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Title: A Colonial Reformer, Vol. III (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: Colophon]


A COLONIAL REFORMER

by

ROLF BOLDREWOOD

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

In Three Volumes

VOL. III



London
Macmillan and Co.
and New York
1890

All rights reserved



CHAPTER XXIV


In the strange exceptional condition of nervous tension up to which
that marvellous instrument, the human ‘harp of a thousand strings,’ is
capable of being wound, under the pressure of dread and perplexity,
there is a type of visitor whose face is always hailed with pleasure.
This is a fact as unquestionable as the converse proposition. For
the _bien-venu_ under such delicate and peculiar circumstances,
helpfulness, sympathy, and decision are indispensable. Of no avail
are weakly condolences or mild assenting pity. The power to dispense
substantial aid may or may not be wanting. But the friend in need
must have the moral power and clearness of mental vision which render
decisiveness possible and just. His fiat, favourable or unfavourable,
lets in the light, separates real danger from undefined terror, offers
security for well-grounded hope, or persuades to the calmness of
resignation.

A man so endowed, in a very unusual degree, was Mr. Levison. Deriving
his leading characteristics from Nature’s gift—very scantily
supplemented by education—he yet possessed the rare qualities of
apprehensive acuteness, intrepidity, and discrimination in such measure
and proportion as a hundred prize-takers at competitive examinations
might have vainly hoped to emulate. Like that Australian judge, of
whom the American citizen, in an inland assize town, is reported to
have said, ‘Wal, Judge Shortcharge may be right, or he may be wrong,
but he _decides_. I go for the judge myself.’

Abstinens Levison much resembled that brief but weighty legal luminary,
in that, after due consideration of any case concerning which he was
minded to give judgment, his verdict was clear and irrevocable.

For this reason the soul of Ernest Neuchamp was glad within him at
the prospect of hearing from the lips of the grave, undemonstrative,
unwavering pastoralist words of comfort or of rebuke, which would be to
him as the Oracles of the Gods.

‘Jump off and come in,’ he said. ‘Delighted to see you—horse knocked
up as usual? We’ll take the saddle off here, and let him pick at those
reeds; they’re better than nothing. I was having a go-in at the garden
here, just to take it out of myself a little, and forget my annoyances.
But we must have some breakfast, though we are all going to be ruined,
as you say—and it looks very like it.’

As Mr. Neuchamp in his revulsion of feeling rattled off these
greetings, partly in welcome and partly in explanation, his guest
removed the saddle and several folds of blanket from the very prominent
vertebræ of his gaunt courser, watching him roll and then attack the
scantily furnished reed-bed, with much satisfaction.

‘Where did you come from this morning?’ inquired Ernest of his
guest, as, after a prolonged visit to the bathroom, they sat down to
breakfast; ‘you must have made a very early start if you came from
Mildool.’

‘I camped on the river,’ said Mr. Levison, attacking the corned beef
in a deliberate but determined manner; ‘in the bend, just below those
free-selecting friends of yours; you don’t seem to have been getting on
well with ’em lately, from what they say.’

‘We are not on good terms, I must admit,’ replied Mr. Neuchamp, with a
slight air of embarrassment, recollecting Levison’s prophecy of evil,
which had been verified to the letter; ‘but it is entirely their own
fault. I was much deceived in them.’

‘Very like,’ answered that gentleman, with as near an approach to a
smile as his grave features ever permitted. ‘It takes a smart man to be
up to chaps of their sort.’

‘Did you stay there?’ asked Ernest, anxious to lead the conversation
into a less unsatisfactory channel; ‘they have not made themselves a
very convenient dwelling.’

‘No!’ replied Mr. Levison, preferring a request for another instalment
of the cold round of beef. ‘I never stay at a place if I’m going to
make a deal. It makes a difference in the bargain, I always think; and
I wanted to make a little deal with those chaps, from what I heard as I
came up the river.’

‘A deal?’ said Ernest, with some surprise; ‘and how did you get on? I
shouldn’t have thought they had much to sell.’

‘Well, they’ve got a middling lot of quiet cattle for one thing;
they’re regular crawlers, but none the worse for that if grass
ever grows again. Then they’ve got, what with their selections and
pre-emptives, a tidy slice, and of not the worst part, of Rainbar run.
And as there was a friend of mine that a small place like that would
suit, and the cattle and the few sheep, at a price—at a price,’ he
continued, with slow earnestness—‘why—I’ll ask for another cup of
tea—I had an hour’s mighty hard dealing, and bought the whole jimbang
right out.’

‘Indeed!’ said Ernest, gratified in one sense, but slightly alarmed
at the idea of a second pastoral proprietor being introduced into the
sacred demesne of Rainbar; ‘but they have to fulfil their residence
condition, haven’t they, according to the Land Act?’

‘Of course I made _that_ all right,’ affirmed the senior colonist.
‘They’re bound down to reside till their time is up, and they don’t get
the balance of their money till they can convey, all square and legal.
They didn’t know me, as luck would have it, and I dropped to their
being very eager to sell out. These kind of chaps never look ahead
beyond their noses, whereby I had ’em pretty well at my own price, for
cash—cash, you know. A fine thing is cash, when you take care of it,
and bring it out like an ace. It takes all before it.’

‘What did you give for the cattle?’ asked Ernest, with melancholy
interest.

‘Well, these small holders always believe the end of the world’s come
when they find themselves landed in a real crusher of a dry season.
They think the weather is bound to keep set fair for a lifetime. I
showed ’em how their cattle was falling off, and at last they offered
the lot all round at eight and sixpence—no calves given in, except
regular staggering Bobs. And so my friend has the run, and the stock,
and the pre-empts all in his own hands. He’ll do well out of ’em, or
I’m much mistaken.’

‘And does your friend propose to come and live here?’

‘Well, he might, and he might not. I think I’ll take another egg—fine
things eggs in a dry season. I expect your fowls live on grasshoppers
pretty much. You see, if he could get two or three fellows as he could
depend on to take up some more of the best bits of the bends, leaving a
slice here and a slice there—so as it’s not worth any one else’s while
to come in, because they’d have no pre-emptive worth talking of—he’d be
able to keep all that angle pretty well to himself, and I believe it
will keep well on it a thousand head of cattle some day.’

‘I’m afraid it will spoil the sale of the run,’ said Ernest, with some
diffidence; ‘not that it will matter to me much, as I shall have to
sell out whether or no, and at present prices there will be little if
anything left. You will have to take your cattle back if they’re not
paid for.’

‘Well, I don’t say but what it _might_ spoil the sale of the run,
especially if my friend was to be wide awake and take up his fresh
selections with judgment. And don’t you think, now,’ Mr. Levison
interrogated, fixing his clear gray eyes full upon Ernest’s
countenance, ‘as it was a blind trick of yours to go and bring these
chaps here, like a lot of catarrhed sheep, all among your own stock,
just to make it hot for yourself and crab the sale of the run,
supposing you wanted to sell?’

Mr. Neuchamp had in his hours of remorse and repentance sufficiently
gone over the ground of his errors and miscalculations, so as to
be very fully convinced of the folly of this his most indefensible
proceeding. He had been thirsting for the words of the oracle. Now that
the hollow sounds came from Dodona’s oak, he liked not their purport.
The spirit of his ancestors, temporarily oppressed by misfortune,
awoke in his breast, and he thus made answer: ‘My dear sir, I am most
willing to own that I have in this matter acted unwisely. And the
more I see of this great but perplexing country, the more ready I am
to admit that extreme caution is necessary in many transactions where
such need does not appear on the surface. But I have acted in this,
and in all other stages of my Australian career, upon the principle
of attempting to do good to my fellow-creatures, and of raising the
standard of human happiness and culture. Such motives I hold to be the
true foundation of every instructed, christianised, and, therefore,
permanent community. Want of success may have attended my efforts to
carry out these ideas; but of such efforts and endeavours, whatever may
be the result, I trust I shall never feel ashamed!’

As Mr. Neuchamp uttered the concluding words of this vindication of his
faith with a kindling eye and slightly raised tone, he held his head
erect and looked with a fixed and rather stern regard at Mr. Levison,
as if defying all the Paynim hosts of selfishness and monopoly.

Mr. Levison met his gaze with a moment’s searching glance, and then,
with a relapse into his ordinary expression of judicial calculation,
thus answered—

‘I ain’t going to say that you are acting altogether wrong in trying
to right things in a general way in life. There’s more than you has
noticed a lot of wrong turns and breakdowns for want of a finger-post
or two. And I like to see a man back his opinion right through, whether
it’s right or wrong. But if you lose your team, and break your pole,
and spoil your loading when you’re on a long overland trip, how are you
to help your mates or any other chap that’s bogged when they want you
to double-bank? That’s what I look at. You’ve got to stand and look on,
just like a broke loafer or a coach passenger. What I say, and what I
stick to, is that a man should make sure, and double sure, of his own
footing, and _then_ he can wire in and haul out any man, woman, or
child as he takes a fancy to put on firm ground. But, if you go too
fast, and your agent drops you, and you want to help a fellow, why,
you’re bust, and he’s bust, and what can either of ye do but sit on
your stern fixings and look at each other?’

Mr. Levison’s illustrations were homely, but they had a force and
application which Ernest fully recognised.

‘You have the truth on your side,’ he said, after a pause. ‘I see it
now—very plainly, too. I wonder why I could not see it before.’

‘There’s a deal of studying required, it seems to me,’ propounded his
eccentric mentor, ‘and a deal of experience, and knocking about, and
loss of time and money, too, before a man comes to see the _right thing
at the right time_. That’s where the hardship all lies. If the thing’s
right and the time’s wrong, _that’s_ no good. And the right time and
the wrong thing is worse again. What you’ve been a-doin’ of ain’t so
much wrong in itself—only the time’s wrong, that’s where your mistake
is,—except things take a great start soon; and I don’t say they won’t,
mind you.‘

Here Mr. Levison looked at Ernest with an expression half humorous,
half prophetic, so extremely unusual that the latter began to wonder
whether there was any case on record of half a dozen cups of tea having
produced temporary insanity. But the unaccustomed gleam departed
suddenly from the dark, steadfast gray eyes, and the countenance
resumed its wonted cast of calm investigation and unalterable decision.

‘Does old Frankston ever give you a dressing down in the advice line?’
inquired Mr. Levison, without continuing the development of the idea
he had last started. ‘Because if he does, you’d have a bad time of
it between us. But I’ve done all the preaching part of the story for
this time, and I’m a-going on to the second chapter. Do you know the
friend’s name as I bought these Freeman chaps out for?’

‘No,’ said Ernest. ‘I shall be happy to afford him all the assistance I
can—that is, if I’m here, you know,’ he added, with sudden reflection.

‘That’s all right; but he’s a youngish chap, and easy had. Will you
promise to advise him to live economically, mind his business till
times improve, and not waste his money, above all things? Tell him I
said so.’

‘I don’t think I am the best adviser you could pick in that way,’ said
Ernest. ‘I am too sensible of my own defects; but I will deliver your
message and add my feeble weight to the influence of your name.’

‘That’s all right, and handsomely said. Now, my friend’s name is Ernest
Neuchamp! I’ve bought the land and the cattle for him. They’re cheap
enough if he never pays me for them, but I believe he will, and that
those Freeman chaps will be biting their fingers at letting theirselves
go so cheap this time next year. But, mind you tell him not to waste
his money. Tell him Levison said so. Ha, ha! I must start now.’

Mr. Levison laughed for the first time since Ernest had made his
acquaintance. It must have been the sight of Ernest’s wonder-stricken
face which caused this unprecedented though brief incongruity.

‘I can never sufficiently thank you,’ he said; ‘but where’s the money
to come from? The station will never pay it.’

‘That’s more than you can know,’ answered the Changer of Destinies;
‘It’s more than I know, too. I don’t mind telling you—as I said
before—you’re not likely to interfere much with any man’s profits. But
cattle are _going to rise_, and that to no foolish price. You mark my
words. Before this time twelve months fat cattle will be worth five
pounds a head, as sure as my name’s Ab. Levison. And if rain comes—and
I’ve seen some signs that I have great dependence on—store cattle will
be two and three pounds a head, and hard to buy at that.’

These last words he uttered with great solemnity, and Mr. Neuchamp
perceived that he was fully imbued with faith in his own vaticinations.

‘I hope it may be so,’ Ernest replied. ‘Good heavens! what a wonderful
change it would make in everything. But why should stock rise so?’

‘Because the _yield of gold_ is increasing every day and every hour in
these colonies. Don’t you see the papers? I thought you was sure to
have read everything. Why, you are not half posted up. Look here!’

Here he produced from one of his capacious pockets a much worn and
closely printed Melbourne _Argus_, in which mention was made of ‘the
astonishing discovery of gold near Bunninyong at Mr. Yuille’s station,
commonly known as Ballarat, in such quantity and richness as bade fair
to rival the hitherto exhaustless yields of Turonia and California.
Great excitement had taken place. Melbourne was deserted. You could
not get your hair cut. The barristers were gone, leaving the judges
lamenting. The doctors had followed their patients. The clergymen had
followed their flocks. The shepherds had deserted theirs. All society
existed in a state of dislocation!’

‘Now,’ he continued, receiving the journal from Ernest, and carefully
refolding and returning it to its place of safety, ‘do you see what
all this gold breaking out here and there and all about means?’

‘For the present the Melbourne people seem to think it means loss, if
not ruin, to them. The shepherds have nearly all run away, it seems,
as also labourers of every description. The writer anticipates a great
fall in the value of property. Indeed, houses and town allotments are
considered to be hardly worth holding. I should have thought otherwise
myself, but’ (here Ernest looked at his companion) ‘I begin to doubt
the correctness of my own opinions.’

‘Well, that writer’s an ass, whoever he is; and you’re a deal nearer
the mark than he is. He’s a donkey, that, because their ain’t a thistle
right against his nose, thinks there ain’t no more thistles in the
world—let alone corn. Now I’ve been thinkin’ and thinkin’ the whole
matter over since a friend of mine in Port Phillip sent me this paper,
and I cipher it out this way. They’ve sent down five thousand ounces
this week from this place, Ballarat. Then they’ve struck it at Forest
Creek, fifty miles off. Well, that tells me that there’s plenty of it,
and more than years will see out, judging from California and Turonia,
as we know of. Now what do you suppose all Europe—all the world—will do
when they hear of this, that you can dig up gold like potatoes? Why,
they won’t be able to find ships fast enough to bring ‘em here. When
they do come they’ll want to be fed. The tea and sugar and tents and
spades and shovels old Paul Frankston and the other merchants will find
’em somehow; the flour the farmers will find them, or if they can’t,
old Paul and his friends will get it from Chili. _But they can’t import
beef and mutton._ No; not if meat rose to a shilling a pound. Live
stock is the worst freight in the world, and there’s nowhere within
boating distance where it grows plentiful as it does here. So when my
sum’s worked out it means this, that more gold means double and treble
the population, and double and treble the price of everything that we
have here and want to sell.’

As Mr. Levison paused,—not for breath, for he did not exceed his
ordinary slow monotonal enunciation, as he propounded these original
and startling ideas much as though he were reading from a book,—Mr.
Neuchamp looked fixedly at his guest, as if to discover whether or
no some subtle local influence peculiar to Rainbar had infected with
speculative mania the shrewd, calm-judging stockholder.

But the _genius loci_, however seductive, would have fared ill in
a mental encounter with the slow, sure inferences and iron logic
of Abstinens Levison. He displayed no trace of more than ordinary
interest. And from all that was apparent, the onward march of a
revolution fated to flood the land with wealth and to change a handful
of pioneer communities into a nation, was accepted by him with the same
faint unnoted surprise as would have been the announcement of a glut in
the cattle market or the ‘sticking up’ of the downriver mail coach.

‘That’s how it is in my mind,’ he slowly continued, as if pursuing his
ordinary train of thoughts, ‘and before we meet again you’ll know all
about it. I’m off to Melbourne as soon as I can get on to the mail
line. I shall buy stock right and left, and pick up as many cottages
and town allotments as I can find with good titles. They’ll be like
these Freeman store cattle; cent per cent will be a trifle to what
profits are to be had out of them. But all this yarning won’t buy the
child a frock. Where’s that young man of yours? I want to leave my
horse and saddle in his charge.’

‘Where are you going now?’ asked Ernest. ‘How can you get over to
the mail station without a horse? It’s a hundred and eighty miles to
Wargan, where the coach line comes in.’

‘It’s only thirty miles to Wood-duck Lagoon, where the horse mail
passes,’ said his determined guest. ‘I left word for them down at
Mingadee to send a led horse by the mailman for me to-morrow. Johnny
Daly’s an old stockman of mine, and one of those chaps that when he
says he’ll do a thing he always does it. I’m as sure of finding a horse
there at ten o’clock to-morrow as if I saw him now.’

‘But suppose he loses him on the way, or don’t find your horse ready at
Mingadee, what then? Hadn’t you better take a man and horse from here?’

‘Well, I don’t say Johnny would _steal_ a horse, out and out, if he
knew I expected one at a certain hour; he’s a good boy, though he does
come from the Weddin Mountains. But he’d _have_ one for me, some road
or other, if there wasn’t one nearer than Bargo Brush. As for your
horses, I’m obliged, and know I’m welcome, but it would knock up one
going and one coming back, for they’re all as poor as crows, and that
don’t pay, besides a man’s time for nothing. I’ve plenty of time, and
the night’s the best travelling weather now. If you’ll call this native
chap I’ll be off.’

Ernest, though extremely loath to let his friend and benefactor depart
on foot—of which, as a mode of progression, he was beginning to
acquire the Australian opinion, viz. that it wore a poverty-stricken
appearance—could not decently oppose Mr. Levison’s fixed desire to
take the road. He therefore called up Jack Windsor, to whose care Mr.
Levison solemnly confided his emaciated quadruped, a much worn and
sunburned saddle and bridle, together with a considerable portion of
gray blanket, which, in many folds, did duty as saddle-cloth.

‘Now, young man,’ he said solemnly, walking aside with Mr. Windsor,
‘you take care of these and my old horse. Give them to nobody without
he brings Mr. Cottonbush’s written order; do you hear? That’s as good a
stock horse and journey hack as ever you crossed, though he’s low now.’

‘He is _very_ low!’ averred Jack, looking at the bare-ribbed spectral
but well-formed animal that was grazing within a few yards of the spot,
‘but he may get over it. I’ll take a look at him night and morning, and
see that he’s lifted regular if he gets down.’

‘All right,’ said his master. ‘I had to lift him myself this morning,
and very hard work I had to get him up. But if it rains within the next
two months you’ll have him kicking up his heels like a colt.’

‘Are you going to walk to Wood-duck Lagoon, sir?’ inquired Jack
respectfully.

‘Yes, I am, and no great matter either,’ returned the exceptionally
wiry capitalist. ‘_I’m_ right enough; don’t you trouble about me. What
you and young Banks have to look out for is, to keep all these Circle
Dot cattle well within bounds till the weather breaks, and then you
can’t go wrong, and I look upon Mr. Neuchamp’s pile as made. I’ve taken
to him, more than a bit. Besides, he’s got another good back, though he
don’t know it. I’ve bought out the Freeman’s, stock, lock, and barrel,
so their cattle won’t bother you any more.’

Here Mr. Windsor gave a leap off the ground, and cast his cabbage-tree
hat violently from his curly brown locks in another direction.

‘Yes, I’ve bought ’em pretty right; they didn’t know me, or they’d have
stuck it on—bought ’em _for a friend_! So they’ll have the pleasure of
seeing you and Banks branding the increase next year, just as they are
giving up possession; and the calves will be worth more then than I
paid for the cows yesterday. But I might be mistaken, you know.’

‘It would be for the first time; so they all used to say at
Boocalthra,’ answered Jack.

‘_You_ were there, then?’ said Mr. Levison, bending his extremely
discriminating gaze upon the bronzed, resolute face. ‘_Now_ I remember
your brand; you were the curly-headed boy that used to ride the colts
for the horse-breaker. Glad you turned out steady. I didn’t expect it.
Stick to Rainbar; now you’re in a good place, and you’ll do well. But
whatever you do, if you walk your feet off, don’t let these Circle Dot
cows and heifers get out of bounds till the rain comes. If you are
regularly beat, go down to Mingadee; there’s a hundred and fifty stock
horses there, spelling for next winter’s work, and Cottonbush will
have my orders to let you have half a dozen. I know what fresh cattle
are in a season like this. Well, good-bye, Jack the Devil; I remember
all about you now.’ Mr. Windsor grinned, yet preserved an air of
diffidence. ‘Take care of the old horse, and don’t you lend that saddle
to no one!’

With these parting words tending to thrift, in curious
contradistinction to the tenor of his action at Rainbar, Mr. Levison
proceeded to take a hurried leave of his entertainer.

‘I’ve just been talking to that native chap of yours,’ he said, ‘about
my old horse. He wants a bit of looking after now, but you’d be
surprised to see what style he has when he’s in good fettle. Wonderful
horse on a camp. Best cutting-out horse, this day, on the river. Pulls
rather hard, that’s the worst of him.’

Mr. Neuchamp, who, having as yet not gone through the terrible
trials of a prolonged drought, had never witnessed the incredible
emaciation to which stock may be reduced, and their rapid and magical
transformation at the wand of the enchanter ‘Rain,’ looked as if he
really _would_ be surprised at the tottering, hollow-eyed, fleshless
spectre, in appearance something between an expiring poley cow and an
anatomical preparation, ‘pulling hard’ again, or doing any deed of
valour as a charger.

‘Ah! you’ll be all in the fashion, then,’ said Mr. Levison, with his
customary affirmative expression, which apparently meant that having
asserted his opinion it was waste of time to attempt to prove it.
‘When old BI (that’s what the men call him, his name’s written on him
pretty big) kicks up his heels, it’ll mean that Rainbar’s _worth twenty
thousand pounds_! That’s why I want you to be careful, and not waste
your money and get sold up just before the tide turns. How’s that Arab
horse-breeding notion turned out? They’d fetch about three pound a head
all round just now.’

‘Very well, so far; they’re a little poor, but nothing could look more
promising than the yearlings—plenty of bone, and as handsome as you
could make them. I should grieve more about their forced sale than
anything.’

‘Well, you’re not sold up yet, and won’t be if you’ll be careful and
take my advice and Paul Frankston’s. You mark me, horses will be
horses in a year or two. They’re hardly worth owning now; but their
turn’s coming, with everything else that any man will have to sell in
Australia for the next ten years.’

Mr. Levison placed the few necessary articles which he had abstracted
from his valise, in the moiety of the gray blanket which he had
apparently not required as a saddle-cloth. He requested leave to cut
off and to take with him a fair-sized section of damper, sternly
refusing any other description of edible. Then, turning his face to the
broad plain, he held out his hand to Ernest, and finally exhorting him
not to waste his money, addressed himself to the far-stretching trail
after such a fashion as convinced Ernest that he was no inexperienced
pedestrian.

Mr. Neuchamp returned to his cottage in a very different frame of
mind from that which characterised his pre-matutinal discipline in
the garden. How short a time, how trifling an incident, occasionally
suffices to turn the scale from anxiety to repose, from despair to
glowing hope. This last cheering mental condition was indispensably
necessary to Mr. Neuchamp’s acceptation of burdens, even to his very
life. He had gone forth in the clear dawnlight a miserable man,
racked by presentiments of scorn unalterable to come, gazing on
‘Ruin’s red letters writ in flame,’ and associated with the hitherto
untarnished fame and sufficing fortune of Ernest Neuchamp; he had heard
in imagination the laugh of scorn, the half-contemptuous, pitying
condolence. Now, though much remained uncertain and unsafe, the blessed
flower of Hope had recommenced to bloom. Its fragrance was once more
shed over the soul of the fainting pilgrim through life’s desert, and
the wayfarer arose refreshed and invigorated, free once more to turn
his brow erect and undaunted towards the Mecca of his dreams.

This particular morning happened to be that of the bi-weekly
post-day, a day to which Mr. Neuchamp had looked forward of late
with considerably more apprehension than interest. How wonderfully
different, as the years roll on, are the feelings with which that
humble messenger of fate, the postman, is greeted! In life’s careless
spring he is the custodian of friendship’s offering, the distributor of
the small sweet joys of childhood, the dawning intellectual pleasures
of youth, the rose-hued, enchanting flower-tokens of love. As the days
of the years of our pilgrimage roll on, ‘the air is full of farewells
to the dying and mournings for the dead.’ How altered is the character
of the missives which lie motionless, but charged with subtle, terrible
forces!—electric agents they!—thrilling or rending the vital frame from
that overcharged battery, the heart!

To this undesirable tenor and complexion had much of Mr. Neuchamp’s
correspondence, drought-leavened and gloomy, arrived. Many of his
smaller accounts were of necessity left unpaid. The cruel season,
unchanged in the more vital characteristic of periodic moisture, seemed
to be culminating in an apparently fixed and fatal determination on the
part of Messrs. Oldstile and Crampton to let him have no more money on
account.

But several minor matters, on this particular day, besides the visit
of Mr. Levison, seemed to point to Fortune’s more indulgent mood.
The pile of letters and papers was pleasantly, if not hopefully,
variegated by those periodicals and peculiarly stamped envelopes which
denote the delivery of the European mail. Upon these Ernest dashed
with unconcealed eagerness, and tearing open a letter in his brother
Courtenay’s delicate Italian handwriting, utterly devoid of linear
emphasis, read as follows:

  NEUCHAMPSTEAD, _6th March 18—_.

 DEAR ERNEST—I cannot acknowledge surprise at the contents of your
 last letter, having always looked for some such ending to your
 colonial adventure. The day of success for such enterprises has gone
 by—if indeed _any one_ ever was really successful at any time in
 such wanderings and Quixotisms. You quote the greater examples. Yet
 a little temporary notoriety, chiefly ending in imprisonment or the
 block, was the guerdon of Columbus and one Raleigh, instances which
 occur to me. As I have said before, I have no doubt that our family
 would have substantially benefited by remaining on their paternal
 fiords and leaving Normandy and England to the robbers and hangers-on
 who followed the popular pirate of the day. Being in England, I
 suppose we shall have to stay, though the climate daily recommends
 itself less to any one whose epidermis does not resemble a suit of
 armour. The crops have been bad this year. The tenants are slow and
 deficient. No one seems to have any money except certain Liverpool
 or Manchester persons, born with an aptitude for swindling in ‘gray
 shirtings,’ cotton twist, racehorses, or other equally plausible
 instrument for gambling. I spend little and risk nothing. So I may
 hope to survive in my insignificance, unless the grand Radical
 earthquake, which will surely swallow England’s aristocracy of birth
 and culture in a coming day, be antedated. All men of family who
 dabble in agriculture, commerce, or colonisation, are earthen pots
 which must inevitably be shattered by the aggressive flotilla of
 brazen vessels which encumbers every tide nowadays. You will admit I
 had no expectation of other result than your ruin when you embarked.
 In announcing that fact spare me the details. You will find your old
 rooms ready at Neuchampstead, and refurnished. I have been extravagant
 in some curious antique furniture.

 I enclose a draft for three thousand pounds. Such a sum is of no use
 to a gentleman in England. Fling it after the rest. It may console
 you, years hence, when you are adding Australian pollen masses to
 the famous collection of orchids for which _alone_ Neuchampstead
 is celebrated, that your experiment had full justice. It is only
 the bourgeois who leaves the table before his ‘system’ is fairly
 tried.—Good-bye, my dear brother. Yours sincerely,

  COURTENAY NEUCHAMP.

 _P.S._—I forgot to add that I gave Augusta your message. How could
 you be so incautious? I would have suppressed it, but had, of course,
 no option. She starts for Sydney by the mail steamer. Are the women
 in Australia so obstinate? But they are much the same everywhere, I
 apprehend.—C. N.

The first emotion which Mr. Neuchamp experienced after reading this
characteristic letter was one of unqualified delight. The sight of
the draft for the three thousand pounds, so slightingly alluded to
by Courtenay, was as the vision of the palm-trees at the well to the
fainting desert pilgrim, of the distant sail to the gaunt, perishing
seaman on the drifting raft—the symbol of blessed hope, of assured
deliverance. The capital sum, or the trifling annual income derivable
from it, in gold-flooded England, might be of little utility there,
as Courtenay had averred with the humorous indifferentism which he
professed. But _here_, in this rich unwatered level, metaphorically and
otherwise, it was like the river-born trickling tunnels with which,
since forgotten Pharaoh days, the toiling fellaheen saturate the black
gaping Nile gardens, sure precursor of profound vegetation and the
hundred-fold increase.

No use to a gentleman in England! A company of guardian angels must
surely have wafted to him the precious, delicate document across the
seas, across the desert here. What use would it not be to him, Ernest?
It would pay in full for the Circle Dot store cattle, also for those
purchased from Freeman Brothers, leaving a balance to the credit of his
account with those treasure-guarding griffins, Oldstile and Crampton.
Besides, the bills due to Levison for the store cattle were not due
for several months yet. In the meantime rain or other wonders might
happen. The young horses, too, children of Omar, fleet son of the
desert, with delicately-formed aristocratic heads, deerlike limbs,
which had been dear to him almost as their ancestors had been to some
lonely subdivision of the wandering Shammar or Aneezah!—they were saved
from ruin and disgrace—saved from the indignity of passing for the
merest trifle into the possession of unheeding vulgar purchasers, who
would probably stigmatise them as weeds, wanting in bone, or by any
other cheap form of ignorant depreciation.

Saved! saved! saved! All was saved. Once more secure. Once more his
own. Once more the land and the grazing herd, the humble abode, the
garden, the paddock, even the long-neglected but not despaired-of
canal, all the acted resolves and outcome of a sincere but perhaps
over-sanguine mind, dearer than ever were they to him, their author
and projector. They were his own again. How like Courtenay, too!
Ever better than his word; incredulous as to improved benefits and
successes; deprecating haste, risk, imprudence; doubtful of all but
the garnered grain, the assayed gold, the concrete and the absolute in
life,—but, in the hour of need, sparing of that counsel which is but
another name for reproach, stanch in aid, generous alike in the mode
and measure of his gift.

Having recovered from this natural exaltation and relief at the
unexpected succour, Mr. Neuchamp turned to the consideration of the
very important postscript of his brother’s letter with apprehension.

Had his cousin, Miss Augusta Neuchamp, really sailed and arrived in
Sydney, as would appear? If so, where was she to go? What was he to
do? She could hardly come to Rainbar to take up her abode in this
small cottage, which, though possessing several rooms, was, like many
dwellings in the bush proper, practically undivided as to sound; the
conversation of any one, in any given room, being equally beneficial
and entertaining to the occupant of any other. Then there was not a
woman upon the whole establishment. The wives and daughters of the
Freemans, even if the latter were eligible for ladies’ maids, were
little less than hostile.

A residence in Sydney seemed the only possible plan; but he knew his
cousin too well to think that there would be no drawback to that
arrangement. Energetic, well-intentioned, possessing a clear available
intelligence, and considerable mental force, when exercised within
certain well-defined, but it must be confessed narrow limits, Augusta
Neuchamp was a benevolent despot in her own way. She ardently desired
to arrange the destinies of the classes or individuals who came within
the sphere of her action in accordance with what _she_ considered
to be the plain intentions of Providence with regard to them. Of
the tremendous issues involved in such a translation, she had no
conception. Plain to bluntness in her speech, she rarely evaded the
awkwardness of expressing disappointment. Unquestionably refined by
habit and education, she possessed little imagination and less tact.
Thus she rarely failed to provide herself, in any locality which she
honoured with her presence, with a large and increasing supply of
opponents, if not of enemies. A moderate private income enabled her
to indulge her tastes for improving herself or others. Possessing no
very near relatives, she was uncontrolled as to her movements and mode
of life. She had reached the age of twenty-five, though by no means
unprepossessing in appearance, without finding any suitor sufficiently
valorous to adopt or oppose, in the character of a husband, her very
clearly expressed views of life. Had she consented to reserve a
modification in these important respects, her friends averred that she
might have been ‘settled’ ere now. But such palterings with principle
were alien and abhorrent to the nature of Augusta Neuchamp. And Augusta
Neuchamp she had accordingly remained.

The appearance of Miss Neuchamp was generally described as commanding,
although she was slightly, if at all, over the medium height of woman.
But there was an expression about her high-bridged aquiline nose and
compressed lips which left no one in doubt as to the fact that, in
controversy or contending action, the first to yield would _not_ be
the possessor of those features. Her clear blue eyes would have been
handsome had there been a shade of doubt or softness at any time
visible. Such a moment of feminine weakness never came. They looked at
you and through you and over you, but never fell in maiden doubt or
fear beneath your gaze. Two courses were open to the individual of the
conflicting sex in her presence—unconditional surrender or flight.

It was hard, Ernest thought, that just as he was relieved from one
anxiety he should be provided by unkind Fate with another. He revolved
the imminent question of the disposition of Miss Augusta Neuchamp in
his mind until prevented by mutual apprehension from pursuing the
terribly perplexing subject. Of all people in the wide world, he
thought his cousin was the most impracticable, the most unyielding to
argument, the most certain to expose herself to dislike and ridicule in
Australia. She knew everything. She believed nothing, unless indeed it
related to herself or proceeded directly from that source. Everything
which differed from her stereotyped system was wrong, ruinous,
degenerate, or provincial. How she would criticise the place, the
people, the climate, the railways, the houses, the fences, the workmen,
the men and the women, the grass, and the gum-trees!

If he could only persuade her to take lodgings in Sydney, until he
could go down and argue the point with her, much might be gained.
Antonia Frankston would visit her, and harder than adamant must she
be if that gentle voice and natural manner did not convert her to a
favourable opinion of Australian life.

No such preparatory process was possible. A letter arrived from the
fair emigrant which left no doubt of her immediate intentions. It ran
thus:

 DEAR COUSIN ERNEST—I have dared the perils of the deep, not the least
 for your sake, but _me voici_. I made a short stay in Sydney, but
 being extremely tired of the dust and mosquitoes, I decided upon the
 course of travelling by rail and coach to your far-away estate at
 once. [Here Ernest groaned, a suspicious sound which might have been
 in sympathy for the trials of a lonely if not distressed damsel, or
 an expression of despondency at the idea of his own inevitable cares
 and anxieties, such as must attend the entertainment of the first
 lady-guest ever seen at Rainbar. He continued the reading of the
 epistle.] If Sydney had been a more interesting place I might have
 lingered for a week or two so as to exchange letters with you. Had
 it possessed that foreign air which one finds so pleasant in many
 continental spots, otherwise dull enough, I could have amused myself.
 But being, as it is, a second-hand copy of a provincial British town—I
 grant you the botanical element is lovely, though neglected—I could
 not endure another week. I seemed to long for the desert, in all its
 vastness and grandeur, where your abode is placed. It was like staying
 in an Algerian town, a dwarfed and dirty Paris, full of _cafés_ and
 shabby Frenchmen playing at dominoes. I had no lady acquaintances.
 There _are_ a few, I suppose. So I grew desperate, and took my passage
 through the agency company; Cobb, I think, is the name. If you have
 no phaeton or dogcart available, you might bring a saddle-horse for
 me.—Your affectionate cousin,

  AUGUSTA NEUCHAMP.

Just after the perusal of this letter, which showed that Miss
Neuchamp’s angles still stood out as sharply as those of a Theban
obelisk—the voyage and change of sky notwithstanding—Mr. Neuchamp was
startled by the sudden appearance of Piambook, who rushed into his
presence with an air of sincere discomposure very different from that
of his usual unimpressible demeanour. His rolling dark eyes gleamed—his
features worked—his mouth, slightly open, could only articulate the
borrowed phrase of his conquerors, ‘My word! my word!’ It was for some
moments the only sound that could be extracted from him by Ernest’s
inquiries.

‘What is it, Piambook?’ at length demanded Ernest, so decidedly, almost
fiercely, that his sable retainer capitulated.

‘Me look out longa wheelbarrow,’ he explained at length. He had been
despatched to a distant point of the run at a very early hour of the
morning.

‘Well, what did you see?’ pursued his master. ‘You can yabber fast
enough when you like.’

‘That one wheelbarrow plenty broket,’ explained the observing
pre-Adamite. ‘Mine see um longa plain—plenty sit down—liket three
fellow wheel. Billy Robinson, he go longa township.’

‘Well, what then? the coach broke down; that’s not wonderful—passengers
walked, I suppose.’

‘Me seeum that one white-fellow gin,’ quoth Piambook, in a low,
mysterious voice. Then, bursting into an immoderate fit of laughter,
he continued, ‘That one carry liket spyglass.’ Here he placed his thumb
and forefinger, circularly contracted, to his eye, and, gazing at Mr.
Neuchamp, again laughed till his dusky orbs were dim.

Mr. Neuchamp at once comprehended by this pantomime the gold eyeglass
which Miss Augusta, partially short-sighted, habitually wore; and
becoming uneasy as to her state and condition under the circumstances
of a presumed breakdown, asked eagerly of his follower what she was
doing.

‘That one sit along a wheelbarrow, liket this one;’ here he took up a
book from Ernest’s table and pretended to look into it with great and
absorbed interest.

‘Anybody in the coach, Piambook?’

‘One fellow Chinaman,’ returned the messenger, with cool indifference.

After this information Mr. Neuchamp at once perceived that no time must
be lost. Augusta could not be left a moment longer than was necessary,
sitting in a disabled coach in the midst of a boundless plain, with a
Chinaman for her _vis-à-vis_. What a situation for a young lady to whom
Baden was as familiar as Brompton, Paris as Piccadilly, Rome, Florence,
Venice, as the stations on the Eastern Counties Railway! He did not
believe she was afraid. She was afraid of nothing. But the situation
was embarrassing.

The hawk-eyed Piambook had descried the stranded coach—the wheelbarrow,
as his comrades called it—on the mail track, about a mile off his path
of duty. It was full twelve miles from Rainbar. In a quarter of an hour
the express waggon with two cheerful but enfeebled steeds stumbled and
blundered along at a very different pace from that of Mr. Parklands,
when he rattled up Ernest to the Rainbar door, on the occasion of their
first memorable drive.

However, the distance from home was luckily short, and in about two
hours Mr. Neuchamp arrived at the spot where, in the disabled coach,
sat Miss Augusta Neuchamp, possessing her soul in _impatience_, and
gradually coming to the conclusion that Ah Ling—who sat stolidly
staring at her and regretting the loss of time which might have been
spent in watering his garden or smoking opium, the only two occupations
he ever indulged in—was about to rob and perhaps murder her. As she
always carried a small revolver, and was by no means ignorant of its
use, it is possible that Ah Ling was in greater danger than he was
aware of. His fair neighbour would infallibly have shot him had he made
any hasty or incautious motion.

When Mr. Neuchamp rumbled up in his useful but not imposing vehicle, a
slight shade of satisfaction overspread her features.

‘Oh, Ernest, I am delighted to see you; however did you find out my
position? Don’t you think it was inexcusable of the coach company to
send us all this way in a damaged vehicle? I thought all your coaching
arrangements were so perfect.’

‘Accidents will happen, my dear Augusta,’ said Ernest, ‘in all
companies and communities, you know. Cobb and Co. are the best of
fellows in the main. But _whatever_ induced you to come up into this
wild place without writing to me first? Have you not suffered all kinds
of hardship and disagreeables?’

‘Well, perhaps a few; but I knew all about the country from some
books I read on the voyage out. I studied the directory till I found
out the coach lines, and I should not have complained but for this
last blunder. But what a barren wilderness this all seems. I thought
Australia was a land of rich pastures.’

‘So it is—but this is a drought. “And the famine was sore in the land.”
You remember that in the Bible, don’t you? We are a good deal like
Palestine in our periodical lean years, except that they didn’t import
their flour from beyond sea, and we do.‘

‘But this looks so very bad!’ said she, putting up her eyeglass and
staring earnestly at the waste lands of the crown, which certainly
presented a striking contrast to the Buckinghamshire meadows or uplands
either. ‘Why, it seems all sand and these scrubby-looking bushes;
are you sure you haven’t made a mistake and bought inferior land? A
gentleman who came out with me said inexperienced persons often did.’

‘My dear Augusta,’ said Ernest, quelling a well-remembered feeling of
violent antagonism, ‘you must surely have forgotten that I have been
more than two years in Australia, and may be supposed to know the
difference between good country and bad by this time.’

‘Do you?’ said his fair cousin indifferently. ‘Well, you must have
improved. Courtenay says you are the most credulous person he knows;
and as for Aunt Ermengarde, she says that, of all the failures the
family has produced——’

‘Please to spare me the old lady’s review of my life and times,’ said
Ernest, waking up his bounding steeds. ‘We never did agree, and it can
serve no good purpose to further embitter my remembrance of her.’

‘Oh, but she did not wish to say anything really disparaging of you,
only that you were not of sufficiently coarse material to win success
in farming, or trade, or politics.’

‘Or colonisation, my dear Augusta. Perhaps she was not so far wrong,
after all; but somehow one doesn’t like to be told these things, and
I must ask you and Aunt Ermengarde to suspend your judgment until the
last scene of the third act. Then you will be able to applaud, or
otherwise, on correct grounds. I think you will find the country and
its ways by no means too easy to comprehend.’

‘I expect nothing, simply, so I cannot be disappointed. It seems to me
a sort of provincial England jumbled up with one’s ideas of Mexico.’

‘And the people?’

‘I haven’t noticed them much yet. I thought many of the women
ridiculously overdressed in Sydney, copying our English fashions in a
semi-tropical climate. I left everything behind except a few tourist
suits.’

‘And most extraordinary you look,’ thought Ernest to himself, though
he dared not say so, mentally contrasting the stern Augusta’s
dust-coloured tusser wrap, broad-leafed hat with green lining, rather
stout boots, short dress, and flattened down hair, with Antonia, cool,
glistening, delicately robed, and rose-fresh amid the bright-hued
shrubberies of Morahmee, or even the Misses Middleton, perfectly _comme
il faut_, on shipboard, in George Street, or at the station, as
everybody ought to be, thought Ernest—unless she is an eccentric
reformer, he was just about to say, but refrained. Was any one else of
his acquaintance going to do wonders in the alleviation and reformation
of the Australian world? and if so, what had _he_ accomplished? Had he
not been in scores of instances self-convicted of the most egregious
mistakes and miscalculations? After all his experience, was he not now
indebted almost for his financial existence to certain of these very
colonists whose intelligence he had formerly held so cheap?

These reflections were not suffered to proceed to an inconvenient
length, being routed by the clear and not particularly musical tones of
Miss Augusta’s voice.

‘I can’t say much for Australian horses, so far, Ernest. I expected to
see the fleet courser of the desert, and all that kind of thing. These
seem wretched underbred creatures, and miserably poor.’

‘Lives there the man, with soul so dead,’ who doesn’t mind hearing his
horses run down?

‘They are not bad horses, by any means, though low in condition, owing
to this dreadful season,’ answered Ernest, rather quickly. ‘This one,’
touching the off-side steed, ‘is as good and fast and high-couraged a
horse as ever was saddled or harnessed, but they have had nothing to
eat for six months, to speak of. So they quite surpass the experience
of the cabman’s horse in _Pickwick_; and I can’t afford to buy corn at
a pound a bushel.’

‘I forgot about the horse in _Pickwick_,’ said Augusta, who, a steady
reader in her own line, which she denominated ‘useful,’ had little
appreciation of humour, and never could be got to know the difference
between _Pickwick_ and _Nicholas Nickleby_, _Charles O’Malley_ and _The
Knight of Gwynne_. ‘But surely more neatness in harness and turn-out
might be managed,’ and she looked at the dusty American harness and
rusty bits.

‘You must remember, my dear Augusta, that you are not only in the
provinces, but in the far far Bush, now—akin to the Desert—in more ways
than one. I don’t suppose the Sheik Abdallah turns out with very bright
bits; but, if he does, he has the advantage of us in the labour supply.
We are compelled to economise rigidly in that way.’

‘You seem compelled to economise in every way that makes life worth
having,’ said his downright kinswoman. ‘Does any one ever make any
money at all here to compensate for the savage life you seem to lead?’

‘Well, a few people do,’ replied Ernest, half amused, half annoyed. ‘If
we had time to visit a little, not perhaps in this neighbourhood, I
could show you places well kept and pretty enough, and people who would
be voted fairly provided for even in England.’

‘I have seen none as yet,’ said Miss Neuchamp; ‘but I believe much of
the prosperity in the large towns is unreal. I met a very pleasant,
gentlemanlike man in Sydney, in fact one of the few gentlemen I did see
there—a Mr. Croker, I think, was his name—who said it was all outside
show, and that nobody had made any money in this colony, or ever would.’

‘Oh, Jermyn Croker,’ said Ernest, laughing; ‘you must not take him
literally; he is a profound cynic, and must have been sent into the
world expressly to counterbalance an equally pronounced optimist,
myself for instance. That’s his line of humour, and very amusing it
is—in its way.’

‘But does he not speak the truth?’ inquired the literal Augusta; ‘or is
it not considered necessary in a colony?’

