HotFreeBooks.com
Station Amusements
by Lady Barker
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

STATION AMUSEMENTS IN NEW ZEALAND

By Lady Barker



Preface.

The interest shown by the public in the simple and true account of every-day life in New Zealand, published by the author three years ago, has encouraged her to enlarge upon the theme. This volume is but a continuation of "Station Life," with this difference: that whereas that little book dwelt somewhat upon practical matters, these pages are entirely devoted to reminiscences of the idler hours of a settler's life.

Many readers have friends and relations out in those beautiful distant islands, and though her book should possess no wider interest, the author hopes that these at least will care to know exactly what sort of life their absent dear ones are leading. One thing is certain: that few books can ever have afforded so much pleasure to their authors, or can have appeared more completely to write themselves, than "Station Life," and this, its sequel.

M. A. B.



Chapter I: A Bush picnic.

Since my return to England, two years ago, I have been frequently asked by my friends and acquaintances, "How did you amuse yourself up at the station?" I am generally tempted to reply, "We were all too busy to need amusement;" but when I come to think the matter over calmly and dispassionately, I find that a great many of our occupations may be classed under the head of play rather than work. But that would hardly give a fair idea of our lives there, either. It would be more correct to say perhaps, that most of our simple pleasures were composed of a solid layer of usefulness underneath the froth of fun and frolic. I purpose therefore in these sketches to describe some of the pursuits which afforded us a keen enjoyment at the time,—an enjoyment arising from perfect health, simple tastes, and an exquisite climate.

It will be as well to begin with the description of one of the picnics, which were favourite amusements in our home, nestled in a valley of the Malvern Hills of Canterbury. These hills are of a very respectable height, and constitute in fact the lowest slopes of the great Southern Alps, which rise to snow-clad peaks behind them. Our little wooden homestead stood at the head of a sunny, sheltered valley, and around it we could see the hills gradually rolling into downs, which in their turn were smoothed out, some ten or twelve miles off, into the dead level of the plains. The only drawback to the picturesque beauty of these lower ranges is the absence of forest, or as it is called there, bush. Behind the Malvern Hills, where they begin to rise into steeper ascents, lies many and many a mile of bush-clad mountain, making deep blue shadows when the setting sun brings the grand Alpine range into sharp white outline against the background of dazzling Italian sky. But just here, where my beloved antipodean home stood, we had no trees whatever, except those which we had planted ourselves, and whose growth we watched with eager interest. I dwell a little upon this point, to try to convey to any one who may glance at these pages, how we all,—dwellers among tree-less hills as we were,—longed and pined for the sights and sounds of a "bush."

Quite out of view from the house or garden, and about seven miles away, lay a mountain pass, or saddle, over a range, which was densely wooded, and from whose highest peak we could see a wide extent of timbered country. Often in our evening rides we have gone round by that saddle, in spite of a break-neck track and quicksands and bogs, just to satisfy our constant longing for green leaves, waving branches, and the twitter of birds. Whenever any wood was wanted for building a stockyard, or slabbing a well, or making a post-and-rail fence around a new paddock, we were obliged to take out a Government license to cut wood in this splendid bush. Armed with the necessary document the next step was to engage "bushmen," or woodcutters by profession, who felled and cut the timber into the proper lengths, and stacked it neatly in a clearing, where it could get dry and seasoned. These stacks were often placed in such inaccessible and rocky parts of the steep mountain side, that they had to be brought down to the flat in rude little sledges, drawn by a bullock, who required to be trained to the work, and to possess so steady and equable a disposition as to be indifferent to the annoyance of great logs of heavy wood dangling and bumping against his heels as the sledge pursued its uneven way down the bed of a mountain torrent, in default of a better road.

Imagine, then, a beautiful day in our early New Zealand autumn. For a week past, a furious north-westerly gale had been blowing down the gorges of the Rakaia and the Selwyn, as if it had come out of a funnel, and sweeping across the great shelterless plains with irresistible force. We had been close prisoners to the house all those days, dreading to open a door to go out for wood or water, lest a terrific blast should rush in and whip the light shingle roof off. Not an animal could be seen out of doors; they had all taken shelter on the lee-side of the gorse hedges, which are always planted round a garden to give the vegetables a chance of coming up. On the sky-line of the hills could be perceived towards evening, mobs of sheep feeding with their heads up-wind, and travelling to the high camping-grounds which they always select in preference to a valley. The yellow tussocks were bending all one way, perfectly flat to the ground, and the shingle on the gravel walk outside rattled like hail against the low latticed windows. The uproar from the gale was indescribable, and the little fragile house swayed and shook as the furious gusts hurled themselves against it. Inside its shelter, the pictures were blowing out from the walls, until I expected them to be shaken off their hooks even in those rooms which had plank walls lined with papered canvas; whilst in the kitchen, store-room, etc., whose sides were made of cob, the dust blew in fine clouds from the pulverized walls, penetrating even to the dairy, and settling half an inch thick on my precious cream. At last, when our skin felt like tightly drawn parchment, and our ears and eyes had long been filled with powdered earth, the wind dropped at sunset as suddenly as it had risen five days before. We ventured out to breathe the dust-laden atmosphere, and to look if the swollen creeks (swollen because snow-fed) had done or threatened to do any mischief, and saw on the south-west horizon great fleecy masses of cloud driving rapidly up before a chill icy breeze. Hurrah, here comes a sou'-wester! The parched-up earth, the shrivelled leaves, the dusty grass, all needed the blessed damp air. In an hour it was upon us. We had barely time to house the cows and horses, to feed the fowls, and secure them in their own shed, and to light a roaring coal (or rather lignite, for it is not true coal) fire in the drawing-room, when, with a few warning splashes, the deluge of cold rain came steadily down, and we went to sleep to the welcome sound of its refreshing patter.

All that I have been describing was the weather of the past week. Disagreeable as it might have been, it was needed in both its hot and cold, dry and wet extremes, to make a true New Zealand day. The furious nor'-wester had blown every fleck of cloud below the horizon, and dried the air until it was as light as ether. The "s'utherly buster," on the other hand, had cooled and refreshed everything in the most delicious way, and a perfect day had come at last. What words can describe the pleasure it is to inhale such an atmosphere? One feels as if old age or sickness or even sorrow, could hardly exist beneath such a spotless vault of blue as stretched out above our happy heads. I have often been told that this feeling of intense pleasure on a fine day, which is peculiar to New Zealand, is really a very low form of animal enjoyment. It may be so, but I only know that I never stood in the verandah early in the morning of such a day as I am trying to sketch in pen and ink now, without feeling the highest spiritual joy, the deepest thankfulness to the loving Father who had made His beautiful world so fair, and who would fain lead us through its paths of pleasantness to a still more glorious, home, which will be free from the shadows brooding from beneath sin's out-stretched wings over this one. As I stood in the porch I have often fancied I could seethe animals and even the poultry expressing in dumb brute fashion, their joy and gratitude to the God from whom all blessings flow.

But to return to the verandah, although we have never left it. Presently F—— came out, and I said with a sigh, born of deep content and happiness, "What a day!" "Yes," answered F——: "a heavenly day indeed: well worth waiting for. I want to go and see how the men are getting on in the bush. Will you like to come too?" "Of course I will. What can be more enchanting than the prospect of spending such sunny hours in that glorious bush?" So after breakfast I give my few simple orders to the cook, and prepare, to pack a "Maori kit," or flat basket made of flax, which could be fastened to my side-saddle, with the preparations for our luncheon. First some mutton chops had to be trimmed and prepared, all ready to be cooked when we got there. These were neatly folded up in clean paper; and a little packet of tea, a few lumps of white sugar, a tiny wooden contrivance for holding salt and pepper, and a couple of knives and forks, were added to the parcel.

So much for the contents of the basket. They needed to be carefully packed so as not to rattle in any way, or Helen, my pretty bay mare, would soon have got rid of the luncheon—and me. I wrapped up three or four large raw potatoes in separate bits of paper, and slipped them into F——'s pockets when he was looking another way, and then began the real difficulty of my picnic: how was the little tin tea-pot and an odd delf cup to be carried? F—— objected to put them also in his pocket, assuring me that I could make very good tea by putting my packet of the fragrant leaves into the bushmen's kettle, and drinking it afterwards out of one of their pannikins. He tried to bribe me to this latter piece of simplicity by promising to wash the tin pannikin out for me first. Now I was not dainty or over particular; I could not have enjoyed my New Zealand life so thoroughly if I had been either; but I did not like the idea of using the bushmen's tea equipage. In the first place, the tea never tastes the same when made in their way, and allowed to boil for a moment or two after the leaves have been thrown in, before the kettle is taken off the fire; and in the next place, it is very difficult to drink tea out of a pannikin; for it becomes so hot directly we put the scalding liquid into it, that long after the tea is cool enough to drink, the pannikin still continues too hot to touch. But I said so pathetically, "You know how wretched I am without my tea," that F——'s heart relented, and he managed to stow away the little teapot and the cup. That cup bore a charmed life. It accompanied me on all my excursions, escaping unbroken; and is, I believe, in existence now, spending its honoured old age in the recesses of a cupboard.

