Chapter 196751442

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Chapter NumberVII
Chapter TitleAN INTRODUCTION TO STATION LIFE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196751442
Full Date1887-04-05
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count4005
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916)
Trove TitleBenbonuna: A Tale of Thirty Years Ago
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BEMBONVHAi c t

A TALK' OP THIRTY YEARS AGO. l

{All rights reserved by the author.'} CHAPTER VII. (Continued.) AN INTRODUCTION TO STATION LIPE. b d tt

BY ROBERT BRUCE. p s

Presently, however, Frank's cogitations were interrupted by a man in the usual drera of a station knock-about hand—i.e. white moleskin trowsers fastened by a belt, blue check shirt and brown felt hat—who said, " Moester Heeslep, Mees Ashbes, she vants to zee you at ze goverment house, vill you come mit me?" As the man spoke, Frank forgetting in an instant all about Hawley and his other disagreeabilities, sprang from the stretcher with a celerity that seemed to astonish the German, brought his hat from the bed-room where he had left it, and, not forgetting to give a hasty touch to his hair and hie necktie, and a rueful glance at his shirt collar, he issued from the door just as Mick entered with the remark, " Sure an' Misther Heslop, I thought Miss Mary would be wantin' to see ye, an' 'tis plased bersilf will be that ye're found intoirly, so she will." Frank merely smiled pleasantly in reply and gave chase to the German, Schlinks, who was just entering the blind creek,which was about twenty yards wide by twenty feet in depth and joined the main creek at the western side of the station flat, nearly bisecting the latter (vehicles of any sort having to go almost to its eastern extremity in ordBr to get round the head of the watercourse). The banks of the blind creek were exceedingly steep, so much so, indeed, that Heslop and his companion, charging the further bank at a sharp run, found themselves reduced to a snail's pace before they reached the top of the slope. Schlinke merely remarking that " De veather vas verr varm," trotted across the flat towards the house, under the verandah of which a young lady waB visible, who on seeing Heslop approach advanced to meet him, saying as she held out her hand in frank and hearty greeting, " Mr Heslop, I am so glad to see you. You cannot think bow anxiouB I was about you all last night. Why did you not come over before ? No ceremony is qeeded here, a

> you know." 4 1 1 should certainly have introdaoed myself on my first- arrival, but that Mr Hawley. said Mrs Ashby would most probably still be in bed, and that he thought your father was not well enough to see me—for of course I have the pleasure of addressing Miss Ashby," replied Frank, taking the young lady's proffered hand and gazing as he spoke with unaffected pleasure on the bright young face before him; for though Mary Ashby was totally unlike the picture his fancy had painted, yet he was not in the least disappointed by her appearance, and indeed it must have been a most hypercritical connoisseur of female beauty who could have quarrelled with it. Slightly above the middle height, Mary Ashby possessed a figure whose rounded outlines without betraying any tendency to embonpoint, bespoke the perfection of health, every motion suggesting activity without hurry ; her hands and feet were small and Bhapely, and her head, with its broad intellectual brow, well balanced ; her hair, of a rich golden brown, glistened like burnished bronze in the sun ; her eyes—in which her chief beauty lay— were almost the color of a lion's, steady and serene in expression, but with soft Madonna-like lines above thedarkly fringed lids. The mouth was indicative of

steadiness of purpose and tranquility of temper, while the other features, though not of Grecian regularity, were small and clearly cut. In fact, when the soft, smooth cheeks, with a rich rose tinting their healthy brown, and the pearl-like teeth which she showed slightly when she 8iniled,were added to her other attractions, Frank might be well excused for thinking Mary Aehby aB near perfection as possible. How friendly, and yet how quiet and selfpossessed was this young bush-bred girl, and how lady-like she looked in the plain print dress which wonderfully became her lithe, active figure, as she stepped, light as a bird, into the verandah, inquiring as she did so, " Have you breakfasted yet ?" " Yes, thanks, I had some with Mr Hawley. But how is your father this morning " He is a little better; and, as I told him of your arrival, he wishes to see you, replied Mary, with a slight hesitancy of speech, as she paused a moment in the shade. " I am glad to hear that he is better,' said Frank heartily. " But may I inquire as to the nature of his complaint?" he added, only to sincerely regret the queB tion the moment after it was nttered, for he saw at once it was most painful to his companion, who blushed as he spoke, and then, seemingly resolved to meet the inevitable, replied in a low, pleading tone, " Mr Heslop, I hope you will not think too hardly of my father—but it is drink." Here, then, was the explanation of Mr Ashby's enigmatical conduct towards himself, and the reason why Moses and Mick had been so reticent on the subject when questioned. For an instant Frank was silent, not knowing what was best to be said, but his kindly instincts soon prompted him to the light course, for taking the girl's hand in his, he replied feelingly, " Miss Ashby, I am indeed sorry to learn this, both for your father's sake and for your own, and if I can be of the slighest service, command me in every way; for I am sure I can never repay you for your

