Part 5 out of 5
When by myself, I fretted so constantly that the traces it left upon me
became evident even to the dull comprehension of Mrs M'Swat.
"I don't hold with too much pleasure and disherpation, but you ain't had
overmuch of it lately. You've stuck at home pretty constant, and ye and
Lizer can have a little fly round. It'll do yous good," she said.
The dissipation, pleasure, and flying round allotted to "Lizer" and me
were to visit some of the neighbours. Those, like the M'Swats, were
sheep-farming selectors. They were very friendly and kind to me, and I
found them superior to my employers, in that their houses were
beautifully clean; but they lived the same slow life, and their soul's
existence fed on the same small ideas. I was keenly disappointed that
none of them had a piano, as my hunger for music could be understood only
by one with a passion for that art.
I borrowed something to read, but all that I could get in the way of
books were a few _Young Ladies' Journals_, which I devoured ravenously, so
When Lizer's back would be turned, the girls would ask me how I managed
to live at Barney's Gap, and expressed themselves of the opinion that it
was the most horrible hole in the world, and Mrs M'Swat the dirtiest
creature living, and that they would not go there for 50 pounds a week.
I made a point of never saying anything against Mrs M'Swat; but I fumed
inwardly that this life was forced upon me, when girls with no longings
or aspirations beyond being the wife of a Peter M'Swat recoiled from the
thought of it.
My mother insisted upon my writing to her regularly, so once a week I
headed a letter "Black's Camp", and condemned the place, while mother
as unfailingly replied that these bad times I should be thankful to God
that I was fed and clothed. I knew this as well as any one, and was aware
there were plenty of girls willing to jump at my place; but they were of
different temperament to me, and when one is seventeen, that kind of
reasoning does not weigh very heavily.
My eldest brother, Horace, twin brother of my sister Gertie, took it upon
himself to honour me with the following letter:
Why the deuce don't you give up writing those letters to mother? We get
tongue-pie on account of them, and it's not as if they did you any good.
It only makes mother more determined to leave you where you are. She says
you are that conceited you think you ought to have something better, and
you're not fit for the place you have, and she's glad it is such a place,
and it will do you the world of good and take the nonsense out of
you--that it's time you got a bit of sense. Sullivan's Ginger. After she
gets your letters she does jaw, and wishes she never had a child, and
what a good mother she is, and what bad devils we are to her. You are a
fool not to stay where you are. I wish I could get away to M'Swat or Mack
Pot, and I would jump at the chance like a good un. The boss still sprees
and loafs about town till some one has to go and haul him home. I'm about
full of him, and I'm going to leave home before next Christmas, or my
name ain't what it is. Mother says the kiddies would starve if I leave;
but Stanley is coming on like a haystack, I tell him, and he does kick
up, and he ought to be able to plough next time. I ploughed when I was
younger than him. I put in fourteen acres of wheat and oats this year,
and I don't think I'll cut a wheelbarrow-load of it. I'm full of the
place. I never have a single penny to my name, and it ain't father's
drinking that's all to blame; if he didn't booze it wouldn't he much
better. It's the slowest hole in the world, and I'll chuck it and go
shearing or droving. I hate this dairying, it's too slow for a funeral:
there would he more life in trapping 'possums out on Timlinbilly. Mother
always says to have patience, and when the drought breaks and good
seasons come round again things will be better, but it's no good of
trying to stuff me like that. I remember when the seasons were wet. It
was no good growing anything, because every one grew so much that there
was no market, and the sheep died of foot-rot and you couldn't give your
butter away, and it is not much worse to have nothing to sell than not he
able to sell a thing when you have it. And the long and short of it is
that I hate dairying like blue murder. It's as tame as a clucking hen.
Fancy a cove sitting down every morning and evening pulling at a cow's
tits fit to bust himself, and then turning an old separator, and washing
it up in a dish of water like a blooming girl's work. And if you go to a
picnic, just when the fun commences you have to nick off home and milk,
and when you tog yourself on Sunday evening you have to undress again and
lay into the milking, and then you have to change everything on you and
have a bath, or your best girl would scent the cow-yard on you, and not
have you within cooee of her. We won't know what rain is when we see it;
but I suppose it will come in floods and finish the little left by the
drought. The grasshoppers have eaten all the fruit and even the bark off
the trees, and the caterpillars made a croker of the few tomatoes we kept
alive with the suds. All the cockeys round here and dad are applying to
the Government to have their rents suspended for a time. We have not
heard yet whether it will be granted, but if Gov. doesn't like it,
they'll have to lump it, for none of us have a penny to bless ourselves
with, let alone dub up for taxes. I've written you a long letter, and if
you growl about the spelling and grammar I won't write to you any more,
so there, and you take my tip and don't write to mother on that flute any
more, for she won't take a bit of notice.
Yr loving brother,
So! Mother had no pity for me, and the more I pleaded with her the more
determined she grew upon leaving me to suffer on, so I wrote to her no
more. However, I continued to correspond with grannie, and in one of her
letters she told me that Harry Beecham. (that was in February) was still
in Sydney settling his affairs; but when that was concluded he was going
to Queensland. He had put his case in the hands of squatters he had known
in his palmy days, and the first thing that turned up in managing or
overseeing he was to have; but for the present he had been offered the
charge of 1600 head of bullocks from a station up near the Gulf of
Carpentaria overland to Victoria. Uncle Jay-Jay was not home yet: he had
extended his tour to Hong Kong, and grannie was afraid he was spending
too much money, as in the face of the drought she had difficulty in
making both ends meet, and feared she would be compelled to go on the
banks. She grieved that I was not becoming more reconciled to my place.
It was dull, no doubt, but it would do my reputation no harm, whereas,
were I in a lively situation, there might be numerous temptations hard to
resist. Why did I not try to look at it in that way?
She sent a copy of the _Australasian_, which was a great treat to me, also
to the children, as they were quite ignorant of the commonest things in
life, and the advent of this illustrated paper was an event to be
recorded in the diary in capital letters. They clustered round me eagerly
to see the pictures. In this edition there chanced to be a page devoted
to the portraits of eleven Australian singers, and our eyes fell on
Madame Melba, who was in the middle. As what character she was dressed I
do not remember, but she looked magnificent. There was a crown upon her
beautiful head, the plentiful hair was worn flowing, and the shapely
bosom and arms exposed.
"Who's that?" they inquired.
"Madame Melba; did you ever hear her name?"
"Who's Madame Melba? What's she do? Is she a queen?"
"Yes, a queen, and a great queen of song;" and being inspired with great
admiration for our own Australian cantatrice, who was great among the
greatest prima-donnas of the world, I began to tell them a little of her
fame, and that she had been recently offered 40,000 pounds to sing for
three months in America.
They were incredulous. Forty thousand pounds! Ten times as much as "pa"
had given for a paid-up selection he had lately bought. They told me it
was no use of me trying to tell them fibs. No one would give a woman
anything to sine, not even one pound. Why, Susie Duffy was the best
singer on the Murrumbidgee, and she would sing for any one who asked her,
and free of charge.
At this juncture Jimmy, who had been absent, came to see the show. After
gazing for a few seconds he remarked what the others had failed to
observe, "Why, the woman's naked!"
I attempted to explain that among rich people in high society it was
customary to dress like that in the evening, and that it looked very
Mrs M'Swat admonished me for showing the children low pictures.
"She must be a very bold woman," said Jimmy; and Lizer pronounced her mad
because, as she put it, "It's a wonder she'd be half-undressed in her
photo; you'd think she oughter dress herself up complete then."
Lizer certainly acted upon this principle, as a photo of her, which had
been taken by a travelling artist, bore evidence that for the occasion
she had arrayed herself in two pairs of ill-fitting cuffs, Peter's watch
and chain, strings, jackets, flowers, and other gewgaws galore.
"There ain't no such person as Madame Melber; it's only a fairy-tale,"
said Mrs M'Swat.
"Did you ever hear of Gladstone?" I inquired.
"No; where is that place?"
"Did you ever hear of Jesus Christ?"
"Sure, yes; he's got something to do with God, ain't he?"
After that I never attempted to enlighten them regarding our celebrities.
Oh, how I envied them their ignorant contentment! They were as ducks on a
duck-pond; but I was as a duck forced for ever to live in a desert, ever
wildly longing for water, but never reaching it outside of dreams.
Mr M'Swat and I Have a Bust-up
Men only, and they merely on business, came to Barney's Gap--women
tabooed the place. Some of them told me they would come to see me, but
not Mrs M'Swat, as she always allowed the children to be as rude to them
as they pleased. With the few individuals who chanced to come M'Swat
would sit down, light his pipe, and vulgarly and profusely expectorate on
the floor, while they yarned and yarned for hours and hours about the
price of wool, the probable breeding capacity of the male stock they
kept, and of the want of grass--never a word about their country's
politics or the events of the day; even the news of the "Mountain
Murders" by Butler had not penetrated here. I wondered if they were
acquainted with the names of their Governor and Prime Minister.
It was not the poor food and the filthy way of preparing it that worried
me, or that Mr M'Swat used "damn" on an average twice in five minutes
when conversing, or that the children for ever nagged about my father's
poverty and tormented me in a thousand other ways--it was the dead
monotony that was killing me.
I longed feveredly for something to happen. Agony is a tame word
wherewith to express what that life meant to me. Solitary confinement to
a gipsy would be something on a par.
Every night unfailingly when at home M'Swat sat in the bosom of his
family and speculated as to how much richer he was than his neighbours,
what old Recce lived on, and who had the best breed of sheep and who was
the smartest at counting these animals, until the sordidness of it turned
me dizzy, and I would steal out under the stars to try and cool my heated
spirit. This became a practice with me, and every night I would slip away
out of hearing of the household to sing the songs I had heard at
Caddagat, and in imagination to relive every day and hour there, till the
thing became too much for me, and I was scarcely responsible for my
actions. Often I knelt on the parched ground beneath the balmy summer sky
to pray--wild passionate prayers that were never answered.
