Unexpected spelling, punctuation, and inconsistent hyphenation have been retained as they appeared in the original, except as listed at the end of the book. On Page 321 the gobbledegook "while the use nht psoe hwi cfirt h tth em" has also been retained as it appears in the original.
FERN VALE OR THE QUEENSLAND SQUATTER.
A NOVEL. BY COLIN MUNRO.
IN THREE VOLUMES. VOL I.
LONDON: T. C. NEWBY, 30 WELBECK STREET, CAVENDISH SQUARE.
EDINBURGH: PRINTED BY THE CALEDONIAN PRESS, "The National Institution for Promoting the Employment of Women in the Art of Printing."
Some fifteen years ago, when the first mention was made in the Imperial Parliament of the intention of Her Majesty to dismember the Northern districts of New South Wales, for the purpose of establishing a refuge for the expatriated felons of Great Britain, a certain noble lord rose to enquire where New South Wales was, and whether it was anywhere in the vicinity of Botany Bay.
Since the time of this sapient patrician much has been said, and more has been written, respecting our antipodean empire; though I believe the mass of the English people are still as unacquainted with the characteristics of the colony, and the manners of colonial life, as if the vast continent of Australia remained in its primitive inanition. Poor as is the knowledge of our friends "at home" respecting their periecian brethren, I grieve to say, with regard to, or rather of, the Australian colonists, that knowledge is too frequently tinged with prejudice and erroneous impressions, formed from the writings of discontented colonists, who, without a sufficiently lengthened residence in the country, or opportunities to form correct opinions, have not only disregarded facts, but have presumed to pass judgment upon what they have never appreciated or understood, and have written statements decidedly false and scandalous.
It is notorious that in some circles of society, the bare mention of Australia in connexion with any one's name is sufficient to create a feeling of distrust and contempt, and the colonists are at once stamped as being, at least, something mean, with antecedents involved in a suspicious obscurity. Unfortunately there have been writers, too, who have come before the public professing an intimate acquaintance with, and an impartial judgment of, colonial life, who have not failed to heap aspersions on the very name of the country and everything connected with it, and to envenom their writings with the rankest untruths. I have read accounts of colonial society where it has been characterized as the vilest that can be imagined in a civilized state; where the men are spoken of as habitual debauchees, and the women as universally shameless, immoral, and dissipated; where life and property are insecure; and bushrangers are the terror of the inhabitants.
I don't say such productions are numerous. I rejoice that they are not; but many people are inclined to receive such a description as a truthful one, and to consider a true narration of facts as merely an over-drawn and flattering panegyric of an interested author. People have been long accustomed to look upon Australia as only a place for convicts, and the population, if not prisoners themselves or those who have served their allotted term, at least as the descendants of those who have done so. I have frequently had the question gravely put to me whether or not such is the case; and have experienced great difficulty in inducing people to believe otherwise. They forget, if indeed they ever knew, that many leading men in this country owe their position in society to a prosperous career in the Australian colonies, and that more than half the colonial settlers are men of good family connexions who have emigrated to improve their position in occupations which are at the same time remunerative and honourable.
When this is remembered, in conjunction with the fact that transportation has been discontinued for many years, and that, after the expiration of a convict's term of expatriation, if of an incorrigible nature, he invariably returned to the "old country," where he had a wider field for the exercise of his genius, it can't but be seen that, generally, there must be a healthier tone of society in the colony than is credited "at home;" while morality is quite on a par, if not above the ordinary level of British ethics. At the same time it is only but just to state that the greater proportion of what vice does exist is chargeable to that wild and uncontrollable mass, which, generally attracted to gold-producing countries, necessarily forms there the substratum of the working population; while the native born portion of the people is entitled to all praise for its strict propriety. To remove this stigma of mauvais ton, and establish our fair name in opposition to the mal-impressions which have gained currency respecting the Australian colonists, I have been induced to add another to the tales of Australian life, and to lay "Fern Vale" before the public.
I don't enter the arena so much to defend the colonies collectively, as to present a fair face for the young one of Queensland, and to draw attention to it as a field for British labour, industry, and capital. And being disposed to think this description of work will find more favour in the eyes of that class I would especially desire to attract, than a topographical and statistical treatise, I have blended facts with fiction to present my volume to the public in such a form as to afford amusement with information. I have endeavoured to depict life and manners as they exist in Queensland, and to describe the country, its climate, and capabilities. The leading political topics of the day I have also lightly touched upon; but, while craving the indulgence of the public in these interpolations, I may remark I have only treated them to a very cursory glance; considering that, in the present mutable state of legislation in Queensland, to enter more fully into detail would be inadvisable. The colony is young, but the government is infantine; though, notwithstanding that it is little more than two years old, it has proved itself indefatigable, concise, and beneficial in its workings; and many a local incubus has been removed, and many a long felt desideratum been supplied, during its short period of existence.
To illustrate what the district was, and what it had to labour under, I have drawn all my characters as existing under the regime prior to the felicitous epoch of "separation." But to prevent my readers from forming an erroneous impression of our model colony, I will succinctly furnish a synopsis of our march of improvement.
The old iniquitous land system has been abolished; and in its place one substituted similar to what I have mentioned in this work as being the scheme of Dr. Lang. One of the first acts of the new government was to sweep away the trite and cumbersome machinery of the old system, by making nugatory the existing law of the parent colony, and to pass an act which, for liberality, perhaps stands unequalled. Its main features are—for pastoral purposes—occupation and settlement, with right of tenure, subject to a rental of one farthing per acre per annum; and for agricultural lands—free selection for purchase at the fixed rate of one pound per acre, with a right to rent in contiguity thrice the quantity purchased for a period of five years at a yearly rental of sixpence per acre, with the option of purchase at the expiration of the lease, at the residue of the purchase money, viz., 17s. 6d. per acre. To all immigrants paying their own passage, a remission of their passage money is granted in an equivalent of land. This, with the activity of the government in throwing large tracts of land into the market, has done away with a good many of the abuses detailed in our narrative; more especially the "station jobbing," attributed to Bob Smithers, and the vexatious detentions to small capitalists desirous of becoming farmers. Another of its features is the inducement held out to the agriculturalist to cultivate cotton in the shape of bounties almost amounting to the value of the staple. The towns have also been benefited by the establishment of municipalities which have removed many long standing nuisances. The old forensic injustice, and judicial burlesques, have been annihilated by the appointment of district police magistrates; and, in fact, the whole country and people have "gone a head."
With regard to the incidents of my story I may say that, almost without an exception, they are facts well known to Moreton Bay people; and, though I have used some discrimination in their collocation, so as to a certain extent to shield the actual actors from the public gaze, I have in no way exceeded the margin of truth. The scene at the "Bullock's Head," I must guard against any charge of plagiarism by stating, is the description of an actual occurrence which took place not many years ago in the town of Brisbane, and, if I mistake not, the principal actor in which is still living, and in this country. Captain Jones' marriage, its results, the poisoning, murder, and protection society, are all drawn from life; though, as I've said before, varied in their arrangement. Neither have I indulged in any flights of the imagination in depicting the horrible, but rather subdued the poignancy of the original; particularly in the case of the murder, which in my hands has received considerable detrition. Though the proceedings of "the society" may be said to be the "coinage of my brain," I have not hazarded such an accusation, as is contained in their narration, without being possessed of sufficiently authentic information to warrant me in doing so. After the melancholy event, from which I borrowed the idea of the Strawberry Hill massacre, it is known for a fact that the blacks mysteriously disappeared from the country; while the squatters were out in arms for weeks scouring the bush, and made no secret of their enrollment for a mutual protection. At the same time I have heard a settler of the district, and one of considerable means and standing, when alcohol had stimulated his nerves and courage, boast that he had shot hundreds of blacks; and have also heard others speak of such an action as merely an unpleasant necessity. I must caution my readers, however, from imagining that, because the tragical event which immediately precedes the denoument of my plot occupies so conspicuous a place in the narrative, such dangers are incidental to a residence in the bush. Far from it. Security reigns supreme; and I merely engrafted the too well known catastrophe to my compilation to add interest to the tale. Such visitations are, happily, not to be heard of once in a generation, and then only on the extreme borders of civilisation. Convicts are no longer noticeable, and bushrangers are only known as myths or scourges of historical notoriety.
The peculiar idiom of the blacks, in their conversation with the settler, I have introduced to give some idea of the unintelligible and periphrastic jargon the whites have to adopt to make themselves understood. And so accustomed do the squatters, and their men, become in its use that they naturally fall into it whenever they experience any difficulty in making themselves understood by any one not acquainted with their language. Hence all foreigners, of whom, especially Germans and Chinese, there are a great many in the colony, who have not a thorough knowledge of the English tongue when they come to the country, acquire this peculiar phraseology.
