In Bad Company, and other Stories/The Free Selector—A Comedietta
THE FREE SELECTOR
The Hon. Rufus. Well, Gayters, how's everything gettin' on? I mean the sheep, of course. Splendid season, ain't it? Grand lambing, tremendious heavy clip, eh? Why, you look dubersome?
Gayters. Marked 92 per cent of lambs all round. The clip 'll be heavier than it was last year—that means money off a hundred and fifty thousand sheep, but——
Hon Rufus. Sheep right; lambs too; shearing all to the good; why, what can be wrong? (Walks up and down.) Must be them infernal, underminding free selectors. Rot 'em! if they ain't worse than blackfellows or dingoes—and you can't shoot 'em or poison 'em legally; not yet, that is—not yet!
Gayters. You've about hit it, sir. I'd hardly the face to tell you, one of 'em's taken up the main camp, opposite the big waterhole—a half-section, too! [320 acres.]
Hon. Rufus. What! our main camp! Good Gad! Why, the country's goin' to destruction! The best waterhole on the creek, too. Why, I thought that had been secured. Wasn't Sam Appinson to take it up last Thursday?
Gayters. Yes, sir; cert'nly, sir; but his mother went and died the day afore, and he had to go down the country. Didn't think it would matter for a week; when this young chap pops in, all on a sudden like, and collars it. It's turned out quite contrairy, ain't it, sir?
Hon. Rufus. Contrairy! It's ruination, that's what it is! It'll play h—l and Tommy with the sheep in the Ban Ban Paddock. What's to keep 'em off his pre-lease? And he can pound 'em any day he likes. He'll do me thousands of pounds' worth of harm with his beggarly half-section. Have to buy him out and give him two prices—the old story.
Gayters. I hardly think he'll agree to that, sir! I heard him yesterday say, says he, 'I'm a-going to settle down for good, and make a home in this wilderness; this here land is so fertile,' says he——
Hon. Rufus. Wilderness indeed! on a flat like that! Fert'le, fert'le—what's that? Good corn land? D—n his impudence; what's it to him, I'd like to know? Is he going to cultivate for a living in a dry country? Bah! I've seen them kind of coves afore. I give him two years to lose everything, to his shirt! What sort of a chap is he, Gayters?
Gayters. Well, a civil-spoken young man enough, sir. Talks very nice, and seems to know himself. I should take him to be a gentleman.
Hon. Rufus. A gentleman! Bosh! How the devil can he be a gentleman and a free selector, eh? A feller that robs people of their land. He's next door to a cattle duffer. He'd turn bushranger, only he ain't got pluck enough.
Gayters. Very true, sir; cert'nly, sir; but he says it's not agin the law.
Hon. Rufus. The law! Hang the law! What's that got to do with it? A parcel of fellers that never owned a run or a foot of ground get into this Lower 'Ouse and makes laws to bind people that could buy 'em out over and over again. D'ye call that honest? I call it daylight robbery; and I'm not a-goin' to keep laws made that way if I can find a way to drive through 'em; yes, through 'em, with a coach and four!
Gayters. Yes, sir; but what are we to do? He'll have his nine hundred and sixty acres of pre-lease, and our sheep can't be kept off it nohow.
Hon. Rufus. Put a man on to free select right agin his frontage, take up two flocks, and shepherd all round him. I'll feed him out; I'll make him keep to his blasted half-section. Curse him! I'll ruin him! Damme! I'll have him in gaol afore I've done with him. I'll——
Enter Miss Dulcie Polyblock in her riding-habit, also Miss Alice Merton (a friend).
Miss Dulcie. Why, dad, what's all this about? Who's to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, whatever that means? We used to have it in our history lesson. Oh, I want to tell you something! Whom do you think we met?
Hon. Rufus. Don't know, I'm sure. Was it Lord Arthur Howard or young Goldsmith? I know they came up to Deem Deem the other day.
Miss Dulcie. Well, he was such a handsome young man, father; and so polite and gentlemanlike. Alice's horse shied at a hawker's cart, and Sultan, like an old goose, began to rear. Alice dropped her whip, so he picked it up and gave it to her with such a bow! He said he was coming to be a neighbour of ours, so perhaps it was Lord Arthur. Oh, I nearly forgot! he gave me a card, and said he hoped he might be permitted to call. Here it is.
Hon. Rufus. H'm, ha! Likely it was his lordship, or one of them swells that I heard were coming up to learn experience at Deem Deem. Old Maclaren's a regular brick for hospitality! Well, I'll ask him over, Dulcie. He won't see a prettier girl anywheres, nor a better one, tho' I say it. We must have him over to dinner on Sunday. What did you say his name was?
Miss Dulcie (reads from card). Mr. Cecil Egremont. Isn't it a pretty one?
