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Title: A Colonial Reformer, Vol. I (of 3)
Author: Boldrewood, Rolf
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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A COLONIAL REFORMER


[Illustration: Decoration]


A COLONIAL REFORMER

by

ROLF BOLDREWOOD

Author of ‘Robbery Under Arms,’ ‘The Squatter’S Dream,’
‘The Miner’S Right,’ etc.

In Three Volumes

VOL. I



London
Macmillan and Co.
and New York
1890

All rights reserved



CHAPTER I


When Mr. Ernest Neuchamp, younger, of Neuchampstead, Bucks, quitted
the ancient roof-tree of his race, for a deliberate conflict with
fortune, in a far land, he carried with him a purpose which went far to
neutralise doubt and depression.

A crusader rather than a colonist, his lofty aims embraced far
more than the ordinary sordid struggle with unkind nature, with
reluctant success. Such might be befitting aspirations for eager
and rude adventurers, half speculators, half buccaneers. They might
fitly strive and drive—bargain and save—gamble, overreach, overwork
themselves and one another, as he doubted not all colonists did in
their proverbially hurried, feverish lives. But for a Neuchamp, of
Neuchampstead, was reserved more chivalric exertion—a loftier destiny.
As his ancestors had devoted themselves (with more energy than
discretion, said tradition) to the refinement and elevation of the
Anglo-Saxons—when first the banner of Tancred of Neuchamp floated over
the Buckinghamshire meadows—so would his lineal descendant diffuse
‘sweetness and light’ among a vigorous but necessarily uncultured
community, emerging from his unselfish toil, after a few years, with a
modest competency, and the reputation of an Australian Manco Capac of
the south.

Ernest Neuchamp fully endorsed the dictum that ‘colonisation was heroic
work.’ He superadded to this assent a conviction that he was among the
heroes destined to leave a glorious memory in the annals of the colony
which he intended to honour.

For the somewhat exceptional though not obsolete character of
reformer, he was fitted by natural tendency, derived probably from
hereditary predisposition. The Neuchamps had always been leading and
staunch reformers, from a period whence ‘the memory of man goeth
not to the contrary.’ Of Merrie England they would have secured a
much larger slice had they not been, after Hastings, more deeply
concerned in inflicting reforms upon the stubborn or despondent
Saxons than in hunting after manorial privileges with a view to
extension of territory. Even in Normandy, old chroniclers averred that
Balder-Ragnaiök, nicknamed Wünsche (or the wisher), who married the
heiress of Neuchamp, and founded the family, converted a fair estate
into a facsimile of a Norse grazing farm, maddening the peasantry,
and strengthening his natural enemies by an everlasting tutelage as
exasperating towards others as fascinating to himself.

Mr. Courtenay Neuchamp, who inherited, in happier times, the ancestral
hall, in Buckinghamshire, was an easy-going man of the world,
combining a shrewd outlook upon his own affairs with the most perfect
indifference as to how his neighbours managed theirs. He was a better
man of business than Ernest, though he had not a tittle of his energy
or fiery abstract zeal. So far from giving credit to his ancestors,
and their spirited efforts, he bewailed their misdirected energies.

‘They were a lot of narrow-minded busybodies,’ he would often remark,
‘incapable of managing their own affairs with decent success, and what
little power they ever possessed they devoted to the annoyance of their
neighbours, people probably much wiser than themselves.’

‘They had noble aims, to which they gave their lives,’ Ernest
would reply; ‘I reverence their memories deeply, fervently, more—a
hundredfold—than if they had left us the largest manor in the county,
amassed by greed and selfishness.’

‘So don’t I; nothing can be more disgraceful than to see the
representatives of the oldest family in the shire (for these Tudors
are of yesterday) possessed only of an estate of less acreage than a
tenant-farmer tills, with an inconvenient old rookery, hardly good
enough for the said tenant-farmer to live in. I wish I had lived a few
centuries earlier.’

‘You would have enlarged our borders,’ said the younger son, ‘but at
what a cost! We boast a long roll of stainless ancestors, each of
whom was true to his God, to his king, to his plighted word, and who
called no man his master, save his anointed sovereign. You would have
been cursed with an unhappy posterity of spendthrifts, profligates,
oppressors of the poor or trucklers to the rich.’

‘Gra’ mercy! as we used to say, for thy prophecies and predictions. I
see no necessity for vice being necessarily allied to success in life.
I believe sometimes it is rather the other way. But you were always
headstrong; slave to imagination, that misleader of humanity. Go on
your own path, and you may convert all the Papuans, Australians, New
Zealanders, or whatever they are, that you are going to waste your life
among, if you have sufficient breathing time before you are roasted.’

‘I am going to New South Wales, in Australia, where they don’t roast
people any more than in Bucks. But you will never read up on any
subject.’

‘Why the deuce should I?’ demanded the senior. ‘What earthly benefit
can I derive from the manners and customs of foreign savages. We
have them of our own and to spare. If thereby I could persuade these
pig-headed tenants of ours to farm in a more enlightened way, and pay
interest on capital advanced for _their_ benefit, or learn how to get
old Sir Giles Windereach to sell us back that corner his father bought
of Slacklyne Neuchamp, I wouldn’t mind. Why else should I read beastly
dry books?’

‘Because you would learn to take an interest in your kind, and might
then propose to yourself the healthful task of trying to improve them.’

‘But,’ said Courtenay, rather disrespectfully, ‘why should I improve
those classes, from which as a land-owner and very minor capitalist,
I find it hard enough to defend my property as it is? Go and test a
grocer in arithmetic, you will find him the more accurate man, and the
readier. Try a labourer at his own cart, and see how he is at once your
superior. Depend upon it, all this upheaval of lower social strata
is bad. Some day we may find that we have freed internal fires and
exploded social volcanoes.’

‘I shall make the attempt where I am going, however,’ said Ernest with
decision. ‘It may be that there are peculiar advantages in a new land,
and a sparse population, without the crushing vested interests which
weigh one to the dust in the old world.’

‘Perhaps you may gather some of the dust of the new, which is gold,
they say, if they don’t lie, as most probably they do. Then you can
rear an Australian Neuchampstead, which will be the third, under such
conditions, built by our family, if old records are true. I wish you
were taking more capital with you, old fellow, though.’

Here the elder man slightly relaxed the cold undemonstrative regard
which his aquiline features usually wore, as he gazed for a few moments
upon the ardent expressive face of the cadet of his house. ‘It’s
another of the family faults that we can neither stay decently together
at home, nor fit out our knights-errant worthily for the crusade.’

‘My dear Courtenay,’ said the younger son, touched to the depth of a
delicate and sensitive nature by the rare concession of the head of the
house, ‘things are best as they are. You have enough which you require.
I have not enough, which is an equal necessity of my nature. I should
die here like a falcon in a corn-chandler’s shop, pining for the sweep
of her long wings against the sea-cliff, where with wave and tempest
she could scream in concert. Hope and adventure are my life, the breath
of my nostrils, and forth I must go.’

‘Well, my blessing go with you, Ernest; I neither mistrust your courage
nor capacity, and in any land you will probably hold your own. But I
should have more confidence in your success if you had less of that
infernal Neuchamp taste for managing other people’s affairs.’

‘But, my dear Courtenay, is it not the part of a true knight and a
Christian man to lead others into the right path? _We_ thankfully
accept it from others. I think of the many needs of a new land, and of
the rude dwellers therein.’

‘I hate to be put right—colonists may be of the same opinion. _You_
never can be induced to do anything that is suggested by another, or
any Neuchamp, that I ever heard of.’

‘Because we take particular care to be identified with the latest, and
most successful practice in all respects.’

‘Because we are always right, I suppose. A comfortable theory, but of
which the public cannot always be convinced. I never try to convince
them—I merely wish to be left alone. That is where I differ from you.’

‘You will never gain, however, by your principles, Courtenay.’

‘You will lose your fortune by following out yours, Ernest.’

The conversation having ended, as had nearly all previous discussions
between the brothers, in each adhering steadfastly to his own opinion,
Ernest went his own way with the cheerful obstinacy of his character.
He selected a ship and a colony. He ordered a large, comprehensive,
and comparatively useless outfit. He purchased several books of fact
and fiction, bearing upon the land of his adoption, for reading upon
the voyage, and girding himself up, he finally completed all necessary
arrangements. He bade farewell to the old home—to the villagers, whom
he had known from boyhood—and to his friends and kinsfolk. He did then
actually set sail in the clipper-ship _St. Swithin_, comforting himself
with heroic parallels of all ages and all shades of maritime adventure.

On the voyage out, he made acquaintance with several agreeable people.
Of these, many were, like himself, sailing to Australia for the first
time. Others were returning to the great south land, where they had
probably spent their early years, or indeed been born. Among these,
though he was not aware of the fact, since they did not advertise it,
was a family named Middleton, consisting of a father, mother, and two
daughters. These last were quiet and well-mannered, but decidedly
amusing. Alice Middleton was handsome and lively; Barbara was rather
staid, given to reading, and did not talk much, except with congenial
people. She, however, could speak very much to the point, should
such speaking be needed. With this family Mr. Neuchamp became on
sufficiently intimate terms to confide his views upon colonial life,
including his hopes of benefiting the citizens of his adopted country
by the inculcation of the newest English ideas in farming and other
important subjects. He did not find that readiness of response which he
had looked for. This puzzled and slightly annoyed him, as from their
intelligent sympathy in other matters he had confidently reckoned upon
their co-operation. Indeed he had discovered the second Miss Middleton
in the act of smiling, as if at his enthusiasm; while the matron, a
shrewd, observant person, went the length of inquiring whether he did
not think it would be better to see something of the country, before
settling the affairs of its inhabitants.

‘My dear Mrs. Middleton,’ replied Mr. Neuchamp with grave dissent,
‘I regret that I cannot see the force of your position. My feeling is
that one is far more certain to criticise fairly and dispassionately
a new land and a new state of society, while one’s impressions are
sharply and freshly defined. Afterwards, the finer lines are effaced by
use, wont, and local prejudice. No! depend upon it, the newly-arrived
observer has many advantages.’

‘Then you do not think it possible,’ said Alice Middleton, ‘that the
new—arrival should make any mistakes in his inspection of the unlucky
colonists?’

‘If he has cultivated his power of observation, and his critical
faculty, so that he can trust himself to be just and impartial, I do
not see that it matters whether he may have lived one year or ten in
any given country.’

‘You will find that it _does_ matter,’ retorted his fair antagonist,
‘unless you are different from every other Englishman we have ever
seen.’

‘Why, have _you_ lived in Australia?’ inquired he with accents of
extreme surprise. ‘I had no idea of the fact.’

‘We have been there all our lives,’ said Barbara Middleton, ‘excepting
for the last three years. Why should you think we had not been there?’

‘I—really—don’t know,’ protested Mr. Neuchamp, now discovering suddenly
that he was on unsafe ground. ‘I thought you were English, and making
the voyage, like myself, for the first time.’

‘Don’t apologise,’ laughed Alice; ‘you may as well say at once that you
thought we were too much like ordinary English people to be colonists,’
and she made him a slight bow.

‘Well, so I did,’ confessed our hero, too honest to evade the
expression of his opinions. ‘But you know, you’re so—well—you do expect
a little difference in appearance, or manner——’

‘Or complexion?’ continued his fair tormentor. ‘Did you think
Australians were—just a little—dark?’

‘I recant, and apologise, and sue for pardon,’ said Ernest, now
completely dislodged from his pedestal, a horrid thought obtruding
itself that similar discoveries would narrow his mission to most
uninteresting dimensions.

This ‘check to his queen’ sobered Mr. Neuchamp for several days. He
began to question the probability of influencing society in Australia
to any great extent, if the component parts were like the Middleton
family. However, he reflected that people of cultivated tastes and
unexceptionable manners were rare in any country. And when he thought
of the vast interior with its scattered untravelled population, hope
revived and he again saw himself the ‘guide, philosopher, and friend of
a guileless and grateful people.’

There were several landed proprietors who held great possessions in
Australia among the passengers, with whom he made a point of conversing
whenever such conversation was possible. But here again unexpected
hindrances and obstacles arose.

Mr. Neuchamp found that these returning Australians were rather
reserved, and had very little to say about the land in which so large
a portion of their lives had been passed. They committed themselves
to the extent of stating in answer to his numerous inquiries, that it
was a ‘very fair sort of place—you could manage to live there.’ ‘As to
the people?’ ‘Well, they were much like people everywhere else—some
good, some bad.’ ‘Climate?‘ ‘Hot in some places, cold in others.’
‘Manners?’‘Well, many of the inhabitants hadn’t any, but that was a
complaint almost universal at the present day.’ The oppressed colonist
generally wound up by stating that when he, Neuchamp, had been in
Australia for a year or two, he would know all about it.

All this was very unsatisfactory. As far as these pieces of evidence
went, the _terra incognita_ to which, after such rending of ancient
associations and family ties, he was even now voyaging, was as prosaic
as Middlesex or Kent. These people either did not know anything
about their own country or their own people, or, with the absurd
indifferentism of Englishmen, did not care. He was partly reassured
by one of the more youthful passengers, who had not been very long
away from his Australian birthland. He considerately raised Ernest’s
spirits, and his estimate of Australia as a ‘wonderland,’ by certain
historiettes and tales of adventure by flood and field. But when he
introduced Indians, habitual scalping, and a serpent fifty feet long,
Mr. Neuchamp’s course of reading enabled him to detect the unprincipled
fabrication, and to withdraw with dignity.

In due course of time, the vessel which carried Mr. Neuchamp and his
purpose arrived at her destination. The night was misty, so that
he had no opportunity of comparing the harbour of Sydney with the
numerous descriptions which he had read. He was met on the wharf by
the perfectly British inquiry of ‘Cab, sir, cab?’ upon replying to
which in the affirmative, he was rattled up to the Royal Hotel, and
charged double fare, with a completeness and despatch upon which even a
Shoreditch Station cabby could not have improved.

Having renovated himself with a bath and breakfast, Mr. Neuchamp
proceeded to view the component parts of the busy street from the
balcony of the great caravanserai. On the whole, he did not see
any striking departure from the appearance of an ordinary London
thoroughfare. There were omnibuses raking the whole length of the
street, fore and aft, as it were, well horsed with upstanding powerful
animals; the drivers, too, had something of the misanthropical
air which the true ‘busman always acquires after a certain period.
Hansoms rattled about, with the express-train flavour peculiar to that
luxurious vehicle for the unencumbered. Well-appointed carriages,
from which descended fashionably attired dames and damsels, drew up
at imposing haberdashers for a little early and quiet shopping. The
foot passengers did not look as if they were likely to contribute
to any Arabian Nights entertainment either. They wore chiefly black
coats, I grieve to say black hats, and serious countenances, exactly
like the mercantile and legal sections of the city men in London. The
labourers wore the same shoddy suits, the sailors the same loose or
inexplicable tightened garments, the postmen the same red coat, the
shabby-genteel people the same threadbare ditto; even the blind man,
with a barrel-organ, had the same reflectoral expression that he had
often noticed. All the types were identical with those he had hoped to
have left ten thousand miles away. Certainly he did see occasionally a
sauntering squatter, bronzed, bearded, and _insouciant_; but he, again,
was so near akin to a country gentleman who had taken a run to town,
or a stray soldier on leave, that he was upon the point of exclaiming,
‘How disgustingly English!’ when a slight incident turned his thoughts
to the far and wondrous interior. Down the street, on a grand-looking
young horse, at a pace more suggestive of stretching out through
endless forest-parks than of riding with propriety through a narrow and
crowded thoroughfare, came a born bushman. He was a tall man, wearing
a wide-leaved felt hat and a careless rig generally, such as suggested
to Mr. Neuchamp the denizen of the waste, whom he had hungered and
thirsted to see. Here he was in the flesh evidently, and Ernest drank
in with greedy eyes his swarthy complexion, his erect yet easy seat
on his horse. However, just as he was passing the hotel, whether the
gallant nomad was looking another way, or whether he had considered the
hour, early as it was, not unsuitable for refreshment, the fact must
here be stated that the colt, observing some triumph of civilisation
for the first time (a human advertising sandwich), stopped with
deathlike suddenness; his rider was shot on to the crown of his head
with startling force. Mr. Neuchamp was preparing to rush downstairs to
the rescue, when a quietly attired passer-by stepped up to the snorting
colt and, with a gentle adroitness that told of use and wont, secured
and soothed him. The gallant bushman arose, looking half-stunned; then,
gazing ruefully at the crown of his sombrero, he felt the top of his
head somewhat distrustfully, and with a word of thanks to the stranger,
who held the rein in a peculiar manner till he was safe in the saddle,
mounted and pursued his way after a swift but guarded fashion. ‘My
word, sir,’ was his single remark, ‘I didn’t think he’d ha’ propped
like that—thank _you_ all the same.’

Inspirited by this incident as showing a possibility of lights and
shadows even upon this too English foreground, Mr. Neuchamp thought
that he would deliver one of his letters of introduction to a merchant,
whose advice he had been specially recommended to take in the purchase
of land, or of whatever property he should select for investment.



CHAPTER II


When the past is reviewed, and the clear sad lamp of experience sheds
its soft gleam upon the devious track, then are all apparent the
scarce shunned precipices, the hidden pitfalls, the bones of long
dead victims. Then can we measure the tender patience with which our
guardian angel warned or wooed into safety.

Here, where we loitered all heedless, flower-crowned, and wine-flushed,
languished the serpent syren, heavenly fair, but deadliest of all.
We had been surely sped. But an idle impulse, the tone of a passing
melody, led to change of purpose, of route, and we stood scatheless
anon, having tripped lightly among deaths as sudden and shattering as
the lighted explosive.

At the diverging roads, where dumb and scornful sat the sphinx of our
destiny, while we lightly glanced at the path whence none return, save
in such guise that death were dearer, why did our heedless footsteps
cling all instinctively to the narrow, the thrice blessed way?

And yet again, in the dark hour when we should have been watchful as
the mariner on an unknown shore, who casts the lead over every foot of
the passage through which his barque seems so easily gliding, how was
our careless pride brought low, how sudden was the sorrow, how dreary
the bondage, till we were ransomed from the dungeon of the pitiless
one. From what endless weeping would not, alas, a dim knowledge and
recognition of the _first false step_ have saved us!

Such a false step Mr. Neuchamp was nigh upon adopting, with all its
train of evil consequences. At the mid-day _table d’hôte_ at the Royal
Hotel, sufficiently welcome to him after the weary main, sat a florid,
good-looking, smiling, middle-aged man, evidently a gentleman, and
not less surely connected with the country division. He happened,
apparently by chance, to be seated next to Ernest, who was immediately
attracted by his bonhomie, his humorous epigrammatic talk, joined to
the outward signs and tokens of the man of the world.

‘You have not been very long in this part of the country?’ said the
agreeable stranger.

Ernest slightly coloured as he replied, ‘I certainly have not;
but I confess I don’t see why I should be _affiché_ as a new and
inexperienced traveller. You and I are dressed much alike, after
all,’ added he, glancing at the other’s well-cut travelling suit of
rough tweed and the black hat which hung beside his own upon the pegs
provided for lunch-consuming visitors.

‘True, quite true,’ agreed his new acquaintance; ‘and it is not,
perhaps, good manners to remark upon a gentleman as a species of
foreign novelty. I remember a few years since chafing at it myself. But
my heart warms to an Englishman of a certain sort. And we Australians
learn to know the Britisher by all manner of slight signs, including a
fresh complexion. I really believe, if you will pardon my rudeness in
guessing, that you come from near my own county?’

Ernest explained the locality of Neuchampstead, upon which the affable
stranger rose and shook him violently with both hands, exclaiming, ‘I
could have sworn it. Our people have been friends for ages. I come
from just over the border. You’ve heard of the Selmores, of Saleham?’
mentioning county people well known by name to Ernest.

‘Now this is very delightful,’ said his new friend, after all
explanations had been made, ‘and I shall take charge of you without any
scruple. You had better change your quarters to the New Holland Club.
I can have you admitted as an honorary member without a day’s delay. I
am a member; but I came here to-day to meet a friend, and have done so
most unexpectedly, eh, my dear Neuchamp?’

So irresistible was Mr. Selmore, that Ernest felt absolutely carried
away by the stream of his decided manner, his good stories, his
pleasant sarcasms, his foreign reminiscences, and his racy description
of Australian bush-life (he owned several stations, it would seem,
himself). So it was natural that after a bottle of hock, of a rare
vintage, ordered in honour of their auspicious meeting, that he should
confide to Mr. Selmore his plans of life, his leading ideas, and the
amount of capital which he was free to invest in some description of
landed property.

After they had compressed more droll, confidential, and semi-practical
talk into a couple of hours than would have served for a week on
board ship, Mr. Selmore proposed a stroll down the street towards the
public gardens, which he thought his young friend would find novel and
interesting.

As they lounged down the principal street Ernest was struck with
the change in the appearance of the crowd which thronged one side
of the footway, between the bisecting cross-streets. The hard and
anxious faces of the world’s workers which had filled the pavement in
the morning had vanished, and in their stead were the flowerets of
fashion, the gilded youth of the land, the butterflies of society, the
fair faces of daintily attired girls, the unworn features of those
ornamental human types which comprise no toilers, whatever may be the
proportion of spinsters.

Mr. Neuchamp, whose sensitive organisation was still more highly
attuned by the voyage, gazed with much interest upon this novel
presentment. Again he could not help asking himself, ‘Have I really
left Britain? Is this a colony, or a magically sliced-off section of
London life? The swells are identical to the turn of a moustache, or
the set of a collar. That girl’s bonnet has not been two months from
Paris, for I saw the fellow of it, which had only that day arrived, on
Cousin Amy’s head the week I left home. Allah is great! Have I come to
reform these people? However, this is only the city. All cities are
alike, except, perhaps, Tangiers and Philadelphia. Wait till I get
fairly into the bush!’

Thus, looking with pleased eyes and wondering mind, Mr. Neuchamp hardly
noticed that his companion, as he swaggered easily along, seemed to
know and be known of every one. He, however, did not care to stop to
speak to his numerous friends. As they passed on, some of them, Ernest
commenced to observe, regarded Mr. Selmore and himself with an amused
expression. Keenly alive to colonial criticism, though proposing to
pour so many vials of the British article upon the heads of these
unsuspecting Arcadians, he noted more closely the manner and bearing
of the still undiminished number of the ‘friends of his friend’ whom
they encountered. It might have been fancy, but he thought that he saw
a keen glance, in some instances not altogether of mirth, bestowed upon
himself.

They had reached a side street, along which they passed, when three
young men, irreproachably attired for the ante-prandial stroll, blocked
the way.

‘Where are you off to in such a hurry, you old humbug?’ said a tall
handsome man imperiously. ‘You _can’t_ have any business at this time
of day.’

‘Not so sure of that,’ chimed in another of the party. ‘_I see you’ve
got your black hat with you_, Selmore.’

Mr. Selmore looked straight into the speaker’s eyes for a moment, and
then gravely taking off the upper covering referred to, stroked it,
looked at it, and replaced it upon his head.

‘Yes!’ he said, ‘Evelyn, I have; I prefer them, even in this confounded
weather. They make a fellow look like a gentleman if it’s in him, and
not like a man going to a dog-fight, like that white abomination you
have on.’

The trio laughed more heartily and continuously at this rejoinder than
Ernest thought the wit justified, to the enjoyment of which Mr. Selmore
abandoned them without ceremony, merely remarking to Ernest, though
good fellows, they were awfully dissipated, and he could not recommend
them as friends.

Before quitting the business part of the city, where the handsome
massive stone buildings gave an Italian air to the narrow streets,
Ernest’s roving eye happened to light on the name of ‘Frankston,’
legended upon a conspicuously bright brass plate.

‘Ha!’ said he, ‘I remember something about that name. Is he a
merchant—do you know him?’

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Selmore indifferently, ‘he is a merchant, and a
tolerably sharp man of business too. Takes station accounts; but I
forget, you don’t quite understand our phrases yet. He would be called
more a private banker where you and I hail from. Why do you ask?’

‘Merely because I happen to have a letter of introduction to him from a
man I met abroad once, and I shall deliver it to-morrow.’

Mr. Selmore did not look sympathetic at this announcement, but he said
little in contravention of his young friend’s resolve.

‘You must keep your weather eye open, if he gets you out to that pretty
place of his, Neuchamp, or you will find yourself saddled with a big
station and a tight mortgage before you can look round you.’

Ernest had more than once thought himself extremely fortunate in
meeting with Mr. Selmore at so early a period of his colonial career.
Now he was confirmed in that opinion.

‘My dear sir, I shall be more than cautious in any dealings with
him, I assure you,’ he said warmly. ‘Are these the public gardens?
How different from anything I have seen before, and how surpassingly
beautiful!’

They roamed long amid the glories of that semi-tropical park, rich with
the spoils of the Orient and many a fairy isle of the Great South Sea.
As the palms and strangely formed forest trees waved in the breeze
fresh from a thousand leagues of ocean foam, as the blue waters glanced
and sparkled through the clustering foliage, while they sat under giant
pines and looked over the sea-wall and at the white-winged sailing
boats flitting over the wavelets of the ocean-lake which men call the
harbour of Sydney, Mr. Neuchamp freely acknowledged his wonder and his
admiration. Stronger than ever was his faith in the destiny of a people
with whom he was fixed in determination henceforth to cast in his lot.

Mr. Selmore had obtained his consent to dine with him at a well-known
_café_, and thither, after visiting the baths, as the short twilight
was deepening into night, they wended their way.

Upon entering the room the appearance of an extremely well-arranged
dinner service was pleasant enough to view, after the somewhat less
ornamental garniture of the table of a clipper-ship.

Ernest was introduced to two other friends of Mr. Selmore, also of
the pastoral persuasion, and who looked as if town visiting was the
exception in their rule of life.

The dinner passed off very pleasantly. The _menu_ was well chosen,
the cooking more than respectable, the wines unimpeachable. Ernest
was sober from habit and principle. It would have been vain to have
made the attempt to induce him to exceed. Still, with all reasonable
moderation, it must be confessed that a man takes a more hopeful view
of life after a good dinner, more especially in the days of joyous
youth.

Mr. Selmore’s friends were up-country dwellers, and it appeared that
they were, in some sort, neighbours of his when at home. Much of the
conversation insensibly took the direction of stock-farming, and Mr.
Neuchamp found himself listening to tales of crossing flooded rivers
with droves bound for a high market, or of tens of thousands of sheep
bought and sold in a day, or the wonderful price of wool, while
intermingled were descriptions of feats of horsemanship varied with an
occasional encounter with wild blacks.

In the midst of all this, Mr. Neuchamp’s ardour kindled to such a pitch
that he could not forbear asking one of the last arrived strangers
whether there was not any station for sale in their district that would
be suitable for him.

One of the pastorals looked at the other in astonishment, when they
both looked reproachfully at Mr. Selmore.

‘You don’t mean to say,’ at length broke out the older man, whose
assiduity to the bottle had been unabated, ‘that you haven’t told our
young friend here that Gammon Downs is for sale, ’pon my soul it’s too
bad!’

‘Why, it’s the very place in the whole blessed colony,’ said the other,
‘for a new arrival—good water, good sheep, a nice handy little run, and
the best house in the district.’

Mr. Neuchamp was so struck with the expressive and interrogatory looks
of the two bush residents, that he bent a searching look upon Mr.
Selmore, as if he had in some mysterious way been ill-treated by the
withholding of confidence.

‘Well,’ at length spoke out that gentleman, with an air of manly
frankness, ‘_you_ know me too well to think that I should propose to
sell one of my own runs to a friend, comparatively inexperienced, of
course, though well up in English farming, on the very first day I had
met him. There _are_ people, of course, who would do this, and more—but
Hartley Selmore is not one of that sort.’

‘But it does seem a shame,’ said the grizzled squatter, filling his
glass, ‘that if you have one of the best runs in the country, that
you should refuse to sell it to this gentleman merely because he is a
personal friend.’

‘Thank you,’ said Ernest warmly, ‘you have interpreted my sentiments
admirably. If this estate, or station, would be so suitable, why should
we not come to terms about it like any one else?’

‘So remarkably cheap too,’ said the other man; ‘but I suppose Selmore
wants a lot of cash down.’

‘I have only five thousand pounds,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, ‘and perhaps
your property is far above that limit.’

‘It _is_ less than I thought of taking,’ said Mr. Selmore thoughtfully;
‘but, yes; I don’t mind arranging for bills, at one and two years,
which, of course, if you bought, could be easily paid out of the
profits of the station. But pass the claret, we won’t talk any more
shop to-night. Just so far that my friends, who live near my place, are
going up the day after to-morrow. They will be glad of your company,
and will show you the wonders of the bush, including Gammon Downs. You
can then, my dear Neuchamp, judge for yourself.’

This plan appearing to Ernest to combine the utmost liberality on the
part of the vendor with special advantages to the purchaser, who could
have abundant time to examine and deliberate about his investment, was
promptly acceded to.

He departed at the close of the evening to the hotel, at which place
he had decided to stay, notwithstanding the tempting offer of a club
bedroom. Ernest Neuchamp was not minded to give up his habits of
observation, and for the exercise of his pursuit he deemed the hostelry
of the period more favourable than any modern club.

Human nature is so constituted that a project feasible, favourable,
and merely needing the very smallest propulsion into action over
night wears a changed aspect with the dawn. As Mr. Neuchamp regained
his suspended senses in a hot and mosquito-raided upper chamber in
the Royal, the idea of becoming at a plunge the proprietor of Gammon
Downs showed less alluring than over the joyous claret-illumined board
of yester eve. What if the name (given by the rude pioneers, it had
been explained to him from some nonsensical circumstance) should be
only too correct a designation for a delusive investment? What if Mr.
Selmore were a little _too_ obliging, confidential, and considerate
for a true and generous vendor? What if his companions, who certainly
appreciated the claret, were likely from friendship or interest to
be leagued against the stranger? It behoved him to be careful. The
slender resources of Neuchampstead had been strained to their utmost to
supplement his younger brother’s portion. Were this lost he could never
regain his position. And though with the recklessness of a sanguine
temperament, he would, without much regret, have addressed himself to
the task of carving out a fortune with his own right hand in this land
of promise, still he fully recognised the vast difference between a
capital even of moderate amount and none at all.

Throwing on a few clothes hastily, he strolled off towards the baths,
and after a leisurely swim in the cool translucent wave, he found
his appetite for breakfast improved and his mental vision obviously
cleared. He arrived at divers and various wise resolutions; and one of
them was to call upon Mr. Frankston, the merchant. Two heads are better
than one, decided Mr. Neuchamp sapiently, and Granville said that this
old gentleman’s head was an exceedingly good one, nearly, but not
quite, as good as his heart.

Discovering with some difficulty the precise street, almost a lane,
where he had suddenly descried the well-remembered name, he walked into
this office about half-past ten o’clock, and inquired for the head
of the house. The clerk civilly motioned him to a chair, telling him
that Mr. Frankston was engaged, but would not probably be long, as the
gentleman with him was Captain Carryall, in an awful hurry to put to
sea.

In rather less than five minutes the door opened suddenly, emitting
a loud burst of laughter, and a tall sun-tanned man in a frock-coat,
whose bold bright eyes were dancing again with fun and covert enjoyment
of an apparently very keen jest.

As more than one anxious-looking person had passed into the outer
office, Ernest walked in, and found himself in the presence of a
stoutish old gentleman, with a high-coloured, clean-shaved countenance,
who was chuckling with great relish, and subsiding from an exhausting
fit of merriment. His white waistcoat predominated much over his
clothing generally, giving that colour, with the aid of a spotless
domain of shirt-collar and shirt-front, an unfair advantage over his
sad-coloured suit of gray tweed.

‘Good-morning to you, sir,—won’t you take a chair,’ said the old
gentleman with much civility. ‘Very rude to be laughing in the face of
a visitor. But that Captain Carryall told me the best story I’ve heard
for ages. Picked it up at the islands last cruise. Awful fellow! You’d
excuse me, I’m sure, if you knew him. How can I be of use to you, my
dear sir?’

This last query belonged evidently to another region than the one into
which the sea-captain, with his _cœur-de-lion_ face, had allured him.
So Ernest produced his card, and a note ‘from their mutual friend, Mr.
Granville, he believed.’ The old merchant glanced at the signature, and
without another look hurled himself out of his armchair, and seizing
Mr. Neuchamp’s hand, wrung it with affectionate earnestness.

‘My dear sir—my dear fellow,’ gasped he; ‘I’d have given a hundred
pounds if our friend could have been here, and heard that yarn of
Charley Carryall’s. Now, attend to me while I tell you what you’ve got
to do. You’ll have enough to amuse yourself till five o’clock, and then
you’re to come here with your trunk. The carriage will call punctually
at that hour, and you’re to come out with me to my little place, on
the South Head Road, and confer upon me the very great obligation of
staying with me till you go up the country—if you do go. Now, isn’t
that settled?’

‘I am very sorry,’ stammered Ernest; ‘it is so extremely kind of you;
but I have more than half promised to go up the country to-morrow to
look at a station with a view to buying it.’

‘And get sold yourself,’ interjected Mr. Frankston. ‘Not just yet, if
you’ll be my boy for a year or two. Whose desirable property is it?’

‘It belongs to a Mr. Selmore, whom I met at the Royal Hotel,’ answered
Ernest, ‘who was very kind, and gave me some very good advice.’

‘Ha! ha! ha!’ shouted the old boy, becoming very purple in the face;
‘knew it was him—Gammon Downs, eh! Wonderful man, take in his own
father if he was hard up, and suffer his venerable grandsire and maiden
aunts to invest their last penny in a sour grass country, with fluky
sheep, Cumberland and scab given in. Hanged if he wouldn’t, and go to
church immediately afterwards. Most remarkable man, Hartley Selmore!’

Mr. Neuchamp wondered how Mr. Frankston knew the name of Mr. Selmore’s
valuable estate, and how he had ever made any money, if he did nothing
but laugh. Indeed, it seemed to be his chief occupation in life,
judging from his conduct since they had met.

‘Then you would not advise me to invest just at present?’ inquired he.

‘Not unless you wish to be in the possession of a small, _very_ small
amount of experience, and not one solitary copper at the end of twelve
months,’ said Mr. Frankston, with great decision. ‘This is a bad time
to buy, stock are falling. Don’t begin at all till you see your way. If
you meet Selmore tell him you’ve changed your mind for the present, and
will write and let him know when it is convenient for you to inspect
Gammon Downs. Five, sharp! old man;’ and with a paternal glance in his
quick twinkling eye, Mr. Frankston made an affirmative nod to his chief
clerk, who then and there entered, and a farewell one to Ernest, who
after he left the portals stood for a moment like a man in a dream.

‘This is certainly a most remarkable country,’ he soliloquised; ‘with
their outward resemblance to Englishmen, there must be some strange
mental divergence not easily fathomed. I remember Granville telling me
that this old buffer was a better father to him than his own had ever
been, or some such strong expression; therefore I will at once decide
to act upon his advice; Selmore and his winning way, notwithstanding.
One must take up a position firmly or not at all. So I shall elect to
stand or fall by this apoplectic old white-waistcoated guardian angel,
as he proposes to be.’

‘My dear Neuchamp,’ said a cheery voice, while a cheery hand smote
him familiarly on the back, ‘you look absorbed in contemplation.
This is the wrong country for that. Action, sir, action is the word
in Australia. Now, do you know what I was doing when I ran against
you?—actually going down to Bliss’s livery stables to see if I could
pick you out a decent hack. Burstall and Scouter are going to start
early to-morrow, and of course you’ll want a hack that won’t frighten
you after coming from the old country. With luck you’ll be under the
verandah at Gammon Downs on the afternoon of the fourth day.’

Ernest braced himself together, and fixing his eyes upon the somewhat
shifting orbs of his agreeable friend, said with studied calmness—

‘I shall be extremely sorry, my dear sir, to put you or your friends to
any inconvenience on my account, but I have changed my mind, and do not
think of leaving Sydney for a month or two.’

He was conscious of a stern, half-angry, searching gaze, which seemed
to drag out of his countenance every word of the conversation with Mr.
Frankston, before Mr. Selmore said grandly, ‘I am sorry to hear that
you have so suddenly altered your plans. I had written to the overseer
at Gammon Downs to have everything in readiness to receive you, and
Burstall and Scouter will, I know, be put out at losing the pleasure of
your company. But of course if you have made other arrangements—only I
am afraid that if you don’t feel disposed to name a day for visiting
Gammon Downs I may possibly dispose of it privately, and as the subject
has cropped up (not at my initiation, you are aware), I do honestly
think that no place in the country would have suited you half as well.’

Ernest felt sorely tempted to say that in a fortnight or three weeks he
would be able to go up, but he remembered Mr. Frankston’s suggestion,
and rather coldly answered that he would write and inform Mr. Selmore
when it would be convenient for him to inspect Gammon Downs. The
inevitable smile, which was worn in all weathers upon the face of
Hartley Selmore, had so little real sincerity about it after this
statement, that when he had received a warm parting grasp, Ernest felt
strongly convinced that he had fitted the right arrow to the string.



CHAPTER III


In one respect at least it cannot be denied that the new country
differs widely from the old. Events of important and fateful nature
succeed each other with a rapidity so great as to affect the actor
with a sensation of unreality. He soon learns, however, that this
high-pressure transaction of life involves issues none the less
exacting of consequences. He recognises the necessity of watchfulness,
of prompt decision, and abandons himself to the accelerated rate of
speed with a degree of confidence which he cannot help suspecting to
be recklessness in disguise. It may be that ideas akin to this view of
the subject passed through Mr. Neuchamp’s reflective mind while waiting
for the appointed time at which he was to meet Mr. Frankston at his
office. But a few hours since he had been on the verge of a headlong
and what now appeared to him a dangerous investment, in which his whole
capital might have been swamped, and his plans for social and colonial
regeneration delayed for years, if not wholly frustrated. Now, with an
equally violent oscillation, he had abandoned one recent friend, and
adopted another equally unknown; to-morrow he might be embarked upon
another project with equal risk of proximity to a colonial whirlpool
capable of swallowing an argosy. What was he to do in this frightful
procession, where fortune and ruin followed each other upon the path of
life like express trains?

Was there such a thing as prudence, hesitation, or delay in Australian
business matters? He would not be so credulous again. Was this cheerful
old merchant, whose speech was kindness, and whose eye was truth
apparently, to be unreservedly trusted? He would hear what his counsel
was like meanwhile; he knew his friend Granville to be clear-sighted
and direct. He fully trusted him, and had good reason to do so. Yes—he
would put his fortune on this die. _Vogue la galère!_

He had consulted his watch more than once before the hansom deposited
him with a portmanteau at the office of Paul Frankston and Co., at two
minutes past five o’clock. Just afterwards, a well-appointed carriage,
drawn by a well-matched pair of bays, drove rapidly up to the door. As
he was approvingly regarding the well-bred horses, he did not observe
that a young lady inside was essaying to open the door of the carriage.
Ernest, shocked at his unchivalrous conduct, rushed to the door,
wrenched it open, and with a slight but deferential bow assisted her to
alight. She walked at once into the office, followed by Mr. Neuchamp.

‘I have been to Shaddock’s, papa, for some books, and I thought I
was late,’ she said, throwing her arms round the old man’s neck,
unconscious that Ernest was immediately behind.

‘You’re generally punctual, puss, and so I won’t scold her, Mr.
Neuchamp,’ said the old boy with his customary chuckle, as the young
lady turned round and beheld with surprise the involuntary witness of
her tribute of affection. ‘Mr. Neuchamp, my daughter Antonia. My dear,
this gentleman is coming to stay with us for a few months—for a year or
two—all his life, perhaps, so the sooner you get acquainted the better.’

Then the young lady smiled, and hoped that Mr. Neuchamp would find
their house pleasant, and become accustomed in time to papa’s jokes.

‘I can tell you it’s no joke at all, miss. You know very well that if
Mr. Granville would have had you, I should have ordered you to marry
him forthwith. Now, Mr. Neuchamp is a great friend of his, and all we
can do for him will be too little.’

‘Mr. Granville was the nicest man I ever met,’ affirmed the young lady.
‘As for marrying, that is another matter. I daresay Mr. Neuchamp is
coming to a proper understanding about your assertions, papa. How do
you like the view, Mr. Neuchamp?’

As she spoke she leaned partly out of the carriage and gazed seawards.
They were now driving upon a rather narrow and winding road, smoothly
gravelled and well kept, much like a country lane in England. On the
southern side the hill rose abruptly above them; on the lower side a
dwarf wall of sandstone blocks occasionally protected the traveller
from a too precipitous descent. Shrubs and flowers, as strange to Mr.
Neuchamp as the flora of the far-famed bay, but a mile or two from
them now, was to Sir Joseph Banks, bordered the road on either side in
rich profusion. But the eye roamed over the intervening valley, over
villas of trim beauty, clean-cut in the delicately pale sandstone, to
the wondrous beauty of the landlocked sea. Blue as the Ægean, it was
superior in its astonishing wealth of bays, mimic quays, and peerless
anchorage to any harbour in the world. Crafts of all kinds and sizes
floated upon its unruffled wave, from the majestic ocean steamer,
gliding proudly to her anchorage, to the white-winged, over-rigged
sailing boat, with her crew of lads seated desperately on her windward
gunnel, to squatter out like a brood of wild ducks and right their
crank craft, should fortune and the breeze desert them. Northward
rose the ‘sullen shape’ of the great sandstone promontory, the North
Head, towering over the surges that break endlessly at its base, and
with its twin sentinel of the south, guarding the narrow entrance to
the unrivalled haven. The fresh breeze swept through the girl’s hair
and tinged her cheek with a transient glow, as she said, ‘Is not that
lovely? I have seen it almost daily for years, but it never palls on
me.’

‘Beautiful as a dream landscape,’ said Ernest from his heart. ‘It makes
one recall dear old Sir Walter’s words—

    ‘“Where’s the coward that would not dare
    To fight for such a land?”’

‘We are a peaceful people so far,’ said Mr. Frankston; ‘but I fancy
that we should take to war kindly enough in the event of invasion,
for instance, and hammer away as briskly and as doggedly as our
forefathers.’

‘How many years have you been in this colony, may I ask?’ said Ernest.
‘Not long enough to shake off British feelings and prejudices, I am
certain.’

‘About ten years,’ deposed Mr. Frankston confidently.

‘Oh, papa!’ said Miss Antonia.

‘Well!’ said the old gentleman, looking roguishly at her, ‘I may have
been here a _leetle_ longer; but I am within the strict limits of truth
in stating I have been here for ten years—there is no doubt about that.’

Thus chatting, they had arrived at a pair of iron gates, through which
entering, they turned into the smoothest of gravel roads, which was
obviously watered daily.

The grounds through which the upstanding bay horses bore them over
the superb gravel, were extensive, but in perfect order. Many of the
trees, chiefly of semi-tropical habit, were of great age, and their
broad glossy leaves, faintly stirred by the sea-breeze, had a murmuring
sound, which told the heart of an imaginative listener tales of a calm
enchanted main of coral reefs, of palm-fringed, milk-white strands, and
all the wonders of the charmed Isles of the Great South Sea.

They drew up at the door of a large old-fashioned mansion, built of
pale sandstone and surmounted by an extremely broad paved verandah,
looking like a section of an ice-house.

‘Mr. Neuchamp!’ said the old gentleman, ‘this is your home as long as
you are in Australia. I hope you like the look of it. It’s exactly
twelve minutes to dinner-time; so I recommend both of you to waste no
time in dressing. James!’

A serious-looking man-servant advanced, and taking Ernest’s portmanteau
inducted him into a fascinating bedroom, with such a view of the sea
that he was nearly led into forgetting the old gentleman’s paternal
admonition, and being late for dinner.

However, by putting on extra steam, after the important transaction
of the tie was completed, he managed to re-enter the hall just as Mr.
Frankston came skipping downstairs, and was immediately entrusted with
the care of Miss Frankston as far as the dining-room.

The evening was warm, but the perfection of cookery, combined with
the quality and temperature of the wines to prevent any deep feeling
of inconvenience. Miss Frankston talked pleasantly and unaffectedly,
while the old gentleman neglected no opportunity of interjecting a joke
or telling some remarkably good story, for Mr. Neuchamp’s benefit, of
which his daughter did not always see the point.

After dinner Miss Frankston retired, with an assurance from her father
that they did not intend to absent themselves for more than ten
minutes, after which the serious butler brought in tenderly another
bottle of claret, and departed.

‘Fill your glass, Mr. Neuchamp,’ said the old man; ‘it won’t hurt your
head, nor your—any other part, I guarantee, for I imported it myself,
and let us talk a _very_ little business. What do you think of doing?’

