Chapter 164287984

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Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164287984
Full Date1910-12-07
Page Number24
Corrections0
Word Count4042
IllustratedY
Last Corrected1970-01-01
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)
Trove TitleIn the Bird Places
article text

In the Bird Places.

1| By M. FORREST. .| — ? i

A city girl goes out-back lor a holiday. She is an ardent lover of Nature, and in an interesting way is thrown in contact with an invalid of similar tastes. When he recovers they visit the 'bird places' together, and have many pleasant excursions. One day he reveals just enough about himself to let her realise that the name she knows him by is assumed, and that he is under a cloud of some sort. The next morning he goes off. She returns to the city, and the story cleverly circles about an old lover and her memories of the man of the bird-places.

I rTTi the Deuce!' The boards between the rooms were no 0 thicker than a match. It was not that the man spoke loudly, but the concentrated ex asperation in his voice carried. The woman who occupied the room where r^p7Ipip3 the smooth pine boards were (the beading 1 was in the man's skillion), rustled her paper noisily. She had desired the skillion when she cam a because she thought it would be cooler than the inner room, being at the end of the verandah, and the win dow looked on the full foliaged ti-trees that lined the creek, and beyond, miles of wooded country, a mystery of dull green boughs. But her landlady had argued her out of it. The key of the skillion was lost, which rendered the room

much more suitable to a bache lor, and there was a real dressing table with four legs in the inside room, a marble topped washstand (cracked, but marble for all that) and pegs on th ; door for dresses But the w-»oden shuttered window opened to a view of killing-yard and out-houses. The girl objected to see the dead bullock slung, objected to glimpses of the cutting up when she glanced out for in spiration in the penning of her letters home, and to the grunting of the long-bodied pigs kept in the stye beyond. Yet she had wanted a taste of real back-block life, and had taken a laughing challenge from a man friend in town that she would not spend a month at the Half-way Hotel between Heelitnan and Bether, for a fortune. ' You will get bush hotel life there,' he had said. 'Goodge, the landlord, is a study of old methods in him self. They say he burns the hides, after killing day, over quickly to please the local squatters.' She liked experience. She complained that life in Aus tralian cities was too civilised ; she wanted to be able to tell her people in England some thing of the real Australia, so she went West armed with fly veils and a white umbrella lined with green, white canvas stioes, and a becoming topee. Unfortunately, there wasn't anybody to notice how nice she looked in it, and there was a good deal of unpleasantness about those killing yards. The flies were tiresome, and oh ! dear, the ants. Then there was well-boring going on two and a half miles away ; and the workmen used to gather at the public-house for Saturday night hilarity, and that meant shutting herself in her room to avoid sights and sounds un pleasing, and the smell of the kerosene lamp they gave her was not all that could be desired. Besides there seemed such a remarkable number of winged things-r-brownish-grey moths, flying ants, and a bright green fly which it was un

wise to slay, for it had its own evil after-death retaliation in an odour that vanquished the leaking lamp altogether. But she wasn't going back to the city to hear that lordly person's ' I told you so ! ' just yet. It was only yesterday that the two men had ridden to the verandah edge. One, the thinner and the browner, had to be helped from his horse, and she had glanced away with a quick distaste, expecting to see a wandering eye and hear a confused tongue, the results of the bottle of rum taken into camp, engendering a desire for repetition. Com punction had seized her for her uncharitableness (bred by the normal condition of most mounting and dismounting visitors at the hotel) when the fat landlady had told her of the drover, brought in convalescent from dengue fever, which had settled in his knees. An insurance doctor, whose buggy had rushed a stump and been subsequently and obligingly patched with green hide by the drovers, had warned the young man of the results likely to ensue if he kept on in the saddle, giving the complaint a 'foreign' name which struck the landlady as something to do with ??fleas' ('Sandyridge country they've been campin' in, I expect,' she said explanatorily ; 'dreadful for insex' ), while

a sudden mental illumination made the English girl murmur ' Phlebitus ' So his mate had brought him here for a spell, and the half-caste maid was to wait on him, as he was quite ''elpless.' The doctor, passing further West after elusive clients, had ordered him not to put foot to the ground till he was alright again, and the landlady had no objection to his weekly board money, 'though,' she added with a sigh, ' 'ee's no drinkin' man.' Evidently the half-caste girl was neglecting her duty, and, it being washing day, the landlady was up to her elbows in a tub somewhere near the smoking galley, among toe gum trees at thf back. 'Oh ! Hang it all,' said the voice beyond the partition. A groan, following on the exclamation, made the girl put a blackfellow's stone axe (a treasure lately acquired) on her

