"The Mountain Hut, 8th September
"I am alone. My abode a thatched 'wàrrie,' isolated in a wild mountainous region. I am many miles away from any other human habitation, much farther still from any being whose companionship would be congenial to me, and I am separated from all relations and former friends by the breadth of this wide world.
"I sit by the smouldering log fire and watch the flickering light of the glowing embers, and listen to the mournful hum of a black kettle that stands on the hearth. My only associates in this solitary life are my dogs—Tiny, who is watching me dreamily from his snug fireside corner, and the phlegmatic Mop, who is coiled up under my bed and fast asleep. And Topsy, the cat. I had almost forgotten her! Oh the ingratitude of man. She is a remarkable creature, and she has certainly placed me under deep obligation to her. She made her first entry to this outlandish page 193place about a year ago, conveyed hither in a bag, and her advent has been a triumph—a sudden and overwhelming victory against countless numbers—that savours of the marvellous.
"And yet I can vouch for it as a fact, for I was there—the inevitable eye-witness of modern chronicles. At that time the place was swarming with rats and mice. The former are said to be native to the country, the latter an imported article. I cannot pronounce on the subject, for I never made une étude approfondie of this class of vermin. To my undiscerning eye they all look very much like the rats and mice of happier climes, and I can answer for it that they possess much the same evil propensities. They arrive gradually, in small instalments, cautiously and insidiously. They first encroached on the outhouse; they then insinuated themselves into the store-room; they proceeded to undermine the walls, to infest the roof, to overrun the house, and to take absolute possession of the premises. They became a horrible nuisance, a plague, an abomination. They used to run over me at night, to peer at me from every hole and crack, to devour my provisions, and contaminate what they could not devour. The only way to protect food from their ravages was to suspend it from the roof, but even that device was not a match for page 194their ingenuity, for the cunning beasties would gnaw through the strings and let the supplies down; or else burrow through the thatch and let themselves down on to the supplies, which came to much the same thing. Nothing could daunt them, and we tried in vain to exterminate the vermin.
"We set traps and caught them by scores, we poisoned them by hundreds, we got a terrier that played havoc in their ranks, but all to no avail. The nuisance increased. I complained to old Dale, and threatened to abandon the hut. I was recommended to take a cat.
"Now, I had always had a prejudice against cats. I don't like them; and even with Topsy I must fain admit that there is no heartfelt love between us. There are no cat-like sympathies in my nature. I have none of the cat's virtues—love of home, domestic propriety, primness, watchfulness, silence and gravity—for the cat, once out of kittenhood, is essentially a serious and matter-of-fact animal. I have none of its special vices either—cunning, heartlessness, and cruelty.
"Cats and I have never chummed up.
"But life is made up of compromises and even sacrifices.
"How many people there are who jog along page 195through existence, while chained to partners and associates, both male and female, that are not only uncongenial but even hateful to them. They wince a bit at first, and pull at the mouth, but after a time they travel along together right enough, for it is self-interest that holds the ribbons. Our inclinations may be strong, our passions yet stronger, but the necessities of the present hour, the inexorable requirements of the society in which we live, the despotism of public opinion, are they not much more powerful factors in guiding the course of our feeble lives?
"This reminds me of Jim Flash and Black Joe as bed-fellows. They had been out together mustering some wild cattle, and they were benighted at some deserted hut, with but scanty fare and only one opossum rug between the both of them. Black Joe—a real African nigger—had all the peculiarities of his odoriferous race. He would not have been considered desirable company in any close quarters, and although an honest fellow he had the reputation of perspiring freely. Jim Flash, on the other hand, is a personage of exquisite taste, of educated nostrils; a most particular swell, who is fastidious even in the choice of perfumes with which to scent his silk pocket-handkerchief. It cannot be supposed that he relished Black Joe; yet when the nigger, who had page 196stripped and was snugly ensconced in his warm rug, generously offered to share it with his white brother, the white brother, with smothered disgust, was fain to accept, for it was bitterly cold outside. Que voulezvous? It was better to suffer in one organ than to freeze in the whole body.
"And so it is in the world; what will people (young ladies included) not submit to sooner than be left out in the cold? This is a digression (with a moral) tacked on to another digression. Let us return to Topsy.
"Having consented to take a cat, the next thing was to get one. Cats were scarce, and it was with difficulty that I obtained the promise of one out of a litter that was shortly expected. The litter came in due course, and a little black kitten was reserved out of it for the Mountain Hut.
"I watched the growth of this kitten with interest, and I listened fondly to the accounts that reached me of its wonderful precocity and youthful prowess. It was not many weeks old before it was seen to pounce upon and devour a blue-bottle fly; and it killed its first mouse at an age when most kittens are occupied in playing with their own tails.
