On a summer’s morning, almost before the dew had left the grass on the north side of the forest, or the belated opossum had gone to his nest, in fact just as the East was blazing with its brightest fire, Sam started off for a pleasant canter through the forest, to visit one of their out-station huts, which lay away among the ranges, and which was called, from some old arrangement, now fallen into disuse, “the heifer station.”
There was the hut, seen suddenly down a beautiful green vista in the forest, the chimney smoking cheerily. “What a pretty contrast of colours!” says Sam, in a humour for enjoying everything. “Dark brown hut among the green shrubs, and blue smoke rising above all; prettily, too, that smoke hangs about the foliage this still morning, quite in festoons. There’s Matt at the door!”
A lean long-legged clever-looking fellow, rather wide at the knees, with a brown complexion, and not unpleasant expression of face, stood before the door plaiting a cracker for his stockwhip. He looked pleased when he saw Sam, and indeed it must be a surly fellow indeed, who did not greet Sam’s honest phiz with a smile. Never a dog but wagged his tail when he caught Sam’s eye.
“You’re abroad early this morning, sir,” said the man; “nothing the matter; is there, sir?”
“Nothing,” said Sam, “save that one of Captain Brentwood’s bulls is missing, and I came out to tell you to have an extra look round.”
“I’ll attend to it, sir.”
“Hi! Matt,” said Sam, “you look uncommonly smart.”
Matt bent down his head, and laughed, in a rather sheepish sort of way.
“Well, you see, sir, I was coming into the home station to see if the Major could spare me for a few days.”
“What, going a courting, eh? Well, I’ll make that all right for you. Who is the lady — eh?”
“Why, its Elsy Macdonald, I believe.”
“Elsy Macdonald!” said Sam.
“Ay, yes, sir. I know what you mean, but she ain’t like her sister; and that was more Mr. Charles Hawker’s fault than her own. No; Elsy is good enough for me, and I’m not very badly off, and begin to fancy I would like some better sort of welcome in the evening than what a cranky old brute of a hutkeeper can give me. So I think I shall bring her home.”
“I wish you well, Matt,” said Sam; “I hope you are not going to leave us though.”
“No fear, sir; Major Buckley is too good a master for that!”
“Well, I’ll get the hut coopered up a bit for you, and you shall be as comfortable as circumstances will permit. Good morning.”
“Good morning, sir; I hope I may see you happily married yourself some of these days.”
Sam laughed, “that would be a fine joke,” he thought, “but why shouldn’t it be, eh? I suppose it must come some time or another. I shall begin to look out; I don’t expect I shall be very easily suited. Heigh ho!”
I expect, however, Mr. Sam, that you are just in the state of mind to fall headlong in love with the first girl you meet with a nose on her face; let us hope, therefore, that she may be eligible.
But here is home again, and here is the father standing majestic and broad in the verandah, and the mother with her arm round his neck, both waiting to give him a hearty morning’s welcome. And there is Doctor Mulhaus kneeling in spectacles before his new Grevillea Victoria, the first bud of which is just bursting into life; and the dogs catch sight of him and dash forward, barking joyfully; and as the ready groom takes his horse, and the fat housekeeper looks out all smiles, and retreats to send in breakfast, Sam thinks to himself, that he could not leave his home and people, not for the best wife in broad Australia; but then you see, he knew no better.
“What makes my boy look so happy this morning?” asked his mother. “Has the bay mare foaled, or have you negotiated James Brentwood’s young dog? Tell us, that we may participate.”
“None of these things have happened, mother; but I feel in rather a holiday humour, and I’m thinking of going down to Garoopna this morning, and spending a day or two with Jim.”
“I will throw a shoe after you for luck,” said his mother. “See, the Doctor is calling you.”
Sam went to the Doctor, who was intent on his flower. “Look here, my boy; here is something new: the handsomest of the Grevilleas, as I live. It has opened since I was here.”
“Ah!” said Sam, “this is the one that came from the Quartz Ranges, last year; is it not? It has not flowered with you before.”
“If Linnaeus wept and prayed over the first piece of English furze which he saw,” said the Doctor, “what everlasting smelling-bottle hysterics he would have gone into in this country! I don’t sympathise with his tears much, though, myself; though a new flower is a source of the greatest pleasure to me.”
“And so you are going to Garoopna, Sam?” said his father, at breakfast. “Have you heard, my dear, when the young lady is to come home?”
“Next month, I understand, my dear,” said Mrs. Buckley. “When she does come I shall go over and make her a visit.”
“What is her name, by-the-bye?” asked the Doctor.
