Rigby's Romance, a Made in Australia Novel
by Tom Collins, pseudonym of Joseph Furphy
A "Made in Australia" Novel
Author of Such is Life
ANGUS AND ROBERTSON LTD
SYDNEY - LONDON
Note on the Text
The text of Rigby’s Romance presented here was transcribed from the editor’s personal copy of the Angus and Robertson edition (1946). The physical copy was scanned to PDF and OCR performed using a version of ABBYY Fine Reader. The text has undergone three rounds of checking, including a final oral collation using a recording of John Derum’s reading of the novel.
The 1946 Angus and Robertson edition was set from files of the Broken Hill Barrier Truth weekly newspaper. These were provided by Joseph Furphy’s literary executor Kate Baker and they are now held in the Sydney Mitchell Library. A complete run of the serial in its original context can be found at the National Library of Australia. The serial version derives from the original fifth chapter in the typescript version of Such is Life, which Joseph Furphy shortened to guarantee publication. A textual comparison between Rigby’s Romance (1946) and the original fifth chapter of Such is Life (1898) has been produced via Juxta Commons (Note, this view might take a few minutes to load). This comparison view indicates the changes Furphy made as the text of Rigby’s Romance evolved from its original context as a chapter of Such is Life to become a completely separate work in its own right. For more detail of this relationship visit the Joseph Furphy Digital Archive
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- I am a humble actor, doom’d to play
- A part obscure, and then to glide away;
- Incurious how the great or happy shine,
- Or who have parts obscure and sad as mine.
- Rev. George Crabbe.
Whilst conveying my own unobtrusive individuality into Echuca on a pleasant evening in the April of ‘84, I had little thought of the delicate web of heart history which would be unfolded for my edification on the morrow. My mind was running rather upon the desirableness of a whole bag of chaff for my two horses; a satisfying feed for my kangaroo dog (which is implying more than most people wot of); and a good sleep for myself. I would have been prepared to aver that I was merely bound for Yarrawonga, via Echuca, on business of my own; whereas the smoothly-running Order of Things had already told me off as eye-witness and chronicler of a touching interlude – a love passage such as can befall only once in that one life which is each person’s scanty dividend at the hand of Time.
Making straight for my customary place of sojourn – namely, Mrs Ferguson’s Coffee Palace – I helped the land-lady’s husband to unsaddle and feed my horses; after which, I caused that unassuming bondman to bring about twenty pounds of scraps for Pup, whilst I chained him (Pup, of course) in an empty stall. Then, with six or eight words of explanation and apology to Mrs Ferguson, I sought my usual bedroom, and shedding all my garments but one, threw myself into collision with that article of furniture which has proved fatal to some better men, and to a great many worse.
Here an opportune intermission of about ten hours in
I was booked for one of those soft things that sometimes light on us as gratefully and as unaccountably as the wholesale rain from heaven upon the mallee beneath. John C. Spooner, Rory O’Halloran and I had just bought the Goolumbulla brand. Or rather, the manager, Mr Spanker, had given us the clearing of the run under certain conditions, one of which was the payment of £100.
Goolumbulla – centrally-situated in that wilderness between the Willandra and the Darling – had been settled for about five years. Six hundred head of cattle had originally been placed on the run, to the disgust and exasperation of Mr Spanker, whose bigoted faith in the evil-smelling merino admitted no toleration for any other kind of stock. His antipathy was reasonable enough in this instance, for these were warrigals, even as scrub-bred cattle go. You know the class – long-bodied, clean-flanked, hard-muscled, ardent-eyed, and always in the same advanced-store condition. They had been wild enough when first brought from the ranges of the Upper Lachlan, and Goolumbulla was just the sort of country to accelerate their reversion to the pre-domesticated type. At the time I speak of, they could barely endure the sight of a man on horseback. As for a man on foot, they would face anything else on earth to get away from him; and if they couldn’t get away, that man might either betake himself to his faith, or stand on guard. Which latter alternative sounds so dishonestly vague and non-committal that literary self-respect demands a slight digression.
To deal with fear-maddened cattle in confined spaces –
Here, by the way, I may seize an opportunity of further disturbing the congested ignorance of the bookish public by noticing Sir Walter Scott’s misapprehension of the bovine temperament, as displayed in The Lady of the Lake. You remember how the milk-white bull – “choicest of the prey we had, when swept our merry men Gallangad” – is depicted as fiery-eyed, fierce, tameless and fleet, to begin with.
- But steep and flinty was the road,
- And sharp the hurrying pikemen’s goad;
- And when we came to Dennan’s Row,
- A child might scatheless stroke his brow.
Stockmen will conclude either that the child would be an accomplished matador in disguise, or that Scotch cattle have some peculiar way of reasoning out a new situation.
Nor did the Goolumbulla brand entertain any Scottish
idea respecting the advantageousness of southward
emigration. A draft, started for Victoria, was like a legion of
evil spirits evicted from their haunt. As they went through
dry places, seeking rest and finding none, the frenzy of
nostalgia, or home-sickness, aggravated by chronic
insomnia, made them harder to hold than quicksilver. Their
camp was liable to spontaneous eruption at any hour of
the night; and then it would be as easy to steady a cyclone
as to ring the scattered torrent which swept incoherently
Drovers of superhuman ability and profane address had at different times taken away three drafts; but none of these professors had ever besieged the station for a second contract. Indeed, the last drover, though as vigilant, as energetic, and as prayerful as any on the track, had found himself with about forty head left out of two hundred by the time he had crossed the first fifty miles. His horses being completely played out in limiting the leakage even to this proportion, he had sacked his three or four men, and had sullenly escorted the remnant of his draft back to their beloved wilderness. The absconders found their way home in batches, franked by the boundary men of intervening paddocks, who willingly made apertures in their fences to speed the parting guests.
But now Goolumbulla had changed owners; and the new firm had authorised Mr Spanker to get rid of the cattle sediment at any price, and stock up with sheep.
One of the Goolumbulla boundary riders was an old friend of mine. This Rory O’Halloran – better known as Dan O’Connell – was a married man. By nature dreamy, sensitive, and affectionate, the poor fellow had a few months previously sustained a blow which left him in a trance of misery. His only child – a fine little girl five or six years old – had got lost in the scrub and had been found too late. Rory had settled down patiently and submissively to his routine work again, but the memories and associations of his home, though precious while the sense of bereavement was fresh, had in time become intolerable. For such afflictions as his there is no nepenthe, and the only palliative is strenuous action.
Hence Rory’s nature, recoiling in unconscious
self-defence from the congealing desolation of Memory, craved
such hardship and distraction as would be limited only by
physical endurance. And instinctively perceiving that the
Goolumbulla cattle were quite competent to meet his
requirements, he had talked the matter over with Mr
Then followed hasty and copious correspondence between Rory, Spooner, and myself. Everything went without a hitch. The preliminaries were soon arranged. For my own part, not being blessed by Nature with the saving grace of thrift (“saving grace” is good), I had no cash reserve. Spooner was in a similar state of sin, for, in spite of his almost insulting efficiency, he was constitutionally unfortunate. But Rory had about £300 in the bank at Hay, and he was prepared to finance the undertaking.
The arrangement was this: Spanker was to enclose with a strong wire fence each tank from which the cattle were accustomed to drink, leaving the lower wire high enough to admit sheep. An open gateway would be left in each fence until everything was ready. Then the gaps would be closed, and the cattle, shut out from water, would hang round the tanks, tailed and humored by our party, till the whole brand was collected. Meanwhile, the three of us would jointly sign a bond for the £100 – which, by the way, was merely a nominal price for the draft, and immediately make a start. The poor dumb beasts would certainly be thirsty to begin with, but this was nothing when you consider how much worse they would be by the time they reached the next available water.
No one had any clear notion of how many head might
be collected, but we counted on something over 400 –
possibly up to 550, including calves and cleanskins. We
intended to take them across the Murray, and dispose of
But this was prospective. For the present, it had been arranged that Rory should meet Spooner and me at Hay, on the next Sunday but one. Another week would take the three of us to Goolumbulla, with three or four hired men, and ten or twelve decent horses. Then, if we could not command success, we could do more, Sempronius, we would deserve it.
Again, we might fairly count upon favorable conditions. The route was familiar to Spooner and myself; there would be no disturbing moonlight for the first week or so; and we might expect reasonably cool weather. The trip to the Victorian border would be only about 350 miles. So everything was propitious.
My own immediate business was to be at Yarrawonga on a certain day, there to take delivery of three horses, already purchased by Spooner, with Rory’s money; then I had to turn up at Hay on the Sunday above referred to. Meanwhile, Spooner, with a few more horses, would be converging from his native town of Wagga. Of course, these details have nothing to do with my record; they are presented merely as a spontaneous evidence and guarantee of that fidelity to fact which I acquired early in life, per medium of an old stirrup leather, kept for the purpose.
- I wol you telle a litel thing in prose,
- That oughte liken you, as I suppose,
- Or elles, certes ye be to daungerous.
- It is a moral tale vertuous,
- Al be it told sometime in sondry wise,
- Of sondry folk, as I shal you devise.
- Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Just as a bale of wool is dumped, by hydraulic pressure, to less than half its normal size, I scientifically compressed something like twenty-four hours’ sleep into the interval between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Then a touch of what you call dyspepsia, and I call laziness, kept me debating with myself for another swift-running hour. So it was getting on for nine o’clock when I sat down to breakfast with Mrs Ferguson, the two servant girls, and the husband already glanced at. All the boarders had by this time dispersed for the forenoon.
However, scene and association presently recalled former companionship; and I varied the usual breakfast-table gossip by asking:
“Have you seen the Colonel lately, Mrs Ferguson?”
“Not since a fortnight after the last time you were here; it’s nine weeks today, and the other’ll be seven weeks come Friday. There were two ladies here inquiring for him yesterday afternoon. One of them had a dark marone, and a sailor hat trimmed with the same colour; and the other had the new shade of brown, and a new tuscan with three black feathers. They wanted to know his address.”
“Badly, no doubt. Had they little Johnny with them?”
“Go way. Well, I had just re-posted two letters that
had come. They were both office envelopes; one of them
“Quite likely they do.”
“That’ll be it, then. But I wonder what they wanted him for. They were both strangers to me, and when they found I knew Mr Rigby so well, I got them to come in and sit down in the front room in the cool. They were very quiet-mannered and nice-spoken (I don’t care what you say). They said they might call again before they left, and the one with the brown dress gave me her card. What did you do with it, Louisa?”
“Annie had it after me.”
“It’s gone,” said Annie laconically. “That card-basket’s piled up; and I s’pose it got blown on the floor. Anyhow, I found Bibblims sitting under the front room table, eating it.”
Bibblims was the baby.
“Do you remember what the name was?” asked Mrs Ferguson.
“It’s on the tip of my tongue,” replied Annie. “Something like ‘Tasmania’.”
“‘Tasma’?” I suggested, incredulously.
“No,” replied the girl, “it was a long name.”
“And where is Rigby now?” I asked.
“Why, he’s at Yooringa, of course,” replied Mrs Ferguson. “Maginnis (late Waterton), Farmers’ Arms, Yooringa.”
“Just a nice stage for me today,” I remarked; “and there’s sure to be grass in Cameron’s Bend. I’m going to Yarrawonga, and I’ll take this side of the river. What is Rigby doing now? I thought he was running the vertical at Hawkins’ mill.”
“Only till they got properly going,” replied the inspired
woman. “He’s taking pictures and writing for them
American people now. He got started nine weeks ago. It’s for a
big book, all in volumes, on farming, and dairying, and
“I’ll be pretty sure to meet him at Waterton’s, then?”
“Maginnis (late Waterton), Farmers’ Arms, Yooringa. He’ll be there today; and he won’t be leaving till next Monday at the inside.”
“Well, I think I’ll be going now, Mrs Ferguson. I’ll just settle up with you, so as not to keep the horses saddled.”
“Oh, Ferguson’ll saddle them.” That unobtrusive but useful person hastily finished his coffee and glided from the room. “Just rest yourself while you can. I’m afraid you’ll have a dusty day for travelling,” etc. etc. And so the frivolous conversation went on till I shook hands with the three women, gave the two children a threepenny bit each, wrung Mr Ferguson’s hand in silent condolence, and took the track.
As I rode eastward across the town, followed by my packhorse and kangaroo dog, the postman intercepted me.
“Morning, Collins. Jefferson Rigby’s a friend of yours, ain’t he? Any idea where he is?”
“Up the river, I believe – so Mrs Ferguson tells me. I expect to see him tonight.”
“Couple of ladies came to the post-office yesterday hunting him up. We sent them to Mrs Ferguson. So they’ll be right. Horses looking a bit hairy on it.”
“Season’s telling on them.”
- One azure-eyed and mild,
- With hair like the burst of morn.
- And one with raven tresses,
- And looks that scorch’d with scorn,
- But yet with gleams of pity
- To comfort the forlorn.
- Charles Mackay, Two Spirits of Song.
I went on, following the road up the river. I had cantered a mile, or better, and was hardening my horses with a long walk, when a buggy and pair overtook and passed me. Though grappling at the time with an exceedingly subtle metaphysical problem, I casually noticed that the driver was a boy of sixteen or seventeen wool seasons, and that there were two women in the buggy: a thinnish one sitting beside the boy, and a fatter one on the back seat, each sheltering herself from the blazing sun with her umbrella. The buggy went on its way.
My next spell of cantering took me past the vehicle, and
my next spell of walking brought the vehicle past me again.
This occurred time after time; it occurred till I was sick
of it; and when we had left Echuca twenty miles behind, it
was occurring worse than ever. I had tried putting on more
pace, and I had tried slacking off, but each expedient
seemed equally to aggravate the evil, though the buggy
horses kept up the same slow, uniform, slinging trot. Other
travellers overtook and passed us, and were as though
they had not been. We overtook and passed others, who
similarly sunk into oblivion. But we couldn’t get rid of
one another. Each time we passed I looked sternly ahead,
and the women occulted their faces with their umbrellas,
for the thing was becoming intolerable. I felt as if I were
My whole day’s journey was thirty-odd miles, and I had intended doing it in one stage, but now altered my plan on account of that buggy. On reaching a place where the track branched, to unite about a mile ahead, I watched the boy diverge to the left, then I quietly dodged off to the right. Half a mile further on I stopped, pulled the pack-saddle off Bunyip, and tied both horses in a good shade. Then I spent half an hour in carefully dredging Pup all over with insecticide, and another half-hour in the interminable work of carving a stockwhip handle. Having thus given the other party a fair start I resumed my way.
Passing the intersection of the tracks a few minutes later I saw the buggy standing in the shade of a tree, the boy taking the nosebags off the horses and the women putting things under the seats. They had been stopping for lunch, probably with a view to getting rid of me. Then I perceived that there must be something in it, and so resolved to let things take their course. I have seen too much of life to persist in shafting against destiny.
Still looking haughtily ahead, I passed at a walk within three yards of the party. The boy was now in his post of honor, keeping the buggy on the off lock. One of the women was taking her place beside him, while the other stood by, holding both umbrellas; then the latter climbed into the back seat. I had opportunity to notice that the first woman was tall, straight, and symmetrical, though rather spare than slight; and that her hair was of a glossy, changeable brown. The other showed large and Juno-like, black-haired, fairly handsome, but by no means young; and I was further privileged to observe that a good deal of her had been turned down over the anvil.
By the foot, American, thought I, as my politely
restricted arc of vision left the party behind – and you’ll see
by-and-by how infallible this rule is. In fact, the foot of
the American woman is a badge as distinctive as the
In a few minutes the buggy overtook me for about the fifteenth time, and the boy pulled up to the walking pace of my horses.
“Say, boss,” he inquired, “do you know where Maginnis’ Farmers’ Arms is, if it’s a fair question?”
“Yes, straight ahead.”
“Twelve or fifteen miles. That’s where I’m bound for.”
“Grand dog you got there.”
“Not a bad style o’ moke you’re ridin’.”
“Decent. He does me for poking about.”
“Could you tell us what kind of place this hotel is?” asked the light-brown hair. “Are the people likely to have accommodation for us tonight?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, ma’am,” I replied, “the house was nothing to boast of in Waterton’s time. Grog business, pure and simple. The hotel itself would be no disgrace to Echuca; but the management, as I knew it, was not good; it was but so-so; and so-so is not good, it is but so-so. I trust it may be better now, though there are more promising names than Maginnis. I think I’d as soon chance Flanagan.”
Both women smiled amusedly, but a perturbed
expression soon gathered on the face of the brown-haired one.
Whilst replying to her question, I had taken note of
thoughtful, pure-grey eyes, a faultless nose (which is
saying a lot), and a mouth of ideal perfection; altogether, a
face of more than common beauty, but of such exceeding
loveliness as to disarm criticism. A face with a history, so I
immediately snap-shotted it on a blank spot in my memory,
with a view to working out the biography at some future
Close ahead of us was a farm-house on the right-hand side of the road. A few full-grown cattle were in the stock-yard; the portly agriculturist was there himself, ordering some boys about; and a long-legged, slow-moving man, with a Robinson-Crusoe beard, was arranging a roping-pole. A bright chestnut horse, saddled and bridled, was hitched to the fence close by. It is easy to be mistaken in the identity of a man, but the horse is always a certainty.
“I’ll likely overtake you again in a few minutes,” said I to the boy, as I turned Cleopatra, and crossed the road to the fence. “At it again, Steve?” I called out. Steve laid down the roping-pole, and mounted his horse to ride the fifty yards.
“You gave me a start,” said he, as we shook hands across the fence. “I’m busy now; but you had better stop with us tonight. We’re camped in Cameron’s Bend, down from Waterton’s pub. Dixon’s with me. I’ve bought a pair of steers from this cove, and we’re going to couple them now, and let them civilise themselves in his paddock for a day or two. Save any chance of them sulking in yoke.”
“Well, I won’t keep you, Steve. Did you see Jeff Rigby at Waterton’s?”
“No. Haven’t seen him for five or six seasons.”
“Well, we’ll be able to hold a meeting tonight, with the Major in the chair. Now go back to your vile occupation.”
When I overtook the buggy again, I was as jocund as a seeker after wisdom may permit himself to be.
“An old school mate of mine,” I remarked graciously,
as the three looked round toward me. “Steve Thompson.
I’ve known him since we were each about as high as that
middle rail. One of the straightest men in the country –
though he’s supposed to have a curse on him through a
dubious transaction of ten or twelve years ago. He was
owing fifty notes to a man that got lost in a shipwreck on
the coast of New Zealand, and Steve failed to chase his
friend with the money till the whole transaction adjusted
- A still, sweet, placid, moonlight face,
- And slightly nonchalant,
- Which seems to claim a middle place
- Between one’s love and aunt.
- O. W. Holmes, A Portrait.
“Pardon my question,” said the brown hair hesitatingly. She paused a moment, then asked: “What countryman is your friend?”
“Australian, madam; born near Geelong. His parents are English.”
“Are you sure?” she faltered, while the color faded from her face.
“Perfectly sure, madam. I’m as certain of his nationality as of my own.”
Then twenty or thirty seconds heaped twenty or thirty years on that girl’s head. I hadn’t noticed the faint wrinkles about her eyes till now, but, riding close to her, and looking at her with puzzled sympathy, I marked not only these footprints of the crows of Time, but here and there a silver thread imparting unsought dignity to the beauty of her sun-bright hair. And lapsing into my deplorable Hamlet mood I began to calculate her age.
Ay, poor post-meridian! Under the searching analysis of
some mental confluent, the beauty was dissolving from
her face, yet leaving the loveliness intact. Enhanced,
heightened rather, by unspoken kinship in liability to the
tyranny of Time – that pathetic kinship which, clothed in
poet’s words, carries more tenderness than any other touch
of nature. There is one grace of the rosebud; another grace
of the expanded blossom; and, to the enlightened mind, a
When we liken women to glass – as we often do – the parallel rests on fragility, on restorableness, on refractiveness, or some such property. But there is a more touching similitude yet. Of all known glass the most lovely is a collection exhumed some forty years ago at Idalium in Cyprus. Science becomes Poetry in mere contemplation of these relics. Take some excerpts from a description in Knight’s Dictionary of Mechanics: “Tints, positively outside of all experience, confuse the most accurate observation . . . marbled with hues like those of incandescence . . . sending light, pearly hints of variegated radiance from elusive depths fantastically pied with scales of iridescence on strong original coloration . . . defeating all sense of strict estimation and cheating the mind with the notion of a possible perfection . . . as if Turner had painted skies on them in his maddest mood and had been allowed to use flames for colors . . . The general effect seems to suggest that all the sunsets that have glimmered over Cyprus since those vessels were lost in the earth had sunk into their hiding-place and permeated their substance,” etc. etc.
The glass is perishing. Matchless, indescribable, inimitable is its beauty, yet it is a loveliness that comes only with decline, a passive response to the first tender touch of that inexorable hand which brings man and all his works to dust.
I wish I could stay to moralise on this, because our appreciation of women is a subject that seems to invite disentanglement and exposition. But knowing my own proneness to wander aside, plucking fruits of philosophy, I shall, for once, guard against digression and confine myself to clean-cut narrative.
Two widely-divergent views of woman are illustrated –
one in “The Gowden Locks of Anna” by Burns, the other
in Moore’s exquisite paraphrase of St Jerome “Who is the
Maid?” The former paints the inherent sex-charm of
Creation’s fairest type; the latter pictures her attained
The relative potency of these diverse influences depends, of course, upon the receptivity, sensuous or psychical, of the person subjected to their agency, yet it is worthy of note that, where controlling masculine minds are moved or biased by sex-influence, the force is exercised by a woman, not by a female. And not till the peach-bloom of youth is gone can the woman dominate the female and her personality reach its maximum angel-loveliness or its most formidable devil-beauty. None but Kadijah, fifteen years his senior, could captivate the stormy soul of the Arabian prophet. Also, if the mature Josephine Beauharnais had cared for the Faubourg St Antoine as she cared for the Faubourg St Germain, Bonaparte might have been the brightest name in modern history; but we know in which direction her strong allurement led, and we know how he followed it to perdition. These instances, though multiplied by ten figures, could prove nothing; nevertheless, they exemplify how the world is swayed by women, not by females. And each man, be he king or beggar, is a little world of his own. If he be swayed by a female, as kings and beggars frequently are, he is an extremely little world.
But don’t misapprehend me as identifying or confounding femininity with youth, and womanhood with maturity. Just as many a man, having outlived the boy’s enthusiasm and ingenuousness, retains the boy’s uselessness and self-conceit, so, in the other sex, mere femininity too often accompanies maturity. When this occurs – in fact, when the case is one of incorrigible femininity – the subject is good for two things only: to suckle fools and chronicle small beer.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said the deliberate voice of the woman on the back seat, “were you speaking of Mr Rigby, or of the other gentleman?”
“I was speaking of Thompson, madam. Rigby is an
American. He came out here – let’s see – just when Donolly
My reply was, of course, addressed to the black hair, who had asked the question. Glancing then at the other, and perceiving that she had renewed her youth like the eagles, I thought to while away a few minutes by remarking, in my dry way, that Echuca was just then in a state of hungry curiosity touching two ladies who had been making inquiries after the very person under discussion.
“Speaking of Rigby,” said I, “it was only this morning that I was a little amused by” – here, with a sudden flash of intuition, I loosely and tentatively identified my auditors with the mysterious scouts; whereupon, figuratively speaking, I flogged my tongue unmercifully, then gave it its head, and heard it continue in the same breath – “remembering what a hero he seemed to me in the days when earth was young. I like to consider myself a Melchisedec in philosophy; but the conviction is often forced upon me that, in many ways, I have been a mere disciple of the Colonel’s. In fact, we differ only on points where he’s grimly and disagreeably right, and I’m comfortably wrong. I wouldn’t take £100 a year and be as conscientious as he is. For instance, I’m a Conservative; and he is – well, not to mince matters, he’s a State Socialist. In other words, I adapt myself to the times and the seasons, whilst he thinks the conformity ought to be on the other side.” Rather disconnected, and altogether rudely confidential, but not bad for a desperate impromptu. And the women, refined as they evidently were, listened as to the voice of a clergyman. “What is Mr Rigby’s occupation?” asked the black hair, after a short silence.
“Second-rate photographer and descriptive writer, at
present, madam. He has been a first-rate engine-driver, also
mechanical expert, a third-rate journalist, and a fourth-rate
builder. At various times he has ranked high up to ninth
and tenth rate in something like a score of other and more
menial occupations; but speaking with actuarial precision,
There was intense interest in the face of the brown-haired woman as I spoke, and evident relief as I concluded. Then another pause.
“This is a most happy coincidence,” said she, with a frankness almost supplicatory. “Mr Rigby and I were born less than five miles apart, and I knew him in America up to the time of his departure. Is – is he much altered since you knew him?”
“A good deal, madam. The second twenty-five years of a man’s life covers about two of the Seven Ages. In this instance, they have transformed the lover, sighing like she-oak, to the mature egotist, full of wise fads and modern theories; but it would take an able reasoner to convince the Colonel that he has in any way altered for the worse. Physically, he’s as strong as ever he was; he attributes this to his Puritan descent – I attribute it to my climate. For more than twenty years I have piously looked forward to the privilege of gracing him with the Earl of Morton’s tribute to John Knox: ‘There lies one who never feared the face of man.’ But waiting is weary work, and hope deferred maketh the heart grizzle. He’ll probably see me out. I fancy he’ll be like Moses at one hundred and twenty, his eye not dim, nor his natural force abated. He differs significantly from Moses, however, in respect of not being by any means meek above all men on the earth.”
A subdued smile played over the face of the brown-haired woman, leaving her eyes soft as velvet.
“He hasn’t been successful?” she conjectured, almost timidly.
“Only in asserting himself, madam. Financially, he’s a failure – like myself.”
“He has served in your military forces?” she next suggested, with tacit apology in her voice.
I softened my negative down to a forbearing shake of
“You refer to the title of Colonel? The fact is that when I first knew him he seemed such an ideal Down-Easter that to deny him a title of some kind – military, naval, civil, or ecclesiastical, as the case might be – was to take from him that which not enriched me and left him poor indeed. The whole thing is merely a spontaneous concession to his nationality, carrying neither flattery nor sarcasm.”
“Is he married?” asked the black hair casually.
“Oh, no,” I replied. “So far from it that the incongruity of the idea amuses me.”
“A woman-hater, I assume,” she persisted with uneasy boldness.
“Anything but that,” I replied. “His demeanor toward women is partly paternal and partly reverential and partly oblivious. I have always compared him with the earlier Benedick – one woman was fair, yet he was well; another was wise, yet he was well; another was virtuous, yet he was well; and if all graces had come into one woman, he would have congratulated that woman and passed on well pleased for her sake. I never met anyone else like him in this respect, but knowing him as I do, his insusceptibility appears to me full of interest. I feel quite certain that it is owing to an early dis” – I checked myself barely in time, gave my tongue another flagellation, and heard it go on in its usual garrulous way – “cipleship of Epictetus, which has colored his whole life, endowing him with a form of selfishness that puts other people’s generosity to shame.”
I was in magnificent form and knew it, yet felt like a
denizen of some cold country walking on thin, creaking ice.
Who were these women with their reluctant forwardness
and their wistful desire – tacitly expressed in tone and
manner – to conciliate a mere passer-by, one whose character
they could only conjecture, and of whose very name they
were ignorant? Modest and cultivated they certainly were,
but battling in some way with feminine inadequacy, the
black hair struggling to carry off anxiety under cover of
“But pardon me, ladies,” I resumed. “I ought to tell you that my name is Collins. In occupation, I change involuntarily, like the chameleon, according to my surroundings. At present, I must stigmatise myself as a cattle drover. I’ll feel very much honored if you avail yourselves of any information or assistance that it may be in my power to give.”
Whilst I was wondering whether this sounded courtly or impertinent, the brown hair bowed acknowledgment and, taking out her card case, replied with easy grace,
“Indeed, Mr Collins, we appreciate your courtesy – Miss Artemisia Flanagan.” I remembered my own rash witticism of a few minutes before and raised my wideawake with extra solemnity. “I feel myself relying upon you already,” she continued, handing me her card.
During the next minute I was a broken reed for anybody to rely upon. A good gust of wind would have toppled me off the saddle. To explain this seizure, it will be necessary to glance back along that rugged track which might have been travelled with something like comfort and profit if I had personally inherited from my forefathers a moiety of their solid experience instead of the whole sum of their crude natural propensities.
- I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
- Could not, with all their quantity of love,
- Make up my sum.
- Hamlet, Act V, Scene i.
On a summer morning, twenty-three years prior to this encounter, a Victorian ratepayer sent one of the arrows out of his quiver to muster some cows on the common, eight or ten miles from home. In the seclusion of the ranges this missile gathered as much wattle gum as he could eat; then leaving his horse to feed about with the saddle on, he lay down in the shade, and became immersed in a work of blood-and-thunder fiction, which his foresight had provided. After reading himself stupid, he took a swim in an adjacent water-hole, then basked in the sun for an hour, and finally dedicated his attention to a likely-looking place, where the age-abraded apex of a small rise showed abundance of shattered and weather-beaten quartz. This was his style of mustering cows.
Spare your scorn. The cloth-yard shaft left that rise with three specimens in his possession – one, showing a couple of colours; another, carrying a three-grain piece; and the third, a good half-penny-weight. Wearily returning home in the deepening twilight, our projectile reported the lack of success which had attended his exertions in mustering, and casually produced the specimens, which latter he had happened to notice on hastily dismounting to tighten his girth.
The ratepayer, being a man for whom digging had no
fascination, just dropped a line to a young friend of
opposite bent, then working a half-wages stringer on
Pleasant Creek. A fortnight afterward, the digger arrived.
These details are merely introductory to the information I received from Rigby on the night we camped at the reef. We were lying, each wrapped in a blanket, around the smouldering fire. I was supposed to be asleep; in fact, I had been asleep till the sudden cry of a curlew roused me, and I found it worth my while to remain awake. For the accessories of the situation – soft summer moonlight, bush solitude, and one sympathetic auditor, had melted the Major’s habitual reserve, and he was relating to my dad, in tones hoarse with emotion, the tragedy of his life. I muttered something in my sleep and rolled slowly over, face upper-most – a post hard to surpass in auricular advantages.
I soon discovered that a direful and ineffaceable quarrel with the girl of his choice had broken the poor Commodore’s moorings, and left him rudderless, dismasted, derelict, at the mercy of wind and tide, and without the heart to rig anything jury. His sole consolation was in the certainty that his wrecker in ruthlessly working this havoc had marooned herself. She would never marry. She couldn’t. He knew her loyal, lofty nature.
Here he stirred my depths with twenty minutes of steady panegyric, to the general effect that Miss Vanderdecken was beautiful, accomplished, gifted, amiable, beyond anything that imagination could body forth, or poet’s pen turn to shape. Wherefore it warmed the very sickness of his heart to dwell on the misery she must be enduring. It was entirely her own fault. She was petulant and quarrelsome, frivolous and heartless, and the best thing that had ever happened to him was this quarrel, inasmuch as it had swept away all tawdry romance from his life, and laid bare its grand realities.
In describing this quarrel he was bitterly precise; yet I
Henceforward, however, their ways lay apart, and neither would ever know the other’s fate. For the very short time that might elapse before he should shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from his world-wearied flesh, and the wattle blossom should wave above his lonely resting place, he would try to do as much good and as little harm as possible. He owed this to Kate’s memory. Poor Kate! Her heroes were always the men who voluntarily sacrificed themselves for a principle. So it must be; for now all length was torture; since the torch was out, lie down and stray no further.
He had hardened himself in honor. Not one of his early friends knew whither he had drifted. He had no family obligations. His nearest relations were his step-mother and her children; and they were only too glad to see him out of the way. His sole tie to life was Kate, and when she was gone, chaos was come again.
He had looked back once, to see her standing in the doorway, with the snow-flakes falling on her head. When would that picture fade? Never! – till it dissolved with all earthly things. She was nineteen then, and he was twenty-five; she would be twenty-one now, poor Kate, and he was twenty-seven in years, but more than fifty in the iron stoicism which is bought only with blighted hopes.
And so on. Of course, I am only giving you an epitome.
Yet this lugubrious ass was the sagacious, energetic, and
However, as twelve-year-old arrows of Australian manufacture don’t notice or understand the discourse of their elders, this disclosure gave me something to ponder over in my own unsophisticated way; and thenceforward the Colonel appeared to me as one clothed in iambics, and spondees, and dactyls, and all manner of poetry. As years went on, my garnered knowledge of his life-absorbing infatuation provided a satisfactory key to his altruism, integrity, and cynicism; and whenever the conversation of my adult associates tended to show that, in love as well as in other things, there was nothing but roguery to be found in villainous man, I had only to remember the Senator, and keep on believing.
I utilised him as an object lesson in fidelity. Though voluntarily abiding under the limitations of chronic poverty utterly fatal to your ideas of romance, he fulfilled my conception of Azim, in Lalla Rookh; and it became my custom, whenever I saw him fall into reverie, to place myself, so to speak, in rapport, and thus enjoy a second-hand gloat upon the picture which I had learned to conjure up at a moment’s notice – pine forests, wolves, and wigwams in the background; apple-trees, maize and pumpkins in the middle distance; and in the foreground, half-veiled by falling snow-flakes, the figure of a beautiful, though somewhat mynheer-looking, sheaf of contradictions, standing in a doorway, and gazing out into the gelid desolation, whilst unavailing remorse, like a grub in the quondong, fed on her damask cheek.
In poetic keeping with his desolated life, the Judge ever
afterward maintained perfect reticence respecting the
unhappy stroke that his youth suffered. I have always been
willing to acquire information and would therefore have
welcomed his confidence at any time; but as he chose to
keep the burden to himself, I had to let him carry it the
best way he could, contenting myself with the scrap I had
At last the potato was cooked. That cryptic passage of the Deacon’s history found its Rosetta stone in the card presented by the brown-haired woman, for the name thereon was “Miss Kate Vanderdecken”. Also, the fate which had so sternly insisted on a conference between us was satisfactorily accounted for. Nomenology – the science by which we deduce the person from the name, or the name from the person – was a little out, to be sure; but you can no more secure absolute precision in that science than in any other. Things will occasionally happen of themselves.
- Gabriel was not forgotten. Within her heart was his image,
- Clothed in the beauty of love and youth, as last she beheld him,
- Only more beautiful made by his death-like silence and absence.
- Longfellow’s Evangeline.
The boy, perceiving the progress of our acquaintance, now threw out a suggestion:
“I say, miss, if this bloke’s goin’ to the same place as us, I wouldn’t mind lettin’ him take a spell o’ drivin’, and I’ll ride. He needn’t be frightened o’ these yarramans. I got them like lambs.”
“I have no objection, Sam. It rests with Mr Collins. But don’t imagine that we’re tired of your company.”
“I don’t suppose you are,” replied Sam, “but I want a smoke; an’ I got too much manners to stink your clo’es with tobacker. I’d a had a whiff when we stopped, on’y like a fool I forgot my matches in the hurry this mornin’. Wo, chaps! Hold the reins for one minit, miss.” We altered the stirrups to his length, and he mounted: “Now your matches, Collins.”
“Do you want a pipe?” I asked.
“Let’s see your pipe. That! No thanks! I got everything but matches. Well, we’re right now. You go on ahead. Never mind me.” Then the buggy horses resumed their steady trot, leaving Sam in the rear.
It was some minutes before the mutual constraint of
passengers and driver wore off. The former – as I knew by
my gift of intuition – were wondering whether I couldn’t
afford a new pair of boots. The latter – a poor arithmetician
at best – was adding twenty-five to nineteen over and over
again, but without being able to get the same result twice
But a reciprocal effort brought our gossiping apparatus into working order. It was a novel experience, to feel these educated and evidently exclusive women meekly endeavouring to stand well in my estimation. It seemed so like a restoration of the true Order of Things that I had temporary respite from the haunting consciousness of my entanglement with a Riverina lady, who, in the slangy sense of the word, was too good for me. (But that is another romance.)
Rigby being our point of contact, the conversation leaned chiefly in his direction; and the women did most of the listening. Yet when a genial tact impelled either of them to contribute something, there was interest, as well as grammar, in what she said. I was not surprised to learn that, until four or five months previously, no one in Rigby’s native region knew definitely the place of his self-exile. But Miss Flanagan’s brother held some position in the publishing firm whose Melbourne agent had employed the prodigal; hence she had incidentally heard his name.
Miss Flanagan was a perfect stranger to the Colonel personally, though she knew his step-brothers and their families. The girls had been under her tuition a few months back. She was a teacher of mathematics, algebra and other inviting sciences in a ladies’ seminary, and she and Miss Vanderdecken had been closely intimate for many years. She had taken a twelve months’ holiday; and now the two were seeing what was to be seen in this right-hand lower section of the Eastern Hemisphere.
Each woman, in her own way, was profitable to me in
spite of the prior soul-mortgage unhappily covering my
moral securities, but, owing to a twenty-three years’
contemplation of the snow-scape already described, my
sympathy centred on Miss Vanderdecken. And though I had
too much innate delicacy to go blurting out the General’s
nocturnal confidences to my pa, I felt deeply impressed
by the concurrence which was bringing these two people
together so felicitously, yet so involuntarily, after such
long separation. At the time of that angry parting in the
Meanwhile, Sam was bearing up wonderfully under his voluntary exile from the buggy. Each time either of us overtook the other, he threw out a word of tempered approval touching Cleopatra’s paces; but these interviews were carefully guarded against when any other traveller, or any roadside habitation, was in sight. Such precious opportunities of letting his light shine before the public were never wasted. For two full hours it was vouchsafed to him to avail himself of a peerless kangaroo dog and a loose pack-horse, not to speak of the daisy he was riding, and he worked his accepted time for the last copper it was worth, to the end that those who ran might read – might unmistakably read him as a saddle-weary alien, fresh from the remotest skirts of civilisation; one who could give fearsome accounts of waterless country, whose only property was just what you see and whose sole consolation was his pipe.
Presently, a slight angle in the road brought into view
the Farmers’ Arms, two or three miles ahead, and I pointed
out the building to my passengers. From this time Miss
Vanderdecken never spoke except in monosyllables, and
though she was evidently on her mettle for firmness,
there was something in her manner of breathing which
made me wish I had given more attention to that branch
of pathognomy which deals with the possible eccentricities
of women who haven’t seen their lovers for a quarter of a
century. Miss Flanagan also looked perturbed, and I
noticed that she was holding Miss Vanderdecken’s hand.
“Ah, there’s the Colonel himself,” said I, in an undertone, as we passed the house.
“No,” whispered Miss Vanderdecken, with agony in her face, “there must be some mistake.” And she averted her eyes from the figure of a bloated and sottish-looking, though decently dressed, old buffer who had just emerged from the bar door, and was slowly seating himself on the form in the verandah.
“In the parlor,” said I. “You can see him through the window. I think he’s reading a letter.”
All her self-restraint could not repress something like a sob, as her eye fell on the severely handsome profile of her countryman, framed by the open window. I drove on a few paces, and stopped at the gate of the yard. It seemed manifest that the women were leaving everything to me.
“Now, ladies,” said I, “if this place is anything like what it was six months ago, you’ll have to go on to the Royal, which is a traditionally respectable house, five or six miles ahead. In that case, I’ll send Rigby with you; but I trust that I may feel justified in making arrangements for you here. Sam, just hook the horse on the fence, and take these reins.”
“Thank you, Mr Collins,” murmured Miss Flanagan. “You’re placing us under many obligations.”
“Pray don’t mention our arrival to Mr Rigby just yet,” added Miss Vanderdecken, in a quivering voice.
“I’ll merely prospect the place. And let me repeat that if you fail to avail yourselves of my further services, I must take it as a slight.”
Both women bowed, without speaking. I entered the house, introduced myself to the bright young landlady, and saw at a glance that the government was much improved since Waterton’s time. After making the necessary arrangements, I returned to the buggy, and Sam drove into the yard.
With the air of a Castilian noble, I assisted Miss
I had placed the luggage in the passage, and was wondering what was the proper thing to do next, when Miss Vanderdecken, with a gesture of polite deprecation, stepped past the landlady, and detained me by a glance. The pathos in her appealing eyes and paled lips was heightened by the seven hours’ deposit of dust on her features – nothing being clean about her but the whites of her eyes.
“I have no scruple in adding to my indebtedness, you see, Mr Collins,” said she, in a barely articulate voice, “but I should like to speak to your friend while I am here. And – you know – the lapse of time seems to make strangers of most intimate friends. Might I ask you to introduce me to him, formally – as his countrywoman – not yet – presently.”
“Indeed, Miss Vanderdecken, apart from the pleasure of meeting your wishes, I shall be delighted to confer such a happiness on the Senator. A message from you at any time will find me in the parlor.” And so I withdrew.
- As in a theatre, the eyes of men,
- After a well-graced actor leaves the stage,
- Are idly bent on him that enters next,
- Thinking his prattle to be tedious.
