Such is Life
Part 3 out of 9
under the wilga. Mere afterthoughts, introduced here by reason
of their bearing on this simple chronicle.]
As a matter of fact, I approached Rory's neat, two-roomed hut speculating
as to why he had purposely left me to feel my own way. I soon formed
a good rough guess. A neatly-dressed child, in a vast, white sun-bonnet,
ran toward me as I came in sight, but presently paused, and returned
at the same pace. On reaching the door I was met by a stern-looking woman of
thirty-odd, to whom I introduced myself as an old friend of Mr. O'Halloran's.
"Deed he hes plenty o' frien's," replied the woman drily. "Are ye gunta
stap the night?"
"Well, Mr. O'Halloran was kind enough to proffer his hospitality,"
I replied, pulling the pack-saddle off Bunyip. "By the way, I'm to tell you
that he'll be home presently."
"Nat a fear but he'll be home at mail-time. An' a purty house he's got
fur till ax a sthranger intil."
"Now, Mrs. O'Halloran, it's the loveliest situation I've seen within
a hundred miles," I replied, as I set Cleopatra at liberty. "And the way
that the place is kept reflects the very highest credit upon yourself."
Moreover, both compliments were as true as they were frank.
"Dacent enough for them that's niver been used till betther. There's a dale
in how a body's rairt."
"True, Mrs. O'Halloran," I sighed. "I'm sure you must feel it. But,
my word! you can grow the right sort of children here! How old is
the little girl?" My custom is to ask a mother the age of her child,
and then express incredulity.
"Oul'er nor she's good. She was five on the thurteenth iv last month."
"No, but seriously, Mrs. O'Halloran?"
"A'm always sayrious about telling the thruth." And with this retort courteous
the impervious woman retired into her house, while I seated myself
on the bucket stool against the wall, and proceeded to fill my pipe.
"We got six goats--pure Angoras," remarked the little girl, approaching me
with instinctive courtesy. "We keep them for milkin'; an' Daddy shears them
"I noticed them coming along," I replied. "They're beautiful goats.
And I see you've got some horses too."
"Yis; three. We bought wan o' them chape, because he hed a sore back,
fram a shearer, an' it's nat hailed up yit. Daddy rides the other wans.
E-e-e! can't my Daddy ride! An' he ken grow melons, an' he ken put up shelves,
an' he knows iverything!"
"Yes; your Daddy's a good man. I knew him long, long ago, when there was
no you. What's your name, dear?"
"She's got no name," remarked the grim voice from the interior of the house.
And the mild, apologetic glance of the child in my face completed
a mental appraisement of Rory's family relations.
Half an hour passed pleasantly enough in this kind of conversation;
then Rory came in sight at the wicket gate where I had entered. Mary forgot
my existence in a moment, and raced toward him, opening a conversation
at the top of her voice while he was still a quarter of a mile distant.
When they met, he dismounted, and, placing her astride on the saddle,
continued his way with the expression of a man whose cup of happiness
is wastefully running over.
I had leisure to observe the child critically as she sat bareheaded
beside Rory at the tea-table, glancing from time to time at me for the tribute
of admiration due to each remark made by that nonpareil of men.
She was not only a strikingly beautiful child, but the stamp of child
that expands into a beautiful woman. In spite of her half-Anglican lineage
and Antipodean birth, there was something almost amusing in the strong
racial index of her pure Irish face. The black hair and eye-brows were there,
with eyes of indescribable blue; the full, shapely lips, and that delicate
contour of chin which specially marks the highest type of a race which is
not only non-Celtic but non-Aryan.
It is not the Celtic element that makes the Irish people a bundle
of inconsistencies--clannish, yet disjunctive; ardent, yet unstable;
faithful, yet perfidious; exceeding loveable for its own impulsive love,
yet a broken reed to lean upon. It is not the Celt who has made Irish history
an unexampled record of patience and insubordination, of devotion
and treachery. The Celt, though fiery, is shrewd, sensible, and practical.
It has been truly said that Western Britain is more Celtic than
Eastern Ireland. But the whole Anglo-Celtic mixture is a thing of yesterday.
Before the eagle of the Tenth Legion was planted on the shore of Cantium--
before the first Phoenician ship stowed tin at the Cassiterides--the Celt
had inhabited the British Islands long enough to branch into distinct
sub-races, and to rise from paloeolithic savagery to the use of metals,
the domestication of animals, and the observance of elaborate religious rites.
Yet, relatively, this antique race is of last week only. For, away beyond
the Celt, paloeontology finds an earlier Brito-Irish people,
of different origin and physical characteristics. And there is little doubt
that, forced westward by Celtic invaders, of more virile type, and more capable
of organisation, that immemorial race is represented by the true Irish
of to-day. The black hair, associated with deep-blue eyes and a skin
of extreme whiteness, found abundantly in Ireland, and amongst the offspring
of Irish emigrants, are, in all probability, tokens of descent from
this appallingly ancient people. The type appears occasionally in the
Basque provinces, and on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, but nowhere else.
Few civilised races inhabit the land where the fossil relics of their own
lineal ancestors mark the furthest point of human occupancy; yet it would seem
to be so with the true Irish. In what other way can this anomalous variety
of the human race be accounted for? Ay, and beyond the earliest era noted
by ethnography, this original Brito-Irish race must have differentiated itself
from the unknown archetype, and, by mere genealogical succession,
must have fixed its characteristics so tenaciously as to persist through
the random admixture of conquests and colonisations during countless
generations. "God is eternal," says a fine French apothegm,
"but man is very old."
And very new. Mary O'Halloran was perfect Young-Australian. To describe her
from after-knowledge--she was a very creature of the phenomena which had
environed her own dawning intelligence. She was a child of the wilderness,
a dryad among her kindred trees. The long-descended poetry of her nature
made the bush vocal with pure gladness of life; endowed each tree
with sympathy, respondent to her own fellowship. She had noticed
the dusky aspect of the ironwood; the volumed cumuli of rich olive-green,
crowning the lordly currajong; the darker shade of the wilga's
massy foliage-cataract; the clearer tint of the tapering pine;
the clean-spotted column of the leopard tree, creamy white on slate,
from base to topmost twig. She pitied the unlovely belar, when the wind sighed
through its coarse, scanty, grey-green tresses; and she loved to contemplate
the silvery plumage of the two drooping myalls which, because of their rarity
here, had been allowed to remain in the horse-paddock. For the last two
or three springs of her vivacious existence, she had watched the deepening
crimson of the quondong, amidst its thick contexture of Nile-green leaves;
she had marked the unfolding bloom of the scrub, in its many-hued beauty;
she had revelled in the audacious black-and-scarlet glory of the desert pea.
She knew the dwelling-place of every loved companion; and, by necessity,
she had her own names for them all--since her explorations were carried out
on Rory's shoulders, or on his saddle, and technicalities never troubled him.
To her it was a new world, and she saw that it was good. All those impressions
which endear the memory of early scenes to the careworn heart were hers
in their vivid present, intensified by the strong ideality of her nature,
and undisturbed by other companionship, save that of her father.
This brings us to the other mark of a personality so freshly minted
as to have taken no more than two impressions. Rory was her guide,
philosopher, and crony. He was her overwhelming ideal of power, wisdom,
and goodness; he was her help in ages past, her hope for years to come
(no irreverence intended here; quite the reverse, for if true family life
existed, we should better apprehend the meaning of "Our Father,
who art in heaven"); he was her Ancient of Days; her shield,
and her exceeding great reward.
A new position for Rory; and he grasped it with all the avidity
of a love-hungered soul. The whole current of his affections,
thwarted and repulsed by the world's indifference, found lavish outlet here.
After tea, Rory took a billy and went out into the horse-paddock to milk
the goats--Mary, of course, clinging to his side. I remained in the house,
confiding to Mrs. O'Halloran the high respect which Rory's principles
and abilities had always commanded. But she was past all that;
and I had to give it up. When a woman can listen with genuine contempt
to the spontaneous echo of her husband's popularity, it is a sure sign
that she has explored the profound depths of masculine worthlessness;
and there is no known antidote to this fatal enlightenment.
Rory's next duty was to chop up a bit of firewood, and stack it beside
the door. Dusk was gathering by this time; and Mrs. O'Halloran called Mary
to prepare her for the night, while Rory and I seated ourselves
on the bucket-stool outside. Presently a lighted lamp was placed on the table,
when we removed indoors. Then Mary, in a long, white garment,
with her innocent face shining from the combined effects of perfect happiness
and unmerciful washing, climbed on Rory's knees--not to bid him goodnight,
but to compose herself to sleep.
"Time the chile was bruk aff that habit," observed the mother,
as she seated herself beside the table with some sewing.
"Let her be a child as long as she can, Mrs. O'Halloran," I remarked.
"Surely you would n't wish any alteration in her."
"Nat without it was an altheration fur the betther," replied the worthy woman.
"An' it's little hopes there is iv hur, consitherin' the way she's rairt.
Did iver anybody hear o' rairin' childher' without batin' them
when they want it?"
"You bate hur, an' A'll bate you!" interposed Rory, turning to bay
on the most salient of the three or four pleas which had power to rouse
the Old Adam in his unassertive nature.
"Well, A 'm sure A was bate--ay, an' soun'ly bate--when A was lek hur;
an' iv A did n't desarve it then, A desarved it other times,
when A did n't git it."
An obvious rejoinder rose to my mind, but evidently not to Rory's,
for the look on his face told only of a dogged resolution to continue sinning
against the light. He knew that his own contumacy in this respect would land
his soul in perdition, and he deliberately let it go at that. Brave old Rory!
Never does erratic man appear to such advantage as when his own intuitive
moral sense rigorously overbears a conscientiousness warped by some fallacy
which he still accepts as truth.
Yet the mother loved the child in her own hard, puritanical way. And,
in any case, you are not competent to judge her, unless you have to work
for your living, instead of finding somebody eager to support you in luxury
for the pleasure of your society; unless, instead of marrying some squatter,
or bank clerk, or Member of Parliament, you have inadvertently coupled yourself
to a Catholic boundary man, named nothing short of Rory O'Halloran.
The embittered woman retired early, and without phrases. As she did so,
I casually noticed that the bed-room was bisected by a partition,
with a curtained doorway.
"Ever try your hand at literature, Rory?" I presently asked,
remembering Williamson's remark.
"Well, A ken har'ly say No, an' A ken har'ly say Yis," replied Rory,
with ill-feigned humility. "A've got a bit iv a thraytise scribbled down,
furbye a wheen o' other wans on han'. A thought mebbe"--and his glance rested
on the angelface of the sleeping child--"well, A thought mebbe it would
do hur no harrum fur people till know that hur father--well-as ye might say--
Nat but what she'll hev money in the bank, plaze God. But A'll lay hur down
in hur wee cot now, an' A'll bring the thrifle we wur mentionin'."
He tenderly carried the child into the first compartment of the bedroom,
and, soon returning, placed before me about twenty quarto sheets of manuscript,
written on both sides, in a careful, schoolboy hand. The first page
was headed, A Plea for Woman .
"My word, Rory, this is great!" said I, after reading the first long paragraph.
"I should like to skim it over at once, to get the gist of the argument,
and then read it leisurely, to enjoy the style. And that reminds me
that I brought you an Australasian. I'll get it out of my swag,
and you can read it to kill time."
But it became evident that he could n't fix his mind on the newspaper
whilst his own literary product was under scrutiny. The latter unfolded itself
as a unique example of pure deduction, aided by utter lack of discrimination
in the value of evidence. It was all synthesis, and no analysis.
A certain hypothesis had to be established, and it was established.
The style was directly antithetical to that curt, blunt, and simple
pronouncement aimed at by innocents who deceive no one by denouncing Socialism,
Trades-Unionism, &c., over the signature of "A Working Man." But the Essay.
I am debarred from transcribing it, not only because of its length,
"Rory, you must let me take a copy of this."
"Well, Tammas, A'm glad it plazes ye; right glad, so A am;
but A thought till--till"----
"Spring it on the public--so to speak?"
