Part 1 out of 5
MY BRILLIANT CAREER
A few months before I left Australia I got a letter from the bush signed
"Miles Franklin", saying that the writer had written a novel, but knew
nothing of editors and publishers, and asking me to read and advise.
Something about the letter, which was written in a strong original hand,
attracted me, so I sent for the MS., and one dull afternoon I started to
read it. I hadn't read three pages when I saw what you will no doubt see
at once--that the story had been written by a girl. And as I went on I saw
that the work was Australian--born of the bush. I don't know about the
girlishly emotional parts of the book--I leave that to girl readers to
judge; but the descriptions of bush life and scenery came startlingly,
painfully real to me, and I know that, as far as they are concerned, the
book is true to Australia--the truest I ever read. I wrote to Miles
Franklin, and she confessed that she was a girl. I saw her before leaving
Sydney. She is just a little bush girl, barely twenty-one yet, and has
scarcely ever been out of the bush in her life. She has lived her book,
and I feel proud of it for the sake of the country I came from, where
people toil and bake and suffer and are kind; where every second
sun-burnt bushman is a sympathetic humorist, with the sadness of the bush
deep in his eyes and a brave grin for the worst of times, and where every
third bushman is a poet, with a big heart that keeps his pockets empty.
England, April 1901
ONE. I REMEMBER, I REMEMBER
TWO. AN INTRODUCTION TO POSSUM GULLY
THREE. A LIFELESS LIFE
FOUR. A CAREER WHICH SOON CAREERED TO AN END
FIVE. DISJOINTED SKETCHES AND CRUMBLES
SEVEN. WAS E'ER A ROSE WITHOUT ITS THORN?
EIGHT. POSSUM GULLY LEFT BEHIND. HURRAH! HURRAH!
NINE. AUNT HELEN'S RECIPE
TEN. EVERARD GREY
TWELVE. ONE GRAND PASSION
FOURTEEN. PRINCIPALLY LETTERS
FIFTEEN. WHEN THE HEART IS YOUNG
SIXTEEN. WHEN FORTUNE SMILES
SEVENTEEN. IDYLLS OF YOUTH
EIGHTEEN. AS SHORT AS I WISH HAD BEEN THE MAJORITY OF SERMONS
TO WHICH I HAVE BEEN FORCED TO GIVE EAR
NINETEEN. THE 9TH OF NOVEMBER 1896
TWENTY. SAME YARN (Cont.)
TWENTY-ONE. MY UNLADYLIKE BEHAVIOUR AGAIN
TWENTY-TWO. SWEET SEVENTEEN
TWENTY-THREE. AH, FOR ONE HOUR OF BURNING LOVE, 'TIS WORTH AN AGE
OF COLD RESPECT!
TWENTY-FOUR. THOU KNOWEST NOT WHAT A DAY MAY BRING FORTH
TWENTY-SIX. BOAST NOT THYSELF OF TOMORROW
TWENTY-SEVEN MY JOURNEY
TWENTY-EIGHT. TO LIFE
TWENTY-NINE. TO LIFE (Cont.)
THIRTY. WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS, 'TIS FOLLY TO BE WISE
THIRTY-ONE. MR M'SWAT AND I HAVE A BUST-UP
THIRTY-TWO. TA-TA TO BARNEY'S GAP
THIRTY-THREE. BACK AT POSSUM GULLY
THIRTY-FOUR. BUT ABSENT FRIENDS ARE SOON FORGOT
THIRTY-FIVE. THE 3RD OF DECEMBER 1898
THIRTY-SIX. ONCE UPON A TIME, WHEN THE DAYS WERE LONG AND HOT
THIRTY-SEVEN. HE THAT DESPISETH LITTLE THINGS, SHALL
FALL LITTLE BY LITTLE
THIRTY-EIGHT. A TALE THAT IS TOLD AND A DAY THAT IS DONE
Possum Gully, near Goulburn,
N.S. Wales, Australia, 1st March, 1899
MY DEAR FELLOW AUSTRALIANS,
Just a few lines to tell you that this story is all about myself--for no
other purpose do I write it.
I make no apologies for being egotistical. In this particular I attempt
an improvement on other autobiographies. Other autobiographies weary one
with excuses for their egotism. What matters it to you if I am
egotistical? What matters it to you though it should matter that I am
This is not a romance--I have too often faced the music of life to the
tune of hardship to waste time in snivelling and gushing over fancies and
dreams; neither is it a novel, but simply a yarn--a _real_ yarn. Oh! as
real, as really real--provided life itself is anything beyond a heartless
little chimera--it is as real in its weariness and bitter heartache as the
tall gum-trees, among which I first saw the light, are real in their
stateliness and substantiality.
My sphere in life is not congenial to me. Oh, how I hate this living
death which has swallowed all my teens, which is greedily devouring my
youth, which will sap my prime, and in which my old age, if I am cursed
with any, will be worn away! As my life creeps on for ever through the
long toil-laden days with its agonizing monotony, narrowness, and
absolute uncongeniality, how my spirit frets and champs its unbreakable
fetters--all in vain!
You can dive into this story head first as it were. Do not fear
encountering such trash as descriptions of beautiful sunsets and
whisperings of wind. We (999 out of every 1000) can see nought in sunsets
save as signs and tokens whether we may expect rain on the morrow or the
contrary, so we will leave such vain and foolish imagining to those poets
and painters--poor fools! Let us rejoice that we are not of their
Better be born a slave than a poet, better be born a black, better be
born a cripple! For a poet must be companionless--alone! _fearfully_ alone
in the midst of his fellows whom he loves. Alone because his soul is as
far above common mortals as common mortals are above monkeys.
There is no plot in this story, because there has been none in my life or
in any other life which has come under my notice. I am one of a class,
the individuals of which have not time for plots in their life, but have
all they can do to get their work done without indulging in such a luxury.
I Remember, I Remember
"Boo, hoo! Ow, ow; Oh! oh! Me'll die. Boo, hoo. The pain, the pain!
"Come, come, now. Daddy's little mate isn't going to turn Turk like that,
is she? I'll put some fat out of the dinner-bag on it, and tie it up in
my hanky. Don't cry any more now. Hush, you must not cry! You'll make old
Dart buck if you kick up a row like that."
That is my first recollection of life. I was barely three. I can remember
the majestic gum-trees surrounding us, the sun glinting on their straight
white trunks, and falling on the gurgling fern-banked stream, which
disappeared beneath a steep scrubby hill on our left. It was an hour past
noon on a long clear summer day. We were on a distant part of the run,
where my father had come to deposit salt. He had left home early in the
dewy morning, carrying me in front of him on a little brown pillow which
my mother had made for the purpose. We had put the lumps of rock-salt
in the troughs on the other side of the creek. The stringybark roof of
the salt-shed which protected the troughs from rain peeped out
picturesquely from the musk and peppercorn shrubs by which it was densely
surrounded, and was visible from where we lunched. I refilled the
quart-pot in which we had boiled our tea with water from the creek,
father doused our fire out with it, and then tied the quart to the D of
his saddle with a piece of green hide. The green-hide bags in which the
salt had been carried were hanging on the hooks of the pack-saddle which
encumbered the bay pack-horse. Father's saddle and the brown pillow were
on Dart, the big grey horse on which he generally carried me, and we were
on the point of making tracks for home.
Preparatory to starting, father was muzzling the dogs which had
just finished what lunch we had left. This process, to which the dogs
strongly objected, was rendered necessary by a cogent reason. Father had
brought his strychnine flask with him that day, and in hopes of causing
the death of a few dingoes, had put strong doses of its contents in
several dead beasts which we had come across.
Whilst the dogs were being muzzled, I busied myself in plucking ferns and
flowers. This disturbed a big black snake which was curled at the butt of
a tree fern.
"Bitey! bitey!" I yelled, and father came to my rescue, despatching the
reptile with his stock-whip. He had been smoking, and dropped his pipe on
the ferns. I picked it up, and the glowing embers which fell from it
burnt my dirty little fat fists. Hence the noise with which my story
In all probability it was the burning of my fingers which so indelibly
impressed the incident on my infantile mind. My father was accustomed to
take me with him, but that is the only jaunt at that date which I
remember, and that is all I remember of it. We were twelve miles from
home, but how we reached there I do not know.
My father was a swell in those days--held Bruggabrong, Bin Bin East, and
Bin Bin West, which three stations totalled close on 200,000 acres. Father
was admitted into swelldom merely by right of his position. His pedigree
included nothing beyond a grandfather. My mother, however, was a
full-fledged aristocrat. She was one of the Bossiers of Caddagat, who
numbered among their ancestry one of the depraved old pirates who
pillaged England with William the Conqueror.
"Dick" Melvyn was as renowned for hospitality as joviality, and our
comfortable, wide-veranda'ed, irregularly built, slab house in its
sheltered nook amid the Timlinbilly Ranges was ever full to overflowing.
Doctors, lawyers, squatters, commercial travellers, bankers, journalists,
tourists, and men of all kinds and classes crowded our well-spread board;
but seldom a female face, except mother's, was to be seen there,
Bruggabrong being a very out-of-the-way place.
I was both the terror and the amusement of the station. Old
boundary-riders and drovers inquire after me with interest to this day.
I knew everyone's business, and was ever in danger of publishing it at an
In flowery language, selected from slang used by the station hands, and
long words picked up from our visitors, I propounded unanswerable
questions which brought blushes to the cheeks of even tough old
Nothing would induce me to show more respect to an appraiser of the runs
than to a boundary-rider, or to a clergyman than a drover. I am the same
to this day. My organ of veneration must be flatter than a pancake,
because to venerate a person simply for his position I never did or will.
To me the Prince of Wales will be no more than a shearer, unless when I
meet him he displays some personality apart from his princeship--otherwise
he can go hang.
Authentic record of the date when first I had a horse to myself has not
been kept, but it must have been early, as at eight I was fit to ride
anything on the place. Side-saddle, man-saddle, no-saddle, or astride were
all the same to me. I rode among the musterers as gamely as any of the
big sunburnt bushmen.
My mother remonstrated, opined I would be a great unwomanly tomboy. My
father poohed the idea.
"Let her alone, Lucy," he said, "let her alone. The rubbishing
conventionalities which are the curse of her sex will bother her soon
enough. Let her alone!"
