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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XXIX

page 205

Chapter XXIX.

I can hardly explain how it was that I had always associated an idea of dreariness with New Zealand. Whether its unpromising name had anything to do with this or not, I cannot say, though probably it had, but on sighting land, on my voyage thither, and gazing at its wild, precipitous mountains and bare hills, my old prejudices returned in full force.

But had this prejudice been tenfold greater, the prospect of meeting the kind friends whom I had not seen for so long would have made the country still delightful to me.

I had an interview with Mr. Roscoe, a portly, bald-headed, keen-looking man of business. Our arrangements were soon completed. I was to have a third share in the station, with Mr. Roscoe's proportion of the amount requisite for a manager's salary also allowed me for the trouble of working the station.

The picture, as I started on this new venture in my chequered career, was not a very bright one. It was drawing towards the close of what had been a miserably cold drizzling day, one of many during which I had been on the road in company with a shepherd and several other men who were driving a flock of about 5000 sheep in all, almost all of them ewes, and with them a few head of cattle. We were going towards my new run. Along with us too there was a bullock dray, laden with provisions and necessaries for our first encampment and subsequent work in the construction of more substantial station buildings.

My shepherd was a Highlander, with the shrewd, strongly marked features so peculiar to his race, and was of strong build with bushy red brown beard, whiskers, and moustache. Besides his accredited qualifications as a thorough shepherd, I was further prepossessed in his favour by his reputation as a skilful performer on the bagpipes, an instrument to whose wild thrilling notes I am passionately attached, as indeed are most Highlanders deserving of the name. And often have I amused my English friends since my arrival at Invercargill (for I had scarcely ever heard the sound of this instrument in Australia), by my sudden movement in the direction of the music when the wild wailing measure of the bagpipes fell upon my ear.

As I have said, the day was drawing to a close, and we were cold and wet and anxiously looking out for Mr. Campbell's station, to which we were then bound. I had soon ascertained, to my intense satisfaction, that my old friends were actually located on the lower extremity of the same lake, and only about twenty miles distant from my new run, so that I now actually had the delightful anticipation of having as my next neighbours page 206 friends whom I at one time thought I might never meet again.

“There is Campbell's place at last,” exclaimed Munro, the shepherd, as our party at length debouched from the hills, among which we had been travelling the whole day, and that here terminated in a large plain on the other side of which, at a distance of two miles, the blue smoke was seen curling upward from some station buildings that were snugly sheltered by a dense bush, that could be seen stretching as far as the eye could reach along that side of the plain. As we at length reached the paddock in which the buildings were situated, Mr. Campbell came out to meet us, having been told in advance of our coming, and intended occupation of the neighbouring run, but not of my partnership in the concern.

I could not refrain from smiling as I observed first the puzzled, then astonished expression that overspread Mr. Campbell's quiet, genial countenance, on his first beginning to recognise my identity, as I rode towards him. “Bless my soul, Mr. Farquharson!” he cried, as I reined in my horse, and he reached out his hand to me. “Who would have ever thought of meeting you here? When did you come ever to New Zealand? How are you my boy?” I sprang from Selim's back, and warmly shook his hand, and in the fewest possible words informed him of the circumstances that had caused me to leave the Darling Station and enter upon my present situation.

“Come away in! Come away in,” cried the hearty old fellow. “Give your horse—is it Selim? and so it is, man! but he is looking grand—give him to the man, he will put him to rights in the stable for you; never you mind about the sheep and cattle, the men here know where they are to be put, and they'll be all sorted properly. Come you away in! the wife and the girls will be right glad to see you. Mary is always talking about you.”

“Well, girls,” he exclaimed, in opening the door, “here's a friend of yours come to see you.” I followed close behind him as he entered, the better to enjoy their expressions of surprise, on seeing me.

“Why, mother! it is Mr. Farquharson! Well, I declare, who would have thought of seeing you here of all people in the world! “It was Miss Campbell who uttered these words of unqualified pleasure on seeing me, words that she followed up by impetuously bounding forward and shaking me warmly by the hand.

