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Title: Rigby's Romance
Author: Joseph Furphy
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Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
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Rigby's Romance
Joseph Furphy

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 landlady's husband to unsaddle
and feed my horses; after which, I caused that unassuming bondman to
bring about twenty lbs. 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 the march of
events affords convenience for explaining the purpose of my journey to
Yarrawonga. The fact is that I object to being regarded as a mere
romancist, even as a dead-head speculator, or dilettante reporter, of
the drama of life. You must take me as a hard-working and ordinary
actor on this great stage of fools; but one who, nevertheless, finds a
wholesome recreation in observing the parts played by his fellow-
hypocrites. (The Greek "hupokrisis," I find, signifies, indifferently,
"actor" and "hypocrite.")

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--as in drafting
or trucking--the infantry man requires an alert eye, a cool head, and
a suitable stem of scrub, terminating in a nasty spray of leafless
twigs; also his flank and rear must be covered, in order to confine
the enemy to a frontal assault. These conditions being fulfilled, the
operator can reserve his mortal preparation for some future emergency,
though it would, perhaps, be as well to abstain from anything in the
nature of language until the draft is put through. A handy piece of
brush, judicially presented, will check the charge of any steer. The
animal will try to get round the obstruction, but he won't attempt to
break through.

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."

Stockman 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 Scotch 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
through the scrub, like a charge of duck-shot through a wire fence.

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 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 desolations 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. Spanker, and
provisionally engaged to buy the brand for 100. He proposed me as an
associate. Spanker, in seconding the motion, suggested John C.
Spooner, professional drover, as a third co-operator. Seconded, in
turn, by Rory, and carried on the voices. The station stockkeeper had
then been approached on the subject, but he washed his hands of the
whole business. He darkly predicted calamity to the enterprise and
insolvency to the station, as a consequence of such "blanky, flamin',
jump-up greed for a bit of wool."

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: Spooner 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 four hundred--possibly up to five hundred
and fifty, including calves and cleanskins. We intended to take them
across the Murray, and dispose of them in handy lots at the
agricultural fairs in northern Victoria, thus passing the trouble on a
little farther.

But this was prospective. For the present, it had been arranged that
Rory should meet Spooner and myself 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 favourable 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
three hundred and fifty 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 are 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.



Chapter I.



I wol you tell a litel thing in prose.
That oughte liken you, as I suppose.
Or elles certes ye be to dangerous.
It is a moral tale vertuous.
Al be it told sometimes in sondry wise.
Of sondry folk, as I shall 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 to-day, 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 maroon, and a sailor hat trimmed with the same color; 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 was from Waghorn Brothers, who
he was with three or four years ago fixing up them wire binders, and
the other was from the agent he's with now. Most likely they want him
again."

"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 cardbasket'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.'"

"Tasman," 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 to-day," 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 vines, and fruit trees, and one thing or
another, in different parts of the world. They've kept him on a string
longer than they'd keep me, anyway. It's five months ago since he was
engaged, and not so much as 'thanky' till he got orders to start in a
hurry. It was the American Consult who recommended him; and well he
might, for there's very few things that would take Mr. Rigby at a
short."

"I'll be pretty sure to meet him at Waterton's, then?"

"Maginnis (late Waterton), Farmers' Arms, Yooringa. He'll be there
to--day; 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," 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 pack-horses 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 to-night."

"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."

"Grand dog."

"Middling."

"So long."

"So long."



Chapter II.



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.

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 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 sank 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 dogging them
with some sinister purpose, and they obviously felt like people driven
by the mere stress of circumstances into immodest conspicuousness.

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 Bun-yip, 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 stock-whip
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-bye how infallible
that rule is. In fact, the foot of the American woman is a badge as
distinctive as the moustache of the Australienne. However, there was a
good expression in the foot now under notice; it was a generous,
loyal, judicious foot, yet replete with idealism and soulfulness;
wherefore, I became at once prepossessed in favor of the owner.

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."

"How fur?"

"Twelve or fifteen miles. That's where I'm bound for."

"Grand dog you got there."

"Fair."

"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
to--night?"

"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
snapshotted it on a blank spot in my memory, with a view to working
out the biography at some future time. I could get her name from the
boy in the evening, and no other factor would be required.

Close ahead of us was a farm-house on the right-hand side of the
road. A few full-grown cattle were in the stockyard; 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 to-night. 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 to-night, 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 itself at that, leaving a curse on Steve. I
had little thought of meeting him to--day--thought he was a couple of
hundred miles north. I was looking forward to meeting another very old
friend, Jeff Rigby, a striking contrast to Thompson in many ways; the
most conspicuous point about him being that he allows nobody to know
anything except what he tells." The sentence seemed to die out to
nothing; partly because it was impossible to finish the last clause
without a solecism, but more particularly because I noticed both
women's eyes fixed on my face, with a disconcerting interest in the
casual gossip. It is humiliating when you feel yourself expected to
say something good, and a swift reconnaissance of the subject shows
you no opening for anything beyond what a nobleman might drivel.
Moreover, I was fresh from the pastoral regions, where etiquette
demands frank, unsolicited, and copious comment on the merits or
demerits of some absent person; whereas these women were evidently
civilised, and consequently regarded my conventional remarks as the
exordium of some good anecdote. I therefore gave my earnest attention
for a few moments to a mare and a foal, standing in the shade of a
tree close by.



Chapter III.



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.

"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's
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 more adorable grace
in the fading flower, which gains in fragrance as it loses in
freshness.

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 incandesence...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 on the earth had sunk into their
hiding-place and permeated their substance."

The glass is perishing. Matchless, indescribable, inimitable in 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 disgression and
confine myself to clean-cut narrative.

Two widely-divergent views of women 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 sex-value. The former conveys passion; the latter, adoration.
The former sees femininity; the latter, womanhood. And these are the
two extremes.

The relative potency of these diverse influences depend, 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 biassed 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 Dunolly broke out; and our acquaintance
began immediately after. Of the many friends he has made, my father, I
think, holds priority in date, and I take precedence in intimacy."

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 eagle, 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 the 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, he's a land surveyor. If there's any question of his
identity, I may add that he was born at a place called Marathon,
somewhere in the backblocks of New York State."

There was intense interest in the face of the brownhaired woman as I
spoke, and evident relief as I concluded. Then another pause.

"This is a most happy coincidence," she said, 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 know him?"

"A good deal, madam. The second twenty-five years of a man's life
cover about two of the Seven Ages. In this instance, they have
transformed the lover, sighing like the 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 the age of 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 women,
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 the head, then
perceiving a certain feminine deduction in the foolish surmise, I
replied:

"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 had 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 grave self-possession,
the brown hair wilting under a helplessness so shrinkingly sensitive,
and so sympathetically communicable that, stranger as I was, I could
mentally feel her clinging to me with the mute entreaty of an
ownerless dog. How did such people get through life? What business had
they here? Why their interest in Rigby? Were they always like this?

"But pardon me, ladies," I resumed. "I ough 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
cattledrover. 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 sordid experience instead of the whole sum of their crude
natural propensities.



Chapter IV.


I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love.
Make up my sum.
--"Hamlet," Act V., Scene 1.

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 colors; 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. A day or two more found the genial ratepayer, the
enthusiastic digger, and the simple-minded arrow, on the spot where
the latter had dismounted to tighten his girth--a spot known for years
after as the Yankee Reef, and always more distinguished for promise
than for fulfilment, even before the stone petered out into hungry
leaders.

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 uppermost--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 experienced
disappointment, even injury, in failing to detect any blame attachable
to the other party, whilst my dad's judicial mind could find no cause
of misunderstanding whatsoever. But the Colonel quoted Byron, Tennyson
and other excellent authorities, falling back at last on the solid
though irrevelant fact that he had loved Kate too well, and it was her
own sterling worthiness of that devotion which barbed the arrow that
rankled in his heart. Then, again, the holy hush of Satanic
tranquility (I can find no better expression) came, angel-winged, over
the martyr's tempest-tossed soul, as he imagined the girl's
irremediable despair.

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.

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 self-reliant young
citizen of the day before and the day after.

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 altruisms, 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, and it became my
custom, whenever I saw him fall into reverie, to place myself, so to
speak, en 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 content myself with the
scrap I had picked up, remembering that all things come to him who
philosophises.

At last the potato was cooked. The cryptic passage 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. Things will occasionally happen of themselves.



Chapter V.



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 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
running.

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 endeavoring 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 compelled 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
confidence 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 land of ague and dried apples the odds would have
seemed a hundred millions to one against a purely fortuitous
conjunction at the Farmers' Arms, Yooringa; nevertheless, this was
coming to pass. Their lines of life must have been insensibly
converging ever since, and yet the slightest dislocation in the
tendency of event at any time during twenty-five years--one misfitting
link in the chain of circumstances--and the parting would have held
good for ever. Now I would make it my business to see that the
connection was not missed at the last moment.

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. So I monologued with a fluent tongue and a speculative mind
while we neared the pub, and drew up to a walk.

"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 on 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 eyes 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 yourself 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 Vanderdecken from
the buggy. Meanwhile, Miss Flanagan had disembarked herself. The
landlady received them with overflowing respect, and led the way into
the house, while I followed, carrying two portmanteaux.

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."

"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.



Chapter VI.

O if thou be'st the same geas, speak.
And speak unto the same milia!

--"Comedy of Errors," Act V., Scene 1.


"WELL," said Rigby to me as we left the bar, "my waggonette is down
beside the waggons. 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 to-day--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 to a spherical shape and controls the apparent
vagaries of our planetary system--has landed her here, to give you an
evening momentous enough to date from. How is that for lofty?"

"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 low, 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 woman-
hood at its best; and, indeed, I never saw Rigby appear to such
advantage as under the inspiration of her presence. Of course, there
was no crash, nor was there any embarrassment on either side, nothing
but a graceful interchange of courtesies and polite solicitude, and
presently the Senator, according to his custom, settled down into the
leading part. Still, I could detect, under the grave tenderness of his
manner, a certain abstraction, easily accounted for as things stood.

I remained only five or ten minutes. Then, promising to call on my
new friends in the morning as I went out, 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.



Chapter VII.



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 1.


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 a boy and a kangaroo dog.

"Fond o' scenery, ain't they?" remarked Sam, as he passed me the
girth from the off side.

"Who?"

"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."

"Which Arty?"

"Miss Flanagan. Her with no feet."

"How far are you going up the river?"

"No furder. Back to-morrow 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."

"For what?"

"Biggany. Havin' two wives, both to the fore. Rotten contract, ain't
it? Wheelwright by trade. Me an' him was getting on grand together,
only for this bust up. I got another place to start improver, soon's I
git back. Wheelwrightin' ain't a bit stinkin' for a trade--is it? Got
a few new idears ripenin' ready for when I git on my own. See, most o'
the wheelwrights is imported beggars; an' they can't be expected to
have the best quality o' brains. Wish I had that dog."

"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 to-day. My inside's all furmentin' now. You
could hop a marble off o' my stummick."

"You'll soon get over that, Sam. So long."

"So long."