So, smiling and saying, "She should have been a boy," my mother let me
alone, and I rode, and in comparison to my size made as much noise with
my stock-whip as any one. Accidents had no power over me, I came
unscathed out of droves of them.
Fear I knew not. Did a drunken tramp happen to kick up a row, I was
always the first to confront him, and, from my majestic and roly-poly
height of two feet six inches, demand what he wanted.
A digging started near us and was worked by a score of two dark-browed
sons of Italy. They made mother nervous, and she averred they were not to
be trusted, but I liked and trusted them. They carried me on their broad
shoulders, stuffed me with lollies and made a general pet of me. Without
the quiver of a nerve I swung down their deepest shafts in the big bucket
on the end of a rope attached to a rough windlass, which brought up the
miners and the mullock.
My brothers and sisters contracted mumps, measles, scarlatina, and
whooping-cough. I rolled in the bed with them yet came off scot-free. I
romped with dogs, climbed trees after birds' nests, drove the bullocks in
the dray, under the instructions of Ben, our bullocky, and always
accompanied my father when he went swimming in the clear, mountain,
shrub-lined stream which ran deep and lone among the weird gullies,
thickly carpeted with maidenhair and numberless other species of ferns.
My mother shook her head over me and trembled for my future, but father
seemed to consider me nothing unusual. He was my hero, confidant,
encyclopedia, mate, and even my religion till I was ten. Since then I
have been religionless.
Richard Melvyn, you were a fine fellow in those days! A kind and
indulgent parent, a chivalrous husband, a capital host, a man full of
ambition and gentlemanliness.
Amid these scenes, and the refinements and pleasures of Caddagat, which
lies a hundred miles or so farther Riverinawards, I spent the first years
of my childhood.
An Introduction to Possum Gully
I was nearly nine summers old when my father conceived the idea that he was
wasting his talents by keeping them rolled up in the small napkin of an
out-of-the-way place like Bruggabrong and the Bin Bin stations. Therefore
he determined to take up his residence in a locality where he would have
more scope for his ability.
When giving his reason for moving to my mother, he put the matter before
her thus: The price of cattle and horses had fallen so of late years
that it was impossible to make much of a living by breeding them. Sheep
were the only profitable article to have nowadays, and it would he
impossible to run them on Bruggabrong or either of the Bin Bins. The
dingoes would work havoc among them in no time, and what they left the
duffers would soon dispose of. As for bringing police into the matter, it
would be worse than useless. They could not run the offenders to earth,
and their efforts to do so would bring down upon their employer the wrath
of the duffers. Result, all the fences on the station would be fired for
a dead certainty, and the destruction of more than a hundred miles of
heavy log fencing on rough country like Bruggabrong was no picnic to
This was the feasible light in which father shaded his desire to leave.
The fact of the matter was that the heartless harridan, discontent, had
laid her claw-like hand upon him. His guests were ever assuring him he
was buried and wasted in Timlinbilly's gullies. A man of his
intelligence, coupled with his wonderful experience among stock, would,
they averred, make a name and fortune for himself dealing or
auctioneering if he only liked to try. Richard Melvyn began to think so
too, and desired to try. He did try.
He gave up Bruggabrong, Bin Bin East and Bin Bin West, bought Possum
Gully, a small farm of one thousand acres, and brought us all to live
near Goulburn. Here we arrived one autumn afternoon. Father, mother, and
children packed in the buggy, myself, and the one servant-girl, who had
accompanied us, on horseback. The one man father had retained in his
service was awaiting our arrival. He had preceded us with a
bullock-drayload of furniture and belongings, which was all father had
retained of his household property. Just sufficient for us to get along
with, until he had time to settle and purchase more, he said. That was
ten years ago, and that is the only furniture we possess yet--just enough
to get along with.
My first impression of Possum Gully was bitter disappointment--an
impression which time has failed to soften or wipe away.
How flat, common, and monotonous the scenery appeared after the rugged
peaks of the Timlinbilly Range!
Our new house was a ten-roomed wooden structure, built on a barren
hillside. Crooked stunted gums and stringybarks, with a thick underscrub
of wild cherry, hop, and hybrid wattle, clothed the spurs which ran up
from the back of the detached kitchen. Away from the front of the house
were flats, bearing evidence of cultivation, but a drop of water was
nowhere to be seen. Later, we discovered a few round, deep, weedy
waterholes down on the flat, which in rainy weather swelled to a stream
which swept all before it. Possum Gully is one of the best watered spots
in the district, and in that respect has stood to its guns in the
bitterest drought. Use and knowledge have taught us the full value of its
fairly clear and beautifully soft water. Just then, however, coming from
the mountains where every gully had its limpid creek, we turned in
disgust from the idea of having to drink this water.
I felt cramped on our new run. It was only three miles wide at its
broadest point. Was I always, always, always to live here, and never,
never, never to go back to Bruggabrong? That was the burden of the grief
with which I sobbed myself to sleep on the first night after our arrival.
Mother felt dubious of her husband's ability to make a living off a
thousand acres, half of which were fit to run nothing but wallabies, but
father was full of plans, and very sanguine concerning his future. He was
not going to squat henlike on his place as the cockies around him did. He
meant to deal in stock making of Possum Gully merely a depot on which
to run some of his bargains until reselling.
Dear, oh dear! It was terrible to think he had wasted the greater part of
his life among the hills where the mail came but once a week, and where
the nearest town, of 650 inhabitants, was forty-six miles distant. And
the road had been impassable for vehicles. Here, only seventeen miles
from a city like Goulburn, with splendid roads, mail thrice weekly, and a
railway platform only eight miles away, why, man, my fortune is made!
Such were the sentiments to which he gave birth out of the fullness of
his hopeful heart.
Ere the diggings had broken out on Bruggabrong, our nearest neighbour,
excepting, of course, boundary-riders, was seventeen miles distant.
Possum Gully was a thickly populated district, and here we were
surrounded by homes ranging from half a mile to two and three miles away.
This was a new experience for us, and it took us some time to become
accustomed to the advantage and disadvantage of the situation. Did we
require an article, we found it handy, but decidedly the reverse when
our neighbours borrowed from us, and, in the greater percentage of cases,
failed to return the loan.
A Lifeless Life
Possum Gully was stagnant--stagnant with the narrow stagnation prevalent
in all old country places.
Its residents were principally married folk and children under sixteen.
The boys, as they attained manhood, drifted outback to shear, drove, or
to take up land. They found it too slow at home, and besides there was
not room enough for them there when they passed childhood.
Nothing ever happened there. Time was no object, and the days slid
quietly into the river of years, distinguished one from another by name
alone. An occasional birth or death was a big event, and the biggest
event of all was the advent of a new resident.
When such a thing occurred it was customary for all the male heads of
families to pay a visit of inspection, to judge if the new-comers were
worthy of admittance into the bosom of the society of the neighbourhood.
Should their report prove favourable, then their wives finished the
ceremony of inauguration by paying a friendly visit.
After his arrival at Possum Gully father was much away on business, and
so on my mother fell the ordeal of receiving the callers, male and
The men were honest, good-natured, respectable, common bushmen farmers.
Too friendly to pay a short call, they came and sat for hours yarning
about nothing in particular. This bored my gentle mother excessively. She
attempted to entertain them with conversation of current literature and
subjects of the day, but her efforts fell flat. She might as well have
spoken in French.
They conversed for hours and hours about dairying, interspersed with
pointless anecdotes of the man who had lived there before us. I found
them very tame.
After graphic descriptions of life on big stations outback, and the
dashing snake yarns told by our kitchen-folk at Bruggabrong, and the
anecdotes of African hunting, travel, and society life which had often
formed our guests' subject of conversation, this endless fiddle-faddle of
the price of farm produce and the state of crops was very fatuous.
Those men, like everyone else, only talked shop. I say nothing in
condemnation of it, but merely point out that it did not then interest
us, as we were not living in that shop just then.
Mrs Melvyn must have found favour in the eyes of the specimens of the
lords of creation resident at Possum Gully, as all the matrons of the
community hastened to call on her, and vied with each other in a display
of friendliness and good-nature. They brought presents of poultry, jam,
butter, and suchlike. They came at two o'clock and stayed till dark. They
inventoried the furniture, gave mother cookery recipes, described
minutely the unsurpassable talents of each of their children, and
descanted volubly upon the best way of setting turkey hens. On taking
their departure they cordially invited us all to return their visits, and
begged mother to allow her children to spend a day with theirs.
We had been resident in our new quarters nearly a month when my parents
received an intimation from the teacher of the public school, two miles
distant, to the effect that the law demanded that they should send their
children to school. It upset my mother greatly. What was she to do?
"Do! Bundle the nippers off to school as quickly as possible, of course,"
said my father.
My mother objected. She proposed a governess now and a good
boarding-school later on. She had heard such dreadful stories of public
schools! It was terrible to be compelled to send her darlings to one;
they would be ruined in a week!
"Not they," said father. "Run them off for a week or two, or a month at
the outside. They can't come to any harm in that time. After that we will
get a governess. You are in no state of health to worry about one just
now, and it is utterly impossible that I can see about the matter at
present. I have several specs. on foot that I must attend to. Send the
youngsters to school down here for the present."
We went to school, and in our dainty befrilled pinafores and light shoes
were regarded as great swells by the other scholars. They for the most
part were the children of very poor farmers, whose farm earnings were
augmented by road-work, wood-carting, or any such labour which came
within their grasp. All the boys went barefooted, also a moiety of the
girls. The school was situated on a wild scrubby hill, and the teacher
boarded with a resident a mile from it. He was a man addicted to drink,
and the parents of his scholars lived in daily expectation of seeing his
dismissal from the service.
It is nearly ten years since the twins (who came next to me) and I were
enrolled as pupils of the Tiger Swamp public school. My education was
completed there; so was that of the twins, who are eleven months younger
than I. Also my other brothers and sisters are quickly getting
finishedwards; but that is the only school any of us have seen or known.
There was even a time when father spoke of filling in the free forms for
our attendance there. But mother--a woman's pride bears more wear than a
man's--would never allow us to come to that.
