"Marino, 19th Sept.
"What has become of my resolution to keep a diary?—this daily chronicle, however brief and meagre, of thought and action, duly planned and prefaced, and started with such a flourish? It has gone the way of all other good resolutions, for I never kept one yet; broken down miserably at the very first stage. Should I go on with it—which is doubtful—I can see that it will be in a halting sort of style, with ever so many skips, and not unfrequently a total collapse—a thing of discontinuity—a jumble of breaks and blanks, as unsatisfactory to my future biographer as Darwin's palæontological-genealogical record. The next good resolution I make—and it shall assume the shape of a solemn vow—will be never to make good resolutions any more. I have had enough of them. I have been making them for the past twenty years with praiseworthy perseverance, and I can honestly aver that I have never derived the slightest benefit or satisfaction from any page 351one of them yet. So once for all I shall give them up. And yet the moralising poet tells us—
'Since but to wish more virtue is to gain.'
"Well, we should be content with small profits. Wish, by all means; keep on wishing, and take due credit for it; but to attempt anything more appears to me a work of supererogation.
"Whenever a man fails in any purpose or undertaking, the first thing for him to do is to set about justifying his action or want of action, as the case may be.
"Let him make peace with his conscience in the first place; that done, he may conscientiously defy the world. He should satisfy himself at any cost—dismissing from his mind all vain scruples and weak hesitations—that he did the right thing, and that all is for the best.
"This is the golden rule in life—the only conclusion in this world worth coming to. If a man can't accomplish that much he is to be pitied, and the next best thing for him to do is to become a fatalist. There is some consolation to be got out of that.
"Having failed to post up my journal as intended, I have asked myself this question—
"Is it profitable unto a man to keep a diary? and I have answered it in the negative.
"Of course, I am not alluding to ordinary diaries—mere registers of the weather, entries of out-of-pocket expenses, jottings of incomings and outgoings, and such-like, or even gourmandising notes. Although, as regards the latter particulars, some excuse might be found for including them in a well-conducted journal. A good dinner is not a thing to be passed over lightly. Its charms, although transient in the flesh, yet leave a fragrance behind them; they remain 'to memory dear.' It cannot be denied that a good or a bad dinner, like a virtuous or a sinful action, exercises an after-effect. This must be the reason why so many distinguished personages, in their published journals and correspondence, have given so much space to what they had to eat. It should be a lesson to common folk to cook their victuals properly, when they learn the grave importance which the greatest of mankind have attached to the culinary art. You may have too much of a good thing, however; and I am inclined to think that travellers descant, as a rule, at too great length about their meals. It's the stuffing that fills half their books. Still, according to the most advanced theories of the modern scientific world, it may be useful—nay, essential—to account minutely page 353for what we eat and drink. The historian who relates the decision of some momentous conference, of vital consequence to the well-being of society, should also describe the menu which preceded it, for are we not taught to believe that we are the mere outcome of our stomachs?—'Der Mensch ist was er isst.'
"Such being the case, it strikes me that I ought to premise any remarks I may have to make concerning my disposition or ideas with a statement of what I have been subsisting upon. This can be done very briefly. Know then all men that for the past four years I have existed almost entirely on damper and mutton. If then I should be charged with being heavy and sheepish, is it to be wondered at?
"But to return to my original query, and leaving gastronomy out of the question—
"Is it profitable unto a man to keep a diary? Cela dépend. Authorities would appear to differ on this as upon nearly every other point of moral or ethical importance. I have read somewhere—probably in many places—opinions by grave authors and instructors of morals, that it is an excellent practice, and greatly to be recommended.
"And at first sight the keeping of a journal—a moral, introspective, psychological sort of record— page 354appears innocent enough, and may prove advantageous.
"The idea is good—the carrying out will depend on a variety of conditions; and the value may be reckoned in direct proportion to the amount of sincerity there is in it. Surely it must be well to be able to look back on a faithful account of trials, temptations and accomplishments—however pitiful the whole chapter may be—interesting and profitable to retrace the varying struggles of a moral and intellectual existence, weighing the motives and noting the results. I feel that I could write an eloquent page on the subject, but I will deny myself that gratification. From a religious point of view a diary should be almost a devotional work, for it is nothing short of a written confession, and confession is good for the soul.
"Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours,
And ask them what report they bore to heaven,
And how they might have borne more welcome news.'
"On the other hand, I have seen it in print—and I should fancy that it was from the hand of some straight-going, hard-headed, practical-minded Christian—that diaries—moral diaries, mind—are rubbish, and the keeping of them a transparent fraud. 'Who shall decide, when doctors disagree?'
"Now, as a general rule, whenever the merits of anything are disputed—when they are open to reasonable and candid contention, for I am not alluding to malicious detraction, or to cavilling sophistry—wherever there is a fair pro and con—then go for the con. It has a dozen chances to one on its side. Doctor Tant mieux and Doctor Tant pis are ever at it, squabbling from morning to night. It is an everlasting tussle, but hang me if Tant pis doesn't generally get the best of it.
"If you have lost your way in an inhospitable country, and you meet two strangers, one of whom says that you have five miles to travel to the nearest inn, the other makes it seven—be resigned to the seven.
"But if you have placed out your money in a safe investment which 'one who knows' tells you will bring you in seven per cent., whereas another one who also knows declares it can only yield five, then reckon on the five—it will be nearest the mark.
"To my mind it is very much the same with moral questions. Between the optimist and the pessimist, the truster and the distruster, if you have to choose—however much it may go against the grain—you had better incline to the latter.
"So about the keeping of a diary; there is much to be said 'agin it.'
"Life is made up of mean little actions that we perform out of habit, or because we like it, or can't help it, but which are certainly not worth recording.
"A commonplace book is right enough so long as it is confined to commonplace, but any attempt to turn it into a repository of sentiment and meditation fails miserably. As well might we scribble down the small-talk of every day, which is no sooner said than forgotten, and which nobody could wish remembered. The fact is, that in the ordinary routine of life our sentiments are shallow, our reflections most trite, our communications mere clatter. There's nothing in it.
"Then again the value, if any, of a confidential journal must rest upon its outspoken candour and genuineness, and that is precisely what diaries almost invariably lack. Who would willingly lay bare his heart, especially on paper? Who would believe in writing down the innermost desires and sensations of his being, even if it were in his power to do so. There are secrets of the heart that cannot bear exposure; there are communions of the spirit that are beyond vulgar expression. The mind is replete page 357with an inward sense of shame that it would be torture to reveal, and which it endeavours to conceal even from its own consciousness.
"A schoolboy, even of the most outspoken type, might be excused if he omitted from his juvenile diurnal an entry of a flogging received. A young lady, however modest and pure-minded, might hesitate before committing to paper the thoughts that occasionally occupy her mind, and tend to keep her awake of a night. And where is the man who cares at all times to read his own thoughts, and would find words to express them? No! we cannot throw down the veil, and the veil spoils the confession.
"Man is essentially an egotistical being. The universal I monopolises his thoughts and desires. It is the consideration of self that rules his life. It engrosses his conversation; it predominates in his correspondence; it is only intensified in a diary. Is it well to be ever harping on Number One? I trow not. Let this inevitable personality rest, or rather try to forget it. There is a morbid tendency in constantly dwelling upon or inquiring into our conditions, either of body or of mind. It is, indeed, with moral as with physical health—the less coddling and doctoring it gets the better. A sound and robust nature thrives best when left alone.
"But the past—the beloved past? Is not the history of our lives worthy of preservation? You cannot take it from us. The joys that are fled still live to us in our memory, and there is even consolation to be derived from the recollection of our misfortunes.
"Ay, when they are a long way off, and 'distance lends enchantment to the view,' but a prosaic diary would go far to dispel the illusion. There is, indeed, but little good to be derived from raking up the past; oblivion also has its charms.
"The lessons of adversity are sufficiently painful, as a rule, not to need recapitulation, and past happiness cannot be restored. What is done is done, what is gone is gone, whether for good or for evil.
"Fate has so decreed, and we can only bow to its dictates. It is sufficient to say, On a vécu."
"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.'
"They held the inquest at the woolshed this morning. Verdict—Accidental death. The only supposition is that in rounding a slippery siding the bullocks must have played up and overturned the empty dray.
