
very time transpiring, lead to prove it. There! hear you that wail? that
is the death-cry of scores of those wretched blacks. Hark! there it is
again; does not that cry rise up to heaven? and will not our family
there be judged for this? If I could but think it were accidental I
would be satisfied; though I fear, I fear, oh, horrid thought! murdered
by my brother."

"Calm yourself, my dear sir," said the minister, who had with deep
sorrow been witnessing the outpourings of his companion's grief. "Though
you have not mentioned to us the nature of the communication received
through the messenger from your home, we would infer from your remarks
that some dreadful calamity has come upon this tribe through the agency
of your brother; whom, God forbid that you should condemn, without being
thoroughly convinced of his guilt. It affords us consolation to hear you
express only a fear that your brother has not acted up to the precepts
of his Maker, and the dictates of his conscience. I sincerely trust, as
I believe, that your fears are groundless, and that you over-estimate
the criminality, if any criminality exist. I pray you dispel any such
belief from your mind, until at least you have indubitable proof of your
brother's crime; and, in the meantime, be charitably disposed towards
him, for you may be doing him an injustice by your harsh suspicions. It
is true we are unacquainted with the circumstances which arouse them,
but we sincerely trust you will find you have been deceived."

"I would readily, oh! I long to believe," exclaimed Tom Rainsfield,
"that it was unintentional; but my heart tells me there has been
duplicity. I feel a portion of the mental load, consequent on crime,
attached to me; for only the night before I pledged my word to those who
may be now in the convulsive agonies of death that I would befriend them
and bring about a reconciliation with my brother. I know his nature
well; he is hasty and impetuous; and, though kind-hearted and generous,
he is severe and even cruel where his passions are aroused; so I fear
the worst. But I will tell you the cause of these people's wails. It
appears that my brother, after I had left the station yesterday,
poisoned a sheep for the purpose, he said, of destroying the native dogs
on the station. That sheep was left in the store during the night, when
it was stolen by the blacks, who have, no doubt ere this, feasted on
it, and are meeting their fate in a violent death. Now, the
circumstances which I am surprised at, and deprecate, are
these:--Leaving the poisoned meat in a place above all others where, if
the blacks intended to visit us, they would go first; sending Billing
clandestinely into Alma for the poison; and having all the stores
removed into the house during his absence, leaving nothing in it but the
poisoned meat, and a bag of flour, in the full expectation, I am afraid,
that the blacks were going to rob us. But the most extraordinary part of
my brother's conduct is, that he kept me in entire ignorance of
Billing's journey, which in itself was unusual, for he never before left
the station on any pretence; and the next incongruity was this crusade
against the dingos, which have given us no annoyance for some time past.
Many smaller events now flash across my mind, which tend to stimulate my
fears; however, as you kindly remark, I ought not to judge too harshly
of my brother; and I will try, until I see more definite cause for my
alarms, to believe him innocent of any intentional murder. But listen to
those poor wretches; are not their cries piteous?"

Truly they were; and as the shrieks and howls of the victims pierced the
ears of the quartette, as they crossed the river and entered the scrub,
all their feelings of compassion were aroused; and they accelerated
their speed, hoping to be of assistance, where no human efforts could
avail.

The picture that presented itself to their astonished vision, as they
emerged from the mazy labyrinths of the scrub into the area of the camp,
was fearfully sickening and revolting. Scattered on the ground, in
indescribable postures and contortions, were writhing bodies of men
women and children, giving vent to cries that would have melted a heart
of stone; anon starting from their recumbent position, to stand erect in
the freshness of the morning breeze, only to enjoy a momentary respite;
and then flinging their arms wildly in the air with an agonizing shout,
to fall again prostrate to the earth, and yield, with a convulsive
shudder, their spirits to their Maker.

Our party had gazed upon this scene for some minutes ere the miserable
objects before them noticed their presence; the extent of their
sufferings absorbing all their faculties, and our friends remained
unnoticed or unheeded spectators of the dire destruction working around
them. However, they were at last perceived; and, before they could
devise the meaning, many of the suffering objects crawled to their feet,
and with imploring looks and gestures, sought relief from that death
which they imagined was the result of some mysterious agency caused by
the will of the white man. The malady had reached its exacerbation; and
the miserable sufferers, as they prostrated themselves at the feet of
their white-skinned brethren, sank in groups to rise no more. The
picture was more than affecting (even if such existed) to natures
possessed of no spark of human feeling; while to Tom its contemplation
was fearful, and he turned from the spot to conceal his emotion.

Mr. Wigton, recovering from a momentary abstraction into which he had
been cast by sorrows of the event, addressed to the sufferers in their
own language words of commiseration and comfort. He did not, however,
disguise from them their condition; but told them they would not live,
for that they had eaten of that which destroyed life, even the white
man's life; and that no white man could help them.

"Then why did the white man kill us?" they piteously asked.

"My brothers," replied the messenger of peace, "the white man made the
food for the dingos which kill his sheep, and your brothers did steal
the food, and did eat it, and will die; but the white man is sorry that
you eat it, and is sorry that you die. We would all save you if we
could, but we can't; and, my poor brothers, we can only ask the great
Spirit in the skies to look down upon you and save you if He will. He is
a good and great Spirit and could save you, if you would be His children
and His brothers; He loves even the black fellow, if the black fellow
will love Him; and He knows all about the black fellow, what the black
fellow likes, and does, and thinks. He lived a long time ago down on the
ground with us, and told us all these things, and He now lives in the
skies, and sees all that the black fellows do. He saw the black fellows
last night steal the food, and He was very angry with them; but He would
forgive, even as the white man forgives them, if they would be sorry for
doing bad things, and would do them no more, but love the great Spirit.
But the great Spirit says some of you have been very bad, and that you
will not love Him; and so you must die. But if you will love him, He
will save some of you, even some of you that have eaten the white man's
food."

The wail that followed this _petite_ sermon of Mr. Wigton was the death
knell of many; while the preacher himself was so overcome by the horrors
of the scene that he had not perceived the approach of a ferocious
black, who, leaping over the bodies of the dead and dying, advanced to
within a few feet of him. This being confronted him in a menacing
attitude almost face to face, and held a spear poised in his uplifted
hand ready to bury it in the heart of the clergyman whenever he should
so determine.

He was a tall athletic black, of good make, and, for an aboriginal,
considerable muscular development; he had a determined and ferocious
aspect; his eyes were blood-shot and swollen; his nostrils were dilated,
while they exuded a fetid secretion horribly offensive. He foamed at his
mouth, and the sinews and muscles of his face contracting spasmodically
under the influence of the agonies caused by the poison he had taken, he
presented a most hideous spectacle. Instantly upon confronting the
clergyman, he accosted him thus:

"You not know me, white man? I am Barwang; brother belonging to Dugingi,
and he is dead. The white fellow kill him, and kill plenty of black
fellow: but I live. I not die, though very sick. I live to kill all
white fellows. You like to see black fellow die: you think black fellow
cannot kill white fellow, you shall see." He stretched his arm with the
poised weapon to pierce the heart of Mr. Wigton; but just at that
moment, when the spear was leaving the fingers of Barwang, it was
suddenly snatched from his grasp by a black, who sprang from some
covert, and, passing behind his countryman with a bound, deprived him of
the offensive weapon; and stood in his turn with it balanced towards the
frustrated homicide. At the same moment Tom Rainsfield, who had
witnessed the danger of Mr. Wigton, leapt forward to protect him with
his person, though the opportune act of the friendly black rendered such
unnecessary; while Barwang, thus seeing himself assailed on both sides,
made good his retreat.

"Thank you, Jemmy Davies," said Tom, "that was nobly done, and an act I
will not forget. I have been looking out for you ever since I have been
in the camp, but have never seen you until this moment. At last I began
to fear that you had fallen a victim to this dreadful malady, but am
pleased to see that you at least have escaped. This has been a fearful
business, Jemmy, and it has given me much sorrow; from what I told you
last night, and from what you told me, I thought we would have been able
to have established a friendship between your tribe and ourselves, and I
felt perfectly satisfied that our hostilities were at an end. I did not
go home last night, Jemmy (perhaps if I had I might have prevented the
robbery, and averted the fate of so many of your tribe); and this
morning my brother sent over to tell me that the black fellows had
robbed his store, and taken away a sheep that he had poisoned for the
native dogs. So you see, Jemmy, your tribe came by their death by
persisting in stealing our goods. Many would say that they merit their
fate, but I, Jemmy, am very very sorry, and would have given anything I
am possessed of to have prevented it."

"I believe you, Mr. Tom," replied the black. "I know you are a good
friend to the black fellow, and would not do him any hurt; but Dugingi
and his friends behaved bad to us, and to you, and have died, and it is
well. They left the camp in the night, after promising me and my friends
that they would not steal any more from your brother; and we went to
sleep, believing them that they would not go. But they did go, and stole
the meat and the flour, and the first that I knew of it was, in the
morning, hearing them make a noise as they were roasting it. I saw at
once what they had done, and spoke to all the tribe. I told them they
would never live in their country if they stole from the white fellow,
because the white fellow was strong and would kill them; and that it
was better to be friends with the white fellow and live. But the friends
of Dugingi would not hear me, and they did eat; but all my friends, that
wished to be friends with the white fellow, would not eat it, and I told
them they were right, for the food would do them no good. But Dugingi
laughed at me, and roasted the meat and made damper with the flour; and
he and his brothers and friends eat the meat, and they gave the damper
to their gins and piccaninies. They all died, except Barwang and two or
three more, who quarrelled over their shares, and had it eaten by the
others. So they have not died because they did not get enough to kill
them. If they had seen you alone they would have tried to kill you; and
it was because I saw Barwang coming to you that I watched him and took
his spear. He won't stop with us now, he will be too frightened, and
will go with his friends to the tribe in the mountains."

"Did you say," asked Tom, "that the gins and piccaninies only eat the
damper? did they not get any of the meat? Surely they did not die by
only eating the damper?"

"Yes, Mr. Tom," replied the black, "only damper, and they died too. The
damper and meat were both poison together; the black fellows eat the
meat and they died, and the gins and piccaninies eat the damper and they
died."

A cloud came over the brow of Tom Rainsfield as he heard this. "As I
dreaded!" he muttered to himself. "I would almost have given my life,
Jemmy, to have prevented this; but it is done, and it cannot be
remedied. The only satisfaction I feel is that you were wise, Jemmy, and
would not let yourself or your friends taste the poison, thus saving
yourself and them. I will stop with you now a little while, and see what
I can do for you; but wait;" and turning to his friends he said to them:
"I will remain here with Jemmy Davies for some hours, but I need not
detain you. Leave me here, and return home; and if you will merely
mention to Billing what you have seen, that will be sufficient for him
to communicate to his master."

"William was going over to your place this morning," replied John, "and
he may as well depart at once; but for ourselves, I will remain with
you, and I have no doubt it is the intention of Mr. Wigton to do the
same."

The latter gentleman having expressed his determination to wait at the
camp William was dispatched to join Mr. Billing, to whom he was to
communicate the tidings of death, and then proceed to Strawberry Hill to
take home his sister.

The three whites, accompanied by their black friend, now walked through
the camp; and for the first time saw the extent of the devastation. It
was now stilled. Bodies lay scattered in every direction, while no
strife or contention now agitated their minds. It appeared as if the
destroying angel had spread his arm over the devoted tribe, and hushed
their voices for ever; for death had done his work with an effectual
hand; and though only a portion had suffered, the rest, from a fear to
face the grim tyrant in the majesty of his presence, lay concealed
within the precincts of their own habitations.

When we stand by the couch that supports the frame of some dear friend
or relative, while the spirit wafts itself from its earthly shrine to
that ethereal haven of its rest where it "beacon's from the abode where
the eternal are;" and when the slightest utterance of grief is
suppressed in the solemn silence that we maintain to catch the last
breath of the departing loved one: and when that soul is fled, and we
gaze on the placid features, and fear ourselves to breathe lest we
should disturb the sleep of the quiescent and unconscious clay, and
recall its spirit to a renewal of its earthly trials: when we visit the
scene of some mighty conflict (sombred and silenced by the shades of
night), where the powers militant have exhausted their strength, and
left their best blood and blossom of their countries to bleach upon the
battle plain: when we walk through the desolate streets of an infected
city, where pestilence has cut off the first-born in every family, and
where no sound is heard save the faint cries of the dying, or the
distant rumbling of mortals' last mundane vehicle: wherever, in fact,
and whenever we gaze upon scenes where the grave reigns paramount, then
we feel the true force of the expression "the stillness of death
prevailed." And as Tom Rainsfield and his party threaded the corpses of
young and old, men, women, and children, they felt the awfulness of the
scene, and were too much absorbed with their own thoughts, to break a
silence that was a mutual comfort and respite.

"Here is some of the damper, sir," said Jemmy Davies, as he pointed to
the lifeless form of a gin, with a large piece in her hand, clutched as
in the agony of death. "You see, sir, she has been eating that, and it
has killed her; for the black fellows themselves eat all the meat."

What the feelings of Tom were, when he stooped to release the pernicious
food from the grasp of the woman, we cannot describe; but sorrow was
depicted in his countenance, and his strong manly features were
disturbed by the force of his mental sufferings. He silently broke off a
small piece from the lump; and, kindling a flame from the embers of one
of the fast dying fires, burnt it to endeavour to detect the presence of
arsenic by its exhalation of a garlic odour. Not satisfying himself by
this test, he put the remains into his pocket while he said to the
black, "I will take this with me, Jemmy, and see if it contains any
poison; but I trust to God you are mistaken, and that these poor deluded
wretches have at least in this eaten wholesome food. "Oh, harrowing
thought!" he exclaimed, "to think that my brother should have been the
witting instrument of this people's destruction."

"By this," said Mr. Wigton, "it would certainly appear strange; but we
must not deprecate your brother's conduct on mere suspicion. You know
the Scriptures tell us that we are to 'judge not lest we also be
judged;' and also that vengeance rests with the Almighty. If your
brother has committed this great wickedness and sinned against his God,
let his Maker be his judge, and his own conscience his scourge; for
'cursed are they who worketh iniquity,' and 'the judgment of the Lord
overtaketh the evil-doers,' even in this life; while in the next, 'the
wages of sin is death.' He may escape the punishment of a human
judicature, but he can never wholly satisfy the still small voice of
conscience, nor at all escape the high tribunal of his Maker. When the
last trump of the archangel shall summon him before the 'great white
throne,' to give an account of the deeds done in the body, then shall
the true nature of this action be known, whether it was the result of a
mere inadvertency, or the premeditated plan of murder. In the meantime,
with all sincerity, I pray God that it may be the former; and that the
soul of your brother may not be inscribed with the guilt of so
diabolical a crime as the destruction of so many of his
fellow-creatures. It is but right that all justice should be given him;
and therefore, in the first place, I think you are correct in
determining whether or not the flour contains poison, as surmised by
Jemmy Davies. If it does, submit the fact to your brother for
explanation, and afford him an opportunity (if it be possible) of
exculpating himself."

"I agree with you perfectly, Mr. Wigton," replied Tom; "let the Almighty
and my brother's conscience be his judges, if he has committed this
crime. But I feel for these poor blacks, the more that I have
endeavoured to bring about a reconciliation, and only last night pledged
myself to befriend them."