“Oh, I am so glad!” cried Mary, following with scarcely less haste and not a whit less warmth; “I have been thinking about you so much ever since we left Australia. I am so glad that you have come to see us at last;” and she kept on shaking page 207 my hand as if she would never leave off. Next came Mrs. Campbell, whose genuine welcome I felt in the firm, cordial grasp of her hand as she laid it in mine, and that was a more convincing proof of her regard, than fifty words could have been.

Their pleasure was even greater, when Mr. Campbell announced the nature of my present business, and that henceforth I was to be their own closest neighbour.

“Oh, won't that be nice!” cried Mary, fairly clapping her hands in glee; “but what did you do with Selim, did you bring him over with you? Oh, I hope you did!”

“Selim,” I answered with a smile, “is in the stable here now.”

“Oh, that's grand; but, of course, you would never think of leaving him behind. Dear old Selim, how often I have thought about him, since I came to New Zealand.”

We soon after this sat down to supper; the men at the same time being as hospitably accommodated in the kitchen as I was in the parlour, and, by the sound of their boisterous laughter, I could tell that they were pretty well satisfied with their entertainment.

Our conversation naturally turned upon the scenes amongst which we had met before, but the pleasure of our memories was sadly dashed by the recollections they brought with them of Rachel Rolleston's rash flight with Marsden; and the girls and their mother wept as they spoke of her, and their sorrow was increased on my repeating to them the information contained in Mr. M‘Elwain's letter, about Marsden's supposed neighbourhood and harassment by the police.

Leaving this sad theme after a while, Mrs. Campbell said: “You must have had a dull time of it at the station after we all left. We are quiet enough here, I know, but somehow I can never associate the same dreariness and solitude with this place, that seems to be natural to that wild country, where everything looks so dry and parched up, as though nature herself were ready to faint of sheer inanition. It is solitary here too, as far as distance from neighbours can constitute solitude; but to me, the constant companionship of the hills, with their ever-varying tints, overtopped by the mountains in the background, is such a source of pleasure and interest, that it almost compensates me for the absence of neighbours; but in that totally uninteresting Darling country, coupled with the routine of station life, where no interest or excitement occurred to break each day's monotony, I know not how you could keep your blood from stagnating altogether.”

“I fear, Mrs. Campbell,” I answered with a smile, “that you have conceived a rather unfavourable idea of the Darling page 208 scenery, though indeed it is tame enough, we know, compared to these magnificent hills, that meet the view on every side. As for interest and excitement, however, to keep my blood from stagnating, I assure you, I have had no lack of that lately, but rather too much if anything.”

“Indeed! and what might have been the nature of the incidents that have been exciting you so much?” asked Mrs. Campbell, with a smile. But the smile soon altered to an expression of alarm, when I began to give an account of my experiences with the blacks in the back country.

My story—that included the narrative of the murder of the white men on the Warego—as may be imagined, excited no small interest among my listeners; and many were the expressions of sympathy, of horror, or of admiration, according as the various phases of my narrative moved them, that escaped from Mrs. Campbell and her daughters, as I told my tale.

Mrs. Campbell, who always traced the over-ruling of Providence in all the occurrences of life, as I concluded my narrative gave utterance to a devout sense of God's goodness in the mercy He had thus so signally vouchsafed to us all in our difficulties; an expression of reverend gratitude, indeed, in which I silently joined.

After a slight discussion of the matter I, by way of changing the subject, enquired after Miss Brydone, whose quiet, lady-like manners had prepossessed me much in her favour during her Christmas visit to the Darling.

“She is in Invercargill, Mr. Farquharson,” Miss Campbell replied, in answer to my enquiry. “On hearing of our intention of coming to New Zealand she instantly elected to come over with us; as she had no friends—that is, no relations in Adelaide, and looked upon us as her chief friends, she thought she should like to live in the same colony as we did, so as to have an opportunity of occasionally meeting us.”

“Indeed? and whereabouts in Invercargill is she?” I demanded with an air of such sudden though unconscious interest that Miss Campbell smiled mischievously as she answered:

“Ah, you are too late, Mr. Farquharson; Miss Brydone has been engaged some time to a Mr. Ayson, a nice, gentlemanly man, who is a teacher, and to whom she was introduced a few days after our arrival at Invercargill, and I believe their marriage is fixed to come off shortly, so you see you have lost your chance!”

