|Chapter Title||THE COLONEL'S INFORMATION.|
|Newspaper Title||Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899)|
|Trove Title||The Maxwells of Bremgarten|
CHAPTER III. THE COLONEL'S INFORMATION. " Shut the door Harry—and now Maxwell for a little bit of pleasant chat ; draw your chair closer, I want to hear what you say dis- tinctly, not that I am deaf either, but fill your glass and pass the decanter this way: I always take an hour after dinner to assist digestion; I drink half a bottle of Burgundy no more and no less—or if I can't get that, good old port or claret will do as well—excuse me for talking so much about number one, bet if we don't mind number one who will mind it for us sir, except to send us to the dogs ? " saying which the old gentleman laughed complacently and drank his wine, as if his opinion of himself was good and his balance at the bank ditto. "I trust, Colonel," said his guest, " that your time for giving information on colonial matters is fully come, if not, to-morrow will do quite as well." "I am not a procrastinating man sir," replied the Colonel ; " by the by these two heroes of yours may go into the garden or into the verandah—if you see a snake my juvenile Castor and Pollux you may catch him by the tail, but mind you cut off his head first." Eugene laughed as he rose and said, " From such an enemy, Sir, I would sooner run a mile than fight with a minute." " Ah ! very good," said the Colonel, "you're a smart boy, we'll make something of you I see —good-by for the present. Now, Mr. Max- well, what do you propose doing ?" " That depends, Sir, on the advice I may receive; I am completely and profoundly ignorant of everything connected with this country." " Well, Sir, it was my own case once, but with the aid of a head-piece pretty properly screwed on I soon surmounted the difficulties of ignorance; I became master of as much information in a fortnight as you would probably obtain in a year, and how do you think I did it ? I put half a dozen ad- vertisements in the papers here—we had not many papers here ten years ago—one for a situation in a merchant's office or bank, another as from a merchant very much re- quiring a clerk, another as from a gentleman urgently desiring to pur- chase a sheep or cattle station up near the Blue Mountains, and so on, all particulars to be forwarded and locali- ties described with precision. In about a fortnight, Sir, I was master of a great store of information. I found that the merchants wanted a few trustworthy clerks, that there were no clerks, except prisoners, to be had for love or money; and I received about a score of letters from proprietors of sheep stations, written in such flowery language, and describ- ing the hills here and the vales there, the rivers, the sweet lagoons, the distressingly fat sheep, and the cattle not able to wag their tails; so that I felt myself like a regular ass shut up in a paddock along with a forest of haystacks: whereupon I wrote home to my poor relatives to tell them to come out if they wanted situations as clerks, and toddled away to look at some of the stations in the country. I was not long in making up my mind, Sir. I am a man of some decision of character. I soon selected a station with 5000 sheep and 500 head of cattle; terms made easy—one- fith of the purchasre-money paid down, remainder in five years. Got on like a regular old fighting cock. Sent ten thousand sheep across the Blue Mountains, have forty thousand now, besides lots of rhino." Here the Colonel paused to take breath, and tossed off a glass of wine. "Fill your glass, sir, and pass the bottle to Harry." " No more thank you," said Maxwell. " Ah, you're a moderate man I see; well I've nearly finished my daily allowance. How much tin have you got ? Excuse my impudence." " If you mean money, Sir, I can muster something over two thousand pounds." " A respectable sum, " said the Colonel, "a very respectable sum, Sir, for this place : a handsome start for either town or country. If you like to set up in business as a merchant or shopkeeper there are plenty of openings ; business is increasing, and will increase. If on the other hand you prefer a country life, there's plenty of room, go up the country call on my son and commanding officer, Mr. Frederick Arthur Wellington Arnott, and he'll put you in the way of everything--buy your station--come down again--take wife and children up—sit down comfortably, light your fire in blessed ignorance in the bush and burn yourself out, house, sheep, dogs, and all before you've been there a month." The jolly old Colonel laughed but Maxwell looked grave. "Mr. Maxwell," said Henry, who had not spoken since the ladies left the room, " had better go and have a look at the country, and I will cheerfully go with him—it is my opinion—" " Well by the ghosts of St. George and the Dragon !" broke in his father with real or pretended wrath, " you are a precious exam- ple of modern school teaching. Who the deuce asked you for your opinion, sir ? What on earth do you know about it, sir? You want to have all the talk to yourself. If you want to chatter go join the ladies, and they'll give you enough of it. There never was a man, Maxwell, surrounded by such a set of geese; if I listened to the advice that this fool is continually poking into my ears I'd be buried fathoms deep in the Insolvent Court, a miserable prey to the scoundrels and robbers of the law." " Well," said Henry, " I only meant to say—" " 'Pon my honor," again interrupted the old gentleman, " if I thought you were going to talk sense I would listen to you. You
