Now that we were on the point of starting into the bush, and entering into the realities of our new life, we began to encounter the difficulties of our situation. The first that met us would be more annoying were it not for the ludicrousness of it. It was the baggage difficulty, a thing that took us quite by surprise; for, till then, we had never appreciated the word "transport" at its full meaning. Like most home-living Britons, hitherto surrounded by every facility for locomotion of persons and goods, we had utterly failed to understand that in a new country things are wholly different in this respect. One can get about one's self easily enough; travel can always be accomplished somehow, even if one has to walk; but it is quite another thing to move baggage. In a roadless country, where labour is scarce and dear, the conveyance of goods from place to place is a difficult matter. It can be done, of course, but the cost of it is frightful.
Our old schoolfellow, who, by the way, will be known under the appellation of "Old Colonial" in these pages, had apparently had some experience of new-chums before. His agent in Auckland had been instructed to see to us, and one of that person's first inquiries was regarding our impedimenta.
We had been out-fitted in London by the world-renowned firm of Argent and Joy. There being no experience to guide us, we had placed ourselves unreservedly in the hands of the firm, and had been provided by them with a sumptuous stock of what they were pleased to term necessaries. Altogether, these formed a goodly pile. Our bedroom at the hotel was cram full of boxes, trunks, and portmanteaus; and their contents were now spread out for the inspection of our adviser.
"Good gracious!" was his exclamation when he surveyed our property, and then he mused awhile.
"Look here!" he said suddenly. "I've got some distressing intelligence to break to you. Prepare your minds for a shock. This inheritance is a dead horse. Chuck it overboard at once!" And he waved his hand impressively over our belongings.
We did not understand; we thought this was some new kind of joke—which it was, but not to us. We asked for explanations; all that we wanted was to know how we were to get these things up to the Kaipara. Our colonial friend sighed deeply, and proceeded mournfully to expound the position. He told us that we could not afford to possess more personals than were absolutely necessary, and these ought to pack into one box of easily portable size. In the first place, the freight of our baggage into the bush would cost us something approaching to the expense of our passage out from England. In the second place, we were not going to a house of our own, but were going to work on different farms, and might be moving about a good deal. We could not carry such a cargo about with us, for the cost of doing so would be simply ruinous. It appeared, too, that we could not even keep the things until we had got a house of our own to store them in. For, our only resource, with that in view, would be to warehouse them in Auckland, and the expense of even this dead weight would make too large a hole in our possible earnings. Finally, there was hardly anything in our entire outfit that would be of much practical use to us.
Aghast and grieving, we comprehended at last that we should have to rid ourselves of the too heavy burden with which Messrs. Argent and Joy had weighted us, in consideration of that prodigious and ever-to-be-regretted cheque. There was no help for it. An Israelitish dealer, who happily abided in the city, would have to be called in. And it could scarcely be said that he bought our property of us; it was a nearer approach to our having to pay him to take it away.
Our friend contemptuously examined parcel after parcel of things. Dress suits and white waistcoats, broadcloth and doeskin, scarves and gloves, white shirts, collars, and cuffs all appeared to move his derision. He kicked aside a dozen pairs of boots with the remark that—
"There's nothing there fit for this country. Rough-hide and hobnails is what you want."
Certain tweed suits that the fancy of our London tailor had invested with the title "New Zealand Specialities" were, said our friend, only suitable for colonists who intended to settle on the top of the Southern Alps. Various knick-knacks, dressing-cases, writing-cases, clocks, etcetera, were regarded by him as contemptible lumber. Some silk socks he looked upon almost as a criminal possession.
In the end we were reduced to a single box apiece, containing something like the following assortment, several items of which had to be purchased in Auckland. Six flannel shirts, two blankets, two pair moleskin breeches, one light pilot coat, one light tweed coat and trousers (which we wore at the time), some handkerchiefs, some socks, two towels, brush and comb, two pairs of boots, and one pair of leggings, a wide-awake hat, and a few odds and ends. Such books as we had we were allowed to retain, for, although the time for reading is very limited in the bush, yet, books being a rare commodity, are much prized there.
Of course, there was much merriment among the colonials at our expense, but I think the greatest mirth was excited by our cases of revolvers. These we had brought under the idea that they would prove to be a necessity, imagining that war with the Maoris was the normal condition of things, and that society was constituted something like what Bret Harte writes of in the Rocky Mountains.
We had had to pay a tax of five shillings each upon our pistols before bringing them on shore. We were now told that this tax was a main source of the Government revenue. Again, we were told that the exportation of new-chums' pistols to the United States was one of the main industries of the colony. But our purgatory was over at last, and our splendid outfits had passed into Hebrew hands, leaving a very meagre sum of money with us to represent them. And now we are ready to start in earnest.
Low down in the water, almost beneath the timbers of the wharf, is lying a queer little steam-tub, the Gemini, which will convey us on the first stage of our journey. A loafer on the wharf cautions us mockingly to step aboard with care, lest we overset the little steamer, or break through her somewhat rickety planking. She is about the size of some of those steam-launches that puff up and down the English Thames, but she would look rather out of place among them; for the Gemini and her sister boat, the Eclipse, which carry on the steam service of the Waitemata, are neither handsome nor new. They are rough and ready boats, very much the worse for wear. Such as they are, however, they suffice for the limited traffic up to Riverhead, and to the districts reached through that place. When that increases, doubtless their enterprising owner will replace them with more serviceable craft.
Punctuality is by no means one of the chief points of the Gemini, and it is an hour or two after the advertised time before we get off. There is a good deal of snorting and shrieking, of backing and filling, on the part of our bark, and then at last we are fairly on our way up the river. We take a last long look at the good ship that brought us from England, as she lies out at anchor in the harbour, and when a bend in the river hides Auckland's streets and terraces from our view, we feel that we have turned our backs on civilization for a while, and are fast getting among the pioneers.
On board the Gemini is a face we know. It is that of Dobbs, a sometime shipmate of ours. He is a farm labourer from Sussex, and he and his wife have come out among our ship-load of emigrants. There is a chronic look of wonder on their broad English faces. They are in speechless surprise at everything they see, but chiefly, apparently, at finding themselves actually in a new country at all.
Dobbs touches his hat, and addresses me as "sir," when he sees me, quite forgetting that we are now in the colonies, where such modes are not practised; regardless also of the fact that I am on my way to just the same life and work that he is himself. The skipper of the Gemini notices the action, and grins sarcastically, while he tells a subordinate in a stage-whisper to "just look at them new-chums."
English readers must not suppose from this that colonial manners are discourteous. Far from it. Colonials will not touch their hats, or use any form that appears to remind them of servility, flunkeyism, or inequalities of station. On the other hand, incivility is much more rarely experienced among even the roughest colonials than it is in many parts of the old country, in Birmingham, for example. Apart from that, the new-chum is the incarnate comedy of colonial life. He is eagerly watched, and much laughed at; yet he is seldom or never subjected to any actual rudeness. On the contrary, he is generally treated with extra tenderness and consideration, on account of his helpless and immature condition. Perhaps I may sum up the analysis by saying, that, if polish is lacking to the colonial character, so also is boorishness.
Our fellow-emigrant tells us that he has been engaged as a farm labourer by a settler at Ararimu, near Riverhead, and that his wife is to do washing and cooking and dairy-work. They are to have thirty shillings a week, and they, with their child, will have board and lodging provided for them as well, and that in a style a good deal better than agriculturals are accustomed to in England. They seem well enough contented with things, though a trifle daunted by the strangeness of their surroundings. Dobbs has misgivings as to the work that will be required of him. He knows, however, that the labourer's day is reckoned at only eight hours here, and is much consoled thereby. Very likely we may find him a thriving farmer on his own account, and on his own land, if we should chance to meet again in a few years' time.
There is little or no attraction in the scenery along the eighteen or twenty miles of river between Auckland and Riverhead. Great stretches of mud-bank are visible in many places at low tide, varied by occasional clumps of mangrove, and by oyster-covered rocks. The land on either side is mostly of very poor quality, though a good deal of it has been taken up. Here and there, we pass in sight of some homestead; a white verandah-ed wooden house, surrounded by its gardens, orchards, paddocks, and fields. The steamer stops, and lies off three or four such places while her dingey communicates with the shore, embarking or disembarking passengers, mails, or goods. Generally, though, when the river-banks are low enough to permit of a view beyond them, we see nothing but very barren and shaggy-looking tracts, not unlike Scottish moorlands in general aspect. Occasionally there are poor scrubby grasslands, where the soil has not done justice to the seed put upon it; and where cattle, horses, and sheep appear to be picking up a living among the fern and ti-tree.
As we get nearer to Riverhead the stream narrows. This is the point to which the tide reaches. Beyond it the Waitemata is supplied by two creeks, the Riverhead Creek and the Rangitopuni. Here the banks are steep and high, somewhat picturesque, with varied ferns and shrubbery. On the north side the ranges rise into a background of hills.
This is the end of our river journey, as is evidenced by the Riverhead wharf, built out from the bank. Here we land, and are received by two men, who represent the population of the district, and who apparently are idle spectators. By their advice we shoulder our traps, and climb up some steps to the top of the bank. Right before us here is an unpretending house, built in the usual rambling style of architecture peculiar to frame-houses in this country. A board stuck up over the verandah announces that this is the hotel; and, as the arrival of the steamer is the signal for dinner, every one makes for the open French windows of the dining-room.
Dinner is ready we find, and we are ready for it. Perhaps about a dozen passengers came up from Auckland in the boat, and as many of these as are not at home in the immediate neighbourhood sit down to the table. The party is further augmented by the skipper and his assistants, the wharf-keepers, one or two residents in the hotel, and the host and hostess with their family. Quite a large company altogether, and of very promiscuous elements. The only persons not entirely at their ease are Dobbs and his wife. They find themselves dining with the "quality," as they would have said at home, and have not yet learnt that that word is written "equality" in this part of the world.