Hon. Rufus. Eggermont, Eggermont, eh? Hand me over that paper there; it's a copy of a Application. Why, confound and smother all land-stealin' villains, if that ain't the very man that's took up my main camp! He a gentleman! He's an impostor, a swindler. He's tryin' to rob your poor old father. He's a free selector!
Both Girls (horrified}. A free selector! Oh!! (Scream loudly and run out of room.)
Enter Mr. Cecil Egremont, dressed in blue Crimean shirt, moleskin trousers, knee-boots, straw hat.
Egremont. And so I'm farming in Australia. A thing I've longed for all my days. Such a free, independent, pleasant life. No one to bother you; no one to interfere with you. Such a splendid large piece of land I've secured too—three hundred and twenty acres, with three times as much for grazing. Grazing right, that's the expression—a pre-lease, ha! (Looks in book.) I believe my fortune's made. Who's this? Some neighbour probably. Good-day, sir; very glad to see you.
Gayters. It's more'n I am to see you here. D'ye know where you are?
Egremont. On the Crown Lands of Her Majesty the Queen of England in the first place, and on the farm conditionally purchased (refers to Land Regulations) by Cecil Egremont, gentleman farmer, late of Bideford, Devon.
Gayters. What's the good of all this rubbish? You're on our main camp.
Egremont. Camp? camp?—I see no traces of an encampment. In what historical period, may I ask?
Gayters. Can't yer see this? (Kicks bone aside.) It's our cattle camp. I don't mean a soldier's camp or any of that rot. It's been our—the Hon'ble Rufus Polyblock's—Bundabah Run, this twenty year and more.
Egremont. Has this land been sold before? Then that land agent has deceived me! And yet he looked respectable. I paid him eighty pounds deposit. Have his receipt.
Gayters. I don't mean sold exactly—not but that Mr. Polyblock would have bought it fast enough if Government had let him. But we had a lease of it and always had stock running on it.
Egremont. Oh, a lease!—for a special object I presume, or perhaps a pastoral lease? (Consults book.) Perhaps it was a Run—Run—oh, I have it here!—page 38. But surely that gives you no legal right to hold it against the bona-fide conditional purchaser?
Gayters. Well, I expect we've no legal claim if it comes to that. But no gentleman in this country goes to select on another gentleman's run. It ain't the thing, you know.
Egremont. Oh, 'it ain't the thing'? Something like poaching or shooting without a license; but how was I to know? The law says, 25 Vict. No. 1, Section 13 (opens copy of Crown Lands Alienation Act), 'On and from the first day of January 1862——'Gayters. Oh, hang the law! The Act's all very well for them as knows no better, or as wants to take advantage-like of a squatter, but it ain't the square deal if you mean to act honest—what I call between man and man. Good-morning, sir.
Egremont (soliloquising). What an extraordinary country! When I quarrelled with my uncle, who wanted me to go into the Church, and came out to Australia to carve out a fortune in a new world where land was plentiful and caste unknown, I never expected to meet with class distinctions. Instead of being able to live my own life in peace, I am met with obstacles at every turn. I might as well have remained in North Devon, for all I can see. Well! courage—I'll go and finish my work, and cut this splendid log into lengths for fencing slabs. (Begins to chop log.) Why, here comes the young lady whose horse was frightened yesterday. How handsome she is, and such a figure too! What a soft voice she had. I had no idea the girls out here were anything like this! (Goes on chopping; his dogs rush out.) Down, Ponto! Down, Clumber! Come to heel! (Throws down axe and calls off dogs.) Pray don't be frightened—a—I haven't the pleasure of knowing your name—I hope you have quite recovered yesterday's accident.
Miss Dulcie P. I am not in the least frightened, thank you. What beautiful dogs! I am sure they are too well-bred to hurt a lady. Oh, my name! (slight confusion)—my name is Dulcie Polyblock. I feel much obliged by your kindness last evening.
Egremont. (Aside—Polyblock! Polyblock! Why, that's the name of the owner of the station, the overseer told me. Probably a nice person. I'll go and explain matters to him.) (Speaks.) Really I'm delighted to have been of the slightest service. I hope, as I am settled in this part of the world, that I may have the privilege of meeting you occasionally.
Miss Dulcie P. (confused). I don't know—I can't say—just at present, but—— (Aside—How distinguished-looking he is, but what queer clothes!)
Egremont. Does your father, Mr. Polyblock (aside—Droll name, but that doesn't matter), live in this neighbourhood?
Miss Dulcie P. Live here! Why, he owns the Run you're on. Our home-station, Bundabah, is about five miles off.
Egremont. Oh, indeed, what a long way! I had thought we might be near neighbours. I had intended to call and inquire if you had quite recovered from your fright.