After the luncheon, the next question to be decided is, which of the dogs are to join the expedition. Hector, of course; he is the master's colley, and would no more look at a sheep, except in the way of business, than he would fly. Rose, a little short-haired terrier, was the most fascinating of dog companions, and I pleaded hard for her, as she was an especial pet; though there were too many lambs belonging to a summer lambing (in New Zealand the winter is the usual lambing season) in the sheltered paddocks beneath the bush, to make it quite safe for her to be one of the party. She would not kill or hurt a lamb on any account, but she always appeared anxious to play with the little creatures; and as her own spotless coat was as white as theirs, she often managed to get quite close to a flock of sheep before they perceived that she belonged to the dreaded race of dogs. When the timid animals found out their mistake, a regular stampede used to ensue; and it was not supposed to be good for the health of the old or young sheep to hurry up the hill-sides in such wild fashion as that in which they rushed away from Rose's attempts to intrude on their society. Nettle may come, for he is but a tiny terrier, and so fond of his mistress that he never strays a yard away from her horse's heels. Brisk, my beautiful, stupid water-spaniel, is also allowed an outing. He is perfect to look at, but not having had any educational advantages in his youth, is an utter fool; amiable, indeed, but not the less a fool. Garibaldi, another colley, is suffering a long penal sentence of being tied up to his barrel, on account of divers unlawful chases after sheep which were not wanted; and dear old Jip, though she pretends to be very anxious to accompany us; is far too fat and too rheumatic to keep pace with our long stretching gallop up the valley.

At last we were fairly off about eleven o'clock, and an hour's easy canter, intersected by many "flat-jumps," or rather "water-jumps," across the numerous creeks, brought unto the foot of the bush-clad mountain. After that our pace became a very sober one, as the track resembled a broken rocky staircase more than a bridle-path. But such as it was, our sure-footed horses carried us safely up and down its rugged steeps, without making a single false step. No mule can be more sure-footed than a New Zealand horse. He will carry his rider anywhere, if only that rider trusts entirely to him, nor attempts to guide him in any way. During the last half-hour of our slow and cat-like climb, we could hear the ring of the bushmen's axes, and the warning shouts preceding the crashing fall of a Black Birch. Fallen logs and deep ruts made by the sledges in their descent, added to the difficulties of the track; and I was so faint-hearted as to entreat piteously, on more than one occasion, when Helen paused and shook her head preparatory to climbing over a barricade, to be "taken off." But F—— had been used to these dreadful roads for too many years to regard them in the same light as I did, and would answer carelessly, "Nonsense: you're as safe as if you were sitting in an arm-chair." All I can say is, it might have been so, but I did not feel at all like it.

However, the event proved him to have been right, and we reached the clearing in safety. Here we dismounted, and led the horses to a place where they could nibble some grass, and rest in the cool shade. The saddles and bridles were soon removed, and halters improvised out of the New Zealand flax, which can be turned to so many uses. Having provided for the comfort of our faithful animals, our next step was to look for the bushmen. The spot which we had reached was their temporary home in the heart of the forest, but their work was being carried on elsewhere. I could not have told from which side the regular ringing axe-strokes proceeded, so confusing were the echoes from the cliffs around us; but after a moment's silent pause F—— said, "If we follow that track (pointing to a slightly cleared passage among the trees) we shall come upon them." So I kilted up my linsey skirt, and hung up my little jacket, necessary for protection against the evening air, on a bough out of the wekas' reach, whilst I followed F—— through tangled creepers, "over brake, over brier," towards the place from whence the noise of falling trees proceeded. By the time we reached it, our scratched hands and faces bore traces of the thorny undergrowth which had barred our way; but all minor discomforts were forgotten in the picturesque beauty of the spot. Around us lay the forest-kings, majestic still in their overthrow, whilst substantial stacks of cut-up and split timber witnessed to the skill and industry of the stalwart figures before us, who reddened through their sunburn with surprise and shyness at seeing a lady. They need not have been afraid of me, for I had long ago made friends with them, and during the preceeding winter had established a sort of night-school in my dining-room, for all the hands employed on the station, and these two men had been amongst my most constant pupils. One of them, a big Yorkshire-man, was very backward in his "larning," and though he plodded on diligently, never got beyond the simplest words in the largest type. Small print puzzled him at once, and he had a habit of standing or sitting with his back to me whilst repeating his lessons. Nothing would induce him to face me. The moment it became his turn to go on with the chapter out of the Bible, with which we commenced our studies, that instant he turned his broad shoulders towards me, and I could only, hear the faintest murmurs issuing from the depths of a great beard. Remonstrance would have scared my shy pupil away, so I was fain to put up with his own method of instruction.

But this is a digression, and I want to make you see with my eyes the beautiful glimpses of distant country lying around the bold wooded cliff on which we were standing. The ground fell away from our feet so completely in some places, that we could see over the tops of the high trees around us, whilst in others the landscape appeared framed in an arch of quivering foliage. A noisy little creek chattered and babbled as it hurried along to join its big brother down below, and kept a fringe of exquisite ferns, which grew along its banks, brightly green by its moisture. Each tree, if taken by itself, was more like an umbrella than anything else to English eyes, for in these primitive forests, where no kind pruning hand has ever touched them, they shoot up, straight and branchless, into the free air above, where they spread a leafy crown out to the sunbeams. Beneath the dense shade of these matted branches grew a luxuriant shrubbery, whose every leaf was a marvel of delicate beauty, and ferns found here a home such as they might seek elsewhere in vain. Flowers were very rare, and I did not observe many berries, but these conditions vary in different parts of the beautiful middle island.

That was a fair and fertile land stretching out before us, intersected by the deep banks of the Rakaia, with here and there a tiny patch of emerald green and a white dot, representing the house and English grass paddock of a new settler. In the background the bush-covered mountains rose ever higher and higher in bolder outline, till they shook off their leafy clothing, and stood out in steep cliffs and scaurs from the snow-clad glacier region of the mountain range running from north to south, and forming the back bone of the island. I may perhaps make you see the yellow, river-furrowed plains, and the great confusion of rising ground behind them, but cannot make you see, still less feel, the atmosphere around, quivering in a summer haze in the valley beneath, and stirred to the faintest summer wind-sighs as it moved among the pines and birches overhead. Its lightness was its most striking peculiarity. You felt as if your lungs could never weary of inhaling deep breaths of such an air. Warm without oppression, cool without a chill. I can find nothing but paradoxes to describe it. As for fatigue, one's muscles might get tired, and need rest, but the usual depression and weariness attending over-exertion could not exist in such an atmosphere. One felt like a happy child; pleased at nothing, content to exist where existence was a pleasure.

You could not find more favourable specimens of New Zealand colonists than the two men, Trew and Domville, who stood before us in their working dress of red flannel shirts and moleskin trousers, "Cookham" boots and digger's plush hats. Three years before this day they had landed at Port Lyttleton, with no other capital than their strong, willing arms, and their sober, sensible heads. Very different is their appearance to-day from what it was on their arrival; and the change in their position and circumstances is as great. Their bodily frames have filled out and developed under the influence of the healthy climate and abundance of mutton, until they look ten years younger and twice as strong, and each man owns a cottage and twenty acres of freehold land, at which he works in spare time, as well as having more pounds than he ever possessed pence in the old country, put safely away in the bank. There can be no doubt about the future of any working man or woman in our New Zealand colonies. It rests in their own hands, under God's blessing, and the history of the whole human race shows us that He always has blessed honest labour and rightly directed efforts to do our duty in this world. Sobriety and industry are the first essentials to success. Possessing these moral qualifications, and a pair of hands, a man may rear up his children in those beautiful distant lands in ignorance of what hunger; or thirst, or grinding poverty means. Hitherto the want of places of worship, and schools for the children, have been a sad drawback to the material advantages of colonization at the Antipodes; but these blessings are increasing every day, and the need of them creates the supply.

The great mistake made in England, next to that of sending out worthless idle paupers, who have never done a hand's turn for themselves here, and are still less likely to do it elsewhere, is for parents and guardians to ship off to New Zealand young men who have received the up-bringing and education of gentlemen, without a shilling in their pockets, under the vague idea that something will turn up for them in a new place. There is nothing which can turn up, for the machinery of civilization is reduced to the most primitive scale in these countries; and I have known 500 pounds per annum regarded as a monstrous salary to be drawn by a hard-worked official of some twenty years standing and great experience in the colony. From this we may judge of the chances of remunerative employment for a raw unfledged youth, with a smattering of classical learning. At first they simply "loaf" (as it is called there) on their acquaintances and friends. At the end of six months their clothes are beginning to look shabby; they feel they ought to do something, and they make day by day the terrible discovery that there is nothing for them to do in their own rank of life. Many a poor clergyman's son, sooner than return to the home which has been so pinched to furnish forth his passage money and outfit, takes a shepherd's billet, though he generally makes a very bad shepherd for the first year or two; or drives bullocks, or perhaps wanders vaguely over the country, looking for work, and getting food and lodging indeed, for inhospitality is unknown, but no pay. Sometimes they go to the diggings, only to find that money is as necessary there as anywhere, and that they are not fitted to dig in wet holes for eight or ten hours a day. Often these poor young men go home again, and it is the best thing they can do, for at least they have gained some knowledge of life, on its dark as well as its brighter side. But still oftener, alas, they go hopelessly to the bad, degenerating into billiard markers, piano players at dancing saloons, cattle drivers, and their friends probably lose sight of them.

