Such is Life
Part 5 out of 9
half-a-dozen tablespoonfuls of the panacea in a quart of oxide of hydrogen
(vulgarly known as water). When my patient had swallowed that lot,
I caused him to lie down in some shady place till the internal conflagration
produced by the potent long-sleever had subsided to cherry-red; and then
sent him back to his work like a giant refreshed with new wine. I never knew
one of those potentates to be sick the second time.
Sollicker did n't know whether his wife had any medicine, but we could see.
Accordingly, when the twenty bullocks and the horse had landed themselves
on Mondunbarra, close to Alf's camp, we started at a canter, and, after riding
a couple of miles, pulled up at a comfortable two-roomed cottage,
half-concealed by the drooping, silvery foliage of a clump of myall.
Sollicker turned his moke loose in the paddock; I tied my horse to the fence;
and we entered the house. A tall, slight, sunburnt, and decidedly handsome
young woman, with a brown moustache, was replenishing the fire.
"Theas (gentleman) 'e be a-wantin' zoom zorter vizik f'r a zick man,"
remarked the boundary rider, taking a seat.
"D----d if I know whether I got any," replied his wife, with kindly concern,
and with an easy mastery of expression seldom attained by her sex.
"I'll fine out in about two twinklin's of a goat's tail. Sit down an' rest
your weary bones, as the sayin' is. I shoved the kettle on when I seen you
comin'." She opened a box, and produced a small, octagonal blue bottle,
which she held up to the light. "Chlorodyne," she explained; "an there's
some left, better luck. Good thing to keep about the house, but it ain't
equal to Pain-killer for straightenin' a person up." She handed me the bottle,
and proceeded to lay the table. I endeavoured to make friends with Roddy,
but he was very shy, as bush children usually are.
"He's a fine little fellow, ma'am," I remarked. "How old is he?"
"He was two years an' seven months on last Friday week," she replied,
with ill-concealed vainglory.
"No, no," said I petulantly. "What is his age, really and truly?"
"Jist what I told you!" she replied, with a sunny laugh. "Think I was tryin'
to git the loan o' you? Well, so help me God! There!"
"Helenar!" murmured her husband sadly. And, as he spoke, an inch
of Helenar's tongue shot momentarily into view as she turned her comely face,
overflowing with merriment, toward me.
"My ole man was cut out for a archdeacon," she remarked. "I tell him
it's all in the way a person takes a thing. But it's better to be that way
nor the other way; an' he ain't a bad ole sort--give the divil his due.
Anyway, that's Roddy's age, wrote in his Dad's Bible."
I laid my hand on the boundary rider's shoulder. "Look here, sir,"
said I impressively: "you're an Englishman, and you're proud of your country;
but I tell you we're going to have a race of people in these provinces
such as the world has never seen before." And, as I looked at the child,
I drifted into a labyrinth of insoluble enigmas and perplexing hypotheses--no
new thing with me, as the sympathetic reader is by this time well aware.
The boundary rider shook his head. "Noa," he replied dogmatically.
"Climate plays ole Goozeb'ry wi' heverythink hout 'ere. C'lonians bea n't got
noo chest, n' mo'n a greyhound." And he placed his hand on his own abdomen
to emphasise his teaching. "W'y leuk at 'er; leuk at 'ee ze'f; leuk at
'e 'oss, ev'n. Ees, zhure; an' Roddy'll be jis' sich anutheh.
Pore leetle (weed)!"
He took the child on his knee with an air of hopeless pity, and awkwardly
but tenderly wiped the little fellow's nose. I was still lost in thought.
We are the merest tyros in Ethnology. Nothing is easier than to build
Nankin palaces of porcelain theory, which will fall in splinters before
the first cannon-shot of unparleying fact. What authority had the boundary man
or I to dogmatise on the Coming Australian? Just the same authority
as Marcus Clarke, or Trollope, or Froude, or Francis Adams--and that is
exactly none. Deductive reasoning of this kind is seldom safe. Who,
for instance, could have deduced, from certain subtly interlaced conditions
of food, atmosphere, association, and what not, the development of those
silky honours which grace the upper lip of the Australienne? No doubt
there are certain occult laws which govern these things; but we have n't even
mastered the laws themselves, and how are we going to forecast their operation?
Here was an example: Vivian was a type Englishman, of his particular
sub-species; his wife was a type Australienne, of the station-bullock-driver
species; and their little boy was almost comically Scottish in features,
expression, and bearing. Where are your theories now? Atavism is
inadmissible; and fright is the thinnest and most unscientific subterfuge
extant. The coming Australian is a problem.
Mrs. Vivian overwhelmed me with instructions concerning Alf, and frankly
urged me to hurry back to his assistance. I paid little heed to her advice,
for I knew he would soon come round; and in the meantime, my mind was fully
occupied with his team. After drinking a cup of tea, I shook hands with her,
and lingered at the door, looking at her husband, as he amused himself
"I'll leave your coat on the fence, Mr. Vivian," said I at length.
"You want to be as lively as God'll let you," said the excellent woman,
accompanying me to my horse. "I won't be satisfied till I see you off."
Very well, thought I; on your own head be it. So I took off the linen coat,
and handed it to her.
"You should 'a' kep' on a inside shirt," she remarked kindly. "Them shoulders
o' yours'll give you particular hell to morrow. Why, you're like
a boiled crawfish now. Hides like that o' yours," she added, testing with her
finger and thumb the integument on my near flank, as I hastily placed
my bare foot in the stirrup, "ain't worth a tinker's dam for standin' the sun."
(For the information of people whose education may unhappily have been
neglected, it will be right to mention that the little morsel of chewed bread
which a tin-smith of the old school places on his seam to check
the inconvenient flow of the solder, is technically and appropriately termed
a 'tinker's dam.' It is the conceivable minimum of commercial value).
The sun was still above the trees when I unsaddled Cleopatra at my camp,
and resumed my clothes. The bullock-bells were ringing among the lignum,
as the animals exerted themselves to make up for lost time.
"And how are we now?" said I, assuming a cheerful professional air,
as I swung myself on the platform of the wagon. "I've secured a drop
of one of our most valuable antiphlogistics, which is precisely what
you require, as the trouble is distinctly anthrodymic. You'll be right
in a couple of days."
"No, Collins," replied Alf gently: "I'll never be right--in the sense
you mean. I won't take any medicine. I've done with everything.
Help me to turn over again, please, and give me another drink of water.
I want to tell you something."
After giving him a turn over, I took the billy and replenished it at the river.
Before getting into the wagon again, I emptied the contents of Mrs. Vivian's
bottle into half a pannikin-full of the oxide of hydrogen, and stirred
the potion thoroughly with a stick. Then returning to my patient,
I raised his head, and held the pannikin to his lips. He finished the draught,
unconscious of its medicinal virtues; and I refolded the old overcoat
which served as a pillow, and laid him down as gently as possible.
"The water seems to have a peculiar taste," he murmured. "I don't notice
my sight failing yet, but my hearing is all deranged. I hear your voice
through a ringing of bells, and a sound like a distant waterfall. I'm just
on the border-land, Collins. I've very little more to suffer; and why
should I come back, to begin it all again? How long is it since you left me?"
"From four to five hours, I think. I put your bullocks together;
they re close by."
"Well, now, I would n't have the slightest idea whether it was one hour
or twelve. I've been in the spirit-world since then, or a spirit has visited
me here. I heard, plain and clear, the voice of a woman singing old familiar
songs; and that voice has been silent in death for ten years--silent to me
for three years before that. Thirteen years! That may not seem much to you;
but what an age it seems to me! It was no dream, Collins; I saw everything
as I see now, but I heard her glorious voice as I used to hear it
in our happy days; and I felt that her spirit was bringing forgiveness at last.
I'm not a religious man, Collins; I don't know what will become of me
after death; but God does, and that's sufficient for me. I never believed
on Him so devoutly as I do now that He has vindicated His justice upon me.
I praise him for avenging an act of the blindest folly and heartlessness;
and I thank Him that my punishment is over at last. There! Listen! No,
it's nothing. But it was a favourite song of hers; and while you were away
I heard her sing it, with new meaning in every syllable. My poor love!"
"Alf, Alf," I remonstrated; "compose yourself, and go to sleep if you can."
The tears of feebleness had accumulated in the hollows of his sunken eyes,
and, not having the use of his hands, he was throwing his head from side
to side to clear them away.
"Did you ever make a terrible mistake in life, Collins?" he asked, at length.
Before I could reply, he resumed absently, "When I was a boy, away
on the Queensland border, I knew a squatter--as fine a fellow as ever lived--
and this man married some young lady in Sydney, and brought her to live
on the station. A few months afterward, he came home unexpectedly
at about two o'clock one morning, and found his place occupied by
an intimate friend of his own--a young barrister, who was staying
at the station as a guest. He managed to conceal his discovery; and,
within the next few days, he got his friend to draw out a new will,
by which he left everything, without reservation, to his wife. A day or two
after completing the will, he took his gun and went out alone, turkey-shooting.
He didn't come home that night; and next day one of the station hands
found him at a wire fence, shot straight through the heart. Accidentally,
of course. But we knew better."
"It might have been accidental, Alf," I suggested. "There's a lot
of supposition in the story."
"None, Collins. Before going out with his gun, he wrote a letter to my father,
and sent it by a trustworthy blackfellow. My father got the letter
about ten o'clock at night; and he had a horse run-in at once, and started off
for the station through a raging thunderstorm, arriving next day only in time
to see his friend's body before it was moved to the house. My father was
terribly cut-up about it. He was manager of an adjoining station at the time.
"Now let me tell you another true story," pursued Alf dreamily.
"Five years ago, I knew a man on the Maroo, a tank-sinker, with a wife
and two children. The wife got soft on a young fellow at the camp;
and everybody, except the husband, saw how things stood. Presently
the husband began to circulate the report that he was going to New Zealand.
In the meantime, he sent the two children to a boarding-school in Wagga.
He was in no hurry. Afterward, he sold his plant to the station,
and bade good-bye, in the most friendly way, to all hands, including
the Don Juan. Then he started across the country to Wagga, alone
with his wife, in a wagonette. Are you listening?"
"Attentively, Alf. But suppose I boil your billy, and"----
"Two years afterward, a flock was sold off the station I was speaking of,
for Western Queensland; and one of the station men went with the drover's
party, to see the sheep delivered. Curious coincidence: he met on the new
station his old acquaintance, the tank-sinker, with his two children
and a second wife. The tank-sinker told him that his first wife had died
soon after leaving the Maroo, and that he had changed his mind about going
to New Zealand. Am I making myself clear?"
"Yes; so far. You know the man you're speaking of?"
"Slightly. I delivered goods to him once on the Maroo, and casually heard
the scandal that was in the air. Well, the shearing came round on the Maroo
just as the station man got back from Queensland; and while the adjoining
station was mustering for the shed, a boundary man found, in the centre of one
of the paddocks--in the loneliest, barrenest hole of a place in
New South Wales--he found where a big fire had been made, and some bones burnt
into white cinders and smashed small with a stick. He kicked the ashes over,
and found the steel part of a woman's stays, and the charred heel of
a woman's boot, and even a thimble and a few shillings that had probably been
in her pocket. I was on the station at the time, waiting for wool,
and saw the relics when the boundary man brought them in. There are
queer things done when every man is a law unto himself."
"Supposition, Alf; and strained supposition at that. But why should you
trouble your mind about these things?"
"There was no supposition on the station where the things were found,
nor on the station the tank-sinker had left, when they compared notes.
The things were found three or four miles off a bit of a track that led
to Wagga; and there was a pine of a year and a half old growing in the ashes.
But we'll pass that story. I want you to listen to another."
"Some other time, Alf. I'll make you a drink of tea, and"----
"When I was young," continued Alf doggedly, "I was very intimate with
an American, a man of high principle and fine education. Best-informed man
I ever knew. This poor fellow was a drunkard, occasional, but incorrigible.
Misfortune had driven him to it. His wife was dead; his children had died
in infancy; and at forty-five he was a hopeless wreck. He worked
at my father's farm on the Hawkesbury for two or three years, and died at
our place when I was about twenty-five, immediately before I left home"----
"I don't like to correct you, Alf," I interposed; "but I understood you
to say that your father was a station-manager, on the Queensland border.
"Up to the time I was twenty-one or twenty-two. Then he bought a place
on the Hawkesbury, intending, poor man! to spend the evening of his life
indulging his hobby of chemistry, while I took the care of the place
off his hands--for though I have two sisters, I was his only son.
