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Chapter IX. Ascent of Mount Wellington.

A PARTY was made up for Boxing-Day. Some proposed spending it on the water. They might take the steamer in that delightful trip up the Derwent to New Norfolk.

‘O, that will be joyful!’ merrily struck up a youthful voice.

‘That is what we did on our wedding-day, dear,’ more softly whispered a young wife to her approving spouse.

‘Didn't we have a lark in the boat?’ exclaimed a boy to his brother.

All the elderly people pronounced in its favour, as the expedition was attended with little fatigue.

But a knot of the young folks had come to a desperate resolution to have their way.

‘Hurrah for the mountain!’ they shouted.

Now the motives impelling to this adventure were various, and not all declarable. The young men said there was no sport like mountaineering, now they had a whole day before them, as a row or a sail could be had at odd times. Young ladies protested that wild flower gathering in the mountain gullies was so nice. Then the sun was so hot on the water at Christmas time, and the trees of the forest gave such a shade, while the fresh breezes aloft were so invigorating.

Though nothing was exactly said on the subject,

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sundry glances had intimated to the masculines how pleasant a ramble might be had with such partners there, and to the fair ones how agreeable a chat and a laugh could be had in the cool gullies with those bearded fellows there.

The pressure was overwhelming.

‘You know, papa,’ said a young lady, ‘how you do enjoy a clamber.’

‘But what am I to do with mamma, my dear?’

‘Oh! she can easily get up to the Springs by carriage part of the way, or horseback all the way. That is half-way up, you know, and it would be so nice to leave most of the things with her and you, papa dear; it will be such fun too for you to get the kettle boil against we return.’

With that the little puss gave him such a pretty kiss, and pulled his hair so provokingly, that what could the poor persecuted victim do but submit.

Mamma had a word.

‘And, pray, what is to be done with Kate and Tommy?’

‘They can gather flowers for you at the Springs, to be sure.’

All this interesting clatter took place the day before. Christmas-day was being spent, as usual, in a festival out of doors. This particular party had, it is true, had the dinner in the house, and adjourned to the garden-shade for dessert. Many families that day carried their cold fowl, ham, and pudding along with

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them in pursuit of country enjoyments, or a cool blow on the water.

‘But we must have some gentlemen,’ observed one of the lassies. ‘Can you run over to Mr Horace Douglas, Tom, and get him to come?’

‘I can,’ her brother replied. ‘But I believe we want some more girls. There are those two at Mrs Moore's, who have just arrived in the colony. It will be a jolly thing for them. I'll go and make them promise to come, and Tommy can slip across to young Horace.’

‘And why not ask Mr and Mrs Douglas to join us?’ inquired mamma.

‘Capital! Then they can keep you company at the Springs, and help you get the tea ready for us. That will be jolly,’ cried the aforesaid lively young lady.

It was forthwith agreed that Mary herself should accompany Tommy. She was to ask the old folks, and the boy was to ask Horace.

When the messengers returned with bright looks, the success of their missions was clear. But each had a tale to tell of eloquence rewarded. Tom said the Misses Stewart didn't like to leave the widow all day, and he had to argue the point with them before gaining consent. Tommy spoke of Horace having a shooting engagement. ‘But when,’ said the youngster, ‘I told him there was such a swag of girls going, he thought he could put off his going shooting.’ Mary,

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with her pleasant face, could not possibly have had much trouble with her business.

‘And how shall we go? And where shall we start from?’

These were important questions. Two roads were open. An ascent might be made from their side, but it was too rough a climb for ladies. The regular road was from Hobart Town. It had been made, after a fashion, as far as the Springs.

‘But how are we all to meet?’ asked one.

A very noisy but delightful debate followed.

It was settled at last that those who lived on the Glenorchy and New Town side were to ride to Hobart Town. Tom undertook to call everybody right round, though he would have to rise at three to do it.

Boxing-Day appeared in all its glory. But it was long past six o'clock before everybody mustered in Macquarie Street. Enormous efforts had been made by the Commissariat officials to get down baskets and packets of provender. Everybody answered for everything. The old people were doubtful if enough were there, while the young ones protested there was lots of tucker.

