Such is Life
Part 2 out of 9
"But--pardon me--if you are a native of Victoria, you can form no conception
of what England is. Among the upper middle classes--to which I belonged--
the money-making proclivity is held in very low esteem, I assure you.
Our solicitude is to make ourselves mutually agreeable; and the natural result
is a grace and refinement which"----
"But what the (adj. sheol) good does that do the likes o' us (fellows)?"
demanded Mosey impertinently--or perhaps I should say, pertinently.
--"a grace and refinement which--if you will pardon me for saying so--
you can form no conception of. Inherited wealth is the secret of it."
"Beg parding," interposed Cooper apologetically--"I was goin' to say
to Collins, before I forgit, that he can easy git over bein' a Port Philliper.
Friend o' mine, out on the Macquarie, name o' Mick Shanahan, he's one too;
an' when anybody calls him a Port Philliper, or a Vic., or a 'Sucker,
he comes out straight: 'You're a (adj.) liar,' says he; 'I'm a Cornstalk,
born in New South Wales.' An' he proves it too. Born before the Separation,
in the District of Port Phillip, Colony of New South Wales.
That's his argyment, an' there's no gittin' over it. Good idear, ain't it?"
"It is a good idea," I replied. "I'm glad you laid me on to it.
But, Willoughby, I can't help thinking you must feel the change very acutely."
"I do. But what is the use of grumbling? Ver non semper viret.
No doubt you are surprised to see me in my present position. It is owing,
in the first place, to a curious combination of circumstances,
and in the second place, to some of my own little pranks.
I am nephew to Sir Robert Brook, baronet, the present representative
of the Brooks of Brookcotes, Dorsetshire--a family, sir, dating from
the fourteenth century. Possibly you have heard the name?"
"Not the Brookes of the King's Elms, Hants, pray observe.
The Brookes of the King's Elms gained their enormous wealth
as army contractors, during the struggle with Napoleon, and their baronetcy,
Heaven knows how! The baronetcy of the Brooks of Brookcotes dates from 1615,
at which time my maternal ancestor, Sir Roger Brook, knight,
procured his patent by supplying thirty infantry for three years in the
subjugation of Ireland. Independently of the title, our family
is many centuries older than the other. We spell our name without"----
"My (adj.) fambly come all the way down from the Hark," observed Mosey,
with a rudeness which reflected little credit on his ancient lineage.
----"without the final 'e.' There is a manifest breach of trust in creation
of these new baronetcies. It was more than implied--it was
distinctly stipulated--at the origination of the Order, by James I,
that the number of baronets should not exceed two hundred,
and that there should be no new creations to supply the place of such titles
as might lapse through extinction of families."
"And is there no remedy for this?" I asked.
"None whatever. Not that I am personally interested in the exclusiveness
of the Order, my connection with the Brooks of Brookcotes being
on the distaff side. My mother was Sir Robert's only sister.
My father was a military man--3rd Buffs--died when I was twelve
or thirteen years of age. Sir Robert was a confirmed bachelor,
and I was his only nephew. Now you see my position?"
"I think I do."
"Four years ago, demme if Sir Robert did n't marry a manufacturer's daughter--
soap manufacturer--and within two years there was a lineal heir to Brookcotes!"
"You don't say so?"
"Fact, begad! Shortly afterward, I was detected--ha-ha! Sua cuique voluptas--
in a liaison with a young person who resided with my uncle's wife
as a companion. Whereupon my lady used her influence with the demd old dotard,
and I was cut off with a shilling. However, he gave me a saloon passage
to Melbourne, with an order on his agent in that city for £500.
My lady's father also gave me letters of introduction to some friends
in Sydney--business people. Fact was, they wanted to get rid of me."
"The £500 should have given you a fair start," I suggested.
"Pardon me--it is impossible for you to enter into the feelings
of a man who has been brought up as presumptive heir to a rent-roll of £12,000.
You cannot imagine how the mind of a gentleman shrinks from the petty details,
the meanness, the vulgarities of trade. You are aware, I presume,
that all avenues of ambition except the Church, the Army, and the Legislature,
are closed to our class? You cannot imagine--pardon my repeating it--
the exclusiveness, the fine sense of honour"
"Holy sailor!" I heard Thompson whisper to himself.
----"which pervades the mind and controls the actions of a gentleman.
As a casual illustration of what is amusingly, though somewhat provokingly,
ignored here, you have, no doubt, observed that our gentlemen cricketers
will acknowledge no fellowship with professionals, though they may belong
to the same team, and be paid from the same funds. However,
to proceed with a story which is, perhaps, not without interest.
I left Melbourne before my pittance was exhausted, and presented my credentials
in Sydney. Mr. Wilcox, a relation of my lady's father, and a person
of some local importance, treated me at first with consideration--in fact,
there was always a knife and fork for me at his table--but I noticed,
as time went on, a growing coolness on his part. I ought to mention
that his sister, Mrs. Bradshaw--a widow, fat, fair, and forty--
had considerable capital invested in his business; and I was paying
my addresses to her, deeming my birth and education a sufficient counterpoise
to her wealth. I'd have married her too, begad I would! At this time,
Wilcox was establishing gelatine works; and he had the demd effron"----
"What's gelatine?" demanded Mosey. "I've of'en heard o' the (adj.) stuff.
What the (sheol) is it used in?"
"In commerce, principally, Mosey," I replied.
"Neat, begad! As I was saying, Wilcox had the demd assurance to offer me
a clerkship in his new establishment. We had a few words in consequence;
and shortly afterward I left Sydney, and found my way here.
Have you any acquaintance in Sydney--may I ask?"
[A word of explanation. Being only an official of the ninth class,
I received my appointment in Hay. On that occasion, I asked the magistrate
who received my securities and otherwise attended to the matter--
I naturally asked him what chance I had for promotion. He told me
that it would go strictly by seniority, but, as my immediate superior,
the Assistant-Sub-Inspector, was not eligible for any higher grade--
never having passed any examination whatever--and as I could not be advanced
over his head, my only chance was to step into his place when he vacated it
Now, I knew he was not likely to resign, for he had a good salary
all to himself, and nothing to do but refer me to the Central Office
for orders. I knew in fact, that there was only one way
in which he was likely to quit his niche in the edifice of the State.
So I replied to Willoughby's question]
"Well, I may say I have; and yet I'm not aware of anyone in Sydney
that I would know by sight. My superior officer lives there.
Remotely possible you may know him--Rudolph Winterbottom, esquire."
"Rudolph Winterbottom--did you say? Yes, by Jove! rather a happy coincidence.
I remember him well. I was introduced to him on a reception day
at Government House, and met him frequently afterward; dined in his company,
I think, on two occasions."
"Is he a very old man?"
"No; the old gentleman is his father--Thomas Winterbottom--hale,
sturdy old boy, overflowing with vitality--came out, he told me,
in the time of Sir Richard Bourke. But I scarcely think
Mr. Rudolph Winterbottom holds any Government situation.
His private fortune is fully sufficient for all demands of even good society.
Ah! now I have it! His son Rudy--his third or fourth son--
holds some appointment. That will be your man."
"Very likely. An invalid--is he not? Something wrong with his lungs?"
"So I should imagine, now that you mention it. He was away on an excursion
to the mountains when his father spoke of him to me."
"Git to sleep, chaps, for Gossake," murmured Cooper. "Guarantee there'll be
none o' this liveliness in the mornin', when you got to turn out."
Thus sensibly admonished, we committed ourselves to what Macbeth calls
'sore labour's bath'--the only kind of bath we were likely to have
for some time.
Among the thousand natural ills, there are two to which I never have been,
and probably never shall be, subject--namely, gout and insomnia.
My immunity from the former might be difficult to account for,
but my exemption from the latter may, I think, be attributed to the operation
of a mind at peace with all below. Nevertheless, it used to be my habit
to wake punctually at 2 a.m., for the purpose of remembering
whether I had to listen for bells or not, and determining how long
I could afford to sleep. So, at that exact hour, I opened my eyes
to see the calm, splendid stars above, whilst merciful darkness
half-veiled the sordid accessories of daily life below. Yet I noticed
that the hammock under the rear of Dixon's wagon was empty.
All the other fellows were sleeping, except Bum, who seemed to have disappeared
altogether. The two were probably up to something. No business of mine.
And I dropped to sleep again.
I had set myself to wake at full daylight. Just as I woke,
I heard the distant patter of a galloping horse. Such a sound at such a time
is ominous to duffing bullock drivers; so, as I sprang to my feet,
you may be sure my companions were not much behind me. Along the track,
a mile in advance of the wagons, we saw an approaching horseman.
And as if this was n't enough, we heard the sound of an axe in the selection.
"Holy glory! there's somebody livin' in the hut, after all!" ejaculated Mosey.
The house stood on a very slight rise, where the clump of swamp box terminated,
a quarter of a mile away; and, sure enough, we could see,
through a gap in the undergrowth of old-man salt-bush,
a man chopping wood at the edge of the clump. But he seemed quite unconscious
of the multitude of bullocks that, scattered all over the paddock,
were laying in a fresh supply of grass.
"It's Moriarty," sighed Thompson, gazing at the horseman.
"He's been sent to catch us. It's all up."
Then, like the sound of many waters, rose the mingled sentiments
of the company, as each man dragged on his boots with a celerity
"You keep him on a string, Collins, while we coller
as many of the carrion as we"----
"What use? It's a summonsing match already. Look at the fence!
And Martin lives in the hut after all. He's between us and the bullocks now--
laughing at us. What business had we to travel on"----
"Demmit suggest something. Make use of me in this emergency,
I beg of you. Shall I"----
"Port Phillip, all over. Jist let me deliver this (adj.) load.
That's all I"----
"Comes o' young pups knowin' heverythink. I kep' misdoubtin'
all the (adj.) time"----
"Are you fellows mad?" shouted the young storekeeper,
as he dashed past the group, and pulled his blown horse round in a circle.
"Out with those bullocks as quick as the devil'll let you!
Martin's on top of you! I've just given him the slip! We were sent
from the station expressly to nip you. Fly round! blast you, fly round!"
At the word, Cooper and Thompson snatched up their bridles and darted off,
followed by Price and Willoughby. Dixon and Bum were not in the crowd,
but no one had leisure just then to notice their absence.
"Len's yer horse, like a good feller," said Mosey hastily.
"To (sheol) with your cheek!" snapped Moriarty. "What next I wonder?"
Mosey snatched up his bridle, and went off at a run. "Hello, Collins!
I didn't notice you in the hurry. Bright cards, ain't they? Nothing short
of seven years'll satisfy them. You've been travelling all night?"
"No; I camped here with the teams."
"I thought when I saw the saddled horse, that you had just turned him in
to get a bite."
"He's not saddled. There's my saddle."
"I thought that was your horse--that black one with the new saddle on."
(I should explain that Moriarty, being mounted, could see across
the old-man salt-bush, which I could not.) "But I say," he continued;
"what do you mean by stopping here instead of making for the station?
I've a dash good mind to tell Mrs. Beaudesart. Why, it's two months
since you parted from her."
"Where's Martin?" I asked.
"I left him at the ram-paddock, trying to track his horse.
I suppose you haven't heard that he lives here now?"
"Well, we heard that some one was being sent to live here. By the way,
Moriarty, you better keep out of sight of that fellow at the hut"
"No odds. It's only Daddy Montague; he can't see twenty yards.
But I say--Mrs. Beaudesart is sorting out her own old wedding toggery;
she knows you'll never have money enough to"----
"How does Martin come to be at the ram-paddock, if he lives here?"
"I'll tell you the whole rigmarole," replied the genial ass.
"Martin was at the station yesterday, crawling after Miss King,
when up comes a sandy-whiskered hound of a contractor, name of M'Nab,
to see about the specifications of the new fence between us and Nalrooka;
and this (fellow)'s idea of getting on the soft side of Montgomery,
about the fence, was to nearly break his neck running to tell him that Price,
and Thompson, and a whole swag of other fellows, intended to work on
the ram-paddock that night. That would be last night, of course.