All our neighbours were very friendly; but one in particular, a James
Blackshaw, proved himself most desirous of being comradely with us. He
was a sort of self-constituted sheik of the community. It was usual for
him to take all new-comers under his wing, and with officious good-nature
endeavour to make them feel at home. He called on us daily, tied his
horse to the paling fence beneath the shade of a sallie-tree in the
backyard, and when mother was unable to see him he was content to yarn
for an hour or two with Jane Haizelip, our servant-girl.
Jane disliked Possum Gully as much as I did. Her feeling being much more
defined, it was amusing to hear the flat-out opinions she expressed to Mr
Blackshaw, whom, by the way, she termed "a mooching hen of a chap".
"I suppose, Jane, you like being here near Goulburn, better than that
out-of-the-way place you came from," he said one morning as he
comfortably settled himself on an old sofa in the kitchen.
"No jolly fear. Out-of-the-way place! There was more life at Bruggabrong
in a day than you crawlers 'ud see here all yer lives," she retorted with
vigour, energetically pommelling a batch of bread which she was mixing.
"Why, at Brugga it was as good as a show every week. On Saturday evening
all the coves used to come in for their mail. They'd stay till Sunday
evenin'. Splitters. boundary-riders, dogtrappers--every manjack of 'em.
Some of us wuz always good fer a toon on the concertina, and the rest
would dance. We had fun to no end. A girl could have a fly round and a
lark or two there I tell you; but here," and she emitted a snort of
contempt, "there ain't one bloomin' feller to do a mash with. I'm full of
the place. Only I promised to stick to the missus a while, I'd scoot
tomorrer. It's the dead-and-alivest hole I ever seen."
"You'll git used to it by and by," said Blackshaw.
"Used to it! A person 'ud hev to be brought up onder a hen to git used to
the dullness of this hole."
"You wasn't brought up under a hen, or it must have been a big Bramer
Pooter, if you were," replied he, noting the liberal proportions of her
figure as she hauled a couple of heavy pots off the fire. He did not
offer to help her. Etiquette of that sort was beyond his ken.
"You oughter go out more and then you wouldn't find it so dull," he said,
after she had placed the pots on the floor.
"Go out! Where 'ud I go to, pray?"
"Drop in an' see my missus again when you git time. You're always
"Thanks, but I had plenty of goin' to see your missus last time."
"Why, I wasn't there harf an hour wen she had to strip off her clean duds
an' go an' milk. I don't think much of any of the men around here. They
let the women work too hard. I never see such a tired wore-out set of
women. It puts me in mind ev the time wen the black fellers made the gins
do all the work. Why, on Bruggabrong the women never had to do no outside
work, only on a great pinch wen all the men were away at a fire or a
muster. Down here they do everything. They do all the milkin', and
pig-feedin', and poddy-rarin'. It makes me feel fit to retch. I don't
know whether it's because the men is crawlers or whether it's dairyin'. I
don't think much of dairyin'. It's slavin', an' delvin', an' scrapin' yer
eyeballs out from mornin' to night, and nothink to show for your pains;
and now you'll oblige me, Mr Blackshaw, if youll lollop somewhere else
for a minute or two. I want to sweep under that sofer."
This had the effect of making him depart. He said good morning and went
off, not sure whether he was most amused or insulted.
A Career Which Soon Careered To An End
While mother, Jane Haizelip, and I found the days long and life slow,
father was enjoying himself immensely.
He had embarked upon a lively career--that gambling trade known as dealing
When he was not away in Riverina inspecting a flock of sheep, he was
attending the Homebush Fat Stock Sales, rushing away out to Bourke, or
tearing off down the Shoalhaven to buy some dairy heifers.
He was a familiar figure at the Goulburn sale-yards every Wednesday,
always going into town the day before and not returning till a day, and
often two days, afterwards.
He was in great demand among drovers and auctioneers; and in the stock
news his name was always mentioned in connection with all the principal
sales in the colony.
It takes an astute, clear-headed man to keep himself off shore in stock
dealing. I never yet heard of a dealer who occasionally did not
temporarily, if not totally, go to the wall.
He need not necessarily be downright unscrupulous, but if he wishes to
profit he must not be overburdened with niceties in the point of honour.
That is where Richard Melvyn fell through. He was crippled with too many
Utopian ideas of honesty, and was too soft ever to come off anything but
second-best in a deal. He might as well have attempted to make his
fortune by scraping a fiddle up and down Auburn Street, Goulburn. His
dealing career was short and merry. His vanity to be considered a
socialistic fellow, who was as ready to take a glass with a swaggie as a
swell, and the lavish shouting which this principle incurred, made great
inroads on his means. Losing money every time he sold a beast, wasting
stamps galore on letters to endless auctioneers, frequently remaining in
town half a week at a stretch, and being hail-fellow to all the spongers
to be found on the trail of such as he, quickly left him on the verge of
bankruptcy. Some of his contemporaries say it was grog that did it all.
Had he kept clear-headed he was a smart fellow, and gave promise of doing
well, but his head would not stand alcohol, and by it he was undermined
in no time. In considerably less than a twelvemonth all the spare capital
in his coffers from the disposal of Bruggabrong and the Bin Bins had been
squandered. He had become so hard up that to pay the drovers in his last
venture he was forced to sell the calves of the few milch-cows retained
for household uses.
At this time it came to my father's knowledge that one of our bishops had
money held in trust for the Church. On good security he was giving this
out for usury, the same as condemned in the big Bible, out of which he
took the text of the dry-hash sermons with which he bored his fashionable
congregations in his cathedral on Sundays.
Father took advantage of this Reverend's inconsistency and mortgaged
Possum Gully. With the money thus obtained he started once more and
managed to make a scant livelihood and pay the interest on the bishop's
loan. In four or five years he had again reached loggerheads. The price
of stock had fallen so that there was nothing to be made out of dealing
Richard Melvyn resolved to live as those around him--start a dairy; run it
with his family, who would also rear poultry for sale.
As instruments of the dairying trade he procured fifty milch-cows, the
calves of which had to be "poddied", and a hand cream-separator.
I was in my fifteenth year when we began dairying; the twins Horace and
Gertie were, as you already know, eleven months younger. Horace, had
there been any one to train him, contained the makings of a splendid man;
but having no one to bring him up in the way he should go, he was a
churlish and trying bully, and the issue of his character doubtful.
Gertie milked thirteen cows, and I eighteen, morning and evening. Horace
and mother, between them, milked the remaining seventeen.
Among the dairying fraternity little toddlers, ere they are big enough to
hold a bucket, learn to milk. Thus their hands become inured to the
motion, and it does not affect them. With us it was different. Being
almost full grown when we started to milk, and then plunging heavily into
the exercise, it had a painful effect upon us. Our hands and arms, as far
as the elbows, swelled, so that our sleep at night was often disturbed by
Mother made the butter. She had to rise at two and three o'clock in the
morning, in order that it would be cool and firm enough to print for
Jane Haizelip had left us a year previously, and we could afford no one
to take her place. The heavy work told upon my gentle, refined mother.
She grew thin and careworn, and often cross. My father's share of the
work was to break in the wild cows, separate the milk, and take the
butter into town to the grocer's establishment where we obtained our
Dick Melvyn of Bruggabrong was not recognizable in Dick Melvyn, dairy
farmer and cocky of Possum Gully. The former had been a man worthy of the
name. The latter was a slave of drink, careless, even dirty and
bedraggled in his personal appearance. He disregarded all manners, and
had become far more plebeian and common than the most miserable specimen
of humanity around him. The support of his family, yet not, its support.
The head of his family, yet failing to fulfil the obligations demanded of
one in that capacity. He seemed to lose all love and interest in his
family, and grew cross and silent, utterly without pride and pluck.
Formerly so kind and gentle with animals, now he was the reverse.
His cruelty to the young cows and want of patience with them I can never
forget. It has often brought upon me the threat of immediate
extermination for volunteering scathing and undesired opinions on his
The part of the dairying that he positively gloried in was going to town
with the butter. He frequently remained in for two or three days, as
often as not spending all the money he got for the butter in a drunken
spree. Then he would return to curse his luck because his dairy did not
pay as well as those of some of our neighbours.
The curse of Eve being upon my poor mother in those days, she was unable
to follow her husband. Pride forbade her appealing to her neighbours, so
on me devolved the duty of tracking my father from one pub to another and
bringing him home.
Had I done justice to my mother's training I would have honoured my
paternal parent in spite of all this, but I am an individual ever doing
things I oughtn't at the time I shouldn't.
Coming home, often after midnight, with my drunken father talking maudlin
conceited nonsense beside me, I developed curious ideas on the fifth
commandment. Those journeys in the spring-cart through the soft faint
starlight were conducive to thought. My father, like most men when under
the influence of liquor, would allow no one but himself to handle the
reins, and he was often so incapable that he would keep turning the horse
round and round in the one place. It is a marvel we never met with an
accident. I was not nervous, but quite content to take whatever came, and
our trusty old horse fulfilled his duty, ever faithfully taking us home
along the gum-tree-lined road.
My mother had taught me from the Bible that I should honour my parents,
whether they were deserving of honour or not.
Dick Melvyn being my father did not blind me to the fact that he was a
despicable, selfish, weak creature, and as such I despised him with the
relentlessness of fifteen, which makes no allowance for human frailty and
weakness. Disgust, not honour, was the feeling which possessed me when I
studied the matter.
Towards mother I felt differently. A woman is but the helpless tool of
man--a creature of circumstances.
Seeing my father beside me, and thinking of his infant with its mother,
eating her heart out with anxiety at home, this was the reasoning which
took possession of me. Among other such inexpressible thoughts I got
lost, grew dizzy, and drew back appalled at the spirit which was maturing
within me. It was a grim lonely one, which I vainly tried to hide in a
bosom which was not big or strong enough for its comfortable habitation.
It was as a climbing plant without a pole--it groped about the ground,
bruised itself, and became hungry searching for something strong to which
to cling. Needing a master-hand to train and prune, it was becoming rank
Disjointed Sketches And Grumbles
It was my duty to "rare the poddies". This is the most godless occupation
in which it has been my lot to engage. I did a great amount of thinking
while feeding them--for, by the way, I am afflicted with the power of
thought, which is a heavy curse. The less a person thinks and inquires
regarding the why and the wherefore and the justice of things, when
dragging along through life, the happier it is for him, and doubly,
trebly so, for her.
Poor little calves! Slaves to the greed of man! Bereft of the mothers
with which Nature has provided them, and compelled to exist on milk from
the separator, often thick, sour, and icy cold.