‘My intention is fixed to purchase a landed property, an estate or
station, as you call them. Of course I can only begin in a small way,
and that was why Mr. Selmore’s place, Gammon Downs, seemed particularly
suited.’

‘Gammon Downs has ruined every man but Selmore, who has ever had
anything to do with it. It’s a sour, bad little place, in which you
would have lost all your money in about a year, and would have had to
sell, or give away, the stock.’

‘And did Mr. Selmore know that it was a bad investment, an undesirable
property, when he offered it to me?’

‘I am sorry to say,’ quoth the old gentleman, ‘that he _did_ know it,
perfectly well; he knew that it has ruined half a dozen men, whose
names I could give you.’

‘And is he considered to be a gentleman, and a man of honour, in this
part of the world?’ inquired Mr. Neuchamp in tones of great surprise.

‘Well, he _is_ a gentleman—that is, if good birth, good manners, and
a good education go to make one. But he has always speculated to the
verge of his capital, and now, stock being rather low, he is decidedly
hard up. But he is a wonderfully sharp hand, and he generally contrives
to get hold of a “black hat” at least once a year, which has pulled him
through so far.’

‘A black hat?’ demanded Ernest; ‘and why not?—they seem common enough.
And why should a hat, black or white, help him in any way?’

‘You don’t quite understand,’ answered Mr. Frankston, with a twinkle
of his fun-loving gray eyes, ‘though it is more a bush expression than
a town one, and rather slangy. A “black hat” in Australian parlance
means a new arrival. And as people without colonial experience, like
yourself, for instance, cannot be expected to understand the relative
value of stock and stations, such a purchaser falls an easy prey to a
talented but unscrupulous man like your friend Selmore.’

A light suddenly illumined the understanding of Mr. Neuchamp, whose
faculties, like those of enthusiasts generally, were keen, if
occasionally misdirected.

‘So _that_ was what his friend Evelyn laughingly alluded to when they
met us yesterday. “I see you have your black hat with you,” he said.’

‘By Jove! you don’t say so; did Evelyn say that?’ laughed the
commercial mentor; ‘just like him; for two pins he’d have warned you
not to believe a word he said. Fine fellow, Evelyn! And what did Mr.
Selmore say?’

‘He only smiled, took off his own hat—an ordinary “Lincoln and
Bennett”—stroked it, and put it on his head again.’

‘Capital, capital! O lord! that was Selmore all over. You can’t easily
match him. He has the devil’s own readiness. Deuced clever fellow
he always was! It’s a pity, too, really it is. If he were not so
desperately cornered, I believe he’s a kind-hearted fellow in the main.
But when he has bills to meet he’d take in his own father.’

‘Thou shalt want ere I want,’ as that famous freelance, Mr. Dugald
Dalgetty, formerly of Marischal College, remarked, thought Ernest;
but he said, ‘It seems then that my small capital was very nearly
appropriated to the retirement of Mr. Selmore’s bills payable, which
was _not_ my primary intention in choosing a colonial career. My dear
sir, I shall never be sufficiently thankful for your kind advice. What
would you advise me to do now, if I may trespass further on your great
kindness?’

‘My dear boy, as Granville’s friend, I look upon you as my son
temporarily; and if I had a son who had just completed his education
and wished to purchase station property, I should say to him, this is a
country and stock-farming is a profession not to be understood all at
once. Before investing your money spend a little time in learning the
ways of the people of the country and of the management of stock before
you invest a shilling.’

‘And how long do you think a man of reasonable intelligence ought to be
in gaining the requisite knowledge?’ asked Ernest, rather dismayed at
the prospect of a lengthened term of apprenticeship.

‘Not a day less than two years,’ answered Mr. Frankston decisively.
‘My advice to you is to travel for a month or two through the interior,
and then to locate yourself on some station where you can acquire the
details of practical management.’

‘But will not that be expensive, and what could I do with my money in
the meantime?’

‘It will not be expensive; and as to your money, you can lodge it in
a bank, where you will receive interest at current rates. You can
select any of our Sydney banks, which are quite as safe as the Bank of
England. I shall then be happy to give you introductions which will
secure you a home and the means of acquiring the necessary knowledge.’

‘Thanks, a thousand thanks,’ quoth Ernest, much relieved; ‘at any rate
I shall feel safe. I shall gladly take your advice; and the sooner I am
off the better.’

‘Better stay a month with me,’ urged the kind-hearted old boy; ‘there
is plenty of time for you to learn all about stock, and how to
distinguish between Gammon Downs and a run that, if it doesn’t make a
fortune all at once, will not ruin you under five years at any rate.’

But the man to whom he spoke had not crossed ten thousand miles of
ocean, torn up old associations, and severed himself from the inherited
life of an English country gentleman, to linger by the wayside. So he
made answer—

‘My dear sir, I feel that if I have left many good friends behind I
have found one as kind and more effectual in help and counsel. But my
purpose is fixed. I cannot rest without I feel that I am on my way to
its fulfilment. With your permission I must leave town next week at
farthest.’

‘Well, well—I am not sure but that you are wise. Sydney is an easy
place to spend money in, and there is nothing like buckling to when
there is work to be done. I must see and pick you up a horse.’

‘Do you know,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, with an air of slight diffidence,
‘that I much prefer to walk; I shall see more of the country and be
less hampered, I imagine, on foot.’

‘_Walk! walk!_’ repeated Mr. Frankston, rather taken aback; ‘don’t
think of it.’

‘Why not, may I ask?’

‘Because in this country no one walks. It is too hot for that sort of
thing, and it is not exactly the thing for a gentleman.’

‘But,’ pleaded Ernest, ‘I am a tolerable pedestrian; many a pleasant
walking tour I have had in England, and indeed on the Continent. Is
there any danger?’

‘None, that I am aware of—but I would certainly advise you to get a
horse, or a couple; they are cheap enough here.’

‘You won’t be offended if I say that I really prefer walking. It is
a capital thing in many ways; and I shall not get a chance of seeing
Australian life without conventional spectacles so easily again
perhaps.’

‘Please yourself, then,’ said Mr. Frankston; ‘I am very much in favour
of letting people alone, particularly in unimportant matters; you will
find out for yourself, I daresay, why I advised you to commence your
journey on the outside of a good horse. You won’t take any more wine?
Then we’ll go and get a cup of coffee from Antonia.’

They found that young lady ensconced in a large cane chair upon the
balcony in front of the drawing-room, gazing dreamily over the dark
glimmering waters.

‘You will find coffee on that round table, Mr. Neuchamp; and you, papa,
will find your cigar-case on that ledge. Mr. Neuchamp, if you like to
smoke, pray do so; I have no dislike to it in the open air.’

Mr. Neuchamp did not smoke. He held it to be a waste of time, of money,
of brain-power; leading likewise to a false content with circumstances,
with which the true man should wage ceaseless warfare. So he brought
his chair near to that of Miss Frankston, and as the old gentleman
lighted his cigar and leaned back in much comfort at some distance, he
felt fully disposed for a little æsthetic talk.

‘What a glorious night,’ he remarked, ‘with this faint fresh
sea-breeze! how grand the effect of the darkly bright water, the
burning stars, and this superb cloudless heaven!’

‘It is so indescribably glorious,’ made answer Miss Frankston, ‘that
I feel incensed with myself for not delighting in it more freshly and
intensely. But it is thus with all familiar marvels that one has seen
all one’s life.’

‘All one’s life?’ repeated he.

‘I was born in this house,’ said she simply, ‘and have sat on a chair
like this, and gazed on the sea, as we are doing now, when I was a
small lonely child.’

‘Oh! dreamy and luxurious southerner,’ laughed he. ‘A life of
lotus-eating! Has it affected the tenor of your mind with any
indisposition to exertion or change?’

‘As far as I can pretend to know, it has had the reverse tendency in my
case. I have always had a passionate desire to travel. I am my father’s
own daughter in that respect, he says.’

‘And where has Mr. Frankston chiefly been?’

‘Where has he not been? When he was young he managed to get away
to sea, and roamed about the world splendidly; he has been to New
Zealand, of course; all over the South Sea Islands; besides having
travelled to England and the Continent, the East and West Indies,
Russia, America, China, and Japan.’

‘You quite take my breath away. Your papa is a perfect Marco Polo. But
why should he have gone to England?’

‘In order to see it, of course. Every Australian with sufficient brains
to comprehend that there are more streets in the world than George
Street would like to do that.’

‘And was Mr. Frankston born in Australia? I thought he told me that he
had been ten years here.’

‘So he has been, and fifty more. He did not say _only_ ten years. He
likes to joke about being taken for an Englishman, and says it is
because he has a red face and a white waistcoat.’

‘Well, I do not see the resemblance on those grounds,’ made answer Mr.
Neuchamp guardedly. ‘But really, your papa is so exactly like an old
gentleman of my acquaintance, who is a very Briton of Britons, that I
took it for granted that he must be English.’

‘So he is English, and so am I English; only we were not born in that
small great country. But you _must_ think that there ought to be some
distinguishing manner, or accent, about Australians, or you would not
exhibit surprise at the resemblance.’

‘If I ever had such an absurd idea, I am now entirely disabused of it,’
said Mr. Neuchamp gallantly; ‘and I must hope that in a short time to
come I may be taken for an Australian, of which at present there is not
apparently the least prospect.’

‘Indeed, there is not,’ replied Miss Frankston; ‘pray excuse my
smiling at the idea.’

‘But why should I be so advertised, apparently by my whole personal
effect upon society, that the waiters at the hotel are as aware of the
fact, the cabmen, the persons whom I pass in the street, as if I had
“passenger’s luggage” marked on my shirt-front? It is not entirely my
complexion, for I see blonde people in every direction; nor my clothes,
nor my speech, I hope.’

‘I do not know, indeed. I cannot say. There must be some difference,
or people would not notice it. But you must not imagine that because
you are known to have just come from home that anything short of a
compliment is intended. Indeed,’ said the girl with some diffidence,
‘it’s quite the other way.’

‘I am delighted to hear you say so,’ returned Mr. Neuchamp, ‘and it
will comfort Wilhelm Meister during his “Wanderjähre.”’

  ‘Kennst du das Land?’

sang she. ‘Are you fond of music, Mr. Neuchamp? for I think I shall go
in and give papa his nightly allowance of harmony. He refuses always to
go to bed until I have sung to him. You had better keep him company.’

Mr. Neuchamp did so, the air of the balcony and the sight of the
wondrous Southern Cross being as yet more attractive than the lady of
the castle and her song.

‘That’s right,’ said the old gentleman, lighting another cigar and
composing himself to listen. ‘Pity you don’t smoke; it’s an added
pleasure, and one hasn’t too many in this world. It’s a luxury that
lasts—one of the few things you can do as well when you’re old as when
you are young.’

‘I must differ from you,’ returned Mr. Neuchamp. ‘I think it often
leads to the wasting of valuable time, but I bow to your greater
experience.’

‘And greater age; and you are right to be on the self-denying side
for the present. But ask yourself what an old buffer like myself can
do with his evenings more profitably. My eyes—not so good as they
were thirty years since—have generally had a fair day’s work before
dinner-time. Cards, talk, and a moderate smoke make up an old man’s
evening. When I look at the sea here—and she always was a good friend
to me—hear Antonia sing and play—bless her heart! and smoke a very good
cigar, it is rather a cunningly mixed enjoyment, you must own. Now
she’s off!’

The last statement was made simultaneously with the first notes of a
song which floated out through the opened French windows, and proved
to Mr. Neuchamp—a fair connoisseur—that his hostess had a fresh, true,
soprano voice, and rather unusual execution. As he sat listening to
song after song which Miss Frankston bestowed upon them with an utter
absence of apologetic affectation, as the stars burned more brightly
in the cloudless southern sky, as the wavelets kept their rhythmical
murmurous monotone, he involuntarily asked himself if he had left _all_
the social luxuries in the other hemisphere.

‘This is pleasant,’ said the merchant, after a long silence of words,
with something between a sigh and a shake; ‘but there are such things
as breakfast and business for to-morrow. We must end the concert. Make
for that small table in the corner.’

Upon the piece of furniture referred to there stood a silver-encrusted
inviting spirit-stand, with a bottle of iced Marco-brünner.

‘You must allow me to thank you for your songs, Miss Frankston,’ said
Ernest; ‘whether the surroundings completed the witchery I cannot tell,
but I have rarely enjoyed music so much.’

‘I am glad you like my singing,’ said she simply; ‘we see so few people
that I am not always sure whether my old music-master and myself
extract the correct expression in much of our practice.’

‘I can assure you of the correctness of your rendering,’ promptly
assented the stranger-critic. ‘I heard the last song you were good
enough to favour us with sung the week before I left. It had just been
published. And I certainly prefer a slight emendation, which I think
you have made.’

‘Most satisfactory!’ said she, with a mock inclination of respect;
‘and now good-night. Papa and breakfast wait for no man.’



CHAPTER IV


Few things are pleasanter, in their way, than staying in an agreeable
house, while the welcome, the local recreations, the allotted leisure,
are alike in the fresh bloom of unexhausted enjoyment. Your justifiable
curiosity as to your friends’ intellects, experiences, and power of
amusing you is for a while unsatiated. All is new and delightful; to
be savoured with the full approval of conscience. The gardens are
enchanted, the ladye peerless fair, the stranger knights courteous,
the host an incarnation of appreciation and generosity. All this
glamour lasts undiminished for the first fleeting week or two, possibly
survives the month. Then the process of disenchantment commences.
Either you have business external to the castle, or you have not. In
the former case, you begin to feel darkly fearful of neglect, and
conscience, if you keep one, self-interest if you do not, commences to
be ‘faithful,’ even to inconvenience. If you own no care, or tie, or
duty, which may not be postponed to the ‘Cynthias of the minute,’ and
still prolong your stay, you cease to be a guest and fall into the more
prosaic _rôle_ of _habitué_, inmate, lodger, amenable to family rules
and to criticism. Then the fair ladye, if she be the sole cause of
detention, is at times sharply scanned, lest the proverbial chandelier
bear hard on the value of the entertainment. On the whole, a state of
perpetual arrival at the mansions of favourably prejudiced strangers,
combined with comparatively early departure,—unerringly anticipating
the first shade of social satiety,—would probably comprise most of the
pleasurable sensations permissible in this imperfect existence.

Mr. Neuchamp had, from the first, no thought of trenching upon even
the border of this ‘debatable land’; for after a very short trial of
this pleasant life he told Miss Frankston that if he stayed for twelve
months, he should still find new objects of interest. He thereupon
completed the painful process known as ‘making up one’s mind,’ and
arranged to leave for the interior on the following day. Not that he
was peculiarly sensible to any state of uncertainty. His enthusiastic
temperament saved him from indecision. Having, with what he believed to
be sufficient care and circumspection, elaborated a plan, he was uneasy
and incapable of enjoyment until an advance in line was made. His, the
fervid temperament, which delights itself with intensifying the action
of all warfare, declared against circumstance, ever the foe of generous
youth and ardent manhood.

So impatient was Mr. Neuchamp to hear the first shot of his campaign
fired, that he had the stern virtue to refuse to remain another week
for a certain picnic, at which all the notabilities of the metropolis
were to be present, and at which the purest form of social pleasure
might be anticipated.

‘My dear Miss Frankston,’ replied he, when urged upon this subject by
Antonia, ‘I grieve that I cannot consistently comply with your kind
request. But I feel myself so rapidly turning into a mere town lounger,
that I am sure another week or two would complete the transformation,
and my moral ruin. For besides, unfortunately’—here he smiled at his
expressed regret—‘I fixed to-morrow for my departure from your most
pleasant and hospitable home, and I _never_ alter my plans.’

‘I should be very sorry to wish you to alter them for our sake,’ said
the girl, unable, however, to suppress a slight tone of pique. ‘No
doubt you will be much happier exploring the highway across the Blue
Mountains, which, of course, will be a great novelty to you. But I
should not have thought a few days would have made any difference. You
will find it dull enough at Garrandilla, where you are going.’

‘Dull!’ said he, ‘dull! in the heart of a new continent, a new world,
with untold stores of new plants, new companions, new experiences, the
outset of a new life. My dear Miss Antonia, how _can_ it be dull to any
person of ordinary intelligence?’

‘Well,’ answered she, smiling, ‘perhaps it is I who am dull for
thinking so. Most young men who have left our house for the interior
have been of that opinion. But I will not attempt to cloud your
anticipations. Only, I really _do_ think you ought not to walk.’

‘Why not? What possible difference can it make how I get over the
twenty or thirty miles a day before I reach the station, to which your
father has so kindly given me letters of introduction? Such jolly
walking tours as I have had in England and Wales, in Ireland, and one
lovely vacation tour in our old home, Normandy.’

‘What a charming thing to be able to see the place where one’s
ancestors lived a thousand years ago!’ said she eagerly. (Mr. Neuchamp,
having let slip the admission of the early settlement of his family
in that rather stirring Norse colony, had been cross-questioned upon
the subject.) ‘How you must have enjoyed it! That’s the worst of
Australia—there’s nothing a hundred years old in it, except a red-gum
tree. But seriously, you may find yourself exposed to inconveniences by
walking, like a labouring man. It is not the fashion in our country for
gentlemen to walk.’

Miss Antonia had entirely settled the matter by the last observation.
Fashion had been through life one of the deadliest enemies to the peace
of Ernest Neuchamp. In his own country he had alarmed his relatives
and scandalised his neighbours by his wild defiance of that successor
of Thor and Odin, as he profanely termed the social belief of decorous
Christians. Was he to bow the knee to this false god in a strange land,
which at least he hoped to be pure from the idolatries of the effete
civilisation from which he had fled? Not so, by St. Newbold! the patron
saint of his house. He smiled with great gentleness as he answered,
with half sad but most irrevocable decision—

‘My dear Miss Frankston, I did not become a colonist with any idea of
being trammelled by usages or customs. You will pardon me, I am sure,
if I retain my first intention.’

‘Most certainly,’ said she. ‘I shouldn’t wonder if you had a friend or
two in England who called you obstinate. But you will tell me some day
how you got on, and whether there was _any_ small portion of reason in
the advice given you.’

‘I shall for ever feel grateful,’ he said warmly, ‘for the intention
of the advice, and for the great kindness which has accompanied it.
Whether or not I succeed in Australia, I shall always have one pleasant
remembrance to look back upon.’

‘My father, and I also, will be glad if you feel thus,’ she said, with
the ordinary calm kindness of her tone; ‘and now, I must go to town.
You leave to-morrow?’

‘Yes; I am sorry, in one way, to say so.’

‘Then papa will be able to give you his final counsels to-night. I know
he wishes to have some last words with you.’

Dinner over and the night being fine, as usual, an adjournment to the
sea-balcony was carried unanimously. When the first cigar was half
through, Mr. Frankston thus addressed his guest—

‘So you are off to-morrow, Antonia tells me, and can’t be persuaded to
wait for the grand picnic. I don’t say you’re wrong. When the ship’s
ready and the wind’s fair, it’s better to wait for no repairs. You’re
going to walk, too. It’s a long way; but you’re young and strong, and
you’ll find out all I can tell you for yourself; if you don’t, all
the telling in the world won’t help you. Now, see here, we’ll arrange
everything for the first twelve months, or two years, if you don’t care
to change.’

‘You’re most kind and generous, my dear sir, and I don’t know what I
should have done without you,’ said Ernest.

‘Thank you,’ said Mr. Frankston; ‘we’ll see about that in about five
or six years, if we all live so long—we can’t tell just yet. I may be
persuading you not to buy in with a rising market, which would double
your money in three years, or I may be saving you from losing all but
what you stand upright in in about the same time. I think it’s the
last, but we can’t tell. This is an uncertain country, particularly
about rain. And rain means fat stock, cheap money, and general
prosperity.’

‘But can’t one provide against the want of rain?’ inquired Mr.
Neuchamp, who was prone to array himself against Providence, holding
that all things might be met or conquered by energy and foresight.
‘Irrigation, for instance.’

‘There is _no_ provision that can be made,’ said the man of experience,
‘except on a small scale, and irrigation means labour; and paying for
labour in Australia, except to a very limited extent, means ruin. A
great drought is like a heavy gale at sea; you may be saved, or you
may go down with all hands. One visitation is as easy to stop or to
calculate about as the other.’

‘And is it a drought now?’

‘Yes; and one of the worst ever known.’

‘Then what will happen?’

‘Stock,’ said the old man, ‘will keep on falling in price. Many
stockholders will be ruined, including Selmore, if he does not clear
out Gammon Downs to a——’

‘A black hat,’ laughed Ernest. ‘I shall remember that joke. It came
near, as our American fellow-passenger would say, costing me five
thousand pounds.’

‘But they won’t be all ruined,’ continued Mr. Frankston; ‘and what
I strongly advise you to do is this—you’ve left your money, for a
year certain, in the Bank of New Holland, for which you’ll get tidy
interest, and it’s as safe as the Bank of England—you go, where I give
you this letter of introduction, to Forrester, who is a good fellow and
knows me, and it’s a good station, Garrandilla; that’s a great matter,
as you will find. There you will be treated like a gentleman. It will
cost you nothing but your clothes. There you’ll learn all that can
be learnt about stock. In a couple of years, say (here Mr. Neuchamp
winced), or perhaps eighteen months, you’ll be fit to look after a
station, and able to buy one for yourself.’

‘Don’t you think a year’s experience,’ pleaded Mr. Neuchamp, ‘might——’

‘No, I don’t,’ stoutly asserted the senior; ‘and in two years it’s my
belief that your five thousand pounds will buy as large a station as
ten thousand would now.’

The following morning saw Mr. Neuchamp, who had risen early and made
all his arrangements, fully prepared for the momentous plunge into
real life. He had attired himself in an old tourist’s suit of rough
serviceable tweed, and donned a pair of thick-soled lace-up boots
fitted for climbing mountain sides, and the roughest pedestrian work
that might occur. He had filled his knapsack with the requisites
that a gentleman cannot dispense with, even in the lightest marching
order, and had adopted a brown wide-awake hat, which he trusted would
relieve him henceforward from any injurious sobriquet. Thus armed at
all points, he awaited breakfast and the arrival of Antonia Frankston,
to whom he felt inclined to bid a more heartfelt farewell than he had
thought any young lady in the southern hemisphere would have earned the
right to receive.

Let me not be understood to assume for a moment that Mr. Neuchamp was
wholly insensible to the tender passion. But he was fully possessed and
occupied for the present by the ‘enterprise of great pith and moment’
which he contemplated. And the boy-god found the tenement of his heart
for the time so thoroughly filled by busy, unsympathetic ideas, that he
was fain to hover like a bird round a populous dovecote, vainly seeking
a single unoccupied pigeon-hole.

‘Friendship, indeed,’ Mr. Neuchamp confessed to himself, ‘had sprung
up of an intellectual and truly fraternal nature between himself
and this girl, who had but few companions, and fewer intimates of
her own age.’ But he told himself that it was a prosaic alliance of
intelligence, natural, and almost inevitable between two people not
very different in age, whose temperaments were rather widely apart, but
whose tastes and feelings assimilated closely. Just the kind of feeling
he might have had for his lady cousins in England, but that they showed
no respect for his opinions and openly jeered at his aspirations.

Now Antonia Frankston paid the compliment of respect to all the
principles and opinions which he enunciated, even while doing battle
unyieldingly against their practical application.

‘It is a great matter to be thoroughly comprehended,’ he had said to
himself. ‘One may be right or one may be wrong. I am the last person
to deny free exercise of opinion, and the healthful effect of free
antagonism. But I must own to a preference of being understood by my
critics.’

Under this stimulus he had poured forth, in the leisure time which
he had abundantly enjoyed with Miss Frankston, his plans for the
regeneration of society, and of Australian life in particular. He had
foretold the reign of abstract justice, and the coming dethronement of
shams. He saw afar a general refinement in manners, pervading culture,
which was harmoniously to fuse classes, now so unhappily divided; the
co-operation of labour with capital, and the equal partition of the
public lands. In a word, all the fair visions of the higher life, the
splendid possibilities of the race which commend themselves to ardent
youth and generous manhood, in that springtime of the heart when
beautiful emanations are evolved in multiform glory, to be chilled and
withered by colder age and hard experience.

To the record of these and similar aspirations, as they poured forth
from the enthusiastic soul of Ernest Neuchamp, tinged with poetic
thoughts and dignified by a pure ‘enthusiasm of humanity,’ had Antonia
listened, by no means without interest. It was new to her to hear
projects free from the taint of selfish gain or personal advantage. And
though she entered her protests, gently but firmly, against many of his
conclusions, there was to him a deep interest in dialogues in which he
secured so patient, so fair a listener, gifted with a high and cultured
intelligence.

Thus Mr. Neuchamp made all necessary adieux, and having received his
credentials, in the shape of a letter of introduction to the owner of
Garrandilla, where he was to abide during his novitiate, and a letter
of credit in case he should have unexpected need of money, departed
from the hospitable gates of Morahmee.

With his knapsack on his back he paced through the city. Being not
sufficiently philosophical, I must confess, to avail himself of the
George Street pavement, he crossed Hyde Park, and turning round to take
one last look at the blue waters and the grand headland, it may be
that his eyes rested lingeringly upon the nearest point which he could
recognise to Morahmee.

Then he turned his back upon nature’s loveliness and fond regrets, and
strode resolutely onward towards the far untried Waste—to him the land
of hope and of endeavour.

Taking a somewhat diagonal course adown and across the old-fashioned
dingy streets, where the aged, decrepit, but in some instances
picturesque dwellings tell a tale of the earliest colonial days, Mr.
Neuchamp presently debouched upon the great arterial thoroughfare
which, before the advent of the steam king, led to that somewhat
mysterious domain, vaguely designated as ‘the bush.’

Here he began to put on his tourist pace, and no longer trammelled by
fear of the fashionable world, exerted those powers of progression
which had won him fame in Scottish Highlands, by Killarney’s fair lake,
and on the cols and passes which, amid eternal snow, girdle the monarch
of the Alps.

Mile after mile, at a rattling pace, went he, pleased to find himself
once more upon a highroad, though comparatively disused, as the Dover
and Calais route, where the great empty posting-houses tell of ‘ruin,’
and the ‘ruthless king,’ which has driven coach and guard, ostler and
landlord, boots and barmaid, all off the road together. Such had been
the doom of this once inevitable and crowded highway; and Mr. Neuchamp
noted with interest the remains of a former state, long passed away.

‘Really!’ soliloquised he, ‘I have come upon a locality adapted
for antiquarian research. I did not expect that in Australia. As I
perceive, those old buildings are massive and imposing, with walls
of solidity far from common. What fine trees are in the orchards! I
must see what o’clock it is. This venerable mansion seems inhabited; I
wonder if I could get a glass of beer?’

This latter outcome of the inner consciousness, not particularly
germane to antiquarian research, was the result of a discovery by
Mr. Neuchamp that he was uncommonly heated. The truth was that he
had, in the ardour of his feelings, been pelting along at the rate of
four miles and a half an hour, forgetting that the thermometer stood
at 85 in the shade; hence his complexion was much heightened; his
shirt-collar limp to a degree whence hope was fled for ever; ‘his
brow was wet with honest whatsyname,’ while a general and unpleasant
saturation of his whole clothing told the tale of a temperature
unknown to his European experiences. To his great contentment, the
hostelry was inhabited and still offered entertainment to man and that
fellow-creature, whose good example had the more highly organised
vertebrate followed what romances of crime had remained unwritten; what
occupations, literary and sensational, had been gone; what reputations,
even of Ouida, Miss Braddon, and that ‘bright particular star,’ of the
firmament of fiction, the great George Eliot herself, had been faint
and prosaically mediocre! The surviving of the past favourites of the
‘shouting multitude’ owed its spirituous existence to the fact of a
byroad from certain farms, here reaching the old highway. By dint of an
early start, and a little night-work, the farmers and dealers were able
to reach and return from the metropolis within the day, thus dispensing
with the swift and, to provincial ideas, somewhat costly train. But the
long hours and late and early travelling necessitated beer; hence this
relic of past bibulousness with ancient porch hard by a real milestone,
the twelfth, which our wayfarer hailed with joy, eagerly scanning the
deeply-graven numerals.

He found the outer room presided over by an excessively clean old
woman, whose starched cap and general get-up reminded him of a
well-known Cambridge landlady. Espying a pewter, he demanded a pint of
ale, and sitting down upon a bench, disposed of the cool draught with
the deep enjoyment which the pedestrian or the worker alone knows.
This duty completed, he consulted his watch, and finding that mid-day
was passed, decided upon a slight refection of bread and cheese, and a
halt.

‘So you still keep the house open?’ he observed to his hostess. ‘I see
a good many of those along the road are closed.’

‘So should we ’a been closed too,’ said the ancient dame, ‘but this
road, as the fruit-carts and firewood and small farming loads comes in
by, keeps a little trade up, and we’ve not a big family; there’s my
husband, as is out, and my son, as works in the garden, and does most
of the work about the place, and Carry.’

‘And you have lived here a long time, I suppose?’

‘Over forty years, since my husband, John Walton, got a grant of land,
and we came here just after we married. We built the house after we’d
made a bit of money, and planted the orchard, and did every mortal
thing as is done.’

‘And you lost all the traffic when the train commenced to run.’

‘All the paying business; everything but this small line as we used
to despise. Father, he was for clearing out, but I couldn’t bear to
leave the old place; we’d saved a bit o’ money, and says I: “Well,
father, suppose we live on here comfortable and steady, and don’t
change. There’s Jem and Carry fit to do all the work; we don’t need no
servants, you can potter about the garden, and the pigs and poultry,
and bee-hives, and they all makes a bit of money, or saves it, and
we’ll, maybe, do as well as those that goes up into the bush, and
goodness knows where.” But you’ll have some lunch, sir—please to walk
this way.’

Mr. Neuchamp was forthwith inducted into an old-fashioned room, the
size and pretensions of which showed the different style of the
entertainment once supplied. Leading from this were several bedrooms,
to the open door of one of which the old dame pointed. Here, with
the help of a sufficiency of cold water and the cleanest towels, he
restored himself to a condition favourable to the proper appreciation
of lunch.

When he returned he found the table being laid by a neatly-dressed,
modest-looking young woman of five or six and twenty.

‘I suppose you are Carry?’ he said, mentally comparing her with an
English country girl of the same rank and condition, and concluding
that the damsel before him did not show to any great disadvantage.

‘Mother’s been telling you, sir, I suppose,’ said the girl, smiling;
‘she’s glad to talk about old times with any one, it’s nearly all she
has to do now.’

‘Well, we had a chat about the state of the roads,’ affably rejoined
Mr. Neuchamp; ‘you have a very nice old place here, and I think you
were very wise to stay.’

‘I don’t mind it,’ said the girl, ‘though it is awfully dull sometimes.
I’m used to a quiet life; but it’s rather hard upon Jem, my brother
that is, sir, for he might have bettered himself in many ways.’

‘How do you think he might?’

‘Why, ever so many times he’s had offers of employment, but he won’t
leave the old people; and then, he might go into the bush.’

‘The bush! and is every one who goes into the bush certain to do well?’

‘Oh no, sir; but every young man of spirit in the colony likes to have
a turn, and run his chance there some time or other. Excuse me, sir,
but you haven’t been very long out, have you?’

‘How the deuce does she know that?’ inquired Mr. Neuchamp of himself.
‘Is there anything written on this brow, and so on? However, I
have catechised her sufficiently, and cannot object to a little
cross-examination in return.’

‘Well, Carry, the truth is that I have _not_ been very long out from
home, as you very wisely have discovered; that’s the reason I am a
little inquisitive about your country. But how did you know?’

‘By lots of things,’ said Carry, rather mischievously; ‘by your having
such a fresh complexion, and so many mosquito-bites,—they don’t bite us
natives that way; and by your clothes, and your shirt-collar, and your
boots, and your pack, or whatever it is—and by your being on foot.’

‘What a long list, Carry! and the worst of it is, that if I was asked
how I should know whether you are a native, as you call yourself, and
not an English girl, I should not have half as many things to swear by.’

‘And what would they be, sir?’

‘Let me see. I think you are a little paler, for one thing—but that’s
the heat, I suppose—and rather taller—and a little, only a very little
slighter—and your hands are smaller; just let me look, for I can’t be
sure; and, on the whole, rather prettier than most English girls are.’

‘Oh, nonsense!’ interrupted Carry at this point, with a not wholly
displeased expression. ‘I don’t believe half of it. I’m sure everybody
says English girls have such lovely complexions and figures, and cut
out us poor “currency lasses” altogether.’

‘That’s not true, Carry, my dear,’ protested Mr. Neuchamp with warmth.
‘I can assure you that no one would think to look at you that you had
lived all your life in a climate something like a greenhouse, with the
door shut. It can’t be such a very had one after all, if it turns out
such very nice specimens of——’

Here Miss Carry pretended to hear her mother calling, and discreetly
departed.

Ernest was too experienced a pedestrian to overwork himself, and
blister his feet the first day, thereby converting the remaining
portion of the journey into a penance; so finding himself in pleasant
quarters, he determined to wait till the cool of the evening, and go on
as far as the ancient and venerable town of Parramatta, which he was
led to believe reared its double spires about eight miles farther on.

After enjoying the home-baked bread, the well-cured bacon, the fresh
butter, and another tankard, he occupied himself with observing the
pictures, which in rather grand gilt frames adorned the room. They
smacked of the good old days. There was ‘The Tally-ho Coach leaving
the Post-office, Sydney.’ A true English four-insider, with a team
of highly improbable grays, proceeding at an impossible pace, from
a pillared edifice with an enormous clock. The celebrated racehorse
‘Jorrocks,’ as he appeared winning his forty-fifth race, the majority
of the cheering crowd depicted as wearing cabbage-tree hats. There was
also the terrific finish at the Five Dock Steeplechase between Fergus
and Slasher, with a sketch of the astonishing struggle, when Traveller
beat Chester for the Sydney Cup after the fifth heat, on the old Sandy
Course. This turf triumph had occurred about forty-five years since.

Much meditating upon the comparative antiquity and hoary age of
incidents, even in a colony, Mr. Neuchamp paid his modest bill,
shouldered his knapsack, and prepared to depart from this beer fountain
in the desert. Meeting the pleasant glance of Carry as he was passing
the door, he turned and said, ‘I must come down to Sydney next year,
and I’ll be sure to pay you a visit, Carry.’

‘Oh, do!’ she said; ‘mother will be so pleased. But you haven’t told me
your name; how shall we hear of you?’

‘If any one talks about Ernest Neuchamp to you, it will be of me.’

‘Ernest is a pretty name,’ said the girl, ‘but “Newchum!” that is not
your real name, is it? of course you are a new chum, though it would be
rude to say so.’

‘And what is “a new chum,” Carry? That is not my name, though the
pronunciation is not so far unlike.’

‘Why, a new chum is a new arrival—a gentleman that——’

‘A black hat?’ suggested he.

‘Well, it’s all the same, I believe,’ she answered; ‘it means somebody
who has just come and doesn’t know anything about the country.’

‘And a most extraordinary country it is,’ muttered he; ‘it appears that
it is not to be known very readily, even after a short stay. Well, here
is my card, Carry; you can spell it at your leisure. Good-bye, my dear,
and take care of yourself till I come back next year.’

‘Good-bye, sir; be sure you stop at the “Red Cow,” at Parramatta.’

This badinage over, Mr. Neuchamp pursued his journey, much refreshed
in body, but exercised in mind by the similarity of his name to the
accusation of newness and cockneyism, so to speak, which the colonial
appellation conveyed. ‘Most vexatious!’ said he to himself; ‘I thought
I saw Antonia look warningly more than once at her father, when he
seemed disposed to dwell on the pronunciation of my name. That must
have been the _mot_ she forbade.’

The sun was low as he strolled into the quiet, old-fashioned, rather
hot town of Parramatta. Here he beheld, within a dozen miles of the
thronged and eager metropolis, a population for the most part more
incurious and unenterprising than if their habitation had been five
hundred miles inland. Every one walked or sauntered down the streets
with that thoroughly provincial absence of hurry which is so refreshing
to the wearied mental labourer.

Among the lower classes, generation after generation had been born and
grown, and aged, since the first occupation of the wonderful land,
which has made such haste to become a nation. There seemed a large
population of well-to-do retired capitalists, something under the
millionaire class, who, having built cottages and planted orangeries
(the export of oranges is the great trade feature of the locality),
felt a calm confidence that here they could wear out life with less
than the usual friction.

He was much surprised and pleased to observe the unusually large
number of oaks, elms, and ash trees which had by the pious founders
been planted in and around the town. Many of these were of great age,
speaking in an Australian sense, and had grown to be ornamental and
dignified of aspect, besides being useful in point of shade.

As he walked slowly down the principal street he was pleased to see
wide stretches of grass, a river, gardens, and a considerable exemption
from the brick-and-mortar tyranny of latter days. The air was becoming
pleasantly cool; a certain amount of loitering and musing, dear to
Mr. Neuchamp’s artistic mind, was observable. A few schoolboys passed,
one pair with arms round one another’s neck, sworn friends and tellers
evidently of some mutually thrilling tale. The cabs were delightfully
old-fashioned. The very air had a Rip Van Winkle flavour about it,
so utterly foreign to the genius of a new country, that Mr. Neuchamp
lamented to himself, as he captured a barefooted urchin and ordered him
to show him to the Red Cow Inn, that he could not prolong his stay.



CHAPTER V


He commenced his next day’s journey at an early hour, in full vigour
of mind and body and in charity with all men. He had fed and rested
with keen relish, and all slight fatigue consequent on unaccustomed
exercise had disappeared. The morning air was fresh and cool. The
indescribable charm of the unworn day rested upon the rural landscape,
where farmhouses, maize fields, orangeries, and orchards alternated
with primeval woodlands and wide-stretching pastures. The houses were
often old, the farming indifferent, the fences decayed; but with
all faults it was the country—the blessed country—and the heart of
Ernest Neuchamp, a born and bred land worshipper, went out to the
dew-bespangled champaign.

He halted no more until the great valley of the Hawkesbury lay before
him, with again comparatively ancient settlement, composed of massively
constructed houses, and even boasting—wonder of wonders—in this
strange new land, of—ruins! Yes; memorials of the past were there! of
an epoch when the easily acquired fortunes of the military, or other
notables of the day, had been devoted to the erection of mansions
more in accordance with their British recollections than with the
circumstances of the colony, or indeed with their regular incomes.
Studding the wide fertile meadows were farmhouses of all grades of
architecture and pretension. Enormous fields of maize, in spite of the
untoward rainless season, told of the unsurpassed richness of a region
which, after more than half a century’s ceaseless cropping, maintained
its fertility.

It so happened that the first two or three individuals who encountered
Mr. Neuchamp as he pursued his way along the uniform high road, which
led through the flat, somewhat Flemish-looking district, were men of
unusual height, breadth, and solidity. Beyond the quick but observant
glance habitual to him, our traveller exhibited no surprise at what he
took to be exceptional individuals accidentally met. But after several
miles’ travelling and a repetition of inhabitants of the same vast
stature, he commenced to realise the fact that he had come upon a human
family of near relationship to the Anakim.

He then remembered some jesting remarks of Mr. Frankston, in which, for
the purpose of pointing to some anecdote of entertaining, if not wholly
instructive tendency, he had said ‘as big and as slow as a Hawkesbury
man,’ or words to that effect.

‘Here, then,’ mused Ernest, after finally possessing himself of the
fact, ‘you have the result of an agricultural population, located upon
rich level country, with ample means of subsistence and an absence of
anxiety about the morrow almost absolute. Nearly eighty years have
passed since the parent-farmers of this community were settled upon
these levels. In their descendants you have the true New Hollander,
like his prototype, large, phlegmatic, slow-moving, unenterprising, but
bearing within him the germs of valiant resistance to tyranny at need,
of steadfast labour, of mighty engineering, of deathless struggles for
political freedom!’

Having traversed this land of Goshen—evergreen and fertile oasis of
the eucalyptus wilderness, not excepting its Platt Deutsch habit of
periodical total immersion, Ernest halted upon an eminence which
bore traces of having been artificially cleared. He gazed upon the
broad winding river at his feet, the wide expanse of river, sharply
contrasted with the savage heights and rugged ravines of the great
mountain-chain which apparently barred all onward path.

He moved a short distance forward, attracted by the appearance of the
remains of an edifice placed exactly upon the brow of the hill, and
found himself among the ruins of a mansion of far more than ordinary
pretensions.

Fire had destroyed much of the main building, but neglect and
abandonment were visible in the dislodged pillars, broken steps,
grass-grown courtyard, and roofless hall.

‘This has been no ordinary home-wreck,’ thought he; ‘it needs but
little imagination to picture to oneself the overflowing hospitality,
the wild revelry, the old-world courtesy, that these crumbling walls
have witnessed. Mark the great range of stabling! For no ordinary
carriage and pair, with couple of hacks only, were they needed, I trow.
There you can still trace the shape and sweep of the avenue leading
from the outer gate to the front entrance, and see where the broken
bridge spanned the little brook! A few glorious irregular orange-trees
mark the place “where once a garden smiled.” This was doubtless one of
the great houses in the period which corresponded with the palmy days
of the West Indian planters, with the old slave-holding times of the
Sunny South, when money was plentiful and (compulsory) labour cheap;
when the magnates of the land held high festival, not periodically but
as the rule of their daily life, and drank and danced and drove and
diced and fought and feasted, all heedless of the morrow, whether in
South Carolina, Jamaica, or in Sydney. The morrow _had_ come during
the lives of some proprietors. In other cases, not until their heirs
were fitted to realise the misery of a lost inheritance. And was this
the end, the moral, of that _bon vieux temps_? The broken arch, the
down-trodden shrubberies, the ghostly portals?’

By the time Mr. Neuchamp had brought his musings to a reluctant
conclusion, the sun lay goldenly in the clear autumn eve, athwart
the dark blue many-shadowed mountain-chain which rose with abrupt
sternness from the broad green fertile levels. A wondrous clearness of
atmosphere was manifest to the wayfarer from the misty mother-lands,
now irradiated with the glories of a southern sunset. Tints of all hues
and gradations of colour, clear unflecked amber, burning gold, purple,
and orange, cast themselves in softly blending masses upon the fast
darkening, solemn, unrelieved mountain-chain.

He was aware, from guide-book lore, that at this point the early
progress of civilisation and prosperity of the struggling colony of
New South Wales had come to an abrupt conclusion. All things which he
saw around explained so much. Careful cultivation of land now disused
and restored to grazing. A multiplication of small well-improved
farms. Expensive and thorough clearing of timber from great tracts of
indifferent soil, only explicable on the hypothesis of cheap labour and
artificially heightened prices for all kinds of farm produce.

Then the end had come. The pent-up flocks and herds, the fall of the
protection prices, dearth of employment for labour, the vigorous
manhood of the colony native to the soil clamouring for remuneration
and adventurous employment—all the causes, in fact, which lead to the
decay of a weak or the development of a strong race.

One people, one ‘happy breed of men,’ in such straits and urgency,
has ever found chiefs of its own blood capable of guiding it to
death or victory. The time was come—the men were at hand—Wentworth,
Lawson, and Blaxland, hereditary leaders, as belonging to the military
aristocracy, and to the squirearchy of the land, stood forward and
fronted the supreme crisis. Taking with them a scant equipment, they
cast themselves into the interminable wilderness of barren rock and
mountain, frowning precipice and barren heath, endlessly alternating
with ‘horrible hopeless sultry dells’ for leagues, which no white man
had hitherto measured or traversed.

The problem, upon the favourable solution of which hung the life of
the infant settlement, was, whether a region lay beyond this pathless
natural barrier, which in pasture alone should prove sufficiently
extensive to sustain the flocks and herds so rapidly increasing in
numbers and value.

It was a task difficult and dangerous beyond what, in this day of
feather-bed travel, the imagination can easily reach. But the reward
was splendid; and they, with hunger-sharpened features, barefooted
and almost naked from contact with bush and brier, with the unshaken
courage and dogged obstinacy to the death, proper to their race,
reached forth the strong right hand, seized, and held it fast.

For, after untold weary wanderings, with loss of burdened beasts,
famine, doubt, and every hardship but that of divided counsels, they
stood one day upon a mountain-top and saw stretched out before them
the glory of the great unknown, untrodden, Austral interior, fated to
be the pasture ground of millions of sheep and beeves and horses, the
home of millions of Anglo-Saxons. A portion of this they saw when they
sighted the first tract of richly grassed park-like forest, the first
rippling river, the first prairie-like meadow.

The yet unfolded treasures of the boundless waste were doubtless seen
in the spirit by the poet soul, the statesmanlike intellect, the
patriotic heart of William Charles Wentworth.

