They went to Mullumbimby by the two o’clock train from Sydney on the Friday afternoon, Jack having managed to get a day off for the occasion. He was a sort of partner in the motor-works place where he was employed, so it was not so difficult. And work was slack.
Harriet and Victoria were both quite excited. The Somers had insisted on packing one basket of food for the house, and Victoria had brought some dainties as well. There were few people in the train, so they settled themselves right at the front, in one of those long open second-class coaches with many cane seats and a passage down the middle.
“This is really for the coal miners,” said Victoria. “You’ll see they’ll get in when we get further down.”
She was rather wistful, after the vague coolness that had subsisted between the two households. She was so happy that Somers and Harriet were coming with her and Jack. They made her feel — she could hardly describe it — but so safe, so happy and safe. Whereas often enough, in spite of the stalwart Jack, she felt like some piece of fluff blown about on the air, now that she was taken from her own home. With Somers and Harriet she felt like a child that is with its parents, so lovely and secure, without any need ever to look round. Jack was a man, and everything a man should be, in her eyes. But he was also like a piece of driftwood drifting on the strange unknown currents in an unexplored nowhere, without any place to arrive at. Whereas to Victoria, Harriet seemed to be rooted right in the centre of everything, at last she could come to perfect rest in her, like a bird in a tree that remains still firm when the floods are washing everything else about.
If only Somers would let her rest in Harriet and him. But he seemed to have a strange vindictiveness somewhere in his nature, that turned round on her and terrified her worse than before. If he would only be fond of her, that was what she wanted. If he would only be fond of her, and not ever really leave her. Not love. When she thought of lovers she thought of something quite different. Something rather vulgar, rather common, more or less naughty. Ah no, he wasn’t like that. And yet — since all men are potential lovers to every woman — wouldn’t it be terrible if he asked for love. Terrible — but wonderful. Not a bit like Jack — not a bit. Would Harriet mind? Victoria looked at Harriet with her quick, bright, shy brown eyes. Harriet looked so handsome and distant: she was a little afraid of her. Not as she was afraid of Somers. Afraid as one woman is of another fierce woman. Harriet was fierce, Victoria decided. Somers was demonish, but could be gentle and kind.
It came on to rain, streaming down the carriage windows. Jack lit a cigarette, and offered one to Harriet. She, though she knew Somers disliked it intensely when she smoked, particularly in a public place like this long, open railway carriage, accepted, and sat by the closed window smoking.
The train ran for a long time through Sydney, or the endless outsides of Sydney. The town took almost as much leaving as London does. But it was different. Instead of solid rows of houses, solid streets like London, it was mostly innumerable detached bungalows and cottages, spreading for great distances, scattering over hills, low hills and shallow inclines. And then waste marshy places, and old iron, and abortive corrugated iron “works”— all like the Last Day of creation, instead of a new country. Away to the left they saw the shallow waters of the big opening where Botany Bay is: the sandy shores, the factory chimneys, the lonely places where it is still Bush. And the weary half established straggling of more suburb.
“Como”, said the station sign. And they ran on bridges over two arms of water from the sea, and they saw what looked like a long lake with wooded shores and bungalows: a bit like Lake Como, but oh, so unlike. That curious sombreness of Australia, the sense of oldness, with the forms all worn down low and blunt, squat. The squat-seeming earth. And then they ran at last into real country, rather rocky, dark old rocks, and sombre bush with its different pale-stemmed dull-leaved gumtrees standing graceful, and various healthy-looking undergrowth, and great spiky things like zuccas. As they turned south they saw tree-ferns standing on one knobbly leg among the gums, and among the rocks ordinary ferns and small bushes spreading in glades and up sharp hill-slopes. It was virgin bush, and as if unvisited, lost, sombre, with plenty of space, yet spreading grey for miles and miles, in a hollow towards the west. Far in the west, the sky having suddenly cleared, they saw the magical range of the Blue Mountains. And all this hoary space of bush between. The strange, as it were, INVISIBLE beauty of Australia, which is undeniably there, but which seems to lurk just beyond the range of our white vision. You feel you can’t SEE— as if your eyes hadn’t the vision in them to correspond with the outside landscape. For the landscape is so unimpressive, like a face with little or no features, a dark face. It is so aboriginal, out of our ken, and it hangs back so aloof. Somers always felt he looked at it through a cleft in the atmosphere; as one looks at one of the ugly-faced, distorted aborigines with his wonderful dark eyes that have such an incomprehensible ancient shine in them, across gulfs of unbridged centuries. And yet, when you don’t have the feeling of ugliness or monotony, in landscape or in nigger, you get a sense of subtle, remote, FORMLESS beauty more poignant than anything ever experienced before.
“Your wonderful Australia!” said Harriet to Jack. “I can’t tell you how it moves me. It feels as if no one had ever loved it. Do you know what I mean? England and Germany and Italy and Egypt and India — they’ve all been loved so passionately. But Australia feels as if it had never been loved, and never come out into the open. As if man had never loved it, and made it a happy country, a bride country — or a mother country.”
“I don’t suppose they ever have,” said Jack.
“But they will?” asked Harriet. “Surely they will. I feel that if I were Australian, I should love the very earth of it — the very sand and dryness of it — more than anything.”
“Where should we poor Australian wives be?” put in Victoria, leaning forward her delicate, frail face — that reminded one of a flickering butterfly in its wavering.
“Yes,” said Harriet meditatively, as if they had to be considered, but were not as important as the other question.
“I’m afraid most Australians come to hate the Australian earth a good bit before they’re done with it,” said Jack. “If you call the land a bride, she’s the sort of bride not many of us are willing to tackle. She drinks your sweat and your blood, and then as often as not lets you down, does you in.”
“Of course,” said Harriet, “it will take time. And of course a LOT of love. A lot of fierce love, too.”
“Let’s hope she gets it,” said Jack. “They treat the country more like a woman they pick up on the streets than a bride, to my thinking.”
“I feel I could LOVE Australia,” declared Harriet.
“Do you feel you could love an Australian?” asked Jack, very much to the point.
“Well,” said Harriet, arching her eyes at him, “that’s another matter. From what I see of them I rather doubt it,” she laughed, teasing him.
“I should say you would. But it’s no good loving Australia if you can’t love the Australian.”
“Yes, it is. If as you say Australia is like the poor prostitute, and the Australian just bullies her to get what he can out of her and then treats her like dirt.”
“It’s a good deal like that,” said Jack.
“And then you expect me to approve of you.”
“Oh, we’re not all alike, you know.”
“It always seems to me,” said Somers, “that somebody will have to water Australia with their blood before it’s a real man’s country. The soil, the very plants seem to be waiting for it.”
“You’ve got a lurid imagination, my dear man,” said Jack.
“Yes, he has,” said Harriet. “He’s always so extreme.”
