An Australian Parsonage/Chapter III
Journey through bush to Barladong—Road party—Sympathy of our driver—Runaway sailors—Singular sound of wind passing through shea-oak trees—Crossing Darling Range at Green Mount—Extensive and beautiful view—Inn at Mahogany Creek—Australian magpie—Burning of team of horses and load of sandalwood by bush-fire—"V" hut in bush—Grass-trees or Xanthorrhoeas—Inn at the Lakes—Remain for the night—Sofa bedsteads—Journey resumed—Early start—Great heat—Paper bark-trees—Little inn among zamias, and red gum-trees—Kangaroo dogs and kangaroo breakfast—First sheep seen feeding forty miles from Perth—Poisonous plants—Change in character of forest—White gum-trees—Curious lizard—Descent of Cut Hill—View of Mount Bakewell—Arrive at Barladong—Description of Church and Parsonage—Deaf Clerk's welcome—Early call for sick visiting—Melancholy noise of curlews in the middle of the night.
We were now becoming anxious to turn our steps towards our new home, which was appointed to be at Barladong—"over the hills," as the country eastward of Perth is generally called, on account of the road thither crossing the Darling Range at Green Mount. Our future residence was only sixty miles from Perth; but the journey, when undertaken with one horse, required two days to accomplish. My husband had set out some little time before me, leaving me to follow him with our maid-servant She and I travelled in a hired dog-cart, driven of course by a convict, though the only circumstance that made me guess what he had been was the pitying manner in which he spoke of the "poor fellows" as we passed a road party; an amiable way, at all events, of betraying his origin. The objects of his sympathy looked so very lazy and sulky as they sat together breaking stones, that my compassion was chiefly spent upon the warder, whose duty it was to stand watching them, and I could not help thinking that it would be pleasanter to break the stones oneself, than to have the officer's occupation. The road at this place was deep with sand, so that for a long distance we could only go at a foot's pace, but that was six years ago, and the warders and convicts between them have since then made it more fit for fast travelling.
The whole of our journey lay through forest, except when passing the clearings near and around the town of Guildford, which is ten miles from Perth; after that the wilderness closed in on us again, and the road became so lonely that I fancy I can recall to mind every group which we encountered in the remaining fifty miles. In spite of our seeing so few persons, I felt some surprise that our driver should be able to furnish me with the history of nearly all of them; but a short residence in the colony seemed to put me on a par with him in this kind of information; the list of the names of its principal inhabitants being as easily acquired and remembered, as that of one's fellow-residents in a not over-large English parish.
The first wayfarers whom we met were two handcuffed prisoners, on foot, but accompanied by a mounted policeman, who was walking his horse for their benefit. My maid recognized the manacled pair as a couple of sailors from our ship, who had, it seems, taken French leave, and run away from their work of unloading the cargo. Yet a few miles farther, and a doctor rode rapidly by, to attend upon a man who had been that morning crushed under a load of sandalwood. Our driver, having already picked up the news of the accident during a short stoppage that we made at Guildford, appeared much interested in the contents of a case which was slung round the doctor's neck, opining that "he has got his instruments."
The man of medicine was in the right to urge on his horse whilst he could do so with a safe conscience, for we, following in his track, soon found ourselves upon another sand plain, across which lay the long and disheartening perspective of our road, stretching in a perfectly straight line of some two or three miles, through every step of which the sand lay fetlock deep. Had the time of year been winter, our slow pace would have been fully compensated by the greater leisure afforded us for observing the exquisite flowers which at that season would have adorned these sandy tracts, though, irrespective of flowers, it must not be supposed that a sand plain in Western Australia invariably represents the bare and naked waste which the name implies to English ears. Many sand plains, it is true, look wild enough, with patches of low growing scrub, varied only with the gaunt stems of Xanthorrhoea, and a few weird shea-oaks destitute of leaves, between whose fine countless twigs, doing duty for foliage, the air sighs in passing with the sound as of a distant railway train, and mocks the sense of hearing in much the same manner as a mirage of water deceives the eye in the deserts of other lands. But on the plain that I am describing, our view, though no longer hemmed in with tall trees, was often much blocked with brushwood, amongst which prevailed largely a very graceful kind of broom, interspersed with Banksias from twelve to fourteen feet in height, whose bottle-brush shaped blossoms were now maturing into large amber-coloured cones. Without this vegetation, however, we might have fancied that the sandy flat over which we were crawling was the head of an estuary, to be overflowed with the next spring-tide, and that the Darling Range before us was an existing boundary line betwixt sea and land.