Thus far the guide-book narrative, which perhaps Mr. Neuchamp partially
recalled and revolved as he betook himself to the last of the older
country towns of the land, which lay amid gardens and church spires on
the nether side of the broad river, under the shadow of the ancient
mountain superstition, now with ‘hull riddled’ by broadsides of
steam, like other fallacies exploded by modern determination and the
remorseless logic of the age.

On the morrow the pilgrim girded himself for the long ascent which
plainly lay before him when he should cross the bridge and leave the
cleared fertile vale.

Rising at an earlier hour than usual, he quitted the village inn before
the sun had more than cleared the eastern horizon.

Ernest enjoyed in silent ecstasy the calm fresh beauty of the morn, as
following the old road,—now winding round the spur of a mountain; now
scarped from the hillside with a sheer fall of a thousand feet ere the
tops of the trees could be beheld, which looked like brierbushes at
the bottom of the glen; now running with comparatively level measure
along the plateau from which an endless vision of mountain, valley, and
woodland was visible,—he gradually ascended to an elevation from which
he was able to take a last glance at the rich lowlands through which
the course of the river gleamed in long bright curves.

Mr. Neuchamp was a tolerable botanist, a rather more advanced
geologist. He therefore possessed the unfading interest which he can
ever ensure who reads with heaven-cleared eyes the book of nature.
He was able to gratify both tastes without departing from the beaten
track. Around, before, above him he beheld shrubs, forest trees,
flowers, grasses, utterly unknown previously, but which from early
reading he was enabled to recognise and classify. Every step along the
sandstone slopes or heath-covered mountain-top was to him a joy, a
surprise, an overflowing feast of new and pleasurable sensations.

Descending again from an elevation where the mountain wind blew keenly,
and the eagle soared from thunder-blasted giant eucalyptus adown the
stupendous glen, at the sunless base of which lay an ever-gurgling
rivulet of purest spring-fed water, he shouted aloud at the rare ferns
which grew in unnoticed tender beauty where ‘rivulets dance their
wayward round.’ He saw the deserted and rude appliances where the
wandering miner had essayed to ‘wash out’ a modest deposit of the great
conqueror, gold!

Then would he happen upon some long-disused, half-forgotten ‘camp,’ a
half military station, where a subaltern had been stationed with some
hundred convicts, whose forced labour made the road upon which he now
so peaceably travelled.

There were the huts, here the great blocks of stone which they had
hewn and raised from the quarry; there had been the triangles where,
pah! the contumacious or luckless convict had the flesh cut from his
back or much bemarked at least by that high official the government
flogger. How wondrous grand the view, at morn and eve, before the eye
of hopeless God-forsaken men, who in deliberate wrath and unendurable
misery, cursed therefrom the day and the night, the moon and stars,
the country, and every official from the gaoler to the governor. He
gazed at the glorious cataract where the lonely water gathers its
stray threads to fall like the lace tracery of a veil over the sullen
spur. He saw the rock battlements and pinnacles, bright in the morning
sun, against the rifted water-washed bases of which in long past
ages the billows of an ancient sea had rolled and dashed. He saw the
huge promontories which frowningly reared themselves on the verge of
measureless abysses or obtruded their vast proportions and dizzy height
into the boundless ocean of pale foliage which stretched, alternating
but with sandstone peaks and masses, to the farthest horizon. From time
to time he encountered men in charge of droves of horses and of cattle.
These of necessity pursued the old and rugged road, not caring to use
the swifter, costlier trainage. At first Mr. Neuchamp used to stand
in the middle of the road, until he was warned by the fierce eyes and
glancing horns of the cattle, and the extremely unreserved language
of the accompanying stockmen, that he was violating etiquette and
incurring danger.

Ever and anon he would halt as the warning steam-whistle heralded the
approach of a locomotive, and marvel and muse as he saw the long train
wind swiftly and securely adown or up the graded mountain side. He saw
the half-advancing, half-receding series of approaches which at length
land the travellers and the merchandise of the coast upon the pinnacles
of the Australian Mont Cenis, and he thanked God, who had made him of
one kindred with the men who had conquered nature, both in the land of
his fathers which he had left and in the new land, a void and voiceless
primeval forest but yesterday.

Much reflecting upon the overflowing _pabulum mentis_ which had been
spread before him on that day, Ernest was as grateful as a philosopher
could be when he saw at the rather chilly approach of eve the outline
of a building, faulty as a work of primitive art, as a specimen of any
known order of architecture beneath contempt. It was the humble abode
of one of the innkeepers of a former _régime_, who had retained his
lodgment upon the keen mountain plateau, and still smoked his pipe
beside the roaring log fire in frosty winter nights. He now gathered
russet pippins in his orchard, with an increasing sense of solvency,
long after the last of the coaches had rattled away from his door to
face the awful grades of the midnight mountain stage.

When, therefore, after a glorious day of intellectual exercise and
frank bodily toil this most praiseworthy hostelry was reached, Mr.
Neuchamp felt that fate had but small chance of doing him an injury
on that particular night, had her intention been ever so unkind. He
walked briskly up to the house, and was then and there taken in charge
by a fresh-coloured, broad-shouldered, cheery individual, evidently
the landlord, or a gross personal forgery of that functionary. He was
promptly relieved of his knapsack, and lodged in the cleanest of
bedrooms, with spoken and definite assurance of dinner.

‘I see you a-comin’ up the hill, with my glass, a good two miles
off,‘ said Boniface. ‘You see, sir, there ain’t no other place but
mine for twenty mile good. So I made the old woman have everything
handy for a spatchcock. _He_ always liked a spatchcock. Many a time
he’s been a furragin’ and a rummagin’ over every nook and cranny
of these here mountains till he must have walked them blessed iron
legs of his very near off. Ha, ha, ha! You’ll excuse me, sir; but
when I see the knapsack, I took you for the Rev. Mr. Marke, the
heminent-geehol-holler.’

‘Geologist, I suppose you mean,’ asserted Ernest. ‘Well, I hope you
are not deeply disappointed; I am glad to find that there’s a man in
Australia besides myself who is fond of using his legs.’

‘Bless your heart, sir, you’ll find when you’ve a been in the country
a few years more’ (here Ernest contracted his brow) ‘that there’s a
many gentlemen likes a goodish long walk when they can get a bit of a
holiday. There’s Counsellor Burley, he thinks nothing of a twenty-mile
walk out and in, nor his brother neither. They all comes up to me when
they want to stretch their legs a bit. But I must see to your tea, sir.’

Mr. Neuchamp was partly interested in this record of pedestrianism
other than his own. Nevertheless, he experienced a shade of
disappointment at finding that he was not in such a glorious monopoly
of tourist life as he had imagined. However, as he stretched his
slipper-encased feet on either side of the great fireplace, in which
burned a fire, which the keen, almost frosty mountain air made pleasant
and necessary, he came to the conclusion that ‘none but the brave,’
etc.; or, in other words, that no man who has not done a fair day’s
journey, upon his own legs, if possible, can thoroughly, intensely,
comprehensively enjoy a well-cooked, well-served evening meal, like
unto the spatchcock which immediately followed, and put a period to
these reflections.



CHAPTER VI


It may be doubted whether a large proportion of what man is prone to
call happiness is secured by any mortal, in so compressed and complete
a form, as by the reasonably weary wayfarer during an evening spent in
a cheery old-fashioned inn. The conditions of enjoyment are superbly
complete. The body, healthily tired, craves utter repose, supplemented
by the creature-comforts so plentifully accorded to a solvent lodger.
The mind, ever a comparative reflex of the organic register of the
body, is so far dominated as to lie luxuriously and ruminatively
quiescent. The great ocean of the future, with possible armadas,
Columbus discoveries, whirlpools, and typhoons, lies mist-shrouded
and peaceful-murmurous. The mild lustre of fairly-purchased present
enjoyment is shed lamp-like over the whole being. The difficult past,
the uncertain future, are shut out from the mental view as completely
as are the dark streets and stranger groups of a city, by shrouding
curtains, when the interior life is alone visible. Care, save by
improbable hazard, is thrust out till the morn. Till then the joys of
unpalled appetite. Slumber, soft-touched, silent nurse, points with
warning finger to the couch. Reverie may be fondled, darling nymph,
without the rebuke of cold-eyed prudence. The wayfarer is a monarch
for that evening only. His subjects haste to do his bidding. His purse
contains a compressible coronet, investing him with regal dignity and
absolute power, while the talisman coin is potent. Burly Sam Johnson
loved ‘to take his ease at an inn.’ Was there an added luxury in the
uncounted cups of tea therein possible, dissevered from the fear of
accidents to Mrs. Thrale’s table-cloth?

The supper had come and gone, and Mr. Neuchamp was sleepily watching
the glowing embers in the fireplace with a strong mental deflection
towards bed, when the pistol-crack of stock-whips, the lowing of
cattle, and a faint echo of the far pervading British oath prepared
him for a new and probably interesting arrival. His first impulse was
to rush wildly into the road, in order to see a drove of cattle by
moonlight, but having accidentally observed that the stockyard was
very near the house, he restrained himself and awaited the landlord’s
irrepressible report.

In a quarter of an hour that sympathetic personage, evidently the
bearer of important news, entered the sitting-room.

‘Hear the whip, sir? that was Ironbark Ike, with a couple o’ hundred
head of fat cattle of the () and Bar brand. Splendid lot. Bum
character, old Ike; been a stockman and drover this fifty year. Like to
see him, sir? he’s a-smoking his pipe in the kitchen.’

Like to see him? Of course Mr. Neuchamp would like to see him, though
he mildly assented, and did not betray the tremulous eagerness with
which he mentally grasped the chance of beholding a stockman of half
a century’s experience, in his eyes little less than a sheik of the
Bedaween.

Following his trusty host to the large smoke-blackened, old-fashioned
kitchen, he saw a sinewy, grizzled old man, smoking an extremely black
pipe by the fire, who turned a pair of spectral gleaming eyes upon him,
and then resumed his position.

‘Ike, this is a gentleman going up the country; he ain’t been out long’
(Ike nodded expressively), ‘and he wants your advice about buying a
cattle station. He’d rather them nor sheep.’

‘Sheep be blanked,’ said the old man savagely. ‘I should think not.
Who the blank would walk at the tails of a lot of blank crawling
sheep, when he could ride a good horse after a mob of thousand-weight
bullocks, like I’ve got here to-night?’

‘Mr. Landlord,’ said Ernest, ‘I should like a glass of grog. Won’t
Mr.—a—Ike, here, and yourself join me?’

The refreshment was not declined, and having been produced, Ike
abandoned his pipe and proceeded to expound the law as regarded
cattle—wild, tame, fat, store, branded and unbranded, broken-in, or
‘all over the country’—in an oracular tone, suggestive of experiences
and adventure far beyond the reach of ordinary men.

‘Travelled this line? ah! You remember me a fairish time, Joe; but I’ve
been along these ranges and gullies with stock long before the old road
was finished, when you were sure to meet more than _one_ bushranger,
and had to carry your grub and camp for weeks together. Many a queer
drive I’ve had on this very track. They had no steamers fizzin’ up and
down the rocks then, takin’ sheep and cattle behind ‘em, all mashed up
together in boxes like so many herrin’s. It took a _man_ to bring a mob
of fat bullocks from the Lower Castlereagh or the Macquarie, let alone
the Narran, in them days.’

‘I suppose you had some roughish trips them days,’ suggested the host.

‘You may swear that, Joe,’ affirmed the war-worn stockman, with a grim
contortion of his facial muscles; ‘take the book in your right hand,
as they say, when you are in the “jump-up.” Here,‘ added he, as he
swallowed his brandy at a gulp, and made a sign to the landlord, ‘fetch
in another round, if this gentleman here ain’t too proud, and I’ll tell
you a yarn about drivin’ cattle—one you don’t hear every day.’

The replenished glasses reappeared, and the veteran of the ‘spur, the
bridle, and the well-worn _brand_,’ having filled his pipe and partly
emptied his glass, made a commencement.

‘It was a matter of thirty years ago, or more; I was a young chap then
and pretty flash, knowed my work, and wasn’t afraid of man, beast, or
devil. Well, I’d got a biggish mob of fat stock for them days—there was
no ten thousand head on any man’s run then—and a rough time we’d had of
it. It had rained every day since we started. We’d had to swim every
river and every creek as we come to, and watch for the first fortnight,
all night long, with the horses’ bridles in our hands.’

‘I suppose they were rather wild cattle?’ inquired Mr. Neuchamp,
sipping his brandy and water distrustfully.

Ironbark Ike bent a searching look upon his interrogator before he
answered.

‘Wild? Well, I suppose you might call ’em that, and make no mistake.
They’d come off a very far outrun, where they’d been, as one might say,
neglected. Never see a yard for years, some on ’em. They was that wild,
that as we drove along, if they came to the fresh track of a “footman,”
they’d stop and smell it and paw the ground and roar for ever so long.
We’d hard work to get ‘em by it. As to seein’ people on foot, there
wasn’t much of that; and any travellers they kept clear enough of us,
if they’d ever heard of the DD cattle.

‘Well, we’d dodged them along pretty fair, that is me and a Narran
black boy and a young Fish River native chap, that was pretty nigh as
unbroken as the black boy; he could ride the best, but the black boy
had twice as much savey.’

‘Some o’ them darkies is pretty smart,‘ interposed the host, gradually
becoming less respectful to his ancient guest, of whom he apparently
stood in considerable awe.

‘Smartest chaps ever I had on the road was blackfellows when they’re
wild; as long as they can ride a bit, the wilder the better, and get
’em off their own ground, then they’re afraid to bolt.’

‘I should have supposed when they have had the benefit of education
they would have been more valuable assistants,’ mildly asserted Mr.
Neuchamp.

‘Ruins ’em, bodily and teetotally,’ asserted Ike, with iron decision.
‘No educated blackfellow was ever worth a curse. But tame or wild
they’ve all one fault, and it drops ’em in the end.’

‘Indeed, how singular!’ said Ernest, ‘how strange that this sub-variety
of the human race should have one pronounced weakness! And what may it
be?’

‘Drink!’ shouted the veteran, draining his glass. ‘We can do another
round, Joe. Never knew one of ’em that didn’t take to drink, sooner or
later; and, in course, that cooked ’em,’ he added, with an impressive
moral air.

‘Sure to do,’ echoed the landlord, appearing with fresh rummers.

‘I have no doubt,’ assented Mr. Neuchamp blandly, but much in the dark
as to the real nature of the culinary process described.

‘Well,’ proceeded Mr. Isaac, settling himself calmly down to his fourth
tumbler, ‘where was I? with those blank cattle, oh! at the top of the
road where it used to make in, at the top of Mount Victoria. By gum! it
makes me feel as if there was no rheumatism in these blessed old bones
of mine when I think how we rode all that blessed day. All the night
before we’d been on our horses, round and round the cattle, in a scrub
full of rocks; it rained in buckets and tubs, thundering and lightning,
and pitch dark; and I, knowing that if the cattle broke loose, we’d
never see half of ’em again.’

‘Why, bless my soul!’ ejaculated Mr. Neuchamp, completely dislodged
from his previous conviction that cattle were a more pleasing and
interesting description of stock than sheep, ‘how did you ever succeed
in keeping them?’

‘We did keep ’em, and that’s about all I know,’ responded the fierce
drover of other days. ‘_How_ we did it the devil only knows. I swore
enough that night for him to lend a hand, if he’s on for such fakes,
as some says. I rode slap into Tin Pot, the black boy, once, taking
him for an old cow, and Tommy Toke, the white lad, ran against a tree
and knocked one of his horse’s eyes clean out. Well, daylight came at
last, and we had the cattle at our own price, blast ’em. All day they
was very sulky and slinged along, and wouldn’t feed. Well, we was sulky
too, for we’d no time to stop and cook a bite, it was so thick.’

‘What started ’em so?’ inquired the landlord; ‘they’d had a deal of
camping before they came so far.’

‘God knows!—a kangaroo or a bear, or they saw a ghost or a
blackfellow—something we couldn’t see; and once they were fairly up,
the devil himself wouldn’t get them to settle again. Now I knew a
first-rate camp two or three miles from the bottom of this here hill,
almost as good as a yard, but with a bit of feed and water in, a
regular wall of rock all round; one man, with a fire, could keep ’em
first-rate. So my dart was to get to this place, and I was looking
forward to a bit of hot damper and a warm quart or two of tea, with a
quiet smoke.

‘Just as I thinks of this we turned the corner, and there, in the
narrowest part of the road, was a road gang, as they call it, a goodish
crowd of chained convicts makin’ believe to mend the road, with a party
of soldiers to look after ‘em, and a young officer to look after the
soldiers, and a white-whiskered, hard-hearted old rascal of a corporal
to look after _him_.

‘The corporal was a-walking up and down, on guard, backwards and
forwards, very stiff and solemn. There’d been a chap bolted (and shot
dead, too) the night afore, so he had on a bit of extra pipeclay.

‘Our mob propped, dead—the cattle and Tin Pot and Tommy Toke—at what
they’d never seen afore. Now we couldn’t give the party the go-by
anyhow, unless they went into their huts.’

‘Why not?’ asked Mr. Neuchamp, deeply interested.

‘Because the mountain was like the side of a house above the road, and
fell straight down below five hundred feet, like a sea-cliff. There was
just that chain or two of level track, and that was all. I goes up to
the corporal, “I say, mate,” says I, “can’t you get your canaries off
the track here for about a quarter of an hour, and let my mob of cattle
pass?”

‘He looks at me, turning his eyes, but not his head, and keeps on
marching up and down like a blessed image; all he says was, “Make an
application to the officer in command,” says he.

‘So I looks about, and presently I sees a slight-built young fellow, in
a shell jacket, lounging about a tent.

‘“’Scuse me, captain,” says I, “will you order your men to leave off
their work (work, thinks I) and keep the road clear while I get my
cattle past? They’re awful wild, and won’t face the track with all
these chaps in yellow and black and leg-irons. They never see a road
gang before.”

‘“What extraordinary cattle for New South Wales!” said the young
fellow; “I should say there was plenty of room between the men and the
hill. Can’t move her Majesty’s troops nor the industrious gang before
six o’clock.”

‘By——, I _was_ mad. If we couldn’t get the cattle by with the light, we
ran the risk of their breaking before we got to camp and having another
night like last night over again. It _was_ hard! I ground my teeth
as I went back and passed the corporal, walking up and down with his
confounded musket.

‘When I got past him I saw the cattle staring and looking hard, drawn
up a good deal closer. The two boys were very sulky at the notion of
another night watching and riding, with scarce anything to eat for
twenty-four hours. So was I, when I thought of the long cold hours if
we didn’t make our camp.

‘Suddenly an idea came into my head; I see something as give me a
notion. “Tommy Toke,” says I, “you look out to back up and keep the
tail of the mob going, if they make a rush. Tin Pot, you keep on the
upper side, and look out they don’t break back. They’re a-going to make
a —— charge.”

‘What started me on this plan all of a sudden, was this wise. We had
an old blue half-bred buffalo cow and her son, a four-year-old black
bullock, in the mob; he followed his mother, as they will do sometimes.
He was a regular pebble, and the old cow hadn’t been in a yard since
he was branded. She was the biggest tigress ever I see; that’s sayin’
something. Well, I see the old Roosian paw the ground now and then, and
keep drawing towards the corporal, as was marchin’ up and down same as
he was in Buckingham Palace.

‘I keep watching the old cow drawin’ and drawin’, and pawin’ and
pawin’. He thought she might be a milker. Suddenly she gives a short
bellow, makes for the corporal at the rate of forty miles an hour,
followed by the black bullock, and the mob behind him.

‘The first thing I saw was the corporal a-flyin’ in the air one way,
his musket another, and the cow, the black bullock, and the whole of
the mob charging through the soldiers and the road gang.

‘“Back up, boys,” I roared, “keep them going!” as we swept through the
party; soldiers running one way, the convicts, poor beggars, making
their chains rattle again in their hurry to get safe away. That was a
time! I saw the young soldier-officer capsized on to one of his men.
Such a smash I never see; it was all downhill luckily. Away we went at
the tail of the mob, galloping for our lives, and soon left red coats
and yellow trousers, muskets and leg-irons, far behind us. Luckily the
mob was too wild to break, and before sundown we were miles from the
bottom of the hill, and had the cattle safe inside of the rock-wall
camp, where we had a good feed and a night’s sleep, both of which we
wanted bad enough.’

‘I’ll be bound you did,’ assented the landlord; ‘it’s a hard life, is
a stockman’s—out in all weathers, and risking your life, as one might
say.’

‘Life?’ said the saturnine, grizzled old land-pirate, who had
apparently relapsed into a different train of thought; ‘what’s a man’s
life in this country; leastways used to be. Here!’ roared he, dashing
his hand upon the table, ‘bring in a bottle of brandy, Joe, and a
kettle of water, and I’ll tell you a yarn about old days as’ll make
your hair curl, unless this here gentleman’s ashamed to drink with old
Ike?’

Mr. Neuchamp had by this period of the evening made the discovery that
he had invoked a fiend that he was unable to lay; as the old stockman
glared at him with half-infuriate, half-imploring eyes, while putting
his last observation into the form of a question, he felt much inclined
to defy and refuse his uncomfortable boon companion. But having evaded
the implied obligation to drink so far he thought it expedient to
comply, partly from the novelty of the experience, partly from his
dislike to a possible quarrel.

‘Ha!’ said the strange old man, as he half filled his tumbler with the
powerful spirit, and stirred the heavy red glowing logs in the stone
fireplace till they shot up a shower of sparks, and threw out a fierce
heat like the mouth of a furnace; ‘fine thing is a fire! that put me in
mind of it. Fill up, curse ye! Joe, ye old, half-baked Jimmy. It was
over on the Dervent side, afore I came here at all, that two chaps as
did a good deal on the cross, that’s how it was told me, was a-skinnin’
a bullock in a gully, as had only one end to it.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ inquired Mr. Neuchamp. ‘Surely——’

‘I mean,’ impatiently broke in the narrator, ‘as you could run stock in
at one end, and if they got high up they found a wall of rock at the
far end, and they couldn’t well get back, it was so tarnation narrow.
Now do you savey? They were the only coves as knew the secret of it
in that part, and many a beast, and many a colt and filly—horses was
horses then—they branded or put away there. Well, as I was saying,
they wasn’t two very particular chaps, and they was a-skinnin’ of a
bullock, having previously killed him; there warn’t no doubt of that,
as the head was on the ground close by with a bullet hole not very
far off the curl. Similarly it was a “cross” beast. No mistake about
that either. The hide, three-parts off, showed the RX brand; one that
belonged to H., one of the largest stockholders in the island, and a
man who would prosecute any man as dared touch his property, to the
gallows, if he could get him there. No hope of mercy from _him_. They
had no right to take the bullock, of course it was felony, and now they
were caught red-handed by this chap—Pretty Jack; he was the ugliest
man in the island, and he was going to turn informer. He grinned when
he came up. “There’s my liberty,” says he, pointing to the beast;
“I’m sorry for you, boys,” says he, “but every man for himself.” The
men looks at one another, then at him; he had ’em in his hand; they
saw the courthouse crammed, and heard the judge pass the sentence, a
heavy one of course, for a second colonial conviction. They heard the
gaol door clang as they were shut in for the long infernal years which
would bring ’em nearly, if not quite, to the end of a man’s life. Some
of this sort these two chaps _had_ tasted before; they shuddered and
trembled when they thought of it, and the man who was to do all this
by his own willing informing was their own friend and fellow-prisoner;
an accomplice, too, in a goodish lot of undiscovered crimes. He sat
looking at the beast with a stupid grin on his ugly face. They looked
at each other. Then one man walked past him on the track, and stopped.
When he saw this man’s eyes, and the murder written there, he called
out, “For God’s sake, don’t kill me, mates; it was all in joke, I never
meant to inform on you.” But it was too late—they were too much afraid
of their own lives to trust them to him; besides their anger had been
kindled against the man who had been an accomplice, and was now an
informer. “All right, Jack,” called out one of the men, “help us to get
off this hide.” He did so nervously, and anxious to curry favour. The
hide was soon stripped, and as they turned to make some joking remark,
one of them struck him over the head with a heavy piece of wood. The
wretched fool fell on his knees, groaning bad enough.

‘“O my God!—Charley,” said he, in his agony, “what’s this about?—you
won’t really hurt me? for the love of God, for the sake of my wife and
the young ones, pity me; I never meant it, God above knows.”

‘“Nonsense, man,” said one of them, “we ain’t a-going to hurt ye; we’re
only a-goin’ to stitch ye up in this here hide a bit, to keep ye from
gabbin’ while we’re putting this bullock away. Now lie still, or by ——
I’ll pole-axe you.”

‘He laid quiet, thinking he would soon be let go, and while the men
laced him up in the hide, making eyelet-holes, and running thongs of
hide through, which made it fit pretty close, he thought he might lie
for a few hours, and then the people from the next place would find
him, and let him go free.

‘The men cut up the bullock. They lighted a large fire and put the
head, offal, and feet upon it; they packed part of it on a wheelbarrow.
Then they hung a strong green-hide rope between the two trees above the
fire; one said something to the other in a low growling tone; he shook
his head, but at last they came towards the bound-up wretch; he was not
able to stir, in course, but it _was_ pitiful—my God, so it was, to see
his eyes move like an animal’s in a trap, as the men went up to him.

‘“For God’s sake, men, spare me,” he moaned out.

‘“Spare you?” said the oldest of ’em; “spare a man who betrays his own
pals, and sells his fellow-men for a miserable ticket-of-leave? Damn
you!” he roared, “your time’s up, if you had a dozen lives. Here, Ike.”


‘Between them they raised him, lifted him in their arms, and hung him
up by the rope actually across the roaring fire. The wet hide protected
him for a bit, but when the fire began to take effect his shrieks (they
told me) was that horrid and unnatural that they had to stop their ears.

‘There they stopped till the shrieks died away in death. How he writhed
and screamed, and prayed and cursed, and wept and struggled like a
maniac. But the tough hide held through everything, though he wrenched
it as if he could break an iron band. It was a long while to watch the
tongues of the flame dart up as inside the black sheet still writhed a
shuddering, howling form. It couldn’t have been much like a man’s at
last. Then all the noise died away, and the bag hung steady and still.’

‘And did the fiends who perpetrated this awful deed escape punishment?’
asked Ernest.

‘Well, I don’t know about ’scaping punishment,’ said the ancient
colonist, looking somewhat like one of Morgan’s buccaneers, questioned
as to the retribution, moral or otherwise, that followed the sack of
Panama, ‘but they got clear off, and it was years afterwards that a
half-burnt hide with a skeleton inside was found near the old camp.’

‘And did the principal criminal never suffer remorse?’ still inquired
Ernest, with horror in every tone; ‘are such men suffered by God to
live?’

At that moment the fire blazed up; a change, wonderful and dread, came
over the face of the old stockman. He started up; his eyeballs glared
like those of a maniac; every muscle, every feature was convulsed.
‘Who talks of murderers? They? He? _I_ did it. I, Bill Murdock, and
the devil. _He_ was there; I see him grinning by the fire now. Ha, ha!
I can hear _his_ screams, my God, my God! as I’ve heard ’em every day
since. I hear ’em now. I shall hear ’em in hell! Look!’

So speaking, with eyes protruding, with every facial nerve and muscle
quivering with horror and unspeakable dread, he pointed towards
the fireplace, as one who sees the approach of a form, horrible,
unavoidable, unearthly. Then, gasping and shuddering, he fell prone and
heavily to the floor, without an effort to save himself.

The landlord approached and loosened his handkerchief. ‘It’s partly the
grog,’ he whispered to Ernest. ‘Nobody can say how much brandy and how
much truth’s mixed up in this here yarn; but he’s seen some rough work
in his day, has Ike—though I never see him like this before. Thank you,
sir; I can get him to bed now.’

Mr. Neuchamp promptly sought _his_ couch, deciding that he had come in
for a much larger dose of the sensational element than he had counted
upon, and doubting whether he should repeat the experiment.

When he awoke, after a heavy but perturbed slumber, the sun was up, and
his first question was of the welfare of the strange old stockman.

‘Gone, hours ago, sir. He just slept till nigh hand daylight, and then
he roused out his men, lets the cattle out of the yard, and off he
goes.’

‘And was he able to sit on his horse,’ was Mr. Neuchamp’s very natural
question, ‘after drinking a bottle of brandy and having a fit?’

‘A deal better nor we could, I expect, sir. He’s iron-bark right
through, that old Ike. Takes a deal to kill the likes of him.’

‘Apparently so,’ assented Ernest. ’What wonderful energy, what
indomitable resolution must he possess! Used in a better cause, what
results might such a man not have reached! “‘Tis pity of him,” as the
Douglas said of Marmion, who in this century, instead of that in which
Flodden was fought, might have adorned a colony too, if there had
been any one to lay the information, “for that he did feloniously and
unlawfully obtain the custody of one young lady,” etc. etc., anent that
forged letter. Heigh ho! I don’t feel quite as much in the humour for
walking to-day as I did yesterday. Still, it’s a case of Excelsior,
I suppose. _En avant_, Neuchamp! St. Newbold inspire thy son and
servant.’



CHAPTER VII


When Mr. Neuchamp looked around, after completing his toilette, the
scene strongly stirred his imaginative mind; it was unique, unfamiliar,
and majestic. At his feet, down the long incline of the mountain, lay
the vast foreign-foliaged, primeval forests, the silver-threaded,
winding rivulets, the hoary crag-ramparts of yesterday’s travel
shrouded in billowing, rolling mists, or rich in combination of light
and shade, colour and effect, and at the bidding of the morning
sunbeam. As far as vision extended, nought but these characteristic
features of the mountain wilderness was visible. Immediately around
him, however, were decisive though humble evidences of the domination
of art over nature. The inn orchard, with its autumn-blushing apples,
stables, barn-yard, the cheerful smoking chimneys in the ’eager
air’—all these told of the limited but absolute sway of civilised man.
Ernest’s ideas gradually shaped themselves into the concrete fact of
breakfast.

After this luxurious meal Mr. Neuchamp felt his ardour for travel
and exploration rekindled. He inquired the road from the landlord
and boldly pushed on. Much the same fortune attended him, sometimes
traversing rugged and barren country, and at other times finding
cottages, farms, and orchards upon his route. When, however, he reached
the more open forest lands, he found that a portion of the carefully
graded highway was in process of being metalled. Here were many parties
of stonebreakers at work by contract, apparently preferring such labour
to the more monotonous daily wage.

Asking for water at one small camp, he found in the cook a
well-mannered youngster, doubtless a gentleman. Ernest was pressed to
take more substantial refreshment, but he declined the offer.

‘How far do you think of going to-day?’ inquired the affable
stone-compeller.

‘About half a dozen miles,’ replied Mr. Neuchamp, who by this time had
completed the chief portion of a fair day’s trudge.

‘My reason for asking,’ continued the basaltic one, ‘is, that we are
going to have a little dinner at an inn just so far distant. The party
consists of my mates—very decent fellows—and our superintendent, who is
a regular brick. We shall be glad if you will join us.’

‘Most happy indeed,’ answered Ernest, especially gratified to enter
upon a new phase of life utterly outside of his previous experiences,
and perhaps more typically Australian than anything he could have
stumbled upon except by the merest accident. He had dined in many queer
places and met with strange company in his day, being always ready
to extend his observations in the interest of philosophical inquiry,
but a dinner of persons who broke stones upon a highroad for their
subsistence, and who were presumably gentlemen, he had never yet been
so fortunate as to hear of, much less to partake of.

‘If you don’t mind waiting half an hour,’ pursued the Amphitryon,
‘while I change my clothes, we can walk down comfortably together.’

‘Are you in the habit of having these little dinners to solace your
rather austere labours?’ inquired Ernest.

‘Well, not exactly; though we have not been so very uncomfortable
here for the last six months. We are all gentlemen, in our party,
out of luck; and a man might do worse, who is young and strong, than
earn six shillings a day by fair downright labour, in a cool climate.
All we have to do is to pile up so many yards of metal for the road
superintendent to measure. When he “passes it” our money is safe, and
we are as independent as le Roi d’Yvelôt. We live comfortably, smoke
our pipes in the evening, sleep unusually well, and enjoy real rest
on Sundays. But “little dinners” are expensive, and there would be a
slight probability of some of the party going “on the burst,” after
three or four months’ teetotalism.’

‘On the burst? I do not quite follow.’

‘On the burst,’ explained the colonist, ‘vernacular signifying a
protracted and utterly reckless debauch. It’s an Australian malady.
Hope you’ll never be in the way of infection. But as good men as
either of us have got inoculated and never wholly recovered. Now,
the occasion of this entertainment, which is given by me,’ continued
the metallician, ’is, like Mr. Weller’s new suit of clothes, a “wery
partic’ler and uncommon ewent.” Fact is, I’ve been left a few thousand
pounds by a good-for-nothing old uncle of mine in England, who never
gave me so much as a shilling knife all his life, and is now gone to
glory, and with all his earthly goods me endowed, much against the
grain. And so I’m going to Sydney by the coach to-morrow, and home by
mail steamer on Monday after. What do you think of that for a lark?’
inquired he, giving a leap, and shying his hat into the air with a
schoolboy joyousness much at variance with his previously imperturbable
demeanour.

‘I think it’s a very pleasant story, with a capital ending,’ said
Ernest, ‘and that’s a great matter. I don’t suppose the stonebreaking
has done you any harm, except roughening your hands a little.’

‘Not a bit in the world—a good deal the other way. I was a lazy young
scamp while my money lasted. Now I can do a man’s work, know personally
what a day’s labour actually is, and shall respect (and be able
slightly to check) the task of the born labourer all my life after.
Here we are at the inn.’

Thus talking, they arrived at the inn, a roomy and respectable hotel,
where the up coach and the down daily met and deposited hungry
passengers, who were accommodated with hasty but highly-priced meals.
Here they were met by the landlord, a civil and capable personage, who
inducted them into bedrooms, and shortly after into a snug private
parlour, where, with considerable splendour of glass, flowers, and
table-linen, preparation for the dinner was partially made.

Here Mr. Neuchamp found several gentlemen-like men, in tweed morning
costume. Before long the superintendent appeared. Ernest was introduced
by his new friend. The conversation became general, and within a
reasonable time dinner was announced.

This repast was exceedingly well served, cooked, and, it may be added,
appreciated. The wines were fair, and so was the drinking, though
within the bounds of discretion.

Subjects of general interest and of political bearing were discussed
in a manner which showed that the _pabulum mentis_ had not been lost
sight of, toils notwithstanding. The health of their friend, ‘who by
an unexpected but by no means unkind freak of Fortune—a divinity of
whom they all had previous experience—was about to be translated to a
happier hemisphere,’ was suitably proposed and responded to; as was
the health of their excellent superintendent, who, a father to them in
counsel and admonition, had always treated them as gentlemen, though
temporarily filling unpretending positions.

Lastly was toasted the health of the gentleman who had done them the
honour to join the entertainment, at the invitation of their old friend
and comrade. The speaker trusted that ‘their honoured guest, not very
long since a resident in dear old Ireland, or England—sure it was
all one—would not immediately be reduced, he meant impelled, to make
choice of their healthy, manly, but somewhat monotonous occupation.
It was well enough in its way. He, Brian O’Loghlan, was not there to
find fault with an honourable means of subsistence. But he trusted
that his young friend would make trial of other colonial avocations,
before betaking himself to the geological experiments in which they
had been lately engaged. Of course he had it to fall back upon. And if
ever necessity compelled him, he spoke the sentiments, he felt sure,
of every man at the table when he said that they would be charmed to
welcome their esteemed though but lately acquainted friend to their
independent, industrious, and ancient order of free and accepted
stonebreakers.’ (Continued applause.)

This toast, to which Ernest ‘briefly but feelingly’ responded,
expressing his ‘admiration of the institutions of a country which
permitted access to industrial occupations generally esteemed as
close guilds and corporations in Europe, to gentlemen of culture and
refinement, such as his host and his friends whom he saw around him
that day, without detriment to their social position and prospects,’
closed the entertainment.

The fortunate legatee and his comrades departed to seek their tent,
while Ernest and the superintendent remained and smoked a pipe
together (the latter gentleman, at least, indulging in the narcotic),
while they talked over the somewhat exceptional circumstances of the
entertainment, and the accidental stroke of luck which had occasioned
it.

On the following morning they breakfasted together in much comfort, and
then separated, as so many pleasant chance comrades are compelled to do
in this life. The Government official drove off in his buggy to visit
another line of road, while Mr. Neuchamp, full of hope and rich with
the gathered spoils of his late adventure, paced cheerily along the
high road to fortune and the mystical desert interior.

Halting at mid-day by a watercourse favourably situated for temporary
rest and refreshment, he heard the half-forgotten words of a favourite
operatic air trolled forth by a rich voice with unusual effect and
precision. Looking round for the performer, he descried, lying under
a noble casuarina tree, the roots of which spread halfway across the
little creek, a tall man, whose worn and somewhat shabby habiliments
were strongly at variance with the distinction of his air and the
aristocratic cast of his features. Beside him was a small black
camp kettle, from which he had been preparing the usual traveller’s
refreshment of ‘quartpot tea.’ He was smoking, of course, and as he
half raised himself and saluted Ernest, that observer of human nature
thought he had rarely seen a more striking countenance.

‘In which direction are you travelling?’ inquired Mr. Neuchamp.

‘Towards Nubba,’ said the unknown, ‘and a devilish dull track it is. Do
you happen, by any chance, to be going there?’

‘My route lies past that place, I believe. As we are both apparently
on a walking tour we may as well be fellow-travellers, if you have no
objection.’

‘Most happy, I am sure,’ assented the stranger, with the ease of a man
of the world; ‘one so rarely has the pleasure of having a gentleman for
a comrade in this part of the creation. May I offer you some tea? Sorry
to say my flask is empty.’

‘Many thanks—I prefer the tea. Perhaps, on the other hand, you will
make trial of part of my provender?’

Here Mr. Neuchamp exhibited an ample store of solids, which he had had
the foresight to bring with him, and the stranger, after observing that
the brisk air gave one a most surprising appetite, made so respectable
a meal that he would almost have fancied that tea and tobacco had alone
composed that repast which he had just finished.

The mid-day halt over, the newly-made acquaintances took the road with
great cheerfulness, and, on Ernest’s part, a considerable accession of
spirits.

‘Here,’ thought he, ‘is one of those happy contretemps that so rarely
occur—out of books—in an old country. There, if you did meet a man,
under these circumstances, you would be afraid to speak to him until
you had actually gauged his social position and standing. Here, now,
is a gentleman evidently of culture, travel, refinement, who, like me,
prefers from time to time to lead this half-gipsy, half-hunter life
entirely for the pleasure of unconventional sensations.’

For the first hour or two Mr. Neuchamp kept up a sustained cross-fire
of conversation with this fortunately found travelling companion.
Whether formerly in the army or not he did not definitely state, but
from certain of his reminiscences and stray sentences, such as ‘when
we took Acre,’ Mr. Neuchamp thought he was not far wrong in assigning
him a military rank. Certainly his experiences were extensive. Had been
everywhere, had seen everything, knew all the colonies from Northern
Queensland to South Australia, the gold-fields, the stations, the
cities, the law courts. How lightly and airily did he touch upon these
different localities and institutions! Knew London, Paris, Vienna,
Florence, Rome, St. Petersburg. The _haute volée_ of many cities knew
him well evidently. His whole tone and bearing denoted so much; and
with an air half of philosophical unconcern, half of humorous complaint
against fate, he confessed that he had not been lucky.

‘No!’ he said, ‘they used to say in the old 108th I was too deuced
lucky in everything else to hold honours where the stakes were golden;
and so it has been with me ever since. The boy who ran up the whole
score of social success before his beard was grown, the man whom
princesses fought for, and world-famed diplomates, soldiers, and
savants flattered, has ended thus: to find himself growing old in a
colony where talent and social rank are mocked at if unassociated with
vulgar success; and here stands John Lulworth Broughton, without a
friend, a coin, or a home wherein to lay his head.’

‘You shall never need repeat that indictment against fate,’ cried
Ernest enthusiastically; ‘I, at least, can discriminate between the
talents and the qualities which should have controlled success and the
temporary obscurity which ill-fortune has accorded. Trust to me in
the future. Is there no enterprise which we could engage in jointly,
where, with my capital and your experience, we might work with mutual
advantage?’

The stranger’s haughty features assumed a different expression at the
mention of the word capital, and his melancholy dark eye brightened as
he said promptly—

‘I know a splendid run, not very far from where we stand, large enough
and good enough to make any man’s fortune. I have been prevented from
occupying it hitherto by want of funds, but a hundred pounds would pay
all expenses at present. We could then take it up from Government, and
it would bring in, half-stocked, two or three thousand a year almost at
once.’

‘Not far from here—the very thing!’ exclaimed Mr. Neuchamp, who had had
nearly enough walking. ‘But I thought that all the good land was taken
up except what was a long way off.’

The stranger explained that by a lucky accident he had been trusted
with the secret of this magnificent country, which you entered by a
narrow and well-concealed gorge; that the old stockman was dead who
discovered it, and that a beautiful, open, park-like country, whenever
you got through the gorge, was waiting to reward the first fortunate
occupants who were liberal enough to meet the small but indispensable
preliminary disbursement.

Mr. Neuchamp thought he could see here a splendid opportunity of at
once making a rapid fortune, of demonstrating a rare perception of
local opportunity and judicious speculation, and of proving to Mr.
Frankston and to Antonia his ability to control colonial circumstances
without a novitiate.

He could imagine old Paul saying, ‘Well, Antonia, my pet, you see this
young friend of ours has shown us all the way. Here it is, in the
_Herald_: “Splendid discovery of new country, by E. Neuchamp, Esq.
Large area taken up by the explorer and partner. We must congratulate
Mr. Neuchamp, who has not been, we believe we are correct in stating,
many months in Australia, upon developing a masterly grasp of judicious
pastoral enterprise, which has left the majority of our older colonists
in the shade.”’

After this and other intoxicating presentiments, it was finally agreed
that they were to proceed to Nubba, where Ernest was to hand Mr.
Broughton his cheque for a hundred pounds for outfit and preliminary
expenses, upon which that gentleman would at once proceed to point out
and put him in possession of this long-concealed but none the less
virgin and glorious Eldorado.

With head erect and flashing eye, in which sparkled the ideal lustre
of imminent wealth and distinction, Ernest walked on towards the small
village which Mr. Broughton had indicated as their probable destination
for the night. That accomplished individual indeed, pedestrian feats
in the Oberland, South America, Norway, and Novogorod notwithstanding,
found it difficult to keep up with his future partner—his boots,
possibly, which were neither new nor apparently calculated to withstand
the wear and tear of rough country work, prevented his attaining a
high rate of speed. But had Ernest been less preoccupied he might have
marked a sour expression upon the aristocratic features, heard a savage
oath, vernacularly vulgar, issue from under the silken moustache.

Soon, however, in a break of his fairy tale, while he was deciding
whether he should send his brother Courtenay a cheque for ten thousand
pounds, or surprise him with a personal proffer of that amount as a
Christmas box, he became aware that he was outpacing his companion from
whom this golden tide of fortune was to date and issue. He stopped and
permitted him to come up. At the same instant a horseman, in the plain
but unmistakable uniform of a police trooper, rode at speed from the
angle of the forest track, and overtook them.

Pulling up his well-bred horse rather suddenly, he fixed a keen and
searching glance upon the pair. His features gradually relaxed into a
familiar and disrespectful expression as he addressed Mr. Broughton.

‘Why, Captain! what’s come to you? Here’s the whole force in a state
of mobilisation from Hartly to the Bogan about the last little plant
of yours—and now here you are, a-walking into our very arms, like a
blessed ‘possum into a blessed trap—-why, I’m ashamed of you; hold up
your hands.’

Mr. Neuchamp gazed upon the face of his illustrious friend as this
vulgar exordium was rattled off by the flippant but practical
man-at-arms, in wonder, consternation, sorrow, and expectancy.

Could it be anything but the most annoying and inexplicable of
mistakes, and would not this noble-minded victim of blind fortune
repudiate the shameful accusation with scorn in every line of the stern
sad features?

He gazed long and fixedly into that face; a deeply graven expression
_was_ there. But it was an alien, unsatisfactory expression. It
showed slight contempt, but habitual deference to that branch of the
civil power mingled with a sardonic, half-stoical, half despairing
resignation to ignoble circumstance.

Puzzled, doubtful, but by no means dismayed, Mr. Neuchamp indignantly
asked the trooper what he meant by speaking insolently to his friend,
Mr. Broughton—in stopping him without a warrant upon the highway?