"We began to expect great things from Topsy, but she was destined to eclipse them all in the most mar-page 197vellous achievement on record. It was a bright summer evening when I arrived at the hut, with the kitten—then unknown to fame—in a bag.
"I found old Malcolm there, and I found him indulging in some very select Scotch blasphemy against the plague of mice. The horrid creatures had got at his sack of oatmeal, and had so dirtied and defiled its contents that the prized material had assumed quite a speckled appearance. I suggested that he should pass it through a sieve, with a view of separating the two ingredients, while I promised myself not to partake of 'burgoo' emanating from that quarter.
"Malcolm was cross, and when I produced the bag with its precious charge, he snatched it from me and roughly shook the poor little animal out on to the floor. She came out head first, but through that mysterious dispensation of nature applicable only to cats, she landed complacently on her four legs. She was cramped and dazed, and for the moment was lost in astonishment.
"Then she took a glance round, shook herself, and gave one plaintive mew. 'That and nothing more.'
"'When in mid-air the golden trump shall sound,' announcing the crack of doom, it will not cause greater consternation than did that feeble cry amongst the mouse tribe that infested this habitation. From page 198the roof above, from the floor below, from burrows under the walls, from their pleasant nooks and snug retreats, even from out of our sack of flour, they fled, madly, desperately. Such a squeaking and scuttling as never was heard before. Hairy old sinners, sleek little mice, fat mothers and suckling infants,—all disappeared as if by magic, and we saw them no more. The hut has been rid of them ever since, and Topsy has had to go foraging in the bush to find a meal.
"Now, I don't expect that everybody will believe this account, any more than the 'enlightened' are given to accept even the 'authorised version' of the herd of swine episode. It is Gospel truth nevertheless. Account for the fact I cannot, but that does not make it a lie, as some scientific worthies seem to assume. I have come to the conclusion, from my humble experience, that you are not safe in either believing or disbelieving anything. Since this most successful début Topsy has been a personage at the hut. I admit to a feeling of reverence for her similar to what great Whittington must have experienced towards his immortal benefactress, renowned in song. Topsy presides at my frugal board, and helps herself to the choicest morsels. She sleeps on my blankets, and has even been suspected of bringing fleas into page 199them, but out of respect for her catship I have never given any countenance to such an unworthy idea.
"Towards my humble canine dependants she soon asserted her sway. Tiny—gentle and affectionate—submitted at once, but the unruly Mop gave some trouble, and required severe clawing to bring him into a proper state of subjection. On one occasion a passing tramp brought a bull terrier on the premises, and the savage brute made a direct and unprovoked attack on our purring queen. He lost an eye in the encounter, and did not return to the charge. Since then her reign has been peace.
"I have now described my household. Perhaps the next time I take up my pen to this novel attempt at a diary, I may aim at describing my melancholy self."
"A cloudy morning and, towards the close of the day, very cold and windy. Late in the afternoon it began to snow, and already the ground is covered with its white mantle.
"How sudden and violent are the changes of temperature in this climate. A few days ago a hot nor'-wester was sweeping over the ranges, melting the glaciers and bringing down freshets in the river; the plains began to assume their parched and yellow page 200summer look, while clouds of dust darkened the air, and in the forests there was a muggy heat. Now we are in mid-winter again.
"I hate cold. It disagrees with me. I am naturally a chilly mortal, with a sluggish circulation and a lack of that robust vitality which shows itself in some temperaments as buoyant animal spirits, love of athletic sports, or unflagging energy.
"I require warmth to develop what small amount of animation there is in me, to call forth any ardour of mind or flow of sentiment. Heat I can bear without much grumbling, but cold is my dread, my aversion.
"However disagreeable it may be to feel the perspiration trickling down your forehead and blinding your eyes, can it be compared to the misery of a tramp against a heavy drift, with a handful of snow jammed inside your collar and melting at leisure, one half of your face so frozen that the blood has sought refuge in the other side, which is burning hot, your hands clenched up in wet pockets, and your feet seeming to partake of the nature of the ice that clogs your boots?
"Don't talk to me about the pleasures of winter. It is said that man can protect himself against the greatest severity of cold, while he seeks in vain for relief against extreme heat.
"This is not altogether correct. Then consider: these artificial appliances are not universally available. Shivering humanity of the lower orders knows them not. Winter, to the great mass of the labouring population at home, is a period of privation and suffering. Cold is severe on the ragged, it is hard on the needy; and it is the ragged and the needy that make up 'the greatest number.'
"Although I am not partial to winter, yet I love to watch a snowstorm, especially if the outlook is from some warm and cosy indoor corner. Just as I love to muse on the roaring ocean, and watch the raging conflict of its heaving billows, from some snug nook on terra firma.
"To enjoy the war of the elements thoroughly you require 'to be out of it' But a snowstorm has an alluring charm for me. It reminds me of other days; of scenes of happy childhood.