Once I was riding with my husband up a lovely gulley, when we heard the crack of a stockwhip, sounding strangely through the deep eternal silence of a New Zealand valley, and a turn of the track showed us a heavy, timber-laden bullock-waggon labouring slowly along. At the head of the long team sauntered the driver, in the usual rough-and-ready costume, with his soft plush hat pulled low over his face, and pulling vigorously at a clay pipe. In spite of all the outer surroundings, something in the man's walk and dejected attitude struck my imagination, and I made some remark to my companion. The sound of my voice reached the bullock-driver's ears; he looked up, and on seeing a lady, took his pipe out of his mouth, his hat off his head, and forcing his beasts a little aside, stood at their head to let us pass. I smiled and nodded, receiving in return a perfect and profound bow, and the most melancholy glance I have ever seen in human eyes. "Good gracious, F——," I cried, when we had passed, "who is that man?" "That is Sir So-and-So's third son," he replied: "they sent him out here without a shilling, five years ago, and that is what he has come to: a working man, living with working men. He looks heart-broken, poor fellow, doesn't he?" I, acting upon impulse, as any woman would have done, turning back and rode up to him, finding it very difficult to frame my pity and sympathy in coherent words. "No thank you, ma'am," was all the answer I could get, in the most refined, gentlemanly tone of voice: "I'm very well as I am. I should only have the struggle all over again if I made any change now. It is the truest kindness to leave me alone." He would not even shake hands with me; so I rode back; discomfited, to hear from F—— that he had made many attempts to befriend him, but without success. "In fact," concluded F——, with some embarrassment, "he drinks dreadfully, poor fellow. Of course that is the secret of all his wretchedness, but I believe despair drove him to it in the first instance."

I have also known an ex-dragoon officer working as a clerk in an attorney's office at fifteen shillings a week, who lived like a mechanic, and yet spake and stepped like his old self; one listened involuntarily for the clink of the sabre and spur whenever he moved across the room.

This has been a terrible digression, almost a social essay in fact; but I have it so much at heart to dissuade fathers and mothers from sending their sons so far away without any certainty of employment. Capitalists, even small ones, do well in New Zealand: the labouring classes still better; but there is no place yet for the educated gentleman without money, and with hands unused to and unfit for manual labour and the downward path is just as smooth and pleasant at first there, as anywhere else.

Trew and Domville soon got over their momentary shyness, and answered my inquiries about their families. Then I had a short talk with them, but on the principle that it is "ill speaking to a fasting man," we agreed to adjourn to the clearing, where they had built a rough log hut for temporary shelter, and have our dinner. They had provided themselves with some bacon; but were very glad to accept of F——'s offer of mutton, to be had for the trouble of fetching it. When we reached the little shanty, Trew produced some capital bread, he had baked the evening before in a camp-oven; F——'s pockets were emptied of their load of potatoes, which were put to roast in the wood embers; rashers of bacon and mutton chops spluttered and fizzed side-by-side on a monster gridiron with tall feet, so as to allow it to stand by itself over the clear fire, and we turned our chops from time to time by means of a fork extemporized out of a pronged stick.

Over another fire, a little way to leeward, hung the bushmen's kettle on an iron tripod, and, so soon as it boiled, my little teapot was filled before Domville threw in his great fist-full of tea. I had brought a tiny phial of cream in the pocket of my saddle, but the men thought it spoiled the flavour of the tea, which they always drink "neat," as they call it. The Temperance Society could draw many interesting statistics from the amount of hard work which is done in New Zealand on tea. Now, I am sorry to say, beer is creeping up to the stations, and is served out at shearing time and so on; but in the old days all the hard work used to be done on tea, and tea alone, the men always declaring they worked far better on it than on beer. "When we have as much good bread and mutton as we can eat," they would say, "we don't feel to miss the beer we used to drink in England;" and at the end of a year or two of tea and water-drinking, their bright eyes and splendid physical condition showed plainly enough which was the best kind of beverage to work, and work hard too, upon.

So there we sat round the fire: F—— with the men, and I, a little way off, out of the smoke, with the dogs. Overhead, the sunlight streamed down on the grass which had sprung up, as it always does in a clearing; the rustle among the lofty tree tops made a delicious murmur high up in the air; a waft of cool breeze flitted past us laden with the scent of newly-cut wood (and who does not know that nice, clean perfume?); innumerable paroquets almost brushed us with their emerald-green wings, whilst the tamer robin or the dingy but melodious bell-bird came near to watch the intruders. The sweet clear whistle of the tui or parson-bird—so called from his glossy black suit and white wattles curling exactly where a clergy-man's bands would be,—could be heard at a distance; whilst overhead the soft cooing of the wild pigeons, and the hoarse croak of the ka-ka or native parrot, made up the music of the birds' orchestra. Ah, how delicious it all was,—the Robinson Crusoe feel of the whole thing; the heavenly air, the fluttering leaves, the birds' chirrups and whistle, and the foreground of happy, healthy men!

Rose and I had enough to do, even with Nettle's assistance, in acting as police to keep off those bold thieves, the wekas, who are as impudent as they are tame and fearless. In appearance they resemble exactly a stout hen pheasant, without its long tail; but they belong to the apterix family, and have no wings, only a tiny useless pinion at each shoulder, furnished with a claw like a small fish-hook: what is the use of this claw I was never able to discover. When startled or hunted, the weka glides, for it can scarcely be called running, with incredible swiftness and in perfect silence, to the nearest cover. A tussock, a clump of flax, a tuft of tall tohi grass, all serve as hiding-places; and, wingless as she is, the weka can hold her own very well against her enemies, the dogs. I really believe the great desire of Brisk's life was to catch a weka. He started many, but used to go sniffing and barking round the flax bush where it had taken refuge at first, long after the clever, cunning bird had glided from its shelter to another cover further off.

After dinner was over and Domville had brought back the tin plates and pannikins from the creek where he had washed them up, pipes were lighted, and a few minutes smoking served to rest and refresh the men, who had been working since their six o'clock breakfast. The daylight hours were too precious however to be wasted in smoking. Trew and Domville would not have had that comfortable nest-egg standing in their name at the bank in Christchurch, if they had spent much time over their pipes; so after a very short "spell" they got up from the fallen log of wood which had served them for a bench, and suggested that F—— should accompany them back to where their work lay. "You don't mind being left?" asked F——. "Certainly not," replied I. "I have got the dogs for company, and a book in my pocket. I daresay I shall not read much, however, for it is so beautiful to sit here and watch the changing lights and shadows."

And so it was, most beautiful and thoroughly delightful. I sat on the short sweet grass, which springs upon the rich loam of fallen leaves the moment sunlight is admitted into the heart of a bush. No one plants it; probably the birds carry the seeds; yet it grows freely after a clearing has been made. Nature lays down a green sward directly on the rich virgin mould, and sets to work besides to cover up the unsightly stems and holes of the fallen timber with luxuriant tufts of a species of hart's-tongue fern, which grows almost as freely as an orchid on decayed timber. I was so still and silent that innumerable forest birds came about me. A wood pigeon alighted on a branch close by, and sat preening her radiant plumage in a bath of golden sunlight. The profound stillness was stirred now and then by a soft sighing breeze which passed over the tree tops, and made the delicate foliage of the undergrowth around me quiver and rustle. I had purposely scattered the remains of our meal in a spot where the birds could see the crumbs, and it was not long before the clever little creatures availed themselves of the unexpected feast. So perfectly tame and friendly were they, that I felt as if I were the intruder, and bound by all the laws of aerial chivalry to keep the peace. But this was no easy matter where Rose and Nettle were concerned, for when an imprudent weka appeared on the sylvan scene, looking around-as if to say, "Who's afraid?" it was more than I could do to keep the little terriers from giving chase. Brisk, too, blundered after them, but I had no fear of his destroying the charm of the day by taking even a weka's life.

Thus the delicious afternoon wore on, until it was time to boil the kettle once more, and make a cup of tea before setting out homewards. The lengthening shadows added fresh tenderness and beauty to the peaceful scene, and the sky began to paint itself in its exquisite sunset hues. It has been usual to praise the tints of tropic skies when the day is declining; but never, in any of my wanderings to East and West Indies, have I seen such gorgeous evening colours as those which glorify New Zealand skies.

A loud coo-ee summoned F—— to tea, and directly afterwards the horses were re-saddled, the now empty flax basket filled with the obnoxious teapot and cup, wrapped in many layers of flax leaves, to prevent their rattling, and we bade good night to the tired bushmen. We left them at their tea, and I was much struck to observe that though they looked like men who had done a hard day's work, there was none of the exhaustion we often see in England depicted on the labouring man's face. Instead of a hot crowded room, these bushmen were going to sleep in their log hut, where the fresh pure air could circulate through every nook and cranny. They had each their pair of red blankets, one to spread over a heap of freshly cut tussocks, which formed a delicious elastic mattrass, and the other to serve as a coverlet. During the day these blankets were always hung outside on a tree, out of the reach of the most investigating weka. You may be sure I had not come empty-handed in the way of books and papers, and my last glance as I rode away rested on Trew opening a number of Good Words [Note: Evening Hours was not in existence at that time, or else its pages are just what those simple God-fearing men would have appreciated and enjoyed. Good Words and the Leisure Hour used to be their favourite periodicals, and the kindness of English friends kept me also well supplied with copies of Miss Marsh's little books, which were read with the deepest and most eager interest.] with the pleased-expression of a child examining a packet of toys.

And so we rode slowly home through the delicious gloaming, with the evening air cooled to freshness so soon as the sun had sunk below the great mountains to the west, from behind which he shot up glorious rays of gold and crimson against the blue ethereal sky, causing the snowy peaks to look more exquisitely pure from the background of gorgeous colour. During the flood of sunlight all day, we had not perceived a single fleck of cloud; but now lovely pink wreaths, floating in mid-air, betrayed that here and there a "nursling of the sky" lingered behind the cloud-masses which we thought had all been blown away yesterday.

The short twilight hour was over, and the stars were filtering their soft radiance on our heads by the time we heard the welcoming barks of the homestead, and saw the glimmer of the lighted lamp in our sitting-room, shining out of the distant gloom. And so ended, in supper and a night of deep dreamless sleep, one of the many happy picnic days of my New Zealand life.



Chapter II: Eel-fishing.

