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Station Amusements

Chapter I. A Bush Pic-nic

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Chapter I. A Bush Pic-nic.

Since my return to England, two years ago, I have been frequently asked by my friends and acquaintances, “How did you amuse yourself up at the station?” I am generally tempted to reply, “We were all too busy to need amusement;” but when I come to think the matter over calmly and dispassionately, I find that a great many of our occupations may be classed under the head of play rather than work. But that would hardly give a fair idea of our lives there, either. It would be more correct to say perhaps, that most of our simple pleasures were composed of a solid layer of usefulness underneath the froth of fun and frolic. I purpose therefore in these page 2 sketches to describe some of the pursuits which afforded us a keen enjoyment at the time,—an enjoyment arising from perfect health, simple tastes, and an exquisite climate.

It will be as well to begin with the description of one of the picnics, which were favourite amusements in our home, nestled in a valley of the Malvern Hills of Canterbury. These hills are of a very respectable height, and constitute in fact the lowest slopes of the great Southern Alps, which rise to snow-clad peaks behind them. Our little wooden homestead stood at the head of a sunny, sheltered valley, and around it we could see the hills gradually rolling into downs, which in their turn were smoothed out, some ten or twelve miles off, into the dead level of the plains. The only drawback to the picturesque beauty of these lower ranges is the absence of forest, or as it is called there, bush. Behind the Malvern Hills, where they begin to rise into steeper ascents, lies many and many a mile of bush-clad mountain, making deep blue shadows when the setting sun brings the grand Alpine range into sharp white outline against the background of dazzling Italian sky. But just here, where my beloved antipodean home stood, we had no trees whatever, except those which we had planted ourselves, and whose growth we watched with eager page 3 interest. I dwell a little upon this point, to try to convey to any one who may glance at these pages, how we all, —dwellers among tree-less hills as we were,—longed and pined for the sights and sounds of a “bush.”

Quite out of view from the house or garden, and about seven miles away, lay a mountain pass, or saddle, over a range, which was densely wooded, and from whose highest peak we could see a wide extent of timbered country. Often in our evening rides we have gone round by that saddle, in spite of a break-neck track and quicksands and bogs, just to satisfy our constant longing for green leaves, waving branches, and the twitter of birds. Whenever any wood was wanted for building a stockyard, or slabbing a well, or making a post-and-rail fence around a new paddock, we were obliged to take out a Government license to cut wood in this splendid bush. Armed with the necessary document the next step was to engage “bushmen,” or woodcutters by profession, who felled and cut the timber into the proper lengths, and stacked it neatly in a clearing, where it could get dry and seasoned. These stacks were often placed in such inaccessible and rocky parts of the steep mountain side, that they had to be brought down to the flat in rude little sledges, drawn by a bullock, who required to be trained page 4 to the work, and to possess so steady and equable a disposition as to be indifferent to the annoyance of great logs of heavy wood dangling and bumping against his heels as the sledge pursued its uneven way down the bed of a mountain torrent, in default of a better road.

Imagine, then, a beautiful day in our early New Zealand autumn. For a week past, a furious north-westerly gale had been blowing down the gorges of the Rakaia and the Selwyn, as if it had come out of a funnel, and sweeping across the great shelterless plains with irresistible force. We had been close prisoners to the house all those days, dreading to open a door to go out for wood or water, lest a terrific blast should rush in and whip the light shingle roof off. Not an animal could be seen out of doors; they had all taken shelter on the lee-side of the gorse hedges, which are always planted round a garden to give the vegetables a chance of coming up. On the sky-line of the hills could be perceived towards evening, mobs of sheep feeding with their heads up-wind, and travelling to the high camping-grounds which they always select in preference to a valley. The yellow tussocks were bending all one way, perfectly flat to the ground, and the shingle on the gravel walk outside rattled like hail against the low latticed windows. The uproar from the gale was page 5 indescribable, and the little fragile house swayed and shook as the furious gusts hurled themselves against it. Inside its shelter, the pictures were blowing out from the walls, until I expected them to be shaken off their hooks even in those rooms which had plank walls lined with papered canvas; whilst in the kitchen, store-room, etc., whose sides were made of cob, the dust blew in fine clouds from the pulverized walls, penetrating even to the dairy, and. settling half an inch thick on my precious cream. At last, when our skin felt like tightly drawn parchment, and our ears and eyes had long been filled with powdered earth, the wind dropped at sunset as suddenly as it had risen five days before. We ventured out to breathe the dust-laden atmosphere, and to look if the swollen creeks (swollen because snow-fed) had done or threatened to do any mischief, and saw on the south-west horizon great fleecy masses of cloud driving rapidly up before a chill icy breeze. Hurrah, here comes a sou’-wester! The parched-up earth, the shrivelled leaves, the dusty grass, all needed the blessed damp air. In an hour it was upon us. We had barely time to house the cows and horses, to feed the fowls, and secure them in their own shed, and to light a roaring coal (or rather lignite, for it is not true coal) fire in the drawing-room, when, with a few warning splashes, the deluge of cold rain came steadily page 6 down, and we went to sleep to the welcome sound of its refreshing patter.