His great ambition was to bequeath some chemical discovery to future
generations. But I demolished his castles in the air along with my own.
It's no odds about myself; but my poor father deserved better, after all
his work and worry. Ah, my God! we parted in anger; and now I don't know
whether he's alive or dead!" The prodigal paused, and sighed bitterly.
"And your mother?" I suggested experimentally.
"She was an invalid for several years before I left home," replied Alf,
his tone fulfilling my anticipation.
(Have you ever noticed that the prodigal son of real life, in nineteen cases
out of twenty, speaks spontaneously and feelingly of his father, with,
perhaps, a dash of reverent humour; whereas, to quote Menenius,
he no more remembers his mother than an eight-year-old horse? This is cruel
beyond measure, and unjust beyond comment; but, sad to say, it is true;
and the platitudinous tract-liar, for the sake of verisimilitude,
as well as of novelty, should make a memo. of it. Amongst all the hard-cases
of my acquaintance, I can only think of one whose mother's unseen presence
is a power, and her memory a holy beacon, shining, by-the-way,
with a decidedly intermittent light. Unfortunately, a glance along
the three 9ths yet to come shows me that this nobly spurious type
of prodigal-Jack the Shellback, vassal of Runnymede Station--will not come
within the scope of these memoirs).
Alf dreamily resumed his inconsequent story: "However, this Charley Cross,
or Yankee Charley, was an old Victorian digger. About twelve years before
his death, he was working on Inglewood, with a mate that he would have
trusted, and did trust, to any extent, and in any way. But it was the old,
old story. He got a friendly hint, and watched, and watched, for weeks,
without betraying any suspicion. At last he was satisfied.
Then he carefully laid down his line of action, and followed it to the end.
One day, his mate, sitting on the edge of the shaft, ready to put his foot
in the rope, suddenly overbalanced, and went down head-foremost. Of course,
Cross was close beside him at the time, and no one else was in sight.
Cross gave the alarm, and, in the meantime, went hand-under-hand down the rope,
intending, like Bruce, to 'mak sicker'; for the shaft was only about
forty feet deep. But it happened that the man's neck was broken in the fall.
Cross forgave his wife, and never breathed a word of his discovery
or his vengeance; but in spite of this, the woman seemed to live
in fear and horror. During the next couple of years, luck favoured him,
and he made an independence. He invested his money judiciously;
but there's no guarantee for domestic happiness--in fact, there's no guarantee
for anything. First, his two surviving children died of diphtheria;
then his wife followed, dying, Cross assured me, of a broken heart.
He sorrowed for her more deeply, perhaps, because she had cost him so dear;
and this, no doubt, was what drove him to drink."
"Very probably," I replied. "But, Alf, this taxing of your mind is about
as good for you just now as footballing or boxing. Are you a smoker?"
"That's what I feared. Now, take my advice, and give yourself absolute rest,
while I boil"----
"One more story, Collins, as well authenticated as any of the three
I have told. I knew a young fellow of between twenty-five and thirty"----
"This won't do," I interposed firmly, for he had become restless and excited.
"Why should you allow your mind to dwell so exclusively on the manifestations
of one particular phase of moral aberration, and, to do bare justice
to womanhood, an exceedingly rare one--except among the very highest
and the very lowest classes? Unless you handle such questions in a scientific
spirit, you'll find them--or unfortunately, you won't find them--envelop
your reasoning faculties in a most unwholesome atmosphere. The perpetual
brooding over any one evil, however fatal that evil may be, naturally
side-blinds the mind into a narrow fanaticism which is apt to condone
ten times as much wrong as it condemns; and you drift into the position
of the man who strains at the moderate drinker, and swallows the usurer.
We see this in the Good Templar, the Social Purity person, the Trades Unionist,
and the moral faddist generally. Musonius Rufus sternly reminded Epictetus
that there were other crimes besides setting the Capitol on fire."
"Have you done? " asked Alf, coldly but gently. "Let me tell you one more
story while I'm able. I'll soon be silent enough.----The man I'm thinking of
was a saw-mill owner. He had been married a couple of years, and had
one child. I could n't say that he actually loved his wife; in fact,
she was n't a woman to inspire love, though she was certainly good-looking.
At her very best, there was nothing in her; at her worst, she was ignorant,
and vain, and utterly unprincipled--no, not exactly unprincipled,
but non-principled. She was essentially low--if you understand my meaning--
low in her tastes and aspirations, low in her likes and dislikes,
low in her thoughts and her language, low in everything. She may not have
been what is called a bad woman, but--that miserable want of self-reverence--
I can't understand how----Would you give me another drink, please?"
He drank very little this time. He had been speaking with an effort,
and a haggard, hopeless look was intensifying in his face. I began to suspect
a temporary delirium. The presentiment of impending death was unreasonable,
though not ominous; so also with the determination to narrate irrelevant
stories; but the incongruity of the two associated notions set me speculating
in a sympathetic way.
"Alf," said I gravely; "it's foolish to tax your memory for anecdotes now.
Try if you can settle yourself to sleep. I'm sure I'll have great pleasure
in exchanging yarns with you at some future time, when you're more fit."
"Listen, Collins," he replied sullenly. "Our saw-mill owner got the
inevitable glimpse of the truth. He was blind before; now he was incredulous.
He condescended to play the spy, and he was soon satisfied. This time
it was a Government official-clerk of the local Court--a blackleg vagabond,
with interest at head-quarters--about the vilest rat, and certainly
the vilest-looking rat, that ever breathed the breath of life. Our hero
took no further notice of him than to terrify him into confession,
and drive him into laying the blame on his paramour. And the amusing feature
of the case was, that she, finding herself fairly run to earth,
thought she had nothing to do but to turn from the evil of her ways,
and take her husband's part against the other fellow. But no, no. Our hero,
after thinking the matter over, took her into his confidence, without giving
her any voice in the new arrangement. He sold-out to the best advantage,
and divided the proceeds with her; reserving to himself enough to start him
in a line of life that he could follow without the annoyance of being
associated with anyone. All that he earned afterward, beyond bare expenses,
he forwarded to her, to save or squander as she pleased; the only condition
being that she should acknowledge each remittance, and answer, as briefly
as possible, such questions as he chose to ask. She humbly assented
to all this, evidently looking forward to forgiveness and reconciliation,
somewhere in-time or eternity. But, by God! she mistook her mark!"
He laughed harshly, paused half-a-minute, and resumed,
"One restraint upon our hero was the thought of his little boy,
only old enough to creep about, and incredibly fond of him; though this never
softened him towards the worthless, cursed mother. Anyway, after about
three years, the little boy died; and his heart was turned to stone.
Still, through mere bitterness and obstinacy he followed the course
he had adopted; meeting with a run of success that surprised himself.
The very curse that was on him seemed to protect him from the mishaps
that befell other men in his line of work; and he found life worth living
for the sake of hating and despising the whole human race, including himself.
There's no pleasure like the pleasure of being a devil, when you feel yourself
master of the situation, and--Now I've done, Collins."
"That's right. I've been thinking how to fix things for you
till you're able to"----
"First, I have one question to ask you," persisted Alf. "You notice
that all these men acted differently. Which of them acted right?--or did any
of them? You know, there are two other courses open: to appeal to the law,
or to pass the matter over quietly, for fear of scandal. Is either of these
right? One course must be right, and all the others must be wrong."
By this time, I had made up my mind to humour him. "Well," I replied;
"it happens that I have given the subject some thought, as I intend,
if I can find time, to write a few words on the varied manifestations
of jealousy in the so-called Shakespear Plays. You're familiar with
the plays, of course?"
"I've read bits of them."
"Possibly you remember, then, that Posthumus, in Cymbeline, on receiving proofs
of his wife's infidelity (we know her to be loyal, but that does n't affect
his proofs) harbours not one thought of revenge toward the man who
has supplanted him. Indeed, as an artistic illustration of Iachimo's immunity
from retribution, Posthumus is afterward represented as disarming and sparing
him in battle--a concession he would n't have made to an ordinary enemy.
He looks to Imogen alone. Nothing but the sacrifice of her life
will satisfy him. On the eve of the same battle, we find him, though seeking
for death himself, still gloating over the handkerchief supposed to be stained
with her life-blood. Very well. Now Troilus in Troilus and Cressida,
is a man very much resembling Posthumus in temperament--brave, resolute,
truthful, unsuspicious, and more liberally endowed with muscle than brains"----
"But this has nothing to do with it," interrupted Alf. "I was asking
your opinion as to which of the four acted rightly?--or did any of them?"
"Yes, Alf; I'm coming to that. I was going to remark that, though
the temperamental conditions of Posthumus and Troilus are apparently
so similar--apparently, mind--and their position as betrayed husbands
so identical, we find them acting in directly opposite ways. Troilus
entertains no thought of revenge upon his faithless wife; he gives
his whole attention to the co-respondent. Now let us glance at Othello.
Here is a man who, allowing for his maturer age, is much like the Briton
and the Trojan in temperament, even to the extent of being more liberally
endowed with muscle than"----
"But you're not answering my question," moaned Alf. "Which of the four
"Well," I replied; "I'm afraid my conclusions won't have the rounded
completeness we value so much in moral inferences unless I'm allowed
to empanel Leontes, in the Winter's Tale, as well as Othello, and thus work
from a solid foundation. But we'll see. I'll put my answer in this way:
A casual thinker might pronounce it impossible to lay down any hard-and-fast
rule of conduct here, on account of necessary diversity in conditions.
He would, perhaps, argue that, though abstract Right is absolute
and unchangeable, the alternative Wrong, though never shading down into Right,
varies immeasurably in degree of turpitude; so that the action which is
intrinsically wrong may be more excusable in one man than in another,
or under certain conditions than under others. Now, I'm not going to deny
that it lies within our province, as rational beings, to classify wrongs,
provided we do so from a purely objective stand-point. I shall endeavour
to deal with that issue by-and-by. I merely notice"----
"Stop! stop!" interrupted Alf, rolling his head from side to side.
"Answer my question!"
"Well, if you must have it like a half-raw potato, I give my vote in favour
of Potiphar the Fourth, the saw-mill man. I don't see what better
he could have done. It was n't the most romantic course, perhaps;
but I'm not a romantic person--rather the reverse--and it meets my approval."
"And your deliberate conviction is that he acted rightly--rightly, mind?"
"Assuredly he did. That is what I was driving at; but now you have to take
my conclusion as an ipse dixit, rather than as a theorem. The misanthropy
of the gentleman's after-life is another question, and one which would lead us
into a different, and much wider, region of philosophy. But I think
we'll find it interesting to trace, step by step, from its genesis
to its culmination, the involuntary process of thought which led each
of your Potiphars, separately, to his independent action. We can't embark
on this inquiry just now, Alf, for we shall have to grapple with
the most minute and subtle shades of psychical distinction, and we shall have
to deal largely in postulates; for though"----
"I want to tell you something, Collins," interrupted Alf, in a tone now free
from all trace of the distraction and constraint which made it painful
to listen to him. "Like poor Cross, I feel impelled to place my tragedy
on record, but in one man's memory only. I trust entirely to your discretion.
Did you know I was a married man?"
"No; I certainly did n't," I replied, recalling myself; for I had been
half-listening to a sound in the lignum. But as he spoke there flashed
across my mental vision the picture of his wife--a tawny-haired tigress,
with slumbrous dark eyes; a Circe, whose glorious voice had been silent
in death for ten years, and lost to him for three years longer. Hence,
by some sequence worth tracing, the voluntary exile, the Ishmaelite
occupation; the morbid, malevolent interest in the Messalinas at large;
and the generally pervading smell of husks. This, let me tell you,
is what comes of meddling with tawny-haired tigresses, who harass a man
out of individuality, and then die or abscond, leaving him like
the last cactus of summer.
"No young fellow could have started in life with a fairer prospect
than I had," continued Alf, in a grave, composed tone. "But I was guilty
of one deliberately fiendish and heartless action, and following upon
that action, I made a mistake that nothing but death can absolve. I married
a woman, who, I believe, was divinely assigned to me as a punishment.
I'll tell you the whole story"----
"Wait, Alf," said I hastily. "I must leave you for a few minutes.
Do you want anything before I go?"
"Nothing, thank you. Don't stay long."
"You may be sure I won't. Try if you can go to sleep."
