Chapter 143007664

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Chapter NumberVIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1879-05-24
Page Number6
Word Count2221
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitleRia. A West Australian Story
article text





Midsummer had come on. The river pools ?were drying lip and brackish ; the grass along the hanks and in the open Hats _ was dry and stubbly ; the cattle sought the shad) creeks back in the range and the lagoons, where beds of tender rushes grew on last

year's burnt ground ; curtains of yellow | snaoke hung in the hot sky trom distant i fires; and all around nature lay hushed 111 sweltering lassitude. .

It was washing day, and 'Ria and Elizabeth

Anne were busy at the pool. On four forked , sticks stuck in the ground they had raised a leafy arbour to shade them from the sun. Beside them a trypot full of clothes was boiling, and with skirts and sleeves tucked

up, with faces flushed and moist, they bent , over their foaming wash-tubs, hard at work. |

Elizabeth Anne belaboured an obstinate > pair of Sullivan's moleskins. " 'Ria," she j said, " them breeches won't come clean, j What with the cooking of their grub, and | the washing of their clothes, and the mind- i Ing of them when they're drunk, the men 3 more trouble than they're wr rth. They get

their legs into a pair of breeches, and there j they stick, until the thing's that black you i can't do nothing with it." And she scorn* fully held aloft the offending garment.

"They're bad enough, the men; but with | the wome*-folk to mind them, they're of j some use in the world," said 'Ria, "when they keep their place."

" The fellah to them breeches ain't a keep ing of his place," said Elizabeth-Anne, em phatically. . , ,.

" Here! give them me," said Ria, Hushing: "and you do out the child's."

Both women were somewhat out of temper, and kept silence for a while.

The owner of the breeches was doing his .work upon the place with steady zeal; from early dawn till night he toiled and strove, and the missis had no trouble. A hint from her, and what she wished was done. Hard work was child's play to his Btrong arms and Bhoulders. He often growled and cursed that was the nature of him. He had a bull dog's temper. But while he swore at what he did not like, he worked the harder, and 110 disinclination made him flinch from doiug well the part that had been given him.

But Elizabeth Anne, with her quick female eyes, thought that she saw a motive for this ardour, ana she had said with purpose what

had made 'Ria flush.

'Ria knew it well; she had gained more

experience in such matters than had Eliza- 1 beth Anne. She knew that he was working for love of her and her's, and it pleased her to see what power she had over him.

Elizabeth Anne could not be silent long, or she would burst; " !Ria," she went on, " what's it like to be in love? Is it a good thing to be ?"

" Why 2 What are you^ talking, you great " 'Cause there s a young chap as wants to tiy it on with me, 1 think," said Elizabeth Anne with dignity, " and so I want to know."

" It's most times trouble to the woman," 'Ria answered, sighing; " the men want so much and give so little. You mind yourself, Elizabeth Anne, and don't be doing foolish."

" Oh! I'm all right, he'll not be getting over me-I'm not in love-I'm not that far gone as yet."

" Who is the man?" said 'Ria.

Elizabeth Anne made no reply except to giggle, and 'Ria, looking up to ask again, Buddenly left off washing, and ^creamed out out "My God! what's that?" and rushing up the bank towards the house, where the ground was open, Btared in terror down the


Elizabeth Anne flew after her, and when she had looked, Bhe said, "How far away?"

"Close up; it's at the Half-way Creek," 'Ria answered; " Elizabeth Anne, you run and tell the men ; say I've gone on, and stop and make some tea, a lot, and bring it with you in a jug. The child is safe up here with


'Ria then saddled up a horse that was Btanding tied up in the yard, and galloped down across the paddock, and soon was lost to Bight in a thick cloud of smoke that was sleeping up the river. Steadily and silently the yellow cinder-laden fog came on, en veloping all things, darkening the sun. And every now and then, out at the back of it, with a loud roar, a swelling mass of black ness shot up into the sky, surging up, flame laden, with fierce swiftness as it left the earth ; then billowing out, wider and slower as it rose, until it hung a flat black cloud, high overhead.

A terrible bush fire had broken out upon


Elizabeth Ann * ran off up to the barn, which lay some distance from the house across the small corn paddock. Sullivan and another man were there at work threshing the barley. Breathless with running, she called out to them that she wanted to speak

to them.

They stopped their woiik, and asked her

what it was.

"The says will you go down at wonst-the fire's broke out on us-down to the Half-way Creek; an' she's gone on ahead, an' you're to go, an I'm to make the tea an' follow after." .

The men threw down their nails, put on their flannels, and rushed out; and Sullivan, after he had looked, flung down his hat upon the ground, and stamped, and yelled out, " Blast the fire 1" He knew the work that igps before them, and the trouble they would have-two hands-to put out such a mighty conflagration.

Meanwhile,' Ria galloped down through the gathering smoke towards the Half-way

The afternoon breeze was getting up, and lazily begpa its work, gently driving the smoke^lo^ds up the river, and every now and thjiw, rousing to energy, it rolled up a

sotqcaivx mass towards her, which half both horse and woman. Then, again, it lullad, exhausted, and the amoke cfeared suddenly off and rose straight up through the quivering trees, showing a

de in its devouring course; pyipifamt. masa pf whirling,

is showers to the ground.

fofo tj^d up her horse beeide the back,

where lie wnn pnfo, lircniiiiif: oft n Iciifv houuli niNlu-il flown to beffiii LIT work of ben ting out Ilio llimira.

