Chapter XXVI. The Pic-Nic under the Mountain.

THE great pleasures of cities are associated with crowds. In Tasmania they are sought amidst the glens of shadowy foliage, by the moss banks of mountain rivulets, and, especially, in Fern Tree valleys.

A grand pic-nic was got up by our friends Horace and Tom. Relations, friends, and neighbours were liberally invited. Each party, family, or individual came provided for the occasion. It was no demonstration of knife-and-fork glory, and gave no opportunity

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for the display of luxurious habits. Everybody brought enough, and to spare. Everybody expected everybody to help through his or her particular assemblage of good things.

And what did they take? Certainly not that English hamper, made up and directed in Piccadilly. No firms catered for the supply, and no neat cases of wines were furnished. Home-made were the packets of provision. All the pasties, pies, tarts, sausage rolls, &c., had been prepared by the ladies of the group. The young fellows had had a hand at the sandwiches, and had helped in fixing the bigger parcels, as well as securing carpet bags. The porterage through the bush was confided especially to the masculine element, unless maternal housekeeping anxieties were called forth on account of some special packages of more delicate dainties; then the gentler care of woman was required.

But what did they take to drink?

Here, alas! confession must be made that primitive colonial ways have not been quite superseded, though not a little affected, by the march of civilization since the gold discovery. With a sigh of conscious inferiority in the scale of progress, the pic-nic ramblers must admit that they do not take anything but eatables, as a rule. But they do take a kettle, or the approved billy. They count upon lots of the purest water from the mountain, and the young men are delighted with the operation of fire lighting, only the kettle or billy stands a chance of being consumed in

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the huge flames, or the lady president of the tea-making is well roasted in an approach to the hot embers.

It is true the company had tea at their breakfast. Never mind; they will not object to the refreshing draught at the mid-day camp in the bush, with another taste before they leave the retreat, although they know they must have the regular tea at home.

The day was not an Ascot of dust or showers, nor a University Race with rain or snow. The morning was slightly sharp, the air was crisp, the wind swept coolly from off the sea, and the breath of the gullies was not tropical. But so much the better for breakfast appetite, and the jollier for the walk before the sun got too strong. If they only managed to creep under the dense foliage before Sol was fairly under weigh with his chariot, they would be snug enough. He might drive over the tops of the forest trees, but would have hard work to find a road through the mazes of vegetation there.

They were a merry lot when assembled. Of course, they had to wait for that last party, always late, that came in puffing with apologies, with no time for composure before all were en route.

And whither would Hobart Town pic-nic parties usually wend their way, but to the mountain? There they could find plenty to see, plenty to enjoy. Nature all round the year had charms for them there. No month passed without its show of wild flowers. The

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winter had the display of berries of red, of blue, of white. The trees were as full-leaved as in summer; aye, and the leaves were often wanted, too, to shield from the sun in that inclement season.

Even English winter could be realized if the parties only rose up the mountain, instead of hugging its roots below in the wind-bound hollows. There snow gave them a fresh delight, and a new sport. A little danger added to the fun, as a fellow now and then sank in a snowdrift and yelled for help. Icicles hung from no skeleton trees, but dropped from green foliage, which with varied coloured berries gave unwonted contrasts to the white frost.

But the preference is given to bright spring, warm summer, and rich autumn, for visits to the glens of Wellington.

‘Who is to be leader?’ was the question. Loud shouts arose for Tom Turner. ‘He knows every gully and nook,’ said one. ‘And every creek and stump,’ added another.

But Tom for once in his life was modest. History does not say he blushed. Yet he did not walk forward, as if bush leadership were his right of office.

‘Now, then, Tom; on you go,’ sang out voices.

But Tom did not go first.

Winks and nods, with open declarations of opinion, now mischievously followed.

A saucy youngster called out:—

‘I know all about it. Tom's afraid Miss Julia's

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hair will serve her like Absalom's did in the bush, and he wants to be handy to cut her down.’

A loud laughter greeted this speech. Tom roared out at the old-fashioned pitch, resigned Julia's locks to their fate for awhile, dashed to the front ranks, and shouted:—

‘Tom's here, lads. He won't desert his post. He'll lead you on to glory and to lunch. Follow him over the crags and far away!’

A regular ‘Hip, hip, hurrah!’ answered the appeal. Young chaps clapped him on the shoulder, and called him a jolly fellow. The ladies one and all admired his self-sacrifice under the circumstances, and knew Tom would take them to such a nice place. One young lady smiled most graciously upon the leader, who had, to tell the truth, halted to catch that last mark of approval of his heroism. She felt inwardly that she liked him a vast deal better for leaving her then on a mission of public duty, and resolved to pay him out for his desertion by any amount of extra loving words and looks.

