Chapter XXII.

Familiar things would all seem strange,
And pleasure past, be woe;
A record sad of ceaseless change
Is all the world below.


TRANSPLANTED once again into the country, though far from her former abode, Gertrude found herself placed as of underling beneath Miss Turkinton, the lady who graced Miss Lenny's shop, with an icy smile, and fine complexion, and did millinery work. Under her wing Gertrude was trimming a cap, and pondering somewhat confusedly about sheep shearing, and winter evenings: the uncleared mystery of murder; and wandering off to sundry rolls of ribbons, and lace black and white, blond and tarlatan, and rice, and chip, and tuscan straw, and various other things in connexion with the drapery line, when a female head popped in at the door, followed by a long straight body, in rather scanty drapery. A bonnet of white blond, surrounding a face contracted into sundry creases and puckers by an agreeable smile.

“Well! my dear,” she said to Miss Turkinton, who scarcely deigned to notice her, and looked like an iceberg, in her genteel unconcern.

“I just popped in, to see if my little bonnet was trimmed yet.”

“No Miss Watchorn, it is not,” returned that young lady coldly.

“Will it be done to-day my dear?” pursued the visitor, sinking into a chair, which Gertrude had instinctively placed for her, with such a polite air that Miss Watchorn's eyes appeared rivetted to her countenance, for some five minutes afterwards.

“No Miss Watchorn, I said yesterday afternoon, and yesterday morning, and the evening before, that it could not be done this week,” and Miss Turkinton turned to her work, with as much warmth as an iceberg in an arctic summer's day.

“That's very provoking—because—you know—eh, my dear,” and Miss Watchorn nodded with a world of meaning, and compressed her lips as if to keep down something she could say but would not.

“Could I?”—Gertrude began, always sensitive of disappointing, and quite overcome by the nods. “A baby could: it's only altering the ribbons to the fashion,” remarked Miss Turkinton without looking up.

“Then ma'am I'll try and do it to-day.” The visitor nodded approvingly, and expressed her satisfaction in a few broken sentences. “Ha! my dear, very kind. I want it you know, because—Tea meeting, you know”—she nodded mysteriously. Gertrude did not know, but renewed her promise.

“Remember there's Miss Betty O'Brien's wedding dress, and bonnet, and her ten bridesmaids', and Miss Lenny is gone out to a party,” suggested Miss Turkinton: who was considered the beauty of that township, and very ladylike. She certainly was never caught in a bustle; never showed any vulgar symptoms of pleasure at any sacrifice made on her account; it made quite an impression, and the rustic swains looked as silly as possible, as they paid her a compliment over the counter, stealing in behind their sister, or cousin, and “standing treat” of a bonnet, or veil for the sake of seeing the beauty. It was quite distressing to think how much the unfortunate youths must have squandered, to get their fair friends presents, as an excuse for the great pleasure.

“I'll sit up a bit,” returned Gertrude, and Miss Turkinton's face said, “very green,” but she went on working. And Gertrude did sit up till one o'clock; and pricked her fingers, and almost nodded her curls into the candle flame, before it was done: but she had her own peculiar reward. The next day too fully requited her, when she saw Miss Watchorn's evident pleasure in the renovation her bonnet had undergone. “It looked better than new. Very well indeed, for a bush girl.—Hope you'll come and see me some day, my dear,—have heard all about it,—him—you know.—Miss Lenny let me into it.”

Gertrude promised to visit, and tried to look bright and satisfied; and she gathered Miss Betty O'Brien's sky blue tarlatan flounces.

“Thank goodness that old bore's gone!” remarked the beauty, when Miss Watchorn departed.

“Did you hear what a party Miss O'Brien's going to give?”

“No. How many parties they have down here! they seem party mad”—Gertrude had nearly committed herself, by saying—Miss Turkinton looked coldly shocked at her ignorance, and remarked “It will be very stylish—there are about one hundred invited, I've got an invitation, and Miss Lenny, and perhaps you may; I saw Miss Annie Brennan talking to Miss Lenny about you, and as you helped to do the work.”

“It would be very kind of them: but if I have a day to spare I would rather stay at home.”

Miss Turkinton had always thought her low, she was now sure of it; and sneered her opinion.

Gertrude had seen enough of the romping, and dancing, and feasting, at these parties to desire to avoid them; and she craved for a little conversation with her books; and yes, poor woman has such a weak nature, to ponder a little on former dreams, and call up the images of the past. It was a weakness; and when she had gratified it, and felt so wretchedly sad, and no Mrs. Doherty to protect her, nor true hearted Tudor to divert, and counsel her, she was conscious that it was; and forbade herself the indulgence for the future: saying, quite resolutely, “No, I will not think of them again. I am alone now, quite alone! I must remember this:” but the idea failed to be inspiring: it set her crying—she seemed forsaken. “It was hard: very hard.” She sobbed; “but it was quite right of Mr. Tudor to go away and not see after her. Why should he? she could not wish it; and what other friends had she?—No, no, it was quite right; he was certainly right—only she was so weak not to be quite contented,”—and she bent over the old German Bible. “It is good always to wait on the Lord.”

