|Newspaper Title||Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 - 1947)|
|Trove Title||Christmas on the Wallaby. A Tale with a High Moral Purpose|
CHRISTMAS ON THE WALLABY.
A TALE WITH A HIGH MORAL PURPOSE.
[BY C. H. B.]
Tom, Dick and Harry were three pretty men, in whose dictionary there was no such word as work. They had "done" most of the Australian continent, swag- a-back, and were still enlarging their knowledge of its geography. Like true pilgrims, they travelled by "stations," where their arrival was timed to occur about sunset, just right for receiving the "cove's" grudging dole of flour, a sort of pastoral insurance premium against
burned fences and grass, or unexplained disappearances of lambs or calves from the run. They had a complete itinerary of these havens of repose, distinguishing well the (adjectived) "rationer," whose hospitality was summed up in a panni kin of weevilly seconds, barely enough to make a man (or a tramp) wish for more of something better, and the cherished, but alas! too rare "full-belly hall" where the farinaceous bounty was wont to be accompanied by scraps from the bottom of last month's meat cask, and fist-fulls of sour ration sugar and mouldy tea. If, to cap these luxuries, the station garden was allowed to contribute a pumpkin or a cabbage, the name of the place acquired a certain sanctity; and its owner was prayed for by the trio, though perhaps not so regularly as to do him or them much good. Tom, Dick, and Harry, while agreeing generally, in their roving propensities and preference for pedestrian over manual exercise, were nevertheless sufficiently differentiated to satisfy even Darwin him self. Tom was, so to speak, the master mind of the caravan ; Dick, the less ambitious but equally useful executive; while to Harry fell the more passive func tion of entering upon their joint labors and extracting thence all the enjoyment of which his unemotional nature was capable. With the diffidence of true worth, this excellent youth left the hol low glory of planning and achieving to his mates, and was content to follow in their tracks at a modest distance, reaching camp just in time to come in for a share of whatever windfalls they had happened on during the day. Tom and Dick did not quite approve of this apportionment of duties, but for good reasons they had hitherto refrained from protest. Harry was one of those lucky beings who grow fat even on ration flour and aired beef, and his portliness gave a certain weight to the party, which its other members, who were lank as wallum spikes, could ill spare. He was a bit of a dandy, too, and could eke out any tell-tale vacuity of his tattered blanket with so substantial a wardrobe of dry grass, and then tie up up the fraud, horse-collar fashion, with so jaunty a grace, that the others fairly envied his faculty for keeping up ap pearances. Reasons like these occasion ally influence other people besides swag men, and it will now be understood why the man of thought and the man of action saw fit to restrain their indigna tion and allow their drone of a rear-guard to do as he listed. But this unequal dis pensation of toil and enjoyment could not last. The clouds were gathering around the unsuspecting Harry. Tom and Dick had at length conspired to pay him out on the first convenient occasion. It was not long wanting. Christmas was near; but its approach heralded anything but a festive season to the heroes of my tale. Times were bad out west; the "coves" had lost heart, and, with it, whatever milk of human kindness they had ever possessed. There was no grass left to burn, and as for fences, what did the station boss care, seeing that no man could tell how soon the (adjectived) bank might not swoop down and foreclose. The dole of seconds, where still given, became dole fully scanty, and one "full-belly hall' after another forfeited that flattering designation, and was expunged from the itinerary. It was even whispered that a monster in human form, a repre sentative of the Great Western Incon vertible Banking Company, had been known to set the poor travel-worn sun- downer to a job of splitting firewood, before relieving his wants. Things now quickly grew from bad to worse. Tom and Dick became reduced to Euclid's definition of a line, and even Harry's accommodating skin began to hang in folds. Something must be done, or there would soon be nothing of them left; so one dismal evening, after an unsatisfying banquet of frizzled bandi coot a la pigweed, they reluctantly con cluded to turn their backs on the Never