I jumped off the wagon. There was no time to lose. During the last
few minutes, a peculiar cadence in the sound of Alf's bells had told me,
just as surely as words could have done, that the bullocks were mustered,
and travelling away. My horses were not far off; and, to save time,
I took Alf's saddle and bridle from under his wagon. As I did so,
I heard his voice, low and monotonous. I paused involuntarily.----
"O Molly! Molly, my girl!--my poor love!--my darling!"----
I hurried away, and put the saddle and bridle on Bunyip. Body o' me!
I thought--can a tawny-haired tigress be called Molly? This must be
seen into when I have time.
In a couple of minutes Bunyip had settled down to that flying trot
which would have been an independence to anyone except myself.
After clearing the lignum, I got a back elevation of the bullocks,
half-a-mile out on the plain; and, rapidly overhauling them, I perceived that
I should have to pit myself against the Chinese boundary rider this time.
Consequently I felt, like Cassius, fresh of spirit and resolved to meet
all perils very constantly.
"Out of my way, you Manchurian leper, or I'll run over you!" I shouted gaily,
as I swung round the cattle, turning them back.
"Muck-a-hi-lo! sen-ling, ay-ya; ilo-ilo!" remonstrated the unbeliever,
drawing his horse aside to let them pass.
"You savvy, John," said I, suiting my language to his comprehension,
while from my eye the Gladiator broke--"bale you snavel-um that peller bullock.
Me fetch-um you ole-man lick under butt of um lug; me gib-it you big one
dressum down. Compranny pah, John?" The Chinaman had turned back with me,
and, as if he had been hired for the work, was stolidly assisting to return
the cattle to the spot whence he had taken them.
"Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" I asked, thanklessly quoting from
the familiar hexameter, and lighting my pipe as I spoke.
"Eulopean dam logue," responded the heathen in his blindness.
"In contradistinction to the Asiatic and the Australian, who are
scrupulously honest," I observed pleasantly. "You savvy who own-um
that peller bullock, John?"
"Walligal Alp," replied the pagan promptly. "Me collal him bullock
two-tlee time to-molla, all li; two-tlee time nex day, all li."
"All li, John--you collar-um that peller bullock one more time,
me manhandle you; pull-um off you dud; tie-um you on ant-bed, allee same
spread-eagle; cut-um off you eye-lid; likee do long-a China; bimeby sun
jump up, roast-um you eye two-tlee day; bull-dog ant comballee,
eat-um you meat, pick-um you bone; bimeby you tumble-down-die; go like-it
dibil-dibil; budgeree fire long-a that peller. You savvy, John?"
"Me tellee Missa Smyte you lescue," replied John doggedly. "All li;
you name Collin; you b'long-a Gullamen Clown; all li; you killee me bimeby;
all li." With this the discomfited Mongol turned his horse in the direction
of Mondunbarra homestead, and, like a driver starting an engine when there is
danger of the belt flying off, gradually worked up his pace to a canter,
leaving me in possession of the field.
But in cases of this kind, there is only one thing worse than victory.
I was fairly in a fix with Alf's bullocks. You must understand that
these beasts had no legal right to be anywhere except travelling along
the track, or floating down the river. If they scattered off the track--not
being attended by some capable person--their owner would, there and then,
and as often as this occurred, be liable for trespass; twenty times a day,
if you like, and a shilling per head each time. If I wished to remove them
across a five or ten-mile paddock, the only way I could legally do so
would be by means of a balloon. The thousands of homeless bullocks
and horses which carry on the land-transport trade had to live and work,
or starve and work, on squatters' grass, year after year. So the right
to live, being in the nature of a boon or benefaction, went largely
by favour--like the slobbery salute imagined by poets--and poor Alf
was no favourite with anyone.
The managers of all these three stations were out of reach; and besides,
there was no great hope in appealing to any of them.
Yoongoolee homestead, across the river, was about sixteen miles distant;
and Hungry M'Intyre, from what I knew of him, was little likely to make
concessions to any member of the guild whose representatives had selected
within sight of his wool-shed. Yoongoolee was avoided by all the floating
population of the country, and particularly by those who could n't afford
to be independent, forasmuch as there was nothing there but Highland pride,
and Highland eczema and hunger. Most squatters have titles; M'Intyre had two,
which were used indifferently; one of these was derived from the hunger,
the other from the eczema.
And, of all Alf's enemies, perhaps the most inveterate was the Chinaman's boss,
Mr. Smythe, managing partner of Mondunbarra. This gentleman, whose
exclusiveness took the very usual form of excluding all considerations
not tending to his own profit, and whose refinement manifested itself
to the vulgar eye chiefly in cutting things fine about the station, had,
a couple of years previously, taken Alf in the very act of running
one of his own bullocks out of the station cattle. An altercation had ensued,
followed by a summons; and Alf had been mulcted in five shillings trespass,
with six guineas costs, besides having to travel seventy or eighty miles
to Court, and the same distance back to his wagon. This was trying enough
to a man of Alf's avaricious and irascible bent. It had caused him to speak
a word in private to Mr. Smythe; and, from that time forward, the squatter
hated the bullock driver considerably more than he hated sin, and feared him
more than he feared his reputed Maker.
Poor Smythe! the remembrance of him wrings my soul with pity, even now.
He was parsimonious, cunning, pusillanimous, fastidious, and hysterically
excitable. He was cruelly sat-on by his inexorable partner, M'Gregor;
contemned by his social equals; hated by his inferiors, and popularly known
as the Marquis of Canton. His only friend was his brother Bert, a quiet youth,
who attended him with Montholon-fidelity; and his appreciation of the cheap
and reliable Asiatic was passively recognised by a station staff
There was no use in my appealing to this gentleman, for, though most men
in his place would have accepted the opportunity of laying Alf under
an obligation, I knew his unhappy moral organisation well enough
to be certain that neither policy nor magnanimity could intervene on behalf of
a prostrate enemy. And to make matters more hopeless, Confucius would
be just ahead of me, with his story of forcible rescue, coupled with
personal threats of the gravest character.
Avondale remained. This station belonged to that grand old colonist,
Captain Royce, who governed the seigneury from his Toorak mansion,
like Von Moltke commanding an army from his telegraph-office.
The large-hearted patriarchal traditions of early days were still current
on the station; but that property had to pay, and pay well,
at the manager's peril. To illustrate this: Captain Royce, in responding
to 'Our Pastoral Interests,' never failed to remark that no working beast
had ever been impounded from Avondale. This, of course, conveyed
the impression that it was a run flowing with grass and water
for distressed teams; but the unhappy manager, watched and reported always
by at least one narangy, and ground, as you see, between the upper mill-stone
of Royce the munificent and the nether and much harder one of Royce
the businessman, had to transmute every blade of grass, or twig of cotton-bush,
into a filament of wool, or let somebody else have a try. Consequently,
the boundary riders of Avondale had strict orders to hunt all strays
and trespassers across the frontiers of stations that did impound;
so the fine old squatter-king got there just the same--also the carriers' teams
and the drovers' horses.
One characteristic of Avondale was that the rank and file of the station
were always treated with fatherly benevolence, and were never discharged. They
gradually got useless by reason of mere antiquity, and, without actually dying,
slowly mummified, and were duly interred in the cemetery at the homestead.
In view of the rigorous usages specified, it was no marvel that a deficiency
in the Avondale clip of '83 had led to the resignation of Mr. Angus Cameron,
and the installation of a new manager, a few weeks before the date
of these incidents. But the appointment of a strange boundary rider
to the paddock adjoining Alf's camp--an event which had taken place three
or four months before the same date--seemed like a sudden angle and break
in the corridor of Time.
Avondale home-station was nine miles distant. I had never met the new manager;
but his name was Wentworth St. John Ffrench; and, by all accounts,
he acted up to it. Popular rumour likened him to the man with the whole pound
of tobacco, who had sworn against borrowing or lending. Mr. Ffrench
could afford to be independent of such men as Alf, but couldn't afford
to establish a precedent for invalided carriers loafing on the run.
Of course, you would n't look at the thing in that light; but then,
your name is not Wentworth St. John Ffrench, and you would n't do
for a manager of Avondale. You would have the run swarming with
a most tenacious type of trespassers before you knew what you were doing.
Moreover, the moral responsibility (if any) of the matter rested
on Mondunbarra, not on Avondale.
Neither had I ever seen the new Avondale boundary man; but I was prejudiced
against him also. It required no deep dive into the mysteries of Nomenology
to augur ill from the nickname of 'Terrible Tommy.' The title was, of course,
satirical; the man an imbecile and fickle windbag. Still, this name
was better than the manager's.
Evidently, my only chance was to deal directly with some one of
the boundary men. I had already failed to melt the musing Briton's eyes;
and though I had, in a sense, prevailed over the Mongol, I could make no use
of him; so I found myself hanging, as you might say, by one strand,
that strand being Terrible Tommy.
I must enlist this man, I mentally concluded, as a willing accomplice;
and, by my faith, I'll do so before I leave him. I care not an he be
the devil; give me faith, say I.
By this time, the sun was just setting. I left the bullocks near
the boundary fence, turned Bunyip adrift, and placed the saddle and bridle
where I could find them again. Then crossing into Avondale, I picked my way
through a belt of tall lignum, sloppy with warm water, and alive
with mosquitos; then on through scattered timber until, a mile from the fence,
appeared the one-roomed abode of the man I wanted. I knew where to find
the place, having stayed there one night when Bendigo Bill was in charge
of the paddock. But now, nearing the house, how I wished I had that frank,
good-hearted old Eureka rebel to deal with instead of the hard-featured,
sandy-complexioned man whom I saw carrying home a couple of buckets of water
on a wooden hoop. Our old friends, the Irresistible and the Immovable
were about to encounter once more.
"Evening, sir," I cooed, with an urbanity born of the conditions
already set down.
"Gude evenin' (Squire Western's expression!) Ye maun gang fairther,
ye ken; fir fient haet o' sipper ye'se hae frae me the nicht. De'il tak' ye,
ye lang-leggit, lazy loun, flichterin' roun' wi' yir 'Gude evenin' sir!'
an' a' sic' clishmaclaver. Awa' wi ye! dinna come fleechin' tae me!
The kintra's I-sy wi' sic' haverils, comin' sundoonin' on puir folk 'at henna
mickle mair nir eneugh fir thir ain sel's. Tak' aff yir coat an' wark,
ye glaikit-De'il tak' ye; wha' fir ye girnin' at?"
"Gude save's!" I snarled; "wha'gar ye mak' sic' a splore? Hoo daur ye tak'
on ye till misca' a body sae sair's ye dae, ye bletherin' coof?
Hae ye gat oot the wrang side yir bed the morn?-ir d'ye tak' me fir
a rief-randy?--ir wha' the de'il fashes ye the noo? Ye ken, A was compit doon
ayont the boondary, an' A thocht A wad dauner owre an' hae a wee bit crack
wi' ye the nicht. A wantit tae ken wha' like mon yir new maunager micht be,
an' tae speer twa-three ither things firbye; bit sin' yir sae skrunty,
ye maun tak' yir domd sipper till yir ain bethankit ava, an' A'll gang
awa' bock till ma ain comp. Heh!" And I turned away with unconcealed
resentment and contempt.
"Haud a wee," said the boundary rider, setting down his buckets,
and slapping the back of his neck. "Ye ken, A'm sae owrecam wi' thir awfu'
mustikies that whiles A canna-Bit cam awa' tae the biggin; cam awa'
tae the biggin, an' rest yirsel'." The Irresistible had scored this time.
Such is life.
I helped Tommy out of his embarrassment by an occasional 'Ay, mun,'
interjected into his apologetic and cordial monologue; and so we reached
the hut, where, after directing me to a seat, he filled a billy with some
of the water he had brought, and hung it on the crook.
"An' wha' dae they ca' ye?" he asked, turning his back to the fire,
and surveying me with a kindly interest which made me feel as uneasy
as if I had been sleeping in a fowl-house.
"Tam Collins," I replied readily, though interrupted by a fit of coughing
as I pronounced my surname.
"Ye'll no be yin o' the M'Callums o' Auchtermauchtie?" he inquired eagerly.
"A kent them weel."
I shook my head. "An' wha' dae they ca' yirsel'?" I asked.
"Tam Airmstrang-anither Tam, ye ken. An' whaur ye frae? Wha' pairt
o' the kintra was ye born in syne?" A boggy-looking place for a man
to carry his integrity safely across; however, I replied,
"Ye'se aiblins be acquent wi' yon auld sang:--
Braw, braw lads on Yarrow braff,
That wander through the bloomin' heather.
Aweel, A was born on the braes o' Yarra. Ye ken, the time's gane lang
wi' me sin' A rin aboot the braes, an' pu'd the gowans fine. Ay, mun!"
