Bill at thirteen, and Harry nine, were hauling cedar into Pelican Tree, then a cattle station called 'Codrington'. Their father sent Charley along the river on Paleface with a message for the boys and to find out how they were managing. It was not unusual for the boys to be away from home for a day or two, but Magdalen felt that Charley at six, was a bit young to be sent on such an errand, and could not help feeling uneasy. One of the Blacks could have gone, perhaps Mundoon or Thomas King the thirteen-year old apprentice.
On reaching 'Codrington' Charley realised that a storm was rising, and he was frightened, and the kindly station cook took him across the river until it was over. When the cook took him back, the horse was gone and so Charley had to stay all night.
When the horse returned without the boy, Magdalen became quite anxious. William assured her that he would have taken shelter from the storm, and it would have taken him several hours to return home on foot, after the weather cleared, so they had probably suggested that he stay overnight. He would not be back before noon tomorrow. It was an anxious night and forenoon. And still no Charley.
Magdalen tried to busy herself sorting and mending clothes and letting down hems. Clothes which she and Jane had made a few years before, now fitted the next child of the same sex. Eliza and Bill needed new outfits, but there was no money for good clothes and they were quite disgruntled at the coarse cloth she had used. Jane had stopped growing years ago, but most of her clothes were exactly what John had meant about a 'plain Jane.' Little Mary West shared the general clothing.
There was a challenge to Magdalen in contriving what the children needed from what was available, cutting the good parts from articles, and making something from the pieces, using discarded trimmings to disguise the mends. She insisted that the little ones wore out the oldest clothing first, so that they could clearly be thrown away, keeping slightly better clothing for special occasions. She also insisted that the baby now aged three wore the smallest clothes, those he had almost outgrown, and kept bigger hand-me-downs for later. The same with Elizabeth, except that dresses were more easily let out than trousers, and if necessary pieces put in so that they would do for a few more months. Nothing was wasted and this gave Magdalen a sense of satisfaction. When she was worried it became almost a game to keep her mind on something more diverting than the regular routine tasks.
She watched continually for any sign of someone approaching along the river-bank. Another evening came and still no Charley.
"He can't get lost," William said. "He simply has to follow the river. He's a good swimmer. Don't worry."
William seemed not to worry. He slept while Magdalen lay awake. But he was up before his usual time, and began his day's work. When daylight came he agreed to go in search of Charley if he had not returned within a few hours. He saddled Paleface intending to ride along the river bank although he felt most uncomfortable on horseback. Logically if the boys could ride so could he, but in practice it didn't seem to work that way.
The morning before when the cook had put Charley across the river to walk home, he had set out confidently. But just after he started he came across a lot of station cattle and forest turkeys. Not knowing what turkeys were he was frightened and went back again hoping they would go away. He made several attempts, then went back to Billy and Harry who allowed him to stay another night. Spot the old Coraki house dog was there with the boys, and the next day they put him across again with Spot, saying that the dog would frighten anything away. The dog trotted off for home through the long grass. Although he ran Charley could not keep up and he was soon exhausted.
William was just about to set off on Paleface, when Spot arrived.
"The boy won't be far behind," he said.
It was a hot day and when at last Charley arrived he was exhausted. The girls and Tommy made a fuss of him. William unsaddled the horse without a word. Magdalen listened to Charley' s breathless story without a sign of the sickening relief she felt. William came in from the horse-yard and Magdalen repeated the story while Charley had a drink and ate a snack prepared by Jane.
"I said he'd be all right," said William.
"You were worried too or you wouldn't have got on that horse," said Magdalen.
"Maybe." The tension between William and Magdalen had evaporated.
"It's turned out all right then," said William as he went back to his ship-yard, where his plans for another ship were beginning to take shape.
* * *
William was still working eighteen hours a day, pit-sawing, blacksmithing, bootmaking, breaking in bullocks, and still planning and scheming and saying little. When he began his next ship, he was persuaded by some settlers to take some more thirteen year old boys as apprentices. They were accommodated in Fred West's hut with Thomas King the same age, and came every evening to take part in the family lessons. As the new boys could not read or write, Magdalen gave them basic lessons with the five-year old girls Elizabeth and Mary until they were proficient enough to join the older children helped by Jane and William.
During the wet season on rainy days the boys had the job of picking oakum. Sitting around a little fire in the shed they warmed tarred rope and teased it out. It was used for caulking vessels to prevent leaking. Even young Tommy then three years old, could do his share in this work.
