Chapter 160170041

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160170041
Full Date1886-10-16
Page Number45
Corrections0
Word Count2384
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

THE NOVELIST.

A LIFE'S PUNISHMENT.

By E. Davenport Creland.

CHAPTER II.

The voyage out was unmarked uy any

specialIncidenU We had .the usual rami sion of gales and calmB, varied on one occo sion by the loss of a man overboard, and on another by the capture of a shark. It was mv first voyage, but the novelty had worn away by the end of the first week. There were mlny passengers on board, and after we had been out eome days several of them made overtures of friendship to me. But I did not respond. I was in no mood for smaU talk, nor was I disposed to make friends with anvone. I was soon left as much alone as anv recluse could have desired. One man. not knowing I was within earshot, remarked to his companion that he considered me a morose and surly fellow," a remark which the other heartily endorsed. Having cut myself off from society I fell back upon two friends which have never failed to comiort me—hooka and tobacco. .

Onr Bhip was a Blow-going craft, but sate and sure, and this last point was the only one in which she at all acted np to her name. We passed Kangaroo Island at earliest dawn of a spring morning, and a strong wind car ried ns np the Gulf towards Port Adelaide. We sailed in not far from the Bhore, and thus had a clear view of this southern land. I gazed at It curiously from the depk. It was to be my adopted land. A sort of terrestial step mother, as it were, and I wondered how she would behave to me. Although the scene was beautiful, I felt disappointed in someway, I think I had expected to see a much lesB civilized place. I had had absurd ideas concerning clumps ot palmtrees, canoes filled with savages in their warpaint, and the colonists going about their affairs armed to the teeth, and in place of this sensational picture came the reality in the shape of a landscape very English so far as conld be seen from the V There was a long stretch of sandy beach, clothed here and there with little villages and seaside resorts. A broad green undulat ing plain clothed with trees, the city stand ing in the centre, and surrounded by its suburbs. And in the background a very beautiful range of bills of many shapes and colours, and which being slightly crescent shaped, the horns pointing seaward, conveyed the idea of shelter and protection to the

^Ihad no luggage except a small carpetbag,

and at tbe first opportunity made my way on shore. During the next day or two I felt utterly alonfe ar.d wretched. But I had to look for work of some kind, and this dis tracted my thoughts from other things.

Almost every day following, until I became more accustomed to the place, my precon ceived notions were shaken and up-rooted. There were no gold-mines close to the mam utreets; there were no gangs of drunken rowdies galloping through the town firing on pistols. The people in the streets for the most part were sober, they were dressed in exactly the B&me fashion as I was, and they were intent on their pursuit of business. Eothing could well have been more English and commonplace. In seeking for a place as a clerk I discovered another English custom, one that raised a serious obstacle in my path, and that was that every merchant I called upon aBked for references, and also made a number of enquiries, which in most cases 1 was not prepared, or indeed able, to answer to their satisfaction. It was of no use. 1 had no chance nniess I could pro duce first - class testimonials from my last employers! My funds steadily decreased and the apnearanee and scale of my board and lodging suffered in due proportion. I had read that any one could soon make a fortune in the Australian Colonies; but 1 now began to find that fortunes were not to be picked up in the streets merely for the trouble of stooping down. But if fortunes were not to be found at every step, neither on the other hand did ablebodied men lack the opportunity of earning good wages so long &b they were not fastidious about the description of labour offered to them.

The slow but sure consumption of my little store of cash sharpened my witBto tbe under standing of these things. It was useless to expect to take the same position I had held in London. I was unknown and could give no very good account of myself. 1 must begin lower down the ladder and work up. I reduced my theory to practice and secured a place as " general useful" man in a whole

sale grocer's warehouse.

To me at that time it appeared a temble forfeiting of position and appearances. How I groaned over my sore and blistered bands, and sighed at the sight of my common clothes and my leather apron! Ibe other men, seeing that I wus a new arrival and also one who, to use their own expression " was a gent what had seen better times" played practical jokes upon ae,, and made me the butt for many rough witticisms.

Manv a night I went to my lodgings feeling insulted, humiliated, and utterly oast down in spirit. How I cursed some of those men in my heart, and longed for an opportunity to pay them back in their own coin. But to lese temper with them, or to resent their iokes in any way, was, I soon found, only adding fuel to fire. I took the advice of a respectable and quiet man who sometimes endeavoured to shield me from some of fcne rougher humourists, and returned good tor evil. As often as possible I laughed and took things good humoredly, and when unable to screw myself up to that pitch of philosophy feigned indifference. The men soon found that there was but little amusement to be had from one who was indifferent to their

'^After a few weeks' practice the work

became easy to me. and I also had the good fortune to please the foreman, who finding that i had been accustomed to clerical work promoted me on the first oppor* {unity. It was but a very little step upwards, but it gave me almoBt as much pleasure as I had felt upon the day brat entered my uncle's office. Except in the matter of climate and surroundings, life in Adelaide appeared to be much the same as in London. It waB on a much smaller scale of course, and there were not the same facili

ties for amusement.