amuse me very much. I like an upright specimen of the coolest impudence in the world. When I was a young fellow I served under my uncle along with Wellesley in India, and fought under the walls and in the streets of Seringapatam, and in the middle of the row while running pellmell alongside of the old man—my uncle, I mean—I saw our lads catch hold of the villain Tippoo and shouted, ' They've got him, uncle; they've got him !' ' What, talking again, you black. guard !' roared my uncle, and he caught me by the collar and kicked me, Sir, till the blood spouted out of my nose like a stream, from a cask of canary. That was discipline if you like, Maxwell." " I should not like it, Sir;" said that gen- tleman, laughing. " And if your uncle, Sir," said Henry, der- termined to be heard, "was then anything like what you are now, I am not surprised at the sudden retreat of the enemy. Besides, it is scarcely thirty years since that happened; you are now past seventy, and you don't mean to tell us that your uncle kicked you in the streets of Seringapatam when you were forty years of age ?" " Hold your impertinent tongue, sir; if he didn't kick me, he kicked a drum boy that was next me—my memory is sometimes de- fective, and I know somebody was kicked but we have had quite enough of your talk, sir, quite enough of your talk; go and sing a duet with your sister for the amusement of our female guests, and leave Mr. Maxwell to learn a little wisdom from a man capable of teaching him. Chop my old carcase into mincemeat for bombshells ! but the service is coming to a pretty pass." The wrathful Colonel tossed off another glass of wine, while his son, not caring to provoke further hostility, rose with a careless air and left the room. " That's the way I serve the jackanapes," said the host, after delivering himself of a few short coughs; "he wants to have every- thing his own way, but he sha'nt; he's like his mother, and she's like the rest of the feminines—give them an inch of authority and they'll take miles; if you want to make your sons, sir, cold, heartless, and selfish, give them unlimited power and authority over all your property, over yourself, their mother, and sisters, and you'll be astonished how very soon you'll find yourself in a dog kennel." " Pardon me, Colonel," said Maxwell, " but are you not afraid of seriously offending your son ? It is written, ' Fathers provoke not your children to wrath.' " " ' O, leave him alone ! he's no such fool, neither; he knows I keep the bone in my hand, and follows like any other dog. I like to keep him in order. If I didn't keep him in order I should sink down to nothing at once, for he knows how to rule his mother, and she is of such a commanding disposition —though she's a good soul—that she would soon rule me, and everything would go to the dogs. It takes the likes of me, sir, to rule them all." "You have another son in the country, sir ?'' " Yes, sir, my eldest son Frederick is ten years older than this youngster; his mother, one of the fairest and best women that ever walked in Calcutta, has been in her grave now, poor thing, for eight and twenty years. Do you know, Maxwell,"—and here the speaker's voice wavered a little—" that your fair daughter is the born image of what my lost Henrietta was when she arrived from England with her father the General, and I carried her off in triumph from a hundred competitors, while seven-eights of the bachelor officers of the garrison swore that they'd run me through the body. She had such blue eyes and such fair hair. She used to say—' Harry, you're a clever man, you're too clever, you won't live very long '—but she was mistaken, it requires a man to be clever to live very long is this world. You see young men who think themselves such wiseacres bustling about and trying to put old men like me down into corners, dying miserably by scores before they're fifty years of age ; while here I am nearly eighty, never troubled myself about anything, laughed at everything, was always ready, Sir, to sing my song and dance my hornpipe. I sit here as in- dependent as the chief of the Chocktaw. Frederick manages the sheep, pay him five hundred a year, I receive the wool and tallow, transact all the town business, and make myself as comfortable as an old horse in a clover paddock." "Have you ever been to Tasmania* Colonel ?" "Yes I have bcen in Hobart Town, the capital of the island, but never in the country; they say it's a fine country, well grassed and well watered. Have you any idea of going there ? " "I have been advised to go there; I have heard that the Government gives grants of land to bona fide settlers, according to the capital and property they possess." " That is quite true, Sir, so they do; but I see they are talking already of annulling those regulations. If you think about going there I'd advise you to be quick." " Have you any idea how much land they would be likely to give me?" "Well, I think they would give you a maximum grant; that amounts to two thou- sand five hundred and sixty acres—four square miles " "'Why, bless me, Sir, that would be a splendid estate—a fortune for life. If I had that I would surely be satisfied for the rest of my existence." "I shouldn't like to swear to that; you know the saying—Have much, want more. I suppose you're a man like the rest of man- kind; there are not many exceptions to the general rule." * This modern designation of the island is adopted in this work. Its former appellation of Van Diemans Land is, for variety of reasons, suppressed.