Never, and their faces towards the coast. That there should be any reluctance in their choice, may seem strange, for the settled districts, compared with the parched and starving west, were a very Goshen of plenty. But their inhabi tants, as Tom, Dick and Harry too well knew, harbored a strange prejudice in favor of what they illogicaliy termed "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work,'' and against a numerous and influential class of persons whom they were wont to stigmatize in their coarse, vulgar way, as "mendicants'"and "tramps." It was hard for the dignity of manhood to assert itself under conditions so un promising, and nothing short of the direst need could have reconciled our
trio to the sacrifice. However, there was no help for it; and Christmas week found Tom and Dick walking delicately, like Agag, through a land of black-soil flats and ironbark ridges; of mysterious jungles, where the stifled coo of the fruit-pigeon is heard in the pine-tops; of lily-spangled lagoons and damp shady dells, where the lady fern quivered in the intrusive sun-beam, and the monstrous elk-horn, perched aloft on a rotting trunk, slowly added layer to layer of green-veined tissue. Through a land of feather-topped maize
and potatoe fields starred with white and yellow blossom; a land of orange and peach orchards, and banana groves, flapping lazily to the dying breath of the land-sick sea-breeze. Through a land of lumberers' and road makers' camps, rude shanties, and trim villas, of roadside stores and inns — sealed foun tains, alas! to the impecunious three — and of straggling villages where the nooning teamster lay dozing under his waggon on the green, while the apple- cheeked youth, bursting out of school, nourished their budding taste for sport by running torced handicaps with the certified teacher's goat. From the burn ing winds, the red clay pans, and the dead or dying blue bush of the desert Far West, it was indeed a glorious change, and only the thought of the labor it had cost to create such a paradise, and the unreasonable estimation in which that labor was held, marred the pleasurable novelty of know ing that a supper of some kind, — and were it but a hatful of bananas or corn cobs — could be got behind every fence. The pioneer detachment of course took the lead, as was their wont, not forgetting to stop between whiles to admire the scenery and take a furtive peep, or per haps something more, at any selector's hut that happened to be handy and nobody at home. They had endearing persuasive ways for which the most in corruptibly faithful of watch-dogs was no match. Their argumentum ad canen, rightly applied, was irresistible, and Harry, who, as usual, lagged a couple of hours in the rear, could tell by the very hang of Boxer's or Growler's tail where his mates had "called" before him. Behold them, then, stringing along with the easy yet stealthy gait of the professional scow-banker, snapping a twig or setting a stone on end where the path forked, as a guide for Harry, who, although he must by this time have known every particular nail print in their boot-tracks, was too lazy to use his eyes and had more than once got bushed in consequence. Their path lay between the roughly-paled fence of a newly-cleared farm, and a broad belt of the still stand ing scrub. The frequent stumps and roots, the ensnaring tangle of wild gourd aud passion-flower vines, overshadowed at intervals with dense thickets of crashing lantana, made the mid-summer heat sting more fiercely, and wrung unwilling moisture even from the sun-tanned hides of our two wayfarers. The fence, and the scrub, and the stumps, and the brambles, seemed interminable; and as the sudden hush which bespeaks the turn of the day fell on the face of nature, and the shrill jubilations of the bird and insect world lapsed into silence, broken only now and then by a brief solo from some unruly cicada, Tom and Dick began to look around anxiously for the indications of a possible dinner. They had not long to wait. Another hundred yards brought them to a turn of the fence, and in the middle distance, framed in a billowy proscenium of maize and sugar cane, they descried the most inviting little picture of rustic still-life ever put on canvas. A slab humpy, its bark roof half hidden in grape-vines, with a weather-board chimney cocked defiantly aside, from whose crater wreaths of fragrant she-oak smoke curled slowly up ward, sanctifying and etherialising, as it were, the grosser aroma of steak and onions that diffused itself appetisingly