The Young Berringtons, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is quite a short book that had been published in parts in a children's magazine. One branch of the Berrington family had been established in Australia for a long time, and had built up quite a profitable station. Another branch of the family had been living in a wealthy style in London, when their business failed, and they had just enough money left to make their way to Australia, to join their cousins.
They find that life is not going to be all that easy. A mob of original inhabitants were in the neighbourhood, and were threatening them. Who can blame them? A terrible storm comes, and blows the roof off the house. Then the river floods, much higher than it had ever done before, and the house is destroyed. So is much of the stock. The decision is made to look further inland for a better place to start a new station. That is the part of the story that gives the book its second title, "The Boy Explorers." They do find a suitable place, but are once again attacked by aborigines, whom they beat off with great difficulty.
Eventually they make peace with the aborigines, and all begins once more to go well. The various people, adults and children, are well drawn, especially two rather tiresome ones: Hector, one of the children brought from Britain, and Mrs Berrington, the wife of the original settler, who has a dreadful habit of fainting every time anything stressful occurs.
THE YOUNG BERRINGTONS, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE YOUNG COLONISTS INTRODUCED—EXPECTANT RELATIVES—IN SEARCH OF "OLD BOLTER"—A DINNER IN THE BUSH—BOLTER TRIES TO ESCAPE—ENCOUNTER BLACKS—BOLTER BROUGHT BACK—SANDY MACDOUGAL.
"I wonder what sort of fellows these English cousins of ours will turn out?" exclaimed Harry Berrington, as he rode up alongside his elder brother Paul. "Judging by their photographs, which Uncle Frank sent us out last year, I have an idea that they are mighty fine young gentlemen, who will be apt to turn up their noses at us colonial 'corn-stalks.'"
"Hector and Reginald are good-looking fellows, I should think, and wear fine clothes but beyond that—whether they are dark or fair, have blue eyes and pink cheeks, or whether they can ride, and shoot, swim, and play cricket, or can only dance and sing, or draw, or suchlike girlish things—I have not the slightest notion," answered Paul. "We shall, however, soon know; for, according to the letter father got yesterday their ship ought to reach Moreton Bay in the course of three or four weeks; and I hope that I may have the chance of going down to Ipswich to meet them."
"I don't think you will be so lucky," observed Harry. "I heard father say that he intended going himself, as he expected poor Aunt Augusta would require a good deal of attention, as she has been accustomed to live luxuriously, and has never done anything for herself. From a remark he made, I suspect that both the boys and girls have been brought up in the same fashion. Although they may get into our ways at last, they won't like our style of life at all when they first arrive."
"They must learn to like it, somehow or other," observed Paul. "Poor Uncle Frank! I really pity him; he has lost nearly all his fortune; and to be obliged, at his time of life, to begin to work hard! And work hard he must, like the rest of us."
"Yes, indeed; I have heard mother say that they lived in a large house in London, with butlers, footmen, housekeeper, nurses, and all sorts of servants; and had carriages and horses, and saw lots of company," said Harry.
"They'll not have much of that out here; they will have to be their own servants, or consider themselves fortunate if they can hire an Irish girl, or get a black gin to do the rough work. We must try and help them, however, as much as we can, until they get accustomed to our ways," observed Paul. "And Mary, and Janet, and Lizzie will, I am sure, do their best to save them trouble."
"Of course, we all will, in reality; but I don't think I shall be able to help laughing when I see the exquisite Mr Hector and his brother Reginald attempting to round up cattle, riding after stray horses, or milking cows. And there are two other boys—Edgar and Albert. I wonder what they will be like; they are about the same ages as Bob and Tommy, and if they are as great pickles they will manage to lead each other into all manner of scrapes; but we shall have rare fun with the girls if they have got any life in them."
The two speakers were fine, active-looking lads, sons of Captain Hugh Berrington, who had settled in the colony of Queensland a short time before Paul, the eldest, was born. They might have been known as young gentlemen by the tone of their voices rather than by their costume, which consisted of a red serge shirt, loose trousers fastened at the waist with a leathern belt, large boots coming up to their knees, and broad-brimmed cabbage-tree hats. Each carried in his hand a heavy whip with a long thick thong. The elder, in addition, had a brace of pistols in his belt, which weapons were necessary in case of the sudden appearance of any strange natives. They were mounted on strong, active little horses, which evidently got but a small amount of grooming.
The lads had just left their home, which was situated on the banks of the Burnett river. It is worthy of a short description. The house, though built entirely of wood, and on one floor, was a substantial-looking building, containing ten rooms, with a broad verandah running entirely round it. The frame-work was of rough timber, and the walls were composed of slabs, which are boards split out of the iron-bark or blue gum-tree. The roof was covered with shingles, or tiles of wood, split like the slabs and sawn to the required size.
Bound the homestead was a field of Indian corn, an orchard full of fruit-trees of various descriptions, a kitchen-garden supplying all sorts of vegetables, and a smaller space devoted to flowers, most of which would have been highly prized in an English conservatory. There were several out-buildings beyond the cultivated ground, with yards and pens for cattle and sheep.
Altogether, Stratton was considered a very flourishing little homestead, of which the owner was justly proud. The sun had scarcely risen, when, after a hurried breakfast, the two young Berringtons had set out on an expedition in search of "Old Bolter," one of their horses, well so-called, who—no unusual circumstance—was reported missing. They had a difficult task before them, for Old Bolter was a cunning rogue, and by this time had probably got far away into the bush; but to find him they were determined, as he was wanted for work, and could do twice as much as any other horse when he chose. They were now, as fast as the numerous trees would allow them, cantering forward through a scrub, extending for some distance from the banks of the river. Familiar as was the scenery to them, Paul, who had an eye for the picturesque, could not help remarking the beauty of the rich tropical vegetation amid which they were passing. The sun, now rapidly rising behind their backs, threw a bright glow on the dark-green branches of the huge fig-trees, the feathery leaves of the cabbage and other palms, and here and there, tall pines or red cedars, towering above the mass of foliage, with vines and creepers of many hues hanging to the boughs in wreaths and festoons, or extending to the ground like loose ropes from the rigging of a ship.
They soon got clear of the scrub, for Old Bolter would certainly not be hiding within it, for the best of reasons—not a blade of grass grew on the leaf-covered ground. They now entered the more open country, called forest land, in contradistinction to the scrub. Here, though gum-trees of vast size towered to the sky, they generally stood far apart—their curiously-shaped leaves, with their edges turned upwards, allowing the sun's rays to penetrate to the grass-covered ground. Paul and Harry now began to look out eagerly for the runaway. There were one or two places in which he had before been found, and these they had settled first to visit. They were gullies, or dry creeks, bordered thickly by trees, beneath the shade of which he could stand during the heat of the day, and, while whisking off the flies with his long tail, meditate at his leisure. Three of these places were visited, but Old Bolter was not there. The water-holes in their neighbourhood were dry, which would account for the absence of the knowing old steed.
"He has gone to Myall Creek, depend upon it," observed Paul; "we shall find him in the scrub thereabouts."
Harry agreed that his brother was very likely correct in his surmise, and, the ground being open, they again rode forward. Harry especially delighted in a hard gallop. By getting over the ground at an early hour, they might rest during the heat of the day under the shade of the myall trees—from which the creek took its name—and employ themselves in shaping a few stock whip-handles, which are made from its fragrant wood; they would then recommence their search for Old Bolter. Once having found him, there would be no stopping until they had got him safe back into the paddock. An hour's hard riding brought them up to Myall Creek, within the dry bed of which they hoped to find Bolter, provided he had not discovered their approach, when to a certainty he would be off to some other place of concealment. They had prudently brought provisions with them, and, having securely hobbled their horses so that they might feed close to them, they sat down beneath the shade of a tree on the edge of the scrub and ate their dinners. They then cut some sticks from the myall trees suited for their purpose, and, while they sat resting in the shade, employed themselves in shaping the wood into the required size with their knives.
"Now," cried Paul, jumping up, "we must hunt up Old Bolter."
They quickly caught their steeds, and, unhobbling them, mounted.
"You go round the north side, and I will take the south of the bush," said Paul. "If you see Bolter, cooey to me, and take care that he does not make off westward, or we shan't get back to-night—or to-morrow, perhaps."
"No fear about that. I'll head him if I catch sight of his ears, and take good care to turn him towards you."
Harry accordingly rode away to the northward, while Paul directed his course round the southern end of the bush, and then circling round, reached the west side of the creek, in the dry bed of which he hoped to find Bolter. He examined the ground carefully, expecting to find some track of the missing horse, but not a sign could he see. Half an hour or more elapsed, when he heard Harry's shrill cooey; but, from the faintness of the sound, he knew that his brother must be a long way off. Putting spurs to his horse he galloped forward, expecting every moment to see Bolter dash out of the creek and make for the west. At last he caught sight of Harry, and directly afterwards, from some thick bushes, out sprang Bolter, and, as had been expected, made off towards the west, just midway between the two lads.
"After him!" cried Paul, and turning their horses' heads they gave them the rein. The animals seemed to know the object of the chase, and were eager as their riders to overtake the truant.
