|Newspaper Title||Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||Studies in Bush Life. On a Gippsland Selection|
STUDIES IN BUSH LIFE.
ON A GIPPSLAND SELECTION.
BY A. Mabel Stocks.
Oh, girls are girls, and boys are boys. And have been so since Abel's birth.
— Eugene Field.
Vivien washed the dinner things, and Mollie dried them.
Geordie lay on the table, out of reach of the splashes, catching flies, and varying the monotony by occasional acrobatic feats. He wished to see if his feet would touch
the ceiling if he stood on his head on the table. Naturally, he soon came done, with a crashing thud that made the crockery dance, narrowly escaping from breakages. " By jove !" he said, picking himself up, and looking with a scared eyes at the plates. Then he doubled up on a chair, and watched them critically. " And do you call that plate well washed," he begun, with deliberate emphasis, when Dugald appeared in the doorway, with a fishing-rod between his knees, a rusty billy of bait on his arm, and his hands a tangle of tackle, to which he was fastening the float. " I go a-fishing," he said. " I go with thee," shouted Geordie, sud- denly elongating. " Come, Viv?" Dugald asked. " I should like to, certainly," she said, slowly, "but then I have a conscience, and you don't seem to be overburdened with that article. How do you suppose we shall pay off the mortgage if we go a-fishing instead of a-working ?" " Fish is a highly nutritious food," argued Geordie. " Oh, indeed," said Vivien. Dugald wriggled his broad shoulders. " Oh, hang it," he said, laughing, " a fellow must do something now and then. Really you needn't mind coming ; Effie and I chaffed the feed this morning, and anything else can go for once." " I'll come," said Vivien. " I never did need much persuasion to kick over the
traces. I can't answer for our dutiful sister, Mollie, though." " Oh, if you two go I can, I think ; but we must be back by 6." " We ought to start now," Dugald said. " Haven't you done?" " All but. I must clean the knives first though." " We'd better take overcoats and umbrellas, I think," said Geordie, frowning with his delicate eyebrows at the streaky north wind clouds in the smoky sky. " It's going to simply pour in a couple of hours." " Did you see another tarantula ?" Vivien asked, scathingly. " The event you pro- phesied didn't come off last night, you know." " Oh, but it's going to," said Geordie, as he went in search of his fishing-rod. " You go on, Dugald," Mollie said, "we'll come when we've finished. Where will you be ?" " I was thinking of that part of Humph- ries's by his steep paddock, with the tus- socks and whopping stumps, where we killed the tiger snake. The river isn't so fished out there. Tell the kids I've gone. So long." They heard Geordie shouting wildly in the distance. " Come fishing, Ef ? Effie ! Euphemi-ya !" Effie was lying flat on the floor of the front verandah, drawing. She gathered herself up, shouted in reply, and rushed through the house. " Change your dress, Effie," Mrs. Camp- bel's voice checked her from the dining- room. " Oh !" said Effie, impatiently dashing into her bedroom to shed one dress and assume another. She danced out again to have it fastened, holding up her long hair. While Mrs. Campbell was buttoning it, she moved restlessly like a boat tugging at is moor- ings. " Oh, quick, mother!" Released, she went off with a jump like a grasshopper. Finally she departed in pursuit of Dugald, her hat stabbed through with a single pin and swinging on her head at an angle of forty-five and a half degrees. Geordie going with her stopped at the kit- chen door long enough to say to Vivien, " Suppose you do, eh?" " Do what?" " Oh, you know. Well—don't you know ? Bring a little refreshment." " You clear out !" cried Mollie, flourishing her tea towel round his head. "How dare you ask for refreshment when we haven't finish- ed washing up the dinner things ?" Geordie fled, trusting their generosity. " All right, my mannikin," Vivien called after him. Soon the two girls left the house and went into the hot, shimmering air. Vivien had a school bag of painting materials slung on her shoulder, and carried an easel on her arm. Mollie had Vivien's sketch block, " Old Curiosity Shop," her fishing rod and Geordie's basket of refreshment. They left the shady orchard and struck across the pale grass