The procession formed. A carriage was hired for some, and humbler traps conveyed others. Horace and another went on horseback, asserting their horses to be so gentle and sure-footed for the ladies, when the wheels could mount no higher.

Tom was in a perfect fever about the delay.

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‘I knew we should have the sun out boiling hot before we could start,’ said he, almost cross.

Yet he was rather particular about Jenny Stewart being quite sure she was comfortable in that cramped-up seat, amidst piles of bags and baskets.

As there still seemed something to be done about a fresh distribution of passengers and stowage, Tom sang out,

‘I'm off.’

And away he started a-head, and on foot.

‘I'll wait for you at the Springs,’ was his parting sally.

He knew fast enough that the wheels might pass him at first, but would hang fire at the pinch in the track. He had better wind than the horses had, he remarked, and could be in plenty of time to hand the girls out when the panting steeds were tired of the weight.

What a cheery morn! And what a clattering party! Didn't the magpies give them a merry salute? They had quite a fellow feeling for these chattering holiday makers. The dogs barked with delight, and sleepy grazers in the field gave a neighing recognition to their harnessed friends.

Degraves's Mill was reached. The Hobart Town creek, so dingy and dirty in the town, became clearer and clearer, and sparkled at last in the sun, as it came tumbling down the rocky glen, all unconscious in its simplicity of the grimy fate before it.

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Then came the reservoirs for collecting the purest of mountain streams, and gently conducting their healthgiving properties by pipes to the townsfolk below. Here chirping birds increased in number and variety. They paraded their gay garments, and did their best in songs. The insect world was all alive with excitement, but on entire good behaviour.

The trees had been fearfully slaughtered at the foot of the ranges. What monsters they must have been, judging by the stumps twenty yards round. There was a noble fellow left. The grace was not owing to human benevolence, but because it was in an awkward position for hauling out. Handkerchiefs were offered for a measuring cord.

‘No, no,’ cried Tom; ‘just get out and stretch your legs, to say nothing of breathing the horses. Join hands, and see how many of us it will take to span the chap.’

The dismounting took place at once. Although there were a few ‘Oh's!’ and pretended pouts at the clumsy young fellows, as they squeezed the hands they should have held so tenderly in the circle, the approximate size of the giant was declared to be the full twenty yards circumference, chin high.

Horace had a mind to study the geology as he went along, but found it practically useless. He did induce a pretty girl to go with him just to look where the limestone was upholding the claystone, while higher still was poised the sandstone. She listened

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to his story till he got out the word, ‘Palæozoic,’ when she took fright, and darted back to the rest.

But the flowers! They were such dear things, such pretty things, such live things; not like hard, ugly, dead stones.

In spite of Mamma's warnings, how tired those girls would be! the girls would scatter, along with the young fellows, gathering flowers. One of the boys halloed out.

‘Sally! do you want something pretty to put in your nosegay?’

‘Yes, Harry, and thank you,’ was the gracious reply.

The young monkey emerged from the thicket with an immense banksia. Holding up this rough bottle-brush of the native honeysuckle, he burst into laughter, and got a chase from his deceived sister.

But the heathlike epacris was well represented, though all the three hundred species did not appear there. The white, the yellow, the red, little bells were readily plucked, and put with climbing clematis and the pink bauera. The wattle was not forgotten, nor the humble creeping corea, with its plain coloured bell. Some specimens of the boronia were rather pretty, with the hairy stamens. But a mischievous lad put one sort under the nose of a girl, which excited her decided disgust, as it had the pronounced smell of an opossum. The native forget-me-not was admired for its fragrant white blossom.

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‘Come along, girls,’ shouted a paternal; ‘I want my breakfast, and we must be at the Springs first.’

The straying ones were gathered up, and a start was made. But the sight of a glorious fern-tree valley was so tempting, especially to the Misses Stewart, that a stand was made, and a rush down was contemplated. The temptation was, however, most laudably resisted.

But what a charm there was in the sighing of the morning breeze through the she oaks! How some of the aforesaid girls longed to sit down for a rest quietly beneath that shade, to listen to the soft whispers of —— the wind, of course!

