THE FAIRY ISLAND.
"As on the smooth expanse of crystal lakes,
The sinking stone at first a circle makes;
The trembling surface by the motion stirred,
Spreads in a second circle, then a third:
Wide and more wide, the floating rings advance,
Fill all the wat'ry plain, and to the margin dance."—Pope.
"Earth at last a warless world, a single race, a single tongue—
I have seen her so far away—for is not Earth as yet so young?—
Every tiger-madness muzzled, every serpent passion kill'd,
Every grim ravine a garden, every blazing desert till'd,
Robed in universal harvest up to either pole she smiles,
Universal ocean softly washing all her warless Isles."
Tennyson, Sixty Years After.
The doctor, with Travers, when fully recovered from the shock he had received, proceeded to perfect and complete the organization that had been for so long in course of development.
All were agreed that communism, pure and simple, such as Malduke and Elms had sought to establish, was distasteful and impracticable. The principle of representation and management that the doctor had inaugurated was definitely formulated.
Each settlement was divided into four wards, or "quarterns." These elected, each, by ballot of men and women, three representatives on the Village Council. In the same way all associated industries and factories were represented. The council elected annually its own president, and officers of the crafts. The council transacted all business connected with the domestic affairs of its own settlement. The presidents and chief officers, together with a special delegate from each quartern, represented the village. This supreme body controlled all the associated settlements. Five of its number, elected every three years, acted as a supreme court of appeal and arbitration, to which all questions, undecided by the local board, were finally referred.
The financial committee of each village and separate industry published a statement, each quarter, showing the position of every member of its community.
Three classes of labour were recognized—skilled, unskilled, and a third class. This last consisted of youths, old people, and the less effective workers. The second class of farm, dairy, and labouring hands. Those convicted, before the Bands of Labour, of not working satisfactorily, or of malingering, were subject to degradation from their class, and finally to expulsion from the settlement. The agreement each had signed was proof in any court of law, that they had rendered themselves amenable to the decisions of the community. The knowledge, however, that due discipline could and would be maintained, and prompt effect given to the decision of each community, restrained the indolent and unruly, or caused them quietly to withdraw. That subtle force, public opinion, was against them. If offending, or contending, they had not only one employer to deal with, but an entire community. It was to the interest of all that every man should contribute his fair share of labour, and receive only his due proportion of profit. The complete system of representation rendered it impossible that any despotism could be established.
Ten per cent, more ,of dividends the second class received than the first, and the third than the second.
Those whose accounts were in credit might draw half their share of dividends in cash, or all in coupons.
These latter had ten per cent, larger purchasing power at any of the stores or settlements, than cash. So men were encouraged to leave their capital invested in the vast co-operative enterprise that was beginning to attract world-wide attention.
For the first time the principle of co-operation on a large scale was being applied, by the same persons, to both production and distribution.
Two sheep-farming communities, associated with the earlier ones, took over the remainder of the doctor's station, together with the Selectors' Plains from which Kokiana folk had fled. The Hon. Herbert Fitzhubert was glad to sell out to the "Co-ops.," as they were called, who speedily secured the intervening country.
No fires devasted the country, no dams were cut. Hands were not called out, or eyes of the country "selected" by would-be black-mailers. All, from manager to "tar-boy," had regard to their own interests, since all had their due place in one of the three classes of industry.
In the ranges were mines that, owing to the demand for high wages enforced by frequent strikes, had long been worked at a loss; these lines of mines the "Co-ops." by degrees purchased. The labour difficulty vanished. The ore was won for half the cost its mining entailed before. Those who laboured received the necessaries of life, and were afforded an opportunity of purchasing an interest in the enterprise, and a holding on the agricultural settlements.
The accounts of the special industries were kept distinct. If, owing to no fault of the workers, any enterprise happened to continue unprofitable, it might, if deemed worth preserving, be subsidized by the central Parliament, until it should become self-supporting. On this principle costly machinery was, when necessary, erected and paid for by the workers in course of years.
Conspicuous among the ever-multiplying factories were the flour-mills. The "Co-ops." had bought out the large wheat-growers that lay between Mimosa Vale and Gum ford. Fruit- and meat-preserving, cheese and butter factories, together with saw-mills, ship-building yards, iron-works, brick-yards, woollen and leather factories—on the cottage-and-garden principle—tanneries and workshops of almost all kinds, were established.