‘And Tom did take them to a capital place. But it was not a Fern-tree valley.

‘No,’ said he, ‘as leader, I am bound to look after the ladies. I don't want them to have a chill this warm day, by sitting on the mossy floor down in that Fern-tree valley. Here is a nice open spot, with room for all to sit and feed. The grass is just enough to serve as a seat. Those that want all shade, can get

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under that big tree there, or drop among the roots of that old Gum. Here enough light twinkles through the arching bough to tell custard from rolls, and tarts from turkey.’

Then he concluded his speech by saying, ‘Now, mind I've done my part. Let another fellow head the herd now.’

‘Three cheers for Tom!’ came as a response, and accompanied him to a seat near a person who had evidently got a space kept for somebody.

The boys got bushes ready for the fire. The Billy was duly swung over the blaze. Packages and bags were opened, to the loudly expressed satisfaction of the younger members, and to no regretful looks of others. A few tarts of extra delicacy had their frames somewhat hurt in the perils of carriage. But when mothers expressed sorrow at their being spoiled, there were lots of martyrs ready to make the best of them.

The rules of table etiquette were not strictly followed. Pocket-knives were preferred to others, and forks were esteemed only carvers' rights. There was some free handling of legs and wings, with a pitch across of junks of bread. Accidents were treated as occasions of fun. A lady had a piece of fowl on which some crushed pie had left a deposit of jam. She was accused of greediness in taking meat and pudding all at once.

All were generous of their respective stores, and offered a free luncheon to all comers.

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‘Do taste mamma's pastry,’ cried one young lady.

‘O just try this prime ham!’ put in another.

‘You must see if those tarts are not done to a turn,’ quoth a third.

‘I'm ready to give you all a turn,’ sang out the fat boy of the group, ‘only you must give a fellow time.’

Of course, in the very land of jam and fruit, lots of jam and lots of fruit might reasonably be expected. The history of every pot of jam made last season and this was given by the several manufacturers, and learned debates ensued about the best methods.

‘I wish those Melbourne men had put their heads in a bag before passing their Protective Policy, and so shutting up our best market for jams,’ growled forth one of the paternals.

But he was immediately set down unanimously, and politics voted a bore.

‘All the better,’ exclaimed one youngster; ‘there's all the more for us here.’

‘Is that kettle boiling?’ asked another in the bush.

‘I believe you, and boiling over too,’ was the reply.

The several infusions were made under the inspiriting spurt of the steam. Pannicans were dragged out, and plentifully piled with sugar. Milk, in the land literally flowing with milk and honey, was in abundance.

And how deliciously the tea tasted! A Londoner would have declared the mixture atrocious. How he

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would have gasped and stamped at his first trial of the metal lip of the pannican! But it suited the palates of the pic nic friends to perfection.

‘Here's to our better acquaintance!’ said Tom, as he raised his pannican.

‘What! quarrelled already, Tom?’ asked a quizzing lassie.

‘No, we have not fallen out, Jane; but we have not got put in the stocks together yet, you know.’

‘Better such legbail, than a lagging,’ observed a new arrival, attempting what he thought a joke.

But the serious air of some, and the angry look of others, told the wit he had put his foot into it. His company was not estimated so highly afterwards. By common consent, the memory of the Van Diemen's Land past is sunk in the present of Tasmania.

‘Are you going to sit there all day,’ enquired an impatient youth.

The elder folks were in a heavy chat, though they had shifted their quarters from the neighbourhood of the fire, which some lads persisted in keeping up in vigorous existence.

‘O you young folks can go by yourselves. We shall be hanging about this quarter. But be sure to keep together. Don't get lost, for goodness sake.’

‘As if I should get lost, mother!’ declared that boy of six, who scampered off to join the ramblers.

‘I've a parting blessing to give you,’ shouted Tom.

‘What's that?’

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‘Why, pair off for company. And, mind! don't let the couple be of the same colour. That don't look well for the picturesque in the green lanes of the forest. A hat and a bonnet won't talk the scandal that two bonnets would, or chance breaking necks as two hats would.’

With a ‘Bravo! Tom,’ they separated, as directed. When every Jack has his Jill a portion of the pic-nic time is occupied passibly enough, which might otherwise hang heavily. But, of course, the groups united from time to time, and collective sports and songs aided in the diversion of the hour.

‘But what a lovely place!’ said one to another.

And so it was.

