|Chapter Title||LINLARRA, AND INTRODUCTORY.|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Linlarra Station and the Christmas Day I Spent There|
LINLARRA STATION AND THE CHRISTMAS DAY I SPENT THERE.
(Written for the Queenslander Christmas Supplement.)
BY "A BUSH NATURALIST."
CHAPTER I. LINLARRA, AND INTRODUCTORY.
'THE old place looks as pretty as ever.' So thought George Moreton as, on emerging from the box forest on to the 'big' plain, Linlarra homestead could be seen in the distance. Certainly
the young man was right, for Linlarra was one of those old-established country residences only to be found on the western slope of the New South Wales mountainous country. To Moreton it looked particularly cheery, for he had come a long distance over brown plains and still browser forest land, and, as the fresh green color of the many fruit trees that surrounded the house came in sight, even a person
less interested than was the rider would have thought as he did. How pleasant indeed is the sight of any homestead to the Australian traveller after a weary day's ride of forty or fifty miles, especially at Christmas time, with its accompaniment of a hot sun! George Moreton was the owner of a run some 150 miles lower down the Murrumbidgee river than Linlarra was situated. Let me describe him a little, for he is my hero. Like so many of the 'Sydney natives,' he was tall, being quite 6ft., and well and strongly built; his age was about seven-and-twenty ; his hair a light brown, with whiskers of a lighter color and of which he wore sufficient to give a manly look ; and they were carefully trained too, for he did not believe in burying his handsome face in a bramble of beard. His smile was particularly pleasing ; there was an openness about it which, when coupled with the honest look of his fine brown eyes, made many a young damsel think how pleasant a fate it would be to be the sharer of those smiles and of 'Wollondoo' station as well. However, he was as yet quite heart whole, so he said, though deep down in his inner self there remained the recollections of his former little playmate, his 'bush queen' of long ago, which we, who know him better than he does himself, fancy are something warmer than mere recollections ; for, now that he anticipated meeting her again, unconsciously strange feelings of pleasure quickened his pulse. No wonder the 'old place' looked pretty, for the fire of love was slumbering, only waiting for one little spark to start it into such life as it had never had before. At Linlarra he had lived many happy years ; it had been his adopted home, and there it was that he had been such friends with little Yattie Ingledon, the elder of the two daughters of the owner of Linlarra. William Ingledon was one of the early settlers in this district of New South Wales. He was an educated English gentleman ; but being only a 'younger son' he had left the old manor-house in Buckinghamshire, come out to Sydney, and invested his capital in a sheep station. He had prospered even beyond his utmost expectations, and now was owner of a larger and fairer domain, and in receipt of a far larger income, than was his elder brother at home. However, he had no intention of quitting the land that had favored him so ; but, on the contrary, was one of those few squatters who had remained faithful to their first choice, and had not been tempted to sell and buy and sell again, as is so generally the case. The consequence was that Linlarra was a model of comfort, a 'snuggery' indeed, for its owner was a man of taste and refinement, and aimed at making his home as comfortable as had been the old manor-house of his boyish days. Ingledon and Moreton, senior, had been early friends and near neighbors for years, and on the latter's death, some ten years before the date of my tale, Mr. Ingledon had taken, at the request of the dying father, young George, who was also motherless, into his household, and accepted the executorship of his money matters. A kinder, wiser guardian the young man could not have had. After five years spent at Linlarra, by the advice of his guardian, who well knew that the lad would be the better for it young George had gone travelling and roughing it in the other colonies, and, although travelling with stock or exploring, all the time keeping his eyes open for any good station he would like to buy; but he was in no hurry, as by his father's will he was not to have his money until his twenty-fifth birthday. In no other way can a knowledge of the capabilities of country be so satisfactorily attained as by the practical experience of droving, and George had profited much by his three years' journeyings. He had seen and been delighted with the grassy downs of Queensland, her extensive prairies and magnificent cattle runs ; the close short-grassed swards of Victoria, and the clover estates of New Zealand charmed him by their greenness, but somehow—being a 'sheep man,' he said, was the reason—he had returned to his native colony, New South Wales, and some two years before had purchased Wollondoo; 'for,' as he remarked to his guardian, 'what better sheep country could a man possibly want than the borders of the saltbush country of the Murrumbidgee.' We, who know his inner self, may perhaps detect yet another reason—the desire to be in the neighborhood of Linlarra and its fair inmate. But how was it that George had not seen Yattie for so long, although he had been a near neighbor (150 miles counts for nothing in the Australian bush) for two years ? This is easily explained; she also had been sent travelling. Her wise father— her mother was dead long years before—thinking that it would do his girls no harm to have the rusticity of bush life a little knocked off, and to enjoy for a time the benefit of female society, had taken advantage of a friend's voyaging to England to send them to his brother, their aunt having written that she "would be glad to
take the little savages and civilise them a bit." But the bright Australian flower, Yattie, somehow did not thrive in the cold climate of England, and so, after an absence of two years, she gladly returned to Linlarra, and took upon her the charge of her father's house. Her younger sister, Linda, quite shocked her aunt by saying 'She detested England ; it was a fusty old place ; all small paddocks and townships ; no bush ; could not go for a gallop except along a road.' She called her aunt the 'old dowager,' and was always getting into scrapes. Yattie, on the contrary, had fallen easily into 'home' ways. Although always bright and cheerful, she was less impulsive than her younger sister; she inherited far more of her father's refinement and of his gentleness of manner. Her extreme beauty had caused many to wish to win the hand of this Australian heiress ; but she had refused all offers, at which her aunt was very much disappointed, and expressed her opinion, in a letter to her brother, that Yattie was by nature cold. She had done her best, but the girl would always haughtily check any approaches, even from the most eligible of suitors. The old man's heart was glad when he read this, and somehow he thought of his 'boy' George. As George drew near the homestead he could not help wondering if Yattie was looking out for him. Silly fellow, she did not even know for certain that he was coming. Then he speculated as to what she was like, and whether she had grown; and the pleasant picture of the bright young girl, just budding into womanhood, cantering by his side on her cream-colored pony as she used