"A-y-y, mun!" rejoined my companion, echoing my home-sick sigh.
"D'ye ken-A wadna' thocht ye was a Selkirksheer mon. A wad hae thocht ye
was frae Lanarksheer, ir aiblins frae"--
"Whaur micht ye be frae yirsel'?" I interrupted desperately.
He seemed about to reply, but checked himself, and looked at me absently;
then he turned to the fire, took his canister from the shelf,
and mechanically measured out a handful of tea. He stood gazing into the fire
till recalled to himself by the boiling of the billy; then a triumphant smile
invaded his stern features; he took the billy off the crook, threw the tea
into it, clapped both hands on my shoulders, and quoted with fine effect
that lucid passage from Burns:--
Bye attour, ma gutcher has
A heigh hoose an' a leigh
A' firbye ma bony sel',
The lad o' Ecclefechan!
"Ha-ha-ha! The lad o' Ecclefechan, ye ken-no the lass o' Ecclefechan!
Losh! A hae whiles laffit mysen gey near daft at yon! The lad o' Ecclefechan!"
He gave way to another burst of hilarity, in which I sincerely joined.
"A henna' thocht aboot yon a towmond syne," he continued, wiping the dew
of merriment from his eyes; "bit ye hae brocht it bock the nicht.
The lad o' Ecclefechan! ha-ha-ha! Ay, mun; A'm frae Ecclefechan, an'
ma feyther afore me. Syne, A hae been a' ip an' doon Ayrsheer, frae yin
fair till anither wi' nowte. Brawly dae A ken Mossgeil, an' Mauchline,
an' Loughlea, an' the auld Brig o' Doon, firbye a wheen ither spotes
ye 'se aiblins hear tell o'."
"Ye'll hae seen Alloway Kirk?" I conjectured.
"Seen't! ay," he replied magnificently. "A thocht naethin' o"t!"
"Ye what?" I retorted, in the mere wantonness of power. "Ye hae seen yon
auld hauntet kirk, whaur witches an' warlocks Hang an' loupit, an'
Auld Nick himsel' screwt his pipes an' gart them skirl, till roof an' rafters
a' did dirl! ye hae keekit intil yon eerie auld ruin!--an' syne ye daunert
awa', an' thocht naethin' o' 't! Be ma saul, Bobbie Birns didna' think
naethin' o' 't! Heh!"
Tommy was now laying the table. He made no reply to my rebuke,
but the forced and deprecating smile which struggled to his face showed
that the Irresistible had scored again.
But one of the most unpleasant experiences I can now recall to mind
was the sitting down with that unsuspecting fellow-mortal to his soda-bread
and cold mutton, while I smiled, and smiled, and was a Scotchman.
The easy victory, tested by that moral straight-edge we all carry,
made me feel as mean as a liveried servant; and when Tommy requested me
to ask a blessing, and sat with his elbow on the table and his face
reverently veiled by his hand, whilst I wove a protracted and incoherent grace
from the Lowland vocabulary, I seemed to sink to the level of
a prince's equerry. In fact, I would almost as soon make one of a crowd
to hurrah for a Governor as go through such an ordeal again.
My truthfulness--perhaps the only quality in which I attain an insulting
pre-eminence--seemed outraged to the limit of endurance as I looked forward
to the inevitable detection, soon or late, of the impromptu deception which,
in spite of me, was expanding and developing like a snake-lie,
or an election squabble.
However, I contented myself with directing the stream of conversation,
and leaving the rest to Tommy. It transpired that he had been four months
in his present situation, and only nine in the country altogether.
He had got employment on Avondale by a lucky chance; and, though engaged
only for six months, entertained hopes that he might be baptised
into the billet, to the permanent exclusion of Bendigo Bill.
For menial employment on Avondale was like membership in a Church, only that,
to the carnal mind, there was more in it; moreover, the initiation
was attended with greater ceremony, and the possibility of expulsion
was kept further in the background. Once admitted into Avondale fellowship,
the communicant might turn out a white sheep or a black one; but he was still
a sheep, whilst all outside the fold, white or black, as the case might be,
were goats. This may be illustrated by the incident which had just given
Tommy the footing of an unbaptised believer, provisionally admitted
amongst the elect. He gave me the account, so far as it affected himself;
and Bendigo Bill, sitting on the same kerosene-case, long afterward
narrated the episode fully.
Two years before the date of this record, Bendigo Bill's mind, such as it was,
had been disturbed by the discovery of gold at Mount Brown. As time went on,
the occasional sight of northward-bound drays and pack-horses revived
the old lunacy in its most malignant form, till the demoniac at last
gave formal notice of his intention to leave the station, and push his fortune
on the diggings. His resignation was in due course forwarded
to Captain Royce; whereupon that potentate sent him a peremptory order
to mind his paddock, and not make an infernal exhibition of himself.
The demon quaked and collapsed for the time, and Bill, in his proper person,
acquiesced with the humility customarily manifested by Avondale people
when Captain Royce was conducting the other side of the argument.
But the evil spirit was scotched, not killed; and Bill became
a harmless melancholic, dwelling on old time memories of the diggings,
and gradually lying himself into the conviction that, if he had gone
to Mount Brown, he could have told by the lay of the country, unerringly,
and at the first glance, where the gold was.
Things being in this posture, there reached Avondale, in the winter of '83,
a vague, intangible bruit of somebody expecting to hit it on Mount Brown;
and, shortly afterward, Bill, in a vision of the night, found himself
paddocking a bit of four-foot ground for a free, lively, six-inch wash,
running something like ten ounces to the dish-rough, shotty, water-worn gold.
Next night the dream was repeated, but with this addition, that the dreamer
bent the point of his pick whilst hooking out of a sort of pocket
in the pipeclay a flat, damper-shaped nugget that he could hardly lift.
The third night found the ground richer than ever; but Bill, knowing it to be
a dream, and having no way of permanently retaining the gold he might get
under such conditions, very wisely contented himself with taking
accurate observations of his landmarks, so that he might know the place again
when he saw it by daylight. Whilst so engaged, his attention was attracted
by two emus, which resolved themselves, respectively, into Captain Royce
and Mick Magee--the latter being an old mate of his own, accidentally killed
on the Jim Crow, about fifteen years before. This made the assurance
of the thrice-repeated dream triply sure; for the emu is one of the luckiest
things a person can dream about; and its identification with Captain Royce
was as good as an old boot thrown by that awesome magnate; whilst
its association with Mick Magee made the cup of blessing overslop
in all directions--Mick having been, in the days of his vanity, a man
that brought luck with him wherever he went, particularly in shallow ground.
So Bill wiped from the tablet of his memory everything except the picture
of a place where two gullies met, after the fashion of a Y, and formed a bit
of a blind creek, running between low ranges broken here and there
by the outcrop of a hungry white quartz. His dream intuitively conveyed
the further knowledge that the surrounding country had been prospected
for a few floaters, and the creek, lower down, rooted-up for bare tucker,
while this little spur of made ground, between the prongs of the Y,
remained intact--and there was the jeweller's shop.
Again Bill, emboldened by the unholy afflatus caught from his earlier life,
gave notice to the manager; this time following up his action by buying
a horse and spring-cart from a tank-sinker, and conditionally selling
his own two horses. Then came Captain Royce's ukase, to the effect that
no man must be allowed to swag the country, ragged and homeless,
with the story in his mouth that he had been boundary riding on Avondale
for ten years. Therefore, Bill's notice was passed over with the contempt
it merited. But something must be done; so a six months' leave of absence
was granted; and the manager was instructed to employ, for that time only,
the first likely-looking stranger who presented himself--the latter being
clearly given to understand that he was only in the loosest sense of the word
an Avondale employe. If Bill returned on the expiration of his furlough,
he should be reinstated, and all would be forgiven; if he failed to return,
such default would be taken as evidence of contumacy; excommunication
would promptly follow, and the station would thereby be acquitted
of all responsibility touching any destitute old bummer who might swag
the country with the yarn that he had been boundary riding on Avondale
for ten years. Captain Royce could be stern enough when he let himself out.
The emu-section of the dream being thus partly fulfilled, Bill clutched
at a release in any form; and it happened that, simultaneously with
the arrival of Captain Royce's mandate, came Tom Armstrong and his mate,
Andrew Glover, from a job of ringing on the Yanko. The manager,
being named Angus Cochrane, plumped Tom into the vacancy, and supplied him
with a couple of old station horses. Bill remained a few days longer,
teaching Tom the routine of his work; then the manager slacked-off,
and Bill harnessed his horse and fled northward--not because he disliked
Avondale, but because he liked it so well that he was impatient to make
Captain Royce such a bid for the property as that nabob could n't think
of refusing, with any hope of luck afterward.
On my mentioning Alf's bullocks, Tom told me that he had heard bells
among the lignum in the corner of Mondunbana, a few nights before,
and had next morning found twenty bullocks and a bay horse on the Avondale
side of the fence. He knew that the Chow had passed them on to him
to save trouble, so he immediately passed them back to the Chow.
Next evening, his neighbour had re-delivered them to Avondale f.o.b.,
and in the morning, Tom returned them to Mondunbarra c.o.d. Next night,
the untiring Asiatic had them back on Avondale o.r.; and in the morning,
Tom did what he should have done at first--put them across the river
on to the station from whose bourne no trespasser returned.
The ensuing adventures of the bullocks you already know.
Tom had acquired, without any severe wrench of his finer feelings,
the boundary man's hostility to the bullock driver, and was cultivating
the same with all the energy of his race. His title, after all, was no more
quizzical in its application than that of Ivan the Terrible;
and to understand how nasty a station vassal can sometimes make himself,
you must know a little concerning the manners none and customs beastly
of the time and place wherein our scene is laid.
And, to my unspeakable disgust, I found that though Tom had never met
Alf personally, the unfortunate outlaw was his Doctor Fell too. And
the very spirit of Leviticus breathed in his tone as he informed me
that gin he had umquhile kent the nowte belangit tae yon ill-hairtet raff,
he wad hae whummelt them owre the burn (the Lachlan a burn! O, my country)
lang syne, an' no fashit himsel' wi' ony sic' fiddle-fyke.
Nothing but extreme caution would do here. The brutal truth of my unwarranted
solicitude for the sick man would certainly cause friction, and might spoil
all. So, in a few well-chosen words, I informed Tom that there was
a trifle between Alf and me; and he was sick, just when I wanted to keep him
on his feet for a while. Would Tom (and my patois became so hideously homely
that, for the reader's sake, I have to paraphrase it)--would Tom,
as a personal favour to me, call round at Alf's camp, morning and evening,
for a few days, and in the meantime keep his bullocks safe?
No answer. The silken bond of our nationality would n't stand such a strain.
Then I slowly drew out my pocket-book, and, with the stifled sigh
of a thrifty man, handed my compatriot one of the four one-pound notes
which excluded me from the state of grace enjoyed by Lazarus; remarking,
half-sullenly, that he could n't be expected to take all this trouble
for nothing; and though I was a poor man like himself, it would pay me
to get Alf at work again. And, considering that a bullock driver often
has it in his power to do a good turn for a boundary man, would n't it be
better, I suggested, for Tom to do all this on his own account,
without a whisper concerning my interposition?
I had known better than to make such a proposition to Sollicker.
That impracticable animal--who would have uncovered his head to receive
backsheesh, as backsheesh, from a 'gentleman'--would have spurned
my lubricant as an unholy thing; and woe to Alf's bullocks if he had caught
them again! But I was n't surprised to find my modus vivendi accepted
by this passive product of a social code fabricated and compiled
in the nethermost pit--a code which, under the heading of Thrift,
frankly teaches the poor to grind each other without scruple, whilst
religiously avoiding all inquiry into the claims of the rich--a code,
in fact, which makes the greasing of the fat pig a work holy unto the Lord.
The keen selfishness of my proposal touched a kindred chord in poor Tom's
bosom; the mettlesome casting of my sprat upon the waters, in sure hope
of finding a mackerel after many days, awoke his admiration; whilst
an immediate and prospective advantage to himself stood out through it all.
Yet, under this crust of clannishness, cunning, and money-hunger,
there lay a fine manhood. I saw the latter come to the surface a few months
afterward. But that is another episode; and I must confine myself
to the case before the Court.
Tom knew of an island among the lignum, where the bullocks would be safe;
and he would put them there in the morning, after he had visited Alf.