' The English girl stood on the threshold of the marts room. ' /« there anything 1 cun do ?' He started at htr roue, and s.nr let cool white frock and sympathetic eyes in the doorway ; behind her the hot amber flood of sun on the deserted verandah.'

loose papers (she was writing for the English mail), and move towards the door doubtfully. He groaned again, pathetically impatiently. She looked down the verandah. Far away, glancing in and out among the timber she could see the felt hat and red print blouse of the half-caste. She seemed to be stalking something. The English girl stood on the threshold of the man's room. There were riding boots on a chair, a stockwhip on the dressing table of pink glazed calico obviously covering a packing case, a litter of dirty china pushed up against the small mirror, and an empty water bottle and a glass on a wooden chair by the bed. The man lay partly dressed in moleskins and grey flannel shirt, one foot swinging over the side of the bed, reckless in its blue sock, one lying still and stiff as though, even in his impatience, he dreaded to move the painful limb. He was fair-haired, blue-eyed, brown faced, with an unshaven chin and an angry brow. He looked the words she had heard through the wall. ' Is there any thing I can do ?' He started at her voice, and saw her cool white frock and sympathetic eyes in the doorway, behind her the hot amber flood of sun on the deserted verandah.

'It's awfully good of you.' She decided at once that he had a University voice. ' But that yellow youngster has gone off somewhere and left me without a drop of water, and it's a confoundedly thirsty day, you know.' 'Thej' should give you a bell,' she said, moviug to wards the tumbler, and trying not to see the disco n fort and disorder of the room. ' A bullock bell for choice,' he smiled. ' But please don't bother. I can wait.' 'Oh, no!' she answered quickly, 'I kuow you are tired of waiting !' He reddened. ' I hope you did not hear my language,' he said. ' Are you anywhere near?' 'Next door.' She moved off to where the water bag hung in the shadow of the house. Sie filled the bottle and

set it beside mm. ' How tire some it must be for you, this enforced idleness.' He gritted his teeth, hold ing out a long brown hand for another glass. ' Hard luck !' he said. 'I would have laughed at the doctor, but I had an experience like this once before, and because I funked the fortnight's rest, it meant six months in hospital.' ' I am glad you were wise enough to do what you were told this time.' She was sur prised atherself for her friend ly attitude. The man was a gentleman, that was some thing ; most things — and she suddenly discovered how loue ly she had been. 'Surely I have seen you somewhere,' he said. 'As a rule I cannot remember wo men's faces. Chaps' faces one has to remember in the way of business, but vhen girls have on different hats and frocks they seem quite new people. But you, I fancy — ' She shook her head, 'I think not.' A little of her English reserve came back. 'I will tell Mallee' (the half caste) 'to see if you require anything. She is somewhere out in the paddock. I believe she has a catapult aDd is after those dear little blue wrens.' 'Shame, isn't it? ' He rose to his elbow, staring after her as she paused in the doorway. 'I like those little beggars ; they are such attrac tive scamps. Have you ever heard the melody of the male in his courting season ? Just now they are nesting, and I shall give Mallee a wigging for trying her catapult on them. They are such gay singers. I've even heard them in camp, near midnight, when I've been on watch — and the old laughing Jackass back ing them up with his harsh chorus.' She felt he was trying to keep her there from sheer ennui of his own society. She wavered in the doorway. He thought how straight she was, how fair skinned after the hard faced, weather-b.aten women Vie had seen latelv.

wives of the workers in a splitters' camp, selectors' daughters( hardy tanned girls with hands loughened by out-door work. It was a long time since he had seen what he was accustom ed to designate a 'cotton-wool' woman. Besides it was infernally dufl lying on a bunk iu the compau)' of dirty plates, the remains of a greasy breakfast, bare rafters, an oleograph of the Duke of York and a two year old almanac, with the knowledge that the other chaps were riding on through the gum-sweet solitudes and the open road. He wondered how she had come here. It was quite impossible to imagine her a barmaid, and besides it was well known that Mrs. Goodge did not favour young and comely barmaids, Mr. Goodge favoured them too much. ' I am interested in birds, ' she said, 'but know very little of the Australian ones.' ' This is rather a bird district.' He spoke quickly for her foot was on the verandah. ' I have been here before, in quarters with a kangaroo shooter, and we laid on to a spot ted bower birds' playground in the Six Mile. Shy, noisy fellows they are. I wonder if the playground is there still? I'm sure you would like to see it. Have you a camera?'