So, behold Sam starting for his visit. The very Brummel of bush-dandies. Hunt might have made his well-fitting cord breeches, Hoby might have made those black top-boots, and Chifney might have worn them before royalty, and not been shamed. It is too hot for coat or waistcoat; so he wears his snow-white shirt, topped by a blue “bird’s-eye-handkerchief,” and keeps his coat in his valise, to be used as occasion shall require. His costume is completed with a cabbage-tree hat, neither too new nor too old; light, shady, well ventilated, and three pounds ten, the production, after months of labour, of a private in her Majesty’s Fortieth Regiment of Foot: not with long streaming ribands down his back, like a Pitt Street bully, but with short and modest ones, as became a gentleman — altogether as fine a looking young fellow, as well dressed, and as well mounted too, as you will find on the country side.
Let me say a word about his horse, too; horse Widderin. None ever knew what that horse had cost Sam. The Major even had a delicacy about asking. I can only discover by inquiry that, at one time, about a year before this, there came to the Major’s a traveller, an Irishman by nation, who bored them all by talking about a certain “Highflyer” colt, which had been dropped to a happy proprietor by his mare “Larkspur,” among the Shoalhaven gullies; described by him as a colt the like of which was never seen before; as indeed he should be, for his sire Highflyer, as all the world knows, was bought up by a great Hunter-river horse-breeder from the Duke of C——; while his dam, Larkspur, had for grandsire the great Bombshell himself. What more would you have than that, unless you would like to drive Veno in your dog-cart? However, it so happened that, soon after the Irishman’s visit, Sam went away on a journey, and came back riding a new horse; which when the Major saw, he whistled, but discreetly said nothing. A very large colt it was, with a neck like a rainbow, set into a splendid shoulder, and a marvellous way of throwing his legs out; — very dark chestnut in colour, almost black, with longish ears, and an eye so full, honest, and impudent, that it made you laugh in his face. Widderin, Sam said, was his name, price and history being suppressed; called after Mount Widderin, to the northward there, whose loftiest sublime summit bends over like a horse’s neck, with two peaked crags for ears. And the Major comes somehow to connect this horse with the Highflyer colt mentioned by our Irish friend, and observes that Sam takes to wearing his old clothes for a twelvemonth, and never seems to have any ready money. We shall see some day whether or no this horse will carry Sam ten miles, if required, on such direful emergency, too, as falls to the lot of few men. However, this is all to come. Now in holiday clothes and in holiday mind, the two noble animals cross the paddock, and so down by the fence towards the river; towards the old gravel ford you may remember years ago. Here is the old flood, spouting and streaming as of yore, through the basalt pillars. There stand the three fern trees, too, above the dark scrub on the island. Now up the rock bank, and away across the breezy plains due North.
Brushing through the long grass tussocks, he goes his way singing, his dog Rover careering joyously before him. The horse is clearly for a gallop, but it is too hot today. The tall flat-topped volcanic hill which hung before him like a grey faint cloud, when he started, now rears its fluted columns overhead, and now is getting dim again behind him. But ere noon is high he once more hears the brawling river beneath his feet, and Garoopna is before him on the opposite bank.
The river, as it left Major Buckley’s at Baroona, made a sudden bend to the west, a great arc, including with its minor windings nearly twenty-five miles, over the chord of which arc Sam had now been riding, making, from point to point, ten miles, or thereabouts. The Mayfords’ station, also, lay to the left of him, being on the curved side of the arc, about five miles from Baroona. The reader may, if he please, remember this.
Garoopna was an exceedingly pretty station; in fact, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It stood at a point where the vast forests which surround the mountains in a belt, from ten to twenty miles broad, run down into the plains and touch the river. As at Baroona, the stream runs in through a deep cleft in the table land, which here, though precipitous on the eastern bank, on the western breaks away into a small natural amphitheatre bordered by fine hanging woods just in advance of which, about two hundred yards from the river, stood the house, a long, low building densely covered with creepers of all sorts, and fronted by a beautiful garden. Right and left of it were the woolsheds, sheepyards, stockyards, men’s huts etc. giving it almost the appearance of a little village; and behind the wooded ranges begin to rise, in some places broken beautifully by sheer scarps of grey rock. The forest crosses the river a little way, so Sam, gradually descending from the plains to cross, went the last quarter of a mile through a shady sandy forest tract, fringed with bracken, which leads down to a broad crossing place, where the river sparkles under tall over-arching red gums and box-trees; and then following the garden fence, found himself before a deep cool-looking porch, in a broad neatly-kept courtyard behind the house.
A groom came out and took his horse. Rover has enough to do; for there are three or four sheep dogs in the yard, who walk round him on tiptoe, slowly, with their frills out and their tails arched, growling. Rover, also, walks about on tiptoe, arches his tail, and growls with the best of them. He knows that the slightest mistake would be disastrous, and so manoeuvres till he gets to the porch, where, a deal of gravel having been kicked backwards, in the same way as the ancients poured out their wine when they drank a toast, or else (as I think is more probable) as a symbol that animosities were to be buried, Rover is admitted as a guest, and Sam feels it safe to enter the house.