The train jogged on, stopping at every little station. They were near the coast, but for a long time the sea was not in sight. The land grew steeper — dark, straight hills like cliffs, masked in sombre trees. And then the first plume of colliery smoke among the trees on the hill-face. But they were little collieries, for the most part, where the men just walked into the face of the hill down a tunnel, and they hardly disfigured the land at all. Then the train came out on the sea — lovely bays with sand and grass and trees, sloping up towards the sudden hills that were like a wall. There were bungalows dotted in most of the bays. Then suddenly more collieries, and quite a large settlement of bungalows. From the train they looked down on many many pale-grey zinc roofs, sprinkled about like a great camp, close together, yet none touching, and getting thinner towards the sea. The chimneys were faintly smoking, there was a haze of smoke and a sense of home, home in the wilds. A little way off, among the trees, plumes of white steam betrayed more collieries.
A bunch of schoolboys clambered into the train with their satchels, at home as schoolboys are. And several black colliers, with tin luncheon boxes. Then the train ran for a mile and a half, to stop at another little settlement. Sometimes they stopped at beautiful bays in a hollow between hills, and no collieries, only a few bungalows. Harriet hoped Mullumbimby was like that. She rather dreaded the settlements with the many many iron roofs, and the wide, unmade roads of sandy earth running between, down to the sea, or skirting swamp-like little creeks.
The train jogged on again — they were there. The place was half and half. There were many tin roofs — but not SO many. There were the wide, unmade roads running so straight as it were to nowhere, with little bungalow homes half-lost at the side. But they were pleasant little bungalow homes. Then quite near, inland, rose a great black wall of mountain, or cliff, or tor, a vast dark tree-covered tor that reminded Harriet of Matlock, only much bigger. The town trailed down from the foot of this mountain towards the railway, a huddle of grey and red-painted iron roofs. Then over the railway, towards the sea, it began again in a scattered, spasmodic fashion, rather forlorn bungalows and new “stores” and fields with rail fences, and more bungalows above the fields, and more still running down the creek shallows towards the hollow sea, which lay beyond like a grey mound, the strangest sight Harriet had ever seen.
Next to the railway was a field, with men and youths playing football for their lives. Across the road from the football field was a barber’s shop, where a man on horseback was leaning chattering to the barber, a young intelligent gentleman in eye-glasses. And on the broad grass of the roadside grew the trees with the bright scarlet flowers perching among the grey twigs.
Going towards the sea they were going away from the town that slid down at the bush-covered foot of the dark tor. The sun was just sinking to this great hill face, amid a curdle of grey-white clouds. The faintest gold reflected in the more open eastern sky, in front. Strange and forlorn, the wide sandy-rutted road with the broad grass margin and just one or two bungalows. “Verdun” was the first, a wooden house painted dark red. But some had quite wide grass round them, inside their fences, like real lawns.
Victoria had to dart to the house-agent for the key. The other three turned to the left, up another wide road cut in the almost nothingness, past two straying bungalows perched on brick supports — then across a piece of grass-land as yet unoccupied, where small boys were kicking a football — then round the corner of another new road, where water lay in a great puddle so that they had to climb on to the grass beside the fence of a big red-painted bungalow. Across the road was a big bungalow built with imitation timbered walls and a red corrugated roof and red huge water-tanks. The sea roared loudly, but was not in sight. Next along the forlorn little road nestled a real bright red-tiled roof among a high bushy hedge, and with a white gate.
“I do hope it’s that,” said Harriet to herself. She was so yearning to find another home.
Jack stood waiting at the corner on the tall bit of grassy land above the muddy, cut-out road. There came Victoria running in her eager way across the open space up the slight incline. Evening was beginning to fall.
“Got ’em?” called Jack.
“Yes. Mrs. Wynne was just washing herself, so I had to wait a minute.” Victoria came panting up.
“Is that it?” said Harriet timidly at last, pointing to the bright red roof.
“Yes, that’s it,” said Victoria, pleased and proprietary. A boy from the big red bungalow called to ask if he should bring milk across. The big red bungalow was a dairy. But Harriet followed eagerly on Jack’s footsteps across the road. She peeped over the white gate as he unfastened it. A real lovely brick house, with a roof of bright red tiles coming down very low over dark wooden verandahs, and huge round rain-tanks, and a bit of grass and a big shed with double doors. Joy! The gate was open, and she rushed in, under the tall, over-leaning hedge that separated them from the neighbour, and that reached almost to touch the side of her house. A wooden side verandah with bedsteads — old rusty bedsteads patched with strip and rope — and then grass, a little front all of grass, with loose hedges on either side — and the sea, the great Pacific right there and rolling in huge white thunderous rollers not forty yards away, under her grassy platform of a garden. She walked to the edge of the grass. Yes, just down the low cliff, really only a bank, went her own little path, as down a steep bank, and then was smooth yellow sand, and the long sea swishing up its incline, and rocks to the left, and incredible long rollers furling over and crushing down on the shore. At her feet! At her very feet, the huge rhythmic Pacific.
She turned to the house. There it crouched, with its long windows and its wide verandah and its various slopes of low, red-tiled roofs. Perfect! Perfect! The sun had gone down behind the great front of black mountain wall which she could still see over the hedge. The house inside was dark, with its deep verandahs like dark eyelids half closed. Somebody switched on a light. Long cottage windows, and a white ceiling with narrow dark beams. She rushed indoors. Once more in search of a home, to be alone with Lovat, where he would be happy. How the sea thundered!
Harriet liked the house immensely. It was beautifully built, solid, in the good English fashion. It had a great big room with dark jarrah timbering on the roof and the walls: it had a dark jarrah floor, and doors, and some solid, satisfactory jarrah furniture, a big, real table and a sideboard and strong square chairs with cane seats. The Lord had sent her here, that was certain.
And how delighted Victoria was with her raptures. Jack whipped his coat off and went to the shed for wood and coal, and soon had a lavish fire in the open hearth. A boy came with milk, and another with bread and fresh butter and eggs, ordered by Mrs. Wynne. The big black kettle was on the fire. And Harriet took Lovat’s arm, she was so moved.
Through the open seaward door, as they sat at the table, the near sea was glimmering pale and greenish in the sunset, and breaking with a crash of foam right, as it seemed, under the house. If the house had not stood with its little grassy garden some thirty or forty feet above the ocean, sometimes the foam would have flown to the doorstep, or to the steps of the loggia. The great sea roaring at one’s feet!
After the evening meal the women were busy making up beds and tidying round, while the men sat by the fire. Jack was quiet, he seemed to brood, and only smoke abstractedly, vaguely. He just sucked his pipe and stared in the fire, while the sea boomed outside, and the voices of the women were heard eager in the bedrooms. When one of the doors leading on to the verandahs was opened, the noise of the sea came in frightening, like guns.