I fear I must crave the pardon of many of my friends for having introduced into my book some little episodes in their personal history which they may not have desired to have had laid before the world. But, though such may be recognisable to themselves, I feel safe in expressing my confidence that to the public they will remain hid by the veil of fiction.
LONDON, 1st May 1862.
"Sister, farewell: I must to Coventry; As much good stay with thee, as go with me."
RICHARD II., Act 1, Sc. 2.
"Good-bye, Kate, I can't help leaving you at least for a time; and if we can make any settlement with Smithers for any of his country, you know I'll soon be back for you: so don't make me disheartened by seeing you so melancholy. John has started some time since with the pack-horses, and seeing you had run away from the parlour while the governor was talking to me, I have followed you to see you look cheerful, and get another kiss before we part. My mother thinks me already on the road, and Joey is only strapping on my valise to the saddle."
"I shall be so lonely, Will, when you are gone; I'll have no one to ride with, and as for kangaroos, I am sure I shall not see one until you return, for you know Papa never cares about going out with the dogs. You may as well take the poor things with you, for they will be of no use here; they will be company and afford amusement to you."
"Oh, never mind them, Kitty, I'm for work not sport; but come now dry up your tears, and while I am away be sure and make yourself a proficient in housekeeping, because you know, if we succeed in forming a station, as soon as we can get up a decent sort of a 'humpie,' and comfortably settled, I will come and fetch you; and know thou, my Kitty darling, if you do not make your brothers as contented as they in their gracious will shall desire, they will publish throughout the length and breadth of the land the short-comings of their pert little sister; and the decree once gone forth that our Kitty is a useless little baggage, and not fit to be a squatter's wife, what will she do then?"
"She will tell her brothers' friends that she is the persecuted victim of a pair of ungrateful fellows, who are never satisfied with anything that is done for them, and I know which of us they will believe. But, Willie, Mr. Wigton tells us the blacks are very troublesome down where you are going: will there be any danger in living there?"
"Not the slightest, my dear: it is all nonsense the way in which croakers talk about the blacks. Some of our imperious settlers, by their own conduct, encourage them to commit depredations and to revenge wrongs; but, for my part, I never knew a black fellow make an unprovoked aggression, whereas Mr. Wigton merely speaks from what he has been told by the squatters."
"Well, but, Willie, you say the country is quite unoccupied: will not the natives be dreadfully wild, and easily provoked to commit some horrible act? Would it not be better to avoid any risk, by getting a station in some more settled part of the country?"
"Believe me, my pet, your fears are perfectly groundless; I have had more experience with the blacks than most people, and I have no unpleasant apprehensions from our squattage. However, our speculations are all in precedence of our plans, and your objections are only advanced on conjecture; it will be quite time for you to disparage our home when we have formed one, and I can assure you, my dear Kate, neither John nor I would wish you to leave the security of our parents' roof for our protection, if by so doing you would imperil your precious little self. But, even if there were any danger to us, to you, I believe, there would be none; unless indeed it were to be carried off by some bold, adventurous, and enthusiastic son of the soil to receive the homage of his illustrious countrymen as their tutelary angel. But to prevent any such predatory outrage, we will form ourselves into a body-guard and enlist the services of all the knights-errant of the neighbourhood."
"You are an impudent fellow, and I have a good mind to give at once my refusal to go; but if you do settle there, I hope you will cultivate the acquaintance of some nice people, if there are any near you."
"Nice gentlemen you mean, I know. Oh, yes! I will try and oblige you on that point; but good-bye, Kate, I must be off."
With this remark concluded the colloquy of William Ferguson and his sister, Kate; and after a mutual embrace, the young man bounded from the room, and in a few minutes might have been seen riding through the bush at a sharp canter, in company with his black boy, Joey, to overtake his brother on the road, who, as the reader has already learnt, left the house some time previously with the pack-horses, laden with the provisions and necessary articles requisite for their journey. While we leave the young men to proceed on their way, and their sister sitting listlessly gazing with tearful eyes through the open window of the drawing-room, conjuring in her imagination the scenes through which her brothers were about to pass, we will cursorily glance at the family whose acquaintance we have just made.
Mr. Ferguson, the elder, the proprietor of Acacia creek, where we find ourselves for the nonce located, was a gentleman who had attained the meridian of life, though years sat lightly on his open brow. He was tall and handsome, robust in constitution, affable, benign, and hospitable in disposition; a fond father, and one of the most respected settlers in the district of which he was a magistrate. As his history is somewhat romantic, the reader may be disposed to pardon the digression, in our stopping here to give a brief outline of it.
John Ferguson, who was a native of Scotland, and a member of an ancient family who prided itself on its blood and lineage more than on its virtues and frugality, was early left to battle with the world through the prodigality of a parent, whose greatest pleasure was to keep the most hospitable board in his county, and whose greatest dread was to be stigmatised with (what was to him the acme of derogation) meanness and parsimony. Though the family, through the extravagance of its head, was reduced to extreme penury, it was with the utmost difficulty the pride and prejudices of the father could be overcome, to be induced to allow his son to accept an appointment in a government office in London, which had been obtained through the intervention of a well-wisher of the family, and offered to the young man.
The course of life, which the acceptance of this situation would open to the fancy of young Ferguson, was congenial to his ardent imagination and enthusiastic spirit. He therefore joyfully accepted the post, which was kindly and delicately offered as a means of employment and support to himself and of pecuniary relief to his parents, as a stepping-stone to fortune; while the romance with which his disposition was tinged, served to picture to his prophetic vision, scenes of official gradation and pre-eminence. How often do young men of similar temperament indulge in the same enticing speculations, and allow themselves to be carried away by the blissful creations of a fertile fancy; alas! only to awake from the intoxication of their delightful dream, to realize the pangs of a bitter disappointment, and a total dispersion of all their brightest hopes. Not that we deprecate the indulgence of such romantic feelings. We believe it frequently produces that emulation, by which a persevering and indomitable spirit is frequently enabled to realize the dreams of the bright imaginative fertility of youthful ardency; but, as we shall presently see it was in the case of young Ferguson, so it is too often in general life, that such visions are doomed to speedy dissipation.
In due time the young man entered upon the duties of his office with a zeal commensurate to the exalted nature of his expectancy; but the ideal varnish of his mental conception speedily vanished under the hard brushing of a monotonous official routine, and his romance succumbed to the realities of a mundane experience. Though the appointment, to which our young friend had been inducted, was all that could have been desired for the scion of a noble house, whose pampered whims and vices were to be ministered to by the lavish hand of a fond parent, and where the display of mental abilities was no more necessary than in the propulsion of the mechanism of one of Her Majesty's establishments erected for the ambulating exercises of petty delinquents, yet to a young and high-spirited nature, such as John Ferguson's, the very absence of any intellectual requirements in the performance of the duties devolving upon him, caused him soon to feel a distaste for the service; while the indolence and self-importance practised and assumed by his colleagues (and so much emulated by the class of candidates for such honours) were to him extremely irksome and disagreeable, and early caused his energetic disposition to be dissatisfied with his position.
He had been some little time in his office, and began to experience the feelings which we have described, when, through the instrumentality of the kind friend to whom he was indebted for his appointment, he began to circulate in that society which by his family connexions he was entitled to mix in. To say he was not fascinated with the polish, gaieties, and pleasures of a fashionable town life, would be to conceal the truth: though, at the same time, we must say their hollowness soon became apparent to his mind; and he, instead of following the example of most men in similar circumstances, and making himself the slave to the pleasures and dissipations of the fashionable world, looked calmly on the allurements of society, and preserved a perfect control over his mind and morals. During the vortex of a London season, he added to the list of his friends a merchant of considerable standing, and of very large reputed wealth. In the house of this gentleman, who was pleased with the young man's sterling qualities, apparent to the quick perception of the man of business, he received a carte blanche; and thence commenced the intimacy which formed the romance of his life.
Mr. Williamson, the gentleman of whom we have spoken, had an only daughter, the mistress of his house, and the idol of his heart and of all who knew her. She was beautiful in the extreme. Her disposition was of the sweetest description, and fully justified the lavishment of the fond parental affection with which she was blessed; while her amiability was only equalled by her dutiful attention and consideration of the smallest wish of her kind and doating parent. That such a being should arrest the notice of a young man of the temperament of John Ferguson is not to be wondered at, nor that his attention was rivetted on her the first moment his eyes were gladdened with the seraphic vision. The first feeling of admiration soon gave place to a sentiment of a warmer kind, and it was not long ere young Ferguson was hopelessly entangled in the meshes of Cupid's net, deeply immersed in the sea of love; which, for his ardent nature, was of that turbulent kind that knew no control, nor experienced any pleasure, except in the society of his fair enslaver. This feeling was long kept a secret within his own bosom, and his time glided happily by in the sweet countenance of this charming creature, content in the privilege of loving, and fearful lest a disclosure of his sentiment should break the spell.