But I must take the bells off first. I thanked him with a sincerity
out of all keeping with my accent, and shortly afterward drew the intolerable
conference gently to a close. Upon the whole, I had impressed my host
as a shrewd, well-informed person, too much taken-up with the cares
of the world and the deceitfulness of riches to dwell upon personal memories
of the auld kintra. I was touched to notice a certain disappointment
and forlornness in his manner as he accompanied me to the boundary fence,
where we shook hands, and parted--each looking forward to the probability
of meeting again, but with different degrees of longing.
And now, thought I, as I recovered Alf's saddle and bridle, heaven grant
that that parting may be a Kathleen Mavourneen one; and let me have
some other class of difficulty to deal with next time.
Thus, in the best of spirits, owing to the prospect of some smooth travelling
on my main trunk line, after having traversed the steep and crooked section
to which I had been committed by one touch of the switch two hours before,
I made my way through the lignum to Alf's camp; guided partly by the instinct
which we share unequally with the lower creation, and partly by the smell
of the dead dog, zephyr-borne on the night air. After dragging
the poor animal's body a little distance away, I vaulted into the wagon,
and spoke cheerily to Alf.
No reply. I struck a match, and saw him sleeping the peaceful,
dreamless sleep of a tired child. I lit a bit of candle I had noticed
in the daytime, and sat down to note his progress in a professional way.
His pulse was right, as I found by timing it with my own; and the hard
swelling of the elbows seemed to have relaxed a little. The backs
of his hands were pretty bad with the external scurvy known as
'Barcoo rot'--produced by unsuitable food and extreme hardship--but that
had nothing to do with the complaint which had so strangely overtaken him.
His breathing was gentle and regular, though his face was covered
with gorged mosquitos. The healthy moistness of the skin showed
that my prescription had operated as a sudorific, no less than as a soporific.
Altogether, there was a marked diminution of what we call febrile symptoms;
and, better still, he had managed to turn himself over since I left him.
I lit my pipe, and contemplated the unconscious outlaw. Without being
aggressively handsome, like Dixon or Willoughby, Alf, in his normal state,
was a decidedly noble-looking man, of the so-called Anglo-Saxon type,
modified hy sixty or eighty years of Australian deterioration.
His grandfather had probably been something like Sollicker; and
the apprehensions of that discomfortable cousin were being fulfilled
only too ruthlessly. The climate had played Old Gooseberry with the fine
primordial stock. Physically, the Suffolk Punch had degenerated into
the steeplechaser; psychologically, the chasm between the stolid English
peasant and the saturnine, sensitive Australian had been spanned with that
facilis which marks the descensus Averni.
But the question of racial degeneracy, past, present, or to come,
troubled its victim very little as he lay there. Indeed, it had never
troubled him much. He was one of those men who cannot learn to think
systematically, but who make up their deficiency by feeling the more intensely.
And now that the unseen Guide had given His beloved sleep, and the stern,
defiant blue eyes were veiled, and the habitual frown smoothed from the fine
forehead, I found something pathetic in the worn repose of the sleeper's face.
Presently, drifting into a philosophic mood, I placed my propositions in order,
and, by the inductive system applicable in such cases, read his history
like a book, right back to the time when, according to a popular,
though rather tough, assumption, he had lain helpless and imbecile
on his mother's knee, clad in a white garment about four feet long,
and with a pulsating soft place on the top of the bald head which wobbled
on his insufficient neck like a rain-laden rose on a weak stalk.
Little dreamed that mother, poor mortal! when with tireless iteration
she ticked off his extremities;--'This pig went to market; this pig stayed
at home'--little did she dream, when she wiped the perpetual dribble
from his mouth; when she poured all manner of unintelligible tommy-rot
into his inattentive and conspicuous ears--little did she then dream
that the blind evolution of events would transform her inexplicably valued baby
into a scrap of floating wreckage on a sea of trouble; scarcely amounting
to a circumstance in the vast and endless procession of his fellow-waifs.
Doubtless, he would soon be on his feet again, but to what end? Merely
to resume the old persecuted life, still achieving, still pursuing,
that strictly congruous penalty which waits upon the man whose life
is one protracted challenge to a world wherein no person except the systematic
and successful hypocrite has too many friends, or too good a character.
Any fool can get himself hated, if he goes the right way to work;
but the game was never yet worth a rap, for a rational man to play.
This in clear view of the fact that most people lose more by their friends
than by their enemies. But there are few sins more odious than ill-nature;
and there's nothing blessed about the persecution you undergo on that account.
Your position is not heroic; at best, it is only pitiable; at worst,
it is detestable. Athanasius contra mundum is grand only in cases
where the snag is right, and the mundus wrong. Then persecution becomes
the second-highest form of blessedness--the highest form, of course,
being the ability to turn round and flatten-out the persecutor. Now,
if Alf could open the windows of his understanding----But then,
one of the gravest disabilities in the leopard of thirty-five,
or thereabout, is connected with the changing of his spots. Such is life.
With these reflections, I extinguished the candle, and left the wagon.
The bullocks happened to be close by. After the manner of workers,
they had collected themselves on a piece of open ground; some folded asleep,
head to flank, while others lay chewing meditatively, reviewing the events
of the day, and wondering what the morrow might bring forth.
Amidst the reposing group stood the hardy bay horse, the world forgetting,
by the world forgot; for, contrary to popular supposition, the horse
has not half the innate sagacity of the ox, though he is to a much greater
extent the creature of habit, and therefore appears more teachable.
By the light of a good half-moon, now declining in the west, I got
the two bells off without much trouble, and threw them under the wagon.
Then, in case the Confucian might be an earlier bird than the lad
o' Ecclefechan, I put the bullocks and horse across the boundary fence,
carefully replacing the brush I had removed for their passage.
From there I struck across to the sound of Cleopatra's bell,
and brought my two most useful friends to where the most valuable was still
chained-up. In ten minutes, I had packed my share of the things that make
death bitter, and in another half-hour I had left Mondunbarra behind,
and was well into Avondale, working out in my own mind an abstruse
ethical problem, which would have no interest for the shallow-pated reader.
And so ends the day.
But not the narrative. I am mindful of my promise. As hour after hour passed,
the insecurity of Alf's situation grew upon me, till I could think of
nothing else. Philosopher-seer, I might say--as it has pleased heaven
to fashion me, I confess I could arrive at no definite forecast of the order
which the outlaw's affairs would assume at the next turn of the kaleidoscope.
But I knew that it was in the nature of the kaleidoscope to turn.
In due time, the stars dimmed and disappeared; the deep-blue of the
south-eastern sky paled to a greenish tint, like the under side of a melon,
changing slowly to an opaline hue; then imperceptibly succeeded a blush
of shell-pink, presently shot with radial bars of dusky red; and now
every object above the horizon stood vividly revealed through the
limpid air--soon to be blurred, distorted, or entirely withdrawn from view.
In the favourable interval of ten or fifteen minutes, I saw Poondoo homestead,
six or eight miles ahead. In the intermediate distance appeared a moving dot,
which, as I was travelling at a walk, brought my field-glass into use.
Only an iron-grey man, in a pith hat, driving a pair of chestnuts in a buggy.
No business of mine, I thought, in my human short-sightedness;
and I was lowering the glass, when the figure of another traveller
crossed its field. This last was a person bearing a startling resemblance
to Mungo Park, inasmuch as he was evidently a poor white man,
with no mother to bring him milk, no wife to grind his corn. The solitude
of the place made the contrast between the two travellers impressive.
I replaced the glass, thinking, with sorrow rather than conceit,
that I could make a better world myself, with my eyes shut. There was
no irreverence in the thought; the irreverence is on the part of any
profane reader who forges the Creator's endorsement to that good old rule
and simple plan which was, is, and ever shall be, the outcome of Individualism.
But the good old rule, as you shall perceive, worked happily in this instance.
Now try to imagine a writer of fiction deliberately inventing an incident
which seems to strike at the very root of his own argument. Then you will have
some idea of the annalist's stern veracity as opposed to the mere expediency
of the novelist.
I was within a quarter of a mile of the swagman when the buggy overtook him.
The driver drew up to a walk, apparently yarning with Mungo; and I nearly
tumbled off my horse when I saw him stop on the off lock, and wait
whilst the swagman deposited bluey on the foot-board and himself on the seat.
Then the chestnuts tossed their heads, and the buggy resumed its way,
surging across the crab-holes like a canoe on rough water. My soul went forth
in a paean of joy, for, exactly as the perfect circle of a flying scrawl
bespoke Giotto, this action bespoke Stewart of Kooltopa, now masquerading
under a pair of strange horses. Here was my opportunity. Figuratively,
I would put Alf in a basket, with a note pinned to his bib, and leave him
on Stewart's door-step.
Those whose knowledge of the pastoral regions is drawn from a course of novels
of the Geoffrey Hamlyn class, cannot fail to hold a most erroneous notion
of the squatter. Of course, we use the term 'squatter' indifferently
to denote a station-owner, a managing partner, or a salaried manager.
Lacking generations of development, there is no typical squatter.
Or, if you like, there are a thousand types. Hungry M'Intyre is one type;
Smythe--petty, genteel, and parsimonious--is another; patriarchal Royce
is another; Montgomery-kind, yet haughty and imperious--is another;
Stewart is another. My diary might, just as likely as not, have compelled me
to introduce, instead of these, a few of the remaining nine-hundred
and ninety-five types-any type conceivable, in fact, except the slender-witted,
virgin-souled, overgrown schoolboys who fill Henry Kingsley's exceedingly
trashy and misleading novel with their insufferable twaddle.
There was a squatter of the Sam Buckley type, but he, in the strictest sense
of the word, went to beggary; and, being too plump of body and exalted of soul
for barrow-work, and too comprehensively witless for anything else,
he was shifted by the angels to a better world--a world where the Christian
gentleman is duly recognised, and where Socialistic carpenters, vulgar
fishermen, and all manner of undesirable people, do the washing-up.
Stewart, it must be admitted, was no gentleman. Starting with a generous
handicap, as the younger son of a wealthy and aristocratic Scottish laird,
he had, during a Colonial race of forty years, daily committed himself
by actions which shut him out from the fine old title. He was in the gall
of altruism, and in the bond of democracy. Amiable demeanour,
unmeasured magnanimity, and spotless integrity, could never carry off
the unpardonable sin in which this lost sheep-owner wallowed--the taint,
namely, of isocratic principle. When a member of the classes takes
to his bosom that unclean thing, in its naked reality, he thereby forfeits
the title of 'gentleman,' and becomes a mere man. For there is no such thing
as a democratic gentleman; the adjective and noun are hyphenated
by a drawn sword. If the said unclean thing eats into its victim
to the same extent that the wolf did into Baron Munchausen's sleigh-horse,
the metamorphosed subject comes perilously near being what the Orientals call
a dog of a Christian. For there is no such thing as a Christian gentleman,
except as loosely distinguished from the Buddhist, Parsee, or Mahometan
gentleman. Try the transposition: gentleman-Christian. And why not,
since you have the gentleman-this-or-that? Taking the shifty,
insidious title in its go-to-meeting sense, every Christian is prima facie
a gentleman; taking it in its every-day sense, no 'gentleman'
can be a Christian; for Christianity postulates initial equality,
and recognises no gradation except in usefulness.
So Stewart was never, even by inadvertence, spoken of as a gentleman--always
as a Christian. Three-score years of wise choice in the perpetually-recurring
alternatives of life, had made the Golden Rule his spontaneous impulse;
and now, though according to the shapen-in-iniquity theory, he must have had
faults, no one in Riverina, below the degree of squatter, had proved
sharp enough to detect them. It was considered bad form to express approval
of anything he did. 'Stewart! Oh, he's a (adj.) Christian!' That was all.
He had reached a certain standard, and was expected to live up to it.
Such is life.
By a notable coincidence, Stewart was rich. Not owing to his Christianity,
bear in mind; but partly to a faculty for knowing by the look of a sheep,
as it raced past, whether the animal was worth six-and-tenpence
or seven shillings; partly to his being able to tell, by what was happening
in some other quarter of the globe, how the wool-market was going to move;
partly to his being connected with a thing that paid; partly to his knowing
when he was well off, and leaving the reflected meat to the inverted dog
in the water; partly to a stubborn crotchet which made him hold the giver
of usury, as well as the taker, to be beyond the pale of mercy; partly
to a fine administrative ability; partly to the avoidance of expensive
habits--partly to all these combined, but chiefly to the fact that
his mana never failed.
Anyway, he could afford to impart, in judicious assistance to deserving
and undeserving people, more than the average squatter spends in usury
and extravagance put together, and be better off all the while.