I was under the impression that my nightly ramble was not specially
noticed by any one, but I was mistaken. Mr M'Swat, it appears, suspected
me of having a lover, but was never able to catch me red-handed.
The possibility of a girl going out at night to gaze at the stars and
dream was as improbable a thought for him as flying is to me, and having
no soul above mud, had I attempted an explanation he would have
considered me mad, and dangerous to have about the place.
Peter, junior, had a sweetheart, one Susie Duffy, who lived some miles on
the other side of the Murrumbidgee. He was in the habit of courting her
every Sunday and two or three nights during the week, and I often heard
the clang of his stirrup-irons and the clink of hobble-chain when he
returned late; but on one occasion I stayed out later than usual, and he
passed me going home. I stood still and he did not see me, but his horse
shied violently. I thought he would imagine I was a ghost, so called out:
"It is I."
"Well, I'll be hanged! What are ye doin' at this time ev night. Ain't yuz
afraid of ghosts?"
"Oh dear no. I had a bad headache and couldn't sleep, so came out to try
if a walk would cure it," I explained.
We were a quarter of a mile or so from the house, so Peter slackened his
speed that I might keep pace with him. His knowledge of 'etiquette did
not extend as far as dismounting. There is a great difference between
rudeness and ignorance. Peter was not rude; he was merely ignorant. For
the same reason he let his mother feed the pigs, clean his boots, and
chop wood, while he sat down and smoked and spat. It was not that he was
unmanly, as that this was the only manliness he had known.
I was alone in the schoolroom next afternoon when Mr M'Swat sidled in,
and after stuttering and hawing a little, delivered himself of:
"I want to tell ye that I don't hold with a gu-r-r-r-l going out of nights
for to meet young men: if ye want to do any coortin' yuz can do it
inside, if it's a decent young man. I have no objections to yer hangin'
yer cap up to our Peter, only that ye have no prawperty--in yerself I like
ye well enough, but we have other views for Peter. He's almost as good as
made it sure with Susie Duffy, an' as ole Duffy will have a bit ev
prawperty I want him to git her, an' wouldn't like ye to spoil the fun."
Peter was "tall and freckled and sandy, face of a country lout", and,
like Middleton's rouse-about, "hadn't any opinions, hadn't any ideas",
but possessed sufficient instinct and common bushcraft with which, by
hard slogging, to amass money. He was developing a moustache, and had a
"gu-r-r-r-l"; he wore tight trousers and long spurs; he walked with a
sidling swagger that was a cross between shyness and flashness, and took
as much pride in his necktie as any man; he had a kind heart, honest
principles, and would not hurt a fly; he worked away from morning till
night, and contentedly did his duty like a bullock in the sphere in which
God had placed him; he never had a bath while I knew him, and was a man
according to his lights. He knew there was such a thing as the outside
world, as I know there is such a thing as algebra; but it troubled him no
more than algebra troubles me.
This was my estimation of Peter M'Swat, junior. I respected him right
enough in his place, as I trust he respected me in mine, but though fate
thought fit for the present to place us in the one groove, yet our lives
were unmixable commodities as oil and water, which lay apart and would
never meet until taken in hand by the omnipotent leveller--death.
Marriage with Peter M'Swat!
Consternation and disgust held me speechless, and yet I was half inclined
to laugh at the preposterousness of the thing, when Peter's father
"I'm sorry if you've got smitten on Peter, but I know you'll he sensible.
Ye see I have a lot of children, and when the place is divided among 'em
it won't be much. I tell ye wot, old Duffy has a good bit of money and
only two children, Susie and Mick. I could get you to meet Mick--he mayn't
be so personable as our Peter," he reflected, with evident pride in his
weedy firstborn, and he got no farther, for I had been as a yeast-bottle
bubbling up, and now went off bang!
"Silence, you ignorant old creature! How dare you have the incomparable
impertinence to mention my name in conjunction with that of your boor of
a son. Though he were a millionaire I would think his touch
contamination. You have fallen through for once if you imagine I go out
at night to meet any one--I merely go away to be free for a few minutes
from the suffocating atmosphere of your odious home. You must not think
that because you have grasped and slaved and got a little money that it
makes a gentleman of you; and never you _dare_ to again mention my
name in regard to matrimony with any one about here;" and with my head
high and shoulders thrown back I marched to my room, where I wept till
I was weak and ill.
This monotonous sordid life was unhinging me, and there was no legitimate
way of escape from it. I formed wild plans of running away, to do what I
did not care so long as it brought a little action, anything but this
torturing maddening monotony; but my love for my little brothers and
sisters held me back. I could not do anything that would put me for ever
beyond the pale of their society.
I was so reduced in spirit that had Harold Beecham appeared then with a
matrimonial scheme to be fulfilled at once, I would have quickly erased
the fine lines I had drawn and accepted his proposal; but he did not
come, and I was unacquainted with his whereabouts or welfare. As I
remembered him, how lovable and superior he seemed in comparison with the
men I met nowadays: not that he was any better than these men in their
place and according to their lights, but his lights--at least not his
lights, for Harold Beecham. was nothing of a philosopher, but the
furniture of the drawing-room which they illuminated--was more artistic.
What a prince of gentlemanliness and winning gallantries he was in his
This information concerning him was in a letter I received from my
grandmother at Easter:
Who should surprise us with a visit the other day but Harold Beecham. He
was as thin as a whipping-post, and very sunburnt [I smiled, imagining it
impossible for Harold to be any browner than of yore]. He has been near
death's door with the measles--caught them in Queensland while droving,
and got wet. He was so ill that he had to give up charge of that 1600
head of cattle he was bringing. He came to say good-bye to us, as he is
off to Western Australia next week to see if he can mend his fortunes
there. I was afraid he was going to be like young Charters, and swear he
would never come back unless he made a pile, but he says he will be back
next Christmas three years for certain, if he is alive and kicking, as he
Why he intends returning at that stipulated time I don't know, as he
never was very communicative, and is more unsociable than ever now. He is
a man who never shows his feelings, but he must feel the loss of his old
position deeply. He seemed surprised not to find you here, and says it
was a pity to set you teaching, as it will take all the life and fun out
of you, and that is the first time I ever heard him express an opinion in
any one's business but his own. Frank Hawden sends kind regards, &c.
Teaching certainly had the effect upon me anticipated by Harold Beecham,
but it was not the teaching but the place in which I taught which was
doing the mischief--good, my mother termed it.
I was often sleepless for more than forty-eight hours at a stretch, and
cried through the nights until my eyes had black rings round them, which
washing failed to remove. The neighbours described me as "a sorrowful
lookin' delicate creetur', that couldn't larf to save her life"--quite a
different character to the girl who at Caddagat was continually chid for
being a romp, a hoyden, a boisterous tomboy, a whirlwind, and for
excessive laughter at anything and everything. I got into such a state of
nervousness that I would jump at the opening of a door or an unexpected
When cooling down, after having so vigorously delivered Mr M'Swat a piece
of my mind, I felt that I owed him an apology. According to his lights
(and that is the only fair way of judging our fellows) he had acted in a
kind of fatherly way. I was a young girl under his charge, and he would
have in a measure been responsible had I come to harm through going out
in the night. He had been good-natured, too, in offering to help things
along by providing an eligible, and allowing us to "spoon" under his
surveillance. That I was of temperament and aspirations that made his
plans loathsome to me was no fault of his--only a heavy misfortune to
myself. Yes; I had been in the wrong entirely.
With this idea in my head, sinking ankle-deep in the dust, and threading
my way through the pigs and fowls which hung around the back door, I went
in search of my master. Mrs M'Swat was teaching Jimmy how to kill a sheep
and dress it for use; while Lizer, who was nurse to the baby and
spectator of the performance, was volubly and ungrammatically giving
instructions in the art. Peter and some of the younger children were away
felling stringybark-trees for the sustenance of the sheep. The fall of
their axes and the murmur of the Murrumbidgee echoed faintly from the
sunset. They would be home presently and at tea; I reflected it would be
"The old yeos looks terrible skinny, but the hoggets is fat yet. By
crikey! They did go into the bushes. They chawed up stems and all--some as
thick as a pencil."
This information in that parlance had been given yesterday, the day
before, would be given today, tomorrow, and the next day. It was the boss
item on the conversational programme until further orders.
I had a pretty good idea where to find Mr M'Swat, as he had lately
purchased a pair of stud rams, and was in the habit of admiring them for
a couple of hours every evening. I went to where they usually grazed, and
there, as I expected, found Mr M'Swat, pipe in mouth, with glistening
eyes, surveying his darlings.
"Mr M'Swat, I have come to beg your pardon."
"That's all right, me gu-r-r-r-l. I didn't take no notice to anything ye
might spit out in a rage."
"But I was not in a rage. I meant every word I said, but I want to
apologize for the rude way in which I said it, as I had no right to speak
so to my elders. And I want to tell you that you need not fear me running
away with Peter, even supposing he should honour me with his affections,
as I am engaged to another man."
"By dad, I'll be hanged!" he exclaimed, with nothing but curiosity on his
wrinkled dried tobacco-leaf-looking face. He expressed no resentment on
account of my behaviour to him.
"Are ye to be married soon? Has he got any prawperty? Who is he? I
suppose he's respectable. Ye're very young."
"Yes; he is renowned for respectability, but I am not going to marry him
till I am twenty-one. He is poor, but has good prospects. You must
promise me not to tell anyone, as I wish it kept a secret, and only
mention it to you so that you need not be disturbed about Peter."
