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Philosopher Dick

Chapter XI

page 286

Chapter XI.

"To Doctor Valentine.

"Marino, 5th October.

"My dear Val,

—Here I am again—where you left me last, and only anxious to get away 'for good'—in every sense of the word, I trust. I have gone through all sorts of trials and miseries since I last wrote to you, and to end up with I got lost in a snowstorm, and had a rather narrow escape from leaving my bones on the run; but at present I am not much the worse beyond a crop of chilblains that keep me shuffling about like a hobbled horse. I am not comfortable here, and yet I experience a sense of relief; I feel that I am now beyond the weird influence of those mountain solitudes, I am once more off the enchanted ground that had held me spell-bound for so long. I am at the 'Half-way House' to civilisation, en route for happier scenes and a more genial clime. Already I feel a load off my mind that was heavier to bear than the bulky swag I have had to page 287hump on my back on many a weary tramp over these desolate ranges. I have dropped the swag also. Yet I cannot compare this happy release to Christian's, whose pack of sins suddenly tumbled off his shoulders, for whatever my burden may have been—and at times it was almost more than I could bear—it cannot be put down to the credit of the world, the flesh, and the devil. My lonely life has been miserable, yet it has certainly been strictly virtuous. No holy anchorite ever behaved better or fared worse; but if any one should fondly imagine to gain happiness, ease, and content that way, he is in the wrong track, and altogether out of it. I sometimes think—and I fancy you will agree with me—that if I had a few venial sins to confess for the past few years, I should probably be, both physically and morally, all the better for them. However, this is neither here nor there. I am going to bid adieu to the savagery of nature, under your guidance and fostering care. I have already made one great bound on the road towards respectability, for I am attired in a white shirt. You must have lived in the bush to appreciate what an immense advance that emblem represents. Whether I shall continue to progress in this line until I reach the culminating point, typified in a bell-topper and kid gloves, will depend on fate and you. For page 288my part, I can hardly imagine myself rigged out as a swell again without losing my usual gravity.

"I found a decided improvement in the homestead, especially in the men's portion of it; on my return Marino is no longer the barbarous hole it used to be. The old shanty has been renovated, the windows glazed, the walls whitewashed, and a glimpse of heaven afforded to the rough boys by the presence of female society. A fact, I assure you. Mrs. Dale has accomplished this wonderful transformation; her strong will and clever management has brought it all about. Now, as she is a person who was never actuated in her life by any but selfish motives, we can only suppose that she had some personal object in view. This is not hard to find. The imperious personage has long been striving to extend her rule, and she found it difficult, and not very safe, to attempt much domineering over the men. They are an obstreperous lot, who don't take the whip kindly. The free and independent working man here won't stand much ordering about, even from his lawful master, but to be spied upon and 'bossed' by the 'Missus' was not to be tolerated. So she has sought out and added a female element over which she may be able to exercise a more personal sway. A married couple has been installed in charge of the men's page 289house, and encouragement has been offered to the hands on the station to take unto themselves wives. But the trump card, the winning move in this astute policy, has been the introduction on the scene of a 'hand-maiden.'

"It is the most momentous event that has taken place since the foundation of the station—I am speaking, of course, as one of 'the hands'—and it has caused quite a sensation in the neighbourhood. Yes, Mrs. Dale returned from town the other day, very flash, with a brand new American buggy, a pair of greys, a small boy in buttons, whom she has been diligently lecturing on groom-like deportment, and last, but not least,

'a slender
Young waiting damsel to attend her.'

"For this last welcome addition to the household all her former sins have been forgiven; she is now looked upon as a public benefactress.

"The young person herself, Susy Wanekin by name, has nothing very remarkable about her beyond her sex; but the latter qualification alone has been sufficient to render her an object of respectful attention and universal admiration.

"When a female, in addition to being single in condition, has the extraordinary good luck of being single page 290of her kind, her attractions are certain to be hugely enhanced thereby. If you have ever made a sea voyage with a number of passengers, but only one young lady on board, you will take in the situation. The old adage is reversed—Singleness is strength where a lady is concerned. Menfolk are coming from all directions to gaze on this unique specimen of humanity. Rough fellows, both great and small, stout and thin, red and black, all come trooping up, when, in accordance with the custom of the bush, they are allowed admittance to the kitchen and "a feed." They have most of them been gratified with a passing glance at the fair attendant. Some, indeed, tried hard to linger about the premises, on one excuse or another, but they were soon ordered off by our uncompromising boss. Mrs. Dale also keeps a sharp look-out on her protégée.