‘Mr. Howard, alias Captain, alias the Knight of Malta, alias the
Aide-de-Camp, alias John Lulworth Broughton, is as much my friend as
yours; leastwise we know one another better; don’t we, Captain?’

Mr. Broughton, upon whose wrists the handcuffs were safely adjusted,
merely nodded, upon which the trooper requested Mr. Neuchamp to permit
his hands to be similarly fettered.

‘What?’ said Ernest, flushing so suddenly, at the same time making a
stride forward, that the wary official backed his horse, and taking out
his revolver, presented it full at his head.

‘What for?’ said the trooper; ‘why, on suspicion, of course, of being
concerned with the Captain here, in the Barrabri Bank robbery the other
night, that all the country is going mad about.’

Here the Captain found his tongue.

‘You’re going mad yourself, Taylor; the reward and the mobilisation, as
you call it, have been too much for you. There’s no evidence against
me this time, nothing that you could call evidence worth a rap; and
don’t you see that this is a gentleman just out from home, and green as
grass; or he wouldn’t go on foot with a thundering big knapsack on his
back, picking up with—ahem—shady characters like me.’

‘That’s all very well, Captain,’ assented the trooper; ‘but the cove’s
hair and complexion, and height, and age, as was with you in the plant,
and _Police Gazette_, corresponds with the other prisoner’s.’

Ernest’s face, at this description of himself, was a study; so sharply
engraved were the lines which indicated wrath, disgust, and horror.

‘Very sorry, my man, and all that,’ continued Senior-Constable Taylor,
who had not got the stripes for nothing, ‘in case your turn don’t
square, but you must come before the police magistrate of Boonamarran
and see what _he_ thinks about it. I won’t put the darbies on ye, if
you’ll promise to come quietly, but by —— if you leave the track for a
moment I’ll send a bullet through you before you can say knife.’

Under this proclamation of martial law, there was nothing to be done
by any sane man but to submit; so Ernest made answer that he had
no objection to walking as far as Boonamarran, where no doubt his
innocence would be made clear.

In a kind of procession, therefore, was Ernest Neuchamp forced, as the
Captain would have said, ‘by circumstances’ to make his appearance
in the small but not wholly unimportant town of Boonamarran. As
they passed up the principal street, a very large proportion of the
available inhabitants must have assembled to mark their arrival at the
lock-up.

Behind them rode the trooper with a mingled air of inflexible
determination and successful daring. The Captain marched in front with
his manacled hands almost disguised by his careless walk, remarking
calmly on the appearance of the town, which he criticised freely,
also the leading inhabitants. By his side, burning with rage and
mortification, walked Ernest, feeling very like a galley slave, and
wondering whether there was any possibility, in this strange land, of
being sentenced mistakenly to a term of imprisonment. Thus feeling
for the first time a keen sensation of distrust for his own obstinate
predilections, coupled with an awakening respect for the opinion of
others, the time passed in varieties of mental torture, till they
arrived at the lock-up, a strong wooden building, into a small room
of which they were unceremoniously bundled, while a heavy bolt closed
behind them.

‘I really am extremely sorry, sir,’ quoth the Captain, after they were
left to themselves, ‘to have brought you into this highly unpleasant
position. But circumstances, my lifelong enemies, were too strong for
me; and for you, too,’ he added reflectively.

Mr. Neuchamp was not a vain man, though proud; above everything he was
a philosophical experimentalist. Under any given position he could
soon have ceased to struggle and rage, and have commenced to analyse,
theorise, and deduce.

‘I ought to be so justly enraged with you,’ he replied, ‘that any
apologies would only arouse contempt. You have deceived me, it appears,
with a view to rob me of my money, and you have been instrumental in
causing, for the first time in my life, the loss of my liberty. But
I will confine myself for the present to asking, in all seriousness,
why you, a man of culture and mental endowments, having enjoyed the
advantages of travel and refined society, should voluntarily have
lowered yourself to your present surroundings by a course of vulgar and
short-sighted criminality?’

‘Well, I’ll tell you the real naked truth, as far as I know it when
I see it,’ said the Captain, cutting off a solid piece of negrohead
tobacco and putting it into his mouth. ’I have had an immense quantity
of what the world calls advantages, there’s no denying, and yet they
would have been all well exchanged for one simple bit of luck, which
I did _not_ happen to possess—that of being born honest! That, I
distinctly state and affirm, I was not. Whatever the reason is, I was
always an infernal rogue from the time I could write myself man, and
long before. Whether the faculty of passionate and sensuous enjoyment
was intensified in my idiosyncracy, while at the same time my reasoning
powers were feeble and my conscientiousness absolutely nil—I can’t say.
The fact, _unde derivata_, remained (and a _fait générateur_, as the
French say, it was), when I wanted anything it always occurred to me
with restless force, that the shortest, most natural, and obvious way
to possession was to steal, take, and unlawfully carry away the same.
I should have made a famous king; in him annexation is a virtue of
the highest order. As a general, could I have overleaped the earlier
grades, I should have gone amid shouting thousands to an honoured
grave, for I am cool and cheerful in danger, and a demon when my slow
blood is fairly up. But as the son of an eminent clergyman, as a mere
unit in refined society, my sphere was wretchedly circumscribed.
Society became my foe, my fatal foe. Young man, if you hurl yourself
upon society, she laughs at the superincumbent hostile weight. If
she merely reclines upon you, moral asphyxia results. I have, mind,
cast away home, friends, love, honour, position. If I hadn’t such an
infernally good constitution, death would have long ago squared the
account. I am sorry when I think of it. But present troubles once
over—“_Libem, libem!_”’

Here he broke forth into the great drinking song, which he trolled out
until the massive timbers of the building echoed.

‘And your intention, as far as I was concerned?’ asked Ernest, unable
to refrain a certain toleration for the ‘larcenous epicurean.’

‘Well, I couldn’t resist trying to appropriate your hundred pounds. You
threw it at a fellow’s head, as it were. It was partly your own fault.’

‘My own fault,’ echoed Ernest, in astonishment, ‘and why, may I ask?’

‘When people are very _very_ imprudent, they, as the Methodists phrase
it, “put temptation in the way” of other folks, not afflicted, let us
say, with severe morals. Now why don’t you ride a decent horse when
you’re travelling, like a gentleman?’

‘But surely a man may walk in a new country, if he likes?’ pleaded
Ernest, half amused at his arguing the question so seriously with a
swindler and convicted felon.

‘Excuse me,’ answered the man of experience, with the readiness of
a practical advocate; ‘you might drive a tax-cart down Rotten Row,
or wear a wideawake and a tourist suit at a flower-show, as far as
the power to do so is concerned. But you wouldn’t do it, because it
would be unfashionable, therefore incorrect. It’s unfashionable for
a gentleman to walk in this country, therefore nobody does walk on a
journey, except labourers, drunkards, persons of bad character like me,
or inexperienced young gentlemen like you.’

‘Many thanks for your neat explanation and wholesome advice,’ said
Ernest. ‘I don’t know whether I shall not act upon it.’

‘And may you better rede the advice than ever did the adviser,’ quoted
the Captain gravely, sonorously, and in final conclusion.

Next morning, after experiencing what fully justified Clarence’s
exclamation, Mr. Neuchamp and his fellow-traveller were ‘haled’ before
the stipendiary magistrate, who looked at Mr. Neuchamp in a manner so
unsympathising that it hurt his feelings.

‘John Lulworth Broughton,’ said the trooper, in a loud matter-of-fact
voice, ‘alias Captain Spinks, alias the Knight of Malta, and Ernest
Neuchum appears before this court, in custody, your worship, charged
with robbery under arms. How do you plead?’

‘Not guilty, of course,’ replied the Captain, with a shocked expression.

‘Not guilty,’ said Ernest, in an anxious and horrified tone; ‘I wish to
explain, I am travelling to the station of——’

‘Any statement that you or the other prisoner may wish to make, _after_
the evidence is complete, I shall be happy to hear. Until then,’ said
the police magistrate, with mild but icy intonation, ‘I must request
you to keep silence, except when cross-examining the witnesses for the
Crown.’

Ernest felt outraged and choked. The evidence then being ‘gone into,’
showed how a certain bank manager at a lonely branch had been awakened
at midnight by two men masked and armed; one tall, dark, spoke with a
fashionable drawl; the other middle-sized, active, fair-haired, with
blue eyes, about twenty-four, spoke rather slowly. Here the police
magistrate, the clerk of the bench, the spectators, and the other
police constable turned their heads towards Mr. Neuchamp. ‘Speaks like
a native. Ah! very strong point.’

Witness after witness being examined piled up the evidence that a tall
dark man and a middle-sized fair one had been seen at the scene of the
robbery, near the place, the day before, the day after. Every sort of
circumstantial evidence was forthcoming, except a link or two which the
jury might or might not consider necessary. The magistrate thought a
_primâ-facie_ case for committal had been made out. He was commencing
the impressive formula—‘Having heard the evidence, do you wish to make
any statement, etc. etc.,’ when a telegram was put into the hand of the
senior constable of police.

Reading it rapidly, and handing it to the police magistrate, that
official said: ‘In consequence of the information just received from
my superior officer, by telegram, I beg to apply for the discharge of
the younger prisoner.’ The police magistrate acceded. Thereupon the
door or the gate of the dock was opened and Mr. Neuchamp, permitted
egress through the same, much like a rabbit from a hutch, was formally
discharged.

‘It would appear,’ said the stipendiary magistrate, ‘from the latest
information in the hands of the police, that an instance of mistaken
identity has in your case occurred, leading to your—a—apprehension and
detention, which, under the circumstances, I regret. Senior-Constable
Taylor was fully justified in arresting you as the companion of a
notoriously bad and desperate character’ (here the Captain smiled
serenely, and stroked his moustache)—‘in arresting you on suspicion of
felony. It appears that the person described in the _Police Gazette_,
and whom you unfortunately appear to resemble, has been arrested, and
is now in custody at Warren. You are therefore discharged, and as you
are a young man of respectable appearance, I trust that it will be a
warning to you; a—that is to say, as to the choice of your associates.
John Lulworth Broughton, you stand committed to take your trial at the
next Quarter Sessions,’ etc. etc.

The telegram which had so suddenly and effectually changed the current
of Ernest’s destiny ran as follows: ‘From Sub-Inspector Hawker, Warren,
to the officer in charge of police, Boonamarran. The right man, Captain
Spinks’s mate, arrested here, 4 A.M. Discharge fair prisoner forthwith.’

Ernest left the court certainly a sadder and a presumably wiser man,
and sought a private room in the chief inn, having some difficulty
in evading the invitations to liquor pressed upon him by the chief
inhabitants, who, having fully agreed that if ever a man looked guilty
he did, were anxious now, in reactionary regret, to make him amends for
their unfounded and evil thoughts.

Among the persons firmly, perhaps unceremoniously, repelled, was a
pale young man with longish hair and an intelligent countenance. This
personage sat down and hastily wrote a report of the proceedings, in
the course of which he dilated upon the hardship of an untried man
suffering the degrading and mental torture to which, if innocent, he
is perforce subjected, in the present state of the law. This was at
once forwarded to a leading metropolitan journal. A telegram of a
sensational nature was also despatched for the evening paper: ‘Arrest
of a gentleman newly arrived, for robbery under arms. The case broke
down. He is now at liberty.’



CHAPTER VIII


When a man has suffered the indignity of actual incarceration, a savour
of irrevocable dishonour is apt to cling to the sensation, however
innocent the victim may subsequently be proved. Some robes once soiled
cannot be washed white. The bloom cannot be replaced upon the blushing
fruit. And Ernest sorrowfully reflected that, for all future time,
if one of those ruthless vivisectors, a cross-examining barrister,
chose to ask him, as a witness before a crowded court, whether or not
he had ever been in gaol charged with highway robbery, he would be
compelled to answer ‘yes,’ with the privilege of explanation after
that categorical answer, of course. Much regretful and indignant
thought passed through his mind before lunch. The last Neuchamp that
had heard a prison door barred behind him was enclosed by a troop of
Ironside dragoons in the donjon at Neuchampstead, while they merrily
revelled above, and praised the malignant’s ale and serving-maids.
That was honourable captivity. But to be boxed up in ‘the logs’ of
a bush township, side by side with a confessed robber and swindler!
It was hard! The star of the Neuchamps was for a time under an evil
influence. However, after a remarkably good lunch and a bottle of Bass
(dear to England’s subalterns in every land of exile) a more cheerful
and philosophical frame of mind succeeded. After all, anybody might be
arrested by mistake. No one would ever hear of it, any more than of the
detention of Livingstone for a day by King Unilury on the Moombitonja.
His friends at Morahmee would _never_ discover it, that was as certain
as anything could be.

He ‘had a great mind,’ as the phrase runs, to buy a horse, and so
relieve himself, for the future, from all risk of evil communications,
and other misfortune, which society seemed, with one accord, to trace
directly to his using his own proper legs for purposes of locomotion.
But he was a true reformer in this one particular. He was not less
obstinate than enthusiastic, and he told himself, as he had commenced
his journey on foot, that he would so end it, and complete the distance
to Garrandilla in spite of all the strange people in this very strange
country. He had his own secret doubts as to whether he would need much
persuasion to ride or drive whenever he returned to Sydney. But in the
meanwhile, and until he was fairly landed at Garrandilla——

Having plentifully refreshed himself, and even provided something
edible in case of accidents, he accordingly left town very early next
morning, shouldering his knapsack, as usual, and cleared off about ten
miles of his journey in the comparative coolness of early morn.

Here he discovered a friendly creek, possessing shade and water, so
flinging himself on the sward, he addressed himself to some corned beef
with a vigour unabated by previous misfortunes.

Preoccupied with these minute but necessary details, he did not observe
that another man had, like him, selected the spot as appropriate to
rest, if not to refreshment. The personage whom he so suddenly descried
was not pedestrianising, like him, as two serviceable roadsters
grazed within a few yards, their fore legs confined by the short chain
attached to two leather straps, which had more than once attracted his
attention in his travels. In one respect the new traveller differed
from any other wayfarer whom Mr. Neuchamp had as yet encountered; for,
in spite of the inconveniences to which his late incautious acceptance
of companionship had subjected him, he could not refrain from a close
examination of the stranger. The unknown was apparently not about to
make or to drink a pot of tea. Neither was he smoking, preparing to
smoke, nor obviously having just finished smoking.

‘Good-morning,’ said this person, bending a pair of exceedingly keen
gray eyes upon Ernest. ‘Travelling early, like myself. Bound for Nubba?’

‘Yes!’ answered Ernest.

‘Going any farther?’

‘As far as Garrandilla,’ he replied.

‘Humph!’ said the new acquaintance. ‘I suppose you were at Boonamarran
last night. I left Boree station early, and am going on as soon as my
horses have had another half-hour’s picking at this patch of good feed.’

‘Have you breakfasted yet?’ inquired Ernest.

‘Well, I’m not particular about a meal or two,’ cheerfully replied the
stranger. ‘I can always find a salad, and with a crust of bread I can
manage to get along.’

‘Salad in the bush?’ asked Ernest, with astonishment. ‘I never heard of
any before.’

‘There’s always plenty, if you know where to look for it,’ gravely
answered the stranger; ‘only men in this country are a deal more fond
of making for the nearest public-house than of studying the book of
nature, and learning what it teaches them. No man need fast in this
country if he knows anything about the herbage and the plants he’s
always riding and trampling over.’

‘You amaze me!’ said Ernest; ‘I always thought people ate nothing but
meat in this country.’

‘When you’ve been longer in Australia’ (Ernest groaned) ‘you’ll find
out, by degrees, that there’s a deal of difference in people here, much
as, I suppose, there is in other countries. See here,’ he continued,
taking up and cropping with great relish a succulent-looking bunch
of greens, ‘here’s a real good wholesome cabbage—warrigal cabbage,
the shepherds call it. Here’s another,’ uprooting a long dark-green
fibrous-looking wild endive. ‘As long as you’ve these two and
marshmallow sprout, you can’t starve. Many a pound it’s saved me, and
you may take my word for it there’s more money made in this country
by saving than by profits. I suppose you’re going to learn colonial
experience at Garrandilla.’

‘How can he know that?’ thought Mr. Neuchamp. ‘These people seem
to guess correctly about everything concerning _me_, while I am
continually deceived about them.’

‘I am just bound on that errand,’ he answered, ‘though I cannot tell
how you arrived at the fact.’

‘Well, I didn’t suppose you were going as a shepherd, or a stockman,
or a knock-about man,’ said the stranger carelessly, ‘so you must have
been going to learn the ways of the country.’

‘Do you know Mr. Jedwood?’ inquired Ernest.

‘Yes; heard of him. That’s a good manager; sharp hand; teach you all
about stock; make you work while you’re there, I expect.’

‘I don’t mind that; I didn’t come up into the bush for anything else.
It’s not exactly the place one would pick for choice for lounging in,
is it?’

‘I don’t know about that. I’m never contented anywhere else,’ said the
unknown.

‘And I suppose you’re looking out for an overseer’s situation,’
inquired Ernest, exercising his right of cross-examination in turn.
He thought by the stranger’s economical ideas that he could only be
upon his promotion, and not yet arrived at the enviable and lucrative
position of ‘super,’ as he had heard the appointment called.

The stranger smiled faintly in his own grave and reflective fashion,
and then, leaning on one elbow and pulling up a tuft of _Anthistiria
australis_, which he chewed meditatively, said, ‘Well, I have jobs of
overseeing now and then.’

‘And you expect to save enough money some day,’ demanded Ernest, rather
elated by the success of his hit, ‘I shouldn’t wonder, to go into a
small station, or leave off work altogether?’

‘Some of these days—some of these days,’ repeated the stranger, staring
absently before him, ‘I expect to have what I call enough. But you
can’t be sure of anything.’

‘In the meanwhile you save all you can,’ laughed Ernest.

‘It’s no laughing matter,’ said the stranger; ‘if you don’t save you
waste your money, if you waste your money you get into debt, if you get
into debt you get so close to ruin that any day he may put his paw down
and crush you or lame you for life.’

‘That’s a solemn view to take of a little debt,’ said Ernest, ‘but you
are right on the whole; and when I come into a station of my own I will
be awfully saving.’

‘That’s right; you can’t go wrong if you act up to that. Now, see
here, we’re about fifteen miles from Nubba.’

Here the stranger raised himself from his recumbent position,
exhibiting to Ernest a tall, well-made, sinewy frame, with a keen
handsome visage half covered with a bushy brown beard. The eyes were
perhaps the most remarkable feature in the face; they were moderate in
size, but wonderfully clear and piercing. There was the rare look of
absolute unbroken health about the man’s whole figure which one sees
chiefly in children and very young persons.

‘I’ve a second horse and saddle,’ continued the tall stranger; ‘I
generally take a couple when I’m travelling, they’re company for one
another, and for me too. So if you are going by Nubba, just you ride
this roan horse, and we’ll jog on together.’

Ernest considered for a moment. He had paid _de sa personne_ for
over-hasty acquaintanceship. But he could not for a moment distrust the
steady eye and truthful visage of the man who made this friendly offer.
He was interested, too, in his talk, and deeming him to be of a rank
and condition that he could in some way repay for the obligation, he
accepted it frankly.

‘Very well,’ he said, ‘I shall be glad to go with you as far as
Nubba. I suppose your horse won’t be anything the worse for me and my
knapsack.’

‘Not he. We’ll saddle up. I have a good way to go before sundown.’

‘May I ask to whom I am indebted for the accommodation?’ inquired
Ernest. ‘My name is Ernest Neuchamp.’

‘Well, Mr.—a—Smith,’ said the stranger, with a slight appearance of
hesitation. ‘It don’t much matter about names, except you have to
write a cheque or pay a bill. Now then, here’s your horse; he’s quiet,
and an out-and-out ambler.’

After walking for several days, it was a pleasant sensation enough when
Ernest, a fair horseman and respectable performer in the hunting-field,
found himself on the back of a free easy-paced hackney again. The roan
horse paced along at a rate which he was obliged to moderate, to avoid
shaking his benefactor, whose horse did not walk very brilliantly, into
a jelly.

‘This is my morning horse,’ said Mr. Smith, slightly out of
breath—though he sat his horse with a peculiar instinctive ease, not
alone as if he had been accustomed to a horse all his days, but as
if he had been born upon one. ‘When you are going a longish journey,
you generally have one clever hack and one not quite so good. Well,
what you ought to do is to ride the roughest one in the morning, while
_you’re_ fresh, and in the afternoon take the fast or easy one, and you
finish the day comfortably.’

‘Indeed,’ said Ernest, ‘that never struck me before; but in England we
don’t ride far, and never more than one horse at a time.’

‘Fine country, England,’ said Mr. Smith musingly. ‘I was reading in
Hallam’s _Middle Ages_ the other day about these Barons making war
upon one another. They must have been a good deal like the squatters
here, only they didn’t get fined for assaults at the courts of petty
sessions, and they had their own lock-ups, and could put a chap in the
logs or in their own cellar, and keep him there. I should like to see
England.’

‘Then you never have seen the old country?’ said Ernest. ‘How strange
it seems to see a grown Englishman like you, for you are one, and very
like a Yorkshireman too, who has never seen the chalk cliffs and green
meadows. When do you intend to go?’

‘Some day, when I can afford it,’ answered Mr. Smith.

They were now going at a good journeying pace, not far from five miles
an hour, through an open, thinly-timbered, well-grassed country. The
grass was long, rather dry looking, and of a grayish green. The road
was perfectly smooth, without stone, rut, or inequality of any kind.
The day had become insensibly warmer, but the air was wonderfully
clear, pure, and dry. Mr. Neuchamp felt sensibly exhilarated by the
atmospheric tone.

‘What a grand climate,’ he thought, as Mr. Smith had subsided into
rather an abstracted silence. ‘Here we have a combination of sufficient
warmth for comfort and high spirits, with that bracing cold of night
and early morning necessary to ensure appetite and energy. And there
are months upon months of this weather. Once bring a man or woman here,
with a sound and unworn constitution, and they might live for ever.
No wonder the general tendency of the features of the country-born
people is towards the Greek type. The vales and groves of Hellas had no
brighter sky than this deep azure, no purer air, no softer whispering
breeze.’

After this slight æsthetical reverie Mr. Neuchamp fell a wondering
as to the precise social status of his preoccupied but accommodating
companion. Rendered wary by previous mistakes, he bestowed great care
and caution upon his analysis, and after a most judicial summing-up,
decided in his own mind that Mr. Smith was a working overseer,
with aspirations superior to his present position, which, from his
economical habits and self-denying principles, he would at some
distant period realise. ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Neuchamp to himself, ‘I shall
see him some day with a nice little station of his own and four or five
thousand sheep. He will of course be able to work up from that. But how
pleasant it will be to visit him some day and behold his honest pride
at having successfully surmounted all his difficulties and triumphantly
landed himself upon his own property! How we shall laugh over to-day’s
salads and wise saws.’ Here Ernest woke up from his Alnaschar musings
by which the deserved greatness was to be bestowed upon Mr. Smith. That
individual, all unconscious apparently of his imminent and triumphant
pastoral profits, called out—

‘Do you see that rise with the plain beyond? Well, Nubba’s about a mile
the other side. I’m going forty miles farther, so I must have something
to eat before we start. Come and have dinner, or whatever you call it,
with me.’

They rode into the bush town together. The usual wide street or two;
the straggling shops and cottages; at each corner a large pretentious
store or hotel, a bullock dray, a buggy, a horseman or two, a score of
foot-passengers, the incoming mail with four horses and five lamps,
made up the visible traffic and population. Forest land had been
monotonously prevalent before they reached the town; a vast, apparently
endless plain, the first Mr. Neuchamp had ever seen, stretched beyond
it to the horizon. As they rode up to a balconied and two-storied brick
hotel he noticed a new ecclesiastical building, the architecture of
which contrasted strangely with that of the majority. His educated eye
was attracted.

‘What a nice church—Early English too; I never expected to see such a
building here.’

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Smith uninterestedly, ‘looks neat and strong; see
they’ve finished it since I passed this way last.’

‘It has a decidedly Anglican look, now one examines it. Quite a treat
to see such a building in the wilderness. Do you happen to belong to
the Church of England, Mr. Smith?’

‘Well, I may say—that is, I believe I’m a Protestant; I don’t know
about any denomination in particular. There’s good men in all of them.
I respect a man who does the work well that he believes in, and is paid
for doing. That’s my view of the matter.’

‘But the glorious tenets of the Reformation to which the English
Church has ever held firmly ought to commend its teachings to every
open-minded intelligent man,’ said Ernest, a little moved.

‘I can’t say,’ said Mr. Smith slowly; ‘I don’t know if we should
believe in old Harry the Eighth much in the present day. He wouldn’t
quite do for us out here, though I reckon him a grand Englishman in
many ways. Here’s the inn, and I’m not above owning I’m ready for a
chop.’

The horses were put into the stable; Mr. Neuchamp conveyed his knapsack
into a bedroom, and in a comparatively short time joined Mr. Smith at
one of the most tempting meals he had lately encountered.

It was past mid-day, and nothing in the way of disparagement could have
been fairly said against the appetite of either gentleman. ‘What will
you take, beer or wine?’ asked Mr. Smith, ringing the bell as they sat
down.

Ernest thought pale ale not inappropriate, though he wondered at his
theoretically economical friend being so luxurious in practice. ‘Just
the way with all these bushmen,’ he thought. ‘This poor fellow will
have to go without something for this; but I won’t hurt his feelings by
refusing to join him.’

‘Bring in some bottled beer, then,’ said Mr. Smith. The waiter flew to
execute his command.

‘Here,’ thought Ernest, ‘is another example of the superior sympathy of
colonial manners. Here is the poor overseer, working his way up in the
world, and he is treated with as much deference as if he were a wealthy
man. There is nothing like a colony for the repression of vulgar
servility to mere wealth.’

Here the waiter, bearing beer, reappeared.

‘I don’t take anything but tea myself,’ said Mr. Smith, ‘but to those
who are used to it cool bitter beer goes well in any kind of weather.
Anything is better than the confounded hard stuff.’

Mr. Neuchamp did not comprehend whether the latter deleterious compound
was a solid or a liquid, but he was annoyed at drinking at the expense
of a man unable to bear the cost, and who did not keep him company in
the consumption of the liquor.

‘I wouldn’t have had anything but tea if I had known that was your
tipple too,’ he said. ‘I’m not averse to Good Templarism in the desert,
and can live on coffee as well as a Bedouin Arab. You must come to my
place some day when I have one, and we’ll drink tea till all’s blue.’

‘Very well,’ said Smith. ‘I’m passing Garrandilla—shall I say you’re
coming along by degrees, and will be there some day?’

‘Just so,’ said Ernest; ‘there’s no necessity for hurry. Tell Mr.
Jedwood that, picking up colonial experience as I go along, I shall be
there within a month.’

‘Well, good-bye,’ said Mr. Smith; ‘I daresay we shall see each other
again. Don’t you go and waste your money, mind that, and you’ll be a
big squatter some day.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Ernest; ‘I don’t so much want to make
money, you know, as to do some good in the land.’

‘That’s quite right,’ said Mr. Smith, grasping his hand with the hearty
grip of the man of whole heart and strong will, ‘but you try and make
some money first. People won’t believe in your opinions unless you show
them that you can make money to begin with; after that you can say
anything, and teach and preach as much as you like; and if you want to
hold your own in any line you fancy, don’t you go and waste your money,
as I said before. Good-bye.’

The horses had been brought round; Mr. Smith, rather inconsistently,
gave the highly respectful groom half a crown after this economical
homily, and mounting the roan horse touched the other with the bridle
rein, and ambled off at the rate of six miles an hour.

‘Good-hearted fellow, Smith,’ said Mr. Neuchamp expressively to the
landlord, who with a select part of the townspeople had paid Mr. Smith
the compliment of assembling to see him off; ‘hope he’ll get on in the
world; I feel sure he deserves it.’

‘Get on in the world, sir!’ echoed the landlord, in tones of wild
amaze; ‘who do you mean, sir?’

‘Why, Mr. Smith, of course, the gentleman who has just ridden away,’
said Ernest, rather tartly. ‘He is a most economical but estimable and
intelligent person, and I feel convinced that he will get on, and have
a station of his own before many years.’

‘Mr. Smith! a station of his own!’ said the landlord in faint tones,
as of one preparing to swoon. ‘Do you know who you’re a-talkin’ of,
sir? why, that’s Habstinens Levison, Hesquire, the richest man in
Australia. Station of his own! Good lor—(‘scuse me, sir, you ain’t long
from ’ome, sir?); why, he’s got _thirty stations_, sir, with more than
a hundred thousand head of cattle, and half a million of sheep! So I’ve
heard tell, leastwise.’

Mr. Neuchamp thought it would not be inappropriate if _he_ fainted
after this astounding revelation. He had heard Mr. Frankston tell
a story or two of the wealthy and eccentric Abstinens Levison, and
here he had met him in the flesh, and had been rather proud of his
penetration in summing him up as an overseer on his promotion, who had
saved a few hundred pounds and would be a squatter before he died.

‘Mr. Levison was here one day, sir,’ continued the landlord, ‘callin’
hisself Smith, or Jones, or something; he don’t want to be worrited by
charity-agents and such; when the clergyman spotted him and asks him
for something towards the Church of Hengland there—‘andsome building,
ain’t it, sir?—what I call respectable and substantial—he writes him
out a cheque very quiet and crumples it up and gives it ’im; when he
looks at it outside, blest if it warn’t for five hundred pounds!’

‘I suppose the reverend gentleman was contented with that,’ said
Ernest, thinking of the stranger’s non-committal remarks as they passed
the same building.

‘Not he—parsons ain’t never contented, ’specially those as has a turn
for begging for a good object—they say. Next time he passes through,
our reverend thought he’d touch him a bit more. “Mr. Levison,” says
he, “this here beauteous structure as you’ve so magnificently
contributed to, ain’t got no lightning-conductor, and it’s a pity such
a pooty building should be hinjured by the hangry helements,” says he.
“Look here,” says Levison, “I’ve helped you to build the church, and
given my share; if God Almighty chooses to knock it down again, He can
do so, it’s no business of mine any further,” he says.’

Ernest thought this very like one of Levison’s reflective, unprejudiced
speeches, and could imagine his saying it without any feeling of
irreverence. Five hundred pounds without a word, unobtrusively, hardly
caring to use his own well-known name for fear of the drawbacks
and disabilities of proverbial wealth. ’A most extraordinary man
truly,’ thought Ernest—‘simple, strong, manifestly of the true hunter
type; a man given to lone journeyings through the wilderness; fond
of preserving his incognito, and of the small, wellnigh incredible
economies which speak to him of his earlier life.’ Now, Mr. Neuchamp
saw the secret of the ultra-respectful bearing of the servants and
landlord of the inn to the owner of a couple of millions of acres,
leasehold, and of more sheep than Esterhazy, and more cattle than a
score of Mexican rancheros. ‘He certainly is a man of unpretentious
demeanour,’ thought Ernest. ’Whoever would have guessed that he was so
tremendous a proprietor! “Don’t you go for to waste your money.” Was
that the way he had made the nucleus of this colossal fortune? and did
the occasional saving of a meal, and the utilising of the edible plants
of the plain and forest dell, go to swell the rills which joined their
streams of profit into the great river of his prosperity?‘ Ernest
Neuchamp all but resolved to give up speculating upon the character
and professions of these provokingly unintelligible colonists, to
believe what he saw—even that, with deduction and reason—and to ’learn
and labour truly to get his own living,’ without constant reference
to the motives and practice of others engaged in the same necessary
pursuit. All this he for the time fully believed that he would in the
future carry out. But his nature, with its passionate proclivities for
intellectual research, continued to whisper of regions of territory
and character yet unexplored, and to beckon the ardent champion of
light and truth forward even yet, though clouds of distrust and
disappointment clustered round his path.

Mr. Neuchamp decided to stay where he was that evening, and to take a
strictly impartial and prosaic survey of the town and environs.



CHAPTER IX


The town of Nubba was a fair specimen of Australian settlement that
gradually grows and bourgeons on a favourable spot, where highroads
pass and converge. Here there had been, primarily, a ford of the
occasionally flooded river. The teams, bound from or for the far
interior, camped upon the broad flat made by the semicircular sweep
of the river, and so established it as a stage and a resting-place.
Then a reflective mail-driver built a public-house, doubtful but
inevitable precursor in all colonial communities of civilisation,
even of the organised teaching of Christianity. Then a blacksmith’s
shop, a butcher’s, a baker’s, followed; in due course a second inn,
a pound, appeared; finally a bridge was built; and Nubba represented
an established fact, named, inhabited, and fairly started in the
competitive race with other Anglo-Saxon cities, walled and unwalled.

Still further progress. Anon it boasted a full-blown municipality, with
a mayor, aldermen, a town clerk, ratepayers, all the ordinary British
machinery for self-government. The streets were aligned, metalled, and
culverted; the approaches to the town cleared and levelled; several
stores, two flour mills, three banks, four churches, ten hotels,
and scores of intermediate edifices, including a massive gaol, all
built of stone, arose. A resident police magistrate reigned, having
jurisdiction over three hundred square miles, assisted by neighbouring
country justices. Strict, not stern, they were a terror to evildoers,
and no particular laxity of legal obligation was permitted the lieges
on account of their distance from the metropolis. Let but so much as a
Chinaman or a blackfellow be slain by chance, medley, or otherwise, or
a calf stolen, at the extreme limit of this far-stretching territory,
and all actors and participators were tried, committed, or discharged,
as the case might be. The costly and august machinery of the law was
put in motion with the same impassive exactitude as if the offenders
resided in Middlesex or Devonshire.

‘There,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, possessed of these facts, and indeed having
experienced in his own person the unrelaxing grip of the law, ‘is the
precise point of difference between the state of society in English
and other communities. In other lands, notably in America, the vast
distances and what are superficially called the rude circumstances
of early settlement, are permitted to condone infringements upon the
social rights. When these become too flagrant Judge Lynch interferes,
and rude justice, or injustice, is done. In the meantime, right has
often suffered irrevocably at the hands of might. But an Englishman, in
what far land soever under the flag of his country, suffers under no
such policy of expediency. He carries his law with him. He relies for
protection of life and property upon the Queen’s Government, to which
he has for his life long appealed in his hour of need, and never in
vain; and he generally receives justice, whether he be in the heart of
a continent or in a populous and accessible seaport.’

Southward of the future city, Mr. Neuchamp observed farms, orchards,
enclosed pasture-lands—all the signs of a thriving agricultural
district,—great stacks of grain and hay, fields of maize, pigs, and
poultry in profusion; while the steam flour mills, whose mechanical
whirr and throb ceased not, night or day, showed that the supply of
the staff of life was large and continuous. Every farm had been but
recently occupied, and yet on all sides fencing, building, girdling
trees, the manifold acts of agriculture combined with pasture, were
proceeding energetically. The land was richer, the timber more dense,
and possibly the climate more temperate and humid than the northerly
division following the downward course of the river exhibited.

In this direction the metalled road after a couple of miles abruptly
terminated, the way thenceforth continuing by a broad Indian-like
trail, which led towards the fervid north. Few trees were seen after
this immediate vicinity of the town was quitted, and the immense plain
lost itself in a soft and silvery haze which enveloped the far distance
and spread to the horizon.

‘Well,’ soliloquised Ernest, ’this is perhaps not exactly the place a
half-pay officer would come to or a reduced merchant’s family, anxious
to discover cheap living, good society, efficient teaching, musical
tuition, and an agreeable climate, in perfect combination. But even
they might do worse. The great secret of steady, inevitable prosperity
here is the wonderful cheapness of land combined with its abundance.

‘What a rush would there be in Buckinghamshire, if “persons about to
marry,” or others, could “take up,” that is merely mark out and occupy,
as much land as they pleased up to a square mile in extent, previously
paying down “five shillings the acre”—save the mark!

‘And the land is as good here, if you except the choicest meadow farms.
The climate is benign and healthful—say it is hot during the summer,
fewer clothes are wanted; the water is pure and plentiful; firewood
costs nothing. The forest is clear of underwood, and park-like; you do
not need to hew yourself an opening out of an impenetrable wood, as in
Canada. The climate and natural advantages of the land constitute an
income in themselves. When I think of the severely tasked lives, the
scanty, often dismal, outlook of our labouring classes, I am filled
with wonder that they do not emigrate in a body. “To the northward all
is” plain.’

Here therefore Mr. Neuchamp observed but faint signs of civilisation.
The pastoral age had returned. Great droves of cattle, vast flocks of
sheep, alone travelled this endless trail. The mail, of course, dusty
and of weather-beaten aspect, occasionally rattled in with sunburned
and desert-worn passengers from the inner deserts. But few stock were
visible on the plain, ’grassy and wild and bare’ within sight of the
town. Still, by all classes, Ernest heard this apparently wild and
trackless region spoken of as a rich pastoral district, equal in
profitable trade to the agricultural division, and indeed perhaps
superior in the average of returns for investment.

‘I am a great believer in the plough myself,’ he thought, ‘but I
suppose these people know something about their own affairs.’

Mr. Neuchamp was beginning to derive practical benefit from his
experiences. This was a great concession for him.

Next morning, having ascertained his line of route, and that
Garrandilla was about two hundred and fifty miles distant, Ernest
shouldered his knapsack and prepared to finish his little walk.

‘It’s a lucky thing that there are no Red Indians or wild beasts on
this particular war-path,’ thought he, as he left the town behind him
and was conscious of becoming a speck upon the vast and lonely plain.
‘I feel horribly unprotected. Even an old shepherd might rob me, if
he had a rusty gun. I might as well have carried my revolver, but
the weight was a consideration. How grand this sandy turf is to walk
upon. I feel as if I could walk all day. Not a hill in sight either,
or, apparently, a stone. I can imagine some people thinking the scene
monotonous.’

Such a thought would have occurred to many minds; but there was no
likelihood of such a feeling possessing Ernest Neuchamp. To him
the strange salsolaceous plants, so succulent and nutritive, were
of constant interest and admiration. The new flowers of the waste
were freshly springing marvels. The salt lake, strewn with snowy
crystals and with a floor like an untrodden ice-field, was a magical
transformation. The crimson flags of the mesembryanthemum cast on the
sand, the gorgeous desert flower, the strutting bustard, the tiny
scampering kangaroo, were all dramatic novelties. As he strode on,
mile after mile, at a telling elastic pace, he thought that never in
his whole life had he traversed a land so interesting and delightful.
All the day across the unending plains, sometimes intersected by
small watercourses. Towards nightfall, however, this very unrelieved
landscape became questionable. Ernest began to speculate upon the
chance of finding a night’s lodging. Not that there was any great
hardship in sleeping out in the mild autumnal season, but the not
having even a tree to sleep under was a condition of things altogether
unaccustomed, unnatural, and weird in his eyes.

Just as the sun was sinking behind the far, clear, delicately drawn
sky line, a deep fissure was visible in the plain, at the bottom of
which lay _planté la_, a rough but not uninviting hostelry. There
he succeeded in bestowing himself for the night. He was perhaps
more fatigued than at any previous time. He had been excited by the
prairie-like nature of the landscape, and had covered more ground than
on any day since he started.

The food was coarse and not well cooked, but hunger and partial fatigue
are unrivalled condiments. Bread, meat, and the wherewithal to quench
thirst are amply sufficient for the real toiler, not overborne, like
the luxurious children of civilisation, by multifarious half-digested
meals. Mr. Neuchamp, therefore, on the following morning, having slept
magnificently and eaten a truly respectable breakfast, surveyed the
endless plain from the back of the ravine with undiminished courage.

He amused himself by considering what sort of mental existence the
family who kept this wayside caravanserai could possibly lead. ‘They
must feel a good deal like Tartars,’ decided he. ‘Here they are
deposited, as if dropped from the sky upon this featureless waste. They
have no garden, not even a cabbage or a climbing rose; no cows, no
sheep; of course they have half a dozen horses. I saw no books. They
do not take a newspaper. The landlady and her two daughters occupy
themselves in doing the housework, certainly, in a very perfunctory
manner. The man of the house moves in and out of the bar, smokes
continually, and sleeps on the bench in the afternoons. When travellers
come, occupation, profit, society, and information are provided for
the whole household till the next invasion. What are their hopes—what
their social aims? Some day to sell out and live in Nubba, the landlord
informed me. How little of life suffices for the millions who possess
it in this curiously fashioned world of ours!’

Mr. Neuchamp took his departure from this uninteresting lodge in
the wilderness, and commenced another day’s travel, not altogether
dissatisfied with the idea that the end of another week would bring his
pilgrimage to a close.

Mid-day found him still tramping onward over ground so accurately
resembling that he crossed during his previous day’s journey, that if
he had been carried back he could not have detected the difference. A
feeling of great loneliness came over him, and despite the doubtful
success of his chance acquaintanceship, he began to wish for another
travelling companion, of whatever character or condition in life. He
had not shaped this desire definitely for many minutes before, as if
the attendant friend was watchful, a man debouched from a shallow
watercourse, and walked towards him.

The new-comer carried, like himself, a species of pack strapped to his
shoulders, but it was rolled up after the country fashion, in a form
commonly known as a ‘swag,’ containing apparently a pair of blankets
and a few articles of necessity.

Ernest saw in the traveller a good-looking, powerful young man,
patently of the ordinary type of bush natives of the lower rank—a
stockman, station hand, horsebreaker or what not. Then his expression
of countenance was determined, almost stern. When Ernest accosted
him, and asked him if he were travelling ‘down the river,’ like
himself, his features relaxed and his soft low voice, a very general
characteristic of Australian youth, sounded respectful and friendly in
answer.

He was therefore considerably astonished when the young man promptly
produced a revolver, and presenting it full at Mr. Neuchamp’s person,
called upon him in an altered voice, rounded off with a ruffianly oath,
to give up his watch and money.

The watch was easily seen, as part of the chain was visible, but much
marvelled Ernest Neuchamp that the robber, or any other man, should
know that he had money with him. It was indeed a chance shot. The young
marauder, having judged him to be a gentleman not long in the country,
who was fool enough to travel on foot when he had plenty of money to
buy a good hack, also decided that he must have a five-pound note or
two wherewith to negotiate in time of need.

Ernest Neuchamp was brave. The action of his heart was unaltered. His
pulse quickened not as he stood before an armed and lawless man. He
did not, of course, particularly care to lose a valuable family gold
watch, or ten pounds sterling. But far more deeply than by personal
loss or danger was he impressed by the melancholy fact that here was
a fine intelligent young fellow, physically speaking, one of the
grandest specimens of Caucasian type anywhere procurable, dooming
himself, merely by this silly act, with, perhaps, another, to long
years of lonely, degrading, maddening prison life. He did not look like
a hardened criminal. It may be that a single act of sullen despair,
derived from others’ guilt, had driven him to this course, which, once
entered upon, held no retreat.

There were few cooler men than Ernest. He became so entirely possessed
with a new idea, that circumjacent circumstances, however material to
him personally, rarely affected him.

‘My good fellow,’ he commenced, sitting down deliberately, ‘of course
you can have my watch and a tenner, that I happen to have about me. I
don’t say you are welcome to them, either. But what principally strikes
me is, that you are an awful fool to exchange your liberty, your youth,
your good name, your very life, for trifles like these. Did this ever
occur to you?’ asked Ernest with much gravity, handing out the watch
and one five-pound note, and feeling anxiously for the other, as if he
hoped he hadn’t lost it. ‘Why, hang it all, man, you put me in mind
of a savage, who sells himself for a few glass beads, a tomahawk, and
a Brummagem gun. Surely you _can’t_ have considered this view of the
subject, so deeply important to you?’

‘It’s devilish important to you too,’ said the bushranger grimly,
though he looked uneasy. ‘You’re a rum cove to go talking and preaching
to a chap with a revolver at your head.’

‘I don’t suppose that you would shoot a man in cold blood for giving
you good advice! A watch and a few pounds are no great loss to me,
but the taking of them means death and destruction to _you_—a living
death, worse a hundredfold than if you were lying there with a bullet
through your heart. That’s what I really feel at this moment. You are
taking _your own life with your own hand_! Think, do think, like a good
fellow, before it is too late!’

‘That you may go straight back to the Nubba police station as soon as I
slope,’ said the robber. ‘I could stop that, you know.’

‘I never intended it—not that your threat prevents me. But once entered
on the trade of bushranger, I am not the only man you will rob. Others,
of course, will inform, and in a week your description—age, height,
hair, scar on the forehead and all—will be at every police station in
the four colonies. You may have a month’s run, or two, and then you
are——’

‘Shot like a dog, or walled up for life, and driven about like brutes
that are called men.’