- King Richard II, Act V, Scene ii.
After relieving Bunyip of his load, I sought out the Major, and went into the bar with him to purchase the freedom of the house, inviting the shocking example out on the verandah to join us in a drink. The old gentleman, of course, took a long-sleever, looking with ostentatious pity at the Doctor’s sarsaparilla and my Chateau Tabilk.
“You goot helt, yentlemence,” said the moral beacon, dipping his heavy, ashen moustache in the froth. “Peer vor der Yarmance, unt Yarmany vor der peer,” he continued, setting down the pewter pot. “Minezelluf, I schall pe ver podiclo mit mine trinks. Ven der Yarmance knog (sheol) der Vrench mit dot last var, he vas pe der peer unt der nettle-gon, unt der vine unt der chassepot. Vat derplatty (sheol)? Eh?”
“Very true, Fritz,” observed Rigby.
“Well, I be (penalised) to (sheol),” remarked a deep voice, in mechanical forecast; and a captivating aroma of serene iniquity seemed to be wafted in on our company, as the lithe figure, and handsome, sunburnt face of Dixon, the bullock driver, appeared at the door. He shook hands cordially with me. “Come, what’ll you have, chaps? Mine’s a meejum shandy.”
The Colonel and I had a good excuse for declining. Fritz drained his pint with alacrity.
“Minezelluf, I vill you helt trink mit von long peer.
Peer vor der Yarmance, unt Yarmany vor –“
“Any letters for Robert Dixon or Stephen Thompson, boss?” interrupted the bullock driver.
“I’ll see in half a minute,” replied the young landlord, as he served the two drinks.
“Unt Yarmany vor der peer,” pursued the Teuton. “Minezelluf, I schall pe ver podiclo mit mine trinks. Ven der Yarmance knog (sheol) der Vrench –”
“And you think the beer had something to do with the result of the Franco-German war?” I suggested hastily, though civilly.
Fritz set his pint on the counter, and clapped me gently on the shoulder, while a feeble smile crept over his sodden features.
“Mine zteb-zon, Yimmy, schall pe der yong man der par mit,” he remarked with more dignity than relevancy.
“Can’t suffer these (adj.) foreigners, no road, Rigby,” observed Dixon, calmly indicating Fritz with a backward jerk of his thumb. “Nobody should be allowed in the (adj.) country only Europeans, like me an’ you. Ain’t it aggravatin’ to hear the gibberage these fellers comes out with? Wonder why the (adj. sheol) they never learn to yabber grammatical?”
“Minezelluf, ass der nettif moch petter ve schall der platty Angleech zpeag,” retorted Fritz sternly. “Penegoot; volang-villeen; assylum-soss-yetty; der goot-villeen soss-yetty. Eh? Dot knog you into der gocked hat.”
“You’re a scholar, Fritz,” said I politely.
“Mine vrent,” replied the translator, again laying his hand on my shoulder, “der Yarmance vos off Got pe der man high rise mit. Vot vos you glory Gveen? Von Yarmance. Vot vos you nople Brince? Von Yarmance. Minezelluf, I schall von Yarmance pe, unt brout mit. Eh?”
But Fritz’s countercheck quarrelsome had not passed
unmarked by Dixon. The bullock driver had listened with
amused interest, as to the winsome prattle of a child; and
his eye still dwelt benevolently on the German whilst the
latter spoke to me. Then, after a deferential pause, Dixon
Parturiunt montes nascitur ridiculus (adj.) mus” he observed in a compassionate tone, and with faultless precision of accent. “Same time, it shows the feller’s got a sort o’ dim idear o’ things. Quite common to see this (adj.) cravin’ for a bit o’ knowledge among the profanum (adj.) vulgus. Comes sort o’ hard on a pore (individual) to feel his self no better’n a vox et praeterea (adj.) nihil, as the sayin’ is. Don’t it strike you that way, Rigby?”
“No letters for Dixon; one for Thompson; forwarded from Hay; fourpence to pay on it,” said the landlord, as he re-entered the bar and handed a letter to Dixon.
“Well, I’ll be (adv.) well toddling,” said the bullock driver, with magnificent apathy, when he had settled the liability. “You’ll stop with us, Collins? Straight down the (adj.) fence.”
“Right, Dixon, I saw Thompson today coupling his steers.”
“Dot Domson, he cash der platty riffer dees mornin’ got-vish von dirty-boundher, he tell me der vrog mit,” said Fritz, rallying from his discomfiture, yet looking beseechingly at Dixon, who leant languidly against the doorpost contemplating a magpie on the fence at the other side of the road.
“What become of her?” asked Dixon indulgently, though still finding more interest in the magpie than in Fritz.
“Pag vonce more yomp mit der pank, plop, unt to (sheol) go,” replied the German, pressing eagerly into the good graces of this fencer to the Sophy.
A critical situation for Dixon. If he gave ready credence
to the news, he would at best place himself in the position
of a man receiving information; at worst he would be the
victim of a sell. If he threw doubt on a statement which
would probably prove to be true, his own dignity would
be trailed in the dust. If he didn’t reply at all he would
be open to the imputation of not knowing a thing that
“Didn’t hear nothing about it,” he replied, with a generous but futile effort to share the childish solicitude which, by cruel contrast with his own indifference, was eating into Fritz’s dignity. “But then, Thompson cleared off middlin’ early, an’ I turned out middlin’ late. Anyhow, I ain’t surprised; the (adj.) river’s fallin’ like (sheol).” And relapsing into his lethargy, he sauntered away.
- O, if thou be’st the same Egeon, speak,
- And speak unto the same Emilia!
- Comedy of Errors, Act V, Scene i.
“Well,” said Rigby to me as we left the bar, “my wagonette is down beside the wagons. Get your horses ready, and we’ll follow Dixon and cast our lines in the river, too.”
“In the river of Time, Colonel?” said I dreamily. “Our lines are cast therein already, foolish one; and our business is to – Oh, now I know what you mean! But you should either qualify your river by its distinguishing adjective or call it by its strikingly appropriate name – for ‘murrey’ means dark red. If the people who frequent its banks don’t know its proper title, I wonder who does; and they never speak of it loosely and indefinitely as ‘the river’; they always call it the crimson river. Please bear this in mind, Major. It’s the king of Australian rivers, and I naturally feel a little nettled to hear it shorn of its title. However, we’re not going yet. Come into the parlor. There’s a surprise in store for you. I providentially met an acquaintance of yours today – Miss Kate Vanderdecken. She knows you well, and has been the whole afternoon looking forward to meeting you. She’s here now, taking her ease in her inn – the only way in which she resembles Sir John. She intends to stay all night; so I suppose you won’t be down at the Red River till late.”
“Ah! What did you say her name was?”
“Miss Kate Vanderdecken. Here’s her card. She comes
from your own blizzard-smitten land, and the unerring
law of Happenology – the very law that moulds marbles
“You bewilder me, Tom.”
“I expected nothing less, Sheriff. By the way, there’s another lady with her – Miss Artemisia Flanagan, and a calculator by profession as well as by nationality. Hence I’m glad to see you so clean and presentable, though, to do you justice, I knew your habits, and was under no apprehension. I’m as proud of you as if you were one of my own. Turn round, till I see if there’s any grass-seed, or horse-hair, or whitewash on your back. No, you’re humanly perfect; you would pass for a married man of the upper middle classes. You know a married woman always keeps her old impostor trim and tidy, even to the inner ply of apparel, so that in case of him getting killed off a horse, or in a railway accident, there will be no damaging discredit reflected upon the widow.”
“I feel like a man in a dream, Tom,” said Rigby, absently. “You haven’t told me how you came to –”
“Mr Collins,” said the slow, soft voice of Miss Flanagan, who paused in the doorway, then glided into the room, acknowledging the Deacon’s presence by a slight bow and a penetrating glance.
I introduced the two Down-Easters, and at the end of three minutes’ desultory conversation perceived that Rigby was weighed in the balance and found genuine. Such is the inconceivable despatch of feminine judgment.
Then Miss Flanagan led us to the private parlor, where,
with a couple of nicely-turned phrases, which I had
rapidly concocted and committed to memory, I
presented the long-severed friends to each other. Miss
Vanderdecken, exquisitely lovely in a simple dress of creamy
white, betrayed no trace of her former agitation. Her face,
always sweet and engaging, was now transfigured, glorified,
by the emotions of womanhood at its best; and, indeed,
I never saw Rigby appear to such advantage as under the
I remained only five or ten minutes. Then promising to call on my new friends in the morning as I went past, I retired with some ceremony, readily pardonable when you consider everything. I had furnished the epilogue to a drama of thrilling interest. Alone I did it, and therefore felt morally and socially uplifted.
- I see a column of slow-rising smoke
- O’ertop the lofty wood, that skirts the wild.
- A vagabond and useless tribe there eat
- Their miserable meal.
- Cowper’s Task, Book I.
Whilst re-saddling Bunyip, I got into conversation with Sam, who was making friends with Pup, obviously with a view to his seduction, the latter being no difficult matter by reason of the strong spiritual affinity always existent between the boy and the kangaroo dog.
“Fond o’ scenery, ain’t they?” remarked Sam, as he passed me the girth from the off side.
“Them shemales I fetched. That’s what they come for. Dashed if I could see any scenery about. I say, which o’ them do you fancy most?”
“Both about equal. Which is your choice?”
“Well, I ain’t at liberty. I’m ordered. But I should say Arty. I like them a good size.”
“Miss Flanagan. Her with no feet.”
“How far are you going up the river?”
“No furder. Back tomorrow or next day. They jist hired the buggy for a couple or three days to come on this fur. My word, they was in luck to git me for takin’ charge of them. Touch-an’-go. Happened to be out o’ work, on account o’ my boss havin’ to clear, with a warrant after him for biggany.”
“Biggany. Havin’ two wives, both to the fore. Rotten
contract, ain’t it? Wheelwright by trade. Me an’ him was
“What use would he be to you, Sam?”
“Well, a feller must have a dog, an’ he may as well have a kangaroo dog. Where you clearin’ off to?”
“Down to the river, to camp with some chaps I know. Come and have a drink of soft tack before I go.”
“Not this time, thanks. We fetched a dozen bottles o’ lemonade, an’ each o’ the shemales drunk two bottles, an’ you drunk one, an’ I polished off the other seven or eight – not to speak of a gorger before we started. That’ll do me today. My inside’s all furmentin’ now. You could hop a marble off o’ my stummick.”
“You’ll soon get over that, Sam. So long.”
The sun was still half-an-hour high when I re-passed the pub, and turned down the reserve. Half a mile along the line of fence, and just where the latter ran into the river, I found the two wagons, and, near them, Rigby’s covered wagonette. By Dixon’s directions, I took my horses across a dry billabong, and, mindful of the escaped thirty-pounder, brought a fishing rod back with me. I had hooks and lines in my swag.
Whilst cutting this rod, I noticed a curious thing. Close
beside me stood the shell-stump of a freshly-felled hollow
tree; and about twenty feet along the prostrate trunk was
a newly-cut aperture that a middling-sized man could
nicely creep through. And straight above the stump, about
twenty feet up in mid-air, was a little stationary dark
cloud easily resolvable into a multitude of bees. The loud,
menacing hum of these sons of toil hinted that they were
by no means in the best of temper. They had come home
from all quarters to find things not merely disarranged,
Yet the lack of this perceptive shingle on the thought-dome of a docile wealth-producer sometimes upsets the calculations of the wise and prudent. For instance, an intimate friend of mine was a most able and accomplished theorist. Like Columbus, he was a man with a fad; and this fad was the common domestic hen. He maintained that women, owing to a constitutional dearth of enterprise and understanding, were incompetent to manage these birds. But, having worked the thing out scientifically in his own mind, he saw his way to fortune in a flock of judiciously-crossed Black Spanish and Brahmapootra, stiffened by a strain of the Dorking, with, perhaps, a blend of the Orpington for fertility, and just a suggestion of the Wyandotte, as a precaution against pip.
Under this impression, he sold out his grocery business
and bought a small farm. Here he supervised the erection
of ten hen-houses, to begin with. Each little edifice was
fitted with nests, ladders, roosts, etc., and was mounted on
four low block-wheels. Next he obtained a supply of hens,
There was nothing for it, of course, but to carry each slumbering imbecile to her proper address – a work which occupied half the night – and this task had to be repeated every evening for a week. By this time, according to the system so elaborately worked out, commissariat conditions necessitated a removal of the caravans to No. 2 paddock; and for six or eight nights each former site in No. 1 was pathetically indicated by the globular forms of two dozen somnolent hens. Nor did this innocent contumacy admit of any remedy; for the whole physical construction of the feathered races, particularly their external finish, clearly indicates that Nature has not designed them to be cowhided with satisfaction or profit. Anyway, the enterprise ended ignominiously; and now, if you want to make an enemy of that most amiable experimenter, you have only to introduce the subject of hens.
“Jist set down an’ wire in,” was Dixon’s salute when I returned to the camp. “Soda bread, an’ bacon, an’ honey, ad (adj.) libitum. Dunno whether you like mustard mixed up or not. We always eat it dry. Ain’t got sich a thing as a swappin’ book on you, I s’pose?” he continued, as we settled down to the provender. “One o’ Nathanael Hawthorne’s here, waitin’ for a new owner. Can’t suffer that author no road. He’s a (adj.) fool; too slow to catch grubs.”
“Haven’t got a book to my name, Dixon. Flying as light as possible this trip. But, talking of scholarship, you were a trifle too good for Fritz this afternoon.”
“Simple,” replied the bullock driver, modestly. “Habit
“Yes, it gives you an unmerciful purchase,” I conceded. “But a man should spread his studies a bit. What are you reading now?”
“Bible,” replied Dixon, with a touch of self-righteousness, whilst indicating with a sideward glance the noblest and least-understood compilation on earth, where it lay in a kerosene-box, together with a supply of tobacco and matches, a large dictionary, a well-worn pack of cards, and the insufferable Hawthorne. “Got her in a swap for one o’ Ouidar’s,” he continued. “Ignorant galoots they’ll tell you she’s a passel o’ nonsense, but strikes me very forcible the bloke that wrote the Bible he had forgot more’n them other (sceptics) ever learned. An’ as for it bein’ true – why, Jerusalem’s to the good now, large as life, for anybody to see. ‘Spect you’re a bit o’ a ringer on Scripture?”
“I only wish I was. Certainly, I had to read a good deal of it when I was too young to understand.”
“That’s on’y yer misforcune,” replied Dixon gravely;
“it ain’t yer fault. That’s where my main (adj.) holt is –
graspin’ what I read. Never knowed no more about the
Bible three monce ago nor I knowed about my
gran’mother. Matter o’ course, I thought hell was on’y a man’s
own conscience; thought the divil was only a sort o’
byword; thought God was nature; an’ so on. But I foun’
things a (adj.) sight different. No (adj.) shinannigan about
the Bible. It ain’t frightened about offendin’ people; an’ it
don’t give one stick o’ tobacker difference between
Abraham on his throne an’ the (derelict) at his gate, loafin’
for the manavelins off of his table. That’s what I like her
“But surely you didn’t find it all discouraging?” I argued, contemplating with a listless interest the fine forehead and engaging face of the bullock driver.
“Dunno,” replied Dixon dubiously. “Most of it’s (adj.) frightensome. But mebbe things’ll work roun’ all right by the time a feller dies. Sneak in some (adj.) road. Anyhow, I’m glad I ain’t a Scribe, nor yet a Pharisee, nor yet a hypocrite.”
A minute of sombre silence, for our parallel forecasts had reached the confines of that void whereinto no ray of science may penetrate, to dissolve the hundred shapeless, flickering wisps of Dogma.
- Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth
- him, and he saith to everyone that he is a fool.
- Ecclesiastes, x, 3.
But the fascination of a new book was on the receptive mind of my companion; so, judiciously waiving the unpleasanter features of the work, he gave his harmless pedantry its fling.
“Samson, he was the strongest (individual) ever lived,” he remarked, in a careless tone; “an’ Solomon he was the wisest – an’ who do you think was the foolishest?”
“The man who built his house on the sand,” I suggested.
“Ain’t come to that bloke yet,” replied Dixon, “but I’m thinkin’ Moses could give him about half-ways an’ lick him (adv.) bad. Yes, Moses was the foolishest (person) ever lived. Bible cracks him up, mind you, because he was a decent feller in his own sort o’ soft-headed way. But he didn’t know his road roun’. Cripes, if I got slants like him I’d shift things a bit! My (adj.) oath!”
“Israelite, wasn’t he?” I hazarded. “Perhaps I’ve been mixing him up with somebody else.”
“Ought to guard agen that,” replied Dixon kindly. “No,
he was a Hebrew. Properly speaking, Israelites is Jews. But
Moses cottoned to the Israelites. That was his fust bit o’
(adj.) foolishness after he got on his own hook. When he
was quite a young feller his brothers sold him for thirty
bob to some Ishmaelites merchantmen on account of him
always dreamin’ he was goin’ to be cock-o’-the-walk an’
not bein’ able to keep his (adj.) dreams to his self. Anyhow
he foun’ his road into Egypt, an’ there he dropt across the
Jews. Seems, so fur as I can make out, a feller name o’
“Well, them ole times, the Lord used to mix Hisself up a lot with people an’ take no end o’ trouble tryin’ to keep things a bit straight, an’ He looked roun’ for the foolishest bloke he could find to take on sich a (adv.) dead-horse racket as gettin’ the Jews out o’ this perdicament, an’ the (person) He picked out was Moses – a feller that might ‘a bin a swell among the Egyptians if he’d knowed when he was well off.”
(If the student of this simple memoir should thoughtlessly impute anything like irreverence to Dixon, I hereby warn her that she does so at her own risk – at the gravest of all risks, namely, the risk of doing injustice. The comrade of nature, unconsciously profane, is rarely irreverent, never flippant. For instance, though Dixon habitually uttered the name “God” without the slightest mitigation or remorse of voice, his pronunciation of “the Lord” was unaffectedly grave and devout. Briefly, the worst you can say of this wild-flower of the plains is that his Jahvistic ideal was anthropomorphically on a level with that of the writers of the Pentateuch and that his phraseology was governed by his vocabulary. So, innocently paraphrasing the sacred narrative, he continued),
“Accordin’ly, Moses went an’ barracked with this Parryo to let the children go. (They’re always alluded to by the name o’ ‘children’ on account o’ their (adj.) uselessness, an’ pig-headedness, an’ frightenedness.) Fust go off, Moses on’y ast, quite simple like, for all hands to get a couple or three days’ spell, an’ fetch their live stock, an’ flittin’, an’ tucker, an’ every (adj.) thing they could rake up to sacrifice to the Lord in the wilderness.
“‘Rats!’ says Parryo. ‘Gor struth!’ says he, ‘did you
think you’d come Paddy over me Won’t wash no (adj.)
road. Jist you (adv.) well scoot back,’ says he to Moses,
“But the Lord He backed up Moses, and sent locusts, an’ pleuro, an’ Scotch greys, an’ all manner o’ curses on the country. Some sort o’ oversight, seemin’ly, for it was the people that fell in, an’ Parryo never turned a (adj.) hair. Anyhow, after no end o’ disturbance, the Jews got clear; an’ Parryo he rallied up the Egyptians an’ sooled ‘em on to foller. Then a thing took place that no livin’ man would believe, without he seen it for his own self, or read it in the Bible. Seems when the children come to the Red Sea the water formed up into a (adv.) great bank on both sides, an’ they walked across, quite unconcerned. Then when the Egyptians follered, the water walloped together, an’ the Egyptians was (adv.) well had. Course, it ain’t our place to say the wrong people was wiped out by mistake. I s’pose it was to be.
“Well, Moses he knowed the track to the Land o’ Canaan, an’ he went with the children to show them the road. This was a land flowin’ with milk an’ honey, but there was some middling rough stages across a bit o’ country called the Wilderness o’ Sin. Anyone would think they’d put up with a trifle o’ hardship, considerin’ what was behind them an’ what was in front, but they begun to growl at Moses for fetchin’ them into the wilderness to die. That was always their (adj.) chorus – ‘fetchin’ us into the wilderness to die.’
“Then when the Lord foun’ this was the sample o’
thanks He was gittin’ for all the trouble He’d took, He
said He’d let them die and be d–d to them on’y for a
promise He’d made to Aminadab years and years before.
So he sent quails an’ mannar, as much as they could
(adv.) well tuck into them. No go. They was like some
new chums that’s bin half-starved at home, an’ jammed
together like fleeces in a bale; an’ these is the very blokes
that can’t find a good word to say about a country where
they got any gosquanty o’ room to look roun’ an’ a slant
“‘What the (adj. sheol) did you want fetchin’ us out of Egypt, where we had as much meat and vegetables as you could shake a stick at?’ says they. ‘You (adj.) rotten (charlatan),’ says they, ‘seems like’s if you was workin’ some little point fetchin’ us into the wilderness to (adv.) well die.’
“Then the Lord – He was fearful hot-tempered them ole times – He says ‘Stan’ clear, Moses.’ Says He, ‘I’ll destroy these (adj.) varmin, promise or no promise; an’ you can make a fresh start with yer own kids.’
“Slant for Moses. Fact, you couldn’t propose anythin’ softer – but what d’you think the (adj.) fool done?”
“Snapped at it?” I suggested.
“Prayed for the (adj.) weeds,” responded Dixon emphatically. “Prayed for ‘em. Well, I be –” he paused to select some adequate self-imprecation, culled a suitable one, and delivered it with a vigorous rattle of consonants.
” Well, I’ll only jist thin ‘em out a bit this time,’ says the Lord. ‘Must stop their (adj.) jaw some road.’ So he sent swarms o’ snakes into the camp; but whether the snakes picked out the individuals that growled, or whether they bit anybody they could ketch, the Bible don’t say. Anyhow, Moses rigged up a brass snake on a pole, an’ stopped the poison actin’. It ain’t as clear as it might be, but things was different in the old times.
“Well, these Jews they sort of (verbed) along through the Wilderness of Sin, till they come to the Land o’ Canaan; an’ Moses he sent twelve spies on ahead to spy out the nakedness o’ the land, an’ these emissaries fetched back a sample bunch o’ grapes, as much as two o’ them could stagger under. The account they give o’ the country was that a land flowin’ with milk an’ honey was no name for it; but the Canaanites, an’ the Rechabites, and the Mammonites, an’ all the other (adj.) ites looked like as if they was able to take their own (adj.) part agen anybody that come foolin’ roun’ with the idea of shiftin’ ‘em.
“‘We’ll (adv.) soon see about that,’ says Moses, ‘We’re on for possessin’ that land, no matter if we got to take a couple or three (adv.) good lickin’s at the start. Audaces fortuna (adj.) juvat,’ says he. ‘All in favor o’ this dart will please signify the same in the usual manner,’ says he. An’ what d’you think the Jews done?”
“Gave three cheers?” I suggested.
“Yes. Vill you buy a vatch? They lifted up their voice an’ wept. Lifted up their voice an’ (adv.) well wept.
“‘To (sheol) with you an’ yer (adj.) Land o’ Canaan, you blatherin’ morepoke,’ says they to Moses. ‘This comes o’ you fetchin’ us out o’ Egypt, where our hides was whole, no matter if we was welted up to our work now an’ agen. We gone quite fur enough,’ says they, ‘so we’ll stone you to death for makin’ a (adj.) fool of us, an’ off back to Egypt before we die o’ fright.’
“‘Stan’ o’ one side, Moses,’ says the Lord. ‘I ain’t goin’ to put up with this sort of (adj.) nonsense one minit longer. No use argying with a certain class o’ people. I’ll jist wipe out these (adj.) soojee (cravens), an’ make a great nation out o’ you an’ yer own piccaninnies.’
“Slant number fifty, or so, for Moses; an’ what does the (adj.) fool do but he prays for the apostates again. Prays for ‘em.
“‘Have it so, then,’ says the Lord, ‘but they got to go back into the Wilderness of Sin an’ do another perisher. Sin by name and sin by nature.’
“‘Hold on,’ says the Jews. We’re on the (adj.) job. We’ll go an’ possess the land.’
“‘Not if I know it,’ says the Lord. ‘You should have thought about that before. Too late now. You’re like the Portigee divil – when you’re good, you’re too good. Back you go into the Wilderness an’ think the (adj.) thing over for a matter o’ forty years. We’ll have another confab about it when you got some o’ the stiffenin’ took out o’ your (adj.) necks.’
“Course, this druv the Jews to desperation, an’ they
roused up all hands an’ went to hunt the old inhabitants
“But the Canaanites, an’ the Rechabites, an’ the whole (adj.) fraternity of ites – Hittites was the name they got after, on account o’ what took place – they rolled into the Jews an’ knocked (adj. sheol) out o’ them, an’ the remains o’ the (poltroons) bolted back to their own camp with their tails properly down, an’ lifted up their voice an’ wept to some purpose. They was out of it.
“So Moses, the (adj.) fool, he cheered ‘em up and fetched ‘em back the road they come, an’ travelled ‘em back an’ forrid in the Wilderness of Sin for forty years. Every now an’ agen they used to round on Moses, an’ be on the point o’ stonin’ him to death, an’ the Lord would lose His temper agen, and it’d take Moses all his time to steady Him. Otherways, Moses jist took things as they come, an’ kep’ reasonin’ with the malcontents, an’ gittin’ up feasts of tabernacles, an’ feasts of unleavened bread, an’ feasts of this, that, an’ the other (adj.) thing. ‘Tabernacles’ is Latin for mia-mias, and ‘unleavened bread’ is damper.
“Last instance of Moses’ foolishness. One time he was away on some business with the Lord, an’ the Jews they scraped up all their jewellery, an’ melted it, an’ made a golden calf, and was holdin’ a corroboree over it an’ goin’ on with their (adj.) childishness, as usual, an’ up comes Moses, ropeable – and what d’you think he done?”
“Confiscated the calf?” I suggested.
“Not his (adj.) height. He seized it, like a case o’
tobacker at the Customs, an’ groun’ it into powder, an’
mixed it with water, an’ made the delinquents drink the
water – an’ so good-bye to as much as would have kep’ him
independent for life. Fair chased with every (adj.)
description o’ slants, an’ never froze on to one o’ them. Got worse
as he got older an’ died at last on top of a mountain, like
some pore swaggie – a man that might have bin at the very
top o’ the tree if he’d collared half the slants that come his
“Much the same with ourselves at the present day, Dixon,” I remarked, with the magnanimity of one who has dined well. “Think over it every time you hear of somebody getting hanged.”
“Moke of a different (adj.) color,” replied the bullock driver gravely, as he began to pack away his primitive table-service. “The world’s a (sheol) of a sight better now nor it was in them ole times, an’ the main reason is because there’s a fair mixter of other people stead of Jews, Jews, Jews runnin’ the whole (adj.) contract. Another thing’s got a lot to do with it” – he paused, then continued with marked reverence – “there’s a (adv.) great improvement in the Lord’s way o’ workin’. Eased off a lot – ain’t He?” Another pause, then in a wistful tone, whilst suspending his domestic labor, “Now, onna bright, Collins, do you think the fear of the Lord will save a person?”
“We’re led to believe so.”
“But is that what you was taught, or is it only yer own (adj.) idear?”
“It’s what I was taught, and taught by professing Christians!”
“My strong point,” responded Dixon, with ill-concealed relief. “Grand (adj.) holt – ain’t she? Spes tutissima (adj.) coelis.” He lit his pipe on the strength of her. “Hullo, here’s Rigby. More the merrier. Plenty a tea in the billy, anyhow.” And he proceeded to relay the spread corn sack with his frugal store.
- The stranger’s hand to the stranger, yet – for a roving folk are mine –
- The stranger’s store for the stranger set – and the camp-fire glow the sign.
- Henry Lawson.
Rigby met my glance of surprise with a far-away, dreamy look; then, with the same preoccupied air, he walked across to his wagonette, and drew his tucker-box from beneath the seat. Whereupon Dixon became so frankly offensive that Rigby put the box back, and took his place at the bullock driver’s ocean-bounded table.
“I didn’t expect you so soon, Colonel,” he remarked. “I can’t stay long,” he replied. “Nice evening.” The last observation was addressed to a flash-looking young man, who came up with a rod and line in his hand.
“I’ve seen worse, an’, at the same time, I’ve seen better,” replied the young fellow. “Whereabouts was it that your mate caught that thirty-pounder?” he continued, turning to Dixon.
“Sit down and have a drink o’ tea,” replied the bullock driver. “Who was tellin’ you about the (adj.) fish?”
“What’s that got to do with you? I want to know where he caught it?”
“Well, you kin jist (adv.) well fine out,” replied Dixon, with dignity. “Polite sort o’ (person) you are,” he continued as the other strode away. “Bin dragged up anyhow, seemin’ly.”
“Who is he?” I asked.
“Kangaroo hunter, supposed to be. One (adj.) horse an’
no dogs. Nothin’ but a rifle. Camped over there, aside the
big log. Look out for yer dog tonight, Collins.”
“More sacks to the mill,” I remarked, as another man approached us with a fishing-rod in his hand. A little, puny, mild-looking man this time.
“Good evening, gentlemen. I believe Thompson hooked a fine fish this morning somewhere here?”
“Who was tellin’ you?” asked Dixon.
“That foreigner up at the pub.”
“Well, yes; he got a thirty-pounder this mornin’,” replied Dixon, suavely. “Landed her after a (sheol) of a (adj.) struggle, but when he thought she was safe, away she goes slitherin’ down the bank an’ into the (adj.) river agen. Have a drink o’ tea. There’s a (adj.) pannikin.”
“I’ve just had supper, thank you.”
“What’re you baitin’ with?”
“Bit of roasted possum – can’t beat it,” replied the visitor, as he retired towards the river bank.
“Decent little (fellow),” commented Dixon, without waiting till the other had got out of hearing. “Londoner, by perfession Cockney, with no inside. Name o’ Furlong. Scrats out a (adv.) good livin’, possumin’ in the winter, when the skins is good. That’s his (adj.) spring cart over there. He on’y come this forenoon; an’ now he’s got dozens o’ sheepskins in the lagoons, fishin’ for leeches. Gits the raw pelts cheap at the Wash and sen’s the (adj.) leeches to Melb’n wholesale. Great little (fellow.) Stuff any (adj.) thing, from a emu to a tomtit. Best (adj.) bee-hunter in these parts, too. Got a eye like a (adj.) hawk. Got a bee-tree this afternoon, that I’d bin walkin’ past a dozen times, an’ he collars that (adv.) great treacle can an’ fills her full o’ honey for me, an’ no compliment.”
Whilst imparting these biographical notes, Dixon had taken from an adjacent hollow stump an old billy half-full of live mussels, in water; now he laid three of these in front of the fire and replaced the billy.
“Allowed to be the best (adj.) possumer on the track,” he resumed; “an’ he tells me he wasn’t worth a (courtesan’s) curse at the trade he was brought up to.”
“A familiar experience, Dixon,” remarked Rigby,
“Hum,” replied Dixon, warily. “Anyhow, me an’ him got acquainted campin’ together on the Island two year ago. That (man)’s got a blessin’ on him, jist the same’s Thompson’s got his (adj.) curse. Spends mostly all his spare time readin’ the Bible and prayin’. Puts the (adj.) stuns on me how some chaps kin be so good. Roughest contract ever anybody took on is to do everything to the glory of God, but that (fellow) manages it. Can’t you eat no more, Rigby? Well, I’ll pack up the (adj.) jewel’ry-box, an’ we’ll go an’ have a shake for this thirty-(adj.)-pounder.”
Meanwhile, I had rigged up my fishing-tackle. Rigby, having finished his meal, glanced at his watch, hesitated a moment, then walked to his wagonette, and returned with a jointed fishing-rod. Dixon’s tackle was already prepared. Each of us took one of the gaping mussels and baited his hook with the naked mollusc, now shrunken and toughened by the slight roasting which had opened the shell.
“My intentions ran on another kind of fishing,” remarked Rigby to me, as we made our way down the bank. “However, I may combine the two forms for a very short time, since the circumstances are so contributory as almost to amount to compulsion.”
He was right. Better conditions could not have been supplied to order. Three large red gums stood on the edge of the river ten or twelve yards apart, and their roots, washed clean by the stream, afforded seats and foothold anywhere on the steep slope; while before us the faintly-swirling water seemed full of promise. The kangaroo hunter and Furlong were already seated, watching their floats. The fascination of the thirty-pounder was over us all.
It was a beautiful evening – dead calm, with just that
flavor of sultriness which, at a later hour, matures into
temperature so perfect that the most accomplished tippler
Behind where we sat, a sheep-proof fence, running down from the pub, terminated in one of the three big trees I have mentioned. The east side of this fence was a grazing paddock, consisting of frontage land, purchased or stolen by a squatter in the good old times, and now rented by a local boss-cockie. The pub was part of the same property; all belonging to some indefinite person in Melbourne.
Just behind us, a section of charred ruins, overgrown with nettles and variegated thistles, showed where the old out-station had stood in the corner of the land. The place was known as Cameron’s Paddock, from the name of the second last, and longest-bleeding, tenant.
The west side of the fence was river frontage, the
redgum flats coming southward to the road, while the river
itself swept away miles to the north, and again approached
Here I may remark that, as a rule, the trans-Murrumbidgee bullock driver, like the emu, is more inclined to follow water conservation northward through the back-blocks than to drift down into the distracting civilisation of the Murray. But Thompson, Dixon and a few others, being Victorians, and familar with many desirable spots along the Border River, sometimes condescended – condescended, I say – to put in a month or two on their native territory when the grasshoppers began to starve on the plains through which the Lachlan ought to have run. Victorian trips were too degradingly short, and Victorian wheat too abominably heavy handling for these aristocrats; but, as Falstaff says, young men must live and seasons are not unknown when – to use a composite metaphor for which Thompson is responsible – the rat who refuses to leave the sinking ship will be reduced to live on the boiled tongues of his own dead bullocks. Thompson had been that rat.
Whilst we were selecting comfortable seats, and throwing our lines into the river, the rhythmic pattering of a cantering horse came faintly on the air, followed by the jangle of a bell at the wagons on the bank above us, and the shrill neigh of a liberated animal, starting in search of his mates. Then Rigby, mentally shaking himself up, turned toward me and murmured confidentially:
“By the way I was just going to ask you –”
“That you, Thompson?” shouted Dixon.
“No,” replied Thompson, appearing on the bank.
“How are you, Rigby? I’m glad to see you. All hands fishing? Any luck?”
“Stacks of it, so fur,” replied Dixon, “only it ain’t the
proper specie. Layin’ wait for that (adj.) thirty-pounder
you lost here. Ole Parley-voo told us about her.”
“Ah, I remember I mentioned it to him this morning. And there’s five of you on the contract, like the five foolish girls in the Bible. However, I’ll keep you company, if anyone can shout me a bait.”
“Plenty mussels in the ole billy in the holler stump aside the (adj.) fire,” replied Dixon. “Don’t roast none but the one you want. Keep the molluscs fresh. Letter for you in the pocket o’ yer (adj.) wagon – forrided from Hay.”
“Only somebody sticking me up for damages, or claiming one of my bullocks, or threatening me with seven years for passing a bad cheque, or perhaps some new style of misfortune,” replied Thompson wearily, as he turned back to prepare his fishing-tackle.
“Swore off o’ smokin’ a fortnit ago, an’ he naterally gits as miserable as a bandicoot when night comes on,” observed Dixon. “Reckons to git his (adj.) curse shifted through knockin’ off his bad habits little by little. Hard to say. Worth tryin’, anyhow.”
While we mused over this suggestion – each in his own way, Thompson joined us, threw his line into the river, seated himself on a root, and sighed deeply.
“I get melancholy every time I see this camp,” he remarked. “I knew the people that lived here, where the house is burned down. Old associations of ten years ago. Now everything’s changed, and changed for the worse. The people are gone – gave up the place three or four years back, and selected away towards the Coolaman. The wagon I had then is at the bottom of the Murrumbidgee, the bullocks are gone, every scrap of tackle is gone, the horse is gone, even the dog is gone; my youth is gone, my hopes are gone; and I’m neither use nor ornament in the world. It would take a smarter man than myself to tell what I’m living for.”
“Sic transit gloria (adj.) mundi” observed Dixon, as if to himself.
“What was her name?” asked Rigby.
“Agnes,” replied Thompson sadly. “Their house stood
on the bank behind us here, where you see the thistles
“I come across a sheep-drover name o’ ‘Swearing Cameron’ three seasons ago,” remarked Dixon, thoughtfully. “Might be some relation. These things often runs in the blood.”
“I’ll tell you the whole story,” pursued Thompson, “and you’ll see what it is for a man to live in the position that I’m in. His whole life is just composed of retreats from Moscow, one after another. Sometimes it seems to slacken off a bit, and you think the infernal thing has sort of exhausted itself, but it’s only gathering strength for a fresh spring; and before you know what you’re about, it’s on you again. I’m not a superstitious man myself, but I can’t help noticing that ever since I cheated that dead man, Providence seems to go clean out of its way to have a clip at me. Now, this instance of Agnes Cameron is a proof of what I say.”
During this confession the little trapper, leaving the butt of his rod jammed among the roots, had picked his way along the water-scarped bank to the speaker’s side. “I beg your pardon,” said he, in a low, eager, voice, “were you camped about two miles from Mathoura, four years ago – four years on the third of March last?”
Thompson pondered. “I don’t remember – Oh, yes, that’s all right.”
“I was sure I knew your voice,” replied Furlong. “I just camped here today.” A pause. Then the two shook hands, and the trapper returned to his line.
- For rustic youth could I a list produce
- Of Stephen’s books, how great might be the use;
- But evil fate was theirs – survey’d, enjoy’d,
- Some happy months, and then by force destroy’d:
- So will’d the Fates – but these, with patience read,
- Had vast effect on Stephen’s heart and head.
- Rev. George Crabbe, The Learned Boy.
“Yes, boys,” continued Thompson, sadly. “She was the only girl I ever was properly in love with, and one Sunday I took her out in a canoe –”
“This won’t do, Steve,” I interrupted, with some severity. “You must tell us how you met her first, and what induced you to fall in love with her; also what sort of a canoe it was, and who you stole it from – and, in fact, all the details.”
“I can tell you exactly what induced me to fall in love
with her, Tom. It was yourself that did it – indirectly, of
course. I’ll tell you how. It was in January ‘73, that I
camped in this bend for the first time, to have a few
months’ spell before the next wool. Now, you remember
that I met you at Deniliquin in the spring of ‘72, and we
spent a Sunday together at my camp on the common? Do
you remember telling me then that there were ten
masterpieces of poetry that nobody on earth, except yourself, had
ever read clean through, or ever would? I took a list of
them at the time, if you remember, but, in any case, I’m
not likely to forget the names. Let’s see – Paradise Lost and
Regained, counting the two as one; Goethe’s Faust,
especially the second part; Dante’s Divine Comedy, Spenser’s
Faerie Queene; Thomson’s Seasons; Young’s Night
Thoughts; Cowper’s Task; Tennyson’s In Memoriam;
Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia; and, lastly, any poem of
“Well, being young and flash at the time, I began to think how I would shine if I had those books at my finger ends, and you know the sort of lunacy that comes over a man when he fancies himself good enough to go through with a thing that everybody has shied clear of. I seemed to look forward into the future and overhear people saying: ‘See that cove! – that’s the man I was telling you about – that’s Thompson – best-educated fellow on the track.’ And this ambition got possession of me till at last I wrote to Cole for the prices of the best rough-and-ready editions delivered at the Melbourne Railway Station. The end of the matter was, that the parcel was waiting for me at Echuca when I crossed the river on my way to this bend to spell for the next wool. Of course, the ten books included a lot of reading that wasn’t properly in the contract, but I wanted to be on the safe side, and I was game for anything in the way of reading.
“I camped on a little sand-hill, half-a-mile across there. I had nothing to interfere with my reading except to boil the billy about once a day and make a damper about once a week; and between my natural laziness and the strain on my mind, I got too feeble to do even that much properly. But I stuck to my studies, though I’m a slow reader at the best of times. When I got so disgusted with one book that I couldn’t face another line, I used to take a spell and then tackle some other book, and so on – always marking the place where I knocked off, and never slumming a word.”
“But we want your love-story, Steve,” interposed the Major.
“This is my love-story, and I’m telling it according to Tom’s specifications. Better decide whether I’m to study your taste or his. Or, if you like, I’ll drop it altogether.”
“Ne Jupiter qaidem (adj.) omnibus” observed Dixon, sententiously.
“Are you to the fore?” growled Thompson. “You ought
to be yarded, without water or tucker, till you learn to
speak English again.”
“Didn’t mean no (adj.) offence,” replied Dixon, scoring heavily with the ostentatious mildness of his tone. “I on’y shoved in a word, as a amicus (adj.) curiae, in a manner o’ speakin’.”
“We all apologise; myself foremost,” said Rigby. “Go on with your story in your own way.”