"I remember so vividly how I used, as a little boy, to stand for hours together with my face flattened against the window-panes, in our dear old home on the moors, watching the big snow-flakes in their slow wavering fall, and thinking, God knows, of fairies and giants, of fights and marvels, or indulging in bright dreams of glory and adventure.
"How often would I wonder, in all the intensity page 202of childish fancy, what I should be, what I should look like, when a great big boy, grown up, turned twenty. Imagination could no further go. I stood lost in silent admiration at the idea of the manly figure I should then possess; the frock coat, the bell-topper, the walking stick, and the cigar. I drew outlines of my very juvenile phiz, copied from a daguerreotype of the old style, for I very early got a knack of sketching, and added to the portrait a pair of comely black whiskers. What a wonderful improvement they made to my appearance; what an astonishing air of importance I would suddenly assume. And then to think that in that glorious future that was opening before me I should be able to strut into a pastrycook's, without hesitation or fear of consequences, and actually have as many tarts as I wanted! That seemed to be so far removed beyond the range of my young experiences that I could hardly realise such a state of things. How I longed to grow up quickly, to make haste to be a man, to know that I could sit up to a late dinner, instead of being marched off to bed at the stroke of eight; and of a morning be able to turn on the water for my own shower-bath, instead of having to endure the infliction of a sponging, with an occasional dab of soap in the eye when nurse was out of temper.
"I would sit in some quiet corner musing intently, and trying hard to get ever such a little peep through the dark veil of the future.
"Oh, how happily for me that I could not! Had I seen myself as I now am, had the shadow of the years that have since elapsed only passed before me, it would have been with a sad face that I should have retired from my musings.
"The melancholy past! Melancholy to me not only in its sorrows and disappointments, but also in the recollection of happiness and love.
"Our trials may be over, we may have weathered the storm, and we may derive even some satisfaction from the sufferings we have undergone, but who can restore to us what is lost—departed love, or friendship that is dead, a beloved one who has passed away, and the joy and brightness of days gone by?
"There is one dark spot in the past that time can never obliterate. There is one kind look that used to smile upon me, but that has long since vanished; one kind voice that was the voice of heaven to me, but which I shall never hear more. Long, long after she had departed hence; long after as a sorrowing child I followed the solemn procession and stood by to hear the clods and stones rebound with a hollow page 204noise from her coffin, she lived to me. She lived in my dreams; in bright visions of future happiness she was present, in imaginary conversations I heard her voice.
"Even now, now that so many years have passed, now that I live many thousand miles from her grave, the thought that she is gone has often startled me from the sport of fancy, awakened me to cold, dark, bitter reality.
"I do not repine. My life has been what it was ordained to be by that Divine dispensation which passes the understanding of man, but which regulates all things. I have had my days of sunshine, I have trodden the flowery path in times gone by. At present the path is dark and thorny. I have wandered into solitary and desolate places, shrouded in gloom and beset with evil presentiments, like the 'valley of the shadow of death.' But shall I not live through it? Are there not endless vistas of sunshine beyond, pleasant arbours on the lengthy journey of life, where one can bide a while and rest, for the road is not all solitary and desolate? How can we foretell what Providence may have in store for us? So let us hope—hope and pray."
"Up before dawn and got breakfast 'under way' page 205by candle light. Then 'washed up'—to me the most objectionable part of my household duties. Swept the hut, tidied up things in general, and made my bed, which reminds me that I shall soon have to remake my mattress. This has consisted for a long time past in bundles of Manuka brushwood. So long as the leaves lasted they formed a tolerably elastic surface, but now that all the dead foliage has fallen off, leaving nothing but the hard sticks, it is like lying on a gridiron. I arise aching in all my bones.
"Off by sunrise, with a long way to go and 'a hard road to travel.' Found the hill slopes very slippery, and snowdrifts in the gullies, so I followed the spurs and made towards Mount Vulcan. No signs of the sheep all the way, and I began to feel anxious about my charge, especially concerning the young lambs. Reached the Fern-tree Gully about noon, having thoroughly examined that side of my beat, and was 'biding a wee' for a spell, when I heard a sharp crack that rang through space like a pistol-shot. There was no mistaking the sound. I ran over the ridge, to find some two thousand of my flock quietly grouped in a sheltered hollow, while on the high ground above them several rams were having a grand tournament.
"There was some hard hitting.
"Two savage old tups were going at it with a will; after each thumping concussion they would stagger about, stunned and stupefied, then recover themselves, lick their gums, back off some ten paces, and go it again full tilt—the hardest skull to win. This constant bumping of crowns together may account on Darwinian principles for the unmitigated stupidity of these thick-headed brutes. In the course of their development through countless ages, dominion and propagation has been bestowed on the greatest blockheads.