Love is a strange emotion; its inexplicable workings operate with an occult influence, irresistible and unaccountable; and while our hearts receive a glow and pleasure at the mere contemplation of the object of our love, our selfish gratification blinds us to all but our own extatic delight, and eliminates from our minds all considerations not directly tending to a consummation of our desires. At the same time our cowardice often operates on our fancies so as to create fears, lest to the object of whom we are enamoured we prove indifferent, and we fancy ourselves almost criminal for loving. Though possibly not a common phase in the esprit d'amour, it was, nevertheless, the one in which burnt the lamp of our friend; for though he loved Miss Kate Williamson to distraction, he never ventured to breathe one word to her that was likely to disclose the fire that consumed his heart. 'Tis true her manner to him, though cordial in the extreme, was not such as to inspire him with the idea that his love was reciprocated. With the high sense of her filial duty, she conceived herself bound to receive the authorized attentions of a gentleman possessing the warrant of her father's friendship, and, in return for that friend's civilities, to tender those little captivating mannerisms, and throw into her receptions and interviews those sweet and winning ways, so peculiar to beings of her stamp. Beyond that, however, she gave him no encouragement. It may be she soon perceived, what John Ferguson failed to conceal, the pleasure which he enjoyed while in her society; it may also be that those visits, which she at first considered a duty to her parent to receive, she afterwards welcomed with receptions as warm and cordial as possible, compatible with her own modesty; and it may be true that she began to admire their visitor for his own merits, and reciprocate pleasure in their numerous interviews, while she little dreamt, that what she considered the mere acts of hospitality, were making such havoc in the breast of John Ferguson. He, on the other hand, while admiring the bright object ever in his mind, feared venturing a disclosure, which, in his position and prospects, his conscience whispered to him would be considered presumptuous. Thus matters rested, until a fortuitous circumstance broke the spell that bound these two young hearts, and disclosed to each the transitory nature of their dream.
A young physician of considerable practice, good connexions, gentlemanly manners, and prepossessing appearance, and who had long been known to and intimate with the family, in an interview with Mr. Williamson, declared his admiration for his daughter's virtues, and expressed an esteem for herself, that justified the father in sanctioning his request to be admitted as an acknowledged suitor for the young lady's hand; and his pretensions to her regards were supported by her father, who believed their congeniality of tempers would render such an alliance happy and prosperous.
Miss Williamson listened to the appeals of her admirer, we must admit, with satisfaction; and though his addresses were not distasteful, she felt a pang in her heart that plainly told her it was already possessed by another. It required but this spark to kindle the flame that had long been smoldering in her breast; and at the moment when, had she not known John Ferguson, she would have been pleased and flattered with the protestations of her suitor, she felt disappointed and distressed that those proposals had not emanated from another source. The very contemplation of this disappointment increased the warmth and ardour of her affection for young Ferguson, while it annihilated all thoughts of the other; and even, respecting as she did the wishes of her father, she could offer no encouragement to his medical friend. The young son of Galen, unacquainted as he was with the real state of the lady's feelings, attributed her taciturn abstraction to the innate modesty of her nature, and therefore delicately refrained from pressing proposals which he perceived she was not prepared to entertain. Contemplating the resumption of the subject at a future time, when the lady's mind would have in all probability recovered the shock, which he imagined was occasioned by the novelty of her situation, he left her, while he expressed the deepest devotion and unalterable attachment.
Shortly after this interview, the young men met at the table of their hospitable host; and there for the first time John Ferguson discovered the position in which the young physician stood to the family. He watched with a jealous eye the movements of his rival, who, though noticing a peculiarity in his young friend's manner, never dreamt of the true cause of his dejection. The contention in the breast of the lady was equally painful; for, while she divined the nature of Ferguson's melancholy, and was aware that the young doctor's attentions to her would lead her taciturn lover to imagine she was gratified with and encouraged them, she could give him no clue to her own feelings; while her devotion to parental authority deterred her from slighting her more voluble admirer, and her kind and amiable disposition shrank from assuming a state of feelings foreign to her nature. John Ferguson retired from the presence of his loved one, with a heavier heart than he had ever experienced before; and, after being the prey to a series of mental convulsions, at a late hour of the night he retired, not to sleep, but to a further meditation in a horizontal position. The morning dawned without any alleviation of his miseries, and, on the impulse of his natural impetuosity, he formed those plans which entirely altered the course of his subsequent prospects and career.
The Australian colonies, at this time, were attracting public attention, and John Ferguson determined to escape from his thraldom and misery, by chalking out a home for himself at the antipodes; his fancy lending its aid to picture the realisation of a fortune, and the oblivion of his misplaced affection. This resolution once formed, he determined to carry it out in such a way as to preclude the possibility of being deterred by any undue influence; and without acquainting any of his friends of his designs, he took his departure, merely writing to his mother the cause of his sudden flight. In this letter to his parent, as may be imagined, he expatiated on the beauty, grace, accomplishments, and virtues of the unwitting instrument of his expatriation; confessed his undying love with his usual enthusiasm, and expressed his belief in her perfect indifference to his sufferings. He also stated that the lady had accepted the addresses of another; and while he deprecated his inability, through the disparity of their positions, to make any formal advances or obtain a footing of equality with his more favoured rival, he declared his decision, rather than submit to the torture he was enduring, to leave the country and constitute himself in a distant land the architect of his own fortune. He concluded by breathing the tenderest affection for his parents, and entreating their forgiveness for his seeming neglect, in parting from them in so cold and unceremonious a manner.
The surprise and consternation of the young man's friends, occasioned by the receipt of this letter, may well be imagined; and if John Ferguson had not been bordering on insanity when he made his rash resolve, he would have hesitated ere he had been the cause of that anguish, which, in his calmer moments, he well knew would be felt. But the past was irrevocable; and the remorse he felt for his neglect and inconsideracy, as his native land receded from his view, still further embittered a spirit surcharged with grief.
The painful throes of his mother's heart, felt at the loss of her son, was far surpassed by the indignation of his father, who, with his consanguineous prejudices, and supercilious contempt for riches unaccompanied by birth, deemed the claims of his son by blood far superior to the pretensions of the plebeian trader. He only saw in the confessions of his son, the result of a deep-laid plot for his entrapment and ruin, and could only believe his malady to be the result of a collusion on the part of Miss Williamson and her father, by whose joint wiles and chicanery the young man's peace of mind had been destroyed, and he driven from the land. In the firm belief of this, he wrote to Mr. Williamson, adverting in the strongest terms to the injury he conceived himself to have sustained at his hands, couching his epistolary invective in no very polite or considerate language, and enclosing the young man's letter to his mother as a documentary proof.
This communication had the effect, at first, of raising the merchant's ire; but, upon more deliberate consideration, his wrath gave way to pity for the father, in whom, through the haughtiness of his clannish spirit, he could detect the anguish for a son's loss, and for the young man, whose sudden disappearance had been to him inexplicable, but in whose conduct he discovered the workings of an honourable nature. With this feeling in his breast, he forewent the indulgence of that animosity that was likely to be occasioned by the letter from the old laird; and he replied to it in a strain of cordiality and commiseration, disavowing, on the part of himself and his daughter, the application of any influence on the feelings of his son calculated to destroy his peace of mind; and denying, until the perusal of the young man's letter, any knowledge of his sentiments towards his daughter, and his entire ignorance of the cause of his disappearance. We may premise, that this explanation brought no further intercourse between the heads of the families, and that Mr. Williamson, though he believed that, if the intimacy between his daughter and young Ferguson had continued, the esteem which she entertained for his young friend would have developed itself into a reciprocation of those sentiments which it was evident had actuated the young man in his confession and flight; yet, at the same time, he did not conceive it possible, in the absence of any confession to his daughter, that such feelings could have existed in her breast. Therefore he deemed it quite unnecessary to explain to her the information he had obtained, more especially as she had made no enquiry as to the cause of Ferguson's absence, nor even mentioned his name. Though, as we have said, Miss Williamson preserved a perfect silence on the name of the absentee, yet she was fully sensitive to the nature of his feelings, and pretty shrewdly divined the cause of his flight. In the midst of this, while the lady's mind was racked by love, pity, and disappointment, the young physician pressed for a further contemplation of his suit, and met with a repulse; which, though kind, and expressive of gratitude, was such as to smother any hope that he might have entertained of the possession of her devotion. To her father, this decision was the annihilation of a long cherished expectancy; but respecting his child's feelings, and being convinced she must have been actuated by some strong motives in her refusal, he refrained from pressing the cause of his friend, or enquiring the nature of his daughter's objections. It was only then that the light flashed across his mind, that his daughter might have loved young Ferguson; and he then determined, through his correspondents in New South Wales, to which colony the young man had emigrated, to keep his eye upon him; and, if conducive to the happiness of his daughter, to further his prospects by an unforeseen agency.