At the foot of Green Mount, where a road party had already commenced the solid causeway which at the present day puts such imaginings to flight, the sand mercifully came to an end, and we got out of the dog-cart to relieve our horse by walking up the steep ascent. The nearer that I reached the summit of the mount, the greater became my admiration of the scenery that lay around me. On every side as far as the eye could reach it was all green forest, excepting in one direction where the sea lay dimly upon the remote horizon, and a thin shining light revealed the course of the Swan. The beautiful round masses of tree-tops upon which we looked down were varied only by sunshine and cloud shadows, with here and there the rising smoke of a bush-fire; the oneness of the scene being so complete, that strange to say, it recalled the idea of standing on the deck of a ship and seeing nothing but water all around. Close at hand, and descending steeply to a valley filled with broken fragments, was a bold mass of rock, some twelve or fifteen feet in height, off which a man sprang in the early days of the colony, with a spear in his back, when escaping from a party of natives who disputed his first attempt at driving cattle over the mount. A poor young fellow, acting as herd-boy on the occasion, was killed. The fugitive was doubly fortunate, as he not only reached the rough ground with his bones uninjured, but stumbled upon a humane old native in the stony valley who drew the spear out of his wound.
Two or three miles beyond this colonially historic point brought us to a stopping-place called Mahogany Creek, where a little inn stands by the wayside. The sun was so powerful that it was a comfort to get underneath the long trellissed pathway, arched over with vines, which led up to the door, where an Australian magpie was playing, which bit my poor dog as we went in. This bird's hatred to dogs was surpassed only by her aversion to children, the sight of whom in an approaching vehicle would at any time bring her flying from a distance to be ready on the offensive at the moment of their alighting. Such conduct in her pet hurt the landlady's feelings, as evincing a heartless disregard for the interests of the hostelry, and the last time that I asked after poor Mag, I was told that she had been got rid of on that account.
The business of the lark as harbinger of morning devolves in Australia upon the magpies, which on this account are commonly called "break-of-day birds." Their song is like the playing of a very soft flute, and when one thinks of the painful effect upon the nerves of being awakened by a discordant or violent noise, there appears an extreme beneficence in the sweetness of tone which has been everywhere imparted to those whose office it is to arouse creation in general. The magpies sing through the day also, and especially towards evening, and it would be difficult to imagine sounds more soothing than are their notes in the bush just half an hour before sundown. The plumage of the bird is black and white, the feathers being a trifle fuller and more abundant than those of his English relations, though he does not carry his tail in their jaunty fashion; nor, as far as I am aware, is he of any use in augury.
Around and above the little inn, upon a steep bank, grew mahogany trees of a great size, easily distinguished from another kind of eucalyptic tree, commonly called in the colony the red gum, which in some points they resemble, by the peculiar growth of their bark, which is wreathed in curved lines about their trunks.
In this spot the word "creek" meant only a valley, at the bottom of which ran a stream where the landlady's little daughter told me that the emus had come to drink in one very dry season, when thirst conquered their shyness and their dread of venturing near men's habitations. A short distance beyond the creek we came upon a turn of the road to which a melancholy interest has been since attached, by the burning at that spot of four horses with their load of sandalwood in a February bushfire. In that month, which corresponds to August in the north, the dryness of the Western Australian forest has reached its culminating point, and the sight of trees on fire is so much of an every-day matter as to excite little attention, unless the conflagration should spread very much, so as to encroach upon sheep-runs or endanger homesteads.