The ground was rough and broken, with here and there trees lying across it, blown down by a whirlwind; but they scarcely stopped Bolter, who seemed to take an especial pleasure in leaping over them, and leading his pursuers along the worst ground he could find. The other animals were, however, quite as eager to come up with Bolter as he was to escape, and exerted themselves to the utmost. Should he once get out of sight, as there appeared every probability of his doing, days might pass before he could again be discovered. They were approaching another scrub, which was, however, sufficiently open to allow the horses to pass through.
"If he once gets in there, our game will be up!" cried Paul. "On, Harry, on! we must head him before he reaches it."
"Very well to sing out, 'On, on!' My beast is doing his best, and Bolter doesn't intend to be caught," cried Harry.
That Bolter would escape seemed very likely. He had got within a few yards of the scrub, when he suddenly wheeled round, almost on his haunches, and galloped back the way he had come. Scarcely had he done so, when a black figure started up from behind some bushes, and hurled a long lance at him, but the weapon merely grazed his side, and stuck in the ground.
"Back, back! the blacks! There may be more of them!" cried Paul.
Harry had seen the native, and pulled up as his brother spoke. They were just in time, for a dozen or more black fellows, showing themselves, sprang forward poising their spears ready to hurl at the young horsemen. Old Bolter, fully comprehending the danger which he and his owners were in, instead of going over the bad ground took that to the left, allowing Paul and Harry to ride up close to him on either flank. Nevertheless, he kept his eyes about him, evidently intending to make off in some other direction if he could. The three horses now tore along over the ground, the nimble-footed blacks, with their spears in hand, following them for some distance. At length, however, Paul, looking back, found that they had got well ahead of the natives. It was important not to be overtaken, for they evidently belonged to some hostile tribe who intended mischief. Bolter, who seemed to be aware that there was no longer any danger from the blacks, made two or three attempts to escape; but Paul and Harry reminding him of his duty with their stock whips, he at length made straight as an arrow for the station, over the very course they would have chosen. Nothing stopped him. Across the country he galloped, with the two riders on either side. As they approached the yard they shouted to Sandy Macdougal, the overseer, who, fortunately, was close at hand, to open the gate, and in rushed Old Bolter.
"We had a hard matter to find him, and he would have got away from us after all if a number of black fellows had not tried to spear him," observed Paul. "We must be on our guard against them, or they will be doing some mischief."
"You've indeed done vera weel to bring the brute back so soon," said Sandy, as he carefully closed the gate, not to give Bolter another chance of escaping. "It would be wise to send over to Ogilvie to let the police know that there are strange blacks in the neighbourhood. Better to prevent the mischief than punish their puir bodies after it's committed, and as they attacked you, there's sufficient reason for warning them to take their departure."
The lads having unsaddled their horses, turned them into the paddock, and, accompanied by Sandy, repaired to the house. On the way the overseer inquired more particularly about their meeting with the blacks.
"It's a mercy they didna spear you. Praise the Lord for His goodness, lads; He always watches over those who trust Him. Dinna fail to do that."
Sandy Macdougal was an old follower of Captain Berrington. He had accompanied him from ship to ship as his coxswain; and when the captain retired from the service, and obtained the allotment of land on which he finally settled in Australia, Sandy, though he might have obtained a pension by serving a year or two longer at sea, insisted on accompanying him. While the captain was going through the arduous work of settling, Sandy was like his right hand. When the old sailor might have set up a farm of his own he declined doing so, preferring to serve his old commander in the capacity of overseer; and most faithfully did he discharge his trust.
JOURNEY TO MEET THE BERRINGTONS FROM ENGLAND—MRS HUGH BERRINGTON AND HER FAMILY—MR HAYWARD, THE TUTOR—HARRY RETURNS—PREPARATIONS—THE ARRIVAL.
The drays for the intended journey were packed, and the horses put to. The captain stood ready, booted and spurred. Harry, to his great delight, was to accompany his father. Paul would much have liked to go, but not the slightest sign of disappointment did he allow himself to exhibit; indeed, he was justly proud of having the responsibility, with the aid of Sandy, of looking after the family.
The drays were not at all like the cumbersome vehicles which are known under that name in England. They were merely large, strongly-built carts on two wheels, drawn by three, four, or five horses, as the nature of the country might require; though, on a smooth road, one could drag them. Old Bolter might have suspected that he would be wanted when he ran off, for he was put into the heaviest. They were now chiefly loaded with wool and other produce, and with a few articles the travellers required for their journey. On the return journey they would be fitted in a very different way—with canvas tilts to keep out the sun or rain, while in the inside goods were to be packed, easy chairs, or piles of bedding, and cushions for the accommodation of the ladies and young children. Besides the horses for the drays, four others were taken, in case the new arrivals should wish to ride. They were steady animals, not addicted to following Old Bolter's example. The drays having been sent on ahead, the captain and Harry, wishing the loved ones at Stratton good-bye, mounted their horses, and quickly overtook them. The captain felt no anxiety about the blacks, as Sandy had given notice to the police of their threatened attack on the young Berringtons, and a party had been sent out, under an experienced officer, to drive them away.
Now that her husband was fairly off to meet his brother's family, Mrs Hugh Berrington began to realise the fact that they were coming, and actively commenced making preparations for their reception. She was a motherly, active, cheerful little woman, who never, by any chance, lost her temper, even under the most vexatious circumstances, and always saw things on the bright side.
Her girls were very like her in many respects—hearty, merry creatures, with plenty of good sense, not only ready to work, but absolutely hating idleness. Mary, who was older than Paul, took somewhat after her father, a tall, handsome girl, though she did not think about the matter; nor did any one else, because they loved her for her good qualities. Janet and Lizzie were very like their mother; and Effie was a fair-haired, blue-eyed little damsel, not yet five years old, though she, like her sisters, could assume a sedate air, and help in household matters in all sorts of ways, besides looking after the pet animals. Rob, who came next to Janet, was a sturdy little chap, courageous as a young lion. No pain could make him cry out, and he could already ride after the cattle with as much boldness as his elder brothers. Tommy, the youngest, it must be acknowledged, was inclined to be a pickle. Effie patronised him, and did her best to keep him out of mischief, and he, in most instances, followed her precepts; though, as yet, he had done very little towards making himself useful, nor had he made any great strides in book-learning.
The captain and Mrs Berrington had felt the difficulty of educating their children, and had resolved to send the elder boys and girls to a school at Sydney or Melbourne, when the captain, while on a journey, happened to stop at a shepherd's hut towards night to obtain shelter from a storm which was coming on. The hut-keeper was a rough-looking fellow, and the captain fully expected to find the shepherd the same description of person. The sheep having been folded, the shepherd entered the hut. What, then, was Captain Berrington's surprise to find himself addressed in a tone and manner which showed that the speaker was a gentleman and a person of education, as he proved by his conversation, while the small but well-chosen library on a shelf above his bunk, and a copy of Horace which he took from his pocket, showed that the rough life he led did not prevent him from still indulging in the pleasures of literature.
He had gone through his course at the university, and had intended entering one of the learned professions, when he was obliged to visit Australia for his health. During his absence from home, he heard that every penny of the property he possessed was lost; and unable, after frequent attempts, to obtain employment in the cities, he had, as a last resource, been induced to go into the bush and turn shepherd, hoping ultimately, by the knowledge he would gain, to be able to take some superior situation on an estate. He, however, confessed that he was heartily weary of the life which, it was evident, was rendered doubly disagreeable by the character of his mate, although he uttered no complaint against the man. The term of service for which he had engaged was just about to expire, and Captain Berrington, much pleased with him, invited him, as soon as he should be at liberty, to come to Stratton. In the meantime he made all the inquiries in his power about Mr Hayward, and was satisfied of the truth of the account he gave of himself. Mr Martin Hayward was not only a scholar and a gentleman, but was a fair artist, and possessed considerable musical talent; he was, moreover, a true and enlightened Christian. He had spent about a month at Stratton, when Captain Berrington made him an offer to act as tutor to his children. This he had eagerly accepted, and had faithfully fulfilled his trust, never showing the slightest inclination to resign it. The boys were very fond of him, and, for the few hours they were every day engaged in their studies, they worked most diligently. He also afforded Mrs Berrington considerable help in instructing the girls, so that they were fully as well educated, at all events, as the generality of young ladies.
Mrs Hugh Berrington received a letter from her husband, saying that his brother Frank and family had arrived, including a Miss Emily Saville, the younger sister of Mrs Berrington, and that they proposed setting out directly the ladies should have recovered the effects of the sea-voyage. The letter had been some days coming; no time was to be lost, the party might quickly follow. Mrs Hugh and the girls were busy from morning to night making preparations for the reception of their relatives. Mr Hayward insisted on putting up a hut for himself near that of the overseer, in order that his room might be devoted to their use; and Paul, answering for Harry, agreed to follow his example. Even then it would require pretty close packing to accommodate the two families.
All preparations had been made, and Mrs Hugh Berrington began to wish that her relatives would arrive and terminate the period of suspense.
It was nearly two months since the drays had started, when one evening, just as Paul had returned from stocking the cattle, and was on his way home, with his saddle on his arm, he caught sight of a person on horseback galloping towards him.
"It must be Harry!" he cried. "No—yes—it is him! He'll bring us news."
Harry soon came up, and as he threw himself from his steed and shook hands with his brother, exclaimed, "They'll be here soon after dark, and father sent me on that mother might have supper ready, and be prepared for them."
"What sort of people are they? How do you like them?" asked Paul.
