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3-166 (Text)

Item metadata
Speaker:
author,male,Rowe, Richard,30 addressee
ns1:discourse_type
Narrative Discourse
Word Count :
4782
Plaint Text :
ns1:register
Public Written
ns1:texttype
Narratives
ns1:localityName
http://dbpedia.org/resource/New_South_Wales
Created:
1858
Identifier
3-166
Source
Webby, 1989
pages
158-168
Document metadata
Extent:
27751
Identifier
3-166-plain.txt
Title
3-166#Text
Type
Text

3-166-plain.txt — 27 KB

File contents



How I Started for Muswellbrook and Only Got to Maitland
"Not there, not there, my child." - Mrs Hemans. 
Up and down the steep, dimly-lighted streets that lie between Wynyard Square and the water, my cab goes blundering like a huge humble, - or, as I would rather write it, Bumble-bee - that beadle amongst insects. Cabmen are generally supposed to be well acquainted with the ins and outs of Sydney - some of them, unfortunately, are too well acquainted with the inns, and my driver is one of this description. In a glorious state of topographical uncertainty, hither and thither he jerks and lashes his horses; not infrequently bumping his pole against dead walls in vain attempts to find previously undiscovered passages to the wharf through culs-de-sac. I begin to fancy that I shall have to pass the night in wandering along rows of houses that seem as fast asleep as their owners (their closed shutters reminding one of eyelids sealed), - in watching dissipated cats out upon the loose, and wearing the half stealthy and ashamed, half swaggering and independent air that marks their human congeners, young gentlemen with latch-keys; homeless dogs, hungry and fierce, foraging for garbage; hulking fellows as fierce and ravenous, without the dogs' excuse of homelessness and hunger; and the slow-footed Erinnyes in shiny hats, great coats, and oilskin capes, who have not their eyes upon these scoundrels, - when, suddenly inspired, my jarvie pulls up at a dark archway.
A lazzaroni-horde of ragged porterkins issue from the gloom, and squabble for my carpet-bag like a swarm of demons for the soul of a Don Juan who has craftily made a separate bargain with each individual imp.  Guided by their howls, I follow the young devils through the darkness, reach the boat, and recover my baggage.
I like to leave Sydney at night, having a taste for the Dantesque. All cities, when viewed en masse, have then so hellish an aspect.
Rattle along the Greenwich Railway when the red-hot cinders light up the murky air and strew the road with smouldering scoriae, as they whiz from the funnel or fall from the ash-box; and when the gas-lit rails seem glowing ploughshares on which, in horrible ordeal, the locomotives, with glaring eyes and shrieks of anguish, are doomed to rush along for ever. Look down upon the myriads of chimneys right and left, belching forth their hateful smoke into the already overburdened atmosphere - upon that wide-spread, gloom-canopied plain of brick-and-mortar: of what text does the whole scene remind you?
Sydney tonight looks scarcely less infernal. Its smoke goes up to heaven, the sprinkled lamps serve but to intensify the circumambient blackness, the Gas Works jet forth their sultry column of lurid light, dark figures flit, blaspheming, before the cresset-fires upon the wharf.
And yonder gloomy, silent bush seems a dreary Hades, peopled with ghosts condemned, awaiting, within sight of hell, Dies irae, dies illa, when, in Mephistopheles's fiendishly graphic phrase, they shall come shuddering up to judgment!
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet adparebit,
Nil inultum remanebit.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus?
Cum vix justus sit securus.
The squalls of Sussex-street pigs in torment dispel these moody thoughts. It is on no Inferno, but merely a porcine purgatory, that I look.
Let me paint more minutely my surroundings.
The bull's eyes in the deck twinkle knowingly when I tread upon them, as if they saw that my boots, so swellish in their upper leathers, stand sadly in need of soleing, and chuckled over the discovery. The wheel - its brazen centre just revealed by the glow of these impertinently inquisitive little lights - gazes at the binnacle with its queer bell-crowned hat, like Polypheme ogling Mother Hubbard by mistake for Galatea, and - marvelling that Galatea should have all at once become so passee - contenting himself with gazing. The quarter boats creak lazily upon the davits. The funnels, with their cauliflower-heads of rising steam, look like gigantic pots of foaming beer. 
