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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XXXI

page 218

Chapter XXXI.

On Christmas morning the sun rose clear and cloudless, revealing a landscape of glorious beauty. The water of the lake glistened and shone like polished steel at the foot of the hills covered with deep woods, and vocal with the cry of the parroquets, the clear ringing notes of the tuis, and the metallic echoes of the bell birds close by my house, and on the farther side the mountains, descending into the water in steep, precipitous bluffs, revealed a prospect such as a landscape painter would have delighted to depict.

The shearers having resolved to keep Christmas after the good old English fashion, the day was observed as a holiday.

As it was but dull work loitering about the place, and I could not lie and read all day long, after breakfast I solaced myself with a row out upon the lake, and I amused myself thus for several hours until it was time, I thought, to return for dinner. A slight breeze had by this time begun to ruffle the surface of the lake, and just as I had entered the bay at the head of which my homestead was situated, happening to glance towards the lower end of the lake, my astonishment was great when I beheld Mr. Campbell's cutter coming rapidly towards me, with sails bellying out in the rising breeze. Instantly divining that the family had resolved to pay me a visit in honour of Christmas, I hurried towards the shore and hastened up to the house to give Mrs. Munro notice of the company she might expect, so that she might set to work to provide suitable entertainment for them when they arrived.

In view of the coining of the ladies, I involuntarily cast an anxious glance round the room, but I might have saved myself the trouble, for, as far as mere housewifery was concerned, Mrs. Munro was method and orderliness personified.

About half-an-hour later the vessel arrived, and was laid alongside the mooring place, where some stakes had been driven in as an apology for a wharf.

On board the vessel there was, indeed, a party one of whom at least I did not expect to meet. Besides the Campbells and Mr. M‘Gilvray, whose presence, despite the claims of hospitality, I could have spared, there was another lady with a child in her arms.

“Ah ha!” laughed Mary, clapping her hands gleefully, “Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Farquharson! You did not expect to have such a grand Christmas party as this—now, did you?”

“None the less welcome because unexpected,” I answered, page 219 as I walked out along the planks that were laid on the stakes and stood by the side of the yacht. “Merry Christmas to you all, ladies and gentlemen; you really have given me great pleasure by this unexpected visit.”

I then took Mary, who in her eagerness to greet me stood nearest, and lifted her bodily out of the vessel, no other gangway being available, and on to the platform. “Good day to you, Mrs. Campbell, and what is your opinion of the appearance of my habitation now?” I remarked, as that good lady followed suit, by the same primitive mode of conveyance.

“Really,” she replied, “it does look pleasant. I had no idea that you had such a nice place as this; the prospect is truly lovely.” I then shook hands with both gentlemen, but Mr. M‘Gilvray, however, by springing lightly to the platform, obviated the necessity for my landing Jessie in the same mode as I had landed her mother and sister.

It was then for the first time that, in the lady with the child, who now awaited my assistance to reach the platform, I, to my no small surprise and pleasure, recognised my former Christmas guest on the Darling, i.e., the quiet, lady-like Miss Brydone, or rather matron, Mrs. Ayson.

“Truly,” I said, while laughing and cordially shaking her by the hand, “we shall soon have our old Christmas party back again. But why, Mrs. Ayson, did you not bring up Mr. Ayson with you? Surely I should be delighted to make his acquaintance.”

“Thank you, Mr. Farquharson. I am indeed sorry that Mr. Ayson is not here, but he was detained upon business, and could not come along with me this time. Some other time however he may be able to pay you a visit. He would very much like to do so, for I have often talked to him about you, and the happy Christmas that I spent with you on the Darling.”

Lifting her off, I next approached Tiny. “Well, Tiny,” I remarked, “and how are you? What a pity that Mr. Lilly is not here to meet you now, eh!”

“Mr. Lilly cares nothing for seeing me,” replied Tiny, smiling shyly. She was a stout, plump girl, and perhaps that might have accounted for the fact that as I lifted her off the boat I found her face very close to my own, her weight pressing heavily upon me, although I was not a weakling either. Be that as it may, her ripe lips so close to mine were rather too great a temptation for one who was by nature no stoic in the matter of woman's charms, and a sly pressure of her lips by mine was the natural result.

Tiny, as if shocked at the liberty she had been unable to prevent, very properly to preclude its repetition, put up her page 220 hands, and turning her head aside, laughed blushingly, and ran away.

After seeing the yacht safely moored, I invited the two men who had navigated her to come up to the house with me, where I offered them a cordial, which, by the way they smacked their lips over it, was evidently to their taste.

On entering the house, laughter and good humour prevailed on all sides. Everything was examined with pleasure, and the rude furniture admired by the ladies with laughing good nature, though Mrs. Campbell, with her usual foresight in such matters, had brought an ample supply with her, in the matter of sheets and blankets, for all the party.

For, be it known, that so primitive was my mode of living, and so little in my sequestered situation did I look forward to such a contingency as the present, that my domicile consisted of but three apartments. Of these one was reserved as a sitting and dining-room, and another was my sleeping apartment, whilst the third was the kitchen, in which the Munroes also slept.

My furniture, too, with the exception of three bought chairs and one table, was all bush made, so that to furnish my present party with sitting accommodation, several four-legged stools of very primitive construction had to be requisitioned from the kitchen.

But in spite of these drawbacks, I question if the hilarity and good humour of the party could have been increased had the apartment been luxuriantly furnished with a carpeted floor, spring-bottom chairs, and mahogany surroundings.

