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Chapter I

“Days—weeks past away, till one evening serene
As Phœbus was slowly descending,
The cliffs of Australia at distance were seen
Like mists with the dark ocean blending.

And soon the small vessel was moor'd in the Cove,
And soon the poor Emigrant landed.”

H. V. VALENTINE.

“I WANT an honest decent girl if you have such a thing,” said a lady, to the Immigration Agent, on board of a newly arrived ship in Port Jackson. After musing and biting the end of his pen for a few moments he enquired,

“As a house servant?”

“Yes. Rather beyond that, as a responsible person, a sort of housekeeper; one that will not be above putting her hand into the cheese vat, or the beef cask; you understand.”

“Perfectly Madam.” And he mused again. “Yes, I think we have. Here Gertrude Gonthier.” A young girl stepped forward with a modest air, feeling like a slave put up at an auction mart. He ran over the requirements of the lady. She searched the young immigrant with her keen black eyes; she was a small woman, with a brown careworn countenance; the index of generous emotions, strong passions, and acute griefs, which had worn her straight features into sharp outlines, and given a restless keenness to her small dark eyes, which now turned quickly from one to the other of her companions, and seemed like burning coals; her voice was quick and commanding; she was evidently a woman accustomed to rule.

Gertrude did not attempt to conceal her ignorance of any things required, but she could and would be a faithful housekeeper; and would be thankful to receive instruction in what she did not already know.

“That is right: you will do child; we shall get along well together I see,” uttered the quick voice; and the keen eyes flashed full upon her. “Draw up the agreement sir,” she added.

The Agent ushered them into the cuddy and filled in the printed form which was duly signed. Gertrude's eyes fell upon the duplicate which he placed in her hands; she was a hired servant; the moment so much dreaded was over.

“When can she leave?” demanded Mrs. Doherty.

“At once, if you wish it.”

“Good. Come Gertrude look after your boxes. Here fellows, lend a hand and lower that trunk into the boat.” There were a few frowns, but some little coins which passed from Mrs. Doherty's pocket to theirs, smoothed the corrugated brows wonderfully, and our heroine's small effects were speedily transferred to a waterman's boat alongside.

The family under whose care Gertrude had voyaged out had been hired and taken away the day previously; and a brief “good bye, I hope you will be happy,” on both sides was passed round the immediate circle, and she followed her employer into the boat.

The deck was still crowded; some unhired, others waiting to depart; some lamenting, some rejoicing, a few stolid and indifferent, yet all desirous of quitting the confined area they had occupied for the last three, or four months.

The land of promise lay before them in all its magnificent beauty, and yet many were wishing themselves back at “home;” that is in England again.

“Oh! why did I leave my own comfortable home,” lamented one.

“If it had not been for the wife I never would have moved, I was quite contented and doing very well at my trade,” remarked a male voice.

“That's all the thanks I get is it; I wonder who's had the bother of the voyage and the children,” tartly resumed the better half.

“I'm sure I never was used to such things,” sobbed a woman.

These with the squalling of a child were the last sounds which reached their ears as they pushed off from the ship.

“Let me never hear you say that,” said Mrs. Doherty, flashing her keen eyes upon Gertrude, “don't talk to me of what you have not been used to; of course you have not, did you expect to find England in New South Wales? If you were better off why not stay there.”

The young girl looked surprised and distressed, but was silent.

“I like your commencement, I think you will do,” she added presently with some complacency.

They were at the wharf, and in a cab whirling up George-street, in no time.

“I have done my business at last! you were the last piece of it. Bless me what a many miles one walks in Sydney, before anything is done. I am always sick and tired of it, before I can leave. The country's better Gertrude.”

“Do you leave town to-day?” she timidly enquired.

“Yes, at once, my cart is at Brickfield-hill, at the—but you don't know, so it is no use in telling you. Yes, we shall be some miles from town, before we sleep to-night.” A sigh of relief closed the announcement. “I am very anxious to get home,” she pursued, “I have been absent from Murrumbowrie three weeks; but I am sure Tudor will look after everything well.”

One of those useful, comfortable conveyances known as a tilted cart, was the vehicle in which Mrs. Doherty travelled; there was a large bundle of bedding, and a few boxes in it, otherwise the cart was empty; for two heavy laden drays drawn by bullocks accompanied them.

It was already dark when the cavalcade stopped before a low building on the Southern Road, many miles from Sydney.

A tall, rather handsome young man, came forward from a group of smokers outside the cottage, and offered to assist the females to alight. Mrs. Doherty had sprung to the ground in a minute, and turned to order the driver to hold the horses' heads, and the young man held up his arms to receive the slender English girl.

“Good evening Miss, are you tired?” he said, at the same time drawing her shawl round her to screen her from a light shower of rain, just commencing to fall.

“Thank you, a little,” replied poor Gertrude, who was mentally worn out with conflicting emotions.

The soft voice appeared sufficiently pleasing to the stranger.