"As to that, if we take them in the lot, the less said about them the better. Uncle Frank's a fine fellow, and father seems very glad to have him; but Aunt Augusta—well, you'll see her when she comes. She wishes herself home again, and so do Evelina and Adela, I suspect. The younger boys are jolly little fellows; but Hector—we shall have to break him in—he's just what we thought he'd be. Reginald is more likely to take soon to our ways; he's a manly sort of fellow, and there's some fun in him. However, you will soon be able to judge for yourself about them all; only there's one thing—we must not let Mr Hector lord it over us. If he attempts it, we must take the shine out of him."
Before Harry had told Paul half of what he wanted to know they reached home, when, as may be supposed, the whole household was aroused into a state of the greatest activity.
At last the beds were made, the supper-table was laid, the lamps were lighted, and all was ready. Mrs Berrington and her daughters had sat down, and taken up their work. Two of them had attempted to read, but found that impossible just then. Biddy was watching over the pots and pans in the kitchen. The boys were at the front door, now and then running along the road to listen, when the cracking of whips, the tramp of horses, and the sound of wheels was heard.
"Here they come! here they come!" cried the boys, in chorus.
Paul and Harry lighted their lanterns. "That's Uncle Frank," exclaimed the latter, as a tall, gentlemanly-looking man rode up alongside their father.
Mrs Hugh Berrington came out to receive them. Greetings were over by the time the first dray drew up at the door. The captain and Mrs Berrington assisted a lady to descend, and carried her in their arms into the house. Two young ladies were next helped out, who appeared to take very little notice of any one, until Mary and Janet, hurrying forward, kissed them affectionately, and welcomed them to Stratton, when they led them into the sitting-room.
"That's Aunt Augusta, and those two Evelina and Adela," whispered Harry. "And here comes Sybil, the youngest; a jolly little bird, isn't she? Then Gertrude, Edgar, and Albert are with their Aunt Emily in the other dray. I shouldn't be surprised if Mr Hector were there too, for I don't see him on horseback; but here comes Reginald—he'll want to be introduced, or he'll not speak to you," and Harry laughed. "Here, Reginald, old fellow, this is my brother Paul, and these are Rob and Tommy," exclaimed Harry, as a fine-looking lad rode up and, dismounting, shook hands with his cousins.
The second dray now drove up, and Hector, a delicate-looking youth, was the first to get out, stretching himself and yawning as he did so.
A very nice-looking young lady, whom the children called "Aunt Emily," followed; and then Gertrude, Edgar, and Albert, of whom little could be known, as they did not utter a word, were lifted out.
"Here, lend a hand and help us, you fellows!" said Paul to his cousins, as he and Harry went to assist their father and Mr Berrington, who, with their tutor and Sandy, were engaged in unloading the drays.
Reginald at once came forward, but Hector, without replying, sauntered into the house.
The articles as they were taken out were piled up round the walls of the rooms, leaving but little space to move about. Mr Hayward at once went back to his hut, telling Paul and Harry that he was ready for them, and that there would be a bed for one of his cousins if he wished to come up. It was some time after the ladies had been shown their rooms, before they made their appearance at the supper-table—Mrs Berrington leaning on her husband's arm, the elder girls following, having changed their travelling dresses for evening costume, such as was not often seen in the bush. Their cousins, who wore their usual plain dress, looked at them with no slight astonishment. Hector came in shortly afterwards, and took his seat without speaking.
"I am afraid that you must be very tired," remarked Mrs Hugh to her sister-in-law.
"Yes, indeed; I wonder that I have survived it coming over those dreadful mountains—sufficient to shake the nerves of the strongest, and mine are sensitive to a degree," was the answer.
"A few days of quiet will set you all to rights," observed the captain. "Your girls do not appear to be the worse for it, though Hector looks somewhat knocked up."
"Ah, yes! he takes after me," said Mrs Berrington.
"I'm rather more bored than tired," observed Hector. "I didn't imagine that such a country as this was to be found in the Queen's dominions."
"It's the finest country in the world, old fellow," said Harry, from the other end of the table. "You'll learn to like it in time. So cheer up, we'll soon make a man of you."
Hector turned a disdainful glance towards the speaker.
"Harry, do not let your tongue run loose," observed his father, though with no very angry glance.
The conversation soon became general, Miss Emily Saville doing her best to make amends for her sister's silence. She and her nieces expressed themselves delighted with the delicious fruits offered them, and the evening passed by more pleasantly than might have been expected. Reginald accepted his cousins' invitation to accompany them to their quarters, thus enabling Hector to share his room with Rob and Edgar. It is not necessary to particularise how the rest of the family were stowed away.
EARLY RISING—MILKING COWS—HOW TO "BAIL-UP" A COW—VICIOUS ANIMALS— HECTOR CHARGED, AND TAKES TO FLIGHT—REGINALD AND HIS PAIL UPSET BY A CALF—TRIES AGAIN, AND SUCCEEDS.
"Rouse up, you fellow, and come and learn how to milk cows!" exclaimed Harry, as, the second morning after the arrival of the party, he, just at the break of day, rushed into his cousin Hector's room. Hector had done nothing the previous day but sit, rod in hand, on the bank of the river, attempting to catch some fish. He now yawned and stretched himself.
"It cannot be time to get up yet—it is scarcely daylight."
"There's light enough to milk the cows, and the cool of the morning is the best time," answered Harry. "Your Aunt Emily and the rest of the girls are there already."
"I'll get up presently, when I've had a little more sleep," said Hector, yawning again.
"No, no; you've got to learn how to do it, and if you don't begin now, you never will. You must learn how to do everything, or you cannot become a prosperous settler. I'll not leave you until I see you up."
Hector reluctantly, and in no good humour, began to dress. As he intended finishing his toilet after his return, he was soon ready.
"Come along! Sandy, Paul, and Reginald are driving in the cows; though we have a few which won't come up to 'the bail,' as they will soon be taught to do; and it will be some fun to you to see how we manage things."
"You don't expect me to milk cows?" said Hector, as they walked along.
"Indeed I do, if you are to have milk for breakfast; it is what young hands like you and the girls are most suited for."
"I am older than you are," exclaimed Hector, looking indignantly at Harry.
"Older in years, but younger in this country. Why, my little brother Rob is of more use than you'll be for months to come, if you don't look sharp about it."
"It's a horrid country, to say the best of it; I wish I hadn't come out here," exclaimed Hector.
"It is my country," answered Harry, "and I'll not have it abused. It is as fine a country as any in the world, or finer, I believe."
"You call that rocky range, which took us three days to get over, a fine country!"
"Ah! that's nothing! you must take the rough with the smooth. I dare say there are quite as many rugged places in England."
"From what I have seen of it, all I can say is, I intend to leave your beautiful country as soon as papa gets back some of his property. I hope to obtain a commission in the Guards."
"You'd better try and get a commission in our Black-guards," answered Harry, laughing. "They are a very useful body of men, and most of their officers are gallant fellows."
"Bosh!" cried Hector, who felt too indignant to make any other reply.
He, nevertheless, accompanied Harry to the stock-yard, where they found Mary and Janet with their milk-pails, and their two elder cousins and Miss Saville. Within the yard into which the cattle were being driven, on one side, were two strong posts, about five feet high, with a cross-piece on the top and another at the bottom, with a strong rail between them, which could be moved from side to side and fixed by means of a peg. Just behind this, but outside the yard, was a windlass, with a rope passing between the two posts.
"Do you see those posts?" asked Harry; "that's where we milk our cows."
As he spoke he patted a cow on the back, and crying, "Bail-up!" she walked quickly up and put her head between the posts, where it was so secured by the rail that she could not withdraw it. Taking one of the pails, and seating himself on a stool close by, he commenced the operation, which, to Hector's intense astonishment, he performed in a thoroughly efficient manner. Other cows walked up without the slightest trouble, and were milked in the same way by his sisters.
"Now, girls, you had better clear out of the yard!" shouted Paul; "we have two or three somewhat restive animals to deal with."
Mary and Janet, whose pails were by this time full, followed their brother's advice, and, accompanied by Miss Saville and their cousins, made their way out of the yard; while Mr Hayward, who summoned Harry and Reginald to his assistance, stood ready at the windlass. Paul took hold of the rope, which was unwound, with a noose at the end of it fixed to a long stick, and approached one of the cows just before driven into the yard. Immediately he attempted to throw the noose over her head she swerved, now on one side, now on the other, taking care never to put her nose to the ground. At last, however, Paul succeeded in throwing the noose over her horns, when he drew it tight by a jerk.
"Haul away!" he shouted; and round went the windlass, the cow, in the meantime, making every effort to free herself, leaping and bounding, throwing up her head and trying to shake off the rope. But all was in vain. Sandy sounded his stock whip at her flanks, now and then giving her a touch to remind her that it was at hand, until gradually she was drawn up to the posts and her head securely fixed, when Sandy approached with the milk-pail.
"I'm not going to trust you yet, my lady," he said, fastening her hind-legs up on the side on which he was about to take his seat. This done, he began the operation of milking. He had almost drawn as much as he expected to obtain, when the cunning cow, finding that she could not kick over the pail, came down on her side; and Sandy, with difficulty, made his escape from under her with the loss of the contents of his pail.
