Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand
“Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.”—Proverbs xxvii. 23.
The end of my narrative is now at hand; and the readers who have found sufficient interest in these pages, to accompany me so far, will now be in a fair position to form an estimate of my individual character. There is little of interest that remains to be told, and what there is, I will tell as briefly as I can.
To begin with, then, I will say that, in my new undertaking, matters prospered so well with me, that, thanks to my unremitting attention and diligent economy, in six years I had little more than £300 remaining unpaid of my monetary obligations to those generous friends who had started me in this run; moreover, I had repaid the £500 still owing to my kinsman.
At this time, however, a change in the conditions of the land tenure of runholders necessitated my making—in order to preserve the best of my station from being cut up into farm allotments—freehold of all this land, comprising 15,000 acres—excellent arable land the whole of it. All this I was enabled to secure only by the use of such influence in high quarters as, I confess, had the effect of raising a howl of indignation from page 321 the popular party at such unprincipled “toadeying” to the interests of the “bloated squatter,” for I had secured it all at the upset price of £1 per acre. As I, however, felt quite justified in an action that was quite legal, this howl I paid but little attention to.
The necessity for this purchase however threw me back in my monetary obligations almost to my starting point six years before, though of course with property much increased in value, as being freehold. Though a sudden fall in the price of wool (that, however, regained its former value in the market in a couple of seasons) a few years after making this purchase gave me an anxious time while it lasted, yet, steadily pursuing the same method and economy of expenditure as before, I contrived to avoid the rocks on which so many runholders struck, to wit, extravagant expenditure of money on improvements, and wasteful farming.
At the time of my writing this, my place is almost free from debt and in excellent working order. All this, I imagine, is saying a great deal in face of the sharp experience of so many years of depression, that runholders, as well as other business men, have had to face. And now the near prospect of a move from the time-worn primitive residence in which we have hitherto resided, to one of a more pretentious class—a long deferred hope—seems to mark the culmination of happiness to Jessie and myself.
“Jessie and yourself? What! You really married Jessie after all, and not a word to say how it came about?”
Yes! Of further romance in this matter there remains no more to be told. The cause of the sudden change in my love prospects can be related in a very few words.
It was on a hint that I received from Mary—mind you, ere I had been aware of the sudden brilliant change that was dawning upon my prospects—that she had often seen Jessie crying over my photograph, on my sudden disappearance after the collapse of my lake station, that I conceived that my prospects with her were not quite so desperate as I had been led to believe. After this I took the very earliest opportunity I could for an interview with Jessie, and after a very few words of passionate entreaty, she let the mask of indifference fall from her sweet loving face, and with an irrepressible burst of tears, leant her head upon my shoulder, while I pressed her in a fond embrace to the heart that had so long and loyally treasured her. Shortly afterwards we were married by the Rev. Dr. Stuart. Now I have six healthy boys and one girl, who is the youngest and the pet.
It appeared that John M‘Gilvray had really entertained page 322 thoughts of asking Jessie's hand; but he was a clever, practical man who would be the very last to break his heart for a woman's love. His common sense soon showed him that with Jessie he had not the ghost of a chance. Yet, by a singular coincidence, at the time that he made this discovery, he also made another, and that was the superior charms, in his eyes at least, of Jessie's sister Mary; and they were married at the same time, and by the same kindly hands as Jessie and I. They immediately settled down on the station owned by John's father that was given to the son by him. They, too, have now several blooming children. Thus was Mrs. Campbell in one day deprived of both her daughters. But she bore her loss the more resignedly, that one of them was afterwards to be her own next neighbour. Mr. Carmichael, however, made a sort of good-humoured protest at being then suddenly deprived of what he termed his two bonnie housekeepers, but he was laughed and kissed into acquiescence with the necessities of the case.
Shortly after my own marriage and settlement in life were thus accomplished, I became concerned about Lilly. We were frequently at one another's places, and I observed that he was becoming silent and moody. It was not that he was dissatisfied with his new home, for he had expressed himself as being delighted with it, and upon his arrival there had set himself to work with his accustomed energy, upon his improvements and management, when all of a sudden he began to grow listless and careworn. The fact was, that Lilly, who never had more than one heart for a woman's love, had offered that to Tiny, who, from what seemed to be mere feminine caprice, had declined the gift. Tiny was now staying with her parents, who owned a farm not many miles away, in the same district in which Lilly and I had settled.
