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  ― 7 ―

1. CHAPTER I.

THE DISTRICT

note

The sun had reached the horizon, and the fringe of gum-trees on the edge of the hill was thrown out in strong relief by the bright, intense light behind, while the rest of the wooded country lay in shade.

The evening breeze was faintly rising, and stirred the leaves of bignonias and cedar-treesnote in front of a low, steep-roofed cottage, in the verandah of which a lady sat, alternately patting a huge kangaroo dognote and speaking to a man who stood without the gate which separated the verandah from the yard.

‘Really, my good man, it is no use for you to stay! I have told you that my brother—that Mr. Herbert is not at home. He has been up the country.’note

‘They say he'll be back to-night,’ the man answered, in a somewhat dogged and surly tone.

‘Probably so, very probably; but of course he cannot be expected to attend to you. Can't you say what you want? You are one of Mr. Lang's men, I think.’

‘I am, my lady,’ and a half-smile of no very pleasant meaning changed his countenance for an instant. ‘Well, as it seems I can't get a hearing to-night, maybe you'll be pleased to tell the gentleman that Lynch wants a word with him badly. He'll attend to me to-morrow, I'll warrant.’

Touching his hat, he turned away. The lady rose, too, and did her best to watch him off the premises, for she had lived long enough among convicts, she said, not to trust them.




  ― 8 ―

At the men's huts, a short way from the house, the man Lynch lingered to light his pipe.

‘Got your ticket,note Lynch?’ asked one man.

Lynch smiled bitterly. ‘Ask Lang,’ he said.

‘O, Lynch is going to marry; don't you know that?’ another said, stretching himself on the ground as he spoke.

‘Ay, ay! Is that it? What, to pretty singing Nell, I suppose? And is she to work on the farm and draw double rations,note or how?’

‘How?’ said Lynch, ‘how? Why, when I've got my ticket, I'll need no double ration from any man. But there's the pinch. Lang don't fancy tickets!’

‘I've heard he's a hard man,’ remarked the first speaker. ‘For me, I've a wife and four children over sea, and I want no more of that gear. As to a ticket, if I had one this minute, I'd get it made out for this district. You may go further and fare worse than Herbert for a master, I think. He's a fair man.’

‘He is,’ returned Lynch, ‘and I want to have a word with him now. I suppose 'tis by Bengala Creek he'll be coming?’

‘Ay, ay, no need to go round now, there aint a thimblefull of water there.’

‘Good evening,’ said Lynch; ‘I'll go round that way.’

Lynch crossed the paddock, climbed some slip-rails at the further end, and was soon in the thick bush, followed by a little white terrier with cut and disfigured ears, who snuffed at the hollow trees, and barked many threats at the opossums that were coming forth for their nightly revels. Lynch soon emerged into clearer ground where there were wheel-tracks, and the remains of a wooden bridge, which had once spanned a tolerably full stream of water. But the water was now dried up, and nothing remained but a few broken planks to speak of the once existing bridge. Horse and foot passengers could easily cross at the side in dry weather; but after any rain there was a bog which forced them to take a much longer round to reach the little settlement of Bengala.

At this spot Lynch stopped; he seated himself on an old stump of a tree, and crushing some gum leaves in his fingers, which caused them to emit a strong aromatic scent, he watched the path with a stern, dark expression. There was that in the countenance of the man which would have made most persons turn away; yet his features were good, his figure powerful and well made, though the air with which his small cabbage-tree hat note was pushed on one side, and his whole bearing, was almost reckless. The sun was getting low, and already the white fungi were beginning to glow on the fallen trees like gigantic glow-worms,


  ― 9 ―
casting a pale white light around them, when a sound of horse's feet echoed round the bush, and Lynch started up. A gentleman on horseback soon appeared, going a fast trot. The horse shied at Lynch, which caused the rider to pull up.

‘Beg pardon, sir,’ said Lynch, uncovering his head, and stepping nearer to him. ‘No harm, sir.’

‘O, Lynch, is it? why, I thought it was one of those troublesome bushrangers. I hear they are out in this direction. Rascals! I wish they may be taken!’

‘Many a good fellow has been driven to that trade,’ replied the man. ‘I took the liberty of calling to beg you, Mr. Herbert, to speak for me, sir.’