“Very well,” replied Thompson. “After I had been camped about a month I went across one day to inquire about a roan steer that had taken up with my bullocks, and there I saw Agnes for the first time. She was a fine lump of a girl, no doubt; but my mind was so disordered and stupefied by the class of books I had been reading that she seemed like a bird of paradise, and she’ll have that appearance to me as long as I’ve got a head on my body.” He paused, and sighed deeply.
“Well, I bought this roan steer off Cameron, and that started a sort of acquaintance. Agnes was just twenty, and she had two brothers of sixteen or seventeen. Mrs Cameron was a nice, fat, easy-going sort of woman, frightened to death of Cameron. Everybody was frightened of that man, and no one worse than myself. Most God-fearing man I ever knew. But the boys were great disciples of mine. Many an evening the three of us have sat fishing here, where we are now. And many a Sunday morning I’ve dressed myself as like a Presbyterian elder as I could come it and sneaked across here, to fawn like a dog on Cameron, and go mooning about the place like a harmless lunatic. By-and-by I got a letter from my sister that fairly knocked me. Cameron happened to be a townie of my father’s next neighbor (that was old McFarlane, Tom), and it seems he had written to this cove for particulars about me. Not much to build upon, of course, but I fancied that Cameron afterwards talked to me in a tone that I could imagine him using to the son of a respectable man, and I caught at the hope as the drowning man catches at –”
“Not at a straw, if you please, Steve,” interposed Rigby.
“Well – at an anvil. However, time passed till I began to
think about starting for Hay. Mind you, I was in a curious
“This happened on a Saturday morning. Cameron had a habit of finding some work of necessity for Sundays to keep the family out of mischief. He was starting away down the country that afternoon with the two boys to meet some store cattle, not expecting to be back for four or five days, and as I was to start for Hay on the Monday morning we weren’t likely to meet again for six months. In the meantime, I was to write to him, but not to Agnes. You’ll understand that I had been loafing in the bend for four or five months, and by this time it was well on in the winter.
“Now, you’ll see what comes of doing things on
Sunday that ought to be done the night before. On Sunday
morning I went to the smiddy that used to be a mile up
the road here to get some keys I had ordered, and I was
coming back along the frontage with the keys in my hand,
“She was travelling within a few yards of this bank, so I peeled off and slipped in and snaked her ashore with a bit of clothes-line that was hanging to one end. I tied her up while I went back after my duds. Then I got on board, and came rowing down here, like Trickett himself, and stuck her snout among the roots, just above where Rigby’s sitting at the present moment. Of course, the river was twelve or fifteen feet higher than it is now.
“After dinner, nothing would do me but to take Agnes out for a pleasure trip in the canoe. She was on, but her mother was dubious. However, I argued so hard, and lied so fluently about my skill in handling boats that Mrs Cameron gave in at last, and off we went. It wasn’t the first time I had been in a boat, but it was the first time I ever had an oar in my hand, and the new-chum flashness was strong on me. This was about two in the afternoon, and we were to be back in a couple of hours. Of course, I knew Cameron wouldn’t allow any such Godless recreation if he was at home, but I quieted my conscience with the thought that what the eye never sees, the heart never grieves for.”
Thompson paused, sighed heavily, and mechanically felt for his pipe. Then, even in the gloaming, I marked his form assume a resolute, almost arrogant, bearing. The haughty consciousness of self-subdual was more grateful, after all, than even a soul-satisfying smoke; it threw boldness on his forehead, gave firmness to his breath, and he looked like some grim warrior new risen up from death.
- But now secure the painted vessel glides,
- The sunbeams trembling on the floating tides;
- While melting music steals upon the sky,
- And soften’d sounds along the waters die;
- Smooth flow the waves, the zephyrs gently play,
- Belinda smil’d, and all the world was gay.
- Pope’s Rape of the Lock.
Thompson resumed. “I just let the boat drift, dipping the oars in a light, off-hand way, to steady her along; and the time passed as pleasantly as time can pass, and quicker than it ever did before, or ever will again. Agnes was even happier than I was, for the whole transaction just came up to her poor little idea of devilment. As it happened, the sun wasn’t shining that afternoon, and my watch had gone cronk some weeks before; so I could only guess at the time. But we wanted to be on the safe side, so presently we agreed that it was time to be getting back. Just then we saw a boy putting a night line in the river, and I says to him:
” ‘I say, sonny,’ says I, ‘how far back is it to Mr Cameron’s?’
” ‘Well,’ says he, ‘I dunno how fur it is by the road you come, but you won’t do bad if you pad it in five miles. Ain’t that Agnes Cameron you got with you?’ says he. ‘Wonder how they let her come out. I seen Cameron half an hour ago.’
” ‘No,’ says I, ‘you couldn’t. He went away yesterday!’
” ‘I know he did,’ says the boy. ‘I seen him and Billy and Malky goin’ away yesterday, and I seen him comin’ back today by his own self. Ought to be home about dark.’
“We were travelling so fast just then that the boy had
“However, I aimed for a good landing-place, and hit a
steep, greasy bank about fifty yards lower down, where
Agnes couldn’t get out; and altogether by the time we got
landed, the night was fairly on us, and it was beginning to
rain. When we were landing, I held on to some roots and
kept the boat jammed against the bank while Agnes crept
out on her hands and knees. Then I let go and stepped
ashore. But clumsy as the boat was, it was lively enough to
swing out while I had one foot on the edge of it and the
other on the bank. Of course, I plopped into three or four
feet of water; and before I had cleared myself, the boat
was well out into the main current, and off full tilt for
Echuca, with Agnes’ boots and shawl and umbrella on
“When we got up on the bank, things looked worse than ever. No appearance of a light anywhere; not even the bark of a dog to be heard; no sign of population; nothing but a wretched red-gum flat, most likely miles across, and cut up in all directions with creeks. However, the first thing to be done was to get out to the main road, so I cheered Agnes up, and gave her my coat and boots, and we made a start together. Naturally, a couple of hundred yards brought us block up against a billabong. We run it along to the left for a quarter of a mile, and found it joined on with the river. Then we turned back, and run it half a mile to the right, and found it stuck on to the river there, too. Of course, we were on an island, and by this time it was pitch dark, and raining cats and dogs. Then I could see that the infernal thing had roused itself, and was fairly on the job. So I was thankful for the very small mercy of a hollow tree, with just enough room in it for Agnes to pack herself as scientifically as a chicken in a clocked egg.
“Next consideration was a fire, so I groped under logs for dry leaves, till I got enough for a commencement. It was a close shave for matches. I had just three left, but they were dry, for the box was a waterproof one. My fingers were numb with cold, so I managed to drop the first match and lose it; but the next was a success. I got the handful of leaves lit, but I had to supply the fire in its infancy with wet stuff, and in spite of all I could do, it dwindled and flickered and died out.”
“I’d a give five bob to hear you dealin’ with the (adj.) subject,” remarked Dixon, complacently.
“You’d have lost your money. I had another match left.
I spent a quarter of an hour groping out more dry leaves
and twigs. Then I got Agnes’ handkerchief for kindling,
and made a final attempt. But the match turned out to
have no head. I didn’t come out. I was past that. I was
crushed. It wasn’t the hardship, for I’ve had worse nights,
and I expect to have worse still before I die, but it was the
“Hear, hear,” said I, rattling my feet on a root. “Wasn’t it worth while to be led into all this unpleasantness by those books, when they repaid you with the power of illustrating it in such a scholarly way?”
“Case of vigilate et (adj.) orate, when a man’s in such a (sheol) of a (adj.) st-nk,” interjected Dixon, with good-natured emulation, as the last syllable left my lips.
“Go ahead, pile it on!” retorted Thompson, maliciously. “I don’t know any surer way of falling in the fat – and I ought to be an authority.”
“Let them fill up their measure of iniquity, Steve,” remarked the Deacon. “Go on with your story.”
“Well,” resumed Thompson, “after, about three months daylight came, and the rain cleared off. Agnes hadn’t felt the cold much, for she had a layer of fat all over her, and her clothes were dry; so she had dropped asleep at the drowsy time in the morning. As soon as it was light enough to see, I had explored the billabong and found one place where the current was middling strong. I tested this spot from bank to bank to make sure of the bottom, and found it only from three to four feet deep. So I got the loan of my boots for the trip, and took Agnes on my shoulders to keep her out of the water, and a good pole in both hands to prop against the current; and I made the passage with about two ounces of strength to spare, for she was eleven stone, all out – and I was anything but fresh.
“By this time the sun was out nice and warm, and the
rest of our journey was easy. We came straight in this
direction, thinking to get a shorter cut than the main
“When we had gone a little better than a mile, we saw a farm house in front of us, and we knew where we were. Agnes was acquainted with the people of the farm, so we decided to give them a call. It was Quarterman’s place – two or three miles from here by the road. He’s a pompous individual in his own little way. He took on himself to cross-examine me about our misfortune, and he ended by writing a note to Cameron over it. But Mrs Quarterman did all she could for us, and presently we started off home in a spring cart, with a half-grown lump of a girl to hammer the old moke along. Of course, this girl had to carry the note for Cameron. But now that the adventure was drawing to an end, I found a peace of mind that all the old fogies on the river couldn’t disturb. I was as happy as Larry.”
“I don’t perceive much opening for self-felicitation yet,” observed Rigby. “The figure of Cameron seems to loom large in perspective.”
“Now, I’ve told this yarn to three different women, and they all saw the point at a glance,” replied Thompson. “But we’re dense beggars, the cleverest of us. Anyway, if the idea had struck me before, I would have been proof against all the misery of the night. It just occurred to me that this bit of a mishap would grow into a very good scandal, and that nobody else would have Agnes at any price. My old mistake, forgetting the thing that was on me.
“However, after we got started, I whispered to Agnes,
so that Jim couldn’t overhear (Jim was the girl’s name),
‘Agnes,’ says I, ‘it’s a dead certainty that I won’t be allowed
about your place for some time to come. Now listen and
“I impressed this on her mind, and cheered her up, and we jogged along to about half-way home, when up comes Cameron behind us on horseback, as savage as a bull-ant. He ordered me out of the spring cart, and I obeyed like clockwork, after giving Jim a half-sovereign for herself. Then, whilst the spring cart went on, Cameron stayed a few minutes, and told me what he thought of me. I took it like a poor man with a large family. I could afford to take it in that way, for I seemed to have a grip that he couldn’t shake. When he had finished, I went down to my wagon, and yoked up, and camped that night twelve mile beyond Quarterman’s, and in less than a fortnight I was at Hay, still gloating over my mortgage on Agnes.”
“And the books that I had recommended – did you master any of them?” I asked.
“No, Tom, I didn’t. They mastered me. I gave them to the Public Library at Hay. They reflected a glimpse of credit on me in the end; but, as I told the secretary when he was writing my name and title in the front of each, and complimenting me on my choice of reading – ‘Stephen Thompson, Esquire,’ says I to him, ‘has never been the same man since he tackled them.’ “
Again Thompson sighed hopelessly, shoved his hand half way down his right-hand pocket, then slowly withdrew it, whilst his whole attitude and demeanor showed that he was vividly realising how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong.
- This is the state of man; to-day he puts forth
- His tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms,
- And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
- The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
- And, when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
- His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root.
- King Henry VIII, Act III, Scene ii.
“Did you keep your appointment with the girl?” asked the Colonel, after a pause.
“Well, Providence took a hand in the arrangement, and I’m not rebellious enough to complain,” replied Thompson, with the diseased humility of a self-pitying egotist. “I’ll finish the story. It was in June ‘73, that I left here, and I came back in February, ‘74. I had made a splendid season of it – the best I had ever had. The squatters were coining money, and there was no end of new country fresh stocked with sheep in place of cattle; and the grass was good, and I had one of the best teams that ever travelled Riverina. We’ll never see such times again. Before Christmas I had cleared two hundred and ten notes, beyond all expenses, and my team nothing the worse. Full loaded both ways every trip, and me grabbing the monish till I could feel my nose growing big and hooked and my eyes taking the appearance of black beads. I was a man to be avoided.
“During the season I wrote two letters to Cameron,
apologising for the other affair, and reporting progress in
a modest, off-hand way, but he never answered. So, as I
was telling you, I got back in February. I camped about a
mile below here and that evening I swam the river with a
tomahawk in my teeth, and blazed that big tree – there it
is, just opposite. Next evening I was at the corner of the
“‘Now, let me hear what you have to say, Thompson,’ says he, in an awful voice. ‘I’ll represent my daughter this evening, if you’ve no objection.’
“Nothing for it but to face him square, though, in a manner of speaking Agnes seemed to have gone over to the enemy, and I felt like a tree suddenly stripped of every leaf in a hail-storm.”
“A vicious combination of metaphor and simile, Steve,” remarked the Senator, critically. “Also, the latter seems somewhat exaggeratory. A man with a first-class carrying plant and £210 might be regarded as relatively umbrageous.”
“I agree with you there,” replied Thompson, bitterly. “However, I found myself able to speak to Cameron in a manly way, and he took it in such good part that I began to think he was making allowance for the purchase I had on Agnes; but it was the old mistake of not allowing for the thing that’s on me. So there we stood, while I told him the whole story of my wool season, and when I had done, he canted his head to one side, and says he, ‘Do you expect a man of my experience to believe a yarn like that?’
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘it does sound a bit hollow, but that’s not my fault; the story’s true, post to finish.’
“‘And it is a fact,’ says he, ‘that you’ve got no plant now except nine skeletons and a wagon?’
“‘Gospel truth,’ says I. ‘If you have any doubt about it, you can come to my camp, and see for yourself.’
“‘And how much cash have you to the good?’ says he.
” I’ll conceal nothing from you, Mr Cameron,’ says I. ‘I’ve just got three-and-fourpence in hand, and I’m about twelve notes in debt; but, against this, I have thirty-six notes coming from M’Culloch.’
“‘Look here, Thompson,’ says he, ‘if ever I catch you in sight of my place again, I’ll put the dogs on you,’ and he wheels round and walks off.”
“I don’t blame him,” observed the Major. “Can’t you
“You’ve described my position to a nicety,” replied Thompson gloomily. “That was the year I fell into the hands of Dick the Devil.”
“I thought it was in ‘74 or ‘75 that Dick was made the instrument,” I remarked.
“No; ‘74 was the year the Mulligan lot went with the pleuro; and ‘75 was the year Ramsay’s punt went down with my wagon and things. In Dick’s year a contractor named Pribble had got a wagon made to order in Melbourne; it cost over a hundred notes delivered at Hay. Best bit of furniture I ever saw – front wheels five foot; hind wheels six foot; three-and-a-half axles all round. He bought twenty-two bullocks, with their tackle, for one hundred and forty notes – good frames, but very poor – to take the wagon out back with stores, but just then he got a chance of going into land, so he offered me the lot for one hundred and eighty. It was a gift at the money, and Pribble was a quiet decent fellow, so I found all manner of fault with the plant, and beat him down five notes before I froze on. Fact I stuck out for his wife’s side-saddle into the bargain, till at last he lost patience and told me to go to hell. Worst thing about respectability is the infernal meanness it drives you into.
“I intended to go down to the Murray where there was
no end of grass, and fatten up the new lot and freshen my
own team, and turn out two tip-top twenties next season,
without buying another hoof. I could see my way to an
independence while I was young enough to get some good
of it; and more than that, I could see my way to Agnes in
a more manly, off-hand way than depending on the sort
“As soon as I bought this plant, two middling good men offered themselves as drivers – Blathering Billy and Dick the Devil; and I unfortunately engaged Dick. Just then M’Culloch stuck me up, to take six ton of wire to Boolka, with five ton of locks and pieces guaranteed for the return. So we loaded the wire on the new wagon, and after some consultation, Dick took my eighteen daisies and started for Boolka, while I fell back on the Murray with my twenty-two thin bullocks and my original wagon. In fact, I was too anxious to get back to the Murray. I gave Dick twelve notes to pay his way till we should meet on the Murray; then he started north and I started south. That was my share.”
“You don’t mean to say he absconded with the lot?” exclaimed the trapper.
“Well, no, only as far as the Tooriganny. As soon as my back was turned he began to circulate the report that he had bought the whole plant from me at the last moment, and he showed everybody my receipt for two hundred and eighty notes for the team and wagon and twenty notes for the horse – the best carriers’ hack in Riverina, bar none. Dick was a well-connected, well-educated fellow, and he showed letters he was supposed to have got from some relation in England, with a remittance of four hundred notes. Everybody believed him, for he was always talking about remittances. When you hear a man talk about remittances, have nothing to do with him. You can’t touch him without losing by him.
“However, at the Tooriganny, Dick fell in with three
brothers, name of Durham, from the Queensland border –
very decent chaps, I believe – and he sold them everything
except the horse. But the blasted scum thought there might
be some hitch about the load, so he gave the Durhams to
understand that the trip belonged to me, and that he had
bought the plant conditionally on delivering the wire on
my account. Of course this sounded well, so the Durhams
“Why didn’t you foller him up?” asked the harsh voice of the kangaroo hunter.
“And didn’t I follow him up? I was at Barmah when I heard the news, and I paddocked the twenty-two bul- locks with a selector and left the wagon at his place; then I took the train to Deniliquin, and the coach to Hay, and bought a horse there, and rode five solid weeks, with a revolver under my coat-tail. I went through three good horses altogether, and spent every copper I had, besides going in debt, – and all for nothing. I didn’t see him for more than two years afterwards; he was with a sheep-drover then, and looked miserable enough, poor unfortunate dog. And to mend matters, when I got back to Barmah, I found four of my skeletons dead of pleuro, and eight dying, and the selector cursing me up hill and down dale for infecting his place. Another retreat from Moscow.”
“Well, there’s no denyin’ but Dick acted (adv.) dirty that time,” remarked Dixon, as he drew his line from the water. “Course, I was sort o’ sorry for you, seein’ a man never knows when his own (adj.) turn’ll come. Anyhow, it fetched a curse on poor Dick; got a look on him ever since like a hunted devil. Fact is, it ain’t worth while for a man to make a (adj.) rogue of his self without he gets at somebody able to afford it. (Adj.) crawfish has et my bait off. Must go an’ roast another, I s’pose.”
“I’m glad I didn’t catch him when my temper was up,”
pursued Thompson, as Dixon climbed the bank. “I’d have
shot him on sight. Poor Dick! Nice, jovial, kind-hearted
chap, and full of feeling for dumb animals, but not worth
a curse to stand temptation. And that transaction did fetch
a thing on him that he’ll never shake off. You should see
him now. But it was partly my own fault. I should have
steered clear of a man that talked about remittances.
However, that’s my love-story, and short as it is, it covers my
whole life. No more romance for me. Certainly there’s an
- Enter Lucifer, as a priest.
- Longfellow’s Golden Legend.
“Mournful is thy tale, son of the car,” I observed, thriftlessly using up a good quotation from Ossian. “But you’re only passing through the cycle of adversity that every novelist-hero has to fulfil. You’ll meet your antithetical affinity yet,– some woman with the curse of prosperity on her; and such a woman’s alkali, chemically combined with your acid, will fill the goblet of life with a delectable fizzer. Why, this afternoon, when old Fritz spoke of your catching a thirty-pounder, I thought at once, from what I knew of you, that he was referring to some heiress. You’ll be a shire-councillor, – possibly a churchwarden, – before you’re done; and one that knows the law, go to; and a rich fellow enough, go to; and a fellow that hath had losses, go to; and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him. You’ll be a man of acres – like Binney, over there – with a good-natured toleration for the lower classes.”
“I don’t thank you for the compliment, though Binney’s a ten-to-one better man than I am,” interrupted Thompson, contentiously. “I’m Berryite to the bone; and Binney’s tarred with the same stick as yourself – with this difference, that he’s a sound Conservative, and you’re a rotten one. He’s a good, honest pillar of Conservatism; and you’re a sepulchre, whitewashed with Conserv–”
“Is that you, Thompson?” inquired a cheerful voice from the top of the bank.
“What’s left of me,” replied the bullock driver, “Mr
“Stay where you are, Thompson. All fishing? You’ll have company, Harold. Why, Collins, is this you?”
“No,” I replied, and shook hands with the two cloud-dropped visitors. Binney was a special friend of mine; a farmer, living just beyond the pub. Harold Lushington, a young Methodist minister, was Binney’s brother-in-law. I introduced them to the Colonel, inadvertently omitting (something like me) to mention Lushington’s profession.
“I heard this afternoon that you were camped here,” said Binney to Thompson, “so I just came over to tell you that I want to send away a couple of hundred bags of barley if you’ll take it at the current rate. Will you call round tomorrow morning? Right. We’ll leave it till then. Harold is on business, too. When he was down at the post this afternoon the old German told him some fish-yarn, and it takes a very small touch to put him off his head on that subject.”
“What bait are you using, Collins?” asked Lushington. “I have supplied myself with sheep’s lungs.”
“No good,” remarked Thompson. “Dixon’ll give you a roasted mussel if you don’t mind going up to the fire for it.”
“Thanks,” replied the young clergyman; and he hastily climbed the bank.
“Now, I don’t want to interrupt you, boys,” said Binney, who had seated himself on a root. “Go on with your conversation, if it’s not private. You were talking of Conservatism, I think.”
“The subject of politics was casually glanced at, I
remember,” replied the Major, “but our topic was the
romance of life – the love-story. We had been listening to
a most interesting experience of this kind, and my mind
had just reverted to a speculation touching a very worthy,
though somewhat profane, friend of ours – now gone to
prepare a bait. I was busied in conjecture as to what phase
the grand passion would be likely to assume in his case.
For we must by no means suppose that his unconventional
address and seventh-century moral culture have
emancipated him from the common thraldom or tended to make
I noticed the respectful air which Binney unconsciously assumed under the glamor of the Judge’s perfect enunciation and measured rhetoric. But Thompson nagged in reply:
“You’re doing the chap a great injustice, Rigby. Though, to be sure,” he added sadly, “there’s so much injustice in the world that a little here or there makes no difference. Anyway, Dixon’s not to blame for being rough-and-ready; and he lives up to his standard as well as you live up to yours, and better than I live up to mine. And he’s no such half-savage as you want to make out. Willoughby could tell you that.”
“You must know,” I explained to Binney and the Colonel, “this Willoughby was a whaler of the scholarly-aristocratic type, placed by an inscrutable decree of Providence in the position of understudy to Dixon during the last wool season. Dixon and Willoughby must have got on well together, Steve?”
“They did, indeed,” replied Thompson. “They were together for over three months, and their friendship grew stronger every day.”
“This accounts for Dixon’s smattering of the classics?” I suggested.
“Ay, he’s a bit aggravating that way,” conceded
Thompson, reluctantly. “He’s mad on it. He has a dictionary in
his wagon, that he bought for the sake of the Latin phrases
at the end. Willoughby used to be posting him up day
and night, and everything he learned stuck to him – not
like me. It was the fun of the world to Willoughby. Dixon
naturally washered up his phrases with a “bloody” or two
to make them sound sort of free-and-easy, and Willoughby
made him believe it was exactly what was wanted.
However, at the present time, if you were to ask Dixon who,
of all his acquaintances, stands highest in his liking, I’ll
wager anything he would say Willoughby, and if you
were to ask Willoughby the same question he would say
“Say manager, Steve,” I suggested.
”– ciliousness,” proffered the General.
“Yes, that’s the very word – any superciliousness about Willoughby, they would have quarrelled and parted the second day instead of living like brothers for three months, and then parting with real regret. I went with them to the railway station to see Willoughby off. Worst thing about it was that, though they couldn’t improve one another, they infected one another. Willoughby took Dixon’s style of swearing with him for a keepsake, and left Dixon his style of slapping Latin in people’s faces. Hanged if I know which habit is the worst.”
“Where did Willoughby go?” I asked.
“To Sydney. He’s in an insurance office now. Dixon persuaded him to write respectfully to a Mr Wilcox that he knew; so a friendly correspondence grew up, and this Wilcox offered him a billet where, according to his own account, his duty consists in being the nephew of an English baronet. Wilcox is one of the directors. So Willoughby went back to Sydney with some eclat, and no need to deny himself any of the little requirements of a gentleman. It cost Dixon over forty notes to put him through.”
“Does Dixon advertise this?” I asked.
“Now, wouldn’t it be like him? Don’t judge everybody by yourself. I’m pretty intimate with him, but I wouldn’t know anything about that part of the business only for reading a long letter he got from Willoughby, as we came through Echuca the other week.”
“And you read Dixon’s private letters?” said I austerely. “Oh, you skunk!”
“Simply because Willoughby writes such a scholarly hand that Dixon doesn’t know which is top or bottom, though he has learned himself to make out any sort of plain writing, if the words are not too long. I’m not justified in telling all this, but you fellows drove me to it. And I don’t see why Dixon shouldn’t have a romance in his life as well as anybody else. Now that I come to think of it he has one. The scene of it was on the Goulburn, twenty or thirty miles from here, and the girl was a State School teacher. She was boarding at the farm where Dixon paddocked his bullocks when he was pontooning logs five or six years ago. I don’t know how it ended, but the beginning was romantic enough for anything.”
“You whet our curiosity, Steve,” remarked the Major, as Lushington came down the bank and selected a convenient seat.
“Your friend kindly gave me the bait he had prepared for himself,” explained the clergyman to Thompson as he threw his line into the water.
“Of course,” replied Thompson. “However, as to this love-story. It seems that one Saturday when there was no school, this Miss Coone – that was the girl’s name – was out with the youngsters of the farm gathering flowers.”
“Gathering flowers is good, but hackneyed,” interposed the Colonel critically. “It dates from the abduction of Persephone.”
”—-and Dixon was drawing up to the river with a log, but not in sight of the girl, on account of a belt of whip-stick scrub, when suddenly he heard a scream.”
“Decency, Steve,” said I. “That scream is older than the
Iliad. Behold, it is written in the Book of Jasher.”
“Have you done?” asked Thompson coldly. “As I was saying, he heard a scream.”
“And saw the girl struggling in the grasp of two bushrangers,” rejoined the Senator. “Yes, go on.”
“No, I’m d–d if I do. Tell the story yourselves to your own satisfaction.”
“Well, you are a polite pair,” remarked Binney.
“It was a most remarkable thing, and a good deal talked about at the time,” continued Thompson, turning toward the last speaker. “There was about an acre of smooth tableland, ending in a steep bank, and the river below. Not a safer-looking place in the country, and this Miss Coone and three or four youngsters were scattered about gathering flowers, and they had a basket pram with the youngest kid asleep in it standing in the middle of the open. It was a beautiful calm day, I believe, but a sudden gust of wind caught the hood of the pram and whirled the whole concern, baby and all, straight for the steep bank. Of course the teacher gave a scream and after it full lick. Providentially, Dixon was close handy, and, in spite of these unmannerly animals, he heard the scream and went. He could do his hundred yards in eleven or twelve seconds those times, and I don’t suppose that trip took him much longer, boots and all. He just saw the pram toppling over the bank, and he overtook the girl, and flung her back, and the next moment he went head foremost into the river. It was a fat baby, like they generally have on farms, and it floated like a cork, so he had it out in no time. Then he snaked out the pram and pillows and things, and went back to his team. The people at the farm made a hero of him for the time, but whether Miss Coone actually fancied him, or whether it was a sort of gratitude, or whether she was taken with him as a novelty, I can’t say. I believe she was a city-bred girl and polished at that.”
(Faint praise. She was a poem. I met her afterwards. But that, saving your patience, is yet another romance.)
“And in good time here comes the noble duke,” said I, “We’ll make him finish the story.”
“Very well,” replied Thompson, “and though I know no more than I’ve told you, I venture to say the to-be-continued is as much to his credit as the beginning.”
“Good evening to you,” said Binney civilly as Dixon passed him, descending the bank.
“Same to you, boss, if you was the divil hisself,” replied the bullock driver with equal courtesy. “What’s on the (adj.) blackboard now?”
“Well,” replied Thompson, “we were talking about that school-mistress of yours over here on the Goulburn and wondering whether she was gone on you or you on her.”
“Case o’ mutuus (adj.) consensus” returned Dixon genially. “Six o’ one and half-a-dozen o’ the other. Used to fancy myself a bit then. Used to make the (adj.) silk roar like (sheol) them times. Used to be the gaudiest man on the (adj.) river. Non sum qualis (adj.) eram. Gittin’ a sensible ole person now.”
“In the name of incongruity, Collins, what have we here?” whispered Lushington, whose seat was adjacent to mine.
“Knowledge ill-inhabited, worse than Jove in a thatched house,” I replied. But the young clergyman’s unappreciative silence showed that he regarded my answer merely as ungrammatical and heathenish.
- Ursula! thy words may shame us,
- Yet we once were counted famous,
- Morituri, salutamus,
- Aut victuri, te!
- Gordon’s Ashtaroth.
“Tell us the yarn, Dixon,” said Thompson.
“Well, there ain’t much yarn about it. Sort o’ (adv.) well missed fire. Grand bit o’ goods she was, too! Knowed grammar, an’ jography, an’ sums, an’ every (adj.) thing. Gosh! she was facilis descensus – no, that ain’t it; but it’s on the tip of my tongue – she was facile (adj.) princeps. Well, as I was tellin’ you, it didn’t come off. Couldn’t hit it, no (adj.) road.”
“What broke it off?” asked Thompson.
“A (adj.) dance.”
“You wanted her to go to a dance, and she wouldn’t go?” conjectured the Sheriff.
“Yes, she did go. I (adv.) well wanted her to go, and she (adv.) well did go.”
“And you parted on that?”
“Yes; you see, I got a black eye.”
“What did she hit you with?” I asked
“Hit me? That wasn’t her (adj.) style. Tell you how it come. I goes into the (adj.) township, and strolls into a billiard room, an’ the marker he was playin’ billiards, or bagatelle or some (adj.) thing with another feller; an’ the other feller he was a (adj.) weed to look at; an’, in the course o’ conversation, he says,
” ‘Cannon!’ says he. An’ the marker he says,
” ‘No, it ain’t,’ says he.
” ‘Yes, it is,’ says the telegraft feller.”
“Which telegraph feller?” asked Thompson.
“Which would you (adv.) well think? How many telegraft fellers was in the contract? Why the (sheol) don’t you lis’n? An’ the telegraft feller he turns to me, an’ says he,
“‘Ain’t it a fair cannon?’ says he.
“‘No, it ain’t,’ says I. (Course, I didn’t know a cannon from Adam.)
“‘Oh, yes it is,’ says he.
“‘You’re a (adj.) liar,’ says I.
“‘What!’ says he, an’ with that he hauls off. Put the (adj.) stuns on me.”
“Where did he get you, Dixon?” I asked.
“Smeller,” replied the narrator. “Well, I ain’t used to sich rough (adj.) company, an’ I never bin hit but once before this time, an’ once since. Anyhow, my principle is to take the meanest (adj.) advantage I kin git – an’ to take it quick, for the sake of peace and quietness. But this little (individual) seemed to want spankin’ more nor squashin’, so I goes for him bare-handed, an’ he fetches me right (adv.) bang on the peeper. I follers him up ropeable – gosh! he was like a (adj.) eel; an’ he lands me fair on the point; I drops like a cock, jumps up agen, an’ goes for him lemons. No (adj.) use. He gits home on the butt o’ the lug this time. I drops agen, an’ rolls under the (adj.) billiard table.
“‘Come out o’ thet, you dem scoundrel!’ says he.
” ‘I’ll see you in (adj. pandemonium) fust,’ says I. ‘I ain’t comin’ out till you clear off,’ sez I. ‘I give you the (adj.) scon,’ says I.”
“Big man in small compass,” suggested Binney.
“Fair science frowned not on his humble birth,” I rejoined.
“Deceivin’est little (person) ever I dropped across,” continued Dixon, with a touch of enthusiasm. “Grand thing to be a (adj.) snag like him. Sort o’ gift. Gosh! he was there. Volens et (adj.) potens.”
“And this painful incident disqualified you as a suitor?”
“None but the brave,” I suggested.
“He never seen the gurl in his (adj.) life, so fur as I know. But we parted that night through a (adj.) dance. Fond o’ dancin’, Rigby?”
“Any man who wants a run for his money must prefer any other folly,” replied the Deacon, disagreeably. “I have some little toleration for drunkenness, and gambling, and so forth, but one must draw the line somewhere, and I draw it at dancing.”
“And do you think,” said I, “that, because you are vicious, there shall be no more ‘promenard’, and ‘change partners’?”
“Oh, shut up, both of you,” growled Thompson. “Never mind them, Dixon. Go on with your yarn.”
“They ain’t annoyin’ me. But as I was tellin’ you, it was on’y a sort o’ silver-weddin’ dance at the ‘joinin’ farm; an’ the whole (adj.) lot o’ us was ast; an’ her ladyship was lookin’ forrid to it like goin’ to heaven – flyin’ roun’ like a dog off o’ the (adj.) chain.”
“And you wouldn’t go?” suggested Thompson.
“Yes, I would go, (verb) you. Didn’t I scoot to the (adj.) township to git a new set o’ leadin’ harness, an’ when I come back, says she,
“‘What the (adj. Gehenna) have you bin doin’ with yer eye?’”
“Were those her words, Dixon?” asked Furlong, gravely.
“Well, it’s five or six years ago, an’ I don’t s’pose a man kin make sure o’ bein’ ipsissima (adj.) verba, as the sayin’ is.”
“Very true,” I interposed. “That’s all right. How did you account for your eye?”
“Well, I jist told her, plain an’ straightforrid, I told her
three Cousin Jacks manhandled me in the (adj.) township,
an’ while I was beltin’ two o’ them, the other (fellow)
he hove a brick an’ landed me on the (adj.) eye.”
“And you told her you couldn’t take her to the dance on that account?” prompted the Judge.
“Wrong. It was her spoke. She said she didn’t see what the (adj. Avernus) I wanted goin’ in sich company.”
“But, Dixon,” I remarked, “you see, your own excuse laid you open to that retort. You might, for instance, have told her that you saw a fellow morticing posts, and you good-naturedly took his axe for a few minutes, and omitted to dodge the core.”
“Or,” said the Deacon, “you might have told her you saw a woman winding a bucket of water from a well, and you gallantly offered your services, but she let go the handle before you had a proper hold.”
“Well, Satan’ll have a hard choice among you three,” muttered Thompson. “But how did things go then, Dixon? What did you say to her?”
“Well, I up and says, ‘Oh, it’s no (adj.) odds,’ says I, ‘I kin see to dance, anyhow.’
“‘Like (Tophet!) says she. ‘Why, d–n my rags,’ says she, ‘you ain’t fit to be seen at a (adj.) dog-fight. Think I’d go with you?’ says she.
“‘Do the other (adj.) thing, then,’ says I, gammonin’ to fire up. ‘Stop at home’, says I.
“‘I’ll see you in (adj. Phlegethon) fust,’ says she. ‘I’ll jist go.’ An’ so she did. She went.”
“Dear, dear,” murmured Lushington. “This is dreadful.”
“You’re right, young feller,” replied Dixon cordially. “So you didn’t go?” suggested Thompson.
“How the (adj. Abyss) could I go when she told me
not to? My feelin’s is a (adj.) sight too fine for that lot.
But I’ll tell you what (verbed) the (adj.) contract. I’d jist
bin through Jane Eyre along of another feller, name of
Jack Whitby, an’ I’d come to the (adj.) conclusion that
clever, edicated gurls doesn’t believe in a (adj.) walk-over.
They want a bit o’ bullyraggin’. They (adv.) well like it.
I read a book once, where a toff-gurl, name o’ Florence,
used to nag at her bloke, o’ purpose for him to show her she
“You expostulated with her?” suggested the General.
“Not me. That ain’t my (adj.) style. But I argied like (Acheron.) Fust she says,
“‘Well,’ says she, ‘done actin’ the (adj.) goat?’
“‘You ain’t goin’ to no more dances, jist for this (adj.) lot,’ says I.
“‘Indeed,’ says she, ‘an who the (adj. Townsville) do you think you’re talkin’ to?’ says she.
” Ain’t you gone fur enough?’ says I, lettin’ on to git wild. Ain’t you (adv.) well frightened?’
”‘(Tartarus) sweat the frightened,’ says she. ‘Strikes me, you’re the person that’s in the (adj.) crush. You ain’t my boss; so you needn’t be gittin’ yer (adj.) wool off,’ says she.’”
“Oh, dear, dear,” moaned Lushington.
“‘Who the (inferno’s) gittin’ their (adj.) wool off?’ says I. ‘Not me. But you ain’t goin’ to no more dances,’ says I.’
“‘I’ll go if I (adv.) well like,’ says she.
“‘Say that agen,’ says I.
“‘Think I ain’t game, you (adj.) morepoke?’ says she. ‘Well, I’ll go if I (adv.) well like.’
“So with that I ketches holt of her by the arm, an’ fetches her a couple o’ piccaninny kicks – not enough to hurt a (adj.) muskeeter. Mere matter o’ form.”
“Had again,” muttered Thompson resentfully. “You uncivilised animal; you’re just about fit to associate with remittance men.”
“Jis’ so,” replied Dixon, with a touch of bitterness, most
unusual in his tone. “Course, you know a (adj.) sight more’n
“He thinks he does,” said I. “But what did Parthenia do when you admonished her?”
“Ain’t hardly fair to give her the name of a racehorse, Collins,” protested Dixon, with spontaneous delicacy. “What did she do? Well, she sort o’ sulked. Gurls is (adv.) pig-headed if they take the notion, an’ when she took the notion, twenty bullocks wouldn’t shift her. We’d a got on beautiful if I’d stuck to my own (adj.) idear – but it wasn’t to be. I always said it was cowardly to be nasty to a woman or a kid, an’ I consider the stinkin’est (adj.) thing a man kin do is to welt a woman. Dunno how the (adj. Malebolge) he kin ever look his self in the face agen. Ain’t that your idear about it, Collins?”
“Depends on the woman herself,” I replied judicially. “I agree with you in respect of the thin, bony subject, but a plump, cushiony woman seems to invite beating.”
“I am surprised that you should justify such a barbarism in any case, Collins,” interposed Lushington, warmly.
“Anyhow,” continued Dixon, “I should a backed my own (adj.) fancy, an’ let Mister (adj.) Rochester go to (Cocytus) with his bullyraggin’. Too late now.”
Nusquam tuta fides, Dixon,” remarked Rigby, sympathetically.
“Hum,” replied the bullock driver, in non-committal acknowledgment of the comment. “Gosh! I could a said prayers to that piece, like a Jew to a graven image, only I wouldn’t bemean my (adj.) self. So, as I was tellin’ you, we walks on home, an’ never another (adj.) word we speaks, from that day to this. Never as much as ‘Good-bye’ or ‘Go to (Niffelheim)’ when I was comin’ away for good. Hated the (adj.) sight o’ me. Aut amat aut odit (adj.) mulier. That’s the (adj.) conclusion I’ve arrove at, Rigby. Think I’m fur out?”
“You have the key to the situation, Dixon. But you
hove many a sigh when the disappointment glode across
“Most unlikely,” said I. “My impression is that he merely wunk the other eye, and smole philosophically whenever he thunk of his escape from bondage.”
“Ever hear what became of Miss Coone afterward?” asked Thompson.
“Well, yes,” sadly replied the unfairly penalised life-racer. “I’m always sort of foxin’ round for news about her, in a careless (adj.) frame o’ mind, an’ now an’ agen I hear how she’s gittin’ on. Mostly through Woods’ people, for she keeps writin’ to Mrs Woods, an’ Woods’ eldest boy is in a store at Hay. Met ole Woods just this side of Echucar, as he was coming through the other day, and he told me the last (adj.) news was she’d bin shifted from two half-times, on the Divil’s River, to a provisional on the Wimmera, an’ the next word he says was, ‘Now, Dixon, don’t you (adv.) well forgit to call round and see the little child that –’ Yes, real nice ole bloke, decent fambly – must take a spin over, some of these (adj.) Sundays.” He paused, then resumed, thoughtfully.
“Yes, she’ll be (adv.) well gittin’ married to some member of Parliament yet, I shouldn’t wonder. If things had went middlin’ right between me an’ her, I might a bin that (adj.) member o’ Parliament myself!”
And so Dixon’s romance petered out to a lame and by no means logical conclusion.
- Name her not now, sir; she’s a deadly theme.
- Troilus and Cressida, Act IV, Scene v.
All individual meditations on Dixon’s story were forestalled by the Senator, who straightway opened an address, speaking in that oracular style which Thompson and I recognised as portending a steadfast resolution to inflict counsel on everyone within range. My own thoughts had already reverted to Miss Vanderdecken; hence I listened with some apprehension, for the masterful intonation of Rigby’s deep voice was gone and the faultless accents were low and sad.
“Romance everywhere, hardening into tragedy, as the real supersedes the fanciful; for the real is always tragic,” said he gravely. “Comedy is tragedy, plucked unripe. Farce is the grimmest of all tragedy; it is the blind jollity of an Irish wake, with the silent guest none the less present because unassertive. There are eight of us here tonight, and probably seven of the number are more or less abject and trashy heroes of romance – romance which has ended, or will yet end, in tragedy.”