There were two other cows to be milked, which had been standing by watching attentively the treatment received by their companion. Paul, taking the rope, approached one of them. The creature seemed to have made up her mind not to be milked, and as he drew near she whisked round with wonderful rapidity, now and then making as if she would run at him; but Paul was far too active to be caught. Suddenly her eyes fell on Hector, who had been ashamed to leave the yard, although greatly longing to do so. Putting down her head, with a loud bellow she rushed towards him.
"Run for it! Spring on one side, and then make a bolt for the palings. I'll help you over!" shouted Harry.
Hector, however, was too much frightened to follow the advice. Instead of facing the cow and watching what she was about to do, he turned round and ran across the slippery yard; before he got far, as might have been expected, down he fell. The next instant the cow would have been upon him, had not Paul, who had been following with the noose, succeeded dexterously in slipping it over her horns, when the windlass being turned rapidly round, she found herself brought up by a violent jerk. In vain she endeavoured to get free. The hide rope which had caught her was strong enough, as Sandy affirmed, "to hold a seventy-four," and she was quickly, in spite of her bellowings and kickings, hauled up to "the bail;" while Hector, much frightened and excessively angry at his accident, picked himself up, and ran to the paling towards which Harry was beckoning him.
Sandy took care on this occasion not to be caught by the cow, and managed to take all the milk he required. Several others were brought up in the same fashion. Two who had been looking on, seeing that, whatever they might do, they would have to submit at last, walked up quietly and poked their heads into "the bail."
"I should like to try and milk a cow," exclaimed Reginald, who felt ambitious to imitate his cousins' example and make himself useful.
"We have two more heifers to milk, and you shall try; but I don't think you will succeed at first," said Paul.
Reginald was determined to make an attempt. As the heifer showed no great inclination to submit to the process—being accompanied by her calf—she was caught by the horns, quickly dragged up to "the bail," and leg-roped. Here she stood quietly enough while Paul stroked her, patted her back, and scratched her about the ears.
"Now, Reginald!" cried Paul, "get your stool and milk-pail, and try what you can do." Neither Paul nor his cousin had observed that the calf— only a few weeks old—which had remained on the other side of the yard, had been stamping and pawing the ground, and exhibiting other signs of indignation at seeing its mother made captive.
Reginald, with sleeves tucked up and eager face, commenced trying to milk, but not a drop could he produce. Suddenly, uttering a loud cry, the calf, with head lowered, made a dash across the yard, sending Reginald flying in one direction, his milk-pail and stool in others, to the great amusement of the lookers-on. Reginald picked himself up, not being really hurt; and although he at first looked very frightened, he soon recovered his equanimity.
"Now, Reginald," said Paul, "you will very likely succeed better this time. Try again."
Reginald had plenty of spirit, and getting the pail and stool, once more sat himself down; and Paul showing him how to work, he managed to draw milk from the heifer.
"Capital!" cried Paul; "but you had better let me finish—one cannot tell how long she may stay quiet."
At breakfast Hector and Reginald gave very different versions of the milking business of the morning. Hector described it as "a nasty, disgusting affair;" while Reginald declared "that it was very good fun, and that he was proud of his own performance, in spite of his misadventure."
PETS—A RAMBLE THROUGH THE SCRUB—ROB ACTS THE HERO—SEES A LURKING BLACK—THE PARTY HURRY HOMEWARDS—ALARMING INTELLIGENCE BROUGHT BY PAUL.
As much of the time of the young Berringtons was likely to be taken up by their newly-arrived cousins, it was arranged that they and Mr Hayward should make holiday. As soon, therefore, as Mary and Janet had finished their household duties they invited their cousins to take a walk round the gardens, which they had not yet seen, and along the bank of the river.
"We can show you some pretty views," said Mary.
"You shall see all our pets," added Janet.
"Pray take your sunshades, girls," murmured Mrs Berrington, who had just come out of her room. "Without them you will spoil your complexions to a certainty, and perhaps suffer from a coup-de-soleil. You do not let your daughters go out without them?" she added, turning to her sister-in-law.
"We never think of such a thing," answered Mrs Hugh; "our hats are lined with pith, and broad-brimmed, and we do not mind a few freckles."
The young ladies, acting on their mother's suggestion, took their sunshades, which, it must be confessed, were not altogether useless, although their cousins did very well without them.
They had got a short distance from the house, when Evelina uttered a scream and pointed to a large animal with a long tail, pointed nose, and short arms, which came hopping along at a great rate towards them.
"Oh! what's that monster?" she exclaimed. "How can we get out of its way?"
"That's only our tame kangaroo, Jumper," answered Janet, laughing. "He is a great pet; he has been out with Sandy all the morning, and is now coming to pay his respects to us."
The kangaroo, which was upwards of five feet high, came bounding along, moving himself by the wonderful muscular power of his long hind-legs, though he had in addition to carry his tail, which he lifted off the ground when moving; this tail, however, assisted him to rest when he reached his young mistresses and waited to receive the piece of bread they had brought to give him. Close behind came an animal on four legs.
"Oh! here comes another horrid creature," cried Adela. "A wolf! a wolf!"
"No; we have no wolves here. That is our kangaroo dog Bruce. He and Jumper are great friends, though he would run down, and kill any of Jumper's relatives without the slightest remorse. Here, Bruce, Bruce."
A magnificent dog, a mixture of a Saint Bernard and greyhound, came up and licked Mary's and Janet's hand, and attempted to treat their cousins in the same way. The young ladies, not liking his looks, started back, and it was some time before they could be persuaded to pat him on the head. Although Janet called Jumper and Bruce to accompany them, the latter only obeyed; the former bounded towards the house.
"The rogue has gone to see what he can get in the kitchen; if he can catch Biddy off her guard, he'll snatch up anything he can find, and be away with it," observed Mary.
The menagerie was in the flower-garden, where several of their pets which could not be allowed to remain at liberty were confined. Among the prettiest was a flying squirrel, a little animal with beautiful fur, its legs united by a membrane which enables it to float from the treetops to the ground without injury, then to run up the trunk of another, once more to descend, and thus make its way along. Poor little "Fussy!" its habits were nocturnal, and it had been accustomed to roam about at large in the house; but Captain Berrington, fearing that it might disturb his guests, had turned it out of doors to live with several other animals which his children had tamed.
The young ladies had made their way along a path which had been cut through the scrub, close to the banks of the river, that Mary might show her cousins the views she had spoken of. They had been joined by Rob and Edgar, who considered that they could not let them go so far from home without an efficient escort.
"With such valiant guards we may, I think, venture further than we have been accustomed to," said Mary. "We shall have to stoop now and then to get under the vines, or squeeze ourselves between the trunks of the trees. We have no wild animals to fear, and need only be careful not to tread upon a snake."
"A snake!" exclaimed Evelina. "Oh, how dreadful! Let's go home."
"Oh, come on," cried Bob, "I'll clear the road, and kill any snakes which may show their ugly heads."
Flourishing his hatchet, which he drew from his belt, he proceeded to cut away the vines and any branches which impeded their way.
Their progress was of course slow, but Rob asserted that they would soon come out into a more open spot, when they would be able to walk as fast as they liked. The air beneath the shade of the tall trees was deliciously cool compared to the hot atmosphere of the open ground; and even Evelina acknowledged that it was very pleasant. She had not gone far, however, before she shrieked out to Mary—
"You said there were no savage creatures! Look at this monster; it will kill us all!"
"Why, that's only an iguana. It has no teeth, and wouldn't bite you if it had. I'll try and catch it, and you shall have it for dinner; it makes an excellent stew," exclaimed Rob, who heard her cry out.
The iguana, a large species of lizard, was, however, far too quick for Rob, and was away out of sight before he got up to the tree on which he had seen it. Edgar manfully kept up with him, but having no weapon except a clasp knife, he could render but little service in clearing the road. Rob was shouting to the girls to "come on," when suddenly he himself stopped short.
"Edgar, did you see any one?" he asked, in a low voice.
"Yes, a hideous black face; it popped down immediately behind the bushes."
"We had better not go on, then; for though many of the blacks are friendly hereabouts, yet others who come from a distance are very treacherous."
Not stopping to hear more, Edgar scampered away to tell the ladies, who, as soon as they heard the alarming intelligence, began to beat a retreat. They were quickly overtaken by Rob, who had not only seen a black man, but a bundle of spears, and was fully satisfied of the danger of remaining longer in the scrub.
Mary was the first to recover herself. "After all, the boys may have mistaken the stump of a tree for a native; or if they did see a black, he may have come with no bad intentions," she observed; "we need not give up our walk in consequence."
However, her cousins looked so frightened that she led them directly out of the scrub towards the kitchen, garden, intending to go round under a trellis work, which had a thick hedge on the outside, and at that hour of the day afforded a pleasant shady walk. They were passing along that part which was nearest the open ground when they heard the tramp of a horse's hoofs galloping at fall speed, and directly afterwards Paul shouting out to Harry—
"Where's our father?"
"He has gone off with Uncle Frank to Gibson's station," answered Harry. "But what's in the wind?"
"The blacks have shown their ugly faces again, not far off. I caught sight of a mob of them just before I passed Jenkins's hut, and when stopping to leave a message I could nowhere find him. The blacks have evidently been there, and, I am afraid, have killed him. I did not stop to search longer, but came on to tell father, that he might send over to Ogilvie to set the police after them."
"I'll ride Bolter, and get Reginald to come with me," answered Harry.
