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Chapter VII.

The lovers waited till the time should come
When they together could possess a home.

CRABBE.

Thy sex is fickle—

H. K. WHITE.

IT was rather late in the morning before all the shopping was done; and then with a Cart considerably heavier than when they came, they started for home.

The afternoon was far advanced when they entered the back yard; a chorus of dogs welcomed them, and a strange shrill clamour of voices. Gertrude instinctively passed her hand through Tudor's arm, as she alighted in the midst of some dozen, or more of blacks.

“Do not be alarmed,” he whispered and tightened the pressure of his arm on her hand.

“Ah miss'er Ned. Good evening miss'er. You bin down along o'store. You got bacca. Gib' it me 'moke. Poor old 'oman me mis'a” cried one, or other, gathering round Mr. Tudor, who nodded and smiled, addressing them by name.

“Ha Jemmy you there, well Mary that your picaninny Betty Betty?” called forth responses to the following effect.

“Me old friend Miss'er Ned, me native, all a same as you. This picaninny belong it to me.”

“What's this I see? Urutta, you here,” exclaimed Tudor suddenly to a bright looking young man in good European costume.

“Old Owen too much coola. I come down see Mas'r Tudor go up along ob station,” returned the individual addressed, who was Owen the stockman's assistant.

“Yes. I believe so Urutta, what make Owen coola?”

“Him bin say ‘one fat cow gone’: him bin say ‘some one took that cow and kill her’: then him say ‘Urutta you take it gun, and watch downalong ob water hole to-night,’ I bin say ‘no that not do debble debble sit down along ob water hole at night.’ ”

“Think so Urutta?” said Tudor smiling.

“Me believe so Mis'r Ned. Then Owen he bin say ‘you lazy’, then he get murry coola: then I say I go up to Mis'r Ned, he too much lazy not go to station afore.”

The color deepened a little on the young man's cheek at this reproof from his sable countryman, but he said good humouredly:

“I believe so. You go up with me next week?”

“Bail Saturday?”

“Bail Saturday, we will start on Monday.”

“I go down to Jinbindoon for yarraman Mis'r Ned.”

“Yes, get your horse and be up on Saturday,” and he turned into the house.

“You must be tired,” he said addressing Gertrude.

“Not much. But what queer people; and how familiarly they spoke to you.”

“Yes, the tie of nationality is very strong; they think much of a native: but their calling me Ned, is not more than all the men do, only they do not use the abbreviation to my face. It is a common practice to call persons either by some corruption of their names, or a nick name; they all like to disparage those above them.”

“Do you think Mrs. Doherty has a name of this sort?”

“They call her “Mother Doherty,” perhaps that is all.”

“And I?” inquired she smiling.

“Not to my knowledge,” he said quickly with an expression of the eye which implied that it dared not be uttered in his presence.

“Would you like to go down to the camp and see the Blacks?” inquired Tudor.

“Yes,—I should but—”

“There is no occasion for fear; and I would accompany you. Rude as their dwellings are there is something, at least to me, interesting in the sight of an encampment. Last summer we had the remnants of three tribes assembled here: our blacks were going to have a Coroborry; and as it is usual in these cases, sent messengers to invite the other tribes to join them; and they had a grand dance: but I must not tell you about it now, for you are in need of rest.”

“When shall we go down to the encampment?”

“To-morrow at sun down if that will suit you.”

Gertrude assented, and entered the house: Mrs. Doherty was out on the farm; and Mr. Tudor left the girls to arrange and put away their purchases, which he carried in for them; and giving the bags into Lakin's care walked with a grave meditating step in the direction of his own cottage.

Catherine who had stood by while he spoke to the Blacks, remarked to Gertrude,

“Mr. Tudor's “crabbed” I know about the cow's being stolen.”

“Do you think it was stolen, I did not understand that.”