At the head of the table sits somebody who is evidently a personage, judging by the flattering attentions paid to him by the daughters of the house, and by the regard with which all but we strangers treat him. It is Dandy Jack, afterwards to become one of our most intimate and cherished chums. As I shall have more to say about him, perhaps I may here be allowed to formally introduce him to the reader.
The first glance at him reveals the origin of his sobriquet. Amid the rawness and roughness of everything in the bush, its primitive society included, the figure of Dandy Jack stands out in strong relief. Contrasted with the unkempt, slovenly, ragged, and dirty bushmen with whom he mostly comes in contact, he is the very essence of foppery. Yet, as we are afterwards to learn, he is anything but the idle, effeminate coxcomb, whose appearance he so assiduously cultivates. Here is a photograph of Dandy Jack.
Five feet six inches; broad and muscular, but spare and clean-limbed. Curly black hair, and a rosy-complexioned face, clean shaven—contrary to the ordinary custom of the country—all except a thick drooping moustache with waxed ends. A grey flannel shirt, with some stitching and embroidery in front; and a blue silk scarf loosely tied below the rolling collar. No coat this warm weather, but a little bouquet in the breast of the shirt. A tasselled sash round the waist; spotless white breeches, and well-blacked long boots. A Panama straw hat with broad brim and much puggeree. An expression of affected innocence in the eyes, and a good deal of fun about the mouth. Such is the figure we now look upon for the first time.
Dandy Jack is a character; that one sees at once. He is generally understood to have passed lightly through Eton and Oxford, to have sown wild oats about Europe at large, to have turned up in Western America and the Pacific, and to be now endeavouring to steady down in New Zealand. He has a considerable spice of the devil in him, and is at once the darling of the ladies and the delight of the men. For to the one he is gallantry itself; while, to the other, he is the chum who can talk best on any subject under the sun, with a fluency and power of anecdote and quotation that is simply enchanting.
Just at present Dandy Jack has charge of the portage, as it is called, between the Waitemata and the Kaipara rivers. He drives the coach, carries the mails, and bosses the bullock-drays that convey goods between Riverhead and Helensville. And he is rapidly becoming the most horsey man in the whole of the North, being especially active and prominent in every possible capacity on the local race-courses.
Dinner is over very soon, and a very good one it was, well worth the shilling each of us pays for it. Then we take leave of Dobbs and his wife, whose future boss has arrived in a rude cart drawn by two horses, in which to drive them and their traps over to his place in Ararimu. We ourselves are going on to Helensville in the coach, a distance of about eighteen miles.
The coach partakes of the crudity which seems impressed upon everything in this new locality. The body of it is not much larger, apparently, than a four-wheeled cab, and does not seem as if it could possibly accommodate more than eight passengers altogether. Yet Dandy Jack avers that he has carried over a score, and that he considers sixteen a proper full-up load. On the present occasion there are not more than half a dozen, besides my chum and I. Glass there is none about the coach, but a good deal of leather. Springs, properly so-called, are also wanting. The body is hung in some strong rude fashion on broad, substantial wheels. Altogether, the machine looks as if it were intended for the roughest of rough work.
As strangers, we are invited to occupy the seats of honour—on the box beside the driver. There are no lady passengers to snatch the coveted post from us. Dandy Jack says to me—
"Of course, I should prefer to have a lady beside me, but, somehow, I'm always glad when there arn't any. It's a grave responsibility—a grave responsibility!"
Whilst we are endeavouring to evolve the meaning of this mysterious remark—it is not until a while later that we fully comprehend it—preparations are being made for the start. Four ungroomed, unshod horses are hitched on, and their plunging and capering shows they are impatient to be off. Our driver's lieutenant, Yankee Bill, mounts a fifth horse, and prepares to act as outrider. Then Dandy Jack, loudly shouting, "All aboard! All abo-ard!" springs to his seat, gathers up the reins, without waiting to see whether every one has obeyed his injunction or not, bids the men who are holding the cattle stand clear, gives a whoop and a shake of his whip, and then, with a jolt and a lurch and a plunge, off we go.
Hitherto we have seen nothing of the settlement, except the hotel and the goods warehouse on the bank above the wharf. These appear to have been shot down into the middle of a moorland wilderness. But now, as the coach surmounts some rising ground, several homesteads come into view, scattered about within a distance of one or two miles. Beyond the paddocks surrounding these, all of the country that is visible appears to be covered with tall brown fern, and a low brushwood not unlike heather.
As we go lumbering up the rise we are passed by a young lady riding down towards the hotel. Very bright and pretty she looks, by contrast with the rough surroundings. Quite a lovely picture, in her graceful riding-habit of light drab, and her little billycock hat with its brilliant feather. So think we all, especially our gallant Jehu, who bows profoundly in response to a nod of recognition, and turns to look admiringly after the fair equestrian.
Then, upon the right, we look down upon the great feature of the district, Mr. Lamb's flour-mill and biscuit-factory. In this establishment are made crackers that are well-known and much esteemed far beyond the limits of New Zealand. The Riverhead manufacture is known in the South Sea and Australia. The factory stands on the bank of the creek, having water-power and a water highway at its door. It is a large structure, mostly of timber, with a tall chimney of brick. Near it is the residence of the proprietor, and a row of houses inhabited by his employes. The whole is surrounded by a grove of choice trees and shrubs, by gardens and paddocks, evidently in a high state of cultivation. Beyond tower the brown and shaggy ranges, and all around is the uncouth moorland. It is an oasis in the desert, this green and fertile spot, a Tadmor in the wilderness.
Yet when we make some remarks, as new-chums will, about the apparent richness of the land down there, a settler, who sits behind, takes us up rather shortly. He appears to consider Mr. Lamb's estate as a positive offence. "Bone-dust and drainage!" he says with a snort of contempt. It seems that the land about us is considered to be of the very poorest quality, sour gum-clay; and any one who sets about reclaiming such sort is looked upon as a fool, at least, although, in this case, it is evident that the cultivation is merely an ornamental subsidiary to the factory.
But these poor lands are only bad comparatively. Much of the soil in them is better by far than that of many productive farms at home; only our colonial pioneer-farmers have no notion of any scientific methods in agriculture. They have been spoilt by the wondrous fertility of the rich black forest mould, and the virgin volcanic soils. They will continue to regard manuring and draining and so forth as a folly and a sin almost, until the population becomes numerous, and all the first-class lands are filled up.
Fresh from high-dried systems and theories of agriculture as practised in Great Britain, we are dumbfounded by the tirade against manuring, and the revolutionary ideas which our coach-companion further favours us with. We are evidently beginning to learn things afresh, though this is our first day in the bush.
By the way, I must explain this term to English readers. "Bush" has a double signification, a general and a particular one. In its first and widest sense it is applied to all the country beyond the immediate vicinity of the cities or towns. Thus, Riverhead may be described as a settlement in the "bush," and our road lies through the "bush," though here it is all open moorland. But, in a more particular way, "bush" simply indicates the natural woods and forests. A farmer up-country, who says he has been into the "bush" after cattle, means that he has been into the forest, in contradistinction to his own cleared land, the settlement, or the open country.
Our road lies at first through the fern lands beyond Riverhead, and we soon lose sight of the settlement. We appear to be travelling at random across the moor, for not a trace of what our English eyes have been taught to regard as a road can we discern. The country is all a rugged wilderness of range and gully: "gently undulating," you say, if you want to convey a favourable impression; "abruptly broken and hilly," if you would speak the literal truth. There is not a level yard of land—it is all as rough and unequal as it is possible for land to be.
The road is no macadamized way: it is simply a track that, in many parts, is barely visible except to practised eyes. Further on, where we pass through tracts of forest, the axe has cleared a broad path; and down some steep declivities there has been a mild attempt at a cutting. Where we come upon streams of any size or depth, light wooden bridges have been built; and fascines have made some boggy parts fordable in wet weather. Such is our road, and along it we proceed at a hand-gallop for the most part. The jolting may be imagined, it cannot be described; for the four wheels are never by any chance on the same level at one and the same time.
When we have proceeded eight or nine miles, Dandy Jack seems to be preparing himself for some exciting incident. Yankee Bill gallops alongside, exchanging a mysterious conversation in shouts with him.
"Better take round by the ford, Cap!"
"Ford be blanked!" answers Dandy Jack.
"The rest of the planking's sure to be gone by this time," continues the cavalier.
"Then I reckon we'll jump it. Ford's two miles round at least, and we're late now."
Our dandy charioteer glances round on his passengers, and remarks—
"Hold on tight, boys; and, if we spill, spring clear for a soft place."
So saying, he plants his feet firmly out, takes a better grip of the reins, and crams his hat well on to his head. We ignorant new-chums sit perturbed, for we don't know what is coming, only we do not admire the grim determination of our driver's mouth, or the devilry flashing from his eyes. The rest of the passengers say nothing. They know Dandy Jack, and are philosophically resigned to their fate.
And now we plunge down the side of a gully, steep and wooded, with a brawling torrent pouring along its bottom. The road runs obliquely down the incline, and this descent we proceed to accomplish at a furious gallop, Dandy Jack shouting and encouraging his horses; his mate riding beside them, and flogging them to harder exertions. Then we see what is before us.
Right at the bottom of the steep road is a bridge across the creek; or, at least, what was once a bridge, for a freshet or something seems to have torn it partially up. Originally built by throwing tree-trunks across from bank to bank, and covering these with planking, what we now see seems little more than a bare skeleton; for nearly all the planking is gone, and only the rough bare logs remain—and of these several are displaced, so that uncomfortable-looking gaps appear. Some feet below the level of this ruined bridge a regular cataract is flowing. Across the frail scaffolding—you can call it no more—that spans the torrent, it is clearly Dandy Jack's intention to hurl the coach, trusting to the impetus to get it over. We shut our eyes in utter despair of a safe issue, and hold on to our seats with the clutch of drowning men. It is all that we can do.
