The New Arcadia/Chapter 11

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CHAPTER XI.

TRANSFORMATION SCENE.

"Seek to delight that they may mend mankind,
And while they captivate, inform the mind."—Cowper

"So flows beneath our good and ill
A viewless stream of common will,
A gathering force, a present might.
That from its silent depths of gloom
At Wisdom's voice shall leap to light,
And tide our barren fields in bloom.
Till, all our sundering lines of love o'ergrown.
Our bounds shall be the girdling seas alone."
Australian Poets, J. Bruntun Stephens.

Could the walls of the homestead at Mimosa Vale have spoken, striking contrasts might they have described between the selfish life they had witnessed of old, and the generous one they looked down upon to-day. The costly furniture of the late squatter was the skeleton about which a hundred nameless nicknacks and niceties of refined female taste were disposed. The great halls were real "living-rooms" now, suggestive of culture, comfort, and use. The wide verandah that surrounded the building presented at every turn vistas of ferny bowers. The avenue was well kept, the plantation and orangery clipped and cleaned.

With a pony carriage, tandem-team, and riding-horses at their disposal, Hilda and her mother found to their surprise the country life not intolerable, while Maud discovered a hundred objects of. interest. Her father and Travers had few spare moments.

Every Saturday a score or two of the families were invited to tea. Later the girls sang to them in the drawing-room, round games were indulged in, and finally a few dances.

In the course of the clear frosty nights the doctor would interest the men with the microscope in his study, or the telescope on the verandah. No talk of 'shop" was permitted—that was reserved for meetings when papers were read and discussed in the wool-shed, improvised for the present into a hall.

"We have something other to do," the doctor would say, "than to make money. The bane of Englishmen has been that they are engrossed in business. We must have play of fancy here, contact of mind with mind, heart with heart, and soul with its Maker, if we are not to become more mechanical than the slaves of the city. 'Work while you work,' and then, betimes, talk, converse like rational men, or sport for a while as children."

Every alternate evening the band played on the village green, while children and their elders enjoyed "rounders" close by; great babies of men playing "hide and seek" with the little ones about the tents, as for an hour jollity prevailed.

"Ours is an Italian climate," the doctor remarked sometimes; "while we cling to our sturdy English sense of decency and duty, let us sun ourselves betimes, and acquire some of the tastes and graces of a southern life."

******

Among the neighbouring squatter folk who took more or less interest in the presence and projects of the Courtenays was one Larry O'Lochlan, a red-haired, goodlooking young Celt, dare-devil yet tender, rollicking or serious by turns, as circumstances determined; a typical Irish gentleman, with the most distinct though refined of brogues; who rode across country on the best bred of steeds, as though his wire fences were no more treacherous than the stone walls of Galloway. His boundary rider he would knock down "soon as look at him" if he were impudent, ride scores of miles for the doctor for a sick "hand," whom he would nurse and care for with the tenderness of a woman. Every one knew and loved Larry O'Lochlan, as all the country-side styled him. Though proud of his birth, he ever had a cheery greeting or a word of banter for all he met. He could pick off with rifle his wallaby or dingo at a thousand yards, as others with shot at a hundred. Larry was much interested in Courtenay's venture. He thought it a prime joke. Moreover, he declared his daughter Hilda "the one girl he had met out here who knew how to sit a horse without giving him a bad back." "A deuced fine-looking girl too. Knows how to talk. None of your Matriculation-Miss about her."

Larry had come to lunch, leading a young mare "that Miss Courtenay must ride. The creature had a mouth of velvet, action like a fighting cock, pace of a greyhound. She'd take you across one of those tents like a kitten over a cucumber."

"What a remarkable horse, Mr. O'Lochlan!" suggested Mrs. Courtenay; "she must be Irish, surely."

"Now, you are laughing at me, Mrs. Courtenay. You come too. Miss Maud, with your tandem-team, and see if she isn't an angel."

"Which—the lady or the pony?" asked Tom.

"Oh, you English are so matter-of-fact. I don't hesitate to say that Miss Hilda rides like an angel."

"Angels don't ride," replied Hilda. "You'll have none of your horses in heaven."

"Then I'm not on to go there, if I do get the chance. Excuse me, Mrs. Courtenay, I mean nothing naughty. But there will be ponies in heaven, and dogs too," continued Larry; "I've seen them going that way."

"What do you mean?" inquired the ladies, laughing.

"I've seen them lie down and die for me, and I've watched their last look of love, saying as distinctly as they ever spoke in life, 'We'll meet again, master.' And I believe we shall."

"I did not know," said Tom, "that we were in the fabled fields where the creatures conversed like Christians."

"No man yet ever got work and devotion from beast or man that did not talk to it, and it to him. Why, my chestnut turns round and speaks to me—I'm not so barbarous as to drive with winkers—every mile we go. Every horse has a soul, if you only try to find it.

"Well, doctor, how are those poor creatures of yours getting on?" Harry asked of his host as he joined the party. "You'll do more than I ever could with that sort if you get anything reasonable out of them."

"We will ride round after lunch, and you can judge for yourself."

"Excuse me," remarked O'Lochlan, at the conclusion of the well-appointed repast, "but you have less trouble than I experience with servants. You seem to have a most superior set."