paddocks, slippery as glass, and with great cracks in the dried chocolate soil. Grasshoppers flicked and danced as they passed, and now and then a locust showing yellow-banded under wings alighted with a loud clip-clap. The cows were standin end-on in the thin slips of shade cast by ringed trees, or en- deavoring to find a morsel among the rushes and tussocks of the shady creek bed. The horses switched sandflies with their tails in the shadow of the lightwoods. Sheep clustered under the tree ferns. They went across the old, white and dusty coaching road, climbed on an ancient chock- and-log fence and descended the tussocky hill by a narrow path through a prickly tangle of blackberries and native raspber- ries. A difficult passage along a wallaby track through the thickest scrub, with various trippings over bhidden logs, brought them to the river bank. Mollie coo-eed for the fishermen. A deep bass voice thundered up the river in reply. " That's Dugald," said Vivien. "I'm going to stay here. One wouldn't wish anything better than that to sketch." She waved her hand at the blue moun- tains that thrust mighty shoulders to the sky. She set up her easel in the shadow of a Christmas bush. " I'll not fish, I think," said Mollie. " It's too hot; I'll read about the beloved Dick Swiveller." She sank into a spring grass tussock and yielded herself to laughter over Dick's ad ventures in the Brass office. The great gums cast a fine gauze of shadow. A kingfisher high up on a thin twisted branch harped monotonously on one plaintive note ; its green back shone like a jewel in the sunlight. The river washed slowly round the bends, and the little, lapping waves beat among the wattle roots and swayed the slender bamboo reeds and dashed musically over the mossy, staghorn covered logs that lay in the water. Stiff rags of bark clattered on the white gums. The flashing blades of sword-grass clashed gently in the breeze. A coach-whip's clear, cracking note rang from the bush. There was a crashing in the hazel and dogwood on the other bank. Then a damp rod poked through, quickly followed by Du- ald. " Hullo there !" he cried. " That looks like a nice hole, your side. I'm coming over." He crossed by a log, and jumped into a bed of pennyroyal and pink water plant, and raised a cloud of mosquitoes round him. But Izaak Walton would have admired his patience as he stood watching his float in the dark, clear pool, and quivered in the tiny whirlpool that curled slowly down stream, and swung out to the centre with a sudden dash over the log. Little black water beetles flashed over the sun-flecked surface.
Suddenly the float bobbed. " Shut up, there !" he whispered, eagerly. " Good gracious, Vivien, this is a boomer." He tugged gently at the resisting captive. Then slowly a muddy mass of twigs appeared, and they burst into a laugh at his disgusted face. " Well, upon my word !" he exclaimed. He baited his hook again, and left it to its own sweet will while he examined the refresh- ment basket. A huge dog suddenly burst through the scrub, and nearly run over him. " It's Dodger Humphries," said Vivien " Here, Dodger, Dodge, Dodge," called Mollie, patting her knee. " Poor old fellow, poor old doggie." " Hullo there ! poaching on my grounds," a voice cried from behind, and a man, with a gun, came pushing through the undergrowth to the grassy bank. He lifted his hat to the girls. " Good afternoon, Mr. Humphries," Vivien said. " I think you thought you were back in England." Mr. Humphries was a colonist of only a few years standing, and was reputed—Mi- yallam North whispered it was with a democratic country's reverence for an actually present title—to be the son of an English baronet. He was quite like an ordinary person, and was very popular in Miyallam North. " Did I though ?" he said. " I suppose you think rivers are common property out here if a man's and does touch then. Hullo, old fellow! Hard graft ?" " Terrible," said Dugald, settling into the grass a little more comfortably. " Is this for the Royal Academy" Mr. Humphries said, looking at Vivien's sketch. " Not just yet ; I may send it when it is finished," she said. " How is the baby, Mr. Humphries?" Mollie asked. " Charming, Mollie. Why don't you come over and see her ? Mrs. Humphries was saying to-day it was two or three weeks since you girls had been over." " I know," said Vivien; " but