Miss Dulcie P. I wasn't frightened, pray don't suppose that, but I might have been hurt if you had not come up. Are you going to stay here long?
Egremont (proudly). Till I make a fortune. [Dulcie (aside)—Oh!] I have resolved to turn this waste into a productive farm—a—it will be the work of years.
Miss Dulcie. I should think it would. (Aside—Waste, indeed!) It's the best part of Bundabah Run.
Egremont. So I was quite right to purchase it from the Crown.
Miss Dulcie. Oh no. Quite wrong. It's never done, except by—by low sort of people.
Egremont. Indeed! Then perhaps I'm mistaken about the law. Just oblige me by looking at this section of the Land Act. (Hands book to her—she stoops from her horse—their heads come close together—she reads—'Section 13, Crown lands other than town lands,' etc.) Well, it really seems as if you had the right to do it, or anybody else, but father's in the Upper House, and all that. He says it's a perfect robbery to free-select on his Run. It's very confusing, don't you think? But I must say good-bye.
Egremont. Good-bye, Miss Polyblock. (Shakes hands warmly.) You have really comforted me very much. If you had time to explain this Act to me I really think I should get over all my difficulties; as it is, I despair.
Miss Dulcie P. (Aside—Poor fellow! It's very hard for him; and how white his hands are—such expressive eyes too. I oughtn't have come, I know, but still—I might bring about an understanding between him and father.) Well, perhaps I might be riding this way on Saturday, near that waterhole where the willows are. Good-bye. Now then you naughty Sultan (canters off).
Egremont (sitting down on log). She has gone! disappeared like a beautiful dream. What a kind face it is too—anxious to be friendly, and yet, with maidenly diffidence, doubting the propriety. Polyblock! Dulcie! a sweet name. Dulce Domum—ha! shall I ever have a home in this wilderness? So she's the daughter of this old party who owns the Run—the Run—ha! ha! What an idea! This elderly fossil in aboriginal times fed his flocks and herds here. He doesn't know the difference between lease and freehold evidently. What ignorant people these Australians are! But the daughter—how could she have acquired that air of fierté, that aplomb, that intonation? I must consider my course. (Puts his head between his hands and seems lost in thought for some minutes.) I have resolved (rises and walks proudly erect) I will visit the old gentleman in his own house. I will convince him of his error. I will argue the point with him. I will show him this Act of Parliament—these Regulations (slaps book). I will appeal to him as an Englishman bound to respect the law. We shall then be on good terms. Perhaps I may even catch a sight of her. But I must finish. (Recommences chopping—sees a horseman approaching, and sits down on log. Mr. Gayters rides up.)
Gayters. Good day good day, Mr. Whatsisname! So you've sat down here permanent, it seems?
Egremont. My name is Egremont, if you will please to remember; yours I believe to be Gayters. I don't quite follow you about sitting down (rises); I get up occasionally, I assure you. But I have settled here permanently, as far as that goes.
Gayters. Oh yes, cert'nly, cert'nly, of course! We know all that. Heard it afore. But perhaps you'll hear reason (they mostly does). I'm here to make you an offer—so much on your bargain.
Egremont. I don't quite understand?
Gayters. Well (sits down), let's argue it out between man and man.
Egremont. I'm ready; which section do you refer to? (Takes up copy of Act.)
Gayters. Oh, blow the Act! What's it got to do with it? (Egremont makes gesture of surprise.} See here; of course you're here to make money?
Egremont. Honestly—legally—certainly I am.
Gayters. Dash the honesty! the legal part's all right of course—else it wouldn't wash, you know. Now you know, this being our main camp, it ain't the good you can do yourself, but the harm you can do him—the boss—the Hon'ble Rufus that's what you're looking at, naturally.
Egremont (appears puzzled). Can't understand you.
Gayters. Perhaps you'll understand this (takes out cheque). Mr. Polyblock says, 'Gayters,' says he, 'we've not been half sharp this time; this here land ought to have been secured. But the young chap's been and got the pull, and we can't afford to lose our main camp. Of course he'll go pounding our stock night and day; so you take him this five 'undred pound—five 'undred! and give it him on conditions as he does the residence for twelve months and then conveys the s'lection over to me, all legal and ship-shape,' says he—and here it is. (Hands out cheque} Ha! ha! I expect you understand me now.
Egremont (rising slowly}. I believe I do.
Gayters (rising quickly). Just you sign this, then.
Egremont (with lofty anger). Confound your cheque, sir! Take it back, and with it my scorn and contempt, which you can present to your master, telling him from me, at the same time, that you are a pair of scoundrels!