"Well, I'll faithfully promise to keep the whole work sacred to your credit.
And if ever I go into print--which is most unlikely--I'll refer to this essay
in such a way as to whet public curiosity to a feather edge.
Again, if anything should happen to this copy, you'll have mine
to fall back upon."
"A'll thrust ye, Tammas. God bless ye, take a copy any time afore ye go."
The object of the essay was to prove that, at a certain epoch in the world's
history, the character of woman had undergone an instantaneous transformation.
And it was proved in this way:
The two greatest thinkers and most infallible authorities our race has produced
are Solomon and Shakespear.
Solomon's estimate of woman is shockingly low; and there is no getting away
from the truth of it. His baneful evidence has the guarantee of Holy Writ;
moreover, it is fully borne out by the testimony of ancient history,
sacred and profane, and by the tendency of the Greek and Roman mythologies.
Examples here quoted in profusion.
The fact of woman's pre-eminent wickedness in ancient times is traceable
to the eating of the apple, when Eve, being the more culpable,
was justly burdened with the heavier penalty, namely, a preternatural bias
toward sin in a general way.
On the other hand, Shakespear's estimate of woman is high. And justly so,
since his valuation is conclusively endorsed by modern history.
Examples again quoted, in convincing volume, from the women of Acts
down to Mrs. Chisholm and Florence Nightingale.
Now how do you bring these two apparently conflicting facts into the harmony
of context? Simply by tracing the Solomon-woman forward, and the
Shakespear-woman backward, to their point of intersection, and so finding
the moment of transition. It is where the Virgin says:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden; for, behold!
from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."
This prophecy has not only a personal and specific fulfilment, as pointing
to the speaker herself, but a transitive and general application,
as referring to her sex at large. There you have it.
But no mere abstract can do justice to the sumptuous phraseology of the work,
to its opulence of carefully selected adjective, or to the involved rhetoric
which seemed to defeat and set at naught all your petty rules of syntax
and prosody. Still less can I impart a notion of the exhaustive raking up
of ancient examples and modern instances, mostly worn bright by familiarity
with the popular mind, but all converging toward the conclusion striven for,
and the shakiest of them accepted in childlike faith. Integrally,
that essay conveyed the idea of two mighty glaciers of theory, each impelling
its own moraine of facts toward a stated point of confluence--represented by
a magnificent postulate--where one section, at least, of the Universal Plan
would attain fulfilment, and the Eternal Unities would be so far satisfied.
There was something in it that was more like an elusive glimmer of genius
than an evidence of understanding, or, still less, of cleverness.
Remarkable also, that, though the punctuation was deplorable, every superb
polysyllable was correctly spelled. But as a monument of wasted ingenuity
and industry, I have met with nothing so pathetic. A long term
of self-communion in the back country will never leave a man as it found him.
Outside his daily avocation, he becomes a fool or a philosopher; and,
in Rory's case, the latter seemed to have been superimposed on the former.
At ten o'clock, I hunted him to bed. I had plenty of blank forms
in my writing-case, and on these I took a preliminary copy of A Plea for Woman.
This occupied about three hours. Then not feeling sleepy, I took down
one of four calico-covered books, which I had previously noticed
on a corner shelf. It was my own old Shakespear, with the added interest
of marginal marks, in ink of three colours, neatly ordered, and as the sand
by the sea-shore innumerable. I put it back with the impression that no book
had ever been better placed. The next volume was a Bible, presented by
the Reverend Miles Barton, M.A., Rector of Tanderagee, County Armagh, Ireland,
to his beloved parishioner, Deborah Johnson, on the occasion of her departure
for Melbourne, South Australia, June 16, 1875. The third book was
a fairly good dictionary, appendixed by a copious glossary of the Greek
and Roman mythologies. The fourth was Vol. XII of Macmillan's Magazine,
May to October, 1865.
Opening the latter book at random, I fell upon a sketch of Eyre's expedition
along the shores of the Great Australian Bight. In another place was
a contribution entitled 'A Gallery of American Presidents.' The next item
of interest was an account of the Massacre of Cawnpore. And toward the end
of the volume was a narrative of the Atlantic Telegraph Expedition.
Of course, there were thirty or forty other articles in the book,
but they were mostly strange to me, however familiar they might be to Rory.
Hopeless case! I thought, as I blew out the lamp and turned into my comfortable
sofa-bed. If this morepoke's Irish love of knowledge was backed by one spark
of mental enterprise, he might have half a ton of chosen literature to come
and go on. And here he is, with his pristine ignorance merely dislocated.
When I woke at sunrise, Rory was kindling the fire, with the inseparable Mary
squatted beside him in her nightgown. After putting on the kettle,
he dressed the little girl, and helped her to wash her face. By this time,
I was about; and Mary brought me a blank form, which I had dropped
and overlooked the night before.
"Keep it till you learn to write, dear," said I.
"She ken write now," remarked Rory, with subdued exultation. "Here, jewel,"
he continued, handing her a pencil from the mantelpiece--"write yer name
nately on that paper, fur Misther Collins till see."
The child, tremulous with an ecstatic sense of responsibility, bent over
her paper on the table for a full minute, then diffidently pushed it across
to me; and I read, in strong Roman capitals, the inscription, MRAY,
with the M containing an extra angle--being, so to speak, a letter and a half.
"Ye're wake in spellin', honey," remarked her father merrily; "an' the M's got
an exthry knuckle on it."
"It's right enough," I interposed. "Could n't be better. Now, Mary,
I'll keep this paper, and show it to you again when you're a great scholar
and a great poetess. See if I don't."
The entrance of Mrs. O'Halloran cut short this nonsense; and Rory went out
to milk the goats, accompanied, of course, by Mary.
After breakfast, we took our bridles and went out toward where the five horses
were feeding together, the inevitable child pattering along by Rory's side.
"You have a lot to be thankful for," I remarked.
"Blessed be His Name!" thought Rory aloud; and I continued, "You must make up
your mind to send her away to school in another four or five years."
"Iv coorse," replied Rory sadly.
"A convent school, mind. None of your common boarding schools
for a child like Mary"
Rory's only reply was a glance of gratitude. My stern admonition would be
a moral support to him in the coming controversy.
"You mentioned some other literary work that you have on hand?"
I remarked inquiringly.
"Yis; A've jotted down a few idays. Now, Tammas--where was the Garden of Aden
supposed to be?"
"My word, Rory, if a man could only disclose that to the world,
he would command attention. However, one theory is that it was on the lost
continent of Atlantis; another, that it was in the Valley of Cashmere.
There are many other localities suggested, but I think the one which meets
most favour is the Isle of Kishm, in the Straits of Ormuz, at the entrance
to the Persian Gulf."
"Will ye repate that, Tammas, iv ye plaze."
I briefly rehearsed such relevant information as I possessed,
whilst Rory kidnapped the geographical names, and imprisoned them
in his note-book, trusting to his memory for the rest.
"Oul' Father Finnegan, at Derryadd, useteh argie that the Garden iv Aden
hed been furnent the Lake o' Killarney; an' no one dar' conthradict him,"
he remarked, with a smile. "But people larns till think fur theirselves
when they're out theyre lone. An' afther consitherin' the matter over,
A take this iday fur a foundation: The furst Adam was created in a
sartin place; then he sinned in a sartin place. An' when the Saviour
(blessed be His Name!) come fur till clane the wurrld o' the furst Adam's sin,
He hed till be born where the furst Adam was created; an' He hed till die
where the furbidden fruit was ait. An' A've gethered up proofs, an' proofs,
an' proofs--How far is it fram Jerusalem till Bethlehem, Tammas?"
"Nearly six miles."
"A knowed the places must be convanient. Now ye mind where the Saviour
(blessed be His Name!) says, 'all the blood shed on earth, fram the blood
iv righteous Abel'--and so on? Well, 'earth' manes 'land'; an' it's all
as wan as if He said, 'shed on the land.' An' what land? Why, the Holy Land.
An' the praphets lived there when the Fall was quite racent; an' hear
what they say:--"
(Here he gave me some texts of Scripture, which I afterward verified--
and I would certainly advise you to do the same, if you can find a Bible.
They are, Isaiah li, 3; Ezekiel xxviii, 13-xxxi, 9-18-xxxvi, 35; Joel ii, 3.)
"Rory, you're a marvel," I remarked with sincerity. "And, by the way,
if there's anything in the inspiration of Art--if the Artist soars to truth
by the path which no fowl knoweth--your theory may find some support
in the fact that it was a usage of the Renaissance to represent the skull
of Adam at the foot of the cross."
"Ay--that!" And Rory's note-book was out again. "Which artists, Tammas?"
"Martin Schoen--end of 15th century, for one. Jean Limousin--17th century--
for another. Albert Dürer--beginning of 16th century--in more than one
of his engravings. However, you can just hold this species of proof
in reserve till I look up the subject. I won't forget."
"God bless ye, Tammas! Would it be faysible at all at all fur ye till stap
to the morrow mornin', an' ride out wi' me the day?"
"Blessin's on ye, Tammas! Becos A've got four more idays that ye could
help me with. Wan iday is about divils. A take this fur a foundation:
There's sins fur till be done in the wurrld that men 'on't do; an' divils
is marcifully put in the flesh an' blood fur till do them sins.
'Wan iv you is a divil,' says the Saviour (blessed be His Name!).
'He went to his own place,' says Acts--both manin' Judas. An' there's a wheen
o' places where Iago spakes iv himself as a divil. An' A've got other proofs
furbye, that we'll go over wan be wan. It's a mysthery, Tammas."
"It is indeed." Whilst replying, I was constrained to glance round
at the weather; and my eye happened to fall on the creeper-laden pine,
a quarter of a mile away. Suddenly a strange misgiving seized me,
and I asked involuntarily, "Do you have many swagmen calling round here?"
"Nat six in the coorse o' the year," replied Rory, too amiable to heed
the impolite change of subject. "Las' time A seen Ward," he continued,
after a moment's pause, "he toul' me there was a man come to the station
wan mornin' airly, near blin' wi' sandy blight; an' he stapped all day
in a dark skillion, an' started again at night. He was makin' fur Ivanhoe,
fur till ketch the coach; but it's a sore ondhertakin' fur a blin' man
till thravel the counthry his lone, at this saison o' the year.
An' it's quare where sthrangers gits till. A foun' a swag on the fence
a week or ten days ago, an' a man's thracks at the tank a couple o' days
afther; an' the swag's there yit; an' A would think the swag an' the thracks
belonged till the man wi' the sandy blight, barr'n this is nat the road
"My word, Rory, I wish either you or I had spoken of this when you came home
last night. Never mind the horses now. Give me your bridle,
and take Mary on your back."
As we went on, I related how I had seen the man reclining under the tree;
and Rory nodded forgivingly when I explained the scruple which had withheld me
from making my presence known.
"He must 'a' come there afther ten o'clock yisterday," observed Rory;
"or it would be mighty quare fur me till nat see him, consitherin' me eyes
is iverywhere when A'm ridin' the boundhry."
"But he was n't near the boundary. I had turned off from the fence
to see that dead pine with the big creeper on it."
"Which pine, Tammas?"
"There it is, straight ahead--the biggest of the three that you see above
the scrub. You notice it's a different colour?"
"'Deed ay, so it is. A wouldn't be onaisy, Tammas; it's har'ly likely
there's much wrong--but it's good to make sartin about it."
No effort could shake off the apprehension which grew upon me as we neared
the fence. But on reaching it I said briskly:
"Stay where you are, Rory; I'll be back in half a minute." Then I crushed
myself through the wires.
Fifteen or twenty paces brought me to the spot. The man had changed
his position, and was now lying at full length on his back, with arms extended
along his sides. His face was fully exposed--the face of a worker,
in the prime of manhood, with a heavy moustache and three or four weeks' growth
of beard. So much only had I noted at first glance, whilst stooping
under the heavy curtain of foliage. A few steps more, and, looking down
on the waxen skin of that inert figure, I instinctively uncovered my head.
