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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIII.

My first duty next morning, that broke warm and beautiful, was to take an opportunity of apprising Mr. Rolleston of my suspicions touching the genuineness of Marsden's profession, to which I added also Lilly's downright conviction as to the personality of his visitor. Mr. Rolleston listened to me with an air of extreme surprise. “Nonsense,” he said at length, “you and Lilly are most ridiculously mistaken. Mr. Marsden's connections, some of whom I know by repute, are of the highest respectability. He has shown me a letter of introduction that he had to Mr. Goldsborough of Gelong that speaks of him in the most satisfactory terms.”

After such conclusive evidence, I had no more to say, and there the matter dropped.

After breakfast, having first been to the stable to see our horses saddled, we returned to the house to bid the ladies goodbye. They were all standing on the verandah, and with them Mr. Marsden. Miss Rolleston, as usual, looked lively and enchanting. “Do you know, Mr. Farquharson,” she said, as I joined the party, “I have been mentally cogitating how we could spend next Christmas in the pleasantest manner. I understand that Captain Caddell's steamer goes up as far as Menindie which papa says is within a very short distance of his station; tell me, are there many kangaroos up there? and if there are, could we not get up a grand hunt on Christmas Day? It would be famous fun. Besides Mary and Miss Campbell, there will be some other ladies and gentlemen whom I intend inviting from town to enjoy their holidays with us.”

“You must be surely dreaming, Miss Rolleston,” was my surprised reply to this strange proposal; “even if you all were to come up to the Darling station, there would scarcely be decent accommodation in our bachelor's hall for a bevy of young ladies.”

“Pay no attention to what the madcap says,” said her father, smiling. “She does not know what she wants.”

“Now, papa, not only do I know what I want but I am determined that what I want I will have. Do you know, I have been thinking of this idea for a long time, but always put off mentioning it till now.”

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“The thing is absurd, girl,” said her father. “How do you imagine you are ever going to get up there?”

“Now, papa, what is to prevent our all going up in Captain Caddell's steamer as far as Menindie? and then you say your station is only ten miles further on.”

“And I suppose your gay party are all to walk over the hot sand hills all those ten miles! I think I just see you doing it,” replied her father sarcastically, “for where,” he added, “is Mr. Farquharson to find side-saddles for all your ladies to ride on, I should like to know?”

“Precisely in this way,” replied his daughter triumphantly. “Surely what saddles we shall require we can take up with us, and if we have not sufficient of our own, I know we can borrow some from the neighbours here for the few days that we shall need them, and then Mr. Farquharson would only have to send a man to meet us with as many horses as were necessary. But even that plan does not quite please me; it is not picturesque enough. We can fetch the saddles to ride on when we get to the station, and whatever else we shall require for our comfort besides; but instead of riding to the station on horseback it would be much more fun to go in the bullock dray, besides being more convenient for getting the other things we should require taken on to the station. Now come, what is there so very absurd in that plan, pray?”

“And who is going to look after a madcap like you on an expedition like this? I am sure that I am not, for one, and besides, I am not sure but what I shall be away from home on other business at about that time.”

“Now, papa, do not make any more objections,” replied his daughter, speaking more seriously; “I am sure that I mean to conduct myself with the utmost propriety, for I should not dream of going without being under some responsible person's charge, I intend that Mrs. Campbell shall accompany us to keep us all in proper order.”

“Me, indeed! you surely don't imagine that I am to let you drag me all that distance up country, to gratify your wild whims, you unreasonable creature!” replied Mrs. Campbell, smiling reprovingly.

“Now, Mrs. Campbell, pray do not say so, for I am resolved on having my own way here. We can return the day after Christimas Day, and I know Captain Caddell intends spending his Christmas at Menindie, for he said so to me, when I met him in Adelaide. And I know he will not be in a hurry to return till our party can get back to Menindie, so that we can have plenty of time to enjoy a kangaroo hunt at Christmas.”

“Well, Miss Rolleston,” I here put in, when I saw that the page 90 strong-willed girl was likely to bear down all opposition to her pet scheme, “I am sorry to damp your ardour, but if it is merely for the pleasure of enjoying a kangaroo hunt that you are so determined to come up to the Darling Station, I fear you will have all your pains for nothing: in all the time that I have been there, I do not remember to have seen more than half-a-dozen or so of kangaroos altogether, and emus are almost as scarce.”

