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Title:      Kanga Creek: An Australian Idyll
Author:     Havelock Ellis
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0300801.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          May 2003
Date most recently updated: May 2003


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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Kanga Creek: An Australian Idyll
Author:     Havelock Ellis




PUBLISHED PRIVATELY BY THE ORIOLE PRESS
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NEW JERSEY
1938




PREFACE

THIS Australian Idyll is largely based on reminiscences of a year
(1878) spent as school teacher at the spot described. The haunting
memories of that unique year in my life still pursued me, on my return
to London, amid medical studies at St. Thomas's Hospital. I attempted
at intervals to throw those memories into a fictional form, and my
friend Oliver Schreiner, interested in my experiment, encouraged me to
pursue it. This was round about the year 1886, some eight years after
leaving the real Sparkes Creek, but while my memories of the life
there were still vivid and precise. The only critical judgment to
which I submitted the Idyll was that of my friend Arthur Symons who
was pleased to find it of the same class as Flaubert's _Contes_. But I
put it aside, making no attempt at publication. Apart from the fact
that it was far removed from the field of my choosen work in life, I
suspected that if the book ever wandered into the real Kanga Creek it
might give offence to people for whom I cherished only friendly
feelings.

It was not until many years later (in 1922), when I supposed that the
people who came into my story must be nearly all dead, that I arranged
for its publication with the Golden Cockerel Tress. The little book
was soon out of print. So I have welcomed the proposal of Mr. Joseph
Ishill to bring out an American edition at his Oriole Press, from
which so many books of interest have issued.

I hasten to point that while the Idyll on the whole presents a
faithful picture of the Sparkes Creek I knew, it is not to be taken as
autobiographical. The routine of my outward life and various slight
mental traits were those of the youthful schoolmaster. But of the deep
inner development which made that year the most memorable of my life
in formative spiritual growth this Idyll gives no smallest hint.
Indeed, even as an Idyll, it is purely imaginary.

In some minor points of realistic detail I have deliberately diverged
from the facts. The town of "Ayr" is really Scone and situated in the
district of the Liverpool Range, some two hundred miles north of
Sydney. But the route from Sydney I have described, in order to
mislead the reader, would never reach Scone, but more likely Carcoar
in another region of New South Wales, also familiar to me but a
hundred miles south of Scone. There is, again, no lagoon near Sparkes
Creek, and this also, with the manna-gum tree and some of the fauna, I
borrowed from the Carcoar neighbourhood.

On the whole, however, I have been told, I have exactly reproduced the
atmosphere of that Creek, even as it exists today. There has been
little change. The population has scarcely grown or has even
diminished for a school is no longer needed, and my schoolhouse, save
for a few bricks from the chimney, has disappeared. The two families
whom I call the Carrolls and the Quicks still flourish and monopolise
the neighbourhood, though those who were once my school children are
now old. After an interval of fifty years I have come into touch with
theses families again, partly by direct contact and partly through my
friend by correspondence in Sydney, Miss Marjorie Ross who, first
drawn to the spot by my Idyll, has since been there on many holiday
visits, entered into friendly relation with the people, and learnt to
love the place almost as much as I do. She has taken many photographs
there, including all the spots that meant most to me, even the
identical boulder which I described.

H. E.




PART I


THE CREEK was little more than a string of silent pools; the black
roots of the sombre shea-oaks along its edge were distinct in the
moonlight as they seemed to twist among the stones down to the water.
A few scattered red gum-trees went up to the soft-far-away sky and a
faint dream-like mist bathed the large outlines of the hills around.
It was very still. The small vacant school-house stood on a flat a
hundred yards from the Creek, with its little verandah and its rough
fence. Everything seemed asleep after the scorching January days of
drought, and no wind swept down that night through the gorge at the
head of the valley or tumbled like an ocean among the hills. No other
human habitation could be seen. There were few signs of life; nothing
but a distant curlew's melancholy long-drawn cry. Once a native cat
climbed the chimney and made his way noisily down inside. Then nothing
more might be heard save now and again the awkward flight of a great
moth. The strong bright moon sailed across the clear sky and sank
behind the western range, leaving a last kiss on the summit of the
tallest gum-trees. After that the valley was left to the stars.

* * *

In the evening the English youth had entered a saloon carriage at
Sidney station; he was about 18 years old and fair; his face was of a
slow meditative East-Anglian cast. He carried a small black bag
fromwhich he at once drew out a book and began to read. In his pocket
were several large official documents, including one which appointed
him Teacher of the Half-Time Schools at Kanga Creek and Blair's Creek.

Now and again the young traveller looked out; he saw nothing but an
immense series of dim vast slopes, and feeling the cool night air he
buttoned up his coat and tried to go to sleep. As the hours passed on
the train stopped occasionally at some small station. At these moments
a profound silence could be felt. There seemed to the youth something
heroic and pathetic in the energy that had perched these rough little
emblems of civilization on the mountain ledges. Humanity appeared as a
huge Don Quixote.

At last they reached the end of the line and the young Englishman
followed the other passengers, hastening to fill the little omnibus
which carried them into the town. At the Club House he was among
those who stood for hours shivering at the entrance, waiting for the
Ayr Coach; it was cold, even in January, at early morning on these
high tablelands. At last it came, a ricketty, uncomfortable little
yellow vehicle which was to carry fourteen persons, including a young
woman who arrived late and found a resting place on the knees of an
outside passenger. Gold had lately been found near Ayr and there was
just then a new rush in that direction. There was still a further
pause of half-an-hour outside the post-office while the mail bags were
served out to the various coaches. A grey light was in the sky as the
heavily-laden coach jolted fiercely along the rough and silent road
between the never-ending rows of ring-barked gum-trees.  Once or twice
it stopped for a few moments at a wayside inn or post-office to
deliver the mails, and a hastily dressed figure appeared in the dim
light and exchanged a few words with the driver.  At one inn most of
the men got down and entered. The young Englishman remained seated. By
and by a clergyman who had been seated beside him and who appeared to
know everyone on the road came back to the coach and pressed him to
have some whisky; he refused. Now and then, in ascending a hill, it
was necessary to walk. The young Englishman was faint and weary with
the unaccustomed motion of the coach, but he was ashamed not to follow
the example of the others and he toiled on with body bent forward and
eyes fixed on the bushes at his feet, too tired to think of anything
but the next step forward.

Now the road became smooth and the coach no longer flung the heads of
its occupants against the roof. Here and there a farm lay back from
the road and into many homes that coach as it wound among the hills
brought a daily ray of life from the outside world. How many people
were there in it? Who was driving it? Were they bay horses or grey?
But the young Englishman knew little of these things; he had a vague
sense that he was being carried into a new and strange world and he
was too weary yet to be more than bewildered.

In a few hours they stopped for breakfast at the half-way house. It
was a little silent and solitary inn, with a bench in front, standing
back and up from the roadside.   Nothing could be seen around save
scattered gum-trees and rough fences. The men went inside the house;
the women stayed in the coach; the young Englishman after he had had
some brandy and water came outside and stood in front of the bench
looking at the silent scene. The air was soft and luminous; there was
no sound but the chattering of a magpie; nothing stirred save when a
young woman got out of the coach below and disappeared momentarily
down a curve in the road.

"Well, young man, off to the diggings?" The Englishman felt a smart
slap on the back and turning swiftly round faced the carelessly
good-natured countenance of the man who had undertaken to nurse the
supernumerary passenger.

"No," he replied, after a slight pause, in a cold and gentle voice.
Then the others came out and the coach soon moved forward. It had long
been broad daylight; on each side the arid and undulating land was
thinly covered by drooping gum-trees, and wattles that had long since
shed all their molten gold across the land; now and then a flock of
cockatoos, loudly screeching, arose with their white wings gleaming
in the bright air. At length a sudden turn in the road revealed the
little town of Ayr close beneath, and the coach went down the hill,
over a wooden bridge, past the little red-brick church, into the broad
ill-defined street that ended at the post-office. Ayr was an old town;
for thirty years it had nestled down there with the hills hemming it
in on every side, and there was about it the calm serenity of age. The
coach drew up at the post-office, and, as the young Englishman walked
past the handsome new Bank to the end near the church he noticed the
lazy air of a few men in careless undress who strolled in front of the
silent public houses or stores. He stopped a a moment before one store
styled in large letters Emporium for Fancy Goods, and looked idly at
the few pails, brushes, and tins spread about, at the collection of
valentines manufactured at Hoxton, and the announcement that ladies
and gentlemen might have them addressed free of charge. From a house
near the little red-brick church a large fat man, with a bland shaven
face, and an immense green umbrella clasped in his hand, was slowly
ambling down his front path to a buggy that stood at the gate.

No doubt it was the Rev. John Chapman, Chairman of the local School
Board of the Half-Time Schools at Kanga Creek and Blair's Creek; and,
after a moment's hesitation, the youth addressed him. He held out his
hand and smiled benevolently, but evidently he knew little about the
Half-Time Schools at Kanga Creek and Blair's Creek. "I am just going
out to a farm some miles off," he said; "if you like I will put you
down at our Public School; Williams will probably be able to tell you
more than I can."