Now, Montgomery doesn't bark about a night's grass out of the ram-paddock
at this time of year, in case of emergency; but he does n't believe in people\
driving expressly for it; and besides, he badly wants to catch
Price and Thompson, and make an example of them. Well, it happened
that he had thought out early jobs for all the rest of the fellows,
so what does he do--Sunday and all--but he rouses out Martin and me,
and tells us to go to the ram-paddock, and quietly round up all the bullocks,
and bring them to the station. No hurry, of course, so I got playing cards
with some of the shearers, and Martin got yarning with the old wool-classer;
and we timed ourselves to be at the ram-paddock just before daylight.
Of course, the right plan would have been to go through the ration-paddock,
and in by the Quondong gate; and that was what I wanted to do.
Then we could have made a circuit of the ram-paddock, inside the fence,
and given it a good rough overhaul. But because I proposed this,
Martin insisted on going by the main road, for better riding,
and to see if we could find the wagons, as a sort of guide.
Sensible to the last. Well, he would have it his own way,
and I didn't give a curse, so on we went; and just as we were crossing
the sort of hollow at this near corner of the ram-paddock,
the God-forsaken old fool thought he heard cattle in the timber.
So we tied our horses at the fence, and walked across to see.
Nothing there, of course, only imagination and kangaroos.
We stayed about ten minutes--me moralising about fools, and him sulking--
and when we came back to where we had left our horses, mine was there
by himself. Martin was dancing mad, for his horse was never known
to break a bridle, and he did n't know who to blame for making away with him.
However, I was n't any way interested in mustering the ram-paddock,
and Martin wanted his horse, so we hunted round and round,
but devil a smell of horse or saddle or bridle could we find in the dark.
After a while, daylight came, and I caught sight of the wool,
and tumbled to the little game. Of course, I ripped across to give the fellows
the office, praying and cursing fit to break my neck. What the dickens
induced them to run the risk of duffing here? Maddest thing I ever knew.
Martin has been living here since this day week; and his greatest pleasure
in life is prowling round when he ought to be asleep."
"Warrigal Alf laid Mosey on," I replied. "At least, he said he had stayed here
the night before last, and had taken his bullocks out after they lay down."
"Ah! the treacherous beggar! I'll tell you how that came.
Day before yesterday--let's see--that was Saturday--Montgomery and Martin
met Alf just at the station, coming along behind some other teams.
Montgomery was sorry in his own mind for a blaggarding he gave Alf last winter,
for letting his bullocks get into our horse-paddock. Seems they got adrift
from Bottara, while Alf was unloading, and had gone the thirty miles,
right across country, with him after them full chase. Alf was too ill-natured
to explain things at the time: and he never mentioned it when he loaded
our first wool, a month ago. Montgomery heard the truth of it
only the other day; so when he met Alf, he stopped him, and mentioned it,
and told him to shove his bullocks in Martin's paddock for that night,
as grass was so scarce. It must have cut Martin to the bone
to see a kindly thing done, but he had to grin and bear it--
treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, as Shakespear says."
"Then Martin may be here any minute?"
"Well, I left him a little better than two mile away, trying to track
his horse, and he can't track worth a dash. Certainly, he was headed
toward the station the last I saw of him. But if he's got a spare saddle
at home here, he's pretty certain to come for a fresh horse,
to hunt up the other. I'd give five notes, if I had it, to see these (fellows)
yoked up and off; for if Martin catches them, there'll be (sheol) to pay,
and no pitch hot; and, by George! there's not half a second to lose.
Just look at that fence! Ah! here they come! Good lads! Well,
take care of yourself, Tom, and give us a call at the station
as soon as you can. I'll keep out of sight till these chaps are started;
then I'll have a bit of breakfast with Daddy Montague, and invent
a good watertight lie, and do a skulk for an hour or two,
and then dodge on to the station as slowly as possible. I want something
to go wrong in the store while Montgomery has charge himself;
it'll learn him to appreciate me better. I'll have to ram it down his throat
that the fellows had their bullocks out before I got here."
"Wait, Moriarty--what's Martin's horse like? I might see him."
"Liver-colour; star and snip; white hind feet; bang tail.
One of the best mokes on the station. Belongs to Martin himself.
I hope he'll scratch the bridle off, and roll on the saddle
till it's not worth a cuss. I say--if Martin should find his way here
before the fellows get clear, will you just tell him I fancied I saw his horse
going for the Connelly paddock, and I shot after him hell-for-leather.
No message for Mrs. Beaudesart? Well, so long." And the good and faithful
young servant cantered away toward an adjacent cane-grass swamp.
I was picking up my possum rug and saddle, when I heard Dixon's voice,
in earnest entreaty. Looking round, I saw him sitting
on the edge of his hammock.
"Say, Collins--will you fetch my (adj.) bullocks, while yer hand's in?
I can't har'ly move this mornin'."
"Yes, Dixon; I won't see you beat, if I can help it. What's the matter?"
"Well, I was on top o' my load las' night, gittin'--gittin' some tobacker
an' matches; an' I come a buster on top o' one o' the yokes here.
It's put a (adj.) set on me, any road."
With a few words of condolence, I entered the paddock, carrying my saddle
and bridle. As I came in sight of Cleopatra, I was constrained
to pause and reflect. The horse was feeding composedly, saddled and bridled;
a pair of hobbles hanging to the saddle. The bridle was a cheap affair,
but the saddle was as good as they make them in Wagga, and quite new.
During the previous afternoon, I had marked something incongruous
in Bum's ownership of such a piece of furniture. But being always,
I trust, superior to anything like surprise, I saddled and mounted Bunyip,
took Cleopatra by the rein, and joined the Ishmaelites, who,
on their bare-backed horses, were hurrying contingents of cattle
from different directions toward the gap of the fence,
whilst the fascination of overhanging danger bore so heavily
on their personal and professional dignity that every eye kept
an anxious look-out toward the ram-paddock. In a few minutes more,
we were all outside the fence; and the drivers immediately began yoking.
I hooked Cleopatra's rein on a wool-lever, and, still riding Bunyip,
kept Thompson's and Cooper's bullocks together. Mosey's dog was performing
the same office for him and Price. Willoughby had n't returned
with the muster; and Bum was still absent.
"Did you count my (bullocks)?" demanded Dixon, limping slowly
and painfully toward his big roan horse.
"O you sweet speciment!" retorted Mosey, as he picked up his second yoke.
"Why the (compound expletive) don't you rouse roun'?"
"How the (same expression) ken I rouse roun'? I got the screwmatics
in my (adj.) hip."
"Somethin' like you--Stan' over, Rodney, or I'll twist the tail off o' you--
You don't ketch me havin' nothin' wrong o' me when things is"----
"No, begad! no you don't!--take that!--ah! would you indeed!--on you go,
dem you! s-s-s-s-s! get up there!" It was Willoughby's voice
among the salt-bush; and, the next moment, half-a-dozen beasts
leaped the wires and darted, capering and shying, past the wagons.
"Quod petis hic est!" panted their pursuer triumphantly.
"The mouse may help the lion, remember, according to the old"----
Then such a cataract of obscenity and invective from Price and Mosey,
while Cooper remarked gravely:
"Them ain't our bullocks, Willerby; them's station cattle--
shoved in that paddick for something partic'lar. Now they're off to (sheol);
an' it's three good hours' work with a horse an' stockwhip, to git'em in here
agen. An' that kangaroo dog ain't makin' matters much better.
Lord stan' by us now! for we'll git (adv.) near hung if we're caught."
And, to be sure, there was Pup looping himself along the plain in hot pursuit.
It was no use attempting to call him off, for Nature has not endowed
the kangaroo dog with sufficient instinct to bring him in touch
with his master, except when the latter offers him food.
But there is always some penalty attached to the possession of anything
really valuable. So, though I wasn't interested in the cattle,
I was bound to follow them till I recovered my dog. Thompson's unpretentious
stockwhip was in my hand at the time; and, judging it unlikely
that Cleopatra had been broken in to the use of that disquieting implement,
I was just turning Bunyip round, when Willoughby stepped forward----
"Permit me to redeem my unfortunate mistake by assisting you!"
he exclaimed. "I have ridden to hounds in England. May I take this horse?
Thanks. Pray remember that I shall be under your orders, Collins."
"Take care might he buck-lep," I remarked casually, as the whaler gathered
Cleopatra's reins, and threw himself into the deep seat of the new saddle.
And, to my genuine astonishment, he did buck-lep. But he took
no mean advantage of his rider; he allowed him time to find the off stirrup,
and then led off with a forward spring about five feet high.
Willoughby--small blame to him--was jerked clean out of the saddle,
and lit fair across the horse's loins; in the impulse of self-preservation
grasping the cantle with both hands. The small thigh-pads
afforded a good rough hold, and the next buck jammed the poor fellow
well under the seat of the saddle. The position was neither pleasant
nor dignified, though certainly more secure for an amateur
than the conventional style; particularly after the horse's tremendous plunges
had raised the back of the saddle a foot or more by dint of fair wedging.
Price, Mosey, Thompson, and Cooper forgot the dangers of the time,
and discontinued their work, drawing near the spot with a carefully preserved
air of indifference and pre-occupation. Even Dixon ignored his screwmatics,
and composed his demeanour to something like apathy.
Owing to the leverage of the saddle, the girth was gripping Cleopatra
in a ticklish place, and the bow of the saddle was dipping
into another ticklish place, whilst Willoughby's swinging feet
provided for the ticklish places on the horse's thighs and flanks.
Cleopatra mistook all this for deliberate provocation, and responded
to the very best of his splendid ability. Early in the entertainment,
Willoughby's hat was bucked off his head; presently the wellington boot
was bucked off one foot, and the blucher off the other,
the prince-alberts following in due course. Then the portion of attire
known to one section of society as 'linen', and to another as the 'beef-bag',
was bucked out of that necessary garment which we shrink from naming.
The ground was cut up as if rooted by pigs; yet Cleopatra was only just warming
to his work; and the whaler was still clinging to the saddle
like a native bear to a branch.
"God help thee, Jack," I remarked listlessly; "thou hast
a bitter breakfast on't."
"He'll tire the horse out yet," said Thompson, with an artificial yawn.
"Good lad, Willoughby! stick to him a bit longer."
"Got no holt," observed Dixon. "Gone goose, any time."
"He don't want no pipeclay, anyhow," said Mosey, with childish levity.
"Dark-complexion people ought to steer clear o' playful horses."
All eyes were turned on the young fellow's face in surprise and reprehension;
and he uneasily attempted to carry off his inadvertent solecism
with a sort of swagger.
"The horse can't hold out much longer at that rate," repeated Thompson,
stooping to lace his boots.
"Can't he?" drawled Cooper, poking out the stem of his pipe
with a stalk of grass. "He can hold out till something gives way.
That's what he's in the habit o' doin', I'm thinkin'; an' he ain't goin'
to break his rule this time."
"The Far-downer got at you that trip, Collins," remarked Mosey,
seeking to retrieve his dignity by turning his back on the performance.
"He seen you comin'. Say, ole son--how'd you like to swap back?"
"I kep' misdoubtin' that hoss all the (adj.) time," observed Nestor wisely.
"I felt sort o' jubious, on'y I did n't wanter say nothink."
"There goes the pore (fellow) at last; I knowed the horse would do it,"
said Cooper, as the stern captive spum'd his weary load,
and asked the image back that heaven bestowed.
"Collar the horse quick!" suggested Dixon. "Nail him now,
or you'll never ketch him."
"No great hurry," I muttered, dismounting. "However, I think I'd better
have it out with him while he's warm. Or perhaps one of you fellows
would like a try, while I do his yoking--just for a change?"
Cleopatra, now nibbling the scanty grass, glanced from time to time
with grave sympathy at his late rider, who was occupying himself
with his toilet.
"Ketch the (horse) quick!" reiterated Dixon.
"I would n't mind if I had my mare back again," I remarked,
as I approached Cleopatra's head. "By Jacob's staff I swear I have no mind
of trying conclusions with this fellow for a dull, sickening"----
The adjectives were shorn of their noun, for Cleopatra,
accurately gauging his distance, suddenly sprung round and lashed out
with both hind feet. You could have struck a match on the smoothest part
of my earthly tabernacle as I dodged him by about half an inch.
