|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||A Life's Punishment|
A LIFE'S PUNISHMENT.
Br E. Davenport Cleland.
I feel like an egotiBt and a vain boaster after having read over what I wrote last night. But 1 try to comfort myself with two reflections—the first, tbat a man can hardly escape being an egotist when narrating his .own advcntureB (I have Been that remark ? • somewhere before) ; and the second, that 1
am but boasting to the pages of my diary, a record tbat is not intended for the eyes of
Robinson Crusoe was a clever and in genious fellow, according to his own showing, and mav not I try to cheer myself with a record of the little good I have tried to do my fellow-men?
It was not until weeks had passed away -that I had anv distinct recollection of the incidents which took place on the night of the fire. When my thoughts began again to find form in my mind I found myself lying swathed in bandages in a Hospital bed. At first when I questioned the nurses they •merely told me that I had met with an aoci ?dect at a fire, and that I muBt keep quiet and
There was little need to impress me with the injunction to keep quiet—I ached and smarted from head to foot. And as the nurses only viBited me occasionally, and for only a few minutes at a time, I had not much
chance to talk.
1.1 just lay still and allowed my
waking thoughts and my dreams to so mingle j that after a while I had difficulty in distin guishing one from the other. The only dis tinct remembrance I had of that fateful night—the only point I was perfectly certain upon—was leaving the crowd and rushing towards the burning shop. The rest of my
recollections and experiences may be real or 1 only fancy. They no doubt received some colour and form from what was told to me by my nurses during my convalescence. I was told that my escape from death was nothing less than a miracle. When the floor gave way I fell in the front of the shop below, cloBe to where the windows had been; part • oi the flooring that came with me had formed a sort of arch over me, thus saving me from instant death. The firemen had rushed for ward and extriaated me before I bad suffered injuries other than a few broken bones and
•some severe burns.
My recovery was slow but sure; but so slow that I almost began to hate the sight of the ward, the bed, and the view of the garden as seen from the windows. I Bhould have hated them thoroughly had it not been for the unvarying kindness of the doctors aad nurses, and the daily spectacle of greater suffering than mine patiently borne by men
I had received burns about my face and bead, which bad been the cause of more tiouble and Buffering than those on my body. It felt to me as though my whole face was •scarred, but there was no looking-glass in the ward, and the doctor's answers to my • questions were vague though encouraging as
to the small extent of disfigurment. He was like moBt doctors—a kind-hearted man—aad did his best to keep up the spirits of his . patients. But after a while, when £ was able
to get about a little, and was free • from bandages, 1 found a glass in an adjoining room. I looked at the image reflected on its surface with greater interest than I had ever before felt. The face 1 beheld was perfectly unknown to me, 1 have become accustomed to now. It is no longer the face of a stranger. As I Btop writing to light my pipe, I oatch • sight of that face in the little glass on the
wall of my hut, and can gaze upon it without j experiencing the feeling almost amounting to repulsion which I had at firet felt. Bat then my beard and whiskers hide the greater part
That first long look lasted me for eome time. I felt no desire to look again. With out being accused of self-conceit aman may feel regret at the loss of the comeliness that was once his. It is not pleasant to know that yonr face gives pain to those who look upon it. The only other visible injury I had sus tained was to my right hand. The first finger had been eo damaged as to render amputation necessary, and the Becond one was stiff and almost useless. This obliged me wheu writing to hold my pen in an unusual position, and the character of my handwriting was completely altered—quite as much so, indeed, as my countenance.
One morning I was told tnat a visitor had called to see me. I went down to the visitors' room, expecting to meet one of the men from
the warehouse. As I entered the visitor was looking out of the window, but hearing my footstep turned to meet me. It was Joseph Haidinge, the one man I had been trying to avoid. My firBt inclination waB to beat a hasty retreat from the room ; but I soon saw that there was no necessity for doing so. Har dinge looked at me for a moment, and then dropped his eyes. I could teU from the expression of his face that he did not know me, and also that there was no fear of his looking too fixedly at me. To all intents and purposes I was as secnre from recognition as the man in the iron mask.
After some talk about the late fire and enquiries about my health, Hardinge went on to eay tbat he and his dsughters had been in the crowd that night, and that they had seen me and recognised me as the man who had helped them with the ponies some three or four yeaiB ago.
" It surprises me," he said," how they can have remembered you all that time; but I am very glad tbey did. Yon laid me tinder a great obligation, and it was too bad of you to run away before I con Id even thank you. But 'it is never too late to mend' as the Baying is, and you must let me try and do you a good turn in Borne way. I wish I could have laid hold of you iu the crowd that night, it might have saved yon from all this trouble. Bat my daughters were unable to point out exactly where you were standing, and bo I couldn't see you."
This remark removed the last trace of anxiety from my mind. We had seated our selves near the window by this time and fell into general conversation. Now that all fear was removed it was pleasant to sit and talk to a man whom I had once known, although I was debarred from speaking upon those topics which-would have most interested me.
Hardinge was a good fellow, and in a gentle delicate way drew from me all that I was able to tell him about my life in the colony and my position in the warehouse. And then he proposed that I should leave the town and go with him to his station. He pointed out tbat I had but little chauoe of doing anything for myself where I had been, and that life in the bueh wonld suit me far better. The offer was too tempting to be refused, and I accepted it gladly. I was to (.tart eb soon &b ths doctor said 1 was fit to leave the Hospital. Hardinge would come again before he returned home and leave me lull directions for my journey.
He left me a legacy of pleasant anticipa tions. From the account he gave bash life seemed in every way desirable. I should have uisliked having to go back to the ware house, even if they were disposed to take me. Bat none of my fellow clerks, or any of the men, had called to see me.