A cool, shady hall, hung round with coats, hats, stockwhips; a gun in the corner, and on a slab, the most beautiful nosegay you can imagine. Remarkable that for a bachelor’s establishment; — but there is no time to think about it, for a tall, comfortable-looking housekeeper, whom Sam has never seen before, comes in from the kitchen and curtseys.
“Captain Brentwood not at home, is he?” said Sam.
“No, sir! Away on the run with Mr. James.”
“Oh! very well,” says Sam; “I am going to stay a few days.”
“Very well, sir; will you take anything before lunch?”
“Nothing, thank you.”
“Miss Alice is somewhere about sir. I expect her in every minute.”
“Miss Alice!” says Sam, astonished. “Is she come home?”
“Came home last week, sir. Will you walk in and sit down?”
Sam got his coat out of his valise, and went in. He wished that he had put on his plain blue necktie instead of the blue one with white spots. He would have liked to have worn his new yellow riding-trousers, instead of breeches and boots. He hoped his hair was in order, and tried to arrange his handsome brown curls without a glass, but, in the end, concluded that things could not be mended now, so he looked round the room.
What a charming room it was! A couple of good pictures, and several fine prints on the walls. Over the chimneypiece, a sword, and an old gold-laced cap, on which Sam looked with reverence. Three French windows opened on to a dark cool verandah, beyond which was a beautiful flower garden. The floor of the room, uncarpeted, shone dark and smooth, and the air was perfumed by vases of magnificent flowers, a hundred pounds worth of them, I should say, if you could have taken them to Covent-garden that December morning. But what took Sam’s attention more than anything was an open piano, in a shady recess, and on the keys a little fairy white glove.
“White kid gloves, eh, my lady?” says Sam; “that don’t look well.” So he looked through the bookshelves, and, having lighted on “Boswell’s Johnson,” proceeded into the verandah. A colley she-dog was lying at one end, who banged her tail against the floor in welcome, but was too utterly prostrated by the heat and by the persecution of her puppy to get up and make friends. The pup, however, a ball of curly black wool, with a brown-striped face, who was sitting on the top of her with his head on one side, seemed to conclude that a game of play was to be got out of Sam, and came blundering towards him; but Sam was, by this time, deep in a luxurious rocking-chair, so the puppy stopped half way, and did battle with a great black tarantula spider who happened to be abroad on business.
Sam went to the club with his immortal namesake, bullied Bennet Langton, argued with Beauclerk, put down Goldsmith, and extinguished Boswell. But it was too hot to read; so he let the book fall on his lap, and lay a-dreaming.
What a delicious verandah is this to dream in! Through the tangled passion-flowers, jessamines and magnolias, what a soft gleam of bright hazy distance, over the plains and far away! The deep river-glen cleaves the table-land, which, here and there, swells into breezy downs. Beyond, miles away to the north, is a great forest-barrier, above which there is a blaze of late snow, sending strange light aloft into the burning haze. All this is seen through an arch in the dark mass of verdure which clothed the trellis-work, only broken through in this one place, as though to make a frame for the picture. He leans back, and gives himself up to watching trifles.
See here. A magpie comes furtively out of the house with a key in his mouth, and, seeing Sam, stops to consider if he is likely to betray him. On the whole he thinks not; so he hides the key in a crevice, and whistles a tune.
Now enters a cockatoo, waddling along confortably and talking to himself. He tries to enter into conversation with the magpie, who, however, cuts him dead, and walks off to look at the prospect.
Flop, flop, a great foolish-looking kangaroo comes through the house and peers round him. The cockatoo addresses a few remarks to him, which he takes no notice of, but goes blundering out into the garden, right over the contemplative magpie, who gives him two or three indignant pecks on his clumsy feet, and sends him flying down the gravel walk.
Two bright-eyed little kangaroo rats come out of their box peering and blinking. The cockatoo finds an audience in them, for they sit listening to him, now and then catching a flea, or rubbing the backs of their heads with their fore-paws. But a buck ‘possum, who stealthily descends by a pillar from unknown realms of mischief on the top of the house, evidently discredits cocky’s stories, and departs down the garden to see if he can find something to eat.
An old cat comes up the garden walk, accompanied by a wicked kitten, who ambushes round the corner of the flowerbed, and pounces out on her mother, knocking her down and severely maltreating her. But the old lady picks herself up without a murmur, and comes into the verandah followed by her unnatural offspring, ready for any mischief. The kangaroo rats retire into their box, and the cockatoo, rather nervous, lays himself out to be agreeable.
But the puppy, born under an unlucky star, who has been watching all these things from behind his mother, thinks at last, “Here is some one to play with,” so he comes staggering forth and challenges the kitten to a lark.