"I know and all my friends know, Mister Tom," exclaimed Jemmy Davies,
"that you would not do us any harm, and we all like you; yet most of our
tribe hate your brother for this, though Dugingi did steal the meat,
and they did not want him to. I am not angry with your brother, but my
friends are; and I am afraid they never will like him. You will not be
troubled any more with us, for my friends will never steal from your
brother; but they will always be frightened to take anything from him as
friends."

"I am exceedingly sorry to hear you say that," said Tom, "as I had
hoped, even out of this catastrophe, some good might have resulted. I
had thought that since the removal of our implacable opponent we could
have lived on terms of amity with your tribe; and I yet hope to
accomplish that aim. However, in the meantime, let us see what can be
done with the bodies."

"If you will permit me to make a suggestion," said John Ferguson, "you
will let me go home, and get one or two of our men with spades, that we
may dig one grave for the whole of the bodies."

"No, Mr. Ferguson," replied Jemmy Davies. "My tribe would not like them
buried that way; they would rather do it their own way, thank you. We
will bury them here in the camp, and then leave it for ever. We will
bury them all to-day, and then good-bye. You had better not stop Mr.
Ferguson and Mr. Tom; leave us now, and we'll say good-bye."

"My friend! permit us to stay," said Mr. Wigton; "we wish to befriend
you if it be in our power. Let us help you to bury your dead, and when
you have finished let me say a few words to your tribe."

"You can all stay if you like," said Jemmy; "but we are many and we
don't want you to help us, it is not work for white fellows. I will tell
my tribe you want to stay, and they won't heed you; and I will tell them
you want to speak to them, and they will hear you." With this Jemmy
Davies shouted some words in his own vernacular, at which the survivors
of the tribe emerged from their concealment; and he continued to his
visitors: "They say that if the white fellows wish they can stop, and if
the budgery (good) white fellow who woollers (talk) belonging to great
Spirit, wishes to talk to them, they will listen."



CHAPTER IX.

  "And say supernal powers! who deeply scan
  Heaven's dark decrees, unfathomed yet by man,
  When shall the world call down, to cleanse her shame,
  That embryo spirit, yet without a name."

CAMPBELL.


The blacks commenced their obsequies with a lugubrious mien; and after
collecting the bodies, which numbered nearly a hundred, prepared to
entomb them according to their own peculiar custom. Usually, upon the
death of a black, the surviving relatives bemoan their loss by
besmearing themselves with coloured clay or mud, and venting their grief
for days in fasting, frantic gestures, and wails; while the gin (if the
deceased be a man possessed of one) covers her head with white
feathers, which species of mourning she wears for a "moon," _i.e._, a
month. On this occasion, however, the deceased were nearly all the
members of separate families, and the survivors had little sympathy for
them, except in common; consequently, the last rites were performed in
uniform silence.

For each body was erected four forked posts (standing about four feet
high), on which were formed a platform of boughs, so as to make a sort
of foliate table to support the lifeless clay. The bodies, when duly
placed, were then over-spread with long dry grass, and, afterwards,
with an outer covering of boughs, which, to be prevented being removed
by the weather, were tied together at each end as a bundle of sticks.
These impromptu sepulchres were elevated from the ground just
sufficiently to prevent the access of the native dogs, and protected
overhead from the molestation of carnivorous birds by the covering we
have described. They are, however, no more defended, than a subterranean
tenement would be, from the depredations of insects and vermin; the
most numerous of which, who attack this, or any other carrion in the
Australian bush, being ants; which have rightly been designated
"nature's scavengers."

In such encasements it is not to be wondered at that the flesh is
speedily removed from the bones; and, after a short time, they stand
inoffensive monuments to the memory of departed friends. They remain
intact for years; until, either consumed by some bush fire, washed away
by some gigantic flood, or the supports give way under the decay of
successive seasons, the sepulchre and its enshrined contents fall
together to the earth to reunite with their parent dust.

When the blacks finished their toil, the cemetery had a most
extraordinary appearance. With nearly a hundred four-legged tombs, of
various size placed side by side, and their heads set facing the rising
sun, they almost filled the centre space of the camp; and, with the
conical gunyahs around them in a wide circle, they presented, at the
cessation of the buryer's work, one of the most novel and picturesque
scenes that could be imagined.

Upon being informed by Jemmy Davies that he could now speak to the
blacks Mr. Wigton called them together, and addressing them in their own
language, said: "My friends! you say I am the white man who speaks of
the great Spirit; I would speak of him to you now. I know that you say
there is no good Spirit, only an evil one; but you are wrong, for there
are both; and of the good one I will now tell you. A very long time ago
he made all the big hills, and large rivers, the plains, and the great
sea; and he made man, and all the beasts, birds, and fishes; he made
white men, and black men; he made everything. When he made the first
man, he told him he would love him, and teach him great wisdom, if he
would do what the great Spirit wished. He gave him a wife and put them
both in a large country, where was plenty fruit that possums and
parrots like, and which was very good for man. But one tree was there
that they were not to touch; because it belonged to the evil spirit. The
good Spirit told man, that if he eat the fruit that grew on that tree he
would be wicked, and the good Spirit wouldn't love him. But when the
good Spirit left him, and the man and his wife 'walked all about,' and
saw a very fine country with plenty of fruit to eat, and plenty of
animals who would not do him any harm, but come to him when he called
them, he was very much pleased. But the evil spirit presently came to
the woman and said to her, 'Now, you take that fruit that the good
Spirit says belongs to me, and that is not good; you will find it very
good, the best in the country; it belongs to me and you may take as much
of it as you like.' Now the woman did not care what the good Spirit had
told her, so she took it, and gave some of it to the man, after telling
him what the evil spirit had said to her, and they both eat it. But when
the good Spirit knew it, he was very angry; and told the man and the
woman, that as they had done what he had told them not to do, and had
stolen the fruit off the tree which he told them not to touch, he would
turn them out of the country into another country where there was no
fruit growing, and where the beasts were all wild and where they would
have to work for their food, and always be in danger and trouble. So you
see the first trouble that there was in the world, was from stealing and
disobeying the good Spirit; and the man and woman were punished, though
they did not die like your friends this morning.

"Well, my friends, the man and woman lived a long time together, and
they died; and others grew up, and they died; and so on, until by and
bye a great many people lived on the earth, who forgot all about the
good Spirit; just as you have done. Then the good Spirit was very sorry
for them, because they did as the evil spirit told them; and when they
died, they all went to the evil spirit, and lived with him in fire. But
the good Spirit wished them to live with Him in a beautiful country,
where they would never want to eat and drink, but would always be happy.
So He sent them His Son to tell them what to do to please Him, and make
themselves happy, when they 'jump up' again in the sky, after they die
on the earth. He told them what to do, but very few of the people did
it; for the evil spirit always persuaded them not to notice Him, or
believe Him. But the good Spirit did many good things for them. He
brought to life again some of their friends after they had died; and He
made food 'jump up' when they were hungry, their clothes never to wear
out, and plenty such things. And He told them that if they did as he
said they would go to His Father's country in the sky, and live there
with Him in happiness and never die; but that if they would not do as He
told them, they would have to go to the evil spirit, where they would be
always burning, and never die either; while their sufferings would
always continue. To escape this, and procure happiness, He told them
what they must do. The good Spirit loved them; so they must love the
good Spirit. The good Spirit hated murder, theft, lies, and cruelty; so
they must hate them too. They must be peaceable and kind to one another,
and, next to the good Spirit Himself, they must love one another,
especially the poor; and He told them if they would do all this, the
good Spirit would be very pleased, and would take care of them; but if
they would not do so, then He would be very angry and punish them. Now,
a good many people believed what the Son of the good Spirit said, and
did as he told them; and when they died they all went to the good
Spirit. But the evil spirit persuaded a great many more not to believe
Him; and they didn't, but killed Him; but He 'jumped up' again and went
back to his Father, the good Spirit, and the people that killed Him,
when they died, all went to the bad spirit to be punished. Now, the bad
spirit is always telling people to do bad things, to vex the good
Spirit, and get the people himself. They are very foolish, and do what
the evil spirit tells them, and therefore get sent to his place of
fire, and are very wretched. And I must tell you, my friends, both the
Good and evil spirit still live, and are always walking about. They are
both here just now, and were here last night; the good Spirit told you
not to steal the white man's food, and you were good and did not steal
it; but the evil spirit told Dugingi and his friends to go and steal it,
and they did, and died.

"Now, my friends, which of these would you like for your master? The
good Spirit? then do as he tells you. Love him and give up killing one
another, and stealing, and telling lies, and hating the white man. I
will stop with you, and teach you how to love the good Spirit; so that
when you die you will go to the good Spirit in the sky. But if you will
not love the good Spirit, and will not do as He tells you, then you
will be the friends of the evil spirit, and be burnt up with him in his
fire. The evil spirit is a very bad spirit, and will tell you all sorts
of things to make you not to love the good Spirit. He will tell you it
is of no use; that the good Spirit does not care for you, and will not
trouble about you, and that he only cares for the white man; but do not
believe him, for he wants to get you for himself. You try to live as the
good Spirit tells you, and you will not only enjoy the happiness with
the good Spirit when you die, but you will be happy while you live here;
and now, my friends, I will pray to the good Spirit for you."

Mr. Wigton then lifted his voice in earnest supplication to his Master,
to beseech in His unbounded beneficence, that He would dispel the
darkness from the minds of the poor benighted heathen before Him, and
reflect on them the light of His gospel. He concluded his exhortation
and prayer, and found Jemmy Davies still standing by his side, where he
had remained during the whole time of the short discourse, deeply
interested with the truths that flowed from the preacher's mouth. Not
so, however, the rest of the tribe; for Mr. Wigton had noticed with
pain, that after the first few minutes of his addressing them, they lost
all interest in his gospel story, and showed evident signs of impatience
and uneasiness; even indulging in frivolities, and taking no notice of
his speaking at all. Though grieved at this, he yet did not despair of
bringing them to a knowledge of the truth. He had frequently on former
occasions preached to the blacks with similar success; but his heart was
undaunted; he persevered in his work; and, in the tribe to whom he was
then appealing, he had hopes (with the blessing and assistance of God)
of planting the seed in their sterile souls and, by the aid of heaven's
grace, of seeing it germinate and "bring forth fruit meet for
repentance." That such a hope was visionary, all his friends were in the
habit of telling him; they repudiated the idea of the possibility of
infusing the truth of the gospel into the natures of the blacks; but he
had a more exalted faith, and believed the omnipotence, as well as the
mercy of the Almighty, would still work the regeneration of this outcast
race. He was, therefore, stimulated to pursue his course in the
instruction of these rude children of nature, to endeavour to impress
upon them an application of things divine; and he determined to remain
in their neighbourhood as long as possible, and devote to the work as
much of his time as he could command.

The party now took their leave of Jemmy Davies and his tribe, and left
the scene of the late distress for the home of the Fergusons; where they
found the news of the massacre had preceded them, and their two black
boys, Billy and Jemmy, decamped to join the remnant of the tribe. But in
the meantime we will trace the steps of William Ferguson, after he left
the camp to join Mr. Billing.

William found the storekeeper waiting very patiently for Tom
Rainsfield's return; and he rather sententiously communicated to him
what he had witnessed, leaving him to conjecture much of the detail. As
he felt in no humour to be bored by Billing's loquacity, he excused
himself from accompanying him on the road, on the plea that he was
anxious to get to Strawberry Hill, his sister being there waiting him;
and he left his companion, and rode on.

When he arrived at the Rainsfields' house he met Mrs. Billing and the
children going out for a walk; and, upon enquiring for the ladies, he
was told they had been expecting him for some time, and were at that
moment taking a stroll towards the bridge. After leaving his horse,
thither he followed them; and found that his sister was ready habited
for her ride, and her friends had stepped out for a short walk with her
before she took her departure. When they saw William, they all rallied
him on his dilatoriness and want of punctuality; but he, finding that
they knew nothing of the tragedy amongst the blacks, refrained from
making any explanation; simply pleading guilty to the indictment of his
fair friends, and begging leniency at their hands.

His sister replied that she had intended, if he had not made his
appearance before their return from their walk, to have taken off her
habit and stopped at Strawberry Hill, just to teach him punctuality. But
stepping up to him, and laughingly patting his cheek, she said that, as
he had acknowledged his negligence, she would not disappoint him, but
start whenever he pleased.

William and his convoy returned to the house, where they found the table
spread with a light repast ready waiting them; after partaking which,
the girls took an affectionate leave of one another; and, with repeated
mutual regrets at parting, promises from Kate to speedily revisit them,
and many extorted pledges and solemn obligations from William, to
frequently bring his sister over, they parted; and Kate and William left
Strawberry Hill at a canter, at which pace they continued until they
reached Fern Vale.

Upon their arrival there, the little house-keeper was received with all
honours, and duly installed in possession of her domicile and in the
importance of her office, with a gaiety which even Kate's unpractised
eye could detect to be assumed. There was a gloom upon the whole party,
particularly Tom Rainsfield, that ill accorded with their usual manner;
and it did not fail to strike her. She saw there was some mystery; and,
looking from one to the other in a state of perplexity, at last
requested an explanation. Tom excused himself from the task, possibly
from a feeling of delicacy in shocking her young and innocent mind with
a recital of the horrible events of the past twelve hours; but her
brother John, thinking it better that a knowledge of the circumstances
should be imparted to her by themselves, in preference to their reaching
her ears through some other channel, communicated to her as much as he
deemed necessary in the meantime for her to know.

To say that the story horrified her would but inadequately describe the
sensations with which she heard the dreadful narrative. She wept! though
not at the usual standard of young ladies' tears that are shed upon the
most trivial occasions when effect is deemed by them desirable; such
tears are easily conjured into existence, and have no impression on the
beholder other than as the sparkling dew on the morning flower excites
the admiration or pleases the fancy of the florist. Her's were tears of
true sympathy, gushing forth from a warm and affectionate heart; and the
burst of feeling grief of one who was always joy and sunshine touched
the hearts of her assembled friends; and more than one strong man, that
had calmly looked on the misery of the poor victims in the very presence
of death, now turned away their heads to conceal their moistened
eyelids.

As soon as Tom Rainsfield could sufficiently muster his courage to
speak, he took the two hands of Kate in his, and said in a voice
tremulous with emotion: "My dear Miss Ferguson, your kind sympathy for
these poor blacks does you infinite honour and credit; but pray calm
yourself. Much as the circumstances are to be regretted, it is more than
probable they will be found to result to our benefit, as the greatest
ruffians of the whole tribe have been removed; and we may now hope to
live without fear of any molestation."

The rest of the day passed ordinarily enough. The Fergusons were fully
occupied in putting their house in order; and Tom took his leave to see
his brother and communicate to him details that he could not expect from
Mr. Billing. He promised, before he went, to return the following
morning and join Mr. Wigton in revisiting the camp and sepulchres of the
blacks. True to his engagement, the next day Tom presented himself at
Fern Vale; when he, Mr. Wigton, and John, took their departure on their
meditated errand; leaving William at the station, to superintend some
work which required the presence of either him or his brother.

