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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Chapter VI

page 23

Chapter VI.

A Journey to Dunedin—The Kawarau River—Cobb and Co.

In the course of a few days an important addendum appeared to the zinc plate on the lawyer's door. It was an announcement written on plain cardboard. At first its author set out with the idea that he was some good as a letter-press printer, but, discovering his mistake before going very far, he relapsed into the good old German text of the copy-book.

Taken in conjunction with the plate itself, the announcement read thus: "Mr. Duncan Campbell, late solicitor, &c., has gone to Dunedin, and will be absent for a few weeks. Letters, &c., left at the Arrow Arms Hotel."

This announcement occasioned some speculation amongst the good folks of the Arrow. The landlord of the hotel, supposed to be in the confidence of the lawyer, being appealed to on the point, declared he knew "nocht"57 about it. "Dad," he said, "was a sly old dog. He had a devil of a head on his shoulders; and to mankind thus endowed, the devil himself generally found work to do." He had no doubt there was some deep laid scheme afoot; and he was equally sure some poor soul would have to suffer.

The landlady, also supposed to be an authority, was more explicit. "There was," she said, "that girl Maggie. She was no good. Immediately after tallying up her birthday takings she packed up her all and went off to Dunedin. No sooner had she gone than old Dad followed. Now she thought of it, she could recall a great many sly winks and by-nods58 passing between the pair, more than was implied in the contract of service between a barmaid and a customer." Putting this and that together, and making of these twain one, the conclu-page 24sion arrived at by the landlady was that the lawyer and the barmaid had eloped, and, as both were bound for Dunedin, they had selected that city as a fit and proper place for their guilty amours.

Growing grave at the thought of her own suspicions, the landlady went on to say, "Who would have thought it?" If ever there was a decent, respectable-looking man, in her estimation, Dad was the one. She had looked on him in the light of a father, and, in virtue thereof, had taken care always to hand him the three-star brand when he asked for his nip. "But," added the landlady mournfully, and looking hard at her own lawful spouse, "you never can tell what these men are once they get in amongst the barmaids. At home with their wives they are pictures of propriety; but in the back-parlour with a barmaid, oh, losh59 keep me! what men they are; Satan himself could be no match for them."

Such, then, are samples of the charitable constructions placed on the lawyer's visit to Dunedin. If there was one man or one woman who had just cause to defend the reputation of the absent lawyer from unjust aspersion that man and woman was the landlord and landlady of the Arrow Arms.

The lawyer had been their constant customer ever since their roof-tree60 had been planted. Not only his own but his indirect patronage had been a source of emolument61. We have already seen that, to some extent, he was esteemed their privileged guest. Not alone that, but by all hands in the house he was a much made of man; and yet, no sooner does he turn his back, than the most unmerited odium is thrust upon him.

It does not, however, require much reflection to prove that in this respect human nature on the goldfields a quarter of a century ago was pretty much the same as it is to-day. It is holy writ that sayeth, "He that has eaten bread with me has lifted up his heel against me," from which it may be inferred the sin of ingratitude is of more ancient date than the discovery of gold on the Arrow.

Meantime the lawyer himself, in blissful ignorance of all these troubles, was making good progress on his journey to Dunedin.

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Black and white photograph of Gabriel's Gully, c.1860s.

Gabriel's Gully

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Cobb and Co.,62 the pioneer posting establishment of Otago, had risked the ran as far as the Dunstan, but, despite their reputation for getting over rough roads, they had not yet mustered courage to risk the road from thence to the Arrow. The only way for getting at it was through the gorge, and getting through the gorge was a something to be remembered. It was an abrupt, narrow pass amongst the mountains, through which the Kawarau River63 had ploughed its way to the Molyneux. In that operation, however, the river would appear to have been actuated by purely selfish motives, and, having found an outlet for itself, it does not seem to have troubled its head about a road or passage for general traffic.

According to local computation the gorge is fifty miles in length, but if we estimate the rocky promontories and precipices, deep ravines cut out by mountain - torrents, and soft marshy lands caused by rivulets, we should say the distance was quite equal to a hundred miles of any well-regulated line of road.

It will thus be seen that, venturesome as they were, Cobb and Co. had still some caution, and in no instance was it shown to better advantage than in their refusal to take up the passenger trade to the Wakatipu.

When approached on the subject, Joe Langley, their road manager, would shake his head and croon the following adaptation of the well-known ditty,—

Up in a balloon, man,
Up in a balloon,
That's about the only thing
Fit for yonder town.

Joe's melodies, however, did not prevent the teamster putting in a spoke for the trade.64 On the up-journey they were indifferent enough to the passenger - traffic. It was only at exorbitant rates they would accept of a fare, and when the said fare happened to be fat, fair, and forty the charge was made at the rate of so much per pound. They were put upon the scales and weighed out like so many horse jockeys. On the score of return fares, however, they were less fastidious. Going home empty, they were rather glad of a passenger, being, as it were, a kind of windfall to the ordinary exchequer.65

page 26

It was with one of these return teams the lawyer negotiated a passage to the Dunstan.

Over such roads the jolting was no doubt bad; but the dray66 being light, and the team good, many of the difficulties and delays attendant upon the up-journey were absent. The driver of the team was a host in himself, who answered to the name of Yankee Bob.67 The lawyer soon discovered that Bob was a perfect Prince Imperial in lying — an absolute monarch in falsehood. Still, he was an amusing cuss. Every event and turn in the road afforded him food for fresh anecdote, whether real or imaginary does not matter. Crossing the river-punt reminded Bob of an occasion in the States, on the Nevada side, when he and his eight-horse team got into a river of marvellous rapidity. His presence of mind being quite equal to the emergency, he clung manfully to his seat, and held on like tarnation to the reins. With consummate skill he piloted the team a distance of ten miles down stream, landing them, without a scratch, on a sandbank! Passing the Devil's Cauldron, a strong eddy in the river, which at this spot has a fall of about 1 in 15, recalled Bob's memory to an accident which, we may say, is founded upon fact. "A poor devil," with his swag on his back, so Bob described him, was carried down the eddy. There he was, caught in suspense; and for weeks the ghastly spectacle was seen bobbing up and down in the angry current. The body disappeared piecemeal. First the swag went, then the limbs; but it was not until the whole had been torn asunder that the trunk disappeared.

Towards evening they got to the mouth of a deep ravine, named the Roaring Meg, not by any means misnamed, considering the rush and tumble with which its waters come down.

Getting out their sticks, for they had to carry their fuel with them, Dunstan being completely barren of timber, the evening meal was soon in preparation. The fuel question reminded Bob of the time when he first visited the Dunstan. Not having provided himself with a supply of sticks from the timber country, nothing was left but to set the dry fern ablaze, and, running along the line of fire with his billy68 in his hand, boiled the tea water in that way. "It took me," said Bob, "a dance of many miles. Still, I managed to get the water to bubble up at last."

57 Scottish dialectical of 'Nought.'

58 To nod at someone in an incidental or minor manner.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

59 A deformation of the exclamatory “Lord!”

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

60 The primary beam to a roof.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

61 Salary.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

62 A company which provided stagecoach services in Australia, whose name was used by many private stagecoach operators in New Zealand.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

63 The 60 kilometre river which drains Lake Wakatipu.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

64 Providing an integral mechanism for the trade in the area.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

65 The government office responsible for making payments from the national account.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

66 A two-wheeled cart, often without sides.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

67 The alias of one William Black, who is only remembered for his month-long incarceration after stealing a duck. Papers Past.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

68 A cooking pot typically used when travelling.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]