‘Come along; do, pray, come along,’ was again the cry.

It was easy work enough for those who rode, but not for the walkers.

‘O dear! how steep it is! I declare I can't get up.’

No sooner was this melancholy wail raised, than two heroic young fellows dashed to the rescue. The lady paused not to say, ‘How happy could I be with either!’ but pounced upon the pair, making use of an arm from each.

The road was not macadamised certainly. It was of its own native bush character. Wood carts, bearing fuel for town, came plunging down these steeps, tearing up the soil, and breaking through natural drains. After a heavy shower, the water coursed like a river along the centre of the track.

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‘The Springs! the Springs!’ the foremost band shouted.

It was a welcome sound indeed. But the voice was so faint, that the almost fainting toilers of the steep knew that there was still more work to do. The last half-mile took nearly half-an-hour with some of them. How some of the elder folk did groan and puff, did fan and perspire.

Then, everybody was so hungry. The early coffee and substantials before leaving had been long since absorbed in that heavy pull. It was nine o'clock in fact.

But all toils as well as joys have an end. The opening came at last. The gurgling stream prattled about having just passed by a fire with a Billy swung over it, and how it had allowed some of its brightest draughts to be taken for the lassies coming up. Then the cool wind in the open suggested the covering up of necks, and the buttoning of coats, as the climbers were overheated.

A turn in the level road revealed a landscape enough to call up the wildest enthusiasm. But it was seen without emotion now. It was so cheering to sniff up the smoke from the fire. That was so aromatic, and had a delicate flavour of chops about it.

There was the fire, there was the hut, there were the earlier arrivals, there was breakfast waiting to be eaten.

And didn't they eat?

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Nothing was spoken about, or thought about, but the inevitable breakfast. No milk had been provided. But what did that matter? The tea was boiled in the tin Billy. But what did that matter? The water was decidedly strong with the taste of peppermint leaves. But what did that matter?

The chops had been cooked by sticking them through with a sharpened piece of wood, and toasting over the flames. They would persist in an occasional spring off the spit, and a dance in the ashes. But did ever chops have a sweeter flavour?

Eggs had been baked in the embers, and impromptu cups prepared from paper packings. Pannicans, of course, were forthcoming. They had the advantage of not being easily broken, and of retaining the warmth of the brewing. Some, whose throats had not been turned into leather by long continued scalding, took their pannican to the little chirruping stream, and stuck it in the mountain water for a refrigeration.

The Springs' Palace of the Forest,—or the mountain hut, more commonly called,—had been swept by branches ready for the company. It had a real wooden roof, though no door. The sides were sufficiently open to give a thorough ventilation. But a shelf-like table had been constructed for the use of travellers.

The younger ones soon put their heads inside, and had a roll on part of the table to the imminent risk of sundry pies and tarts.

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But the view! Even before the meal was over, and after the early ravings had been quieted, eyes were turned aside, and murmurs of delight arose.

And there was just cause of pleasure. Down those two thousand feet the eye caught sight of civilisation. The tiny dots of houses and farms, the miniature fields, the silver thread of a river, the far-expanding sea, the many promontories and bays, the distant ranges, all excited acclamations of astonishment and interest.

‘We mustn't stop here,’ cried Tom, the master of the ceremonies. ‘Pack up the traps, and leave them with the old folks and the young 'uns. Now then, girls, pack yourselves, too, and that in as close a compass as you can, or you will have more followers in the bushes as you go than your mammas will care to know. Remember, girls, every follower you leave, the shorter your dresses will be.’

‘Go along with you, Tom, you disagreeable fellow,’ was the universal and indignant salutation of the aggrieved.

But the ascent had now to be made in real earnest. The royal road was to be left, and the best track was to be selected. The greenstone blocks projected from the soil, the conglomerate showed in strength. The spongy mossy hollows wetted boots at once, and the damp of the forest gave them no opportunity for drying.

How they slipped on wet stones, slid down claytracks, stumbled over rocks, barked their shins against

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another and a tougher bark, reeled upon thorny spikes, and fell all fours again and again!