Tiny's motives, however, for refusing Lilly, were not those of mere feminine caprice, for she in reality entertained such a genuine regard for him that her own heart smote her sorely in being obliged to give him the pain of this refusal. It was simply a matter of religious principle that had caused this conscientious girl to act in the manner she did. Tiny was a strictly Bible-taught Presbyterian, whilst, by profession at least, Lilly was a Roman Catholic, Now, whatever effect love's all potent influence might yet possibly have in softening down Tiny's own conscientious objections on this head, by Tiny's mother, a rigid Presbyterian of inflexible principles and old world prejudices, popish views were looked upon with horror, so that this was deemed an insuperable bar to her daughter's union with Lilly.page 323
With all this I was fully acquainted, as Tiny had detailed it all to Jessie, hence my information on the subject. Much therefore did I cogitate on the possibility of being able to reconcile these jarring elements, that threatened to sap the happiness of my old friend's hitherto contented life.
Of old I had known that Lilly's religion was simply traditional, and that real attachment to the leading Romish doctrines he had none; or rather, I should say, that to some such—as the celibacy of the clergy—their claims to the power of forgiveness of sins, and of papal infallibility, he was roundly antagonistic. I knew, moreover, that beyond what information he had been able to gather from the wordy disputes of polemical shepherds, and shearers, in the station huts in Australia, that doctrinal knowledge of the rival merits of Popery and Protestantism he actually had none. For among the elements that went to make up Lilly's early scanty education, religious teaching was an item that had been left out of the question altogether.
Love is a potent factor in helping most people to overcome difficulties that stand in the way of its consummation. In the present instance, at my suggestion, it caused Lilly, in order, as he said, to see to the bottom of this doctrinal difficulty, to resort to the local clergyman for information. A better step he could not have taken, for this Mr. Davidson was a well read person. He was particularly well versed in all the points at issue between Catholics and Protestants, and, being as pious as he was erudite, it was a matter of delight to himself to help Lilly through his difficulties, by faithfully explaining the different renderings of these doctrinal texts. He did not stop there, for besides mere doctrinal knowledge, he revealed in his teaching the Christ who was behind all these doctrines, until such scales fell from my old friend's darkened eyes, that at length, instead of a blind traditional adherent to a Church, the chief of whose doctrines he had ever repudiated, he was able to say with humble earnestness, “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see”.
To Tiny Sutherland, with her rigid, Bible-loving mother's consent, he was shortly afterwards wedded, and the little group of fair, curly-haired and dark-eyed toddlers—according as they reflect the images of either parent—may be seen now about the door, to prove that their union has not been fruitless. And a fond father Lilly makes; for, when in the house, he is seldom to be seen without one of his children on his knee. He has prospered also; and although his bluntness of speech, impatient spirit, and sarcastic wit are, as of old, still outward manifestations of the irrepressible Old Adam, yet behind these page 324 is a spirit of earnest, Christian consistency. This, combined with his strong force of character and keen sagacity, has caused Lilly's opinion to be deferred to on all matters of public interest that crop up in the neighbouring borough of Risington. As of old, when the influence of these traits gave him such prominence among the rough and ready and frequently fractious bushmen in Australia, they still carry the same marked influence with all classes here, and all this influence is always on the side of good. His old mechanical and manual ingenuity were also here strikingly and amusingly exemplified. Although Lilly had probably hardly ever seen a plough at work until after purchasing his own farm, yet, determining to obtain a thorough insight into the working of this implement, he undertook the holding of it himself; nor did he desist, until at ploughing matches, in two successive years, he, first with the single, and next with the double furrow plough, carried off the first prize, defeating on both occasions competitors renowned over all the districts round. After this he resigned the further working of the plough to his hired man.
Of William Lampiere, too, there remains something to be told. It was several years after my settlement in the Wind-away district, that one evening, among the contents of the mail's budget, there came a parcel, which, on being opened, turned out to be a slim volume of poems, on the gilt lettering of the green cloth covering of which I saw printed, to my great surprise and pleasure.
My first impulse was to send a messenger post haste to summon Lilly to view this permanent memento of his friend's poetical talent, but a second thought caused me to pause in my purpose. Lampiere had, since parting on the Darling, kept up a regular correspondence with Lilly; and although Lilly's distaste to the use of a pen amounted almost to a positive aversion, yet his genuine affection for Lampiere constrained him to write in acknowledgment of his friend's monthly epistle about twice in the year. I, therefore, judged that the same post that brought this book to me had brought another to Lilly also. Indeed I thought it would be strange if Lilly did page 325 not shortly appear to tell me of the very news that I was on the point of sending to him.
