Geoffrey Hamlyn, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 25

In which the New Dean of B—— Makes His Appearance, and Astonishes the Major Out of His Propriety.

One evening towards the end of that winter Mrs. Buckley and Sam sat alone before the fire, in the quickly-gathering darkness. The candles were yet unlighted, but the cheerful flickering light produced by the combustion of three or four logs of sheoak, topped by one of dead gum, shone most pleasantly on the wellordered dining-room, on the close-drawn curtains, on the nicely-polished furniture, on the dinner-table, laid with fair array of white linen, silver, and glass, but, above all, on the honest, quiet face of Sam, who sat before his mother in an easy chair, with his head back, fast asleep.

While she is alternately casting glances of pride and affection towards her sleeping son, and keen looks on the gum log, in search of centipedes, let us take a look at her ourselves, and see how sixteen years have behaved to that handsome face. There is change here, but no deterioration. It is a little rounder perhaps, and also a little fuller in colour, but there are no lines there yet. “Happiness and ceaseless good temper don’t make many wrinkles, even in a warmer climate than old England,” says the Major, and says, also, confidentially, to Brentwood, “Put a red camelia in her hair, and send her to the opera even now, and see what a sensation she would make, though she is nearer fifty than forty,”— which was strictly true, although said by her husband, for the raven hair is as black as it was when decorated with the moss-roses of Clere, and the eye is as brilliant as when it flashed with the news of Trafalgar.

Now, the beautiful profile is turned again towards the sleeper as he moves. “Poor boy!” she said. “He is quite knocked up. He must have been twenty-four hours in the saddle. However, he had better be after cattle than in a billiard-room. I wonder if his father will be home to-night.”

Suddenly Sam awoke. “Heigho!” said he. “I’m nice company, mother. Have I been asleep?”

“Only for an hour or so, my boy,” said she. “See; I’ve been defending you while you slumbered. I have killed three centipedes, which came out of that old gum log. I cut this big one in half with the fire-shovel, and the head part walked away as if nothing had happened. I must tell the man not to give us rotten wood, or some of us will be getting a nip. It’s a long fifty miles from Captain Brentwood’s,” said Mrs. Buckley after a time. “And that’s a very good day’s work for little Bronsewing, carrying your father.”

“And what has been the news since I have been away — eh, mother?”

“Why, the greatest news is that the Donovans have sold their station, and are off to Port Phillip.”

“All the world is moving there,” said Sam. “Who has he sold it to?”

“That I can’t find out. — There’s your father, my love.”

There was the noise of horses’ feet and merry voices in the little gravelled yard behind the house, heard above a joyous barking of dogs. Sam ran out to hold his father’s horse, and soon came into the room again, accompanied by his father and Captain Brentwood.

After the first greetings were over, candles were lighted, and the three men stood on the hearth-rug together — a very remarkable group, as you would have said, had you seen them. You might go a long while in any country without seeing three such men in company.

Captain Brentwood, of Artillery renown, was a square, powerfully built man, say five-foot-ten in height. His face, at first sight, appeared rather a stupid one beside the Major’s, expressing rather determination than intelligence; but once engage him in a conversation which interested him, and you would be surprised to see how animated it could become. Then the man, usually so silent, would open up the store-house of his mind, speaking with an eloquence and a force which would surprise one who did not know him, and which made the Doctor often take the losing side of an argument for the purpose of making him speak. Add to this that he was a thoroughly amiable man, and, as Jim would tell you (in spite of a certain severe whipping you wot of), a most indulgent and excellent father.

Major Buckley’s shadow had grown no less — nay, rather greater, since first we knew him. In other respects, very little alteration, except that his curling brown hair had grown thinner about the temples, and was receding a little from his forehead. But what cared he for that! He was not the last of the Buckleys.

One remarks now, as the two stand together, that Sam, though but nineteen, is very nearly as tall as his father, and promises to be as broad across the shoulders some day, being an exception to colonially-bred men in general, who are long and narrow. He is standing and talking to his father.

“Well, Sam,” said the Major, “so you’re back safe — eh, my boy! A rough time, I don’t doubt. Strange store-cattle are queer to drive at any time, particularly such weather as you have had.”

