|Chapter Title||THE SASSAFRAS GULLY.|
|Newspaper Title||Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||Nancy. A Story of the Fifties|
TALES AND SKETCHES.
NANCY. A STORY OF THE FIFTIES.
By GEORGE GORDON McCRAE, Authoii of "The Man In the Ikon JIahk,"&o.
Chapter VI.— THE SASSAFRAS GULLY.
It. is after service in tlio wooden chapel almost adjoining, and also after a simple early dinner taken together, that John Arnold, with Nnnoy end Max, start away for tlio mountain excursion thoy had promised themselves no fur ther back tlmn yesterday.
Crossing over from tho township, they mado for Borak Creek, the bed of whioii they found already quite dry as they pressed through be tween two bosky walls at scrub crowned .with matted masses of sky blue climbing plants, which flung swart shadows athwart a. patch of soft ground deeply indented by the ruts mndo by tbo big wheels, of the drays that brought the wood supply into Borak Thcro was a distinctly fresh and revivifying earthy odor pcoeptiblo in this place, for there had beon some little rain during tho night, and a few olivo green hell birds which still fondly lingored about tho spot, though tho stream had now no longer the force to run, mado all the air melodious with their silvery oliimes. Possibly there were pools still hidden away somewhere in tile dense aromatio Bcrub, for Nnnoy knew from observation, as sho now explained to Max, that whero thero was no water one would find no bell birds. About the outer edge of tho broad green fringe of sornb were knots of fro- grant.plants in blossom, whilo huge masses of gollion," .with its leafless and ourling stems and tendrils, and a wealth of russet and yellow ing berries, depended from the drooping tops of the ti-trce, whioii literally bent under tho tangled burden-. Once, past this, all vegetation, savo some stunted and sun browned grass, appeared to cease, but among cortain larger and mora ragged tussocks tho ground dovos coursed nimbly hither and thither, pioking up their food as thoy scampered' about— and tho deep toned and con tented cooing of tho bronze wings wob heard proceeding irom the- green and umbrageous cover of tho nntivo chorry troos in the gully. Slowly np the sidoling our travellers took their way between the tail and ghostly white stommed trunks of the ciuolly ringed box trees. ' As they gradually asoeuded, a panorama per- footly and essontially Australian unrolled itsolf at their foet ; and when thoy faced about to tako it all in nt one magnificent coup cCxil thoy discerned, inollowcd by tho romoter atmosphoro, tho roofs and chimneys of tlio township, tho grand oxpnns'oof yollow sunburnt flat behind it, all dotted ovor with blaokwood trees and cer tain dark obieots that they know for cattle, whether lying down or browsing about in littlo detaohed groups. : Beyond all this they made out brond.bolts of olivo groy gum forest, then moro yollow plain, and paBt all tho indigo peiiks of tlio diBtant mountains, relieving powerfully against a won-
nvriui steer uiuu jLUHtrauun say, nocKca wren fleecy clouds just flushed with coulcur de rose. " Tis distanco lends nnchautmont to tho view," quoted Nnnoy, who bad been reading ono of her father's favorite books. " It all looks, so 'beautiful from this far away point, but wlion ono gots down again and ronohes and passes over the country, how baro and dry and burnt up and wretohed looking itheoomos 1" " Ono never manages somehow," replied Max, "to discover the true beauty ; It Is carefully hidden away liko thoso pots of gold whioh (as boys) wo used to believe wore planted at either end of tho rainbow. How often havo wo scrambled across country in tho attompt to fix tho exaot spots wlienoo the rainbow sprang from tho plains. Tho fnrthor wo ran tlio further tho rainbow seomed to recede, and of course we never lighted upon tlio treasure." ." Oh ! you must havo been very, very young indeed, Max," rejoined Nnnoy, " when you chased after shadows in that fashion." "Yes, a mero sohool boy of course j but for all my want of success I UBod to wondor somotimos, oven when I had grown much older, whother thoro might not ronlly after all he some- tiling in it, Ono docs not like, you know, to have to give up his earlier superstitions. It was tho groat Napoleon himsolf who oried out ono day to his scorotary, who had tried to undcooivo him H»? . !"8 Attitude of a certain porsonago, All I leavo us to our illusions !' i!l„li0r?ly,,olf' ot'" cherish a few youthful ' my own, and I novor wish to liavo any way disturbed, and that is perhaps i 0 "l0 mcn soionco, who aro ?„ fL i0 t'1."" wlion laying things bare o tlio bono anil telling ono 'tlio reason why1 for everything. It is qnlto unprofitable a. 2.