The Gums and Stringybarks, elsewhere so gawky and stiff, were quite graceful there, and had dozens of more leaves than ordinary. But the Sassafras,—the Atherosperma of botanists,—ran up a magnificent green cone for one hundred and fifty feet. And what a delicious green it was! and how delicately it contrasted with the hundred other shades of leaves! The Myrtle ran up to keep it company, with a darker hue, and a more massive stem, some thirty or forty feet in circumference. It is the Fagus of Cunningham. One of the tribe appears with fine blue flowers.

Stray plants of the western Laurel are not unknown. Its little white flowers hang in clusters. The Corrijong, so useful for tying properties, was clambering about even forty feet in length. Pittosperm, or pitch seed

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shrubs, abounded on all sides. The Tasmanian fragrans, or native pepper tree, indulged in higher altitudes, and scattered its pungent pollen, to the sneezing of passers by. The family of the Bauera came out charmingly under the cliffs of Wellington. The leaves hung in whorls up the stem; while, upon the tender footstalk, the sweet flowers were like tiny Eglantine roses. It is sometimes called the Tasmanian rose.

As to Wattles, these were quite at home, and appeared in their best humour to receive visitors. Choice bits of gum were picked off their sides by young gumsucking Colonials. The Comespermæ, or hairyseed plants, were in great force. They are so attractive in a forest, covering dead timber, and filled up awkward chasms, with thin pale blue festoons. That lover of Tasmania, and that sweet singer of the island's charms, Mrs Meredith, has chosen to bestow upon this sort of native Milkwort the name of ‘Love’. It twists spirally round anything.

The Australian family called Proteaceæ has been rightly called, embracing as it does such Proteus forms of vegetable wonders, to the puzzle of bush students. The Orchids are exceedingly varied, but everywhere are welcome, helmet or no helmet. The petals of some are pink, and others are prettily spotted. The columns of some are hard and bold. The pink Orchis has a hairy stem. One has a spike of blue flowers on a stem a foot high. Another, a native potato, is leafless, but has white tubular blossoms.

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Boronias are always attractive in the bush. These shrubs have linear leaves in great numbers, and lovely pink flowers. But the smell is not so agreeable, reminding one of Rue. Tea trees of the Leptosperma sort here rose sixty feet and more. Parasites, of many varieties, adorned several kinds of trees. The Mistletoe of Australia is not confined to one season, and that the coldest.

The Leguminous Indigo has its pink flowers converted into pods. The blue tinted Flax is everywhere; but, as it ascends the mountain, it pales with the loftiness of its clamber, and at length becomes white. The shrub Pomaderris rises some half dozen feet, and has a profusion of white blossoms. The Correa, or native Fuschia, selects poor land for its home, and has a humble-looking robe. Its pendulous blossoms attempt a yellowish tinge occasionally to its otherwise dull green corolla. The creeping Hovea has a charming blue blossom. The Gentian reaches to the very top of Wellington.

Then there are the Prostantheræ, growing from two feet to six, with racemes of flowers of pale purple or lilac. One sort has long leaves, and white hairy blossoms in large racemes. But the smell of the Prostanthera is profoundly strong and objectionable. The Eurybia is a small, stiff bush, having shining leaves and daisy flowers. The Pimelea is a welcome sight. There is the snowy, the rosy, and the yellow Pimelea. The stems are very slender, and the small

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flowers are nestled in the axils of the leaves. Some adorn the rocky quarters.

But it is high time to look after the lovers. Not that they require our aid, or suppose they need our sympathy. If satisfied with their mated companionship, it is enough for them. Still, having conducted them to such an Eden, which they are not required to dress, but which they nevertheless adorn, we would like to observe their wanderings therein.

Tom had been most royally received by his lady mate, who devoted herself assiduously to the entertainment of one who had sacrificed even her company on a mission of general good. The young man himself was not sorry altogether to get away from the rest with his chosen friend. His Bush craft was exercised in the hunt for one of the loveliest and cosiest spots imaginable. Here he proposed to camp, and have a chat.

The Clematis over-head formed indeed a Virgin's Bower. Wreaths of white blossoms were hauled down by the lover to place round the head of his companion. As she leaned towards the bestower of the chaplet, and appeared to seek comfort from the shelter of his love, she seemed to partake of the Clematis nature: for—

‘It will lean to the nearest and kindliest thing.’

And as the plant overspread with its flowers of snow, and threw abroad its feathered seed-vessels, the words

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of Mrs Meredith came to the memory of the Colonial maiden:—

‘In draperies, with thready gold and pearl,
And emerald, crusted over, like a fall
Of foaming water full of silver shells.’

