Vicissitudes of Bush Life in Australia and New Zealand
The lambing season was past and our percentage had been favourable, and, with some new ideas on management on which I had resolved, I hoped that the following year would be even more satisfactory.
At this juncture I received a letter from Mr. Rolleston desiring my presence for a few days, and requesting that if practicable I would take Lilly with me, as he wished his judgment on a small herd of cattle, consisting of a bull and some heifers, that were then under offer to him.
“That is,” ran his letter, “if both of you can arrange to leave together. As the lambing is now over, and it will be some time page 59 yet ere the shearing begins, I think you both should be able to spare this much leisure. I would wish you could do so, as I should like to hear both your opinions about the cattle, that I intend sending up to Lilly's run if I purchase them. There will be men sufficient here to drive them up with you.“
The contents of this letter interested me not a little, for, as the reader may guess, in all these months that had intervened since I had left there, I had never forgotten the pleasant society at the Murray Station. And often, during my solitary rides over the run, or on my couch at night, had the sweet vision of Miss Rolleston, with her elastic figure, her sprightly manners, and fascinating appearance, brightened my thoughts, whilst, though in a more measured degree, the sweet face of Mary Campbell, and that of her kind mother, also moved me. They formed a charming framework and background to the pleasant picture that now it seemed I should so soon behold again.
This coming pleasure seemed the greater for being so wholly unexpected, for, chained to my post, with miles between us, I had hardly dreamt of again coming into contact with these ladies for two years to come, at least, when I might deem my length of service sufficient to warrant my applying for a furlough. But what might not occur during the long interval of two years! As I thought thereon I sighed!
Yes, sighed! for confess it I must: the image of the wealthy squatter's daughter had gained a complete mastery over my thoughts—nay, if you will, my heart. Ah, what foolish air castles will people—especially love-sick people—construct under the most disadvantageous circumstances! Mr. Rolleston's reputed wealth, of a quarter of a million at least, was surely enough to have daunted any less aspiring man than a poet or a lover.
For how could any man in his senses imagine, that a parent, with the advantageous prospects that such wealth commands, would allow his only daughter to mate with his overseer?
But what will not a lover dare to hope for? what ways will he not devise for combating the most tremendous obstacles? Thus it was with me. My concern was only for the maiden herself; as to connecting her with ideas of wealth and self-aggrandisement, I believe I was honestly guiltless, and as a set-off to the father's wealth I counted largely on my own natural resources of energy and capacity, which, with the vague hope of Mr. M‘Elwain's promise with reference to some day giving me a start on a station of my own, I looked upon as a page 60 capital with which I might yet rear an independent fortune. Was not Mr. Rolleston himself an overseer too at one time? I soliloquised.
And thus I hoped, and thus I hailed the near prospect of again meeting with the object of all my castles in the air.
About the propriety of getting away I saw no difficulty, as I could leave things as they were, in charge of Bellamy the working overseer, till our return, with directions for getting the yards, and matters generally, that required attending to in connection with the sheep-shearing, in a forward state. As for Lilly, his cattle were all quiet on their run, and would need neither attendance nor interference for some time to come.
On Monday morning we left the station, and on Wednesday evening our jaded beasts entered into what to them was the unwonted luxury of a stable, when they at once set to vigourously allaying the keen appetites that a toilsome journey had generated, by the almost as rare treat of a corn feed.
That my heart was beating a little more quickly than its wont, I will not attempt to deny, but, determined to reduce my nerves to order ere confronting the disturbing cause, I took an almost malicious pleasure in tormenting my own patience with fiddling about trifles in connection with my harness, chatting to the groom, etc., until even Lilly's forbearance began to give out. “Had we better not go and see about getting a feed?” he at length bluntly ejaculated.
Evidently Lilly was but little concerned with sentimental thoughts. “Well,” I answered carelessly, as if in reality extremely indifferent about the matter, “suppose we do; it will do us no harm by this time.”
Going forward to Mrs. Campbell's house, instead of allowing Lilly to knock there, and going on myself to Mr. Rolleston's, I again hesitated, designing to see who would open the door in response to my companion's summons. To my great pleasure Miss Mary Campbell appeared. On seeing me she joyfully exclaimed: “Oh, mother, here is Mr. Farquharson!” “And how is Miss Mary?” I asked, shaking her warmly by the hand. Mrs. Campbell here appeared. “Dear me, Mr. Farquharson, and how have you been getting on all this long time? I am so glad to see you again; but Mr. Rolleston is inside; you had better step into the house at once. I am sure you must be sorely tired after your long journey; we shall all be in presently. But who is this with you?” she continued; “what! Mr. Lilly! dear me, is it you? you are quite a stranger; it has been such a long time since I last saw you.”
