|Chapter Title||The title of this chapter was illegible.|
|Newspaper Title||Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 - 1915)|
|Trove Title||Alice Laverne|
IT was on a .l..r autumn evening in the early " seventies " that John Wi- fred Stanton journeyed northwards through the Coast District of New South Wales, on his way to Queens- land. He was mounted on a good horse, and led another, which carried a pack. The rider kept constantly glancing from one beast to the other, with a certain amount of concern; while the slow pace, together with the haggard appearance of the ani- mals, gave evidence that they were becoming leg-weary, and desired to rest. " How far is it to Oorandoo ?' inquired Stanton of a traveller, who, less fortunate than himself, was doing a pilgrimage on foot in the opposite direction. "Wa'al,, about three miles and a half, I should say, was the answer . " Good place for camping, is it not?" continued Stan-
ton. " Wa'al, yes; there is plenty of water, and good grass for the 'mokes,' too." "I have not been there myself this time; but I heard about it away back. I al'ays used to camp there myself, when I travelled with 'orses," "It is not on the main road, then?" observed Stanton. " No," was th reply; "but only about, half a mile away from it, you will see the bridle trackk going to the left. Keep a look out for it after you cross the first creek." " I must push on," said Stan- ton, striking his beast with his heels. "Have you any tobacco on you?" " Yes," said Stanton, taking the fig that he had been using from his pocket, and handing it to the other. " Matches too?" he continued. "Wa'al yes, if you have any to spare," was the r.sponse. "I have a few, but they are not of the best got damp. Quite enough ; that will do. I will be able to have a smoke now. Good evening." " Good evening," repli..l Stanton, and the tramp was gone. The horseman looked up at the sun as he now rode more leisurely along. "I shall be there in good time," he
muttered to himself.
Oorandoo was but one of the many picturesque clearings former sta- tion sites to be met with in the forests of the Coast District of New South Wales. They are now silent as their surroundings, but give evi- dence of having been, many years ago, the beautiful and prosperous habitation of man. They belonged lo a generation whom, with a few exceptions, we can see no more. A generation of pioneers who, without fear and fond of adventure, loved to settle down in the unexplored wil- derness, and lay the foundation of (as they doubtless imagined) per- manent homes for themselves and families. But in due time the free selectors made their appearance, and "took the eyes out of their runs," the result being that the pioneer had either to sell out or desert. Some of the more prosperous got equally remun.rative, if less beautiful, homes elsewhere, and some retain their original holdings still. But many deserted, and the former abodes of men and women are slowly, yet surely, reverting to their primeval condition. These artificial clearings have many points of resemblance in common. In nearly all the orange and lemon still flourish, and bear their fruit for the satin bird, cat- bird, the many varieties of the par- rot, family, and other suctorial birds of gaudy plumage; their occasional cries being the only sounds that break the stillness of these dreamy and romantic glades. In nearly all, too, there remain a few sturdy grey and moss-grown posts, bidding, as it were, defiance to time,and indicating the place where the strong wooden houses and stockyards once were; but these are becoming fewer, and must eventually decay long before the trees and shrubs introduced have been absorbed by the neighbouring jungle.
