|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.
Mollie hurried off to Sunday school with Geordie. Effie had a headache. She was often thus afflicted on Sunday afternoon. Vivien watched the pair from the. veran- dah till they were out of sight. Then she went into the diningroom, where Dugald lay
extended on the sofa, having relieved him- self of his little loved collar. " I'm going over to the little church," she said. " Will you come, too ?" " Will you let a fellow go without his collar ?" " Your company would be too dear at the price, my boy," she said. " I'll come anyhow," Dugald said. "It's the Wesleyan Sunday school over there, isn't it ?" . " Let's see. Oh, yes, the Church of Eng- land had it last Sunday. Don't be long, Dugald." Vivien waited on the verandah for him.
and made a buttonhole that was an exact counterpart of the one Tom Watts had ob- tained in the morning. She fastened it in her brooch. Mrs. Campbell satisfied herself that Vi- vien's belt was faultlessly tidy, and Effie shouted good-bye from the hammock where she lay within arm's length of the passion fruit. The afternoon sun laid a heavy, drowsy stillness on the earth. The orchard grass was vibrant with insect music, and the ci- cadas' undulating notes were deafening. They went across paddocks, Dugald look- ing sadly over the fence at the scanty brownish green rows that attempted to be the potato crop. " I must begin banking 'em to-morrow," he said. " If we got rain even now they'd go ahead grand. If ever there was a humbug- ging season it's this one. I fully expected that we should pay off a double lot of that money this year, because we've hired so little labor, only Phil Macarty and Mrs. In- rerarity, and here, I fancy, we'll have our work cut out to pay the usual amount. There's not a bad lot of sheep to send to Melbourne, though. I was telling mother we'd better send 'em down before the food gets worse. They're not in half bad con- dition." " Don't be so glum, then, Dugald,; that is not bad. We shall pull through.". " Right enough, if the place were free. Oh, I'd starve for a year to pay it off in a lump." " Wait till I get a thousand each for my pictures," Vivien returned, smiling. "Seri- ously, though, I wonder if they would sell. I'm afraid they're rather crude as yet. At any rate, Dugald, old lad, we've paid more than half the mortgage. I think mother has done wonders," " Yes, I know," Dugald said ; but his eyes still held a gloomy shadow for present evils. Miyallam North was a microscopic town- ship. The thick hush suddenly blossomed with a mechanics' institute, a State school and the schoolmaster's house, both as neat and nice as Government buildings should be ; and a hotel, where cloth of gold roses crept over the house, and ragged weeping willows wept yellow leaves like tears because of the drought ; and old men, with pipes, perma- nently resided on the dusty-floored veran- dah. A grey, wooden chimneyed erection, whereon a huge V.R. betokened the post office, stood back in the ti-tree. Then the road curved into the dusky forest again.
Down by a rush-grown creek, with a back- ground of lightwoods and mossy stemmed blanket musks, stood the little church. The Anglicans and Wesleyans shared it. When the Campbells wanted their Presby- terian church, they drove to Miyallam. People and horses were congregated in the church paddock. Tom Watts detached him- self from a group of ungainly figured lads, and came to meet the brother and sister. " Good afternoon, Vivien," he said, shak- ing hands as if for the first meeting in six months. " Well, Dugald, old feller, how are you ? Sunday school ain't out yet, and the preacher ain't come neither." Vivien drew them on to the little slab shanty that did duty as a Sunday school. " Come quietly," she said. " I want to see how they teach." They peeped in at the door. Nellie Al- lonby, Vivien's faithful chum, was sorting texts at her desk — an inverted packing case— while her class en- joyed itself. Geordie and Jimmy Watts engaged in an experiment, which concerned the noiseless letting out of air from a squeaking balloon. Of course they failed, and a hideous howl resulted, and two heads sank low in a joyful giggle. " Young scamps," Vivien said. Nellie Allonby looked up reprovingly, then she saw Vivien and the boys at the door, and the color rose in her fair face. She came quickly to the door. " Vivien, you horror," she cried in a whisper. " If you don't go at once I shall ask Mr. Macdonnell to remove you. How can I teach with you here ?" " Just half a minute, Nell ; we want to see Mollie," Vivien said. They peered round the corner. Unconscious Mollie fronted a form furnish- ed with small, round headed boys and sun- bonneted little girls. She had a child on her lap, and one leaning on each side ; Morpheus claimed the trio. Young William Inverarity, whose face was the contentment of Effie's pen, sat by her, cleverly poised on a kerosene case, and plunged in the pro- foundest deep of sulkiness. Mollie earnestly expounded the duty of children to parents. " Even the smallest children can help their parents," she said, " Now what can you do for your mothers to help them ?" " Gettin' wood for her," rose in metallic,
unanimous chorus. " I — I — hold the baby for my mother while she gets the dish to wash it in," put in an eager youth. " My does it when Johnnie's at school," said his smaller brother. " Our baby's got two teeth," announced a prim but irrelevant little girl, with a curled fringe. " Go on, she ain't. Anyhow, ours has got four." Mollie was just mentioning that, though such facts were of fascinating interest, they were scarcely suited to the time or place, when she looked up and saw the in- truders. Her tongue failed her, her cheeks grew hot. She looked appealingly at Nellie. Willie Inverarity came to her relief. Ne- glecting to sit still, he overbalanced, and suddenly found his box flat on the floor and his stout, young body firmly wedged in the cavity. Mollie stretched out a hand of rescue and upset her sleeping babies. A chorus of wall- ing grief arose, and Willie stood up with a look of silent, sulky fury, that sent the visi- tors out of doors with much laughter.