As the trio rode on their way, Tom was the first to break the general
silence, by remarking, "I am sorry to say Jemmy Davies was only too
correct, when he surmised that the flour had been poisoned as well as
the meat. I have tested it on some animals, with a fatal result; which
leaves it beyond doubt that it contained poison; while my brother's
explanation of the fact is very equivocal. He may be, and I trust he is,
sincere in his asseverations; but I must confess that the whole matter
appears to me inexplicable. He denies the possibility of the flour being
poisoned, unless it were from contact with the meat, or by their own
inadvertent use of the arsenic; which he says they must have taken from
the store with the other things, under the impression of its being
sugar. Now, though it is possible that the blacks might have made use of
the fat of the meat in making their damper, in the other supposition I
don't think there is a shadow of probability. However, let it rest
between his conscience and his God. I only trust he will enlighten his
wife on the subject, for I would not like that duty to devolve upon me,
as I could not so far dissemble as to disguise from her my suspicions;
and I know the knowledge of her husband's criminality would break her
heart."

"You need not doubt, my dear sir," said Mr. Wigton, "but what she will
hear of it from your brother. He will be sure to tell her, if it is only
to prevent her crediting any other version that she may hear; so you
need have no apprehension on that head. But let us consider now, that we
are about to revisit these wretched blacks, what we can do to ameliorate
their condition."

"I share with you, Mr. Wigton, your sympathy for these poor creatures,"
said Tom, "and would gladly render you all assistance that lies in my
power; though that assistance will necessarily be limited. But I fear
their regeneration is a task of far greater magnitude than you
conceive; and I am afraid you are too sanguine."

"Why so? my dear, sir," asked the clergyman; "nothing is impossible with
God! and with his blessing I have no fear, but that I shall be able to
work great changes in them."

"True," replied Tom, "you may with the blessing of Providence; but you
must excuse me, my dear sir, if I remind you, that we must not expect
the Almighty to deviate from his prescribed laws of nature, and work
miracles in the conversion of these savages."

"I don't quite understand you," replied the minister.

"I will explain," said Tom. "You are aware that these people's habits
and customs, are totally different from ours, and their peculiar
prejudices are deeply rooted. Now, I don't deny for a moment the
possibility of the application of the gospel to them, or the probability
of a few of their number accepting it (though of that I must confess I
have little hope); but I certainly do think that no great progress will
be made until you can get them to assimilate their ways to those of
civilisation; and that is the point where you will find the difficulty."

"For the sake of argument," said Mr. Wigton, "and to hear your views, I
will grant your theory that civilisation must precede the preaching of
the gospel; as I take it, that is what you mean. Then I would ask; what
is to prevent their being induced to domesticate themselves, and live as
we?"

"Nothing," replied Tom, "that I see, except their inherent antipathy to
a settled life, and an existence where they require to labour to gain a
subsistence. Numerous attempts have been made to wean the blacks from
their wandering, lazy, and unsettled habits, but without success. You
could not have a better instance than Jemmy Davies; one perfectly
civilized you may say, yet living a savage life. But for the influence
of his tribe, and his home associations (which he could not be induced
to renounce), he might have been made a respectable member of society;
and may yet become one, for he has had the rough edge of his savage
nature worn off. You may have another instance in John Ferguson's black
boys, who are better specimens than the general class. You see they, at
the slightest breath of excitement, leave their work and join the camp.
Any attempts to cultivate their intellects like Jemmy Davies would be
useless, unless like him they were removed from the influence of their
people. Again, you have another instance in little Joey; he has been
taught to accommodate himself to the ways of the whites, and never
desires to change his condition. But that is owing to the fact that he
has known no other, by his having been taken from his home when quite
young, educated with whites, and never having imbibed the prejudices of
his race.

"To christianize the blacks I believe they must be civilized; and to be
civilized they must be removed from the influence of their natural
predilections and superstitions; for if they are not thoroughly and
effectually eliminated from all domestic influence they will never
retain their civilisation, but return to their tribes upon the earliest
opportunity. On the other hand if they are segregated, and kept beyond
the contamination of their kindred, they become, from the absence of
their natural habits, alienated from them; and of necessity they
assimilate their ways to civilisation. I could mention examples of
these, but need only advert to the native police; who, possibly you are
aware, when they are drafted from their tribes, are instantly removed to
a distance for active service. The consequence of this is that they
remain in the force because they have no opportunity of leaving it
without coming into contact with other tribes; the natural animosities
of whom against one another are such as to render a passage through them
to their own tribe extremely perilous. There is no propinquity or
friendly intercourse between them; and the native police are therefore
retained in service, if not from choice, at least from a knowledge of
security.

"Do not imagine, Mr. Wigton, that I argue the impracticability of your
scheme from any spirit of opposition; nothing is further from my
intention. I am far rather desirous to accomplish their disenthralment,
though I fear it cannot be effected without alienating them first from
their own peculiar habits."

"I will not attempt to argue with you on the subject," replied Mr.
Wigton, "because I cannot but deny the theory that questions the
attributes of the Almighty. I will rather hope to prove to you the
fallacy of your sophistry by results. You say that Jemmy Davies is
educated; I can see that he is civilized; and can also perceive, from
his attention to me yesterday, that he is willing to be instructed, and
susceptible of the Christian impress. And I ask, why cannot the others
of his tribe be made the same? His training has been purely of a secular
kind; whereas it would have been as easy, while he was being taught the
rudiments of the English language, to have had the truths of the gospel
inculcated; and he would now have been in all probability, if not a
Christian, at least a moral man, and less prone to return to his former
barbarous nature. I would propose, while instructing the mature, to have
a school for the young, so as to put them under a regular course of
training; and I have no doubt whatever that the result would be a speedy
regeneration."

"Then, my dear sir," replied Tom Rainsfield, "to effect it you would
have to remove the children entirely from the influence of their
parents; as otherwise you would never be able to retain them under you
care. The parents would soon begin to feel the restraint of your
tuition, and would remove to escape it; while the children, nothing
loath to resume their freedom, would gladly accompany them. To make
such a system effective I believe you would require to detain the
children, even against the wishes of their parents; and, when their
education was complete, remove them elsewhere to learn some handicraft
so as to accustom them to labour. Then having been brought up in the
comforts of the whites, and having learnt to earn a livelihood by the
use of their own hands, they would have lost all yearnings after the
life of their kindred; especially as their parents, by that time, would
have been taught to look upon them as lost. In a word, to accomplish
their amelioration, you must carry out a system of domestic
expatriation, continuing to separate the young from the old until the
former will all have been reclaimed, and the latter in the course of
time (as a new generation grows up) will have totally disappeared."

"I think there is some feasibleness in your separation scheme," said Mr.
Wigton, "but I think it would be a cruel alternative to dismember
families in that way; and I do not despair of effecting the desired
object without such stringent measures, which I question if the
government and society would sanction. However, here we are at the camp;
we will see the result of our present interview, and then have an
opportunity of further speculation on this theme."

But as the party rode into the area of the camp they were surprised to
see that it was empty. Not a black was visible; and to our friend's
repeated "cooeys" not a return sound was to be heard, not even the
distant bark of the aborigines' dogs. So they concluded that the camp
had been broken up, and Jemmy Davies and his tribe retired to another
part of the scrub; and as they turned, disappointed to retrace their
steps, Tom said to Mr. Wigton, "I think you have in this conclusive
evidence of there being no guarantee that without restriction the blacks
will ever receive instruction."



CHAPTER X.

  "Come let us fill the flowing bowl
  Until it doth run over;
  For to-night we'll merry be,
  To-morrow we'll get sober."

OLD SONG.


Some time had elapsed since the events mentioned in the foregoing
chapter had transpired; but few changes had come over the scene of our
narrative. Kate Ferguson had settled down into the circle of her
domestic duties with a spirit that charmed her brothers and enchanted
every one about her. Mr. Wigton had, at an early date, left Fern Vale
for Brisbane. The blacks had entirely disappeared from the country, and
Mr. Rainsfield had almost, if not entirely, forgotten their existence
and the dreadful means he had adopted for their expatriation; while Tom
Rainsfield, if he continued to remember it, never allowed any mention of
the circumstances to pass his lips. The whole of the events were of
course, by "the thousand tongues of scandal," speedily noised about the
country; but the general feeling exculpated Rainsfield from any blame,
and the judicial enquiries were extremely superficial. The government
being perfectly satisfied with the report of the magistrates of the
neighbourhood; who in their turn were content with the unsubstantiated
version of their colleague Mr. Rainsfield. Tom Rainsfield was a constant
visitor to his friends at Fern Vale; while William Ferguson and his
sister made repeated visits to "the Hill," though their brother John
rarely moved off his own run.

The spring had set in with its calm salubrious atmosphere, and plenty
and contentment pervaded all nature. At nearly every station shearing
had been completed; and, except at some of the remote localities where
labour was only with difficulty obtained, the excitement and bustle
incidental to that time had subsided, and the squatters had settled down
into the monotony of their usual routine.

At a pretty little spot on a tributary creek of the Gibson river, about
ten miles from Brompton, was situated the station of Clintown, the
residence and property of a retired medical man of the name of Graham.
This gentleman was rather a portly individual of stupendous dimensions;
with a body rather obese, and limbs of great power. His face was
decidedly rubicund, and, kept scrupulously free from hairy excrescence,
displayed a pair of pendent cheeks. His nose was not much out of the
common, except that it was possessed of a certain erubescence, which,
increasing in intensity towards the extremity, gave some indication of
the owner's predilection for spirituous comforts. His cranium on the
summit had a decided tendency to sterility, notwithstanding the
continual exudation of an unctuous nourishment; and, but for the stamp
of the voluptuary which was unmistakably impressed upon his visage, and
other slight defects, would have been considered by phrenologists a fine
head.

If not respected in the district Dr. Graham was at least tolerated;
perhaps more from dread than any other feeling his presence or society
was likely to create. Among the lower orders he was generally detested;
he was abhorred by the shepherds whom he employed, and who never could
be induced to stay with him longer than they were absolutely compelled;
while many were the charges of rapacity brought against him, by those
who had been in his service, and had been defrauded of their wages on
some unjust pretext. His bellicosity was well known; and bold indeed was
the man who would dare to risk an encounter with the self-dubbed
"champion of the Downs." He was reputed wealthy; or rather his means
were supposed to be considerable, though there was a story attached to
their acquisition, which, if true, reflected lasting opprobrium on this
worldly medicus.

He was said to have been located at one time as a practitioner in a
distant part of the colony, and to have conceived the idea of
establishing an hospital in a certain town, centrally situated in the
bush. To accomplish this end he travelled the country soliciting
subscriptions; and such was the confidence reposed in the individual,
whose disinterestedness and zeal were generally admired, and the
desideratum that such an edifice was considered, that he was eminently
successful in his canvass. The squatters readily and munificently
subscribed to the project, and Dr. Graham soon found himself in
possession of a considerable sum of money.

That this money was applied to the purposes for which it was contributed
is more than doubtful; for the hospital was never erected, while Dr.
Graham shortly afterwards became possessed of the station of Clintown.
It was said that some of the subscribers, not relishing the manner in
which they were taken in, insisted upon a return of their money, or its
legitimate application; and in some few instances, to quiet the
importunities of those who were disposed to be turbulent, the money was
returned. But in the majority of the cases the parties were too timorous
or indifferent to make any demands; and the subscriptions and hospital
scheme remained in _statu quo_, the one in the pocket, or rather
represented in the sheep of Dr. Graham, and the other in the fond
expectation of the deluded subscribers. Whether this tale be true or
false we are not in a position to say; but it was darkly brooded about,
no one daring to venture an open assertion, in consideration of the
pugilistic accomplishment of the party most concerned. One thing,
however, is certain that the Doctor, prior to the scheme, was always
supposed to be in debt, from the difficulty "those little accounts"
could be extorted from him, while after the successful ruse, he suddenly
became possessed, to a remarkable extent, of a laudable desire for
honourable liquidation.

The general characteristics of Dr. Graham's nature were as peculiar as
his personal appearance. He was parsimonious and exacting in his
intercourse with his neighbours, and inhospitable to those not his boon
companions; to whom again, he was lavish and profuse. Nothing gave him
greater pleasure than the society of a companion who could join him in
copious libations; and upon one occasion he carried out his principle in
a remarkable manner. He was detained on business for a short time in
Sydney, and was disposed to enjoy himself in "a little bit of a spree;"
though, unfortunately for his happiness, he could not fall in with a
concomitant spirit to join him in the way of friendship. None who knew
him were disposed to submit to his imperiousness; so he was driven to
the necessity of procuring, by engagement, the companionship of some
congenial nature. He, therefore, hired a man who was recommended to him
for the purpose; an individual who was famous in his generation for his
bibulous capabilities, and willing to submit to any indignity for a
gratuitous supply of the inebriate's nectar. The debauch commenced and
was conducted with considerable spirit so long as it lasted; but the
principal and his co-adjutor soon parted, owing, as the former used to
say, to the fellow's incapacity to take his liquor. His contentment in
loneliness was another feature in his character; which was also
exemplified by another tale often told about him. He was an enthusiastic
lover of whist, and when he could make up a rubber with three of his
choice spirits he was content; though still without them he was equally
partial to his hand, and was actually discovered on one occasion sitting
with his usual solace, his grog and his pipe, silently going through the
formula of playing with three dummies.

In the sitting-room pertaining to the dwelling of this worthy
individual, who, we may mention, had never thought it advisable "to
settle in life," sat three specimens of the genus homo--the proprietor
of the station, a neighbouring squatter of the name of Brown, and our
old acquaintance, Bob Smithers. At the moment of our intrusion upon this
triumvirate, they were assiduously attentive to a dark-coloured opaque
receptacle, containing a brown stimulating fluid, and which was
circulated (to use an antithesis) in a triangle from one to the other of
this trio, and followed by its usual concomitant, an earthenware vessel
of a porous nature (containing a more translucent liquid), and vulgarly
denominated "a monkey." In fact these gentlemen were what steady, sober,
and sedate people would call drinking; but what they, choice sons of
Bacchus, simply designated "taking a nobbler." They were also emulating
the example of the first potent initiator, and "blowing a cloud," from
three diminutive and jetty instruments, that were retained in their
dental position, irrespective of any inconvenience to expectoration or
without any hindrance to the conversation, which was carried on in an
animated manner; the only proceeding that called for a removal from
their ivory fetters being that which was necessary to alleviate thirst.

At the moment which we have chosen to introduce this company to our
readers a head was thrust into the room, and a voice called the master
of the establishment, who instantly left the apartment, after telling
his visitors not to mind his absence. This was an injunction which was
perfectly needless, for, in the presence of the before mentioned
stimulator, the parties addressed seemed in nowise disconsolate at his
leaving them.

The Doctor's absence was only of short duration, for in a few minutes he
returned with a bottle in his hand, which he set down upon the table
with the following aphorism: "May we never want a friend, and a bottle
to give him;" while he continued addressing Smithers: "Here, Bob, old
fellow, here is a spiritual visitant in the shape of as good brandy as
ever you drank. I have plenty more, so don't be frightened of the
liquor. I am obliged to keep it in my bed-room, or I would not have a
drop in the house in twelve hours; those confounded rascals of mine
would rob a church if they could get any drink out of it;" and then
turning to his other friend he said: "How are you getting on, Brown?
take another 'nip,' and don't shirk your grog;" at which little
pleasantry of his own he burst into a laugh.