"Reginald! He's no use; he will never keep up with you, and the chances are that he is pitched off before you have galloped a mile. Get Mr Hayward or Sandy to go with you," said Paul.
"They are both away just now," answered Harry; "but why can't you get a fresh horse and go yourself?"
"Look here," the girls heard Paul say; "one of the black fellows dashed a spear, and gave me this ugly scratch on the side, and I should be foolish to attempt riding so far. I must go in and get mother to doctor it."
The young ladies, on hearing this, were naturally much alarmed. Mary was about to call to her brothers, but they were already beyond hearing; so she, followed by the rest of the party, hastened to the house that she might break the intelligence to her mother.
PAUL COMES HOME WOUNDED—PREPARE FOR AN EXPECTED ATTACK—HECTOR MISSING—THE BOYS GO IN SEARCH OF HIM—BIDDY GIVES THE ALARM—ROB AND EDGAR AGREE TO KEEP WATCH—THE WAY THEY DO SO—ARRIVAL OF THE BLACK POLICE AND THEIR OFFICER.
As soon as Mary arrived at home she told her mother what she had heard; and lint, salve, and bandages were speedily got ready.
Paul's pale cheek when he arrived showed that he was suffering considerably, though he made light of the wound.
"Oh! it's nothing!" he said, trying to laugh. "A black fellow's spear merely grazed my side, though had not Polly swerved at that moment it would have stuck into her neck."
"It is a mercy, my boy, that it did not strike you in the back," said Mrs Hugh Berrington, examining the wound, which she thought far more severe than Paul was inclined to suppose it.
"I had been looking after some cattle which had strayed from one of the herdsmen, a new hand," he said, "when I suddenly found myself close to a mob of strange blacks, the very same, I suspect, Harry and I met with when hunting up Old Bolter. Knowing the imprudence of trusting myself among them, I immediately turned my horse's head and galloped off, but not until several spears had been hurled at me. I felt one pop through my clothes, but I thought that it had given me only a slight scratch. On reaching Jenkins's station, wishing to warn him of the vicinity of the black fellows, I looked about everywhere, but could not find him, and therefore came on that information might be sent to the police without delay, in order that they might proceed in search of the strangers and drive them away. Before returning home I found Mr Hayward, who, with Harry, has gone over to Ogilvie to give information of the blacks being in the neighbourhood."
"But what if they should come here while our husbands are away?" exclaimed Mrs Berrington, trembling with alarm.
"I am here, and this slight hurt won't prevent me from defending you," exclaimed Paul, feeling not a little indignant at his aunt's remark, "and there are Reginald, and Hector, and Sandy, and the other men will be back before long."
"And we can fight too," exclaimed Janet. "I know how to fire a pistol, so does Mary."
"What a fearful state of things!" ejaculated Mrs Berrington.
"Oh, aunt, you'll soon get accustomed to it," said Janet, who often spoke very like Harry.
"I hope that we shall not be reduced to such extremities," said Aunt Emily. "But where are Reginald and Hector?"
"I saw Reginald at our hut; I told him to come on here in case he might be wanted, but as to Hector, I do not know where he is."
"Suppose he should be fishing by the river, and the blacks should find him. They may kill the poor boy," exclaimed Mrs Berrington.
Though Paul thought this more than possible, should Hector have gone to any distance, he tried to reassure his aunt, intending to go himself and try and find his cousin.
When, however, he attempted to move, he discovered that he could not do so without great pain and difficulty. He was thankful when Reginald came in, and Rob at the same time making his appearance, he sent the two off in search of Hector, warning them to keep away from any place which might conceal a lurking enemy. He then held a consultation with Mary and Janet, and arranged with them how they might best prepare the house for defence, should the blacks attack it. They all knew that there was not much real danger provided that they were not taken by surprise, as the natives, unaccustomed to the use of fire-arms, were sure to run away if sturdily withstood. He knew he could depend upon his two elder sisters, though he suspected that his cousins would not prove heroines.
The day wore on, the captain and his brother were not expected until late. Reginald and Rob had not returned from their search for Hector, and Sandy, whom they expected, had not yet made his appearance.
The sun set, and darkness came on; the girls agreed to watch in different directions, from whence they could command the approaches to the house. Biddy was naturally stationed at the kitchen end of the house, which looked towards the bush. Poor Mrs Berrington's alarm became greater and greater.
Mrs Hugh and her daughters were doing their best to keep her from fainting by the due application of sal volatile, though they themselves could scarcely restrain their own fears.
Suddenly a fearful shriek ran through the house; it came from Biddy. Mary and Janet hurried round, shutting the doors opening on the verandah where they had been stationed, and rushed towards her.
"Sure, the nagers are coming! the nagers are coming!" they heard her again and again shriek out. She was, however, at her post at the door, but had thrown her apron over her head. Before closing the door, the courageous girls looked out to ascertain how far off the natives were from the house. There, sure enough, they saw three figures approaching with what looked like long spears in their hands.
"Arrah! come in, me darlin's, and don't let the nagers catch ye!" shrieked Biddy.
"What's all that hullabaloo about?" exclaimed one of the figures, approaching, and Hector, and Reginald, and Rob came up to the door.
Biddy, however, who had stopped her ears as well as hid her face, still fancied that they were blacks, and continued shrieking as loudly as ever.
"Run, Rob, and tell mother and aunt that you have come back safe, while we try and bring this foolish girl to her senses," said Mary.
It was, however, some minutes before Biddy could be quieted, and assured by the sight of the young masters that it was they whom she had seen, and that no natives had shown themselves.
Reginald then told Mary that they had found Hector fast asleep on the bank, while his fishing-rod was floating in the middle of a water-hole, and that they had spent some time in attempting to recover it. Though the boys had returned safe, and one cause of anxiety was removed, there was still a possibility that the blacks would attack the place, should they have been on the watch, and have discovered that the gentlemen were away.
Paul, however, did not think this likely, as, had they been lurking about, they would certainly have caught the boys, and perhaps have killed them. Poor Mrs Berrington continued bemoaning her hard fate in coming to such a country.
"But, my dear Augusta," said Mrs Hugh, "no harm has happened to those we love, and we ought not to mistrust God. You and I have gone through numerous trials and troubles, and have been mercifully preserved through them all."
At length the captain and his brother returned, and, having heard nothing of the blacks, were greatly surprised at the state of agitation into which the family had been thrown. The captain commended Paul for his judgment in sending for the police. Taking their fire-arms with them, they at once went back to let Sandy and the other men know that the blacks had been seen near the house, that they might be on their guard.
"They are not likely to be surprised while Bruce is on the watch," observed Paul; "he can scent a black a hundred yards off."
Poor Mrs Berrington was thus again made anxious, fearing that her husband and the captain might be attacked before they got back to the house. At last they made their appearance, reporting that Sandy and the men were on the watch at the stock-yards, but that Harry and Mr Hayward had not yet returned; indeed, the captain believed that they would probably accompany the police, or, at all events, not come back until the morning.
The children were put to bed, and the ladies were at length persuaded to retire to rest. The captain and Mr Berrington arranged to keep watch and watch, so that they might run no risk of being surprised. Paul wanted to join them, but his father insisted that he should remain quiet, lest his wound, trifling though he considered it, might become inflamed. Hector went into his room without offering his services. Mr Berrington looked vexed, but said nothing; possibly he thought that he would go to sleep at his post, and thus be worse than useless.
"I say, Edgar, though we are sent to bed, we are not bound to go to sleep," exclaimed Rob. "I vote that you and I keep watch at the window, turn and turn about. I have got one of Paul's pistols, and if any blacks come we will shoot them."
"But they would have to come fearfully close to do that, and I don't think I could fire at a man with a spear in his hand, grinning horribly at me out of the dark."
It is easy to imagine the picture Edgar conjured up.
"That's the very time I would shoot," answered Rob; "if I did not, he might hurl the spear and stick it into me."
"Keep quiet, you fellows," growled out Hector, who was awakened by their talking, though he did not hear what they said. They were silent till they thought that he was again asleep.
"If you're afraid I'm not," said Rob. "I will take the first watch, and I will call you when it's time for you to look out, and then you can rouse me up if you see anything, and I will be alongside you in a moment."
Edgar having agreed to this, Rob sat himself down on a stool, with his head just above the window-sill, on which it soon dropped. He was, in reality, fast asleep, though all the time he thought that he was keeping a very bright lookout, and that he saw savages creeping up in the distance, but that he was waiting to give the alarm until they should get somewhat closer. At last he awoke with a most uncomfortable crick in his neck, and found, to his surprise, that the dawn had broken. Hector and Edgar were sleeping soundly, and believing that no blacks would venture near the house by daylight, he wisely crept into his bunk, where he lay until roused by the sound of the gong which summoned the family to prepare for breakfast.
The night had passed without any appearance of the blacks, and the captain, who had searched round the house in every direction, could find no traces of them. He began, indeed, to suspect that Rob must have been mistaken in supposing that he had seen a lurking native in the scrub. He and Mr Berrington, followed by Bruce, after breakfast made a long circuit through the scrub, and visiting the spot Rob described, the captain had reason to change his opinion, for he at length found traces of natives, and the remains of a fire, where they must have encamped that very night. This satisfied him that the precautions he had taken had not been useless, but, as far as he could judge, the blacks had retreated to the westward. The chief anxiety of the family was now about Harry and Mr Hayward, who had not yet returned. Late in the day, however, Rob and Edgar, who were patrolling round and round the house under the idea that they were keeping guard, saw Harry galloping up to them.
