Such is Life, by Tom Collins (Joseph Furphy) [chapter 6, part 3]

[Editor: This is the third part of Chapter Six of the novel Such is Life by Tom Collins (Joseph Furphy). A glossary has been provided to explain various words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to modern readers.]

The cranky boundary rider’s little weatherboard hut, standing just inside his horse-paddock fence, was neater than the average. The moonlight showed that a radius of five or six yards from the door had been swept with a broom; while some kerosene-tins, containing garden-flowers, occupied the angle formed by the chimney and the wall. The galvanised bucket and basin on the bench by the door were conspicuously clean; and the lamp-light showed through a green blind on the window.

A black-and-tan collie gave a few perfunctory barks as I drew near, whereupon Alf, with sleeves rolled up, and hands freshly blooded to the wrists, appeared at the door, and drew back on seeing me. I brought my horses through the gate, and he met me outside the hut; his hands washed, and his shirt-sleeves buttoned. He stood by, scarcely speaking, whilst I introduced myself, gave him his parcel and newspaper, and unsaddled my horses. Then I followed him into the hut, and he cleared away from the table the anatomy of a fine turkey, shot during the day. Sullenly he replenished the kettle, and put the fire together; then washed the table, and laid it for one.

But the newspaper revelation, in giving me a turn, had turned me philosophic-side-upward; and I cared little for Alf’s sullenness, provided he listened with attention to my discourse on the mutability of things. By the time he had poured out my tea, he was a vanquished man. He filled a cup for himself, to keep me company, and guardedly commented on the news I brought from the station and the Pine-ridge Gate. Still I was touched to observe that he kept his disfigured face averted as much as possible.

Did you ever reflect upon how much you have to be thankful for in the matter of noses? Your nose, in all probability, is your dram of eale — your club foot — your Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate — but you would look very queer without it. In your morbid hypercriticalness, you may wish this indocile, undisguisable, and most unsheltered feature had been made a little longer, or a little shorter, or a little wider, or not quite so wide. Or perhaps you wish the isthmus between your eyes a little higher or the ridge of the peninsula a little straighter, or the south cape a little more, or less, obtuse. Or possibly you wish that the front elevation (elevation is good) did not admit, through the natural grottoes above your moustache, so clear a perspective of the interior of Ambition’s airy hall — forcing upon you the conviction that your own early disregard of your mother’s repeated admonitions against wiping upward, had come home to you at last, and had come to stay. Check that rebellious spirit, I charge you. Your nose is good enough; better, probably, than you deserve; be thankful that you have one of any design at all.

This poor boundary man had none to speak of. And it seemed such a pity. More beautiful, otherwise, than a man’s face is justified in being, it was (apart from sex) as if Pygmalion’s masterpiece had fallen heavily, face downward, and then sprung into life, minus the feature which will least bear tampering with. The upper half of his nose was represented by an irregular scar, running off toward the left eye, which was dull and opaque; the other was splendid, soft, and luminous. And as he sat in the full light of the lamp, with his elbow on the table, in order to shade with his hand the middle part of his face, the combination of fine frontal development with exquisite and vigorous contour of mouth and chin was so striking that I involuntarily glanced round the hut for the book-shelf.

His lithe, graceful movements had at first led me to mark him down as a mere lad; but now the lamp-light showed a maze of incipient wrinkles on the sunburnt neck, and a few silver threads in the thick, strong, coalblack hair. Moreover, owing to inadvertence or ignorance on the part of people who should have known better, he had been christened in immediate succession to a girl. It is well and widely known that this oversight, small as it looks, will free a man for life from any rude inquiry as to when he is going to burn off the scrub. Alf had no scrub to burn off, except a faint moustache, unnoticeable but for its dark colour. For the rest, he was slightly above medium height and by no means a good stamp of a man — tapering the wrong way, if I might so put it without shocking the double-refined reader. And, from stiff serge jumper to German-silver spur, he (Alf, of course) was unbecomingly clean for Saturday. The somewhat wearisome minuteness of this description is owing to his being, at least in my estimation, the most interesting character within the scope of these scranny memoirs.

I looked round for the book-shelf. It was a bookcase this time; a flat packing-case, nailed to the wall, fitted with shelves, and curtained on the front. I rose and inspected the collection: fifty or sixty volumes altogether — poetry, drama, popular theology, reference, and a few miscellaneous works; history meagrely represented, science and yellow-back fiction not at all.

“You don’t find many people of my name in the country?” remarked the boundary man trivially, after a pause.

“Not many,” I replied, wondering whether he referred to his nickname or to the inexpensive, but lasting, gift of his godfathers and godmothers, at the time of their annoying mistake.

“I suppose you hardly know one,” he persisted.

“Not that I can think of,” I replied. “Have you any swapping-books?”

“Yes, you’ll find ‘Elsie Venne’ lying on top of the upper shelf.”

“I’ve read it years ago, but we’ll change,” I replied. “When I first got my swapping-book, it was by Hannah More; now it’s by Zola, and smutty enough at that; it has undergone about twenty intermediate metamorphoses, and it’s still going remarkably strong — in both senses of the word. Therefore I can recommend it.”

“I don’t think it does a person any good to read Zola,” remarked the boundary man gravely.

“Not the slightest, Alf — that is, in the works by which he is represented amongst us. But do you think it does a person any good to read Holmes? Zola has several phases; one of them, I admit, blue as heaven’s own tinct; but Holmes has only one phase, namely, pharisaism. Zola, even as we know him here in Riverina, has this advantage, that he gives you no rest for the sole of your foot — or rather, for the foot of your soul; whilst Holmes serenely seduces you to his own pinchbeck standard. Zola is honest; he never calls evil, good; whilst Holmes is spurious all through. Mind you, each has a genuine literary merit of his own.

“But don’t you like Holmes’s poetry?” asked Alf.

“Well, his poems fill a little volume that the world would be sorry to lose; but why did n’t he write one verse — just one — for the Abolitionists to quote?”

“Because it’s not in his nature to denounce things,” objected Alf.

“Neither was it in Longfellow’s nature; yet Longfellow’s poems on Slavery are judged worthy to form a separate section of his works. But Holmes can denounce most valiantly. He denounces witch-burning and Inquisition-persecution, like the chivalrous soul that he is. He has achieved the distinction of being the only American poet of note who blandly ignores Slavery, and takes part with the aristocrat, as against the lowly. The same spirit runs through all his writings. He has a range of about three notes: a flunkeyish koo-tooing to soap-bubble eminence; a tawdry sympathy with aristocratic woe; and a drivelling contempt for angular Poor Relations, in bombazine gowns. Bombazine, by-the-way, is a cheap, carpetty-looking fabric, built of shoddy, and generally used for home-made quilts” ——

“No, it’s not! “ broke in Alf, with a rippling laugh; “it’s a very good dress-material; silk one way, and wool the other; and it’s mostly black, or maroon, or” —— he stopped with a gasp. “Why don’t you sit down?” he continued, in an altered tone. “And that reminds me, my day’s work’s not done yet.”

He cleared the table, and placed upon it his half-dissected turkey, in a milk-dish. I had the conversation to myself till he finished his work and took the turkey outside to hang it on the meat-pole. This was a sapling of fifteen or twenty feet high, with a fork at the top, through which ran a piece of clothes-line. I followed him to the door, discoursing on literature, whilst he attached one end of the clothes-line to the turkey’s legs, hauled it up to the fork, and hitched the fall of the rope to the pole. But just as the turkey reached its place, he had dropped his head with a movement of pain; and, after securing the rope, he groped his way into the hut, holding his hand over his right eye.

“Bit of bark, or something, dropped right into my eye,” he muttered. “It does n’t suit me to have anything wrong with the one I have left.”

By the bright lamp-light, I soon relieved him of what proved to be a small ant; then he went out to the washing-bench, and I heard the dabbling of water.

“I got a grass-seed in my eye the New Year’s Day before last,” he remarked, in a sort of sullen self-commiseration, after we had sat in silence for a minute. “I could n’t see to catch a horse; and it took me about six hours to grope my way along the fences to Dick Templeton’s hut. I thought I’d have gone mad.”

“Ah!” said I sympathetically, “that reminds me of an incident that came under my own notice on the very day you speak of. I’ll tell you how it happened.” By this time, Alf had lit a meek and lowly meerschaum, whilst a large grey cat had jumped on his knees, and settled itself for repose. “You asked me awhile ago whether I knew anyone of your name in this part of the country. I forgot at the moment that one of my most profitable studies is a namesake of yours — Warrigal Alf, a carrier on these roads.”

“What’s his other name?” asked the boundary man, in a suppressed voice.

“Morris.”

“Why don’t you call him so, then? I hate nicknames.”

Poor fellow, thought I, and I continued, “I was coming down from Cobar, with a single horse; and on the New Year’s Day before last, I reached the Yellow Tank — about forty miles from here, isn’t it? I left my saddle and things at the tank, and was taking my horse out to a place where there’s always a bit of grass, when I noticed a wagon in the scrub, and identified it as Alf’s” ——

“Did you know him before?” murmured the boundary man.

“Certainly.”

“Is he a married man?”

“Widower.”

“Widower?” repeated Alf, almost in a whisper. “Did you know his wife”“

“Personally, no; inductively, yes. She was one of those indefinably dangerous women who sing men to destruction — one of those tawny-haired tigresses, with slumbrous dark eyes — name, Iolanthe.”

“What?”

“Iolanthe de Vavasour,” I replied good-humouredly. “More appropriate than Molly — isn’t it?”

The boundary man, after picking up his pipe, which had fallen on the slumbering cat, fixed his Zitska eye on my face with a puzzled, shrinking, defiant look, whilst drawing his seat a little further away. Ah! years of solitary life, with the haunting consciousness of frightful disfigurement, had told on his mind. Moriarty was right. And I remembered that the moon was approaching the full.

“Alf was sitting under a hop-bush,” I continued, “with his hand across his eyes.

“‘What’s the matter, Alf?’ says I.

“‘Is that you, Collins?’ says he, trying to look up. ‘You’re just in time to do more for me than I would care about doing for you. I’ve met with an accident. I was lying on my back under the wagon this morning, tightening some nuts, when a bit of rust, or something, fell straight into my eye. Frightful pain; and it’s affecting the other eye already; giving me a foretaste of hell. No doubt it’s a good thing; but I don’t want a monopoly of it; I wish I could pass it round.’ This was Alf’s style of philosophy. Our friend, Iolanthe, is largely, though perhaps indirectly, responsible for it.”

“Yes — go on,” said the boundary man nervously.

“Well, as I was telling you, it was after sunset, and there was no time to lose, so I whittled a bit of wood to a point, and essayed the task in which I claim a certain eminence, namely, the extraction of a mote from my brother’s eye.

“‘You’re right, Alf,’ says I; ‘it’s a flake of rust, about the size of a fish’s scale, lodged on the coloured part, which we term the iris — or, strictly speaking, on that part of the cornea which covers the iris. But I can’t shift it with this appliance. Must get something sharper.’

“So I took a pin out of my coat, and grubbed the mote as well as I could by the deficient light. I don’t know what Alf thought of it at the time, but I considered it a lovely operation. When it was over, Alf signified to me that I wasn’t wanted any longer, so I went about my business.

“Next morning, as I was going toward my horse-bell, I gave my patient a purely professional call, and found his eye worse than ever. I subjected him to another examination; and, this time having the advantage of full daylight, I discovered that the cause of his trouble wasn’t a flake of rust, after all; but a small, barbed speck of clean iron, embedded in the white of the eye. I discovered something else. Alf’s eyes are as blue as those of Zola’s Nana; and in the iris of the affected one there is, or rather was, a brown spot. I had often noticed this before; but, in the defective light, and the hurry of the operation, I had never thought of the thing and had wasted time and skill on it, as I tell you. I have often laughed to remember” ——

“You were badly off for something to laugh at!” Again I recalled Monarty’s remark; for the boundary man’s voice trembled as he spoke, and his splendid eye blazed with sudden resentment. But the fit passed away instantly, and he asked, in his usual subdued tone, “When did you see this — this Alf Morris last?”

“About two months ago,” I replied. “He was camped at that time in the Dead Man’s Bend, at the junction of Avondale and Mondunbarra.”

“When are you likely to see him again?” asked the boundary man. “But, of course, you can’t tell. It’s a foolish question. I don’t know what’s come over me to-night.”

Ignorance is bliss, in that instance, poor fellow! thought I, glancing out at the weirdly beautiful moonlight; and I replied, “Most likely I’ll never see him again. These wool-tracks, that knew him so well, will know him no more again for ever. He’s gone to a warmer climate.”

“That decides it!” muttered the lunatic, swaying on his seat, whilst he clutched the edge of the table.

“Alf! Alf!” I remonstrated; laying my hand on his shoulder. He shrank from the touch, and immediately recovered himself. “Let me explain,” I continued soothingly. “He has gone four or five months’ journey due north, in charge of three teams loaded with lares and penates and tools, and cooking utensils, and rations, and other things too numerous to particularise, belonging once to Kooltopa, but now to a new station in South-western Queensland. Hence I say he’s gone to a warmer climate. Not much of a joke, I admit.”

“And what’s — what’s become of Kooltopa?” asked the boundary man, panting under his effort at self-control.

“Old times are changed, old manners gone; a stranger fills the Stewart’s throne,” I replied, with real sadness. “Kooltopa’s sold to a Melbourne company, and is going to be worked for all it’s worth. And I’m thinking of the carrier, coming down with the survivors of a severe trip, and the penniless pedestrian, striking the station at the eleventh hour. These people will miss Stewart badly.

For the guest flies the hall, and the vassal from labour,
Since his turban was cleft by the infidel’s sabre.”

“Whose turban?” asked Alf, with a puzzled look.

“Stewart’s. I spake but by a metaphor. As with Antony, ’tis one of those odd tricks that sorrow shoots out of the mind.”

There was a few minutes’ silence. I was thinking of the Christian squatter, and so, no doubt, was many another wanderer at the same moment.

“But he’ll come back to Riverina when he delivers the loading?” suggested the boundary man.

“Who?”

“This — Alf Morris.”

“I don’t think so. I know he does n’t intend it.”

Another pause. Glancing at my companion, as he sat with his elbows on the table, and one hand, as usual, across the middle of his face, I noticed his chest heaving unnaturally, and his shapely lips losing their deep colour.

“Are you sick, Alf?”

“Yes — a little,” he whispered.

I filled a cup at the water-bag, and set it before him. He drank part of it.

“Quakers’ meeting!” he remarked at length, with a slight laugh. “Why don’t you say something? I’m not much of a talker myself, but I’m a good listener. Tell us some yarn to pass the time. Anything you like. Tell us all about that camp on the Lachlan, and what passed between you and your friend, Morris.”

Upon this hint I spake. I recounted consecutively the incidents which form the subject of an earlier chapter, whilst an occasional inquiry, or an appreciative nod, proved my eccentric auditor in touch with me from first to last.

“Three or four weeks afterward,” I continued, “I met this Bob Stirling in Mossgeil. He had a bit of a head on him at the time, having just got through five notes — three from Stewart, and two from Alf. I got a bob’s worth of brandy to straighten him up; and we had a drink of tea together, while my horses went through a small feed of bad chaff at sixpence a pound.

“His account was, that Stewart, after parting from me, drove straight to Alf’s camp, and deposited him there to look after things. Stewart himself only stayed a few minutes, and then drove to Avondale, to see Mr. Wentworth St. John Ffrench, Terrible Tommy’s boss. Next morning, a wagonette came from Avondale, with a few parcels of eatables, and a few bottles of drinkables, and other sinful lusts of the flesh. Four days after that, again, Stewart drove round on his way back to Kooltopa. By this time, Alf was able to crawl about, trying his best to be civil to Bob, and succeeding fairly well for a non-smoker.

“However, when Stewart called, he got into a yarn with Alf, and had a drink of tea while Bob held the horses. Presently, according to Bob’s account, the conversation grew closer; and, after an hour or so, Stewart told Bob to unharness the horses, and hobble them out where they could get a bite of grass. Altogether, Stewart stayed about half a day. In a few days more, Alf was able to yoke and unyoke a few quiet bullocks; then he and Bob started for Kooltopa together. Arrived at their destination, Stewart and Alf each paid Bob, as already hinted; and Bob, having urgent business in Mossgeil, hurried away to transact it. He had just completed the deal when I met him.”

Here I paused to light my pipe.

“And what makes you think he has left Riverina for good?” asked the boundary man absently.

“Catch him leaving Riverina. He knows he has a good character as a quiet, decent, innoffensive sundowner — nobody’s enemy but his own — and experience has taught him that any kind of tolerable reputation is better than no reputation at all.”

“I don’t mean him,” said the boundary man constrainedly.

“Of course not. I beg your pardon. Well, I heard it from himself. I met him about three weeks ago — that would be about three weeks after my interview with Bob Stirling. He’s fairly in love with what he saw of Queensland, before last shearing; and, between bad seasons and selectors — not to mention his own presentiment of a rabbit-plague — he’s full-up of Riverina. But that reminds me that I have n’t brought Alf Morris’s story to a proper conclusion. I heard the rest of it from Stewart, on the occasion I speak of. Stewart has bought his plant, and engaged him permanently. His first business is to take Stewart’s teams to their destination — no easy matter at this time of the year, and such a year as this; but if any man can do it, that man is Alf. He started some weeks ago, a little shaky after his sickness, but recovering fast. Entirely changed in disposition, Stewart tells me; and those who know him will agree that a change would n’t be out of place. But Stewart speaks of him as one of the noblest-minded men he ever knew. He says he just wants a man like Alf, and he does n’t intend to part with him. I fancy our love of paradox makes us prone to associate noble-mindedness with cantankerousness — at all events, nobody ever called me noble-minded. But such is life.”

“Then this new situation is a permanent thing for him?” suggested the boundary man.

“For Alf? No; I’m sorry to say, it’s not.”

“Why?”

“Because Stewart’s about sixty, and Alf’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of thirty-seven. The Carlisle-tables would give Stewart an actuarial expectation of ten or fifteen years, and Alf one of twenty-five or thirty. And there will be old-man changes in the personnel of the station staff when the grand old Christian sleeps with his fathers, and his dirty-flash son reigns in his stead. Such, again, is life. But this won’t affect Alf’s interests to any ruinous extent. He has a stockingful of his own. It’s a well-known fact that few carriers of Riverina cleared as much money as he did, and probably not one spent less. Stewart gave him £200 for his plant, and he never broke the cheque; posted it whole; Stewart himself took charge of it, as he told me in his gossiping way. Let Alf alone. He knows how to come in out of the wet; in fact, the rainy day is his strong point. Such, for the third and last time, is life.”

Whilst I spoke, my unfortunate companion was persistently trying to light his empty pipe, his hands trembling, and his breath quickening. The Maroo fly was at him again. I tried to divert his attention.

“By the way,” said I; “did n’t you blame Thompson and Cunningham for duffing in your horse-paddock, ten or twelve months ago?”

“I didn’t make any song about it,” replied the boundary rider half-resentfully.

“Of course not. Still you owe them an apology — which I shall be happy to convey, if you wish it. Alf Morris was the depredator. He was hovering about your hut that night like a guardian angel, while his twenty bullocks had their knife-bars going double-speed on your grass, and you slept the sleep of the unsuspecting. Ask old Jack; he’ll give you chapter and verse, without much pressing. He told me about it this afternoon.”

But the fit came on, after all. The boundary man stared at me with a wild, shrinking look, and the same paling of the lips I had noticed before; then he drank the remaining water out of the cup, and, rising from his seat, walked slowly to his bed, and lay down with his face toward the wall.

Far gone, i’ faith, thought I. Presently I went to the door, and, shoring up one of the posts with my shoulder, looked out upon the cool, white moonlight, flooding the level landscape.

Strange phenomena follow the footsteps of Night. It has long been observed that avalanches and landslips occur most frequently about midnight, and especially on moonless midnights, when the sun and moon are in conjunction at the nadir. This is the time when mines cave in; when loose bark falls from trees; when limbs crash down from old, dead timber; when snow-laden branches break; when all ponderable bodies, of relatively slight restraint, are most apt to lose their hold. This may be definitely and satisfactorily accounted for by the mere operation of Newton’s Law. At the time, and under the conditions, specified, the conjoined attraction of sun and moon — an attraction sufficient to sway millions of tons of water, in the spring tides — is superadded to the centric gravity of the earth, the triple force, at the moment of midnight, tending toward the nadir, or downward. So that, when these midnight phenomena are most observable at one point of the globe, they will be least likely to make mid-day manifestation at the antipodes to that point.

And, though changes of the moon — as copiously proved by meteorological statistics — have no relation whatever to rainfall, the illuminated moon, on rising, will rarely fail to clear a clouded sky. This singular influence is exercised solely by the cold light of that dead satellite producing an effect which the sunlight, though two hundred times as intense*, is altogether powerless to rival in kind. When we can explain the nature of this force adherent to moonlight, and to no other light, we may inquire why, in all ages and in all lands, the verdict of experience points to moonlight as a factor in the production and aggravation of lunacy. An empirical hypothesis, of course; but in the better sense, as well as in the worse. For the perturbing influence of moonlight, if it be a myth, is about the most tenacious one on earth. This anomalous form of Force may or may not be observable in asylums, where the patients are not directly subjected to it; but anyone who has lived in the back country, camping out with all sorts and conditions of oddities, need not be accounted credulous if he holds the word ‘lunatic’ to rest on a sounder derivation than ‘ill-starred,’ or ‘disastrous.’

But the sub-tropical moonlight — strong, chaste, and beautiful as its ideal queen — soothes and elevates the well-balanced mind. I took from my pack-saddle the double-tongued jews-harp I always carry; and, sitting on the floor with my back against the door-post, unbound the instrument from its square stick, and began to play. It is not the highest class of music, I am well aware; and this paragraph is dictated by no shallow impulse of self-glorification. But I never had opportunity to master any more complicated instrument; and even if I had, it would n’t be much use, for I know only about three tunes, and these by no means perfectly.

So I played softly and voluptuously, till my scanty repertory was exhausted, and then drifted into a tender capriccio. I noticed Alf move uneasily on his bed; but, knowing the effect of music on my own mind, and remembering Moriarty’s and Montgomery’s independent panegyrics on the boundary man’s skill, I felt put on my mettle, and performed with a power and feeling which surprised myself.

“Do you like music?” asked Alf, at length.

“Like it!” I repeated. “I would give one-fourth of the residue of my life to be a good singer and musician. As it is, I’m not much of a player, and still less of a vocalist; but I’ll give you a song if you like. How sweetly everything sounds to-night?” Bee-o-buoy-bee-o-buoy-bee-o-buoy — —

“Do you like jews-harp music?” interrupted Alf, sitting up on the bed.

“Not if I could play any better instrument — such as the violin, or the concertina; though I should in any case avoid the piano, for fear of flattening the ends of my fingers. Still, the jews-harp is a jews-harp; and this is the very best I could find in the market. Humble as it looks, and humble as it undeniably is, it has sounded in every nook and corner of Riverina. Last time I took it out, it was to give a poor, consumptive old blackfellow a treat, and now, you see, I tune, to please a peasant’s ear, the harp a king had loved to bear.” Bee-o-buoy-bee-o-buoy-bee-o-bee-o-bee-o-buoy — —

“I’ll give you a tune on the violin, if you like,” exclaimed my companion, rising to his feet.

“Thank-you, Alf.”

I carefully re-packed my simple instrument, while the boundary man took from its case a dusky, dark-brown violin. Then he turned down the lamp till a mere bead of flame showed above the burner, resumed his seat by the table, and, after some preliminary screwing and testing, began to play.

Query: If the relation of moonlight to insanity is a thing to be derided, what shall we say of the influence of music on the normal mind? Is it not equally unaccountable in operation, however indisputable in effect? Contemplate music from a scientific standpoint — that is, merely as a succession of sound-waves, conveyed from the instrument to the ear by pulsations of the atmosphere, or of some other intervening medium. Music is thus reduced to a series of definite vibrations, a certain number of which constitute a note. Each separate note has three distinct properties, or attributes. First, its intensity, or loudness, which is governed by the height, depth, amplitude — for these amount to the same thing — of the waves produced in the medium. Second, the timbre, or quality, which is regulated by the shape, or outline, of these waves. Third the pitch, high or low, which is controlled by the distance from crest to crest of the sound-waves — or, as we say, from node to node of the vibrations.

To the most sensitive human ear, the highest limit of audibleness is reached by sound-waves estimated at twenty-eight-hundredths of an inch from node to node — equal to 48,000 vibrations per second. The extreme of lowness to which our sense of hearing is susceptible, has been placed at 75 feet from node to node — or 15 vibrations per second. This total range of audibleness covers 12 octaves; running, of course, far above and far below the domain of music. The extreme highness and lowness of sounds which convey musical impression are represented, respectively, by 2,000 and by 30 vibrations per second — or by sound — waves, in the former case, of 6 1/2 inches, and in the latter, of 37 1/2 feet.

Therefore, there are not only sounds which by reason of highness or lowness are unmusical, but, beyond these, others to which the tympanum of the human ear is insensible. Nature is alive with such sounds, each carrying its three distinct properties of intensity, timbre and pitch; but whilst this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close us in, we can no more hear them than we can hear the ‘music of the spheres’ — apt term for that celestial harmony of motion which guides the myriad orbs of the Universe in their career through Space. But, to take an illustration from the visual faculty: any sound beyond the highest limit of audibleness would resemble a surface lined so minutely and closely as to appear perfectly plain; whilst a sound too low in pitch to be heard would be represented by superficial undulations of land or water so vast in extent that the idea of unevenness would not occur. We have fairly trustworthy evidence that whales communicate with each other by notes so low in pitch — by sound-vibrations so long in range, so few per second — that no human ear can detect them. Bats, on the other hand, utter calls so high-producing such rapid pulsations — as to be equally inaudible to us.

Unison of musical notes is attained when the respective numbers of pulsations per second admit a low common-divisor. For instance, the note produced by 60 vibrations per second will chord with one produced by 120 — each node of the former coinciding with each alternate node of the latter. 60 and 90 will also chord; 60 and 70 will produce discord; 60 and 65, worse discord. And so on. The science of musical composition lies in the management of sound-pulsation, and is governed by certain rigid mathematical laws — which laws the composer need not understand.

Air-movement may, of course, take place without sound-vibration, for air is only incidentally a sound-conductor. Earth, metal, water, and especially wood (along the grain), are better media than the atmosphere, for the transmission of sound. But sound may be transmitted without vibration of intervening sound-media. The electric current, passing along the telephone wire, picks up the sound waves at one end, and instantaneously deposits them, in good order and condition, at the other end — say, a couple of hundred miles away.

So that the brilliant pianist of the concert hall; the cornet-player of the “Army” ring; the blind fiddler at the corner; the mother, singing her angel-donation to sleep; Clancy, thundering forth something concerning his broken heart, whilst tailing up the stringing cattle; the canary in its cage; the magpie on the fence — are each setting in motion the complex machinery of music, and with about equal scientific knowledge of what they are doing. To the philosophic mind, however, they are not playing or singing; they are producing and controlling sound-vibrations, arbitrarily varied in duration and quality; a series of such pulsations constituting a note; a series of notes constituting an air. These vibrations are diffused from the instrument or the lips, at a speed varying with temperature, media, and other conditions; they ripple, spread, percolate, everywhere; they penetrate and saturate all solids and gases, yet are palpable corporeally only to the tympanum of the ear, and mechanically (as yet) only to the diaphragm of the phonograph.

Such, however, is the scientific analysis of music. Spoken language appeals by the same process, but with very different effect. No one can understand a language which he has not previously learned, word by word; and the verbal appeal, however imaginative or spiritual, comes in concrete form — that is, in the nature of information. Spoken words inform the emotional side of our nature, through the intellectual; whereas music, operating outwardly in the same manner, speaks over the head of intellect to an inborn sense which ceases not to receive as a little child. And herein lies its mystery.

For the music thus impassively anatomised by Science is a voice from the Unseen, pregnant with meaning beyond translation. A mere ripple of sound-vibration, called into existence by human touch; a creation, vanishing from its birth, elusive, irreclaimable as a departing soul, yet strong to sway heart and hand as the tornado sways the pliant pine. It is a language peculiar to no period, race, or caste. Ageless and universal, it raises to highest daring, or suffuses with tenderness, to-day and here, as once on Argo’s deck, or in the halls of Persepolis. Purely material in origin and analysis, easily explicable in mere physical operation, its influence is one of the things that are not dreamt of in the philosophy of Science. Why should a certain psychological effect ensue upon certain untranslatable sounds being placed in a given relation to each other, and not when the same sounds are placed in another relation? — and why should that effect be always upward? Why should the composer be perforce a prophet of the sphere above earth’s murky horizon — the musician his interpreter — charged with embassy of peace, and fortitude, and new-born ardour, to the troubled, and weary, and heavy-laden? Has ingenuity never distilled from music any spirit of evil?

None. Euterpe alone of the Muses defies seduction. Harmony is intrinsically chaste. There is no secular music; all music is sacred. Whatever the song the Sirens sang, its music was pure; and no less pure were the notes which breathed from Nero’s lute, whilst the blaze of ten thousand homes glutted his Imperial lust for spectacle. Divorce the unworthy song, stay the voluptuous dance, and the music suffers no clinging defilement; the redeemed melodies, stainless as fresh-fallen snow, may be wedded to songs of gallant aspiration or angelic sympathy, which shall raise the soul awhile above earth’s sordid infection, disclosing the inextinguishable affinity of the divine part of man’s dual nature with the dream-like possibility of Eden — purity, and fearless faith, and love unspeakable.

The story of the Thracian lyre soothing the horrors of the underworld, and melting to relentment its gloomy king — the story of the shepherd-minstrel’s harp chasing the shapeless penumbra of looming insanity from the first Hebrew brow crowned in Jehovah’s despite — the story of the mighty prophet Elisha, fettered to earth by wrath and scorn till, at his own command, the music swelled, and his enfranchised spirit rose on its viewless wings to behold the veiled Future already woven from the tangled skein of the troubled Present — the thousand-fold story of music’s magic and mystery, stretches back into the forgotten Past, and onward into the imagined Future.

Onward into the fathomless eternity; for though ‘the heaven of each is but what each desires’ — though the Aryan heaven be a place of gradation and precedence, a realm to reign in — though the heaven of the Jewish apostle-seer burn with the gold and sparkle with the gems dear to his race — though the paradise of the sun-scorched Arab be dark with shade of evergreen trees, and cool with ripple of never-failing streams — yet is the universal art so intertwined with ideal bliss that no heaven of conscious enjoyment has been pictured by belated humanity but music rings for ever there. For alas! what else of mundane achievement can fancy conceive as reproduced in regions of eternal perfection, or transplanted thither? Science is of the earth; ever bearing sad penalty, in toil of mind and body — and what art, save music, has man dedicated to Deity-worship, without disappointment and loss? Doubtfully, Architecture; and for such consecration we have found no more expressive name than ‘frozen music.’

This unknown anchorite’s playing was both a mystery and a revelation. I had never before heard anything to compare with it, nor do I expect ever to hear the like again. Talent, taste, feeling, were there, all in superlative degree, and disclosed with the unassuming confidence of power; whilst long and loving practice in solitude had averted a certain artificiality which, in the judgment of the uninitiated, generally accompanies musical skill. His was no triumphant mastery of a complicated and perplexing score; he was a sympathetic interpreter, a life-breathing, magic-lending exponent of his composer’s revelations, now his own. Solitary practice, with no one but himself to please, would unavoidably give a distinct character to his performance, and this character was evident from the first; it was melancholy — a weary, wistful melancholy, beyond repining or tears, beyond impatience or passion; it was the involuntary record of a gentle heart breaking slowly under discipline untempered by one ray of earthly hope.

My own incompetence to identify by name a tune which I spiritually recognise is, perhaps, the most disgraceful manifestation of my neglected musical education — at all events, it is the one which causes me most uneasiness. Experience has warned me never to ask a player for the ‘Marseillaise,’ or ‘Croppies Lie Down,’ or what not; for he is pretty sure to say, ‘Why, that’s just what I’ve been giving you,’ or words to similar effect. Alf at last grew tired of my non-committal remarks and replies, and, with a tact which impressed me more afterward than at the time, named each tune before and after playing it. For instance, the yearning tenderness of an exquisitely rendered air would seem to bring back some lost consciousness of an earlier and happier existence, suffusing my whole being with a pensive sadness not to be exchanged for any joy. I would feel the notes familiar, but whether of five years or five million years before, or whether in the body or out of the body, I could n’t tell. Alf, on concluding, would simply murmur, “Home, Sweet Home,” and all would be explained. Then, perhaps, he would say, “The Last Rose of Summer”; and I would be able to follow him intelligently right through.

But he did n’t confine himself to the comfortable vulgarity of popular airs. He played selections from Handel, Mozart, Wagner, and I don’t know whom; while the time passed unnoticed by both of us. At length he laid the violin across his knees, and, after a pause, his voice rose in one of the sweetest songs ever woven from words. And such a voice! — rich, soft, transcendent, yet suggesting ungauged resources of enchantment unconsciously held in reserve. I sat entranced as verse after verse flowed slowly on, every syllable clear and distinct as in speech; the subtle tyranny of vocal harmony admitting no intruding thought beyond a regretful sense that the song must end.

But sorrow’s sel’ wears past, Jean,
And joy’s a-comin’ fast, Jean,
The joy that’s aye to last,
I’ the land o’ the leal.
A’ our freens are gane, Jean,
We’ve lang been left alane, Jean.
We’ll a’ meet again
I’ the land o’ the leal.

“How happy Jean Armour must have been to be with poor Burns, while this cold world seemed to slip away from his feet, and leave him to rest with his forgiving Saviour,” murmured the boundary man, laying his violin on the table, whilst he gazed absently into the expiring fire. “That song was composed by Burns, on his death-bed. Is n’t it beautiful?”

“It is one of the most beautiful songs in the language,” I replied; “but Burns is not the author. The song was composed by a woman — Baroness Nairne. It is not for men to write in that strain. As for Jean Armour — well, she had a good deal to forgive, too.”

“Ah! do you think a woman loves less because she has much to forgive?” returned Alf sadly, and then added, with sudden interest, “But what difference do you notice between the poetry of men and women? What is the mark of women’s work?”

“Sincerity,” I replied. “Notwithstanding Mrs. Hemans, and others, you will find that, as a rule, men’s poetry is superior to women’s, not only in vigour, but in grace. This is not strange, for grace is, after all, a display of force, an aspect of strength. But in the quality of sincerity, woman is a good first. Take an illustration, while I think of it: Compare the verses of my ancestor, Collins, ‘On the Grave of Thompson,’ with Eliza Cook’s verses, ‘On the Grave of Good’” ——

“But Collins was never married,” interposed Alf.

“True,” I replied pleasantly. “But our family is aristocratic, and a baton-sinister only sets us off. However, in the two poems I was speaking of, the subject matter is similar; the pieces are about the same length and the writers have adopted the same iambic octo-syllable, with alternate rhymes. Now, my ancestor’s poem is not excelled in grace by anything within the range of our literature; but there’s nothing else in it whatever. Eliza Cook’s versification is, in a measure, forced and imperfect, her language occasionally homely and rugged, but the strong beating of a sincere, sympathetic heart is audible in every line.”

“But your ancestor is the most artificial writer of an artificial school, and Eliza Cook is the most spontaneous writer of a spontaneous school,” replied Alf, with the contradictive impulse which amusingly accompanied his teachableness. “Of course,” he added deprecatingly, “I would n’t presume to criticise such a poet as Collins; but you said, yourself” ——

“Oh, that’s all right,” said I generously. “However, though your argument blunts the force of my illustration, it does n’t weaken my contention. You’ll find the distinction I’ve pointed-out hold good in a greater or less degree throughout literature; you’ll find examples by the thousand, and of course, exceptions by the dozen. But sing again, Alf, please. Every minute you’re silent, is a minute wasted. Sing anything you like — only sing.”

“I wanted to have a talk,” remonstrated Alf. “You were speaking of the difference between men and women in their literary work. I believe you’re right, though it never struck me before. Now there’s another question that might be worth comparing notes upon. Your remark just brought it into my mind. Here it is” — he hesitated a moment, then went on, with a certain constraint in his voice; the constraint we are apt to feel when forced to plump out the word ‘love,’ in its narrower sense — “When women love, they don’t know why they love; they just love because they do — so they say, and we’re bound to believe them. But when we love women, why do we love them? Being more logical, we ought to know. Do we love a woman for her beauty? — or for her virtues? — or for her accomplishments? — or for what? I fancy, if we understood ourselves, we should be able to say we loved her for some particular quality; and the others are — as you might say — Oh, you know! What quality is it, then, that we love a woman for? There’s a problem for you!”

“I can solve it with mathematical certainty, Alf — that is to say, in such a manner as to convey the impossibility of the solution being otherwise than according to my finding. When I’m allowed to work-out these things in my own circuitous way — which is seldom the case — there are few questions in moral or psychological philosophy which the commission of my years and art can to no issue of true honour bring. But you have to sing six songs first. I’ll leave the choice of them to yourself.”

“Very well,” replied Alf readily. “I’ll sing the songs as they come to my mind. Remember your promise, now.”

Then, rich, soft, and sweet, rose that exquisite voice in easy volume, flooding with new and vivid meaning old familiar verses. Here was my opportunity. I was interested in this boundary man, and resolved to know his history. Rejecting Alf Jones as an assumed name, Nomenology would be at fault here; yet knowing already, by a kind of incommunicable intuition, that he was a Sydney-sider, and had been in some way connected with the drapery-business, I expected to have my knowledge so supplemented by the character of his songs, that — counting reasonably on a little further information, to be gathered before my departure — I should be able to work-out his biography at least as correctly as biographies are generally worked-out.

For the esoteric side of his history, I counted much on his spontaneous choice of songs. Man is but a lyre (in both senses of the phonetically-taken word, unfortunately); and some salient experience, some fire-graven thought, some clinging hope, is the plectrum which strikes the passive chords. An old truism will bear expansion here, till it embraces the rule that, whatever else a man may sing, he always sings himself. But you must know how to interpret.

I have said that melancholy was the key-note of Alf’s playing. Fused with this, and deeply coloured by it, the tendency of his songs was toward love, and love alone — chaste, supersensuous, but purely human and exclusive love. No suggestion of national inspiration; no broad human sympathies; no echo of the oppressed ones’ cry; no stern challenge of wrong; only a hopeless, undying love, and an unspeakable self-pity. He wasn’t even a lyre; he was a pipe for Fortune’s finger to sound what stop she pleased; and, judging from the tone of his playing, and the selection of his songs, it had pleased that irresponsible goddess to attune the chords of his being to a love, pure as heaven, sad as earth, and hopeless as the other place.

Who is she? thought I.

Silence again sank on the faint yellow lamplight of the hut, as the last syllables of the sixth song died mournfully away — ‘She is far from the Land where Her Young Hero Sleeps.’ Then the boundary rider lit his pipe, and slightly moved his seat, placing himself in an easy listening attitude, with his elbow on the table, and his hand across his face.

“Alf,” said I impressively; “you’ll certainly find yourself shot into outer darkness, if you don’t alter your hand. You’re recklessly transgressing the lesson set forth in the parable of the Talents. Don’t you know it’s wrong to bury yourself here, eating your own life away with melancholia, seeing that you’re gifted as you are? Maestros, and highclass critics, and other unwholesomely cultured people, might possibly sit on you, or damn you with faint praise; but you could afford to take chance of that, for beyond all doubt, the million would idolise you. I’m not looking at the business aspect of the thing; I’m thinking of the humanising influence you would exercise, and the happiness you would confer, and, altogether, of the unmixed good that would lie to your credit, if you made the intended use of your Lord’s money. And here you are, burying it in the earth.”

“O, I would n’t be here, I suppose, only for the disfigurement of my face,” he replied, swallowing a sob.

“That’s nothing,” I interjected, deeply pained by his allusion, and inwardly soliciting forgiveness without repentance whilst I spoke. “Did the British think less of Nelson — Did Lady Hamilton think less of him, if it comes to that — for the loss of his arm and his eye? Why, even the conceited German students value scars on the face more than academic honours. Believe me, Alf, while a man merely conducts himself as a man, his scars need n’t cost him a thought; but if he’s an artist, as you are, what might otherwise be a disfigurement becomes the highest claim to respect and sympathy. It’s pure effeminancy to brood over such things, for that’s just where we have the advantage of women. ‘A woman’s first duty,’ says the proverb, ‘is to be beautiful.’ If Lady Hamilton had been minus an eye and an arm, she would scarcely have attained her unfortunate celebrity.”

The boundary man laid down his pipe, rested his forehead on his arm upon the table, and for a minute or two sobbed like a child. It was dreadful to see him. He was worse than Ida, in an argument with Mrs. Beaudesart; he was as bad as an Australian judge, passing mitigated sentence on some well-connected criminal.

Presently he rose, and walked unsteadily to the other end of the hut; his dog, with a low, pathetic whine, following him. Perceiving that he was off again, I turned up the flame of the lamp, with a view to neutralising the effect of the moonlight.

“Are you not well, Alf? “

No answer. He was lying on his back on the bed, one arm across his face, and the other hanging down; whilst his dog, crouched at the bedside, was silently licking the brown fingers. Then my eye happened to fall on the American clock over the fire-place. Not that time, surely! But my watch had beaten the clock by ten minutes.

“I say, Alf; I don’t know how to apologise for keeping you up till this time. It’s half-past eleven.”

Still no answer. I brought in my possum-rug, and began to spread it on the floor. Alf had risen, and rolled his blankets back off the bed. He now took out the mattress of dried grass, and laid it on the floor, then re-arranged his blankets.

“But I certainly won’t rob you of your tick,” said I. “One characteristic of childhood I still retain is the ability to sleep anywhere, like a dog.”

“You must take it, if you sleep in this hut,” he replied curtly.

“Take that too.” He handed me his feather pillow.

“Do you shut your door at nights?” I asked. “Because, if you do, I’ll chain Pup to the fence. He likes to go in and out at his own pleasure; and, if he found himself shut-out, he might get lost.”

“It can stay open to-night,” replied Alf.

“Right,” said I; and I began to disrobe, as I always do when circumstances permit. Sleeping with your clothes on is slovenly; sleeping with your spurs on is, in addition, ruinously destructive to even the strongest bed-clothes.

“By-the-way, Alf,” I remarked, as I pulled off my socks; “I was forgetting your problem. The solution is clear enough to me, but the inquiry opens out no end of side-issues, each of which must be followed out to its re-intersection with the main line of argument, if we wish to leave our conclusion unassailable at any point. The question, then, is: Do we love a woman for her beauty, for her virtues, or for her accomplishments? Now let us make sure of our terminology.” I paused, but Alf maintained silence.

“In the first place,” I continued, kicking off the garment which it is unlawful even to name, “we must inquire what the personal beauty of woman is, and wherein it consists. It consists in approximation to a given ideal; and this ideal is not absolute; it is elastic in respect of races and civilisations, though each type may be regarded as more or less rigid within its own domain. Passing over such racial ideals as the Hottentot Venus, and waiving comparison between the Riverine ideal of fifty years ago and that of to-day, we have the typical Eve of Flanders as one ideal, and the typical Eve of Italy as another.” Again I paused, but Alf remained silent.

“Moreover,” I continued, settling myself down into the comfortable mattress — “if no specimen of classic art had survived the dark ages, I question whether we would implicitly accept as our present ideal the chiselled profile, in which physiognomists fail to find any special indications of moral or intellectual excellence. But when we based our modern civilisation on the relics of classic Greece — directly, or through Rome — we naturally accepted the ideal of beauty then and there current. Attila or Abderrahman might have deflected the European standard of beauty into a widely different ideal, but it was not to be. And we’re too prone to accept our classic ideal as being identified with civilisation and refinement. We should remember that the flat features of the Coptic ideal looked out on high attainments in art and science when our Hellenic archetypes, in spite of their chiselled profiles, were drifting across from the Hindo-Koosh, in the blanket-and-tomahawk stage of civilisation. Also, the slant-eyed ideal of China has a decent record. Further still, the German is facially coarser, and mentally higher, than the Circassian.” Again I paused.

“Are n’t you sleepy?” asked Alf, gently but significantly.

“I ought to be,” I replied, humouring his present caprice, though grieved to withhold the solution which he had so earnestly desired an hour before. “Just as the secondary use of the bee is to make honey, and his primary one to teach us habits of industry, so the secondary use of the hen is to lay eggs, and her primary one to teach us proper hours. But, unfortunately, we don’t avail ourselves of the lessons written for us in the Book of Nature; we simply eat the honey and the eggs, allowing our capability and god-like reason to fust in us, unused. Such is life, Alf.” And in thirty seconds I was asleep.

On awaking, as usual, to listen for bells, I became conscious of something between a sigh and a groan, outside the hut. This was repeated again and again, until, actuated by compassion rather than curiosity, I crept to the door, and looked out. Six or eight yards away, Alf was kneeling at the fence, his arms on one of the wires, and the poor, disfigured face, wet with tears, turned westward to the pitiless moon, now just setting.

Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd, thought I; and it then occurred to me that my own acute, philosophic temperament was one of the things I ought to be thankful for. But I couldn’t feel thankful; I could only feel powerless and half-resentful in the presence of a distress which seemed proof against palliative, let alone antidote. At length the moon disappeared; then the boundary man’s forehead sank on his arms, a calm came over him, and I knew that his shapeless vagaries had taken form in prayer. So I withdrew to my possum-rug, speculating on the mysterious effect of a ray of lunar light on grey matter protected by various plies of apparently well-arranged natural armour.

When I woke again, the early sunlight was streaming through the open door, and Alf, with a short veil of crape concealing the middle of his face, was frying chops at the fire. The fit had passed away, and he was perfectly sane and cheerful.

My first solicitude was for Pup, but I soon saw that he was more than merely safe. He was lying at the foot of the meat-pole, gorged like a boa-constrictor, while a pair of half-chewed feet, still attached to the loosened rope, were all that remained of the turkey. Probably he had stood on his hind-feet, scratching at the rope, till the hitch, hurriedly secured in the first place, had come undone. I was too well accustomed to such things to feel any embarrassment; and as for Alf, I couldn’t help thinking that the loss of his turkey enhanced the cordiality of his manner.

“Grandest dog I’ve seen for years,” he remarked, as he set the table. “Do you get many kangaroos with him?”

“Oh, no,” I replied; “I never get one, and don’t intend to. I never let him go after anything. It’s quite enough, and sometimes more than enough, for him to do his regular travelling. The hot weather comes very severe on him; in fact, some days I have to give him a drink every hour, or oftener. Then he has the hard ground to contend with; and when the rain comes, the dirt sticks between his toes, and annoys him. Windy weather is bad for him, too; and frost puts a set on him altogether. Then he’s always swarming with fleas, and in addition to that, the flies have a particular fancy for him. And, seeing that one half of the population is always plotting to steal him, and the other half trying to poison him, while, for his own part, he has a confirmed habit of getting lost, you may be sure we have plenty to occupy our minds, without thinking about kangaroos. He’s considerably more trouble to me than all my money, but he’s worth it. As you say, he’s a fine dog. I don’t know what I should do without him.”

“I don’t know what I should do without my dog, either,” replied Alf. And he related some marvellous stories of the animal’s sagacity; to which, of course, I could n’t respond on Pup’s behalf.

Then, whilst we saddled-up and rode off together at a walk, the conversation naturally drifted to horses, until about ten o’clock, when we stopped at a little wicket-gate in the north-east corner of Alf’s ten-by-five paddock.

“You’re in the Patagonia Paddock now,” said he, as I passed through the gate. “You’ll strike the track in six miles. Can I do anything for you at the station?” he added, after a pause. “Any message, or anything?”

“By-the-way, yes, Alf, if you’ll be so good. When will you be going across?”

“To-day,” he replied. “I’m not going round the paddock.”

I drew my writing-case from Bunyip’s pack; and this was the note I pencilled: —

Wallaby Track, l0/ 2/’84

Dear Jack
When you remarked, yesterday, that the saddle on my horse was very like one that a red-headed galoot had stolen from you, you displayed a creditable acuteness, combined with a still more creditable unsuspiciousness. It was your saddle once, but it is yours no longer. It is mine.

Demand not how the prize I hold;
It was not given, nor lent, nor sold
Rokeby.

You will find three one-pound notes in this letter. Please accept the same as compensation for loss of the article in question. This is all you are likely to get; for though the saddle is honestly worth about twice that amount, my conscience now acquits me in the matter; moreover, my official salary is so judiciously proportioned to my frugal requirements that I can afford no more. If you duly receive this money, and at the same time feel hopelessly mystified concerning the saddle, a double purpose will be fulfilled.

Yours, in a manner of speaking,
THOMAS COLLINS.

“I’ll put this into Jack’s hand, if I live,” said the boundary man, with amusing solemnity, as he buttoned his jumper-pocket over the letter.

“Thank you, Alf. And now,” I continued, retaining for a moment the hand he extended in farewell — “take my advice, and, while you’re at the station, give Montgomery notice. Let some more capable boundary man take your place. You’re not worth your damper at this work; for no man’s ability is comprehensive enough to cover musical proficiency such as yours, and leave the narrowest flap available for anything else. I can see through you like glass. I could write your biography. And, believe me, you’re no more fitted for this life than you are to preside over a school of Stoic Philosophy. You’re a reed, shaken by the wind. Be a man, Alf. Turn your face eastward or southward, and challenge Fortune with your violin and your voice.”

He made no reply, but below the edge of the crape mask I saw his lips move, as he bent his head in unconscious acquiescence.

A quarter of an hour afterward, I looked back to see him and his history a shapeless speck, far away along the diminishing perspective of the line of fence. There was something impressive in the recollection that, during the whole of our companionship, he had never uttered one objectionable or uncharitable word, nor attempted any witticism respecting Mrs. Beaudesart.



Published in:
Tom Collins [Joseph Furphy]. Such is Life, The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1903

Editor’s notes:
* The paragraph in chapter six which refers to “the sunlight, though two hundred times as intense” was the subject of a notation added to the end of the book, which states:

NOTE — The proportional intensity of sunlight to moonlight is subject to fluctuations, from many causes, and is therefore variously stated. The highest accepted ratio is 600,000 to 1.; the lowest 200,000 to 1. A constutional repugnance to anything savouring of effect prompted me to indicate the lower proportion. The error in the text unfortunately escaped observation. — T.C.

Such is Life
[next chapter]

Speak Your Mind

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