In a couple of minutes they had reached the neat buildings of the
Public School, with their galvanised roofs and outbuildings. Here the
clergyman left his young companion, after having invited him to spend
the night at the parsonage, and went off with a faint benevolent smile
on his large shaven face. The public schoolmaster was a dark, wiry,
restless little man: "Come in, come in," he said, "we're just going
to have dinner. Queer fish, Chapman," he added a few minutes later.
"Pretty well played out, his business. He comes here and gives his
Bible lessons, but I don't interfere with him; we're very good
friends. He's not a bad fellow. Children are quite well able to think
for themselves. Only the other day he was talking to them about David,
telling them that he was a man after God's own heart.  Then I heard my
little Jim's voice pipe up: 'If you please, sir, what about Uriah's
wife?' 'Hush,' said Chapman, 'we must never talk about such things.'
But children ain't satisfied when their questions are turned off that
soft way; they see through it--they see through it." He had sat down
with his legs crossed and his hands between his knees and moved his
foot restlessly. The young Englishman felt attracted by this eager,
nervous little man, who suddenly broke off: "No, I believe in God,
but the Bible is a pack of lies."

"But if you don't believe in the Bible where do you find the evidence
for your God?" the Englishman interposed.

"Here!" he returned, emphatically striking his breast with his fist.
"There's no evidence stronger than that. If you or any man tell me to
doubt that I just tell him he's a fool."

"But how do you know that you are justified in trusting the evidence
of your heart?" The young Englishman was fairly aroused; it was not
long since he had found his own heart full of ghosts.

The little man was about to retort more fiercely than before, but at
that moment his wife entered, followed by the children. He briefly
introduced them. "Three more children out, nine altogether, and
another one coming." He jerked his head and thumb toward his wife who,
with the eldest girl, was busy occupied bringing in the dinner. She
was a pale active woman with no particular expression; if she had
ever possessed any clear individuality constant work and much
child-bearing had worn it away. She took no notice of her husband's
remark. After dinner Williams said: "I'll take you now to see your
predecessor, Gray; he'll be able to tell you everything you want to
know about Kanga Creek; I've never been there myself. Gray's not
classified, as you are, he has found it pretty hard work to get along,
poor fellow, with a wife and two children. I'll leave you with him for
a while. To tell you the truth," he added, "I'm going to write a
letter to the "Stockwhip" this afternoon--our free-thought organ, you
know. And I have some local notes to get ready, too, for the "Mercury";
we haven't started a paper at Ayr yet. Ever seen the "Stockwhip"? Of
course I don't sign my letters; that wouldn't do. If you ever see
anything with 'Anti-humbug' at the end of it you'll know who wrote it.
Couldn't find a good Greek word for 'humbug'; they hadn't the thing so
they didn't need the word. Perhaps we shan't need it some day either."

The dwelling of the late teacher of the Half-Time Schools at Kanga and
Blair's Creeks was small and dark and close. Two young and dirty
children played about the door. Gray himself was some half dozen years
older than his successor; he seemed to the latter a typical cornstalk,
tall and thin with very long legs and arms, large feet, loosely hung
jaws, colorless face, scant sandy whiskers. He invited them in with a
rather sickly smile but with plain colonial cordiality.

"Here's your successor to Kanga Creek. He wants you to tell him
something about it. Can he get anyone to take him in there?"

They entered and sat down; the stuffy little room seemed already quite
filled by Gray's loose sprawling limbs which moved about in a
spasmodic fashion. His wife remained in the background. She might have
been a servant-girl once. Her pale young face looked as if it ought to
be pretty, but it was already worn and weary.

"I dare say you'll be able to get accommodation with some of the
people there. A former teacher, I believe, had a room at John
Carroll's. I stayed at the schoolhouse, you know, and came in every
Saturday."

"Provisions are not too plentiful out there, are they?" asked
Williams.

"Well," he replied slowly, "I used to take some meat out with me on
Monday morning, but in such weather as we've been having lately I've
often had to throw it away before I got half way. You'll get along
all-right. There is no milk or butter to be had, but I used to keep
plenty of flour there; one can always make dampers."

"When one is well up in colonial cooking. But the drought's pretty
certain to break up now."

"Yes, I guess it can't last much longer." He gathered his limbs
together with a convulsive movement and walked to the door.

"Someone has been advertising in the Herald for the last three weeks
'Lord Jesus, send rain'!" remarked the Englishman.

"Ah, he thought the Lord Jesus took in the Herald, did he?" replied
Williams. "Yes," he muttered clenching his teeth, "that's the old
cancer that has been eating into the world so long. Someone to shift
the responsibility on to! Rain, wars, diseases, babies, much the same.
Well, I must be going." He started up in his swift nervous way. "See
you again this evening, eh? Going to Chapman's? Very well; tomorrow
morning. We'll get you off all-right." He gave the young Englishman's
hand a quick grasp and went out.

"I don't think you'll have much trouble with the children," said Gray
sprawling down again on an uncomfortable old wooden chair. "The boys
are much the same as all boys who've spent their lives in the bush.
You may have some trouble with one or two of the girls, especially
that O'Shaugnessy girl; I don't like that girl; she is too big to come
to school now.

By the by, I've left at the Creek all the things I need out there,
axe, saucepan, frying pan--very good frying pan--bucket, all in very
fair condition. You shall have them for ten shillings; they may come
in useful."

The Englishman said he saw no objection to this arrangement in any
case, and the bargain was concluded at once.

"Come out on the verandah and have a smoke; it's cool out there now."

"I don't smoke," said the Englishman; "I must go now; I promised to go
to Mr. Chapman's."

He walked down through the darkening, grass-grown street. It all
seemed very silent. Unconsciously he missed the immense chorus of
locusts that formed a perpetual shrill background to the field of
sound at Burwood, the Sydney suburb where he had spent most of the
months that had passed since his arrival, and seemed to make the hot
still air thrill with even intenser heat. But the exhilaration of the
air failed to touch him; he walked slowly with his head down, only
looking up occasionally to make sure of his road. His heart was sick
and tired; he would gladly have gone back to Sydney by the next coach.
What was he to do in this wilderness? But he had nowhere to go,
nothing to do.

The clergyman was lying on a couch that ran nearly all round the old
wooden parsonage. It was a deep verandah partly closed in by a vine
which made a cool gloom where several chairs were placed. He greeted
the youth kindly with his soft feminine voice and large faint smile.

"Come and sit down, you will find it very pleasant here; have you
gained the information you required?"

"It is not like I expected," he answered indirectly.

"Ah! you have not been long from England. You will find that things
are not so bad as they seem at first. It is a healthy life; you will
not have much work. You might--I scarcely know--you might find some
society."

In a little while it was supper-time; the clergyman introduced his
sister, a quiet middle-aged rather prim lady, and busied himself about
his guest's comfort with an almost feminine kindness that yet had
about it a touch of old-world delicacy, grateful, to his own surprise,
to the young Englishman's sense. He got into the large comfortable
bed, half soothed already, and fell asleep.

In the morning, after breakfast, he went to a store and bought a few
things that he needed: a pair of shoes, a grey alpaca coat. Then he
went back and found the clergyman talking to the schoolmaster by the
paddock beyond the schoolhouse. Soon Joseph, the schoolmaster's son,
appeared with two horses. Williams indicated a mild-looking animal.
"You needn't be afraid of Bushman, he's no buck-jumper." The
clergyman, dubious of the Englishman's knowledge of riding, said
anxiously as he approached to mount, "This side," and shook hands with
gentle fervor. The schoolmaster wished him good luck heartily, and
they went off at a walking pace, Joseph leading the way, past the
little red-brick church and over the wooden bridge. When they were out
of sight the clergyman turned to the schoolmaster, shaking his head
slowly, and said with a faint smile on his large smooth face: "I do
not think that young man will stay there very long." "Well, it won't
hurt him," replied the schoolmaster brusquely; "do him good to rough
it a bit; he wants something to shake him up."

As they rode over the wooden bridge a young woman cantered by; as she
passed the young schoolmaster turned towards her; she was also turning
towards him and their glances clashed for an instant and rebounded.
His guide soon struck to the right. There were few trees here; on each
side of the path the prickly pears spread their fleshy and harsh grey
leaves. Beyond the land stretched afar, brown and parched. They rode
on slowly, Joseph in front, the young Englishman behind, with the
small bag in front of him; he wore a hat and coat for which he owed
five pounds to a tailor in George Street.

There was silence all around; the bush was everywhere dry and parched;
the strong sun glared down on them, and a great swarm of flies buzzed
and teased around. Save for occasional lines of rough-hewn rails there
were few traces of life. Once or twice they passed a group of two or
three human habitations, now and then an isolated hut, roofed with
great sheets of bark. Gradually these became fewer, and the path was
now a faintly marked track. From one solitary house a woman came out
suckling her baby; two children stood, one on each side, holding
tightly to her dark blue gown. They gazed up at the strangers with
great unblinking eyes, so close that the young Englishman saw the
large freckles on the woman's breasts.

The path inclined gradually upwards to the mountains; they passed
several hills in the distance; a great tessellated wall of rock struck
the traveller's unobservant eye fixed on his own thoughts. About
mid-day they reached a farm belonging to Burton, a member of the
school board. They found him coming home from the vineyard. He stood
with his eyes fixed on the horse's head, returning to the young
Englishman's short remarks still shorter answers, with shy sullen
reserve, and soon passed on, Joseph went to the side door for some
water; and then they pushed on through the parched monotonous bush,
which now opened out into gracious park-like undulations scattered
with trees. A few miles more and they entered the valley of Kanga
Creek. Two little homesteads stood, one on each side, at the entrance
of the valley, each with its small garden in front. They passed these,
and by and by crossed the creek near the little schoolhouse; less than
a mile further on, at the head of the valley, they reached another
homestead, older and larger, belonging to Carroll, the earliest
settler in this valley. Here at last they dismounted. The measured
thud of threshing came from a shed not far off. Soon a man, having
thrown down his flail, advanced to meet them with rough and honest
straightforwardness. He was a little man, wrinkled and sharp-eyed and
energetic; his chin was covered with stubbly grey hair. He took them
into the dark low living room. His wife, a worn-looking woman, yet
active and kindly, set before them an immense piece of salt beef and
two huge loaves; she made tea from the kettle that hung over the fire
in the large chimney.  Two tall muscular girls came in for the evening
meal. They said nothing, but began at once. The swift and silent
decision with which they ate and drank and struck their mugs down on
the table fascinated the young Englishman's attention. Directly they
had finished they went out. Carroll carried on the conversation with
the self-possession and self-respect of a man who has fought his own
way against odds. Joseph, who had been hastily satisfying a ravenous
appetite, soon got up to go. The young Englishman shook hands with him
almost warmly; the day's ride had been silent, but it had resulted in
a feeling of comradeship with the boy who had been his guide, and he
had acquired a soothing sense of reliance on him. When, a moment
later, he heard the sound of retreating hoofs a weary sense of
loneliness settled on his heart. The cord that had united him to
society was finally severed; now he was to live and breathe by
himself, and find out alone the mysteries of an untried world.