In a little while Gertrude had become pretty well acquainted with Miss Lenny's most frequent callers; among these was Miss Watchorn, and although Miss Turkinton might despise her little commissions, she found in Gertrude a ready and obliging assistant; and she soon became interested in her, and called occasionally for the purpose of carrying her away from needles and threads, for a walk in the neighbourhood.

Perhaps the contrast they presented might have placed the young girl under Miss Watchorn's protective friendship; and served to cement their kindly feelings for each other. The one was rather small; and the Saxon origin visible in the blue eye and fair hair; the other very tall, with dark hair, and brows extending in an unbroken line across her face—these were the natural features, which varied their appearance: but how much wider than the difference of Saxon and Norman, had life set those countenances apart. The one yet timidly looking forth to the unknown future, confiding, hoping all things. The other had learnt all those bitter lessons which are included in a knowledge of the world; therefore her friendships were fewer, her hopes less sanguine: she was used to disappointments; but she was not misanthropical—not at all—life had not been all a Sahara, dry, and cheerless; it had had its oases; and there was a fresh spring gushing forth in the heart still.

Gertrude's kindly feelings were awakened by the lonely lot of Miss Watchorn; the contemptuous term of “an old maid,” which the young and thoughtless are so ready to affix, had long settled on her; but Gertrude learnt to look beneath the crust of peculiarities, and perhaps little failings which she displayed; and she found a kind heart, whose pulse beat full and quick, at the touch of kindness. Who knows the tale of disappointed hopes, and buried affections, that may lie hid in the bosom of that class, for whom no partner of life's way, hurries from his daily toil to seek his happiness at home; for whom there is no music of youthful voice and laughter?

“Could we not find some nice retired road?” enquired Gertrude, as she tied her bonnet strings, preparatory to starting on one of their little rambles.

“Why my dear, all our bush roads are very retired, very much so; but we will call at some of the farm-houses.”

“I did not mean the road would be too lonely,” returned Gertrude, quickly.

“You like solitude: but the country people are very hospitable; we shall get a cup of nice tea, with rich sweet cream in it—and soon it will do you good—for you are not strong, you must remember; and indeed young people,—”

A prudential lecture would have followed; but Gertrude was ready to start, and their time being limited, talking could not be permitted to delay their progress.

The idea of a nice quiet walk, was quickly dispelled, for their solitude only extended over the distances intervening between the farm-houses.

Miss Watchorn knew all the dwellers in them, and what with Mrs. Robinson's toothache, Nelly's burnt hand, and the enlarging of this circle, and the lessening of that, there was a reason found why each should receive a call of enquiry, or congratulation, or condolence, and at each place Gertrude was introduced, and had a round of questions to answer: the cups of green tea were indeed becoming alarming—so many good wives, who would not be satisfied without seeing the huge tea-cups, covered with flowers, that would have puzzled Linnaeus to name, emptied—loaves baked under inverted iron-pots, rather retentive of the flavour, or at least odour, of yesterday's cabbage; and “damper” baked without any cover, among the ashes, were sights which alarmed her.

“Is it not time we returned?” she suggested.

“No at all—I must go as far as Mrs. Collins's, they have taken a piece of land on a clearing lease. It will be a new sight to you, perhaps.”

“Yes, there were no tenants at Murrumbowrie. I did hear of clearing leases, but I do not understand them.”

Miss Watchorn began to explain, and a very faint pathway being indicated as leading to their destination, they started on their way—for a little while there were rough fences at times in sight, but bye and bye they were passed, and their path was extremely solitary. Gertrude was already weary, and unable to forget that the same ground had to be gone over again in returning, but Miss Watchorn stepped along with unabated strength, amusing her companion with tales of persons who had lost their way, and piling up a sort of hecatomb of disasters, to beguile the attention of her young friend. The sombre grey stemmed trees appeared as if they had stood just so, no younger, for ages; so dull and graceless; and the occasional mingling of small trees, of scrub; what a weary tale it told of toil, before the corn could rustle there! The faint track was becoming yet fainter, and threatened to desert them altogether, when the jingling of a bell attached to the neck of a cow reassured them.

“We are just there now,” said Miss Watchorn triumphantly.

Gertrude “hoped so,” in rather a weary tone.

Then there were the strokes of an axe, and presently the settler's camp, and a rude little shed erected round a chimney of bark and logs. A neat little woman with a smiling face, and hands stained to a colour approaching the negro tint, which she explained was with helping her “Master” “burn off,” came forward to welcome them, and find a box, or two in the tent for seats.

“We have been here four weeks come Saturday” she said in reply to a question from Miss Watchorn.

