"Up before dawn and got breakfast 'under way' page 205by candle light. Then 'washed up'—to me the most objectionable part of my household duties. Swept the hut, tidied up things in general, and made my bed, which reminds me that I shall soon have to remake my mattress. This has consisted for a long time past in bundles of Manuka brushwood. So long as the leaves lasted they formed a tolerably elastic surface, but now that all the dead foliage has fallen off, leaving nothing but the hard sticks, it is like lying on a gridiron. I arise aching in all my bones.
"Off by sunrise, with a long way to go and 'a hard road to travel.' Found the hill slopes very slippery, and snowdrifts in the gullies, so I followed the spurs and made towards Mount Vulcan. No signs of the sheep all the way, and I began to feel anxious about my charge, especially concerning the young lambs. Reached the Fern-tree Gully about noon, having thoroughly examined that side of my beat, and was 'biding a wee' for a spell, when I heard a sharp crack that rang through space like a pistol-shot. There was no mistaking the sound. I ran over the ridge, to find some two thousand of my flock quietly grouped in a sheltered hollow, while on the high ground above them several rams were having a grand tournament.
"There was some hard hitting.page 206
"Two savage old tups were going at it with a will; after each thumping concussion they would stagger about, stunned and stupefied, then recover themselves, lick their gums, back off some ten paces, and go it again full tilt—the hardest skull to win. This constant bumping of crowns together may account on Darwinian principles for the unmitigated stupidity of these thick-headed brutes. In the course of their development through countless ages, dominion and propagation has been bestowed on the greatest blockheads.
"To light is one of the first laws of nature. All animated existence is a conflict. War and bloodshed are 'necessary evils,' nor is there the slightest reason for believing that they were first introduced into the world with the original sin. They belong, on the contrary, to the very essence of the 'eternal fitness of things.' The most useful and beneficial institution in the glorious constitution of our universe. All animals (excepting man) are armed for the good fight; either to prey on the brotherhood, or for defence against insidious attacks, or for mastery in their own family relations. Creation is an armed camp, and the work of slaughtering its principal occupation. And when we contemplate the wonders of nature, and bow our heads before the Infinite Wisdom with which page 207it has been ordained, we cannot fail to be struck with the many beautiful and ingenious devices afforded for effecting this good purpose. What a marvellous variety there appears in the means and appliances provided for killing! It is accomplished by animal creation with almost equal success by biting, rending, clawing, stabbing, kicking, stifling, stinging or crushing. But these be rude methods compared with the more curious and intricate contrivances of a benevolent dispensation, such as electrifying, poisoning, befouling, stinking to death, and many others equally clever. If we turn from the spectacle of bloodthirsty rage and open conflict to the guile and stratagem of the universal warfare, we are still further lost in admiration at the marvellous fertility of invention displayed in the order of nature. In its elevating study we meet with examples of every description of snare and pitfall designed to encompass the innocent or entrap the unwary. Every conceivable device for bewildering, paralysing, decoying, or bewitching with evil eye the helpless victim, is practised by nature with astonishing perfection. Even the ingenuity of man, prompted by the devil, can hardly succeed better in an art so peculiarly his own. There is one mode of discomfiting an enemy, however, which would appear to have been specially reserved for page 208the benefit of the human race; it is the exquisite art of talking any one to distraction, which can only be practised by man, and is carried to its utmost perfection by woman.
"I watched the battering ram conflict with attention, and was much interested in the fight between a long-wooled ram of imposing dimensions but hornless crown, and a grand old buffer with massive and curly appendages. It was an exciting contest, evidently carried on for the leadership of a select group of meek and sentimental-looking ewes, that stood complacently by watching the result.
"The owner of the crumpled horns came off best, and having battered his opponent into a condition of harmlessness, he turned proudly to his flock to taste the reward of his prowess, when I inopportunely interfered by setting the dogs at him. The ram's blood was up; he turned on his pursuers and butted at them so vigorously that they cried off, and the savage animal looked as if for two straws he would run a tilt at me. So I bowled a piece of rock at him, which took his middle stump, and so upset his equanimity that he scampered off, and then the whole flock took to their heels after him.
"Returning home, I came upon the remainder of the sheep, which had found cover in sheltered nooks page 209by the river-side, and did not seem to have suffered from the snowstorm. I saw no dead lambs about.
"I reached the hut just before dark, much relieved in mind. I have discovered with dismay that I have run out of candles, and I am much too tired to set about making some this evening. I am scribbling these notes by the light of an impromptu lamp, consisting of a wick in a pannikin of melted tallow.
"I find that 'The Doctor' has been round with old Darkey and the rations. He has left me a bag of flour and half a sheep, also a little box from the homestead, labelled 'Books—keep dry,' but containing, among other spiritual matter, two bottles of whisky. It is fortunate for me that 'The Doctor' had no desire to dip into literature on the way, for had he done so I fancy he might have camped out on the run for the night, and relieved the old horse of a portion of the load before reaching here.
"But not being a man of educated tastes, he was preserved from the mortal sin of stealing and getting drunk."