Then he went on cropping the grass as before, while I looked round
and inquired with sickly bravado, "What noble Lucumo comes next,
to taste our Roman cheer?"
But the bullock drivers silently repudiated the grim invitation,
and hurried back to their work, which they now pursued with redoubled vigour
and anxiety. I remounted Bunyip, and caught Cleopatra from his back.
Then dismounting, I arranged the new saddle with ostentatious offhandedness,
though in a prayerful frame of mind, and presently climbed on
as if nothing was the matter. I certainly anticipated Westminster Abbey
rather than a peerage; but the horse, with a nonchalance greater than my own,
inasmuch as it was genuine, turned quietly round as I pressed the rein
against his neck, and sailed away across the plain at his own
inimitable canter. Then I looked back to see the bullock drivers
disgustedly resume the work they had again suspended.
By this time the cattle had crossed a cane-grass swamp, and were out of sight;
but before I had gone a quarter of a mile I saw Pup coming to meet me,
limping and crestfallen. He had probably been kicked by one of the absconders;
and as he could see no sign of civilisation except our camp,
his sagacity had drawn him back. Well pleased, therefore,
I returned to the wagons after a few minutes absence.
"The cattle are out of sight, Steve," said I, as I rounded up
the scattering bullocks. "Not worth while to go after them now."
"Let them go, by all means," replied Thompson, with a ghastly simulation
of cheerfulness. "We'll gladly stand the loss of them, and make the station
a present of Bum's mare besides, if we once get out of sight
of this infernal camp--Stand up, Magpie--Just let us yoke up
as quickly as if our lives depended on it--which, to tell the truth,
is not much of an exag---- Hello! where's Damper?"
"Stuck in a gluepot, jist in front o' the (adj.) hut," replied Mosey,
without pausing in his work. "I seen him there--Back, Snailey,
or I'll knock the (adj.) horn off o' you--but I thought it was one
o' them station cattle till you minded me. Why the (sheol) didn't you
count yer lot properly?"
A deep oath broke from the lips of the man who never swore.
But he controlled himself by a strong effort.
"How much of him's above ground?" he asked.
"(Adv.) little on'y his horns; or else I'd 'a' knowed him--Wub--back, Major,"
replied Mosey reluctantly, as he chained his last pair.
Then, I grieve to say, Thompson let himself out. No puerile repetition;
no slovenly, slipshod work there. It was the performance of a born orator
and poet, and one who, like Timothy, had known the Scriptures
from a child--a long, involved litany of seething malediction, delivered,
moreover, with a measured and effortless eloquence and a grammatical exactitude
which left St. Ernulphus a bad second. The other fellows pursued their work
in awe-stricken silence, till at length Cooper, glancing toward
the ram-paddock, said deprecatingly:
"--it, man, don't swear; not now, anyway. I'll fetch these ten across,
an' they'll (adv.) soon snake him out. Git that spare rope off o' my wagon,
an' foller me quick."
He brought his yoked bullocks through the gap, and drove them rapidly
to the spot indicated by Mosey. Thompson mounted his horse and cantered after,
with the heavy coil of rope across the front of his saddle.
I accompanied him. At the very extremity of the clump, and not fifty yards
from the house, was one of those bottomless quagmires too common in Riverina.
It was about twenty yards across; and, in the very centre,
Damper's head and the line of his back appeared above the surface;
the straight furrow behind him showing that he had been bogged at the edge,
but being unable to turn, and being exceedingly strong and sound,
had worked himself along to the middle, where he was slowly settling down.
In a couple of minutes, one end of the wool-rope--sixty feet long
and an inch and a-half in diameter--was looped round the roots
of the bullock's horns, and the team was attached to the fall.
Then a slow, steady strain drove Damper's nose into the ground,
and gently shifted him, first forward, then upward, then on to the surface,
where he slid smoothly to the solid ground. We released him there,
and he staggered to his feet, shook himself thoroughly, and followed the team
to the camp, ravenously snatching mouthfuls of grass as he went along.
Price and Mosey had just got under way. Willoughby was trying
to yoke Dixon's leaders, while Dixon, owing to his screwmatics,
could do nothing but sit on his horse, cursing with wearisome tautology,
and casting glances of frantic apprehension toward the ram-paddock.
His anxiety was not unreasonable, for there had just come into sight
an upright speck, too small to be a horseman; and it was easy to guess
who was the likeliest person to be coming on foot from that direction.
There is a limit to the dignified sufficiency even of a bullock driver;
and the unhappy conjecture of circumstances had driven Dixon past this point.
"Stiddy, now; go stiddy, an' keep yer (adj.) mouth shut.
Now lay right (adv.) bang up to him; jam him agen the off-sider,
so's he can't shift. There! block him! (Sheol)! Let him rip now.
O may the" &c., &c
"Dixon! Dixon! I must protest"----
"Purtest be (verbed). Fetch 'em up agen. Don't be frightened;
they 'on't bite. Yoke on yer other (adj.) shoulder. Right.
Git well up agen him this time. Lay yer whole (adj.) weight on-to him,
an' jam him, so's he can't budge if it was to save his (adj.) life."
Willoughby, with the yoke on his shoulder, and the off-side bow in his hand,
gingerly approached the excited bullocks, essaying a light touch
on the near-sider's shrinking shoulder. The next moment,
he was reeling backward, and both bullocks were gone. Eve's curse on Cain,
in Byron's fine drama, is mere balderdash to what followed on Dixon's part.
"Dem your soul, you uncultivated savage! you force me to inform you
that your helpless condition was my incentive to these well-meant efforts
on your behalf--as, begad! it is now the only consideration which restrains"--
"O, go to (sheol). You're no (adj.) good. You ain't fit
to (purvey offal to Bruin). An' here's them (adj.) sneaks gone;
an' Martin he'll be on top o' me in about two (adj.) twos;
an' me left by my own (adj.) self, like a (adj.) natey cat in a (adj.) trap.
May the holy" &c., &c. "If I'd that horse," he continued,
glancing furiously at Cleopatra, "I'd make him smell (adj. sheol)."
"Nonsense, Dixon," said I pleasantly; "the horse is not annoying you.
Ah! Willoughby; Ne ultra-no, let's see--Ne sutor ultra crepidam.
Let me try my hand there. I took my degree of B.D.--which doesn't always
signify Bachelor of Divinity--before you took your B.A.
Will you just bring up the unspeakables as Dixon points them out."
"Palmam qui meruit ferat," responded Willoughby, instantly recovering
his temper. "Smoker--Nelson--dem your skins, come up once more!"
Dixon's bullocks were exceptionally docile, for that uncultivated animal
was one of the most humane and skilful drivers in Riverina; therefore,
about twenty-five minutes sufficed to place his team in readiness for a start.
"You might as well come along o' me for a change," said he to Willoughby.
"We'll git on grand together. I'm a quiet, agreeable sort o' (person),
though I say it myself; an' I would n't wish for better (adj.) company nor you.
Come on; you won't be sorry after."
"Quocunque trahunt fata sequamur," rejoined Willoughby, bowing gaily to me.
Then taking up the whip--Dixon was a virtuoso in whips, and always carried one
with six feet of handle and twelve feet of lash--he aimed at the team,
collectively, a clip which, in the most literal sense, recoiled on himself.
And so the officer's son and the sojer's son took their way together;
to become, as I afterward learned, the most attached and mutually considerate
friends on the track. Such is life.
Thompson and Cooper, now ready for the road, were repairing the fence
as well as they could. This being done, and the relics of the fire
kicked about, they put their teams in motion, leaving little trace of the camp,
except Bum's mare, standing asleep outside the fence. The ominous speck
on the plain had approached much nearer, but had taken definite form
as an emu; and now the negative blessing of escape seemed like
a positive benefaction. "If," says Carlyle, "thou wert condemned
to be hanged--which is probably less than thou deservest--thou wouldest
esteem it happiness to be shot."
Serene gratitude therefore shone in the frank faces of the outlaws;
tempered, however, in Thompson's case, by salutary remorse,
for his companion had reproachfully asked him what the (adj. sheol) good
his swearing had done.
We could see Price's teams stopped, half a mile away; one of the loads
appearing low, and canted over to the off side; bogged, evidently.
Dixon's wagon was close in front of us; Willoughby was zealously
flogging himself, and occasionally we could hear Dixon's voice
in encouragement and counsel.
The place where Price's wagon was stuck was not a creek, but merely
a narrow belt of treacherous ground. Mosey had n't gone down six inches,
but Price had happened on a bad place, and his wagon had found the bottom.
All Mosey's team, except the polers, had been hooked on,
but with no result beyond the breaking of a well-worn chain.
"Ain't got puddin' enough, Thompson," said Mosey, as my companions
stopped their teams and went on to survey the place. "The (adv.) thunderin'
ole morepoke he goes crawlin' into the rottenest place he could fine.
You shove your team in nex' the polers, an' I'll hook our lot on in front.
Your chains'll stan' to fetch (sheol) out by the (adj.) roots.
Please the pigs, we'll git out o' sight afore that ole (overseer) comes."
Thompson did as desired; and the first pull brought the wagon
on to solid ground. Meanwhile Dixon and Willoughby had taken their team
through, and were hurrying along. Cooper, growling maledictions
on everything connected with Port Phillip--roads in particular--
had selected his route, and started his team. Thompson hooked on
to his own wagon, and crossed safely, but with very little to spare.
"Touch-and-go," he remarked to me; "another bale would have anchored her.
Ah! Cooper's in it, with all his cleverness."
Cooper was in it. The two-ton Hawkesbury, with seven-and-a-half tons of load,
was down to the axle-beds; and the Cornstalk was endeavouring,
by means of extracts from the sermons of Knox's soundest followers, to do
something like justice to the contingency. Thompson sighed, glanced toward
the ram-paddock, and hooked his team in front of Cooper's. Mosey,
who had been mending his broken chain with wire, now came over with Price.
"We'll give you a lend of our whips," said he with cheap complaisance.
"Take the leaders yerself, Thompson. Stiddy now, till I give the word,
or we'll be fetching the (adj.) handle out of her. Now--pop it on--to 'em!"
Then thirty-six picked bullocks planted their feet and prised,
and a hundred and seventy feet of bar chain stretched tense and rigid
from the leaders' yoke to the pole-cap. The wagon crept forward.
A low grumble, more a growl than a bellow, passed from beast to beast
along the team--sure indication that the wagon would n't stop again
if it could be taken through. The off front wheel rose slowly
on harder ground; the off hind wheel rose in its turn; both near wheels
ploughed deeper beneath the top-heavy weight of thirty-eight bales----
"She's over!" thundered Cooper. "Keep her goin'--it's her on'y chance!"
Then the heavy pine whipsticks bent like bulrushes in the drivers'
skilful hands, while a spray of dissevered hair, and sometimes a line
of springing blood, followed each detonation--the libretto being in keeping.
A few yards forward still, while both off wheels rose to the surface,
and both near wheels sank till the naves burrowed in the ground;
then the wagon swung heavily over on its near side.
"Good-bye, John," said Cooper, with fine immobility. "Three-man job,
by rights. Will you give us a hand, Collins?" For Price and Mosey
were silently returning to their teams.
"Certainly, I will."
"Well, it's a half day's contract I'll git some breakfast ready,
while you (fellows) unloosens the ropes."
Thompson and I released the bullocks from the pole, unfastened the ropes,
and brought the wagon down to its wheels again. Then Cooper
summoned us to breakfast.
"You'll jist take sort o' pot-luck, Collins," he remarked.
"I should 'a' baked some soda bread an' boiled some meat last night,
on'y for bein' too busy doin' nothing. Laziness is catchin'.
That's why I hate a lot o' fellers campin' together; it's nothing but yarn,
yarn; an' your wagon ain't greazed, an' your tarpolin ain't looked to;
an' nothin done but yarn, yarn; an' you floggin' in your own mind
at not gittin' ahead o' your work. That's where women's got the purchase
on us (fellows). When a lot o' women gits together,
one o' them reads out something religious, an' the rest all wires in at sewin',
or knittin', or some (adj.) thing. They can't suffer to be idle,
nor to see anybody else idle--women can't." Cooper was an observer.