PART II


THE WOMEN went about their work. The old man still kept up the
conversation. During the evening he told the young schoolmaster
briefly that he could have no room there, every room was occupied;
tonight his wife would make a bed on the settle and tomorrow he could
go and look about the valley. Soon after nine they went outside and
strolled around the little farmhouse. When they came in white sheets
had been neatly laid on the narrow wooden settle, and the schoolmaster
was left alone. He partly understood and at last fell asleep.

Early next morning he got up and walked about outside. Kanga Creek lay
among the spurs branching out from the central range. Beyond Carroll's
farm the valley, with the little creek threading a path along its
centre, seemed to run up into a gully against the side of Mount
Bambaroo which stood at the head far away, with its dense mysterious
cedar forests. There were hills on every side except where the valley
opened out to the south.

After breakfast the young schoolmaster made his way to the other two
homesteads, at one or other of which he hoped to find lodging. The
three little farms that occupied the valley formed the three angles of
an isosceles triangle; Carroll's was the apex; the little schoolhouse
came nearly in the middle; from apex to base was about two miles. The
two farms forming the base he was now nearing belonged to two
brothers, Thomas and Robert Quick. Old Quick had come out from England
with Carroll long years ago and settled in the valley to till the
soil, breed a few cattle and sheep, and beget many sons and daughters
who had overflowed into neighboring valleys. Now he was dead, and a
little wooden cross and a great heap of stones marked his lonely
hillside grave. Thomas Quick, who had been out ring-barking on the
hillside since early morning, had returned for breakfast. He received
the schoolmaster shyly and respectfully, and he spoke slowly and with
difficulty, as one who was seldom called upon to express himself in
words. While his wife stood in the background smiling out of her large
pleasant brown eyes, he tried to explain that they had no empty rooms.
Then the young schoolmaster went across to Robert Quick's farm; he
came forward still more shily than his brother, and his hands
nervously clutched and worked round the verandah post as he stammered
an answer to the teacher's few questions and remarks. From round the
corner a little boy with merry black eyes peeped at the new
schoolmaster.

The young schoolmaster walked slowly back to the schoolhouse. He went
through the ill-made gate and stood on the verandah; he looked at the
place more carefully than at first. It was built of great rough-hewn
slabs, some of which were loose and could be moved with slight effort.
Inside it had once been papered over, but the paper had mostly fallen
away, and here and there were great chinks between the slabs. The
place was divided into four compartments, for the two at the back
could scarcely be called rooms though one contained some shelves and a
box that held the schoolbooks and registers. The two rooms each opened
on to the little verandah. The schoolroom contained a table, and such
desks and forms as were necessary for twelve or eighteen children;
here was the fireplace; it was clear the room had served also as his
predecessor's kitchen. The other had been his bedroom; it contained
two pieces of furniture only, a four-legged stool and, for a bedstead,
eight pieces of wood put together so as to sling a couple of flour
sacks, forming a kind of hammock; there were also two sacks on the
floor. After he had noticed these things and had seen also the extent
of the property he had bought of Gray--an axe, a bucket, a broom, a
saucepan, a frying-pan, a plate, a cup, a knife, a fork and two
spoons--he sat down at the table with his head on his hands gazing
vacantly at the opposite wall. He sat so still that at last three lean
mice appeared on the floor and hopped cautiously about. Then he got up
and went out. He walked slowly across the stony creek down by the grim
shea-oaks, and along the narrow track, past a boulder of red
lichen-covered sandstone, that led to Carroll's farm. The little man
saw him at the gate of the paddock, and came forward with his
leisurely but business-like walk, and the little clay pipe thrust
carelessly in the corner of his mouth. After a few remarks he said
suddenly, with an outburst of decision: "I can't have you staying here
any longer; you must clear out. I have got a sick daughter in there
and my wife has to go about of nights. Me and my son Jim built yon
schoolhouse and there you must bide." Then he closed his mouth and
pressed his thin lips together with an air of determination, holding
the little clay pipe in his hand. The young schoolmaster looked for a
second at his scrubby grey chin and then said quietly: "Very well."
Soon he had taken up the small black bag and was going, at first
slowly, then very swiftly, along the little track past the red
sandstone boulder towards the schoolhouse. He had been about to tell
his resolve to live at the schoolhouse and he instinctively resented
the little man's petulant outburst. It seemed like the climax to the
series of petty miseries that had been descending upon him; he felt
tired of this new strange life that he could not retreat from, even
before it had begun. He walked still faster, and, as he went down by
the gaunt black shea-oaks and stumbled over the smooth grey stones in
the creek bed, his eyes were pricking and stinging as though they
would burst. He thought it would be sweet to be a child to lie down
and cry.

While he was unpacking the black bag to see what it contained besides
books, and making preparations for the night, he heard a gentle tap at
the door. A little girl, with large brown motherly-looking eyes,
delivered a neat message and handed him several dishes, round which a
great striped blue and white handkerchief was knotted. They contained
some cooked mutton and a peach pie. This little attention was pleasant
to the schoolmaster, and by and by, after he had eaten a slice of the
pie, and it began to grow dark, he lay down very cautiously on Gray's
bedstead. It was not so uncomfortable as it looked, but he could get
no sleep. He was oppressed by a dreary and profound loneliness; all
his senses were abnormally awake; the bare and unaccustomed walls
seemed to press fiercely towards him through the gloom. At intervals
he heard the curlew's melancholy monotonous cry; a great moth sailed
in through the open space over the door and flung itself noisily
against the walls; he watched occasional stars pass slowly over some
chink in the shingled roof; he was startled by a rapid and excited
clambering of feet in the schoolroom chimney and for a few minutes
some animal seemed to be dashing about the next room with almost
supernatural energy; then after more clambering, there was silence.
These new and unexpected phenomena kept his senses in a state of
tension. He began to feel cool, too; it was summer, but Kanga Creek
was in the hills. And once, as he tossed restlessly over, Gray's
hammock came to the floor. Here he lay, and as the pale dawn light
slowly filled the room there came to him a soothing sense of rest.
After that he went outside in trousers and shirt and stood on the
verandah and felt the sweet warm silent sunlight that flooded all the
land; then into the schoolroom where everything looked the same as the
day before except that his silk hat was rough and there was fluff in
it as if some small marsupial had found a nest there.

It was Sunday, and he occupied himself with preparations for the
schoolwork that was to begin next day. On Monday two little troops of
girls came toddling gravely towards the schoolhouse with their slates
and bags of books and lunch, all chattering earnestly together in
womanly fashion; and then, a little later, shrieking and shouting,
came four or five boys. They all belonged to the three neighboring
homesteads; only one pale sickly girl rode over from an adjoining
valley, and fastened her pony to the fence. Then the schoolmaster rang
the dull-toned old cattle bell that at other times served to keep the
schoolroom door open, and the children formed in double line, to 'show
hands' and march into school. So began the daily routine of the
youth's life in this quiet valley. He had arranged that Thomas Quick
should take his spring-cart into Ayr to bring out his box and some
provisions that he had carefully made a list of, with a pair of
blankets and another bucket from Trogg, the Chinese storekeeper. Mrs.
Carroll had undertaken to send what bread he required on her baking
days twice a week, if he supplied the flour, and he began to gain a
pleasant sense of independence. He made no further additions to his
household furniture, perhaps unconsciously arguing that in a life so
remote from that he had been used to it was scarcely worth while to
attempt any outside reconciliation. Beside, Gray seemed to have lived
in some such way; why should not he? He realised, too, for the first
time, with a delightful sense of freedom, that mere everyday life
could become a far simpler and easier thing than he had ever before
imagined. The school routine ran like a connecting thread of
commonplace through his life; it gave equability and poise, while it
was for the most part too slight to put any strain on the free play of
his emotional and intellectual life. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday he
was at Kanga Creek; Thursday and Friday he walked over the range to
the neighboring valley of Blair's Creek, where six or eight children
awaited him in a rough little schoolroom. Next week it was Monday and
Tuesday at Kanga Creek; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Blair's
Creek, and all the hours out of schooltime were his own. The Carrolls
or Quicks seldom came near him; he seldom went near them. So it went
on.

