Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII.: CHRISTMAS AMUSEMENTS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter VII.: CHRISTMAS AMUSEMENTS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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Ellen's wedding day drew near. Frank and Harry Moore had toiled together at spare hours to erect and fit up a convenient dwelling; and there was no fear whatever but that she and her husband would be amply supplied with all the necessaries and many of the comforts of life. Her father began to smile upon her, though he muttered complaints of there being so many changes always going on that none of them ever knew when they were settled. Her step-mother, though still hinting that the girl knew what she was about when she was in such a hurry to come away from a poor parish, seemed very well satisfied to have matters so arranged, and rather proud than otherwise of belonging to Ellen. The farmer and his wife whom Ellen served sighed when they found she was going to leave them, and observed that it was always the way, as soon as they got suited with a dairy maid; but as she agreed to go on taking care of their cows till they could obtain another damsel in her place from Hobart Town, they treated her very graciously. The only serious drawback to her comfort was that Harry's fellow-labourers would go on courting her, though they knew she was engaged, and that this caused Harry to be more jealous than she felt there was any occasion for, or than she could easily excuse. She had no other fault to find with Harry; but she was more than once on the point of breaking off the match on this account, and if it had not been for Frank's interposition, and his assurances that such feelings were very natural in Harry, she would have thrown away her own happiness for want of being sufficiently aware of the danger of such a position as hers to a girl of less principle than herself.—A circumstance happened, a few days before her marriage, which everybody else thought very disastrous; but which she could not think so, since it established a perfect understanding between Harry and herself.
On the morning of the 21st of December,—the height of summer in Van Diemen's Land,—Frank appeared, breathless, in the farm-yard whither Ellen was just going to milk her cows; Castle at the same moment was seen at some distance, hastening from the downs where he ought to have been tending his sheep at this hour; Harry Moore next leaped the gate and wiped his brows, seeming too much agitated to speak; the farmer pulled his hat over his eyes, in anticipation of the news that was coming, and the women crowded together in terror.—Ellen was the first to ask what was the matter.
“Have your men decamped, farmer?” inquired Frank.
“Yes, almost to a man. Have Stapleton's?”
“Two out of four; and every settler in the neighbourhood misses more or less this morning.”
“Now the devil and his imps will be on us in the shape of a gang of bush rangers,” muttered the farmer.
“Not on us, farmer. They will more likely go to some distant part where their faces are strange.”
“If they do, they will send strange faces here, which comes to the same thing; for one bushranger's face is as devilish as another. One of us must be off in search of a guard, and our shepherds, and indeed all of us, must carry arms.”
Ellen turned pale at the mention of arms. Harry drew to her side, and told her in a tone of forced calmness that three of her lovers were gone.
“Gone!” cried Ellen joyfully. “Gone for good?”
“Gone for ever as lovers of yours.”
“Thank God!” said she. “Better watch night and day with arms in our hands than have your head full of fancies, Harry. You will never believe again that I can like such people: and you shall teach me to fire a gun, so as to defend the house while you are away; and I shall not be afraid of anything when you are at home.”
Harry was so alert and happy from this moment that one would have thought there had been a certainty that no bush-rangers would ever come again, instead of a threatening that those who had till now been servants would soon reappear as enemies.
Whatever arms could be found up were put into the hands of the shepherds, as they were most in danger from violence for the sake of their flocks. They were desired to keep in sight of one another so far as that each should be able to make a certain signal agreed on, in case of his having reason to suppose that there were enemies at hand. Frank departed immediately for Launceston, for powder and ball, and a further supply of labourers to fill the places of those who had eloped. Another messenger was sent to the seat of government to give information of what had happened. During the absence of her brother, Ellen heard enough of the evils inflicted by runaway convicts to alarm a stouter heart than any young girl devotedly attached to her lover ever had; and to add to her uneasiness, her father once more became gloomy, and poor little Susan clung to her side wherever she went. Harry left his work twenty times a day to tell her that all was quiet, and bid her not be alarmed. During the day, she followed his advice pretty well; but in the evenings, so many tales of horror went round that, though she did not believe the half of them, her confidence was shaken; and she went to bed shuddering to think of what might have happened before morning.
