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3-293 (Original)

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addressee author,female,Baxter, Annie Maria,57
Narrative Discourse
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Private Written
Webby, 1989
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At length we reached Yambuck, and here ended my journey overland, in exactly two months from the day we quitted Yesabba; and as we drove up to our tiny hut at our new home, I could not avoid wishing we had been returning to our old one. A young man made his appearance at the door of the domicile in his shirt sleeves, and they none of the cleanest. This was our superintendent. Out of a second hut ran five or six men and three small children. As we approached the dogs barked, men ran here, there, and everywhere, and the children screamed, and hid themselves behind a dray.
We dismounted, and walked into our small abode, comprising two rooms. It was thatched with the long native grass, and the inside was plastered and white-washed. A small deal table was in the middle of the sitting-room, covered with a dirty rug, pannikins, and crumbs of damper. A fire was in the fireplace, but as much smoke came into the room as went up the chimney, and this, added to the total look of discomfort, made me feel inclined to cry.
We were very hungry, and, as there was nothing for us to eat, a man went to the opposite sheep station and procured some mutton. When the meat came, and some chops were brought in, Mr Baxter, who was particular in what he ate, looked at them, and then asked the servant how they were cooked. The man answered - "In the bottom of an iron pot."
This was Dutch to me then, but I've seen the operation since. [129]
A rug was put up to the doorway, as there was no door between the two rooms, and I took possession of the inner room. I then found out where the gridiron of the establishment was; it composed my bed! How I did ache after lying on that split-wooden-gridiron. I could not rest for the first night at all; nor, indeed, until I made some alterations in it. The inner room had large cracks between the slabs of which the hut was composed, and these made it very airy. A pair of blankets was nailed round it, but they did not much prevent the draught. Opposite to my berth was a cask of corned beef, a chest of tea, and a bag of salt.
A little window place, having no glass in it, had a bag nailed up to keep out the rain or sun. On the mantelpiece in the sitting-room were sundry dirty clay pipes, knives, ink, and so on. The floors were earthern, and, from not having been swept and watered regularly, were in small heaps, and fleas abounded.
There was a vegetable garden in front of the hut, and cabbages did grow, certainly. Our superintendent was not a great florist, and the flowers consisted of stocks only; in fact, nothing is discussed but stock, from fat cattle to garden flowers. I hear of nothing but stock! First it is about the great weight of some bullocks; then as to what wool fetched at home, and strongly recommending sheep-farming; and when I turn to see the garden, alas! stock again is presented to my mind.
About two miles from Yambuck the sea dashes against rather an unsafe shore, so that we could distinctly hear its roar. I liked that, as I think turbulence in nature very grand, and I often used, after being settled, to go down and look at the waves which caused the roaring. Just before coming to the beach there was a salt water lake, and there were quantities of good fish in it; and on it black swans and wild ducks. We also had the wood-duck, which builds in a tree, and numbers of snipe, quail, and pigeons. Strange to say, the river that ran at the foot of the garden was beautiful fresh water, and about 500 yards from the hut there was a hill of sand, and on the side towards the sea the water was quite salt. We had another river, the Eumeralla, at the back of our run. The fish in the fresh water river were most plentiful and like smelt. I used to send a black boy down with a crooked pin fastened to some twine, and he used to collect his bait, i.e. worms, and catch a large dish of fish in a few minutes. The wild ducks used to be very plentiful there also, and I had a shot now and then at them with success; that was when I could sneak on them and shoot them from behind the trees.
In the afternoon of the day after our arrival, our horses came up to the river to water, and I went to pat them and say "How do you do" to them. They evidently thought they were to be harnessed as usual, but when they found this not to be the case one of them commenced kicking up his heels with joy, and, galloping off, was soon followed by the others. [130]
We began building a new and larger hut immediately, and it was a very pleasant one when finished, as many a traveller can aver. It consisted of six rooms and a large veranda, and we made the old hut into a kitchen. We had then to build a store, as we were obliged to get flour, tea, sugar, and all other necessaries, in large quantities in the bush, as there are no shops to send to.
A gentleman was staying at Yambuck when we arrived, for whom I formed, on acquaintance, a sincere friendship. He was the son of a Major Smetham. If ever a kind heart dwelt in man, he had it. He was left in England at school, under the care of guardians, when his father, mother, and younger brother came to New South Wales. After being eight years at home, and hearing nothing from his parents, he determined on going to Sydney to see them, and before starting received a Government appointment from England. On his voyage he dreamed that he saw some letters in the post-office in Sydney, and one was addressed to his father, opposite to whose name was placed the word "dead", in large letters.
On his arrival in Sydney the first person whom he visited confirmed his dream; his father was dead. He was naturally much shocked, but immediately set out to see his remaining parent. When he got to her house she disowned him. Unnatural woman! What her reason was continued always a mystery to him; but he fancied, as she was an exceedingly vain, frivolous woman, that his age might have something to do with her not owning him as her child. She told him that he was Major Smetham's son by some foreigner, but not hers. It was supposed that his father had left him some property, but the supposition is all he ever knew of it. Poor fellow! he was of a most affectionate disposition, and has often told me that, if even then she would only own him as her child, he would give her all he either possessed then or was likely to possess. This so preyed on his mind that at night, in his sleep, he would repeat aloud what he had said to her on their meeting in Sydney - "Cruel mother, to disown your son! You'll break my heart! I am your son!" He would remain silent for a time, and afterwards, in a subdued tone, would say, "My poor father! would you were alive."
His friends recommended him to write to England for the certificate of his baptism, and to go to law to recover any property that might be his by right; but he was unwilling to bring shame to his father's name by citing his worthless mother to appear before the public. Some time after we arrived at Yambuck Mr C. Smetham remained with us, and a few years later he studied for the church, and became a missionary to some of the South Sea Islands where he died.