"The opportunities for courtship have thus been very much restricted, but the warm emulation among the male admirers has fully made up for it, and although the girl has only been three weeks on the station, it is reported that she has received numerous offers of marriage already. In fact, she moves about under a running fire, and has been "popped" from all directions. Susy bears herself well; she takes all this adulation in good part; she is even generous and page 291impartial in dispensing her innocent favours, and lately she has adopted a royal way of smiling all round on the ever-widening circle of her humble suitors. She appears to be quite willing to be wooed, but unwilling to be won—just yet, at least; and she is probably perplexed by l' embarras du choix.

"One hears a lot about the humanising and refining influence of woman, and there really appears to be something in it. There is a great improvement apparent in the manners of our fellows. They can't, indeed, give up all their bad habits at once, but they try to control their feelings even at the risk of personal discomfort. This is a decided advantage in a room full of people. Swearing may also be said to be curtailed—a certain latitude is allowed, and no objection is taken to polite profanity, such as damning and blasting, and such like.

"Unfortunately, the boys have been so accustomed to swearing in another and forbidden key, that at present they are almost denied any sort of blasphemy, which must be very hard upon them.

"Conversation at the kitchen table flags very much in consequence, and my bashful mates appear to be reduced to monosyllables, and to casting sheep's eyes at the all-absorbing damsel.

"Yet they seem to like it.

page 292

"I have given notice! Not right out, by word of mouth, nor yet by letter. The shattered state of my nerves and the irritability of the old man's temper forbade the former, while the latter mode of communication seemed absurd between two people who are living under the same roof. I have brought diplomacy to my aid; I have taken advantage of the new régime, and have adopted a court-like mode of conveying the disagreeable announcement to the royal ear. I went about it this way. I took the irrepressible Ted aside, and told him as a great secret that I had made up my mind to leave by the end of this month; that I could not, would not, should not stay a day longer. Having sworn him to silence, I left, and within five minutes the important intelligence had been communicated to the cook, who rushed off to inform the maid, who confided the secret to her mistress, who immediately told the master, who used some bad language on the occasion. The answer I got back through the same indirect channel—of course not intended for my ear—was a kindly assurance that my departure could only be looked upon as a happy deliverance, that I had combined in my person the utmost incapacity with the blackest ingratitude, and that Mr. Dale would take precious care in future not to put himself out in assisting a poor rela-page 293tion. So, you see, the rupture has been brought about in the most pleasant and amicable manner; my conscience is at ease, and I feel at liberty to depart. I fancy, my dear Val, that you will rather disdain these petty manœuvres, especially as you know the sort of kindness and assistance I have received from these selfish and bumptious people—who, by the by, are no relations of mine, Mr. Dale being only a distant connection—but I admit that I am a coward in some things. I dread a scene; and as my old nurse used to say, 'I can't abear a bobbery.'

"This giving notice to quit, which seems such a simple matter, had been a source of much worry to me; I had cogitated over it for weeks past, and wondered how I should set about it, what I should say, &c. It was 'a consummation devoutly to be wished,' but I wished it done with. It reminds me of an incident at a marriage festivity at which I was induced to be present. The bridegroom—a friend of mine—took me on one side and whispered, with evident signs of nervous trepidation, 'I suppose this is the happiest day of my life, but I do wish it was over.'—Ever thine own


The change that had come over the men's kitchen, page 294through the presence of a couple of the female sex, had not been at all exaggerated by Raleigh. Instead of a lot of rough and ragged-looking fellows, sprawling about in their shirt-sleeves, hawking and spitting all over the floor, beating "the devil's tattoo" with their heels on the table, and yelling forth bawdy songs amid clouds of tobacco-smoke, the company had become all of a sudden quite decent and orderly. A decided improvement could also be noticed in the personal appearance of the men.

