Chapter XXVII. A Bachelor's Farm.

MR ROBERTS had made his selection of a thousand acres on the western side of the Huon River, and had

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gone upon it. Horace had engaged to pay a visit and concluded to do so before any wedding entanglements came in the way.

The ordinary Huon River steamer ran thither at convenient intervals, and Mr Roberts proposed a certain place for meeting, at which horses would be in readiness. Horace contrived to lessen his regret at leaving a certain lady, by stealing away the lover from her sister, Tom having consented to accompany his mate for a holiday.

The voyage was favourable. Mount Nelson welcomed them out of the harbour, and the charming Brown's River district was passed an hour after. Bruni Island then lay to the left, as the varied woody heights rose successively on the other side. Tom, as a colonial native, knew all the points, and was fluent in description.

‘Look!’ said he, as they peeped into a pretty little bay on the western shore. ‘That is Oyster Cove. The last resting-place of our Blacks was here. The last of my dark-skinned Tasmanian countrymen died here, though the last man of the tribes dropped off, through drink, in Hobart Town a year or two ago.’

‘How came they down here?’

‘They were brought down from Flinders Island, in Bass's Strait. A good many had been landed there after the Black War, and there they were to have been civilized, while kept away from bad and dangerous Whites, who had hunted them on the mainland.

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‘And what success attended the effort?’

‘They were civilized off the earth, Horace. The old folks wouldn't live, and the young folks never filled up their places.’

‘That would certainly make short work of the tribes.’

‘It did. The remnant were led down here, so as to be better looked after, as it was hoped. But they died after the same fashion. One tough old woman has seen the rest off the scene.’

‘Is that our Lalla Rookh?’

‘The very same ideal beauty. Strange enough, right across the channel here, on the Bruni side, is the place where Government made a blacks' settlement just forty years ago. They were put under the care of a good fellow, George Robinson, who afterwards got some of them to go with him after the wild tribes.’

‘Why did he do that?’

‘To save their throats. Lots of parties were out after them, getting five pounds a head from Government. But for one caught, a dozen or score were murdered. The rest burnt and killed in revenge. Robinson bravely went seeking to get them in. He had some narrow escapes.’

‘But did he gain them over?’

‘He did after great difficulty, and had the satisfaction of bringing them in mobs, at various times, to Hobart Town.’

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‘So these were the Flinders Island settlers.’

‘Yes, and settled for they were to a dead certainty.’

‘How sad it seems that not a man survives!’ exclaimed Horace.

‘That sounds all well enough now; but I have heard my father tell such dreadful tales of the old Black War of Van Diemen's Land, that I for one am glad enough they have shifted to the hunting-grounds above.’

‘But surely, Tom, you would not defend the cruelties of the people who stole their country, robbed them of their wives, and shot them down like dogs.’

‘It is rather shocking, I admit. We might have handled them more delicately. Still, as my uncle was killed by them, you see, I don't look amicably on them.’

‘And I am free to confess that I should not have enjoyed Tasmania with the apprehension of a spear coming into one's back, whenever I ventured out botanizing.’

‘Nor if you had chosen a fair lady to accompany you upon the occasion. The spear might chose to go her road instead of yours.’

The bluff old captain here interrupted the talk. He had his yarns to deliver about things in general and shipwrecks in particular.

‘This channel is deceitful enough. It is quite gentle now, but roars loud enough sometimes. We have had some horrid wrecks here. I shan't forget

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the “Enchantress” some thirty or forty odd years ago.’

‘What were the particulars?’ asked Horace.

‘She was coming up in a stiff gale when she got foul of a rock. One boat got off right enough, but the other was swamped alongside the ship, and went down with it. The first could not land because of a heavy sea, and stood off all night. Even then it must have been swamped more than once by the heavy surf, only for a fat old lady who sat in the stern with a big shawl over her. The sea broke against that stout defence, and so the crew were landed in safety.’

‘Give us the yarn, Captain, about the “George the Third,” ’ said Tom.

‘Ah! that was a deal worse. She was full of prisoners, and struck not far off, and in the same year as the “Enchantress.” The masts went overboard. The long boat, when got out, was washed right upon deck again. The prisoners were fastened down below. Poor fellows! they begged so hard to be let come up. But the soldiers fired in among them as they attempted a rush. However, the bulwarks giving way opened a back door to them, and some got upon deck. Out of 209 convicts, 128 were lost. Besides these, there were only three children and a couple of soldiers drowned.’

The entrance of the Huon River was magnificent, and worthy of so fine a stream. As the vessel moved up, a vast cloud of noisy Black Cockatoos threw a

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deep shadow upon the water. The dense vegetation on both sides of the river was occasionally opened out by little patches of farms. A large amount of the land had been formerly purchased by Lady Franklin, and let out upon favourable leases to persons of good character.

The two young men were landed. Their hearty and merry friend was there to greet them, and the horses were mounted without delay.

‘Now youngsters,’ said Mr Roberts, ‘I have but one word of advice. Mind your bridle. M'Adam has not visited this quarter, nor did the Romans form the road. Nothing but a bridle track is before you.’

Tom looked ahead, and replied:—

‘I don't think we shall lose our way, for the forest is too thick on both sides. But we might break our necks.’

‘Never do that yourself, lad. In this country it has been the exclusive privilege of Jack Ketch. But don't let your horse go into a devotional frame of mind, for his knees need be of future service to me.’

The forest was thick. The gum trees were of enormous magnitude. Some ran two hundred feet and more to the first branch, presenting a barrel as straight as a pine. Brushwood filled up the country below, and hid the soil from the sight of the sun. Constant moisture and a mild climate had developed this mass of growth.

