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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 3 (June 1, 1938.)

Chapter I

Chapter I.

“I'm Mr. Kay's daughter,’ she said, turning her horse round.”

“I'm Mr. Kay's daughter,’ she said, turning her horse round.”

The names of people in this story are wholly imaginary, though the incidents referring to some of the employees as being refugees from the Law are true. In the early days the remoteness of some of the mills made it quite possible for “wanteds” to hide in seclusion for many months.

John Kay was the owner of a large tract of country in the North Island of New Zealand. It could be counted one of the best areas of bush in the province, abounding with rimu, totara, matai, kahikatea, and in some places, valuable kauri. The land was fairly flat so hauling was at minimum expense.

John Kay worked his bush with a system. Before any milling timber was touched, the area calculated to supply sufficient milling for six to nine months was under-scrubbed, the small trees also being cut down.

At suitable times a chain-wide ring around the under-scrubbed portion of the bush was fired so that when the proper season for burning came, the fire would not affect the standing bush.

In a few years’ time there was sufficient grass to combine farming with his milling activities, Kay believing by these methods to prevent the spread of noxious weeds—always so evident where trees had been felled—and thus enhance the value of the land, whereas before it had timber value only.

The mill was situated as near as possible—consistent with safety—to the homestead and workers’ dwellings and, with an eye to the future, the latter were built so that when the time came they could be converted into farm buildings.

Including the bush and hauling hands, employment was found for about sixty persons, and generally, they were a happy lot. In addition, there was the mill manager, an accountant, and a clerk, who lived at the homestead with Kay and his daughter, Cushla. The latter was a bright, vivacious brunette twenty years of age. She knew as much about timber as anyone at the mill and was also an adept at the typewriter. Consequently when business was very brisk, she assisted in the office, thus relieving William Jasper, the clerk.

William Jasper, who it was thought had seen better days, was about forty years of age, and somewhat portly as to body. He had a pleasant, open face, and invariably had a jolly smile. He was absolutely conscientious and thorough in his work and his behaviour generally was all that could be desired; nor was he lacking in courage, as events will show. But what Cushla liked most in him was his love for the beauty which Nature had supplied with a lavish hand in the surroundings of their bush home.

The accountant, John Wynder, who had been with them for about three months, was a tall, broad-shouldered man and handsome — although he sometimes wore a sinister and hard expression which betokened ill to any who opposed him. Cushla often wondered as did her father what had made a man of Wynder's undoubted ability and address seek employment away in the backblocks. He was cultured, and his knowledge of a great variety of subjects added to the many pleasant after-dinner discussions.

“A clever man that, but I can't understand what brought him here,” remarked Kay to his daughter one page 33 evening. “Don't you go giving your heart away to the gentleman, although,” he added reflectively, “he does seem to have money besides his wages. Joseph Hawkins and the men don't seem to care for him much. As for me, Sam Higgins is the only man in the crowd I can't stand. There's something about that oily brute that makes me think he is a foreigner, and I've seen Wynder in close conversation with him on one or two occasions. Shouldn't think there was much in common between those two. That's the worst of being so far away from civilisation—with a business like this, I mean—which requires the very best staff one can obtain, yet naturally one wonders why men of Wynder's stamp have applied for the job.”

“Well, dad, you have a first-class manager anyhow. Loyalty and honesty simply radiate from his grey eyes, although his face is so sombre,” said Cushla.

“I grant all that, and we are lucky, but honest old Hawkins would be left if it came to a matter of balance sheets and finance. Hawkins knows what timber every log will cut and will work his flitches to the minimum waste. His accurate measuring and selection of timber required for orders has made the business what it is, but his work would be wasted if we hadn't efficiency in the office.”

It must not be thought that it was all work and no play at Kay's Mill. Nobody knew better than the owner the difficulty of obtaining trained labour for his business. He paid the highest wages, yet it was essential to occupy the men's time in the long summer evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays. Games, especially cricket were, therefore, encouraged. Under the instruction of Jasper two tolerably good elevens met every week-end, and for those who did not care for cricket a billiard room with two tables was at the men's disposal. A large swimming pond was made by constructing a dam in the small stream running nearby; a decent library was installed and by permission of the Government a Savings Bank was opened. There was also a Post Office, operated by Jasper.

It was sixty miles to the nearest Bank and though motor-cars were a great luxury—Kay bought one as he thought it too grave a danger to keep more than one week's wages about. There was certainly a telephone, and although a party line lessened to a degree the remoteness of civilisation, the trip to town was made every week. Jaques Martin, whose character was without blemish, had courage combined with physical proportions which made him a most suitable person for the lonely drive there and back; added to this he was an engineer and thus was capable of dealing with any mechanical failures on the journey.