Figureheads of neighbouring vessels peer in upon me: bowsprits point at me, as if festered fingers extended from the noses of the said figureheads in contemptuous "sight". Like the very spectres of ships - craft such as that which crossed the Ancient Mariner's track on his wild, lonely voyage - lie the more distant vessels, with shadowy hulls and dimly towering spars. Warehouses, commonplace enough by day, mere prosaic receptacles for "produce", loom through the murk awful as haunted castles. The crane looks fearsome as the tennanted gibbet upon a "barren moor", beneath which a benighted wayfarer suddenly finds himself - 
"drearily withering" around him.
the undescribed sounds
That come a-swooning over hollow grounds.
Here and there a glimmering lamp pries into the secrets of the black waters, with light all trembling as if it fell upon a corpse's face, - the putrefying features and stony-staring eyeballs of a murdered man.
A cable rattles, like a cart-load of cannon-balls, through the hawseholes of yonder anchoring brig; and a voice cooeys, but cooeys long in vain, for a shore-boat. The watermen - choice spirits that they are - are in the public-house, and will not come until they have finished their grog, however loudly, my pea-jacketed Glendower, you may be pleased to call for them. At length, a boat shoves off, and, at each stroke of the oars, the silent water gives forth a phosphorescent gleam, like the glance of anger from a dumb man's eye. A wake of golden-white foam marks the swift wherry's course. Far away sounds the "melancholy-merry song" of mariners pumping at the patent-windlass: click-click-click sobs the "camel of the sea", as she pulls at her tether-pin. Ship-bells, in every key from deepest bass to shrillest treble, remind each other of the passing hours.
Presently a bell rings with impatient clamour, and all in a fret and fuss, with hissing steam, panting machinery, and splashing paddles - angry, as it were, at having been detained, and fearing that she will find no one up to welcome her - a belated Wollongong packet works her way up the harbour. Her red light turns its waters into wine, her flapping floats churn them into cream: thus mixing a beautiful syllabub - beautiful, but fit only for Barmecide banquets. With as much ado as the biggest mail-boat would make, the little vixen bustles into her berth, disembarks her draggletailed, cheese-complexioned passengers, and then snores herself off to dreamless slumber - i.e., blows off her steam.
The moon - long waited for by her patient handmaidens, the silvery stars - arises in full-faced beauty, paving the waters with a road of trembling gold. A less romantic arrival is contemporaneous with hers. Going below, I find that the mail-bags have just been brought on board, - the official who brings them looking very sulky when he beholds upon the cabin-table the luggage of a fellow-clerk, who - he for the first time learns - has obtained a few days' leave of absence, which, I presume, will double grim official's duties.  Grim official, however, solaces himself by demanding a cigar of the civil black sub-steward, for which, in his perturbation of spirit, grim official forgets to pay; but, lighting it at the wrong end, stalks stiffly up the companion-staircase, crushing his hat with an appalling smash - as men wrapped up in their own wrongs are apt to do, when passing through low archways - ere he emerges in indignant majesty upon the deck. Civil black sub-steward loses his civility; an inebriate consigner of cargo persisting in looking for it in the steward's pantry.
The Ethiop, provoked beyond endurance, calls him a "half-gentleman", and bids him hold his jaw. "Lucky for you that you're not in the States, my fine fellow," I think within myself. At the same time I feel proud that here all men are "free and equal", one can put up with a little free-and-easiness to be able to boast that blessing. The dapper obliging little steward - what a peculiar, pale-faced people, zealous (for a consideration) of good works, are the whole tribe of stewards - and the dainty obliging little stewardess flit about like Cock Robin and Jenny Wren amongst a lot of rooks; for gruff croaking is the dominant tone amongst the passengers who now are pouring in - lost parcels and pre-occupied berths being the grounds of their complaints.