The house had been let for seven months to a man and wife with eleven children. When Somers got up at sunrise, in the morning, he could well believe it. But the sun rose golden from a low fume of haze in the north-eastern sea. The waves rolled in pale and bluey, glass-green, wonderfully heavy and liquid. They curved with a long arch, then fell in a great hollow thud, and a spurt of white foam and a long, soft, snow-pure rush of forward flat foam. Somers watched the crest of fine, bristling spume fly back from the head of the waves as they turned and broke. The sea was all yellow-green light.
And through the light came a low, black tramp steamer, lurching up and down on the waves, disappearing altogether in the lustrous water, save for her bit of yellow-banded funnel and her mast-tips: then emerging like some long, out-of-shape dolphin on a wave-top. She was like some lost mongrel running over a furrowed land. She bellowed and barked forlornly, and hung round on the up-and-down waves.
Somers saw what he wanted. At the south end of the shallow bay was a long, high jetty straddling on great treetrunk poles out on to the sea, and carrying a long line of little red coal-trucks, the sort that can be tipped up. Beyond the straddling jetty was a spit of low, yellow-brown land, grassy, with a stiff little group of trees like ragged Noah’s ark trees, and further in, a little farm-place with two fascinating big gum-trees that stuck out their clots of foliage in dark tufts at the end of slim, up-starting branches.
But the lines from the jetty ran inland for two hundred yards, to where a tiny colliery was pluming steam and smoke from beyond a marsh-like little creek. The steamer wanted to land. She saw the line of little trucks full and ready. She bellowed like a miserable cow, sloping up and down and turning round on the waters of the bay. Near the jetty the foam broke high on some sheltering rocks. The steamer seemed to watch yearningly, like a dog outside a shut door. A little figure walked along the jetty, slowly, unconcernedly. The steamer bellowed again. The figure reached the end of the jetty, and hung out a red flag. Then the steamer shouted no more, but slowly, fearfully turned and slunk up and down the waves back towards Sydney.
The jetty — the forlorn pale-brown grassy bank running out to sea, with the clump of sharp, hard-pointed dark conifers, trees of the southern hemisphere, stiff and mechanical; then the foreshore with yellow sand and rollers; then two bungalows, and a bit of waste ground full of tins; that was the southern aspect. Northwards, next door, was the big imitation black and white bungalow, with a tuft of wind-blown trees and half-dead hedge between it and the Somers’ house. That was north. And the sun was already sloping upwards and northwards. It gave Somers an uneasy feeling, the northward travelling of the climbing sun: as if everything had gone wrong. Inland, lit up dark grey with its plumy trees in the morning light, was the great mountain or tor, with bare, greying rock showing near the top, and above the ridge-top the pure blue sky, so bright and absolutely unsullied, it was always a wonder. There was an unspeakable beauty about the mornings, the great sun from the sea, such a big, untamed, proud sun, rising into a sky of such tender delicacy, blue, so blue, and yet so frail that even blue seems too coarse a colour to describe it, more virgin than humanity can conceive; the land inward lit up, the prettiness of many painted bungalows with tin roofs clustering up the low up-slopes of the grey-treed bush; and then rising like a wall, facing the light and still lightless, the tor face, with its high-up rim so grey, having tiny trees feathering against the most beautiful frail sky in the world. Morning!
But Somers turned to the house. It stood on one of the regulation lots, probably fifty feet by a hundred and fifty. The bit of level grass in front was only fifty feet wide, and perhaps about the same from the house to the brim of the sea-bank, which dropped bushily down some forty feet to the sand and the flat shore-rocks and the ocean. But this grassy garden was littered with bits of rag, and newspapers, sea-shells, tins and old sponges. And the lot next to it was a marvellous constellation of tin cans in every stage of rustiness, if you peeped between the bushes.
“You’ll take the ashes and the rubbish too?” said Somers to the sanitary-man who came to take the sanitary tin of the earth-closet every Monday morning.
“No,” responded that individual briefly: a true Australian Cockney answer, impossible to spell. A sort of neow sound.
“Does anybody take them?”
“Neow. We take no garbage.”
“Then what do I do with them?”
“Do what you like with ’em.” And he marched off with the can. It was not rudeness. It was a kind of colonial humour.
After this Somers surveyed the cans and garbage of the next lot, under the bushes and everywhere, with colonial hopelessness. But he began at once to pick up rags and cans from his own grass.
The house was very pretty, and beautifully built. But it showed all signs of the eleven children. On the verandah at the side, on either side of the “visitors” door, was a bed: one a huge family iron bedstead with an indescribably rusty, saggy wire mattress, the other a single iron bedstead with the wire mattress all burst and so mended with a criss-cross of ropes. These beds were screened from the sea-wind by sacks, old pieces of awful carpeting, and pieces of linoleum tacked to the side of the verandah. The same happened on the third side of the house: two more rope-mended iron bedsteads, and a nailed-up lot of unspeakable rags to screen from the wind.
The house had three little bedrooms, one opening from each of the side verandahs, and one from the big central room. Each contained two saggy single beds. That was five people. Remained seven, with the father and mother. Three children must have gone into the huge bed by the side entrance door, and the other four must have been sprinkled over the other three outside, rope-mended beds.
The bungalow contained only the big room with five doors: one on each side the fire-place, opening into the inner bedroom and the kitchen respectively, and on each of the other three sides a door opening on to the verandah. From the kitchen opened a little pantry and a zinc-floored cubby-hole fitted with the inevitable Australian douche and a little sinkhole to carry off the water. This was the bathroom. There it was, all compact and nice, two outer bedrooms on the wings, and for the central block, the big room in front, the bedroom and kitchen at the back. The kitchen door opened on to the bit of grass at the back, near the shed.
It was a well-built little place, amazing in a world of wood and tin shacks. But Somers would not have liked to live in it with a thirteen-people family. There were eleven white breakfast cups, of which nine had smashed handles and broad tin substitutes quite cannily put on. There were two saucers only. And all the rest to match: seven large brown teapots, of which five had broken spouts: not one whole dish or basin of any sort, except a sauce boat. And rats! Torestin was a clean and ratless spot compared with Coo-ee. For the house was called Coo-ee, to fetch the rats in, Jack said.
The women flew at the house with hot water and soda. Jack and Somers spent the morning removing bedsteads into the shed, tearing down the horrid rag-and-dirt screens, pulling out the nails with which these screens had been held in place, and pulling out the hundreds of nails which had nailed down the dirt-grey, thin-carpet as if forever to the floor of the big room. Then they banged and battered this thin old patternless carpet, and washed it with soda and water. And then they banged and battered the two sofas, that were like sandbags, so full of sand and dust. And they took down all the ugly, dirt-filmed pictures of the Dana Gibson sort, and the “My refuge is in God” text.
“I should think so,” said Jack. “Away from the muck they’d made down here.”
Like demons the four of them flew at this Coo-ee house, and afternoon saw Jack and Somers polishing floors with a stuff called glowax, and Harriet and Victoria putting clean papers on all the shelves, and arranging the battered remnant of well-washed white crockery.