She receives him with every symptom of disgust and abhorrence; but he, regardless of all spitting, and tail swelling, rolls her over, spurring and swearing, and makes believe he will worry her to death. Her scratching and biting tell but little on his woolly hide, and he seems to have the best of it out and out, till a new ally appears unexpectedly, and quite turns the tables. The magpie hops up, ranges alongside of the combatants, and catches the puppy such a dig over the tail as sends him howling to his mother with a flea in his ear.
Sam lay sleepily amused by this little drama; then he looked at the bright green arch which separated the dark verandah from the bright hot garden. The arch was darkened, and looking he saw something which made his heart move strangely, something that he has not forgotten yet, and never will.
Under the arch between the sunlight and the shade, bareheaded, dressed in white, stood a girl, so amazingly beautiful, that Sam wondered for a few moments whether he was asleep or awake. Her hat, which she had just taken off, hung on her left arm, and with her delicate right hand she arranged a vagrant tendril of the passion-flower, which in its luxuriant growth had broken bounds and fallen from its place above. — A girl so beautiful that I in all my life never saw her superior. They showed me the other day, in a carriage in the park, one they said was the most beautiful girl in England, a descendant of I know not how many noblemen. But, looking back to the times I am speaking of now, I said at once and decidedly, “Alice Brentwood twenty years ago was more beautiful than she.”
A Norman style of beauty, I believe you would call it. Light hair, deep brilliant blue eyes, and a very fair complexion. Beauty and high-bred grace in every limb and every motion. She stood there an instant on tiptoe, with the sunlight full upon her, while Sam, buried in gloom, had time for a delighted look, before she stepped into the verandah and saw him.
She floated towards him through the deep shadow. “I think,” she said in the sweetest, most musical little voice, “that you are Mr. Buckley. If so, you are a very old friend of mine by report.” So she held out her little hand, and with one bold kind look from the happy eyes, finished Sam for life.
Father and mother, retire into the chimney corner and watch. Your day is done. Doctor Mulhaus, put your good advice into your pocket and smoke your pipe. Here is one who can exert a greater power for good or evil than all of you put together. It was written of old — “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his ——” Hallo! I am getting on rather fast, I am afraid.
He had risen to meet her. “And you, Miss Brentwood,” he said, “are tolerably well known to me. Do you know now that I believe by an exertion of memory I could tell you the year and the month when you began to learn the harp? My dear old friend Jim has kept me quite AU FAIT with all your accomplishments.”
“I hope you are not disappointed in me,” said Alice, laughing.
“No,” said Sam. “I think rather the contrary. Are you?”
“I have not had time to tell yet,” she said. “I will see how you behave at lunch, which we shall have in half an hour TETE-A-TETE. You have been often here before, I believe? Do you see much change?”
“Not much. I noticed a new piano, and a little glove that I had never seen before. Jim’s menagerie o wild beasts is as numerous as ever, I see. He would have liked to be in Noah’s Ark.”
“And so would you and I, Mr. Buckley,” she answered, laughing, “if we had been caught in the flood.”
Good gracious! Think of being in Noah’s Ark with her.
“You find them a little troublesome, don’t you, Miss Brentwood?”
“Well, it requires a good deal of administrative faculty to keep the kitten and the puppy from open collision, and to prevent the magpie from pecking out the cockatoo’s eye and hiding it in the flower bed. Last Sunday morning he (the magpie) got into my father’s room, and stole thirty-one shillings and sixpence. We got it all back but half a sovereign, and that we shall never see.”
The bird thus alluded to broke into a gush of melody, so rich, full, and metallic, that they both turned to look at him. Having attracted attention, he began dancing, crooning a little song to himself, as though he would say, “I know where it is.” And lastly he puffed out his breast, put back his bill, and swore two or three oaths that would have disgraced a London scavenger, with such remarkable distinctness too, that there was no misunderstanding him; so Sam’s affectation of not having caught what the bird said, was a dead failure.
“Mr. Buckley,” said she, “if you will excuse me I will go and see about lunch. Can you amuse yourself there for half an hour?” Well, he would try. So he retired again to the rocking-chair, about ten years older than when he rose from it. For he had grown from a boy into a man.
He had fallen over head and ears in love, and all in five minutes, fallen deeply, seriously in love, to the exclusion of all other sublunary matters, before he had well had time to notice whether she spoke with an Irish brogue or a Scotch (happily she did neither). Sudden, you say: well, yes; but in lat. 34 degrees, and lower, whether in the southern or northern hemisphere, these sort of affairs come on with a rapidity and violence only equalled by the thunder-storms of those regions, and utterly surprising to you who perhaps read this book in 52 degrees north, or perhaps higher. I once went to a ball with as free and easy, heart-whole a young fellow as any I know, and agreed with him to stay half an hour, and then come away and play pool. In twenty-five minutes by my watch, which keeps time like a ship’s chronometer, that man was in the tragic or cut-throat stage of the passion with a pretty little thing of forty, a cattledealer’s widow, who stopped HIS pool-playing for a time, until she married the great ironmonger in George Street. Romeo and Juliet’s little matter was just as sudden, and very Australian in many points. Only mind, that Romeo, had he lived in Australia, instead of taking poison, would probably have
“Took to drinking ratafia, and thought of poor Miss Baily,”
for full twenty-four hours after the catastrophe.