An illustration may not be amiss here. I'll tell you what I saw
in the Miamia Paddock, on Kooltopa, during the autumn and winter
of '83--that is, from six to nine months before the date of this discursive,
yet faithful, record.
'83 was a bad year. The scanty growth of the '82 spring had been eaten off
nearly as fast as it grew, and afterward the millions of stock had
to live--like the Melbourne unemployed of later times--on the glorious
sunshine. Then when the winter came, it brought nothing but frost;
and the last state of the country was worse than the first. The mile-wide
stockroute from Wilcannia to Hay was strewn with carcases of travelling sheep
along the whole two hundred and fifty miles. On one part of the route,
some frivolous person had stooked the dried mummies (they were lying so thick)
in order that drovers and boundary men might have the pleasure
of cantering on ahead to run the little mobs out of the way.
And as human nature, thus sold, never grudges to others participation
in the sell, the stooks improved in size and life-likeness for weeks
and months. I remember noticing once, in passing along the fifty-mile stretch
of that route which bisects the One Tree Plain, that, taking no account
of sheep, I never was out of sight of dying cattle and horses--let alone
the dead ones. The famine was sore in the land. To use the expression
of men deeply interested in the matter, you could flog a flea
from the Murrumbidgee to the Darling. Or, to put it in another way:
the life of stock in Riverina was as cheap as the life of the common person
in the novels of R. L. Stevenson, Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling,
and some other modern classics.
Kooltopa, being the best of land, and lightly stocked, was an exception;
and thither flocked nearly all the uncircumcised of Riverina,
with their homeless bullocks and horses. Stewart was n't the man
to order them off, while ordering would have been of any use; and in affairs
of this nature, the squatter who hesitates is lost. The time comes
when grass-loafers will stand a lot of ordering off; in extreme cases,
such as the one under review, they are about equal in tenacity
to the Scythians or the Cimbri of olden times.
There was no end to them. Week after week, month after month,
they came stringing-in from seven-syllabled localities on all points
of the compass; some with sunburnt wives, and graduated sets of supple-jointed
keen-sighted children--the latter, I grieve to admit, distinctly affirming
that disquieting theory which assumes evolution of immigrating races
toward the aboriginal type.
There was plenty of rough feed in the Mia-mia Paddock, and there the tribes
congregated to hold their protracted Feast of Tabernacles, their vast
camp-meeting, which they by no means conducted on religious lines.
For the easy profanity, unconscious obscenity, and august slang
of the back country scented the air like myall; whilst the aggregate repertory
of bonâ fide anecdote and reminiscence was something worth while.
No young fellow in that great rendezvous dared to embellish his narrative
in the slightest degree, on pain of being posted as a double-adjective
blatherskite; for his audience was sure to include a couple of critical,
cynical, iron-grey cyclopedias of everything Australian--everything, at least,
untainted by the spurious and blue-moulded civilisation of the littoral.
An evangelist, collecting money for the support of an Aboriginal mission,
went fifty miles out of his way to give these unregenerate brethren
a word of exhortation. This good man--he probably never had a sovereign
which he regarded as his own; and, rest his soul! he needs no money now--
this good man afterward told me, with tears of gratitude and sorrow
in his eyes, that he got a fine collection in the Mia-mia, but no souls;
and both clauses of his statement seemed to have the ring of truth.
Stewart sullenly avoided this gathering of the clans. He knew he was n't
wanted there; and, as the paddock consisted chiefly of purchased land,
he felt that the conventionalities were, in a sense, violated. But what
could the people do? It was a miserable business altogether.
At last, moved by the report of the Mia-mia boundary rider, he drove slowly
along the river frontage, and saw five miles of wagons, wagonettes,
spring-carts, buggies, tents, women, children, dogs, cooking-utensils,
and masculine laundry. He saw fellows patching tarpaulins, mending
harness making yokes, platting whips, fishing, pig-hunting, reading Ouida,
yarning round fires, or trying to invent some new form of gambling;
but he only saw their backs, and they did n't see him at all. He took a tour
round the paddock, and found a racecourse duly laid out in a suitable place,
with a few fellows training their bits of stuff for a coming event.
Others were duck-shooting in the swamps, and others after turkeys
on the plains, whilst a few diverted themselves by coursing rabbits
on the sand-hills. And as for bullocks and horses--why, they were
as grasshoppers for multitude.
A closer examination brought to light his own sheep. Wild and shy,
as paddocked merinos always are, these had withdrawn to the quietest places
they could find, and were there making the best of a bad job. Stewart lost
his temper, for once; and he that is without similar sin among the readers
of this simple memoir is hereby authorised to cast the first stone.
He allowed the sun to go down upon his wrath. Next morning, he rallied up
all his station hands; mustered the Mia-mia Paddock; distributed the sheep
elsewhere over the run; and thus washed his hands of all responsibility
touching the welfare of his guests.
Toward spring, he drove round the camps again, pausing here and there
to give the trespassers a bit of his mind: 'Now, boys; I must get you
to shift. Lots of perishing teams not able to get down out of the back
country till now, and all making for this paddock. Must leave a bit of grass
for them when they come.' And more to the same effect. So the settlement
gradually broke-up, and things returned to their normal monotony.
But not altogether so. Some of the nomads wanted land, and had means
to back their desire. Rambling leisurely over the station paddocks,
with the county map for reference, these people saw where the most eligible
allotments were, and presently picked the eyes out of the run; in some cases,
shifting straight from their camps to their selections. Such is life.
Saint Peter, I should imagine, had narrowly watched the squatter's attitude
when the Assyrian came down like a person flying from perdition. Afterward,
he had noted with approval that the new selectors were treated with the same
forbearance and benevolence they had formerly experienced as refugees.
But not until he saw Stewart pounce on the incident of the mammoth
surprise-party as a clinching argument against land-monopoly, did that
austere janitor hang his keys on his thumb, to hunt-up, far back in his book,
the page reserved in case of rich men. And still the metaphor of the camel
and the needle's eye stands unimpaired. The difficulties vanish only
when you attain some conception of what the Kingdom of God is--how much more
to the purpose than pearly gates or jasper seas; how accordant
with the Ormuzd in man; how premeditated in design; how indomitable
in patience; and how needfully and inexorably guarded by the diminutive
portal above referred to.
"Good morning, Collins."
"Good morning, Mr. Stewart. An early stirrer, by the rood."
"Yes; I have a (sheol) of a long stage before me to-day. Been travelling
"Only since about twelve. I camped yesterday in the Dead Man's Bend,
on Mondunbarra. I've been kept on the move since dinner-time, or so.
Tell you how it came. I was lying in the shade of a tree, having a smoke,
and thinking about one thing or another, when I heard some one calling from
the other side of the river. It was Mosey Price; and he told me" &c., &c.
Stewart sighed, glanced toward the south-east, produced a cigar-case,
took thence three cigars, handed one to me and another to Mungo Park
lit the third himself, then smoked listlessly and mechanically.
"Good," he remarked, throwing away the inch-long stump of his cigar, and
gathering his reins. "What's your name?" he continued, turning to the swagman.
"Bob Stirling," replied the African explorer. "I worked on Kooltopa,
many years ago, but I don't suppose you remember me."
"I'm not sure. However, I'll find a nice comfortable week's work for you,
at all events. Collins, I give you credit. You should have gone
into politics. You'd have made a d----d good diplomatist."
"I'm glad you think so, Mr. Stewart. But the main body of the story
has to come. You see, I was, in a sense, no farther forward than at first.
Alf's bullocks were only respited, and briefly at that. So, as I was
telling you, I left them against the boundary fence, and walked across
to interview this Terrible Tommy. He was my last resource. I just met him
carrying home a couple of buckets of water from the lagoon. 'Evening, sir,'
says I, as sweet as sugar" &c., &c.
Stewart glanced at the blazing orb, now slowly climbing the coppery sky,
sighed again, lit another cigar, and smoked impassively.
"D----d if I approve of your action in that instance, Collins,"
he remarked gravely, throwing away his second stump, and groping for something
under the buggy-seat.
"Indeed, Mr. Stewart, I don't defend the action. I only endeavour to palliate
it on the plea of necessity. And, if Adam fell in the days of innocency,
what should poor Tom Collins do in the days of villainy?"
"Shakespear," observed the squatter approvingly, as he drew a bottle and glass
from a candle-box under the seat. "Misquoted, though, unless my memory
betrays me. But I look at the thing in this way----The Poondoo people put
a couple of bottles of Albury into the buggy; and I think we can do
one of them now, early as it is. When shall we three meet again? Eh?
How is that for aptness? A Roland for your (adj.) Oliver.--I look at
the thing in this way, Collins--But you mustn't take anything on an empty
stomach. I have some sandwiches here." He handed a couple to me,
a couple to Bob, and reserved a couple for himself.--"I look at the thing
in this way. I put myself in Tommy's place. Now, if any man presumed
to play such a trick on me--why, d--n me, I should take it very ill.
"O, stop, please! don't fill that glass for me! I'm very sensible
of your disapproval, Mr. Stewart. I'm more sorry than I can express--not in
the way of penitence, certainly, but that I should be unfortunate enough
to have incurred your displeasure. I wish you could put yourself in my place,
instead of Tommy's.--Well, long life to you, Mr. Stewart, both for your
own sake and the sake of the public."
"Thanks for the good wish, Collins, and to (sheol) with the flattery.
I may tell you that I do put myself in your place, as well as in Tommy's.
But, d----n it, you don't seem to be alive to the principle of the thing.----
You're not a blue-ribboner, I suppose?" And he tendered the replenished
glass to Bob. "Bad hand you've got, poor fellow. Severe accident apparently?"
"Sepoy bullet at Lucknow, sir. I was a lad of nineteen then; just joined."
"You've been a soldier?"
"Yes, sir; I was an ensign in the Queen's 64th. We formed part of
Havelock's column of relief." The placid, unassertive, incapable face
told the rest of the poor fellow's story.
"You don't seem to be alive to the principle of the thing," repeated Stewart,
turning again to me. "Your cosmopolitanism is a d----d big mistake.
Every man has a nationality, remember; and though you'll find many
most excellent fellows of all races, yet, if you want the real thing,
you must look"----
"May God bless you, Mr. Stewart!" murmured Stirling of Ours, raising
the glass to his lips.
"Thank you, my friend.----You must look to Scotland for it. And, d----n it,
man, this is the very nationality you have been fleering at. Of course,
I don't dwell on the subject because I happen to be a Scotsman myself; only,
I must say I should never have expected--But what do you think
is the matter with Alf Morris?"
"Difficult to say. Some sort of arthrodynic complaint, I fancy; at all events,
he's badly gone in most of his joints."
"Poor devil!" soliloquised the squatter, filling the glass for himself.
"He's a bad lot--a d----n bad lot--a d---nation bad lot. Bitter,
vindictive sort of man. You're familiar, like myself, with Shakespear;
now, Morris reminds me of Titus Andronicus.--Better luck, boys."
"Thank you, Mr. Stewart."
"Thank you, Mr. Stewart."
"This Titus, as you may remember, was expelled from Athens by the people,
after they had elected him consul. They could n't stand his d----d pride.
He took up his abode in a cave, and, for the rest of his life, met
every overture of friendship with taunts and insults. Even in his epitaph,
written by himself:--
Here rests his head upon the lap of earth----
"Now, d---n it, I committed those lines to memory--ay, forty-five years ago.
I wish I could recall them."
"I think I can repeat the passage, Mr. Stewart," said I modestly:--
Here lies a wretched corse, of wretched soul bereft;
Seek not his name. A plague consume you wicked catiffs left.
Here lie I, Timon, who, alive, all living men did hate.
Pass on, and curse thy fill, but pass, and stay not here thy gait.
"Good," replied the squatter--all his hurry forgotten in the fascination
of profitless gossip. "Now there you have Morris to the very life.
Hopeless d----d case!"
"But the misanthropy of the Shakespearean hero was not without cause,
Mr. Stewart," I urged. "Given certain rigorous circumstances, acting on
a given temperament, and you have a practically inevitable sequence--perhaps
a pious faith; perhaps a philosophic calm; perhaps an intensified selfishness;
perhaps a sullen despair--in fact, the variety of possible results
corresponds exactly with the variety of possible circumstances
and temperaments. In the case of the Greek misanthrope, the factor
of temperament is first carefully stated; then the factor of circumstances
is brought into operation; then the genius of the dramatist supplies
the resultant revolution of moral being, in such a manner as to excite
sympathy rather than reprobation. Reasoning from cause to effect,
we see the inevitableness of the issue. But in Morris's case, we must reason
from effect to cause. We see a certain outcome"----
"D----d unmistakably," muttered the squatter.
