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Chapter XI.

“For every worm beneath the moon,
Draws different threads, and late and soon
Spins, toiling out his own cocoon.”


Gertrude's amendment, after a certain stage, was rather rapid, and she was able to lay by the quinine, and port wine, and take up the house keys, her insignia of office, again; and an assistant, an old woman travelling up the road on a dray, seeking her fortune, hearing of the want of a servant at Murrumbowrie, came over, and was engaged.

She was very unlike Mary; a hardened wicked looking old woman, ready to be insolent, or to give warning at any moment, and with an insatiate craving after rum; still she could work, and shearing was commencing.

The many little cares and annoyances which light on the housekeeper's head, Gertrude found were materially increased since Sarah's entrance into the kitchen. Often these annoyances were so trivial, or even ludicrous, that while they tried her, could only provoke a laugh if repeated. She had been lamenting some of Sarah's derelictions, a short time after she came, to Mrs. Doherty, and received a laugh instead of the sympathy she had expected; and a little annoyed, Gertrude continued to stone plums for the to-morrow's pudding.

Mrs. Doherty watched her in silence, and then said:

“You know nothing of domestics yet, child. I had a woman here some time ago, who when I sent a message to Lakin, carried him ‘my compliments, and that I should be obliged by his fetching me a load of wood.’ I chanced to overhear her.”

“What did you do?” inquired Gertrude, laughing.

“Went into the kitchen at once, and said ‘no such thing, I desire you to fetch the wood, and you,’ turning to the woman, ‘don't make a fool of yourself, and me in future.’ In fact I was nettled, child; and spoke rather sharp. As for you and Sarah, do not mind her impertinent remarks.”

Gertrude was not much comforted, however; and Sarah was so frequently enjoying her pipe, and cup of tea, that no inconsiderable share of labor fell upon her; then fires were neglected, and puddings turned out raw; and joints of meat only warmed.

Gertrude was still weak from the effects of her illness, and her philosophy was not proof against these trials, and more than once, she pillowed her face in her bed, and wept freely. Still such weakness was rather physical than mental; and generally relieved by a run through the orchard; or in obstinate cases, a ramble as far as Mrs. Kenlow's: then the girls would go down the creek in search of flowers—here were the splendid crimson bosses of the Bottle Brush—the fragrant Sallow—and Mimosa, golden with bloom; and if they prolonged their walk to where the water lay in large pools, between rocky, and sandy banks, the pretty “Love Everlasting,” and various other unnamed beauties rewarded them. Dearly did both girls love such an excursion: side by side, quickly springing from foot to foot, along the narrow cattle track by the water, peeping into Willow Wrens' and Superb Warblers' tiny nests, peering among long grass for the speckled eggs of the Water Hen, and Quail; or pausing to watch the downy brood of the little Diver plunging beneath the stream. At one time, Kitty used to evince a desire to carry home the contents of the nests, as additional spoil; but Gertrude won her over to her own way of thinking before long.

“Leave them, Kitty,” she would say, “don't let you and I lessen the happiness there is in the world—how the old bird loves her mate—only see how she has built her nest—and just hear how that little creature sings. No, Kitty, we'll be two good angels, and bring peace with us wherever we go—we won't have sighs and heart-aches follow us; will we?”

“Well you are a good girl, Gertrude,” returned Kitty fondly, “and I won't touch them; though I don't think the Water Hen would miss a few eggs; she has quite a nest full.”

“Kitty, did you ever hear of a Hindoo magical tune, called ‘Raga,’ which when it is played, they say produces thunder and lightning and plagues?—now if we rob the birds' nests as we go, we shall be as bad,” said Gertrude, laughing. “And then the little egg-shells soon break when you have threaded them.”

Kitty immediately had some questions to ask about the Hindoo music; and as in her eyes, Gertrude's knowledge was unbounded, the birds' nests were not only unmolested, but the idea of shedding happiness around our path in life, of being a blessing, a living embodiment of the Commandment, “Love one another,” was at once so new and so charming, that in a thousand little ways, she was for the future putting it in practice.

“My word!” Mrs. Kenlow remarked, “I never saw any thing like Kitty; she always was a good girl, but lately she is like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.”

However, Gertrude was still very weak; a great deal too etherialized for this working-day world of ours; and even a run through the clear, bright air, and the soft, mellow notes of the sacred Kingfisher, and the smell of the fresh woods and mossy banks, and flowers, could not prevent weariness: so that home became a desirable resting place. Then arose a goodnatured contention as to who should carry the largest boughs for the fire-places; and finally it would be settled, by Kitty triumphantly shouldering the boughs, and Gertrude's apron being filled with flowers.