At least such would have been the case in many instances, but not in all. With some men these suddenly-conceived passions last their lives, and, I should be inclined to say longer, were there not strong authority against it.
But Sam? He saw the last twinkle of her white gown disappear, and then leant back and tried to think. He could only say to himself, “By Jove, I wonder if I can ever bring her to like me. I wish I had known she was here; I’d have dressed myself better. She is a precious superior girl. She might come to like me in time. Heigh ho!”
The idea of his having a rival, or of any third person stepping in between him and the young lady to whom he had thrown his handkerchief, never entered into his Sultanship’s head. Also, when he came to think about it, he really saw no reason why she should not be brought to think well of him. “As well me as another,” said he to himself; “that’s where it is. She must marry somebody, you know!”
Why was she gone so long? He begins to doubt whether he has not after all been asleep and dreaming. There she comes again, however, for the arch under the creepers is darkened again, and he looks up with a pleasant smile upon his face to greet her.
“God save us! What imp’s trick is this?” There, in the porch, in the bright sun, where she stood not an hour ago in all her beauty and grace, stands a hideous, old savage, black as Tophet, grinning; showing the sharp gap-teeth in her apish jaws, her lean legs shaking with old age and rheumatism.
The colley shakes out her frill, and, raising the hair all down her back, stands grinning and snarling, while her puppy barks pot-valiantly between her legs. The little kangaroo rats ensconce themselves once more in their box, and gaze out amazed from their bright little eyes. The cockatoo hooks and clambers up to a safe place in the trellis, and Sam, after standing thunder-struck for a moment, asks, what she wants?
“Make a light,” [Note: “See”] says the old girl, in a pathetic squeak. Further answer she makes none, but squats down outside, and begins a petulant whine: sure sign that she has a tale of woe to unfold, and is going to ask for something.
“Can that creature,” thinks Sam, “be of the same species as the beautiful Alice Brentwood? Surely not! There seems as much difference between them as between an angel and an ordinary good woman.” Hard to believe, truly, Sam: but perhaps, in some of the great European cities, or even nearer home, in some of the prison barracks, you may chance to find a white woman or two fallen as low as that poor, starved, ill-treated, filthy old savage!
Alice comes out once more, and brings sunshine with her. She goes up to the old lubra with a look of divine compassion on her beautiful face; the old woman’s whine grows louder as she rocks herself to and fro. “Yah marah, Yah boorah, Oh boora Yah! Yah Ma!”
“What! old Sally!” says the beautiful girl. “What is the matter? Have you been getting waddy again?”
“Baal!” says she, with a petulant burst of grief.
“What is it, then?” says Alice. “Where is the gown I gave you?”
Alice had evidently vibrated the right chord. The “Yarah Moorah” coronach was begun again; and then suddenly, as if her indignation had burst bounds, she started off with a shrillness and rapidity astonishing to one not accustomed to black-fellows, into something like the following: “Oh Yah (very loud), oh Mah! Barkmaburrawurrah, Barkmamurrahwurrah, Oh Ya Barkmanurrawah Yee (in a scream. Then a pause). Oh Mooroo (pause). Oh hinaray (pause). Oh Barknamurrwurrah Yee!”
Alice looked as if she understood every word of it, and waited till the poor old soul had “blown off the steam,” and then asked again:
“And what has become of the gown, Sally?”
“Oh dear! Young lubra Betty (big thief that one) tear it up and stick it along a fire. Oh, plenty cold this old woman. Oh, plenty hungry this old woman. Oh, Yarah Moorah,” &c.
“There! go round to the kitchen,” said Alice, “and get something to eat. Is it not abominable, Mr. Buckley? I cannot give anything to this old woman but the young lubras take it from her. However, I will ‘put the screw on them.’ They shall have nothing from me till they treat her better. It goes to my heart to see a woman of that age, with nothing to look forward to but kicks and blows. I have tried hard to make her understand something of the next world: but I can’t get it out of her head that when she dies she will go across the water and come back a young white woman with plenty of money. Mr. Sandford, the missionary, says he has never found one who could be made to comprehend the existence of God. However, I came to call you to lunch; will you give me your arm?”
Such a self-possessed, intrepid little maiden, not a bit afraid of him, but seeming to understand and trust him so thoroughly. Not all the mock-modesty and blushing in the world would have won him half so surely, as did her bold, quiet, honest look. Although a very young man, and an inexperienced, Sam could see what a candid, honest, gentle soul looked at him from those kind blue eyes; and she, too, saw something in Sam’s broad noble face which attracted her marvellously, and in all innocence she told him so, plump and plain, as they were going into the house.