One of the greatest drawbacks in an English gentleman's eyes to living in New Zealand is the want of sport. There is absolutely none. There used to be a few quails, but they are almost extinct now; and during four years' residence in very sequestered regions I only saw one. Wild ducks abound on some of the rivers, but they are becoming fewer and shyer every year. The beautiful Paradise duck is gradually retreating to those inland lakes lying at the foot of the Southern Alps, amid glaciers and boulders which serve as a barrier to keep back his ruthless foe. Even the heron, once so plentiful on the lowland rivers, is now seldom seen. As I write these lines a remorseful recollection comes back upon me of overhanging cliffs, and of a bend in a swirling river, on whose rapid current a beautiful wounded heron—its right wing shattered—drifts helplessly round and round with the eddying water, each circle bringing it nearer in-shore to our feet. I can see now its bright fearless eye, full of suffering, but yet unconquered: its slender neck proudly arched, and bearing up the small graceful head with its coronal or top-knot raised in defiance, as if to protest to the last against the cruel shot which had just been fired. I was but a spectator, having merely wandered that far to look at my eel-lines, yet I felt as guilty as though my hand had pulled the trigger. Just as the noble bird drifted to our feet,—for I could not help going down to the river's edge, where Pepper (our head shepherd) stood, looking very contrite,—it reared itself half out of the water, with a hissing noise and threatening bill, resolved to sell its liberty as dearly as it could; but the effort only spread a brighter shade of crimson on the waters surface for a brief moment, and then, with glazing eye and drooping crest, the dying creature turned over on its side and was borne helpless to our feet. By the time Pepper extended his arm and drew it in, with the quaint apology, "I'm sorry I shot yer, old feller! I, am, indeed," the heron was dead; and that happened to be the only one I ever came across during my mountain life. Once I saw some beautiful red-shanks flying down the gorge of the Selwyn, and F—— nearly broke his neck in climbing the crag from whence one of them rose in alarm at the noise of our horses' feet on the shingle. There were three eggs in the inaccessible cliff-nest, and he brought me one, which I tried in vain to hatch under a sitting duck. Betty would not admit the intruder among her own eggs, but resolutely pushed it out of her nest twenty times a day, until at last I was obliged to blow it and send it home to figure in a little boy's collection far away in Kent.

I have seen very good blue duck shooting on the Waimakiriri river, but 50 per cent. of the birds were lost for want of a retriever bold enough to face that formidable river. Wide as was the beautiful reach, on whose shore the sportsmen stood, and calmly as the deep stream seemed to glide beneath its high banks, the wounded birds, flying low on the water, had hardly dropped when they disappeared, sucked beneath by the strong current, and whirled past us in less time than it takes one to write a line. We had retrievers with us who would face the waves of an inland lake during a nor'-wester,—which is giving a dog very high praise indeed; but there was no canine Bayard at hand to brave those treacherous depths, and bring out our game, so the sport soon ceased; for what was the good of shooting the beautiful, harmless creatures when we could not make use of them as food?

I often accompanied F—— on his eel-fishing expeditions, but more for the sake of companionship than from any amusement I found in the sport. I may here confess frankly that I cannot understand anyone being an inveterate eel-fisher, for of all monotonous pursuits, it is the most self-repeating in its forms. Even the first time I went out I found it delightful only in anticipation; and this is the one midnight excursion which I shall attempt to re-produce for you.

It had been a broiling midsummer day, too hot to sit in the verandah, too hot to stroll about the garden, or go for a ride, or do anything in fact, except bask like a lizard in the warm air. New Zealand summer weather, however high the thermometer, is quite different from either tropical or English heat. It is intensely hot in the sun, but always cool in the shade. I never heard of an instance of sun-stroke from exposure to the mid-day sun, for there always was a light air—often scarcely perceptible until you were well out in the open,—to temper the fierce vertical rays. It sometimes happened that I found myself obliged, either for business or pleasure, to take a long ride in the middle of a summer's day, and my invariable reflection used to be, "It is not nearly so hot out of doors as one fancies it would be." Then there is none of the stuffiness so often an accompaniment to our brief summers, bringing lassitude and debility in its train. The only disadvantage of an unusually hot season with us was, that our already embrowned complexions took a deeper shade of bronze; but as we were all equally sun-burnt there was no one to throw critical stones.

What surprised me most was the utter absence of damp or miasma. After a blazing day, instead of hurrying in out of reach of poisonous vapours as the tropic-dweller must needs do, we could linger bare-headed, lightly clad, out of doors, listening to the distant roar of a river, or watching the exquisite tints of the evening sky. I dwell on this to explain that in almost any other country there would have been risk in remaining out at night after such still, hot days.

On this particular evening, during my first summer in the New Zealand Malvern Hills, after we had watered my pet flowers near the house, and speculated a good deal as to whether the mignonette seed had all been blown out of the ground by the last nor'-wester or not, F—— said, "I shall go eel-fishing to-night to the creek, down the flat. Why don't you come too? I am sure you would like it." Now, I am sorry to say that I am such a thorough gipsy in my tastes that any pursuit which serves as an excuse for spending hours in the open air, is full of attraction for me; consequently, I embraced the proposal with ardour, and set about gathering, under F——'s directions, what seemed to bid fair to rival the collection of an old rag-and-bottle merchant. First of all, there was a muster of every empty tin match-box in the little house; these were to hold the bait-bits of mutton and worms. Then I was desired to hunt up all the odds and ends of worsted which lurked in the scrap-basket. A forage next took place in search of string, but as no parcels were ever delivered in that sequestered valley, twine became a precious and rare treasure. In default of any large supply being obtainable, my lamp and candle-wick material was requisitioned by F—— (who, by the way, is a perfect Uhlan for getting what he wants, when bent on a sporting expedition); and lastly, one or two empty flour-sacks were called for. You will see the use of this heterogeneous collection presently.

It was of no use starting until the twilight had darkened into a cloudy, moonless night; so, after our seven o'clock supper, we adjourned into the verandah to watch F—— make a large round ball, such as children play with, out of the scraps of worsted with which I had furnished him. Instead of cutting the wool into lengths, however, it was left in loops; and I learned that this is done to afford a firm hold for the sharp needle-like teeth of an inquisitive eel, who might be tempted to find out if this strange round thing, floating near his hole, would be good to eat. I was impatient as a child,—remember it was my first eel-fishing expedition,—and I thought nine o'clock would never come, for I had been told to go and dress at that hour; that is to say, I was to change my usual station-costume, a pretty print gown, for a short linsey skirt, strong boots and kangaroo-skin gaiters. F——, and our cadet, Mr. U——, soon appeared, clad in shooting coats instead of their alpaca costumes, and their trousers stuffed into enormous boots, the upper leathers of which came beyond their knees.

"Are we going into the water?" I timidly inquired.

"Oh, no,—not at all: it is on account of the Spaniards."

No doubt this sounds very unintelligible to an English reader; but every colonist who may chance to see my pages will shiver at the recollection of those vegetable defenders of an unexplored region in New Zealand. Imagine a gigantic artichoke with slender instead of broad leaves, set round in dense compact order. They vary, of course, in size, but in our part of the world four or six feet in circumference and a couple of feet high was the usual growth to which they attained, though at the back of the run they were much larger. Spaniards grow in clusters, or patches, among the tussocks on the plains, and constitute a most unpleasant feature of the vegetation of the country. Their leaves are as firm as bayonets, and taper at the point to the fineness of a needle, but are not nearly so easily broken as a needle would be. No horse will face them, preferring a jump at the cost of any exertion, to the risk of a stab from the cruel points. The least touch of this green bayonet draws blood, and a fall into a Spaniard is a thing to be remembered all one's life. Interspersed with the Spaniards are generally clumps of "wild Irishman," a straggling sturdy bramble, ready to receive and scratch you well if you attempt to avoid the Spaniard's weapons. Especially detrimental to riding habits are wild Irishmen; and there are fragments of mine, of all sorts of materials and colours, fluttering now on their thorny branches in out-of-the-way places on our run. It is not surprising, therefore, that we guarded our legs as well as we could against these foes to flesh and blood.

"We are rather early," said the gentlemen, as I appeared, ready and eager to start; "but perhaps it is all the better to enable you to see the track." They each flung an empty sack over their shoulders, felt in their pockets to ascertain whether the matches, hooks, boxes of bait, etc., were all there, and then we set forth.

At first it appeared as if we had stepped from the brightness of the drawing-room into utter and pitchy blackness; but after we had groped for a few steps down the familiar garden path, our eyes became accustomed to the subdued light of the soft summer night. Although heavy banks of cloud,—the general precursors of wind,—were moving slowly between us and the heavens, the stars shone down through their rifts, and on the western horizon a faint yellowish tinge told us that daylight was in no hurry to leave our quiet valley. The mountain streams or creeks, which water so well the grassy plains among the Malvern Hills, are not affected to any considerable extent by dry summer weather. They are snow-fed from the high ranges, and each nor'-wester restores many a glacier or avalanche to its original form, and sends it flowing down the steep sides of yonder distant beautiful mountains to join the creeks, which, like a tangled skein of silver threads, ensure a good water supply to the New Zealand sheep-farmer. In the holes, under steep overhanging banks, the eels love to lurk, hiding from the sun's rays in cool depths, and coming out at night to feed. There are no fish whatever in the rivers, and I fear that the labours of the Acclimatization Society will be thrown away until they can persuade the streams themselves to remain in their beds like more civilised waters. At present not a month passes that one does not hear of some eccentric proceeding on the part of either rivers or creeks. Unless the fish are prepared to shift their liquid quarters at a moment's notice they will find themselves often left high and dry on the deserted shingle-bed. But eels are proverbially accustomed to adapt themselves to circumstances, and a fisherman may always count on getting some if he be patient.

