Chapter 36645480

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Chapter NumberXX
Chapter TitlePROGRESS OF THE FIRE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36645480
Full Date1867-08-17
Page Number2
Corrections5
Word Count3116
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2020-01-27
Newspaper TitleLaunceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899)
Trove TitleThe Maxwells of Bremgarten
article text

THE MAXWELLS OF BREMGARTEN. A STORY OF TASMANIA. [Founded on Facts.] (ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED.) (Continued from last Saturday.) CHAPTER XX. PROGRESS OF THE FIRE. As soon as our heroine had recovered suffi- cient strength, she thought it advisable to prepare for the evacuation of their dwelling, in case of being doomed to disappointment in her hopes of assistance. With this object in view she proceeded to get her mother dressed, which was a matter of no small difficulty, as Mrs. Maxwell was almost helpless, and the necessary movements caused the greatest pain. However, after a considerable time had elapsed the operation was completed, and a plan was organised which it was determined to put in execution should the fire unfortu- nately find its way into the corn. This was, that Mrs. Maxwell should be carried by her daughter and the servant down to the water side and left there until a conveyance could be procured to take her altogether away from the smoke and heat. Some necessary articles of clothing were hastily collected together and tied up in bundles, and all the little valuables that possessed a family interest were placed in a small box, of which Griselda took the charge. A supply of provisions was not for- gotten, and a large pot was put on the kit- chen fire, filled with water to make tea for the men when they should arrive. These and other active preparations were going for- ward when the messenger returned from Mr. Earlsley's, followed by four or five rough looking characters, one carrying a spade, an- other an axe, a third a hoe. Miss Earlsley had written to Miss Maxwell saying that her papa was away at St. Mary's Pass, and would not be at home before the next day. Griselda requested Mr. Earlsley's men to use every exertion to stop the fire. She then directed her father's man to yoke up two pairs of bullocks, put one pair to the cart and let them stand close to the house for her mother's accommodation, and with the other pair to take a cask of water to assist in stopping the progress of the fire. The man, after gulping down a pint of scalding tea, and taking a lump of bread and a large piece of boiled mutton in each hand, hastened to obey. When Earlsley's men arrived at the place where the fire was raging, they stood still and shook their heads. Various exclamations passed from one to the other, such as--" A hundred men could'nt stop it ; we can't go near it ; we may as well sit and look at it," &c. To do them justice, however, they armed themselves with green boughs, and selecting places where the flames were not so very violent, began beating them out as fast as they could ; but the smoke drifting into their faces, they were obliged every moment to re- treat several steps. It is probable that they would not have exerted themselves thus, if the fire had not been so near the farm ; for the laborers of that period were of but little use in such cases, unless they had an expe- rienced man to direct them, and whose orders they would obey. They were thus employed—now rushing in and beating out the flames, now retreating with their hands guarding their faces,when a loud "coo-ee" was heard, and on their replying, a voice shouted—" Not there—not there, men —have you no sense ? You're wasting time and strength for nothing ! Come here." The men went and were presently confronted by Mr. Juniper, with four stout fellows at his back, his face begrimed with sweat and charcoal, the skirts of his coat hanging in tatters, and his entire person dripping with water. He had forded the river up to his chin, and now with the glance of a field mar- shal eyed the fiery enemy approaching with rapid strides. " What tools have you got ?" asked Juniper of the men. " Axe, spade, and hoe, Sir ;" was the an- swer. " Come this way then, and get ready to work. I wish they would send a cask of water or a bucket of wine, or something." Leading the way towards the paddock fence, which was now scarcely more than fifty yards distant from the crackling confla- gration, Mr. Juniper told the men to get their tools and set to work. He selected as clear a space as could be found, about ten yards from the fence, and commenced mark- ing out a track about eighteen inches wide, which he directed two of the men to shave under the roots of the grass with their spade and hoe, working from each other in a line parallel to the fence. The other men stood by to take turns at this work, while two were despatched in all haste to the house for more spades and some tea. The prospect of saving the wheat even by these energetic measures would have been but slender if, as by the greatest miracle, the wind had not veered round a little and blown more from the eastward, for the express purpose it would seem of giving time. Just then Mr. Maxwell's man arrived with the cask of water, thus unexpectedly provided by Gri- selda's forethought, and Mr. Juniper was loud in his approbation. The man had brought a bucket and watering pot, which were instantly filled and placed at certain intervals for present use by the excited bachelor. The track having been now made for some distance, Juniper prepared to ignite the grass beside it, so that the new fire should burn back and thereby arrest the pro- gress of the advancing flames. Several men were ordered to stand by with boughs to watch the track in case the fire should cross, while others continued at work with spades, lengthening it at either end. This operation progressed favorably for a while. Mr. Juni- per was boisterously eloquent in his en- couragements and exhortations to the men. Griselda had sent out a few bottles of home- made wine, with a good supply of tea and