“I fancy I shall like you very much, Mr. Buckley. We ought to be good friends, you know; your father saved the lives of my father and uncle.”
“I never heard of that before,” said Sam.
“I dare say not,” said Alice. “Your father is not the man to speak of his own noble deeds; yet he ran out of his square and pulled my father and uncle almost from under the hoofs of the French cavalry at Waterloo. It makes my cheeks tingle to tell of it now.”
Indeed it did. Sam thought that if it brought such a beautiful flush to her face, and such a flash from her eyes, whenever she told it, that he would get her to tell it again more than once.
But lunch! Don’t let us starve our new pair of turtle-doves, in the outset. Sam is but a growing lad; and needs carbon for his muscles, lime for his bones, and all that sort of thing; a glass of wine won’t do him any harm either, and let us hope that his new passion is not of such lamentable sort as to prevent his using a knife and fork with credit and satisfaction to himself.
Here, in the dark, cool parlour, stands a banquet for the gods, white damask, pretty bright china, and clean silver. In the corner of the table is a frosted claret-jug, standing, with freezing politeness, upright, his hand on his hip, waiting to be poured out. In the centre, the grandfather of watermelons, half-hidden by peaches and pomegranates, the whole heaped over by a confusion of ruby cherries (oh, for Lance to paint it!) Are you hungry, though? If so, here is a mould of potted-head and a cold wild duck, while, on the sideboard, I see a bottle of pale ale. My brother, let us breakfast in Scotland, lunch in Australia, and dine in France, till our lives’ end.
And the banquet being over, she said, as pleasantly as possible, “Now, I know you want to smoke in the verandah. For my part, I should like to bring my work there and sit with you, but, if you had rather not have me, you have only to say that ‘you could not think,’ &c. &c., and I will obediently take myself off.”
But Sam didn’t say that. He said that he couldn’t conceive anything more delightful, if she was quite sure she did not mind.
Not she, indeed! So she brought her work out, and they sat together. A cool wind came up, bending the flowers, swinging the creepers to and fro, and raising a rushing sound, like the sea, from the distant forest. The magpie having been down the garden when the wind came on, and having been blown over, soon joined them in a very captious frame of mind; and, when Alice dropped a ball of red worsted, he seized it as lawful prize, and away in the house with a hop and a flutter. So both Sam and Alice had to go after him, and hunt him under the sofa, and the bird, finding that he must yield, dropped the ball suddenly, and gave Sam two vicious digs on the fingers to remember him by. But when Alice just touched his hand in taking it from him, he wished it had been a whipsnake instead of a magpie.
So the ball of worsted was recovered, and they sat down again. He watched her nimble fingers on the delicate embroidery; he glanced at her quiet face and down-turned eyelids, wondering who she was thinking of. Suddenly she raised her eyes and caught him in the fact. You could not swear she blushed; it might only be a trifling reflection from one of the red China roses that hung between her and the sun; yet, when she spoke, it was not quite with her usual self-possession; a little hurriedly perhaps.
“Are you going to be a soldier, as your father was?”
Sam had thought for an instant of saying “yes,” and then to prove his words true of going to Sydney, and enlisting in the “Half Hundred.” Truth, however, prompting him to say “no,” he compromised the matter by saying he had not thought of it.
“I am rather glad of that, do you know,” she said. “Unless in India, now, a man had better be anything than a soldier. I am afraid my brother Jim will be begging for a commission some day. I wish he would stay quietly at home.”
That was comforting. He gave up all thoughts of enlisting at once. But now the afternoon shadows were beginning to slant longer and longer, and it was nearly time that the Captain and Jim should make their appearance. So Alice proposed to walk out to meet them, and, as Sam did not say no, they went forth together.
Down the garden, faint with the afternoon scents of the flowers before the western sun, among petunias and roses, oleander and magnolia; here a towering Indian lily, there a thicket of scarlet geranium and fuschia. By shady young orange trees, covered with fruit and blossom, between rows of trellissed vines, bearing rich promise of a purple vintage. Among fig trees and pomegranates, and so leaving the garden, along the dry slippery grass, towards the hoarse rushing river, both silent till they reached it. There is a silence that is golden.
They stood gazing on the foaming tide an instant, and then Alice said —
“My father and Sam will come home by the track across there. Shall we cross and meet them? We can get over just below.”
A little lower down, all the river was collected into one headlong race; and a giant tree, undermined by winter floods, had fallen from one bank to the other, offering a giddy footway across the foaming water.
“Now,” said Alice, “if you will go over, I will follow you.”
