Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand
“Oh! never till this breast grows cold,
Can I forget that hour,
As standing on the vessel's deck,
I watched the golden show'r
Of yellow beams that darted
From the sinking king of day,
And bathéd in a mellow light
Dunedin from the bay.”
My sensations on sailing up the bay from Port Chalmers to Dunedin were certainly in harmony with those so effectively recorded in the above lines by the genial and talented poet of Dunedin, as he first saw that picturesque city from the harbour. The city's airy situation on the undulating slopes that rise close to the bay, the sound beyond, and the mighty ocean yet further off, its vast blue expanse and white-crested billows in constant motion, rolling with hoarse murmur on the shore, and, on the opposite side, the dense foliage of the pine hills and other heights broken at intervals by the bright fresh green of early summer—give to Dunedin an appearance of picturesqueness and salubrity that I had not hitherto seen equalled by any place I had been in since I left Scotland.
Towards evening the town appeared very animated. It was New Year's Eve, or Hogmanay, as I heard it more generally called, a term that, after my long severance from the land from whence it came, was strongly suggestive of my early home.
On this day the coaches had been coming into the town laden with passengers from all the districts round. Some had come on visits to their town friends, but the majority to witness the celebration of the Caledonian Games, the chief annual festival of this and the neighbouring Scotch province of Southland, that, beginning on the morrow, were to be continued for two days. From this cause, on this important eve of our arrival, all the hotels and respectable houses of accommodation page 299 were so crowded with guests that it was with no small difficulty that Lilly and I succeeded in finding a respectable house where we all could be accommodated. Such a place, however, we happily did succeed in hunting out at last in the “Highland Home”—a well known hostelry in Dunedin, that our ignorance of the town had alone prevented our finding out at once, and that, fortunately for us, was not then so full of lodgers as the others were. This house was kept then, and for some years afterwards, by Mrs. Sutherland, a respectable and motherly widow, at whose hands I felt confident at the first glance that Mrs. Howden would receive such kindly attention as she, poor girl, had of late years been but little accustomed to.
After tea, I took a quiet stroll down the street. At intervals as I passed along, the wild ringing notes of the martial music of the Gael issued from the hotels, and I had already heard similar sounds proceeding from one of the sitting-rooms at the “Highland Home”—that, as its name implied, was a regular gathering place for Highlanders.
At any other time all this pipe music would have sent the blood tingling through my veins, for I have already owned to my degraded taste for this class of music, that in English ears sounds so barbarous; but just then I felt too much occupied with soberer thoughts to spare more than a passing thought to what, at other times, would have so delighted me.
Now that all the excitement through which I had recently passed had subsided, the thought uppermost in my mind was as to how I should in future live. This unromantic question persisted in intruding upon my mind. Ere leaving Hokitika I had lessened the amount of my indebtedness to Mr. M‘Elwain by £500, retaining a little over £100 for such emergencies as might turn up whilst I was looking out for fresh employment.
In his reply to my communication concerning the disaster that had befallen my station business, Mr. M‘Elwain had shown distinct annoyance at what he termed my inexcusable carelessness, although he made no reference to the loss that my ruin had occasioned to himself. This I believe he would have borne in silence rather than have harassed me for the money. It was evident that his confidence in my business capacities was entirely gone, and that I need look for no further help from him in any future venture.
Doubtless, however, the fact of his having suffered himself to be so completely hoodwinked by the specious professions of the hypocritical villain who had ruined me, prevented Mr. M‘Elwain from being more openly censorious than he otherwise might have been.
But though I had reason for thankfulness that my cattle page 300 business had so speedily enabled me to wipe out such a large part of my debt I was still £500 in arrears, a serious, nay, in my circumstances, an almost hopeless sum for me to expect to be able to defray for years. This my present musings showed me all too plainly. “Mighty fine, these late chivalrous bush-ranging exploits of yours, I daresay, Duncan Farquharson,” I soliloquised in some disgust, “but you will now please devote your thoughts to the more prosaic adventure of earning bread and butter for yourself. And pray how, besides this first necessity, are you to pay your respected kinsman this £500? This I'm sure it passes my imagination to conceive; yet that mountain must be first levelled ere you can take one step towards your own future welfare.”
In the midst of all this depression I was not however without some gleam of hope that the renewal of my acquaintance with Mr. Rolleston might possibly end in something good for me after all. I had already telegraphed to him the tidings of his daughter's discovery and rescue, and I had received a telegram in reply, informing me that he intended taking passage for Dunedin by the first boat that should leave Melbourne for that town.
However much I might be disposed to disclaim the idea of any sort of monetary recompense for the services I had been able to render his daughter, still, it was evident that I could not prevent the fact of these services becoming known, and when known they would probably create an impression in my favour, as to them would be due the recovery of his daughter. Besides, Mr. Rolleston had in the past had some personal experience of my capabilities for station management. Hence, the logical deduction was, that had Mr. Rolleston such a situation vacant, he might bestow it upon me. This reflection revived my spirits upon the whole, and enabled me to get rid of the depression that was beginning to prey upon me.
Next day Lilly and I went to witness the Caledonian Games. We should have taken Mrs. Howden with us if we could have induced her to come, as we both thought that the animating sight of the sports, and the vast crowd of people would have tended to lighten her spirits, but she preferred to remain where she was.
It was the first time since my arrival in New Zealand that I had had the pleasure of witnessing these games; consequently, on entering the large area of ground that has been so liberally endowed for the celebration of these pastimes, I was not a little interested in the animated scene. The ground and grand stand crowded with thousands of spectators—everything gay with the flags of various orders and nationalities fluttering in page 301 the breeze—refreshment booths, and, in the centre of the large circular space, round which a deep ring of spectators stood densely packed watching the struggling competitors, the same old lion flag of Scotia that has waved in past ages over so many hard-stricken historic fields: all these things together presented a show that, combined with the influence of a bright day, was truly exhilarating.