Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Guy Boothby

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

Last updated Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 10:46.

To the best of our knowledge, the text of this
work is in the “Public Domain” in Australia.
HOWEVER, copyright law varies in other countries, and the work may still be under copyright in the country from which you are accessing this website. It is your responsibility to check the applicable copyright laws in your country before downloading this work.

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

“That this is doctrine, simple, ancient, true;

Such is life’s trial, as old Earth smiles and knows.

If you loved only what were worth your love,

Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you;

Make the low nature better by your throes!

Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!”

R. Browning.

Any afternoon, between three and five, you will probably find in the Club Library, somewhere near the S T E and T R A Bookcase, a thin, restless-eyed man of perhaps five-and-fifty years of age. He will answer to the name of Pennethorne — Cornelius Pennethorne — and he can sometimes be trusted to converse in a fairly rational manner. Generally, however, he is chock-full of nonsensical ideas, founded on what he calls “Inferences from Established Principles,” and these make it almost impossible for him to do anything, from tying his bootlace to reducing his Overdraft, except on theories of his own determining.

He sold out of the Army because he had proved to the War Office that the science of modern warfare was founded on an entirely wrong basis, and the greyheads refused his aid to set it right. So, washing his hands of the whole affair, he came to Australia. This was in ‘69, or perhaps ‘70.

Knowing nothing about station work, he gave sixty thousand pounds for a property on the Diamantina, in order to demonstrate his own theories on cattle-breeding. And when they proved unworkable, he spent a small fortune inventing a gold-crushing plant — another failure. In similar manner all his pet projects faded away, one after another, like cats’-paws on a big lagoon.

But he learnt nothing from these rebuffs, and there was no kudos to be gained by showing him what an utter ass he really was. You can reason with some men, but not with Pennethorne: he came from obstinate Cornish stock; and as soon as he saw the theory of the moment a failure, he threw it away and dived deeper still into something else.

When he had exhausted cattle-breeding, horse-breaking, irrigation and gold-mining, he hunted about for some other channel in which to sink his money; but for the moment nothing came to hand.

Then some one sent him a pamphlet entitled “The Folklore of our Aboriginal Predecessors,” or something of an equally idiotic nature; and in this he saw a fresh opening. His district was infested with blacks, so he plunged holus-bolus into their private affairs. He argued that the theory of their treatment was altogether wrong, and for three months he choked the Colonial Press with lengthy screeds denouncing every one concerned in their government. Beginning with the Protector of Aboriginals and his staff, he took in the Commissioner of Police, and clergy of all denominations. Then, working through the Legislative and Executive Councils, he finished with a great blare at the Governor himself. It never, for an instant, struck him that he was making an egregious ass of himself. That, probably, would be some one else’s theory.

Now of all this absurd man’s absurd ideas, his fondest, and consequently his most absurd, was that, fundamentally, the nature of both blacks and whites is the same. He contended that education and opportunity are alone responsible for the difference. He said he would prove it.

Taking from the nearest tribe a little half-caste girl, perhaps eight years of age, he sent her south to school, and, cutting off all communication with her people, sat himself down to watch results.

After the child had been enjoying the advantages of every luxury for ten years, he went down to ascertain what progress she had made, and was astounded at the result. In place of the half-wild urchin he remembered, he found a well-mannered, accomplished girl, able to hold her own anywhere. She received him with an air of abandon that staggered him, and he was pleased beyond measure. He said he would go down to the Club and show the scoffers there that one theory, at least, had proved successful.

On reaching it he discovered a strange generation, and was not a little chagrined to find himself and his theories almost forgotten. The younger men watched him meandering about the rooms, and said to each other, “Who is this old bore Pennethorne, and what forgotten part of the interior does he come from?”

So delighted was he with the success of his scheme that he sent the girl to Europe for a year, he himself returning to the Back-blocks. It must be remembered here that her colour was not pure black, but a sort of dirty brown, that she was by no means ill-looking, and that she had been perfectly educated.

Then came the situation he should have foreseen, “When her education was completed, what was to be done with her?” In the loneliness of his station he thought and thought, but could come to no conclusion. She would know enough to make a perfect governess; but then, perhaps, no one would care to give her employment. It was impossible that she should go back to the tribe, and it was equally unlikely that any suitable man would ask her hand in marriage. He began to realize what a white elephant he had raised up for himself.

One cold winter’s night, when the rain was beating down and the wind whistling round the station-house, it flashed through his mind that it would be by no means unpleasant to exchange his grumpy old housekeeper for a younger woman — one who could make the evenings pleasant with music and intellectual conversation. But it would have this drawback — it would mean matrimony.