----"And it rests with us to account for this from prior conditions
of temperament and circumstances. Then we shall have, so to speak,
the second and third terms; and from these it won't be difficult, I think,
to calculate the term which should antecede them, namely, temperament.
Morris is a widower. His wife was a magnificent singer, and, in a general way,
one of those tawny-haired tigresses who leave their mark on a man's life,
and are much better left alone"----
"Has he any children?" asked Stewart.
"Well, no; these tawny-haired tigresses don't have children. Anyway,
she died some ten years ago; but at the time of her death they had been
separated for about three years."
"They could n't have been living long together; or else he married young,"
"No, they were n't long together: but Alf is a man of peculiar moral
constitution; he frets a lot over her memory; loves and hates her
at the same time. Secondary to this, is a misunderstanding with his father,
which caused Alf to clear off, leaving the old man to mind everything himself.
Of course, I'm only giving you the heads; and my information is derived
from no random hearsay, but is obtained by an intransmissible power
of induction, rare in our times."
"Thought as much!" muttered Stewart.
"It remains, then," I continued, "to determine the temperament which,
acted upon by these circumstances, has given the result which is already
before us. Now, I think that that temperament, though, perhaps, tending
to the volcanic, must have been a sensitive and an amiable one; however
it may have soured and hardened into misanthropy and avarice. We can't all
be philosophers, Mr. Stewart."
"If there's one thing I hate like (sheol)" replied the squatter gravely,
"it is the quoting of Scripture as against my fellow-creature; but, d--n it,
we are told that 'when the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness,
and committeth iniquity all the days of his vanity which God giveth him
under the sun, he shall be likened unto a foolish man that built his house
upon the sand.' You know the rest. If we take upon us to judge Morris at all,
we must judge him as he is. Your judgment is generous, but nonsensical;
mine is rational, but churlish--d-----d churlish." He paused,
in evident discomfort, flicked a roley-poley with his whip, and continued.
"You know, I had him on Kooltopa for a couple of months, bringing in
pine logs, when Barker's sawing-plant was there. Well, without going
into details----Capable fellow, too; fine combination of a cultivated man
and an experienced rough-and-ready bushman. Strictly honest, also,
I think--only for his d--nable disposition."
"Doctor Johnson liked a good hater," I suggested sadly, for it was evident
that my unfortunate protégé had already, in his own peculiar way,
recommended himself to Stewart.
You can imagine, by that circumstance alone, what a strong tincture of venom
was held in solution by this feeble tenant of an hour. Indeed,
if the matter had rested with the squatters, they would have starved him
out of Riverina by industrial boycott. But the in-transport of wool,
and the out-transport of goods, are cares that, as a rule, fall to the lot
of the forwarding firms; and these resemble George IV., in having
no predilections (though, let us hope, the similarity ceases here).
Hence, the jolly good soul of a carrier, with lots of spring in him--the man
who seldom buys any groceries, whose breath often smells like
broached grog-cargo, and who makes a joke of camping for a few weeks
with a load on his wagon--is very naturally passed over in favour
of the misanthrope who neither asks nor gives quarter. And the personal
popularity of the latter with his own guild is not enhanced by this preference.
"Doctor Johnson be d----d!" replied the squatter warmly. "What is his dictum
worth? What the (sheol) entitled him, for instance, to sneer at
the very element of population that has made Britain a nation? You know what
I allude to? Now, speaking with strict impartiality, it strikes me
d-----d forcibly that the finest prospect England ever saw is the road
that leads from Scotland." He checked himself, and continued in a gentler tone.
"That just reminds me of a very able article I read some time ago--I think
it was in Blackwood's. The writer proves that your Shakespear must have
imbibed his genius, to a great extent, in Scotland. He grounds his argument
partly--and I think, justly--on the fact that the best play in the collection
is a purely Scottish one. He makes a d-----d strong point, I remember,
of the expression, 'blasted heath.' 'Say from whence, upon this blasted heath
you stop our way, making night hideous?'----and so forth."
"Yes," I replied mechanically. And then, avoiding the eye of the grand
old saint, and hating myself as a buffoon, I continued, "My own conjecture
is that something must have occurred to irritate the dramatist whilst
he was writing that passage, and the expression slipped from his pen unawares."
"Never!" replied Stewart. "No man under the influence of petty irritation
ever wrote anything like the passage where that expression occurs.
Criticism is not your forte, Collins. The writer I'm speaking of sees
a landscape photographed in those two words. Pardon me for saying that
your talent seems to run more in the line of low-comedy acting. I don't like
referring to it again, but d--n it all, my interest in you personally
makes me feel very strongly over your interview with this Tom Armstrong."
"Indeed, Mr. Stewart, I can't tell you how sorry I am to have fallen
in your estimation. But you were speaking of Alf Morris when I unfortunately
drew you from the subject."
"Ay. To return to Morris. Do you know how he came to leave the Bland country,
some five or six years ago?"
"Well, yes," I replied reluctantly; "rates are a lot higher here than there."
"Did you ever hear that he shot anyone? A boundary rider, for instance?"
"The kernel of truth in that report, Mr. Stewart, is that he spoke
of a certain boundary rider as a man that deserved shooting."
"How do you know?"
"Well, in the first place, I'm only allowing for fair average growth
in the report; and in the second place, when a person shoots a boundary man,
he's not allowed to just change his district, and go his way in peace."
"Sometimes he is. I'll tell you how it happened with Morris." And the man
who had a profanely long stage before him settled into an easy position,
his heels on top of the splash-board, and his arms behind the back of the seat,
whilst Bob held the reins. "It was on Mirrabooka. O'Grady Brothers
had owned the place for a few years; but they were careless and intemperate,
great lovers of racehorses, and d--d extravagant all round"----
"Familiar faults with people named O'Grady," I remarked.
"You're perfectly right. They got involved, and had to sell the place.
Prescott bought it; and it was about a month after he had taken possession
that the thing occurred. During the O'Grady's time, the bullock drivers
had made a d----d thoroughfare of the run, zigzagging from one tank
to another, and passing close to the home station. Prescott determined
to put a stop to this. He locked all the gates on the track, and secured
the tanks with cattle-proof fences, and kept his men foxing the teams
day and night; and along with all this, he prosecuted right and left.
D----d hard on the bullockies, of course, and far from generous on Prescott's
part; but it acted as a check; and in a couple of months the track was closed
for good. However, just in the thick of the trouble, Morris crossed the run,
and, of course, fared neither better nor worse than the rest. One evening
he was seen taking down a fence and camping at a new tank, a couple of miles
from the homestead; and at nine or ten o'clock that night he rode up to
the station, and asked to see Mr. Prescott. When Prescott appeared,
Morris drew him aside and told him, as cool as a d-----d cucumber,
that he wanted to make a deposition before him, as a magistrate,
to the effect that he had just shot a man for attempting to remove
his bullocks. Prescott refused to take the deposition just then;
but he had a pair of horses put in a wagonette, and took the storekeeper
with him, to accompany Morris to where the thing had happened.
When they got there, d--n the sign of a body could they find; but Morris
showed them the spot, and strictly charged them to note it well.
Then he refused to have anything more to do with the d--d business,
and went after his bells, while Prescott and the other fellow returned
to the station, cooeeing and listening as they went. They overtook the man
on the way, with a revolver bullet-hole through his arm, and the bullet lodged
in his side. Of course, he was one of the station men--I forget his name
at the present moment, but it's no matter. When they got the chap home,
and found there was nothing dangerous, Prescott had his horse saddled at once,
and followed the track till he came to Morris's wagon; from there he went
to the bells, and found Morris minding his bullocks. They had a long
conference, and Prescott went home. Next morning, Morris continued
his journey; and when he unloaded--about sixty miles this side
of Mirrabooka--he came right on to Riverina. Now, Collins; you put
a d----d big value on your acumen, and your sagacity, and your penetration,
and all the rest of it--What do you make of that story? Mind,
I vouch for the truth of it."
"There's a hitch somewhere, Mr. Stewart."
"Confess you're at fault, d--n you!"
"I am at fault--for once."
"Good," replied the squatter complacently. "Now I'll give you the key.
When the O'Gradys sold the station, there was a £200 tank nearly finished,
but not paid for; and somehow (d----d if I know how people can make
such blunders!)--somehow this tank was overlooked in the valuation.
Prescott considered that the terms of sale included the tank,
the liability being still on the O'Gradys; while they imagined that
the whole transaction was taken off their hands. If the truth must be told,
Prescott tried to do a sharp thing, under the cloak of an oversight;
and the O'Gradys checkmated him with a d----d sight sharper thing.
In this way. Their last action, while the station remained in their power,
was to transfer the tank to the Department, on condition that a section
of land should be reserved round it. The Department accepted it
on these terms, and struck the section off the Mirrabooka assessment;
but Prescott got wind of the thing before it was gazetted, and was moving
heaven and earth to secure the reserve, just at the time Morris camped there.
How Morris came by this information beats the devil; but, of course,
all he had to say to Prescott was, 'I caught some d----d scoundrel
stealing my bullocks by night off the Government reserve close by here.
I tried without effect to get them from him peaceably; and I was compelled
to stop him by force. I was careful to ask him if he was a Government
official; but, d--n it, he gave me an insulting answer; then, knowing him
to be a cattle-thief at large, I shot him in the act of felony.'
It did n't suit Prescott to stir-up the question of the reserve just at
that time-so what the (sheol) could he do? And, in any case, Morris was
within his legal rights; the reserve was as free to him as to Prescott;
and, d--n it all, stock must be protected. Curious case altogether.
Of course, Prescott afterward got the land secured quietly. But just think
of the cold-blooded calculation and d----d unscrupulousness of Morris.
He's a man to be avoided, Collins."
"Well," I replied, baffled and hopeless, "I've nothing more to say,
except that, generally speaking, the man who ought to be avoided
is just the sort of person that my own refractory nature clings to
with the fellow-feeling which makes us wondrous kind. Therefore I'll go away
sorrowful--not because I have great possessions, for I certainly have n't--but
because my last hope for Alf was that you might interest yourself
in his present difficulty."
A half-inquiring, half-incredulous look crossed the frank face of the fine
old believer, followed by one of his evanescent frowns.
"Why, d--n it, man, have n't I arranged that already with Bob here?" said he,
resuming a normal position on the seat, and taking the reins from his
companion's hand. "We're going straight to the Dead Man's Bend.
Never you fear; I'll see Morris through."
"I'll never forget your kindness, Mr. Stewart."
"Nonsense. But is n't it a most remarkable thing--what we're too apt to call
a mere coincidence? Here I find Bob footsore, through walking in bad boots;
and while I'm wondering what in the devil's name to do with him,
you tell me of Morris; and I see immediately why Bob was placed in my way.
It's the legislation of an unsleeping Providence, Collins-nothing short of it.
We meet with these Divine adjustments of circumstances every day of our lives,
if we only choose to recognise them. Thinking over these things makes me feel
devilish small in my own eyes, but all the more confident, knowing that
not a sparrow falls to the ground without----Oh, d--n it! look where the sun
has got to! Good-bye! I mightn't see you again. I've sold Kooltopa."
"Ay. Crowded-out. Going to Queensland. They'll tell you about it
at Poondoo. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, Mr. Stewart."
WED. JAN. 9. Trinidad Pad., per Sam Young. Conclave.
Introductory.--On the evening of Tuesday, the 8th, I had called officially
at Mondunbarra homestead. No one was visible except Bert Smythe,
the managing partner's younger brother, who was leaving the store,
with a ring of keys on his finger. His icy response to my respectful greeting
revived certain memories connected with the Chinese boundary man,
and Warrigal Alf's bullocks, as related in last chapter. In the fewest words
possible, Bert informed me that Mr. Smythe was in Melbourne, and would n't
be back for another week. If I chose to leave the K form with himself,
it would be filled up and posted to our Central Office immediately on
Mr. Smythe's return. Which would save me the trouble of calling at
the station again for some time. I gave him the K form, and he was moving away
toward the barracks, when I asked him if he could let me have a bob's worth
of flour and a bob's worth of tea and sugar. Without a word, he turned back
to the store, and supplied the articles required, whilst I monologued
pleasantly on the topics of the day. When I inquired where I would be likely
to find a bit of grass, he glanced at my half-starved horses; and I honoured
him for the evident accession of sympathy which dictated his ready reply.
