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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Note 6.—Ben Lomond

Note 6.—Ben Lomond.

"Looking down from Ben Lomond at the northern arm of the lake, it seemed like a huge amphitheatre. The water lay at our feet, a sheet of glass broken only by the islands, and backed by the great snow-covered ranges, which stand in vast array, towering over all, and glistening in the morning's sun. The lower part of the ranges was clothed with trees and rank ferns down to the water's edge, whilst two large rivers, named respectively the Rees and the Dart, emptied themselves into the upper end of the lake, after running through a considerable plain, which stretches from side to side, a vast shingle-waste with a birch-clad hill shaped like a pyramid standing in the centre thereof. No better set-off to the lights and shadows of the snow regions behind could have been found than the dark sombre peak with its black-birch-clothed side. Even Duncan MacAusland himself was induced to acknowledge that Loch Lomond and the Trossachs with all their beauty were not a patch on this." So wrote one who took an active intelligent interest in the first effort to establish settlement on the Wakatipu. Since then he has been far-travelled, and had favourable opportunities for studying the wonders of the world. Writing thereanent, he says, "I have gazed at the cold white tops of the Alps as they blushed in acknowledg-page 103ment of the sun's first kiss; and, standing high up on St. Marie's at Venice, I have seen the sun rise from the bosom of the Adriatic and spread over the shipping and cupolas of the Queen of the Sea, a sheet of burnished gold; but, lovely as these all were, they failed to put me in such a rhapsody of admiration for our beautiful world as did that grand and glittering scene which I saw for the first time from the Elbow Peak of Ben Lomond."

But what, it will be asked, about the sentiments of the less rhapsodical Duncan MacAusland? We have a word to say about him too, and we speak it with 'bated breath, as he is not here to answer fox himself. On him the silence of the tomb has been imposed. He was a lad from Lomond, the country of the wild MacGregors, who nestled under the lofty Ben which figures so largely in the account rendered of the queen of Scottish lakes. We first hear of him keeping company with Donald, a sure-footed, shaggy Shetland pony, on whose back Duncan's blankets and tucker stores were strapped. They must have made a well-matched pair, and it is questionable if Old Mortality and his short-legged nag ever found more striking representation, either at Home or abroad. Thus accoutred, Duncan and Donald' scaled the mountain-walls in search of a route for conveyance of a herd of cattle to the upper reaches of the Wakatipu. Getting higher and higher, Duncan became alive to a species of infatuation within himself, and by the time he reached the mountain-top Donald must have been astonished, if there was aught that could astonish that sagacious brute, to hear his master burst out in song, the refrain being—

And thus among the rocks he lived,
Through summer's heat and winter's snow;
The eagle was the lord above,
And Rob was lord below.

That was the little leaven that leaveneth the whole lump. The now-inspired Duncan saw in his mind's eye the fatal Fruin, the glen of sorrow, with its fierce MacGregors slashing away at the sons of Loss, while the wicked old mouse-coloured Dugald Cair Mhor gave a finishing stroke to the hapless student band who came all the way from Dumbarton to witness the fight.

Further afield Duncan MacAusland saw—for we had the narrative from his own lips-—what is known as Pigeon Island, but what in these primitive days presented to his enchanted view a fac simile of the Inchcailloch of Loch Lomond, a rock on which the irrepressible Rob Roy imprisoned the Montrose family factor, after appropriating the terminal rents, amounting to £300, collected by the latter, and afterwards demanded as ransom for the imprisoned factor a further sum of 3,400 merks Scotch. Then, again, there was the valley of the Von, with its horse-track leading to what is now named Lake Mavora. To Mr. MacAusland's enraptured gaze this was identical with the Pass of Ballmaha, through which the redoubtable Rob made his raids on the lands of Kippon and the Strath of Blane, carrying these incursions on one occasion as far as the Fords of Frew.

Such were the surroundings—or rather we should call them the baptismal rites—with which Ben Lomond, of the Wakatipu, received its name; Duncan MacAusland, the lad from Lomond, acting as high priest, and Donald the shaggy Shetlander standing godfather.

We are almost sorry Duncan did not see fit to set his own sign-manual on one or other of these mighty headstones. However, it is creditable to him that in dealing out the honours he did not neglect his faithful four-footed servitor, Donald. Selecting a mountain torrent, one of those rough rubbly waterspouts peculiar to these uplands, he named it Moke Creek in honour of Donald and in friendly recognition of Donald's uncouth coat.

A word more about Duncan and Donald. Many years ago Duncan abandoned the Wakatipu and became a thriving settler at the Clutha. When the through railway-line to the Wakatipu was completed Duncan was sadly perplexed. He remarked, "I cannot understand it, nor will I believe it until I see it. I'm fain to see my auld cuddie Donald, so I'll tak' a run on the rail as far as the lakes." One of his great hobbies was watching the river. "It's risen an inch an' a half sin' yestreen," he would say. "Now, that's page 104Ben blawing his nose. Tha' cauld nichts hae gi'en him a touch o' the influenza. He'll keep snortering about for the next day or twa." Having diagnosed the case of the river, what was more natural than that he should have been elected without opposition a member of the River Board?—a position he occupied with credit down to the close of his life. The day of his death the river suddenly and unaccountably rose a foot and a half, the popular impression being that the lofty Ben Lomond dropped a tear on the occasion in memory of an old friend, Duncan MacAusland.

Every dog has his day, and so it was with the sagacious Donald. Many a load of tucker he packed safely away to the outlying diggings. Others of his compeers were cleaner-limbed and fleeter-footed, but they all got into trouble barring Donald. One would get bogged to the belly in a swamp; one and another went down the Shotover, and never came up again; and the number was legion that tumbled down precipices, breaking their necks, backs, and legs indiscriminately. Getting worn out, Donald got superannuated, and, adds our informant, "If I am not mistaken, late in life he became the property of the District Gold-receiver, Mr. Worthington." In recognition of his long and faithful services to the district, he was allowed to roam about at his own free will. He had the freedom of the city after the City of the Lakes became a corporate town; at all events, the by-law against stray cattle was never enforced against him. On only one occasion is he known to have abused his liberties, and even then he was more sinned against than sinning. On that occasion Donald was not only led astray, he was literally driven astray. The late Mr. Thomas Luther Shepherd, representing the goldfields boroughs at the time, invited his constituents to meet him in the Town Hall, Queenstown. During the evening Donald put in an appearance; but it was evident from the first that he did not go there of his own free will and accord. At the Resident Magistrate's Court next morning the police were able to show Donald was not to-blame. Indeed, the real offender admitted the charge, pleading as an excuse that, Donald being the near approach to a donkey, be should be present to take part in the proceedings. It was a mean trick, backed up by a still meaner plea put forward in extenuation. The Magistrate very properly fined the real offender smartly, so that, virtually speaking, Donald left the Court without a stain on his character.