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Chapter II. Meeting of Old Friends.

IT was such a lovely day. The sun was out, of course, and yet, this October spring-time, he good-humouredly and playfully rested so often behind clouds of fleecy whiteness, as if he wanted to show he was not coming out in full summer glory all at once.

A gentleman sat by an open window in a public office, resting awhile from his pile of papers, being drawn irresistibly to look at Mount Wellington. That mountain had still a part of its snowy cap of winter remaining. The contrast of its dazzling brightness with the sombre shade of the forest below, was engaging the gazer's attention.

After a while he closed the window, and returned to the pile of papers, smiling to himself as he thought how few officials in smoky London would be thus tempted to stray from dull work to gay Nature.

The messenger tapped at the door, and presented the card of a caller.

‘Shew the gentleman in immediately,’ said the superior.

Rising hastily from his seat, he met his visitor at the door, and warmly greeted him.

‘My dear Captain Douglas! How glad I am to see you! Wherever have you come from?’

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‘The old place, my friend, the steaming plains of India, where you and I sweltered together in past campaigns.’

‘But what in the world brought you to this outlandish part, that some call the other end of nowhere?’

‘Ah! that's too long a story to be told all in a breath, Roberts.’

‘And were you in the “Dolphin” that dropped anchor last night?’

‘I was indeed, and drop anchor in your office this morning.’

‘Of course you are not alone, Douglas?’

‘No; I brought the wife alone with me, and all the family left to me—my son Horace. We had been intending to leave India for some time, on account of Mrs Douglas and poor Rosa, as the health of both of them was so very delicate. The removal of our darling from earth hastened our departure.’

‘I am sorry to hear of the loss of so beautiful a girl, and hope this climate will soon set Mrs Douglas up again. But whatever made you steer this way?’

‘I'll tell you. I was tired of the service over there. I am not so young as I was; though, by the way, Roberts, your dozen years here have only made you younger. At first I thought of nestling in Old England. But I am about sick of ceremonials, and couldn't stand the sound of them in private life. France, Germany, Switzerland seemed to extend their hands in invitation. But I shook my head at them all.’

‘And could neither the Alps nor the Baths tempt

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you, leave alone the courts of princes and the gay delights of Paris?’

‘No; I wanted rest myself, and not further excitement. My wife was equally unwilling to enter into fashionable life, or be for ever rambling. We wanted a quiet and healthy home, if we could get it, and still be among our own country-people.’

‘And that you will surely get here,’ exclaimed the official with emphasis. ‘But whatever made you come out to Tasmania?’

‘Your first letter to me from Hobart Town. I happened to catch sight of it again, as I was turning over some records of the past, and when very undecided what to do.’

‘I understand, old fellow; and you said to yourself, “I'll be off to that Roberts, and see his Paradise.” Not a bad resolution, I assure you. But you must know that it is an awful dead and alive place. You'll be ennuyed to death, and thin off to ghostly proportions.’

‘Indeed!’ cried the Indian. ‘Anyhow your proportions are not ghostly. Your hearty enjoyment of life is told in the very ring of your voice.’

‘Well, well; perhaps it is so. But then, you know, I lead a regular dog's life—eating, drinking, sleeping, and running about.’

‘And a little of your regular dog's life is what I want. I am sick of high civilisation, with its rich viands, its heavy wines, its uneasy slumbers, and its grand and solemn gait.’

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‘Why, Douglas, you are turning quite a philosopher.’

‘Which at fifty odd is about time to do,’ added his friend. ‘I am not at the age for love in a cottage, Roberts, but I long for a more natural and simple style of existence. That was not to be got in Europe any more than in India. I thought in your colony I might seek and find it.’

‘And that you will, my dear fellow, I assure you. But having said all about yourself, including Mrs Douglas, a part of yourself, allow me to ask what about Horace?’

‘Horace,’ said the father, ‘is now one-and-twenty. He was educated, as you know, in England, being a very delicate boy. He took a good class position, but had no fancy for the military profession. He went in for civil engineering, but had to give up through an attack of the lungs. Returning to India, he resolved, before the death of his sister, to accompany us here.’

‘I see,’ interrupted the other; ‘you wanted, all of you, to be together. Quite right, if the lad be not consumed with ambition, and don't disdain the shepherd's lowly life.’

‘No, his ambition evaporated during his late long illness. He has taken it into his head that the world has gone crazy after honours and wealth, to the loss of peace and true progress. He is more of a philosopher than I am, and talks sentiment by the yard to his mother.’

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‘Until somebody a little younger takes her place,’ again interrupted Mr Roberts.