Tom had a tale to tell about a big tree found near

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the Huon by a clergyman, who came suddenly upon it in one of his botanical ramblings. The height was four hundred feet. He measured the girth at six feet from the ground, and found it to be one hundred and two feet.

‘What timber for ship-building!’ cried Horace.

‘What timber for posts and rails, I say!’ rejoined the settler. ‘I want these, and am not reduced to the Robinson Crusoe necessity of boat-building here.’

‘But how ever do you get your stores up to your farm, Mr Roberts?’ inquired Horace.

‘Not this road, you may be sure. Government talk of making one here some day; but, at present, I find it easier for drays round by Port Davey. That route is bad enough, as ranges, creeks, marshes, bog holes, and forests lie between the sea and my place.’

‘Then, whatever made you take up such land?’

‘Two reasons, my lad; first, because the land when you get to it is good, and secondly, because I wanted something to fight against.’

‘You've got that anyhow,’ said Tom, with a grin.

It was a heavy ride, and not without adventures. A road it was called; but the stones in one part, and deep mire in another, made what the settler termed a diversion. Here was a fearfully steep decline, and there a hazardous spring upon rocks. Water courses came plunging across the track, and larger streams were forded, as Tom expressed it, without a bottom.

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The country fell again, the timber became less compact, and the clearing was at length reached. Few trees, comparatively, encumbered the ground. Thanks to the straight-barrelled timber, posts and rails had been easily obtained for the enclosure of the farm.

The house was by no means a mean homestead. It was of wood, of course, but it was nicely fitted up. Mutton-chops, damper, and tea were forthwith prepared, and duly dispatched. A famous wood-fire burned in the deep fire-place, for the evenings were chilly down there, as the cool breath of mountains and forests visited the farm.

It was soon time for bed, for Bush hours are early. The shake-down was pronounced much better than had been calculated upon by the young men. With the morning magpie they rose, and had a hearty breakfast. Then they mounted, and inspected the estate.

Mr Roberts had done wonders in a short time. His ardour of mind, his great activity, his fertility of resources, as well as right-down muscular exertion, had been called into requisition. The man had delighted himself in the contest with obstacles which he surmounted. Out superintending his men, and taking full part in the toil, he experienced a pleasure that amply repaid him. Full of vigorous health, he ate and slept well. His time was too much engaged to hang upon his hands.

‘But why, Mr Roberts, should you undergo all this

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hardship, and this isolation from society?’ Horace demanded, when they returned to the house.

‘Do you think, youngster, that, because fathers are fools enough to wear themselves out to make a fortune for their sons to make worse fools of themselves with, a man can't fell a tree, and clear a rod of ground, for the fun of it?’

‘Yes, but you used to be so fond of society.’

‘That may be, for it's all well in its place. But I am fond of myself too, and mean now to give myself a treat.’

‘There's a nut to crack,’ said Tom.

Mr Roberts here opened the door of a cupboard, which revealed a very fair library. Horace at once undertook a survey. He then exclaimed, with astonishment,

‘Why, Mr Roberts, half your books are mathematical.’

‘They are, lad. Here, I'll let you into a secret. When I was a youngster I was fond of figures. I had to go to work to help a widowed mother, and not indulge in fancies of my own. After some years I entered the Indian Civil Service, and so had the happiness of forming a friendship with your father. Health broke down, and I came to Tasmania. Not able to be idle, I took Government service here. I regained health, and enjoyed years of social pleasure. Then I resolved to carry out my fad. I have come to this outlandish place because I can have work I

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like, and because I can study mathematics without let or hindrance.’

‘But pardon me, sir,’ said Horace, ‘at your time of life you cannot mean to enter a profession.’

‘There you are again. All for filthy lucre, and honour, and glory. No, I study my Euclid, my algebra, my trigonometry, for the same reason that you fellows go courting—because I like it. A man courts an angel, and marries a slattern, a fool, or worse. Now figures are honest fellows, and the three angles of every triangle are always equal to two right angles. That sort of truthfulness pleases me beyond everything, and I can find nothing of it in other studies, nor in society.’

‘Yet you can't always be satisfied with tree-felling and mathematics.’

‘Do you intend, Horace, to give up that girl after you have been married a few years?’

‘Certainly not, sir; we shall be more closely bound together the longer we live.’

‘Pretty sentiment, my lad. Give me credit, therefore, for sticking to my pursuits for the same reason. I don't think I can tire of geometry so soon as most men tire of their wives. I shall never be jealous of that mistress, never complain of extravagant expenditure, and never get a curtain lecture. The odds are in my favour.’

The visit, though brief, was heartily enjoyed. But both the young fellows believed their lot would be happier than the old bachelor's in the forest. He

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nevertheless, was perfectly content. He had his hobby, and what can a man want for more?

When the ramblers returned, and had told their tale, Captain Douglas joked his wife about her prophecy of his friend's misery.

‘And pray, John, is not the poor fellow a real object of sympathy? There he is buried in the Bush. He is not only without a wife to solace his solitude, but is so lost to a real conception of happiness as to believe himself comfortable in that miserable condition. I pity him the more, poor fellow.’

‘So do I, my dear,’ said her spouse. ‘Roberts is just the fellow to make a woman happy, as I have always said. The sad thing is, that he won't consent to be a martyr to fulfil that destiny.’

‘Why, John, I am quite ashamed of you!’ exclaimed the wife. ‘You really don't deserve a good wife yourself.’

‘But I have got one, though,’ was his complacent reply.