The dull eyes, half-open to a light no longer intolerable, showed
by their death-darkened tracery of inflamed veins how much the lone wanderer
had suffered. The hands, with their strong bronze now paled to tarnished
ochre, were heavily callused by manual labour, and sharply attenuated
by recent hardship. The skin was cold, but the rigidity of death
was yet scarcely apparent. Evidently he had not died of thirst alone,
but of mere physical exhaustion, sealed by the final collapse of hope.
And it seemed so strange to hear the low voices of Rory and Mary close by;
to see through occasional spaces in the scrub the clear expanse
of the horsepaddock, with even a glimpse of the house, all homely and peaceful
in the silent sunshine. But such is life, and such is death.
Rory looked earnestly in my face as I rejoined him, and breathed one
of his customary devotional ejaculations.
"Under the big wilga, just beyond that hop-bush," said I, in an indifferent
tone. "Stay with me, Mary, dear," I continued, taking out my note-book.
"I'll make you a picture of a horse."
"But A'm aiger fur till see the pine wi' the big santipede on it,"
objected the terrible infant.
"Nat now, darlin'," replied Rory. "Sure we'll come an' see the pine
when we've lavin's o' time; but we're in a hurry now. Stap here an' kape
Misther Collins company. Daddy'll be back at wanst."
He kissed the child, and disappeared round the hop-bush. Then she turned
her unfathomable eyes reproachfully on my face, as I sat on the ground.
"A love you, Tammas, becos ye spake aisy till my Daddy. But O!"--and the
little, brown fingers wreathed themselves together in the distress
of her soul--"A don't want till go to school, an' lave my Daddy his lone!
An' A don't want till see that picther iv a horse; an' A 'on't lave me Daddy."
I weakly explained that it was a matter of no great importance whether
she went to school or not; and that, at worst, her Daddy could accompany her
as a schoolmate. Presently Rory returned.
"Mary, jewel, jist pelt aff, lek a good chile, an' see if the wee gate's shut."
Mary shot off at full speed; and he continued gravely, "Dhrapped aff
at the dead hour o' the night, seemin'ly. God rest his sowl! O, Tammas!
iv we'd only knowed!"
"Ay, or if I had only spoken to him! He must have got there yesterday morning.
Likely he had heard the cocks crowing at your place before daylight,
and was making for the sound, only that the light beat him, and he gave it
best five minutes too soon."
"Ah! we're poor, helpless craythurs, Tammas! But A s'pose A betther see
Misther Spanker at wanst?"
"No," I replied; "you stay and do what you can. I'll ride back, and see
Mr. Spanker. How far is it to where that swag is on the fence?"
"About--well, about seven mile, as the crow flies."
"Better have it here. Now we'll catch the horses. Come on, Mary!
Take her on your back, Rory; we must hurry up now."
I have already exceeded the legitimate exactions of my diary-record;
but the rest of the story is soon told. Mr. Spanker, as a Justice of Peace,
took the sworn depositions of Ward, Andrews, Rory, and myself.
In the man's pockets were found half-a-dozen letters, addressed to
George Murdoch, Mooltunya Station, from Malmsbury, Victoria; and all were
signed by his loving wife, Eliza H. Murdoch. Two of the letters acknowledged
receipt of cheques; and there was another cheque (for £12 15s., if I remember
rightly) in his pocket-book, with about £3 in cash. He was buried
in the station cemetery, between Val English, late station storekeeper,
who had poisoned himself, and Jack Drummond, shearer, who had died--presumably
of heart failure--after breaking the record of the district. Such is life.
FRI. NOV. 9. Charley's Paddock. Binney. Catastrophe.
What fatality impelled me to fix on the 9th, above all other days in the month?
Why did n't I glance over the record of each 9th, before committing myself
by a promise to review and annotate the entries of that date? For,
few and evil as the days of the years of my pilgrimage have undeniably been,
the 9th of November, '83, is one of those which I feel least satisfaction
in recalling. Moreover, I incur a certain risk in thus unbosoming myself,
as will become apparent to the perfidious reader who hungrily shadows me
through this compromising story. But it may be graven with a pen of iron,
that, at my age, no man shirks a promise, or tells a fib, for the first time;
and so, "Sad, but Strong"---the family motto of the Colonnas, that offshoot
of our tribe which settled in Italy in the year One--I answer to my bail.
One reservation I must make, however. For reasons which will too soon
become manifest, it is expedient to conceal the exact locality of the unhappy
experience now about to be disclosed; but I think I shall be on the safe side
in setting forth that it was somewhere between Echuca and Albury.
Any person who happens to have preserved the files of the ---- Express
may find, on the second page of the issue of Nov. 12th, the following
LUNATIC AT LARGE!
On the night of Friday last the inhabitants of ---- were thrown into a state
of excitement which may better be imagened than described by the appearance
of a lunatic in puris naturalibus whose mania was evidently homicidal.
During the earlier portion of the night the unfortunate man was seen
from time to time by quite a number of people in places many miles apart.
Some of the pleasure-seekers returning from the picnic held by the
Sunday School Teachers' Re-union (noticed elsewhere in our columns)
saw him scuttling along the three-chain road at a breakneck pace,
others saw him dodging behind trees or endeavouring to conceal himself
in scrub. At about 9 o'clock in the evening one of the picnic party,
an athlete of some repute, made a plucky and determined attempt to capture
the madman, and succeeded in overpowering him. This accomplished
secundem artem, an impulse of humanity prompted Mr. K---- (for as some
of our readers have already guessed, the gentleman referred to was Mr. K----,
of the firm of D---- and S----, Drapers,----) to divest himself of part
of his own clothing for the benefit of his prisoner. The latter,
when Mr. K---- attempted to force the clothing upon him, rent the air
with horrible shrieks heard by many others of the party, and by exertion
of the unnatural strength which insanity confers, broke from his captor
and escaped. Mr. K---- humorously comments on the difficulty of holding
a nude antagonist. If we were inclined to be facetious on the subject
we might suggest that mens sana in corpore sano is not an infallible rule.
Late in the evening the maniac horresco referrens made a furious attack
on the residence of Mr. G---- who was unfortunately absent at the time.
Mrs. G---- with the splendid courage which distinguishes the farmer's wife,
kept him at bay till some wild impulse drove him to seek "fresh fields
and pastures new." The black trackers (who were brought on the scene
on Saturday afternoon) have found his tracks in Mr. A----'s flower garden
close to the parlour window, and also around Mr. H----'s homestead.
The trackers aver that he is accorpanied by a large kaugaroo dog.
It is a matter of congratulation that he has so far failed in effecting
an entrance to any habitation. The police are scouring the neighbourhood
and though the thunderstorm of Saturday night has unfortunately placed
the trackers at fault, we trust soon to chronicle a clever capture,
"a consummation devoutly to be wished." Various surmises are afloat
regarding the identity of the lunatic but to our mind the suggestion
of Inspector Collins, of the N.S.W. Civil Service appears most tenable:
On Saturday afternoon when the excitement was at its height this gentleman
called at our office, and in course of conversation on the all-absorbing
topic pronounced his opinion that the lunatic is no other than
the late escapee from Beechworth Asylum! Anent his mysterious disapearance
at some time late on Friday night Mr. Collins supposes that he must have
drowned himself in the river, and advances many ingenious and apparently
conclusive arguments in support of both his hypotheses.
Notwithstanding the ingenuity and conclusiveness of those arguments,
the chain of fatalities which has headed this story with the entry of Nov. 9th
brings the reluctant secret to light: I was that homicidal maniac.
The second page of the newspaper just quoted will be also found to contain,
in another column, the following local item:--
We regret to learn that on the morning of Saturday last Mr. Q---- lost
a valuable stack of hay by fire. The conflagation was detected almost
immediately on its breaking out but no steps could be taken to check
the progress of the "devouring element." It might be reasonably expected
that Mr. Q----'s well-deserved popularity would be a sufficient safeguard
against such barbarous incendiarism, but of a truth there are people
now at large who ought to be in "durance vile." At the moment of our going
to press we are happy to add that the police have a clue, and will soon
no doubt unearth the cowardly perpetrator of this un-British outrage,
and drag him forth to condign punishment.
However, the perpetrator in question, being even more cunning than cowardly,
took special order that the police should not unearth him; and here he sits
in his temporary sanctum, inviting them to come on with what is left
of their clue--though at the same time keeping, like Sir Andrew,
o' the windy side o' the law, by putting initials and dashes in place
of full names, and by leaving the exact locality unspecified. Drag me forth
to condign punishment! My word! Drag a barrister.
Now for my narrative. Charley V----, a boundary rider on B---- Station,
N.S.W., is one of my very oldest acquaintances. Away back in the
procuratorship of Latrobe, two angels, in wreaths of asphodel,
had almost simultaneously deposited Charley and myself on the same station;
respectively, in the hut of a stock-keeper, and in the hut of a petty overseer.
Together, as the seasons passed, we had looked forward to the shearing,
the foot-rotting, and the lambing; and together we had watched the lagoon
for the bunyip. We had aimed our little reed-spears at the same mark, we had
whirled our little boomerangs over the same big tree, and we had been welted
an equal number of times for crossing the river on the same slippery log.
Whatever may be the development of my own inner nature, Charley, at least,
walks faithfully in the moral twilight which his early training vouchsafed
to him. His fidelity to B---- Station is like that which ought to distinguish
somebody's wife--I forget whose, but no matter. The mere ownership
of the property is a matter of perfect indifference to Charley. When the place
changes hands, he is valued and sold as part of the working plant,
without his concern, and almost without his knowledge; owners may come,
and owners may go, but he virtually goes on for ever. His little hut,
three or four miles north from the Murray, is the very headquarters
of hospitality. He has some hundreds of pounds lent out (without interest
or security) though his pay is only fifteen shillings a week--with ten,
ten, two, and a quarter--and he is anything but a miser. Many people
would like a leaf out of his book. It is my privilege to be able to furnish
this, though in a sort of ambiguous way, having received the information
in confidence. Here it is:
In a bend, on the north bank of the Murray, a few miles from Charley's hut,
is a tract, about a hundred acres in extent, of fine grass land,
completely isolated by billabongs, reed-beds, dense scrub, and steep ridges
of loose sand. At the time I write of, it was impossible to ride
to this island of verdure, and no white man could track a horse through
the labyrinth that led to it. Once placed in that spot, no horse would ever
try to get away. This is all the information I feel justified in giving.
During the afternoon of the 9th, I was sitting on a log, in the shade
of a tree, on the north bank of the river, about a mile from that secluded
Eden, and four or five from Charley's hut. I had camped at dusk
on the previous evening; and the equipment of my two horses, with other
impedimenta, was lying about. A small damper was maturing under the handful
of fire, and a quart pot of tea was slowly collecting a scum of dirt
which made it nothing the worse to a man of my nurture. Pup was reposing
on my possum rug, and Cleopatra and Bunyip were in Eden, per favour of
the kindly scoundrel who held that property by right of discovery, and who,
in spite of some reluctance on my part, had made me free of it. Along with
my two horses were ten or twelve others, all strangers, and in various stages
of ripening for rewards.
Owing to the broken character of the country, the N.S.W. river-road lay
three or four miles north of Charley's very private property; but a short cut,
impassable during the winter, and impracticable at any time to wheeled
vehicles, saved about three miles in ten, and passed within a mile
of the property. It was beside this pad that I was camped.
The refined leisure of the day had been devoted chiefly to the study
of my current swapping-book--Edwards on Redemption--and now, half-stifled
by the laborious blasphemy of the work, I was seeking deliverance
from the sin of reading it by watching the multitudes of white cockatoos
through my binocular, and piously speculating as to their intended use.
Presently, sweeping the ground-line with the glass, I noticed, crossing
an open place, about a mile away, the figure of a swagman approaching
from the west--that is, coming up the river. I kept the glass in his
direction, and whenever he disappeared I was on the watch, and caught him
again as he came in sight, tramping wearily along in the roasting sun.
That swagman had a history, highly important, at all events, to himself.