Gayters. Scoundrels! What d'ye mean? Are yer off yer chump? A free selector to call the Hon'ble Mr. Polyblock of Bundabah and his super a pair of scoundrels! Take care what you're about, young man. A camp's a public place, or close up. ' Words calculated to cause a breach of the peace——'
Egremont (deliberately). Yes, scoundrels! First of all to insult a gentleman by treating him as a rascally blackmailer; secondly, by offering an honest man money to break the law of the land—to violate every principle of honour and integrity. And now, if you don't quit my land at once, I'll kick you from here into the brook!Gayters (hastily mounting). You take care what you're about, young man—two can play at that game. (Aside—Most extraordinary chap! Rummest free selector I ever seen.)
Mr. Polyblock. Well, what is it? He's got the money of course—I'm always had, seems to me. D'ye want any more cheques? If you'd been half sharp enough he'd never have been there.
Gayters. You won't want no more cheques, unless you're drove to dummying all round him.
Mr. Polyblock. Dummy, sir! Damme! What d'ye mean by that expression? Are you aware that I'm a member of the Hupper 'Ouse, Mr. Gayters?
Gayters. Beg pardon, sir. I meant perhaps other parties might desire to select on his pre-lease and might want a bit of assistance, like.
Mr. Polyblock. That's another matter! I always make a point of advancing money to the struggling free selector—as long as I get a proper mortgage on the land—Bonus Allround sees to that. But about this young chap?
Gayters. He won't take the cheque; all but threw it at me.
Mr. Polyblock (much astonished). Won't take the cheque! and won't go out?
Gayters. Not he; won't hear of it. Called you and—well his language was horful!
Mr. Polyblock. What did he call me—me?
Gayters. Said we was a pair of damned scoundrels! and he'd kick me off his ground.
Mr. Polyblock (solemnly). This is what the country's a-comin' to! What with universal sufferage, bushranging, and free selection—as is land robbery by Act of Parliament—pore old Australia ain't a country for a gentleman to live in. Are you sure he called me, the Hon'ble Rufus Polyblock, a scoundrel, or was it only you?
Gayters. Both of us, sure as I'm alive. 'Take this to your master,' says he, 'with my scorn and contempt.' He talked like a chap I see at that circus last shearin'. He looked grand, I tell you, sir.Hon'ble Rufus (gloomily). He won't look so grand when I've done with him. He's got no stock yet?
Gayters. Not so much as a horse. He's building his cottage at present, he says—ha! ha!
Hon'ble Rufus (grimly}. Wait till he gets his stock on, that's all. And you watch him—watch him night and day. If he puts a foot on my ground, pull him for trespass; if he touches a head of stock, have him up for stealin' 'em. It's what he's layin' himself out for, of course, and we may as well fit him first as last.
END OF SECOND ACT
Mr. Egremont (discovered nailing up slabs, in order to complete dwelling). Well, this is a most enjoyable life; that is, it will be enjoyable when I have completed my cottage (hits finger with hammer, and examines same), but at present I seem rather hurried. I have had to help the ploughman in order to get the crop in. I have quite ten acres of wheat nicely sown and harrowed. I intend to plant potatoes after the cottage is up, and I must manage to have some turnips; they're always useful for the stock. A good deal of money seems to be going out; it is equally certain that none is coming in. No man can have worked harder either in an old or new country. But the worst of it is (sits down on round post and considers), I am not fully convinced that I am working to the best purpose. I may be doing all this for nothing! Miss Polyblock—somehow I'm always thinking of that girl!—implied as much the last time I saw her. By all the saints and angels, here she comes! How gloriously handsome she always looks, and how well her habit becomes her! Strange, what a gulf there seems to be between us!
Dulcie. So you're working away as usual, Mr. Egremont? You certainly are a pattern young man. How hot it must make you this terrible weather?
Egremont. I thought everybody worked hard in this country.
Dulcie. That's a popular error, as you'll find out by and by. They work in some ways, but not usually with their hands, except when pioneering or exploring.
Egremont. Well, am I not pioneering?
Dulcie (bursting out laughing). What! upon three hundred and twenty acres of land! Excuse my rudeness in laughing.
Egremont (rather nettled). We think it a decent-sized piece of land in England.
Dulcie. Oh, do you, really? I beg your pardon, but father did all the pioneering work here years and years ago. Fought the blacks when he took up the country, and was speared by them when I was a little girl. So there isn't much pioneering left for you to do, is there ?
Egremont. I wish there was.
Dulcie. Oh, do you? Then why don't you go outside?
Egremont. Outside—outside—where's that? I thought I was pretty well outside here; I haven't slept under a roof these two months.
Dulcie (laughing again). Oh, indeed, I didn't mean that. Of course you're outside now; I wish you were not. I'm afraid you'll get a dreadful cold, the weather is so changeable; but I mean real outside country, beyond the settled districts, in Queensland, Western Australia, Kimberley—anywhere.