He assured me that he would keep the secret, and I knew I could rely on
his word. He was greatly perturbed that my intended was poor.
"Never ye marry a man widout a bit er prawperty, me gu-r-r-r-l. Take my
advice--the divil's in a poor match, no matter how good the man may be.
Don't ye he in a hurry; ye're personable enough in yer way, and there's as
good fish in the seas as ever come out of 'em. Yer very small; I admire a
good lump of a woman meself--but don't ye lose heart. I've heerd some men
say they like little girls, but, as I said, I like a good lump of a woman
"And you've got a good lump of a squaw," I thought to myself.
Do not mistake me. I do not for an instant fancy myself above the
M'Swats. Quite the reverse; they are much superior to me. Mr M'Swat was
upright and clean in his morals, and in his little sphere was as sensible
and kind a man as one could wish for. Mrs M'Swat was faithful to him,
contented and good-natured, and bore uncomplainingly, year after year,
that most cruelly agonising of human duties--childbirth, and did more for
her nation and her Maker than I will ever be noble enough to do.
But I could not help it that their life was warping my very soul. Nature
fashions us all; we have no voice in the matter, and I could not change
my organisation to one which would find sufficient sustenance in the
mental atmosphere of Barney's Gap.
Ta-Ta to Barney's Gap
It chanced at last, as June gave place to July and July to August, that I
could bear it no longer. I would go away even if I had to walk, and what
I would do I did not know or care, my one idea being to leave Barney's
Gap far and far behind. One evening I got a lot of letters from my little
brothers and sisters at home. I fretted over them a good deal, and put
them under my pillow; and as I had not slept for nights, and was feeling
weak and queer, I laid my head upon them to rest a little before going
out to get the tea ready. The next thing I knew was that Mrs M'Swat was
shaking me vigorously with one hand, holding a flaring candle in the
other, and saying:
"Lizer, shut the winder quick. She's been lyin' here in the draught till
she's froze, and must have the nightmare, the way she's been singin' out
that queer, an' I can't git her woke up. What ails ye, child? Are ye
I did not know what ailed me, but learnt subsequently that I laughed and
cried very much, and pleaded hard with grannie and some Harold to save
me, and kept reiterating, "I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it," and
altogether behaved so strangely that Mr M'Swat became so alarmed that he
sent seventeen miles for the nearest doctor. He came next morning, felt
my pulse, asked a few questions, and stated that I was suffering from
"Why, the child is completely run down, and in a fair way to contract
brain fever!" he exclaimed. "What has she been doing? It seems as though
she had been under some great mental strain. She must have complete rest
and change, plenty of diversion and nourishing food, or her mind will
He left me a bottle of tonic and Mr and Mrs M'Swat many fears. Poor
kind-hearted souls, they got in a great state, and understood about as
much of the cause of my breakdown as I do of the inside of the moon. They
ascribed it to the paltry amount of teaching and work I had done.
Mrs M'Swat killed a fowl and stewed it for my delectation. There was part
of the inside with many feathers to flavour the dish, and having no
appetite, I did not enjoy it, but made a feint of so doing to please the
They intended writing at once to give my parents notice when I would be
put on the train. I was pronounced too ill to act as scribe; Lizer was
suggested, and then Jimmy, but M'Swat settled the matter thus:
"Sure, damn it! I'm the proper one to write on an important business
matther like this here."
So pens, ink, and paper were laid on the dining-room table, and the great
proclamation went forth among the youngsters, "Pa is goin' to write a
whole letter all by hisself."
My door opened with the dining-room, and from my bed I could see the
proceeding. Mr M'Swat hitched his trousers well through the saddle-strap
which he always wore as a belt, took off his coat and folded it on the
back of a chair, rolled his shirt-sleeves up to his elbows, pulled his
hat well over his eyes, and "shaped up" to the writing material, none of
which met with his approval. The ink was "warter", the pens had not
enough "pint", and the paper was "trash"; but on being assured it was the
good stuff he had purchased especially for himself, he buckled to the
fray, producing in three hours a half-sheet epistle, which in grammar,
composition, and spelling quite eclipsed the entries in his diary.
However, it served its purpose, and my parents wrote back that, did I
reach Goulburn on a certain day, a neighbour who would be in town then
would bring me home.
Now that it was settled that I had no more to teach the dirty children,
out of dirty books, lessons for which they had great disinclination, and
no more to direct Lizer's greasy fingers over the yellow keys of that
demented piano in a vain endeavour to teach her "choones", of which her
mother expected her to learn on an average two daily, it seemed as though
I had a mountain lifted off me, and I revived magically, got out of bed
and packed my things.
I was delighted at the prospect of throwing off the leaden shackles of
Barney's Gap, but there was a little regret mingled with my relief. The
little boys had not been always bold. Did I express a wish for a
parrot-wing or water-worn stone, or such like, after a time I would be
certain, on issuing from my bedroom, to find that it had been
surreptitiously laid there, and the little soft-eyed fellows would
squabble for the privilege of bringing me my post, simply to give me
pleasure. Poor little Lizer, and Rose Jane too, copied me in style of
dress and manners in a way that was somewhat ludicrous but more pathetic.
They clustered round to say good-bye. I would be sure to write. Oh yes,
of course, and they would write in return and tell me if the bay mare got
well, and where they would find the yellow turkey-hen's nest. When I got
well I must come back, and I wouldn't have as much work to do, but go for
more rides to keep well, and so on. Mrs M'Swat very anxiously impressed
it upon me that I was to explain to my mother that it was not her (Mrs
M'Swat's) fault that I "ailed" from overwork, as I had never complained and
always seemed well.
With a kindly light on his homely sunburnt face, M'Swat said, as he put
me on the train:
"Sure, tell yer father he needn't worry over the money. I'll never be
hard on him, an' if ever I could help ye, I'd be glad."
"Thank you; you are very good, and have done too much already."
"Too much! Sure, damn it, wot's the good er bein' alive if we can't help
each other sometimes. I don't mind how much I help a person if they have
a little gratitood, but, damn it, I can't abear ingratitood."
"Good-bye, Mr M'Swat, and thank you."
"Good-bye, me gu-r-r-r-l, and never marry that bloke of yours if he don't
git a bit er prawperty, for the divil's in a poor match."
Back at Possum Gully
They were expecting me on the frosty evening in September, and the
children came bounding and shouting to meet me, when myself and luggage
were deposited at Possum Gully by a neighbour, as he passed in a great
hurry to reach his own home ere it got too dark. They bustled me to a
glowing fire in no time.
My father sat reading, and, greeting me in a very quiet fashion,
continued the perusal of his paper. My mother shut her lips tightly,
saying exultingly, "It seems it was possible for you to find a worse
place than home"; and that little speech was the thorn on the rose of my
welcome home. But there was no sting in Gertie's greeting, and how
beautiful she was growing, and so tall! It touched me to see she had made
an especial dainty for my tea, and had put things on the table which were
only used for visitors. The boys and little Aurora chattered and danced
around me all the while. One brought for my inspection some soup-plates
which had been procured during my absence; another came with a
picture-book; and nothing would do them but that I must, despite the
darkness, straightaway go out and admire a new fowl-house which "Horace
and Stanley built all by theirselves, and no one helped them one single
After Mrs M'Swat it was a rest, a relief, a treat, to hear my mother's
cultivated voice, and observe her lady-like and refined figure as she
moved about; and, what a palace the place seemed in comparison to
Barney's Gap! simply because it was clean, orderly, and bore traces of
refinement; for the stamp of indigent circumstances was legibly imprinted
upon it, and many things which had been considered "done for" when
thirteen months before I had left home, were still in use.
I carefully studied my brothers and sisters. They had grown during my
absence, and were all big for their age, and though some of them not
exactly handsome, yet all pleasant to look upon--I was the only wanting
in physical charms--also they were often discontented, and wished, as
children will, for things they could not have; but they were natural,
understandable children, not like myself, cursed with a fevered ambition
for the utterly unattainable.
Oh, were I seated high as my ambition,
I'd place this loot on naked necks of monarchs!
At the time of my departure for Caddagat my father had been negotiating
with beer regarding the sale of his manhood; on returning I found that he
had completed the bargain, and held a stamped receipt in his miserable
appearance and demeanour. In the broken-down man, regardless of manners,
one would have failed to recognize Dick Melvyn, "Smart Dick Melvyn",
"Jolly-good-fellow Melvyn" "Thorough Gentleman" and "Manly Melvyn" of the
handsome face and ingratiating manners, onetime holder of Bruggabrong,
Bin Bin East, and Bin Bin West. He never corrected his family nowadays,
and his example was most deleterious to them.
Mother gave me a list of her worries in private after tea that night. She
wished she had never married: not only was her husband a failure, but to
all appearances her children would be the same. I wasn't worth my salt or
I would have remained at Barney's Gap; and there was Horace--heaven only
knew where he would end. God would surely punish him for his disrespect
to his father. It was impossible to keep things together much longer,
When we went to bed that night Gertie poured all her troubles into my ear
in a jumbled string. It was terrible to have such a father. She was
ashamed of him. He was always going into town, and stayed there till
mother had to go after him, or some of the neighbours were so good as to
bring him home. It took all the money to pay the publican's bills, and
Gertie was ashamed to be seen abroad in the nice clothes which grannie
sent, as the neighbours said the Melvyns ought to pay up the old man's
bills instead of dressing like swells; and she couldn't help it, and she
was sick and tired of trying to keep up respectability in the teeth of
I comforted her with the assurance that the only thing was to feel right
within ourselves, and let people say whatsoever entertained their poor
little minds. And I fell asleep thinking that parents have a duty to
children greater than children to parents, and they who do not fulfil
their responsibility in this respect are as bad in their morals as a
debauchee, corrupt the community as much as a thief, and are among the
ablest underminers of their nation.