The sun was still half-an-hour high when I repassed 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 waggons, and,
near them, Rigby's covered waggonette. 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
middle-sized man could nicely creep through. And straight above the
stump, in mid-air, was a little stationary dark cloud easily
resolvable into a multitude of bees. The loud, menacing hum 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, but vanished
entirely, like the early cloud and the morning dew. Here a
phrenologist would think it strange that an organ of locality, perfect
enough to guide its possessor through the undiversified air, should be
so poorly balanced by perceptive and reflective faculties that the
subject, in the first place, couldn't see what had happened, and, in
the second place, couldn't reason out the certainty that its tree must
be somewhere, and that the best way to find it would be to look for
it. But the case appeared to bear out my theory that we are all
specialists. And it seemed to clash with Lubbock's hypothesis, namely,
that the bee has no intuition of locality, but steers its course by
sight alone. At all events these bees, being like myself, conservative
in tendency, were lost for lack of a precedent. Hard work and no play
had tied Jack immovably to the fine "old moorings"--had, in fact,
paralysed his reasoning faculty and extinguished his initiative, thus
making him a model wealth-producer and a never-failing text for the
Thrift-homilist.

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, and allotting twenty-four of these
unassuming producers to each caravan, he spent a week in training them
to consider themselves at home. Then at the dead hour of the night he
hooked a steady old horse to each hen-house in turn, and distributed
them, with their sleeping tenants, over paddock No. 1. During the
ensuing day, the hens, spreading out like sheep, fared sumptuously on
locusts, grubs, seeds, etc.; and in the evening they retired--not to
their houses, but to the vacant spots from whence those abodes had
been shifted.

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.

"Just 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' Nathaniel 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. What are you reading now?"

"Bible," replied Dixon, with a touch of self-righteousness, whilst
indicating with a sideward glance the noblest compilation on earth,
where it lay in a kerosene-box, together with a supply of tobacco and
matches, a large dictionary, and 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 misfortune," replied Dixon gravely. "It ain't yer
fault. That's where my main (adj.) hold is--graspin' what I read.
Never knowed no more about the Bible three monce ago nir 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.) shinnanigan 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, loafiin' for the manavelins off of his table. That's what I like
her for. Straightest book ever wrote. But she gave me a (adj.)
fright," he continued, in an altered tone. "A (sheol) of a (adj.)
fright," he repeated thoughtfully.

"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.



Chapter VIII.



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 halfways 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 first bit o' 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' Parryo was bossin' the whole show in Egypt; an'
he had some sort o' (adj.) purchase on the Jews; an' he kep them
making bricks and druv them most unmerciful; an' they didn't know what
the (adj. sheol) to do about it; so natural enough, they cried unto
the Lord.

"Well, them ole times, the Lord used to mix Himself up a lot with
people an' take no end o' trouble tryin' to keep things a bit
straight; and He looked roun' for the foolishest bloke He could find
to take on such 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, the pronunciation of "the Lord" was unaffected,
grave and devout. Briefly, the worst you can say of this wild-flower
of the plains is that his Jahvistic idea 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' pigheadedness, 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. 'Gorstruth!' 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, 'and tell the Children to buck into their
work a bit livelier, or, take my (adj.) word for it,' says he, 'I'll
straighten the (malingerers) up!'

"But the Lord He backed up Moses, an' 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, and 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 and
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 halfstarved 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 gosquantity o' room to look roun' an' a
slant to be their own boss if they (adv.) well like. So, accordin' to
accounts, they murmured agen Moses, sayin':

"'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 them ole 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 of the country was
that a land flowin' with milk an' honey was no name for it; but the
Canaanites, an' the Rechabites, an' 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 favour o' this dart will please signify the same in the
usual manner,' says he. An' what do 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
picaninnies.'

"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 an' 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 to 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 out o' the land. Moses, he
argied with 'em an' told 'em the Lord was departed from them, but they
only ordered him off. Six rails an' a cap wouldn't hold 'em. Fair
bustin' with false pluck an' bluff an' blatherskite.

"Best instance of Moses's 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--an' 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 hav bin at the very top o' the tree if he'd
collared half the slants that come his road. I got no pity for a
feller like that. Fact, I got no pity for anybody that crawls after
Jews. Bad eggs, the Jews. When them temporisers was commanded to do
anythin' good they used to forgit, or buck, or dodge out of it some
(adj.) road; but when they was commanded to stone anybody--whoop! they
was there quick an' lively. My (adj.) oath."

"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 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.) idea?"

"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. "Hello, 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.



Chapter IX.



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 faraway, dreamy look; then,
with the same preoccupied air, he walked across to his waggonette, 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 latter
observation was addressed to a flash-looking young man, who came up
with a rod and a 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 of tea," replied the bullock driver. "Who
was tellin' you about that (adj.) fish?"

"What's that got to do with you? I want to know where he caught it?"

"Well, you kin jist (adv.) well find 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 to--night, 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 profession 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, fishing' for leeches. Gits the raw pelts
cheap at the wash and sen's the (adj.) leeches to Melbn' 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' he fills her
full o' honey for me, an' no compliment."

While 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, partially rousing
himself from his reverie. "Non omnia possumus omnes--which may be
freely translated, 'We can't all of us be 'possumers.'"

"Hum," replied Dixon, warily. "Anyhow, me an' him got acquainted
campin' together on the Island two years 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 an' 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
waggonette, 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 wouldn't know whether he wanted his
refreshment iced or mulled. Any person whose smelling apparatus was
not debauched by smoking would have found the air fragrant with scent
of pennyroyal and rich with aroma exhaled from countless tons of
eucalyptus leaves. Best of all, no annoying hum of mosquitoes marred a
concert of evening sounds, made up by the homely clatter of myriad
frogs, and the tangled melody of a dozen bells, copious in range of
tone and timbre. And from time to time, like a drunken Welshman
talking in his sleep, came the guttural discourse of a 'possum, or
perhaps the mumble of a bear; while at shorter intervals some solitary
mopoke solemnly announced himself by name, eliciting occasional
response from two or three faraway friends, who seemed to call
themselves "pope-pope"--certain sound-waves of the note being
exhausted in transit. Three hilarious kookaburras, sitting side by
side on a dead branch close by, did their best to liven things up
before retiring for the night; while now and then some dejected curlew
yelled his probably imaginary woes on the sympathetic air; and away in
different directions the monotonous and foolish barking of several
dogs might lead the thrifty soul to meditate on the unpreventable
leakage of Energy in this world of ours.

Behind where we sat, a sheep-proof fence, running down from the pub,
terminated in one of the three big trees I 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 red-gum flats
coming southward to the road, while the river itself swept away miles
to the north, and again approached the road about two miles westward,
thus forming a fine bend, mostly inaccessible to loafing sheep, by
reason of billabongs, lagoons, and swamps, and therefore much valued
by such bullock drivers as knew its geography, and could avail
themselves of its resources.

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 familiar 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 waggons 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 virgins 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.) waggon--
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 smokin' a fortnit ago, an' he naturally 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 waggon 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 growing now. Her father was
a hard, strict, religious Scotchman, with fierce eyebrows. His name
was Cameron--Lyon Cameron."

"I came 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
to--day." A pause. Then the two shook hands, and the trapper returned
to his line.



Chapter X.



For rustic youths 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 destroyed
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 caused 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 'Faery Queene,' Thomson's
'Seasons,' Cowper's 'Task,' Tennyson's 'In Memoriam,' Edwin Arnold's
'Light of Asia,' and, lastly, any poem of Walt Whitman's.

"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 hear 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 price 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 quidem (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 only 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 enquire 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 to, and sneaked across here, to fawn like a dog on Cameron, and
go mooning about the place like a harmless lunatic. By-and-bye I got a
letter from my sister that fairly knocked me. Cameron happened to be a
townie of my father's next neighbour (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 position. Agnes and I
understood each other, of course, and we felt that nothing short of
death would shift either of us, but then again we seemed to have very
little say in the matter. We were both in such bodily fear of her dad
that we were sort of paralysed. It's all very well for you to say that
you'd have done this, or that, or the other thing. You'd play (sheol).
So would I. But if you were withered up with the course of study that
I had gone through, and had old Cameron to deal with, you'd do just as
I did. You see, I didn't know what value he put on me--in fact, I
didn't know what value I put on myself. Sometimes I seemed a fine,
promising young chap; and other times I seemed about on a level with a
Chinaman. It was those infernal books that did it. I think Mrs.
Cameron stood to me. At all events, one day Cameron made me tell all
my affairs, and then brought in Agnes' name, and finally told me that
if I could give a good account of myself in another year he would
allow me to write to her. But I must turn over another leaf in the
matter of thrift. Of course, I promised anything and everything, and
began to feel like a respectable, right-thinking citizen, never
considering the thing that was on me.

"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
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, and
when I struck the river about half-a-mile above here the first thing
that caught my eye was a canoe, with a couple of oars in it, sailing
along on its own account. She was a heavy wooden concern about four
feet wide and twenty feet long--just a hollow tree, with the right
bend dressed into shape, two or three boards nailed across for seats,
and a couple of irons like spurs stuck one in each side for you to
work the oars in.

"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 about 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 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.



Chapter XI.



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 smiled, 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 donno 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 to-day by his own self.
Ought to be home about dark.'

"We were travelling so fast just then that the boy had to yell out
his last remarks after us, and by this time we swooped round a point,
and lost sight of him. Of course, Agnes began to cry, and, of course,
I kissed her; and I remember to the present day that the taste of the
poor girl's lips reminded me of dead leeches. But there was no time to
be lost, so I welted away with one oar for about a quarter of an hour
till I got the boat turned, and then started to send her up against
the stream. But she was over a ton weight and she took such a terrific
hold of the current that I could hardly gain an inch while I was
rowing my best; and, at every fourth lift or so, I used to miss the
water and turn a back summerset; and then, while I was getting into
position again, she would get the speed on her, and by the time I had
steadied her I was heels over tip again. And all this time we were
going round one bend after another and evening was coming on full
speed. Then I could see that there was nothing for it but to get
ashore and walk home, and I told Agnes so. And to make matters better,
the poor girl had chilblains, and her Sunday boots punished her so
that she had taken them off soon after we started, and now she was
tugging and panting and half--swearing to get them on again, but all
to no purpose, while I was tumbling over the top of her, and nearly
capsizing the boat.

"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 board. There was a curse
on that boat." The narrator paused in gloomy abstraction, then
resumed.

"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 ran it along to the left for a quarter of a
mile, and found it joined on with the river. Then we turned back, and
ran 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 troubled
mind along with it. And in cases of this kind a girl is as foolish as
a foal, so there was Agnes crying and blowing her nose all the time,
and wondering whatever she would do; and there was me walking back and
forward, with my teeth going like a chaffcutter, and the fine rain for
the farmer coming down wholesale where there was no thanks for it. I
wouldn't go through it again--not for Father Peter. The hardship was
as bad as Dante's Inferno, and the trouble was a lot worse than
Milton's Hell."

"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 was only three to four
feet deep. So I got the loan of my boots for the trip, and took Agnes
on my shoulder 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 11st. 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 road. Besides, we felt modest about
showing off before the public, for I was bare-footed and bare-headed
and wet and miserable--looking, and Agnes' face was dirty and her hair
all wild, and her clothes torn, and she was lame with her chilblains,
and altogether she looked as if she had been on a bad drunk; and the
terror of old Cameron made us both look as if we ought to be in jail,
and knew it.

"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 remember. In six or eight months, if I'm
alive, I'll come in the night and blaze that big red gum, with the lot
of mistletoes on it, just opposite your bedroom window. When you see
the fresh blaze, you'll know that I'll be waiting for you that evening
at sunset, in the whipstick scrub, at the right-hand lower corner of
your calf-paddock. I'll wait there every night for a week.'