‘In trouble again, Lynch?’ said Mr. Herbert, putting his horse into a walk, and leaving room in the path for the man to keep alongside.

‘The old story, sir, and something more. The fact is, Mr. Herbert—I've a fancy—I want to get married—and the girl's willing. It would make another man of me, sir; but he wont allow it, he'll not answer for me, nor apply for leave; he don't want women and children, he says.’

‘When will your ticket be due, Lynch?’

‘In three months if I go without punishment.’

‘Why, you might have had it a year ago?’

‘Nearly two; but I'd no character—no recommendation—only stripes;note but three months would do it.’

‘Wait then. Get your ticket, and then marry.’

‘That will be never, sir.’

‘It depends on yourself.’

‘It does not,’ said Lynch, with sudden energy. ‘I'm a good workman; Lang don't want to lose me, but I'll work no more! I'll disable myself before I'll be so used again!’

‘Well, I'm sorry for you, my good fellow; but what I am to do in the business I don't know. I spoke in your behalf once.’

‘And I got forty down, of which I bear the marks this blessed minute! Yes! he was savage then; but it isn't to be got off anything now; only to be married. It is hard I consider, after seven years' hard work; four-and-thirty years of age. . . . .’

‘Come, come, my good fellow, you can hardly expect to be able to do all you please here, in the land of punishment. You were sent here for committing a crime.’

‘And I paid the penalty! I left a comfortable home, a farm as good as any in this colony. I left my mother and my sweetheart, who died of a decline for sorrow. I have worked—and after all, sir,’ he added, in a softened tone, ‘I wouldn't be so eager after it, but you see, sir, the girl


  ― 10 ―
ran away to my hut, three or four weeks ago, on account of hard usage at home. I took her in and kept her there, and treated her as if she had been a queen, sir; but it's got about, and they talk lightly of her, and even the old father says the best thing she can do is to get married. She is a good girl, sir, as Miss Issy Lang knows, and fond of me, which aint p'r'aps altogether in her favour, as you may think.’

‘Well, I will see Mr. Lang, and do what I can. In the meantime keep out of scrapes, and be civil and patient in your manner, my friend, as I have often advised you. Now, good evening!’

Mr. Herbert trotted on, and was soon out of sight. The convict retraced his steps for a few yards, and then took another turning which led to his master's property, on which he was an assigned servant.note

A loud barking of many dogs, from a deep-toned hound to the stockman's yelping cur, greeted Mr. Herbert, the master of Warratah Brush, on his return to the farm, after a six months' absence at his station in New England, where the sanguinary attacks of the aboriginesnote on men and cattle kept every man as much as possible at his post. Telling the man to give his horse a good feed, and patting the dogs which pressed up to him, Mr. Herbert entered the verandah before mentioned, where his sister still sat, enjoying the cool evening. After the first greeting, she said, ‘You are late, John!’

‘Yes; I was detained by one of Lang's men, or I should have been here before.’

‘Ah! he was here, an ill-looking fellow! Pray, John, don't encourage him; our men are well disposed, but a bad example is very catching, and . . . .’

‘Well, Mary, and what is the news?’ interrupted the brother rather abruptly, as he sat down to the meal his sister had prepared for him.

‘Hem! you don't expect news, do you? But by-the-bye, I think there is a little news, for a wonder; a great deal has happened since you left us. There is a very nice person here, John! She is governess at Langville—of course not in the least appreciated there; they are worse than ever;—poor thing, she is quite glad to come here, and have a little talk now and then. She is a ladylike person, and I am sure that she is shocked at Issy, and tired to death of Kate and her mother.’

‘How does Mr. Farrant make way?’ interrupted the brother.

‘Oh, pretty well! Of course he is a great favourite now, just at first; and then he allows no faults in any one. But he will live to find them out. I told you in one of my letters that Issy was evidently setting her cap at him. . . . .’

‘And the new people?’ said Mr. Herbert.




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‘The Veseys! O, I know little of them. I have not seen them except at church. Rather smart people, I believe. Mr. Budd, who of course knows all the news, says they have brought plenty of money.’