“Yes, to be sure: there is a deal of “moon-lifting” about the gullies: but they don't often take any of Mrs. Doherty's when he's not at the station; for Mr. Tudor's so sharp people are afraid of him. Did you ever hear of his catching Tom Onus? He got him transported; the judge gave him such praise! He said he never knew such an instance of cool determination and fidelity: those were the very words, for we saw it in the paper; and some gentlemen came and shook hands with Mr. Tudor after he left the witness box. Father borrowed the paper because knowing all the parties, we took an interest in the trial.”

Gertrude was about to ask further particulars, but Mary O'Shannassy came in.

“Sure Miss” she said “an I've been wanting you bad enough. I skimmed the crame and churned for five blessed hours, and sorra a bit of butter I got.”

“I am sorry for that Mary, I thought we should have a nice bit of fresh butter, our first churning this spring; and till we get in some more cows it is no use having up John from the farm.”

“I had the churn by the fire ever since,” said Mary who had an indefinite idea that warmth brought butter, if when she had leisure she turned the churn handle for a few minutes.

“It's no use now I fear.”

Mrs. Doherty came in just then, and there were all the parcels to open, and their contents to undergo a rigid scrutiny; this occupied them till tea time, and after that Catherine ran home with a pretty piece of lace, a present from Mrs. Doherty, added to her purchases, and Gertrude found plenty to do in undoing a series of acts of Mary's, known among housewives as “upsetting things,” and “putting at sixes and sevens.”

The process of tidying up was not a little fatiguing to her, as she was quite weary after their little journey; and she retired to rest “with a face as white as a sheet,” to use Mrs. Doherty's expression.

The following day Mrs. Doherty and Gertrude each leaning on an arm of Mr. Tudor started on their excursion.

“Poor creatures!” Mrs. Doherty said, as she stuffed a handful of “figs” of tobacco into her pocket, “they have only learnt our bad habits.”

“They have indeed. Is it not a reproof to us Miss Gertrude that even when conversing among themselves in their own dialect they interlard their disputes with oaths in our language.”

“But Mr. Tudor, does no one instruct them?”

“A few Missionaries have been among them, and no doubt done their utmost to repel the flood of iniquity poured in, by the corrupt and ignorant class, who chiefly mix among the native population.— Theirs is not merely to instruct the ignorant, to say to the inquiring “behold the Lamb of God,” but they have to cope with counter influences.—Is it a wonder then that little, or nothing is done? Still an unknown God reigns above and around them—still they look on that work which the Earth Spirit in “Faust” says:

“Tis thus at the roaring Loom of Time I ply,
And weave for God the Garment thou seest Him by?”

and see not God in his works. But little private effort to enlighten them is made, so they are dying among us unheeded, and soon like the emu and kangaroo will be traditional in the civilized districts. They have frequently abilities of no mean order; and when not corrupted by white people are by no means a disagreeable race: What did you think of Urutta?”

“He is rather good looking; and what splendid eyes some of the women had.”

