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Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXX.

Two years had now nearly passed away without the occurrence of any incident worth recording here. My intimacy with the Campbells meanwhile continued, and by this intimacy my feelings for Jessie gradually strengthened in character. On page 215 her side, however, there seemed to be nothing beyond what might be termed a feeling of frank confidence, or kind friendliness, and I could not feel that her impressions in my favour were so pronounced as to warrant the hope that my attachment was returned.

Lilly, in the meanwhile had found time to pay us a visit, and glad we all were to see him; yet I very much question if this pleasure on our part was equal to that experienced by him, at meeting Tiny again, or perhaps to that of the shyly blushing girl, at seeing him. Lilly was rough and unpolished, but he was none the less a diamond for all that; and although Tiny was shy, she had still discernment enough to appreciate a genuine article when she saw it—though what she thought on this subject, she kept quietly to herself, and beyond the confidential pleasantry of her manner, that now seemed to predominate over her wonted reserve, there was nothing to indicate in her a partiality for Lilly above any other man. And this confidence might after all be merely the result of the long standing acquaintance between them.

In the meantime too, another acquaintance had been added to the list of our friends, who made periodical visits to the Campbells. This was a young man named M‘Gilvray—the son of a neighbouring squatter, whose station had hitherto been solely worked by a manager. Mr. M‘Gilvray, senior, was a merchant in Invercargill, but his son being naturally fond of a country life, and having therefore relinquished a share in his father's business, had now taken over the control of this station.

John M‘Gilvray was an active young man, rather slim in figure, but wiry and agile. His features, that glowed with health, were well formed, his hair and whiskers black, and his eyes of a dark brown. His manners were easy and agreeable, and were made more attractive by a constant flow of humour, and it was with a feeling of anxious jealousy that I observed the perfect harmony between his qualities and Jessie's tastes, and she soon grew to be on a footing of the most confidential intimacy with him. Indeed, had it not been for my own too great personal interest in the matter, I should certainly have admitted that they seemed well suited to one another. So patent did their partiality for one another appear to me, that I resolved to at once smother the flame of passion within my own breast, ere it could master my power to control it. But as my conduct towards Jessie became more guarded, hers increased in friendly demonstrations to me, and this was especially the case when Mr. M‘Gilvray was present. Whether this arose from the natural kindness of her disposition, that was distressed in page 216 witnessing the tokens of my discomfiture in the presence of my rival, or whether from a wish to make use of me as a foil against M‘Grilvray, or from a spirit of feminine vanity, that was gratified by my attention even whilst compelled to discourage an unsuitable lover, I could not tell; I only knew that so it was.

Shortly after my arrival at the lake, I discovered that I had a still nearer neighbour than even the Campbells. This was a solitary digger, named Howden.

On the completion of my buildings, my next care was to provide myself with a boat for the convenience and pleasure of being able to indulge myself occasionally with a row on the lake. When enjoying this pleasure one summer's day, I had rowed right across the lake, that here was not more than two miles broad. On getting up on the bank on the farther side to look about me, I discovered by the smoke the proximity of a digger's hut.

This digger, who happened at the time to be inside, was a man of about fifty years of age, tall, but of a rather spare figure, and with an air of superior intelligence. He had, it seems, prospected to where he then was, all the way through from the west coast. He did not inform me as to how he was prospering—or if he were prospering at all—but as he told me that he had been working where he was for about two years, I drew my own conclusions from the circumstance, and decided that he must have found something there that made it worth his while to stay in such utter solitude for so long.

His hut—that was constructed of sods, and well plastered within and without—was lined inside with prints from Punch and the Illustrated London News, which gave a most cheerful aspect to the interior, while on a shelf beside the window, several volumes—some of a scientific character and others the works in prose and poetry of the best English and American authors—betrayed in their possessor a mind of no ordinary taste and elevation. Ere this, his only mode of supplying himself with provisions had been by means of two stout pack-horses that were feeding not far off, with which he took, when occasion required, long journeys through the bush to the nearest settlement on the west coast.

But now on being acquainted with my settlement on the other side of the lake, together with my means of transit across, these tedious land journeys were discontinued, as all he required in the way of rations I could supply him with.

Yet, though by this means I had a frequent opportunity of conversing with him, I never seemed to get on a familiar footing with him, so that to me there seemed to be a sort of mystery page 217 about this man, and his solitary manner of life. On all points relating to the manner of his education or his original status in society he seemed singularly reticent. Yet it was plain that his position in life, judging by his educated manner, must have been at one time a respectable one.

The Christmas of my second year's occupancy of my station was now approaching. Already I had commenced my shearing, and among the men who came to me for this employment were two ill-looking dogs. One of these was a burly, pockmarked man, with a most brutal cast of countenance, whom I instantly recognised as the same that Lilly had handled so roughly some years before at the free fight at Wentworth.

Whether the fellow had noticed me sufficiently then to be able to identify me now of course I could not tell; and, as a matter of course, I treated him as if I had never set eyes upon him before, though, in fact, had it not been that shearers were scarce I should have hunted him at once off the place. I, however, made the best of the matter as things were, and engaged him for the shearing.

His companion was also an ill-looking customer, though of scarcely such a pronounced type of rascality as the other. My original prejudices against the latter, who called himself Michael Hennesy (his companion's name being Elias Jones) was considerably augmented on seeing him at his work, which he performed in a most slovenly manner, cutting and maltreating the sheep so much that I threatened to turn him out of the shed. His conversation, too, betrayed the presence of a mind of the most loathsome cast, his language being of a peculiarly revolting nature. Over his companion, who appeared to be a man of weak character, he seemed to have complete control.

Christmas Eve had arrived when the digger, Howden, in answer to his signal, had been brought across the lake, for he was in want of mutton. While standing beside me and talking quietly, I noticed that Hennesy, who was passing by, suddenly thrust forward his ill-looking countenance with an eager glance into Howden's face, then, hanging his head in his usual fashion, he went carelessly slouching past. Howden was shortly afterwards rowed across the lake. I should mention here that besides my own boat, that was constantly chained to the bank, and padlocked there—the key of which I kept in my own possession—I had another of stouter build that was kept entirely for the station use, and that could be also used by any of the hands who, in their spare hours, had a fancy for a row on the lake. By this means the nuisance was avoided of my boat being used by them at their own pleasure.