If Kitty could stay to help arranging the flowers in jars, or to adorn the vacant hearths with fresh branches, the pleasure was heightened to both. The young Emigrant's taste and knowledge were so vastly superior to her own, that she learned many a lesson over a jar of flowers.

Thus they were engaged one evening, the burning heat of a summer's day had given place to a pleasant, though warm evening, and the girls seated themselves in the front verandah, as it was called; although that portion of the house looking into the garden had no approach, excepting through a little wicket opening into the garden; after a style very prevalent in country residences in Australia; which makes the front of the house strictly private, and unapproachable: so that for a visitor to present himself at the back is no want of etiquette, or selfrespect: but in fact, the only alternative; and in every way most convenient; as he is nearly sure to be mounted, and finds in the back yard, some one to take his horse, or at least a post to which he can secure it.

Mrs. Doherty had brought out a book, and was seated near them, flapping away mosquitoes, which were humming in clouds around her, and reading by turns; occasionally stamping, or exclaiming against the misery of their tingling bites; and Kitty was handing the flowers to Gertrude, to place in a large colonial jar, round which she was twining a wreath of Clematis.

“Oh! how beautiful it looks—now don't it—just see, Mrs. Doherty.”

“Yes, very nice, Kitty—Bless me! the mosquitoes.”

“Now Gertrude, here is a Bottlebrush and a Native Rose.”

“Not two red flowers together, Kitty.”

“Well, some Sarsaparilla?”

“No, that is purple, and crimson—won't do, Kitty,” and Gertrude shook her head sagely.

“Oh! I always forget about what you call original colors, and—what is it?”

“Compounds—that tuft of Everlastings, or the Wattle; thank you, that is famous—now the Sarsaparilla?”

“Good evening to you, Missus,” said a voice near them; the girls both started, and Mrs. Doherty arose.

“Why John!” she said, in a tone of pleasure, “where have you come from?”

A middle aged, or rather elderly man, tanned very brown by exposure to the sun, and much marked with care lines; stood before them: his small grey eyes were lighted up by pleasure; and the breeze blowing back his grey shaggy hair, revealed a face of homely worth. The blue frock was worn, and faded; and the cabbage-tree hat nearly black. 'Twas a son of toil evidently: but Mrs. Doherty welcomed him with satisfaction.

“I took the liberty of coming round, Missus, hearing your voice on the verandah,” he said apologetically.

“That was right, John; where have you come from?”

“I have been across the country, and up and down one place or 'nother, some hundreds of miles, since this time twelve months; but I knew it was about sheep-washing time now, so I worked my way back. I was speaking to some of my mates, Missus, we are ready when you want us.”

“Very good, John. Mr. Tudor is about to begin washing. And so you have just returned?”

“I just laid down my ‘swag’ in the yard Missus; you are looking well, too, thank God!—He's been taking care on us both; through many dangers, perhaps.”

The shearer spoke gravely, and reverently, and Gertrude looked up, at once pleased and surprised—it was not unusual to hear the name of the Almighty pass the lips of many on the farm, but there was nothing in John's manner to indicate either a mere habit, or a reckless blasphemy.

“Yes John, you are right; we have something to be thankful for,” returned Mrs. Doherty, “and here is a new member of my family, a young girl, but a good one.”

The man turned with an attempt at a bow towards the girls; he seemed to think that Mrs. Doherty had spoken correctly: but she told him to go into the kitchen, and get his supper, and he departed.

“That man, Gertrude,” said Mrs. Doherty, approaching her, “is one of our shearers; he has been employed here for ten years: he comes regularly, about this time; works through washing and shearing, and then goes away—the floor would be lost without him—he is a first rate hand, and has so much influence among the men, that I have only to tell him we want hands, and he will search up his mates, and bring quite a batch of them to help. I have a great respect for him—he is a good man—go where he will, and he is always travelling, he carries his Bible with him; and never lets a day pass without reading it; it is quite a curiosity, so underlined, and marked and thumbed.”

“They call him the Parson,” remarked Kitty.

“They do, Kitty—it would be well if they were more like him—you never see him take a glass of grog—he will take a drink of tea, when the others are having their spirits—his count of the scores is always correct; and there is no trouble with him—it is a pity that he is like the rest a mere wanderer, roving from farm to farm, and up and down the country.”

A fresh attack of a lilliputian army of mosquitoes drove Mrs. Doherty back to her chair, and a vigorous buffeting of her hankerchief.

Gertrude was much interested in the shearer; there is something in a pious, consistent character which commands our respect, in any station; and it is an undoubted fact, that religion elevates and enlarges the understanding.