‘Of course he _intends_ to do so, but like all men whose opinions are
very strongly coloured by their individualism, which again is dominated
by purely physical occurrences, such as bile, indigestion, and so
on, he unconsciously takes a gloomy, depreciatory view of matters in
general, which I, and perhaps others, think untrue and misleading.’

‘I believe in a right and a wrong about everything myself,’ said the
young lady, ‘but I must say I feel inclined to agree with him so far.’

Ernest was on the point of asking her how she could possibly know,
when the turrets of Rainbar appearing in sight, the conversation was
diverted to that ‘hold’ and its surroundings, the danger of arriving in
the midst of an altercation being thereby averted.

‘Allow me to welcome you to my poor home,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, driving
up to the door of the cottage, and assisting her to alight. ‘I wish I
had had notice of the honour of your visit, that we might have been
suitably prepared.’

‘Stuff!’ said Miss Augusta. ‘Then you would have written to prevent me
coming at all. I was determined to see how you were _really_ getting
on, and I never allow trifling discomforts to stand in the way of my
resolves.’

‘I am aware of _that_, my dear Augusta,’ replied Mr. Neuchamp, with a
slight mental shrug, in which he decided that the trifling discomforts
alluded to occasionally involved others besides the heroine herself.
‘But can you do without a maid? I am afraid there is not a woman on the
place.’

‘That’s a little awkward,’ confessed Miss Neuchamp. ‘I did not quite
anticipate such a barrack-room state of matters. But is there none at
the village, or whatever it is called, in the neighbourhood?’

‘I have a village on the run, I am sorry to say; but though we are at
feud with the villagers, I did attempt to procure you a handmaid, and I
will see what has been done.’

It was yet early in the day. Miss Neuchamp, being put into possession
of the best bedroom, hastily arranged for her use and benefit, was
told to consider herself as the sole occupant of the cottage for the
present. Mr. Neuchamp in the meanwhile having ordered lunch, went over
to the barracks to see if Mr. Banks had returned. He had been sent
upon an embassy of great importance and diplomatic delicacy: no less,
indeed, than to prevail upon Mrs. Abraham Freeman to permit her eldest
daughter, Tottie, a girl of seventeen, to come to Rainbar during the
period of Miss Neuchamp’s stay, to attend upon that lady as housemaid,
lady’s maid, and general attendant. He was empowered to make any
reasonable promises to provide the girl with everything she might want,
short of a husband, but to bring her up if it could possibly be done.
For, of course, Ernest was duly sensible of the extreme awkwardness
that would result from the presence of Miss Neuchamp—albeit a near
relative—as the sole representative of womanhood at such an essentially
bachelor settlement as Rainbar.

Tottie Freeman, who had commenced to bloom in the comparatively desert
air of Rainbar, was a damsel not altogether devoid of youthful charms.
True, the unfriendly sun, the scorching blasts, together with the
culpable disuse of veil or bonnet, had combined to embrown what ought
to have been her complexion, and, worse again, to implant such a crop
of freckles upon her face, neck, and arms, that she looked as if a
bran-bag had been shaken over her naturally fair skin.

Now that we have said the worst of her, it must be admitted that her
figure was very good, well developed, upright, and elastic. She could
run as fast as any of her brothers, carrying a tolerable weight,
and (when no one was looking) vault on her ambling mare, which she
could ride with or without a saddle over range or river, logs, scrub,
or reed-beds, just as well as they could. She could intimidate a
half-wild cow with a roping pole, and milk her afterwards; drive a
team on a pinch, and work all day in the hot sun. With all this there
was nothing unfeminine or unpleasing to the eye in the bush maiden.
Quite the contrary, indeed. She was a handsome young woman as regards
features, form, and carriage. Cool and self-possessed, she was by no
means as reckless of speech as many better educated persons of her
sex; and though she liked a little flirtation—‘which most every girl
expex’—there was not a word to be said to her detriment ‘up or down the
river,’ which comprehended the whole of her social system.

Such was the damsel whom Charley Banks had been despatched to capture
by force, fraud, or persuasion for the use and benefit of Miss Augusta
Neuchamp. A less suitable ambassador might have been selected.
Charley Banks was a very good-looking young fellow, and had always
risked a little badinage when brought into contact with Miss Tottie
and her family. War had been formally declared between the houses of
Neuchamp and Freeman, yet Ernest, as was his custom, had always been
unaffectedly polite and kindly to the women of the tribe, young and old.

Therefore Mrs. Freeman had no strong ill-feeling towards him, and Miss
Tottie was extremely sorry that they never saw Mr. Neuchamp riding
up to the door now, with a pleasant good-morrow, sometimes chatting
for a quarter of an hour, when the old people were out of the way.
When Charley Banks first asked Mrs. Freeman to let her daughter go
as a great favour to Mr. Neuchamp, and afterwards inflamed Tottie’s
curiosity by descriptions of the great wealth and high fashion of Miss
Neuchamp (who had a dray-load of dresses, straight from London and
Paris, coming up next week), he found the fort commencing to show signs
of capitulation. At first Mrs. Freeman ‘couldn’t spare Tottie if it was
ever so.’ Then Tottie ‘couldn’t think of going among a parcel of young
fellows, and only one lady in the place.’ Then Mrs. Freeman ‘might be
able to manage for a week or two, though what Abe would say when he
came home and found his girl gone to Rainbar, she couldn’t say.’ Then
Tottie ‘wouldn’t mind trying for a week or two.’ She supposed ‘nobody
would run away with her, and it must be awfully lonely for the lady all
by herself.’ Besides, ‘she hadn’t seen a soul lately, and was moped
to death; perhaps a little change would do her good.’ So the ‘treaty
of Rainbar,’ between the high contracting personages, resolved itself
into this, that Tottie was to have ten shillings a week for a month’s
service, if Miss Neuchamp stayed so long, was to obey all her lawful
commands, and to make herself ‘generally useful.’

‘So if you’ll be kind enough to run in the mare, Mr. Banks—she’s down
on the flat there, and not very flash, you may be sure—I’ll get my
habit on, and mother will send up my things with Billy in the evening.
Here’s my bridle.’

Having stated the case thus briefly, Miss Freeman retired into a
remarkably small bedroom which she shared with two younger sisters
and a baby-brother, to make the requisite change of raiment, while
Charley Banks ran into the stockyard and caught the varmint, ambling
black mare, which he knew very well by sight. As he led her up to the
hut Miss Tottie came out, carrying her saddle in one hand and holding
up her alpaca habit with the other. She promptly placed it upon the
black mare’s back, buckled the girths, and touching the stirrup with
her foot, gave a spring which seated her firmly in the saddle, and the
black mare dashed off at an amble which was considerably faster than a
medium trot.

‘What a brute that mare of yours is to amble, Tottie,’ said Mr. Banks,
slightly out of breath; ‘can’t you make her go a more Christian pace?
Come, let’s have a spin.’

‘All right,’ said the girl, going off at speed, and sitting down to her
work, ‘but it must be a very short one; my mare is as weak as a cat,
and I suppose your horse isn’t much better.’

‘He’s as strong as nothing to eat three times a day can make him. So
pull up as soon as you like. I say, Tottie, I’m awfully glad you’ve
come up this time to help us with our lady. It was firstrate of your
mother to let you come. Fancy Miss Neuchamp coming up in the coach by
herself from Sydney!’

‘Why shouldn’t she? I wish I had the chance of going down by
myself—wouldn’t I take it—quick? But I say, Mr. Banks, what am I to do
when I get there? I shall be so frightened of the lady. And I never was
in service before.’

‘Oh, you must take it easy, you know,’ commenced Mr. Banks, in a very
clear explanation-to-a-child sort of way. ‘Do everything she tells you,
always say “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am,” and be a good girl all round.
I’ve seen you _look_ awfully good sometimes, Tottie, you know.‘

‘Oh, nonsense, Mr. Banks,’ said the nut-brown maid, blushing through
her southern-tinted skin in a very visible manner. ‘I’m no more than
others, I expect. What shall I have to do, though?’

‘Well, a good deal of nothing, I should say. You’ll sleep in the room
I used to have, next to hers; for you’ll be in the cottage all by
yourselves all night. You’ll have to sweep and dust, and wash for Miss
Neuchamp, and wait at table. The rest of the time you’ll have to hang
it out the best way you can. You mustn’t quarrel with old Johnnie, the
cook, or else he’ll go away and leave us all in the bush. He’s a cross
old ruffian, but he _can_ cook.’

‘I wonder if it will be very dull—but it won’t be for long, will it,
Mr. Banks?’

‘Dull? don’t think of it. Won’t there be me and Jack Windsor, and an
odd traveller to talk to. Besides, Jack’s a great admirer of yours,
isn’t he, Tottie?’

‘Not he,’ quoth the damsel, with decision; ‘there’s some girl down the
country that he thinks no end of; besides, father and he don’t get on
well,’ added Miss Tottie, with much demureness.

‘Oh, that don’t signify,’ said Mr. Banks authoritatively. ‘Jack’s a
good fellow, and will be overseer here some day; you go in and cut down
the other girl. He said you were the best-looking girl on the river
last Sunday.’

‘Oh, you go on,’ said Tottie, playing with the bridle rein, and again
making her mare run up to the top of her exceptional pace, so that
further playful conversation by Mr. Banks was restricted by his lack of
breath.

As they approached the Rainbar homestead Tottie slackened this
aggravating pace (which resembles what Americans call ‘racking or
pacing’—it is natural to many Australian horses, though of course
capable of development by education), and in a somewhat awe-stricken
tone inquired, ‘Is she a _very_ grand lady, indeed, Mr. Banks?’

‘Well, she’ll be dressed plainly, of course,’ said Charley. ‘The dust’s
enough to spoil anything above a gunnybag after all this dry weather.
Her things are coming up, as I told you, but you never saw any one with
half the breeding before. You were a little girl when you came here,
Tottie; did you ever see a real lady in your life, now?’

‘I saw Mrs. Jones, of Yamboola, down the country,’ said Tottie
doubtfully. ‘Father sent me up one day with some fresh butter.’

‘I wish he’d send you up with some now,’ said Charley, who hadn’t
heard of butter or milk for six months. ‘Mrs. Jones is pretty well,
but think of Miss Neuchamp’s pedigree. Her great-grandmother’s
_great-grandmother_ was a grand lady, and lived in a castle, and so on,
for five hundred years back, and all the same for nearly a thousand. I
saw it all in an old book of Mr. Neuchamp’s one day, about the history
of their county.’

‘Lor!’ said Tottie, ‘how nice! Why, she must be like the imported filly
we saw at Wargan Races last year. Oh, wasn’t she a real beauty? such
legs! and such a sweet head on her!—I never saw the like of it!’

‘You’re a regular Currency lass, Tottie,’ laughed Mr. Banks; ‘always
thinking about horses. Don’t you tell Miss Neuchamp that she’s very
sweet about the head and has out-and-out legs: she mightn’t understand
it. Here we are—jump down. I’ll put the mare in the paddock.’

Miss Neuchamp, having had time to finish luncheon, had walked out into
the verandah with her cousin, when she was attracted by the trampling
of horses, and looked forth in time to see her proposed handmaid sail
up to the door at a pace which would have excited observation in Rotten
Row.

Mr. Banks awaited her dismounting, knowing full well that she required
no assistance. The active maiden swung herself sideways on the
saddle and dropped to the ground as lightly as the ‘hounding beauty
of Bessarabia,’ or any ordinary circus sawdust-treading celebrity.
Lifting her habit, she advanced to the verandah with a curious mixture
of shyness and self-possession. She successfully accomplished the
traditional courtesy to Miss Neuchamp, and then shook hands cordially
with Ernest, as she had been in the habit of doing. Miss Augusta put up
her eyeglass at this, and regarded the ‘young person’ with a fixed and
critical gaze.

‘I’m very much obliged to your mother for letting you come, Tottie, and
I am very glad to see you at Rainbar,’ said Mr. Neuchamp. ‘If you go
into the dining-room, you will find the lunch on the table; I daresay
you will have an appetite after your ride. You can clear it away by and
by, and Miss Neuchamp will tell you anything she wishes you to do. You
will live in the cottage, and you must help old Johnny as well as you
can, without quarrelling with him—you know his temper—or letting him
bully you.’

Tottie was about to say, ‘I’m not afraid of the old tinker,’ but,
remembering Mr. Banks’s advice, replied meekly, ‘Yes, sir; thank you,
Mr. Neuchamp,’ and retired to her lunch and duties.

‘I suppose that is a sample of your peasantry,’ said Miss Neuchamp,
with cold preciseness of tone. ‘Do you generally shake hands with
your housemaids in the colonies? I suppose it must be looked for in a
democracy.’

‘Well, Tottie Freeman isn’t exactly a peasant,’ explained Ernest
mildly. ‘We haven’t any of the breed here. She is a farmer’s daughter,
and her proud sire has or had an acreage that would make him a great
man at fair and market in England. You will find her a good-tempered,
honest girl, not afraid of work, as we say here, and as she is your
only possible attendant, you must make the best of her.’

‘Is she to join us at table?’ inquired Miss Neuchamp, with the same
fixed air of indifference. ‘Of course I only ask for information.’

‘She will fare as we do, but will take her refection after we have
completed ours. She cannot very well be sent to the kitchen.’

‘Why not?’ demanded Miss Augusta.

‘For reasons which will be apparent to you, my dear Augusta, after your
longer stay in Australia. But principally because there are only men
there at present, and our old cook is not a suitable companion for a
young girl.’

‘Very peculiar household arrangements,’ said Miss Neuchamp, ‘but I
suppose I shall comprehend in time.’



CHAPTER XXV


Having communicated this sentiment in a tone which did not conduce to
the lighter graces of conversation, Miss Neuchamp resumed her reading.
Silence, the ominous oppressive silence of those who do not wish to
speak, reigned unbroken for a while.

At length, lifting her head as if the thought had suddenly struck her,
she said, ‘I cannot think why you did not buy a station nearer to town,
where you might have lived in a comparatively civilised way.’

‘For the very sufficient reasons that there is never so much money to
be made at comfortable, highly improved stations, and the areas of land
are invariably smaller.’

‘Then you have come to regard money as everything? Is this the end of
the burning philanthropy, and all that sort of thing?’

‘You are too quick in your conclusions, my dear Augusta,’ replied
Mr. Neuchamp, somewhat hurt. ‘It is necessary, I find, to make some
money to ensure the needful independence of position without which
philanthropical or other projects can scarcely be carried out.’

‘I daresay you will end in becoming a mere colonist, and marrying a
colonial girl, after all your fine ideas. I suppose there are some a
shade more refined than this one.’

Mr. Neuchamp stood aghast—words failed him. Augusta went on quietly
reading her book. She failed to perceive the avalanche which was
gathering above her head.

‘My dear Augusta,’ he said at length, with studied calmness, ‘it is
time that some of your misconceptions should be cleared away. Let me
recall to you that you were only a few days in a hotel in Sydney before
you started on your journey to this distant and comparatively rude
district. If you had acted reasonably, and remained in Sydney to take
advantage of introductions to my friends, you would have had some means
of making comparisons after seeing Australian ladies. But with your
present total ignorance of the premises, I wonder that a well-educated
woman should be so illogical as to state a conclusion.’

‘Well, perhaps I am a little premature,’ conceded Miss Augusta, whose
temper was much under command. ‘I suppose there is a wonderful young
lady at the back of all this indignation. Mr. Croker said as much. I
must wait and make her acquaintance. I wish you all sorts of happiness,
Ernest. Now I must go and look after the _other_ young lady.’

When Miss Neuchamp returned to the dining-room she perceived that the
damsel whose social status was so difficult to define had finished her
mid-day meal, and had also completed the clearing off and washing up
of the various articles of the service. She had discovered for herself
the small room used as a pantry, had ferreted out the requisite cloths
and towels, and procured hot water from the irascible Johnny. She had
extemporised a table in the passage, and was just placing the last of
the articles on their allotted shelves with much deftness and celerity,
when Miss Neuchamp entered. Her riding-skirt lay on a chair, and she
had donned a neat print frock, which she had brought strapped to the
saddle.

‘I was coming to give you instructions,’ said Miss Neuchamp, ‘but I see
you have anticipated me by doing everything which I should have asked
you to do, and very nicely too. What is your name?’

‘Mary Anne Freeman,’ said Tottie demurely.

‘I thought I heard Mr. Neuchamp address you by some other Christian
name,’ said Miss Neuchamp, with slight severity of aspect.

‘Oh, Tottie,’ said the girl carelessly; ‘every one calls me Tottie, or
Tot; suppose it’s for shortness.’

‘I shall call you Mary Anne,’ said Miss Neuchamp with quiet decision;
‘and now, Mary Anne, are you accustomed to the use of the needle? do
you like sewing?’

‘Well, I don’t _like_ it,’ she replied ingenuously, ‘but of course I
can sew a little; we have to make our own frocks and the children’s
things at home.’

‘Very proper and necessary,’ affirmed Augusta; ‘if we can get the
material I will superintend your making a couple of dresses for
yourself, which perhaps you will think an improvement in pattern on the
one you wear.’

‘Oh, I should _so_ like to have a new pattern,’ said Tottie, with
feminine satisfaction. ‘There’s plenty of nice prints in the store;
I’ll speak to Mr. Banks about it, mem.’

‘I will arrange that part of it,’ said Miss Neuchamp. ‘In the
meanwhile I’ll point out your bedroom, which you can put in order as
well as mine for the night.’

After the first day or two Miss Neuchamp, though occasionally shocked
at the Australian girl’s ignorance of that portion of the Church
Catechism which exhorts people to behave ‘lowly and reverently to
all their betters,’ was pleased with the intelligence and artless
good-humour of her attendant. She was sufficiently acute to
discriminate between the genuine respect which the girl exhibited to
her, ‘a real lady,’ and the mere lip service and servility too often
yielded by the English poor, from direct compulsion of grinding poverty
and sore need. She discovered that Tottie was quick and teachable
in the matter of needlework, so that, having been stimulated by the
alluring expectation of ‘patterns,’ she worked readily and creditably.

For a few days Miss Neuchamp managed to employ and interest herself
not altogether unpleasantly. Ernest, of course, betook himself off to
some manner of station work immediately after breakfast, returning,
if possible, to lunch. This interval Miss Neuchamp filled up in great
measure by means of her correspondence, which was voluminous and
various of direction, ranging from her Aunt Ermengarde, a conscientious
but ruthless conservative, to philosophical acquaintances whom she had
met in her travels, and who, like her, had much ado to fill up those
leisure hours of which their lives were chiefly composed. This portion
of the day also witnessed Tottie’s most arduous labours, to which she
addressed herself with great zeal and got through her work, as she
termed it, so as to attire herself becomingly and wait at table.

In the afternoon Ernest went out for walking excursions to such points
of interest, neither many nor picturesque, as the neighbourhood
supplied. There was a certain ‘bend’ or curving reach of the river
where, from a lofty bluff, the red walls of which the rushing tide had
channelled for ages, a striking and uncommon view was obtained. The
vast plain, here diversified by the giant eucalypti which fringed the
winding watercourse, stretched limitless to the horizon. But all was
apparently barren from Dan to Beersheba. The reed-beds were trampled
and eaten down to the last cane. The soft rich alluvium in which they
grew was cracked, yet hard as a brickfield. How different from the
swaying emerald billows with feathered tasselled crests which other
summers had seen there! Something of this sort had Ernest endeavoured
to explain to Miss Neuchamp when she spoke disrespectfully of the
trodden cloddy waste, contrasting it scornfully with the velvet meads
which bordered English rivers. But Augusta, defective in imagination,
never believed in anything she did not see. Therefore a reed-bed
appeared to her mental vision till the day of her death always as a
species of abnormal dismal swamp, lacking the traditional element of
moisture.

Other explorations were made in the cool hours of the evening, but
gradually Miss Neuchamp tired of the monotonous aspect of matters. The
dusty tracts were not pleasant to her feet. The mosquitoes assailed
her with savage virulence, whether she walked at sunrise, mid-day,
or darkening eve. If she sat down on the river bank and watched the
shallow but still pure and gleaming waters, ants of every conceivable
degree of curiosity or ferocity discomposed her. There was no rest,
no variety, no beauty, no ‘proper’ wood, valley, mountain, or brook.
She could not imagine human beings living constantly in such a hateful
wilderness. If Ernest had not all his life, and now most of all,
developed a talent for useless and incomprehensible self-sacrifice, he
would abandon such a spot for ever.

Mr. Neuchamp felt himself pressed to his last entrenchments to defend
his position; Fate seemed to have arrived personally, masked, not for
the first time in man’s strange story, in the guise of a woman. That
woman, too, his persistent, inexorable cousin Augusta. ‘The stars in
their courses fought against Sisera.’ The heavens,—dead to the dumb,
imploring looks of the great armies of perishing brutes, to the prayers
of ruined men; the earth, with withered herb and drying streamlet
gasping and faint, breathless, under the burning noon and the pitiless
dry moon rays,—alike conspired against him!

And now his cousin, who, with all her faults and defects, was stanchly
devoted to her kindred and what she believed to be their welfare, came
here to madden him with recollections of the wonderland of his birth,
and to fill him with ignoble longings to purchase present relief by the
ruinous sacrifice of purpose and principle.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, at the end of a closely contested argument,
‘whether all women are incapable of comprehending the adherence to a
fixed purpose, to the unquestioned end and climax. But you must forgive
me, my dear Augusta, for saying that you appear to me to be in the
position of a passenger who urges the captain of a vessel to alter
his course because the gale is wild and the waves rough. Suppose you
had made a suggestion to the captain of the _Rohilla_, in which noble
steamer you made your memorable voyage to these hapless isles. The
officers of the great company are polished gentlemen as well as seamen
of the first order, but I am afraid Gordon Anderson would have been
more curt than explanatory on _that_ occasion.’

‘And you are like the man in Sinbad the Sailor, as you like marine
similes,’ retorted Augusta; ‘you will see your vessel gradually drawn
toward the loadstone island till all the nails and rivets fly out
by attraction of ruin, and you will sink in the waters of oblivion,
unhonoured and unsung.’

‘But not “unloved,” I trust,‘ rejoined Ernest; ‘don’t think that
matters, even in Australia, will be quite so bad as that. By the way,
let me congratulate you upon your facility of quotation. Your memory
must have improved amazingly of late.’

This unfair taunt closed the conversation abruptly. But like some
squabbles between very near and dear friends, there was a tacit
agreement not to refer to it. Subsequently all went on as usual.

Miss Neuchamp was a very fair horsewoman, having hunted without coming
very signally to grief, by dint of a wonderfully broken hunter, who
was first cousin to a rocking-horse—after this wise: he would on no
account run away; he was easy, he was safe; you could not throw him
down over any species of leap,—hedge, ditch, brook, or bulfinch. It
was all alike to Negotiator. After a couple of seasons and the aid of
this accomplished palfrey, Miss Neuchamp, with some reason, came to the
conclusion that she could ride fairly well. So, having broached the
idea at breakfast one morning, Ernest joyfully suggested Osmund as the
type of ease and elegance, and of such a nerve that an organ and monkey
might, were the consideration sufficient, be placed on his short back
to-morrow without risk of casualty.

Miss Neuchamp thought that she should like to ride down and visit the
Freeman encampment, when Tottie, who would of course attend her, might
have the opportunity of seeing her mother and other kinsfolk.

The side-saddle was the next difficulty; but Tottie proffered hers at
once, saying that she could ride in a man’s saddle, which she could
borrow from Mr. Banks.

‘But you cannot ride in a man’s saddle, Mary Anne; at any rate with
me,’ said Miss Neuchamp decisively, while a maidenly blush overspread
her features.

‘Why not?’ inquired Tottie, with much surprise. ‘I can ride in one just
as well as the other. You have only to throw the off-side stirrup over
the pommel, sit square and straight, and there you are. You didn’t
think I was going to ride boy-fashion, did you?’

‘I was not sure,’ conceded Miss Neuchamp. However, your explanation has
satisfied me. If you like, we will ride down to your father’s place
this afternoon.‘

So Osmund being brought round, and Tottie’s side-saddle upon him
placed, that temperate charger walked off with Miss Neuchamp as if he
had carried a ‘pretty horsebreaker’ up Rotten Row before the eyes of
an envious aristocracy, while Tottie disposed herself upon a station
saddle and ambled off so erect and free of seat that few could have
known that she was crutchless and self-balanced. Mr. Windsor followed
at a respectful distance, in case of any _contretemps_ requiring a
groom’s assistance.

Miss Neuchamp was perhaps never more favourably impressed with the
South Land, in which she was sojourning, than when she felt herself
borne along by Osmund, a hackney of rare excellence—free, elastic,
safe, fast, easy! How many horses of whom so much can be said does one
come across in a lifetime?

‘This seems to be an exceedingly nice horse of my cousin’s,’ said she
to Tottie. ‘I had no idea that such riding horses could be found in the
interior. He must have been very carefully trained.’

‘He’s a plum, that’s what he is!’ affirmed Tottie with decision. ‘He’s
the best horse in these parts, by long chalks. Mr. Neuchamp let me have
a spirt on him one day. My word! didn’t I put him along?’

‘I am surprised that he should have let you ride him,’ replied Miss
Neuchamp with dignity; ‘but my cousin is very eccentric, and does not,
in my opinion, always keep his proper position.’

‘I don’t know about his proper position,’ said Tottie with great
spirit, ‘but before our people had the row with him—and that was Uncle
Joe’s fault—there was no one within fifty mile of Rainbar that wouldn’t
have gone on their knees to serve Mr. Neuchamp. _As a gentleman he
can’t be beat_; and many a one besides me thinks that.’

‘Oh well, if you have that sort of respectful feeling towards my
cousin, Mary Anne, I have nothing to say,’ said Miss Augusta. ‘No one
can possibly have better intentions, and I am glad to see them so well
appreciated, even in the bush. Suppose we canter.’

She drew the curb rein as she spoke, and Osmund sailed off at a long,
bounding, deerlike canter over the smooth dusty track, which convinced
Miss Neuchamp that she had not left all the good horses in England.
The scant provender had impaired his personal appearance, but had
not deprived him of that courage which he would retain as long as he
possessed strength to stand on his legs.

‘I have not enjoyed a ride like this for many a day,’ she said with
unusual heartiness. ‘This is a very comfortable saddle of yours, though
I miss the third pommel. How do you manage, Mary Anne, to ride so
squarely and easily upon that uncomfortable saddle?’

‘I’ve ridden many a mile without a saddle at all—that is, with nothing
but an old gunny-bag to sit on,’ said Tottie, ‘and jumped over logs
too. Of course I was a kid then.’

‘A what?’ said Miss Neuchamp anxiously.

‘Oh, a little child,’ explained Tottie. ‘I often used to go out at
daylight to fetch in the cows and the working bullocks when we lived
down the country. Bitter cold it was, too, in the winter; such hard
frosts.’

‘Frosts?’ asked Miss Augusta. ‘Do you ever have frosts? Why, I supposed
they were unknown here.’

‘You don’t suppose the whole country is like this, miss?’ said Tottie.
‘Why, near the mountains there’s snow and ice, and it rains every
winter, and the floods are enough to drownd you.’

‘Are there floods too? It does not look as if they could ever come.’

‘Do you see that hut, miss? That’s our place. I heard Piambook, the
black boy, tell father it would be swep’ away some day. Father laughed
at him.‘

Here they arrived at the abode of Freeman _père_, at which Miss
Neuchamp gazed with much curiosity.

In the language of architecture, the construction had been but little
decorated. A plain and roughly-built abode, composed of round saplings
nailed vertically to the wall-plate, and plastered insufficiently with
mud. The roof was thatched with reeds, put on in a very ineffectual
and chance-medley manner. The hut or cottage contained two large and
three small rooms. There was no garden whatever, or any attempt at the
cultivation of the baked and hopelessly-looking clay soil. Close to
the side of the house was a stockyard, comprising the ‘gallows’ of the
colonists, a rough, rude contrivance, consisting of two uprights and a
crosspiece, for elevating slaughtered cattle. Upon this structure was
at present hanging the carcass of a fine six-months-old calf. No other
enclosure was visible, the only attempt at the preservation of neatness
being the sweeping of the earth immediately around the front and back
doors.

Tottie immediately clattered up to the hut door, the black mare putting
her head so far in that she obstructed the egress of a middle-aged
woman, who made haste to come forth and receive the guests.

‘Mother,’ said the girl, ‘here’s Miss Neuchamp come to see you; bring a
chair for her to get off by.’

This article of furniture having been supplied, Augusta was fain to
descend upon it with as much dignity as she could manage, not being
confident of her ability to drop down, like the agile Tottie, from a
tallish horse, as was Osmund. Tottie, having given the horses in charge
of a small brown-faced brother, who spent his whole time in considering
Osmund, and apparently learning him by heart, welcomed Miss Neuchamp
into her home. That young lady found herself for the first time under
the roof of an Australian free-selector, and felt that she had acquired
a new experience.

‘Come in, miss; I’m very glad to see you, I’m sure; please to sit
down,’ was the salutation Augusta received, in tones that spoke a
hearty welcome, in very pure unaccented English.

Miss Neuchamp selected the most ‘reliable’ looking of the wooden-seated
American chairs, and depositing herself thereon, looked around. The
dwelling was, she thought, more prepossessing than the outside had
led her to imagine. Though everything was plain to ugliness, there
was yet nothing squalid or repulsive. All things were very clean. The
room in which they sat was evidently only used as a parlour or ‘living
room.’ It was fairly large and commodious. The earthen floor was hard,
even, and well swept. A large table occupied the centre. The fireplace
was wide and capacious, the mantelpiece so high that it was not easy
to reach. There was a wooden sofa covered with faded chintz, and an
American clock. Half a dozen cheap chairs, a shelf well filled with
indifferently bound books, a few unframed woodcuts hung upon the walls,
made up the furniture and ornamentation. Opening from this apartment
laterally was evidently a bedroom. At the back a skilling, a lower
roofed portion of the building, contained several smaller rooms. A
detached two-roomed building, in what would have been the back-yard had
any enclosure been made, was probably the kitchen and laundry.

Mrs. Freeman insisted upon putting down the kettle to boil, in order
that she might make a cup of tea for her distinguished visitor,
evidently under the opinion that every one naturally desired to drink
tea whenever they could get it.

‘And how have you been behaving yourself, Tottie?’ said she, addressing
her daughter, as a convenient mode of opening the conversation. ‘I hope
and trust you’ve been a help to Miss Neuchamp. Has she, miss?’

‘Oh, certainly,’ answered Augusta; ‘Mary Anne has been a very good
girl indeed. I don’t know how I should get on without her. And I have
borrowed her side-saddle too. How long will it be before Mr. Freeman
comes home?’

‘Oh, he won’t be home much before dark. He’s always out on the run all
day long. He hates coming in before the day is done.’

‘Why is that, Mrs. Freeman?’

‘“Because,” he says, “what can a man do after his day’s work but sit
down and twirl his thumbs.” He haven’t got any garden here to fiddle
about in, and he can’t sit still and smoke, like some people.‘

‘But why don’t you have a garden?’ promptly inquired Augusta. ‘I
suppose there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have one?’

‘You see, miss,’ said Mrs. Freeman, casting about for a mode of
explaining to her young lady visitor that she didn’t know what she was
talking about, ‘the ground ain’t very good just here; and though it’s
so dry and baked just now, they say the floods come all over it; and
perhaps we mightn’t be here altogether that long. And Freeman, he’s
had a deal of trouble with the stock lately. I don’t say but what a
garden would look pretty enough; but who’s to work in it? It ain’t like
our place down the country. There we had a garden—lots of peaches and
grapes, and more plums, apples, and quinces than we could use and give
away, besides early potatoes and all kinds of vegetables.’

‘I suppose you regretted leaving such a home,’ said Miss Neuchamp,
rather impressed by the hothouse profusion of the fruits mentioned.

‘Well, I’d rather live there on a pound a week,’ said Mrs. Freeman,
‘than here on riches. Freeman thought the stock would make up for all,
but I didn’t, and I’m always sorry for the day we ever left the old
farm.’

As the good woman spoke the tears stood in her eyes, and Miss Neuchamp
much marvelled that any spot in the desolate region of Australia
should have power to attract the affection even of hard-worked,
unrelieved Mrs. Freeman.

‘Mother’s always fretting about that old place at Bowning,’ said
Tottie. ‘I don’t believe it was any great things either. It was a deal
colder than this, and we had lots of milk and butter always; but bread
and butter’s not worth caring about.’

‘You don’t recollect it, Tottie,’ said her mother, ‘or you would not
talk in that way. Don’t you remember going into the garden to pick the
peaches? How cool and shady it was in the mornings, to be sure, without
scores of mosquitoes to sting and eat us up! Then there was always
grass enough for the cows, and we had plenty of milk and butter and
cheese, except, perhaps, in the dead of winter. It was better for all
of us in other ways too, and that’s more.’

‘I don’t see that, mother,’ said Tottie.

‘But I do,’ said Mrs. Freeman, ‘and more than me knows it. There’s your
father isn’t the same man, without his regular work at the farm, and
the carrying and the other jobs, that used to fill up his time from
daylight to dark. Now he’s nothing but the cattle to look after; and
such weather as this there’s nothing to do from month’s end to month’s
end, unless to pull them out of the waterholes. And I _know_ he had a
“burst” at that wretched _Stockman’s Arms_ the last time he was down
the river. He that was that sober before you could not tell him from a
Son of Temperance.‘

‘I feel sorry that you should have so much reason to complain of your
lot,’ said Miss Neuchamp. ‘The poor, I am aware, are never contented,
at least none that I ever saw in England. Yet it seems a pity, indeed,
that want of patience and trust in Providence should have led to your
moving to this unsuitable and, I am afraid, ill-fated locality.’

‘We’re not altogether so poor, miss,’ said the worthy matron,
recovering herself. ‘Abe will have over five hundred pounds in the bank
when he’s delivered up the land and the stock to this Mr. Levison,
that’s bought us all out. But what’s a little money, one way or the
other, if your life’s miserable, and your husband takes to idle ways
and worse, and your children grow up duffers and planters, and perhaps
end in sticking up people?’

‘Oh, mother, shut up!’ ejaculated Tottie, with more kindliness in her
tone than the words would have indicated. ‘Things won’t be as had as
that. Don’t I teach Poll and Sally and Ned and Billy? Besides, what
does Miss Neuchamp know about duffing and sticking up? We’ll be all
right when we clear out next year, and you can go back to Bowning and
buy Book’s farm, and set father splitting stringy-bark rails for the
rest of his life, if that’s what keeps him good. I expect the tea is
ready. Won’t you give Miss Neuchamp a cup?’

Mrs. Freeman made haste to fill up a cup of tea, and a small jug of
milk being produced, Miss Augusta found herself in possession of
the best cup of tea she had tasted at Rainbar. She felt a sincere
compassion for her hostess as a woman of properly submissive turn of
mind, who had sense enough to regret her improper and irreligious
departure from the lowly state in which Providence had placed her.

Promising to call again, and comforting the low-spirited matron as
far as in her lay, she remounted Osmund with some difficulty by means
of the chair, and rode homewards, followed by Mr. Windsor, who had
solaced his leisure by extracting from the younger girls, whom he had
descried fishing, the latest news of the cattle operations of the
family generally.

‘Your mother seems to be very much of my opinion, Mary Anne,’ said Miss
Augusta as soon as they were fairly on the sandy home-station track,
‘that this is a most undesirable place to live in.’

‘Mother’s as good a woman as ever was,’ said Tottie, ‘but she don’t
“savey.” She’s always fretting about our old farm; and it certainly was
cooler—that’s about all the pull there was in it. Father’s made more
money here in two or three years than he’d have got together in twenty
there. I should have been hoeing corn all day with a pair of thick
boots on, and grown up as wild as a scrub filly. I don’t want to go
back.‘

‘Your mother seems a person of excellent sense, Mary Anne, and I must
say that I _fully agree with her_,’ said Miss Neuchamp, with her most
unbending expression, designed to modify her attendant’s lightness of
tone. ‘Depend upon it, unhappiness and misfortune invariably follow the
attempt to quit an allotted station in life.’

‘Oh, that be hanged for a yarn! Oh, I beg your pardon, miss,’ said
Tottie confusedly, for she was on the point of relapsing into the
Rainbar vernacular. ‘But surely every one ain’t bound to stop where
they’re planted, good soil or bad, water or no water, like a corn-seed
in a cow track or a pumpkin in a tree stump! Men and women have it
in ’em to forage about a bit, else how do some people get on so
wonderfully. I’ve read about self-help, and all that, and heaps of
people beginning with half-a-crown and making fortunes. Ought they to
have thrown the half-crown away or the fortune after they had made it?’

‘No doubt some people are apparently favoured,’ said Miss Augusta,
regarding Tottie’s argument as another result of the over-education of
‘these sort of persons.’ ‘In the end it is often the worst thing that
can befall them. Now let us canter.‘

When Augusta Neuchamp had remained for a fortnight at Rainbar she began
to perceive that the monotonous existence likely to be unreasonably
prolonged would serve no object either of pleasure or profit. No
amount of residence would teach her an iota more of the nature of such
an establishment as Rainbar than she knew already. What was there
to learn? The plains within sight of the cottage needed but to be
indefinitely multiplied; and what then? An area of country equally
arid, barren, unspeakably desolate. Other droves and herds of cattle
equally emaciated. Nothing possibly could be in her eyes more hopeless
and horrible than these endless death-stricken, famine-haunted wastes.
Why did Ernest stay here? She had tried her utmost to induce him to
abandon the whole miserable delusion, quoting the arguments of Mr.
Jermyn Croker until he spoke angrily about that gentleman and closed
the debate.

The obvious thing to do was to return to Sydney, but even this
comparatively simple step was difficult to carry out. Miss Neuchamp did
not desire again to tempt the perils of the road unattended. She had
taken it for granted that Ernest, the most complying and good-natured
of men ordinarily, would return to Sydney with her; and she had trusted
to the influence of civilisation and her steady persuasion to prevail
upon him to return to England to his friends, and to what she deemed to
be his fixed and unalterable position in life.

On this occasion she met with unexpected opposition. Ernest positively
declined to quit his station at present.

‘My dear Augusta,’ said he, ‘you do not know what you are asking. I
have a number of very important duties to perform here. My financial
state is an extremely critical one. I cannot with any decency appear in
Sydney when everything points to the ruin of myself and my whole order.
I am sincerely sorry that you should feel life here to be so extremely
_ennuyant_, but I should never, if consulted, have advised you to come;
and now I am afraid you must wait until a proper escort turns up or
until I can accompany you.’

‘And when will that be?’

‘When the rain comes, certainly not before.’

Miss Augusta said that this last contingency was as probable as the
near advent of the millennium. She would wait a given time, and, that
expired, would go down to Sydney as she had come up by herself.

A fortnight, even three weeks, passed away. Augusta had mentioned a
month as the outside limit of her forbearance. She read over and over
‘Mariana in the Moated Grange’ and ‘Mariana in the South’ with quite a
new appreciation of their peculiar accuracy as well as poetic sentiment.

Daily she worked and read, and walked and rode, and alternately was
hopeful or otherwise about the ultimate conversion of Tottie to the
true faith of proper English village lowliness and reverence. Daily
Ernest went forth ‘out on the run’ immediately after breakfast,
reappearing only at or after sunset. Insensibly Miss Neuchamp became
alarmed to find creeping over her a kind of provincial interest in the
affairs of the ‘burghers of this desert city.’ She listened almost
with excitement to the account of a lot of the new cattle having been
followed twenty miles over the boundary and recovered by Charley Banks.
She heard of a bushranger being captured about fifty miles off—this
was Jack Windsor’s story; of the mail coming in twelve hours late in
consequence of the horses being exhausted. Ernest gathered this from
the overseer of the last lot of travelling sheep that passed through,
having been locked up in Wargan Gaol for disobeying a summons. ‘Such a
handsome young fellow, miss.’ This was Tottie’s contribution.

What with the reading, the sewing, the teaching of Tottie, the
daily cousinly walks and talks, the hitherto uncompromising Augusta
became partially converted to station life, and finally admitted in
conversation with Ernest that, other things being equal, she _could_
imagine a woman enduring such privation for a few years, always
assuming that she had the companionship of the one man to whom alone
she could freely devote every waking thought, every pulsation of the
heart.

‘Do you think there’s any man born, miss,’ inquired Tottie, who was
laying the cloth for dinner, but who stopped deliberately and listened
with qualified approval to the sentence with which Miss Neuchamp
concluded her statement—‘any man born—except in a book—like that? I
don’t. They most of ’em seem to me to take it very easy, smoking and
riding about, and drinking at odd times. It’s the women that all the
real pull comes on.’

‘I was not addressing myself to you, Mary Anne,’ replied Miss Augusta
with dignity; ‘I was speaking to Mr. Neuchamp only. I should hardly
think your experience entitled you to offer an opinion.’

‘H—m,’ said Tottie, proceeding with the plates. ‘I’m young, and I
suppose I don’t know much. But I hear what’s going on. Don’t you think
I’d better go down to Sydney, to take care of you on the road, miss, in
case there’s a Chinaman to knock over? I think I could do that, if I
was drove to it.’

On the next day an unusual occurrence took place in that land where
events and novelties seemed to have perished like the grass, under the
slow calcining of the deadly season—a dray arrived from town.

Miss Neuchamp, in her sore need of change and occupation, could have
cheerfully witnessed the unpacking of ordinary station stores, in
which, as usual, a little drapery would be comprised. But here again
disappointment. It was merely a load of flour.

Depressed and discouraged, Miss Neuchamp had condescended to watch
the unloading of the unromantic freight, deriving a faint interest in
noting with what apparent ease Jack Windsor and Charley Banks placed
the heavy bags upon their shoulders and deposited them in the store.

Rarely was Miss Augusta so lowered in spirit as not to be able to
talk. On this occasion she had informed Tottie, with some relish, that
English country girls were much ruddier and more healthy looking, as
well as, she doubted not, stronger and more capable of endurance, than
those born in Australia could possibly be.

‘Why so?’ inquired Tottie with animation.

‘Why?’ said Miss Neuchamp with asperity; ‘because of the cool,
beautiful climate they live in, the regular, wholesome labour they are
born to, the superiority of the whole land and people to this dull,
deceitful country, all sand and sun-glare.’

‘Well, I can’t say, miss,’ replied Tottie, plotting a surprise, with
characteristic coolness, ‘about English girls’ looks, because I’ve
hardly ever seen any; but as for health, I’ve a middling appetite, I
never was a day ill since I was born, and as to being strong—look here.‘

Before the horrified Augusta could forbid her rapid motion, she bounded
over to the dray, from which Mr. Windsor had just borne his two hundred
pounds of farina. She placed her back beneath the lessening load, and
stretching her arms upward in the way proper to grasp the tied corner
of the bag, said imperiously, ‘Here, Mr. Carrier, just you lower that
bag steady; I want to show the English lady what a Currency girl can
walk away with.’

The tall sunburned driver entered into the joke, and winking at Charley
Banks, who stood by laughing, he placed the heavy bag fairly and square
upon Tottie’s plump shoulders. Miss Neuchamp’s gaze was riveted upon
the erratic ‘help’ as if she had been about to commit suicide.

‘Oh! don’t—don’t,’ she gasped; ‘are you mad, Mary Anne? You will break
your back, or cripple yourself for life. Mr. Banks, pray interfere! I
am sure my cousin will be angry—pray stop her!’

Charley Banks was not afraid that anything dreadful would happen. He
had seen the bush girls perform feats of strength and activity ere now
which proved to him that very little cause for apprehension existed in
the present case.

And there was not much time. For one moment the girl stood, with her
arms raised above her head, her figure, in its natural and classic
grace, proving the unspeakable advantage of the free, open-air life,
with fullest liberty for varied exercise, which she had had from her
birth. The next she had moved forward with firm, elastic tread, under
a load which a city man out of training would have found no joke, and,
walking into the store, permitted it to fall accurately beside the
others which had been shot from the backs of Jack Windsor and Mr. Banks
into their appointed corner.

There was a slight cheer, and an exclamation of, ‘Well done, Tottie,’
as she returned with a heightened colour and half-triumphant,
half-confused air to Miss Neuchamp, who, relieved at her safe return
from the dangerous feat, did not administer so severe a rebuke as might
have been expected.

‘You may be thankful, Mary Anne, if you do not hereafter discover that
this day’s folly has laid the foundation of lifelong ill-health. But
come into the house, child. You _have_ some colour for once. Let me see
no more pranks of this sort again, while _I_ am here.’

‘Lor, miss,’ said Tottie, ‘that’s not the first bag of flour I’ve
carried. And father says there was a girl he knew at the Hawkesbury
that took one—and _him a-top of it_—around her father’s barn. He was
only a boy then.’

‘I think you may lay the tea, Mary Anne,’ said Miss Neuchamp, not
requiring any more Hawkesbury anecdotes. ‘I feel unusually fatigued
to-day.’