Amongst the few exports from the colony sandalwood is one of the chief, and during part of the year heavy teams, high laden with precious logs, are continually dragging in weary file from the eastward to the sea-coast, whence much of the wood is shipped for China, there to be burnt as incense in joss houses. On the day of the accident to which I have alluded, no fewer than nine teams were close on the heels of each other at this point of the road, whither a fire was rapidly approaching; but a wide thoroughfare is generally a sure barrier to such flames, and the travellers all passed safely with their loads, excepting the last teamster, who, although the fire was then close to him, saw no reason for supposing that he should not be equally fortunate, when a blazing tree suddenly blockaded the road by falling right across it. He tried to turn his horses on one side, and to make a little circuit in the forest, but the poor frightened animals would not obey, and he could not loose them from their gearings, for the flames were too quick for him. "It took but ten minutes," as his father told us, "and all that remained of the horses was a little heap of white bones by the road-side." The cart and its load were also consumed; nothing in fact was left but the poor man himself, shockingly burnt, especially about the hands.
Not far from the scene of this mournful occurrence we passed a saw-pit where men were hard at work amongst the gigantic mahogany-trees, and a woman with a child in her arms stood at a hut door watching us as we drove by. She seemed to have found what Cowper sighed for—"a lodge in some vast wilderness." The lodge itself would perhaps have pleased the poet less than the wilderness, for bush huts are of the very rudest construction, and those which are called V huts, from their resemblance to the letter V turned upside down, are nothing but thatched roofs set upon the ground, with perhaps a mud chimney built separately on one end. Sometimes instead of thatch the erection is covered with strips of paper bark. The arrangements beneath this roof, when once made, admit of no capricious alterations; stumps driven into the earth at a greater or lesser height, with boards nailed across them, compose alike both bedstead and table. Some little distance beyond the saw-pits we met three or four men bringing down a little troop of horses to be shipped for the Indian market.
That which most attracted my eyes in this my first journey through the bush, was the very singular-looking tree called "Blackboy" by the colonists, known to botanists as the Xanthorrhoea, or grass-tree. The stem is bare and often quite straight, about ten to fourteen inches in diameter, with a wide-spreading foliage at the top which one must call grass for want of a better name, though it quite as much resembles rushes, on which, in many of the runs, the cattle depend mainly for their food. The last year's crop, if it has not been eaten off, hangs down like a beard, brown and faded, in which state it is used for all descriptions of thatching, whilst the upper part is of a fresh green colour, out of which there often rises a tall slender rod, shaped like a bulrush or a poker, according to the fancy of the beholder.
The "blackboys" vary in height from one foot to twenty, and when seen for the first time, and from a distance, might easily be mistaken for savages dressed up in the traditional wavy head-dress of a South Sea Islander. The colour of the stem is not naturally black, but brown; nevertheless, most of them are so completely blackened with bush-fires, that they look as much like a piece of stove-piping as can well be imagined. The body of the tree is most curiously formed of shining resinous flakes, which are highly inflammable, and when set alight burn with great brilliancy. If people are passing the night out of doors, they always search for a piece of "blackboy" to kindle their fire with, as it ensures such a speedy blaze; and in the dwelling-houses it is in request not only as a fire-reviver, but even to read by, when, as sometimes happens, a candle is scarcer than a book. I have been told, though I do not know with what truth, that to burn much "blackboy" in a house is very bad for the complexion of its inmates; and I have found that if a flake or two accidentally fall into the hot water which is used for washing clothes, they will be always, here and there, stained with a colour varying from mauve to yellow.