“Not altogether perhaps,” I answered in the same jesting tone; “has Miss Campbell forgotten poor Miss Rolleston's very page 209 dramatic prophecy that happy Christmas night on the Darling with reference to the probability of my second love?”

Whether from the audacity of my remark, or rather from its very unexpectedness, I know not, but Miss Campbell's eyes fell and her colour slightly rose, a rather unwonted thing with her, whose vivacity was not easily subdued.

But here a more prosaic remark from Mr. Campbell instantly spoiled the effect of this by-play with his daughter.

“Well, Mr. Farquharson,” he asked, “what is your opinion of New Zealand?”

“To say the truth, Mr. Campbell,” I replied, “when I look at these bare, rugged peaks, where there seems to be scarcely enough soil to admit of a covering of the scantiest vegetation save in the hollows, where everything looks sharp, and angular, and crude, I can not help thinking that civilisation has taken nature by surprise 1000 years before she was ready or expecting to receive it. This idea, I think, is confirmed by the appearance of your native coal—or lignite as they call it here, which I understand will require something like another 1000 years to bring it to maturity.”

“That may be,” responded Mr. Campbell laughingly, “but I think mother Nature has plenty finished all ready for people to be going on with in the meanwhile. I am told that in the neighbouring province of Otago, on the Taieri Plain, and other places besides, farmers have reaped crops of both oats and wheat, yielding as many as 70, 80, and 90, yes, and over 100 bushels an acre; that's more than Australia could ever do.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I believe that for the production of cereals New Zealand is a noble land; and no doubt after I have been here for a short time I shall like it better, especially when I get accustomed to these piercing winds, that seem to cut right through me.”

Mrs. Campbell here asserted her decided opinion as to the advantages of the bracing climate of New Zealand over that of Australia, remarking, “I never feel that languor here with which in the summer I used to be so oppressed in Australia, and as for the headaches to which I used to be such a martyr there, why, since I came to this country I have scarcely known what such a thing as a headache is, which is a matter of no small blessing in itself”.

“I like the country much better than I do the town,” here chimed in her eldest daughter, Jessie. “I think Invercargill with its wide streets is such a dreary looking town.”

“Yes,” I returned with a smile. “A sense of dreariness in connection with the extraordinary breadth of the streets struck me also. To use an Australian phrase, the opposite rows of page 210 houses are scarcely within cooey of each other, and the ‘stand off’ aspect occasioned by this, combined with the cold, bleak wind that came sweeping along them and blowing the dust all over the place, gave me a rather unfriendly impression of this rising town of yours.”

“Invercargill certainly has a cold look at present from the width of the streets,” replied Mrs. Campbell, “yet I think when the councillors find time to plant the sides of the thoroughfares with trees, as I doubt not they will some day do, what now seems a cause of dreariness will then be found to be the chiefest cause of attraction, and a proof of enlightenment in the founders of the city.”

“I see you still have Tiny with you,” I remarked, as that rosy-cheeked damsel, with her tall and graceful figure, was clearing away the supper things.

“Oh, yes. We could not do without Tiny, nor would Tiny have cared to have stayed behind in Australia when she understood we were coming over here, as her parents are settled in one of the farming districts near Invercargill.”

“And how did you leave Mr. Lilly?” asked Mary, who, during the previous conversation had, as was her habit, sat quietly and attentively without taking much active part in it. “I thought so much of that kind man; he was always so obliging and so ready with a joke. And Tiny says when he was down at the Murray he would never allow her to break a piece of wood or carry a bucket of water. He used to do it all for her.”

“Tiny is perhaps more indebted for such attentions to some spell of her own than to any particular spirit of courtesy inherent in Lilly. I can assure Miss Tiny that it is not every young damsel who could have made that boast of her experience with Lilly. On the contrary he is rather inclined to take exceptional views about girls as a rule, probably from the many unlovely specimens of the sex that he has so frequently met in his rough bush life. Tiny has some reason to plume herself on having overcome Lilly's prejudices in that respect, I can assure her. See that she has not made a conquest of my old sarcastic friend's heart as well as his prejudices.”

