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In the Shadow of the Bush

Chapter VII

page 38

Chapter VII.

Of the many hardships which the pioneers of settlement have to undergo, of the many difficulties and discomforts under which they must labour for at least some years after making a home in the wilderness, perhaps the larger share falls upon the woman. Shut in by roads or tracks that for the greater part of the year are almost or wholly impassable, at least for her; cut off, it may be, except at long intervals, from fellowship with those of her own sex; with household necessaries of the roughest and barest description; devoid of luxuries of every kind, or of anything approaching luxuries; and often, indeed, wanting many of those conveniences which her more fortunate sisters deem necessary to existence—her lot is a hard one.

Her husband's occupation is out of doors. There is variety and change for him, but for her there is none. He mixes with some of his fellow-men almost every day. Wrapped in his oilskins he can face any weather; and, mounted on his strong horse of all work, can ride along any track. He attends the stock sales occasionally; business or pleasure may often lead him into the nearest township, where he meets old acquaintances or makes new ones, with whom he can exchange opinions upon topics of interest, or perhaps enjoy the friendly glass; but his wife's dull routine of household duties and family cares is seldom broken. If in the bush districts, the discomforts of the wet and mud of winter, and the annoyance of the mosquito pest during the hot nights of summer, are by her more sensitive nature more acutely felt. Yet she is, as a rule, page 39ever cheerful and uncomplaining. Brought up, it may be, under brighter influences, and amidst the comforts and refinements of a more advanced civilisation, which are so dear to her feminine nature, she yet hopefully enters on her new life and rough surroundings, and is her husband's true friend and helpmate. Those who have travelled into the most remote settlements will have found her even there—patient, brave, contented. Heaven's blessings be on such women.

Mrs. Robinson, for that was the name of Davie's entertainer, was a woman of this kind. She had cheerfully borne her share of the burden incident on breaking in their new home here, and was now beginning to meet with some reward. Her daughters, now growing up about her, assisted her in the more arduous duties of the household, or relieved her of them. Home comforts had begun to surround her. Though the road was not yet metalled all the way from the township, it was passable for a vehicle, and she could now occasionally visit her friends at a distance or entertain them in return. The house also has been added to, and, with its surroundings, improved in comfort and appearance.

Davie was making capital use of his time amongst the good things in front of him, and his plea of hunger was fully justified to the mind of Mrs. Robinson, who watched him with a pitying eye.

"You'll have travelled a good deal in New Zealand?" she said, enquiringly.

"As much, mem, as maist men," Davie answered, with his mouth full. "I hae tramped roon' the maist pairt o' the ither island, an' ower a guid bit o' this ane."

"I suppose you never met with a young man called Henry Robinson in your travels, did you?"

"What like was he?" enquired Davie.

"Oh, he was a nice boy," she answered, gazing out through the window with a far away look. "Tall for his age, with fair hair and bonny, laughing blue eyes, and a sweet, kindly face. page 40But what is my old head thinking about?—he'll be a man grown long ago. I always think of him as he was when he left me," she added, with the moisture showing in her eyes.

"Harry Robinson," said Davie, "I kenned ane o' the name weel, an' I'll hae nae doot it'll be the same. Mony's the jaunt him an' me hae had thegither. A deft han' he was wi' the shears, and at ony ither wark for the matter o' that—if he hadna' been he wadna' hae been lang in company wi' me."

"Oh, tell me, sir," the good woman said, sitting down and clasping her hands, "where do you think he will be now?"

"Weel, it's no' sae easy to say that," replied Davie, with some hesitation. "It was doon amang the stations, north o' Canterbury—Highfield, I'm thinkin'—that I saw him last, an' that'll be twa or three years ago, an' he was aye a bit o' a rambler like mysel', sae it's no' easy to say whaur he may be noo."

"Highfield; I'll remember that name," said Mrs. Robinson, speaking to herself.

The reader may as well be informed here that there was not a word of truth in the assertion that Davie had just made. In his rambles he might have met someone named Henry Robinson, for the name is a common one; but he had at this time no recollection whatever of having done so. He thought he might as well humour the mother in her anxious enquiries after her son, for by so doing he saw the possibility of solid advantage to himself. It was evident to him that the good woman, very hospitably inclined in any case, would always have a warm welcome for one who had brought her tidings of her long lost boy.