We made one more stoppage before reaching our final resting-place for the night, to water our horse at a spring, where an old oven stood solitary, bearing witness that a road party had once encamped beside the water. Now that the day's heat was over, I would willingly have loitered a little on the road, but it was getting so dark amongst the trees that we made the best of our way onwards, and soon after, when the night had set in, we came upon the light of a great fire, and saw the warder of a road party standing on the look-out for an expected ration cart, the advent of which he had hoped for on hearing the sound of our wheels. We had not long passed him, when we began to hear the croaking of a multitude of frogs; a most welcome sound, as it conveyed intelligence that we had arrived at a large marshy pool called the Lakes, on whose edge stood the little inn which was to be the end of our day's journey. There were two or three fires blazing on the water's brink, showing where some teamsters had drawn up their wagons, and were passing the night out of doors; and a number of kangaroo dogs came barking out of the inn, announcing that we had finished the first thirty miles of our road to Barladong. It was a primitive sort of a house, and in the sitting-room to which I was shown were great sofas, suggesting the idea that they often served for beds. Also there were three thick volumes of a geographical work, containing long extracts from Captain Cook's voyages, which had an air of suitability to the far-off place in which we found ourselves; but I made no acquaintance with them that night, for though we had come so short a distance, we had been more than ten hours upon the road, and, quite tired out, were very glad to get to our beds.
We resumed our journey at six o'clock on the following morning, and we should have been wiser had we set out a full hour earlier, for the heat became very great long before we had finished the nine miles which lay between the Lakes and the inn where we intended to breakfast. Growing beside the pool, and close to the ashes of the teamsters' fires, were the first paper bark-trees that I had ever seen. Their shapes were very picturesque, being much twisted and gnarled; the whiteness of the bark contrasting well with their green foliage, which is close and thick, affording more shade, in spite of the smallness of the leaf, than many other of the Australian trees. In fact, I now corrected my impression, that she whom I had seen on the previous day had realized the poet's wish. Two-thirds of it she certainly had attained, namely, the "lodge" and the "wilderness," but the "boundless contiguity of shade" which had formed the latter part of his aspiration had not been granted to her. Whatever merits may belong to trees of the eucalyptic kind, that of bestowing shade is not one of them. They reach a great height before throwing out their branches, and the leaves upon these hang straight down from their stalks, so that the rays of the sun penetrate the foliage most unmercifully.
I was very glad when we gained the shelter of the next stopping-place; a little low-roofed inn, amongst towering red gum-trees, beneath which the waving bracts of the zamias, or palms as they are popularly called in the colony, imparted somewhat of a semi-tropical character to the foreground. Here another large party of kangaroo dogs came bounding out, and barking in a manner that appeared quite formidable. I found, however, that they had no worse intention than that of announcing the arrival of customers to the inn, and that the noise answered the purpose of an ostler's bell. The hubbub was appeased by the appearance of the mistress of the house, who came forward to welcome me in kind Irish accents; and the dogs, who now knew better than to overstep their duty, relapsed into silence. They had evidently played their part in providing for my breakfast, for kangaroo figured among the dishes.
Our last halt was to water our horse at a wayside well, called St. Ronan's (whether in honour of the saint, or of Scott's novel, I never knew), where we found one or two travellers who had stopped for the same purpose as ourselves, but the presence of water had attracted no permanent inhabitants to the spot; and an obsolete brick-kiln which stood hard by added to its loneliness a look of desertion.A few miles farther brought us to a place called the Six Mile Gulley, where the rains of the previous winter had left an abundant supply of water in a deep channel of granite, and where a cottage with a little farm-yard surrounded by a neatly-made staked fence, appeared amongst the trees. It was the first settled habitation, with the exception of the inns, that we had seen in a distance of fifty miles, for the huts of men who are sawing timber in the bush are almost as unlike permanent residences as are the tents of wandering Arabs. Here also, beneath an acacia of that kind familiarly named the "raspberry jam," because the perfume of the wood when freshly cut resembles that of the preserve, were clustered the only sheep that I had encountered on my journey. The truth is, that but a small proportion of land in this part of Western Australia is fit for sheep, on account of the excessive growth of poisonous plants. In some parts they cover the ground for miles and miles with deadly luxuriance, and it so happened that I had been travelling through one of the worst districts. Where the noxious vegetation is less abundant, the shepherds by dint of incessant care can prevent the sheep from eating it; and I have heard that the lambs of such ewes as have been taught to avoid the poisonous growth show less inclination than others to meddle with it. However, I cannot answer for the truth of this assertion.
