Book 3, chapter 3 [The Yellow Wave, by Kenneth Mackay, 1895]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]

Chapter III.

Under the wistaria.

After a whisky-and-soda with Cameron, Hatten made off to the barracks. On his way he caught sight of four or five men lounging in front of the store-door, and, stepping up, looked in. A figure in leggings and moles, with his shirt-sleeves rolled above the elbows of a pair of sun-tanned, sinewy arms, stood behind the counter pouring sugar out of a pint into a dirty calico bag.

‘Well, what the devil do you want?’ grunted Ted Johnson impatiently.

‘A little civility,’ retorted Dick; ‘or, if you can’t supply that, five minutes on the grass.’

‘Why, Dick, old man, I didn’t know you with that confounded stubble!’ exclaimed Ted, jumping over the counter. ‘Put it there, if it weighed a ton!’

As the friends shook hands, Dick said:

‘What! turned storekeeper? Where’s Ewan?’

‘He went over to the Fort to see about a horse-muster they’re talking about. Just dodge into my diggings, and when I get rid of these swaggies, I’ll be with you before you can say “knife.”’

As Hatten looked at himself in Johnson’s glass, he felt that in retaining the stubble, which now stood out in hedgehog-like bristles, he was doing himself less than justice. Then, as he thought of his platonic rôle, he muttered: ‘Hang it all! what does it matter? And still,’ mused Dick, with a fine assumption of purely disinterested feeling, ‘that isn’t the way a man should look at it; heaven knows, women allow us enough latitude, in all conscience, but I think they have just cause to draw the line at my impersonation of a badly-scraped pig.’ Following out this train of thought, Dick began to rummage for his friend’s shaving-tackle.

‘So that’s your little game!’ laughed Ted, entering the room just as the searcher drew a razor from the toe of a Wellington boot.

‘Hullo, Ted! Fact is, I was too lazy to look up my own. I know you don’t mind, old chap.’

‘Not a bit,’ grinned Johnson, as he pulled his shirt over his head, ‘as long as you’ve finished when I’m through with my splash.’

As Johnson returned from the bathroom, Dick demanded wrathfully: ‘What the devil did you plant this infernal old hoop for?’

‘Why, what’s up?’ said Ted, looking at his friend’s blood-stained throat. ‘Had a row with the good old animal? She’s a daisy, if you take her right.’

‘Take her right, be hanged! The miserable thing can’t cut, and as to scraping it off — well, look at me.’

‘Man alive, she’s a demon on corns.’

‘So this is your corn-cutter you’ve palmed off on me?’ growled Dick with strong disgust.

‘The fact is, Dick,’ laughed Ted, producing another razor, ‘the fellows have given me such a devil of a time boning my razors, that I had to lay for them. I’m sorry you fell in; but, Lord! isn’t she a beauty?’

‘For skinning a man?’

‘For giving some of those beggars a love-of-God shave,’ retorted Ted, as he carefully returned the razor to its hiding-place.

As the men dressed, Dick’s treatment by Spero, Aloysius and Co. was fully threshed out.

‘I have nothing left bar Io and the two stock-horses,’ said Hatten.

‘You’ve been as close to bottom before to-day.’

‘Yes; but Queensland wasn’t a slave province then. A poor white man has no show here at present. I think I’ll cut it.’

‘Lots of time to think about that when we’re tired of you, Dick,’ said Ted heartily.

‘Well, yes, if old Cameron doesn’t mind, I’ll put in a few weeks with you, and then strike out West.’

While he was speaking the gong sounded, and the two men walked out.

‘Under the wistaria, I suppose?’ said Dick.

‘Rather; it’s as hot as an oven inside,’ replied Ted, leading the way into the space formed by the main building and the wings.

During the summer months the dining-room at Isis Downs was practically deserted. At Heather’s suggestion the distance between the wings had been spanned with battens supported by light wooden pillars, and over this framework she had trained wistaria after the fashion of the Japanese. Under this lavender-tinted canopy dinner was now served.