“And such a lot, too!” said Sam. “Tell you what, father: it’s lucky you’ve got them cheap, for the half of them are off the ranges.”

“Scrubbers, eh?” said the Major; “well, we must take what we can catch, with this Port Phillip rush. Let’s sit down to dinner; I’ve got some news that will please you. Fish, eh? See there, Brentwood! What do you think of that for a blackfish? (What was his weight, my dear?)”

“Seven pounds and a half, as the black fellows brought him in,” said Mrs. Buckley.

“A very pretty fish,” said the Major. “My dear, what is the news?”

“Why, the Donovans have sold their station.”

“Ha! ha!” laughed the Major. “Why, we have come from there today. Why, we were there last night at a grand party. All the Irishmen in the country side. Such a turmoil I haven’t seen since I was quartered at Cove. So that’s your news — eh?”

“And so you stepped on there without calling at home, did you?” said Mrs. Buckley. “And perhaps you know who the purchaser is.”

“Don’t you know, my love?”

“No, indeed!” said Mrs. Buckley. “I have been trying to find out these two days. It would be very pleasant to have a good neighbour there — not that I wish to speak evil of the Donovans; but really they did go on in such terrible style, you know, that one could not go there. Now, tell me who has bought Garoopna.”

“One Brentwood, captain of Artillery.”

“Nonsense!” said Mrs. Buckley. “Is he not joking now, Captain Brentwood? That is far too good news to be true.”

“It is true, nevertheless, madam,” said Captain Brentwood. “I thought it would meet with your approval, and I can see by Sam’s face that it meets with his. You see, my dear lady, Buckley has got to be rather necessary to me. I miss him when he is absent, and I want to be more with him. Again, I am very fond of my son Jim, and my son Jim is very fond of your son Sam, and is always coming here after him when he ought to be at home. So I think I shall see more of him when we are ten miles apart than when we are fifty. And, once more, my daughter Alice, now completing her education in Sydney, comes home to keep house for me in a few months, and I wish her to have the advantage of the society of the lady whom I honour and respect above all others. So I have bought Garoopna.”

“If that courtly bow is intended for me, my dear Captain,” said Mrs. Buckley, “as I cannot but think it is, believe me that your daughter shall be as my daughter.”

“Teach her to be in some slight degree like yourself, Mrs. Buckley,” said the Captain, “and you will put me under obligations which I can never repay.”

“Altogether, wife,” said the Major, “it is the most glorious arrangement that ever was come to. Let us take a glass of sherry all round on it. Sam, my lad, your hand! Brentwood, we have none of us ever seen your daughter. She should be handsome.”

“You remember her mother?” said the Captain.

“Who could ever forget Lady Kate who had once seen her?” said the Major.

“Well, Alice is more beautiful than her mother ever was.”

There went across the table a bright electric spark out of Mrs. Buckley’s eye into her husband’s, as rapid as those which move the quivering telegraph needles, and yet not unobserved, I think, by Captain Brentwood, for there grew upon his face a pleasant smile, which, rapidly broadening, ended in a low laugh, by no means disagreeable to hear, though Sam wondered what the joke could be, until the Captain said —

“An altogether comical party that last night at the Donovans’, Buckley! The most comical I ever was at.”

Nevertheless, I don’t believe that it was that which made him laugh at all.

“A capital party!” said the Major, laughing. “Do you know, Brentwood, I always liked those Donovans, under the rose, and last night I liked them better than ever. They were not such very bad neighbours, although old Donovan wanted to fight a duel with me once. At all events, the welcome I got last night will make me remember them kindly in future.”

“I must go down and call there before they go,” said Mrs. Buckley. “People who have been our neighbours so many years must not go away without a kind farewell. Was Desborough there?”

“Indeed, he was. Don’t you know he is related to the Donovans?”

“Impossible!”

“Fact, my dear, I assure you, according to Mrs. Donovan, who told me that the De Novans and the Desboroughs were cognate Norman families, who settled in Ireland together, and have since frequently inter-married.”