to do in former days, arose in his mind. Yattie was just sixteen when he saw her last; she would now be twenty-one ; and he wondered if she would be changed, and whether he ought to call her ' Yattie' or ' Miss Ingledon.' Why was he thinking so of her ? She was nothing to him. Most likely some English swell, knowing she had plenty of money, had persuaded her that he loved her and had won her affection by his fine talk and grand English ways. Well, well, it did not matter. He had come determined to spend a jolly Christmas, and not to moon and spoon with girls. The governor, as he called his guardian, had written to him, telling him to come without fail, as he intended keeping Christmas right royally, this year, in honor of his daughters' return ; that the Laylands from the Murray, and the Gardiners from St. Kilda, were visitors for a month ; and that for Boxing Day all the neighborhood were invited, and races, including a steeplechase for a ladies' purse, and athletic sports, were to be the order of the day. But the great novelty for the bushmen was a bycicle race, two of which iron steeds the young Gardiners —being townsfolk, and wanting to astonish the dwellers in the bush—had brought up with them. It was now the day before Christmas Day; he ought to have arrived a week ago, but had been busy starting a mob of fat sheep for Melbourne. Moreton was mounted on a fine dark bay mare, his special favorite, and with which he intended to win the Ladies' Purse, for she could and would go, and jump too, when her master wished her. Lurline he had named her, and the quickening of her walk and pricking up of her ears now reminded him that he was close to the paddock fence. The gate into the home paddock was some half- mile from the house, which faced the river, so that anyone arriving and going straight to the stables, as George now did, could not be seen from the verandah except just at the time of opening the gate. So, his arrival being un- noticed, he dismounted, put the mare in the stall, removed the saddle, and himself carefully washed her heated back with cool water from a tank by the stable; then, giving his favorite a pat on the neck, he took off the halter, and away she trotted to the good feed in the bend of the river, never even thinking of such a thing as corn or hay, and none the worse for the 150 miles she had journeyed during the last three days. Our hero, taking his valise in his hand, walked towards the house, and opened the little gate in the creeper-covered fence which surrounded the exquisitely-kept garden ; for gardening and horticulture was Mr. Ingledon's favorite recreation and delight. From this little gate, and extending to within a few feet of the verandah, was a long, broad, arched trellis of vines, now in the full luxuriance of their summer's growth, and many in fruit. The coolness of this glorious shade was particularly pleasant to our hero after his long hot ride, and the sight of the luscious bunches of fruit hanging around and above him was refreshing in deed. Only a 'saltbush country' resident can appreciate to its utmost such a temple of verdure. Just at this moment there appeared at the opposite end of this covered walk a fair girl, evidently engaged in cutting flowers for the house, for she did not notice the visitor. One glance told George that it was Yattie ; but,
Heavens! how beautiful she had grown ! Could it be possible that that lovely creature was his old playmate ? Had indeed the bud bloomed into such a flower—his little bush queen into such an exquisite woman ? The rays of the setting sun of that Christmas Eve fell full upon her, lighting up the bright hues of her golden hair; the 'mountain purple' — that glorious blush of nature which, at sunset, in the pure air of our Australian alpine and semi-alpine country, envelops the hill-tops and fills the dales with its liquid ether of rosy purple—cast its full flush upon her. It was as a halo of glory, rendering even more beautiful that most lovely of pictures —a young and fair maiden. To George, who saw her thus, and through the telescopic vista of the green vines, she looked fairy-like—ay, even, he thought, divine. Just at this moment a young man joined the fair florist. It was evident that he had been her attendant squire, for he had a large bunch of cut flowers in his hand, and George saw her give him those which she had just cut; and also he noticed that she selected a particular one and gave it to this companion, who gallantly acknowledged the present, and carefully placed it in the button-hole of his coat. Poor George! At sight of this not very extraordinary act be felt a pang shoot through him. He knew not what it was, nor had he time to think, as he was now close upon the pair. Young Fred Gardiner, for it was he, had never seen George Moreton, so it was with a somewhat supercilious annoyed look that he greeted the stranger who appeared so inopportunely upon the scene. George broke the ice with, 'Beg pardon ; had no intention of intruding, I assure you.' Miss Ingledon, turning and seeing who the intruder was, cried out impulsively, 'Why, it's George!' Then, feeling conscious that she had been surprised in a little mild flirtation, and noticing Moreton's cross reserved look, and remembering the sneer that was in the words he had just spoken, said stiffly, 'How do you do, Mr. Moreton ? We are all glad to see you. You will find papa on the verandah.' And George, not making allowance for the girl's natural confusion, raised his hat and walked towards the house. Poor little Yattie, she could have bitten off her tongue for saying those cruel words. Hearty was the welcome Moreton received on the verandah ; cordial the grasp of his late guardian's hand ; friendly the introductions to the strangers present. 'Why, George lad, we thought you had forgotten us. Have you seen the girls ? Here, Yattie! Yattie! Linda! where are you ? Yattie! What on earth's become of the girl ? Oh! here's Linda.' And with a bound into his arms and a host of kisses did the merry girl welcome her old playmate, her 'handsome brother' as she liked to call him. But then she was not in love with George. CHAPTER II. CHRISTMAS EVE IN THE BUSH. A MERRY sociable party was the one gathered at Linlarra on that Christmas Eve. Times had been 'good' of late years for the squatter ; wool high, ready sale for all fat stock; and this year there had been abundant winter rains, and, consequently, plenty of feed. But the summer had set in hot, very hot ; the grass, as is always the case at Christmas—except in tropical or semi- tropical parts—was brown and dry as tinder. This day had been intensely sultry, and the smoke of distant bush fires was to be seen in all quarters of the compass. George thought he had never had so hot a ride, even during his Queensland tour, and congratulated himself on the prospect of rest for the morrow. The usual luxuriant dinner-tea of the well-to- do squatter's household was over. George and Yattie were more friendly, for the young lady had come up and shaken hands with him, saying she was sorry she had been so cross, but that he had surprised her so. And George thought that without doubt he had ; at the same time he felt that he would like to get 'that swell Gardiner' out after cattle; he would put him on a bucking horse—that he would—and then he could show off his town riding and town airs before Yattie. However, of course, he said nothing of this, but apologised for his stiffness, and they were friends again. Presently his quick eye noticed a ring on the engaged finger of her hand, and his heart sank once more. All hope fled ; the cup of happiness, just found, had been knocked from his hand and broken. Nevertheless, he bravely determined not to spoil fun, but to enjoy himself as best he might, and so proposed a dance. A dance! Always welcome to all Australian girls—how heartily they do enjoy it! Hot night or cold, it is all the same—dance, dance—keep it up till daylight. Then the morning drive home in the easy light buggy, drawn by good horses ; or the ride home in the cool dawn with 'somebody else's brother' for an escort. Oh! there are pleasures in the bush,