‘Perfectly right. I am glad you agree with my view,’ said Ernest
eagerly; ‘then _why_ don’t you retreat while you have time, and the
chance is open? Look at this blue sky; think of a good horse between
your legs on this broad plain, of a day’s shooting, of waking full of
life and vigour and going cheerfully to work on your own farm. Such a
deuced good-looking, upstanding fellow as you are—what devil put it
into your head to give every enemy you have in the world such a chance
to laugh at you?’

‘Perhaps the devil did. Anyhow, I have been hunted about and falsely
accused by the police, about horses and cattle that I never saw a head
of; so I turned out.’

‘Just to put them thoroughly in the right,’ said Ernest. ‘They will
thank you for that, and say they always knew it from the first. For
God’s sake, if you have a grain of sense in your composition, if you
have the least wish to live a man’s life and stand erect like a man
before your fellows, for the sake of the mother that bore you’ (here
the robber ground his teeth), ‘give up this stupid, stale trick of
highway robbery, and you will cheat Old Nick yet.’

‘Well, I begin to think I _was_ an infernal fool to turn out. It seems
a trifle now to be vexed at, but what can I do? I’ve gone too far to
turn back.’

‘Have you attempted to stop any one but me?’ asked Ernest.

‘No! I was waiting for the coach, which ought to have been here by this
time, when I met you. Ha! there it comes.’

‘Take your resolution now,’ said Ernest solemnly, springing to his feet
and standing before him. ‘Your fate for life or death is in your own
hand: the life of a hunted, half-starved wolf, with perhaps a dog’s
death, on one side; life, health, youth, liberty, perhaps a happy home,
on the other. Are you mad, that you hesitate? or does God suffer the
enemy to deceive and destroy in the dark hour a lost soul?’

As Ernest spoke, he fixed his clear blue eyes upon the face of the
robber, now working as if torn by strong emotion.

Suddenly the latter strode a pace forward, and casting the revolver
away as far as he could throw it in the dull green grass, said, ‘Damn
the —— squirt! I wish I had never seen it. Here’s your two fives,
sir, and my best thanks, for I ain’t much of a talker, but I feel it.
Good-bye.’

‘Stop!’ cried Ernest, ‘where are you going, and what do you intend to
do, and have you any money?’

‘I don’t know. I haven’t a copper; it was being chaffed about that by
a girl I was fond of that made me think of this. I suppose I’ll drop
across work before long. God knows! it’s never hard to get in the bush.’

‘The deeper shame on him who takes to evil courses in such a country,’
said Ernest; ‘but I don’t intend to preach to you. You have acted like
a man, and I will stand to you as far as I can. I can perhaps get you
work on a station I am bound for. So come along with me, and we shall
be fellow-travellers after all.’

The coach passed just then, filled with passengers, who looked with
idle curiosity at the wayfarers.

‘Those chaps would have had a different look in their eyes about this
time, only for you,’ said the ex-brigand grimly. ‘A little thing makes
all the difference. I might have shed blood or got hit before this.
However, all that’s past and gone, I hope. I can work, as you’ll see,
and I’ll keep square for the future if I haven’t a shirt to my back.’

The armistice completed, the two curiously-met comrades recommenced
their march. When Mr. Neuchamp, once more in possession of his
timekeeper and cash, had sufficient leisure to return to his usual
observing habit, he could not but be struck with the fine form and
splendid proportions of Mr. ‘First robber,’ who went singing and
whistling along the road with an elastic step, as if care and he had
parted company for ever and a day. He was a brown-haired, bright-eyed,
good-natured-looking fellow of five or six and twenty. His natural
expression seemed to be that of mischievous, unrestrained fun, though
the lower part of his face in moments of gravity showed firmness and
even obstinacy of purpose. He stood nearly six feet in height, with the
build of an athletic man of five feet eight. His broad shoulders, deep
chest, and muscular arms showed to considerable advantage in contrast
with his light, pliant, and unusually active lower limbs.

‘A dangerous outlaw,’ thought Mr. Neuchamp; ’roused by resistance,
whetted with the taste of blood, and desperate from a foreknowledge of
heavy punishment, he would have ended his life on the scaffold, with
perhaps on his head the blood of better men; and it looks as if I,
Ernest Neuchamp, have this day been the instrument of turning this
man’s destiny, at the point of amendment or ruin. “So mote it be.”’

The day was spent, and Mr. Neuchamp had begun to entertain transient
thoughts of moderate roadside comforts and the like, when his companion
stopped and pointed to a cloud of dust almost at right angles to the
road.

‘Travelling sheep,’ he said, ‘and coming this way—a big lot, too.’

‘Are they?’ inquired Mr. Neuchamp. ‘What are they doing out there?’

‘Travelling for grass, most likely; or for sale. Perhaps short of feed
or water, or both; they’re “out on the wallaby” until the rain comes.’

‘What is the meaning of “out on the wallaby”?‘ asked Ernest.

‘Well, it’s bush slang, sir, for men just as you or I might be now,
looking for work or something to eat; if we can’t get work, living on
the country, till things turn round a little.’

‘Oh! that’s it—well, don’t be afraid, things are sure to turn round a
little, if we wait long enough. Who’s this, coming galloping at such a
rate?’

‘Looks like the overseer. He’s coming to see if there’s any water in
the creek. They’ll camp here most likely. He’s in a hurry.’

The individual thus criticised was a stout man, past middle age, who
bore himself with an air of great responsibility and anxiety.

‘Hallo!’ he said, pointing to the creek, ‘is there any water there?’

‘Lots,’ said the pene-felonious traveller—‘good place to camp.’

‘How do you know?’ cautiously inquired the overseer.

‘Because I’ve been this road often, and know every water-hole and
camping-place and feeding-ground from this to Wentworth.’

‘All right, you’re the very man I want; that is, I want two men for
one of the flocks. I’ve just sacked a couple of idle rascals, and run
short—will you and your mate come?’

‘He’s not used to droving work,’ pleaded the experienced one, doubtful
of Ernest’s wish for occupation of that sort.

‘Oh, never mind; any fool can drive travelling sheep; you’re sharp
enough, at any rate. I’ll give you five-and-twenty shillings a week
each. You can join when they come into camp. What do you say?’

‘Very well,’ said Ernest, ‘I will engage for a month—not longer, as I
have to go to a station called Garrandilla then.’

‘All right,’ said the overseer, ‘we pass it; it will be something to
get hands so far;’ and away the man of many troubles galloped.

‘What do you say now? Here we are provided with easy, honest, and
well-paid employment for as long as we please, with high wages,
unlimited food, and sleeping accommodation. I shall rather take them in
at Garrandilla.’

The army of sheep—about thirty thousand, in fifteen flocks—at length
reached the valley before dark, and the overseer, pointing to a flock
of two thousand more or less, said, ‘There’s your mob—if either of you
want to go, you must give me a week’s notice. If I sack either of you,
I shall pay him one week in advance.’

As the sheep approached, feeding in a leisurely manner, and gradually
converging towards the flat, the two men walked towards the leading
flock.

‘Hallo!’ said the ex-brigand to one of the shepherds, ‘are you the two
chaps that the cove has sacked, because we are to take your flock?’

‘All right—you’re welcome, mates, to my share,’ said an elderly
colonist; ‘that super’s a growlin’, ignorant beggar as runs a feller
from daylight to dark for nothing at all. If all the other men was of
my mind we’d leave him to drive his —— sheep himself.’

‘That’s the talk!’ said the highwayman cautiously, ‘but we’re hard
up, and that makes the difference; we go on till we pick up something
better. What will you take for that dog of yours? I suppose he can hunt
’em along.’

‘Best dog from here to Bourke. I’ll take two pounds for him.’

‘No you won’t. I’ll chance a note for him, and that’s about our last
shilling, isn’t it?’ added he, looking at Ernest.

‘Well, the dog’s worth a couple of notes, young feller,’ said the
shepherd reflectively, ‘but as you’re a-goin’ to take the sheep, and
down on your luck, why, you can have him.’

Ernest nodded assent as purse-bearer.

‘Will you give us chain and collar in the camp to-night? I’ll pay
you there,’ said the negotiator. ‘I suppose you won’t clear out till
to-morrow?’

‘No fear—it’s a good way to Nubba, and Bill and I are going back to the
timber country; we’ve had enough of these blasted plains, ha’n’t we,
Bill? Enough to burn a blessed man’s blessed eyes out. Five-and-twenty
bob a week don’t pay a cove for that. I mean to stick to the green
grass country for a spell now.’

At nightfall the fifteen flocks of sheep were all brought in, and
‘boxed,’ or mixed together, to Ernest’s astonishment. ‘How in the world
do they ever get them into the same flocks again?’ he asked.

‘They don’t try,’ it was explained. ‘They just cut them up into fifteen
equal lots in the morning, as near as they can, a hundred or two more
or less makes no great difference, and away they go along the road
stealing as much grass as the squatters are soft enough to let them.’

‘And will they stay quietly here all night?’

‘Safe as houses. Sheep ain’t like cattle; they don’t like skirmishing
about in the dark. So after tea a man can light his pipe, roll his
blanket round him, and make believe to watch till daylight. It’s a very
off chance if e’er a sheep stirs any more than himself.’

‘It doesn’t seem a hard life,’ said Ernest, as they sat on a log and
ate chops fried in a pan, using a large flat piece of damper partly
as plate, partly as _entrée_, while the pint of quart-pot tea tasted
better and was more refreshing than the highest priced Souchong in the
daintiest china.

‘Well, it’s a long way from hard work, but six months of it at a time,
as I’ve had now and then, makes you feel you’ve had enough for a while;
besides, it’s Sunday and workday; not an hour’s change week in, week
out.’

‘I daresay that makes a difference,’ admitted Ernest, ‘but I wonder
what a Buckinghamshire field labourer would think if he were suddenly
offered twenty-five shillings a week, with all the bread and mutton he
could eat, and a small bag of tea.’

‘And half rations for the dawg,’ put in the Australian, throwing their
new purchase about half a pound of mutton.

‘By the way,’ said Ernest, ‘what is his name? and yours too, for I
don’t know yet? I suppose he will be very useful. I’m glad you bought
him.’

‘My name’s Jack Windsor; his name’s Watch; he’s that useful that three
men with two pairs of legs each couldn’t do the work that he’ll do for
us with these crawling sheep. He’s a cheap pound’s worth, and that
you’ll find before we go far.’

When the evening meal was finished Mr. Neuchamp and his henchman went
over to one of four fires which had been lighted at opposite sides of
the woolly multitude. Jack Windsor lighted his pipe and lay down upon
his blanket, where he smoked luxuriously and dozed by turns. Ernest
reclined in the same fashion, and after a short struggle with his very
natural drowsiness fell fast asleep.

At daylight next morning Mr. Neuchamp awoke without it being necessary
for any one to call him. The bosom of great mother Hertha was harder
than any resting-place which he had hitherto tried; but youth and an
adventurous disposition being on his side, he found when dressed that
the mental thermometer registered an altitude fully above the average.
The sheep were still lying down and appeared by no means to be anxious
to crop the dewy grass, or whatever somewhat wiry and infrequent
herbage did duty for that traditional description.

‘Yonder’s the cook’s fire,’ explained Mr. Windsor, pointing to a rising
smoke; ‘we’d better get our breakfast to begin with.’

Round a blazing fire, the warmth of which, in the sharp autumn morning,
was decidedly pleasant, were grouped thirty or forty men engaged in
talking, warming themselves, and in a leisurely way partaking of
a substantial breakfast. From a pyramid of chops, replenished from
an immense frying-pan, with a handle like a marlin-spike, each man
abstracted whatever he chose. Wedges of damper (or bread baked in hot
ashes) were cut from time to time from great circular flat loaves of
that palatable and wholesome but somewhat compressed-looking bread,
while gallons of hot tea were procurable from buckets full of the
universal bush beverage.

The overseer and some of the horse drivers were absent, as the hacks
and cart-horses had wandered during the night rather farther than
usual. Ernest and his companion applied themselves to the serious
business of the hour, the former conscious that he was being subjected
to a searching inspection from his fellow-employees. His rough tweed
suit was sufficiently different from the blue serge shirts and
peajackets of the others to mark his different social position, had
not his hands, fresh complexion, and general appearance denoted him to
be a ‘new arrival,’ and more or less a swell. Swells out of luck are
unfortunately by no means rare as ordinary bush hands in Australia,
and such a phenomenon would not ordinarily have excited curiosity or
hostile criticism. Still a little rough jesting is not to be avoided
sometimes when an obviously raw comrade joins a bush brigade.

It was natural enough then that a tall, dissipated-looking fellow with
a whiskerless face and long hair, a leader and wit of the community,
should step forward and address Mr. Neuchamp.

‘Well, Johnny, and what do you think of travelling with store sheep in
this blessed country? You didn’t do none o’ that in the blessed old
country as you’ve just come from, did ye now?’

‘My name is not Johnny,’ replied Ernest, arresting mastication and
looking calmly at his interlocutor. ‘As for driving sheep, it would be
pleasant enough if people didn’t ask impudent questions.’

There was a shout of laughter from the crowd at this retort, which was
held to have rather turned the tables upon the provincial humorist.

‘Come, come, Johnny! don’t cut up rusty,’ he continued; ‘you may as
well tell us what sort of work you bolted from to turn knock-about-man;
counter-jumping, or something in the figs line, by the look of your
’ands, eh?’

Mr. Neuchamp had a reasonably good temper, but he had not as yet been
accustomed to aught but extreme civility from the lower classes. He had
not slipped on too recently the skin of a knock-about-man to realise
how it felt to be chaffed as an equal by a fellow-servant.

‘You’re an insolent scoundrel,’ said he, dashing down the remainder of
his breakfast, ‘whom I will soon teach to mind his own business. Put up
your hands.’

Ernest, though not above the middle size, was strongly knit, and had
received the ordinary fisti-culture which enables the average English
gentleman to hold his own so creditably against all comers. He was
a hard hitter when roused, and doubtless would have come out of the
encounter with honour. But his antagonist was three inches taller,
longer in the reach, a couple of stones heavier, and being in top
wind and condition after six months’ road-work, and withal a sort of
second-rate bruiser, might have inconvenienced and would certainly have
marked Mr. Neuchamp in any case.

Just as his late tormentor had lounged forward into a careless guard
and an insolent oath, Ernest felt himself quickly but firmly pushed
aside, while Jack Windsor stood like a lion in the path.

‘Take it out of me, ye cursed infernal bully; what the devil is it to
you if a gentleman likes to have his colonial experience this way?
You’re a deal too fond of showin’ off and taking the change out of
men that isn’t your match. Now you’ve dropped in for it lucky. Mind
yourself.’

The crowd closed in with great though unspoken delight at this prospect
of a real good fight. They intended to interfere directly the new chum,
as they called him, and ’Bouncing Bob’ had had the first flutter.
But here was a ‘dark horse,’ evidently good for a close heat. What a
glorious relief from the monotony of their daily dodging along the road
with stubborn and impoverished sheep!

‘Bouncing Bob,’ though a smart fellow enough with his hands, liked
a small allowance of weight, science, or pluck; he was better at a
winning than an uphill fight. He now distinctly felt that the chances
in the contest would be likely to be the other way.

Mr. John Windsor did not leave him long in doubt. Quick as lightning
his left was in, and though by a rapid counter Bob managed to score
a smack that counted for first blood, it was apparent that he was no
match for the stranger, who was at once stronger, more active, and more
scientific.

A couple of inches shorter, Jack Windsor was the heavier man. Bob’s
activity gave him the chance of escape from two falls, one of which
nearly finished the fray; but he failed to come so well away from a
right-handed feint, which occasioned his catching finally a terrific
left-hander, sending him down so decisively that he saw no particular
use in coming to time.

‘I suppose I may as well give you best,’ he said, rising with some
difficulty and showing an apparently fatally ensanguined countenance;
‘I didn’t begin except for a bit of chaff. It’s making a darned fuss
about a —— new chum.’

With this Parthian shaft he departed, to be in readiness for the flock
when cut off; while Jack Windsor amused himself whistling softly.
Before he replaced his shirt he said, ‘Now, look here, boys; we don’t
want to interfere with anybody, but this gentleman here is my master
for the time, and any one who wants to take the change out of him will
have to come to me first.’

‘All right,’ said one of the crowd; ‘it won’t do Bouncing Bob any harm
to get a floorer or two, he’s only being paid for many a dab he’s given
himself.’

Just at this moment a great clatter of bells was heard, and the
overseer rode in at a gallop on a barebacked steed, with all the camp
horses before him.

‘Now, look alive, men, and get your sheep out. Don’t be sticking in
this camp all day. Hallo! What’s the row about?’

‘Nothing much, sir,’ returned Windsor respectfully; ‘me and that long
chap they call Bob had a bit of an argument; he began it, and he’s got
a black eye or two. I don’t suppose there’ll be any more of it.’

‘Well, take care there is not, or I shall have to sack the pair of you.
Quite enough to do without fighting now. Get away with your sheep, like
good fellows. The carts can follow.’

A section of about the required number having been made at the time
by a line of men getting behind the leading sheep and driving them
forcibly forward, at the same time preventing them (if possible) from
running back to the still larger lot, Jack signed to Mr. Neuchamp, and
putting the dog Watch at their heels, who aided them vociferously, they
found themselves in possession of eighteen or nineteen hundred sheep,
which they drove for some distance at right angles to the road.

‘Now what we’ve got to do, sir,’ said Jack, ‘is to keep quietly behind
these sheep all day. We must not go more than half a mile away from the
road, or we’ll be ‘pounded. We can’t follow the flock in front very
close or let the one behind get too near us, or we shall get boxed.’

‘What do you mean by boxed?’ demanded Ernest.

‘Well, mixed up. You see, sir, sheep’s very fond of keeping all
together. It’s their nature. If they get any way close they begin to
run, the front to the back and the back to the front, and all the men
and dogs in the world wouldn’t keep ’em apart.’

‘And what harm would that be?’

‘Well, we should have four thousand sheep to manage instead of two, and
they wouldn’t drive so well or feed so well, and as these sheep are as
poor as crows already, that wouldn’t suit.’

‘I see,’ replied Ernest. ‘I think I understand the principle of the
thing.’

‘All right, sir,’ assented Jack. ‘Now, we’ve got the day before us, and
nothing to think about till dinner-time but the sheep. Did you bring
any grub with you?’

‘Not I—don’t we stop?’

‘Not a stop till sundown. You see, sir, the days are short now, and
it’s more fair and straightforward like to the sheep to let ’em go
nibbling and feeding all day, just keeping their right distance from
one another, till camping time, then they draw in together, and they
can camp till further orders.’

To keep slowly walking up and down, back and forward, behind a flock
of sheep, from 7 or 8 A.M. till 5 P.M., the rate of speed and progress
being considerably under a mile an hour, did not seem likely to turn
out a cheerful occupation for three weeks. Mr. Neuchamp’s heart sank
under the contemplation for a moment. But after all he considered
that he was doing a good deed in the conversion of a weak brother
(morally) from a criminal career to honesty and a good reputation.
This was a result which would have overpaid him for considerably more
inconvenience than he was liable to suffer now. Besides, he was picking
up colonial experience practically with greater speed and thoroughness
than he was likely to do at any station; therefore he stifled all
unworthy feelings of impatience, and trudged steadily behind his sheep,
at the opposite side from Windsor, as if he had been born and bred for
the task, like the dog Watch.

That sagacious animal excited his astonishment and respectful
admiration. The livelong day he kept trotting backward and forward
behind the flock, always keeping at a certain distance, and merely
intimidating the lingerers and weakly ones without harshness or
violence. If a sufficiently lively crawl was not pursued, he
occasionally, by a gentle make-believe bite, gave a hint as to what he
could do if necessary. His half-human instinct had plainly convinced
him that loudness of bark and general assertion were amply sufficient
in the woolly as in the human world to produce the most gratifying
submission and acknowledgment of superiority.

About noon the fresh air, the continuous though not violent exercise
and healthy appetite of youth, combined to produce a feeling of deep
regret that he had not been more provident about lunch. However, Mr.
Jack Windsor, drawing over, produced a large parcel containing corned
mutton and bread enough for an English labourer’s family for a week.

‘I thought, sir, as you’d like a snack, so I muzzled enough grub for
two; I’ve got some cold tea in the billy.’

Ernest noticed that his retainer had commenced to carry a small camp
kettle containing probably two quarts, which he nothing doubted
held water. This repast was now complete. The friends munched away
at the very substantial luncheon as they strolled along behind the
ever-nibbling sheep, and after giving Watch a very ample supply, washed
it down with nectar in the shape of cold tea.

‘Well,’ quoth Mr. Neuchamp, with a deep sigh of contentment, ’how
comparative are all things! I never remember to have enjoyed a mid-day
meal more in my life. This fresh day air must be a wonderful tonic;
or is it the early rising and Arcadian simplicity of life? I believe
that they insist upon a lot of virtuous behaviour at a cold-water
establishment such as the people would never stand in their ordinary
lives. But because it’s an “establishment” they let the doctor bully
them to bed at nine, get up at six, eat early dinners of mutton chops
and rice puddings (how I laughed at a guardsman’s face at Ben Rhydding
once when the bell rang at 1 P.M. and he was marshalled to such a
repast), and unexpectedly find themselves placed in possession of an
appetite and health again.

‘It’s something of the same sort of thing here. If I had gone a trip
with a drover from Tillyfour to London with West Highland cattle, I
daresay I should have doubled my appetite and general vitality. There,
however, it is not “the thing” to do. Here it is not the best form
apparently—but you may carry it off without any accusation of insanity.
One thing is certain, I shall never respect good cooking so much
again. The cook to cultivate is _yourself_ unquestionably. Guard your
appetite, keep it in a state of nature, and the rudest materials, if
wholesome, provide us with a daily feast, and a measure of enjoyment
of which over-civilised, latter-day men are wholly ignorant and
incapable.’



CHAPTER X


The days, after all, passed not so funereally by. The weather was
utterly lovely. The wide plain was fanned by delicious wandering
breezes. Mr. Neuchamp had ample time for philosophical contemplation,
as long as he ‘kept up his side’ of the flock. If he became temporarily
abstracted while musing upon the fact that the ancients travelled their
stock for change of feed, probably doing a little grass stealing, when
the season was dry—

    ‘Pecusve Calabris ante sidus fervidum
    Lucana mutet pascua’—

the dog, Watch, would be sent round by his alert comrade to sweep
in the spreading outsiders and warn him of his laches. Just before
sundown one day the flocks were converging towards a line of timber
suspiciously like a creek. The overseer rode up. He looked with
approval upon the well-filled flock, now quietly feeding, and thus
addressed Ernest—

‘Well, youngster, and how do you like shepherding?’

‘Pretty well,’ he answered; ‘it’s better than I expected.’

‘You and your mate seem to get on very well; the sheep look
first-rate.’

‘Glad you think so. My mate is a person of experience, so is the
dog. It isn’t hard to drive a flock of sheep, I find, with two good
assistants.’

‘Well, I don’t suppose you’d have made much hand of them by yourself.
However, a man’s a man when you’re travelling with sheep on a road like
this. Don’t you listen to those other vagabonds, and you’ll make a
smart chap by and by.’

‘Thank you,’ said Ernest; ‘I’ll try and keep as innocent as I can under
the circumstances.’

The overseer rode off, puzzled as to whether the new hand was laughing
at him or was ‘a shingle short.’ Slightly damaged people, whether from
drink, disappointment, a lonely life, or the heat of the climate, were,
unfortunately, not particularly scarce in the locality.

‘Whatever he is, he and that rowdy-looking card can keep their sheep
and feed them first-rate,’ he said to himself, ‘and that’s all I’ve got
to look out for. Perhaps the young one’s going jackerooing at Jedwood;
if so, he has more sense than he looks to have.’ The month wore on with
dreaminess and peace, so that Mr. Neuchamp began to think he would
not be so unreasonably delighted to get to Garrandilla. Each day,
soon after sunrise, they moved from camp at a pace extremely suitable
to the thick coming fancies which filled the mind of Ernest Neuchamp
during the first hours of the untarnished day. There was the glorious
undisturbed sun, with autumnal tempered beams. On such endless plains
Chaldean and Israelitish shepherds, in the world’s youth, had travelled
or held vigil. No vast awe-striking ruins lay on these great solitudes.
No temple eloquent of the elder races of the earth. But the stars
burned by night in the all-cloudless dark blue dome as they sat in
nominal watch, and Ernest mused of the silent kings of this mysterious
human life, changeless destiny, till the morning star seemed to
approach his solitary couch, as did that lonely orb which held converse
with Morven, the son of Ossian.

In the daily round of guiding and pasturing he learned much of the
complex nature of the under-rated intelligence of the sheep. His
companion, Mr. Jack Windsor, had cultivated a habit of observation,
and knew, as gradually appeared, something, not always a little, of
everything rural.

‘Rum things sheep, sir,’ he would remark, as he commanded Watch to
abstain from troubling and signalled Mr. Neuchamp to come on to his
side; ‘I always see a deal of likeness to the women about ’em. If they
don’t want to do a thing you can’t drive ’em to it. No, not all the men
and dogs in the country. If you want ’em to do anything particular,
pretend you don’t wish ’em to do nothin’ of the sort. Give ‘em lots of
fair play, that’s another good rule, same as women. When it comes to
anything out-and-out serious, act determined, and let them have it,
right down heeling, and all the fight you’re master of.’

As it was from time to time pointed out, when principles and
admonitions came into play, Ernest was enabled to comprehend the many
ways in which stock can be benefited when travelling by discreet and
careful feeding, halting, watering, and humouring. So that he actually
possessed himself of an amount of practical knowledge with which a
year’s ordinary station life might not have provided him. As for the
rest of the men, his easy, unassuming equality of manner had rendered
him personally a favourite with them. They held that a fair fight
settled everything, without appeal, and having come to the conclusion
that Mr. Neuchamp was a swell, presumably with money, travelling with
sheep for his amusement—incomprehensible as was that idea to them—they
felt that he was in a kind of way Jack Windsor’s property, who was
likely to be pecuniarily benefited during the stage of Mr. Neuchamp’s
softness and inexperience. Hence he was in his right to do battle for
him. They would have done the same had they similar golden hopes. And
now the matter being over, and ‘Bouncing Bob’ relegated to a ‘back
seat’ as wit and occasional bully of the camp, they held, after the
English fashion, that the discussion could not be reopened. So all was
peace and harmony.

One day, as they were sleepily voyaging over the grass ocean, Jack
Windsor, who had gone out of his way to look at a man leading a
horse, returned with exciting news. The horse aforesaid was young,
and in his opinion a great beauty—‘a regular out-and-outer,’ was the
expression—and, by great chance, for sale. ‘Would Mr. Neuchamp like to
buy him? If he wanted a horse at Garrandilla, he could not do a better
thing.’

‘When you get there, sir, of course you’ll want a hack. There’ll be no
more walking, I’ll be bound. You’ll have messages to carry, boundary
riding to do, cattle-driving, getting in the horses—all sorts of fast
work. Well, either they’ll give you a stiff-legged old screw, that’ll
fall down and break your neck some day, or a green half-broken young
one that’ll half kill you another road. I know the sort of horses the
young gentlemen get at a station where a man like Mr. Jedwood’s the
boss.’

‘Very well, what does he want for the colt? Is he a very good one?’

‘I haven’t seen his equal for years; don’t know as I ever saw a better.
Why he’s fool enough to sell him I can’t tell. But it’s all square. I
know the man, and where his run is; you’d better go over and see him.’

‘So I will; but how can he be kept or broken in?’

‘I’ll break him; I can rough-ride a bit, and will put him among the
other horses and short-hobble him.’

Accordingly Ernest went over and saw a noble, good-tempered-looking
dark gray colt. He had a large full eye, black mane, legs, and tail,
with a shoulder noticeable even amid the rounded proportions of
colthood.

‘So this young horse is for sale?’ he said inquiringly of a middle-aged
stout man, like enough to be a brother to their own overseer.

‘Yes!’ said the man, pulling at the halter, which had galled the colt’s
under jaw. ‘I started to take him down to the lower station, and he’s
such a brute to lead that he has nearly pulled me off more than once. I
won’t lead him a step farther if we can deal.’

‘What will you take for him?’ asked Ernest.

‘Well,’ said the stranger, ‘I believe he’s a real good ‘un, though he’s
never been backed yet. I don’t know or care much about horses myself;
they’re useless brutes, and eat more grass than they are worth. I’ll
take ten pounds for him.’

‘Very well,’ said Ernest, ‘he’s mine at that price, and I will send a
man over with the money, if you will deliver the horse to him.’

Jack Windsor was overjoyed to hear that the colt was actually bought.

‘I can break him easy enough,’ he said, with all the eagerness of a
schoolboy. ‘He is half handled now, and it will be easy for me to back
him.’

‘But how shall we keep him till we get to Garrandilla?’

‘Oh! I’ll square it with the chap that looks after the spare horses;
there’s a mare with them as he’ll likely take to. He can’t get away far
in hobbles anyhow.’

So Jack being sent off with the whole of Mr. Neuchamp’s remaining
capital, in half an hour returned with the colt at the end of a long
halter, and a properly witnessed receipt from John Williams of Boro,
which he handed to Ernest.

‘I made him draw out a receipt, all regular, and get the nearest man
I could cooey to, to sign it. There’s no knowing but somebody might
claim the colt without this—say you’d worked him on the cross. There’s
nothing like being safe with a good horse like this.’

Mr. Neuchamp was pleased with his purchase, which he immediately
christened ‘Osmund,’ after an old hunter with a favourite family name
at Neuchampstead.

‘I’ll do nothing but handle him to-day,’ said Windsor; ‘to-morrow I’ll
get a spare saddle and bridle, and will tackle him.’

‘Good gracious!’ said Ernest, ‘is that the way you break horses in this
country? Have you no cavesson, or breaking-bit, or web surcingle?’

‘All them’s very well when you’ve got ’em,’ said Mr. Windsor; ‘but they
don’t have saddlers’ shops on the plains, and if a man can ride he can
do without ‘em, and do justice to his horse too.’

So next day Jack procured an old bridle and saddle, the bit belonging
to which he carefully wrapped round with rag, thinly increasing its
bulk and rendering it fit for ‘mouthing’ or slightly bruising, _without
cutting_, the corners of the lips of a young horse. This and the
saddle, by means of patience and persuasion, he managed to get fairly
placed and buckled upon Osmund, who objected a little, but finally
marched along not very much alarmed by his novel accoutrements. All
this time the sheep-driving was efficiently conducted by Mr. Neuchamp
and the dog Watch, who amply justified the anticipations indulged in by
Mr. Windsor at the time of his purchase.

In about another week they expected to arrive at Garrandilla, when
the curtain would rise on the first act of the drama of Colonial
Experience, with Mr. E. Neuchamp in the _rôle_ of first gentleman.

Two or three days only had passed when Jack Windsor announced to Mr.
Neuchamp that the colt was quite quiet enough to back, and that he
would perform the ceremony that very morning, as soon as the sheep were
steadied to their first feed.

‘Back him, now!’ exclaimed Ernest in tones of horror, ‘why, he cannot
be nearly mouthed.’

‘Oh yes, he is,’ assented Mr. Windsor, playfully pressing against
the bit and causing Osmund to retrograde; ‘he’s got mouth enough for
anything, and between leading and hobbling he’s steady enough to make
a wheeler in a coach. When I have finished you won’t find fault with
him for not being steady, I’ll be bound. Just you stand close to his
shoulder, and hold him while I get up.’

Ernest, though much mistrusting the preliminary instruction of a
week’s leading, and the simple addition of a bridle and saddle as
being sufficient to take the place of all the two months’ lunging,
belting, cavessoning, driving, dressing, which had been the invariable
curriculum of the colts at Neuchampstead, deferred to his follower’s
opinion.

‘I don’t think he’s got any bucking in him,’ he said; ‘he carries his
head too high for that, and his mouth’s that tight, I could pull him
on to his tail if he tried any tricks. He’s a bit frightened, and when
he’s got over that he’ll go like an old horse.’

‘I should say that buckjumping was produced in this country by bad
breaking,’ said Mr. Neuchamp oracularly. ‘It all depends upon how a
horse is treated.’

‘Don’t you believe it, sir. Bucking is like other vices. Runs in the
blood. I’ve seen horses that had twice and three times the time taken
over ’em that this colt has, and by good grooms too, in good stables,
and they’d buck, and buck too till they’d half kill themselves, or you.
And as for a stranger, they’d eat him.’

‘And how do you account for that?’ asked Mr. Neuchamp. ‘Why should one
horse be free from that particular vice, and another with the same
amount, or even more handling, be unmanageable from it?’

‘Why do boys at the same school turn out different? It depends upon the
families they come off. So it is with the horses. One strain will be
reg’lar cannibals, no matter how steady you are with ’em; the others
you can catch and ride away, and they’ll be as quiet as lambs, and yet
game all the time, as I believe this one of ours is.’

As he spoke he touched the colt’s side, and he moved off after the
sheep in a steady and confident manner, more like an old horse than a
young one. He occasionally stopped and sidled, or indulged in a playful
plunge or kick. Of course these little irregularities were only amusing
to Mr. Windsor, who was in truth a matchless rough-rider, and wellnigh
impossible to be thrown by horses of good family or bad. By the end of
the day Osmund was apparently as quiet as a trooper, and when unsaddled
and turned out seemed quite at home with the cart-horses.

‘Now,’ said Mr. Windsor, as they sat at their evening meal, ‘you’ve
got, sir, what everybody is always a-talkin’ about and never seems
to get, an out-and-out good hack, fast and easy and well bred, and
a stunner to look at. I’ll forfeit my month’s wages if he ain’t a
sticker, as well. These quiet ones are just as game as the savages, and
indeed more so, in my opinion, because they can eat and rest themselves
better. And I wouldn’t sell him, if I was you, if I was offered double
what you gave for him.’

‘I don’t think I will,’ said Ernest; ‘but surely good horses are easily
picked up in this country, if one is a fair judge. There must be such
thousands upon thousands.’

‘So there are,’ replied the Australian, ‘but we might be gray before
you dropped on another nag like this, ‘specially for ten notes. Look at
his shoulder, how it goes back; see what loins he has; good ribs; with
out-and-out legs and feet. He’s more than three-parts bred; and if he
don’t gallop and jump a bit I’m much deceived. He’s a bottler, that’s
what he is; and if you ever go for to sell him, you’ll be sorry for it.’

‘Well, I don’t think I will, Jack,’ asserted Mr. Neuchamp. ‘I shall
always want a horse while I’m in the country, and I think I shall make
a pet of this one.’

For the remaining days, before the ‘reporter’ entered the Garrandilla
gate, to give legal notice of the invading army of fleece-bearing
locusts, Osmund was ridden daily, and became more docile and obedient
to the _manège_ day by day.

As the long lines of sheep, flock after flock, fed up and finally
mingled at the Garrandilla gate, a big man, with a distinctly northern
face, rode up on a powerful horse and looked keenly at the array of
sheep, horses, men, and dogs.

‘Where’s the person in charge?’ he asked of one of the shepherds.

‘I believe he has gone to the township,’ said the man; ‘he’ll be here
to-night.’

‘Have you seen anything of a young gentleman coming up to my station? I
am Mr. Jedwood.’

‘Not that I know of. There’s two chaps with that last flock, one of
’em’s a “new chum.”’

Mr. Jedwood rode down to the flock indicated, and there discovered Mr.
Neuchamp in the act of eating a piece of boiled corned mutton, and
looking around in an unsatisfied manner, as if anxious for more.

‘You are Mr. Neuchamp, I think, a gentleman introduced by letter to me
by my old friend Paul Frankston?’

‘The same,’ said Ernest, putting down his damper and mutton carefully
and standing up. ‘I intended to present myself to-morrow morning, after
being settled with.’

‘Settled with?’ said Jedwood, in a tone of astonishment. ‘You don’t
mean to say you’ve really hired yourself to drive travelling sheep!
Not but it’s a sensible thing enough to do; still you’re the first
“colonial experience” young fellow that it ever occurred to within my
knowledge.’

‘I had reasons for it, which can be better explained by and by,’
answered Ernest. ‘In the meantime, there is a travelling companion of
mine whom I should feel obliged if you could employ at Garrandilla.
Jack, come here!’

Mr. Jedwood looked keenly at the ingenuous countenance of Mr. Jack
Windsor, and then, after suffering his eye to fall approvingly upon his
athletic frame, said—

‘There’s always employment at Garrandilla for men that know how to
work, and are not afraid to put out their strength. What can you do,
young man?’

‘Well, most things,’ answered the Australian, with quiet confidence;
‘fence, split, milk, drive bullocks, stock-keep, plough, make dams,
build huts; I’m not particular, till August, then I’m a shearer.’

‘Can you break horses?’ asked the squatter, ‘for I have a lot of colts
I want badly to put to work, and I can’t get a decent man to handle
them.’

‘I can break horses with here and there one,’ responded this
accomplished new-world labourer. ‘Mr. Neuchamp and I finished one as we
come along, didn’t we, sir?’

‘_You_ did, and wonderfully well and quickly, too,’ assented Ernest.
‘I had nothing to do but to hold him. I think I can give my personal
guarantee, Mr. Jedwood, if you think it of any value, that Jack can
tame any horse in the land.’

‘Then you can come up to-morrow with Mr. Neuchamp,’ said the squatter,
‘and I’ll hire you till shearing. Shall I send a horse for you?’ he
added, addressing Ernest.

‘No, thanks, I have my own here; I’ll ride him up.’

‘You seem to be pretty well provided for a new arrival,’ said the
proprietor good-humouredly. ‘What with your wages in hand, a horse,
a man, and a month’s character as a travelling drover, you have not
wasted your time much, though old Paul seemed quite anxious about you,
and wrote several letters.’

On the following morning Mr. Neuchamp had a short interview with his
master, the overseer, who was in high good humour, having secured two
hands in their place at the township aforesaid, one of them a shepherd,
most fortunately, at the right (_i.e._ the concluding) end of his
cheque.

‘Well, you’re going to leave us, I suppose, just as you’re getting used
to the sheep; but I can’t complain, as you gave me fair notice. You’ve
been a month, that makes five pounds each. Here’s your money, lads,’
with which he tendered a five-pound cheque to each of them. ‘Good-day
to you, and good luck.’

‘Good-morning. You have my best wishes,’ said Ernest, making a bow
which quite overwhelmed the overseer.

‘Here you are, Jack,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, as soon as the man of sheep
had departed; ‘I always intended you to have my share of the profits of
this droving transaction.’

‘That be hanged for a yarn! I beg your pardon. I mean, I couldn’t think
of taking it, sir.’ And Jack’s face really assumed a most unwonted
expression—that of genuine diffidence and modesty.

‘But you must,’ said Ernest imperatively; ‘you must take it, in payment
for the discovery and breaking of Osmund, besides you will want a
fit-out in clothing and other things.’ So he cast the cheque at his
feet.

‘Well, if I must, I must,’ said Mr. Windsor reluctantly. ‘It’s a good
while since I was as rich as this, and all on the square, too; that’s
what gets me. Never mind, sir, if we both live you’ll get over-value
for this bit o’ paper some day.’

It was now time to make tracks for Garrandilla. Ernest did not see any
road, or know the precise line of country, but Mr. Windsor taking the
matter in hand, they soon found themselves in front of a very small
slab cottage, standing solemnly alone, at the rear of which, however,
were huts, sheds, farm buildings, and haystacks, in such number and
abundance that Ernest thought they must have fallen upon the township
by mistake.

Mr. Jedwood, however, appeared at the door, and walking out to meet
them, told Windsor to betake himself to the stables, and to remain
there until he came out to see him, to feed the horse, and to inquire
of the groom, who would inform him where he could feed himself. He then
invited Ernest to follow him into the house.

‘I am glad to find that you have turned up at last,’ said his host;
‘not that, of course, never having seen you, I should have grieved
overmuch myself if you hadn’t, but poor old Paul seemed so anxious
that, for his sake, I began to feel an interest in you. If you will
walk this way I will show you your room in the barracks—there is a pile
of letters for you.’

Ernest felt really pleased to be placed in possession once more of
any sort of bedroom, and proceeded to render himself presentable
to general society. After these necessary changes had been
accomplished, he commenced to look over his letters, of which there
were—_Americanicé_—‘quite a number.’

First of all he opened one in the bluff characters of Mr. Frankston,
bold, and easily read, as the true heart of the writer. It ran thus:—

 MY DEAR BOY—What, in the name of all the rocks and shoals between the
 Sow and Pigs and Maafu Reef, are you cruising about so long before
 turning up at Garrandilla? Is the reason masculine, feminine, or
 neuter? By the bye, Charley Carryall was here the other day. Told me
 some first-rate yarns—sorry you weren’t at Morahmee to hear ‘em. Well,
 but why haven’t you fetched your whaling-ground—I mean your run—yet?

 Antonia was in a great way when she saw the telegram, in the _Evening
 Times_, that you had been apprehended and locked up for keeping
 company with ’another prisoner.’ Ha, ha, ha! Can’t help it, couldn’t
 really! She kept picturing you in a dungeon, and all the rest of it. I
 said that you would enjoy it for a day or two, during the hot weather.
 What do you think about walking? Have you got a horse yet? We are all
 very middling. Couldn’t you square it with Jedwood to come down at
 Christmas? There’s not much work doing then anywhere. The verandah at
 Morahmee won’t be half a bad place about that time, if it’s as hot as
 it was last year. I saw Hartley Selmore the other day. He sold Gammon
 Downs to a young fellow, just out. My head clerk is rather a queer old
 character.

 ‘Ah! sir,’ he said, ‘don’t you think Mr. Selmore will go to hell for
 selling such a place to that poor young gentleman?’

 ‘Really I don’t know,’ I answered; ‘there always seems a sufficient
 supply of young fellows with a little money and no brains. If they
 were not gobbled up by the Selmores, some other big fish would be sure
 to have them.’

 However, Antonia said Hartley was a cold-blooded rascal, and I was
 nearly as bad for making light of his villainy. So I did not take much
 by my joke.

 Stock has fallen since you left town, and will fall more yet if the
 war does not come to an end, and this very dry season. So your money
 is all the safer in the bank. Don’t on any account invest without
 consulting me. Work as hard as you like, but don’t get sunstroke.
 Avoid brandy and water; and when you’re very tired of wool and
 bullocks, see if you can’t find the road to Morahmee again. Remember
 me to our Jedwood. He’ll keep you up to the mark, unless he’s
 altered.—Your old friend,

  PAUL FRANKSTON.



CHAPTER XI


He who embarks upon an enterprise or commences a course of life
involving absolute departure from every early habit and association
will invariably be assailed at some stage or period by distrust, even
by despondency. It is not in man to complete all the multifarious acts
and volitions pertaining to any momentous change without experiencing
the strongest reactionary impulses to halt, to doubt, to waver, to
retreat.

That Ernest Neuchamp possessed these, among other weaknesses of
our nature, we are by no means prepared to deny. But he had one
counterbalancing quality which oftentimes stood him in good stead,
when on the dangerous declivities of indecision. This compensating
element was a habit of reasoning out his proceedings logically before
the day of battle. He formed his opinions, arranged his movements, with
Prussian deliberation and purpose aforethought. Having decided upon his
order of action, he vowed mentally that no infringement upon his plan
should be suffered, whatever might be his own ephemeral impulses, even
convictions.

Thus he often carried out programmes involving foregone conclusions,
with ruthless exactitude against every feeling, taste, and sentiment
then and there animating his rebellious mind. ‘No!’ he would repeat
to himself. ‘I made my calculations, carried out my reasoning to its
legitimate demonstration, when no disturbing element was present. Shall
I veer with every shift of wind, consult every sudden instinct or every
emotional sensation? No—onward by the true and proved course!’

Steadfastly adhering, therefore, to his sketch-map, on the following
morning Mr. Neuchamp accompanied his host on a tour of inspection,
and gathered some approximate notion of the character of the stock
and station, together with the duties which as an aspirant to the
comprehensive study of ‘colonial experience’ he might be expected to
perform.

The somewhat extensive property known as Garrandilla was divided by
a river, on one side of which natural boundary the stock consisted
of sheep—on the other of cattle. The northern subdivision comprised
four ‘blocks,’ having each five miles’ frontage to the Wandabyne, a
permanent and occasionally turbulently flowing stream. As far back as
thirty miles, the lands were held upon the usual lease from the Crown.
Through all this great tract of country no man was legally entitled
to travel, save on the road which passed along the course of the
river, avoiding only the sinuosities of its course. North Garrandilla
consisted wholly of saltbush plains, diversified only by ‘belts’ of
myall and eucalyptus forest. It was therefore held to be appropriate
for sheep, to the highly successful production of which it had always
been devoted.