kind iutereBt in my behalf last night." MiBB ABbby quietly withdrew her hand, which Frank in his fervor had forgotten to release, and smiling sadly said, " I do hope you will be able to persuade dear father to discontinue this dreadful habit; for indeed it is his only failing. I am sure you will like him orach when he is himself again; and try to bear with him till then, for I must admit he is very trying at times. Now I am so glad you know all, for I have worried myself very much about it, not knowing what you would think when you came to learn the cause of his illness." Whatever Frank might feel in regard to Mr Ashby's failing, be thought, to himself that that gentleman would have to prove himself disagreeable in the extreme if he could not put up with his liumours for his daughter's sake ; and he then and there registered a mental vow to remain at Benbonuna and, short of forfeiting bis self respect, to do anything in his power to that end ; for, though he had not yet seen Mrs Ashby, he felt that much good oould not be expected from the sister of the only man he bad ever really hated ; and be pictured Mary Ashby's situation, should anything happen to her father, as that of a lamb amongst wolves. She seemed instinctively to divine his thoughts, for a grateful confiding look came into her soft eyee, which set the seal to his resolve, and converted him into a champion who would have faced a hundred Hawleys for her sake. Breaking the silence that had fallen on them, Mary said, " But you have not seen Mrs Ashby yet, and I am detaining you ont here. Come with me, please"—leading the way, as Bhe spoke, into the room where we first made her acquaintance, and which, serving as a general sitting room, was furnished with American hickory cane furniture—that description being best adapted to the climate. A harmonium filled the place of a piano, it being simply impossible to keep one of the latter instruments in tune in th»t

limate, no one even professing to be a uner residing within a hundred inilcl at easL The wallB of the apartment were ainted a light blue, and the floor. was of late neqtly fitted and beautifully level, Mrs Ashby being justly proud of it The linds" of the two French doora being own, for the double purpose of keeping he room cool and somewhat restraining he pertinacious activity of the flies, the light was in consequence much subdued; nd coming as be did from the dazzling glare-'of an Australian summer's day, Heslop could at first only discern the outlines of a lady, who rose from an eaBy chair on his entrance, and whom Mary introduced as " Mrs Ashby. n He could, however, feel that her hand was much softer than her step-daughter's, from which circumstance he rightly inferred that Mrs Ashby was merely an ornamental appendage to the place. Mary, baring briefly performed the introductory ceremony and desired Heslop to be seated, went to prepare her father to see his visitor, leaving Frank much exercised in mind as to what manner of woman his hostess would prove on a closer acquaintance, at the same time being certainly predisposed against her by her relationship to Hawley. "Oh, Mr HeBlop, how glad I am to see you. You cannot imagine the dreadful anxiety 1 experienced when I heard you were lost! But do take that easy chair ; it is so much more comfortable than the one you bave," said Mrs Ashby, pointing to the one opposite to her own (Frank having perched on a straight backed one). "Thank you, this is »ery comfortable, replied he, shifting, however, as he spoke to the seat indicated, and adding, when he had comfortably disposed of himself in it. " After having nothing but the ground to sit, or lie on for the last ten days, a chair is rather a luxury." 0 " My brother is so independent that he always camps out; but then he is so used to it that it occasions him no inconvenienoe. You, . however, mast have felt the hardship of the journey," observed the lady, adding, " It is bad enough when one oalls at the stations, as I and Mr Ashby do when we visit town, which, however, is but seldom now, .owing to the wretched accommodation on the road, for we an both of ns,you know anything bat strong." Frank, whose eyes had by this time become accustomed to the light, surveyed

the comely dame, and thought that her healthy and handsome appearance rather belied her claim to a share in thefamily weakness, but answered politely, "Indeed, I am Borry to hear it, oat a journey to Adelaide mU6t be most trying .to iadiei, especially in the summer time, when the beat, dnst, and flies are suoh. dreadful nuisances ; but for them" he continued," I should have enjoyed the journey very much. The country was utterly unlike what I expected to .find it; for we English folks generally imagine that Australia is a country of vaBt plains, whereas, so far as I have seen it, billy country greatly predominates." Yes it is very hilly, very hilly indeed," said the lady, with a slight yawn, which she apologised for as due to sleepiness, consequent on sitting up all night with her husband, who was, she said, very exacting when he had one of his illnesses. Mary here re-entered the room and Baying that her father would be glad to see Mr Heslop, invited him to foilow her, which he immediately did, cogitating, by the way, on Mrs Ashby's involuntary yawn and a fleeting look which accompanied it, wherein he thought he detected an unreality that went along way towards removing the favorable impression she bad begun to produce upon him. The truth was,, he being exceedingly sensitive,