The bush-rangers seemed to be less dreaded by the settlers than the natives. The bushrangers came down in a troop, carried off what they wanted, occasionally shooting a man or two during the process, and then went completely away. The warfare of the natives was much more horrible,—their movements being stealthy, their revenge insatiable, their cruelty revolting. They would hover about for days or weeks before committing an outrage, planning the most wicked way of proceeding, and seizing the most defenceless moment for pouncing on their victims. Castle asked aloud, what Ellen inquired in her heart, why all this was not told them before they came, and what there was in wealth which could compensate for such alarms as they were now suffering under? Frank satisfied her, in some degree, when he returned on the 24th, —the day before her wedding. He told her that though the first settlers had suffered dreadfully from the murders and plunder of the hostile natives and runaway convicts, this was not a sufficient reason to deter other settlers from following, since, owing to the vigorous measures of the Australian government, such outrages had been repressed and nearly put an end to. He pointed out to her that the horrible tales she had been told related to former times, and assured her that, except in some districts near the wilder parts of the island, the face of a savage had not been seen for years.—Ellen pointed to the mountain wastes on which their settlement bordered, and Frank acknowledged that the Dairy Plains lay as open to an attack as most newlysettled districts; but he had been assured at Launceston that there was no need to terrify themselves with apprehensions as long as they were armed and properly careful in their movements; since the sound of a musket would disperse a whole troop of savages, and they attacked no place that was not left absolutely defenceless. He had distinctly ascertained what he had before conjectured,—that it was not the practice of runaway convicts to plunder settlements where their faces were known, and that the only danger therefore arose from the probability that they might injure the savages, who might come down to wreak their revenge upon the innocent settlers.
“If this is all,” sighed Ellen, “there is nothing—”
“To prevent your being married to-morrow, Ellen. So I have been telling Harry.”
“There Was no occasion, thank you. I never meant to put it off. The more danger, the more reason for our being together. Besides, it will help to take father's mind off from his discontent. He has been wishing himself back in Kent every hour since you went.”
“Indeed! Well now, I think that such an occasional fright as this is little to the hardship of living as we did at A—, to say nothing of the certainty of there soon being an end to it. The only two evils our settlers suffer from will grow less every year the scarcity of labour, and danger of theft. To make up for these, we have the finest climate in the world, abundance of all that we at present want, and the prospect of seeing our children, and their children again, well provided for.—But you must be in a hurry now, dear, considering what has to be, lone to-morrow. So go, and cheer up, and trouble your head no more about black or white thieves.”
Ellen had, however, little more than usual to do this day, as hers was not the kind of wedding to require preparation. The travelling chaplain who was to come and perform the Christmas service, was to marry the young people, and thus only was the day to be marked as different from any other. The settlers, no doubt, thought much of their friends in England, and of the festivities which are there enjoyed by all but those whose poverty deprives them of the means: but the seasons are so entirely reversed in Van Diemen's Land,—it is so impossible amidst the brilliant verdure, the heat and long days of the Christmas season there, to adopt the festivities carried on at home beside the hearth and over the punch-bowl, that Christmas-day was allowed to pass quietly, and the grand holidays of the year were wisely made on the anniversaries of their settlement in their present abodes,—of their entrance on a life of prosperity.