So he ran across, and then looked back to see the beautiful figure tripping fearlessly over, with outstretched arms, and held out his great brown hand to take her tiny fingers as she stepped down from the upturned roots on to the soft white sand. He would like to have taken them again, to help her up the bank, but she sprang up like a deer, and would not give him the opportunity. Then they had a merry laugh at the magpie, who had fluttered down all this way before them, to see if they were on a foraging expedition, and if there were any plunder going, and now could not summon courage to cross the river, but stood crooning and cursing by the brink. Then they sauntered away, side by side, along the sandy track, among the knolls of braken, with the sunlit boughs whispering knowingly to one another in the evening breeze as they passed beneath. — An evening walk long remembered by both of them.
“Oh see ye not that pleasant road,
That winds along the ferny brae?
Oh that’s the road to fairy land,
Where thou and I this e’en must gae.”
“And so you cannot remember England, Mr. Buckley?” says Alice.
“Oh dear, no. Stay though, I am speaking too fast. I can remember some few places. I remember a steep, red road, that led up to the church, and have some dim recollection of a vast grey building, with a dark porch, which must have been the church itself. I can see too, at this moment, a broad green flat, beside a creek, which was covered with yellow and purple flowers, which mother and I made into nosegays. That must be the place my father speaks of as the Hatherleigh Meadows, where he used to go fishing, and, although I must have been there often, yet I can only remember it on one occasion, when he emptied out a basket of fish on the grass for me to look at. My impression of England is, that everything was of a brighter colour than here; and they tell me I am right.”
“A glorious country,” said Alice; “what would I give to see it? — so ancient and venerable, and yet so amazingly young and vigorous. It seems like a waste of existence for a man to stay here tending sheep, when his birthright is that of an Englishman: the right to move among his peers, and find his fit place in the greatest empire in the world. Never had any woman such a noble destiny before her as this young lady who has just ascended the throne.”
But the conversation changed here, and her Majesty escaped criticism for the time. They came to an open space in the forest, thickly grown with thickets of bracken fern, prickly acacia, and here and there a solitary dark-foliaged lightwood. In the centre rose a few blackened posts, the supports of what had once been a hut, and as you looked, you were surprised to see an English rose or two, flowering among the dull-coloured prickly shrubs, which were growing around. A place, as any casual traveller would have guessed, which had a history, and Sam, seeing Alice pause, asked her, “what old hut was this?”
“This,” she said, “is the Donovans’ old station, where they were burnt out by the blacks.”
Sam knew the story well enough, but he would like to hear her tell it; so he made believe to have heard some faint reports of the occurrence, and what could she do, but give him the particulars?
“They had not been here a year,” she said; “and Mrs. Donovan had been confined only three days; there was not a soul on the station but herself, her son Murtagh, and Miss Burke. All day the blackfellows were prowling about, and getting more and more insolent, and at night, just as Murtagh shut the door, they raised their yell, and rushed against it. Murtagh Donovan and Miss Burke had guessed what was coming all day, but had kept it from the sick woman, and now, when the time came, they were cool and prepared. They had two double-barrelled guns loaded with slugs, and with these they did such fearful execution from two loop-holes they had made in the slabs, that the savages quickly retired; but poor Miss Burke, incautiously looking out to get a shot, received a spear wound on her shoulder, which she bears the mark of to this day. But the worst was to come. The blackfellows mounted on the roof, tried to take off the bark, and throw their spears into the hut, but here they were foiled again. Wherever a sheet of bark was seen to move they watched, and on the first appearance of an enemy, a charge of shot at a few yards’ distance told with deadly effect. Mrs. Donovan, who lay in bed and saw the whole, told my father that Lesbia Burke loaded and fired with greater rapidity and precision than her cousin. A noble woman, I say.”
“Good old Lesbia!” said Sam; “and how did it end?”
“Why, the foolish blacks fired the woolshed, and brought the Delisles upon them; they tried to fire the roof of the hut, but it was raining too hard; otherwise it would have gone hard with poor Miss Burke. See, here is a peach-tree they planted, covered with fruit; let us gather some; it is pretty good, for the Donovans have kept it pruned in memory of their escape.”
“But the hut was not burnt,” said Sam; “where did it stand?”
“That pile of earth there, is the remains of the old turf chimney. They moved across the river after it happened.”
But peaches, when they grow on a high tree, must be climbed for, particularly if a young and pretty girl expresses a wish for them. And so it fell out, that Sam was soon astride of one of the lower boughs, throwing the fruit down to Alice, who put them one by one into the neatest conceivable little basket that hung on her arm.
And so they were employed, busy and merry, when they heard a loud cheery voice, which made both of them start.
“Quite a scene from ‘Paradise Lost,’ I declare; only Eve ought to be up the tree handing down the apples to Adam, and not VICE VERSA. I miss a carpet snake, too, who would represent the D— — and make the thing complete. — Sam Buckley, how are you?”