In that far valley the life of men was as the life of cattle or trees.
There was little gladness there and little sorrow. It seemed even,
sometimes, as if life stood still, and the old recurrence of birth and
death ceased. Man had come to that new strange corner of the earth,
and struggled strongly with Nature, as with Atlanta her lovers
struggled of old, and now, in seeming, he had conquerred, and they
lived together silent and content. Early in the morning the measured
music of a distant axe might sometimes float down the hillside; a
remote cattle bell tinkled lazily all day long; between school hours
the children shouted down among the stones and the shea-oaks in the
creek's bed, or perhaps chanted in their play the old rhyme of Oranges
and Lemons--the old rhyme that had been born under the shadow of City
churches and had wandered around the world into this valley of great
myrtles--and at night the low monotonous cry of the curlew or the
sudden scream of an animal in pain echoed along the creek. There was
little sound there beside. No flocks of cockatoos rose into the air
with shrill discordant yell; it was seldom that any gorgeous family of
parrots alighted there, to adjust their noisy quarrels or to play at
making love. Only at night sometimes the wind roared in long paroxysms
among the hills, as though an ocean had broken loose, and with slowly
gathering force swept at last through the gorge and down the valley,
and once or twice the manifold crash of an uprooted tree came to
startle the young schoolmaster as he sat reading at the little brown
table, with two empty packing cases set to guard the candle from the
blast.

No strangers ever came to that valley. One evening the schoolmaster
heard a knock at the door and found a woman outside who asked the way
to the town beyond the hills. "I and another lady's camped under
yonder tree," she explained, jerking her hand towards a delicate curl
of smoke. That was the only stranger he saw.  No Chinaman made his way
there with the inevitable baskets hanging from his shoulders. No great
drays laden with bales of cotton or some small and weighty fragment of
mineral wealth ever crawled past there with long team of bullocks.
Only, at intervals of three or four months, he heard of the hawker's
visit to the Carrolls or Quicks. On Sundays the elder Carroll girls,
with their brothers, would sometimes ride into Ayr early the morning,
and the schoolmaster heard their laughter and the clatter of their
horses' hoofs on the stones as they crossed the creek, and again when
they came back late in the moonlight. Thomas Quick sat on his verandah
and read some old numbers of the "Sunday at Home;" and in the
afternoon, when her husband, with his little clay pipe stuck
carelessly into the corner of his mouth, had started on a walk round
his land, and the children were away, Mrs.  Carroll put on a clean
dress and sat down on the verandah with an open Prayer Book laid on
her knees. No religious service had ever been held in that remote
valley; and she read little in the Prayer Book, but this reminiscence
was soothing to her. She sat there in her print dress, and her worn
anxious face became peaceful; as she looked into the soft bright sky
and the dusky green hillside she dreamed of the time, long years ago,
when she was with Mrs.  Thompson, at what was now Burton's farm, and
the days still farther away when she was a child playing in old
Kentish hop fields.

The drought broke up soon after the schoolmaster's arrival, a swift
tawny red flood came foaming down the creek among the shea-oaks to
become afterwards a quiet streamlet. Every morning now, as he had
arranged with the Carrolls, Bessie--who was one of his pupils, a
pale-faced girl with loose-looking lips and a quick-toned voice
wavering between impertinence and coquetry--brought him a large bottle
of milk, and he began the day by going down to the creek and bringing
up two buckets of water and then made himself some porridge. After
that, if it was the day for going to Blair's Creek across the hills,
he put a book--Heine or Montaigne or "Wilhelm Meister"--into one
pocket of his alpaca jacket, and some biscuits for lunch and a flask
of cold tea into the other, and started over the eastern ridge.
Sometimes the exhilaration of the fresh air and soft distant sky, the
silence and isolation of that strange land, wrought in the young
schoolmaster's veins to an ecstacy of abandonment. Once he flung
himself down beneath a gum-tree with excess of joy in the presence of
that glad warm earth, as though he would kiss the whole world.
Sometimes, as he stood looking into the creek or walking along the
hillside, he would sing over to himself some fragment of verse. One
day it would be Prinzessin Ilse, and uplifted by the emotional
reverberations of the lyric and the intoxication of the strong bright
air he would walk on, scarcely feeling how the track here and there
became steep and rough, till he shouted aloud:

  Es bleiben todt die Todten
  Und nur der lebendige lebt!

Then he stood still, hot and out of breath, on the summit of a little
stony hill. A few spotted thistles grew on its sides with their glossy
white-veined leaves, while a little way off on the stout branch of a
dead tree a huge jew-lizard basked stolidly in the sun. As he stood
there he was only conscious of the dusky green hills, with the bright
mysterious peace as of Beulah resting on them, that stretched, range
after range, as far as his eye could reach, that no man had touched,
that were still clothed in their infinite robe of sunlight and
silence.

At that time it seemed as if he had reached a finely touched moment of
life. The simplicity to which he had from taste and indolence reduced
the process of living, the strenuous walks across the hills to Blair's
Creek, the brief monotony of schoolhours, left open all the highest
springs of enjoyment. His young mind, set free by the books he was
reading by day and by night, went tracking in all directions the
problems of the universe. How many times the dreary heat of that path
across the hills, or the toilsome slime of the descent after rain, was
made sweet and easy by this inner life which rendered him unconscious
of the things around him. But yet in spite of himself the things
around him formed an inseparable part of his mental process, and some
indifferent or unnoticed object, some mere bush or hillock, became
linked to an idea and for ever recalled it with persistent iteration;
and he grew irritated that the free pearls of his thought should be
strung and confined by the commonplace line of his path across the
hills. Yet, sometimes, under the stress of some peculiarly soft and
exhilarating flood of light and air, of some wider pulse of blood, he
was called out of such concentrated and abstract moods by more
concrete appeals from the large nature around him. Sometimes it was
the apple-gums that grew on a slope at one part of his way and were
lost in the valley; they soothed him with their large gracious limbs
and soft cinnamon bark; and for that day his journey would be swifter.
At another time it might be the great slow elastic bounds of a large
kangaroo across his path and down into the gully below. On one
evening, as he came down the ridge, he caught a sudden glimpse of the
red roses half hidden in green leaves that grew up the schoolhouse
verandah posts and a quick thrill of delight ran through his body.
Often after that as he came down from the crest of the ridge he looked
wistfully at the roses, but no pulse of joy was stirred. It is only at
rare and subtly poised moments that some vast electric touch of
Nature's finger can overflow brain and body with so sudden a spasm of
delight. It was by the development of these new channels of
sensational and mental activity that the youth lived gladly without
human companionship. He united a strong longing for sympathy with an
equally strong distrust of his own power to evoke sympathy.

This morbid self-scepticism, while it was mistaken for proud reserve,
had rendered all approach to the human beings whose love he longed for
little more than a prolonged agony on the threshold of intimacy. At
this point of his life he was lifted above the struggles that ended in
self-contempt to a new and joyous sphere of freedom. Books absorbed
him chiefly. Often he read, sometimes aloud, till long past midnight,
and when the Carrolls rode home over the creek one Sunday night they
heard him and said to one another that the schoolmaster was frightened
at being alone. No passion came to disturb him; his emotional nature
seemed mostly dormant during those peaceful days. The year before, a
woman's face and form and voice had strung his imagination with a
strange, half bitter sweetness; now that desire had passed into a
tender dream which seemed to him as the embodiment of a phase he had
passed through, and he wrote some verses addressed to 'Ada' with the
motto:

  Wenn ich dich liebe was gehts dich an?

On his path over the range at the highest point before the descent
into Blair's Creek distant twin hills came into view whose large
swelling curves seemed the vast breasts of the goddess of that land
lying recumbent across the earth. Whenever he reached the crest that
brought those montains breasts suddenly to his sight a faint pulse of
pleasure, half emotional, half intellectual, went through the young
schoolmaster, and if he had grown tired he was tired no longer. On one
evening, during the occasional half hour that he spent with the
Carrolls, as he sat on the settle and replied briefly while the old
man talked in his downright way of German aggrandizement and the
Congress and the unnecessary expense of maintaining a royal family,
and lamented that he had never learned to read and had to depend on
his daughter for the news in the "Mercury", the schoolmaster's eyes
casually fell on the figure of one of the elder girls at the point
where her breasts swelled out beneath the brown stuff dress.  A sudden
giddiness seized him; in the person of that coarse unlovely girl the
whole unrealised power of womanhood smote him.

It was not long after this that he sat one evening in the schoolroom
reading Middlemarch on the bench at the little brown table in the
corner by the fire. It was August, the evenings were still cool. He
had dragged in a young sapling that the creek had washed down, one end
reached to the back of the deep fireplace, the other was outside the
door; he was burning it up into pieces of two feet long, instead of
using the axe. By and by, as he read on, from the midst of the
narrative's solemn elaborate texture the figure of Dorothea began to
clothe itself with intense, quivering, strangely vivid life. It seemed
to become the embodiment of all the latent instincts of his heart, of
the old vague longing for love, the fierce hidden yearning of
unviolated youth for some larger human thing to reveal its own immense
mysteries of freedom and life. All these profound sexual instincts
were at the moment stirred within this youth with a power born of his
isolation and became incarnated in Dorothea. He read on, steadily and
fiercely, hour after hour, to the end. But this Dorothea that he had
created, this symbol of the loveliness of love, haunted and tormented
him with its unattainable sweetness. At intervals he had seen to the
burning sapling and now it lay in pieces of two feet long in a heap on
one side of the hearth. He walked fevereshly across the little room,
diagonally from the little brown table to the back door. At intervals,
as was usual with him, he spoke aloud; they were short, bitter,
despairing words. With the world-weariness of youth it seemed to him
that life had no more possibilities. In all the world there was no
sweet-bodied, sweet-souled woman to bring to such a creature as he
that chalice of love that he was thirsting for with the old elemental
thirst that was first born with the dim far birth of life itself. Only
scorn could the ideal Dorothea, it seemed, have of him. He flung
himself on the floor before the fire, maddened at the thought, and
clenched his hands, while now and then a low moan came from him, as he
tossed round at each convulsive throb of that tortured nerve of his
heart in which alone at that moment he seemed to live. "There is no
one in the world anywhere who can love, who can give me the love I
want." Then for some time he sobbed. He got up at last; the fire was
out; only a faint red stump lay in a heap of white ashes between the
bricks. He lifted the latch and went out on to the verandah. It was
starlight; the moon had not risen yet, but the eastern sky was pale.
He walked down and pushed open the little ill-constructed gate, and
stumbled slowly and aimlessly over the uneven ground. As he passed he
tore convulsively the leaves of a gum-bush; the strong camphoraceous
odor that clung to his hands sickened and irritated him; no flood of
thought came to carry him out of himself and to make his step quick
and elastic.