It was pleasant to hear him philosophise.
The work of reloading was made severe and tedious by the lack
of any better skids than the poles of the two wagons--was, indeed,
made impossible under the circumstances, but for Cooper's enormous
and wellsaved strength. Our toil was enlivened, however,
by an argument as to the esoteric cause of the capsize. Cooper maintained
that nothing better could have been hoped for, after leaving Kenilworth shed
on a Friday; Thompson, untrammelled by such superstition,
contended that the misadventure was solely due to travelling on Sunday;
whilst I held it to be merely a proof that Cooper, in spite of his sins,
wasn't deserted yet. Each of us supported his argument by a wealth
of illustrative cases, and thus fortified his own stubborn opinion
to his own perfect satisfaction. Then, descending to more tangible things,
we discussed Cleopatra. Here we were unanimous in deciding
that the horse had, as yet, disclosed only two faults, and these not the faults
of the Irishman's horse in the weary yarn. One of them, we concluded,
was to buck like a demon on being first mounted, and the other was to grope
backward for the person who went to catch him after delivery of loading.
In the meantime, four horsemen, with three pack-horses, went by;
then two horse teams, loaded outward; then Stewart, of Kooltopa,
paused to give a few words of sympathy as he drove past; then far ahead,
we saw two wool teams, evidently from Boolka, converging slowly
toward the main track; then more wool came in sight from the pine-ridge,
five or six miles behind. By this time, it was after mid-day; and Cooper,
having tied the last levers, looked round before descending from the load.
"Somebody on a grey horse comin' along the track from the ram-paddick,
an' another (fellow) on a brown horse comin' across the plain," he remarked.
"Wonder if one o' them's Martin-an' he's rose a horse at the station?"
"I was thinking about to-night," replied Thompson. "I'd forgot Martin.
Duffing soon comes under the what-you-may-call-him."
"Statute of Limitations?" I suggested.
"Yes. Come and have a drink of tea, and a bit of Cooper's pastry.
His cookery does n't fatten, but it fills up."
"O you (adj.) liar," gently protested the Cornstalk, as he seated himself
on the ground beside the tucker-box. "Is this Martin?"--for the man
on the grey horse was approaching at a canter.
"No," I replied; "he's a stranger to me."
"But that's Martin on the brown horse," said Thompson, with rising vexation.
"Keep him on a string, Tom, if you can. Don't let him drive us into a lie
about last night, for, after all, I'll be hanged if I'm man enough
to tell him the truth, nor won't be for the next fortnight or three weeks."
By this time, the man on the grey horse was passing us.
In response to Thompson's invitation, he stopped and dismounted.
"Jist help yourself, an' your friends'll like you the better,
as the sayin' is," said Cooper, handing him a pannikin.
"Thanks. I'll do so; I didn't have any breakfast this morning,"
replied the stranger, picking up a johnny-cake (which liberal shepherds
give a grosser name), and eating it with relish, while the interior lamina
of dough spued out from between the charred crusts under the pressure
of his strong teeth. "Been having a little mishap?"
"Yes; nothing broke, though."
"How long since my lads passed? I see their tracks on the road."
"About three hours," replied Thompson. "Did you meet an old man
and a young fellow, with wool-grey horse behind one of the wagons?
Good day, Mr. Martin. Have a drink of tea?"
"Yes, I met them," replied the stranger. "Old Price's teams,
I think--Good day, Martin--six or seven miles from here;
Dixon travelling behind, with another fellow driving his team--
long-lost brother, apparently."
"Where did you fellows have your bullocks last night?" demanded Martin,
his eye resting on the sun-cracked stucco which covered three-fourths
of Damper's colossal personality.
"And did you see a dark chestnut horse; bang tail; star and snip;
white hind feet; saddle and bridle on?" I asked. "I ran across Moriarty
this morning," I continued, turning politely to Martin; "and he told me
he was after a horse of that description; but he was in a hurry"----
"Dark chestnut horse; bang tail; star and snip; white hind feet;
JR near shoulder; like 2 in circle off thigh," said the stranger reflectively.
"Yes; I saw the horse this morning, but the owner has got him again--
red-headed young fellow; tweed pants, strapped with moleskin. I met him
at the Nalrooka boundary shortly after sunrise--thirty miles from here,
I should say. I was speaking to him. He told me the horse had slung him
and got away from him last night, and he had found him by good luck
before daylight this morning. He came down on his hand, poor beggar;
it's swelled like a boxing-glove. But he's taking it out of the horse."
Now, in the Riverina of that period, it was considered much more disgraceful
to be had by a scoundrel than to commit a felony yourself;
therefore Martin, partly grasping the situation, assumed an oblivious,
and even drowsy, air.
"Did the young fellow say where he was going?" I asked,
pitying Martin's dilemma, and admiring his greatness of soul,
for I had more than once been there myself.
"No; he only wanted to borrow a pipe of tobacco; but after we parted
I saw him strike out across the plain to the right."
Martin yawned, turned his horse, and rode slowly toward the selection.
Very slowly, so that the stranger might overtake him soon. Come weal,
come woe, he would n't trail his honour in the dust before three cynical
"Well, I'll push on," said the stranger, setting down his pannikin.
"I want to pull my chaps, and I'm thinking about my horse. I say"--
glancing after Martin, and lowering his voice--"you fellows have a devil
of a bad show for to-night."
"You're right," replied Thompson.
"Tell you what you'll do: Camp at the belars, and they'll think
you're on for the ration-paddock; then, between the two lights,
just scoot for the Dead Horse Swamp."
"Never any grass there," said Thompson.
"That's the beauty of it," replied the stranger. "They've been putting down
a tank in the middle of the swamp this winter; and the contractor
had about a dozen young fellows, every one of them with a horse and a dog,
kicking up (sheol)'s delight. There has n't been a smell of a sheep
within coo-ee of the swamp for the last three months; and the paddock
was mustered for shearing just before the contractor left.
It's into your hand for to-night. Well, I must"----
"I beg your pardon," said Thompson hesitatingly--"Are you coming
direct from Hay?"
"Well, I left on Saturday morning."
"The mailman was telling me," continued Thompson wistfully,
"that Permewan and Wright had three ton of dynamite for Broken Hill.
Do you know is it gone yet?"
"Not when I left," replied the Encyclopedia Australiensis.
"They're offering eighty, and I've no doubt they'll spring to a hundred.
Extra-hazardous tack; and there's not a blade of grass once you pass
the Merowie. Good day, boys." And, nodding to us collectively, he departed.
"Steve," said I; "are you a man to go fooling with high explosives,--
considering the thing that's on you?"
"Well," replied Thompson doggedly, "it's come to this with me,
that I must make a spoon or spoil a horn; and if that infernal thing
would only keep off till I got the stuff delivered, I'd be right.
My bullocks are fit for any track in Australia."
"Let's git down to Hay fust," interposed Cooper; "then you can do as you like;
but I'll be wantin' a way-bill that'll take me safe out o' Port Phillip.
Say, Collins; I'll buy that new saddle off o' you. Mine's all in splinters,
for my horse he's a beggar to roll."
"I'd hardly feel justified in selling it," I replied. "But I'll tell you
what I'll do: I'll sell you my own saddle cheap--say, three notes--
and give you Bum's bridle in."
Cooper agreed to the proposal. Then, as Pup had been eating about ten pounds
of salt mutton, stolen from the bullock drivers' stores, I enticed him
to take a good drink of water, knowing he would need it before the day
was over. It was absolutely imperative that I should go thirty miles,
and then, if possible, camp alone. So I shook hands with the outlaws,
and started; leading Bunyip till he should become accustomed
to his new companion.
If the unmannerly reader wishes to know why I was bound to a stage
of exactly thirty miles, I have no objection to state that,
knowing the geography of Riverina as well as if I had laid out
the whole territory myself, I was aware of a sandhill composed of material
unstable as water; an unfavourable place for a bucking horse,
and a favourable place for a man to dismount head foremost if the worst came;
and that sand-hill was my destination.
When I undertook the pleasant task of writing out these reminiscences,
I engaged, you will remember, to amplify the record of one week;
judging that a rigidly faithful analysis of that sample would disclose
the approximate percentage of happiness, virtue, &c., in Life.
But whilst writing the annotations on Sept. 9th (which, by the way,
gratuitously overlap on the following day), I saw an alpine difficulty
looming ahead. At the Blowhard Sand-hill, on the night of the 10th,
I camped with a party of six sons of Belial, bound for Deniliquin,
with 3,000 Boolka wethers off the shears. Now, anyone who has listened
for four hours to the conversation of a group of sheep drovers, named,
respectively, Splodger, Rabbit, Parson, Bottler, Dingo, and Hairy-toothed Ike,
will agree with me as to the impossibility of getting the dialogue
of such dramatis personae into anything like printable form.
The bullock drivers were bad enough, but these fellows are out of the question.
Then it occurred to me that a wider scope of observation might give
in perhaps fewer pages, a fairer estimate of that ageless enigma,
the true solution of which forms our all-embracing and only responsibility.
I therefore concluded to skip one calendar month, dipping again
into my old diary at Oct. 9th in the same year, namely, '83
After this, I shall pick out of each consecutive month the 9th day
for amplification and comment, keeping not too long in one tune,
but a snip and away. This will prospect the gutter of Life
(gutter is good) at different points; in other words, it will give us
a range of seven months instead of seven days.
The thread of narrative being thus purposely broken, no one of these short
and simple analyses can have any connection with another--a point on which
I congratulate the judicious reader and the no less judicious writer;
for the former is thereby tacitly warned against any expectation of plot
or denouement, and so secured against disappointment, whilst the latter
is relieved from the (to him) impossible task of investing prosaic people
with romance, and a generally hap-hazard economy with poetical justice.
Go to, then.
TUES. OCT. 9. Goolumbulla. To Rory's.
This record transports you (saving reverence of our 'birth stain')
something more than a hundred miles northward from the scene sketched
in Chap.I, thus unveiling a territory blank on the map, and similarly qualified
in the ordinary conversation of its inhabitants.
The Willandra Billabong, which in moderately wet seasons relieves
the Middle Lachlan of some superfluous water, and in epoch-marking flood-times
reluctantly debouches into the Lower Darling, divides the country
between those rivers into two unequal parts. Roughly speaking--
the black-soil plains (which are chiefly light red) lie to the south
of this almost imperceptible depression, whilst on the north--
sometimes close by, sometimes out of sight, and sometimes thirty miles away--
the irregular scrub--frontier denotes an abrupt change of soil,
though the uniform level is maintained.
Here you enter upon a region presenting to the rarely clouded sky
an unbroken foliage-surface, with isothermal zones rigidly marked
by their indigenous growths. A tract of country until yesterday
bare of surface water for lack of occupation, and lacking occupation
for dearth of surface water. Which goes to show that regularity of rainfall
is not ensured by copious growth of timber.
However, a hundred miles back in that leafy solitude,--just where the line
of water conservation, creeping northward from the Lachlan,
here and there touched the line creeping southward from the Darling,--
I was standing in the veranda of the barracks, on Goolumbulla station,
when the narangies' pagan henchman announced, "Brekfit leddy, all li."
During the meal, Jack Ward, the senior narangy, made some remark
implying that certain cattle, on a certain occasion, had scented water
from a fabulous distance. Whereupon Andrews, the storekeeper,
interrogated deponent with some severity, driving him down, down,
to three hundred yards' range, where he made a final stand.
But the two junior narangies supported Ward in the endowment of cattle
with the faculty in question; and, as a matter of course, each young fellow
supplemented his limited experience by a number of instances, all alike
distinguished by that want of proper hang which makes the judicious grieve.
A practical knowledge of the subject, founded on irrefragable proofs,
led me to side with Andrews; and it was thus that I came to quote
a case in point, with all the advantage of local reference.
