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Chapter 27
The Golden Vineyard.

On a summer’s morning, almost before the dew had left the grass on the north side of the forest, or the belated opossum had gone to his nest, in fact just as the East was blazing with its brightest fire, Sam started off for a pleasant canter through the forest, to visit one of their out-station huts, which lay away among the ranges, and which was called, from some old arrangement, now fallen into disuse, “the heifer station.”

There was the hut, seen suddenly down a beautiful green vista in the forest, the chimney smoking cheerily. “What a pretty contrast of colours!” says Sam, in a humour for enjoying everything. “Dark brown hut among the green shrubs, and blue smoke rising above all; prettily, too, that smoke hangs about the foliage this still morning, quite in festoons. There’s Matt at the door!”

A lean long-legged clever-looking fellow, rather wide at the knees, with a brown complexion, and not unpleasant expression of face, stood before the door plaiting a cracker for his stockwhip. He looked pleased when he saw Sam, and indeed it must be a surly fellow indeed, who did not greet Sam’s honest phiz with a smile. Never a dog but wagged his tail when he caught Sam’s eye.

“You’re abroad early this morning, sir,” said the man; “nothing the matter; is there, sir?”

“Nothing,” said Sam, “save that one of Captain Brentwood’s bulls is missing, and I came out to tell you to have an extra look round.”

“I’ll attend to it, sir.”

“Hi! Matt,” said Sam, “you look uncommonly smart.”

Matt bent down his head, and laughed, in a rather sheepish sort of way.

“Well, you see, sir, I was coming into the home station to see if the Major could spare me for a few days.”

“What, going a courting, eh? Well, I’ll make that all right for you. Who is the lady — eh?”

“Why, its Elsy Macdonald, I believe.”

“Elsy Macdonald!” said Sam.

“Ay, yes, sir. I know what you mean, but she ain’t like her sister; and that was more Mr. Charles Hawker’s fault than her own. No; Elsy is good enough for me, and I’m not very badly off, and begin to fancy I would like some better sort of welcome in the evening than what a cranky old brute of a hutkeeper can give me. So I think I shall bring her home.”

“I wish you well, Matt,” said Sam; “I hope you are not going to leave us though.”

“No fear, sir; Major Buckley is too good a master for that!”

“Well, I’ll get the hut coopered up a bit for you, and you shall be as comfortable as circumstances will permit. Good morning.”

“Good morning, sir; I hope I may see you happily married yourself some of these days.”

Sam laughed, “that would be a fine joke,” he thought, “but why shouldn’t it be, eh? I suppose it must come some time or another. I shall begin to look out; I don’t expect I shall be very easily suited. Heigh ho!”

I expect, however, Mr. Sam, that you are just in the state of mind to fall headlong in love with the first girl you meet with a nose on her face; let us hope, therefore, that she may be eligible.

But here is home again, and here is the father standing majestic and broad in the verandah, and the mother with her arm round his neck, both waiting to give him a hearty morning’s welcome. And there is Doctor Mulhaus kneeling in spectacles before his new Grevillea Victoria, the first bud of which is just bursting into life; and the dogs catch sight of him and dash forward, barking joyfully; and as the ready groom takes his horse, and the fat housekeeper looks out all smiles, and retreats to send in breakfast, Sam thinks to himself, that he could not leave his home and people, not for the best wife in broad Australia; but then you see, he knew no better.

“What makes my boy look so happy this morning?” asked his mother. “Has the bay mare foaled, or have you negotiated James Brentwood’s young dog? Tell us, that we may participate.”

“None of these things have happened, mother; but I feel in rather a holiday humour, and I’m thinking of going down to Garoopna this morning, and spending a day or two with Jim.”

“I will throw a shoe after you for luck,” said his mother. “See, the Doctor is calling you.”

Sam went to the Doctor, who was intent on his flower. “Look here, my boy; here is something new: the handsomest of the Grevilleas, as I live. It has opened since I was here.”