On the south side, the ‘lay of the country,’ as Jack Windsor would have
called it, was different. Marshy flats, interspersed with lagoons and
reed-beds, extended along, and for several miles back from the river.
With this exception the greater part of the area was covered with more
or less open forest, while at ‘the back,’ or the extreme limit of the
unwatered region away from the river, were ranges of hills precipitous
and heavily timbered, among which the cattle roved at will during the
winter season, returning to the low grounds as the fierce sun of the
Australian waste commenced to dry the interior watercourses.

At a short distance from ‘the house,’ Mr. Jedwood’s cottage, or hut,
as the residence of the proprietor was indifferently designated, stood
a roomy, roughly finished building known as the ‘barracks.’ Here lived
the overseer, a hard-working, hard-riding, weather-beaten personage,
who appeared to exist in a chronic state of toil, anxiety, and general
lack of repose.

Three of the numerous bedrooms were tenanted by young men, upon
the same footing as Mr. Neuchamp, neophytes, who were gradually
assimilating the lore of Bushland, and hoping to emulate the successful
career of Allan Jedwood, or other pastoral magnates. One of these was
a far-off kinsman, Malcolm Grahame by name, a steady, persevering,
self-denying Scot; while another, Mr. Fitzgerald Barrington, erst of
Castle Barrington, County Clare, sufficiently expressed his nationality
and general tendencies by his patronymic and titular designation.
Lastly was a brown Australian boy, of eighteen or nineteen, very
sparing of his words, and prone to decry the general intelligence of
his comrades, from a comparison of their woodcraft with his own, in
which competition they were, for the present, let us say, manifestly
inferior.

Into this society Mr. Neuchamp voluntarily and contentedly entered,
holding that his education would be the sooner completed if he
graduated, so to speak, before the mast, than from the captain’s
cabin. To the barracks also were relegated those just too exalted
for the men’s hut, while not eligible for the possibly distinguished
company occasionally entertained at ‘the cottage.’ Such were
cattle-dealers, sheep-buyers, overseers of neighbouring stations, and
generally unaccredited travellers whose manners or appearance rendered
classification hazardous.

Ernest managed to have a preliminary conversation with Mr. Jedwood, in
which the latter gentleman, who was extremely plain, not to say blunt,
of speech, put his position fairly before him.

‘You will understand, Neuchamp,’ said he, ‘that, though I feel bound,
on account of old Paul, who was a good friend to me in time past,
to do what I can for you, you must not look for any great amount of
consideration from the overseer, Mr. Doubletides, or from the other
youngsters. I hope you will all be treated like gentlemen as long as
you stay at Garrandilla, but you will be made useful, and set at all
sorts of work, in a way perhaps that may sometimes appear strange.’

‘Not at all,’ replied Ernest. ‘I am as anxious as any one can be to
master the details of bush life, and the sooner the better. I don’t
think you will find any false delicacy about me, whatever may be the
practical nature of my employment for the present.’

‘Well, that’s all right,’ said Mr. Jedwood heartily. ‘It’s the best
way, too. I had to work, and devilish hard, too, as a youngster, or I
should never have been here as master, I can tell you.’

After this conversation, Ernest was put under the immediate orders
of the overseer, Mr. Doubletides, who speedily made it apparent to
him that bush life at a large station did not entirely consist of
galloping about like Bedouin Arabs and reposing under palm or other
trees of grateful shade. Galloping about there was, doubtless; but
often the rides were long, weary, and unexciting, with absolutely no
shade to speak of, while so continuous was the routine of carrying
rations, driving sheep, bringing in working bullocks, carting water
to out-stations, and generally performing no inconsiderable amount of
hardish manual labour, that Mr. Neuchamp at times felt inclined to
adopt the same distrustful view of it all which Mr. Weller took of the
alphabet—‘Whether indeed it was worth going through so much to learn so
little.’

In any riding that might be ordered, Mr. Neuchamp fared sumptuously
compared with the other cadets, who, confined to the ordinary
station-hacks, were constantly complaining of their roughness,
insecurity, or generally unamiable qualities. Osmund, now quiet, well
fed, and tended in the Garrandilla stables, to use Jack Windsor’s
expression, ‘went like a bird,’ and daily demonstrated the soundness of
that gentleman’s choice and opinion.

Charley Banks, the Australian youngster, admired Osmund in secret very
much, and at length offered Ernest five pounds to boot, if he would
‘swop,’ or exchange him for a chestnut mare which he, Charley, had
bought out of the neighbouring pound.

‘She’s quite good enough for this work, Neuchamp,’ he remarked, ‘and
you might as well have the fiver in your pocket as be wearing out your
colt’s legs for old Doubletides here. Jedwood will see you far enough
before he gives you another one in his place, if you screw him doing
his work.’

‘And why would he sell or swop him at all, ye little horse-racing
divil, that wants to be making a blackleg of yourself at the township
races? He’s the only horse fit to carry a gentleman I’ve seen this year
past, and the very moral of a horse the whipper-in of the Barrington
hounds rode.’

‘You be blowed,’ retorted the son of the soil; ‘I don’t believe you
rode much to hounds in Ireland or anywhere else, or else you would
stick on better.’

‘Stick on!’ shouted the Milesian. ‘I can ride with any cornstalk that
ever sat in a thing with a pillow on each flap, that you call a saddle.
Sure ye’d be laughed out of any hunting-field in Britain if ye took one
of them things there.’

‘Well, we can stick to ’em when we are there,’ sarcastically observed
Mr. Banks; ‘I’ll bet you the fiver I was going to give Neuchamp, you
don’t sit for ten minutes on that chestnut colt Jack Windsor’s coming
up here with now, and he’s ridden him, now it’s the _third_ day.’

Charley Banks emphasised the last number of the colt’s daily
experiences of man, as if no one but an elderly capitalist, with gout
or asthma, could possibly decline so childishly safe a mount.

‘Done with you!’ shouted the roused son of Erin. ‘One would think you
conceited cornstalks had discovered the horse, in this sandy wilderness
of a country of yours, and that no one had ever ridden or shot flying
before he came here.’

‘I don’t know about shooting,’ said the lad reflectively, ‘but I’m
dashed if ever I saw a new arrival that could sit a buck-jumper, even
if he only propped straightforward, and didn’t do any side-work.
Anyway, we’ll see in about five minutes.’

Here Mr. Windsor arrived upon a bright chestnut colt, with three white
legs, and a blaze down the face, and a considerable predominance of the
same colour into the corners of his eyes, thus giving an expression
more peculiar than engaging to those organs, when used for the purpose
of staring at the rider. In addition to these peculiarities, he
had an uneasy tail, always moving from side to side with a feline,
quietly-exasperated expression.

‘Good-morning, sir,’ said Jack to Ernest. ‘Good-morning, gentlemen all;
fine growing weather.’

‘No finer,’ said Barrington; ‘how are you getting on with the colts?’

‘Not bad,’ answered the horse-tamer; ‘I’ve backed two a week since I
came, and have three in tackle, in the yard now. This one’s a fine colt
to go, but he’s rather unsettled when the fit takes him.’

‘Sorry for that, for I’ve a bet with Mr. Banks here that I’ll mount him
and stay on for ten minutes. Sure, ye knew, ye artful colonist, that he
was a divil; you won’t refuse me the mount, Jack, me boy, breaker to
his Highness the Grand Duke of Garrandilla?’

‘Not I, Mr. Barrington, if you’ve got a neck to spare, but you’ll bear
in mind yourself—he’s a sour devil when his blood’s up; and mayn’t like
a stranger. Though he’s pretty fair now.’

Here Jack slid quietly to the ground and patted the colt’s neck, who
snorted, but when soothed was apparently quiet. Barrington gained
courage, and taking out his watch, gave it to Ernest to hold.

‘Ten minutes,’ he said; ‘and now I’ll bet you all a couple of pounds
each, that if I come off, not one of the lot of ye can ride him up to
the stockyard and back.’

The bet was taken all round. Mr. Barrington with a confident air
advanced, and getting Windsor to hold the colt closely and firmly,
mounted easily and rode off. The young horse apparently took no notice
of the change of riders for some time, but walked steadily off along a
bank which led to the sheep-drafting yard. Barrington was charmed with
himself, and with his mount, whom he immediately decided in his own
mind to be an animal of fine disposition, in danger of being spoiled,
as was usual in the colony, by rough breaking. As he turned back, after
about five minutes’ ride, he concluded to favour the company with a
trot. He therefore touched the colt with his heel and slacked the rein.

Now, whether, as was very possible, though a fair and very bold
horseman, he did not sit with the glove-like adherence to the pigskin’s
surface which characterised Mr. Windsor’s every movement, we have no
means of knowing; of matters of fact, however, as eye-witnesses, we can
judge. The chestnut glanced nervously back with his Albino-tinged eyes,
made a rapid swerve, then a diving headlong plunge, instantaneously
arrested. This threw forward the incautious Barrington, while with
sudden frenzy the now fully-aroused animal bounded galvanically upward
with his back arched, and dropped with his mouth wrenched resistlessly
from the rider’s hold and almost touching the ground.

The suddenness of the act, joined with the convulsive force of the
propelling power, first tended to place Mr. Barrington in a somewhat
leaning position. From this he was prevented from recovering his place
in the saddle by the lightning-like rapidity of the recurring headlong
plunges. Strong, fearless, and elastic with the glorious activity of
early manhood, he made a desperate struggle to retain his seat; but
the deerlike, sidelong bounds, instantaneously reversed, gave him no
chance. Failing to follow a terrific side leap, his equilibrium was
disturbed, the corresponding swerve sundered him and the saddle still
farther, while a concluding upward bound on all fours, ‘propping,’ so
as to progress backward rather than otherwise, shot him forward as from
a catapult, head first and clean delivered.

‘Ugh! ugh! shall I ever—ugh, ugh—get my wind again? Ugh—you savage,
unnatural son of a—ugh—gun—what right have you to be called a horse at
all? Sure no one but a blackfellow, or Mexican, or a _native_, Banks,
me boy, could expect to sit on such a baste of prey. Here’s an order
for five pounds, Charley, ye villain; they’re good, _as yet_, and now
go ride him yourself, and let me enjoy myself looking on.’

Mr. Windsor, on another horse, was by this time in pursuit of the
excited animal, which kept snorting, kicking, and otherwise protesting
against any other interference with his natural rights.

‘He _can_ buck a bit,’ said Charley Banks, coolly girding himself for
the fray by taking off his coat and tightening a leathern strap which
he wore round the waist, ‘but if you hadn’t come forward, Paddy, the
first time he propped, he mightn’t have gone to market at all. Here
goes.’

The chestnut was soon secured by the agile and deft Windsor, and held
by that horse-tamer, ready for Charley Banks to bestride. Having
divested himself of his coat, he advanced with perfectly unembarrassed
mien towards the alarming chestnut. Staring with homicidal glare out of
his white-rimmed eyes, the successful combatant was standing perfectly
still, but in a constrained and unnatural position.

Before putting his foot in the stirrup, Mr. Banks examined with
long-practised eye the gear and accoutrements.

‘Why don’t you have a surcingle, Windsor?’ he said. ‘What’s a pair
of girths to a colt like this? Call yourself a breaker? Where’s the
crupper?’

‘I left them at home, Mr. Banks,’ exclaimed the rough-rider. ‘Ben
Bolt (as I christened him) was getting on so nicely before you young
gentlemen came in the way that I never thought of wanting the regular
colts’ toggery. Besides, it don’t matter much.’

‘Doesn’t it?’ demanded the unappeased critic. ‘Suppose he sends the
saddle over his withers? How’s a fellow to sit him with one leg on each
side of his neck? However, here goes.’

Mr. Banks, having enunciated his sentiments, quickly slipped into the
saddle, and putting his feet well home in the stirrups, cocking up his
toes, squaring his shoulders, and leaning slightly back, with easy
nonchalance commanded Mr. Windsor to let him go.

Freeing the tameless one on the instant, Mr. Windsor retired a few
steps, and awaited for the next act in the performance. The colt seemed
in no hurry to make use of his liberty. He stood in a cramped, awkward,
half-asleep position. Mr. Banks touched him quietly, but he made no
response.

‘Oh! hang it,’ said that young gentleman, ‘I did not bargain to sit
here all day. I’ll move you.’

Suiting the action to the word, he ‘put the hooks on him,’ as a jock
would have said—in other words, gave him the spurs so unreservedly that
nothing less than the bronze horse of San Marco or the stone charger
of the Duke would have borne then unmoved. Ben Bolt did not. It was
the match to the powder-barrel. With one wild plunge and a desperate
rear which nearly overbalanced him, the nervous but determined animal
bounded into the air. After these feats, he appeared to settle down
to practical, business-like buck-jumping, impromptu, certainly, but
of the highest order of excellence. He certainly _did_ ‘go to work,’
as Mr. Windsor afterwards expressed it. Every known and unknown device
which Sathanas could have devised for the benefit of a demon disguised
as a horse was tried—and tried in vain. Mr. Banks, swaying easily
front or rear of his saddle, never lost head or seat for an instant.
Brought up in a horse-loving, horse-breeding district, he was familiar
from childhood with every known form of practical or theoretical
contravention of equine illegality. He could ride as soon as he
could talk, and ere he wrote himself indifferently man, had backed
successfully scores of unbroken horses, and ridden for wagers the
cannibal Cruisers of more than one stud.

His figure, slight, but very accurately proportioned, was just above
the middle height; his features were delicate and regular, with an
approximation in the hardly aquiline nose and short lip to the Greek
type, by no means uncommon among Australians of the second or third
generation. His strength was far greater than was apparent, arising
more from the toughness of his muscles than from any great breadth or
solidity; and he had astonished the Garrandilla population one day by
the ease with which he walked off with successive heavy bags of lour
upon his back, when all hands were unloading a dray from Orange.

It was a pretty sight in its way, interesting enough to those who
love contests, far from unduly safe, between men and the inferior
animals, to see the ease with which the boy’s figure followed each
frantic movement of the infuriated animal, and with what perfect and
apparently instinctive ease he retained his perilous seat. In vain
the roused and desperate creature tried stopping, wheeling, sideway
and forward, and indeed backward. Nearly blown was Ben Bolt, evidently
relaxing the height and elasticity of his deerlike bounds. The victory
was decided in favour of the imperturbable horseman, in Mr. Windsor’s
characteristic speech.

‘By the holy poker! Mr. Banks, you’ve “monkeyed” him enough for one
while. He won’t try it on with you again in a hurry.’

The victorious athlete was awaiting with a smile of triumph on his lips
for the colt to stop and recover his failing wind, when the frantic
animal made a last maddened rear, trembling on the balance of falling
backwards till the spectators held their breath; then dashing his head
violently to the earth as he inverted his position, he stood with
arched back and forelegs stretched out before him, as if he had been
petrified in that position.

As he did so the saddle slid over his lowered shoulder, depressed,
as in a horse jumping down a precipice, and the girths passing the
’elbows’ or projecting joints of the upper leg underneath, moved,
loosened and flapping downward towards the hoofs. Mr. Banks, of course,
strictly associated with his saddle, could do nothing to arrest its
earthward progress. As saddle and bridle approached the animal’s ears,
he threw up his head with tremendous force, catching the legs of
Mr. Banks and casting him violently on to his back, with the saddle
spread out above him. That young gentleman, however, held on to the
bridle-rein with such tenacity that the throat-lash giving way, it was
jerked over the horse’s head, leaving the reins in the rider’s hands,
while Ben Bolt, with a wild snorting neigh, trotted off, free from all
encumbrance, or, as Jack Windsor expressed it, ‘as naked as he was
born.’

Every one looked extremely grave and sympathetic as the heroic Charley
sat up with the saddle in his lap, until he, in the mild monotone of
his ordinary speech, said—

‘That’s the fruits of being too lazy to put on a crupper and surcingle,
as any man that calls himself a horsebreaker ought to do. Suppose I’d
hurt myself, it would have been all your fault, Windsor!’

Then he arose deliberately and shook himself, whereupon they all burst
into a great fit of laughter at his rueful and injured air, as if being
shot over a vicious colt’s head, after ten minutes’ buck-jumping, was a
trifling annoyance, that the least care might have prevented.

Mr. Neuchamp walked over to the saddle, which he carefully examined.

‘Why, the girths are still buckled on each side!’ he exclaimed with
astonishment. ‘How the deuce _could_ the brute have got the saddle over
his head as he did—as he certainly did?’

‘Bedad he did! eh, Charley, me boy? and that’s a trick of rapid
horsemanship _I_ never saw performed before with my own two eyes,’ said
Mr. Barrington. ‘There’s many a man, now, in my country, if I were to
tell this story, wouldn’t believe me on my oath. They’d say it was
unreasonable. You might stick them, and they’d never give in.’

‘I wish one of them was on that brute’s back,’ said Mr. Banks, rubbing
a portion of his frame. ‘I thought I was as right as ninepence, and
then to be slewed that way, and all for the want of a strap or two. I
hate carelessness.’

‘Never mind, Banks, you sat him magnificently,’ said Ernest
cheeringly. ‘I never saw such a bit of riding in my life. It will be
many a day before any of us can exhibit in the same way. I consider you
fairly won your bet. But still I remain unsatisfied about the saddle
coming off without breaking the girths. How _did_ it?’

‘Well, it’s this way,’ said Mr. Windsor, bracing himself for
explanation. ‘It’s not a common thing, though I’ve seen young ones do
it more than once or twice before. You see, first the horse sticks
down his head with his nose on the ground, as if he was jumping down a
well. Then he plants his feet right out before him, so as his hoofs and
his nose are almost touching; his legs and his neck are all of a line.
Young ones generally have a roundish, lumpy shoulder. If the saddle
slips over it, and the girths over the elbows, down it must go; and
when the horse draws his head backwards out of it, then you have the
saddle, like this one here, popped on the ground, with never a girth or
buckle broke.’

‘So that’s the way it’s done, Jack, is it?’ inquired Mr. Barrington.
‘Well, if I’m forgiven for riding that divil once, I’ll never tempt
Providence again by crossing him as long as I stay at Garrandilla. I’d
like to take him home and exhibit him. There’s many a bold rider in
Clare and County Roscommon, but the divil a one would stay on him for
five minutes, I’ll go bail.’

‘Every man to his trade,’ said Jack Windsor. ‘Mr. Banks and me have
been riding ever since we were born, and it isn’t easy to get from
under us, I’ll allow. But I daresay there’s some other games as we
shouldn’t be quite so smart at.’

‘I tell you what,’ said Malcolm Grahame, who just came on to the scene
of action, ‘there’s Jedwood and old Doubletides up at the drafting
yards, waiting for some of you to come up and help put through those
hoggets that got boxed. The old man is swearing just awfu’.’

Every one hasted at this intimation to the scene of action, where the
dust was ascending in a cloud, curiously reminding Ernest of a Biblical
passage.

For the rest of the day, ‘Keep them up, wether, hogget, ewe, weaner,
slit-ear, near crop,’ were the principal terms and phrases interchanged.

Ernest Neuchamp speedily discovered that he had reason to congratulate
himself heartily upon the fact that, from the never-ending work at
Garrandilla, he was much too tired and sleepy at night to care for
conversation, or to desire congenial companionship. Had he craved for
such ever so longingly, he would have found it impossible to obtain.

Allan Jedwood, a man of singular energy and indomitable persuasion,
had devoted all his powers of mind and body with ceaseless, unrelaxing
obstinacy to what he was pleased to consider the main end of existence.

In his case, the reaching and maintaining of an independent pastoral
position had been the goal which had stood forth before his eyes,
a celestial mount, but slightly obscured by mists of pleasure,
extravagance, or sympathy, from his youth up.

In the pursuit of this somewhat restricted ideal, bounded by a good
station, a fine herd of cattle, forty thousand sheep, and a balance at
his bankers, he had spared not himself. He had strongly repressed the
ordinary temptations, _desipere in loco_, to harmless dillettanteism,
to amusement, or imaginative contemplation. Tendencies literary or
artistic he had none. Everything in his eyes that did not lead directly
to the increase or maintenance in good order and condition of his
stock, he had eschewed and forsworn as unprofitable, almost immoral.
Such was the rigid discipline which he had enforced over his own
spirit for long years. From the days that he had been a hard-worked
under-overseer, a toiling owner of a small station, a hampered
purchaser of a larger one, until now, that he was sole proprietor of a
magnificent unencumbered property, he had foregone nothing of this rule
and regimen, and the usual effects had followed the causes. Successful
labour and unwearied self-denial had created the position for which he
had so longed and thirsted all his early life through.

And yet was there a side to this picture which did not call for so
much gratulation. In the stern repression, the pitiless starvation to
which the spiritual portion of the man had been subjected, the germs of
all intellectual and speculative tendencies had first dwindled, then
perished.

Unsparing vigilance, untiring concentration upon the daily routine
of station work, was no longer necessary to the opulent possessor of
stock and station, freehold and leasehold, town and city property.
But the habits, inexorably welded into the being of the man, remained
fixed and unalterable, when the circumstances which called them forth
had long changed, long passed away. Still daily, as of old, Allan
Jedwood rode over ‘the run,’ among his flocks and herds, his men and
his ‘improvements,’ his dams, his wells, his fences, his buildings, his
fields, and his teams. At nightfall, returning to the humble unchanged
building which had sufficed for his wants for many a year, he spent
the short evening which followed the day of hard exercise in writing
business letters, or in posting up station accounts; or else, with
military exactitude, he arranged with Mr. Doubletides the ensuing
‘order of the day,’ in which drafting of sheep, shifting of shepherds,
mustering of cattle, and bargaining with dealers, took the place of
marching and countermarching, sorties and retreats, embassies and
diplomatic manœuvrings.

Of the progress and potentialities of the outer world—literary,
artistic, social, or political—Allan Jedwood knew and cared as little
as any of his Highland shepherds, frequently arriving from the paternal
farm, who ‘had not the English.’

In Ernest Neuchamp’s zeal for mental growth, for the onward march of
humanity generally, and for the particular community with which he was
temporarily connected, this stage of arrested development was very
painful and grievous to the soul of an enthusiast and reformer. He
tried all the units of the Garrandilla world, but he found no rest,
æsthetically, for the sole of his foot. Malcolm Grahame, who exhausted
whatever mental vigour he possessed in trying to discover a cure for
foot-rot, and in improving a natural aptitude for wool-classing, bade
fair to become as complete and as prosperous a bucolic Philistine
as Jedwood himself. Fitzgerald Barrington was conversational and
discursive enough, in all conscience, but his mental exercise chiefly
took the direction of regret for the joyous days he had spent in his
father’s house and among his own people—whom, not observing any near
prospect of a fortune in Australia—he bitterly reproached himself for
having ever quitted. Besides, he held no particular views about the
destiny of the human race, or of the Australian nation, or of any other
race or people but his own. He did not see the use of wasting the life
that could be so much more pleasantly spent in hunting, shooting,
feasting, flirting, four-in-hand driving, drinking, and dicing, as
became a gentleman of long descent (if he only had the money), in
bothering and interfering with a lot of low people, not worth caring
about and who did not thank you the least bit.

If Mr. Charley Banks had any intellectual proclivities, they had
not as yet passed a rudimentary limit. He smoked a good deal, read
hardly at all except the sporting compartments of the newspapers,
took more interest in the horses of the establishment than in the
cattle or sheep, and was always glad of an excuse to get down to the
public-house, or to gossip unprofitably in the men’s huts.

As for Mr. David Doubletides, he had long since abandoned the idea that
reading and writing had any other connection of importance to humanity
than the accurate setting down and adding up of station accounts. He
was astir at or before dawn, on horseback all day and every day, from
daylight to dark, and was often sufficiently tired in the evening to
fall asleep with his pipe in his mouth.

This purely objective existence, after the excitement of the first week
or two, commenced to afflict Mr. Neuchamp unpleasantly.

‘Good heavens!’ said he to himself, ‘is all the universe to be
narrowed down to the number of serrations in a lock of merino wool? to
the weight and tallow of a drove of bullocks destined for the market?
This half wild life is pleasant enough with the open-air rambles on
horseback, and the rude occasional labour. But, strictly, as a means
to an end, which end is, or ought to be, the getting away from here,
and the leading a worthy life in a less uniformly scorching land of
monotony and privation,—fancy one doomed to linger on year after
year. I see now the natural law which in desert tribes prompts the
pilgrimage; without society, comfort, or companionship.’

At this period Ernest commenced to acquire, if they had been needed,
additional proofs of the melancholy tendency of all human efforts to
crystallise into the narrow unalterable shape of custom.

Nothing, he admitted, could be more praiseworthy and admirable than the
energy, the concentrativeness, the unwearied labour which Jedwood had
bestowed upon the formation of his position in early life. And now the
summit had been scaled, the goal attained, the reward grasped, of what
commensurate value or benefit was it, now fully realised, to himself
or to others? The contracted field of labour had become a necessity
of life. The means, losing their original proportions, had become the
end. It was as if an animal, long compelled to a mill-horse round of
unrelieved labour for the purpose of grinding a fixed quantity of meal,
had, when the task was completed, voluntarily resumed the collar and
gone on ceaselessly accumulating an unneeded heap.

It must be confessed that, occasionally, the unceremonious manner in
which Mr. Doubletides ordered Ernest and the other young men to perform
any minor task considered by him, Doubletides, necessary to be done,
rather jarred upon his feelings. It was—

‘Mr. Barrington, take the old roan horse and a cart, and go out to the
fifteen-mile hut with a fortnight’s rations for Joe Watson.’

‘Mr. Grahame, see that you and Banks are up at daylight to-morrow
morning, or else you won’t have that weaner flock drafted before
breakfast.’

‘Mr. Neuchamp, you had better get away as soon as possible, and look
for those five hundred wethers that old Sails dropped at the Pine Scrub
yesterday; take some grub and a tether-rope with you, and don’t come
home till you find them.’

All this was doubtless good practice, and valuable as storing up useful
knowledge against the day when he should possess a station and a Mr.
Doubletides of his own. Still it occasionally chafed him to be ordered
and sent about without any explanation or apology for the extreme
personal inconvenience occasionally involved.

As it happened, this particular sheep-hunting trip became an adventure
of much importance. Riding gaily upon the trusty Osmund, Mr. Neuchamp
was fortunate enough, after a few hours’ search, to come upon the
‘wing’ of the wether flock which had been lost by the ex-marine
circumnavigator—a blasphemous old man-of-war’s man, referred to by an
abbreviation denoting his former work.

Full of triumph, Ernest commenced to drive them in the direction of the
out-station, to which the remaining portion of the flock had been sent.
For the first hour he sauntered on behind the browsing sheep, confident
of his direction and not doubting but that he should reach a spot which
he knew in good time. Sheep are not particularly easy animals to drive
after a few miles, and it soon appeared to Ernest that the double
effort of driving five hundred sheep and steering straight in a country
without a landmark, was likely to bear hard upon his woodcraft.

As the sun hung low, flaunting a vast gold-red shield athwart the
endless pale green waste, a sense of powerless loneliness and confused
ignorance of all but the cardinal points of the compass took possession
of him. He cantered from side to side of the obstinate, and perhaps
puzzled, sheep, which probably had a distant impression in their woolly
noddles that the line of direction lay quite another way. At length
the red-gold blazonry faded out into darksome crimson, the pale green
shades became dim and dullest gray—‘the stars rush out, at one stride
comes the dark’—and it became fully apparent to Mr. Neuchamp that he
was lost.

He was sufficiently learned in the lore of the dwellers in this ’land
of freedom and solitude’ to know that the chief duty of man when
once placed in possession of stock, sheep above all, is to ‘stick by
them’—to stick by them, as the captain lingers by the last plank of
the breaking-up deck, in spite of danger and death, hunger, thirst,
weariness, or despair. These last experiences were more likely to be
the portion of Ernest Neuchamp than the former. Still it needed a
slight exercise of determination to face the idea of the long lonely
night, and the uncertain chance of discovering his whereabouts next day.

The night was long—unreasonably long—Ernest thought. Sufficiently
lonely as well. There were no wild beasts, or robbers, likely to be
’round’; still there was an ‘eerie’ feeling about the still, solemn,
soundless night. The rare cry of a night-bird, the occasional rustling
made by the smaller denizens of the forest, the soft murmuring of
the pine-tree nigh which he had elected to camp—these were all his
experiences until the stars paled and the dawn wind moaned fretfully,
like a dreaming infant. Having no culinary duties to delay him, Ernest
saddled up his good gray steed, roused the unwilling sheep, and started
forth, ready to do battle with fate in the coming day. Alas! he
struck no defined trail. He hit off no leading thoroughfare. At first
mid-day, and again the dewy eve, which might have been so described if
the autumn rain had come—which it had not—again found Mr. Neuchamp
a wanderer upon the face of the earth and no nearer home. As for the
sheep, they found sustenance without difficulty, as they ‘nibbled away
both night and day,’ all heedless of the morrow, or Mr. Neuchamp’s
anxious brain and empty stomach. They apparently had no objection to
camp at the deserted out-station, which had so bitterly disappointed
Ernest when he reached it at the close of the day.

By this time, in addition to being unmistakably and importunately
hungry, Mr. Neuchamp was furiously thirsty. His satisfaction was great,
therefore, when he discovered, just outside the door of the empty hut,
two hogsheads filled with clean water.

He was about to plunge his head into the nearer one, like an eager
horse, when a sudden thought passed through his brain, and he stopped
short, with desire and dread written in every line of his face.

What was the potent thought, the word of power, that sufficed to
arrest the step as if a precipice had opened suddenly below his feet
to hold back the longing lips so parched and moistureless? One word,
lightning-like, flashed along the wondrous telegraph of the brain.
That word was ‘arsenic’! Ernest looked again at the casks. The water
was suspiciously clear. He could not trust it. He knew that somewhere
in that direction Mr. Doubletides had been dressing the feet of lame
sheep with a solution of arsenic. He had seen in the local paper an
account of a thirsty shepherd and his horse similarly placed. The horse
drank out of one cask, the man from the other. The horse died. Ernest
was not sufficiently tired of his life to take a philosophical view
of the chances. Sudden death, undignified convulsions, a visit from
the coroner—an unsympathetic individual, who declined minute shades of
discrimination in favour of ’three star’—‘Verdict, found dead, as much
arsenic internally placed as would have killed a horse.’ All this was
uninviting, non-heroic. Bordering on the heroic, however, was the stern
resolve to pass the night without tasting one drop of the doubtfully
limpid element.



CHAPTER XII


It occasionally occurs to our unresting, unreasonable minds, prone, as
we all are, to straining the mental vision and wearying our hearts with
efforts to descry the form, to catch the Sibylline words, of the veiled
future, that we are not so very wretched in the society of the present.
After some slight intervals of sighing for the (social) fleshpots of
Egypt, Mr. Neuchamp began to enjoy his life very thoroughly, and to
question whether he should be so much happier after he had become a
proprietor and carried out his plans of regeneration. The spring had
set in, and nothing could be more lovely than the fresh warm air, the
gloriously fresh mornings, the cool calm nights.

‘How happily the days of Thalaba went by!’ His health, spirits, and
appetite were faultless. It was a time of hope and expectation for the
great event of the year. The shearing was coming on, and insensibly
the increase of station hands. The putting into order of the disused
shearers’ huts, wash-pens, machinery, and woolshed, spoke of impending
transactions of importance, and told that ‘the year had turned.’ He
had made up his mind, too, that ‘after shearing he would revisit the
metropolis.’ There the moon-lighted, sea-washed verandah of Morahmee,
with a slight and graceful form pacing thereon, musing ‘in maiden
meditation fancy free,’ showed softly yet bright, as an occasional
romance gleam through the somewhat prosaic mist of his ordinary
day-dreams. It might have been the influence of the pure dry air, of
the oxygenated atmosphere, which caused Ernest to become so very light
of heart after this heroic resolution. If it were so, nothing that has
ever been said by enthusiastic tourists in praise of the beauty and
salubrity of the Australian climate can be held to be in the slightest
degree exaggerated.

Another effect was noticeable about this time. Ernest commenced to be
remarked, among his observing mess-mates, for a suspicious eagerness to
learn and acquire all the mysteries of stock farming, some of which he
might have previously overlooked. He delighted Mr. Doubletides by his
alacrity, and that grim veteran remarked that in a year or two more he
might be able to look after a small station himself, always provided
that he had a careful overseer.

‘The deuce a bit you’ll see of him thin, me ould shepherd-driver, in a
year or two, or next year either,’ said Barrington. ‘I know the signs
of it. He’s going to cut Garrandilla after shearing, and he’s trying
to suck ye, like a marrow-bone, of all the fruits of all yer long hard
life and experience, me ould warrior. And why wouldn’t he? Sure I’d be
off myself and invest, if my uncle would only send out the ten thousand
that he promised me.’

‘_Neuchamp_ manage a station!’ said Malcolm Grahame. ‘He just knows
naething whatever about foot-rot, and he disna know first-combing from
pieces; it’s my deleeberate opinion he’ll just be insolvent within the
year.’

‘How do you know?’ quoth Charley Banks. ‘It’s half luck, seems to me.
I know an old cove that only branded his cattle once about every two
years, and he made more money than all the district put together.
Neuchamp’s a good sort of notion about a horse, and he don’t drink.
I’ll lay six to two he ain’t broke next year, nor the year after.’

Garrandilla was not a fenced run. It was in the pre-wire-bearing stage,
preceding that daring and wondrous economy of labour. At the period of
which this veracious chronicle treats, the older pastoral tenants were
wont to speak with distrust of the new-fangled idea of turning large
numbers of valuable sheep ‘loose—literally loose, by George—night and
day’ in securely fenced but unguarded enclosures.

One thing was certain, they had made their money mainly by the
exercise of certain qualities, among which were numbered, beside
industry and energy, a talent for organisation scarcely inferior to
that required by a general of division. At Garrandilla the twenty or
thirty flocks, averaging two thousand each, were marshalled, counted,
gathered, dispersed, with the punctuality, exactness, and discipline
of a battalion on field duty. Were all these rare endowments, these
valuable habits, to be henceforth of no avail? Were the sheep to be
just turned loose and seen from time to time like a lot of store
cattle? Were experienced shepherds, skilled overseers, henceforth to
be unnecessary? And would any young inexperienced individual who had
brains enough to know a dingo from a collie, or to see a hole in a
fence when such hiatus was present, do equally as well to look after
five or ten thousand sheep in a paddock, as the oldest shepherd, under
the orders of the smartest manager in the land? These were serious
and important questions. Mr. Jedwood was not a man given to hurried
outlay. The process of building up his fortune had been hard, anxious,
and gradual. He had no idea of reversing the process in any possible
casting down of that edifice. Therefore, with the aforesaid twenty or
thirty shepherds, ration-carriers, etc., it did not admit of doubt
as to there being plenty of work at Garrandilla. Of a truth the work
was unceasing from daylight on Monday morning till dark, or later, on
Saturday night. Indeed Sunday was often spent by Mr. Doubletides in
weighing out rations, and making out a few of the men’s accounts, as a
species of rest from his labours not unbefitting the day.

The process of general management was somewhat in this wise. Each of
the young men had certain flocks placed in his charge; these he was
expected to count at least once a week. He had a small sheep-book
or journal in which the name of every shepherd, with the number of
his flock, was entered upon a separate page, as thus: ‘John Hogan,
14th May; 4-tooth wethers; No. 2380; dead, 5; added, 14; taken out,
52—total, 2337.’

A similar account was kept of every flock upon the station, which was
expected to be verified by a count at any moment. This counting it was
_de rigueur_ to perform early in the morning. As the shepherd usually
left the yard or fold soon after sunrise, and many of the flocks were
ten or fifteen miles from the head station, it followed that the young
gentleman who counted a distant flock had to quit his couch at an
exceedingly early hour.

Then the ration-carriers, who were always conveying provisions, water,
wood, all things necessary to the shepherds, required in their turn
supervision.

Nothing but the hardest bodily labours and unsleeping apprehensive
vigilance kept this small army in good order and efficiency. If a
shepherd lost his flock, there was mounting hot haste and terrific
excitement till the sheep were found; Mr. Jedwood riding and aiding
personally in the quest as if ruin was awaiting the non-arrival of the
flock, to pounce down upon him and his.

There was no denying that the management of Garrandilla was very
successful upon the whole. The fat sheep were eagerly competed for
by dealers and others directly it was known that they were in the
market. The wool brought a good though not extreme price in the home
or colonial markets. The station accounts were kept by the storekeeper
with the strict accuracy of those in a merchant’s office. There was
no waste, no untidiness, no delay, no dawdling of any kind. The men
were well though not extravagantly lodged and fed, after the manner
of the country. They received the ordinary wages, sometimes a shade
above them. Whatever they drew from the station-store was accurately
debited to them, and they received a cheque for the exact amount of the
balance upon the day of their departure. What they did with the said
cheque—whether they spent it in forty-eight hours at the nearest inn,
whether they kept their money for the purpose of buying land, whether
they put it into the savings bank, or gambled it away—was a thing
unknown to Mr. Jedwood, and concerning which he never troubled himself
to inquire.

When Mr. Neuchamp, in the ardour of his unquenched philanthropy,
questioned him about these things, he declared that he had no great
opinion of station-hands as a class, that most of them were d——d
rascals, and that as long as they did his work and received the pay
agreed upon he really did not care two straws what became of them.

Ernest felt this to be a very doubtful position, as between master and
men, and further required to know whether, if he, Mr. Jedwood, took
measures to locate a few of his best men with their families upon the
frontage to the river, he would not secure an attached tenantry, and be
always certain of a better and readily available class of labour.

To this Mr. Jedwood made answer that he should consider himself to be
qualifying for admission to a lunatic asylum if he attempted to do any
such thing. ‘In the first place you would lose,’ he said, ‘a quantity
of your best land, and your best water. In the next place, as their
stock increased they would use and spoil double the quantity of land
they had any legal title to. Most probably they would _not_ work for
you, when you needed labour, except at their own price and terms; and
if you wished at any time to buy them out, they would ask and compel
you to give double the price they had paid. No, no; I’ve kept free
selectors out all these years, and, as long as I live here, I’ll do so
still.’

So Mr. Neuchamp had again to fall back upon his own thoughts and
excogitations. He was not convinced by Mr. Jedwood, who took a
narrowed, prejudiced view of the case, he contended. But he arrived at
the conclusion in his own mind, that the amount of bodily and mental
labour devoted to the sheep-pasturing division of Garrandilla was
exhaustingly large, and that any mode of simplifying it, and reducing
this great army of labourers, would be very desirable.

More and more to him was it apparent daily that there was no cessation,
no leisure, no possible contemplative comfort in a life like this. It
was the same thing every day. Sheep, sheep, sheep—_usque ad nauseam_.

Garrandilla was a highly unrelieved establishment. There were no
ordinary bush distractions. There was no garden. There were no
buildings except those positively necessary for the good guidance and
government of the place. Jedwood’s two rooms served him for every
conceivable want here below. They really were not so much bigger than
the captain’s cabin in the good ship which brought Ernest to Australia.
But they were large enough to eat, drink, and sleep in twenty years
since, and they were so now.

At times a neighbour rode over and spent an hour or two, talking sheep,
of course. Occasionally a lady, from sheer weariness or ennui, would
accompany her husband or brother, and beat up the great Mr. Jedwood’s
quarters for a short visit.

One day Ernest was standing near the cottage in a meditative position,
when a gentleman rode up, having a lady on either hand. Mr. Jedwood,
with old-fashioned gallantry, promptly assisted the fair visitors to
dismount, and then calling out loudly, said, ‘Neuchamp, take these
horses over to the stable.’

Ernest walked over, and taking the horses mechanically, was about to
make for the stable, when one of the ladies exclaimed in a tone of
great astonishment, ‘Mr. Neuchamp!’ He looked up, and to his very
considerable surprise recognised one of the young ladies of the
Middleton family, his fellow-voyagers.

‘Why, what is the meaning of all this?’ inquired Miss Middleton. ’I
never thought to see you so generally useful; but I understand—you
are staying at Garrandilla, and performing the “colonial experience”
probation.’

‘You have guessed it exactly with your usual acuteness, Miss
Middleton,’ said Ernest, who, slightly confused at having to act as
amateur stable-boy, had now recovered his usual self-possession,—never
long absent, to do him justice. ‘I will come in as soon as I have
stabled the horses.’

When Ernest returned he found the ladies evidently concluding a short
narrative to Mr. Jedwood, in which he guessed himself to have figured.
Nothing could be warmer or more pleasurable, however, than their
recognition.

‘And so, Mr. Neuchamp, here we meet, after all our arguments, and
passages-of-arms,’ said the younger sister. ‘We are on our native
heath, you know, so we shall take the offensive. How do you find all
the new theories and schemes for improvement stand the climate?’

‘Not so very badly,’ assented Ernest boldly. ‘I am biding my time, like
the Master of Ravenswood. I intend to cause a sensation by carrying
them out when I have a station of my own.’

‘Oh, you must get one in this district,’ affirmed the elder sister with
determination; ‘it would be so pleasant to have some one to talk to.
We are living in utter solitude, as far as rational conversation is
concerned.’

Mr. Jedwood at this juncture ‘trusted that, as they did him the honour
to pay him a visit now and then, they did not include Garrandilla in
the conversational solitude.’

‘Oh, you know, you’re such an old friend. We can recollect riding to
Garrandilla with papa ever since we could be trusted on horseback. It
is one of our chief pleasures and resources. But really, Mr. Jedwood,
you ought to build a new cottage. I used to think the old hut a
splendid place once, but it looks now, you must confess, rather small.’

‘Two rooms for one man, and that man an old bachelor, Miss Middleton,
are not so very bad. I’m used to the old place. I can sit there and
write my letters, and here, by the chimney side, I smoke my pipe and
watch the embers. But I think I must put up a new place, if it’s only
for my young lady friends. I’ll see about it after shearing, after
shearing.’

But this promise of a comparatively palatial edifice after shearing had
been made, to the young ladies’ knowledge, for several years past, and
they evidently did not place much faith in it; Miss Middleton asserting
that it was lucky Mr. Jedwood had not commenced life at Garrandilla in
a watch-box, as he most certainly would have continued the use of that
highly compressed apartment.

They all laughed at this, and Mr. Middleton affected to reprove his
merry daughter for her sally, but the end of it was that Ernest
received a very cordial invitation to visit his old acquaintances at
their station, distant about twenty miles, and mentally resolved to
take an early opportunity of availing himself of it. The society of
young ladies had been entirely out of his line since he had parted
with Antonia Frankston, on the verandah at Morahmee. The effect was
agreeable in proportion to the period of compulsory withdrawal from
such pleasures and recreations.

Truth to tell, he was commencing to weary somewhat of the eternal,
never-ending merino drill. He could understand a lad of seventeen or
eighteen, like Charley Banks, spending two or three years profitably
enough in the Garrandilla grind, and being better so employed than
anywhere else. But he, Ernest Neuchamp, was a man whose years and
months were of somewhat more value in the world than those of a raw
lad. He thought, too, that he knew about as much of the not very
abstruse and recondite lore necessary for the average management of a
station as he was likely to acquire in another year, or any greater
length of time. He resolved that, after shearing, he would state his
case fully to Mr. Frankston, and secure, if possible, that paternal
elder’s consent to his purchasing a station of his own with his own
money.

From time to time at long intervals, whenever by no possibility could
any excuse be found for working among the sheep, would Mr. Doubletides
summon him, the other youngsters, and any unoccupied individuals that
were handy, and crossing the river, proceed to ‘regulate the cattle a
bit,’ as he expressed it. Jack Windsor being a first-class stockman,
and handy with the roping-pole, was always invited to join the party.
Then they would have a week’s mustering, branding, drafting, weaning,
fat cattle collecting, what not—and then every one would come back much
impressed with the heroism of the whole expedition, and the cattle
would be left to their own devices for three or four months longer.
These muster parties were extremely congenial to Mr. Neuchamp’s tastes
and tendencies. He found the country, which was wild and hilly in
places, more interesting than the uniform, monotonous, but profitable
campaign, where roamed the carefully-tended merino. There were Alpine
gorges, tiny streamlets, masses of foliage, botanical treasures,
and above all, a mode of life more irregular, more volitional, than
the daily mechanical regularity with which the machinery of the
‘merino-mill,’ as Barrington profanely called it, revolved diurnally at
Garrandilla proper.

Moreover there was occasionally trials of speed, of bottom, of
horsemanship, in thus tracking the half wild cattle to their
fastnesses, in which Osmund distinguished himself, and which were more
akin to the noble sport of hunting than anything which Ernest had met
with in Australia. The driving of the great herd into the stockyard,
the drafting, the roping, the branding, the cutting out, all these were
novelties and excitements of a very high order, as they then appeared
to the ardent mind of Mr. Neuchamp.