‘They could not have come at a better time for investing it, then,’ said the gentleman, leaning back, and looking very grave. ‘The best sheep in the colony may be had at four shillings a-piece.’

Mr. Herbert presently said that he should go and take a turn about the place. Accordingly, first lighting his cigar, he sauntered out, the dogs rousing themselves from their drowsy attitudes to creep lazily behind him.

Crossing part of a bush-paddock—that is, a piece of the bush or forest ground enclosed, but not cleared—Mr. Herbert looked towards a stock-yard, then, apparently changing his mind, he turned towards a low fence, partly hedged by quince and lemon, and went into the garden.

Not a leaf or a twig was stirring, yet it was anything but ‘still,’ such a medley of sounds filled the air. Grasshoppers and frogs, mosquitos and curlews, mingled their chirping, buzzing, and wailing with the more distant howl of the dingos, or native dogs, while sharp-nosed opossums leapt from branch to branch. There was a feeling of intense heat and drought; a universal cry for moisture, if not rain, seemed to rise from each crackling leaf and blade.

Leaving the ‘Master’ to note the condition of his garden, about which he and his sister were more careful than was customary at that time in the colony (we are speaking of some twenty years ago), we will, to prevent confusion, give a short sketch of the district and those families with whom principally the story has to do.

A new colony grows apace, and civilization, when once fairly set in, progresses so rapidly, that the very face of the country is altered. But about twenty years ago, more or less, the district of which we speak retained very much of its natural grandeur and beauty, while slowly a few poor bark huts, used respectively for a forge, a wheelwright's hut, and a store, had clustered round a recently built church. These, with the school-house, formed the ‘township’ of Bengala. Warratah Brush, Mr. Herbert's farm, was adjoining, and, with its well-cleared paddocks, and rather tasteful and neat out-buildings, formed a great ornament to the place.

Nine miles away was Langville, the ‘great’ house belonging to the ‘great’ man of the district.

Mr. Lang was a descendant of some Nottingham tradesman, who, failing at home, had carried the remains of his fortune to New South Wales, and, with a shrewd head and ‘good times,’ had gathered riches.


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The present Mr. Lang possessed flocks and herds, and many a goodly acre. He had built himself a stone mansion, and had been for some years the ruling spirit of the country for many miles round. He had a large family of girls and boys—the two elder girls just grown up.

Before the present church had been built, service was performed at Langville by a clergyman who lived as a settler on his own estate at least eighteen miles off. Mr. Lang felt somewhat aggrieved when the church was erected. It was so much pleasanter to have the service under his own roof, instead of driving nine miles of rough road. Sufficient names having been collected by a very active spirit, a rising man, called Budd, a clergyman was appointed to the district.note A parsonage-house was also erected, principally owing to the said Mr. Budd's unwearied energy in raising funds, for which he got heartily abused, but pleased himself by bringing the subject into notice when or wherever it was possible to do so. Mr. Herbert was descended from an old north country family, of late years impoverished, and transplanted to Bath; where his father, the General, had died, leaving one son and one daughter, who having no other tie save a strong love for Bath and Bath society, determined to accompany her brother when he resolved to emigrate. As an army officer he was entitled to a grant of land,note which, together with the remains of the Herbert fortune, enabled him to make a good beginning in the colony. But he was too speculative and too liberal for growing rich fast. He had theories, too, which did not exactly suit colonial politics. He was, perhaps, more respected and admired than liked; and between him and Mr. Lang there was at once a cordial intercourse and constant misunderstanding.

Mr. Lang's wealth did not influence the Herberts as much as he thought it should; while, on the other hand, all the higher points of the Herberts were utterly valueless in the eyes of the Langs. Between the gentlemen there were other sources of discord. Mr. Lang was, of course, a magistrate, and of course he had a great number of convicts as servants.

There were no police magistrates in those days.note If a prisoner offended he was summoned before a board of magistrates, composed of the neighbouring settlers. Therefore, if a master desired that forty lashes should be given, who was there to object? ‘Masters must support one another.’

Justice to the convict—the possibility of a master's being in fault or being mistaken—was not much thought of.