Somehow lie felt sure she had. She confessed to a kodak, and said she must go back to her writing. That afternoon she sent him a magazine by the half caste ; she felt she had been abrupt in her leave-tak n? The mail had arrived at mid-day, and brought her papers and letters. The man friend in town wanted to know when she was coming back. She looked thoughtfully at the killing yard, at present unoccupied, the dark stain by the wood block, the bullock horns in the grass. She decided it would do him good to miss her a little longer. She pictured his even profile, the little jut of his chin, the streak of grey hair on his temple, his distinguished carriage, his somewhat domineering air. She laughed, leaning her cheek on her hand. Then she pushed her rocking chair — the only one the hotel possessed— on to the verandah. The sun was at the back of the house now ; the verandah was full of soft shadow, the African parrot, childless Goodge's special pet, hanging near the bar door, repeatedly instructed someone to ? ' run up the cows now, and look slippy.' She rocked to and fro, and tried to forget that the dingy heap under the red gum in the foreground was a sandy-haired teamster sleeping ' off the knocking down of his latest cheque for loading. The blue wrens were busy flitting in and out of the green boughs, a horse's hobble chains clinked musically. 'Thanks, so much, for the magazine,' said the man in the skillion. The door was propped wide with a saddle, shiney at the kneepads. There was a bunch of wattle on his table in an old gin bottle. The half-caste, of perhaps Mrs. Goodge (her hands very pink, and unusually clean from their immersion), had been tidying up. She moved her chair round a little, facing him. Through the doorway

they entered into a discus sion of books ; he was not particularly well read, but he was interested — quite eagerly — in all she said. She was surprised when Mai lee came to tell her tea was waiting in the coffee- _ room — a small stuffy apart ment reserved for distin guished visitors, such as a Catholic priest passing down to christening or wedding, or a member of the Protes tant Bush Brotherhood, spec acled, and very sure of his Divine call. There were a good many flies in the butter and on the green . and white fly-catcher, which had apparently hung for undisturbed years from vhe ceiling, collecting dust and specimens. There were dyed pampas grass on the man telshelf, a Bible under a glass shade, and enlarged photographs of deceased Goodges on the pine walk. She wondered if Mallee set the man's tray nicely ; whether they ever thought of giving him a serviette. She forgot he was a bush man, and long unused to luxury. Ten days later he knew most of her reasons for coming into the back blocks — all except the one a wo man never tells. But she ?was no wiser as to his his tory. Behind his good com radeship he kept a still

tongue, and all efforts to draw hini to speak of their mutual birth land were unavailing. He preferred to tell her bird stories ; and now that he was able to hobble on to the %-erandah, he held out the lure of a personal inspection of the bower birds' playground to her.. She was to borrow a riding-skirt from Mrs. Goodge, and Goodge had r. romised a side-saddle horse, and they were to go adventuring to the Six Mile. 'We'll take a quart pot and boil the billy,' he said ; and she agreed to cut the saudwiches, and add fresh mus ard, for since he had joined her in the coffee-room he had dived into the mustard pot and made discoveries. ' Did you never think, of looking for flies there before?' he inquired seriously, when she wrinkled a disgusted face at his suggestion. ' We don't in England,' she said, struggling with some culinary experiment of their landlady's. ' But, then, life in England hold-- so little of the unex pected,' he responded dryly. ' That is why we leave Eng land.5' Mrs. Goodge's riding skirt being made to encircle the waist that goes with sixteen stone required some folding about her slimness. Atlength, studying herself by sections in front of the small mirror, she decided to discard it, and ride in one of her own short ones. A cycling skirt with leather straps attached was, as the man remarked, ' just the thing,' and she knew she had feet as pretty as a Spanish lady's. In the depths of her feminine soul she wondered if he noticed 'the grace of the foot that lay in the palm of his hard hand

for a moment as she mounted, but their daily intercourse had not called forth any flatteries sincere or otherwise from him. That was nice, considering. But it was possible he really did not notice much beside birds. She remembered his words about the difficulty he had in recalling women's faces, yet he thought he had seen her somewhere before. *It was rather an amusing episode. In a round brigalow patch they found the bower birds' ground. The lank grass tufts had been pressed across to make an arch, the floor of which was carpeted with snail shells brought from some swampy place, tiny fragments of white bone, glistening pebbles, and, bright and unexpected, 1 a polished shilling piece ! ' We won't rob them,' said the man, as they stood in. the patchwork of light and shadow, looking down on the quaint pleasaunce. The little creatures' love of striking colours was shown in the collected quan dong fruits and a shred of red cotton. ' A scrap of Mallee' s dress, I think,' said the girl, while up in the tree tops the shy, lilac necklaced birds scolded furiously at the intruders. At a little distance they had hung the horses, and Brett unstrapped the camera and brouf ht it to her. She made him stand where the light could catch him. ' You must be in the picture, too,' she said, while he declared she would not get moie than his feet. Finally he lay at

tun lengtn, lace propped on eiDow, looking at her over the grass tufts Click ! ' I have you now.' ' Yes. Always now.' He was grave, ^— ~a and did not answer S^