About a mile down the flat, between very high banks, our principal creek ran, and to a quiet spot among the flax-bushes we directed our steps. By the fast-fading light the gentlemen set their lines in very primitive fashion. On the crumbling, rotten earth the New Zealand flax, the Phormium tenax, loves to grow, and to its long, ribbon-like leaves the eel-fishers fastened their lines securely, baiting each alternate hook with mutton and worms. I declared this was too cockney a method of fishing, and selected a tall slender flax-stick, the stalk of last year's spike of red honey-filled blossoms, and to this extempore rod I fastened my line and bait. When one considers that the old whalers were accustomed to use ropes made in the rudest fashion, from the fibre of this very plant, in their deep-sea fishing for very big prey, it is not surprising that we found it sufficiently strong for our purpose. I picked out, therefore, a comfortable spot,—that is to say, well in the centre of a young flax-bush, whose satiny leaves made the most elastic cushions around me; with my flax-stick held out over what was supposed to be a favourite haunt of the eels, and with Nettle asleep at my feet and a warm shawl close to my hand, prepared for my vigil. "Don't speak or move," were the gentlemen's last words: "the eels are all eyes and ears at this hour; they can almost hear you breathe." Each man then took up his position a few hundred yards away from me, so that I felt, to all intents and purposes, absolutely alone. I am "free to confess," as our American cousins say, that it was a very eerie sensation. It was now past ten o'clock; the darkness was intense, and the silence as deep as the darkness.

Hot as the day had been, the night air felt chill, and a heavy dew began to fall, showing me the wisdom of substituting woollen for cotton garments. I could see the dim outlines of the high hills, which shut in our happy valley on all sides, and the smell of the freshly-turned earth of a paddock near the house, which was in process of being broken up for English grass, came stealing towards me on the silent air. The melancholy cry of a bittern, or the shrill wail of the weka, startled me from time to time, but there was no other sound to break the eternal silence.

As I waited and watched, I thought, as every one must surely think, with strange paradoxical feelings, of one's own utter insignificance in creation, mingled with the delightful consciousness of our individual importance in the eyes of the Maker and Father of all. An atom among worlds, as one feels, sitting there at such an hour and in such a spot, still we remember with love and pride, that not a hair of our head falls to the ground unnoticed by an Infinite Love and an Eternal Providence. The soul tries to fly into the boundless regions of space and eternity, and to gaze upon other worlds, and other beings equally the object of the Great Creator's care; but her mortal wing soon droops and tires, and she is fain to nestle home again to her Saviour's arms, with the thought, "I am my Beloved's, and He is mine." That is the only safe beginning and end of all speculation. It was very solemn and beautiful, that long dark night,—a pause amid the bustle of every day cares and duties,—hours in which one takes counsel with one's own heart, and is still.

Midnight had come and gone, when the sputter and snap of striking a match, which sounded almost like a pistol shot amid the profound silence, told me that one of the sportsmen had been successful. I got up as softly as possible, wrapped my damp shawl round my still damper shoulders, and, fastening the flax-stick securely in the ground, stole along the bank of the creek towards the place where a blazing tussock, serving as a torch, showed the successful eel-fisher struggling with his prize. Through the gloom I saw another weird-looking figure running silently in the same direction; for the fact was, we were all so cramped and cold, and, weary of sitting waiting for bites which never came, that we hailed with delight a break in the monotony of our watch. It did not matter now how much noise we made (within moderate limits), for the peace of that portion of the creek was destroyed for the night. Half-a-dozen eels must have banded themselves together, and made a sudden and furious dash at the worsted ball, which Mr. U—— had been dangling in front of their mud hall-door for the last two hours. Just as he had intended, their long sharp teeth became entangled in the worsted loops, and although he declared some had broken away and escaped, three or four good-sized ones remained, struggling frantically.

It would have been almost impossible for one man to lift such a weight straight out of the water by a string; and as we came up and saw Mr. U——'s agitated face in the fantastic flickering light of the blazing tussock, which he had set on fire as a signal of distress, I involuntarily thought of the old Joe Miller about the Tartar: "Why don't you let him go?" "Because he has caught me." It looked just like that. The furious splashing in the water below, and Mr. U—— grasping his line with desperate valour, but being gradually drawn nearer to the edge of the steep bank each instant. "Keep up a good light, but not too much," cried F—— to me, in a regular stage-whisper, as he rushed to the rescue. So I pulled up one tussock after another by its roots,—an exertion which resulted in upsetting me each time,—and lighted one as fast as its predecessor burned out. They were all rather damp, so they did not flare away too quickly. By the blaze of my grassy torches I saw F——first seize Mr. U—— round the waist and drag him further from the bank; but the latter called out, "It's my hands,—they have no skin left: do catch hold, there's a good fellow." So the "good fellow" did catch hold, but he was too experienced an eel-fisher to try to lift a couple of dozen pounds weight of eels out of the water by a perpendicular string; so he tied it to a flax-bush near, and, stooping down in order to get some leverage over the bank, very soon drew the ball, with its slimy, wriggling captives, out of the water. Just as he jerked it far on shore, one or two of the creatures broke loose and escaped, leaving quite enough to afford a most disgusting and horrible sight as they were shuffled and poked into the empty flour-sack.

The sportsmen were delighted however, and departed to a fresh bend of the creek, leaving me to find my way back to my original post. This would have been difficult indeed, had not Nettle remained behind to guard my gloves, which I had left in his custody. As I passed, not knowing I was so near the spot, the little dog gave a low whimper of greeting, sufficient to attract my attention and guide me to where he was keeping his faithful watch and ward. I felt for my flax-stick and moved it ever so gently. A sudden jerk and splash startled me horribly, and warned me that I had disturbed an eel who was in the act of supping off my bait. In the momentary surprise I suppose I let go, for certain it is that the next instant my flax-stick was rapidly towed down the stream.

Instead of feeling provoked or mortified, it was the greatest relief to know that my eel-fishing was over for the night, and that now I had nothing to do except "wait till called for." So I took Nettle on my lap and tried to abide patiently, but I had not been long enough in New Zealand to have any confidence in the climate, and as I felt how damp my clothes were, and recollected with horror my West Indian experiences of the consequences of exposure to night air and heavy dew, my mind would dwell gloomily on the prospect of a fever, at least. It seemed a long and weary while before I perceived a figure coming towards me; and I am afraid I was both cross and cold and sleepy by the time we set our faces homewards. "I have only caught three," said F——. "How many have you got?" "None, I am happy to say," I answered peevishly, "What could Nettle and I have done with the horrible things if we had caught any?"

The walk, or rather the stumble home, proved to be the worst part of the expedition. Not a ray of starlight had we to guide us,—nothing but inky blackness around and over us. We tried to make Nettle go first, intending to follow his lead, and trusting to his keeping the track; but Nettle's place was at my heels, and neither coaxing nor scolding would induce him to forego it. A forlorn hope was nothing to the dangers of each footstep. First one and then the other volunteered to lead the way, declaring they could find the track. All this time we were trying to strike the indistinct road among the tussocks, made by occasional wheels to our house, but the marks, never very distinct in daylight, became perfect will-o'-the-wisps at night. If we crossed a sheep-track we joyfully announced that we had found the way, but only to be undeceived the next moment by discovering that we were returning to the creek.

From time to time we fell into and over Spaniards, and what was left of our clothes and our flesh the wild Irishmen devoured. We must have got home somehow, or I should not be writing an account of it, at this moment, but really I hardly know how we reached the house. I recollect that the next day there was a great demand for gold-beater's skin, and court-plaster, and that whenever F—— and Mr. U—— had a spare moment during the ensuing week, they devoted themselves to performing surgical operations on each other with a needle; and that I felt very subdued and tired for a day or two. But there was no question of fever or cold, and I was stared at when I inquired whether it was not dangerous to be out all night in heavy dew after a broiling day.

We had the eels made into a pie by our shepherd, who assured me that if I entrusted them to my cook she would send me up such an oily dish that I should never be able to endure an eel again. He declared that the Maoris, who seem to have rather a horror of grease, had taught him how to cook both eels and wekas in such a way as to eliminate every particle of fat from both. I had no experience of the latter dish, but he certainly kept his word about the eels, for they were excellent.



Chapter III: Pig-stalking.

It was much too hot in summer to go after wild pigs. That was our winter's amusement, and very good sport it afforded us, besides the pleasure of knowing that we were really doing good service to the pastoral interest, by ridding the hills around us of almost the only enemies which the sheep have. If the squatter goes to look after his mob of ewes and lambs in the sheltered slopes at the back of his run, he is pretty nearly certain to find them attended by an old sow with a dozen babies at her heels. She will follow the sheep patiently from one camping ground to another, watching for a new-born and weakly lamb to linger behind the rest, and then she will seize and devour it. Besides this danger, the presence of pigs on the run keeps the sheep in an excited state. They have an uneasy consciousness that their foes are looking after them, and they move restlessly up and down the hills, not stopping to feed sufficiently to get fat. If a sheep-farmer thinks his sheep are not in good condition, one of the first questions he asks his shepherd is, "Are there any pigs about?" Our run had a good many of these troublesome visitors on it, especially in the winter, when they would travel down from the back country to grub up acres on acres of splendid sheep pasture in search of roots. The only good they do is to dig up the Spaniards for the sake of their delicious white fibres, and the fact of their being able to do this will give a better idea of the toughness of a wild pig's snout than anything else I can say.