No fairer morning ever dawned than that on which Ellen arose very early, and stole out to find that refreshment in the open air which she was not disposed to seek in more sleep. She had rested well for a few hours, but the first rays of the sun finding their way into her chamber, (which was more like a clean loft than an English bedroom), roused her to thoughts that prevented her sleeping again. It was too soon to be looking after her cows; so she took her knitting, and sat on the bench outside the house, whence she could look over a vast tract of country, and where she was pretty sure of an hour's quiet. She had some thoughts to spare for her old Kentish neighbours; and began to fancy how her grandmother would be getting up three hours after, when it would be scarcely dawning, to make the room tidy, and light the fire to boil the kettle; and how the old couple would put on their best,; and draw over the hearth with their Christmas breakfast. Then she thought of the many boys and girls she knew who would be going to church, with red noses, and shivering in their scanty clothing. Then she sighed when she remembered that she might never more hear psalms sung in a church; and again she smiled while fancying Mr. Fellowes's great dinner to half the parish,—a dinner of roast beef and ale and plum puddings, and Mr. Jackson there to say grace, and the clerk to sing a Christmas carol, and every old man giving a toast by turns, and some one perhaps to propose the healths of their friends far away. She blushed, all alone as she was, when she wondered what they would say if they knew she was to be married so soon, especially if they could see Harry. It was strange, while her mind was thus full of pictures of a frosty day, of a smoking table, of a roaring fire, lamps, and a steaming punch-bowl, to took up and observe what Was before her eyes. The scene was not even like a midsummer morning in Kent. It was not dotted with villages: there were no hop-grounds, and all the apples grown within five miles would hardly have made an orchard. There were no spires among the trees; nor did the morning mists rise from the dells or hover over the meadows. All was clear and dry and verdant under the deep blue sky. No haze hung over the running streams that found their way among the grassy hillocks. Neither oak nor beech grew on the hill side, nor pines on the ridges of the mountains behind; but trees to whose strange foliage her eye was yet unaccustomed reared their lofty stems where it did not appear that the hand of man was likely to have planted them; and myrtles and geraniums grew up roof-high, like the finest monthly roses in England. Instead of the little white butterflies flitting over the daisied turf, there were splendid ones alighting here and there in the neighbouring garden, larger and gayer than the finest of the flowers they fed upon. Instead of the lark rising from her dewy nest into the pink morning cloud, there were green and crimson parrots glancing among the lofty evergreens. Instead of flickering swarms of midges, flies shone like emeralds in the sun. Instead of a field-mouse venturing out of its hole, or frogs leaping across the path, speckled and gilded snakes (of which Ellen had learned not to be afraid) wriggled out into the sunshine, and finding that the world was not all asleep, made haste to hide themselves again.
“If I could fancy any part of this to be England,” thought Ellen, “it would be yonder spot behind the range of woodland, where the smoke is rising. If that were but grandfather's cottage, how I would run and bring them here before any body else was up. They will be so sorry not to have seen me married, and not to know Harry! But I cannot make out that smoke. I did not know that anybody lived there, and it looks more than enough to come from a single chimney. Perhaps the man that found the brick clay, and talked of having a kiln, may have settled there. I will ask Harry. I wonder what o'clock it is now! He said he should finish his morning's work first, that he might stay when he did come. How odd it seems that there are so few people to do things here, that a man can scarcely be spared from his work on his wedding day! They must be all over-sleeping themselves, I think. I'll just get the milk-pails, and that may wake them; and if the cows are milked a little earlier than usual it will not signify. I only get fidgetty, sitting here, and fancying noises; from missing the singing-birds, I dare say, that are busy among the boughs on such a morning as this in England. It was an odd squeak and whistle that I heard just now; perhaps a quail or a parroquet, or some other bird that I dont know the note of yet. Or it might be one of those noisy black swans on the lake yonder. I will not stay any longer to be startled. That was only a butterfly that flew dazzling before my eyes; and these flies do not sting, so I need not mind their buzzing. There! I had rather hear that lowing that. I have been used to from a child than any music in the. world. I should be sorry indeed to give up these cows, for all I am going to have one of my own.”
Ellen purposely made some noise in getting her pails, that she might wake somebody and find out how time went. She could not account for the sun being so low in the sky till she heard the farmer growl that he wished people would be quiet till it was time to get up; which it would not be for two hours yet.