He had been born; he lived; he would probably die--and if any human being
wants a higher record than that, he must work for it. This man's personal
value, judged by the standard which I, for one, dare not disown, was certainly
as high as that of the average monarch or multi-millionaire. But was I
as much interested as I would have been had one of these personages
been approaching my camp in state? And if not, why not?
I immediately filled and lit a mighty German meerschaum, an ally of established
efficiency in ethical emergencies such as this. Then laying the pipe,
so to speak, on the scent of the swagman, I attempted a clairvoyant
rear-glance along his past history, and essayed a forecast of his future
destiny, in order to get at the valuation presumably placed upon him
by his Maker. But the pipe, being now master of the position, gently seduced
my mind to a wider consideration, merely using the swagman as a convenient
spring-board for its flight into regions of the Larger Morality. This is
its hobby--caught, probably, from some society of German Illuminati,
where it became a kind of storage-battery, or accumulator, of such truths
as ministers of the Gospel cannot afford to preach.
Ah! (moralised the pipe) the man who spends his life in actual hardship
seldom causes a trumpet to be blown before him. He is generally, by heredity
or by the dispensation of Providence, an ornament to the lower walks of life;
therefore his plea, genuine if ungrammatical, is heard only at second-hand,
in a fragmentary and garbled form. Little wonder, then, that such a plea
is received with felicitous self-gratulation, or passed with pharisaical
disregard, by the silly old world that has still so many lessons to learn--
so many lessons which none but that unresisting butt of slender-witted jokers
can fitly teach, and which he, the experienced one, is usually precluded
from teaching by his inability to spell any word of two syllables.
Yet he has thoughts that glow, and words that burn, albeit with such
sulphurous fumes that, when uttered in a public place, they frequently render
him liable to fourteen days without the option.
And even though he be not a poor rogue hereditary; even though he may
once have tasted the comfort ambiguously scorned of devils; even though
his descent into Avernus be, like that of Ulysses or Dante, temporary
and incidental, you need n't expect him, on reaching the upper air,
to be the prophet, spokesman, and champion of the Order whose bitter
johnny-cake he has eaten. You must n't be surprised to find him reticent,
not to say mendacious, respecting details which he may regard as humiliating.
A sort of Irish pride will probably lead him to represent that he had abundant,
though unavailable, resources during the period of his perdition.
For one or the other of these reasons--orthographical inability,
or Irish pride--the half is never told; therefore, as a rule, the reading
public is acquainted only with sketchy and fallacious pictures of that
continuous, indurating hardship which finally sends reluctant Hope
after her co-tenants of the box.
And further, of this, my son, be admonished (continued the pipe):
The more bitter the hardship, the more unmixed and cordial is the ignominy
lavished by the elect upon the sufferer--always provided the latter
is one of the non-elect, and more particularly if he is a swagman.
Yet this futureless person is the man who pioneers all industries;
who discovers and unearths the precious ores; whose heavy footprints
mark the waterless mulga, the wind-swept plains, and the scorching sand;
who leaves intaglio impressions of his mortal coil on the wet ground,
at every camp from the Murray to the Gulf; and whose only satisfaction
in the cold which curls him up like cinnamon bark--making him nearly break
his back in the effort to hold his shoulders together--is the certainty
that in six months he will scrape away the hot surface sand, in order to sleep
comfortably on the more temperate stratum beneath; he is the man who,
with some incoherent protest and becoming invective, metaphorically makes
a Raleigh-cloak of himself, to afford free and pleasant passage
for the noblest work of God, namely, the Business Man.
The successful pioneer is the man who never spared others; the forgotten
pioneer is the man who never spared himself, but, being a fool,
built houses for wise men to live in, and omitted to gather moss.
The former is the early bird; the latter is the early worm. Like Rosalind's
typical traveller, this worm has rich eyes and poor hands--the former often
ophthalmic, the latter always brown and wrinkled, and generally dirty.
Life is too short to admit of repeated blunders in the numeration of beans,
and this being his one weak point, the dram of ale does its work. And so,
neither as pharisee nor publican, but rather as the pharisee's shocking
example, and the publican's working bee, he toils and swears his hour
upon the stage, and then modestly departs to where the thrifty cease
from troubling, and the thriftless be at rest. Little recks he then
for lack of storied urn or animated bust, little that for him no minstrel
raptures swell; for his animated busts are things of the past, and there never
was anything of the swell about him.
Heaven help him! that nameless flotsam of humanity! (mused the pipe).
Few and feeble are his friends on earth; and the One who, like him,
was wearied with his journey, and, like him, had not where to lay his head,
is gone, according to His own parable, into a far country. The swagman
we have always with us--And comfortable ecclesiasticism marks a full stop
there, blasphemously evading the completion of a sentence charged with
the grave truth, that the Light of the world, the God-in-Man,
the only God we can ever know, is by His own authority represented
for all time by the poorest of the poor. Yet whosoever fails to recognise
in the marred visage of any social derelict the image of Him who was despised
and rejected of men--whosoever resents not the spectacle of that image
weighted down by fraternal neglect and oppression till a human heart
pulses with no higher aspiration than that which prompts a persecuted animal
to preserve its life for further persecution--such a person, I say, can have
no place among the Architect's workmen, being already employed
on the ageless Babel-contract.
This special study of hardship (resumed the pipe, after a pause)
leads naturally to the generic study of poverty; for, as the greater includes
the less, poverty includes hardship, along with disfranchisement,
social outlawry, proud man's contumely, and so forth; entirely without
reference to the moral worth of the person most concerned. In a word,
poverty is, in the eyes of the orthodox Christian, a hell in the hand,
better worth avoiding than two hells in the book, which latter may be
only figurative after all.
But the great institution of poverty (ruminated the pipe) is too often
referred to in this large, loose way. There are two kinds--or rather,
the condition exhibits two opposite extremes of moral quality.
There is a voluntary poverty, which is certainly the least base situation
you can occupy whilst you crawl between heaven and earth, and which is not
so rare as your sordid disposition might lead you to imagine.
There is also a compulsory poverty, shading down from discontented
to contented. And, paradoxical as it may appear, the contented sub-variety
is the opposing pole to voluntary poverty. The discontented sub-variety
is the perpetual troubler of the world, by reason of its aiming only
at changing the incidence of hardship, and succeeding fairly well
in its object. Touching the contented sub-variety--well, possibly the Hindoo
language might do justice to its vileness; the English falls entirely short.
Compulsory-contented poverty is utterly, irredeemably despicable, and,
by necessity, ignorantly blasphemous--not because its style of glorifying God
is to place His conceded image exactly at the plough-horse level,
but because it teaches its babies, from the cradle upward, that a capricious
Mumbo-Jumbo has made pollard-bread for them, and something with a French name
for its white-headed boy; moleskins, tied below the knee, for them,
and a belltopper for the favourite of the family; the three R's for them,
and the classics, ancient and modern, for the vessel chosen to honour;
illicit snakejuice for them, and golden top for the other fellow.
The adherents of this cult vote Conservative, work scab, and are
rightly termed the "deserving poor," inasmuch as they richly deserve
every degree of poverty, every ounce of indignity, and every inch
of condescension they stagger under. But their children don't deserve
these things. And just mark the slimy little word-shuffle which, in order
to keep the "deserving poor" up to their work, pronounces upon them
the blessings obviously adherent only to that unquestionable guarantee
of unselfish purpose, namely, voluntary poverty. A subtle confusion of issues;
but the person who homilises on the blessings of compulsory poverty
should be left talking to the undefileable atmosphere.
Yet do I cling (continued the pipe) to Plato's beautiful thought, that no soul
misses truth willingly. In bare justice to brave, misguided Humanity;
in daily touch with beings in so many respects little lower than the imagined
angels; in dispassionate survey of history's lurid record of distorted loyalty
staining our old, sad earth with life-blood of opposing loyalty, while
each side fights for an idea; in view of the zeal which fires the martyr-spirit
to endure all that equal zeal can inflict; in contemplation of the ever-raging
enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the Ormuzd
and the Ahriman in man; in view even of that dismal experiment indifferently
termed "making the best of both worlds," and "serving God and Mammon "--in view
of all these things, I cannot think it is anything worse than a locally-seated
and curable ignorance which makes men eager to subvert a human equality,
self-evident as human variety, and impregnable as any mathematical axiom.
And this special brand of ignorance is even more rampant amongst those
educated asses who can read Kikero in the original than amongst uneducated
asses who know not the law, and are cursed.
Remember (pursued the pipe, with a touch of severity) that Science apprehends
no decimal of a second adequate to note, on the limitless circle of Time,
the briefness of a centenarian's life; and yet the giddiest pitch of human
effrontery dares not carry beyond the incident of death any vestige
of a social code now accepted as good enough to initiate a development which,
according to your own showing, goes on through changing cycles till
some transcendent purpose is fulfilled. The "love of equality"--that meanest
and falsest of equivocations--sickens and dies, and the inflated lie
of a social privilege based on extraneous conditions collapses, under
the strict arrest of the fell sergeant, Death. If we seek absolute truth--
which can never be out of place--surely we shall find it beyond the gates
which falsehood cannot pass. And here we find it conceded by all; for as
material things fade away, human vision clears, and truth becomes a unit.
Osiris' balances weighed impartially the souls of Coptic lord and slave,
before the pyramids rose on Egypt's plains; austere Minos meted even justice
to citizen and helot, while the sculptured ideals of Attica slept in
Pentelican quarries; Brahmin and Sudra, according to deeds done in the body--
strictly according to deeds done in some body--awake beyond the grave
to share aeons of sorrowful transmigration, and final repose; Nirvana awaits
the Buddhist high and low alike; Islamism sternly sends all mankind across
the sharp-edged Bridge, which the righteous only cross in safety, while wicked
caliph and wicked slave together reel into the abyss below. The apotheosis
of pagan heroes rested on personal merit alone. No eschatology but that
of High Calvinism anticipates, in the unseen world, anything resembling
the injustice of a civilisation which, of set purpose, excludes from the only
redemption flesh and blood can inherit, that sad rear-guard whose besetting sin
is poverty. Yet John Knox's wildest travesty of eternal justice never rivalled
in flagrancy the moving principle of a civilisation which exists merely
to build on extrinsic bases an impracticable barrier between class and class:
on one side, the redemption of life, education, refinement, leisure, comfort;
on the other side, want, toil, anxiety, and an open path to the Gehenna
of ignorance, baseness, and brutality. Holy Willie's God, at least,
heaps no beatitude on successful greed; and your Christian civilisation
does so. Dare you deny it?
Chastened by contemplation of levelling mortality, awed into truth
by the spectacle of a whole world made kin by that icy touch of nature,
the belated soul seeks refuge in a final justice which excludes from natural
heirship to the external home not one of earth's weary myriads.
Your conception of heavenly justice is found in the concession of
equal spiritual birthright, based on the broad charter of common humanity,
and forfeitable only by individual worthlessness or deliberate refusal.
Why is your idea of earthly justice so widely different--since the principle
of justice must be absolute and immutable? Yet while the Church teaches you
to pray, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven,"
she tacitly countenances widening disparity in condition, and openly sanctions
that fearful abuse which dooms the poor man's unborn children to the mundane
perdition of poverty's thousand penalties. Is God's will so done in heaven?
While the Church teaches you to pray, "Thy Kingdom come," she strikes
with mercenary venom at the first principle of that kingdom, namely,
elementary equality in citizen privilege. Better silence than falsehood;
better no religion at all--if such lack be possible--than one which concedes
equal rights beyond the grave, and denies them here.
I wish you to face the truth frankly (continued the pipe), for, heaven knows,
it faces you frankly enough. Ecclesiastical Christianity vies with
the effete Judaism of olden time as a failure of the first magnitude.
Passing over what was purely local and contemporaneous, there is not one count
in the long impeachment of that doomed Eastern city but may be repeated,
with sickening exactitude, and added emphasis, over any pseudo-Christian
community now festering on earth. Chorasin and Bethsaida have no lack
of antitypes amongst you. Again has man overruled his Creator's design.