“Well,” answered Lilly, “I reckon, Mrs. Campbell, it has been nigh on two years since I was down here last.”page 61
“Mr. Farquharson, how are you? I am indeed glad to see you,” was the instant remark (whose genuineness was confirmed by the frank look that accompanied it) of the sprightly Miss Rolleston, on the door opening, as I was ushered into the sitting-room by the pretty kitchen-maid.
Miss Rolleston was dressed attractively in dark silk, relieved with a white lace collar, that was secured by a jewelled brooch at her pure white throat; her dark curling hair and lively dark eyes, and glowing cheeks, looked glorious in my eyes. “O that I could claim that soft beauty as my own,” was my next daring thought, as my dazzled eyes fell upon her. As it was, I felt my blood fairly thrill at my heart, when her soft white little hand, in salutation, was placed within mine.
Miss Rolleston was then, as I afterwards learned, in her twentieth year.
Mr. Rolleston, hearing my name from a neighbouring room, now entered, and shaking hands with me warmly, professed his pleasure at seeing me, enquiring at the same time if Lilly had come down with me.
“I am glad of that,” he said, “as I should like to have his opinion on those cattle. What percentage of lambs did you realise?” he continued.
“Ninety-seven,” I replied.
“Oh, that is very satisfactory,” he said, smiling and rubbing his hands expressively.
“Yes,” I replied carelessly; “but, unless I am much mistaken, next year's tally, if all goes well, will pass the hundred.”
“Oh, come, Mr. Farquharson, that is a rather sanguine calculation on your part. Pray, what do you intend to do to secure such an increase as that?”
“Well, I will not trouble you at present with details. You will be better able to judge of the merits of my system when you see the results,” I answered.
“I see you manage to work in harmony with my old friend Lilly; I am pleased at that, as I should be sorry that anything should occur that might deprive me of that man's services. He has been in my service for the last five years, and in all that time he has proved himself a most conscientious and trustworthy person, with reference to all matters that have been placed in his charge.”
“He is indeed a most valuable man,” I made reply, “and I am not at all surprised, from my observation of him, about your solicitude on his behalf; but happily I chanced to fall into tune with him at the very start, and he and I have been on the most excellent terms ever since.”
During the course of this business dialogue, Miss Rolleston page 62 sat quietly engaged with some ornamental crochet work. Mrs. Campbell and Mary now entered, and the tea arrangements being then completed, we all drew our chairs, at Mrs. Campbell's request, to the table. At the same moment Mr. Campbell, who had just returned from one of his daily excursions over the run, joined us, and between him and Mr. Rolleston and myself, during the time occupied in the discussion of the meal, the conversation was chiefly taken up with business matters, save when ever and anon my watchful attention to the wants of the ladies was rewarded by a bright smile and graceful acknowledgment from Miss Rolleston, or sweet-voiced thanks from Mary.
It was only, however, after emerging from the office, to which I had retired with Mr. Rolleston and Mr. Campbell, for the more particular discussing of the business for which Lilly and I had been summoned down to the Murray, that I was enabled to indulge myself to the full in the more congenial conversation of the ladies.
Mr. Rolleston, his mind set at rest by our late satisfactory business chat, had now, as a sort of necessary relaxation, relinquished himself to a calm and uninterrupted digest of the contents of the Argus that Mr. Campbell had procured for him when riding on his way home past the neighbouring Post Office of Euston. Mr. Rolleston's usual interest in his paper was on that evening still more heightened by the publication of a speech of Mr. Gavin Duffy's, on the land question; for his alarming views of reform on this subject were at that time greatly exercising the minds of all squatters. Shortly after this, Mr. Duffy found reason to alter his views on this question, however, and, consequently, became a warm supporter of the very party who were at this time regarding his democratic measures with considerable apprehension, for they seemed to be aimed at the very roots of their most cherished privileges.
I have before referred to my habitually awkward and diffident manner when in the society of ladies. It must therefore have surely been with the intention of at once dissipating this silly feeling, that, in reply to my rather conventional remark on seating myself beside them, “Well, ladies, might I ask how you have been enjoying yourselves since I last had the pleasure of meeting you?” Miss Rolleston answered in a tone of pleasant raillery, whose utter brusqueness, I had almost said coarseness, at once scattered all ideas of conventional formality to the winds.
“Oh, brawly, brawly, thank you for speering, hoo hae ye been getting on yoursel'?” cleverly mimicking the Scotch accent, that indeed she might well have been at home in seeing it was her mother's. For Mrs. Rolleston, although a lady of page 63 education I was given to understand, was fond of expressing herself at times in her native Doric tongue. I was certainly greatly taken aback at this rather free and easy speech from a refined young lady; but it had the effect that was doubtlessly intended by the clever girl, of at once setting me at my ease with the company in general, and especially with her; a result all the more difficult to accomplish from the strong passion with which I viewed her, and that communicated even more nervousness to my manner than was natural to it.