"Well, what news?" shouted Rob. "We have been expecting the blacks all day, but they have not come yet. Have you fallen in with them?"
"Yes, indeed we have!" answered Harry, "and had a desperate fight too. We killed some of them, and the rest ran off. Lieutenant Bertram, of the police, believes that they will still remain lurking in the neighbourhood, and has come on with some of his men to be ready to act as a guard to the house should father wish it. We have had some exciting work, let me tell you. It was wonderful the way our black police hunted down their countrymen; but I must not stop, as they will be wanting to know at home what has happened."
Dismounting, Harry hurried into the house, while his younger brother led his tired steed to the paddock.
Harry had just made his report, and Mrs Hugh was busy in preparing some food for their expected visitors, when Mr Hayward, accompanied by a young officer, rode up to the door, closely followed by a dozen black troopers, in dark blue and red uniforms. Mr Hayward introduced Lieutenant Bertram, who explained his reasons for coming.
Mrs Berrington was profuse in her thanks. "We have had a dreadful fright, Mr Bertram, and I hope that you and your men will remain here until the blacks are driven out of the country. I shall get no rest, night or day."
"I am afraid, madam, that will not be so easy an operation as you suppose," answered the lieutenant. "The blacks have an idea that they are the owners of the soil, and that we are intruders, and they are not very willing to decamp. Our business is rather to keep them in order, and prevent them from attacking the whites."
As Harry explained that they had been a good many hours without eating, supper was immediately placed on the table, while provisions were carried out to the troopers, who sat down in a circle on the grass-plot—it could not be dignified as a lawn—with their horses picketed near them. The ladies went out to see them as they sat in the sunlight, not at all inconvenienced by its glare. They seemed merry, careless fellows, laughing and chattering away in their own curious lingo—a mixture of English and native words.
Mr Bertram said they were all blacks from a distance, composed of two or three different tribes who could not understand each other's original language. The captain was grieved to find that there was little doubt that his shepherd had been murdered, although his body had not been discovered. The flock had been driven to a station nearer home, where two of the police had been left to watch the hostile natives, although it was not at all likely that they would for the present make another attack.
Poor Mrs Berrington saw, with much regret, the lieutenant and his men take their departure. They were going, he said, to make another thorough search for the hostile natives, and to advise them to remove to a distance from the white men's stations.
PLEASANT RIDES THROUGH THE COUNTRY—MAGNIFICENT VEGETATION—HECTOR STUNG BY A NETTLE—A HURRICANE—ROOF OF THE HUT BLOWN OFF.
Some weeks passed away, and the new comers were getting accustomed to bush-life. Even the unimpressible Evelina and Adela began to take an interest in what was going on, though they were still open to the criticism pronounced on them by Harry to Reginald—
"Those girls of yours are very well in their way, but it is a pity they cannot learn to make themselves useful."
Aunt Emily was, however, delighted with all she saw—the trees, the birds, the animals; and much indeed there was to admire during the rides she and two or three of the girls were accustomed to take, either with Mr Berrington or Paul, Harry or Reginald.
All apprehension of an attack from the blacks had subsided, and they frequently rode to a considerable distance from Stratton. The country beyond the scrub was open, or rather only sprinkled with tall ungainly gum-trees, but there was to be found in many spots other and very beautiful foliage. In some places groves of acacia-trees with yellow blossoms, and in other spots tall coral trees with long pendulous red flowers, looking exactly like strings of coral hanging from the dark foliage. Sometimes they came upon the curiously-shaped bottle tree, which greatly resembles a lemonade bottle placed in the ground. Then, not far off, would be found the grass tree, from the summit of which long pendants projected like enormous blades of grass. Even these trees were of considerable height. Mr Berrington said that during the hot months he always had a supply of the wood, as the smoke arising from it emits not only a very pleasant odour, but is much objected to by the mosquitos, and by burning it in the room those pests of Queensland are always driven out.
One of the most remarkable trees they met with was the bunya-bunya, a species of pine. It towered like a pinnacle above all the other trees, reaching a height of upwards of two hundred feet.
Some of the young trees were peculiarly handsome, throwing out branches all around close to the ground to a distance of many yards, and smaller branches rising in regular gradation to the top, thus forming a perfect cone with so dense a foliage that it was evident no animal could penetrate it. At the top of the older trees grew an enormous cone of fruit, each being the size of a chestnut. From some of these a bare pole shot up nearly a hundred feet above the branches, with this prodigious cone at the summit. Notwithstanding this, the party saw a couple of blacks belonging to a friendly tribe, who occasionally camped near them, climb to the top, whence they threw down the fruit in handfuls. Harry and Reginald filled their pockets with some of it, which they carried home. It was cooked as chestnuts are, but was pronounced more farinaceous and much nicer to eat.
The party frequently took provisions with them, and enjoyed a picnic in some beautiful spot while their horses were hobbled near. On one of these occasions Hector had condescended to accompany them. He and Paul, with Mr Hayward, were walking some little distance from the rest, when Hector, not taking an interest in the conversation of his cousin and the dominie, sauntered away from them. Hector had the habit as he walked along of pulling off the leaves of any shrub or tree he passed, from mere thoughtlessness, not with any idea of examining their shape or character.
"Where's Hector got to?" suddenly exclaimed Paul.
"There he is," said Mr Hayward; then he shouted, "Come back, Hector; come back! Don't touch those shrubs."
But Hector either did not hear or did not heed the call, and Mr Hayward and Paul set off to run after him. Presently they heard him shriek out, and throw down a large leaf like that of a mallow, which he had plucked from a shrub about fifteen feet in height.
"That's a nettle tree," exclaimed Mr Hayward; "poor fellow! he'll suffer for it."
They found Hector wringing his hand, and declaring that he had been stung by a snake. He was somewhat consoled when Mr Hayward and Paul assured him that he had only by mistake caught hold of a huge nettle, though he might expect to suffer from its effects for some days to come. He wanted to run off to a stream near which the party had picnicked, to cool his hand in the water.
"That will only make matters worse," said Paul; "you must keep your hand as dry as possible, for every time you wet it the pain will come on again."
Poor Hector could scarcely refrain from crying out with pain.
"You must grin and bear it, old fellow," said Harry, really wishing to console him. "When you get home mother will, I dare say, apply some remedy. We were fortunately warned about catching hold of nettles before we had your experience; but you'll never do it again."
All the party enjoyed the ride, except poor Hector, who complained bitterly of the pain he suffered from the stinging-nettle. On their arrival at home, Mrs Hugh applied ammonia and oil. At length he acknowledged that the pain had considerably abated, but during the remainder of the evening he took every opportunity of abusing the country and "its horrible productions."
Harry, who was always ready to take up the cudgels in favour of his native land, answered, "Why, even you in England have got nettles, and poisonous berries too, and, I am sure, have not got one-tenth part of the fruits and plants which this country can produce. We can grow the sugar-cane, cotton, coffee, rice and tobacco, and Peruvian bark, or what answers as well, and spices of all sorts, while few of our berries are poisonous; and, except those rascally dingos, we have not an animal in the country which can do any harm to man or beast."
"Oh, yes! it's a very nice land indeed," sneered Hector.
"Come, old fellow, you're shut up, after all," exclaimed Harry, triumphantly, "and it is time to go to bed. I'm off to our hut. Come along, Reggy; Paul went there an hour ago."
Family prayers were over. The two lads, wishing their fathers and mothers and all hands good night, set off to their abode.
Mr Hayward and the rest of the inmates of the hut had been some time asleep, when they were awakened by a fearful uproar, like the howling, shrieking, and hissing of a thousand locomotive engines dashing on at full speed—so Reggy described it. They could scarcely hear their own voices as they shouted to know what was happening.
"A storm, lads, and such a one as we don't often get," said Mr Hayward, who was dressing as fast as he could. The rest followed his example, for at any moment the roof of their hut might be carried off. As they looked out they saw the tallest trees bending and groaning under the fearful blast. At that moment a huge branch, broken off, was dashed to the ground near them with a tremendous crash, while the whole air was filled with leaves, twigs, and smaller branches.
The thunder, which had been heard at a distance, came near. At first it sounded like a faint cannonading, but now it broke overhead with terrible roars and rattles, as if a pitched battle were raging amid the clouds, drowning all other sounds. In such rapid succession did peal follow peal, that they appeared like one continuous roar.
Black clouds made the night as dark as pitch, until the lightning burst forth and lit up the whole of the surrounding scene. Streams of the electric fluid, running down the stems of the tall trees, went hissing along the ground like fiery serpents. Blast succeeded blast, until suddenly the whole roof of the hut, being lifted together, was carried off, the inmates knew not where; when down came the rain in a sheet of water, rather than drops. The lads were thankful that they had got on their clothes, at all events, and had time to slip into their waterproofs.
"We must go and see what is happening at the house. I only hope the fencing won't be blown down, or we shall have work enough to-morrow to collect the stock again," cried Paul.