whatever townfolk may think to the contrary ; but a dance at such a house as Linlarra was perfection. The main home—the 'old' house as it was called, to distinguish it from the many additions that had from time to time been made, till at last they formed a quadrangle at the rear—contained only four rooms, a dining room, drawing or sitting room, as it was called, the girls' bedroom, and Mr. Ingledon's library. This building was a square ; the roof was of thatch, and sloped on all sides towards the edge of the verandah. This verandah was a glorious feature of the old house, for it was 12ft. wide and extended all round the four sides, and it also being roofed with thatch kept the house cool. The floor being of good sawn boards was, as the girls said, 'splendid for dancing,' and, as all the rooms opened by French windows on to it, the dancers could glide in or out, and so had abundant room. The dining and sitting rooms were both of them large, and were well and comfortably furnished. Choice engravings, a few good water colors, and one or two rare old paintings, the especial pride of Mr. Ingledon, for they were left to him by his father, adorned the walls; elegant little statuettes and scroll brackets were to be noticed in odd comers. The latest books too were always to be got at Linlarra, and the hospitable and refined owner studied in every way to make his home comfortable and his guests at ease. His daughters inherited their father's taste and love for the place, and supplemented his efforts by those indescribable but effective touches which betoken a lady in the house. That the love for flowers, music, drawing, and beauty pervaded the establishment was apparent at a glance. The exterior of the house showed as much tasteful thought as the interior. Let me describe it, for I was one of those guests who saw its prettiness on this the last day of its glory. The house faced the east, and the view on this side was a fine reach of the river, which, fringed as it was with our noble Australian red-gum, trees, made a magnificent natural avenue, surpassing in beauty even that of which Mr. Ingledon's elder brother was so proud at the manor-house in England. That afternoon while I sat in one of those sloth-begetting, too comfortable, Indian basket chairs, which in all parts of this cool verandah were always tempting one to indulge in their ease, I had passed the time noting the beauty of my surroundings. Clinging up and around the posts of this front verandah were a variety of those climbing plants which thrive so well in our sunny clime ; these were carefully trained, and instead of the too luxuriant mass which is what one usually sees on 'bush' houses, harboring vermin and shutting out pure air, there was no over- crowding, and dead shoots or brown leaves one might have sought for in vain. Each pillar had its particular kind ; on this the gorgeous scarlet jacsonia showed its brilliant flowers, which contrast so beautifully with its own light green foliage; on that the homely dolichos, which is always pretty when kept neat and within bounds. Then there was a fine pillar of old English honeysuckle. This was honored with a corner post, and allowed somewhat more the privilege of spreading. Up the opposite corner, the cool corner of all, was English ivy, a roolet from the old home, which even in this hot climate, by the aid of abundant irrigation, revelled in existence, and seemed to like things better than in cold England. Elegant hanging baskets of wire and wicker- work filled with delicate creeping ferns, others from which in rich festoons depended the white clematis, intertwined with the beautiful scarlet kennedia of our own woodlands, vied with the pillars in adding elegance to this pretty retreat. Between the front verandah and the river was the lawn—the novelty of the district, the talk of the neighborhood, and the astonishment of all bushmen when they first saw it; for it was green, really green, even on this hot day. It takes an Australian traveller to appreciate the greenness of a grass-plot. After the glare of salt- bush plains—the mirage of the interior dry downs—how refreshing to the eye is the cool green of a sward of buffalo grass ! At Linlarra the garden was only kept up by abundant irrigation. Situated on a sandy cliff above and close to the river, water could not be given in excess and a windmill was constantly going, night and day, supplying tanks placed above the level of the house, from which a stream always trickled through the garden. The beauty of the lawn was caused by the constant operation of the Californian sprinkler—a little machine of four arms which, revolving on the top of a standard of light iron pipe, by the pressure of the exuding water sent a spray of rain over the whole of the plot. On this hot afternoon, as I gazed, through this artificial shower, at the river beyond, and noticed the sunlight play a perpetual but ever-shifting rainbow on this misty mimic rain, I could not help thinking with what a little trouble can man, if he only likes, make this world pleasant. The north verandah was differently treated ;
on this came the fall blast of the hot winds and of the noonday sun. Some few feet from the verandah posts was a trellis of vines, which were thence trained up to the edge of the verandah roof, and, being luxuriant and healthy in their growth, they formed a dense wall and an extended roof to the verandah which kept this part of the house cool ; from these vines now hung bunches of ripe grapes, tempting, indeed, as was the apple in Paradise. No wonder that dancing was a pleasure in such a ballroom, or that Linlarra had a good name. Mr. Ingledon divided his time between the library and the garden ; riding he did not now care about, and the practical management of the station was entirely left to his overseer. He was also somewhat more than a mere dabbler in scientific pursuits. Thermometers—maximum and minimum—dry bulb and wet bulb ; barometers, rain gauge and wind gauge, were dispersed about the place; and he had contributed some exact and valuable meteorological details of that part of the colony to the Sydney Philosophical Society. There were other visitors there that evening than those already mentioned ; but as they do not come into my story I need not particularise them more than by saying that there were young girls from the neighboring stations, a governess just up from Melbourne, and a stray 'super,' who had popped in uninvited, but nevertheless heartily welcomed. Came looking for lost horses, 'one of which was a brown mare with a snip down the nose.' And mischievous Linda put the poor fellow to terrible confusion by asking him aloud if he expected to find the brown mare with a snip down her nose in their drawing- room. Of course the girls were the attraction, the strayed horses being a mere excuse ; and well they knew it, so he must stay and enjoy the fun. 'Plenty of room,' old Ingledon said. 