The mustard seed has become a great tree, but the unclean fowls lodge
in its branches. The symbol of deepest ignominy has become the proudest
insignia of Court--moths and professional assassins, but it is no longer
the cross of Christ. Eighteen-and-a-half centuries of purblind groping
for the Kingdom of God finds an idealised Messiah shrined in the modern
Pantheon, and yourselves "a chosen generation," leprous with the sin of usury;
"a royal priesthood," paralysed with the cant of hireling clergy;
"a holy nation," rotten with the luxury of wealth, or embittered by the sting
of poverty; "a peculiar people," deformed to Lucifer's own pleasure
by the curse of caste; while, in this pandemonium of Individualism, the weak,
the diffident, the scrupulous, and the afflicted, are thrust aside
or trampled down.
And whilst the world's most urgent need is a mission of sternest counsel
and warning, from the oppressed to the oppressor, I witness the unspeakable
insolence of a Gospel of Thrift, preached by order of the rich man to Lazarus
at his gate--a deliberate laying on the shoulders of Lazarus a burden grievous
to be borne, a burden which Dives (or Davis, or Smith, or Johnson;
anything--anything--but Christ's brutal "rich man") hungry for the promised
penalty, will not touch with one of his fingers. The Church quibbles well,
and palters well, and, in her own pusillanimous way, means well,
by her silky loyalty to the law and the profits, and by her steady hostility
to some unresisting personification known as the Common Enemy.
But because of that pernicious loyalty, she has reason to complain
that the working man is too rational to imbibe her teachings on the blessedness
of slavery and starvation. Meanwhile, as no magnanimous sinner can live down
to the pseudo-Christian standard, unprogressive Agnosticism takes the place
of demoralised belief, and the Kingdom of God fades into a myth.
Yet there is nothing Utopian (pleaded the pipe) in the charter of that
kingdom--in the sunshiny Sermon on the Mount. It is no fanciful conception
of an intangible order of things, but a practical, workable code of daily life,
adapted to any stage of civilisation, and delivered to men and women who,
even according to the showing of hopeless pessimists, or strenuous advocates
for Individualistic force and cunning, were in all respects like ourselves--
delivered, moreover, by One who knew exactly the potentialities and aspirations
of man. And, in the unerring harmony of the Original Idea, the outcome
of that inimitable teaching is merely the consummation of prophetic forecast
in earlier ages. First, the slenderest crescent, seen by eyes that diligently
searched the sky; then, a broader crescent; a hemisphere; at last,
a perfect sphere, discovered by the Nazarene Artisan, and by him made plain
to all who wish to see. But from the dawn of the ages that orb was there,
waiting for recognition, waiting with the awful, tireless, all-conquering
patience for which no better name has been found than the Will of God.
History marks a point of time when first the Humanity of God touched
the divine aspiration in man, fulfilling, under the skies of Palestine,
the dim, yet infallible instinct of every race from eastern Mongol
to western Aztec. "The Soul, naturally Christian," responds to this touch,
even though blindly and erratically, and so from generation to generation
the multitudes stand waiting to welcome the Gospel of Humanity with palms
and hosannas, as of old; while from generation to generation
phylactered exclusiveness takes counsel against the revolution which is to make
all things new. And shall this opposition--the opposition by slander,
conspiracy, bribery, and force--prevail till the fatal line is once more
passed, and you await the Titus sword to drown your land in blood,
and the Hadrian-plough to furrow your Temple-site?
I think not (added the pipe, after a pause). I think not. For a revolt
undreamt of by your forefathers is in progress now--a revolt of enlightenment
against ignorance; of justice and reason against the domination
of the manifestly unworthy. The world's brightest intellects are answering
one by one to the roll-call of the New Order, and falling into line
on the side championed by every prophet, from Moses to the "agitator"
that died o' Wednesday. Inconceivably long and cruel has the bondage been,
hideous beyond measure the degradation of the disinherited; but I think
the cycle of soul-slaying loyalty to error draws near its close;
for the whole armoury of the Father of Lies can furnish no shield to turn aside
the point of the tireless and terrible PEN--that Ithuriel-spear which,
in these latter days, scornfully touches the mail-clad demon of Privilege,
and discloses a swelling frog.
Contemporaneous literature (continued the pipe thoughtfully) is our surest
register of advance or retrogression; and, with few exceptions indeed,
the prevailing and conspicuous element in all publications of more than
a century ago is a tacit acceptance of irresponsible lordship
and abject inferiority as Divine ordinances. Brutal indifference,
utter contempt, or more insulting condescension, toward the rank and file,
was an article of the fine old English gentleman's religion--
"a point of our faith," as the pious Sir Thomas Browne seriously puts it--
the complementary part being a loathsome servility toward nobility and royalty.
In that era, the most amiable of English poets felt constrained to weave
into his exquisite Elegy an undulating thread of modest apology for bringing
under notice the short and simple annals of the Vaisya caste. Later,
Cowper thought poverty, humility, industry, and piety a beautiful combination
for the wearer of the smock frock. Even Crabbe blindly accepted
the sanctified lie of social inequality. And this assumption was religiously
acquiesced in by the lower animal himself--who doubtless glorified God
for the distinctly unsearchable wisdom and loving-kindness manifested
in those workhouse regulations which separated his own toil-worn age
from the equal feebleness of the wife whose human rights he should have died
fighting for when he was young. And, as might be expected, this strictly
gentlemanly principle looms larger in your forefathers' prose than in
their poetry. At last, Burns and Paine flashed their own strong,
healthy personalities on the community, marking an epoch; and from that day
to this, the Apology of Humanity acquires ever-increasing momentum,
and ever-widening scope. Now, if social-economic conditions fail to keep
abreast with the impetuous, uncontrollable advance of popular intelligence,
the time must come when, with one tiger-spring, the latter shall assail
the former; and the scene of this unpleasantness (concluded
the infatuated pipe) is called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon.
The swagman approached, plodding steadily along, with his billy in one hand
and his water-bag in the other; on his shoulder, horse-shoe fashion,
his forty years' gathering; and in his patient face his forty years' history,
clearly legible to me by reason of a gift which I happily possess.
I was roused from my reverie by some one saying:
"How fares our cousin Hamlet? Come and have a drink of tea,
and beggar the expense."
"Good day," responded Hamlet, still pursuing his journey.
"Come on! come on! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?"
"Eh?" And he stopped, and faced about.
"Come and have a feed!" I shouted.
"I'll do that ready enough," said he, laying his fardel down in the shade,
and seating himself on it with a satisfied sigh.
I rooted my damper out of its matrix, flogged the ashes off it
with a saddle-cloth, and placed it before my guest, together with a large wedge
of leathery cheese, a sheath-knife, and the quart pot and pannikin.
"Eat, and good dich thy good heart, Apemantus," said I cordially. Then,
resuming my seat, I took leisure to observe him. He was an everyday sight,
but one which never loses its interest to me--the bent and haggard wreck
of what should have been a fine soldierly man; the honest face sunken
and furrowed; the neglected hair and matted beard thickly strewn with grey.
His eyes revealed another victim to the scourge of ophthalmia. This malady,
by the way, must not be confounded with sandy blight. The latter is acute;
the former, chronic.
"Coming from Moama?" I conjectured, at length.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I ain't had anything since yesterday afternoon.
Course, you of'en go short when you're travellin'; but I'm a man that don't
like to be makin' a song about it."
"Would n't you stand a better show for work on the other side of the river?"
"Is n't the Vic. side the best for work?" I shouted.
"Yes; takin' it generally. But there's a new saw-mill startin' on this side,
seven or eight mile up from here; an' I know the two fellers that owns it--
two brothers, the name o' H----. Fact, I got my eyes cooked workin'
at a thresher for them. I'm not frightened but what I'll git work at the mill.
Fine, off-handed, reasonable fellers."
"Would n't it suit you better to look out for some steady work on a farm?"
"Very carm. Sort o' carm heat. I think there's a thunderstorm hangin' about.
We'll have rain before this moon goes out for a certainty. She come in
on her back--I dunno whether you noticed?"
"I did n't notice. Don't you find this kind of weather making
your eyes worse?"
"My word, you're right. Not much chance of a man makin' a rise the way
things is now. Dunno what the country's comin' to. I don't blame people
for not givin' work when they got no work to give, but they might be civil"
he paused, and went on with his repast in silence for a minute.
It required no great prescience to read his thought. Man must be subject
to sale by auction, or be a wearer of Imperial uniform, before the
susceptibility to insult perishes in his soul. "I been carryin' a swag
close on twenty year," he resumed; "but I never got sich a divil
of a blaggardin' as I got this mornin'. Course, I'm wrong to swear about it,
but that's a thing I ain't in the habit o' doin'. It was at a place eight
or ten mile down the river, on the Vic. side. I wasn't cadging, nyther.
I jist merely ast for work--not havin' heard about the H----s till after--
an' I thought the bloke was goin' to jump down my throat. I didn't ketch
the most o' what he said, but I foun' him givin' me rats for campin' about
as fur off of his place as from here to the other side o' the river;
an' a lagoon betwixt; an' not a particle o' grass for the fire to run on.
Fact, I'm a man that's careful about fire. Mind you, I did set fire
to a bit of a dead log on the reserve, but a man has to get a whiff o' smoke
these nights, on account o' the muskeeters; an' there was no more danger
nor there is with this fire o' yours. Called me everything but a gentleman."
"Possess your soul in patience. You have no remedy and no appeal
till we gather at the river."
"O, I was in luck there. Jist after I heard about this saw-mill--bein' then
on the Vic. side--I foun' a couple o' swells goin' to a picnic in a boat;
an' I told them I wanted to git across, an' they carted me over,
an' no compliment. Difference in people."
"I know the H----s," I shouted. "When did you hear about them
starting this saw-mill?"
"O! this forenoon. I must ast you to speak loud. I got the misfortune
to be a bit hard o' hearin'. Most people notices it on me, but I was thinkin'
p'r'aps you did n't remark it. It come through a cold I got in the head,
about six year ago, spud-diggin' among the Bungaree savages."
"I'm sorry for you."
"Well, it was this way. After the feller hunted me off of his place
this mornin', who should I meet but a young chap an' his girl,
goin' to this picnic, with a white horse in the buggy. Now, that's one
o' these civil, good-hearted sort o' chaps you'll sometimes git among
the farmers. Name o' Archie M----. I dunno whether you might n't know him;
he's superintender o' the E---- Sunday School. Fact, I'd bin roun'
with the H----'s thresher at his ole man's place four years runnin';
so when he seen me this mornin', it was, 'Hello, Andy!--lookin' for work?'
An' the next word was, 'Well, I'm sorry we ain't got no work for you'--
or words to that effect--'but,' says he, 'there's the H----s startin'
a saw-mill fifteen or twenty mile up the river, on the other side.
They won't see you beat,' says he, 'but if you don't git on with them,'
says he, 'come straight back to our place, an' we'll see about something,'
says he. So I'm makin' my way to the saw-mill."
"Well, I hope you'll get on there, mate."
"You're right. It's half the battle. Wust of it is, you can't stick to
a mate when you got him. I was workin' mates with a raw new-chum feller
las' winter, ringin' on the Yanko. Grand feller he was--name o' Tom--but,
as it happened, we was workin' sub-contract for a feller name o' Joe Collins,
an' we was on for savin', so we on'y drawed tucker-money; an' beggar me
if this Joe Collins did n't git paid up on the sly, an' travelled.
So we fell in. Can't be too careful when you're workin' for a workin' man.
But I would n't like to be in Mr. Joe Collins's boots when Tom ketches him.
Scotch chap, Tom is. Well, after bin had like this, we went out on
the Lachlan, clean fly-blowed; an' Tom got a job boundary ridin',
through another feller goin' to Mount Brown diggin's; an' there was no work
for me, so we had to shake hands. I'd part my last sprat to that feller."
"I believe you would. But I'm thinking of Joe Collins. To a student
of nominology, this is a most unhappy combination. Joseph denotes sneaking
hypocrisy, whilst Collins is a guarantee of probity. Fancy the Broad Arrow
and the Cross of the Legion of Honour woven into a monogram!"