“The crockery is the worst item here,” said Victoria. “You pay three-and-six and four shillings for one of these cups and saucers, and four-and-six for a common brown quart jug, and twelve guineas for a white dinner service.”
Harriet looked at the horrid breakable stuff aghast.
“I feel like buying a tin mug at once,” she said.
But Victoria did not bother. She took it all as it came. The people with the eleven children had paid three and a half guineas a week for seven months for the house.
At three o’clock Victoria’s brother, a shy youth of seventeen, arrived in a buggy and drove Jack and Victoria the four miles to the home of the latter. Somers and Harriet had tea alone.
“But I love and adore the place,” said Harriet. “Victoria says we can have it for thirty shillings a week, and if they’d let you off even half of the month for Torestin, we should be saving.”
The Callcotts arrived home in the early dark.
“Oh, but doesn’t the house smell different,” cried Victoria.
“Beeswax and turps,” said Jack. “Not a bad smell.”
Again the evening passed quietly. Jack had not been his own boisterous self at all. He was silent, and you couldn’t get at him. Victoria looked at him curiously, wondering, and tried to draw him out. He laughed and was pleasant enough, but relapsed into silence, as if he were sad, or gloomy.
In the morning sunlight Harriet and Somers were out first, after Somers had made the fire, having a frightened dip in the sandy foam. They kept far back from the great rollers, which, as the two sat in the dribbling back-wash, reared up so huge and white and fanged in a front attack, that Harriet always rose and ran, and it was long before she got really wet. And then when they did venture to sit in a foot of water, up came a sudden flush and flung them helpless rolling a dozen yards in, and banged them against the pebbles. It was distinctly surprising. Somers had never known that he weighed so little, that he was such a scrap of unimportance. And he still dared not quite imagine the whole of the blind, invisible force of that water. It was so different being in it, even on the edge of it, from looking at it from the outside.
As they came trembling and panting up the bank to the grass-plot, dripping and smelling so strong and sticky of the Pacific, they saw Jack standing smoking and watching.
“Are you going to try it?” said Somers.
He shook his head, and lit a cigarette.
“No. It’s past my bathing season,” he said.
They ran to the little tub-house and washed the sand and salt and sea-stickiness off with fresh water.
Somers wondered whether Jack was going to say anything to him or not. He was not sure. Perhaps Jack himself was not sure. And Somers had that shrinking feeling one has from going to see the doctor. In a quiet sort of way, the two men kept clear of one another. They loitered about in the sun and round the house during the morning, mending the broken deck-chairs and doing little jobs. Victoria and Harriet were cooking roast pork and apple sauce, and baking little cakes. It had already been arranged that the Somers should come and live in Coo-ee, and Victoria was quite happy and determined to leave a supply of nice eatables behind her.
In the afternoon they all went strolling down the sands, Somers and Victoria, Jack and Harriet. They picked up big, iridescent abalone shells, such as people had on their mantelpieces at home: and bits of purplish coral stuff. And they walked across two fields to have a look at an aeroplane which had come down with a broken propeller. Jack of course had to talk about it to the people there, while Somers hung back and tried to make himself invisible, as he always did when there were strange onlookers.
Then the four turned home. Jack and Victoria were leaving by the seven train next morning, Somers and Harriet were staying on a few days, before they returned to Sydney to pack up. Harriet was longing to have the house to themselves. So was Somers. He was also hoping that Jack wouldn’t talk to him, wouldn’t want anything of him. And at the same time he was waiting for some sort of approach.
The sea’s edge was smoking with the fume of the waves like a mist, and the high shore ahead, with the few painted red-roofed bungalows, was all dim, like a Japanese print. Tier after tier of white-frost foam piled breaking towards the shore, in a haste. The tide was nearly high. Somers could hardly see beyond over the white wall-tops of the breaking waves, only on the clear horizon, far away, a steamer like a small black scratch, and a fantastic thread of smoke.
He lingered behind the rest, they were nearly home. They were at the wide sandy place where the creek left off. Its still brackish waters just sank into the sands, without ever running to meet the waves. And beyond the sands was a sort of marsh, bushes and tall stark dead gum-trees, and a few thin-tufted trees. Half wild ponies walked heavily from the bush to the sands, and across to the slope where the low cliff rose again. In the depths of the marsh-like level was the low chimney of the mine, and tips of roofs: and beyond, a long range of wire-like trees holding up tufts of foliage in handfuls, in front of the pale blue, diminishing range of the hills in the distance. It was a weird scene, full of definite detail, fascinating detail, yet all in the funeral-grey monotony of the bush.
Somers turned to the piled-up, white-fronted sea again. On the tip of a rock above him sat a little bird with hunched-up shoulders and a long beak: an absurd silhouette. He went towards it, talking to it. It seemed to listen to him: really to listen. That is another of the charms of Australia: the birds are not really afraid, and one can really communicate with them. In West Australia Somers could sit in the bush and talk to the flocks of big, handsome, black-and-white birds that they call magpies, but which are a sort of butcher bird, apparently. And they would gurgle little answers in their throats, and cock their heads on one side. Handsome birds they were, some with mottled grey breasts like fish. And the boldest would even come and take pieces of bread from his hands. Yet they were quite wild. Only they seemed to have a strange power of understanding the human psyche.
Now this little kingfisher by the sea. It sat and looked at Somers, and cocked its head and listened. It LIKED to be talked to. When he came quite near, it sped with the straight low flight of kingfishers to another boulder, and waited for him. It was beautiful too: with a sheeny sea-green back and a pale breast touched with burnt yellow. A beautiful, dandy little fellow. And there he waited for Somers like a little penguin perching on a brown boulder. And Somers came softly near, talking quietly. Till he could almost touch the bird. Then away it sped a few yards, and waited. Sheeny greyish green, like the gum-leaves become vivid: and yellowish breast, like the suave gum-tree trunks. And listening, and waiting, and wanting to be talked to. Wanting the contact.
The other three had disappeared from the sea-side. Somers walked slowly on. Then suddenly he saw Jack running across the sand in a bathing suit, and entering the shallow rim of a long, swift upwash. He went in gingerly — then threw himself into a little swell, and rolled in the water for a minute. Then he was rushing back, before the next big wave broke. He had gone again by the time Somers came to climb the cliff-bank to the house.
They had a cup of tea on the wooden verandah. The air had begun to waft icily from the inland, but in the sheltered place facing the sea it was still warm. This was only four o’clock — or to-day, five o’clock tea. Proper tea was at six or half-past, with meat and pies and fruit salad.
The women went indoors with the cups. Jack was smoking his pipe. There was something unnatural about his stillness.
“You had a dip after all,” said Somers.
“Yes. A dip in and out.”
Then silence again. Somers’ thoughts wandered out to the gently darkening sea, and the bird, and the whole of vast Australia lying behind him flat and open to the sky.