It may be strange to English ears to hear a woman of tolerably peaceful disposition, and as the advertisements in the Times so often state, "thoroughly domesticated," aver that she found great pleasure in going after wild pigs; but the circumstances of the ease must be taken into consideration before I am condemned. First of all, it seemed terribly lonely at home if F—— was out with his rifle all day. Next, there was the temptation to spend those delicious hours of a New Zealand winter's day, between ten and four, out of doors, wandering over hills and exploring new gullies. And lastly, I had a firm idea that I was taking care of F——. And so I was in a certain sense, for if his rifle had burst, or any accident had happened to him, and he had been unable to reach the homestead, we should never have known where to find him, and days would probably have passed before every nook and corner of a run extending over many thousand acres could have been thoroughly searched.

I had heard terrible stories of shepherds slipping down and injuring themselves so that they could not move, and of their dead bodies being only found after weeks of careful seeking. F—— himself delighted to terrify me by descriptions of narrow escapes; and, as the pigs had to be killed, I resolved to follow in the hunter's train. The sport is conducted exactly like deer stalking, only it is much harder work, and a huge boar is not so picturesque an object as a stag of many tines, when you do catch sight of him. There is just the same accurate knowledge needed of the animal's habits and customs, and the same untiring patience. It is quite as necessary to be a good shot, for a grey pig standing under the lee of a boulder of exactly his own colour is a much more difficult object to hit from the opposite side of a ravine than a stag; and a wild boar is every whit as keen of scent and sharp of eye and ear as any antlered "Monarch of the Glen."

Imagine then a beautiful winter's morning without wind or rain. There has been perhaps a sharp frost over-night, but after a couple of hours of sunshine the air is as warm and bright as midsummer. We used to be glad enough of a wood fire at breakfast; but after that meal had been eaten we went into the verandah, open to the north-east (our warm quarter), which made a delicious winter parlour, and basked in the blazing sunshine. I used often to bring out a chair and a table, and work and read there all the morning, without either hat or jacket. But it sometimes happened that once or twice a week, on just such a lovely morning, F—— would proclaim his intention of going out to look for pigs, and, sooner than be left behind, I nearly always begged to be allowed to come too. There was no fear of my getting tired or lagging behind; and as I was willing to make myself generally useful, by carrying the telescope, a revolver for close quarters, and eke a few sandwiches, the offer of my company used to be graciously accepted. We could seldom procure the loan of a good pig-dog, and after one excursion with a certain dog of the name of "Pincher," I preferred going out by ourselves.

On that occasion F—— did not take his rifle, as there was no chance of getting a long shot at our game; for the dog would surely bring the pig to bay, and then the hunter must trust to a revolver or the colonial boar-spear, half a pair of shears (I suppose it should be called a shear) bound firmly on a flax stick by green flax-leaves. We had heard of pigs having been seen by our out-station shepherd at the back of the run, and as we were not encumbered by the heavy rifle, we mounted our horses and rode as far as we could towards the range where the pigs had been grubbing up the hill sides in unmolested security for some time past. Five miles from home the ground became so rough that our horses could go no further; we therefore jumped off, tied them to a flax-bush, taking off the saddles in case they broke loose, and proceeded on foot over the jungly, over-grown saddle. On the other side we came upon a beautiful gully, with a creek running through it, whose banks were so densely fringed with scrub that we could not get through to the stream, which we heard rippling amid the tangled shrubs. If we could only have reached the water our best plan would have been to get into it and follow its windings up the ravine; but even Pincher could hardly squeeze and burrow through the impenetrable fence of matapo and goi, which were woven together by fibres of a thorny creeper called "a lawyer" by the shepherds.

It was very tantalising, for in less than five minutes we heard trusty Pincher "speaking" to a boar, and knew that he had baled it up against a tree, and was calling to us to come and help him. F——ran about like a lunatic, calling out; "Coming Pincher: round him up, good dog!" and so forth; but they were all vain promises, for he could not get in. I did my best in searching for an opening, and gave many false hopes of having found one. At last I said, "If I run up the mountain side, and look down on that mass of scrub, perhaps I may see some way into it from above." "No: do you stay here, and see, if the pig breaks cover, which way he goes." Up the steep hill, therefore, F—— rushed, as swiftly and lightly as one of his own mountain sheep; and in a minute or two I saw him standing, revolver in hand, on an overhanging rock, peering anxiously down on the leafy mass below.

Pincher and the creek made such a noise between them that I could not hear what F—— said, and only guessed from his despairing gestures that there was no trap door visible in the green roof. I signalled as well as I could that he was to come down directly, for his-standing-place looked most insecure. Insecure indeed it proved. As I spoke the great fragment of rock loosely embedded in earth on the mountain side gave way with a crash, and came tumbling majestically down on the top of the scrub. As for F——, he described a series of somersaults in the air, which however agreeable in themselves, were very trying to the nerves of the spectatrix below. My first dread was least the rock should crush him, but to my great joy I saw at once that it was rolling slowly down the hill, whilst F——'s vigorous bound off it as it gave way, had carried him well into the middle of the leafy cushion beneath him, where he presently landed flat on his back!

I expected every moment to hear the revolver go off, but mercifully it did not do so; and as his thorny bed was hardly to be endured, F—— soon kicked himself off it, and before I could realize that he was unhurt, had scrambled to his feet, and was rushing off, crying in school-boy glee, "That will fetch him out" That (the rock) certainly did fetch him (the pig) out in a moment, and Pincher availed himself of the general confusion to seize hold of his enemy's hind leg, which he never afterwards let go. The boar kept snapping and champing his great tusks; but Pincher, even with the leg in his mouth, was too active to be caught: so as the boar found that it was both futile and undignified to try to run away with a dog hanging on his hind-quarters, he tried another plan. Making for a clump of Ti-ti palms he went to bay, and contrived to take up a very good defensive position. Pincher would have never given up his mouthful of leg if F—— had not called him off, for it seemed impossible to fire the revolver whilst the dog held on. This change of tactics was much against Pincher's judgment, and he kept rushing furiously in between F—— and the boar. As for me, I prudently retired behind a big boulder, on which I could climb if the worst came to the worst, and called out from time to time, to both dog and man, "Oh, don't!"

They did not even hear me, for the din of battle was loud. The pig dodged about so fast, that although F——'s bullets lodged in the palm tree at his back, not one struck a vulnerable part, and at last F——, casting his revolver behind him for me to pick up and reload, closed with his foe, armed only with the shear-spear. Pincher considered this too dangerous, and rushed in between them to distract the boar's attention. Just as F—— aimed a thrust at his chest,—for it was of no use trying to penetrate his hide,—the boar lowered his head, caught poor faithful Pincher's exposed flank, and tore it open with his razor-like tusk; but in the meantime the spear had gone well home into his brawny chest, exactly beneath the left shoulder, and his life-blood came gushing out. I was so infuriated at the sight of Pincher's frightful wound that I felt none of my usual pity for the victim; and rushing up to F—— with the revolver, of which only a couple of chambers were loaded, thrust it into his hand with an entreaty to "kill him quickly." This F—— was quite willing to do for his own sake, as a wounded boar is about the most dangerous beast on earth; and although the poor brute kept snapping at the broken flax-stick sticking in his heart, he fired a steady shot which brought the pig on his knees, only to roll over dead the next moment.

I cannot help pausing to say that I sewed up Pincher's wound then and there, with some of the contents of my Cambusmore house-wife; which always accompanied me on my sporting expeditions, and we carried him between us down to where the horses were fastened. There I mounted; and F—— lifting the faithful creature on my lap, we rode slowly home, dipping our handkerchiefs in cold water at every creek we crossed, and laying them on his poor flank. He was as patient and brave as possible, and bore his sufferings and weakness for days afterwards in a way which was a lesson to one, so grateful and gentle was he. His brave and sensible behaviour met its due reward in a complete though slow recovery.

I have only left myself space for one little sketch more; but it comes so vividly before me that I cannot shut it out. After a long day's walking, over the hills and vallies, so beautiful beneath our azure winter-sky, walking which was delightful as an expedition, but unsuccessful as to sport, we crossed the track of a large boar. We knew he was old by his being alone, and it was therefore very certain that he would show fight if we came up with him. Patiently we followed the track over a low saddle, through a clump of brushwood menuka, the broken twigs of which showed how large an animal had just passed by. Here and there a freshly grubbed-up Spaniard showed where he had paused for a snack; but at length we dropped down on the river bed, with its wide expanse of shingle, and there we lost all clue to our game.

After a little hesitation, F—— decided on climbing a high cliff on the right bank of the river, and trying to catch a glimpse of him. The opposite hill-side was gaunt and bare; a southern aspect shut out the sun in winter, and for all its rich traces of copper ore, "Holkam's Head" found no favour in the eyes of either shepherds or master. Grass would not grow there except in summer, and its gray, shingly sides were an eye-sore to its owner. We sat down on the cliff, and looked around carefully. Presently F—— said, in a breathless whisper of intense delight, "I see him." In vain I looked and looked, but nothing could my stupid eyes discover. "Lie down," said F—— to me, just as if I had been a dog. I crouched as low as possible, whilst F——settled himself comfortably flat on his stomach, and prepared to take a careful aim at the opposite side of the hill.

After what seemed a long time, he pulled his rifle's trigger, and the flash and crack was followed apparently by one of the gray boulders opposite leaping up, and then rolling heavily down the hill. F—— jumped up in triumph crying, "Come along, and don't forget the revolver." When we had crossed the river, reckless of getting wet to our waists in icy-cold water, F—— took the revolver from me and went first; but, after an instant's examination, he called out, "Dead as a door-nail! come and look at him." So I came, with great caution, and a more repulsive and disgusting sight cannot be imagined than the huge carcass of our victim already stiffening in death. The shot had been a fortunate one, for only an inch away from the hole the bullet had made his shoulders were regularly plated with thick horny scales, off which a revolver bullet would have glanced harmlessly, and he bore marks of having fought many and many a battle with younger rivals. His huge tusks were notched and broken, and he had evidently been driven out from among his fellows as a quarrelsome member of their society. Already the keen-eyed hawks were hovering above the great monster, and we left him to his fate in the solitary river gorge, where all was bleak and cold and gloomy,—a fitting death-place for the fierce old warrior.