Fortunately for all parties, before the extreme limit of Miss
Neuchamp’s patience and the resources of Rainbar had been reached, a
welcome auxiliary arrived in the person of Mr. Middleton. That worthy
paterfamilias had been compelled to visit his outlying stations, in
order to ascertain the precise amount of death and destruction that
was taking place, and was returning to his usual residence nearer the
settled districts. He travelled in a light buggy with one horse, being
thus enabled to carry a supply of forage, and even water, with him.
This, the only known plan for crossing ‘dry country’ in a bad season,
and at the same time maintaining a horse in tolerable condition, was
not ornamental in detail. The buggy, with two bags of chaff secured
behind, a bushel of maize in front, and a large water bag and bucket
swung from the axle, had a striking and unusual effect. But the active,
upstanding roadster was in better condition than any horse which had
passed Rainbar for many a day, and Mr. Neuchamp at once saw his way to
a transfer of responsibility, as far as Miss Augusta was concerned.

‘Well, Neuchamp, what do you think of Australia now?’ said the old
gentleman, in a jolly voice, as, sunburned and dusty, with a great
straw hat, a curtain and a net veil, a canvas hood to his buggy, and
the fodder previously referred to picturesquely disposed about his
travelling carriage, he drove up to the verandah, causing Augusta to
put up her eyeglass with amazement. ‘Made any striking alterations for
our good? Wish you’d try your hand at the weather, if that’s in your
line.’

‘Come in, and we’ll talk it over,’ replied Ernest. ‘I’m charmed to see
you in any kind of weather. Permit me to present you to my cousin, Miss
Neuchamp, who doesn’t approve of your country at all. I must inform
you, Augusta, this is Mr. Middleton, my fellow-passenger, whom you have
heard me mention. I hope the ladies are all well.’

‘Pretty well when they wrote last; but, like all ladies, I fancy, they
are terribly tired of the present state of the season—and no wonder.
I can only recollect one worse drought during the thirty years I have
been out here.’

‘Worse!’ ejaculated Augusta, ‘I should have thought that impossible.
How did you contrive to exist?’

‘We _did_ manage to keep alive, as I am here to testify,’ laughed the
old gentleman, whose proportions were upon an ample and generous scale;
‘but of course it was a serious matter in every aspect. However, we
weathered that famine, and we shall get over this, with patience and
God’s blessing.’

That evening it was definitely arranged that Mr. Middleton should give
Miss Neuchamp a seat in his encumbered but not overladen buggy as far
as his own home station, which he trusted to reach in a week; after
which he would undertake, when she was tired of Mrs. Middleton and the
girls, to deposit her safely in Sydney.

This was an unlooked-for piece of good fortune. Ernest was much
relieved in mind at being freed from the dilemma of returning Augusta
as a kind of captive princess of Rainbar, or undertaking an expensive
and inopportune journey for the sole purpose of accompanying her to a
place which she never should have quitted.

Mr. Middleton, confident of securing provender, now that he had
commenced to approach the confines of civilisation, was not sorry to be
provided with a young lady companion, having had of late much of his
own unrelieved society; and Augusta was more pleased than she cared
to show at the prospect of escape from this Sahara existence, without
the prestige of the desert or the novelty of Arabs. That night her
portmanteau was packed, Tottie coming in for the reversion of as much
raiment as constituted her an authority in fashions ‘on the river’
ever after, and such a _douceur_ as confirmed her in Mr. Bank’s high
estimate of Miss Neuchamp as a ‘real lady.’

At six o’clock next morning Augusta Neuchamp bade farewell for ever to
the abode of the Australian representative of her ancient house.

‘When shall I see you in Sydney, Ernest?’ she said, as a last inquiry.
‘I daresay they will wish to know at Morahmee.’

‘When the rain comes,’ said Ernest resolutely. ‘Good-bye, Middleton;
take great care of her. Remember me to the ladies.’ And they were off.

It has been more than once remarked by those of our species who rely
for their intellectual recreation less upon action than observation,
that great events are apt to be produced by inconsiderable causes.
The sighing summer breeze sets free the mountain avalanche. The spark
creates the red ruin of a conflagration. The rat in Holland perforates
a dam and floods a province.

Mr. Neuchamp sat in his apartment at Rainbar contrasting, doubtfully,
his regret at the departure of his cousin with his recovered sense
of freedom and independence. True, she was the sole link which in
Australia connected him with the thousand spells of home.

But, ever angular in mind, she had proved herself to be so incapable
of accommodation to the necessarily altered conditions of a new land,
that he had despaired of her acclimatisation. She had even failed to
comprehend them.

‘This is the result,’ he would assert to himself, ‘of her deficiency in
the faculty of imagination. It may be there are other reasons, but I
trace her special failure in _camaraderie_ to this neglect of her fairy
godmother.’

A person with deficient ideality is necessarily imprisoned by the
present. Unable to portray for themselves a presentment of unaccustomed
conditions on the mental canvas, such as is traced by Fancy, coloured
by Hope, yet corrected by Prudence, they are wholly precluded from
the prevision, even in part, of the living wonders, the breathing
enchantments, of the future. To them no city of rest, glorious and
beautiful, arises from the dull vulgarities of life and endeavour;
all with them is of the earth, earthy. A gospel of hard-eyed economy,
grudging gain, unrelieved toil, for the poor; for the sordid aspirant,
by endless thrift and striving, ‘property, property, property;’ for the
rich, a message of selfish enjoyment, grasping monopoly, ungenial ease.

‘Such would the world be were the human mind divested of the sublime
attributes of Faith and Imagination!’ exclaimed Ernest, borne away from
his present cares. ‘There may be perils for the glad mariner on the
sun-bright, flashing wave; but he has the possible glory of descrying
purple isles, undiscovered continents. Dying, he falls as a hero;
living, he may survive to be hailed as the world’s benefactor.’

Much comforted by these bright-hued imaginings and illuminings of the
path in which he knew himself to be an ardent traveller, Mr. Neuchamp
awaited his mail-bag with more than usual serenity.



CHAPTER XXVI


The untoward season had not been without its effect upon the thousand
and one gardens that paint, in each vivid delicate hue, with flower
tracery and plant glory, the rocky steeps and fairy nooks which
engirdle Sydney. The undulating lawns were dimmer, the plant masses
less profuse, the showery blooms less dazzling, the trailers less
gorgeous, than in other years. Yet were not the shores of the fair,
wondrous haven, beloved by Ocean for many a long-past æon of lonely
joy, before the bold scion of a sea-roving race invaded its giant
portals, without some tokens of his favour. In the long, throbbing,
burning days, when the sun beat blistering upon the heated roof, the
white pavement, the dusty streets, he summoned from beyond the misty
blue horizon the rushing wind-sisters fresh from the ice-galleries,
the snow-peaks, the frozen colonnades of that lone land where sits
enthroned in dazzling splendour, during days that die not or nights
that never end, the sorceress of the Southern Pole. From their wings,
frost-jewelled, dripped gentlest showers, refreshing the shore, though
they passed not the great mountain range which so long guarded the
hidden treasure-lands of the central waste. Hot and parched, compared
with former seasons, the autumn seemed endless, yet were the gardens
and shrubberies of Morahmee so comparatively verdant and fresh, from
their proximity to the sea, that Ernest would have hailed it as an Eden
of greenest glory, in comparison with the ‘sun-scorched desert brown
and bare’ which Rainbar had long resembled.

Among the inhabitants of Sydney who made daily moan against the slow
severity of the hopeless season (and who had in some cases good cause,
in diminished incomes and receding trade, for such murmurings), Paul
Frankston, to his great surprise, found his daughter to be enrolled.

This occurrence, involving as he thought a radical change of
disposition, if not of character, much alarmed the worthy merchant.
Calm and resolute, if occasionally variant of mood, Antonia Frankston
had hitherto been one of the least querulous of mortals. Sufficiently
cultured to comprehend that the stupendous laws of the universe were
not controlled by the fancied woe or weal of feeble man, she had never
sympathised with the unmeaning deprecation of climatic occurrences.

‘The wind and the weather are in God’s hands,’ she had once answered
to some shallow complainer. ‘What are we that we should dare to blame
or praise? Besides, I am a sailor’s daughter, and at sea they take the
weather as it comes.’

In other matters, which could be set right by personal supervision or
self-denial, she held it to be most unworthy weakness to make bitter
outcry or vain lamentation. ‘If the evil can be repaired, why not
at once commence the task? If hopeless, then bear it with firmness.
Provide against its recurrence, if you like; but, in any case, what
possible good can talking or, more correctly, whining do? That is the
reason why men so often despise women, so often suffer from them. Look
at _them_ when anything goes wrong,—how hard they work, how little
they talk! Perhaps they smoke the more. But even that has the virtue
of silence, and therefore of wisdom. Talk is a very good thing in the
right place, but when things go wrong, it is _not_ in its right place.’

In former days of autumn, when the rains came not, when the
flowers drooped, when bad news came from Paul Frankston’s pastoral
constituents, and that worthy financier was troubled in mind, or smoked
more than his proper allowance of cigars over the consideration of the
state of trade, it was Antonia who invariably cheered and consoled him.
She pointed out the triumphs of the past; she steadfastly counselled
trust in the future; she soothed the night with her songs; she cheered
the day with unfailing ministration to his comfort and habitudes.

Now, curiously, the old man thought his darling was different from what
he had ever recollected. She suffered repinings to escape her as to the
weary rainless season. She did not deny or controvert his occasional
grumbling assertions, after a hot day in the city, that the whole
country was going to the bad. She was, wonder of wonders, occasionally
irritable with the servants, and impatient of their shortcomings. She
kept her books unchanged and apparently unread for a time unprecedented
in Mr. Shaddock’s experience.

Mr. Frankston could not by any means comprehend this deflection of
his daughter’s equable mental constitution. After much consideration
he came to the conclusion that she wanted change of air—that the
depressing hot season was telling upon her health for the first time in
his recollection; and he cast about for an eligible chance to send her
to some friends in Tasmania, where the keener air, the somewhat more
bracing island climate, might restore her to the animation which he
feared she was losing day by day.

He thought also, amid his loving plans and plottings for his daughter’s
welfare, that possibly she needed the stimulus of additional society.
They had been living quietly at Morahmee of late, and the season of
comparative gaiety, which in Sydney generally dates from the birthnight
of the Empress of Anglo-Saxondom, had not as yet arrived.

‘We want a little rousing up,’ thought poor Paul; ‘we have had no
little dinners lately, no one in the evenings. I have been thinking
over this confounded season and these bothering bills till I have
forgotten my own darling, but for whose sake the whole country might be
swallowed up in Mauna Loa, for all old Paul cares. I shouldn’t say that
either; but it seems hard that anything should ail the poor darling
that care might have prevented. If her mother had lived—ah!’ and here
Paul fell a-thinking, until the wheels of the dogcart grated against
the pavement near the office door.

Thus it so chanced that, towards the end of the week, occurred one of
the little dinners for which Morahmee was famous, with a ‘whip’ of
certain musical celebrities of the neighbourhood, and as many ordinary
guests as made a successful compromise between all ‘music,’ which
sometimes hath not ‘charms’ for the masculine breast, and a regulation
evening party, which would have been an anachronism.

Among the guests for whom Paul, in his anxiety for a healthful
distraction for Antonia, had swept the clubs and the hotels, were Mr.
Hardy Baldacre and Jermyn Croker. Squatters were scarce in Sydney
beyond previous experience. They were all at home on their stations
attending to their stock, except those who were in town attending to
their bills. These last were chiefly indisposed to society. They dined
at their clubs or hotels after half a day’s waiting in the manager’s
ante-chamber, and felt more inclined for the repose of the smoking-room
than for the excitement of the society.

Mr. Hardy Baldacre had managed to come to town, however, without such
anxieties of a pecuniary nature as interfered with his amusements. Of
these he partook of as full measure of every kind and description as
he could procure cheaply. He had early developed a taste for pleasure,
controlled only by considerations of caution and economy. Those who
knew him well disliked him thoroughly, and with cause. Those who met
him occasionally, as did Mr. Neuchamp and Paul Frankston, saw in him a
well-dressed, good-looking man, with an affectation of good-humour and
liberality by no means without attraction. Paul _had_ heard assertions
made to his disadvantage, but not having bestowed much thought upon the
matter, had not gone the length of excluding him from his invitation
list; on this occasion he had been rather glad to fill up his table.

Mr. Jermyn Croker, as usual, had constituted himself an exception to
ordinary humanity by remaining at his club during the terrible season
which sent the most ardent lovers of the metropolis to their distant
duties. In explanation he stated that either the whole country would
be ruined or it would not. He frankly admitted that he inclined to the
first belief. If the former state of matters prevailed, what was the
use of living in the desert till the last camel died and the last well
was choked? No human effort could avert the final simoom, which was
evidently on its way to engulf pastoral Australia. Now, here at the
club (though the wines were beastly, as usual, and the committee ought
to be sacked) there would be a little claret and ice available to the
last. He should remain and perish, where, at least, a club waiter could
see to your interment.

Such was Mr. Jermyn Croker’s faith, openly professed in club and
counting-house. But those who knew him averred that he took good
care to have one of the best overseers in the country at his head
station, whose management he kept up to the mark by weekly letters of
so consistently depreciatory a nature that nobody expected _he_ would
survive the season, whatever the issue to others. ‘Died of a bad season
and Jermyn Croker’ had, indeed, been an epitaph written in advance and
forwarded to him by a provincial humorist.

Hartley Selmore had also been found available. He, indeed, could not
very well remain away from financial headquarters. So many of his
unpaid orders and acceptances, with the ominous superscription ‘Refer
to drawer,’ found their way to bank and office by every mail from the
interior, that a residence in the metropolis was vitally necessary. In
good sooth, his unflagging energy and great powers of resource, under
the presence of constant emergency, were equal to the demand made upon
them. With the aid of every device of discount and hypothecation known
to the children of finance, he managed to keep afloat. His day’s work,
neither light nor easy of grasp, once over, the philosophical Hartley
enjoyed his dinner, his cigar, his whist or billiards, as genuinely as
if he had not a debt in the world, and was always ready for a _petit
dîner_ if he distrusted not the wine.

This dinner was, as usual, perfect in its way. The cooking at Morahmee
was proverbial; the wines were too good for even Jermyn Croker to
grumble at—had he done so he would have imperilled his reputation
as connoisseur, of which he was careful; the conversation of the
guests, at first guarded and unsympathetic, rose into liveliness
with the conclusion of the first course, and, simultaneously with
the circulation of Paul’s unrivalled well-iced vintage, became more
adventurous and brilliant.

‘Where is our young friend Neuchamp?’ inquired Hartley Selmore. ‘I
haven’t seen him for an age.’

‘Gone to the bad long ago, hasn’t he?’ replied Croker, with an air of
pleasing certainty.

‘Heard he had bought a terribly overrated place on the Darling,’ said
Selmore. ‘Very sharp practice of Parklands. Too bad of him—too bad,
wasn’t it, now?’

‘Was it as good a bargain as Gammon Downs, Mr. Selmore?’ inquired
Antonia, with a faint resemblance to former archness that lit up her
melancholy features. ‘I am afraid there is not much to choose between
you hardened pioneers when there is a newly-landed purchaser signalled.’

‘Really, Miss Frankston, really!’ replied Selmore, with a fine
imitation of the chivalrous and disinterested; ‘you do some of us
injustice. In all this dreadful season, I assure you, the creeks
at Gammon Downs are running like English brooks, and the grass is
green—absolutely green!’

‘Why, what colour should it be, Mr. Selmore—blue or magenta? But you
know that I am an Australian, and therefore must have learned in the
many conversations which have passed in my hearing about station
matters that “green grass country” is generally spoken disrespectfully
of, and “permanent water” is not everything. But we will not continue
the rather worn subject.‘

‘I fancy Neuchamp can’t be doing so badly,’ cut in Hardy Baldacre, with
his customary assurance, ‘for I hear he is going to be married.’

‘Married!’ echoed Antonia, as she felt the tide of life arrested in
her veins for one moment, and, with the next, course wildly back to
her beating heart. ‘Married, Mr. Baldacre, and why not? But papa often
hears from him, don’t you, pappy, and he never mentioned it.’

‘Mentioned it! I should think not,’ growled Paul, with a leonine
accent, as scenting danger. ‘I heard from him, let me see, a month or
two back. I don’t believe a word of it. Who to?’

‘Well, _I saw the young lady_,’ persisted Baldacre, wholly unabashed,
while he noted Antonia’s pale and unmoved features. ‘I went up in the
coach with her, half way to Rainbar. She’s a cousin of his own; same
name. Just out from England, and ever so rich.’

‘How the deuce should she go alone up to Rainbar?’ said Paul, full
of doubt and dread. ‘Surely _we_ should have heard of her, when she
landed.’

‘She told me that she made up her mind suddenly to come out to him—did
not let him know, and only stayed a week in Sydney, at Petty’s.’

‘Most romantic!’ said Antonia, driving the unseen dagger more deeply
into her heart, after the fashion of her sex, but smiling and forcing
a piteous and unreal gaiety; ‘and was she fair to look upon—a blonde
or brunette? Mr. Baldacre, you were evidently in her confidence; you
cannot escape a description.’

‘She was very good-looking indeed,’ said the ruthless Hardy, who had
been struck with Augusta’s fresh complexion and insular manner. ‘She
wore a gold eyeglass, which looked odd; but she was very clever, and
all that kind of thing, as any one could see.’

‘Even Mr. Baldacre,’ said Antonia, with a sarcastic acknowledgment.
‘You must have had a delightful journey. You will tell me any other
particulars that occur to you in the drawing-room. I feel quite
interested.’

Here the faint signal passed which proclaims the withdrawal of the lady
_convives_ and the temporary separation of the sexes. What mysterious
rites are celebrated above by the assembled maids and matrons, freed
awhile from the disturbing influence of the male element? Does a wholly
unaffected, perhaps unamused expression possess those lovely features,
erst so full of every virtue showing forth in every look? Do they
exchange confidences? Do they _trust_ each other? Do they doff their
uniforms, and appear unarmed, save with truth, innocence, simplicity?
_Quien sabe?_

It may not have been apparent to the lady guests, to whose comfort and
enlivenment Antonia was so assiduous, so delicately, yet so unfailingly
attentive in her _rôle_ of hostess, that Miss Frankston’s heart was
beating, her head aching, her temples throbbing, her pulse quickened,
to a degree which rendered the severest mental effort necessary to
avoid collapse. They heeded not the faint smile, the piteous quivering
lip, the sad eyes, while words of mirth, of compliment, of entreaty,
flowed rapidly forth, as she played her part in the game we call
society. But when the small pageant was over and the last carriage
rolled away she threw her arms round old Paul’s neck, and resting her
head upon that breast which had cherished her, with all a woman’s love,
and but little short of a woman’s tenderness, since her baby days of
broken doll and lost toy, she lay in his clasp and sobbed as if her
heart—poor overburdened, loving, despairing heart—was in verity, then
and there, about to break.

‘My darling, my darling! my own precious pet, Antonia!’ said the old
man, kissing her forehead, and wiping the tears from her eyes, as he
had done many a time and oft in the days of her childish grief. ‘I know
your sorrow and its cause; but do not be too hasty. We do not know if
this loose report be true. It is most unlikely and improbable to me;
though, if it be true, Paul Frankston is not the man to suffer this
wrong to lie a day without—without claiming his right. But do not take
it for proved truth till further tidings come.’

‘It _is_ true—it is true,’ moaned Antonia. ‘I had a foreboding. I have
been so wretched of late—so unlike your daughter, my dearest father.
How could Hardy Baldacre have invented such a story? Why did he not
give his—his betrothed—our address, if he had no—no—reason to do
otherwise?’ sobbed poor Antonia.

‘I can’t say—I don’t know—hang her and her eyeglass—and the day I
first saw him enter this house! But, no, I cannot hate the boy, whose
pleasant face so often made a second youth for me. I hate taking things
for granted; I must have proof before I—and then—Go to bed, my darling,
go to bed; I will tell you what I think in the morning.’

It was well for Miss Frankston, perhaps, that the intense pain towards
which her headache had gradually culminated rendered her for a while
unable to frame any mental processes. As she threw herself upon the
couch she was conscious of a crushing feeling of utter darkness and
blank despair, which simulated a swoon.

She awoke to a state of mind to her previously unknown. In her breast
conflicting emotions passionately contended. Chief among them was the
bitter disappointment, the indignant sense of slight and betrayal,
endured by every woman who, conscious that each inmost sacred feeling
of her heart has been given to the hero of her choice, has been
deliberately forsaken for another.

True, no word of love, no promise, no seeking of favour on one side, no
half denial, half granting of precious gifts, had passed between them.
In one sense, the world would have held him harmless, while friends
and companions of her own sex, prone always to decry and distrust all
feminine victims, would most certainly hint at mistaken feelings,
delusive hopes, on her part—would be ready to welcome and to tempt the
successful purloiner of a sister’s heart, the unpunished wrecker of a
sister’s happiness.

But was there no tacit agreement, no unwritten bond, no fixed and
changeless contract, slowly but imperceptibly traced in characters
faint and pale, then clearer, fuller, deepening daily to indelible
imprint on her heart—upon his, surely upon his? Were the outpourings of
the hitherto sacred thoughts, feelings, emotions, from the innermost
receptacles of an unworn, untempted nature, to be reckoned as the idle,
meaningless badinage of society? Were the friendly counsels, the deep,
unaffected interest, the frank brotherly intercourse, all to pass for
nothing—to be translated into the careless courtesy affected by every
formal visitor?

And yet, again, did not such things happen every day? Her own
experience was not so limited but that she had known more than one pale
maiden, weary of life, sick unto death for a season, unable as a fever
patient to simulate ordinary cheerfulness because of the acted, if not
spoken, falsehood of man. Had she pitied these too confiding victims,
these hopeless, uncomplaining invalids, maimed in the battle of life,
hiding the mortal wound from human gaze, bearing up with trembling
steps the burden of premature age and sorrow?

Had not her pity savoured of contempt—her kindness of toleration?
and now, lo! it was her own case. But could it be _herself_—Antonia
Frankston, who from childhood had felt no want that wealth and
opportunity could supply? who had never known a slight or felt an
injury since childhood’s hour? to whom all sorrow and sufferings
incidental to what books and fanciful persons called ‘love’ were as
practically unknown as snow blindness to an inhabitant of the Sahara?
Was she a wronged, insulted, deserted woman like those others? It was
inconceivable! it was phantasmal! it was impossible! She would sleep,
and with the dawn the ghastly fear would be fled. Perhaps this dull
pain in her throbbing temples, this darksome mysterious heart-agony,
would leave her. Who knows?

It is wonderful how much is taken for granted every day in this world,
more especially in the interest of evil devices.

Mr. Hardy Baldacre would have been sorely puzzled by a
cross-examination, but no one had presence of mind to put it to the
proof. He was rapid in conceiving his plans, wonderfully accurate and
thoughtful in carrying them through. His endowments were exceptional
in their way. Bold, even to audacity, he never hesitated; cunning and
unscrupulous, he pursued his schemes, whether for money-making or
for personal aggrandisement of the lower sort, with a swift and sure
directness worthy of more exalted aim. Undaunted by failure, he was
careless of partial loss of reputation. He was known by the superficial
crowd as a successful operator whenever there was a bargain to be had
in stock or station property. He was shunned and disliked by those
better informed and more scrupulous in their acknowledgment of friends,
as a gambler, a niggard, and a crafty profligate.

Such was the man who had succeeded, by a lying device, in working
present evil—it may be, incalculable future misery—to two persons
who had never injured him. In this deliberate fabrication he had two
ends in view. He secretly envied and disliked Ernest Neuchamp for
qualities and attainments which he could never hope to rival. He was
one of a class of Australians who cherish an ignorant prejudice against
Englishmen, regarding them as conceited and prone to be contemptuous
of the provincial magnate. With characteristic cunning he had kept
this feeling to himself, always treating Mr. Neuchamp with apparent
friendliness. But he was none the less determined to deal him an
effectual blow when an opportunity should offer. The time had come,
and he had struck a felon blow, which had pierced deeply the pure,
passionate heart of Antonia Frankston.

He had for some time past honoured that young lady with his very
questionable approbation. He admired her personally after his fashion;
but he thoroughly appreciated and heartily desired to possess himself
of what constituted in his eyes her crowning charm and attribute—the
large fortune which Paul Frankston’s heiress must, in spite of all
changes of season and fluctuation of securities, inevitably inherit.

Not unskilled in the ways of women, with whom his undeniable good
looks and his prestige of wealth gave him a certain popularity, he
thought he saw his way during her period of anger and mortification
to a dash at the lady and the money, which needed but promptness and
resolution to ensure a strong chance of success.

He saw by her change of countenance, by her forced gaiety, by her every
look and tone, that the barbed arrow had sped far and been surely
lodged.

‘Neuchamp, like a fool as he was, had evidently not written lately. The
cousin (and a deuced fine girl, too, with pots of money of her own)
had been staying up at Rainbar—a queer thing to do. Old Middleton,
when bringing her to his place, had told every one that she was his
friend Neuchamp’s cousin. It would be some time before Frankston or his
daughter would find out the untruth of the report. In the meantime he
would butter up the old man, humbug him with regret for his occasional
“wildness,” promise all kinds of amendment and square behaviour for
the future; then go straight to the girl, who, of course, could know
nothing of his life and time, and say, “Here am I, Hardy Baldacre, with
a half share in Baredown, Gogeldra, and No-good-damper (hang it; I must
change that)—anyway, three of the best cattle properties of the south;
here am I, not the worst-looking fellow going, at your service. Take
me, and we’re off to Melbourne or Tasmania for a wedding-trip, and that
stuck-up beggar Neuchamp may marry his cousin, and go up King Street
the next week for all we care.” I shan’t say the last bit. But it will
occur to her. Women always think of everything, though they don’t say
it. That might fetch her. Anyhow, the odds are right. I’m on!’

This exceedingly practical soliloquy having been transacted at his
hotel during the performance of his toilette, Mr. Baldacre partook
of the matutinal soda-and-brandy generally necessary for the perfect
restoration of his nerves, and breakfasted, with a settled resolution
to call at Morahmee that afternoon.

This intention he carried out. He found Antonia apparently not
unwilling to receive him upon a more intimate conversational footing
than he ever recollected having been accorded to him. She was in that
state of anxiety, unhappiness, and nervous irritability which makes the
patient only too willing to fly to the relief afforded by a certainty
even of evil. The climber upon Alpine heights, with shuddering
death-cry, ever and anon casts himself into the awful chasm on the
verge of which his limbs trembled and his overwrought brain reeled.
The overtaxed sufferer under the pangs of mortal disease chooses death
rather than the continuance of the pitiless torment. So the agonised
heart, poised on the dread pinnacle of doubt, flees to the Lethean
peace of despair.

Having not unskilfully brought the conversation round to the subject
of Miss Neuchamp, Mr. Baldacre touched, with more or less humour, on
certain unguarded remarks of that inexperienced but decided traveller.
He enlarged, as if accidentally, upon her good looks and apparent
cleverness, giving her the benefit of a tremendous reputation for
learning of the abstrusest kind, and generally exaggerating all
the circumstances which might render probable the admiration of an
ultra-refined aristocrat.

Much of this delicate finesse, as Mr. Baldacre considered it to be,
was transparent and despicable in the eyes of his listener. But,
difficult as it may be to account for, otherwise than by ignoring
all known rules and maxims for the comprehension of that mysterious
mechanism, the feminine heart, there was, nevertheless, something not
wholly disagreeable in the outspoken admiration of the bold-eyed, eager
admirer who now pressed his suit.

With one of the sudden, tempestuously capricious changes of mind,
common to the calmest as to the most impulsive individual of the
irresponsible sex, a vague, morbid desire for finality at all hazards
arose in her brain. She had listened and loved, and waited and dreamed,
and dedicated her leisure, her mental power, her _life_, to the path
of habit and culture which would render her every thought and speech
and act more harmonious with his ideal. She had thought but of him. He
had his plans, his projects, a man’s career, his return to England—a
thousand things to distract him—all these might delay the declaration
of his love. But she had never thought of _this_! She had never in
wildest flight of conjecture conjured up a _fiancée_, a cousin loved
from earliest child-betrothals, to whom he doubtless had written
pages of minute description of all their well-intended kindness and
provincial oddities at Morahmee.

And was she to sigh and droop, and pale and wither, beneath the
unexplained, unshared burden of betrayed love? Had she not seen the
colour fade from the fair cheek, leaving a cold ashen-gray tint where
once was bright-hued joy, eager mirth, and laughter? Had she not
seen the light die out of the pleading, wistful eyes, once so deeply
glowing, so tender bright, the step fall heavy, the voice lose its
ring, the _woman_ quit the haunted dwelling where a dead heart lay
buried and a still, gray-hued, hard-toned tenant sat therein, for
evermore resignedly indifferent to all things beneath the sky? Was this
her near inexorable fate?

No! a thousand times, no! Had she not in her veins the bold blood of
Paul Frankston, the fearless sea-rover, who had more than once awed a
desperate crew by the promptness of his weapon and the terror of his
name? And was she to sink into social insignificance, and tacitly sue
for the pity of _him_ and others, because she had mistaken his feelings
and he had with masculine cruelty omitted to consider hers?

No! again, no! The rebellious blood rushed to her brow, as she vowed
to forget, to despise, to trample under foot, the memory, false as a
broken idol, to which she had been so long, so blindly faithful. And
as all men save one—for even in that hour of her wrath and misery
she could not find it in her heart to include her father among the
reprobate or despicable of his sex—were alike unworthy of a maiden’s
trust, a maiden’s prayers, why not confide herself and her blighted
heart to the custody of this one, who, at least, was frank and
unhesitating in proffering his love and demanding her own?

Mr Hardy Baldacre had not thought it expedient to delay bringing
matters to a climax, fearing that highly inconvenient truth, with
respect to the fair Augusta, might arrive at any moment. With
well-acted bluntness of sincerity he had adjured Miss Frankston to
forgive his sudden, his unpremeditated avowal of affection.

‘He was a rough bushman,’ he confessed, ‘not in the habit of hiding
his feelings. On such a subject as this he could not bear the agony
of anxiety or delay. He must know his fate, even if the doom of
banishment, of just anger at his imprudence, went forth against him.
He expected nothing else. But if, before condemning him to go back to
his far-off home (little she knew of its peculiar characteristics)
a lonely, despairing man, she would only give consideration to his
claims, rashly but respectfully urged, she might deign to accept a
manly heart, the devotion of a life that henceforth, in good or had
fortune, was hers, and hers only.’

Mr. Hardy Baldacre had an imposing, stalwart figure, by no means
unfashionably attired, and Nature, while unsolicitous about his moral
endowments, had gifted him with a handsome face. If not in the bloom
of youth, he had not passed by a day the matured vigour of early
manhood. As he bent his dark eyes upon Antonia and poured forth his not
entirely original address, but which, heard in the tones of a pleading
flesh-and-blood lover, sounded a deal better than it reads, Antonia
felt a species of mesmeric attraction to the fatal and irrevocable
‘yes,’ which should open a new phase of life to her and obliterate the
maddening, hopeless, endless past. _For one moment_, for one only, the
fate of Antonia Frankston wavered on the dread eternal balance. She
fluttered, birdlike, under the fascination of his serpentine gaze. Her
words of regret and courteous dismissal refused to find utterance. At
length she said, ‘I must have time to consider your flattering but
quite unexpected offer. You will, I am sure, not press for an immediate
answer. I will see you again. Meanwhile let me tell you that I value
your good opinion, and shall always recall with pleasure your very kind
intention of to-day.’

But, with that still hour of evening meditation in which Antonia
was wont to indulge before retiring, came calmer, humbler, more
tranquillising thoughts. As she sat at her chamber window, looking out
over the wide waters of the bay, in which a crescent moon caused the
endless bright expanse of tremulous silver, the frowning headlands,
the garden slopes, to be all clearly, delicately visible,—as she heard
the rhythmical, solemn cadence of the deep-toned eternal surge,—she
recalled the moon-lighted eves, the soul-to-soul communing, of ‘that
lost time.’

A strong reactionary feeling occupied her heart. It seemed as if, like
the rushing of the tide, the stormy sway of the ocean she loved so
well, her heart had surged in rising tempest and with passion’s flow,
to ebb with yet fuller retrogression. Surely such were the words of
this murmuring sea-song on the white midnight strand, which calmed, as
with a magic anodyne, her restless, rebellious mood.

‘I have been wayward and wicked,’ she half sighed to herself, ‘false to
my better self, to the teaching of a life, unmindful of my duty to my
father, who loves me better than life, of my duty to One above, who has
shielded and cherished me, all undeserving as I am, up to this hour. I
will repent of my sin. I will abase myself, and by prayer and penitence
seek strength where alone it can be found.’

It was long ere Antonia Frankston sought her couch; but she slept for
the first time that night, since a serpent trail had passed over the
Eden flowers of her trusting love, with an untroubled slumber and a
resolved purpose.

Pale, but changed in voice and mien, was she when she joined her father
at breakfast.

‘I see my little girl’s own face again,’ said Paul, as he embraced
her, with tenderest solicitude in every line of his weather-beaten
countenance. ‘I thought I had lost her. She must not be hasty; she was
never so before. All may come right in the end.’

‘I have been a very naughty girl,’ said she, with a quiet sob,
‘ungrateful, too, and wicked. I have come to my senses again. It must
have been the dreadful drought, I think, which is going to be the ruin
of us all, body and mind. Fancy losing one’s daughter, as well as one’s
money, because of a dry season!’

This small pleasantry did not excite Paul’s risible muscles much, but
he was more pleased with it than with a volume of epigrams. It showed
that experienced mariner, accustomed to slightest indications of wind
and wave, that a change of weather had set in. His soul rejoiced as he
took his daughter in his arms and exclaimed, ‘My darling, my darling,
your mother is with the angels, but she watches over you still. Think
of her when your old father is too far off or too dull to advise you.
If she had lived——’ But here there were tears in the old man’s eyes,
and the rugged features worked in such wise as to fashion a mask upon
which no living man had ever gazed. There was a long confession. Once
more every thought of Antonia Frankston’s heart lay unfolded before her
parent.

That morning, before driving, as usual, to the counting-house, Mr
Frankston sought the Royal Hotel, and, upon business of importance,
obtained an interview with Mr. Hardy Baldacre ere that ‘talented but
unscrupulous’ aspirant had completed his breakfast.

So decided was the assurance imparted by his visitor that, with
all possible appreciation of the honour conferred, Miss Frankston
felt herself compelled to decline his very flattering offer, that
Mr. Baldacre knew instinctively that any further investment of the
Morahmee fortress was vain, if not dangerous. He condoled with his
early visitor about the state of the season, congratulating himself
audibly that his runs were understocked, and that he had no bills to
meet like some people; and finally accompanied Mr. Frankston to the
door, with a friendly leave-taking, to be succeeded by a bitter oath as
he lighted a cigar and paced the well-known balcony.

‘She has told her father. I saw the old boy was down to every move I
had made. Knowing old shot, too, in spite of his politeness and humbug.
I’d have hacked myself, too, at a short price, if I had had only
another week’s innings. They may have heard something, or that fool
Neuchamp is coming down and leaving everything to go to the devil. I
had a good show, too. I thought I held trumps. Never mind, there are
lots of women everywhere. One more or less don’t make much difference.
Of course, it was the “tin” that fetched me, but I don’t see that
I need care so much about that. I think that I shall make tracks
to-morrow.‘

On the morning following that of Mr. Baldacre’s unlucky piece of
information Paul Frankston lost no time in applying to headquarters
for information. He, ‘with spirit proud and prompt to ire,’ would, a
quarter of a century before, probably have smote first and inquired
after. ‘But age had tamed the Douglas blood,’ and even if its current
still coursed hotly on occasion, the experience of later manhood called
loudly for plain proof and full evidence before he adopted the strange
tale which had been told at his board.

Suspending all thought of what he might chance if _any man_ were proved
to have trifled with his darling’s heart, he simply wrote as follows:

  SYDNEY, _10th April 18—_.

 DEAR ERNEST—We have heard a report down here—brought to our table, in
 fact, by Hardy Baldacre, a man you know a little—that you are engaged
 and about to be married shortly to a young lady, a cousin of your own,
 just arrived from England. Also that Miss Neuchamp left Sydney for
 Rainbar, after a week’s stay, and was seen by him on the way there in
 a coach.

 For reasons which can be hereafter explained, I wish you to send me
 a specific admission or denial of this statement. I will write you
 again upon receipt of your reply to this letter. I am, always yours
 sincerely,

  PAUL FRANKSTON.

 E. NEUCHAMP, Esq.

On the following evening, after sending this, the most laconic
epistle which had ever passed between them, Paul no sooner beheld his
daughter’s face than he saw shining in her eyes the light of recovered
trust, of renewed hope, of restored belief in happiness.

‘She must have received a letter,’ mused the sagacious parent. ‘Where
is it, my darling?’ said he aloud.

‘Where is what?’ she replied, with a sweet air of embarrassment, pride,
and mystery commingled.

‘Of course you have had a letter, or heard some news. I took the chance
of the little bird’s whisper coming by post. I think I am right.’

‘Here it is, you wicked magician. Antonia will never have another
secret from her dear old father. What agonies I suffered for my
hard-heartedness! And oh, what have I escaped!’

Here was the letter, with a mere stamp thereon, which contained such a
fortune in happiness as should have entitled the Government to a round
sum on the principle of legacy duty:

  RAINBAR, _4th April 18—_.

 MY DEAR ANTONIA—This letter will probably reach Sydney some days, or
 weeks even, before a young lady, for whom I entreat your friendship
 and kind offices. [H—m.] When I say that she is Augusta Neuchamp, my
 cousin, and my only relation in Australia, I feel certain that I need
 not further recommend her to you and the best of fathers and friends.
 [H—m.]

 You will acknowledge her to be a refined and intelligent woman, that
 goes _sans phrase_, I should hope, and no truer heart, with more
 thoroughly conscientious acceptance of duty, ever dwelt in one of her
 sex. [H—m.]

 But, writing to you with the confidence of old and tender friendship,
 I may as well state, delicately but decidedly, that Augusta and I have
 been utterly unsympathetic from our childhood, and must so remain to
 the end of the chapter. [Oh dear! surely I can’t have read aright.]

 Even at Rainbar, to which rude retreat she posted with her usual
 impetuosity, without giving me the opportunity of forbidding her, we
 had our old difficulty about preserving the peace (conversationally),
 and once or twice I thought we should have come to blows, as in our
 childish days. [Thank Heaven! Oh, oh!]

 You know I am not given to dealing hardly with your sex, whatever may
 be their demerits, and of course I am not going to abuse my cousin in
 a strange land; but I am again trusting to your perfect comprehension
 of my real meaning, when I say that, companionably, Augusta appears to
 me to be the _only woman_ in the world I cannot get on with. [Blessed
 girl, dear, charming Augusta—I love you already!]

 Of course, as soon as she left Rainbar (we were on very short commons
 of politeness by that time) I resolved to write and ask you to take
 her in at Morahmee, and show her Sydney and our _monde_, in the
 existence of which she disbelieves. You must be prepared for her
 abusing everything and everybody. But I know no one who can more
 gently and effectually refute her prejudices than yourself, my dear
 Antonia. You even subjugated Jermyn Croker, I remember. By the bye,
 have him out to meet Augusta. She admires his file-firing style of
 attack. Perhaps they may neutralise each other’s ‘arms of precision.’
 [Do anything for her—ask the Duke to meet her, if she would like!]

 I feel that I am writing a most indefensibly long letter. But I am
 very lonely, and rather melancholy, with ruin taking the place of
 rain—only one letter of difference—and advancing daily. Were it not
 so, I would, as the Irishman said, bring this letter myself. Oh, for
 an hour again in the Morahmee verandah, with your father smoking, the
 stars, the sea, the soft tones of the music, of a voice always musical
 in my ear! Ah me! it will not bear thinking of. It is midnight now,
 yet I can see a cloud of dust rising, as my men bring an outlying lot
 of cattle to the yard. [‘Poor fellow! poor, poor Ernest!’ sighed the
 voice referred to.]

 I know you will be kind and _forbearing_ with Augusta. She will
 not remain long in Australia. I think you will appreciate the
 unquestionably strong points in her character. Of these she has
 many—too many, in fact. Apparently it is time to close this scrawl—the
 paper says so. ‘Pray for me, Gabrielle,’ your song says, and always
 trust me as your sincere friend,

  ERNEST NEUCHAMP.

[Bless him, poor dear!‘]

‘So we are to have the honour of entertaining Ernest’s cousin, and not
his future wife, it seems?’ said Mr. Frankston, also cheered up.

‘Never had the slightest thought of it, poor fellow,’ said Antonia,
radiant with appreciation of the antipathetic Augusta. ‘How I could
have been such a goose as to believe that wicked Hardy Baldacre, I
can’t think. And, papa dear, I _might_ have found myself pledged to
marry him, doomed to endless misery, in my folly and madness. I shall
never condemn other foolish girls again, whatever they may do.’

‘All’s well that ends well, darling,’ said the old man, with a grateful
ring in his voice; ‘Paul Frankston and his own pet daughter are one in
heart again. We don’t know what may happen when the rain comes.’

How joyous the world seemed after the explanation which Mr. Neuchamp’s
letter indirectly afforded! Life was not a mistake after all. There
was still interest in new books, pleasure in new music. A halo of dim
wondrous glory was ever present during her nightly contemplation of
sea and sky, in the lovely, all-cloudless autumn nights. The moan of
the restless surge-voices had again the friendly tone she had heard
in them from childhood. The sea was again splendid with possible
heroes and argosies; it was again the realm of danger, discovery,
enchantment—not a storm-haunted, boding terror, with buried treasures
and drowned seamen, with treacherous, fateful wastes into which the
barque, freighted with Antonia Frankston’s hopes, had been wafted forth
to return no more.

It was during this enviably serene state of her mind that a note from
the innocent cause of the first tragic scene which had invaded the idyl
of Antonia Frankston’s life appeared on the breakfast-table at Morahmee.

  MIDDLEHAM, _20th April_.

 DEAR MISS FRANKSTON—My cousin Ernest, with whom I believe you are
 acquainted, made me promise to inform you of my proposed arrival in
 Sydney, on the conclusion of my visit to Mr. and Mrs. Middleton.
 That gentleman has kindly promised to accompany me to Sydney, which
 we shall reach (_D.V._) by the five o’clock train on Friday next. I
 purpose taking up my abode at Petty’s Hotel.—Permit me to remain, dear
 Miss Frankston, yours very truly,

  AUGUSTA NEUCHAMP.

Of course nothing would content Antonia short of meeting at the station
and carrying off to Morahmee, bag and baggage, this inestimable cousin,
who had behaved so honourably, so perfectly.

Any other woman, with the mildest average of good looks, shut up in
such a raft of a place as Rainbar metaphorically was, would have
carried off Ernest, or any man of his age, easily and triumphantly. All
the pleasant freedom of a cousin, all the provocation of a possible,
unforbidden bride, the magic of old memories, the bond of perfect
social equality as to rank and habitudes,—what stupendous advantages!
And yet she was so happily and delightfully constituted by nature that,
in spite of dangerous proximity and all other advantages, she was, it
was plain from his letter, the very last woman in the world whom he
could have thought of marrying. O most excellent Augusta!

Paul, of course, after a show of deep consideration, came to the
conclusion that Antonia’s plan was the kindest, wisest, ‘onliest’
thing, under the circumstances. ‘Take her home straight from the train.
Bother Petty’s—what’s the use of her moping there, and spending her
money? I don’t think another girl for you to have a few talks with, and
drives, and shopping, and Botanical Gardens, and Dorcas work together,
could do you any harm, pet. So have her home quietly to-night. We must
have a little dinner for her.’

Accordingly, when the punctual train arrived bearing Miss Neuchamp and
her fortunes, she was astonished to hear Mr. Middleton exclaim, ‘Why,
there is Miss Frankston come to meet us! How do you do, Antonia, my
dear? Allow me to make known Miss Neuchamp; probably you are already
acquainted with one another by description.’

Miss Neuchamp’s expectations can only be a matter of conjecture,
but she was unaffectedly surprised at the apparition of this
distinguished-looking girl, perfectly dressed and appointed, who stood
on the platform, flanked by a liveried servant of London solidity of
form and severe respectability of manner.

‘Very, _very_ happy to welcome you to Sydney, Miss Neuchamp,’ said
Antonia. ‘Papa and I were so disappointed that we did not know of
your address before you left for the bush. He won’t hear of your going
anywhere but to our house for the present. And, Mr. Middleton, I am
pledged to bring you, as papa says we young ladies will be wrapped up
in each other and leave him in solitude. I can command you, I know.
Pray say you’ll come, Miss Neuchamp.’

‘If I may add my persuasion,’ said Mr. Middleton, ‘I could tell Miss
Neuchamp that she could not act more discreetly for the present. I
shall be delighted to wash all the dust out of my throat with some of
your father’s claret, Antonia. I’m your humble admirer, you know, when
I’m away from home.’