“You seemed,” she continued, “so much engrossed about your lambs and sheep that I scarce hoped that we poor ladies would be honoured by your notice at all.”
“Honoured by my notice, Miss Rolleston! nay, surely you are now speaking but sarcastically! ‘taking a rise out of me,’ in fact, as the colonial phrase is; take care,” I said with a smile; “if you will flatter my conceit in this way, by attributing such consequence to my notice, you may yet have reasons for feeling yourself bored by too much of it.”
“Never mind,” she replied, laughing, “Mary is here to help me, and between us both we shall be able to bear the threatened penalty cheerfully. What do you say, Mary?”
“Oh,” said Mary with her quiet dimpling smile, from which at times a quiet spirit of roguish humour was not very far removed, “I shall be only too delighted to get as much of Mr. Farquharson's company as he will condescend to bestow upon us. Do you think, mother, that Mr. Farquharson will bore us much?”
“Nay,” replied Mrs. Campbell in her usual quietly-pleasant tones (honest, quiet, sleepy Mr. Campbell had long ago retired to rest), “I should be sorry to think so of Mr. Farquharson; but I do think there is a serious danger of his being bored by two such rattlepates as you and Rachel.”
“Now, Mrs. Campbell,” cried Miss Rolleston, “it is too bad of you to be always lecturing us, and calling us rattlepates. Now I am sure you will not meet anywhere two more orderly and demure, staid and precise girls than we are. Mr. Farquharson, I hope you will take our part and not believe this charge against us.”
“Well, if quick wit and lively manners are necessary adjuncts to such characters, I should believe so far in Mrs. Campbell's charge, that a dull person must soon feel out of harmony with your society.”
“Thank you for your excellent discrimination, Mr. Farquharson,” cried Miss Rolleston. “Neither Mary nor I have any patience with dull people, for between mere dulness and gravity of manner there is a great difference.”page 64
I smiled in acknowledgment of the compliment to my usual demeanour, that I felt was implied in these words. I presumed that the ladies had been in town since I last saw them. “Oh, for months,” said Miss Rolleston gaily; “and we enjoyed ourselves immensely during the Christmas festivities. Don't you think that Mary has much improved since you saw her last?”
I had already remarked that she had, especially as regarded the more womanly development of her form; but the quiet repose of her manner that conferred upon her a grace peculiarly her own, was still the same. At her friend's remark she only smiled but said nothing.
“You must feel lonely upon the Darling Station, so far from congenial society; for I believe it is a very lonely and dreary looking country up there,” Mrs. Campbell remarked.
“Well, yes, Mrs. Campbell, in a measure it is so, if a person went by mere appearances only. Yet it is wonderful how soon people learn to accustom themselves to all sorts of unlovely surroundings. Yet apart from the necessary interest that attention to one's duty requires, and that of itself soon tends to familiarise and accustom one's minds to these, there, as elsewhere, the absence of one charm is compensated for by the presence of some other. If as regards scenery for instance, the Darling country is flat and uninteresting, as is indeed the case with most of the Australian interior—yet to me this seems amply compensated for by the unconfined freedom of space on every side. There is something akin to a feeling of proprietorship in the extensive tracts of bush and plain, and unlimited extent of back country, over which one can ride at will, no one venturing to check or hinder anywhere.”
As I have already remarked, there was a quiet dignity and grace of manner about Mrs. Campbell that secured my respect. As I scanned her quiet orderly features, that in their calm repose appeared to me at times to show the impress of former sorrow, I often speculated as to what her history might have been previous to her marriage. Doubtless, I mentally remarked, some other person than Mr. Campbell had once coveted the possession of these superior charms; and how came it, that a plain, practical, commonplace man like Mr. Campbell had won her? About some of my surmises at least I found out shortly afterwards that I was correct. Some twenty years ago she had lost sight of a twin brother to whom she had been tenderly attached, and over whose mysterious disappearance she had bitterly mourned.
It seems that he had become involved in some pecuniary difficulties with a bank; into these difficulties he had been betrayed by an imprudent and unscrupulous partner, for whose page 65 misdeeds the bank authorities sought to make him responsible. He escaped from engagements he found himself unable to meet, and the threatened penalty of imprisonment, and disappeared no one knew whither, nor, in the long interval that had since elapsed, had any trace of him been found. Therefore, under the full conviction that some evil had befallen him, his sister had long ceased to entertain any hopes of ever seeing him again.
As I now wish to introduce a new character to my readers, I will close this chapter here.