When the life was too hard, punishment too frequent, the convict generally contrived to run away, and became a bushranger. This was their only means of escape. But Mr. Herbert considered that his duty as


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a magistrate, calling upon him to hear a cause and judge upon it, was separate from his position as a master of assigned servants. He was sometimes considered perverse and unneighbourly because he would insist on evidence and conviction before punishment. More than once had he ‘got off’note a prisoner, and was looked upon, in consequence, with suspicion and distrust, by Mr. Lang particularly.

The ladies of the two families, also, had their own separate and peculiar causes of mutual complaint. Miss Herbert thought Mrs. Lang dressed showily and vulgarly, and, with her old country notions, was annoyed at the pride of wealth and the many inconsistencies in the Langville establishment; while Mrs. Lang patronisingly deplored ‘poor dear Miss Herbert's old-fashioned appearance, and wondered what she and her brother found to be proud of, living in such a mean little place, and in such bad style!’

Yet with all this drawback, the intercourse between the two families was brisk, and a superficial observer might have taken them for even intimate friends.

Miss Herbert was many years older than her brother, and although she had begun to find the Bath society a very different thing as years crept on, and the place she had once occupied as a comely, fashionable young lady, was taken by others, and herself passed by—still at this distance she was wont to look back upon it with a halo of fond regret. By constantly contrasting the past and the present, she really began to believe that she never had an annoyance or met with a stupid or undesirable person till she came to Australia. In the flattering haze of distance, each passing acquaintance was magnified into a friend. Those morning visits and evening parties, the shopping and bazaars, and all the busy bustle with which idle people contrive to surround themselves, once considered a ‘bore,’ were now keenly missed, and the defects and inconveniences of her present life, including her neighbour's faults, were magnified in proportion. She had come out full of theories that a primitive and free life was the best. Yet now she often felt keenly provoked that she had it not in her power to show the Langs what she called ‘the proper thing.’ Her brother was determined and consistent in his opposition to any attempt at fashion or show. He laughed at ‘folly and humbug,’ as he called it, and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom from restraint, and the sociability without show, which was the general custom of the country; though here and there a rich man might pretend to a little more ‘style.’

They both despised the attempts and failures at Langville; and yet whenever an invitation came for them to go there, it was gladly


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accepted. Miss Herbert enjoyed the easy, softly cushioned chairs, the thick carpets lately arrived from England, the only ones in the district,—and all the luxuries which wealth afforded. She liked, too, to criticise the mistakes, and tried to set Mrs. Lang right in many ways. Mrs. Lang, on her side, while pretending to scorn or pity the Herberts' poverty, had a secret, restless desire for the approval of ‘the Herberts.’ She sought their advice in many indirect ways, and dreaded their criticism above all things. Were the real truth known, Miss Herbert's pride in her own good old family, and the value she set on birth, which was more apparent in her than in her brother, though perhaps not more deep, was the roc's eggnote to Langville, and caused a certain soreness and jealousy which would have been far worse but for one circumstance. Mr. Herbert professed himself one of those men who, seeing virtues and beauties in every young animal, from pigs and puppies to colts and calves, consider the young of their own race a mistake. Children of all ages were bores and pests, particularly in Australia, where they lived more among the family, and were not condemned, as a general rule, to imprisonment in the nursery. Yet, curiously enough, the very first visit he paid to Langville, he, then quite a young man, took a liking to the second girl of the family, which, while it surprised himself more than any one else, never lessened. He had been ushered into the drawing-room to await the coming of the lady of the house, and to his intense disgust, a whole set of children were drawn from their play in the verandah to watch him. They were not shy, and from taking observations at the window, they proceeded to approach nearer and stare; the eldest girl even ventured on speech, and asked him how many horses he kept?

This was a signal, and immediately one took up his whip, and another his hat, and three of the party, it must be allowed, behaved in a somewhat rude and noisy fashion. He let them alone, not daring to interfere, but, as he paced to and fro the room, to pass off his disgust, he observed that one who had hitherto kept aloof at the window, came forward and made strenuous efforts to bring her sister and brothers to order. Something in her face struck him, and he listened to what she said in that earnest, loud whisper which children fancy is inaudible.