"The unfortunate man must have been crushed under it, as his death would appear to have been instantaneous. There was the mark of a contusion on his left side, but it was hardly noticeable.
"He was buried this afternoon in a little plot of ground that has been fenced in near the river junction, and which it is intended to set aside for a cemetery. It contained only one grave, that of a poor woman with her newly-born child that died last year—a sad case, attributed to neglect. Now there are two graves. I suppose it will be filled in due time.
"I did not attend the funeral; I never do, on principle. I am informed that this has given rise to adverse comment. Likely enough. It does not matter."
"Let me ask myself, Why should I attend a funeral? It is against my inclination to march in a lugubrious procession; I dislike ceremonies, and especially dismal ceremonies. They are a matter of indifference to most people—they are a matter of painful endurance to me. Why should I conform to a disagreeable custom that I do not believe in? To show respect for the deceased, they say. Pshaw! What can the deceased care for show or for respect now? Is death not awful enough without a parade and a mockery of woe? But it is customary. So are many things which I avoid and disapprove of. Yet I am not at war with society, but would fain be allowed to live my own quiet way, preserving much-loved independence even in little things, and without treading on any one's toes. I would respect the feelings, even the prejudices of others, providing I am not called upon to share in them.
"Dame Society, however, is resentful in these things; she cannot tolerate independence, and in the matter of conventionalities she is a termagant.
"God knows, the squinting old Jezebel (for she is nothing better), painted and bedizened, and rotten to the core, is essentially lax—to everything but appearances. She is of easy virtue herself, and not at all particular as to others, provided they study decorum. page 367She can blink, and she can wink—indeed, she appears to exist in a chronic state of winking—and under no circumstances does she ever attempt to look beneath the surface. 'Go your ways, my dears,' she tells her votaries, 'and be as false, as selfish, and as wicked as you please, only be proper. I care nothing about your morals or your sentiments—rather prefer them lax, as more amenable to my requirements—I am only rigid concerning appearances. You may break every law, moral and divine, with impunity, but the law of fashion you shall not break.'
"I have a friend, as honest and straight-going a man as ever lived, open in heart—and purse too, whenever the occasion needs it—but somewhat crusty in temperament and original in his notions. He attended the funeral of a friend once—a man of note, who was buried in state—and he followed the procession in a white coat. It was not done from ignorance, still less from absent-mindedness, for my friend was particular as to his costume, and prided himself on always suiting his dress to the requirements of the season. He had classified habiliments for every varying state of the weather. He had lived a great deal in the tropics, and had learnt to consider comfort before appearances. He met the scorching rays of the sun in spotless white, he was always muffled up page 368in a most intricate manner against a cold wind, while in the steaming heat of a summer's evening he was content to recline in pyjamas. On the occasion of the funeral it was a roasting day, and my friend had dressed accordingly. His appearance on the solemn scene in such a rig-out occasioned grave surprise, and was considered a public scandal. He was immediately cut by all his acquaintances; even his near relatives slammed the door in his face. Had he gone as a chimney-sweep he would have fared better, for then he would at least have been black, and black was de rigueur. Had he been a seducer of innocence, a disreputable gambler, a man of vile and intemperate habits, such misconduct would have been passed over, for the world is very lenient to well-dressed scoundrels; had he even committed a great crime he would have found numerous defenders to stand by him in the hour of need; but to appear at a fashionable funeral in a white surtout, that was the unpardonable sin. Society rose like one old woman, and shrieked him down. He was ostracised by the whole community, and had to fly his country.
"Poor Stead! I could not call you a friend, for we had so little in common, but I admired your unflagging energy, and I respected your practical virtues. If any man, by perseverance and self-denial, deserved page 369to get on in the world, then you did, for you never indulged even in a whim, or granted yourself a respite.
"Work, work, work! And all to what account? Your energy was fatal to you; by too much striving you fell. Had you been content to attend to your own duties, and to leave bullock-driving to those whom it concerned, you would have been alive now, and as happy, I suppose, as a man of your anxious mind and earnest temperament could well afford to be.