Miss Rolleston looked greatly disconcerted at the threatened collapse of the scheme, on the furtherance of which she had apparently set her heart.

“Oh! if Miss Rolleston wants to gallop after something,” here remarked Lilly, jocularly, “we can manage to get up a cattle muster: I shall be branding some calves by that time.”

“Oh thank you, Lilly, that will do nicely,” cried Miss Rolleston?” we can first ride out and have a pleasant picnic on the run, and after that bring home a mob of cattle; that will be fun!”

“Yes,” replied Lilly, following up her joke. “And I will bake a damper for your picnic that you can have out at the lake, whither the black fellows can carry the things, and we can fetch the cattle home with us from there, for it is there that most of them are running.”

“I declare I will write for Miss Campbell and Miss Brydone and a few other friends forthwith,” Miss Rolleston replied in quite a rapture of excitement at the prospect that Lilly's idea had opened out to her.

“Am I to positively believe, Miss Rolleston, that you are in earnest in all this?” I now seriously demanded.

“I positively mean it all, I assure you,” she replied decisively.

I glanced towards Mrs. Campbell to hear that worthy lady's opinion of this wild plan.

“Upon my word, Mr. Farquharson,” she smilingly replied to my look, “I really don't know what to think about it, but we had better leave Rachel alone at present with her hobby—in all probability her mind will be occupied about some fresh scheme long before Christmas comes round.”

“Very well, Mrs. Campbell, we shall see if it will; and, Mr. Farquharson, we will write you in time to apprise you of our coming, so that the bullock dray may be in readiness to receive us when we reach Menindie, and, Mr. Marsden, remember we shall expect you to make one of our party.”

“Most willingly will I do so, Miss Rolleston, and I will make it my duty to arrange my business so as to be able to take advantage of your enchanting invitation—that is, if Mr. page 91 Farquharson will not be too much inconvenienced in providing room for me among so many other guests.”

“Miss or Mr. Rolleston's friends, sir, can always command what accommodation there is to spare, convenient or inconvenient, at Tappio Station,” I replied somewhat stiffly.

“For that matter, for the pleasure of enjoying the society of Miss Rolleston, and, of course, Miss Rolleston's friends,” bowing to the other ladies, “an old campaigner like me would be sufficiently recompensed with a rug spread under an umbrageous gum tree for his night's lodging!”

“Your chivalry, I trust, Mr. Marsden, will be submitted to no such trying test on our account, I hope,” said Miss Rolleston laughing, then added, “and now, Mr. Farquharson, we will depend on your arrangements being proceeded with on receiving my letter apprising you of our coming.”

“Very well,” I replied, “I will promise to do my level best to receive you all with due honour when you arrive. It will certainly be an event to be talked of at Tappio.”

We now went through a general hand-shaking performance preparatory to our departure, during which, on coming to Mary, I, giving her hand a tender squeeze, contrived to whisper in her ear, “Now, don't forget your promise to be my friend”.

“No, Mr. Farquharson, indeed I will not,” she replied, cordially squeezing my hand in return.

“Well, Lilly, what do you think of our prospective Christmas guests?” I asked of my companion as we rode along the road.

“Faith, I don't know what to think of it; the idea of such a party of ladies and swells at Tappio seems strange enough anyhow! Won't the other chaps stare when they see them! It will be something like a Christmas Day!”

Conversing thus we rode along till we arrived opposite the township of Wentworth—then merely represented by a small public-house and store, and a small collection of huts and tents — situated on the banks of the Darling, immediately above its confluence with the Murray. Here we overtook the station hands who were driving the cattle which had been made to swim the Murray at Mr. Rolleston's station. On Lilly's suggestion, that we must here “shout” for the men, we hailed the punt, and were straightway all, save one who was left with the cattle, ferried across the turbid waters of the Darling, then in a state of flood.

As the shearing season was now commencing, we were not surprised to see tied to the verandah posts of the “pub” several horses with “swags” strapped on their saddles, the occupation of their riders being also indicated by bundles of sheep shears fastened on the outside of these “swags”. These riders, in page 92 various stages of intoxication, were seen crowding the bar and smoking in the verandah.