“I suppose,” said Mrs. Buckley, laughing, “that Desborough did not deny it.”

“Not at all, my dear: as he said to me privately, ‘Buckley, never deny a relationship with a man worth forty thousand pounds, the least penny, though your ancestors’ bones should move in their graves.’”

“I suppose,” said Mrs. Buckley, “that he made himself as agreeable as usual.”

“As usual, my dear! He made even Brentwood laugh; he danced all the evening with that giddy girl Lesbia Burke, who let slip that she remembered me at Naples in 1805, when she was there with that sad old set, and who consequently must be nearly as old as myself.”

“I hope you danced with her,” said Mrs. Buckley.

“Indeed I did, my dear. And she wore a wreath of yellow chrysanthemum, no other flowers being obtainable. I assure you we ‘kept the flure’ in splendid style.”

They were all laughing at the idea of the Major dancing, when Sam exclaimed, “Good Lord!”

“What’s the matter my boy?” said the Major.

“I must cry peccavi,” said Sam. “Father, you will never forgive me! I forgot till this moment a most important message. I was rather knocked up, you see, and went to sleep, and that sent it out of my head.”

“You are forgiven, my boy, be it what it may. I hope it is nothing very serious.”

“Well, it is very serious,” said Sam. “As I was coming by Hanging Rock, I rode up to the door a minute, to see if Cecil was at home — and Mrs. Mayford came out and wanted me to get off and come in, but I hadn’t time; and she said, ‘The Dean is coming here to-night, and he’ll be with you tomorrow night, I expect. So don’t forget to tell your mother.’”

“To-morrow night!” said Mrs. Buckley, aghast. “Why, my dear, boy, that is to-night! What shall I do?”

“Nothing at all, my love,” said the Major, “but make them get some supper ready. He can’t have expected us to wait dinner till this time.”

“I thought,” said Captain Brentwood, “that the Dean was gone back to England.”

“So he is,” said the Major. “But this is a new one. The good old Dean has resigned.”

“What is the new one’s name?” said the Captain.

“I don’t know,” said the Major. “Desborough said it was a Doctor Maypole, and that he was very like one in appearance. But you can’t trust Desborough, you know; he never remembers names. I hope he may be as good a man as his predecessor.”

“I hope he may be no worse,” said Captain Brentwood; “but I hope, in addition, that he may be better able to travel, and look after his outlying clergy a little more.”

“It looks like it,” said the Major, “to be down as far as this, before he has been three months installed.”

Mrs. Buckley went out to the kitchen to give orders; and after that, they sat for an hour or more over their wine, till at length, the Major said —

“We must give him up in another hour.”

Then, as if they had heard him, the dogs began to bark. Rover, who had, against rules, sneaked into the house, and lain PERDU under the sofa, discovered his retreat by low growling, as though determined to do his duty, let the consequences be what they might. Every now and then, too, when his feelings overpowered him, he would discharge a ‘Woof,’ like a minute gun at sea.

“That must be him, father,” said Sam. “You’ll catch it, Mr. Rover!”

He ran out; a tall black figure was sitting on horseback before the door, and a pleasant cheery voice said, “Pray, is this Major Buckley’s?”

“Yes, sir,” said Sam; “we have been expecting you.”

He called for the groom and held the stranger’s horse while he dismounted. Then he assisted him to unstrap his valise, and carried it in after him.

The Major, Mrs. Buckley, and the Captain had risen, and were standing ready to greet the Church dignitary as he came in, in the most respectful manner. But when the Major had looked for a moment on the tall figure in black, which advanced towards the fire, instead of saying, “Sir, I am, highly honoured by your visit,” or, “Sir, I bid you most heartily welcome,” he dashed forward in the most undignified fashion, upsetting a chair, and seizing the reverend Dean by both hands, exclaimed, “God bless my heart and soul! Frank Maberly!”

It was he: the mad curate, now grown into a colonial dean — sobered, apparently, but unchanged in any material point: still elastic and upright, looking as if for twopence he would take off the black cutaway coat and the broad-brimmed hat, and row seven in the University eight, at a moment’s notice. There seems something the matter with him though, as he holds the Major’s two hands in his, and looks on his broad handsome face. Something like a shortness of breath prevented his speech, and, strange, the Major seems troubled with the same complaint; but Frank gets over it first, and says —

“My dear old friend, I am so glad to see you!”