“Oh, no,” replied Mary, smiling in her turn, as ladies will smile at such allusions, and bluff them too, “but how did you leave Mr. Lilly? Was he not very sorry at you going away?”

“Well, yes, the brave fellow made no secret of that. You know that Lilly has a rather expressive style of his own, so I will tell you the exact words that he used if you will excuse my doing so. He simply remarked on my shaking hands with him—“Well, Mr. Farquharson, blast me if I ain't jolly sorry that page 211 you are leaving here, I never yet was with a boss that I could pull so pleasantly with as I have done with you.”

“It is a great pity that Lilly has such a rough way of speaking,” remarked Mrs. Campbell, “and I am sure that I often seriously talked to him about the habit, but he would always maintain that there was no harm in people expressing themselves just as they felt, until I on one occasion completely silenced his arguments by asking him if he would have considered it right in me to use the same coarse expressions as he did. However, he got out of that difficulty by the rather ingenious argument that as we women wore different clothes to men, so there was also a quiet style of language to which women ought always to confine themselves, and which he considered it was as unsightly for us to depart from as it would have been to part with our feminine clothes.”

“And yet, Mrs. Campbell, you partly wrong him, for although when excited by fierce anger, he will give way to profane expressions, yet apart from such occasions, Lilly's own natural sense induces him usually to eschew the habitual use of wicked and disgusting expressions so common among people of his class, and indeed I might say of a good many other classes in the Colonies. I have even known him to silence others who made themselves conspicuous by the habit of such offensive language.

“I have closely observed Lilly,” I continued, “and I believe that what is obnoxious in his habits should be wholly attributed to the circumstances of his early experiences and surroundings. Constitutionally, I believe the man to be as true as steel, and as precious as gold. That his expletives are occasionally coarse I admit, but this coarseness in him merely results from the force of habit and training, and not from the spirit of blackguardism.”

“Yes,” remarked Mr. Campbell, sententiously, when I concluded my rather warm defence of my old friend, “Lilly is not a bad man at heart, and he was worth something to Mr. Rolleston.”

“I am to write to him as soon as I have settled down, and give him my opinion of this country.”

“Be sure and give him my very best regards when you do write,” said Mary.

At this juncture a sound hideous to English ears, more especially in its premonitory utterances, though even then, from associations, dear to the ears of a Celt, was heard suddenly ringing shrilly from the direction of the kitchen and caused Mr. Campbell to jump to his feet with unwonted alacrity, while he earnestly ejaculated:

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“Bless my soul, is that the pipes? Have you a piper with you, Mr. Farquharson?”

It was the pipes sure enough, that Munro, in sign of his exceeding satisfaction at his entertainment, had now, for his own delectation, and with the warm approval of his companions in the kitchen, begun to inflate and to

“Gar them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl”.

We all hastily adjourned to the kitchen to be nearer the performer, though by so doing we rather lessened our pleasure, as the strains from the pipes reached our ears considerably softened of their natural harshness, through the intervening barriers of door, and wall partitions. But with a true highlander the enjoyment of the bagpipes is nothing unless he is alongside, or at least in the same room with the piper.

We remained for about half an hour listening, with spirits in thorough accord, to the animating strains, as rendered by Munro's skilful fingering. Whilst myself always an enthusiastic participator in the pleasure that pipe music gives to a genuine Celt, I was yet amused in observing the extraordinary effect it appeared to exercise upon the spirits of the usually staid and apathetic Mr. Campbell. Beating time vigorously with his feet, I could see by the expression in his face a half-formed purpose of being on the floor to give the exuberance of spirits that he now experienced a freer outlet by the lusty performance of a strathspey or reel of Tulloch. Fortunately his spirit was not moved to give the burning desire within him the effect of a formal proposal for a general reel, or else he was restrained by a warning glance from his good dame who had some feeling for the wearied limbs of her guests, after their toilsome journey. Accordingly we shortly afterwards retired to the sitting-room, and presently, after the performance of family worship, I was shown to my room, where a warm soft bed, with snowy sheets, were a welcome change after the fatigues and discomforts of a long, chilly day in the saddle.