“Let me take you inside,” he said, “Mrs. Doherty will see the teams in before she thinks of you.”

“There you are wrong, young man,” said the keen voice, while her flashing eyes met his gaze.

“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Doherty,” he said with a careless laugh, “I did not know you were there.”

She did not deign a reply; but taking Gertrude's hand, said, “come child,” and half whispering, “don't pick up acquaintances at an accommodation house.”

The long room they entered was lighted by several tallow candles, and in consideration of the chill evening a large fire burnt on the hearth, above which hung a huge boiler bubbling and singing; and some rashers of bacon gave out a cheerful smell and sound from the pan on the embers.

“Back at last missus,” said the cook, a thin woman with a black net cap and yellow ribbons.

“Yes, time too, Mrs. Lodges; here, take care of this child till I return.” And she departed probably to see to the comforts of her cattle.

There were three tables in the room, round one a party was seated at supper; the other two were deserted; and several persons occupied the settees and forms. A chair was placed for Gertrude, she looked up and saw the youth: he had a careless, half saucy, half agreeable manner; a hat a little on one side, and from under which hung long dark hair; a scarlet guernsey frock belted by a strong leather strap, fustian nether garment, and black leggings, completed the exterior of the bushman.

Gertrude cast a curious eye round upon the motley company, and listened to their conversation in wonder. The personal affairs and genealogies of various families of apparent consequence in the colony, were freely discussed in one group; another, who looked like small settlers, were giving the preference to the prices of stock, interspersing the theme with a running fire of questions in the following strain;—“How did the bay mare pull?” “Did you find those stray workers?” “War'nt the roads awful up'ards?” “Jim Jones, you know Jim, he's lost the whole of his team with the disease; he's stuck at Camden; word came up to the missus to go down just afore I started.” Such and such like, were the subjects of conversation.

Gertrude looked up, and saw the bushman still standing by her side.

“Is it an Inn?” she inquired.

“This! no, a house of accommodation; they don't sell spirits. Some people like to put up their drays at such places, and stay near them. This is a very respectable house.”

“Indeed.”

“It's not much like England, I fancy.”

“Oh, dear, no! not at all.”

He laughed with an air of conscious superiority.

“You're an immigrant, I wager,” said the woman in the black cap.

Gertrude assented.

“You are going up with Mrs. Doherty, I suppose,” said the young man.

“Yes, do you know her?”

“To be sure, and all about her. But perhaps you are a niece, or something of that sort.”

“No, I have no relations in the country. Indeed I am almost alone in the world.” Her soft blue eyes floated in tears.

“Never mind. You will have plenty of friends here.”

“I hope so, but at present I feel very lonely.”

“No doubt: but you will have a home of your own soon, if you like.” The perfect nonchalance of tone and air, and the half laugh brought the bright blood into Gertrude's cheeks, which embarrassment the young man enjoyed for a few minutes; and then said, “I live near Mrs. Doherty's—”and appeared about to give her history, when the clear and commanding tones of the person indicated sounded at the door, and breaking out into a whistle, he strolled away.

Gertrude felt relieved; she thought she had detected a frown on Mrs. Doherty's brow when the young man approached the cart on their first arrival.

“Now then for supper; here, take this chair.” The voice was quick and kindly, and she pushed the teapot towards her companion. “Make me a cup of tea, with plenty of sugar; and Mrs. Lodges get my room ready, and make a bed on the sofa for this child.”

“Well Missus I can't exactly do that same,” said she, “for this lady here,” and she pointed to a stout, gaily dressed female, “wants the sofa.”

“Can't have it then,” tartly resumed Mrs. Doherty.

“She's a very respectable, rich lady; she could buy up half Sydney sure if she was amind, an' that aint saying nothing.”

“Don't care if she could buy it all. Give me my usual room, or another as good.” The imperative voice and flash of the eyes had the desired effect. Mrs. Lodges grumbled, and the stout lady tossed her head, and said something about the pride of some people. Mrs. Doherty looked firmly defiant, and carried the point; the supper was finished in peace, and they retired to rest.

Mrs. Doherty for the first time in her life probably yielded herself to the hands of a dressing maid, which part, Gertrude's desire to please and instinctive refinement made her execute in a satisfactory manner; but when the damp travelling bonnet and dress were removed she appeared disinclined to permit her to proceed further, and bidding Gertrude throw a woollen shawl round her, entered into conversation.

The immigrant's simple history was told with an elegant pathos, emanating from a feeling heart.

“And you did not wish to come out?”

“No, no, I thought I should never live to reach Sydney. I thought I could not quit all I was used to, and loved, and go among strangers, in a strange land. But I had no one to help me, at least no one on earth. Oh how I prayed to be preserved from it, and hoped and longed to die.”

“Hush! hush child, that was sinful, and you are pale and trembling, this will not do.” She passed her hand gently over the bright head bowed before her, as Gertrude sat chafing her feet.