“Ah!” said Sam, “this is the one that came from the Quartz Ranges, last year; is it not? It has not flowered with you before.”

“If Linnaeus wept and prayed over the first piece of English furze which he saw,” said the Doctor, “what everlasting smelling-bottle hysterics he would have gone into in this country! I don’t sympathise with his tears much, though, myself; though a new flower is a source of the greatest pleasure to me.”

“And so you are going to Garoopna, Sam?” said his father, at breakfast. “Have you heard, my dear, when the young lady is to come home?”

“Next month, I understand, my dear,” said Mrs. Buckley. “When she does come I shall go over and make her a visit.”

“What is her name, by-the-bye?” asked the Doctor.


So, behold Sam starting for his visit. The very Brummel of bush-dandies. Hunt might have made his well-fitting cord breeches, Hoby might have made those black top-boots, and Chifney might have worn them before royalty, and not been shamed. It is too hot for coat or waistcoat; so he wears his snow-white shirt, topped by a blue “bird’s-eye-handkerchief,” and keeps his coat in his valise, to be used as occasion shall require. His costume is completed with a cabbage-tree hat, neither too new nor too old; light, shady, well ventilated, and three pounds ten, the production, after months of labour, of a private in her Majesty’s Fortieth Regiment of Foot: not with long streaming ribands down his back, like a Pitt Street bully, but with short and modest ones, as became a gentleman — altogether as fine a looking young fellow, as well dressed, and as well mounted too, as you will find on the country side.

Let me say a word about his horse, too; horse Widderin. None ever knew what that horse had cost Sam. The Major even had a delicacy about asking. I can only discover by inquiry that, at one time, about a year before this, there came to the Major’s a traveller, an Irishman by nation, who bored them all by talking about a certain “Highflyer” colt, which had been dropped to a happy proprietor by his mare “Larkspur,” among the Shoalhaven gullies; described by him as a colt the like of which was never seen before; as indeed he should be, for his sire Highflyer, as all the world knows, was bought up by a great Hunter-river horse-breeder from the Duke of C——; while his dam, Larkspur, had for grandsire the great Bombshell himself. What more would you have than that, unless you would like to drive Veno in your dog-cart? However, it so happened that, soon after the Irishman’s visit, Sam went away on a journey, and came back riding a new horse; which when the Major saw, he whistled, but discreetly said nothing. A very large colt it was, with a neck like a rainbow, set into a splendid shoulder, and a marvellous way of throwing his legs out; — very dark chestnut in colour, almost black, with longish ears, and an eye so full, honest, and impudent, that it made you laugh in his face. Widderin, Sam said, was his name, price and history being suppressed; called after Mount Widderin, to the northward there, whose loftiest sublime summit bends over like a horse’s neck, with two peaked crags for ears. And the Major comes somehow to connect this horse with the Highflyer colt mentioned by our Irish friend, and observes that Sam takes to wearing his old clothes for a twelvemonth, and never seems to have any ready money. We shall see some day whether or no this horse will carry Sam ten miles, if required, on such direful emergency, too, as falls to the lot of few men. However, this is all to come. Now in holiday clothes and in holiday mind, the two noble animals cross the paddock, and so down by the fence towards the river; towards the old gravel ford you may remember years ago. Here is the old flood, spouting and streaming as of yore, through the basalt pillars. There stand the three fern trees, too, above the dark scrub on the island. Now up the rock bank, and away across the breezy plains due North.

Brushing through the long grass tussocks, he goes his way singing, his dog Rover careering joyously before him. The horse is clearly for a gallop, but it is too hot today. The tall flat-topped volcanic hill which hung before him like a grey faint cloud, when he started, now rears its fluted columns overhead, and now is getting dim again behind him. But ere noon is high he once more hears the brawling river beneath his feet, and Garoopna is before him on the opposite bank.

