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- Harry Heathcote of Gangoil - 1/23 -


A Tale of Australian Bush-Life.








Just a fortnight before Christmas, 1871, a young man, twenty-four years of age, returned home to his dinner about eight o'clock in the evening. He was married, and with him and his wife lived his wife's sister. At that somewhat late hour he walked in among the two young women, and another much older woman who was preparing the table for dinner. The wife and the wife's sister each had a child in her lap, the elder having seen some fifteen months of its existence, and the younger three months. "He has been out since seven, and I don't think he's had a mouthful," the wife had just said. "Oh, Harry, you must be half starved," she exclaimed, jumping up to greet him, and throwing her arm round his bare neck.

"I'm about whole melted," he said, as he kissed her. "In the name of charity give me a nobbler. I did get a bit of damper and a pannikin of tea up at the German's hut; but I never was so hot or so thirsty in my life. We're going to have it in earnest this time. Old Bates says that when the gum leaves crackle, as they do now, before Christmas, there won't be a blade of grass by the end of February."

"I hate Old Bates," said the wife. "He always prophesies evil, and complains about his rations."

"He knows more about sheep than any man this side of the Mary," said her husband. From all this I trust the reader will understand that the Christmas to which he is introduced is not the Christmas with which he is intimate on this side of the equator--a Christmas of blazing fires in-doors, and of sleet arid snow and frost outside--but the Christmas of Australia, in which happy land the Christmas fires are apt to be lighted--or to light themselves--when they are by no means needed.

The young man who had just returned home had on a flannel shirt, a pair of mole-skin trowsers, and an old straw hat, battered nearly out of all shape. He had no coat, no waistcoat, no braces, and nothing round his neck. Round his waist there was a strap or belt, from the front of which hung a small pouch, and, behind, a knife in a case. And stuck into a loop in the belt, made for the purpose, there was a small brier-wood pipe. As he dashed his hat off, wiped his brow, and threw himself into a rocking-chair, he certainly was rough to look at, but by all who understood Australian life he would have been taken to be a gentleman. He was a young squatter, well known west of the Mary River, in Queensland. Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, who owned 30,000 sheep of his own, was a magistrate in those parts, and able to hold his own among his neighbors, whether rough or gentle; and some neighbors he had, very rough, who made it almost necessary that a man should be able to be rough also, on occasions, if he desired to live among them without injury. Heathcote of Gangoil could do all that. Men said of him that he was too imperious, too masterful, too much inclined to think that all things should be made to go as he would have them. Young as he was, he had been altogether his own master since he was of age--and not only his own master, but the master also of all with whom he was brought into contact from day to day. In his life he conversed but seldom with any but those who were dependent on him, nor had he done so for the last three years. At an age at which young men at home are still subject to pastors and masters, he had sprung at once into patriarchal power, and, being a man determined to thrive, had become laborious and thoughtful beyond his years.

Harry Heathcote had been left an orphan, with a small fortune in money, when he was fourteen. For two years after that he had consented to remain quietly at school, but at sixteen he declared his purpose of emigrating. Boys less than himself in stature got above him at school, and he had not liked it. For a twelvemonth he was opposed by his guardian; but at the end of the year he was fitted forth for the colony. The guardian was not sorry to be quit of him, but prophesied that he would be home again before a year was over. The lad had not returned, and it was now a settled conviction among all who knew him that he would make or mar his fortune in the new land that he had chosen.