it has been so hot, and we've been so busy. Dugald here keeps us chaffing feed for the cows nearly all the afternoon." " He's an awful fellow to work, isn't he, though you wouldn't think it from the look of him now. I've had an envious eyes on that maize of yours for a long time, my boy." " Oh," said Dugald. " Yes, I have. I've used up the bit of green stuff I put in, and the cows are be- ginning to look ghastly. Well, I must be off. I'm supposed to be after a hare that's been getting in at our green pens. Good-bye all." He was soon lost to sight in the scrub, whistling for the wandering Dodger. Then Geordie came. He was barefooted, and carried his rod in one hand and a splen- did string of fish in the other. His boots, tied together by the laces, hung on his arm, and his stockings were tucked in the loose front of his sailor coat. " It's awfully prickly," he said, walking gingerly. " Thank you, Vivien," he went on, ardently, as he fell foul of the peaches ; "you have my heartfelt gratitude." " Oh, please don't mention it," Vivien said, quite overcome. Geordie propped himself against a grass, tussock and surveyed his tall sister over the ruddy curve of a peach. At last he burst out, " Well, of all the foolishness ! What on earth for you did you make such a toff of yourself just to come down here?" Vivien had thought her blue blouse and sailor hat to be the essence of simplicity and suitability. She meekly said so " You look togged up enough to go to the Gov'nor's ball. Why didn't you leave on what you had this morning ? It was good enough to go to church in. Well, I believe you'd waste money like all the rest of the toffs if you got to Melbourne. What's the good of them? I'll bet they couldn't grow a cabbage, and if they tried to hoe, oh dear, it would blister their hands. I'm sure Lord Salisbury doesn't hoe." " Poor man," said Vivien, laughing, " where would he get the time." " Make it if he really wanted to. Oh here's Effie." Effie had a remarkably beautiful string of fish. " Whee, Eff," Geordie whistled, " what awful whoppers." " I got some minnows under a log," she said, delightedly, "and the fish bit like any- thing. I caught the eel in a deep pool, but it nearly got away with the hook. Did you get many bites, Dugald?" " Millions of 'em—mosquito—bites," he answered, with a smile. " I know, aren't they awful ?" Effie said, rubbing the back of her hand feelingly. " Effie, you look as if you had been in the wars," said Vivien. Effie surveyed herself in so far as was practicable. Her hat still swung on her head, but the angle was indescribable. Her dress was covered with burrs and mud, and white skin showed through a big triangular rent in her stockings. " I slipped in the water once," she said, as she explored amongst the peaches. " Things ! you've taken all the best." Geordie went off to sit on a log, and splashed his pink feet in the water. He held up a very dirty finger. Little, thunderous growls were coming out of the cloud darkened west. " There now, you unbelievers," he shouted, " didn't I tell you to have faith, you—" Then he went heels over head you into the deep, dark pool behind him. Dugald leaned over the log, gripped his coat collar and hauled him out, grasping and dripping. " Jehosaphat !" he said, when his breath came back. " Thought I was done for that time." " Get on your boots, Geordie, and run home as quick as you can. You'll be catching cold," said Vivien. " I think we'd all be better getting home as hard as we can lick," said Dugald. "It's going to be wet, there's a drop just landed on my nose. I'll take your easel, Vivien." Then there was a stampede. After the milking they were all on the front verandah, watching the sudden furious downpour of the storm that made early dark- ness. Thunder rolled in loud crescendo and
died with low mutterings over the eastern hills. Blue lightnings ran among the dark hollows of the swiftly moving cloud. Then the rain lightened and gradually ceased. The creepers dripped with a sharp pattering sound. A bright silver light edged the black cloud. Then the moon rode out into a clear, dark blue sky, and the last broken bits of cloud sank in to the east. " That's the lot," said Dugald ; " just enough to settle the dust. " It did rain, though," said Geordie. " Isn't the scent delicious?" He buried his face in the wet, moon sparkling jessamine sprays.