Chapter XIV.

“The hounds ran swiftly through the Woods,
The nimble deere to take,
That with their cryes, the hills and dales,
An echo shrill did make.”


A little ashamed perhaps of the disclosure he had made, Mr. Batally pressed Tudor to fulfil his promise of introducing him to Mr. Lewis, and the two accordingly rode over to Wattletree Flat, a distance of some miles.

The Mimosa, from which the farm took its name, grew in dense scrubs over the hills, that abutted upon the level occupied by the cultivation, and homestead. The latter was a collection of slab buildings, white-washed, and shingled; but far from presenting an imposing appearance: while huge rambling barked sheds of hay, and wheat, backed up the cottages, and at least added the promise of plenty to the scene.

Tudor led the way into the yard, and dismounting, they entered one of the principal buildings: here they found Mrs. Staples, and her youngest sister, Ellen, a fine young girl, just growing up to womanhood. The greeting was cordial on both sides, and although Mr. Batally was received with some little embarrassment, which betrayed itself in apparent reserve, the visitors were presently seated, and conversing on the subject of the call.

“Mr. Lewis, and John are out at present”, said Mrs. Staples, “but if you could stay to-night, Sir, they will be home about sunset; and you could go kangarooing, the first thing in the morning.”

Mr. Batally assented.

Tudor inquired after her sisters, and found that they were out riding with the gentlemen.

“They have gone to the gullies, to look after some heifers, which strayed the week before last, Mr. Tudor.”

“Rough riding for them: but Miss Jane is a famous horse-woman, I know. Do you remember the time she helped me yard that mob of young cattle, which I brought off my run? I was quite surprised; the dogs did not work well, and I was having a deal of trouble with them, up and down the ranges, when Miss Jane came to my aid. I fancy I see her now, whistling the dogs, and cracking her stockwhip.” Tudor laughed as he spoke, and the females joined him.

“She is very wild,” said her sister, with approval, rather than otherwise. “I have a new schoolmaster, Mr. Tudor.”

“Indeed, he suits you better than the last, I hope.”

“Yes, he is a fine scholar, Mr. Tudor. I expect the children to make great progress at their books, now. Would you like to look in at them, before you go?”

Tudor expressing a desire, the mother led the way to the hut appropriated to the use of the schoolmaster; and Ellen, who had been embarrassed by the consciousness of being untidy, gladly escaped, to make some improvements to her attire, and to seek for some music, anticipating being asked to play the piano, in the evening.

The education which Mrs. Doherty so severely rated, had not been of that sound quality which, under any circumstances, is a blessing: it had been of a character rather to injure than otherwise.

Suffered to run wild till they had attained some twelve years, they were then committed to an inferior school in Sydney, “to be accomplished,” as Mrs. Shettle said: but what the next four years had accomplished, was debateable.

Mrs. Doherty's summary had not been altogether incorrect; although a little spoilt wool, and a few errors against harmony, were not the worst of their attainments. Their active, bustling mother had concluded that ‘gentility’ consisted in exemption from all occupations, therefore her daughters became completely indolent; and not being sufficiently enlightened to derive amusement from books, and having no manual employments, became listless, and almost unhappy; relieved in the case of Jane, by an exuberant spirit, which led her into manly pursuits, for want of some feminine occupation.

They were of the class who patronised Dugdale's daughters, because they could not do their own needle work: in fact, their misguided education had robbed them of all a woman's true happiness; that which springs from duties fulfilled, and competency for her station in life.

The droning of youthful voices over the doings of Peter Careful, or some such ancient worthy, of spelling book notoriety, guided the visitors to the schoolroom: and Mrs. Staples opened the door, and revealed a group of healthy young people, with cheeks like ruddy winter apples; and attire, at least in the boys' case, bearing the cut of the travelling bush Tailor; indeed, that individual might, at the moment, be seen seated at a window across the yard, stitching away.

The new schoolmaster was duly introduced, he was a man of middle height, rather well dressed, with a large ring on his finger, and a watch chain crossing his gay satin waist-coat.

Tudor read the man's countenance with dissatisfaction; the eye which never met a steady gaze, the attempt at learned conversation, and the low phrases intermingled, stamped the character of the man, to one so accustomed to close observation. It was to him, distressing to look at the little fair haired girl, with her wooden doll's head peeping from under her pinafore; and round upon the three fine little boys, and remember how thoughtlessly they were committed to the tuition of a man, perhaps of dishonourable, and impure mind, to mould those tender hearts, and to sow in the unoccupied fallow, the seed which should bring forth either the thistle, or the golden grain.

Mrs. Staples was evidently quite overcome by a few Latin phrases, and the assuming manners of the new schoolmaster.

“I see you have Hans at work there,” said Tudor, looking across the window, where the little German tailor sat. This was after the children's books had been admired, and the sums on the slates duly noticed.

“Yes, he has been here a fortnight; Staples brought up some pieces of tweed, and fustian, and he has been making them up,” returned Mrs. Staples.

“We are wanting him down our way.”

“Shall I tell him, Mr. Tudor?”

“Thank you, I will speak to him, myself.” He crossed the yard to do so.

“Well Hans, almost done your job?”

“Ya, Mister Tudor, dis is de last.”

“Very good; will you come down to Murrumbowrie? our people are in want of you.”

The tailor ran his hand through his hair, as if to set it still more on end; and made sundry grimaces.

“What now? you do not want to go drinking before you begin the next job?”