“I know I thought and felt wrongly, and that made me more fearful; if I had been a strong, true Christian, there had been less danger for me; and I am very young.”

“What age?”

“Only sixteen last month.”

“Poor child. Yes,” she continued, “you are a child, more so than many a one of half that age here; it is well Gertrude you fell into my hands; I will take care of you. You will have a good home at Murrumbowrie.”

A silent prayer to the merciful Protector above, was offered up from her grateful heart, while an audible “I will do all that I can to merit your kindness, ma'am,” was her reply.

“My establishment is large Gertrude; but I have no family. Mr. Tudor is vigilant and trustworthy; but I look after things myself. The charge of the house will be yours; if you are as faithful, you will do.”

Gertrude had heard Mr. Tudor so frequently mentioned that she felt a little curious, but had the good sense not to question her employer.

“Have you parents living?”

“No, ma'am.”

“How so? the cholera?”

“No, ma'am: my father died first. He was a clockmaker, a German, and very clever.”

“Proceed: tell me all about them.”

Shading her face, Gertrude continued. “Yes, he had great abilities, and had travelled much. He told me of his own country, and of Poland, Russia, and Prussia. He taught me his native language, and made me familiar with many of the shorter pieces of its poets; for he had a good memory, and what he read was retained. In returning one night from the village, he lost the track, and falling into a quarry, received some severe injuries in the head. He never was the same again. The struggle was long between life and death. When once more he returned to his place among us, he was so changed—so—so”—she paused.

“He was cracked,” suggested the listener.

Gertrude gathered the meaning of the colonialism from the look, and nodded.

“From that time,” she continued, “he worked with greater diligence than formerly; but it was to make an astronomical clock, like, or rather more intricate than that of Duringen of Dantzic, so he was always labouring; for a while appearing to succeed; but when the tiny wheels were put together they would not go, or they went wrong and were useless. Then a fresh idea would seize him, and he would lay it by to begin afresh—so we grew poorer each day; and my dear good mother hardly found food enough for us; and often when I had gone to bed, she would sit up to mend the rents in my frock, or to wash it clean for the morrow. Day by day we saw my father wasting away, always growing sterner and more silent, till he would sit for hours with his head buried in his hands, and then return with a sudden energy to his work—soon to be laid aside again. One night 'twas snowing pitilessly and all nature seemed sad and cheerless, he was so very silent—so passive, and when I had read to my mother from the Bible and knelt by her side to say my prayers, he still was buried in some wild dreams, and I waited, hoping he would look up and give me his usual kiss and words of love; but he did not—he never spoke to me again!”

“Good gracious! he was not dead?” interrupted Mrs. Doherty.

“Not then; but later in the night; for he never moved; and my mother sat there in that cold room and almost in the dark; later, she thought he leaned so heavily against the table, and looked so thin and white that she tried to move a hand from his face, and—he was dead!” There was a pause, and the young immigrant wept. Presently, in a low voice, trembling and stifled, she proceeded—“They thought my mother did not feel, but hers was a sorrow that tears do not relieve. It laid on her heart and crushed the spring of life. It was God's will and she would not complain—not even in thought; but sorrow added to want threw her into a typhus fever. At first our neighbours came in to help nurse, but when they found she had a fever they all forsook us. Our Rector was a high, stately man; but when he knew she was ill, he came to see her and to pray by her; and even while she told him of her hope in Christ, and of that home He has prepared for the believer, she passed away from us! she went to enter upon that rest.—Mr. Vynen, the Rector stayed with me; he talked to me kindly and gently; and tried to soothe me; but remaining so long by my mother's bedside he caught the fever, and was very ill for a long time. People were kind in their own way, but the little we possessed was consumed in the funeral expenses—and I was sent to my great uncle at a distance.”

“What was he?”

“He was a schoolmaster, and clerk of Comb Ending, a pretty little village, in S—; and there I was brought up, first as a scholar, and afterwards helping him with the girls, and overlooking his little household concerns.”

“How came he to part with you?”

“I do not know what led him to do so; he was very eccentric; and perhaps—perhaps, he thought it might be for my good.”

Mrs. Doherty looked keenly at the speaker, and rightly appreciating the delicacy which bade her screen the wanton cruelty of the avaricious old man, gave her an approving look.

The dialogue had extended over some two or three hours, and the clock in the adjoining room struck ten.

“Get to bed child,” said Mrs. Doherty drawing out of a basket some memorandum books, which she commenced to study.

Gertrude obeyed unconscious of the keen eyes that fixed their gaze upon her as she knelt reverently, to offer up her evening prayer; or that those eyes had wandered from the account book again to read the thoughts passing through the smooth guileless brow where she slept; nor did she know the power of that drop which rolled down her cheek, as in dreams she pursued the conversation of the evening.

During the last of their journey, the jealous care and eagle eyed vigilance with which Mrs. Doherty shielded her, often excited a pleasing surprise in the young girl's mind; she could not fathom it.

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