The old sun embrowned, corny handed shearer, was received even by those who scoffed at his principles, with a certain respect—they would not all sit down to hear him read from that well studied Bible; nor did they feel disposed to join in his prayers; yet he did find some who would—and not even the most reckless and abandoned thought of inviting him to a drinking carousal, or other scene of unholy revelry; which too often constitutes the sole idea of pleasure, entertained by the working class. To labour hard and earn money, and then have a thorough drunken carouse, or “go on the spree,” as they would say, is the received meaning of enjoyment, among the wandering class; who like birds of passage, flit from settlement to settlement, supplying the farmer, or the wool-grower with the labor requisite at their busy seasons.

Meanwhile the two girls had arranged the flowers, with no want of elegance and taste; and Kitty ran away home. Gertrude sat down to finish the day with some needlework.

There was a happy home feeling growing up around that hearth, which had never been there before. Mrs. Doherty was not domestic; that calm and holy influence which dwells around home, she had never felt till lately. Home, the scene of those thousand little sacrifices and self obligations, which bind heart to heart, and redeem this world from being utterly a scene of hollow show, a gold worship; which teaches us to pray “Our Father which art in heaven,” with the heart as well as lip. Home, where we learn to lisp a prayer to our Maker, and at the mother's knee, listen to the beautiful story of Christ blessing the little ones—never to be forgotten, are those sacred ties— the foot may wander from the right path, but through all devious ways, will the whisper of memory pursue; inviting the wanderer back to peace.

Here is it that earth's load should be laid by, and the husband and the brother seek and find their happiness; and the wife and mother feel it the noblest field for their talents, and affections.

Perhaps something of this gleamed faintly into Mrs. Doherty's mind, for there were times when she would talk of sitting down, and being comfortable, and of enjoying herself quietly at home that day; not that she relinquished her active habits; for every fine day found her walking round her fields, and examining her stacks, and barns. Mr. Tudor used to enquire, smiling, if all was right, and to her satisfaction; and then offer her his arm, and lead her off to see some ploughing, or fencing; or whatever the work in hand might be.

But to return to the morning after John the shearer's arrival; he had been up early, and round among the huts, and to see his old acquaintances; and when Gertrude entered a dwelling, where there was sickness, she found him reading by the bedside. She paused on the threshold to listen—slowly and solemnly he proceeded, following the words with his finger, and now and then interlarding the passage with some simple explanation, or deduction. It was a little while before he became aware of her presence, and then he rose and offered her the rough wooden bench he was seated on.

“No, no,” she said pleasantly, “be seated, John; I did not come to interrupt you. How are you this morning, Margaret?” addressing the invalid, who was a shepherd's wife.

“I'm better, Miss Gertrude, John here has been reading to me; and it seems company like. I didn't think of seeing you again, John.”

“We don't know what's before us, Margaret.”

The woman looked her assent, and Gertrude began to unpack her basket of delicacies.

“Mrs. Doherty sent you this part of a cold fowl, and here are a few strawberries.”

The ripe cool fruit was eagerly taken, and her presents laid by on a shelf for future use; and then the shearer entered into conversation with Gertrude: perhaps he thought he read the marks of premature decay in the clear skin, and blue shade round the eyes which yet lingered as witness of her recent illness. But he seemed very anxious to deepen in her mind a sense of the value of religion, reminding her of the Apostle's definition of true religion; and repeating “to keep herself unspotted from the world.”

“That is hard to do” she returned with emotion.

“It is hard, but not too hard Miss, for we have the promise that His strength is made perfect in weakness, so that the more we feel our weakness, just so much more we can count on Him.”

Gertrude's eyes filled with tears, and as she took up her basket, it was with an earnest prayer that she might indeed be kept unspotted from the world. Occupied with these thoughts she entered the back yard. Tudor was there holding by a cord round its neck a snow white young calf.

“Oh! what—” inquired Gertrude in alarm.

“It is a supplicant for your charity, Miss Gertrude,” he returned, “it is doomed to death, and the idea struck me that you might like to rear it as a pet, so I brought it up for you to see.”

“The little beauty,” said she, running her hand over its spotless side, but what shall I do with it?”

“You must feed her on milk, and keep her about the house, that her mother may not see her; let me see, do you think if I partitioned off the drying green, it would do for a run for your nurseling?”

“Oh yes, nicely, but Mr. Tudor, why need it be killed?”

“Its mother is not strong enough to rear it. Shall I put her in the stable 'till the enclosure is made?”