"To light is one of the first laws of nature. All animated existence is a conflict. War and bloodshed are 'necessary evils,' nor is there the slightest reason for believing that they were first introduced into the world with the original sin. They belong, on the contrary, to the very essence of the 'eternal fitness of things.' The most useful and beneficial institution in the glorious constitution of our universe. All animals (excepting man) are armed for the good fight; either to prey on the brotherhood, or for defence against insidious attacks, or for mastery in their own family relations. Creation is an armed camp, and the work of slaughtering its principal occupation. And when we contemplate the wonders of nature, and bow our heads before the Infinite Wisdom with which page 207it has been ordained, we cannot fail to be struck with the many beautiful and ingenious devices afforded for effecting this good purpose. What a marvellous variety there appears in the means and appliances provided for killing! It is accomplished by animal creation with almost equal success by biting, rending, clawing, stabbing, kicking, stifling, stinging or crushing. But these be rude methods compared with the more curious and intricate contrivances of a benevolent dispensation, such as electrifying, poisoning, befouling, stinking to death, and many others equally clever. If we turn from the spectacle of bloodthirsty rage and open conflict to the guile and stratagem of the universal warfare, we are still further lost in admiration at the marvellous fertility of invention displayed in the order of nature. In its elevating study we meet with examples of every description of snare and pitfall designed to encompass the innocent or entrap the unwary. Every conceivable device for bewildering, paralysing, decoying, or bewitching with evil eye the helpless victim, is practised by nature with astonishing perfection. Even the ingenuity of man, prompted by the devil, can hardly succeed better in an art so peculiarly his own. There is one mode of discomfiting an enemy, however, which would appear to have been specially reserved for page 208the benefit of the human race; it is the exquisite art of talking any one to distraction, which can only be practised by man, and is carried to its utmost perfection by woman.
"I watched the battering ram conflict with attention, and was much interested in the fight between a long-wooled ram of imposing dimensions but hornless crown, and a grand old buffer with massive and curly appendages. It was an exciting contest, evidently carried on for the leadership of a select group of meek and sentimental-looking ewes, that stood complacently by watching the result.
"The owner of the crumpled horns came off best, and having battered his opponent into a condition of harmlessness, he turned proudly to his flock to taste the reward of his prowess, when I inopportunely interfered by setting the dogs at him. The ram's blood was up; he turned on his pursuers and butted at them so vigorously that they cried off, and the savage animal looked as if for two straws he would run a tilt at me. So I bowled a piece of rock at him, which took his middle stump, and so upset his equanimity that he scampered off, and then the whole flock took to their heels after him.
"Returning home, I came upon the remainder of the sheep, which had found cover in sheltered nooks page 209by the river-side, and did not seem to have suffered from the snowstorm. I saw no dead lambs about.
"I reached the hut just before dark, much relieved in mind. I have discovered with dismay that I have run out of candles, and I am much too tired to set about making some this evening. I am scribbling these notes by the light of an impromptu lamp, consisting of a wick in a pannikin of melted tallow.
"I find that 'The Doctor' has been round with old Darkey and the rations. He has left me a bag of flour and half a sheep, also a little box from the homestead, labelled 'Books—keep dry,' but containing, among other spiritual matter, two bottles of whisky. It is fortunate for me that 'The Doctor' had no desire to dip into literature on the way, for had he done so I fancy he might have camped out on the run for the night, and relieved the old horse of a portion of the load before reaching here.
"But not being a man of educated tastes, he was preserved from the mortal sin of stealing and getting drunk."
"To-day is Sunday—a day of rest and holiness, but to me like any other day. In my remote seclusion there is nothing to betoken the lapse of time; days and weeks pass away in one unchanging monotony.
How different to the Sundays I have known elsewhere!
"Here no morning bells waft their glad voices over the green meadows; no sauntering throng of country folk, in their holiday clothes, are seen wending their way by the sweet-scented hedges to the isolated village church.
"Here no cheerful circle is gathered for the evening by the crackling fire or round the brightly-lit and well-appointed table, where little people disport themselves with merry tattle, admonished to decorous silence in vain, and their elders look placidly on and converse in groups on congenial subjects. Here no communion of thought and pleasant relaxation; here no happy looks, no singing of psalms, no voice of prayer.
"A bleak and chilly south-wester sweeps down from the lofty ranges over barren flats. The huge mountains stand out against a leaden sky; their tops are glittering with snow, and gloomy forests hang about their feet. Open, wild, and desolate is the aspect of the country round about, and clad in sombre hues; and when I return in the cold and darksome evenings to my solitary cabin, and sit in utter loneliness by the smouldering fire, is it strange that my thoughts should wander back to other scenes—to the page 211recollection of many a quiet Sunday as I have known it in the old country? Sunday has been to me a day of infinite variety. I have known it in very different conditions, and under varying climes.