"All 'my children,' as I call them," said Mrs. Courtenay. "I receive the daughters of our people for two or three months, teach them what I can, and then secure engagements for them amongst my friends in town."

"You must have trouble in breaking in the young fillies—I beg your pardon—the maids, I mean."

"I take no credit to myself; my daughter Maud takes them in hand."

"That accounts for their 'grace and goodness,'" remarked the Irishman; "merely to come in contact with some people is to be the better for it."

"It is," said the doctor, "the affection my daughter lavishes on them that wins. If you take interest in human beings, you know, you can get even better results than from horses and dogs."

"I think it very rude of you, Mr. O'Lochlan," remarked Maud playfully, but not without a blush, "to discuss our servants. I shall criticize the appointments of your house when we visit Bullaroo."

"Mine's a wild barracks sort of place, I fear, but we will get the 'married couple' to tidy up and give you a welcome, such as it is, when you do come."

"We shall have to send some of our people across," suggested the doctor, "to show your folk how to work."

"Excuse me, I would not have one at any price. I do not believe in co-operative slaveys. Menials are all very well in their place."

"Do not our men and maids 'know their place'?" inquired Hilda.

"None dare presume in Miss Hilda's presence—or that of her mother."

"I think I know one who has done so, nevertheless," was the quick rejoinder, "just a little."

"It's all in a good cause, so forgive me. You see I am trying to learn all I can of your emigrants."

"You certainly have altered the appearance of this prime piece of country," remarked O'Lochlan, as the doctor and he rode across the valley.

The pair halted in the midst of the settlement. Two miles down the valley, and athwart it, ran the lines of cottages, some already finished. All were of the same style of architecture, with high gables, projecting eaves, and trellised verandahs. Before each house a couple of acres had been ploughed. In many instances vegetables, vines, or fruit-trees had already been planted. At the corner of each garden a poplar had been placed, while a mere path separated each allotment from the adjoining one. Already the water had been laid on; in some parts a clear stream was flowing along the top of each garden farm. Along two great avenues, that ran cross-wise, trees were planted, and a little tram-line was being constructed.

"What is the tramway for?" inquired Larry.

"To bring once a week supplies of wood and provisions to each cottage, and to bear produce, etc. into the stores."

"What is your motive power? Do the youngsters shove the trucks along?"

"Our methods are not quite so primitive, as we shall see later on."

"But you have no fences."

"Are they so beautiful? Our people, unlike the 'Cockies' of whom you complain, have something other to do than spend their first year in fencing themselves off from their kind. Their Aryan forefathers knew better than that."

"What are those low brick-walls you are running one above the other, on the hill-side?"

"That is our open-air 'hot-house.'"

"A rather big one. What on earth do you mean?"

"Those bricks that our men have made, will catch and store the heat of the sun's rays. The vines on the top of each wall, the strawberries at foot, with currants clambering about, will bear fruit a month before any are ripe elsewhere. We shall be able to put the choicest fruits on the earliest market. This oval we call our village green. This is the cricketing-pitch, these again the football-goals."

"The children, evidently, appreciate the swings and merry-go-rounds."

"We like them to be happy while they can. Work enough lies before them. We run our school on our own lines."

"How so?"

"No home-lessons. All learn a little Latin, some Greek, to exercise their minds. History and geography we teach them together, and Christianity with morality."

"I suppose you impart the rudiments of science, agriculture, cooking, and the like in these model schools of yours?"

"No, that follows in due course. First, we open the minds and hearts of the children, teach them how and why to work. Technical instruction is, then, easily imparted later on. The youths and young women come, for two hours every evening, to receive instruction in the more practical or in the higher arts. What do you think of our church, just finished?" continued the doctor, "with its little peal of bells, sanctuary, and parson's house complete?"

"I should have thought they could have done without that luxury for a while. You must have quite enough to do to change the conditions, of life as you are doing, without troubling about faiths and feelings."

"I do not know about that. I am strongly convinced that only by improving the moral standing of men, striking the highest chords in their nature, can we hope to ameliorate their social condition. I want them to act as brothers. To do that, they must first realize that they are sons."

"Then you make the poor beggars go to church, whether they like it or no?"

"Not in the least. There is no compulsion in the matter. As a fact, nearly all do attend the Sunday service; some the one before breakfast, some the short daily prayer at seven; but of course not many do that."

"And who's your parson?"

"Yonder he is, the Rev. Frank Brown—hoeing up his potatoes. That little boy helping is the youngster I ran over last year."

"Is that broad-shouldered fellow in mole-skin trousers with his coat off and that huge hat on, the parson? Not a very conventional one."

"No, but a really fine fellow. He'll box with you, ride with you, or farm; but he is devoted to these people and their work. You must meet him another time. Now we must be getting back if you are to have your ride with the ladies. That building in course of erection is to be our hall and theatre. Adjoining it you see the stores, which we keep well supplied, though no money passes over the counter. It's only open two hours a day; we spend the maximum of time producing, the minimum in doling out. Next you see the butchery, bakery, blacksmiths' and wheelwrights' shops. Pretty busy, are they not?"

"By St. Patrick they are. I confess you have done wonders. Now tell me how you accomplish it?"

"Simply by believing in these people, as you draw devotion from your very horses and dogs. Sympathy is the talisman that opens the barred treasure-house of the heart, and helps a man to rise to the best that is in him."