All this time his protégée was writing him charming letters from Rome and Naples, commenting shrewdly on all the wonders she was seeing. Sometimes on the run he would read these letters, and think out certain schemes all by himself.

On her return he went down to Sydney for the special purpose of meeting her. He found a pretty little woman in a neat dark blue travelling dress awaiting him. Her white cuffs and collar contrasted charmingly with her dark complexion. She received him very nicely, and he noticed that she had picked up the little mannerisms of the better-class Englishwomen she had met. They drove to the Australian, and a week later were married by special licence.

Most men who remembered him said he was a very big fool; the rest said that they would give their opinions when they saw how events turned out.

Directly they were married they posted straight off to the station. And herein Pennethorne acted very unwisely. He should have toured Tasmania and New Zealand, or visited Japan in the orthodox way. But he was unlike other men, and it was a moral impossibility for him to act like a rational being — his theories got in the way and tripped him up.

For the first year or so everything progressed beautifully, and he wrote glowing accounts of his new life to the few men whose friendship he had thought worth retaining. Then the correspondence ceased abruptly, and his friends marvelled.

Now, of all those who had scoffed at Pennethorne’s theories, the most persistent was William Pevis Farrington, afterwards His Honour Mr. Justice Farrington. In the middle of his happiness, Pennethorne had invited the judge, if ever he should be travelling that way, etc. — you know the usual sort of thing — to put in a day or two with him, and see for himself how things stood. About a year later Farrington did happen to be somewhere in the district and called as requested.

Meeting his host near the homestead, they rode up together, and Farrington noticed that Pennethorne decidedly looked his age. When they reached the house the latter, leaving his guest in the dining-room, went in search of his wife, to return about ten minutes later saying she was unwell. They dined alone. All through the meal Pennethorne seemed disturbed and uncomfortable, and when it was over led the way into the garden, where he said abruptly, “Farrington, you think me a madman, don’t you?”

The judge mumbled the only thing he could think of at the moment, and endeavoured to push the conversation off to a side track by an inquiry after Mrs. Pennethorne’s health. It had precisely the contrary effect to what he intended.

His friend had twelve years’ arrears to work off before he could be considered, conversationally, a decent companion. So, setting to work, he poured into the unfortunate judge’s ears his granary of theories, facts, and arguments. He marshalled his arguments, backed them up with his theories, and clinched all with his facts, his voice rising from its usual placid level to a higher note of almost childish entreaty. Unconsciously he was endeavouring to convince himself, through the medium of a second person, of the wisdom contained in his marriage experiment.

Farrington listened attentively. His trained mind distinguished between what the other believed and what he was endeavouring to prove against his own convictions. However, he could see that the keynote of the whole harangue was Failure, but as every one admitted that the last experiment had proved entirely successful, in what direction did such failure lie? He was more than a little mixed, and by delicate cross-examination elicited certain facts that puzzled him still more.

One thing was plainly evident: Pennethorne was very much in love with his wife. In the first place he was given to understand that no man could desire a more amiable wife than Mrs. Pennethorne had proved herself to be. This heading included virtues too numerous to mention — but she was not well. Nor could any man desire a more accomplished wife than Mrs. Pennethorne, who was fit to be the helpmate of an Oxford Don — but she was not well. His assertions always had the same refrain —“She was not well!”

Because he could not understand, Farrington became deeply interested.

Just before daylight the judge was wakened by his host. He saw in an instant that something terrible had happened.

Mrs. Pennethorne had disappeared in the night, her husband knew not whither!

Even with his teeth chattering in his head, and his palsied old hand rattling the candlestick, he was compelled to state his theory of her absence.

Farrington, seeing he was not responsible for his actions, acted for him. He routed out all the station hands and scoured the country. They spent all day searching the scrub, dragging the dams and waterholes, and at nightfall had to give it up as hopeless.

Farrington and Pennethorne rode home together. Passing through a rocky gully, they noticed the smoke of a camp fire floating up into the still night air, and rode up to make inquiries. The blacks were at their evening meal. One filthy girl raised her head and looked up at them from her frowsy blankets. It was Mrs. Pennethorne!

After thirteen years of civilization the race instinct had proved too strong: the reek of the camp fires, the call of the Bush, and the fascination of the old savage life had come back upon her with double intensity, and so the last theory had to be written down a failure. Q.E.D.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005