All that I have been describing was the weather of the past week. Disagreeable as it might have been, it was needed in both its hot and cold, dry and wet extremes, to make a true New Zealand day. The furious nor’-wester had blown every fleck of cloud below the horizon, and dried the air until it was as light as ether. The “s’utherly buster,” on the other hand, had cooled and refreshed everything in the most delicious way, and a perfect day had come at last. What words can describe the pleasure it is to inhale such an atmosphere? One feels as if old age or sickness or even sorrow, could hardly exist beneath such a spotless vault of blue as stretched out above our happy heads. I have often been told that this feeling of intense pleasure on a fine day, which is peculiar to New Zealand, is really a very low form of animal enjoyment. It may be so, but I only know that I never stood in the verandah early in the morning of such a day as I am trying to sketch in pen and ink now, without feeling the highest spiritual joy, the deepest thankfulness to the loving Father who had made His beautiful world so fair, and who would fain lead us through its paths of pleasantness to a still more glorious, home, which will be free from the shadows brooding from page 7 beneath sin’s out-stretched wings over this one. As I stood in the porch I have often fancied I could seethe animals and even the poultry expressing in dumb brute fashion, their joy and gratitude to the God from whom all blessings flow.

But to return to the verandah, although we have never left it. Presently F—— came out, and I said with a sigh, born of deep content and happiness, “What a day!” “Yes,” answered F——: “a heavenly day indeed: well worth waiting for. I want to go and see how the men are getting on in the bush. Will you like to come too?” “Of course I will. What can be more enchanting than the prospect of spending such sunny hours in that glorious bush?” So after breakfast I give my few simple orders to the cook, and prepare, to pack a “Maori kit,” or flat basket made of flax, which could be fastened to my side-saddle, with the preparations for our luncheon. First some mutton chops had to be trimmed and prepared, all ready to be cooked when we got there. These were neatly folded up in clean paper; and a little packet of tea, a few lumps of white sugar, a tiny wooden contrivance for holding salt and pepper, and a couple of knives and forks, were added to the parcel.

So much for the contents of the basket. They needed to be carefully packed so as not to rattle in page 8 any way, or Helen, my pretty bay mare, would soon have got rid of the luncheon—and me. I wrapped up three or four large raw potatoes in separate bits of paper, and slipped them into F——’s pockets when he was looking another way, and then began the real difficulty of my picnic: how was the little tin tea-pot and an odd delf cup to be carried? F—— objected to put them also in his pocket, assuring me that I could make very good tea by putting my packet of the fragrant leaves into the bushmen’s kettle, and drinking it afterwards out of one of their pannikins. He tried to bribe me to this latter piece of simplicity by promising to wash the tin pannikin out for me first. Now I was not dainty or over particular; I could not have enjoyed my New Zealand life so thoroughly if I had been either; but I did not like the idea of using the bushmen’s tea equipage. In the first place, the tea never tastes the same when made in their way, and allowed to boil for a moment or two after the leaves have been thrown in, before the kettle is taken off the fire; and in the next place, it is very difficult to drink tea out of a pannikin; for it becomes so hot directly we put the scalding liquid into it, that long after the tea is cool enough to drink, the pannikin still continues too hot to touch. But I said so pathetically, “You know how wretched I am with- page 9 out my tea,” that F——’s heart relented, and he managed to stow away the little teapot and the cup. That cup bore a charmed life. It accompanied me on all my excursions, escaping unbroken; and is, I believe, in existence now, spending its honoured old age in the recesses of a cupboard.