nil know, besides boing so utterly unkind. Do yoS V " cliove in the old fairy tales, Nnnoy ?" Yes, indeed, I do, and with all my heart. I love to do so still, and it always makes mo glad when I find at the end of tho laah obapter how tho enchanted princo married tho princess— and —and—" "Shall I finish it for you, Nanoy ? And thoy lived together happy ever after." "Yes ! that's tho right sort of Btory for me. Anyono can writo about misorablu failures and tornblo endings, but it is only a good, kind hearted author that ends his story with a happy marriago liko the ono in tho fairy tale. I sometimes wondor whether tho story of my little life is to havo a pretty ending liko this, but when I havo played with tho cherrystones on tho plato after tho oherrics wero all gone I novor could get what I wanted." "Oh!" erics Max, " ohorrystonc9 are liko dreams, they ought to bo read baokwards." By this time Nancy's father, who was moro than a hundred yards higher up the spur, shouted to them to come on. ' ' Give moyour hand, Nanoy ; it is stcophero and tho burnt grass is slippery ; wo must zig-zag it luce your father." "It is my left hand, Max, if you don't mind. You know I can only take tho hand of your 1 well' arm." My ' well arm ' as you call it is my sword arm, and your loft is the ono next your heart, and what could bo better?" "Why! nothing," said Nanoy, "but toll mo, how many pcoplo havo you killed with this terrible sword arm of yours ? I mean when you weto a real soldior nud woro a rod coat and thoso boautiful gold epaulettes liko tho man in the picture book at home." "Would you drop my hand now if I said I had really done it." "Perhaps I might, porhapB not , , . but I do hope, Max, so mueh there novor was blood on this hand of yours. It is a gentleman's band— not one bit liko a butohor's, and not nearly so brown as my own." " Well ! I won't tell you till we get to tho top —and you can guess and guess till then, but you won't drop it oven then unless I tell you." "I do hope you haven't that to tell me, but if it was in battle aud you had to do it, then I would -still hold on — though— yes — I would bo .11 At It
nuiijf mi buv stttJiU. Max liatl vcaohod tlio summit, but Jolin Arnold, who know tlio height of tlio sun and the value of time, had turned off to tho left to join the path that leads to the Sassafras Gully, and thoy also turned to follow him, hut just before they plunged into tlio bush, and hurcabout it was douse, green, living forest on all sidos and in front of thorn. Nancy, clinging closer to Max than ever, challenged him, reminding him of liis promise. "Alii you mean aro wo to go separately or together from tlio top hero to over take your father. No ! not that, but tell mo truly — had you ever to kill a man ? If you havo had fathor would never like you any more, and for mo. Yes ; I would always go on laving you, but I should also always be wishing you hadn't it upon your mind." By this tinio Max raised tlio sliapaly little brown hand to his lips. "Tlicro is a hand, now, past all suspiaion, but innocent nnd sweet as it is it is not moro inno cent of blood than my own. I novor yet had to draw my sword seriously on any one, and though I am a Boldicr I trust I never may. Are we satisfied now?" And Max, leaning ovor to liis right towards her in tho most gallant and military attitude conceivable, prevented all possibility of reply by sealing her lips . with a kiss. I don't think John Arnold know anything of this liy him mi- expooted occurrence, but thoro was an old follow with an enormous white head and a huge mouth perched on a dead blanch of a gnarled old gum tree above them who exploded in fits of tho most uncomfortable laughter, which echoed nnd re echoed from the depths of tho gully. See, Nanoy, even that old bird up there won't believe on any account that I am a hero. He laughs at the baro idea. John Arnold was sitting with his hat at bis feet in tho dim twilight of the box forest ns, lean ing against a huge white log, overgrown with liohons and mosses, he awaited tho arrival of tlio atragglors. A short rest to gain breathing time, and they commenced tho descent into the gully through tho portals of tho sombre and mysterious arcades formed by tlio overhanging nnd over interlacing boughs of tho boxnnd peppermint trees. Where thoground, trampled ovor hurriedly by some wild cnttlo with tails erectedand executing all manner of mad gambols, gave forth a thundrous sound, as if the swelling mountain sido woro as hollow as a drum. Horc, though, tlio echoes wero clear and intents, as if reflected from the groiningsof a lofty roof, and the two dogs as they coursed and sniffed about among tho underwood of tho valley gave touguo after a fashion so musical as corapletoly to arouse the sportsman hitherto slumbering in tlio inner nature of Max. A pair of brush wallaby toro past, jumping frantically every obstacle, and suddenly doubling, dis appeared at oiioo in the furthest dopths of tho gully. Tho' barking of tlio dogs, mellowod by distance, faded until no longor porooptiblc, but tlio staccato notes of tlio wattlo birds and leatlior heads engaged in a grotcsquo concerto overhead, while with all tho rush and whistle of a young whirlwind a flock of emornld grocn parakeets swept past tho heads of our travellers like tho tail of a doomed oomot burst suddenly away from its orbit and reeling into iniiiiito spaoo. At ovory stop takon downwards nower beauties dawned upon tho littlo party, at last,
