« AnkstesnisTęsti »
cockatoos came screaming to roost on a sheoak tree that overhung the chain of ponds. The sun went down. The cockatoos grew dimmer and dimmer in the dusk, and wide-winged moths began to flit about. The trees lost their shapes, and the dark bush all round felt rather lonely. However, I soon fell asleep. When I awoke, the moon was shining full on my face, and I was so cold that I was obliged to get up and tramp about for a bit. Every blade of coarse grass and little pebble-grain was clear in the moonlight. The treetops in the distance were plated with light, which looked like silver laid on bronze, with the bronze still showing through. It was a glorious night for a walk. I felt half inclined to go on, but I had not had my sleep out, and I lay down again. When I woke next, the sun was shining on my face, and I felt very hungry. I had a dip in the nearest water-hole, using my pocket-handkerchief for towel, and then laying it upon my shoulder to dry as I walked. Hungry though I was, the bush in its morning freshness was delicious. Later on in the blazing summer day bush-fragrance sometimes becomes rather headachy, like church incense; but in the fresh, still, almost cool summer-morning, such scents are simply exquisite—they inspirit you like a genuine Elixir Vitæ. Nevertheless, I did feel very hungry --and very glad when after half-an-hour's walk I came upon a roadside public-house. It was one of those places whose consumption of solids and liquids is Falstaffian in its proportions one to another. Perhaps if I had ordered a meal, the house would not have condescended to cook one for me,—would simply have offered me eleemosynary cold food as a friendly acknowledgment of my paid-for nobblers. But the house happened to be eating its own breakfast, and so I got one of tea and whisky and damper and salt butter and bacon and beefsteaks and grapes. I forget what I had to pay for my share of this somewhat curious mixture, but I remember that it seemed to me, according to the Australian tariff of prices, a very trifling sum, although, thinking that I might be able to feed only once a day, like the lion, I had taken the lion's share of the repast.
On again, past a man who is leading by a rope tied to a ring through its nose, a vicious-eyed pedigree-bull, limping from its own fatness; past a brick police-barrack, garrisoned by three troopers in uniform trousers, and mufti shirt-sleeves and cabbage-tree hats, somnolently smoking, in spite of the youngness of the day, with their spurred heels cocked up on chairbacks and their braces dangling on the floor ; one woman perspiring over her washing-tub; and a swarm of yellow-brown, flaxen-haired, blue and brown-eyed chubby children, scampering about, half, and in one case, stark naked. The day was even hotter than the day before had been. When a spider-wheeled American car full of “ Christy” Minstrels, and constantly looking as if it would come to wreck against some stump, or founder in some rut (but never doing so, though the horses spanked on like a fire-engine team) passed me in one direction, and the crammed, and more lumbering mail-waggonette with its carbine-armed guard, went by me on the other, the passengers looked at the hapless being who was “padding the hoof,” without even being able to “hump the swag” (I should have considered that a very doubtful blessing), with pity mingled with suspiciously wondering contempt. I was constantly thinking, that, in Charles Lamb's phrase, I had “ walked a pint,” but publics 'were few and very far between, and when reached, had no beer to offer except atrocious “ colonial ale”-i.e. stuff as nice as
swipes” and yet causing delirium tremens. How grateful was I when I came to a hut at which grapes were sold for about the price at which Portuguese grapes can be bought in London, but far fresher ; how grateful for the draught of water given me by the pretty little newly married woman who, from the door of their half-canvas house, had been watching her husband ploughing in the cultivation-paddock; how trebly grateful when I reached an inn which professed to sell “ Genuine English Ale," and mine host went down to his cellar, and did bring me up a genuine cool, strong pint of it, with the hops floating in the big rummer like seaweed in an amber lagoon. Thunder was beginning to growl, threatening a downfall, and I was getting footsore ; but that humming pint sent me on again like the Flying Pieman.