After the luncheon, the next question to be decided is, which of the dogs are to join the expedition. Hector, of course; he is the master’s colley, and would no more look at a sheep, except in the way of business, than he would fly. Rose, a little short-haired terrier, was the most fascinating of dog companions, and I pleaded hard for her, as she was an especial pet; though there were too many lambs belonging to a summer lambing (in New Zealand the winter is the usual lambing season) in the sheltered paddocks beneath the bush, to make it quite safe for her to be one of the party. She would not kill or hurt a lamb on any account, but she always appeared anxious to play with the little creatures; and as her own spotless coat was as white as theirs, she often managed to get quite close to a flock of sheep before they perceived that she belonged to the dreaded race of dogs. When the timid animals found out their mistake, a regular stampede used to ensue; and it was not supposed to be good for the health of the old or young page 10 sheep to hurry up the hill-sides in such wild fashion as that in which they rushed away from Rose’s attempts to intrude on their society. Nettle may come, for he is but a tiny terrier, and so fond of his mistress that he never strays a yard away from her horse’s heels. Brisk, my beautiful, stupid water-spaniel, is also allowed an outing. He is perfect to look at, but not having had any educational advantages in his youth, is an utter fool; amiable, indeed, but not the less a fool. Garibaldi, another colley, is suffering a long penal sentence of being tied up to his barrel, on account of divers unlawful chases after sheep which were not wanted; and dear old Jip, though she pretends to be very anxious to accompany us; is far too fat and too rheumatic to keep pace with our long stretching gallop up the valley.

At last we were fairly off about eleven o’clock, and an hour’s easy canter, intersected by many “flat-jumps,” or rather “water-jumps,” across the numerous creeks, brought unto the foot of the bush-clad mountain. After that our pace became a very sober one, as the. track resembled a broken rocky staircase more than a bridle-path. But such as it was, our sure-footed horses carried us safely up and down its rugged steeps, without making a single false step. No mule can be more sure-footed than a New Zealand horse. He page 11 will carry his rider anywhere, if only that rider trusts entirely to him, nor attempts to guide him in any way. During the last half-hour of our slow and cat-like climb, we could hear the ring of the bushmen’s axes, and the warning shouts preceding the crashing fall of a Black Birch. Fallen logs and deep ruts made by the sledges in their descent, added to the difficulties of the track; and I was so faint-hearted as to entreat piteously, on more than one occasion, when Helen paused and shook her head preparatory to climbing over a barricade, to be “taken off.” But F—— had been used to these dreadful roads for too many years to regard them in the same light as I did, and would answer carelessly, “Nonsense: you’re as safe as if you were sitting in an arm-chair.” All I can say is, it might have been so, but I did not feel at all like it.

However, the event proved him to have been right, and we reached the clearing in safety. Here we dismounted, and led the horses to a place where they could nibble some grass, and rest in the cool shade. The saddles and bridles were soon removed, and halters improvised out of the New Zealand flax, which can be turned to so many uses. Having provided for the comfort of our faithful animals, our next step was to look for the bushmen. The spot which page 12 we had reached was their temporary home in the heart of the forest, but their work was being carried on elsewhere. I could not have told from which side the regular ringing axe-strokes proceeded, so confusing were the echoes from the cliffs around us; but after a moment’s silent pause F—— said, “If we follow that track (pointing to a slightly cleared passage among the trees) we shall come upon them.” So I kilted up my linsey skirt, and hung up my little jacket, necessary for protection against the evening air, on a bough out of the wekas’ reach, whilst I followed F—— through tangled creepers, “over brake, over brier,” towards the place from whence the noise of falling trees proceeded. By the time we reached it, our scratched hands and faces bore traces of the thorny undergrowth which had barred our way; but all minor discomforts were forgotten in the picturesque beauty of the spot. Around us lay the forest-kings, majestic still in their overthrow, whilst substantial stacks of cut-up and split timber witnessed to the skill and industry of the stalwart figures before us, who reddened through their sunburn with surprise and shyness at seeing a lady. They need not have been afraid of me, for I had long ago made friends with them, and during the preceeding winter had established a sort of night-school in my dining-room, for all the hands em- page 13 ployed on the station, and these two men had been amongst my most constant pupils. One of them, a big Yorkshire-man, was very backward in his “larning,” and though he plodded on diligently, never got beyond the simplest words in the largest type. Small print puzzled him at once, and he had a habit of standing or sitting with his back to me whilst repeating his lessons. Nothing would induce him to face me. The moment it became his turn to go on with the chapter out of the Bible, with which we commenced our studies, that instant he turned his broad shoulders towards me, and I could only, hear the faintest murmurs issuing from the depths of a great beard. Remonstrance would have scared my shy pupil away, so I was fain to put up with his own method of instruction.