Besides the milking I did, before I went to school every morning, for
which I had to prepare myself and the younger children, and to which we
had to walk two miles. I had to feed thirty calves and wash the breakfast
dishes. On returning from school in the afternoon, often in a state of
exhaustion from walking in the blazing sun, I had the same duties over
again, and in addition boots to clean and home lessons to prepare for the
morrow. I had to relinquish my piano practice for want of time.
Ah, those short, short nights of rest and long, long days of toil! It
seems to me that dairying means slavery in the hands of poor people who
cannot afford hired labour. I am not writing of dairy-farming, the
genteel and artistic profession as eulogized in leading articles of
agricultural newspapers and as taught in agricultural colleges. I am
depicting practical dairying as I have lived it, and seen it lived, by
dozens of families around me.
It takes a great deal of work to produce even one pound of butter fit for
market. At the time I mention it was 3d. and 4d. per lb., so it was much
work and small pay. It was slaving and delving from morning till
night--Sundays, week-days, and holidays, all alike were work-days to us.
Hard graft is a great leveller. Household drudgery, woodcutting, milking,
and gardening soon roughen the hands and dim the outside polish. When the
body is wearied with much toil the desire to cultivate the mind, or the
cultivation it has already received, is gradually wiped out. Thus it was
with my parents. They had dropped from swelldom to peasantism. They were
among and of the peasantry. None of their former acquaintances came
within their circle now, for the iron ungodly hand of class distinction
has settled surely down upon Australian society--Australia's democracy is
only a tradition of the past.
I say naught against the lower life. The peasantry are the bulwarks of
every nation. The life of a peasant is, to a peasant who is a peasant
with a peasant's soul, when times are good and when seasons smile, a
grand life. It is honest, clean, and wholesome. But the life of a peasant
to me is purgatory. Those around me worked from morning till night and
then enjoyed their well-earned sleep. They had but two states of
existence--work and sleep.
There was a third part in me which cried out to be fed. I longed for the
arts. Music was a passion with me. I borrowed every book in the
neighbourhood and stole hours from rest to read them. This told upon me
and made my physical burdens harder for me than for other children of my
years around me. That third was the strongest part of me. In it I lived a
dream-life with writers, artists, and musicians. Hope, sweet, cruel,
delusive Hope, whispered in my ear that life was long with much by and
by, and in that by and by my dream-life would be real. So on I went with
that gleaming lake in the distance beckoning me to come and sail on its
silver waters, and Inexperience, conceited, blind Inexperience, failing
to show the impassable pit between it and me.
To return to the dairying.
Old and young alike we earned our scant livelihood by the heavy sweat of
our brows. Still, we _did_ gain an honest living. We were not ashamed to
look day in the face, and fought our way against all odds with the
stubborn independence of our British ancestors. But when 1894 went out
without rain, and '95, hot, dry, pitiless '95, succeeded it, there came a
time when it was impossible to make a living.
The scorching furnace-breath winds shrivelled every blade of grass, dust
and the moan of starving stock filled the air, vegetables became a thing
of the past. The calves I had reared died one by one, and the cows
followed in their footsteps.
I had left school then, and my mother and father and I spent the days in
lifting our cows. When our strength proved inadequate, the help of
neighbours had to be called in, and father would give his services in
return. Only a few of our more well-to-do neighbours had been able to send
their stock away, or had any better place to which to transfer them. The
majority of them were in as tight a plight as ourselves. This cow-lifting
became quite a trade, the whole day being spent in it and in discussing
the bad prospect ahead if the drought continued.
Many an extra line of care furrowed the brows of the disheartened bushmen
then. Not only was their living taken from them by the drought, but there
is nothing more heartrending than to have poor beasts, especially dairy
cows, so familiar, valued, and loved, pleading for food day after day in
their piteous dumb way when one has it not to give.
We shore ourselves of all but the bare necessaries of life, but even they
for a family of ten are considerable, and it was a mighty tussle to get
both ends within cover of meeting. We felt the full force of the heavy
hand of poverty--the most stinging kind of poverty too, that which still
holds up its head and keeps an outside appearance. Far more grinding is
this than the poverty inherited from generations which is not ashamed of
itself, and has not as an accompaniment the wounded pride and humiliation
which attacked us.
Some there are who argue that poverty does not mean unhappiness. Let
those try what it is to be destitute of even one companionable friend,
what it means to be forced to exist in an alien sphere of society, what
it is like to be unable to afford a stamp to write to a friend; let them
long as passionately as I have longed for reading and music, and be
unable to procure it because of poverty; let poverty force them into
doing work against which every fibre of their being revolts, as it has
forced me, and then see if their lives will be happy.
My school life had been dull and uneventful. The one incident of any note
had been the day that the teacher, better known as old Harris, "stood up"
to the inspector. The latter was a precise, collar-and-cuffs sort of
little man. He gave one the impression of having all his ideas on the
subjects he thought worthy of attention carefully culled and packed in
his brain-pan, and neatly labelled, so that he might without fluster
pounce upon any of them at a moment's warning. He was gentlemanly and
respectable, and discharged his duties punctiliously in a manner
reflecting credit on himself and his position, but, comparing the mind of
a philanthropist to the Murrumbidgee in breadth, his, in comparison,
might be likened to the flow of a bucket of water in a dray-rut.
On the day in question--a precious hot one it was--he had finished
examining us in most subjects, and was looking at our copy-books. He
looked up from them, ahemed! and fastidiously straightened his waistcoat.
"Comparisons are odious, but, unfortunately, I am forced to draw one
"This writing is much inferior to that of town scholars. It is very shaky
and irregular. Also, I notice that the children seem stupid and dull. I
don't like putting it so plainly, but, in fact, ah, they seem to be
possessed with the proverbial stupidity of country people. How do you
account for this?"
Poor old Harris! In spite of his drunken habits and inability to properly
discharge his duties, he had a warm heart and much fellowshiply humanity
in him. He understood and loved his pupils, and would not have aspersions
cast upon them. Besides, the nip he had taken to brace himself to meet
the inspector had been two or three, and they robbed him of the
discretion which otherwise might have kept him silent.
"Si-r-r-r, I can and will account for it. Look you at every one of those
children. Every one, right down to this little tot," indicating a little
girl of five, "has to milk and work hard before and after school, besides
walk on an average two miles to and from school in this infernal heat.
Most of the elder boys and girls milk on an average fourteen cows morning
and evening. You try that treatment for a week or two, my fine gentleman,
and then see if your fist doesn't ache and shake so that you can't write
at all. See if you won't look a trifle dozy. Stupidity of country people
be hanged! If you had to work from morning till night in the heat and
dust, and get precious little for it too, I bet you wouldn't have much
time to scrape your finger-nails, read science notes, and look smart."
Here he took off his coat and shaped up to his superior.
The inspector drew back in consternation.
"Mr Harris, you forget yourself!"
At this juncture they went outside together. What happened there we never
knew. That is all we heard of the matter except the numerous garbled
accounts which were carried home that afternoon.
A DROUGHT IDYLL
"Sybylla, what are you doing? Where is your mother?"
"I'm ironing. Mother's down at the fowl-house seeing after some chickens.
What do you want?"
It was my father who addressed me. Time, 2 o'clock p.m. Thermometer hung
in the shade of the veranda registering 105 1/2 degrees.
"I see Blackshaw coming across the flat. Call your mother. You bring the
leg-ropes--I've got the dog-leg. Come at once; we'll give the cows another
lift. Poor devils--might as well knock 'em on the head at once, but there
might be rain next moon. This drought can't last for ever."
I called mother, got the leg-ropes, and set off, pulling my sun-bonnet
closely over my face to protect my eyes from the dust which was driving
from the west in blinding clouds. The dog-leg to which father had
referred was three poles about eight or ten feet long, strapped together
so they could be stood up. It was an arrangement father had devised to
facilitate our labour in lifting the cows. A fourth and longer pole was
placed across the fork formed by the three, and to one end of this were
tied a couple of leg-ropes, after being placed round the beast, one
beneath the flank and one around the girth. On the other end of this pole
we would put our weight while one man would lift with the tail and
another with the horns. New-chum cows would sulk, and we would have great
work with them; but those used to the performance would help themselves,
and up they'd go as nice as a daisy. The only art needed was to draw the
pole back quickly before the cows could move, or the leg-ropes would pull
them over again.
On this afternoon we had six cows to lift. We struggled manfully, and got
five on their feet, and then proceeded to where the last one was lying,
back downwards, on a shadeless stony spot on the side of a hill. The men
slewed her round by the tail, while mother and I fixed the dog-leg and
adjusted the ropes. We got the cow up, but the poor beast was so weak
and knocked about that she immediately fell down again. We resolved to
let her have a few minutes' spell before making another attempt at
lifting. There was not a blade of grass to be seen, and the ground was
too dusty to sit on. We were too overdone to make more than one-worded
utterances, so waited silently in the blazing sun, closing our eyes
against the dust.
A few light wind-smitten clouds made wan streaks across the white sky,
haggard with the fierce relentless glare of the afternoon sun. Weariness
was written across my mother's delicate careworn features, and found
expression in my father's knitted brows and dusty face. Blackshaw was
weary, and said so, as he wiped the dust, made mud with perspiration, off
his cheeks. I was weary--my limbs ached with the heat and work. The poor
beast stretched at our feet was weary. All nature was weary, and seemed
to sing a dirge to that effect in the furnace-breath wind which roared
among the trees on the low ranges at our back and smote the parched and
thirsty ground. All were weary, all but the sun. He seemed to glory in
his power, relentless and untiring, as he swung boldly in the sky,
triumphantly leering down upon his helpless victims.
This was life--my life--my career, my brilliant career! I was
fifteen--fifteen! A few fleeting hours and I would be old as those around
me. I looked at them as they stood there, weary, and turning down the
other side of the hill of life. When young, no doubt they had hoped for,
and dreamed of, better things--had even known them. But here they were.
This had been their life; this was their career. It was, and in all
probability would be, mine too. My life--my career--my brilliant career!
The summer sun danced on. Summer is fiendish, and life is a curse, I said
in my heart. What a great dull hard rock the world was! On it were a few
barren narrow ledges, and on these, by exerting ourselves so that the
force wears off our finger-nails, it allows us to hang for a year or two,
and then hurls us off into outer darkness and oblivion, perhaps to endure
worse torture than this.