her laugh. They went back to the horses, and he warned her not to sit with her back to a brigalow tree. 'That's where the ants gather. Better come in the open. There's a bit of shade from the boughs.' She had forgotten the salt in the sandwiches, and he chaffed her. 'Nice bushman's wife you would make!' Her eyes grew thoughtful, her cheeks hot. After all, she had never contemplated that situation. She wondered what it would be like for a permanency— the ev r sting trees, the miles of silence, the wide sun sweeps, and the bill and wing music of the bird places— ' for always ' They explored later amongst thorny underbrush, rotting tree trunks, a marvel of fungoid growths, tapestries of orange and brick-red and wonderful olive on the powdering bark. She thought him « xceedingly clever to find his way back to where they had left the horses through a iraze of vine and gum plantation. In the cool of the afternoon they iode homewards. At the boundary gate he laid his hand on the pommel of her saddle. ' I am taking to the roads once more to morrow,' he said. ' There is a mob of sheep coming by, and they sent word with the stock-passing notice that they could do with an extra hand.' 'Oh, I am sorry,' she said. She was, frankly. 'You have made it pleasant for me, taught me much forest lore, but as I am. returning to the city ne: t week, perhaps I shall see you in town some day, Mr. Brett?'

He withdrew his ha.nd, stroking his horse's neck re flectively. He looked at her. His lips tightened. He shook his head slowly. % ' You are English. Our counties adjoined. If I told you that my name was Brett Durham instead of just Brett, as I gave it to you, would you wish to see me in town, or anywhere else — do you think?' He forgot, perhaps, how English girls' lives are hemmed in, their ears guarded. The disgrace and ruin his name spelled to others meant nothing to her 'Why not?' she said. His face chauged. He looked relieved, at the same time disappointed. 'Then, because you ask me 'why not,1 I must reply, dear lady. Thank you a thousand times, but I do not think it likely that we shall meet again.' With a grasp after lightness, he added : ''I belong to the bird country, you know, and you to the city ways.' Almost from under his horse's feet a brown snake slid, and her hack shied away with wide nostrils and quivering

suuuiuer, jeritiim tier un comfortably. While she patted the startled animal's neck with a comforting word, the twisting serpent body disappeared among some shattered wood, relic of a late thunderstorm, and as they took the road again she plunged into a disserta tion on the ways of snakes gleaned from an Australian magazine. He nodded occasionally, saying little, and the con versation remained imper sonal. She was a lillle offended at his half -confi- dences. She felt perhaps that she had erred in seem ing to desire his company too much. The sun flipped suddenly behind the black, irregular tree line. The locusts shrilled in the grass. She knew she was very tired. She was glad she had made up her mind to go back. He was gone with the dawning. They s&t on the verandah for a time that night, and watched a red moon sidling over the bough dusk. He smoked, she rocked her chair back wards and forwards. Sud denly a wren began to sing in the blackness of the treeways. 'I shall always remem ber the wrens,' she said gently, a little quaver, to her own chagrin, cieepiug into her voice. He stretched out a hand towards her, then withdrew it unseen, in the shadow.

' And I'— he shoi k the ashes of his pipe over the edge of the verandah— ' And I, not only the wrens,' he said. ? * * * * * * ? They teased her, her town friends. They said she had lost her complexion under a sea of freckles. They told her she was getting a salt-beef-and-damper look. They were also amazed at her knowledge of the habits of Australian birds. They wanted to know if she spoke the aboriginal tongue when she was out West. They vowed she had fought bushrangers single-handed and killed kangaroo with a spear. The man whose gibe had sent her there, the man to whom she meant to give a lesson wh( n she packer up in a temper and went back-blockwards, championed her and laughed the others down. He declared they were envious of her independence of spirit, and he took her out to walk in a moonlit garden overlooking Sydney harbour, where Lane Cove waters were islai ded with light. With the breath of the sea in her face and the sough of the waves in her ears, he said the 'ew words she hari one so wanted to hear. He took forcible possession of her, and she realised what a good match she was making and how happv she was — of course. But somehow she had expected to be happier ome when the words he was uttering now came only to her in dreams. She was proud of him when they walked through the lamplight together. She did not suppose he had ever had any reason to change his name. She wondered still why the other man had done so. Then they went into the study where her photographs were, and she showed him the one of Mr. Goodge cutting up a beast, and Mrs. Goodge at the washtub, of Mallee with her catapult, and the only print that was missing was the snapshot of the spotted bower birds' playground. But as she had never happened to mention this picture to the man she was . going to 'marry, it was not of any particular consequence

A MERRY . . . HOLIDAY PARTY.