I have often talked over my travels in Australia, and my friends have said, "You should publish them." [131] But now that I am doing so I feel that my small journal is so poor and uninteresting that few will give themselves the trouble of buying or reading it.
My time in the bush passed sometimes very merrily, sometimes very sadly. Being of a happy temperament, I made friends, and every now and then some queer incident would occur to amuse me. I was very fond of riding and hunting, had some beautiful dogs, and plenty of kangaroos and dingoes to hunt.
A clerical friend of mine, who is now living in Portland, Victoria, and for whom I entertained the sincerest friendship, came to stay a day with us, and I was mischievous enough to plan a hunt for him. He said, in answer to my invitation to go for a ride, that he would be most happy, but that he never hunted, I must remember. Accordingly, we went; and when we got some distance from home I saw the dogs keeping a steady lookout, and presently they went after a forester kangaroo, or what we call "an old man". I cantered on, and heard my friend close behind me, but not a word did I say. The dogs, some of them, followed a second kangaroo, but Ada, my greyhound, kept to the old gentleman, and, seeing that he was too strong for her, and fearing lest she might be injured, I jumped off my horse and caught the animal by the tail to stop him from getting away. I put my arms around a sapling tree to prevent his moving, but he was too much for me, and away we went together, he taking me such hops as even Kent never saw. My friend could not move for laughing, and I don't know how the affair would have ended had not my shouts of "Hold him" brought the other dogs back to my assistance, and the forester's death.
Another time I remember we had to drive some cattle to a river about twenty miles from Yambuck, on their way to Portland, as they had been purchased by a butcher there. My clerical friend was going to the same place, and rode behind the cattle with Mr Baxter and the stockman. My place was in front of the bullocks, and as we got to a large swamp they broke in all directions. I found myself at one side of them, and tried to keep them together, but they were bent on going to their old haunts on some hummocks, so I followed and tried to head them. I had done this, for my horse was really a good one and could go the pace when he and I chose, and we had steadied the cattle a little, when the stockman rode up from behind me, thinking I should not be able to come up with the runaways.
"Why, what possesses the cattle, Will; I never knew any so tiresome before?" said I to the man.
"Ah! they knows they has a parson behind 'em, and that always do make 'em wild, ma'am," returned he.
I was told an admirable story in England of a clergyman who was very fond of following the hounds, but always did this to the letter, as he never could afford a horse which would keep up to them. The Bishop of O-- spoke to him about it, and said how sorry he was to hear of his attending balls and joining hunts. [132]"You would think it strange to hear of my doing such things," said his lordship. "My lord, if I mistake not," humbly suggested the young minister, "I saw your name at the last ball at Buckingham Palace." 'True, but the sovereign's invitation is an order, you know, and nobody ever saw me in the same room as the dancing," returned the bishop. "And I'll defy anyone, my lord, to say they ever saw me in the same field as the hounds," said the clergyman; to which, I believe, those around bore testimony and smiled.
We had been at Yambuck about three weeks; and it being then the commencement of winter, the small hut, with four regular inmates, was anything but comfortable; and as I could have no female servant, I had to act in that capacity myself. I can fancy in my mind's eye that I see poor Mr Smetham assisting me in my work by cleaning the knives and a pair of brass candlesticks. We were very merry over our work. The other gentlemen went Out after the stock, when possible, but one day all were at home, owing to the downpour of rain, and one or other would go constantly to the door, give a look out, and then remark, "What a fine day for young ducks!" About two o'clock, to our astonishment, up drove a lady and gentleman in what is popularly called a "spring cart," but this in which they were seemed anything but that. Their horse, a very jaded one, appeared to relish the stop more than some of us did. The lady was wrapped up in a large plaid shawl, over that a silk cloak, lined with fur, and, to cover all, a policeman's cloak. Of course, they were invited into our mansion, and I took the lady into my room to take off her bonnet. She said she felt much ashamed to trespass on my kindness, that if it cleared up they would try and go on to Belfast, sixteen miles further, and a great deal more, which I listened to without answering. At last I said - "You'll have to sleep on my gridiron; but I promise not to heat it."
She appeared amazed, and told me after that she thought I was quizzing her.
We returned to the sitting-room, and passed a merry evening, and it would have been even merrier had we known that we were then entertaining a couple married that morning. Such a honeymoon!
The superintendent nearly found out the fact by saying to the bridegroom - "Why Mr Allison, you have not been long making up your mind to marrying; I heard of your intention to get spliced, but thought the day named was not until tomorrow."
Mrs Allison said quickly, "You see we took Portland by surprise, and were married sooner, and are now going to pay some visits."
She told me the secret when we were alone, and I did not divulge it for some days after they left. 'They were weather-bound for three days with us, and Mrs Allison was distressed when she awoke each morning to see me lying on the floor between a mattress and a feather bed, quite in the German style, only the upper covering was not composed of eider down, and it nearly suffocated me; added to which, Ada, seeing me on the floor, thought it was camping in instead of out, and insisted on lying by my side, and on the bed. [133]
The most laughable thing was to hear the people in the outer room groaning in their sleep with the hardness of their beds, for I had had the floor made very level and clean, and all these unfortunates had between them was a large tarpaulin, which would not soften their position much. I used to call these outcries "the groans of the wounded".
One night, before going to sleep, I heard someone of them say, "Oh! but it is hard! If Mrs Baxter would only let me scratch out a place for my hip to rest in I should be grateful." I answered, "Then indeed she won't!"
At the end of three days our young couple went on their way, I should think, rejoicing, to Belfast, and gave us a call on their return home, and very warm thanks they gave me for what they termed my hospitality.