Chapter XVII. A Romantic Adventure.

HORACE was very fond of boating. The Derwent, with its pleasant coves and noble scenery, is an attractive river for water excursions. To one who sought to spend an agreeable hour alone, a sail upon its lovely surface was the very thing.

  ― 147 ―

The young man had one evening enjoyed a long run down the stream, and was on his way up with a fresh breeze, when his attention was drawn to a figure upon the bank. A lady was standing upon an overhanging cliff, intently regarding the water. At first Horace thought she was attracted by some special object of interest; but, as he came nearer, he saw nothing likely to rivet her attention there. The person was absorbed in thought, for her eyes were never taken off the river when his own boat came splashing along.

While he was looking up, he noticed that some portions of the clay bank were falling into the Derwent, and he feared for the safety of the entranced enthusiast. He immediately coo-eed, so as to warn her off the edge. It was, however, too late. At that moment the bank on which the young lady stood gave way, and she was precipitated into the current.

Horace put about, hauled down the sail, seized the oars, and rowed rapidly to the scene of danger.

The tide was running with considerable force at the time, and swept the body swiftly round a point into a small bay. This arrest of motion gave the young man an opportunity to grasp the insensible form that still floated along.

Unable to lift the person into the boat, he managed to hold her up with one hand while he manœuvred his craft with the other, and the boat grounded on the beach. Some one on shore came to the rescue.

  ― 148 ―
Knowing the lady, he directed the way to her house at no great distance.

Medical assistance was procured at once, and proper remedies were applied with happy effect. The sufferer was restored.

The gratitude of the friends was warmly expressed towards Horace. A widowed mother thanked him again and again. The only other one of the household, the sister of the unfortunate young lady, was quite demonstrative in her declarations of gratitude.

Mrs Burton and her daughters were residing in Woodbine Cottage, not far from the river's side, and a little way off the road that led to Captain Douglas's farm. The garden was a considerable one, and well stocked with fruit trees, though the house was modest looking from without, while displaying much taste and comfort within.

The mother was born in Sydney, where she had married. As the couple removed almost immediately to Hobart Town, both the daughters were Tasmanians by birth. Mr Burton died within seven years of this change of residence, leaving his family sufficiently provided for. The Woodbine Cottage was a freehold, and a safe investment gave a comfortable income.

The widow's anxieties about the education of her girls were relieved by the advent of a newcomer in the neighbourhood.

Mrs Robertson was a most desirable acquisition to the Woodbine Cottage circle. The lady had passed

  ― 149 ―
through vicissitudes of fortune which had elevated and mellowed her character, instead of souring her disposition. Spending most of her life out of England, she had formed an acquaintance with several continental languages, and mixed with some of the best society at foreign courts. A series of misfortunes, however, reduced her husband and herself to a much smaller income. This was not all. Mr Robertson's health failed under the pressure of anxiety, and a long voyage was recommended. It would have been easy for them to have economised their resources in Germany; but, as a milder climate was necessary, a resolution was made to settle in Tasmania. The voyage would be long enough, certainly, and a little farming in that colony might yield a small profit, as well as add to the gentleman's strength.

Unhappily the advantages of the island were not enjoyed for any length of time. The poor man had burdened himself with new cares, and found amateur farming, being an invalid, to bring more annoyance and loss than pleasure and profit. He sank under a renewed attack of the lungs.

The lady disposed of the land. At first she thought of returning to Europe, as her reduced means could have given her more comforts there. But her interest in the colony was so strengthened by her unwillingness to leave the grave of her husband, that she concluded to pass the rest of her days among the green trees.

  ― 150 ―

Removing to the suburban settlement out of Hobart Town, where she could indulge her fancy for a garden, and still have friends about her, she consented to receive a few pupils for occupation of her time, and an addition to her income. Among these were Mrs Burton's two daughters.

The two sides, so to speak, of the lady's own character were illustrated in the training of these girls. Julia received the sentiment, and Annie the social element. The one drank in the lessons of inward teaching; the other sought the outer accomplishments and general information. Both learned much from the conversation of so extensive and observant a traveller, and imitated the grace and ease that marked her movements as a lady. Purity and piety were cultivated by her example not less than her precepts.