Brown did as he was desired with very little show of reluctance, and
asked of his host what had occurred to make him so merry.

"Why," said the Doctor, "I have had a little adventure with one of my
fellows, who wanted to be master; but I soon taught him submission. My
overseer came to tell me that one of the scoundrels had refused to work,
so I quietly went out to him and knocked him down. I hate to have words
with the fellows; that's meeting them on their own ground. I like to
deal with them pointedly; so when the blackguard got upon his legs again
I told him the next remedy I would try would be a stock-whip, and if
that failed I would summon him before the bench. That sent him to work,
for my fellows know it is a bad game to come before the magistrates with
me; so telling him to 'keep his eye on the picture' I left him, and I'll
vow he won't trouble me again in a hurry."

"But," said Brown, "how have you managed to establish such a wholesome
dread of the bench in the minds of your men? For my part, if ever I have
any of my fellows up, I not only rarely obtain any satisfaction, but am
put to a great deal of trouble and inconvenience."

"Oh, I suppose you don't know how to manage it," replied the Doctor. "I
never let any of my fellows have a case against me. If they have at any
time the impertinence to serve me with a summons, or lodge a complaint,
I always prevent them getting any of their own witnesses, by finding
them something to do to keep them out of the way of a subpoena;
whereas that overseer of mine is an uncommonly useful fellow, he always
sees things in the same light that I do."

"But still I can't see," said Brown, "if the fellows are determined to
be troublesome, how you are to punish them unless they commit a breach
of their agreement; and they are generally wide awake enough to keep all
right there."

"Nothing easier in the world," replied the Doctor. "I'll just tell you
how I served one fellow that gave me a great deal of trouble. He was a
'new chum,' just out from home. My agent in Brisbane hired him from the
ship when he arrived, and he was an infernally saucy fellow, as all
those new chums are; for they not only demand higher wages, but are
always more difficult to satisfy, readier with their objections, and
lazier and less handy with their work, than men with 'colonial
experience.' Now, this fellow gave me some cheek one day, and I
thrashed him; but what do you think of his impertinence? he actually
summoned me for assault. Well, Bill, my overseer, very conveniently saw
him raise his hand to strike me, so I was forced, you perceive, to knock
him down in self-defence, and the case was dismissed. But I was
determined to break my fine fellow's pride, and let him see that he had
got into the wrong box when he fancied he could ride rough-shod over me;
and I wasn't long in giving him the lesson. I had him engaged as a
shepherd, in the usual way, 'and to make himself generally useful;' so
one fine Sunday morning, when he had dressed himself in his 'Sunday
go-to-meeting clothes,' I found a nice little job for him that I knew he
wouldn't relish. I had a couple of horses in a paddock at the other side
of the creek; which had been flooded just previously, so that the
paddock was nearly half covered with mud and water; and to get over to
it there was no other way than to ford the creek, which I give you my
word was none of the cleanest to cross. I ordered the fellow to fetch me
one of the horses, knowing perfectly well that, as there was not another
on the station, he would have to accomplish it on foot. I was sure this
would try his metal, and guessed he wouldn't half like the idea of
soiling his clean clothes; and I was right. He didn't like it; and
positively refused to go, saying that he was not obliged to work on a
Sunday beyond what was absolutely necessary, such as tending his flock,
for which he was engaged. I, however, put a boy to mind his sheep, and
then ordered him again to bring in the horse for me; but he still
refused. So I just had him up, under 'the Masters and Servants Act,' for
refusing to obey my lawful orders, and he was fined forty shillings and
ordered to go back to his work. But he declined to do that, and was then
committed to gaol for a month, at the expiration of which he was sent
back to his work, whether he liked it or not. Well, sir, he was always
civil after that; but I determined that he should remember the lesson.
So when his term expired, and I settled with him for his wages, I
charged him with twenty sheep that had been missing out of his flock
while he had refused to work. He was fool enough to decline receiving
the balance of his wages, and actually sued me; but I produced my
stock-book before the bench, when the loss was shown, and my overseer
swore to the deficiency, so my gentleman had to submit; and, being
rather abusive upon his defeat, I quieted him by threatening another
thrashing, and told him to 'keep his eye on the picture,' unless he
wished to be still farther treated to a drilling."

"Well," said Brown, "but suppose a fellow like that should persist in
giving you trouble, his services would not at any wages be worth having,
considering the nuisance of continually dragging him before the bench;
and he might get a lot of your men as witnesses against you; and even if
he did no good for himself, he would do you considerable injury, by
drawing the men away from their work."

"I never have any bother in that way," replied Dr. Graham. "I told you I
never allow any of my fellows to have witnesses, if I can help it, and I
generally can; so you see I don't lose their time in that way; and as to
their being of any service to the fellow who wants to complain, I don't
believe it, for I get it all arranged before their case is heard. You
know, I am generally on the bench myself; and before we commence
business, I, and whoever may be sitting with me, have a talk over the
cases on the sheet; and, of course, there being one in my name, I just
explain the matter to the other fellows, and we easily settle between us
what the chap shall have. So that when my case is called, I sink the
magistrate for the time, and leave the bench for the witness box, where
I give my evidence and obtain the sentence I require. Only the last case
I had was one brought against me by a bullock-driver I had employed, and
who, not having done his work as he ought to have done, I gave a
thrashing to, and he summoned me for assault. Now it happened, the day
my case came on, I was on the bench with Ned Telford, who had a case
against one of his men; and we arranged between ourselves, that while he
sat to hear and dismiss my case, I would hear his, and give his fellow a
fortnight in the lock-up. The thing was done as easily and quietly as
possible, without any trouble or annoyance to either of us. What is the
use of 'the Master and Servants Act' if we can't make the fellows
obedient? It is high time that the blackguards were brought to their
senses, for they have had their own way far too long, and I don't half
so much trouble myself with them now as I used to do; they begin to know
me, and understand that I will not put up with any of their nonsense."

"You certainly," said Brown, "manage to keep them pretty subordinate so
long as they stay with you, which, I imagine, is not longer than they
can help; but, for my own part, I am not so fortunate, for I am
continually having trouble with my men. They are principally 'fresh
emigrants,' and are always grumbling and growling, notwithstanding that
they get higher wages than other men, and have less to do than usually
falls to the lot of older hands. I begin to find that 'new chums' are
the worst class of men that can be had; I would sooner have black
fellows if they could be got to stick to their work."

"So would I," replied the Doctor, "if we could only make the black
devils work, but that no one on earth can do. You see we are obliged to
get new chums, at least I am, for the old ones disappear somehow; as
soon as ever they get paid off, they bolt off down the country, and we
see no more of them."

"Just so, Graham," said the other, "I find it equally as difficult to
get men that have colonial experience as you do. The fact of the matter
is simply this, some fools particularly busy themselves in spreading
reports down the country that the blacks are fearfully troublesome in
this district, and that no man's life is safe; the consequence of which
is, that no one will engage to come out here but 'new chums,' who have
not had time to hear the idle stories. I hear that emigration from home
is likely to cease from the representations of a set of scoundrels in
Sydney and Melbourne that the destitution there is great. If emigration
is stopped, I don't know what we, in the outlying district, are to do
for labour; what do you think Smithers?"

"I think," replied that individual, "that if the people in the large
towns complain of the scarcity of work it is only because they won't go
into the country to look for it. The fools won't stir out of the town,
notwithstanding that there are too many of them there, and that their
labour is wanted in the country. If the blackguards will not come into
the bush when work is offered to them I would send them to work on the
government roads."

"Yes, by Jove! you are right," said Brown; "but then that can't be done
without some stringent enactment of government; which I am certain
would be afraid to go in so heavily. One thing is very certain, labour
we must have of some sort or another; for at present we are not only at
the mercy of our men, but we have to pay them ruinously high wages, to
be treated with contumely, have our work neglected, and our property
sacrificed."

"For my part," said the Doctor, "I would sooner have the old convict
times back again; then we could compel the fellows to do their work, and
keep very civil too, unless they wanted a little buttering with the
lash. Besides, it was far more satisfactory to have the scoundrels under
our control, and not so expensive as paying the men, as now, forty and
fifty pounds a year and their rations; but, halloo! who have we got
here?"



CHAPTER XI.

  "I am his Highness' dog at Kew,
  Pray, tell me, sir, whose dog are you?"

POPE.


The last remark in the preceding chapter was elicited by the appearance
of a stranger, who, at the moment of its utterance, rode up to the
station, and knocked at the open door of the house. Upon being desired
in the stentorian voice of the owner of the place, from the room in
which he sat, to "come in," a rather gentlemanly-looking man of about
the middle height and relative age, presented himself before the
conclave; and said: "I have to apologize, gentlemen, for intruding upon
your privacy; have I the pleasure of addressing Dr. Graham?"

"That is my appellation," replied the individual in question.

"And mine, sir, is Moffatt, of the Sydney firm of that name,
wool-buyers; possibly it may be known to you. I am purchasing wool, and
if you have not already disposed of your clip, will be happy to make you
an offer. I have come over-land, right through the New England district,
and having consumed more time on the road than I intended, I find I am
rather late for the stations in these northern parts; they having got
most of their clips away."

"Well, sir, I have got mine off too; all but a few bales," replied the
proprietor of Clintown.

"If you have not already made any arrangements relative to its
disposal," remarked the buyer, "I can judge of your clip by what you
have remaining, and make you an offer for the whole; and, if we come to
terms, you can intimate the sale to your agents before its arrival at
port, and instruct them to deliver it to my order."

"All right," exclaimed the squatter, "we'll talk about business
presently; join us in a nobbler, there is the bottle. You will find a
glass over there," and he pointed to an hermaphrodite piece of
furniture, standing at one side of the room.

The stranger thanked his host, and taking his seat, while he assisted
himself to a "stiff ball," said, "Pray, don't let me disturb the
conversation that you were engaged in at the moment of my abrupt
entrance."

"Well," said Brown, "to resume our topic, I differ from you Doctor. I
don't think we, even as a class, would be benefited by a return of the
old penal system, and I will tell you why. In the first place, I don't
believe that their labour was cheaper than that of free men, for never
could the convicts be made to do a proper amount of work; they had no
will to do so. What they did was only what the compulsory system had the
power of enforcing; just so much as not to be actual idleness, which
they were only too ready to indulge in when they momentarily escaped the
strict surveillance of the overseers; who frequently were necessarily
men of their own class, and connived with them in their derelictions.
Besides, then we were never free from bush-rangers, and, with all
practicable vigilance, sometimes the convicts would escape to the bush,
and continually place our lives and properties in danger; so all things
considered, bad as our straits now are, I would not wish to see a return
of the penal times."

"You have forgotten to mention another drawback to the system,"
suggested the stranger, "and that is the immoral influence such a class
of men have upon the community, and the contamination to which your
family is liable."

"Hang the immoral influence, as you call it," exclaimed the Doctor;
"whose morals are they going to effect, I should like to know? Ours? my
word! if we can't take care of them, I would ask you, who can?"

"By Jove! Graham," exclaimed Smithers, laughing, "it would be hard for
any fellow to vitiate yours."

At this sally of Bob's, the man of physic laughed too, and replied:
"Well, I mean the prisoners have only got themselves to mix with, so
what signifies any consideration for their morals; they can't make
themselves worse than they were when they are first convicted."

"There, sir, you are mistaken," said Moffatt. "You will admit that there
were many who were serving their time as convicted felons who had come
to that position by some false step in life, of which they deeply
repented; but that, being mixed up with the vilest ruffians
indiscriminately, they were subjected to this immoral influence of which
I speak. We are perfectly aware that many (but for their one offence)
honourable and exemplary men, who would scorn to do even a mean action,
as derogatory to their natures, have been so subjected; and what has
been the result of their contact with these vilest of the vile--villains
whose hearts and souls were devoted to the practice of infamy--wretches,
whose hearts, as Tom Hood said, were "inscribed with double guilt?" Has
it not been a general debasement, and a levelling in most instances of
the would be virtuous, to the standard of the despicable criminals
themselves? I know it has been argued by many that an honourable man
would shun the influence of such; and that the ruffians themselves,
having no kindred feelings with their conscientious companions, would
not trouble them, but afford the penitent every opportunity of avoiding
a contact. But it was not so. What escape had a man of feeling,
education, and penitential desire, from society such as was general
among the convicts? None! He was compelled to endure it; and, upon a
perpetual exhibition of vice and infamy before his eyes, hearing it
highly spoken of, joked upon, and even lauded, he too frequently ceased
to abhor it; began by degrees to look upon it with a callous
indifference, and then to acquire, and practise, what before the very
contemplation of would have been revolting to his nature; and ultimately
he became as hardened a wretch as any of the rest. I say this was too
frequently the case; and only shows that there was an immoral influence
at work, even amongst the prisoners themselves. The employers of the men
were sufferers by it likewise; for, by the cultivation of penitence in a
willing subject, the employer secured the services of a valuable
servant; whereas if the moral dispositioned man became as debased as the
vile ones he was as unprofitable as they. But the evils of the system,
in a moral point of view, were more particularly felt by the employers
in the fearful example made to their families. Just picture to yourself
rearing a young family subject to the dreadful contamination of such a
school; the influences of which tuition all the academies of punctilio
in the universe would be unable to eradicate. Happily for us, and for
posterity, those times are past and never can nor will return, however
much individuals in certain classes may desire. The mass of the
population would never permit the re-introduction of such an incubus on
civilisation, Christianity, and morality; but pardon me, sir, I am
warming on the subject; it is one I have always abhorred, for I have
constantly witnessed its fearful iniquities."

"What you say," replied Dr. Graham, "may be all very well with regard to
people that have families and live in towns; but you must remember that
squatters are the stay of the colony, and must be supported. What would
the colonies be but for their exports of wool? and how, I would like to
know, is that staple commodity to be obtained if the squatters are not
enabled to procure labour? At present we pay higher wages than any other
country in the world, notwithstanding which we cannot get sufficient
labour to do our work. It is a question that affects the entire
country; for if we do not get labour our staples will decrease, and
that, you will admit, will be a public calamity. The long and the short
of the matter is simply this, we must have labour, and the government
must exert itself to procure it. If it does not, we ought to advocate a
return of convicts."

"Well, sir," replied Moffatt, "I don't pretend to dictate to you
personally, presuming that you are the best judge of your own affairs.
Wages in the colonies are certainly high, but then the employers can
well afford to pay the high rates; and, but in these remote parts, I
have heard few complaints of the scarcity of labour. Until your district
becomes more settled you will have to expect it, for it is one of the
inconveniences of an unsettled country; but as soon as it becomes better
known and more occupied, I think you will find that labour, as in
everything else where there is a supply and demand, will find its own
level."

"That's very true," said Brown, "but, remember in the meantime, we are
sufferers; what are we to do?"

"I can scarcely tell you," said the other, "but fear you will have to
put up with it. It is, as I have said, a contingent incidental on your
remote location. You can't force labourers to settle in a country, of
which they know little, and that little disparaging. You must offer some
inducements to tempt men out into these wilds other than high wages.
What militates considerably against you, I imagine, is the current
belief that the blacks are rather dangerous neighbours."