Some of them appeared to be fine, athletic fellows, with a daring, happy-go-lucky expression in their faces, while others again showed a more forbidding and ruffian-like aspect as they swung about the place blustering and blaspheming.

Entering the tap-room, we were waited on by the owner of the house, Mr. M‘George, a civil and rather jovial-looking person, who at my request brought in drinks for all the party—we numbered four in all, counting the man left in charge of the cattle, to whom an ample share of the spirituous refreshment was sent across in a bottle. After all had emptied their glasses, Lilly, considering it absolutely incumbent on him to get rid of any loose cash that he might have about him, which, moreover, on the station at home he regarded as an almost superfluous encumbrance, not only repeated the “shout,” but added to its quantity, inviting as many of the loiterers about the door as he happened to recognise to come and join us.

It was through this proclivity of reckless “shouting” that Lilly had contrived to get rid of the major part of his earnings year by year; yet Lilly himself was no drunkard, and when on duty no man knew better how to keep this lavish habit of his under restraint, as he never suffered any man when under his charge to get muddled enough to become incapacitated for his work.

While these drinks were being discussed I amused myself by watching the vagaries that some of the topers at the bar and in the verandah were displaying. Some were quarrelling and giving utterance to language that discovered the true complexion of their minds; others, again, seemed more bent on indulging their humour in an excess of mischievous sport.

It was court day, and consequently rather a gala day in the township. There were several troopers sauntering about the place; one of these, a sergeant, a stiff, consequential-looking man, with a very wiry and prodigiously curly moustache and finical goatee, in especial amused me by the evident self-importance he displayed in his manner.

This trait of his had also evidently attracted the notice of one of the athletic, dare-devil-looking shearers I have referred to, whose pugnacity was evidently rendered irrepressible by the sundry glasses of grog he had just been imbibing at the bar, and who apparently was bent on giving his humour full play by the exercise of a little “chaff” at the expense of the consequential-looking sergeant.

At this moment the equanimity of our own party was like to have been disturbed by the obtrusive insolence of a burly, pock-marked, page 93 ill-looking ruffian, whose quarrelsome disposition with his fellow topers I had already noted. This fellow, conceiving himself aggrieved in having been omitted from the invitation to join in Lilly's “shout,” now began to give vent to his assumed contempt for all the party by various foul expletives, more particularly directed against one of the stockmen, a smart, spirited young fellow, named Billy Lorimer, to whom he offensively remarked, “What the —— are you jawing about?” Lorimer was at once preparing to retort when Lilly peremptorily interfered. Although the general effect of spirits upon Lilly was to render him genial and good humoured and inclined to practical jokes, though at other times naturally quick and impatient, yet he would at no time suffer anyone to take undue liberties with him, and much less would he submit to bluster.

On the present occasion he at once silenced the bully by rising up and sternly addressing him. “Look here, old man, your company ain't wanted here on no account, so you just clear out of here or I am the man that will take you by the scruff of the neck and chuck you out.”

There was such an evident determination shown in Lilly's manner to make his threat good that the man at once cowered and took the particularly broad hint that Lilly had given him, to leave the room.

Meanwhile the consequential-looking trooper, not much relishing the personal remarks of the facetious shearer and his enquiries as to whether he “found the ramrod down his back rayther uncomfortable,” suddenly stopped and stared haughtily at his interlocutor, fiercely twirling his prodigious and wiry moustache the while. Unabashed by this his tormentor asked him if he would part with his goatee for a consideration? This was altogether too much for the man of dignity. “Look here, my fine fellow,” he said, “unless you are deucedly civil I will lock you up.”

“Don't get your shirt out, old man! look here, what will you take for your white gloves? I want a pair for shearing,” retorted the shearer.

The trooper deigning no reply, the mischievous fellow still further insulted his dignity by asking him if he was not going to “shout” for all hands, “for,” he said, “it would be shabby for a gentleman like him not to do it”.