Meanwhile the four horses, maddened by the whoops and lashes of our excited Jehu and his aid, are tearing down the slope at racing speed. The coach is bounding, rocking, jolting at their heels in frightfully dangerous fashion. We dare not glance at Dandy Jack, but we feel that he is in his element; and that, consequently, we are in deadly peril. Then the chorus of yells grows louder and fiercer, the swish of the whips more constant and furious. There is a tremendous rattle, a series of awful bumps that seem to dislocate every bone in my body, a feeling that the coach is somersaulting, I appear to be flying through space among the stars, and then—all is blank.
When I recall my shocked and scattered senses, a minute or two later, I find myself half-buried, head downward, among moss and fern. I pick myself out of that, and stupidly feel myself all over, fortunately finding that I have sustained no particular injury. Then I survey the scene.
We are on the other side of the stream—so much I discover—but we have evidently not attained it without a mishap. Not to put too fine a point upon it, we have experienced a most decided spill. The coach has overturned just as it crossed the bridge, and passengers and baggage have been shot forth into the world at large. Fortunately, the ground was soft with much vegetation, so that no one is much hurt; the "insides" alone being badly bruised. There is a confused heap of plunging hoofs, and among them Dandy Jack and Yankee Bill are already busy, loosening the traces and getting the horses on their feet.
The passengers go one by one to their assistance, and much objurgation and ornamental rhetoric floats freely through the atmosphere. Presently, the coach is got on its wheels again by united effort, and it is found to be none the worse for the accident. In truth, its builder seems to have had an eye to such casualties as that we have suffered, and has adapted the construction of the machine to meet them.
But with the horses it is different. Three of them are speedily got on their legs and rubbed down, being no more than scared. The fourth, however, cannot rise, and examination shows that one of its legs is broken, and probably the spine injured as well. It is evident the poor creature is past all further service. So Dandy Jack sits on its head, while Yankee Bill pulls out his sheath-knife and puts the animal out of misery. I overhear our eccentric driver murmuring—
"Woe worth the chase, woe worth the day That cost thy life, my gallant grey!"—
Adding, in a louder voice—
"Twelve pounds I paid for that critter; but I reckon I've had the profit out of it, anyhow!"
The horse that Yankee Bill was riding is now unsaddled and hitched up with the others, in place of the dead one. For baggage and passengers are being collected again, and it seems we are going on as though nothing had happened.
It is, perhaps, not strange that no one should express surprise at the accident; but it is certainly singular that no one shows any resentment towards our driver, or blames him in any way. The prevailing feeling is one of simple congratulation that things are no worse. One would think the accident was quite a usual affair, and had even been expected. A passenger remarks quite seriously—
"I will say this for Dandy Jack: he always contrives that you shall pitch into a soft place."
They seem about to offer a vote of thanks to this reckless madman, for having overturned us without hurt to any one! It occurs to us two new-chums that our life in this country is likely to be eventful, if this kind of thing is the ordinary style of coaching. And we begin to understand what our driver meant, when he alluded to the grave responsibility of having a lady among his passengers; for his driving is only comparable to the driving of the son of Nimshi.
Before we proceed on our way, the foppery of our charioteer reasserts itself. Of course, his neat and spruce trim has been considerably disarrayed, so now he proceeds to reorganize his appearance. Gravely and calmly he draws brushes and so on from a receptacle under the box-seat, and commences to titivate himself. This is too much. Laughter and jibes and energetic rebukes fall on him thick as hail. At first he pays no attention; then he says slowly—
"Look here! If any one wants to walk the rest of the way, he can do it. I'm willing to split fares for the half journey!"
There is a covert threat in this, and as no one cares to quarrel with the speaker, his eccentricities are allowed to develop themselves without further interference. Then we resume our drive on to Helensville.
For the most part the road passes through open country, but we now more frequently see scrub and bush in various directions. At one place, indeed, for about two miles, we pass through forest. The trees, mostly kahikatea, seem to our English eyes of stupendous proportions, but we are told they grow much bigger in many other parts. Signs of human life are not altogether wanting in these wilds. We pass a dray coming down from the Kaipara, laden with wool, and pull up, that Dandy Jack may have a private conversation with the driver of it. This dray is a huge waggon, built in a very strong and substantial style, and it is drawn by twelve span of bullocks.
Here and there among the fern, usually in the bottom of a gully beside some patch of scrub, we have noticed little clusters of huts. These are not Maori whares, as we suppose at first, but are the temporary habitations of gum-diggers, a nomadic class who haunt the waste tracts where kauri-gum is to be found buried in the soil. In a few places we pass by solitary homesteads, looking very comfortable in the midst of their more or less cultivated paddocks and clearings. These are usually fixed on spots where the soil, for a space of a few hundred acres, happens to be of better quality than the gum-lands around. At most of these settlers' houses somebody is on the look-out for the coach, and there is a minute's halt to permit of the exchange of mails or news. For travellers along the road are very few in number, and the bi-weekly advent of the coach is an event of importance.
The afternoon is wearing late, and the rays of the declining sun are lengthening the shadows, when we emerge on the top of a high hill that overlooks the valley of the Kaipara. A wide and magnificent prospect lies spread before us. Far down below the river winds through a broad valley, the greater expanse of which, being low and swampy, is covered with a dense thicket of luxuriant vegetation. In parts we see great masses of dark, sombre forest, but even in the distance this is relieved by variety of colouring, flowering trees, perhaps, or the brilliant emerald of clusters of tree-ferns. Right out on the western boundary a line of hills shuts out the sea, and their summits glisten with a strange ruddy and golden light—the effect of the sun shining on the wind-driven sand that covers them. To the north the river widens and winds, until, far away, we get a glimpse of the expanding waters of the Kaipara Harbour. Successive hills and rolling ranges, clothed with primeval forest, close in upon the valley.
About the centre of the broad-stretching vale, we discern a little patch of what looks like grass and cleared land. There is here a cluster of houses, whitely gleaming beside the river, and that hamlet is Helensville—the future town and metropolis of the Kaipara.
The road, from the hill-top where we are, winds in a long descent of about two miles down to the township. It is scarcely needful to say that Dandy Jack considers it incumbent on him to make his entrance into Helensville with as much flourish and eclat as possible. Accordingly, we proceed along the downhill track at breakneck speed, and come clattering and shouting into the village, amid much bustle and excitement. We are finally halted in an open space before the hotel, which is evidently intended to represent a village green or public square, the half-dozen houses of the place being scattered round it.
The entire population has turned out to witness our arrival: a score or so of bearded, sunburnt, rough-looking men, three or four women, and a group of boys and children. A babel of conversation ensues. We, as new-chums, are speedily surrounded by a group anxious to make our acquaintance, and are eagerly questioned as to our intentions.
Several persons present are acquainted with Old Colonial, and when it is known that we are going to join him, we are at once placed on the footing of personal friends. Hospitality is offered, invitations to take a drink at the bar are given us on all sides. We accept, for we are not total abstainers—or sich!—and are in that condition when the foaming tankard is an idea of supreme bliss.
The hotel is larger and more pretentious than that at Riverhead. It is better built, and has a second storey and a balcony above the verandah. It is furnished, too, in a style that would do credit to Auckland—we particularly noticing some capital cabinet-work in the beautiful wood of the mottled kauri.
And then we are treated to a dissertation on the wonderful advantages and prospects of Helensville, some day to be a city and seaport, a manufacturing centre and emporium of the vast trade of the great fertile tracts of the Kaipara districts. We are assured that there is no place in all New Zealand where it could be more advantageous to our future to settle in than here. And so to supper, and finally to bed, to sleep, and to dream of the wonders that shall be; to dream of cathedrals and factories and theatres rising here, and supplanting the forest and scrub around us; to dream of splendid streets along the banks of the Kaipara, but streets which ever end in rocky wooded gullies, down which we plunge incessantly, behind a rushing nightmare that is driven either by a demon or by Dandy Jack.
[Footnote 3: A railway across this portage was opened for traffic in 1876. It has since been continued from Riverhead to Auckland, and is now—1882—being pushed forward to the north, from Helensville on to Whangarei.]
IN THE KAIPARA.
The next morning after our arrival at Helensville, we go down to the wharf, close behind the hotel, and embark on board the steamer Lily. This vessel is the only regular means of communication, at present, with the young settlements lying round the Kaipara. She is a much larger craft than the Gemini, but she is of the same ancient and ruinous character. One would have thought that, on these new waters, such craft as there were must necessarily be new also. Such does not appear to be the case, however, for the steam service on the Waitemata and the Kaipara is conducted by very second-hand old rattle-traps. Where they were worn out I know not. Bad as they are, they are considered a local improvement, for, until quite recently, settlers had to depend on small sailing-boats, that plied very irregularly.
The Kaipara is a name applied rather indiscriminately to a river, a harbour, and to a tract of country. The Kaipara river is that on which Helensville stands. It waters an extensive valley, and, flowing north-westerly, falls into the Kaipara Harbour, some miles below Helensville. It is tidal to a short distance above the settlement.
The harbour is a vast inlet of the sea, almost land-locked, since its entrance, the Heads, is only about three or four miles wide. Opening from the harbour are sundry great estuaries, resembling the sea-lochs of Western Scotland. They are the Kaipara, the Hoteo, the Oruawharo, the Otamatea, the Wairau, the Arapaoa, and the Wairoa. Several of these have branches. Thus the Pahi, to which we are going, branches out of the Arapaoa. They are fed by creeks—that is to say, by freshwater rivers, as one would call them at home. The tidal estuaries are here called rivers; and the freshwater streams, of whatever size, creeks.