In spite of the storm, and the danger they ran from falling boughs, they commenced making their way towards the house. Sometimes it was so dark that they could not see a foot before them. Then, in an instant, a bright flash would illumine the whole scene, and they rushed forward again, stopping when darkness came upon them. At length they calculated that they must be close to the house. A flash revealed it to them, but it appeared as if the roof had gone. No one was to be seen. They shouted, but no reply came. They tried to open the door, but it was fastened within. Perhaps those they loved had been crushed by the falling roof. The thought was too dreadful. Paul and Harry shook at the door, and shouted again and again.
THE BOYS GO TO ASSIST THEIR FRIENDS—PAUL AND HARRY ENTER THE HOUSE THROUGH THE ROOF—ALARM OF THE FAMILY—FEARS OF THE RIVER RISING—PAUL SETS OFF TO OBTAIN PROVISIONS.
Paul and Harry, who had run on first, kept knocking and knocking at the door, and shouting at the top of their voices, but the creaking of the verandah posts, the rattling of the shingles on the roof, the continuous roar of the thunder, and the howling of the wind among the trees, completely drowned their voices. They ran round to try and find an entrance by one of the windows or back door, but the shutters were all closed. At length Mr Hayward and Reggy came up, but they were not more successful in making the inmates hear when they knocked and shouted at the front door. Harry proposed climbing up and dropping down through the opening in the roof. A large portion of the verandah had been torn away, but the beams remained.
"You forget, Harry," shouted Paul in his ear, "we may reach the roof, but how shall we get down without the risk of breaking our legs over the fragments which may have fallen in, or the tables and chairs? Stay a moment! There's a rope in the harness room, and if that has not been blown away I'll get it."
Paul recollecting where he had last seen the rope, was able to lay his hand on it, even in the dark. He soon groped his way back.
Harry having proposed the expedition, climbed up first, Paul handing him the rope. He soon reached a rafter, and lowering the rope until he knew that it touched the ground, he fastened it securely, and at once descended, followed by Paul. They had dropped into their own bedroom, which they had given up to Hector; after feeling about, however, they decided he was not there. Neither were Rob nor Edgar. They then groped their way along the passage at the back of the house, to the sitting-room end. During a momentary lull of the storm they thought they heard voices. On opening the door, they presented themselves to the astonished eyes of their family.
Mr Berrington, aided by Mrs Hugh and Miss Saville, was endeavouring to calm the fears of his wife and elder daughters, who were well nigh in hysterics, while Mary and Janet were attending to the children—who, poor little things, were naturally very much frightened. Hector, who had got his hand wet, was crying out that he had been bitten by a scorpion, forgetting how he had been stung by a nettle the previous morning. The captain, meantime, was doing his best to keep the windows closed, with the assistance of Biddy, who was bringing him such pieces of wood as she could find to nail up against them, for they threatened to give way, when the wind would have blown out the only lamp which was burning on the table in the centre of the room.
"Where have you boys come from?" asked their father; "I thought all the doors were shut."
"So they are," shouted Paul, "but we came down through the roof."
"What! were you blown all this way?" asked Mr Berrington, looking up.
"Not exactly," answered Harry, "we came on our legs."
"Has your hut been blown down?" asked their father.
"The best part of it, on a night like this—the top has," answered Harry.
Paul then explained that Mr Hayward and Reggy were all this time waiting outside, not knowing how to get in. The captain would not let them open the door, however, without his assistance, and they all three accordingly repaired to it.
"Are you still there?" shouted Harry.
A voice answered, "Yes."
"Stand by to close the door again," said the captain, and slightly opening it, in rushed Reggy and Mr Hayward, when the whole party, pressing hard, once more closed it, though the blast which came in sent several of the articles of furniture rattling down.
"How, in the name of wonder, did you get in?" exclaimed Reggy, when he found Paul and Harry inside.
He could scarcely believe it when they told him how they had managed to find an entrance. The door being secured, they hastened back to the sitting-room. It was no easy matter to carry on a conversation amid the wild uproar, though the captain, accustomed to storms at sea, made himself heard. He could not tell how much of the roof had gone, for, even through a small aperture the rain made its way in torrents. He was thankful that any part remained which could afford them shelter. Paul could give no account of how it fared with Sandy and the men at the stock-yard. Mr Hayward volunteered to go back and ascertain, but the captain would not allow this. "You ran risk enough in coming, and I am thankful that you have escaped," he said.
Nothing more could now be done until daylight, as the whole house was in darkness, for as soon as the lamp was lighted in any part, except in the sitting-room, it was blown out again by the wind which made its way through the roof. The captain did not express his fears to the rest of the party, with the exception of Mr Hayward and Paul, but his chief anxiety was about the river. On listening at the side of the house nearest to it, they could hear the water rushing along its hitherto dry bed, evidently at headlong speed. Mr Hayward, ever ready to assist, offered to go out and ascertain how high it had risen.
"We may remain here in safety at present, I trust," said Captain Berrington: "it is still a dozen feet below us, probably more, and unless it should rise much higher, we should only unnecessarily expose the ladies to this tremendous rain and the fearful danger of falling branches were we to quit the house. We must, however, keep a watch upon it and escape in time."
Several terrific blasts came, which threatened to blow down the house, or tear off the whole roof. The wind, after the last, began to lull, and the rain ceased. The house, with the exception of the sitting-room, was in such a condition that the family were compelled to remain in that apartment. The night wore slowly away, and every one was thankful when daylight at last returned. Sad indeed was the havoc which had been committed by the tempest; but the captain was thankful that none of the family had been injured, and not a word of complaint escaped him.
No time was lost in commencing to repair the damages. While Biddy was trying to get her kitchen in order and light a fire, Janet and Mary, with pails and mops, assisted by their cousins, were busily employed in "swabbing decks," as their father called it, and hanging up the wet bedding to dry.
The captain and his brother, with Mr Hayward, got the carpenter's tools, and commenced repairing the roof, while the younger boys collected all the shingles they could find. Paul, Harry, and Reggy started off to the stock-yards, to see how things fared there, and to assist Sandy and the men if necessary. Before going they took a glance at the river. Reggy could scarcely believe that it was the same stream he had seen the day before, as it now went foaming and rushing by, carrying huge trunks of trees and dead cattle in its vortex, while it appeared four times as broad as before.
"We have often had it as high as this in a rainy season, although it has seldom risen so high at other times," said Paul.
Hector declared that his hand hurt him too much to allow him to do anything, although he at length condescended, when summoned by his sisters, to try and put his own room in order.
As the lads went along, they observed the havoc which had been produced by the storm. Several tall trees had been blown down, others denuded of their branches. The maize was beaten to the ground, the kitchen-garden had suffered greatly, and flower-blossoms had everywhere been torn off, while many of the fruit-trees were destroyed.
"It cannot be helped," said Paul, "happily, things grow here very rapidly, and in a short time we shall have all to rights again."
Reginald thought Paul a great philosopher, but he only spoke the truth. They met Sandy coming to ask how the family had fared; he reported more favourably of the stock-yard than Paul had expected. A portion of the roof of some of the buildings had been blown off; but the strong fences intended to resist the charge of a fierce bull or angry heifer had withstood the strongest blasts.
"We ken weel where our weak points are," observed Sandy; "we will soon get things to rights."
Every one had enough to do during that and several following days. The buildings were re-roofed, the fallen trees were sawn through and dragged out of the way to be split up or burned. The garden fences were repaired, and everything else put to rights. Meantime the river had fallen almost to its usual level, though the water-holes were united, and it now ran in a regular current. The captain's chief regret was for his maize crop; nothing could restore that, and he expected to obtain scarcely a quarter of the produce he had looked for. It would be necessary, therefore, to dispatch the drays some hundreds of miles to obtain flour, and this must be done as soon as possible, before the regular rainy season should set in. It would not last long, but during that time many of the creeks would be impassable, and other places might be flooded.
There was so much to be done that Captain Berrington did not wish to go himself, and though Paul was always very useful at home, he determined to send him in charge of the party. Paul would have liked to take either Harry or Reggy, but they now worked so well together that his father was unwilling to separate them, besides which they were able to do a great deal of work, and had in addition to attend some hours in the day to their studies, as Mr Hayward had resumed his duties as tutor, the girls, as well as the boys, regularly attending the school.
Paul could not but feel proud at being so thoroughly trusted by his father, and he hoped to perform his commission well; although he would gladly have had a companion in his long and tedious journey.
The men who accompanied him had been some time in the captain's employ, and were considered thoroughly trustworthy. He himself felt much more anxious about the family. It was not only possible that the blacks might return and cause them alarm, but he might not obtain flour where he expected to find it. Although they would not in consequence be actually in want of food, it would be a considerable privation to have to go without bread. The captain had also confided to him a project Mr Berrington and he had in view, of forming a new station further up the country. They had not, however, fixed on it; but beyond the ranges to the north-west the captain had heard that a fine region existed, and he proposed forming a party to explore it. He had promised Paul that he should go, and told him that he proposed setting off at the termination of the rainy season. Paul, having bid farewell to his family, accompanied by Harry and Reggy, who were going to see him a few miles on the way, rode after the drays, which had started at daybreak that morning.
The two boys returned towards evening, reporting all well. Paul was much missed; even Hector complained that he had not now a companion to talk to. Although Harry and Reggy were merry fellows, it was generally acknowledged that they were not equal to Paul.
"I trust we shall have him back soon," said his mother, after he had been gone some time; "although I wish that tidings of him had reached us."