On the morrow, the first time we were alone, Horace seized the
opportunity of holding forth on _his_ woes. It was no use, he was choke
full of Possum Gully: he would stick to it for another year, and then he
would chuck it, even if he had to go on the wallaby. He wasn't going to
be slaving for ever for the boss to swallow the proceeds, and there was
nothing to be made out of dairying. When it wasn't drought it was floods
and caterpillars and grasshoppers.
Among my brothers and sisters I quickly revived to a certain extent, and
mother asserted her opinion that I had not been ill at all, but had made
up my mind to torment her; had not taken sufficient exercise, and might
have had a little derangement of the system but nothing more. It was
proposed that I should return to Barney's Gap. I demurred, and was
anathematized as ungrateful and altogether corrupt, that I would not go
back to M'Swat, who was so good as to lend my father money out of pure
friendship; but for once in my life I could not be made submit by either
coercion or persuasion. Grannie offered to take one of us to Caddagat;
mother preferred that Gertie should go. So we sent the pretty girl to
dwell among her kindred in a land of comfort and pleasure.
I remained at Possum Gully to tread the same old life in its tame narrow
path, with its never-ending dawn-till-daylight round of tasks; with, as
its entertainments, an occasional picnic or funeral or a day in town,
when, should it happen to be Sunday, I never fail to patronize one of the
cathedrals. I love the organ music, and the hush which pervades the
building; and there is much entertainment in various ways if one goes
early and watches the well-dressed congregation filing in. The costumes
and the women are pretty, and, in his own particular line, the ability of
the verger is something at which to marvel. Regular attendants, of
course, pay for and have reserved their seats, but it is in classing the
visitors that the verger displays his talent. He can cull the commoners
from the parvenu aristocrats, and put them in their respective places as
skilfully as an expert horse-dealer can draft his stock at a sale. Then,
when the audience is complete, in the middle and front of the edifice are
to be found they of the white hands and fine jewels; and in the topmost
seat of the synagogue, praying audibly, is one who has made all his
wealth by devouring widows' houses; while pushed away to the corners and
wings are they who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow; and those
who cannot afford good linen are too proud to be seen here at all.
"The choir sings and the organ rings," the uninteresting prayers are
rattled off ("O come, let us worship, and fall down: and kneel before the
Lord, our Maker"); a sermon, mostly of the debts of the concern, of the
customs of the ancients, or of the rites and ceremonies of up-to-date
churchism, is delivered, and the play is done, and as I leave the
building a great hunger for a little Christianity fills my heart.
Oh that a preacher might arise and expound from the Book of books a
religion with a God, a religion with a heart in it--a Christian religion,
which would abolish the cold legend whose centre is respectability, and
which rears great buildings in which the rich recline on silken hassocks
while the poor perish in the shadow thereof.
Through the hot dry summer, then the heartless winter and the scorching
summer again which have spent themselves since Gertie's departure, I have
struggled hard to do my duty in that state of life unto which it had
pleased God to call me, and sometimes I have partially succeeded. I have
had no books or papers, nothing but peasant surroundings and peasant
tasks, and have encouraged peasant ignorance--ignorance being the
mainspring of contentment, and contentment the bed-rock of happiness; but
it is all to no purpose. A note from the other world will strike upon the
chord of my being, and the spirit which has been dozing within me awakens
and fiercely beats at its bars, demanding some nobler thought, some
higher aspiration, some wider action, a more saturnalian pleasure,
something more than the peasant life can ever yield. Then I hold my
spirit tight till wild passionate longing sinks down, down to sickening
dumb despair, and had I the privilege extended to job of old--to curse God
and die--I would leap at it eagerly.
But Absent Friends are Soon Forgot
We received a great many letters from Gertie for a little while after she
went up the country, but they grew shorter and farther between as time
In one of grannie's letters there was concerning my sister: "I find Gertie
is a much younger girl for her age than Sybylla was, and not nearly so
wild and hard to manage. She is a great comfort to me. Every one remarks
upon her good looks."
From one of Gertie's letters:
Uncle Julius came home from Hong Kong and America last week, and brought
such a lot of funny presents for every one. He had a lot for you, but he
has given them to me instead as you are not here. He calls me his pretty
little sunbeam, and says I must always live with him.
I sighed to myself as I read this. Uncle Jay-Jay had said much the same
to me, and where was I now? My thoughts were ever turning to the people
and old place I love so well, but Gertie's letters showed me that I was
utterly forgotten and unmissed.
Gertie left us in October 1897, and it was somewhere about January 1898
that all the letters from Caddagat were full to overflowing with the
wonderful news of Harold Beecham's reinstatement at Five-Bob Downs, under
the same conditions as he had held sway there in my day.
From grannie's letters I learnt that some old sweetheart of Harold's
father had bequeathed untold wealth to this her lost love's son. The
wealth was in bonds and stocks principally, and though it would be some
time ere Harold was actually in possession of it, yet he had no
difficulty in getting advancements to any amount, and had immediately
I had never dreamed of such a possibility. True, I had often said were
Harold a character in fiction instead of real life, some relative would
die opportunely and set him up in his former position, but, here, this
utterly unanticipated contingency had arisen in a manner which would
affect my own life, and what were my feelings regarding the matter?
I think I was not fully aware of the extent of my lack of wifely love for
Harold Beecham, until experiencing the sense of relief which stole over
me on holding in my hand the announcement of his return to the smile of
He was rich; he would not need me now; my obligation to him ceased to
exist; I was free. He would no longer wish to be hampered with me. He
could take his choice of beauty and worth; he might even purchase a
princess did his ambition point that way.
One of Gertie's letters ran:
That Mr Beecham you used to tell me so much about has come back to live
at Five-Bob. He has brought his aunts back. Every one went to welcome
them, and there was a great fuss. Aunt Helen says he (Mr B.) is very
conservative; he has everything just as it used to be. I believe he is
richer than ever. Every one is laughing about his luck. He was here twice
last week, and has just left this evening. He is very quiet. I don't know
how you thought him so wonderful. I think he is too slow, I have great
work to talk to him, but he is very kind, and I like him. He seems to
remember you well, and often says you were a game youngster, and could
ride like old Nick himself.
I wrote to the owner of Five-Bob desiring to know if what I heard
concerning his good fortune was correct, and he replied by return post:
My dear little Syb,
Yes, thank goodness it is all true. The old lady left me nearly a
million. It seems like a fairy yarn, and I will know how to value it more
now. I would have written sooner, only you remember our bargain, and I
was just waiting to get things fixed up a little, when I'm off at great
tracks to claim you in the flesh, as there is no need for us to wait
above a month or two now if you are agreeable. I am just run to death. It
takes a bit of jigging to get things straight again, but it's simply too
good to believe to be back in the same old beat. I've seen Gertie a good
many times, and find your descriptions of her were not at all overdrawn.
I won't send any love in this, or there would be a "bust up" in the
post-office, because I'd be sure to overdo the thing, and I'd have all
the officials on to me for damages. Gather up your goods and chattels,
because I'll be along in a week or two to take possession of you.
I screwed the letter in two and dropped it into the kitchen-fire.
I knew Harold meant what he had said. He was a strong-natured man of firm
determinations, and having made up his mind to marry me would never for
an instant think of anything else; but I could see what he could not see
himself--that he had probably tired of me, and was becoming enamoured of
The discordance of life smote hard upon me, and the letter I wrote was
not pleasant. It ran:
To H. A. BEECHAM, Esq.,
Five-Bob Downs Station,
Your favour duly to hand. I heartily rejoice at your good fortune, and
trust you may live long and have health to enjoy it. Do not for an
instant consider yourself under any obligations to me, for you are
perfectly free. Choose some one who will reflect more credit on your
taste and sense.
With all good wishes,
S. Penelope Melvyn.
As I closed and directed this how far away Harold Beecham seemed! Less
than two years ago I had been familiar with every curve and expression of
his face, every outline of his great figure, every intonation of his
strong cultivated voice; but now he seemed as the shadow of a former age.
He wrote in reply: What did I mean? Was it a joke--just a little of my old
tormenting spirit? Would I explain immediately? He couldn't get down to
see me for a fortnight at the least. .
I explained, and very tersely, that I had meant what I said, and in
return received a letter as short as my own:
Dear Miss Melvyn,
I regret your decision, but trust I have sufficient manhood to prevent me
from thrusting myself upon any lady, much less you.
Your sincere friend,
Harold Augustus Beecham.
He did not demand a reason for my decision, but accepted it
unquestionably. As I read his words he grew near to me, as in the days
I closed my eyes, and before my mental vision there arose an overgrown
old orchard, skirting one of the great stock-routes from Riverina to
Monaro. A glorious day was languidly smiling good night on abundance of
ripe and ripening fruit and flowers. The scent of stock and the merry cry
of the tennis-players filled the air. I could feel Harold's wild jolting
heart-beats, his burning breath on my brow, and his voice husky with rage
in my ear. As he wrote that letter I could fancy the well-cut mouth
settling into a sullen line, as it had done on my birthday when, by
caressing, I had won it back to its habitual pleasant expression; but on
this occasion I would not be there. He would be angry just a little
while--a man of his strength and importance could not long hold ill-will
towards a woman, a girl, a child! as weak and insignificant as I. Then
when I should meet him in the years to come, when he would be the
faithful and loving husband of another woman, he would be a little
embarrassed perhaps; but I would set him at his case, and we would laugh
together re what he would term our foolish young days, and he would like
me in a brotherly way. Yes, that was how it would be. The tiny note
blackened in the flames.