"I have fretted over the weariness of the day in smoky London, when staying with prim old relations, to whom life was 'a vale of tears,' and the seventh day set apart for a special downpour.
"They were kindly people, but rigid and dull. Prejudice and intolerance obscured their vision; they could no longer see the blessed light of day except through these discoloured glasses.
"Poor old Aunt Sophia! She loved me, I suppose, in her precise, sober, and sensible way, as was becoming in an aunt of the old English religious pattern.
"When I was a very small boy she used to fondle me a little, especially after my darling mother's death, and to the last—I will give her full credit for it—she prayed for me assiduously.
"She used also to read aloud to me, from very old-fashioned juvenile books, in which naughty boys always came to a grievous end and were being soundly flogged in the meantime. Much literary space was devoted to the whipping business. I was not deeply impressed by the moral of the tale, or by page 212the fictitious birching of the tail, and the old lady was much vexed at this indifference—the first indications, I fear, of a hardened heart.
"Later on, my refusal one Sabbath evening to attend divine service for the third time, after having undergone family prayers twice, a collect lesson, and Sunday-school the same day, caused quite a consternation in that pious household. It was referred for consideration to the family council, and I wonder to this day how it was that I escaped the orthodox punishment. As it was, my godless bringing up was bemoaned in tears. My good aunt put it all down to the evils of a foreign education; to the want of the Bible and of wholesome discipline. What could be expected from outlandish schools, where infidel teaching prevailed, cricket was unknown, and flogging was not allowed? It jarred against all her notions of propriety that any English boy should have been so neglected.
"As I advanced in age I fell back in divinity. At eighteen I did not know my shorter catechism, and I stubbornly refused to be confirmed, which was a terrible blow to her, for she had stood my godmother and was (nominally) answerable for my sins. By so doing I not only lost in grace—I lost her good graces. Truly, she wept when I left the shores of old England, page 213and she wrote that she remembered me always in her prayers; but alas! she remembered me not in her will.
"Sunday always reminds me of my old aunt, for we spent so many of them together. It was never a lively day, but those I spent at her pretty country place in Devonshire are indelibly impressed on my memory. They were always associated in my mind with long walks (to save working the horses), interminable prayers, and cold joints for dinner. But the pleasant reminiscences which fill in the mental picture refer to the sunny landscape, the painted fields, the group of villagers, the procession of white-aproned school-girls, who curtseyed as we passed grandly by. And in the bright afternoons, my run with the head gamekeeper—with whom I was an especial pet—while the old lady was resting her poor stiff bones from the fatigue of much kneeling. Then in the soft dusk of evening the swell of the little organ in the front hall, which my cousin Maddy could play so sweetly, would hold me entranced, and seem to revibrate even now through the long lapse of years. When night came, and the lamps were lit and the family met together in the large drawing-room, I would lie coiled up on the gaudy tiger-skin rug, and bask in the glow of the log fire, and listen with childish attention to the hum of many voices.
"I was not irreligious in those days—I try to believe that I am not altogether irreligious now—and I remember that in church I used to pray most fervently for a minute or two at a stretch; but that short effort exhausted my powers of endurance, and my thoughts would then take to wool-gathering, and my absent mind would revert to its earthly surroundings. I noticed, with much greater interest than I ought to have done, the bald heads of many of the congregation—they formed conspicuous marks for my roving eye to rest upon. The ladies' bonnets—I never looked any lower—were also severely scrutinised; but what chiefly riveted my attention during divine service were the grimaces and fidgetings of the little choir-boys, and the sly pokes they gave one another between the singing acts.
"I never could quite understand the Church service, and as a little boy I used to ask the why and where-fore of those numerous repetitions. I was told that originally—in the very old times—there had been three services, and that these three had been lumped together into one, and thereby afforded a triple dose. I could have understood that much, if there had been only one concentrated service—but three! It seemed to me out of all reason. Then I often wondered how my poor Aunt Sophia could remain on her knees—I page 215used only to make-believe to Kneel—through the endless litany, and wag her head piteously over the responses, and keep repeating with (to me) painful iteration that she was 'a miserable sinner.' I didn't believe a word of it. I felt sure that she was nothing of the sort. Not miserable, for she was rich and kept a carriage, and gave her orders every morning to the cook for all sorts of good things; nor a sinner either, for she was always so particular and so proper, and was for ever talking about 'chastisement' either in this world or the next.
"My ideas about religion—as far back as I can remember having an idea—always dwelt upon what was loving and comforting. After I had repeated my set prayers by rote, I used to indulge in a little orison on my own account—something out of my own head—a childish confession of ignorance and levity—a touching appeal for love and pity.
"My 'religious sense' has ever been a yearning after the spiritual—a cry of the heart! I cannot formulate it; I cannot express it, for it is beyond the range of words. Faith I could possess; a stereotyped belief never!