In the metropolis, and later in Sydney, Adelaide, London, and New York, colossal Emporiums were located. Direct from the spot where the produce was grown or wrought, it went to the vast stores without intervention on the part of any cream-skimming middleman. Each vessel and store, as factory or settlement, was credited with its own work done or money earned. This was apportioned in dividends to the three classes that manned every vessel and ran every store.
In the case of the five-storied Melbourne store, that eventually covered two acres of ground, all hands were allotted rooms in the Labour Palace adjoining, or cottages in the suburban "village" at Blackburn. All received the necessaries of life as their friends in the country did, membership of their clubs, etc., and wanted for little else. They were virtually catered for wholesale, and cost the community in cash little more than half the amount that must otherwise have been paid away in wage. The dividends that they received in coupons, representing the equitable distribution of the entire earnings of their own store, constituted comparative wealth laid up for them in course of years.
As head became silvered, or children grew up, the store employee of the city might purchase, by merely a transference of accounts in the books, without a penny passing, one of the garden-retreats at Lilydale, or a home on one of the ever-extending settlements beyond Mimosa Vale and on the Silverbourne.
By degrees factories at Brunswick and West Melbourne fell into the hands of the settlement folk. A share of the inter-colonial and ocean steam-ship trade was secured. In South Australia a vast tract was acquired. The Southerners were shown how to farm the plains, well watered now, at a profit.
Later on, powers were taken from the Government, and a trunk line of railway run to Port Darwin. The day of railway commissioners and octopus bills passed away. The three classes, duly represented, managed and worked their own lines for their own benefit, in conjunction with fleets and factories, settlements and cities of labourers associated with them. All along the line, Co-operation triumphed over Competition.
"What is to hinder," asked Tom Lord of Travers, as, in the early days, they discussed the marvellous developments of their enterprises, "the inevitable disintegration and falling apart of the allied industries? Your several stores and banks and insurance offices in town are bound to become independent."
"If it suit them to go alone, they are welcome to do so," was the reply. "All are free with us. The fact is, however, it is to their interest to remain loosely associated as they are now. Our settlements charge the Stores only the fair cost of production, the Stores again only an equitable charge for distribution to members. If a factory or allied institution essays to stand alone, it at once becomes subject to the action of competition. It relinquishes its favoured position. Middle-men come in, and profits are materially diminished. If it suit two hundred to co-operate, it stands to reason the benefit is proportionately increased when two thousand join hands."
"But will not this prodigious organization," objected Tom, "fall to pieces of its own weight? Will it not become too cumbersome to be managed from one centre?"
"Not necessarily. Our constitution provides for local self-government. Each enterprise is really self-contained, save that it is associated with other organizations worked on the same principle. Only in case of dispute and difficulty need reference be made to the central authority. All who benefit, however, are compelled to abide by the articles of association. That is the condition on which they receive the world-wide benefits of our organization."
"In so large a concern, what protection have you against exploitation and corruption?"
"Universal representation and supervision on the part of the various boards."
"But will not the individual interest be lost sight of in this vast organization?"
"Not in the least. Each department keeps, as we see, its own accounts, makes, on an approved scale, its own division of profits. Every man feels that he may, by application and economy, benefit himself directly.
"There is no doubt," concluded Travers, "that we have contributed something towards solving a vexed social problem, and towards reconciling, by combining them, the interests of capital and labour. Life need no longer be a hopeless drudgery for any of our people, while the thrifty secure the due reward of their self-denial."
Dr. Courtenay did not witness the fuller developments of his "New Order."
"It shall increase, I must decrease," he was wont to say. "My life is spent. My work is done." Ere twelve months had elapsed, he prepared to bid farewell to the scenes of his disinterested labours.
The distrust of him, when he was on his trial, the domestic bereavement he had suffered, the conviction that his communities should now learn to govern themselves, rendered him impervious to all requests that he should remain.