Attendant friends, having imbibed valedictory nobblers, rush on deck at the cry of "Who's for the shore?' and I follow them. The boat is cleared of all but crew and passengers, the moorings are cast off, the gangway is drawn back with a jerking pull upon the wharf, and away we go: - past huge, anchored ships, with lights blinking drowsily alow, and brighter lights aloft, making their gaffs seem Aaron's rods bursting forth in golden blossom, - past bobbing buoys that look, with their long streaming locks of dripping tangle, heads of sea-monsters (submerged during day), come up to dry their manes, and breathe the cool night-air, - past Dawes's Battery, stronghold of infantry and pretty nursemaids, - past Fort Macquarie, shimmering ghostly-white in the moonlight, - past Woolloomooloo's avalanche of hovels, - past villa-gardens, where the moonbeams glint from lustrous banana-leaves like love-glances from Spanish eyes, and make the pale-blue aloes doubly pale - the very ghosts of Agavae, and shadow morning-hours upon the solitary lichen-spotted sundials, as old men are visited in dreams by memories of youth - past Rose Bay's reach of milkwhite sand, - past the Lighthouse, winking to itself as if it knew a thing or two that the Ocean wanted to do in the wrecking line, but didn't mean to let him, - past the dazzling Lightship, - past the Heads, looking over at each other sadly stern, recalling Coleridge's sweet lines on sundered friends, - out into the black, white-crested, surging, hissing waves, coming on, on, on, for ever and ever, and swept over by that lonely, homeless sea-breeze - half mournful and half fierce - that always makes me think of the wasted girls with hopeless eyes one sees in London streets at night, hurrying along wind-like - none knows whence, none cares whither. 
Swaying from side to side like a sea-bird, the Illalong skims along the billows. From each funnel flutters a smoke-streamer spangled with glowing sparks. Far behind stretches a line of seething, creamy foam. Contrasted with the wild welter of the waters, how peaceful seems the pearly sky! And yet, in that calm heaven, a radiant rushing is really going on, that makes man's fastest, machinery-aided speed far, far less in comparison, than, beside that, appears the slowest snail's pace. Where we see only the fin-poised repose of sleeping goldfish, mighty masses are thundering through Space with more than a hurricane's impetus. So much for the "silent stars".
The moonbeams fall upon a passing vessel's swelling sail. White as Alpine snow it glistens in their tranquil light, and carries my thoughts back to that far-off night upon a distant sea when we were boarded by the ruthless pirate, Death - who cometh without nail, selects his victim, and then, unmarked, goes over the side again, in quest of other prey on the wide ocean.
We were becalmed in the tropics. The reef-points pattered on the idle sails like rain, as the ship, frosted with silver by the gorgeous moonlight - deck, canvas, cordage, spars, one blaze of lovely light - lazily rose and fell upon the heaving billows. But in that beauteous sea, round and round the ship, like a sullen sentinel, a grim shark kept his watch. I went below to the "hospital berth". A flickering lamp cast its sickly gleam on the sick man's pale and clammy brow, as he tossed in his narrow bunk; talking deliriously of scenes and faces far away, and petulantly asking why they should chain him there - when would the ship move on? A breeze sprang up a little after midnight; on went the ship, and the shark followed her. At sunrise, gasping forth some message to his mother - fated never to reach her, for none on board knew aught of her or him - the sick man died. Wrapt in the Union Jack, we laid him on the long-boat; and at evening, when the setting sun was tipping the foaming waves with crests of fire, the solemn words were read; the sails shivered as the ship was luffed up into the wind; there was a leaden plunge: a snowy sea-bird flew off to the horizon, like a liberated soul; the sails filled again; the ship went swiftly on, and far astern the moonbeams played above the stranger's lonely grave.
But it is time to turn in. A boisterous gentleman opposes my purpose, when I descend to carry it into execution; inviting me to partake of brandy and water with him instead, and asserting with swaggering emphasis that he is "Ocean's child", and considers "the delightful motion of the boat to be the rocking of his natural cradle". I observe, however, that "Ocean's child" cannot eat the ham sandwiches he orders.  He soon grows very white about the gills, and disinclined to talk; and, at length, makes a precipitate retreat to his berth, beside which the black sub-steward (whom he has been chaffing), exulting at his discomfiture, hangs one of those queer little buckets like birdseed holders, and, grinning, leaves him to be lulled to sleep by the "rocking of his natural cradle".