"Rakin' style o' dog you got there. I dunno when I seen the like of him.
Well, I think I'll be pushin' on. I on'y got a sort o' rough idear
where this mill is; an' there ain't many people this side o' the river
to inquire off of; an' my eyes is none o' the best. I'll be biddin'
you good day."
"Are you a smoker?" I asked, replenishing my own sagacious meerschaum.
"Because you might try a plug of this tobacco."
Now that man's deafness was genuine, and I spoke in my ordinary tone,
yet the magic word vibrated accurately and unmistakably on the paralysed
tympanum. Let your so-called scientists account for that.
"If you can spare it," replied the swagman, with animation. "Smokin's about
the on'y pleasure a man's got in this world; an' I jist used up the dust out
o' my pockets this mornin'; so this'll go high. My word! Well, good day.
I might be able to do the same for you some time."
"Thou speakest wiser than thou art 'ware of," I soliloquised as I watched
his retreating figure, whilst lighting my pipe. "As the other philosopher,
Tycho Brahe, found inspiration in the gibberish of his idiot companion,
so do I find food for reflection in thy casual courtesy, my friend.
Possibly I have reached the highest point of all my greatness, and from that
full meridian of my glory, I haste now to my setting. From a
Deputy-Assistant-Sub-Inspector--with the mortuary reversion of the
Assistant-Sub-Inspectorship itself--to a swagman, bluey on shoulder and billy
in hand, is as easy as falling off a playful moke. Such is life."
The longer I smoked, the more charmed I was with the rounded symmetry
and steady lustre of that pearl of truth which the swagman had brought forth
out of his treasury. For philosophy is no warrant against destitution,
as biography amply vouches. Neither is tireless industry, nor
mechanical skill, nor artistic culture--if unaccompanied by that
business aptitude which tends to the survival of the shrewdest;
and not even then, if a person's mana is off. Neither is the saintliest piety
any safeguard. If the author of the Thirty-seventh Psalm lived at the present
time, he would see the righteous well represented among the unemployed,
and his seed in the Industrial Schools. For correction of the Psalmist's
misleading experience, one need go no further down the very restricted stream
of Sacred History than the date of the typical Lazarus. Continually impending
calamities menace with utter destitution any given man, though he may bury
his foolish head in the sand, and think himself safe. There lives no one
on earth to day who holds even the flimsiest gossamer of security
against a pauper's death, and a pauper's grave. If he be as rich as Croesus,
let him remember Solon's warning, with its fulfilment--and the change
since 550 B.C. has by no means been in the direction of fixity of tenure.
Where are one-half of the fortunes of twenty years ago?--and where will
the other half be in twenty years more? Though I am, like Sir John,
old only in judgment and understanding, I have again and again seen
the wealthy emir of yesterday sitting on the ash-heap to-day, scraping himself
with a bit of crockery, but happily too broken to find an inhuman sneer
for the vagrants whom, in former days, he would have disdained to set
with the dogs of his flock. I could write you a column of these emirs' names.
And if there is one impudent interpolation in the Bible, it is to be found
in the last chapter of that ancient Book of Job. The original writer
conceived a tragedy, anticipating the grandeur of the Oedipus at Colonos,
or Lear--and here eight supplementary verses have anti-climaxed
this masterpiece to the level of a boys' novel. "Also the Lord gave Job
twice as much as he had before," &c., &c. Tut-tut! Job's human nature
had sustained a laceration that nothing but death could heal.
Is there any rich man who cannot imagine a combination of circumstances
that would have given him lodgings under the bridge?--that may still do so,
say, within twelve months? Setting my knighthood and my soldiership aside,
I can imagine a combination that would have quartered me in that airy
colonnade--nay, that may do so before this day week; and my view of the matter
is, that if I become not the bridge as well as another, a plague
of my bringing up! We are all walking along the shelving edge of a precipice;
any one of us may go at any moment, or be dragged down by another.
And this is as it ought to be. Justice is done, and the sky does not fall.
For, from a higher point of view, the Sabians and Chaldeans of the present day
don't dislocate society; they only alter the incidence of existing dislocation;
and all this works steadily towards a restoration--if not of some old Saturnian
or Jahvistic Paradise-idyll, at least of a Divine intention and human ideal.
Vicissitude of fortune is the very hand of "the Eternal, not ourselves,
that maketh for righteousness," the manifestation of the Power behind
moral evolution; and we may safely trust the harmony of Universal legislation
for this antidote to a grievous disease; we may rest confident that whilst
this best of all possible worlds remains under the worst of all
possible managements, the solemn threat of thirty-three centuries ago
shall not lack fulfilment--the poor shall never cease out of the land. And
no man knows when his own turn may come. But all this is strictly conditional.
Collective humanity holds the key to that kingdom of God on earth,
which clear-sighted prophets of all ages have pictured in colours
that never fade. The kingdom of God is within us; our all-embracing duty
is to give it form and effect, a local habitation and a name. In the meantime,
our reluctance to submit to the terms of citizenship has no more effect
on the iron law of citizen reciprocity than our disapproval has on the process
of the seasons; for see how, in the great human family, the innocent suffer
for the guilty; and not only are the sins of the fathers visited upon
the children, but my sins are visited upon your children, and your sins
upon some one else's children; so that, if we decline a brotherhood
of mutual blessing and honour, we alternatively accept one of mutual injury
and ignominy. Eternal justice is in no hurry for recognition,
but flesh and blood will assuredly tire before that principle tires.
It is precisely in relation to the palingenesis of Humanity that,
to the unseen Will, one day is said to be as a thousand years, and
a thousand years as one day. A Divine Idea points the way, clearly apparent
to any vision not warped by interest or prejudice, nor darkened by ignorance;
but the work is man's alone, and its period rests with man.
My reason for indulging in this reverie was merely to banish the thought
of my late guest. (Of course, my object in recording it here is simply
to kill time; for, to speak like a true man, I linger shivering on the brink
of the disclosures to which I am pledged. I feel something like
the doomed Nero, when he stood holding the dagger near his throat,
trying meanwhile to screw his courage to the sticking-place by the recitation
of heroic poetry. Trust me to go on with the narrative as soon as I choose.)
I did n't want to think of Andy personally. Intuition whispered to me
that the swagman, who would have parted his last sprat to a former mate,
hadn't that humble coin in his pocket; whilst purse-pride hinted that I had
four sovereigns and some loose silver in mine--not to speak of £8 6s. 8d.
waiting for me in Hay. If I had allowed my mind to dwell on these
two intrusive intimations, they would have seemed to fit each other like
tenon and mortice; though when the opportunity of making the joint had existed,
a sort of moral laziness, together with our artificial, yet not unpraiseworthy,
repugnance to offering a money gift, had brought me out rather a Levite
than a Samaritan. In mere self-defence, I would have been constrained
to keep up a series of general and impersonal reflections till the swagman
lost his individuality--say, five or six hours--but I was rescued from this
tyranny by the faint rattle of a buggy on the other side of the river.
Idly turning my glass on the two occupants of the vehicle, I recognised
one of them as a familiar and valued friend--a farmer, residing
five or six miles down the river, on the Victorian side. I rose and walked
to the brink as the buggy came opposite.
"Hello! Mr. B----," I shouted.
"Hello! Collins. I thought you were way back. When did you come down?
Why did n't you give us a call?"
"Could n't get across the river without sacrifice of dignity and comfort."
"Yes, you can; easy enough. You can start off now. I'm going across here
with Mr. G----, to see some sheep, but I'll be back toward sundown.
I'll tell you how you'll manage: Follow straight down the road till you come
to the old horse-paddock, nearly opposite our place; then turn to your left,
down along the fence----"
"No use, Mr. B----. I want to get away to-morrow; and you know
when we get together----"
"Yes; I know all about that. But you must come, Collins.
There's a dozen things I want your opinion about."
"Indeed I appreciate your sensible valuation of me as a referee,
Mr. B----, but I must still decline. I wish I had gone this morning;
it's too late now."
"Well, I'll feel disappointed. So will Dick. By-the-by, Dick L---- has turned
up again. He's at our place now. He's off next week--to Fiji, I suspect."
"Where has he been this last time?"
"You would n't guess. He's been in the Holy Land. Poked about there
for over six months."
"Yes; he's been a good deal in Jerusalem. He lived in Jericho for a month;
but he spent most of his time at different places up and down the Jordan."
"Did he meet many Scotchmen wandering along that river?"
"I suppose he would meet a good many anywhere--but why there particularly?"
"Well, Byron tells us that on Jordan's banks the arab Campbells stray."
"I don't take."
"Neither do I, Mr. B----."
"But I'm perfectly serious, Tom; I am, indeed. I thought you would
like to have a yarn with Dick. His descriptions of the Holy Land
are worth listening to."
"Say 'Honour bright'."
"Honour bright, then. I say, Collins--did you ever have reason
to doubt my word?"
"No; but I always get demoralised out back. Where were you saying
I could get across the river?"
"I thought that would fetch the beggar," I heard B---- remark
to his companion. And he was right. It would fetch the beggar across
any river on this continent.
Dick L----, Mrs. B----'s brother, was a mine of rare information
and queer experiences. Educated for the law, his innate honesty had shrunk
from the practice of his profession, and he had taken to rambling as people
take to drink, turning up at irregular intervals to claim whatever
might be available of the £l2 10s. per quarter bequeathed to him by his father.
His strong point was finding his way into outlandish places, and getting
insulted and sat on by the public, and run in by the police. Apart from
this speciality, he was one of the most useless beings I ever knew
(which is saying a lot). Some men, by their very aspect, seem to invite
confidence; others, insult; others, imposition; but Dick seemed only
to invite arrest. When well-groomed, he used to be arrested in mistake
for some bank defaulter; when ragged, he was sure to be copped for shoplifting,
pocket-picking, lack of lawful visible, or for having in his possession
property reasonably supposed to have been stolen. Therefore, honest as he was,
he had been, like Paul, in prisons frequent. But, thanks to his forensic
training, these interviews with the majesty of the law seemed homely
and grateful to him. He could converse with a Bench in such terms
of respectful camaraderie, yet with such suggestiveness of an Old Guard
in reserve, that his innocence became a supererogatory merit. Besides which,
he had been, in a general way, a servant of servants in every quarter
of the globe, and had been run out of every billet for utter incompetency;
often having to content himself with a poor half-pennyworth of bread
to this intolerable deal of sack. So he enjoyed (or otherwise) opportunities
of seeing things that the literary tourist never sees; and, being
a good talker, and, withal, a singularly truthful man, he was excellent
and profitable company after having been on the extended wallaby.
"Where were you saying I could get across the river, Mr. B----?"
"You know the old horse-paddock fence? Well, follow that down to the river,
and just at the end of it you'll find a bark canoe tied to the bank.
Bark by name, and bark by nature. And you'll see a fencing wire lying
in the river, with the end fastened to a tree. When you haul the wire up
out of the water, you'll find the other end tied to a tree on this bank.
Very complete rig. And, I say, Collins; mind you slacken the wire down
from this end after you get across, on account of steamers, and snags,
and so forth, The canoe's dead certain to be on your side of the river.
It belongs to a couple of splitters, living in the horse-paddock hut;
and they only use it to come across for rations, or the like of that. Well,
we'll be off, Mr. G----. I'll see you again this evening, then, Collins."
The buggy rattled away through the red-gums. I packed my things
in a convenient hollow tree, and started off down the river, followed by
the slate-coloured animal that constantly loved me although I was poor.
About half-way to the horse-paddock, I was overtaken and passed by
Arthur H----, one of the two brothers reported to be starting the sawmill;
and I afterward remembered that, though we saluted each other, and exchanged
impotent criticisms on the weather, I had by this time obtained
such ascendency over the meddlesome and querulous part of my nature
that I had never once thought of asking him if he had met Andy.
It must have been near six in the afternoon when I made my way down
the steep bank to where the aptly-named bark was tied up. I soon pulled
the slack of the wire out of the bed of the river, and made all fast.