The poor beast moaned. The lifting had strained her, and there were
patches of hide worn off her the size of breakfast-plates, sore and most
harrowing to look upon.
It takes great suffering to wring a moan from the patience of a cow. I
turned my head away, and with the impatience and one-sided reasoning
common to fifteen, asked God what He meant by this. It is well enough to
heap suffering on human beings, seeing it is supposed to be merely a
probation for a better world, but animals--poor, innocent animals--why are
they tortured so?
"Come now, we'll lift her once more," said my father. At it we went
again; it is surprising what weight there is in the poorest cow. With
great struggling we got her to her feet once more, and were careful this
time to hold her till she got steady on her legs. Father and mother at
the tail and Blackshaw and I at the horns, we marched her home and gave
her a bran mash. Then we turned to our work in the house while the men
sat and smoked and spat on the veranda, discussing the drought for an
hour, at the end of which time they went to help someone else with their
stock. I made up the fire and we continued our ironing, which had been
interrupted some hours before. It was hot unpleasant work on such a day.
We were forced to keep the doors and windows closed on account of the
wind and dust. We were hot and tired, and our feet ached so that we could
scarcely stand on them.
Summer is fiendish and life is a curse, I said in my heart.
Day after day the drought continued. Now and again there would be a few
days of the raging wind before mentioned, which carried the dry grass off
the paddocks and piled it against the fences, darkened the air with dust,
and seemed to promise rain, but ever it dispersed whence it came, taking
with it the few clouds it had gathered up; and for weeks and weeks at a
stretch, from horizon to horizon, was never a speck to mar the cruel
dazzling brilliance of the metal sky.
I said the one thing many times but, ah, it was a weary thing which took
much repetition that familiarity might wear away a little of its
In spite of our pottering and lifting, with the exception of five, all
our cows eventually died; and even these and a couple of horses had as
much as they could do to live on the whole of the thousand acres which,
without reserve, were at their disposal. They had hardly any grass--it
was merely the warmth and water which kept them alive. Needless to say,
we were on our beam-ends financially. However, with a little help from
more fortunate relatives, and with the money obtained from the sale of
the cowhides and mother's poultry, we managed to pay the interest on the
money borrowed from the bishop, and keep bread in our mouths.
Unfortunately for us, at this time the bishop's agent proved a scoundrel
and absconded. My father held receipts to show that to this agent he had
regularly paid the interest of the money borrowed; but through some
finicking point of law, because we had not money to contend with him, his
lordship the bishop now refused to acknowledge his agent and one-time
pillar of the cathedral, and, having law on his side, served a writ on
us. In the face of our misfortunes this was too much: we begged for time,
which plea he answered by putting in the bailiff and selling everything
we possessed. Our five cows, two horses, our milk separator, plough,
cart, dray, buggy, even our cooking utensils, books, pictures, furniture,
father's watch--our very beds, pillows, and blankets. Not a thing besides
what we stood up in was left us, and this was money for the payment of
which my father held receipts.
But for the generosity of our relatives we would have been in a pretty
plight. They sent us sufficient means to buy iii everything, and our
neighbours came to our rescue with enthusiasm and warm-hearted genuine
sympathy. The bailiff--a gentleman to the core--seeing how matters stood,
helped us to the utmost of his power.
Our goods were disposed of on the premises, and the neighbours arranged a
mock sale, at which the bailiff winked. Our friends had sent the money,
and the neighbours did the bidding--none bidding against each other--and
thus our belongings went for a mere trifle. Every cloud has its silver
lining, and the black cloud of poverty has a very bright silver lining.
In poverty you can get at the real heart of people as you can never do if
rich. People are your friends from pure friendship and love, not from
sponging self-interestedness. It is worth being poor once or twice in a
lifetime just to experience the blessing and heartrestfulness of a little
genuine reality in the way of love and friendship. Not that it is
impossible for opulence to have genuine friends, but rich people, I fear,
must ever have at their heart cankering suspicion to hint that the
friendship and love lavished upon them is merely self-interestedness and
sham, the implements of trade used by the fawning toadies who swarm
In conjunction with the bishop's name, the approaching sale of our goods
had been duly advertised in the local papers, and my father received
several letters of sympathy from the clergy deploring the conduct of the
bishop. These letters were from men unknown to father, who were unaware
that Richard Melvyn was being sold off for a debt already paid.
By the generosity of relatives and the goodness of neighbours as kind as
ever breathed, our furniture was our own again, but what were we to do
for a living? Our crops were withering in the fields for want of rain,
and we had but five cows--not an over-bright outlook. As I was getting to
bed one night my mother came into my room and said seriously, "Sybylla, I
want to have a talk with you."
"Talk away," I responded rather sullenly, for I expected a long sing-song
about my good-for-nothingness in general--a subject of which I was
"Sybylla, I've been studying the matter over a lot lately. It's no use,
we cannot afford to keep you at home. You'll have to get something to
I made no reply, and my mother continued, "I am afraid we will have to
break up the home altogether. It's no use; your father has no idea of
making a living. I regret the day I ever saw him. Since he has taken to
drink he has no more idea of how to make a living than a cat. I will have
to give the little ones to some of the relatives; the bigger ones will
have to go out to service, and so will your father and I. That's all I
can see ahead of us. Poor little Gertie is too young to go out in the
world (she was not twelve months younger than I); she must go to your
grandmother, I think."
I still made no reply, so my mother inquired, "Well, Sybylla, what do you
think of the matter?"
"Do you think it absolutely necessary to break up the home?" I said.
"Well, you suggest something better if you are so clever," said mother,
crossly. "That is always the way; if I suggest a thing it is immediately
put down, yet there is never any one to think of things but me. What
would you do? I suppose you think you could make a living on the place
for us yourself."
"Why can't we live at home? Blackshaw and Jansen have no bigger places
than we, and families just as large, and yet they make a living. It would
be terrible for the little ones to grow up separated; they would be no
more to each other than strangers."
"Yes; it is all very well for you to talk like that, but how is your
father to start again with only five cows in the world? It's no use, you
never talk sense. You'll find my way is always the best in the end."
"Would it not be easier," I replied, "for our relations to each give a
little towards setting us up again, than to be burdened with the whole
responsibility of rearing a child? I'm sure they'd much prefer it."
"Yes, perhaps it would be better, but I think _you_ will have to get your
own living. What would they say about having to support such a big girl
as you are?"
"I will go and earn my own living, and when you get me weeded out of the
family you will have a perfect paradise. Having no evil to copy, the
children will grow up saints," I said bitterly.
"Now, Sybylla, it is foolish to talk like that, for you know that you
take no interest in your work. If you'd turn to and help me rear poultry
and make dresses--and why don't you take to cooking?"
"Take to cooking!" I retorted with scorn. "The fire that a fellow has to
endure on that old oven would kill a horse, and the grit and dirt of
clearing it up grinds on my very nerves. Besides, if I ever do want to do
any extra fancy cooking, we either can't afford the butter or the
currants, or else the eggs are too scarce! Cook, be grannied!"
"Sybylla! Sybylla, you are getting very vulgar!"
"Yes, I once was foolish enough to try and be polite, but I've given it
up. My style of talk is quite good enough for my company. What on earth
does it matter whether I'm vulgar or not. I can feed calves and milk and
grind out my days here just as well vulgar as unvulgar," I answered
"There, you see you are always discontented about your home. It's no use;
the only thing is for you to earn your own living."
I will earn my own living."
"What will you do? Will you be examined for a pupil-teacher? That is a
very nice occupation for girls."
"What chance would I have in a competitive exam. against Goulburn girls?
They all have good teachers and give up their time to study. I only have
old Harris, and he is the most idiotic old animal alive; besides, I
loathe the very thought of teaching. I'd as soon go on the wallaby."
"You are not old enough to be a general servant or a cook; you have not
experience enough to be a housemaid; you don't take to sewing, and there
is no chance of being accepted as a hospital nurse: you must confess
there is nothing you can do. You are really a very useless girl for your
"There are heaps of things I could do."
"Tell me a few of them."
I was silent. The professions at which I felt I had the latent power to
excel, were I but given a chance, were in a sphere far above us, and to
mention my feelings and ambitions to my matter-of-fact practical mother
would bring upon me worse ridicule than I was already forced to endure
day by day.
"Mention a few of the things you could do."
I might as well have named flying as the professions I was thinking of.
Music was the least unmentionable of them, so I brought it forward.
"Music! But it would take years of training and great expense before you
could earn anything at that! It is quite out of the question. The only
thing for you to do is to settle down and take interest in your work, and
help make a living at home, or else go out as a nurse-girl, and work your
way up. If you have any ability in you it would soon show. If you think
you could do such strokes, and the home work is not good enough for you,
go out and show the world what a wonderful creature you are."
"Mother, you are unjust and cruel!" I exclaimed. "You do not understand
one at all. I never thought I could do strokes. I cannot help being
constituted so that grimy manual labour is hateful to me, for it is
hateful to me, and I hate it more and more every day, and you can preach
and preach till you go black in the face, and still I'll hate it more
than ever. If I have to do it all my life, and if I'm cursed with a long
life, I'll hate it just as much at the end as I do now. I'm sure it's not
any wish of mine that I'm born with inclinations for better things. If I
could be born again, and had the designing of myself, I'd be born the
lowest and coarsest-minded person imaginable, so that I could find plenty
of companionship, or I'd be born an idiot, which would be better still."
"Sybylla!" said my mother in a shocked tone. "It is a wonder God doesn't
strike you dead; I never heard--"
"I don't believe there is a God," I said fiercely, "and if there is, He's
not the merciful being He's always depicted, or He wouldn't be always
torturing me for His own amusement."
"Sybylla, Sybylla! That I should ever have nurtured a child to grow up
like this! Do you know that--"
"I only know that I hate this life. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it," I
"Talk about going out to earn your own living! Why, there's not a woman
living would have you in her house above a day. You are a perfect
she-devil. Oh God!" And my mother began to cry. "What have I done to be
cursed with such a child? There is not another woman in the district with
such a burden put upon her. What have I done? I can only trust that my
prayers to God for you will soften your evil heart."