It will be necessary to lay the facts before you:--
In Feb., '81--two years and eight months before the date of this record--
I had drawn up to Goolumbulla homestead with six tons of wire.
The manager, Mr. Spanker, in his fine, off-hand way, asked me
to just dump it down carelessly in five or six places over the run,
as the contractor would be using it at once. He would pay me
for the extra mileage; and Dan O'Connell would show me where to sling it off.
I objected to the mileage agreement, inasmuch as carting over raw ground
was a very different thing from travelling on a track. I wanted £1 a day
for the extra time--a fair current rate, and easily counted.
Mr. Spanker, in reply, had no objection to paying by the day;
but, as my account came to £42, and as it had taken me twelve weeks
to do the two hundred and thirty miles from Hay, and as the contractor
had been cursing me steadily for the last four weeks--well,
if I asked him anything about it, he thought that ten shillings
came nearer the mark, and was almost as easily counted.
Finally, with that pliancy of temper which keeps me down in the world,
I assented to these terms; whereupon Spanker, with characteristic perversity,
called it fifteen.
Next day, following Andrews' directions, I took the faint track
of the ration cart for seven or eight miles, and found a tank
without any trouble. (Remember that this is a recital of what happened
long before the date of our record.) Early next morning,
Dan O'Connell joined me, and we crawled along for another five or six miles,
on a still fainter track, marked only by a few trips
of the contractor's wagonette. In the afternoon we struck a line
of bored posts, and dumped twenty coils. In due time, I unyoked,
and Dan led me to a new tank, half-full of horribly alkaline water.
Thence, after arranging to meet me in the morning, he cut across
to his own boundary hut, six or eight miles away.
Next day, still following the line of posts, we dropped the rest of the wire;
and, before Dan left me, I made him repeat again and again
his directions for finding a gilgie, which he knew to be full
of first-class water, and which I ought to strike about sunset.
Next day I would reach the station in good time, thus completing
a loop journey of thirty-odd miles in four days.
Dan had impressed me as a person likely to be of considerably more account
in the estimation of his Maker than of his fellow-products;
and, having previously studied men of the same description,
I now accepted this involuntary sentiment as the only way of accounting
for something not unfamiliar in his voice and bearing. A man
of average stature, with a vast black beard, and guileless blue eyes,
set off by a powerful Armagh accent. Evidently unobservant, uncritical,
and utterly destitute of devil in any form, it seemed that
the Spirit of the Bog had followed him into the bush, preserving
his noxious innocence and all-round ineptitude in their pristine integrity.
Naturally, he had taken a slight local colour, but this seemed to express
the limit of his susceptibility to altered conditions.
Yet he twice startled me by the breadth and exactness of his information--
once when America was mentioned, and he glanced at the character and policy
of each President, from Washington to Van Buren; and again,
when he spoke of the Massacre of Cawnpore, almost as if he had been there
at the time. Also, an unconscious familiarity with the Bible and Shakespear
was noticeable in his conversation, though he was evidently
a Catholic of the Catholics.
When I complimented him on his erudition, he remarked,
with amusing incompatibility of dialect and manner, 'Mebbe it's thrue fur ye.
Me father hed consitherable mains, so he hed; an' A har'ly ivver done
a han's turn, furbye divarsion, to A come out here.' However,
you will now understand why I made him repeat his topographical notes
half a dozen times before I let him go.
Just at sunset I struck the partly-plain patch of sixty or eighty acres,
where the gilgie ought to be. I unyoked with despatch, then left the bullocks,
and rode round, looking for a clump of mallee, which would indicate
the immediate neighbourhood of the water. No use. I could find
no mallee anywhere. Night came on--richest starlight, though, of course,
dark in the scrub--and still I objurgated round, and purposely scattered
the bullocks to search for themselves, and anathematised in all directions,
and consigned the whole vicinity to the Evil One, for lack
of that clump of mallee. Hour after hour passed; the bullocks
from time to time trying to clear off for the distant Lachlan,
and I spending half my time in using them as divining rods,
and the other half in execrating back and forward in search of that mallee.
It was about midnight when I gave it best. I must have struck the wrong spot.
Now--would it be advisable to make a bee-line to the station at once,
with the bullocks loose?--or to wait for morning and take the wagon with me?
The distance was eight or ten miles.
I was standing near the edge of the open scrub, with the reins over my arm.
The mare was famished and exhausted. The bells were almost silent,
for the bullocks stood still in the agony of thirst. The weather was hot;
and they had barely sipped the alkaline water at last camp.
I was absently observing one white bullock close by, when,
with a low bellow, he suddenly darted forward eight or ten yards,
and began drinking at the gilgie. That bellow was answered from all sides;
and in two minutes his nineteen mates were sharing the discovery.
Meanwhile, I had let Fancy go amongst them, after putting on her bell,
and taking off the saddle and bridle. I had done with her for the night.
And I knew that the water was good, for all the beasts stood on the brink,
and drank without wetting their feet.
But how had the first bullock found the water, after he and his mates
had passed it a dozen times, and within a few yards?
This was worth investigating at once. So, before thinking about supper,
I went to the exact spot where the beast had been standing,
and there saw the stars reflected in the water. Of course,
if it had been anything like a permanent supply, the sound of frogs
or yabbies would have guided the beasts to it at once.
But even wild cattle can no more scent water than we can,
though they make better use of such faculties as they possess.
I have tested the supposition deliberately and exhaustively,
time after time; and this instance is cited, not controversially,
but because it has to do with the present memoir.
However, next morning--after verifying the tracks of the thirsty bullocks
so near the gilgie that it seemed a wonder they hadn't walked into it--
I looked for the clump of mallee. I don't believe there was a stick of it
within miles; but there was a clump of yarran where it should have been.
A stately beefwood, sixty feet high, with swarthy column
furrowed a hand-breadth deep, and heavy tufts of foliage like bundles
of long leeks in colour and configuration--the first beefwood I had seen
since leaving the homestead--stood close to the water, making a fine landmark;
but Dan's sense of proportion had selected the adjacent bit of yarran;
and--as I told the breakfast-party--he had never concerned himself
to know the difference between yarran and mallee.
"Curious combination of a fool and a well-informed man," remarked Ward.
"Is he either of the two?" asked Broome. "My belief, he shams both."
"Easy matter to sham foolishness," obsened Williamson. "Not so easy
to sham information."
"Any relation to the late Liberator?" I asked.
"Dan O'Connell's only his nickname," replied Andrews. "His proper name
is Rory O'Halloran.'
"Rory O'Halloran!" I repeated. "I thought I had met him before,
but could n't place him. And so Rory has found his way here?"
"Well, he was brought here," replied Andrews. "Twelve or fourteen years ago
he turned up at Moogoojinna, down Deniliquin way, and froze to the station.
Then when Arbuthnot settled this place--five years ago now--
Spanker brought Rory with him, and he's been here ever since.
Got married at Moogoojinna, a year or two before leaving,
to a red-hot Protestant, from the same part of the globe as himself;
but she stayed at Moogoojinna for her confinement, and only came up
four years ago, after Dan was settled in the Utopia paddock.
Good woman in her way; but she spends her time in a sort of steady fury,
for she came to Moogoojinna with the idea of collaring something worth while.
So Spanker says; and he was there at the time. Seems she did n't want Dan,
and Dan did n't want her, but somehow they were married before they came
to an understanding. He's very good to her, in his own inoffensive way;
and she leads him a dog's life. One kid. Likely you knew him on Moogoojinna.
According to his own account, he came straight through Vic.,
only stopping once, when he chummied for a few weeks with a squatter
that took a fancy to him and treated him like a long-lost brother.
Grain of salt just there."
"Not necessarily," I replied. "I can verify his statement to the letter,
for I was that land-cormorant." And I straightway unfolded to the boys
an earlier page of Dan O'Connell's history----
It was about thirteen years before. At that time I was really suffering
the embarrassment of riches, though the latter consisted only of those
chastening experiences which daily confront adventurers of immature judgment
and scanty resources, on new selections. The local storekeeper, however,
was keeping me supplied with the luxuries of life--such as flour, spuds, tea,
sugar, tobacco--whilst turkeys and ducks were to be had for the shooting,
and kangaroos for the chasing. The storekeeper had also taken charge
of my land license, for safety, and occasionally presented documents
for my signature, making me feel like some conscious criminal,
happily let off for the present with a caution.
One summer evening, whilst dragging myself home from work,
I encountered a young fellow, who, I flattered myself, resembled me
only in age. Soft as a cabbage in every way, he was footsore and weary,
as well as homesick and despondent to the verge of tears. In one hand
he carried a carpet bag, and in the other a large bundle, tied up
in a coloured handkerchief. In his conversation he employed the Armagh accent
with such slavish fidelity as to make it evident that he regarded
any other form of speech as showing culpable ignorance
or offensive affectation. His name was Rory O'Halloran.
Of course, I offered him the rugged hospitalities of my hut.
In the morning, perceiving that his feet showed startling traces
of the hundred-and-twenty-mile walk from Melbourne, I constrained him
to rest for a few days. But the poor fellow had a painfully outspoken scruple
against eating the damper of idleness; so, as soon as he was able
to get his boots on without supplication for Divine support,
he started to help me with my work.
Soon our acquaintance ripened to intimacy; and I learned something
of his history. Like the majority of us, he was the scion
of an ancient family. He was the youngest of eleven, all surviving
at latest advices (praise God). Seven of these had swarmed to America,
and were doing well (glory be); two remained in their native hive,
with full and plenty (Amen); whilst he and his brother Larry
had staked their future on the prosperity of Australia (God help us).
His father must have been a man of wealth and position, as he apparently spent
his whole time in following the hounds, shooting pheasants,
and catching salmon, with the other gentlemen. But just before Rory left home,
his father and mother had withdrawn from society. And here
the narrator's sudden reticence warned me not to inquire into the details
of the old couple's retirement.
Larry, it appeared, had been doing Victoria and Riverina for five or six years,
with magnificent, though unspecific, results. Anyway, he had franked Rory
to Port Melbourne pier by passage warrant; but seemed to have made no provision
for further intercourse. And Rory, having walked the streets of Melbourne
for two whole days without finding any trace of Larry, had concluded
that he must be in Riverina, and that it would be a brave notion to slip over,
and take the defaulter by surprise. Hence his present pilgrimage.
Poor Rory, in spite of his willingness, was naturally awkward
with the splitters' tools, nor did he know how to harness a horse.
All this, he explained to me, was a penalty adherent to people who,
by reason of their social-economic position, are emancipated
from manual labour. But when a heavy, soaking pour of summer rain
brought the ground into fencing condition, I noticed that he could handle
the spade with a strength and dexterity rarely equalled within my observation.
"You're a Catholic--are n't you, Rory?" I speculated, one evening,
struck by the simple piety of some asinine remark he had made.
A startled look of remonstrance and deprecation was his only reply.
However, as it has always been my rule to seek information at first hand,
I tried, in a friendly and confidential way, to draw him out
respecting certain of his Church's usages and tenets, which I knew
to be garbled and falsified by Protestant bigotry. But it was evident
that throughout every fibre of his moral nature there ran a conviction
that the mere mention of Purgatory or Transubstantiation would be fatal
to our friendship. And he, at all events, would be no party
to the unmasking of that great gulf which hereditarily divided us.
[It may be worth while, before we go any farther, to inquire into the nature
and origin of this gulf--not merely for the sake of information,
but because it is a question which affects the moral health of our community.
When Australia was first colonised, any sensible man might have foreboded
sorrel, cockspur, Scotch thistle, &c., as unwelcome, but unavoidable,
adjuncts of settlement. A many-wintered sage might have predicted
that some colonist, in a fit of criminal folly, would scourge the country
with a legacy of foxes, rabbits, sparrows, &c. But a second
and clearer-sighted Jeremiah could never have prophesied
the deliberate introduction of hydrophobia for dogs, glanders for horses,
or Orangeism for men. Yet the latter enterprise has been carried out--
whether by John Smith or John Beelzebub, by the Rev. Jones
or the Rev. Belphegor, it matters not now. Some one has carried
his congenial virus half-way round the globe, and tainted a young nation.