He walked back and leant against the fence. Bambaroo stood out with
its great rounded summit and awful gloom. Then the top of the highest
gum-tree became bright; an illumination crept slowly over all the
gum-trees and at last the moon heaved itself over the ridge. He felt
the unreal of an animal in pain; he came into the dark schoolroom
again, and walked up and down, the same torture fermenting in him,
till he grew weary. Then, at dawn, without undressing, he lay down on
his hammock.




PART III


IN JUNE he had gone to Sydney for the mid-winter holidays. It was
delightful even to walk up George Street and back through Pitt Street.
The human life of the streets seemed so fresh and joyous, and there
was such a strange new assurance and elasticity in his own step. Once
in Pitt Street, in the bald waste place that lay beyond the Post
Office, he saw a lady standing, with a smile on her face, waiting for
her husband. She might have been thirty years old. She looked so
strong and elate in every large and gracious curve of her body, so
full of life in every fibre of muscle and nerve. He longed to go up to
her and put his arms round her and kiss her; the life that was
in that woman's body (was it love? he asked himself) was the life that
he felt in his own heart.

He stayed at a boarding-house in Castlereagh Street, not far from the
Theatre where an Italian Opera Company was playing every evening. The
Theatre had just been rebuilt; the pale fresh colors of the place
seemed enchanting to him, as he sat usually in the third row of the
Stalls, and listened to the music of Rossini or Meyerbeer or Verdi. He
knew little of music; he thought "Il Trovatore" beautiful; to sit lazily
there when the orchestra had started on its gay or melodiously tragic
career, and the swift various play of actors passed across the stage,
was enough. All the multitudinous possibilities of life seemed to
rehearse themselves deliciously along his nerves; all the sensuous
potentialities of his nature were summoned in a sweet vague stream, as
though something within him stirred and responded to the far-off
sexual cry in which music began. He cared little that he could not
always understand the story; the shifting panorama of the stage, so
close that it revealed all its nakedness--the tawdry costumes, the
unclothed arms with their vaccination scars, the stage tricks--only
accentuated the music. Even the preliminary booms and whirs of the
instruments in the orchestra, the gloved uplifted hand of the
conductor, the playbill, became soon mixed in the same glamor. When
the Opera was over he usually walked about the streets for a little
while; in George Street near the Market he passed the woman who boldly
sought to catch his attention, and he walked quickly and shyly on; in
Castlereagh Street he saw the couples who glided up dark alleys; all
the frank licence of a colonial city came before him, and fascinated
him, and was strange to him.

One evening he was accompanied to Rossini's "Barbiere" by a young
chemist who was living in the same boarding-house. Afterwards they
strolled along the streets and the chemist introduced him to a young
woman. They walked along together. She looked up at him at last in a
tender, confiding way and said in a nasal voice.

"Aint the moon lovely?"

He replied, "Yes."

There was a pause. Then he felt a sudden feeling of suffocation, an
irresistable longing for fresh air, and without venturing to look at
his companion's astonished face, he broke away, turning down the next
street: "I must go in this direction. Good night."

The boarding house was kept by a pale, pretty, weary-looking widow,
who trailed in and out of the room with slipshod feet. Besides himself
there were in the house only the young chemist and another young
widow, a little woman, always dressed in black, who talked and went
about with a quiet, prim, consciously-composed air. She said that her
husband had been a sea-captain and that she had a little boy at
school. At frequent intervals she had visits from near relatives, now
a brother, now an uncle, now a brother-in-law.

A large, coarse, fat woman, with double chin, came to dinner one day.
She seemed to have business with the little widow. When dinner was
over, by way of pleasantry, she threw a serviette from behind at the
young schoolmaster's head. They told him afterwards that thirty years
ago that woman was the prettiest girl in Sydney. That vision of the
prettiest girl in Sydney left an ineffaceable impression on the young
schoolmaster's mind, and he often pondered over it.

Once a man came in during the evening with a young woman--Mr. Shaw
they called him--a fair, good-natured, middle-aged man. "Let me
introduce you to Mrs. Shaw," he said, and the tall, rather handsome
young woman, dressed plainly, but with rather a gay hat, nodded and
smiled, with a careless air, a trifle defiant. They all chatted
pleasantly for a while and when the visitors had gone, the landlady,
who had whispered with them in the hall, flared up indignantly.

"Now this is what I call disgusting," she said fiercely, with an
intensity that seemed to show something of personal bitterness, "to
see a married man flaunting about the place like that with his
housemaid; the headmaster of a big school, too, and his wife as nice a
little woman as you'd wish to find." And when her anger had died down
the sympathetic little widow in black agreed.

On the last night of his stay in Sydney he went early to his room,
where loud occasional bursts of merriment reached him till long past
midnight. When he came down in the morning the room was disarranged,
and the air close and heavy, with a vague odor of brandy; a woman's
chignon of those days lay on the floor, a neckhandkerchief on the
sofa. He experienced a sudden shock, as though he had unexpectedly set
his foot in a strange and unknown land. At breakfast the landlady did
not appear and the chemist was not in his room; the young widow in
black presided, and looked after his wants in her quiet, thoughtful
fashion. She took two cups of coffee upstairs; then she disappeared
into her own room behind, whence there came a report of two soda-water
bottles; the breakfast-room door was quietly shut, and, standing at
the window, he saw a tall man, with thick neck and red face, go
quickly out of the front door. He noted these things, curiously,
impartially, always accepting the transparent veil thrown over them.
Without himself realising it, he shrank instinctively from contact
with all that was not in the line of his own shy and solitary
emotional life. Now he was back in Kanga Creek, and the old life of
mingled routine and freedom had begun again. He wandered again over
the ridge of the range beyond which lay Blair's Creek, or he walked up
and down the path his feet had worn on the eastern side of the
schoolhouse. Usually he had a book in his hand; perchance a little
green volume called "Poems and Ballads," bought in Sydney, which had
repelled him at first, but whose large images and broad rhythmical
sweep soon fascinated him; and after the children had gone, and the
sun had sunk behind the western hills, he walked swiftly up and down
the well-trodden path, shouting aloud enthusiastically the strong
irresistible lines. And in the morning, when the sun looked over the
ridge into that little valley of giant myrtles, as he came up from the
well, over the dull grass, in trousers and flannel shirt, balancing
two buckets of water in his hands, a fresh spirit leapt along his
veins and he repeated softly to himself:

  Nothing is better I well think
  Than love; the hidden well water
  Is not so delicate to drink.

One day--it was Sunday--he set out in his old grey alpaca coat, and
with the little green volume in his hand, on the path towards Ayr. He
seldom walked that way, and today he kept at some distance from the
path; he would rather not be passed by the Carrolls who, with their
sisters, might be going into Ayr today. He only looked into his book
now and then, and walked on, dreaming perhaps, yet always with an
undercurrent of attention to possible snakes, and once he sprang
instinctively forward as some dry Slick turned up beneath his foot and
struck his leg. He was going towards a lagoon he had found out; for it
seemed to him a pleasant place by which to sit and read. It was a
silent spot, with an air of melancholy peace brooding over it.
Sometimes the lagoon was full of water, and then it was soothing to
look at; but often the water receded to the centre and left a great
expanse of dark mud. Down the faint slopes that led to it the trees
grew sparsely; and near the edge there lay about great rotten trunks,
the abodes of many snakes.  Towards this spot the young schoolmaster
slowly wandered with his book. Suddenly he was brought up by a large
black snake almost at his feet. He stood still for a moment in
admiration of the strong and lovely curves of its body, the perfect
poise of its flattened and wedge-shaped head. Then he walked on
slowly, keeping his eyes on the ground.  When he next lifted them he
saw, fifty yards to the side, a woman who lay on the ground. She was
lying stretched beneath the slight shadow of a gum-tree, resting on
her elbows, a broad straw hat on her head.  It was a manna-gum, for
now and again she slowly picked up and ate the small sweet fragments
around. Involuntarily he turned and looked towards her; she saw him
and swiftly jumping up walked away, upright and very deliberately. A
moment after he came upon an open book; he took it up; it was a
well-worn anthology of French poetry. He felt already a curious
attraction to this woman; now he had an excuse for speaking to her. He
came up to her and said with a shy glance,

"I think this is your book."

"Thank you," she said, "I left it by the tree."

Her eyes were brown; her complexion was of the common creamy brown
Australian sort, faintly freckled and mottled; there were large
buttons all the way down her plain and predominantly blue dress; at
the breast a button was undone or gone, and there was a glimpse of
white, as though she had grown out of her dress, but she was older
than himself. So much he noticed, and not being able to think of
anything more to say he was about to go away. He hesitated a moment;
he could not at once cut the first link that had by chance connected
him with this interesting intruder on his domain, and at the moment
that he was finally about to lift his hand to his hat he interrupted
himself awkwardly, and caught at the last conversational straw.

"Do--do you read French?"

"I am learning to."

These questions and responses were rather colorless. He looked round
for an instant, again about to go yet trying to find something else to
say. But she had now taken in the situation, and when he glanced at
her he saw a smile in her brown eyes and it occurred to him, for the
first time, that she was rather pretty. "I know you," she said, with a
touch of colonial assurance, "I saw you coming out of Ayr before you
came here. My school is at Warrie Creek."