He was a tall, well-made young fellow, with fair hair and a good- humored smile, but ever carrying in his countenance marks of what his enemies called pig-headedness, his acquaintances obstinacy, and those who loved him firmness. His acquaintances were, perhaps, right, for he certainly was obstinate. He would take no man's advice, he would submit himself to no man, and in the conduct of his own business preferred to trust to his own insight than to the experience of others. It would sometimes occur that he had to pay heavily for his obstinacy. But, on the other hand, the lessons which he learned he learned thoroughly. And he was kept right in his trade by his own indefatigable industry. That trade was the growth of wool. He was a breeder of sheep on a Queensland sheep-run, and his flocks ran far afield over a vast territory of which he was the only lord. His house was near the river Mary, and beyond the river his domain did not extend; but around him on his own side of the river he could ride for ten miles in each direction without getting off his own pastures. He was master, as far as his mastership went, of 120,000 acres--almost an English county--and it was the pride of his heart to put his foot off his own territory as seldom as possible. He sent his wool annually down to Brisbane, and received his stores, tea and sugar, flour and brandy, boots, clothes, tobacco, etc., once or twice a year from thence. But the traffic did not require his own presence at the city. So self-contained was the working of the establishment that he was never called away by his business, unless he went to see some lot of highly bred sheep which he might feel disposed to buy; and as for pleasure, it had come to be altogether beyond the purpose of his life to go in quest of that. When the work of the day was over, he would lie at his length upon rugs in the veranda, with a pipe in his mouth, while his wife sat over him reading a play of Shakspeare or the last novel that had come to them from England.

He had married a fair girl, the orphan daughter of a bankrupt squatter whom be had met in Sydney, and had brought her and her sister into the Queensland bush with him. His wife idolized him. His sister-in-law, Kate Daly, loved him dearly--as she had cause to do, for he had proved himself to be a very brother to her; but she feared him also somewhat. The people about the Mary said that she was fairer and sweeter to look at even than the elder sister. Mrs. Heathcote was the taller of the two, and the larger-featured. She certainly was the higher in intellect, and the fittest to be the mistress of such an establishment as that at Gangoil.

When he had washed his hands and face, and had swallowed the very copious but weak allowance of brandy-and-water which his wife mixed for him, he took the eldest boy on his lap and fondled him. "By George!" he said, "old fellow, you sha'n't be a squatter."

"Why not, Harry?" asked his wife.

"Because I don't want him to break his heart every day of his life."

"Are you always breaking yours? I thought your heart was pretty well hardened now."

"When a man talks of his heart, you and Kate are thinking of loves and doves, of course."

"I wasn't thinking of loves and doves, Harry," said Kate." I was thinking how very hot it must have been to-day. We could only bear it in the veranda by keeping the blinds always wet. I don't wonder that you were troubled."

"That comes from heaven or Providence, or from something that one knows to be unassailable, and therefore one can put up with it. Even if one gets a sun-stroke one does not complain. The sun has a right to be there, and is no interloper, like a free-selector. I can't understand why free-selectors and mosquitoes should have been introduced into the arrangements of the world."

"I s'pose the poor must live somewheres, and 'squiters too," said Mrs. Growler, the old maid-servant, as she put a boiled leg of mutton on the table. "Now, Mr. Harry, if you're hungered, there's something for you to eat in spite of the free-selectors."

"Mrs. Growler," said the master, "excuse me for saying that you jump to conclusions."

"My jumping is pretty well-nigh done," said the old woman.

"By no means. I find that old people can jump quite as briskly as young. You have rebuked me under the impression that I was grudging something to the poor. Let me explain to you that a free-selector may be, and very often is, a rich man. He whom I had in my mind is not a poor man. though I won't swear but what he will be before a year is over."

"I know who you mean, Mr. Harry; you mean the Medlicots. A very nice gentleman is Mr. Medlicot, and a very nice old lady is Mrs. Medlicot. And a deal of good they're going to do, by all accounts."

"Now, Mrs. Growler, that will do," said the wife.

The dinner consisted of a boiled leg of mutton, a large piece of roast beef, potatoes, onions, and an immense pot of tea. No glasses were even put upon the table. The two ladies had dressed for dinner, and were bright and pretty as they would have been in a country house at home; but Harry Heathcote had sat down just as he had entered the room.

Harry Heathcote of Gangoil - 1/23

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