After pausing before the door to watch the distant smoke, which had much increased, Ellen repaired to the cow-yard, immediately behind the dwelling. She stumbled on something in the litter which she mistook for a little black pig, till its cry made her think it was something much less agreeable to meet with. Stooping down, she saw that it was certainly a black baby; ugly and lean and dirty; but certainly a baby. She did not scream; she had the presence of mind not to touch the little thing, remembering that, for aught she knew, the parents might be lurking among the sheds, and ready to spring upon her if she should attempt to carry away the infant, which had probably been dropped in the hurry of getting out of her way. Trembling and dreading to look behind her, she stepped back into the house, and now roused the farmer in good earnest. In a few minutes, the whole household was ill the cow-yard; the men not choosing to separate, and the women being afraid to leave their protectors. The child was still there, and nothing was discovered in the general search of the premises which now took place. When the farmer saw the smoke at a distance, he ascribed it at once to a party of natives having set the grass on fire in cooking their kangaroo repast. He thought it probable that two or three spies might be at hand, and the rest of the party ready for a summons to fall on the farm as soon as it should, by any accident, be left undefended. He would not have the child brought into the house, but fed it himself with milk, and laid it on some straw near where it was found, in a conspicuous situation. Beside it he placed some brandy, and a portion of food for the parents, if they should choose to come for it.
“There is no knowing,” said he, “but they may be looking on; and one may as well give them the chance of feeling kindly, and making peace with us.” And he silenced one of his men who began to expatiate on the impossibility of obtaining any but a false peace with these treacherous savages.
Nothing could satisfy Harry but standing over his betrothed with a musket while she was milking. As for her, every rustle among the leaves, every movement of the cow before her, made her inwardly start; though she managed admirably to keep her terrors to herself.
The arrival of the chaplain happened fortunately for collecting the neighbouring settlers; and, by the farmer's desire, nothing was said of what had happened till the services he came to perform were ended. Harry and Ellen were married, amidst some grave looks from the family of which they had till now made a part, and the smiles of all the guests. Ellen's disappointed lovers,—the only people who could possibly disapprove of the ceremony, —were absent; and she tried not to think about what they might be doing or planning.
The barking of the dogs next drew the party to the door, and they saw what was a strange sight to many of the new-comers. A flock of emus, or native ostriches, was speeding over the plain, almost within shot.
“What are they?” inquired one.
“'Tis many a month since we have seen an emu,” observed another. “I thought we had frightened away all that were left in these parts.”
“What are you all about,” cried a third. “Out with the dogs and after them! Make chase before it is too late!”
“A decoy! a decoy!” exclaimed the farmer. “Now I am certain that mine is a marked place. These savages have driven down the emus before them, to tempt us men out to hunt, and they are crouching near to fall on while we are away.”
He was as bold, however, as he was discerning. He left three or four men to guard the women and stock at home, and set off, as if on a sudden impulse, to hunt emus with the rest of his company, determining to describe a circuit of some miles, (including the spot whence the smoke arose) and to leave no lurking place unsearched. Frank went with him. Castle insisted on following his usual occupation on the downs, declaring himself safe enough, with companions within call, and on an open place where no one could come within half a mile without being seen. This was protection enough against an enemy who carried no other weapons than hatchets and pointed sticks, hardly worthy of the name of spears.—Harry remained, of course, with his bride.
The day wore away tediously while the homeguard now patrolled the premises, now indolently began to work at any little thing that might happen to want doing in the farm-yard, and then came to sit on the bench before the door, complaining of the heat. The women, meanwhile, peeped from the door, or came out to chat, or listened for the cry of the dogs, that they might learn in which direction the hunting party was turning.
“Ellen,” said her husband, “I do wonder you can look so busy on our wedding day.”
“O, I am not really busy! It is only to drive away thought when you are out of sight.”
“Well then, come with me across the road,—just to our own cottage, and see how pretty it was made for us to have dined in to-day, if all this had not happened. Frank was there after you left it last night; and there is more in it than you expect to see.—Now, don't look so afraid. It is no further than yonder saw-pit; and I tell you there is not a hole that a snake can creep into that we have not searched within this hour. —I do not believe there is a savage within twenty miles.—O, the baby!—Aye. I suppose it dropped from the clouds, or one of the dogs may have picked it up in the bush. 'Tis not for myself that I care for all this disturbance: 'Tis because they have spoiled your wedding day so that you will never bear to look back to it.”