Was not such a retreat the very one for the cultivation of Tom's rugged imagination? How sweetly could his lady-love there discourse of the hidden beauties of the spiritual nature! How nicely she proved to him that—

‘There is a tongue in every leaf.’

Tom was far enough gone to believe that there was honey and spice, and all that's nice, in every word from her tongue.

To put a little more poetry in him, as she expressed it, she gave him a few lessons in the language of flowers; just as if he could not read every one she ever handled. He was informed that Myrtle stood for love. He was silly enough to say he was sure that was true, for it was at the root of the Tasmanian Myrtle they were seated. Requested to be silent, the lesson continued.

‘The Acacia, Tom, is for Platonic love.’

‘I don't believe a bit about it,’ said he, fiercely.

‘Why not?’ was the enquiry.

‘Because Platonic love is all moonshine, my dear, and this Wattle is not,’ he said.

‘I am quite ashamed of you, you good-for-nothing

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fellow,’ was the teacher's indignant rejoinder. ‘That you, a professed lover, should find fault with Platonic love,—which every lady admits is the very portal of bliss, and which is the only form of affection to which any discreet girl will confess,—is a crime against Cupid himself.’

‘Then I beg that gentleman's pardon for an unintentional insult. But isn't moonshine nice, Julia? You can't say much against it. We have had some pleasant walks, you know, by moonshine. Your very poets have called it the Seed of Love: and one said it warmed love up more than sunshine.’

‘Such an apology ought to procure your pardon,’ observed the lady.

But the lecture was here utterly broken through by some irregular exhibitions, on Tom's part, of what he was pleased to call ‘Platonic Love.’ This caused such fun and laughter, as attracted others to the spot, and quite spoiled the privacy of the retreat.

Horace and his partner had set off upon a supposed botanical excursion, and for the collection of ferns, particularly.

Annie was in high spirits with the sports of the festival, and teazed her lover in her most charming style, though not, apparently, to the said lover's conspicuous annoyance. At least, he assumed a fortitude which had a bearing of resignation. Rallied himself, he returned sundry compliments in a style worthy of his mistress, and which provoked a remark.

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‘Why, who would have thought so quiet a young man had such fancies in his head! I declare I took you for an anchorite, if not something more solemn.’

‘And I, dear Annie, took you for what you are, a very nymph of the woods.’

‘I thought as much,’ said she, with a deep sigh, ‘I always suspected something of the kind.’ And then in a lower tone, as if to herself, ‘He did look like it at first.’

‘Like what?’

‘O you know the penalty of meeting a nymph of the woods. The poor creature loses his senses.’

‘Yes,’ the other responded in a voice full of affection, ‘I did lose the sense of loneliness in meeting you; I did lose the sense of aimlessness of being; I did lose the sense of self-absorption—’

‘There—that will do, dear Horace. You encountered nothing but losses. What shall I say? Mine have been finds.’ Then, drawing nearer to him, she whispered, ‘I found all in finding you.’

The next moment her eye caught a truant flower, and she was off to gather it.

‘O where did you come from, you beauty,’ she said.

It looked just like a Convolvulus from her own garden, but was a native variety. The daisy near was not a daisy. The botanists call it a Brachycome, or hairy-arm. Its flowers were white and large. A variety had blue petals. That lovely trailer, a

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Kennedia, threw up from the ground its pea flower of bright red.

‘Look at these darling Turquoise berries!’ exclaimed the impassioned lady.

And they were beautiful in their delicate light blue. The plant was one of the Drymophidæ. When in flower, the pretty white blossoms grow on stalks at the axils of leaves.

‘To think that before we white fellows came to the island, there were only Kangaroos and Blacks to admire them,’ she added.

‘Anyhow, dear, we have another evidence how bountifully the Good God has cast beauty abroad, as if it were the commonest thing at His command.’

‘But how few of His creatures recognise the beauty?’

‘True; and how much fewer perceive the more delicate, but far more real, beauty dwelling in the spiritual!’

‘One, at least, dear Horace, has learnt through you to discern something of the higher elements of beauty, and catch a radiance from the flower which the flower itself can never give.’

‘And I, on my part, my darling Annie, have gained from you the power of realizing from the flower itself a perception of its own dear charms, and a joyousness in its light, I never knew before.’