This declaration at once threw their relations into a state of more
stable equilibrium. When a little later he thought it was time to go
he boldly held out his hand and their eyes met and rested on each
other for a perceptible instant, almost with a sense of camaraderie.
He meditated on this glance and tried to analyse it, while with rapid
steps he traversed the miles that separated him from Kanga Creek,
negligent of snakes and once nearly stepping into the midst of a gay
party of parakeets absorbed in a family quarrel.





PART IV


IT WAS spring; the men about Kanga Creek were away at shearing; the
children were mostly at home with whooping cough. It was spring, and
the land was growing glorious with wattles; everywhere the feathery
and golden festoons hung lightly over the brown earth. Life with the
young schoolmaster went much as of old. He had seen his new friend
more than once since that meeting under the manna gum-tree by the
lagoon. And often on Saturday or Sunday he had taken a book, to walk
to the remote lagoon, to sit on a fallen trunk or lie beneath the
slight shade of the trees. But somehow he could never read peacefully
at that beautiful spot; it seemed there was something there that broke
in on his self-contained life. Once or twice, when on the point of
setting out in that direction, he had even by a sudden impulse turned
off to the high ridges on the left. He no longer dreamed vaguely of
love; but sometimes, after he had come out on the verandah in the
early morning, and washed at the bucket on a bench, and eaten his
porridge with the milk that Bessie had brought from the farm, he stood
for a moment in front of a dusty iridescent little window-pane which
served as a looking-glass. Here he would peer in and wonder whether he
was as hateful to look at as he had often thought, and he would pass
his finger over his young moustache. Then he would glance at his boots
that were never polished, or at the old alpaca coat, rather frayed at
the wrists and about the pockets. Perhaps he even meditated whether it
might not be possible to amend these things.  But when he turned and
went through the little gate he no longer thought of himself, the
bright scarlet breast of the Australian robin flashed upon him with
delight as he walked rapidly across the bristly kangaroo-grass over
the ridge; and all the careless vigor of youth pulsed in his young
limbs by the time he had reached the path on the valley side. He
shouted in the exuberance of muscular enjoyment.

The wind wailed and howled among the shea-oaks; the rain poured
suddenly and swiftly down; he sat all this gloomy September afternoon
of spring on the little bench between the hearth and the window. His
book was open on the table before him; it was Marlowe's Faustus, at
the vision of Helen of Troy.

The rain poured eagerly dawn on the shingled roof, and from the creek
came a sound of rushing waters, slowly increasing to a mighty roar. He
had reached the awful close of the drama, and with a shudder yet
thrilling through him he felt the need of movement, of human society,
at all events of change. He opened the door and stood on the verandah.
The sky was gloomy but the sudden twilight had not yet come. The creek
was now a torrent and swept visibly and tumultuously round the gradual
curve of its course, a red brown mass of waters crested with white
foam, leaping over the stones and the gaunt roots of the shea-oaks,
and bearing down mountain saplings, burnt logs, great boughs, even
whole tree-trunks along on its breast.  He reflected that he would
have few pupils tomorrow, for the creek would not be passable yet; he
walked rapidly along the little verandah, to and fro, with his hands
in his pockets, gazing down. It was very pleasant to hear the
elemental stir and the continuous roar of the creek coming down from
the hills with a sound like that of a wind over a forest.

As he turned once at the end of the verandah he glanced up and started
at the vision that he saw on the other side of the rough log
gate-post, on horseback, with the large hat that he knew firmly
fastened on over a face that smiled, half in embarrassment. "I can't
get across," she called out, as he ran down to the gate; "I've come
all the way from Thwaites Flat."

Soon she was off the saddle, the reins were thrown over the post, and
they went into the little schoolroom. The faint confusion he had seen
on her face at first had now vanished; it was his turn to feel
embarrassed as she examined with ostentatious curiosity his household
arrangements, criticising them frankly as a connoisseur, condemning
them mostly as needlessly primitive. She laughed at the great
frying-pan; she looked into the large biscuit tin; she opened the old
box that contained the school registers, took out one of the
blue-covered books and turned over it's flimsy leaves in rapid
critical examination: "I see you keep your registers very nicely," she
said, in a tone of approval. Then she went up to a pile of the young
schoolmaster's own books that lay on the floor; she sat down on a low
form, took them up one by one, read the titles and turned over a few
of the leaves. "I must say," she said when she had reached the last,
"that I never knew a young man who had such a good collection of
books." He received the compliment in silence but with a thrill of
genuine gratitude; it released him from the half-ashamed embarrassment
which the sudden appearance of this young lady among the naked
details of his simple life had at first aroused. He began to exhibit
his possessions, and started some preparations for tea by putting the
little billy on the fire. And soon he made tea for her and brought
bread and butter and a tin of fish, and sat down beside her on the
rough form at the table in the corner between the hearth and the
window. After they had eaten the host sought to amuse his guest, and
thinking of the books with which she had expressed satisfaction he
stood up, reached over her head to a little bracket just beyond near
the chimney, and took down a green volume, the summit of a pile
insecurely poised. It was a book by Darwin. He placed it in front of
them on the table and they turned over the leaves, examining the
illustrations. When they reached a chapter on the subject of Blushing
she began to read; they read together, leaning together towards the
book; they followed the sober scientific discussion of the process of
blushing, why such and such persons or races blush or do not blush,
where and how they blush, sometimes smiling or laughing together. It
seemed to the young schoolmaster that he was tasting a new pleasure.
He had always looked at women from afar, seriously, having had no
sisters or girl-friends; it was a new experience to realise that a
woman was so human, so curious, laughing and smiling with him over
these things of which he could scarcely have ventured to speak. He
felt that a barrier had been broken down, and that he had been brought
nearer than before to another human soul. When the reading was done
and the green book lay closed on the rough red-brown table before
them, the schoolmaster instinctively took it up to replace on the
little bracket above in the corner. He stood up and leaned over her,
and she moved her head aside. As he sat down, the bent head and the
twisted brown hair, so close to him, the neck with its fine down, the
curves of the shoulder and breast beyond, and with this a peculiar
feminine odour, struck suddenly and penetratingly on his sense. He was
oppressed by a sensation of faintness. He found himself sitting now
close beside her and before he realised what he was doing his arm was
fast around her waist. Years before he had meditated with awe on the
divinity that hedges a woman, and now he genuinely wondered at his own
audacity. He glanced at her apprehensively; she was slowly smiling. He
pressed his arm closer, but at the same time, fearful, and as if to
divert her attention, he began rapidly to talk of indifferent things,
to compare notes about the schools, to question her about her life. It
was so pleasant to sit there; the visible nearness and the vaguely
pleasurable play of physical sensation became interpreted as the
outward signs of inward affinity, as the promise of a sweet intimacy
to come, to which no limit or measure could be set.

"Look here," she exclaimed, suddenly starting up, "the fire's going
out; I'll go and get some wood," she said, as he rose too by her side.
It seemed very easy and natural then that she should stay all night,
and the young schoolmaster had proposed it and was answering her
objections before he quite realised what he was doing. She continued
to find natural and unnatural reasons for going at once, but she
stayed; and meanwhile the night had grown on, and it would be
difficult now to seek shelter elsewhere. She became quiet and
thoughtful, yet falling in with all that he arranged. There was little
to arrange; they looked after the horse together, and then he left her
to find rest in the narrow hammock, and returned to the bench by the
fire in the schoolroom. The dull light from the hearth met the light
that for a brief time came between the loose slabs from the room
beyond. Then they wished each other good night. For long hours he was
vaguely conscious of that opposite wall, of the small window near him,
of the great map of Australia--the huge island continent in the midst
of the sea--hanging, in the gloom, on the wall beyond. These things
mingled together in an unrestful waking dream. At length the stream of
consciousness seemed to be slowly carrying him and merging him in the
sea. It seemed to him that he belonged to a race of men whose destiny
it was to be taken possession of after death by albatrosses. He seemed
to be floating in the sea, which was his natural element, and an
albatross with far-spread white wings was swooping around him. He
feared it would seize him; at last its beak grasped his hand, but it
was a grasp only, firm not painful. Then he became conscious of the
deep, gentle, tender gaze of the albatross's blue eye fixed upon his
own. The gaze of those eyes fascinated and absorbed his consciousness;
the beak and the grasp of the hand seemed to vanish. Slowly the eyes
merged into a woman's, large, soft, luminous, imploring; and the face
was an oval, beautiful, woman-face; yet the transformation gave him no
surprise, and he was not surprised when the albatross-woman spoke:
"You will be mine someday." "Perhaps I shall," he answered
indifferently. Then she pressed his face passionately to her own and
said some tender word--he knew not what. And then he became vaguely
conscious of the whole form of a woman. But when he stretched out his
arms to embrace it, face and form became alike unsubstantial. He
started into waking life; the sunlight was streaming through the
window-panes at his side. When he went out on to the little verandah,
the next door was open and the room was empty. He stepped up to the
hammock and looked down, curiously, at the neatly folded blanket. As
he looked down he saw a long hair; he took it up and carried it out on
to the verandah, and held it up in the bright sunlight so that it
shone golden brown, and looked at it with a smile of pleasure on his
face, until he heard the careless shouts of children, echoing across
the ridge.




PART V


THE Inspector was coming. The children sat in two rows on two sides of
the rooms--the mischievous Robert of the dark bright eyes, the fair
deliberate Charlie, John of the red stupid face and broad bucolic
grin, his sifter Mary, large and gentle, the motherly little Amy with
her slow sweet smile, Bessie of the loose lips, Anne, tall, straight,
and sullen, in rough brown stuff dress, and beside her the tiny five
years old elegante, Jane, in her pink little princess frock, and the
pendants hanging from her fairy shell-like ears. Jim, the youngest,
with solemn portentous face and sing-song drawl, slowly spelt the
words from his reading-book, while the others wrote at dictation.