“Will it be long before your cottage is built?” enquired Gertrude, looking up at the canvas roof above them.

“Not for some months. We are clearing a bit of ground down there, for corn and potatoes; and then it must be fenced, because of the cows.”

“You have much work to do.”

“Dear heart, work! we are always working, from sunrise to sunset. My little Katie she says sometimes, ‘I think mother no one ever worked so hard as us’—My master he's burning off now, where you see the fires, and the boys are helping him: we were all there, but Katie and I came up to put the kettle on.”

Katie, a nice steady, little girl, in a blue pinafore, was visible every now and then, running in and out of the hut, with her arms full of lightwood, or bearing a tin can of water from the creek near by.

The domestic scene with its inhabitants might have furnished materials for a sketch of Morland's happy family—Hens guarded their downy broods in the camp; and the old grey cat napped upon the patchwork quilt; dogs strolled in and out; and pigs peered with inquisitive grunt into the canvas dwelling; the parrot in a rough wooden cage was hung from a tree near—and the younger children came trooping in to fill up the picture; and among the furniture the Flutina had not been forgotten.

While the good wife chatted with her visitors, Katie had boiled the kettle, and the cordial of the bushman's heart in all fatigues and cares, the cup of tea, made its appearance; and the chests piled up to form a table were spread with refreshments.

The shadows were lengthening, and the light streaming between the trunks of the trees assumed that vivid golden hue which betokens the approach of sunset.

Reminded of the long walk before her, Gertrude once more assayed another effort in the eating and drinking department.

The picture which presents itself to the eye of the uninitiated, of a farm life, is very frequently little else than a sort of Magic Lanthorn, in which No. 1 represents a rustic whistling at the plough, No. 2. the golden corn falling before the sickle, No. 3 merry maids romping in a hayfield with forks and rakes in their hands, and so on, through harvest homes, and other good things: but it is when one comes face to face with a high thick forest of standing trees, which have to disappear before the first idea of the Magic Lanthorn can be realized, that the actual life of the farm presents itself.

Gertrude fell into such a train of thought as they returned, for they had deviated from the path by which they came, and by way of making a short cut, added considerably to the difficulties of their journey; here they entered an area dotted with wood piled up, and sending forth columns of smoke, and showers of sparks, and ruddy flames shooting up among them; anon they were entangled in a labyrinth of logs lying near, and limbless as they had been left after their branches had been lopped to burn.

“Shall we go back?” enquired Gertrude.

“Oh no, not at all—a little jumping will extricate us.”

A little jumping was tried accordingly. The forest now prostrate had been very thick, and the flames which had passed over it had done no more than blacken the timber, much to the discomfort of the females, when a male voice calling “I say misses, you're in a mess there, I expect,” agreeably startled them.

“Rather so,” responded Miss Watchorn, struggling with a long black branch of a bramble; and Gertrude perched upon a great log looked round for the owner of the voice: he presently made his appearance, with an axe and a grubbing hoe swung over his shoulders.

“Where are you going?” he enquired approaching. Miss Watchorn explained.

“Ha, ha, you be making short work on it; and the young woman there looks like grief on a monument, a looking arter patience.”

Gertrude laughed at the transposed position of the quotation, as well as her position, and stepped down wondering who the quoter from the poets might be.

“Just you come round this ere way misses, it's about the shortest way you can take now.”

Following their guide they presently emerged upon the yet unbroken bush, and soon found themselves at a rough wooden building, with a few fields beyond it. They had fallen in with one of the decent class of small farmers; there were sundry substantial evidences of prosperity about the dwelling; and a neat Whitechapel cart under the shed, told that the wife and daughters were a little “upish” in their notions. The girls were engaged in the milking yard at that hour, from whence a fine young man was summoned. A cordial offer to harness the old brown pony to the cart, was thankfully accepted, and the weary ramblers started anew.

“We must'nt undertake such a walk again, Miss Gonthier, you seem half dead with fatigue; and I am a little tired myself.”

Gertrude smiled.

“It's awkward walking through the bush,” remarked their charioteer.

“We have been about a mile and a half beyond this to Mrs. Collins's new farm.”

“All the way from town there?” ejaculated the young man with very natural surprise.

“We are famous walkers.”

He looked at the white face of the young girl as if he thought she had had too much of walking for that time: but being like most bush reared youths, shy in the presence of strange ladies, relapsed into silence.

Miss Watchorn did the talking for all three, with unabated vigour.

The road was rough and hilly, and from the elevations they enjoyed many a fine view, tinted by the last rays of the sun; and the glowing flood which the clouds, gathered in refractive masses above, cast over the whole landscape, would have made the most sterile scene lovely, even without the fine outlines of the blue mountains, which closed in the view: but the brilliant sheen of the west had given place to a sombre grey, before they alighted at Miss Lenny's door.