Unfortunates, in various stages of the mal de men, startle the night with moans and hideous uproar. Being pretty well sea-seasoned myself, of course, I am disgusted at their conduct. By-the-bye, is not this the way in which most of us treat a certain moral infirmity, also? Happening, from difference of temperament, to be proof against the particular temptation - perchance, preserved by strength of constitution from exhibiting the ordinary symptoms of having yielded to it - how we cry out against our peccant brother who has both eaten of the forbidden fruit, and manifestly has the stomach-ache in consequence! It costs many men nothing to be teetotallers, and yet they plume themselves upon their abstinence as though it were a sun-bright virtue. Others again, who have each drunk as much in a night as the object of their scorn would drink in a fortnight, turn up their noses at a poor weak-headed fellow who succumbs to a glass or two, in most ethical disdain. It is edifying to listen to their lectures upon sottishness.
When I wake the next day - a cool and showery Sunday - we have passed Newcastle, and are steaming up the river. This, then, is the far-famed Hunter - muddy as the Thames, with banks as flat as Essex marshes! True, there are some pretty hills in the distance just before you come to Hexham, but, as a whole, the lower part of the Lower Hunter appears to me about as lovely as a plate of soup. 
I land at Morpeth, and proceed to Maitland, intending to go on at once by the mail to Singleton. At the inn from which the machine starts, I fall in with a friend. The sinner enticeth me, and I consent.
I wake next morning to find that my friend is gone, my money, too: an inconvenient state of things, since I remember enough of my pridian experiences to be aware that latterly I imbibed on tick, that my friend was impecunious, and that, consequently, an hotel-bill remains unsettled.
There at Last
Forsitan haec olim meminisse juvabit.
To slope from the inn in which you have very unceremoniously taken your ease, without settling your account - even when you leave your luggage as security for ultimate payment, - is not the most gentlemanly mode of procedure in the world.  It is, however, the course that I am compelled to adopt; for my wealth consists but of a shilling or two. I know no one in Maitland, and fear that if I disclose the state of my circumstances to my landlord, he may have me apprehended as a swindler who has obtained good liquor under false pretences.
Not belonging by any means to the Pachydermata of moralists in matters of this sort, I look so conscious of fugitive intentions when I descend the staircase of the "Northumberland" (an hotel, by-the-bye, that I can safely recommend to more immediately remunerating customers than myself), that I wonder the barmaid does not lay violent hands on me, and demand, on behalf of her master, the liquidation of my little bill. But she is flirting with an early nobbleriser, and suffers me to pass her yawning window unchallenged, and depart unheeded on my road to Singleton.
Travelling in Australia is sadly monotonous. The highways are all fashioned in one model. Everywhere you see the same grey or red rail-fences; the same ragged gum-trees, reminding you of men with dirty, tattered shirts; the same tall, bare, white boles, extending their arms like skeletons about to break forth in sepulchral oratory, or "set" in a "Dance of Death", the same charred, prostrate trunks like blackfellows knocked down in a drunken squabble (felled trees in other countries look like heroes o'ermastered in Homeric strife); the same black, jagged stumps, like foul, decaying teeth; the same distant verdure - verdure a non vinendo - like piles of dry mud and soot, the same scrub close at hand, with dingy foliage that looks like Royal Mint-street clothing half hopelessly hung out for sale (even leaves in Australia possess "colonial experience", and are anything but green); the same not grass, but graminaceous scurf, as if the earth had got the ringworm; the same bark-roofed slab-huts, not so respectable as English pigsties; the same ramshackle, rambling roadside inns, with canoe-like water-troughs; the same execrable road, in dry weather a field abominably ploughed, over whose furrows the mail-cart goes bump-bump, lurch-lurch, churning all milk of human kindness in the new chum, polishing his pants on cushionless seats or subjacent post-bags, into anything but butter for the constructors of the accursed tracks on which the stay-at-home writers of Australian Guide-books have bestowed such lying eulogies: in wet weather a Slough of Despond no modern Christian ought to be called upon to pass, a channel of mire dotted with bogged drays, with drivers seated on their loads, like sailors in the tops of wrecks and foundering ships, smoking with the grim resignation of despair. "'The roads of Australia proverbial!" Verily, they are proverbial - but in no fundatory sense!