provisions. The evening was drawing on and the men were beginning to congratulate themselves on the prospect of their labors being soon over, when a loud shout was raised that the grass close to the wheat was on fire !—It was true. A piece of burning bark had been carried by the breeze, which changed in capricious gusts, across the track. If the wind had been a little stronger, the bark would have been blown into the corn. Nearly worn out by their previous exer- tions, Juniper and his assistants saw this new trouble with dismay, but they ran up as fast as possible, and began beating the flames with their boughs. The flames arose high in the air, choking first one and then another, singing Juniper's eye-lashes, setting his tat- tered coat on fire, and threatening to baffle all his efforts. The playful breezes ac- celerated their progress, and they darted along the ground through the dry grass and withered leaves with the rapidity of lightning ; seizing upon the paddock fence, gliding through to the other side, and com- mencing to devour like an eager epicure the over ripe grain. The cry was now for water, water, but the cask had been emptied, and two men had gone to the river to fill it again. Here Juniper and seven men labored as for their lives. As they laid about them like madmen with their boughs they were joined by another man—a tall sallow-faced stranger, whom nobody had seen before. This individual threw a fresh bough upon the blazing corn with almost super-human energy, and shouted " Courage—courage ! We'll beat it yet !" The men redoubled their labors, though blinded with smoke and panting for breath, the burning fence was pulled down, and in a few minutes Mr. Juniper shouted, " It's all our own lads, but it was a close shave !" A messenger now arrived with some more wine, and after Juniper had taken a draught, a little was handed to the stranger at his re- quest. While he drank the surveyor scanned his face and person with curiosity. His ap- pearance was remarkable—differing in a great measure from that of working men in general. Juniper absorbed by an idea which he could not suppress, determined to question him, and said, " Are you at work in these parts, friend ?" " Yes," replied the man, showing at the same time a disposition to move off. " Who is your master ?"' " Mr. Baxter, I'm one of his bullock drivers." " You are not !" said Juniper, " I know you—stop ! I arrest you in the King's name." " Do you ?" said the stranger. " Look at that—follow me and you are a dead man." He pulled a pistol out of his breast pocket and cocked it as he spoke. " Follow me men and take him, he is a bushranger—there's fifty pounds on his head, or two hundred acres of land—come on." Juniper advanced, but not a man stirred to follow him. The outlaw, if he was one, threatened loudly to blow his brains out if he came any farther, and he stopped. The stranger retreated into the burning forest, laughing in derision. He won't come and help us to put our fires again," said one of the men. " Why did'nt you help me to secure him ?" said Juniper, " there's fifty pounds, a free pardon, and a grant of land for him dead or alive." " He never done no mischief to uz, Sir," said another man, " we never seed him afore, and how could we take him with the eyes nearly burnt out of our heads ?" " Well, you have lost a prize, that's all," said Juniper. This incident afforded matter for a good deal of conversation and conjecture, and was a kind of relief after the excitement of the fire. The conduct of the outlaw was inexplicable. All the bush-lawyers present agreed that it was far more likely for a bushranger to burn a crop of wheat than to save it from destruction. Nobody could understand it, and even the oldest wiseacre in the circle was obliged to leave the matter in dark obscurity. Meanwhile Mr. Juniper did not neglect the main object of his solicitude—the fire. He travelled up and down with his bough, and issued various orders to the men from time to time. Time track had been completed in one direction as far as the bank of the river, and on the other considerably beyond the corner of the paddock, where the fire was still making its way over the plain. The shades of night began to fall, and the poor surveyor, overcome with fatigue, found himself heartily wishing that somebody would come and re- lieve him by taking the charge off his hands for a while. His wishes were happily and unexpectedly gratified, for three horsemen rode up ; one of them, an overseer of Mr. Earlsley's, communicated the welcome intelli- gence that a number of fresh hands were coming, and that Mr. Juniper and his men might go home. After giving some advice, answering a number of questions, telling the overseer about the sudden and singular ap- pearance of the bushranger, and recommend- ing that a party of constables should be im- mediately sent in pursuit, Juniper left to return home. In the course of the night Mr. Earlsley's overseer employed his men in brushing in the remains of the fire, so as to lessen the proba- bility of its breaking out again the next day. Early in the morning Juniper resumed his post, feeling considerably refreshed after his night's repose. He never left the place during the day, but walked up and down with a hoe, rooting up everything that was likely to carry fire across his track, and throwing in the burning sticks and branches from which the treacherous wind was likely to blow fresh sparks. A few stomps and trees which blazed upwards at a considerable distance from the ground gave him some trouble and anxiety ; but on some he threw buckets of water, brought for the purpose in