"It is all very well for people that are not affected as we are, to tell
us we must put up with it," said Brown; "but, assuming that labour would
find its own level as you state; that is, I imagine, by offering
security against the blacks, if we admitted that the blacks were
dangerous (though we deny it); does it not follow, that we, in these
districts, are entitled to some consideration on the part of our rulers?
We contribute to the support of the state, and are therefore entitled
to protection from the government; but are we likely to get that? I
don't believe it. We are just allowed to struggle on as best we can. But
it will result in this; we will have to take the remedy into our own
hands; labour we must have, and if our own countrymen will not accept
our employment, even at exorbitant wages, we will have to procure it
from some foreign source."

"May I enquire," said Mr. Moffatt, "the source you would propose?"

"It is immaterial which," replied Brown; "whatever would be found the
most advantageous, the people that would be most industrious, and whose
labour could be obtained at the cheapest rate of wage. I have often been
at a loss to understand why the Victorian government has adopted such
stringent laws to endeavour to keep the Chinese out of Melbourne. They
are essentially an industrious class of people, and just the very sort
of men we want; they make excellent shepherds, more attentive to their
work than Europeans, less difficult to please in their rations, and can
be obtained at far less wages."

"I can enlighten you," said the wool-buyer, "if you are ignorant as to
the reason of the Victorian people desiring a restriction on the immense
influx of Chinese immigrants. They have been landed in that colony in
thousands, and may be said, though forming an integral part of our
population, to be a distinct people and nation. They speak their own
language only, have their own religion, are proverbially the laziest,
filthiest, and most immoral people contained in the state, and come
without their females. So that they do not settle amongst us; but those
that are sufficiently fortunate to make money return with their gains to
their own country to excite the avarice of their countrymen; while those
that are not successful are left to starve and die, or commit
depredations on our settlers. They swarm together in large numbers in
small tenements in our large towns; and, by their vice and filth,
generate noisome diseases amongst themselves, and pestilence in the
neighbourhood in which they live; and their abodes and their persons are
alike mephitic. They are in fact the scum of our population, and far
more degraded even than the denizens of the vilest purlieus of Britain's
metropolis. They, as doubtless you are aware, live and migrate in large
bodies, from one to other of the diggings, blighting each locality in
their transient passage, as swarms of locusts. They stab one another,
and commit murder amongst themselves, of which the authorities never
hear. They commit depredations on the whites, for which they are never
punished from the difficulty in detecting the delinquent; and, as I said
before, they spread disease wherever they go. They are therefore no
benefit to the country; for, with the exception of rice and opium, they
consume no mercantile commodities, but annually drain a considerable
quantity of gold from it. It is considering these facts, and that they
are filling places that could be advantageously occupied by our own
countrymen, that the colonists of Victoria have attempted to restrict
their entrance into the country, by the exaction of a ten pound
poll-tax. I am only sorry to see that the example is not followed by the
other colonies, for while Victoria stands alone, she will never succeed
in keeping the evil away."

"And I am very glad to think the other colonies are liberal-minded
enough not do so," said Brown. "You will please to bear in mind that
this is a free country, and it is a lasting disgrace to Victoria that
she refuses admission to any foreigner. The government of Great Britain
might as well attempt to exclude certain people or classes from the
asylum of her shores."

"No, sir," replied Moffatt, "there it does not signify. Her own
population would more than counterbalance any influx; but here it is
different. The news of our gold fields, spread by rumour, and the
return of successful diggers to China, have generated a spirit of
adventure in that country which shows itself in the emigration of swarms
of her people to our shores. Already as many as sixty thousand Chinamen
are in Victoria; and they being acknowledged an inferior and by no means
desirable class of settlers, even if they remained, it was deemed
expedient to stop or at least check their immigration. As the complaint
was desperate, so, necessarily, was the remedy. As you say their
entrance into the country could not be prohibited, so the tax was levied
on them to discourage their coming."

"And I think it was a most iniquitous tax," said Brown. "It has been
urged against the Chinamen that they consume nothing but rice, and that
on the diggings they are in the way of British colonization. Now it is a
proverbial fact that they are ousted from all good 'claims;' which, if
of any value, are instantly 'jumped' by the diggers, while the poor
Chinamen are forced to take up the abandoned and worked out 'claims,'
where Europeans have found a continuation of labour unprofitable. On the
yield from these holes they manage to live, so it is evident that
instead of their being a curse to the country, as has been affirmed,
they are positively a benefit; for the gold, if they do take any out of
the country, is only that which, but for them, would never have been
extracted from the earth."

"That is a perfect fallacy," replied the other; "Chinamen will no more
work on bad ground than white men; and as to their working abandoned
'claims' that is a thing that is done every day now; for formerly, when
the diggings were in their glory, claims yielding what would now be
considered 'paying quantities,' were thrown up by their holders for some
more promising ground. But in these times diggers are content to try
over all the old ground; so the assertion that the practice is confined
to the Chinese is fallacious."

"However, be it as it may," said Brown, "the Chinese have a perfect
right to come here if they please; and I should like to see them landing
in Moreton Bay in as many thousands as they do in Melbourne. Then we
should have an opportunity of getting shepherds, whereas now we
experience considerable difficulty. Some of the settlers on the northern
part of the coast have for sometime agitated the question of the
introduction of coolie or Chinese labour into those parts; arguing that
the climate is admirably adapted for the growth of cotton and sugar,
though too tropical for the European to labour at agriculture in the
sun. It would, however suit those accustomed to such a temperature; and
without them the resources of the country will never be developed. I
perfectly agree with them, and think the introduction of some cheap
labour, such as that, would be of immense advantage to the country."

"I must again differ from you, sir," said the stranger; "their
introduction would be of incalculable mischief to the entire colony."

"How so?" asked the other, "will you explain?"

"Certainly," replied Mr Moffatt; "it would little matter to you,
perhaps, who only want to realise your fortune, and return with it to
your native land. But how different is it with the labouring man who
settles here with the intention of making this his home for the
remainder of his days? Let us consider the prospect it offers to the
colony in this light. It is argued that the northern parts of this
island are possessed of a climate that will not admit of the manual
labour of Europeans; and that without the introduction of tropical
labour the country must remain unproductive. Now, admitting this theory,
it naturally follows that, with the exception of owners of property and
capitalists, the population would be a mixed and foreign one; and would
form a state peculiar in itself, and different in its language and
manners from the other colonies. This, be it remembered, in the midst
of a British colony, inhabited by the Anglo-Saxon race. Now, it must be
manifest that this people, forming no inconsiderable part of our
population, must be either admitted to the privileges of British
subjects, or governed as a conquered race or an inferior people.
Assuming, then, that they are to be recognised as a class of free
immigrants, which is in accordance with your own opinion, they at once
become colonists, over whose actions we have no undue control. They
would be entitled to all the privileges of our constitution, and,
consequently, could not be debarred the exercise of the franchise. To
say nothing of the absurdity of having a Chinaman or coolie returned to
a seat in our legislature, and other incongruities; what would be the
effect of their introduction upon our own working population? we will
see. This desirable class of labourers with whom you desire to inundate
us, we will assume, are introduced into the country in swarms,
ostensibly for the cultivation of tropical produce in the northern
latitudes of this colony. They are engaged at wages commensurate to the
exigencies of competition, so as, as you say, to enable the cultivator
to develop the resources of the country by raising a marketable
commodity to compete with the slave-grown produce of the western
hemisphere. What is the result? Is it to our advantage? Certainly not!
The value of our exports are increased, you say, but at what a fearful
sacrifice? Granted that these coolies are engaged, and for a period of
years say, and that they are bound stringently by penalties to the terms
of their agreement. To enforce this, or even to carry on your work, you
must have the services of some interpreter; at whose mercy you must ever
be, even if you are so fortunate as to obtain one. I would ask you,
then, what security have you for the due performance of your labourers'
contract? None but their agreement. And how can you in a court of law
prove its legality, or the liability of the contracting party, when
that party is totally unacquainted with your language and you with his;
and he does not admit its validity? But even granting that one or two
refractory coolies could be subdued, where would be your remedy if
scores or hundreds repudiated their contracts, and refused to work for
you at the wages offered to them? That they would so refuse I am firmly
convinced, for we are all aware that two differently remunerated classes
of labour of the same description co-existent is incompatible with the
laws that govern commerce; and men would be found, as you yourself have
admitted, who would be ready to obtain their services in other
capacities by the offer of higher wages; while the coolies, in their
turn, would readily accept an improvement in their positions, without
considering the violation of their contract, the nature of which they
would doubtless have but an imperfect idea, if not be entirely ignorant.
Thus they would be continually drawn off from their intended occupation
to fill positions to the exclusion of the white man; and the cotton and
sugar cultivator would require to give an equivalent to the European's
wages, or supply the places of those who abscond by a fresh importation.
In such an emergency it is more than probable that the latter would be
the course adopted. Hence we would have a perpetual influx of these
undesirable immigrants, who would merely serve a probationary term with
their importers, and then mix with our white population on terms of
equality. Is it not evident then that Asiatic labour would be brought
into direct competition with European? and who can deny that the result
would not be disastrous to the latter? Some strait-laced philosophers
and fireside philanthropists, who see the miseries of their
fellow-creatures through the beeswing of their after-dinner potations,
dictate the means for the amelioration of the sufferings of their race
with the same self-sufficient spirit that they rule the destinies of
their own household. These argue that the introduction of the heathen
immigrants to our shores would be an inestimable blessing to humanity,
and add an additional lustre to the cause of Christianity, by the
intercourse of the two races, and a consequent enlightenment and
christianizing of the disciples of feticism. But this I deny, for debase
the European labourer by reducing his means to that of the Asiatic
(which I affirm would be the consequence of this influx), and instead of
the latter being elevated to the level of the former, the former would
be rather dragged down to that of the latter. Without going so far as to
question the omnipotence of the Almighty I firmly believe that the moral
condition of the Asiatic would not be ameliorated in the slightest
degree by the contact; while humanity and Christianity would receive a
blow in the demoralization of our countrymen. Depend upon it, sir, the
expediency of the introduction of cheap labour is a fallacy; whereas the
very existence of our religion, and the realization of our future
greatness, depend upon the settlement of the wastes of our colony by a
thorough British population."

"But, my good sir," said Brown, "how do you reconcile to your objection
the thesis that, as the European cannot labour in field service in the
tropical heat of the northern part of our colony, without the assistance
of Asiatic labour the productions of our land will lay dormant?"

"That," replied the other, "I also deny. I believe European labour is
practicable in our climate, even in the remote north; and in support of
my belief I could name numerous precedents. Was it not a Spanish
population that peopled South America? an European that later settled
Texas? and is even now (I allude more particularly to the Germans)
growing cotton in that province to compete with the slave-grown produce
of the States? Have not the French settled Algiers, and cultivated its
soil, even producing that desired staple, cotton? But to come nearer
home; have not our own brave countrymen in India incontestably proved,
in the trials of the last fearful campaign, without having been inured
to the climate, the capability of the Englishman to withstand its heat?"

"But still," said Brown, "the price at which we purchase our labour
would never enable us to cultivate either sugar or cotton profitably. We
must have cheap labour to perform the work; and, for my own part, I
can't see but that, if coolies be introduced into the country as
labourers for a specific purpose, they could be compelled by the law of
the land to continue at that labour. If the introduction for that
purpose is found desirable, the practice of their immigration could be
legalized by an enactment that at the same time would bind them to the
species of work for which they were engaged, and make their hire or
employment for any other purpose, or in any other part of the country
beyond the tropical boundary, a felony punishable by a heavy penalty."

"That was just the point I was coming to," replied Mr. Moffatt; "but
first I will answer your previous objection. It is practicable for
Europeans to cultivate the soil to the northward, though they will do so
in the manner most advantageous to themselves. If they find the
cultivation of cotton and sugar unprofitable they will turn their
attention to other products; but I am inclined to believe that cotton
could be profitably cultivated even by our own expensive labour. I have
a friend, resident in the vicinity of Brisbane, who has grown some
cotton as an experiment, and the result, even in this temperate climate,
has been most satisfactory. The cotton he sent home was submitted to
some of the first judges in Manchester and Liverpool, who pronounced it
of the finest sea-island description, and superior to any obtained from
the United States. Now this cotton was cultivated from the ordinary
American sea-island seed; so that its fineness arose, not from any
excellence in its germ, but the peculiar adaptation and efficiency of
the soil in which it was grown; and which does not differ from the land
on our entire coast line. This shows that our cotton would be of
superior quality, and consequently of greater value. Another fact to be
remembered is this, that in 'the States,' owing to the frost and
severity of the winter, the plant is only an annual; while with us, as
my friend has discovered, from the absence of frost the cotton tree
becomes a perennial, and increases its yield each season; while the
staple does not deteriorate in quality. Thus, it will be seen, we should
have considerable advantage in the cost of production over the American
planter; notwithstanding his slave labour. But to return to the coolies;
with regard to their forced compliance with the terms of their
agreements,--to effect which, you say, certain enactments would have to
be passed to meet the exigencies of the case,--I believe the first step
would be the dismemberment of those districts from the parent colony,
and their erection into a separate state; so as to preserve the
stringencies necessary in its government from infringing the
constitution of the other colonies. Now in this new state the
preponderance of the population would be black, who would in fact
comprise all the working part of it; and it would necessarily follow
that the government of the state would be comprised of the employers of
this very labour, their servants, or sycophants, or at least those whose
interests would be intimately connected with theirs. So that they might
be necessarily expected to legislate so as to entirely meet their own
views, and subvert the rights and freedom of their foreign labourers.
The system would then descend into a compulsory labour; and, but for its
name, would in nowise differ from slavery; worse in fact than actual
slavery, from the fact of the stimulus of protection to one's own
property being wanting in this case, that would in the other act as a
preventive against unusual tyranny and oppression. So that the right of
disposal by death, might reasonably be expected, would be exercised
almost with impunity. Depend upon it, sir, such a system would give rise
to a state of things, not only deplorable, but derogatory to a Christian
nation. But I am convinced it never would gain the countenance or
consent of the home government, who, for its own honour, could not
tolerate the introduction of coolie labour on such terms; and our own
population would never suffer its introduction on terms of equality."

"Well, sir," replied Brown, "though I don't admit myself a convert to
your way of thinking, I still believe there is some truth in your
arguments; but the thing we can't get over is the want of a labouring
population here in the bush; and if we can't induce our own countrymen
to emigrate we must try others."

"Believe me, sir," said Mr. Moffatt, "it is not a want of inclination
that deters thousands of Britain's redundant population from flocking to
our shores; it is the supineness of our short-sighted government, who,
instead of creating a fund for the introduction of an agricultural
population by the sale of the waste lands of the colony, or by the grant
to every immigrant of a piece of land equivalent in value to the amount
he has paid for his passage, lock up the lands from agricultural
settlers in the fear lest their interests should clash with the
pastoral. This suicidal policy has long been manifest; in no way more so
than by the fact that we are obliged to depend upon a foreign supply for
our very articles of common consumption; whereas nowhere could they be
produced with greater advantage than within our own territory. By all
accounts you are likely, in this district, to be separated from New
South Wales; and one of your first acts in your legislative independence
should be to facilitate the settlement of your agricultural lands. The
two interests, that and the pastoral, may be separately maintained
without detriment to either, and with immense advantage to the state."