So much for my romance of love! It had ended in a bottle of smoke, as all
my other dreams of life bid fair to do.
I think I was not fully aware how near I had been to loving Harold
Beecham until experiencing the sense of loss which stole over me on
holding in my hand the acceptance of his dismissal. It was a something
gone out of my life, which contained so few somethings, that I
crushingly felt the loss of any one.
Our greatest heart-treasure is a knowledge that there is in creation an
individual to whom our existence is necessary--some one who is part of our
life as we are part of theirs, some one in whose life we feel assured our
death would leave a gap for a day or two. And who can be this but a
husband or wife? Our parents have other children and themselves, our
brothers and sisters marry and have lives apart, so with our friends; but
one's husband would be different. And I had thrown behind me this chance;
but in the days that followed I knew that I had acted wisely.
Gertie's letters would contain: "Harold Beecham, he makes me call him
Harry, took me to Five-Bob last week, and it was lovely fun."
Again it would be: "Harry says I am the prettiest little girl ever was,
Caddagat or anywhere else, and he gave me such a lovely bracelet. I wish
you could see it."
We all went to church yesterday. Harry rode with me. There is to be a
very swell ball at Wyambeet next month, and Harry says I am to keep
nearly all my dances for him. Frank Hawden sailed for England last week.
We have a new jackeroo. He is better-looking than Frank, but I don't like
him as well.
Grannie's and aunt Helen's letters to my mother corroborated these
admissions. Grannie wrote:
Harry Beecham seems to be very much struck with Gertie. I think it would
be a good thing, as he is immensely rich, and a very steady young fellow
into the bargain. They say no woman could live with him on account of his
temper; but he has always been a favourite of mine, and we cannot expect
a man without some faults.
Aunt Helen remarked:
Don't he surprised if you have young Beecham down there presently on an
"asking papa" excursion. He spends a great deal of time here, and has
been inquiring the best route to Possum Gully. Do you remember him? I
don't think he was here in your day. He is an estimable and likeable
young fellow, and I think will make a good husband apart from his wealth.
He and Gertie present a marked contrast.
Sometimes on reading this kind of thing I would wax rather bitter. Love,
I said, was not a lasting thing; but knowledge told me that it was for
those of beauty and winsome ways, and not for me. I was ever to be a
lonely-hearted waif from end to end of the world of love--an alien among
my own kin.
But there were other things to worry me. Horace had left the family roof.
He averred he was "full up of life under the old man's rule. It was too
slow and messed up." His uncle, George Melvyn, his father's eldest
brother, who had so often and so kindly set us up with cows, had offered
to take him, and his father had consented to let him go. George Melvyn
had a large station outback, a large sheep-shearing machine, and other
improvements. Thence, strong in the hope of sixteen years, Horace set out
on horseback one springless spring morning ere the sun had risen, with
all his earthly possessions strapped before him. Bravely the horse
stepped out for its week's journey, and bravely its rider sat, leaving me
and the shadeless, wooden sun-baked house on the side of the hill, with
the regretlessness of teens--especially masculine teens. I watched him
depart until the clacking of his horse's hoofs grew faint on the stony
hillside and his form disappeared amid the she-oak scrub which crowned
the ridge to the westward. He was gone. Such is life. I sat down and
buried my face in my apron, too miserable even for tears. Here was
another article I ill could spare wrenched from my poorly and sparsely
True, our intercourse had not always been carpeted with rose-leaves. His
pitiless scorn of my want of size and beauty had often given me a
sleepless night; but I felt no bitterness against him for this, but
merely cursed the Potter who had fashioned the clay that was thus
On the other hand, he was the only one who had ever stood up and said a
word of extenuation for me in the teeth of a family squall. Father did
not count; my mother thought me bad from end to end; Gertie, in addition
to the gifts of beauty and lovableness, possessed that of holding with
the hare and running with the hound; but Horace once had put in a word
for me that I would never forget. I missed his presence in the house, his
pounding of the old piano with four dumb notes in the middle, as he
bawled thereto rollicking sea and comic songs; I missed his energetic
dissertations on spurs, whips, and blood-horses, and his spirited
rendering of snatches of Paterson and Gordon, as he came in and out,
banging doors and gates, teasing the cats and dogs and tormenting the
The 3rd of December 1898
It was a very hot day. So extreme was the heat that to save the lives of
some young swallows my father had to put wet bags over the iron roof
above their nest. A galvanized-iron awning connected our kitchen and
house: in this some swallows had built, placing their nest so near the
iron that the young ones were baking with the heat until rescued by the
wet bagging. I had a heavy day's work before me, and, from my exertions
of the day before, was tired at the beginning. Bush-fires had been raging
in the vicinity during the week, and yesterday had come so close that I
had been called out to carry buckets of water all the afternoon in the
blazing sun. The fire had been allayed, after making a gap in one of our
boundary fences. Father and the boys had been forced to leave the
harvesting of the miserable pinched wheat while they went to mend it, as
the small allowance of grass the drought gave us was precious, and had to
be carefully preserved from neighbours' stock.
I had baked and cooked, scrubbed floors and whitewashed hearths, scoured
tinware and cutlery, cleaned windows, swept yards, and discharged
numerous miscellaneous jobs, and half-past two in the afternoon found me
very dirty and very tired, and with very much more yet to do.
One of my half-starved poddy calves was very ill, and I went out to
doctor it previous to bathing and tidying myself for my finishing
My mother was busy upon piles and piles of wearying mending, which was
one of the most hopeless of the many slaveries of her life. This was hard
work, and my father was slaving away in the sun, and mine was arduous
labour, and it was a very hot day, and a drought-smitten and a long day,
and poddy calves ever have a tendency to make me moralize and snarl. This
was life, my life and my parents' life, and the life of those around us,
and if I was a good girl and honoured my parents I would he rewarded with
a long stretch of it. Yah!
These pagan meditations were interrupted by a footfall slowly
approaching. I did not turn to ascertain who it might be, but trusted it
was no one of importance, as the poddy and I presented rather a grotesque
appearance. It was one of the most miserable and sickly of its miserable
kind, and I was in the working uniform of the Australian peasantry. My
tattered skirt and my odd and bursted boots, laced with twine, were
spattered with whitewash, for coolness my soiled cotton blouse hung
loose, an exceedingly dilapidated sun-bonnet surmounted my head, and a
bottle of castor-oil was in my hand.
I supposed it was one of the neighbours or a tea-agent, and I would send
them to mother.
The footsteps had come to a halt beside me.
"Could you tell me if--"
I glanced upwards. Horrors! There stood Harold Beecham, as tall and broad
as of yore, even more sunburnt than ever, and looking very stylish in a
suit of grey and a soft fashionable dinted-in hat; and it was the first
time I had ever seen him in a white shirt and high collar.
I wished he would explode, or I might sink into the ground, or the calf
would disappear, or that something might happen.
On recognizing me his silence grew profound, but an unmistakable
expression of pity filled his eyes and stung me to the quick.
I have a faculty of self-pity, but my pride promptly refuses the
slightest offer of sympathy from another.
I could feel my heart grow as bitterly cold as my demeanour was icily
stiff, when I stood up and said curtly:
"This is a great surprise, Mr Beecham."
"Not an unpleasant one, I hope," he said pleasantly.
"We will not discuss the matter. Come inside out of the heat."
"I'm in no hurry, Syb, and couldn't I help you with that poor little
"I'm only trying to give it another chance of life."
"What will you do with it if it lives?"
"Sell it for half a crown when it's a yearling."
"It would pay better to shoot the poor little beggar now."
My Brilliant Career
"No doubt it would the owner of Five-Bob, but we have to be more
careful," I said tartly.
"I didn't mean to offend you."
"I'm not offended," I returned, leading the way to the house, imagining
with a keen pain that Harold Beecham must be wondering how for an instant
he could have been foolish enough to fancy such an object two years ago.
Thank goodness I have never felt any humiliation on account of my mother,
and felt none then, as she rose to greet Harold upon my introduction. She
was a lady, and looked it, in spite of the piles of coarse mending, and
the pair of trousers, almost bullet-proof with patches, out of which she
drew her hand, roughened and reddened with hard labour, in spite of her
patched and faded cotton gown, and the commonest and most poverty-stricken
of peasant surroundings, which failed to hide that she had not been
Leaving them together, I expeditiously proceeded to relieve the
livery-stable horse, on which Harold had come, of the valise, saddle, and
bridle with which it was encumbered, and then let it loose in one of the
grassless paddocks near at hand.
Then I threw myself on a stool in the kitchen, and felt, to the bone, the
sting of having ideas above one's position.
In a few minutes mother came hurrying out.
"Good gracious, what's the matter? I suppose you didn't like being caught
in such a pickle, but don't get in the dumps about it. I'll get him some
tea while you clean yourself, and then you'll be able to help me by and
I found my little sister Aurora, and we climbed through the window into
my bedroom to get tidy. I put a pair of white socks and shoes and a clean
pinafore on the little girl, and combed her golden curls. She was all
mine--slept with me, obeyed me, championed me; while I--well, I
There was a hole in the wall, and through it I could see without being
Mother was dispensing afternoon tea and talking to Harold. It was
pleasant to see that manly figure once again. My spirits rose
considerably. After all, if the place was poor, it was very clean, as I
had scrubbed it all that morning, and when I came to consider the matter,
I remembered that men weren't such terrible creatures, and never made one
feel the sting of one's poverty half as much as women do.
"Aurora," I said, I want you to go out and tell Mr Beecham something.
The little girl assented. I carefully instructed her in what she was to
say, and dispatched her. She placed herself in front of Harold--a
wide-eyed mite of four, that scarcely reached above his knee--and clasping
her chubby hands behind her, gazed at him fearlessly and unwinkingly.