The fire had occurred towards the close of the summer, and daring the time I i.ad been in the Hospital the first rains of winter had fallen, and the country was dressed in vivid green. What a change had taken place in a few short weeks! Then, the gardens and paiks around Adelaide were scorched and dried up. The prevailing tints being grey and brick colour. And now . the air was fresh and sweet from the rain everything looked bright and clear and soft. Flowers and shrubB of every description were growing and putting forth new shoots and rich pro mise of future glory in the way of flowers.
The winter in this land produces as great a change alter the summer—a transformation of beauty—as the summer in Eagland does following the winter. It is in keeping with the general topsy-turviness of the antipodes —that is to say, Australia. For England of course iB our antipodes. . 3
Hardinge came the second time and gave me directions for my journey, which were per plexing almost in their minuteness. Then X remained for a few weeks longer at the hospital in a sort of state of vegetation as it were, juBt eating and drinking and lounging about until I was fairly strong. Then one day the doctor overhauled me, put me through a species of examination, ana meta phorically turned me inside out. The result was that £ was pronounced to be ia pretty good order and quite sufficiently repaired to
leave the dock.
I had no idea until I went round to say good-by to the nurses how very much at home I had beoome. I had been nursed well and tenderly by them, and, apart from the pain and weariness of a sick bed, 1 have come to look upon the portion of my life spent in hospital as one of the most pleasant in my Australian experience. It does not appear to speak well lor the colony, but then my liie has been Bomewhat out of the oommon, Oae of the nurseB, who had shown eBpec.ial kind ness to me, so far fcfrgot her profession as to say she hoped to see me again before long.
The two days following my release from the hospital were spent in getting together the small outfit neoessary for the bush, and in settling arrears of board and lodging with my landlady and other small debte. The wages I had been receiving at the warehouse
had been more than sufficient to meet my daily wants. I had had very few expensive habitB, and had been able to pat by a little hoard for a rainy day. 1 called at the ware house to draw the small balance of wages due to me, and I was offered the same position as I had formerly filled. The foreman showed no great disappointment when I declined his offer. One or two of the men to whom I said good-by were kind enough to say that they were sorry £ was leaving, and wished me good luck where I was going. And despite the fact that I had not formed many friend ships, I felt a certain amount of regret at leaving a place in which I had passed eight yeara of my life.
On the morning of a J uly day I took my place in the train for the North, and as it left the station I bade a silent adieu to the city which had sheltered me. I had no idea of the number of years that would pass before £ trod its streetB again. The early morning had beeD piercingly cold. . Frost lay thick upon everything. Films of ice lay upon the sual low pools of water by the wayside. . The horseB and cattle in the fields looked pinched and woebegone, and stood motionless. The grass was too heavily laden with frost to be pleasant for breakfast evidently, and they were waiting for the sun to warm it up. Aud when he did condescend to Bhow himself above the crest of the Mount Lofty flanges, what a change was wrought upon the laud
'llie sky was cloudless and of deep-blue hue, and the sun's rays striking upon the frost crystals hanging from the leaves of trees and blades of grass were reflected back in quivering light. The train was rushing through a land decked with diamonds in an
emerald and silver setting.
The season, as far as rain was concerned, had been a grand one. The grass .was luxuriant every where, live etock of all kinds were fat, and the hearts of the people were light and gladsome. A glance at the faces of my fellow-travellers waB sufficient to prove that. There waB tbe promise of a good hay and wheat harvest, and the sheep gave every promise of yielding large and heavy fleeces. Only give tbe land an abundance of rain, at tbe proper time of year, and the colonists
envy no one. ...
It was glorious to lean back in my seat in the carriage, and with my pipe drawing easily to watch the fleeting panorama of immense wheatfielde and stock pastures as the train sped northwards. Once or twice we ran through beautiful grass country, open plains, and low rolling ranges, dotted with trees. The land on both sides, as far as tbe eye could see' was nothing but grass ; no crop or ploagh furrow broke the expanse. These were some of the vast estates of "squatting princes," Bheep farmers who had had their heads screwed on the right way, and who in the early days of the colony had made a good choice, and had purchased the freehold of thousands of acres of the finest land.
About midday I left the train and took coach. A roomy, easy-going vehicle,, drawn by a team of fonr horses. They were in good order and well kept, and rattled us along over the ground at a spanking pace. Every few miles we stopped to change horses. We travelled all that afternoon and on through tbe night. I sat beside the driver. At 4 o'clock in the morn ing he pulled up on an open plain near to a clamp of trees. This was the place where I was to be met from Hardinge's station. There was no honBe or person to be seen. But the coaoh carried Her Majesty's mails and could not stay on the road. £ muBt either Btay where I was or go on with the coach. The driver assured me that thiB was the plaoe mentioned by Hardinge, and was where ail passengers for tbe station were set down. That decided me, of course; but when the mail dashed away into the darkness and I found myself left alone on a desolate road with no company
but a cold wind and a darkness rendered
visible by the starlight, I began to think of all the melancholy aocounts of " lost in the bush" of which I had read.
For a little time I tried to keep myself warm by stamping on the ground aud. walk ing to and fro. But finding that this pro duced no good effect, I pioked up my port manteau and made towards the clump of trees in the distance. I could juBt make them ont standing against the sky-line. I shonld find some wood there, I thought, and could light a fire.
Stumbling and tripping over stoneB, bashes, and small watercourses, I reached the edge of the timber.' Here the darkness was intense. Moving incautiously I tripped and fell head long ; putting forth my hands to save myself, they struck the upturned face of a body stretched upon the ground.