‘I shall be very happy to accept your hospitality, so kindly offered,
for the present,’ said Augusta, overpowered by briskness of attack and
defection of allies.

The grave servant immediately addressed himself to the luggage and,
handing the strange lady’s nearest and dearest light weights into
the carriage, remained behind to deposit one of Mr. Middleton’s
portmanteaus at the club, and to convey the remaining impedimenta to
Morahmee per cab. As Miss Neuchamp ensconced herself in the yielding,
ample cushions of the Morahmee carriage beside Antonia, and was
borne along at a rapid pace, the mere rattling of the wheels upon
the macadamised road was grateful and refreshing to her soul, as a
reminiscence of the unquestioned proper and utterly befitting, from
which she had hitherto considered herself to be hopelessly sundered by
the whole breadth of ocean.



CHAPTER XXVII


When Miss Neuchamp found herself installed in a large, cool upper
chamber at Morahmee with a glorious view of the harbour, while on her
table stood a great rapturous bouquet all freshly gathered, roses
intermingled with delicate greenhouse buds, she commenced to wonder
whether all her previously formed ideas of Australia were about to be
seriously modified.

A good sound reserve of prejudice reassured her, and she bided her
time. She had tasted the fullest measure of comfort perceivable in
Australian country life at the house of Mr. Middleton, where she had
sojourned several weeks. Now she was about to experience whatever best
and pleasantest the metropolis could afford.

Mr. Frankston had brought home with him Count von Schätterheims and Mr.
Jermyn Croker, so that he and Mr. Middleton, having endless semi-stock
and station lore to interchange, each of the ladies was provided with a
cavalier.

The Count, who had been informed by Paul that Miss Neuchamp was an
English heiress of vast wealth, travelling to indulge her eccentric
insular taste, paid great attention to that young lady, cutting in
from time to time, to the speechless wrath and exasperation of Jermyn
Croker, who renewed his former acquaintance with great success.

The fair Augusta was entertained, and not wholly displeased, with their
manifest admiration.

As the verandah was voted by far the pleasantest place after dinner,
the whole party adjourned to this invaluable retreat, where Paul and
his friend were permitted to light their cigars, and all joined in
conversation with unaffected freedom impossible in a drawing-room.

‘Sing something, my darling,’ said the old man, ‘and then, perhaps, the
Count will give us that new song of his, which I hear all Sydney is
raving about.’

As the rich tones of the grand Erard came forth to them, luxuriously
softened by the intervening distance, Miss Neuchamp tasted a pleasure
from which she had for an age, it would seem, been debarred. She did
not herself perform with more than the moderate degree of success which
can be attained by those who, without natural talent, have received
thoroughly good teaching. But her training, at least, enabled her to
appreciate the delicacy of Miss Frankston’s touch, her finished and
rare execution, and the true yet deep feeling with which she rendered
the most simple melodies as well as the most complicated operatic
triumphs.

Somewhat to the discomposure of the Count, who had commenced to believe
the opportunity favourable, she rose, and with an expression of delight
passed on to Antonia’s side. Miss Neuchamp had seen too many counts
to attach importance to that particular grade of continental rank;
and this particular specimen of the order she held in fixed distrust,
derived from the recollection of comments to which she had listened at
Rainbar.

‘_La belle Anglaise_ prefers music to your compliments, Count,’ said
Mr. Croker.

‘_Chacun à son tour_,’ replied the injured diplomatist. ‘Dey are both
ver good in dere vay.’

Whatever might be the Count’s shortcomings, a deficiency of
self-control could hardly be reckoned among them. He twirled his
enormous moustache, condoled with Paul and Mr. Middleton, and explained
that his steward in Silesia had written him accounts of an unusually
wet season.

‘Ah, dat is de condrey! You should see him, my dear Monsieur Paul: such
grops, such pasdures, such vool, so vine as de zilks.’

‘How about labour?’ said Mr. Middleton. ‘I suppose you are not bothered
as we are every now and then with a short supply, and half of that bad?’

‘De bauer—vat you call “beasand” in my condrey—he vork for you all
de yahres of his live, and pray Gott for your brosperity—it is his
brivilech to be receive wid joys and danks. De bauer, oh, de bauer is
goot man!‘

‘I wish our fellows received their lot with joy and thanks; half of my
Steam Plains shepherds have gone off to these confounded diggings. But
don’t your men emigrate to America now and then? I thought half Germany
went there.’

‘I vill dell you one dale,’ said the Count earnestly. ‘I had one
hauptman, overzeer, grand laboureur, ver goot man—he is of lofdy
indelligence, he reat, he dinks mooch, he vill go to Amerika. I
consoolt mit my stewart, he say Carl Steiger is ver goot, he is so goot
as no oder mans what we have not got. I say, “Ingrease his vages, once,
twyei, dree dime—he reach de vonderful som of _fivedeen bount_ per
yahr. He go no more. De golten demdadion is doo crade; he abandon his
shpirit-dask to leat mankint, he glass my vools now dill his lives is
ofer.”‘

‘Ha! he wanted a summer on the wallaby track to open his mind,’ said
Mr. Middleton; ‘that would have been a “wanderyahr” with different
results, I am afraid. But I really think many of our fellows would
do better if they had more of the thrift and steady resolve of your
countrymen, Count. I remember when wages were much lower than now
in the colony, and when the men really saved something worth while,
besides working more cheerfully. Don’t you, Croker?’ But Mr. Croker
had departed in the midst of the Count’s story, and was charming Miss
Neuchamp with such delightful depreciation of the Australias, and
all that in them is, that she became rapidly confirmed in her first
opinion, formed soon after her arrival, that he was the best style of
man she had as yet met in the colony. Mr. Croker, on his side, declared
himself to be encouraged and refreshed by thus meeting with a genuine
English lady not afraid to speak out her mind with respect to this
confounded country, and its ways, means, and inhabitants.

The Count, fearing that the evening would be an unprofitable investment
of his talents and graces, particularly in the matter of Miss Neuchamp,
by whom he was treated with studied coldness, departed after having
sung his song. This effort merely recalled to Augusta some occasion
when she had heard it very much better performed in the Grand Opera at
Paris. Jermyn Croker, who had never heard it before, openly depreciated
the air, the words, the expression, and execution. With more than one
household languishing for his presence, this was a state of matters
not to be continued, so the Count, with graceful apologies and vows of
pressing engagements, took his departure.

‘You and I, Middleton, can go home to the club together, now that the
_chevalier d’industrie_—beg your pardon, Frankston—I mean, of the
Order of the Legion of Honour, Kaiser Fritz, and all his other orders,
medals, and decorations—— But I daresay the first represents his truest
claim.’

‘You are always charitably well informed, we know that, Croker,’ said
Mr. Middleton. ‘Mind, I don’t put my trust in princes or counts of
_his_ sort. I wonder how he gets along. Still swimmingly?’

‘Don’t think the fellow has a shilling in the world myself—never did,’
replied Croker, with cheerful disbelief. ‘But from what I heard the
other day, he will have to make his grand _coup_ soon, now that it’s
known his chance of marrying Harriet Folleton is all up.’

‘Is it finally unsettled, then, Mr. Croker?’ said Antonia. ‘Every one
said she admired him so much.’

‘She is quite equal to that or any other madness, I believe,’ said the
well-informed Jermyn; ‘and, with her mother’s extraordinary folly to
back her, there is no limit to the insanity she is capable of. But the
old man _has_ a little sense—people who have made a pot of money often
have—and he stopped the whole affair last week.’

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Neuchamp was, perhaps, more disturbed in mind than he had ever been
since his arrival in Australia when he received the unusually laconic
letter referred to from Paul Frankston. Surprise, anger, uncertainty by
turns took possession of his soul. A wholly new and strangely mingled
sensation arose in his mind. Had he misinterpreted his own emotions as
well as those of Antonia? That such was the case as to his own feeling
was evidenced by his sudden and unreasonable rage when he thought of
Hardy Baldacre in the character of an accepted suitor for the hand of
the unconventional, innocent girl whose half-childish, half-womanly
expressions of wonder, admiration, dislike, or approval, called forth
by incidents in their daily studies, he could _now_ so clearly remember.

Had he, then, won that priceless gem, the unbought love of a pure and
loving heart—no fleeting fancy, born of vanity or caprice, but the
deeply-rooted, sacred, lifelong devotion of an untarnished virgin-soul,
of a cultured and lofty intellect?

This heavenly jewel had been suspended by a crowned angel above his
head, and had he not, with sordid indifference, bent earthward, all
unheeding, save of hard and anxious travail? He had narrowed his mind
to beeves and kine, dry seasons and wet, all the merest workaday
vulgarities of short-sighted mortals, resolute only in the pursuit of
dross.

Had he, from neglect, heedlessness, absence, however indispensable,
chilled the fond ardour of that lonely heart, cast the priceless
treasure into careless or unworthy hands? Who was he, that a girl so
much courted, so richly dowered in every way, as Antonia Frankston,
should wait till youth was over for his deliberate approval? And yet,
if she _had_ delayed but for a short while longer—till _the rain
came_, in fact. Ah me! was not all the Australian world waiting with
exhausted, upturned eyes for that crowning, long-delayed blessing?
Fancy such a reason being proffered in England. Weddings, in that happy
land, were occasionally postponed till a semblance of fine weather
might be calculated upon, but surely only in this antipodean land of
contrast and confusion did any one defer the great question of his life
until the _departure_ of fine weather. Antonia was, doubtless, besieged
by hosts of suitors, among them this infernal, lying scoundrel of a
cad, Hardy Baldacre, besides Jermyn Croker, the Count, Hartley Selmore,
and numberless others. Madness was in his thoughts—he would go down,
rain or no rain, wet or dry, tempest or zephyr, hurricane or calm. He
would hunt for the ruffian Baldacre, and slay him where they met.

Nevertheless he must at once answer Paul’s letter, which he did to
the effect that, ‘He wondered that his old friends should believe any
mere fabrications, unsupported by testimony, to his prejudice. Not
that there was anything discreditable about the report, if true; but
this was _not_ true. His cousin, with misplaced heroism, had visited
him in his solitude; a refined and highly educated woman, as would
be apparent to all, she certainly was. But as a _wife_ he had never
thought of her, nor could he, if their existence ran parallel for
years.’ Having despatched the letter, Ernest felt easier in mind, more
removed from that condition the most irritating and intolerable of all,
the accusation of wrong without the power of justification. It was
hard to resist an almost uncontrollable desire to rush down to Sydney
then and there to set himself right with his friends. But, as he ran
over the obstacles to such a course, it seemed, on cooler thought, to
be unadvisable in every way. First, there was the extreme difficulty
of performing the journey: he had not a horse at Rainbar capable of
carrying him across to the mail station. When he got there it was
problematical whether the contractor was running a wheel mail or not.
It would be undesirable, even ridiculous, to find himself a couple of
hundred miles from home, stranded on the endless, dry, hopeless plain.
To make a lengthened stay in Sydney, should he get there, was not to be
thought of under his present circumstances of debt and anxiety. ‘No,’
he said, as he crushed the feeling back with a self-repression more
nearly allied to heroism than mere ostentatious efforts of courage,
‘no, my colours are nailed to the masthead, and there shall they hang
till the cry of “victory” is once more heard, or till the fight is lost
beyond mortal hope.‘

So, sadly yet steadfastly, Ernest Neuchamp turned himself to the
monotonous tasks which, like those of sailors on a desert island, or
of the crew of a slowly-sailing ship, were yet carried on with daily,
hopeless regularity. Still the ashen-gray pastures became more withered
and deathlike. Still the sad, staggering lines of cattle paced in
along the well-worn dusty trails to their watering-places, and paced
back like bovine processions after witnessing the funeral obsequies of
individuals of their race, which experience, in truth, was daily theirs.

Then the diet, once not distasteful to the much-enduring palate of
youth, became wellnigh intolerable: the flaccid unfed meat, the daily
bread with never a condiment, the milkless tea, the utter absence of
all fruit, vegetable, herb, or esculent. Truly, as in those ancient
days when a pastoral people record their sorrowful chronicles of the
dry and thirsty region where no water is, ‘the famine was sore in the
land.’

At this time, so dreary, so endless, so crushing in its isolated,
unchanging, helpless misery, Ernest was unutterably thankful for the
hope and consolation which his studious habits afforded him. His
library, the day’s work done, filled up his lonely evening as could
no other employment possible under the circumstances. He ransacked
his moderate references for records of similar calamities in all lands
which, unlike the ‘happy isles’ of Britain, are from time to time
invaded with drought, the chief agent in all the recorded wholesale
destruction of animal life. He noted with painstaking and laborious
accuracy the duration, the signs, the consequences, the termination
of such dread seasons. From old books of Australian exploration he
learned, almost by heart, the sad experiences of the pioneers of the
land when they stood face to face with what to them were new and
terrible foes.

‘It is hard,’ said he to himself, as he paced his room at midnight,
after long hours of close application to such studies, ‘it is hard and
depressing to me, and to many a wretched colonist who has worked longer
and has more on the hazard than I, to see the fruit of our labours
slowly, pitilessly absorbed by this remorseless season. But what,
after all, is a calamity which can be measured, like this, by a money
standard, compared to one which, like this latest famine in Hindostan,
counts its _human_ victims by tens of thousands, by millions? See the
dry record of a food failure, which comprehends the teeming human herds
which cover the soil more thickly than even our poor starving flocks!

‘Can we realise thousands of lowly homes where the mother sits
enfeebled and spectral beside her perishing babes, whose eyes ask for
the food which she cannot grant; where the frenzied peasant rushes, in
the agony of despair, from his cabin that he may not hear the hunger
cries, the death groans of his wife and babes; where the dead lie
unburied; where the beast of prey alone roams satiated and lordly;
where nature mourns like a maniac mother with tears of blood for her
murdered offspring?

‘Such is not, may never be, the fate of this wide, rich, peaceful land,
vast and wondrous in its capabilities in spite of temporary disasters.
Let us take heart. Our losses, our woes, are trifling in comparison
with the world’s great miseries. We are, in comparison, but as children
who lose their holiday gifts of coin or cakes. Our lives, our health
and strength, are all untouched. We have hope still for our unbartered
heritage, the stronger for past dangers of storm and tide. The world
is yet before us. There are other seas, untried and slumbering oceans,
where our bark may yet ride with joyous outspread sail. Let us still
labour and endure, until Fate, compelled by our steadfastness, shall be
once more propitious.

    ‘Si fractus illabitur orbis
        Impavidum ferient ruinæ.

I hardly expected to be quoting Horace at Rainbar, but the old boy
probably had some experience of untoward seasons, sunshiny desolation,
like this of ours. I don’t know whether “Impavidum” applies strictly to
any one but Levison. I am afraid that the “fractus orbis” pertains to
our cosmos of credit, which, shattered to its core, will strike us all
soon and put us to the proof of our philosophy.‘

A trifling distraction was created about this time, much to Ernest’s
relief, by the arrival of Mr. Cottonbush, who had received instructions
from Mr. Levison to muster, brand, and take delivery of the small
herd of cattle, the single flock of sheep, and the lot of horses
which that far-seeing speculator had purchased from the brothers
Freeman. This pastoral plenipotentiary, a wiry, reticent individual,
utterly impervious to every wile and stratagem which the art of man in
Australia had hitherto evolved from the very complicated industry of
stock-raising, first informed the Freemans of his mission, producing a
written authority with the awe-striking signature of Abstinens Levison,
and then reported himself to Mr. Neuchamp.

‘It _is_ a bad season, sir,’ he said, in answer to that gentleman’s
greeting, which of course comprehended the disastrous state of the
weather, ‘and many a one wouldn’t bother mustering these three or four
hundred crawling cattle. They might be all dead in three months for all
we can see. But Mr. Levison isn’t like any one else. He sends me a line
to do this, or go there, and I always do it without troubling about the
reasons. _He_ finds them for the lot of us, and pretty fair ones they
generally are when time brings ’em out.’

‘I think _I_ know why he made this bargain,’ said Ernest, ‘and I must
say I wonder more about it every day. But I am so far of your opinion,
now that I am becoming what you call an “old hand,” that I shall
imitate your example in letting Mr. Levison’s reasons work themselves
out in practice.‘

‘That’s the best way, sir,’ assented the colonel of cavalry under this
pastoral general of division. ‘I’ve never done anything but report and
obey orders since I’ve been with Levison, this many a year. I used to
talk and argue a bit with him at first. I never do now, though he’s a
man that will always hear what you’ve got to say, in case he might pick
something out of it. But I never knew him alter his mind after he’d got
all the information he wanted. So it’s lost time talking to him.’

‘And what do _you_ think about this terrible season?’ asked Ernest,
anxiously looking at this iron man of the desert, whose experience
was to his, he could _now_ in this hour of wreck and ruin realise, as
immeasurably superior as the grizzled second mate’s to the cabin boy’s
when the tempest cries aloud with voice of death and the hungry caverns
of the eternal deep are disclosed.

‘It’s bad enough,’ assented Mr. Cottonbush thoughtfully, ‘bad enough;
and there’s many a one will remember it to his dying day. In some
places they’ll lose most of their stock before the winter’s on for want
of feed, and all the rest, when it _does_ come, from the cold. There
were ten thousand fat sheep (or supposed to be fat) of Lateman’s caught
in the Peechelbah mallee the other day as they were going a short cut.
When I say “caught,” the water had dried up that they reckoned on, and
was only found out when they was half way through. The sheep went mad
and wouldn’t drive. So did the chap in charge, very nigh. When he got
out he had only some four thousand three hundred odd left. That was a
smash, wasn’t it?‘

‘Sheep are not so bad as cattle in one way,’ said Mr. Neuchamp; ‘you
can travel them and steal grass. A good many people seem unprincipled
enough to resort to the meanness of filching from their neighbours and
the country generally what no man can spare in this awful time.’

‘Well,’ said Mr. Cottonbush, smiling and wincing slightly, ‘it ain’t
quite the clean potato, of course; but if your sheep’s dying at home,
what can you do? Every man for himself, you know; and you can’t let ’em
stop on the run and die before your eyes. We’ve had to do a bit of it
ourselves. But the old man, he bought two or three whacking big bits of
country in the Snowy Mountains, Long Plains, the Gulf, Yarrangobilly,
and two or three more, enough to feed all the sheep in the country,
and started ours for it directly after shearing, while the roads were
good. _He_ knew what was coming and provided in time, same as he always
does. Blessed if he didn’t lease a lot of the country he could spare
to people who were hard pushed and came late, so he got his own share
cheap.’

‘And was there abundance of grass and water?’

‘Green grass two feet high, running creeks all the summer, enough to
make your mouth water. If we get rain down before the snow comes next
month our flocks will come back better than they went, and with half as
much wool again as the plains sheep.’

That day Mr. Cottonbush informed the Freeman family that, inasmuch as
the Rainbar stockyard was a strong and secure enclosure, and as his
employer, Mr. Levison, was a very particular man in having cattle that
he bought properly branded up, he didn’t like any to be left over, and
they must yard every mother’s son of ‘em.

So, as Mr. Neuchamp had kindly given permission for his yard to be
used, the entire Freeman clan, including a swarm of brown-faced,
bare-legged urchins, arrived on the following day with the whole of
their herd. It was a strange sight, and not without a proportion of
dramatic interest. The cattle were so emaciated that they could hardly
walk; many of them staggered and fell. In truth, as they moved up
in a long woebegone procession, they looked like a ghostly protest
against man’s lack of foresight and Heaven’s wrath. The horses were so
weak from starvation that they could barely carry their riders. One
youngster was fain to jump off his colt, that exhausted animal having
come to a dead halt, and drive him forward with the cattle.

Even the men and the boys had a wan and withered look. Not that they
had been on short commons, but, dusty, sunburned, and nervously anxious
to secure every animal that could walk to the yard, they harmonised
very fittingly with their kine.

When they arrived at the yard Mr. Cottonbush counted them carefully in,
and then signified to the vendors that, in his opinion, it would be
wise of them to go back and make a final ‘scrape,’ as he expressed it,
of their pasture-ground, lest there might inadvertently have been any
left behind.

‘That sort of thing always leads to trouble, you know,’ said he;
‘there’s a sort of doubt which were branded and which were not. Now,
Mr. Levison bought every hoof you own, no milkers reserved and all
that; he don’t believe in having any of the best cattle kept back. So
you’d better scour up every beast you can raise before we begin to
brand. We can tail this mob, now they’re here.’

This supplementary proceeding resulted in the production of about
thirty head of cattle, among which there curiously happened to be, by
accident, half a dozen cows considerably above the average in point of
breeding and value.

This very trifling matter of a ‘cockatoo’s’ muster having been thus
concluded, all the horses having been yarded, and the flock of sheep
driven up—Mr. Levison having made it a _sine quâ non_ that he would
have all or none—the fires were lighted and the brands put in.

To the wild astonishment of the Freemans, Mr. Cottonbush, having
put the [Ǝ]NE brand in the fire, commenced to place that conjoined
hieroglyph upon every cow, calf, bullock, and steer, assisted by Mr.
Windsor, Charley Banks, and the black boys.

‘Why, “the cove” ain’t bought ‘em, surely?’ said Joe Freeman, with a
look of much distrust and disapproval. ‘Where’s he to get the sugar, I
want to know; or else it’s a “plant” between him and old Levison.‘

‘When the stock’s counted and branded you’ll get your cheque,’ said
the imperturbable manager; ‘that’s all you’ve got to bother your head
about. It’s no business of yours, if you’re paid, whether Levison
chooses to sell ’em, or boil ’em, or put ’em in a glass case.’

‘Well, I’m blowed,’ said Bill Freeman, ‘if we ain’t regularly sold. If
I’d a-known as they was a-comin’ here, I’d have seen Levison in the
middle of a mallee scrub with his tongue out for water before I’d have
sold him a hoof. One comfort: the cash is all right, and half of these
crawlers will die before spring.‘

‘Not if rain comes within a month,’ said Mr. Cottonbush cheerily.
‘You’d be surprised what a fortnight will do for stock in these places,
and the grass grows like a hotbed. These cattle are smallish and weak,
but not so badly bred. They’ll fill out wonderfully when they get their
fill. You’d better wait and see them counted, and then you can have
your cheque.’

Jack Windsor and Charley Banks worked with a will, so did the younger
members of the yeomanry plantation. The grown cattle were of course
pen-branded. By night-fall every one was marked very legibly and
counted out. Four hundred and seventy head of cattle over six months
old, eighty-four horses, and twelve hundred mixed sheep, principally
weaners. These last were fire-branded on the side of the face,
provided with a shepherd, and kept near home.

The necessary preliminaries being concluded, Mr. Cottonbush handed a
cheque, at the prices arranged, to Abraham Freeman, and turned the
horses and cattle out of the yard.

‘You haven’t a horn or a hoof on Rainbar now,’ said he composedly;
‘perhaps you have ’em in a better place, in your breeches pockets; and
remember I’ll be up here next November, or else Mr. Levison, to take up
your selections as agreed. Then, I suppose, you’ll be fixing yourself
down upon some other miserable squatter. You’re bound not to stop here,
you know.’

Having thus accomplished his mission clearly and unmistakably, Mr.
Cottonbush, whose acquaintance Ernest had first made at Turonia when
he took delivery of Mr. Drifter’s cattle, declared his intention of
starting at daybreak. Waste of time was never laid to the charge of
Mr. Levison’s subordinates. ‘Like master like man’ is a proverb of
unquestionable antiquity. There is more in it than appears upon the
surface. Whatever might have been the moulding power, it is certain
that his managers, agents, and overseers attached great importance to
those attributes of punctuality, foresight, temperance, and thrift
which were dear to the soul of Abstinens Levison.

‘I’m glad these crawlers of cattle are branded up and done with while
it’s dry, likewise the horses. All this kind of work is so much easier
and better done in dry weather,’ said the relaxing manager. ‘They’re
not a very gay lot to look at now. But I shouldn’t wonder to see you
knocking ten pounds a head out of some of those cats of steers before
this day two years.’

‘Ten pounds a head!’ echoed Ernest. ‘Why not say twenty, while you’re
about it?’

‘You don’t believe it,’ said Mr. Cottonbush calmly, rubbing his tobacco
assiduously in his hands preparatory to lighting his pipe. ‘Levison
writes that stock are going up in Victoria to astonishing prices, and
that what they’ll reach, if the gold keeps up, no man can tell. So your
cattle _might_ fetch twenty pounds after all.’

‘What would you advise me to do with the Freemans’ stock, now that I
have got them?‘ asked Ernest.

‘If I was in your place,’ said Mr. Cottonbush judicially, ‘I should
stick to the cattle, for every one of them, down to the smallest calf,
will be good money when the rain comes. The sheep also you may as well
keep: they’ll pay their own wages if you put ’em out on a bit of spare
back country, and there’s plenty that your cattle never go near. You
could bring ’em in to shear them, and they’ll increase and grow into
money fast enough. You might have ten thousand sheep on Rainbar and
never know it.’

‘I don’t like sheep much,’ said Ernest; ‘but these are very cheap, if
they live, and there is plenty of room, as you say. And the horses?’

‘Sell every three-cornered wretch of ’em—a set of upright-shouldered,
useless mongrels—directly you get a chance,’ said Mr. Cottonbush with
unusual energy of speech. ‘And now you’re able to clear the run of
’em, being your own, which you never could have done if they remained
theirs. You’d have had young fellows coming for this colt or that filly
till your head was gray.’

‘I hope not,’ said Ernest, laughing; ‘but I am glad to have all the
stock and land of Rainbar in my own hands once more.’

Mr. Cottonbush departed at dawn, and once more Ernest was alone in the
gray-stricken, accursed waste, wherein nor grass grew nor water ran,
nor did any of these everyday miracles of Nature appear likely again to
be witnessed by despairing man.

Still passed by the hungry hordes of travelling sheep, still the bony
skeletons of the passing cattle herds. No rain, no sign of rain! All
pastoral nature, brute and human, appeared to have been struck with the
same blight, and to be forlorn and moribund. The station cattle became
weaker and less capable of exertion; ‘lower,’ as Charley Banks called
it, as the cold autumn nights commenced to exhibit their keenness. The
Freemans relinquished all control over their cattle, and chuckled over
the weakly state of the Rainbar herd.

The autumn had commenced, a peerless season in all respects save in the
vitally indispensable condition of moisture. The mornings were crisp,
with a suggestive tinge of frost, the nights absolutely cold, the days,
as usual, cloudless, bright, and warm. If there was any variation it
was in the direction of a lowering, overcast, cloudy interval, when the
bleak winds moaned bodingly, but led to no other effect than to sweep
the dead leaves and dry sticks, which had so long passed for earth’s
usual covering, into heaps and eddying circular lines. The roughening
coats on the feeble frames of the stock, now enduring the slow torture
of the cold in the lengthening nights, told a tale of coming collapse,
of consummated, unquestioned ruin. Daily did Ernest Neuchamp dread
to rise, to pass hours of hopeless despondency among these perishing
forms, dying creatures roaming over a dead earth during their brief
term of survival! Daily did he almost come to loathe the sight of the
unpitying sun, which, like a remorseless enemy, spared not one beam of
his burning rays, veiled not one glare of his deadly glance. He had an
occasional reminiscence of the steady, reassuring tones, the unwavering
purpose of which abode with the very presence of Abstinens Levison.
But for these he felt at times as though he could have distrusted the
justice of an overruling Power, have cursed the hour of his birth, and
delivered himself over to despair and reprobation.

While Mr. Neuchamp was not far removed from this most unusual and
decidedly unphilosophical state of mind, it so chanced on a certain
afternoon (it was that of Wednesday, the eighteenth day of May, as was
long after remembered) that he and Jack Windsor were out together,
a few miles from home, upon the ironical but necessary mission of
procuring a ‘fat beast.’ This form of speech may be thought to have
savoured too much of the wildly improbable. The real quest was, of
course, for an animal in such a state of comparative emaciation
as should not preclude his carcass for being converted into human
food. The meat was not palatable, but it supported life in the hardy
Anglo-Saxon frame. It was all they had, and they were constrained to
make the best of it.

‘Look at these poor devils of cattle,’ said Jack, pointing to a number
of hide-bearing anatomies moving their jaws mechanically over the
imperceptible pasture. ‘They have water, but what the deuce they find
to eat I can’t see. There’s that white steer, that red cow, and one or
two more, with their jaws swelled up. There’s plenty of ’em like that.’

‘From what cause?’ asked Mr. Neuchamp. ‘Cancer is not becoming
epidemic, I hope.’

‘It comes from the shortness of the feed, _I_ think,’ returned Jack;
‘you see the poor creatures keep licking and picking every time they
see a blade of grass, if it’s only a quarter of an inch long; half
their time they miss their aim and rattle their jaws together with
nothing between them. That’s what hurts ’em, I expect, and after a bit
it makes their heads swell.’

‘I wonder what they would think in England of such an injury, occurring
in what we always believed to be a rich pastoral country.’

‘So it is, sir, when the season’s right. I expect in England you have
your bad seasons in another way, and get smothered and flooded out with
rain; and the crops are half rotten; and the poor man (I suppose he is
_really_ a poor man there, no coasting up one side of a river and down
the other for six months, with free rations all the time) gets tucked
up a bit.’

‘As you say, Jack, there are bad seasons, which mean bad harvests,
in England,’ answered Ernest, always inclined to the diversion of
philosophical inquiry; ‘and the poor man there, as you say, properly so
called, inasmuch as he requires more absolute shelter, more sufficient
clothes in the terrible winter of the north, than our friends who
pursue the ever-lengthening but not arduous track of the wallaby in
Australia. They may in England, and do occasionally, I grieve to say,
if unemployed and therefore unfed, actually _starve to death_. But what
are those cattle just drawing in?’

‘Those belong to a lot that keeps pretty well back,’ answered Jack,
‘and they’re different in their way from these cripples we’ve been
looking at, as they’ve had something to _eat_, but they’re pretty well
choked for a drink. I don’t know when they’ve had one. That’s how it
is, you see, sir; half the cattle’s afraid to go away for the water,
and the rest won’t leave what little feed there is till they’re nearly
mad with drouth. It’s cruel work either way. I’m blest if that wasn’t a
drop of rain!’

This sudden and rare phenomenon caused Ernest to take a cursory
examination of the sky, which he had long forborne to regard with
hope or fear. It was clouded over. But such had been the appearance
of the firmament scores of times during the last six months. The
air was still, sultry, and full of the boding calm which precedes
a storm. Such signs had been successfully counterfeited, as Ernest
bitterly termed it, once a month since the last half-forgotten showery
spring. He had observed a halo round the moon on the previous night.
There had been dozens of dim circular rings round that planet all the
long summer through. The rain was certainly falling now. So had it
commenced, on precisely such a day, with the same low banks of clouds,
many a time and oft, and stopped abruptly in about twenty minutes, the
clouds disappearing, and the old presentment reverting to a staring
blue sky, a mocking, unveiled sun therein, with the suddenness of a
transformation scene in a pantomime.

‘I think that spotted cow looks as near meat as anything we’re likely
to get, sir,’ said Jack Windsor, interrupting the train of distrustful
reverie. ‘It begins to look as if it meant it. Lord send we may get
well soaked before we get home!’

Mr. Windsor’s pious aspiration was appropriate this time. They reaped
the benefit of a genuine and complete saturation before they reached
the yard with the small lot of cattle they were compelled to take in
for companionship to their ‘fat beast.’ There was no appearance of
haste about the rain, no tropical violence, no waterspout business. It
trickled down in slow, monotonous, still, and settled drizzle, much as
it might have done in North Britain. It only did not stop; that was
all. It was hopefully continuous all the evening. And when Mr. Neuchamp
opened his casement at midnight he thankfully listened to the soaking,
ceaseless downpour, which seemed no nearer a sudden conclusion than
during the first hour.

Before dawn Mr. Neuchamp was pacing his verandah, having darted out
from his couch the very moment that he awoke. The temperature had
sensibly fallen; so had the clouds, which were low and black; and still
the rain streamed down more heavily than at first. There was apparently
no alteration likely to take place during the day. The water commenced
to flow in the small channels. The minor watercourses, the gullies,
and creeks were filling. Wonder of wonders—it was a settled, set-in,
hopelessly wet day! What a blessed and wonderful change from last week!
Ernest had a colloquy with Charley Banks about things in general, and
then permitted himself a whole day’s rest—reading a little, ciphering a
little, and looking up his correspondence, which had fallen much into
arrear. As the day wore on the rain commenced to show determination,
heavily, hour after hour, with steady fall, saturating the darkened
earth, no longer dusty, desolate, hopelessly barren. The gaping
fissures were filled. The long disused ruts and gutters ran full and
foaming down to their ultimate destination, the river. That great
stream refused to acknowledge any immediate change of level from so
inconsiderable a cause as a rainfall so far from its source. But,
doubtless, as Charley Banks pointed out, in a week or more it would
‘come down’ in might and majesty, when the freshets at the head waters
should have time to gather forces and swell the yellow tide. It was
well if there was not then a regular flood, but that would do them no
harm; might swamp out the Freemans, perhaps, but as long as Tottie
wasn’t drowned, and the old woman, the rest of the family might be
swept down to Adelaide for all he, Charley, cared. So let it rain till
all was blue. There was no mistake this time. It was a general rain.
We should have forty-eight hours of it before it stopped. Every hoof
of stock was off the frontage now and away back, where there was good
shelter and a trifle of feed. In a fortnight after this there would be
good ‘bite’ all over Rainbar run. We should have a little comfort in
our lives now. What a pull it was, that old Cottonbush had branded up
those last stores before the rain came.

Thus Mr. Charles Banks, jubilantly prophetic, with the elasticity of
youth, having thrown off at one effort all the annoyance and privation
of the famine year, was fully prepared for an epoch of marvels and
general prosperity.

The day ended as it had commenced. There was not a moment’s cessation
from the soaking, pouring, saturating, dripping downpour of heaven’s
precious rain. ‘As the shower upon the mown grass,’ saith the olden
Scripture of the day of David the King. Doubtless the great City of
Palaces was erst surrounded by shaven lawns, by irrigated fields and
gardens. But on the skirts of the far-stretching yellow deserts,
tenanted then as now by the wild tribes, to whom pasture for their
camels and asses, and horses and sheep, was as the life-blood of their
veins, doubtless there were thousands of leagues all barren, baked
sterility, until the long-desired rain set in, when, as if by magic,
herbs and waving grains and flowerets fair sprang up, and rejoiced the
hearts of the tribe, from the silver-bearded sheik to the laughing
child.

So it would be at Rainbar. Ernest knew this from many a conversation
which he had had upon the subject with Jack Windsor and Charley
Banks. In this warm, dry-soiled country, the growth of pasture under
favourable circumstances is well-nigh incredible. Nature adapts herself
to the most widely differing conditions of existence with amazing
fertility of resource. In more temperate zones the partial heat which
withers the flower and the green herb when cut down, slays the plant
and destroys germination in the seed for evermore. Here, in the wild
waste, when the fierce and burning blast revels over scorched brown
prairies, and the whirlwind and the sand column dance together over
heated sands, the plant life is well and truly adapted to the strange
soil, the stranger clime. The tall grasses grow hard and gray, or faint
yellow, under the daily desiccation which spares no tender growth; but
they remain nutritive and life-sustaining for an incredible period, if
but the necessary cloud water can be supplied at long intervals. Then
the hard-pushed pastoral colonist, when he found that his flocks had
bared to famine pitch the pastures within reach of the watercourses,
which were his sole dependence in the earlier days, was compelled to
resort to the most ancient practice of well-digging, of which he might
have gained the idea from the familiar records of a hard-set pastoral
people in the sandy wastes of Judea. Receding to the wide plains and
waterless forests of the vast region which lay cruelly distant from
any known stream or fountain, which was in summer regularly abandoned
by the aboriginal denizens of the land, he sank, at much expense, wells
of great depth—at first with uncertain result; but, though much of the
water thus painfully obtained—for from three to five hundred pounds for
two to three hundred feet sinking was no uncommon expense in a single
well—was brackish, much salt, still progress was made. The stock was
enabled in the midst of summer heat or protracted autumn drought to
feed upon these previously locked-up pastures, upon the saline herbs
and plants, the nutritious, aromatic shrubs peculiar to this land,
where no white man had ever before seen stock except in winter.

By degrees it began to be asserted that ‘back country,’ _i.e._ the
lands remote from all visible means of subsistence for flocks and
herds, as far as water was concerned, paid the speculative pastoral
occupier better than the ‘frontage,’ or land in the neighbourhood of
permanent creeks, and of the few well-known rivers. _There_ roamed
that unconscionable beast of prey, the all-devouring free selector. He
could select the choicest bends, the richest flats, the deepest river
reaches, even where the squatter had fenced or enclosed. For were
not the waters free to all? He naturally appropriated the best and
most tempting conjunctions of ‘land and water.’ These were precisely
those which were most profitable, most necessary, occasionally most
indispensable to the proprietor of the run.

But it was not so with the back blocks. There capital yet retained much
of its ancient supremacy. The wielder of that implement or weapon was
enabled to cause his long-silent wilderness to blossom as the rose, by
means of dams and wells. He was in a position also to drive off, keep
out, and withstand the invading pseudo-grazier, with his sham purchases
and his wrongful grass rights.

Thus, by a wise provision of the Land Act, all improvements of a
value exceeding forty pounds sterling, when placed by the pastoral
tenant upon the Crown lands which he was facetiously supposed to rent,
protect the lands upon which they stand, or which, in the case of a
well, they underlie; that is to say, a five-hundred-guinea well or a
hundred-pound dam cannot be free-selected or taken cool possession of
as a conditional purchase by the land marauder of the period. Some
people might see a slight flavour of fairness in this provision which
has not always in other colonies, Victoria notably, been granted by the
democratic wolf to the conservative lamb. However the Government of
New South Wales may have erred in other respects, it has in the main
so far ruled the outnumbered pastoralists with a courtesy, fairness,
and freedom from small greed such as might be expected from one body of
gentlemen in responsible dealing with a class of similar social rank.

One successful well or dam, therefore, converted a block of country
hitherto useless for nine months out of the twelve into a run capable
of carrying ten thousand sheep all the year round. Of course, any
portion of the Crown estate the conditional purchaser might ‘take up,’
or, without notice, occupy. But where was he to procure his water from?
He had not often five hundred pounds, or if so, did not ‘believe’
in such solemn disbursement for ‘mere improvements.’ Therefore he
still haunted, cormorant-like, the rivers and creeks—the ‘permanent
water’ of the colonist. To the younger sons of ancient houses, scions
of Howards, Somersets, and of the untitled nobility of Britain, he
conceded the right to live like hermits in the Thebaid, upon their
artificially and expensively watered back blocks.

A special peculiarity of the ocean-like plains of inmost Australia is
the miraculous growth of vegetation after the profuse irrigation which
invariably succeeds a drought. In the warm dry earth, now converted
into a bed of red or black mud, saturated to its lowest inch, and rich
for procreation of every green thing, lies a hoard of seeds of wondrous
number and variety of species. Broad and green, in a few days, as the
vivid growth from the aged, still fruitful bosom of mysterious Nile,
along with the ordinary pasture appear the seed leaves of unknown,
half-forgotten grasses, reeds, plants, flowers, never noticed except
in an abnormally wet season. In cycles of ordinary moisture, the true
degree of saturation not having been reached, they lie death-like year
after year, until, aroused by Nature’s unerring signal, they arise and
burst forth into full vitality. In such a time an astonishing variety
of herbs, plants, and flowers is to be seen mingling with gigantic
grasses, such as Charley Banks described to Mr. Neuchamp when he
prophesied, after forty-eight hours of steady rain had fallen, that
on the Back Lake Plains this year he would be able to tie the grass
tops together before him, _as he sat on horseback_. Mr. Neuchamp had
never before discovered his lieutenant in a wilful exaggeration; but on
this occasion he felt mortified that he should still be supposed a fit
subject upon which to foist humorous fabrications.

‘I see you don’t believe me,’ said Charley, rather put out in turn at
not being credited. ‘Let’s call Jack. You ask him the height of the
tallest grass he ever saw in this part of the country in a real wet
season. There he goes. Here, Jack, Mr. Neuchamp wants to ask you a
question.’

‘I wish to know,’ said Ernest gravely, ‘to what height you have ever
known the grass grow up here in a firstrate season?’

‘Well, I don’t know about measurement,’ said Jack, ‘but I remember at
Wardree one year we had to muster up all the old screws on the run to
give the shepherds to ride.’

‘Why was that?’

‘Because they couldn’t _see_ their sheep in the long grass; and out on
a plain where the grass was over their own heads, it was hard work not
to lose themselves. Of course it was an out-and-out year; something
like this is going to be, I expect. Why, I’ve tied the grass over my
horse’s shoulder in the spring, as _I’ve been riding along_, many a
time and often.’

Charley Banks smiled.

‘That will do, John,’ said Mr. Neuchamp.

‘I apologise fully,’ said Ernest, as soon as they were alone. ‘I
promise never to lack that confidence in your statements, my dear
fellow, which I must say I have hitherto found in every way deserved.
How are the cattle doing? You have been out all day, and must have been
soaked through and through.’

‘I didn’t put on anything that water could hurt,’ said Charley, ‘or
very much in the way of quantity either. Jack and I only wanted to be
sure of the line the cattle took, so as to get after them to-morrow. We
could track them as if they had been walking in batter pudding. If they
got off the run now we should have no horses to fetch them back with,
and if we left them away till they got strong, they’d be broken in to
some other man’s run, which would be so much time lost. Luckily they
all made for the Back Lake, where there’s some sandy ridges and good
bedding ground. Freeman’s cattle are mixed up with the “circle dots,”
which is all the better, as they know the run well, and can’t be got
off it. Lucky they’re branded.‘

‘And how about the old herd?’

‘We didn’t tire our horses going after them, but, by the main run of
the tracks, the nearest of them will stop at the Outer Lake timber; and
the head cattle will go slap back to the very outside boundary. We’ve
no neighbours at the back, so the farther back they go the fresher the
feed will be. _They’re_ right.’

‘I suppose they will begin to improve in a few months?’

‘Improve?’ echoed Mr. Banks; ‘if this weather is followed up, every
beast on Rainbar run, down to a three-months-old calf, will be mud fat
_in three months_, and you may begin to take away the first draft of
a thousand head of fat cattle that we can send to market—and a rising
market, too—before next winter.’

Mr. Neuchamp did not shout aloud, nor cast any part of his clothing
into the air, like Jack Windsor: his way of receiving sudden tidings of
weal or woe was not demonstrative. But he grasped Charley Banks’s hand,
and looked into the face of the pleased youngster with a gleam in his
eye and a look of triumph such as the latter had rarely witnessed there.

‘We have had to wait—“to suffer and be strong,”—Charley, my boy,‘ he
said, ‘but I think the battle is won now. You shall have your share of
the spoils.’

When Mr. Neuchamp sallied forth on the second day after the rain, he
could not but consider himself in a somewhat similar position to one
of the Noachian family taking an excursion after the flood. True, his
flood had been of a temporary and wholly beneficial nature, but not the
less had it entirely altered the expression upon the face of Nature.
Aqueous effects and results were prominently apparent everywhere. Mud
and hardened sandy spaces, already flushed with green, had succeeded to
the pale, dusty, monotoned landscape.

Thus, once more, short as had been the time of change, the eye was
relieved by the delicate but distinct shade of green which commenced
to drape the long-sleeping, spellbound frame of the mighty Mother.
Even in the driest seasons, except on river flats, there are minute
green spikelets of grass at or just below the surface. Let but one
shower of rain fall, softly cherishing, and on the morrow it is
marvellous to perceive what an approach to verdure has been made. Then
the family of clovers, long dead and buried, but having bequeathed
myriads of burr-protected, oleaginous seed vessels to the kind keeping
of the baked and powdered soil, reappear in countless hosts of minute
leaflets, which grow with incredible rapidity. It is not too much to
say that in little more than a week after the ‘drought broke up’ at
Rainbar there was grass several inches high over the entire run. The
salt bushes commenced to put forth tender and succulent leaves. All
nature drew one great sigh of relief, every living creature—from the
small fur-covered rodents and marsupials which pattered along their
minute but well-beaten paths when the sun was low to the water, from
the wild mare that galloped in snorting through the midnight, with
her lean, tireless offspring, to sink her head to the very eyes in
the river when she reached it, to the thirsty merino flock at the
well-trough, or the impoverished herd that struggled in hungered and
athirst to muddy creek or treacherous river bank—every living creature
did sensibly rejoice and give thanks, audibly or otherwise, for this
merciful termination to the long agony of the Great Drought.

That morning of the 18th May was a fateful morn to many a struggling
beginner like Ernest Neuchamp; to many a grizzled veteran of pioneer
campaigns and long wars of exploration, of peril of body and anguish of
mind; to many a burdened sire with boys at school to pay for, and the
girls’ governess to consider, whom the next year’s losses, if _the rain
held off_, would compel the family to dispense with.

