HARRY HEATHCOTE OF GANGOIL.*
THE two editions, one illustrated and one not illustrated,—we greatly prefer the latter, objecting, as we do on principle, to have an author translated into pictures by any less effective agency than that of our own imagination,—which Messrs. Sampson Low and Co. have already published of this graphic little tale, will probably have a good sale in Queensland, as well as in the other Australian colonies and at home. For slight as the story is, and it is exceed- ingly slight,—being as regards the love-story (if love-story it can be called) which the tale contains, no more than a brief mention of two very tepid interviews between the lovers, and a decidedly unromantic offer,—the author manages to make his tale the vehicle for a much more effective and interesting picture of the conditions of rural life in Queensland, of the different sorts of " squatters," of the " free-selectors," and the peculiar dangers to which the bush life is exposed, than could ever be got out of colonial manuals or colonial parliamentary debates. What Mr. Trollope sees with his eyes he can always embody in an animated story, and he has evidently seen with his eyes the peculiar conditions of rural life in Queensland. Nor, lukewarm as the love-making certainly is, can any one say that the story itself is without interest. From the first page of the little tale to the close the reader is absolutely absorbed in the hero's fear of having his great sheep-run all desolated by an in- cendiary fire. Moreover, the reader's interest is so skilfully directed that it is fixed first on one and then on another of the figures to whose agency the danger is chiefly due, or by whose agency it is most promptly met and warded off. The result is that the fears, jealousies, and safeguards of the Queensland squatter's life are all successively brought into the sharpest relief, and when we lay the tale down, we have a very good notion not only of the sort of life in the bush, but of the kind of hostile interests which make their rival claims heard in colonial politics and the press. It is quite obvious that this has been the prominent object with Mr. Trollope in writing the tale. He himself hardly affects much interest in the little love affair which he has thought it due to his readers to introduce ; and indeed we may say, that having thought it his duty to introduce that element at all, he would have been more faithful to his work as an artist if he had treated it with a little less of contemptuous parsimony. Perhaps, however, it may be said that Mr. Trollope, who is a thorough realist, wished to show, what he certainly has shown, how very little of the twilight of courtship there generally is under the rough practical and laborious conditions of colonial life. Instead of the gradual dawn, the spreading glow, and then the sudden intensity of the regular English novelist's love-making, we have nothing but an eligible sugar-planter, an eligible young lady, a couple of meetings, and a very prosaic, indeed almost unnaturally abrupt proposition to marry. We dare say matters of this kind go very much in this fashion in such circumstances as are hero described, and if it be so, Mr. Trollope is justified, perhaps, by his general purpose in writing the story at all, in - making this part of it as bald as it appears to the. reader. Artistically, no doubt, a little more gradation in drawing the growing sentiment, or at least in narrating the kind of conversa- tion between the lovers which led to so very rapid an engagement as this, would have been desirable.
The vigour of the story, however, certainly consists in the pic- ture it gives of a Queensland squatter,—the aristocrat of the
• Harry Haahook gresagoil. By Anthony Trollope. London : Sampson Low.
colony,—renting his 120,000 acres at a very low rent, but owning no ground except perhaps that on which his house stands; also of his feelings towards the "free selectors," who buy portions of his sheep-run over his head, and create there, within a comparatively few acres, a demand for labour such as he cannot employ over the whole vast surface of his run ; and especially of the indignation with which he sees the indifferent or dishonest labourers whom he has been
compelled to dismiss, taken into the employment of the free selector who needs thirty labourers to his five. Then there is a graphic
picture of the various kinds of good and bad labourers whom Mr.
Heathcote employs or has employed, the faithful and the unfaith- ful. And finally, we have a most telling description of the disre- putable squatter as compared with the aristocratic squatter,—the squatter with a big cattle-run and very little capital to stock it, who is not at all indisposed to steal cattle from his neighbours to make up his own deficiency, and who enjoys stolen mutton more than his own beef. The household of the Brownbies with all the dis- reputable sons it contains, and the hospitality they are compelled to extend to all the bad characters who pass that way, is drawn with few, but sharp, well-defined strokes. And finally, the picture of Mr. Heathcote's loyal boundary-riders, of the German, Karl Bender, and of the boy Jacko, especially the latter, is as graphic as possible. The interest of the story lies not in the development of character, of course,—it is far too short for that,—but in the skilful group- ing, so as to bring out the dangers, jealousies, and interests of the Queensland squatter's life. The enemies of the aristocratic squatter are, firstly, the servants whom he has rebuked and dismissed ; secondly, the disreputable squatters whom he has despised and sub- jected to humiliation ; and last of all, the fearful power of fire over the dried and heated grass during the tropical summer. A lucifer match or the ash of a cigar dropped accidentally,—or purposely, though without any possible evidence that it was dropped otherwise than accidentally,—to windward of a great sheep-run, may destroy the whole run and ruin the proprietor in a few hours. It is on this great danger that the interest of this little tale is made to turn, and indeed the most exciting part of it is the description of the struggle, first between the fire and the men who strive to keep its ravages down, and next between these and the party of the incendiaries who really lighted it, and who are determined that, if they can prevent it, its ravages shall not be kept down. We can give but a specimen of the first part of the conflict, which is the less exciting and vivid of the two. Still it will be new to most English readers, and will show them how well Mr. Trollope understands the life he is depicting :—