around. Against the back of the humpy, which alone was visible to the hungry heroes of my tale, was reared a kind of open-roofed annexe of trellis work, so overshaded with the rich green of the lush grape vine, within whose leafy twilight the clustering fruit was already changing color, that it naturally suggested in that fierce heat, the coolest and pleasantest of dining-halls. And verily, the cloth was there and then laid ready for dinner, and there were knives and forks for six. As Tom and Dick observed these symptoms, a subdued grunt of con tentment came wafted from an invisible stye, while far back in the recesses of the wavy maize resounded the oviparous fantasia of an equally invisible hen. Meanwhile, the clatter of plates and dishes within the humpy gave evidence of the approaching dinner hour, and made Tom's and Dick's mouths water sympa thetically with their yearning stomachs. Mentally and gastronomically they com pared their wretched lot with that enjoyed by the thankless owners of this paradise, whose axes, five in number, were ringing their monotonous chime half a mile away, as though steak and onions — or whatever it might be — were quite an everyday affair, and not to be taken into account against the "downing" of twelve hundred feet of an iron-bark log. Presently the front door was heard to open, and the goodwife, herself unseen, raised, the forlorn species of chirrup sometimes affected by bush dames of a certain age and weight, as a substitute for the telephone. "Coo— ee!"— a pause. The foundress of the feast was awaiting the return signal. None came. Chip, chop; chip, chop, chop; chip, chop, chip chop, chop; came the muffled refrain from the
the sea of ragged jungle beyond the the clearing that had broken its once har monious continuity. "Coo— —ee!" — puff — The dame was warming up. No reply. Chip chop, chip, chop, chop, etc., ad libitum, ran the undeviating sylvan rhythm as before. "Coo— — — ee!" — Croak — puff — . She was getting blown. There was no reply; but the chop, chop ping ceased. "Made 'em hear at last," they heard her exclaim, panting, as she bustled back in the hut and resumed her preparations for dinner. The goodwife was mistaken, however. The ironbark had given a premonitory crack before settling itself stubbornly on a readjusted centre of gravity, and John Chigwidden, senior, and his two big sons, Miles and Will, and Pat O'Meara from beyond the creek, and Ole Larssen, the mild-eyed, sandy haired Swede, Pat's neighbor, had merely paused to spring out of the way in case the huge trunk should topple over without further warning. This, however, the twelve hundred feet, more or less, of ironbark refused to do; so after a scruti nizing glance aloft to study the bias, the five axemen began plying their weapons anew. Meanwhile the maternal Chigwidden, in the firm and certain trust that the men folk were on the home track, had quickened her culinary activity, and presently emer ged from the back door of the humpy with the dinner. Tom and Dick's eyes dwelt but an instant on the plump and com fortable dame, then concentrated themselves wholly on the yet more comfortable bulk of a most magnificent meat-pudding, whose fragrant steam curled around her rubicund face like a halo. They had never — at least, hardly ever, — seen such a meat pudding. It was one at which a whole squad of timbergetters could cut away and come again, and still leave some for a chance caller; and as the ambushed way farers espied it fuming and simmering in its lordly dish on the domestic altar, and noted the attitude of malronly rapture with which the priestess of that shrine contemplated her heave-offering, they mentally vowed to annex that "hot property" or perish in the attempt. "Just at this precise moment," as the peep-show patterer says, the interrupted sound of the axes began afresh. The missis, rudely awakened from her dream of triumph, bounded, with an impatient "drat the men, what be they up to?" back into the house and out again at the front door, to resume her vocalisation in a more agi tated tone and at a shorter distance from what might be termed the scene of axe- tion. With straining ears and thumping hearts, Tom and Dick stood listening as the feeble summons resounded farther and fartheraway, in proportion as the good wife, now made reckless by vexation, put a longer, and yet a longer, interval between herself and hone. The wood felling con certo now seemed to be nearing its finale. A bar or two of blows was "rendered" crescendo, forte, fortissimo; there was a shout of "stand