"I think," said Maxwell, " that a man ought to be satisfied when he is conscious of having enough. A farm, for instance, that supplies all his wants and the wants of his family, that produces for him in return for his labor plenty of food and raw material convertible into cash to pay for other neces- saries of life or the education of his children— a man so happily situated should be thankful to God, and not be so extremely weak as to be perpetually panting for more." " So he should, Sir, so he should, I quite agree with you," said the Colonel, "and doubtless many are so, but there are others who, always ready to carry covetousness out fully in all its branches, would without re- morse kick every body into the fiery crater of Mount Ætna, and then go home, smoke their cigars, drink their brandy and water, and feel as comfortable as possible." " Are such men numerous in Tasmania, Sir ?" "Don't know—never saw one in Hobart Town. That is a nice place, and there are nice people in it. I have enjoyed their hos- pitality till it nearly killed me." "Pray, my dear Sir, will you allow me to ask you whether if you were about to com- mence life again in these colonies with your present large stock of experience, you would do as you have done or prefer going to Tasmania, with the prospect of obtaining a maximum grant of land ?" " It is a difficult question, Sir," answered the old officer, wiping his forehead, " and in order to give a satisfactory answer it will be necessary for me to sound the bugle and parade all my available ideas. If Harry was here now he could help me a little. Well, in the first place I am a terrible fellow to be attracted by difficulties. If I hear of a place distracted by murders, robberies, arsons, devastated by floods or overrun by bloodthirsty enemies, my anxiety to go and pitch my tent there be- comes intense. I am too old now or you wouldn't find me here with one foot on a chair and the other under my dinner table, while there's work to be done in any part of the British Empire. My penchant for diffi- culties has often led me into serious troubles, but the greater the troubles the fonder I grew of them. His grace the Duke of Wellington when commanding at the battle of Assaye did me the high honor to take notice of this. I was exhausted by the hardest fighting imaginable, and most of my men were lying on the ground waiting for orders, for they were tired, poor fellows, and took that op- portunity to rest themselves a bit, and I was just taking a little sip out of a lemonade bot- tle that I had hastily stuffed into my breast when who should come riding up but General Wellesley, for he was not a Duke then—' Cap- tain Arnott' says he, 'you're the very man, the bravest on this field—take your company quickly and assist Colonel Viccars'—you know Viccars who gave you your letter to me—' in storming that four-gun battery which is raking our left.' 'Sir,' said I, 'your penetration does you infinite credit;' and in a moment we were in full charge, shouting like devils, with British cheer and British bayonet, and away went the enemy scampering and tripping one another's heels up. I ran fifteen of the rascals through the body while you would be saying 'think about it,' and attacked their scoundrel of a captain, sword in hand, before he had time to go to the right about, when just as I was going to assist him in kicking the bucket, up comes a great hulking fellow of a grenadier and knocked my sword clean out of my fingers, when on him I turned, sir, like a hungry panther, and if I didn't smash his face right in with my bottle, and make him a present of the rest of my lemonade, you may call me a sniveling poltroon this blessed minute." "That was a lucky bottle," said Maxwell, edgewise. "It was, sir," continued the eloquent old gentleman, " it was a lucky bottle. But to the question : you asked me, I think, whether I would not prefer a million of acres in Tasmania to ten thousand here—no, I beg pardon, that was'nt it; you said something about a maxi- mum grant—certainly I would prefer a maximum grant to no grant at all; I would even prefer a minimum grant to no grant at all, but—you'll excuse me I really forgot what the exact nature of your question was." Maxwell, though