tho fragrant musk thiokct with its silver backed leaves and downy wliito buds nnd shoots, tho evergreen nnd ever aromatio sassafras, tho tondor and graceful young mimosa, tho dogwood and the uativa hazel, all strotohhig heavenwards and liglitwards, ns is the wont of sucii troos as find their homo in the lowor and darker dopths of tho Australian forest. A tiny rill of triokling diamond drops came purling down from botweon two moss grown boulders, and rippled along, singing as it went, till lost amid tlio matted and overhanging veget ation a few paces further down. Nor was this charming retreat entirely without somo indication of gaioty, for lioro oamo boldly to tlio wator botli the livo coal robin with the wliito spot in the contro of his sable forehead, and the suporb warbler in blaok velvet with toquo and tippot adorned with scales of tho most vivid mineral bluo. Thoy oliirruped, tlioy plunged in tlio tiny stream, shook off tho water drops from thoir wings, and took to flight, followed by a bovy of little holp- mects in sober brown, who roso and fell, and turned and wavorod, in their devious course till entiroly lost to viow. Thoro is that in scenes Australian of this type whioh bogets silonoo ; but it is tlio ailonoe of mingled awe and admiration, and whilo Max actually folt the almost audiblosllcnoothnit fillod all tlio air, and laid its spoil on Nanoy as well as upon himself, ho know that hor heart, liko liisown, was full to overflowing. . Tills was such a transition from tlio long and dust-y slnglo street of Borak, with all lis petty jealousies and gossip, that it was well worth the pilgrimage, and something to ho thankful for, hesidos. Nor did John Arnold speak;
tlio soono, tho surroundings, tho atmosphoro had sot their seal upou him also. Borak Crook had nil iniiocont beginning, oyous liko that of tho life of a young child, but as it progressed so it olouded ovor, beeamo dark and shifty, sin Btainod ; its curront palpitating with remorse. What a story could not tliiseombro gully toll, wore its moss grown stones to cry out, or its troos to whisper a confession ns tho winds swept through thoir branohes nf tor nightfall. Thoy might toll of oliildren strayed from home, bewildered and lost in tho sorub, and nothing found of thorn over again bavo somo poor scattered littlo bones. Then again of a poor girl crnzed, or " oif hor head " who drowned hersel f in her dark despair, in tho blaok pool below tho First Fall, where onco a minor was murdorcd for liis gold. Ono mnrdor this ; but how many moro may thcro not havo boon that woro never liintod nt ; and how many rohberios with violonoo in tho early part of tbo history ? But, notwithstanding ovorything, how lovo- ablc this sylvan source 1 Still puro, still clear ; Nature smiles kindly on it up till now. It iB sot ill a sombre frame, truly, but tlion all tlio Australian bush is melancholy. Sometimes it scorns almost as if lying undor tho shadow of a ourse; but tho sadness, due to whatever cause, touches no ono so dooplyorso nearly as whan he happens to bo loft utterly nlono. To sit horo Bolitnry among tho rooks under tho " netted shadows " of tlio branohes, on a still and Buttry afternoon, with a sort of " last day" apprehonsiveness brooding in the air, tlion tho most trivial sound that disturbs tlicsilcncois a tiling to bo rcmomberod for a lifo time. Tlio muttorings of distant thunder, tlio mero breaking of a dry twig that snaps and falls to earth, tho sudden dash of a bandicoot through the farn, or the measured and heavy thump of the foot of tho kangaroo, as ho comes slowly pounding along through tho hitter hop sorub or' tho wasto of priokly tulip bushos to gain tlio water's edge. Thoso sounds all servo to startlo the senses, and impart a feeling noxt akin to fear, then again, there is tho beguiling and bewilderment of the oy e, whioh, under tho weird spell of the enchanters of the forest, not only fails tosco things ub thoy aro, but sees them exactly as thoy are not. Times outof numbor a charred stump bcoomosan actual black man. in an attitude bodinc no croarltn
him thatsecB ; and oven the grey rooks assume such a strangely wonderfullikeness to humanity as to render it impossible to shako of! tho illusion till ono is finally qnlto olear of the oharmod spot, Thus docs this forest-witchory affect oven those whom tho world would hesitate to pro- noiiuoo suporstitioUB, and many such fall under tho influence of the enchantment, ovon against thoir will. It is terrible to imagine how , those silenoes and aonnds and apparitions must havo alfootod thoso who witli blood upon their hands, and murder or worse upon their soiils, wandered fearfully through this shadowy solitude. It was not tho terror but tlio silont solemnity of tlio forest that told "upon Nnnoy, oh Max, and on John Arnold, but their friendly and familiar sooicty demanding, interchange of speech, the silonoo was brokon, and with it the spoil of the enchanter. . (to be continued)