I should have left the town and taken to the bush if I had been wise. The life there, as I know now, was freer and better in many ways. But tbe constant hope of hearing from my wife kept me hanging about the city. When the first mail after my arrival came in, I rushed to the Post-Office to see if there was a letter for me. But none came ! Too soon to expect one perhaps. But when month after month the mail came, and brought not a word I was in despair. I conld have en dnred it better if she had only written to say that she hated me, and would not come out! Bnt this dead silence waa_ terrible. I was beset during that period with thoughts and feelings which I find impossible to pat into

words. £ would prefer death rather than 1 undergo that experience again. So I thought then. But I have lived to bear a greater pain, and have learned to bear it in silence.

I was afraid to write again to my wife. The law had long arms, and even at that great distance could lay its hand upon me for my offences, I did not suppose that my wife wonld go bo far as to let it be known where I was. bnt the letter might fall into the hands of those who would have no companotion. This trouble so preyed npon me that I neglected my work, and felt the displeasure of my friend the foreman. His interest in

me died away. He looked upon me as being J

no better than hundreds of other men who are sent ont from the old country merely to get rid of them. I rose very slowly indeed, and after eight years' labour in the same firm

was but little better off than when I entered its employ. I had become at first careless and reckless, and then fell into a dull, mill round state of existence. I stayed at the same work during those eight years. I had loBt almost all hope of hearing from my wife,

and 1 felt no desire to strike out into a more ! vigorous sphere of aotion. Ouly once daring that time had anything happened to shake me up into genuine activity. £ had strolled out into the country one Saturday afternoon. All offices and warehouses cloBea at 1 o'clock on that day of the week. It was the month of March. The fierce heat of summer had les sened, but still it was sufficiently hot to make labour of any kind irksome and un pleasant. This particular day was too hot to render walking really pleasant, but I had

preferred to wander out to sitting moping | in my lodgings or to poring over the papers 1 in the Institute. I had walked 3 or 4 miles in the direction of the hills, and feeling tired

and weary, looked around for a shady nook |

to rest in.

An olive hedge surrounding a vineyard skirted the road, the gate _ stood invitingly

open; I entered and found in a few moments | a pleasant place beneath the olives. It was vintage time. The vineyard was heing stripped of its fruit, and the air waB filled with the voices of the men and children

engaged in grape-picking. They were down j towards the further end of the vineyard, and the vines in front of me had not as yet been

touched. How beautifuHheylookedcIothedin 1 their delicate green foliage, and here and there beneath the leaves could bo seen clusters of purple fruit ripe for the winepress. No wonder that Bacchus was such a fat, jovial deity. How could one be otherwise who ate of tne flesh and drank of the juice of such

fruit as this? The eight of their bright, I shining dark purple skins, filled almost to the point of bursting, proved too strong a tempta tion to be resisted. My ideas on the rights of property became hazy, !and besides, in this land of plenty, the plucking of a bunch of grapes is not looked upon as thieving.

I chose a large buncb, the finest on the vine,

and returned to my little arbour to enjoy it in | peace. Otium cumidignitate and grapes are j things to be remembered. Slowly, and with

infinite relish, I plucked the berries from j their stalk. How refreshing they were after the long hot walk. I made myself comfort able, leaning back upon the stem of an olive tree. Sparrows and other small birds kept up a pleasant twittering in the branches above me. The wind rustled the leaves of the vines, and passing over them made them appear like rippling, bright green waves, and passing on caught the olives, and the sheen of their dark green leaveB, silver-lined, glittered in the sun. I sat there, drinking in the beauty of the

scene, and meditating long after the last j berry of my grapeB bad disappeared. The empty stalk had fallen a little way from me,

and w&b now covered by a living mass of I

those little insects whioh Solomon held up as an example to the sluggard. I watched them, lazily enough, through my half-closed

eyes. There could be no doubt as to their | industry. Their energy was tremendous. But they showed decided evidence of selfish ness as they strove one with another for the

daintiest morsels on the stalk. Such elbowiDg I and pinching and treading upon one another's toes and climbing upon backs could hardly be Been in any other community. One was forced to hope that the sluggard had been too lazy to go to the ants. His improvement would have been doubtful,

I muBt have dozed for awhile, I think. Looking at the ants fatigued me. I was

awakened by the sound of voices. The vin- , tagers were coming towards me, evidently

leaving off work. The sun was still two or [ three hours high, but the people left work earlier on Saturdays than on ordinary days. It was time also for me to be moving city wards, and after a long luxurious stretch I made my way out of the vineyard. I strolled slowly along the road buried in sad reflections and bitter repiniegs. It was the

reaction from the beauty and peacefuluess of I the scene I had just left.

I had reached some very gloomy con clusions when in a moment every morbid thought was scattered to the winds. A pony carriage at full gallop dashed round the corner of the road I was approaching. Two ladies sat within it, one held on to the reins firmly and desperately, but the posies were beyond her control. I noticed this at a glance. I had no time to decide upon a course of action. That these ladies were in danger was evident. And then the carriage was almost npon me. I have no very clear recollection of what followed. I fancy I felt a tingling in my veins. Then a cloud of dust, a trampling of hoofs, flakes' of foam and hot steaming breath upon my face, a sudden straining of muscles, and then I found myself holding the bridles of two panting little ponies. My hat was lying in the dust a few yards down the road. Both the occu pants of the carriage alighted as soon as it stopped and came towards me.