Hitherto my journey had been almost on the level, and, therefore, somewhat monotonous. But now I had to mount a hill, and saw a wide-wooded Australian landscape rich with long darts of sunset light, and gloomed over by thunder-clouds, a little darker than a far-off range of leaden-purple hills. The thunder growled on for a time, and now and then I saw a flash of distant lightning, but there was no rain, although down in a flat below a melancholy curlew was wailing as if it expected wet. Night fell, but under the influence of the humming ale I still trudged on. A little
off the road I saw a red light blinking like a sleepily sullen lion's eye. It was the dying fire of a camped-out traveller, snoring with his head pillowed between the hairy flannel linings of his saddle-flaps. I turned in a little farther on, in a ruined, almost roofless hut, and went to sleep to the lullaby of a frog croaking on the cracked brick hearth and the cry of the silent-winged moreporks. A hideously guffawing laughing jackass, perched on a bough right above me, awoke me before dawn, and then went on guffawing in chorus with its fellows, as if it enjoyed the joke. When the diabolical din had ceased, I shut my still tired eyes again and slept until after eight o'clock. The day was already intensely hot, and it went on getting hotter and hotter. The pretty little variegated diamond sparrows were hopping about me, and the sooty swifts were rushing about screaming overhead like chimney-sweeps intoxicated with joy at having got to heaven. It was time for me to be off. No water being near, I had to content myself that morning, like Nicholas Nickleby, with “a dry polish," and started in the uncomfortable frame of body and mind which is the natural result of a sleep in one's clothes without subsequent ablutions. I had not got far, however,
before I saw beneath me a winding, shrunken river, with a tiny township on its hither bank, and hurried down for a wash and a breakfast. Half an hour's walk carried me to the little township-such a funny little township! Most of the bye-streets running at right angles from the two parallel main streets—of course called George Street and Pitt Street (or Macquarie Street-I forget which)---were grassy lanes dotted with white clover, and bounded by grey-fenced paddocks. The township owned also a grey-fenced pound, a weather-board flour-mill, in which the floury master-miller, with a floury copy of Wesley's Hymns in his hand, was disputing with his floury journeyman on Predestination, a red-brick English Episcopalian church, a whitebrick Roman Catholic church, an iron Presbyterian church, a stone Methodist chapel, a plastered Free church of no denomination, an old store turned into a Congregational meeting-house, two stores, also of weather-board, still devoted to their original purpose, a red-brick police barrack, a red-brick court-house, a few private houses—most slab huts little better than bark gunyahs, but others verandahed, weatherboard cottages, veiled with passion-flower and begirt with orange trees in fruit and blossom, and three or four weatherboard or brick public-houses, or inns as they called themselves. The oldest, at which the local J.P.'s nobblerised with their hail-fellow-well-met insubordinate subordinate, the equally legally unlearned C. P. S., and such of the plaintiffs and defendants and witnesses in the cases they had been deciding as they thought“ respectable” enough to be admitted to their society, dignified itself with the title of the Royal Hotel. It was, I repeat, a very funny little township. Even in its main thoroughfares tree-stumps were uneradicated. The inns were the only places in it which seemed awake. Horses were hung up there on the hooks of the verandah-posts, and bullock-teams stood outside, the bullocks, tormented by the flies, rattling their yokes in their vain attempts to run their horns into one another, whilst their masters drank and chatted, wrangling or yarning, at the bars. On the farther side of the river there were two bullock-teams waiting to ford. In one a stubborn strawberry-coloured beast lay down and obstinately refused to stir. He was in the middle of the team, and managed so that his mates couldn't move him. So the other team was hooked on to him, and dragged him slantingly into the shrunken stream. When fairly in the water, he began to lash out and splash; and then yot up, and did his work, thoroughly cured of his recusancy.
I was preparing to take off my boots and stockings to cross, when a man with a water-cart offered to give me a lift, and so I made the passage astride upon the barrel. When I had crossed, I dragged my legs over miles of arid ridge and gully. The dry soil was so bare of grass, that it was a puzzle to guess whence the metallic-looking trees derived their nutriment. Almost the only animal life I saw for hours, was a great, gaunt iguana clambering up one of the trees, and looking at me, as it popped out its head now on this side, and now
on that side of the bole, with wearily wicked, most uncanny eyes. The sun beat hot upon my head. I soon could scarcely crawl along. I was mad with thirst, but nothing could I get to drink. Time after time I went out of my way, deceived by a semi-delirious imagination that to right or left I heard the sound of running water. At last, in a “crab-hole "—the hardened print of a bullock's foot-I found some liquid stuff, semi-liquid stuff, the colour and almost the consistency of coffee-grounds. I went down on my knees, and lapped it up as if it had been nectar.