Some time had elapsed from the period of which we speak; and young Ferguson, by his persevering industry, and the influence and assistance of some friends, who had sought and cultivated his acquaintance through the solicitation of his kind and generous patron, Mr. Williamson, had obtained a position of comfort and moderate competency. In the meantime, matters had gone on with the Williamsons very much as usual, until the mental anxiety, occasioned by some severe reverses in busines, had prostrated the merchant on a bed of sickness, where the affectionate energies of the daughter, in her ministerial responsibilities, were displayed in their brightest effulgence.
During one of her occasions of attendance, she was requested by her father to select from papers in his cabinet some documents to which he wished to refer; and while in the execution of this duty, her eye chanced to fall upon one, the peculiar chirography of which was strange to her, though in its body she more than once caught the repetition of her own name. She took up the paper to satisfy herself as to its authorship, and her surprise was immeasurable when she glanced at the extended sheet and noticed the autograph of John Ferguson, and throughout the whole epistle discovered the fervent breathings of a deep affection for herself. From the reverie into which she fell, she was aroused by the voice of her father, and retracing her steps slowly and noiselessly to his bedside, while giving vent to her emotions in a deep sigh, she placed the letter in his hands. The sick man glanced at it, and then at the face of his daughter, who answered his enquiring look by putting the question, "and this sacrifice, then, was for me?"
"Say not sacrifice, my child," replied the parent; "the young man has prospered as he deserved. I periodically hear of his welfare; for, believing from circumstances that transpired that you sympathized with him, I felt an interest in his career. I now see that my surmises were correct, that you loved one another, though nothing on the subject was ever breathed between you; and I have no fear, if God spares me to rise from this bed, but that I shall shortly see you both happy."
He was as good as his word; for, being soon sufficiently recovered to resume his occupation, he took an early opportunity of corresponding with young Ferguson, explaining how he came into possession of the secret of his heart; how he had made himself acquainted with the course of his life, relating the circumstance of his discovering his daughter's feelings; and expressing his entire concurrence in their marriage, if the young man retained his attachment. It is almost unnecessary to say, this brought a response in person, and resulted in the happy union of the young people. Mr. Williamson, whose business had not prospered very well of late years, broke up his establishment and accompanied his daughter and son-in-law to Sydney, where he settled; while the young couple proceeded to the station of the bridegroom. It is at this spot we now find them still located, happy and prosperous, and blessed with a family of whom they were justly proud.
The eldest son, John, was a fine handsome young man, of about two-and-twenty, tall and robust, with regular and pleasing features, rather florid complexion, light brown hair, beard and moustache, with a disposition kind and generous, and a manner sedate and retiring. Our friend William, whose acquaintance we have already formed, was a fine lively fellow of about twenty, not quite so tall as his brother, with a cheerful and pleasant countenance, a profusion of rich curly flaxen hair, and a disposition the counterpart of his father's. Their sister, Kate, was the third. She was about eighteen years of age, in the first blush and florescence of youth; the idol of her parents, and the pet of her brother William (whom she resembled in her disposition and complexion), while she seemed to have inherited her mother's beauty and virtues. Besides these, there were three other children, two girls and a boy; but as we shall have no occasion to notice them in our narrative, we will merely mention that they were as pretty and interesting, and as well conducted and dutiful, as children usually are.
Though this family had rarely been away from their home in the bush, and seldom called upon to exercise their hospitality on others than the neighbouring settlers, or receive their father's magisterial friends, they possessed all the acquirements of a polished education, and the ease, grace, and elegance of a fashionable training, more as an inherent quality of their nature than as the effect of example from their neighbours.
"Then blessings all. Go, children of my care, To practice now, from theory repair."
When William Ferguson left the presence of his sister, he hastened with his sable attendant to overtake his brother; whom he joined a few miles on the road. As might have been gathered from his conversation with his sister, the object of the brothers in undertaking their present journey, was to visit some tracts of country, the right of tenure to which was offered them by the possessor for sale; and if the nature of the country pleased and suited their views, it was the intention of their father to purchase it, and start them in life, by giving them sufficient sheep to commence stocking it. To decide upon the eligibleness of the run, they had appointed to meet the vendor at his station, and to proceed together to the ground, inspect it, and form their own opinion of its capabilities. With this intention, they had left Acacia creek early in the day, to enable them to reach the town of Warwick before night, and their place of appointment by the close of the third day.
New England, in the northern portion of which their father's station was situated, is separated from what was then known as the Moreton Bay district by a geographical boundary, formed by the peculiar face of the country; consisting of stony plains and bare ridges, and establishing a natural division in the courses of the rivers, the routes of traffic, and the intercourse of the people.
Moreton Bay, which is situated on the eastern shore of the Australian continent, about five hundred miles north of Sydney, was first settled as a penal colony in the year 1824, and retained its position, as one of the vilest hells and sinks of iniquity, until the year 1842; when, to satisfy the enterprizing demand of the settlers for new country to occupy with their herds, convicts were withdrawn, and the district thrown open to free settlement. The country to the back of this, and skirting the coast, is mostly undulating; in some parts very broken and hilly, and traversed by rivers of considerable size. Parallel to the coast line, at an average distance of from fifty to seventy miles, the land rises abruptly and almost precipitously, in what is called the "Main Range," to an altitude of some three thousand feet, and extends in rich and fertile plains for thousands of square miles. This table-land, covered with the most luxurient pasturage, and displaying an unbroken extent of splendid country, like a succession of highly cultivated parks, is known as the "Darling Downs," and at the time of Mr. Ferguson's settlement of Acacia creek was conceived to be only a trackless waste, offering no inducement to squatters to risk their lives and property in its settlement or exploration. Such, however, was the rapidity, when its value became known, with which flocks after flocks poured into "the Downs," following the footsteps of the first pioneer, that in the course of a few years, what was before an unknown wilderness, became one of the most favoured and thriving of the pastoral districts of the colony. It was approaching this delectable land, then, that we left our young heroes, when making this digression.
They had journeyed some time over these dividing plains, depending more in their course upon the position of the sun, than on any visible road or track, when they determined to push on for Warwick; as, owing to the dilatory manner in which they had been riding, they had still a long distance to proceed, and the sun was fast sinking on the horizon. They accordingly urged their horses into a sharp canter; and soon emerged from the barren part through which they had been journeying, into the more hospitable country approaching the town; where they purposed halting for the first night.
As the sun sank below the western hills our travellers drew near, by one of the three converging roads, the antipodean town of Warwick; which, to describe to the reader, we need only to say, seen at a short distance, bears a striking resemblance to an English village, and will sustain very creditable comparison with some of the prettiest in our blessed and favoured isle. This view, however, the young men were not at the time permitted to enjoy; as in that country, where there is little or no twilight, darkness almost instantly succeeds sunset; and the panorama that lay stretched before them was rendered indistinct by the fast approaching shades of night. Pleasing as Warwick appears at a distant view, upon a close inspection the favourable impression of a stranger is likely in a great measure to be dispelled; for there is about it, in common with all other bush towns, an air of carelessness and discomfort, calculated to destroy the interest felt by its extreme freshness and novelty. One or two pretty wide streets may be noticed laid out at right angles, their lines and extent being presented to the eye, by the fences enclosing the inhabitants' properties, and residences; which are sparsely distributed over the extent of the settlement; frequently leaving entire unenclosed gaps in the lines of streets. The houses are built according to the will or caprice of the owner, without any degree of uniformity, in all imaginable positions, and of all possible architecture; some few of brick, but the majority of wood (either weather-board or slab). Here, you may see a fine brick edifice facing the main street, containing possibly a large shop and store-house, with a comfortable dwelling; and forming one line of buildings, which are faced by a deep verandah, on the part of which before the shop goods of all descriptions may be seen exposed. This is easily recognised as the establishment of the principal store-keeper of the town; while his less opulent trading brethren carry on their vocations in humbler tenements. On the opposite side of the street will be perceived a long one-storied building, also with a verandah (on to which all the rooms open by means of French lights); and, even without the aid of the pendent sign, would be readily distinguished as the principal hotel. In one end of the building will be situated the bar, where the common herd congregate in their libations, and in the other the coffee-room; where the more exalted lords of the creation assemble to discuss, at the same time, the liquors and edibles of mine host, their own local politics, and bucolic topics; ever the subjects of paramount importance to the squatter.