"Oh, hang these politics!" cried Graham; "sink all dry arguments just
now, you have made me quite thirsty with merely hearing your clatter.
Never mind the agricultural lands, coolies, or Chinamen, though I would
be very happy to see them and hope we will be able to get a supply of
them soon. We will just polish off another bottle of grog, while we
screw a spree out of Smithers here." With this little prologue he left
the room for a few minutes, returning with a bottle which he placed on
the table, and took his seat while he continued: "Bob tells me he is
going to 'put his foot into it.' You know he has long been engaged to
that niece of Rainsfield's (a deuced fine girl, by Jove!), and he states
he is to be married in about a month. Now I say, if he does not give us
a spree before he throws us overboard, we will cut him as dead as a
herring after he is 'spliced.' What do you say, Brown?"

"Most assuredly," replied that individual, "Smithers ought to entertain
his bachelor friends before he withdraws himself from their clique; and
I have no doubt he will."

"He tells me too," said the Doctor, "that those young fellows at Fern
Vale have behaved scurvily to him, that one of them has tried to cut him
out, and striven hard to set the girl against him. Now I would propose
that Smithers give a spree at Brompton, and get his brother to invite
the guests for him; then he would be able to have his girl and her
friends there, and these young Fergusons too. We could have some
glorious fun, get up some races or something of that sort, to please the
women and amuse ourselves; besides, it would answer the purpose of
showing off his girl and introducing her to his friends, at the same
time that it would annoy his rival. And for the matter of that we might
oblige him by picking a quarrel with young Ferguson, and giving the
fellow a good drubbing, just for the satisfaction of the thing. Eh, gad!
Bob must promise to give us a spree, or we won't let him out of this
house. It is not often one of our fellows gets spliced; and we can't
lose one without a jollification. You had better promise at once, Bob."

"Well, for my part," replied Bob, "I would give you a spree in a minute,
but how am I to get it up? I would not know who to ask; and, besides, no
one would come to my invitation except such fellows as you, who would
drink all day, or until you had drained the house dry of liquor."

"Get your brother to do it," replied the Doctor, "and work round to the
blind side of his wife. I'll be bound she's woman enough to join in it
heartily; the mere prospect of the thing will be sufficient inducement
to make her fall into your views; and depend upon it she will not only
undertake the whole affair, but get together a good company for you."

"But there is another thing," urged Bob, "if we are to invite fifty or a
hundred people to our place we will have to find quarters for most of
them, and how shall we manage that?"

"Nothing easier in the world," replied the contumacious Doctor; "give up
all your spare room to the women folks, and we fellows can shake down
anywhere, camp under a tree if you like; or those that don't like that,
let them take the wool-shed."

"Well, I'll see if the thing can be managed," replied Bob, "and let you
know in good time."



CHAPTER XII.

  "Yes! loath indeed: my soul is nerved to all,
  Or fall'n too low to fear a farther fall."

BYRON.

 "Well, be it as thou wilt."

SIR WALTER SCOTT.


Some few days after the meeting of Doctor Graham's friends at Clintown
the monotony of the little circle at Fern Vale was disturbed by the
arrival of a horseman with a letter for Miss Ferguson; who received into
her hand one of those intricately folded missives which at once proclaim
the correspondent to be of the fair sex, and proceeded to read the
following epistle:

"DEAREST KATE.--I'm having a few friends at Brompton on Friday week to
spend the day, and of course expect to see you and your brothers of the
number. I will take no excuse, you must come; and, if you can possibly
manage it, I would be delighted by your prolonging your visit for a
week or as long as you like. However, that I will leave to yourself.
Eleanor and Mrs. Rainsfield I expect with Tom, so that you will have
company on the road. We will do what we can to amuse you all day, and
you need not make yourself uneasy about the journey, for I will have
plenty of room in the house for you, as well as all my friends, and
Mr. Smithers will provide for the accommodation of the gentlemen. You
had better ride over on the Thursday, and the party will break up
comfortably on the Saturday morning. Tell your brothers that part of
the programme of the day's pleasures is a race, and as I know that
William at least is fond of racing, he might like to join in it. The
man that carries this will be able to tell him more about it than I
can, so I will leave him to gain all that information from him. With
warmest love, believe me, dearest Kate, your affectionate friend,
ELIZA SMITHERS.

"_Tuesday morning._

"_P. S._--Write me a reply by the bearer, and mind as you value my
friendship make no excuses."

The delighted girl had no intention of declining the invitation; for
when did a young and joyous creature in the zenith of youthful spirits
ever desire seclusion from the innocent enjoyments of life? She ran with
the open letter in her hand to her brother William (who was at the time
a short distance from the house giving instructions to some of his men),
and cried: "See, Will, here is an invitation from Mrs. Smithers to a
party at Brompton; you'll go, won't you, Will? I know you will; I'll go
and write an answer to say we will accept it."

"Don't be in such a violent hurry my little Diana; give me time to read
the letter," said her brother, "before you act as sponsor for me. There
is no necessity, my dear, to be so impatient; I dare say the messenger
will wait for a few minutes;" and then, after perusing it, he continued:
"For my part I will be delighted to go, though I'll first see what John
says. But, my Kitty! you should not run out in the sun with your head
uncovered; you will be spoiling your beautiful complexion and getting a
_coup de soliel_. Then your invitations to parties would be at an end;
be off now and put on a hat, and we will go look for John, and get his
decision on the question."

The affectionate mandate of her brother, was soon obeyed by Kate; and
the two went in search of John, to submit the note to his perusal. After
reading it, he expressed a disinclination to accept the invitation,
excusing himself that as they had determined to shortly start for New
England he had no wish to join the festivities; but to enable his
brother and sister to go to Brompton, he said he would delay his
departure until after their return.

Kate and William endeavoured in vain to dissuade him from this, but he
was inexorable; so it was at last arranged that they should join the
party without him, and Kate hastened to communicate the intelligence to
her friend, while William took the opportunity of eliciting from the
Brompton messenger all the information he could obtain respecting the
arrangements.

The reader may conjecture the motives that actuated John Ferguson in his
desire to keep aloof from Brompton. He was aware the marriage of Bob
Smithers and Eleanor Rainsfield was fixed for a period not very remote;
and, perceiving the object of the meet was to exhibit the young lady to
the admiring gaze, and introduce her to the notice of the friends of the
family as the affianced bride of Bob Smithers, he wished to avoid a
meeting which, he doubted not, would be irksome to the lady and painful
to himself, especially as he would be compelled to witness the triumph
of his rival, who, he believed, would take a malicious pleasure in
making him feel his defeat. He therefore resolved to absent himself from
a society where he was calculated to experience disappointment, rather
than pleasure; where for him there would be no enjoyment, except the
melancholy satisfaction of gazing on the features of the one he dearly
loved, but who so shortly was to be the bride of another. As his brother
and sister left him he resumed the occupation at which he had been
disturbed on their approach, and continued wrapt in his own gloomy
meditations, until he was aroused from his reverie by the cheerful voice
of Tom Rainsfield calling him by his name; when turning round he
perceived his friend standing at his side.

"Why, what on earth is the matter with you, John?" said Tom, as he gazed
upon the sorrowful features of the young man; "you look ill, wretchedly
ill; what ails you, man?"

"Nothing," replied John. "I never felt better in my life; I am not
ailing." But his looks belied his speech, for his pallid cheek bore the
stamp of a mental depression, and his haggard features the evidence of
sufferings other than corporeal; for, let the truth be told, the
consciousness that Eleanor was lost to him for ever, preyed upon his
mind; and, notwithstanding his repeated efforts to rally his drooping
spirits, a melancholy gloom had settled upon his brow, there giving
indication of the tumult of thought and feeling that had and still was
agitating his brain.

His passion for Eleanor Rainsfield, since the fire of love had first
entered his soul, had ever been the material of his dreams both by day
and night; she was the star of his destiny, the cynosure to which the
magnetic needle of his hopes always pointed, and to which his fondest
affections continually looked for guidance. He loved her madly, and had
half fancied, notwithstanding her avowment of a pre-engagement, that
some fortuitous circumstance might have transpired to break off that
connexion, and lead her to join her destinies with his. He believed he
was not altogether an indifferent object in her eyes, and the fates,
even though hitherto unpropitious, he had believed would have ultimately
favoured his cause. Thus he continued, even with his heart under a
prohibitory decree, to cherish the tender feeling for the lovely girl,
although his calmer nature told him there was no hope. He offered up his
mind a willing sacrifice to the pleasing though deadly poison, and
permitted his soul to be ravished by the wild delirium of his infatuated
love. He had, in fact, hoped against hope; but now, that he discovered
the creature he adored was irrevocably passing from him to become the
wife of another, life appeared to him a blank, and he felt no desire to
prolong an existence expatriated from the society of the only one who
made it dear to him. These were the feelings that had consumed the
spirits of the young man between the interval of his separation from his
sister and his meeting with Tom Rainsfield, and which had left such
indubitable marks of distress on his countenance that his friend had not
failed to detect them.

We say that John Ferguson was aware that the marriage of Bob Smithers
and Eleanor was settled. This he had heard some time previously, and the
tenor of Mrs. Smithers' note had confirmed it; while in his susceptive
imagination he pictured to himself the whole plan, needing no better
prompter than his fears. While there had been a shadow of hope, John had
borne with commendable fortitude the disappointment of unrequited
affection, and sustained the devastation of the consuming fire that was
burning within him without the possibility of egress. But now that the
barrier of his expectancy had been rudely broken down; that the
circumvallation of his breastine citadel had been razed to the ground,
and the delicate fabric of his heart exposed to the rough greeting of
the unfriendly blast, and the piercing shafts of despair, his spirit
sank under the assault, and left him crushed and almost demented.

"Why, man," said Tom, "you look the perfect picture of misery. I know,
or can guess, the cause of your grief; but never mind, cheer up, old
fellow! You know the old adage: 'The battle is never lost till it's
won;' so do not despair. Eleanor is not married yet, and, by Jove! she
won't be either; at least to Smithers; you mark my words."

"My dear fellow," said John, "do not destroy her happiness or peace of
mind by attempting to separate her from her betrothed. He is her choice,
and it is her pleasure to accept him; then what have I to complain of?
Pray, don't frustrate her marriage with Smithers out of any regard for
me; for I feel convinced any intrigue you may enter into to further such
an object would be distasteful to her."

"Not at all," replied his friend; "you mistake her, John, and me too,
and I may add yourself as well. Though Eleanor has given her consent to
this arrangement I know her heart is not with it. Do you think I would
be disappointing her, or making her miserable, by destroying a bond that
would only bind her in a state of abject misery for the entire period of
her life? Would I not rather be justified in rescuing her from such a
condition? Of course I would. Then that is the reason I object to her
marriage with Smithers; for I am certain she would never know a day's
happiness from the hour of her union with him. Two natures never were
more diametrically opposed to one another; the dove and the hawk might
as well be allied as she to him. She all purity, virtue, and innocence;
he all licentiousness, vice, and depravity, without the capacity to
appreciate so priceless a gem, and I believe without one feeling of
regard for her. No, by--I was going to swear; but, never mind, it cannot
be, and I say it shall not be; I'll prevent it yet, for I am sworn to
it."

"I fear, Tom," said John Ferguson, "you are disposed to judge too
harshly of Smithers; Eleanor evidently sees something in him that she
admires, or I imagine she would not accept him; so I would beg of you
again to leave her to the dictates of her own feelings. Much as I should
desire to be blessed by the possession of her hand, I would not attempt
it by an opposition to her own inclinations."

"Well, John," replied the other, "I am really surprised to hear you talk
so if you love Eleanor, as I am convinced you do. For her sake, as well
as for your own, you will save her from the misery of so unnatural an
alliance as this she meditates. It cannot but terminate unhappily, for I
am sure Smithers' treatment of her will be on a par with his general
conduct, selfish and brutal."

"Pray, don't imagine, my dear Tom," continued John Ferguson, "that I am
advocating his cause out of opposition to you, or of perverseness to my
own interests. I would consider it the _acme_ of human felicity to be
possessed of so inestimable a treasure as Eleanor Rainsfield; but, next
to the happiness of that possession, my desire is to see her happy.
Bearish as Smithers may be, and I believe is, it will be impossible for
him to witness the devotion of such a gentle heart as hers without being
warmed in the sunshine of her affection. He cannot but treat her with
love and respect, for her nature would command them even from the breast
of a savage."

"No doubt it would," said Tom, "but I believe that Bob Smithers has not
got the feelings of a savage except in his barbarity. But, come John,
this won't do; I can't see you perseveringly standing in your own light,
and, instead of arousing yourself to exertion, indulging in melancholy
reflections. You must be stimulated to work the release of that girl.
Why, man, you have lost her through your own supineness. Do you think if
I had loved a girl as you have Eleanor, that I would have cared about
all the Bob Smithers' in the colony. I would never have ceased my
importunities, until I had induced her to look favourably upon me, and
condemn her other suitor. You know the saying that the constant dropping
of water will wear away the stone; and if I had not worn a hole into her
heart, it is a wonder; especially if my rival was such a careless wooer
as Smithers; and when once I had got her to prefer me to him, Bob
Smithers, or Bob anybody else, might have gone to Jericho for me. I'll
bet I'd have soon choked him off; but, my dear fellow, let me see you
put a bright face upon the matter, and thrust your foot through 'Bob's
affair'; for I am convinced it does not require much to turn the scale
in your favour even now, notwithstanding all Eleanor's scruples. The
girl must be yours, so take heart."

A sickly smile was the only response Tom got from his friend for this
attempt to rally him, but he continued: "Well, look here, John, if you
don't exert yourself to avert what I consider a domestic calamity I
shall cease to consider you my friend. I never saw one who so
pertinaciously adhered to a despondency, without attempting to extricate
himself, as you. William tells me you have declined the invitation to
Brompton. Now, I must insist upon your going; I'll take you under my
especial care, and will engage to bring about something to your
advantage."

"I am extremely indebted to you for your sympathy, Tom," said his
friend; "but I regret I have a pre-engagement to start for New England
before that time; and I fear to delay my journey much longer as the
weather threatens to break."

"Now, you know that is all nonsense," said Tom; "I am going down to town
myself in a few days, and a day or two will make no more difference to
you than to me. I know the object of your refusal, so that excuse won't
serve. Why should you desire to avoid the Smitherses or ourselves? It is
true Bob has behaved to you in a most ungentlemanly manner, but you need
not notice him; the invitation comes from his brother and lady, and you
may be sure he will be compelled to treat you with civility. With regard
to our party, you need not be under any apprehension; Mrs. Rainsfield,
Eleanor, and myself will form our cavalcade, so you may anticipate no
unpleasantness by the chance of meeting my brother. While, if I judge
rightly, our going ought to be an inducement to you, for of course we
shall join to make one party on the road."

"I really can't go," said John.

"I'll hear of no objection," replied Tom; "you must go, unless you wish
to displease all of us by your moroseness. Besides, bear in mind that
your absence will give Bob Smithers an opportunity of glorying over your
defeat. If it is only to oppose him I would urge you to come; and make
yourself as agreeable to Eleanor as you can."

"I have already declined the invitation," said John, "and I doubt not
ere this the messenger has returned with Kate's reply; so it would be
unbecoming of me to go after my refusal."

