The New Arcadia/Chapter 24

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CHAPTER XXIV.

HELPING LAME DOGS OVER STILES.

"Amavimus, amamus, amabimus."—Kingsley's Epitaph.

"Blest be that spot, where cheerful guests retire
To pause from toil, and trim their evening fire;
Blest that abode where want and pain repair,
And every stranger finds a ready chair;
Blest be those feasts with simple plenty crown'd,
Where all the ruddy family around
Laugh at the jests or pranks that never fail,
Or sigh with pity at some mournful tale:
Or press the bashful stranger to his food,
And learn the luxury of doing good."—Goldsmith.

"Ploughmen, shepherds, have I found, and more than once and still could find,
Sons of God and kings of men in utter nobleness of mind."

Tennyson.

On the following Sunday, in accordance with the invitation of Mrs. Smith, Mr. Sandbach attended with his wife and children, and partook of the sucking-pig, together with luscious luxuries his children's mouths had seldom known. To save a trip he brought the water-barrel with him; three slender urchins standing up inside, to make room in the cart. In front of hospitable Mrs. Smith's garden the rattling wheels of the sun-baked dray staggered for a last time, and collapsing, rolled the barrel with its laughing occupants into the middle of the road.

"We'll get the wheelwright to do it up in the mornin'" said Smith.

"But I can't pay to have it mended," complained Mr. Sandbach, ruefully.

"Never you mind, put it down to me," said Smith, reassuringly; "it's paid for already. Last night's return at the store showed as I'd passed the red credit-line. They rules a line in red when a fellow gets into the right side of the books."

"Best thing you can do with your first credit, Sam," remarked his wife.

"You know that po'try Miss Maud painted in red and gold, and that Parson Brown framed and hanged up in the club-room," added the irrepressible Sar' Ann—

Do the work that's nearest,
Though it's hard at whiles,
Helping, when you meet them,
Lame dogs over stiles.'

"Mr. Brown says that poetry were made by the best parson ever lived these days—'Big-Gun Kingsley' they calls him, or some'ut o' that kind."

"'Canon,' you mean," says her father, "but it's all along the same. Parson Brown says it 'ud do his eyes good to see this place. He loved the poor, and the country, though they did leave him to die alone, and no notice taken on him, 'cause he spoke up for the people."

"Come on, Sandbach, bring the lady and the kiddies in," continued Mr. Smith. "You'll have to camp the night, I'm thinkin'. Come in and welcome."

Mr. Sandbach was overcome by the warmth of his reception. His wife, carrying a baby, that seemed to have drawn all the life from her hungered frame—the one of all the family that appeared to have thrived—at her expense—was speedily deposited in a be-cushioned and padded arm-chair constructed out of an empty barrel in Sam Smith's spare hours.

"There!" said the facetious host, happy to be able, for the first time in his life, to extend a helping hand to others; "your kiddies comed in a tub, now you rest y'rsel in one. Like old Dodgerknees they talks about," he continued, "what liked the sun, and told the Gov'nor when he called to get out of his daylight. Our valley wants nought of any one but sunshine, what God gives, and water."

"You're too good," protested Mrs. Sandbach, who had not for many, a month sat still and watched other people bustling about.

"Duty's a pleasure, marm," remarked Smith, gallantly. "We should ne'er 'a been here if the good doctor hadn't a-helped us 'lame dogs over stiles,' and it's the least we can do to try shove along others, now we're in the swim."

"You should hear what Parson Brown says o' that," added Mrs. Smith. "You must come to-night. It'll do you as much good as water on the thirsty soil."

Mrs. Sandbach thought that if that were true, the village priest's discourse must indeed be refreshing.

No service had she attended, of parson seen, for years; save when one mild youth, with sickly face and white tie, rode to her door and asked half a bucket for his horse, and she had to refuse him, whereat he rode wearily away. Occasionally there was service at Mr. Fenceoff's, the squatter, but he and Mr. Sandbach "did not hit it," and Sunday, if they remembered the day, was a convenient one for water-carting and thistle-cutting.

On one occasion, indeed, Mr. Grogham had become seized with the necessity of Divine Service being held in his stable. The uncharitable did say that he had an eye to nobblers many and sundry, after service and before the tea-meeting. At any rate he charged the sickly young "Reader" more than the amount of the "collection," upon which, unfortunately, he had to subsist, for the privilege of tossing all night on a chaff mattress in which certain aggressive insects had made their abode.

Oats were given his horse. The "Reader" saw to that. But he did not observe Mr. Grogham scooping out the feed ere the jaded beast had well dived his eager nose to the bottom.

"Poor old Moses, you should feel better now!" said the sickly "Reader" when, twenty minutes later, he discovered the feed all gone. "You have eaten it quickly, my boy. Enjoyed it better than I the ham and half-hatched chicken, swimming in the fat of rancid bacon. The butter was strong, Moses, suggestive of cart-grease; the tea well boiled, and bread sour; but never mind, Moses, you have done well, I get my reward hereafter."