On the night which preceded that day of deliverance Ernest Neuchamp
went to bed utterly ruined and hopelessly insolvent; he arose a rich
man, able within six months to pay off double the amount of every debt
he owed in the world, and possessed beside of a run and stock the
market value of which exceeded at least four-fold what he had paid for
it.

This was a change, sudden as an earthquake, swift as a revolution,
almost awe-striking in its shower of sudden benefits, dazzling in its
abrupt change from the dim light of poverty, self-denial, and anxiety,
to an unquestioned position of wealth, reputation, and undreamed-of
success.

How differently passed the days now! What variety, what hope, what
renewed pleasure in the superintendence of details ever leading upward
to profit and satisfaction in a hundred different directions!

Day by day the grass grew and bourgeoned and clothed the flats with a
meadow-like growth akin to that of his native country. None of this
amazing crop, however, was used except by the flocks of travelling
sheep returning strong and well-doing to their long-abandoned homes.
These passing hosts made so little impression upon the wonderfully
rapid growth that, as Mr. Banks averred, ‘you could not see where they
had been.’ The station cattle, and even the small flock of sheep were
‘well out back,’ and, presumably, were content to leave the ‘frontage’
as a reserve for summer needs.

Concurrently with this plenty and profusion, in which every head of the
Rainbar stock revelled, from Mr. Levison’s ‘BI,’ whose skin now shone
with recovered condition, and who snorted and kicked up his heels as he
galloped into the yard with the working horses, to the most dejected
weaner of the Freeman ‘crawlers,’ came strangely exciting news of the
wondrous discovery of gold in Victoria, and the rapid rise in the price
of meat.

Fat stock were higher and higher in each succeeding market, until
the previously unknown and, as the democratic newspapers said,
unjustifiable and improper price of ten pounds per head for fat cattle
was reached, with a corresponding advance for sheep. As this astounding
but by no means dismaying intelligence was conveyed to Mr. Neuchamp in
the hastily-torn-open newspaper which he was glancing at outside, just
as Jack Windsor had directed his attention to the gambols of ‘BI,’ who,
with arched neck and perfect outline, fully justified Mr. Levison’s
encomium upon his shape, that gentleman’s prophecy as to the enhanced
value of Rainbar reaching twenty thousand pounds when ‘BI’ kicked up
his heels seemed likely to be fulfilled to the letter.

Mr. Windsor, in his enthusiasm concerning the condition of the horse
left in his charge, and that of the stud generally, had for the moment
omitted to open an unpretending missive delivered by the same post
which lay in his hand. As Ernest turned to walk towards the house he
was stopped by the sound of a deep and bitter curse, most infrequent
now upon the lips of his much altered follower.



CHAPTER XXVIII


As Mr. Neuchamp turned, he saw an expression so fell and deadly upon
Jack’s changed face that he instinctively recalled the day when he
first stood before him with levelled weapon and the same stern brow.

‘What is the matter, John?’ said Ernest kindly. ‘Any had news?’

‘Bad enough,’ said the man gloomily. ‘Never mind me, sir, for a minute
or two. I’ll come to the house, and tell you all about it directly I’ve
saddled Ben Bolt.’

Then, repressing with an effort all trace of previous emotion, and
permitting his features to regain their usual expression, he proceeded
to catch and lead to the stable that determined animal, whose spirit
had by no means been permanently softened by adversity, as was
exhibited by his snorting and trembling as usual when the rein was
passed over his neck and the bridle put on. Having done this, Mr.
Windsor carefully saddled up, and shortly afterwards appearing in his
best suit of clothes, strapped a small roll to the saddle, and rode
quietly up to the verandah of the cottage.

‘I see that something unusual has happened,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, with
sympathy in his voice. ‘Tell me all about it.’

‘You’ll see it here,’ said his retainer, handing over a short and
simple letter from Carrie Walton, in which the impending tragedy of
a woman’s life-drama was briefly told. In a few sorrowful words the
girl told how that worked upon by the continuous persuasions and
reproaches of her parents, she had consented to marry Mr. Homminey on
the following Friday week. She had not heard from him, John Windsor,
for a long time—perhaps he had forgotten her. In a few days it would be
too late, etc. But she was always his sincere friend and well-wisher,
Caroline Walton.

‘You see, sir,’ began Mr. Windsor, with something of his old confidence
and cool calculation of difficulties in an emergency which required
instant bodily exertion, ‘it’s been this way. I’ve been so taken up
with these new cattle, and the way everything’s been changed lately,
since the weather broke, that I’ve forgot to write to the poor thing. I
was expecting to go down with the first lot of fat cattle next month,
and I laid it out to square the whole matter, and bring her back with
me, if you’ll give us the hut by the river bank to live in. I’ve been a
little late—or it looks like it—and they’ve persuaded her into marrying
that pumpkin-headed, corn-eating Hawkesbury hog, just because he’s got
a good farm and some money in the bank. But if I can get down before
the time, if it’s only half an hour, she’ll come to me, and I think I
can win the heat if Ben Bolt doesn’t crack up.’

‘What time have you to spare between this and the day of the wedding?’
inquired Ernest.

‘It’s to be on Friday week,’ said Jack.

‘You can never be there in time—it is impossible!’ cried Ernest in a
tone of voice which showed his sympathy with his faithful servant. ‘I
pity you sincerely, John!’

‘Pity be hanged, sir. You’ll excuse my way of talking. I’m a little off
my head, I know; what I mean to say is, I ain’t one of those chaps that
can grub upon pity, and the likes of it. But I _can_ do it, if the old
horse holds out, and luckily Joe’s been riding him regular since the
feed came, and he’s fit to race a mile, or travel a hundred, any day.’

‘Why, it is a hundred and eighty miles to the mail-coach station, and
unless you get there by to-morrow night, you can’t get down for another
week.’

‘I _shall_ get there,’ replied Jack slowly and with settled
determination. ‘Ben can do a hundred miles a day, for two days at a
pinch, and I have a good bit of the second night thrown in. The mail
don’t start until midnight. If we’re not there, I’ll turn shepherd
again, and sell Ben to a thrashing machine; we won’t have any call
to be thought horse or man again. I shall get to Mindai some time
to-night—that’s eighty miles—and save the old horse all I can; then
start about three in the morning, and polish off the hundred miles, if
he’s the horse I take him to be. He’ll have easy times after, if he
does it, for I’ll never sell him. Good-bye, sir.’

‘Good-bye, John; I wish you good fortune, as I really believe my young
friend Carry’s happiness is at stake. Here are some notes to take with
you—money is always handy in elopements, I am informed.’

‘You have my real thanks, sir,’ said Jack, pocketing the symbols of
power; ‘I’ve been a good servant to you, sir, though I say it. I
shan’t be any the worse if I’ve a good wife to keep me straight—that is
if I get her.’

Here Mr. Windsor gave a short groan, followed by an equally brief
imprecation, as he pictured the shining-faced giant, in a wondrous suit
of colonial tweed, leading Carry away captive to his Flemish farm,
evermore to languish, or grow unromantically plump, in a wilderness of
maize-field varied by mountains of pumpkins.

Ernest watched him as he mounted Ben Bolt, whose ears lay back, whose
white-cornered eyes stared, whose uneasy tail waved in the old feline
fashion, sufficient to scare any stranger about to mount. He saw him
take the long trail across the plain at a bounding canter, which was
not changed until horse and rider travelled out of the small Rainbar
world of vision, and were lost amid the mysteries of the far sky-line.
Much he marvelled at this Australian edition of ‘Young Lochinvar,’ only
convinced that if that enterprising gallant had been riding Ben Bolt,
when

  On to his croupe the fair ladye he swung,

the layers of the odds might have confidently wagered on a very
different ending to the ballad. He did not anticipate that the reckless
bushman would attempt to ‘cut out’ his sweetheart from the assembled
company of friends and kinsfolk. Yet he could not clearly see how he
proposed, so close was the margin left, to possess himself of the fair
Carry. But that, if Ben Bolt did not break down, Jack Windsor would,
in some shape or form, effect his purpose, and defeat the intended
disposal of the Maid of the Inn, he was as certain as if he had
witnessed their arrival at Rainbar.

It is not placed beyond the reach of doubt whether or not this
matrimonial adventure in any way led Mr. Neuchamp to considerations
involving similar possibilities. It may, however, be looked upon as an
authenticated legend that although several letters of a congratulatory
nature had passed between Paul Frankston and Mr. Neuchamp, ‘since the
weather broke,’ the latter thought it necessary to write once more and
acquaint him with the fact that early next month he should commence to
send off fat cattle, and that he would come down himself in charge of
the first drove.

In the austere boreal regions of the Old World all nature, dormant
or pulsating, dumb or informed with speech, waits and hopes, prays
and fears, until the unseen relaxation of the grasp of the winter
god. Then the ice-fetters break, the river becomes once more a joyous
highway, echoing with boat and song, and gay with ensigns. Once more
the unlocked earth receives the plough; once more the leaf buds, the
flower all blushing steals forth in woodland and meadow; once more
the carol of bird, the whistle of the ploughman, the song of sturdy
raftsmen, proclaim that the war of Nature with man is ended. So beneath
the Southern Cross the unkind strife which Nature ever and anon wages
with her children is accented not by wintry blast and iron frost-chain,
but by burning heat and the long-protracted water famine. The windows
of heaven are locked fast. The thirsty earth looks anguished and
sorrow-stricken, daily, hourly, witnessing the torture, the death of
her perishing children.

Then, wafted by unseen, unheard messengers, as in the frozen North, the
fiat goes forth in the burning South. The soft touch of the Daughter of
the Mist is felt upon plant and soil, pool and streamlet. They listen
to the sound of softly-falling tear-drops from the sky, and, lo! they
arise, rejoicing, to regain life and vigour, as the sick from the
physician, as the babe from the mother’s tendance.

Once more was there joy in the broad Australian steppes and pastures,
from the apple orchards of the south to the boundless ocean-plains of
the far north-west, where the saltbush grows, and the myall and the
mulgah, where the willowy coubah weeps over the dying streamlet, where
the wild horse snorts at dawn on the lonely sandhill, where the emu
stalks stately through the golden clear moonlight.

Now had arisen in good sooth for Ernest Neuchamp a day of prosperity
and triumph. By every post came news of that uprising of prices
which Mr. Levison had foretold, in stock and stations, in horses and
in cattle, in land and in houses, in corn and in labour. This last
consideration, though serious enough to the owners of sheep, in the
comparatively unenlightened days which preceded the grand economy of
fencing runs, was not of much weight with Ernest. His adherents were
tried and trusty, and neither Charley Banks nor Jack Windsor would
have abandoned him for all the gold in Ballarat and all the silver in
Nevada. Piambook and Boinmaroo, incurious and taking no thought for the
morrow, with the characteristic childishness of their race, dreamed
of no adequate motive which should sever them from the light work and
regularly-dispensed tobacco of Misser Noochum. With his own assistance
they were amply sufficient for all the work of the establishment,
now that the ‘circle dot’ cattle, thoroughly broken to the run, had
taken up regular beats, and divided themselves by consent into mobs or
subdivisions, each with its own leader.

Many a pleasant ride had Ernest now that all things ‘had suffered,’
not ‘a sea-change,’ but none the less an astounding metamorphosis, into
‘something rich and strange.’

Daily he made long-disused excursions into the mysterious, half-unknown
land of ‘the Back,’ only to find, after each fresh day’s exploring,
richer pasture, fuller watercourses, stronger, more frolicsome cattle.
These last had grown and thriven on the over-abundant pasture, ‘out
of knowledge,’ as Charley Banks averred. Again were the old triumphs
and glories of a cattle-station re-enacted. Again he saw the heavy
rolling droves of bullocks come panting and teeming into camp. Again he
witnessed the reckless speed and practised wheel of the trained stock
horses. All things, indeed, were changed.

Charley Banks was never tired of sounding the praises of the glorious
season, and of the splendid fattening qualities of Rainbar, with its
extraordinary variety of plant-wealth, herbs, grasses, saltbushes,
clovers, every green thing, from wild carrots to crowsfoot, which the
heart of man, devoted to the welfare of his herd, could desire.

‘I never saw anything like those “circle dot” cattle for laying it on,‘
he would say. ‘They’re as big again as they were. And those crawlers of
Freemans’—they’ll pay out and out. We’ve branded as many calves from
’em as will come to half the purchase money, at present prices. It will
soon be time to move the fat cattle; in another month or two Rainbar
will be full of ’em.’

The only persons to whom the rain had not brought joy and gladness were
Freeman Brothers. These worthy yeomen began to consider that after
all this hard work, as they expressed it, they had been shamefully
outwitted and deceived. The travel-worn cattle-dealer, who had driven
so hard a bargain with them, had turned out to be the great Abstinens
Levison, no less. Their stock had been handed over to Mr. Neuchamp,
with whom, doubtless, he had been in league. Now they were growing and
fattening fast, prices rising faster, and not a shilling for _them_,
out of it all. Then they had to wait idle on their land till November,
or less lose the cash agreed on.

‘Then to hand everything over—most likely for the benefit of a young
fellow who knew nothing about the country—a —— blessed “new chum”—hang
him. The country was getting too full of the likes of him. It was
enough to make a man turn digger.‘

Abraham Freeman and his wife were the only contented individuals of
the once peaceful co-operative community. They would have secured
sufficient capital upon the payment of the coming instalments to
purchase a well-improved farm in their old neighbourhood, to which they
proposed immediately to return, and there spend the remainder of an
unambitious existence.

‘They had seen quite enough of this far-out life,’ they said.
‘Free-selecting here might be very well for some people; it didn’t suit
them. They liked a quiet place in a cool climate, where the crops grew,
and the cows gave them milk all the year round—not a feast or a famine.
If they had the chance, please God, they would know _next time_ when
they were well off.’

One afternoon Charley Banks came tearing in, displaying in triumph
a provincial journal, the _Parramatta Postboy_, directed to him
in unknown handwriting. Pointing to a column, headed ‘Elopement
extraordinary,’ he commenced with great difficulty, owing to the
frequency of his ejaculations and bursts of laughter, to read aloud to
Mr. Neuchamp the following extract, from which it may be gathered that
Mr. Windsor ‘was on time,’ in spite of all apparent obstacles:

 It is seldom that we have to chronicle so dramatic an incident as
 that which has just occurred in our midst, and which was fraught with
 deep interest to one of our most respected residents of old standing
 in the neighbourhood. We refer to the sudden and wholly unexpected
 matrimonial arrangement made by Miss C—y W—n, the daughter of mine
 host of the old-established well-known family hotel, the ‘Cheshire
 Cheese.’ It would appear that Mr. Henry Homminey, the successful
 Hawkesbury agriculturist, was about to lead the blushing fair one,
 with the full consent of the family, to the hymeneal altar, on Friday
 last. ‘All went merry as a marriage bell,’ till on Thursday evening
 Mr. John Windsor, cattle manager at Rainbar for Ernest Neuchamp, Esq.,
 appeared at the ‘Cheshire Cheese,’ and joined the family party. He had
 been formerly acquainted with the bride-elect, but stated that he had
 merely come to offer his congratulations, and pass a pleasant hour.
 He was warmly welcomed, and the evening passed off successfully. At
 the appointed hour next morning the happy bridegroom appeared with his
 friends, who had mustered strongly for the occasion, but, to their
 dismay and disappointment, they were informed by Mr. W—n that the
 bride’s chamber was empty, and that she had not attended the family
 matutinal repast. Mr. Homminey’s feelings may be imagined but cannot
 be described. He at once started in pursuit of the fugitives, but
 after riding a few miles at a furious pace, his horse showed signs of
 distress, and he was persuaded by his personal friends to wend his
 steps in the direction of Richmond. Much sympathy is felt for his loss
 and disappointment. But, since the days of earliest classic records,
 the man of solid worth has occasionally been eclipsed, in the eyes of
 the fair, by the possessor of the more ornamental qualities with which
 Mr. Windsor is credited.

‘Well done, Jack!’ shouted Mr. Banks, as he finished the concluding
editorial reflection; ‘and well done, Ben Bolt! He must have polished
off that hundred and eighty miles, or else Jack would never have been
up to time. It’s a good deal to depend on a horse’s legs. Well, Carry
Walton’s a stunning girl, and it will be the making of Jack. He’ll go
as straight as a die now.’

‘I must say I feel much gratified also,’ assented Ernest. ‘I should
have been afraid of some of the old reckless spirit prevailing over
him, if he had lost our friend Carry. How I feel assured of his future
prosperity. He is a fine, manly, intelligent fellow, and wants nothing
but a sufficient object in life to make him put out his best energies.’

‘Jack’s as smart an all-round man as ever stepped,’ said Mr. Banks,
‘and with a real good headpiece too, though there’s not much
book-learning in it. He’d fight for you to the last drop of his blood,
too. I know that.’

‘It is well to have a faithful retainer at times,’ said Mr. Neuchamp
thoughtfully. ‘It carries a mutual benefit, often lost sight of in
these days of selfish realism.

‘How shall we manage with the cattle without him?’ queried Mr. Banks.

‘I must take the two black boys,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, ‘and you must
do the best you can on the run by yourself; for business renders it
absolutely necessary that I should visit Sydney.’

‘I daresay I’ll manage, somehow,’ said Mr. Banks. ‘I must get Tottie
Freeman to help me, if I’m hard pushed. She’s the smartest hand with
cattle of the lot.’

‘I do not think that arrangement would quite answer,’ quoth Mr.
Neuchamp gravely.

       *       *       *       *       *

Within a fortnight after this conversation Mr. Neuchamp and his sable
retainers might have been observed making the usual stages with a
most satisfactory drove of fat cattle in front of them. They were
not, perhaps, equal to the first lot he recollected despatching from
Rainbar; but ‘cattle were cattle’ now, in the language of the butchers.
There were plenty more coming on, and it was not thought advisable to
wait longer for the ultimate ‘topping up’ of the beeves. They were good
enough. The demand was prodigious; and purchasers did not make half the
critical objections that were used in the old days, when cattle were
not half the price.

In the appointed time the important draft reached Sydney, and before
Mr. Neuchamp could look round, it seemed to him, they were snapped up
at eight-pounds-ten a head, no allusions made to ‘rough cattle,’ or
‘very plain on the back,’ ‘old cows,‘ ‘light weights,’ or any of the
usual strong depreciations customary on former occasions. No; a new era
seemed to have set in. All was right as long as the count was accurate.
So satisfactory was the settling that Mr. Neuchamp at once wrote to
Charley Banks to muster and send down another draft, even if he _had_
to put Tottie Freeman in charge of Rainbar while he was on the road.

Then came the immediate rush to the office of Frankston and Co., and a
meeting with old Paul, that made up for much of enforced privation and
protracted self-denial.

‘My dear boy! most glad to see you, at last; thought that we should
never see your face again. Knew you couldn’t come before the rain did.
Can’t leave the ship until tide serves and the wind’s fair. But _now_
the voyage is over, first mate’s in charge of the ship, and the skipper
can put on his long-shore toggery and cruise for a spell. Of course
you’re on your way out to dine with us?’

Ernest mentioned that, presuming upon old acquaintance, such had been
his intention.

‘Antonia will be ever so glad to see you; but she must tell you all the
news herself. You will find your cousin at Morahmee. She and Antonia
are wonderful friends—that is——’

‘That is,’ said Ernest, completing Paul’s sentence, over which the
worthy merchant appeared to hesitate somewhat—‘that is, as close as two
people very widely dissimilar in taste and temperament can ever be.’

‘Perhaps there _may_ be a slightly different way of looking at things,
and so on,’ said his old friend cautiously; ‘but all crafts are not
built out of the same sort of timber, or on the same lines. Some are
oak, some of American pine, some of teak, some of white gum; some with
a smart shear, some with a good allowance of beam; and they can’t be
altered over much. As the keel’s laid down, so the boat’s bound to
float.’

‘H—m!’ replied Ernest thoughtfully, ‘that involves a large
question—several large questions, in fact. Good-bye for the present.’

How many memories crowded upon the brain of Ernest Neuchamp as he
once more trod the massive sandstone flags underneath the portico of
the verandah at Morahmee! The freshly raked gravel walks, the boscage
of glowing green which formed the living walls of the renovated
shrubberies, the well-remembered murmur of the low-toned restless
surge, the odour of the unchanged deep, all these sharply contrasted
sights and sounds after his weary sojourn in the desert composed for
him a page of Boccaccio, framed a panel of Watteau-painting. He was a
knight in an enchanted Armida garden. And as Antonia, freshly attired
in evening dress, radiant with unmistakable welcome, appeared to greet
him on the threshold of the open door, he felt as if the knight who
had done his devoir was about to receive the traditional guerdon, so
necessary to the perfect equilibrium of the world of chivalry and
romance.

‘Welcome from Palestine!’ she said, unconsciously following out his
train of thought, as she ran forward and clasped him by the hand. ‘I
don’t know whether one can call any part of the bush the Holy Land; but
you have been away quite long enough to have gone there. Had you vowed
a vow never to come back till rain fell? People may stay away too long
sometimes.’ Here she gazed at Ernest with a long, searching, humbled
gaze, which suddenly brightened as when the summer cloud catches the
partially obscured sun-ray. ‘But here is Augusta, coming to ask you if
Rainbar won’t be swallowed up in a second deluge now that the drought
has broken up, as she is credibly informed is always the case in
Australia!’ A mischievous twinkle in her mirthful eye informed Ernest
that his cousin’s peculiarities had been accurately measured by the
prepossessing reviewer before him.

As Miss Neuchamp, also attired in full evening costume, approached,
while not far behind, with the air of a confirmed _habitué_, sauntered
Mr. Jermyn Croker, Ernest thought he had never seen that young lady
look to greater advantage. Something had evidently occurred with
power to revive an attention to the details of dress which had been
suffered of late to lie in abeyance. There was also a novel expression
of not unbecoming doubt upon her resolute features which Ernest had
never observed before. It soon appeared, however, that her essential
characteristics were unchanged.

‘I am truly glad to see you, my dear Ernest,’ she said, offering him
her cheek with proper cousinly coolness. ‘I hear that a beneficial
change has taken place in your shocking climate. Mr. Croker says that
prices have risen to their outside limit, and cannot possibly last. Of
course you will sell out at once and go home?’

‘Of course I shall do no such thing,’ returned Ernest, with such
unusual animation that Antonia could not help smiling. ‘I should
consider it most ungrateful, as well as impolitic, to quit the land
which has already done much for me, and may possibly do more.’

‘Well done, Ernest, my boy!’ said Mr. Frankston, who had just joined
the party. ‘Never quit the ship that has weathered the storm with you
while a plank is left in her. Now that we have our country filled with
the sweepings of every port under the sun, we want the captain and
first officer to act like men, and show the stuff they’re made of.’

‘I take quite a different view of my duty to Jermyn Croker, about whom
I have felt much anxiety of late,’ drawled out that gentleman. ‘I see
before me a chance of selling out at an absurdly high price, and taking
my passage by next mail for one of the few countries that is worth
living in. A madman might neglect such an opportunity for the sake of a
few thousand roughs scrambling for gold at California, or Ballarat, but
not Jermyn Croker, if I know him.’

‘And suppose stock rise higher still?’ queried Mr. Frankston, smiling
at the magnificent dogmatism of his unsentimental friend.

‘My dear Frankston, how a man of your age and experience can so blind
himself to the real state of affairs is a marvel to me. Cattle _can’t_
rise. Five pounds all round for young and old on the station is a price
never before reached in Australia. You _must_ see the crash that is
coming. Really, now, without humbug, don’t you know that there will be
a change before Christmas?’

‘So there will,’ answered Paul, ‘but it will be for the better. We have
not half the stock in the country to feed the great multitude that are,
even now, on the sea. But if you _will_ sell, you might give me the
offer.’

‘Sold out of every hoof to Parklands this morning!’ answered Mr.
Croker, looking round with a triumphant air. ‘I was standing on the
club steps before breakfast when he came in from the northern steamer,
and made me an offer before he got out of his hansom.’

‘And you took it?’

‘Took it? of course. We went into the library, where he wrote me out a
cheque then and there for twenty thousand pounds, and I gave him the
delivery note. Booroo-booroo and Chatsworth, with four thousand head
of cattle, taken, without muster, by the book, everything given in.
Something like a sale, wasn’t it?’

‘First-rate for some one—I don’t say who. But I’ll take three to one
that Parklands knocks five thousand pounds profit out of it before the
year is over.’

‘I take you, provided he doesn’t sell to Neuchamp,’ answered Croker. ‘I
must say I think one bargain with him ought to satisfy any man, except
Selmore.’

‘I’ll bet you a level hundred,’ said Paul, a little quickly, ‘that in
five years Ernest here will be able to buy you up—horse, foot, and
dragoons—without feeling the amount.’

‘Particularly if he has the invaluable aid and counsel of Paul
Frankston,’ sneered Mr. Jermyn Croker. However, I shan’t be here to
see, as I never intend to cross the Nepean again, or to see Sydney
Heads except in an engraving.‘

‘We’ll all go and see you off,’ said Antonia, who with Ernest suddenly
appeared as if they had not been listening to the conversation, which
indeed they had not, but had taken a quiet walk down ‘an alley Titanic’
with glorious araucarias. ‘But whoever goes or stays, we must have
dinner. I really _do_ believe that it’s past seven o’clock.’

At this terrible announcement Paul’s ever robust punctuality asserted
itself with a rebound. Seizing upon the fair Augusta he hurried her to
the dining-room, where all conversation bordering upon business was
banished for the present.

After the ladies had retired, the fascinating topic of the changed
social aspect of the country since the gold crop had alternated with
those of wheat, maize, wool, and tallow, which formerly absorbed so
large a share of interest, again came uppermost. Upon this point Mr.
Croker was grandly didactic.

‘Mark my words, Frankston,’ said he, throwing himself back in his
chair, ‘in two years you will see this country a perfect hell upon
earth! What’s to hinder it? Even now there’s hardly a shepherd to be
got; people are talking of turning their sheep loose—that, of course,
means ruin to wool-growing. Cattle will soon overtake the temporary
demand; all the new buyers—nothing personal intended, Neuchamp—will
be ruined. Tallow will fall directly the Russians have settled their
difficulty. I know this from private sources. Flour will be a hundred
pounds a ton again; of course there will be no ploughing for want of
hands. These digger fellows will take to cutting their own throats
first, and when in good practice those of the propertied classes for a
change; and lastly, you’ll have universal suffrage. The scum will be
uppermost, and you’ll end suitably with an unparalleled Jacquerie.’

Mr. Croker, having completed this pleasing patriotic sketch, filled his
glass and looked round with the air of a man who had just demonstrated
to inquiring youth that two and two make four.

‘Australia was always a beastly hole,’ he continued; ‘but really, I
think, when—even before—it comes to what I have outlined, it will cease
to be fit for a gentleman to live in.’

‘You must pardon me for expressing a directly contrary opinion,’
replied Ernest, who had been gradually girding himself up to answer
Mr. Croker according to his humour. ‘I hold that this is precisely the
time, and these are the exact circumstances, which render it a point of
honour for every gentleman who has past or present interest in the land
to live in it, to stand by his colours and lead his regiment in the
battle which is so imminent. Now is the time for those who have felt
or asserted an interest in this glorious last-discovered Eldorado, far
down in the list of English provinces which have a way of changing into
nations, to uphold with all the manhood that is in them her righteous
laws, her goodly customs, her pure yet untrammelled liberty. In my
mind, he who takes advantage of the rise in prices to quit Australia
for ever at this hour of her social need, deserts his duty, abandons
his post, and confesses himself to be less a true colonist than a
sordid huckster!’

As Mr. Neuchamp delivered himself of this perhaps slightly coloured
estimate of the duty of a pastoral tenant, unheeding of the implied
rebuke to the last speaker, he raised his head and confronted the
company with the air of the captain of a sinking ship who has vowed to
stand by her while a plank floats.

Jermyn Croker coloured, but did not immediately reply, while the host
took occasion to interfere, as became his position of mediator between
over-hasty disputants.

‘I think you are both a little beyond the mark,’ he said; ‘if you will
allow me, who have lived here since Sydney was a small seaside village,
to give you my ideas. No doubt, as Croker says, we shall have a queer
crew, with every kind of lubber and every known sort of blackguard to
deal with. But what of that? Discipline has always been kept up in old
New South Wales,—in times, too, when matters looked black enough. The
same men, or their sons, are here now who showed themselves equal to
the occasion before. We have Old England at our backs; and though she
doesn’t bother us with much advice or short leading strings, she has a
ship or two and a regiment left which are at the service of any of her
colonies when need is.’

‘Every country where gold has been discovered up to this time has
gradually degenerated and come to grief,’ asserted Croker, recovering
from his dissatisfied silence; ‘not that much degeneration is possible
here.’

‘You are thinking of the Spaniards, the Mexicans, and so on,’ said
Paul. ‘I’ve been among them, and know all about their ways. They are
not so much worse than other people. But even so: English people have
always managed to govern themselves under all circumstances, and will
again, I venture to bet.’

‘I came out here thinking Australia a good place to make money. I
always knew England was a good place to spend it in,’ averred Mr.
Croker. ‘I’m a man of few ideas, I confess. But I have stuck to these
few, and I think I see my way.’

‘I suppose we all do,’ said Mr. Frankston; ‘but some have more luck or
better eyesight than others. Our friend Levison wouldn’t make a bad man
at the “look-out” in dirty weather, eh, Ernest? What do you think of
him, Croker?‘

‘Think? why, that he’s an immensely overrated man; he has made a few
hits by straightforward blundering and kept what he has got. I give him
credit for that. But who’s to know whether all this station property
that stands in his name is _really_ his? The banks may have the lion’s
share for all anybody knows.’

‘Highly probable,’ assented Ernest, with fierce sarcasm; ‘and Levison’s
steady prophecy that the season was going to break just before it did
was an accidental guess! His purchasing stock, stations, and town
property for the rise, which no one else believed in, was a chance hit!
His uniformly good sales when every one else was holding! His large
purchases when all the world was selling! His unostentatious gifts,
at the rate of two to a thousand pounds, to church buildings were
unredeemed parsimony! His advice to me to buy and his actual purchases
of stock for my benefit, every pound invested in which has furnished
a profit of ten, were selfish mistakes! You must excuse me, Croker,
for saying that I think you have reared a larger crop of prejudices in
Australia than any man I have seen here.’

‘It’s a fine climate!’ quoth Paul; ‘everything grows and develops;
even experience, like Madeira in the voyage round the Cape, ripens
twice as fast here as anywhere else. A whitewasher, Croker? I really
believe this is a bottle of the Manzanares you prefer, and we’ll join
the ladies, which means adjourn to the verandah.’

       *       *       *       *       *

If happiness, at any period or season, did dwell upon the earth, she
must have sojourned, about the month of September 185—, so near to
the New Holland Club, so near to the person of Ernest Neuchamp, as
to have been occasionally visible to the naked eye. Had a company
of _savans_ been told off to view the goddess, as in the far less
important matter of the transit of Venus, success had been certain. But
society never recognises its real wonders—its absolute and imperious
miracles. Therefore for a little space that earthly maid glorified
the dwelling and precincts of the untrammelled, rejoicing, successful
proprietor. She sat by Mr. Neuchamp at the daintily prepared refections
of the club, and gave an added flavour to his moderate but intense
enjoyment of viand and vintage, so wondrous in variety, so miraculous
of aroma, after his long endurance of the unpalatable monotony of the
Rainbar cuisine. She whispered in the mystic tones of the many-voiced
sea-breezes, as they murmured around his steps when, with Antonia at
his side, he roamed through the mimic woods of Morahmee, or gazed with
never-ending contemplative joy on the pale moon’s silver tracery o’er
wave and strand. She rose with him in the joyous morn, telling him the
ever-welcome tale that all cause for anxiety had fled, that a new ukase
had gone forth, bringing unmixed joy to every man of his order, always
excepting the sheepholders and Jermyn Croker. She sat behind him, on
Osmund, displacing ‘the sad companion ghastly pale’ even ‘atra Cura,’
who had been the occupant of a croup seat on that gallant steed for
many a day. Once more the rattle of flying hoofs was heard upon the
sandy downs and red hill-roads which, near Bondi’s ceaseless surge,
overlook the city’s mingled mass, the ocean’s fresh eternal glory. In
this season of joy and pride—the natural and becoming pride of him who
has suffered and struggled, waited and warred for no mean reward, which
at length he has been permitted to grasp—the bright goddess smiled on
every act, thought, and hope of Ernest Neuchamp. In that fair brief
bygone day of unalloyed triumph, of unclouded hope, it is a truth most
absolute and indisputable that she stood by his side in serene and
awful beauty; but, like her austere sister of old who cried aloud in
the streets to a heedless generation, ‘no man regarded her.’

Through all this halcyon time no definite pledge or vow had passed
between him and the woman whom he had slowly, but with all the force
of an inflexibly tenacious nature, come to consider as the embodied
essence of that mysterious complement to man’s nature, at once the
vital necessity, the crowning glory, of this mortal state, the vision
of female perfection! Proud, fastidious, a searcher after ideals,
prone to postpone the irrevocable decision by which man’s fate here
below is for ever sealed, he was now face to face with Destiny. Even
now he felt so utterly fascinated, so supremely content, with the
graduated intimacies of which the daily process which draws two human
hearts together into indescribable union is composed, so charmed with
the undreamed-of treasures of mind and heart which each fresh casket
unlocked displayed to his gaze, that he felt no desire to change the
mode of bliss. Why hurry to an end this sojourn in the land of Faerye,
while the bridle-reins of the Queen of Elf-land and her troop were
ringing still through the haunted woods, while feast and tournament
still went merrily on, while stream and emerald turf and bosky glade
were still touched with the glory of successful love, while the glamour
still held sea and sky and far-enpurpled mounts, upon which, let but
once the knell of disenchantment sound, no mortal may again gaze _while
life endures_?

During all this time of joy and consolation Mr. Neuchamp had regular
advices from his lieutenant, Charley Banks. That young gentleman
complained piteously of his lonely state and solitary lodging in
the wilderness, for which nothing compensated, it would appear, but
the increasing beauty of the season (pastorally considered) and an
occasional gossip with Tottie Freeman.

Now that the rain had found out the way to saltbush land, there seemed
to be but little variety of weather. It rained every other day,
sometimes for nearly a week, incredible to relate, without stopping.
The creeks were full, the flats were soaked, spongy, and knee-deep in
clover. The river was high, had come down ‘a banker,’ and any further
rainfall at the head waters, or even the melting of the snow, might
bring down a flood such as the dwellers in those parts had not seen for
many a day. The Freemans were uncomfortable enough. They had found that
their huts and fencing had been placed on land too low for comfort in
a wet season, and even for safety if the threatened floods rose higher
than usual.

In November, the third spring month of the Australians, another
despatch of greater weight and importance reached Mr. Neuchamp, who
apparently was not hasting to quit the land of French cooks and Italian
singers, of pleasant day saunterings, of cheerful lunch parties, and
moonlight rambles by the murmuring sea. Mr. Banks had the distinguished
honour of entertaining Mr. Levison, but lately returned from Melbourne,
and engaged in starting two or three thousand head of fat cattle for
that market. He had come round by Rainbar, he said, on purpose to take
delivery of the Freemans‘land, but he, Charley Banks, thought it more
likely that he wanted to see old ‘BI’ (who looked splendid, with a
crest like a lion), and whom he rode away in triumph. He handed over
the deeds of all the Freemans‘conditional purchases to him to give to
Mr. Neuchamp, saying that he hoped he wouldn’t do that sort of thing
again, as he might not come out of it right another time.

Mr. Banks further related that he had volunteered as his deliberate
opinion, from what he had noticed about the Victorian gold mines,
that the yield of gold would last many years, during which time stock
would continue to be high in price, although there might be temporary
depressions. As a consequence of which state of things, the sooner
every one bought all the store stock they could lay hands on the
better. ‘“My word,” he said, “it was a lucky drop-in—not for them
though—that I picked you up those Freeman cattle, not to speak of the
‘circle dots.’ There will be no more eight-and-sixpenny store cattle,
or fifteen-bob ones either—two pounds for cows, and fifty shillings
and three pounds for good steers and bullocks will be more like it,
and they will pay at that price too. But what I want you to tell Mr.
Neuchamp is this. I’d write to him, but I’m in a hurry off, and you can
do it quite as well, if you’re careful and attend to what I tell you.

‘“I’ve just had information that the Sydney people who have got the
agency of the Mildool run, that joins you, are going to sell. They’ve
got it into their wise heads that cattle have seen their top, because
they’re worth five pounds all round, that is, with stations; and
because they’re old-fashioned Sydney-siders that never heard of such a
price since the days when they used to bring buffaloes from India.

‘“They believe that Victoria is choke-full of Yankees and diggers,
stowaways and emigrants, and that the whole thing will ‘bust up’
directly, and let down prices everywhere to what they were before the
gold.

‘“People that travel, and keep their eyes open, know what foolishness
all this sort of thing is. A regular Sydney man thinks all Victorians
are blowers and speculators. A regular Victorian thinks all Sydney
men are old-fashioned, slow prigs who wouldn’t spend a guinea to save
five pounds. The truth is pretty near the middle. Don’t you stick at
home all your life, like a mallee scrubber, that has only one dart, on
the plain and back to his scrub, and then you won’t run away with the
notion that because a man is born on one side of a river and not on the
other, he ain’t as clever, or as sensible, or as good a hand at making
money or saving it, as you are. It’s only country-bred, country-reared
folks that think that way.

‘“What I want you to tell the boss is this. He’d better set old Paul
Frankston to get a quiet offer of this Mildool with four thousand
odd head—it will carry about seven or eight—and if they’ll take
four-fifteen or five pound all round, ram ’em with it at once. Tell
Neuchamp he can send that native chap to manage it, and it will be the
best day’s work he’s done for some time. Tell him Ab. Levison said
so. Good-bye. You take a run down to Melbourne next chance you get
of a holiday, and don’t stay out here till you get the Darling rot.
Good-bye.”

‘And so he cantered off on old “BI.” Levison don’t go in for much talk
in a general way, but when he once begins he don’t leave off so easy.
I thought he was going to talk all night, and so lose a day. But catch
him at that. I think I’ve told you every word he said, for I went and
wrote it down as soon as he went away.‘

So far Mr. Banks. Upon the receipt of his artless missive, Ernest went
at once to Paul Frankston, and communicated to him the substance of the
message of Mr. Levison.

‘This is putting on the pot, my dear boy,’ said he. ‘If anything
happens to shake stock, Rainbar and Mildool will tumble down like a
house of cards. But now the wind is dead fair, and we may venture on
studding-sails—crowd on below and aloft. I back Levison’s opinion that
it is the right time to buy before Sticker and Pugsley’s notion that it
is the right time to sell.’

‘What sort of terms do you think they will require?’ asked Ernest, who
was fired with the idea of consolidating into one magnificent property
the two crack cattle runs of Rainbar and Mildool, the latter a grandly
watered, splendidly grassed station, but wofully mismanaged according
to old custom.

‘Half cash at least, and not very long dated bills either,’ said Paul,
‘but we can manage the cash on your security, as your name now stands
high in the money market. As to the bills, tell them that I will
endorse them. They won’t make any objection then.’

‘How much heavier is the load of my obligations to you to become?’
asked Ernest. ‘I feel as if I should never live to free myself from
the debt I owe you already.’

‘Don’t trouble yourself, my dear boy,’ said the liberal endorser. ‘If
things go well, nothing’s easier for you than to clear off every stiver
of debt. See how you have been able to pay off Levison, principal
and interest, out of that last lot of cattle, without a shade of
difficulty. If the rise takes place which Levison and I and some more
of us anticipate, why you, I, and he stand to win something very
respectable. You can then give us all a cheque for the amount advanced,
and the whole thing is over and finished. Until the drought broke up, I
don’t deny that we all had to be very close-hauled, and lay-to a good
deal from time to time; but now, with bullocks eight pounds a head, and
fat sheep ten shillings—wool up too, and real property rising,—not to
mention the shipping trade doubling every month,—why, if we can’t clap
on sail, my boy, we never can, and what the ship can’t carry she may
drag.’

The old man looked so thoroughly convinced of the truth of his
convictions as he spoke, with the kindling eye and elevated visage of
one resolved upon a hazardous but honourable enterprise, that Ernest
Neuchamp, always prone to be influenced by contagious exaltation of
sentiment, caught fire from his ardent mien and tone.

‘Well, so be it,’ he said; ‘I am content to sink or swim in the same
boat with you and yours. We have Ab. Levison for a pilot, and he knows
all the rocks and soundings of the pastoral deep sea from Penrith to
Carpentaria, I should say. As you say there’s a time for all things, I
think this is the time to back one’s opinion in reason and moderation.
I will go and confront the agents for Mildool.’

Messrs. Sticker and Pugsley were steady-going, precise men of business
of the old school. As stock and station agents they had always steadily
set their faces against all outlay except for the merest necessaries
of life. Bred to their business in the old times when stock were
plentiful, labour cheap, and cash extremely hard to lay hold of in any
shape or form, they struggled desperately against these new-fangled
notions of ‘throwing away money uselessly,’ as they termed the
comparatively large outlay which they occasionally heard of upon dams,
wells, fencing, woolsheds, and washpens. Large profits had been made in
the good old times, when such speculations would have gone nigh to have
furnished a warrant _de lunatico inquirendo_. They did not see how it
was all to be repaid. They doubted the management which comprehended
such sinful extravagance; and they proposed to continue their
time-honoured system, which made it imperative upon all stockholders
who were unlucky enough to be in debt to them, to spend nothing, to
live upon shepherds‘wages, and not to think of coming to town until
times improved.

One wonders if it ever occurred to these snug-comfort loving cits, as
daily they drove home to pleasant villas and luxurious surroundings—did
it ever occur to them, after the second glass of old port, to what a
life of wretchedness, solitude, and sordid surroundings their griping
parsimony was condemning the unlucky exile from civilisation, who
was hopelessly chained to their ledger? For him no beeswing port, no
claret of Bordeaux. He drank his ‘Jack the Painter’ tea milkless, most
probably, and flavoured with blackest sugar, occasionally stimulating
his ideality with ration rum or villainous dark brandy. Though his the
brain that planned, the hand that carried out long desert wayfarings
of exploration—long, toilsome drudgeries of stock travelling to lone
untrodden wilds; his the frame that withered, the eye that dimmed,
the health that failed, the blood that flowed, ere the process of
colonising, progression, and commercial extension was complete.
Thus land was occupied, villages sprang up, inter-communication was
established, and the wilderness subdued. All the magnificent results of
civilisation were brought about over territories of incredible area by
the intelligence, enterprise, and energy of one individual. And he, too
often, when the battle was won, the standard hoisted, and the multitude
pouring over the breach, found himself a beggared and a broken man.

Mr. Neuchamp, after due preliminaries, entered the office of Messrs.
Sticker and Pugsley, with whom he had an interview by no means of a
disagreeable character. The senior partner, an elderly, gray-haired
personage, showed much of the formal politeness which is commonly
thought to distinguish the gentleman of ‘the old school.’ He received
Ernest courteously, begged that he would take a chair, alluded to the
weather, deplored the arrival of the mosquitoes, to which the rain
and the spring in conjunction had been jointly favourable, requested
to know whom he had the honour of receiving, and finally desired
information as to the particular mode in which he could be of service
to him.

‘I have been informed,’ said Ernest, ‘that your firm are agents for the
Mildool station, and that it is in the market. I have come to request
that you will put it under offer to me, as I have some intention of
purchasing a property of that sort.’

‘We have not as yet advertised it,’ replied Mr. Sticker; ‘still, you
have been rightly informed that the station and stock are for sale. But
we do not think of offering it upon the usual terms; our own opinion
is, I do not disguise it from you, that present prices will not last. I
have been many years in the colony, and such is my belief. Mr. Pugsley,
whose opinion of the permanence of present high rates is better than
mine, also believes that, with the properties entrusted to us, it is as
well to be safe, and to take advantage of an opportunity that may never
occur again. Our terms for Mildool are briefly these: We offer four
thousand head of mixed cattle, above six months old, with, of course,
the M[Ḋ] brand, at five pounds per head, everything given in. I am
informed that the improvements are scanty and in bad repair; there are
twenty stock horses, and a team of bullocks and dray, two huts, and a
stockyard. But, perhaps, you know the property, and the appearance of
the buildings.’

‘The huts _are_ old and bad,’ said Ernest, smiling; ‘and as for the
stockyard, the Mildool stockmen have for the last few years brought
their cattle to our yard for safety, as you could kick down the Mildool
yard anywhere. But what is your idea of terms?’

‘Half cash, and the balance in approved bills, at one and two years,
secured upon the stock and station.’

‘Rather stiff,’ said Ernest; ‘but will you put the offer in writing,
and leave it open for a week? I will before that time give you a
decided answer.’