All these waters have the generic name of the Kaipara. The united water-frontage is said to be over a thousand miles; and nearly two million acres of land lying round are comprised within the so-called Kaipara district. Ships of heavy tonnage can get up to Tokatoka on the Wairoa, to Te Pahi and Te Otamatea, and within a short distance of Helensville, these places being, respectively, from twenty-five to thirty-five miles from the Heads. Smaller vessels can, of course, go anywhere. The Wairoa creek is navigable for schooners and cutters for more than eighty miles, as well as its tributaries, the Kaihu, Kopura, Tauraroa, and Maungakahia.
We have come into a district admirably adapted for pioneer settlement. For nature has supplied water-ways in every direction, and thus the first great difficulty in opening up a new country, the want of roads, is obviated. Here, indeed, as we shall find, no one walks to his township, or rides to see a neighbour, he jumps into his boat and rows or sails wherever he wants to go.
As the Lily steams down the Kaipara, we get a better idea of the bush than our previous day's coach-ride had given us. There is no more of the brown and shaggy gum-land, but, instead of it, such glorious woods and jungles and thickets of strange beautiful vegetation. Mile after mile it is the same, the dense evergreen forest stretching away over the ranges as far as one can see. Here it is the light bush, woods of young trees that have grown over what were once the sites of Maori cultivation; there it is the heavy bush, the real primeval forest.
One great feature of the Kaipara tidal estuary is the quantity of mangroves. Immense tracts are covered with water at high tide, and are left bare at low tide. These mud-banks are covered with mangroves in many places, forming great stretches of uniform thicket. The mangrove is here a tree growing to a height of twenty or thirty feet, branching thickly, and bearing a dark, luxuriant foliage. At high water, the mangrove swamps present the appearance of thickets growing out of the water. When the tide recedes, their gnarled and twisted stems are laid bare, often covered with clinging oysters. Below, in the mud, are boundless stores of pipi (cockles), and other shell-fish and eels.
The channel of the river is broad and deep, but often, to save some bend, the Lily ploughs her way along natural lanes and arcades among the mangroves. It is a novel experience to us to glide along the still reaches among these fluviatile greenwoods. We are embosomed in a submerged forest, whose trees are uniform in height and kind. All round us, like a hedge, is the glossy green foliage, sometimes brushing our boat on either side. And we scare up multitudes of water fowl, unused to such invasion of their solitudes. Wild duck, teal, grey snipe, shags, and many kinds that no one on board knows the names of, start from under our very bows. Not gay plumaged birds, though, for the most part; only now and then a pair of kingfishers, flashing green and orange as they fly, or the purple beauty of a pukeko, scuttling away into the depths of the swamp.
By-and-by we emerge into the expanse of the harbour. Once out in it we could almost imagine ourselves at sea, for, from the low deck of the Lily, we only see the higher grounds and hill-tops round, looking like islands in the distance, as we cannot descry the continuity of shore. And now we have leisure to make closer acquaintance with the boat that carries us.
The Lily is a queer craft. Though old and rickety, she gets through a considerable amount of work, and is sufficiently seaworthy to fight a squall, when that overtakes her in the harbour. Not that a gale is by any means a light affair, in this wide stretch of water. When one is blowing, as it sometimes does for two or three days at a time, the Lily lies snugly at anchor in some sheltered cove, and settlers have to wait as patiently as may be for their mails or goods. She knows her deficiencies, and will not face stormy weather, if she can help it.
Three times a week she visits certain of the Kaipara settlements, returning from them on alternate days. The arrangement is such that each township gets—or is supposed to get—one weekly visit from her. She is a boat with a character, or without it, which means about the same thing in the present instance. She has also a skipper, who is something of a character in his way.
The Pirate, or Pirate Tom, as he is indifferently called, is a gentleman of some importance locally, for he is the channel of communication between the Kaipara settlers and the outside world. He is a man of ferocious aspect, black-bearded to the eyes, taciturn, and rough in demeanour. In his hot youth, he is credited with having borne his part in certain questionable proceedings in the South Sea, and hence his appellation.
Freights run very high on the Lily, and it is by no means certain how far the Pirate may be concerned in keeping them so. He is apt to be captious, too, as regards the transit of cargo, and will refuse to do business if it is his whim, or if any particular individual happen to offend him; for he is lord paramount over the river traffic, and well does he know how to turn that to his own advantage. Apparently, he considers that he does you a personal favour if he carries you or your goods, and you have to keep on his good books, lest he should not condescend to do either.
Besides the playful way in which he manipulates the commerce of the district, Pirate Tom has another mode in which he adds to his gains. At some of the river townships and stations there is no hotel, or store, where liquor can be obtained. The only immediate facility that settlers and bushmen at such places have for procuring it, is such as is afforded by the boat. The Pirate is always ready to dispense the vile compounds he call spirits to all comers—sixpence per drink being his price, as it is the established tariff of the colony. It is held to be manners to ask him to partake himself, when any one desires to put away a nobbler; and the Pirate, being an ardent disciple of Bacchus, was never yet known to refuse any such invitation. He also sells, at seven shillings a bottle, the most atrocious rum, brandy, or "square" gin.
To assist him in the management of his craft, the Pirate has under him an engineer and a Dutch lad. The former of these has, of course, his special duties; the latter is cook and steward, sailor, landing-agent, and general utility man. He goes by the name of "The Crew." To beguile the tedium and monotony of constant voyaging, "The Crew" is wont to exercise his mind by conversation with such passengers as there may be. He is of a very inquiring disposition, and asks leading questions of a very personal nature. Seeing that I am a new-chum, he begins to ask me my name, age, birthplace, who my parents were, where I formerly lived, what I did, what my cousins and aunts are, their names, and all about them, and so on, a series of interminable catechetical questions on subjects that, one would think, could not possibly have any interest for him. This would be gross impertinence, were it not that "The Crew" is perfectly unconscious of giving any offence. He only asks for information, like Rosa Dartle; and this questioning is his idea of polite sociability.
Among the points of interest about the Lily, the most noticeable are the engines with which she is supplied. These are fearfully and wonderfully contrived. How such rusty, battered, old-fashioned, rough-and-ready machinery can be got to work at all, it is hard to say; but it does. Of course the engines are continually breaking down, or bursting, or doing something or other offensive. But whatever may happen, the Pirate and his two aids consider themselves equal to the emergency, and make shift to tinker up the mishap somehow. Such unlooked for examples of misapplied force are constantly occurring, the consequence being that repairs are as often called for. Thus it is that the engines present a very extraordinary and uncommon appearance. Report has, perhaps, added somewhat to the truth, but numerous legends are current in the Kaipara about the Lily, her engines, and her captain.
These amateur artificers are not in the least particular as to the materials they use for effecting their repairs, nor are they given to considering the relative differences of the metals. On one occasion, rust had eaten a hole through the boiler, and leakage ensued. Promptly they set to work, and soldered the lid of a biscuit-tin over the weak place. Then the boat went on as usual.
Once again, so it is said, something or other gave way—some screw, or cock, or lever failed to act. The boat became unmanageable, could not be stopped, or slowed, or done anything with. In short, she ran away. But Pirate Tom was not to be imposed on by any such feeble tricks. He immediately steered the Lily slap into the nearest bank and tied her up to a tree. Then the three went on shore, with a bottle of rum and a pack of cards, and sat down at a respectful distance to await the progress of events, and to enjoy a game of cut-throat euchre.
The engineer bet Pirate Tom a note—colonial for a sovereign—that the engines would blow up, and the latter laid on the chance that the rebel craft would spend herself kicking at the bank. After churning up the mud, plunging at the bank, and straining at her tether for an hour or so, the Lily quieted down, all her steam having worked off. So the Pirate won and pocketed the engineer's note; and then the party adjourned on board again, to resume their ordinary avocation of tinkering up.
In the log of the Lily there is supposed to be an entry, which would seem to indicate that the Pirate is not invariably so lucky as on the last-mentioned occasion. It is his rule never to spend any more money on repairs than what cannot possibly be avoided. There was an unsafe steam-pipe, which might easily have been replaced at a trifling cost; but, of course, the Pirate would spend nothing on it, and relied on his own usual resources. One day the steam-pipe burst, when a number of passengers were on board, and a woman got her legs scalded. After that, the Pirate found it absolutely necessary to get a new steam pipe; and was, besides, heavily mulcted in an action brought against him by the injured lady. The entry referred to probably runs like this:—
L s. d. To a new steam-pipe 0 10 0 To fine and costs 3 12 6 To damages awarded to Mrs. —— by the Court 5 0 0 To doctor's fees for attendance on Mrs. —— 4 0 0
On the whole, Pirate Tom did not take much by his economy on that occasion. But the lesson was not of any lasting use. He will go on in his old way, and will take his chance of accidents.
The defects of the Lily do not cause us any annoyance, on this occasion of our first voyage aboard of her. She is on her best behaviour, for a wonder, and neither breaks down, nor bursts up, nor runs away. We steam over a great stretch of the harbour, noticing here that strange effect, when the distant land seems to be lifted above the horizon, and to have a belt of sky between it and the water.
Then we pass into river after river, proceeding up each some miles, to the townships, or stations, where we have to call, then descending into the harbour again, only to go on to the entrance of yet another river. The scenery is very varied, and there is much in it to attract our regard. Sometimes we pass below lofty bluffs, by wild rocky shores and islets, sometimes along great stretches of mud-bank or mangrove swamp.
The land on all sides is a primitive wilderness for the most part. Range after range sweeps and rolls away, while ravines and gullies and basins open upon the rivers, with tumbling creeks or graceful cascades pouring through them. One might suppose that some giant of yore had ploughed out this country and left it. A newly-ploughed field must seem, to an ant's vision, something like the contour of this to ours.