“You like it down here?” said Jack.
“I do indeed.”
“Let’s go down to the rocks again, I like to be near the waves.”
Somers rose and followed him. The house was already lit up. The sea was bluey. They went down the steps cut in the earth of the bank top, and between the bushes to the sand. The tide was full, and swishing against a flat ledge of rocks. Jack went to the edge of this ledge, looking in at the surging water, white, hissing, heavy. Somers followed again. Jack turned his face to him.
“Funny thing it should go on doing this all the time, for no purpose,” said Jack, amid all the noise.
Again they watched the heavy waves unfurl and fling the white challenge of foam on the shore.
“I say,” Jack turned his face. “I shan’t be making a mistake if I tell you a few things in confidence, shall I?”
“I hope not. But judge for yourself.”
“Well, it’s like this,” shouted Jack — they had to shout at one another in unnaturally lifted voices, because of the huge noise of the sea. “There’s a good many of us chaps as has been in France, you know — and been through it all — in the army — we jolly well know you can’t keep a country going on the vote-catching system — as you said the other day. We know it can’t be done.”
“It can’t,” said Somers, with a shout, “for ever.”
“If you’ve got to command, you don’t have to ask your men first if it’s right, before you give the command.”
“Of course not,” yelled Somers.
But Jack was musing for the moment.
“What?” he shouted, as he woke up.
“No,” yelled Somers.
A further muse, amid the roar of the waves.
“Do the men know better than the officers, or do the officers know better than the men?” he barked.
“Of course,” said Somers.
“These damned politicians — they invent a cry — and they wait to see if the public will take it up. And if it won’t, they drop it. And if it will, they make a mountain of it, if it’s only an old flower-pot.”
“They do,” yelled Somers.
They stood close side by side, like two mariners in a storm, amid the breathing spume of the foreshore, while darkness slowly sank. Right at the tip of the flat, low rocks they stood, like pilots.
“It’s no good,” barked Jack, with his hands in his pockets.
“Not a bit.”
“If you’re an officer, you study what is best, for the cause and for the men. You study your men. But you don’t ask THEM what to do. If you do you’re a wash-out.”
“And that’s where it is in politics. You see the papers howling and blubbering for a statesman. Why, if they’d got the finest statesman the world ever saw, they’d chuck him on to the scrap heap the moment he really wanted his own way, doing what he saw was the best. That’s where they’ve got anybody who’s any good — on the scrap-heap.”
“Same the world over.”
“It’s got to alter somewhere.”
“When you’ve been through the army, you know that what you depend on is a GENERAL, and on DISCIPLINE, and on OBEDIENCE. And nothing else is the slightest bit of good.”
“But they say the civil world is NOT an army: it’s the will of the people,” cried Somers.
“Will of my grandmother’s old tom-cat. They’ve got no will, except to stop anybody else from having any.”
“Look at Australia. Absolutely fermenting rotten with politicians and the will of the people. Look at the country — going rottener every day, like an old pear.”
“All the democratic world the same.”
“Of course it’s the same. And you may well say Australian soil is waiting to be watered with blood. It’s waiting to be watered with our blood, once England’s got too soft to help herself, let alone us, and the Japs come down this way. They’d squash us like a soft pear.”
“I think it’s quite likely.”
“It’s pretty well a certainty. And would you blame them? If you was thirsty, wouldn’t you pick a ripe pear if it hung on nobody’s tree? Why, of course you would. And who’d blame you.”
“Blame myself if I didn’t,” said Somers.
“And then their coloured labour. I tell you, this country’s too far from Europe to risk it. They’ll swallow us. As sure as guns is guns, if we let in coloured labour, they’ll swallow us. They hate us. All the other colours hate the white. And they’re only waiting till we haven’t got the pull over them. They’re only waiting. And then what about poor little Australia?”
“There’ll be the Labour Party, the Socialists, uniting with the workers of the world. THEY’LL be the workers, if ever it comes to it. Those black and yellow people’ll make ’em work — not half. It isn’t one side only that can keep slaves. Why, the fools, the coloured races don’t have any FEELING for liberty. They only think you’re a fool when you give it to them, and if they got a chance, they’d drive you out to work in gangs, and fairly laugh at you. All this world’s-worker business is simply playing their game.”
“Of course,” said Somers. “What is Indian Nationalism but a strong bid for power — for tyranny. The Brahmins want their old absolute caste-power — the most absolute tyranny — back again, and the Mohammedans want their military tyranny. That’s what they are lusting for — to wield the rod again. Slavery for millions. Japan the same. And China, in part, the same. The niggers the same. The real sense of liberty only goes with white blood. And the ideal democratic liberty is an exploded ideal. You’ve got to have wisdom and authority somewhere, and you can’t get it out of any further democracy.”
“There!” said Jack. “That’s what I mean. We’ll be wiped out, wiped out. And we know it. Look here, as man to man, you and me here: if you were an Australian, wouldn’t you do something if you could do something?”
“Whether you got shot or whether you didn’t! We went to France to get ourselves shot, for something that didn’t touch us very close either. Then why shouldn’t we run a bit of risk for what does touch us very close. Why, you know, with things as they are, I don’t want Victoria and me to have any children. I’d a jolly sight rather not — and I’ll watch it too.”
“Same with me,” yelled Somers.
Jack had come closer to him, and was now holding him by the arm.
“What’s a man’s life for, anyhow? Is it just to save up like rotten pears on a shelf, in the hopes that one day it’ll rot into a pink canary or something of that?”
“No,” said Somers.
“What we want in Australia,” said Jack, “isn’t a statesman, not yet. It’s a set of chaps with some guts in them, who’ll obey orders when they find a man who’ll give the orders.”
“And we’ve got such men — we’ve got them. But we want to see our way clear. We don’t never feel quite SURE enough over here. That’s where it is. We sound as sure as a gas-explosion. But it’s all bang and no bump. We’ll never raise no lids. We shall only raise the roof — or our politicians will — with shouting. Because we’re never quite sure. We know it when we meet you English people. You’re a lot surer than we are. But you’re mostly bigger fools as well. It takes a fool to be sure of himself, sometimes.”
“And there’s where it is. Most Englishmen are too big cocked-up fools for us. And there you are. Their sureness may help them along to the end of the road, but they haven’t the wit to turn a corner: not a proper corner. And we can see it. They can only go back on themselves.”
“You’re the only man I’ve met who seems to me sure of himself and what he means. I may be mistaken, but that’s how it seems to me. And William James knows it too. But it’s my belief William James doesn’t want you to come in, because it would spoil his little game.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t. Now, look here. This is absolutely between ourselves, now, isn’t it?”
Jack was silent for a time. Then he looked round the almost dark shore. The stars were shining overhead.
“Give me your hand then,” said Jack.