Mr. Sticker would have much pleasure in doing so. As Ernest preferred
to wait for the important document, it was soon prepared, and he
finally marched away with a fortune, as it turned out (fate and
opportunity are queer things), in his waistcoat pocket. He was not too
quick in his conditional annexation of this desirable territory. Ten
minutes afterwards Mr. Hardy Baldacre dashed into the office on the
same errand, quitting it with a curse which shocked Mr. Sticker, and
provoked Mr. Pugsley, who was young and athletic, to inform him that
he must not suppose that his money provided him the permission to be
rude, though it did procure him consideration far beyond his deserts.
Altogether, Mr. Baldacre felt as if his brandy-and-soda had been
scarcely so efficacious as usual that morning.

When Mr. Neuchamp produced this small but important document to Paul
Frankston, that commercial mentor rubbed his hands with unconcealed
satisfaction.

‘You’ve got ’em, Ernest, my boy, hard and fast. I believe you might
make a pound a head, say four thousand pounds out of it, in a month.
Sticker is a good man, according to his light, and Pug’s a sharp
fellow. But they don’t see, and won’t see, the signs of the times.
They’re always remembering the old boiling-down days, and they fancy
that the least change in markets will send us back to it. You did right
to get the offer in writing, and for a deferred time. We’ll keep it a
day or two, and then you shall go and accept the terms like a man.’

‘But how about the money?’ inquired Mr. Neuchamp with a shade of
natural anxiety. ‘Twenty thousand pounds are no nutshells, however
little it may sound in these extravagant days.’

‘Look here,’ said Paul, ‘find this ten thousand down; any agent will
give you five thousand on the security of your year’s draft of fat
stock from the two runs; it will come to more, I daresay, but we must
be as careful as we can. I think that you will have to give a mortgage
over Rainbar and Mildool—a second one—and then you may draw a cheque
for the ten thousand as soon as you like.’

‘And what about the “approved” bills?‘

‘Well, the day after to-morrow you can go to old Sticker and pay him
the half cash. I’ll put the cash part of it through; ask him to make
out the bills, with interest added at 8 per cent; bring them to me,
and I will put a name on the back which will render them legal tender,
whatever may come of them after.’

‘The old story since I came to Australia,’ said Ernest. ‘It seems that
I can do nothing without your advice; and that your help follows me as
a natural consequence—whatever I do, and whatever I buy.’

‘Well, if this shot turns out badly,’ said Paul, ‘I’ll promise not
to _back your bills any more_. Will that satisfy you? But Levison
seems quite determined, “just this once,” as the children say, and I
generally take his tip if I see a chance. I think our money is on the
right horse.‘

‘I hope so,’ said Ernest, thinking, respectfully, of the lovely
condition of Rainbar at the moment, and fearing lest, by any financial
legerdemain, it might be taken away from him in time to come.

Before the week was ended, during which the offer of Mildool was open
for his acceptance, Mr. Neuchamp had the satisfaction of handing Mr.
Sticker a cheque for ten thousand pounds, which he had been obligingly
permitted by his banker to draw against certain securities, and also
two bills, with interest added at the rate of 8 per cent, for the
balance. Upon which somewhat important documents being well scanned
and examined, and further submitted to Mr. Pugsley, who was on that
occasion introduced, Ernest received an order to obtain delivery of
the Mildool station, having twenty-four miles frontage to the river,
and going thirty miles back, with four thousand head of cattle, more or
less, depasturing thereon, the same to be mustered and counted over in
six weeks; any cattle deficient to be paid for by Sticker and Pugsley,
at the rate of two-pounds-ten per head, and all cattle in excess to
be taken by the purchaser at that price. When this transaction was
concluded—on paper, Mr. Neuchamp began to realise that he was having
pastoral greatness thrust upon him.

Speculation is a grandly exciting occupation, when all goes well.
When the bark is launched, mayhap with tremulous hope, perchance
with the reckless pride of youth, there is a wondrously intoxicating
triumph in noting the gradual, ever-deep, engine-flowing tide, the
steady, favourable gale before which the galley which carried Cæsar
and his fortunes ‘walks the waters like a thing of life,’ and finally
conveys the illustrious freight to one of the fair havens of the
gracious goddess Success. A triumph is decreed to Cæsar. Immediately
Cæsar’s critics become bland, his enemies fangless, his friends are
pacified—_they_ are always the most difficult personages to assuage;
his detractors go and detract from others; his creditors burn incense
before him; his feminine acquaintances dress at him, talk at him, sing
at him, and _look_ at him—oh! so differently.

Cæsar needs all of his unusually powerful mental attributes if he does
not become abominably conceited, and straightway refer the kindness of
circumstance to his own inherent talent for calculation and brilliant
combination. Let him haste to place yet higher stakes upon the tables,
and after the usual fluctuation and flattery of the Fiend, he arises
one day ruined, undone, and despised by himself, neglected by others.

The fate of Ernest Neuchamp could never thus be told. Naturally too
prudent in pecuniary matters to go much further than he had good
warrant for, he was even alarmed at his present comparatively risky
position. But he had adopted the advice of his best friend, whose
former counsels had been accurately borne out in successful practice.
He had taken time to consider. Wiser heads than his own were committed
to the same results; and he was according to his custom, prepared to
dismiss anxiety, and to await the issue.

Nor was he minded on this account to cut short his stay in Sydney.
He determined, in accordance with his own feelings and Mr. Levison’s
suggestion, to give the management of the new station to his faithful
henchman Jack Windsor, who, now that he was married and settled, would
be all the better fitted to undertake a position of responsibility. As
for Charley Banks, he should retain him as general manager of Rainbar.
He ought not even to live there always himself. If it kept on raining
and elevating the fat cattle market _ad infinitum_, the place could be
managed with a ‘long arm.’ No reason to bury himself there for ever. He
might even run home to England for a year or so.

Meanwhile it was not unpleasant to be congratulated at the club upon
his improved prospects, and his spirited purchase of so extensive and
well-known a property as Mildool. He commenced to divide the honour of
rapid operation with Mr. Parklands, and found from day to day offers
awaiting him of desirable properties situated north, south, east, and
west, with any quantity and variety of stock, and of every sort and
description of climate and ‘country.’ Mr. Parklands, to the ineffable
disgust of Jermyn Croker, had already sold Booroo-booroo and Chatsworth
at a profit of six thousand pounds, which Mr. Croker said he regarded
as being taken out of his pocket, so to speak. Parklands had, moreover,
the coolness to say that, if it had been worth his while to keep two
such small stations on hand for a longer time, he could have made ten
thousand as easily as the six. Mr. Croker objected to the claret and
cookery more pointedly than usual that day, and the committee and the
house steward had an evil time of it; that is, as far as contemptuous
reference may have affected them.

Mr. Parklands, now truly in his element, indulged his fancy for
unlimited speculation and locomotion to the fullest extent. He filled
the Melbourne markets with store stock and fat stock, horses and
sheep, working bullocks and milch cows, every possible variety of
animal, except goats and swine. It was asserted that he _did_ consider
the nanny question, and calculated roughly whether a steamer-load
of those miniature milchers would not pay decently. He ransacked
Tasmania for oats, palings, and jam, and, no doubt, would have largely
imported that other interesting product, of which the sister island
has always yielded so bounteous a supply, could he have seen his way
to a clearing-off sale when he landed the cargo. Finally, he dashed
off to Adelaide for a slap at copper, and having taken a contract for
‘ship cattle’ for New Zealand, paused, like another Alexander, awaiting
the discovery of fresh colonies in which he might revel in still more
colossal operations.



CHAPTER XXIX


A letter had been despatched to Mr. Windsor’s address, of which
his master had knowledge, requesting him to proceed to Sydney upon
important business. Accordingly, at an early hour next day he presented
himself at the club steps and greeted his employer with a subdued air
of satisfaction, as if doubtful how far his recent decided action had
met with approval.

‘I am very glad to see you, John,’ said Mr. Neuchamp; ‘I hope Mrs.
Windsor is well. I congratulate you both heartily. Yours was a spirited
plan, and your success in the carrying out, or rather the carrying
off, of my old friend Carry most enviable. I was afraid there might be
obstacles. How did you arrange it all? Suppose you walk over to the
Domain with me, and tell me all about it.’

Mr. Windsor, much doubting if this were the important business upon
which he had been summoned to town, but not unwilling to relate the
tale of his victory to so sympathising an auditor as he knew his master
to be, thus commenced—

‘You know, sir, I had a tightish ride to get over before I caught the
mail. I felt very queer, I tell you, as if I didn’t meet that identical
coach I should never get down in time. I was horrid frightened every
time I thought about it, there’s no mistake. I saved Ben Bolt as much
as I could the first day and bandaged his legs when I got to the stable
late at night. I did eighty miles that day, and dursn’t go farther for
fear I might crack him at the first burst. I was up with the stars and
fed him. I didn’t sleep much, you’re sure, and at three in the morning
I was off for a hundred mile ride! and that heat, _a man’s life_! Mine
wouldn’t have mattered much afterwards, if I’d lost. I didn’t feel gay
just then, and I thought Ben Bolt walked out rather stiff. However,
he put his ears back, and switched his tail sideways, as I mounted.
That was a good sign. It was all plains, of course, soft, sandy
road—couldn’t be beat for smoothness, and firm, too. I kept him going
in a steady hand-gallop, pulling him up only now and again during the
forenoon. In the middle of the day I stopped for three good hours, gave
him a middling feed—not too much, and got a little water; but he got
a real good strapping. I stood over the feller doing it, and gave him
half-a-crown.

‘I’d done fifty miles between three and eleven—I wasn’t going fast, you
see—but of course the second fifty makes all the difference. I began
to be afraid he was too big. The feed at Rainbar was awfully good, you
know, sir; but as luck would have it, I’d given him some stiffish days
after the farthest out cattle, and that had hardened him a bit.

‘About two o’clock I cleared out again; saddled him myself; saw that
his back was all right, and felt his legs, which were as cool and clean
as if he hadn’t gone a yard. I had the second fifty to do before twelve
at night. That was the time the coach passed, and hardly waited a
moment, either.

‘Off again, and I kept on steady at first, trusting to six miles an
hour to do it in, and something to spare; but every now and again
I kept thinking, thinking, suppose he goes lame all of a sudden!
suppose he jacks up! suppose he falls, put his foot into a hole, or
anything—rolls over me and gallops off, all the men in the world
wouldn’t catch him! suppose I’m stopped by bushrangers—Red Cap’s out,
you know;—why don’t they hang every scoundrel that turns out the moment
he hoists his flag?’

‘Because they might reform, John,’ mildly interposed Mr. Neuchamp.

‘No fear—that is, mostly, sir,’ continued Jack apologetically; ‘but
they wouldn’t have had the heart to stop me; and besides, I expect I
could have dusted any of ’em with Ben.

‘Well, bushrangers or not, I got within twenty miles of Boree; and then
my head got so full of fancies, that I settled to make a call on Ben
Bolt, and do it in two hours. Suppose the coach was earlier than usual!
No passengers, or only some young squatter, who wanted to go faster
and to stop nowhere—and tipped the driver! I’ve seen these things done
before now.

‘So I took the old horse by the head, gave him a hustle and a pull,
and, by George, if you’ll believe me, sir, he went away with his mouth
open, as if he hadn’t only been out to the Back Lake. The sun was down
then, and the night air was coolish. But I knew the track well, and as
we sailed along, Ben Bolt giving a kind of snort every now and then,
same as he used to do when he didn’t know the place he was going to, I
felt that I had the field beat, and the race as good as won. I thought
I could see Carry a-beckonin’ to me at the winning-post. I hardly
think I pulled up three times, I felt that eager, and bound to win or
die, before I saw the light of the Boree Inn, and the coach stables
across the plain.

‘“Has the coach from down the river come in yet, Joe?” says I to the
ostler, trembling all over.

‘“No, nor won’t be this hours yet; you needn’t have rode so fast.”

‘“I couldn’t afford to be late,” says I. “Lend us a rug while I cool
my old horse a bit. He’s carried me well this day, if he never does
another.”

‘Ben didn’t look beat—nor yet half beat. My belief is he could have
done another twenty or thirty miles without cracking up. But a hundred
miles is a hundred miles, and no foolish ride, even in this country
where horses are as plenty as wallabies, such as they are, so I did
my best for him. I let him rinse his mouth, and then I walked him up
and down, with the rug on, for a solid hour. Of course he broke out
at first, but he gradually dried and come all right. Before the coach
started with me on board, he was doing nicely for the night, littered
down (for we foraged some straw out of the bottled ale casks) and
eating his feed just as he would after a longish day’s muster out back
at Rainbar.’

‘I am very glad he carried you so well, John,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, at
the conclusion of this antipodean Turpin’s ride; ‘but how did you speed
in the last and most momentous stage?’

‘Oh, _that_ was easy drafting enough,’ replied Mr. Windsor, who
apparently had considered that portion of his matrimonial adventure
which depended upon horseflesh as the really important and exciting
part of the transaction. ‘I was safe and sound in Parramatta on the
Thursday afternoon. I heard enough about the grand wedding for next
day—but I never let on. Said I was off by sea to Queensland to look at
some store cattle, and hired a trap, with a fairish horse, and a boy to
mind it, which I drove down to the cross-roads, just about a mile from
the “Cheshire Cheese.” There was an old woodcutter’s hut just inside
the fence at the corner. So I left the boy there, and told him to hold
the horse among the trees, and not to go away till I came—if it wasn’t
till dinner-time to-morrow. Of course, I squared him right. He was
sharp enough; them Parramatta boys mostly are.

‘Down I goes to the old house, and marched in quite free and pleasant
like, to spend the evening for the sake of old times. There was Carry
looking half dull, half desperate, like a mountain filly three days in
the pound—as I told her afterwards—though she was among her own people,
in a manner of speaking.

‘There was Homminey, and some other Hawkesbury chaps, full of their
jokes and fun—my word! if I could only have gone in at him and his
best man, a great, slab-sided, six-foot-three fellow, just about as
scraggy as he was tallowy, I think I could have spoilt both their
figure-heads—one up and the other down.

‘However, there wouldn’t have been any sense in charging the whole
family, like a knocked-up bullock meeting a picnic party—as I once saw,
and didn’t he scatter ’em!—so I put on all the side I could, and laid
by for a chance.

‘First of all, I shook hands with ’em all round, and came the
warm-hearted fakement. Said “I’d come to say good-bye; they mustn’t
think I bore any ill-will—just on my way to the north for store cattle,
passage taken and all—happened to hear of the wedding to-morrow, and
thought I’d look in and wish ’em joy.”

‘Then, of course, I threw my money about—must have a round of drinks
for luck. I never saw a publican yet that could refuse to serve a
“shout.” Then, of course, _they_ must treat me, seeing I was behaving
so handsome. Then I must have another round for all hands; and last
of all, I gammoned to be a bit “sprung,” and must propose the bride’s
health. So I made ’em fill up. Homminey’s little round eyes was
beginning to twinkle a bit, and old Walton was getting affectionate,
but Carry’s mother watched us both like a cat. I said, “I knowed the
bride these two years or more, and I proposed her health, and that of
the good-hearted, honest, straightforward chap as was going to marry
her to-morrow morning.” This fetched ’em about a bit. I said, “I’d
knowed him a goodish while, and heard tell of him, too, and a better
feller couldn’t be. After he was married he’d be still better,—a deal
better, _that_ I could safely go bail for. He couldn’t help it, with
such a wife. I therefore gave the health of Miss Carry Walton and her
husband that was to be, to-morrow, and no heel-taps.” I never proposed
my own health before.

‘Well, Homminey, after this, came over and squeezed my hand in his
great mutton fist, and looked at me, as if he wasn’t quite sure; then
he bust out and said I was a real good-natured chap, as didn’t bear
malice, and I’d always be welcome at Richmond Point.

‘“Right you are, old corn-cob,” says I; “I’ll come and see you the
very first time you ask me. And now let’s have a bit of a dance to
finish up with, for my time’s short, and I must be off. The steamer
leaves at daylight.”

‘Well, between the grog, and being that glad to get rid of me, that
they’d have done anything to see my back, they all agreed to it. There
were three or four other girls there; one of ’em, his cousin, was
fourteen stone if she was a pound. I gave her a few turns when the
music struck up, and then turned to Carry, quite promiskus, directly
the tune was altered.

‘“Oh dear, oh dear, why did you come?” she said in a low tone; “wasn’t
I miserable enough before?”

‘“You know the cross-roads?” I says, knocking against the tall chap’s
partner to drown the words. “There’s no time for talking. If you’re as
true to me as I am to you, will you do as I tell you?”

‘“You know I will,” she said; “what can I do?”

‘“Can you get out of your bedroom?” I says.

‘“No. I don’t know. Yes—perhaps. I think I can,” she said in a strange
voice, not a bit like her own.

‘“Then get away the moment you get to bed—don’t stop to take anything
with you, but make straight for the cross-roads. Inside the trees
you’ll see a buggy with a boy. Stay with him till I come. It will be
there till daylight and long afterwards. Will you come, Carry?”

‘“If I don’t come I shall be mad, or locked up, or dead,” she said,
with such a miserable look on her face that I could hardly help kissing
her and comforting her before them all.

‘Now, the old woman helped us, without wanting to, for she says,
“Carry, you’re looking like a washed-out print frock; do, for gracious
sake, go to bed, and sleep away your headache. She’s not been well
lately, Mr. Windsor, and she’s flustered like at seeing strangers, not
but what you’ve behaved most gentlemanly.”

‘“I’m afraid she’s thinkin‘about her wedding-dress or her veil,
or something,” says I. “I wish I could stay and see how she looks
to-morrow, but I can’t, and business is business.”

‘Poor Carry was off before this, with just “Good-night all,” which made
Homminey look rather glum. I ordered another round, saying I must be
off; but when it was drunk and paid for, I stayed half an hour before I
shook hands, most hearty, and walked out.

‘The moment I turned the corner of the garden-fence I started off, and
ran that mile up to the cross-roads as if all the blacks on Cooper’s
Creek was after me. Just as I got to the trap I overtook a woman, with
a large bundle, labouring along. It never could be—yes _it was_—Carry!

‘I first kissed her and then scolded her. “Never a woman born,” I said,
“that could do without a bundle. Why didn’t you leave all that rubbish?
ain’t you good enough for me as you are?”

‘“Oh, John,” says she, “would you have me come to you in my—in my one
frock? Nonsense! every woman must have a little dress.”

‘“Suppose you had been caught?”

‘“But I’m not caught, except by a bushranger, or some wild character,”
says she, smiling for the first time. “I’m afraid poor Harry will not
enjoy his dinner to-morrow.”

‘“Hang him and his dinner!” said I. “He’s all dinner. I’ve half a mind
to go back and murder him now.”

‘But instead of that, we made haste for Appin, after giving the boy a
pound. And, to make a long story short, were married there _that day_,
for it was past twelve o’clock. And Carry’s there with my old mother
now, and very proud she is of her.’

‘I see, John,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, ‘that you have carried out one
enterprise with your usual success. The other one I want you for, now,
is to start at once for Rainbar, and to take delivery of Mildool run
and stock, which I bought last week. They agree to muster in six weeks.
And you can tell Carry—Mrs. Windsor, I beg her pardon—that she is the
overseer’s wife at Mildool. I have decided to give you the management
of that run, and I look for wonderful profits from it all this season.’

‘And you’ll get ’em, sir,’ said Mr. Windsor, ‘if there’s any faith in a
fust chop season, and right-down hard work. God Almighty’s given us the
fust, and if Jake Windsor don’t find the second, he wishes his right
arm may rot off to the shoulder.’

‘I have no doubt that you will do your best, John,’ answered Mr.
Neuchamp, much gratified by the warm gratitude exhibited by one whose
fate at one time lay in his hand; whose after-career had done so much
to justify his anxiety for the welfare of his fellow-man. ‘I have no
doubt that Mildool will be the best-managed station on the river—after
Rainbar, of course; and that there will be a splendid increase this
year,—always providing that no calf bears my brand—and never mistake
me on that score—that cannot be honestly provided with a mother of the
same ownership.’

Mr. Windsor made a slight gesture of compulsory resignation, as of
one who feels himself bound down to superhuman purity; but he said,
‘You shall be obeyed in that, sir; and in every other thing you choose
to order; though it will come queer to the old hands at Mildool, if
all tales are true, to kill their own beef, let alone mothering their
calves. But _your word’s my law_! And I see now that going straight
is the best in the end, whether in big things or little. We’ll be off
to-morrow, Carry and I, and she can hang it out at Rainbar and have
Tot Freeman to talk to—those chaps ain’t left yet, I believe—while I’m
taking over the cattle at Mildool.’

‘That will do very well, John. Meanwhile you can let a contract for a
neat six-roomed cottage at Mildool, as there isn’t a place there fit
for Piambook and his gin to live in. You must consult your wife about
the site of it, though, as she will have to live in it and spend many a
day by herself there. Don’t let her regret the snug parlour and the old
orchard at the “Cheshire Cheese,” eh, John?‘

‘Well, it _is_ a great change, now I come to think of it,’ said Mr.
Windsor, the first expression of distrust coming over his bold features
that had been there exhibited since his successful raid upon the
lowlanders. ‘I daresay she _would_ feel struck all of a heap if she
was to come upon Mildool old station sudden-like, with the dog-holes
of huts, and every tree cut down on the sandhill because the men were
too lazy to go out for firewood, or for fear the blacks might sneak on
them, and the pile of bones, like a boiling down round the gallows.
But, thank God! there’s grass now, and there’s fat cattle enough in
Mildool by this time—for they’ve never sent away a beast this season, I
hear—to build an Exhibition, if it’s wanted. Carry’s got me, and I’ve
got her, that’s the main thing; and I think we shall make shift to jog
along. We’ve got to do it, and no two ways about it. So, good-bye, sir.
When shall we see you at Rainbar?’

‘I am afraid that business will detain me in Sydney for some weeks
longer,’ said Mr. Neuchamp thoughtfully, as if mentally calculating
the exact day on which he might quit the metropolis. ‘But you and Mr.
Banks will be able to manage the muster easy enough.’

‘Not a bit of bother there need be about it, that I can see, sir. We
shall have lots of help; every stockman within a hundred miles will be
there. There’ll be an awful big mob of strangers; and the Drewarrina
poundkeeper hasn’t had such a lift for many a day as he’ll get. We must
square the tails of every beast that’s counted, that’s one thing, so as
not to have ’em played on to us twice over. I think Mr. Banks is down
to most moves about cattle work, and what he don’t know I can tell him.
Good-bye, sir.’

‘By the way, John,’ said Mr. Neuchamp, ‘I shall want you to stay in
town this evening, if you can spare so much time away from Carry. I
have to see about the draft copy of the sale agreement, which you
will take up with you and give to Mr. Banks. Mr. Frankston informs me
that these agreements need to be very strictly carried out, and that
advantageous purchases _have_ been evaded from neglect in doing so.
So come out to Morahmee this afternoon, when you can have my final
instructions.’

Mr. Neuchamp spent the morning in tolerably close attendance upon
lawyers and persons addicted to the drawing up of those paper and
parchment promises which, if honour were binding, need never to have
troubled penman or engrosser. Nathless, human nature being what it is,
and retaining simian tendencies to steal, hide, falsely chatter and
closely clutch, the sheepskin may not be safely relinquished. Before
Mr. Neuchamp bethought himself of the mid-day solace of lunch he was
possessed of a legal document, wherein the exact time granted for
mustering and several other leading conditions were set forth with
such clearness that evasion or misunderstanding seemed impossible.

A copy of this all-important document was posted to Charley Banks; he
brought with him another for the use of Mr. Windsor, who might employ
his leisure time on the journey up in learning it by heart, and so
render himself able to meet all comers respecting its provisions.

Antonia had expressed a wish to see Jack Windsor, and to send a message
to his wife before he left town. For this reason chiefly Ernest had
appointed Morahmee as the rendezvous on this particular afternoon. As
the shadows lengthened, Mr. Neuchamp betook himself in that direction,
as indeed he had done daily for weeks past.

It so chanced that, on the evening before, Antonia had received a pink
triangular note from Miss Harriet Folleton, who was more or less a
friend of hers, to say that she intended to come and lunch with her
next day at Morahmee, and would be there, unless her dear Antonia wrote
to say she couldn’t have her. There was not any great similitude of
taste or disposition between the two girls—one indeed much disapproved
of the other. But those who have noted the ways of their _monde_ will
not decide from this statement that Antonia Frankston and Harriet
Folleton did any the less greet one another with kisses and effusion
when meeting, or say farewell with lavish use of endearing epithets.

Such being the state of matters, it was by no means surprising that
Harriet Folleton, a girl of great beauty and soft, enthralling manner,
but of so moderate a development of intellect that she might have been
called, if any one had been so rudely uncompromising as to speak the
unvarnished truth about so pretty a creature, ‘a fool proper,’ should
arrive in the paternal brougham before mid-day, and therefore share
luncheon with her dear Antonia in much innocence and peace.

It would have been even less surprising to any one who had possessed
the requisite leisure and opportunity to study that fair girl’s ways,
that, as the two friends were strolling near the strand, where a giant
fig-tree shadowed half the little bay, a boat should pull round the
adjoining headland, manned by four man-of-war-looking yachtsmen, with
the _White Falcon_ on their breasts and hat-ribbons, while from the
boat, as she ran up to the jetty, stepped the gracious form of Count
von Schätterheims.

‘Why, you naughty girl,’ said Antonia, instantly divining the ruse, ‘I
do believe you planned to meet the Count here, and disobey your father.
So this coming to see me was all deception! How dare you treat me like
this? I have a great mind to tell your father, and never speak to you
again.’

‘Oh, pray don’t, Antonia dearest,’ whimpered the softly insincere one,
‘I only said I _might_ be here this afternoon; and he said he was
going off to Batavia, or Russia, or India, or somewhere. And papa was
so dreadful, that I thought there was no harm in it. I shall never
see him again—oh!’ Here the despairingly undecided damsel commenced
to weep, and so interfere with the natural charms of her fine and
uncommon complexion, that Antonia, inwardly resolving to restrict the
acquaintance to conventional limits in future, was constrained to
soothe and console her. Meanwhile the Count, who had been engaged in an
earnest colloquy with his crew, advanced with his customary gallantry
to meet them.

    ‘My boad is on de zhore
      And my barg is on de zea;

is not dat the voord of your boet? I come to make farevell to you, Miss
Frankstein; to you, Miss Folledon, to lay at your veet dis hertz—mein
hertz—vich is efer for dee so vondly beating.’

‘And are you really going to leave us, Count?’ asked Antonia, without
any particular interest or otherwise in the noble foreigner, of whom
she was becoming wearied and increasingly distrustful. Then happening
to look at Harriet Folleton’s face, she saw that she was deathly pale,
and trembled as if about to fall. The Count, too, though complimentary
as usual, seemed annoyed and uneasy at her presence.

The Count, in answer to the question, pointed to his yacht, a beautiful
schooner, more fair than honest of aspect, and of marvellous sailing
powers, which had, perhaps, more than any of his reported possessions,
tended to sustain his prestige since his arrival in Sydney.

Antonia’s practised eye at once discerned that she was fully equipped
for sea. With sails ready to be unfurled at a moment’s notice, she
could sweep out unchallenged and trackless as the falcon on her ensign,
before the freshening south wind which was even now curling the waves
with playful but increasing power.

With lightning rapidity she divined the full extent of the girl’s
imprudence and the Count’s villainy. In the same sudden mental
effort she resolved, at all hazards, to save her companion from the
consequences of her inconceivable folly.

‘I did vorm de resolution dat I shall bezeegh you and Miss Folledon
to honour me by paying me von last leetle visit on board de
_Valgon_, dis afdernoon. Mine goot friend Paul, he was goming, but
de business—dat pete noir—he brevent him. He ask me to peg Miss
Frankstein if she vill, zo also Miss Folledon, vizout her fader, to my
so-poor-yet-highly-to-be-honoured graft go. Dere is izes, one small
collation, a few friend. Surely you will join dem?’

Here the Count beamed the irresistible smile which had through life
served him well, and advancing, held out both hands to the young ladies.

‘Oh, do let us go!’ said the reassured weakling. ‘It would be so
pleasant. It is such a delightful afternoon. I should like it of all
things.’

But Antonia more than ever distrusted the Count, _et dona ferentes_.
She disliked his eye, his wily words, the appearance of his swarthy
crew, the evidently sea-fitted appearance of the yacht. She felt more
than ever convinced that he had matured a deliberate plot to carry off
an unsuspecting girl.

Such in truth was the unpardonable sin with which the Herr von
Schätterheims had resolved to conclude his Australian career. Unable to
meet the many pressing claims upon his finances, the holders of which,
he had reason to know, were meditating an advance in line; having
failed in the daring speculations in which, by means of humble foreign
agents, he had invested the small capital with which he had arrived,
and the incredibly large loans which his assurance and reputation for
wealth had enabled him to procure,—he had conceived the desperate plan
which Antonia’s quick intuition had discovered. He had determined,
by force or fraud, to carry off Harriet Folleton, trusting that the
irrevocable _coup_ once made, time and other considerations would tend
to the ultimate wresting of her immense fortune from her father’s hands.

Hunted by his creditors and threatened with imprisonment, the Count
was now desperate. In such a position he had, more than once during
his career, showed no disposition to stick at trifles. His yacht lay
within hail—a seabird with her great wings plumed for instant flight, a
Norway falcon looking on ocean from a low-placed rocky ridge. His crew
of mixed nationality, who had followed him through many a clime, were
lawless and devoted. The hour had come when Albert von Schätterheims
would stand forth with front unveiled, and show these simple dwellers
by the shore of the southern main what manner of man they had dared to
drive to bay.

Therefore, when Antonia Frankston stepped forward, and with head erect
and flashing eye interposed between the Count and his sacrifice, she
confronted a different man from the silky, graceful _serviteur des
dames_ with whom she had often wished, for some instinctive reason, to
quarrel.

‘I cannot go with you now, nor shall Miss Folleton, Count
Schätterheims; it would not be right, in my father’s absence. Permit us
to return to the house.’

‘Beholt me desoladed if Miss Frankstein will not honour my poor boad,’
said the Count, as he barred the progress of the two young ladies
on the somewhat narrow green-walled alley which led to the house;
‘but’—fixing his eye steadily upon Harriet Folleton—‘I go not forth
alone; Miss Harriet Folledon, you bromised me. I haf your vord. You
vill come with me now; is it not so, belofet one? Ja! you vill follow
de fortunes of Albert von Schätterheims, for efer.’

He strode forward a pace, and seizing the wrist of the frightened girl,
spoke rapidly in Spanish, while two of his sailors ran up from the
boat, to whom he committed the half-insensible form of the fainting
girl.

Antonia Frankston did not faint or swoon. With sudden movement she
confronted the Count, with so fierce an air and so unblenching a brow
that he involuntarily stepped back a pace, and made as though to
protect himself from the onset of a foe.

‘Coward and robber that you are, release her this instant,’ she cried.

The Count smiled sardonically. ‘You will parton me, mademoiselle, if I
redurn you with my complimend for your goot opinion. My engachemends is
more pressing, as you gan pelief.’

On the girl’s face, as she stood with threatening aspect—a young
Bellona, as yet unversed in battles—burned a deeper glow; in her eye
flashed a fiercer light as she marked the smile on the calm features of
the Count, which, in her heated fancy, seemed the mocking regard of a
fiend.

‘She shall _not_ go!’ cried she, springing forward and throwing her
arms round the neck of the helpless maid. ‘Oh that my father were
here—or Ernest —— Robbers, villains, assassins that you are, release
her—don’t dare to touch _me_!’

But at this moment, at a signal from their chief, the dark-browed,
swarthy seamen laid their rude hands upon the sacred form of the
deliverer herself, and rapidly hurried both damsels towards the gig.
With one wild look to heaven, one frantic gesture of wrath, despair,
and abandonment, Antonia Frankston betook herself to one of the best
weapons in her sex’s armoury, and shrieked till every rock and tree
within a mile of Morahmee echoed again.

‘_Carambo!_’ said one of the men, ‘we shall have half Sydney here
before we are clear with these shrieking senoritas; have you no muffler
for her cursed mouth?’

‘_Paciencia_, Diego!’ said the Count, ‘harm her not. A few minutes will
suffice—and then——’

But before further infraction of the liberty of the subject could be
carried out, Miss Frankston had exhibited for some moments the full
force of a very vigorous pair of lungs. The party had nearly reached
the little pier, whence so many joyous bands had taken the water, when
a man came crashing through the shrubbery, and rushed furiously at Von
Schätterheims.

‘Stand back, Neuchamp!’ shouted the Count, levelling a revolver, ‘or
you die.’

‘Scoundrel and pirate that you are,’ said Ernest, facing him with
steady eye, ‘fire! do your worst. By heaven, I will tear you limb from
limb if you do not instantly order your ruffians to desist.’

This rather melodramatic threat was used by Mr. Neuchamp, who was cool
enough to take in the precise aspect of the fray at a glance, more with
the intention of gaining time than of intimidating five armed men.

He was eminently at a disadvantage as matters stood. He was, so to
speak, at the Count’s mercy, being at the wrong end of his revolver,
and that experienced soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, or whatever,
indeed, in time past might have been his true designation, was far too
wary to permit him a chance of closing.

The sailors in whose grasp were Antonia and her guest had drawn their
knives, and were prepared for an affray _à l’outrance_. The two seamen
in the boat carried sheath-knives at least. He could not but admit
to himself, grinding his teeth the while, that he had the hazard of
beholding his love torn from her home by the rude hands of lawless men,
or of dying vainly in her defence.

To this latter alternative, could it but avert her peril, he was
willing, nay anxious, to yield himself. But if—if only a short respite
could be gained—even now—the issue was uncertain. His resolution was
taken.

‘Stop your men, Count, while we parley,’ he said, ‘or, by the God above
us, you shall shoot me down the next second, and I tear the false heart
out of your breast, if you miss. Choose!’ And he stepped forward in the
face of the levelled weapon.

‘You are mat, like every dummer Englander, I pelief,’ said the
nineteenth-century buccaneer. ‘Why should I not kill you for your
insults to my honour? But I revrain. I would not meddle with the
Fräulein Frankstein—she dell you herselve, but she try to rop me of my
shpirit-star—my schatz—bromised prite—I presend her to you. I know your
sendimend for her. I make you my complimend. Her dempers is angelig.’

Here the Count wreathed his face into such a smile as the companion of
Faust may have worn when Marguerite implores the Mater Dolorosa, and
spoke rapidly with commanding gesture to his myrmidons, who released
their hold upon Miss Frankston. But Antonia still clung with desperate
tenacity to the cold hands, the corpse-like form of Harriet Folleton.

‘You see she is obstinade—to the death,’ said the Count, whose
moustache seemed to curl with wrath. ‘It is not her affair, or yours;
go in beace, gross not my path more furder.’

‘I cannot abandon Miss Folleton, nor will Antonia,’ said Mr. Neuchamp,
raising his voice so as to drown a peculiar crackling noise in the
shrubbery which his ear had caught. ‘Do _you_ go in peace, Von
Schätterheims? Wrong not further the kind hearts that have trusted
you; betray not hospitality free and open as ever man received. I will
return with both, or not at all.’

‘Then die, fool!’ hissed the Count, as he raised his weapon and fired
full at the head of Ernest Neuchamp, who at the same moment rushed in
and closed, while his blood flowed freely from a wound in the forehead,
and ensanguined his adversary as they grappled in deadly conflict.

The accuracy of the Count’s aim, faultless and unerring in gallery
practice, or at the _poupée_, of which he could drill heart, head, or
limb, five times out of six, may or may not have been shaken by the
sudden apparition of Jack Windsor, or by the portentous yell which that
gentleman emitted, worthy of Piambook or Boinmaroo, as he observed the
Count in the act of firing at the sacred head of his benefactor.

Too late to interpose with effect as he stood on a block of sandstone
overlooking the scene of conflict, he raised his voice in one of the
half-Indian cries with which the horsemen of the Central Desert are
wont to intimidate the unwilling herd at the stockyard-gates. The
sailors started and gazed with astonishment as Mr. Windsor sprang
recklessly from his elevated post, and cleared the rough declivity with
a succession of bounds, emulating, not unworthily, the hard-pressed
‘flyer’ of his country’s forests when the grim gazehounds are close on
haunch and flank.

Straight as a line for the men that held the captive maids went the
henchman, and as they hurriedly released their prey and stood on
guard, Mr. Neuchamp could have offered a votary’s prayer to the patron
saint of old England’s weaponless gladiators, as he marked the unarmed
Anglo-Saxon’s rapid unswerving onset.

    Though there, the western mountaineer
      Rushed with bare bosom on the spear,
    And flung the feeble targe aside,
      And with both hands the broadsword plied.

Mr. Windsor so far resembled Donald at Flodden Field, that he trusted
chiefly to natural strength and courage. But none the less did he
display an amount of coolness and cunning of fence characteristically
Australian.

Charging the nearest Frenchman, as he took him to be, and indeed in
all future relation so described him, with the velocity of a mallee
three-year-old, he feinted with his right hand at the forehead of his
foe, and as the Mexican-Spaniard, for such he was, raised his arm for
a deadly stab, he suddenly gripped his wrist, catching him full in the
face with the ‘terrible left,’ and stretched him senseless and bleeding
at his feet. Snatching up the knife, he had but time to parry a stroke
which shrewdly scored his right arm, when his other antagonist was upon
him. Both men glared at one another with uplifted knives—for a moment;
in the next Mr. Windsor swept his antagonist’s outstretched foot from
under him with a Cornish wrestler’s trick—a lift—a dull thud, and he
lay on his back, with Jack’s knee on his chest and the dangerous knife
in the bushman’s belt.

In the meanwhile Miss Frankston, perceiving that the men who had charge
of the boat showed no disposition to quit their station, half dragged,
half raised Miss Folleton along the path to the verandah steps, halting
just within sight of the combatants.

‘Now, do you prefer being dragged up to the house, Von
Schätterheims?—by Jove! I shoot you where you stand if you resist,’
inquired Ernest of that nobleman, whom he had mastered after a severe
struggle, and whose revolver he now pointed at those classical
features, ‘or will you depart in God’s name, and rid us of your
presence for ever?’

‘It is Fade,’ said the Count gloomily. ‘He is too strong. My shtar is
under an efil influence. I will quid dese accurset lants. Let your
man—teufel dat he is with his boxanglais—release my grew, and I go; but
stay—I am guildy by your laws; why should you release me?’

‘You deserve death for your outrage,’ replied Ernest sternly. ‘You
could hardly escape lifelong imprisonment. But I would not willingly
see the man, at whose board I have sat, in the felon’s cell. Go, and
repent. Also—and this is my chief reason—I would willingly evade the
_esclandre_ which your public trial for this day’s proceedings would
cause.’

‘Ha! not the deet. But the fama—what you call “scandall,”’ said the
Count wonderingly. ‘But you English, you are as efer, a strange—a so
wunderlich beoples. Still, I go. It is all that is left to Albert von
Schätterheims in this hemis-vahr—to steal away, like the hund, beaden,
disgraced, dishonoured. Fahrwohl. Dell to the Fräulein my regret, my
despair, my shames. Under another schtar Albert von Schätterheims mighd
haf geliebt und gelebt—but all dings is now ofer.’

Ernest stepped back and motioned him to arise, still keeping guard.
The Count called aloud to his men, one of whom still lay beneath Mr.
Windsor’s thrall, and the other sitting up, all blood-stained, swayed
backward and forward, as only half recovered from a swoon.

‘Let your men go, John,’ said Mr. Neuchamp. ‘The treaty of Morahmee is
arranged between the high contracting powers. They will not renew the
war,’ he continued, as the Count and Jack’s last antagonist between
them raised the fainting man and led him down to the gig, which in the
briefest period was seen heading for the yacht as fast as oars could
drive her.

‘My word, sir,’ said Mr. Windsor, ‘it looked very crooked when I come
on the ground. I saw that frog-eating mounseer potting you with his
squirt like a tree’d ’possum—both the young ladies, too, being run off
to sea with, clean and clear against their wills. I don’t hold with
that sea business at all—it’s dangerous—let alone with a boss like
the Count, who’s wanted in his own country, like as not. However, we
euchred ’em this time, whoever plays next game.’

‘You behaved like a trump, Jack. You were my genuine “right bower,”’
said Mr. Neuchamp with unwonted humour and heartiness. ‘Without you we
should never have won the odd trick. I knew that you were just behind
me at Woolloomooloo; but I was terribly afraid that you could not be up
in time.’

‘If one John Windsor’s anyways handy when you’re in trouble, sir,
you’ll mostly find him there or thereabouts, as long as he’s alive,
that is. I can’t say afterwards. What do you think, sir, about what
comes after all this rough-and-tumble that we coves call life?’
demanded Jack with sudden interest.

‘I don’t think too much about it, which is perhaps the best wisdom. But
of this we may be sure, John, that no man will fare worse in the other
world for doing his duty as a man and a Christian in this.’

When the house was reached, it appeared that Miss Folleton had
been handed over to the good offices of her friend’s maid, and was
recovering her nervous system in the seclusion of a guest-chamber.
Antonia, having smoothed her hair, and rearranged herself generally,
awaited the victor in the verandah. She stood gazing seawards with a
haughty air of defiance, which still savoured of the fray. The light of
battle had not faded from her eye; a bright flush embellished with rare
and wondrous beauty the untinted marble of her delicate features.

As she stood, unconsciously statuesque, and gazed half unheeding in her
rapt regard of the flying bark, the long-loved, fast-thronging, magical
glories of the evening ocean-pageant,

                             ... the day was dying:
    Sudden the sun shone forth; its beams were lying
    Like boiling gold on ocean, strange to see;
    And on the shattered vapours, which defying
    The power of light in vain, tossed restlessly
    In the red heaven like wrecks in a tempestuous sea.

‘It is you,’ she said, suddenly turning towards Ernest with a look of
praise and gratitude almost childlike in its absence of reserve. ‘How
can I, how will my father, ever thank you for this day’s deeds? I had
given up all for lost; that is, as far as that foolish Harriet was
concerned. They should have torn me limb from limb before they should
have placed us in their boat. Then I determined to fight for Harriet,
to—yes! I believe that is the word, for I really felt the real fighting
spirit all over—it is not such a very unpleasant sensation as one would
think. I was quite _exaltée_, and if I had had a revolver, I think the
Count would have paid forfeit with his life, whatever might have come
after. Papa would kill him now if they met.’

‘Is there no fear of such a meeting?’

‘None, thank Heaven!’ said Antonia, ‘though he deserves the worst in
the shape of punishment. Sydney has seen the last of him. Look!’ she
cried, as every sail on the long, low, beautiful schooner filled as
if by magic, and the graceful craft, leaning to the full force of the
strong south wind, swept forth towards the sea-way.

‘He is safe from pursuit,’ she continued, ‘even if tidings could have
been sent at the instant. With this breeze behind him, there is nothing
in Sydney which would not be hull down behind the _White Falcon_
before day broke. Of course he will steer for one of the northern
ports, or else for the Islands. They must have had every sail tied
with spun-yarn, so as to be ready to unfurl at a moment’s notice. To
you alone, and to that brave Jack Windsor, it is due that we are not
miserable captives in yonder flying bark. I shudder to think of it.’

‘I should have done little without John,’ said Mr. Neuchamp. ‘He came
up like Blücher at Waterloo, and I was as impatiently awaiting his
arrival as the Duke. Here—receive Miss Frankston’s thanks, John; then,
with her permission, you can go and ask the butler for some beer. I
daresay you feel equal to it.’

‘You have behaved this day, John Windsor, like a brave man and a true
Australian,’ said Antonia, giving her hand to Jack, which he shook
carefully and with much caution, relinquishing the dainty palm with
evident relief. ‘My father will know how to thank the rescuer of his
daughter; and she will remember you as a gallant fellow and a friend in
need all the days of her life.’

‘Thank you, miss,’ said Mr. Windsor, with a respectful yet puzzled air.
‘I’ve had many a worse shindy than this in my time, and got no thanks
either—’tother way on, ‘ndeed. But of course I couldn’t help rolling
in, seeing the master double-banked, and you young ladies being made
to join a water-party against your wills. Don’t you have no more truck
with them boats, miss; they’re too uncertain altogether. Nothing like
dry land to my taste; even if the season’s bad, there’s a something to
hang on by. My respects, miss, and I’ll try that beer; my throat’s like
a bark chimney with the soot afire.’

‘And now I must order you, Mr. Neuchamp, to betake yourself to your
room. Look in the glass and see if your complexion hasn’t suffered.
Was it the Count’s blood which flowed, or did you scratch your face
with the prickly pear hedge? Let me look! Merciful heaven!’ exclaimed
the girl, with a half scream, as she narrowly scanned her deliverer’s
face; ‘why, there is the deep trace of a bullet on your temple. How
providential that it was the least bit wide—a slight turn of your
head—a shade nearer the temple, and you would have been lying there
dead—dead! How awful to think of!’

Here she covered her face with her hands. Tears trickled through the
slender palms as her overwrought feelings found relief in a sudden
burst of weeping.

Mr. Neuchamp’s attempts at consolation would appear not to have been
wholly ineffectual, if one may judge from the concluding sentences
of rather a long-whispered conversation, all carried on prior to the
lavation of his gory countenance.