The schoolmaster walked up and down the room diagonally from the open
door to the farther corner, sometimes looking out for any sign of the
inspector's approach, sometimes, as of late he had done from time to
time, unconsciously smiling to himself, so that the children looked at
each other and whispered, "Teacher's pleased."

It was a day of still and brilliant heat and the sun glared down from
a cloudless sky. A buggy passed through the valley below and its
occupant would not have observed the schoolhouse if the schoolmaster,
who heard it rattling across the stones in the creek, had not sent
down Robert as a messenger.

The grave black-bearded inspector went quietly through his work, asked
questions of children and of master, made his notes, and inwardly
marvelled that the youth had been sent to this forlorn spot. Then he
went his way to Carroll's farm through the glaring sunshine of the
silent noon. The schoolmaster's spirits began to rise lark-like in
spite of the heat and oppression of the day. He was glad of the
dreaded ordeal he had gone through so easily; glad, too, to have seen
a man who was civilized even though uncommunicative; glad also of the
guest whom he expected tonight.

That night the young schoolmaster walked towards the lagoon. It was
long since he had met his friend, and he was eager to see her again.
He led her into the schoolhouse, lighted only by the sullen glare of a
log, and they sat down together on the bench between the wall and the
table. Never before had the young schoolmaster been in so restless a
mood of high spirits. The wild humor which possessed him dominated his
companion. He put his arm round her, and they waltzed about the room
in the light of the rising moon.

They sat down together, and he watched the heaving of her breast. Then
his hand wandered instinctively up to the large buttons that were
rising and falling, and sought to unfasten them; her hand resisted,
but yielded to his gentle child-like insistence, and helped in the
task. He remembered how, the year before, at Burwood, when dancing,
his partner's low-necked dress slipped down, and his own feeling of
faintness, almost of repulsion, the unaccustomed sense of nakedness.
Now it was quite otherwise. He nestled his head down and with the
sudden involuntary maternal impulse which is not far from any woman
she pressed his head against her with both hands.

The heat of the day still seemed to cling to the little schoolroom in
which they sat together in the semi-darkness, playing like children.
Oppressed by the heat she began to unfasten the large buttons;
emboldened by the darkness they gradually took off some of their
clothing. He encouraged her by example, and aided in the process,
lingering, and finding in it the delicious satisfaction of an
instinctive desire for nearness.

Then came the suggestion that they should go out of the close little
schoolhouse into the open air.

The night was hot and still; the full moon was high in the sky;
Bambaroo, with its large and gentle outline, seemed mysteriously near.
They walked slowly, hand in hand, to the creek with its pools of
burnished silver under the face of the moon. They stepped carefully
over the large smooth stones; she placed her arm round him, and he
softly grasped and caressed the other hand. Then he placed his arm
around her. Each touch sent an unknown thrill through his being. To
touch her, to feel through the thin garment the living play of the
muscles of the flank--the steady swing of the pendulum in its
socket--was in itself a joy that sufficed to fill the whole field of
sensation. This woman was a new gospel, and every movement a fresh
verse to the youth's hungry soul.

They reached the soft rounded sandstone boulder that lay, a little
mass of brown, on the dull green slope.   He looked into her face with
entreaty, half wistful, half eager, and he began to unfasten her last
garments. She murmured remonstrance: "I can't if you don't too," she
said. And she untied the knot when his unskilful fingers were at
fault.

The moon was bright above; below, a straggling row of pools, each a
great pearl, marked the line of the creek; from the delicate boughs of
the tall gums the long pale leaves drooped silently; there was no
sound but the occasional scamper and cry of some nocturnal animal, or
the remote melancholy call of the curlew; to the right loomed the
great purple mass of Bambaroo; to the left soft luminous clouds lay on
the horizon formed by a distant ridge. Close behind stretched upwards
the dusky green slope, the background on which rested the bright pale
forms, inquisitive, alive, thrilling with a pulse of Nature so swift
that the Nature around seemed dead. She sat on the stone, and he lay
at her feet, clasping her leg and softly resting his cheek on her
knee, while her hands wandered from his hair to his neck. She said
nothing and he was very still; he feared by any word or movement to
break in upon her mood of sweet complaisance. His eyes were bright; a
new life was thrilling through him,

"I wanted to bring you here," he said suddenly, "I wanted to seat you
like a queen on this throne. It's been waiting for you thousands and
thousands of years. I often think," he went on, caressing the knee,
"of everything that has gone on in the world since this stone came
here. I lie here and dream about Helen of Troy, about Cleopatra,
about Héloïse and Abélard, about--oh, so many things. And all that
time one might have come here and seen everything as it is now. I've
almost got to think that this stone is the only ancient thing and the
only living one. Perhaps, it is as old and unchanged as anything in
this old land. It's so smooth now with no frost to hurt it, and not
much rain. It has been here so long. And now you are the highest thing
that it ever touched. It has never felt anything before so fair and
soft."

He wanted to prolong this moment; he talked on at random; his bright
eyes and excited face were turned up to hers. There was silence in the
night; the large, clear moon sailed on above; below, the youth lay
entranced in the fragrance of the woman's body; afar, very far,
sounded now and again the slow melancholy sobs of song, the sharp
cries of pain, the mysterious ways of Nature among her children,
slaying some, and therewith feeding others.

They were silent now. He stroked her knee caressingly. Then he dared
impulsively to lift his lips, to leave a few soft shy kisses. He
looked up, then, with a glance of inarticulate appeal. She stooped
towards him, a smile of delight hovering on her lips.

"How beautiful your eyes are!" and she kissed them both softly.

"And yours," he said, "are so bright, and your cheeks," and he pressed
his own against them. And so for some minutes, with arms clasped
around each other, they remained silent and absorbed in one kiss.

Faint and far, out of the silence, there came the sound of horses'
hoofs, Her ear caught it first, and she suddenly took hold of his
shoulder, exclaiming nervously: "What's that?" The rhythmic beat of
the hoofs slowly, surely approached, the steady tramp of an inevitable
fate. "It must be Charlie, who went into Ayr today," he said, after an
interval. They swiftly slipped into their garments, ran up and behind
the ridge, and listened intently to the tramp of the hoofs that now
tumbled loudly and irregularly among the loose stones in the creek, to
grow faint again and remote. Then they both went back, silent and
shamefaced, to the schoolhouse.

It seemed as though a gate of Paradise, left ajar, had swung to.




PART VI


THE young schoolmaster through the hot November days languidly
submitted to the routine of his daily tasks. There were the same walks
through the coarse kangaroo-grass, over the hills, along the gorges by
the smooth-limbed apple gums, the lessons and classes, the entries in
the registers, the weary walk back in the heat to fling himself down
on the little bed, or to throw off his clothes and stir his feet in
the cool delicious water. These things were the same.

Yet he himself was no longer altogether the same. He was less absorbed
in the quiet intoxication of his own abstract dreams, less ready to be
stirred by the stimulus of pure beauty around him. He no longer stood
among the hills as in the earlier season, loft in the long sunny
silences that were but heightened and enriched by some stray remote
sound that floated through them, some measured thud of the threshing
flail or faint tinkle of ring-barker's axe, coming one could not say
whence. Words and tones, touches, lingering odors, fragmentary
visions, came back to him again and again, perpetually, whatever he
might be doing. These reminiscences thrilled him, yet their iteration
grew wearisome and irritating at length. It was scarcely pleasure and
not altogether pain.

In these days, as in the intervals of drudgery he went about his
little household avocations, they no longer hinted to him the
exhilarating simplicity and joyousness of life. They called up
questioning thoughts concerning what she was doing over there towards
the east. Each act of his daily life seemed to have a thread tugging
at it, and he half knew, yet was never quite sure, what movement was
taking place at the other end of the thread. As he went down in the
morning with his bucket for water at the creek he knew that she too
might be going down to her creek, a larger one than his, in her loose
dressing-gown, to take a hasty dip in the pool beneath the shea-oaks.
For the most part their lives ran parallel, and each moment brought
for each the same occupation. There was always a companion by his
side, and yet a companion whose constant imaginary presence he would
try to fling off, like the obsession of some verse or line that
perpetually repeats itself in the memory.

One thought constantly beset him, the image of that smooth sandstone
boulder. He had avoided the spot ever since the unforgettable night
that had sunk in the clash of hoofs, yet the vision of that stone
haunted him, and possessed him with the desire to see it, to sit upon
it. He was for ever longing to wander across the creek, to that stone,
for ever repressing the longing. At last, one evening after sunset,
when the stars were scarcely out but the moon was over the hill, he
found himself on the other side of the creek, walking up the slope, in
the silent subdued light.

There, as ever, lay the lichened stone. He was tormented by the
desire to sit on that stone as she had sat, and yet distracted by the
foolishness of his desire. Vivid memories crowded back, the soft
flesh, all the fragrance of womanhood for lonely youth. He was about
to fling himself down and kiss the smooth stone.

But suddenly he turned away and went swiftly down the slope over the
loose stones in the creek's bed. The pride and reticence of boyhood,
self-contained and self-centred, were as yet beaten down by no
irresistible thrust of passion. His green youth still rigidly bound
the crimson spike in the blossoming rose of love. The spirit of
boyhood was still strong against the destinies of life, suspicious of
easy self-abandonment, aloof from the irrational cry of instinct
which belongs not to the person but the race; the day of love had yet
scarcely dawned.