So keenly did he appreciate the general work among the cattle, that
upon a recommendation from Mr. Doubletides, who thought all time not
absolutely devoted to sheep and wool thoroughly wasted, he was promoted
to be a kind of cattle overseer. Then from time to time, in company
with Jack Windsor, for whose services he formally petitioned, he was
despatched on short but pleasant missions to the cattle station when
any particular duty of an outpost nature was required to be done.

Then the friends were in their glory. Jack Windsor had been brought
up on a cattle station, and had a strong preference for them as stock
over sheep. He always took care to provide an ample commissariat
in case of accidents, while Mr. Neuchamp armed himself against the
perils of a long evening or two at the hut of the cattle manager by
bringing a book. Thus fully accoutred they would start off amid the
congratulations of Barrington and Charley Banks for a week’s perfect
happiness.

Why Mr. Neuchamp esteemed himself to be favoured by fate in being
especially selected for this department, was chiefly on this
account—that it opened a prospect of change and comparative mental
leisure. I have described my hero carelessly and faintly, but the
judicious reader will ere this have discovered that Ernest was
essentially less disposed to action than contemplation. Not that he
disliked or avoided work, but he liked it in large quantities rather
than in small, with spaces for consideration and preparation duly
interspersed.

For instance, at Garrandilla it was one constant succession of calls
and appointments and engagements. ‘Would Mr. Neuchamp get something out
of the store? Would he make out So-and-so’s account? Would he go down
and draft So-and-so’s flock? Would he be sure to be up before daylight
and count the sheep at the Rocky Springs? Mr. Jedwood was returning
from the farthest back station, and would he lead a fresh horse to meet
him at the fifteen-mile hut? Would he take out a fortnight’s rations
to old Bob, and be sure to bring in all the sheep-shears? Would he
calculate the number of cubic yards in the Yellow Dam, just completed,
and check the storekeeper’s account with the contractor?’ and so on.

Now, all these things Ernest could do, and did do—as did his
fellow-cadets—still the endless small succession troubled him. Small
wonder, then, that a feeling of relief and satisfaction possessed him
when he got the route for Warbrok, and he and Jack packed up their
effects and necessaries for a week’s comfortable, steady, solitary work
among the cattle, where no complications existed, and where they saw no
one but a couple of stockmen and old Mr. Hasbene, the manager, from the
time they left Garrandilla till they returned.

In the long days of tracking the outlying ‘mobs’ or small subdivisions
of the main herd, in the unrelieved wandering through ‘the merry
greenwood,’ with its store of nature’s wonders—hidden watercourses,
mimic waterfalls, rare ferns, plants, and flowers, strange birds and
stranger beasts—Ernest felt the new delight and enjoyment of a born
naturalist. Then the sharp gallops, ‘when they wheeled the wild scrub
cattle at the yard,’ were exciting and novel.

The evening, too, spent in the rude but snug building that had served
the cattle overseer—a laconic but humorous old man who had once been a
prosperous squatter—for a habitation for many a year, story-telling,
reading, or dozing before a glowing fire, were pleasant enough in their
way.

In the ordinary yard work—drafting, branding, roping, throwing,
etc.—Mr. Neuchamp felt a strong and increasing interest. When they
returned to the merino metropolis of Garrandilla, old Mr. Hasbene
expressed his regret emphatically, while Jack Windsor loudly lamented
the necessity of going back to school.

‘Sheep’s all very well,’ that gentleman would observe, ‘but my heart
ain’t never been with them like the cattle. There’s too much of
the shopkeeping pen-and-ink racket about ’em for me. Look at our
storekeeper, he’s writin’ away all day, and sometimes half the night,
to keep all the station accounts square. There’s Mr. Doubletides,
he’s always away before daylight, and home at all hours of the night.
There’s some blessed flock for ever away or having to be counted,
or drafted, or shifted, or tar-branded, or sold, or delivered; and
it’s the same story all the year round. There’s no rest and no easy
time with sheep, work as hard as you will. Of course the wool’s a
fine thing, but give me a mob of a couple or three hundred head of
fat cattle on the road for market with a good horse under ye and a
fourteen-foot whip in your hand. That’s a job worth talking about—a
couple of thousand pounds on legs in front of ye—and precious hard
work in a dark night, sometimes, to keep it from cuttin’ right off and
leavin’ ye with your finger in your mouth.’

‘By George, Jack, you’re a regular bullocky boy,’ said old Mr. Hasbene;
‘you had better get Mr. Neuchamp here to put you on as stockman when he
buys a cattle station, as I expect he will when he leaves us. If I was
a young man I’d go with him myself, for I see he’s got a real turn for
the roans and reds, and there’s nothing like ’em.’

‘Well, we’ll see,’ said Ernest. ‘I have a great fancy for a cattle
run; and I must say, I think Jack is right about the sheep. They are
a great deal too much trouble, especially with shepherds. I came away
from England to lead a quiet life in the wilderness, to have a little
leisure and time to think, and not to be hurried from one engagement to
another like a Liverpool cotton broker or a stock exchange speculator.’

‘I don’t say there isn’t money made by sheep,’ remarked Mr. Hasbene,
’but cattle, to my mind, have always been the most gentlemanly stock.
A man does his work; it’s sharp sometimes; but then he has it over.
He knows what he’s about, and hasn’t to be always “hurried up” like a
Yankee dry goods clerk. I wouldn’t change lives with Jedwood for all
the world. I live like a gentleman in my small quiet way, but I’ll be
hanged if he does.’

‘Quite right, Mr. Hasbene,’ said Ernest. ’The characteristics of “the
gentle life,” in my estimation, are occasional strenuous, useful, and
dignified exertion, seconded by unquestioned leisure, more or less
embellished by letters with the aid of the arts and sciences. All this
keenness to amass money, land, flocks, and herds, is merely the trading
instinct pushed to excess, whether the owner lives in a street, in a
city, or a hut on a plain. However, we must be off. Good-bye.‘ Away
they went at the rapid pace so dear to unthinking youth, all heedless
of the capital of human as of equine bone and sinew, secure of a vast
endowment to their credit in the future, good for endless drafts and
extravagant cheques, while the grizzled senior rode back to his lonely
lodge to contest, as best might be, with three months’ loneliness,
three months’ absence of human face, of human speech, laughter, or
tears. It was not a gay life, certainly, but such as it was, he had
lived and outlived twenty odd years of it. In all human probability—he
was failing now—he would remain there until he died. So best—where
else should he go? Geoffrey Hasbene had once possessed money, friends,
a good station, a fair position. But indifferent luck, combined with
an easy, careless, liberal disposition, had caused his property to
drift away from him. For a time he had suffered some of the evils of
neglect and of poverty. Then this prospect of employment was offered
and thankfully accepted, and for many years he had been exercising for
another the qualities of vigilance and economy that, in the long past
years, would have gathered and secured a fortune for himself.

The season wore on. The mild Australian winter, far different from the
stern season that Mr. Neuchamp had associated with that name, changed
almost imperceptibly into glowing spring—into burning summer.

The ordinary work of the station advanced. Men came and went; were
hired, verbally; retained, paid off, and so on, with an undeviating
regularity that savoured of machinery.

With spring came all the bustle of washing and shearing. Herds of men
arrived at Garrandilla, and were employed as sheepwashers, shearers,
extra shepherds, watchmen, engineers, fleece-rollers, and people to do
anything that may be required and nothing in particular. Much Ernest
marvelled at the apparently profuse and reckless manner in which men
were engaged at high wages, until it occurred to him one evening to
reckon up, with the assistance of Malcolm Grahame, the probable value
of the wool crop. Then he admitted that a few hands or a few pounds,
more or less, were not much to be considered in view of such a large
quantity of so high-priced and so promptly convertible a commodity.

The general tone of the establishment was altered. Mr. Windsor had
completed his colt-breaking business, and having enrolled himself as a
shearer, was living in a state of luxurious freedom from any kind of
work, and waiting with twenty or thirty other gentlemen, apparently of
independent means, the important tocsin which tells of the commencement
of shearing.

Barrington and Grahame were galloping about all day long, from the shed
to the wash-pen, looking important and mysterious, while Mr. Banks
was permanently located at the latter place, and evidently considered
himself as in a great degree responsible for the reputation of the
Garrandilla clip in the forthcoming wool sales.

For Ernest, to his great satisfaction, employment had been found at
the cattle station, an unusual number of fat stock having been sold
and delivered at this particular season, so that he and Jack Windsor
had been mustering and drafting and partly delivering the said beeves,
until it was time for the latter gentleman to take his place among the
braves, who, when on the war-path, on the far plains of the north-west,
are, sometimes inaccurately enough, styled and designated shearers.

Thus it came to pass that Ernest grew to consider himself more
immediately connected with the ‘cattle side of the run’ than the sheep
ditto, and insensibly began to imbibe those prejudices in favour
of one description of stock, which, though not capable of logical
justification, are often found to be sufficiently powerful to influence
a man’s whole life.

At last, after many minor combats and skirmishes, a strike among the
sheepwashers, a demand for more pay from the shearers, a short supply
of carriers, a threatened superfluity of clover-burr and grass seed—the
great shearing campaign was completed.

The men were paid off; the teams wool-laden departed; the shepherds
returned to their homes—save the mark; Mr. Jedwood departed for town;
and for a little space it really seemed as if the genius of bustle
would revisit Garrandilla—‘nevermore.’

Mr. Jedwood had told Ernest, before leaving, that if he particularly
wished to visit town before he returned he was fully at liberty to do
so, as Mr. Doubletides would be able to manage all there was to do for
the next three months, with the other youngsters, or even without them.

Before he left town, Ernest would have scouted the idea of leaving
Garrandilla under a full twelvemonths. But circumstances, it is said,
constantly alter and affect cases.

The circumstances were—extreme heat; waveless uniformity, not to say
monotony, of existence; the lack of fresh companionship; and finally,
a strong, impetuous, sudden desire for civilised life, coupled with an
undefined, unrecognised longing for the criticisms of Antonia Frankston
upon his new and thrilling experiences.



CHAPTER XIII


In no way does the proof more plainly reach us of the sadly shortened
space of mortal life than by the distinct stages of experience and
mental growth.

Looking back upon the ideal fruition of a few years, we are startled
to find how far we have progressed from a given starting point. The
store of ripened experience would almost overwhelm with its garnered
richness, did not fate, with a malicious pleasure, forbid our profiting
by it.

A few lustra have rolled over, marked by fast whitening or receding
locks, and lo! we have attained to exact conclusions concerning many
things. No further fees are necessary. Cautious are we now who once
were so heedless. Regular and methodical in business, erst unpunctual
and dilatory, we preserve our acquittances. We are industrious without
spasmodic energy, cool with the discretion, not the madness, of valour!
But one bright-haired goddess has departed with our golden youth. Hope
lends no gladness to the summer breeze, gilds not the glowing eve,
smiles not on the flowers, beckons not from the cool shadows of the
murmurous glade.

Mr. Neuchamp was far on the hither side of these autumnal effects, so
it chanced that on one fine day— there had been no rain for about two
months—he found himself mounted on Osmund with his face turned towards
the Sydney road, and with an unwonted feeling of exultation in or
about the cardiac region. He was accompanied by Jack Windsor, who had
invested a portion of his shearing cheque in the purchase of Ben Bolt,
on favourable terms, as that interesting animal had thrown every other
one who had ever ridden him, causing Mr. Jedwood to be honestly glad to
be rid of him.

Mr. Windsor had completed what he called a very fair spell of work,
for him, and having secured a prominent cheque and a high character at
the settlement, after shearing, was in charity with all men, even the
police, and much minded to have a pleasure trip ‘down the country,’
as he phrased the transmontane towns. Hence, when Ernest invited him
to accompany him to Sydney, having extracted a confession that he had
never seen that ‘kingdom by the sea,’ or indeed had been a stroller by
the ‘poluphloisboio thalasses’ at any time, he readily and gratefully
accepted the offer.

‘Seems queer, sir, doesn’t it, that I’ve never seen our main city or
the big waterhole, as the blacks call it. Somehow I’ve always had the
luck to miss it. Not that I had any powerful great longing to go. I’ve
always had some pleasant place nigh home to spend my Christmas in,
after I’d made a bit of money; and somehow, when I was once comfortable
I didn’t care about stirring.’

‘But I wonder that an active, intelligent fellow like you, Jack, never
made up your mind to go all the way to Sydney, out of curiosity.’

‘Well, it _is_ a wonder, sir; only, somehow I’ve had no eddication, as
I told you before, and chaps like me, as don’t know much except about
bush things, haven’t as much curiosity, I think, as other people.
Sydney’s only a bigger town than Campbelltown, or Yass, or Goulburn,
and what’s there to see in them if fifty of ’em was rolled up together?
That’s the way I used to talk.’

‘But the sea, Jack, the sea! you haven’t the sea in Yass or Goulburn.’

‘Oh! I know that, sir. Bless you, now I am quite different, since you
took the trouble to learn me to read and write a bit.’ (Mr. Neuchamp
had so utilised the evenings at the cattle station and other quiet
places.) ‘I’m always thinking what a stupid beggar I’ve been to have
been contented with the life I used to lead. Just like an old working
bullock in a lucerne field, grubbing away and never raisin’ his head
till it was time to lay down. You’ve made a man of me, sir, that’s what
you have. I hope I’ll be able to make you think some day—“Well, he
wasn’t a bad fellow after all.”’

‘I think so now, Jack; I always have thought so from the first time I
saw you.’

Mr. Windsor here groaned out a curse upon some one of Eve’s daughters
unknown to this chronicler.

‘What a regular more-pork I was to be sure, to go and run my neck agin’
a roping-pole, and all for a—false jade, who’d have come to see me
hanged, I believe, and laughed at the sight—blank her.’

‘You are not the first man, Jack, and will not be the last,’ quoth
Ernest, ‘who has been started on the downward road by the same agency.
But I hope you will always perceive, when accusing another, that unless
you had been that particular sort of fool that bad luck is exciting one
to turn into a rogue, her influence would have been quite insufficient.
We may as well drop the subject, for ever; but it will do you no harm
to look sometimes, without witnesses, at the precipice you passed so
closely.’

Mr. John Windsor, naturally one of the cheeriest of mortals, for
which temperament he had to thank a Milesian ancestress, showed no
inclination to revert to this painful topic. On the contrary, as they
approached the more settled country which lay between Garrandilla
and the railway terminus, he entertained Ernest much by his _naïve_
and acute observations. His companionship was always valuable in
other respects. He knew all the by-tracks and short cuts, by availing
themselves of which the road was materially shortened.

At nightfall, wherever they happened to be, Jack took all charge and
responsibility as to the horses out of Ernest’s hands. He saw that
Osmund received full justice in the inn stables, if they happened to
stay at one of the village hostelries; or if compelled to turn out he
affixed the hobbles, and following the track (slotwise) at dawn of day,
regularly and efficiently produced the hackneys saddled and accoutred
at the proper after-breakfast hour. Full of anecdote, flavoured
with the purest Australian slang, all unconsciously used, he was a
never-failing mine of interest and amusement.

They passed the railway terminus, as Ernest had decided to ride
down the whole distance, being not unwilling to exhibit Osmund, now
‘prompt in his paces, cool, and bold,’ and after the summer grasses of
Garrandilla, sleek and ‘on his top’ in point of condition. He pictured
himself cantering along the pleasant seaside ways around Sydney, and
if a vision occasionally mingled with his reveries of a fair girlish
shape, all the more graceful in the riding-habit of the period, not
far from his side, was it not the natural outcome of the double summer
time, the pleasant season of the land, and the fairy-time that comes
but once—the thrice golden spring of youth? With these ‘companions
of Sintram’ not ominous and threatening, but full of high hope, of
purpose, and of all mighty dreams, pleasantly he paced on over the
rocky, fast descending mountain tracks.

‘Rum road this, sir, for coaching,’ said Mr. Windsor. ‘I’ve been up
and down here many a time, by night and day, good weather and bad, in
the old times, many years before the Zig Zag was chopped out of the
sidelings. I’ve been glad enough to see the bottom of the hill at Mount
Victoria, once or twice, with a queer team and the brake not over good.’

‘I should say if anything happened to _that_,’ said Ernest, looking
over the sheer drop of a couple of hundred feet which overhung the
rugged boulders below, ‘the insured passengers would have a chance of
realising on their policies, as a Yankee would say.’

‘Things went something in that line one night, when I was aboard,’
answered Jack, a little thoughtfully. ‘I never want to see another
start like it. Once is enough of that kind of fun.’

‘What was that?’

‘Well, sir,’ commenced Jack, settling himself on the watchful, untamed
animal, who thereupon promptly assumed an attitude of armed vigilance,
which caused Mr. Windsor to dig the spurs into him and adjure him to do
his worst, ’it was this way—

‘It was a dark, wet, stormy night, the roads fearful; we were that
heavy loaded that it took all Sacramento Ned could do (he was a
Californian, and the best whip _I_ ever saw that’s seen a few, and that
before King Cobb was heard of on the Sydney side) to keep from going
over in some of the waggon tracks. I was on the box with him, and we’d
made friends like, as he could see I was a bit in the horse line.

‘He was a great tall, powerful chap, with a big fair beard, and the way
he could rattle five horses and a loaded coach in and out of the creeks
and winding bush tracks, was a sight to see. Well, he’d been very
downhearted all day about something, and at last he says to me, “Jack,
old man, I can’t tell what in thunder’s come over me this trip; it’s my
last one on this line, for I’ve saved up a fairish pile and I’m going
back to my people, to turn farmer in the old state for the rest of my
days; I suppose it’s the infernal weather. Well, here we are; look
alive there, you chaps. Hold the reins for a minute, Jack, while I look
at the brake.”

‘Well, the fresh team was waiting by the door; they’re desperate
punctual those American chaps, and the time was none too much as they
had allowed them then.

‘I could hear him sing out for the blacksmith, whose forge was nigh the
inn—he contracted for their work. When he came, he swore at him in a
way _that_ man hadn’t been used to; by George, he _could_ swear when he
tackled it, though he was a quiet chap as didn’t talk much generally.

‘Well, he made him put in another bolt, and said he should report him
to the road manager; then he took hold of the reins the three leaders
was hitched to, and away we went.’

‘He wasn’t intoxicated, I suppose?’ inquired Ernest.

‘As sober as we are now, sir. For when he got up, he says, “I’d have
been all the better for a nip, Jack, but just because of the place
being risky, and the night extra bad, I wouldn’t have one.” We had the
five lamps, of course—two on each side, two higher up, and one atop of
all. Ned lit a cigar, pulled on his gloves, and off we went.

‘The team was in grand order, three leaders and a pair of great
upstanding half-bred horses at the wheel, all in top condition and fit
to pull any fellow’s arm off. However, they’d a _man_ behind ’em, and
when they jumped off he steadied ’em as easy as a pair of buggy horses.

‘You know what the road’s like. We rattled along a fair pace, but well
in hand, though the horses pulled like devils, and I had my foot on the
brake, on the near side, just to help him.

‘We were about half way down, and I was wondering what time we should
make Penrith, when I felt the near wheeler make a sudden rush, and Ned
said in a thick, changed voice—

‘“By——, the brake’s gone!”

‘“You don’t say so,” says I; “it can’t be.”—“You’ll darned soon find
out, Jack,” says he, gathering up the reins and bracing himself for the
struggle with death. “Blast that infernal blacksmith, he ought to be
along with us now.”

‘By this time the team had broken into a wild gallop, and were racing
down the narrow, winding road, with a couple of feet, sometimes less,
between us and a five hundred feet drop among the rocks. There was no
breeching harness on the wheelers; Americans don’t use it, but trust
all to the brake. Ours was gone. And the pace we were going down that
road was enough to scare the boldest man that ever handled leather.

‘Ned was as cool and determined as if it was a saltbush plain. He held
the mad team true and straight, and trusted, I could see, to pulling
them up on the long flat at the bottom of the hill. If we got there.
_If!_ Of course, the only little chance was to let them go best pace
and guide them. The slightest pull up would have sent us sideways over
the black rocks, half a mile below.

‘It was a strange sight, I tell you, sir. Ned’s face was pale but set
hard, the muscles of his arms showed like cords, his eyes shining and
steady, looking forward through the dark; the great lamps swinging wide
with the rolling of the coach. As we turned one corner we hung nearly
over the cliff, just shaved it. The women inside kept up a dismal
screaming; the men looked out and said nothing.

‘“We may do it yet, Jack,” he said, “if we can clear those cursed
guard-logs near the bottom.”

‘“Right you are, Ned,” says I, to cheer him. I was afraid of them
myself.

‘Now a’most at the bottom of the hill the road had been new metalled,
and as the track was broader and clear of the sideling, the road
contractor, damn him, had placed a whole lot of heavy logs on both
sides of the metal. I never could see the pull of it myself, except to
make accidents easy.

‘Well, at the last corner, Ned had to keep as near as he dared to the
edge to turn the coach. The pace was frightful by this time, the coach
on the swing; and before he could get in from his turn she hit one of
these ugly butts and, balancing for a bit, fell over with a crash that
I can hear now, dragged for a second or two, then lay on her side with
the top wheels still going round and the team struggling and kicking in
a heap together.

‘I don’t know how many rods I was pitched. But when I found I wasn’t
killed I picked myself up and went to help out the insides. It was an
ugly sight. Some were frightened to death, and wouldn’t stir. Some had
broken limbs. Two _were_ dead—one woman with her baby safe in her arms.
We got ’em all out of it with the help of those passengers who, like
me, were only shaken a bit.

‘“There’s something wrong with Ned,” says I, “or he’d have been among
us by this time. There’s _one_ lamp alight, fetch it along.” So we
looked about and round, and after a bit we found him lying on his face
with his whip in his hand, stone dead. Poor Ned!’

‘A sad and terrible accident,’ said Ernest. ‘What did you all do?’

‘We straightened the horses after a bit—there was two dead and one with
a broken leg of _them_; and I rode horseback to the next stage and sent
a team back for ’em. They got in next day. But I shall always think
poor Ned had a kind of feeling beforehand.’

‘It was not his fault, poor fellow.’

‘Fault, sir? he was the carefullest chap I ever see. It all lay between
that idle rascal of a blacksmith and the wooden-headed road contractor
that put them guard-logs down.’

‘It is safer on horseback, as we are,’ remarked Mr. Neuchamp, ‘unless
we travelled as I did coming up. I rather prefer a horse, though, I
must say.’

‘Well, it seems more natural like,’ said Jack reflectively, giving Ben
Bolt a playful touch with the spurs, which caused that tameless steed
to jump on one side in a fashion that might have been dangerous to a
less resolute horseman. ‘Nothing like a good horse under a man; then
he’s ready for anything or anybody.’

Once more the great meadows and broad river, majestically winding,
which needs but the ruined castle on its scarped sandstone cliff to
render it in some aspects equal in picturesque beauty to the ‘castled
Rhine.’ Once more the semi-tropical warmth; the soft, luscious,
enervating breeze of the southern seas; the half-effaced traces of
ancient labour; the patient, plodding industry and general evidence of
village life.

Ernest pressed on until they reached Walton’s inn, where he took it
into his head to stop for the night before they reached Sydney. Drawing
rein at the door, he left Osmund in charge of Mr. Windsor, and marched
into the clean taproom with a considerably altered air and general
expression from those of his first visit.

The old woman was absent, but Carry, hearing some one in the room, came
hastily in and stared for a moment in astonishment.

‘Well, I declare,’ said she at length, ‘if it isn’t Mr. Newchum! How
you have altered; got so sunburned too. I hardly should have known you.
Well, it’s very good of you to come and see us again. Mother will be
ever so pleased.’

‘I thank you for your welcome, Carry,’ said Ernest, smiling at the
honest pleasure so clearly shown in the girl’s face; ‘I have a servant
with me and two horses—can you put us up for the night?’

‘Oh yes. George will be round directly, if your man will take the
horses into the yard. So you’re not walking now?’ asked she, with
rather a mischievous look.

‘No, Carry, it takes too much time, not that it isn’t pleasant enough;
but I suppose I shall get into all your lazy ways in time. Mind you
take care of my man; he’s a capital fellow and a favourite of mine.’

‘Is he a native?’ asked the girl.

‘Yes, a countryman of yours,’ said Ernest.

‘Then he can take care of himself,’ said the damsel decidedly. ‘I’ll
show you your room, sir, and see about your tea.’

It may be safely held that nothing is much more enjoyable in its way
than a snug roadside inn, where the host and attendants are cheerfully
willing to minister to the comfort of the wayfarer. The food may be
plain, the cooking homely, but the prompt and unchilled service atones
fully for want of artistic merit; and if the traveller carries with
him the inimitable condiments of appetite and reasonable fatigue, the
simple meal is a banquet for the gods, and sweet sleep arrives without
delay to lull the satisfied traveller into luxurious dreamless rest.

Mr. Neuchamp thought that no club dinner had ever more thoroughly
satisfied his every sense than the broiled steak, the fresh butter,
the toast and eggs, all placed upon a snowy tablecloth, which the
neat-fingered Carry put before him.

Before retiring, Ernest made a point of visiting his horse, as should
every horseman worthy of the name. He found that trusty steed and the
uncertain Ben Bolt up to their knees in straw, with their racks full of
well-saved oaten hay, than which no horse, from England’s meads to the
sand-strewn pastures where the desert courser roams, can desire better
provender.

In returning from his excursion he chanced upon a _partie-carrée_
composed of George Walton, his mother, sister, and Mr. John Windsor,
who was evidently the lion of the evening, to judge by the way he was
holding forth, and the respectful admiration with which his tales of
flood and field were received. Among these moving adventures Ernest
caught the sound of some reference to a sailing match, in which, as
usual, fortune had smiled on the brave. Knowing that the mighty ocean
was as yet a wonder unwitnessed by the bold Australian, this experience
struck him as improbable, to say the least of it. However, he always
permitted Master Jack to encounter his _monde_ after his own fashion,
not doubting but that his ready wit and fertility of resource would
bring him forth unharmed of reputation.

On the following morning, therefore, after a breakfast worthy of the
glorious supper which he long afterwards recalled, horses and riders in
exuberant spirits, they set forth for the easy concluding stage.

The household turned out to witness their departure.

‘It puts me and my good man in mind of old times,’ said the aged
hostess, ‘to have a gentleman stay the night and see horses like them
in the stable again. Not as I like that chestnut willin.’ (Ben Bolt, by
the way, had nearly settled George Walton’s career in life, permanently
if not brilliantly, as he unguardedly approached the ‘irreconcilable.’)
’It’s done us all good, sir, and I hope you won’t forget to give us a
call when you’re leaving town.’

‘It has done _us_ good, I can vouch for,’ said Ernest heartily, as
he observed his follower’s bold eyes fixed upon Carry’s features
with unmistakable admiration. ‘I shall always think of you all as my
earliest friends in Australia. Good-bye, George; good-bye, Carry—we
must pay you another visit when we start back, after our holiday is up.’

‘That’s something like a place to stop at,’ observed Mr. Windsor, in
a tone of deep appreciation, as they passed cheerfully onward, after
a mile or two’s silence. ‘Real nice people, ain’t they, sir? What a
house they must have kept in the old coaching days! One thing, they
wouldn’t have had time to have waited much on us then, with the up
coach leaving and the down one just coming in, and the whole place full
of hungry passengers. How did you ever come to find the old place out,
sir?’

‘It was the first inn I saw in Australia that took my fancy, Jack.
I had had many a cruise on foot in England; gentlemen often take a
walking tour there for the fun of the thing; you know the distances
are not so great, the weather is cooler, and there is every inducement
for young strong men to ramble about the green hills and dales of
old England, where you may sit under the walls of a ruined castle a
thousand years old, or watch the same sort of trout in the brook by the
monastery that the monks loved on their fast days centuries ago.’

‘That must be jolly enough for a gentleman with his purse full of
money and his head chock-full of learning, knowing all the names of
the people as lived and died there before he was born. But for one of
us chaps, as can’t see nothing but a heap of old stones and a lot of
out-and-out green feed, why, there’s no particular pull in it.’

‘But there’s nothing to hinder a man like you from knowing as much as
other people in a general way, if you can read. Books are cheap, and
plentiful, Heaven knows.’

‘Well, sir, it does seem hard for a fellow like me to know very little
more than a black fellow, as one might say; that’s how lots of us takes
to drink, just for want of something to think about. Sometimes it’s
easy to do a chap good.’

‘But it always ruins a man in the long run, perhaps kills him right
out.’

‘That’s all very well, sir, only look at his part of it: a man comes
in from a long spell of bush work—splitting, fencing, dam-making,
cattle-droving, what not—into one of these bush townships. He’s tired
to death of sheep and cattle or gum-trees; or perhaps he’s been in some
place, all plains for a hundred miles with never a tree or a stone; all
he’s seen has been the overseer to measure his work, his mates that
he worked with, the regular tea, damper, and mutton, day after day;
perhaps flies and mosquitoes enough to eat him alive. Well, he’s had a
year of this sort of thing, perhaps two; say he’s never smelt grog all
the time.’

‘All the better for him too,’ said Ernest; ‘see what splendid hard
condition he’s in; fit to go for a man’s life.’

‘That’s all right, sir, but he’s so precious dull and hungry for a
change that he feels ready to go to h—l for a lark, as the saying is;
so he comes to the public-house bar, in some hole of a bush township,
and the first glass of grog he gets makes him _feel like a new man, in
a new world_.’

‘Well, why doesn’t he stop there?’

‘He can’t,’ continued Jack, ‘else he’d slip back, so of course he
takes another, and the stuff is ever so bad, rough, very like tobacco
in it, or some rascally drug, but it’s strong, and it’s the strength
he craves for, from the tips of his fingers to the very inside of the
marrow of his bones; when that glass is swallowed he has forgotten that
he is a poor, ignorant, working man; he _knows_ he’s a sort of king;
every good thing he’s thought of in his life is a-coming to him; he’s
to be rich, happy, clever, able to marry the girl he likes; if any man
looks at him he can knock his head off—ten men’s heads off! Drink?
Fifty glasses wouldn’t make _him_ drunk! Capital grog it is too; feels
more sober every glass he takes; landlord’s splendid fellow; must have
some more drink; and so on.’

‘But how do you know a man has all these grand ideas? I grant it’s
enticing.’

‘Because _I’ve passed through it all myself_,’ said the henchman
grimly, yet with a half air of shame and regret. ‘I’ve been on the
burst, as we call it, more than once or twice either, worse luck.’

‘I hope you never will again, Jack.’

‘I _think_ not, sir, if I know it. But a man shouldn’t be too sure.
It’s an awful craving, by——. It drags you by your very heart-strings,
once you get it right.’

‘But you don’t mean to say there’s any fun in a week’s drink at a
wretched pot-house, even if the first hour is as good as you say. Then
the waking up!’

‘But there _is_ fun in it,’ persisted the poor relation, ‘else why do
hundreds and thousands do it? All these chaps are not fools, much less
lazy; it’s the hardest workers and best hands among us working chaps
that’s the worst drinkers, by odds. As to the waking up, as you say,
it’s bad enough, but a strong man gets over it in a day or two, and
tackles his bread and meat, and his work, pretty much as usual till the
time of the next spree comes round.’

‘But what a fool a man must think himself,’ said Ernest, ‘at the end
of a week, when he finds that he has spent all the fruit of a year’s
labour, and is obliged to begin another solitary weary year.’

‘It _is_ bad, as you say, sir. You’re quite right; but right’s one
thing and human nature’s another, in the bush, anyhow. I remember
coming to myself in the _dead-house_ of a bush inn once, and I felt
like a dead man too; the parson had been preaching at our woolshed the
week before, and that text came into my head, and kept ringing through
it like a hundred bullock bells.’

‘And what was it, Jack?’

‘“In hell he lifted up his eyes.” I ain’t very likely to forget. He
gave us a great dressin’ down for drink and swearing, and bad ways, and
so on. We deserved it right enough, and his words struck.’

‘What did you do then?’

‘I just crawled into the bar, sir, and when the landlord gave me a nip
I put it on the counter and bent down to it; blessed if my hand wasn’t
too shaky to hold it.’

‘“How much is left of my cheque?” says I. “Forty-three twelve six, it
was.”

‘“Not a blessed shilling,” says he; “you’ve been treating all round,
and having champagne like water; it ain’t likely a small cheque like
that would last long.”

‘“Give me a loaf,” says I, “and we’ll cry quits.” A bushman never
disputes his grog score. If he’s been a fool, he’s willing to uphold
it. So off I went and walked straight along the road, and slept under
a tree that night. Next day I was better; and the third day I got a
billet, and was as well as ever I was in my life. I had one or two
sprees after that, but never such an out-and-out desperate one again.’

Ernest Neuchamp looked at the clear eyes and healthy bronzed skin of
the man as he spoke, noble in all the marvellous grace and strength of
godlike youth, and thought how deep the pity that such a spirit, such a
frame, should sink into the drunkard’s nerveless, hopeless, shapeless
life in death.

He rode onward more than a mile in silence and deep thought, then he
spoke—

‘I cannot say with truth, Jack, that I feel inclined to abuse and
condemn wholesale everybody and everything connected with intemperance,
casual or habitual. I see in it a habit—say a vice—to which the most
energetic, intelligent, and industrious of our race have been prone
since the dawn of history. Where circumstance is invariable there must
be an underlying law. I forget, you don’t understand this sort of talk.
But, you will admit that it’s a bad thing—a thing that grows upon a
man till it eats out his will, like a grub in the root of a plant, and
then, man or plant withers and dies. Now you’re a practical man of wide
experience, you know that I mean what I say chiefly, and I want to see
my way to do good in this matter. What’s the likeliest cure, in your
opinion?’

‘As to that, sir,’ said Mr. Windsor, settling himself so suspiciously
in the saddle that Ben Bolt arched his back and made ready for hostile
action, ‘I should be cock-sure that having an empty cobbra, as the
blacks say, was on the main track that led to the grog-camp, only that
the best eddicated chaps are the worst lushingtons when they give way
at all. Perhaps they remember old times too well, if they’ve come down
in the world. But I’ve noticed that a working man as likes reading, and
is always looking out for a new book, or thinks he knows something as
will alter the pull of money over labour—he’s a very unlikely card to
drink much. If he gets a paper with a long letter in it, or a working
man’s yarn in a book, he goes home as happy as a king, and reads away
to his wife, or sits up half the night spelling it out. _He_ don’t
drink. Even if he spouts a bit at the public, he talks a deal more than
he swipes.’

‘I am quite of your opinion, Jack; the more a man knows, the more he
wants to know. Then he must read; if he reads steadily all his spare
time, he finds his drinking companions low and dull, and thinks it a
great waste of time to be shouting out foolish songs or idle talk for
four or five hours that would put him half way through a new book.
Besides, he has become good company for himself, which your drinking
man is not.’

‘That’s the best reason of all, sir,’ heartily assented his follower.
‘It is hard lines on those chaps that can only talk about horses or
cattle, or crops, or bullock driving. When they’re by themselves they
can only sulk. It’s natural that they should want other men to talk to,
and then it’s hard work to make any fun without the grog.’

‘And there’s another very powerful beverage,’ continued Ernest, ‘that
has been known to preserve men from the snare of strong drink, when
nothing else would.’

‘What’s that, sir?’

‘The influence of a good woman, John. The hope to win her some day by
prudence and self-denial; the endeavour to be worthy of her; or the
determination to give the best part of one’s life to the comfort and
happiness of her and her children, after she is a wife.’

‘By the holy poker, sir,’ shouted Mr. Windsor, roused out of his usual
cool demeanour, ‘you’ve just hit it there; there’s no man worth calling
a man as wouldn’t work himself to skin and bone, and suffer thirst till
his tongue hung out, if he could make himself of some account in the
eyes of some women I’ve seen. There’s a girl that we saw no later than
last night, sir—you know who I mean; by George, if she’d only hold up
her finger I’d live on rice and pickles like a Chinaman to the end of
my days, and sniff at a glass of grog like old Watch does.’

‘Very good resolution, Jack; and Carry Walton is as nice a girl, and
as good, I’m sure, as ever tempted a man to make good resolutions. I
quite approve of your taste. Indeed, she’s a great friend of mine, and
if you like to show what stuff you are really made of, I’ll see what I
can do to give you a helping hand.’

John Windsor did not speak for some time. He looked before him for
a few seconds as if watching the far sky-line on the great primeval
wastes where his youth had been passed. Then he turned with a grave
and sobered expression, very different from the one habitual to his
somewhat reckless demeanour. ‘I don’t like to say much, sir—talking
isn’t my line, when I mean anything—but if you’re good enough to be
bothered with me for a year or two, and if I get that girl for a wife,
and keep her as she ought to be kept by my own industry, you’ll have a
man as will work for you, ride for you, or fight for you, as long as
you want any one on this side.’

‘I know that, Jack,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, looking feelingly at the
heightened colour and speaking expression of his follower; ‘and if I
have any claim beyond gratitude, you cannot repay it more effectually,
and more agreeably to my mind, than by acting in such a way as to make
people talk of you by and by as an industrious, steady, and I am sure
they will add, clever and successful man.’

Jack’s manly face glowed, and his brown eyes glistened at this
encouraging statement; but he refrained from further speech until they
reached the broad arterial thoroughfare which, from all the great
western and southern provinces, leads into the most beautiful city in
Australia.

‘This looks something like a crowd, sir. What a mob of houses, people,
cabs, teams, men, women, and children! What in the name of fortune do
they all do, and where do they all go at night? Well, I never thought
the town was as big as this. Confound the horse’ (this to Ben Bolt, who
lashed out at a passing hansom), ‘he’ll kill some one yet before he’s
safe in the stable.’

Perhaps a city is never seen to such advantage as after a considerable
sojourn in the provinces, at sea, or in any such other distant or
isolated abode, where the dweller is necessarily debarred from the
required licenses of civilisation. At such a time the sensations,
keenly sharpened by abstinence, do more than justice to the real, even
to the apparent, advantages of that aggregation of human atoms known as
a city.

The returning or arriving traveller revels in the real and
supposititious treasures of this newly-discovered fairyland. The
predominance and accessibility of wonders; the daily presence of
friends, acquaintances, strangers, and notables, dazzle and deceive
the eye long accustomed to the rare presentment of such personages;
the public buildings, the parks, the intellectual and artistic
treasure-houses, the higher standard of appearance, dress—all combine
to excite and animate the mind.

Mr. Neuchamp had been familiar with divers capitals of considerably
greater pretensions, and of world-wide historic rank and reputation.
London had been his home, Paris his holiday retreat; Rome, Venice,
Vienna, his occasional residence. But he thought he had never before
felt so high and genuine a degree of exhilaration when returning to any
of those great cities after an absence, as he now acknowledged in every
vein and pulse, as he rode up the not particularly gorgeous avenue of
Brickfield Hill, and passing the railway station, decided to thread
George Street and, depositing the horses at a snug stable he knew of,
find his way once more to the office of Paul Frankston and Co.

It would be unjust to Mr. Neuchamp to say that this name and its
concomitant associations had not been many times unquestioned and
sole possessors of his thoughts. Many a time and oft had he wondered
whether the household remained exactly _in statu quo_. Did the old man
return nightly to his dinner, his cigar, his seat in the verandah, and
his unfailing request to Antonia to play and sing? He could fancy her
pleasant smile as she sat down to the instrument, and her cheerful
performance of the somewhat old-fashioned tunes and melodies that her
father loved.

And had she made any fresh acquaintances? Were any other newly-arrived
colonists kindly greeted and put upon terms of familiar hospitality
like himself? That sort of thing might be carried too far. Extremely
entertaining young fellows emigrated, and a few that he could name were
unmistakably ‘bad eggs.’

However, he would very soon see if anything of the kind, any shadow
of the falcon, was imminent. He had heard from time to time from old
Paul, who occasionally furnished a message from Antonia of a new book
she had been reading, a visit she had paid, a sailing excursion that
she and her father had enjoyed together; and lastly, something had
been said about an Austrian nobleman—Count or Baron, or of some such
objectionable rank—who was the acknowledged lion of Sydney just then,
and who had been several times at Morahmee.

This piece of information did not cause any of the pleasure almost
visible on the letter relating it to be conveyed to Ernest Neuchamp.
‘Count be hanged!’ he was English enough to say. ’I hate these
foreign fellows. Ten to one there’s something not quite correct about
a foreigner on his travels. Not that there’s any logical necessity for
it. I trust I am not sufficiently insular to deny a foreign nobility
all the graces and virtues that add lustre to our own. But we can
always find out and trace our “heavy gunners.” But in the countless (I
mean no harm) multitude of Counts and Barons, Grafs and Vons, who can
possibly tell whether the bowing, broken-Englished, insinuating beggar
that you introduce to your wife and daughters is Von Adelberg himself,
or his valet or courier levanted with the cash and purloining the title
as well as the clothes of his master?’

Osmund and Ben Bolt were safely bestowed in a snug but unpretending
stable not a hundred miles from Bent Street, and Mr. Windsor, as a man
who ’knew his way about,’ even in a strange city, was left temporarily
to his own guidance, merely being requested to report himself at
Morahmee.

Every Englishman knows what important step Ernest took next. His hair
reduced to the smallest visible quantity, and the luxuriance of his
beard, which he had lately permitted full liberty of growth, rationally
restricted, he betook himself to the well-known counting-house.

The grave head clerk, who had acquired such solemn doubts as to Mr.
Hartley Selmore’s final destination, smiled, under protest, when he
announced ‘a gentleman on business,’ by Ernest’s request. Old Paul
looked up with his usual good-natured expression, then stared in
unrecognising blankness at the bronzed and bearded figure before him,
finally to burst into a perfect tempest of laughter and chuckling,
shaking Ernest’s hands violently with both of his, and making as if he
could throw himself on the neck of his safe returning _protégé_.

‘Ha! ha! ha! so you’re back again, are you, Ernest, my boy? By Jove,
I’m glad to see you; burnt brown enough too—shows you’ve been working;
like to see it—none the worse looking for it, either, I know the girls
will say. But, I say—ha! ha! ha! known by the police, eh? Captain
Jinks, alias Gentleman Jack, and the _other prisoner_, eh, my boy? How
I roared at that till Antonia was quite savage—for _her_ you know.
Didn’t take your photo, did they? generally do, you know. Got an album,
for reference, at all the chief police stations. You’re coming out, of
course, to-night. Antonia will be awfully glad; don’t tell her I said
so.

‘Look here, my dear boy, I was just bothering this old head of mine
about some business matters—hang them. You run away out to Morahmee,
and tell Antonia to have dinner ready to the minute, or I’ll murder the
whole household. Now off with you!’

Ernest departed, nothing loath, and as he whirled out, hansom-borne,
along the well-remembered road, and gazed once more upon the blue
waters, the frowning headland, the green villa-dotted shores of
the unequalled harbour, he mentally contrasted these with the gray
monotonous plains of Garrandilla, or the equally monotonous waterless
woodlands.

‘By Jove!’ he said, ‘I feel like a schoolboy home for the holidays, or
a sailor back from a cruise; and all for the pleasure of returning to
Sydney, a place I had scarcely heard of a couple of years since. Am I
the same Ernest Neuchamp that knew Paris pretty well before he was of
age, and Vienna to boot?

‘However, all this sort of thing is like your club dinners. The menu
goes for little except you have the appetite; if you have _that_, you
can renovate soul and body upon bread and cheese.’ Here he deserted the
region of philosophic parallels, and began to picture the expression
of satisfaction, perhaps of unrestrained pleasure, that would illumine
Antonia Frankston’s countenance upon his arrival. ‘What a charming
thing a perfect friendship between two persons of different sexes might
be made!’ he thought, ‘if people would not insist upon complicating the
highest, noblest, and most exalted sentiment of which our nature is
capable with that ridiculous, half instinctive, undignified, inferior
passion which men call love. Of course inferior. Why, friendship must
necessarily be based upon an equality of culture, of social aims,
principles, and sympathies, while the other violent, unreasoning, and
unreasonable monopoly may exist between persons of the most widely
differing ages, positions, standards of refinement, and intellectual
rank; between the dotard and the maiden, the duke and the dairymaid,
the peeress and the parvenu, the rustic and the courtier, the
spotlessly pure and the incorrigibly base.’

From this it may be gathered that Mr. Neuchamp was not a man addicted
to falling violently and promiscuously in love. In point of fact, he
had a stupendously high ideal, which, not expecting to realise it in
everyday life, seemed to keep the subject a good deal out of his mind.
Then he thought a man should do some work under the sun first, and
set about a quest for the ‘sangreal’ afterwards. He regarded Antonia
Frankston with a deep feeling of interest, as a dear and highly
sympathetic friend. He had given her the advantage of many criticisms
with respect to the course of reading, very unusual for a girl of her
age, that she was pursuing when they first met, and since then had
advised and directed her intellectual progress.