There are several sorts of "poison" (as the colonial phrase always goes), but the three most common are, the "berry," the "box," and the "York-road" poison, the last so called from the quantity that grows on that highway, and which makes the utmost watchfulness necessary on the part of the shepherds when sheep are driven upon it. I remember that on one occasion eighty sheep out of one flock died of "poison" upon the York-road, in a journey of only forty miles; and a neighbour of ours lost seventy-four sheep upon his own run in the course of one fortnight. The "box" poison (one of the Gastralobrum tribe, I believe) takes its name from a fancied resemblance between the pernicious shrub and the well-known box-tree; and the "berry" poison receives its distinctive title on account of the vast quantities of berries that the plant produces.
The talent for discrimination possessed by pigs in "what to eat, drink, and avoid," enables them to lead, as it were, a charmed life amidst these baleful herbs; in the words of a native, whom I questioned on the subject, "pig smell poison." Neither are horses, speaking generally, affected by the plant, the exceptional cases being so few that they may be considered to prove the rule. On the other hand, cows are frequent victims, and I can recall an instance of eleven cows, the property of one person, being all fatally poisoned whilst grazing together on the same spot.
We had left the sheep under their acacia-tree some two miles behind us, when the scenery became more diversified. The ground now undulated considerably, and a great many white gum-trees, of fantastic shapes, grew on the high banks and in the valley below us. The forest had never really ceased since we left Perth, but it had twice assumed a change in character, and was now exhibiting a third. The first part of our way, with the exception of the sand plains, had been bordered almost exclusively with mahoganies, which by degrees became fewer, leaving red gum-trees predominant; and these latter, with their rough and rusty-coloured bark, were now in their turn giving place to another kind of eucalyptics, white and ghost-like, and as smooth as though they had been scraped on purpose, or deprived of their bark for the tanner. In fact, on seeing these bark-shedding trees for the first time, a young friend of mine supposed that they had been actually subjected to some kind of artificial treatment. Probably an Australian aboriginal, suddenly introduced to a European forest in its winter condition, would equally think that the trees had been expressly stripped of their leaves. The white trunks of some of the trees were so much flecked with dark-brown spots as to remind me of a panther's coat; and just at this part of our road I saw a lizard spotted brown and white, precisely in the same manner as the trees; I therefore concluded that it was of a sort that lived amongst them, and was shielded by its colour from the notice both of its enemies and of its own prey.
On reaching the top of a rather steep ascent called Cut Hill, we came in view of a bold mountain-shaped ridge running towards the north-east, and swelling upwards from the wide forest plain which stretched away before us into the distance. Mount Bakewell, as the highest part of the ridge is named, appeared to me of much the same elevation as the Worcestershire Beacon; but here the resemblance ceased, both the mount itself and the whole line of hills being thickly wooded, which the Malvern Hills are not. A turn in our descent of Cut Hill brought in sight the ridge of Mount Douraking, of somewhat lower height than Mount Bakewell, though of a shape more wild and craggy, the top being surmounted by tall trees, which had struggled up amongst heaps of broken granite, and forced their way through the abrupt stony slopes wherever they could find a footing. On perceiving shortly afterwards one or two small houses in the valley, and a round building with a peaked roof, out of which rose a weathercock, I thought that we must be approaching a village of some kind, and my driver informed me that we had at length reached Barladong. How to find our own house now became my difficulty, less on account of the number of the dwellings than because there appeared to be nobody of whom to ask a question. On the other hand, in accordance with the dignity of a town that ranks third in the colony, there was no deficiency of public edifices, for, on proceeding a little way farther, we beheld five or six built of red brick, and all placed at wide intervals from one another, as if in hopes of inducing people to fill up the gaps with private houses.
