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In the Shadow of the Bush

Chapter VI

page 33

Chapter VI.

It was not long afterwards, indeed, when Westall did sample this same whisky of Brasch's, in company with Davie, for whom he "shouted" as soon as he reached the house.

Davie, since his arrival at the Cosmopolitan, had been taking things easy, as was his custom—had eaten his dinner, and afterwards indulged in a sleep on a rough couch in the public-room. From this he was roused by Westall, who invited him to drink.

"Ecod, ye're in luck's way, Bill, an' nae mistak'," he said, as he saw Westall hand over a bank-note in payment. "Yer freen's o' the richt sort efter a'."

Davie tasted his whisky like a connoisseur, taking it undiluted, smacking his lips and sniffing at it.

"That's no bad whusky, Boss," he said; "it's mony a day since I tasted ony wi' juist that flavour wi' it—no since I left Auld Scotland. I hae mony a time put a horn cup under the worm, and let a drap o' speerit that that o' yours 'minds me o' rin intil it, fresh frae the still. Wha's yer speerit merchant?"

"Vell, if you vant to know," replied Jacob, eyeing Davie rather suspiciously, "I gets it all the vay from Dunedin. Scotch it is. Goot visky, isn't it?—special blendt. It varms your vhistle ven it is going down."

"Rather too fiery for my taste," Westall said.

"Shure, an' that shows that Jacob here doesn't dhrown it out wid wather intoirely before he gives it to us," struck in a voice with a strong Irish brogue; "but, begorra! he'll have to page 34slocken it a bit more for such dilicate stomachs. Dhrink it aff, me bhoys, and have wan more at moy expinse. The afthener yez dhrink it the betther yez'll loike it; and that shows it's the rale qualithy."

The speaker was Mr. Dennis O'Byrne, a "small cacytoo," as he called himself. He was the occupier of a rough section, running up on the high hills about nine miles from Bloomsbury. He had a small portion of his land in grass, on which he kept a few sheep; and he occasionally, though rarely, did a few days' work, mustering for some of the other landowners; and at shearing-time might give a helping hand for a day or two. His chief occupation or amusement seemed to lie in hunting the wild cattle and pigs, which were pretty numerous in the Ranges near his section. He had good dogs, and was reckoned a crack shot, so that he rarely failed to bring down a beast or a pig when he went out in quest of big game. In these expeditions he was generally accompanied by an old man, or one at least advanced in years, who lived with him, but who was rarely to be seen in the township.

Old Dan, as he was usually called, or Uncle Dan, as O'Byrne sometimes styled him, was a spare, wiry old chap, with keen, dark, shifty eyes, and with a stubbly, greyish beard which always looked as if it was of about a fortnight's growth. If he were in the habit of shaving at all, no one was known to have ever seen him clean-shaven; but then he was but seldom seen away from home by anyone, and as no other section was occupied beyond O'Byrne's in that direction, the latter being distant some miles from the nearest neighbours, visitors to it were extremely rare, so it could hardly be affirmed with certainty that Old Dan did not sometimes use a razor.

If Dan but seldom visited the township, O'Byrne, on the other hand, was a frequent visitor to it, and to the Cosmopolitan in particular, where he would drop in at all hours of the day, or more often of the night, and where he was page 35always welcome—bringing with him on his old black mare, not infrequently indeed, some produce of the chase—a quarter of beef perhaps, if he had fallen in with a fat heifer in the Ranges, or some heavy joints of pork, if he had been successful in his pig-hunting.

"I'm no sayin' the whusky's bad, or ower strang for me—ecud, it couldna' weel be that; but there's a twang wi' it that brings back auld memories. Here's yer vera guid health," Davie said, as he tossed off his replenished glass.

Westall took up his quarters at the Cosmopolitan, giving out, as Wilmot instructed him to do, that he was now in receipt of an allowance from relatives at home.

Davie, contrary to what might have been expected, also remained. He had at first expressed his intention of returning once more to his old haunts among the large sheep runs, saying, "The squatters are no' sae bad efter a'. Ye're aye sure o' a feed, a cheerfu' fireside, an' somewhaur to lie snug till the morn; and when ye ken the beat weel, ye aye hae a hamelike feelin' on ye as ye gang up tae a station ye're acquant wi' as the sun gaes doon."

He continued, however, to linger about Bloomsbury, and even condescended to do some gardening and other odd jobs about the Cosmopolitan, and showed that he could work if he liked. He would occasionally shoulder his swag and make an excursion into the surrounding country for a day or two, partly, perhaps to satisfy the wandering habit so long indulged in, and partly, it may have been, to avoid the expense, however little, of living at the hotel. But he was not often long away from it, and while there seemed to keep an inquisitive eye on what was going on.

On one of his rambles into the country, when returning towards the township, late one afternoon, by a road which ran nearly parallel to that by which he and Westall had just approached it, he called at a cottage about three miles out. It stood back a little from the road; and there was an air of page 36neatness and comfort about it, which is often absent from newly formed homes in the bush. A plot of ground in front and at the side of the house had been stumped and cultivated as a vegetable and fruit garden, nor was there wanting an attempt al the growth of flowers. There were a few beds of these in front of the verandah, and along it might be seen a climbing rose tree or two; while at the side of the house, in a warm and sunny aspect, a young vine had been trained; and round the outward boundary of the enclosure a shelter belt of the invariable macrocarpa and pinus insignis had been planted. The healthy appearance of all these, and their vigorous growth, gave evidence of richness of soil and of the care bestowed upon them by the owner, and promise of shade and shelter and heavily laden boughs in the not distant future. A neat dairy was to be seen at the back of the house; and, farther removed, a comfortable cowshed and yards, where milking operations were then in progress.

Some logging up had evidently been done over the adjacent pasture ground, for it was less encumbered with timber than is generally to be seen in a new settlement.

Davie walked up to the door and was met by a woman with a face in which sweet motherly kindness was very apparent.

"I hae been trampin' a' day, mistress, an' am makin' for the toonship, but feckless wi' hunger, and juist wearied oot. Mebbe you wadna mind a moothfu' o' something to eat, an' leave to sit doon for a bit."

"Indeed, you're welcome," she replied, in a kind voice, as she led him into the kitchen. "There's no poor wanderer will be turned away hungry and tired from this door as long as there's a bit in the house, and I have my way in it. There's no telling who may be one's guest—and some of our own kin might be glad of a like kindness," she added, with a slight tremor in her voice.

She sat Davie down to the best she had ready—light, white bread and sweet appetising butter; she made tea for him and page 37cooked eggs, and placed tempting new scones in front of him and pressed him to eat. The latter was quite unnecessary on her part, for Davie was doing ample justice to the good things set before him.