Then it occurred to me that I might have a smoke whilst pulling across.
My next thought was that I could economise time by deferring this duty
till I should resume my journey, with both hands at liberty. Forthwith,
I squatted in the canoe, and got under way, leaving Pup to follow
at his own convenience.
In a former chapter I had occasion to notice a great fact, namely,
that the course of each person's life is directed by his ever-recurring option,
or election. Now let me glance at two of my own alternatives, each of which
has immediate bearing on the incident I am about to relate:
Three weeks ago (from the present writing) I had open choice of all the dates
in twenty-two diaries. I actually dallied with that choice, and inadvertently
switched my loco. on to the line I am now faithfully, though reluctantly,
following. The doom-laden point of time was that which marked the penning
of my determination; for a perfectly-balanced engine is more likely to go
wandering off a straight line than I am to fail in fulfilment of a promise.
Another indifferent-looking alternative was accepted when my guardian angel
suggested a smoke while crossing the river, and I declined, on the plea
of haste. A picaninny alternative, that, you say? I tell you, it proved
an old-man alternative before it ran itself out. The filling and lighting
of my pipe would have occupied three or four minutes, and I should have seen
an impending danger in time to guard against it. But I shunted on to
the wrong line, and nothing remained but to follow it out to a finish.
You shall judge for yourself whether even your own discretion and address
could have carried the allotted trip to a less unhappy issue.
Hand over hand along the wire, I had wobbled the bark to the middle
of the stream, when I noticed, not fifty yards away, a dead tree of twelve
or fifteen tons displacement, en route for South Australia. Being about
nineteen-twentieths submerged, and having no branches on the upper side,
it would have passed under the wire but for a stump of a root, as thick
as your body, standing about five feet above the surface of the water,
on its forward end. In remarking that the tree was ong root, I merely mean
to imply such importance in that portion of its substance that it might
rather be viewed as a root with a tree attached than as a tree with a root
attached. This is the aspect it still retains in my mind.
There was not half enough time to pull the bark ashore and sink the wire,
so I did the next best thing I could. As the log approached, I carefully rose
to my feet, and held the wire high enough to clear the root. Nearer it came;
it would pass the bark nicely within three or four feet; a few seconds more,
and the root would glide underneath the wire----
Pup had remained yelping and dancing on the bank for a few minutes
after my embarkation--the kangaroo dog having a charcoal burner's antipathy
to the bath--but at last becoming desperate, he had plunged in, and was
rapidly approaching whilst I judiciously gauged the height of the root,
and meanwhile balanced the unsteady bark under my feet. When the root was
within six inches of the wire, Pup's chin and forepaws were on the gunwale;
in three seconds more, I was clinging with one hand to the root, the other
still mechanically holding the tightening wire; Pup was making for the log;
and the splitters' bark had gone to Davy Jones's locker.
In another half-minute, the wire parted, and Pup and I were deck passengers,
ong root for the land of the Crow-eaters.
I was no more disconcerted than I am at the present moment. I would
go on to B----'s as if nothing had happened; and put up with the inconvenience
of swimming the river in the morning. In the meantime, though I was
well splashed, all the things in my pockets were dry. I particularly
congratulated myself on the good fortune of having been so close to the root
at the Royal Georgeing of my bark. My bark--well, strictly speaking,
it was the splitters' bark; but accidents will happen; and I was certain
that not a soul had seen me turn off the main road toward the river.
My clothes were of the lightest. I took them off, and tied them
in my handkerchief. I pounded a depression in the package to fit the top
of my head, and bound it there with my elastic belt, holding the latter
in my teeth. You must often have noticed that the chief difficulty
of swimming with your clothes on your head arises from the fore-and-aft
surging of the package with each stroke. But nothing could have been
more complete than my arrangements as I slid gently into the water,
and paddled for the Cabbage Garden shore.
When I had gone a few yards, my faithful companion, now left alone on the log,
raised his voice in lamentation, after the manner of his subspecies.
"Come on, Pup!" I shouted, without looking round; and the next moment
I felt as if a big kangaroo dog had catapulted himself through twenty feet
of space, and lit on my package.
After returning to the surface and coughing about a pint of water
out of my nose and ears, I looked uneasily round for my cargo. It was nowhere
to be seen. I swam back to the log, and stood on it to get a better view.
Good! there was the white, rounded top, an inch above the water,
ten yards away. As I swam toward it, a whirlpool took it under.
I dived after it, struck it smartly with the crown of my head; and eventually
returned to the log, whence I watched for its re-appearance above
the slowly-swirling water. It never re-appeared.
Following the sinuosities of the river, this must have been a mile and a half
below the splitters' crossing-place; and time had been passing, for there was
the setting sun, blazing through a gap in the timber, and its mirrored
reflection stretching half a mile of dazzling radiance along a straight reach
of the river.
Now, though the Murray is the most crooked river on earth, its general tendency
is directly from east to west. Would n't you, therefore--if you were on
a floating log, remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow; standing, like
the Apollo Sauroctones, with your hand on the adjacent stump, and,
to enhance your resemblance to that fine antique, clad in simplicity
of mien and nothing else--if you were sadly realising the loss of your best
clothes, with all the things in the pockets, including a fairly trustworthy
watch--if, in addition to this, the patient face of the spratless swagman
was rising before you till you involuntarily muttered "O Julius Caesar!
thou art mighty yet!" and the nasty part of your moral nature was
reminding you that you might have had anything up to four-pounds-odd worth
of heavenly debentures; whereas, having failed to put your mammon
of unrighteousness into celestial scrip, to await you at the end
of your pilgrimage, you were now doubly debarred from retaining it
in your pilgrim's scrip, by reason of having neither scrip nor mammon--under
such circumstances, I say, would n't you be very likely to take the sunset
on your left, and swim for the north bank, without doing an equation
in algebra to find out which way the river ought to run? That is what I did.
It never occurred to my mind that Victoria could be on the north side
of New South Wales.
After shouting myself hoarse, and whistling on my fingers till my lips
were paralysed, I brought Pup into view on the south, and supposedly Victorian,
bank, opposite where I had landed. By the time I had induced him to take
the water and rejoin me, the short twilight was gone, and night had set in,
dark, starless, hot, and full of electricity.
And the mosquitos. Well, those who have been much in the open air,
in Godiva costume, during opaque, perspiring, November nights,
about Lake Cooper, or the Lower Goulburn, or the Murray frontage, require
no reminder; and to those who have not had such experience, no illustration
could convey any adequate notion. Hyperbolically, however: In the localities
I have mentioned, the severity of the periodical plague goads the instinct
of animals almost to the standard of reason. Not only will horses
gather round a fire to avail themselves of the smoke, but it is quite
a usual thing to see some experienced old stager sitting on his haunches
and dexterously filliping his front shoes over a little heap
of dry leaves and bark.
To return. The recollection of much worse predicaments in the past,
and the reasonable anticipation of still worse in the future,
restored that equilibrium of temper which is the aim of my life;
and I felt cheerful enough as I welcomed my dripping companion, and,
taking a leafy twig in each hand to switch myself withal, started northward
for the river road, which I purposed following eastward to where
the pad branched off, and then running the latter to my camp. Once clear
of the river timber, and with the road for a base, the darkness, I thought,
would make little difference to me.
After half an hour's gliding through heavy forest, and cleaving my way
through spongy reed-beds, and circling round black lagoons, alive
with the "plump, plump" of bullfrogs, and the interminable "r-r-r-r-r"
of yabbies, I found the river on my right, with a well-beaten cattle-track
along the bank. Here was something definite to go upon. By keeping
straight on, I must soon strike the old horse-paddock fence,
where the splitters used to keep their bark; and in an hour and a-half more,
I would be at my camp.
But the discerning reader will perceive, from hints already given,
that, by following the cattle track, with the river on my right,
I was unconsciously travelling westward on the Victorian side, instead of
eastward on the New South Wales side. If the sky had cleared for a single
instant, a glance at the familiar constellations would have set me right.
After half a mile, the cattle-track intersected a beaten road, with the black
masses of river timber still on the right, and a wire fence on the left--as I
found by running into it. Everything seemed unfamiliar and puzzling;
but I followed the road, looking out for landmarks, and zealously switching
myself as I went along.
Soon I heard in front the trampling of horses, and men's voices
in jolly conversation. I aimed for the sounds, and, after running against
a loose horse, feeding leisurely on the grass, I distinguished through the hot,
stagnant darkness the approaching forms of three men riding abreast.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said I politely, switching myself as I spoke.
"Could you give me some idea of the geography"---- I got no farther,
for a colt that one of the fellows was riding suddenly shied at me
and followed up the action by bucking his best. Upon this, the loose horse
presented himself, cavorting round in senseless emulation, while the other two
horses swerved and tried to bolt. All this took place in half a minute.
The rider of the colt was taken by surprise, but he was plucky. Though losing
not only his stirrups but his saddle with the first buck, he spent
the next couple of minutes riding all over that colt, sometimes on his ears,
and sometimes on his tail. But this sort of thing could n't last--it never
does last--so, after hanging on for about twenty seconds by one heel
the fellow dismounted like a barrow-load of sludge. During this time,
I saw nothing of the two other men, but I could hear them trying to force
their excited horses toward the spot where I was skipping round, ready
to catch the colt on the moment of his discharging cargo.
On making the attempt, I missed the bridle in the dark; and away shot
the colt in one direction, and the loose horse in another.
"I bet a note Jack's off," said a voice from the distance.
"Gosh, you'd win it if it was twenty," responded another voice
from the ground close by.
"There goes his moke!" said the first voice. "Come and jam the beggar
against the fence, or he'll be off to glory." And away clattered the two
horsemen after the wrong horse; Jack following on foot.
Noticing their mistake, I cantered hopefully after the colt, thinking
to obtain a favourable introduction to Jack by restoring the animal;
but in a few minutes I lost the sounds, and abandoned the pursuit.
Then, after supplying myself with fresh switches, I resumed
my fatal westward course.
More voices, a short distance away, and straight in front. Judging them
to come from some vehicle travelling at a slow walk along the edge
of the timber, I posted myself behind a tree, and waited as patiently
as the mosquitos permitted.
"Now you need n't scandalise one another," said a pleasant masculine voice.
"You're like the pot and the kettle. You're both as full of sin and hypocrisy
as you can stick. Six of one, and half-a-dozen of the other. I would n't
have believed it if I had n't seen it with my own eyes. You've disgraced
yourselves for ever. Who the dickens do you think would be fool enough
to marry either of you after the way you've behaved yourselves to-day?"
"Well, I'm sure we're not asking you to marry us," piped a feminine voice.
"Keep yourselves in that mind, for goodness' sake. I'm disgusted with you.
Why, only last Sunday, I heard your two mothers flattering themselves
about the C---- girls knowing too much; and I'll swear you've both forgot
more than the C---- girls ever knew. You're as common as dish-water."
"O, you're mighty modest, your own self," retorted a second feminine voice.
"It's my place to be a bit rowdy," replied the superior sex. "It's part
of a man's education. And I don't try to look as if butter would n't melt
in my mouth. You're just the reverse; you're hypocrites. 'Woe unto you
hypocrites!' the Bible says. But it's troubling me a good deal to think
what your mothers'll feel, now that you've come out in your true colours."
"But you wouldn't be mean enough to tell?" interrupted one of the sweet voices.
"I always thought you were too honourable to do such a thing, Harry,"
remarked the other.
"Well, now you find your mistake. But this is not a question of honour;
it's a question of duty."
"O, you're mighty fine with your duty! You're a mean wretch. There!"
"I'll be a meaner wretch before another hour's over. Go on, Jerry;
let's get it past and done with."
"But, Harry--I say, Harry--don't tell. I'll never forgive you if you do."
"Duty, Mabel, duty."
"What good will it do you to tell?" pleaded the other voice.
"Duty, Annie, duty. On you go, Jerry, and let's get home. This is painful
to a cove of my temperament."