It is no question of doctrine. There is a greater difference between
the Presbyterian and Episcopalian creeds than between the latter
and the Catholic. But in tracing sectarian animosities back to their source,
you may always expect to crash up against Vested Interests. For instance,
the great Fact of the English Reformation was the confiscation
of Church property. Afterward, a Protestant England submitted peaceably
to the Inquisition; but when Mary proposed restitution of the abbey tenures--
whoop! to your tents, O Israel! The noble army of prospective martyrs
could n't conform to that heresy; and the stubborn Tudor had to back down.
Again, Wesleyanism tapped the offertory of Episcopalianism,
and thus earned the undying hatred of that Church--though in point of doctrine,
the two are practically identical. But the prejudice of the Irish Protestant
against the Irish Catholic has the basest origin of all.
The English and Scotch colonists drafted into Ulster by Elizabeth, James I,
Cromwell, and William III, always evinced a tendency to become Irish
in the second generation. The reason is plain. Devil-worship--
the cult of Fear--was the territorial religion of Ireland;
and, in this bitter fellowship, native Catholic and acclimatised Protestant
sank their small sectarian differences. The almighty and eternal Landlord,
of course, was the Power who had to be placated by tribute and incense,
approached on all fours, and glorified in the highest.
We don't know much of the non-political history of Ireland
during the 18th century, and indeed there is not much to be known.
An Irish Parliament, consisting solely of landlords and their nominees,
legislated as men do when the personal equation is allowed to pass unchecked.
Meanwhile the agent collected such rents as he could get, with an occasional
charge of slugs thrown in gratis: and the finest peasantry
in the world slaved, starved, lied, stole, attended the means of grace,
got drunk as often as possible, married and gave in marriage,
harnessed itself to the landlord's carriage whenever that three-bottle divinity
deigned an avatar, and hoarded up its pennies for the annual confiscation.
Broadly speaking, it rendered unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's,
and unto God the things that were God's--social-economic conditions
being so arranged that Caesar's title covered everything except
an insignificant by-product of atrophied souls.
However, we are concerned only with Ulster, where the native element
of population, oblivious to Thrift, and instinctively loyal to anything
in the shape of supremacy, had become alloyed with an ingredient
derived from the most contumacious brood at that tirne in Western Europe,
namely, the so-called Anglo-Saxon--a people unpleasantly apt in drawing
a limit-line to aggression on its pocket, and by no means likely
to content itself with an appeal to the Saints or the Muses. But was there
no sectarian line of cleavage?--was there no party spirit abroad, seeing that,
for the alleged safety of the Protestant population, the Catholics lived
under severe penal laws? Well----
'We hold the right of private judgment in matters of religion to be
equally sacred in others as in ourselves; and, as men, as Christians,
and as Protestants, we rejoice in the relaxation of the penal laws
against our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects; and we believe the measure to be
fraught with the happiest consequences to the union and prosperity of Ireland.'
That is part of a resolution carried with only two dissentient voices
in a meeting composed of the delegates of 143 corps of Ulster Volunteers,
numbering 25,000 men. The meeting was held at Dungannon, Tyrone, in 1782.
The Volunteers were tenants who, in 1778, had spontaneously enrolled
themselves for defence against foreign invasion; all Protestants, of course,
inasmuch as the possession of arms, except by special license, was prohibited
to Catholics;--though at this time (the American War being then in progress)
the feeling of the Irish Protestant was strongly revolutionary,
while the Irish Catholic, true to his fatal instinct of illogical veneration,
was distinctly loyalist. Otherwise, the bond of a common nationality
had overborne sectarian estrangement; and never before or since has Ireland
seen a period when the professors of those hostile creeds got drunk together
in such amity. This is a historical fact which cannot be too often repeated.
'Probably at no period since the days of Constantine,' says the accomplished
and trustworthy Lecky, 'was Catholicism so free from domineering
and aggressive tendencies as during the Pontificates of Benedict XIV
and his three successors.' This covers a period extending from 1740 to 1775;
and we know that cycles of ecclesiastical polity never close abruptly.
The Catholic was first to perceive that 'when lenity and cruelty play
for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.'
But the Volunteers--armed and organised without the invitation or concurrence
of Government--now began to propose reforms in parliamentary representation,
amendments in internal legislation, a relaxation of trade restrictions,
&c. So it was time for the man with a stake in the country to think about
Divide and govern! A good ideal though not a new one! And, providentially,
here was the latent spark of religious dissent, ready to respond
to the foulest breath ever blown from the lips of Greed. In 1785 the spark
was first fanned into flame, with the best results; then, the satisfactory
working of the experiment being assured, the first Orange Lodge was formally
inaugurated at Loughlea, Armagh, in 1795--exactly 105 years after
the dethronement and expulsion of James II, and 93 years after the death
of William of Orange.
Patronised by noblemen, gentlemen, clergymen, and intermediary pimps
of substantial position, the institution naturally appealed to the highest
sentiments (which is saying extremely little) of a Protestant half-population
forced into servility by agrarian conditions. Soon it became self-supporting,
and waxed mighty in the land, feeding itself with fresh vendetta
from each recurring 12th of July.
Observe its origin well. The profound cunning of a propertied class,
operating with sinister purpose on the inevitable flunkeyism
of a dependent class, per medium of that moral kink in human nature
which makes sectarian persecution an act of worship, generated
an accordant monster. Hence any L.O.L. convocation, however slenderly
attended, may fitly be called a monster meeting.
The domestic history of the movement in its palmy days--the brutal
and cowardly baiting of a penalised class; the boorish insult to ideals
held sacred by sensitive devotees; the deliberate cultivation
of intra--parochial blood-feud; the savage fostering of hate
for hate's own sake; the thousand squalid details of affray, ambuscade,
murder, maltreatment, malicious injury to property--these, happily
or unhappily, rest on fast-perishing oral tradition alone.
But the whole record, though not the most flagrant in modern history,
is undeniably the vilest. 'Who,' asks Job, 'can bring a clean thing
out of an unclean?' And his answer is superfluous.
A fixed resolution to avoid the very appearance of digression in these annals
prevents my referring to various sporadic Irish combinations
of the 18th century--Whiteboys, Steelboys, Oakboys, Peep-o'-day Boys,
Defenders--some Catholic, some Protestant, some mixed; but each representing
an inarticulate protest against agrarian or ecclesiastical aggression.
Notice, however, that the customary dragging in of these irrelevancies,
to confuse the main issue, is not to be wondered at, seeing that
Orangeism itself is based, in a large, general way, on the Bible.
But again, what fanatical lunacy or class-atrocity of Christendom
was ever based on anything else?
O Catholic and Protestant slaves of dogma! Zealots, Idumaeans, partisans
of ye know not what! Fools all!--whooping for your Ananus,
your John of Giscala, your Simon of Bargioras; and fighting amongst yourselves,
whilst the invincible legionaries of Science advance confidently
on your polluted Temple! Small sympathy have ye from this Josephus.]
But Rory, poor fellow, had all the impressions of party spirit built into
his moral system. It was a vital and personal fact to him,
though only a historical truth to me, that this hereditary war
of the Big-endians and Little-endians had been conducted by our own
immediate forefathers. Strictly speaking, mind you, neither party
cracked the egg--that too--dainty product being taboo for rent--but
they compromised by cracking each other's domes of thought. Rory could n't
get away from the strong probability that my grandfather had overpowered
his own contemporary ancestor in the name of the Glorious, Pious
and Immortal Memory, and had chopped his head off with a spade. He was
willing to let bygones be bygones; but--No more o' that, an thou lovest me!
Yet he showed a distinctly intelligent interest, as well as
a complacent assent, when I pointed out to him the irony of the Orangeman's
situation. England's original title to the over-rule of Ireland--and a
perfectly valid one, as times went then--was the momentous bull
of Pope Adrian IV, issued to Henry II, in 1155. And any private title to land
in Ireland, traced back through inheritance, purchase, or what not,
must lead to a Royal grant as its source; the authority for such grant
being the Papal bull aforesaid, and the validity of the bull
resting on the Pope's temporal power. Now, the Orangeman is prepared
to die in his last hiding-place in vindication of the English domination,
that rests on the Papal bull, that is warranted by the Pope's temporal power,
that lay in the house that Peter built. To be sure, provided a title be safe,
its value is not affected though it may have emanated from
the Father of Lies himself. But we should frankly say so.
Rory's character was made up of two fine elements, the poetic and the prosaic,
but these were not compounded. There was a dreamy, idealistic Rory,
born of a legend-loving race; and there was a painfully parsimonious Rory,
trained down to the standard of a model wealth-producer. The first
was of imagination all compact, living in an atmosphere of charms, fairies,
poetic justice, and angelic guidance: the second was primed with homely maxims
respecting the neglected value of copper currency. Which reminds me----
We had been together about a week when the thresher came round. I had no crop
of my own--the wild cattle having walked over the dog-leg fence, and eaten it
(the crop, of course, not the fence)--but we both went to help a neighbour.
I was deputed to sew the bags, and Rory to pull out the tailings
and bag them up for sending through again. I noticed that the fan pulley
of the machine was secured with a home-made key, projecting about two inches
beyond the end of the shaft; and as this was close beside where Rory
was kneeling at his work, I pointed it out to him as a thing that meant
mischief to the unwary. Half an hour afterward, there was a yell
from the vicinity of the fan, and I knew that the key had found Rory.
The engine driver shut off at once, and I made for the fan, whipping out
my pocket knife as I went. The key had snatched the sleeve
of the young fellow's homespun linen shirt, midway between elbow and shoulder,
twitching the strong fabric into a knot, and burrowing into the soft meat
of his arm. Already the fan was pulled up, while the belt slipped
and smoked on the drum pulley above. The blade of my knife was just touching
the twisted nucleus of linen, when Rory exclaimed wildly,
"Aisy, Tammas! For marcy sake, don't! Can't ye take the shurt aff the nail
without cuttin' it?"
At this moment, the engine driver threw the fan belt off, and Rory
was soon liberated. His satisfaction at finding the garment almost uninjured
was but slightly dashed by the bruise on his arm. The latter would heal
of itself; the former would n't. But for the rest of the day
he kept his eye on that key.
Among the few things he brought out with him from home was the old-fashioned
habit of sleeping in his skin--a usage, by the way, more to be commended
than the converse custom, practised by English coal-miners,
of turning into the blankets and out again fully dressed, till the raiment,
never removed, rots off by effluxion of time. Rory maintained that his system
added considerably to the lifetime of a shirt.
However, one Sunday forenoon, while we were enjoying that second sleep
which gives to the Day of Rest its true significance, the smouldering fire
ate its way through the side of the log chimney, and caught a couple
of hundred two-foot shingles, stacked in the angle outside. It was about
half-past ten when Rory was awakened by a crackling sound close beside him;
and the first sight he saw was a broad tongue of flame leaping in
under the eave, and licking the rafter above his head.
He had heard of bush fires; and though he knew the locusts were starving
on the surrounding plain, his roar of despair brought me to my feet
on the floor. Immediately grasping the situation and a long-handled shovel,
I called on him to bring a bucket of water. The barrel was empty,
as a matter of course; and Rory cantered away down the road a quarter
of a mile, to where a deep crab-hole--replenished by the rain
before referred to--furnished our supply. But, in the panic of the moment,
it escaped his observation that he was affording a scandalous spectacle
to two spring-cartloads of assorted Cornish people, on their way to the local
tabernacle. In fact, he had swooped up a bucket of water and turned back
with it before he was aware that they had been close behind him all the time.
His first thought was to squat down, taking cover behind the bucket; but,
remembering the exigency of his errand, he girded up his fortitude--
which was the only thing he had to gird--and faced the springcarts,
for the sake of my hut, as bravely as his ancestors had faced earcropping,
and similar cajoleries, for the sake of the wan thrue Church. And there was
no more joke about the later martyrdom than about the earlier. However,
by the time he returned, I had thrown the burning shingles to a safer distance,
and removed all the loose fire, so that the bucket of water
made everything safe.