'If the beds are all full there are the hammocks in the verandah, and the girls will find you blankets.' Oh, how pleasant is the hearty hospitality of the Australian bush! How often have I experienced it! You arrive a stranger and unknown, glad of a night's rest, and you are not allowed to go away under several days, or a week perhaps. Send in your name, and it is taken for granted that you are a gentleman ; no matter what creed or nationality, you are made welcome. * * * * * * * * George Moreton had not yet danced with Yattie ; he had made several attempts to secure her for a partner, but somehow he was always checkmated; she was engaged to someone else, or she was wanted in the house, or some such excuse. He thought she was avoiding him, and so she was ; for, poor girl, her heart was as sore as his. If it had not been for that unluckly bit of flirtation with Fred Gardiner how different things would have been! She had been looking forward to this meeting with intense joy, for she had long and secretly loved her old playmate—that was the reason the English swells seemed insipid to her ; that was why she fretted when at her aunt's, and was called cold; that was why the Australian flower did not thrive in cloudy England. Poor love-sick little Yattie, she only wanted to get back so as to be near George ; she often wondered if he cared for her ; somehow his letters were addressed to Linda and not to her ; he had never sent a fresh photo., although he had promised one ; and it was five years since she had seen him. Linda had more than guessed the state of affairs, for Yattie had had a miniature taken from an old photograph of George, and had placed it in a closed locket which she always wore, and which for a long time she would not let her sister see ; but it all came out one day, much to the satisfaction of Linda, who said 'George was a good fellow ; she would like him much for a real brother, but for her part she would not marry a big man for fear he would be master. She intended to get a little whipper-snapper that she could trot out as she liked.' The evening was slipping away most pleasantly to all but the two love-sick ones. It was after 11 o'clock. Mrs. Gardiner had just sat down to the piano for the fourth time, and was rattling off a lively galop. George snatched up Linda, and away they went ; Linda gloried in a galop—'left square dances for the sober folk,' she said—so round and round the house they went. 'Oh! George,' she said, 'this is delightful ; so much better than the tiresome balls we had at auntie's—had to wear horrid long trains ; stiff quadrilles, and we were crowded and "scrunched." ' Linda had noticed something was wrong between George and Yattie, and she could not understand it. 'What a pair of silly things they are!' she thought, for, by George's letters to her, she felt sure her pretty sister was as much in his thoughts as he was in hers. 'It's all that Fred Gardiner's doing, I believe ;' for although she knew nothing of the flirtation scene, yet she had noticed his very marked attentions to Yattie that night. As they for the
third time whirled round the house, Yattie and Fred stepped on to the verandah from the vine- walk. She felt George start at the sight, and her quick wit saw a chance of putting things right. Disengaging herself when just by her sister, she said, 'Oh, Yattie dear, George has so improved in his dancing since we put him through his first quadrille, just try ; and before the astonished couple could recover from their surprise she had seized hold of Fred Gardiner and was galoping round with him. George put his arm round Yattie, and away they went too. Round and round that long verandah they galoped, now by the ivy corner, now under the fern fronds, now flitting in the moonlight, now in the shade. Only these two couples remained. If Mrs. Gardiner imagined either of these would tire before she would she was much mistaken, for Linda, from pure enjoyment of the exercise, and 'to give,' as she said afterwards, 'George a chance,' would not give in ; besides she liked Fred Gardiner, and did not quite approve of his attentions to Yattie. George and Yattie were in such a daze of happiness that they felt they could never tire. At last the piano stopped. Mrs. Gardiner thought 'those girls had had quite enough,' she said, and the cheery voice of Mr. Ingledon was heard saying, 'Now, girls, it's quite bedtime. Save some of your dancing for Boxing night and the woolshed ball. We men are just going to have a smoke in the verandah and then retire.' As Yattie went up and kissed her dear old father she looked flushed and happy and very pretty. 'You look well, little one,' he said. 'Oh! Papa, dear, we have had such a pleasant evening!' 'That's right, Pussy. Who have you been dancing with ?' 'With George, and'— 'Never mind the others, dear ; good-night ;' and the old man's heart was glad, for he dearly loved his 'boy' George, as he called him. Somehow Yattie felt that she had her father's confidence, and she was happy, although she and George had hardly spoken a word during the dance. 'Was not that a nice galop ?' said sly Linda from under the coverlet. 'Dear Linda, you are such a kind good sister ;' and Linda knew that her move had been successful. 'The barometer is still falling, we shall have a hot north wind to-morrow,' said our host as he rose from his smoking chair, tapped at the weather-glass, and wished us all good-night. I, the favored guest, the family friend, slept in a hammock slung from the house corner to the verandah pillar; and, as I lay and looked through the leafy screen of the climbing passi- flora, and saw the light of the rising moon reflected in the rippling of the running water of the river as if it had been a floor of liquid silver and glittering gems, I could not help envying the lot of our genial host, with his fair daughters and his fair home. Alas! it was the calm. On the morrow came the storm.
CHAPTER III. CLOUDS. CHRISTMAS morning broke close and suffocating. The sun, red with the smoke of the late bush fires which hung close to earth, seemed to struggle to rise. A gentle north wind arose with the sun, and by the time breakfast was announced it had increased into a strong hot wind. We all met at the table with that feeling of lassitude upon us which is an invariable accompaniment of Australian north winds. 'Good morning, everyone,' said the cheery voice of our host as he entered the room and took the head of the table. 'All well, I hope P? Going to have a routing hot wind to-day. Never saw the barometer so low before. The thermometer is even now 90 degrees, and that when under the ivy corner. God help those whose grass gets on fire to-day !' 'I hope you are secure,' said George. 'Pretty well, boy. You know I always burn strips as soon as the grass will take fire, and there is a good broad patch burnt on our north boundary ; from the east the river protects us, but we are open to the south. I hope travellers will be careful of their camp fires to-day.' 'What are your plans for the day ?' continued Mr. Ingledon, who was one of those truly hospitable hosts who let their guests do just as they like, yet at the same time study to make occupation for them. 'I think it too hot to do anything,' said Fred Gardiner, 'and so intend to sit and smoke and lounge in the verandah.' The truth was that he had been so enraptured by that last galop with Linda that he began to think her ten times as jolly as Yattie, and by staying at home he thought he might get a chance of a little flirtation with her.