The appearance of the various individuals who had visited the farm the previous day were duly discussed; till the increasing beauty of the scene called their attention. They had left the cultivated fields, and entered a vale between two wooded hills, divided by the creek, which as they advanced became rocky and wild in its character; the stream was here composed of long “water holes,” extending sometimes over a mile in length, and of no inconsiderable width. Mimosas and Honey-suckle trees grew on the banks; and Sallows dipped their boughs into the water, which was bordered by bulrushes and canes: and beyond, floated leaves of water lilies like fairy islands, rich in verdure. Every now and then as they proceeded a Guana crossed their path and plunged into the water: or a Tortoise startled from its sleep on a flat rock or prostrate trunk of a tree, wriggled off with all speed, and sought safety beneath the surface of the creek. Ducks and kingfishers of rare beauty took wing at their approach; and the elegant blue Crane paused in its fishing to watch them pass; the Sun was approaching the horizon, and the light streaming between the trees looked bright and golden, as if to witness to the splendour of its source: the lengthening shadows made the woods appear dense and solemn; and as usual in an Australian forest silence reigned supreme; hardly relieved by the wild unearthly clamour of the laughing jackasses which were assembling at their roosting places. Gloriously the Sun sunk to rest among the scattered pile of clouds, which caught vivid rays of crimson, yellow, and rose, from its departing splendour. The thoughts of the peculiar people fast sinking into a heathen grave, and soon to be no more the dwellers in the land, could not fail to bring a sombre sensation of awe into each heart. They had ceased to converse, and now walked on in silence, still keeping by the side of the stream which threaded its course between wooded and rocky hills. Solitude unbroken reigned there; and the race that had once hunted the kangaroo and emu through those thickets, and laid the snare for eels and watermoles in the creek were mostly cold in death; and the soul, the uncultured soul had sped forth on the unknown future, to stand one day as a witness against those who had taught it naught but evil. Something of this kind was passing through Tudor's mind, and he turned to Gertrude to express the thought: but checked himself as he watched the movement of her lips, and the half raised eye fixed on the bright clouds above: at that moment too Mrs. Doherty exclaimed with a shudder.

“Do Tudor say something, this gloom brings back such wretched thoughts that it horrifies me! Do talk about something.”

“Did you never find that when you wished to talk merely for the sake of talking you have nothing to say?” said he smiling.

“Bless me, three people with tongues in their heads unable to speak,” retorted she tartly.

“Will you describe the dance Mr. Tudor, which you mentioned last evening?” interposed Gertrude.

With a cheerful smile of acquiescence he began: “I will give you some idea of a far grander ball I witnessed on the Shoalhaven some years since. There were probably a hundred or more Natives engaged in it. I was staying the night with a family residing there, and accompanied by some of the members of the household walked out to see the dance. The Blacks had selected a well grassed level about a mile from the River, thinly scattered over with high and heavy timber. When we arrived only a few women were visible, squatting in a group on the ground, near a small fire of light wood; they had lying on their knees a 'possum skin cloak, folded into a small compass, with the fur turned in.—Supposing we were too early for the dances in which the women never join, we entered into conversation with them. It was a very dark night and the only light was that of the little fire before us. While I was recommending a remedy for a severely lacerated arm inflicted by a falling bough of a tree and bending over the woman's arm examining it I was startled by an exclamation from my companions. Suddenly there had started from behind the trunks of the trees various figures painted with pipeclay and ochre, chiefly to represent skeletons. In their hands they held a flaming bunch of twigs, or dry fern, which sufficiently lighted up their figures to enable the painting to show, leaving the sable skins in obscurity. Never shall I forget the scene! it was indeed a “dance of death;” and the monotonous beating of the women on the skins, and their low chanting increased the solemnity: as it might be construed into a dirge for the dead. Their mode of dancing was totally unlike that of ours, I understood that they were new and were acquired from a visitor from Bathurst, who had been some months with the tribe instructing them. They imitated the springing movements of the kangaroo in one dance, in another they placed the palms of their hands together, and shaping the fingers into a rude resemblance of the back of the emu, held the hands before their face and hopped along in circles; then they threw themselves into a sloping posture, at an angle that could only be the result of long practice and great muscular strength.”

At this moment the barking of dogs, and shrill voices clamorously bidding them lie down announced the vicinity of the encampment.

They had left the creek and entered upon a small and clear level, among a heavily timbered forest. The camp formed of the green branches stripped from the trees around, were so arranged that each should have strict privacy, by being turned with its entrance towards the back of the one before.

The numerous lean and hungry dogs yelping round the visitors, called out all of the natives who were at home; and they gathered round to welcome them, and to receive Mrs. Doherty's presents. Little fires burnt before each dwelling, and at many roasted an opossum, or squirrel merely skinned, or plucked of the fur, and cast into the embers. A few turnips and potatoes, presents from the neighbouring farms, added variety to the supper, and the tin vessels of tea simmering by the fires gave evidence that the love of luxury had found its way into the bivouac. The skins of opossums stretched out by small wooden pegs on squares of bark, peeled from some neighbouring tree, were standing in situations to expose their moist surfaces to the influence of the air.