Egremont. But how far off is that?
Dulcie. Oh, a couple of thousand miles; but it doesn't matter how far it is; it's the way to make money, and position, and a name. Here no one can do anything but potter about, live miserably, and—and vegetate.
Egremont. But I thought everybody farmed in Australia?
Dulcie. Farmed! farmed! (with amazement}. Why, nobody does; no gentleman farms, I assure you. But English people never seem to understand things for the first year or two.
Egremont (with air of astonishment). Oh, then I shall only begin to understand the country in another year? At present I am supposed to be blissfully ignorant of the real meaning of matters Colonial. I may have all my work to undo; is that what you think
Dulcie. Well, very nearly. It's rude, of course, to say so, but you'd rather be told the truth, wouldn't you? (He bows.) I've heard young Englishmen say over and over again that if they'd done nothing for the first two years they would have learned a great deal and saved all their money.
Egremont. But surely there is nothing so hard to understand about the country after all ? Any one can see the sense of these regulations, for instance. (Produces book, Land Act Amendment.)
Dulcie. Oh, don't show me that horrid book! It's about free selection and all that, and dad says it's done no end of harm. Oh, I wish I could advise you properly!
Egremont. If you only would undertake the task! (Takes her hand and looks at her tenderly.)
Dulcie (hastily). Oh, really, I have no time now; I shall be late for lunch as it is. Good-morning.
Mr. Polyblock's Drawing-Room
Mr. Polyblock (looks at wrong card). Mr. Stanley—Hubert Stanley—oh, one of the swells that came up with the governor! Show him in.
Mr. P. (surprised and irritated). Hulloa! who the devil are you? Oh, I see, swell out of luck! Want employment or else, perhaps, I wouldn't mind advancing twenty pound till your remittance came out. Is that the game?
Egremont (haughtily). No, sir; I am perfectly able to pay my way, and trust to be so for the future. We have not met before, but no doubt you will know who I am when I tell you that my name is Cecil Egremont.
MR. P. Eggermont? Eggermont? We've not met afore, as you say; but, by George, I'll meet you some day! You're the chap as took up my main camp. Then what the devil do you want at my private house, eh? Mind, I won't sell you a pound of beef or mutton either, if you want it ever so bad. I ain't to be had that way.
Egremont (proudly). You're over-hasty in your conclusions, sir. I have no pressing need for butcher's meat. But you are right in surmising that I do want something from you—something of value also.
Mr. P. (much surprised}. Good Gad! (Aside—What can he want? Don't want money nor beef; perhaps it's wheat or 'taters. Never knew a free selector yet that didn't want one of 'em.) What is it, man, speak out?Egremont. The fact is, Mr. Polyblock, your daughter; that is, I have long cherished an admiration——
Mr. P (wrathfully). Admiration be hanged! You said my daughter—my daughter! God bless my soul and body! You don't mean to say she'd ever say a word to the likes of you?
Egremont. I fear, sir, that without the least intention of gaining her affections clandestinely, I have been so imprudent as to receive counsel respecting my course of action in a strange land, which Miss Polyblock was too generous to refuse. This harmless intercourse has ripened into intimacy—into, I may boldly say, mutual affection. As a man of honour I feel it my duty to acquaint you with the fact, and to respectfully demand her hand. I——
Mr. P. (deeply shocked and violently affected). Stop! not another word! Man of honour! Ha! ha! how the devil can a free selector be a man of honour? So you think my daughter, as has been eddicated equal to the first lady in the land, is to go into a hut, and—and—— (Breaks into uncontrollable rage.) You—you—robber—murderer—free selector! Leave this room—get off my place, or by—— I'll set the dogs on ye! (Advances threateningly.)
Egremont (slowly receding). I can afford to smile at your vehemence, to laugh at your threats. There are reasons which prevent me from resenting your ignorant, ungentlemanly conduct.
Mr. P. (in boxing attitude). Come on, if that's what you want. Put up your 'ands. I may be a member of the Hupper 'Ouse, and not so young as I was, but I can take the conceit out of a chap like you yet. (Advances with hands up.)
Dulcie (coming from behind, pulls him by the coat-tail). Oh, father, father! don't touch him.
Mr. P. Let me go, girl!Dulcie. Oh, Cecil, Cecil! why don't you go away? (Throws her arms round Mr. P. and drags him back; Egremont slowly retreating, Mr. Polyblock struggling and menacing him.)
END OF THIRD ACT
About a year afterwards—Mr. Polyblock in library, also Mr. Gayters.