"If your prayers are answered, it's more than ever mine were," I retorted.
"_Your_ prayers!" said my mother, with scorn. "The horror of a child not
yet sixteen being so hardened. I don't know what to make of you, you
never cry or ask forgiveness. There's dear little Gertie now, she is
often naughty, but when I correct her she frets and worries and shows
herself to be a human being and not a fiend."
So saying my mother went out of the room.
"I've asked forgiveness once too often, to be sat upon for my pains," I
"I believe you're mad. That is the only feasible excuse I can make for
your conduct," she said as a parting shot.
"Why the deuce don't you two get to bed and not wrangle like a pair of
cats in the middle of the night, disturbing a man's rest?" came in my
father's voice from amid the bedclothes.
My mother is a good woman--a very good woman--and I am, I think, not
quite all criminality, but we do not pull together. I am a piece of
machinery which, not understanding, my mother winds up the wrong way,
setting all the wheels of my composition going in creaking discord.
She wondered why I did not cry and beg forgiveness, and thereby give
evidence of being human. I was too wrought up for tears. Ah, that tears
might have come to relieve my overburdened heart! I took up the home-made
tallow candle in its tin stick and looked at my pretty sleeping sister
Gertie (she and I shared the one bed). It was as mother had said. If
Gertie was scolded for any of her shortcomings, she immediately took
refuge in tears, said she was sorry, obtained forgiveness, and
straightaway forgot the whole matter. She came within the range of
mother's understanding, I did not; she had feelings, mother thought, I
had none. Did my mother understand me, she would know that I am capable
of more depths of agony and more exquisite heights of joy in one day than
Gertie will experience in her whole life.
Was I mad as mother had said? A fear took possession of me that I might
be. I certainly was utterly different to any girl I had seen or known.
What was the hot wild spirit which surged within me? Ah, that I might
weep! I threw myself on my bed and moaned. Why was I not like other
girls? Why was I not like Gertie? Why were not a new dress, everyday
work, and an occasional picnic sufficient to fill my mind? My movements
"What is the matter, dear Sybylla? Come to bed. Mother has been scolding
you. She is always scolding some one. That doesn't matter. You say you
are sorry, and she won't scold any more. That's what I always do. Do get
into bed. You'll be tired in the morning."
"What does it matter if I will be. I wish I would be dead. What's the
good of a hateful thing like I am being alive. No one wants or cares for
"I love you, Sybylla, better than all the rest. I could not do without
you," and she put her pretty face to mine and kissed me.
What a balm to the tempest-tossed soul is a little love, though it may be
fleeting and fickle! I was able to weep now, with wild hot tears, and
with my sister's arms around me I fell asleep without undressing further.
Was E'er a Rose Without Its Thorn?
I arose from bed next morning with three things in my head--a pair of
swollen eyes, a heavy pain, and a fixed determination to write a book.
Nothing less than a book. A few hours' work in the keen air of a late
autumn morning removed the swelling from my eyes and the pain from my
temples, but the idea of relieving my feelings in writing had taken firm
root in my brain. It was not my first attempt in this direction. Two
years previously I had purloined paper and sneaked out of bed every night
at one or two o'clock to write a prodigious novel in point of length and
detail, in which a full-fledged hero and heroine performed the duties of
a hero and heroine in the orthodox manner. Knowing our circumstances, my
grandmother was accustomed, when writing to me, to enclose a stamp to
enable me to reply. These I saved, and with them sent my book to the
leading Sydney publisher. After waiting many weeks I received a polite
memo to the effect that the story showed great ability, but the writer's
inexperience was too much in evidence for publication. The writer was to
study the best works of literature, and would one day, no doubt, take a
place among Australian novelists.
This was a very promising opinion of the work of a child of thirteen,
more encouraging than the great writers got at the start of their
literary career; but it seemed to even my childish intelligence that the
memo was a stereotyped affair that the publisher sent in answer to all
the MSS. of fameless writers submitted to him, and also sent in all
probability without reading as much as the name of the story. After that
I wrote a few short stories and essays; but now the spirit moved me to
write another book--not with any hope of success, as it was impossible for
me to study literature as advised. I seldom saw a book, and could only
spare time in tiny scraps to read them when I did.
However, the few shillings I had obtained at odd times I spent on paper,
and in secret robbed from much-needed rest a few hours weekly wherein to
write. This made me very weary and slow in the daytime, and a sore trial
to my mother. I was always forgetting things I should not have forgotten,
because my thoughts were engaged in working out my story. The want of
rest told upon me. I continually complained of weariness, and my work was
a drag to me.
My mother knew not what to make of it. At first she thought I was lazy
and bad, and punished me in various ways; but while my book occupied my
mind I was not cross, gave her no impudence, and did not flare up. Then
she began to fear I must be ill, and took me to a doctor, who said I was
much too precocious for my years, and would be better when the weather
got warmer. He gave me a tonic, which I threw out the window. I heard no
more of going out as nurse-girl: father had joined a neighbour who had
taken a road contract, and by this means the pot was kept, if not quite,
at least pretty near, boiling.
Life jogged along tamely, and, as far as I could see, gave promise of
going to the last slip-rails without a canter, until one day in July 1896
mother received a letter from her mother which made a pleasant change in
my life, though, like all sweets, that letter had its bitter drop. It ran
My dear daughter, Lucy,
Only a short letter this time. I am pressed for time, as four or five
strangers have just come and asked to stay for the night, and as one of
the girls is away, I have to get them beds. I am writing about Sybylla. I
am truly grieved to hear she is such a source of grief and annoyance to
you. The girl must surely be ill or she would never act as you describe.
She is young yet, and may settle down better by and by. We can only
entrust her to the good God who is ever near. Send her up to me as soon
as you can. I will pay all expenses. The change will do her good, and if
her conduct improves, I will keep her as long as you like. She is young
to mention in regard to marriage, but in another year she will be as old
as I was when I married, and it might be the makings of her if she
married early. At any rate she will be better away from Possum Gully, now
that she is growing into womanhood, or she may be in danger of forming
ties beneath her. She might do something good for herself up here: not
that I would ever be a matchmaker in the least degree, but Gertie will
soon be coming on, and Sybylla, being so very plain, will need all the
time she can get.
Your loving mother,
My mother gave me this letter to read, and, when I had finished perusing
it, asked me would I go. I replied coldly:
"Yes. Paupers and beggars cannot be choosers, and grandmother might as
well keep me at Caddagat as at Possum Gully"--for my grandmother
contributed greatly to the support of our family.
As regards scenery, the one bit of beauty Possum Gully possessed was its
wattles. Bowers of grown and scrubs of young ones adorned the hills and
gullies in close proximity to the house, while groves of different
species graced the flats. Being Sunday, on this afternoon I was at
liberty for a few hours; and on receiving the intelligence contained in
the letter, I walked out of the house over a low hill at the back into a
gully, where I threw myself at the foot of a wattle in a favourite clump,
and gave way to my thoughts.
So mother had been telling my grandmother of my faults--my grandmother
whom I loved so dearly. Mother might have had enough honour and motherly
protection to have kept the tale of my sins to herself. Though this
intelligence angered, it did not surprise me, being accustomed to mother
telling every neighbour what a great trial I was to her--how discontented
I was, and what little interest I took in my work. It was the last part
of the letter which finished up my feelings. Oh heavens! Surely if my
mother understood the wild pain, the days and hours of agony pure and
complete I have suffered on account of my appearance, she would never
have shown me that letter.
I was to be given more time on account of being ugly--I was not a
valuable article in the marriage market, sweet thought! My grandmother is
one of the good old school, who believed that a girl's only proper sphere
in life was marriage; so, knowing her sentiments, her purpose to get me
married neither surprised nor annoyed me. But I was plain. Ah, bosh! Oh!
Ah! I cannot express what kind of a feeling that fact gave me. It sank
into my heart and cut like a cruel jagged knife--not because it would be a
drawback to me in the marriage line, for I had an antipathy to the very
thought of marriage. Marriage to me appeared the most horribly tied-down
and unfair-to-women existence going. It would be from fair to middling if
there was love; but I laughed at the idea of love, and determined never,
never, never to marry.
The other side of the letter--the part which gave me joy--was the prospect
of going to Caddagat.
Caddagat, the place where I was born! Caddagat, whereat, enfolded in
grandmotherly love and the petting which accrued therefrom, I spent some
of my few sweet childish days. Caddagat, the place my heart fondly
enshrines as home. Caddagat, draped by nature in a dream of beauty.
Caddagat, Caddagat! Caddagat for me, Caddagat for ever! I say.
Too engrossed with my thoughts to feel the cold of the dull winter day, I
remained in my position against the wattle-tree until Gertie came to
inform me that tea was ready.
"You know, Sybylla, it was your turn to get the tea ready; but I set the
table to save you from getting into a row. Mother was looking for you,
and said she supposed you were in one of your tantrums again."
Pretty little peacemaker! She often did things like that for me.
"Very well, Gertie, thank you. I will set it two evenings running to make
up for it--if I'm here."
If you are here! What do you mean?"
"I am going away," I replied, watching her narrowly to see if she cared,
for I was very hungry for love.
"Going to run away becauses mother is always scolding you?"
"No, you little silly! I'm going up to Caddagat to live with grannie."
"Yes; really and truly and honour bright."
"Won't you ever come back again?"
"I don't know about _never_ coming back again; but I'm going up for always,
as far as a person can lay out ahead of her. Do you care?"
Yes she cared. The childish mouth quivered, the pretty blue-eyed face
fell, the ready tears flowed fast. I noticed every detail with savage
comfort. It was more than I deserved, for, though I loved her
passionately, I had ever been too much wrapped in self to have been very
kind and lovable to her.
"Who will tell me stories now?"
It was a habit of mine to relate stories to her out of my own fertile
imagination. In return for this she kept secret the fact that I sat up
and wrote when I should have been in bed. I was obliged to take some
means of inducing her to keep silence, as she--even Gertie, who firmly
believed in me--on waking once or twice at unearthly hours and discovering
me in pursuit of my nightly task, had been so alarmed for my sanity that
I had the greatest work to prevent her from yelling to father and mother
on the spot. But I bound her to secrecy, and took a strange delight in
bringing to her face with my stories the laughter, the wide-eyed wonder,
or the tears--just as my humour dictated.