As he paced up and down the verandah he stopped to look wistfully at
the heavy mass of Bambaroo standing out gloomily in the night. It
seemed to be expanding in the darkness and pressing towards him.




PART VII


THE Christmas holidays were approaching, and the young schoolmaster
was to leave Kanga Creek, not for his holidays but for ever. His
father had written from England that a passage home had been taken for
him in the ship St. Vincent, which would sail from Sydney immediately
after Christmas. He was nearly beside himself with excitement. Now, at
last, his ambitious dreams were to be realised. He would go home, work
hard, win for himself a place in the world.

That was certainly the strongest impulse within him. Yet his life had
become more complex of late, and his career no longer seemed to him,
as it had seemed six months before, a burden to be lifted with a light
heart, and borne as easily as he bore the bucket from the well. Now
there was a certain heaviness at his heart, a dull tangle of emotions
which he could not unravel, and had no inclination to try to unravel.
He was beginning to know the conflict of instincts which as they
develop fetter each other's actions and make our deeds no longer
merely instinctive but heroic and unheroic.

He walked up and down by the lagoon waiting. It was here that he had
first spoken to her, and now he had come to say good-bye. As he walked
rapidly up and down, filled with the new tumult of feverish thoughts,
his eyes seemed to fall constantly on a dead tree he had seen often
before, a tragic tree flinging out two bare gaunt arms, as though
immobilised in the agony of some deadly stroke. In after years that
pathetic vision of arrested life always came to mingle half
absurdly--perhaps only half absurdly--with the memory of this meeting,
with, indeed, the entire memory of this episode in his life.

The lagoon lay with its faintly sloping edges, peaceful and silent as
ever, the unnatural peace and silence as of another world. He sat
down, with a sense of oppression, on one of the fallen trunks that lay
about, until the sharp crackle of dry sticks afar made him turn to
meet the approaching figure. There was the same old Gainsborough hat,
the same long blue princess dress clinging loosely to the tall figure
that came striding lithely over the elastic soil.

He rose and they met, with the self-conscious restraint that never
quite left their meetings now, and they sat down side by side on the
log, while he told briefly all that had happened, and how he had sent
in his resignation and was now come to say goodbye. She asked him
about his plans with the same frank curiosity as on her first visit to
the Creek when she inspected his household arrangements, and he
answered all her questions.

As they talked side by side the new defiance that had lately hardened
within him began to melt. A flood of memories came back, in which this
woman's form was deliriously mingled. As the hour approached for
parting he slipped his arm around her waist and drew her towards the
spot where the manna-gum stood. She laughed as though she divined the
thoughts that stirred him.

"Do you know," she said, after a little pause, holding his arm and
looking at him, "I think you are just a child."

She smiled slowly a serious almost maternal smile. He felt as though
he had been judged and sentenced. Once more he began to freeze into an
awkward sullenness which all her efforts to be cheerful failed to
thaw.

When at last they bade each other goodbye they only shook hands,
heartily but perhaps with a little embarrassment. With his last glance
he saw that the eyes in her uplifted face were glistening with unshed
tears. Then as he walked away a great desire came to him to throw his
arms around her and kiss her.

But it was too late.




PART VIII


'ANTI-HUMBUG' Williams ran out from his school-house door as he saw
his young acquaintance alight from Quick's spring-cart.

"You're a brick!" he exclaimed, emphatically slapping the youth's
shoulders, "a regular brick! The inspector told me they ought never to
have sent you to such an hole, and I may tell you now that Chapman has
been expecting you to throw it up ever since you went out. Well," he
went on as he drew his guest into the parlor, chasing out a few of his
children in order to gain space and silence, "and so you're going to
leave us for good, and be off to the old country again; I dare say
you're right. Australia is pretty much played out. Things are not what
they were when I came out.  There'll be a bust-up some day, mark my
words. Droughts and theology, deserts and dry bones, that will undo
the place. What would old Buckle have said? Curious action of the
climate, eh? But we brought the virus with us from the old land.
Coelum non animum."

During dinner Williams drew out the youth regarding his future
movements: "So you think of going in for the law? I don't know that
you could do better. It's the path to open a career for young talents.
I was going in for the law once but my health broke down so they sent
me out here--thirty years ago now. Well, perhaps you won't regret the
time you've spent in Australia when you've got your chambers in some
old court in the Temple."

The younger man rose, for he had various matters to settle in Ayr
before the coach left. When he came back a few hours later out of the
hot dusty road, he found the schoolmaster asleep over the "Stockwhip"
with his head on his arms, and a jug of shandy gaff beside him. The
youth refrained from rousing him; but as the coach rumbled heavily
off, his last vision of Ayr was a glimpse of the wiry little man
running down the street and waving his hat in farewell.

At Sydney, instead of seeking quarters in Castlereagh Street, he went
to a boarding-house in the corner of Wynyard Square. It was a highly
respectable establishment, even patronised by distinguished
missionaries from Pacific islands; after breakfast every morning a
gaunt young Scotchman offered up a long prayer in which with much
fervent repetition he would insist that all our righteousness is but
as filthy rags. The young schoolmaster adapted himself to the ways of
the place with his usual calm tolerance of everything that had no hold
on his own inner life, and made as little attempt to flee from the
Scotchman's filthy rags at this house as from the young woman's
chignon at the other.

In this brief camping-space on the road of life he lived as in a
dream, making no attempt to reconcile the haunting thoughts of
yesterday with the eager thoughts of tomorrow. On the morning after
his arrival he strolled along the wharves, into the Botanic Gardens,
the Public Library, the long meandering curves of George Street, round
by the University, bidding goodbye to his old haunts. On his way back
he dropped in at his barber's an old man in George Street to whom he
had often been before. "And so you're going home? To live at Croydon
again? Ah, Croydon!" exclaimed the old man, "Ah, dear; many's the
time I've eaten walnuts at Croydon Fair. All done away with now, is
it? Ah, dear, dear. Yes, the happiest days of my life were spent at
Croydon, long before you were born. Ah, Croydon Fair. You don't get
such walnuts out here; dried up things. Ah, dear, dear." And he left
the chattering old man lost in memories to return to his room in
Wynyard Square. As he looked out of the window at the hard bright
sunlight stretching far along the street opposite, the old barber's
mood of reverie seemed to find an echo in him, and the child of the
north gazed for the last time, half absently, half wistfully, at the
things that were vanishing from his sight.

The leisurely voyage in a sailing ship gave him time to review his
experiences. He associated a little with the other passengers, and
more often quietly observed them: the silent suspicious clergyman
stealing about with slippered feet; the jovial, red-faced priest
returning after a long life spent in the bush, with the bishop's Latin
letter in his pocket, to visit old Tipperary once more; the hot-eyed
mate carrying on an intrigue with the second-class passenger who
occupied a cabin alone with her little child; the grammar-school
master eager to see for himself the strange beautiful old country
described by Dickens and Washington Irving; the graceful Irish woman,
pure of heart and free of tongue, sometimes desiring to thrust a
skewer through that indiscreet member; the lanky lad who was going to
Edinburgh to study medicine and the clergyman's daughter, dark and
bright-eyed, who crept in together between the lifeboats to spend long
evening hours. He noted all these things, but they were only the
setting to his own thoughts which went back, again and again, to Kanga
Creek. He knew where she was now; he could picture it all; the town on
the Hawkesbury where her father was mayor, and her daily life there;
household work in the morning, perhaps cleaning a grate or preparing
dinner; then an hour's singing at the piano; in the afternoon, most
likely, a canter on horseback with her brothers, and in the evening,
may be, a dance to which her friends would be called in--the bank
manager, no doubt, the surveyor and the solicitor's clerk--and she
would be whirled round in a waltz, flushed and delighted, on the arms
of one of these fellows who would then take her out to the cool
verandah where she would bury her hot face in the frozen sweetness of
a great slice of melon as she listened to his pretty speeches. Oh, he
knew it all! She thought him a child, and as an inexperienced child he
had behaved. And she lived in a cheerful, easy-going little world from
which he was aloof, and yet was filled with resentment at his
aloofness. He clenched his fists in his ulster pockets and pressed the
nails into the flesh as he walked rapidly up and down the poop,
striving to forget, to forget, his thoughts persistently on the
future.

As the ship cut swiftly through the great blue foam-edged waves his
thoughts were pressing into the future, reaching forward to the time
when, as he could not know, he would look back to the days that were
past as to the sweetest thing that life could give, when he would
thirst for the strange solitudes that the black man has left and the
white man has not yet taken for his own, and where the mystery of the
early world is still alive, for the great silvery gums bursting out of
their tattered garments of bark, for the tremulous fragrant gold of
the drooping wattles in spring.


* * *


All this was long ago. A succession of teachers have kept school at
Kanga Creek since these things happened. And the pale young man with
the tight lips who is now schoolmaster at the Creek knows nothing of
any alphabet of love once taught in that place. He works up his
school, he drudges on as he awaits the inspector's visit, he looks
ambitiously forward to the promotion which will some day deliver him
from the lonely and hated bush; to this end he works in schoolhours
and out. Perhaps sometimes an intangible presence, the echo of a
feminine voice, the rustle of a woman's clothing, the faint fragrance
of a woman's body, may come out of the past to haunt the old
schoolhouse and make the plodding schoolmaster restless, he cannot
tell why. It may be only the breath of Nature expanding the rosebuds
on the verandah posts or fashioning the little breasts of the girls
whose prattling laughter arises from between the saplings below. But
however that may be, surely in the autumn nights the great wind still
tumbles among the hills like a sea, bearing into the valley the far
rumor of the wide world outside, and the giant myrtles still mount
high to be kissed by the rising moon, and the flowers spread abroad
their prodigal loveliness. And the little birds still play at their
early games of love.



THE END




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