Mr. P. (walks up and down). Well, I feel regularly stumped and dried out. Haven't felt so bad since the '68 drought. I don't know what's comin' over the country. This young Colonial experiencer stands up agin' me like a bulldog ant in front of a team of bullocks! My gal, Dulcie, as I've spent thousands on—and where's there a gal like her, high or low?—is turned that stupid and ungrateful that she's crying her eyes out; and who for? Why, a low feller with only a half-section of land to his name—worse than a boundary-rider, I call him! Damme! I'll dummy all round him—eat him up that close that he won't have grass for a bandicoot. I'm that miserable as I could go and drownd myself in that creek afore the door. Blast that infernal Land Act and them as made it! It'll ruin the country and every man of property in it. Well (turns angrily to Gayters), what do you want?
Gayters (hesitatingly). Mr. Overdew has just sent his reporter for ten thousand sheep, sir; wants to know if you'll let him take them through the Run, along the back track.
Mr. P. (with concentrated wrath). Tell him if he dares to go one yard off his half-mile from the main-frontage road I'll pound every hoof of his grass-stealin', hungry, loafin' sheep, as is the dead image of their owner—if he does own 'em, and not the bank. Tell him that, and mind you shepherd him slap through the boundary gate.
Gayters. Of course, sir; cert'nly, sir. Anything else, sir?
Mr. P. (with sudden fury). Only, you stand gapin' there another minute and I'll knock yer through my study winder!Gayters. Cert'nly, sir; of course, sir.
Egremont on his selection, discovered chopping down a tree.
(Speaks.) I am more than ever confirmed in my opinion that this is the most extraordinary, puzzling, topsy-turvy country in the whole world. I might just as well have remained in North Devon for all the good I am likely to do. I could have taken a farm there, and—well—probably have managed to pay the rent. I have bought a farm here, become a free-holder—that most enviable position, at least in England—and now when I've got it I don't know what to do with it. Old Polyblock's sheep eat right up to my boundary, and beyond it too. I gather there's not much to be done with three hundred and twenty acres in a dry season. My wheat is prematurely yellow; my potatoes won't come up! I must fence my farm in; that will cost—at six shillings a rod—let me see—how much? (Sits down on log and begins to cipher in pocket-book.)
Dulcie (who has ridden closely up in the meantime, and is watching him, coughs slightly). Don't let me interrupt you, but you seem absorbed in thought. Is it about the value of the tree, or some other abstruse calculation?
Egremont (jumps up hastily). Oh, my dearest Dulcie! neither, that is, both—really I hardly know what I am about at present. I was working to distract my mind. I suppose it's always right to cut down a tree?
Dulcie. Nonsense! About the worst thing you could do. Sinful waste of time. Do you suppose father made his money in that way? The pencil and pocket-book look more like it. We say in Australia that a man's head ought to be good enough to save his hands. Are your birth, breeding, and education only equal to a pound a week? Because you can buy a man's work for that—all the year round.
Egremont. But I thought all the early colonists worked with their hands, tended their sheep, drove bullocks and all that—the books say so.
Dulcie. Nonsense! The people who know, don't write books—very seldom at least. The people who write books, don't know. That's the English of it. But I came through the township and I've brought your post. Here's a letter and a newspaper.
Egremont. Heaven be thanked and my Guardian Angel! That's you, my dearest Dulcie. Oh, that I had you always to be near me—to protect me from the ways of this wicked Australian world!
Dulcie. H—m! You want some one, I do believe. I might consider over the contract, but my tender—ahem!—wouldn't be accepted at present. Father's going on like an old 'rager' bullock, all by himself in the strangers' yard. But hadn't you better open your letter?
Egremont. Then you do take an interest in me? After this I fear nothing. Why will you not consent to trust your future welfare to my guidance?
Dulcie(scornfully). A likely thing! Trust a free selector! Not if I know it!! ! Why, what would become of us? Perhaps you'd like to see me lifting the top off a camp-oven—on a fire, under that black stump there—whilst you were—chopping—down—a—tree! ha! ha! No! (surveying her well-fitting riding-habit—her thoroughbred horse, and stroking her gloves) I seem to like this sort of thing better. I must drag on for a while with my allowance from poor old dad.
Egremont (with lofty resolve). You are heartless, Dulcie—devoid of natural affection. You laugh at my inexperience, you sneer at my poverty—let us part for ever. Go back to your father's mansion and leave me to my fate. I feel that I shall succeed, perhaps make a fortune, in the end.
Dulcie (Aside—It will be a precious long time first! What a dear, noble fellow he is—I hate to bully him!) Aloud—Come, Cecil (winningly), you mustn't be cross. I am only a poor simple girl brought up in the bush (I wonder what he is then?), but of course I know more about stock and land than you do. If we are not to be married (you see I love you a little) till you make enough to buy the ring out of this calf-paddock of yours, we may wait till we're grey! But why don't you open the letter? It might contain something of importance.