"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 couldn't shake. When he had finished, I
went down to my waggon, yoked up, and camped that night twelve miles
beyond Quarterman's, and in less than a fortnight I was at Hay, still
gloating over my mortgage on Agnes."

"And the books 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.



Chapter XII.



This is the state of man; to-day he puts forth
His tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms.
And bears his blushing honors 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 210 notes beyond 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 calf-
paddock, and who should come pushing through the scrub but Cameron
himself.

"'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're got no plant now except
nine skeletons and a waggon?'

"'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 12 notes in debt; but,
against this, I have 36 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 perceive that it
requires a higher order of mind than yours to make one substantial
structure out of two thin ones, without showing the joint? In fact,
your composite style of architecture, though it may make the
Washington laugh, cannot but make the Munchausen grieve. Just stand
off and look at your two-story yarn. One moment you're clothed in
property and cash; the next moment you're sitting at your own slip-
panel, full of indigence."

"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 oldish girl
in Moama that I could fall in love with if I let myself loose, but
that would be madness for a man in my position. Anybody else might
live in hope, but I don't; for the Providence that knows how many
hairs a man's got on his head will take thundering good care I don't
get off so cheap. I'll live and die on the wallaby. I'm like that
character in the Bible--I forget who he was--always going to and fro
on the earth, and walking up and down in it. I've got the satisfaction
of knowing that I deserve it all."



Chapter XIII.



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.

"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 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 sent away a
couple of hundred bags of barley if you'll take it at the current
rate. Will you call round to-morrow 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 disturb 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 him
the exception which is erroneously supposed to prove the rule."

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 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 waggon, 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 Dixon. Strange, isn't
it, when you come to compare the men? But they were both open-minded
chaps, and each found a lot to respect in the other. I can speak
positively about this, for Dixon and I travelled together from
Nalrooks to Hay, just before Willoughby left. Willoughby's one of the
nicest coves I ever met; and he can no more help his own infernal
uselessness than Dixon can help his own infernal ignorance. I've seen
the two of them lying on their backs for hours together, looking at
the stars, and Willoughby trying to learn Dixon astronomy. Then,
again, I've seen Dixon doing all he could to make a man of Willoughby;
but they both had too many rings on their horns, and the teaching
glanced off. However, if there had been any nastiness about Dixon, or
any super--super--dash it! super--"

"Say manager, Steve," I suggested.

"'Ciliousness," proffered the Colonel.

"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 clat, 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 letter?" said I austerely. "O, 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 drew 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 the river with a log, but not in sight of
the girl, on account of a belt of whipstick 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 an' half-a-dozen o' the other. Used to fancy myself a bit then.
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.



Chapter XIV.



Ursula, thy words may shame us.
Yet we once were counted famous--
Morituri salutamus!
Au victurite!

--Gordon's "Ashtoreth."


"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, and jography, an' sums, an' every (adj.)
thing. Gosh! she was facilis decensus--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 wanted her to go, an' 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 a (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 of 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.)

"'O, yes it is,' says he.

"'You're a (adj.) liar,' says I.

"'WHAT!' says he, an' with that he hauls off. Puts 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, and he fetches me right
(adv.) bang on the peeper. I follers him up ropable--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 like lemons. No (adj.) use. He gits
home on the butt o' the log 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,' says 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?" conjectured
Rigby. "You and the lightning-jerker were rivals, I presume?"

"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' round like a dog off 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 eyes?'"

"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 of 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 just 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 such 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 goodnaturedly took an 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 an' says, 'O, 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.) Plegethon 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.

"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 o' 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 wasn't goin' to wear the
(adj.) breeches. Let a man be a man not a (adj.) monkey that's their
idear. On'y, sometimes it don't work properly. Varium et mutabile
semper (adj.) foemina." He paused and sighed. "Anyhow, I was moochin'
about the door, waiting for her when the corroboree was over, an' our
people they walked on ahead, an' me an' her we follered in the dark,
an' not a word out o' me till we got half-round; then it was hammer-
an'-tongs."

"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 gettin' yer (adj.) wool off,' says she."

"O, dear, dear," moaned Lushington.

"'Who the (inferno's) gitting 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 hold of her by the arm, an' fetches her a
couple o' picaninny kicks--not enough to hurt a (adj.) musketeer. 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 the blokes that
writes books. So do I--when it's too late. You know a (Hades) of a lot
about edicated gurls."

"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 race-horse, 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
hisself 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.

"Any how," 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 acknowledgement
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
Niffelhem' 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 your memory?"

"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 afterwards?" 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. 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.



Chapter XV.



Name her not now, sir, she's a deadly theme.

--"Troilus and Cresida," 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 to-night,
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 speaking in an
even graver tone. "I was much impressed this afternoon by the last
act, though not the last scene, of a saddening life tragedy which long
ago on the other side of the globe opened as love's young dream."
(Now, after all, thought I, is he going to entertain a random audience
with such a story as that for the sake of pointing a moral?) "All the
details of the drama happen to be within my cognisance," he went on.
"It is not for your entertainment that I shall unfold them now, but in
order that you may be set thinking for yourselves and thinking in the
right direction."

"O, 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."

"O, 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, and I feel it incumbent
upon me to give you something to carry away from this accidental
foregathering." (Hopeless, thought I. One never knows where this class
of moralist may break out. Why, already that woman with her lovely
face and truthful eye 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, unless he has a vehicle behind him;
and there's not six inches deep of a precipice within a hundred miles
of Runnymede. That's the sort of yarn you'll tell when you get into
your dotage."

"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 any other member of our party might have perceived him in
the dark if his presence had been worth noticing.

"Didn't I hear Miss Vanderdecken say she wanted you to-night?" I
whispered, mentally crossing myself as the tergiversation passed my
lips.

"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."



Chapter XVI.



O blest effect of penury and want--
The seed sown here, how vigorous 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 Rottendammer, I don't exactly know---"

"Gosh! It was about time for her to get 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 to satiety and re-action than
the restless passion which, I take for granted, each of you fellows
has experienced. Their position in life conduced to love and fidelity.
The bulk of the German people, for sufficient reasons, are far from
rich; and Fritz's family was poor in Manasseh. His trade was his
fortune, which, in the language of the Fatherland, means that he could
eke out an existence by working 12 hours a day, with a half-holiday
every second Sunday; and they have a proverb to the effect that if a
man can't do a day's work in 12 hours he can't do it at all. Mina,
whose face was her fortune, made a much poorer living by working 16
hours a day in a carpet factory, though she also had each alternate
Sunday afternoon to herself. Therefore, she not only adored Fritz for
his high descent, but reverenced his relative opulence."

"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
competent 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 1,600 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 trace a connection
between Australian packs of hounds, and Australian packs of paupers.
How often must I repeat that if Job be permitted to own 7,000 sheep
and 3,000 camels, with other property in proportion, the overwhelming
majority of his fellow--sinners will have to pluck up mallows by the
roots and juniper bushes for their food--as per text. No State, no
territory, however bountifully endowed by Nature, however ably
administered by man, will yield a superabundant dividend all round.
Excess will be balanced by deficiency, which is bad for both poles of
society, and therefore inimical to the progress of the race. Suppose
you are told that there is a famine somewhere, but your informant has
forgotten the locality, don't you at once conjecture India as the
scene of the trouble? And yet you know that India has been a current
proverb for wealth through more than 2,000 years. Well may you sing of
India--strictly, of Ceylon, it amounts to the same--as a place where
every prospect pleases and only man is vile. Vile he undoubtedly is,
and vile he will certainly continue, while his attitude invites
despoilment--a proviso which escaped the well-bred contemplation of
Heber. Of course, you're not responsible for India; but, by Heaven,
you're responsible for Australia!"

"Lis'n!" whispered Sam. "This bloke's an artist."

"So there was evident and ample 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 in the true wealth of mutual affection,
and earnestly discussing the great German problem."

"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 as 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 towards 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 forego every branch of
culture except the eternal tillage of their own heads, the harvested
crop being of course, thriftily reserved for the thin-haired members
of your plutocracy."

"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 labour, 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 90 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,
are rightfully sensitive respecting the idea which may inspire an act
of benefaction. If the idea of sharing can be preserved, the parties
are brought abreast and mutually elevated by the primitive virtue of
the principle. Whereas, the eleemosynary idea, interpreting a similar
act, brings the parties into contact vertically, not laterally, and
the benefaction, materially good, is poisoned by its implication.
Philanthropists should learn the ever-true proverb that 'a gift
destroyeth the heart,' and engineer their work accordingly. The idea
of sharing, of participation, admits of indefinite extension, and
never comes out amiss. Applied, in spite of Individualism, to
historical memories, to national aspirations, to religious beliefs, to
literary and other ideals, it constitutes a bond stronger than actual
kinship. And how eagerly you avow this principle when an enemy is at
the gate! Therefore there is ample reason why sharing, not giving--
irrespective of quantity in either case--should be the sentiment of
bona fide Christianity, and that it is so none but the most inveterate
churchgoer will deny--"

"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.



Chapter XVII.



Wal, it's a marcy we got folks to tell us
The rights an' the wrongs of these matters I vow;
God sends country lawyers, an' other smart fellers.
To start the world's team when it gits in a slough;
For John P.
Robinson, he
Sez the world'll go right ef he hollers out Gee!

--James Russell Lowell.


"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 ignorance and neglect of their own
responsibilities and slavish toleration of class encroachment, the
wool of their female descendants is in the market to-day. We know
that, broadly speaking, the Russian peasant of the 17th Century was a
freeman, and we know that his descendant of the 19th 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, deferentially, "that
the freedom to oppress is the only growth of socio-political
organisation which, in any race, at any time, or under any form of
government, has of its own accord broadened down from precedent to
precedent. Even in the Hebrew theocracy, authorised levy and
authorised dominion broadened down to the devouring of widow's houses
and the grinding of the faces of the poor, while the graces and
concessions of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years narrowed down until
they went the way of all unguarded popular privileges. My own remote
ancestor, the free Saxon barbarian, who voted his chosen leader to the
chieftainship, was represented in the time of Ivanhoe, by a descendant
wearing a brass collar, inscribed: 'Gurth, the son of Beowulf, is the
born thrall of Cedric.' How was this? Why, Cedric's freedom had
broadened down till it absorbed not only Gurth's freedom, but Gurth
himself."

"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 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, which
is, that in the interval between the 11th Century and the 19th,
between Senlac and Eureka, your human rights didn't broaden down by
any process of easy evolution into your present limited citizenship.
By no means. Each inch of recovered ground cost a hundred lives, and
very often you paid the lives without recovering the inch. In
obedience to that grand law which guarantees the sure recoil of any
redeemable race against aggression which has broadened down to the
insufferable stage, you rose from time to time, making some incoherent
demand for restoration of certain privileges which had strangely
disappeared. You were hanged for your trouble. You rose under Wat
Tyler, and you were hanged; under Cade, and you were hanged; under
Ket, and you were hanged. You rose again and again under various
interested agitators of more or less ignominious memory--never
demanding anything beyond partial restitution of your own stolen
rights, and you were promptly and cheerfully hanged every time; but
some inch of lost ground was recovered with certain martyrdoms."