In all probability, the next habitation will be a slab hut, roofed with sheets of bark; the whole structure standing on a spot of ground about eight feet square, not even dignified or protected by a fence, and contrasting strangely with the adjoining property. Here we will have an enclosure of about an acre of ground; displaying, in its tastefully laid out grass plots and flower beds, the neatly trimmed creepers, and the air of order and comfort about the pretty little cottage which stands in the centre of this Eden, the taste for refinement, tranquillity, permanent settlement, and happiness, so rarely to be met with in the bush. The cottage is a square four-roomed one, with detached kitchen and out-houses. It is built of what are called weather boards, that is planks sawn diagonally so as to be of the thickness of about one inch at one edge, and about a quarter of an inch on the other. In the construction of such a house, the form, or skeleton, is erected first, and these boards are then affixed so as to overlap one another; each plank as it is put on being made to cover, with its thick side, the thin edge of the one preceding it: thus being alike impervious to wind and weather. The roof is shingled, or, in other words, covered with pieces of wood split into much the same shape as narrow slates, and put on in a similar manner. The cottage has a verandah on its front, enclosed by a small railing, tastefully painted, and ornamented with a few running plants, which intwine its posts; and, while charming the eye, lend the delicacy of their fragrance to render to this spot the enchantment of an Arcadian bower, when the family adjourn thence from the interior of the house, to enjoy the refreshing zephyrs of the summer evenings. The windows facing this verandah are made to open in the French fashion, so that, upon opening any one of them, a person can step out at once; they are protected from the sun by venetians, which are generally folded back, and which, with the railings of the verandah, are painted green, while the house itself is scrupulously white. The door is of polished cedar, and adorned with a bright brass knocker and plate, which may possibly have done service in London, or some other city or town in the old country. Picture such a spot as this in the imagination, kind reader; and some idea may be formed of the residence of the medical man of the place.
The feeling of admiration, occasioned by witnessing the charming domicile of the local disciple of AEsculapius, is only equalled by the disgust experienced at gazing on the apparent wreck, filth, and squallor of the next tenement. Standing contiguous is another such hut; prevented only by the support of a stout pole, which props its frail and shaken frame, from ending that miserable existence of which it seems ashamed; while it proclaims its humility by an apparent emulation of the posture of that far-famed structure of Pisa. This dwelling is probably followed by an edifice of a similar kind, though of more spacious dimensions and solid construction; and, by the sparks emitted from a low chimney, the din of the workman's hammer, and the dull heavy sound of the bellows, is distinguished as the abode of the village Vulcan; while the surrounding yard, with drays in various stages of dilapidation, wheels, poles, axles, and other dismemberments strewing the ground, presents the appearance of a perfect vehicular golgotha. With one or two wool-laden drays drawn up before a public-house, in which the guardians of the tractive animals, and who are designated bullock-drivers, are solacing themselves with a plentiful libation of the liquor which cheers and also inebriates; a similar ponderous vehicle, stationed before the door of the first described premises, undergoing the operation of lading with stores for a distant station; a few horses tied up to the posts in front of the hotels; a few equestrians; as many pedestrians; a sprinkling of the sable sons of the soil in all imaginable variety of costumes, composed of the left-off garments of their fair-skinned brethren; here, a gigantic denizen of the forest standing in the centre of a street, raising his majestic head high above the settlement, and seeming to look down with lofty contempt on the scenes enacted beneath him; there, the charred stump of another tree, with its semi-calcined trunk lying by its side, where it had fallen at some remote period, perhaps years before the settlement had been thought of; but had never been removed, on the principle that each burgess thought it no business of his, and the one most interested and affected never dreaming that a small personal outlay of money and trouble would be of considerable benefit and advantage to himself; in the wet weather, with the streets, which are nothing but the surface soil without any improvement, save the hardening of continual traffic in the dry season, transformed into a mass of mud and mire, into which drays sometimes sink to their axles, equestrians to their horse's knees, and foot passengers, unless well acquainted with their location, often plunge only to extricate themselves with the loss of a boot; and with the occasional enclosures in the neighbourhood, of paddocks more or less covered with trees, interspersed by numerous fallen and rotting trunks, half burnt logs, and gigantic stumps, the reader has a general description of bush towns, and (with some slight and insignificant modifications) of the town of Warwick. They rarely have much industry, and as little enterprise; while, there being no extensive demand for artistic or mechanical labour, and no agricultural pursuits, the inhabitants are generally dependent upon the trade arising from their intercourse with the squatters.
As we have already informed the reader, it was nearly dark when the young Fergusons rode into Warwick; and dismounting at the door of the "Bullock's Head," leaving their horses and packs to the charge of their black boy Joey, they ensconced themselves in the general apartment of the hostlery dignified by the name of coffee-room. If the room had few pretensions to elegance, it had less to cleanliness, and least of all to comfort; its furniture consisted of a long table, protected by an oil-cloth cover, on which stood a hand bell, and a jug containing water of very questionable purity. Around it were arranged a number of solid cedar chairs, in the manufacture of which the desideratum to be attained seemed to have been a capacity to withstand the rough usage they were destined to endure; and they bore unmistakable evidences of having, at various periods of their existence, taken part in some severe and desperate conflicts. On the mantelpiece stood some stoneware representations of maids and swains, who combined a pastoral occupation with the gratification of a musical talent; while they gazed with a languishing air on their protrusive neighbour, a portly individual with a highly-coloured, rubicund, and grinning physiognomy, and scalpless cranium, from which he invited the lovers of the narcotic weed to extract a supply of that universal solace. These were supported, on the background, by a mirror of ordinary size; which presented unmistakable signs of the household's reluctance to disturb the sacred dust of ages. Its sides and corners had a very dingy appearance, like an opaque coating, which left a circle in the centre of dim translucency; and from this circumstance, a visitor might have assumed that some individual, wishing to gratify his vanity by seeing a reflection of his own visage, had applied his sleeve, at the same time that he exercised his arm in a rotary motion, to remove the impediments to such vision. The lining of boards to the room had been covered, in the general ornature, with a gorgeous coloured paper; but no precaution had been taken to provide for the wood's shrinking, and the consequence was that the paper had split with the timber's contraction, and left a gap between each board it covered. Around the walls were distributed some antique prints, such as Queen Victoria in her gracious teens, considerably discoloured by the application of water, in a manner in no way advantageous to her complexion; a coloured print of the Derby in "the good old times," and the representation of a naval conflict executed in a bold and imposing style, with a studied disregard to perspective. The floor was covered with a dingy half worn oil-cloth; while half a dozen men were sitting at the table smoking, drinking, and maintaining an animated and boisterous dialogue upon the relative merits of their horses. Such then was the place and company in which our young friends found themselves, and were hardly noticed as they rang the bell to attract the attention of some one in the house. Their summons was, after a time, answered by a bare-armed, bearded, and greasy-looking biped of the genus homo, honoured by the confidence of the landlord, deigning to fill the post of waiter, and, from a deformity of his person, rejoicing in the soubriquet of "Hopping Dick."
To a request, to be shown a room which they might appropriate for the night, the brothers were ushered into a crib leading out of the coffee-room, and measuring about eight feet square; while on each side of it was stationed a bed of similar dimensions to a coffin, with appurtenances of relative magnitude. After depositing their valises and ordering a meal, they strolled out to the stables to see that Joey had well looked after their horses; and, upon their recal by the limping Ganymede, turned into the house to partake of their repast. During their short absence, the company had increased by the entrance of a few of the towns-people, who had joined the circle, and added fresh impetus to the argument (if their disjointed disputation could be called such), and stimulated an increased devotion at the shrine of Bacchus. Amid this earthly pandemonium, John Ferguson and his brother sat down to discuss their meal.
The "fast" style of life, so common among the early settlers in the bush, but now happily dying out, rarely found favour in the eyes of the native youths of the colony; and the Fergusons, having been brought up to entertain an abhorence of such scenes, naturally felt a repugnance to the society into which they now found themselves thrown. Curiosity to see the termination of their companion's orgies, however, detained them in the room; and for the consummation of their desire, they were not destined to wait long.
The party consisted principally of individuals called "supers," or more properly speaking, the superintendents of stations, the owners of which were not resident on their properties; and in the management of which, excepting the disposal of stock, they had entire control: a few settlers of considerable means, whose stations, being situated in the remote bush, afforded them very rare opportunities of visiting town, but, when such an occasion presented itself, it was the means of supplying an indulgence, such as the present, of the wildest and most reckless course of dissipation that could be devised: one or two settlers of minor importance, and dignified with the title of "stringy bark" or "cockatoo" squatters: and, as we have already said, one or two of the towns-people, who would run into any excess, and expose themselves to any expense and ignominy, to court the patronage, conversation, and companionship of the squatter, who in his sobriety would not condescend even to recognise him, made up the group.