But this is a digression, and I want to make you see with my eyes the beautiful glimpses of distant country lying around the bold wooded cliff on which we were standing. The ground fell away from our feet so completely in some places, that we could see over the tops of the high trees around us, whilst in others the landscape appeared framed in an arch of quivering foliage. A noisy little creek chattered and babbled as it hurried along to join its big brother down below, and kept a fringe of exquisite ferns, which grew along page 14 its banks, brightly green by its moisture. Each tree, if taken by itself, was more like an umbrella than anything else to English eyes, for in these primitive forests, where no kind pruning hand has ever touched them, they shoot up, straight and branchless, into the free air above, where they spread a leafy crown out to the sunbeams. Beneath the dense shade of these matted branches grew a luxuriant shrubbery, whose every leaf was a marvel of delicate beauty, and ferns found here a home such as they might seek elsewhere in vain. Flowers were very rare, and I did not observe many berries, but these conditions vary in different parts of the beautiful middle island.

That was a fair and fertile land stretching out before us, intersected by the deep banks of the Rakaia, with here and there a tiny patch of emerald green and a white dot, representing the house and English grass paddock of a new settler. In the background the bush-covered mountains rose ever higher and higher in bolder outline, till they shook off their leafy clothing, and stood out in steep cliffs and scaurs from the snow-clad glacier region of the mountain range running from north to south, and forming the back bone of the island. I may perhaps make you see the yellow, river-furrowed plains, and the great confusion of rising ground behind them, but cannot make page 15 you see, still less feel, the atmosphere around, quivering in a summer haze in the valley beneath, and stirred to the faintest summer wind-sighs as it moved among the pines and birches overhead. Its lightness was its most striking peculiarity. You felt as if your lungs could never weary of inhaling deep breaths of such an air. Warm without oppression, cool without a chill. I can find nothing but paradoxes to describe it. As for fatigue, one’s muscles might get tired, and need rest, but the usual depression and weariness attending over-exertion could not exist in such an atmosphere. One felt like a happy child; pleased at nothing, content to exist where existence was a pleasure.

You could not find more favourable specimens of New Zealand colonists than the two men, Trew and Domville, who stood before us in their working dress of red flannel shirts and moleskin trousers, “Cookham” boots and digger’s plush hats. Three years before this day they had landed at Port Lyttleton, with no other capital than their strong, willing arms, and their sober, sensible heads. Very different is their appearance to-day from what it was on their arrival; and the change in their position and circumstances is as great. Their bodily frames have filled out and developed under the influence of the healthy climate and abun- page 16 dance of mutton, until they look ten years younger and twice as strong, and each man owns a cottage and twenty acres of freehold land, at which he works in spare time, as well as having more pounds than he ever possessed pence in the old country, put safely away in the bank. There can be no doubt about the future of any working man or woman in our New Zealand colonies. It rests in their own hands, under God’s blessing, and the history of the whole human race shows us that He always has blessed honest labour and rightly directed efforts to do our duty in this world. Sobriety and industry are the first essentials to success. Possessing these moral qualifications, and a pair of hands, a man may rear up his children in those beautiful distant lands in ignorance of what hunger; or thirst, or grinding poverty means. Hitherto the want of places of worship, and schools for the children, have been a sad drawback to the material advantages of colonization at the Antipodes; but these blessings are increasing every day, and the need of them creates the supply.