the yawn and accompaning look had slightly pricked his vanity. Please to remember that he was not yet twenty, a period of life when we are not nearly so pachydermatous as in more mature years. " Here is Mr Heslop, father," said Mary when she had reached the open door of Mr Ashby's room. " Come in, come in," cried the invalid, whom Heslop was surprised to find walking feebly about, steadying himself like a child by clinging to the furniture, while Hawley, who did not Beem particularly pleased to see Frank, was sitting beside the table at the head of Mr Ashby's bed, in the act of returning some legal-Icoking documents into a large square envelope, whilst other papers (sheep account sales) lay before him. " Glad to eee yon Frank, my boy. How are you ?" said the invalid holding out a shaky hand, whilst a momentary gleam of pleasure flitted across his .pallid countenance, adding as Heslop warmly returned the greeting, " How like you are to what your father was when be was your age. I hope you are steady like him also, for for if you are you will be sure to do well out here." " I hope I shall, Mr Ashby, and it shall not be for the want of stead inesB if I do not," replied Frank. " But, however did yon manage to lose yourself last night? Hawley here tells me he gave you directions no one could bave misunderstood.",.. "Yes, that I did, and no one could have blamed me if he had been loBt," eaid Hawley from the table, where he had been figuring with a pencil, as if going carefully through the before-mentioned account sales. Frank felt bis contempt for this man deepening with every word he uttered, but replied without any show of feeling, " I daresay the directions were plain enough"—looking Hawley straight in the face aB he spoke—"and that.I was stupid to lose myself, bnt if Peter haci not led me such a dance I should no doubt have come here all right. What I am sorry for is that I did not hobble my

horse."* "Yes,"said Hawley—vainly trying to meet Heslop's steady gaze—" It was bad enough your knocking him up through letting Peter go, without losing him, so that dther horses will be run oS. their legs in looking for him." , " What's the UBB of yoa worrying Heslop about the br nte. If he is lost it can't be helped now," eaid Mr Ashby to the manager, adding to Heslop, " If yoa noticed all Hawley said he would soon drive you off the station, wouldn't yoa, Stephen?" Thongh Mr Ashby epoke lightly, Hawley pat on an injured air as he answered, " I don't know about driving anyone off the station.. You pay me to look after yonr interests^ and that Is what I try to do—nothing more." "Of course, Stephen 1 of course! you know what I meant, 1 was only joking," exclaimed Mr Aehby, evidently more than half afraid of his overseer. Heslop, who felt'that he would have given anything for an excuse'-to throw Hawley out of the window, here interrupted with, " I'm sony indeed, Mr Ashby, that my mistake of last night Bhould be the cause of so much trouble; and at the same time, Mr Hawley"—turning to the overeeer—" I do not think Mr Ashby should be worried about it in hiB present state of health." ! " I had no intention of worrying Mr Ashby, as you call it," retorted the overseer. " In that case we had better let the matter drop," replied HeBlop, cbolly taming hiB back on the other, and saying to •In the days I write of,there was no public house of any sort after pawn'ng the Bnna, one hundred miles from Adelaide, and nearly all travellers went, to stay for the night, without any invitation or ceremony, at whatever station they conld'reach at sundown. Hence the name" Sundowner j" as applied to the laboring olan of tnrollro, or «wagaem n t)

Mr ABhby/' I am indeed sorry to find you in snch illhealth ; bat Miss Ashby tells me yon are better tban you were, and so 1 bope yonr recovery vUl only be a matter of time." v > ;. "I doult think it-will," replied Jlr Asbby qfil^dlp^ty,"" and I don't thinks aball be better till I get proper etiihal^ts. All my strength is gone, and I need a little brandy to set me on my legs again ; and brandy I cannot get, because Mary makes suchafass about it. Of course yon know, Frank, that trandy ia the proper thing for me, don't yon ?" Heslop looked to where'Mary had been standing, for his cue; botflbebad quickly withdrawn, and BO, notkno'wing what to say, be prudently remainedsilent. " Why don't you answer me, Frank ?" queried Mr Asbby in' an injared tone. "Ton must know that a little brandy is the best of all tonics. Look there, in the chimney, ifs full of them! Drive them away 1 Ob, if I had a little brandy I could drive them away myself 1" Poor HeBlop was dreadfully grieved and perplexed, but Hawley said,, addressing him without, however, meeting bis eye, " It is all bosh keeping Mr Asbby without liquor, for that is the very thing he should get; it is the sudden stoppage of it now that is doing the mischief!" " So it is, Stephen! So it is! And as you know where the brandy is, go and get me some, that's a good fellow! Frank, here, will Btay to keep tboBe wretches off." " Look here Heslop," said Hawley aside, and speaking like a man convinced of his own rectitude of purpose, " As I said before, it is the want of a hair from the tail of the dog that bit him that iB playing up with the boas now, and you know I am right,JBO I'll jnst go and get him a nobbier. Hell be like another man after it!" # " I'd rather have nothing to do with it," replied Frank, but while he spoke Hawley departed and very qnickly returned from the back of the house with an uncorked bottle of brandy, from which he poured a stiff glass, slightly diluted it with water, and banded it to Mr Asbby, who Beized it eagerly and drank it off at a draught Then as he eat down on the foot of the bed, he held out his hand for the bottle, saying, " Ton had better give it to me, Stephen, so that I may be able' to take a little now and then when I feel I want it!" "NoI No! If yon took a little every time you felt yon wanted it, you'd soon want a fresh bottle; but I'll tell Isabella to give you some at the right times. We want yon t« get well, you know!" Whilst this WB8 going on HeBlop felt very much like a culprit, though knowing any interference on bis part would be worse than useless, besides which he believed that Hawley was right, as he had often heard that doBes of Bpirit, judiciously given and gradually discontinued, waB the correct treatment for delirium tremens—: • the malady from which Mr Ashby was most evidently suffering. So by force of circumBtanceB he found himself a consenting, though an unwilling party to a