The river, as it left Major Buckley’s at Baroona, made a sudden bend to the west, a great arc, including with its minor windings nearly twenty-five miles, over the chord of which arc Sam had now been riding, making, from point to point, ten miles, or thereabouts. The Mayfords’ station, also, lay to the left of him, being on the curved side of the arc, about five miles from Baroona. The reader may, if he please, remember this.

Garoopna was an exceedingly pretty station; in fact, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It stood at a point where the vast forests which surround the mountains in a belt, from ten to twenty miles broad, run down into the plains and touch the river. As at Baroona, the stream runs in through a deep cleft in the table land, which here, though precipitous on the eastern bank, on the western breaks away into a small natural amphitheatre bordered by fine hanging woods just in advance of which, about two hundred yards from the river, stood the house, a long, low building densely covered with creepers of all sorts, and fronted by a beautiful garden. Right and left of it were the woolsheds, sheepyards, stockyards, men’s huts etc. giving it almost the appearance of a little village; and behind the wooded ranges begin to rise, in some places broken beautifully by sheer scarps of grey rock. The forest crosses the river a little way, so Sam, gradually descending from the plains to cross, went the last quarter of a mile through a shady sandy forest tract, fringed with bracken, which leads down to a broad crossing place, where the river sparkles under tall over-arching red gums and box-trees; and then following the garden fence, found himself before a deep cool-looking porch, in a broad neatly-kept courtyard behind the house.

A groom came out and took his horse. Rover has enough to do; for there are three or four sheep dogs in the yard, who walk round him on tiptoe, slowly, with their frills out and their tails arched, growling. Rover, also, walks about on tiptoe, arches his tail, and growls with the best of them. He knows that the slightest mistake would be disastrous, and so manoeuvres till he gets to the porch, where, a deal of gravel having been kicked backwards, in the same way as the ancients poured out their wine when they drank a toast, or else (as I think is more probable) as a symbol that animosities were to be buried, Rover is admitted as a guest, and Sam feels it safe to enter the house.

A cool, shady hall, hung round with coats, hats, stockwhips; a gun in the corner, and on a slab, the most beautiful nosegay you can imagine. Remarkable that for a bachelor’s establishment; — but there is no time to think about it, for a tall, comfortable-looking housekeeper, whom Sam has never seen before, comes in from the kitchen and curtseys.

“Captain Brentwood not at home, is he?” said Sam.

“No, sir! Away on the run with Mr. James.”

“Oh! very well,” says Sam; “I am going to stay a few days.”

“Very well, sir; will you take anything before lunch?”

“Nothing, thank you.”

“Miss Alice is somewhere about sir. I expect her in every minute.”

“Miss Alice!” says Sam, astonished. “Is she come home?”

“Came home last week, sir. Will you walk in and sit down?”

Sam got his coat out of his valise, and went in. He wished that he had put on his plain blue necktie instead of the blue one with white spots. He would have liked to have worn his new yellow riding-trousers, instead of breeches and boots. He hoped his hair was in order, and tried to arrange his handsome brown curls without a glass, but, in the end, concluded that things could not be mended now, so he looked round the room.

What a charming room it was! A couple of good pictures, and several fine prints on the walls. Over the chimneypiece, a sword, and an old gold-laced cap, on which Sam looked with reverence. Three French windows opened on to a dark cool verandah, beyond which was a beautiful flower garden. The floor of the room, uncarpeted, shone dark and smooth, and the air was perfumed by vases of magnificent flowers, a hundred pounds worth of them, I should say, if you could have taken them to Covent-garden that December morning. But what took Sam’s attention more than anything was an open piano, in a shady recess, and on the keys a little fairy white glove.

“White kid gloves, eh, my lady?” says Sam; “that don’t look well.” So he looked through the bookshelves, and, having lighted on “Boswell’s Johnson,” proceeded into the verandah. A colley she-dog was lying at one end, who banged her tail against the floor in welcome, but was too utterly prostrated by the heat and by the persecution of her puppy to get up and make friends. The pup, however, a ball of curly black wool, with a brown-striped face, who was sitting on the top of her with his head on one side, seemed to conclude that a game of play was to be got out of Sam, and came blundering towards him; but Sam was, by this time, deep in a luxurious rocking-chair, so the puppy stopped half way, and did battle with a great black tarantula spider who happened to be abroad on business.