“Thank you. I will fetch it some warm milk.” Gertrude was all delight, and from henceforth, ‘Snowdrop’ became a general object of petting. Tudor used to bring up handfuls of green food from the fields; and Kitty's pockets presented endless stores of that country delicacy, unknown to pastry-cooks, called ‘fat cake,’ in the making of which Mrs Kenlow had earned much celebrity; the dairyman reserved a good can of milk for Miss Gertrude's pet calf; moreover Tudor himself arranged its pen, and fitted up a stall in the stable for its nightly resting place; though he looked very grave, and disclaimed any obligation, when Gertrude thanked him.

“We shall have a busy scene to-day,” remarked Tudor, meeting Gertrude one morning in the back court; “we begin sheep washing, would you like to see it?”

“May I come?”

“Certainly. Mrs. Doherty will be sure to pay us a visit: the walk is not long. We wash near the house, because of the grass paddock to dry the sheep—there, do you see where those hurdles are set up, on the bank of the long water hole?”

“I see—I should much like to look at the poor little things taking their bath.”

“Let the men have an early dinner. I will send Lakin up soon after eleven.”

“It shall be ready.”

There had been a grand day of preparations; Gertrude had risen early to see two huge plum puddings in the pot; and the great copper was full of joints of beef; while a basket of potatoes stood ready to be put down, and two loaves of unusual dimensions were placed in the pantry, among tin mugs and plates, and other requisites for carving, and eating and drinking: the can of tea had been sent down already, and a thin blue column of smoke rose by the water's edge, where the kettle was set to boil.

The running, and bustling necessary to ensure the early meal, and place all things in such a train that she might leave home, had blanched Gertrude's cheeks, and Mrs. Doherty could hardly be persuaded to let her go.

“Well, well, then child, come along; only don't knock up.”

“I will be careful,” said she, and bounded away for her bonnet and shawl.

The day was beautiful; a clear brilliant sun shone with intense rays upon the sparkling water, still flowing cheerfully after the winter's rain: myriads of gnats, and ephemera danced, and fluttered above its surface: the Magpies taking their midday rest in the trees, rehearsed their songs, and indulged in a good deal of social gossip; and on a white dead limb overhanging the sheep pen, an old crow sat with a business-like eye, watching the sheep, and evidently counting on a death among them. The swallows skimmed through the air with nimble wing, and all things seemed to echo the words of the poet— “the gift of life is good.”

The banks of the large water-hole selected to wash the sheep in, were high, and rather rocky, with occasional little green levels, now occupied by pens of sheep; whilst those already washed, were scattering through the great meadows, under the shepherd's care, looking weary with the weight of their long wet wool, bleating unceasingly to the little lambs playing among them; or perhaps a ewe, separated from her curly treasure, ran distractedly about, bleating, and searching the groups of wanton gambollers romping up some bank.

The men stood in a line across the stream, passing the struggling sheep rapidly from hand to hand. Tudor was on the bank roughly dressed in the universal blue serge frock, and he only smiled, on their arrival, and sent Lakin with his coat to spread upon a flat rock, under a Sallow tree, golden with fragrant bloom. Every sheep as it reached the land, passed through his inspecting hands, and it was not till the pen was emptied, that he came to them.

“How do you like it?” he said to Gertrude.

“It is a very animated scene; and how nice, and white the sheep look.”

“Pretty well; yes, very fair.” He was evidently rather proud of them.

“But what a terrible noise they make.”

“Yes, the ewes, and lambs get divided. Does it annoy you? We shall be washing for two days longer, if you prefer to see another flock.”

“Perhaps I may come again to-morrow. How wet the poor men's clothing is,” she added, looking at a group of them assembled on the bank, smoking their short black pipes.

“I have sent Lakin for their dinner.”

“It is ready for them.”

“That's a good girl; the work is so exhausting, they need it; and plenty I hope. We have eight extra hands, besides our own people.”

“Enough for a little regiment; and here are Sarah, and Lakin.”

They just then came in sight, each bearing a huge basket of provisions.

“Hurrah for pretty Sally!” cried a wag.

“Three cheers for dinner!” responded a greater lover of plum pudding than bright eyes.

“Do you dine with the men?” inquired Gertrude.

“Yes, are you going?”

“Mrs. Doherty is speaking to the shepherd, I think she is going home.”

He offered her his arm.

“No, no, go and get your dinner; I would not trust it among those hungry mouths, and great knives,” she said, laughing.

“I will venture it, for I have something to say to you.”

They walked on slowly.

“I do not like the appearance of Sarah.”

“Nor I, yet we were glad to get her.”

“She is undoubtedly a wicked woman: she would love to poison your mind by tales of her own exploits, or of other such worthies as herself. Never listen to them, Gertrude: be courageous, and if she troubles you, promise me that you will let me know.”