It became the fashion to be clean and tidy. There was quite a run on the supply of blue calico shirts in the station store, and a few boxes of paper collars, that had grown mouldy on some dusty shelf, were snatched up with avidity, the article rising to an enormous premium in consequence. The only looking-glass on the premises had been smashed long ago, but its remaining fragments now came into active requisition. Sturdy men waited patiently for their turn to get "a squint" at their bearish countenances, and, with the help of a horse-brush, to bring their unkempt locks under decent control. There was no such thing as a razor to be had, and the nearest barber resided some fifty miles away, but recourse was had to a bush method of cropping that answered every purpose. The performer would clap a basin page 295over the head to be operated on, and then snip with a pair of shears all round the edge.

There was a uniformity about this style of hair-cutting that did not allow of much artistic manipulation, yet by modifying the size of the basin a certain amount of variety could be introduced.

Thus burnished up, washed, combed, cropped, and in many instances paper-collared, the otherwise uncouth assemblage became quite a respectable gathering.

The fair maid to whose softening influence this remarkable transformation was mainly due doubtless appreciated the full force of the attention paid to her, and she tried to deserve it by bestowing marked attention on her toilet.

She was rather a tall girl, thin and bony, and what is commonly called "slop-made." But any deficiencies of nature in the way of rounded figure were fully compensated for by an amplitude of crinoline, which was still the fashion in those days. The cook—with whom she soon quarrelled, and who with feminine spite revealed some of those secrets which ought never to have been divulged—asserted also that the young person used to "prig" a couple of kitchen towels, for the purpose of adding to that development which all men admire.

Her face was naturally meagre and rather pale, page 296but the latter defect was within the reach of art to remedy, and to art accordingly she had recourse.

In the morning, when busy at household duties, she appeared In her natural complexion, but with the setting sun, when the men congregated in the kitchen for tea, and the young person was dressed for the occasion, she always made her entrée with a heightened colour. This was attributed in the first place to the blushes of modesty when exposed to the rude stare of so many masculine eyes; but upon closer inspection it was found that no softening tint ever modified the brilliancy of these glowing spots. They were fixtures; one on each cheek-bone, of the size and form of balf-a-crown, deeply coloured, and with unsubdued intensity round the edges. Then the truth began to be suspected, but only gradually, for men are very dense where the charms of woman are concerned; yet after a time there was no disguising the fact, and the secret was out that Susy Wanekin painted.

This touch of vanity raised a smile, and was productive of some good-natured banter, but it did not detract from her conquests, for she happily stood alone, and beyond the reach of odious comparisons. The patches of paint could come or go; they made no difference. Under crumpled towels and protrud-page 297ing crinoline there was enough of the genuine Susy to satisfy her admirers, and more than one fine-looking fellow was heard to mutter that he would be only too glad to take the girl, rouge and all.

When of an evening the tea-things had been removed, and the room cleared for action, a great amount of emulation was exhibited among the single men, both young and old, to attract the attention of the presiding beauty.

The irrepressible Ted came first to the fore, and with his squeaking concertina and double-shuffle he was supposed by the envious onlookers to have made a decided hit.

But the levity of the man did not advance his cause. Susy was rather seriously inclined; she meant business. Aleck the German tried to sing himself into her heart, but unfortunately all his love ditties were in an unknown tongue, nor was she to be won by harmony. Donald Mac made love and proposed to her, not after the manner of his national poet, with a passionate request

"To see me thro' the barley,"

but in slow, deliberate, and eminently practical terms; with a detailed account of his "wee bit siller," and a homily on the advantages that might accrue from the page 298careful management of a thrifty housewife. But Susy was not that way inclined, and she hated economy.

What she had an eye to was some jolly fellow, both young and hearty, who would be more anxious to work for her than to make her work; who would be able to earn a good living, and to keep her in comfort, without begrudging her a bit of finery either. Now, as not every one came up to this standard, it is not to be wondered at that many were rejected.

