My story is told now, and there is no occasion to detain you much longer. Our life ever since we came back to Adelaide, until the visit to Gippsland which led to the writing of this book, was all of a piece. It was all spent in Australia and Tasmania. We did some squatting, and we just glanced at agricultural and mining life. In every year we spent some weeks in town, and we made some acquaintance everywhere. But we settled down to nothing. We became very little richer, but no poorer. We seldom talked about our adventures to each other, and never to anyone else. But I think they were always more or less in our minds and kept us unsettled.
Sometimes when we seemed to be forgetting them, or when their effect upon us appeared to be passing away, something or other would happen to revive their memory and unsettle us again.
Once, for instance, I was in Sydney with Jack making arrangements for the purchase of a share in a small station. I was dining out one evening on the North Shore and as it chanced Jack was not with me. There was a physician of the company who was a clever talker, and after the ladies had gone away we got him to tell us some of his Australian experiences, which were curious and varied. He told us among other things that he was employed by Government to make a report on some cases in Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. After he had examined these cases the superintendent of the asylum said,
"By the bye, doctor, I have a queer fellow here that I sometimes think ought not to be here at all. He is an interesting fellow, too, and I should be much obliged if you would have a look at him."
"I did have a look at him," said the physician, "and I found him just a steady old bush hand, with an uncommon degree of intelligence and good sense, and a lot of information about the country and the aborigines. I was just wondering what on earth they could have sent him here for when he told me with the gravest face the following story:—He had been more than a year among the blacks and he did not know how he was to get back to his own people. It was away in the north-west somewhere, the far north-west. Well, one day, he said, there was a sort of panic among the blacks, he didn't know the cause of it, and he wandered away a mile or two from the camp. He said that when these panics take them they are jealous of the presence of strangers. He had a loaded revolver with him.
"There was no sun and he began to think he might lose his way, and so he made up his mind to return to the blacks' camp. Just then he heard a sort of rustle in the air above him, and presently a man, so he said, jumped out of the clouds and caught him by the collar of his coat. He said that this man never touched the ground himself, but tried to lift him off the ground. He drew his revolver and fired.
"Then he said—'Look here, doctor, I'm blest if the fellow didn't turn into bilin' water and then into steam and then into nothin' at all, and while I was wonderin' what in the mischief was the matter with me back he comes again, fust steam, and then bilin' water, and then an ugly tawny-looking beggar, neither nigger nor white man, and makes another grab at me. So I said, Man or devil, have at you again, and I gave him the contents of another barrel, and I'm blest if he didn't go of in a bile again and I took to my heels and ran as I never ran before until I got back to the darkles' camp.' That was his story," said the physician, "and it appears that he was picked up some months later on the headwaters of the Oakover River by some explorers, and so he got round to Adelaide, and thence to Sydney, and so found his way to the asylum."
In answer to further questions the physician said, "I told the superintendent of the asylum that the man was quite sane, or at least sane enough for the purposes of life; that he was no doubt under some strange delusion, but that I had observed that people who had been much among the blacks were liable to such delusions, and that in my opinion he was quite harmless and that it was cruel to keep him shut up in an asylum, and I made a memorandum in the visitors' book to that effect."
I told this story to Jack that night and we went off the very next day to Turban Creek to look for the man. He had been discharged and was now working as a clerk on a station on the Murrumbidgee. So the superintendent of the asylum told us.
We hurried off to the Murrumbidgee and found the station where he had been employed. It was somewhere near Balranald. But he had gone away to America about six months before, and we could find no means of tracing him. This affair unsettled us again and was indirectly the cause of our letting the negotiation in which we were engaged drift away from us.
But it is now quite a year since we have made a clean breast of it and committed our story to paper, although we have not at the moment of writing made up our minds about its publication. And the effect upon us both has been decidedly good. Jack says we have done better than the Ancient Mariner, for he had to tell his tale over and over again whenever he met a man whose doom it was to hear him; but we have just told our tale once for all and let the doomed ones read it. And now we have actually settled down to business and have become part owners of a station in Queensland and have our homes within ten miles of each other; that is to say we are quite next door neighbours, and I may as well finish by giving you the details of a conversation which passed between myself and Jack only a few months ago.
We were both staying with some friends at a pleasant little place very near a station on the Southern Railway, about thirty miles from Sydney. I say a little place, for it looked so; but when you came to know it well it turned out to be a very big place. There were as many bedrooms as its hospitable owner could fill with guests; and not to speak of dining and drawing-rooms, which were large and airy and very pretty, there were bath-rooms, billiard-rooms, and smoking-rooms without stint.
It was a quiet, unpretending place to look at, but it was really a most luxurious place. There were pictures and books and musical instruments everywhere; and most delightful contrivances, part couch, part hammock, part swing; and hothouse fruits and flowers; and horses of easiest pace if you wanted them, but somehow you seldom did want them. And whenever there were guests there, and that was three parts of the year, there was the best company in all Australia, and as good as there is anywhere in the world.
Just now the broad verandah, which ran along the main front, was covered with banksia roses, jessamine, and woodbine, and between this and the neat wicket-gate, which was the main entrance to this little paradise, were all sorts of spring and early summer flowers.
At the gate Jack and I were standing; he had come up from Sydney about an hour before. And this was what we said:—
Wilbraham. Well, Bob, can you tell me when you are going to be married?
Easterley. I cannot quite say, but it will be soon. Bessie and I have talked it over and she has listened to reason. She promised me that her friend, Violet Fanshawe, shall fix the day, and Violet is coming here to-morrow.
Wilbraham. And you can trust Violet?
Easterley. I think I can.
Wilbraham. Do you know, Bob, I saw Miss Fanshawe yesterday, and we were talking about you. But she didn't seem to know that she was to decide so momentous a question.
Easterley. Perhaps she didn't know.
Wilbraham. Perhaps not; but, Bob, I think I should like, if it could be so arranged, to be married on the same day as you and Bessie.
Easterley. Jack, I am very glad indeed, but I never guessed it, though I did wonder what was taking you to Sydney so often.
Wilbraham. It was not that; it was, in the first place, to leave you and Bessie together; but sure enough it led to that.
Easterley. But who is she? Oh, Jack, I hope we shall not be worse friends after we are married.
Wilbraham (with a knowing smile). Somehow, Bob, I don't think we will.
Easterley. Surely it is not Violet?
Wilbraham. Yes, it's Violet; so she and Bessie may as well settle both days in one.
Easterley. Well, I am very glad; but how is it that Bessie never told me, for surely Violet must have told her.
Wilbraham. No, she didn't. It was only settled yesterday. But there is Bessie on the verandah, and she has just got a letter.
We both went up to her; indeed we had parted from her scarce half an hour ago. I saw that the letter was Violet's writing. "I'll tell you," I said, "what's in that letter, Bessie. Violet is going to marry Jack."
It was very sudden, and she turned pale and red and then opened the letter. Then, after a few seconds, she cried, "Oh, Bob, I'm so glad!" and she kissed me, and I think she was very near kissing Jack.
So Violet came the next day and the conclave was held and the day was fixed, and just four weeks later Jack and Violet, Bessie and I, were married at All Saints, St. Kilda, for Bessie and Violet were Victorian girls and lived near Melbourne.
And now, as I have already told you, we are living in Queensland, in homes only ten miles apart.
I thought you might like just a little bit of human interest after so much of the other thing.
PRINTED BY J. S. VIRTUE AND CO., LIMITED, CITY ROAD, LONDON.