Whether owing to my fatigue or to the novelty of my situation, but probably to both, I tossed for hours in bed without closing my eyes; ruminating chiefly on my present undertaking and surroundings, and in my thoughts the graceful and sprightly form of Jessie Campbell occupied a central position. Again and again did the strange random speech of Rachel Rolleston flash across my mind, till I began to wonder if, after all, they might not have been fraught with a prophetic meaning. At last I fell asleep.

Next morning I was again in the saddle and on the move at page 213 an early hour. Mr. Campbell now accompanied us, to show the way through the bush that, at about twelve miles distant from his place, crossed our path at a point where it narrowed until only about three miles in width, and through which our track was as yet merely indicated by blazed trees. On penetrating this, we found ourselves in a finely grassed country, open, but still undulating. The blue waters of the lake could also be seen in the distance shimmering in the rays of a cloudless sun.

Above its waters, on the farther side, the land could be seen towering up in abrupt bluffs and jagged mountains.

Mr. Campbell and I rode on to the place, that by his advice I selected for my future homestead; a spot where the lake lipping into the land formed a calm and sequestered bay.

After seeing the tent for the present convenience of the men duly pitched, I rode back with Mr. Campbell to his house, it having been settled by the family that I was to pass as much of my time there as I could spare from the necessary inspection of my building arrangements, until they were in readiness for my permanent reception. However, after the first day, I availed myself of their invitation only once a week; merely riding over on Saturday afternoons, and spending Sunday with them, which to me was a great boon, for, from my youth up, I had had instilled into me a veneration for the Sabbath, and not all my experience amid Australian back blocks since, could ever wean me from a sense of inward horror in being forced to spend that sacred day among a lot of unruly, godless, and swearing men.

And thus with this kind family I came at last to be on such terms of close intimacy that I began to be regarded by them as one of themselves.

But meanwhile I was not neglectful of my own affairs. At length, my own house being satisfactorily completed, and Mrs. Munro installed as housekeeper therein, a duty that she discharged in a very orderly manner, I ceased my weekly visits to my friends the Campbells, spending my Sundays in my own house. Here I had often cause to felicitate myself in my fortunate acquisition of a shepherd who could play the pipes; of an evening Munro would make the primeval woods ring again with the wild notes of his pipes, and often as I sat listening to some stirring march or wailing pibroch, has my spirit swelled with patriotic ardour, and my mind been stirred by visions of the stern, kilted clansmen of old, whose brave deeds these strains did honour to.

According to promise I took an early opportunity of writing to Lilly, and described to him the particulars of my present situation, as also my opinion of the qualities of the country in general.

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At this time (1861), the excitement over the New Zealand diggings was about at its highest pitch, and therefore such flourishing accounts of such matters as Lilly might have seen in the Australian papers, I was now fully able to corroborate; and I gave it as my candid opinion, that he should endeavour to come over, as there was, for a man of his energy and steadiness, a grand chance of his quickly securing a fair competence for the remainder of his life.

About three months after sending this letter, I received one in return rather illegibly scrawled indeed, but informing me that Lilly had quickly decided on taking my advice, and was coming over—will the reader believe it?—with Coleena, dray, bullocks, and all in the same boat; for this team Mr. Rolleston, on depositing of his station, had, by way of acknowledgment to Lilly of his valuable services, made him a present of. After receiving my letter he had become exceedingly restless in mind, and, not caring very much for his new overseer, whilst at the same time, with his natural shrewdness, seeing from my accounts that there was a good prospect of making a “rise,” as he termed it, by starting as a waggoner to the diggings, where the prices paid for carriage were in those days something enormous, he, after some careful cogitation, determined to take my advice, and take passage for New Zealand forthwith; and that was not all, for considering rightly that the price of freight for a good team of bullocks to New Zealand would be considerably less than that demanded for an inferior team when there, he determined to take his noble team of bullocks with him, and with them a dray, and also his mare. After this I heard from him occasionally and understood that after losing two of his bullocks, ‘Bauldy’ and ‘Dainty,’ he became more vigilant in preventing a like fate from overtaking the rest, and was now doing well. In my replies I kept urging upon him the importance of keeping his money together, and, to prevent what he earned being heedlessly squandered, advised him to deposit it in the bank: an advice that I afterwards had the satisfaction of knowing he had followed.