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Chapter 26
White Heathens

Captain Brentwood went back to Garoopna next morning; but Frank Maberly kept to his resolution of going over to see Mary; and, soon after breakfast, they were all equipped ready to accompany him, standing in front of the door, waiting for the horses. Frank was remarking how handsome Mrs. Buckley looked in her hat and habit, when she turned and said to him —

“My dear Dean, I suppose you never jump over five-barred gates now-a-days? Do you remember how you used to come over the white gate at the Vicarage? I suppose you are getting too dignified for any such thing?”

There was a three-railed fence dividing the lower end of the yard from the paddock. He rammed his hat on tight, and took it flying, with his black coattails fluttering like wings; and, coming back laughing, said —

“There’s a bit of the old Adam for you, Mrs. Buckley! Be careful how you defy me again.”

The sun was bright overhead, and the land in its full winter verdure, as they rode along the banks of the creek that led to Toonarbin. Frank Maberly was as humorous as ever, and many a merry laugh went ringing through the woodland solitudes, sending the watchman cockatoo screaming aloft to alarm the flock, or startling the brilliant thick-clustered lories (richest coloured of all parrots in the world), as they hung chattering on some silver-leaved acacia, bending with their weight the fragile boughs down towards the clear still water, lighting up the dark pool with strange, bright reflections of crimson and blue; startling, too, the feeding doe-kangaroo, who skipped slowly away, followed by her young one — so slowly that the watching travellers expected her to stop each moment, and could scarcely believe she was in full flight till she topped a low ridge and disappeared.

“That is a strange sight to a European, Mrs. Buckley,” said Frank; “a real wild animal. It seems so strange to me, now, to think that I could go and shoot that beast, and account to no man for it. That is, you know, supposing I had a gun, and powder and shot, and, also, that the kangaroo would be fool enough to wait till I was near enough; which, you see, is presupposing a great deal. Are they easily approached?”

“Easily enough, on horseback,” said Sam, “but very difficult to come near on foot, which is also the case with all wild animals and birds worth shooting in this country. A footman, you see, they all mistake for their hereditary enemy, the blackfellow; but, as yet, they have not come to distinguish a man on horseback from a four-footed beast. And, this seems to show that animals have their traditions like men.”

“Pray, Sam, are not these pretty beasts, these kangaroos, becoming extinct?”

“On sheep-runs, very nearly so. Sheep drive them off directly; but on cattle-runs, so far from becoming extinct, they are becoming so numerous as to be a nuisance; consuming a most valuable quantity of grass.”

“How can you account for that?”

“Very easily,” said Sam; “their enemies are all removed. The settlers have poisoned, in well-settled districts, the native dogs and eagle-hawks, which formerly kept down their numbers. The blacks prefer the beef of the settlers to bad and hard-earned kangaroo venison; and, lastly, the settlers never go after them, but leave them to their own inventions. So that the kangaroo has better times of it than ever.”

“That is rather contrary to what one has heard, though,” said Frank.

“But Sam is right, Dean,” said the Major. “People judge from seeing none of them on the plains, from which they have been driven by the sheep; but there are as many in the forest as ever.”

“The Emu, now,” said Frank, “are they getting scarce?”

“They will soon be among the things of the past,” said the Major; “and I am sorry for it, for they are a beautiful and harmless bird.”

“Major,” said Frank, “how many outlying huts have you?”

“Five,” said the Major. “Four shepherds’ huts, and one stockkeeper’s in the range, which we call the heifer station.”

“You have no church here, I know,” said Frank; “but do these men get any sort of religious instruction?”

“None whatever,” said the Major. “I have service in my house on Sunday, but I cannot ask them to come to it, though sometimes the stockmen do come. The shepherds, you know, are employed on Sunday as on any other day. Sheep must eat!”

“Are any of these men convicts?”

“All the shepherds,” said the Major. “The stockman and his assistant are free men, but their hut-keeper is bond.”

“Are any of them married?”

“Two of the shepherds; the rest single; but I must tell you that on our run we keep up a regular circulation of books among the huts, and my wife sticks them full of religious tracts, which is really about all that we can do without a clergyman.”

“Do you find they read your tracts, Mrs. Buckley?” asked Frank.

“No,” said Mrs. Buckley, “with the exception, perhaps, of ‘Black Giles the Poacher,’ which always comes home very dirty. Narrative tracts they will read when there is nothing more lively at hand; but such treatises as ‘Are You Ready?’ and ‘The Sinner’s Friend,’ fall dead. One copy lasts for years.”

“One copy of either of them,” said Frank, “would last. Then these fellows, Major, are entirely godless, I suppose?”

“Well, I’ll tell you, Dean,” said the Major, stopping short, “it’s about as bad as bad can be; it can’t be worse, sir. If by any means you could make it worse, it would be by sending such men round here as the one who was sent here last. He served as a standing joke to the hands for a year or more; and I believe he was sincere enough, too.”