"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 every 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 late 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 rights at all,
and thinking too audibly. There, I challenge all the orthodox clergy
of Christendom to adduce a more striking incidence of the sins of the
fathers visited upon the children. What the expletive can you do?--You
ask. Why, simply be a Christian. Let your whole life be a protest
against the system which aims at leaving a coming generation the
miserable option of serfdom, suicide, or Sicilian Vespers. But no, you
prefer to follow the line of least immediate resistance, Dixon. A mess
of pottage--sawdust pottage at that--and away goes your birthright.
For this choice, Paul calls you a 'profane person,' and do you think--
"

"Well; he's barkin' up the wrong (adj.) tree," protested Dixon. "I
don't deny I'm a sort o' plainspoken (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 an'
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 Isaacstien, 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 prospects in the new light emanating from the Herr's
proposal. Here they found themselves confronted by an alternative
which involved the greatest of all principles. Both hearts rang true
to the touch, and their resolution was bravely taken. What says
Emerson?"

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 Isaacstien 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 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 Isaacstien. 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."



Chapter XVIII.



"O let me safely to the fair return.
Say with a kiss, she must not, shall not, mourn;
O let me teach my heart to lose its 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.

--Collin's "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 shadier transaction, but easier to account
for it. Thrift, thrift, Horatio. Mr. Goodfellow wished to provide for
a rainy day."

"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. This
transaction, in point of shadiness, hotly rivals Mr. Goodfellow's own
record, and is to be accounted for in the same way. Thirft, thrift,
Horatio. Fritz also wished to provide for a rainy day--particularly as
Herr Isaacstien was proving, like Major Bag-stock, tough, sir, and
devilish sly.

"It is a big undertaking for an exceptionally useless man to make a
start on 640 acres with barely 50, 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 recognised 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 Isaacstien 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 15,000 thalers, or 2,200
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. Goodfellow at a price, and, after
the usual nibbling and coquetting, the squatter paid him 4 per acre
for his title. This would amount to 2,560, or 360 more than Mina's
contribution, but Love is too blind to notice such discrepancies. At
all events, with this tidy little evidence of his thrift and
intelligence, Fritz returned to the Fatherland, arriving, I think, in
the end of '68 or the beginning of '69. His whole soul went forth in
Lutheran appreciation of the Providence which had moved in such a
trustworthy way, and which now seemed to be giving virtual guarantee
of continued fidelity to his interests.

"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 waggons behind us, and sometimes from the opposing bank
of the river.

"What the (sheol) 's that?" queried Dixon at length. "Gettin' sort o'
satis (adj.) superque."

"Cattle-pup," replied Thompson. "Millbank's people gave him to me
to--day. 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; and they're
all gone. Wonder how long I'll be allowed to keep this little cove?"

"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.



Chapter XIX.



Hear you this Triton of the minnows--
Mark you his absolute "shall."

--"Coriolanus," Act III., Scene 1.


"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 me a very ordinary and vulgar piece of
roguery," observed Lushington. "But I cannot even apprehend the
sentiment which must have actuated the lovers in their strange
decision."

"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," I said, "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 be, and the sooner the better. Disorder
from its very nature cannot be eternal. Now, approach this moral
tangle inductively--a posteriori, as Dixon would say--and you'll find
it based on the temporal considerations which must underlie every
ethical problem in a world where daily necessities and anxious
forecast make us men primarily, and only secondarily rogues or
loafers. Here, at the very outset, you're confronted by the immovable
fact that superfluous wealth in one class is always synchronised by
corresponding poverty in another class. That fact, as a fact, is of
neutral morality. But to bring the material and moral questions into
relation you will now inquire whether this disparity is for the best
or for the worst. And to arrive at a true answer, you must imagine
yourselves as gracing the very lowest walks of life, hearing in mind
that the thing hostile to your own higher interests is equally hostile
to the higher interests of your fellow--weed. You have answered. Then,
if there's any force in deductive--or, for Dixon's better
understanding, a priori--reasoning, we may be sure that while the
individual is encouraged to hold rights as against society; while to
the economic perdition of the many, the few are allowed to amass;
while private wealth carries the honor attached to the divine right of
aggression, misguided pedestrian beggars in great abundance will be
found to offer their kingdom for a horse, generally losing their
kingdom and getting no horse after all. Aggression is the divine right
of the mounted beggar, but, mark you, aggression is strictly limited
by the point of recoil on the opposing side, and by nothing else on
earth. And the line of human progress--carrying within itself the
redeeming point of recoil, is advancing toward the frontier of
absolute right. That boundary, by the way, will never be reached.
Mundane administration cannot attain perfection. The line of
perfection and the line of human progress may be taken as representing
a moral asymtote."

A non-committal grunt of acquiescence masked the dignified
mystification of our synod. We had forgotten Fritz by this time, and
the Colonel, like Satan, was leading us captive at his will.

"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 asymtote 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 fore-fathers, 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 the danger of some new style of slavery
that'll bring us a trifle below the level of dogs."

"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 18 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-racket 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 practice 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 the sun's light
and heat since life first appeared on this earth, Steve?" he asked.

"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 honored if the local demi-god 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.' O,
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 favorable 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 in 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 the free barbarian Gurth, said 1,300 years ago. See how history
repeats itself." The Senator paused and lit his pipe.



Chapter XX.



Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sin put on.
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows.
As I do now.

--"Othello," Act III., Scene 2.


"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 hemorrhage,
never without strenuous battle in field or senate, waged under
terrible disadvantages. 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 God interpose? Think over
that. God cannot interpose in this matter, except by miracle; and the
age of miracles is past. The Lord of those servants is gone into a far
country, leaving them in charge of his vineyard, with a guarantee
that, while the earth remaineth, summer and winter, and seed-time and
harvest, and day and night, shall not cease. The rest is ours. A fine
allegory--reiterated, evidently, for emphasis, in the guise of Pounds
or Talents entrusted for augmentation. Bear in mind that we are
responsible caretakers of the vineyard, not freeholders, or even
lessees. So also with the Many. Here the Eternal is a Usurer, and an
Austere Man. Now, there you have the grandest hypothesis ever
presented to mankind. We need look no further for a Scheme of the
Universe. Observe that there is one demand upon us, and only one--to
wit, consistent effort toward progressive betterment of this planet,
for the--for the--what shall I say in lieu of that parrot-phrase,
'Glory of God?' But how is that for an Increasing Purpose? Can you
improve upon it? And now tell me, boys, in what conceivable way you
think you can glorify God, except by working toward the elevation of
the human race, as a whole?--a movement which carries with it all
subordinate interests of the earth. To be sure, God has been very
considerably glorified since man differentiated himself from the apes.
But we are only on the threshold of progress yet, and it is manifestly
incumbent upon each one of us, freeman or slave--"

"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
evidence available. 'Hireling,' or 'hired servant,' in our translation
of sacred and classical literature, is always a term of reproach;
whilst 'servant'--which, in every instance, means either bondman or
vassal--carries the idea of servitude without ignominy. You may
remember that passage in the 'OEdipus Tyrannus' of Sophocles, wherein
a slave plumed himself upon belonging to his master: 'Born in his
house; no hireling I,' he says. And you're all familiar with the
parable of the Prodigal Son--"

"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, 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
unpurchasable 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.'"



Chapter XXI.



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 dare complain.
Though grief and passion there rebel;
I only know we loved in vain--
I only feel--farewell! farewell!

--Byron.


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 16 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 15,000
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 1,000 pfennings--"

"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 a 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 to skip ashore and hurry to the
railway station."



Chapter XXII.



The broken box of ointment
We never need regret.
For out of disappointment
Flow sweeter odors yet.

--Frances Ridley Havergal.


"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 10 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 only half a
year before, so there was good reason for Fritz's impatience. It even
occurred to him that Maginnis's clothes would be about his size. He
crossed the couple of hundred miles of country between Melbourne and
Tartpeena in record time, and presented himself at the door of the
Travellers' Rest, with a fluttering heart, for the sign intimated that
a person named Algernon Sidney was now authorised to dispense the
hospitalities of the bar. Here Fritz learned that a couple of months
after his own departure for Europe, Maginnis had gone to join his
brother-blockader, Isaacstein, in the Elysian fields. Mrs. Maginnis--
sole legatee of her husband's extensive Melbourne property--had gone
to the metropolis, to watch her interests. The Travellers' Rest was
already let, on lease, by the executors, on behalf of Jimmy, to whom
it had been bequeathed by his father.

"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 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 his arguments are. He has
Milton to back him for using 'cynosure' in that sense. Let's see--it's
in Comus, I think, yes:

"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 12 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 compelled 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 projection--"

"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 an hotel; and her rent-roll--as she casually remarked to
her lover--varied from 15 to 20 a 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 afterwards, 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 in Sandhurst and two carriers on the
track. We used to buy empty weatherboard houses at Sandhurst, and sell
them, re-erected on Spring Creek. Then, of course, you remember how
the second flood of '70 swamped every claim on Spring Creek beyond
remedy; and the last great alluvial diggings of Victoria was snuffed
out. Nineteen-twentieths of the people left Spring Creek immediately,
and among the exiles were Fritz and myself." The General paused, as if
losing himself in retrospect.

"That was 13 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 apothegm, for we instinctively
know, though the impression is not formulated, nor even apprehended,
that a lifework 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 frail
fallible and ephemeral, as the subject of his misplaced derision."



Chapter XXIII.



Come, Disappointment, come!
Though from Hope's summit hurl'd.
Still, rigid nurse, thou art forgiven.
For thou severe wert sent from heaven.
To turn mine eye
From vanity.
And point to scenes of bliss that never, never die.

--Henry Kirke White.


"BUT hold on," said Thompson, circumspectly, "you led us to think
that Mrs. Maginnis had houses to the value of 15 or 20 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 mis-statement. 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 Travellers'
Rest. Then, desiring to remove the encumberance 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 on the tide this time, and there was a stony glitter in
the eyes of the public. Meanwhile, so spirited and enterprising were
the directorates of these Dead Sea apples that his own city rents,
along with the surplus profits of the Travellers' Rest became, in the
literal, though by no means in the accepted sense, a sinking fund. At
last the time came when Maginnis stepped over to consult Isaacstien on
the retention of the unretainable--the only question that had occupied
either of the worthy men here, and, by every rule of growth and
continuity, the only question that can interest them whilst
individuality holds good. But compound interest had undermined the
city property before Mrs. Maginnis came into possession, and, of
course, she was fooled to the top of her bent by strictly practical
jokers of the Civil law. Excellent lent client as she was, she never
could make out how it happened; but, by the time of her second
marriage, somebody was impounding her rents as the agent collected
them, whilst offering the property for sale by private contract, with
a reserve price which merely represented the aggregate encumbrance,
inclusive of liberal pickings for the learned gentlemen who were so
dexterously piloting the lady through her little proceedings. By the
way, the Hebrew word for usury--neshek--signifies 'to devour.' The
poor woman, on mentioning the matter to her husband, went on to
asseverate that the loss of property didn't cost her a second thought,
as she still had Fritz, and indeed she had him to perfection.

"It was about 36 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 draw him aside and
show him a blue document, at the sight of which his heart became as
water. Everybody appeared to take an interest in him as he accompanied
his new friend ashore, whilst a marine officer's flippant remark--
'White headed boy ain't goin' eastward from Eden this trip, I
reckon'--sounded like the rippling of water on a drowned rat. Then he
saw in his dream, and behold his plain-clothes conductor signalled a
cab, whereupon 's of forfeited passage money surged on his
apprehension like the lost legions of Varus on the memory of Augustus.
There is no burlesque in the simile, let me tell you, boys, for the
question is one of estimation, not of mere magnitude. As with Claudio,
the poor fellow had offended, but as in a dream; nevertheless, they
were going to make it out a case of attempted wife-desertion within
the meaning of the Act. But all this was merely a preparatory
exercise, as the machinery of the phantasmagoria fell into working
order with a view to grinding out a series of transformation scenes,
each more gruesome than its forerunner, and the least intolerable
among them throwing his present ignominy into an aspect of idyllic
felicity. Edgar is right--'The worst is never come while we can say,
"This is the worst."' "Most of us have noticed, or will yet have
occasion to notice that when Nemesis gets her second wind."