Among these unfortunates there was no one who suffered so keenly, or who lingered so long from unrequited affection, as poor Rainon. He was one of the first to strike his colours to the victorious maiden, and the last to give up the hope of possessing her. It must be admitted that his style of carrying on a courtship was peculiar, and not calculated to captivate a saucy parlour-maid, for he could only attempt to sigh himself into her favour. He had always been depressed, but now, under the influence of a new passion, he became utterly crushed. His mode of making himself agreeable was to sit by the fireside, crouching over the burning embers, to puff incessantly at an old pipe, which from the wheezing sound it emitted must surely have been badly afflicted with some pulmonary complaint, and to follow the object of page 299his adoration with his eyes. He watched her by the hour, he noted her incomings and her outgoings, he followed every revolution of her charming person. Her most trivial occupations were equally interesting to him, whether she was washing the spoons, or polishing my lady's boots, or playing with the cat, his ardent attention never relaxed. It was a monotonous pastime, but he did not tire of it. Otherwise he appeared to find his only consolation in his pipe and in the fire. If his heart was too full for words his feelings found vent in smoke, for the stronger his emotions the louder he puffed; and it was noticed that any chilling neglect on the damsel's part always brought him still closer to the burning logs, so that he made up for coolness on the one side by some extra roasting on the other.

The divine spark of love does not affect all individuals alike, it finds expression in an infinite variety of ways. It will kindle a blaze in one heart, and smoulder in fumes in another; it makes A talkative, B taciturn; C it stimulates to spirited exertion, D it plunges into morbid despondency; it makes a hero of E, a fool of F, and a coward of G; H it draws from out the jaws of death, after the medical faculty had given him up; while I, who was previously in robust health, it kills outright (this last case is, however, page 300extremely rare); and so on through the whole alphabet.

In the present instance there was plenty of scope and a great variety of symptoms: love affected Ted principally by his heels, and made him prance and shuffle to the admiration of every beholder but the one he strove to captivate; it instilled into Aleck's voice a moving pathos that would have melted a heart of stone, and the only possible explanation of its failure to soften Susy's must be attributed to that young person's absolute want of ear. As for poor Rainon, he could neither dance nor sing, but he shivered and puffed with intensified vigour, and his sighs almost kept the fire in a blaze, like a pair of bellows.

But it was all of no avail. Rainon found that neither ogling nor sighing advanced his suit, so he hesitated a few timid approaches of a more practical kind. How he went about it is not precisely known, but he evidently met with but scant encouragement, for Susy was a young person of rigid propriety, who kept her admirers at a safe distance.

Then he would humble himself to the dust, and appeal to her pity. On one occasion, when the idol of his heart, after washing up the tea-things, approached to warm her ruddy fingers at the fire, he managed to get hold of one of her hands, and, under cover of the page 301shadow of her crinoline, he pressed it passionately to his lips. The girl for once condescended to smile upon him, but it was a smile of commiseration, and she did not even stoop to pat his shaggy head, as she would have done to his dog if that faithful animal had vouchsafed her a similar caress. This was hard upon an ex-officer of Her Majesty's navy; but the God of Love is no respecter of persons, and pride is made to grovel before him.

Rainon was thus driven to a dire extremity, yet he had one resource left—it was the last despairing throw of the gambler who stakes his all on a final chance. He had accumulated some property. A few sheep which he had purchased on his first arrival in the colony had been placed out "on terms," and had increased in number until they formed a considerable flock. This was the bait upon which he relied, for he knew that his many rivals, whatever other attractions they might possess, were sheepless. So he concocted the following billet-doux, which was short and sweet, and to the purpose:—

"I have fifteen hundred sheep; they shall be yours, my darling, if you will only take me with them. Say the word that I am longing to hear.—

Your faithful


page 302

This note was carefully folded and doubled up, like a pellet, to be fired off at the first opportunity, to secure the prize and carry consternation into the enemy's camp. Rainon, with his heart in his mouth and his bronchitical pipe held fast between his teeth, waited to deliver it in person.

To the discordant blast of Ted's concertina there was an animated hop going on in the kitchen that night. The cook on one side, Susy on the other, with Long Bill and Bob the bricklayer, otherwise called "Bricky," as vis-à-vis. It was a merry round and a noisy one; they jumped and stamped, and whooped and tramped till they brought down the house, and all the pannikins and tin plates rattled in chorus. Bricky, who was a lusty lad, with ruddy cheeks and a vigorous arm, caught Susy round the waist and whisked her round till she was giddy; then gave her a squeeze that took her breath away, and all the jealous spectators knew at a glance that Bricky had made a decided impression. All but Rainon. He, poor fellow, with his elbows on his knees and his head over the fire, was oblivious of everything but his own misery and the charms of his idol, who heeded him not. In his desperation he chose this unlucky moment to fire off his last bolt, and as the blushing damsel swung past him page 303on the arm of the triumphant bricklayer, he popped the billet into her hand.