At one end of the table, sat a squatter of collosal size, whose features were hardly discernible from the hair that almost covered his face. He was dressed in the usual bush costume: that is, a low-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, made of the platted fibre of the cabbage tree, and called after the plant from which it is named, "a cabbage tree hat;" a loose woollen frock, barely covering his hips, made so as, in putting on and taking off, to require slipping over the head, and as a garment of constant use, is elegantly designated "a jumper;" and heavy knee riding boots with spurs. The name in which he seemed to be recognised, from its frequent mention by the company, was Smith. Adding to his uncouth appearance and wild gesticulation, he had a voice decidedly unmusical; while his conversation was copiously interlarded with expletives, anathematizing some portion of his anatomy. This was the presiding spirit of the conclave.
The excitement by this time ran high; great had been the exploits detailed by the company of their various steeds, and the dangers through which they had carried their several owners; while the prodigies of speed, power, patience, and endurance, enumerated of the wonderful animals, would have made even Bucephalus hang his head at the idea of his own ordinary capacity. How long this state of braggadocio would have lasted, it is impossible to say; probably until a vinous philanthropy subdued the mental faculties of the company, and acted as an opiate on their senses, by composing them to sleep under the canopy (not of heaven), but of the table. But the mere relation of deeds was speedily brought to a stand, by the challenge of Smith to bet "a shout" to the party all round, or accept the same himself from any one there, that he would ride his own horse into the room, and leap him over the table without touching or displacing anything on it. No one of the boasted equestrians offered to perform the feat; though the bet was readily accepted involving Smith's performance of the exploit; but before we proceed to detail the attempt, we may be permitted to enlighten our readers upon the nature of the bet. "A shout," in the parlance of the Australian bush, is an authority or request to the party in waiting in a public-house to supply the bibulous wants of the companions of the shouter, who of course bears the expense; and when a shout is proffered as an earnest of sociality, or as an obligation in a bet, it indicates the disposition, in the one case, to increase as much as possible the cost of the shout, while it involves the necessity, in the other, to provide whatever is required by the recipients.
Smith speedily appeared with his horse saddled and ready for the leap; and to give him a better opportunity of performing his task, his friends had removed the table to a transverse position, and stationed themselves along the sides of the room, to witness the performance: carrying on their conversation in as animated a spirit as ever; while varying their opinions of his chances of success with bets on the event, and arrangements for fresh trials of a similar kind.
The landlord, who from the increased din and uproar, imagined something was astir, made enquiries of his oleaginous-looking colleague, by whom he was apprised of the proceedings; but being accustomed to scenes of equal recklessness, and being, moreover, a discreet man, and anticipating, in the event of any breakages, a means of reaping a plentiful harvest, he was conveniently deaf, and found occasion for his presence at a spot far removed from the scene of action. From his retreat, however, he was speedily summoned by Hopping Dick, to witness the result of the manoeuvre.
It would be difficult to describe the scene that presented itself to the landlord's vision, upon his entering the coffee-room; where, from the boisterous laughing of some of the party, the interjective swearing of others, the Babel of voices advising and expostulating, and the crowding in of the towns-people, who had been attracted to the house by a rumour of what was going on,—he could hardly discern the nature of the accident, the extent of the injury sustained, or, what concerned him most, the damage done to his furniture and premises. Upon clearing the room of strangers, and removing, as far as possible, the signs of wreck, he retired, leaving his lodgers to their meditations; while he indulged in calculations bearing a direct application on the late amphitheatre practice. He was, as we have already said, a prudent man in matters of monetary interest, and he wished not to question the acts of gentlemen residing in his house, and therefore desired no explanation; but, for the reader's enlightenment, we will briefly detail the circumstances that occasioned this untoward event.
Smith brought his horse, which was a noble high-bred animal, into the room; and when the door was closed, he mounted for the leap. Intoxicated as he was, it was evident from his deportment he was a good rider; and sitting well and firmly in his saddle, was certainly a picture for admiration; though, to a thoughtful mind, the feeling would give rise to a regret, that some more dignified object had not called forth the energies of the man, than that which made a ridiculous exhibition of himself, degraded his noble steed, and risked his own neck. However, no such remorse entered the breast of the redoubtable horseman; and with a glance of conscious success directed round the room at his anticipating companions, he dashed spurs into the sides of his steed. The animal thus urged, apparently terrified with the uproar that assailed his ears, and hardly knowing, in the singularity of the situation, what was required of him, exhibited symptoms of terror and uneasiness. His rider, however, was not to be deterred from his purpose, and bringing him up to the edge of the table, again administered the spurs at the same time that he raised him to the leap; while the horse, frightened by the excited throng around him, and having his metal thoroughly aroused, made one bound, more than adequate to take him clear of the table. The rider not anticipating so lofty a spring, and incautiously omitting to take due precaution in the suddenness of his exaltation, allowed his head to come in violent contact with the ceiling; which stunning him, and causing him, in his attempt to recover himself, to suddenly draw up his reins, had the effect of swerving his horse from his balance, and brought the pair down amidst the symbols of the late revel. While they lay stretched on the floor, surrounded by the ruins of the table and the fragments of glass, both bleeding and bruised, the landlord made his appearance; and after removing the astonished quadruped to more congenial quarters, the frolicsome and sportive inebriates separated for the night.
The thoughts of the young men, as they retired to rest, after having been the silent spectators of the late scene, may well be imagined; such to them was entirely new, and the disgust which it gave rise to in the mind of John was fully equalled by the contempt engendered in that of William; though, it must be confessed, when the contemplation of the event passed through the latter's brain, he could not refrain from indulging in a laugh at the ridiculous appearance of the actors, and from feeling amused at the humiliating termination of the vain gasconade of the pompous and conceited principal, who became a self-immolated victim to his own vanity. The only object that excited one spark of William's pity or sympathy, was the poor deluded horse. With these reflections, and an occasional outbreak of reminiscent cachinnations on the part of the junior, the brothers dropt off to sleep, tired with the day's journey and the events of the night.
"The fiend's alarm began; a hollow sound Sung in the leaves; the forest rock'd around, Air blackened,—rolled the thunder,—groan'd the ground."
Early on the following morning, John and William prepared to resume their journey; and, upon a settlement of their reckoning with their host, they were not a little surprised and annoyed to find a considerable item in their bill set down for the damage caused by the previous night's debauch. This exaction they resisted, but to no purpose. The landlord was no respecter of persons, and was inexorable in his demands; they were present during the scene, and consequently, in his eyes, implicated and liable to pay for their pleasure. Besides which, he intended to reap a rich harvest from the event, and charge the same to each party staying in his house; notwithstanding that the sum apportioned to each individual was ample to indemnify him for any loss he had sustained. Not being in the habit, however, of having his demands called into question, he was not in this case inclined to relinquish his intention of enforcing the payment; and the brothers were therefore constrained to submit to the extortion.
The shortest though more intricate route to Brompton, the station of Mr. Smithers, was through the bush, following a line described to them by an old shepherd of their father's who well knew that part of the country; and, being experienced bushmen themselves, they determined upon taking that course in preference to the more circuitous, though better defined, dray road and townships. With this intention, provided with a descriptive sketch of the country, a pocket compass, and the sagacity and instinct of their black boy, they started for Barra Warra, a station distant about fifty miles; which was centrally situated, and from whence there was a postman's track to Brompton. To reach this point before dark, it was necessary to push on; as, should they not complete their distance in daylight, it would necessitate the alternative of spending a night in the bush; a circumstance, which, though not likely to cause any uneasiness to a bushman, was, in the possibility of obtaining comfortable quarters, as well to be avoided.
Nothing of any note occurred in the ride, until well on in the afternoon; when they began to detect signs of their approach to an extensive station, and expected shortly to witness symptoms of animation and habitation. The weather during the greater part of the day had been exceedingly sultry; which, with the heavy appearance of the sky, was a portentous indication of storm. In order to escape this, and reach the shelter of the station before the rending of the heavens, the young men urged their weary horses to an accelerated speed. They rode on; still without coming upon any track that would guide them to the station they knew could not be far distant; when an occasional low rumbling noise of distant thunder announced the approach of the warring elements; and with the gradual extinction of the sun's rays, made them feel the unpleasantness of their situation, and a desire to be well housed. The instinct of the black here made its value apparent; for, where nothing was visible even to the practised eye of either John or William, he suddenly discerned the tracks of sheep; and naturally inferring that they must either be directed towards, or from, the head station; and also detecting the track of the shepherd, who must have accompanied the flock, easily deciding which must have been the homeward course, he took the lead of the party, and piloted them with his eyes fixed upon the ground; travelling as speedily as their horses could proceed.