Owing to the fire being on the side of the hut furthest from the road,
the church-goers never noticed it. Hence they assumed that Rory was casually
bringing the water for domestic purposes; and their unavoidable inference
placed the Irish Catholics on a lower moral plane than the Aborigines,
by reason of their priests keeping them in ignorance. This misconception
had acquired all the solidity of fact before it reached me; consequently,
my explanation was received as a well-meant fib. Anyway, these details
will give you some idea of Rory, in his natural state as a colonist.
After the first fortnight or so, I frankly told him that, though nothing
would suit my own interests better than a lifelong extension of his assistance,
I would n't advise him to stay, as there could be no wages forthcoming.
I had absolutely no money, nor was I likely to have such a thing
in my possession till the forty-acre paddock was fenced, ploughed and sowed,
and the crop (if any) harvested and sold. Even then--taking the average
of the district--I could n't expect a return of more than £100; and out of this
I would have to pay off an accumulated shortage of about £200.
"It's a quare, quare counthry, anyhow," sadly soliloquised the exile of Erin,
after he had thought the matter over. "Wondhers'll niver quit saisin'.
At home, iv a body hed twenty English acres o' good lay lan', at a raisonable
rent--let alone a graat farrum like thon--he needn't do a han's turn
the year roun', beyant givin' ordhers; an' he would hev lavin's iv iverything,
an' a brave shoot o' clo'es till his back, an' mebbe a gool' watch,
furbye money in his pocket. Bates all! Bates all!"
But the anomalous and baffling nature of Australian conditions made Rory
all the more reluctant to tear himself away from his present asylum--though
its shelter seemed to resemble the shadow of a great deficit
in an insolvent land.
So another fortnight passed, whilst each of us learned something
from the other. I constantly endeavoured, by reminiscence and inference,
to post him up in the usages of his adopted country; and he regaled me
with the folk-lore of the hill-side where his ancestors had passively resisted
extinction since the time of Japhet. Purposeless fairy tales and profitless
ghost stories for the most part, with another class of legend, equally fatuous;
but ah! how legitimately born of that auroral fancy which ceases
not to play above the grave of homely ambition, penury--crushed and dead!
Legends wherein the unvarying motif was a dazzling cash advance made by Satan
in pre-payment for the soul of some rustic dead-beat; delivery being due
in seven years from date. And a clever repudiation of covenant,
with consequent non-forfeiture of ensuing clip, always came as a climax;
so that the defaulter lived happy ever after, while the outwitted speculator
retired to his own penal establishment in shame and confusion of tail.
At last a queer thing happened. I received a letter, containing a bank draft
for £2, from a friend to whom I had lent the money three years before,
on the diggings. In case there might have been some mistake about
the remittance, that draft was cashed before the postmaster had missed me
from the window, and I was on the way home before the bank manager thought
I was clear of his porch. On the same evening, I placed one of the notes
in Rory's hand, adjuring him not to let the storekeeper know anything about it,
but to depart from me while he was safe.
He shrank from the note as from a lizard, while his lip quivered,
and he tried to swallow his emotion down. Then ensued mutual expostulation,
which he terminated by producing a knitted purse, which might have belonged
to his grandfather--or to Brian Boru's grandfather, for that matter--
and disclosing a hidden treasure of seven shillings, two sixpences,
and ten coppers. I nearly hit him in the mere fury of pity. Ultimately,
however, my superior force of character told its tale, and we added the note
to his reserve fund.
I got him started next morning. I gave him my Shakespear as a keepsake,
with a billy and pannikin, and a few days' rations. I made up his swag
scientifically while he lay heart-broken on his bunk; then I walked with him
to the Echuca road. So he sorrowed his way northward, in renewed search
of his brother Larry; and, as I watched his diminishing figure, I prayed
that he might be enticed into the most shocking company in Echuca,
and be made fightably drunk, and fall in for a remembersome hammering,
and get robbed of everything, and be given in charge for making a disturbance,
and wind up the adventure with a month in Her Majesty's jail. It seemed to me
that no milder dispensation of Providence would satisfy his moral requirements.
Drastic, but such is life.
I had a letter from him a month afterward, but as the postmark was
hopelessly illegible, and as he had omitted to head the communication
with any address, and as he referred to the place where he was working
as "the station," mentioning no names except those of his fellow-workmen,
I had to withhold the response for which his forlorn soul craved.
"Takes a lot of different sorts of people to make a world," observed
Williamson, referring to the hero of my reminiscences.
"Original remark," commented Ward. "And it seems to me that people's as much
alike as sheep; and Dan's just one of the flock. I always speak of a man
as I find him."
"Another original remark," said Broome. "But there's greater fools than Dan--
if you only knew where to drop across them."
"Original remark, number three," put in Andrews, who was five years older
than any of the boys. "You're all chaps of great experience."
"Speaking of Dan, as you call him," said I; "by the foot we recognise the
Hercules; and if he knows as much about all other historical subjects as he
does about Cawnpore and the American Presidents, he must have ripened into an
extraordinary man. But then, an extraordinary man should have learned
the difference between mallee and yarran in five years of solid scrub--
"Well, you are gauging him by a standard that's foreign to his class of mind,"
replied Andrews. "If he had been as strange to that gilgie as you were,
and had got the same directions he gave you, he would have found it first shot.
When a certain class of bushman says 'mallee', he means any sort of scrub
except lignum; and when he says 'mulga', he means any tree except pine
or currajong. Same mental slovenliness in women. A woman will tell a yarn
that no man can make head or tail of, but it's as clear as day to any
other woman. And if you tell a woman a yarn, as it ought to be told,
she'll think she understands it, and you'll think so too, if she says nothing.
But if she chances any remark about it, you'll see that the correctness
of style has carried it over her head."
"Speaking of style reminds me that Dan's a bit of an author," remarked
Williamson. "One day I was in his place, and he casually showed me a page
of some treatise he's on of evenings. And, my word, the style was grand.
Knocks Ouida into a cocked hat."
"Well, I am glad to hear that," I observed. "Useful sort of man
on the station, too, I should imagine?"
"Average, or better," replied Andrews. "Nothing brilliant, but careful
and trustworthy. Revolves in his orbit without a what-you-may-call-'im."
"Perturbation," I suggested. "How far is his hut from here?"
"Twelve mile. Let's see--six or eight mile north-west of where you dropped
the first lot of wire that time."
"Can't I take him on the way to Mulppa?"
"Yes; but don't trust him for directions beyond his own place. We'll give you
the geography. Better put up at his place to-night, and you'll reach
Mulppa in good time to-morrow evening. And look out for that dog of yours
when you get in range of Dan's place. He's great on strychnine;
and the station gets the benefit of it in two ways--he keeps his paddock clear
of dingoes, and he never has a scalp to sell."
By this time, breakfast was concluded; and in two minutes the combined
topographical knowledge of the young fellows had laid down the best route
to Mulppa, via Dan's hut.
Then a short official interview with Mr. Spanker, followed by a long,
desultory gossip, brought me another couple of hours nearer the final reward
of my orthodox upbringing. In another hour, my horses were saddled,
and I was having a drink of tea and a bit of brownie in the men's hut.
A few minutes afterward, Cleopatra was shaking this refreshment well down
by means of the exercise with which he habitually opened the day's work.
But this was to be accepted in the same spirit as the abusive language
of a faithful pastor. It was all in the contract. I had made a rule
of backing him only on loose sand-hills, or in soft swamps, for the first
fortnight. By that time, an amicable understanding had been established
between us, at an expense of only three spills--once through an unexpected
change of tactics; once through my own negligence; and once in spite of
my best endeavours, for the faithless swamp was dry. I dare say I might have
gradually weaned him from his besetting sin, but I did n't want to be pestered
with people borrowing him.
However, before midday I was out on the ration-cart track, along which
I had started with the wire, nearly three years before. Here and there
the marks of the wagon were still identifiable, where the long team
and heavy load had cut off corners of the winding track.
Presently the heavy wheel-marks diverged to the right, and disappeared
in the all-pervading scrub. Then the faint track became suddenly fainter,
where half the scanty traffic branched off to the left, in the direction
of Lindsay's paddock.
It is not in our cities or townships, it is not in our agricultural
or mining areas, that the Australian attains full consciousness of his own
nationality; it is in places like this, and as clearly here as at the centre
of the continent. To me the monotonous variety of this interminable scrub
has a charm of its own; so grave, subdued, self-centred; so alien
to the genial appeal of more winsome landscape, or the assertive grandeur
of mountain and gorge. To me this wayward diversity of spontaneous plant life
bespeaks an unconfined, ungauged potentiality of resource; it unveils
an ideographic prophecy, painted by Nature in her Impressionist mood,
to be deciphered aright only by those willing to discern through the crudeness
of dawn a promise of majestic day. Eucalypt, conifer, mimosa; tree, shrub,
heath, in endless diversity and exuberance, yet sheltering little
of animal life beyond half-specialised and belated types, anachronistic
even to the Aboriginal savage. Faithfully and lovingly interpreted,
what is the latent meaning of it all?
Our virgin continent! how long has she tarried her bridal day! Pause
and think how she has waited in serene loneliness while the deltas of Nile,
Euphrates, and Ganges expanded, inch by inch, to spacious provinces,
and the Yellow Sea shallowed up with the silt of winters innumerable--waited
while the primordial civilisations of Copt, Accadian, Aryan and Mongol
crept out, step by step, from paleolithic silence into the uncertain record
of Tradition's earliest fable--waited still through the long eras
of successive empires, while the hard-won light, broadening little by little,
moved westward, westward, round the circumference of the planet,
at last to overtake and dominate the fixed twilight of its primitive home--
waited, ageless, tireless, acquiescent, her history a blank, while
the petulant moods of youth gave place to imperial purpose,
stern yet beneficent--waited whilst the interminable procession of annual,
lunar and diurnal alternations lapsed unrecorded into a dead Past,
bequeathing no register of good or evil endeavour to the ever-living Present.
The mind retires from such speculation, unsatisfied but impressed.
Gravely impressed. For this recordless land--this land of our lawful
solicitude and imperative responsibility--is exempt from many a bane
of territorial rather than racial impress. She is committed to no usages
of petrified injustice; she is clogged by no fealty to shadowy idols,
enshrined by Ignorance, and upheld by misplaced homage alone; she is cursed
by no memories of fanaticism and persecution; she is innocent of hereditary
national jealousy, and free from the envy of sister states.
Then think how immeasurably higher are the possibilities of a Future
than the memories of any Past since history began. By comparison, the Past,
though glozed beyond all semblance of truth, is a clinging heritage
of canonised ignorance, brutality and baseness; a drag rather than a stimulus.
And as day by day, year by year, our own fluid Present congeals
into a fixed Past, we shall do well to take heed that, in time to come,
our own memory may not be justly held accursed. For though history
is a thing that never repeats itself--since no two historical propositions
are alike--one perennial truth holds good, namely, that every social hardship
or injustice may be traced back to the linked sins of aggression
and submission, remote or proximate in point of time. And I, for one,
will never believe the trail of the serpent to be so indelible
that barefaced incongruity must dog the footsteps of civilisation.
Dan O'Connell's ten-by-five paddock lay end-on to my route;
his hut being about midway down the line of fence. On striking the corner
of the paddock, I went through a gate, and was closing and securing it
behind Bunyip and Pup, when I became aware of a stout-built, blackbearded man
on a fat bay horse, approaching along the inside of the fence.
"Rory?" said I inquiringly.
"Well-to-be-shure! A ken har'ly crarit it, Tammas!" exclaimed the evergreen,
grasping my proffered hand, while his face became transformed with delight.
"You're so much changed," said I--"so manly and sunburnt, and bearded
like the patriarchs of old--that I did n't know you when I brought that wire.
But I wonder how you failed to recognise me, considering that
you heard my name."
"Och, man dear! A thought ye wur farmin' in Victoria," he replied.
"An' Collins is a purty common name, so it is; an' A did n't hear
yer Chris'n name at all at all. But ye'll stap wi' me the night,
an' we'll hev a graat cronia about oul' times."
"That's just what I was looking forward to, Rory. Which way
are you going now?"