“Don’t talk like that, Colonel,” said I, with an involuntary shiver, as my thoughts flashed two hundred miles northward.
“You’re not the odd man out, I’m most happy to remind you,” said Thompson aside to me.
“The Lord reward you, Steve.”
“He means himself, right enough,” suggested Thompson.
“Not he, his mind is full of his own romance. I only hope it won’t overflow in an unbecoming way.”
During this whispered colloquy, the Deacon continued
“Oh, give the love-story a rest,” I broke out with pardonable rudeness. “Let each of us tell the meanest thing he ever did, or the wickedest, or the silliest – anything but a love-story with a sermon hooked on behind.”
“Let Mr Rigby go on, Collins,” said Binney. “Don’t change the topic while you can keep up anything like Dixon’s standard.”
“Don’t pay any attention to Tom,” remarked Thompson. “He only wants to follow suit himself. His love-story is a live one – not like Dixon’s or mine. You’ll hear some version of it from anyone you meet in Riverina, and the only point they all agree upon is that the other party clings to Tom like a mortgagee, though she’s the haughtiest subject on the plains.”
“Probably that’s as near the truth as a man of your moral dimensions can get, Steve,” I replied severely. “But if I happen to be the somewhat measly object of a woman’s misplaced devotion, am I to parade her loyalty publicly and make it the text of my homilies? Of course, this doesn’t touch your case, nor Dixon’s, but would it be the right thing for me? Why, I couldn’t even bring myself to pronounce her name before all hands. It would seem like sacrilege.”
There, thought I, surely that’s broad enough.
“I apologise for the whole company, Mr Rigby, as I had a share in interruption,” said Binney. “A story that you think worth telling must certainly be worth hearing.”
“Oh, don’t expect anything sensational,” replied the Major. “Moreover, the fact that the leading character is not more than half-a-mile from us at the present moment brings an objectionable element of personality into the story; hence it must be taken as related, so to speak, under protest, and only for the sake of the moral which will become apparent. Experience is said to be the best school, and if you can avail yourselves of the experience of others, there is certainly a point gained. Further, though each of you may appear old to himself, you all appear young to me in a mental sense especially, and I feel it incumbent upon me to give you something to carry away from this accidental forgathering.” (Hopeless, thought I. One never knows where this class of moralist may break out. Why, already that woman with her lovely face and truthful eyes is holy even to a promiscuous acquaintance like me, and what should she be to him?) “Very well,” continued Rigby, “picture to yourselves a young –”
“Hang it, I don’t mind if I do tell my love-story, after all,” I interrupted, too hastily to get out of the rut of my reading. “About a year ago, riding along a track through one of the belts of scrub on Runnymede, I heard behind me the clatter of hoofs blended with a woman’s scream, and the next instant a lady on horseback passed me like a bird on the wing. I was startled to notice that the bit was out of her horse’s mouth, and a chill of horror came over me as I thought of a tremendous precipice half a mile in front. I darted forward at full speed, gaining stride by stride, till at last by a desperate effort I drew abreast. Then with one hand I lifted the lady from her saddle, and with the other I wheeled my horse round in his own length. The edge of the precipice crumbled away under his feet as he turned, while the lady’s horse went over. I heard the dull, sickening thud as he found bottom far down in the gorge, after I had pulled up. It was a near thing, but –”
“That’ll do,” interposed Thompson with chilling
unresponsiveness. “Goliath himself couldn’t carry out such
a contract, and a bolting horse always looks after himself,
“This is hardly fair to Mr Rigby,” protested the mild voice of the trapper.
“So say I,” rejoined Binney. “What’s the matter with you, Tom?”
“Now, Collins, like a good fellow,” added Lushington.
“Go on, Judge,” said I, perceiving that the whole conclave had fallen under the fascination of Rigby’s palaver. “I won’t interrupt again. Nor will I listen.”
And I didn’t listen. The experience of monotonous church services and interminable sermons in my boyish days, and of noisy huts in maturer life had trained me to enlist at pleasure Falstaff’s faculty of hearing without marking. So whilst Rigby’s measured monologue went on I switched off my auditory nerve system and heard only the soft, sweet voice of the woman for whose sake I had ineffectually acted the hog. It needed no effort to recall her enchanting face, for every lineament was photographed on the retina of my memory. Then, by a sequence which it would be curious to trace, my mind drifted round to Mrs Beaudesart. The women were in no way alike, save that both were attractive to the eye, and both bore evidence of that social cultivation which is every woman’s birthright; and would be every woman’s inheritance if men in name were men in reality. But Mrs Beaudesart, though probably the younger of the two, had already gone through three husbands, and now the most obscure member of her little circle of friends was living in a state of perturbed speculation as to whose turn would come next.
“You’re doing it grand, Collins,” said a low voice beside
me, and I felt that the Colonel had lived too long, for it
was Sam’s hand that was laid warningly on my knee. “Sh-sh,
I don’t want to let on I’m here,” he continued, settling
himself comfortably in a hollow. Evidently, the boy was
solicitous only to avoid Rigby’s observation, for almost
“So she did,” replied Sam, “but I’m on her business now. Sort of aidy-conk, K.C.B. Rigby’s got the flute, I notice. Don’t baulk him agen. He’s worth a bob an hour to lis’n to, judgin’ by his style.”
- O blessed effect of penury and want,
- The seed sown there, how vigorous is the plant!
- No soil like poverty for growth divine,
- As leanest land supplies the richest wine.
- Cowper’s Truth.
”– takes a pride,” continued the Deacon, “in tracing his ancestry back to the third generation, where baronial bastardy links his human nature with Olympian preeminence. He comes of a decayed family.”
“Takes after ‘em a bit, poor fellow,” murmured Dixon complacently. “What’s his other (adj.) name?”
“Wetterliebenschaff. A good name; and Fritz inherited the pride of his forefathers, along with the untiring purpose of his race. It has long been the custom in Germany to train all boys to more or less useful trades, so that as a rule every German is a specialist. Fritz, therefore, on leaving school served an apprenticeship of seven years; then his term of military service –”
“What (adj.) trade did he learn?” demanded Dixon.
“Belt-maker,” replied the Sheriff unsatisfactorily.
Dixon, though badly in the dark, was too well acquainted with the guileful inveiglement of sells to seek further information. Rigby resumed, “Then three years in the standing army left him, according to the German idea, fit for anything on earth. At what time he met with Wilhelmina Ruttendammer, I don’t exactly know –”
“Gosh! it was about time for her to git spliced anyhow,” whispered Sam, somewhat shocked.
”– but the romance was no doubt heralded by a scream
on the lady’s part. At all events, they loved each other with
that calm, devoted, exclusive affection so much less liable
“Steady, steady; don’t gloat over anybody’s poverty,” grumbled Thompson. Whilst he was speaking, a half-suppressed sigh broke from the little trapper. Rigby resumed, with marked complacency in his tone,
“Profit by their experience, boys. There is not a country
on earth incompetent to support its whole population in
easy comfort, nor is there a country able to sustain a
section of the community in extravagant luxury, and the
rest in bare decency. This applies to all ages, to all lands,
and to every degree of civilisation. The chapter of history
which records the suppression of the starving Jacquerie by
Gaston de Foix contains also a significant item to the effect
that this gallant gentleman kept sixteen hundred hunting
dogs for his own private delectation. Can you trace any
connection between the French packs of hounds and the
French packs of paupers? No, you have nothing to do
with history. Very well. Can you trace any connection
between British packs of hounds and British packs of
paupers in your own day? No; it’s none of your business.
Very well. Then as surely as Touchstone’s figure of
rhetoric is impregnable – to wit, that drink being poured
out of a cup into a glass by filling the one doth empty the
other – so surely shall you, in due time, be called upon to
“Lis’n!” whispered Sam. “This bloke’s an artist.”
“So there was ample and evident reason for the poverty of Fritz and Mina, but, like yourselves, they concerned themselves only with the effect – letting other people attend to the cause. They were happy enough, as each alternate Sunday afternoon left them at liberty – in winter to walk through the public galleries, or in summer to go on the Spree in some cheap pleasure boat.”
“Can’t rise any pity for young couples with sich a (sheol) of a (adj.) thirst on ‘em,” interposed Dixon, who, being a strictly temperate man, naturally damned the sins he’d not a mind to.
“Socio-political questions didn’t trouble these
soul-wedded lovers much,” pursued the Colonel, politely
ignoring Dixon’s comment. “They went on their way, rejoicing
“I understood you to say they didn’t trouble themselves with social politics?” remarked Binney.
“I say so still. The great German problem is black bread and sauerkraut – just as the great Australian problem is rapidly resolving itself into mutton and damper.”
“To hear you talk,” I observed, “one would think the great Australian problem was coming perilously near yam and ‘possum.”
“So it is, Tom. Any more objections impending?”
“None. Proceed, good Alexander.”
“Cripes! ain’t he quick on the trigger?” whispered Sam.
“Our lovers had much to rejoice in,” continued the Major. “Apart from youth, health, and hatred to France, they always had the satisfaction of seeing people much poorer than themselves; so, like Paul, they thanked God, and took courage. Moreover, the Providence which kindly divides the responsibilities of life, so as to attain the greatest good –”,
“Summum (adj.) bonum” suggested Dixon, modestly.
”– allotting extravagance to one section of the community, and thrift to another – had met the interests of both classes by pouring on Mina’s head the negotiable blessing of a superb crop of that pale golden hair which never goes out of fashion. Altogether, the world went very well then.”
“But so far as making a living’s concerned, Mina might as well have been bald,” remarked Thompson, cautiously.
“So she was – periodically,” replied the Judge. “But a
few small silver coins go a long way toward tempering the
wind to the shorn girl. Try it. Bestow your own unlucky
hand, and your lacerated heart, upon some other and more
trustworthy Agnes, and the time will come – it will assuredly
come, if not prevented – when your daughters (to quote
from the Song of Solomon) will be ‘like a flock of sheep,
that are even shorn’. They will learn to cheerfully forgo
every branch of culture except the external tillage of their
own heads – the harvested crop being, of course, thriftily
“Not while I can see along a gun-barrel,” muttered Thompson.
“But you won’t be able to see along a gun-barrel, Steve, after you’ve been bound hand and foot, and shunted into outer darkness, on account of misconduct as a bailee of your Lord’s money. And your daughters – barring intervention – will humbly regard your plutocracy as a divinely instituted sponge for the absorption of every desirable thing the world can produce. Consider how many people hold this view now.”
“Mr Rigby, Mr Rigby,” protested Lushington, “you do the plutocracy an injustice. In point of fact, its office is to spread the blessings of wealth.”
“And how is this distribution to be carried out?” asked Rigby, turning courteously toward the last speaker. “If paid away as the wages of wealth-producing labor, the tendency of our hypothetical capital will be to multiply itself by itself, thus aggravating a social-economic discrepancy, already existing, and tacitly apologised for. If distributed by donation, the effect will be infinitely worse. Any wealthy man, impelled to benevolence by human sympathy, love of popularity, fear of hell, or what not, will tell you – as several have told me – that ninety per cent of the money so apportioned does more harm than good. Now, I am not impudent enough to dictate a course of action for the man of wealth, nor a rule of reasoning for you, but I wish to point out a remedial principle which has its root in the moral constitution of our race.”
“So like you, Commodore,” I murmured.
“See here,” pursued Rigby, unconsciously preserving
that insidious inflection of voice which gave his dogmatism
all the sweetness of flattery, “any act toward another person
has within it a soul, a certain idea or import, and it is upon
this idea, not upon the act itself, that the parties come in
touch. Aside from “presents”, betokening esteem, or
affection, or congratulation (see how tactfully we select the
term, Mr Lushington), most recipients, and some donors,
“Confine yourself to the case before the court, Sheriff,” I interposed, shocked by Rigby’s unconscious personality, and dreading worse. “You were giving evidence in re Fritz and Mina.”
“And you may rest assured that our female descendants’ coiffures are in no danger,” added Lushington, with clerical humor.
- Wal, it’s a marcy we’ve gut folks to tell us
- The rights an’ the wrongs o’ these matters, I vow;
- God sends country lawyers, an’ other wise fellers,
- To start the world’s team wen it gits in a slough;
- Fer John P.
- Robinson he
- Sez the world’ll go right ef he hollers out Gee!
- James Russell Lowell, The Biglow Papers.
“Let us see to it in time,” replied the General, after a pause.
“We know that other populations were once as pompously free as we are now; and we know that through ignorant neglect of their own responsibilities and slavish toleration of class encroachment, the wool of their female descendants is in the market today. We know that, broadly speaking, the Russian peasant of the seventeenth century was a freeman, and we know that his descendant of the nineteenth century was a serf; and this without foreign incursion. There was a time when ‘Frank’ meant ‘freeman’, just as definitely as ‘negro’ meant ‘black man’, but another time came when the Frankish widow gathered nettles for her children’s dinner, and the perfumed seignior – also a Frank, bear in mind – had an alchemy whereby he extracted the third nettle, and called it ‘rent’. To come nearer home, we know that the English peasant in Chaucer’s time was much better off than his descendant in Cowper’s time, though four centuries of material and intellectual progress lay between. One thing, however, we don’t know – we don’t know where unbridled aggression would voluntarily pause.”
“And yet our British freedom has broadened down from precedent to precedent,” remarked Lushington.
“I fear it will be found,” replied the Colonel,
“You’re forgetting the Norman Conquest, Mr Rigby,” suggested Lushington.
“A matter of indifference,” replied the Major. “If the
Gurth of 1066 had been a freeman, Senlac would have
been a Marathon. Do you think Saxon England fell
unwept, without a crime? No more than Poland, and the
crime was the same in each instance. What did it matter to
Gurth whether Saxon earl or Norman baron kept him
making bricks without straw? What will it matter to your
own grandchildren whether they toil and starve and
cringe under the Australian flag or under any other? There
was no Norman Conquest in France or Germany, but
there also Gurth relaxed his vigilance, and so bequeathed
perdition to his descendants. You see, I decline to take
advantage of the conspicuous fact that Cedric was as
hopelessly Saxon as Gurth himself – and heaven knows he was
Saxon enough for anything. By the way, the manual-labor
Saxon was helpless enough and servile enough under the
Saxon earl Leofric, a few decades before the Conquest.
But he hadn’t always been so. There was a time when he
didn’t polish up his brass collar to captivate the girls. Now
I want to draw your attention to a carefully-slurred truth,
“Might draw it a bit milder,” protested Dixon. “Ain’t hardly fair to allow that any of our (adj.) posterity was ever hanged.”
“True, Dixon. The honor is in reserve. Your posterity will be hanged upon very slight pretext, as a punishment for your present sin. Can’t you see that the mere toleration of a growing inequality is treason in the first degree, and that some one must soon or later swing for it? Why should you spend your life and your labor in tenderly rearing a vampire to batten on the big toe of future generations?”
“Well, what the (adj. sheol) can we do?” asked Dixon good-naturedly.
“What could my ancestor, the free barbarian Gurth, do?
What he did was exactly what you’re doing now. He
obediently contributed his human birthright to the
building up of Cedric’s monopoly, and therefore succeeding
Gurths were hanged, mutilated, flogged, branded, and
slaughtered wholesale, merely for thinking they had any
“Well, he’s barkin’ up the wrong (adj.) tree,” protested Dixon. “I don’t deny I’m a sort o’ plain-spoken (person) but I ain’t profane. I know where to draw the (adj.) line.”
“And do you think he regards your own perdition as a feather in the scale, compared with your treason against unborn generations? I tell you that from the present social system of pastoral Australia – a patriarchal despotism, tempered by Bryant and May – to actual lordship and peonage, is an easy transition, and the only thing that can prevent this broadening down is a vigorous rally of every man with a clear head and a heart in the right place.”
“There’s no denyin’ that (adj.) lot,” remarked Dixon, in wise acquiescence. “Anythin’ for a quiet life. Shove ahead with Fritz and Minar. We’re follerin’, all right.”
“Very good. I must endeavour to guard against these
discursions. Where was I? Yes. The course of true love
was running smoothly. Presently appeared a cloud in our
lovers’ sky, but in the strictest sense of the word, it was
one with a silver lining. I think I have mentioned that Mina’s
face was her fortune. A very good fortune it proved to be.
An old financier, Herr Moses Isaacstein, transgressed the
injunction of his namesake and lawgiver by making her an
offer of marriage. She, of course, thought of Fritz, and
claimed a fortnight for consideration. On the two available
Sunday afternoons, as well as on other occasions stolen
from sleeping-time, the lovers discussed their future
- So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
- So close is God to man,
- When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
- The youth replies, I can
Like Costard, they smelt some envoy, some goose, in the enterprise. In a word, they felt it absurd to love so much, loved they not honor more. And their conception of honor was as old as the economic disparity which Socialism seeks to redress.
“So when Herr Isaacstein and Mina were joined in those holy bonds which effectually cancel any little element of impropriety associated with such unions, Fritz had no thought of hanging either his harp or himself on a willow-tree. But with a Continental instinct of utilising things that other people would waste, the young fellow availed himself of the old fellow’s jealousy to obtain a free passage to Melbourne. And so they parted – Fritz leaving his heart with its idolised queen, while she sent hers across the ocean with its incomparable king. Not even the consciousness of a duty nobly performed could make that parting otherwise than heart-breaking. They knew that to each of them the time had come when the prayer of morning would be for night, and the nightly prayer for morning. Their only happiness lay in the backward glance of memory, and their only hope lay beyond the grave – the grave in question being, of course, that of Herr Isaacstein. In fact, poor Mina’s feelings might have found expression in a fine Scotch song.”
” Auld Robin Gray’,” interposed Thompson, with that bookish affectation which should have been cured by his experience of the Standard Poetical Works. “I know the song, it’s by Lady Anne Lindsay –
- Young Jamie lo’ed me weel, and he sought me for his bride.”
“Tut, no,” interrupted the Colonel, in turn. “I mean,
- O, an ye were deid, Gudeman,
- Wi’ a green turf on your heid, Gudeman,
- That I micht ware my widowheid
- Upon a rantin’ Highlandman.
“However, the rantin’ Highlandman – such as he was – reached these shores during that severe depression which gradually lifted on the opening of the lands in ‘65. The poor fellow had a hard enough time of it for the first year or two. It is no light thing, let me tell you, boys, to be a stranger in a strange land – ignorant of the language and at your wits’ end to find any sort of work by which you can earn your salt.”
“But you said he had served a long apprenticeship as a belt-maker,” objected Thompson. “Couldn’t he tackle snobs’ work?”
“He knew less of the process of boot-making than any other man ever did. His experience lay entirely in soldiers’ belts.”
“Then surely he might have got work in a saddler’s shop?”
“He had never seen a stitch put in. His trade was cutting-out. I think I spoke of him as a specialist. But he had one solace that no hardship could take away. Through the assistance of a friend in Berlin he kept up a correspondence with Mina, who faithfully furnished him with bulletins of her husband’s health. Independently of this, Fortune seemed at length to smile faintly on his meek persistence. He obtained permanent employment as gardener’s off-sider on Tartpeena station, in the south-western district, and began to save money. But Herr Moses hung out still.”
- “O let me safely to the fair return.
- Say with a kiss, she must not, shall not, mourn.
- Go teach my heart to lose its painful fears,
- Recall’d by Wisdom’s voice and Zara’s tears!”
- He said, and call’d on heaven to bless the day
- When back to Schiraz’ walls he bent his way.
- Collins’ Hassan.
“It happened that at this time I was in charge of a small survey party,” continued the Deacon, “and on Tartpeena station I met Fritz for the first time. I had spent a few months in his native city when I was a boy, and had afterwards made a futile attempt to learn the German language; hence there was a silken thread of fellowship in the intercourse which sprang up between us. During the few months that gave us occasional opportunity to enjoy each other’s society, I noticed three excellent qualities in Fritz – one was his simple fidelity to Mina, another was a capacity for thrift, unparalleled yet within my observation, and the third was a patient, unwavering trust in Providence, though Herr Moses was worth twenty dead men yet.
“In the spring of ‘65, as some of you may remember, all
the unalienated portion of Tartpeena was thrown open
for selection by lottery, and the pastoral tenant, Mr
Goodfellow, made every effort to secure as much of the run as
possible. He lavished drinks and civilities on all the
employees of his various stations, and as many other
presumably reliable vermin as he could rake up. He sent these
jackals forth, thoroughly posted in the lion’s interest, and
equipped with the lion’s money, to seek the luck of that
roaring specimen who is said to look after his own. It is
difficult – from a strictly moral point of view – to imagine a
“Now, you or I would have done the same thing, under the same circumstances,” protested Binney.
“I deny your major,” replied Rigby. “But if we had done it we would certainly have deserved to be jailed for life, as enemies to the human race. Apply the final test – the test of results. Look at the south-western district now – partly unpopulated, partly rack-rented, and all alike unprogressive. What a collapse for Mitchell’s well-named Australia Felix – the potential garden of the province. Better be with the forgotten dead, Mr Binney, than be alive and sharing in the responsibility for such a far-reaching abuse of the national heritage.”
“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you,” said I coldly. Not that I cared, of course. But it was well-known to most of the audience that, in time past, my Conservative principles had escorted me through the somewhat devious and dirty ways of land-dummyism. Moreover, it was bad form on the Judge’s part to censure spoliation, or fraud, or corruption, in the presence of an avowed Conservative.
“It will remind Tom of old times,” continued the
Colonel blandly, “when I explain that Fritz – armed with
an area – map whereon the allotments were numbered
consecutively, according to their desirableness, and also with
£32 in cash for a first instalment – got the third call, and
secured the mile-square block numbered 1 on his map.
The two first selections had been made by bona fide men,
who hadn’t money enough to pay the shilling an acre on
this full-sized lot. As Fritz left the office, Mr Goodfellow
greeted him with enthusiasm. Fritz received his
congratulations with freezing formality. Goodfellow mildly
reminded him of the understanding that existed between
them, and produced a blue paper about two feet long,
which he requested Fritz to sign. Fritz didn’t remember
any understanding, and preferred to reserve his signature.
“It is a big undertaking for an exceptionally useless man to make a start on six hundred and forty acres with barely fifty pounds, but Fritz did it. How he did it, heaven only knows. Certainly, Providence, per medium of Mr Goodfellow, had franked him for the first half-year – a good illustration, by the way, of Mr Lushington’s contention that the office of the plutocracy is to spread the blessings of wealth. I often went out of my way to see Fritz during the steady progress of that herculean labor, and always recognized in him the stuff that millionaires are made of. When I complimented him on this – as I frequently did – he almost fell down and worshipped me. However, two or three years passed; and Fritz received a letter which seemed to prove beyond controversy the existence of a divinity that shapes our ends, if we rough-hew them judiciously. Herr Isaacstein had taken his departure to another, and, let us hope, a better world. But you may be sure that the question where Moses was when the candle went out didn’t trouble Fritz much. His interest was centred on the large fact that, with the exception of a trifling fire-insurance premium, bequeathed to the local synagogue, Mina inherited all the old gentleman’s accumulations, amounting to fifteen thousand thalers, or £2200 sterling. Owing to some recent transactions of Herr Moses with an American firm, this sum was only about one-half of what might have been expected; nevertheless, the splendid sacrifice of our lovers was by no means unrewarded. Indeed, as a set-off against their cash loss they had the knowledge that the worry of those transactions had materially hastened the good man to his recompense.
“Germany being the only country fit for a man of
fortune to live in, Fritz offered his selection to Mr
“That is the end of the first chapter, boys. You may discuss it while, with Dixon’s permission, I prepare one of his mussels for its appointed service in the scheme of the universe.” And so saying, the Major climbed the bank, and disappeared.
We were silent for a minute or two – not thinking over the story, but listening to an intermittent sound which, ever since the meeting opened, had been inviting attention. Sometimes it resembled the shrill appeal of a pig caught in a garden fence; then it would, perhaps, die away altogether, and presently rise like the melancholy dirge of a disobedient child shut up in a store-room; then again it would swell forth like the epithalamium heard by the awakened sleeper in the dead, unhappy night, and when the cat is on the roof. Sometimes it seemed to come from the wagons behind us, and sometimes from the opposing bank of the river.
“What the (sheol)’s that?” queried Dixon at length. “Gittin’ sort o’ satis (adj.) superque.”
“Cattle-pup,” replied Thompson. “Millbank’s people
gave him to me today. Stumpy-tailed breed. Poor little
chap’s lonely; I’ll fetch him down here.” He went up the
bank and shortly returned, resuming his seat with the pup
on his knees. “Makings of a good dog, if I could only keep
him,” he remarked sadly. “But I can’t keep anything now.
I’ve had five dogs since that infernal thing came on me;
“Always easy to lose a good dog,” remarked Binney.
“Any owner of a kangaroo dog will endorse that,” I sighed.
“The fidelity of some dogs is marvellous,” observed the trapper.
“See how a dog’ll shepherd a drunk man,” added Dixon. “Wonder if the (animals) has souls?”
“The Jewish abhorrence of dogs seems rather strange to us,” remarked Lushington.
And so for five or ten minutes we discussed dogs in a manner too trivial to be worth reproduction here.
- Hear you this Triton of the minnows? mark you
- His absolute ‘shall’?
- Coriolanus, Act III, Scene i.
“Now, boys,” said the Colonel pleasantly, as he came down the bank and resumed his rod and line, “what is the result of your discussion? What moral or morals have you derived from the first chapter of my story?”
“Well,” replied Dixon frankly, “the thing’s only sub (adj.) judice yet in a manner o’ speakin’; but we was jist wonderin’ among ourselves how sich a perseverin’ strong-stummicked bloke as Fritz got down to what we see. Should a’ bin in the Upper House by this time, you’d think.”
“Time and chance happeneth unto them all, Dixon. Now, Steve.”
“I say he proved himself an all-round varmin if you ask me anything about it,” replied Thompson, sullenly acquiescent in the Judge’s expanding ascendancy. “Bad blood, I suppose.”
“Transparently right in the predicate and conventionally wrong in the inference,” commented the Major. “Next.”
“The man is below criticism,” remarked Binney, somewhat coldly.
“Manhood conceded, Mr Binney, the subject cannot be below criticism, nor above. Every man has his place and his use in the world. Nothing walks with aimless feet. Fritz’s vocation is to point a deduction or adorn a narrative. A suppositious case would have been open to the imputation of falsity. Fact is authoritative. Next.”
“The land transaction seems to be a very ordinary and
“I endeavoured to make it understood that in their case sentiment was subordinated to principle,” replied the Deacon, forbearingly.
“The story seems to me more unpleasant than instructive, Mr Rigby,” remarked Furlong. “What can we learn from the disgraceful fact that two lovers, with all the possibilities of life before them, deliberately sold their birthright?”
“We can learn one great lesson,” replied the General, “to wit, that the person who loves a fellow mortal more than the bawbee is not worthy of the bawbee.”
“But, after all,” said I, “we’ve been most exercised over the fact, so happily set forth in your yarn, that an almost inevitable corollary of poverty is the violent itching to get rid of it at any price. The demand of the footsore beggar is identical with that of Richard at Bosworth; but supply him with a horse, and, according to the wisdom of our forefathers, he rides to the Evil One. From a moral point of view it’s a hopeless tangle. Fritz, in spite of his strictly legal efforts, doesn’t seem to have attained any permanent exaltation, mentally, morally, or socially. Alcoholically and temporarily, no doubt, he has often been so elevated that his feet scorned the earth.”
“Human nature at large is the beggar you speak of,” replied the Deacon gravely. “We’re all beggars and –”
“Not this (adj.) infant,” muttered Dixon resentfully.
”– and the difference between the mounted beggar –
hereditary or otherwise – and the pedestrian beggar is merely
the difference between the devil’s recruit actual and the
devil’s recruit potential. The tangle is before us, right
enough, Tom. It’s a moral tangle certainly, but a material
tangle in the first place, to be sorted out by material
agency; and seeing that we know of no avoirdupois
intelligences in the universe except ourselves, will you tell
me who is to perform the sorting? For performed it must
A non-committal grunt of acquiescence masked the
dignified mystification of our synod. We had forgotten Fritz
“That is about as near as we can come to it,” he continued after a reflective pause. “But in case that any of you should not fully apprehend the illustration, I may remind you that the asymptote is a mathematical paradox, consisting of two converging lines which never intersect each other. Let absolute perfection be represented by a straight line of unlimited length, and human progress by an approaching curve, with its convexity towards the straight line. Extend this curve indefinitely, at the same time expanding its arc to approximate, but never to reach, your right line; and you may continue it for ever, always approaching, though never blending. This, I think, is as closely as we shall be able to work out the fulfilment of our hackneyed petition, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.’ Take the avowal as a concession to your individualism. The new order can well afford it.”
“You must have a moral revolution first,” observed Binney.
“And isn’t this moral revolution in progress now?” rejoined Rigby. “The vile snobbery of that axiom relating to the beggar on horseback unmistakably stamps it as the coinage of a former generation – a generation that might as well be hanged for stealing a sheep as a lamb. Our pedestrian forefathers, my dear boys, were hanged wholesale for stealing lambs, and the very thought of accusing their equestrian hangmen of riding to the devil was their notion of the unpardonable sin, vide the current literature of that day. Haven’t we reformed this indifferently? And, for the first time in history, isn’t there a widespread movement toward reforming it altogether? The moral revolution that is imperceptible to you will appear to future ages as a gigantic leap.”
“But if things are working out their own cure, there’s
no need for us to make trouble,” objected Thompson.
“And this doesn’t agree with your own preaching about
“Has the tendency of abuses been to work their own cure, Steve?” asked the Senator, with a mildness almost pompous. “Isn’t history full of relapses? How often has the ripe fruit of threescore years been blasted in a day? Wasn’t the Promised Land in sight eighteen centuries ago, and weren’t our forefathers, from age to age, forbidden to enter in, because of their dense unbelief, and their lack of moral enterprise, and their incurable hankering after the congenial debasement of their fathers? Isn’t the Promised Land always within one day’s march – if the pilgrims are worthy to occupy it? We are nearer to the border now than ever before, but we may yet be sent back in the wilderness to die off out of the way.”
“Wilderness of Sin,” interjected Dixon. “Stick to that (adj.) argyment, Rigby. Can’t better it.”
“Your aptitude encourages me, Dixon. But, Steve, will you assert that we now stand at either the base or the summit of that toilsome ascent which leads upward from palaeolithic savagery to the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, or the Fourth Eclogue of Virgil? You will not. Then, since there is no safety-ratchet on the wheel of Progress, the mere arduousness of our upward road implies a corresponding facility in the descent to a state worse than the first. Now, what prevents relapse? Do you know that, wherever old abuses are giving way, and new abuses are disallowed, and citizen rights are being conceded – there the pick of humanity are battling for every inch of ground won from their unduly-privileged fellow-men? Do you know that it is the nature of oppression to intensify wherever resistance slackens? Do you know that all popular progress is conditional on the untiring exertions of men who must practise the self-sacrifice they preach, and whose only hope and aspiration is to pass on the torch to the next generation?” The Major paused a moment, then resumed –
“What cause do you suppose has operated to keep up
“Well, so long as we get the light and heat,” replied Thompson, guardedly, “we needn’t concern ourselves about how they’re manufactured. Likely they produce themselves, some way.”
“Exactly,” rejoined the Colonel. “However, the most approved theory is, that the sun’s power is maintained unabated by the concussion of meteorites, which are swallowed up and absorbed by the solar mass. You would imagine these meteorites lost, yet they serve the purpose of making life possible on the planets. So the Spirit of Freedom demands absolute self-surrender of certain individuals, as the price of light and warmth to others. And where history shows periods of that national declension, that all-round fitness for wiping-out, which inevitably follows on class-degradation, it merely signifies that the meteorites of those periods are rare and sporadic, or have ceased altogether; whilst a recorded influx of moral light and an awakening glow of hope indicate a shower of these erratic bodies, reinforcing the central source of vitality. Ay, and as times go, the personal renunciation here implied is better worth assay than anything else can be. This magnificent virgin continent is amply worth it – and the time is opportune. The service is more than expedient; it is imperative. For just fancy a community composed entirely of well-meaning and self-centred men like you, and of equally well-meaning and self-centred men like the squatters you work for. What would be the inevitable outcome – in view of the social-economic handicap now current? Why, your grandson, ear-marked and branded on the off ribs with his owner’s initials, would work out his damnation with fear and trembling, arrayed in a skimped form of the Hindoo breech-clout; while your granddaughter, cent per cent, more despicable still, would think herself honoured if the local demigod condescended to exercise his droit de seigneur.”
“What’s that?” asked Thompson, inadvertently.
“Literally, ‘landlord’s right’. Jus primae noctis is the legal term. It is the peasant bride’s tribute to the landed gentleman who virtually holds the power of life and death over herself and her bridegroom. Read Beaumont and Fletcher’s Custom of the Country. Oh, your ancestresses, for many succeeding generations, knew all about it. So did mine, of course. See how pleasantly the Tory, Scott, refers to the usage in his Ravenswood. Well, the prerogative is not dead, but dormant, pending a future broadening down of vested rights. What is to prevent its revival, under favourable conditions? Orthodoxy? Rot! Did orthodoxy prevent it before? Did the orthodoxy of any governing class ever stand in the way of the interests or appetites of that class? Does orthodoxy stand in the way of capitalism, of usury, of profit-mongering, of land monopoly, or any other monopoly, of royalism, or of anything that panders to class-domination? Where is the limit to human aggression upon humanity, unless that aggression be sternly checked – and what appeal to oligarchy has ever proved operative, except an appeal to its fears? Well, Steve, in the natural sequence of events, the institution I have modestly hinted at will be restored – not by statute law, of course, but by social-economic pressure – in the time of your granddaughters, if you have any.”
“No, I’m d–d if it will,” muttered Thompson.
“There you are,” replied the Judge, complacently. “That is precisely what my ancestor, the free barbarian Gurth, said thirteen hundred years ago. See how history repeats itself.” The Senator paused and lit his pipe.
- Divinity of hell!
- When devils will the blackest sins put on,
- They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
- As I do now.
- Othello, Act II, Scene iii.
“Better if we had died when we were kids,” remarked Thompson bitterly. “Better be dead than making trouble. But I don’t give a hand,” he continued, finding relief as the abstract moral question dissociated itself and drifted out beyond his own personal horizon. “Most of the squatters are fine, straight men – a lot better than we are, if it comes to that.”
“Be it so,” replied the Deacon, with ominous pliancy. “David may be a good king, as kings go; but his successor, Solomon, makes the burdens grievous, and chastises the bearers with whips; his successor, Rehoboam, whilst frankly acknowledging the hardship, avows his intention of making the burdens more grievous, and chastising the bearers with scorpions; and so the thing broadens down smoothly and spontaneously. Time will sanctify any encroachment and petrify any grip; hence the tendency of classes is to congeal into castes. Freedom comes back in strong convulsions, often accompanied by haemorrhage, never without strenuous battle in field or senate, waged under terrible disadvantage. Nothing is easier than for Pompey to laugh away his birthright; nothing is harder than for him to weep it back again.”
“God looks after all these contracts that’s too (adj.) heavy for us chaps,” observed Dixon, piously.
“A popular mistake, Dixon, and to some extent, a
pardonable one, but a mistake nevertheless. At what point does
“Now, Mr Rigby,” protested the clergyman, rousing himself from the sorcerous spell of the Senator’s rhetoric, “pray remember that you are speaking to Englishmen. The distinction of master and servant we cheerfully recognise; but slavery is a different matter.”
“True,” replied the Sheriff, gently. “And the grade of
the ‘servant’ is, in reality, much lower than that of the
‘slave’. At a time when slavery was not the exclusive badge
of inferior races, but stood fairly on its merits, the slave
looked down on the wages man, and was entitled to do
so. You will find this statement supported by all the
“Feedin’ pigs?” interposed Dixon, in genial assent. “Yes, (sheol) of a comedown for that bloke; an’ served him (adv.) well right. Heard a sermon on it, a couple o’ year ago; an’ the parson he fetched it out red-hot.”
“No doubt,” replied the Judge wearily. “But did he invite
your attention to the fact that, just as the whole resources
of Oriental hyperbole are exhausted in the degradation
of the prodigal to a swineherd – lower than which, in
Jewish estimation, no man could possibly sink – so his
humiliation touches the conceivable nadir of abject
submission: ‘Make me, I pray thee, as one of thy hired
servants.’ The author of the parable could cite no depth of
penal servility beyond that. We speak of the labor market,
and rightly too; well, the vast majority of our
fellow-citizens are chattels in that market. Playing it pretty low
down on the reputed image of God – isn’t it? But whether
the scheme of human life includes personal service to a
personal master or not is immaterial. The Man Friday may
be a permanent institution. The amended Antony of the
future may have his unpurchaseable Eros; the ameliorated
Timon, his Flavius; the improved Uncle Toby, his Corporal
Trim. And if an immeasurably higher grade of civilisation
should still produce anti-types of the men who fought and
died for Charlie, these will certainly find somewhat
worthier objects of personal devotion. But there will be an
end to that ghastly dislocation of order which occurs when
the personal service is one of ignominious necessity, not of
self-respecting fidelity. However, to return to my story –
with apologies for this digression –
“It is worth while to bear in mind that man was, and is, made upright, but he has sought out many inventions. And, to avoid all ground of offence, let it be understood that, in speaking of the man who is made upright, I refer neither to the gardener of Eden nor to the pithecoid gentleman of Science; but simply to the everyday infant, mewling and puking in the perambulator. Unfortunately, this peculiarly human faculty of invention, or initiative, is turned by its possessor to an account which always obscures, and generally extinguishes, the manifest purpose of his existence. Like Falstaff’s boy, he hath a good angel in him, but the devil outbids him. In a civilised state, he must have an aim of some sort; and his first mistake is to accept St Paul’s halting metaphor of the life-race, with a prize for the winner, and devil take the hindmost. His next mistake is to set up one of his pet inventions as a prize, and to qualify for the race by pawning the god-like element in his nature. Remember that, whether he wins or loses the prize, he inevitably forfeits the stake. Now I want you to notice how faithfully Fritz and Mina pressed on toward the mark of their high calling, namely, that invention known as the ‘medium of exchange’.”
- These lips are mute, these eyes are dry;
- But in my breast and in my brain,
- Awake the pangs that pass not by,
- The thought that ne’er shall sleep again.
- My soul nor deigns nor dares complain,
- Though grief and passion there rebel;
- I only know we loved in vain –
- I only feel – Farewell! Farewell!
- Byron, Occasional Pieces.
The Colonel resumed: “Mina’s last letter was five or six months old when Fritz reached Berlin; and that period had been an eventful one. A Jewish lawyer had found an informality in Isaacstein’s will, which rendered the instrument invalid, and thus brought into force a former will, made in a sulky fit, a year previously. By the provisions of this disruptive document, three-fourths of the old gentleman’s assets passed to a distant relation, and Mina was placed under a complication of liabilities and obligations deliberately calculated to eat up her legacy. The poor, outwitted woman had desperately disputed this will in court, with the result that a week or two before Fritz arrived to claim her as his bride, she had returned, destitute and friendless, to her sixteen hours’ shift in the carpet factory.
“Mina’s misfortune was a terrible blow to Fritz, especially as he couldn’t regard it in the light of an impediment to their marriage. An impediment is an entity, an actuality, a thing to be grappled with, or outflanked, or outlived. Herr Moses, for instance, was an impediment. But here was an evanishment, invulnerable to any weapon or any tactics. Just imagine a man trying to overcome, or circumvent, or weary-out, a vacuum! The great gulf fixed between the well-to-do and the poverty-stricken is quite as impracticable on this side of the grave as on the other; and Fritz
felt as one standing on the edge of that plummetless abyss, looking across the yawning depths into Mina’s pleading, haunting eyes. This, of course, is figurative, for the lovers literally mingled their tears as they sat together in her poor apartment. But murmured vows, and clinging kisses, and the mutual retrospect of youthful aspirations could never bring back those fifteen thousand thalers – the absence of which merely made the heart grow fonder. That long heart-sickness of hope deferred by the tenacity of Herr Moses was now to become a chronic ailment. Fritz clothed himself in sackcloth and went softly; he metaphorically attired himself in this fabric because his hopes were dead; he literally went softly because the Fatherland – then furtively preparing for war with France – was likely to give him a cheap uniform and a soldier’s grave. In the end, he tearfully embraced the doubly-widowed Mina, and tore himself away, after giving her, as a farewell present, the sum of one thousand pfennigs –’
“He ain’t my idear of a (adj.) man,” observed Dixon; “same time, I give him credit for whackin’ the (adj.) spons after that style.”
”– equal in value to exactly eight-and-four pence of our money –”
“(Sheol),” breathed Dixon, in moral collapse.