rather fatigued with the pertinacious loquacity of his host, repeated his question. "O yes, certainly," said the Colonel, "yes, I knew I had got adrift a little—I understand —I certainly would prefer staying here pro- vided they would give me the grant of land, but as they are not likely to do that I would rather go to Tasmania and get one: that is if, keeping my property here, mind you, I could pass myself off as a bona fide settler from England with only two thousand pounds in my pocket, instead of a New South Wales colonist with twenty or thirty thousand which I believe would be conduct unbecom- ing an officer and a gentleman. I really hardly know how to advise you. Maxwell, but if I were in your place, I think I would make a bold push for the grant of land; and when you are well established on it send one of your sons over here, or both, and buy a station where there is plenty of room." "And very judicious advice I think it is too, Sir," replied his guest. " Well, Sir, I am glad you think so. I merely mention these matters ; you can act as you think proper. If you like to take a run up to my station, you are heartily wel- come. Harry says he'll go with you—would go myself, but you see what an old cripple I am. As it is, we'll take care of your wife and children till you come back again. Now, I should like very much to go for the sake of the difficlties to be encountered on the road sleeping in the open air where there's not a house within dozens of miles, and waking up perhaps with a black snake across my throat by way of a muffler—or crossing rivers up to my chin, or waiting for weeks before they can
be crossed at all. And then, Sir, if you're fond of horse exercise, as most of your coun- trymen are, my son, Arthur Wellington, will select for you a noble specimen of horse-flesh that he calls ' Donnybrook' which noble beast will condescend to let you mount upon his back after you have lost an hour trying to do it, and when you are well up he'll carry you playfully to the nearest gum tree and then set up his back like a miniature rainbow and pitch you right over it, branches and all. The last time I was up there, this ex- cellent son of mine (not Harry, but 'tother fellow), who thought I didn't know anything about it, called out loud enough to be beard a mile off to a grinning vagabond of a hut keeper, 'Bring up Donnybrook for my father to ride.' "Well, I said nothing aloud, but thought, ' This fellow thinks himself one of the cleverest and clearest-headed chaps and the best manager in all the Australian, but I'll astonish his weak nerves.' Presently up comes the monkey-faced hound leading the brute by the bridle, and keeping his head turned away to prevent me twigging his laugh, while I quietly pulled out a small pistol and saw that it was properly primed. 'Is that Donnybrook?' said I to the man ' Yes, Sir' said he, ' he's a very quiet beast I believe!' says I. 'Oh, he's middling for that Sir, but you'll be able to manage him,' says the rogue scarcely able to keep himself from laughing in my face. '' Take the saddle off, Sir,' said I in a tone that stopped his laugh at once: it was done—' take the bridle off ;' that was done. 'Now you fat thief off you go,' said I, with a roar like a clap of thunder, and away he flew kicking up his heels and after him flew my pistol bullet whizzing into his beef, Sir, like a red-hot bayonet into a bladder of lard ; and then I turned upon Frederick—'You're a pretty fellow,' said I, 'you got that beast up here in the hope that he would break my old neck, but you're deceived, Sir, you're deceived 'this time—you shan't handle the property so soon, Sir, I promise you.' Whereupon Fred began to talk and I began to swear, and we had such a delicious row, you never heard the like of it." Maxwell rose from the table saying the ladies would wonder what detained them so long. "Yes," said the Colonel, "I will now take my siesta—always take an hour's nap after dinner, if you like to follow my example there's the sofa, and I dare say no one will dis- turb you—will meet you in the drawing-room in about that time." The Colonel retired to his private apartment, and his guest, who was not inclined for sleep, proceeded in search of the ladies. (To be continued.)