“No, no, Misther, I have not been drunkse for one week,” returned Hans, in a tone of injured innocence: for his interrogator spoke sternly.

Hans was a little square faced man, rather florid, from his free potations, quite a character: always wandering from farm to farm, following his trade, and looked upon by the steadier class, as a nuisance, and among the bon vivants as a droll, cheerful creature.

Tudor arranged that he was to come down for a few days, to do what was required among the people; and strongly forbade the introduction of spirits, which the little tailor promised, quite awed by his tall commanding companion; though without the slightest intention of fulfilling his promise.

Tudor presently departed, leaving Mr. Batally to amuse the ladies, or be amused by them, till the return of the riding party.

Mr. Lewis cheerfully undertook to conduct Mr. Batally to the chase; and provided him with a horse trained to the sudden turns, and incessant leaps, necessary to avoid standing trees, and clear fallen ones, in pursuing the kangaroo: three splendid dogs were added, and at daybreak next day they started.

“The best place for ‘foresters’ is the stringy bark ranges, towards the gullies,” said Lewis, “we are sure to find some there, and the ground is good for riding over.”

They were saddling their horses at the back door, and the females were standing round watching them; whilst the little boys in true character were riding on sticks, and driving imaginary refractory cattle, which required great exertions of voice to manage. The noble kangaroo dogs eagerly watched the proceedings; and the splendid sky, purely blue, and dotted by castellated clouds, promised a fine day for their sport.

Mr. Batally was in his glory; astonishing the females by his gallantry, and relating such hair-breath escapes, and tremendous adventures in foreign parts, as put into the shade everything they had previously heard, or read; although the style of books they commonly perused were the Radcliffian order of romances; and received as authentic documents, while such parts as passed their comprehension were pronounced “deep reading.”

“I am a mind to go with you,” said Jane.

“You should have thought of that sooner, you are too late now my girl,” resumed Staples.

“Why?” demanded she, with some spirit.

“The horses are all in the bush.”

“Well, I can run them in on Mr. Batally's horse, it's standing in the stable. I'll be after you directly, Lewis.”

“Very good, but how will you find us?”

“My word! Can't I, cooey,” and in exemplification of her prowess she uttered one of those shrill, prolonged cries, commonly adopted from the aborigines; in the clear morning air her voice rung round the hills, echoing back in a wild manner. A general laugh terminated the refrain.

Jane was five feet nine inches in height, and a fine looking, cheerful girl; and her eccentricities were received very charitably, by all who knew her; indeed, her sisters being deficient in energy, and apt in their endeavours to be genteel, to assume a reserved manner, and sit silent before strangers, she was rather admired, particularly among her male friends.

Notwithstanding the practice Mr. Batally had had, in the prairies of North America, and pampas of South America, his companion did fall into the idea that he had some difficulty in keeping his seat, as they dashed through the heavy stringy bark forest, and belts of scrub, in pursuit of two young kangaroos, or ‘flyers,’ as Mr. Lewis called them. Not satisfied, however, with the death of one of these, the huntsmen next encountered, and chased a large one; which finally, when hotly pursued, plunged into the creek; and stood up to its middle at bay; ready to seize and clasp in its forearms, while using its long hind ones a la bowie-knife, any dog which approached. After shooting the poor creature, such parts as were considered fit for the table were slung across the saddle, and they turned their horses' heads homewards: just then, a distant cooey reached them, and, presently, in answer to their calls Jane appeared, having been detained by a little hunting on her own account: she had followed a female kangaroo till she had cast her young one from her pouch; and disencumbered of its weight, readily escaped, and the melancholy bleating of the little creature, as twisted up in a handkerchief it hung from the horn of the saddle, attested its presence.

“What will do you with it,” inquired Mr. Batally, as he rode by her side.

“I shall rear it as a pet. I have two now, you must see them.”

“You will not go home to-night,” said Lewis.

“Thank you. I shall hope for another evening in the pleasant company of the ladies.”

The day's exertions had been sufficiently arduous, to make rest very acceptable; and feeling that he could shine among the “rustics,” as Mr. Batally mentally called them, he was by no means impartial to their society, and appeared to some advantage among them: he romped with the little boys, smoked with the young men, and complimented the girls: and if his Latin was not very erudite, it was at least equal to the schoolmaster's, with whom he argued many profound questions; and he returned home, bearing a joint of kangaroo meat, and the good opinions of all parties, although Lewis perceived that he was not the best of horsemen, at least, in the colonial sense: but then his style was acquired from the celebrated Don Jose, in South America; and might well be different, yet perfect of its kind.

The dissimilarity of the inhabitants of Murrumbowrie, and Wattletree Flat was conspicuous. Tudor was quite unreadable to Mr. Batally: nor could he fathom Gertrude's character, for he wanted the clue—that strong, religious principle which guided her every action—the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom—and the faith in Him, which in every perplexity, can say, “Even so, Lord, for so it seemeth good in thy sight.” Perhaps he understood his Aunt the best.

Neither did Mr. Tudor enter into his propensities, to draw pleasure from the pain of others, even though that other were but an opossum or kangaroo.

“I say, with Mr. William Howitt,” said he, when questioned on the subject, “let them enjoy God's good gift of light and sunshine, and if they must be the victims of our rights, they should never be the objects of our wantonness.”

“But if that is the case, Mr. Tudor—” began the other, hotly.

“Pardon me, a truce to arguments, I am inconvertible, and have no hopes of making a proselyte.”