Chapter IV: Skating in the back country.

I do not believe that even in Canada the skating can be better than that which was within our reach in the Malvern Hills. Among our sheltered valleys an sunny slopes the hardest frost only lasted a few hour after dawn; but twenty-five miles further back, on the border of the glacier region, the mountain tarns could boast of ice several feet thick all the winter. We heard rumours of far-inland lakes, across which heavily-laden bullock-teams could pass in perfect safety for three months of the year, and we grumbled at the light film over our own large ponds, which would not bear even my little terrier's weight after mid-day: and yet it was cold enough at night, during our short bright winters, to satisfy the most icy-minded person. I think I have mentioned before that the wooden houses in New Zealand, especially those roughly put together up-country, are by no means weather-tight. Disagreeable as this may be, it is doubtless the reason of the extraordinary immunity from colds and coughs which we hill-dwellers enjoyed. Living between walls formed by inch-boards over-lapping each other, and which can only be made to resemble English rooms by being canvassed and papered inside, the pure fresh air finds its way in on all sides. A hot room in winter is an impossibility, in spite of drawn curtains and blazing fires, therefore the risk of sudden changes of temperature is avoided.

Some such theory as this is absolutely necessary to account for the wonderfully good health enjoyed by all, in the most capricious and trying climate I have ever come across. When a strong nor'-wester was howling down the glen, I have seen the pictures on my drawing-room walls blowing out to an angle of 45 degrees, although every door and window in the little low wooden structure had been carefully closed for hours. It has happened to me more than once, on getting up in the morning, to find my clothes, which had been laid on a chair beneath my bedroom window overnight, completely covered by powdered snow, drifting in through the ill-fitting casement. This same window was within a couple of feet of my bed, and between me and it was neither curtain nor shelter of any sort. Of a winter's evening I have often been obliged to wrap myself up in a big Scotch maud, as I sat, dressed in a high linsey gown, by a blazing fire, so hard was the frost outside; but by ten o'clock next morning I would be loitering about the verandah, basking in the sunshine, and watching the light flecks of cloud-wreaths and veils floating against an Italian-blue sky. Yet such is the inherent discontent of the human heart, that instead of rejoicing in this lovely mid-day sunshine, we actually mourned over the vanished ice which at daylight had been found, by a much-envied early riser, strong enough to slide on for half an hour. It seemed almost impossible to believe that any one had been sliding that morning within a few feet of where I sat working in a blaze of sunshine, with my pretty grey and pink Australian parrot pluming itself on the branch of a silver wattle close by, and "Joey," the tiny monkey from Panama, sitting on the skirt of my gown, with a piece of its folds arranged by himself shawl-wise over his glossy black shoulders. If either of these tropical pets had been left out after four o'clock that sunny day, they, would have been frozen to death before our supper time.

It was just on such a day as this, and in just such a bright mid-day hour, that a distant neighbour of ours rode up to the garden gate, leading a pack horse. Outside the saddle-bags, with which this animal was somewhat heavily laden, could be plainly seen a beautiful new pair of Oxford skates, glinting in the sunshine; and it must have been the sight of these beloved implements which called forth the half-envious remark from one of the gentlemen, "I suppose you have lots of skating up at your place?"

"Well, not exactly at my station, but there is a capital lake ten miles from my house where I am sure of a good day's skating any time between June and August," answered Mr. C. H——, our newly arrived guest.

We all looked at each other. I believe I heaved a deep sigh, and dropped my thimble, which "Joey" instantly seized, and with a low chirrup of intense delight, commenced to poke down between the boards of the verandah. It was too bad of us to give such broad hints by looks if not by words. Poor Mr. C. H—— was a bachelor in those days: he had not been at his little out-of-the-way homestead for some weeks, and was ignorant of its resources in the way of firing (always an important matter at a station), or even of tea and mutton. He had no woman-servant, and was totally unprepared for an incursion of skaters; and yet,—New Zealand fashion,—no sooner did he perceive that we were all longing and pining for some skating, than he invited us all most cordially to go up to his back-country run the very next day, with him, and skate as long as we liked. This was indeed a delightful prospect, the more especially as it happened to be only Monday, which gave us plenty of time to be back again by Sunday, for our weekly service. We made it a rule never to be away from home on that day, lest any of our distant congregation should ride their twenty miles or so across country and find us absent.

When the host is willing and the guests eager, it does not take long to arrange a plan, so the next morning found three of us, besides Mr. C. H—— mounted and ready to start directly after breakfast. I have often been asked how I managed in those days about toilette arrangements, when it was impossible to carry any luggage except a small "swag," closely packed in a waterproof case and fastened on the same side as the saddle-pocket. First of all I must assure my lady readers that I prided myself on turning out as neat and natty as possible at the end of the journey, and yet I rode not only in my every-day linsey gown, which could be made long or short at pleasure, but in my crinoline. This was artfully looped up on the right side and tied by a ribbon, in such a way that when I came out ready dressed to mount, no one in the world could have guessed that I had on any cage beneath my short riding habit with a loose tweed jacket over the body of the dress. Within the "swag" was stowed a brush and comb, collar, cuffs and handkerchiefs, a little necessary linen, a pair of shoes, and perhaps a ribbon for my hair if I meant to be very smart. On this occasion we all found that our skates occupied a terribly large proportion both of weight and space in our modest kits, but still we were much too happy to grumble.

Where could you find a gayer quartette than started at an easy canter up the valley that fresh bracing morning? From the very first our faces were turned to the south-west, and before us rose the magnificent chain of the Southern Alps, with their bold snowy peaks standing out in a glorious dazzle against the cobalt sky. A stranger, or colonially speaking, a "new chum," would have thought we must needs cross that barrier-range before we could penetrate any distance into the back country, but we knew of long winding vallies and gullies running up between the giant slopes, which would lead us, almost without our knowing how high we had climbed, up to the elevated but sheltered plateau among the back country ranges where Mr. C. H——'s homestead stood. There was only one steep saddle to be crossed, and that lay between us and Rockwood, six miles off. It was the worst part of the journey for the horses, so we had easy consciences in dismounting and waiting an hour when we reached that most charming and hospitable of houses. I had just time for one turn round the beautiful garden, where the flowers and shrubs of old England grew side by side with the wild and lovely blossoms of our new island home, when the expected coo-e rang out shrill and clear from the rose-covered porch. It was but little past mid-day when we made our second start, and set seriously to work over fifteen miles of fairly good galloping ground. This distance brought us well up to the foot of a high range, and the last six miles of the journey had to be accomplished in single file, and with great care and discretion, for the track led through bleak desolate vallies, round the shoulder of abutting spurs, through swamps, and up and down rocky staircases. Mr. C. H—— and his cob both knew the way well however, and my bay mare Helen had the cleverest legs and the wisest as well as prettiest head of her race. If left to herself she seldom made a mistake, and the few tumbles she and I ever had together, took place only when she found herself obliged to go my way instead of her own. We entered the gorges of the high mountains between us and the west, and soon lost the sun; even the brief winter twilight faded away more swiftly than usual amid those dark defiles; and it was pitch dark, though only five o'clock, when we heard a sudden and welcome clamour of dog voices.

These deep-mouthed tones invariably constitute the first notes of a sheep-station's welcome; and a delightful sound it is to the belated and bewildered traveller, for besides guiding his horse to the right spot, the noise serves to bring out some one to see who the traveller may be. On this occasion we heard one man say to the other, "It's the boss:" so almost before we had time to dismount from our tired horses (remember they had each carried a heavy "swag" besides their riders), lights gleamed from the windows of the little house, and a wood fire sparkled and sputtered on the open hearth. Mr. C. H—— only just guided me to the door of the sitting-room, making an apology and injunction together,—"Its very rough I am afraid: but you can do what you like;"—before he hastened back to assist his guests in settling their horses comfortably for the night. Labour used to be so dear and wages so high, especially in the back country of New Zealand, that the couple of men,—one for indoor work, to saw wood, milk, cook, sweep, wash, etc., and the other to act as gardener, groom, ploughman, and do all the numerous odd jobs about a place a hundred miles and more from the nearest shop,—represented a wage-expenditure of at least 200 pounds a year. Every gentleman therefore as a matter of course sees to his own horse when he arrives unexpectedly at a station, and I knew I should have at least half an hour to myself.

The first thing to do was to let down my crinoline, for I could only walk like a crab in it when it was fastened up for riding, kilt up my linsey gown, take off my hat and jacket, and set to work The curtains must be drawn close, and the chairs moved out from their symmetrical positions against the wall; then I made an expedition into the kitchen, and won the heart of the stalwart cook, who was already frying chops over the fire, by saying in my best German, "I have come to help you with the tea." Poor man! it was very unfair, for Mr. C. H—— had told me during our ride that his servitor was a German, and I had employed the last long hour of the journey in rubbing up my exceedingly rusty knowledge of that language, and arranging one or two effective sentences. Poor Karl's surprise and delight knew no bounds, and he burst forth into a long monologue, to which I could find no readier answers than smiles and nods, hiding my inability to follow up my brilliant beginning under the pretence of being very busy. By the time the gentlemen had stabled and fed the horses and were ready, Karl and I between us had arranged a bright cosy little apartment with a capital tea-dinner on the table. After this meal there were pipes and toddy, and as I could not retire, like Mrs. Micawber at David Copperfield's supper party, into the adjoining bedroom and sit by myself in the cold, I made the best of the somewhat dense clouds of smoke with which I was soon surrounded, and listened to the fragmentary plans for the next day. Then we all separated for the night, and in two minutes I was fast asleep in a little room no bigger than the cabin of a ship, with an opossum rug on a sofa for my bed and bedding.