A KANGAROO HUNT—CHASING EMUS—A PACK OF DINGOES PUT TO FLIGHT.
Reggy had by this time learned to make himself almost as useful as Harry. Their great delight was riding after stray cattle and horses, which afforded them constant occupation.
Occasionally they visited the sheep-stations, to see that all was right, or to give directions to the shepherds.
Sometimes they drove one of the drays carrying provisions and stores, a task which was not so pleasant as galloping over the country. Now and then Hector was persuaded to join them in the former duty, but he would never even attempt to learn to drive a dray.
"If I could manage to get hold of a well-built dogcart from London, I should have no objection to turn out a tandem," he said, as he contemptuously surveyed the dray.
As the captain was convinced that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," he occasionally allowed all hands who could be spared to go out hunting, the game being kangaroos or emus, when Bruce and the other dogs at the station had an active part to play. Hector, who rode pretty well, had no objection to join in it. Even Rob and Edgar were at times allowed to go out.
The damage caused by the storm having been repaired, about a week after Paul left home a hunting party was organised, the captain and Mr Haward joining it, with all the boys. Sandy, on such occasions, always remained at home, although he had learned to stick to the saddle as well as any man. Hunting was not to his taste; besides which, he considered it his duty to look after the ladies at the house and the cattle at the station.
It was a lovely morning; not a cloud was in the sky. The air was so pure, and so fine a breeze was blowing, that no one felt the heat. The boys were in high spirits as they rode along on their sturdy little horses, with the dogs barking and frisking around them. They had not gone far before a large kangaroo was sighted—an "old man," as the big kangaroos are called by the settlers. He was employed in plucking the leaves from some shrubs which partly concealed him. So busily engaged was he, that he did not at first notice their approach, but as they got near his quick ear detected the sound of their horses' feet, and taking one glance at them over his shoulder, he bounded off to seek safety in flight.
The dogs gave chase, the horsemen followed close upon their heels. The kangaroo appeared to move but slowly, and to be making his long bounds with deliberation.
"We shall be up to him in three minutes!" cried Reggy.
"Not so fast as that, by a long way," answered Harry; "he is now going at double the speed you suppose, and will soon increase it."
Harry was right. On went the kangaroo towards a creek in which there were two or three deep water-holes, a couple of miles to the northward. Hector and Reginald could not help laughing as they saw the wonderful bounds he made, holding his little front claws close to him, as a man does when running a race, with his knowing head held upright. Sometimes, when passing through high grass, the head and shoulders alone were visible, and the dogs could not be perceived except by the waving grass, while often they could not see the chase; still they kept on in its tracks. At last a large water-hole was reached, the kangaroo leapt into it, and having gained the centre, turned round and watched for the approach of the dogs. Bruce—knowing old fellow—was well aware that the kangaroo would have him at a great disadvantage, and contented himself by standing at the edge and barking, as he knew the animal must in time abandon his present position and again take to flight. All the older dogs imitated Brace's example; but two young ones, thinking themselves braver than their companions, swam out, expecting to catch the kangaroo by the neck and bring him down. The first which approached was caught in his short arms before the dog could seize his throat, and was held down under the water, the kangaroo looking round all the time with perfect unconcern. In vain the dog struggled: the greater its efforts to free himself, the more rapidly the water entered its mouth.
The second dog attempted to make a diversion in its favour, but the kangaroo managed to give it a blow with the sharp claw of one of its hinder feet, and, with a yelp of pain, it swam back to the shore, leaving a ruddy stain in the water, while the body of the first dog which had been seized floated up deprived of life.
Harry and Reggy, with Mr Hayward, who were leading, now came up, but the kangaroo observing one side of the water-hole unguarded, suddenly, with a few bounds, reached it and made off before the dogs could get round to seize him. Away he went, bounding on as before towards the scrub in which he might have hoped to obtain shelter. The horsemen lost some little time in first getting the dead dog out of the water-hole and by crossing the creek; but they soon recovered their lost ground, as the kangaroo was becoming wearied with his exertions.
A thick scrub was ahead, and directly in front were some large trees. The dogs got almost near enough to catch hold of the tail of the kangaroo, when renewing his exertions, he managed to jump up close to one of the big trees, and to turn round with his back to the trunk. Here he stood at bay, showing, however, not the slightest sign of fear. As the dogs came barking fiercely round it, Reggy, wishing to display his courage, leapt off his horse, and was on the point of running up to the kangaroo when Mr Hayward shouted to him to stop; and he had soon good reason to be thankful that he had done so, for another of the young dogs getting within reach of the kangaroo, it struck out with one of its hind-claws and inflicted a terrible wound on its assailant. The dog, uttering a yelp of pain, endeavoured to crawl away, but before it did so another blow stretched it dead in front of the kangaroo as a warning to its companions.
It seemed cruel, after the animal had so bravely fought for his life, to destroy him; but, as he would probably have killed more of the dogs, Mr Hayward fired and finished his career.
The kangaroo was quickly skinned, his long tail being secured to one of the saddles. The best part of the meat, being wrapped in large leaves, was hung up in the shade, to be carried home on their way back. The remainder was left as a trap to the dingoes, whom it was hoped would remain feasting, and be shot by the party on their return.
The object of the expedition, however, was to hunt emus. Leaving the scrub, they reached some open downs of wide extent. Keeping, by the captain's directions, on the lee side, they rapidly advanced, with a bright lookout ahead. The emu will run from human beings, especially from blacks. It is not, however, afraid either of horses or drays. It greatly resembles, in size and shape, the ostrich; but its colour is of a uniform brownish-black with feather-like hairs in lieu of feathers, and it has no wings, but its legs being very strong it can run at a rapid rate. As its head reaches seven feet or more from the ground it can obtain a wide view over the plain.
Mr Hayward, who well understood the habits of the bird, rode on in front. At length he made a sign that he saw emus in the distance, when the whole party, as had been arranged, dismounted and led on their horses, keeping them between themselves and the emus. They were thus able to get within a couple of hundred yards, when the wingless birds showed signs of alarm. Mr Hayward gave the signal to mount, and leaping on his horse the rest followed his example, and the emus set off running at a speed calculated to try the mettle of the fleetest horse and the endurance of the dogs. The pack, with loud yelps, bounded after them, followed by the horsemen, whose object was to keep them together.
The emus had no intention of being caught, but they had the wind against them, which somewhat impeded their progress. Two, however, showed signs of flagging, and the dogs got up to them. It would have been better for them had they kept at a respectful distance, for the hindmost emu kicking out struck one of them on the chest, and sent it flying among its companions. The rest of the pack taking warning kept out of reach of the bird's powerful feet. At length one of the hard-pressed creatures dropped to the ground, where it was speedily despatched by the captain, while Mr Hayward and the boys galloped after the remainder of the flock. Two more were run down and killed in the same manner. The skins were soon taken off and thrown across the horses' necks. A portion also of the flesh was secured, as Harry, Reggy, and Edgar expressed a strong wish to taste it.
The party then commenced their return home. On reaching the spot where the kangaroo had been killed, they caught sight of a pack of dingoes, to which they gave chase. Bruce and his companions pulled down several of these pests to the settler, and others were shot. Not a particle of kangaroo remained on the ground. The dingoes had been unable to reach the meat hung up among the branches, although, from the appearance of the trampled ground beneath, they had evidently made great efforts to get at it. There were numbers of flies, however, buzzing around, and in a very few hours it would have been uneatable. This was only one of several kangaroo and emu hunts in which the boys took a part. Even Hector acknowledged that there was some fun in the sport, though he should like to have turned out in a red coat and riding-cap.
"With the thermometer at ninety in the shade?" remarked Harry. "I don't think you would ride out a second time in such a fashion."
A BLACK HELP FOR BIDDY OBTAINED—BENDIGO, HER HUSBAND—PRODUCTS OF THE ESTATE—SHOOTING EXCURSIONS—HECTOR AND THE LEECHES—THE BOYS AWAKENED BY A LAUGHING JACKASS—A FLOOD IN THE RIVER.
Things went on quietly enough at the farm, until one day Biddy struck— not for wages, but for help. She could not bear to see the young ladies do the work they were compelled to do, and yet it was more than she could do herself.
The captain inquired whether she would object to a black help.
"Sure not, yer honour, if she kapes a dacent tongue in her mouth," answered Biddy. So the captain rode out to obtain the assistance Biddy asked for. A short distance away, a small tribe of friendly blacks were encamped; among them was one called Bendigo. He had frequently visited the station, and was ready to make himself generally useful by chopping wood or occasionally assisting the shepherds. He had a wife named Betty, who, if she was not pretty to European notions, was thought to be so by Bendigo, and she was a young, good-natured, merry little woman.
The captain invited the couple to come and take up their abode on the farm. They were to have a hut to themselves. Betty was to help Biddy, and Bendigo was to do any work required of him. The offer was accepted, and Betty was forthwith installed as Biddy's help. Her costume when she made her appearance was not altogether suited to her new style of life, as it consisted of a man's old shirt and a piece of grass matting as a petticoat.
The young ladies immediately manufactured for her a robe of blue serge trimmed with red braiding, while Biddy initiated her into the use of soap and water, to which she had hitherto been a stranger. She carefully brushed her hair and combed it out with a horse-comb, none of those in ordinary use being strong enough for the purpose.