"Aurora, you mustn't stand staring like that," said mother.
"Yes, I must," she replied confidently.
"Well, and what's your name?" said Harold laughingly.
"Aurora and Roy. I belong to Sybyller, and got to tell you somesing."
"Have you? Let's hear it."
"Sybyller says you's Mr Beecher; when you're done tea, you'd like me if I
would to 'scort you to farver and the boys, and 'duce you."
Mother laughed. "That's some of Sybylla's nonsense. She considers Rory
her especial property, and delights to make the child attempt long words.
Perhaps you would care to take a stroll to where they are at work, by and
Harold said he would go at once, and accepting Rory's escort, and with a
few directions from mother, they presently set out--she importantly
trudging beneath a big white sun-bonnet, and he looking down at her in
amusement. Presently he tossed her high above his head, and depositing
her upon his shoulder, held one sturdy brown leg in his browner hand,
while she held on by his hair.
"My first impressions are very much in his favour," said mother, when
they had got out of hearing. "But fancy Gertie the wife of that great
"She is four inches taller than I am," I snapped. "And if he was as big
as a gum-tree, he would he a man all the same, and just as soft on a
pretty face as all the rest of them."
I bathed, dressed, arranged my hair, got something ready for tea, and
prepared a room for our visitor. For this I collected from all parts of
the house--a mat from one room, a toilet-set from another, and so on--till
I had quite an elaborately furnished chamber ready for my one-time lover.
They returned at dusk, Rory again seated on Harold's shoulder, and two of
the little boys clinging around him.
As I conducted him to his room I was in a different humour from that of
the sweep-like object who had met him during the afternoon. I laughed to
myself, for, as on a former occasion during our acquaintance, I felt I
was master of the situation.
"I say, Syb, don't treat a fellow as though he was altogether a stranger,"
he said diffidently, leaning against the door-post.
Our hands met in a cordial grasp as I said, "I'm awfully glad to see you,
Hal; but, but--"
I didn't feel over delighted to be caught in such a stew this afternoon."
"Nonsense! It only reminded me of the first time we met," he said with a
twinkle in his eye. "That's always the way with you girls. You can't be
civil to a man unless you're dressed up fit to stun him, as though you
couldn't make fool enough of him without the aid of clothes at all."
"You'd better shut up," I said over my shoulder as I departed, 1dor you
will be saying something better left unsaid, like at our first meeting.
Do you remember?"
"Do I not? Great Scot, it's just like old times to have you giving me
impudence over your shoulder like that!" he replied merrily.
"Like, yet unlike," I retorted with a sigh.
Once Upon a Time, when the days were long and hot
Next day was Sunday--a blazing one it was too. I proposed that in the
afternoon some of us should go to church. Father sat upon the idea as a
mad one. Walk two miles in such heat for nothing! as walk we would he
compelled to do, horseflesh being too precious in such a drought to
fritter it away in idle jaunts. Surprising to say, however, Harold, who
never walked anywhere when he could get any sort of a horse, uttered a
wish to go. Accordingly, when the midday dinner was over, he, Stanley,
and I set out. Going to church was quite the event of the week to the
residents around Possum Gully. It was a small Dissenting chapel, where a
layman ungrammatically held forth at 3 P.m. every Sunday; but the
congregation was composed of all denominations, who attended more for the
sitting about on logs outside, and yarning about the price of butter, the
continuance of the drought, and the latest gossip, before and after the
service, than for the service itself.
I knew the appearance of Harold Beecham, would make quite a miniature
sensation, and form food for no end of conjecture and chatter. In any
company he was a distinguished-looking man, and particularly so among
these hard-worked farmer-selectors, on whose careworn features the cruel
effects of the drought were leaving additional lines of worry. I felt
proud of my quondam sweetheart. There was an unconscious air of physical
lordliness about him, and he looked such a swell--not the black-clothed,
clean-shaved, great display of white collar-and-cuffs swell appertaining
to the office and city street, but of the easy sunburnt squatter type of
swelldom, redolent of the sun, the saddle, the wide open country--a man
who is a man, utterly free from the least suspicion of effeminacy, and
capable of earning his bread by the sweat of his brow--with an arm ready
and willing to save in an accident.
All eyes were turned on us as we approached, and I knew that the
attentions he paid me out of simple courtesy--tying my shoe, carrying my
book, holding my parasol--would be put down as those of a lover.
I introduced him to a group of men who were sitting on a log, under the
shade of a stringybark, and leaving him to converse with them, made my
way to where the women sat beneath a gum-tree. The children made a third
group at some distance. We always divided ourselves thus. A young fellow
had to be very far gone ere he was willing to run the gauntlet of all the
chaff levelled at him had he the courage to single out a girl and talk to
I greeted all the girls and women, beginning at the great-grandmother of
the community, who illustrated to perfection the grim sarcasm of the
fifth commandment. She had worked hard from morning till night, until too
old to do so longer, and now hung around with aching weariness waiting
for the grave. She generally poured into my cars a wail about her
"rheumatisms", and "How long it do be waiting for the Lord"; but today
she was too curious about Harold to think of herself.
"Sure, Sybyller, who's that? Is he yer sweetheart? Sure he's as fine a
man as iver I clapped me eyes on."
I proceeded to give his pedigree, but was interrupted by the arrival of
the preacher, and we all went into the weatherboard iron-roofed house of
After service, one of the girls came up to me and whispered, '11at is
your sweetheart, isn't it, Sybyller? He was looking at you all the time
"Oh dear, no! I'll introduce him to you."
I did so, and watched him as they made remarks about the heat and
drought. There was nothing of the cad or snob about him, and his short
season of adversity had rubbed all the little crudities off his
character, leaving him a man that the majority of both sexes would
admire: women for his bigness, his gentleness, his fine brown
moustache--and for his wealth; men, because he was a manly fellow.
I know he had walked to church on purpose to get a chance of speaking to
me about Gertie, before approaching her parents on the matter; but
Stanley accompanied us, and, boy-like, never relaxed in vigilance for an
instant, so there was no opportunity for anything but matter-of-fact
remarks. The heat was intense. We wiped the perspiration and flies from
our face frequently, and disturbed millions of grasshoppers as we walked.
They had devoured all the fruit in the orchards about, and had even
destroyed many of the trees by eating the bark, and now they were
stripping the briers of foliage. In one orchard we passed, the apricot,
plum, and peach-stones hung naked on their leafless trees as evidence of
their ravages. It was too hot to indulge in any but the most desultory
conversation. We dawdled along. A tiger-snake crossed our path. Harold
procured a stick and killed it, and Stanley hung it on the top wire of a
fence which was near at hand. After this we discussed snakes for a few
A blue sea-breeze, redolent of the bush-fires which were raging at
Tocumwal and Bombala, came rushing and roaring over the ranges from the
cast, and enshrouded the scene in its heavy fog-like folds. The sun was
obscured, and the temperature suddenly took such a great drop that I felt
chilled in my flimsy clothing, and I noticed Harold draw his coat
Stanley had to go after the cows, which were little better than walking
hides, yet were yarded morning and evening to yield a dribble of milk. He
left us among some sallie-trees, in a secluded nook, walled in by briers,
and went across the paddock to roundup the cows. Harold and I came to a
halt by tacit consent.
"Syb, I want to speak to you," he said earnestly, and then came to a dead
"Very well; 'tear into it,' as Horace would say; but if it is anything
frightful, break it gently," I said flippantly.
"Surely, Syb, you can guess what it is I have to say."
Yes, I could guess, I knew what he was going to say, and the knowledge
left a dull bitterness at my heart. I knew he was going to tell me that I
had been right and he wrong--that he had found some one he loved better
than me, and that some one being my sister, he felt I needed some
explanation before he could go in and win; and though I had refused him
for want of love, yet it gave me pain when the moment arrived that the
only man who had ever pretended to love me was going to say he had been
mistaken, and preferred my sister.
There was silence save for the whirr of the countless grasshoppers in the
brier bushes. I knew he was expecting me to help him out, but I felt
doggedly savage and wouldn't. I looked up at him. He was a tall grand
man, and honest and true and rich. He loved my sister; she would marry
him, and they would he happy. I thought bitterly that God was good to one
and cruel to another--not that I wanted this man, but why was I so
different from other girls?
But then I thought of Gertie, so pretty, so girlish, so understandable,
so full of innocent winning coquetry. I softened. Could any one help
preferring her to me, who was strange, weird, and perverse--too outspoken
to be engaging, devoid of beauty and endearing little ways? It was my own
misfortune and nobody's fault that my singular individuality excluded me
from the ordinary run of youthful joyous-heartednesses, and why should I
be nasty to these young people?
I was no heroine, only a common little bush-girl, so had to make the best
of the situation without any fooling. I raised my eyes from the scanty
baked wisps of grass at my feet, placed my hand on Hal's arm, and
tiptoeing so as to bring my five-foot stature more on a level with his,
"Yes, Hal, I know what you want to say. Say it all. I won't be nasty."
"Well, you see you are so jolly touchy, and have snubbed me so often,
that I don't know how to begin; and if you know what I'm going to say,
won't you give me an answer without hearing it?"
"Yes, Hal; but you'd better say it, as I don't know what conditions--"
"Conditions!"--catching me up eagerly at the word. "If it is only
conditions that are stopping you, you can make your own conditions if you
will marry me."
"Marry you, Harold! What do you mean? Do you know what you are saying?" I
"There!" he replied: I knew you would take it as an insult. I believe you
are the proudest girl in the world. I know you are too clever for me; but
I love you, and could give you everything you fancied."
"Hal, dear, let me explain. I'm not insulted, only surprised. I thought
you were going to tell me that you loved Gertie, and would ask me not to
make things unpleasant by telling her of the foolish little bit of
flirtation there had been between us."