‘I always thought,’ said Antonia, smiling through her tears, with as
much satirical emphasis as could coexist with so sudden an access of
happiness, ‘that you wanted some one to take care of you in Australia.
I fear I have been led into undertaking a very serious responsibility.’

‘May it not be the other way?’ very naturally inquired Ernest. ‘If I
had not been, as Jack would say, “there or thereabouts” to-day, some
one might have been a pirate’s bride, after all. Miss Folleton, of
course, had prior claims, but——‘

‘But—please to go and render yourself presentable, this instant. We
shall have such an amount of talking to do before we can put poor dear
old pappy in possession of all the news. Good gracious, how can we ever
tell him? How furious he will be!’

‘Will he?’ inquired Ernest, with affected apprehension; ‘perhaps we had
better defer our——’

‘I don’t mean _that_—and you know it, sir; but, unless you wish to be
taken for a pirate yourself, or an escaped I-don’t-know-what, you will
do as I tell you.’

So Ernest was fain to do as he was bid, commencing, unconsciously
indeed, that period of servitude to which every son of Adam, all
unheeding, is pledged who rivets on himself the flower-wreathed
adamantine fetters of matrimony. He sought Mr. Frankston’s extremely
comfortable dressing-room, at the behest of his beloved _châtelaine_;
and very glad he was to find himself there.

His sense of relief and general congratulation was, however, slightly
alloyed by the thought of the stupendous amount of explanation and
narrative due to Paul Frankston, when this now fast-approaching hour of
dinner should arrive.

‘I would it were bedtime, and all well,’ groaned he, in old Falstaff’s
words, as he addressed himself to the rather serious duties of the
toilette.

Mr. Frankston arrived from town but a few minutes before the
dinner-hour, and, like a wise man, made at once for his room.

‘Only just time to dress, darling,’ said he to his daughter. ‘Got such
a budget of news; met Croker just as I was coming out, tell Ernest. No
end of news—quite unparalleled. You will be surprised, and so will he.’

‘And so will you,’ thought Mr. Neuchamp, who just came into the hall in
time to hear the concluding sentence. But he darkly bided his time.

As the dinner-bell rang, forth issued Mr. Frankston, radiant with snowy
waistcoat and renovated _personnel_, having the air at once of a man in
good hope and expectation of dinner, also conscious of the possession
of news which, however sensationally disastrous, does not prejudicially
affect himself.

‘Now then,’ he said, the soup having been disposed of, and the mildly
stimulating Amontillado imbibed, ‘what do you think has become of our
friend—or, rather, your friend, Antonia, for you never would let me
abuse him—the Count von Schätterheims?’

‘What indeed?’ replied Antonia, looking at her plate.

‘Well, he has bolted, levanted, cleared out, on board his famous yacht,
the _White Falcon_, for some northern port—Batavia, the Islands, New
Guinea—no one knows.’

‘How about money matters?’ inquired Ernest.

‘Well, you both take it coolly, I must say,’ said Paul, hurt at the
small effect of his great piece of ordnance. ‘As to money, all Sydney,
in the legitimate credit way, is left lamenting. He had been operating
very largely of late, and his losses and defalcations are immense.
Yorick and Co.’s bill for wines and liqueurs is something awful.’

‘Alas, poor Yorick!’ said Ernest, with so pathetic an emphasis that
Antonia could not help laughing.

‘You two seem very facetious to-night,’ quoth Paul with dignity. ‘It
is no laughing matter, I can tell you. But you won’t laugh at _this_,
I fancy. Croker told me that it was everywhere believed that he had
persuaded that unhappy, infatuated girl Harriet Folleton to accompany
him in his flight.’

Mr. Frankston uttered these last words with a deep solemnity, imparted
to his voice by the heartfelt pity which, at any time, he could have
felt for the victim in such a case.

His daughter and Ernest were sufficiently ill-bred to laugh.

‘Hang me if I understand this!’ he commenced, in tones of righteous
indignation; and then, softening, ‘Why Antonia, dearest, surely you
must pity——’

‘Papa, she is upstairs and in bed at this very moment, so she can’t
have run away with the Count. There must be a mistake somewhere.’

‘So there must, so there must,’ said Paul, instantly mollified, and
addressing himself to his dinner. ‘I’m a hot-tempered old idiot, I
know. But there’s no mistake about the Count’s debts, or the Count’s
flight. He was sighted by No. 4 pilot cutter that brought in the
English liner, the _Cumberland_, this evening, steering nor’-nor’-east,
and before such a breeze as will see him clear of anything from this
port before daylight.’

‘He has gone, safe enough,’ said Ernest; ‘indeed, we watched him go
through the Heads from the verandah—a most fortunate migration, in
my opinion. He has conferred an immense benefit upon the country by
leaving it, which I trust he will confirm by never returning.’

‘Then you saw him go from here?’ inquired Mr. Frankston. ‘Was he close
enough for you to see him?’

‘Well,’ admitted Ernest, ‘he certainly _was_ close enough to see, and,
indeed, to feel; but it’s rather a long story, and if you’re going to
smoke this evening, we can have it all out on the verandah.’

‘I think I must go and see how my visitor is getting on,’ said Antonia;
‘and as I feel tired, I will make my farewell for the evening.’

Was there in the outwardly formal handshaking a sudden instinctive
pressure? Was there in the hasty glance a lighting up of hitherto
lambent fires in the clear depths of Antonia’s deep-hued eyes—an added,
half-remorseful, half-clinging tenderness in the never-omitted caress
which marked her evening parting with her father? If so, that father
was all unconscious, and the outward tokens were so faint as to have
been invisible to all but one deeply interested, near-sighted observer.

‘I am much relieved to find that poor girl Harriet Folleton has not
been carried off, after all, by that scoundrel, who has taken us all in
so splendidly,’ growled Paul. ‘Of course, now the mischief is done,
all kinds of reports are going about the city as to his real character.
People say he was a valet, or a courier; others, a supercargo, who ran
away with that pretty boat he brought here. He certainly had a very
good notion of handling a yacht.’

‘Let me tell you, then, that it is chiefly owing to your daughter’s
courage and unselfish determination to save her friend at all hazards,
that Harriet Folleton is not now a captive in yonder yacht, hopelessly
lost and disgraced,’ announced Mr. Neuchamp, commencing his broadside.

‘Why, you don’t tell me that the scoundrel came _here_ and attempted
any violence?’ said the old man, rising excitedly and performing the
regulation quarter-deck walk up and down the verandah, while he dashed
his ignited cigar excitedly out over the lawn. ‘If I knew—if I had
known this day that he dared to set his foot upon these grounds with a
lawless purpose towards any guest of Antonia’s, I’d have followed him
to the Line and hanged him at his own yardarm.’

As the old man uttered these very decided sentiments, somewhat at
variance with the Navigation Act and international usage, his brow
darkened, his eye gleamed with pitiless light, and his arm was raised
with a gesture which indicated familiarity with the cutlass and the
boarding-pike.

‘You must not excite yourself,’ said Ernest, laying his hand kindly on
the old man’s arm. ‘Remember, first of all, that the offender is beyond
pursuit; that he was baulked in his evil purpose, and that he suffered
ignominious defeat, chiefly through the timely help of Jack Windsor,
who assisted me to rout the attacking force.’

‘Good God!’ exclaimed the old man. ‘Attack—defeat; what has happened?
and I sat gossiping at the club, while you were defending my home and
my honour!’

‘Could I do less? However, you had better hear the whole story straight
out. No harm has been done, and the enemy was routed with loss.’

The story was told. Full justice was done to Antonia’s heroism. Jack
Windsor’s prowess received its meed of praise. His own fortunate
overthrow of the Count by good luck and a little more practice in
wrestling than continental usages render familiar, was slightly alluded
to. Finally, he explained his reasons for assisting the escape of Von
Schätterheims, and thereby confining the scandal of his attempted
abduction to the narrow limit of the actual participators in the affray.

Mr. Frankston walked the deck of a long-departed imaginary vessel so
long without speaking that Ernest feared some rending typhoon of wrath
after the enforced calm. But the event justified his best surmises.
Placing his hand upon his guest’s arm, Paul said, in a voice vibrating
with emotion—

‘I see in you, Ernest Neuchamp, a man who this day has saved my honour
and my life—hers, to whom this poor remnant of existence is but as
this worthless weed.’ (Here he cast from him the half-consumed cigar.)
‘From this day forth you are my son—take everything that I can give.
Paul Frankston holds nothing back from the man who has done what you
have done this day. I am but your steward—your manager, my dear boy,
henceforward.’

‘There is _one_ of your possessions—the most precious, the most
priceless among them,’ answered Ernest, holding up his head with a
do-or-die sort of air, ‘and that one I now ask of you. We are past
phrases with each other. But you will understand that I at least do not
undervalue the worth of Antonia Frankston’s heart, of your daughter’s
hand!’

Mr. Frankston once more paced the long-faded deck and communed with
the broad and heaving deep. Then he turned. His eyes, from which the
strange fire had faded wholly out, had a softened, perhaps somewhat
clouded light.

‘Ernest Neuchamp,’ he said, ‘if this day has witnessed, perhaps, the
most bitter insult, the deepest humiliation to which Paul Frankston
has ever been subjected, it has also witnessed his greatest joy. Take
her—with her old father’s blessing. You have, what he considers,
earth’s greatest treasure; and it is no flattery, but honest liking,
when he swears that you are worthy of her. As far as human look-out can
see over life’s course, Paul Frankston’s troubles and anxieties are
over. Now I can take my cigar again.’

More than one cigar was needed to allay the old man’s overstrained
nervous system. Long they sat and talked, and saw the moon rise higher
in the star-gemmed sky, casting a broader silver flame across the
tremulous illumined deep; while between Ernest Neuchamp and the old man
again stood a shadowy, diaphanous, divinely-moulded form, turning into
an elysian aroma the scent of Paul’s cigars, and echoing the secret
gladness of each thought, which in that hour of supernal loveliness and
unutterable joy flowed from the bared heart of Ernest Neuchamp.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the next morning Aurora in person must have attended to the proper
arrangement of the dawn, the breakfast-hour, and other small matters
which, apparently trivial, tend unquestionably to that due equilibrium
of the nervous system, without which comfort is impossible and
exhilaration hopeless.

Thus, Miss Folleton, having slept well, appeared renovated and just
becomingly repentant. Antonia was severely happy, Mr. Neuchamp calmly
superior to fate, and Mr. Frankston so hilarious that his daughter had
to interpose more than once.

That ambrosial repast concluded, Antonia departed for town in the
carriage, and straightway delivered up Miss Folleton to her rejoicing
relatives, who had suffered anxiety in her absence. Hers was an
impressionable, shallow nature, recovering easily from moral risks and
disasters—even from physical ills. Her appetite reasserted itself; her
love of life’s frivolities, temporarily obscured, brightened afresh;
and long before the legend of the debts, the daring, the disappearance
of the Count von Schätterheims had been supplanted by newer scandal,
her cheek had recovered its wonted bloom, her step its lightness in the
dance, and her mien its touchingly dependent grace.

In due time she had her reward; for she captured, after a short but
brilliant campaign, consisting of an oratorio, a lawn party, and three
dances, an immensely opulent northern squatter. She looks fair and pure
as the blue sky above her, as she rolls by, dressed _à merveille_, in
the best-appointed carriage in Sydney. But for happiness—who shall say?

In the meanwhile, unlimited pleasure-seeking and universal admiration
supply a reasonable substitute.



CHAPTER XXX


Mr. Neuchamp, having now occasional leisure to reflect, discovered
that he was provided with an extensive and valuable property which he
_had_ partly come to Australia to seek, and with an affianced bride,
whom he had not at all included among his probable possessions. As
for the great project of Colonial Reform, which had stood out grandly
dominating the landscape in the future of his dreams, with the solitary
exception of the conversion of Jack Windsor, he could not aver that he
had accomplished anything.

His co-operative community had notably failed in practice. But for
the aid and counsel of Mr. Levison, it might have overthrown his own
fortune, without particularly benefiting the individuals of this
society.

Whenever he had acted upon his own discretion, and in furtherance of
advanced views, he had been conspicuously wrong. Where he had followed
the ideas of others, or been forced into them by circumstances, he
had been invariably right. Where he had been generous, he had been
deceived; where he had been cautious, he had found himself extravagant
in loss; where he had been rash, riches had rolled in upon him with
flowing tide. His most elaborate estimates of character had been
ludicrously erroneous. His advice had been inapplicable, his theories
unsound. Practice—mostly blindfold—had alone given him a glimmering
knowledge of the relatively component parts of this most contradictory,
unintelligible antipodean world.

Mr. Neuchamp, having reached the very visible landmark of an engagement
in his pilgrimage of love, was much minded to press for an immediate
union, believing, now that the rain had come, there existed no rational
impediments in the way of this last supreme success. Well-informed
persons will know that no such outrage upon _les convenances_ could for
a moment be tolerated. Baffled but not despondent, he returned to the
charge with such determination that the event was fixed to take place
in about two months, as being the earliest hour anything so dreadful
could be thought of.

So much being gained, Ernest became speedily aware that being at all
hours and seasons subject to the raids of milliners‘attendants and
others was a state of existence out of harmony with a poet’s soul.
Thus, after divers unsatisfactory and interrupted interviews with
Antonia, he took his passage by the mail, and heroically started for
Rainbar.

This brilliant combination of business with necessity would, he
thought, serve to while away the weary hours between the scorned
present and the beautiful future. Rainbar and Mildool had to be visited
at some time or other. Although the luxurious life of the metropolis
had gained upon him, Ernest Neuchamp always arose, Antæus-like, fresh
to the call of duty.

When he quitted the railway terminus and entered the mail-coach which
was to convey him to his destination, the full magnitude of the mighty
change of season burst upon him. During his stay in Sydney the short,
bright southern spring-time had been born and was ripening into summer,
with what effect upon plant life it was now a marvel of marvels to see.

Mr. Neuchamp’s novitiate had been served during the latter years of a
‘dry cycle.’ He had seen fair growth of pasture towards Christmas time,
but of the amazing crop of grass and herbage uncared for, wasted, or
burned, in what Mr. Windsor called ‘an out-and-out wet season,’ he had
no previous experience.

From the moment that the coach cleared the forest parks which skirted
the plains, Ernest found himself embarked upon a ‘measureless prairie,’
where the tall green grass waved far as eye could see in the summer
breeze. A millennium of peace and plenty had apparently arrived for
all manner of graminivorous creatures. How different was the aspect of
these ‘happy hunting grounds,’ velvet-green of hue, flower-bespangled,
brook-traversed, with the forgotten sound of falling waters ever and
anon breaking on the ear, with hum of bee and carol blithe of bird,
as the sleek-coated, high-conditioned coach-horses rattled the light
drag merrily over the long long road! What a wondrous transformation!
Would Augusta, _la belle cousine_, have believed that all this glorious
natural beauty had been born, grown, and developed ‘since the rain
came’?

When at length the journey was over, and the proprietor of Rainbar and
Mildool was deposited, with his portmanteau, at the garden gate of
the former station, Mr. Neuchamp was constrained to confess that he
hardly knew his own place. There had been much growth and greenery when
he left with the fat cattle; but the riotous extravagance of nature
in that direction could not have been credited by him without actual
eye-witness.

Around the buildings, the garden fence, the stockyard, the cowshed,
was a growth of giant herbage, composed of wild oats, wild barley,
marsh-mallows, clover, and fodder plants unnamed, that almost smothered
these humble buildings and enclosures. A few milch cows fed lazily,
looking as if they had been employed in testing the comparative merits
of oilcake and Thorley’s cattle-food, for an agricultural experiment.
The river-flats below the house were knee-deep in clover and meadow
grasses, causing Mr. Neuchamp to wonder whether or no it would be worth
while to go in for a mowing-machine and a few horse-rakes, for the easy
conversion of a fraction of it into a few hundred tons of meadow hay,
to be stored against the next, ‘dry year.’ The mixed grasses, as he had
tested in a small way, made excellent hay. But how far off looked such
a calamity! Thus ever with ‘youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm’
do we lightly measure the future, recking neither of stormy sky nor of
the ravening deep.

After Mr. Neuchamp had sufficiently admired the grassy wilderness,
thoughts arose respecting dinner, and also a feeling of wonder where
everybody was. The station appeared to be minding itself. The cook was
absent, though recent indications of his presence were visible in the
kitchen. Charley Banks was away and Jack Windsor, probably at Mildool;
also Piambook, whose open countenance and dazzling teeth would have
been better than nothing. Where was Mrs. Windsor, _née_ Walton? He had
rather looked forward to having a talk with her under new conditions
of life. She could not be at Mildool, as there was no shelter for a
decent woman there. What in the name of wonder had become of them
all? There were no Indians in this country, or he might have turned
his thoughts in the direction of Blackfeet or Comanches, the ‘wolf
Apaché and the cannibal Navajo.’ Not even a Mormon settlement handy
enough to organise a ‘mountain-meadows massacre’! He never thought
Rainbar so lonely before. He went into the cottage, and in a leisurely
way unpacked his portmanteau in the snug bedroom which he had so long
inhabited—where he had so often, before the rain came, lain down in
sorrow and arisen in despair. What a tiny wooden box it seemed! Yet he
had thought it comfortable, even luxurious. Like those of many other
distinguished travellers and heroes long absent from the scene of early
conflict or youthful habitation, the eyes of Mr. Neuchamp had altered
their focus.

After three months’ familiarity with the lodging of clubs and villas,
the neat but necessarily contracted apartments of his bush cottage
appeared like cupboards, or even akin to a watch-box which he had once
dwelt in at Garrandilla.

However, he knew by former experience that a week or two of station
life would restore his vision, his appetite, and his contentment with
the district. Further than that he did not go. At the present price
of cattle, it was not likely that he would need ever again to spend
as many months consecutively at Rainbar as he had devoted to that
desirable but isolated abode before the ‘drought broke up.’

Having had ample time for comparison and appropriate reflections, he
was at length set free from the apprehension that he was the sole
inhabitant of Rainbar by the appearance of old Johnny, the cook,
who expressed great delight and satisfaction at seeing him, and,
explaining his absence by the statement that he had taken a walk of
five miles down the river in order to buy a bag of potatoes from a dray
loaded with those rare esculents, proceeded to place him in possession
of facts.

‘Every one about the place was away mustering at Mildool,’ he said,
‘including Mr. Banks, both the blackfellows, Jack Windsor, and even
Mrs. Windsor, who, finding that there was an unoccupied hut formerly
belonging to a dairyman at Mildool, had joined the mustering party. He
(Johnny) hadn’t had a soul to talk to for three weeks since the muster
began, and was as miserable as a bandicoot.’

The old man bustled about, laid the cloth neatly, and cooked and
served an inviting meal, which Ernest, after the reckless preparations
supplied to coach passengers, really enjoyed. It was far into the night
when the sound of horses‘hoofs was heard, and Mr. Banks, carrying
his saddle and bridle, which he placed upon the verandah, let go his
courser to graze at ease, entered the spare bedroom, undressed, and was
in bed and asleep all in the space of about two minutes and a half, as
it seemed to Mr. Neuchamp, from the first sound of his arrival. He did
not care to make himself known to the wearied youngster, and reserved
that sensation, very wisely, as might be many other pieces of news and
matters of business, until morning light.

With the new day arising, the active youth was much astonished, and
even more gratified, to find his employer again under the same roof. At
the daylight breakfast of the bush—_de rigueur_ when unusual work of
any kind is going forward—he favoured Ernest with a full recital of all
the exciting news.

‘Everything was well as could possibly be. All the cattle at Rainbar
were fat as pigs—all the “circle dot” cattle, all Freemans‘lot, which
had really turned out a famous bargain. A dealer from Ballarat had been
up a week since, and to him he had sold the whole of the Freeman horses
at fifteen pounds a head, cash, young and old. He didn’t think, when
old Cottonbush put the brand on them, that they’d ever see a ten-pound
note for the whole boiling. He had the dealer’s cheque—a good one too,
or he wouldn’t have taken it—for twelve hundred and fifteen pounds!
There were just eighty-one head.

‘As for the back country, it looked lovely. Grass and water everywhere.
The Back Lake was full; the river was bank high, and if there was a
flood—a regular big one—he wouldn’t say but what the water might flow
into the canal after all and fill the Outer Lake. By the way, there
were some back blocks for sale at the back of Rainbar and Mildool, and
if he had his way they should be bought, as it would give them the
command of all the back country as far as Barra Creek, and keep other
people from coming in by and by, and perhaps giving trouble; nothing
like securing all your back country while it is cheap.

‘With regard to Mildool, it was the best bargain he (Charley Banks) had
ever seen. All unbranded stock were to be given in, and there would be
calves and yearlings enough to brand to pay two years’ wages to every
man employed on both runs. They had pretty well got through the count;
there would be a two or three hundred head over the muster number,
which would be no harm, and it was only ordinary store price for half
fat cattle broken in to the run. As to fat stock, you might go on to
any camp and cut out with your eyes shut; you couldn’t go wrong; they
were all fat together, young and old. Mooney, the dealer, stayed a
night last week, and said he would give seven pounds all round for a
thousand head, half cows, to be taken in three months. He thought it
was a fair offer. It saved all the bother of sending men on the roads,
and when you let the mob out of your yard you get your cheque, or
draft, as the case might be. He was always for selling on the run, as
long as the buyers were known men.‘

‘How was Mrs. Windsor?’

‘Oh, she was a brick—a regular trump—something like a woman! When she
found Jack would only come back from Mildool once a week, she inquired
whether there was any sort of a hut that could hold a small family
at Mildool; was told there was the old dairyman’s hut at Green Bend,
about a mile from the station. So she said she would rather live in a
packing-case than be separated from her husband; and as Mildool was to
be their home, they might as well go there at once. The end of it was
that she made Jack take her traps over, and she has got the old place
so neat and comfortable that any one might live there, small as it is,
and enjoy life. She was a downright sensible woman, as well as a deuced
good-looking one, and she would make Jack a rich man before he died.’

‘Was there anything else to tell?’

‘Well, not much. He was going to let Jack have Boinmaroo at Mildool,
and keep Piambook here; when they mustered at either place they could
join forces. Oh! the Freemans. Well, they had all gone a month back.
Joe and Bill had gone to take up more land in the Albury district. Wish
them joy wherever they go. We’re quit of them, that’s one comfort.
Abraham Freeman and his lot cleared out for his old place at Bowning.
They’ll do well there in a quiet way. Poor Tottie was sorry to leave
Rainbar, and cried like fun. Had to comfort her a bit when the old
woman wasn’t looking. It’s a beastly nuisance having other people’s
stock on your run, and other people’s boys galloping about all over the
country, whether you like it or not. Was deuced glad to see their teams
yoked and their furniture on, I can tell you. Suppose you’d like to
ride over to Mildool, now you are here?’

Mr. Neuchamp thought he might as well, although fully satisfied that
the muster would have been satisfactorily completed without him. So the
two men rode over that day and had a look at the humours of a delivery
muster.

There was, as usual, great skirmishing about the ownership of calves
temporarily separated from their maternal parents, one stockman
averring that he remembered every spot on a certain calf’s hide since
its early infancy, others corroborating his assertion that it ‘belonged
to,’ or was the progeny of, his old black ‘triangle-bar’ cow; Mr.
Windsor, as counsel for the Crown, declaring, on the other hand, that
no calf should leave the Mildool run unless provided with a manifest
mother, then and there substantiating her claim to maternity by such
personal attentions or privileges as could not be fabricated or
misunderstood. To him the adverse stockman would remark that, if he was
going to talk like that, he might stick to every blessed clear-skin on
the river. Mr. Windsor retorting that he doesn’t say for that, but if
people think they can collar calves for the asking, they’ve come to the
wrong shop when they ride to Mildool muster. And so on, and so on.

Nathless, in course of time all things are arranged, in some shape,
with or without a proportionate allowance of growling, as the men
say. It being apparent that Mr. Windsor, now full-fledged overseer
of Mildool, knows a thing or two, and will stand up stoutly for his
master’s rights, fewer encroachments are, let us suppose, attempted.

The cattle are counted and finally gathered, and are discovered to
exceed, by three hundred odd, the station number. The former manager
feels complimented that he has been able to muster beyond his books.
The purchaser is satisfied, as the additional cattle are merely charged
to him at store cattle price, and, being ‘to the manor born,’ will
swiftly ‘grow into money.’ The strange stockmen depart, carrying with
them a large mixed drove of strayed cattle. The ex-overseer pays his
men and then leaves for down the country, there to wait on the agents,
and receive his _congé_ or further employment, as the case may be.
Charley Banks and the black boys, Jack Windsor, and Mr. Neuchamp are
left in undisputed possession of the new kingdom.

With such a season, with such prices ruling, the management is the
merest routine work, a few hundred calves to brand, arrangements to
make for an early muster to show the herd to the great cattle-dealer,
who wants to buy a thousand head fat to be taken away in three months,
and paid for by his acceptance at that date. Mr. Mooney happens to come
before Ernest leaves for Sydney, and the negotiation being successful,
the new proprietor of Mildool sets out for the metropolis with a
negotiable bill in his pocket for seven thousand pounds—more than a
third of the purchase-money of the run.

While Mr. Neuchamp was possessing his soul in tranquillity at Rainbar,
he was surprised at receiving a letter from his erstwhile Turonia
comrade, Mr. Bright. That cheerful financier wrote as follows:

  TURONIA, _10th December 18—_.

 MY DEAR NEUCHAMP—I hear you are to be married to the nicest girl in
 Sydney. I thought it only reasonable, considering our two or three
 larks here, to offer my congratulations; and, by the bye, talking of
 things happening, that fellow Greffham, whom you remember my helping
 to arrest, was hanged last Wednesday at Medhurst.

 The evidence, joined to his paying away the numbered notes, known to
 be in the escort parcel, was awfully strong against him. He made no
 confession, and was as cool and unconcerned to the very last, as you
 and I ever saw him at the billiard-table. What a wonderful uphill
 game he could play! It is just possible he might have got off; but
 Merlin fished up additional evidence which fixed him, in the eyes of
 the jury, I think—-the groom at the inn, who swore he saw a small
 parcel covered with a gray rug on his saddle, as he returned from the
 direction of Running Creek, which he had not when he passed up. You
 ought to have seen him and Merlin look at each other when Merlin asked
 the Crown prosecutor to have Carl Anderson called. It was a ‘duel with
 eyes.’ But, even without that, I don’t see how he could have accounted
 for the notes.

 I happened to be in Medhurst the day he was to be turned off. I
 received a message that he wanted to see me, so I went to the gaol. I
 knew the sheriff well. They showed me into his cell at once.

 When I got in, Greffham nearly had finished dressing, and had only to
 put on his frock-coat to be better turned out, if possible, than he
 was for the lawn party Branksome gave when the Governor came up. He
 happened to be cleaning his teeth—you remember how white and even they
 were—as I came through the door.

 ‘Sit down, old man,’ he said, just as usual, shying his toothbrush
 into the corner of the cell. ‘I daresay they’ll do; and I suppose I
 shan’t want _that_ any more. What should you say? ’Pon my soul, there
 isn’t a chair to offer you; devilish close about furniture, aren’t
 they now? But it’s very kind of you, Bright, to come and see a fellow,
 when he’s—well—peculiarly situated, eh?’

 Here he laughed quite naturally, I give you my word—not forced at
 all. He certainly _was_ the coolest hand I ever saw; and he died as he
 lived.

 ‘What I wanted to see you for, Bright, was this’—here his voice shook
 and he _did_ appear to show a little feeling—‘you’ll take these two
 letters for me, like a good fellow; one I want you to send to —— after
 I am gone; the other you can open _then_. Make what use you like
 of the contents. I shan’t care then; say nothing _now_ to gratify
 curiosity. As to what I may have done, or not done, I hold myself the
 best judge of my reasons. You know what my life has been. Open and
 straightforward, if somewhat reckless. My cards have always been on
 the table. I have risked all that man holds dear on a throw before.
 This time I have lost. I pay the stakes; there is no more to be said.
 Lionel Greffham is not the man to say “I repent.” He is what he is,
 and will die as he has lived. My time on earth has not been spun out
 much, but, measured by enjoyment, with a front seat mostly at life’s
 opera, it adds up fairly. Give me a Havannah from your case. You
 will see me pretty “fit” for the stage when they ring in the leading
 performer. By the way, I told them to give you my revolver; and while
 I think of it, just remember this, if you want to make _very close
 shooting_ at any time, only put in three parts of the powder in the
 cartridge.‘

 I really believe these were his last words, except to the —— hang-man.

 He finished his cigar, and lounged up to the gallows, where he died in
 the face of a tremendous crowd, calmly and scornfully, just as he was
 accustomed to bear himself to them in life. Jack Ketch was a new hand,
 and nervous. I heard Greffham say, just as if he was rowing a fellow
 for awkwardness in saddling his horse, ‘You clumsy idiot, what are
 you trembling for? Hang me, if I can see what there is to make a fuss
 about! I’ll bet you a pound I tuck you up in ten minutes without any
 baggling. _Now_, you’re right. Am _I_ standing quite square?’

 ‘You’re all right, sir,’ the man said respectfully. The drop fell,
 and poor Greffham (I can’t help saying it, although he was a precious
 scoundrel) died without the least contrition. Showed perfectly good
 taste to the last. Deuced rum people one meets on a goldfield, don’t
 you, now?

 I suppose you’re not likely to come this way again. We’re not quite so
 jolly as we were. The Colonel has gone back to India. Old De Bracy has
 got a good Government appointment, for which he looks more suited than
 market-gardening, though he was hard to beat at that, or anything
 he tackled. I hear you’ve made pots of money. Parklands was here the
 other day, and told me. I have a deuced good mind to turn squatter
 myself. My regards to old Frankston, and ask him if he remembers the
 last story I told him. Ha, ha!—Yours sincerely,

  JOHN WILDER BRIGHT.

Now the great muster and delivery at Mildool was over and everyday
life at Rainbar had again to be faced, Ernest began to feel like one
Alexander, sometimes called Great, who had conquered his way into the
kingdom of Ennui. He was the possessor of a fortune and of a bride,
both above his utmost hopes, his loftiest aspirations; but he began
to fear that he had lost that which leaves life very destitute of
savour—he feared with a new and terrible dread that he had lost his
Occupation!

For life seemed so much more easy, so much less necessary to take
thought about, now that he had two stations than when he had but
one—one likely to be wrested from him. So is it that Difficulty is
oft our friend in disguise, Success but the veiled foe which smiles
at our faltering footsteps and watches to destroy. He saw now, that
with Jack Windsor at Mildool, and Charley Banks, alert, energetic,
fully experienced, at Rainbar, his life henceforth would be that of
a visitor, a supernumerary—unless indeed he employed his mind in the
construction and organisation of ‘improvements’! Ha, ha! ’_Vade retro_,
Sathanas!‘ The Genie was safe immured in his brazen sealed-up vessel.
There should he remain.

Still was there one ‘improvement’ in which he had never altogether lost
faith, long and dispiriting as had been the divorce between formation
and utility. This was the cutting the connecting channel between the
Back Lake and the ‘Outer Lake.’ Long had the ‘master’s ditch’ been as
useless as a fish-pond in the bosom of the Sahara, as a rose-garden in
a glacier, as an oyster-bed in a steppe. Cattle had walked over it;
grass had grown in it; stockmen and thoughtless souls had jeered at it,
and at the English stranger who had thrown away upon its construction
the money of which he possessed a quantity so greatly in excess of his
apparent intelligence. As long as he remained the proprietor of the
run, it would be hardly in keeping with the manner of the bush to call
it ‘Neuchamp’s Folly.’ But had failure or absence chanced to occur in
his case, the satirical nomenclature would not have been deferred for a
week. In the solitary rides and musings to which, in default of daily
work and labour, Mr. Neuchamp was fain to betake himself, it chanced
that he had repeatedly examined that portion of this great sheet of
water, which rang with the whistling wings of wild fowl, and on breezy
days surged with long rippling waves against its bank.

While in Sydney a number of back blocks, at no greater distance from
this outer lake than it was from the former ‘frontage,’ had been put
under offer to him. What if he should accept the terms—the price was
low—and trust to the chance of the next great flood in the full-fed
chafing river sending the water leaping down his tiny canal, and thus
giving a value never before dreamed of to this splendidly grand but
unnatural region. In spite of his half-settled determination to accept
no other speculative risks, but, like a wise man, to rest contented
with proved success, the next post conveyed instructions to Messrs.
Paul Frankston and Co. to close for all the blocks, each five miles
square, from A to M, comprising all the unoccupied country at the back
of Rainbar and Mildool, at the price named.

On the following morning the weather was misty and unusually cloudy,
with an apparent tendency to rain. No rain fell, however; but the raw
air, the unusual bleakness of the atmosphere, seemed abnormal to Ernest
Neuchamp.

‘I should not wonder,’ said Mr. Banks, in explanation, ‘that it was
raining cats and dogs somewhere else, snowing, or something of that
sort. Perhaps at the head of the river. If that’s the case, we shall
have a flood and no mistake. Such a one as none of us has seen yet.
However, we’ve neither hoof nor horn nor fleece on the frontage. It
can’t hurt us, that’s one comfort.’

Mr. Banks’s prognostications were correct. Within three days—

           ... like a horse unbroken,
    When first he feels the rein,
      The furious river struggled hard,
    And tossed his tawny mane,
    And burst the curb and bounded,
      Rejoicing to be free,
    And whirling down in fierce career
    Battlement and plank and pier,
      Rushed headlong to the sea.

Battlement and plank and pier were in this case represented by hut
slabs and rafters, haystacks and pumpkins, from the arable lands and
meadows through which the great river held its upper course; while
drowned stock and the posts and rails of many a mile of submerged
fencing represented the latter floating trifles. There was much that
was grand in the steadily deepening, broadening tide which slowly and
remorselessly crawled over the wide green flats, which undermined
the great waterworn precipices of the red-clayed bluffs, bringing
down enormous fragments and masses, many tons in weight, which fell,
foamed, and disappeared in the turbid, hurrying wave. Who could have
recognised in this fierce, swollen, tyrant river, yellow as the Tiber,
broad as the Danube, resistless as Ocean, the shallow, pellucid
streamlet, rippling over its sandy shallows, of the dead, bygone famine
year?

On the larger flats it was miles wide. The white, straight tree-trunks
stood like colonnades with arches framed in foliage, disappearing in
endless perspective above a limitless plain of gliding waters.

By night, as Mr. Neuchamp awoke in his cottage, which was built upon
an elevation said by tradition to be above the reach of floods, the
‘remorseless dash of billows’ sounded distinctly, unpleasantly close in
the darkness.

On the following day, the flood still continuing to rise, Piambook was
despatched to the Back Lake to report, and upon his return stated that
‘water yan along that one picaninny blind creek like it Murray, make
haste longer Outer Lake.’ Full of hope and expectant of triumph, Mr.
Neuchamp started out for ‘Lake country,’ accompanied by Mr. Banks.

When they arrived at the first lake the unusual fulness and volume of
the water in that reservoir showed that the main stream must have been
forced outwards along the course of the ancient, natural channel, by
which in years of exceptional high floods—and in those years only—the
lake had been filled.

Now, thought Mr. Neuchamp, the hour, long delayed, long doubted, has
surely come. Who could have dreamed but a few short months since, when
our very souls were adust and athirst with perennial famine, that our
eyes should behold the sight which I see now? How should it teach us
to hoard the garnered gold of truth, the ‘eternal verity’ in our heart
of hearts! ‘My lord delayeth his coming.’ Was that held to be a reason,
an excuse for the unfaithful, self-indulgent? Truly this would seem to
some as great a miracle as the leaping water which followed the stroke
of the prophet’s staff in that other desert of which we read of old.

And now his eyes did actually behold the first trickling, wondrous
motion of the brimming reservoir to advance, gravitation-led, along
the narrow path to its far-distant sister lake. Slowly the full waters
rose to the very lip of the vast natural cup or vase, and then, first
saturating the entrance, poured down the narrow outlet which the
forecasting mind of man had prepared for it. It trickled, it flowed, it
ran, it coursed, foaming and rushing, along the cutting, of which the
fall at first exceeded that of the general passage. It was done! It was
over! A proud success!

Charley Banks threw up his hat. Together they rode recklessly onward
to the Outer Lake, and there Ernest Neuchamp enjoyed silently the deep
satisfaction—then known but to the projector and inventor—of witnessing
the waters of the Inner Lake, for the first time since the sea had
ceased to murmur over these boundless levels, flow fast and flashing
forward, driven by the pressure of the immense body behind, into the
vast, deep, grass-clothed basin of the Outer Lake.

This was a triumph truly. For this alone it was worth while to have
journeyed across the long long ocean tide, to have toiled and suffered,
waited and watched, to have eaten his heart with fear and sickening
dread of the gaunt destroyer ‘Ruin,’ ever stalking nearer and nearer.
This was true life—real adventure—the hazard and the triumph which
alone constitute true manhood.

In the ecstasy of the moment Ernest Neuchamp forgot the fortune he had
gained, the bride whom he had won, the home of his youth, the grand and
glorious future, the not uneventful past. All things seemed as dreams
and visions by the side of this grand and living Reality.

As he sat on his horse and gazed, still flowed the glorious wave into
the century-dry basin by the channel which he, Ernest Neuchamp, had,
in defiance of Nature, opinion, and society, conceived, formed, and
successfully completed. Seasons might come and go; another dry time
might come; the water might periodically evaporate and disappear,—but
nothing could evade the great fact henceforth in the history of the
land, that he had established the connection between the river and this
distant, long-dry, unthought-of reservoir. There would be no more hint
or menace of Neuchamp’s Folly—more likely, Neuchamp’s River.

Lake Neuchamp! Pshaw! it was an inland sea. Why not name it now? Why
not render immortal, not his own perhaps ancient patronymic, but the
lovely and beloved name of his soul’s divinity? Now was the hour, the
minute, when the virgin waters were falling for the first time in
creation into the flower-besprinkled lap of the green earth before
their eyes!

‘Charley, my boy,’ he said to Mr. Banks, ‘take off your hat. Piambook,
do liket me,’ he said, removing his own. ‘I name this water, now
about to be filled for the first time within the memory of man,
“Lake Antonia.” So mote it be. Hip, hip, hurrah!‘ and the echoes of
the waste rang to the unfamiliar sounds of the great British shout
of welcome, of salutation, of battle-joy, of deathdefiance, which
England’s friends and England’s foes have had ere now just cause to
know.

‘Hurrah!’ joined in Charley Banks with genuine feeling. ‘By George! I
never thought to see this sight—last year particularly; but, of course,
we might have known it wasn’t going to be dry always, as Levison said.
We don’t see far beyond our noses, most of us. But it _was_ hard to
conjure up any notion of a regular out-and-out waterfall like this with
a twelvemonth’s dust, and last year’s burnt feed keeping as black as
the day it took fire. I believe there will be thirty feet of water in
this when it’s full up, and it soon will be at this rate.’

‘Budgeree tumble down water that one,’ said Piambook. ‘Old man
blackfellow yabber, debil-debil, make a light here when he yan long
that one scrub.’

Another occasion of congratulation awaited Mr. Neuchamp, the pleasure
and pride accompanying which were perhaps only second in degree to
the feelings inspired by the engineering triumph of Lake Antonia.
His stud of Austral-Arabian horses had shared in the general advance
and development of the property; they were now a perfect marvel of
successful rearing.

He had them brought in daily from the sandhills near the plain where
they ordinarily grazed, and passed hours in reviewing the colts and
fillies, the yearlings, the mares and the foals. Every grade and stage,
from the equine baby which gambolled and frisked by the side of its
dam, to the well-furnished three-year-old filly—‘Velut in latis equa
trima campis ludit exsultim, metuitque tangi,’—all were satin-coated,
sleek and round, fuller-fleshed, stronger, swifter; more riotously
healthy could they not have been had they been fed with golden oats in
an emperor’s stable. Daintily now they picked the half-ripened tops
from the fields of wild oats or barley which spread for leagues around.
They drank of the pure clear waters of every pool and brooklet. They
lay at night in the thickly-carpeted sandy knolls, and snuffed up the
free desert breeze, fresh wafted from inmost sands or farthest seas.
Partaking on one side of their parentage of the stately height and
generous scope of their southern dams, culled from the noble race of
island steeds which bear up the large frames of the modern Anglo-Saxon,
they inherited a strong, perhaps overpowering infusion of the priceless
blood of the courser of the desert. Their delicate heads, their wide
nostrils, their adamantine legs, their perfect symmetry, all told
of the ancient lineage of Omar the Keheilan, whose dam was Najima
Sabeh or the Morning Star, of the strain Seglawee Dzedran, which, as
every camel-driver of the Anezeh knows, dates back to El Kamsch, that
glorious equine constellation, the five mares of Mahomet!

Here, again, was another instance of what Ernest could not but
acknowledge gratefully as the generosity of Fate. Had but the season
continued obdurate, his utter irrevocable ruin could not have been
stayed. As a consequence, this stud, so precious, so profitable, so
distinguished as it was apparently destined to be (for Mr. Banks told
him that numbers of offers had already been received for all available
surplus stock, while the agent of a large dealer had implored him to
put a price upon the whole stud), would doubtless have passed under the
hammer as most unconsidered trifles, to be sneered at, scattered, for
ever wasted and lost, as had been many a good fellow’s pet stud ere now.

At length the day arrived when, having witnessed the satisfactory
conclusion of every conceivable business duty and task which could be
transacted at Rainbar or Mildool, Mr. Neuchamp took his place in the
mail for Sydney, which city he had calculated to reach within a week of
the dread ceremonial which was to seal his destiny. The coach did _not_
break down or capsize, fracturing Mr. Neuchamp’s leg in two places. The
train fulfilled its appointed task, and the stern steam-giant did not
select that opportunity for running off the rails or equalising angles.
Something of the sort might have been reasonably expected to happen to
a hero so near the rapturous denouement of the third volume, in which,
indeed, every hero of average respectability is killed, mysteriously
imprisoned, or married.

Mr. Neuchamp had undergone trials and troubles, risks and anxieties,
losses and crosses; but the season of tribulation was for ever past
for him. He had henceforth but to submit to the compulsory laurel
crown, to the caresses of Fortune’s favourite delegates, to listen to
the plaudits of the crowd, to withstand the whispers and glances of
beauty. He was now wise, beautiful, strong, and brave, a conqueror, an
Adonis—in a word, he was _rich_!

He stood successful, and the world’s praises, grudgingly bestowed upon
struggling fortitude, were showered upon the obviously victorious
speculator. All kinds of rumours went forth about him. His possessions
were multiplied, so that Rainbar and Mildool stood sponsors for a tract
of country about as large as from Kashgar to Khiva.

The canal was magnified into the dimensions of its namesake of Suez,
and a trade was prophesied which would overshadow Melbourne and
revolutionise Adelaide. He had contracted for the remount service for
the whole Madras Presidency, such a matter being quite within the scope
of his immense and high-bred studs. His herds of cattle were to supply
Ballarat and Sandhurst with fat stock, and Melbourne buyers were on
their way to secure everything he could deliver for the next two years!
Ernest Neuchamp of Rainbar was the man of the day; the popular idol.
Squatter though he might be, some of Jack Windsor’s grateful utterances
had been circulated, and a democratic but strongly appreciative and
generous populace adored him. Portraits of Mr. Neuchamp and his
faithful retainer, Jack Windsor, contending victoriously with a swarthy
piratical crowd, led on by the Count with a cutlass and a belt full
of revolvers, appeared in the windows of the print-shops. Heroism and
unselfish generosity, like murder, ‘will out.’

Whether accidentally or otherwise, the Morahmee conflict had
transpired. I make no reflections upon the well-known inviolable
secrecy which shrouds all postnuptial communications. I content myself
with stating a fact. Mr. Windsor was now a married man.

Ernest was at first annoyed, then surprised, lastly, unaffectedly
amused, when a highly popular dramatic version of the incident appeared
at the Victoria Theatre, wherein he was represented as defying the
Count, and assuring him that ‘berlood should flow from Morahmee Jetty
to the South Head Lighthouse ere he relinquished the two maidens
to his lawless grasp,’ while Jack Windsor’s representative, with a
cabbage-tree hat and a hanging velvet band broad enough to make a sash
for Carry, placed himself in an exaggerated, pugilistic attitude,
and implored the foreign seamen to ‘come on and confront on his own
ground, by the shore of that harbour which was his country’s pride, a
true-born Sydney native!’ This brought down the house, and occasioned
Mr. Neuchamp such anguish of mind that he began to think Jermyn Croker
not such a bad fellow after all, and to feel unkindly towards the great
land and the warm-hearted people of his adoption.

Incapable of being stimulated by flattery into a false estimate of
himself, these exaggerated symptoms of appreciation but pained him
acutely; they disturbed his philosophical mind, ever craving for the
performance of justice and intolerant of all lower standards of right.