Very little distance, however, had been accomplished; and the increasing gloom lent its darkness to the shades of night already setting in; when a few heavy drops of moisture, accompanied by a flash of vivid light, that made the horses start and tremble; and followed by a peal of thunder that seemed to shake the very earth; announced to the travellers that they were in for an unpleasant experience, in all probability, of a miserable night. The trio, however, still held on their way; the black boy, during the momentary illuminations caused by the repeated flashes of lightning, continued to discern the, but to him, evanescent path; and with spasmodic starts; and intervals of salient progression, proceeded in his guiding course.
The appearance of the forest was fearfully sublime; the tall bare trunks of the gigantic gum-trees, with their surfaces of immaculately smooth bark of a pale bluish hue, appearing as if they had by some unaccountable agency been stripped of their natural skin, contrasted strangely with the surrounding gloom. When the momentary flashes of light lit up the darkness of the woods, and revealed the naked stems, like argenteous columns supporting the black canopy of eternal shades, they displayed a scene calculated to create in an imaginative fancy the existence of a vast catacomb of departed dryads; while it inspired the mind with awe, at the presence of the dread power that moves the spirit of the storm. Still, down came the rain; flash followed upon flash; and the thunder rolled as if the whole heavens were rent by the mighty convulsions of the elements. The storm by this time had reached the culminating point; and the volume of water, pouring upon the earth, gave to the ground the appearance of one vast swamp; while it obliterated, even to the acute vision of the black, all signs of the track that had been leading them to their night's destination. Nothing now seemed to offer them any chance of an alleviation of their discomfort; no sound could be caught by the quick ear of Joey, that would tend to lead them to the desired refuge; no abatement of the storm appeared probable; and in the perfect obscurity of the night, any removal from their present position would only involve them, in all probability, more in the bush, and render their extrication more tedious and difficult. To add to their misery, they were cold and drenched, had no possibility of lighting a fire, or indulging in that balm for every misfortune, a pipe; and with their horses almost knocked up, they saw no alternative but to take what little protection a tree afforded, and wait for the morning.
Their position had attained this climax of wretchedness, when it struck John Ferguson that Joey might be able to hear or see something from the top of one the trees, that would lead them to shelter; he therefore requested the black, as a forlorn hope, to try it. Joey, upon receiving his command, selected a piece of wild vine sufficiently long to give him a firm hold in each hand, while it compassed the trunk of a good-sized tree; then divesting himself of his boots, and choosing one of the largest stems he could distinguish, he prepared to mount an old blue gum, whose trunk rose for fully forty feet smooth and straight, and without an impediment or excrescence. Putting his supple vine-stalk round the tree, and firmly grasping each end of the cane by his hands, he placed his feet firmly against the stalwart denizen of the woods, and rose in bounding starts with a celerity astonishing to the uninitiated. Upon reaching the fork of the tree, and ascending the highest branch, he spent some moments gazing around, in the hope of detecting a friendly light in the surrounding gloom, but without success; not a gleam was visible, and not a sound, save the rumbling of the thunder and the heavy pattering of the rain, broke the solemn monotony of the storm. Disappointed and nearly disheartened, he communicated to his master below the ungrateful intelligence that nothing was perceptible; but preparatory to his descent, he gave a loud "cooey," in the faint hope that it might attract the attention of some human being. As we proceed, we may as well describe to the reader the nature of this signal. A "cooey" is, as its name implies, a call having the sound its orthography indicates; with a prolonged dwelling upon the first syllable, and a sharp determined utterance in its termination. This sound, which is peculiar to the Australian bush, uttered with the intonation and force of healthy lungs, can be heard at a surprising distance; and often, when used by one lost in the nemoral labyrinths of the country, is the means of attraction; and consequent deliverance from danger and probable death.
It was, then, one of these efficient signals of distress that was uttered by Joey, with a lustiness that would have done credit to La Blache; and great was his joy when, after a few moments of listening, his ear caught the sound of a dog's barking. The canine infection spread rapidly over the settlement, and once started kept up an unceasing chorus from the throats of a whole pack; and guided by the friendly notice, our travellers were enabled to discern in which direction Barra Warra lay. They mounted their horses with stiff and weary limbs, though with lightened hearts, and proceeded for about a hundred yards in the direction whence echoed the barking; when, to their no little astonishment, they came upon the line of fence enclosing the paddocks attached to the house, and immediately struck the track leading to the station. By this they had the mortification to discover, that if they had been enabled to continue their course for a few minutes before the storm thickened, they would have, long ere then, been comfortably sheltered from the inclemency of the weather. However, they were not in a disposition to indulge in any vain regrets; and shortly arriving at the house, they presented themselves in their sad plight. The noise of the dogs had attracted the attention of the people of the place, who, imagining the cause, were expecting to see the approach of some traveller; so, when John and William made their appearance, they were met at the door by the owner of the station.
This gentleman upon witnessing the condition of the young men, and instantly perceiving them to be of his own order, extended his hand to each; and expressing his regret at their misfortune, invited them into the house, and provided them with dry changes. A warm repast was quickly ready for them; and during its discussion they related their parentage, destination, and object of their journey, to their new friend, Mr. Dawson; who proved himself a most agreeable person. He informed them that he had heard of their father, and was delighted to make the acquaintance of his sons; he proffered the hospitality of his house for as long as they wished to stay; and pressed them to prolong their visit. This, however, would involve a breach of their engagement with Smithers; and, pleased as they were with the civility and kindness displayed in the invitation, they regretted they could not, on that occasion, accept it, and informed their entertainer that their object was to reach Brompton on the following day; which would necessitate a resumption of their journey early on the morrow.
Mr. Dawson expressed sorrow that he could not induce them to remain; but trusted they would make his house their temporary home on some more convenient occasion; and informing them that he had then got a few friends stopping with him on a short visit, and who were then assembled in the drawing-room, he led the Fergusons off to introduce them.
The young men naturally thought the company, to whom they were about to be ushered, consisted of some of the neighbouring squatters, who had volunteered their company for a few days to dispel their mutual monotony. But great was their surprise, when, upon entering a very comfortably (almost elegantly) furnished room, to see assembled several ladies, dispersed about the apartment; some in conversation with gentlemen; others at work, amusing or instructing the children; while one sat at a handsome cottage piano, running through some new music, brought to the station by one of her friends; and accompanying herself on the instrument, while singing in a sweet and melodious voice a new and popular song. To her, whom he addressed as his wife, the host introduced our travellers; detailing in a few words, the information respecting their movements, which they had themselves imparted to him; and then in turn went through the usual formality with the remainder of his guests.
In society such as this, where restraint is unknown, and cordiality and hospitality reign supreme, it is not to be wondered at that our friends speedily found themselves at home; nor that their own prospects were canvassed by their new friends, with a zeal and freedom that would be considered unpardonable impertinence in the more settled and formal circles of the "old country." From the information obtained from the more experienced settlers, the Fergusons derived considerable benefit; and their friends' directions and opinions of the country, being, in the estimation of the young men, likely to be valuable, they determined to allow themselves, in a great measure, to be guided by them.
The evening, enlivened by an occasional dance, music, and lively conversation, was passed exceedingly pleasantly by the brothers; who were perfectly delighted with their kind reception; and sadly regretted their inability to comply with their kind host's repeated entreaties to extend their visit. Mr. Dawson informed them that those pleasing reunions, had become quite numerous in that part of the country; where the degree of familiar and friendly intercourse established among the neighbouring families was such, that, after the bustle and occupation of shearing time was over, such a party, as he then had in his house, was formed alternately at each of the surrounding stations; and their leisure existence became a prolonged life of reciprocal good-feeling and friendship; which, by the means of this happy unity, were firmly cemented.
On the following morning, the sun rose with a refreshed resplendence; and our young friends, after breakfasting, and taking a cordial leave of their kind entertainers and their friends, proceeded on their way to Brompton. The previous evening's storm had had the effect of deliciously cooling the atmosphere; and the sun's clear rays obliquely striking the fragrant gum-leaves, which fluttered high over-head in the gentle morning breeze, and still bathed, as it were, in tears for the late elemental strife, made them sparkle like glittering gems in the roof of their arboreous edifice. The aromatic exudation from the dwarfish wattle, with its May-like blossom, which seemed to flourish under the protection of its gigantic compeers; and the bright acacia, decking, with its brilliant hue, the sloping sward, both lent their aid in the general pageant. The shrill cry of the parrots, which, with their rich plumage flashing in the reflection of the sun, and almost dazzling the eye of the beholder, as they darted in their continued flight from tree to tree, in the exuberance of their conscious freedom and enjoyment of resuscitated nature, screeched their notes of thankfulness and admiration. The running streamlet, called into almost momentary existence, bounded and leapt its limpid volume through its tortuous and meandering course, insinuated its translucent body into masses of fibrous debris and crevices of rock, to emerge in miniature cataracts, and murmur its allegiance to an all-smiling nature. The brightened face of morn greeted the young men upon their start; and with their spirits buoyant and animated by the refreshing influence of the delightful temperature, the surrounding fragrance, and the cheerful and exhilarating aspect of the bush, they rode with light and happy hearts.