Cameron, white-bearded, ruddy, and straight as a lance, sat at the head of the table. Jovial, self-reliant, and hospitable as an Arab, he well represented a type of pioneer fast passing away. Opposite him Mrs. Enson, in black silk and lace cap, presided over the teapot with even more dignity of manner than usual. To Dick she already appeared to be living up to the future possibilities.

The two girls, dressed in white, relieved only by the silver buckles of the belts that bound their blouses, formed a restful contrast to the glistening rotundity of the older lady.

With Edith and Heather on either side of him, Hatten felt that, if not with all things content, he was at home once more. Having given an account of his adventures since last they were all together, and having heard in return the various little items of local interest which the ladies had stored up against his return, Dick asked after their neighbours at Fort Mallarraway.

‘You’re just in time to see for yourself,’ said Edith. They are going to have a big horse-muster, and Mr. Musgrave wants Heather and myself to go over and help.’

‘The three of you should be equal to six stockmen at least,’ laughed Cameron; ‘only I’m afraid you’d talk too much to be trusted with the “tailers” — eh, Edith?’

‘From all I can hear, the men are no better,’ retorted Edith. ‘At any rate, I don’t want to mind the stupid “tailers”; we’ll do the running-in for you.’

‘Edith,’ remarked Mrs. Enson severely, ‘you will do nothing of the kind; you have purposely misunderstood Mr. Musgrave’s slipshod method of expressing himself; what would — ahem — what would the young gentlemen think of you?’

‘Ewan says the girls over there ride like fun,’ persisted Edith.

‘I fail to grasp the full meaning of Ewan’s simile,’ retorted the old lady. ‘But I am determined that while I am alive you shall ride like a lady, not like a stockman.’

Stepping into the breach, Dick remarked:

‘Your nephew is late, sir?’

‘The girls I expect, Dick,’ began Cameron, when a tall, raw-boned young Scotchman walked up.

Shaking hands with Dick, he took a seat.

‘Well, what news, boy?’ asked his uncle.

‘They expect you all over next week,’ replied the new-comer, with a slight ‘burr’ in his slow, deliberate speech. ‘Save us, but they’re building a fortification yonder!’

‘Not before it’s wanted,’ interposed Hatten; ‘these confounded Russians mean mischief, or I’m vastly mistaken.’

‘Talking of Russians, have you seen or heard anything of that delightful Mr. Dromeroff?’ asked Edith mischievously.

‘Not since I had dinner with him at Point Parker. By the way, he wished to be remembered.’

‘Did he? — how nice of him! I wonder if we will ever see him again — he was so amusing.’

‘It’s the trade of all these foreigners,’ growled Johnson; ‘probably your friend is an absconding valet.’

‘Edward, remember he was a friend of the Count’s,’ said Mrs. Enson reprovingly.

‘Whatever he was, I wish he’d look us up again,’ retorted Edith; ‘even a gentlemen’s gentleman is preferable to nobody.’

‘Passing over your contemptuous reference to myself,’ laughed Dick, ‘I think I may safely say that you will see him again.’

‘You know I didn’t mean it, Dick,’ said the girl quickly. ‘I was only talking nonsense; but, joking apart, I am glad we are to see Mr. Dromeroff. When do you think he will be here?’

‘Very soon, I fancy,’ replied Dick uneasily, anxious not to say too much before so ardent an admirer of the Count as Mrs. Enson. Then, turning to Heather, he asked how they all meant to go over to the Fort.

‘Father will drive Mrs. Enson; and now that you have come, Edith and I will ride over with you and Ted — that is, if you don’t mind?’

‘Splendid! You will ride Io?’

‘I would like to,’ interposed the girl; ‘but won’t you want to put her into work again now that you are back?’

‘If I did, what better work could I put her at?’ replied Dick; ‘but don’t let that trouble you, she is not going into training yet awhile.’

‘I’m so glad,’ said Heather; ‘she and I have become quite chums, and she is as gentle as she is good.’

‘I am glad you are so well matched,’ murmured Dick as the ladies rose.

Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 161-167

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