" Harry Heathcote had, on this occasion, entertained no doubt what- ever that the fire had been intentional and premeditated. A. lighted torch must have been dragged along the grass, so as to ignite a line many yards long all at the same time. He had been luckily near enough to the spot to see almost the commencement of the burning, and was therefore aware of its form and circumstances. He almost wondered that he had not seen the figure of the man who had drawn the torch, or at any rate heard his steps. Pursuit would have been out of the question, as his work was wanted at the moment to extin- guish the flames. The miscreant probably had remembered this, and had known that he might escape stealthily, without the noise of a rapid retreat. When the work was over, when ho had put out the fire he had himself lighted, and had exterminated the lingering remnants of that which had been intended to destroy him, he stood still awhile almost in despair. His condition seemed to be hopeless. What could he do against such a band of enemies, knowing as he did that, bad he been backed even by a score of trusty followers, one foe might still suffice to ruin him ? At the present moment he was very hot with the work he had done, as were also Jacko and the German. O'Dowd had also come up as they were completing their work. Their mode of extinguishing the flames had been to beat them down with branches of gam-tree, loaded with leaves. By sweeping these along the burning ground, the low flames would be scattered and expelled. But the work was very hard and hot. The boughs they used were heavy, and the air around them, sultry enough from its own properties, was made almost unbearable by the added heat of the fires. The work had been so far done, but it might be begun again at any moment, either near or at a distance. No doubt the attempt would be made elsewhere along the boundary between Gangoil and Boolabong—was very probably being made at this moment. The two men whom he could trust and Jacko were now with him. They were wiping their brows with their arms, and panting with their work. He first resolved on sending Mickey O'Dowd to the house. The distance was great, and the man's assist- ance might be essential ; bat he could not bear to leave his wife without news from him. Then, after considering a while, be made up his mind to go back towards his own fence, making his way as he went southerly down towards the river. They who were determined to injure him would, he thought, repeat their attempt in that direction. He hardly said a word to his two followers, but rode at a foot-pace to the spot at his fence which he had selected as the site of his bivouac for the night. It won't be very cheery, Bender,' he said to the German, but we shall have to make a night of it till they disturb us again l' The Gorman made a motion with his arms, intended to signify his utter indifference. One place was the same as another to him. Jacko uttered his usual ejaculation, and then, having hitched his horse to the fence, threw himself on his back upon the grass. No doubt they all slept, but they slept as watchers sleep, with one eye open. It was Harry who
first saw the light which a few minutes later made itself visible to the ladies at the home station. 'Karl!' he exclaimed, jumping up, 'they're
at it again—look there In less than half a minute, and without sneaking another word, they were all on their horses and riding in the direction of the light. It came from a part of the Boolabong run some- wh-it nearer to the river than the place at which they had stationed themselves, where the strip of ground between Harry's fence and the acknowledged boundary of Brownbie's run was the narrowest. As they approached the fire they became aware that it had been lighted on Boolabong. On this occasion Harry did not ride on np to tho flames, knowing that the use or loss of a few minutes might save or destroy his property. He hardly spoke a word as he proceeded on his business, feeling that they upon whom he had to depend were sufficiently instructed, if only they would be sufficiently energetic. ' Keep it well under, but let it run,' was all he said, as, lighting a dried bush with's. match, he ran the dre along the ground in front of the coming flames. A stranger seeing it all would have felt sure that the remedy would have been as bad as the disease, for the fire which Harry himself made every now and again seemed to get the better of those who were endeavouring to con- trol it. There might, perhaps, be a quarter of a mile between the front of the advancing fire and the line at which Harry bad commenced to destroy the food which would have fed the coming flames. He himself. as quickly as he lighted the grass, which in itself was the work but of a moment, would strain himself to the utmost at the much harder task of controlling his own fire, so that it should not run away from him and get, as it were, out of his hands, and be as had to him as that which he was thus seeking to circumvent. The German and Jacko worked like heroes, probably with intense enjoyment of the excite- ment, and after a while found a fourth figure among the flames, for Mickey had now returned."
We may say at once that the human figures in the story are, at least, as graphically drawn as the natural scenery and the modes of operating on it. They are not, of course, carefully shaded. They are put in only for a purpose,—the purpose of making us see the conflicting interests at work, as well as the theatre of those interests, but for that purpose they are admirable. The rendezvous of disreputables at Boolabong is as good as can be of its kind.
If Mr. Trollope would write us a short one-volume tale of about this length and character, for each of our colonies, introducing the essential characteristics of each as skilfully as he has those of the Queensland colony in this, we should soon have a great deal snore real knowledge of colonial subjects than we are ever likely to have so long as the requisite explanations of colonial life and politics are contained only in books even as vivid and business- like as Mr. Trollope's own books on the West India Islands or the Australian settlements. The truth is, that no one understands better than Mr. Trollope how to blend the business-like part of life vitally with the plot of a story, without either making the story dull or the business-like detail unreal. He writes newspaper-letters that are, no doubt, in many respects more keenly observant and vivid than most other newspaper letters ; but still his newspaper correspondence, like other newspaper correspondence, is comparatively without life and artistic wholeness, without anything in it that forbids the possibility of skipping just at the part perhaps where it is most desirable that you should not skip. But it is otherwise when he builds a tale on a foundation of business-like knowledge. Everything then at once becomes instinct with life, and the whole 'drift of many sheets of dull explanation is absorbed in a few life- like pages of animated narrative in which the reader is stimulated now by fear and now by hope. Let us suggest to the Colonial Institute that they would make a very good hit, if they could engage Mr. Trollope to write them a series of a dozen tales of the length of Harry Heathcote of Gangoit, illustrative of the specific life of as many different English settlements and colonies. Colonial Blue-books, appearing after the English public has perused such stories as we suggest, would be understood and discussed in a totally different fashion from that in which the Colonial Blue- books which appear now are apt to be understood and discussed.