"You'll easily get someone else to tell you stories."
"Not like yours. And who will take my part when Horace bullies me?"
I pressed her to me.
"Gertie, Gertie, promise me you will love me a little always, and never,
never forget me. Promise me."
And with a weakly glint of winter sunshine turning her hair to gold, and
with her head on my shoulder, Gertie promised--promised with the soluble
promise of a butterfly-natured child.
N.B.--This is dull and egotistical. Better skip it. That's my
advice--S. P. M.
As a tiny child I was filled with dreams of the great things I was to do
when grown up. My ambition was as boundless as the mighty bush in which I
have always lived. As I grew it dawned upon me that I was a girl--the
makings of a woman! Only a girl--merely this and nothing more. It came
home to me as a great blow that it was only men who could take the world
by its ears and conquer their fate, while women, metaphorically speaking,
were forced to sit with tied hands and patiently suffer as the waves of
fate tossed them hither and thither, battering and bruising without
mercy. Familiarity made me used to this yoke; I recovered from the
disappointment of being a girl, and was reconciled to that part of my
fate. In fact, I found that being a girl was quite pleasant until a
hideous truth dawned upon me--I was ugly! That truth has embittered my
whole existence. It gives me days and nights of agony. It is a sensitive
sore that will never heal, a grim hobgoblin that nought can scare away.
In conjunction with this brand of hell I developed a reputation of
cleverness. Worse and worse! Girls! girls! Those of you who have hearts,
and therefore a wish for happiness, homes, and husbands by and by, never
develop a reputation of being clever. It will put you out of the
matrimonial running as effectually as though it had been circulated that
you had leprosy. So, if you feel that you are afflicted with more than
ordinary intelligence, and especially if you are plain with it, hide your
brains, cramp your mind, study to appear unintellectual--it is your only
chance. Provided a woman is beautiful allowance will be made for all her
shortcomings. She can be unchaste, vapid, untruthful, flippant,
heartless, and even clever; so long as she is fair to see men will stand
by her, and as men, in this world, are "the dog on top", they are the
power to truckle to. A plain woman will have nothing forgiven her. Her
fate is such that the parents of uncomely female infants should be
compelled to put them to death at their birth.
The next unpleasant discovery I made in regard to myself was that I was
woefully out of my sphere. I studied the girls of my age around me, and
compared myself with them. We had been reared side by side. They had had
equal advantages; some, indeed, had had greater. We all moved in the one
little, dull world, but they were not only in their world, they were of
it; I was not. Their daily tasks and their little pleasures provided
sufficient oil for the lamp of their existence--mine demanded more than
Possum Gully could supply. They were totally ignorant of the outside
world. Patti, Melba, Irving, Terry, Kipling, Caine, Corelli, and even the
name of Gladstone, were only names to them. Whether they were islands or
racehorses they knew not and cared not. With me it was different. Where I
obtained my information, unless it was born in me, I do not know. We took
none but the local paper regularly, I saw few books, had the pleasure of
conversing with an educated person from the higher walks of life about
once in a twelvemonth, yet I knew of every celebrity in literature, art,
music, and drama; their world was my world, and in fancy I lived with
them. My parents discouraged me in that species of foolishness. They had
been fond of literature and the higher arts, but now, having no use for
them, had lost interest therein.
I was discontented and restless, and longed unendurably to be out in the
stream of life. "Action! Action! Give me action!" was my cry. My mother
did her best with me according to her lights. She energetically preached
at me. All the old saws and homilies were brought into requisition, but
without avail. It was like using common nostrums on a disease which could
be treated by none but a special physician.
I was treated to a great deal of harping on that tiresome old string,
"Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might." It was
daily dinned into my cars that the little things of life were the
noblest, and that all the great people I mooned about said the same. I
usually retorted to the effect that I was well aware that it was noble,
and that I could write as good an essay on it as any philosopher. It was
all very well for great people to point out the greatness of the little,
empty, humdrum life. Why didn't they adopt it themselves?
The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes.
The butterfly upon the road
Preaches contentment to the toad.
I wasn't anxious to patronize the dull kind of tame nobility of the toad;
I longed for a few of the triumphs of the butterfly, decried though they
are as hollow bubbles. I desired life while young enough to live, and
quoted as my motto:
Though the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill
Too oft gets broken at last,
There are scores of others its place to fill
When its earth to the earth is cast.
Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,
But lie like a useless clod;
Yet sooner or later the hour will come
When its chips are thrown to the sod.
Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,
When the vessel is crack'd and old,
To cherish the battered potter's clay
As though it were virgin gold?
Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,
Though prudent and sage you seem;
Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,
And mine by the dazzling stream.
I had sense sufficient to see the uselessness of attempting to be other
than I was. In these days of fierce competition there was no chance for
me--opportunity, not talent, was the main requisite. Fate had thought fit
to deny me even one advantage or opportunity, thus I was helpless. I set
to work to cut my coat according to my cloth. I manfully endeavoured to
squeeze my spirit into "that state of life into which it has pleased God
to call me". I crushed, compressed, and bruised, but as fast as I managed
it on one side it burst out on another, and defied me to cram it into the
narrow box of Possum Gully.
The restless throbbings and burnings
That hope unsatisfied brings,
The weary longings and yearnings
For the mystical better things,
Are the sands on which is reflected
The pitiless moving lake,
Where the wanderer falls dejected,
By a thirst he never can slake.
In a vain endeavour to slake that cruel thirst my soul groped in strange
dark places. It went out in quest of a God, and finding one not, grew
By the unknown way that the atmosphere of the higher life penetrated to
me, so came a knowledge of the sin and sorrow abroad in the world--the
cry of the millions oppressed, downtrodden, God-forsaken! The wheels of
social mechanism needed readjusting--things were awry. Oh, that I might
find a cure and give it to my fellows! I dizzied my brain with the
problem; I was too much for myself. A man with these notions is a curse
to himself, but a woman--pity help a woman of that description! She is not
merely a creature out of her sphere, she is a creature without a sphere--a
Recognizing this, I turned and cursed God for casting upon me a burden
greater than I could bear--cursed Him bitterly, and from within came a
whisper that there was nothing there to curse. There was no God. I was an
unbeliever. It was not that I sought after or desired atheism. I longed
to be a Christian, and fought against unbelief. I asked the Christians
around me for help. Unsophisticated fool! I might as well have announced
that I was a harlot. My respectability vanished in one slap. Some said it
was impossible to disbelieve in the existence of a God: I was only doing
it for notoriety, and they washed their hands of me at once.
Not believe in God! I was mad!
If there really was a God, would they kindly tell me how to find Him?
I prayed, often and ardently, but ever came that heart-stilling whisper
that there was nothing to pray to.
Ah, the bitter, hopeless heart-hunger of godlessness none but an atheist
can understand! Nothing to live for in life--no hope beyond the grave. It
plunged me into fits of profound melancholy.
Had my father occupied one of the fat positions of the land, no doubt as
his daughter my life would have been so full of pleasant occupation and
pleasure that I would not have developed the spirit which torments me
now. Or had I a friend--one who knew, who had suffered and understood, one
in whom I could lose myself, one on whom I could lean--I might have grown
a nicer character. But in all the wide world there was not a soul to hold
out a hand to me, and I said bitterly, "There is no good in the world."
In softer moods I said, "Ah, the tangle of it! Those who have the heart
to help have not the power, and those who have the power have not the
Bad, like a too-strong opponent in a game of chess, is ever at the elbow
of good to checkmate it like a weakly managed king.
I am sadly lacking in self-reliance. I needed some one to help me over
the rough spots in life, and finding them not, at the age of sixteen I
was as rank a cynic and infidel as could be found in three days' march.
Possum Gully Left Behind. Hurrah! Hurrah!
If a Sydney man has friends residing at Goulburn, he says they are up the
country. If a Goulburn man has friends at Yass, he says they are up the
country. If a Yass man has friends at Young, he says they are up the
country, and so on. Caddagat is "up the country".
Bound thither on the second Wednesday in August 1896, I bought a ticket
at the Goulburn railway station, and at some time about 1 a.m. took my
seat in a second class carriage of the mail-train on its way to
Melbourne. I had three or four hours to travel in this train when I would
have to change to a branch line for two hours longer. I was the only one
from Goulburn in that carriage; all the other passengers had been in some
time and were asleep. One or two opened their eyes strugglingly, stared
glumly at the intruder, and then went to sleep again. The motion of the
train was a joy to me, and sleep never entered my head. I stood up, and
pressing my forehead to the cold window-pane, vainly attempted, through
the inky blackness of the foggy night, to discern the objects which flew
I was too full of pleasant anticipation of what was ahead of me to think
of those I had left behind. I did not regret leaving Possum Gully. Quite
the reverse; I felt inclined to wave my arms and yell for joy at being
freed from it. Home! God forbid that my experiences at Possum Gully
should form the only food for my reminiscences of home. I had practically
grown up there, but my heart refused absolutely to regard it as home. I
hated it then, I hate it now, with its narrowing, stagnant monotony. It
has and had not provided me with one solitary fond remembrance--only with
dreary, wing-clipping, mind-starving recollections. No, no; I was not
leaving home behind, I was flying homeward now. Home, home to Caddagat,
home to ferny gullies, to the sweet sad rush of many mountain waters, to
the majesty of rugged Borgongs; home to dear old grannie, and uncle and
aunt, to books, to music; refinement, company, pleasure, and the dear old
homestead I love so well.
All in good time I arrived at the end of my train journey, and was taken
in charge by a big red-bearded man, who informed me he was the driver of
the mail-coach, and had received a letter from Mrs Bossier instructing
him to take care of me. He informed me also that he was glad to do what
he termed "that same", and I would be as safe under his care as I would
be in God's pocket.
My twenty-six miles' coach drive was neither pleasant nor eventful. I was
the only passenger, and so had my choice of seats. The weather being cold
and wet, I preferred being inside the box and curled myself up on the
seat, to be interrupted every two or three miles by the good-natured
driver inquiring if I was "all serene".
At the Halfway House, where a change of the team of five horses was
affected, I had a meal and a warm, and so tuned myself up for the
remainder of the way. It got colder as we went on, and at 2.30 p.m. I was
not at all sorry to see the iron roofs of Gool-Gool. township disclosing
to my view. We first went to the post office, where the mail-bags were
delivered, and then returned and pulled rein in front of the Woolpack
Hotel. A tall young gentleman in a mackintosh and cap, who had been
standing on the veranda, stepped out on the street as the coach stopped,
and lifting his cap and thrusting his head into the coach, inquired,
"Which is Miss Melvyn?"