As for Antonia Frankston, like most women, she was gratified by these
tokens of the distinction which had been so profusely accorded to her
hero. He was a hero who, in her eyes, though worthy of triumphs and
processions, evaded his claims to such distinctions. He was too prone,
she thought, to be over Scriptural in his social habitudes, and unless
roused and incited, to take the lower rather than the higher seat at
the board. Now that the people, wavering and impulsive, but still a
mighty and tangible power, had endorsed and adopted him, Antonia’s
expansive mind recognised the brevet rank bestowed upon him. After all,
had he not done much and dared greatly? Was it not well for the world
to know it? If he was to be decorated, few deserved it more. So Antonia
accepted serenely and in good faith the plaudits and universal flattery
which now commenced to be showered upon the hero of her choice, the
idol of her heart, the image of all written manhood.

The days which Mr. Neuchamp spent in Sydney after his return from
Mildool and Rainbar were certainly more tedious than any which he had
ever known in the pleasant city; but at length they passed away and
were no more—strange thought! those atoms from the mighty mass of
Time—drops from his flowing river—draughts, alas! quaffed or spilled
from life’s golden chalice. They were past, faded, dead, irrevocably
gone, as the days of the years before Pharaoh, before the shepherd
kings, before the dawn of human life, Eden, or the first gleam of light
which flashed upon a darkened, formless world!

Sad, pathetic even, is the death of a day! Its circling hours have
known peace, joy, loving regard, social glee, charity, justice, mercy,
repose. The allotted task has been done. The parent’s smile, the
wife’s love, the babe’s prattle, have all glorified earth during its
short season. And now the day is done! its tiny term is over, lost in
the shoreless sea of past immensities! The brightly inconstant orb
shines tenderly on the new-born stranger, full of joyous hope or dread
expectancy. Who can tell what this, the new and garish day, may bring
forth? Let us weep for the loved, fast-fading Child of Time, in whose
golden tresses, at least, twined no cypress wreath.

Then, heralded by calm and cloudless hours, did the wondrous unit, the
Day of Days, dawn for Ernest Neuchamp. Rarely—even in that matchless
clime, where the too ardent sun alone may be blamed by the husbandman,
rarely by the citizen or the tourist—did a more perfect, unrivalled,
wondrous day steal rosy through the ocean mists, the folded vapours, to
change into fretted gold and Tyrian dyes the tender tints of flushed
dawn. All nature visibly, audibly rejoiced. The tiny wavelets murmured
on the milk-white sands of the Morahmee beach, that their darling—she
who loved them and talked with them in many a hushed eve, in many a
solemn starry midnight—was this day to be wed. The strange foreign
pines and flower trees of the Morahmee plantation, brought from many
a distant land to please the lady of the mansion, echoed the sound
as they waved to and fro with oriental languor and tropical mystery.
The flowerets she daily tended turned imperceptibly their delicately
various sheen of petals to each other and sighed the tender secret.
With how many secrets are not the flowers entrusted? Have they not been
sworn to silence since those days of the great dead empires, when the
vows and pleadings, songs and laughter, beneath the rose-chaplets were
sacred evermore?

Her gems, of which Antonia had great store—for there was more
difficulty in preventing Paul from overlading her caskets than of
replenishing them—even they knew it. They flashed and glittered, and
reddened, and sent out green and purple light, for they are envious,
hard, and remorseless of nature, as they noted the arrival of a
bediamonded necklace, and a brooch outshining in splendour any of their
rich and rare and very exclusive ‘set.’

The pensioners, her dependants, of the house, among the humble, and
the very poor, knew it and raised for her welfare the brief unstudied
prayer which comes from a thankful heart. The poor, in ordinary
acceptation, are, and have always been, in Australia, difficult
to discover and to distinguish. But to the earnest quest of the
unaffectedly charitable, anxious to do good to soul or body, to succour
the tempted, to help the needy, to save him that is ready to perish,
worthy occasions of ministration have never been absent from the
outskirts of every large city.

The forlorn spinster, friendless and forsaken, the overworked
matron,—the shabby genteel sufferers too secure to starve, too poor to
enjoy, too proud to complain, and, occasionally, what seemed to be an
example of unmerciful disaster,—among these were the rich maiden’s
unobtrusive but unremittingly performed good works, of which none
heard, none knew, but the recipients, and perhaps the discreetest of
co-workers.

       *       *       *       *       *

And thus, with the day just dawned, had the maiden life of Antonia
Frankston come to an end. From this day forth her being was to merge in
that of one who, falling with the suddenness of a shipwrecked mariner
into their society, had been, as would have been such a waif, treated
with every friendly office, with the ample up-springing kindness of
a princely heart, by her fond father. That father, no mean judge of
his fellow-man, had seen in his early career but the noble errors of
a lofty nature and an elevated ideal. Such disproportions between
judgment and experience but prove the natural dignity of the mind as
fully as the precocious wisdom of the gutter-bred urchin waif, his base
descent and companionship.

Paul Frankston had long foreseen that, when the lessons of life should
have cleared the encrustation from the character of his _protégé_, it
would shine forth bright and burnished as Toledo steel—all-sufficient
for defence, nay, equal to spirited attack, should such need arise. He
saw that the future possessor and guardian of his soul’s treasure was
a ‘man’ as well as a ‘gentleman.’ On both of these essentials he laid
great weight. For the rest, his principles were high and unfaltering,
his habits unimpeachable. Whatever trifling defects there might be in
his character were merely such as were incident to mortality. They must
be left to the influence of time, experience, and of Antonia.

‘If she doesn’t turn him out a perfect article,’ said Paul,
unconsciously quitting the mental for the actual soliloquy, ‘why,
nothing and no one can. If I had been any one else, and she had
commenced early enough at me, I really believe that she’d have changed
old Paul Frankston into a bishop, or, at any rate, a rural dean at
least; even Charley Carryall——’

But whether Captain Carryall’s utterances and anecdotes were scarcely
of a nature calculated to harmonise with bishops and deans, or whether
Mr. Frankston’s many engagements at this important crisis suddenly
engaged his attention, can never be known with that precision which
this chronicler is always anxious to supply. One thing only is certain,
that he looked at his watch, and hastily arising from his arm-chair,
departed into the city.

For the information of a section of readers for whom we feel much
respect and gratitude, it may be mentioned that the wedding took place
at St. James’s, a venerable but architecturally imperfect pile in the
vicinity of Hyde Park. There be churches near Morahmee more replete
with ‘miserable sinners’ in robes of Worth and garments of Poole, but
Mr. Frankston would none of them. In the old church had he stood beside
his mother, a schoolboy, wondering and wearied, but acquiescent, after
the manner of British children; in the old church had he plighted his
troth to Antonia’s sainted mother; in the old church should his darling
utter her vows, and in no other. Are there any words which can fitly
interpret the deep joy and endless thankfulness which fill the heart
and humble the mind of him who, all unworthy, knows that the chalice
of life’s deepest joy is even then past all risk and danger, steadily
uplifted to his reverent lips?

Doubts there have been, delays that fretted, fears that shook the soul,
clouds that dimmed, darkness that hid the sky of love. All these have
sped. Here is naught but the glad and gracious Present, that blue and
golden day which, pardoning and giving amnesty to the Past, beseeches,
well-nigh assures, the stern veiled form of the Future.

Some of these reflections would doubtless have mingled with the
contemplations of Ernest Neuchamp at Aurora’s summons on that glad morn
but for an unimportant fact—that he was at that well-known poetical
period most soundly asleep.

Restlessly wakeful during the earlier night-watches, he slept heavily
at length, and only awoke, terrible to relate, with barely time for a
careful toilet. Hastily disposing of a cup of coffee and a roll, he
betook himself, in company with Mr. Parklands, who, I grieve to relate,
had been playing loo all night, and was equally late and guilty, to the
ancient church, where they were, by the good fortune of Parklands‘watch
being rather fast—like all his movements—exactly, accurately the
canonical five minutes before the time. Both of the important
personages, being secretly troubled, looked slightly, becomingly pale.
But the pallor of Parklands, entirely due to an unprosperous week,
involving heavier disbursements and later sittings than ordinary, told
much in his favour with the bridesmaids, so much so, that he always
averred, in his customary irreverent speech, that ‘his flint was fixed’
on the occasion.

Probably owing to the calmly superior aspect of Mr. Hartley Selmore,
or the tonic supplied by Jermyn Croker’s patent disapprobation and
contempt of the whole proceedings, the protagonist and his acolouthos
went through the ordeal with that exact proportion of courage,
reverence, deftness, and satisfaction, the full rendering of which
is often hard upon him who makes necessarily ‘a first appearance.’
As for Antonia’s loveliness on that day, when, radiant, white-robed,
and serene, she placed her hand in that of her lover, and greeted
him with the trustful smile in which the virgin-soul shines out o’er
the maiden-bride’s countenance, Ernest Neuchamp may be pardoned for
thinking that the angel of his dreams had been permitted to visit the
earth, to rehearse for his especial joy a premature beatific vision.

Mr. Parklands effected a sensation by dropping the bridal-ring,
but as he displayed much quickness of eye and manual dexterity in
regaining it, the incident had rather a beneficial effect than
otherwise. Everything was happily concluded, even to the kissing of
the bridesmaids, Mr. Parklands, with his usual energy and daring,
having insisted on carrying out personally that pleasing portion of the
programme, supposed to appertain of right to the holder of the ancient
and honourable office of groomsman. This compelled the chasing of two
unwilling damsels half-way down the aisle, after which the slightly
scandalised spectators quitted the church, while the wedding-guests
betook themselves to Morahmee.

There, as they arrived, Mr. Frankston, sweeping the bay mechanically
with long-practised eye, exclaimed, ‘What boat is that heading for our
jetty at such a pace?—a whaleboat, too, with a Kanaka crew. There’s a
tall man with the steer oar in his fist; by Jove! it’s Charley Carryall
for a thousand.’

And that cheerful mariner and successful narrator it proved to be when
the weather-beaten boat came foaming up to the little pier, drawn half
out of the water by her wild-looking, long-haired crew, encouraged by
their captain, who was backing up the stroke as if an eighty-barrel
whale depended upon their speed.

‘Frantically glad to see you, Charley, my boy,’ shouted Paul; ‘never
hoped for such luck; the only man necessary to make the affair
perfect—absolutely perfect. Isn’t he, Antonia? But how did you guess
what we were about, and get here in time? I see the old _Banksia_ is
only creeping up the harbour now.’

‘_That_ guided me,’ said the Captain, pointing to the profusely
decorated Morahmee flagstaff—an invariable adjunct to a marine villa.
‘I was sure all that bunting wasn’t up for anything short of Antonia’s
wedding. So I dressed and came away. The operculums I was bringing our
little girl here will just come in appropriately. They’re the first any
of you have seen, I daresay.’

The faintly subdued tone which is usual and natural in the pre-banquet
stage could not be reasonably protracted after the first fusilade of
Paul’s wonderful Pommery and Veuve Clicquot, Steinberger and Roederer.

The guests were many and joyous, the day brilliant, the occasion
fortunate and mirth-inspiring, the entertainment unparalleled, and
henceforth proverbial in a city of sumptuous and lavish hospitality.

Small wonder, then, that the merriment was as free and unconstrained as
the welcome was cordial, and the banquet regal in its costly profusion.
How the jests circulated! how the silvery laughter rang! how the
bright eyes sparkled! how the fair cheeks glowed! how the soft breeze
whispered love! how the blue wave murmured joy!

Did not Mr. Selmore propose the health of the bride and bridegroom with
such pathetic eloquence that the uninstructed were doubtful as to
whether he was Antonia’s uncle or Mr. Neuchamp’s father? He referred to
the mingled energy, foresight, acuteness, and originality displayed by
his valued, and, he might add, distinguished friend Ernest Neuchamp.
By utilising qualities of the highest order, joined with information
always yielded, he was proud to say, by himself and other pioneers, he
had achieved an unequalled, but, he must add, a most deserved success,
which placed him in the front rank of the pastoral proprietors of New
South Wales.

Any one would have imagined from Mr. Hartley Selmore’s benevolent flow
of eulogy that he had carefully nursed the infancy of Mr. Neuchamp’s
fortunes instead of ruthlessly endeavouring to strangle the tender
nursling. He himself, by means of luck and much discount, had managed
to hang on, ostensible proprietor of his numerous stations, until the
tide turned. Now he was a wealthy man, and needed not to call the
governor of the Bank of England his cousin.

With prosperity his character and estimation had much improved.
There were those yet who said he was an unprincipled remorseless old
humbug, and would none of him. But in a general way he was acceptable;
popular, in private and in public. His natural talents were great; his
acquirements above the average; his manner irresistible; it was no
one’s particular interest or business to bring him to book,—so he dined
and played billiards at the clubs, buttonholed officials, and greeted
illustrious strangers, as if the greater portion of the pastoral
interior of Australia belonged to him, or as though he were one of the
Conscript Fathers, distinguished for an excess of Roman virtues, of
this rising nation.

Mr. Parklands indeed desired to throw some missile at him for his
‘cheek,’ as he confided to a young lady with sensational blue eyes,
but desisted from that practical criticism upon being implored by his
fair neighbour not to think of it, for her sake, and that of the ladies
generally. The speaker was pretty enough to speak with authority, and
so Hartley, like other fortunate conspirators and oppressors, departed
in triumph, with the plaudits and congratulations of the unthinking
public. For the rest, the affair went off much as such society
fireworks do. Augusta Neuchamp, in a Paris dress, looked so extremely
well that Jermyn Croker congratulated himself warmly, and mingled such
vitriolic scintillations with his pleasantries, that every one was awed
into admiration. The mail steamer was to sail in a few days, and he
flattered himself that he had contrived a surprise for all his friends,
which should contain an element of ignoring contempt so complete in
conception and execution, that his departure from the colony should
faithfully reflect the opinions and convictions formed during his
residence in it.

Having, after considerable hesitation, finally determined to enter
upon the frightfully uncertain adventure of matrimony, he had offered
himself and heart, such as it was, in marriage to Miss Augusta, with
many apologies for the apparent necessity of the ceremony being
performed in a colony. That young lady had endeared herself to Mr.
Croker by her unsparing criticisms, by her ceaseless discontent
with all things Australian, by her unmistakable air of _ton_ and
distinction. He did not entirely overlook her possession of a moderate
but assured income.

With his customary disregard for the feelings of others, he had
insisted upon being married, without the usual time-honoured ceremonies
and concomitants, on the morning upon which the mail steamer started
for Europe. By going on board directly afterwards, the Sydney people
would be precluded from hearing of the event until after their
departure; while their fellow-passengers, most of them strangers, would
be ignorant as to whether the newly-married couple were of a week’s
date or of six months.

This arrangement, in which he had no great difficulty in persuading
Miss Augusta to acquiesce, would have excellently answered Mr. Croker’s
unselfish expectations but for one circumstance, which he doubtless
noted to the debit of colonial wrongs and shortcomings—he had neglected
to procure the co-operation of the elements.

No sooner had the ceremony, unwitnessed save by Paul Frankston and Mr.
and Mrs. Neuchamp, taken place, and the happy pair been transferred
to the _Nubia_, their luggage having been safely deposited in that
magnificent ocean steamer days before,—no sooner had the great steamer
neared the limit of the harbour, when a southerly gale, an absolute
hurricane, broke upon the coast with such almost unprecedented fury
that till it abated no sane commander of the Peninsular and Oriental
Company’s service would have dreamed of quitting safe anchorage.

For three days the ‘tempest howled and wailed,’ and most uncomfortably
the _Nubia_ lay at anchor, safe but most uneasy, and, as she was rather
crank, rolling and pitching nearly as wildly as she could have done in
the open sea.

It so chanced that one of Mr. Croker’s few weak points was an
extraordinarily extreme susceptibility to _mal de mer_. On all
occasions upon which he had cleared the Heads, for years past, he had
suffered terribly. But never since his first outward-bound experience
in early life had he suffered torments, prostration, akin to this. He
lay in his cabin death-like, despairing, well-nigh in collapse.

Miss Neuchamp, in spite of her much travelling, was always a martyr
during the first week of a voyage, if the weather chanced to be bad.
Now it certainly was bad, very bad; and in consequence Miss Augusta
lay, under the charge of a stewardess, in a stern cabin, well-nigh
sick unto death, heedless of life and its chequered presentments, and
as oblivious, not to say indifferent, to the fate of Jermyn Croker as
if she had yesterday sworn to love and obey the chief officer of the
_Nubia_.

This was temporary anguish, mordant and keen, doubtless. But Time, the
healer, would certainly in a few days have set it straight. The fact
of an unknown lady and gentleman being indisposed at the commencement
of the voyage afflicts nobody. But here was apparently the finger of
the fiend. A ruffianly pilot, coming off in his hardy yawl, brought on
board a copy of the _Sydney Morning Herald_ of the day following their
attempted departure, in which it was duly set forth how, at St. James’s
Church, by Canon Druid, Jermyn, second son of Crusty Croker, Esq., of
Crankleye Hall, Cornwall, was then and there married to Augusta, only
daughter of the Rev. Cyril Neuchamp, incumbent of Neuchamp-Barton,
Buckinghamshire, England. Now the joke was out. Even under such
unpromising circumstances it told. Here were two mortals, passionately
devoted of course, and in that state of matrimonial experience when
all things tend to the wildest overrating, so cast down, so utterly
prostrated by the foul Sea Demon, that they positively did not care
a rush for each other. The great Jermyn lay, faintly ejaculating
‘Steward, Ste-w-a-ar-d,’ at intervals, and making neither lament nor
inquiry about his similarly suffering bride. As for Augusta, she had
scarce more strength of body or mind than permitted her to moan out,
‘I shall die, I shall die’; and apparently, for all she cared, in that
unreal, phantasmal, pseudo-existence, which only was not death, though
more dreadful, Jermyn Croker might have fallen overboard, or have been
changed into a Seedee stoker. Then for this to happen to Jermyn Croker,
of all people! The humour of the situation was inexhaustible!

And though the fierce south wind departed and the _Nubia_ drove
swiftly majestic across the long seas that part Cape Otway from the
stormy Leuwin, though in due time the spice-laden gales blew ‘soft
from Ceylon’s isle,’ and the savage peaks of Aden, the lofty summit of
the Djebel Moussa rose to view in the grand succession of historical
landscapes; yet to the last day of the voyage a stray question in
reference to the precise effects of very bad cases of sea-sickness
would be directed, as to persons of proved knowledge and experience, to
Mr. and Mrs. Jermyn Croker, by their fellow-passengers.

It is due to Mr. Croker, as a person of importance, to touch lightly
upon his after-career. His wife discovered too late that in reaching
England he had only changed the theme upon which his universal
depreciations were composed. ‘Non animam sed cœlum mutant qui trans
mare currunt.’ He abused the climate and the people of England with a
savage freedom only paralleled by his Australian practice. Becoming
tired of receiving 3 or 4 per cent for his money, he one day, in a fit
of wrath, embarked one-half of his capital in a somewhat uncertain
South American loan. His cash was absorbed, to reappear spasmodically
in the shape of interest, of which there was little, while of principal
it soon became apparent that there would be none.

Reduced to the practice of marked though not distressing economy,
Mr. Croker enjoyed the peculiar pleasure which is yielded to men of
his disposition, of witnessing the possession of luxuries by others
and a style of living which they are debarred from emulating. He was
gladdened, too, by the occasional vision of an Australian with more
money than he could spend, who rallied him upon his grave air, and
bluntly asked why he was such a confounded fool as to sell out just as
prices were really rising. Finally, to aggravate his sufferings, long
unendurable by his own account, Mr. Parklands had the effrontery to
come home, and, in the very neighbourhood where he, Croker, was living
for economy, to buy a large estate which happened to be for sale.

The unfailing flow of the new proprietor’s high spirits, his liberal
ways, and frank manners, combined with exceptional straight going in
the hunting-field, rendered him immensely popular, as indeed he had
always contrived to be wherever fate and speculation led his roving
steps. But it may be questioned whether his brother-colonist ever saw
his old friend spinning by behind a blood team, or heard of his being
among the select few in a ‘quick thing,’ without fulminating one of his
choicest anathemas, comprehending at once the order to which he and
Parklands had belonged, the country they had quitted, and the one in
which they now sojourned.

Mr. Banks remained in the employment of Mr. Neuchamp at Rainbar until,
having saved and acquired by guarded investment a moderate capital, he
had a tempting offer of joining, as junior partner, in the purchase of
a large station in new country. Always a good-looking, manly fellow,
he managed to secure the affections of a niece of Mr. Middleton, whom
he met on one of his rare trips to Sydney, and, before he left for the
Tadmor Downs, Lower Barcoo, they were married.

Mr. Joe Freeman had employed some of the compulsory leisure time
rendered necessary during his fulfilment of the residence clause for
Mr. Levison, in an exhaustive study of the Crown Lands Alienation Act.
From that important statute (20 Vic. No. 7, sec. 13) he discovered
that, provided a man had children enough, there is but little limit to
the quantity of the country’s soil that he can secure and occupy at a
rate of expenditure singularly small and favourable to the speculative
‘landist’ of the period.

Thus Joe Freeman, after considerable ciphering, made out that he could
‘take up’ for himself and his three younger children a total of twelve
hundred and eighty acres of first-class land! He had determined that
as long as there was an alluvial flat in the colony his choice should
not consist of _bad_ land. Added to this would be a pre-emptive grazing
right of three times the extent. This would come to three thousand
eight hundred and forty acres, which, added to the freehold of twelve
hundred and eighty acres, gave a total of five thousand one hundred and
twenty acres. The entire use of this territory he could secure by a
payment of five shillings per acre for the _freehold portion_ only—say,
three hundred and twenty pounds.

‘Of course his three children were compelled, by law, to reside on
their selections. As two of these were under five years old, some
difficulty in the carrying out of the apparently stringent section No.
18 might be anticipated.

This difficulty was utterly obliterated by building his cottage
_exactly_ upon the intersecting lines of the four half-sections, thus:

[Illustration: Diagram]

By this clever contrivance Mary Ellen, the baby, as well as Bob, aged
three years, were ‘residing upon their selections’ when they were in
bed at night, inasmuch as that haven of rest (for the other members of
the family) was carefully placed across the south line which divided
the estates.

Nor was this all. Bill Freeman took up a similar quantity of land in
precisely the same way, locating it about a mile from his brother’s
selection, so that as it was clearly not worth any other selector’s
while to come between them, they would probably have the use of another
section or two of land for nothing. The squatter on whose run this
little sum was worked out was a struggling, burdened man, unable to
buy out or borrow. He was ruined. But the individual, in all ages, has
suffered for the State.

Mr. Neuchamp’s Australian career had now reached a point when life,
however heroic, is generally conceded to be less adventurous. His end,
in a literary sense, is near. We feel bound in honour, however, to add
the information, that upon the assurance of Mr. Frankston that they
could not leave New South Wales temporarily at a more prosperous time,
Ernest Neuchamp resolved once more to tempt the main, and to taste the
joy of revisiting, with his Australian bride, his ancestral home.

Having taken the precaution to call a council of the most eminent
floriculturists of flower-loving Sydney to his aid, he procured and
shipped a case of orchidaceous plants, second to none that had ever
left the land, for the delectation of his brother Courtenay. He had
long since paid the timely remittance which had so lightened his load
of anxiety in the ‘dry season’ at Rainbar, with such an addition of
‘colonial interest’ as temporarily altered the views of the highly
conservative senior as to the soundness of Australian securities.

Upon the genuine delight which Antonia experienced when the full glory
of British luxury, the garnered wealth of a thousand years, burst
upon her, it is not necessary here to dilate, nor, after a year’s
continental travel, upon the rejoicings which followed the birth of
Mr. Courtenay Frankston Neuchamp at the hall of his sires. His uncle
immediately foresaw a full and pleasing occupation provided for
his remaining years, in securing whatever lands in the vicinity of
Neuchampstead might chance to be purchasable. They would be needed for
the due territorial dignity of a gentleman, who, upon his accession
to the estate, would probably have thirty or forty thousand a year
additional to the present rental, to spend on one of the oldest
properties in the kingdom.

‘He himself,’ he said, ‘was unhappily a bachelor. He humbly trusted
so to remain, but he was proud and pleased to think that the old House
would once more be worthily represented. He had never seen the remotest
possibility of such a state of matters taking place in his own time,
and had never dreamed, therefore, of the smallest self-assertion.

‘The case was now widely different. The cadet of the House, against,
he would frankly own, his counsel and opinion, had chosen to seek his
fortune on distant shores, as had many younger sons unavailingly. He
had not only found it, but had returned, moreover, with the traditional
Princess, proper to the King’s younger son, in all legends and
romances. In his charming sister he recognised a princess in her own
right, and an undeniable confirmation of his firmly-held though not
expressed opinion, that his brother Ernest’s enthusiasm had always been
tempered by a foundation of prudence and unerring taste.’

Again in his native land, in his own county, Antonia had to submit
to the lionisation of her husband, who came to be looked upon as a
sort of compromise between Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh, with a
dash of Francis Drake. The very handsome income which the flourishing
property of Rainbar and Mildool, _cum_ Back-blocks A to M, and the
unwearied rainy seasons and high markets, permitted him to draw, was
magnified tenfold. His liberal expenditure gratified the taste of the
lower class, among whom legends involving romantic discoveries and
annexations of goldfields received ready credence.

Mr. Ernest Neuchamp was courteously distinguished by the county
magnates, popular among the country gentlemen who had been his friends
and those of his family from his youth, and the idol of the peasantry,
who instinctively discerned, as do children and pet animals, that he
viewed them with a sympathetic and considerate regard.

When Mrs. Ernest Neuchamp, of Neuchampstead, was presented to her
Gracious Sovereign by ‘the Duchess,’ that exalted lady deigned to
express high approval of her very delicately beautiful and exquisitely
apparelled subject from the far southern land, and to inquire if all
Australian ladies were so lovely and so sweet of aspect and manner as
the very lovely young creature she saw before her. The Court Circular
was unprecedentedly enthusiastic; and in very high places was Ernest
assured that he was looked upon as having conferred lustre upon
his order and benefits upon his younger countrymen, to whom he had
exhibited so good and worthy an example.

All this panegyrical demonstration Ernest Neuchamp received not
unsuitably, but with much of his old philosophical calmness of critical
attitude. What he really had ‘gone out into the wilderness’ to see,
and to do, he reflected he had neither seen nor done. What he found
himself elevated to high places for doing, was the presumable amassing
of a large fortune, a proceeding popular and always favourably looked
upon. But this was only a secondary feature in his programme, and one
in which he had taken comparatively little interest. He could not
help smiling to himself with humorous appreciation of the satiric
pleasantry of the position, conscious also that his depreciation of
great commercial shrewdness and boldness in speculation was held to
be but the proverbial modesty of a master mind; while the interest
which he could not restrain himself from taking in plans for the weal
and progress of his old friend and client, Demos, was considered to
be the dilettante distraction with which, as great statesmen take to
wood-chopping or poultry-rearing, the mighty hunter, the great operator
of the trackless waste, like Garibaldi at Caprera, occupied himself. It
was hardly worth while doing battle with the complimentary critics,
who would insist upon crediting him with all the sterner virtues of
their ideal colonist—a great and glorious personage who combined the
autocracy of a Russian with the _savoir faire_ of a Parisian, the
energy of an Englishman with the instinct of a Parsee and the rapidity
of an American; after a while, no doubt, they would find out their
god to have feet of clay. He would care little for that. But, in the
meanwhile, no misgivings mingled with their enthusiastic admiration.
The younger son of an ancient house, which possessed historic claims
to the consideration of the county, had returned laden with gold,
which he scattered with free and loving hand. That august magnate
‘the Duke’ had (vicariously, of course—he had long lost the habit of
personal action save in a few restricted modes) to look to his laurels.
There was danger, else, that his old-world star would pale before this
newly-arisen constellation, bright with the fresher lustre of the
Southern Cross.

All these admitted luxuries and triumphs notwithstanding, a day came
when both Ernest Neuchamp, and Antonia his wife, began to approach,
with increasing eagerness and decision, the question of return. In
the three years which they had spent ‘at home’ they had, they could
not conceal from themselves, exhausted the resources of Britain—of
Europe—in their present state of sensation.

Natural as was such a feeling in the heart of Antonia, with whom a
yearning for her birthland, her childhood’s home, for but once again
to hear the sigh of the summer wave from the verandah at Morahmee, was
gradually gaining intensity, one wonders that Ernest Neuchamp should
have fully shared her desire to return. Yet such was undoubtedly the
fact.

Briton as he was to the core, he had, during the third year of their
furlough, been often impatient, often aweary, of an aimless life—that
of a gazer, a spectator, a dilettante. Truth to tell, the strong free
life of the new world had unfitted him for an existence of a mere
recipiency.

A fox-hunter, a fisherman, a fair shot, and a lover of coursing,
he yet realised the curious fact that he was unable to satisfy his
personal needs by devoting the greater portion of his leisure to these
recreations, perfect in accessories and appointments, unrivalled in
social concomitants, as are these kingly sports when enjoyed in Britain.

Passionately fond of art, a connoisseur, and erstwhile an amateur of
fair attainment, a haunter of libraries, a discriminating judge of old
editions and rare imprints, he yet commenced to become impatient of
days and weeks so spent. Such a life appeared to him now to be a waste
of time. In vain his brother Courtenay remonstrated.

‘I feel, my dear Courtenay, and it is no use disguising the truth to
you or to myself, that I can no longer rest content in this little
England of yours. It is a snug nest, but the bird has flown over the
orchard wall, his wings have swept the waste and beat the foam; he can
never again, I fear, dwell there, as of old; never again, I fear.’

‘But why, in the name of all that is exasperating and eccentric, can
you not be quiet, and let well alone?’ asked Courtenay, not without
a flavour of just resentment. ‘You have money; an obedient, utterly
devoted father-in-law, of a species unknown in Britain; a charming
wife, who might lead me like a bear, were I so fortunate as to have
been appropriated by her; troops of friends, I might almost say
admirers—for you must own you are awfully overrated in the county. What
in the wide world can urge you to tempt fortune by re-embarkation and
this superfluous buccaneering?’

‘I suppose it is vain to try and knock it out of your old head,
Courtenay, that there is no more buccaneering in New South Wales than
in old South Wales. But, talking of buccaneers, I suppose I _am_ like
one of old Morgan’s men who had swung in a West Indian hammock, and
seen the sack of Panama; thereafter unable to content himself in his
native Devon.

‘You might as well have asked of old Raoul de Neuchamp to go back
and make cider in Normandy, after he had fought shoulder to shoulder
with Taillefer and Rollo at Hastings, and tasted the stern delight
of harrying Saxon Franklins and burning monasteries. I have found a
land where deeds are to be done, and where conquest, though but of
the forces of Nature, is still possible. Here in this happy isle your
lances are only used in the tilt-yard and tournament, your swords hang
on the wall, your armour is rusty, your knights fight but over the
wine-cup, your ladye-loves are ever in the bowers. With us, across the
main, still the warhorse carries mail, the lances are not headless, and
many a shrewd blow on shield and helmet rings still.

‘I am in the condition of “The Imprisoned Huntsman”—

    ‘My hawk is tired of perch and hood,
    My idle greyhound loathes his food,
    My steed is weary of his stall,
    And I am sick of captive thrall;
    I would I were, as I have been,
    Hunting the roe in forest green,
    With bended bow and bloodhound free,
    For that is the life that is meet for me.’

‘I know from experience that it is as probable that a star should come
down from the sky and do duty in the kitchen grate,’ said Courtenay
Neuchamp sardonically, ‘as that you should listen to any one’s opinion
but your own, or I would suggest that the falcon, and greyhound,
and steed business is better if not exclusively performed in this
hemisphere. I never doubted you would go your own road. But what
does Antonia say to leaving the land of court circulars and Queen’s
drawing-rooms and Paris bonnets fresh once a week?’

‘She says’—and here Mrs. Neuchamp crept up to her husband’s side and
placed her hand in his—‘that she is tired of Paradise—tired of perfect
houses, unsurpassable servants and dinners, drives and drawing-rooms,
lawn parties and archery meetings, the Academy and the Park, Belgravia
and South Kensington—in fact, of everything and everybody except
Neuchampstead and dear old Courtenay. She wants, like some one else, to
go out into the world again, a real world, and not a sham one like the
one in which rich people live in England. She is _living_, not life.
Perhaps I am “_un peu_ Zingara”—who knows? It’s a mercy I’m not very
dark, like some other Australians I have seen. But it is now the time
to say, my dear Courtenay, that Ernest and I have grown tired of play,
and want to go back to that end of the world where work grows.‘

‘Please don’t smother me with wisdom and virtue,’ pleaded Courtenay,
with a look of pathetic entreaty. ‘I know we are very ignorant and
selfish, and so on, in this old-fashioned England of ours. I really
think I might have become a convert and a colonist myself, if taken up
early by a sufficiently zealous and prepossessing missionaress. I feel
now that it is too late. Club-worship is with me too strongly ingrained
in my nature. Clubs and idols are closely connected, you know. But are
we never to meet again?’ and here the rarely changed countenance of
Courtenay Neuchamp softened visibly.

‘We will have another look at you in late years,’ said Antonia softly;
‘perhaps we may come altogether when—when—we are old.’

‘I think I may promise that,’ said Mr. Neuchamp. ‘When Frank is old
enough to set up for himself at Morahmee, with an occasional trip to
Rainbar and Mildool, to keep himself from forgetting how to ride,
then I think we may possibly make our last voyage to the old home, in
preparation for that journey on which I trust we three may set forth at
periods not very distantly divided.’

The brothers shook hands silently. Antonia bestowed a sister’s kiss
upon the calm brow of the elder brother, and quitted the room. No
more was said. But all needful preparations were made, and ere the
autumn leaves had commenced to fall from the aged woods which girdled
Neuchampstead, the _Massilia_ was steaming through the Straits of
Bonifacio with Ernest Neuchamp watching the snowy mountain-tops of
Corsica, while Antonia alternately enlivened the baby Frank or dipped
into _The Crescent and the Cross,_ which she had long intended to read
over again in a leisurely and considerate manner.

       *       *       *       *       *

But little remains to tell of the after-life of Ernest Neuchamp.
Settled once more in ‘the sunny land,’ he found his time fully and not
unworthily occupied in the superintendence of his extensive properties
and investments. There was much necessary journeying between Rainbar
and Morahmee, at which latter place Paul Frankston had insisted upon
their taking up their permanent abode. ‘I am going down hill,’ he
said; ‘the old house will be yours when I am gone; why should I sit
here lonely in my age while my darling and her children are so near
me? Don’t be afraid of the nursery-racket bothering me. Every note
of their young voices is music in my ears, being what they are.’ So
in Ernest’s absence in the bush, or during the sitting of the House
of Assembly—having from a stern sense of duty permitted himself to
be elected as the representative of the electoral district of Lower
Oxley—Antonia had a guardian and a companion. She resolved upon
making the journey to Rainbar, indeed, in order that she might fully
comprehend the nature of the life which her husband had formerly led.
During her stay she formed a tolerably fair estimate of the value of
the property, being a lady of an observing turn of mind, and possessing
by inheritance a hitherto latent tendency towards the management of
affairs not generally granted to the sex. She visited Lake Antonia,
and warmly congratulated Mr. Neuchamp upon that grand achievement.
She patted Osmund and Ben Bolt, now bordering on the dignity of
pensioners. She drove over to Mrs. Windsor’s cottage at Mildool, where
she found Carry established as rather a _grande dame_, with the general
approbation of the district and of all the tourists and travellers who
shared the proverbial hospitality of Mildool. She caused the stud to be
driven in for inspection, when she had sufficient presence of mind to
choose a pair of phaeton horses for herself out of them. But she told
her husband that she could not perceive any advantage to be derived
from living at Rainbar as long as their income maintained its present
average, and that he could manage the interesting but exceedingly warm
and isolated territory equally well by proxy.

Jack Windsor, upon Mr. Banks’s promotion and marriage, became manager
of the whole consolidated establishment, with a proportionate advance
in salary. He developed his leading qualities of shrewdness and energy
to their fullest capacity under the influence of prosperity. Being
perfectly satisfied with his position and duties, having a good home, a
contented wife, the means of educating his large family, the respect of
the whole country-side, and the habit of saving a large portion of his
liberal salary, besides an abundance of the exact species of occupation
and exercise which suited him, it is not probable that he will make
any attempt to ‘better himself.’ It is not certain that Mrs. Windsor
would not favour the investment of their savings in property ‘down the
country’ for the sake of the children, etc.; but Jack will not hear of
it. ‘I should feel first-rate,’ he says scornfully, ‘shouldn’t I, in
a place of my own, with a man and a boy, and forty or fifty head of
crawling cattle to stare at while they were getting fit for market?
That’s not my style. It wouldn’t suit any of us—not you either, old
woman, to be poking about, helping at the wash-tub or something, or
peelin’ potatoes for dinner. We couldn’t stand it after the life we’ve
had here. I couldn’t do without half-a-dozen stabled hacks and a lot
of smart men to keep up to the mark. Give me something _big_ to work
at, done well, and paying for good keep and good spending all round.
Five hundred and forty head of fat cattle cut out in two days like the
last Mildool lot, and all the country-side at the muster—that’s John
Windsor’s style—none of your Hawkesbury corn-shelling, butter-and-eggs
racket. You ought to have married old Homminey, Carry, if that’s what
you wanted. Besides, after thinking and saving and driving up to high
pressure for the master so long, it would feel unnatural-like to be
only working for myself.‘ So the argument was settled. Mr. Windsor
had, it seems, tasted too fully of the luxury of power and command to
relinquish it for humble independence.

The undisputed sway over a large staff of working hands, the
unquestioned control of money and credit, within certain limits, had
become with him more and more an indispensable habitude. Accustomed
to the tone of the leader and the centurion, he could not endure the
thought of changing his wide eventful life into the decorous dulness of
the small landed proprietor. Mrs. Windsor, too, who dressed exceedingly
well, and was admitted on equal terms to the society of the district,
a position which, from her tact, good sense, and extremely agreeable
appearance, she suitably filled and fully deserved, would probably, as
her husband forcibly explained, have felt the change almost as much as
himself. So Mr. Neuchamp was spared the annoyance of looking out for a
new manager.

Hardy Baldacre accumulated a very large fortune, but was prevented,
in middle life, from proving the exact amount of coin and property
which may be amassed by the consistent practice of grinding parsimony,
combined with an elimination of all the literary, artistic, social, and
sympathetic tendencies. He habitually condemned the entire section,
under the fatal _affiche_ of ‘don’t pay.’ To the surprise—we cannot
with accuracy affirm, to the regret—of the general public, this very
extensive proprietor fell a victim to a fit of _delirium tremens_,
supervening upon the practice of irregular and excessive alcoholism.
Into this vice of barren minds, the pitiless economist, guilty of so
few other recreations, was gradually but irresistibly drawn.

The _White Falcon_ fled far and fast with the fugitive noble, whose
debts added the keenest edge among his late friends and creditors to
the memory of his treasons. He escaped, with his usual good fortune,
the civil and criminal tentacula in which the dread octopus of the law
would speedily have enveloped him. He laughed at British and Australian
warrants. But passing into one of the Dutch Indian settlements, he was
sufficiently imprudent to pursue there also the same career of reckless
expenditure. By an accident his character was disclosed, and his arrest
effected at the moment of premeditated flight. A severe logic, learned
in the strict commercial schools of Holland, where debt meets with no
favour, guards the commerce of her intertropical colonies. The _White
Falcon_ was promptly seized and sold to satisfy a small portion of the
princely liabilities of the owner, while for long years, in a dreary
dungeon, like another and a better sea-rover, Albert von Schätterheims
was doomed to eat his heart in the darksome solitude of an ignoble and
hopeless captivity.

The Freeman family prospered in a general sense. Abraham Freeman
settled down upon a comfortable but not over-fertile farm in the
neighbourhood of Bowning. The thickness of the timber, and the
conversion of much of it into fencing-rails, served to provide him
with occupation, and therefore with good principles, as Tottie saucily
observed, to his life’s end. That high-spirited damsel grieved much
at first over the slowness and general fuss about trifles, which,
after her extended experience, seemed to her to characterise the whole
district, but was eventually persuaded by a thriving young miller
that there were worse places to reside in. He was resolute, however,
in forbidding the carrying of bags of flour, and as she was provided
with a smart buggy and unlimited bonnets, her taste for adventurous
excitement became modified in time, and the black ambling mare was
handed over to the boys.

William and Joe Freeman made much money by nomadic agrarianism. After
years passed in arduously constructing sham improvements and ‘carrying
out the residence clause,’ with no intention of residing, they found
themselves able to purchase a station.

Having paid down a large sum in cash, they entered into possession
of their property with feelings of much self-gratulation, as being
now truly squatters, just as much so, indeed, as Mr. Neuchamp, who
had thought himself so well able to patronise them. But, unluckily
for them, and in direct contravention of the saying, ‘Hawks winna
pike oot hawks’ een,‘ the ex-owner of the station, formerly indeed an
old acquaintance who had risen in life, displayed the most nefarious
keenness in plotting an unscrupled treachery. He settled down, under
the conditional purchase clause, section 13, upon the very best part
of the run, the goodwill of which he had the day before been paid for.
Having a large family, and the land laws having been recently altered
so that a double area could be selected by each ‘person,’ he, with
the Messrs. Freemans‘own cash, actually annexed, irrevocably, an area
which reduced the value of the grazing property by about one-third.
Shrewd and unscrupulous as themselves, he calmly informed the frantic
Freemans ‘that he had only complied with the law.’ He laughed at their
accusations of bad faith. ‘Every man for himself,’ he retorted, adding
that ‘if all stories were true, they hadn’t been very particular
themselves, but had sat down on the cove’s run that first helped ’em
when they was bull-punchers without credit for a bag of flour.’

Rendered furious by this very original application of their own
practice to the detriment of their own property, they wasted much of
their—well—we must say, legally acquired gains in endless suits and
actions for trespass against this most unprincipled free selector,
and others who shortly followed his example. The lawyers came to know
Freeman _versus_ Downey as a _cause célèbre_. It is just possible that
these brothers may come to comprehend, by individual suffering, the
harassed feeling which their action had, many a time and oft, tended to
produce in others.

The later years of Mr. Neuchamp’s life have been stated by himself to
be only too well filled with prosperity and happiness as compared with
his deserts. Those who know him are aware that he could not become an
idler—either aimless or bored. He lives principally in Sydney. But if
ever he finds a course of unmitigated town-life commencing to assail
his nervous system, he runs off to a grazing station within easy rail,
where he has long superintended the production of the prize shorthorns,
Herefords, and Devons necessary for the keeping up the supply of pure
blood for his immense and distant herds. Here he revels in fresh
air—the priceless sense of pure country life—and that absolute leisure
and absolute freedom from interruption which the happiest paterfamilias
rarely experiences in the home proper. Here Ernest Neuchamp builds up
fresh stores of health, new reserves of animal spirits. Here Ernest
probably thinks out those theories of perfected representative
government in which, however, he fails at present to persuade an
impatient, perhaps illogical, democracy to concur. His children are
numerous, and all give promise, as, after a protracted and impartial
consideration of their character, he is led to believe, of worthily
carrying forward the temporarily modified but rarely relinquished
hereditary tenets of his ancient House.

Time rolls on. The great city expanding beautifies the terraced slopes
and gardened promontories of the glorious haven. Old Paul Frankston
lies buried in no crowded cemetery, but in a rock-hewn family vault
under giant araucarias, within sound of the wave he loved so well.
Yet is Morahmee still celebrated for that unselfish, unrestricted
hospitality to the stranger-guest which made Paul Frankston’s name a
synonym for general sympathy and readiest aid.

Assuredly Ernest Neuchamp, now one of the largest proprietors in
Australia, both of pastoral and urban property, has not suffered the
reputation to decline. He remembers too well the hearty open visage,
the kindly voice, the ready cheer of him who was so true at need, so
delicate in feeling, so stanch in deed. Succoured himself at the crisis
of fortune and happiness, he has vowed to help all whose inexperience
arouses a sympathetic memory. The opinion of a social leader and
eminent pastoralist may be considered to have exceptional weight and
value. However that may be, much of his time is taken up in honouring
the numberless letters of introduction showered upon him from Britain.
Young gentlemen arrive in scores who have been obligingly provided with
these valuable documents by sanguine ex-colonists. By the bearers they
were regarded as passports to an assured independence. Some of these
youthful squires, with spurs unwon, need restraining from imprudence,
others a gentle course of urging towards effort and self-denial. But
it has been noticed that the only occasions on which their respective
guide, philosopher, and friend speaks with decision bordering on
asperity, is when he exposes the fallacy of the reasoning upon which
any ardent neophyte aspires to the position of A Colonial Reformer.


THE END


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations
in hyphenation and all other spelling and punctuation remain unchanged.

Italics are represented thus _italic_.

In “the [Ǝ]NE brand” on page 106 [Ǝ] represent the character depressed
by half a line and in “the M[D] brand” on page 154 [D] represents a
reversed D depressed by half a line.





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