And Mrs. Buckley says, laying her hand upon his arm, “It seems as if all things were arranged to make my husband and myself the happiest couple in the world. If we had been asked to-night, whom of all people in the world we should have been most glad to see as the new Dean, we should have answered at once, Frank Maberly; and here he is!”

“Then, you did not know whom to expect,” said Frank.

“Not we, indeed,” said the Major. “Desborough said the new Dean was a Doctor Maypole; and I pictured to myself an old schoolmaster with a birch rod in his coat tail-pocket. And we have been in such a stew all the evening about giving the great man a proper reception. Ha! ha! ha!”

“And will you introduce me to this gentleman?” said the Dean, moving towards Sam, who stood behind his mother.

“This,” said the Major, with a radiant smile, “is my son Samuel, whom, I believe, you have seen before.”

“So, the pretty boy that I knew at Drumston,” said the Dean, laying his hands on Sam’s shoulders, “has grown into this noble gentleman! It makes me feel old, but I am glad to feel old under such circumstances. Let me turn your face to the light and see if I can recognise the little lad whom I used to carry pickaback across Hatherleigh Water.”

Sam looked in his face — such a kindly good placid face, that it seemed beautiful, though by some rules it was irregular and ugly enough. The Dean laid his hand on Sam’s curly head, and said, “God bless you, Samuel Buckley,” and won Sam’s heart for ever.

All this time Captain Brentwood had stood with his back against the chimney-piece, perfectly silent, having banished all expression from his countenance; now, however, Major Buckley brought up the Dean and introduced him:—

“My dear Brentwood, the Dean of B——; not Dean to us though, so much as our dear old friend Frank Maberly.”

“Involved grammar,” said the Captain to himself, but, added aloud: “A Churchman of your position, sir, will do me an honour by using my house; but the Mr. Maberly of whom I have so often heard from my friend Buckley will do me a still higher honour if he will allow me to enrol him among the number of my friends.”

Frank the Dean thought that Captain Brentwood’s speech would have made a good piece to turn into Greek prose, in the style of Demosthenes; but he didn’t say so. He looked at the Captain’s stolid face for a moment, and said, as Sam thought, a little abruptly:

“I think, sir, that you and I shall get on very well together when we understand one another.”

The Captain made no reply in articulate speech, but laughed internally, till his sides shook, and held out his hand. The Dean laughed too, as he took it, and said:

“I met a young lady at the Bishop’s the other day, a Miss Brentwood.”

“My daughter, sir,” said the Captain.

“So I guessed — partly from the name, and partly from a certain look about the eyes, rather unmistakeable. Allow me to say, sir, that I never remember to have seen such remarkable beauty in my life.”

They sat Frank down to supper, and when he had done, the conversation was resumed.

“By-the-bye, Major Buckley,” said he, “I miss an old friend, who I heard was living with you; a very dear old friend — where is Doctor Mulhaus?”

“Dear Doctor,” said Mrs. Buckley; “this is his home indeed, but he is away at present on an expedition with two old Devon friends, Hamlyn and Stockbridge.”

“Oh!” said Frank, “I have heard of those men; they came out here the year before the Vicar died. I never knew either of them, but I well remember how kindly Stockbridge used to be spoken of by everyone in Drumston. I must make his acquaintance.”

“You will make the acquaintance of one of the finest fellows in the world, Dean,” said the Major; “I know no worthier man than Stockbridge. I wish Mary Thornton had married him.”

“And I hear,” said Frank, “that the pretty Mary is your next door neighbour, in partnership with that excellent giant Troubridge. I must go and see them tomorrow. I will produce one of those great roaring laughs of his, by reminding him of our first introduction at the Palace, through a rat.”

“I am sorry to say,” said the Major, “that Tom is away at Port Phillip, with cattle.”