To resume my catalogue of identities: - Everywhere you are oppressed by the same long miles of loneliness, relieved only by the same bullock-drays, with barking dogs jingling bells, kegs slung beneath, and pots and pannekins swinging behind; by the same flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, mobs of horses (their drivers - straight and thin as ramrods, lank-haired as Indians, sallow as mummies - sitting stately in their saddles, now cracking their stockwhips like so many rifles, anon resting the handles sceptre-fashion on their thighs, with the lashes looped in loose coil like tame serpents round their arms); by the same female equestrians, remarkable for short habits and substantial ankles, carrying all sorts of things, from a feather bed to a pumpkin-pie, dangling at their saddle-bows; and by the same Chinamen, with silken nets hanging veil-wise from their cabbage-trees, and balancing poles like milk-yokes on their shoulders, from the ends of which depend their blanket-bundles and umbrellas - whoever saw a vagrant Celestial without an umbrella? 
Natives, when in the company of immigrants, are in the habit of trumpeting the beauty of their country about thirty times an hour. Now, for my own part, I always suspect everything, except a king or queen, that requires to be proclaimed; and remembering that most Australians, like the mouse in the fable, have had but scanty opportunities of comparison, and call their own land a fine one just simply because they have not seen any other, I make a point of never saying "Amen" to these fulsomely reiterated praises. I don't say it, because I can't say it. Of all the lands that ever I saw, Australia appears to me to be the ugliest, shrivelled and sulky-looking as the most ancient and hopeless of old maids. 
The Dutch measure their distances by pipes: Charles Lamb used to measure his by pints. In emulation of that great public benefactor, I make my milestones nobblers. The consequence is that in the bush my miles are often somewhat lengthy. Scotch miles with very big bittocks. It is evening, and I recall, with melancholy appreciation, a derivation of the word Spes on which I stumbled once upon a time, whilst turning over the leaves of a German Latin dictionary: - "SPES; Sanscrit bhas, akin to the Greek aos, light, - a light in the distance towards which you look and long." The light in the distance for which I look and long, is a public-house lamp, for I am footsore, fatigued, famished, and very thirsty; but none such can I discover. So, first drinking, or rather lapping up, and then bathing face, hands, and feet in, some water of the colour and consistency of coffee-grounds (using the gritty sand that circles it as soap - very Brown Windsor), I pick the grassiest spot I can find to camp out in, and lay me down to take my rest, with my paletot wrapped around me. The stars come out one by one, and look down on me like loving sisters' watchful eyes. Presently the moon rises over the dark trees. I don't relish her full light so much.  I fancy that she is comparing me - not to my advantage - with Endymion.
She is "dropping down the sky all silently", when, after a wretched mosquito-haunted night, I wake for good. A rich aroma - there is some good even in gum-trees - fills the fresh morning air, as I push on to the next inn for breakfast; and cheerfully curls the blue wood-smoke from the encampments of the bullock-drivers, preparing for their day's journey. After a dejeuner sans la fourchette, of bread and cheese and my pet beer, at a wayside "public", I descend upon Patrick's Plains, and hobble into Singleton - a town composed, apparently, of inns, mills, and tabernacles. In a small place the divisions of sect look almost ludicrous; it seems so strange that half-a-dozen people should want half-a-dozen different roads to heaven. Going to one of the mills to get a boat to cross the river, I overhear a Methodist expounding the peculiarities of his creed to his floury fellow-workmen. Instead of sneering, I somehow respect him for it. We southerners are such a set of Sadducees, or, if we have any religion, make it so exclusively a "thing of synagogues and Sundays" - locking it up, as it were, with what Sam Slick calls our "go-to meetin' clothes", that this weaving of it into the warp of common workday life seems to me - to say the least - an interesting phenomenon. It makes me think of the old Apostolic times, when those who pulled the oar and hauled the net, were, also, fishers of men; of the old Puritan times, when, in Carlyle's phrase, the English squire wore his belief in God about him like his shot-belt.