"I have said that Sunday has been to me a day of infinite variety. I have known it on the Continent, at sea, in outlandish parts—everywhere but in this page 216remote solitude, where it does not exist. The Sunday of the gay French capital I remember well, although I was but a little boy then. How bracing and invigorating was the very atmosphere of that charming abode. The dazzling light, the bustling and laughing throng, the lively rattle of Les Champs Elysées; who could forget it?
"I was always partial to the mercurial Frenchman, and a disciple of his gay philosophy of life, which consists in making it enjoyable both to ourselves and to others. How simple in theory; how difficult in practice. How woefully I have failed in the attempt!
"Le Dimanche in Paris was a pretty sight — it was more than that—a joyous spectacle. The gaiety of individuals would inspire the many, and the gaiety of the many would react on individuals, until all was gay. There was a simmering of merriment that was constantly boiling over in boisterous exhilaration. Charming, but not in keeping with our ideas of what Sunday ought to be. The genius of that blessed day should be cheerfulness; as far removed on the one side from dissipation and noisy levity as from enforced dulness and morose austerity on the other.
"Then there was the German Sonntag, its listless mornings, devoted to a monotonous divine service, page 217that never seemed to me to reach the heart of the population. With us the female element predominates largely in church, but Germans are a practical people, that have to adapt themselves to requirements, and they find that the males can best be spared from other duties on these holy occasions.
"So Herr Professor attends the church, in which he has not the faintest belief, while Frau Professorin stays at home to cook the family dinner. A sensible arrangement, especially as concerns the dinner.
"As some compensation for the dull mornings, the afternoons were given up to dancing and beer drinking—amusements that were not to my taste. So I never liked the German Sunday; it was neither one thing nor the other."
"My life is a miserable labour, without pleasure, companionship, or hope. I rise in the mornings shivering in the cold, to work as wearisome as it is uninteresting, and return in the dark evenings, tired and dispirited, to brood over the dull void of the past, or to fret at the uncertain decrees of the future. My past life has been restless and unhappy, my present existence is utterly wretched, and I have but slight hopes that better days may soon be in store for me, page 218for, although I am much given to indulge in vain and childish anticipations, and to build 'castles in the air,' yet sober sense and sad experience teach me how seldom such hopes are realised. But it is the fate of mankind to
'Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay.
To-morrow's falser than the former day.'
"I shall soon leave this place, and then I shall be a stranger and a vagrant on the face of the earth; for, although dear Val's friendly plan may be partly realised, yet I have only to look upon his face to feel how transient must be his resting place.
"He is doomed, poor fellow, doomed by that fell disease that knows no mercy. I have but little hope where he is concerned beyond that of being able to soothe and comfort him in what threatens to be a rapid decline.
"As regards myself, I have no fear for my immediate wants; I can always scratch out a living in this country, even if I have to do it with manual labour. But the prospect is dark and repulsive. I feel that I was never intended to crawl through life as a hired drudge. And yet I have a strong aversion to an aimless life, and I would never consent to be a 'hanger on.' I am estranged in mind and sentiment from the page 219busy practical world, and yet I know that I must find some place in it—some part to play on the world's stage.
"To battle with difficulties, I have courage and resolution for it. To strive, to venture, to endure hardships, I am not afraid of the ordeal. But to plod slowly and drearily along the unvarying course day by day, and year by year, through the freshness of youth and the strength of manhood, to work the treadmill of some regular avocation, is beyond my strength. Yet such is the secret of success in life, to plod, to plod on, ever to plod. The race is not to the swift, but to the persevering. It is not accomplished by eager flights, by heroic efforts, by the generous or the brave, but by incessant drudgery, unvarying attention to business, and sordid accumulation, not forgetting Dame Fortune, who has a big hand in distributing the good things of this world.
"As for me, I have no object in life, and I have tried in vain to make myself one; neither have I any luck, so that my chances of getting on are but poor. And yet I feel at times that I have keen capabilities of both activity and enjoyment within me, and that under more favourable auspices I might be—a happy man!
"I fear that wealth has not sufficient attractions for me. I can appreciate its advantages, and would page 220enjoy a slice as well as most people, but somehow or other money-making is not 'in my line.' I rarely give it a thought, and when forced to consider the miserable business I do so 'against the grain.' Now money-making is not an art, as some people think, still less can it be considered a science, for all that is written about the principles of finance is rubbish—money-making is a worship. The golden calf has to be duly installed in the inmost sanctum of our daily lives; it has to be omnipresent in all our labours and struggles, our hopes and desires. It must become the guiding star before which all other lights pale and vanish.