"Miserable fatality! Lamentable perversion of the moral order of things. The good apprentice comes to an untimely end; the idle one hath long life and goodly reward. We know that 'Fortune favours fools,' but when did we discover that Fate rewards the virtuous? There is no good to be got in moralising on this world, which is not only 'out of joint,' but topsy turvy. The lesson to be derived from this sad example is that excess of energy is bad and that zeal is disastrous. I am not naturally inclined to err in that direction, but should I follow any unthinking impulse, and be taken that way, then this melancholy case will restore me to ease and indifference, for I shall check any new-born ardour with the sad warning, Remember Stead!"
"Mrs. Dale is a person not without pretensions. In other words 'she thinks a deal of herself,' and her great object always appears to be to make other people of the same opinion. She would like to pose before polite society, not as a reigning belle, for she is quite passée, not as my Lady Bountiful, for she is not charitably inclined; not even as a fashionable personage, for she has not the means to keep up any great style; but as une femme supérienre. In that she resembles her maid, only, of course, ever so many steps higher up the social ladder.
"I overheard an exchange of sentiments once between the cook and Susy Wanekin, on the latter's début here. Quoth the cook, 'What are your accomplishments, Miss Wanekin?' Said Susy, 'I am not very musical; I never would be bothered with learning the pie-a-ner; I pride myself more on my conversational powers.'
"Mrs. Dale began life humbly. In her youth she was poor and dependent. She may have been pretty, but neither her good looks or her shining capabilities would appear to have attracted attention, or to have gained her a suitor. She saw a little of the world, and picked up some smattering of society knowledge while following in the train of a fashionable patroness. page 371Accomplishments she has none, which is quite sufficient to impress people. She emigrated to New Zealand at the nick of time, and was rewarded for her venture by marrying Mr. Dale, who was then verging on 'the sere and yellow,' but who was thought to be rich. Unfortunately, even in that happy moment, by a strange irony of Fate, she found herself transported into a region which, whatever its other advantages may be, is perfectly uncongenial for the expansion of fine-ladyism. What is the use of distinguished attainments where they cannot be shown off, fashionable clothes in the bush, or polite airs among barbarians? Mrs. Dale has always realised her mission—it was to shine; but cruel fortune has destined her to a sphere which no display of brilliancy could illumine. She had triumphed, after so many disappointments, but only to bloom in the desert. This makes her rage.
"But love of admiration is too strong a passion to be stifled, even under the most untoward circumstances. "It must find an outlet somewhere, even on a sheep station. Mrs. Dale is determined to be conspicuous somehow, and she much prefers being hated to the ignominy of being unnoticed.
"Where she cannot fascinate or intimidate, her page 372last resource is to worry, and in this respect she is universally allowed to excel. Her capabilities for interference, and her powers of annoyance, are indeed quite exceptional. Having no family to rear or household duties to attend to, being almost denied the greatest of female consolations, gossiping, she has to confine her active energies to petty vexatiousness.
"But although the range is so restricted, it has afforded her the longed-for opportunity of becoming notorious, as the most talked-about and cordially disliked woman in the country; and thus the 'ruling passion' has found its vent.
"The other day she had a mishap, which has been a source of great merriment to the men, and of which a highly-embellished report has travelled far and wide. As I was an eye-witness of the scene, however, my account is necessarily strictly veracious.
"It happened only a few days ago. Madame, arrayed in state, was going one of her usual rounds. She takes great interest in animals, and has her pets among the horses and cattle, which she dubs with high-sounding names, cribbed from Sir Walter Scott's novels or other elegant sources. Having inspected the fowl yard, counted her chickens, collected the eggs (which she has placed under lock and key), examined the dairy, to make sure that none of the milk had page 373been misapplied to any vile use, such as flavouring the men's tea—for Mrs. Dale would sooner see the eggs rotted and the milk turned sour than to allow those little luxuries to be introduced into the kitchen—she visited the stable and ordered the Lady Rowena out for an airing. She continued to spy into many places, and to make sneering remarks about what she saw, which she knew would be repeated to those concerned and cause unpleasantness.
"She then turned her stately steps towards the paddock, where a number of young cattle were grazing. Norman had been escorting her so far (being the young gentleman in attendance that morning) but knowing his intense dislike to gardening, she could not resist the gratification of setting him to weed a bed of tomatoes. 'There, my dear boy,' she exclaimed, 'there's two hours' work for you. I hope you will do it nicely, for I take a great pride in my tomato beds, and you may just as well make yourself useful. You must do something for your keep, you know' Norman's face flushed to the colour of the ruby fruit at his feet, but he went sulkily to work.
