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4-015 (Raw)

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addressee author,male,Swan, Nathaniel Walter,45
Narrative Discourse
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Swan, 1879
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Luke Mivers' Harvest
Chapter I.
Doings at Narrgummie
The Sydney Mail, 
Saturday, March 8, 1879
NONE of the travellers who passed that way being persons of ordinary observation, could satisfactorily explain the reason of Narrgummie. Narrgummie was a village that straggled beside a waterhole which had never been known to run dry. Old hands called the hole Bullybig, and sometimes walked a mile or two from their route to look at its waters, of which they had memories and stories, and mysterious recollections, not to be related even when the truth of wine was in them. Narrgummie was near no highway that was to be remembered. There was a loopline of ruts from the Sydney main road to it, which the grass hid yearly, as it hides graves and bones on the plains, with its green, furrowed and surfed by the wind, giving it the motion of waters eternally stirred. Narrgummie had a hotel built by convict labour from a tarn quarry. This some of the old hardfaced men, it was said, eyed scowlingly as though, like the pyramids, each of the big rough stones had cost a life, and if so fierce a crediting was not correct, then indeed the walls were reared, so the story ran, by desperate hands and many maledictions. It might have been this strong house, with its moss-grown roof, that attracted the settlement, which in turn attracted an adventurous publican to erect another hostelry. The latter for a time boasted a straggling business, and finally dozed-off into desertion and wreck. Disjointed houses here and there strayed about the plot, seemingly tortured with rheumatic twists, sheltering families whose "heads" were nominally bullock drivers, and who supplemented their trade by horse-dealing, and various other transactions open to enterprise. [8] The  bullybig waterhole was a periodical haunt for the aboriginals, who held their corroborries on the banks, and obtained square gin in exchange for opossum rugs and other products of the chase. A couple or three lives were generally waddied into the happy hunting grounds at each of these reunions, and as the inquiries into the cause of death invariably ended in free fights, such episodes were regarded as eminently favouring trade, and rather to be encouraged as a national characteristic which the sons of the soil should be allowed to preserve as one of their most sacred rites. A black protector was once sent up to report on these matters, but, unfortunately for the early history of our country, he got drunk, and therewith was seized with such an access of literary ardour, that he wrote his paper, on the spur of a moment, on a butcher's block. This, it need scarcely be said, was so entangled that it was at once pigeon-holed for future reference.
If any one possessed authority at Narrgummie, it was Mr. Mivers. Mr. Mivers was a squatter and a bruiser; he shore 50,000 sheep, and did all his own boxing. If a shearer had a complaint to make against the cook, he heard both sides impartially, and polished-off the delinquent; the delinquent being still required for service, and refusing to return, Mivers had a habit of polishing him into submission, and sending him back (painted) to his duties, when, as might be expected, he rigorously pursued them in a swollen and shining state for many days afterwards. One malcontent, known as John Slater, and described as a broken-down gentleman, having been duly operated upon by the Narrgummie artist, refused to be comforted, and resorted to reprisals. But the vigorous and athletic Mivers having had his suspicions, caught Mr. Slater kindling a fire beneath his wool-shed, when he launched a crowbar at him with such force, so true an aim, that both the man's legs were broken. An ex-doctor, who employed himself on the station in getting drunk and "foot-rotting" sheep, set the bones so peculiarly that Slater was a cripple for life.
"I could have hanged you, you know," Mivers said, when, after some months, Slater hobbled in for more than a year's wages, "broken bones is better than a rope; you want your money, do you? Not a cent, sir. Take yourself off, or I'll give you in charge. You'll see if I don't."
Slater hobbled out again without speaking a word; his thin pale face spoke a sermon; Mr. Mivers did not see it, and most probably he could not have understood it if he had.
But all this was long ago; so distant a time do a few years push back in the history of a young country, that the circumstance, for the matter of that, might be regarded as having occurred in the "dim past." [9] Not so dim, however, but that men whose hair is now growing grey remember it; not so distant but that many a shrivelled face grows hard at the memory, and many a heavy-jawed man has yet energy enough, and fire enough, to grate his teeth at it, and bring his great broad fist down upon the table with a clash and a ground-out curse. If much is changed, the characteristics of the village I write of still remain; houses have sprung up between houses, and united them into something like streets; there are the decrepid huts still to be seen, and the lichened fences yet creep across the ground, enclosing sorrelled paddocks. Besides these, other enclosures have been railed in, cultivation has stretched out far into the rolling grass land, and the wave of settlement has surged up to the very confines of Mr. Mivers's freehold. The country here and there bears the fruit of human homes, and when the sun strikes down, casting long shadows through groups of wattles, the loneliness of the desert seems to have blossomed into industry, contentment, and peace around those finger-marks of the past. The rough stone hotel was there not so long ago, and the sullen hostelry, when last seen, was rougher and dryer, and more lonely than ever. The feet of men and the tramp of horses pass it, breaking the peace of the still days, and starting abrupt echoes through its miserable bar and its silent rooms, where were only the landlord and his daughter.