So much the more necessity of the care of stout and gallant gentlemen to steady steps, uphold the wavering, and catch the totterer. It was not by the mere touch of a finger that this could always be accomplished, but by a right down clasp of the gentle frame. And then, it was so kind of the young fellow to give up the enjoyment of other company of his own sex, there shouting and coo-eying a-head, on purpose to tend the helpless and weak. Could a glance of gratitude be avoided? Could he help, in a sudden panic at the lady's fears, giving a squeeze of her hand, to allay her excitement, and give her confidence! Then, if a pair happened to stray on one side, and be lost awhile in the thick foliage, was it not with a desire to penetrate the jungle for another and a better track?

The scramble up Mount Wellington has torn many a lady's dress, whose tattered fragments have decorated aromatic shrubs; but it has done worse things by far, for it has pierced bosoms with Cupid's darts, lacerated feelings, and left blighted hopes on that mountain side.

There are slanderous reports that the clergy strongly advocate the physical advantages of the ascent, but for the secret reason that it will cause more banns to be published.

Sorrows and charms befell the mountaineers. Here

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one suffered a terrific tear of clothing, and there a tear of the flesh. It did look easy to pull oneself up a pinch by the aid of some grass; but a shriek and the start of blood from the hand warned others of the cutting grass. Yet, when pausing to recover breath, or when sitting to recruit strength, the bracing air did come so gratefully to blushing cheeks, the mountain cliffs did shine so brightly in the sun, the odours of bush plants did rise so pleasantly upon the sense.

Then it was not possible to pass by the rice flower. The Richea, a broad-leaved grass, straggling often fifteen feet long, has spike-like panicles of wax-like flowers, crowded together like a number of grains of rice.

The wonder of all, the floral Queen of Tasmania, was the Waratah of the Natives, the Telopea of Whites.

This island Tulip tree grows upon a rhododendron sort of plant, running up twenty to thirty feet in height. The laurel shrub bears heads of marvellous beauty. The flowers are often four inches across, and are of the brightest scarlet colour. The names Waratah and Telopea signify seen at a distance. Hung out at the side of the mountain, they are like fiery beacons to the clamberer. The lovely tulip will only grow among the rocks of its own elevated home.

‘O the darling! the dear, charming Waratah!’

Such expressions rose from enraptured feminine

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gazers, as they sprang upward to rob the yielding stems of their gorgeous appendages.

The Dead Forest was entered. Bare poles creaked as they passed amidst them. A sudden calamity had befallen the woods there. They were stricken with death. Stems fall from time to time, and the Dead Forest will be soon an open space.

Long coo-eys were borne upon the mountain air. They were the announcement of the Ploughed Field.

This was an astonishing feature to the new comers.

‘Here are the Giants' marbles!' said one.

‘No,’ put in a lad; ‘only their cherry stones.’

‘Had they been playing a game at bowls?’ asked another.

But the balls were far from globular. Most were almost true parallelopipedons. The square faces were scarred, and the edges were rounded by lengthened exposure. Various in sizes, they were usually a yard or so across, though some would weigh twenty or thirty tons. They were lying as if shot out of a mason's cart. Tumbled over one another, leaving clear spaces between of often indefinite depth, the stones looked like a ruined city, as the wall of Jerusalem when broken and strewn by Roman arms. There were monster masses five yards across. All were firmly wedged in their places, though presenting different angles to view.

Acres upon acres were contained in the Ploughed Field. The clods, as one suggested, were a long time

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crumbling, to enable the sower to sow, and bring a harrow over his seed.

Right above this field rose the lofty columns of the Wellington prismatic rock. The formation was greenstone, with which the basalt came in contact from the other side. It seemed as though these blocks of the Ploughed Field had been hurled down from those cliffs by earthquake violence, preserving their prism regularity in this rude dismantlement. Some imagine that the crushing force was the ocean wave, before the rise of the Table mountain. Others again conclude that the slow tooth of Time has been the agent. The giant strength of King Frost is well known. The lengthened exertions of his disintegrating power may have strewn these fragments of the Ploughed Field.

The timid crawled from rock to rock; but the bold visitors sprang from monument to monument, assured that the steps would not be betrayed by the rough but steady stone.

It was not long after this that the party gained the saddle of the mountain.