“What think you of such a life?” inquired Tudor of Gertrude.

“In a storm of rain?” she enquired smiling; and he laughed, while the sable beings round joined in sympathy although ignorant of the cause of mirth, and the next minute several of the women were shedding tears and moaning over some trifling causes of sorrow which Mrs. Doherty made inquiries about, in order to relieve them if possible.—

“How impulsive are these poor creatures!” said Gertrude, “but Mr. Tudor there is the cry of a curlew, and see, the sun has set. It will be dark before we reach home.”

While she was speaking several of the men who had been absent returned, for the Aborigine will on no account be away from his camp during the dark; and the visitors started for home, after exchanging a few words of greeting with the new arrivals.

It must not be supposed that Mary had been forgotten by the sawyer M'cMaster; on the contrary, a week after his first visit he came again, and was declared as the accepted swain of the “charming Miss O'Shannassy,” as he styled Mary. There was but one obstacle to their immediate union, for there were no cares about furnishing a cottage, such as oppress the peasantry of less favored lands. M'cMaster was a sawyer and employed in the “gullies” at the back of Mrs. Doherty's property; here he lived in a “shanty,” or roof-like tent, of sheets of bark; a sheet of the same material supported on four saplings set in the earthen floor, served as a table; a four legged stool, one leg of course too short, and always falling out when the stool was moved, completed the furniture: an iron tripod, a tin mug, or two, and a couple of common cracked blue earthen-ware plates completed the inventory; for the rest the canvas ticking filled with dry grass, and the dingy blankets and rug, could be laid down anywhere: gloriously independent of mahogany and chintz drapery. The drawback however was the absence of clergy; to go thirty miles in search of father O'Connor was more than love even demanded, “so they must jist bide till he came” Mary said, which philosophical conclusion M'cMaster assented to. Delays are dangerous, perhaps the sawyer made too sure of his prize: but Gertrude and Mrs. Doherty were not a little astonished one day when Mary pale and weeping rushed into their presence, and approaching Mrs. Doherty exclaimed:

“Oh Mistress dear, save me from that man, oh Mistress dear.”

“What man?” demanded both in a breath.

“That sawyer, sure Mistress dear I'd drown meself sooner than I'd have the crater.”

“What's the matter now?” demanded Mrs. Doherty sharply, and with a flash of her keen eyes, “here have you been good for nothing, your head fairly turned, about this fellow, and now—”

“Sure Mistress dear I hate the man,” sobbed Mary.

“You have quarrelled I suppose, and to-morrow will be all regret about it, get along, I've no patience with such folly,” and she gave the girl a push.

But Mary persisted that she was in earnest and always “had hated the crater,” and at length urged her Mistress to tell M'cMaster, who was without, something to that effect; which she did in these words.

“Well M'cMaster you may be off about your business, for Mary's changed her mind.”

Whereupon the distracted lover went through a series of attitudes, perfectly approved in the acted drama, and finally retired; and Mary shortly afterwards was heard singing blithely, as she stoned the back verandah: this ended the second chapter of the little romance of the kitchen, leaving the lookers on rather uncertain whether “to be continued” was written beneath or not.

Gertrude saw little of Mr. Tudor during the rest of the week; he was out on horseback all day, and spent the evenings writing in the office. Mrs. Doherty used sometimes to go in, and talk with him upon what was to be done in his absence; and Gertrude was left alone with her thoughts, which too frequently turned upon Charley Inkersole; she had not seen him since her trip to the Rocky creek, and she felt a little impatient to do so: nor could she dispel a sense of loneliness, although she bustled about all day, and plied her needle all the evening.

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