“Port Phillip, again,” said Frank; “I have heard of nothing else throughout my journey. I am getting bored with it. Will you tell me what you know about it for certain?”

“Well,” said the Major, “it lies about 250 miles south of this, though we cannot get at it without crossing the mountains, in consequence of some terribly dense scrub on some low ranges close to it, which they call, I believe, the Dandenong. It appears, however, when you are there, that there is a great harbour, about forty miles long, surrounded with splendid pastures, which stretch west further than any man has been yet. Take it all in all, I should say it was the best watered, and most available piece of country yet discovered in New Holland.”

“Any good rivers?” asked the Dean.

“Plenty of small ones, only one of any size, apparently, which seems to rise somewhere in this direction, and goes in at the head of the bay. They tried years ago to form a settlement on this bay, but Collins, the man entrusted with it, could find no fresh water, which seems strange, as there is, according to all accounts, a fine full-flowing river running by the town.”

“They have formed a town there, then?” said the Dean.

“There are a few wooden houses gone up by the river side. I believe they are going to make a town there, and call it Melbourne; we may live to see it a thriving place.”

The Major has lived to see his words fulfilled — fulfilled in such marvellous sort, that bald bare statistics read like the wildest romance. At the time he spoke, twenty-two years ago from this present year 1858, the Yarra rolled its clear waters to the sea through the unbroken solitude of a primeval forest, as yet unseen by the eye of a white man. Now there stands there a noble city, with crowded wharves, containing with its suburbs not less than 120,000 inhabitants. A thousand vessels have lain at one time side by side, off the mouth of that little river, and through the low sandy heads that close the great port towards the sea, thirteen millions sterling of exports is carried away each year by the finest ships in the world. Here, too, are waterworks constructed at fabulous expense, a service of steam-ships, between this and the other great cities of Australia, vieing in speed and accommodation with the coasting steamers of Great Britain; noble churches, handsome theatres. In short, a great city, which, in its amazing rapidity of growth, utterly surpasses all human experience.

I never stood in Venice contemplating the decay of the grand palaces of her old merchant princes, whose time has gone by for ever. I never watched the slow downfal of a great commercial city; but I have seen what to him who thinks aright is an equally grand subject of contemplation — the rapid rise of one. I have seen what but a small moiety of the world, even in these days, has seen, and what, save in this generation, has never been seen before, and will, I think, never be seen again. I have seen Melbourne. Five years in succession did I visit that city, and watch each year how it spread and grew until it was beyond recognition. Every year the press became denser, and the roar of the congregated thousands grew louder, till at last the scream of the flying engine rose above the hubbub of the streets, and two thousand miles of electric wire began to move the clicking needles with ceaseless intelligence.

Unromantic enough, but beyond all conception wonderful. I stood at the east end of Bourke Street, not a year ago, looking at the black swarming masses, which thronged the broad thoroughfare below. All the town lay at my feet, and the sun was going down beyond the distant mountains; I had just crossed from the front of the new Houses of Legislature, and had nearly been run over by a great omnibus. Partly to recover my breath, and partly, being not used to large cities, to enjoy the really fine scene before me, I stood at the corner of the street in contemplative mood. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and looked round — it was Major Buckley.

“This is a wonderful sight, Hamlyn,” said he.

“When you think of it,” I said, “really think of it, you know, how wonderful it is!”

“Brentwood,” said the Major, “has calculated by his mathematics that the progress of the species is forty-seven, decimal eight, more rapid than it was thirty-five years ago.”

“So I should be prepared to believe,” I said; “where will it all end? Will it be a grand universal republic, think you, in which war is unknown, and universal prosperity has banished crime? I may be too sanguine, but such a state of things is possible. This is a sight which makes a man look far into the future.”

“Prosperity,” said the Major, “has not done much towards abolishing crime in this town, at all events; and it would not take much to send all this back into its primeval state.”

“How so, Major?” said I; “I see here the cradle of a new and mighty empire.”

“Two rattling good thumps of an earthquake,” said the Major, “would pitch Melbourne into the middle of Port Phillip, and bury all the gold far beyond the reach even of the Ballarat deep-sinkers. Come down and dine with me at the club.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44