aside!" and, amid the shrieks and groans of tortured heart-wood and the rush of swaying and crackling boughs, the conquered woodland patriarch came down with the booming tremor of an earthquake. "Now's your time!" whispered Tom, the man of thought, to Dick, the man of action; and before the echoes had quite died away, Dick had climbed the fence, corkscrewed his way through the inter posing maize, had seized the pudding, dish and all, with a firm yet careful grip, and was bearing back the prize in triumph to his mate. "O my, what luck!" gasped Tom in a kind of ecstasy, as he cautiously took de livery of the spoil over the fence. "That was neatly done by us two, Dick; and nary drop of gravy spilled. You'll be a man before your mother at this rate, mate, darned if you won't." Dick blushed with honest pride. Be had always revered Tom as a superior, and praise — even qualified praise — from him was praise indeed. "What will Harry say when ho sees it?" he suggested, with a modest chuckle. "Harry won't see much on it if he don't look pretty sharp," retorted Tom viciously, as he pioneered his way into the thickest of the scrub, closely followed by Dick with the pudding. "We ain't a-going to wait dinner for him, I reckon." Whatever Dick may have thought of the unchristian tone of this remark, he gave no open sign of disapprobation. A tolerably secure retreat on the brow of a ridge,— one of those tiny clearings formed by the fall of some tree long since rotted into mould — was soon reached, where they would have "ample verge and scope enough" to devour their plunder un observed. It would be sheer accident if, in the event of a search being made, they should be discovered in the dense cover of fern stalks and wattle seedlings that compassed them around. But inasmuch as they could distinctly hear any suspicious movement on the part of the inmates of the humpy, they would, moreover, have plenty of time to clear out on the least alarm. So Tom and Dick fell to eating the Chigwidden pudding with all the zest that a successfully achieved exploit, and their own prolonged abstinence from so delectable a product of civilization, could inspire. Presently they heard the home ward tramp of the hungry timbergetters; their joking references to the strength of "the bo'sen's pipe," under which compli mentary figure a delicate allusion to Mrs. Chigwidden,. and her dinner summons, was supposed to be concealed; the bump ing of stools, boxes, and inverted kegs, as they ranged themselves expectantly around the festive board; and lastly, the half cheery, half impatient "now then,
old woman!" with which the head of the household sought to hasten the appear ance of the long-looked-for dinner. By and by there came an awful lull —a silence that might be felt; broken at last by a feminine ejaculation of "Lor! who ever!" in which doubt, astonishment, alarm, horror, anguish, and despair con tended for the mastery. Then a sudden unlocking of the floodgates of speech, a Babel of mingled voices, a smash as of overturned crockery, and a banging of doors and stamping of boot-heels and scuffling of many feet, punctuated at intervals with piercing screams, which gave a much better idea of what Mrs. Chigwidden could do in that line, than any of her former efforts; the whole per formance being interpreted by the audi ence — Tom and Dick — to imply that John Chigwidden, senior, was doing his best to "take it out" of his old woman, if Miles and Will, the two sons, and gallant Pat O'Meara, and Ole Larssen, the tender-hearted, would only let him. Anon followed a sobbing recitative, pitched in the highest falsetto of a qua vering female voice and innocent of punc tuation or "breath-stops." During the rendition of this part of the programme, in which some grand effects were brought out by the occasional striking in of John's bubbling bass, the other males were beat ing about aimlessly in the maize and along the fences, and doing everything that could help to warn the thief and expedite his flight, in the event of his having been incautious enough to fall asleep within a stone's throw of the house. The flutter and cackle of poultry seemed to imply that the hen-roost was regarded as a highly probable place of concealment, while a shower of blows, as with a broom handle, followed by vociferous protests from the pig, proved that even that useful animal was not wholly unsuspected of the crime, either as a principal or an accomplice. At length these various sounds died away, and were followed by the hum of many voices within the hut itself. Yet