'Well, you are a lazy thing!' said Linda; I thought you men were going to practise bicycling
for to-morrow's race, and I anticipated fine fun seeing how awkward our crack buckjumping riders would be on the town horse that cannot buck but only run away or tumble down.' Fred Gardiner, who was a good bicyclist, would not have minded this opportunity of showing off before the lively girl ; but the other 'males' who did not care to make exhibition! of themselves, voted it too hot, and backed up the first proposition of the verandah and laziness. 'Yattie,' said our host, 'be sensible, and do not give us a hot heavy dinner in the midday, although it is Christmas Day. Let us have one of your nice fruit luncheons.' 'Very well, papa. I will tell cook not to serve dinner till sunset; by that time perhaps the wind will be from the south.' 'I think you are wrong there, little one ; except there come a cyclone this wind will keep on till to-morrow night.' George Moreton had managed to get a place near Yattie. They had shaken hands that morning and were good friends. He had picked a pretty little bunch of two or three flowers and a spray of leaf, and as he sat down had slipped it by her plate. She took it up, pinned it with her brooch, and—their eyes met. Oh ! the language of the eye! how much, yet how quietly, it talks ! It was their first love look—their first drink at that intoxicating fountain—the insertion of one link of a chain which they little thought would that very day be rivetted fast by a scene of mutual peril and trouble. Breakfast over, Mr. Ingledon went down to his overseer's hut to tell him to keep horses ready harnessed and saddled all day in the stable, in case of a fire breaking out ; also, to have the water-keg in the light waggon, and the heaters—old bags fastened on to sticks, with which the burning grass is beat out—all ready. But the trusty McAndrew had already seen to these things, and had started an hour previously to see where that fire was the smoke of which was now plainly visible to the south-west. About 11 o'clock Mr. Ingledon entered the verandah where we were all sitting, the young men lounging in net hammocks and Indian chairs, doing nothing, and saying 'silly nothings' to the ladies, who were trying to make us believe that they were doing 'fancy work' of some sort. 'A frightful day this,' he said ; 'the thermometer is already up to 110 degrees. There is a terrible fire to the south-west. It is to our leeward certainly, but if the wind should change it might turn back again if no rain falls, and it is our weak quarter.' 'A good thing for me,' said George, 'that so many travelling sheep have this year passed over Wallondoo ; it relieves me of much anxiety, for they have left it quite bare.' 'I am afraid, papa,' said Yattie, who had gone on to the lawn and seen the direction of the smoke, 'that the fire is on Thompson's selection. Dear me, I do hope not, for his wife is sick and they have a large family of little ones.' 'I fear you are right, Yattie, and the long grass of the river bend where he has just built his new house extends close up to his door. I told him ten days ago he ought to burn it at night-time ; if he has neglected to do so he is done for. But,' he resumed, 'I see McAndrew at the paddock gate. By his hurry I should say something was amiss.' In a minute or so the overseer walked up to the verandah. He was almost unrecognisable from smoke, dust, and perspiration. It was evident he had been through hard times already that morning, for his fine whiskers and beard were singed to the cheek. 'Fire got away,' he began, without noticing anyone but the master, 'from a traveller's camp in our bottom paddock, crossed over Sandy creek, then the strong north wind turned it south, and it has cleared Thompson out—fences and house all gone. He made for the river, carrying his sick wife, and telling his little children to follow. I rode up just as the fire caught the house ; noticed little Willie crying inside, so I rushed in and got him out ; then followed the fire to the river, where I found Thompson coming out of the shallow lagoon where they had taken refuge. The poor wife was in a great way when she found little Willie had stopped behind. Was she not glad to see him again all right !' And the hardy fellow's begrimed face actually looked cleaner as the pleasure of the good deed he had done recurred to his mind. 'Well done, McAndrew, well done indeed!' and as our host said this he took a bottle of beer from the water-bag cooler in the corner, knocked off the top, and handed it to the thirsty overseer. 'Here, man, drink this; we will talk afterwards.' Bass' ale never, no not even in our Queensland Gulf country, was so appreciated as by that man, who, without waiting for tumbler or seeming to be aware of the presence of ladies, hastily put the big bottle to his lips and there kept it until it was entirely empty. 'That was good, sir, and no mistake. I only
wish my throat was as long as a native companion's,' he said, laughing. 'Start Dick off with the waggon, pat in one of our spare tents, and take out a bag of flour, some tea and sugar, and meat,' said the warm- hearted Ingledon. 'Send him round here first, and Miss Ingledon will put up some little things as well.' 'And, Mr. McAndrew, will you please get up my mare Whitefoot ?' added Yattie. 'I will go and see poor Mrs. Thompson and what I can do for her,' she said to her father. 'I am afraid it is too hot for you, little one, still I should like you to go.' 'Ma[?]get Lurline up as well ; she is down in the bend. If Miss Ingledon will accept me as an escort I shall be happy to go too,' said George, as he turned enquiringly to Yattie. 'I shall be very glad,' said Yattie in return ; and indeed she spoke the truth.