The land is richly wooded. Here and there we see the heavy bush, mammoth trees soaring up, overhung with creepers and ferns; but the heavy bush is chiefly at some distance from the waterside. What we see most of here is the light bush; dense thickets of shrubs, and smaller trees, resembling our remembrance of the denes and copses of England, or Epping and the New Forest.
To us new-chums it seems absurd to call this bush "light," but we can see that it is so by comparison with the primeval forest, where the tree-trunks run from ten to forty feet in girth. Once upon a time, when they numbered millions, the Maoris inhabited these shores pretty thickly. They preferred to be near the water, as settlers do now, for the same reason of convenience in communication, and also because fish was a chief article of their diet. All the land near the rivers has been at some time under their cultivation, and the light bush has grown up upon it since.
So late as fifty years ago, the Ngatewhatua tribe, who were lords of the Kaipara, were very numerous; but were then nearly exterminated in a war with the Ngapuhi of the north. Still, numerous as they may have been then, they could not have held the immense tracts here under cultivation. That must date from a more remote period. But the places where their villages stood, in the early part of this century, are now buried under such a wealth of scrub and shrubbery, as to show very clearly how rich is the soil and how fruitful the climate.
We see at last what we have long been looking for, hitherto to no purpose, namely, Maoris and their habitations. Brown, gypsey-like people they appear in the distance, wearing ordinary clothes like Europeans, only dirty and ragged usually. Here and there we pass a cluster of their whares, low down near the beach—brown huts of thatch-like appearance, for they are made of raupo grass. Some of them are very neat, with carved and painted doors and fronts. Near them is usually some fenced-in cultivation, and possibly a rough-grassed clearing, on which may be a few cattle or horses. There are always pigs and dogs visible, and brown naked children disporting themselves on the beach, where canoes are drawn up, fishing nets spread out, and a scaffolding erected to dry shark-meat upon.
Few and far between are these evidences of the native race, and few and far between, also, are evidences of the new nation that is supplanting it. Frere, the statesman, speaking of Spain, said—he loved it because God had so much land there in His own holding. If he could say that of Spain's bare sierras and bleak barrancas, what would he not have said of this land, whose splendid woods and forests clothe the hills and fill the glens with verdure.
Here and there we lie off some settler's station, a white wooden homestead, perhaps with a few outbuildings beside it, perhaps alone; round it the pastures won by the axe and the fire, a mere bite out of the boundless woods behind. At such places "The Crew" paddles ashore in the dingey, or possibly a boat comes off to us, bearing two or three bushmen, who, may be, think that the opportunity for getting a nobbler ought not to be suffered to pass by.
We have three or four townships to call at, places where the Government has set aside a certain tract of land for a future town. A township site is cut up—on paper—into allotments, which are sold, or kept in the Land Office until wanted. From what we see of the Kaipara towns, they are very much in embryo as yet. Te Otamatea, for instance, is a single house and nothing more. This is our ideal of a bush settlement; it is as it should be—not too much humanity and crowd. The house, a rambling, wooden building, is of a good size though, being an hotel and store. Round it are several hundred acres of grass. Sometimes it is very festive, for a large Maori kainga is not far off; and at Te Otamatea a race-course has been made, where the annual races of the Kaipara districts are held.
Altogether, we like Te Otamatea, with its beautiful situation and lovely views, better than Port Albert. This is a sort of bloated Manchester or Birmingham of the district. No less than six or seven houses are visible close together. If you count barns and byres, and such more distant houses as are visible from the steamer's deck, there must be over a dozen. It is horridly populous. Moreover, one sees here, so strongly marked, that uncouth rawness that attends incipient civilization. Nature has been cleared away to make room for the art of man, and art has not yet got beyond the inchoate unloveliness of bare utilitarianism. The beautiful woods have given place to a charred, stumpy, muddy waste, on which stand the gaunt, new frame-houses. Gardens, orchards, cornfields, and meadows are things to come; until they do the natural beauty of the place is killed and insulted. But what have we to do with sentimental rubbish? This is Progress! Bless it!
Of course we did not expect to get to our destination all in a minute, for Te Pahi is more than forty miles from Helensville, in a straight line. We started about five o'clock in the morning, but it is late in the day before we get into the Arapaoa. By taking advantage of the tides, the Lily manages to accomplish ten knots an hour. But the going in and out of different rivers, though we do not go far up any of them, and the various stoppages, short though they be, make it late in the afternoon before we sight Te Pahi.
We are coming up the broad Arapaoa, and before us we suddenly see Te Pahi, a vision of loveliness, "our" township, as we are already calling it. A high, wooded bluff, the termination of a hill-range behind, rushes out into the tranquil, gleaming water. Round the base of the bluff, on a little flat between it and the white shingly beach, are the houses of the settlement. Four families live here at this time; and besides their abodes, there are a row of three cottages, called immigrant barracks, a boatbuilder's workshop, and an assembly hall. The neatest, fairest, best, and to-be-the-most-progressive of all the Kaipara townships. We say this "as shouldn't;" but it is so.
The broad, lake-like expanse of water over which we are moving—four miles across from shore to shore—parts before Te Pahi. It stretches away to the left in a wide reach, to form the Matakohe, out of which opens the Paparoa, hidden from sight at this point. Before us, bearing to the right, is the Pahi river. It is a vista of woodland scenery, glorious in the rays of the declining sun. Its shores are steep, and broken into numberless little bays and promontories, all clothed with bush to the water's edge. Far up, the towering ranges close down and terminate the view.
On the left of our position the shore is not so high, and we can see a good deal of grass, with the white homestead of a settler's station. Beyond is what appears to be a chain of distant mountains. Looking to the right an exclamation bursts from our lips, for there is the loveliest view we have yet seen.
A deep, semi-circular bay falls back from the river, bordered with a belt of dazzling shingle. Beyond and round it rises a perfect amphitheatre, filled with bush more sumptuous and varied than any we have gazed upon all day. The range seems to rise in terraces, and just one abrupt gap about the centre discloses the peak of a conical hill behind. The whole is a perfect idyllic picture, not to be described in a breath; for this is the showplace of the Kaipara. It is Te Puke Tapu, famous in Maori history as the scene of a great battle.
Beautiful as this place is, it would doubtless soon have been marred by the pitiless axe and fire of the settler, but that it is sacred soil. The Maoris will not enter it, and they prohibit Europeans from transgressing within its boundaries. Nor will they sell the land, although its superb fertility has induced some settlers to offer almost fabulous prices. For, under those rich greenwoods, caressed and buried in ferns, lie scattered the bony relics of the flower of Ngatewhatua chivalry.
So much and more a fellow-passenger tells us, while we gaze at the view, inwardly wondering whether wandering artist will ever present this glorious landscape now before us to people at home. But the story must be reserved for another time, until we are able to do justice to it.
At last the Lily is lying right off the beach of Te Pahi township, and her whistle is echoing among the woods on the ranges above, scaring the shags, kingfishers, and rock-snipe on the oyster-beds and beaches. Very speedily, two or three people appear at the township, and one of them puts off in a boat to board us.
To him we are shortly introduced by the Pirate, and handed over to his care, as candidates for a berth in the immigrant barracks. We discuss a nobbler, which is at once a farewell one with Pirate Tom, "The Crew," and the rest of our fellow-passengers, and an introductory ceremony with our new acquaintance, "The Mayor."
A merry, athletic, thoroughly healthy and hearty Englishman is our friend, the Mayor, always in a hurry and bustle of business, for his avocations are startlingly numerous. He is the oldest inhabitant of the township, and was called the Mayor when he dwelt there solitary, a few years ago. Now he is postmaster, storekeeper, justiciary, acting-parson, constabulary, board of works, tax-gatherer, customs officer, farmer, dealer in everything, town clerk, lawyer, doctor, and, perhaps, a score of things beside, as they reckon such in Te Pahi.
The Mayor hurries us and our traps ashore in his boat, and deposits us on the beach. Then he hastens back to the steamer, bidding us wait there, as "he'll be back to fix us before we can have time to wink." Half a dozen men and boys—the entire population—stand at a little distance, regarding us shyly, but inquisitively, with pocketed hands. Some young children are also apparent.
As we stand gazing about us, and wondering how to make acquaintance with the group, a little girl comes running up to us. It is always the superior sex, you see, even in the bush, that make the first advances. She offers us peaches, the little bright-eyed, sunny-faced thing; and readily submits to be kissed; indeed, appears to expect it. Then she prattles away to us in right merry fashion.
The little incident breaks the ice. The group of men come forward and enter into conversation. Perhaps a trifle constrained at first—for dwellers in the bush necessarily lose the readiness of people more accustomed to society—they show themselves anxious enough to be hospitable and welcoming. They are eager to know who we are, naturally, what we are going to do, and so forth. When it comes out that we have advented to join Old Colonial, we are admitted as chums at once, and formally accepted as free citizens of the soon-to-be prosperous and thriving town of Te Pahi.
By-and-by the Mayor gets back; and the Lily steams off again on her way to Matakohe, where she will anchor for the night, returning to Helensville next day. Old Colonial, it seems, is away up the river somewhere, but is expected at the township that night, as he knows that the steamer is due, and that we were likely to come by it.
And now what are we to do? Go to the immigrant barracks, we suppose, since they are expressly designed for the accommodation of such new-chums as ourselves. Barracks be hanged! Is it likely that we are to be allowed to go there while the Mayor has a comfortable house in which to receive guests? Not likely! Why, others of the citizens are intent on hospitality as well, and any of the four homes of the place may be ours for the present, if we will.
But the Mayor is not going to be choused out of his guests; don't you believe it! What is he Mayor and boss of the township for, he would like to know, if not to look after new-chums? Besides, on his own sole responsibility, he has turned the immigrant barracks into a warehouse for produce, since no immigrants ever seemed to be coming to occupy them. So, he is in a measure bound to take possession of us, don't you see? and, by Jove, he means to, what's more!