throughout the mingled accents of expos tulation, recrimination, consultation, and conjecture there ran unceasingly, like an undercurrent of melted thunder, the baffled bread-winner's bubbling drone. Meanwhile the audience, viz , Tom and Dick, had got nearly half way through the cause of all this fluster, and were pausing for breath after their strenuous and unwonted exertions. A peculiar low whistle, the very fac-simile of a bell- bird's, and yet not a bell-bird's, made them prick up their ears. "Harry!" whispered Tom, more with his eyes than his mouth, to Dick, as he gave the counter signal; and their unctuous faces suddenly expanded into grins of extra breadth. Presently the personator of the bell-bird, after making a deal of superfluous noise by stumbling over roots, barking his shins over stumps, bringing up all standing against upright snags, and tumbling head foremost into gulfs of brambles and lawyer cane, crashed through the covert into the open space and flung himself down in the fern, panting like Falstaff after the encounter at Gad's Hill. "Well, Harry, had yer dinner?" said Tom, speaking with his mouth full, as he made another breach with his clasp-knife in the tottering walls of the once defiant and well provisioned fortress. "Never a dinner yet," was Harry's despondent reply; then, suddenly espying the pudding — "Where did yer get that from?," he added, in extreme amazement. "It's just a present — a Christmas box, like, to me and Dick here," said Tom, munching away for dear life. "A present! who'd have thought it of them mean cockatoo folk hereabouts! Make a little room, mates; seems to me you've taken your whack out of it already." "It's a present to the two of us, me and Dick,'"repeated Tom stolidly, with out offering to move. "That will do, Tom; don't be hard on the chap," interposed Dick. "He can have whatever's left of my share. Jig gered if I can manage another bit." And to do him justice, he couldn't. "We'll see about that bye and bye," resumed Tom, with a cruel twinkle of his eye. "Lookye here, Harry, me and Dick isn't altogether pleased with your skulk ing, stuckup ways, always on the hang and caring no more for your mates than that jew-lizard, so long as you drop in for the toke. Now, when that kind, good man at the humpy yonder comes out, a-pressing this here munificient gift on us and bids us go dine for once in peace and plenty, and when he dewelops them beautiful sen timents about goodwill to men and for givin' of yer enemies (that's you, Harry) as made me and Dick almost shed tears, why you see, Harry, we more'n half agreed to give you a bit of a lesson for yer own good, you know, Harry." During this edifying speech, Harry's moody stare at the non-transferable pud ding gradually softened into an expres sion of penitent humility so irresistible, that Dick, nearly choking with combined merriment and repletion, was fain to bury his face in the bight of his swag! "But Dick, as you see, Harry, is taken ginerous of a sudden," continued Tom, without relaxing a feature, "and I'll be ginerous too. We've had our lesson, a lesson of lovin' kindness and charity — " here he stroked the receptacle of the lesson — "and can afford to forgive and forget. It's not quite in 'cord'nce, p'raps, with the intention of the giver, but you may cut in. Peg away, and when it's all done, shew that you've a proper feeling left, by taking back the dish and thanking the family for yourself and we." Tom's grave demeanor was so in keep ing with the high moral purpose of this speech, that although Dick's prostrate form rolled a little, and his back hair
vibrated like the lid of a boiling kettle, Harry never suspected anything wrong. The pudding was finished in profound silence, Dick fast bound in a catalepsy of smothered laughter while Tom dreamily smoked the pipe of contentment. Dinner over, Harry rose, not without difficulty: stretched himself; let out a couple of reefs in the garment that had once been a waistcoat; and lastly, shouldering, the empty dish, marched off to the hut. As his retreating figure disappeared from view, Tom knocked the ashes from his pipe, jumped up, and craned his neck through the undergrowth to listen, while Dick gave uncontrolled vent to such fits of laughter as — but for the further develop ments about to be recorded — must in fallibly have revealed their hiding place before long. Harry had now reached the rear eleva tion of the selector's home. Seeing no body about to whom he could consign his dish, and hearing voices engaged in mum bling conversation within, he