Ellen wished they were but rid of their black foes for this time, and then she should care little what her wedding day had been. They said that one sight of a savage in a life-time was as much as most settlers had.—She must step in passing to see what ailed the poor infant, which was squalling in much the same style as if it had had a white skin;—a squall against which Ellen could not shut her heart any more than her ears.
“I must take it and quiet it,” said she. “I can put it down again as we come back in ten minutes.”
So lulling and rocking the little woolly-headed savage in her arms, she proceeded to her own cottage, to admire whatever had been suggested by her husband, and added by her neat-handed brother.
“What bird makes that odd noise?” inquired Ellen presently. “A magpie, or a parrot, or what? I heard it early this morning, and never before. A squeak and this a sort of and Whistle Hark!”
“Tis no bird,” said Harry in a hoarse whisper. Shut and bird, “bar the door after me!”
And he darted out of the cottage. Instead of shutting the door, Ellen flew to the window to watch what became of Harry. He was shouting and in full pursuit of something which leaped like a kangaroo through the high grass. He fired, and, as she judged by his cry of triumph, reached his mark. A rustle outside the door at this moment caught her excited ear; and on turning, she saw, distinct in the sunshine on the door-sill, the shadow of a human figure, as of some one lying in wait outside. Faint with the pang of terror, she sunk down on a chair in the middle of fire room, with the baby still in her arms, and gazed at the open doorway with eyes that might seem starting from their sockets. Immediately the black form she dreaded to see began to appear. A crouching, grovelling savage, lean and coarse as an ape, showing his teeth among his painted beard, and fixing his snakelike eyes upon hers, beard, came creeping on his knees and one hand, the other holding a glittering hatchet. Ellen made neither movement nor sound. If it had been a wild beast, she might have snatched up a loaded musket which was behind her, and have attempted to defend herself; but this was a man,—among all his deformities, still a man; and she was kept motionless by a more enervating horror than she would once have believed any human being could inspire her with. It was well she left the weapon alone. It was better handled by another. Harry, returning with the musket he had just discharged, caught a full view of the creature grovelling at his door, and had the misery of feeling himself utterly unable to defend his wife, In a moment, he bethought himself af the back window, and of the loaded musket standing beside it. It proved to be within reach; but his wife was sitting almost in a straight line between him and the savage. No matter! he must fire, for her last moment was come if he did not. In a fit of desperation he took aim as the creature was preparing for a spring. The ball whistled past Ellen's ear, and lodged in the head of the foe.
They were indeed safe, though it was long before they could believe themselves so, or Ellen could take courage to cross to the farm to tell what had happened. As there were no more traces of lurkers in the neighbourhood, it was supposed that the one shot in the grass was the mother, the one in the door-way, the father of the infant which no one now knew what to do with. It might be dangerous to keep it, whether it flourished or died under the care of the settlers; and there seemed to be no place where it could be deposited with the hope of ira being found by its own tribe. When Frank and his companions returned from the hunt, they threw light on this and other curious matters, and brought comfortable tidings to the inmates of the farm. The Castles, indeed, and they alone, found as much matter of concern as of comfort in what Frank had to tell.