a bullock-cart, and on others he heaped up spadesful of loose earth to prevent the sparks blowing from them. It was well for him and for Maxwell that the wind did not blow directly from the westward ; if it had, with the number of blazing trees around and the great heat of the atmosphere, his labors had all been in vain. Griselda paid him a visit while he was thus engaged. She came on horseback, shook hands with the old bachelor, and asked if she could do anything more to assist him, thank- ing him at the same time for his disinterested exertions. He replied that she had already done all that lay in her power. "Had it not been for you," said he, "every stick in the place would be in ashes ; but be ready to move, Miss Maxwell, we are not sure of it yet—if the wind chops round it'll be a case, and then the fire will be with you before I shall. It must be watched to-morrow, and the next day as well. How is your mother, Miss ?" " A little better, thank you, but very help- less. I expect papa home to-night—good by, Mr. Juniper." " He won't come before he's wanted—good by, Miss Maxwell." The reader will now have the kindness to accompany us to the small village of Avoca, where just as Mrs. Trapfarthing's clock is striking four a gig of unpretending appear- ance, containing two gentlemen, stops at her door, and the travellers alight. The landlady came forward, smiling and curtseying, and invited them to walk in. She knew Mr. Maxwell very well, and enquired respectfully after his health, but the other gentleman was a stranger to her. A youth, probably "Jems," came to hold the horse, and Max- well begged the landlady to let him have a bottle of her best ale, as it was such very hot, thirsty weather. She invited him into the parlor, but from some whim he passed into the little bar behind, where he and his friend drank their ale standing at the counter, upon which a large jug capable of holding much more than a gallon stood quite full of water ; for the widow was a good manager and liked to be particular. While they were so en- gaged, and talking about the state of the country, a man walked quickly in from the back yard, who looked with a sleepy air first at the stranger, then at Maxwell, and imme- diately burst out with—" Hallow, Misther Max'ell, how do you do, Sir ? I'm glad to see you agoin' home, for I b'leve yer crops is all burnt, though I wont be sure, for master wouldn't tell me ; but if they is, I'm sorry for it ; for blow me like a feather off the table of creation, Sir, if I don't think you're the best and honestest gentleman in the country side." " I am obliged to you, Heffernan," an- swered Maxwell, " did you say that my crops were burnt ?" " I can't be quite sure about it, Sir ; an' I would tell you all master said about 'em, if I didn't make it a pint never to speak about him when I comes away from home to get some refreshment." Here Mrs. Trapfarthing observed that she did not believe a word of it ; that if true she would have certainly heard of it before, and that Heffernan had always some such ridic- ulous story on the tip of his tongue. " Oh, very well, missus," said Heffer- nan, bending over the bar with a curious air of mock politeness ; " you can b'lieve what you like, an' misb'lieve what you like, an' no harum done ; but by Jinks ! it does my old heart good for to see you a- looking so well. You put me in mind of one of master's old sows that made him a present this morning of fifteen healthy young squeakers." As the luckless Heffernan finished his speech he bent more over the bar in a familiar attitude, far from expecting any chastisement for this gratuitous compliment. The lady he addressed stood rooted to the spot for a mo- ment with petrified horror. Her face grew pale, and fire flashed from her eyes as it only can from those of offended female dignity. Rapidly as thought she dashed off the old man's Jim Crow hat, seized the most prominent locks of his hair with her left hand, and with Hercu- lean strength lifted the great jug of water and turned it bottom upwards over his head. " Bless my soul," said Maxwell, capering about to avoid the flood, " what a delightful shower bath ! Have you any left, Mrs. Trap—" Heffernan, shaking himself like a drenched spaniel, interupted with, " You'll—pay for— this, ye b—ch." " Out of my house, you hoary misconceiv- able villyan," said the enraged landlady,— " you shameless and abominable old sinner, out of my house," and panting with fury she caught up the jug again and hurled it with all her force at the retreating offender as he was in the act of going out of the door. It grazed his head, struck him a smart blow on the shoulder, and falling on the pavement outside was broken to pieces with a loud crash. Nor was the vengeance of Mrs. Trap- farthing yet satisfied. She pursued the now terrified delinquent into the yard, caught up the fragments of the broken jug, and hurled them after him—nay, into the very street she flew, and overwhelmed him, as he quickened his pace to a run, with a tempest of stones and gravel. Maxwell now thought it high time to be off and set out accordingly. He had not gone far on the road towards his home before he discovered the thick smoke that rose out of the burning forest, and expressed his fears to the young man who travelled with him that his sheeprun, if not his crops and dwell- ing, was on fire. He whipped his horse to go faster, but the animal being fatigued, he was obliged to curb his impatience. Relieved at lengths by the sight of his paddocks and house untouched by the flames, he mentally ejaculated a prayer of gratitude, and about seven o'clock in the evening drew up at his own door. (To be continued.)