"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 endeavoring 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 his forgiving wife--cheerfully
foregoing the sureties to which she was legally entitled--led him away
to listen to explanations which she felt certain would set his mind at
rest. It appeared that in addition to the difficulty of the mortgage
she had been, perhaps, a little extravagant--a not unusual feature, I
notice, in the character of the Irish-Australian. Business men, who
knew her as a customer, believed her to be well off and forced credit
on her--she being nothing loth. By the time these people had begun to
feel uneasy, Fritz was proudly appearing everywhere with her as her
accepted suitor; and a word in private between the business man
aforesaid and the manager of the bank which honored Fritz's cheques,
had paved the way to further credit for the lady. Fritz's personal
liability for her prior debts would, of course, date from the
completion of his polysyllabic signature to the marriage register. You
will perceive that he was still scoring.

"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 toward the
landlady seemed to indicate that policemen are but mortal. After this
blunder, the Mistletoe Bough became the best-watched house in
Melbourne. The stipendiary happened to be a man who shared Dixon's
healthy hostility to people with a foreign accent; and though Fritz
did the smallest Sunday business in town, the police and the Bench
managed to keep up a good reputation on him. He stood this for six or
eight months; but the gradient becoming steeper and steeper, and the
Englishman's hell in full blast coming more and more clearly into
view, he put down the brake, and went through for three half--crowns
in the pound. To return to our old metaphor, he was still scoring. He
opened the business at Spring Creek, with a capital reduced to about
200. On leaving Spring Creek, he went through again--this time for
one--and-six--and opened somewhere in the Wimmera, with a capital
still further diminished. He was in that quarter till Jimmy came of
age; then the family removed to the Travellers' Rest, where Mrs.
Wetterliebenschaff died. Fritz, having by this time finished his
superb break, laid up his cue, and took the back seat he has since
occupied. I'm very glad to notice that Jimmy is kind to the poor old
fellow. It is only his due, for no man could have excelled him as a
gentle, affectionate husband, and a considerate stepfather. May he
rest in peace."

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
adornment.



Chapter XXIV.



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.


"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 congenially 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 answer," replied the Colonel.
"But I submit that our hero was, in the first place, mentally limited,
and morally neutral, or nearly neutral; therefore I should say, an
evangelical environment would have made him a son of consolation,
though never a son of thunder--other mundane conditions of tutelage
being, of course, duly taken into account, along with the altogether
subordinate factor of heredity; and, finally, an almost imperceptible
margin allowed for human cussedness. Speaking broadly, the poor
fellow's environment is responsible for his failure."

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 gratefully. "As, for
instance, that the son of the gentleman brought up from earliest
infancy in a city slum may, by virtue of his pedigree, unfold
gentlemanly instincts, just as an eagle's egg hatched by a goose may
disclose an eagle."

"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?"

"Which business?"

"The business. Licensed victualling."

"No, Mr. Rigby," replied the clergyman, 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
afterwards ascertained that he was the owner of a thriving distillery.
But, Mr. Lushington, to what end do we impose restraint on the sale of
intoxicants? Why do you agitate for the still closer restriction of
Local Option, Prohibition or what not, and why do I argue for State
monopoly? Is it not because we wish to alter our environment for the
better by making the line of sobriety the line of least resistance?
Don't we, in this instance, admit that is allowing a very little for
heredity?"

"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 Usher's
chronology--latent for, say, 130 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.



Chapter XXV.



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 to-night, older and sadder, and not much wiser, thinking
of all the changes that have taken place since then. How well I
remember it. I had my feet on that root above Tom's head, for the
river was--"

"Specify your river, Steve," I interrupted airily, for it seemed
evident that either Thompson's reason or mine was reeling on her
throne.

"O, 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 to-night."

"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 be fit for a man to live in, which it ain't,
not by a long chalk."

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 garbed in the same verbal attire. (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 individuality 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
scheme and strive for easier conditions of life--some for their
fellowmen, others for themselves alone--forgetting that 'except the
Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the
Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'--Psalm cxxvii.,
2. We 'forsake the fountain of living waters and hew ourselves out
cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.'--Jeremiah ii., 13.
The real troubles of life are beyond our control; they are specially
sent for our good; and instead of endeavouring to evade them, we
should accept them as Divine trials of our individual faith. We
rightly call them 'tribulations'--the tribulum being the implement
used in Palestine for separating the corn from the chaff. Poverty is a
severe trial, as I know from experience. Wealth, rightly regarded, is
no less a trial--"

"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 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 own perverseness leads us to
the sinking-point with worldly theories and compromises, with human
predilections and antipathies, and unless these go overboard, the ship
itself cannot be saved. Paul's dangerous burthen consisted of his
Judaic formula. At the present day, one man's lading may be ritualism;
another's may be hollow enthusiasm; another's pure worldliness;
another's Socialism and Anarchism; but these must go overboard, or
their weight will founder the ship. 'What shall it profit a man if he
shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul; or what shall a man
give in exchange for his soul?'--Mark viii., 37."

"'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, 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.'--Daniel 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,
benefactors everywhere--all of which were designed to tend toward
spiritual growth. And He who is the same yesterday, to-day and for
ever, will continue to sit as a refiner and purifier of silver--
Malachi iii., 31--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 door-step.



Chapter XXVI.



Ay, let us think of him awhile.
That with a coffin for a boat.
Rows daily o'er the Stygian moat.
And for our table choose a tomb.

--Thomas Hood.


"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 the trapper, in
a voice now hoarse with suppressed emotion. "Let me go on with my
story."

"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. Laura had a weak chest through
overwork in her younger days, and now her health began to fail. By
this time we 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. 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 has 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 me that a change of climate
might restore her. He suggested Echuca, or the 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 the 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 the track in
the dark, and next day, between inexperience and anxiety of mind, I
got completely bewildered on the plains. I remember that toward
evening I found a tank, and slept beside it all night. At daylight I
started in what I thought was the right direction. I walked all day
without meeting anyone or seeing a habitation, and as evening came on
I reached a tank. Next morning I found it was the tank I had been at
before. I started off again, and at night I got back to the same tank.
How often this was repeated I cannot say, and how I subsisted during
that time I shall never know. At last a boundary rider found me,
barefoot and bare-headed, half-naked and half-delirious, but still
performing this terrible circuit. He treated me with great kindness--I
have found opportunity to thank him for it since--and as I insisted
upon pushing on, after staying a day and two nights in his hut, he
replaced my clothes and boots, and put me on a beaten track. During
the day I had often to lie down from sheer weakness, but I persevered
until, some time in the night, I found myself close to Deniliquin;
then I turned off the track and slept till morning. By this time it
was more than a fortnight since I had left Laura. I had written from
Echuca, and also from Deniliquin, and I knew there would be a reply
awaiting me for some time. When the post-office opened I was handed a
letter and two telegrams. One of the telegrams was four days old--
'Return immediately. Laura seriously ill.' The other, dated sixteen
hours before the time of delivery--'Come home. Laura sinking fast.' I
must have dropped the letter; I remember nothing of it except
receiving it.

"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 waggons 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 Melbourne, he told me
that if there were a policeman in sight he would give me in charge. No
doubt I looked disreputable, and of course an impostor could have told
the same story in the same way; but the refusal nearly broke my heart.
I made no further appeal to anyone. My last glimpse of hope was gone;
my last vestige of courage was gone; and, without any intention or
plan, I started southward on foot, weak and knocked-up as I was.

"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 alternative 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 seemed half-conscious of a dull aching in my limbs, and a burning
pain in the soles of my feet as I walked on. Someone called me
repeatedly; and I looked round to see, beside the road, a man lying in
the shade of a tree, with a newspaper in his hand; two waggons were
close by, and behind one of them a bay horse, feeding out of a box.
The man called me again; I went across to him, and sank down in the
shade, sick and giddy--"

"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 afterwards, I was on my way to Melbourne. Then the physical
reaction came. I felt a sudden sickness, with a ringing in my ears,
and I seemed to be falling, falling, falling hundreds of feet. My last
thought was that I might die before reaching Laura, and, even with the
help of my fellow--passengers, I only recovered as the train stopped
at Moama. From Echuca I sent a telegram, and about midnight I reached
the home of our two friends.

"Mrs. Lacy met me at the door, and told me what to expect. During the
terribly cold weather a few days before Laura had taken a turn, and
from that time on 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 so often for you in times past; and when
you come, I'll never feel my heart breaking for your trouble, 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 and bent over to catch the words:

"'Our Father which 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 tranquility; she was insensible to my affliction."

He paused abruptly.



Chapter XXVII.



This world is but the rugged road
Which leads us to the blest 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 Trans.")


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
spirit 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
who 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. O, 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
demeanor of the bullock driver became more pronounced. But, after a
minute's pause, Furlong continued, speaking now in a perfectly
composed tone--

"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 neverfailing 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 to-night."

"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 conceit, an' I dunno one
(adj.) man--not if he was fifteen stone--that gits over his work with
such credit as you do. You're like the bloke in the disturbance--'I'm
little,' says he, 'but, O God.' "

"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 justified in shutting your eyes to the future now
that you have opportunity to provide for the old age which, I trust,
you will be spared to see? Pardon me for saying that I think you
should accept your past experience as an evidence of what may happen
again when you will be less able to battle with the world than in your
younger days. Believe me, I appreciate unselfishness as a principle,
but you should be just before you are generous. You ought to reserve
something. You owe it to yourself."

"Well," replied Furlong, hesitating, "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 that I had led you to believe."

"Now, Mr. 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 to-morrow? I have no commercial motive in proposing it, but I
should like to see you safe."

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.



Chapter XXVIII.



...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, 1., 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 out-last the solar system. 'And
even to your old age, I am he; and even to hoar hair I will carry you;
I have made, and 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, not 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 that I
personally recognise is the very momentous one of forwarding the New
Order. Don't wilfully misconstrue me here or confuse the issue by a
shifting signification of the word 'thrift.' Remember, I hold that a
man's best work, cheerfully rendered in compensation for his
livelihood, is a primary component of the comprehensive duty I speak
of. I hold the idler as being already in the nethermost pit of
infamy--not so much the idler under the bridge, as the idler in the
drawing-room at Toorak or Potts Point--and I hold the prodigal, of
high or low degree, as almost equally infamous.

"So I trust we shall agree on the naked question of 'Thrift.' Honest
cheerful work, for the sustenance and enrichment and enlightenment of
the world we both admit to be a duty--but why tack on to this
obligation the altogether alien idea of accumulation? What a
despicable subterfuge it is to attempt to carry avarice on the back of
industry and economy along the narrow way. Why strive so hard to
combine the sense of property with the sense of duty, as if neither
could justify itself without the other? Why not allow each to find, or
fail to find, its own separate vindication? We are all Goethes--not in
respect of literary ability, perhaps, but in respect that we never
heard of a crime that we might not have committed. Say, if you will,
with Gloster, in 'Lear': 'As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
they kill us for their sport.' Granted. But that is the limit of their
province; they cannot disturb your Individualistic principles, nor my
Socialistic fads. Jehovah, through Moses, may enlist and exercise the
most formidable--"

"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-by."