Sam went to the club with his immortal namesake, bullied Bennet Langton, argued with Beauclerk, put down Goldsmith, and extinguished Boswell. But it was too hot to read; so he let the book fall on his lap, and lay a-dreaming.

What a delicious verandah is this to dream in! Through the tangled passion-flowers, jessamines and magnolias, what a soft gleam of bright hazy distance, over the plains and far away! The deep river-glen cleaves the table-land, which, here and there, swells into breezy downs. Beyond, miles away to the north, is a great forest-barrier, above which there is a blaze of late snow, sending strange light aloft into the burning haze. All this is seen through an arch in the dark mass of verdure which clothed the trellis-work, only broken through in this one place, as though to make a frame for the picture. He leans back, and gives himself up to watching trifles.

See here. A magpie comes furtively out of the house with a key in his mouth, and, seeing Sam, stops to consider if he is likely to betray him. On the whole he thinks not; so he hides the key in a crevice, and whistles a tune.

Now enters a cockatoo, waddling along confortably and talking to himself. He tries to enter into conversation with the magpie, who, however, cuts him dead, and walks off to look at the prospect.

Flop, flop, a great foolish-looking kangaroo comes through the house and peers round him. The cockatoo addresses a few remarks to him, which he takes no notice of, but goes blundering out into the garden, right over the contemplative magpie, who gives him two or three indignant pecks on his clumsy feet, and sends him flying down the gravel walk.

Two bright-eyed little kangaroo rats come out of their box peering and blinking. The cockatoo finds an audience in them, for they sit listening to him, now and then catching a flea, or rubbing the backs of their heads with their fore-paws. But a buck ‘possum, who stealthily descends by a pillar from unknown realms of mischief on the top of the house, evidently discredits cocky’s stories, and departs down the garden to see if he can find something to eat.

An old cat comes up the garden walk, accompanied by a wicked kitten, who ambushes round the corner of the flowerbed, and pounces out on her mother, knocking her down and severely maltreating her. But the old lady picks herself up without a murmur, and comes into the verandah followed by her unnatural offspring, ready for any mischief. The kangaroo rats retire into their box, and the cockatoo, rather nervous, lays himself out to be agreeable.

But the puppy, born under an unlucky star, who has been watching all these things from behind his mother, thinks at last, “Here is some one to play with,” so he comes staggering forth and challenges the kitten to a lark.

She receives him with every symptom of disgust and abhorrence; but he, regardless of all spitting, and tail swelling, rolls her over, spurring and swearing, and makes believe he will worry her to death. Her scratching and biting tell but little on his woolly hide, and he seems to have the best of it out and out, till a new ally appears unexpectedly, and quite turns the tables. The magpie hops up, ranges alongside of the combatants, and catches the puppy such a dig over the tail as sends him howling to his mother with a flea in his ear.

Sam lay sleepily amused by this little drama; then he looked at the bright green arch which separated the dark verandah from the bright hot garden. The arch was darkened, and looking he saw something which made his heart move strangely, something that he has not forgotten yet, and never will.

Under the arch between the sunlight and the shade, bareheaded, dressed in white, stood a girl, so amazingly beautiful, that Sam wondered for a few moments whether he was asleep or awake. Her hat, which she had just taken off, hung on her left arm, and with her delicate right hand she arranged a vagrant tendril of the passion-flower, which in its luxuriant growth had broken bounds and fallen from its place above. — A girl so beautiful that I in all my life never saw her superior. They showed me the other day, in a carriage in the park, one they said was the most beautiful girl in England, a descendant of I know not how many noblemen. But, looking back to the times I am speaking of now, I said at once and decidedly, “Alice Brentwood twenty years ago was more beautiful than she.”