"Marry Gertie! Why, she's only a child! A mere baby, in fact. Marry
Gertie! I never thought of her in that light; and did you think I was
that sort of a fellow, Syb?" he asked reproachfully.
"No, Hal," I promptly made answer. I did not think you were that sort of
fellow; but I thought that was the only sort of fellow there was."
"Good heavens, Syb! Did you really mean those queer little letters you
wrote me last February? I never for an instant looked upon them as
anything but a little bit of playful contrariness. And have you forgotten
me? Did you not mean your promise of two years ago, that you speak of
what passed between us as a paltry bit of flirtation? Is that all you
"No, I did not consider it flirtation; but that is what I thought you
would term it when announcing your affection for Gertie."
"Gertie! Pretty little Gertie! I never looked upon the child as anything
but your sister, consequently mine also. She's a child."
"Child! She is eighteen. More than a year older than I was when you first
introduced the subject of matrimony to me, and she is very beautiful, and
twenty times as good and lovable as I could ever be even in my best
"Yes, I know you are young in years, but there is nothing of the child in
you. As for beauty, it is nothing. If beauty was all a man required, he
could, if rich, have a harem full of it any day. I want some one to be
"The world is filled with folly and sin,
And love must cling where it can, I say;
For beauty is easy enough to win,
But one isn't loved every day,"
I quoted from Owen Meredith.
"Yes," he said, "that is why I want you. Just think a moment; don't say
no. You are not vexed with me--are you, Syb?"
"Vexed, Hal! I am scarcely inhuman enough to be angry on account of being
Ah, why did I not love him as I have it in me to love! Why did he look so
exasperatingly humble? I was weak, oh, so pitifully weak! I wanted a man
who would be masterful and strong, who would help me over the rough spots
of life--one who had done hard grinding in the mill of fate--one who had
suffered, who had understood. No; I could never marry Harold Beecham.
"Well, Syb, little chum, what do you say?"
"Say!"--and the words fell from me bitterly--"I say, leave me; go and
marry the sort of woman you ought to marry. The sort that all men like. A
good conventional woman, who will do the things she should at the proper
time. Leave me alone."
He was painfully agitated. A look of pain crossed his face.
"Don't say that, Syb, because I was a beastly cad once: I've had all that
knocked out of me."
"I am the cad," I replied. "What I said was nasty and unwomanly, and I
wish I had left it unsaid. I am not good enough to be your wife, Hal, or
that of any man. Oh, Hal, I have never deceived you! There are scores of
good noble women in the world who would wed you for the asking--marry one
"But, Syb, I want you. You are the best and truest girl in the world."
"Och! Sure, the blarney-stone is getting a good rub now," I said
Annoyance and amusement struggled for mastery in his expression as he
"You're the queerest girl in the world. One minute you snub a person, the
next you are the jolliest girl going, and then you get as grave and
earnest as a fellow's mother would be."
"Yes, I am queer. If you had any sense, you'd have nothing to do with me.
I'm more queer, too. I am given to something which a man never pardons in
a woman. You will draw away as though I were a snake when you hear."
"What is it?"
"I am given to writing stories, and literary people predict I will yet be
He laughed--his soft, rich laugh.
"That's just into my hand. I'd rather work all day than write the
shortest letter; so if you will give me a hand occasionally, you can
write as many yarns as you like. I'll give you a study, and send for a
truck-load of writing-gear at once, if you like. Is that the only horror
you had to tell me?"
I bowed my head.
"Well, I can have you now," he said gently, folding me softly in his arms
with such tender reverence that I cried out in pain, "Oh, Hal, don't,
don't!" and struggled free. I was ashamed, knowing I was not worthy of
He flushed a dusky red.
"Am I so hateful to you that you cannot bear my touch?" he asked half
wistfully, half angrily.
"Oh no; it isn't that. I'm really very fond of you, if you'd only
understand," I said half to myself.
"Understand! If you care for me, that is all I want to understand. I love
you, and have plenty of money. There is nothing to keep us apart. Now
that I know you care for me, I _will_ have you, in spite of the devil."
"There will he a great tussle between you," I said mischievously,
laughing at him. "Old Nick has a great hold on me, and I'm
sure he will dispute your right."
At any time Harold's sense of humour was not at all in accordance with
his size, and he failed to see how my remark applied now.
He gripped my hands in a passion of pleading, as two years previously he
had seized me in jealous rage. He drew me to him. His eyes were dark and
full of entreaty; his voice was husky.
"Syb, poor little Syb, I will be good to you! You can have what you like.
You don't know what you mean when you say no."
No; I would not yield. He offered me everything--but control. He was a man
who meant all he said. His were no idle promises on the spur of the
moment. But no, no, no, no, he was not for me. My love must know, must
have suffered, must understand.
"Syb, you do not answer. May I call you mine? You must, you must, you
His hot breath was upon my cheek. The pleasant, open, manly
countenance was very near-perilously near. The intoxication of his love
was overpowering me. I had no hesitation about trusting him. He was not
distasteful to me in any way. What was the good of waiting for that
other--the man who had suffered, who knew, who understood? I might never
find him; and, if I did, ninety-nine chances to one he would not care for
"Syb, Syb, can't you love me just a little?"
There was a winning charm in his manner. Nature had endowed him
liberally with virile fascination. My hard uncongenial life had rendered
me weak. He was drawing me to him; he was irresistible. Yes; I would be
his wife. I grew dizzy, and turned my head sharply backwards and took a
long gasping breath, another and another, of that fresh cool air
suggestive of the grand old sea and creak of cordage and bustle and
strife of life. My old spirit revived, and my momentary weakness fled.
There was another to think of than myself, and that was Harold. Under a
master-hand I would be harmless; but to this man I would be as a
two-edged sword in the hand of a novice--gashing his fingers at every
turn, and eventually stabbing his honest heart.
It was impossible to make him see my refusal was for his good. He was as
a favourite child pleading for a dangerous toy. I desired to gratify him,
but the awful responsibility of the after-effects loomed up and deterred
"Hal, it can never be."
He dropped my hands and drew himself up.
I will not take your No till the morning. Why do you refuse me? Is it my
temper? You need not be afraid of that. I don't think I'd hurt you; and I
don't drink, or smoke, or swear very much; and I've never destroyed a
woman's name. I would not stoop to press you against your will if you
were like the ordinary run of women; but you are such a queer little
party, that I'm afraid you might be boggling at some funny little point
that could easily he wiped out."
"Yes; it is only a little point. But if you wipe it out you will knock
the end out of the whole thing--for the point is myself. I would not suit
you. It would not he wise for you to marry me."
"But I'm the only person concerned. If you are not afraid for yourself, I
am quite satisfied."
We faced about and walked homewards in unbroken silence--too perturbed to
fall into our usual custom of chewing bush-leaves as we went.
I thought much that night when all the house was abed. It was tempting.
Harold would he good to me, and would lift me from this life of poverty
which I hated, to one of ease. Should I elect to remain where I was, till
the grave there was nothing before me but the life I was leading now: my
only chance of getting above it was by marriage, and Harold Beecham's
offer was the one chance of a lifetime. Perhaps he could manage me well
enough. Yes; I had better marry him.
And I believe in marriage--that is, I think it the most sensible and
respectable arrangement for the replenishing of a nation which has yet
been suggested. But marriage is a solemn issue of life. I was as suited
for matrimony as any of the sex, but only with an exceptional
helpmeet--and Harold was not he. My latent womanliness arose and pointed
this out so plainly that I seized my pen and wrote:
I will not get a chance of speaking to you in the morning, so write.
Never mention marriage to me again. I have firmly made up my mind--it must
be No. It will always be a comfort to me in the years to come to know
that I was loved once, if only for a few hours. It is not that I do not
care for you, as I like you better than any man I have ever seen; but I
do not mean ever to marry. When you lost your fortune I was willing to
accede to your request, as I thought you wanted me; but now that you are
rich again you will not need me. I am not good enough to be your
wife,'for you are a good man; and better, because you do not know you are
good. You may feel uncomfortable or lonely for a little while, because,
when you make up your mind, you are not easily thwarted; but you will
find that your fancy for me will soon pass. It is only a fancy, Hal. Take
a look in the glass, and you will see reflected there the figure of a
stalwart man who is purely virile, possessing not the slightest attribute
of the weaker sex, therefore your love is merely a passing flame. I do
not impute fickleness to you, but merely point out a masculine
characteristic, and that you are a man, and only a man, pure and
unadulterated. Look around, and from the numbers of good women to be
found on every side choose one who will make you a fitter helpmeet, a
more conventional comrade, than I could ever do. I thank you for the
inestimable honour you have conferred upon me; but keep it till you find
some one worthy of it, and by and by you will be glad that I have set you
Your sincere and affec. friend,
Sybylla Penelope Melvyn.
Then I crept into bed beside my little sister, and though the air inside
had not cooled, and the room was warm, I shivered so that I clasped the
chubby, golden-haired little sleeper in my arms that I might feel
something living and real and warm.
"Oh, Rory, Rory!" I whispered, raining upon her lonely-hearted tears. "In
all the world is there never a comrade strong and true to teach me the
meaning of this hollow, grim little tragedy--life? Will it always be this
ghastly aloneness? Why am I not good and pretty and simple like other
girls? Oh, Rory, Rory, why was I ever born? I am of no use or pleasure to
any one in all the world!"