CHAPTER IV. THE RIDE FOR LIFE. Yattie looked simply perfect in George's eyes as some two hours after she stepped off the verandah and walked under the vine trellis towards the back gate leading to the stables. When she placed her tiny foot into his hand, and lightly sprang into the saddle, George thought himself in Paradise ; and as he turned and caught sight of her pretty figure, shown off so nicely by a well-fitting blue riding-habit, down which her golden heir hair hung in long wavy curls, his conquest was complete. 'Here, George, give this to Thompson,' and Mr. Ingledon placed a cheque for £20 in his hand ; 'and, Yattie, if that poor woman can be shifted, arrange for the trap to bring her in ; she can stop here until her husband has a new house up.' And they started, little thinking that, but for their being mounted on two trusty horses, they would never again have seen the dear old place. 'It is frightfully hot for their ride, a regular furnace blast, not fit for a man to be out in, let alone little Yattie. I hope she will take no harm.' All this Mr. Ingledon muttered as he turned towards the house, after gazing for a long time at the retreating couple. A strange foreboding of coming evil passed through his mind, but he dismissed it as foolish. It was indeed a furnace blast ; actually in the cool shade of the ivy corner the glass told 115 degrees of heat ; such a thing had never before occurred at Linlarra. Reader, if you are a bushman, and have ever travelled in the saltbush country on such a day, you will know that it was not a pleasant ride this young pair had undertaken ; it wanted all their fresh young love to compensate for the discomforts of that hot sun and that scorching wind. Conversation was not brisk between them ; both felt rather awkward, and did not know what to say. It was only seven miles to Thompson's, but that would take them an hour and a-half, for it was too hot to canter; walking was quite enough exertion for either the horses or their riders. 'Look at those poor dear birds,' exclaimed Yattie, as from a box-tree in full bloom she saw some paraquets fall to the ground, straggle for breath, and die. 'The heat has actually killed them.' 'Yes,' replied George, 'I have seen that sort of thing before, but only once, and then I was in the dry Darling river district. Even water does not always seem to save them ; they are actually suffocated by the dry hot blast. Look at those honeyeaters under those shady leaves and that big laughing-jackass up yonder tree, how they all pant with open beak and evident exhaustion, and yet the river is only three miles off. I have known on days like this crows, magpies, hawks, and even some of the smaller birds boldly seek the shelter of the men's huts, and perch on the rafters, even when the men were at dinner.' 'Poor things! I hope the men did not hurt hurt them.' 'No likelihood of that,' replied George. 'I have met with very few cruel men in Australia —except to horses,' he mentally added. 'Do you believe in presentiments, Mr. Moreton ?' She did not like to call him George, as of old. 'I somehow have a strange feeling of coming evil.' 'No, I do not. This hot day is enough to make anyone feel presentiments.' 'Well, I hope it is that ;' but to herself she was not satisfied. On arriving at Mrs. Thompson's they found the dray already there, the tent up, and the sick woman snugly housed and as comfortable as circumstances would admit, so Yattie thought it better she should not be moved to the station—a most lucky decision as things turned out. The cheque was given to Thompson, who was as astonished as he was thankful for this help, just when it was so greatly needed. As they started for home, George looked at his watch and saw that it was just 3 o'clock— about the hottest time of the day. After they
had gone a mile or to on their return Yattie complained of faintness, and said she would so like a drink. At there was no water on the road till they got home, George suggested a détour by the Billabong swamp, which was about half a mile distant; so they turned off on that track, thus making their journey a mile or so longer—nothing of any moment ordinarily, but on this day nearly a fatal mistake. After having obtained a drink, which George managed to get tolerably cool by putting the little pannikin (that used always to hang at his saddle) as far below the surface of the water as he could reach, and having watered their thirsty horses as well, they started up the track that led to the main one they had left. 'I cannot make the weather out at all,' said George ; 'the hot north wind has dropped entirely and suddenly, and yet no southerly "burster" has come up, and it is hotter than ever. If we were in Queensland I could understand this calm close heat, but down here it is most unusual, particularly on a hot-wind day.' 'One could almost fancy an earthquake coming,' said Yattie. 'Just so,' replied her companion ; 'there is a feeling as if everything wanted to burst—an oppressiveness unaccountable. Clouds we cannot see for the smoky haze over everything.' 'What is that noise, George ?'—the old name slipped out then, and quite naturally too, for gradually a fellow-feeling, a sympathy of interests, was springing up between them—'is it the south wind coming ?' 'It sounds like it ; but, by Jove! it is from the west !' Just then they reached an elbow in the road, and were on a slight eminence ; it could hardly be called a hill, but from it, on a dear day, was a very extended view over the heavily-timbered country surrounding them. Moreton turned and looked towards the west, and in the far distance, in spite of the smoky atmosphere, was to be seen a dense black cloud. But it was not like the blackness of rain clouds, as in a southerly 'burster,' or as in a thunderstorm. No ; it looked like dust and smoke ;i in fact, for a moment our hero was puzzled. 'What a strange phenomenon!' said his fair companion, 'and how it roars even at this distance !' Another look at it and Moreton knew what it was, and shuddered at he thought of the terrible danger they were in. 'Yattie,' he said gravely, 'it is no common southerly burster, no ordinary gale ; it is a cyclone, a whirlwind! It will clear everything before it, and apparently we are exactly in the centre of its track.' The girl's cheek turned pale ; well she knew their danger. She had seen the strange tracks cut by such cyclones in years gone by ; tracks of from half to three-quarters of a mile in width, in which every tree and shrub had succumbed to the terrific force. Moreton had actually witnessed one, had almost been in it ; had seen even the supple mallee scrub twisted up and wrenched from the ground ; had known a woolshed to be coiled up in a minute's time, and scattered far over the plain ; even men actually lifted up and carried some distance. Nothing can stand against them if in the vortex of the whirl. Thank God they are not common. I, the writer of this little history, have seen one, and the tracks of several, in the course of my travels, so cannot but think that as the country gets settled—more particularly Queensland—their frightfully destructive effects will be oftener beard of. 