proceeding which would greatly grieve Mary Ashby, and tend to remove the favorable opinion which he flattered himself she had formed of bim. But be inwardly resolved that, this " billions attack" over, he would do bis uttermost to prevent its recurrence. Hie cogitations were broken,however, by Hawley exclaiming, " By Jove, there are the horses. I did not expect them for the next two hours. You are in luck, HeBlop, I can tell you." " Whatdoes Frank want with the horses?" queried Mr Ashby, to whom the dram he had taken seemed really to have done some good. " Ob, only to get the horse he loBt last night. A bit of a ride will take the stiffness out of his legs, and do him good. Besides, there is nothing like learning to track well," replied the overseer. " But you'd rather take a day's rest, wouldn't you, Frank ?" asked Mr Ashby, who Beemed sensible enough when reptilian apparitions were not concerned. " Well, Mr Asbby, I certainly should ; but as I lost the horse, I suppose I ought to find him. It will sharpen me up another time," said Frank stoutly, though he felt rueful enough at the prospect before him. " I'm afraid Moses will have to go to Ilka, for a lot of the sheep are away, and if they are not got at once they never will be, for that old muff, Mac, will never find them. All the other bands are starting to Ilkadowina to get the lambing yards ready, and Heel op will have to go after the horse, if it is to be got at all," Baid Hawley in a matter bf fact way. " I'll go," said Frank cheerfully, for he was determined that Hawley should not gloat over bis discomfiture, "and the Bboner I start, the sooner I shall find him, I suppose. I'd better start now." Hawley quickly took him at his word ; he said "I'll just call Mrs Ashby, and then go across to the yard and show you what horse you can have;—Come in Bella," this to his sister, who at that moment looked into the room. " I thought you would be wishing to start, and so, as I have finished my breakfast, I came to relieve you, for I know you are anxious to see how things are going on on the run. Of course, Mr HeBlop"—turning graciously to Frank—" we eh all have the pleasure of your company. It iB going to be frightfully hot, and you have no busineBB to take you out." (The worthy lady had been within easy ear-shot for the previous 10 minutes, and bad heard everything that had been Baid.) " Unfortunately I have a thirty mile ride before me, it seems." " A thirty mile ride! What for in the name of goodness ?" (The lady's astonishment was almost as good as genuine). "To get a house I humanely left nnhobbled last night, thereby giving another proof of the truth of the old adage"—A good natured man, &c. replied Heslop with a careless laugh. "Oh! my brother will send someone to get the poor horse. We really cannot think of allowing you to victimise youself in that manner," cried Mrs Ashby with an air of efiuBive interest which banished the remembrance of the offensive yawn. " That's what I say Isabella," said her husband, " and the horse will be sure to turn up all right some time or other." " Come along HeBlop, it won't do to dawdle here all day" broke in Hawley, adding to bis sister " You had better take obarge of that bottle"—pointing to the one from which he had juBt given Mr Ashby the brandy. "Very well Stephen, but surely Mr HeBlop need not go " " I shall be away about three days I expect, and if McGregor should come in from Umarilpena, tell him to give a look to Baggs," said Hawley, rudely interupting bis sister. He then took up his hat—he bad previously put the papers away—and went ont of the room, followed, of course by the disgusted Heslop, Mrs Ashby saying to him at parting, " I am so Borry, but my brother careB so little for the beat, that be thinks every one must be a a salamander like himself." Heslop thought to himself—" Yes, at salamander for all time."—but said *" I won't kill me, though I am greatly obliged to you and Mr Aebby for yonr kind consideration." The lady could not help thinking to herself, " What a fine young fellow be ie t " a sentiment her husband uttered aloud, and then begged her to give him some more brandy. (To be continued.)