‘There you are wrong, my friend. The young fellow is affected with a violent anti-matrimony malady, and declares that all womankind, always excepting his admirable mother, are vain coquettes, heartless flirts, or slanderous spitfires, wholly and utterly unfit to be partners of men of sense, and fated to drag down to their own level of insipidity, acerbity, weakness, vanity, and restlessness, every fellow they can catch.’

‘That is, Douglas, they are seized with a moral hydrophobia, and delight in biting every dog in their way, and dropping their poison in the wound they make. A very respectable opinion of the sex, indeed. Has your juvenile philosopher ventilated his views on that subject since his arrival?’

‘No,’ said the parent; ‘he has been so smitten with Dame Nature here that he has had no tongue for slander.’

‘I am extremely glad to hear it. There is no harm in courting that respectable old lady; in fact, attentions to her may develop a latent faculty of his soul. But I would seriously counsel him to keep his ascetic, monkish ideas to himself, or our strong-minded, merry, colonial lassies will wig him nicely. He might spout his aphorisms in Indian, or even English, drawing-rooms, but he had better not show off his eloquence after that fashion at a pic-nic in Tasmania. But he won't. You'll see that once getting acquainted with

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our unrivalled and unrivalable Tasmanian belles, they will soon pack off his morbid philosophy; and if they don't absolutely cure him of misanthropy, they will certainly make him in love with themselves.’

‘Capital!’ exclaimed Mr Douglas, ‘then the youngster has a prospect before him here—that's one comfort for an anxious father.’

‘God bless the lad! I am sure he is a good fellow, and will be a favourite of mine. He comes from a good stock—sire and dam of unquestionable celebrity—and must be good on the turf. As his godfather, I'll steer him through the rocks and shoals of the pomps and vanities of life here. And if he wants to gain colonial experience, I think I have influence enough to pop him into a Government billet, where he may scratch his ear with a pen.’

‘Thanks, my dear friend, for your goodwill to me and mine. But you must come off, if possible, to the hotel and see the tribe from the jungles.’

‘And I,’ said the other, ‘will introduce them to the kangaroo wonders of Tasmania.’

It was not many days after this conversation when another debate arose upon the subject of settlement.

‘Well, Douglas,’ said his energetic friend, ‘have you decided upon your future destinies?’

‘Indeed I have not. Can you help me? I hardly know the best plan to adopt.’

‘But I know what you have thought about. You have dreamed of a hut in the wilderness, something

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of a rude cottage in a wood instead of near it. Now that sort of thing won't do. I was troubled with romance once, but gave it up. Excuse me, old fellow; but do you want to pile up rupees here?’

‘No, my ambition don't lie that way. I sold out, after saving up. Wife and I invested for an annuity. The balance is enough to buy a farm and stock it, and still leave something for contingencies!’

‘All right. But there's the lad!’

‘As to him, Roberts, you need fear nothing. An aunt has settled two or three hundreds a-year upon him, and that sum he will scarcely need touch, as his fancies are neither extravagant nor commercial.’

‘Now I begin, then, to see which way the needle turns. He wants to worship nature in quiet. You, I know, have no business to pitch your cash in the plough furrow. So you must give up the farming ideas.’

‘Yet that will be to sacrifice all the pleasure that we have been promising ourselves.’

‘Then I'll tell you what we'll do. A farm it shall be, so that you may have your own milk, butter and eggs, without entering into competition with the honest grower of grain. But it must be near town for several reasons; you will want to see me, and hear the news; your wife can't live without shopping, and knowing the fashions; and Horace, forsooth, must be a Fellow of our Royal Society of Tasmania,

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and make acquaintance with all our naturalists and geologists.’

‘Really, my dear friend, you have hit off the thing exactly.’

‘Certainly I have. The next thing is to see how these glorious results can be obtained. There is now a place to let some half a dozen miles out of Hobart Town. To-morrow afternoon I will go with you on a tour of inspection.’

The next day Mr. Roberts took the whole party to a charming little farm of about sixty acres. It was nestling under some of the roots of Mount Wellington. The house was not very grand or extensive. But the garden and orchard were in capital order, and the paddocks were safely enclosed. The road to the farm from the town was admirable, as are all the main thoroughfares of the island. The distance was a short hour's drive, passing through New Town, by the Race Course, and over the picturesque O'Brien's Bridge into Glenorchy.

The lady was pleased, and the gentlemen were pleased. A little expenditure might make the house thoroughly suitable, and a lease was to be obtained on very moderate terms.

The bargain was concluded, and an early removal accomplished. Rosedale was a charming name for a really charming home. Experience of its pleasures only added to its interest. The lady could get to the shops, Horace to the library and museum, and the Captain to a chat at the club with his friend Roberts.