This was really more than the guardian of the public could possibly submit to, and at once walking up with the intention of putting his threat into execution, he laid his hand upon the shearer's collar, an attention that the shearer resented by instantly tripping up the trooper, who was sent staggering out into the road, where he fell on his back. At once recovering page 94 himself, the outraged official applied a whistle to his mouth and again rushed forward to seize the enemy, when he was met by a well-planted blow in the face that sent him a second time staggering back into the road.

Several other troopers now made their appearance, and with their assistance the obstreperous shearer was held fast. His companions at this juncture rushed out from the bar, determined on liberating their friend from the clutches of the police, and a general free fight ensued, the police calling loudly on the bystanders in the Queen's name to assist them in quelling the disturbance.

“Here's a lark,” cried Lilly, on hearing the commotion, and the cry of the Queen's name by the police. “In the Queen's name,” he repeated, “come along, Rilly,” he cried to the young stockrider.

“In the Queen's name,” repeated Lilly, rushing out accompanied by Billy into the midst of the mêlée, apparently a most determined supporter of law and order. Pushing in among the crowd and swinging himself about in a most extraordinary manner, Lilly's first feat was to push one of the combative shearers violently against another policeman, who at this moment was running towards the scene of the disturbance, and who, in consequence of the sudden impetus with which he was met, was sent reeling several yards in an opposite direction; following this feat up, Lilly next made a strange sweeping, circular kind of a blow, aimed at no one in particular, but which most inadvertently fell full on the unfortunate sergeant's ear, fairly knocking him down.

“Dear me, I'm so sorry, it wasn't you at all I intended to hit,” exclaimed the penitent Lilly, picking up the luckless sergeant, and as if to give proof of this profession, he aimed next in thorough earnest a blow that fell so well planted on the nose of the blustering bully (who had also joined in the riot for the mere gratification of his brutal desire of being able to hurt some one), that the fellow reeled back several yards and fell.

Billy Lorimer, who all this time had simply kept close to Lilly, now received a whispered hint from the latter, in obedience to which he gave Lilly a sudden push that impelled him on to the policeman who still held the shearer, who had occasioned the whole disturbance, prisoner.

Lilly was a powerful raw-boned man, whom it would have been no easy matter for any ordinary person to have sent a yard out of his way against his own will. But in this instance the effect that the thrust of a slim-built man, like Billy Lorimer, had upon him, seemed magical. Not only did it impel Lilly against the policeman who was several yards off with his prisoner, but it occasioned him to come against that policeman page 95 with such a violent shock as to fairly overturn both him and the man he held; nor was that all, for in the general overthrow Lilly was precipitated with such force, and fell so heavily on the policeman's arm, that he let go his hold of the prisoner.

“Run, you d——1, run,” Lilly whispered in the shearer's ear; advice that he aided by the awkward scramble he contrived to make ere he was able to regain his footing, whilst the shearer, taking Lilly's hint, instantly sprang to his feet, rushed towards his horse, that was standing with others tied to the verandah posts, and immediately mounted and galloped off, followed by all his companions.

In the meanwhile, Lilly, having at length regained his footing and apparently greatly exasperated at what had happened to him, again attacked the bully, who, by this time, was standing quite quietly by himself, apparently suffering from the effects of Lilly's last blow and sick of further fighting. Rushing at him again, Lilly fetched him such a tremendous blow on the ear, that the luckless wretch once more measured his length on the ground; then, instantly seizing him and dragging him to his feet, Lilly gave him triumphantly in charge of the police as being one of the chief offenders in the late disturbance.

What the policemen thought of Lilly as an ally it would be impossible to say, but, by the dubious-looking countenances with which they received his condolence at the rough handling some of them, and especially the sergeant, had just received, it appeared to me as if they were not sure whether to regard him as a friend or a foe. However, they took possession of their only prisoner, for whom they were solely indebted to Lilly's prowess, and from their manner of securing him, it was evident that he was to be made the scapegoat for all the others.

Over this laughable scene, the shearer who had been the occasion of it often made merry with Lilly, for he shortly afterwards worked with Lilly in the shed, where he was looked upon as one of the smart men on the board. During all the shearing season, Lilly's zeal in the service of the Queen, that had contributed so much to the discomfiture of the Queen's servants, was the standing joke of the shed.