” – and so they parted for ever. Orpheus and Eurydice over again. A cruel mockery of restoration, serving only to add poignancy to the final severance. Mina returned to her carpet factory, to revel in the luxury of despair – the only luxury she could afford – while Fritz slipped quietly away, and took his passage to Melbourne. His love for Mina was intensified to distraction by a forecast of her desolation in the coming years, when he would be pursuing his own career, feet uppermost in a foreign land; but there was balm for himself in that antipodal Gilead, if he could only be on the spot in time to secure it. Everybody on board noticed his impatience during the voyage; and, on reaching port, he was the first passenger to skip ashore and hurry to the railway station.”
- No shattered box of ointment
- We ever need regret,
- For out of disappointment
- Flow sweetest odors yet.
- Frances Ridley Havergal, Disappointed.
“Within sight of Fritz’s selection, on Tartpeena,” continued the Major, “there had stood a roadside pub, doing a rattling business under the management of a licensee, whom I remember merely as a full-shaved man, with ten days’ growth of iron-grey stubble always on his face. Diligent in business – as per Apostolic precept – this Mr Maginnis had in course of time surrounded so many hogsheads of tanglefoot that his career of usefulness seemed rapidly drawing to a close. Mrs Maginnis was an abstainer, a fine, dashing woman, blithe and frolicsome, and about a hundred years younger in wisdom than her good man. She had fairly pestered the reticent, melancholy selector with her courtesies and confidences. Her autobiographical narrative was simple. Dazzled in her girlhood by Maginnis’s wealth, she had married him, only to find that she didn’t love him. Her ideal was a fair man, of quiet demeanour; and her heart told her she could love no other. She knew that Maginnis wouldn’t long be spared to her; and she would remain a widow for the rest of her life. She would still have little Jimmy left, and Maginnis’s will secured her a lot of property in her own right.”
The Major paused. I was glad to notice a tinge of compunction showing through the habitual cynicism of his tone and words. He mastered this weakness, however, and continued:
“Such had been the burden of the young matron’s song
“Back to Melbourne fled Fritz, sickened with apprehension, maddened by the coquetry of Fortune, and invoking the milk and water curses of his complicated language on his own want of prevision. But zeal and persistence seldom fail in the end – a fact which each of us would do well to bear in mind – and, on reaching Melbourne, Fritz obtained from the late Mr Maginnis’s solicitors the address of his new cynosure.”
“What the (adj. sheol’s) that?” demanded Dixon inadvertently.
“Literally, ‘dog’s tail’.”
“Hum, had (adv.) simple. Well, I give you credit.”
“No, no Dixon; you mustn’t take me in that way. It’s the Greek name of a star in ‘Ursa Minor’, or the Little Bear – a northern constellation, invisible to us here. Rather an anomaly in astronomical nomenclature, that the dog’s tail should be an appendage of the Little Bear. However, it’s the poetical name of the Polar star.”
“Political name o’ the poler Star,” mused Dixon. “No (adj.) savvy.”
“Not your height,” said Thompson, ill-naturedly. “But
Rigby’s always correct in his dic., no matter how rotten
- And thou shalt be our star of Arcady,
- Or Tyrian Cynosure.”
“What’s your opinion of that” I asked Lushington, aside. (As a matter of fact, the twelve Standard Works comprised about one-half of Thompson’s aggregate reading, hence every book had left its impression on his mind, like a replica in copying ink. Indeed he afterward told me that he had committed to memory this particular passage, thinking it might come in handy for courting purposes.)
“It takes my breath away,” murmured Lushington. “I’ve been strangely misinformed respecting the erudition of bullock drivers. Latin and Milton. Are they all like this?”
“Certainly not. Other branches of knowledge are no less ably represented. They excel chiefly as linguists. But there goes the Colonel again.”
“Fritz presented himself to Mrs Maginnis at the hotel
where she was temporarily residing. He called upon her
again and again, daily escorting her to some place of popular
resort. If he was delighted to find her unchanged, she was
no less gratified to learn that her image, engraven on
his heart, had impelled him to repulse a young German
heiress, and perforce return to his Australian enchantress,
like the weary dove to its gin case. This was by far the
happiest era of his life. Let me explain that I hold
Shakespeare’s audacious insistence upon Romeo’s fascination for
Rosaline, up to the very moment of his meeting with Juliet,
to be one of the most masterly strokes within the range
of plays. A man’s first love never scores. Metaphorically,
the first love is a mere encounter with the cushion, which,
however, produces a recoil; and it is this recoil that scores.
We have already wept with Fritz over his rebound from
Mina’s unprofitable side, where, in the nature of things,
it was impossible to pocket; we shall presently see how the
tangential impulse coincident upon this resilient
“Not this (adj.) time, ole feller,” muttered Dixon.
”– enabled him to register the highest score allowed by the laws of the game. Moreover, if the saying be true, that love goes by contraries, what could be more natural than that the quiet, offensively blonde German and the mettlesome, black-eyed Irish-Australian should reciprocate? Still, no bliss is without alloy. There were times when the ghost of a dead past rose unbidden, throwing its chill shadow across the sunny present, and into the fairyland future – times when Mina’s desolation recurred to Fritz, and his heart was wrung with anguish as he mentally totted up the expenses of his fruitless voyage. But Louisa would box his ears and tickle his ribs when her quick eye detected the fit coming on. ‘Money gone, you goose,’ she would say. ‘Ain’t I better than money?’ You will observe that Fritz was scoring.
“Not only was she better than money, but she had the latter in abundance. Her property consisted of about a dozen cottages, two shops, and a hotel; and her rent-roll – as she casually remarked to her lover – varied from £15 to £20 per week. He, after verifying the information by private interviews with some of the tenants in the bar-parlor of the hotel, spent his own money with a somewhat freer hand, and about six weeks after his arrival, the solemnisation took place. I gave the bride away.”
Again the Deacon paused and sighed. Then the ice of carefully-cultivated cynicism closed over the inadvertent thaw, and he continued:
“I happened to be working on a Melbourne daily at the
time, and having met Fritz a fortnight before the happy
day, we renewed our old intimacy, when he forced upon
me, in a rather boastful way, the details I have recalled
for your instruction. Only up to the date of the ceremony,
of course. The sequel to his marriage he told me about a
year afterward, sobbing on my neck, and smelling like a
brewery in a good way of business. At that time he was
keeping a shanty on Spring Creek, and I was working out
an excellent little industry in connection with a carpenter
“That was thirteen years ago,” he continued,
meditatively, “and I never met him again till this afternoon.
Jimmy Maginnis tells me his mother died two years back.
Poor vivacious mercurial woman. To this favor she has
come. Merely the common lot. She would have died
hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word.
Probably she was content. While the future extends in
front, death seems a calamity; when the past extends
behind, the same event becomes an acquaintance. Thackeray,
revelling in that purposeless cynicism which is his leading
characteristic, has a remark to the effect that ‘if you would
die regretted, you must die young’. Ah, boys, it is a
cheerless element of truth that gives point to this ruthless
apophthegm, for we instinctively know, though the
impression is not formulated, nor even apprehended, that a
life-work in the elevation of humanity is open to the young,
while this task has already been fulfilled, or evaded, or
repudiated by the old. Still, the bare truth is cruel. Indeed,
it is difficult to conceive how any man can be a cynic,
seeing that he himself is as frail, fallible, and ephemeral, as
the subject of his misplaced derision.”
- Come, Disappointment, come!
- Though from Hope’s summit hurl’d,
- Still, rigid Nurse, thou an forgiven,
- For thou severe wert sent from heaven,
- To wean me from the world;
- To turn mine eye
- From vanity,
- And point to scenes of bliss that never, never die.
- Henry Kirke White, Ode on Disappointment.
“But hold on,” said Thompson, circumspectly, “you led us to think that Mrs Maginnis had houses to the value of fifteen or twenty notes a week?”
“Such was my frank intention, Stephen.”
“And this didn’t continue?”
“Nothing continues, my boy. But this terminated with
dismal abruptness. Immediately after their marriage, Mrs
Wetterliebenschaff mentioned to her husband, in a tacitly
apologetic way, that a slight error had crept into her
statement of assets – though rather an omission than a
misstatement. Here we must glance back a few years. The
late Mr Maginnis, rightly calculating the effect of the Land
Act, had mortgaged his city property to build and furnish
the Traveller’s Rest. Then, desiring to remove the
encumbrance as quickly as possible, and remembering how he
had originally enfeoffed himself of the Melbourne
property by unloading Koh-i-noors and Golden Fleeces on
the very crest of the great mining boom in ‘64, he turned
his attention to El Dorados, Pactoluses, Great Golcondas,
and other certainties, intending to repeat the operation. But
the other fellows had gone out in the tide this time, and
there was a stony glitter in the eyes of the public.
Meanwhile, so spirited and enterprising were the directorates
“It was about thirty-six hours before he came to, and
even then he went on like one that hath been hocussed. He
fancied himself standing on the deck of a ‘Frisco steamer,
with a small portmanteau in his hand, whilst a peculiar
sensation of coldness on his upper lip seemed to convey
the reminder that his moustache was amongst the sweepings
of a barber’s shop. The consciousness of a foreign accent
also appeared to weigh upon what was left of his mind,
and he heard himself remarking to the bystanders in a
hollow voice that he was a Norwegian gentleman travelling
for pleasure and that his name was Bjornson – Mr Henrik
Bjornson, of Sondre Trondhjems. Then, in pitiless response
to this ingenuous admission, one of his auditors seemed to
“Don’t, Jeff,” protested Thompson sullenly. “I’m anything but a superstitious man myself; still I feel it’s not safe to make a joke of affliction, though it may be a person’s own doing.”
“Your sense of humor must be a subtle one, Steve, if you
detect any joke in a tragedy like this,” replied the Major
with sincerity. “However, Fritz hadn’t finished scoring
yet. Too much broken up to think of soliciting bail, he
passed a night as the guest of Her Britannic Majesty. Next
morning, while he was endeavouring to give some account
of himself to the Bench, various members of the Devil’s
Brigade put in clients’ claims, amounting in the aggregate
to something like £600 – all of which Fritz paid, in the state
of merciful coma which still enveloped his faculties. Then
“To conclude, Fritz, whose capital was now reduced by nearly one-half, took a five years’ lease of the hotel which he had fondly regarded as his own in life interest, and resolutely settled down to redeem his mis-spent moments past. According to the custom in such cases, he interviewed the outgoing tenant as to the quantity of beer sold; and this gentleman’s information he privately verified by a conference with the brewer who supplied the house. The result of his investigations indicated a fine turnover, and on this the rental and goodwill was based. It may be worth your while to know that the doctrine of averages – so insisted on by Buckle – maintains a reliable ratio between the demand for beer and for other wets, so that from one factor you may work out the total.
“But Fritz afterwards found that the new owner of his
wife’s former property – a wealthy and influential M.L.C. –
had made it worth the out-going tenant’s while, and had
also given a hint to the brewer. In addition to this, it was
largely a jug business. In addition to this again, Fritz’s
inexperience soon betrayed him into the indiscretion of
reporting a roguish member of the force, whose manner
The Deacon paused, and lit his pipe, whilst an
indescribable something in his manner seemed to denote that he still
held the floor, and intended to keep it. The cessation of the
story merely conveyed a tacit challenge of comment, and
this we all felt; but the silence was broken only by Dixon’s
muttered rendition of the last pious sentence into Latin,
with an Australian intercalation by way of artless
- The Moral Bully, though he never swears,
- Nor kicks intruders down his entry stairs.
- Feels the same comfort while his acrid words
- Turn the sweet milk of kindness into curds,
- As the scarred ruffian of the pirate’s deck,
- When his long swivel rakes the staggering wreck!
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Moral Bully.
“Now, boys,” continued the Senator, “I’m well aware that the sediment of meaning left in your minds by my story crystallises into an emotion of gratitude to heaven that you are not as other men are, or even as this publican. This is utterly and cruelly wrong. To judge Fritz justly, you must imagine him still alive, and with a stake in the country; a man whose obvious interest lies in strict respectability. His sole aim during life was to attain such a position of repute; and, in common fairness, you must judge him as you would wish to be judged; that is, by aspiration and effort, rather than by attainment. Of all the vanquished men I have known – and Legion is an inadequate name for them – not one has died harder than Fritz. He was congenitally a man of indomitable purpose, though of flabby principle; therefore, a mean and sordid environment made him a mean and sordid skunk. A criminal environment would have made him a thief, though never a highwayman. A generous environment would have made him a Florence Nightingale, though never an Old John Brown.”
“And a religious environment, Mr Rigby?” ventured Lushington, with a professional solicitude reminiscent of the man who thought there was nothing like leather.
“The word ‘religious’ has unfortunately so many shades
of meaning that I scarcely know how to formulate an
The Major paused a moment in guileful deference to his questioner, then resumed.
“But individual misadventure, rightly used, contributes to general safety. If we locate, identify, and characterise the rocks on which Fritz unhappily bumped his hooker – above all, if we chart the ocean currents and magnetic variations which conducted him to perdition – we shall, in a sense, raise him from the moral status of a stone-broke bummer to that of a universal benefactor. In other words, seeing that he has drawn fire and located the enemy, we ought to honor his memory by acknowledging the service. To my mind his exploit clamors for recognition. Like King John, he does not ask you much; he begs cold comfort, and you are so strait and so ungrateful you deny him that.”
Here the Sheriff paused for a full minute, evidently yearning for some assailant with a self-imbedded conviction that the world’s crime, brutality, sordidness, ignorance, squalor and general degradation were directly or indirectly attributable to liquor. But our congress happened to lack this species of zealot, so all hands sat silent as effigies, and for a space no man came forth to win the narrow way.
“We all admit that polite environment makes the gentleman and vulgar environment the vulgarian,” he continued, metaphorically trailing the tail of his coat slowly along before the meeting, “and this is perfectly correct.”
“With certain reservations,” essayed Lushington, figuratively touching the coat with his toe.
“With certain reservations,” repeated the Judge
“Something of that kind,” replied Lushington.
“Good. What Dixon would call the argumentum ad hominem seems justifiable here. Would you like to try that experiment on your own son? Wouldn’t you a thousand times rather see him decently buried? And what entitles your son, or my son, or any man’s son, to higher privileges than the son of the slum-denizen? I may mention that I am searching these provinces for some educated and intelligent man audacious enough to assert, without phrases, that the Eternal (I should prefer to use a name implying closer relationship, but experience has taught me that the New Testament conception of Deity is apt to irritate) – some man hardy enough, I say, to maintain that this first cause can possibly sanction the prospective abasement of children unable to distinguish between their right hand and their left. Still keeping to the question of environment – why do we – but – I beg your pardon – may I ask if you are connected with the business?”
“The business. Licensed victualling.”
“No, Mr Rigby,” replied the clerygman, enjoying the joke. “In spite of my unfortunate name I’m a life-abstainer.”
“I’m practically an abstainer myself, though not a pledged
one,” rejoined the Deacon, “and I’m happy to have so much
in fellowship with you. Excuse my question. It was
prompted by the recollection of what happened to me
the night before last at a hotel in Corowa. I had marked an
old gentleman of amiable demeanour, though of rather
ascetic appearance, who drank nothing but water. We got
into conversation and I spent three solid hours in
endeavouring to point out to him that one effect of a perfect social
system would be to bring alcohol to its true place as a
valuable, though somewhat hazardous medicine. I
“Come, Mr Rigby,” interposed Lushington, overflowing with academic counsel, “you must acknowledge with all our foremost authorities, that dipsomania is a transmitted weakness, or, at least, that heredity is a very powerful factor here.”
“A far-reaching one, certainly,” conceded the General, “seeing that Noah’s unfortunate propensity, latent for – let’s see – take Ussher’s chronology – latent for, say, one hundred and thirty generations, reappears in the Australian Aborigines, a race as susceptible to the temptation of drink as any on earth. Remembering the Aborigines, then, along with all other races of immemorial sobriety and allowing as much as you please for heredity, don’t we admit that, so far as temperance is concerned, the environment is a matrix wherein the individual is moulded? And does it not become us, for the sake of consistency, to extend the rule indefinitely, first inquiring, of course, whether our social-economic environment is conducive to production of the highest personal excellence all round? If you reply that it is so conducive, the argument is ended. If you acknowledge that here, in an aspiring community, our environment is bad, and we ourselves, from infancy upward, debased by slavery or corrupt by power, then you tacitly concede the advisableness of a radical change in the worldly conditions under which we live.”
“Rings the bell every time he’s let,” whispered Sam to
me. “Why don’t you fellers give him his head?”
“Your protest is premature, Sonny,” I replied in the same tone. “Time and the Colonel against any two, or any two dozen.”
But though Rigby was now fairly started, he still failed to connect, and this time the hindrance came from an unexpected quarter.
- Of all the gentle tenants of the place,
- There was a man of special grave remark;
- A certain tender gloom o’erspread his face,
- Pensive, not sad; in thought involved, not dark.
- Thomson’s Castle of Indolence.
“It seems to me that all secular remedies must fail to cure even secular evils,” observed Furlong with mild doggedness in his tone, rising from his seat as he spoke, and laying his rod against the steep bank. “The fashion of this world passeth away, and the time is coming to us all when to him that hath – that is, to him that hath chosen the good part which shall not be taken away – to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have – by which we understand, the treasure laid up on earth. ‘Seemeth to have’ is a fine expression. I’m afraid, Mr Rigby, the tendency of your moral is to limit, or even to explain away, human responsibility.”
I expected to hear a sigh of mental fatigue from the Judge, and my forecast was fulfilled.
“Talkin’ about morals,” rejoined Dixon, as the trapper climbed the bank, “it’s a moral we ain’t goin’ to ketch no (adj.) fish, no matter how we keep off o’ swearin’, an’ I bin ridin’ myself with a martingale all the (adj.) evenin’. My idears is mostly runnin’ on that thirty-pound fish you caught here, Thompson.”
“Strange how the very same thing has been running in
my own mind,” replied Thompson pensively. “How little
I thought then that I would be sitting here tonight, older
and sadder, and not much wiser, thinking of all the changes
that have taken place since then. How well I remember
“Specify your river, Steve,” I interrupted airily, for it seemed evident that either Thompson’s reason or mine was reeling on her throne.
“Oh, shut up. It was ten or twelve feet higher than it is now. Malky Cameron was sitting just above where Mr Binney is and Billy was away after frogs. Of course, Agnes wasn’t allowed to be out after nightfall. The thought just occurred to me now that perhaps in future years some one of us may sit here again, watching his float and thinking of tonight.”
“There is an element of poetry in the suggestion,” I remarked thoughtfully. “By the way, when was it you caught that thirty-pounder, Steve?”
“Ten years ago, last May – coming eleven years, now,” replied Thompson dreamily. “About three weeks before my unfortunate trip in the canoe.”
For the next two minutes you could have cut the silence into slices with a hay-knife.
“Where’s Furlong?” asked the Colonel at length. “Did he take his rod with him?”
“He’s only gone to roast a fresh bit of possum for a bait,” I replied. “He missed the ghastly disclosure.”
“No, he was listening all along,” said the unconscious Thompson. “But the vanity of things in general is no ghastly disclosure to him, I fancy. He’s had his share of trouble; and he’s made the right use of it. Not like me.”
“You know him, Steve?” I inquired.
“No, I can’t say that I do. I met him once, some years ago. But he’s a man I’d take to be as straight as a rule.”
“He might have a romance in his life, too,” I suggested.
“I wouldn’t hint anything to him about it, Tom; he seems very reserved.”
“Both you an’ him’s the clean spud, anyhow, bullocky,”
interposed the sharp voice of the kangaroo hunter. “If
everybody was like me an’ him an’ you, the world would
During the uncomfortable pause that ensued, the trapper returned, baited his hook, threw his line into the river, and resumed his seat. Then, unconsciously forestalling the Major, he deferentially put in his word, discoursing with the slow precision of a systematic thinker, whose verb had been trained to agree with its nominative. He seemed to speak almost by rote, like a man giving utterance to thoughts perpetually present and attired in the same verbal garb. (For we always think in words.) His tone bespoke the turtle-dove severity of one reluctantly constrained to draw on behalf of a principle in which his own i ndividuality had become merged and lost. As a mere detail, his sermon was marred by that lamentable mismanagement of the “h” and that disregard for the “r” which distinguishes participants in the glorious charter, deny it who can.
“Whilst listening to your conversation, Mr Rigby,” he said, “the uppermost thought in my mind was the opportunity of usefulness which you allow to pass unheeded, forgetful of the reward which might be yours. Why do you not turn your fine abilities in the right direction? See how closely Daniel xii, 3, might apply to you: ‘And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.’ I feel very deeply on this subject, for I myself lived in bondage to Satan for twenty-nine years; and though it has pleased God to call me out of darkness into His marvellous light, I can never recall the wasted time.”
“I never flog over them (adj.) idears,” remarked Dixon, uneasily. “I’ll jist slip across an’ shove the (adj.) fire together,” he continued. “May’s well treat ourselves to a drink o’ tea when school’s out.”
“The lesson my experience has taught me,” resumed
Furlong, as Dixon escaped up the bank, “is that, so far as
secular things are concerned, the one great fact is the
watchful providence of God, and the one great duty is
unquestioning submission to that providence. But we
“Gosh! I know which specie I’d ratherest tackle,” whispered Sam to me, with fictitious jocularity.
“The compilers of the Church of England Service,” pursued Furlong, “understood this when they wrote: ‘In all time of our tribulation, in all time of our wealth, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment – Good Lord deliver us.’ Soon or late, we have to learn that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God’ – Romans viii, 28. And the sooner we learn this, the sooner shall our minds be at rest.”
“I’ll be off, Harold,” said Binney aside to his brother-in-law. “Are you coming?”
“Not just yet, George. Stay a minute. We have a discovery here.”
“A few years ago,” continued the unvalued homilist,
wading deeper in his sin, “my own mind was full of error
and discontent, but, like Paul, I met the Lord in the way,
and, like Paul again, I now count all things but loss for the
excellency of the knowledge then vouchsafed to me. I may
say that the original word here translated ‘loss’ has the
secondary signification of jetsam – that is, cargo thrown
overboard to save a ship. The idea is that life is a troubled
sea, and each of us a ship seeking the haven of rest. But our
“‘Bout time for me to travel, Collins,” said Sam, in a creepful whisper. “I’ll see you in the mornin’, as you go past.” And he evaporated up the bank, like Old Nick at the touch of holy water.
“Anyone who fully realises that ‘the Most High ruleth
in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He
will.’ –D aniel iv, 25 – can never waste his energies in
scheming to overthrow or build up social systems,” continued
Furlong, gathering force as he went. “He will rather be a
worker in the field where the harvest is plenteous, and
the labourers few. And anyone who, in the right spirit,
looks back along his own past cannot but confess that an
unseen hand has guided him to the present moment of
time; not only sustaining his life, day by day, but
interposing hindrances here, compulsions there, benefactions
everywhere – all which were designed to tend toward
spiritual growth. And He who is the same yesterday, today
and for ever, will continue to sit as a refiner and purifier
of silver – Malachi iii, 3 – watching and tending the molten
metal, and removing its dross, till its surface reflects the
face of the Refiner; then it will be taken from the furnace,
as worthy of the treasury. But for those who harden their
hearts, ‘sinning wilfully, after they have received
knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin,
but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery
indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.’ Hebrews
x, 26 and 27.”
The trapper paused, but an eerie constraint was upon
everyone except Rigby and Lushington. The latter had
from time to time been murmuring cordial acquiescence in
the speaker’s views, tacitly encouraging him to continue;
and as for the Colonel, I judged by his attitude that he was
metaphorically sharpening his sword on Furlong’s
- Ay, let us think of Him a while,
- That, with a coffin for a boat.
- Rows daily o’er the Stygian moat,
- And for our table choose a tomb.
- Thomas Hood, Ode to Melancholy.
“It has been said that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” continued the trapper fervidly. “I can give an illustration of this, and it appears to me expedient that I should do so before we part. I don’t wish to force my own petty history on you, but I think you’ll forgive me by the time I have done.
“I came out from London just after finishing my apprenticeship as a watchmaker. I’m a poor workman, partly because I have an unsteady hand, and partly because of a natural deficiency in mechanical talent. But, until four years ago, I had never done any work except watchmaking and enginedriving, and since coming to Australia I had never spent three successive days outside of Melbourne. I was married nearly six years ago, and I’ve been a widower for four years. My wife was a Melbourne native, and her only surviving relations were two brothers, both gone up the country. I found one of them two years ago, and we kept up a desultory correspondence, but I have never heard any news of the other.”
“Was that the (person) you was after las’ year on the
Island?” demanded Dixon, who had ventured back, and
finding the conversation apparently purged from
spirituality, had seated himself just behind me. “Long-legged,
yeller-bairded galoot of a bullocky, you said, with a bay horse.
Country’s st–nkin’ with fellers of that (adj.) description.”
“No, Dixon, I’ve found the man you speak of,” replied
“There is always a good deal of distress somewhere in
the unseen life of a city like Melbourne, and not long
after our marriage the lot fell upon us. I needn’t weary
you with the details of our struggle against conditions that
were too strong for us – the conditions of scanty
employment and decreasing wages, along with the imperative
need of money for rent and subsistence. City-bred people,
as a rule, can make shift in a city, but exceptions occur, and
these are beyond our control. Laura had a weak chest
through overwork in her younger days, and now her
health began to fail. By this time we had reached the limit
of our credit. I had nothing to sell but a collection of
books, and I parted from these with a regret that seems
strange to me now. Laura grew weaker and weaker, and as
she needed more indulgence the pressure of our poverty
became more severe. No use saying I should have done this
or that; I did everything I could; yet I had to watch her
fading slowly before my eyes, all the while knowing, or at
least believing, that there was health for her, but beyond
my reach. I was an unconverted man at that time, and I
often felt tempted to do something desperate; in fact,
nothing withheld me but the fear of making matters worse. A
dark shadow seemed to hang over us; we could read in each
other’s faces the thought that never left either of us now.
What was most heart-breaking to me was to see her so
resigned. Young as she was, her life had been one long
working-day, and she was tired out. But she had the
Christian’s hope. And you must remember that the awful
desolation of the thought that haunted me was made more
bitter by such poverty as it is very unlikely that any of
you have ever experienced. It wasn’t like ruin brought on
by some sudden calamity, such as appeals to the sympathy
of the world; it was a chronic insufficiency of everything
needful to life, and nothing for it but to suffer silently.
Yet every moment was so precious to me in those days that
the time seemed to fly.”
He paused a moment. I felt tempted to throw something at him for playing into the Major’s hands after such a fashion. Then he resumed:
“Still there was one hope. A doctor told us that a change of climate might restore her. He suggested Echuca, or Riverina, and to take her there at once, as the winter was coming on. Just then the little furniture we had was seized for rent, leaving us entirely destitute, and considering Laura’s weak state, I hardly know what we’d have done but for two friends, a widow and her sister, working together as laundresses. These good women found room for Laura in their home. May God bless them for their kindness; here and hereafter.
“In the meantime I managed to borrow sufficient money to pay my way, and took the train for Echuca, with a clinging hope that all these fears and troubles might soon be past. But I could get no work at my trade there, though I tried hard. Now, what I should have done was to have refused, in my own mind, to leave the place till something presented itself. No doubt I could in some way have found a home for Laura there, and, ah well, God’s will be done.
“I went on to Deniliquin. I could get no work there, and then, confused and desperate as I was, I took the advice of a very friendly fellow I had fallen in with, and went out to Moogoojinna station, where there was a chance of getting charge of a portable engine. I had a second-class certificate, and I had it with me; yet the opening was so different from anything I had expected that time after time I stopped, half-resolved to turn back. It took me nearly two days to reach the station, and I felt a kind of relief to learn that the place was already filled. You wouldn’t believe what a sense of loneliness and desolation comes over a city man when he sees, under such circumstances as I did, what sort of place Riverina is. I resolved to try Echuca once more, hoping for some kind of success. I didn’t dare to think of failure.
“But going back to Deniliquin from Moogoojinna I lost
“I walked to the railway station, penniless as I was,
and in desperation told my story to the first porter I met.
He could do nothing for me. I went to some men loading
wagons at the goods shed, but they were too busy to
listen to me. I saw a buggy and pair standing at the gate,
and an old gentleman approaching it from the goods sheds
office. I stopped him, with the most humble apologies. He
read my telegrams, and listened attentively to what I had
to say; then when I finished by begging the railway fare to
“I walked along the Echuca road, mile after mile, like one in a horrible, indefinite dream, waking now and then to realise that I was two hundred miles from Laura, and that she was dying, or dead. Gradually, I remember, this numbness of mind gave way to one consciousness – the consciousness of utter isolation, of treading the winepress alone. Terrible as my extremity was, I could do nothing – nothing – to help myself; and I began to see the unreasonableness of expecting from anyone else such help as I needed. Then I remembered Laura’s simple trust in an infinite Wisdom, an Immeasurable Love, watching over each one of us continually. This, once for all, brought me face to face with the alternatives of faith and infidelity. I struggled against asking myself whether this fearful trouble was consistent with Divine love; but I felt that if Christ were on earth I could appeal to Him with confidence that He would help me, and even this thought brought comfort and peace. You may call it a mere mental reaction; no doubt it was something of the kind; but the moment of that reaction was the moment of my conversion.
“Still I felt no abatement of the desperate impulse to hurry on. My limbs were racked with pain and weariness; but my face was turned toward where Laura lay, alive or dead, and it was impossible to rest for one moment. So hour after hour passed, while I walked eighteen or twenty miles, unconscious of anything around. Then comes a definite recollection. I live it over again every night when I am alone with the memories of the past.
“I seem half-conscious of a dull aching in my limbs, and
a burning pain in the soles of my feet as I walk on. Someone
“Oh, never mind that,” interrupted Thompson. “How did you find – how – how was it when you got to Melbourne?” As he spoke, an ungainly self-consciousness was plainly struggling with emotion in his tone. Indeed, between shifting restlessly on his seat, and absently feeling his pocket, he had betrayed an increasing uneasiness ever since Furlong got fairly under way with his depressing tale.
“My dear friend,” replied the trapper, in a tremulous voice, “you must allow me to tell the story in my own way. After I had taken a drink of tea and some food, Thompson asked me if – well, he asked me if I had been drinking. I began to tell him my trouble, but, in spite of myself, I broke down completely. I could do nothing but hand him the two telegrams. He read them two or three times.
“‘Your wife?’ says he.
“I tried to speak, but couldn’t.
“He jumped to his feet, looked at his watch, and put the saddle and bridle on his horse.
“‘Here, quick,’ says he; ‘follow this track straight and it’ll take you to Mathoura. Here’s money for you’ – and he sorted out some notes, and put them in my hand. I mounted, and he altered the stirrups to my length, and buckled his spur on my heel. ‘Keep at a good smart canter, and you’ll catch the train,’ says he. ‘But if she’s up to time, you haven’t got a minute to spare. Hitch the horse anywhere about the station, or jump off and let him go. Don’t speak to me. Everything is understood between us.’
“To my unspeakable relief I was in time for the train,
and, a few minutes afterward, I was on my way to
Melbourne. Then the physical reaction came. I felt a
“Mrs Lacy met me at the door, and told me what to expect. During some terribly cold weather a few days before, Laura had taken a turn, and from that time there was no hope. But now she was restored to me for a few hours longer, and this seemed the greatest blessing life could bestow. She was perfectly sensible, breathing slowly and faintly, and such a smile passed over her white, spiritual face as she saw me beside her. I remember, more and more, every syllable she whispered, so soft and low, for her voice was gone.
“‘I knew you were coming, Frank,’ she said. ‘I prayed continually that you might be near me at the last. This is not what we looked forward to; but it is the best. We’ve suffered together, my poor love, but that’s past for me now; it will soon be past for you – and then think of the everlasting rest of us both. I’ll be waiting for you in that new home, as I’ve waited for you so often in times past; and when you come, I’ll never feel my heart breaking for your troubles, as I have so often here. And you’ll give yourself to Christ – now – now – for my sake, and be faithful to the end, dear love, so as to meet me where there shall be no more pain, or weariness, or sorrow.’
“From time to time, she whispered half-sentences and disconnected words, but at last her calm eyes rested on my face, and she said:
“‘My poor lonely love, don’t mourn when you see the
grave close over me. Our parting is only for a time. Our
Redeemer has travelled the path before us, and made the
way sure. O Frank, what we call death is the exceeding
great reward. It is sweet to feel the world pass away, with
all its cares and sorrows, leaving me to rest with Christ.’“
The trapper caught his breath and paused, then resumed in a low, steady tone:
“And so, holding one of my hands with both of hers, she seemed to sink into a dreamy state, but sometimes I felt her move her fingers, to assure herself that my hand was still there; sometimes she half-opened her eyes, and smiled as she saw me beside her. At last I heard her whisper softly; bent over to catch the words:
“‘Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come.’ That was all. She slowly opened her eyes, and fixed them on my face, and gave one little sigh. I waited for her to breathe again – waited – but her fingers closed on mine, and slowly relaxed; then I saw the light fade from her eyes; a look of perfect repose settled on her face – an appalling tranquillity; she was insensible to my affliction.”
He paused abruptly.
- This world is but the rugged road
- Which leads us to the bright abode
- Of peace above;
- Then let us choose that narrow way
- Which leads no traveller’s foot astray
- From realms of love.
- Jorge Manrique (Longfellow’s Translation.)
For a few minutes we listened to the frogs in the river flats, and the monotonous barking of a dog up at the pub, and the occasional jangle of a bell away in the dark shadows of the bend. The gentle sport of the evening – previously poisoned by Thompson’s unconscious disclosure – was by this time almost forgotten. Seats had, one by one, been selected in sociable proximity, and now nothing but a sense of decorum kept our lines in the river. Presently Furlong, crumpling his hat in his hand, dipped up a drink of water with the rim, and went on with his story –
“Now, my friends, if you think this was distressing, just
try to conceive what it would have been if I hadn’t met
Thompson. It was he that brought me to my wife’s
death-bed, to make her last moments happy; it was he that saved
her from a pauper’s grave. Oh, Thompson, you must meet
us both in that better land, where troubles and sorrowful
memories are unknown, and all is peace and purity and
love. My poor wife never knew in life, but she knows now,
whose kindness it was that fulfilled her last wish. And for
myself – without even knowing your name, I have prayed
for you daily all these years past.” Here the trapper’s
emotion overcame him again, while the sullen hang-dog
demeanour of the bullock driver became more pronounced.
“When I looked my last at Laura as she lay in her coffin with that angel-look on her face, I calmly asked myself whether I would recall her if I had the power. No, I would not. I was desolate as any castaway on a rock in mid-ocean, but desolation mattered little to me from that time forward, and there was a never-failing solace in the knowledge that her gentle spirit had found eternal rest, and that those poor worn hands, crossed on her breast, had done their last earthly work. I knew the time was coming when the assurance of her everlasting safety would outweigh my own sense of loneliness, and that time came long ago. Now that I’ve met you, Thompson, I haven’t one personal anxiety in the world. I am a happy man tonight.”
“We all sympathise with you, I’m sure,” remarked the kindly clergyman, with a huskiness in his voice. “But you are doubly happy in having found the pearl of great price, and it must crown your happiness to have the assurance that your loved one is safe. You are doing well enough now, I trust, from a worldly point of view?”
“Right enough,” replied the trapper, indifferently. “In former times I never imagined that there could be such an opening for me, or any occupation that suited me so well. I’ll finish my story in a few words. I turned away from Melbourne with a small kit of tools in my hand, and a few shillings in my pocket, leaving debts behind me to the amount of about twenty-six pounds. My intention was to go round the farms in the Northern District, cleaning and repairing, but after a few weeks I took to trapping, and in course of time paid off my debts, besides buying a suitable turnout. Then I went into other things, feeling my way carefully. I travel over a good deal of country, always doing something. I’m averaging about a hundred and forty pounds a year now, and it costs very little to keep me. Puny as I am, I should have been a bushman.”
“I’ll say this for you,” interposed Dixon, “you’re the
only feller o’ your size I ever see that ain’t et up with
“Mis-ter Dix-on,” exclaimed Lushington, naturally shocked.
“Beg parding,” replied the vessel of wrath, adroitly veiling his non-apprehension under the mask of urbanity. “Slipt out unbeknownst. Sort o’ lapsus (adj.) linguae. I’m a careless (fellow), but I don’t mean nothin’ wrong.”
“And you ought to be on your guard. But, Mr Furlong, I’m glad to hear of your release from the pressure of poverty. A blessing always attends perseverance in the end. You’ll be able to lay by a nice little sum as a provision for the future.”
“Well,” replied Furlong, with some constraint, “I’m owing Thompson twelve pounds, and –”
“No, no,” interrupted Thompson, sourly.
“And I can only pay him about half, and ask him to wait till I earn the rest. You may think it strange that I’ve been inquiring for him all these years, and never reserved his money, though I’ve had hundreds through my hands. The fact is, that – that – But what use is money to me now?”
“So it was Thompson you was inquirin’ about when I seen you on the Island?” interposed Dixon. “Well, I be (lost). Why the (sheol) didn’t you say a (person) with a ches’nut horse? Not a bay. Thompson’s remarked for ches’nut ever since I knowed him.”
“Any other color’s unlucky with me,” observed Thompson sadly. “And to prove it – I only had that bay horse for three weeks. Got his hind foot over the hobble-chain drinking at a steep place. Fact, it’s as much as I can do to keep even a ches’nut horse.”
“I must have a talk with you on that subject,” replied
Lushington. “We shall meet again, and I hope, learn
something from each other. I should feel sorry to lose sight of a
man like you. But, Furlong, I feel really concerned for you.
Do you think – if I may be so personal – that you are morally
“Well,” replied Furlong, hesitatingly, “I have a kind of provision. It may appear foolish to you, and I won’t attempt to justify it. The grave where my wife lies is secured and registered, and I have made arrangements for being buried there with her. It rests with God alone to determine the period of my life and the conditions and place of my death, but when that time comes, those who undertake my burial will find instructions as to my wishes, and a sum of thirty pounds to repay their trouble and expense. The money is safe in the Mercantile Bank, deposited there for that express purpose, and it cannot be drawn until certain incontestable proofs are forthcoming to show that the trust has been fulfilled. I needn’t go into the details of the arrangements now, but they are as complete as I could make them. So you see, Mr Lushington,” continued the trapper, deprecatingly, “I’m a little more selfish than I had led you to believe.”
“Now, Furlong, you place me in a painful position. It
was with the best intention, and in view of your loneliness
in the world, that I threw out the suggestion. I meant it
kindly. And all that you have since said makes me only the
more solicitous to see you provide for coming years. Now,
a series of periodical payments into the Endowment Fund
of an Assurance Society, in which I have some interest,
would in due time give you a good return, and would much
increase your power of usefulness in more advanced life.
Shall we talk the matter over quietly tomorrow? I have no
The trapper maintained an uneasy silence. Obstinate in some ways, he was manifestly a man averse to argument. But there was another member of our congregation who, though still more obstinate, had no such antipathy to the intellectual duello.
- . . . Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence . . . prating against
- us with malicious words; and not content therewith, neither doth he
- himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth
- them out of the church.
- III John, 9, 10.
“Furlong is safe – if his Bible is worth the paper it is printed on,” said the deep resonant voice of the American. “All your financial societies, based on usury as they are, will go to the Father of Usury sooner or later – most of them sooner – unless my judgment is strangely at fault. But the postulated president of Furlong’s society has given a guarantee which, if not passed over as the wildest extravagance, must be accepted as a pledge that will outlast the solar system. ‘And even to your old age, I am he; and even to hoar hairs I will carry you; I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry you, and will deliver you.’ This warranty is repeated in a hundred forms throughout the so-called later revelation, and, most emphatically of all, by Christ Himself. Let Furlong be consistent in his working out of the economic problem on Biblical lines. His experiment is being carried out in the spirit of confiding assent; not as a challenge, nor even as a test; and such enterprises are of supreme interest in a mercenary age.”
“But, Mr Rigby, I think you take me unfairly,” protested the clergyman. “I am entirely with Furlong in full and implicit reliance on divine goodness; still, we must provide things needful in the sight of all men – another way of saying that thrift is an essential of the Christian character. You will surely agree with me in the duty of providing for the future?”
“No,” replied the Deacon emphatically. “The only duty
“He’s fairly started,” whispered Thompson to me.
“Not yet,” I replied, in the same tone. “This is only a preliminary canter, but he’ll start by-and-bye.”
”– agencies of Nature; but he cannot soften Pharoah’s heart when that copper-coloured probationer chooses to harden it. Canute, by his own moral volition, could damn himself – and probably did so – though he couldn’t dam the tide; his soul was his own, the tide was God’s. Any man may develop his own moral nature, upward or downward – each unit of society being personally responsible for the conditions under which the development of each takes place – but no man can add eighteen inches to his own height; and this last metaphor is the one used by Christ himself to illustrate the utter irreverency of anxiety for the morrow.”
“You take me in a too violent sense, Mr Rigby,” replied
the clergyman, gently. “Let me put the issue before you
“Stick to that, young feller,” broke in Dixon. “Foller him up on them (adj.) lines.”