A Norman style of beauty, I believe you would call it. Light hair, deep brilliant blue eyes, and a very fair complexion. Beauty and high-bred grace in every limb and every motion. She stood there an instant on tiptoe, with the sunlight full upon her, while Sam, buried in gloom, had time for a delighted look, before she stepped into the verandah and saw him.

She floated towards him through the deep shadow. “I think,” she said in the sweetest, most musical little voice, “that you are Mr. Buckley. If so, you are a very old friend of mine by report.” So she held out her little hand, and with one bold kind look from the happy eyes, finished Sam for life.

Father and mother, retire into the chimney corner and watch. Your day is done. Doctor Mulhaus, put your good advice into your pocket and smoke your pipe. Here is one who can exert a greater power for good or evil than all of you put together. It was written of old — “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his ——” Hallo! I am getting on rather fast, I am afraid.

He had risen to meet her. “And you, Miss Brentwood,” he said, “are tolerably well known to me. Do you know now that I believe by an exertion of memory I could tell you the year and the month when you began to learn the harp? My dear old friend Jim has kept me quite AU FAIT with all your accomplishments.”

“I hope you are not disappointed in me,” said Alice, laughing.

“No,” said Sam. “I think rather the contrary. Are you?”

“I have not had time to tell yet,” she said. “I will see how you behave at lunch, which we shall have in half an hour TETE-A-TETE. You have been often here before, I believe? Do you see much change?”

“Not much. I noticed a new piano, and a little glove that I had never seen before. Jim’s menagerie o wild beasts is as numerous as ever, I see. He would have liked to be in Noah’s Ark.”

“And so would you and I, Mr. Buckley,” she answered, laughing, “if we had been caught in the flood.”

Good gracious! Think of being in Noah’s Ark with her.

“You find them a little troublesome, don’t you, Miss Brentwood?”

“Well, it requires a good deal of administrative faculty to keep the kitten and the puppy from open collision, and to prevent the magpie from pecking out the cockatoo’s eye and hiding it in the flower bed. Last Sunday morning he (the magpie) got into my father’s room, and stole thirty-one shillings and sixpence. We got it all back but half a sovereign, and that we shall never see.”

The bird thus alluded to broke into a gush of melody, so rich, full, and metallic, that they both turned to look at him. Having attracted attention, he began dancing, crooning a little song to himself, as though he would say, “I know where it is.” And lastly he puffed out his breast, put back his bill, and swore two or three oaths that would have disgraced a London scavenger, with such remarkable distinctness too, that there was no misunderstanding him; so Sam’s affectation of not having caught what the bird said, was a dead failure.

“Mr. Buckley,” said she, “if you will excuse me I will go and see about lunch. Can you amuse yourself there for half an hour?” Well, he would try. So he retired again to the rocking-chair, about ten years older than when he rose from it. For he had grown from a boy into a man.

He had fallen over head and ears in love, and all in five minutes, fallen deeply, seriously in love, to the exclusion of all other sublunary matters, before he had well had time to notice whether she spoke with an Irish brogue or a Scotch (happily she did neither). Sudden, you say: well, yes; but in lat. 34 degrees, and lower, whether in the southern or northern hemisphere, these sort of affairs come on with a rapidity and violence only equalled by the thunder-storms of those regions, and utterly surprising to you who perhaps read this book in 52 degrees north, or perhaps higher. I once went to a ball with as free and easy, heart-whole a young fellow as any I know, and agreed with him to stay half an hour, and then come away and play pool. In twenty-five minutes by my watch, which keeps time like a ship’s chronometer, that man was in the tragic or cut-throat stage of the passion with a pretty little thing of forty, a cattledealer’s widow, who stopped HIS pool-playing for a time, until she married the great ironmonger in George Street. Romeo and Juliet’s little matter was just as sudden, and very Australian in many points. Only mind............
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