The great mistake made in England, next to that of sending out worthless idle paupers, who have never done a hand’s turn for themselves here, and are still less likely to do it elsewhere, is for parents and guardians to ship off to New Zealand young men who page 17 have received the up-bringing and education of gentlemen, without a shilling in their pockets, under the vague idea that something will turn up for them in a new place. There is nothing which can turn up, for the machinery of civilization is reduced to the most primitive scale in these countries; and I have known £500 per annum regarded as a monstrous salary to be drawn by a hard-worked official of some twenty years standing and great experience in the colony. From this we may judge of the chances of remunerative employment for a raw unfledged youth, with a smattering of classical learning. At first they simply “loaf” (as it is called there) on their acquaintances and friends. At the end of six months their clothes are beginning to look shabby; they feel they ought to do something, and they make day by day the terrible discovery that there is nothing for them to do in their own rank of life. Many a poor clergyman’s son, sooner than return to the home which has been so pinched to furnish forth his passage money and outfit, takes a shepherd’s billet, though he generally makes a very bad shepherd for the first year or two; or drives bullocks, or perhaps wanders vaguely over the country, looking for work, and getting food and lodging indeed, for inhospitality is unknown, but no pay. Sometimes they go to the diggings, only page 18 to find that money is as necessary there as anywhere, and that they are not fitted to dig in wet holes for eight or ten hours a day. Often these poor young men go home again, and it is the best thing they can do, for at least they have gained some knowledge of life, on its dark as well as its brighter side. But still oftener, alas, they go hopelessly to the bad, degenerating into billiard markers, piano players at dancing saloons, cattle drivers, and their friends probably lose sight of them.

Once I was riding with my husband up a lovely gulley, when we heard the crack of a stockwhip, sounding strangely through the deep eternal silence of a New Zealand valley, and a turn of the track showed us a heavy, timber-laden bullock-waggon labouring slowly along. At the head of the long team sauntered the driver, in the usual rough-and-ready costume, with his soft plush hat pulled low over his face, and pulling vigorously at a clay pipe. In spite of all the outer surroundings, something in the man’s walk and dejected attitude struck my imagination, and I made some remark to my companion. The sound of my voice reached the bullock-driver’s ears; he looked up, and on seeing a lady, took his pipe out of his mouth, his hat off his head, and forcing his beasts a little aside, stood at their head to let us pass. I smiled and page 19 nodded, receiving in return a perfect and profound bow, and the most melancholy glance I have ever seen in human eyes. “Good gracious, F——,” I cried, when we had passed, “who is that man?” “That is Sir So-and-So’s third son,” he replied: “they sent him out here without a shilling, five years ago, and that is what he has come to: a working man, living with working men. He looks heart-broken, poor fellow, doesn’t he?” I, acting upon impulse, as any woman would have done, turning back and rode up to him, finding it very difficult to frame my pity and sympathy in coherent words. “No thank you, ma’am,” was all the answer I could get, in the most refined, gentlemanly tone of voice: “I’m very well as I am. I should only have the struggle all over again if I made any change now. It is the truest kindness to leave me alone.” He would not even shake hands with me; so I rode back; discomfited, to hear from F—— that he had made many attempts to befriend him, but without success. “In fact,” concluded F——, with some embarrassment, “he drinks dreadfully, poor fellow. Of course that is the secret of all his wretchedness, but I believe despair drove him to it in the first instance.”

I have also known an ex-dragoon officer working as a clerk in an attorney’s office at fifteen shillings a page 20 week, who lived like a mechanic, and yet spake and stepped like his old self; one listened involuntarily for the clink of the sabre and spur whenever he moved across the room.

This has been a terrible digression, almost a social essay in fact; but I have it so much at heart to dissuade fathers and mothers from sending their sons so far away without any certainty of employment. Capitalists, even small ones, do well in New Zealand: the labouring classes still better; but there is no place yet for the educated gentleman without money, and with hands unused to and unfit for manual labour and the downward path is just as smooth and pleasant at first there, as anywhere else.