Their course, however, was tedious and troublesome, and at the same time dangerous; for the fury of the storm, which now showed what had been the extent of its force, in the destruction it had occasioned, had placed numerous traps on the road. Immense trees lay prostrate across their track, frequently necessitating a deviation from the path. Here a patriarch of the forest was riven to the root; with its splinters scattered in all directions; while one portion, still adhering in its connexion to the base, and supported by a branch resting on the ground, formed a triumphal arch across the road. There a similar denizen of the woods extended his humiliated form; torn up by the root, which had drawn with it masses of its congenial soil, seemingly unwilling to part with its natural element from which it had derived its sustenance. This would cause another deviation; and the treacherous nature of the ground (which was what bushmen call rotten, that is, superficially looking perfectly sound, though actually so soft that a horse would sink into it to his knees) rendered travelling insecure, and required the exercise of extreme caution. Hence the day was considerably advanced ere the travellers arrived at Brompton.
As they approached this station, they were very much struck with its appearance. It was situated on a rising ground facing the Gibson river; which, with the heavy rains that had fallen, had risen considerably above its usual height, and had the appearance of a noble stream. The house itself was of the kind generally to be met with under similar circumstances; that is, a one-storied weather-boarded building of about six or eight rooms, mostly connected with one another, with a broad shady verandah, detached kitchen and stable, and other out-houses at a short distance removed from the dwelling. As a structure it had nothing about it that would attract special attention; it was simply neat, and had an appearance of comfort; but looked at in conjunction with the prettily arranged garden, with its tastefully laid out flower plots, and well stocked beds of vegetive edibles—and which was protected from the intrusion of quadrupeds by a substantial "pailing fence"—it was a snug and pleasant residence. Numerous and extensive enclosed paddocks stretched far down the banks of the river; and in them might have been seen quite a herd of horses luxuriating in the rich pasturage; while at a distance of a few hundred yards stood the enclosures forming the stock-yard, and, adjacent, the large wool-shed and the huts of the men. From these, smoke with graceful curls rose in the calm evening air, and gave to the locale the appearance of a small though picturesque township; and, with the park-like appearance of the country, impressed our young travellers with the feeling, that Brompton was one of the most serene and delightful spots they had ever seen.
This station was of considerable magnitude; and, being in the centre of a district becoming fast occupied by settlers and their stock, it was likely, at no very distant period, to become a place of considerable importance. The government had reserved a site for a township; and had already established a branch post-office for the convenience of the settlers in the neighbourhood; it might consequently be considered the ultima thule of civilisation. The proprietor of the station, Mr. Alfred Smithers, was a gentleman in the meridian of life, who had, in the general exodus from the southern districts of the colony, come over into the Darling Downs in search of "new country;" and continuing to push on until he passed the boundary of the existing settlements, had alighted on a tract of land situated near the head of the Gibson river, to which it appeared no venturesome squatter had as then penetrated. He took up the "run" from government, gave it its present name, brought over his flocks, and established his station; then building a comfortable little cottage, which, since the erection of the present house, had been occupied by the overseer, he removed to it Mrs. Smithers and his family. His brother shortly afterwards followed him into this unknown wilderness, and not being possessed of any stock himself, assisted him in the general management of the station.
The younger brother, Mr. Robert Smithers, more generally known among his friends as Bob Smithers, and of whom we shall have to make frequent mention in the course of our narrative, was a gentleman of rather prepossessing appearance; the junior of his brother by some ten years; but, unlike him, was of an unsettled and reckless disposition, rather fond of the society of wild and dissolute companions, and at times, when absent from home, exhibited symptoms of the old colonial leaven, and indulged in courses of dissipation and debauchery. On the station, however, he was energetic and industrious; and, at its early settlement, was of considerable service to his brother, not only in the general routine of the establishment, but from his implacable enmity to the blacks, whom he inspired with a wholesome dread of his prowess; so that, while their neighbours were continually suffering from the depredations of the sable marauders, their flocks and property were left intact.
Shortly after Bob's juncture with his brother, and perceiving the number of settlers that continually migrated to this new district, he provisioned himself and a few domesticated blacks (that occasionally worked on the station, and on whom he could depend) with rations for two or three months; and being well armed for his own protection, in case of a collision with any of his colleagues' countrymen, or of their treachery, he took his departure on a prospecting tour. Following the course of the river, and exploring the creeks and tributaries augmenting it, he drew a rough sketch or plan of the surface of the country, noting the different hills, creeks, and landmarks, to which he gave names; and marking the trees at various spots, to indicate to any future searcher that the country had been selected. He then divided his plan into divisions, which he roughly estimated to contain each about twenty or thirty thousand acres; and dignifying them with names, he sent into government, tenders for their lease. At the time of which we speak, in the survey department of the legislature, very little was known of the country designated "the unsettled districts," but which were fast filling up; and as little enquiries were made by the authorities, as to the accuracy of the sketches and estimations in the tenders, in the absence of any others, they were necessarily accepted at the minimum rate of ten guineas per annum each. Thus Mr. Robert Smithers became, for a small annual rental, the lessee of a tract of country equal in extent to an European principality. Although, without the present means of stocking the land thus obtained, Bob Smithers knew perfectly well that as the country became taken up and occupied, and as fresh settlers poured in, he would find many who would purchase his right to the "runs" at pretty round sums, in preference to pushing out still further; besides, having no absolute necessity to sell them, he could continue to hold out, until their value sufficiently advanced to induce him to effect a sale. A prospect of a profitable realization having now presented itself, he had been offering them; and it was for one of these runs that the Fergusons were in treaty.
Their approach to the station had been noticed from the house; and upon their arrival at the door, they were welcomed by Mr. Alfred Smithers, who at once concluded who they were; so consigning their horses to the care of a man in waiting and their own black boy Joey, they entered the domicile, and were introduced to Mrs. Smithers and the family. In the absence of his brother, who was shortly expected in, John fell into conversation with Mr. Smithers, respecting the country they were about to visit, and their proposed operations, should they decide upon purchasing; while William, with his usual frankness, subsided into a friendly conversation with the lady, while he playfully noticed the children, with whom he instantly became a great favourite.
The internal arrangements of the house seemed in perfect keeping with its external appearance of comfort: order, decorum, and cleanliness, seemed its characteristics; and happiness and contentment that of the inmates' existence. Mr. Smithers was evidently a man of domestic attachments; one whose greatest pleasure was in his family; while his wife was blessed with an equally happy temperament, devoted to her husband, with whom and her children she divided her entire affection. Their family consisted of three, two boys and a girl; who, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which they laboured, were exeeedingly obedient and well mannered, without any of the wayward forwardness, and rude precosity, so generally to be met with in children brought up under similar auspices. Though hospitable and kind in the extreme, from their remote and secluded position, the Smitherses were rarely visited by strangers; and even their few neighbours were either located at such considerable distances that it made visiting inconvenient, or they were people of a stamp who had no relish for their society. Mr. Smithers never visited town, except when business made it absolutely necessary, and his amiable wife never entertained any desire to leave her family; consequently it was not to be wondered at, from the time of her arrival at the station, five years before the period of which we speak, she had never left it longer than for a day's ride, to return the courtesies of some of her nearest friends.
Bob Smithers, as we have already said, was inclined occasionally to exceed the bounds of temperance and decorum; but even he sincerely respected his sister-in-law, and never ventured to violate propriety by the introduction of such companions as he knew would be distasteful to her. At the same time, the influence of her presence acted as a check upon his wild and uncouth habits, and prevented him from giving way so entirely to his reckless propensities as he would have done under no such restraint.
The Fergusons were well pleased with the portion of the Smithers' menage they had met; and during the interval that they were waiting for the return of Bob, who had, so his brother informed them, been detained somewhere on the run, probably through the swollen nature of the creeks, they enjoyed one of the most pleasant evenings they had spent for a long time. The absentee made his appearance late in the evening, and after a mutual introduction, informed his visitors that he had hardly expected them for a day or two. The rain in the neighbourhood of Brompton, they discovered, had been falling for some days, and had been considerably heavier than on the higher parts of the river; while, owing to the large body of water that had fallen, Bob stated that all the rivers were too much swollen to admit of their being crossed, and advised, for their mutual comfort, that their expedition should be delayed for a few days to give the water time to subside. This advice was backed up by the rest of the family, who were unanimous in expressing the delight they would feel in their friends extending the term of their visit; while they, having no objections themselves to such a course, gladly responded to the appeal, and considered themselves stationary until the river would admit of their proceeding on their expedition. With this arrangement settled, they finally separated for the night.