'George, we must be off home at once: we are both well mounted and may outrace it.' 'Yattie, dear,' replied he, ' that will never do. It is yet five miles to home-station plain ; all the rest of the way is forest land. These cyclones travel at the rate of from thirty to a hundred miles an hour ; it would overtake us before we were half the distance. There is only one way of escape, and it is to go back to the Billabong swamp ; there is a little plain there.' 'But it is coming that way; we should be going to meet it.' 'Yes, dear, we should; but it is our only chance. We are three-quarters of a mile from the swamp ; at anyrate, I think if we gallop hard we can get there in three minutes. Once there we are safe. We cannot run away from this danger; then let us face. Will you try ?' 'Yes, George, I am ready.' But the plucky girl's face turned pale as she thought of the peril and of home. All this talk had not taken half as long to say as it has to read, for there was no time for indecision. 'One minute, dear. Let us be sure we are on its track The bend in the river near Thompson's may perhaps change its course. It will cross that directly. Let us see ; if it does not it will then have two miles to go, and we a short mile. We can do it unless it quickens its pace.' 'George, dear, you take the lead. Whitefoot
heartily enjoys a race ; she will try and head Lurline. Don't be frightened for me, you know how I can ride. See, it is across the river!' 'God help us!' exclaimed Moreton ; and with a cheery word and a touch of his spur away bounded Lurline on this terrible ride ; and Whitefoot was not behind in the start. The earnestness of the riders was apparent to the horses, who put it down as a race, and each did its utmost to get or keep ahead of the other. The roar of the whirlwind came louder and louder. George ventured a look back at Yattie, and by a pleasant smile quite reassured the trembling girl. 'We shall do it,' he shouted; 'only another minute.' The pace they went was alarming, but it was for life. Although it was through heavy timber they were galloping, yet the track they were on was made by the bullock drays, which usually turned off the main road in order to camp at this water, and both horses and riders knew the road well, so there was no danger except from the hurricane ; the horses were not likely to bolt from the track, and, as long as the riders kept tolerably near the middle of the road, the slight turns caused by trees could be easily avoided. Yattie and George had had many a youthful race, but never such a ride as this. The long grass of the billabong they could now see ; another quarter of a mile and they would be safe—would they, could they, do it ? The whirling leaves and twigs, the forerunners of the vortex, they could see had already crossed the swamp; they felt the first rush of the exterior whirl. 'Steady, Lurline, steady!' exclaimed George, as he took a slight pull on the rein, 'we must clear it,' and he again looked at the brave girl beside him. She caught the glance and nodded assent; then with an 'Up! lass, up!' a gigantic gum-tree that had already succumbed to the first blast, and whose huge trunk lay fairly across the path, was cleared simultaneously by the two horses; another fifty paces and they were in the hollow of the billabong, and free from timber. 'Off, Yattie, off, and lie down!' shouted George —and they were safe! The frightened girl lay down and hid her face in the grass. George sat by her. They were not a minute, scarcely a second, too soon; the roar of the cyclone was upon them, the air was dark with dust, leaves, twigs, and branches, which even the journey of half-a-mile over the swampy plain had not ceased to drop. The horses now seemed to know by instinct what was coming, and stayed down in the hollow of the billabong, crouching themselves up into the smallest possible space and turning their backs on the storm. With Yattie's little hand held tightly in his did Moreton sit out that frightful, that terrible, gale. Once he felt himself almost lifted off the ground by the whirling force of that mighty wind. The main centre, the vortex, passed some two hundred yards to the south; when it reached the timber again the tree-tops were twisted off the stoutest gums, whirled round in the air, and dashed to the ground. The strangest part of this phenomenon to our hero was that it was done apparently quite noiselessly; the general roar was so great that the uprooting of a forest giant and the twisting off of hit head made no individual noise. And the black mass whirled on, carrying death and destruction to everything it touched—Nature's avenging Nemesis for man's invasion of her domain. At length it was past, leaving a cool gentle breeze in its wake. 'Yattie, darling, it is gone ; look up ;' and the poor bewildered girl raised herself, gave one loving look at her companion, and fell fainting into his arms. Even her good nerves and strong common sense had been overtaxed, and no wonder. This was a climax little expected by George, and he was now fairly puzzled ; but gently laying her down he ran to the water, filled his hat, and, returning, bathed her face. It soon had effect, and as the gentle breeze played with the golden ringlets of her long hair, and he gazed on the pale face, George thought he had never seen such beauty. As she opened her fine blue eyes and encountered George's anxious look, the crimson blood returned to her cheeks, quickened into circulation by the sight of her lover, and she soon was herself again. 'Thank you, George,' she said, 'you have saved my life by your courage and decision. How can I ever repay you ?' 'By trusting yourself to me always, darling,' he replied, encircling her with his arm. No need for words; all was understood. Still George said, 'Yattie dear, I have always loved you.' For answer she showed him the locket with his own boyish portrait in it that was suspended from her neck. 'But that engaged ring, Yattie?' said he, pointing to the one on her hand. 'Oh, I only wore that because I did not want you to thick that I—that—' A kiss from George finished the sentence.
This pretty scene was put an end to by Yattie, who said, 'Let us hasten home, George. I do so hope they are all well at home. Do you think the storm has missed them ?' And George said 'Yes,' although he saw that it had gone straight in the direction of the Linlarra homestead.