Then we walk along to the Mayor's residence, and a comfortable, well-furnished house it is, quite a surprise to us, who hardly expected home-comforts in the bush. But then the Mayor is a thriving man, and has a wife to look after him.
A cheerful, amiable lady bids us welcome, with a heartiness as though she were only too glad to see us, although it would appear as if her hands were full enough of housework already, without the additional care of looking after a couple of helpless, unready new-chums. But strangers are so rare up here, that much must be made of them when they do come; therefore, the fatted calf is killed, so to speak, and we are regaled in handsome fashion.
Later, after supper, there is a sudden arrival in the darkness of the night. We hear a stamping on the verandah outside, and a loud, lusty, half-remembered voice addressing the Mayor.
"Have they come, I say? Where are they, then?"
The door of the room we are sitting in bursts open, and a burly, bearded man, rough and savage enough in outward appearance, sooth to say, rushes in upon us. He seizes our hands in a grip that brings the tears to our eyes, he shakes them up and down with vehemence, and while we are trying to make out whether this Old Colonial can really and truly be our sometime schoolfellow, he exclaims—
"Well, this is good! I am glad to see you! Now we'll have a splendid time! Now we'll make this old place hum round! Oh, but this is glorious!"
Thus, and much more; and so, with the true, hearty good-fellowship of the bush, are we welcomed to our future home.
* * * * *
And now that we have arrived at the scene of our future work, let this chapter close. No need any longer to pursue our history as new-chums. In the pages that follow we will resume the story at a further date, when we have arrived at the full estate of settlers and colonists. Such thread of narrative as these sketches possess shall henceforth be unwound off another reel.
[Footnote 4: It must be remembered that this is ten or twelve years ago though it holds good down to 1876. Since the railway was made more colonists have come into the district, and two fine new steamers now ply on the Kaipara waters.]
Several years ago now, we bought our land from the Maoris, and settled down here upon the Pahi. Necessarily, our first proceeding was to construct a habitation. We might have employed the carpenter and boat-builder, who resides at the township, to put up a good and well-made frame-house for us, for a price of a hundred pounds or upwards. But we had entire confidence in our own abilities, and besides, there was something enticing in the idea of building our future home with the actual labour of our own hands.
Moreover, there was another reason, possibly of chief importance: we could not afford to pay for a house. After paying for our land, paying for our farm-stock, and calculating our resources for meeting the current expenses of the first year or two, we found there was but slight margin for anything else; therefore we decided to build a shanty ourselves. Meantime, we were camped on our new estate in a manner more picturesque than comfortable. A rude construction of poles covered with an old tarpaulin sufficed us. It was summer weather, and this was quite good enough for a beginning. From step to step, that is the way to progress, so we said. First the tent or whare, temporarily for a few weeks; then the shanty, for a year or two; then, as things got well with us, a well-finished frame-house; finally, a palace, a castle in the air, or anything you like.
There are shanties and shanties. It is necessary to explain. Primarily, in its Canadian and original sense, the term means a log-house—a hut made of rough squared logs, built up upon each other. Such log-huts are not common in this country, though they may be seen here and there. The mild climate does not require such a style of building. The labour of cutting and squaring logs for the purpose is great. The native whare of thatch is quickly and easily raised, serves all requirements, and lasts for years. In most parts hitherto settled, water-communication places the settler within reach of a saw-mill, where he can obtain boards and so on at very moderate cost. A shanty here, is a name applied to almost any kind of nondescript erection, which would not come under the designation of whare, or be honoured by the ambitious title of house. Rough edifices of planking are the common form.
We went up to Tokatoka on the Wairoa, and there we purchased enough sawn timber for our purpose, for about twelve or fifteen pounds. We hired a big punt, and fetched this stuff down to our place, a distance of some forty miles or so by water. Then we set to work at building.
The site we selected was an ambitious one; too much so, as we were afterwards to discover. From the first Old Colonial objected to it. It was too far from the river, he said, and would necessitate such an amount of "humping." Bosh about humping! returned the majority. It was only a temporary affair; in a year or two we should be having a regular frame-house. Old Colonial gave way, for he perceived that, as our acknowledged boss, he would have but little of the humping to do himself. And the chosen site was central for the first proposed clearings of our future farm.
The selected spot was a rising ground in the centre of a broad basin, nearly a mile across. Steep ranges surround this basin, and the whole was then covered with light bush. Half a mile in front is a mangrove swamp, beyond which flows the river—the mangroves filling up a space that without them would have been an open bay. The prospect in this direction is bounded by the forest-clothed ranges on the opposite side of the river, which is here about a mile in breadth. The land within the basin is nothing like level, and English farmers might be frightened at its ruggedness. To colonial eyes, however, it seems all that could be desired.
Knolls and terraces gradually lead up to the ranges, which sweep away to run together into a high hill called Marahemo, about three miles behind us. The little eminence, on which stands the shanty, slopes down on the left to a flat, where originally flax and rushes did most abound. Through this flat a small creek has channelled a number of little ponds and branches on its way to the river beyond.
On the right the bank is steeper, and upon it stand a number of cabbage-tree palms. Down below is a little rocky, rugged gully, with a brawling stream rushing through it. Just abreast of the shanty this stream forms a cascade, tumbling into a pool that beyond is still and clear and gravelly. It is a most romantically beautiful spot, shaded and shut in completely by fern-covered rocks and overhanging trees. This is our lavatory. Here we bathe, wash our shirts, and draw our supplies of water. This creek flows down through the mangrove swamp to the river; and, at high-water, we can bring our boats up its channel to a point about a quarter of a mile below the shanty.
The site of the shanty has its advantages; but it has that one serious drawback foreseen by Old Colonial. Somehow or other, year after year has flown by, and still we have not got that frame-house we promised ourselves. It is not for want of means, or because we have not been quite so rapidly successful as we anticipated. Of course not! Away with such base insinuations! But we have never any time to see about it, and are grown so used to the shanty that we do not seem to hanker after anything more commodious. So all these years, we have had to hump on our backs and shoulders every blessed thing that we have imported or exported, from the shanty to the water, or the contrary—sacks of flour, sugar, and salt, grindstones, cheeses, meat, furniture. Oh, misery! how our backs have ached as we have toiled up to our glorious site, while Old Colonial laughed and jeered, as his unchristian manner is.
Our work began with the timbers of the shanty itself, and with the heavy material for the stockyard. But humping was then a novelty, and we regarded it as a labour of love. Now we know better, and, when we do get that frame-house, we are going to have it just as near to the landing-place as we can possibly stick it. You may bet your pile on that!
Of course, in building the shanty, we employed the usual fashion prevalent in the colony. Because, when we set to work we said we were going to build a proper frame-house, not a shanty. That is a name for our habitation, which has since grown up into usage. We were none of us practised carpenters; but what did that matter? We knew how to use our hands; and had so often seen houses built that we knew precisely how to do it.
First of all, then, are the piles. These are of puriri wood, tough, heavy, and durable. They are rough-split sections of the great logs, some two feet thick, with squarely-sawn ends. They are fixed in the ground two or three feet apart, so as to bring their flat-sawn tops upon a uniform level. The irregularities of the ground are thus provided against, while a suitable foundation is laid.
The next process is to build a scaffolding, or skeleton frame, of scantling and quartering. When that has been done, the floor is planked over, the sides weather-boarded, doors, windows, and partitions being put in according to the design of the architect. Lastly, the roof is shingled, that is, covered with what our chum, O'Gaygun, calls "wooden slates."
Our shanty is thirty feet long by ten in width. The sides are seven feet high, and the ridge-pole is double that height from the floor. There are a door and two windows, the latter having been bought at the township. There is a partition across the shanty, two rooms having originally been intended; but as this partition has a doorway without a door, and is only the height of the sides, being open above, the original intention in raising it has been lost, and it now merely serves for a convenient rack. There is no verandah on the outside of the shanty, for we regarded that as a waste of material and labour.
The fireplace is an important part of the shanty. Ten feet of the side opposite the door was left open, not boarded up. Outside of this a sort of supplementary chamber, ten feet square, was boarded up from the ground. The roof of this little outroom slopes away from that of the rest of the shanty, and at its highest point a long narrow slit is left open for a chimney. There is no flooring to this chamber, the ground being covered with stones well pounded down. Its level is necessarily sunk a little below that of the shanty floor, which is raised on the piles, so the edge of the flooring forms a bench to sit on in front of the fire. The fire used simply to be built up on the stones, in the middle of this chimney-place; but, after a year or two, we imported an American stove, with its useful appliances, from Auckland.
Our shanty is the habitation of some half-dozen of us, year out and year in. There are in the district a good many settlers of the middle-classes. Men of some education, who would be entitled to the designation of "gentleman" in Europe. Of such sort are we. Some of us are landowners, and some have no capital, being simply labourers. Which is which does not matter. I shall not particularize, as each and all have the same work to do, and live in exactly the same style. There is brotherhood and equality among us, which is even extended to some who would not be called by that old-world title just alluded to, anywhere at all. We do not recognize class distinctions here much. We take a man as we find him; and if he is a good, hearty, honest fellow, that is enough for us.
A good many of us come from the classes in England among whom manual labour is considered low and degrading. That is, unless it is undertaken solely for amusement. Out here we are navvies, day-labourers, mechanics, artisans, anything. At home, we should have to uphold the family position by grinding as clerks on a miserable pittance, or by toiling in some equally sedentary and dull routine of life. If we attempted to work there as we work here, we should be scouted and cut by all our friends.