He informed me that the only available grass was to be found in the near end
of Sam Young's paddock, and proceeded to give me directions that a child
might follow. Fixing these in my mind, I went round by the slaughter-yard,
to solicit from the Tungusan butcher a pluck for Pup; and, altogether,
by the time I reached Sam Young's paddock, night had imperceptibly set-in.
The atmosphere was charged with smoke--probably from some big fire
among the spinifex, far away northward--and a nucleus of brighter light
on the meridian showed the position of a gibbous moon. Yet the hazy,
uniform light, disciplining the eye to its standard, seemed rather like
a noonday dulled to the same shade. The temperature was perfect for comfort,
so I fared well enough; whilst with respect to my horses, I could only hope
that Bert had been unfaithful to his chief and clan.
Now for the record of Wednesday, the 9th:--
Just at sunrise, one glance round the vicinity brought me out of my possum-rug
with an impression that there was nothing but roguery to be found
in villainous man. The country on all sides was as bare as the palm
of your hand; and my horses, a quarter of a mile away, were nibbling
at the stumps of cotton-bush. Breakfast, however, was the first consideration,
as I hadn't bothered about supper on the previous night--though filling
my water-bag at a tank on the way.
Whilst baking a johnny-cake of such inferior quality as to richly deserve
its back-country designation, and meanwhile boiling my quart-pot on a separate
handful of such semi-combustibles as the plain afforded, I found myself
slowly approached by a Chinaman, on a roan horse. And though it is impossible
to recognise any individual Chow, I fancied that this unit bore something
more than a racial resemblance to the one from whom I had recovered
Alf's bullocks. Moreover, he was riding the same horse.
"Mornin', John," said I condescendingly. "You scoot-um long-a homestation
big one hurry."
"Lidee boundly," replied the early bird, in his mechanical tone
"Borak this you paddock, John?"
"My plully paddock, all li."
"You name Sam Young? "
"Paul Sam Young," corrected the boundary man. "You wantee glass you holse?--
two-tlee day-goo' glass? Me lay you on, all li."
"It is the voice of a god, and not of a man!" I replied. "Have-um drink
o' tea, Paul? Have-um bit o' du-pang? Where me find-um grass?"
"Tlinidad Paddock, all li-plully goo' glass."
"How me fetch-um that peller?"
Paul dismounted, and, declining my meagre hospitality, gave me copious
information respecting the Trinidad. The nearest corner of this paddock
was only eight miles away; but it would be expedient to go round by certain
tracks, making the distance twelve or fourteen miles. It was a small
paddock--five by two-being portion of a five by ten, recently divided.
There was no water in it. It was crossed by a shallow billabong which had been
dammed when the dividing fence was erected; but the first flood in the Lachlan
had burst an opening in the embankment, so that even at the end of the
previous winter there was no water in the paddock, except a drop of sludgy
stuff in the excavation. Hence the grass. There was no stock in the Trinidad,
and no one in charge. There were two station men, with a team of bullocks
and scoop, cleaning out the dam and repairing the bank; but they would n't see
anything. Also, Mr. Smythe was away in Melbourne, and would n't be back
for another week. Of course, it took me about half-an-hour to Champollion
all this information from the cryptical utterances of the friendly Asiatic.
"You allee same Christian," I remarked, packing away my breakfast-service.
"You go long-a good place bimeby."
"Me Clistian allee same you," he replied, not without dignity "Convelt plully
long time. 'Paul' Clistian name. Splink' wattel, all li."
With this he bade me a civil good-bye, and went his way. Then I saddled-up
and started for the Trinidad; mentally placing Mr. Smythe, Bert, and myself,
in one dish of the moral scale, and this undesirable alien in the other,
with an unflattering upshot to the superior race.
And this conclusion was more than verified when I reached my destination.
The grass was something splendid. Any island or peninsula of plain
among the tall lignum would do for a camp; and there was a good waterhole
about a mile away, with only a low, slack fence to cross.
Between one thing and another, it might have been about three in the afternoon
when, with Pup reposing by my side, I finally settled down to an after-dinner
smoke from the sage meerschaum often deservedly noticed in these annals.
The two greatest supra-physical pleasures of life are antithetical
in operation. One is to have something to do, and to know that you are doing
it deftly and honestly. The other is to have nothing to do, and to know
that you are carrying out your blank programme like a good and faithful menial.
On this afternoon, the latter line of inaction seemed to be my path
of duty--even to the extent of unharnessing my mind, so that when
any difficulty did arise, I might be prepared to meet it as a bridegroom
is supposed to meet his bride. Therefore whenever my reasoning faculties
obtruded themselves, I knapp'd 'em o' the coxcombs with a stick,
and cry'd 'Down, wantons, down.' Briefly, I kept my ratiocinative gear
strictly quiescent, with only the perceptive apparatus unrestrained,
thus observing all things through the hallowed haze of a mental sabbath.
There is a positive felicity in this attitude of soul, comparing most favorably
with the negative happiness of Nirvana.
"Taking it easy, Tom?" conjectured a familiar voice.
"No, Steve," I murmured, without even raising my eyes. "Tea in the
quart-pot there. What are you after? Or is someone after you?"
"Prospecting for a bite of grass."
"Well, you've bottomed on the wash. Thought you were out to Kulkaroo,
"Just getting down again, with a half-load of pressed skins. Bullocks living
on box-leaves and lignum. Rode over to get the geography of this place
by daylight. Saunders, the fencer, told me about it this morning.
He's got a ten-mile contract away on Poolkija, and he's going out with
three horses and a dray-load of stores for himself. Dray stopped on the road
for the last week, with his wife minding it. Horses supposed to be lost
in the lignum on Yoongoolee, and him hunting them for all he's worth.
Keeps them planted all day, and tails them here at night. He would n't
have laid me on, only that he's going to drop across them to-morrow morning,
"Anyone coming with you to-night?"
"Baxter and Donovan. It's a good step to travel--must be ten or twelve mile--
but this grass is worth it. Safe, too, from what I hear. Might get two goes
at it, by taking the bullocks out at daylight, and planting them till night.
However, I must get back, to meet the other chaps with the mob."
"Well, I'll be here when you come."
Thompson turned his horse, and disappeared round a promontory of lignum.
By this time, the sun was dipping, dusky red, toward the smoky horizon;
so I addressed myself to the duties of the evening, which consisted in taking
my horses and Pup to the water, and bringing back a supply for myself. Also,
as a concession to the new aspect of things, I took the bell off Cleopatra.
Daylight had now melted into soft, shadowless moonlight; and the place
was no longer solitary. Dozens of cattle were scattered round,
harvesting the fine crop of grass; and Thompson, with his two confederates,
joined me. During daylight, I had made it my business to find a secluded
place, bare of grass, where a fire could be kindled without offending the
public eye; and to this spot the four of us repaired to see about some supper.
Before the first match was struck, a sound of subdued voices behind us
notified the coming of two more interlopers.
One of these was Stevenson, a tank-sinker, now on his way northward
with twenty-two fresh horses--fresh, by the way, only in respect of their
new branch of industry, for the draft was made-up entirely of condemned
coachers from Hay, and broken-down cab-horses from Victoria.
The other arrival was a Dutchman, who brought his two ten-horse teams.
A thrifty, honest, sociable fellow he was; yet nothing but the integrity
of narrative could possibly move me to repeat his name. It was Helsmok,
with the 'o' sounded long. The first time I had addressed him by name--many
years before--a sense of delicacy had impelled me to shorten the vowel,
also to slur the first syllable, whilst placing a strong accent on the second.
But he had corrected me, just as promptly as Mr. Smythe would have done
if I had called him Smith, and far more civilly. He had even softened
the admonition by explaining that his strictness arose from a justifiable
family pride, several of his paternal ancestors having been man-o'-war
captains, and one an admiral--in which cases, the name would certainly
seem appropriate. But some Continental surnames are sad indeed.
The roll-call of Germany furnishes, perhaps, the most unhappy examples.
There are bonâ fide German names which no man of refinement cares about
repeating, except in a shearers' hut or a gentlemen's smoking-room.
"Shadowed you chaps," remarked Stevenson, replying to the bullock drivers'
look of inquiry. And he also applied himself to the kindling of a small fire.
"Jis' missed my ole camp by about ten chain!" cheerfully observed Saunders,
entering the arena with a billy in one hand and a small calico bag
in the other. "I was makin' for her when when I heard you (fellows) talkin'.
More the merrier, I s'pose." And he set about making a third little fire.
"Gittin' out with loadin', Helsmok?" asked Donovan, while we waited
the boiling of the billies.
"Yoos gittin' dan mit der las' wool," replied the Dutchman. "I make der slow
yourney; but, by yingo, I mus' save der horses."
"Ought to change that name of yours, Jan," remarked Thompson, with real
sincerity. "It's an infernal name for children to hear."
"Literally so," commented Stevenson.
"Alter it to John Sulphur-Burnin'," suggested Baxter.
"How'd Jack Brimstone-Reek do?" asked Donovan.
"Give it the aristocratic touch," proposed Stevenson. "Sign yourself
Jean Fumée de l'Enfer."
"Why not the scientific turn?" I asked. "Make it Professor John OxySulphuret,
F.R.S.--Foreigner Rastling for Selebrity."
"My idear's Blue Blazes," put in Saunders bluntly.
"Tank you, yentlemen," replied the genial Mynheer. "Mineself,
I enyoy der yoke. Bot I am brout of my name. Mit mine forefadders,
it have strock der yolly goot fear of Gott into der Spaniar' und der English."
"No wonder," sighed Thompson, purposely misconstruing the honest vindication.
"And it'll have the same effect on anybody that considers it properly.
But for that very reason, it's not a decent name."
"It is ein olt name, Domson," argued the Dutchman.
"Old enough," rejoined Thompson gloomily. "It was to the fore when Satan
was slung out of heaven; and it'll be going as strong as ever when we're trying
to give an account of ourselves. It won't be a joking matter then."
Nor was it any longer a joking-matter for our assembly. Soon, however,
the billies were taken off the fires, and spiritual apprehension
forthwith gave place to physical indulgence.
After supper, we adjourned to the open plain. The night was delicious;
and for half-an-hour the congress was governed by that dignified silence
which backcountry men appreciate so highly, yet so unconsciously.
Then the contemplative quiet of our synod was broken by the vigorous barking
of Saunders' dog, at a solitary box tree, indicating a possum tree'd
in full sight.
"Gostruth, that 'on't do!" muttered the fencer, hastily starting toward the
dog. "That's visible to the naked eye about three mile on a night like now."
"Recalls the most perfect pun within my knowledge," remarked Stevenson.
"A lady, travelling by coach, had a pet dog, which annoyed
her fellow-passengers till one of them remonstrated. 'I'm surprised
that you don't like my dog,' says the lady; 'he's a real Peruvian.'
'We don't object to your Peruvian dog,' says the passenger, 'but we wish
he would give us less of his Peruvian bark'."
Before our company had recovered from the painful constraint induced
by this unfathomable joke, Saunders resumed his place, holding the dog
by a saddlestrap taken from his own equator.
"Dead spit of my poor old Monkey," remarked Thompson sadly, as he caressed
the dog. "Never felt the thing that's on me more distinctly than when
I lost poor Monkey."
"Well, I offered you a fiver for him," rejoined Donovan. "Never know'd
a man to have luck with a thing that he'd refused a good bid for.
Picked up a bait, I s'pose?"
"Monkey would never have stayed with you," replied Thompson. "That dog
would have broke his heart if he'd been parted from me. Tell you how
I lost him. Last winter, when I was loaded-out for Kenilworth--where I met
Cooper--you might remember it was dry, and frosty, and miserable,
and the country as bare as a stockyard; and mostly everybody loafing
on Kooltopa. Well, I dodged round by Yoongoolee, stealing a bite
of grass here, and a bite there; and travelling by myself, so as not to
be worth ordering-off the runs; and staying with the bullocks every night,
and keeping them in decent fettle, considering.
"So, one evening, I left the wagon on that bit of red ground
at the Fifteen-mile Gate, and tailed the bullocks down in the dark to sample
the grass in Old Sollicker's horse-paddock. About eleven at night,
when the first of them began to lie-down, I shifted the lot to an open place,
so as to have them all together when they got full. I was in bodily fear
of losing some of them among the lignum, in the dark; for it's a hanging-matter
to duff in a horsepaddock on Yoongoolee. I knew Old Sollicker was as regular
as clockwork, and I was safe till sunrise; so I intended to rouse-up
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