"I have always refused to commit the idolatry, for which most people would commend me openly; for every one expresses the same outward contempt for 'filthy lucre.' But this is a miserable hypocritical affectation that nobody is deceived by. I rather hold with bluff old Doctor Johnson that this universal striving to make money is not only excusable in itself but even commendable. There are certainly much more unworthy aims towards which a man may direct his energies. Let money-making pass, but when it descends to money-grubbing then it becomes degrading and repulsive.
"Now, by far the greater part—I should say at page 221least nine-tenths—of the wealth accumulated is obtained by money-grubbing—by scraping and saving. The despicable process is hateful to me, and I could almost fly to the other extreme and exclaim with the witty Frenchman—
'Economy is the mother of vices.'
"Rank blasphemy, no doubt; but at least it may be admitted that parsimony is the meanest of virtues. Whatever my foibles and deficiencies may be, at least let me hope that I shall never be mean.
"The enjoyment of accumulating riches must be in the making, for it is rare indeed to find a money-grubber who is happy in the distribution of his hoard. With a few exceptions, it is a case of dragging out the choicest days of youth in slavery and want, exhausting the energies of manhood in wearisome toil, to reap the fruits at some distant and uncertain future, when they may be tasteless or unneeded.
'Poor is my youth, and in life's later scenes
Rich to no end, I curse my natal hour,
Who nought enjoyed while young, denied the means,
And nought when old enjoyed, denied the power.'
"Next to that fatal defect in my character, indiffer-page 222ence to money, I have another deplorable want—the lack of ambition. I came to the conclusion long ago, and I have no reason to doubt its correctness, that I have not got it in me ever to rise above dull mediocrity. I never felt within me the sacred fire that stimulates genius to heroic exertion. I tried my hand at literature, and saw my way to pitiable starvation in the modern Grub Street; I have a natural taste for art, and I once indulged in ardent aspirations of becoming a painter, of course. My kind old master used to pull me affectionately by the ear and whisper, 'Courage, travaillez; travaillez, courage!' but notwithstanding considerable application and no lack of self-confidence, I soon discovered that I should have much difficulty in earning a precarious living as an artist, and that, as to rising to eminence, it was beyond my power. There was only something wanting, but that something was fatal. My horizon has been too vast for my capabilities. I have never been able to achieve distinction even in small things; how useless, therefore, would it be to attempt great ones.
"My illusions have been crushed by the hard knocks of practical experience, and illusion is the greatest stimulant to exertion; without it who would care to struggle on through thorny paths and over endless page 223obstacles towards an unattainable goal? For after all said and done, what is life's ambition but
'A vain pursuit of fugitive false good.'
I give it best."
"I have missed an entry in my diary—not that it matters, for I have nothing to record, but the resolution I had made to jot down a few stray thoughts every evening has been broken. Last Saturday I was nearly stuck up for a light, but yesterday evening I found myself in a worse predicament, for I had run out of bread. I could make light of the want of light, but we cannot manage without the 'necessaries,' from emperors down to philosophers; and although I am imbued with procrastination to the very marrow, and make it a rule never to do to-day whatever by any means can be put off till to-morrow, I knew there was no shirking this imperative duty.
"Now there is one thing I always declaim against, conceit; but I must confess that I do rather fancy myself as a baker. I have studied the art, I have reduced it from first principles to practice, and, last but not least, I have succeeded.
"It has been no easy task, no light achievement. I will not say that the art of baking is like that of page 224poetry, or even comparable to the inborn genius for roasting: 'on est né rôtisseur.' Nevertheless it needs for its acquirement much patience and careful observation, and 'a knack' into the bargain. The first two requisites are within the reach of all, but 'a knack' is a thing not to be picked up anyhow or anywhere.
"My first attempts at baking a 'damper' were failures, a lamentable fiasco, and yet I had watched several bushmen at the job, and carefully noted every feature of the process. I had taken it all in, and had even gone so far as to criticise the performances of others. Well, I kneaded it, slapped it, patted it into shape, and buried it in hot ashes. I admit to have been somewhat negligent of the firing, having indulged in a few winks during that tedious baking time. However, the damper came out looking the right thing, only rather pale in colour. I was careful not to cut into it while hot, but next morning I sliced it into halves with great gusto.
"It was just like dividing a lump of putty, and to have put one's teeth into the glutinous substance might have brought about lockjaw. Nothing dismayed, I tried again. This time the firing was not neglected; in addition to a shovel full of red hot embers I threw a handful of dry sticks on to the page 225heap to keep up a blaze, and I also gave the damper an extra half-hour in the fire, to make sure that it should not be under-done. It came out as brown as a berry, and so hot that there was no handling it, and I had to kick it about the floor as a cooling process. Next day I tried in vain to cut a slice; the knife would not scratch it. I tried the tomahawk, but that was too light to make an impression. Determined not to be beat, I took it outside, placed it carefully in position on the chopping block, then swung high in air the American axe, and delivered a terrific cut which nearly cut my leg off, for the blade glanced off the loaf and came back upon me. As for the damper, it shot down the gully, madly pursued by Mop, and it was afterwards picked up near the creek. I found that the stroke of the axe had made an indentation, which enabled me by means of the mawl and wedges to effect an opening. This process, however, was so tedious, and kept breakfast waiting so long, that I gave it up, and took to frying pancakes, most indigestible stuff, from which I suffered all the pangs of dyspepsia.