The landlord of the Unicorn is a white-haired man, with as many wrinkles in his queer face as there are years in a people's history; he smiles toothlessly against such of the residents as choose to visit him for refreshments, and noiselessly rubs his palms in obsequious attention to the conversation and wishes of his patrons. They have their cares, but he has nothing to mumble over, and when he shuts his face into something like repose, shortening it by an inch, and pulls at his beard in thought; when at such times the sun comes in over his reverent hair and shambling self, it seems as though the unlaid ghost of a mysterious past was afloat in to-day's world, and curiously contemplating the all-living present, buoying up some unholy resolve with such strength as more than three score years can spare and a single purpose hope to attain. If the truth must be spoken, the heavy-footed men who visited Shorter were not impelled thither, either by charity or reverence; those lean fingers of his had loaned money at interest, and were as tight upon some of them as though they were iron talons. There is always a writhe from a tight grip, and speculation was ceaseless as to how long the old fellow would last. Many of the sought-for drinks were but subterfuges to cover curiosity on this vital point. But there was another and, let us hope, a more laudable purpose actuating the few. [10] In Shorter's daughter there seemed to dwell much magic in her lustreful eyes and bronze hair; there was such unconscious dignity in her bearing, and so much of grace sat upon her and lived with her, that she drew admirers, and swayed them by never so much as an effort from her calm eyes, or a word from her scornful lips. The dresses which the old man gave her improved the fine proportions of her figure, and that supple buoyancy which the pride of life lent to her. Narrgummie wondered at her, open-mouthed, and storekeepers and their assistants smouldered with jealousy against each other because of her. Her sisters of every degree shrugged their suspicions at one another, and charitably hoped, for the sake of others, mind you, she would be early found out. As to her character-shrugs and sorrowful head-shaking finished the sentence far more completely than words. Indeed, it is but just to these persons to say that the trade at the Unicorn improved immensely when Miss Shorter came home, whence she had been sojourning in parts unknown. The dull deserted place had been looked on as a reproach to the thriving and vigour which settlement bestowed generally, but now what house was becoming so frequented, not by selectors alone, but by young bloods of squatters, who came, in irresistible dandyism to drink, and talk, and watch for her flitting figure and patrician face. Old Shorter was proud to see his patrons, he mouthed welcomes, and swore through the palsy of his years that he felt quite young again, and elated to have the honour of mixing with gentlemen and obeying their behests.
"My daughter, gentlemen, would be here now, but she is visiting a poor selector's family, where there is poverty and sickness, but for that you would hear her express her gratitude at the condescension of your presence in the old man's house, and join her thanks with mine," so saying, would old Shorter bow low and flutter humility, and his thanks to the aristocrats of the Narrgummie district.
Some years before this, time had begun to tell Mr. Mivers that his old force of muscle was leaving him. Shearers and servitors came who were quite capable, not only of resisting his polishings off, but of taking the role of the artist into their own fists, and after Mr. Mivers had, on one occasion, thrown up the sponge and returned to his homestead, he found he was painted and decorated in the highest style of art. Having brooded upon the matter, he resolved to betake himself and his bank balance to Mindorf.
At Mindorf he could enjoy at ease the results of his industry, and the spoil of his cunning. Mr. Mivers, junior, was the successor, with carte blanche as to bullyism, and subtle instructions as to law. "The hands" did not think Mr. Mivers, junior, was an improvement; he used to polish-off boys and old men with great valour, until one day Charley Wallace, the fencer, interfered and shook him savagely. [11] Since that time the young squatter contented himself with suing servants for breaches of contracts (or absenting themselves from hired service, and for every other fault) of every degree which the statute could be stretched to cover. His judgment on such points as these was never doubted, and so young Mr. Mivers saved a large portion of the working expenses.
When Shorter's daughter began to attract attention Mivers rode over and lounged into the dark bar. The old man started, and looked hurriedly towards his shelves to hide the look that was in his eyes, and when he turned his face, threaded with wrinkles, it wore a flush of pleasure and satisfaction that flattered this young gentleman. To none was Shorter more humble, to none more ready to do a service. "Would he step inside; he had often heard of young Mr. Mivers, but never expected to have such a pleasure. True, other gentlemen were beginning to honour him with their custom, but he, of all others, was honoured by the speaker. His hotel was but a poor one - very poor - for the accommodation of such a gentleman as Mr. Luke Mivers, but now that Mr. Mivers had found his way it was probable, was it not, he would come again. If Mr. Mivers was agreeable he should ask his daughter to thank him in her own and her father's behalf for his courtesy and condescension." The relic having flurried away with his oppressive civility, shut his face into repose, and when, after a short absence, he returned, it was to state that Margaret would be presently down, and in the meantime would Mr. Mivers take something after his ride.