None of the buildings, however, made any pretence to the picturesque, excepting the round one with the weathercock, which I afterwards heard had been erected as a windmill by an American, possibly after some hazy model preserved in his youthful recollections of the many old Dutch-patterned structures in his own land. Meanwhile a pitiless January sun was beating down upon us, and our state of perplexity was presently increased by arriving at a point where two ways meet. We turned to the left at a venture, and were soon relieved by the welcome apparition of a man in a helmet-hat standing in front of a little store. Our driver's request that the stranger would point out the way to the "Protestant church" seemed to me a vague mode of seeking for information; but, owing perhaps to the number of Irish that have settled in Western Australia, the word Protestant is generally accepted there as a synonym of the Church of England, and I even found that a dog, who habitually followed his master to church, had received the complimentary name of "the Protestant" in consequence. Being properly directed by our helmeted friend, to whom the form of my driver's question was apparently quite natural, we went on towards a wooden bridge which crossed a tributary of the Swan, called the Avon, upon which Barladong is situated. The great length and height of the bridge told a tale of heavy floods, but the river was in its summer condition, and, except in one spot, where there lay a narrow pool of still water, the timbers spanned only brushwood and sand. The centre piers must have been very nearly 30 feet high; nevertheless, I learned that the stream had overflowed the handrail of the bridge only two winters before.
Halfway across the bridge we met my husband coming out to meet us, fearing that we had been detained by some disaster. He turned back with us, and we passed a few detached houses, and an open space of ground which had been laid out years ago for a street, to part of which the bush was once more asserting its right. On one side of the long bare thoroughfare stood a red brick church (or more correctly speaking, the nave of one), which looked as if it had originally been intended to contain four or five hundred people. A blank arch constructed in the east wall gave token that the amateur designers had contemplated the addition of a chancel at some future date, to which the arch, when opened, would have formed the entrance. Apparently no sufficient increase of population had yet occurred to render this expansion of size advisable, neither had the tower, evidently required to complete the west end, yet been built, so that the nave stood alone, bearing a painful resemblance to a barn. There was not even a bell-gable to break the uniformity of the roof; but the congregation was called together by the ringing of a bell which hung in a tall gum-tree in the churchyard.The parsonage was not far from the church, and stood in the middle of its own glebe field of nine acres, surrounded by straight rows of split posts and rails, after the hedgeless fashion of Australia. There seemed to be no regular entrance-gate into the field; but we found our way in by taking a couple of movable rails out of the notches made in two of the posts to facilitate their removal. This awkward contrivance is called a "slip rail," and is universally resorted to in all cases where the absence of carpenters of sufficient skill to manufacture proper gates renders some such substitute necessary. Such houses "over the hills" as are approached by neat and well-made gates gain almost as much importance from the fact as would, in England, be conferred by the possession of an entrance-lodge.
We now entered our future residence, which was built somewhat upon the model of an Indian bungalow, being low and long and thickly thatched, and surrounded on all four sides by a verandah, formed by the continuation of the roof itself, until its eaves came to within seven feet of the ground. The rooms were but four in number, standing side by side in the same straight line, and all opening both into one another and into the verandah outside, so that no room had less than two doors, while the two middle rooms had of course three each. Advantage had been taken of the verandah to add a little more accommodation to the very small house, in the shape of four little chambers, each eight feet square, contrived at its four external comers by a rough continuation of the walls of the house. These little closets or cells were intended for pantry, larder, and so forth, but the addition of a door and window to two of them rendered it possible to introduce a small camp bedstead and one chair, in case an extra sleeping room was required.