"These were early trials; now I can bake a damper against any man; but I prefer the camp oven, with a little baking soda and acid, just enough to make the bread rise without discolouring it.
"I think the greatest bother I ever had over any out-station job was my first attempt at skinning a sheep. Killing the animal I never would do, and should I be driven by actual necessity to slaughter, I think that I would bring out my gun to it. To seize upon one of these poor, wild, helpless brutes, throw it down, tie its legs, kneel on its head, and deliberately cut its throat, is too cold-blooded a performance for my nerves. I have such an aversion to the idea that I get my meat sent to me with the other rations.
"Once upon a time, when I was a 'new chum,' and only just settled at the hut, Malcolm consented to bring in a mob of sheep and kill a wether, provided I did my share of the work in skinning the animal and cooking the dinner. Agreed.
"I was left at home with the dead sheep strung up in position, and, armed with a butcher's knife, I proceeded to business.
"I had often watched sheep being skinned before, but had never tried my hand at it. It appeared a very simple process. The hind legs were soon bared, but when I came to the trunk I made one unfortunate omission, for I quite forgot to slit the skin down the middle of the animal; I tried to take it off whole. I soon experienced a difficulty; instead page 227of peeling off so easily I found it stuck fast. I tugged and tugged until I was fagged out. At each desperate pull the hide would give a little bit, but it was an endless business. Then I would try to loosen the skin with the point of the knife, and resume the tugging. There was progress to report, but it was very slight. For the life of me I could not make out what was wrong. I was bathed in perspiration and besmeared with sheep's blood. I had managed, after heroic exertions, to drag the skin off as far as the shoulders; there it stuck fast. No amount of force or persuasion availed any further. It was getting late, and I was dead beat. At that moment Malcolm returned. He had been away three hours, and was expecting his dinner. To his dismay he found the hut empty and the fire not even lit. He ran to the sheep-yard, wondering what had happened, when the sight of the desperate struggle going on there was too much for even a Scotchman's composure. He went off into a fit and roared out—
"'Hech, mon! D'ye ken yon beastie is nae a rabbit?'"
"Excessive loneliness has made me a dull creature. Oh, would that I could exclaim with that sweet song—
'My mind to me a kingdom is.'
But it is more like a prison. I am so shut up within myself that I cannot give vent to my thoughts and feelings; my soul flutters and beats against the bars of its narrow confinement, and seeks in vain for freedom and expansion.
"It is of my own seeking. I purposely fled from the Old World—a world (such as I saw it then) that was discordant and uncongenial to me—a world made up of trivialities, bustle, greed, sensuality, and emptiness—a world in which I wandered forth, listless and solitary, as a stranger lost in the whirl of some great city. I foolishly expected that a new country, wide and bountiful, oppressed with no burdens, hampered with no restrictions, but fresh and fair from the hands of God, would afford much happier conditions of life and progress. I indulged in the ordinary silly enthusiasm of young thinkers. To be free! What else on earth could equal it? I thought to find peace and contentment in sweet communion with nature; I hoped to improve by study and reflection—to draw all my moral sustenance from the mind. I promised myself to analyse my thoughts, to look into my heart, to acquire the highest wisdom.
'And all our knowledge is, ourselves to know.'
But it is not so. The knowledge of ourselves will reveal us nothing—nothing worth knowing. Within page 229the inmost recess of our own minds there is no realm to explore, no secrets to unmask. We peer in vain within our consciousness of self—our inward being. We can distinguish certain features and tendencies, such as unsatisfied longings, distracted imaginings, a fire of passion, a yearning for sympathy or a bitterness of hate—beyond that all is a blank, the dark impenetrable mystery of the soul.
"To the would-be student of human nature I would say, as the result of my melancholy experience, 'Avoid metaphysical research, for it is vain and unprofitable; waste no precious time on psychological studies, for they only resolve themselves into an empty jargon; better learn Chinese, for that might be useful. Seek not to know thyself, seek not to tear asunder the veil of thy inmost being, but seek rather to ascertain the conditions under which thou mayest thrive and be happy—the diet that will give thee moral health.'
"Yet remember! The mind, even if it soar to heaven, cannot give thee happiness. It may yield thee discernment and knowledge—knowledge of all things, and boundless stores of erudition—it may grant thee strength and resignation, and even afford thee some measure of intellectual enjoyment, but it cannot give thee happiness.
"Happiness is from the heart alone."