It was a beautiful spring afternoon in the northern hill districts of Tasmania. The sky was of a bird's egg blue, which even Italy cannot rival, and the bold outline of hills which bounded the horizon, bush clad to the top, showed a still deeper azure blue in an atmosphere which, clear as the heaven above, had never a suggestion of hardness. Removed some half-mile from the little township of Wallaroo lay a farm homestead nestling against the side of the hill, protected behind by a belt of trees from the keen, strong mountain winds, and surrounded by a rough wood paling; but the broad verandah in the front lay open to the sunshine, and even in winter could often be used as the family dining-room. The garden below it was a mass of flowers for at least six months in the year, and there was scarcely a month when there was a total absence of them.
The house, one-storied and built of wood like all the houses in the country districts, was in the middle of the home paddock; the drive up to it little more than a cart track across the field, which was divided from the farm road which skirted it by a fence of tree trunks, rough hewn and laid one on the top of the other. A strong gate guarded the entrance, and on it sat Jack, the Englishman, his bare, brown feet clinging to one of the lower bars, his firmly set head thrown back a little on his broad shoulders as he rolled out "Rule Britannia" from his lusty lungs. Many and various were the games he had played in the paddock this afternoon, but pretending things by yourself palls after a time, and Jack had sought his favourite perch upon the gate and employed the spare interval in practising the song which father had taught him on the occasion of his last visit. He must have it quite perfect by the time father came again. It was that father, an English naval captain, from whom Jack claimed his title of "Jack, the Englishman," by which he was universally known in the little township, and yet the little boy, in his seven years of life, had known no other home than his grandfather's pretty homestead.
"But o' course, if father's English, I must be English too. You can't be different from your father," Jack had said so often that the neighbours first laughed, and then accepted him at his own valuation, and gave him the nickname of which he was so proud.
About the mother who had died when he was born, Jack never troubled his little head; two figures loomed large upon his childish horizon, Aunt Betty and father. Aunts and mothers stood about on a level in Jack's mind; it never suggested itself to him to be envious of the boys who had mothers instead of aunts, for Aunt Betty wrapped him round with a love so tender and wholesome, that the want of a mother had never made itself felt, but father stood first of all in his childish affection.
It was more than eight years since Lieutenant Stephens had come out from England in the man-o'-war which was to represent the English navy in Australian waters, and at Adelaide he had met Mary Treherne, a pretty Tasmanian girl, still in her teens, who was visiting relations there. It was a case of love at first sight with the young couple, who were married after a very short engagement. Then, whilst her husband's ship was sent cruising to northern seas, Mary came back to her parents, and there had given birth to her little son, dying, poor child, before her devoted husband could get back to her. Since then Lieutenant Stephens had received his promotion to Captain, and had occupied some naval post in the Australian Commonwealth, but his boy, at Betty Treherne's urgent request, had been left at the farm, where he led as happy and healthful an existence as a child could have. The eras in his life were his father's visits, which were often long months apart, and as each arrival was a living joy, so each departure was grief so sore that it took all little Jack's manhood not to cry his heart out.