It cannot be disputed that the time was most inopportune.

In the frigid calm of morning, amidst the irksome tasks of household drudgery, the shot might have told; in the red-hot glow of nightly revels, with the warm impression of that tight squeeze still upon her, it was thrown away.

Susy with the sallow complexion, in a dirty apron, with a napkin tied round her head and a broom in her hand, might have listened to the bleating of that goodly flock; but Susy with the bright spots, kicking up her heels, bewitched and bewitching, was deaf to the insidious appeal. She snatched hold of the precious billet, glanced disdainfully through it, and in her next walk round, still hanging on the strong arm of the new favourite, she tossed the crumpled paper into the flames right under her rejected suitor's very nose.

Rainon started up and gasped aloud, turned a pale sea-green, gave one last despairing wheeze at his pipe, then flung it after the ill-fated letter into the fire, and hastily retired.

It was over. His pipe was broken; so was his heart.

It soon appeared that the star of the young brick-page 304layer was in the ascendant, for he rapidly eclipsed all his compeers in the eyes of the fair.

What his special "points" were nobody could see but her, but it was enough for him that she saw them. To the ordinary view he was rather a podgy man, with a florid complexion that needed no paint, and stout limbs that required no padding. This may have been a recommendation to her, who was pale and slim, and had recourse to both. His dancing, according to Ted, the leading authority, was deficient in every essential element of grace; his musical talents were beneath criticism, for he could only whistle, and that very much out of tune, while conversation he had none.

On the other hand, he could lay his thousand bricks a day, which was an accomplishment not to be despised in the trade, although it would not generally be considered one particularly cut out to win a lady's favour. Yet this is purely a matter of sentiment and old-standing prejudice. In the days of chivalry a man by knocking other men on the head earned the guerdon of the fair; in a more enlightened and utilitarian age, in a new country where ideas of "what pays best" prevail, if an equal amount of strength and agility could be displayed in piling up bricks, why should it be denied a similar reward? page 305Evidently so thought Susy, if she thought on the subject at all, which may be open to doubt. Probably she only considered in her innocent heart that a young man who could lay his thousand bricks a day would be able to earn good wages, and displayed energies that might qualify him for a good husband. But it is useless to speculate on the depths and intricacies of the human heart, and more especially of the female heart. It is sufficient that she loved him, or thought that she did, which comes to very much the same thing in practice. And as she was a young person who could be perfectly candid when it suited her, she took no trouble to disguise her love, but paraded it about openly, to the infinite disgust of the gaping crowd of her other admirers.

Now, the only place where "courting" could be done was in the men's kitchen, under the full glare of a couple of tallow candles, and in the presence of numerous prying eyes, so it must be admitted that love-making of the stereotyped kind had to be carried on under difficulties.

Mrs. Dale, who had no poetry in her constitution where other people were concerned, had issued an inexorable decree against moonlight rambles, or "mooning" about of any description. The bricklayer was fully employed during the day-time, and page 306in the evening he dared not venture within the sacred precincts of "The Residence," while the cook kept a sharp look-out upon him, and denied him all access to the pantry. There were no romantic nooks for whispered confidences, no shady bowers where the coy maiden could hide her blushes from her lover's ardent glances, no flowery meads where they could even "walk" together. The conditions were altogether unfavourable; indeed, they might have been described by any young couple, longing above all things for sweet seclusion, as exasperating.

But Bricky was a man of a stolid temperament and of positive proclivities; he was also a man of very few words. It is probable, therefore, that the lack of suitable opportunities for giving expression to his sentiments in impassioned language was not seriously deplored, while, on the other hand, the lady's cheeks were so highly coloured as to render any attempt at responsive blushing altogether superfluous. Neither of the lovers seemed to flinch at the forced publicity given to all their little manifestations of affection. They took it all as a matter of course. In other words, and to use the scientific phraseology of the day, they adapted themselves to their environment.