Out here we have our hardships, to be sure; we have got to learn what roughing it really means. It is no child's play, that is certain. But here, an industrious man is always getting nearer and nearer to a home and a competence, won by his toil. Can every one in the old country, no matter how industrious, say that of himself? Is it not too often the poor-house, or the charity of friends, that is the only goal of labouring-class and middle-class alike, in overcrowded Britain? Does patient industry invariably lead to a better fortune for the declining years in England? We know that it does here.
This is enough for one digression, though. Be it understood, then, that we are not horny-handed sons of toil by birth. We were once called gentlemen, according to the prevailing notions of that caste at home. Here, the very air has dissolved all those ancient prejudices, and much better do we feel for the change. Only occasionally does some amusing instance of the old humbug crop up. I may light upon some such example before I lay down my pen.
It is now some years since our shanty was built—seven or eight, I suppose. The edifice certainly looks older. Not to put too fine a point on it, one might candidly call it ruinous, rather than otherwise. This is singular and surprising; we cannot account for it. Frame-houses in this country ought to require no repairs for twenty years at least. That is the received opinion. We dogmatically assert that the house we built ourselves, with such infinite labour and trouble, is as good as any other of its size and kind. Consequently, it will not want repairing for twenty years. But it does. It looks as old as the hills, and seems to be coming to pieces about us, though only eight years old. Nevertheless, we will not forswear ourselves, we will not repair our shanty till twenty years are gone!
As for allowing that there could be any fault in our workmanship, that our inexperienced joinery can have been the cause of the shanty's premature decay, that, even Old Colonial says, is ridiculous. No, the wood was unseasoned; or, perhaps, it was over-seasoned. We admit so much, but our handicraft was certainly not to blame.
The imperfections of the shanty are many and grievous. The door and windows have quarrelled desperately with their settings. On windy nights we get no sleep, as every one is engaged trying to fasten and wedge them into noiseless security. The door developed a most obstreperous and noxious habit of being blown into the middle of the house during the night, with much hideous clatter and clamour. We stopped that at last by nailing it up altogether, and making a new entrance through the side of the chimney-place.
Then, each particular board in the sides of the shanty has somehow warped itself out of place. We are thus enabled to view the lovely scenery lying round the place from our bunks, without the trouble of rising and going to the window. Old Colonial says that free ventilation is one of the great blessings of life. He thinks that the chinks in our walls are absolutely a provision of Nature, since, he says, we would certainly be choked with smoke if there were none.
Sometimes the cattle, feeding on the clearings round the shanty, come and thrust their noses through the gaps in the boards, or stand and eye us as we are taking our meals. The Saint says he has invited them to breakfast with us, on the first of April next, by which time he expects that the chinks will have gaped wide enough to permit of the passage of cattle.
Of course, the smoke of the fire will not go up the chimney as it ought, but floats freely about the shanty. This is good for the bacon and hams, when there are any, that depend from the rafters. It is also a wholesome thing, says Old Colonial, and sweetens and preserves everything. "None of your gassy, sooty coal-smoke, but the fragrant vapours of the burning forest!" so he remarked one night, when we were all blinded and choked by the volumes of smoke that rolled through the shanty. O'Gaygun is often funny, but not always original. He says that the smoke floats about our habitation because it never knows which hole it ought to go out at!
On rainy nights—and that is nearly every night during some three months of the year—there is perpetual misery in the shanty. One hears some choice varieties of rhetorical flowers of speech; there is a continual shifting about of beds; and often unseemly scuffling for drier places. O'Gaygun says that he loves to "astthronomise" when lying comfortably in bed; but he adds, that, "a shower-bath is a quare place to sleep in."
It will be surmised from this that our roof is leaky. All roofs are that, you know, in a greater or lesser degree, only ours in a greater, perhaps. Those shingles will come off. We are sure we put them on properly and securely. The nails must have been some inferior rotten quality, doubtless. Loose shingles lie about all around the shanty. They come in useful as plates, as our crockery is generally short. In fact, O'Gaygun prefers them to the usual article, and always goes outside to pick up a plate for any stranger who may happen to drop in to lunch. To use his words, "They fall aff the shanty roof loike the laves aff the tthrees!"
Somehow or other all these things go unremedied. It would, of course, be an admission that our work had been unsatisfactory, if we were to earnestly set about repairing the shanty, and thereby formally allow that it required such renovation. No one will dare to initiate such a serious thing. Besides, it is no one man's particular business to begin the work of mending; while we are always busy, and have acquired such an amazing notion of the value of our time, that we consider the necessary repairs would not be worth the time it would take us to effect them.
Moreover, Old Colonial is a bush-philosopher, and delivers himself of moral orations in the shanty of nights. His views on some subjects are peculiar, and they are always hurled at our heads with the utmost scorn and contempt for all who may differ from them. This is his theory on repairing—
"We are pioneers; it is our special duty and purpose to make, to begin, to originate. We inherit nothing; we are ourselves the commencement of a future society, just as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. Our whole time and labour must be given to the one purpose of hewing out the new path. We cannot stop to repair our faults and failures. For us that would be a waste of energy and of time. It is for those who inherit the commencement we have made to do that; not for us, the pioneers. They will improve our beginnings; we must continue onward. Never mend anything, except your manners, boys! Put up with discomforts and hardships, as pioneers should!"
The furniture and internal arrangements of our shanty are more simple in construction than elegant in appearance. We go in for utility, and not for show. As a central feature is the table. It is our pride and glory, that table, for it was made in Auckland, and imported by us from Helensville. It is the one piece of furniture we possess that displays an art superior to our own. Solid, strong and large, made of stout kauri wood, it has borne a great deal of rough usage, and is capable of bearing a great deal more.
Besides all the customary uses to which a table may be put, this article of ours fulfils even another purpose. It comes in very handy sometimes as a bedstead. I have known two men to sleep upon it on occasions; its breadth being considerable. For a long time it went by the name of O'Gaygun's four-poster, that gentleman having a predilection for sleeping on it. He is a huge, bony Irishman, and somewhat restless in his sleep. Accordingly, it was no unusual thing for him to roll off the table in the night, and descend upon the floor with considerable uproar. This was got over by inverting the table at night, and making him recline on the inside of it, with the legs sticking up around him. He does not like this position, though, for he says the rats run across him all night.
Chairs we have none, except two curious contrivances belonging to the Saint and the Little'un. We use empty kegs and boxes, sawn logs set up on end, and the sides of our bunks, when we sit at table. When at our ease and our tobacco, we either recline in our bunks, or sit on the edge of the floor opening into the chimney-place.
The two curious contrivances alluded to are styled armchairs by their manufacturers, and somewhat remarkable objects they are. The Saint's is made out of the section of a cask set up on four legs. It possesses a fifth leg, or outrigger at the back, and has cushions of flour-bags, stuffed with turkey's feathers. The owner doubtless finds it to his mind, but he has to guard against leaning to either side, or collapse is always the consequence.
The other armchair is the Little'un's. Now, this young gentleman, though the most youthful of our party, is by no means the least. He is, in fact, six feet six inches in height, and is of broad and muscular build. His private seat is therefore of the ponderous kind. At first sight it would seem to be of immense strength, since it is made of heavy stakes, cut in the adjoining bush. These are abundantly jointed with bars and bolts of the same solid and substantial kind; the seat and back being composed of sacking. But, in spite of the apparent power displayed by this fabrication, disastrous accidents are continually happening. The Little'un has no inborn genius for joinery.
Sometimes it has happened that, as we sat at a meal, a loud crack would be heard, some part of his throne would give way, and the Little'un would disappear from view. Shouts of laughter from the rest. Old Colonial, in high delight, would proceed to show how cleverly the Little'un had adapted his armchair to his exact weight; and how it was unable to support the addition of the great load of victuals which that individual had unthinkingly stowed away. The Little'un would arise silent and perplexed; and, by-and-by, we would find him deeply pondering over the manufacture of his scaffolding, and probably shaping another small tree with his axe to add to it.
The most important items of the shanty's plenishing are the bunks and beds. The former are made in this way, having been constructed by the carpenter at the township. A simple folding trestle at head and foot supports two parallel bars. Across these is stretched and nailed stout canvas. Each of us has one of these bedsteads, which are very convenient in the limited dimensions of our shanty, for they can be folded and stacked out of the way when necessary.
The beds themselves are curiously fabricated. Old potato-sacks, flour-bags, and the like have been utilized. The stuffing is of fern, feathers, mounga, and sundry other matters. Each of us has two or more blankets, which, I regret to say, are a trifle frowsy as a rule. O'Gaygun's call for special remark.
This descendant of Hibernian kings is content to undergo even greater inconveniences than he necessarily need do, since he has determined to make his fortune in the shortest possible space of time. Moreover, he professes the profoundest contempt for luxury and even comfort. He holds that almost anything civilized is an effeminacy, and out of place in the bush, where he considers that life ought to be lived in a stern and "natchral" way. He is intensely conservative in the primitive usages and habits of the roughest pioneering times, and emphatically condemns any innovations thereupon. He works with furious zeal and unflagging energy, and saves all the money he earns, generally investing it in gold-mine scrip, or something that rarely turns out well.
In the matter of blankets and bedding, the spirit of O'Gaygun's economy and self-sacrifice is apparent. His bedding is like that of all of us, except that it is less bulky—O'Gaygun asserting that a soft bed is a sin. His blankets have long been worn out; in fact, they are the mere shreds and tatters of what once were blankets. Bunk he has none. It would go against his principles to get one. If any of us is absent, O'Gaygun borrows his bunk for the time. When all are present he contents himself with the inverted table, his especial four-poster.
To see this eccentric Milesian settling himself for the night is invariably a mirthful spectacle, and, it may be added, that, no one of us is more volubly humorous and laughter-loving than O'Gaygun himself. Reclining on the sacks which he has spread out upon the table, he proceeds to draw his tattered blankets carefully over his lengthy limbs. Piece by piece he spreads the coverings. First one foot and then another, then the waist, and so on, until at last he is entirely covered. The process is troublesome, perhaps; but when it is finished O'Gaygun lies as warm and comfortable as need be. Why should he go to the expense of new blankets?