“I certainly will; but perhaps she might not obey you.”

“She would not. I have no right to interfere with the household concerns: but I could get her discharged, and find you a substitute. Be sure you tell me.” He was so earnest, and looked so very grave, that Gertrude replied with solemnity:

“Indeed I will.”

They had approached Mrs. Doherty, and Tudor talked a little about the sheep, and then returned to his dinner.

“Take the grog to Tudor at the woolshed, Gertrude,” said Mrs. Doherty, some days later.

She placed the great black bottles in a basket, and departed with her load: as she neared the large building where the shearers were at work, she could hear their merry voices, and the clipping of the shears, and presently stood at the door. Tudor saw her, and came forward to relieve her of her load, and place her behind the screen among the piles of sorted fleeces, while he gave out the spirits.

“What busy work!” she said when he returned.

“Is it not? They are going to have a smoke now, while the pens are filled: will you stay till they begin again?”

She assented, and Tudor continued to fold up the fleeces, and lay them in their proper places; chatting as he did so.

“They earn a deal of money,” he said, in reply to a question from Gertrude. “They lead a nomadic life. Most of them wander from farm to farm, and through the stations, travelling hundreds, and thousands of miles; harvesting, haymaking, and shearing; the climate is so varied in the Colonies, by following the seasons, they have constant work.”

“How?”

“In the low regions, or near Sydney, the Hunter, and other places, the climate is warmer than here, the crops come in earlier, and the sheep may be shorn sooner; suppose then, they begin there, and are occupied some weeks, then we are ready for them, from us they pass to Maneroo, or elsewhere, where the climate is severe, and so on.”

“Are there many of these wanderers?”

“I should say they bear a large proportion of our population, but they are a class whose numbers it would be hard to calculate with accuracy. They are mostly under sentence, they have no home, no district, their idea of pleasure is a gross debauch; they are ignorant in most cases, of the rudiments of education, and religious knowledge. We look for the class, though not individuals, as regularly as the seasons. Perhaps we may never see any of these strange faces again, Gertrude. Of this class it is we read the sad paragraphs of ‘found drowned,’ ‘death from excessive intemperance,’ and a hundred others with the last sad epitaph, ‘the deceased was unknown.’ ”

“Have they no redeeming qualities?”

“Let us hope so. Yes, I think they are often generous to prodigality, and warm-hearted—they are the offspring of ignorance: I hope the time will come when education will eradicate this great moral evil—they are not persons of native birth, and they have no tie here; their wandering life too, is fatal to moral responsibility; for they have no character to support, their very names are unknown, we hail them as ‘mate,’ and if we inquire their name, receive some such answer as I did just now from that uncouth fellow by the door, ‘Lily will do, master,’ such a lily! Can you class him as a lily of the valley, think you, or a fleur-de-lis?”

A merry laugh ended the conversation.

It was Gertrude's delight to learn something of the customs, and modes of life of those around her, and silent as Mr. Tudor usually was, he was ever ready to gratify her; so that by the time the pipes were smoked, and pens filled, she was surprised to find how long she had stood there.

“Do you see that old fellow,” said Tudor, in a low tone, nodding towards a forbidding looking man with a blind eye.

“Yes.”

He has some link with Sarah, he only came into the floor this morning: after he had been up to the kitchen to breakfast, he came to me, and cautioned me about Sarah, begging me not to let her have any grog; he fears her losing control of her tongue, I see. I told him, I had nothing to do with her; but he is uneasy: he has found several excuses to go up to the kitchen, he hates, yet fears her; and does not let her out of his sight: she also is restless; depend on it, some dark secret is between them.”

Gertrude shuddered, and looked alarmed.

“Would you object to part with her?”

He evidently felt distressed, lest in any way, her dark nature should cast a shadow upon the child-like innocence, and guilelessness of the young girl's character. Gertrude had learnt to look up to him in all difficulties, and had great confidence in his power to help; so she only whispered how pleased she should be.

“You would not be afraid of black Nanny would you? she is a good natured creature, and very useful, and clean when about a house: she has been with Mrs. Inkersole some time, but is with the tribe now; they are encamped on the run.”

“Can she cook, and wash?”

“Both well, I believe; she is frequently employed at the Shettles': they like her much.”

Two days later, and by some quiet influence which Gertrude heard nothing of, Sarah had been discharged, and the Aboriginal woman filled her place, till another domestic could be procured. The blind shearer had found occasion to be discharged also, by running his shears into an unfortunate sheep, in such a manner as to cause its almost instant death, and his own removal from the floor in a style more expeditious than agreeable. And the old pair went on their way, bound by the galling chain of crime, and chafing in their bitter hate, and fear.

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