It turned out as I had thought it would. In little more than an hour afterwards, Lilly came into the parlour, with an expression of exultation on his countenance, at what he considered such a convincing proof of Lampiere's genius that was almost laughable in its very childlike earnestness, the more so as it was in such singular contrast to the keen and almost sarcastic expression on Lilly's features at other times.
The book consisted of rather more than 100 pages. The poems were short, some of a meditative character, and others descriptive of bush scenes and scenery, and they certainly, in my judgment, showed merit in the earnestness of their tone and truthfulness of their colouring. But best of all in Lilly's eyes there was his favourite poem the “Hutkeeper's Address”.
I observed afterwards some critical notices of this book in the Australian and New Zealand papers. Most of these were kindly and encouraging in their tone, save the aristocratic Australasian, that only deigned to notice this humble yet genuine contribution to colonial literature with a supercilious snub, “that proved the man who wrote it to be only a common snob,” as Lilly remarked in wrath when he read it.
About twelve months afterwards we had a visit from Lampiere himself. I was very glad to see him, and to know that he was doing well in his situation, and that his friend Burrel had succeeded so well with his literary journal, that it was now quite an established and widely-read periodical.
While he remained, he resided chiefly with Lilly. Although he always found a welcome in our house which he occasionally availed himself of. He seemed to be greatly entertained with the children, and a short poem that he wrote descriptive of our house and social amenities, Jessie declared to be prettier than any in the book. It was entitled “On the appearance of a home of Friends”.
“Their children numbered seven,
And beautiful were they,
With eyes like stars of heaven;
Brows open as the day,
There were Jim and Jack and Tom and Dick,
And Rab, and little Sandy,
And saucy Kate, her mother's pet,
Nicknamed Sugar Candy.”
Mrs. Howden and her father returned to Melbourne a few days after the business in connection with the purchase of my run page 326 was concluded. Although in her own quiet way supremely happy, that elasticity of spirit that had once imparted such a ringing joyousness to her manner Rachel never regained. In its place, her manners became pervaded by a deep, unostentatious piety. Of suitable offers of marriage—some of them representing positions in society that might well have tempted her, had she been influenced by feelings of personal vanity—she had several, but declined them all. True to her promise to Kate, he first care when she found herself settled at home was to invite the poor girl to place herself under her protection. This Kate, after some preliminary difficulty, at length consented to do when by Rachel's unremitting kindness and earnest conversation, she soon became completely reformed.
The happiest times in our home life are when it is brightened with Rachel's presence during the occasional visits to New Zealand, when the principal part of her time is distributed equally among her former friends, the Campbells, M‘Gilvrays and ourselves. If her wealth, as her father's sole heir, is great the sums that she annually disburses on behalf of various charities are also great, and to such as work in the direction of providing for the reclamation of such as Kate Donovan, her sympathy is ever ready and her purse ever open.
As for Charles Howden, the calm brightness of his life's middle age seems to have amply compensated for the troubled clouds that had so long obscured its spring. He breaks the monotony of his town life by visits to his country friends. To me his face is ever welcome, and his society ever a boon. But it is chiefly with the Campbells that his time is spent.
Of the manner of Selim's end, it now but remains to say a few words ere I close this narrative.
About seven years after my settlement on my station, on going out one morning to the paddock, to my sorrow, I found Selim—who, save in the severest weather, was always suffered to go in the paddock, as with his natural hardy constitution he took badly to the stable—lying down, with his legs bent under him, in a paroxysm of cramp. I tried what remedies I could think of to recover him, but in vain. The sands of life with my brave old steed were evidently running out. The effects of former toil had told at last, and his once powerful constitution had suddenly collapsed. I was not able to get him on his legs again. And the most trying action that I was ever called upon to perform in my life, was when, after tying my handkerchief round his eyes (thereby sparing myself the additional pang of observing the intelligent animal's possible consciousness of the action that cruel necessity impelled me to), I put the muzzle of my revolver almost against his forehead, and pulling page 327 the trigger, thus put him beyond the reach of pain that I could not otherwise relieve. Digging a deep pit beside him, I there interred him, and at his head, I had shortly afterwards a large squire post erected to commemorate the spot where lay the remains of the brave companion of my wanderings.
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