In following the emu hunt, the farmer and his party had skirted a tract of woodland, called the bush, within which they perceived traces of persons having lately passed. On searching further, they came upon a scene rather different from what they had expected, and not the most agreeable in the world, though it fully accounted for the visit of the natives.—Under a large mimosa, which waved its long branches of yellow flowers over tile turf, and made a flickering shade, lay Jerry, enjoying the perfection of convict luxury; that is, smoking his pipe, drinking rum, and doing what he pleased, with a black wife, who, having skinned the kangaroo and lighted the fire, squatted down on the turf, waiting for further orders. If it had not been for the child she carried in a hood of hide on her shoulders, she would, have been taken for a tame monkey, so little was there human in her appearance and gestures; but the tiny face that peeped over her shoulder had that in it which bespoke humanity, however soon the dawning rationality might be destined to be extinguished.—On seeing the hunting-party, Jerry sprang to his feet, seized his arms, and whistled shrill and long; whereupon so many hootings and whistlings were heard through the wood, so many ferocious faces appeared from among the brakes on every hand that it became prudent to explain that no war was intended by the hunting-party. Frank and Jerry were the spokesmen; and the result of their conference was the communication of news of much importance to both parties. Jerry learned that the settlements below were so well guarded and reinforced that any attempt at plunder must fail; and he assured Frank that he was about to depart at once with his band to one of the islands in Bass's Strait, to live among, or reign over the natives, as many a convict had done before him. He owned that his black wife was stolen, and that her husband having been knocked on the head in the scuffle, tile rest of the savage party had gone down to wreak their revenge on the first whites they could meet with. He was really sorry, he declared, to hear how Ellen's wedding-day had been disturbed; and solemnly promised to draw off the foe to a distant quarter, and watch that riley did not again molest the Dairy Plains. Frank could trust to these promises, as poor Jerry, amidst all his iniquities, retained a rude sense of honour, and a lingering attachment to his family,—especially a pride in his sister Ellen.—Frank learned with great satisfaction that Bob's disappearance from the neighbourhood was not owing to his having run away. He had refused to do so, his ambition being to become a great man in the settlement, provided he could accomplish his object without too much trouble and self-denial. He had made a merit of remaining at his work when his comrades eloped, and had, in consequence, got promoted to a better kind of employment, by which he had it in his power to make a good deal of money.
“And now, Ellen,” said Frank, on concluding the story of his morning's adventures, “I must go and bring you the wedding present poor Jerry left behind for you.” And he explained that a sun-dial was hidden in a secure place, whence it should be brought and put up immediately.
“Is it stolen, do you think?” inquired Ellen timidly. “Indeed, I had rather not have it.”
“It is not stolen. A watch-maker, a clever man enough, came over in the same ship with the lads, and Jerry paid him for making this dial for you, knowing you had no watch. He could easily have sent you money, he said, but thought you would like this better, since there is little that can be bought in these parts that you have not without money.”
“I don't know how it is,” observed Ellen; “but though it is very shocking that Jerry has got among these people, and into such a brutal way of life, I feel less afraid of them now that he is there. If it were not for this, I should feel that such a fright as we have had will set against a great deal of the good we have fallen in with here.”
“It always happens, Ellen, all through life, and all over the world, that, there is something to set against other things; and never more so than when people leave their own country. If a man quits England through intolerable poverty, he must not expect to find everything to his mind, and abundance besides. If he goes to Canada, he may gain what he emigrates for,—food for himself and property to leave to his children; but he must put up with tremendous toil and hardship till he can bring his land into order, and with long, dreary winters, such as he had no notion of before. If he goes to the Cape, he finds a better climate and less toil; but from the manner of letting land there, he is out of the way of society and neighbourhood, and cannot save so as to make his children richer than himself. If he comes here, he finds the finest climate in the world, and an easy way of settling; but then there is the plague of having convicts always about him, and the occasional peril of being robbed;—and in some few of the wilder parts of the island, of an individual here and there being murdered. But this last danger is growing less every year, and cannot exist long.—Now, since there is evil everywhere, the question is what is the least? I, for one, think them all less than living in England in hopeless poverty, or even than getting a toilsome subsistence there with the sight of hopeless poverty ever before one's eyes, and the groans or vicious mirth of pauperism echoing through the alleys of all the cities of England. I, for one, feel it well worth anything troublesome we have met with, or can meet with here, to plant my foot on this hill, and look down upon yonder farmsteads, and over all these plains and hills and dales, with smoke rising here and there, and say to myself ‘There is not so much as one pauper within a hundred miles.’”
When, after a few days, the black baby had, by Jerry's means, been restored to his tribe, when the country was known to be clear of such unwelcome intruders, and Harry and Ellen were therefore at liberty to settle down at length in their own house, the bride was quite of her brother's opinion respecting the goodliness of the exchange from pauperism in Kent to plenty in Van Diemen's Land.