" Hullo, Gwendoline," Vivien cried to a girl, standing outside the fence, "I didn't see you before." " I've just come," Gwendoline said, with little grace. She did not love Vivien. She was a sturdily built girl, in the conclu- sion of her teens. Her hair was red. Not Rossetti's most ardent disciple could have found in it a redeeming gleam of gold. " Brick red," Effie said, with harsh, but accurate description. She wore it with a little, frizzled fringe, and a little, tight knot. Her face was com- monplace and abundantly freckled, but her eyes were beautiful. They were dark, with an unusual range of expression. " Jewels in the toad's head," Effie said again ; and Mollie threatened to upset her in the washtub for speaking so of a human being. Gwen's eyes were often sad. Vivien tried to paint them from memory, but always failed ; and Gwen refused to give her a sit- ting, for it was because of Vivien that her eyes were sad. Not that Vivien meant to do her any hurt. Tom Watts was the first cause. Before Vivien, the now planet, swam into his ken, he had been very attentive to Gwen, who lived on the selection nearest to his own. Gwen's heart, warm as her hair, was straightway given to Tom. Then he sud- denly fell in love with Vivien. Vivien laughed at his curious conversation, and went her way serenely unconscious that Gwen longed to annihilate her. But she was conscious of a certain coldness and opposi- tion when she spoke to Gwen, and having a youthful wish to be universally, liked, she accordingly beamed with more exceeding graciousness upon the young lady, if by any means she might melt that obdurate heart. Gwen told herself that she would not mind so much if Vivien only appreciated Tom, and knew how kind he was to his little brothers and sisters. Gwen never had a hard thought for Tom. Vivien was drawing her into grudging conversation when the school streamed out. Mollie disengaged herself from the cluster- ing children, and went straight to Mrs. Humphries, who held a white robed baby. The baby slipped from its mother's arms to Mollie's. It was a charming specimen of its kind ; the sweetest in the district, Mollie said, and she knew most of them. The men laughed to see how oblivious she was to all else. Mr. Humphries humbly en- treated for a handshake. " I've always to play second fiddle since she came on the scene," he said. Mollie blushed like a sunset cloud, and put out two fingers from the baby's embroidered dress to shake hands with them all. " Mrs. Humphries, do let me have her in church," she entreated. " Pass her to me if she cries then, dear,"
Mrs. Humphries said, and Mollie went up the steps into the church. The minister galloped up spurring his hot horse. He apologised for being late, as he had had a little matter of 25 miles to ride, and he had fallen among bush fires. " The fires are doing terrible damage round Warragul," he said. "I only hope your dis- trict will escape. Miss Campbell, will you play for us, our usual organist will not be present." " Certainly, Mr. Ruthven," Vivien said, and the minister went into church with his flock in tow. Tom was glad when Vivien played. It gave him a right to sit next her, and turn her music, for he, too, was an instrumen- talist, and swelled the volume of sound with his violin. Its tones were somewhat harsh, and to a certainty Stradivarius had had no hand in its construction, but Tom was al- ways at his post to lend when organists failed, and was useful and respected accord- ingly. " Sit on the other side of me, Nell," Vivien whispered. Gwen Delaney was in the seat behind. She sang, or tried to sing, second to Nellie. In front of the organ Vivien could just see a row of cheeky, bobbing heads . The cheekiest of them all was Geordie's. Through the open side door she saw golden brown butterflies circling in the blue, and graceful fern fronds swaying in the ti-tree. At intervals a rickety calf scurried across the open bit of grass, followed by a worry- ing dog. A sheep ambled to the door, and stood with its front feet on the step, serenely viewing the face of the congregation. It expressed its conclusions in a loud "Ba-a !" and a tremendous tittering explosion came from the row of heads in front of the organ. A pillar of the church ejected the animal, and two jackasses outside gave themselves to uproarious laughter over it. They were singing the last hymn, Tom, with his violin, executing a difficult passage, when a fly alighted on his cheek. He made several futile attempts to reach it with his tongue as the only available weapon. Vivien glanced at Nellie, and saw smiles. quivering round her mouth. Nellie looked down at Vivien with merry eyes, and saw that her face was crimson with suppressed laughter. The playing wavered, and Nellie watched her anxiously, but Vivien went on bravely to the end. " That boy will be the death of me yet," she whispered, as she sank her face into her handkerchief on the key board for the last prayer. The red haired girl behind saw it all, and was angry that her hero should be a mark for mirth to two careless girls. (To be continued.)