"Moonshine!" exclaimed Tom. "Who would ever think of studying etiquette
with our friends in the bush? Besides your apology is a difficulty
easily remedied, for the man is going to stop at our place all night; so
we can get your sister to write another note, and I will take it over to
him, and exchange it for the one he has; we may therefore consider that
arranged, and that you go."

"I will go to please you," said John; "but I can assure you I have
little pleasure in the prospect."

"Well, you are a stubborn and ungrateful fellow," exclaimed Tom
Rainsfield. "I have a good mind to repeat that remark to Eleanor, unless
you promise me to make amends by being assiduously attentive to her,
despite all frowns of another."

"I fear," replied John, "that is a difficult task; however, I'll attempt
that also to please you."

"That's right, my dear fellow," cried Tom, "that's the first sensible
thing I have heard you utter for some time, and inclines me to entertain
some hopes of you yet. But come let us join your sister and William; we
will talk over our plans, and set the young lady to work on her letter."

The two young men then sauntered quietly up to the house, and Tom
Rainsfield taking the lead entered first, and addressed Kate Ferguson in
his lively manner as he did so.

"I have been successful, my dear Miss Ferguson," he said, "in making a
convert of John. I have overruled all his objections to join us, and he
has promised to accompany our party to Brompton. So we have to beg of
you to concoct another epistle for Mrs. Smithers, which I will be the
bearer of to the Brompton messenger, who is to remain at our place all
night."

Kate instantly sprang from her seat, and clapped her hands with delight;
then running to her brother threw her arms round his neck and kissed
him, gazing in his eyes as she said: "I am so delighted, dear John,
that you are coming with us. You have been looking so melancholy of late
that I have felt quite wretched to see you; but you will be pleased with
the visit, I know you will, and happy too; will you not, John?"

"Yes, my dear," he replied, "but am I not always happy?"

"I don't know," replied the affectionate girl; "but I hardly think you
are always so. Are you really happy now, John? You do not look so."

"But I am, my love," said he; "how could I be otherwise?"

"Of course not," said Tom; "I should like to know what fellow would not
be happy when he had a pair of delicate little arms affectionately flung
round his neck, a brace of luscious little ruby lips pouting to his, and
warbling the sweet music of affection, and with two lovely eyes peering
into his dull orbs. By Jove! the very thought of it ought to make him
happy; and it is my firm conviction that he has been showing all this
opposition just to be tempted in that way. I only wish I could induce
any little charmer to try the same experiment on me. I would be
incessantly wanting an application of the persuasive influence. Do you
desire me to join the party, Miss Ferguson?"

"Of course, we do," replied the young lady; "we couldn't well do without
you."

"Then I've determined not to go," replied Tom. "Neither Mrs. Rainsfield
nor Eleanor care much about my company, so I think I'll absent myself."

This palpable hit of Tom's was rewarded by a hearty laugh from John, and
a blush and an ejaculation of "you horrid man," from the damsel; who
pouted her lips, and attempted to frown, while she went to her little
writing-desk to pen a revised edition of her note of the morning. Her
anger, however, as Tom well knew, was only assumed and of short
duration, and after a few moments of attempted frigidity she said
smilingly: "You are really incorrigibly rude, Mr. Rainsfield, and you
may depend upon it I will tell Eleanor of your impertinence."

"My dear young lady," replied the delinquent, "that would be nothing new
to her; she is already fully acquainted with my peculiarities, and would
probably recommend you to try the effect of your balm."

"Why, you are getting worse than ever, you insolent fellow," cried Kate.
"I'll really get angry with you, and forbid you accompanying us, which I
am sure, notwithstanding your statement of indifference, would be a
severe punishment. But leave me alone a few minutes pray, until I write
my letter; and then I will expect you to apologize to me for your bad
behaviour."

"I will be as dumb as a dormouse," exclaimed Tom, "until you have
completed your task, so proceed; or, perhaps, you would like to employ
me as your amanuensis. I will be happy to be of service to you."

"Then be good enough to hold your tongue," said Kate, "you are not
fulfilling your promise of silence."

"No; but I am merely making a suggestion for your benefit," said Tom.

"You are positively dreadful," cried Kate; "you men, insolent fellows!
are continually talking of women's tongues; but, I declare, no woman
could have one that is kept so unceasingly occupied as yours, for you
give it no rest; even when you are requested to do so, and when you
actually make the attempt."

"You shall have no further cause to complain," said Tom; "I will be
silent until you finish your letter; that is, if you do not occupy as
much time as is necessary to pen a government dispatch. Ladies'
specimens of chirography are proverbially voluminous, are as vague as an
electioneering address, and require as much attention and time in their
composition and execution, as if each individual epistle was of the
greatest moment of their lives."

"Hush! for goodness sake," exclaimed Kate; "when will you stop? pray be
silent for a few minutes, and then you may talk as much as you like."

The desired truce was at length obtained, and the letter written and
handed to Tom for delivery.

"Now," said he, "where has William gone? we ought to have him here to
discuss plans; however, I daresay, you, Miss Ferguson, John, and I, can
manage. What I would propose is this; that you all come over to
Strawberry Hill the night before, and start thence the first thing in
the morning; for I fear that you, Miss Ferguson, will find that fifty
miles will be quite far enough to ride in one day, and Brompton is very
nearly that from our place."

"That proposition I should decidedly object to," said John; "it would
not be consistent to intrude ourselves upon your brother. The extra
distance between this and your place will be of little consequence,
especially as Kate is a good horsewoman, and I am sure will think
nothing of the distance."

"Very likely not," replied Tom; "but consider a young lady cannot be
expected to be ready for a journey so early as you would, and to do it
comfortably you should start from here at daybreak. Be reasonable now
for once, John, and if you won't come yourself let William bring your
sister over the day before, and leave her that night with Eleanor. You
can pick her up as you pass on Thursday morning, while we will join
company, and all proceed together. What do you say to that arrangement,
Miss Ferguson?"

"I should like it very much," replied Kate; "but I will do whatever John
wishes. If he does not desire me to stop at your house I will endeavour
to ride the whole distance in the day, though I must confess it is
rather a long ride."

"Of course it is," said Tom, "far too long for you, excellent equestrian
though you be; and, besides, I can't see what objection John can have to
your visiting us. You come as a guest to my sister-in-law; therefore,
my brother's quarrel with John should in no way prevent you from
sojourning with us. Waive all unpleasant feelings, John, and let your
sister stop with us for that night."

"I don't wish to detain her," replied John, "out of any ill-feeling
towards any member of your family; I am sure you are perfectly aware of
that; but from a feeling that it would be hardly proper under the
circumstances."

"There can be no impropriety in it," said Tom; "my sister-in-law would
be delighted with the arrangement; in fact, she herself proposed the
scheme to me this morning, when she received her invitation and heard
that you were expected to go too. To settle the matter, I'll bring her
over here on Thursday, and she will take Miss Ferguson back with her;
for I know very well you'll not attempt to dispute the question with
her. What do you say to _that_ arrangement, Miss Ferguson?"

"Oh, I should be so happy to join Eleanor," she exclaimed, "and stop
with her that night if John will let me."

"Of course, he'll let you," replied Tom; "he has no serious objection I
know, but is only opposing me because you are desirous of the adoption
of my scheme. He wants a little more of your lip salve, when I'll
guarantee he'll be softened."

"Now, you are mocking me," said Kate; "it is cruel of you to make fun of
my affection for my brother. I am almost determined not to have anything
farther to say to you; you are a hard-hearted unfeeling fellow."

"Pardon me, my dear young lady," cried Tom, "I was only attempting to do
faint justice to your insuperable power of fascination. One soft
embrace, similar to that I witnessed a short time ago, I am sure will
melt your inexorable brother, who is even worse to deal with, and
requires more coaxing than any 'stern parient' I ever saw."

"I'll be softened without that this time," said John, "as it is Mrs.
Rainsfield's desire that you should break your journey by starting from
her house, Kate, I have no desire to oppose your own wish; you may go if
you like, and William and I will join your party on Thursday morning."

The delighted girl again ran over to her brother, and sitting on his
knee, with her arms encircling his neck in an amatory embrace, leant her
head on his breast, and looked roguishly pleased from her dark blue eyes
at Tom, who sat in perfect raptures, gazing at the lovely seraph.

"Upon my life, Miss Ferguson, you'll be the death of me," he exclaimed;
"how do you imagine any mortal man can withstand such temptation? If I
witness another scene like that to-day, I'll lose my senses. I must be
off home, unless you wish to have the weight on your mind of being the
cause of rendering me a raving maniac."

"I think you are that already, sir," replied Kate; "for you are always
strange in your manner, and invariably accompany, in your addresses to
me, insults in your flattery." But the kind-hearted girl, thinking,
even in her playfulness, she had said something too harsh, came over and
stood by Tom's chair, and continued in a sweet and kindly voice and with
a smile beaming on her charming features: "But I will give you full
permission during our visit to Brompton, to say as many cruel things to
me as you like and I won't be angry. You may flatter me as much as you
please, and I'll pledge you my word I'll not believe you. So there will
be no occasion for you to take leave of your senses just at present."

"To live under the smile of your countenance," exclaimed Tom, "would be
a sufficient talisman against any evil spirit; so I fear none of their
machinations, and feel sufficiently armed against that demon lunacy;
towards whom, since I have known you, I have always had an irresistible
tendency."

"Then I should advise you," said Kate, "to instantly fly my presence."

"That, Miss Ferguson, would only have the effect of hastening an
exacerbation of my malady; my only hope for relief is in a continuance
of your smiles."

"Your case is certainly a most extraordinary one," said Kate; "you say
your only relief is from me, and yet I am the cause of your mental
subversion."

"It is not at all extraordinary, my dear young lady," said Tom; "but
perfectly consistent with the doctrines of pharmacology, both allopathic
and homeopathic, by the principle embodied in the doctrine of the
latter, viz., '_similia similibus curantur_.' If your smiles wound my
heart, they are the sweetest as well as the surest remedy to heal it;
and, if an exhibition of your specious favours almost drives me to
distraction, the balm whose curative powers is the most effective is a
permission to continue in the thraldom of your mellifluent bondage."

"Well, now, I declare you are a dreadful fellow," said Kate, "I did not
give you permission to flatter me until Thursday week, but you commence
now in spite of me."

"What! is he flirting again, my Kitty?" said William, as he burst into
the room. "Tom, we will have to send you, like your renowned namesake,
to Coventry. You will be spoiling our sister, cramming her poor little
head with your love speeches. She will be thinking of nothing else but
those little chubby-faced winged archers, whose destined occupation is
to traverse the globe with flambeau in hand, to ignite the inflammable
material of mortals' hearts. And instead of our finding substantial
meals, to satisfy the cravings of our hunger, we will some day be
expected to feed on the ambrosia of that little mischief-making deity.
Is John superintending your flirting, my turtle doves?"

A hearty laugh was the response of Tom Rainsfield to this sally; while
John replied that he had been too much amused at the farce to interrupt
it. Kate, however, took a different mode of explanation. She advanced
nimbly to her brother and saluted him; not in the way she had done to
John, but with an inoffensive titillation on his cheek with her downy
little hand; which she intended, as she said, for a slap for his
impertinence. "But tell me, Will," said she, "what made you rush in in
such a hurry; was it to frighten us?"

"Frighten you, my pet?" he replied. "No! I have got some fun to tell
you. A few minutes ago while I was down at the stock-yard I had a
letter put into my hands by young Sawyer; but as the missive is an
epistolary production somewhat unique I will read it to you for your
benefit. The orthography is not at all in harmony with any of the
lexicographers to whom it has been my fortune at any time to refer; but
in open violation of Dr. Johnson and all his colleagues. However, that
is a minor curiosity, and can be digested in detail."

"Well, read us the letter," replied his auditory, "or let us look at
it."

"Here it is," said William, as he commenced to read it; while we, to
give the reader a better conception of the production, crave pardon for
inserting it verbatim. The superscription is "Mr. Wm. Fuggishon, Esqe.
Farn Vail per barer," and the contents are:

"Weddingsday, Dare Sir, Exkuse the libety i take for to rite yer but
Capting Jones and me presints our comblemints and 'ave to say as how
weir agoing to 'ave a partey on nixt munday and wood be glad if you'd
cum as theril be golley sprey and lots of gents. be shuer and cum and
also yer syster cos we shal 'ave ladeys to at hour ouse, and theril be
no fears on her getting 'ome agin, cos I thinks you dosent drink so of
corse you'd not git drunk I am Mr. Fuggishon sir yours truly Mrs.
Capting Jones wat is to be or Mary ann Sawyer now.

"_P.S._--If you now any other frends as wood like to cum, bring em."

When the laughter that had followed the reading of this epistle had
somewhat subsided William said to his sister: "Now, Kitty, what do you
think of that invitation? my word! but we are going to have a gay time
of it up here; parties will be going the round of the country after
this. Of course, you will go to the Sawyers rejoicings, Kitty, and put
on your pretty, and good behaviour?"

"If I had not known you were joking, Will, I would be angry with you,"
exclaimed the indignant girl. "The impertinence of the horrid creatures
indeed!"

"But you know, Kate, 'I dosent drink,' as the prospective Mrs. Jones
affirms; consequently there is no fear of you, unless you too often
drink to the health of the happy couple."

"Don't talk nonsense, Will, but tell us how this affair has come about;
it is the first I have heard of a marriage in their family being
contemplated?" said Kate.

"Well, my little poppet," said William, "I will impart to you all the
information I have been able to glean, and which has been obtained from
Mr. Reuben Sawyer, the brother of the bride, and the bearer of the note
of invitation. It appears that a certain gentleman rejoicing in the name
of Jones, and honoured by the prefixed title of Captain (though from
whence, or in what service I know not), has by some means introduced
himself to the family of Sawyer, and made a conquest of the heart of the
younger female member. They are to be married at Alma on Sunday, thence
to return to the hall of the bride's father, and entertain their friends
on Monday. What the pecuniary arrangements are, I don't know; but I
strongly suspect they are to the advantage of the _soi-disant_ Captain,
of whom, by the bye, I imagine the Sawyer family know very little. It
strikes me it will turn out a sell for the girl, for I fully expect the
bridegroom will be discovered to be an impostor. I am convinced he has
assumed a title and garb to palm himself off on them as a gentleman,
while they have snatched at the bait."

"What a dreadful man he must be then," said Kate.

"Even so, Miss Kate," said Tom; "but there are numbers of such 'dreadful
men' prowling about in the colony; who appropriate and abandon as many
aliases and personate as many characters as would people a small town.
They have a convenient knack of falling in love with such girls as Miss
Mary Ann Sawyer, to whom they give a glowing account of all their
wealthy friends and genteel relations. Then before the effect dies out
they propose, are accepted, recommend a speedy marriage to prevent, as
they say, their relations from hearing and stopping the intended match,
and induce, too frequently, not only the girl, but her friends to fall
into their views; while they do not discover their error until the gay
Lothario takes leg-bail upon the first symptoms of an enquiry being made
after him by the victim of some previous matrimonial swindle."