”– between you and me, at least, does not originate on my side. I presume from your tone that your habit has not been to provide for the future, and I should imagine you to possess independence of spirit which is a very admirable quality. Now suppose that, from the present day, your health and strength fail rapidly – and, pardon me, Mr Rigby, you are no longer a young man. The decline of life is inevitable, if we are spared to experience it:
- From Marlborough’s eyes the streams of dotage flow,
- And Swift expires a driveller and a show.”
“Which proves in a more literal sense than Solomon intended,” said I, “that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strategist.”
“Neatly put, Collins,” rejoined Lushington. “But, Mr Rigby, you see that your extreme views place you in a difficult position?”
“A man’s life’s no more than to say one,” replied the Senator, gravely. “Notice how my extreme views release me from the position they place me in? When my right hand forgets the exceedingly little cunning it ever possessed, it will still retain dexterity enough to load and fire a pistol. I object to suicide, but only as I object to any other evasion of duty, and I condemn the act exactly as I condemn any other infliction of distress or loss upon those with whom I come in touch. But, in the first place, we presuppose my last task completed, and, in the second place, my unsettled and solitary life has naturally cancelled any claim to the tributary tear. I take no higher ground. Didn’t I acknowledge that my religious faith was invisible to the naked eye?”
“What a penalty,” murmured Lushington, in real
“There is no procedure, right or wrong, but has its
accordant penalty,” replied the Major. “I daresay that, in
the normal sequence of effort and result, it has been within
my power to have become a comparatively warm man.
But such a condition was opposed to my interests. Let me
explain this, even at the risk of appearing egotistic – a
weakness which, Heaven knows, is no besetment of mine.
An apostle of the New Order, Mr Lushington, must meet
all prospective and actual adherents on a common plane,
and the only plane available is that of simple manhood.
Think over it. Who teaches poor men must himself be
poor. Not only that, but he must refuse all private
advantage; he must persist in poverty. ‘Axe to grind’ is the
most deadly charge ever brought against an avowed
champion of truth and progress. And the agitator’s only
safeguard against this aspersion is non-possession of any axe,
except the implement which he sedulously applies to the
root of this or that social upas. See how this elementary
necessity has been recognised by the makers of real
history – that is, the history of moral advance. If Gautama, for
instance, would put his impress on a race he must
voluntarily exchange the degree of a prince for that of the
poorest peasant. If Christ would transform the world He
must have not whereon to lay His head. If Mahomet would
promulgate a creed and found a civilisation he must be
seen at the zenith of his power mending his own shoes;
he must habitually saddle his camel with his own hands;
and if his successor, Abu-Bekr, would complete the work
the Prophet began he must not only vie with his poorest
followers in plainness of living, but must once in every
week leave himself absolutely moneyless. If Wesley would
inaugurate the greatest religious departure of modern times
he must be as poor as Elijah or St Paul; he must be able
to say: ‘If I die worth ten pounds, let posterity pronounce
John Wesley a hypocrite and an impostor.’ As in religion
proper, so in moral science. If Zeno would found the
noblest of all schools of ethic philosophy he must teach
all day, and by starlight earn his morrow’s bread. If Plato
“That would shut out such men as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea,” interposed Binney.
“As religious or social-economic reformers it certainly
would,” assented the Deacon. “Mind, I don’t mean to say
that – taking the men as they are presented to us – the
Lazarus of the parable was better than either of the two
you have named. We are dealing with special qualifications
for a certain task, not with comparative righteousness. I
am not presumptive enough even to assert that Lazarus
was morally better than the well-to-do gentleman in the
same parable. I merely contend that Joseph of Arimathea
must have qualified for his traditional mission to Britain
by becoming as poor as Lazarus. Touching Nicodemus,
we infer, from certain passages in the Talmud, that he lived
a member of the Sanhedrim wealthy and respected, till the
“As achieved by the individual who now stands before us,” I remarked.
“If a farthing in the pound can be called liquidation, Tom,” replied the Senator, dejectedly.
- Wer’t not for me, the world would roll
- Back in the ruts of uncontrol;
- Without a master or a guide,
- To stem the fierce barbaric tide.
- Charles Mackay.
“Keep the ball rollin’ anyhow,” urged Dixon. “Ain’t of’en a lot o’ blokes like us gits together. We don’t kill a pig every (adj.) day.”
“Well, speaking for myself,” continued the Judge, “I
consider that the privilege of poverty is worth about forty
million times as much to me as any little personal
provision which I might have been able, or might still be able,
to segregate from the public estate. Understand clearly that
I have no personal grievance against society; my only fear
is that society may have a grievance against me, and I feel
bound to guard against that danger. For instance, I hold
that every man should have a home of his own, inviolable
and independent, but for that very reason I decline to have
one whilst better men are homeless. And now see where
my spore of fern-seed comes into operation. Generally
speaking, I have no fear of being driven to the extremity
I hinted at just now. When I consider the finished career
of those who have gone before, and note how gratuitous
was all their solicitude, my mind is at rest. Take Burns, the
poet and spokesman of human nature, as a representative
of his race, and think what agonies of apprehension racked
that man’s soul, to no purpose whatever. The
poverty-stricken octogenarian he talked with on the banks of Ayr
was his own morbid presage of his future self. He envied
the field-mouse its exemption from his own forebodements.
Why should he? He never saw his thirty-seventh birthday,
“Thou art not far from the Kingdom of Heaven,” remarked Furlong gently. “But, dear Mr Rigby, you strike the rock as Moses did, instead of speaking to it in the name of the Lord. It seems to me,” he continued with some hesitation, “that your misfortune is want of humility and teachableness.”
“Yes; he’s got a bit of a vacancy there, right enough,” assented Thompson ill-naturedly.
“I don’t wish to force my view upon anyone,” resumed
Furlong, “but here is what seems to me a reasonable way
of looking at the position we all occupy on this earth. We
know that there was a time in each of our lives when we
were utterly helpless; but God had a place and a use, and
a provision, for each one of us; therefore, we passed the
feebleness of that time, and here we are tonight. Now;
can we fear that the Almighty arm which shielded our
infancy may become paralysed in our age? That is all. The
more we attempt to explain away the providence of God,
the weaker will our arguments appear. Church tradition,
you know, tells of a blind centenarian, led from time to
time into the assembly of the disciples at Ephesus, to
deliver the charge, ‘Little children, love one another.’ Was
“Certainly we can,” replied the Colonel promptly, while Furlong writhed on his seat. “St John was an exception. He wasn’t superannuated, simply because in the days of his vigor he had never courted superannuation. It is an aphorism somewhat hyperbolical, I admit – that any man, if he is prepared to pay the price, will attain whatever reasonable end he keeps in view; and to most of us superannuation is the chief aim and object of life. Naturally, then, the person who anticipates a worthless old age, and provides for it accordingly, ensures the fulfilment of his forecast as far as the worthlessness is concerned, though in so doing he defeats the utility of his enterprise; for the moral discipline entailed by his life-work inevitably produces an old age not worth providing for. And that man is superannuated in the sight of his Maker, as well as in the sight of his fellow-men.”
“Memento (adj.) mori” observed Dixon appreciatively. “Course, while a man’s beltin’ his way through the world, he can’t expect to be every (adj.) thing the doctor ordered; but when he makes a sort o’ rise he ought to repent. Got to die some time, right enough. Thank Mister (adj.) Adam for that lot. By (sheol)—!”
“Good enough for us,” mourned Thompson.
“Death,” rejoined the Commodore critically, “is no more a serious occurrence than the word ‘finis’ at the end of a book; which book, long or short, decent, vile or mediocre, as the case may be, cannot possibly contain anything of permanent importance except a record of trusteeship. By the same token, it usually embodies nothing but a scheme of embezzlement, seldom successfully pulled off.”
“But trustees must live during the currency of their office,” suggested the tenacious clergyman.
“A most reasonable claim,” conceded the Sheriff. “But
pardon me, you seem to insist upon something beyond that
“Any sensible bloke, if he were restricted to one course, would select damper and bacon, as being both wholesome and filling,” I observed. “And if you could take statistics of the whole human race I fancy you would find a very large number who never trouble themselves over any other consideration. Others, like your hero, Fritz, care for nothing beyond looking upon the tanglefoot when it is long.”
“Speak gently of the dead,” replied the Colonel gravely.
The trapper cleared his throat. “‘Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.’ Matthew xiii, 45 and 46.”
“Thank you,” replied the Judge. “You will perceive,
Mr Lushington, that the point brought out is not the
discovery of the pearl, but the price cheerfully paid for it.
- Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are
- not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
- II Peter, ii, 10.
“Christians,” continued the Commodore, genially. “Yes, you quote and preach from Paul, and canonise his ephemeral correspondence, because you feel him to be a less exacting taskmaster than Christ. But you daren’t follow even Paul: ‘Art thou called, being a servant (literally, slave) seek not to be free, for he that is a servant is the Lord’s freeman.’ Will you assent to that requisition? What fools you would be. Did you ever hear a clergyman charge his congregation to the effect that each of them must entirely forgo his own personal interests, as a guarantee of fidelity to the public good? You never did. Yet Christianity demands nothing less. And the only reward is that ye shall be the children of the Highest. No points in it. Say, rather, that there is no God but Thrift, and Smiles is his prophet.” The Major laughed gently, then continued: “However, Smiles is not the prophet of that inexorable law which decrees that whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself be exalted, an ordinance, by the way, which is not to be fully explained while you wait. Samuel is a barely perceptible insect on the fly-wheel of the mill which grinds slowly, yet exceedingly small. I have no quarrel with the infidel here, I challenge only the so-called Christian – the man whose religion never was designed to make his profits less.
“And I don’t presume to condemn candid, outspoken
apostasy,” continued the Deacon, forbearingly, “but on
behalf of all honest inquiries, I condemn the varnish of
Lushington, as an overmatched man, was by this time carrying the sympathy of the meeting, though only Binney and I were aware of his personal claims to reverence. But he couldn’t let well alone. He now proceeded to earn our mental execration by a platitude too childish for any layman’s utterance.
“It is the love of money, Mr Rigby, that is condemned, not the due esteem of its beneficent potency. Money, like most other things, has its use, and its abuse.”
“True,” conceded the Sheriff, whose good wit, like
Falstaff’s, turned everything to commodity. “Its use is to
serve as a simplifying counter in exchange of merchandise
or service; its abuse is to serve as representing wealth. We
all know how hard it is to separate the two aspects, and to
hold them distinct. Yet this must be done if we would
keep our moral vision clear. And where the vindication of
money per se is promptly to the fore, the love is not far
off. Once temporise with the Christian principle of
I shuddered, yet daren’t speak, for fear of making
matters worse. But with the good old Adamic instinct, I
blamed Rigby and Lushington alternately, the former for
his ill-timed censure of the cloth; the latter quite as justly,
for taking a mean advantage by maintaining his incognito,
and thus reserving an unsuspected second-barrel for
- Learning itself, received into a mind
- By nature weak, or viciously inclined,
- Serves but to lead philosophers astray
- Where children would with ease discern the way.
- Cowper’s Progress of Error.
“Are you prepared to maintain that voluntary poverty is necessary to salvation?” asked the clergyman, desperately sounding for bottom in this uncharted sea of heresy.
“Necessary to salvation,” repeated the General slowly.
“Necessary to salvation! Why cut prices here? Is it
decorous? With whom are we chaffering? But what is salvation?
What, in the fiend’s name, have we to do with any salvation
beyond the daily salvation from our own selfish
propensities? ‘Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save
his people from’ – from what? From hell? No such
absurdity – ‘from their sins’, all of which are, directly or indirectly,
traceable to selfishness. Moreover, ‘he that seeketh to save
his soul shall lose it, and he that loseth his soul (or loseth
sight of his soul) for My sake the same shall find it.’ It may
be very good Orthodoxy, but it’s only middling
Paganism, to hold that there is a certain temporal object – namely,
competence – to be acquired, and a certain alternate
destination – namely, heaven – to be attained. Christianity, differing
widely from Orthodoxy, and almost as widely as
Paganism, merely points out a certain path to be followed, let
that path lead where it may. This is the way; walk ye in
it; the result in this life is a thing entirely outside your
province; the destiny of the vital spark is a thing altogether
beyond your apprehension. There is a sharp rebuke for
the men who aspire to sit, the one on Christ’s right hand
and the other on His left in His Kingdom. Do you think
“Mr Rigby,” exclaimed Lushington warmly.
“A microbe of exceedingly pestiferous character,”
explained the Major, “but only when its owner makes it
“Better elevate himself first,” remarked Thompson, with a hopeless sigh.
“Good and trite,” snapped Rigby, in whose eyes the seasoned bullock driver had never outgrown or supplanted Thompson’s boy, Steve. “The real self-elevation is presupposed; it has been effected by the abnegation of all measly personal interests, secular and spiritual. But I’m afraid that, in your mind, the word ‘elevation’ is associated with the feat of making a rise. In your bright lexicon, ‘elevation’ and ‘swell’ are cognate terms. Possibly, however, your Maker’s idea of degradation somewhat resembles your notion of dignity and vice versa. Steve, I have known and respected your father for five-and-twenty years. Will you promise to carefully read the Encheiridion of Epictetus if I give you the book tomorrow?”
“No, I’ll swear I won’t!” replied Thompson in quick alarm. “The name’s quite enough for me. I can find enough worry in knocking out a living, without any help from that class of people. Bad thing to know too much. Seems to me that the true secret of life – if a fellow could always bear it in mind – is to be found in one of Mungo Park’s adventures. He was exploring in Africa at the time; and somehow, through a string of misfortunes, he found himself so badly left that there seemed nothing for it but to give the whole thing best, and make up his mind to peg out. But just then he happened to notice a bit of moss –”
“Ah, do tell us that yarn, Steve,” I murmured.
“Have a little patience, then. This moss set him
thinking, and he said to himself, ‘Now, the Lord watches
over that miserable, insignificant, useless, little excuse for
a plant; and, if so, it’s a moral certainty that He watches
“Are you willing to accept the lesson that your moss really teaches, Steve?” asked the Major gravely. “That moss fulfilled the little purpose of its little life. It transformed a small portion of crude mineral matter into vegetable mould; it absorbed a certain quantity of carbonic acid gas from the atmosphere, and replaced it by oxygen, thereby making this earth more fertile and wholesome. That moss accomplished its vocation. You stand on a somewhat higher plane of responsibility. Will you bequeath to society a little vegetable mould in the shape of protest against injustice? Will you, to the best of your despicable ability, endeavour to establish equilibrium in the elements of the social-economic atmosphere? Only on such terms are you justified in comparing yourself with that bit of moss.”
- Forgotten of God and the demons –
- Will he keep to his fancy amain?
- Can he live for that horrible Chaos
- Of flame and perpetual rain?
- Henry Kendall, Safi.
“Well, Mr Rigby, we must at least give you credit for a frank avowal of the Socialistic principle of levelling downward,” remarked the tenacious Lushington. “But is it not absolutely necessary to our advancement that society should be graded? I admit that the property qualification is not the highest that could be devised; still, it gives scope to the praiseworthy ambition of anyone who aspires to be an almoner of his Divine Master. We can turn the existing classification of society to good account, but only by glorifying God in our lives. Rich and poor have their respective duties. Our Creator has allotted to each man a separate sphere in life; and within the limits of that sphere, our individual duty is to obey Christ’s Golden Rule – ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.’ “
“Semi-colon,” sighed the Judge. “Finish the sentence, Mr Lushington.”
“‘For this is the Law and the Prophets,’” added the clergyman, good-naturedly.
“All honor to the lawgivers and the prophets –
Mongolian, Hindoo, Iranian, Hebrew, Arabian, and anonymous
– for such an injunction,” conceded the Major. “Observe
that, in your quotation, the sentiment is frankly and
honestly accredited to the prophets of an earlier
dispensation. Now, any religion which fails to make this Golden
Rule obsolete is not Christianity – as we shall see presently.
“The quotation is correct at all events,” remarked Furlong, gravely, “Mark x, 29 and 30. Parallel passage in Matthew xix, 29. But I always thought it referred to the disciples.”
“So it does,” replied the Colonel, drily. “We are the disciples – pseudo-disciples – but let that pass. Christianity proper has an epoch only, followed by an age-long present tense. It is our human progress, or decadence, that is marked by eras. But when Christ abolished class-servitude in all its degrees –”
“Pardon me,” interposed the clergyman, with some eagerness, “Christ did not even prohibit slavery. He enjoined love to all men, bond and free. The abolition of slavery is a work of modern civilisation, not of primitive Christianity. Paul, you will remember, sent the absconder, Onesimus, back to his master, Philemon.”
“Poor, zealous, devoted, purblind Paul,” commented
the Deacon. “He couldn’t see that Christ abolished every
form of obligatory servitude, in His own emphatic and
unanswerable way, when He washed His disciples’ feet –
the special task of a slave – and impressed upon them that
they, or their successors, or we, or our successors, should
thereafter grasp the significance of His action. I don’t
blame the Apostles for their obtuseness, but if we don’t
“It suits you just now to barrack for the Bible,” remarked Thompson. “Well, the Bible commands us to do our duty in that state of life into which it has pleased God to call us.”
“I won’t ask you to place your finger on the passage,
Steve,” replied the Colonel with real generosity. “Let us
examine the precept on its own merits. What of those hands
that the rod of empire might have swayed, or waked to
ecstasy the living lyre? Ah, the poet found them
penury-repressed, condemned to ignorance, obscurity, and relative
uselessness. What of the boy, or girl, inherently gifted with
special talents of the highest importance to art or science,
yet born into the rank and file of unskilled manual labour?
What of the man or woman of limited intellect,
overflowing energy, and fine physique, born to wealth, and with no
aspiration or potency beyond fashion and amusement?
No need to quote actual cases, for each one of us is familiar
with this obvious kink in the order of things. But to any
mind not hopelessly servile, the question at once presents
itself: Has God been pleased to call these, respectively, into
the state of life in which we find them? If so, why thus
blindly frustrate His own manifest design, cancelling
“But someone must do the thankless work,” objected Binney.
“Why should any work be thankless?” asked the Major. “Let some equitable and rational system be substituted for the present factitious destiny which jams the round man into the square hole, and no occupation will be thankless or ignoble. All such distinctions are in reality artificial and unsound. Quote me a civilisation or a society where the soldier, or the artificer, or the cultivator, or what not, is held in highest esteem, and I will match your example with another, showing where the gradation is reversed, and your Hyperion becomes a satyr. Now, if you can formulate, or even suggest, any scheme, apart from Socialism, which promises anything like intelligent order in place of this rotten chaos, I, for one, will gladly fall in with that project. Or prove that Socialism, by seconding and reinforcing the special abilities of each individual, will condemn any worthy person to degrading work, and I reject the system as an imposture.”
“But I cannot see how you identify Christianity with Socialism, or even compare them,” persisted Lushington. “Apart from the distinction of perfection and unsoundness, Christianity is spiritual, while Socialism is secular. One is a religion; the other is a polity.
“Very good definitions,” replied the Judge, with portentous complaisance. “Now let us inquire into the relationship of religion and polity – first making sure of our definitions. Polity is a clean-cut, unambiguous term, however wide the ground it may cover; but religion –”
Here our controversial toper paused a moment, preparing to enjoy the full flavor of this long-sleever, thus happily cast in his way.
“We’re booked for it now,” muttered Thompson, aside to me.
“Nothing to signify,” I replied, in the same tone. “He’s off-colour, tonight, partly paralysed for want of opposition, and partly crippled by the necessity of running on Bible lines, in deference to you fellows.”
- A vile conceit in pompous words express’d
- Is like a clown in regal purple dress’d.
- Pope’s Essay on Criticism.
“Religion, divested of frill, formalism, and fable, is merely the science of conduct,” continued the Senator. “Yet religion is not ethics, remember, any more than a running locomotive is a permanent way. Ethics is a moral science (I shall endeavour to prove it an exact science), whilst religion is an applied science, applied, namely, to conduct. And any belief in revelation, any belief in the supernatural, if it fails to control conduct, is of no more moment than a belief in the bunyip. Such a belief may be sublime or squalid, poetical or gross; still its religious pretensions are measured by its motive power alone, not by its aesthetic qualities, except insofar as these affect conduct. But a belief which leads up to unselfishness, to championship of the lowly and challenge of the overweening, to the living of a clean and useful life; or one which, on the other hand, leads down to servility, tyranny, or condescension, to the apotheosis of thrift, or to the toleration of any manifest evil – such a belief, I say, rises to the dignity of a religion, inasmuch as it controls conduct. Are you following me, boys?”
“In our own feeble way, Colonel.”
“Before we enter upon the relationship of religion to
polity, it will be expedient to notice the connection of
ethics with religion, in order to trace noxious conduct,
through unwholesome religion, right back to its origin in
distorted ethics. In the first place, we are brought in touch
with ethics through religion, by means of a faculty known as
“No,” I replied.
“To resume, then. An involuntary, and often annoying, act of the mind – to the operation of which act every man, woman, or parson is subject – affixes one of two moral attributes to any given thought or action. These two abstractions, antithetical by necessity, are rightness and wrongness; and any special moral quality, such as heroism or meanness, altruism or selfishness, adherent to any thought or action, naturally falls under the heading of this or that primary abstraction. And in our endeavour to draw a definite, practicable, and satisfactory frontier-line between the right and the wrong is found one of the few points in which we shine superior to the pig. We have been defined as a religious animal; and when it is clearly understood that religion is not an end in itself, but a means toward an end – that end being the prescription and authentication of a positive line of morality – the title of ‘religious animal’ will appear good enough for the like of us.
“But history – ancient, modern, and contemporary –
copiously proves, by the testimony of results, that the lines
dogmatically laid down by exponents of this, that, or the
other religion, have been merely empirical ones, drawn by
rule of thumb, to suit the interests or prejudices of some
dominant order. Therefore it was long ago remarked, with
better philosophy than grammar, that ‘there is a way that
seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the
ways of death.’ Yet there must somewhere be a definite
“At the same time we must insist on an unvarying polarity of the abstractions. Moral expediency, offering itself to compromise and subterfuge, is below the plane on which this question moves. Moral expediency has justified every species of wrong hitherto invented, and condones most species current at the present day. No principle that we know of is so insidious, and, by inevitable sequence, so pregnant with disaster as this. Good honest wrong, standing on its own demerits, and bearing its own label, is a manly thing (in both senses), but, justified by expediency, it becomes too mean to own any compact and expressive designation. A head of red hair, calling itself red, compels respect; whilst the same thatch, calling itself auburn, becomes contemptible.
“Nor can the ignorance of our remotely or recently
harvested forefathers, however it may palliate their
baseness and rascality, transform their wrong to right. These
abstractions lie embedded, fixed, in the structure of the
moral universe, independently of intellectual advance or
retrogression, and immovable by human opinion. Just as
white will be white, and black will be black, to the end
of time, so the right and wrong of a million years hence
will be precisely the right and wrong of today; unchanged
since yesterday, since last year, since last century;
unchanged since the era of our cave-dwelling ancestors. And
the proof that those rude individuals devoted some portion
of their evil-smelling leisure to an honest analysis of these
abstractions is found in the fact that our own moral
horizon is more extensive and clearer than theirs. If, for instance,
they had been as oblivious to the public good as Steve
and Tom here, they would have thereby surrendered the
Hardly likely. No one hankered to catch hold of a live wire carrying a current of something like one thousand volts.
“What we desperately need,” resumed the Major, “is a canon of morality which will authoritatively, and above all, reliably, mark a positive line for our guidance. Let us see and recognize the 0 meridian on our moral chart, in order that we may reckon the east or west longitude of each thought or action from that base, and, at our own peril, steer accordingly. Lacking a moral border-line, accurate in itself, and unambiguous, we have unavoidable misunderstanding, continual friction, and frequent collision.
“Pity that ignorance, fanaticism, and chiefly
compromise, have so soiled the word ‘religion’ that its very sound
is apt to repel honest minds, for as religion is the bridge
“Amongst dead and moribund religions, the stoic philosophy probably came nearest to the discovery of a positive line of morality. Supremely noble in all its aspects, stoicism must have touched the line at many points; but for need of the transitive element – namely, sympathy – this religion flickered out, whilst baser doctrines containing that element have survived. Worldliness, bear in mind, has two antitheses, widely diverse from each other; one of these is introverted self-sacrifice, the other is out-flowing benevolence. Stoicism, teaching the first, aimed at redemption of the individual; Christianity, inculcating the second, aimed at elevation of the race.
“At the present time, fabulous millions of more or less
rational beings theoretically accept as positive a line
indicated by One whom every impartial and intelligent man –
believer, agnostic, deist, or what not – ranks as the
Non-pareil of humanity. This Faithful Witness drew no arbitrary
or experimental line, remember. Governed absolutely by
the eternal abstractions, the purpose of His life was to
annotate a line coeval and coexistent with reason. And the
relation of our countless horde of religious animals to that
section of the moral line which passes through the
important province of social-economics is the question before
this synod. I insist that, whereas the line itself is straight,
your perversion of it comes me cranking into the domain
of Wrong, subverting all symmetry, and originating a
monstrous cantle of debatable area; all this occurring at
the very point where honest judgment should maintain –
and stoic magnanimity did maintain – strictest fidelity. This
deviation of yours has been on trial since history began,
entailing insupportable disquietude and hardship, which
you gloze as best you may, determined to gather grapes of
thorns, and refusing all lessons taught by the chastisement
of the spines. In the meantime, my sympathy is with the
- O, it is strange,
- ‘Tis passing strange, to mark his fallacies.
- Henry Kirke White.
“And do you imagine that your system would increase the sum of human happiness?” I asked.
“Certainly not,” replied the General.
“The moral constitution of man debars such interference.
We disclaim the miraculous. Happiness is not an ingredient
of life, subject to the augmentation or diminution by
prescription. It is the outcome, or rather the fruition, of an
inherent susceptibility, which latter is governed in tone,
though not affected in extent, by the conditions which
form individual character. You, for instance, may enjoy
the spectacle of a twenty-round contest for the
championship of middle-weights as much as a man of different taste
would enjoy an intelligent contemplation of the celestial
bodies through a first-class equatorial. You and the other
person are alike in capacity for happiness, as well as in
proclivity to science, but your inclinations are dissimilar.
Or you may enjoy capering along in the off-side lead of
your landlord’s carriage as much as any apostle of the new
order enjoys the consciousness of rolling his old chariot
along. In each of these suppositions the happiness may be
quantitatively equal, though a moment’s thought will show
it to be qualitatively diverse. Happiness, taken as an element,
is merely one of the necessary factors of existence. In our
unconscious appraisement of life, the balance of happiness
over misery is precisely that goodweight which turns the
scale in favour of survival, as against extinction. Man can
no more exist without drawing his dole of so-called
“What is your idea of goodness?” asked the foolhardy clergyman.
“Stripped of misleading subtleties,” replied the Colonel,
“goodness is anything that intuitively or of set purpose
makes for the establishment of a human relationship which
will develop each man’s best, and starve each man’s worst;
making us an honor, rather than a reproach, to the
mysterious Power which has fashioned us with
potentialities yet unfathomed. From this supreme utility, and from
this alone, do the Absolute Abstractions derive their
distinctive qualities. Art, Science, Industry, Commerce –
these are corollaries, not unities; media, not ultimates;
forces, not results; their end and purpose being something
that will throw Bentham’s ‘greatest good to the greatest
number’ into an aspect of infamous injustice toward a
helpless minority. Now, you won’t deny the easy possibility of
such social-economic abuse as would fully qualify every
hundredth man for the bottomless pit. Aggravate the abuse,
and you force into perdition every tenth man. Another
turn of the screw, and every second man is gone. A little
“Well,” remarked Dixon, who had listened to the Deacon’s exposition without a trace of the discomfort produced by Furlong’s loftier rendering – “well, I ain’t a religious man myself, even if I do look forrid to bein’ one; but you, my word, you ought to be a minister o’ the (adj.) gospel.”
“So I am – bar the adjective – which, by the way, is only too appropriate.”
“Not a proper sin-shifter,” objected Dixon. “You can’t chris’n a kid, nor yet say the (adj.) words over people.”
“No, Dixon, I don’t live on the game.”
This was too much. “I should have mentioned to you, Senator,” said I, “that Mr Lushington is a clergyman – a fisher of men, as well as of thirty-pounders.”
“Then I owe you an apology, Mr Lushington,” responded the Major, gravely; “and I tender it with more humility than I can put into words. I have a very bad habit of speaking unadvisedly, and, of course, often unjustly, and my penalty is self-reproach, such as I feel now. I beg your pardon, Mr Lushington, most sincerely.”
“Not another word on the subject, if you please,” replied
the fisherman genially. “If we meet again – as I trust we
shall – it may transpire that our differences of opinion are
The Commodore made a befitting guileful reply, and a half-minute’s silence was broken by the harsh dissonant voice of the kangaroo hunter, who was sitting farther up the river, a little apart from the rest.
- And she was lost – and yet I breathed.
- But not the breath of human life;
- A serpent round my heart was wreathed,
- And stung my every thought to strife.
- Byron’s Giaour.
“All very fine for you blokes to go fetchin’ out your argyments about right an’ wrong, an’ all the rest of it,” broke in the young fellow, with a subjective petulance which seemed to size up his Ego. “But what do you think of a man workin’ for a slant to do a thing that’s bound to send him to hell straight? Well, that’s me. I’ll tell you how I come to be in this predicament; and it’ll give you some idear how much good your Socialism is when it comes to a case of oc’lar demonster.”
“To the point – who is she?” murmured the Colonel impatiently, but in a voice audible only to his immediate neighbors. By this time, of course, he regarded the audience as his own private diggings, by right of valid pre-emption, and rigid fulfilment of labor covenant.
“It’s all through a girl, an’ she was worth it, no matter how people might cock up their nose at her, if they knew. I’ll tell you the whole yarn.”
“And you’ll be sorry for it in the morning, if I judge you correctly,” continued the superseded Major, in his former tone.
“I’m a well-brought-up man, though I say it myself,”
pursued the conversational interloper. “You don’t hear no
(verb) this, nor (adj.) that, out o’ my mouth. My ole man,
he’s got a slashin’ farm not eighty miles from where we’re
sittin’ – no occasion for sayin’ which road. Well, there was
a girl come into our district, three years ago, an’ me an’
“Well, he’d got the place to himself, an’ a feller by the name o’ the ‘Old Skipper’ cookin’ for him, an’ today you”d see him grinnin’ at a bar-maid; an’ tomorrow you’d meet him in the bush with a girl on horseback; an’ next day you’d see another girl yarnin’ with him across a fence; an’ all the girls in the district blazin’ with jealousy about the lousy cur – an’ him a married man. Well, it so happened, Nora had to come a good deal in his road, an’ she was the nicest girl in the district; an’ oh he was this, an’ that, an’ the other thing, an’ your humble servant, an’ a polished scoundrel at the back of it all. But she took no more notice of him at first nor if he was the dog.
“But it come round one night that there was a big meetin’
about Home Rule; an’ she was there along o’ the other
girl that worked partners with her; an’ I was there with
some blokes I knew; an’ somehow or another a row started
between some Orangemen and some Gruffs; an’ I
happened to be in the thick of it; an’ up comes my lord, an’
grabs me by the collar; an’ me nothin’ to do with the
row, but dragged into it, as you might say, through backin’
up one o’ the Gruffs that was a friend of mine. Course, I
makes a welt at the copper – for I won’t stand to be scruffed
by any living man if I can git at him fair – but he gits a
twist on me, an’ he goes out of his way to run me nearly
“Well, to my surprise, instead o’ Nora swearin’ off at him and spittin’ in his face if he spoke to her, she seemed sort o’ taken with him, and naturally this grew into what you might call a coolness between me an’ her. Well, upon me word, I tried to buck up to another girl, purpose to vex Nora, but I couldn’t stummick it no road. Though, mind you, I’ll say this for myself,” he continued, with a flash of that unaccountable and most reprehensible bravado which appears to be confined to the nobler sex, “I was none o’ your greenhorns that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth, an’ frightened if a girl spoke to them. No innocence about me, I promise you. I was edicated up to the knocker before ever I seen Nora.
“Course I’d got a set on the copper, but I had to sing small; an’ after a while I noticed Nora was clean broke off with him, an’ they passed one another without a word; an’ the copper he sort o’ dodged me; an’ presently I got thick with Nora again. But she wasn’t the same girl she used to be; all her jolliness was gone. Well, it seems the copper’s wife had somebody watchin’ him, and suddenly there was a flare-up, an’ he had to resign, or git the run; so he resigned an’ went up the country horsebreaking; for I’ll say this much to his credit, that he was about as good a hand among rough horses as you’d git. Give the divil his due.
“Well, things dragged on for a couple or three months, an’ me an’ Nora was as friendly as ever; but there was somethin’ about her I couldn’t make out, no road. At last one night I was seein’ her home from a bazaar; an’ it was as dark as pitch; an’ suddenly she says.
“‘Come an’ sit on this log,’ says she. ‘I got to tell you
somethin’; I can’t bear this state of things one minit longer.’
“So she started an’ has a bit of a cry, an’ then she tells me what was on her mind. Seems she wanted to go one Sunday to see another dressmaker she knew in a township about twelve mile away; an’ him, he gammoned he wanted to go the same road on some business, so what does he do but he gits a buggy and away goes the two o’ them – her kickin’ herself all the time for lettin’ things go so fur – an’ comin’ back he made out he wanted to go the other track through the bush.”
The narrator checked himself, then went on with an infirm attempt at nonchalance.
“Well, now, I seen them drivin’ home that same evenin’; and I don’t deny I was narked a bit extry; but I had no more suspicion nor. . . .” Again he paused; when he resumed there was subdued and seething fury in every reluctant syllable. “Well, he was a big strong lump of a man, and she was a weed of a woman, so to speak – an’ – an’ – never mind.” The last two words were shattered by a sardonic laugh; then he continued, “It’s all very well to talk, but what could she do without makin’ the thing worse – advertisin’ herself, as you might say? An’ there was him stalkin’ about the township as bold as brass for months after, lookin’ over my head whenever we met one another; an’ me knowin’ no more about what had took place nor the man in the moon. Oh, never mind, it’s all right – or, at least, it’ll be all right yet.”
“The scoundrel!” exclaimed Lushington. “Hanging would be too good for him.”
“Well, I got his wages in my cartridge belt,” replied
the other grimly. “I’m on his track this time safe, even if I
had to kill time for a fortnit - or else I wouldn’t be in this
quarter tonight. Course, I mightn’t git him for another
month, but he’s booked to go. The laugh’ll be on my side
then. Puttin’ in a spoke for poor ole Nora, too – knockin’
over two birds with one stone, as the sayin’ is. Present time
I got the patience o’ Job. I left a good home three months
ago o’ purpose to learn him what a fool he was to think I
was safe for him to blow his nose on. I got a fair idear
“But, my dear friend,” said the clergyman, gravely, “though I sympathise deeply with you, I must condemn your purpose of taking the law into your own hands. ‘Vengeance is mine: I will repay,’ saith the Lord.”
“Didn’t you say this bloke wanted hangin’?” retorted the other. “Is the Lord goin’ to hang him? Does the Lord hang a feller for makin’ a Aunt Sally of another feller, an’ laughin’ in his sleeve all the time?”
“Apart from the stings of conscience, and the retribution of the world to come, God punishes by the agency of our Criminal Law.”
“Hold on, then; you stick to that,” eagerly replied the young fellow, apparently just waking up to his own imprudence in telling the story, and thereby stung to fresh irascibility. “Sposen there’s a man in a place called Sussex, in England, an’ this man shakes a bushel o’ wheat for his missis to boil for the kids to keep ‘em from starvin’ – does God give that man seven years’ laggin’, and then set him adrift, with his ankles wore to the bone with the irons, and his shoulders like a soojee bag with floggin’? Well, that was my gran’father – an’ as decent a man as ever your gran’father knowed how to be. Is that God’s style o’ punishin’ people with the Criminal Law? Don’t talk rubbage.”
“I admit that, where offences against property were concerned, the law was exceedingly severe in the days of our forefathers; indeed, it is, perhaps, too severe still in some instances, but –”
“But God backs it up. Stick to your argyment. We’ll see
if it’s too severe. Sposen a lawyer gets six hundred notes
of a cockie’s money into his claws, an’ then hums and ha’s
and can’t be made to fork it over – does God on’y jist put a
set on that lawyer, so’s he’s got to go partners with another
lawyer for a couple o’ years? Well, that was what
happened to my ole man, when I was twelve or fourteen, an’
it nearly sent us on the wallaby. Don’t talk to me about
“I admit that it is an unsafe thing to meddle with; but you must consider –”
“Look here, you’ll make me disagreeable an’ nasty, the way you’re goin’ on. How the hell-fire can the law be a unsafe thing to meddle with, if God’s got any say in it? Ain’t the law a (adj.) sight unfairer every way nor the cronkest gamblin’? An’ people ain’t sich mullock-brained, flamin’ ijiots as to say God bosses that. Mind you, I believe in God; but He’s jist got as much to do with law as He’s got to do with – God eternally d–n me for a (adj.) fool.”
As this amiable young person barked out the last words, he rose and withdrew fifteen or twenty yards farther along the bank, where he mechanically threw his line into the river, and sat down. Lushington followed, and found a seat beside him. Then ensued the low, earnest tones of the clergyman’s voice, and the short, sullen replies of the other, equally unintelligible to the rest of us.
By this time the so-called kangaroo hunter and Furlong were the only ones of our party who continued to keep up the procedure of fishing-the former from restlessness, the latter still under the glamour of the thirty-pounder. The sport had hitherto consisted partly in getting our hooks caught on submerged roots, and partly in having our baits eaten off by the large, prickly crayfish which are always plentiful, except when you are equipped for catching them. But the slope of the bank was such a comfortable angle to recline against, the night was so pleasant, and the seventy or eighty yards of slow-swirling water so beautiful in the light of an unobtrusive half-moon, that we felt right enough as we were. Moreover, neither Binney nor Lushington could read midnight in the position of the stars, and the rest of us were not addicted to regular hours.
“Well, our discussion has, at least, effected the
ambiguous service of saving an infamous ex-bobby’s life,”
“Guesswork and prophecy are two different things,” retorted Thompson, sourly pedantic.
“Not altogether, Steve. Prophecy is guesswork, made unerring by accurate foresight, and the foresight here required demands only a scientific knowledge of overgrown waywardness. If this young fellow had, in the first place, confided his grievance to a friend or two, he would never have gone on the war-path, even though he had been advised to do so. A mere narration of the affront would have broken that personal equation which has governed his intentions till tonight. ‘Affront,’ I say advisedly, for observe how frankly our friend poses as champion of his own damaged dignity, rather than of the poor girl’s outraged chastity. A lesson in human nature, Steve. A mirror where each of us may see himself at his worst, free from the mask of cant. Hence I honor the young fellow’s lack of magnanimity, inasmuch as it implies an equal lack of self-delusion or hypocrisy.”
“All’s well that ends well,” remarked Binney, evidently relieved by the Major’s prediction.
“Ah, but there’s no end to anything,” replied that prophet insidiously. “Eternal mutation is nature’s law – compulsory as to movement, though dirigible as to tendency; and it rests with us, as the beings most affected by such.”
“Think he’ll marry Nora?” speculated Thompson, absently.
“Could anything be less desirable for either party?”
asked the Doctor. “No, Steve, she has cost him too much.
Let me explain. Man, in a not unpraiseworthy diversion of
selfishness, instinctively over-values the woman who brings
out his best; and correspondingly under-estimates her who
brings out his worst – though each woman’s influence may
operate unwittingly. In speaking of our friend’s worst, I
am not referring to this gendarme-stalking enterprise, as
such, far from it, but to the spirit in which the task was
undertaken and followed up. Hit or miss, he would have
“Stolen,” rejoined Thompson maliciously.
“I forget at the present moment where the expression is from. Do you know, Tom?”
“No,” I replied in a still, small voice.
- Great are my plans! I’d loose and bind
- The laws of body and of mind;
- And so restore the Golden Age,
- When war and pest should cease to rage,
- And thin the numbers of mankind.
- Charles Mackay.
But the Deacon could find a text in anything – or in nothing, for that matter – and there was a Satanic charm in his voice as he now dishonestly transferred our attention from the particular to the general.
“You’re perfectly right,” he remarked affably (though no one had spoken on the subject). “That splintering of lances on the abstract merits of our collective branches of jurisprudence, loosely designated ‘law’, is very suggestive. Very suggestive indeed. Our friend goes only half-way, landing, of course, in anarchism. Still, within that limit, he is right, from a moral, though not from a grammatical point of view. The inception of law is, I take it, a stronger evidence of our superior nature than any based on the existence of artistic or scientific potentiality. Why then, Steve, do we hate, and fear, and loathe, this product of our own highest faculties?