Somers gave him his hand, and Jack clasped it fast, drawing the smaller man to him and putting his arm round his shoulders and holding him near to him. It was a tense moment for Richard Lovat. He looked at the dark sea, and thought of his own everlasting gods, and felt the other man’s body next to his.
“Well now,” he said in Somers’ ear, in a soothed tone. “There’s quite a number of us in Sydney — and in the other towns as well — we’re mostly diggers back from the war — we’ve joined up into a kind of club — and we’re sworn in — and we’re sworn to OBEY the leaders, no matter what the command, when the time is ready — and we’re sworn to keep silent till then. We don’t let out much, nothing of any consequence, to the general run of the members.”
Richard listened with his soul. Jack’s eager, conspirator voice seemed very close to his ear, and it had a kind of caress, a sort of embrace. Richard was absolutely motionless.
“But who are your leaders?” he asked, thinking of course that it was his own high destiny to be a leader.
“Why, the first club got fifty members to start with. Then we chose a leader and talked things over. And then we chose a secretary and a lieutenant. And every member quietly brought in more chaps. And as soon as we felt we could afford it, we separated, making the next thirty or so into a second club, with the lieutenant for a leader. Then we chose a new lieutenant — and the new club chose a secretary and a lieutenant.”
Richard didn’t follow all this lieutenant and club business very well. He was thinking of himself entering in with these men in a dangerous, desperate cause. It seemed unreal. Yet there he was, with Jack’s arm round him. Jack would want him to be his “mate”. Could he? His cobber. Could he ever be mate to any man?
“You sort of have a lot of leaders. What if one of them let you down?” he asked.
“None of them have yet. But we’ve arranged for that.”
“I’ll tell you later. But you get a bit of the hang of the thing, do you?”
“I think so. But what do you call yourselves? How do you appear to the public?”
“We call ourselves the digger clubs, and we go in chiefly for athletics. And we do spend most of the time in athletics. But those that aren’t diggers can join, if a pal brings them in and vouches for them.”
Richard was now feeling rather out of it. Returned soldiers, and clubs, and athletics — all unnatural things to him. Was he going to join in with this? How could he? He was so different from it all.
“And how do you work — I mean together?” he faltered.
“We have a special lodge of the leaders and lieutenants and secretaries from all the clubs, and again in every lodge they choose a master, that’s the highest; and then a Jack, he’s like a lieutenant; and a Teller, he’s the sort of secretary and president. We have lodges in all the biggish places. And then all the masters of the lodges of the five states of Australia keep in touch, and they choose five masters who are called the Five, and these five agree among themselves which order they shall stand in: first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. When once they’ve chosen the first, then he has two votes towards the placing of the other four. And so they settle it. And then they grade the five Jacks and the five Tellers. I tell it you just in rough, you know.”
“Yes. And what are you?”
“I’m a master.”
Richard was still trying to see himself in connection with it all. He tried to piece together all that Jack had been letting off at him. Returned soldiers’ clubs, chiefly athletics, with a more or less secret core to each club, and all the secret cores working together secretly in all the state under one chief head, and apparently with military penalties for any transgression. It was not a bad idea. And the aim, apparently, a sort of revolution and a seizing of political power.
“How long have you been started?” he asked.
“About eighteen months — nearly two years altogether.”
Somers was silent, very much impressed, though his heart felt heavy. Why did his heart feel so heavy? Politics — conspiracy — political power: it was all so alien to him. Somehow, in his soul he always meant something quite different, when he thought of action along with other men. Yet Australia, the wonderful, lonely Australia, with her seven million people only — it might begin here. And the Australians, so queer, so absent, as it were, leaving themselves out all the time — they might be capable of a beautiful unselfishness and steadfastness of purpose. Only — his heart refused to respond.
“What is your aim, though? What do you want, finally?” he asked rather lamely.
Jack hesitated, and his grip on the other man’s arm tightened.
“Well,” he said. “It’s like this. We don’t talk a lot about what we intend: we fix nothing. But we start certain talks, and we listen, so we know more or less what most of the ordinary members feel like. Why, the plan is more or less this. The Labour people, the reds, are always talking about a revolution, and the Conservatives are always talking about a disaster. Well, we keep ourselves fit and ready for as soon as the revolution comes — or the disaster. Then we step in, you see, and we are the revolution. We’ve got most of the trained fighting men behind us, and we can MAKE the will of the people, don’t you see: if the members stand steady. We shall have ‘Australia’ for the word. We stand for Australia, not for any of your parties.”
Somers at once felt the idea was a good one. Australia is not too big — seven millions or so, and the biggest part of the seven concentrated in the five or six cities. Get hold of your cities and you’ve got hold of Australia. The only thing he mistrusted was the dryness in Jack’s voice: a sort of that’s-how-it’s-got-to-be dryness, sharp and authoritative.
“What d’yer think of it?” said Jack.
“Good idea,” said Somers.
“I know that — if we can bite on to it. Feel like joining in, d’yer think?”
Somers was silent. He was thinking of Jack even more than of the venture. Jack was trying to put something over him — in some way, to get a hold over him. He felt like an animal that is being lassooed. Yet here was his chance, if he wanted to be a leader of men. He had only to give himself, give himself up to it and to the men.
“Let me think about it a bit, will you?” he replied, “and I’ll tell you when I come up to Sydney.”
“Right O!” said Jack, a twinge of disappointment in his acquiescence. “Look before you leap, you know.”
“Yes — for both sides. You wouldn’t want me to jump in, and then squirm because I didn’t like it.”
“Right you are, old man. You take your own time — I know you won’t be wagging your jaw to anybody.”
“No. Not even to Harriet.”
“Oh, bless you, no. We’re not having the women in, if we can help it. Don’t believe in it, do you?”
“Not in real politics, I don’t.”
They stood a moment longer by the sea. Then Jack let go Somers’ arm.
“Well,” he said, “I’d rather die in a forlorn hope than drag my days out in a forlorn mope. Besides, damn it, I do want to have a shot at something, I do. These politicians absolutely get my wind up, running the country. If I can’t do better than that, then let me be shot, and welcome.”
“I agree,” said Somers.
Jack put his hand on his shoulder, and pressed it hard.
“I knew you would,” he said, in moved tones. “We want a man like you, you know — like a sort of queen bee to a hive.”
Somers laughed, rather startled by the metaphor. He had thought of himself as many things, but never as a queen bee to a hive of would-be revolutionaries. The two men went up to the house.
“Wherever have you been?” said Victoria.
“Talking politics and red-hot treason,” said Jack, rubbing his hands.
“Till you’re almost frozen, I’m sure,” said Victoria.
Harriet looked at the two men in curiosity and suspicion, but she said nothing. Only next morning when the Callcotts had gone she said to Lovat:
“What were you and Mr. Callcott talking about, really?”
“As he said, politics and hot treason. An idea that some of them have got for making a change in the constitution.”
“What sort of change?” asked Harriet.
“Why — don’t bother me yet. I don’t know myself.”