"By jove, that's good brandy," coughed the visitor, who emptied his tumbler in a manly way; "it's better than I have at the station."
"It's some, Mr. Mivers, which I got especially for certain customers. I don't think it can be equalled in the district."
" 'Pon my soul, this is a rummy kind of hotel, and you are just as rummy a landlord. I suppose you know I could get your license taken from you if I chose," the customer remarked, with confiding candour.
"Of course I do sir; your word is law here. I haven't been a year at Narrgummie, without knowing that. But let me venture the hope that there will be no reason for your taking such a step."
Mr. Mivers hoped there would not, but that was the old man's lookout; he merely said it, that they might understand each other.
"My daughter, sir. Margaret, this is Mr. Mivers."
"By jove," muttered Mivers, with an embarrassed shrinking. He shuffled towards her with his best bow, and looked at her with wonder, and blushed, and spluttered the pleasure it gave him to see her, she calmly embarrassing him with her face. [12]
"I little expected to have such a pleasure. They told me, you-you were devilish pretty, but, 'pon my soul, who'd a thought to see one like you in such a place as this. Another glass of that brandy, Mr. Shorter, will-will you have anything, Miss Shorter?"
Miss Shorter declined.
"It's not the cost, you know. I'll stand anything you choose to have," the gentleman said elegantly. "I'll pay for it. Have you any champagne, Shorter?"
"Sir, my daughter does not drink of anything."
"Oh, come I say"; turning to the girl, "have a glass of champagne."
Miss Margaret Shorter smiled with a look that flashed all over the young squatter; there was a certain dignity in it that made him dissatisfied and uneasy.
"I hope I have not been unintentionally rude. I did not mean any offence."
"No one could take offence at good nature," she laughed, letting her eyes catch his.
He fidgetted and heated like a school-boy, and to relieve the pause (Mr. Mivers for the life of him could not think of what to say), he drank some more brandy and water, and assured the lady it was the best he ever tasted.
"I am very glad indeed you find it to your liking; but you must take care, old brandy is strong."
This warning, given with her outstretched finger, and her face bowed slightly towards him.
Mr. Mivers grew red with pleasure, while the old man brought his gums together.
"I should thank you for your kindness in coming to this humble place. It is not often we have gentlemen for visitors. There is but little to amuse one in Narrgummie."
"If you will but let me, Miss Shorter, I'll come to see you as often as you like. I mean as often as you'll permit. I will, by jove; come, is it a bargain."
"We shall always be happy to see you."
The visitor poured out another glass of brandy to keep up the conversation, as Miss Shorter rose, and giving a rich smile, which did not disturb the calm of her face, left the room. If while passing out the gentleman of so much condescension could have seen her expression of bearing and features he might have gained a warning, but he was in exuberant good humour with himself, which speedily became apparent in the delicate way in which he set about suborning the parent by the guile of affable intercourse. [13]
"By jove, Shorter, I say old fellow, what a prize you've got. Never you mind, I was only joking about the license. Look here, I'd get you half-a-dozen if you wanted them."
To which the host made reply, not allured from his humility, "I thank you for the friendship you have expressed. May I venture to hope, sir, that we shall understand each other, and that we may often have the honour of seeing you in our lowly little place?"
"By gad you may, old man," slapping Shorter on the shoulder to seal the intimacy of the equality between them as thenceforth to be of the most friendly description. Helping himself to more brandy, and inviting his host to drink with him, he waited and talked, and again drank, but the daughter did not return.
When Mr. Mivers sought to remount his horse, the difficulty of getting at the stirrups presented a grave obstacle, which was finally overcome by perseverance and liberal maledictions. (to be continued)

[14] Chapter II.
At Her Mercy
The Sydney Mail, 
Saturday, March 8, 1879
THERE is some kind of affection, or liking, or regard, whichever is the proper term in the coming connection I do not know, that grows up amongst the human kind of our advanced civilization. It is not to be understood by analysis, or interpreted by motive. Of such a kind was the attachment of an old servant who dwelt at Narrgummie station for Mivers senior and Mivers junior. Mr. Mivers senior in his cruellest fits of bullying, or meanest efforts to overreach and cheat, neither ill-used nor insulted old Blane. He had been with him at the time he took up the run, and he alone of all his men had the courage to expostulate and advise; and when the father gave the son full charge, he left Blane to him as a legacy. The man was aged and rugged, but every thought and action that moved his withered body, or inspired his bedraggled life, had direct reference to the welfare of the Mivers family.
Mr. Luke galloped bravely up to the house, walked suddenly in, and sat down, with a curse at his reeling head. Blane watched him shoulder past, and stood looking at him beneath his heavy brows in silence.