went round, like a well-behaved reputable loafer as he was, to the front door, threw into his full moon features as much gratitude and re spectful cordiality as he could muster at so short a notice, and knocked for admis sion. The door opened with unexpected suddenness, and there was John Chig widden, and his sons Miles and Will, and Pat O'Meara, aud Old Larssen, the Swede, and three other neighbors, who had dropped in to spend the Christmas Eve and try the quality of certain bottles of rum wherewith the table was garnished, as a solvent of the doubts surrounding the unprecedented event that had wrought consternation in the wigwam that day. "Good day, all!" said Harry, in his most affable manner, circulating a com prehensive nod around the room; "thankye kindly for that ere splendacious pudden, and here's the dish. Me and my mates is'nt like to forget this day; never!" The last sentence was spoken in rather a faltering tone, for Harry read in the eight pairs of optics, whose gaze focussed at the door, an expression rather of wrath ful astonishment than of any feeling that could be construed as goodwill towards himself — or any other man. John Chigwidden was the first to break the spell that had fallen on the circle at Harry's sudden appearance, and he broke it effectively. The worthy yeoman had been solacing his disappointment after the familiar colonial fashion, and there was an empty rum bottle within reach of his fist. So quick was he in repartee, that had not Harry instinctively held up the dish as a shield, the bottle would have come in forci ble contact with his head. As it was, the bottle and the dish flew in pieces together, and the rotund visage of the urbane Harry was obscured for an instant by a shower of stoneware and glass fragments. When he recovered his wits — sorely dis arranged by the catastrophe — he was standing with a bloody nose and a black eye, the target for a broadside of impreca tion aud invective which John Chigwidden was pouring into him at short range with perfectly stunning effect. The paternal Chigwidden was neither a Turk nor an M.L.A., but he cursed Harry, soul and body, his eyes, limbs, vitals, and circula ting fluids, his down sitting and his up rising, his ancestors for several genera tions back, "his sisters and his cousins and his aunts," and everybody and every thing connected with him quite as impres sively and completely as any Turk not brought up to the trade — let alone an M.L.A. — could have done. By and by, proceeding from words to deeds, and call ing upon the assembled company to assist, he, thus reinforced, fell upon Harry pro miscuously, and with fists, whip-handles, boot-soes, and similar offensive weapons, usually reserved for the gentler half of creation, pummelled that soft-spoken and harmless person to within an inch of his life. Who shall depict the plight of the ill starred Harry when, after being exalted, for a brief instant, far above his station by the concentrated energy of one parting and monster kick, in which a dozen iron boot-tips had joined their forces, he lay — an inert mass of bruised humanity, before the "kind, good' selector's door? Who describe the anguish, the rage, the despair when, dragging himself painfully to the scene of his late banquet, he found the place deserted. The perfidious wretches, after betraying him into Philistine hand — and such hands! — had added the sting of mockery to his woe, and made tracks. Harry and his false hearted mates never met again. Some inquisitive reader — there are plenty of such objectionable persons about — will probably want to learn the high moral purpose of this tale. Every story, they will say, either has, or ought to have a moral. Well, I can't enlighten them — unless, indeed, it be something to the following effect: If you have stolen ( and eaten) a pudding, it is bad policy to make a fuss about returning the dish. Elopement of a Peiesx and a Nun.— There is exaitemeut through the Mesailla Yalley, New Mexico, over tbe elopement of Father Todero Bonalt, a priest, of Les Cruoes, and a brilliant and beautiful young lady, Miss Mar guerita Garcia, from the convent of Soretto, who recently entered the con vent, it is said, at the solicitations of tbe - priests against the wish of her parents. After continued scandalous proceedings the conple eloped, -and were overtaken at a small hamlet, - where the priest appeared en dtiabille' and was struofc, and would have 'been billed by. the nncle of khe girl if the'- officers had not interfered. The priest' and the girl were finally carried.