"Mrs. Dale then turned her distinguished attention to a mob of young heifers. The first one, an ugly, shaggy, restive-looking brute, she accosted with much suavity.
"'Oh! my pretty little Lydia; it is you, is it? Don't I recognise those pretty auburn curls, and your high-bred air. Come to me, my pet.' Lydia only responded with a toss of the head, and turned away. 'Oh, you cross little thing! how dare you turn your back on your mistress? I shall make you come to me.' Lydia gave a snort, and made show to bunt. 'Oh, you naughty, nasty, rude thing! how dare you, miss?' Lydia bunted. 'Fi donc, Mademoiselle; get away, you little wretch! Off, I say!' and the lady made play with her riding-whip. Lydia made play with her head.
"Mrs. Dale began a hasty retreat, trying to ward off the bunting heifer with words and cuts. Then she called out for assistance; but Norman was too intent on weeding tomato beds to heed her cries, and two of the station hands, who were standing close by, only bobbed their heads behind a hedge, and were deaf to the most heartrending appeals.
"I happened to be near, and I advanced to the rescue, as fast as I could without undignified hurry.
"Meanwhile Lydia was thoroughly roused, and the whipping made her downright vicious. She came at her mistress full tilt, and with a well-directed bump, planted just below the middle, sent Mrs. D. sprawling backwards her full length on the ground. And as her head went down, her feet tipped up.
"The sight of the lady's scarlet underclothing must have further excited the animal's fury, for it was just about to charge into the breach, when I stepped forward and drove it off. Mrs. Dale struggled to her feet, blushing as red as her petticoats, and without a word of thanks to her rescuer, she fled. I followed her with a broken whip, a huge chignon which was left on the battle-field, and a padded article of attire, which had burst its strings and had dropped from her in the tumble.
"I don't think she will ever forgive me."
"Marino, 24th October.
"I have chummed up with old Sims. We have become quite cronies. We sit and chat for the hour together by the kitchen fire, oblivious of all the Babel and clatter going on around us. I often find my way to the weather-board cabin where they have lodged him, and start him telling me about his former campaigns and old experiences. Cold and draughty is the wretched shed, and we have to sit muffled in our greatcoats, our light a smoky candle, our festive cup a pannikin of cold tea; yet the time passes unperceived, and it is often midnight before we part company. A sturdy veteran is Sergeant Sims. On his hardened features Time has left marks, but has page 376scored no ravages. His eye is not dim, his sonorous voice retains its manly tones, his step is as firm and elastic as when—some fifty years ago—it kept time to the beat of the drum.
"Unlike many talkative old men, the sergeant is not garrulous. Although bruised and battered both in heart and fortune in the arduous struggle of a chequered existence, he is not querulous either.
"There is a noble serenity about the old man. In mind he is as simple as a child, and he retains a spirit, subdued perhaps by age and painful experience, but not crushed.
"The sergeant is not dramatic in his style of narration. In that respect he is totally unlike the typical old soldier represented on the stage, who stamps and attitudinises, rolls forth his thunder, and flourishes his stick and his periods with equal vehemence.
"Yet, at times, when he told in his simple unaffected way of deeds of valour and of trials of endurance, I have felt that thrill of emotion which eloquence imparts, and the pictured scene has risen before my eyes with glowing vividness. On one occasion he described, with more than usual animation, the preparation, for battle. The impending shock, the ominous lull before the fiery outburst; the troops drawn up in line, as if on parade—a page 377frowning mass, with dark forebodings and anxious suspense, yet resolute bearing. The officers to the front, with their swords drawn, addressing the men in terms of confidence and encouragement, reminding them of their past achievements, the glorious record of their regiment, and exhorting them to maintain it unsullied— … until I felt a creeping sensation in all my sinews, my hand clenched, a hectic flush on my cheek—a wild impulse to be 'Up, guards, and at them,' to bear down on the enemy, cut, point, and slash in all directions.