Here the chill of the atmosphere called for careful attention to a wrap up, as pores had been opened freely by the violent exercise. A fire was got with some difficulty. The stunted wood near the top had been well picked over before their coming, and materials for a blaze were only to be got at a distance.

The view was a grand one. As clouds were seen coming up from the southward, a rapid survey was

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made. In one direction the horizon was about fifty miles off. Hobart Town and its Bay were toy-like in appearance, while the broad Derwent was but a streak of light.

Ambition must be gratified to the full, by the ascent of a pile of stones on the very summit of all. The flagstaff of the Trigomometrical Survey was there.

The deed was done. The battle was won. The hasty dinner was eaten in peace.

Then the flat greenstone and basalt top was examined in detail. Swamps were on the summit, though only in shallow depressions. A few stunted Pepper plants, and rough Pear trees with their curious wooden fruits, were found in sheltered positions. Water of purest quality lay in pools on the Saddle. But, in spite of Christmas heat, a considerable amount of snow remained. This gave capital sport to the young people. In crossing one patch of it a gentleman sank up to the armpits in a drift, and was extricated with some difficulty, after the immersion had thoroughly cooled him.

“O this soft Turkey carpet!” cried a lady with rapture, as she sprang from an elevated rock upon a bed of grass. And yet it was not grass, though the tufted leaves resembled it. The herb was so woolly in texture, with a white down on one side of the leaf, that the feel was similar to a velvet touch. The leaves were three or four inches long, and so closely matted

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together as to give the firmest footing in the marshy neighbourhood.

Fatigue was forgotten in the romance of the day. On the top a collection was made of Alpine plants, which are similar to those of the Alps of Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, and like those of the Himalayas and the Grampians. No one hurried to take a departure. But Tom remembered his responsibilities.

“Now then, my jolly mountaineers,” said he, “let us all join in a hearty good coo-ee, and be off down stairs.”

The coo-ee was given. The notes were not in unison. But screeches and growls mingled harmoniously enough for the merry group. Then all girded up their loins for the move.

The new chums at the work exulted in the easy part they had to play. It was nothing to that awful strain of up hill. Now they could trip it down hill with such ease and comfort. The knowing ones winked at each other and smiled.

Alas! the experience of a few minutes at the descent changed the minds of the sanguine trippers. How they did slip and slide! How they stumbled far worse than when mounting, and how much uglier were the falls! And didn't the joints crack, and the small of the back groan! But what punishment they endured from the shaking! Yet, could anything be worse than the excruciating pain of their thighs and their knees?

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They rested, not from exhaustion, but to quiet the excessive trembling of their limbs.

The young ladies had many “oh's,” and “O dear's!” While sometimes, notwithstanding restraining effort, tears would burst forth as a fresh shock came to the nervous system or a severer strain upon muscle. One or two young men were heard to mutter something between their teeth, as they made a false step or kicked a corn against something harder than itself.

“What did you say?” asked a lassie of one.

“O, Nazareth!” was his rather sulky reply.

But they got down in safety to the Springs, where their arrival had been awaited by papas and mammas, not to mention the boiling Billy, and the bread and butter.

They did not remain lingering long over the pannicans, for twilight was approaching, and much of the way was deeply shaded by the forest. But the triumphs of their progress were secured. The boys had huge branches of flowering shrubs. Horace had vegetable as well as mineral specimens, and all the ladies must have both rice plant and waratah.

The journey from the Springs was nothing like so lively as that going up to them. There was no hurrying. Those who walked were so tired, and those who rode tarried for company. The ladies had another motive for delay. How could they be seen by daylight! And then they glanced, half in mirth and half in real concern, at their draggle-tails. They had clearly

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been in the wars, and had come off with more wounds than glories.

Bedtime followed closely upon arrival at the respective homesteads. The sleep was long, but attended with many starts; for dreams were busy on the brain, and precipices were yawning for the sleeper.

And the morrow! O the subdued movement! What tender solicitude was shown for joints and skin! How the party moaned and groaned, while laughing and chaffing! Yet no one would have missed the trip, and all declared that there was nothing like the ascent of Mount Wellington.