“Is it so important you mustn’t tell me?” she asked sarcastically.
“Or else so vague,” he answered.
But she saw by the shut look on his face that he was not going to tell her: that this was something he intended to keep apart from her: forever apart. A part of himself which he was not going to share with her. It seemed to her unnecessary, and a breach of faith on his part, wounding her. If their marriage was a real thing, then anything very serious was her matter as much as his, surely. Either her marriage with him was not very important, or else this Jack Callcott stuff wasn’t very important. Which probably it wasn’t. Yet she hated the hoity-toity way she was shut out.
“Pah!” she said. “A bit of little boys’ silly showing off.”
But he had this other cold side to his nature, that could keep a secret cold and isolated till Doomsday. And for two or three years now, since the war, he had talked like this about doing some work with men alone, sharing some activity with men. Turning away from the personal life to the hateful male impersonal activity, and shutting her out from this.
She continued bright through the day. Then at evening he found her sitting on her bed with tears in her eyes and her hands in her lap. At once his heart became very troubled: because after all she was all he had in the world, and he couldn’t bear her to be really disappointed or wounded. He wanted to ask her what was the matter, and to try to comfort her. But he knew it would be false. He knew that her greatest grief was when he turned away from their personal human life of intimacy to this impersonal business of male activity for which he was always craving. So he felt miserable, but went away without saying anything. Because he was determined, if possible, to go forward in this matter with Jack. He was also determined that it was not a woman’s matter. As soon as he could he would tell her about it: as much as it was necessary for her to know. But, once he had slowly and carefully weighed a course of action, he would not hold it subject to Harriet’s approval or disapproval. It would be out of her sphere, outside the personal sphere of their two lives, and he would keep it there. She emphatically opposed this principle of her externality. She agreed with the necessity for impersonal activity, but oh, she insisted on being identified with the activity, impersonal or not. And he insisted that it could not and should not be: that the pure male activity should be womanless, beyond woman. No man was beyond woman. But in his one quality of ultimate maker and breaker, he was womanless. Harriet denied this, bitterly. She wanted to share, to join in, not to be left out lonely. He looked at her in distress, and did not answer. It is a knot that can never be untied; it can only, like a navel string, be broken or cut.
For the moment, however, he said nothing. But Somers knew from his dreams what she was feeling: his dreams of a woman, a woman he loved, something like Harriet, something like his mother, and yet unlike either, a woman sullen and obstinate against him, repudiating him. Bitter the woman was, grieved beyond words, grieved till her face was swollen and puffy and almost mad or imbecile, because she had loved him so much, and now she must see him betray her love. That was how the dream woman put it: he had betrayed her great love, and she must go down desolate into an everlasting hell, denied, and denying him absolutely in return, a sullen, awful soul. The face reminded him of Harriet, and of his mother, and of his sister, and of girls he had known when he was younger — strange glimpses of all of them, each glimpse excluding the last. And at the same time in the terrible face some of the look of that bloated face of a madwoman which hung over Jane Eyre in the night in Mr. Rochester’s house.
The Somers of the dream was terribly upset. He cried tears from his very bowels, and laid his hand on the woman’s arm saying:
“But I love you. Don’t you BELIEVE in me? Don’t you BELIEVE in me?” But the woman, she seemed almost old now — only shed a few bitter tears, bitter as vitriol, from her distorted face, and bitterly, hideously turned away, dragging her arm from the touch of his fingers; turned, as it seemed to the dream-Somers, away to the sullen and dreary, everlasting hell of repudiation.
He woke at this, and listened to the thunder of the sea with horror. With horror. Two women in his life he had loved down to the quick of life and death: his mother and Harriet. And the woman in the dream was so awfully his mother, risen from the dead, and at the same time Harriet, as it were, departing from this life, that he stared at the night-paleness between the window-curtains in horror.
“They neither of them believed in me,” he said to himself. Still in the spell of the dream, he put it in the past tense, though Harriet lay sleeping in the next bed. He could not get over it.
Then he tried to come right awake. In his full consciousness, he was a great enemy of dreams. For his own private life, he found his dreams were like devils. When he was asleep and off his guard, then his own weaknesses, especially his old weaknesses that he had overcome in his full, day-waking self, rose up again maliciously to take some picturesque form and torment and overcome his sleeping self. He always considered dreams as a kind of revenge which old weaknesses took on the victorious healthy consciousness, like past diseases come back for a phantom triumph. So he said to himself: “The dream is one of these larvae of my past emotions. It means that the danger is passed, the evil is overcome, so it has to resort to dreams to terrify me. In dreams the diseases and evil weaknesses of the soul — and of our relations with other souls — take form to triumph falsely over the living, healthy, onward-struggling spirit. This dream means that the actual danger is gone.” So he strengthened his spirit, and in the morning when he got up, and remembered, he was no longer afraid. A little uneasy still, maybe, especially as to what Harriet would do. But surely his mother was not hostile in death! And if she were a little bit hostile at this forsaking, it was not permanent, it was only the remains of a weakness, an unbelief which haunted the soul in life.
So he reasoned with himself. For he had an ingrained instinct or habit of thought which made him feel that he could never take the move into activity unless Harriet and his dead mother believed in him. They both loved him: that he knew. They both believed in him terribly, in personal being. In the individual man he was, and the son of man, they believed with all the intensity of undivided love. But in the impersonal man, the man that would go beyond them, with his back to them, away from them into an activity that excluded them, in this man they did not find it so easy to believe.
Harriet, however, said nothing for two days. She was happy in her new house, delighted with the sea and the being alone, she loved her Coo-ee bungalow, and loved making it look nice. She loved having Lovat alone with her, and all her desires, as it were, in the hollow of her hand. She was bright and affectionate with him. But underneath lurked this chagrin of his wanting to go away from her, for his activity.
“You don’t take Callcott and his politics seriously, do you?” she said to him at evening.
“Yes,” he said, rather hesitatingly.
“But what does he want?”
“To have another sort of government for the Commonwealth — with a sort of Dictator: not the democratic vote-cadging sort.”
“But what does that matter to you?”
“It does matter. If you can start a new life-form.”
“You know quite well you say yourself life doesn’t START with a form. It starts with a new feeling, and ends with a form.”
“I know. But I think there is a new feeling.”
“In Callcott?” She had a very sceptical intonation.
“I very much doubt it. He’s a returned war hero, and he wants a chance of keeping on being a hero — or something like that.”
“But even that is a new feeling,” he persisted.
“Yah!” she said, rather wearily sceptical. “I’d rather even believe in William James. There seems to me more real feeling even in him: deeper, at any rate. Your Jacks are shallow really.”
“Nay, he seemed a man to me.”
“I don’t know what you mean by your MEN. Really, I give it up, I don’t know what you do want. You change so. You’ve always said you despise politics, and yet here you are.” She tailed off as if it were hopeless.