“I must invade some of these huts, and see what is to be done,” said Frank. “I have had a hard spell of work in London since old times; but I have seen enough already to tell me that that work was not so hopeless as this will be. I think, however, that there is more chance here than among the little farmers in the settled districts. Here, at all events, I shan’t have the rum-bottle eternally standing between me and my man. What a glorious, independent, happy set of men are those said small freeholders, Major! What a happy exchange an English peasant makes when he leaves an old, well-ordered society, the ordinances of religion, the various give-and-take relations between rank and rank, which make up the sum of English life, for independence, godlessness, and rum! He gains, say you! Yes, he gains meat for his dinner every day, and voila tout! Contrast an English workhouse schoolboy — I take the lowest class for example, a class which should not exist — with a small farmer’s son in one of the settled districts. Which will make the most useful citizen? Give me the workhouse lad!”

“Oh, but you are over-stating the case, you know, Dean,” said the Major. “You must have a class of small farmers! Wherever the land is fit for cultivation it must be sold to agriculturists; or, otherwise, in case of a war, we shall be dependent on Europe and America for the bread we eat. I know some excellent and exemplary men who are farmers, I assure you.”

“Of course! of course!” said Frank. “I did not mean quite all I said; but I am angry and disappointed. I pictured to myself the labourer, English, Scotch, or Irish — a man whom I know, and have lived with and worked for some years, emigrating, and, after a few years of honest toil, which, compared to his old hard drudgery, was child’s-play, saving money enough to buy a farm. I pictured to myself this man accumulating wealth, happy, honest, godly, bringing up a family of brave boys and good girls, in a country where, theoretically, the temptations to crime are all but removed: this is what I imagined. I come out here, and what do I find? My friend the labourer has got his farm, and is prospering, after a sort. He has turned to be a drunken, godless, impudent fellow, and his wife little better than himself; his daughters dowdy hussies; his sons lanky, lean, pasty-faced, blaspheming blackguards, drinking rum before breakfast, and living by cheating one another out of horses. Can you deny this picture?”

“Yes,” said the Major, “I can disprove it by many happy instances, and yet, to say the truth, it is fearfully true in as many more. There is no social influence in the settled districts; there are too many men without masters. Let us wait and hope.”

“This is not to the purpose at present, though,” said Mrs. Buckley. “See what you can do for us in the bush, my dear Dean. You have a very hopeless task before you, I fear.”

“The more hopeless, the greater glory, madam,” said Frank, taking off his hat and waving it; called, chosen, and faithful. “There is a beautiful house!”

“That is Toonarbin,” said the Major; “and there’s Mary Hawker in the verandah.”

“Let us see,” said Mrs. Buckley, “if she will know him. If she does not recognise him, let no one speak before me.”

When they had ridden up and dismounted, Mrs. Buckley presented Frank. “My dear,” said she, “the Dean is honouring us by staying at Baroona for a week, and proposes to visit round at the various stations. To-morrow we go to the Mayfords, and next day to Garoopna.”

Mary bowed respectfully to Frank, and said, “that she felt highly honoured,” and so forth. “My partner is gone on a journey, and my son is away on the run, or they would have joined with me in bidding you welcome, sir.”

Frank would have been highly honoured at making their acquaintance.

Mary started, and looked at him again. “Mr. Maberly! Mr. Maberly!” she said, “your face is changed, but your voice is unchangeable. You are discovered, sir!”

“And are you glad to see me?”

“No!” said Mary, plainly.

“Now,” said Mrs. Buckley to herself, “she is going to give us one of her tantrums. I wish she would behave like a reasonable being. She is always bent on making a scene;” but she kept this to herself, and only said aloud: “Mary, my dear! Mary!”

“I am sorry to hear you say so, Mrs. Hawker,” said Frank; “but it is just and natural.”

“Natural,” said Mary, “and just. You are connected in my mind with the most unhappy and most degraded period of my life. Can you expect that I should be glad to see you? You were kind to me then, as is your nature to be, kind and good above all men whom I know. I thought of you always with love and admiration, as one whom I deeply honoured, but would not care to look upon again. As the one of all whom I would have forget me in my disgrace. And now, today of all days; just when I have found the father’s vices confirmed in the son, you come before me, as if from the bowels of the earth, to remind me of what I was.”

Mrs. Buckley was very much shocked and provoked by this, but held her tongue magnanimously. And what do you think, my dear reader, was the cause of all this hysteric tragic nonsense on the part of Mary? Simply this. The poor soul had been put out of temper. Her son Charles, as I mentioned before, had had a scandalous liason with one Meg Macdonald, daughter of one of the Donovans’ (now Brentwood’s) shepherds. That morning, this brazen hussy, as Mary very properly called her, had come coolly up to the station and asked for Charles. And on Mary’s shaking her fist at her, and bidding her be gone, had then and there rated poor Mary in the best of Gaelic for a quarter of an hour; and Mary, instead of venting her anger on the proper people, had taken her old plan of making herself disagreeable to those who had nothing to do with it, which naturally made Mrs. Buckley very angry, and even ruffled the placid Major a little, so that he was not sorry when he saw in his wife’s face, the expression of which he knew so well, that Mary was going to “catch it.”