For the first time all the children had their jobs to do, and there was no-one under Magdalen's feet all day. Tommy was nearly four and his mother had come to believe he really was the last. Better in health now, she was more vital and composed since her change-of-life years had passed, fortunately rather quickly, and there was no longer that unfailing sequence of weaning babies, followed by expecting another. The cedar cradle had been put away, no longer beautiful and an object admired by all visitors who came to see each successive baby. The baby clothes made for Charley and Elizabeth had been used by Tommy as a baby and had now been given away to the native women and some to Elizabeth, Mary, Little Magdalen and Annie for their dolls.
William and Magdalen had returned to their previous comfortable relationship with each other, keeping mostly to their own spheres of responsibility. William wanted Magdalen and the children to have the best of everything he could afford, but unless he was told outright, he was often unaware of what their needs were.
The surveyor Frederick Peppercorne came to William to order a boat.
"Mr Yabsley I need a boat for surveying the river, about seventeen tons and with a covered deck, as I expect to be a while on this contract. I have a notion of propelling it with quicksilver."
"Quicksilver? That seems revolutionary. Can you explain how it will work? I don't have much faith in these unreliable modern notions. I expect you'll want to be able to row it with sweeps in case of a breakdown?"
"The mercury is heated to become vapour, just like water in the boiler in a steam engine. Much less mercury is needed as it has a low boiling point. The boilers are less bulky and less weighty."
William was delighted to have the commission. He recalled that his first ship-building job on the river had been for another surveyor, Mr Burnett, twelve years ago. Other tasks were put aside or left to the boys, while William concentrated on the commission. When it was finished Frederick Peppercorne found that the idea was a failure, as mercury oxide is poisonous and some vapour escaped during the heating. The vessel was known as the 'Quicksilver' although it was rowed with sweeps.
* * *
Henry Barnes arrived at Coraki Cottage on a visit one Sunday afternoon and found William working out details for his next ship which was to be bigger than the 'Pelican'.
"I could work eighteen hours a day seven days a week on the property and ship-repairs," said William. "But I always make a point of taking some time on the Sabbath to spend on my hobby. Come and sit on the verandah."
The men walked toward the house and Eliza ran to tell her mother they had a guest. John Yabsley who was also visiting joined the men while Magdalen and the girls made some refreshments.
"I'm so glad you're planning another ship," said Henry. "Your home looks really fine now Mrs Yabsley," he said as Magdalen came out to greet him. "You've put a lot of work into the garden. It's quite grand to have a lawn stretching down to your own wharf, eh?"
"William has worked so much on the house since last you saw it. He has added more bed-rooms, a teak laundry, improved the kitchen and of course the verandah right along in front which in effect gives us a lot more room."
Henry told them about his new position as manager of' 'Stratheden' and 'Dyraaba', and about Clark Irving's failure in his attempt to buy 'Tomki' near the river crossing. The plan of the new township was studied by the squatters and settlers. They could understand why the position near the crossing should be reserved, but the squatters were angry at the encroachment of their domains. Others were sceptical of the idea of the village ever becoming a town. It seemed a shame that Clark Irving should receive no compensation for improvements on his station, and could only buy a few unimproved allotments in the 1856 Land Sales. He could not even buy Durham Ox Hotel which he had built as an accommodation house, meeting place and post office, with his overseer Henry Barnes as the post master for a period. They had always presumed that 'Tomki' would become the main settlement, as it stood on what was still the only track between Grafton and Moreton Bay, for the only crossing of the Richmond River was nearby, a crossing which was very dangerous in wet weather. Even before Peppercorne made his survey, a Clerk of Petty Sessions, was appointed. Charles Moore, known as 'Magee' because of his small stature, found that his first job was to build a slab hut for a courthouse, church or dance hall, depending on the occasion.
Although disappointed in his attempt to buy his station, Clark Irving decided to stand for Parliament.
"Mr Irving should do well in the elections, even though people here don't know him personally. They know you and your high opinion of him," William said to Henry.
"I don't think he'll do much for you folk out in the bush," said John Yabsley who was not very interested in politics.
"Well Mr Irving is a most straight-forward man. He trusts other people and I believe he is to be trusted too. He has worked hard in the Council."
"He certainly trusted you," said William. "And of course you proved you were worthy of his trust."
John went on "People here probably look up to him because he is such a smart business man."
"Well he sees the need for us to have good roads and transport, because of the dangerous bar. He has already done a lot for the district, mostly on my advice. He agrees that a punt or bridge is urgently needed at the crossing."
"I believe Mr Irving thinks we would be better to stay with New South Wales, and does not agree with Dr Lang's 'Free Colony of Cooksland' idea," said William.
"Yes. Because Moreton Bay has a poor harbour and they depend on wool and agriculture. There'll be another state sooner or later but not like Dr Lang thinks."
"I believe Dr Lang has the idea of putting the border at the Clarence River for his new state," said John.