The "spoony" pair could not tell their love, but page 307they found another way of expressing the tender sentiment—they danced it. Not, indeed, after the style of the opera ballet, with frantic bounds and dazzling pirouettes. Nothing of that sort. The ardent lover did not make his declaration, as on the stage, in the form of an elegant pas seul; neither did his inamorata, fairy-like, elevate her toe to the level of his head by way of graciously granting his suit. Our respectable couple did not make an exhibition of themselves; their feelings were much more subdued, so were their steps. They footed it stolidly, they revolved on their heels with becoming gravity. Nevertheless they found in these clumsy gyrations a vent for their otherwise pent-up feelings. The gentle flutter of awakening love was symbolised in the melancholy waltz; the more animated exchanges of growing attachment were expressed in the agitation of a hopping polka; the pattering and capering of the reel portrayed the rising ferment of their young hearts; while the more rapturous outbursts showed themselves in the turbulent Highland schottisch. Thus all the shades and modulations of la grande passion were exhibited in a subdued but typical manner without word of mouth—for the bricklayer was a silent man.

The only drawback about this expressive mode of "carrying on" was that it required the help of some page 308musical accompaniment. In the early stages of the love idyl there was indeed no lack of harmony available—of a certain sort. The irrepressible Ted had always been ready with his concertina, Aleck could sing the tune of a waltz in exquisite time, Jonathan "Chips" could scrape a little on the fiddle, and Donald would discourse shrill music on a tin whistle. So long as Susy dispensed her favours with something like impartiality among the male company there was an ardent desire on all sides to contribute to the entertainment, and all the resources of the establishment were placed at the feet of the reigning belle.

But after a time, when the bricklayer rose to favour and gradually monopolised all the charms of the fair, there was a great falling off in the public enthusiasm, and the orchestra became rapidly disorganised.

The pastime of watching the measured rotations of these two stars, that shone for one another only, became exceedingly monotonous to the unparticipating spectators; first one and then another would cry off, and the musicians followed suit, for nobody seemed anxious to play for Bricky's sole benefit. Under these distressing circumstances, an appeal was made to the only "outsider" who was capable of supplying the deficiency, and was supposed to be quite indifferent to the turn that things had taken. page 309Raleigh had hitherto held himself aloof, but he was known to be obliging, so Miss Wanekin plucked up her courage, and with a respectful curtsy and her most captivating smile, begged him to favour them with a little music on his flute.

Now, the philosopher prided himself on not being proud. Nobody had ever accused him of giving himself airs. He was a man who, whatever he may have felt, never displayed any assumption of superiority.

He was not of a jovial disposition, but neither was he morose, and without being merry himself he could thoroughly enjoy the sight of merriment in others.

He liked also to contribute, in his quiet unobtrusive way, to the enjoyment of his associates. Often had he wakened the night echoes with his flute, and warbled soothing melody to the listening ears of his rough mates, as they crouched round the bush fire, raising their heads to catch the thrilling notes, or downcast, in sympathy with some plaintive mood. Often had he piped to a rollicking breakdown, on the floor of some deserted shed, where his noisy chums would congregate for a boisterous fling, and his services would be impressed with bluff cajolery.

He was also a man without a taint of snobbishness in his nature. He cared nothing for the out-page 310ward glitter of rank and wealth, and although he was himself of gentle birth, and could fully appreciate the distinction of a noble descent, yet he was not one to bow down before it, or to grant it any claim for privileged exclusiveness; rather would he join heartily in the refrain—

"A man's a man for a' that."

As for the ordinary petty inequalities of social position, and all the airs and graces of affected gentility, he treated them with lofty disdain, and took a special delight in setting them at defiance.

Yet a man, even though he be a philosopher, must draw the line somewhere. Raleigh was a man of taste, and accordingly he drew his line of grace. He abhorred vulgarity, not because it was vulgar, or characteristic of the so-called lower orders, but because it was gross and ugly. He was an artist, and as such he would only condescend to cultivate the beautiful. He would, indeed, occasionally make an exception for what was thoroughly exceptional; the bizarre might go down because it was unlike anything else, grotesqueness would be allowed to pass in virtue of its very ugliness, but on no account would he tolerate the commonplace.