Insensibly the natural sympathy between the master and a promising
pupil was quickened and intensified by the originality of mind which
Antonia evinced. When Ernest Neuchamp magnanimously departed for the
interior, he had commenced to notice the awakening of an unacknowledged
feeling that the hour’s talk and make-believe school at Morahmee was
the period of the day he was most eager to seize, most unwilling to
relinquish.

And now how altered and strengthened as to her intellectual grasp must
she be—this unsophisticated, unwon child of the fair south—with the
brooding fancies and absolute simplicity of a child, the instinctive
dignity, the curious aplomb, of a woman. As he reached this not
unpleasing stage of his reverie the wheels of the hansom ground
viciously the matchless gravel of the drive at Morahmee, and grazed
perilously close the snowy sandstone steps in front of the portico.

Ernest recalled the old delicious sense of stillness, the

          beautiful silence all around,
    Save wood-bird to wood-bird calling,

broken only by the calmly murmurous rhythmic plash of the wavelets on
the beach.

It was not a house where people were always coming and going, and he
did not remember often to have found Antonia otherwise than alone,
on the occasion of his former visits. What was she doing now? Should
he find her reading in the library, that pleasant room with the bay
window, in which slumberous calms the smiles and storms of ocean were
pictures set as in a frame? in the drawing-room? in the shrubbery? in
the rose garden? in the morning-room, which she usually affected, and
which, having a davenport, her favourite authors, and a cottage piano,
was able to supply, indifferently well, the distinguishing features of
three more pretentious apartments?

As he passed through the hall the notes of the piano, not of the
boudoir, but the grand Erard, with a bass of organ-like depth of
vibration, informed him that in the drawing-room he would probably find
the youthful _châtelaine_.

Almost simultaneously he heard the rich, deep notes of a strange male
voice accompanying the instrument, and recognised the concluding words
of a duet which he himself had sung with Miss Frankston full many a
time and oft.

As the second performer dwelt with perhaps unnecessarily tender
expression upon Heine’s thrilling ‘Bis in den tiefsten Traum,’ Mr.
Neuchamp became conscious of a distinct change of feeling—of a sudden
painful sense of disenchantment.

There was no tangible cause for uneasiness. A young lady was merely
singing one of Mendelssohn’s loveliest duets with an accredited musical
acquaintance. By the merest accident, no doubt. Still, let but a single
cloud darken the summer sky, the chill breeze once sigh, how faintly
soever, and the heart, that sensitive plant, shrinks instinctively at
nature’s warning. So smote the melody, albeit effectively rendered,
upon Ernest’s highly-wrought mind with a savour of bode and of dread.
And as he entered the open door of the apartment he knew himself to be
deeply changed from the eager visitor who had but a few moments since
so joyously alighted at the portals of Morahmee.



CHAPTER XIV


The attainment of pure and permanent happiness, by either of the
attached persons, has always been held to be a leading aim of true
friendship. Mild surprise at the nature of the implements chosen for
such attainment is, perhaps, admissible. But no selfish disapproval can
be justified for a moment, if only the appreciative partner elects to
adhere fixedly to the new plan or newer friend.

Still, human nature is ever more philosophical in theory than in
practice; and the wayfaring Damon, _de retour_, rarely reaches that
pinnacle of sublime abnegation which glories in being superseded, or
expresses gratitude that Pythias has provided himself with another
Damon, ‘whose Christian name was John.’ Some natural distrust must ever
be felt, must be exhibited, let the fresher friend be in the highest
degree justifiable, heroic, adorable.

All the essayists on friendship notwithstanding, Mr. Neuchamp felt
distinctly aggrieved. There was he, rushing back upon the wings
of—well—intelligent and sympathetic friendship, willing to resume
the delightful æsthetic intercourse which compulsory absence had
alone interrupted, and now, apparently, he needed not to have come at
all. Antonia was fully occupied, no doubt interested, by the first
frivolous foreigner that came in her way, and was singing duets and so
on, as if she had no higher aspiration than to listen for ever to a
German band.

Entering the drawing-room, Ernest presented himself just as the Count
(of course it was the Count, confound him!) was singing the _dich der
folgen_ portion of the melody with, as Ernest thought, ridiculously
exaggerated emphasis. He made the most of his eyes—which were really
fine—rolled them in an excess of admiration, and throwing the fullest
expressive force into the concluding stanza, sighed and bowed low
with admiring respect to the fair pianist. She smiled not wholly with
displeasure, and as she turned she met the somewhat grave and fixed
regard of Ernest Neuchamp.

‘Pray excuse me for disturbing your musical entertainment, Miss
Frankston,’ he said, with a coldness unlike anything she had ever
observed in his manner before.

Antonia’s colourless face, which had flushed slightly at the suddenness
of the _contretemps_, regained its habitual serene delicacy of hue, as
she calmly observed—

‘The Count von Schätterheims and I have been practising German duets
for a _matinée_ that Mrs. Folleton gives next week, and that all
Sydney is wild about. It is quite a treat to have the aid of one who
understands the genius of the poetry and music so thoroughly. Permit me
to introduce you to the Count, Mr. Neuchamp.’

The foreign nobleman, a tall, fair man, with a moustache like a
Pandour, bowed graciously, and resumed the musical subject.

‘Ah! I did know Mendelssohn so well as mine fader. He lif at our house
when he come to Munich. He always say I was born for a _maestro_.’

‘And why did you not fulfil his prediction, Count?’ asked Antonia, much
interested.

‘De sword,’ said Von Schätterheims with a grave, sad air. ‘You vill
comprehent, he vas too moosh for de lyre. I join de movement of
freedom. I haf commant, wit poor Körner. He die in dese arms.’

‘The lyre—ahem!’ said Ernest, smiling grimly at his utterly
unjustifiable _mot_, ‘has reasserted his right, I should say. Did not
Körner die in 18—?’ (Here he quoted the memorable ‘Sword Song’ in the
original.)

‘Ha!’ said the Count, a new expression, not only of satisfaction,
pervading his features, ‘thou hast seen the Faderland. No Englander
ever learned a so _heimlich_ acsend who drank not in youth the beer at
_Studenten-Kneipe_—we must have _Brüderschaft_. Is it not so?’

‘Do you think we can manage “Die Schwalben,” Count?‘ asked Antonia.

‘But I haf bromiss to be at the house of Madame Folleton, to hear
mademoiselle bractise dat leedle Folks-lied. Besites, we read Heine
togeder. She is aisthetig—yaas—to de tips of her finkers. Adieu!’

‘And now, Mr. Ernest Neuchamp, what have you to say for yourself?’ said
Antonia, in a tone between jest and earnest, ‘in that you have been in
my presence for half an hour and have only smiled twice, have called me
Miss Frankston, and have looked at that delightful creature, the Count,
with an air of stern disapproval? Where do you expect to go to?’

‘Really,’ said Ernest, ‘I am unconscious of having done or looked
anything peculiarly unsatisfactory. But I thought you were so
exceedingly well contented with the Count’s society that I doubted
whether I was not making an undesirable third. And who is this Count?’

‘Well, he had letters to papa and old Captain Blockstrop; and all
Sydney is wild about him. No party is worth going to where he does not
come. He is the most accomplished and charming person—plays, sings,
paints, has been a soldier and desperately wounded. All the young
ladies of Sydney are wild about him. He is enormously rich, and gives
such parties on board his yacht!’

‘And is Miss Frankston one of the young ladies whom this
broken-Englished invincible has conquered?’ asked Ernest. ‘May I be
permitted to congratulate her?’

‘You must judge for yourself,’ said the girl, with so merry a look
and such a genuinely amused expression that Mr. Neuchamp’s slight
experience of the ways of womankind assured him that no great damage
to his pupil’s heart had as yet taken place. ‘But there is just time
for a stroll on the beach before dinner, and a slight sketch of your
adventures since you left us. You look quite a bushman now. How
sunburned you have managed to get!’

Mr. Neuchamp was but mortal. The best of us, under certain conditions,
are weak. As Antonia shut down the piano and ran to get her straw
hat with girlish freedom of manner, he felt his justifiable wrath
evaporating. Long before they had finished that pleasant ramble in
the cool twilight, with the stars one by one appearing, the surge
voices whispering low and solemnly kind, the cool briny savour of the
ocean—a sea of enchantment to Ernest, but of yesterday from the inner
deserts—long before the somewhat emphasised dinner-bell rang, Ernest
repented of his pettishness. He knew that his friendship had suffered
neither wrong nor change. He felt that there were still feelings and
aspirations in that fresh, unspoiled, girlish heart to which he alone
had the password. He answered Mr. Frankston’s boisterous hail from the
verandah in a surprisingly nautical and cheery manner, and passed into
the enjoyment of dinner, and dinner talk, much relieved in mind.

‘What’s become of the Count, Antonia?’ said the old gentleman. ‘Try
that Chablis, Ernest, my boy; imported it since you were down. Old
Jedwood didn’t give you anything like that; thundering old screw, isn’t
he? good man for all that; trust him with your life. I thought you were
going to make the Count stay to dinner, Antonia.’

‘Well, it would have been pleasanter for Mr. Neuchamp, perhaps,’ said
the young lady demurely. ‘But he said he had to go to Mrs. Folleton’s.’

‘Oh! that was the attraction then,’ said Mr. Frankston. ‘They say he
admires Harriet Folleton tremendously. She will have twenty thousand
down; but as he is so wealthy himself, of course the cash can’t matter.’

‘You all seem to take it for granted that he is so very rich, and a
wonderful fellow in all respects,’ said Ernest. ‘He’s good-looking
enough, I admit; but who is to know whether he is really the man he
represents himself to be?’

‘Why should he not be himself,’ said Antonia, ‘more than any one else?’

‘For this reason,’ replied Ernest, ‘that it is much more easy for a
foreigner to impose upon English people, in a community like this, than
for an Englishman to practise a similar deceit. He has but to bring
manufactured introductions, and the whole difficulty is over to a man
of ordinary address and qualifications for sustaining such a part.’

‘Well, I must say,’ said Mr. Frankston, ‘that the letters I received
might have been written by any corresponding clerk in a German
counting-house. I took him and his letters for granted, and so did old
Blockstrop, just as we should have taken his bills properly endorsed.
But let me ask you, Ernest, my boy, doesn’t he look and speak like the
real thing?’

‘You must not be offended with me,’ said Ernest, conscious of a certain
flash in Antonia’s eyes, ‘or think me ungenerous, if I say that I
should like to take a little more time and have some opportunities of
intercourse before giving my opinion. You must remember that habitudes
of ceremonious behaviour pervade _all classes_ in continental countries
to an extent unknown in British communities. By superficial observers
a count and a courier, for instance, will not be perceived to differ
in manner or language; and the courier is often the more picturesque
personage of the two.’

‘And why not?’ inquired Antonia; ‘is there no difference between the
manners and the conversation of people of upper and lower rank, except
in England and English places?’

‘I do not say that; the contrary is the case, but the discrepancies are
sufficiently minute to escape British people not thoroughly acquainted
with the language. For the same reason no foreigner would discover the
difference between a good-looking, decently-educated Britisher who
dropped his aitches, and the real article. Thackeray somewhere gives a
case in point.’

‘Well, I suppose we shall be all at the great ball next week,’ said
Antonia, ‘and you will then be able to analyse Count von Schätterheims
to your heart’s content. They say he admires Harriet Folleton
extremely.’

‘It’s nothing to me whom he admires,’ said Ernest, ‘as long as he
leaves a certain independent-minded young lady friend of mine alone. I
should not like to see her carried off by any privateer hoisting false
colours.’

‘You are all jealous; that’s the truth, if you would but own it,’
laughed Antonia; ‘and indeed, if one thinks of the commotion the Count
has created among the Sydney young ladies, it seems reasonable enough.
If he had been a whole man-of-war compressed, he could not have been
more flattered and run after. And that is saying a great deal _here_,
you know.’

‘I am aware of that,’ said Ernest, with a slight bow; ‘short as has
been my experience, I have noticed so much.’

‘Well, I agree with Ernest to a certain extent,’ said old Paul
reflectively. ‘It’s as well to be cautious with these wonderful
strangers, especially foreigners. We haven’t quite forgotten Senor
Miranda yet, eh, Antonia?’

‘Yes, I did see him once, if that’s what you mean,’ said the girl,
looking at Ernest; ‘and I have always been very sorry that he should
have come to shame. He was a bad man, of course; but he was really so
very grand-looking, and when he spoke he had such a sweet, grave, deep
voice that you would have done whatever he asked you at once.’

‘What did he do, then?’ inquired Ernest.

‘Do?’ said Mr. Frankston. ‘Why, with forged letters of introduction he
commenced a business transaction with one of the banks; he placed to
his credit a large balance, which he took care to draw out; and the end
of it was that he walked off with five-and-twenty thousand pounds in
exchange for bills not worth _that_, and has never been seen or heard
of since.’

‘How many Germans are there?’ asked Antonia innocently.

‘Forty odd millions,’ answered Ernest.

‘And there are twenty-two millions of Spaniards,’ continued she, ‘for
I saw it to-day. Well, that makes so many—sixty millions, or more,
altogether. And we are to suspect and distrust all these people just
because Senor Miranda was a swindler. I wonder if foreign nations are
equally just to Englishmen on their travels.’

‘Come along and let us have our cigars,’ said the old gentleman.
‘Antonia, we must get you made Austrian consul. What—you haven’t
learned to smoke in the bush, Ernest? Never mind; come along all the
same. Cigars have more flavour in company, and the music will sound
better too.’

It was a superb night—one of the units of that wondrous wealth and
prodigality of perfect weather by which we should set greater store
were we compelled to undergo a quarter of the austerity of northern
Europe. Not a cloud was visible. The large and lustrous stars glowed
all unheeded by an accustomed world. All the intricacies of the harbour
seemed stretched and illumined by the glowing lights from the various
vessels outward, homeward bound, or at anchor. And yet all invisible
as was the sea, the presence of the majesty of the deep was manifest
in the salt savour of the air, in the half-heard murmur of the tide
ripples, in the far indistinctly wondrous tones of the surge upon the
distant beach.

As the old man lit his cigar and looked seaward, mechanically, the
first notes of a brilliant aria floated out upon the air from the
piano, and Ernest musingly realised the unostentatious luxury of the
household, the exquisite beauty of the scene and surroundings, and
contrasted them with the rude adjuncts of Garrandilla and its environs.

Next morning Mr. Windsor made his appearance immediately after
breakfast at Morahmee, and awaited commands.

‘What a pretty horse!’ said Antonia; ‘is that yours?’

‘That is Osmund, my first Australian hackney, and a great favourite,’
said Mr. Neuchamp, with a certain pride.

‘Well, you’ve done credit to your knowledge of horseflesh,’ said the
old gentleman; ‘he would fetch fifty pounds now in Sydney. And what
about my countryman who is on his back? I can tell his parish without
twice looking. He’s like the horse, a good-looking, upstanding young
one; but we can’t be so sure about _his_ value from appearance only.’

‘Jack Windsor is mine, too,’ said Ernest, ‘a good, clever fellow, I
think. It’s rather a long story how we first became acquainted. I’ll
tell it you some day. When I buy a run he will go with me as stockman
and right-hand man generally.’

‘So that’s the arrangement. I hope he will turn out a credit to you,
like the horse. He’s the cut of a good man, and I should have been very
glad to have shipped him in old days for a whaling cruise. You will
have to exercise your horse, now you have him stabled. Antonia would
like a canter, I daresay.’

‘I should, of all things,’ said that young lady. ‘My poor Waratah has
not been out for a week; she looks ready to fly over the moon with
nervousness. We might go this afternoon, if Mr. Neuchamp can spare the
time.’

Mr. Neuchamp declared that all his time was spare time now, and that
he should be charmed to be at Antonia’s disposal for any and every
afternoon as long as he remained in town.

So Jack and the gray horse were sent back to their stable, with orders
to return at three o’clock punctually.

‘And after the ball,’ said Mr. Frankston, ‘I shall take a holiday, so I
think we’ll have a sail and do a little fishing. At any rate we shall
see the harbour, and I can show you something choice in the way of
bays. How do you like the idea?’

Both of the young people protested that it was the exact thing they had
been longing for for months. And so, that arrangement being settled,
the old gentleman departed for town in his dogcart, and Ernest, having
a few things to do bordering upon business, accompanied him.

One of the minor perplexities which assail the student of human nature
arises from the fact that all, or nearly all, of the persons who arrive
in a colony conduct themselves after the same fashion. For a season,
which includes the first few months, they are wildly capricious, and
even reckless, in the matter of raiment. The idea is always uppermost
that, in a new country, it is not of the slightest consequence how
anybody dresses. That to no one, the newly-landed in particular, can
it possibly matter whether his fellow-mortals array themselves in
broadcloth or sackcloth, tweed or canvas, spotless linen or red shirt.

Another strongly implanted idea is, that the subdivisions of society,
set up by colonists among themselves, are vain, weak, and unnecessary.
These severely linear distinctions are adhered to in the old country,
and are _there_, doubtless, right and expedient. But, ye gods! in
this land, inhabited by the wandering savage but of yesterday, by
the confused crowd of hard and anxious colonists (all colonists
are necessarily rough and unceremonious), why revive these absurd,
exaggerated, old-world ceremonies?

Thus, during his little day of nonage, the emigrant Briton
disports himself, rejoicing in his newly-found emancipation from
conventionalities. He goes to a dinner party in a morning suit, and
finds himself the sole person not in evening dress. He pays visits in a
pilot’s jacket, and feels a thrill of pride and defiance as he observes
the young ladies of the house look wonderingly at him. He bears himself
as he would not dream of doing in his own country town, perhaps a more
primitive and deplorably dull neighbourhood than he could easily find
in the older districts of Australia. And for all this refusal to pay
the simple compliment of conformity to the kindly people among whom
he is entertained and made welcome, he has no better reason to give
himself or others than that it is a colony, and that it would be absurd
to expect the same social observances as in an old country.

Nothing could be more amiable than the general toleration which obtains
of this youthful eccentricity, were it not so thoroughly understood
that it is the ordinary early phase of griffinhood, and that it is
certain to wear out in time. It would be mortifying to the pride of the
contemner of social customs, could he but fully understand how every
one, from the mild uncritical senior to little miss in her teens, holds
these clothes-philosophical eccentricities in good-humoured contempt,
and relies upon the wearer becoming like everybody else, in a year or
two at farthest.

We know that much of this spirit possessed the aspiring soul of Ernest
Neuchamp when first he stood upon the balcony of the Royal Hotel and
gazed upon the crowd that passed below. But though he had abated not
a jot of some points of his original charter, he yet could not but
acknowledge that he was a very different individual, in opinion and in
feeling, from the ardent emigrant of only a year ago.

As one consequence of this altered tone of mind, he cheerfully accepted
Mr. Frankston’s offer of arranging his admission as honorary member
of one of the clubs. He began to feel a longing for the society of
his equals; and, as he could not be always lounging away the day at
Morahmee, and did not contemplate an immediate return to Garrandilla,
he saw the necessity of having some recognised place of temporary abode
wherein he might take his ease, in the society of gentlemen, and keep
himself _au courant_ with the progress of the world.

This transaction having been formally carried out by the ever-zealous
and kindly Paul, he was placed in receipt of a missive, signed by the
secretary, and announcing that he had been elected to be an honorary
member of the New Holland Club.

He was introduced next day by Mr. Frankston himself, and discovered
that he had the _entrée_ to a handsome commodious building, with a
larger extent of lawn and shrubbery than he had ever seen attached to
an institution of the nature before. The internal arrangements were
familiar, being precisely the same as those of the London Club, to
which he had been elected about five years after nomination.

There were the same grave, decorous servants, the same silent
appreciation of the same style of highly respectable cookery, the
same comfortable sitting-room, with—oh, pleasant sight!—good store of
magazines, _Punches_, _Saturdays_, _Pall Malls_, and all the priceless
luxuries of refined, if ephemeral, journalism. There was the same
deserted library, the same populous smoking-room, with billiard-room
ditto. To a few members old Paul had introduced him, and for the rest
he was aware that he must take his chance.

He found, after a day or two, that he had small reason to fear of
isolation. A gentlemanlike stranger needs but the evidence of this
quality to procure friendly acquaintances, if not intimates, at any
club.

He was soon known as ‘a young fellow who had been sent out to old
Frankston, and was going to buy a station. A decent sort of fellow
belonging to swell people, and so on. Going to do wonders, and make
important changes. That will wear off—we’ve all passed through that
mill. He’ll settle down and take to wool and tallow kindly, like all
the rest of us, in good time.’

Mr. Neuchamp made the discovery that, if he had been less obstinately
bent upon separating himself from the presumably prejudiced society of
the new land, in the fervour of his philanthropy, he might possibly
have met with other colonists, who, like Paul Frankston, would have
shielded him from harm, and proffered him good and true advice. In
his new home he made the acquaintance of more than one silver-haired
pioneer, who, while gently parrying the thrusts of his eager and
somewhat communistic theories, quietly put forward the dictates of
long experience and successful practice. Every one was disposed to be
tolerant, agreeable, even friendly, to the frank youngster, who was,
in spite of his crotchets, evidently ‘good form.’ And Ernest realised
fully, and rather unexpectedly, that even in a colony it is possible
for a stranger to fall among friends, and that colonists are not
invariably all stamped out of one pattern, whatever anticipations may
be compounded in the fancy of the emigrating critic.

In another respect Ernest found that his club privileges were valuable
as well as luxurious. Among the squatters, who composed the larger
proportion of the members, he had the advantage of hearing the question
of pastoral property discussed with fullest clearness and explanation,
in all its bearings. No one evaded giving a decided opinion upon the
chances of investment, though, according to temperament, and other
causes, the answers were various. All agreed, however, in one respect,
namely, that stock had touched a point of depression, below which it
seemed wellnigh impossible to fall. The great question, of course, was
whether such properties would ever rise, or whether such profits or
losses, as the case might be, must be accepted as permanently fixed.

‘I believe that cattle and sheep never _will_ rise a penny higher
during our lifetime, particularly cattle,’ said a slight, elegant,
cynical squatter, with whom Ernest had made acquaintance. ‘It’s of
course nothing but what any one ought to have expected in this infernal
country. What is there to keep stock up, I ask? As for wool, South
America will grow three bales to our one directly; and cattle and
horses will be slaughtered for their hides, as they are there.’

‘What a grumbler you are, Croker!’ said a stout cheery-looking
youngster, with a long fair moustache and a smooth face; ‘you run down
the country like a rival agent-general. Why do you stay in it, if it’s
so bad?’

‘I’d leave to-morrow if I could get any one fool enough to buy my
runs; take my passage by the mail and never be heard of here again.’

‘Well, you wouldn’t make a bad immigration agent, if the Government
wanted to appoint a prepossessing advertiser for Europe.’

‘Agent! why, what do you see in me to make you think I should accept
any such office?’

‘Only, this strikes me, that if you went on talking there in your
dissatisfied strain, the acute common people would be certain that you
had some reason of your own for dissuading them from embarking, and, so
thinking, would pour in by crowds.’

‘Likely enough,’ sneered the _avocat pour le diable_. ‘There are only
two sets of people in this rascally country—rogues and fools.’

‘And to which division of society do I belong, may I ask?’ inquired
Ernest, rather amused at the uncompromising nature of the denunciation.

‘Well, perhaps it’s not very polite, but, as you wish for the
information, I look upon you as a fool, for wishing to invest and waste
your life here; upon Compton as another, because he thinks well of the
place and people; and upon myself as the biggest one of the lot for
staying here, when I know so well what lies before the whole rotten
sham which calls itself a prosperous colony.’

‘Are matters then so bad?’ inquired Ernest, with some solicitude. ‘I
thought that the country was sound generally.’

Mr. Croker bestowed upon him a look of pity, mingled with contempt, and
in his most acid tones replied—

‘If you knew half as much as I do about the banks and mercantile
transactions, if you were a little behind the scenes as I have,
perhaps unluckily, been, you would know that a crash must come—_must_
come—within the next two or three years. I expect to see all the banks
in the hands of official assignees—they’ll be the only solvent people.
As for the merchants——’

‘Well, Mr. Jermyn Croker, “as for the merchants”?‘ said a jolly voice,
and Paul Frankston’s rubicund and reassuring countenance appeared in
the little group which had gathered to listen to the lamentations of
this latter-day seer—‘how about the merchants?’

‘Why,’ returned Mr. Croker, totally unabashed, ‘I expect to see you,
and Holder Brothers, and Deloraine and Company, and the rest, begging
in the streets.’

‘Ha! ha! ha! capital. Well done, Jermyn; put a half-crown or two in
your pocket against that day; I know you’d like to relieve honest
poverty. In the meantime come and dine with me on Thursday, will you,
and Compton, and Neuchamp? Better come soon, you know, while that
Roederer holds out. “Let us eat and drink,” you know, etc. I say, what
will you take for that cattle station of yours at Lake Wondah? No use
holding, you know, eh?’

‘Two pounds a head, for three thousand—calves given in.’

‘What dates?’

‘Cash down! Do you think I’d take any man’s bills now? No, not if
Levison himself were to endorse.’

‘Hem—ha—I learn the cattle are baddish, but the run is understocked.
How long will you leave it open?’

‘Oh! a month; three months if you like. Send me a cheque at any time
for six thousand and I will send you an order to take possession; that
is, as soon as I find the cheque all right.’

‘Ha! ha! not bad, Croker. It would be the first cheque of Paul
Frankston’s that ever was unpaid, so far. But you’ll not forget
Thursday, all of you, boys. We must try and shake Croker out of the
blues, or he’ll ruin the prospects of every squatter in New South
Wales.’

Mr. Neuchamp’s spirits were not so permanently affected by the
alarming vaticinations of Mr. Jermyn Croker as that he was prevented
from exhibiting Osmund’s figure and paces past the club verandah that
afternoon, followed by Mr. Windsor on Ben Bolt, on his way to keep
tryst with Antonia.

There may be a pleasanter species of locomotion, on a fine day, than
that afforded by a good horse in top condition over a smooth road,
in the immediate vicinity of a valued lady friend; let us say there
may be, but we have yet to discover it. The yacht, sweeping like a
seamew over the rippling, gaily-breaking billow, with courses free
and a merry company aboard, holds high excitement and joyous freedom
from the world’s cankering cares; the mail-phaeton with a pair of
well-bred steppers, or, better still, a high drag behind a fresh team,
well matched and better-mouthed, has its own peculiar fascination as
one is whirled through the summer air, or borne fast and free through
the gathering twilight homewards and dinnerwards; even the smooth,
irresponsible rush of the express train yields not wholly disagreeable
sensation of a victory over time and space, as we whirl down the flying
grades and round the somewhat _risque_ curves. But the personal element
which the rider shares with the bonny brown, or gallant grey, that
strides with joyous elasticity beneath him, had a thrill, in the ‘brave
old days of pleasure and pain,’ that dwarfed all other recreation. If
anything can intensify the feeling of joyance, it is the presence,
similarly equipped, of the possible princess. Then the fairy glamour
is complete—in the forest glades are the leaflets hung with diamonds,
the half-heard music is full of unearthly cadences—and as the graceful
form sways with movement of her eager palfrey, the good knight’s head
must be harder than his casque if heart and sword and fame, past,
present, and to come, be not laid, then and there, at the feet of that
ladye-fayre.

Miss Frankston rode, like most Australian girls, extremely well, and
with an unconscious grace and security of seat only to be attained by
those who, like her, had enjoyed the fullest opportunities of practice
from earliest childhood. Her dark bay mare was thoroughbred, having
been carried off by Mr. Frankston five minutes after she lost her first
race at Randwick. She had been indifferently brought out, and, as a
sporting friend said, was not fit to run for a saddle in a shearers’
sweepstakes.

Antonia had taken a strong fancy to her personal appearance, and Paul,
as usual, had then and there gratified his pet. Waratah, which was the
filly’s name, proving after trial high-couraged and temperate, had been
installed at Morahmee as the description of dumb favourite for which,
in the springtime of life, the heart of a woman is prone to crave.

On this particular afternoon it was proposed by Antonia that they
should ride to Bondi. ‘One of our show places, you must know,’ she
said; ‘and as the wind is coming in strong from the south, we shall
have the surf-thunder in perfection.’

‘Don’t ride _into_ the breakers, that’s all, as you tried to do last
time we were there; if you and Waratah were carried off your feet, your
poor old father would never see his pet again.’

‘How do you know? You silly old papa. Can’t we both swim?’ said the
girl, laying her hand tenderly on his weather-beaten cheek; ‘you will
make Mr. Neuchamp think that I’m as wild as a hawk, instead of being
the sober-minded damsel that I really am. However, you need not be
afraid of my running any foolish risks to-day.’

The morning had been clear, with that suspicion of chill which told
that at no great distance from the coast there had been a strong change
of temperature. In and around Sydney the atmospheric tendency had been
softened into a composite of warmth, tempered with freshness wonderful
to experience and exhilarating past all description.

The girl slacked the rein of her eager mare, and the excited horses
swept along the smooth, winding, dark-red road. Before them lay the
dark blue plain of ocean, fading into a misty, troubled haze which
met the far horizon. Gradually they increased their distance from the
gay gardens and villas of the more populous suburbs, the spires and
terraces of the city.

‘This has always been a favourite excursion of mine,’ said Antonia.
‘From the moment we pass Waverley and front the ocean in all his
wondrous strength and beauty, I feel as if I could shout for joy.
Morahmee is very pretty, but the harbour has always a kind of lakelike
prettiness to me; like the beds in a flower garden, while here——’

‘And here?’ said Ernest, smiling, as the southern maiden fixed her
earnest gaze upon the wide glory of the unbounded sea, with a passion
and tenderness of regard which he had never observed before.

‘Here,’ said she, ‘I feel lifted from my daily small pleasures and
_very_ minute cares into a world of thought and vision, exalted,
infinite in grandeur and richness of colouring. My mind travels
across that region of mystery and wonder which the sea has ever been
to adventurous and practical minds, and all my heroes stand visibly
presented before me.’

‘Please to introduce me,’ said Ernest.

‘I see Walter Raleigh, courtier, poet, warrior, sailor, statesman, and
can mourn over him, as though I had seen that noblest of heads upon the
cruel block but yesterday. I see Francis Drake with his crisp curls
and dauntless spirit; I see Columbus ever calm, watchful, indomitable;
Ponce de Leon, pacing up and down his lonely beach at Hispaniola, and
can fancy him setting forth upon his half-melancholy, half-ludicrous
expedition to _la fontain de jouvences_; even Bimini—oh! the many, many
friends and companions that have ever been associated with the sea in
my mind since my earliest childhood.’

‘I am afraid,’ said Ernest, translating an unacknowledged thought,
‘that you must be something like a cocoa-palm, or your own Norfolk
Island pine, unable to exist out of hearing of the sound of the sea.’

‘I never thought about that,’ answered the girl with a half-curious
look, as if back from the unreal world. ‘I have always fancied that
I would do whatever other people would do. But we all have our pet
fancies, which we spoil like children, or which spoil us, and the
prosaic part of our life has to go on notwithstanding.’

‘Have you ever seen anything of the bush?’ inquired Ernest.

‘Nothing more than a very hasty visit to one or two of the inland
towns. I have always wished to go to a real station and see something
of bush life, but papa never could spare me sufficiently long. What is
it like? All riding about, from morning to night, and being very sleepy
in the evening?’

‘There is a good deal of that,’ said he, ‘but not quite so much as
might be thought. There is a great want of books, and of the habit
of reading, in many places, though I know of course that it is not
universal. But I think when I have a place of my own that I can manage
to unite work and play, real exertion with an intellectual alternation,
and this should be the perfection of existence.’

‘I don’t see why it could not be managed,’ said Antonia. ‘Many of the
young squatters have told me that they could not get books, and that
they were becoming frightfully ignorant; but I always said it must be
their own fault. Any one who _must_ read will read, no matter what
their circumstances are.’

‘So I believe,’ answered Ernest, with most appreciative accents. ‘When
young people, or people of any age, say they have not time to read,
it sounds in my ears as if they said that they had not time to eat
their dinners, or to bathe, or say their prayers, or to talk to their
friends. For these duties and other distractions they generally find
leisure, and if the time be really fully occupied, a quarter of an hour
almost in converse with some authors would provide the mind with new
and instructive thoughts for the whole livelong day.’

‘Well, we must see how Mr. Neuchamp carries out his ideas when he has a
station of his own,’ said Antonia archly. ‘He must have everything very
nice, very superior to the ordinary ways of colonists, and must make
money also; _that_ is indispensable.’

‘I will answer for his trying to have things pleasantly and perhaps
artistically arranged,’ said Ernest, following out the sketch; ‘but
as for the making money, I have so little interest in it as one of the
fine arts, that I may fail in that.’

‘But that is the foundation of all the good deeds that you may do, so
at least papa says. If a man doesn’t make money, I heard him say once,
he shows all the world that there is some quality lacking in him, and
any little that he can say or do will not have its just weight; he is
regarded only as an unpractical, unsuccessful enthusiast.’

‘I hate the word enthusiast,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, ‘or rather the sense
of disparagement in which it is generally used. It has come to mean,
a man who is obstinately bent on a course of conduct which is wrong,
or who exaggerates the degree or importance of his practice in what is
right.’

‘I cannot say that I am particularly fond of the word or of the idea
myself, woman as I am; and you know that we are supposed to be full of
enthusiasm on every conceivable subject from parasols to politics.’

‘And why does Miss Frankston add her powerful influence to the world’s
Philistinism, already sufficient for its needs?’ asked Ernest, with a
slight tinge of satire.

‘I don’t say that I deny or distrust enthusiasm in men; and I can
imagine a sincere respect and liking for the individual to go with a
distrust of the quality, and for this reason. We may have the greatest
admiration for this lofty feeling and generous self-denial which go
to compose the character of the enthusiast; but we may smile at the
likelihood of any of his great schemes issuing in glory and success.’

‘But, surely,’ pleaded Ernest, ‘many of the great deeds which
embellish history and which have ennobled our common natures have been
nurtured in the brains, wrought out by the hands of men whom the world
call enthusiasts.’

‘Of that fact I am not so sure,’ answered Antonia. ‘I should rather
say that the successful heroes were men of steadfast nature, not
particularly acted upon by joy or despondency, whom success did not
exhilarate, nor adversity bow down; through good and evil report,
failure, or the harder trial of success, they bore themselves calmly
and strongly.’

‘But how about the sea—and the mysterious intoxication communicated
by its very appearance?’ asked Ernest mischievously. ‘Is there no
enthusiasm about such a feeling?’

‘All those sensations,’ laughed the girl, ‘belong to the ideal Antonia
Frankston, of which only a glimpse is permitted to any one from time to
time. The real Miss Frankston——’

‘What does she do?’

‘Makes puddings, keeps the household accounts, orders dinner, and has
distinct ideas on the subject of the main chance; _very_ prosaic this
last. Is not that a lovely nook, and _such_ a pretty house?’

At this turn of the subject, and the turn of the road, they had
unexpectedly come upon a villa embosomed in an almost Alpine fir grove;
the trim lawns and delicately-coloured parterres, amid which it was
placed, giving the whole place the appearance of a Watteau, framed in
sombre green.

‘It is a living picture,’ said Ernest; ‘how that wonderful
Bougainvillea has draped the whole height of the north wing of the
house; it is in full and splendid bloom, and mingled with it are
the snowy flowers of the delicate myosotis. How charmingly secluded
it is; they can look straight from their parlours across those
dwarf-walls—across the Pacific Ocean. But where is the shepherdess?’

‘There she is; do you not see that young girl sitting reading by
the fountain? Calm and untroubled she looks; she reclines upon the
low terrace facing the sea; by her side is a great vase filled with
flowers. A child with a wide sash runs out from the house towards her.
Can anything more closely realise a deep dream of peace?’

‘Nothing, indeed,’ assented Ernest admiringly. ‘I could live all
my days in such a nook, with one fair spirit to be my minister,
and perhaps defer finishing my own and other people’s education
indefinitely.’

‘Look!’ continued Antonia, ignoring the personal element, ‘with what
a bold, sweeping curve the coastline recedes; leaving the loveliest
little landlocked bay, with silver sands and a grand sandstone bluff
guarding and walling-in the farther point like a grim jealous giant.
But now we have such a piece of road, before we reach Bondi—smooth,
soft, and slightly ascending. We _must_ have a gentle breather.’

She took Waratah by the head, and slightly bending forward on her
saddle, the eager thoroughbred went away at once, causing the heart
of Mr. Neuchamp to palpitate with a nervous dread of accident. Of
course Osmund followed suit, though it gave him quite enough to do to
keep pace with the bounding, elastic stride of the well-bred flyer.
In a three-mile race he could have run Waratah hard. However, for
the half-mile spin it took a little hustling to prevent his being
distanced. At the steep ascent of the hill above the far-famed beach,
Antonia reined in her steed, which possessed the rare compromise, good
temper with high courage.

‘I suppose that our stupid scientific men will never find out any
way for us to fly,’ said she, ‘but a good gallop must be as near the
sensation as we can hope for. What a glorious feeling it is! I envy men
their hunting, perhaps more than any of their exclusive pastimes.’

‘But ladies hunt, at any rate in England,’ said Ernest, ‘and very
straight they go too.’

‘So they do, I have been told; but in Australia there are hardly enough
of us to keep one another countenance; and besides, papa does not like
it; the fences are so very dangerous.’

‘All things considered, I agree with Mr. Frankston.’

‘But what a view of views!’

They had now reached the crest of the hill, the deep-toned ceaseless
roll of the surf-billows had long been in their ears.

‘That is Bondi,’ said Antonia, pointing southward. ‘I have heard that
sound at intervals all my life. I used to dream of it when I was a
little child.’

Ernest looked southward over a rolling, rugged down, flecked with
patches of low underwood and heath, to where a broad, milk-white beach
received the vast rollers of a boundless ocean. No point or headland
broke the continuous distance of the immense dark blue plain which
stretched to the utmost boundary of vision.

It was no day of gale or tempest, but there had been sufficient wind
on this and the previous day to set in motion the unresting surges
which failed not the year through to moan and thunder upon this broad
clear shining beach. Great crags lay to the westward, shutting off
this bay from the other portions of the coast, while a projection to
the eastward tended to isolate the bay of surges. Far out, from time
to time a shining sail came from the under-world and swept placidly
towards the city, or a stately ocean steamer, with throbbing screw or
mighty paddle, left a long line of smoke trailing behind her as she
drove haughtily against wind or tide on her appointed course.

‘How one drinks in all this grandeur and loveliness of Dame Nature,’
said Ernest. ‘An instinctive constitutional craving seems satiated only
by gazing at a scene like this.’

‘I fully comprehend the condition of mind,’ said Antonia. ‘You have
been shut up at Garrandilla, where in time, except from information,
you would begin to doubt the existence of the sea altogether.’

‘It is an astonishing contrast,’ assented Mr. Neuchamp. ‘How awfully
hot it must be there now. I daresay old Doubletides is just coming in,
half melted after his day’s work, looking for lost sheep—counting one
flock, and ordering another to come in to-morrow.’

‘Surely it must be a terrible life,’ said Antonia apprehensively. ‘Is
that why people in the bush go mad sometimes?’

‘It’s hard to say. I really don’t think he or Jedwood are even dull
or distrait, or unduly impressed with the nothingness of existence. I
think very energetic people have certain advantages. Their tuglike,
unremitting habit of doing something keeps the machine going, until
some fine day a cogwheel catches, or a rivet breaks, and one more human
unit mingles its dust with the forgotten millions.’

‘Contemplation is very nice,’ said Antonia, ‘but I think it tends to
lower the spirits, whereas work of any kind, with or without a purpose,
tends to raise them; and now we must ride for it, or we shall be late
for dinner, which I know from experience does not tend to raise papa’s
spirits.’

The roads were perfect, and the kindly twilight as they swept past
the line plantations of Randwick, and adown the noble avenue which
in the future will be one of the glories of Sydney, through the wide
half-redeemed expanse of Moore Park, and so home by Woollahra, gave
them every opportunity of lengthening their _tête-à-tête_, and yet
arriving at Morahmee in time for dinner. It necessitated a hasty toilet
on both sides, but at the last notes of the bell Antonia appeared,
looking very fresh and animated after the expedition, and Ernest, whose
appetite had not yet relapsed into metropolitan apathy, looked forward
to dinner with feelings of almost youthful anticipation.

‘Well, what do you think of Bondi?’ asked the old gentleman. ‘I was
nearly drowned there when I was a youngster swimming in the surf. In
fact I _was_ drowned to all intents and purposes, except that I am here
now. I was sucked back by the undertow time after time, till I was
quite beaten. I had a few minutes’ awful struggle; then collapse and
half a minute’s choke; then lovely music in my ears; and I left the
world—as I thought—for good.’

‘You dear old naughty boy of a father,’ said Antonia, with tears half
gathering to her eye, ‘I am sure you were bathing unlawfully, like the
boys in the story-book. But what restored you to life?’

‘Well, a Maori, who happened to come up at the time in a fishing-boat.
He could _swim_.’

‘But I thought you said that you were swimming in the surf and did your
best to fight through it?’ inquired Ernest.

‘Maoris and Kanakas can _swim_’, repeated the old man sarcastically.
’White men like you and me can only paddle. Anyhow, he dived and
brought me up, and ten minutes after I was suffering the frightful
torture, “coming to.” So, as perhaps you may have guessed, I did not
die that time.’

    ‘Oft in danger, yet alive,
    We are come to, fifty-five,’

quoted Ernest. ‘I daresay you have had all sorts of hairbreadth
escapes, if you would only tell them to us.’

‘Escapes! well, I have had a few,’ chuckled the old man. ‘Some day I
must make Antonia write them out, and we’ll publish the _Surprising
Adventures of Paul Frankston_. I wonder if I could put in some of my
stories? Ha! ha! ha! How they would laugh.’

‘I think your life would make a capital book,’ said Antonia, ‘and you
could afford to leave the stories out.’

‘Ha! well, I don’t know; some people might object; but I have seen some
queer places and people, and had some very narrow squeaks. I was a ship
boy in the _Lloyd_ when the Maoris took her at the Bay of Islands.’

‘What did they do?’ asked Ernest.

‘Do? Only murdered every living soul except a little girl and myself!
Old Parson Ramsden came down months after and ransomed us. He could
go anywhere. That little girl is a grandmother now. I could show you
such a splendid bit of tattooing just—Antonia, my dear, you needn’t be
afraid.’

‘Don’t be foolish, papa,’ said Antonia, blushing. ‘Mr. Neuchamp, he is
only joking.’

‘Joking,’ said the old man; ‘if you’d only had those patterns printed
out slowly and indelibly, like me and Mrs. Lutton, poor thing, you’d
have known it was no joke.’

‘Well, they didn’t eat you that time, at any rate,’ said Ernest, coming
to the rescue; ‘a hero can’t be killed in the first volume; and what
was the next narrow escape?’

‘Years afterwards I was cast away in the south seas, and came ashore
on a spar at an island where they’d never heard of a white man. They
had sacrifices and prayers and made a kind of lottery about whether
they should eat me; when, as luck would have it, the chief had lost his
eldest son a year before, and the priests said I was him come back. So
I was turned into a Kanaka Prince of Wales.’

‘And was the rank properly kept up?’

‘Jolliest place I ever was in, before or since; I had been starved
and shipwrecked, and I tell you it was a pleasant change; I was the
second man in the island. I had a palace, partly leaves, but cool and
pleasant. I had thirty—well—hum—ha—more attendants than I knew what to
do with. I cried, I know, when a Yankee whaler took me off six months
after. But come, this won’t do, Master Ernest, you mustn’t keep me
spinning sea-yarns all night about myself. You haven’t half told us
about your doings. Was Captain Jinks really a pleasant sort of fellow?
And how about the lock-up?’

‘Come, papa,’ said Antonia, ‘it’s hardly fair to Mr. Neuchamp to
laugh at him about that little mistake—any one might be taken in by a
nice-looking, clever, plausible man.’

‘Well, I confess,’ said Ernest boldly, ‘I _was_ taken in, though I
ought to have known better. If I had seen a seedy aristocrat in my own
country, I should not have made a travelling companion of him. But
he was very clever and good-looking, and I thought there was nothing
wonderful in such a man being out of luck in a colony.’

‘Never mind; fault on the right side,’ said Mr. Frankston—‘anything’s
better than being suspicious; you’ll cut your wisdom teeth before
you’ve done with us.’


END OF VOL. I


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Other
variations in hyphenation, spelling and punctuation remain unchanged.





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