"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 with a frankness
for which I solicit pardon beforehand, pleading only that the
argumentum ad hominem between--"

"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 commiseration.

"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 it over. 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 own 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 time 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
would enlighten the world he must die possessed of no gold except his
ear-rings. If Epictetus would point succeeding ages to a manlier life
he must leave no property beyond his little earthenware lamp. And so
on to infinity, Becket in cloth-of-gold was a mere butterfly; Becket
in hair-cloth was formidable. All that ministers to lust of the eyes
or the pride of life (and here you have a very large order), is fatal
to the kind of personal influence a moral leader must exercise.
Aurelius was more distinguished by the simplicity, the hardness, the
actual poverty, of his life, than by the exalted office he bore solely
for the good of his fellowmen, and the air of falsity which pervades
the teachings of Seneca is only too easily accounted for by his
private wealth. At least ninety per cent. of would be reformers have
stultified themselves by drifting into extraneous personal advantage.
Here, for instance, we have the secret of Rienzi's failure. I
purposely mix religion, ethics and sociology in this inquiry, because
they collectively cover so much ground that nothing worth quarrelling
over is left in the separate domain of any. It amounts to this: That
the man of substance, however he may otherwise serve society, can
never do so as a leader in religion or morals, never as a champion of
rights, never as a reformer."

"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 Nicomedus we infer, from certain passages in the Talmud, that
he lived a member of the Sanhedrim wealthy and respected, till the
fall of Jerusalem somewhat disturbed his family succession. Doubtless
he was admitted to Abraham's bosom as well as Lazarus--but that is not
the point. The point is, that having declined to take degrees as a
reformer, he missed the reformer's record."

"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.



Chapter XXIX.



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.


"KEEP the ball rollin' anyhow," urged Dixon. "Ain't of'en a lot of
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 40,000,000 times as much to me
as any personal provision which I might have been 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
forbodements. Why should he? He never saw his 37th birthday, and he
left the world incalculably his debtor--an obligation which the world
acknowledged, 25 years ago, by giving him the greatest centenary in
history. No doubt he had hard times--thanks to the criminal blindness
of his forefathers--but his mere anxiety didn't mend matters, and his
honest protest has made times better for us, just as our protest
should make times better for our successors. Thinking over these
things, I feel thankful that the work allotted to me as a co-operator
with the Power in whom we live and move and have our being, is of a
much more tangible kind than the providing against the indefinite by
means of the elusive. Hence my habitual process of thought leads me to
settle down into conspicuously imperfect performance of what I
conceive to be the programme of duty, feeling fairly confident that I
shall never be condemned to lag superfluous on the pay-sheet."

"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 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 to-night. 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 St. John
superannuated even then? No, according to promise, his age was clearer
than the noonday. Can we ever be superannuated in the sight of Him who
holds our lives in His hand to be resumed when He sees fit?"

"Certainly we can," replied the Colonel promptly, while Furlong
writhed in his seat. "St. John was an exception. He wasn't
superannuated, simply because in the days of his vigor he had not
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 lifework
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 when 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 of rise he
ought to repent. Got to die some time, right enough. Thank Mister Adam
(adj.) for that lot. By (sheol)--"

"Good enough for us," moaned 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 carried 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 legitimate demand. Let us
get at the facts. We lived in the last decade, in the last year, in
the last week. We are living now. But we are not living in the coming
week, in the coming year, in the coming decade. Now Human nature
dreads the temporal future. There is no getting away from that fact.
And to this anxiety some one of three palliatives is applied. Shall we
examine these consecutively? The worlding pulls down his barns, and
builds greater--or looks forward to doing so. That is the purely
secular provision, which is persistently and unmistakably condemned by
the founder of the religion we casually profess. Then the Stoic,
esteeming all material things as merely auxiliary to self-centred
integrity, holds himself prepared to withdraw from the world, rather
than become an encumbrance. That is the purely heroic provision, and I
confess it has a certain fascination. Lastly, the Christian,
concerning himself only with the obligation of life, whilst enjoying
its blameless amenities, calmly reposes on the abundant promises
contained in that book which he accepts as Divine revelation. That
provision is beyond comment, inasmuch as its seeming precariousness
never disturbs the confidence of its true partisans. But Furlong has
just now said the last word on this attitude of mind. However, these
three courses absolutely exhaust the elective possibilities of life.
Socialism, of course, simply aims at realising the Christian's
provision, per medium of an endowment policy endorsed by the whole
community. Meantime, a man may select any one of the three courses I
have quoted, but not a combination. Which two can you combine?"

"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 care for nothing beyond looking
upon the tanglefoot when it is long."

"Your observation would apply with more force to a bygone age,"
replied the Colonel gravely, "when the would-be worldling was held in
his place by the large, flat foot of Privilege; and the would-be Stoic
was kept in working order by the threat of having his soul firmly
staked down in the bottomless pit, and his body at the nearest cross-
roads; while the would-be Christian was cleverly thrown on the
herring-scent of royalty, nobility and gentry. Many corpses walk the
earth at the present day, no doubt; but, broadly speaking, every
living person, from fifteen years old and upward, belongs to one of
the three classes. Leaving the Stoic out, we now judge between the
worldling and the Christian--between the man who lays up treasure in
the shape of property, by exertions on his own behalf, and the man who
lays it up in the shape of life's record, by exertions on behalf of
others. I maintain that no man can make the two investments
conjointly, and I have the argument of congruity with me, not to speak
of the four evangelists. The difficulty of the question arises simply
from trying to blend two policies, not merely foreign, but mutually
hostile to each other. You will remember, Mr. Lushington, that you
have just now congratulated Furlong upon having found the pearl of
great price? Why, you hardly touched the metaphor. Follow it out
honestly, and see where it lands you. I say, Furlong, can you repeat
the passage word for word?"

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. Undoubtedly, from the Samuel Smiles'
point of view, this pearl trading is a fanatical speculation. Samuel's
pig-philosophy requires a new exegesis of the gospels--an exegesis
explaining that Christ was merely giving a lesson in Social etiquette
when, in a parable, He charged His followers, on being bidden to a
feast, to sit down in the lowest place, and so forth. Yet the metaphor
is an exceedingly happy one, for the effort to rise personally in the
world merely amounts to an indecent rush for the front seat. Just
analyse the figure of speech for yourselves, and its completeness will
grow upon you." The Senator paused to let his noisome teaching soak in.



Chapter XXX.



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.

"All very fine for you blokes to go fetching out your arguments about
right and wrong, and 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 working 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
came to be in this perdicament."

"To the point--who is she?" murmured the Colonel impatiently, but in
a voice audible only to his immediate neighbours. 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, and she was worth it, no matter how people
might cock up their noses 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 of my mouth. My ole man, he's got a slashin' farm not eighty
miles from where we're sitting--no occasion for saying which road.
Well, there was a girl come into our district, three years ago, and me
and her struck up together, and we was as right as rain for over
twelve months, and nobody would a dreamed anything could come between
us. But behold you, there comes a new bobby to the township--a feller
that was living separated from his wife--and before you could say
'knife' all the girls in the district was gone on the blasted hound.
He was an ole bloke too--forty, if he was a day,--but I notice these
ole married divils is always the worst. He was just about the ugliest
cur I ever did see, with a baird right up to his eyes, but the girls
they used to be always blathering about what a splendid-looking man he
was. It didn't trouble me; but I hated him from the first day I seen
him, an' that cove was the instigation o' me bein' here to-night. I
s'pose it was to be.

"Well, he'd got the place to himself, and a feller by the name o' the
'Old Skipper' cookin' for him, an' to-day you'd see him grinnin' at a
bar-maid; an' to-morrow you'd meet him in the bush with a girl on
horseback; an' nex' day you'd see another girl yarning 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 that Nora
had to come a good deal in his road, an' she was the nicest girl in
the district; an' O 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 a dog.

"But it come around one night that there was a big meeting 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 other 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, you might say, through backin' one of 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
over the top of Nora; an' he stops a minute to apologise, shakin' me
now an' again like a dog with a 'possum, an' me helpless on account of
the holt he had; an' then he runs me out an' shoves me in chokey, an'
back he goes to the meetin'. Course, I was bailed out that night, an'
when Court day comes I got clear with only a caution for makin' the
hit at the blasted varmin.

"Well, to my surprise, instead of Nora swearing off at him and
spittin' in his face if he spoke to her, she seemed sorter taken with
him, and naturally this grew into what you might call a coolness
between me and 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 reprehensible bravado which appears to be
confined to the nobler sex, "I was none of your greenhorns that butter
wouldn't melt in their mouths, 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 and
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 devil his due.

"Well, things dragged on for a couple or three months, an' me an'
Nora was as friendly as ever; but there was something about her I
couldn't make out, no road. At last, one night I was seeing 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 miles away; an' him, he
gammoned he wanted to go the same road on some business, so what does
he do but he gets a buggy and away goes the two o' them--her kickin'
herself all the time for letting 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 driving 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 a 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 making 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. O never mind, it's
alright--or, at least, it'll be alright 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 to-night. Course,
I mightn't git him for another month, but he's booked to go. The laugh
will be on my side then. Puttin' in a spoke for poor ole Nora, too--
knocking over two birds with one stone, as the sayin' is. Present time
I got the patience of Job. I left a good home three months ago to
learn him what a fool he was to think I was safe for him to blow his
nose on. I got a fair idea where to lay wait for him this time, he's a
gift to me when I get him in range. Now I've said it."

"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,' thus saith
the Lord."

"Didn't you say this bloke wanted hanging?" retorted the other. "Is
the Lord going to hang him? Does the Lord hang a feller for makin' an
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 them from starving, 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 flogging? 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
of punishing 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 law. If it was
middlin' decent a cove might spring a bit to suit it; but it ain't
even middlin'; it's the rottennest, disgracefullest, d--dest thing
from here to hell."

"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 such
mullock-brained, flamin' ijiots as to say God bosses that. Mind you I
believe in God; but He's just got as much to do with law as He's got
to do with--God eternally damn 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, still under the glamour of the thirty-
pounder. The sport had hitherto consisted partly in getting our hooks
caught on sub merged roots, and partly in having our bait 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 halfmoon, 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," remarked the irrepressible
Colonel, addressing his contracted audience.

"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 to-night.
'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
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 is 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
Dictator. "No, Steve, she has cost him too much. Let me explain. Man,
in a not unpraiseworthy diversion of selfishness, instinctively
overvalues 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 been, and is, morally deformed
from this time forward. In point of fact, Nora's honor is an eminent
consideration, the sun and centre of a little universe, while our
friend's dignity is a small affair, an insignificant satellite
pertaining solely to his insignificant self. But, cramped by a self-
centred standard of honor, he began by allowing this moon eclipse that
sun; and now he will stultify himself by ignoring both. A strain of
Irish-Catholic in his incorrigible Anglicanism would have helped his
Australian sensitiveness to a truer sense of proportion, to a nicer
point of honor, and a higher perception of justice. And it is the lack
of this nobler incentive--felt, though not formulated, which will
paralyse his vindictive purpose, and send him home an apostate from
vengefulness, yet not a convert to anything better. However, such a
capacity for single-hearted resentment commands respect, even though
it be so poorly backed by moral discrimination. Sir, I like a good
hater."