"No matther, Tammas. A'll turn back wi' ye, an' we'll git home
a brave while afore sundown."
So we rode slowly side by side along the narrow clearing which extended
in endless perspective down the line of fence. After giving Rory a sketch
of the vicissitudes and disasters which had imparted an element of variety
to the thirteen preceding years of my life, I yielded myself to the lulling
influence of his own history during the same period. As you might expect,
he glanced lightly over all points of real interest, and dwelt interminably
on the statistics of the station--such as the percentage of lambs
for each year since the stock was put on; the happily decreasing loss
by dingoes; the average clip per head, and all manner of circumscribed
I reined our conversation round to the future prospects and possibilities
of the region wherein his lot was cast, and tried to steer it along that line.
But he merely took the country as he found it, and left things at that.
It had never occurred to him that a physical revolution was already
in progress; that the introduction of sheep meant the ultimate extirpation
of all trees and scrubs, except the inedible pine; and that the perpetual
trampling of those sharp little hoofs would in time caulk the spongy,
absorbent surface; so that these fluffy, scrub-clad expanses would become
a country of rich and spacious plains, variegated by lakes and forests,
and probably enjoying a fairly equable rainfall.
I have reason to remember that I quoted Sturt's account of the Old Man Plain
as a desert solitude of the most hopeless and forbidding character.
But, as I pointed out, settlement had crept over that inhospitable tract,
and the Old Man Plain had become a pastoral paradise, with a possible future
which no man could conjecture. Then I was going on to cite instances,
within my own knowledge and memory, of permanent lakes formed
in Northern Victoria, and a climate altered for the better, by mere settlement
of a soil antecedently dessicated and disintegrated by idle exposure
to the seasons. But I had brought round the subject of exploration;
and again Rory amazed me by the extent and accuracy of his information.
Glancing from Sturt to Eyre, he firmly, yet temperately, held that
the expedition carried out by this explorer along the shores of
the Great Australian Bight was the ablest achievement of its kind on record;
and he forthwith proceeded to substantiate his contention by a consecutive
account of the difficulties met and surmounted on that journey. Also
he expatiated with some severity on the slightness of public information
with respect to Eyre's exploit.
He listened with kindly toleration whilst I adverted to the excellent work
of more recent explorers, whose discoveries had made the Transcontinental
telegraph line a feasible undertaking. But his discursive mind ricochetted
off to the laying of the Transatlantic cable, in '65; and he dwelt on
that epoch-marking work with such minuteness of detail, and such confident
mastery of names, dates, and so forth, that I half-resented--not
his disconcerting fund of information, but his modest reticence on other
subjects of interest. It is a morally upsetting thing, for instance,
to discover that the unassuming Londoner, to whom you have been somewhat
loosely explaining the pedigrees of the British Peerage, has spent most
of his life as a clerk in the Heralds' College.
But I noticed a growing uneasiness in Rory's manner, despite his efforts
towards a free-and-easy cordiality. At last he said deprecatingly:
"We're about a mile aff the house now, Tammas. A must go roun' be a tank
thonder, an' that manes lavin' ye yer lone. Jist go sthraight on an'
ye'll come till the horse-paddock fence, wi' a wee gate in the corner, an'
the house furnent ye. An' ye might tell hurself A'll be home atoast sundown."
He shook up his horse, and dived through the scrub at an easy trot,
whilst I went on down the fence. Before I had gone three-quarters of a mile,
my attention was arrested by the peculiar apple-green hue of a tall,
healthy-looking pine, standing about a hundred and fifty yards from the fence.
Knowing that this abnormal deviation in colour, if not forthwith inquired into,
would harass me exceedingly in after years, I turned aside to inspect the tree.
It was worth the trouble. The pine had been dead for years, but every
leafless twig, right up to its spiry summit, was re-clothed by the dense
foliage of a giant woodbine, which embraced the trunk with three clean stems,
each as thick as your arm. No moralist worthy of the name could fail to find
a comprehensive allegory in the tree; but I had scarcely turned away from it
before my meditations were disturbed--
Ten or fifteen yards distant, under the cool shade of a large,
low growing wilga, I observed a man reclining at ease. A tall, athletic man,
apparently, with a billy and water-bag beside him, and nothing more
to wish for. When I caught sight of him, he was in the act of settling himself
more comfortably, and adjusting his wide-brimmed hat over his face.
My first impulse was to hail him with a friendly greeting, but a scruple
of punctilio made me pause. The clearing of Rory's horse-paddock was visible
here and there through gaps in the scrub; even the hut was in sight
from my own point of view; the sun was still a couple of hours above
the horizon; and the repose of the wilga shade was more to be desired
than the activity of the wood-heap. To everything there is a time
and a season; and the tactical moment for weary approach to a dwelling
is just when fades the glimmering landscape on the sight, and all the air
a solemn stillness holds. So, after a moment's hesitation, my instinctive
sense of bush etiquette caused me to tum stealthily away, and seek
the wicket gate which afforded ingress to Rory's horse-paddock.
But I want you to notice that this decision was preceded by a poise of option
between two alternatives. Now mark what followed, for, like Falstaff's story,
it is worth the marking.
[Each undertaking, great or small, of our lives has one controlling
alternative, and no more. To illustrate this from the play of Hamlet:
You will notice that, up to a certain point of time, the Prince governs
his own destiny--at least, as far as the Ghost's commission is concerned,
and this covers the whole drama. He is master and umpire of his circumstances,
so that when two or more lines of action, or a line of action and a line
of inaction, appear equally efficacious, he can select the one which appears
to be of least resistance. But subsequent to that point of time,
he is no longer the arbiter of his own situation, but rather the puppet
of circumstances. There are no more divergent roads; if he desires to leave
the one he has chosen, he must break blindly through a hedge
of moral antagonisms. His alternatives have become so lopsided
that practically there is only one course open. The initial exercise
of judgment was not merely an antecedent to later developments of the plot;
it was a Rubicon-crossing, which has committed the hero to a system
of interlaced contingencies; and the tendency of this system bears him away,
half-conscious of his own impotence, to where the rest is silence.
The turning-point is where Hamlet engages the Players to enact
the Murder of Gonzago.
A major-alternative may create and enclose all the secondary alternatives
of after life. A minor-alternative may exhaust itself in one minute,
or less, leaving its indelible, though imperceptible, scar on the experimenter,
and, through him, on the world in which he lives. The major-alternative
is the Shakespearian "tide in the affairs of men," often recognised,
though not formulated. In any case, each alternative brings into immediate
play a flash of Free-will, pure and simple, which instantly gives place--
as far as that particular section of life is concerned--to the dominion
of what we call Destiny. The two should never be confounded. "Who can control
his fate?" asks the ruined Othello. No one, indeed. But every one controls
his option, chooses his alternative. Othello himself had
independently evolved the decision which fixed his fate, recognising it
as such an alternative. Thus:--
Put out the light, and then--Put out the light?
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me;--but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is the Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. When I have plucked thy rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again;
It needs must wither.
Also he perceives that it is a major-alternative which confronts him;
and he contrasts this with the supposititious minor-alternative
of extinguishing the lamp. But how often do we accept a major-alternative,
whilst innocently oblivious to its gravity!
In Macbeth, the alternatives are very obvious. The interest of the play
centres on the poise of incentive between action and non-action,
and the absolute free-will of election. But that election once made,
we see--and the hero himself acknowledges--a practical inevitableness
in all succeeding atrocities which mark his career as king.
Such momentous alternatives are simply the voluntary rough-hewing
of our own ends. Whether there's a Divinity that afterwards shapes them,
is a question which each inquirer may decide for himself. Say, however,
that this postulated Divinity consists of the Universal Mind, and that
the Universal Mind comprises the aggregate Human Intelligence,
co-operating with some Moral Centre beyond. And that the spontaneous sway
of this Influence is toward harmony--toward the smoothing of obstacles,
the healing of wounds. In the axiom that "Nature reverts to the norm,"
there is a recognition of this restorative tendency; and the religious aspect
of the same truth is expressed in the proverb that "God is Love."
For the grass will grow where Attila's horse has trod, while that objectionable
Hun himself is represented by a barrow-load of useful fertiliser.
But say that this always comes about by law of Cause (which is Human Free-will)
and Effect (which is Destiny)--never by sporadic intervention.
Yet a certain scar, tracing its origin to an antecedent alternative,
will remain as the signet of that limitation under which the Divinity works--
the limitation, namely, of Destiny, or the fixed issue of present effect
from foregone cause; such cause having been perpetually directed
and re-directed by recurring operation of individual Free-will, exercised,
independently, by those emanations from the Moral Centre which, by courtesy,
we call reasonable beings.
Vague? Yes. Well, put it in parable form. A young man has reached
an absolute poise of incentive. He tosses a shekel. "Head--I go and see life;
tail--I stay at home. Head it is." The alternative is accepted; whereupon
Destiny puts in her spoke, bringing such vicissitudes as are inevitable
on the initial option. In due time, another alternative presents itself,
and the poise of incentive recurs. The Prodigal spits on a chip,
and tosses it. "Wet--I crawl back home; dry--I see it out. Wet it is."
So he goes, to meet the ring, and the robe, and the fatted calf. His latter
alternative has taken him home; and a felicitous option on the old man's part
has given him a welcome. But the earlier alternative is following him up,
for the farm is gone! The old man himself cannot undo the effect
of the foregone choice.
Or put it in allegorical form. The misty expanse of Futurity is radiated
with divergent lines of rigid steel; and along one of these lines,
with diminishing carbon and sighing exhaust, you travel at schedule speed.
At each junction, you switch right or left, and on you go still, up or down
the way of your own choosing. But there is no stopping or turning back;
and until you have passed the current section there is no divergence,
except by voluntary catastrophe. Another junction flashes into sight,
and again your choice is made; negligently enough, perhaps, but still
with a view to what you consider the greatest good, present or prospective.
One line may lead through the Slough of Despond, and the other across
the Delectable Mountains, but you don't know whether the section
will prove rough or smooth, or whether it ends in a junction or a terminus,
till the cloven mists of the Future melt into a manifest Present.
We know what we are, but we know not what we shall be.
Often the shunting seems a mere trifle; but, in reality, the switch
is that wizard-wand which brings into evidence such corollaries of life
as felicity or misery, peace or tribulation, honour or ignominy, found on
the permanent way. For others, remember, as well as for ourselves. No one
except the anchorite lives to himself; and he is merely a person who evades
Here and there you find a curious complication of lines. From a junction
in front, there stretches out into the mist a single line and a double line;
and meantime, along a track converging toward your own, there spins
a bright little loco., in holiday trim, dazzling you with her radiant
head-lights, and commanding your admiration by her 'tractive power.
Quick! Choose! Single line to the next junction, or double line
to the terminus? A major-alternative, my boy! "Double line!" you say.
I thought so. Now you'll soon have a long train of empty I's to pull up
the gradients; and while you snort and bark under a heavy draught,
your disgusted consort will occasionally stimulate you with a "flying-kick";
and when this comes to pass, say Pompey told you so. To change the metaphor:
Instead of remaining a self-sufficient lord of creation, whose house
is thatched when his hat is on, you have become one of a Committee
of Ways and Means--a committee of two, with power to add to your number.
Dan O'Connell, for instance, had negotiated this alternative, and,
in the opinion of the barracks, had made his election in a remiss
and casual way.
And as with the individual, so with the community. Men, thinking and acting
in mass, do not (according to the accepted meaning of the phrase) follow
the line of least resistance. The myriad-headed monster adopts the alternative
which appears to promise such a line, but Its previsions are more often wrong
than right; and, in such cases, the irresistible momentum of the Destiny
called into being by Its short-sighted choice drives It helplessly along
a line of the greatest conceivable resistance. Is n't history a mere record
of blundering option, followed by iron servitude to the irremediable suffering
thereby entailed? Applied to the flying alternative, the "least resistance"
theory is gratuitously sound; beyond that, it is misleading. However,
all this must be taken as referring back to my own apparently insignificant
decision not to disturb the masterly inactivity of that sundowner
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