'J'lir lire liml rim ihtorb tlie river, nnrt was coining u]> in a straight lino, stiunre to its course ; ami alio thought if they could stop it at the Half-way Creek, on the house side, it would lu> best. There was leas grass there, and tlie track would help them. So she set the food alight along the track nnd creek, and let it burn to meet the larger lire, But before long ilie wind got up ft^ftin, and the red tlanies bent forwards under it, nnd licked along in maddened haste, in fierce derision leapt track and creek, and raced and tore its way over the long grosses of the river Hat.

How desperately 'Ria began to beat, and tried to stem the rushing llames, and cooeed for the men to help her. The lire scorched her face and singed her Iiair, and the choking smoke enveloped her, mocking her impotent endeavours. But she was fighting for her home and for her boy. her all; nnd madly she swung her bough about, wildly she beat and swept, the llaming grass, to save her homestead from destruction. And now the men came up, and set to with a \\ >i, and the wind lulling, the lire 110 longer ran so fast; and above the roar was heard the regular plash-plashing of the boughs upon the ground, as they followed one another up, sweeping I back the llames into the blackness they had

left behind.

Eagerly they worked, with panting haste, the lire "seeming at one time to be almost conquered, then again breaking out savagely ; iii front of them, behind them, roaring and I swirling on with every pulY of wind-to stay

again its haste and give the weary workers time to get it under, as they thought, only to break out afresh with tiendish glee, as if it felt its power, and were playing with the toiling men and woman making their frantic


But at last, Sullivan, and his mate, and 'Ria had worked round to the river, and on that side the fire was safe. They llung them selves exhausted to the ground, the perspira tion running in streams from off their steam ing bodies, their faces blackened and be grimed with smoke and ash, throats parched, and eyelids red and sore. And then Eliza beth Anne came up with the welcome jug of tea, and laughed at the scorched, grimy figures of the men. and screamed out to her goodness when she saw 'Ria's disordered, burnt, and tattered clothing : and gave them round the jug. and they drank long draughts of the warm, weak, sweety compound, and lay back with a sigh of pleasure as they wiped their mouths.

But their work was not yet done. Beside them was the deep river pool that ran up to the house. The lire raging on the other side could not cross that as the wind then blew; and 'Ria had no fear-now the house side was all put out the other side could go; she thought it would be just as well, for the scrub over there was old and dry, and stood in need of burning ; so they lay still and


But by and bye, shrill jodels from black Dinah, at the house, warned them of some thing wrong, and starting up, they saw masses of black smoke rising swiftly from the river bed above the pool and billowing down towards the house. The wind had shifted, and the llames had swept across the river bed up there, and were feeding gloriously on the tangled masses of rush and ti-tre bush, and dry dead stinkwood sapling, that lined the banks, and lighting up the grasses, were bearing down upon the paddock, doubling back upon their former upward


The men rushed off towards the house, and Elizabeth Anne, bearing the jug, ran shriek ing after them, while 'Ria followed with the horse.

It was but a passing blast that bore the fire down, and the burning patch on the house side was soon put out. But while they worked, making all safe, throwing the burn ing logs and sticks within the black, charred stretches over which the llames had passed,

and sweeping in the smoking cinders, 'Riar was startled by the sudden crash of a tree falling close behind her, and a wild yell from Sullivan. She fled before the showers of dead stickB and cinders that fell around her, and when the noise had ceased, and she looked round, she saw Sullivan lying still upon the ground, half covered by the splin tered ruins of the tree. She rushed up to him screaming out for help, and dragged him from out the smoking heap. And his mate hurried up, and then Elizabeth Anne; and they knelt down on the black ground beside him, fright ened to touch him for fear of what they might discover.

ButElizabeth Anne yelledout that there was blood upon his head, and they found an ugly cut across it, from which the blood was slowly dripping. His eyes were shut, and he breathed heavily, and the healthy red-brown of his face was gone, and the skin shone greeny-white through the wet, black grime upon it. His mate ventured to feel his limbs and body; apparently, no bones were broken, but there was another nasty cut upon his thigh.

And now they had to get him home, and with some trouble the women helped the man to take him on his back, and he carried down his heavy senBeleBS burden across the paddock to the house. Then they laid him on the couch in the front room-the same couch, on which 'Ria had sat when Geordie told her she ought to marry Jim-the same couch on which poor Jim had lain when he was drunk upon his wedding night

" We must be taking off his duds and seeing if anything else be wrong," said the man to 'Ria; and Elizabeth Anne loudly ex pressed her sorrow, and her sympathy, and her willingness to help. But 'Ria shoved her out, and locked the door; and then they cut away the short, thick stubbly hair from around the wound upbn hiB head, and took off his blackened clothes, and found some few hurts of not much amount; but upon the swelling outer muscle of the thigh was a bad cut and bruise. The; washed him clean, and dressed his wounds, and put a shirt upon him, and before they had quite done their work the man came to, and after he had drunk a drop of grog they left him, sleeping quietly.