Here, as in duty bound, the sweet soft notes of the Bell bird struck upon their ears, and added to their

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pleasure. The rich bell-like sound came from the depths of a neighbouring Fern-tree valley. Well has sung the Australian poet, Henry Kendall:—

‘By channels of coolness the echoes are calling,
And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling,
It lives in the mountain when moss and the sedges
Touch with their beauty the banks and the ledges,
Through breaks of the cedar and sycamore bowers
Struggles the light that is love to the flowers;
And, softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing,
The notes of the Bellbird are running and ringing.

The silver-voiced Bellbirds, the darling of day-time!
They sing in September their songs of the Maytime;
When shadows wax strong, and the thunderbolts hurtle,
They hide with their fear in the leaves of the myrtle;
When rain and the sunbeams shine mingled together,
They start up like fairies that follow fair weather,
And straightway the hues of their feathers unfolden
Are the green and the purple, the blue, and the golden.

October, the maiden of bright yellow tresses,
Loiters for love in these cool wildernesses;
Loiters, knee deep, in the grasses to listen,
Where dripping rocks gleam and the leafy pools glisten;
Then is the time when the water moons splendid
Break with their gold, and are scattered or blended
Over the creeks, till the woodlands have warning,
Of songs of the Bellbird and wings of the morning.

Welcome as waters unkissed by the summers
Are the voices of Bellbirds to thirsty far comers,
When fiery December sets foot in the forest,
And the need of the wayfarer presses the sorest,

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Pent in the ridges for ever and ever,
The Bellbirds direct him to spring and to river,
With ring and with ripple, like runnels whose torrents
Are toned by the pebbles and leaves in the currents.

Often I sit, looking back to a childhood,
Mixt with the sights and the sounds of the wildwood,
Longing for power and the sweetness to fashion,
Lyrics with beats like the heart-beats of passion;—
Songs interwoven of lights and of laughters
Borrowed from Bellbirds in far forest rafters;
So I might keep in the city and alleys
The beauty and strength of the deep mountain valleys;
Charming to slumber the pain of my losses
With glimpses of creeks and a vision of mosses.’

‘O do let us hunt up the Bellbird!’ cried Annie. ‘It is sure to be in some lovely cool spot, and near the rippling water.’

Away they went, and hand in hand as children in glee. A slight bell-like laughter from the maiden, however, scared away the Bell-bird. But now came a burst from the Naturalist.

‘O, Annie dear, do you see that charming flower. It ought not to be here.’

‘And why not, my philosopher?’

‘Because, according to all the books, it should have been at home on the western side of the Island, though this is damp and cool enough. But go, and see it.’

The girl was highly delighted with it.

‘I have seen it before,’ said she, ‘and recognize a

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very dear friend of mine. Though the Waratah of the mountain is called our finest flower, the Tasmanian Lily is my favourite.’

‘But the right name, dear, is Blandfordia, being called after the Marquis of Blandford.’

‘That may be a recommendation to an aristocrat from England, but we poor, simple girls of the colony would prefer to have it the Tasmanian Lily.’

‘But it is not a Lily white.’

‘Certainly, I have no ambition to have the pallid delicacy of a London maiden. Our Lily is crimson, you see.’

‘And the cheeks of my Tasmanian Lily are crimson, also,’ said the fond lover. He was called to order, however, as his botanical ardour led his lips to the crimson cheeks of the Lily, and was told that his improper conduct had unnecessarily heightened the colour in blushes.

A very close inspection of the Blandfordia took place. The stalk rose nearly a yard high, and carried an umbel of from ten to a score of pendulous flowers an inch long, and good width, of a glorious colour; part being of deep crimson, and the tips of yellow. The calyx was tubular, and the stamens were hidden in the hanging bell.

‘And now, Horace, as you have seen the Tasmanian Lily at last, what do you think of it?’

‘You know, my dearest,’ he replied, ‘that it is our privilege to look beyond the form to the spirit, from

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the sensuous to the ideal, without losing respect and regard for the suggesting object. So must I acknowledge my pleasure in this dear flower; though my heart of hearts is pledged in dearest love for that which it humbly typifies,—my own betrothed Tasmanian flower and Lily.’

The young lady was subdued by this violent attack, and might have looked a speech, if she could not have spoken one then, had not a shrill coo-ee aroused them to a consciousness of the outer world.

Immediately after Tom's voice was heard.

‘Why, Horace, you must have lost yourself. Julia and I have been hunting for you everywhere. All wait for you. Everything is packed, and you must pack up sharp.’

The pair gave a radiant glance at each other, and then left the Blandfordia to its solitude. Though both joined in laugh and song with their friends on the road homeward, they each dreamed, at silent moments, of the last scene of the pic-nic.

The parting words of Horace that evening were—

‘Good-bye, my dear Tasmanian Lily.’