Now it was an unfortunate circumstance that the love passages between the servant-maid and the lusty page 311bricklayer were decidedly commonplace. They may have been full of true poetry, and a credit to the tenderest touches of the human heart; they were, for ought we know to the contrary, thoroughly legitimate and proper, but they were certainly not graceful. Raleigh did not trouble himself about the moral aspect of the case, what concerned him was the picturesque. He saw them polka together once, and that was enough. Had they been naked savages they would have fared better in his eye. Had the man been got up as a Tyrolese huntsman, and the girl appeared in short petticoats, the philosopher would have played for them until further orders. Had they been a couple of German peasants, rigged out in their national costume, they would have stood a better chance. He would willingly have piped to a kilted Highlander, but the same man in moleskin trousers would have solicited for music in vain. And nothing would have pleased him more than to have contributed an obligato in the accompaniment to a Maori war-dance, although the evening costume de rigueur for the performers on such occasions was restricted to a club and a daub of paint. But the spectacle of a podgy bricklayer, in a blue smock and hobnailed boots, bobbing about the kitchen floor with a lanky maid in a bunchy crinoline, was too much for Raleigh's æsthetic soul; he felt that he page 312would not have sufficient nerve for such an ordeal, and he therefore begged to be excused.

The only other person on the station possessed of musical talent and an instrument was Mr. Stead the manager. He owned an old rattletrap of an accordion, and could rattle out a tune upon it, but the lovers knew better than to apply to him for any assistance in this emergency. Stead was the very opposite of Raleigh in his sense of the general fitness of things. He worshipped utility, but was ever mindful of decorum. From his point of view any smart tradesman who could lay his thousand bricks a day was infinitely to be preferred to the most gorgeously apparelled brigand, and a good laundress, were she ever such a fright, should take the palm from the most fascinating columbine, with the most exquisite calves. But the manager had also a scrupulous regard for his social status. He felt keenly that the man who was permitted the high honour of sitting at table with Mrs. Dale should never demean himself by fraternising with common folk in the men's house. It was not to be thought of. Besides, Stead did not approve of dancing, and at the hour when Terpsichore reigned in the kitchen he was engaged either at his accounts or his devotions.

The amorous bricklayer had therefore to fall back on his own resources, but he was equal to the occa-page 313sion. His only accomplishment was now brought into play—he whistled.

Every evening, Sundays excepted, and punctually at eight o'clock, he would take up a commanding position at one end of the large room, the fair one would then join him, and locked in a decorous embrace they would start the performance. It did not vary much, for Bricky's répertoire was rather deficient. He whistled the tune and footed the time, the girl allowed herself to be dragged about with charming compliance, and the motley assemblage looked on with every varying expression of being bored. The sight of a single young woman was no doubt a great attraction in those outlandish parts, but the fact that she was so constantly in the arms of one and the same man appeared to detract very much from the charm. Soon the company would disperse, and the big room would be deserted, but the happy pair danced on.

At first the cook used to sit it out, for the sake of appearances, and act the part of a self-appointed chaperon, but after a time she also got disgusted with this monopoly, and would retire from the scene in the sulks, but the happy pair danced on.

Yet there was one spectator of the festive performance who never budged. He fulfilled the part of a page 314silent chorus to the play, and no sentry on duty ever held more unflinchingly to his post. He was an "old hand," who was employed to "knock about;" and in the memory of the oldest inhabitant he had ever been an old hand, and had always knocked about.

Apparently it had been his destiny from an early age, and he had never been known to change in any particular. He went by the name of "White-headed Bob." He alone, of all the station hands, had declined to put his head in a basin to be cropped, and his long grey hair fell in ringlets down on his shoulders. He dressed in rags, and in a place where most people were dirty, he was conspicuous by his dirtiness. This poor old fossil had been vastly wonderstruck by the sudden appearance on the scene of a maid. In his long experience of the bush he had never before set an eye on such an enchanting creature, nor did he ever seem to recover entirely from the shock to his nervous system, for he continued to gaze upon her open-mouthed, and in his heart he worshipped the ground she trod upon. Every-body laughed at him, and even his divinity condescended to mock, but he was not to be diverted from his gaping adoration.

He was ever on the watch; so soon as the danc-page 315ing began he took up his post of observation, and to the flirtations of the tender pair he acted the part of a petrified "gooseberry."