Trew and Domville soon got over their momentary shyness, and answered my inquiries about their families. Then I had a short talk with them, but on the principle that it is “ill speaking to a fasting man,” we agreed to adjourn to the clearing, where they had built a rough log hut for temporary shelter, and have our dinner. They had provided themselves with some bacon; but were very glad to accept of F——’s offer of mutton, to be had for the trouble of fetching it. When we reached the little shanty, Trew produced some capital bread, he had baked the evening before in a camp-oven; F——’s pockets were emptied of page 21 their load of potatoes, which were put to roast in the wood embers; rashers of bacon and mutton chops spluttered and fizzed side-by-side on a monster gridiron with tall feet, so as to allow it to stand by itself over the clear fire, and we turned our chops from time to time by means of a fork extemporized out of a pronged stick.

Over another fire, a little way to leeward, hung the bushmen’s kettle on an iron tripod, and, so soon as it boiled, my little teapot was filled before Domville threw in his great fist-full of tea. I had brought a tiny phial of cream in the pocket of my saddle, but the men thought it spoiled the flavour of the tea, which they always drink “neat,” as they call it. The Temperance Society could draw many interesting statistics from the amount of hard work which is done in New Zealand on tea. Now, I am sorry to say, beer is creeping up to the stations, and is served out at shearing time and so on; but in the old days all the hard work used to be done on tea, and tea alone, the men always declaring they worked far better on it than on beer. “When we have as much good bread and mutton as we can eat,” they would say, “we don’t feel to miss the beer we used to drink in England;” and at the end of a year or two of tea and water-drinking, their bright eyes and splendid physical con- page 22 dition showed plainly enough which was the best kind of beverage to work, and work hard too, upon.

So there we sat round the fire: F—— with the men, and I, a little way off, out of the smoke, with the dogs. Overhead, the sunlight streamed down on the grass which had sprung up, as it always does in a clearing; the rustle among the lofty tree tops made a delicious murmur high up in the air; a waft of cool breeze flitted past us laden with the scent of newly-cut wood (and who does not know that nice, clean perfume?); innumerable paroquets almost brushed us with their emerald-green wings, whilst the tamer robin or the dingy but melodious bell-bird came near to watch the intruders. The sweet clear whistle of the tui or parson-bird—so called from his glossy black suit and white wattles curling exactly where a clergy-man’s bands would be,—could be heard at a distance; whilst overhead the soft cooing of the wild pigeons, and the hoarse croak of the ka-ka or native parrot, made up the music of the birds’ orchestra. Ah, how delicious it all was,—the Robinson Crusoe feel of the whole thing; the heavenly air, the fluttering leaves, the birds’ chirrups and whistle, and the foreground of happy, healthy men!

Rose and I had enough to do, even with Nettle’s assistance, in acting as police to keep off those bold page 23 thieves, the wekas, who are as impudent as they are tame and fearless. In appearance they resemble exactly a stout hen pheasant, without its long tail; but they belong to the apterix family, and have no wings, only a tiny useless pinion at each shoulder, furnished with a claw like a small fish-hook: what is the use of this claw I was never able to discover. When startled or hunted, the weka glides, for it can scarcely be called running, with incredible swiftness and in perfect silence, to the nearest cover. A tussock, a clump of flax, a tuft of tall tohi grass, all serve as hiding-places; and, wingless as she is, the weka can hold her own very well against her enemies, the dogs. I really believe the great desire of Brisk’s life was to catch a weka. He started many, but used to go sniffing and barking round the flax bush where it had taken refuge at first, long after the clever, cunning bird had glided from its shelter to another cover further off.

After dinner was over and Domville had brought back the tin plates and pannikins from the creek where he had washed them up, pipes were lighted, and a few minutes smoking served to rest and refresh the men, who had been working since their six o’clock breakfast. The daylight hours were too precious however to be wasted in smoking. Trew and Domville page 24 would not have had that comfortable nest-egg standing in their name at the bank in Christchurch, if they had spent much time over their pipes; so after a very short “spell” they got up from the fallen log of wood which had served them for a bench, and suggested that F—— should accompany them back to where their work lay. “You don’t mind being left?” asked F——. “Certainly not,” replied I. “I have got the dogs for company, and a book in my pocket. I daresay I shall not read much, however, for it is so beautiful to sit here and watch the changing lights and shadows.”