During this conversation, I had become conscious of standing on a populous
ant-bed; and, not wishing to lose the chance of an interview with Harry,
I had retreated in front of the buggy till a second tree offered
its friendly cover. Jerry's head was now within two yards of my ambush,
and, peeping round, I could make out the vague outline of the figures
in the buggy.
"Well, I'll tell you what I'll do," said Harry, stopping the horse:
"If each of you gives me a kiss, of her own good will, I'll promise
not to tell. Are you on? Say the word, for I'll only give you
one minute to decide."
"What do you think, Mabel?" murmured one of the voices.
"Well, I've got no---- But what do you think?"
"I think it's about the only thing we can do. We would never be let
come out again."
There was perfect silence for a minute. My tree was n't a large one,
and the near front wheel of the buggy was almost against it. Not daring
to move hand or foot, I could only wish myself a rhinoceros.
"Come on," said one of the voices, at last.
"Come on how?" asked Harry innocently. "Look here: the agreement
is that each of you is to give me a kiss, of her own good will.
I'm not going to move."
"O, you horrid wretch! Do you think we're going to demean ourselves?
You're mighty mistaken if you do."
"Go on, Jerry." And the buggy started.
"We're not frightened of you now," remarked one of the voices complacently,
whilst I threw myself on the ground, and rolled like a liberated horse.
"If you dare to say one single word, we'll just expose your shameful proposal.
You mean wretch! you make people think it's safe to send their girls
with you, to be insulted like this. O, we'll expose you!"
"Expose away. And don't forget to mention that you both agreed
to the shameful proposal. I'll tell your mothers that I made that proposal
just to try you, and you consented on condition of me keeping quiet.
You're both up a tree. 'Weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin.' Go on, Jerry, and let's have it over."
"What do you think, Annie?" asked one of the voices, whilst I made
for my third tree.
"He's the meanest wretch that ever breathed," replied the other vehemently.
"And I always thought men was so honourable!"
"Live and learn," rejoined the escort pithily.
"O, Harry!" panted one voice, "I seen a white thing darting across there!"
"Quite likely," replied Harry. "When a girl's gone cronk, like you,
she must expect to see white things darting about. But I'll give you
one more chance."
"I think we better," suggested one of the voices.
"There's nothing else for it," assented the other.
By this time, the buggy had disappeared in the darkness. I heard it stop;
then followed, with slight intervals, two unsyllabled sounds.
"Over again," said Harry calmly. "You both cheated."
The sounds were repeated.
"Over again. You'll have to alter your hand a bit--both of you--or we'll
be here all night. Slower, this time."
Once more the sounds were repeated; then the buggy started, and Harry's voice
died away in the distance to an indistinct murmur, as he reviled the girls
for this new exhibition of their shamelessness.
Whilst undecided whether to follow the buggy any further, I saw a light
on the other side of the road. Making my way toward it, I crossed
a log-and-chock fence, bounding a roughly ploughed fallow paddock,
and then a two-rail fence; wondering all the while that I had never noticed
the place when passing it in daylight. At last, a quarter of a mile
from the road, a white house loomed before me, with the light
in a front window. I opened the gate of the flower garden, and was soon
crouched under the window, taking stock of the interior.
A middle-aged woman was sitting by the table, darning socks; and at
the opposite side of the lamp sat a full-grown girl, in holiday attire,
with her elbows on the table and her fingers in her hair, reading
some illustrated journal; while a little boy, squatted behind the girl's chair,
was attaching a possum's tail to her improver.
Like Enoch Arden (in my own little tin-pot way) I turned silently and sadly
from the window, for I was n't wanted in that company. I thought of going
round to the back premises in search of a men's hut; but before regaining
the gate, I trod on a porcupine cactus, and forgot everything else
for the time. Then, as I lay on the ground outside the gate,
caressing the sole of my foot, and comforting myself with the thought
that a brave man battling with the storms of fate is a sight worthy
the admiration of the gods, a white dog came tearing round from the back yard,
and rushed at me like a coming event casting its shadow before.
"Soolim, Pup!" I hissed. That was enough. Pup's colour rendered him
invisible in the dark, and his stag-hound strain made him formidable
when he was on the job. The office of a chucker-out has its duties,
as well as its rights; and in half a minute that farm dog found that one
of these duties demanded a many-sided efficiency with which Nature had omitted
to endow him. He found that, though the stereotyped tactics of worrying,
and freezing, and chawing, were good enough as opposed to similar procedure,
they became mere bookish theories when confronted with the snapping system.
Eviction becomes tedious when the intruder's teeth are always meeting
in the hind quarters of the ejecting party; and the latter can neither get
his antagonist in front of him, nor haul off to investigate damage.
Of course, I fanned the flame of discord as well as I could, hoping that
some one of my own denomination would come out to see what was the matter.
But no: the parlour door opened, Mam came out to the gate, and,
in the broad bar of light extending from the door, I saw her pick up a clod,
and aim it at the war-clouds, rolling dun. I was crouching some yards away
to one side, but the clod crumbled against my ear. Then the storm
of one-sided battle went raging round the back premises, as the farm dog
returned to tell Egypt the story. Mam retreated from the gate in haste,
and for a minute or two there was a confused clatter of voices in the house,
and some opening and shutting of doors. Then all was silent again.
Presently Pup returned, and accompanied me back to the road,
carrying something which I ascertained to be a large fowl, plucked and dressed
in readiness for cooking.
Musing on the difficulties of this Wonderland into which, according to
immemorial usage, I had been born without a rag of clothes, I waited for Pup
whilst he ate his fowl, and then again pressed forward, alert and vigilant,
as beseemed a man scudding under bare poles through an apparently populous
country, which by right ought to have been a sheeprun, with about one
selection every five miles.
I had managed to put another mile between myself and my camp, when two horsemen
met and passed me at a canter, singing one of Sankey's Melodies. I made
a modest appeal, but they didn't hear me, and so passed on, unconscious
of their lost opportunity.
Then I saw, a long way ahead, the lamps of an approaching vehicle,
and at the same time, I heard, close in front, the trampling of horses,
and voices raised in careless glee. I headed straight for the horses.
As I neared them, the laughing and chatting ceased, and I was about to open
negotiations when a woman's awe-stricken voice asked,
"Wha--what's that white thing there in front?"
Before the last syllable had left her lips, that white thing was receding
into the darkness, like a comet into space. The party stopped for a minute,
and then went on, conversing in a lower tone.
More pilgrims of the night. This time, the slow footfalls of horses,
and a low, inarticulate murmur of voices, out in front and a little
to the left, gave me fresh hope. Warned by past failures, I thought best
to forego the erect posture to which our species owes so much of its majesty.
I therefore dropped on all-fours and went like a tarantula till
I distinguished two horses walking slowly abreast, jammed together;
the riders presenting an indistinct outline of two individuals rolled into one;
and it was from this amalgamation that the low, pigeon-like murmurs proceeded.
An instinct of delicacy prompted me to pause, and let the Siamese twins
pass in peace; but, unfortunately, I happened to be straight in the way,
and just as I started to creep aside, one of the horses extended his neck,
and, with a low, protracted snore, touched me on the back with the
coarse velvet of his nose. Then followed two quick snorts of alarm;
the horses shied simultaneously outward, while down on the ground between them
came two souls with but a single thud, two hearts that squelched as one.
In spite of the compunction and sympathy I felt, modesty compelled me
to glide unobstrusively away, leaving the souls to disentangle themselves
and catch their horses the best way they could.
By this time, the buggy lamps had approached within fifty yards.
Knowing how dense the outside darkness would appear to anyone in the vehicle,
I made a circuit, and got round to the rear. It was a single-seated buggy,
with a white horse, travelling at a walk; and, in the darkness
behind the lamps, two figures were discernible. I followed a little,
to hear them introduce themselves. They did so as follows:--
"Now, Archie; I'll scream."
"My own sweetest"----
Why, the district was fairly bristling with this class of people!
I had never seen anything like it, except in the Flagstaff Gardens,
when I was in Melbourne.
"My precious darling! My sweetest"----
"My sweetest, my beautiful"----
"O! Idon'tloveyoudear! Idon'tloveyounow! Andyouwon'tletmego!"
"There, then, sweetest. Kiss me now."
"Yes, Archie, my precious love."
There was more of it, but it fell unheeded on my ears. I paused,
and thought vehemently. The white horse in the buggy, and Archie M----,
Superintendent of the E---- Sunday School, with his girl! No wonder
I had met so many people, and all going in the same direction.
They were the sediment of the pic-nic party, returning from their orgy.
Here was the lost chord. The whole truth flashed upon me. Now,
the solid earth wheeled right-about face; east became west, and west, east.
I recognised the Victorian river road, because I saw things as they were,
not as I had imagined them--though, to be sure, I still saw them
as through a glass, darkly.
My worldly-wise friend, let us draw a lesson from this. If you have never been
bushed, your immunity is by no means an evidence of your cleverness,
but rather a proof that your experience of the wilderness is small.
If you have been bushed, you will remember how, as you struck a place you knew,
error was suddenly superseded by a flash of truth; this without volition
of judgment on your part, and entirely by force of a presentation of fact
which your own personal error--however sincere and stubborn--had never
affected, and which you were no longer in a position to repudiate.
It has always been my strong impression that this is very much like
the revelation which follows death--that is, if conscious individuality
be preserved; a thing by no means certain, and, to my mind,
not manifestly desirable.
But if, after closing our eyes in death, we open them on an appreciable
hereafter--whether one imperceptible fraction of a second, or a million
centuries, may intervene--it is as certain as anything can be, that,
to most of us, the true east will prove to be our former south-west,
and the true west, our former north-east. How many so-called virtues
will vanish then; and how many objectionable fads will shine as with the glory
of God? This much is certain: that all private wealth, beyond simplest
maintenance, will seem as the spoils of the street gutter; that fashion
will be as the gilded fly which infests carrion; that "sport" will seem folly
that would disgrace an idiot; that military force, embattled on behalf
of Royalty, or Aristocracy, or Capital, will seem like---- Well, what will
it seem like? Already, looking, or rather, squinting, back along
our rugged and random track, we perceive that the bloodiest battle ever fought
by our badly-bushed forefathers on British soil--and that only one of a series
of twelve, in which fathers, sons, brothers, kinsmen, and fellow-slaves
exterminated each other--was fought to decide whether a drivelling imbecile
or a shameless lecher should bring our said forefathers under the operation
of I Samuel, viii. (Read the chapter for yourself, my friend, if you know
where you can borrow a Bible; then turn back these pages, and take
a second glance at the paragraphs you skimmed over in that unteachable spirit
which is the primary element of ignorance--namely, those reflections
on the unfettered alternative, followed by rigorous destiny.)
Much more prosaic were my cogitations as I followed the buggy, keeping
both switches at work. According to the best calculation I could make,
I had ten or twelve miles of country to re-cross, besides the river;
and, having no base on the Victorian side, it was a thousand to one
against striking my camp on such a night. Of course, I might have groped
my way to B----'s place; but if you knew Mrs. B----'s fatuous appreciation
of dilemmas like mine, you would understand that such a thing was
not to be thought of. I preferred dealing with strangers alone, and
preserving a strict incognito. However, a pair of --- I must have, if nothing
else--and that immediately. The buggy was fifteen or twenty yards ahead.
"Archie M----!" said I, in a firm, penetrating tone.
The buggy stopped. I repeated my salute.
"All right," replied Archie. "What's the matter?"
"Come here; I want you."
The quadrant of light swept round as the young fellow turned his buggy.
"Leave your buggy, and come alone!" I shouted, careering in a circular orbit,
with the light at my very heels.
"Well, I must say you're hard to please, whoever you are," remarked Archie,
stopping the horse. "Hold the reins, sweetest."
"Who is it?" asked the damsel, with apprehension in her tone.
"Don't know, sweetest. Sounds like the voice of one crying in the wilderness."
And the light flashed on him as he felt downward for the step.
"Don't go!" she exclaimed.
"Never mind her, Archie!" I called out. "She's a fool. Come on!"
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