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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

The Farmers' Ball

The Farmers' Ball.

The Shire of Wyndlass certainly included more able medicos than myself, but none so popular. They even elected me to the Shire Council, where the leading figure was Mr. Goller, also a pillar of the Primitive Methodist chapel. Goller was a nuisance at the sittings of the council, and every "Commytee." He loved to wallow in muddy water as much as a rhinoceros or a hippopotamus, which latter creature he somewhat resembled in appearance. Then we had the squatter, Mr. Greassy, and his crawling, slippery factotum, Mr. Harvey Duff. The estate agent, the publican, and the benevolent Mr. Hansen, who furiously represented the poor selectors, all helped to keep the Council board alive at night. Their latest achievement has been a deputation to the Minister of Railways. This meant a jaunt up to Melbourne, and a week's jollification, seeing the pantomimes and all the fun at the expense of the ratepayers.

At the end of a stormy meeting, Mr. Huille, our quiet member, suggested that the social side of shire life had been neglected of late. He was sure that a Farmers' Ball would prove a great success. The Farmers' Ball is a resort come to when the marriage market lags, in a shire extending over forty square miles.

All agreed except Goller, who went of in dudgeon, and preached a sermon the next Sunday night, in which there were withering references to those who "whirled in the mazes of the giddy dance" on the edge of a volcano.

But the shire went crazy over the Farmers' Ball, and anyone could see it would be a big thing.

page 42

On the eventful night the Shire Hall was brilliantly lighted. Senior-constable Burley had injunctions that horses' heads were to set down in the direction of the creek, and take up to the mallee. The ball fetched up all the droll vagabond characters, all the sundowners, roustabouts, and bushwhackers for miles and miles around. Of course Shorty Ordish came, with his concertina, and did you ever see any country place without its Yorkey? Shorty had been the hero of the Shearers' Ball, in the woolsheds, the week before, and came up here in the sarcastic vein. Jack Birdsey, who kept the "Royal," opposite the Shire Hall, had some Buskers in the bar, with tambo, bones, and banjo, singing "Dem Golden Slippers," when I drove up in my buggy, and contemplated an amusing scene.

The carriage people came. Burley was in a terrible fluster on the arrival of Mr. Greassy's landau, with its pair of greys, their buckles shining under the lamps. Out stepped the fair "bits o' muslin," as Shorty called them. There was also a masher from Melbourne, who looked on after the style of Leech's young swell contemplating Punch and Judy—"Much above that sort of thing, ah!" The wags took him off with glee.

There came, too, the spring carts, shandrydans, even drayloads of beauty and barege, while many ladies and gentlemen arrived on horseback, more piquant than anything. The Misses Leveson were the belles, four blondes and two brunettes, all in fluttering blue veils, and forming a cavalry squadron of Amazons. They fluttered the hearts of the young farmers and no mistake.

"Now, ain't it a dashed shame?" said Shorty.

"All them going a-begging," added Yorkey.

The music arrived—cornet, piccolo, kettledrum, violin, violoncello—all from Melbourne, and professing to be stars of the Opera House and Bijou. Some of them were not bad with their powers of suction.

And here was Mr. Nangle, the M.C., "a fellow, sir, with a feeling of his business." "Choose your partners, gents." "Down the middle; up the middle."

The first dance—a quadrille—was to the tune of a medley from "Patience," which some of us had seen so amusingly represented by the Stawell amateurs. I was humming to myself in concert with the music, "If you're anxious for to shine in the high æsthetic line, as a man of culture rare, you must gather up the germs of the transcendental terms, and plant them everywhere," when someone touched my arm, and told me I was wanted—nothing unusual for a doctor.

I took a farewell glance at the ballroom, thinking perhaps I was off for a twenty mile ride through the bush. The music had changed in the quadrille to "Single I shall live and die," which page 43 sounded rather inappropriate in the unmistakable nuptial atmosphere which was engendered, such a whirl of delight!

I came outside and found the business was professional. In the first instance I was asked to go over to the Primitive Methodist church, about twenty yards from the Shire Hall, on the opposite side of the way.

Well, it takes all sorts to make a world. The æsthetic strains which floated lusciously through the illuminated windows and chinks of our wooden Shire Hall were contrasted with the musical rattling of the Buskers, while a great crowd held a free and easy fair in the road between the two places.

Goller had devoted his energies to bringing off a tea-meeting at the chapel, on this very night and I strolled over there just as the congregation was settling down for the speeches after tea. The chapel was quite full, for this was war time. The children of light rallied in full strength. I must say that on the whole I rather liked their appearance. Here were serious fathers, demure, but happy mothers, and Sunday school children being brought up in the way in which they should go.

Nothing astonished me more than the difference in Mr. Goller from what he was at the Council table. Have you never noticed this astonishing Protean quality of some men? I am sure you must have done so. Whether Councillor Goller or Preacher Goller was the real Goller I could never determine until 1 saw him as Paterfamilias Goller, in the bosom of his large and fine family. Then I must say he was the good and genial hippopotamus. I once knew a legislator whom I set down for a shocking ass until he showed me all round the immense carriage factory of which he was the brain and soul.

The little chapel looked quite as well as the ballroom, there being a profusion of decorations in green boughs, wreaths, and flowers. "God bless our home," was the motto on the wall behind the pulpit. Pleasant, fussy women were bustling about with their dresses tucked up, carrying away teapots, cups, and saucers, plates, cake, and the rest of the debris.

Mrs. Tuckwell, the minister's wife, was positively the nicest woman I ever knew, except my wife. "Oh," she said, "I'm so glad you've come. They have sent for you to go and see poor Elsie again, though I do not think it can be any good."

I had my horse taken out of the buggy, and saddled, and off I went for a ride through the woods. My thoughts did indeed sway from gay to grave as I rode along. As I left the township the noise at Birdsey's, the dance music at the Hall, and a vigorous hymn, "Where the surges cease to roll," at the chapel, all strangely commingled. The sky had clouded darkly, and I cantered along with nervousness in apprehension of the tempest which began to break upon me. In a clearing I paused, while the rage broke page 44 of as desperate a thunderstorm as ever I saw. The trees were racked by the wind; vivid blue lightning electrified the scene, and the crash of thunderclaps reverberated through the boundless forest. Then the din paused, and I rode forward in moonlight.

Nature was all at rest when I stepped across the W—creek with the horse's bridle over my arm. 1 went to a cottage on the hill-side, where a light was dimly seen through the green window blind.

On entering, I saw one of my familiar patients just passing out of the world. It was Elsie Bennett. Her beautiful, pallid face lay on the pillow like a sculptured face on a tomb. Poor girl! What suffering she had undergone for years. Around the bed knelt her relatives, while venerable Brother Sanderson wafted a prayer for us all to Heaven with her soul. The room bore many many evidences of Elsie's love of God. The flower-pots, with their violets, mignonette, and fuchsia, inside the window, were some; so was her little black harmonium, with the well-worn music book upon it; so was her beloved little library, hung against the wall; and the canary in its cage, with the cloth thrown over, and the pictures from illustrated papers covering the whole walls.

Her mother showed me the hymn-book which Elsie had been reading when she was taken ill for the final spasm, and it was turned down open on a side table, just as she had left it. One verse on the page had been marked with a pencil:—

"My soul now pants for Heaven's freshening rills,
Laved pure as swansdown in the crystal tide;
One glowing thought my aspiring spirit fills—
'Tis this, "I shall be satisfied."