"Well, mother," said a cheerful voice from the doorway, and a man, under the middle height, with a good-humoured, rosy face, entered. This was the woman's husband, John, or, as he was usually called, Johnny, Robinson. "Well, mother," he said, "are you at the old trick again—found another poor swagger in want of a meal and a shakedown for page 41the night, I suppose. Blessed, if this thing gets abroad, there'll be a reg'lar run on us. We may as well stick up a signboard at once, 'Good accommodation for swaggers gratis'; only we'll have to enlarge the premises, and put the children to sleep in the cowshed."

"Don't mind him, sir; it's only his way," Mrs. Robinson said. "He has got a kind heart of his own. Oh, John! I have heard of our poor boy. This man knew him in the other island two or three years ago."

"Don't be too sure of that, mother," replied Robinson. "You know you thought you heard of him once or twice before, and nothing came of it. It's my belief these gentry just gammon you when they see you so anxious. The young rascal ran away to sea ever so many years ago, and you only heard from him once—after he got to Melbourne. He has made his fortune by this time, maybe, and wouldn't own us; or—or he may have gone under. Anyway, I don't suppose he's in New Zealand—t'other side of the world most likely, now that we're at this side."

"Oh, John, something tells me I shall see him yet," answered his wife. "We can advertise for him again—'last heard of at Highfield Station.'"

"Oh, bother Highfield Station and advertising," grumbled John, but in a good humoured way; "what with advertisements, mother, and free feeds for every fellow that comes along with a swag on his back, it's my belief we'll want to find a gold mine on the section, or maybe a silver one would do. If we go on like this we'll be having some impostor coming along and make believe he's the boy himself. I don't suppose you would know him yourself now, if you met him. It'll be ten or twelve years since you saw him last."

"Eleven years on the 13th of January last," Mrs. Robinson replied, "Trust me to know my boy again, though he'll be grown a fine, tall man now—he promised to be tall," she added, as if speaking to herself.

page 42

"Weil, mother," said Robinson, "I don't think this chap bears much likeness to him, at any rate; a sturdy chap he is, though, and should never go to bed hungry if there's work to be done and he cared to do it. But it's my belief," he went on, addressing Davie, who had picked up his Scotch cap and was preparing to depart, "it's my belief you're the chap Maurice M'Keown was talking about just now. He says they had you at Mr. Ashwin's wharé the other night, and that he knew you in the other island—'always looking for the job you don't want to find,' he says; 'lives on a loaf that never was baked, and only speaks the truth when a lie won't do as well.'"

"M'Keown's a leear himsel', if he says so," replied Davie, warmly.

"You can tell him so to his face, then, if you like, for he's out here now," Robinson remarked. "He tells me, mother, that those yearlings we have missed have come out through the bush, and are on Mr. Ashwin's grass now, where, he says, we can leave them for a bit if we like. He's over in the shed now, milking the last cow for Mary."

Davie had jumped up, and now took his leave, thanking the mistress of the house—how could he help it—in words which for once may have had the ring of sincerity about them.

Our acquaintance, M'Keown, had come over as mentioned by Robinson. Indeed, it may be said that he let slip no possible opportunity of paying a visit here.

Robinson's farm, as has been stated, fronted on a road running nearly parallel to that on which Ashwin's was situated. These roads were here about a mile and a half apart, but the two properties adjoined for some little distance at the back, where some bush was still standing. The contract which Flash Harry and his mates had taken from Ashwin extended to Robinson's boundary; while on Robinson's section the last remaining block of standing page 43bush had been already felled earlier in the season. Maurice at times, therefore, had occasion in the ordinary course of things to find his way across to the neighbouring farm; and when none such arose, he was very apt to make occasion of his own, for, truth to tell, the bright eyes of Mary Robinson were the all-sufficient attraction that drew him thither. On Sundays, too, when the roads were dry and the weather fine, and Mary likely to walk into church in the township, Maurice was almost sure to take this route there also. He was known to do the same even on week days, if he found it necessary to visit Bloomsbury, and had the audacity to say that this way was about as near as the other for him, and was much more pleasant to travel by. Of course, by this route he could have a look round the sheep in Ashwin's back paddock on the way in or out, and this, no doubt, was a very great advantage which it possessed over the other.