On reaching the clearing, Stanton's countenance brightened, for there was grass for his horses. The animals themselves in their impatience began to feed immediately he came to a halt. Glancing round him for a suit- able camping place was the work of a moment ; then urging the beasts a little further forward to the bank of the stream that emerged from the scrub at the one end, to be lost sight of in a similar mass of brushwood and great trees at the other, he fixed his camp under one of the large orange trees. Stanton was in the spring tide of his career, apparently about six or seven and twenty years of age, of slight build, and about the middle height, while his sunburnt face and hands indicated continued exposure to the weather. His eyes had now resumed their natural languid expression, which showed that he was not altogether insensible
to the sleepy halo of the surround- ings. The last rap of the Autumn sun tipped the tops of the great gums with crimson, and lingered among the palmlike fibres of the tall oaks as if reluctant to bid even a temporary adieu to the scene. Stanton, who was deeply absorbed in his own meditation, stood near the fire; in
his hand a long stick, with which he balanced the now simmering " billy," and so prevented it from falling. Lost in the past or future, and quite
unconscious that any eyes were upon him, he did not hear the approaching
footsteps, and gave a slight start a the " Good evening, mate," that sounded quite close to him. "I did not expect to meet any one here," he said, recovering from his surprise "This place has not many "callers." was the quiet reply of the stranger, as he threw down his heavy "swag" near the fire, and sat upon it. Judg- ing from his appearance, the new comer could not be less than fifty years of age. His closely-cropped hair and trimmed beard were quite white; yet he was possessed of con- siderable vitality, and did not appear to be the least exhausted from the weight of his burden. Taking off his broad " cabbage tree," and carelessly fanning himself, he continued in a clear voice. "Twenty-eight miles to day ; not bad, eh? I did not ex- pect to get here so early." " That is certainly good travelling," replied the other. "Not much of the sun- downer about that." " How did you manage to find your way here?" The new arrival went on, not notic- ing the other remark. "I had a vague account of it this morning," observed Stanton,'' and quite recently I was fortunate enough to meet a traveller, who told me about the bridle track." The other, in the meantime, had taken some parcels from his " billy," and was about to start for the stream. " You need not go for water," Stanton remarked. " For I have enough tea for us both." " Very well," replied the other, who began to undo his swag and take some eatables therefrom. "My name is Bill," he said. Billy Hawley ; "and mine is John Stanton," the younger answered. The two strangers were now on intimate terms, and began their hearty meal. The conversa- tion turned on many matters. Stan- ton, however, observed that his friend glanced at every object in the clearing with evident interest, nor did the change that came over his countenance, as he looked alternately in different directions, escape him. "This is a charming place," observed
Stanton. "What a beautiful home- stead could be made here ; but I suppose it could not be made to pay. Poor land in the neighbourhood, no doubt," and his eyes rested upon an overgrown rose bush some distance from them, on the opposite side of the stream. The other heaved a
deep sigh, but being conscious that he had attracted his friend's atten- tion he turned towards him and exclaimed, " You see that shrubbery yonder ?" Stanton answered in the affirmative. "That," he said with suppressed emotion, used to be the favourite place of Alice Laverne. God bless her. I think I see her
now, with her sunny smile and golden hair," and the old man's eyes bec.me moist, but only for a moment, for he continued in a low and firm voice. " You wonder at the interest I take in this place, but I have known it very long ago, in the time of the Lavernes, and here my happiest days were passed, and you see it now." "Yes," said Stanton, "and beautiful still." "Ah, yes!" replied the other, " but only reflecting in a small degree the beauty and happiness of the past. Every time that I visit it, it seems more silent than before. The forest trees are again encroaching on what was once their own, but some of her favourite bushes still live, and appear to be dreaming of Alice. Alice, who is gone, I often wonder where she is now ; if she still lives, and is happy. Of course, she would be changed by time, but not to my memory. But, alas, I frequently think she is no more. The fate of Alice is a mystery. And my old mates. I never meet them now, and know not where they are. I suppose they have gone, and I also must soon follow them; but what matter, what matter." "You take
rather a gloomy view of things," interrupted Stanton. "You have
still good health, and no doubt wish to live." " Ah, yes !" was the answer, " I wish to live, but to live only in the past and dream of what is gone." " However," he continued as he drained his pannikin of tea, "we must drop this subject, as it cannot be interesting to you, and it only makes me feel sad." " On the con- trary," said Stanton, "I feel deeply interested, and hope that you will tell me the whole history of Alice Laverne and this place." Stanton did, in reality, feel interested, for he had a mind for romance, and had already been impressed by the earnestness of the other's manner. The old man arose, and threw a few fresh pieces of wood on the fire ; then sat down again without saying a word. There was a period of silence ; the two men sat facing each other,
on opposite sides of the fire, sending clouds of smoke from their coloured
"clapeys." The columns lazily as- cended through the clear atmosphere, and were soon lost to view.