“I wish, Mary Hawker,” said Mrs. Buckley, “that you would remember that the Dean is our guest, and that on our account alone there is due to him some better welcome than what you have given him.”

“Now, you are angry with me for speaking truth too abruptly,” said Mary crying.

“Well, I am angry with you,” said Mrs. Buckley. “If that was the truth, you should not have spoken it now. You have no right to receive an old friend like this.”

“You are very unkind to me,” said Mary. “Just when after so many years’ peace and quietness my troubles are beginning again, you are all turning against me.” And so she laid down her head and wept.

“Dear Mrs. Hawker,” said Frank, coming up and taking her hand, “if you are in trouble, I know well that my visit is well timed. Where trouble and sorrow are, there is my place, there lies my work. In prosperity my friends sometimes forget me, but my hope and prayer is, that when affliction and disaster come, I may be with them. You do not want me now; but when you do, God grant I may be with you! Remember my words.”

She remembered them well.

Frank made an excuse to go out, and Mary, crying bitterly, went into her bedroom. When she was gone, the Major, who had been standing by the window, said —

“My dear wife, that boy of hers is aggravating her. Don’t be too hard upon her.”

“My dear husband,” said Mrs. Buckley, “I have no patience with her, to welcome an old friend, whom she has not seen for nearly twenty years, in that manner! It is too provoking.”

“You see, my love,” said the Major, “that her nerves have been very much shaken by misfortune, and at times she is really not herself.”

“And I tell you what, mother dear,” said Sam, “Charles Hawker is going on very badly. I tell you, in the strictest confidence, mind, that he has not behaved in a very gentlemanlike way in one particular, and if he was anyone else but who he is, I should have very little to say to him.”

“Well, my dear husband and son,” said Mrs. Buckley, “I will go in and make the AMENDE to her. Sam, go and see after the Dean.”

Sam went out, and saw Frank across the yard playing with the dogs. He was going towards him, when a man entering the yard suddenly came up and spoke to him.

It was William Lee — grown older, and less wildlooking, since we saw him first at midnight on Dartmoor, but a striking person still. His hair had become grizzled, but that was the only sign of age he showed. There was still the same vigour of motion, the same expression of enormous strength about him as formerly; the principal change was in his face. Eighteen years of honest work, among people who in time, finding his real value, had got to treat him more as a friend than a servant, had softened the old expression of reckless ferocity into one of good-humoured independence. And Tom Troubridge, no careless observer of men, had said once to Major Buckley, that he thought his face grew each year more like what it must have been when a boy. A bold flight of fancy for Tom, but, like all else he said, true.

Such was William Lee, as he stopped Sam in the yard, and, with a bold, honest look of admiration, said —

“It makes me feel young to look at you, Mr. Buckley. You are a great stranger here lately. Some young lady to run after, I suppose? Well, never mind; I hope it ain’t Miss Blake.”

“A man may not marry his grandmother, Lee,” said Sam, laughing.

“True for you, sir,” said Lee. “That was wrote up in Drumston church, I mind, and some other things alongside of it, which I could say by heart once on a time — all on black boards, with yellow letters. And also, I remember a spick and span new board, about how Anthony Hamlyn (that’s Mr. Geoffry Hamlyn’s father) ‘repaired and beautified this church;’ which meant that he built a handsome new pew for himself in the chancel. Lord, I think I see him asleep in it now. But never mind that I’ve kept a pup of Fly’s for you, sir, and got it through the distemper. Fly’s pup, by Rollicker, you know.”

“Oh, thank you,” said Sam. “I am really much obliged to you. But you must let me know the price, you know, Lee. The dog should be a good one.”

“Well, Mr. Buckley,” said Lee, “I have been cosseting this little beast up in the hopes you’d accept it as a present. And then, says I to myself, when he takes a new chum out to see some sport, and the dog pulls down a flying doe, and the dust goes up like smoke, and the dead sticks come flying about his ears, he will say to his friends, ‘That’s the dog Lee gave me. Where’s his equal?’ So don’t be too proud to take a present from an old friend.”

“Not I, indeed, Lee,” said Sam. “I thank you most heartily.”

“Who is this long gent in black, sir?” said Lee, looking towards Frank, who was standing and talking with the Major. “A parson, I reckon.”

“The Dean of B— — ” answered Sam.

“Ah! so,”— said Lee — “come to give us some good advice? Well, we want it bad enough, I hope some on us may foller it. Seems a man, too, and not a monkey.”

“My father says,” said Sam, “that he was formerly one of the best boxers he ever saw.”

Any further discussion of Frank’s physical powers was cut short, by his coming up to Sam and saying —

“I was thinking of riding out to one of the outlying huts, to have a little conversation with the men. Will you come with me?”

“If you will allow me, I shall be delighted beyond all measure.”

“I be............
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