"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.

Pluck--swish.



Chapter XXXI.



"I have slain the Mishe-Nahma.
Slain the King of Fishes," said he.

--Longfellow.


"I thought I would get him," remarked Furlong quietly, as his pliant
rod bent to a semicircle. 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
discussions, 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 to-night," 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, with 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 to the surface; but at all events, he
couldn't get entangled, and he would keep fresh. Then, in tacit
unanimity, we all furled our lines, and began to climb the bank.

"Assuredly, Mr. Binney," resumed the Judge, as the two made their
way up the steep slope, "a greater number of private fortunes have
been dissolved and redistributed (amongst English-speaking people, at
least,) since the middle of this 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 firelight, 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 an old garment. And I maintain--"

"Good-night," laughed Binney, extending his hand. "I must break
loose, sooner or later. Come on, Harold."

"O, 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 force of argument. An ounce of fact is worth a mile of
theory, they say; and while he was piling it on sky-high, I just
thought of a bit of logic that would knock all his reasons and proofs
into a cocked hat."

"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 waggon 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 waggon 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."



Chapter XXXII.



The Hills that shake, although unriven.
As if an eathquake 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. "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
waggon. I was getting eight notes a ton; so I could expect no mercy,
and 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 waggon. 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. Must have caught alight just before I saw it, for it was no
width, but that didn't make any difference to me, considering that we
were both in the Mallee together. However, it happened to be a calm
day, bar a breath of wind now and then. So when I got back within a
couple of hundred yards of the waggon, I lit the near side of the
track and gee'd off into the porcupine, intending to get past the fire
and then cross the track into the burnt ground. But I had only made
matters a trifle worse, for in five minutes the new fire was on both
sides of the track. So I bethought myself of an island of hop-bush
half a mile away, on the same side as I was on, and I went for it at
the rate of knots, with the fire lathering along behind me roaring
like fury, and the sun invisible for smoke. The bullocks faced the
porcupine without a flinch, for they knew what was up as well as I
did, and I'd have made the Island right enough, only for the infernal
thing that's on me.

"The first glimpse I got of some galahs in the hopbush, 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 waggon badly. The pole happened to be none too
good, on account of a wrench it got the 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 a broken pole, so I just
unhitched the horse from the back of the waggon, 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 waggon and there she was, safe in the burnt ground, with nothing
on fire except a case of kerosene standing on top of 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 everything, but I had hopes
of saving all the load, bar the kerosene and the cask it was standing
on, and if the sundries happened to be anything fireproof I might save
them, too. At all events, my first thought was full of real pious
thankfulness--hedging a little (if you understand me) till I would see
how things turned out.

"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 imagined."

"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 waggon and went over to it and gathered
it in my arms. I just remember turning round towards the waggon, 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 best. Reminded me of the
abomination of desolation. In spite of Rigby's very complimentary
insinuation that I'm a skite and a liar, the waggon was gone, body and
bones, and the principal thing that was left was a smell of powder.
There was a sort of wombat hole in the ground, where she had stood,
and a quarter of an acre of the burnt mallee was badly knocked about;
and outside of this you might see such a thing as a spud, or an onion,
or half a bar of soap, or a partly empty flour bag, or the matting off
a tea chest. The hind part of the waggon was about forty yards away,
lying in a heap, with the axle torn off the bed and bent two double,
and both wheels knocked into firewood, and a whole swag of brass wire
out of a piano tangled round the lot. The only thing that was in
decent order was the fore-carriage and front wheels, lying upside
down, about twenty yards away. It was like something you would dream
about. And to make matters better, I had carefully hung my coat on a
Mallee near the waggon when I started fighting the fire, and where it
went to I'll never know till the day of Judgment."

"(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 sun-down. I made
my way back to where I had left the bullocks, but they had wandered
off across the burnt ground, with the horses 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 Collaman 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 give an account of my load. I believe I'd have
suicided, only I was too infernal frightened."

"Is that your anti-Socialistic argument, Steve?" asked the Major.

"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 to-night,
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 against that Eight-Mile-Mallee, as the poet
says.

"I bethought me that I had seen a good heavy platform waggon 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 waggon, 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
misfortune; and, if you'll believe it, from that day to this, Stewart
would neither take the waggon back or listen to one word about paying
for it. 'Damn your soul,' says he, 'can't you keep the (adj.) thing
till I ask for it?'"

"Well, strictly speakin', Stewart don't count," observed Dixon.
"Divil thank him, he's a (adj.) Christian, he is. Here, wire in, young
fellow" (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 waggon," 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.



Chapter XXXIII.



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 a fearsome
mnemonic power of an unlettered but brainy man. "Is she straight?
There ain't no '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 to-morrow. Say,
them ole Latiners knowed how to git the loan of a feller (adj.) 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 whipstack
sapling, trimmed clean of its leaves and twigs, and growing on the
brink of the river. On visiting this line in the morning, I had found
the sapling bent down to the water, and had easily landed an exhausted
codfish of thirty-two pounds. Inside him I had found another of
fifteen pounds; inside him another of six-and-a-half pounds; inside
him again, one of two pounds; inside him (if the cynical reader can
stand it), a bream of half-a-pound; and, inside the bream, the maggot
still serviceable. This story had grown, by healthy and unconscious
accretion, round a small, central core of fact, retaining so perfectly
the form of its nucleus that, if you were to hear me tell it, you
would perceive in a moment that the relation held no loop or hinge to
hang a doubt on; so you would just try to excel it. This was what the
other fellows did; but when Lushington over--reached himself with a
haul of eels from a Northward running Victorian river, our synod broke
up in grief and mortification, though the unhappy man remained
unconscious of his own outrage on decency.

"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 the 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 aborigine appurtenance of my slumber,
with the woolly side in, and spread it on a clear space, near Dixon's
waggon, removed his own bedroom suite from the waggonette, 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 labours and his infatuation
during the quartercentury he had devoted to meddling in matters beyond
the workman's legitimate field of enquiry, and I retrospectively noted
the perverse and enthusiastic young Bayard slowly and surely
petrifying into the perverse and crotchetty old zealot, though,
necessarily, in this casual memoir he passes with barely an
introduction.

"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 seemed 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
blemishes bitterly enough, and wisely enough to attack them at their
source. One object only he has in common with the mass of his
disciples--the object, namely, of their own economic advantage. Beyond
this point, his Satanic isolation begins. To Brown, Jones and Robinson
material prosperity is in itself a sufficient end, an end beyond which
their sober wishes never learned to stray; to him the same temporal
well-being is but a necessary means toward unprecedented expansion of
latent moral, mental, and physical faculties. He recognises, as
clearly as we do, the chaste beauty of plain living and high thinking;
but he also knows that when living is forced down to a certain degree
of plainness, the thinking is not likely to be as lofty as could be
desired; and herein lies the goading motive of his harsh evangel. To
brand him fanatic, is just--the just penalty of being born too soon;
to picture him wild-eyed, long-haired, and unwashed, may or may not be
just, and indeed makes little difference either way; but interested in
the way intended, merely furnishes impertinent people with a standard
whereby to gauge the moral stature of the censor.

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 companion's soul, happily
vouchsafed to me when our acquaintance was only a couple of years old.

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 chores. 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.



Chapter XXXIV.



This wreck of 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 to-night; 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 hansel of good to come."

"I'm glad to hear it," said I with sincerity. "I couldn't make you
out to--night 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
Socialist harvest is plenteous, however few the labourers 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 ardour. 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."

"Oh, you're speaking of your commission with the Emperor Nicholas.
Don't you see it's a failure, and likely to continue so?"

"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
Palingenesia. 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 to be cognisant only of certain
facts, which may be ticked off consecutively. Here they are. Up to the
present generation popular intelligence advanced, at best, by
arithmetical progression. The outcome is a thing that serves all the
useful purposes of oppression. Oppression maketh a wise man mad. A
wise man mad is formidable; and wise--at least, relatively wise--men
are not as scarce now as formerly. Nothing but large and repeated
concessions on the part of the classes can avert a collision. The
classes will make no adequate concession, and the new wine will burst
the old bottles. There you have the argument of a drama in which the
Socialist takes no part beyond that of the Greek Chorus--mouth of the
author's principles and sympathies. But at the close of this drama,
the Socialist takes the leading part. The blind reaction from an
individualism grown unendurable will not take him by surprise. His
spirit is acclimatised to the new order; and he is therefore qualified
to stand as the prophet of hope in a doomed and perishing system. Now,
let's hear your second quibble."

"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
his 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 gig or a tale of bawdry, or they sleep."

"You were on the religious racket to-night, 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 would
call non-religious I usually find the most apt, inasmuch as he is
already free from the incrustation of sanctified selfishness. State
Socialism must be built on a foundation of religion rightly so-called.
There is no other foundation possible. Note any moral characteristic,
or social usage, of any race or nation, and you'll find some religious
tenet underlying it. And what appears to be the most inspiriting sign
attendant on our movement is the intensely religious, the fearlessly
righteous tone of its current literature. The opposing literature is
of necessity frankly materialistic, if transparently evasive; and
herein lies the most encouraging weakness of the individualistic
position. But even that position requires the soothing justification
of religion; wherefore the clergy of all denominations, by judicious
suppression, perversity and manipulation, of what they call the
revealed will of God, make shift to meet the requirement. The
resultant is a poor religion, sir, an ill favoured thing, sir, but
their own. This leads up to another consideration; to wit--"

"I beg your pardon, Major," I interposed, "You were saying you got a
pleasant surprise this afternoon?"

"Ah, yes. I got two letters to-day, forwarded from Echuca. One 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 the opportunity to watch the two trial machines that were in
operation last harvest, down in the late districts, and at the 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 then in sight--I wrote to Milligan Brothers, offering my
services again, and leaving the question of wages with themselves. I
had their reply this afternoon, written as a memo. on the corner of my
letter. They declined to employ an agitator."

"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 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 at 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 slave holders as an
interesting moral question. In the guise of an abstract idea, it was
highly fashionable; but presently it assumed the form of a concrete
policy, and then, then, the righteous anger of the former sentimental
theorists found expression in assasination, lynching, tarring and
feathering. So it will be with Socialism. But passive waiting is weary
work. De Foe, in the pillory for liberty of conscience; earless, but
unconquerable; Wesley, dripping from a horsepond, yet intrepidly
preaching what he conceived to be the truth; old John Brown, doggedly
insisting upon his own execution as a felon by State Law; it seems to
me that under such stimulating conditions the squalor of human life is
half cancelled, and pride becomes pardonable."

"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 waggon, 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 of me at the time, on chance of another (adj.)
persecution. Wouldn't suit me no (adj.) road. I'd say, 'Slack off, for
Goesake; I'll confess anything you (adv.) well like.' Cripes, yes;
like a bird. (Adv.) little pigheadedness about this child, if there
was any get out. Anyhow, them sort o' things is did away with now; an'
we got a right to be 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.) orient, as Dixon would say. Nothing exists but Brahm. Far away
back in the genesis of time, Brahm took 40 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 we will pass away, as if we
never had existed. In fact, we never did exist, except as immaterial
conceptions in that momentary."



Chapter XXXV.



Nay, lay thee down and roar.
For thou hast kill'd the sweetest innocent
That e'er did lift up eye.

--Othello, Act VII, Scene II.


"----"

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?"