Seeing I was the only occupant, he laughed the pleasantest of laughs,
disclosing two wide rows of perfect teeth, and turning to the driver,
said, Is that your only passenger? I suppose it is Miss Melvyn?"
"As I wasn't present at her birth, I can't swear, but I believe her to be
that same, as sure as eggs is eggs," he replied.
My identity being thus established, the young gentleman with the greatest
of courtesy assisted me to alight, ordered the hotel groom to stow my
luggage in the Caddagat buggy, and harness the horses with all
expedition. He then conducted me to the private parlour, where a friendly
little barmaid had some refreshments on a tray awaiting me, and while
warming my feet preparatory to eating I read the letter he had given me,
which was addressed in my grandmother's handwriting. In it she told me
that she and my aunt were only just recovering from bad colds, and on
account of the inclemency of the weather thought it unwise to come to
town to meet me; but Frank Hawden, the jackeroo would take every care of
me, settle the hotel bill, and tip the coach-driver. Caddagat was
twenty-four miles distant from Gool-Gool, and the latter part of the road
was very hilly. It was already past three o'clock, and, being rainy, the
short winter afternoon would dose in earlier; so I swallowed my tea and
cake with all expedition, so as not to delay Mr Hawden, who was waiting
to assist me into the buggy, where the groom was in charge of the horses
in the yard. He struck up a conversation with me immediately.
"Seeing your name on yer bags, an' knowin' you was belonging to the
Bossiers, I ask if yer might be a daughter of Dick Melvyn, of
Bruggabrong, out by Timlinbilly."
"Yes, I am."
"Well, miss, please remember me most kindly to yer pa; he was a good boss
was Dick Melvyn. I hope he's doin' well. I'm Billy Haizelip, brother to
Mary and Jane. You remember Jane, I s'pose, miss?"
I hadn't time to say more than promise to send his remembrances to my
father, for Mr Hawden, saying we would be in the dark, had whipped his
horses and was bowling off at a great pace, in less than two minutes
covering a rise which put Gool-Gool out of sight. It was raining a
little, so I held over us the big umbrella, which grannie had sent, while
we discussed the weather, to the effect that rain was badly needed and
was a great novelty nowadays, and it was to be hoped it would continue.
There had been but little, but the soil here away was of that rich loamy
description which little water turns to mud. It clogged the wheels and
loaded the break-blocks; and the near side horse had a nasty way of
throwing his front feet, so that he deposited soft red lumps of mud in
our laps at every step. But, despite these trifling drawbacks, it was
delightful to be drawn without effort by a pair of fat horses in splendid
harness. It was a great contrast to our poor skinny old horse at home,
crawling along in much-broken harness, clumsily and much mended with
string and bits of hide.
Mr Hawden was not at all averse to talking. After emptying our tongues of
the weather, there was silence for some time, which he broke with, "So
you are Mrs Bossier's grand-daughter, are you?"
"Not remembering my birth, I can't swear; but I believe myself to be that
same, as sure as eggs is eggs," I replied.
He laughed. "Very good imitation of the coach-driver. But Mrs Bossier's
grand-daughter! Well, I should smile!"
"Your being Mrs Bossier's grand-daughter."
"I fear, Mr Hawden, there is a suspicion reverse of complimentary in your
"Well, I should smile! Would you like to have my opinion of you?"
"Nothing would please me more. I would value your opinion above all
things, and I'm sure--I feel certain--that you have formed a true estimate
At any other time his conceit would have brought upon himself a fine
snubbing, but today I was in high feather, and accordingly very pleasant,
and resolved to amuse myself by drawing him out.
"Well, you are not a bit like Mrs Bossier or Mrs Bell; they are both so
good-looking," he continued.
"I was disappointed when I saw you had no pretensions to prettiness, as
there's not a girl up these parts worth wasting a man's affections on,
and I was building great hopes on you. But I'm a great admirer of
beauty," he twaddled.
"I am very sorry for you, Mr Hawden. I'm sure it would take quite a
paragon to be worthy of such affection as I'm sure yours would be," I
"Never mind. Don't worry about it. You're not a bad sort, and
think a fellow could have great fun with you."
"I'm sure, Mr Hawden, you do me too much honour. It quite exhilarates me
to think that I meet with your approval in the smallest degree," I
replied with the utmost deference. "You are so gentlemanly and nice that
I was alarmed at first lest you might despise me altogether."
"No fear. You needn't he afraid of me; I'm not a bad sort of fellow," he
replied with the greatest encouragement.
By his accent and innocent style I detected he was not a colonial, so I
got him to relate his history. He was an Englishman by birth, but had
been to America, Spain, New Zealand, Tasmania, etc.; by his own make out
had ever been a man of note, and had played Old Harry everywhere.
I allowed him to gabble away full tilt for an hour on this subject,
unconscious that I had taken the measure of him, and was grinning broadly
to myself. Then I diverted him by inquiring how long since the wire fence
on our right had been put up. It bore evidence of recent erection, and
had replaced an old cockatoo fence which I remembered in my childhood.
"Fine fence, is it not? Eight wires, a top rail, and very stout posts.
Harry Beecham had that put up by contract this year. Twelve miles of it.
It cost him a lot: couldn't get any very low tenders, the ground being so
hard on account of the drought. Those trees are Five-Bob Downs--see, away
over against the range. But I suppose you know the places better than I
We were now within an hour of our destination. How familiar were many
landmarks to me, although I had not seen them since I was eight years
A river ran on our right, occasionally a glimmer of its noisy waters
visible through the shrubbery which profusely lined its banks. The short
evening was drawing to a close. The white mists brought by the rain were
crawling slowly down the hills, and settling in the hollows of the ranges
on our left. A V-shaped rift in them, known as Pheasant Gap, came into
view. Mr Hawden said it was well named, as it swarmed with lyrebirds.
Night was falling. The skreel of a hundred curlews arose from the
gullies--how I love their lonely wail!--and it was quite dark when we
pulled up before the front gate of Caddagat.
A score of dogs rushed yelping to meet us, the front door was thrown
open, lights and voices came streaming out.
I alighted from the buggy feeling rather nervous. I was a pauper with a
bad character. How would my grandmother receive me? Dear old soul, I had
nothing to fear. She folded me in a great warm-hearted hug, saying, "Dear
me, child, your face is cold. I'm glad you've come. It has been a
terrible day, but we're glad to have the rain. You must be frozen. Get in
to the fire, child, as fast as you can. Get in to the fire, get in to the
fire. I hope you forgive me for not going to meet you." And there was my
mother's only sister, my tall graceful aunt, standing beside her, giving
me a kiss and cordial hand-clasp, and saying, "Welcome, Sybylla. We will
be glad to have a young person to brighten up the old home once more. I
am sorry I was too unwell to meet you. You must be frozen; come to the
My aunt always spoke very little and very quietly, but there was
something in her high-bred style which went right home.
I could scarcely believe that they were addressing me. Surely they were
making a mistake. This reception was meant for some grand relative
honouring them with a visit, and not for the ugly, useless, had little
pauper come to live upon their bounty.
Their welcome did more than all the sermons I had ever heard put together
towards thawing a little of the pitiless cynicism which encrusted my
"Take the child inside, Helen, as fast as you can," said grannie, "while I
see that the boy attends to the horses. The plaguey fellow can't be
trusted any further than the length of his nose. I told him to tie up
these dogs, and here they are yelp-yelping fit to deafen a person."
I left my wet umbrella on the veranda, and aunt Helen led me into the
dining-room, where a spruce maid was making a pleasant clatter in laying
the table. Caddagat was a very old style of house, and all the front
rooms opened onto the veranda without any such preliminary as a hall,
therefore it was necessary to pass through the dining-room to my bedroom,
which was a skillion at the back. While auntie paused for a moment to
give some orders to the maid, I noticed the heavy silver serviette rings
I remembered so well, and the old-fashioned dinner-plates, and the big
fire roaring in the broad white fireplace; but more than all, the
beautiful pictures on the walls and a table in a corner strewn with
papers, magazines, and several very new-looking books. On the back of one
of these I saw "Corelli", and on another--great joy!--was _Trilby_. From
the adjoining apartment, which was the drawing-room, came the sweet full
tones of a beautiful piano. Here were three things for which I had been
starving. An impulse to revel in them immediately seized me. I felt like
clearing the table at a bound, seizing and beginning to read both books,
and rushing in to the piano and beginning to play upon it there and then,
and examine the pictures--all three things at once. Fortunately for the
reputation of my sanity, however, aunt Helen had by this time conducted
me to a pretty little bedroom, and saying it was to be mine, helped me to
doff my cape and hat.
While warming my fingers at the fire my eyes were arrested by a beautiful
portrait hanging above the mantelpiece. It represented a lovely girl in
the prime of youth and beauty, and attired in floating white dinner
"Oh, aunt Helen! isn't she lovely? It's you, isn't it?"
"No. Do you not recognize it as your mother? It was taken just before her
marriage. I must leave you now, but come out as soon as you arrange
yourself--your grandmother will be anxious to see you."
When aunt Helen left me I plastered my hair down in an instant without
even a glance in the mirror. I took not a particle of interest in my
attire, and would go about dressed anyhow. This was one symptom which
inclined my mother to the belief of my possible insanity, as to most
young girls dress is a great delight. I had tried once or twice to make
myself look nice by dressing prettily, but, by my own judgment,
considering I looked as ugly as ever, I had given it up as a bad job.
The time which I should have spent in arranging my toilet passed in
gazing at my mother's portrait. It was one of the loveliest faces
imaginable. The features may not have been perfect according to rule of
thumb, but the expression was simply angelic--sweet, winning, gentle, and
happy. I turned from the contemplation of it to another photograph--one of
my father--in a silver frame on the dressing-table. This, too, was a fine
countenance, possessed of well-cut features and refined expression. This
was the prince who had won Lucy Bossier from her home. I looked around my
pretty bedroom--it had been my mother's in the days of her maidenhood. In
an exclusive city boarding-school, and amid the pleasant surroundings of