It was cold enough the next morning, I assure you: so cold that it was difficult to believe the statement that all the gentlemen had been down at daybreak to bathe in the great lake which spread like an inland sea before the bay-window of the little sitting room. This lake, the largest of the mountain chain, never freezes, on account partly of its great depth, and also because of its sunny aspect. Our destination lay far inland, and if we meant to have a good long day's skating we must start at once. Such a perfect day as it was! I felt half inclined to beg off the first day on the ice, and to spend my morning wandering along the rata-fringed shores of Lake Coleridge, with its glorious enclosing of hills which might fairly be called mountains; but I feared to seem capricious or lazy, when really my only difficulty was in selecting a pleasure. The sun had climbed well over the high barriers which lay eastwards, and was shining brightly down through the quivering blue ether overhead; the frost sparkled on every broad flax-blade or slender tussock-spine, as if the silver side of earth were turned outwards that winter morning.

No sooner had we mounted (with no "swag" except our skates this time) than Mr. C. H—— set spurs to his horse, and bounded over the slip-rail of the paddock before Karl could get it down. We were too primitive for gates in those parts: they only belonged to the civilization nearer Christchurch; and I had much ado to prevent my pony from following his lead, especially as the other gentlemen were only too delighted to get rid of some of their high spirits by a jump. However Karl got the top rail down for me, and "Mouse" hopped over the lower one gaily, overtaking the leader of the expedition in a very few strides. We could not keep up our rapid pace long; for the ground became terribly broken and cut up by swamps, quicksands, blind creeks, and all sorts of snares and pit-falls. Every moment added to the desolate grandeur of the scene. Bleak hills rose up on either hand, with still bleaker and higher peaks appearing beyond them again. An awful silence, unbroken by the familiar cheerful sound of the sheep calling to each other,—for even the hardy merino cannot live in these ranges during the winter months,—brooded around us, and the dark mass of a splendid "bush," extending over many hundred acres, only added to the lonely grandeur of the scene. We rode almost the whole time in a deep cold shade, for between us and the warm sun-rays were such lofty mountains that it was only for a few brief noontide moments he could peep over their steep sides.

After two hour's riding, at the best pace which we could keep up through these terrible gorges, a sharp turn of the track brought us full in view of our destination. I can never forget that first glimpse of Lake Ida. In the cleft of a huge, gaunt, bare hill, divided as if by a giant hand, lay a large black sheet of ice. No ray of sunshine ever struck it from autumn until spring, and it seemed impossible to imagine our venturing to skate merrily in such a sombre looking spot. But New-Zealand sheep farmers are not sentimental I am afraid. Beyond a rapid thought of self-congratulation that such "cold country" was not on their run, they did not feel affected by its eternal silence and gloom. The ice would bear, and what more could skater's heart desire? At the end of the dark tarn, nearest to the track by which we had approached it, stood a neat little hut; and judge of my amazement when, as we rode up to it, a young gentleman, looking as if he was just going out for a day's deer-stalking, opened the low door and came out to greet us. Yes, here was one of those strange anomalies peculiar to the colonies. A young man, fresh from his University, of refined tastes and cultivated intellect, was leading here the life of a boor, without companionship or appreciation of any sort. His "mate" seemed to be a rough West countryman, honest and well meaning enough, but utterly unsuited to Mr. K——. It was the old story, of wild unpractical ideas hastily carried out. Mr. K—— had arrived in New Zealand a couple of years before, with all his worldly wealth,—1,000 pounds. Finding this would not go very far in the purchase of a good sheep-run, and hearing some calculations about the profit to be derived from breeding cattle, based upon somebody's lucky speculation, he eagerly caught at one of the many offers showered upon unfortunate "new chums," and bought the worst and bleakest bit of one of the worst and bleakest runs in the province. The remainder of his money was laid out in purchasing stock; and now he had sat down patiently to await, in his little hut, until such time as his brilliant expectations would be realized. I may say here they became fainter and fainter year by year, and at last faded away altogether; leaving him at the end of three lonely, dreadful years with exactly half his capital, but double his experience. However this has nothing to do with my story, except that I can never think of our skating expedition to that lonely lake, far back among those terrible hills, without a thrill of compassion for the only living human being, who dwelt among them.

It was too cold to dawdle about, however, that day. The frost lay white and hard upon the ground, and we felt that we were cruel in leaving our poor horses standing to get chilled whilst we amused ourselves. Although my beloved Helen was not there, having been exchanged for the day in favour of Master Mouse, a shaggy pony, whose paces were as rough as its coat, I begged a red blanket from Mr. K——, and covered up Helen's stable companion, whose sleek skin spoke of a milder temperature than that on Lake Ida's "gloomy shore." Our simple arrangements were soon made. Mr. K—— left directions to his mate to prepare a repast consisting of tea, bread, and mutton for us, and, each carrying our skates, we made the best of our way across the frozen tussocks to the lake. Mr. K—— proved an admirable guide over its surface, for he was in the habit during the winter of getting all his firewood out of the opposite "bush," and bringing it across the lake on sledges drawn by bullocks. We accused him of having cut up our ice dreadfully by these means; but he took us to a part of the vast expanse where an unbroken field of at least ten acres of ice stretched smoothly before us. Here were no boards marked "DANGEROUS," nor any intimation of the depth of water beneath. The most timid person could feel no apprehension on ice which seemed more solid than the earth; so accordingly in a few moments we had buckled and strapped on our skates, and were skimming and gliding—and I must add, falling—in all directions. We were very much out of practice at first, except Mr. K——, who skated every day, taking short cuts across the lake to track a stray heifer or explore a blind gully.

I despair of making my readers see the scene as I saw it, or of conveying any adequate idea of the intense, the appalling loneliness of the spot. It really seemed to me as if our voices and laughter, so far from breaking the deep eternal silence, only brought it out into stronger relief. On either hand rose up, shear from the waters edge, a great, barren, shingly mountain; before us loomed a dark pine forest, whose black shadows crept up until they merged in the deep crevasses and fissures of the Snowy Range. Behind us stretched the winding gullies by which we had climbed to this mountain tarn, and Mr. K——'s little hut and scrap of a garden and paddock gave the one touch of life, or possibility of life, to this desolate region. In spite of all scenic wet blankets we tried hard to be gay, and no one but myself would acknowledge that we found the lonely grandeur of our "rink" too much for us. We skated away perseveringly until we were both tired and hungry, when we returned to Mr. K——'s hut, took a hasty meal, and mounted our chilled steeds. Mr. C. H—— insisted on bringing poor Mr. K—— back with us, though he was somewhat reluctant to come, alleging that a few days spent in the society of his kind made the solitude of his weather-board hut all the more dreary. The next day and yet the next we returned to our gloomy skating ground, and when I turned round in my saddle as we rode away on Friday evening, for a last look at Lake Ida lying behind us in her winter black numbness, her aspect seemed more forbidding than ever, for only the bare steep hill-sides could be seen; the pine forest and white distant mountains were all blotted and blurred out of sight by a heavy pall of cloud creeping slowly up.

"Let us ride fast," cried Mr. K——, "or we shall have a sou'-wester upon us;" so we galloped home as quickly as we could, over ground that I don't really believe I could summon courage to walk across, ever so slowly, to-day,—but then one's nerves and courage are in very different order out in New Zealand to the low standard which rules for ladies in England, who "live at home in ease!" Long before we reached home the storm was pelting us: my little jacket was like a white board when I took it off, for the sleet and snow had frozen as it fell. I was wet to the skin, and so numb with cold I could hardly stand when we reached home at last in the dark and down-pour. I could only get my things very imperfectly dried, and had to manage as best I could, but yet no one even thought of making the inquiry next morning when I came out to breakfast, "Have you caught cold?" It would have seemed a ridiculous question.



Chapter V: Toboggon-ing.

I cannot resist the temptation to touch upon one of the winter amusements which came to us two years later. Yet the word "amusement" seems out of place, no one in the Province having much heart to amuse themselves, for the great snow storm of August, 1867, had just taken place, and we were in the first days of bewilderment at the calamity which had befallen us all. A week's incessant snow-fall, accompanied by a fierce and freezing south-west wind, had not only covered the whole of the mountains from base to brow with shining white, through which not a single dark rock jutted, but had drifted on the plains for many feet deep. Gullies had been filled up by the soft, driving flakes, creeks were bridged over, and for three weeks and more all communication between the stations and the various townships was cut off. The full extent of our losses was unknown to us, and dreary as were our forebodings of misfortune, none of us guessed that snow to be the winding sheet of half a million of sheep. The magnificent semi-circle of the Southern Alps stood out, for a hundred miles from north to south, in appalling white distinctness, and no one in the whole Colony had ever seen the splendid range thus free from fleck or flaw. We had done all we could within working distance, but what was, the use of digging in drifts thirty feet deep? Amidst, and almost above, the terrible anxiety about our own individual safety,—for the snow was over the roof of many of the station-houses,—came the pressing question, "Where are the sheep?" A profound silence unbroken by bleat of lamb, or bark of dog, or any sound of life, had reigned for many days, when a merciful north-westerly gale sprung, up, and releasing the heavily-laden earth from its white bondage, freed the miserable remnant of our flocks and herds. At least, I should say, it freed those sheep which had travelled down to the vallies, driven before the first pitiless gusts, but we knew that many hundreds, if not thousands, of wethers must have been surprised and imprisoned far back among the hills.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse