Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Philosopher Dick

21st October

21st October.

"A frightful accident happened yesterday. Stead, our manager, has been killed. It is not twenty-four hours since the dreadful news reached us, and I am still so upset with surprise and dismay that I can scarcely compose myself to write. The disaster has been as sudden as it is deplorable.

"We had congregated towards tea-time in the page 359kitchen. The shearing having been interrupted by the rain, there was a lot of men about. A bright fire was burning, and the usual rattle going on, when suddenly the front door was burst open and Long Bill staggered into the room, with such a ghastly, affrighted look that it shot a thrill through those present. The man was so out of breath with his run that for a few moments he could hardly gasp forth the terrible news, but we all felt instinctively that some great calamity had happened.

"'Mr. Stead!—killed outright!—found dead!'

"He could tell little more, for nobody seems to understand how it happened, or to know anything about it.

"It seems that Bill was working at the new cut, with his two mates, Tom More and Sandy Joe, when Stead with a bullock-team passed by—he was going to the Black Tree bush for some firewood. It being an off-day, I suppose he thought that according to his usual practice he would set about something useful. It appears that the men had promised to bring in a load the next day, but our indefatigable manager could not resign himself to wait that long.

"'You might have left that job to me, sir,' Bill called out.

"Stead gave one of his cheery laughs, and replied, page 360'Never put off until the morrow what can be done to-day. That's one of my maxims, my lads, and I always act up to it.'

"Joe growled out, 'You would have had it the first thing in the morning.'

"The manager replied, 'I want to see your drays loaded with wool by daylight to-morrow; we should lose valuable time, and the cook is growling already that he hasn't a bit of firewood for the morning. It won't take me long to bring him a few sticks.'

"Tom More, who is always on for chaff, hallooed out, 'What's the use of keeping a dog and barking yourself?' Stead replied back, 'I know a better one than that: If you want a thing done, do it yourself,' and he went on his way rejoicing.

"Bill says that he told him to mind the siding by the shoot, and to keep an eye on Bluey, as the brute is given to play up at a pinch. The last they saw of him was at the cutting; he was then sitting on the pole of the dray, jogging quietly along.

"The men were vexed at his going about this work, which it was their business to have attended to, and which they meant to do—all in good time.

"During the dinner hour they began to wonder that Stead had not returned; and towards evening, getting anxious, Bill said that he would take a run page 361up the gully to see what was the matter. He started off, and had not gone a mile when, at the first 'sticking place' on the track, he was horrified to see Stead lying on the ground. The body was cold, and had been dead for several hours. The poor fellow had evidently been killed on the spot. A few yards farther on the dray was found capsized, and the bullocks feeding on the track. Bill tore back to his mates; they all ran to the fatal spot, righted the dray, and brought the body to the woolshed, where it now lies.

"Mr. and Mrs. Dale were at Flaxhill, so Jim Flash sped off to inform them. He got there late at night, after the household had turned in, but he roused them up and delivered his message.

"Jim says that the old man seemed much concerned, and Mrs. Dale came out in her dressing-gown, quite hysterical, and weeping copiously.

"I shouldn't have thought it. It must have been the shock, for I don't believe she's tender-hearted. They are returning here to-day, and the inquest is to be held to-morrow.

"It is a sad business, and has caused a deep impression, but the daily work must go on; shearing cannot be stopped or the ordinary routine altered.

"There will be one familiar face missing in the page 362throng; there will be temporary expressions of regret, perhaps a sermon by our parson at his next visit here on the uncertainty of life; there will be discussions by the bush fire as to how it could have happened, until the subject is exhausted, and then all will be forgotten. Such is life.

"Stead was to have been married before Christmas, and it has been debated amongst us who should convey the mournful intelligence to the unfortunate bride. The poor girl is staying with her parents at River Bend, some sixty miles from here.

"Perhaps she may be at this present moment joyfully intent on preparations for the coming event, blissfully engaged on her wedding dress. I know the people slightly, and I was asked to go, but I refused flatly. I confess to being a coward in some things. Danger I do not fear, and to help a fellow-creature in distress I could brave a good deal. But I shrink from pain, and the sight of moral suffering unnerves me. To travel that dreary journey under harrowing anticipations, the bearer of a load of misery—to be carried in dolefulness, and to be flung like an infernal bomb into a happy family, to shatter and prostrate them—it would be too much for me.

"We are not all constituted alike. Some people exhibit a partiality for the horrible. I loathe it and page 363fly from it. Jim Flash is probably indifferent; besides, he wanted a trip to town, so he readily undertook the errand, and he is off.

"After the first shock of the news was over, I felt an unbearable unrest—a longing to get away from all surrounding associations—to be alone.

"I wandered about the premises, seeking for some obscure nook where I could ensconce myself and indulge in melancholy reflection.

"The men's kitchen was in a state of uproar. Outside all was cold and dark, and drizzling rain was falling.

"I went into the residence, but the parlour was locked up, and the maid followed me with a light to ask what I wanted. I could not tell her that I wanted only to be left alone, to sit in a dark corner and mope, so I had to pretend to be looking for something.

"I then clambered up to the wretched garret which we call our bedroom, but I found it occupied. Norman and Ted had taken refuge there, and were carrying on a noisy game of Yankee Grab. I continued to rove about like an unquiet spirit; but wherever I went the noise and commotion seemed to follow me about. After a while I perceived a gleam of light from one of the outhouses, and peering in, I page 364there found my friend the sergeant, who was all alone in his crib.

"The old man was sitting on his stretches, enveloped in an old military cloak. He had on his spectacles, which made him look more aged, and by the flickering light of a tallow candle he was reading his Bible. As I looked in he welcomed me with a smile, then put away his glasses, placed the book under his pillow, and after removing the candle from the three-legged stool where it stood to the window sill, he offered me the vacant seat with grave but kindly attention.

"I remained there a long time. We talked about poor Stead—his amiable character, his high principles, the impending marriage, and his untimely fate.

"The old man was calm. Death was no stranger to him. He had seen it in all forms. On the field of battle, where he had stepped over heaps of the slain, held his bleeding comrades in his arms and seen them expire; in the hospitals, where he had assisted to tend the wounded and to shroud their mangled remains; watched in anguish over the last moments of a devoted helpmate, and closed the eyes of a beloved son. Death had no terrors for him. In his quiet, subdued way he spoke to me about the vicissitudes of fate, the inscrutable ordinances of Pro-page 365vidence, and the necessity of resignation in all things. I felt soothed and comforted. I told him so, at which he smiled rather sadly. Then as we parted late in the night and shook hands, his face seemed to light up with a tender expression, and he murmured, 'God bless you, my boy.'