"I verily believe that the sergeant has taken a great liking to me. I feel that I have all his sympathy, with almost a touch of fatherly tenderness, combined with a certain sense of respectful deference, due no doubt to the fact of my being the son of a brave and distinguished officer—possibly also to the vulgar idea that I am a scholar—a ridiculous notion that I have done my best to dispel.
"'Ay, sir!' he exclaimed once, 'if I had only had your parts and education—— But there, I wasn't born to it.'
"'You were born to something much better, sergeant,' I replied, and in my heart I believe it.
"A few days back the old man was in a very confidential mood. He told me a great deal about his page 378early life, some wild pranks and exciting episodes; his rapid promotion; then his happy marriage and many years of domestic bliss; the bringing up of his boys.
"It was all a long time ago, but his heart seemed to be altogether in the past.
"Then he unlocked a travelling bag, and from its inmost recesses he brought out two little packets.
"They were wrapped up in tissue paper and were evidently objects of much-prized value. He unfolded the covering with care, and then placed them on the table with such tender solicitude as excited my curiosity. He opened the first little case; it contained a silver medal—his Waterloo medal. I stooped down to read the inscription upon it, and when I looked up again and caught the old man's eye it seemed to glisten with unwonted fire. He was proud of that medal—well he might be.
What a flood of memories that tiny bright disc must have opened upon him. Memories, not such as the world at large indulges in, dim and faint, read of in books, engraven on monuments or even recited in inspiriting verse to the national glory. Words; words only. But not so to him. He had been there! He had heard the cannons' roar; he had marched, enveloped in lurid smoke, to face the furious page 379onslaught of the enemy; he had stood for hours under the deadly hail, and seen his comrades dropping by his side, his brave officers, in all their pride and splendour, falling at his feet. In ranks thinned and shattered he had awaited inflexible the charge of those fierce cuirassiers. How the earth had trembled under their horses' feet, how the sunlight had flashed from a thousand sabres and breastplates!
"And then, under the rattling fire of the musketry, the heavy booming of the big guns, he had seen the ground glistening with the slain, and riderless horses dashing madly to and fro, frantic with terror, plunging, rearing, falling—a terrible sight!
"It was a long time ago—a matter of history to us—but to him it was as yesterday. Well might his bosom heave, his eye flash, at the token of that memorable day!
"The sergeant then opened the other little case. It was of morocco leather, and held a miniature portrait. It was a picture by no very skilful hand, yet prettily drawn, of a female head.
"The head of a young woman of some twenty summers. A homely little face, fair and fresh, with nothing very noticeable about it beyond its freshness and a dimpling smile that played about its rosy lips. The hair was pale yellow, and in long flat bands, in page 380the style that was considered becoming in those days.
"I examined the picture, then looked up again into the old man's face. His expression had altered—he seemed ever so much older, the wrinkles on his forehead were gathered in deep furrows, there was a tremulous motion about his lips, and he had bent his eyebrows like one straining his sight at a distant view. For a long while—it seemed to me so—he kept his gaze riveted on the little portrait, and he passed his hand several times before his face as if to clear away a mist that obscured his vision. Then he turned to me with a look that conveyed such a sad appeal that I could not meet it—I looked another way.
"'How the colour has faded,' he said.
"I replied that I did not notice it.
"'Why, her hair was of the brightest auburn,' he exclaimed feelingly. 'It was the most lovely hair in the world. My own pretty love! How she used to bind it up for me in different ways, and when she let it down it reached to her waist; but there—there'—The old man sighed.
"That sigh! What a life-long story did it not unfold. The story of youthful ardour, of manly devotion, of requited love—love which had filled his heart and shed a warm and benign lustre over so many page 381years, and the innumerable incidents of a humble and worthy career. Love to be cherished in fond remembrance, and to be looked back upon after so long a lapse of time—heavily borne through old age and afflictions—with tenderness and gratitude.
"Fold up thy little packets, thou grey-headed veteran! Fold them up carefully, and replace them in safe keeping. Each one is a charm that shall never forsake thee. The reward of valour thou shalt carry with thee to an honoured grave, and that sweet countenance shall continue to smile upon thee—it may fade on the painted tablet, but it shall never grow dim in thy heart!"