Egremont (partly mollified). I'm afraid not; merely an entreaty to return from this wild country, where there are no people fit for me to associate with, where I may starve, or be killed by blacks or wild beasts—that's the general tone of my letters of late. Ha! What is this? (Reads—Your poor Uncle Humphrey died last week; he was on bad terms with our side of the house, and has not spoken to your father for forty years; but he has left you £20,000, for which you will receive a bank-draft by this mail. Of course you will come home at once!) Of course, of course! Oh! eh! Dulcie dear? Now I shall build a house here, plant a garden, make a lakelet, sow artificial grasses, fence and subdivide,—in fact, make a paradise of these desolate, bare acres. Eventually it will be highly remunerative. But when my house is completed and furnished in accordance with modern art, you will come there to be my queen and its most brilliant ornament? (looks entreatingly at her).
Dulcie (with expression of horror). What! improve a selection? Spend thousands of pounds on it? Build a really good house and ask me to live there? Did you ever hear of Tarban Creek?
Egremont. Not that I can recall—an aboriginal name, I presume. I have caught the name of Curbin, I think. Is that a similar watercourse?
Dulcie (restraining herself). It's hardly worth explaining—a little joke of mine. But to come to business. Suppose I show you a way to invest your money—to get twenty per cent for it in a few years, at the same time to make father think you a clever, rising man—an opinion which, ahem! he does not hold at present—and lastly, to cause him to give his consent to our marriage, (coaxingly) what should you say then? Would you be willing to do what I told you?
Egremont. I always thought you as clever as you were beautiful, my own dearest Dulcie! Take me with all that is mine and do what you will.
Dulcie. Very nice—indeed flattering! How long will it last, I wonder? 'Now you lisdens do me' (as our German gardener used to say) and you will hear something to your advantage. But first promise to do what I ask—you will promise? (looking entreatingly and archly at him).
Egremont. On my honour; on the cross of my ancestor's sword—he was a Crusader.
Dulcie. The first is enough; I am afraid you are inclined to be a Crusader too, as far as romantic enthusiasm goes—still it's a fault on the right side, and will be cured by colonial and other experience. Firstly, you must sell this selection.
Egremont. What! sell my farm—my home—my first venture in this new world?
Dulcie. Stuff and nonsense! It's poor dad's Run, to begin with, and you ought never to have touched it! You wouldn't, either, if you'd known how hard he worked for it before I was born.
Egremont (meditatively). How could it be his; or, if so, how did the Government sell it to me? (Placing his hand to his forehead) I never shall understand the Land Act of this country. But don't ask me to sell my—my—birthright!
Dulcie (decisively). You've promised me, and you must sell it. Of course if you prefer living here by yourself as a 'hatter'—for I'll never come into it—you may keep it.
Egremont. (Aside—A hatter!—is that a legal term in this most perplexing Act? What can she mean? However, I surrender unconditionally.) To whom shall I sell it?
Duclie. That's a good boy and he shall be rewarded. Go into the township and ask for the office of Mr. Bonus Allround, the lawyer; offer it to him, and he'll give you a cheque for it. How much has it cost you? Thousands by this time, I suppose.
Egremont. Really more than any one would suppose. Firstly, the deposit, five shillings per acre—and seed wheat—and other things.
Dulcie. Oh, of course, I forgot! Well, value all your improvements, loss of time, etc. You have lost plenty of time, you know, talking to me. We won't say yet whether you mightn't have done worse. But put it all down, every shilling; add your own time at a pound a week—you're not quite worth that, but he'll pass it to get the land. He'll pay you the money sharp, and all you have to do is to sign a transfer.
Egremont. Seems simple enough—only turn myself out of house and home. Well, after that little step?
Duclie. Go to Sydney as soon as you can. I see Banda Plains Run is in the market, with only a few head of cattle—two thousand, I think. I've heard father talk about the place by the hour; he thinks no end of it—says he never saw better fattening country.
Egremont (doubtingly). Am I to go to him?
Dulcie. Not yet, goose! When you're in Sydney, call on Messrs. Drawwell and Backer—get Banda Plains as cheap as you can, but buy at all risks. Give them their price at last; then come back and tell dad what you've done. He can't eat you.Egremont. He looked as if he would last time, without salt! But I will go straight to Sydney and do your bidding. Drawwell and Backer, Stock Agents, Pitt Street, Sydney, that's the address (notes in pocket-book).
Duclie. You're getting quite a man of business. If you're so much improved in an hour, what will you be in a year? Really, I'm quite proud of my handiwork. And oh, one thing, dearest! don't forget—it's most important (impressively)—have your hair cut by Adger! You see it is a little long (touches his hair)—thinking of your woes, I suppose? But we respect the fashions in Australia, though you mightn't think it. You'd better not be eccentric.