Everything comes to an end; so did Susy Wanekin's love idyl. It was just such an ending as she wished for it, just such an ending as ought to befall in a highly moral story, conducted throughout with fitting regard to all the proprieties.

It was on a balmy evening in November, which corresponds at the Antipodes to our gushing month of May. The dancers, after a vigorous polka, had retired to one end of the room, and were leaning, side by side, against the window-sill. The place had been deserted by all, with the solitary exception of White-headed Bob; but he was looked upon as a fixture, and passed unnoticed. The pale light of the moon shone in through the open casement, and enveloped the lovers in a silvery radiance; outside, the witching scene was bathed in luminous transparency, deepening into soft mysterious shadows that veiled the rugged outlines of the distant prospect. It was just such a night as poets rave about, and in which lovers are always made to propose. The air was full of strange thrilling sounds that rose from the shadowy depths of the valleys; the gentle rustling of the night breeze seemed to whisper tender confidences to the page 316enraptured ear; the soft murmur of running waters wafted muttered vows and amorous babble. Robert felt the entrancing spell, Susan responded to it; they drew closer together; she leant her rosy cheek against his broad shoulders; he placed his strong arm round her yielding waist, and pressed her nearer to his heart; their hands met, and were clasped in thrilling unison; their lips trembled and drew nearer together, only waiting for the word that might permit them to seal the holy contract in one heartfelt embrace.

It came at last—none too soon, according to the cook. In a deep manly voice, subdued by emotion, he said to her—

"I say, Susy, suppose we get spliced—are you on?"

"Bob," replied the delighted girl, "if you'll stick to me, I'll stick to you."

Their lips met.

"Humid seal of soft affections,
  Tenderest pledge of future bliss,
Dearest tie of young connections,
  Love's first snowdrop, virgin kiss."

They were startled from that exquisite touch, that was being prolonged, perhaps, beyond the absolute requirements of the case, by a loud fit of coughing from White-headed Bob, and the next moment poor page 317disconsolate Rainon entered the kitchen and sat down by the smouldering fire to light his pipe. This unseemly interruption roused the lovers from their blissful trance, and the sight of a hated rival seemed to fire the bricklayer's manly heart. He jumped up, seized his bride-elect firmly round the waist, then, with a loud defiant whistle, striking up the tune of a galop, he bounded forward. It was a pæan of triumph, a revel of exultation.

They rushed, they whirled, they scampered round the room. They cannoned against the table, and upset a pile of crockery with a crash that brought the cook upon the scene in a paroxysm; they over-ran White-headed Bob and flattened his toes under the Bricklayer's iron heels; they swept down upon Rainon, and with a flip from Susy's crinoline knocked his new pipe out of his mouth; they shook the floor, they rattled the windows, they raised a cloud of dust. Then there was a sudden lull, for a door was thrown open and there advanced upon the disordered scene the tall commanding figure of the lady of the house. Behind her, in solemn procession, there followed Mr. Dale, the manager, the philosopher, and the two cadets.

They all came to see what this fearful row was about. At the awful announcement, "The Missus!" page 318which was hoarsely whispered across the room, Bricky had brought his flying galop to a dead stop, and slunk back in the rear, leaving the unprotected maid to bear the brunt of the coming storm.

"Susan! did you hear my call?" ejaculated the indignant mistress, with a frown to strike terror into any humble dependant.

"No, mum!" replied the other with innocent composure, as if she was quite at a loss to understand what all the fuss was about.

Mrs. Dale looked daggers, Susy was all smiles. The mistress was boiling over with rage, the maid was simmering with malicious delight. The one stamped her foot, the other tossed her head.

"I told you to wait in the ante-chamber," said Mrs. Dale with dignity. "How dared you leave without asking permission?"

"I'd a spirit above it, mum!" was the pert answer.

"Susan!" pursued the irate mistress, "when I brought you here I fully explained to you what your duties were to be; I gave you notice then."

"I give you notice now," interrupted the other, turning up her cheek.

Mrs. Dale could have slapped it.

"What do you mean, you silly girl?" she exclaimed; "you can't break your engagement."

page 319

"I ain't a-going to, mum," replied the maid, with a sly glance behind her.

The bricklayer felt called upon to advance. "It's me she's engaged to now, mum," he said. "Susy's agreed to take me for better or worse."