It was Captain Brentwood who had come on them so inaudibly along the sandy track, on horseback, and beside him was son Jim, looking rather mischievously at Sam, who did not show to the best of advantage up in the peach-tree; but, having descended, and greetings being exchanged, father and son rode on to dress for dinner, the hour for which was now approaching, leaving Sam and Alice to follow at leisure, which they did; for Captain Brentwood and Jim had time to dress and meet in the verandah, before they saw the pair come sauntering up the garden.
“Father,” said Jim, taking the Captain’s hand. “How would that do?”
“Marvellous well, I should say;” replied the Captain.
“And so I think, too,” said Jim. “Hallo! you two; dinner is ready, so look sharp.”
After dinner the Captain retired silently to the chimney-corner, and read his book, leaving the three young people to amuse themselves as they would. Nothing the Captain liked so much as quiet, while he read some abstruse work on Gunnery, or some scientific voyage; but I am sorry to say he had got very little quiet of an evening since Alice came home, and Jim had got some one to chatter to. This evening, however, seemed to promise well, for Alice brought out a great book of coloured prints, and the three sat down to turn them over, Jim of course, you know, being in the middle.
The book was “Wild Sports of the East,” a great volume of coloured lithographs, worth some five-andtwenty guineas. One never sees such books as that now-a-days, somehow; people, I fancy, would not pay that price for them. What modern travels have such plates as the old editions of “Cook’s Voyages”? The number of illustrated books is increased tenfold, but they are hardly improved in quality.
But Sam, I think, would have considered any book beautiful in such company. “This,” said Alice, “is what we call the ‘Tiger Book’— why, you will see directly. — You turn over, Jim, and don’t crease the pages.”
So Jim turned over, and kept them laughing by his simple remarks, more often affected than real, I suspect. Now they went through the tangled jungle, and seemed to hear the last mad howl of the dying tiger, as the elephant knelt and pinned him to the ground with his tusks. Now they chased a lordly buffalo from his damp lair in the swamp; now they saw the English officers flying along on their Arabs through the high grass with well-poised spears after the snorting hog. They have come unexpectedly on a terrible old tiger; one of the horses swerves, and a handsome young man, losing his seat, seems just falling into the monster’s jaws, while the pariah dogs scud away terrified through the grass.
“That chap will be eaten immediately,” says Jim.
“He has been in that position ever since I can remember,” says Alice; “so I think he is pretty safe.”
Now they are with the British army on the march. A scarlet bar stretches across the plain, of which the further end is lost in the white mirage — all in order, walking irresistibly on to the conquest of an empire greater than Haroun Al Raschid’s, so naturally done, that as you look, you think you see the columns swing as they advance, and hear the heavy, weary tramp of the troops above the din and shouting of the cloud of camp-followers, on camels and elephants, which surrounds them. Beyond the plain the faint blue hills pierce the grey air, barred with a few long white clouds, and far away a gleaming river winds through a golden country, spanned with long bridges, and fringed with many a fantastic minaret.
“How I should like to see that!” said Alice.
“Would you like to be a countess,” said Jim, “and ride on an elephant in a howitzer?”
“Howdah, you goose!” said Alice. “Besides, that is not a countess; that is one of the soldiers’ wives. Countesses don’t go to India; they stay at home to mind the Queen’s clothes.”
“What a pleasant job for them,” said Jim, “when her Most Gracious Majesty has got the toothache! I wonder whether she wears her crown under her bonnet or over it?”
Captain Brentwood looked up. “My dear boy,” he said, “does it not strike you that you are talking nonsense?”
“Did you ever see the old King, father?” said Jim.
“I saw King George the Third many times.”
“Ah, but I mean to speak to him.”
“Once only, and then he was mad. He was sitting up with her Majesty, waiting for intelligence which I brought. His Royal Highness took the despatches from me, but the King insisted on seeing me.”
“And what did he say, father? Do tell us,” said Alice eagerly.
“Little enough, my love,” said the Captain, leaning back. “He asked, ‘Is this the officer who brought the despatches, York?’ And his Royal Highness said ‘Yes.’ Then the King said, ‘You bring good news, sir; I was going to ask you some questions, but they are all gone out of my head. Go and get your supper; get your supper, sir.’ Poor old gentleman. He was a kindly old man, and I had a great respect for him. Alice, sing us a song, my love.”
She sang them “The Burial of Sir John Moore” with such perfect taste and pathos that Sam felt as if the candle had gone out when she finished. Then she turned round and said to him, “You ought to like that song; your father was one of the actors in it.”
“He has often told me the story,” said Sam, “but I never knew what a beautiful one it was till I heard you sing it.”
All pleasant evenings must end, and at last she rose to go to bed. But Sam, before he went off to the land of happy dreams, saw that the little white glove which he had noticed in the morning was lying neglected on the floor; so he quietly secured and kept it. And, last year, opening his family Bible to refer to certain entries, now pretty numerous, in the beginning; I found a little white glove pinned to the fly-leaf, which I believe to be the same glove here spoken of.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10