And so it was, most beautiful and thoroughly delightful. I sat on the short sweet grass, which springs upon the rich loam of fallen leaves the moment sunlight is admitted into the heart of a bush. No one plants it; probably the birds carry the seeds; yet it grows freely after a clearing has been made. Nature lays down a green sward directly on the rich virgin mould, and sets to work besides to cover up the unsightly stems and holes of the fallen timber with luxuriant tufts of a species of hart’s-tongue fern, which grows almost as freely as an orchid on decayed timber. I was so still and silent that innumerable forest birds came about me. A wood pigeon alighted on a branch close by, and sat preening her radiant page 25 plumage in a bath of golden sunlight. The profound stillness was stirred now and then by a soft sighing breeze which passed over the tree tops, and made the delicate foliage of the undergrowth around me quiver and rustle. I had purposely scattered the remains of our meal in a spot where the birds could see the crumbs, and it was not long before the clever little creatures availed themselves of the unexpected feast. So perfectly tame and friendly were they, that I felt as if I were the intruder, and bound by all the laws of aerial chivalry to keep the peace. But this was no easy matter where Rose and Nettle were concerned, for when an imprudent weka appeared on the sylvan scene, looking around-as if to say, “Who’s afraid?” it was more than I could do to keep the little terriers from giving chase. Brisk, too, blundered after them, but I had no fear of his destroying the charm of the day by taking even a weka’s life.

Thus the delicious afternoon wore on, until it was time to boil the kettle once more, and make a cup of tea before setting out homewards. The lengthening shadows added fresh tenderness and beauty to the peaceful scene, and the sky began to paint itself in its exquisite sunset hues. It has been usual to praise the tints of tropic skies when the day is declining; but never, in any of my wanderings to East and West page 26 Indies, have I seen such gorgeous evening colours as those which glorify New Zealand skies.

A loud coo-ee summoned F—— to tea, and directly afterwards the horses were re-saddled, the now empty flax basket filled with the obnoxious teapot and cup, wrapped in many layers of flax leaves, to prevent their rattling, and we bade good night to the tired bushmen. We left them at their tea, and I was much struck to observe that though they looked like men who had done a hard day’s work, there was none of the exhaustion we often see in England depicted on the labouring man’s face. Instead of a hot crowded room, these bushmen were going to sleep in their log hut, where the fresh pure air could circulate through every nook and cranny. They had each their pair of red blankets, one to spread over a heap of freshly cut tussocks, which formed a delicious elastic mattrass, and the other to serve as a coverlet. During the day these blankets were always hung outside on a tree, out of the reach of the most investigating weka. You may be sure I had not come empty-handed in the way of books and papers, and my last glance as I rode away rested on Trew opening a number of Good Words 1 with the pleased-expression of a child examining a packet of toys.

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And so we rode slowly home through the delicious gloaming, with the evening air cooled to freshness so soon as the sun had sunk below the great mountains to the west, from behind which he shot up glorious rays of gold and crimson against the blue ethereal sky, causing the snowy peaks to look more exquisitely pure from the background of gorgeous colour. During the flood of sunlight all day, we had not perceived a single fleck of cloud; but now lovely pink wreaths, floating in mid-air, betrayed that here and there a “nursling of the sky” lingered behind the cloud-masses which we thought had all been blown away yesterday.

The short twilight hour was over, and the stars were filtering their soft radiance on our heads by the time we heard the welcoming barks of the homestead, and saw the glimmer of the lighted lamp in our sitting-room, shining out of the distant gloom. And so ended, in supper and a night of deep dreamless sleep, one of the many happy picnic days of my New Zealand life.

1 Evening Hours was not in existence at that time, or else its pages are just what those simple God-fearing men would have appreciated and enjoyed. Good Words and the eisur used to be their favourite periodicals, and the kindness of English friends kept me also well supplied with copies of Miss Marsh’s little books, which were read with the deepest and most eager interest.