He that despiseth little things, shall fall little by little
The morning came, breakfast, next Harold's departure. I shook my head and
slipped the note into his hand as we parted. He rode slowly down the
road. I sat on the step of the garden gate, buried my face in my hands,
and reviewed the situation. I could see my life, stretching out ahead of
me, barren and monotonous as the thirsty track along which Harold was
disappearing. Today it was washing, ironing tomorrow, next day baking,
after that scrubbing--thus on and on. We would occasionally see a
neighbour or a tea-agent, a tramp or an Assyrian hawker. By hard slogging
against flood, fire, drought, pests, stock diseases, and the sweating
occasioned by importation, we could manage to keep bread in our mouths.
By training and education I was fitted for nought but what I was, or a
general slavey, which was many degrees worse. I could take my choice.
Life was too much for me. What was the end of it, what its meaning, aim,
hope, or use?
In comparison to millions I knew that I had received more than a fair
share of the goods of life; but knowing another has leprosy makes our
cancer none the easier to bear.
My mother's voice, sharp and cross, roused me. "Sybylla, you lazy
unprincipled girl, to sit scheming there while your poor old mother is at
the wash-tub. You sit idling there, and then by and by you'll be groaning
about this terrible life in which there's time for nothing but work."
How she fussed and bothered over the clothes was a marvel to me. My frame
of mind was such that it seemed it would not signify if all our clothes
went to the dogs, and the clothes of our neighbours, and the clothes of
the whole world, and the world itself for the matter of that.
"Sybylla, you are a dirty careless washer. You've put Stanley's trousers
in the boil and the colour is coming out of them, and your father's best
white handkerchief should have been with the first lot, and here it is
Poor mother got crosser as she grew weary with the fierce heat and
arduous toil, and as I in my abstraction continued to make mistakes, but
the last straw was the breaking of an old cup which I accidentally pushed
off the table.
I got it hot. Had I committed an act of premeditated villainy I could not
have received more lecturing. I deserved it--I was careless, cups were
scarce with us, and we could not afford more; but what I rail against is
the grindingly uneventful narrowness of the life in which the
unintentional breaking of a common cup is good for a long scolding.
Ah, my mother! In my life of nineteen years I can look back and see a
time when she was all gentleness and refinement, but the polish has been
worn off it by years and years of scrubbing and scratching, and washing
and patching, and poverty and husbandly neglect, and the bearing of
burdens too heavy for delicate shoulders. Would that we were more
companionable, it would make many an oasis in the desert of our lives. Oh
that I could take an all-absorbing interest in patterns and recipes,
bargains and orthodoxy! Oh that you could understand my desire to feel
the rolling billows of the ocean beneath, to hear the pealing of a great
organ through dimly lit arches, or the sob and wail of a violin in a
brilliant crowded hall, to be swept on by the human stream.
Ah, thou cruel fiend--Ambition! Desire!
Soul of the leaping flame,
Heart of the scarlet fire,
Spirit that hath for name
Only the name--Desire!
To hot young hearts beating passionately in strong breasts, the sweetest
thing is motion.
No, that part of me went beyond my mother's understanding. On the other
hand, there was a part of my mother--her brave cheerfulness, her trust in
God, her heroic struggle to keep the home together--which went soaring on
beyond my understanding, leaving me a coward weakling, grovelling in the
Would that hot dreary day never close? What advantage when it did? The
next and the next and many weeks of others just the same were following
If the souls of lives were voiced in music, there are some that none but
a great organ could express, others the clash of a full orchestra, a few
to which nought but the refined and exquisite sadness of a violin could
do justice. Many might be likened unto common pianos, jangling and out of
tune, and some to the feeble piping of a penny whistle, and mine could be
told with a couple of nails in a rusty tin-pot.
Why do I write? For what does any one write? Shall I get a hearing? If
I have voiced the things around me, the small-minded thoughts, the sodden
round of grinding tasks--a monotonous, purposeless, needless existence.
But patience, O heart, surely I can make a purpose! For the present, of
my family I am the most suited to wait about common public-houses to look
after my father when he is inebriated. It breaks my mother's heart to do
it; it is dangerous for my brothers; imagine Gertie in such a position!
But me it does not injure, I have the faculty for doing that sort of
thing without coming to harm, and if it makes me more bitter and godless,
well, what matter?
The next letter I received from Gertie contained:
suppose you were glad to see Harry. He did not tell me he was going, or I
would have sent some things by him. I thought he would he able to tell me
lots about you that I was dying to hear, but he never said a word, only
that you were all well. He went travelling some weeks ago. I missed him
at first because he used to be so kind to me; but now I don't, because Mr
Creyton, whom Harry left to manage Five-Bob, comes just as often as Harry
used to, and is lots funnier. He brings me something nice every time.
Uncle Jay-Jay teases me about him.
Happy butterfly-natured Gertie! I envied her. With Gertie's letter came
also one from grannie, with further mention of Harold Beecham.
We don't know what to make of Harold Beecham. He was always such a steady
fellow, and hated to go away from home even for a short time, but now he
has taken an idea to rush away to America, and is not coming home till he
has gone over the world. He is not going to see anything, because by
cablegrams his aunts got he is one place today and hundreds of miles away
tomorrow. It is some craze he has suddenly taken. I was asking Augusta if
there was ever any lunacy in the family, and she says not that she knows
of. It was a very unwise act to leave full management to Creyton and
Benson in the face of such a drought. One warning and marvellous escape
such as he has had ought to be enough for a man with any sense. I told
him he'd be poor again if he didn't take care, but he said he didn't mind
if all his property was blown into atoms, as it had done him more harm
than good, whatever he means by talking that way. Insanity is the only
reason I can see for his conduct. I thought he had his eye on Gertie, but
I questioned her, and it appears he has never said anything to her. I
wonder what was his motive for going to Possum Gully that time?
Travel was indeed an unexpected development on the part of Harold
Beecham. He had such a marked aversion to anything of that sort, and
never went even to Sydney or Melbourne for more than a few days at a
stretch, and that on business or at a time of stock shows.
There were many conjectures re the motive of his visit to Possum Gully,
but I held my peace.
A Tale that is told and a Day that is done
There are others toiling and straining
'Neath burdens graver than mine;
They are weary, yet uncomplaining,--
I know it, yet I repine:
I know it, how time will ravage,
How time will level, and yet
I long with a longing savage,
I regret with a fierce regret.
A. L. GORDON.
Possum Gully, 25th March, 1899
Christmas, only distinguished from the fifty-two slow Sundays of the year
by plum-pudding, roast turkey, and a few bottles of home-made beer, has
been once more; New Year, ushered in with sweet-scented midsummer wattle
and bloom of gum- and box-tree has gone; February has followed, March is
doing likewise, and my life is still the same.
What the future holds I know not, and am tonight so Weary that I do not
Time rules us all. And life, indeed, is not
The thing we planned it out, ere hope was dead;
And then, we women cannot choose our lot.
Time is thorough in his work, and as that arch-cheat, Hope, gradually
becomes a phantom of the past, the neck will grow inured to its yoke.
Tonight is one of the times when the littleness--the abject
littleness--of all things in life comes home to me.
After all, what is there in vain ambition? King or slave, we all must
die, and when death knocks at our door, will it matter whether our life
has been great or small, fast or slow, so long as it has been true--true
with the truth that will bring rest to the soul?
But the toughest lives are brittle,
And the bravest and the best
Lightly fall--it matters little;
Now I only long for rest.
To weary hearts throbbing slowly in hopeless breasts the sweetest thing
And my heart is weary. Oh, how it aches tonight--not with the ache of a
young heart passionately crying out for battle, but with the slow dead
ache of an old heart returning vanquished and defeated!
Enough of pessimistic snarling and grumbling! Enough! Enough! Now for a
lilt of another theme:
I am proud that I am an Australian, a daughter of the Southern Cross, a
child of the mighty bush. I am thankful I am a peasant, a part of the
bone and muscle of my nation, and earn my bread by the sweat of my brow,
as man was meant to do. I rejoice I was not born a parasite, one of the
blood-suckers who loll on velvet and satin, crushed from the proceeds of
human sweat and blood and souls.
Ah, my sunburnt brothers!--sons of toil and of Australia! I love and
respect you well, for you are brave and good and true. I have seen not
only those of you with youth and hope strong in your veins, but those
with pathetic streaks of grey in your hair, large families to support,
and with half a century sitting upon your work-laden shoulders. I have
seen you struggle uncomplainingly against flood, fire, disease in stock,
pests, drought, trade depression, and sickness, and yet have time to
extend your hands and hearts in true sympathy to a brother in misfortune,
and spirits to laugh and joke and be cheerful.
And for my sisters a great love and pity fills my heart. Daughters of
toil, who scrub and wash and mend and cook, who are dressmakers,
paperhangers, milkmaids, gardeners, and candle-makers all in one, and yet
have time to be cheerful and tasty in your homes, and make the best of
the few oases to be found along the narrow dusty track of your existence.
Would that I were more worthy to be one of you--more a typical Australian
peasant--cheerful, honest, brave!
I love you, I love you. Bravely you jog along with the rope of class
distinction drawing closer, closer, tighter, tighter around you: a few
more generations and you will be as enslaved as were ever the moujiks of
Russia. I see it and know it, but I cannot help you. My ineffective life
will be trod out in the same round of toil--I am only one of yourselves,
I am only an unnecessary, little, bush commoner, I am only a--woman!
The great sun is sinking in the west, grinning and winking knowingly as
he goes, upon the starving stock and drought-smitten wastes of land.
Nearer he draws to the gum-tree scrubby horizon, turns the clouds to
orange, scarlet, silver flame, gold! Down, down he goes. The gorgeous,
garish splendour of sunset pageantry flames out; the long shadows eagerly
cover all; the kookaburras laugh their merry mocking good-night; the
clouds fade to turquoise, green, and grey; the stars peep shyly out; the
soft call of the mopoke arises in the gullies! With much love and good
wishes to all--Good night! Good-bye!