The walls of the house were built of "pug," which means simply well-pounded mud, and has the disadvantage of refusing to adhere firmly to the frames of doors and casements, so that the banging of either, in windy weather, is apt to bring large pieces of the material crumbling down, and the house never looks tidy. Moreover, as we soon found out, no matter how neatly these walls may be finished by the plasterer, to paper them properly is all but impossible. The strongest paste in the deftest hands will not always suffice to cement the paper so firmly as that it and the wall shall not soon show signs of parting company, and in one of our rooms we could only keep the paper from falling forwards by nailing a strip of tape tightly along the edge close under the ceiling. The ceilings, when there are any to these mud houses, are made of strong unbleached calico, and, on account of the ventilation that it admits, a calico ceiling is much pleasanter than one of plaster in a warm climate. On rough nights, however, the wind that finds its way beneath the rafters keeps drawing up and down the cotton ceiling in sudden gusts, and if the fastenings of your canopy are not very artfully contrived, one end or other of it is sure to give way after a time, and hang dependent in a melancholy manner. Our sitting and sleeping rooms were all ceiled with calico, but the kitchen was open up to the thatched rafters, and, by way of compensation for the undraped condition of these, both rafters and thatch were festooned with hanging nests of puddled clay, looking somewhat as if they belonged to a colony of swallows. The proprietors, however, were not birds, but of the race of mason-hornet, properly called a sphex; and as they had a fancy for building their nests exactly over our heads, it was well for us that only one of the clay tenements ever fell down, which it did one day with a sounding crash upon an empty tray upon the kitchen table.
After glancing my eyes around me for a few moments after my arrival, I should have been truly glad if some one had had the forethought to light the kitchen fire, and provide a kettle of hot water for tea; but on looking at the hearth I saw that all was as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard, and when I turned quickly to an old man in charge of the house, who was wandering about in his shirt sleeves, and asked "Where's the firewood?" his only reply was a slow hoarse whisper of "Welcome to Barladong." The person who thus greeted me was an exceedingly deaf old clerk and sexton who had once been a soldier, and was now one of the numerous pensioners that have been drafted off to Western Australia to serve, in place of regular troops, as a protection to the colonists in case of outbreaks from the convicts. He had lost his hearing in a manner singular enough, from a fall down a hatchway during rough weather at sea, and would perhaps have lost his life at the same time if his head had not come in collision with another man's foot, which while breaking the fall was itself broken by the blow.
Having succeeded at last in making the poor old fellow understand what I wanted, he commenced lighting the fire with an alacrity which bespoke the sincerity of the welcome that he had given me; but just at that moment a wagon appeared with our goods from Perth, and we postponed all thoughts of tea until we should have finished unpacking, for the driver confessed to an overturn upon the road, and we wished to know the worst at once, expecting to find every frangible article broken. Things were not so bad as we feared, and even my walnut whatnot, which was brought piecemeal out of the wagon, had fortunately come asunder at its original joinings only. Meanwhile anxiety as to the fate of other movables proved as good a stimulant to me as the tea which I had hoped for, and, tired as I had been an hour before, I now continued helping my husband to arrange our house until ten o'clock at night, when we both went to bed thoroughly weary.We were not destined to enjoy a long repose, for we were aroused in less than an hour by a rapping at the front door, which turned out to be a messenger to say that the old sexton had been taken ill, and that his wife wanted the parson to come immediately to see him. My husband got up, and went at once with the messenger, but he did not remain away very long; he found the old man in bed, and complaining of cramp and spasms, for which his wife looked upon brandy as the only useful remedy, and begged very hard for some for him. This was clearly her only motive for sending for the parson; but my husband desired one of the company to return with him, to be furnished with a strong mustard plaster instead, about which he felt sure that there would be no crying of halves, nor any attempt to dispute the patient's sole enjoyment of it, and so came away, leaving the rest of the women around the sick bed looking very blank at the failure of their first endeavour to hoodwink the newcomer. We did not, however, believe that the poor old man had anything to do with the plot upon the spirit bottle, as he was really suffering. Once more we were falling into sound sleep when we were awakened by the most dismal wailings imaginable, shrieked out, apparently, by some creature just over the roof. It was a flock of curlews on their way to the river, but until I became used to the cry, as I did in time from its frequency, it impressed me with such a sense of melancholy that I could not feel surprised when I heard a native speak of them as "Jingy birds," that is, Satan's birds, Jingy being the name of the evil spirit, the only divinity confessed to in the poor native Australian's creed.
- For reasons which will be readily understood when the limited character of the population of the colony is considered, I have preferred to use the native rather than the colonial name of the district.