Egremont (laughs). Anything else, Miss Polyblock? I see the foreshadowing of an oligarchy. But it will be a benevolent despotism, I trust?
Duclie. Bless me! how late it is! The sun is quite low. I shall have to ride fast. Don't you lose a moment either.
Egremont. Trust me; but—one minute—as a reward for my unquestioning obedience, don't you think——
[Comes close as if to whisper—kisses her, and exit.
Mr. Polyblock (discovered walking up and down the library). Well, I don't know as ever I spent a more miserable month. Dulcie don't take no interest in the things as used to amuse her. I don't know what's come to the gal. If I could see my way at all, and thought this young chap was steady and sensible—likely to get on—I might push him; but—a free selector—a half-section, crawling duffer as won't have grass for a milker nor credit for a bag of flour in another year—No! I couldn't think of it. It's enough to make a man turn agin his own flesh and blood. (Knocking heard.) Who's that?
Maid. A gentleman wants to see you, sir.
Mr. Polyblock. Who is it? That chap as was going to buy the Weejoglag store-cattle, p'raps?
Enter Cecil Egremont, dressed in tweeds.
Mr. Polyblock. Oh, it's you, Mr. Eggermont! (Aside—How well the feller looks! Holds up his head too! Dashed if he ain't a fine, upstanding, good-looking chap when he's turned out decent! He looked more like a shearer when I seen him last.) Well, sir! what can I do for you? Sheep been trespassing, I suppose?
Egremont. No, Mr. Polyblock, such is not the case. Nor will it matter to me in future. I have sold my land.
Mr. Polyblock. Sold the s'lection! You don't say so! Who to? who to? Mr. Eggermont, why didn't you come to me, if you wanted to part with it? I'd have given you anything in reason.
Egremont. You must pardon me for reminding you, Mr. Polyblock, that your manner was not reassuring at our last interview.
Mr. Polyblock. Perhaps not—rather hasty, I know. Mustn't mind an old man ; but who's got the s'lection?
Egremont. I disposed of it to Mr. Allround in the township, from whom I received a cheque, paying me in full for all improvements and loss of time.
Mr. Polyblock. Bonus Allround! Good shot! It's all right—you've sold to me through him—he's my agent. I should have been sold, my word! if any other buyer had come in there. And now what are you a-goin' to do? You're a man of capital now, you know!
Egremont. I was fortunate enough to have a moderate legacy left me by an uncle just before I went to Sydney. While there, under advice, I invested eight thousand pounds in a run called Banda Plains, on the Queensland border. They tell me it's a good purchase. There are two thousand cattle, besides horses.
Mr. Polyblock. Good purchase, sir! It's the best thing in the market. Banda Plains, with only two thousand head of cattle—it's a gift—a reg'lar gift! Your fortune's made.
Egremont. It gratifies me to hear you say so, Mr. Polyblock—most deeply, I assure you. And now, sir, perhaps you will reconsider your rather strongly-expressed refusal to me of your daughter's hand?
Dulcie (who has opened the door softly and stolen into the room). Oh, dad, you don't want to break your poor Dulcie's heart! I do love him so!
Mr. Polyblock (clearing his throat and speaking in a parliamentary tone of voice}. Ahem! I am not aware, Mr. President, that there's anything in the Land Act or Regulations against the daughter of a M.L.C. marryin' a squatter—a squatter, you observe, Mr. Eggermont. Had the party been a selector; but I won't dwell on a subject too painful to a parent's feelin's. Take her, my boy! And a better gal, tho' I say it—good, game, and good-lookin'—she's all that and more—never——'
Dulcie (moving up to Egremont and placing her hand on his shoulder). Never gave advice to a struggling free selector. Is that what you were going to say, daddy? Never mind—he had sense enough to take it. Hadn't you, Cecil dear?
Mr. Polyblock. Seems to me he's free selected on a pastoral holding to some purpose, you monkey. Is there any clause about that in the new Land Act, I wonder, as they're makin' such a bother about? Anyway, I'm the happiest lessee in the unsettled districts, now this little matter's settled satisfactory. And tell you what, Dulcie (Gayters comes in here—looks rather blank), I'll send Gayters out to Banda Plains to take delivery and wire into the bullockin' for a bit. It'll do him good—he's been takin' it too easy lately; and as it happens to be Christmas time, we'll get the transfer business put through by the Rev. Mr. Robinson at the township, and, Cecil, my boy! give us your hand (puts Dulcie's into it). There now, you can take up this additional conditional selection. It won't want improvin', that's one thing. Ha! ha! I'm that full of happiness that I can get a joke out of the Land Act—Rum-ty-idity—fol-de-rol (dances round the room).
Cecil puts his arm round Duclie; they look tenderly into each other's faces.