"O, 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. O 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 the 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 pretending to recognise
her and remember her, when I might turn out to have been merely a
resident of her neighbourhood when she was a child. On the other hand,
if I actually did know her, it would never do to have forgotten her.
Women are very sensitive to this kind of remissness; they regard it as
a slight. So, in order to gain time, and to get a better grasp of the
position, I excused myself for an hour, on the plea of attending to
something at my camp. I intended asking you to post me up a little,
for you have spent an hour or two in her company, and she talks well.
I was to have returned at eight o'clock--but then, the ruck of the
company and that accursed thirty-pounder... What will she think of me
now? Heaven above."

"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 kind 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 says," 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 shuddered at the
thought of having such a flower of womanhood for a wife."

"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. O 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.

"O shut up. It's dreadful--damnable--beyond precedent, and beyond
forgiveness--" And thus the unfortunate Major continually reviled
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.



Chapter XXXVI.



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 50 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 systems 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 round
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 epicurian 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 threshed away all the tracks; then threw the branch into
the river. Everything being thus nicely tidied up, I slipped back to
my nest and went to sleep again--after noticing, by the way, that
Smith was saddling his horse for an early start. Another good hand at
keeping appointments, I thought.

"Awake, olian 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 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 towards 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 dollup 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.

"O, 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 purely objective, and entirely foreign to
anything like curiosity or solicitude. The bushman must know all that
may become a man; anything that he doesn't know (to quote the
antediluvian proverb) isn't worth knowing. So, after a seemly
interval, Dixon yawned, stretched himself, glanced round the sky in
casual observation of the weather; then took down a towel from the
branch of a sapling and a piece of soap from the stump, and sauntered
towards the river. Each of us equipped himself in a somewhat similar
manner, and listlessly drifted in the same direction. We found Dixon,
with his back to the fish, ostentatiously washing his face, and we all
followed his example, conversing apathetically about one thing or
another. "Native cats?" I speculated at last, indicating the organic
remains by a backward inclination of my head, after I had done
washing.

"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 Dasyuridae, 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 the 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'
again, he's spotted white on top o' black, but that's on'y a case of
exceptio probat (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 Deacon arrayed
himself to wait on his country woman. I offered to accompany him, and
he gladly consented, waiting with some impatience whilst I recovered
pup's chain and secured the faithful animal in a shady place to give
his banquet a chance of sacking down wholesomely. Thompson on his way
to Binney's rode beside us as far as the Pub. Then the General, silent
and perturbed, followed me into the front parlour.



Chapter XXXVII.



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 mantlepiece. "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 whilst Lizzie was hurrying up
some sort of a breakfast. She said she had a headache, but it would go
away with the fresh air; 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
mantlepiece.

"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.

"O 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 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 9 o'clock, or five minutes past, 'ain't you
going to see Mr. Collins?' Says she, 'you was taken with him to-day,'
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? O yes, she had a long talk with him--or, properly 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've never
seen her again till this morning. She came from the same place as you,
Mr. Ribgy, 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 know. 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 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 waggonette in charge of these people and borrow
Steve's old horse for a day or two. That's all practicable. Follow
Miss Vanderdecken to Echuca; you'll be there almost as soon as she.
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 the truth 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
Maginnis 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 (goodmorning, Fritz) die
out by the process of the suns. And a hopeless prospect that is, for
if there is a man alive whose whole moral being is one comprehensive
register of foregone sensations (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
advantage 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."

"You 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 the 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 was thinking
of Miss Vanderdecken--

Must she too bend, must she too share

Thy late repentance, 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 standpoint, 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 reopened, 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 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?"

"Fernyhurst," I replied, after a moment's consideration. "Sam
Fernyhurst. 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
platting 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 bullockdriver, won from his up-country reticence by Lushington's
genuine sympathy, was now giving his own spiritual experience with
child-like 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 my way.



Chapter XXXVIII.



Spare her, I pray thee if the maid is sleeping.
Peace with her, she has had her share 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 interests in the further fortunes of Miss Vanderdecken, I
shall be pleased to lay before her the only scrap of information I
possess. But I warn her (the reader, of course, not Miss V.) that I
have only style of narrative--take it or leave it.

Towards 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, six or eight weeks after 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 16/--in his pocket. In fact, he was
composing a sonnet to the evening star. The bay mare, with her
equipment, had cost 45/--at a saleyard in Hay, and was not likely to
fetch a higher price in Echuca. She was a broken-down racer, blind in
one eye, and the saddle and bridle kept her 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 salt-bush 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
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
7 ft. height, 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 you poppin' up, Collins? I s'pose you was a bit cut up at bein'
disappointed o' seeing 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 idea 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 Melbn'e. What's come o' them two black horses o'
yours?"

"Gone."

"Sold?"

"Shook."

"You was tellin' Em you had two mates in a speculation, how about
them?"

"Same box. Similarly cleaned out. Right 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 idea
who worked the oracle on you?"

"Two fine, smart, up-to-date chaps; men that knew every inch of the
country from here to 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 that 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 with this
friend till the middle of the night, and then cleared for our camp,
with a strong dust-storm in my face. Not a star to be seen for dust,
an' no moon that night. Not a spark of fire where I expected to find
the camp, but I came to the conclusion that Spooner and Rory had been
dainty enough to shift somewhere else on account of the wind. So I lay
down, and went asleep with an easy mind. At the first break of day I
woke up, half-buried in sand, and the first thing I distinguished 40
yards away was a man shaking the sand out of his ears. It turned out
to be Spooner. He had slipped over to the town just before sunset to
have three more words with a drapery-girl that he had been engaged to
for the last couple of years. She wanted him to attend Evening Service
with her, but he excused himself on account of his clothes, and so
missed the chance of balancing for a busy day spent in worldly
affairs. A lame pretext, too, for the clothes were brand new; and he
wasn't in a position to be independent--if he had only known it."

"Right. I bin there myself," interposed Sam, approvingly.

"At all events, he left the town about 9 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 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 around after the camp for some hours as well as
ourselves.

"The fact was, 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 with Pete and Dan, on the one hand, and the Recording Angel on
the other. Our only concern lies in the fact that our whole plant was
gone, and gone in a sand-storm that hadn't left five yards of
identifiable horse-tracks in the county of Waradgery. But if there's
any sense in the balderdash about foeman worthy of your steel, we had
at least the satisfaction of knowing that our fugitive antagonists
were past masters in geography. An experience of this kind helps a
person to realise the magnificent extent of Australia. That's all. Did
you see much of Miss Vanderdecken during the time that she stayed in
Echuca?"

"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 understand 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 than a hundred notes out of pocket; and he
offered Spooner and me fifty notes each, to repay our loss and
disappointment. Of course, we weren't on; but eventually we accepted a
fiver each to help us on the war path. Spooner's in chase still, last
thing I heard from him. So Miss Vanderdecken was gone before the
Deacon came?"

"She went away in the morning, and he come in the afternoon. Think
Spooner's got any possible o' collerin' 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."

"What for?"

"Horse-stealin'."

"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 re-shake 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 week's 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 that 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 when the Colonel was goin' fishin' that night,
after he'd been yarnin' with Miss Vanderdecken, I heard him tellin'
Maginnis he'd be goin' to Echucar in a week for good. Course, he
didn't get there for another week. Great ole preachin' we had that
night down at the river. Mind you, there's a lot in it. Things is
drawin' towards a change, an' us Socialists is no more responsible for
the comin' revolution than the petrel is for the storm it
prognosticates. Mere matter of evolution. A hundred years ago we
thought all we wanted was a fair field an' no favor, on a gospel
accordin' to poor Richard; but now we find that sort o' thing means
the survival o' the greediest. Restraint's the thing we want now,
considering that the old order gets shunted, makin' room for the new,
for fear of one good system blue--mouldin' the world; an' God fulfils
himself in lots o' ways. Mind you, Individualism would suit me all to
pieces. I'd strip for the spin from Log Cabin to White House,
figuratively speakin', without givin' a beggar how good the company
was; but I'm thinkin' about the fellers that can't run for sour muck,
no odds what dons they are other ways. It's so in social--economics.
An' it's no use sayin' the dominant classes ought to do this an' ought
to do that. Ought, be dashed, they won't do it. But it'll be did all
the same. They tell you inventions an' science an' all manner o' labor
savin' things ain't goin' to stan' still for the sake o' the workin'
class. 'Right,' says we, 'Excelsior's the watchword of science at
large,' says we. Social--economic is quite as much as physical, an'
social-economics ain't goin' to stan' still for the sake o' the
sharkin' class. Same time, we ain't ready yet... We ain't schooled. As
Gronlund says--or I wouldn't be sure but what it's the prophet
Hosear--'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.' But how
long'll it take to break the galoots in? Couple or three generations,
says you? Well, it'll take about ten years, at the outside. You'll
edicate a man up to it in two years--if he ain't a fat-head
altogether--an' it don't take any longer to edicate a million head o'
fellers nor one straggler. See, I'm allowin' eight years to come and
go on. Fust the poet and the sage has got to enlighten the people;
then the statesman's got to organise the national policy; then, you
see, we got the man with the rifle--an' that's the beggar we want. We
want to sling the onus of rebellion on the monopolist. Course, he
says, 'Hold on, I stand out,' 'No, I'm dashed if you do,' says we;
'fall into line quick, or by gosh we'll straighten you.' As Pompey
said to the Memertines, 'Why will you prate of privileges to men with
swords in their hands?' Makes me laugh."

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 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 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' gettin' in touch with fellers that's got their brains lower down.
Anyhow, athletics is no objection to study, s'posen 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 out for a bit of a
drive up the river road, where you an' us begun to overtake one
another, if you remember. I say, why didn't you snap Miss
Vanderdecken? She was fair collared on you that afternoon. I could see
it stikin' out a mile, simple as I gammoned to be."

"She knew the Major in the old country, didn't she?" I conjectured.

"Noddin' acquaintance, likely. Gosh, ain't he a disy? 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 find 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 ridgment. Strikes me, my
little star ain't a bit too st--kin--' is she? Used to wish I was an
ole bloke, but now I'm glad I got so much in front of me. I'll just be
in the thick of it--won' 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 cock-tail 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 Gutenburg, an' then
to the long line o' prophets, from Rousseau to Bellamy, there is at
last a Daniel for every Writin' 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 as 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.

"Eh?"

"Nothing, Sam."

"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 to-day?"

"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 all 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 to--morrow, 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 o' 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, too
dignified to look round, stuck two fingers in his mouth, and replied
in kind.

"Central Umpire," he remarked indifferently. "S'pose I must go and
have a welt at this bag o' wind. I'm goal-sneak. Wish you could stop
and 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
towards 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.



Chapter XXXIX.



The gentle Knight, who saw their rueful case.
Let fall a down his silver beard some tears.
"Certes," quothe 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 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 every-day 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 towards some Ultimate Good--then, measuring the consummation
by its incalculable cost, that Good may be taken as the Inconceivable
Best.

Ay, but--mortal men, Hal, mortal men. And women still more
inveterately mortal. Mortality is here emphasised, not in trite
confession of its precarious nature, 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 of, but precisely
the reverse. In fact, the avoirdupois will assert itself, carrying not
only its physical vulgarities, but also those attributes interwoven
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 Interminate 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 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 hedonistic calculus."
Why the words would die on your lips, in pure shame of their cruel
falsity.

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, elusive; 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 50 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 martyr's amaranth. 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!



THE END



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