“It’s not the politics. But it IS a new life-form, a new social form. We’re pot-bound inside democracy and the democratic feeling.”
“But you know what you’ve said yourself. You didn’t change the Roman Empire with a revolution. Christianity grew up for centuries without having anything at all to do with politics — just a FEELING, and a belief.”
This was indeed what he had said himself, often enough: that a new religious inspiration, and a new religious idea must gradually spring up and ripen before there could be any constructive change. And yet he felt that preaching and teaching were both no good, at the world’s present juncture. There must be action, brave, faithful action: and in the action the new spirit would arise.
“You see,” he said, “Christianity is a religion which preaches the despising of the material world. And I don’t believe in that part of it, at least, any longer. I believe that the men with the real passion for life, for truth, for LIVING and not for HAVING, I feel they now must seize control of the material possessions, just to safeguard the world from all the masses who want to seize material possessions for themselves, blindly, and nothing else. The men with soul and with passionate truth in them must control the world’s material riches and supplies: absolutely put possessions out of the reach of the mass of mankind, and let life begin to live again, in place of this struggle for existence, or struggle for wealth.”
“Yah, I don’t believe it’s so all-important who controls the world’s material riches and supplies. That’ll always be the same.”
“It will. Conservatives or bolshevists or Labour Party — they’re all alike: they all want to grab and have things in their clutches, and they’re devilish with jealousy if they haven’t got them. That’s politics. You’ve said thousands of times that politics are a game for the base people with no human soul in them. Thousands of times you’ve said it. And yet now —.”
He was silent for a while.
“Now,” he said slowly. “Now I see that you don’t have only to give all your possessions to the poor. You’ve got to HAVE no poor that can be saved just by possessions. You’ve got to put the control of all supplies into the hands of sincere, sensible men who are still men enough to know that manhood isn’t the same thing as goods. We don’t want possessions. Nobody wants possessions — more than just the immediate things: as you say yourself, one trunk for you, one for me, and one for the household goods. That’s about all. We don’t want anything else. And the world is ours — Australia or India, Coo-ee or Ardnaree, or where you like. You have got to teach people that, by withholding possessions and stopping the mere frenzy for possession which runs the world to-day. You’ve got to do that FIRST, not last.”
“And you think Jack Callcott will do it?”
“I did think so, as he talked to me.”
“Well, then let him. Why do you want to interfere? In my opinion he’s chiefly jealous because other people run the show, and he doesn’t have a look-in. Having once been a Captain with some power, he wants the same again, and more. I’d rather trust William James to be disinterested.”
“Nay, Jack Callcott is generous by nature, and I believe he’d be disinterested.”
“In his way, he’s generous. But that isn’t the same as being disinterested, for all that. He wants to have his finger in the pie, that’s what he wants.”
“To pull out plums? That’s not true.”
“Perhaps not to pull out money plums. But to be bossy. To be a Captain once more, feeling his feet and being a boss over something.”
“Why shouldn’t he be?”
“Why not? I don’t care if he bosses all Australia and New Zealand and all the lot. But I don’t see why you should call it disinterested. Because it isn’t.”
He paused, struck.
“Am I disinterested?” he asked.
“Not”— she hesitated —“not when you want just POWER.”
“But I don’t want just power. I only see that somebody must have power, so those should have it who don’t want it selfishly, and who have some natural gift for it, and some reverence for the sacredness of it.”
“Ha! — power! power! What does it all mean, after all! And especially in people like Jack Callcott. Where does he see any sacredness. He’s a sentimentalist, and as you say yourself, nothing is sacred then.”
This discussion ended in a draw. Harriet had struck home once or twice, and she knew it. That appeased her for the moment. But he stuck to his essential position, though he was not so sure of the circumstantial standing.
Harriet loved Coo-ee, and was determined to be happy there. She had at last gradually realised that Lovat was no longer lover to her or anybody, or even anything: and amidst the chagrin was a real relief. Because he was her husband, that was undeniable. And if, as her husband, he had to go on to other things, outside of marriage: well, that was his affair. It only angered her when he thought these other things — revolutions or governments or whatnot — higher than their essential marriage. But then he would come to himself and acknowledge that his marriage WAS the centre of his life, the core, the root, however he liked to put it: and this other business was the inevitable excursion into his future, into the unknown, onwards, which man by his nature was condemned to make, even if he lost his life a dozen times in it. Well, so be it. Let him make the excursion: even without her. But she was not, if she could help it, going to have him setting off on a trip that led nowhere. No, if he was to excurse ahead, it must be ahead, and her instinct must be convinced as the needle of a mariner’s compass is convinced. And regarding this Australian business of Callcott’s, she had her doubts.
However, she had for the moment a home, where she felt for the moment as rooted, as central as the tree of life itself. She wasn’t a bit of flotsam, and she wasn’t a dog chained to a dog-kennel. Coo-ee might be absurd — and she knew it was only a camp. But then where she camped with Lovat Somers was now the world’s centre to her, and that was enough.
She loved to wake in the morning and open the bedroom door — they had the north bedroom, on the verandah, the room that had the sun all day long; then she liked to lie luxuriously in bed and watch the lovely, broken colours of the Australian dawn: always strange, mixed colours, never the primary reds and yellows. The sun rose on the north-east — she could hardly see it. But she watched the first yellow of morning, and then the strange, strong smoky red-purple of floating pieces of cloud: then the rose and mist blue of the horizon, and the sea all reddish, smoky flesh-colour, moving under a film of gold like a glaze; then the sea gradually going yellow, going primrose, with the foam breaking blue as forget-me-nots or frost, in front. And on the near swing of the bluey primrose, sticking up through the marvellous liquid pale yellow glaze, the black fins of sharks. The triangular, black fins of sharks, like small, hard sails of hell-boats, amid the swimming luminousness. Then she would run out on the verandah. Sharks! Four or five sharks, skulking in the morning glow, and so near, she could almost have thrown bread to them. Sharks, slinking along quite near the coast, as if they were walking on the land. She saw one caught in the heave of a breaker, and lifted. And then she saw him start, saw the quick flurry of his tail as he flung himself back. The land to him was horror — as to her the sea, beyond that wall of ice-blue foam. She made Lovat come to look. He watched them slowly, holding the brush in his hand. He had made the fire, and was sweeping the hearth. Coffee was ready by the time Harriet was dressed: and he was crouching making toast. They had breakfast together on the front verandah, facing the sea, eastwards. And the much-washed red-and-white tablecloth that had been in so many lands with them and that they used out-doors, looked almost too strongly coloured in the tender-seeming atmosphere. The coffee had a lot of chicory in it, but the butter and milk were good, and the brownish honey, that also, like the landscape, tasted queer, as if touched with unkindled smoke. It seemed to Somers as if the people of Australia OUGHT to be dusky. Think of Sicilian honey — like the sound of birds singing: and now this with a dusky undertone to it. But good too — so good!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10