"I have forgiven them," he would gently but firmly say, "but those curses poured ignorantly on my head ring in my ears, and will do so to my dying day. I do not blame you. I accept the inevitable. No man ever yet served the people without dying, or being prepared to do so, for them—perhaps by them. I shall return to the palm groves that sheltered me when man had cast me off, and was hurling anathemas on my head. I want you to know that you cannot distrust a friend and retain him; that to foster love is of more worth than to win wealth. Ah! escape as you can from the spirit of selfishness, greed, and distrust that has marked and doomed the 'Old System.' Go forth to welcome the spirit of trust and love that must characterize the new."
Elms served the ten years to which he was sentenced, then disappeared.
Frank and Maud toiled radiantly on, at times tempted to renounce the vows that contempt for the selfishness of others had imposed, and to seek their own happiness in wedded life. On such occasions they redoubled their energies, threw themselves more resolutely into labours for others. They survived the ordeal, to laugh at the prevalent opinion that man and maid may not love all their life, as brother and sister, and nothing more!
Only once they kissed and embraced—when, long years after, the aged Bishop-of-all-the-Settlements bent his snowy head of flowing hair over the angelic but aged face of a smiling woman, who was passing away. In momentary despair he cried—
"Maud, I cannot live without you."
"Then you have loved me?" she murmured, taking his hand.
"All the while, from the first till now," he answered, as the great, unwrinkled brow fell on the breast of the angel whose spirit had fled!
Hilda became Mrs. Tom Lord, and schooled her husband, volatile to the last, into some sense of the dignity that became a landed proprietor and member for his district. Eventually Sir Thomas became one of the most popular members of a powerful Ministry.
For a year or more, Travers, the president of the "New Order," sought in the "sweet vale" of Mimosa, at Heatherside, to "heal him of his grievous wound."
No love was overtly made. Men and women do that but once. But on the anniversary of the coming of the Lily-maid, Travers took Eva, ripened now into graceful womanhood, to the wattle grove beside the lake. Sitting on the grassy bank, beside which the mysterious barque had glided, he took the maiden's hand in his, and quietly said—
"Here, Eva, were we betrothed, here let us renew our vow." For the first time he kissed the ruddy cheek, and felt the fountain of hope and joy unlocking again in his breast.
None could be much with Eva, much less love her, and be unhappy.
All the old vigour and joy returned to Travers' sunny face. His laugh rang high again. He went forth to charm by his very presence the simple folk, who would trust him now to the death.
Mrs. Travers was the light of the valley as of her old home. Her mother had her wish; though, sometimes, she would remove her spectacles and wipe, her scarce-dimmed eye, as she thought of her son-in-law's first love, who slept amongst the flowers on the oft-visited hill-top.
On his distant coral isle the brave doctor was not unhappy. All the charm that taste and art could lend to nature, was imparted to his island retreat. Seeds and plants from all the coral isles, frequent visitors brought him. His bungalow of books and bamboo house of curios and paintings were the admiration of Royal Navy captains, who ever contrived to have some business to transact at the "Fairy Island," as they re-named the desert rock he had converted into a garden of paradise.
The doctor's yachts and steam-launch lay safe within the coral-bound lagoon. Often he voyaged forth to meet the passing vessel of the "New Order" bringing him messages of love, and tokens from grateful hearts across the sea.
A bent, close-shaven, care-worn man on one occasion stepped on the beach from the boat of a passing vessel.
The doctor was mending his yacht-sail, and whistling a song of the sea.
The man sprang towards him, kneeled on the sands, and grasped the grey old yachtsman's knees, took his disengaged hand, and kissed it.
"I have come," said a deep, almost sepulchral voice, "to crave your forgiveness. I could not die till I had done so."
"Elms, my man!" gasped the doctor, "God bless you for that word! I have often grieved for you, knowing you were tempted and misled. Now my cup of joy is full."
The "right-hand man," in his right mind now, restored by suffering, took his place beside his patron, and served him with devotion and veneration until he died.
Only old Alec, who had secured permission to join the doctor after Jinnie's death, demurred. He was jealous, but only for a moment.
So, midst books and notes, palm-groves and coral walks, the "good grey" hair of the three, "old salts" long floated in the breeze that gently fanned the shores of their beauteous Fairy Isle.