But if furniture was scarce, provisions were ample. Plain they were, but still tempting, for Mrs. Munro was an excellent cook, and we were preparing to sit down to a table furnished with a substantial joint, with fitting adjuncts, and an ample plum-pudding was looming in the distance, when the crack of a bullock whip sounded in my ear.

Not expecting such a sound as that, as my wool was to be taken away in Mr. Campbell's boat, and thence loaded on drays from his wharf on the lake, some few miles from his home-station, I went out to see what it could mean.

On gazing intently at an advancing bullock team, the tall figure of the driver, the everlasting cabbage-tree hat, the blue shirt and the leggings, and above all the sonorous shout of “Gee, Dauntless,” were not to be mistaken.

“In the name of wonder,” I ejaculated, “Whatever has brought Lilly up this way!”

“Hilloa, Lilly! what wind has blown you in this outlandish direction?” I exclaimed, as he halted his team with a loud page 221 “woa,” near to where I was standing shaking him heartily by the hand.

“Ha, ha!” he answered laughing, “I reckon you didn't expect to see me hereaway; but as carriage to the diggings was getting low, I thought I would take a trial at wool driving, and so thinking that Mr. Campbell would give an old acquaintance a show, I came up to see him about what wool he could let me have to drive down for him. But when I was within five miles of the station yesterday I met the shepherd on the road, and getting into a yarn with him, he happened to mention that all the Campbells' were going away in their boat to spend the next day with you. As I wished very much to spend Christmas with them, I thought that was unfortunate; but on inquiring the way to your place, the shepherd pointed out a way by which I could reach the end of the plain from where I then was, as soon as I could get to Campbell's station, and that was eight miles nearer here. So, determined to be among the fun with so many old faces, I, without going near Campbell's, went along this short cut, and camped out at the end of the plain last night. Then getting the bullocks yoked up by six o'clock this morning, I said I would make them do the distance between there and here inside of one o'clock, and I have kept my word; but I made them travel for it! I don't like forcing any animal out of its proper place, let alone my bullocks, but I thought that for this day I would make it a case of necessity; so here I am, and perhaps you'll give an old acquaintance a load to bring back yourself.”

“That I will, Lilly, the whole clip if you like; but how will you get it down? I have always had it sent round by water in Mr. Campbell's boat before. Although on coming through at first I opened a way for the team, it was with great difficulty and by the observance of great precautions, that we managed to get along; as we did not take time to form the road by cuttings, save such trees as we found absolutely required removing from our path.”

“Well, the road through the bush is rough enough in all conscience, but I never yet saw the road that I tackled (and I have tackled some rum ones in New Zealand), that I got beat at; for why, in the most desperate pinches my bullocks will do everything I tell them, and hang on like tigers, or ‘back,’ ‘gee off,’ or ‘come to me,’ just as I speak to them, and now that I am here I will take one load with me anyhow.”

“Well, turn out your bullocks at once, the poor things are blowing hard, after their long tramp. Wallace and Samson are looking well, and indeed they are all looking well. I wonder how you manage to keep them so, with all the work you give them.”

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“It is all by care in using them. Whenever they look fagged I spell them, and then, I know how to drive them.”

I smiled at this reminder of the well remembered, yet well merited conceit of my old friend; for whom now, in my genuine pleasure at meeting him, I thought to dispense with the forms of society by inviting him to join the assembled company in the sitting-room. But I might have spared myself the trouble of such a request. Lilly was too independent to feel even flattered at such a mark of favour. “No, Mr. Farquharson, thank you,” he bluntly replied to my invitation, “though I concern myself about no man's position, as I reckon myself as good as the highest in the land. Yet I know my own place, and I shall feel best pleased with what I have been always accustomed to, and with parlour manners I should be very like a fish out of water, so I'll just away to the kitchen and fare with the hands there.”

“Well, Lilly, just as you like; we will see you after dinner, however, and have all your news. There are scarcely any but old friends here, you know.”

“Aye, aye, I'll be with you then,” he replied, as he proceeded to unyoke his bullocks, and I returned inside.

“Well, ladies, our old Christmas party with but two exceptions (one of whom we can well spare) has come together again; here is our old friend Lilly come to join us; he is outside there with his team.”

“Lilly here?” replied Mrs. Campbell, “how strange that he should come here just now; however did he find his way?”

“Lilly here?” chimed in both girls with looks of unaffected pleasure at the announcement. “Oh, that is good news, we shall have some fun now.” “Yes,” added Jessie, “Lilly was always a favourite with me. I think he is so kind, though he speaks so bluntly, and he can look so gruff, when things don't go according to his mind.”

“Yes,” I replied; “Lilly is not in the habit of mincing matters with anyone, but he is, for all that, a sterling fellow.”

“Yes,” remarked Mrs. Ayson, “I have often thought of him, and that wonderful damper that he baked for us in the ashes, and I have often made my friends in town laugh at my description of the scene. What a happy time that was, to be sure!”

Thus did Lilly's arrival occasion another ripple to our already overflowing measure of happiness. The conversation soon afterwards became general, Mr. M‘Gilvray sustaining a conspicuous part in it, with a highland twang in his accent, that a colonial rearing from his boyhood had not been able to eradicate. His voice at times mingling with Mr. Campbell's more solid brogue in the discussion of the practical details of sheep breeding, page 223 and qualities of wool; or in lively sallies with Jessie, with whom he seemed to delight to engage in a bout of wit and repartee, commended him to my attention as a quick-quitted, intelligent, and plucky young fellow. Occasionally too, Lilly's loud hearty laugh echoing from the kitchen, informed us of his perfect contentment there, in the society of Tiny, whose softer, but merry tones could also be heard ringing out a happy response.