‘No! but, Kate, it is different! Come away, I tell you. This gentleman doesn't like it a bit. Can't you see? He doesn't like us to be here—so come away!’ By dint of reiterating this to her sister—a girl much taller than herself—and applying a little compulsion to the younger boys, she cleared the room; then in a demure, half-womanly way, and yet with a look of amusement, she proceeded to close the window, saying, ‘If I shut this, they will not come in again to disturb you; you see, in general,


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people who come here always speak to us, but—’

‘Stop!’ he interrupted, ‘don't close that! What are you doing?—Do come in and let me speak to you,’ he added, highly amused, and also struck by a certain likeness in her clear, frank eyes to some one he had known at home.

She came straight up to him, without any shyness, just looking back to see if the others followed, and was apparently relieved to find they had run down the lawn.

‘So, you think I ought to have spoken to you? You are right! Now then, how do you do, Miss Lang? I suppose you are called Lang?’

‘I am Issy Lang, papa's second daughter; Kate is Miss Lang—.’ Then after a short pause, during which she seemed to be studying his face, ‘Are you the new gentleman come to live at Bengala?’

‘I am just come to the neighbourhood. My name is Herbert—John Herbert.’

‘I am glad of it. I like the name of John; but, I suppose I am not to call you so.’

‘Certainly, if you like, you may,’ he said, laughing.

‘I don't know,’ she said, consideringly; ‘I shall see what papa does.’ Another pause. ‘You don't like children, do you?’

‘I like you. But perhaps you do not call yourself a child; perhaps you are a young lady?’

‘I am twelve years old; I don't wish to be a young lady, because . . . . . .’

‘Because . . . . ?’

‘I don't like being kept up in so much ceremony, and having to take care of my dress, and fiddle-faddle! Papa says I needn't be a young lady for a long time. Kate is already, and she likes it; but I don't. Do you?’

‘Do I what?’

‘I mean do you like young ladies better than children?’

‘Well, I have always thought so; but if you are a child, I shall change my mind. I should like to be friends with you. What do you say?’

‘I don't know . . . I am afraid—’ and she hesitated and blushed, while she still looked full and fearlessly at him. He felt much attracted by her ingenuous and simple manner. It was new to him, and that likeness also struck a chord which gave pleasure as well as pain.

‘Why are you afraid?’ he said, stroking back her hair, even gently.

‘They say you are so proud,’ she half whispered; ‘are you?’

‘They do, do they? Well, perhaps I may be. Every one is something; but that need not hinder us from being good friends, need it?’

‘No,’ she said, firmly, putting her hand in his. From that hour a close friendship sprang up between them. And this notice of his favourite


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child—so flattering to Mr. Lang's paternal love and preference—caused him to overlook much which would otherwise have been less easily endured.

Mr. Herbert taught Isabel Lang to ride and to draw, and provoked his sister by his constant preference of her to her far prettier sister, Kate. Years passed with very little change in the district perceptible to the people themselves. But meanwhile the children were growing into young women and men, and Miss Herbert felt very uneasy, and wished her brother would remember the difference, and not ‘get himself talked of.’

It became necessary at last for Mr. Herbert to go and stay for some time at his distant station, owing to the rising among the natives mentioned before.

He found it desirable to be there for many months. During his absence the new clergyman arrived, and there were also other changes. A long-deserted house, about equally distant from Langville and Warratah Brush, called Vine Lodge, had been bought, and repaired by some ‘new comers,’ reported to be of a more fashionable and wealthy class than common among emigrants. They were now living there, together with the lady's brother, who, however, only came for a time, it was said. Besides this, the Langs had been to Sydney, and the two girls had been regularly ‘introduced’ at the Sheriff's ball.note They returned in such fashionable trim as to cause conversation in the district, and they were accompanied by a Miss Terry, a governess for the younger children. Hitherto the society had been for years confined to the Langs, the Herberts, the Budds, and the Jollys, with the doctor and the officer commanding the company of mounted policenote stationed in the neighbourhood. These additions to the circle caused therefore no small stir and talk. It may as well be said here, that Mr. Herbert's return home had been somewhat hastened by a summons to attend a meeting, at which it was proposed to take into consideration the site for a new bridge and road, a subject on which the great men in the district differed, and which bid fair to be a bone of discord.

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