“I’m sure I don’t know – and, what’s more, I don’t care,” muttered Thompson, while he hastily rose, and, making his way along the bank, took up a fresh position, placing me between the Colonel and himself.
“The reason is,” continued Rigby, turning now to
Binney, “that such law – civil and criminal – as we have
experience of, is originally founded, not on equity, but
on privilege, and the scent of the privilege clings round
it still. Therefore it is through the instrumentality of
“Good (adj.) shot,” growled Dixon, approvingly.
”– of our dilatory ancestors has been visited upon their descendants, in the shape of a long-drawn hell of oppression in the past, and, unfortunately, we’ve by no means done with the penalty yet. Our ancestors sought the moral ague of degradation – sought it carefully, with tears – leaving us to locate and diagnose the hereditary malady, and afterward evolve an Abracadabra for its exorcism –”
“What the –” interrupted Dixon, and as quickly checked himself, while the Major rolled on –
”– part of our punishment for their sins is the congenital strabismus which leads us to see in the title ‘law-abiding’, a compliment, rather than an insult.”
“Taking the term in its accepted sense, it is a compliment,” replied Binney, deliberately; and as he spoke I could hear the rapidly-receding flap-flap of his guardian angel’s wings. “I see your drift, Mr Rigby; but you mustn’t force the meaning of the word. Unpunishable evasion may indicate a defect in the law, I’ll allow, but that’s a very different thing from unjust purpose. The law, in its intention, is a terror unto evil-doers and a praise unto them that do well.”
“Why, then,” asked the Sheriff, “is it easier, as well as
safer, for any decently educated man to rob by permission
of the law than in defiance of it? Take away that part of
man’s inhumanity to man which is perpetrated under
protection and sanction of the law, and how much is left to
complain of? Is the law a terror, or is it a safeguard to the
land-shark, or the usurer, to the extortioner, the sweater or
the rack-renter? Isn’t it a terror to the man whose chimney
catches fire, rather than to the other man who, by strictly
legal exaction, drives a better citizen than himself to suicide?
And as for being a praise unto them that do well, how do
you account for the fact that the pages of history are sown
broadcast with the names of martyred apostles of
progress, ninety-nine per cent of whom suffered by the
“It’s rather unfair to judge a broad principle by extreme cases,” objected Binney. “Generally speaking, men in all ages have enjoyed the protection of the law, without any corresponding hardship.”
“True,” conceded the Major; “and, in justice to humanity, I don’t attribute their loyalty so much to lowness of moral ideal as to lack of initiative. Some men, to be sure, are worse than the laws they lived under, but most men are much better. The latter may be divided into two classes – first, those who let the hydra of legalised injustice sleep in peace, these are the men you speak of; and second, those who poke him up, and take the consequences – these are the men I speak of, the prophets whose sepulchres we build. At the present time our monstrosity is drowsily recuperating, but he’ll shortly be prodded into wakefulness, to make a meal of such agitators as may be within reach. Let us see on which side you and I may then be found. It’s cheap, for instance, to say that if we had been effective citizens of Victoria in the fifties we would have recognised the prophets and taken their part against the law, as represented by Governor Hotham and his wire-pullers and satellites. But if, in the coming rally, we appear as law-abiding men, repudiating our contemporary agitators and all their works, then in another generation, our children will build the tombs of those agitators, saying: ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not –’”
Here I lost a portion of the seditious utterance, for Thompson earnestly whispered to me aside.
“He’s fairly started at last, Tom – sort of second wind. I
could see it gathering and backing up all the evening, and
when he gets that headway on, it’s no more use trying to
freeze him down than calling a kangaroo dog off sheep.
“I tell you he’s an advanced Liberal, and firm in the faith. He approves of the Land Act of ‘65, and the amending Land Act of ‘68.”
“But we go beyond that,” urged Thompson. “At least, I think Furlong does; and certainly I do, and you may swear Dixon’s an out-and-out Radical.”
“No, I be d–d if he is,” protested Dixon, whose quick ear had caught the aspersion. “I don’t deny he’s a rough and ready sort o’ person, but he ain’t a Radical, nor never was. Too many other (adj.) things to think about.”
“That’s all right, Dixon,” said I, in an undertone. “But, Steve, I don’t see that anything can be done to help Binney; and the only thing he could do to help himself would be to tilt the Commodore into the ensanguined river. That’s the most approved, and only valid Conservative argument. You’ll notice that, in every right-thinking novel, the Conservative lays hands on the malcontent, and does him bad.”
“But there’s always two sides to a question,” whispered Thompson impatiently.
“And this is no exception, Steve; but, unfortunately, that seasoned gladiator has taken the front side, leaving Binney the residuary one. No doubt the thing is going to last till morning, but I know Binney well, and I can assure you that, under the Colonel’s adroit handling, he’ll never turn a hair. Remember, he’s an Englishman. Fifteen centuries of fog have made him as impervious to all consciousness of getting licked as the Deacon is to the barrenness of such victories.”
“But let us have some attempt at fair play, Tom.”
“Well, I’ll waylay the Major from time to time with
such of our Conservative arguments as have become
crystallised into aphorisms. Listen – how far has he got?”
”. . . . And, therefore, Mr Binney, taking the law at its very best, we should no more speak of an average citizen as a law-abiding man than we should speak of a six-footer as an eighteen-inch man. All ratios are capricious here, of course, but I’m keeping well within the mark. And I think I’m justified in saying that the established system of jurisprudence is the product of our highest faculties, just as the most pernicious weed is the product of the richest soil. The conception of organised, systematic and mutual restraint marks us as demigods, but the present incidence of that restraint marks us as missing links. However, this perversion won’t continue. The change is hurrying on faster than we’re preparing for it. Think how many hide-bound supporters of the Old Order have entered the pearly gates since we sat down here this evening, and how many restless young enthusiasts have taken their place! There has never been a period of history when a current system was ageing so rapidly and so helplessly, and a revolution was so unmistakably impending. Following on this revolution, there will be sterner legal restraint than is now imagined possible. The kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law. That is the Socialistic ideal, Mr Binney. Give us laws Socialistic in principle, with a system of mutual polity, and all things are possible to man as a law-abiding animal.”
“You can’t make men virtuous by Act of Parliament, Sheriff,” I observed.
“You can make men anything you please by Act of
Parliament, Tom, provided that such Act is sanctioned by
a preponderant moiety of the national intelligence. On the
other hand, you may preach against any social-economic
atrocity till the death-rattle is in your throat; you may
write against it till death paralyses your hand; but if you
cannot enlist the operation of law, your labor is lost. I
might instance Wilberforce, Romilly, Garrison, Plimsoll,
and a host of other reformers, who shook off the name of
quack or faddist only when their quackeries or fads took
shape in law. The moral enlightenment of a majority,
though in the first place essential to reform, is merely a
“And what then?” I objected. “What has Sparta bequeathed to posterity, beyond that yarn about the boy and the stolen fox?”
“Not much, indeed. Her laws stood in the way. You see, the Spartan ideal was the soldier, pure and simple, and omnipotent legislation crushed the aesthetic and philosophic spirit, producing a nation of fighters, invincible for more than four centuries. A most instructive and significant fact, that, while legislation enforced courage, hardihood and patriotism, to the exclusion of the more peaceful virtues; that, while the accumulation of wealth was made impossible, and all members of the community used the same iron money, the only unfortified capital in the civilised world was the only impregnable city. Remember, I hold no brief for the Spartans, as a community. I dislike them. The point at issue is the efficiency, or futility, of special legislation.”
- But oh! for him my fancy culls
- The choicest flowers she bears,
- Who constitutionally pulls
- Your house about your ears.
- Cowper, The Modern Patriot.
“These are but wild and hurling words, my lord,” I remarked presently. “In the name of the Prophet – bunkum! One would think, to hear you talk, that the man of wealth and respectability is some kind of ogre. Isn’t it evident, even to you, that he can eat only three meals a day, and that he can wear only one suit of clothes at a time?”
“He can eat five hundred meals a day, and wear one hundred suits of clothes at a time,” replied the Senator, sweetly. “The chief object of civilisation is to furnish him with a ton of food, and a case of drapery, every twenty-four hours. His very existence depends on this diurnal supply, and to curtail it by one sack of spuds, or one case of pickles, or one dozen pairs of pants, would be to fall under the final condemnation. He was an-hungered, and ye fed him not with a wagon-load of tucker; he was naked, and ye clothed him not in a hundred plies of toggery.”
“Mr Rigby!” murmured Binney, in grave remonstrance.
“Well,” pursued the Colonel, “if it be true that he can
eat only three meals a day, and wear only one suit of
clothes at a time – why, in Satan’s name, should he be
encouraged to impound, and retain to his own use, the
equivalent of food and clothes for a regiment of his
fellow-mortals, all and each subsisting under the same natural
requirements as himself? But stick to the food-and-clothes
argument, boys; it narrows the question down
“In any case,” said I, impatiently, “the rich man’s wealth is his own, to be disposed of as he pleases.”
“Why re-state the difficulty?” asked the Major, wearily. “Why not suggest some remedy for this disastrous ownership? If it wasn’t his own, the matter could be dealt with by laws already in force. ‘Isn’t the man mine?’ asks the owner of George Harris in Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and no one can gainsay the legality of his title. But as surely as the national conscience of America has changed all that, so surely in good time will the public conscience of the civilised world rectify the abuse you speak of. ‘His own,’ you say. What is the nature of his title – legal or moral? Remember that legal title is merely a matter of legislation. The law which today upholds the ownership may tomorrow be superseded by one which will invalidate it. Meantime, I cheerfully grant his legal title. See that, in the event of lawful annulment, you are as readily prepared to disavow it. Now let us have a look at his moral title. If this be sound, I have nothing more to say. Mind, I have seen too much of the world to contend loosely that the man who acquires wealth is accordingly an objectionable citizen. Still less would I be inclined to denounce the man who inherits it. I only hold that, as society is at present constituted, most generous qualities, though not all, are inimical to worldly success; and most sordid qualities, though not all, are furthersome. In other words, you may become rich by the exercise of some of your good qualities, in spite of the exercise of still nobler attributes. How is that for a concession? But we must strike an average. Let two young men begin the world together, in any branch of industry you choose to name; let them be exactly equal in point of education, energy, ability, connection, and situation; let one be amiable, chivalrous, truthful, benevolent; and let the other be precisely the reverse. At the end of ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years, which of the two is certain – certain, I say – to be in the better worldly position? Come!”
But no one was fool enough to answer.
“It will simplify the question,” continued the General, “if we assume our two characters to engage in transactions with each other. The unscrupulous man comes prepared to do things that the other will not do, and the latter is placed at a disadvantage. So in ordinary intercourse with the world, the man of what we call quixotic integrity is hampered by scruples to which the baser nature is a stranger. A man is not likely to make good bargains whilst holding the opposing interest paramount to his own. Then, as life consists wholly of details, and a groat a day, according to poor Richard, amounts to a fabulous sum in the course of the year, one of our characters becomes rich in lucre and the other in experience. But, broadly speaking, that is the history of the handsome fortunes, acquired or inherited, which qualify their owners for the uppermost seats in the synagogue. The legal title (as Tom remarked just now) is perfectly valid, and the moral claim – on which the legal pretension must ultimately be based – will be wisely and temperately discussed in Parliament by men who at the present day are wearing copper-toed boots, or going bare-foot.”
“No occasion for alarm,” remarked Binney, after a pause. “Your system is outside the range of practical politics. It would press too hard on personal liberty.”
“Worse, still,” I added; “the Irishman wouldn’t be able to get his new boots on till he had worn them for a few days.”
“I don’t attempt to gloze over that difficulty,” replied
the General. “Your Irishman has worn the old brogans
till his feet are copiously decorated with corns and bunions.
But he will wear the new boots as the otter climbed the
tree. (Otters don’t climb, but the specimen in the story had
to climb, the dog was crowding him so.) Hard conditions,
aren’t they? Yet the hardness of the conditions doesn’t
affect the necessity for accepting them. The commodious
tree of State Socialism is in front of us; the ravenous hounds
of monopoly, capitalism, and competition are behind,
gaining upon us with every step of civilisation, and already
“By (sheol) you’re right,” interposed Dixon warmly. “Enterprisin’ lot o’ subjects them was. ‘Fetchin’ us into the wilderness to (adv.) well die,’ says they. Stick to that (adj.) argyment, Rigby.”
“Good,” replied the Judge, turning appreciatively to Dixon. “And you will notice that the default was in the material, not in the enterprise. Similarly, the two or three generations which feel the first pressure of our social-economic transition will doubtless produce a fair crop of murmurers and mutineers and worshippers of the golden calf.”
“And for all time you’ll have human nature to deal with,” I objected.
“Can you imagine any better material?” asked the
Doctor, compassionately. “But what is human nature? By
what order of mind, by what product of training is human
nature represented to your imagination? Consider that not
one of the million types of adult sinner, nor a compound of
them all, can serve as an example of human nature. These
are our failures. These are the lame and the blind, that are
hated of David’s soul. Yet human nature, uncontaminated,
is always with us. And though we industriously misdirect
its potencies, and jealously crush its latent capacity for a
higher life than our own, the supply of fresh material
never runs out. Trust the order of things for that. The
unsophisticated child is human nature per se. And of such is
the kingdom of heaven, namely, the Divine
Commonwealth which we aim at establishing. Happily, on all sides
“The naythur o’ the baste, no doubt, Deacon,” I suggested.
“Shall we inquire wherein lies the oppugnancy?” pursued
the Colonel, with a touch of sadness in his tone. “It lies in
one of two moral diseases – the leprosy of Selfishness, or the
palsy of Hopelessness. Now let each of you recognise and
acknowledge his own personal disqualification. One or the
other of these maladies has unavoidably been acquired by
each of you from the social-economic atmosphere of our
day, and has afterward been sedulously cultivated, to the
perdition of the patient. Hopelessness is as fatal to progress
as selfishness, and therefore as blameworthy. The fearful
are placed in most uninviting company by a man who
studied morals and metaphysics in the seclusion of Patmos.
He fixes them at the head of a list which includes
unbelievers, murderers, and idolators as its decentest
components. But confidence is one of the characteristics of
unalloyed humanity as personified in the child. Nature is
incorruptible; her cyclic reversion to the norm is
continuous, and the unfailing receptivity of the norm makes all
things attainable. Also, the egoism, inseparable from flesh
and blood, may be softened to generous initiative, instead
of being hardened to selfishness. Every child begins life as
an actual democrat and potential Socialist. There was a
time when your own human nature would not have
cavilled at an aspiration toward perfection in mundane
conditions. Ay, better the millstone and the depths of the sea
for your seducers than your own moral ruin. Better,
moreover, that you yourselves should be similarly dealt with
than that you should inveigle potential heroes into the
insignificance of self-seeking. But reassure yourselves on one
“My (adj.) oath!” assented Dixon.
“Joshua had an entirely different one. The race was the same, but a fearless experiment in trenchant democratic legislation and autonomous interdependence –”
“Holy glory,” muttered Dixon enviously. (He mistook the Major’s rhetoric for classical quotation.)
”– had superseded the old environment of sottish slavery,
and the effect was a complete metamorphosis of national
character. Why, human nature is plastic as the clay from
which it is derived; the only question is, What shape will
we give it? Our collective moral nature, in its response to
the contact of laws, usages, and culture, is subject to rules
of scientific exactness. Given certain social-economic
conditions, it becomes the statesman’s business – everybody’s
business, for that matter – to divine, by fair induction, the
effect of those conditions on any class or nation, knowing
assuredly that, for better or worse, a determinate effect
will follow the given cause. Again, given the character and
conduct of any class or nation, it is simply a matter of
deduction to determine the social-economic conditions
under which that class or nation has developed. An
intelligent contemplation of your Chinese colonists is equal to
the careful study of a book on the laws and usages of China.
“But environment can never make all men think alike, Colonel,” I sneered. “You must take cognisance of the other hackneyed term, namely, heredity. No use trying to take out of the skin what is ingrained in the bone.”
“No use at all, Tom. And the most noteworthy attribute of the human bone is its tendency to symmetry, when circumstances are in any way conducive. I endeavoured to make this clear by referring to the Israelites; but take a more modern instance of moral transformation in one generation while I think of it, an instance which resembles the former in no respect whatever, except as illustrating the utter rottenness of the doctrine of moral heredity. Imagine a party of nine British man-o’-war’s men, stained with every vice under heaven; in fact, a particularly rough and insubordinate sample of such scum as ruled the waves a century ago. Now let these be fitly matched with she-savages of a race absolutely oblivious to morality in any shape or form, and distinguished even among Polynesians for cruelty. Isolate this party, with half a dozen more savages of assorted sexes, in a land where the terms of existence are as easy as they ought to be in Australia at the present time. Then let all the he-devils, bar one, perish by mutual assassination within four years, leaving the survivor to think the matter over, and to train a brood of half-caste brats on New Testament lines, as far as his illiteracy will allow. The result is seen in the Pitcairn Islanders, the most blameless race on earth. Of course, the future of this people, influenced by contact with your civilisation, is another matter altogether. The point at issue now is moral heredity.”
- Men prate
- Of all heads to an equal grade cashiered
- On level with the dullest, and expect
- (Sick of no worse distemper than themselves)
- A wondrous cure-all in equality.
- Lowell, The Cathedral.
“Collins might have mentioned another hackneyed term,” remarked Binney, after a pause. “I mean variety. And Socialism quietly overlooks the great fact that the variety in minds is as wide as the variety in faces.”
“Socialism builds upon that very identical fact,” replied the Ironclad. “That is the natural provision which makes our system possible as well as desirable. Socialism proposes to avail itself of the very best that each man or woman has to give, offering, in return, a full share in the universal best, along with such free scope for individual development as cannot co-exist with anxiety for the morrow. Our purpose – our only purpose-is to put to their highest use the manifold gifts and energies hitherto atrophied or debased: to interdict the sloth, and to curb the evil propensities, which now make the majority of men a slur upon their alleged Creator. Again, this variety in faces suggests a grave consideration. It postulates a common archetype, and thus affinity is as clearly established as if all faces were facsimile, whilst the incalculable advantage of diversity remains. Now, if you grant a specific humanity, you necessarily grant a fraternity which forces you to acknowledge the initial equality of man in its strictest and fullest sense.”
“Now, you’re begging the question,” interposed Binney.
“Particeps (adj.) criminis, strictly speaking,” modestly
suggested the Latinist of our party. “No, no, what the
“Thank you, Dixon,” replied Binney, laughing. “Well, Mr Rigby, you’re drifting into the petitio (adj.) principii. I don’t recognise human equality, in its strictest and fullest sense; nor does anyone who has seen the world.”
“I do, for one, Mr Binney. I reason it out to the satisfaction of the Agnostic in three words, and to the utter confusion of the so-called Christian in two. The argument from Christianity is the only one that concerns us now. See. The European grandee and the African nigger – the multi-millionaire and the penniless vagrant – the brightest genius and the profoundest fool – are each adopted, on equal terms, into brotherhood with the Redeemer. Either this or nothing. And things that are equal to the same are equal to each other. Explain that away, and you may explain away anything and everything outside the field of the five physical senses. As a Christian you place yourself under an iron jurisdiction, notwithstanding the law of liberty which secures your individuality. Whoever denies to the obscure specimen of humanity initial equality in the fullest sense, thereby tacitly repudiates his own relationship to Christ. A manifest sequence, since no man can compass the alienation of another, though he may very readily procure his own. And as the greater includes the less, this paramount equality in spiritual rights and privileges carries with it a subordinate equality in temporal rights and privileges. But there, be especially careful to notice, the ordained equality ends, and each man fixes his own personal status. There are heights of individual merit to be scaled, and depths of individual baseness to be sounded; but these are personal and optional, and can in no way affect an independent, self-existent fact, coeval with man – a fact which is as valid now as in the days of our common progenitor, Adam Fitz-Gibbon.”
“Your argument gains nothing by its irreverence, Deacon,” I remarked after a reflective pause.
“Parallel concessions to orthodoxy and science,”
“One moment, Colonel,” I interposed. “Are we to understand that you State Socialists would concede freedom of entry and terms of equality to the few million colored brothers named Sling Cat and Jamsetjee Ramchunder, who would promptly avail themselves of your system?”
“Avail themselves of our system, did you say?” mused the Sheriff. “Do inveterate and self-satisfied drunkards seek membership in Rechabite Lodges? Heaven knows, we would welcome either Chow or Baboo, provided he left himself behind. We draw no color line, no educational line, not even an intellectual line, but we fix a very distinct standard of progress-potency. These Oriental gentlemen have sold their birthright.
“‘In the East,’ says De Quincey, ‘man is a weed.’ Now,
man is not a weed by Nature’s purpose, nor is he a weed
by compulsion. Collectively – but in the first place
individually – he classifies himself. If his appraisement be low,
the inevitable exploiter may be trusted to keep him down
to his own valuation; if he holds himself to be the temple
of the living God, he will vindicate that claim – he will
vindicate it as a triumphant leader – if not as an effective
democrat. Millions of pseudo-Christian whites are quite as
objectionable as our colored brethren, but in point of
accessibility there is all the difference. For the Chow has
admitted finality; the Baboo has conceded despotism; and
both have got down to the husks. Yet these prodigals’
manhood, though suspended, is inborn, and will assuredly
assert itself at some future time. The first condition of
restoration is that the prodigal must ‘come to himself. But
though propagandism is worse than useless here, I repeat
my argument for the initial equality of Ah Sin and
Juggernaut Gunga with the best of us – an equality which,
rightly understood, has never been disturbed since the
yesterday when their ancestors were civilised men, and
ours were howling savages, barely able to grasp the
“That stone is Christ Himself,” interposed Binney, with the jealous reverence of a sincerely orthodox man.
“Precisely. Christ Himself. The Son of Man, in His
capacity as representative and standard of ideal humanity;
and therefore a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence
to the respecters of persons, in His own day. Oh, the issue
was clearly enough defined then. His purpose was to make
all things new; and the ‘policy of the unsuccessful’ (to
quote the Mammonites’ dreary gag) was to hear him
gladly; whilst the policy of the successful was to take Him
by force, but that they feared the people, and eventually
to murder Him by strictly legal process. ‘We have a law,
and by our law He ought to die.’ Just so. Of course, if
Clovis had been there with his Franks – if we had been
there with our Franks – if the Scribes and Pharisees had
been in the times of the prophets with their Franks – we
“But why take the hazard of any experiment?” I demanded, snappishly. “Individualism works.”
The General bent down his head, as if offering up a silent prayer for patience.
“Yes, it works,” he sighed. “So does autocracy – yet
Parliamentary government has been instituted with
advantage. Monarchy works – but are we therefore to regard
Republicanism as an unclean thing? Savagery works – but
is that any argument against civilisation? Polygamy and
polyandry work – but do you therefore set your face against
“So Jack is as good as his master,” I suggested contemptuously.
“Persuade Jack to the contrary, and his master will clothe you in a belltopper, and make you the third ruler in the kingdom,” replied the Sheriff. “Individualism has helped the lower dog to the great discovery you mention; therefore, we have at last reached the time – the first time in history, mark you – when a man’s foes are they of his own household. And ‘household’, in the English of James I, doesn’t mean ‘family’; it means ‘holders of the house’ – formerly chattel-slaves, now wage-slaves. The house is divided against itself, and the breach is widening perceptibly year by year – day by day, for that matter. But for any possible disorder of the body politic there is, in the very nature of things, an accessible, appropriate, and infallible remedy. In this case ours is State Socialism. What is yours?”
“But is Socialism a remedy?” I asked querulously. “If you divide everything today, how long will it be before you require another division, and another, and so on?”
“Let some advocate of Individualism answer that question, since it concerns him alone,” replied the Major. “For this ebb and flow in private fortune, this rhythmic accumulation, confiscation and re-distribution of property confront us now as the most conspicuous feature in the working of our present system, and one of the most disastrous and demoralising. This perpetual division and re-division of wealth is the distinctive outcome, and the just and certain curse of Individualism, as compared with any other ‘ism’ that we know of, and it is a curse, which, thank heaven, is intensifying day by day –”
Pluck – swish.
- “I have slain the Mishe-Nahma,
- Slain the King of Fishes!” said he.
- Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha.
“I thought I would get him,” remarked Furlong, quietly, as his pliant rod bent to a semi-circle. He carefully rose to his feet, propping both knees against an arched and denuded root. “This is his haunt, Thompson. Now, Dixon, will you take this wooden hook, and watch your chance?”
In a few minutes, the fish was safely landed in a recess behind a root, and it was a thirty-pounder, as nearly as our carefully-concealed disgust would allow us to guess. Probably there wasn’t another such fish within miles.
(This, I ought to notice, was not the first catch of the evening. Lushington, a couple of hours previously, had secured a two-ouncer, without losing his bait. But I allowed the little incident to pass unrecorded, in order to avoid breaking into one of the Colonel’s discursions, which happened to be in full blast. In recounting the event here, I am merely adjusting, not jumbling, the order of things – transposing and grouping my occurrences, after the manner of some more famous, if less faithful, historians.)
“Better tether him in the river tonight,” suggested Furlong. “We’ll divide him amongst us in the morning.”
“I’ve got the very thing,” said I. “Hold on a minute.”
I hurried to where I had left my earthly goods; there I let Pup loose, and returned to the river with his chain; the faithful animal following me down the bank.
We secured one end of the chain to the fish’s gills, by
means of the strap, and attached the other end to a root.
The fish hadn’t much room to play, his snout being close
“Assuredly, Mr Binney,” continued the Judge, as the two made their way up the steep slope, “a greater number of private fortunes have been dissolved and re-distributed (amongst English-speaking people, at least) since the middle of the century than in the two centuries preceding; and, unless my forecast is unusually distorted, the remaining sixteen years of this century will break all previous records, and do it easy. Doesn’t every rich Individualist dread the inevitable re-distribution of his wealth more keenly than he dreads any other kind of perdition? And doesn’t every poor Individualist long for the golden shower of other people’s money infinitely more than he longs for any other manifestation of his Maker’s judicious partiality? The spoils to the victor – but only temporarily.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Binney, good-naturedly. “What time is it?”
“Early yet,” replied the Deacon, advancing into the fire-light, and hastily glancing at his watch. “Shove on your billy, Steve.
“Under our present system, Mr Binney, the strong man, armed, keepeth his house only till a stronger than he cometh, and taketh from him his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth – divideth – his spoil. Every man of substance would do well to think this matter over in his intervals of leisure, bearing in mind that the inexorable fitness of things demands some amendment more comprehensive than any patch of new cloth on the seat of the old garment. And I maintain –”
“Good night,” laughed Binney, extending his hand. “I must break loose, sooner or later. Come on, Harold.”
“Oh, hold on, Mr Binney; don’t insult our camp like
that,” remonstrated Thompson, who had replenished the
big billy, and was now adjusting it on the fire. “Great
Socialist, Rigby is,” he continued, apologetically to the
farmer; “but it’s more the power of controversy than the
“Lay on, Macduff,” sighed the Major.
“Gregory, remember thy swashing blow,” I added.
“You know Stewart of Kooltopa, Jeff?” interrogated Thompson, with forensic keenness.
“I do, Steve. I also once knew a slave-owner named St Clair – but my abolitionist principles remained unshaken. A fine Socialistic captain of industry is lost in Stewart. What a pity his only son, Watty, doesn’t take after him.”
“A mortal pity,” assented Thompson, innocently. “Well, I found the good of Individualism, and the folly of Socialism, three years ago, when I lost that wagon and load in the Eight-mile Mallee, and went to Stewart.”
“One moment, Steve,” interrupted the Colonel. “You pretend to be able to track a single beast, day after day, for a week. Now, how could you lose a wagon and load in any mallee?”
“Oh, I could manage it right enough,” replied Thompson, relapsing into the bitterness which had governed him all the evening.
“Perhaps you’ll take my word for it when you hear the particulars. Tom and Dixon can ball me out if I exaggerate for the sake of proving my argument.”
- The hills that shake, although unrent,
- As if an earthquake passed –
- The thousand shapeless things all driven
- In cloud and flame athwart the heaven,
- By that tremendous blast.
- Byron’s Siege of Corinth.
“It was one blazing hot day, January three years, continued Thompson, moodily, “and I was loaded for Poolkija, with five-ton-fifteen of all sorts. I was pushing on, for I was tied to thirty days, and the station had sent me a letter by the mailman to say that they had a couple of well-sinkers stopped for want of some things I had on the wagon. I was getting eight notes a ton; so I could expect no mercy, and I didn’t think I would want any. Laughed at the very idea. I knew every drop of water and every bite of grass within five mile of the track for the whole journey, and my team was in rattling trim, but I overlooked the fact that Providence has other ways of killing a dog besides choking him with butter.
“Well, I was making that stage through the Eight-mile
Mallee, on Birrawong, and, about one or two o’clock, I
saw on ahead of me the smoke rolling up as black as a crow.
You know the place, Tom – you too, Dixon – and you know
it’s about the heaviest porcupine in Riverina, and the track
through it only the width of a wagon. Of course, I jumped
on my horse and galloped on ahead to see which side of
the track the fire was on; but I found it coming along
both sides about a mile off, blazing twenty feet high, and
the draught of it carrying every leaf off the mallee as fast
as the flames touched them. I thought I had seen a couple
or three decent fires before, but I found I was mistaken.
“The first glimpse I got of some galahs in the hop-bush, I saw that I was hanging too much to the right, and at the pace I was going, I come-here’d and locked the wagon badly. The pole happened to be none too good, on account of a wrench it got a week before, so off it goes by the fetchels. Of course, if there had been time, I could have snaked her along with a spare chain; but there was the fire not thirty yards behind, and the bullocks clearing off with the broken pole, so I just unhitched the horse from the back of the wagon, and grabbed hold of my coat on account of the things in the pockets, and got the team safe in the hop-bush, without two minutes to spare.
“Well, you know how clean the porcupine burns off, so
the moment the fire struck the hop-bush I got behind it,
and went to have a look for the wagon. There she was,
safe in the burnt ground, with nothing on fire except a
case of kerosene standing on top a big cask of sundries,
right in the middle of the load. Certainly the kerosene case
was blazing like a tar-barrel, for it had been three weeks
roasting in the sun, besides being soaked with the leakage
of the oil. I daren’t poke it down for fear of setting fire to
“Well now, I had noticed, in loading the cask of sundries, that it seemed to be a heavy, soddened, old ale-barrel, with a temporary top-end, made of pine-boards, so roughly fitted that the straw and stuff inside stuck out through the cracks. However, by this time the solder had melted on the kerosene tins, and let all the oil down into the cask; so the blaze was something that can better be imag–”
“Don’t, Steve,” I groaned.
“How sympathetic you are, all of a sudden,” sneered Thompson, as he removed the billy from the fire, threw in two handfuls of tea, and stirred it with the axe handle. “Better be imagined than described. But even after the top of the barrel had caved in, the sides were as sound as a bell. I knew they would stand ten or fifteen minutes’ roasting, and my idea was to get my tarpaulin over the barrel and stop the draught, so as to let the fire choke itself out. I had dragged the tarpaulin into a safe place fifteen or twenty yards away, first go off. So I jumped down off the wagon, and went over to it and gathered it in my arms. I just remember turning round towards the wagon, when suddenly there was a flare that blinded me, and an explosion that shifted the firmament, and something hit the tarpaulin such a welt that I went twenty yards before I landed; and there I lay in a heap among the porcupine ashes, with the tarpaulin on top of me. Seems sort of unmanly, you’d think, to follow a person up in such a punctual, unmerciful style, but, of course, it’s not my place to lay down the law.
“Well, by-and-by I woke up, sick as a dog, with my
face all scorched, and I lay down again. When I recovered
a bit, I just took an observation of the place, and gave it
“(Adj.) sight better to happen to you nor to a pore man, anyhow,” remarked Dixon, spreading an old wool-bale on the ground.
“I’m relating this experience merely to prove an
argument, and it’s for the benefit of people with brains,” replied
Thompson, severely, as he assisted Dixon to arrange the
tea-service. “Well, by the time I had found out that the
thing was a reality, it was near sundown. I made my way
back to where I had left the bullocks, but they had
wandered off across the burnt ground, with the horse
following them. I tracked them for a bit, but night came on,
and I lay down, with a fearful headache, and a pain in
the inside. Off again at daylight, but before I had well
started I found the team, tied up in a knot, with the horse
close by. I took them on to the Coolaman Tank, and loosed
out there, and rode across to Rusty Jack’s hut, to ask him
not to interfere with the bullocks, considering the way I
was situated. From there I dodged on towards Poolkija to
“Is that your anti-Socialistic argument, Steve?” asked the Major, as Thompson paused in gloomy abstraction.
“I’m coming to it, if you’ll only have patience. To give old Forbes his due, he let me off as easy as could be expected. When I told him what had happened, and advised him to send a horse and dray for anything that could be collected, he told me I ought to be the last man in the world to offer advice. Which was perfectly true. ‘And now; Thompson,’ said he, ‘if I might presume to throw out a suggestion to you, it would be to put your horse in the ration paddock for tonight, and go to the hut yourself; and then, first thing after breakfast, clear off this station before anything happens. Jonah would be a safer man to have about the place,’ says he. Of course, I followed his advice. Now squat round here, boys, and help yourselves.
“When I got back to the fatal spot, I found a dozen blackfellows having a good time of it, and a lot of emus, and all the galahs and wee-jugglers in the country; for there was over three tons of good tucker scattered about – everything from jam to pearl barley. But I just picked up a few things, and packed them on the fore-carriage, and shook the dust off my feet for a testimony against that Eight-mile Mallee, as the poet says.
“I bethought me that I had seen a good heavy platform
wagon in the shed at Kooltopa, besides the one they used.
So I drifted across there, to see if I could make some sort
of a deal for it. I told Stewart I was just as I stood, for it
had been arranged that both pockets of my pants had holes
in them at the time of my misfortune, and my coat was
gone to glory, with every copper I had buttoned up in
the breast pocket of it – so I would have to ask for some
sort of terms. Stewart said – well, no, he didn’t want to sell
the wagon, but I was welcome to the loan of it. And, first
of all, he wanted me to start for Hay with four tons of
pressed skins, and fetch back six tons of stores. So here
was a god-send, and it took the feather-edge off my
“Well, strictly speakin’, Stewart don’t count,” observed Dixon. “Divil thank him, he’s a (adj.) Christian, he is. Here, wire in, young feller” (this to Lushington), “what the (adj. sheol) are you thinking about? What’s come o’ the other gentleman?”
“He has retired to his camp,” replied the clergyman, helplessly. “He wishes to be alone.”
“At first it made me feel as mean as a lord chamberlain,” pursued Thompson, “but a person gets used to anything in course of time. Now, help yourselves, boys; no politeness here. That’s the same wagon,” he added, by way of clinching the argument, “only I got her thoroughly overhauled before going out last wool season.”
There was a pause.
“Well?” said the Judge, interrogatively.
“Well,” replied Thompson, defiantly.
- How subject we old men are to this vice of lying.
- Second Part of King Henry IV, Act III, Scene ii.
As the Social-economic controversy re-commenced, Dixon deferentially touched me on the back with the edge of his pannikin.
“Say, Collins – onna bright – what does non omnia possumus (adj.) omnes stan’ for?” he murmured aside, unconsciously displaying the fearsome mnemonic power of an unlettered but brainy man. “Is she straight? There ain’t no (adj.) possums in the ole country. I got that on good authority.”
“I think she’s straight, Dixon, though I can’t give you the small change for her. I fancy you’ll find her in any good list of Latin phrases.”
“Must ‘a missed her some (adj.) road. Hunt her up tomorrer. Say, them ole Latiners knowed how to git the loan of a feller (adv.) quiet. Right. I’ll work the (phrase) for all she’s worth.”
Then we turned and took part in the conversation,
which, by the united efforts of Thompson, Binney, and
Lushington, had been forced round to Furlong’s
thirty-pounder. Some very good fish stories were told during the
repast. I remember I narrated how I had once caught
half-a-hundredweight of fish with one large, fat maggot, on a
small hook, and still had the maggot to the good. I think I
laid the scene of this miraculous draught on the
Murrumbidgee, but no matter. I had made the haul with a
night-line, which I had casually-though, as it happened,
fortunately-attached to the top of a very limber whip-stick
sapling, trimmed clean of its leaves and twigs, and growing on
“I’ll probably see you in the morning, Collins, before you leave,” said he, reaching up to unhook his two-ouncer from the twig where he had hung it for safety. “I’ve arranged to spend the forenoon with Smith. Good night.” So the kangaroo hunter’s name was Smith.
Then all hands dispersed, and silence settled down on the camp. By this time a sickly half-moon was past the zenith, and the stars indicated half-past one or thereabout.
The Colonel, seeing me fold the aboriginal appurtenance of my slumber, with the woolly side in, and spread it on a clear place, near Dixon’s wagon, removed his own bedroom suite from the wagonette, and pre-empted an allotment contiguous to my selection.
Contemplating him there, as he enjoyed the best smoke
of the day, I couldn’t help reviewing his works and his
labor and his infatuation during the quarter-century he had
devoted to meddling in matters beyond the workman’s
legitimate field of inquiry, and I retrospectively noted the
perverse and enthusiastic young Bayard slowly and surely
petrifying into the perverse and crotchetty old zealot,
“Memoir,” I repeat, with sadness, for character is no creation of a diseased fancy. Independent of the leaders, and apart from all organisation, there are men – intellectual giants, very frequently – behind the nefarious Socialistic movement, poisoning the public mind with aspirations for a state of things which would make life worth living. Our ancestors knew how to silence these fellows. If legal process seemed doubtful, or public execution appeared undesirable, there was a quieter way. You might have approached any one of my own Irish forefathers, furtively pointing out a superfluous individual of the Rigby type, whilst jingling a few shillings in your hand.
But, setting aside expediency, there is something well worth study in the spectacle of a man, subject to the needs and restrictions of flimsy mortality, challenging principalities and powers, and fatmen of all descriptions, with the easy assurance of Jack the Giant-killer; and all gratuitously. Penalised by voluntary poverty, future-blind as to himself personally, and indifferent as well, yet conscious, like St Just, that there is no rest for revolutionists but in the grave, such a man, be he right or wrong, certainly attains manhood. But he is a stranger to manhood, who has never suspected an impudent libel in the term “interested agitator”. Ah, heaven! Conservative as I am, no sophistry could blind me to the fact that any man gifted with the special order of brains requisite to agitators can bring his goods to a market where profits are greater and returns quicker. The alternative of apostasy is always open, and there is joy amongst us over one blackleg of maximum ability and minimum integrity.
But the agitator is a man, who, for reasons satisfactory to
himself, though inscrutable to people of self-bounded
horizon, chooses the dinner of herbs and hatred therewith,
rather than the stalled ox where love is. Not that he is
enamoured of the many uninviting personal traits generated
and fostered by poverty, but that he hates these moral
I am in the habit of relating a pretty stiff lie about Rothschild and a Socialist. One of the Rothschilds, travelling by rail in France, encountered an interested agitator, and the two fell into discussion. Finally, Shylock took out his tablets and made a calculation: “My fortune is so many million francs; this, amongst so many millions of population, comes to so many francs, so many sous, per head. There is your share, mon ami; take it and hold your tongue.”
My custom is to assume that this neat little fib sizes up the whole question; but, between ourselves, it does nothing of the kind. It only sizes up the man Rothschild. The points unintentionally illustrated in the parable are – this fatman’s sordidness of soul, and his unwarrantable judgment of an ideal altogether beyond his apprehension.
But my under-current of thought was persistently
dwelling upon that glimpse into the Never-never of my
Again and again I recalled that incoherent outburst of undying love, which showed the effective and confident lord of creation to be commanded, like Cleopatra, by such poor passion as the maid that milks and does the meanest chares. These memories were, of course, associated with that mysterious, end-shaping operation of Providence which had brought the sundered Down-Easters together at last. But to what purpose? There seemed to be some sort of rift in the banjo. Surely I couldn’t be mistaken unless there were visions about.
- This wreck of a realm – this deed of my doing –
- For ages I’ve done, and shall still be renewing.
- Byron’s Manfred.
“It moves, Tom.”
“I know it does, Colonel, but we needn’t force that fact on an unscientific public. Galileo got into trouble through not being able to keep the same item of information to himself. Let it move. By the way, you struck form tonight; I’ve seldom seen you more insulting to visitors.”
“Was I? Possibly my conventional pliancy was disturbed by some good news I received this afternoon – or rather, a handsel of good to come.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said I, with sincerity. “I couldn’t make you out tonight at all. I fancied there must be some hitch in the sequence of things, and I was beginning to despair.”
“Hardly as explicit as it might be,” observed the Major, complacently critical. “However, as a Conservative, you have reason to despair. The Socialistic harvest is plenteous, however few the laborers may be. That Furlong, for instance, is worth looking after.”
“Just you let the man alone, Deacon; he never did you any harm.”