Ere long, however, I had a superfluity of moisture. The thunder, which had for some time been growling, roared so that the ground seemed to shake; I was forced to cover my almost blinded eyes, as the pink, blue, and sulphur-coloured lightning zigzagged down to my very toes; and the rain came down as if the sky were the cistern of one huge shower-bath, and its bottom had fallen out.
A drenched, dirty, disreputable-looking object, I dragged my sodden weary legs into the next township, at which my wanderings were to end, just as the setting sun had struggled through the broken rain-clouds, and was turning dripping green into dazzling gold.
Here, too, was a weatherboard, verandahed Royal Hotel, and at my supper in it, I am almost ashamed to say, I drank seriatim two reputed quarts of Bass, and then I had a pipe of negrohead; and then, piloted by the pretty, amused daughter of the house, I departed to my bedchamber, and fell asleep as I snuggled into its snowy sheets as if I never meant to wake again.
When I did awake in the morning, the gigantic jolly Irish local Clerk of Petty Sessions was sitting at my bedside.
“Isn't your name Howe, and arn't you going to mee friend, Mr. Kay's of Matta-Matta ?”
I replied that my name was Howe, and that I did hope to get to Matta-Matta, which I had been given to understand was not far off.
“I thought so—sure I did, when I first seen ye—but how the divil did ye come to come in such a plight ?”
I related my adventures.
“Well, I've hearrd from mee friend O'Connor in Sydney about ye, and he said ye was a good fellow, and he tould me to look after
yeand I will; but I didn't think ye was such a fool as ye are. Kay will be precious savage. Why, divil take it, man, if ye'd tould them at the Southampton Arms you was comin' to him, they'd have let ye stop for iver, and he'd have sent a horse to meet ye. But come along, man, get up, will ye, and dress yourself, and come down to your breakfast. They've got it ready for ye, though they thought last night ye was an escaped lunatic from Tarban Creek. And I'll have the horse put in, when I've called at the post office, to drive yo over to Matta-Matta."
THE ODD TEN MINUTES.
THERE was once a man—I think it was a divine—who boasted of having written a commentary in the time he snatched from waste while he was waiting for his wife to finish dressing. I am not so ready to settle down as this ungallant gentleman appears to have been, and cannot even take notes while I am on the tenter-hooks of uncertainty in waiting for this, that, or the other. But it usually happens while I am brushing my hat, or buttoning a glove, or lounging about at breakfast, or fuming while a sandwich-box is being filled for me, that I have one eye on books and newspapers. Internally I make observations at such times upon what I read, and I propose to take the liberty of giving part of the result of an actual bonâ fide ten minutes of such pottering.
INTRODUCTION (1800 to 1815) TO THE HISTORY OF THE PEACE.
BY HARRIET MARTINEAU. The marginal figure of page vii. of Chapter I. of this book is " 1800.” In the middle of the same page occurs the following passage : -“ On the 23rd of August, 1799, [Napoleon] told his army in Egypt by a short letter ' in consequence of news from Europe I have determined immediately to return to France.' Early in October, says our matter-of-fact Annual Register, Bonaparte landed suddenly at Fréjus in Provence, like a spirit from another world. Before the last sun of the century had set, he was the greatest potentate of the world."
At this point a critical reader of the volume has put in the margin the following pencil note : “ 1799 ! see pages ix, and xxi." And the words “last sun of the century” are underlined.
Now let us turn to page ix. In this place we find Harriet Martineau has just mentioned the year 1800, and continues :-“ By the middle of June in this last year of the century, Napoleon had gained the battle of Marengo.” Here the same reader has underlined the words “this last year of the century," and placed in the margin the pencil note :-“1800. See pages vii. and xxi.”
At page xxi. after mentioning August 2nd, 1800, as the date of the last meeting of the Irish Parliament, Harriet Martineau uses the words, “ On the last day of the year and of the century," and our friend again makes a pencil note, this time referring us to pages ix. and xxi.
Well, let us go back to the first of the three marginal notes. The (!) after the 1799 looks as if the critic, assuming that his author on that page treated 1799 as the last year of the century, wished to