CHAPTER V. LINLARRA AGAIN. That afternoon we at Linlarra sat and lounged out in the verandah. The fruit luncheon had been a great success, and the tablet in the parlor were stall covered with peaches, grapes, sugary water-melons, and luscious rock-melons, all grown to that perfection which only a horticulturalist like our host can attain to. Numbers of empty bottles that had contained Kaludah and Irrawang, those delicious light wines of New South Wales, testified to the heat of the day and the thirst of the guests ; these when full had been exhumed as wanted from the depths of the water-cooler. The little lawn-sprinkler bad been busily revolving all day, sending its refreshing spray over the sward in front. Never had the snugness of the homestead been more apparent, never had Linlarra looked pleasanter. About 3 o'clock our host anxiously walked on to the verandah ; he had had an hour's 'coil' on the sofa in his study. 'I cannot make today out at all.' he said ; 'I have never seen the thermometer so high before ; it has actually been up to 115 degrees, and is now 110 degrees, and the wind has dropped to a dead calm. I never knew such a thing happen on a strong hot wind day. The barometer is rising too rapidly. I don't like it ; I am uneasy.' 'Why,' I exclaimed, 'does it not always rise before a south wind ?' 'Yes. But in this district generally not till it comes, or there are plain indications of it in the clouds ; and I can detect no sign of a change in that quarter. I expect a hurricane or a cyclone,' he resumed, ' and probably from the west. I do so wish Yattie was here.' 'Why from the west ?' I asked. 'Well, I have no good reasons ; but this north wind has evidently met with a strong south one, and the meeting of the two causes this calm ; and, like two waters meeting, although they stop the current, there is always a whirl somewhere. As our south winds here generally have a westerly inclination, I expect this whirlwind will be on that tide of the compass.' And the fine old gentleman paced up and down, and anxiously glanced at the gate, as if by that he could bring his pet daughter to him. Excavated out of the sandy cliff on which the house was built was a spacious cellar, or rather underground room. Before the adoption of the extensive garden irrigation, when the verandah was bare of creepers, and no lawn was to be seen, this room used to be the favorite sitting place of the family on hot days, for the door into it was from the river side, and it was pleasant to sit there and see the water glide by. They called it 'the Cave,' for the entrance was reached by a slanting path out in the face of the cliff. Latterly this retreat had been abandoned and converted into a wine cellar. The timepiece in the hall had just chimed half-past 3 when Mr. Ingledon again appeared. 'It is coming!' he said hurriedly. 'God grant it may miss the house and poor Yattie !' 'What is coming?' we all anxiously asked, for by the manner of our kind host we saw that it was no trifling matter. 'The hurricane! the cyclone!' he replied and taking us all on to the lawn he pointed to the dark moving column of cloud, whose spiral movement could be traced high up into the sky by the accumulated gathering of dust and leaves. It was the same which had overtaken our two lovers. None present but the owner of Linlarra and myself knew the terrific force of that pillar of cloud, so the others were rather astonished at the anxious and somewhat peremptory tone with which Mr. Ingledon continued: 'It is coming direct to the house. Linda, take all the ladies into the cave, and stay there. Quick, girl, there it no time to lose!' 'McAndrew,' he said to his trusty overseer, who seemed always to be where difficulties were, 'do you know what is coming ? Never mind, you will soon see. Off to your own house and the men's quarters. Turn everyone out ; the stockyard will be the safest place. Let the women folk lie down and hold on to the rails, or the wind will blow them away. Run, man, run!' Then turning to us, he said calmly, 'Gentlemen, we will retire below the level of the bank a little and watch this grand demonstration of the wind's power;' and the brave old man led the way to the sloping walk in the cliffs. Alas! fair Linlarra, with your cool verandahs and hospitable recollections, your lovely flowers and elegant surroundings—without even a minute for a farewell glance—we had left you
for ever ! On came the whirling roaring mass of cloud straight for the house. One moment and we thought it would miss it—no, it was not to be. The black pillar enveloped the building, smothered us with dust, blinded our eyes as we, new in fear, crouched down below the level of the bank. There was a frightful crash, and then a continuous rushing roar, and over our heads, as we lay close to the ground, we felt this fearful wind—dense with earthy materials —whirling, flying round and round, in that terrible vortex ; it was a maelstrom in the air, a whirlpool of the skies! Five minutes afterwards, on what had been the lawn, but was now a rubbish heap, stood a frightened group of persons, aghast at the destruction around them. The whole place was destroyed ; house, quadrangle, stables, vines, and trees gone! The plain as far as could be seen, and the surface of the river, were strewn with pieces of furniture, thatch, wearing apparel, and papers, sheets of iron, and rubbish. The heavier beams and the brick walls of the nearer buildings ware moved and felled into an extraordinary mass—destruction was utterly complete. The very centre of the whirl, the vortex of that maelstrom, had passed over the house ; but the men's huts, the woolshed, and the overseer's house, being a full quarter of a mile to one side, had escaped with the loss only of their iron roofs and windows. One sentence only did our dear old host say ; it was: 'Yattie ; may God help her!' We could five him no comfort, so remained silent. It was an hour or so afterwards, as the old man again stood, with folded arms and sorrowful anxious face, gazing at the rains of his own fair homestead, a young girl came quietly up to him, kissed his tear-bedewed cheeks, and said, 'Dear father, never mind, for we are all safe and well.' 'Pussy, dear, is that you ? Oh, how glad I am to see you!' and he hugged her to his heart. 'How did you escape ? McAndrew has gone looking for you. Are you hurt ?' 'No, papa ; George was with me.' 'George with you!' and the old man laughed. 'Why I knew that, but how does that help the matter ?' Things were soon explained, for George came up and helped Yattie out of her difficulty. 'Ah! I see how it is,' he said gaily ; 'I have lost a house but found a son. l am so pleased, lad. I always wanted this to be,' and he again kissed Yattie warmly, and shook George by the hand. 'Linda, lassie,' he continued ; 'come here, girl, I have news to tell you.' 'I know what it is, papa dear. I went with Fred and McAndrew to find Yattie, and it all came out.' 'Fred, Fred—who is Fred ?' But the awkwardness of answering this question was avoided, for just then a four-in-hand drag entered the paddock and dashed up to the ruins. 'Ingledon, old fellow,' said the handsome driver, as he jumped off his seat directly his man had the horses by the head, 'my boundary rider was met by your overseer, who started him off at a gallop to tell me, so I harnessed up at once. You must all come to Dunrobin. I'll drive the girls—l beg pardon, the ladies I mean ; the gentlemen can ride.' The speaker was the jolly owner of the next station. 'Ugh! what a smash-up!' he exclaimed, as his eye fell upon the heap of ruins. And so it turned out that Dunrobin was full to overflowing that Christmas night.
CHAPTER VI. CONCLUSION. The Boxing Day fate at Linlarra was necessarily postponed, but only till the next year. By that time a new home was erected, and it was then held. As many of the guests who were at the 'smash-up' as possibly could come were there, including the stray 'super' and the young governess, for on this Christmas Day a double wedding had taken place, and it was the event of the district. The reader can guess as to the respective brides and bridegrooms when I say that Linda had gone on a visit to St. Kilda with Mrs. Gardiner and Fred, and had a gay season in Melbourne ; and that our dear old host, anxious, as he said, to see what the saltbush country was like, went back with George Moreton and stayed at Wollondoo till the trusty McAndrew wrote to him that 'the place was somewhat itself again.' Need I say that Yattie went with her father —and George ? __________________________________
A LITTLE girl, four years old, seeing the moon one evening just as a light cloud was passing over it, said : "Oh, papa, I guest the moon is crying ; see, it has just wiped its eyes with its handkerchief." "ALLEN," asked a tearful mother, "is it true that you jammed Patrick Otis's head against the fence ?" " Yes, ma', I did; it might as well be him as me, and it had to be one of us."