"Well," said William, "I am inclined to accept the invitation for
myself. I would like to witness the fun, for fun I am sure there will
be; and I am authorised to invite any friends, so will make use of my
_carte blanche_ and ask you, Tom. What do you say, will you go? If you
will, we will go together. I would like to see their spread, and
attempts at doing the genteel thing; but, at the same time, I should
like to have some one to accompany me."

"Oh, I don't mind it at all," said Tom, "I'll join you with pleasure to
witness the feast. I expect it will be a rich sight, if not a rich feed.
Will you make one of us, John?"

"No," replied John, "I could not endure their disgusting affectation;
and I would find no pleasure in witnessing their gross fooleries. I will
remain at home, and take care of Kate; she will want some one to keep
her company, while you two roisterers are absent; and I am sure it will
be more congenial to both of us."

"Yes, it will indeed," said Kate; "I am glad you don't think of leaving
me all alone, John, and going to visit those horrid people."

"Well, we will make amends by giving you a graphic description of it
when we return," said William; "and, unless I am very much mistaken, it
will be of such a nature as will excite your risibility."

"Very well then," replied Kate, "I hope it will be funny; but whatever
you do, Will, pray don't give any of the creatures any encouragement to
come here, for I am sure I could not bear the sight of them in our
house."

"Never fear, _ma cher_," replied William, "our little tutelary angel
shall never be contaminated by the intercourse of our plebeian
neighbours; who must learn to consider, notwithstanding an officer has
married into their family, that they are only entitled to gaze at our
bright star, and that it is too much felicity to expect permission to be
graced by an admission within the circle of its rays."

"Don't talk any more nonsense, Will," replied his sister, "but be sure,
if any of those people make any proposition to come here, that you will
use all your endeavours to prevent them."



CHAPTER XIII.

  "Tam saw an unco sight!
  Nae cotillon brent new frae France,
  But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
  Put life and mettle in their heels."

BURNS.


On the following Monday, towards the evening, Tom Rainsfield and William
mounted their horses at Fern Vale, to ride over to the domicile of the
Sawyers. They had delayed their visit until the close of the day,
presuming, though their invitation specified no time of meeting, that
they would be quite early enough at the hour they were going. They
therefore rode leisurely along, and approached "Industry" (as the
Sawyers had christened their place) just as the sun was sinking in the
west. The scene that then presented itself to their vision was truly of
a novel character, and one that rather amused them.

A short distance from the cottage had been erected a bowery hall for the
reception and feasting of the guests; and at the time when it first
burst upon their view the shouts that arose from its umbrageous walls
plainly indicated the nature of the proceedings within. But as the
reader is not supposed to be possessed of the same ubiquitous faculties
as the author, we may be permitted, for the purpose of enlightenment, to
describe the nature of those proceedings.

In the interior of this retreat, and stretching its entire length, was a
bench or impromptu table, with seats on each side of it of a similar
construction; in the whole of which the rough material was plentifully
and principally called into use. On the board stood the remains of
sundry viands, proclaiming the conclusion of a feast; and bottles, and
drinking utensils of various shapes, sizes, and material, were kept in
constant activity by numerous grim-visaged masculine beings who sat
round the table. The variety of costumes was particularly striking, from
the perfect black, donned for the nonce by the head of the Sawyer
family, to that of one of his choicest friends, who sat in resplendent
vest, and shirt sleeves; having divested himself of his outer garment on
the principle of preference to ease over elegance. In the rear of what
we may call the saloon, in the shade of the bush, another party was
assembled; and from the shrieks of the women, and the boisterous mirth
of the men, it was evident their amusement was something other than that
of a passive nature.

As our friends approached this group a fleet-footed female darted from
the human labyrinth like a startled fawn closely pursued by one of the
merry-making lords of the creation. The chase was continued amidst the
repetition of a perfect Babel of shouts and laughter, until the panting
and exhausted roe sank into the arms of the pursuing hart, and yielded
to the requiting inosculation. Blush not, gentle reader; these matured
specimens of the family of man, for the time forgot the dignity of their
years, and were amusing themselves by a renewal of their youthful
pristine enjoyments. They were in fact playing at "kiss in the ring."

In the rear of the house the young men detected another foliate shed, in
which were, secured to some rough stalls, numerous specimens of
horse-flesh; while in the vicinity were scattered drays, light spring
carts, and even shakey gigs, evidently the conveyances of the various
guests. Here our friends left their horses; and judging the best place
to present themselves to their host, and where they were most likely to
see him, would be the leafy hall, they bent thither their steps. Upon
reaching the entrance they perceived the company was being enlivened by
the performance of some disciple of Apollo, who was venting forth in a
stentorian voice a rendering of "The Maniac;" and when he uttered (as
the young men arrested their steps so as not to "disturb the harmony"):
"No, by heavens! I am not mad," they really thought he was under the
same strange hallucination as the subject of the song, and labouring to
deceive himself upon a reality. If he was not mad, they imagined, he was
at least bordering on that state; while the whole of his hearers were
not far removed from the same, when they tolerated such uproar
unworthily dignified by the name of music.

However, when the song ceased, in the midst of the deafening shouts, and
clatter of tumblers etc. that followed, William and his companion
entered; and at once distinguished the late singer as the individual who
sat at the head of the board. This personage was a coarse-looking,
red-faced, thick-set fellow; with lowering eyebrows, bushy moustache
(though otherwise cleanly shaved face), and hair of an objectionable,
though undefinable colour. He was dressed, as far as was perceptible,
in a black coat, white waistcoat, and neckerchief, and with an immense
frill front to his shirt. He seemed to be exceedingly heated with the
exertion of his song; and was drying his face and forehead with a white
handkerchief, in which action he was displaying more than one massive
ring; adorning fingers, that, to the eyes of our friends, proved
experience in more active and manual employment than military discipline
would be likely to require. He sat smiling complacently at his friends,
as one who was conscious of having displayed the possession of a
valuable talent; and, though gratified by the adulation of his hearers,
he took it as a just homage, and as a proof that they were not destitute
of a phrygian taste; or at least could appreciate music, when they heard
it in perfection, as when he himself sang.

This individual, our friends rightly judged, was Captain Jones. On
his right sat his lady, the quondam Miss Sawyer, and on his left her
worthy papa. Whether the young lady was enchanted by the lyric strains
of her lord, or not, we are at a loss to say; notwithstanding that we
know she was possessed of what she called a "pihanner," and had a soul
for music, having on various occasions accompanied herself on that
instrument to the immense delight of her admiring friends. She might
have been actuated in her lengthened sitting by motives of a protective
character, to preserve her husband from a too free libation; or, it
might have been, that she felt happy in no other society but his.
Either of which reasons were sufficiently cogent, though we are unable
to conjecture which might have influenced her. But, be it as it may,
there she sat; and, with the exception of her mother, who occupied the
foot of the table, she was the only representative of her sex in the
assembly.

William and Tom had made their way very nearly up to the head of the
table before they were noticed by the host; who, when he perceived them,
jumped from his seat, and seizing them each by the hand, expressed all
sorts of pleasure at their presence, and formally introduced them to
the bold Captain Jones and his lady. The latter having received their
congratulations with the most perfect nonchalance, proposed, as the
evening was drawing on, that the company should all adjourn to the
house; and suiting her motion to her word she sallied from the bower,
escorted by our friends, and followed by the bridegroom, and the other
"beings of sterner stuff."

In the cottage they were joined by those who had been amusing themselves
on the green; and all then sat down to another substantial meal that
went by the name of tea. This being despatched, while the rooms were
being cleared, the men adjourned to the verandah and grass to smoke, and
were joined by some of the women; while the rest assisted in the
domestic arrangements inside. These being completed, and the smokers
satisfied with "blowing their cloud," they reentered the dwelling,
which had in the short space of time they had occupied in the enjoyment
of the narcotic weed, become perfectly metamorphosed. The principal room
had been converted from _la salle á manger_ to _la salle de danse_; and
its transition had been so speedily effected that the company were quite
delighted, and loud in their praises of the effective adornment We are
inclined to think, however, more was to be attributed to the spirit that
pervaded the company to be pleased with everything than that there was
any display of wonderful taste. A few boughs of green foliage were stuck
about the walls; and the benches of planks were arranged all round the
room, and covered with scarlet blankets; while, by way of chandeliers,
and in lieu of candlesticks, bottles, containing "Belmont sperms," were
dispersed and stationed on every available stand, by which simple means
the lighting and decorating of the hall was completed.

The superior guests (we mean our young friends William and Tom) were
led away by "the Captain," who acted as major domo M.C., etc., to a back
room; which on ordinary occasions served as the dormitory of Mr. Reuben
Sawyer, but on the present was set apart for the especial refreshment of
"the gents;" while the bridal apartment in the front was made to endure
a similar profanation for the benefit of "the ladies." The Captain,
after enjoying another shake of the hand from his visitors, gave vent to
his feelings in a rapturous expression of delight at the honour of their
patronage; declaring the moment to be the happiest of his life; trusting
he should long enjoy the pleasure of their friendship; regretting that
their friends had not found it convenient to accompany them; and finally
requested them to join him in a drink. Upon receiving an acquiescence to
this request, he exclaimed: "What shall it be? Brandy? gin? wine?
claret? champagne? Ah, champagne; yes! we will have a bottle of
champagne for good fellowship sake." Upon which he took up a bottle and
cut the string, when away flew the cork, while he poured the wine into
three tumblers. Two of these he pushed over to his guests, while the
third he raised to his own lips, with the trite though universal toast
of "here's luck," and drained his glass at a draught; while he smacked
his lips with the air of a connoisseur, and said: "You'll find that an
excellent wine, for I selected it myself. The fellow I bought it from
tried to palm some inferior stuff on to me, but it wouldn't do; he did
not know I was a judge of wine until I convinced him I was not to be
humbugged by any of his rubbish. But to tell you the truth wine is all
stuff; it does not do a man any good; it may suit a Frenchman (who has
got no blood in him) to drink it; but give me beer or brandy they are
the drinks for an Englishman. What'll keep life in a fellow like brandy?
the only right thing the French ever did was to make brandy; it's the
real stuff to cheer you after all. Try a 'ball,' will you?"

Both William and Tom thanked the enthusiastic Captain, but declined the
proffered ball; while he assisted himself to a pretty stiff jorum of the
_eau de vie_, and quaffed it as if it was a really necessary concomitant
to his life; after which he said: "Well, suppose then we go into the
room to the women; they will be wanting me to start them off in a dance.
But have a smoke? here's some cigars if you like them. You know we don't
object to smoking in our drawing-room, ah! ah! ah! This is Liberty Hall!
for you can do as you like. But excuse me, I must be off; make
yourselves perfectly at home." Saying which, and puffing vigorously at a
cigar, he left them, while they leisurely sauntered into the verandah in
front; from which they could witness the terpsichorean arrangements.

Elevated in a remote corner of the room, was a professional gentleman of
the Paganini school; but, unlike that great performer, he was not
content to manipulate upon one chord, but continued with strenuous
efforts to raise discord on four. His music, if not exactly metrical,
was at least spirited, and that was sufficient for the lovers of the
"light fantastic," who danced "their allotted hour" with no small degree
of delight. As all human happiness must have an end so had the enjoyment
of these merrymakers; and the jig was terminated in a long drawn sigh,
and "Oh! dear me," from the women, and an explosion of the remaining
pent-up steam of the men. These forthwith adjourned "to liquor," leaving
the softer sex to do the same if they felt so disposed, which many of
them appeared to be. After about half an hour had elapsed, when the
guests returned by degrees to the saloon, Captain Jones volunteered a
song; and, upon obtaining the greatest degree of silence practicable,
gave the "Ship on Fire." It was in much the same style as the former
specimen of his vocalic talent; except that he was a little more
boisterous, and sang with a less distinct utterance. But still he was in
keeping with the character of the epic; for, unless his face very much
belied his internal state, he was in one intestine blaze. There is an
oft repeated story of Sir Walter Raleigh that while he was one day
smoking his wonted pipe his servant brought him in his beer; but when
the domestic, uninitiated to the consolation of the weed, beheld a
volume of smoke emitted from the mouth of his master he imagined him to
be inflicted by a celiac conflagration, and cast the contents of the
flagon into Sir Walter's face. If the ingenious servitor had only lived
in our day, and been called upon to wait on our friend the Captain as he
appeared on this occasion, he would assuredly have made the same waste
of malt liquor on the illuminated visage of that individual. However,
the "Ship on Fire" was got through, and elicited great applause; after
which, the _artiste_, perceiving his genteel guests rather apart from
the rest of the company, and not joining in the festivities, came over
and addressed them in the following words:

"Why don't you make yourself at home? you haven't had anything to drink
to-night; some refreshments will be round in a minute or so, and then we
will have a dance; but you've never heard my wife sing, have you?" Upon
receiving a reply in the negative, he continued: "Then, my word, she's a
stunner! I'll go and tell her you want her to sing. You know she sings,
'I should like to marry.' I composed a song for her to that tune, and
you shall hear it;" saying which he left them to induce his fair bride
to oblige her friends; at the same time that Mr. Sawyer, junior, made
his appearance with a large jug and a number of tumblers, and asked our
friends if they would take a drink. They thought it strange to bring
water round to imbibe, considering that most of the guests ignored that
beverage without its being plentifully diluted with spirits (as the
Captain said). But thinking it was possibly on their account, seeing
that they did not indulge alcoholically as the others did, our young
friends gladly accepted a glass, and held it to be filled from the jug.
To their astonishment, however, what they had imagined was water gave
evidence, by its appearance, of more inebriating qualities.

"Why, what on earth is that you're giving us, Reuben?" asked William.

"Champagne," replied the youth.

"Champagne!" they both uttered at once; "that is a novel way of serving
champagne."

"Oh, father said it was humbug to open a bottle and hand it round in
mouthfuls to the people," replied the youth; "so, you see we opened a
lot, and turned them into this jug, so that everybody can take a drink
of it."

This idea considerably amused our friends, and they laughed heartily at
the champagne service, as they called it; but were checked suddenly in
their mirth by the "charming and accomplished" Mrs. Jones warbling forth
her desires for a suitable match in the matrimonial way. We need not
repeat her song but merely state that her desiderata were centred in a
young digger with plenty of gold, and a good hut, which was to be
possessed of a brick chimney; and not a slab "humpie" with a hole in the
bark roof, containing a tub or other cylindrical vessel to carry off the
smoke. And the desired one, should he present himself, was to go down on
his knees, and conscientiously swear that he "had left no wife at home."
When the lady had finished her song the plaudits of her enraptured
hearers rang through the house, and the woods outside. The company were
enchanted, and no doubt imagined she had far surpassed even the efforts
of a Grisi (did they but know such a being existed). The fair creature
herself was equally satisfied with her performance, which she considered
exquisite; though our friends were rude enough to think otherwise,
notwithstanding that they were profuse in their praise to the lady and
her husband. Dancing was then resumed, and the young men, having seen
enough to afford a fund of amusement to themselves and their respective
family circles, waited for an opportunity to slip away unmolested. The
fortuitous event was not long in presenting itself; and at a moment when
the majority of the men were engaged "fast and furious" at their
wassail, the two young men saddled their horses, mounted, and returned
to Fern Vale.


END OF VOL. II.


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Transcriber's notes

Spelling, punctuation and hyphenation have been standardised.

Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (italics).

Table of Contents has been added.





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