“Binney’s a hard case, by reason of his stake in the
country,” continued the Judge reflectively. “Lushington is
impervious, because of his pernicious training. Steve is
hopeless, owing to his constitutional lack of ardor. Dixon,
of course, is Dixon, and, for yourself, motley’s the only
wear. But I have Furlong already tempering between my
finger and my thumb, and shortly will I seal with him.”
“And why, pray?”
“In the first place, General, a reformer ought to have a programme, and you have none; in the second –”
“One moment, Tom. Don’t mistake me for an organiser. I’m merely an agitator, a voice in the wilderness, preaching preparation for a Palingenesis. The programme is hidden in the order of events, and will be evolved in its own good time. To be fettered by a programme now would be fatal. The ‘man of affairs’ will not be lacking; let us recognise him when he appears. The formulation of a hard and fast system is the prevalent mistake amongst apostles of our cult. Principles only are vital; and how often have these been obscured and subverted by insistence on details. If we assuaged our zeal by bearing in mind that Socialism is relative, not absolute – that it must come by evolution, not by miracle – we should be much further ahead than we are. As a matter of course, each parable relating to the Kingdom of God gives us one aspect of Socialism. In this instance, you will remember that a morsel of leaven was hidden in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”
“Why, then, did you lead Binney to believe that Socialism meant the abrupt confiscation of farms, and the degradation of farmers to the ticket-of-leave level?”
“Do you think he apprehended it so? How far is it to his place?”
“A mile and a half as the crow flies.”
“I must give him a call. But, to meet your objection
satisfactorily, I’m only a watchman, imperfectly qualified,
I admit, though Divinely commissioned. And, as with
Jeremiah’s sentinel, if I fail to sound the trumpet, I shall
render myself responsible for the catastrophe which a timely
warning may avert. I pretend only to be cognisant of
certain facts, which may be ticked off consecutively. Here
they are. Up to the present generation popular intelligence
“It’s a homely one, Doctor; yet it contains the number one key to your magnificent failure as a mischief-maker; ‘altruistic’, and ‘deontological’, and ‘iconoclastic’, and ‘ochlocratical’ are the simplest words you use; and the trackfaring bloke, being clothed with illiteracy as with a garment, errs in his interpretation. In a word, you are too sesquipedalian.”
“Meant sarcastic,” murmured the Colonel. “Perhaps my rhetoric is rather reminiscent of the sequel to the First Book. So mote it be. I speak to be understanded of the people, not to entertain hearers who must have a jig or a tale of bawdry, or they sleep.”
“You were on the religious racket tonight, Deacon,” I remarked.
“All things to all men,” replied the Judge sententiously.
“Talking to an agnostic, I dwell on Proudhon’s ‘Property
is Robbery’; talking to a so-called Christian, I dwell on the
Psalmist’s ‘The earth is the Lord’s’ – the same solid axiom,
varied slightly in expression. But, broadly speaking, I’m
always on the religious racket; for my game is man, and
man is a religious being; moreover, the person whom you
“I beg your pardon, Major,” I interposed. “You were saying you got a pleasant surprise this afternoon?”
“Ah, yes. I got two letters today, forwarded from
Echuca. One was from Waghorn, acknowledging my
notification that I expected to place the result of my work
in his hands very shortly, and informing me that he had
collected some statistics which had not been available to
me. But my gratification arises out of the other letter. It
was from Milligan Brothers. You may remember that
about four years ago I parted from them on the very best
of terms, after a couple of years’ fairly successful
exporting of the Mohawk wirebinder. They’re importing a string
machine this year – good enough for a new thing, but as
yet requiring a certain amount of brain-worry and
objurgation. However, I had opportunity to watch the two trial
machines that were in operation last harvest, down in the
late districts, and at sight of the trouble, my spirit lusted
to undertake the old game with the new machine. So a
fortnight ago – the end of my present engagement being
“And you find satisfaction in this?”
“Well, I should say so. While any far-reaching reform is in the air, it excites no opposition worth mentioning, but rather a sentimental sympathy; once it approaches what is conventionally known as the range of practical politics, it will suit any active advocate of that reform to be a single man. At last the hand-writing is visible on the wall, Tom .. . Still, I don’t know . . . The memo, was evidently written by Leslie Milligan; and he’s the most astute man of my acquaintance. He can see ten years further ahead than the average Conservative does – in other words, he can see a decade ahead of the present moment. I mustn’t build too much on his hostility.” The Deacon sighed, and placed his pipe carefully on the rim of his hat.
“It was so in Wesley’s time,” he resumed. “The
Episcopalian clergy were interested and amused by his
discovery of the ‘new birth’, and so forth; but when the State
Church was menaced by defection, the thing seemed to
have got beyond a joke. Then those ministers of the Gospel
thought they were doing God service by hounding the
little apostle from parish to parish, with all available
ignominy. It was so in the time of Rousseau. While reform
seemed an affair of the Greek Kalends, his diatribes,
crowned by the Social Contract, entertained and interested
the aristocracy. (Strange, by the way, how unwarrantably
temperate the tone of that epoch-marking book appears to
us now.) He never lacked patrician patronage, resent it as
he might. The inveterate misery of his life was owing to
unfortunate personal qualities, not in any way to his
resolute challenge of the social lie; but if he had lived a
few years longer, a handsome reward would certainly have
been offered for his head. And there was a time when
negro emancipation was sentimentally discussed by
“My word, you’re right, Colonel,” I replied, controlling my emotion.
The Major paused, and lapsed into reverie. But Dixon, reposing close beside us in his wagon, had been following the thread of argument with his usual crude intelligence, and now remarked, in a thoughtful tone, “Yes, chaps, I was readin’ about them (adj.) things las’ winter, on Kooltopar. The Army of Martyrs was the name of the (adj.) book. Swapped Harry Stottle for her. Awful the set them Catholics used to put on pore misfortunate individuals, jist for bein’ too (adv.) good. Frightened (sheol) out o’ me at the time, on chance of another (adj.) persecution. Wouldn’t suit me no (adj.) road. I’d say, ‘Slack off, for Gossake; I’ll confess anythin’ you (adv.) well like.’ Cripes, yes; like a bird. (Adv.) little pigheadedness about this child, if there was any git out. Anyhow, them sort o’ things is did away with now; an’ we got a right to be thankful, (adv.) thankful, if you ast me anythin’ about it.” A long sigh of relief; a few half-intelligible expletives of devout gratitude; and presently the slow, regular breathing of the Australian Cuddie Headrig proved that the sectarian discords of former ages had little power to break his rest.
Again my mind reverted to the marvellous tactics of
Destiny, as revealed to me during the day; and I wondered
at the apparent pettiness of the issue. I would dissemble –
“Thinking of the mad days you have spent, and how many of your old acquaintances are dead?” I conjectured, after a pause.
“No,” replied the Judge; “my thoughts took a more cheerful, and no less quotable turn. I was sending my bright, far-seeing soul three centuries in the van.”
Again there was a minute’s silence.
“I say, Sheriff, did you ever notice that in the ‘Shakespeare Plays’ there are more women named Kate than anything else? Why is this thus?”
“I never noticed it; but I believe you’re right. And those characters are all amiable, or piquant, or both. The wherefore of the thusness, I should say, might possibly be found in the hypothesis that the author loved some woman of that name. Now, if you ascertain by historical research, or by the shorter cut of nomenology, whether this applies to Bacon or to Shakespeare, you’ll be doing work worthy of your ambition.”
Another minute’s silence.
“Asleep, Colonel? Do you know what was the name of the original Flying Dutchman?”
“Van Straaten, originally; but known to British sea-gulls as Vanderdecken. A profitable and engaging study, I should say, in view of the couple of years you have to live.”
“Life itself is a dream,” I sighed, “and the world is not
even a stage – it’s a badly dislocated magic lantern picture;
and the men and women are not merely players, they’re
barely phantasms. But lux ex (adj.) oriente, as Dixon would
say. Nothing exists but Brahm. Far away back in the
genesis of time, Brahm took forty winks; and what has
seemed to happen since then has been a fugitive dream,
that is still crossing his mind. He may wake at any moment,
and then we will pass away, as if we never had existed. In
fact, we never did exist, except as immaterial conceptions in
- Nay, lay thee down and roar;
- For thou hast kill’d the sweetest innocent
- That e’er did lift up eye.
- Othello, Act V, Scene 11.
It was about the third time, during an intimate off-and-on acquaintance of twenty-three years, that I had heard such an expression from the Major. He sprang to a sitting position, and glared at me in the sickly moonlight.
“Fie for shame, Deacon. A snake?”
“Oh, damn you, Tom. Why didn’t you remind me?”
“Remind you of what?”
“How came you to suggest that name, just now?”
“Simply through wondering to see how little interest you took in an old acquaintance. I’ve been thinking of her all the evening.”
The Sheriff groaned. “It’s not your fault, Tom. I beg your pardon. No one is to blame but myself. I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I was engaged to spend the evening with Miss Vanderdecken – and you see how I’ve managed the thing. Oh hell.”
“Well, to tell you the truth,” I replied, “I wondered to see you leave her so soon, and take it so coolly all the evening. You knew her in the old country – didn’t you?”
“I believe I did. I’m certain I did. Talking to her, this
afternoon, my mind was in a haze; there seemed to be
some old memory associated, not only with the people and
places she spoke of, but with herself. I couldn’t determine,
just then, whether it was an actual reminiscence or an
occurrence of unconscious cerebration – a thing I’m very
subject to – and I was afraid of committing myself by
“You can apologise to her in the morning,” I suggested.
“Of course I shall do so, but that doesn’t cancel this hideous default. This is the sort of thing that makes me tired of life, Tom.”
There was a short silence, broken only by an occasional ejaculation, or a deep sigh, from the stricken agitator. I was just dropping off to sleep, with the thought that there is something not altogether unpleasing to us in–
“I say, Tom.”
“Here, your worship.”
“Do you know, I fancy I made love to that woman once.”
“I don’t believe you, Senator.”
“I can hardly believe myself. . . . Yes . . . Kate Vanderdecken. . . . Same grey eyes . . . Same bright hair. . . . Same soft, slow voice . . . The old, forgotten memories are coming to light.”
“‘Like Roman swords found in the Tagus’ bed,’ as the poet observes,” I suggested sympathetically.
“Kate Vanderdecken . . . Yes, Kate Vanderdecken,”
pursued my Azim-hero critically. “And she remembered
me . . . What on earth . . . I’ll never forgive myself . . .
Now she particularly impressed me, this evening, as being
decidedly the most engaging woman I ever met. Indeed, I
remember that, as I came down along the fence, I fairly
“On account of the imaginary other fellow?” I conjectured. “The thought was unworthy of you, General.”
“Now, for heaven’s sake, don’t judge anyone else by your own standard. I was thinking of the time I would lose if I lived in such an atmosphere. That is accounted for now. And to slight her after this fashion. Oh hell. I’ve put my foot in it, this time.”
And the Colonel, whose verbal cynicism veiled the most sensitively considerate spirit that ever made man miserable, writhed and fumed in undignified remorse.
“Surely there’s some variety of sickness that might come on a person in the evening and go away before morning without leaving any trace?” I hinted.
“Oh, shut up. It’s dreadful – damnable – beyond precedent, and beyond forgiveness –” And thus the unfortunate Major continued reviling himself, whilst I dozed off to sleep, tacitly accepting his penitence as sufficient atonement for a default which, after all, would add some twelve or fourteen hours to a twenty-five years’ estrangement.
- See, see, thou dog! what thou hast done; and hide thy shame in hell.
- Macaulay’s Virginia.
About three hours later – just as the middle distance was becoming faintly visible in the cool, fresh dawn, and about fifty cocks were vigorously proclaiming the neighbourhood an agricultural, not a pastoral, one –I was awakened by a weight across my neck, a stertorous breathing close to my uppermost ear, and an overwhelming smell of fresh fish in my nose. Then I became aware of the faithful Pup, lying at my back, his throat pillowed on my neck,, and his fine, Osiris-like muzzle resting against my moustache. The pulmonary symptoms already noticed, together with the capitalistic contour of the noble animal’s stomach, when I turned to look at him, bred a suspicion which was verified when I jumped up and ran to the river, just as I was.
I had noticed the water falling rapidly whilst we were fishing, and since that time it had gone down something over a foot. Now, here was Furlong’s fish, partly dragged and partly swung to a horizontal root, just above the water level, where the skeleton still lay, and all around the wet clay was impressed with tracks very much resembling those of a large kangaroo dog. Thus everything was explained. As a rule, only fishermen’s dogs will eat fish; it is an acquired taste, like the appreciation of Walt Whitman amongst ourselves. But the kangaroo dog is independent of all epicurean rules and limitations. Like the Gentiles, he is a law unto himself.
I took a branch of prickly scrub, which had been
stranded among the roots, and thrashed away all the
“Awake, Aeolian lyre, awake.”
It was the Judge’s voice, as he laced his boots. The sun was showing through the river timber eastward, and all the fellows were up for the day. Furlong passed by, with a cordial salutation, and went down the bank – the Colonel following him, to assist in the convoy of his fish. By the time I was dressed, the two had returned empty-handed, and were dawdling across to where Dixon was putting a fire together. Thompson, with Dixon’s pipe in his mouth, and heaven’s own felicity in his face, was going straight toward the relics of the fish for a bucket of water. I joined the group at the fire; and presently Thompson returned with his supply of water.
“This’ll hold enough for all hands,” he remarked, as he filled the big billy, and stuck it on the fire.
“Aren’t we going to have some of the finny spoil for breakfast?” I asked, with the lust of a gourmand.
“Spoil by name, and spoil by nature,” murmured Thompson pleasantly, as he arranged the fire-sticks around the billy.
“I move amendment to snake up the (adj.) fish, an’ fry a dollop off o’ the (same), if Furlong’s agreeable,” suggested Dixon.,
“First catch your fish,” drawled the Major.
“I said, ‘If Furlong’s agreeable,’” replied Dixon, pointedly.
“Oh, most certainly I’m agreeable,” said the trapper, with his melancholy smile.
Amongst well-bred bushmen, lack of information is
always carried off by august indifference; otherwise there
would be derogation of dignity. Of course, in cases where
assistance can be rendered or advice given, a certain
chastened interest is even justifiable, but this interest must be
“Couple of dozen of them,” said Thompson, carelessly. “Swear to their tracks. Fish has kicked himself out of the water, and got lodged on that root. I must be off; the billy’ll be boiling over.”
“‘Native cat’ is a misnomer,” remarked the Senator, as we climbed the bank. “The animal belongs to the Dasyurida;, not to the Felidae. The distinction is an extremely far-reaching one; it is more than specific, it is generic. Worth knowing, that the Dasyuridae are peculiar to Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea; whilst Australia, Madagascar and the Antilles are the only parts of the world destitute of indigenous Felidae. Apparently, however, the native cat is icthyophagous upon occasion, like the domestic cat.”
“Well, no; he ain’t,” replied Dixon, politely captious toward a rival pedant. “He’s always spotted – white on top o’ yallerish grey. Now an’ agen, he’s spotted white on top o’ black, but that’s on’y a case of exceptio pro bat (adj.) regulam, as the sayin’ is. Curious thing, Rigby, the natey cat he’ll eat any (adj.) thing, and no (adj.) thing’ll eat the natey cat.”
However, we had no fish for breakfast.
That relatively impoverished meal being over, the
- Go for my wandering boy to-night;
- Go search for him where you will;
- But bring him to me, with all his blight,
- And tell him I love him still.
- Sankey’s Collection.
“Wonderful weather for this time of year,” remarked Mrs Maginnis, who was re-arranging the things on the mantelpiece. “Think we’ll get some rain with the change of the moon?”
“Hard to say,” I replied critically. “The sun looks very dry this morning. Can we see Miss Vanderdecken, or Miss Flanagan, please?”
“They’re gone,” replied the landlady. “Went away just after sunrise. I was up early this morning, for we set some bread last night. Miss Vanderdecken heard me, and she came out in the passage, and away goes the two of them and the boy. She made me send the boss to harness up her buggy, and I had to waken the boy while Lizzie was hurrying up some sort of a breakfast. She said she had a headache, but it would go away with the fresh air; and she wanted to get back to Echuca; and she couldn’t touch any breakfast herself; and I begged and prayed of her not to be in a hurry, and so did Miss Flanagan, for she looked real bad.”
“I should like to have seen her before she went,” remarked the General, absently contemplating a porcelain shepherdess on the mantelpiece.
“Well, she was expecting you last night, and quite
uneasy,” replied the landlady. “She as good as sent the boy
down to see what was keeping you.”
“The young brat never came,” replied the Sheriff, with ready malignity.
“Oh yes, he did, Colonel,” I interposed. “He was sitting beside me all the time you were diverting us with the history of old Fitz,” – a shudder ran down to my boots as I bethought myself –” Fitz – Fitz?” I continued, racking my memory, “Fitzgerald? – Fitzpatrick? – yes, Fitzpatrick. The boy was fairly fascinated by your inferences and admonitions. You entertained a disciple unawares this time!”
“But he never gave me the message,” said the Major, doggedly.
“She didn’t send any message, properly speaking,” explained the landlady. “‘Sam,’ says she, about nine o’clock, or five minutes past, ‘ain’t you going to see Mr Collins?’ Says she. ‘You was taken with him today’ – or words to that effect. And the boy said he’d been thinking of going down, to give Mr Collins a few wrinkles about one thing or another; and I spoke up, and said he had nothing to do but follow the fence to the river. ‘Well,’ says she, ‘when you’re there, you might take notice if you see Mr Rigby; you’ll see if he’s busy or not. Course, you’re going to see Mr Collins on your own account,’ says she, ‘but I’d rather you wouldn’t speak to Mr Rigby, nor let him see you, if possible.’ So, in one sense of the word, she didn’t send him, but she was very uneasy till he came back.”
“And did he report himself to Miss Vanderdecken?” I asked.
“How? Oh yes. She had a long talk with him – or,
properly speaking, she sat and listened to him for a good
half-hour – and, in the course of conversation, he said all hands
was fishing, and Mr Rigby was spinning yarns that a person
would go through fire and water to hear.” (There was
an envious inflection in the woman’s voice as she spoke
the last words; then she proceeded in her usual tone.)
“Well, after that, she went to her room, and Miss
Flanagan with her, and I never seen her again till this
morning. She come from the same place as you, Mr Rigby
– didn’t she?”
“Yes,” replied the Senator, absently.
“I thought so. She told me, in the course of conversation, that she knew a lot of people that you knew. I’m sorry you didn’t see her again. Well, you must excuse me; this is one of my busy days.”
“Tom,” muttered the Deacon, as we passed through to the bar, “can you suggest any form of penance that would meet the merits of this case?”
“I can. Will you follow my advice?”
“I’ll follow anybody’s advice, now – even yours.”
“Then leave your wagonette in charge of these people, and borrow Steve’s horse for a day or two. That’s all practicable. Follow Miss Vanderdecken to Echuca; you’ll be there almost as soon as she is. Apologise to her; grovel, if necessary, for I’m afraid that, in the face of Sam’s evidence, nothing but the truth will serve. Still, you can tell that truth in such a way as to leave the impression that your default was in some way owing to a certain greatness of soul, inscrutable to the girl mind. Wait on the ladies for a couple of days; show them the lions; exchange reminiscences; compare conclusions; – in a word, quit yourself valiantly, and let the Lord do as seemeth Him good.”
“Not to be thought of, Tom,” murmured the Commodore aside to me, for iVIaginnis was in the bar, and Fritz was entering. “How could I force myself upon her, after what has happened? I must just let the wretchedness and infamy of the transaction (Good morning, Fritz) die out by the process of the suns. And a hopeless prospect that is, for if there’s a man alive whose whole moral being is one comprehensive register of foregone sensation (What’ll you try this morning, Tom?), that man is myself. Constant as the northern star, of whose true-fixed (What’s yours, Fritz?) and moveless quality there is no fellow in the firmament. The penalties of this irrational and involuntary fidelity of mine (I’ll take a cigar, this time, Jimmy) transcend its advantages by a very long way. (Pass the jug, please, Jimmy, and an empty glass. Here’s to the good time coming, boys – in honest water, that never left man in the mire).”
“Y’ou goot helt, yentlemence,” interposed Fritz, raising his tankard. “Peer vor der Yarmance, unt Yarmany vor der peer. Minezelluf, I schall pe ver podiclo mit mine trinks. Ven der Yarmance knog (sheol) der French mit dot last var –”
“Don’t imagine that my solicitude is for yourself, Colonel,” said I, when we had left the bar and turned toward the river. “I’m thinking of Miss Vanderdecken –
- Must she too bend, must she too share
- Thy late repentence, long despair,
- Thou throneless homicide?
I’d rather than anything you would take my advice. You’re pledged to do so, remember. I never was more serious in my life.”
The General shook his head. “Is there any use in asking
you to stand off and contemplate the position you want
to place me in?” he asked wearily. “Don’t you see that we
must view this thing from Miss Vanderdecken’s
stand-point, not from ours? Don’t you see that she is judge, jury,
and prosecutor in the case; that the case is closed, and
cannot be re-opened, except for exonerative evidence; and
will you tell me where such evidence is to come from?
What use is there in my approaching her as a penitent,
when she must of necessity view me as an interested
hanger-on? Be sure she has taken my measure; and though she
has, perhaps, taken it wrongly, I have lost the right to
protest. Why, she would very probably consider herself
justified in asking me how much I would take to let our
acquaintance drop. Granting that I deserve her contempt,
why should I invite a further instalment of it? Not for her
sake, surely; and, though I leave myself out of the question,
not for my own sake either. Your estimate of the whole
matter is warped, I am happy to think, by friendship; and,
besides, she is the aggrieved party, not you. For my own
part, I have lost a friend, possibly a co-operator – and
heaven knows that is a loss which taxes my patience. By
the way, do you know that boy’s name? Sam what?”
“Ferneyhurst,” I replied, after a moment’s considera- tion. “Sam Ferneyhurst. You’ll hear of him at the —- Hotel, Echuca.” (And the boy’s name did turn out to be Brackenridge. A nut for your nomenological sceptics to crack.) “That’s where you’ll find Miss Vanderdecken. I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t take my advice.”
But the Deacon was obdurate. Returning to the camp,
we found Dixon plaiting a whip, and Lushington sitting
beside him on one of the oil-drums used for carrying water
on the roads. The clergyman, finding that Smith had
forgotten his appointment, was turning his attention to the
somewhat urgent case of Dixon, and with a meed of success,
for the bullock driver, won from his up-country reticence
by Lushington’s genuine sympathy, was now giving his
own spiritual experience with childlike frankness and
vivacity, though in language too manly for reproduction
here. Altogether, the honest fellow expected to get to
heaven in the end, though he would be content to shave
every post on the course; nevertheless he had hopes that
the fire and brimstone of the other place were in the nature
of a brutum (adj.) fulmen. There was nothing novel or
interesting in this, so I caught my horses, and, refusing to
shake hands with the Major, went on my way.
- Spare her, I pray thee! If the maid is sleeping,
- Peace with her! she has had her hour of weeping.
- No more! She leaves her memory in thy keeping.
- O. W. Holmes, Iris, Her Book.
If any reader of romantic temperament should share my own strong personal interest in the further fortunes of Miss Vanderdecken, I shall be much pleased to lay before her the only scrap of information I possess. But I must warn her (the reader, of course, not Miss V.) that I have only one style of narrative – take it or leave it.
Towards three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, six or eight weeks after the date of the events just recorded, a swagman rode slowly past the Deniliquin football ground, where a crowd numbering (to speak circumspectly) five or six hundred bodies indicated a coming event of some local importance – no less, indeed, than the first match of the season. Actual interest in the game was yet abeyant, and the organisms were collected in idle groups, pending the inaugural bouncing of the ball.
The swagman jogged along, his mental upper-current
noting the assemblage, the weather, with other accessories
of the scene, and meanwhile construing the pace of his
horse into the different distances of three several paddocks,
each available for duffing. But your swaggie, as well as
yourself, has two separate personalities; and this man’s
second-self, as represented by his mental under-current,
was lapt in higher, thoughts – though, to be sure, these were
not rigorously devotional, for he had sixteen shillings in
his pocket. In fact, he was composing a sonnet to the
The bay mare, with her equipment, had cost forty-five shillings at the saleyard in Hay, and was not likely to fetch a higher price in Echuca. She was a broken-down racer, blind of one eye; and the saddle and bridle kept her in countenance. A partially-obliterated map of dried blue clay, covering her near ribs and shoulder, also extended over the rider’s left side from boot to ear, indicated that she had been down somewhere in the saltbush country; whilst a corresponding patch of wet mud on the near side, and somewhat sandy in quality, betokened a spill of more recent date. But her philosophic master was one who accepted the Spanish proverb that “it is better to ride a goat than to walk”.
Close at the heels of the mare came a large, slate-colored kangaroo dog, perfect in every point, yet not too fine. And it is worthy of remark – though by no means remarkable – that the football crowd scrutinised the dog with hungry interest, and viewed the mare with a sympathetic regard, whilst overlooking the traveller himself as a bloke of no account.
With one exception. As the swagman came abreast, a well-grown boy advanced from the crowd. He was clad in an ulster made for some man of seven feet high, which garment, thrown open in front, disclosed the scanty uniform of Echuca Juniors. The mare stopped spontaneously. The lad laid one hand on her mane, and, with grave cordiality, extended the other to her rider.
“How are you poppin’ up, Collins? I s’pose you was a bit cut up at bein’ disappointed o’ seein’ me that mornin’?”
“Well, I did feel it,” I replied, as I scanned the self-possessed but ingenuous face, and mentally reviewed the past few years, trying vainly to establish a connection.
“Same here. But I reckoned you’d hear the rights of it from the Maginnises. Say, I had an idear you was goin’ up for a mob o’ cattle. Contract tumbled through some road, seemin’ly?”
“Well, yes. In a certain sense the thing was a failure.
Where’s Miss Vanderdecken now?”
“Went back to Melb’n. What’s come o’ them two black horses o’ yours?”
“You was tellin’ me you had two mates in the speculation, how about them?”
“Same box. Similarly cleaned out. Writ with me in sour misfortune’s book.”
The boy uttered a low, soft, self-respecting whistle, and I continued:
“When did Miss Vanderdecken leave Echuca?”
“Let’s see, a fortnit after that time. I seen her off. Got any idear who worked the oracle on you?”
“Two fine, smart, up-to-date chaps; men that knew every inch of country from here to the Diamantina: Pete Davis and Dan Scott – stage names, probably. Spooner picked them up on his way from Wagga, and secured them for our trip. Was Miss Vanderdecken in good spirits when you took her back to Echuca?”
“Miserable as a bandicoot. How’d you manage to let them fellers git the loan o’ you so cheap?”
“I’ll explain. According to appointment, I reached Hay on a certain Sunday, with my own two horses, and two more from Yarrawonga. Spooner met me on the bridge, and went with me to where our mate, Rory O’Halloran, was camped on the Common, a couple of miles from the town, with these two chaps, and five more horses. We were to pick up another man, with a horse of his own, at Booligal. Our plan was to start from Hay first thing in the morning. Couple of hours before sundown I walked back to the town to leave Pup in charge of a friend of mine – a man that I knew to be trustworthy and careful. I ought to have left him with Mrs Ferguson, in Echuca, but I couldn’t bring myself to part with him at the last moment –”
“Better if you’d ‘a give him to me when I run across you that time.”
“Economically, yes. As you shall hear. I stayed yarning
“Right. I bin there myself,” interposed Sam approvingly.
“At all events, he left the town about nine o’clock; and from that time his experience had been something like mine. I don’t think either of us had any uncharitable feeling toward Rory; we knew him to be an average bushman, and we judged that he had some sufficient reason for shifting the camp. So we were about setting out to explore the river timber, when up comes Rory himself, battling against the wind. He had been groping round after the camp for some hours, as well as ourselves.
“The fact was that the poor fellow had a little girl buried in the Hay cemetery, and the thought of the child had grown upon him as night came on, till he could stand it no longer – he had to do something. So, just after dark, he had gone across to the cemetery, and had sat by the grave for some hours. Then he spent the rest of the night wondering why the camp had been shifted.
“What had taken place at the camp in the meantime is
no business of ours, unless we want to be impertinent. It
is a matter that rests solely between Pete and Dan on the
“A lot. Where do you think them blokes has got to?”
“Where are the leaves of autumn, Sam? Where is the lost Pleiad? Where is the boy that stood on the burning deck? Where is your own lost youth? Did the Colonel get back to Echuca before Miss Vanderdecken left?”
“No. Just missed her by the skin o’ your teeth, as the sayin’ is. Why ain’t you follerin’ them coves up?”
“That’s what I was foolish enough to do for some weeks. Finally, eight or ten days ago, I met a man riding one of Spooner’s horses, faked to perfection; and this man had bought the horse from a tank-sinker away back on Poolkija; and I knew the tank-sinker to be straight. Saw the receipt and recognised the signature. That was the only trace I got; and it satisfied me. But I understood you to say that Miss Vanderdecken stayed in Echuca for a fortnight?”
“So she did. Is your mates follerin’ them blokes yet?”
“Also I understood from the Major that he would fall back upon Echuca in a week or so to do some writing-up. Did he not call on Miss Vanderdecken?”
“He was some days longer’n he expected to be. But I was askin’ you if your mates is follerin’ them gallus-birds up?”
“Well, Rory has gone back to Goolumbulla, in hope of
getting into his old billet again. He has two horses there, to
go on with. The poor fellow came out like a man when we
fell in. The whole speculation had left him nothing less
“She went away in the mornin’, an’ he come in the afternoon. Think Spooner’s got any possible o’ collarin’ them coves?”
“Not merely a possible, but a moral. Let him once see their tracks and he’ll overhaul them hand over fist. He may have them by this time, with whatever plunder they’ve got left. Did Miss Vanderdecken know that the General was coming to Echuca shortly?”
“Dunno. Arty did. I say, Spooner’ll give them chaps a matter o’ five years without the option.”
“They didn’t steal the horses. You’re sure Miss Flanagan knew –”
“Illegally in possession, then.”
“They’re not illegally in possession. Let Spooner alone. He’s as shrewd as he’s straight, and that’s saying something. He has receipts – witnessed by a police magistrate – for my two horses and Rory’s one; and the rest were bought by himself. If he finds any of them in the possession of our absent friends he’ll just watch his chance, and quietly reshake them. Then he’ll call round in a business-like way to claim the saddles and things. I think he’ll recover them without difficulty; and if the other fellows are impudent enough to demand so many weeks’ wages, they’ll find him a bit of a lawyer as well as a bit of a bushman. But that’s his business, not ours. You’re sure Miss Flanagan knew that the Senator was coming?”
“Yes, I told her. She used to call at our place of an
evenin’ to see me; an’ about the fust time she was there she
says, ‘Wonder when Mr Rigby’s comin’ to Echucar, or if
he’s comin’ this road at all?’ An’ it happened to be that
It didn’t make me laugh. Insanity is rampant in our family, and I was feebly wondering what the premonitory hallucinations were generally like, when a wholesomer idea struck me.
“Have you been talking to the Colonel during the last few weeks, Sam?” I asked.
“Stacks o’ times. Me an’ him’s like brothers. Gosh, ain’t he a man of a thousand. He didn’t come down with the las’ rain. Pity that sort o’ bloke ever dies. I’d give a trifle to be like him – though I ain’t half rotten when I throw my ears back. No loss o’ time with me now, I promise you. When I ain’t readin’ or argyin’, my thinkin’ tackle’s goin’ like fury. I’m doin’ my level. Course, I belong to the club, for the sake o’ gittin’ in touch with fellars that’s got their brains lower down. Anyhow, athletics is no objection to study, s’posin you don’t gamble. Poor heart that never rejoices. Greatest athletics in the world was the classic Greeks, an’ in Plato’s Republic you’ll fine – “
“How did Miss Vanderdecken pass the time away while she stayed in Echuca?” I asked uneasily, feeling as the simple-minded reader would feel if she heard, or fancied she heard, some baby of a fortnight old asking for his pipe and tobacco.
“On’y seen her a couple or three times for the fust week,
though I often seen Arty. After that – me bein’ out o’ work
waitin’ for a new feller to start in the shop – Arty used to
git me to hire a horse an’ buggy every afternoon, an’ take
the two o’ them for a bit of a drive up the river road,
where you an’ us begun to overtake one another – if you
“She knew the Major in the Old Country, didn’t she?” I conjectured.
“Noddin’ acquaintance, likely. Gosh, ain’t he a daisy? Knows everything, dash near. Sort o’ bloke I’ll be when I git fairly goin’. I say, we must go into the social-economic subject properly when we get a slant, an’ you’ll fine I can give you a couple or three wrinkles. I’ll introduce you to a swag o’ fellers o’ my way o’ thinkin’, an’ you’ll see I’m the daddy o’ the ridgement. Strikes me, my little star ain’t a bit too st–nkin’, is she? Used to wish I was an ole bloke, but now I’m glad I got so much in front o’ me. I’ll jist be in the thick of it – won’t I? Great! As Paine says, ‘If there be war, let it be in my time, that my children may have peace.’ That’s my idear, too. I’m thinkin’ about’my kids. Different from Hezekiar – that ole cocktail says: ‘Good is the word that the Lord hath spoken, for there shall be peace in my time’ – knowin’, mind you, that his kids was going to drop in for it hot. Well, them times is past now; swallered up in the evolution of humanity. Thanks first to Gutenberg, an’ then to the long line o’ prophets, from Rousseau to Bellamy, there is at last a Daniel for every Writing on the Wall; a Curtius for every yawning chasm; a What-you-may-call-‘im for every –”
“Did the Deacon seem to take much interest in hearing about Miss Vanderdecken?” I interposed hastily, for I wanted to hear my own voice.
“Well, yes; even if it did seem to make him sort o’ melancholy. But I say – onna bright – you look’s if you was gone on her? Can’t blame you – fact, I give you credit. She’s a ding-donger. Bin along that track myself. Same time, Arty’s more my style. Natural enough, considerin’ she’s the dead spit o’ my missus, though, of course, my missus is a lot younger.”
“Who did you say was a lot younger?” I asked, with
renewed disquietude of mind.
“My missus – my wife.”
“What is this for?” I murmured reproachfully, with an upward glance.
“Want o’ sleep, an’ general worry; that’s what’s shakin’ you up, Collins. Ain’t surprisin’ considerin’. Take a couple o’ days’ spell at our place when you git to Echucar. We got a spare room. Goin’ fur down into Vic?”
“Uncertain. I’ll know better when I get to Echuca.”
“Anythin’ up your sleeve, so to speak?”
“Well, yes. Just when I met you at Maginnis’s the Colonel had been refused a billet on account of his jossless irreverence toward our institutions, and I’ve made application for a cut-in at the same sphere of usefulness. I stand a good show, if there’s a vacancy.”
“Yes; the General was tellin’ me about the sort o’ jar he got, that time. S’pose you’ve took degrees in string binders, before today?”
“Haven’t been privileged to see one of them yet, though I spent some of my earlier years among machinery, and not without a share of reputation. But I have higher qualifications than mere skill. I belong to a powerful clan, strong in two electorates, and we’re well known to be constitutionally sound on the one thing needful.”
“Handy thing to have in the fam’ly, s’posin’ it don’t blind a feller to the social-economic question,” replied Sam gravely. “Anyhow, you jist go straight to our place when you git to Echucar. Expect the Major’ll be in tomorrow, if it ain’t rainin’. He’s takin’ levels for the irrigation racket these times. An’ what d’you think – we got Furlong swore in. The Colonel rounded him up. Grand little chap, but he’s got notions. Don’t do to be a feller of one book, no matter if that book’s the Bible. Course, the Major goes in strong for Scripture, too; but he ain’t spiritually-minded. No more ain’t I. Mind, all of us gives Furlong credit for his religion, considerin’ his heart’s in the right place –”
Here a long, shrill whistle sounded from the crowd. Sam,
“Central umpire,” he remarked indifferently. “S’pose I must go an’ have a welt at this bag o’ wind. I’m goal-sneak. Wish you could stop an’ barrack for us, but considerin’ the track’s a bit greasy, I think you better be shovin’ along. Now mind you don’t forget to head straight for our place. Missus’ll be glad to see you, for I told her you was a cove worth takin’ by the hand. Mrs Ferguson’ll tell you where we live. So long.”
And the petrel of State Socialism towed the tail of his ulster toward the arena, whilst I resumed my way, reflecting on the unsatisfactory issue of a romance which at one time had seemed to contain all the elements of happiness.
- The gentle Knight, who saw their rueful case,
- Let fall a-down his silver beard some tears.
- “Certes,” quoth he, “it is not even in grace
- T’ undo the Past, and eke your broken years.”
- Thomson’s Castle of Indolence.
But, after all, what is happiness? “Felicity” is its closest
synonym, and you will observe that both words have the
alternative import of Compatibility, or Accordance – as
when we speak of “a happy combination”, “a felicitous
phrase”, and so forth. Such a coincidence in
double-meaning is not without significance, since it betokens an
instructive sub-consciousness that Happiness must not be
incongruous, or out of place, in respect of the Universal Harmony.
Doubtless, our field of thought is invaded by a prophetic
forecast, a twilight revelation of completer life, not directly
formulated, though finding cryptic register in everyday
speech. Then – taking Happiness in the double-intent of the
word – who shall presume to interpret its manifestation, or
limit its scope? Passing over the vanishing happiness of the
moment, the ephemeral happiness of the day, and the scarcely
less transitory happiness of the lifetime, may not the
Ultimate Happiness of the Moral Universe be in some way
consistent with the cross-purposes of human life? Further,
may not this Final Felicity (whatever the term may imply)
be directly subserved by what appears to our myopic
scrutiny as untrammelled thought wedded to marionette
action; as painful heart-thrift mocked by prodigal waste; as
poetic augury refuted by prosaic anti-climax? And if there
be a Universal Purpose, beyond individual welfare, and
apart from the wayside interests of existence – if each
lifetime be but one pace of Humanity in a decreed journey
Ay, but – mortal men, Hal, mortal men. And women still more inveterately mortal. Mortality is here emphasised, not in trite confession of its precarious tenure, but because of its abject servility to terrestrial conditions. The brain which explores the arcana of Science, or seeks new horizons in Thought, is apt to ache consumedly. We are not such stuff as dreams are made on, but precisely the reverse. In fact, the avoirdupois will assert itself, carrying not only its physical vulgarities, but also those emotional attributes inwoven with its texture. The gravitation which anchors human feet to the earth has its analogue in the super-physical province of life, where (to speak frankly) the Indeterminate is just one step beyond the Empirical. Setting aside the “illative sense” as unscientific, we have within easy reach, here and now, the line where Verification ends and Conjecture begins. For in no terms of experiment, in no formula known to research can the authentic story of an extra-mundane Scheme of Life be told. There was a Door to which Omar Khayyam found no Key; there was a Veil past which he could not see. To sane minds, the Universal Plan is the enigma of the ages; detached, objective, and wholly intangible – any attempt at solution thus being a capricious speculation, shaped by the proclivities or by the experience of its projector, and varying even with his mood.
But current Emotion – of the earth, though by no means
earthy – is a matter of certainty, not of supposition. Here, at
least, we have, comprehended within the secularised Ego,
a radical incentive which governs its own containing
individuality as magnetism governs the compass-needle.
Hence, for instance, the maid called Barbara was left with
nothing but her song of “Willow”, and she died singing it.
What availed the Scheme of Life to her? – though she held
debentures therein, equal in face value to yours, or mine, or
Kate Vanderdecken’s. Invite her to “eliminate the
Romeo also found that Philosophy could not make a Juliet. And so it fared, to a considerable extent, even with the self-sufficient Colonel. That incident marked an epoch in his thought-life. The old record, sweet, tender, exclusive; the Eden-song, written in rose and gold, now reappeared on the palimpsest of Memory, never again to be obliterated; and from that time forth an accession of sadness was observable in his bearing, with an abatement of the cynicism which had lent a kind of fascination to his homilies. Despite his habitual reticence, all this was evident to me.
But each nature is tripartite in super-physical faculty, and the influence of that echo from the past, however potent emotionally, had no curative effect on the Major’s mental and moral elements. What can arrest the momentum, or disturb the bias of half a lifetime? When the Ego has ceased to be a hobby-ridden man, and has culminated into a man-escorted hobby, there is no hope of restoration. A sky-pilot of large experience once told me that he had never known a man of fifty to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” and my own observation of seasoned iniquity goes to confirm the melancholy avowal. Nevertheless, forbear to judge, for we are sinners all.
Meanwhile, Kate Vanderdecken has seemed to me as one who paused a moment, tremulous yet trustful, on this great stage of fools; then passed out into the lonely night, her myrtle wreath purple-flecked with martyrs’ amaranth.
Let us say, with Whittier –
- God pity them both! and pity us all,
- Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.
- For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
- The saddest are these: “It might have been.”
- Ah well! for us all some sweet hope lies
- Deeply-buried from human eyes;
- And, in the Hereafter, angels may
- Roll the stone from its grave away!