Failing to obtain a boat, I return to the crossing-place; passing on the road a candidate for senatorial honours who is on a canvassing-tour. He folds his arms and knits his brow, striving, as he paces the veranda of his hotel - planting his little feet with all the ponderosity of which they are capable (and that isn't much - the lead lies in the opposite extremity) - to look the very Zeus of booksellers and statesmen, I need not say that he fails most deplorably in his attempt. It's no use trying, little Nid! Thou wast not meant to be majestic. - For want of a more dignified conveyance, I am constrained to mount a water-cart, and cross the river sitting, like a sign-painter's Bacchus, astride upon a tun.
A hot, dusty, tiring, thirst-provoking day - I meet an old pupil. He seems somewhat surprised to see his former "guide, philosopher, and friend", plodding through the bush, in shirt-sleeves and with upturned trousers, like a tinker on the tramp; but nevertheless - young scoundrel that he is - he offereth me not a horse. I wander through a wilderness of trees springing from soil so sun-scorched that one marvels that even an Australian forest can grow there. As the road winds, I catch glimpses of gloomy hills, with solemn Dead Seas of sombre foliage in the intervening gullies. Towards evening I reach Glennie's Creek, and see, for a wonder, a little rural "bit" worthy of the pencil of a Gainsborough.  The sun is low in the cooling sky. The grass gleams like burnished bronze. The leaves of the eucalypti are tipped with gold. A flock of bleating lambs are descending to the stream, followed by a bevy of barefooted children - just let out of school - as noisy and as gamesome. In front of an English-looking inn, stands an English-looking landlord, lazily watching a wool-dray which has just been upset on the other side of the creek, within shadow of the pretty little white stone church. To right the overturned dray, a team has been borrowed from the dray behind. One of the bullocks shams faint, and is liberated from the yoke; whereupon Strawberry knowingly whisks his tail, and rushes into the water with a broad grin upon his bovine nose. After sundry remarkable displays of engineering - mechanical science in these parts appears decidedly to be in its infancy - the wain is set upon its wheels once more, crosses the creek, together with its companion, and the drivers and their local allies celebrate their triumph with copious libations.
Another night of camping out. No sleep. The bull-frogs croak, like their human analogues, with a detestable tone of enjoyment. The parrots chatter like schoolgirls in their bedroom, when the governess on duty has gone down to supper. High up in the trees my little namesakes send forth their indescribable cry. Countless crickets hiss in chorus. Lukewarm rain falls ever and anon. Flies cluster on my face, making it look - if there were any one here to see it - a very liberally fruited currant-dumpling. Above all, those d-d mosquitoes - I can't help it, I must swear - jostle with the flies for the possession of my nose, and turn my hands into a pair of pink, perforated cards. I am a Pythagorean, and firmly believe that the souls of unpaid creditors migrate, on their decease, into mosquitoes, and in that form continue to torment their unfortunate debtors. That last dig came from a departed snip. This under which I at present wince, is the spiteful bite of a dead landlady. Would that I had bled honestly in metaphor, and thus avoided this vile literal phlebotomy!
Morning comes at last. A miserable breakfast, and a miserable day - spent in crawling along like a wounded snake, lying down in the Brummagem shade that Australian trees afford, and seeking for and drinking muddy water. Everyone, they say, must eat a peck of dirt in his lifetime. I am sure that I have taken my quantum, diluted, a dozen times over, in this trip of mine. Now, however, I can find no water, however muddy. Every moment I am tantalised by the fancied sound, the fancied sight, of running streams. I might as well hope for them in Sahara. Dead beat, with a hundred pulses throbbing in my head, I drop upon the ground, muttering, Hibernice: "It's all up with me!" When, lo! suddenly the sunlight fades, the wind rushes moistly past, and in a few minutes the lightning writes its blinding zigzags on the blackened heavens, and the awful thunder crashes and rumbles through the gloom.  Down comes the rain, in sheets, not drops; I drink at every pore, and freshen like a plant.
The sun is shining again, in a blue evening sky, when, splashed to the eyes, at last I enter Muswellbrook. The wet shingles flash back his dazzling rays, and every leaf is decked with quivering brilliants.

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