"That's right," said Henry. "And talking of the Clarence did you know I've just bought two Hereford bulls from the Mylne Brothers at 'Eatonswill' They're going over to Shorthorns. I'm very pleased."
Magdalen went in to bring out tea things. When she came out she asked "How is Miss Hindmarsh? I hope we'll meet her soon."
"She's very well thank you."
Everyone had accepted that thirty-nine year old Henry was a confirmed bachelor, and they now learned with some surprise of his courtship of Grace Hindmarsh. He had seen her some years before while he was at 'Travellers Rest' on a cattle-buying expedition, and had made up his mind that 'she was the girl for him'.
"I remember you were taken with her a long time ago, but I thought you were joking with us," said Magdalen. "I heard Mr Hindmarsh has sold out to Mr Irving. He was considered very handsome and well set-up and a good horseman, your future father-in-law."
"Yes indeed. You know he set up that house of accommodation at 'Travellers Rest' in the forties which was really only a large hut but a boon to travellers at the time. He had foresight to realise the need."
"Is that where there was a gold rush recently?" asked Magdalen passing around the cups.
"No. That was at Fairfield. It grew overnight to a population of over a thousand. Mr Hindmarsh wouldn't recognise it. Anyway he moved away after he sold the place and went to the Clarence. He now has a comfortable house and has fenced his garden with native climbing bamboo, used as a wicker-work to keep out paddymelons and bandicoots."
"What a good idea," said Magdalen thinking of her unfenced garden and the marauding bullocks.
"Do you remember Tom Bawden who came down the ranges from Guyra about 1840?" asked Henry.
Magdalen passed a plate of scones. "Yes I remember him only too well. Poor Tom. His father was drowned not long after. Poor Mary Bawden. She had lost four of her children and then lost her husband. Tom was all she had until she remarried. I hope she's happy. And what of young Tom?"
"I believe she's happy with her new husband. They call him 'the gentleman'. And Tom has married Elizabeth Hindmarsh, Grace's younger sister. We'll be brothers-in-law."
"Young Tom?" Magdalen did some quick calculations. "Of course that was years ago when I knew him. He's a few years older than Jane. He must be about twenty-five, and Grace and Elizabeth must be about nineteen or twenty. How times goes. What other news do you have of the Settlement?"
"It's not the 'Settlement' any more. It's quite a town is Grafton. Have you heard about the school there? Mr Page the teacher saw a violent storm coming and sent the pupils home at four-thirty. The school was lifted from its foundations and completely wrecked. The hailstones were nine inches across. Classes had to be held in temporary premises while another larger school was built, sixty feet by twenty-five for the ninety-six pupils. Some of the pupils learning to read and write are eighteen and twenty years old."
William was very interested in education and said that he was determined to build a proper school at Coraki for his children and apprentices.
"Mine won't fall down," he promised. "But it'll have to wait until I get my next ship finished."
Henry went on telling Magdalen and John about the Mylnes who had gone back to England for a visit and were to bring two of their sisters back with them to live at 'Eatonswill'. The brothers had built a grand house. By hard work and good management they had made a great success of their station, whereas many others had been forced to move on, sell up, became insolvent or found the life too arduous. Instead, 'Copmanhurst' and 'Moleville' had been added to 'Eatonswill', and now the property adjoined 'Gordon Brook' in which Henry had a share.
"The doors of 'Eatonswill' are still open to all, and the up-river people frequently stay the night there on their way to and from Grafton. The house is mainly cedar, and the verandah is about fifty feet long, and big enough for a game of shuttlecock."
John was most interested. He thought William spent too much time in serious work and too little in worthwhile pursuits. His questions and obvious interest kept Henry talking.
"The Mylne Brothers grow their own bananas, oranges, lemons, peaches, and the cellar is full of wines and ales so I'm told. I was really impressed with the library, full of so many books. A few years back they had a party which lasted for twelve days, playing quoits and other games, two days of horse racing on their private race course, boating, swan shooting and so on."
"That sounds a great life," said John. "And you say they are bringing their sisters?"
"They also work very hard," Magdalen assured him. Turning to Henry she asked, "And did they leave their older brother in charge when they went back to the Old Country?"
"James? No. He's too wild and unreliable. Charles Shannon has undertaken the management of the place."
Having finished their tea, the men went to look at the progress on William's new ship. After Henry had left to row home Magdalen remarked to John how pleased she was that Henry was getting married.
"It's really about time. He's thirty-nine. It's harder to adjust as you get older. People get settled in their ways and it's not easy to change. I think Henry is flexible enough. In any case a man with such good prospects will be a worthy husband for any young lady."
She hinted that she wished John would benefit from his example and settle down with one woman. John however laughed at the idea and assured Magdalen that too many young ladies would be disappointed if he chose one, although he failed to explain where he met so many single women in the district.