Mr. Grogham was devoted enough to ride round to urge the settlers to attend the little service that would "remind them of the old country." The good man wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. Mrs. Sandbach consented to attend. What was her surprise when, upon crossing the paddocks to the little beer-smelling shanty, she beheld Mr. Grogham ploughing his field!

"Well, you are a good 'un!" she remonstrated—"a-plaguing me to come to prayers, and you working this Sabbath just like any other."

Poor thing, she had rummaged up her grandmother's poke-bonnet, so suggestive of "church"; her father's massive Prayer-book was clasped under one arm, the youngest "hopeful" dragged wearily by the other, the duly "dressed" children following in straggling train behind.

She had mistaken the day! It was only Saturday!

Never after was she clear enough in her chronology to venture to Mr. Grogham's service again. She had misgivings, too, as to whether that was the way ward; especially when she remembered the unfortunate condition in which her ordinarily sober husband returned from the ploughing-match! For Mr. Grogham was a public-spirited man. Inaugurated races, too, merely "for the good of the district"—in his paddock. He is now member of Parliament for the county, having defeated old Fenceoff by twenty votes. He could have bought two hundred with his nobblers had it been necessary.

Many selectors, other than Silas Sandbach, were attracted by the flow of water and of the milk of human kindness towards the already famed valley. Weary of carting water, they secured from the doctor terms whereby they could settle below the lake opposite Hygeia.

By degrees a new settlement was formed. Five thousand acres were set apart for the fugitives from the plains, fifty acres each. The deeds of their own land, rescued by the doctor for a bagatelle from the storekeepers of Gumford and Cockietown, were placed in Escrow in the local bank as against advances made to the new-comers for provisions, materials, &c. A figure was agreed to as representing value per acre of the old land and the new.

The waters were carried on to the new land. Those who had failed to exist on their three hundred and twenty acres worked singly, prospered upon the fifty acres each, operated upon in common.

The new settlers elected their own trustees, with the doctor as chairman, binding themselves by means of an agreement as to discipline and mode of working. Kokiana, as the new settlement came to be called, benefited by the organization already existing. It was charged merely the cost to the old settlement of services rendered. The Mimosa Vale people derived advantages proportionately.

Though the lakes had held out during the severe strain imposed upon them by the drought, the water level had been considerably reduced. Now, with the accession of a hundred additional labourers, it was determined to connect the Upper Lake with the Campaspe river. The storage power of both lakes was further augmented by raising the embankments. After the first winter rains, sufficient water was stored to meet the requirements of all the factories, and to maintain irrigation works for thousands more settlers. The finances and titles of the associated communities were kept entirely distinct. Failure or complication with respect to one, need not affect the position of the others.

Before many months had passed, the Kokiana folk had a common-land of five hundred acres under fodder crop. Upon the produce, duly siloed, of this alone, they maintained one thousand milch cows all the year round, about ten to each family, together with pigs and fowls, &c. in proportion. The dairying operations brought them in about £25,000 per year. They had a creamery and cheese-factory of their own. Stores were procured and produce dispatched in bulk for all the settlements. A branch store existed in each village, and a central emporium in the metropolis.

The refugees at Kokiana discovered that under the new system they could exist comfortably for half the expense it cost them to starve on the plains. Five to ten sheep fattened on one acre of irrigated lucern. Little fencing was needed. Their cottages were brought on skids from the scenes of desolation they had dismally dotted. Speedily the men paid for their fifty acres, and in many instances bought other fifty. The doctor took over the outlying selections, and credited their late owners with the value of them. By degrees other selectors, recognizing the advantages of association and the transforming effects of water, relinquished their distant holdings, and settled on the fringe of ever-increasing Kokiana.

The social growth was organic now; like the polyp, ever throwing off new life from within, not to wander forth in sporadic adventure, but to cleave to the ever-widening fringe—like the associated action of animalcules, that have thrown up England out of the abyss of the Northern Ocean, and set her round with glowing walls of chalk—like the house-to-house, if not hand-to-hand, labour of coral insects, that have dotted the glassy waters of the Pacific with gem-like isles, encircled in rings of coral.

The young men and maidens of Kokiana, with their friends, attached here a fifty-acre block, and there another to the far-spreading sea of green, until the plains beyond the valley were brought under the influence of organized labour. Eventually extremes met, history repeated itself, the tides of the new system spread over the wastes left high and dry by the old. The deserted selections were absorbed, and where one family had starved, five flourished in peace and profusion.

Beyond Kokiana and Hygeia, towards the Silverbourne, Fabricia was later established, a settlement of men of various trades—boot-makers, clothiers, smiths of all sorts. In the centre were airy workshops; in front, on either side, a row of cottages, each set in a "garden of cucumbers" and other growths that delight the eye and palate of man. Far away beyond, on either side, extended the garden-orchards, vineyards, and meadows of "The Jolly Smiths," as the farmers of Fabricia came to be called. Four hours a day each worked at his special occupation, earning enough to support his family. The remainder of the day the settler was free to cultivate his plot and to remember that he was no longer a machine, but a son of Nature and of God—a brother of his kind.