Of course there is in the shanty a litter of cans, kegs, old packing-cases, and the like, which come into use in various ways. Among them are the remains of former state, in the shape of certain trunks, portmanteaus, and boxes. These receptacles held our wardrobes, when we possessed such things, and the sundry personals we brought with us from England years ago, and imported up here.
We have long got over the feeling that it is imperative to hoard up clothes and things in boxes; in fact, we have no longer any clothes and things that require such disposal. But in the bush everything must serve some purpose or other; and so all these now disused trunks are turned to use. One grand old imperial is now a brine-tub, within whose dank and salt recesses masses of beef and pork are always kept stored ready for use. Other cases hold sugar, salt, flour, and so on; a uniform case is now our bread-basket; each has its proper purpose, and is accomplishing its final destiny. There is a fine leather portmanteau, or what was once such, now the residence of a colley bitch and her litter of pups. Mildewed and battered as it is, it still seems to recall to mind faint memories of English country-houses, carriages, valets, and other outlandish and foreign absurdities. There must be magic in that old valise, for, the other day, Dandy Jack was looking at the pups that live in it, and remarked their kennel. A fragment of schoolboy Latin came into his head, and, to our astonishment, he murmured, "Sic transit gloria mundi!"
To avoid the possibility of any mistakes arising from an admission just made, I hereby beg to state that we do not consider clothing as entirely superfluous. But we no longer regard it from any artistic or ornamental point of view; that would be to derogate from our character as bushmen. We are not over-burdened with too large a choice of clothing. Such as we have is pretty much held in common, and all that is not in immediate use finds a place on the partition-rack, or the shelves upon it. We are supposed to possess another change of garments apiece, but no one knows exactly how he stands in this matter, unless it be the Little'un, whose superior amplitude of limb debars him from the fullest exercise of communal rights.
Our ordinary costume consists of flannel shirt and moleskin breeches, boots, socks, leggings, belt, and hat. In chilly and wet weather we sling a potato-sack, or some ancient apology for a coat, round our shoulders. When we visit the township, or our married neighbours, we clean ourselves as much as possible, and put on the best coat we can find in the shanty. We do not entirely dispense with such things as towels and handkerchiefs, though the use of them is limited, and substitutes are employed. Razors, of course, were discarded long ago, but some antique brushes, and a small piece of cracked looking-glass, represent the toilette accessories of the shanty.
Our custom is to wear our clothes just as long as they will hold together, before we renew any garment by purchasing another of its kind at the township store. There is no time for mending in the bush, so we are often rather ragged. Washing is a nuisance, but we feel bound to go through it sometimes; and very knowing laundrymen are we, up to every dodge for economizing elbow-grease, and yet satisfactorily cleansing the things. But we do not undertake this work too often. Old Colonial has laid down a law upon the subject. He says—
"Frequent washing spoils clothes, and causes them to rot sooner. Besides, it is unnecessary where there are no women about, and a loss of time if it trenches on more important work."
Dandy Jack is an exception to the common sumptuary habits of the bush. In fact, he is an exceptional character altogether. Place him where you will, and he always looks fit for a drawing-room. How he manages it, no one knows. Many have tried to imitate him, but without success. They have expended much money, and time, and thought, in the endeavour to compete with our dandy chum, but have had, sooner or later, to give up in despair, and return to tatters and grime like the common run of folk. Dandy Jack always carries a small swag about with him from place to place, wherever he may temporarily pitch his tent. If he rides, it is behind his saddle; if he boats, it is beside him; if he walks, it is on his back. Yet it is not only this that enables him to appear as he does. Other people can carry swags as well as he. But Dandy Jack has a peculiar genius which other persons lack. That must be it!
There is one portion of our domicile that we are accustomed to speak of with a certain fond and lingering reverence. This is THE LIBRARY. High up in one corner, festooned with cobwebs, are a couple of shelves. Upon them are a pile of tattered newspapers and periodicals, a row of greasy volumes, mostly of the novel sort, one or two ancient account-books, and the fragmentary relics of a desk containing pens, ink, and paper. Such as it is, our library is more than every establishment like ours can boast of. There is precious little time for reading or writing in the bush.
The smaller half of the shanty, divided from the rest and from the chimney-place by the incomplete partition already spoken of, is termed by us the dairy. It is not in any way separate from the rest of the house, though, since we use it and sleep in it as part of the general apartment. But here, arranged on shelves all round the walls, are tin dishes and billies, a churn, a cheese-press, and the various appurtenances of a dairy. Humble and primitive as are these arrangements, we do yet contrive to turn out a fair amount of butter and cheese. At such seasons as we have cows in milk, this makes a fair show to our credit every week, in the ledger of the township storekeeper, our good friend the Mayor.
It will be readily understood that our table equipage is not of the best or most sumptuous description. It fluctuates in extent a good deal from time to time, and always presents the spectacle of pleasing variety. We are never without appliances and substitutes of one kind or other; and members of the society now and then add to the stock such items as they severally deem desirable, or happen to pick up cheap "down the river."
Experience has taught us that meat is meat still, although it may be eaten direct out of frying-pan or stew-pot. It is just as good, better we think, as when served up on Palissy ware or silver. Knives and forks are distinctly a product of civilization; custom holds us to the use of them. But what are a sheath-knife and a wooden skewer, if not everything that is needed?
Those ultra-conservatives among our number, those rigid adherents to the most primitive bush-life, of course despise all the refinements of the table. Plates, forks, and spoons are to them degeneracies,—things that no noble bushman needs or requires. They scorn any leanings towards luxury and ease. Give them a life that is totally free from the petty trammels and slavish conventionalities of the old world!
At one time we were possessed of but a single plate, an iron one, which had lost its enamel, and was half eaten through by rust; we had only one fork, and that had only a prong and a half remaining. But we had our cooking-pots and billies, our sheath-knives, wooden skewers, fingers, and O'Gaygun's shingle-plates. What more could any one want? And if there were not enough pannikins or mugs to hold our tea all round, there were empty preserve-cans, gallipots, and oyster-shells! We were content and happy. But this blissful state was to be rudely broken.
One day, a member of our party had been down Helensville way. There had been an auction of the effects of a settler, who was moving off to the South Island. Our chum had not been able to resist the temptation, and had invested all he was worth in an assortment of goods. It was night when he returned, and we were all in the shanty. He came up from the boat, staggering under the weight of a great kit full of crocks and such-like.
Of course, the excitement was great as we surveyed the heap of new treasures we had acquired. Even O'Gaygun was enchanted for a moment, till he remembered himself, and assumed the stern and savage bearing befitting the leader of our conservatives. His scorn was withering.
"F'what might this be?" he would ask, fingering contemptuously first one thing and then another.
"An' f'what do ye do wid it, at all?" he inquired, as article after article was reviewed, affecting the airs of wonderment supposed to belong to a child of nature.
Presently his humour changed, and he passed into the declamatory stage.
"'Tis a sinful exthravagance! a temptin' av Providence!" he exclaimed. "Plates! an' faaks! an' dishes! an' sacers! did ivver anny wan see the loike? F'what do ye expict nixt? Kid gloves to work in, maybe! That ivver I'd see the day whan sich degrading emblems av the ould superstitions of sassiety was brought into the bush! Ough!"
So much and more the O'Gaygun. But there is a sequel to the incident.
Some time after, when we had learnt to love and cherish these acquisitions, the Little'un was one day detailed as hut-keeper. It so happened that he had our entire stock of crockery to wash up, as we generally work through the set before any one will act as scullery-maid. The Little'un got through his task; he washed every plate and cup we had got; but, not finding any towel or cloth handy, he disposed the things on the stones in the chimney-place, round the stove to dry. There he left them, and went off to chop firewood, forgetting to fasten the door.
Directly the Little'un's back was turned, a wandering pig arrived on the scene. Seeing the open door, he resolved to prospect a bit, and accordingly entered the shanty. What followed can now never be precisely known, but conjecture allows us to arrive at the probable truth.
The pig's first discovery was a number of comical objects, whose purpose he could not divine, stuck about among stones and gravel. He ruminated over these awhile, and at last inquisitively snouted one dish that stood alone, like a small monument. Down went the strange thing and smashed. The pig thought this was singular, and was somewhat startled. Still, he resolved to persevere in his investigations. He inserted his nose into a long, hollow thing that lay there, but could not get it out of the jug again. In his horror and fright at such an extraordinary accident, he plunged round and round the place; and, as he went, things fell and cracked and crashed under his feet in an awful and terrifying manner. At last he hit the thing that covered his snout against something hard, and it, too, broke. But a splinter wounded his nose, and made him squeal and fairly scream with pain and fright. At last, executing one final pirouette and gambado, while the strange things crunched and crackled at every move of his, he rushed out through the door, oversetting a man who was coming in with a bundle of firewood.
It was a scene of woe when the rest of us arrived from work. Concern and consternation sat on every brow, as the Little'un unfolded his tale, and we surveyed the universal smash of our crockery. Only O'Gaygun showed signs of levity. In stentorian tones he shouted:—
"A jedgment! a jedgment on ye, bhoys! The very bastes is sint to prache aginst yer exthravagance an' lukshury! The pigs is tachin' ye as they tached the howly St. Anthony av ould! O glory, glory! 'tis grand!"
But his remarks were ill-timed. Conservatism was out of favour just then, and the Liberals were in power. The wrath of the assembly was turned upon this audacious prophet; and, excommunicated from the shanty, it was very late before humanity compelled us to let him have his supper. And I may mention that fresh pork chops were added to the bill of fare that night.