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 They had another battle, Somers and Harriet; they stood opposite to one another in such fury one against the other that they nearly one another. He couldn’t stay near her, so started walking off into the country. It was winter, but sunny, and hot walking. He climbed up and up the highroad between the , damp jungle that grew at the base and up the steep rise of the tor-face, which he wanted to get to the top of. Strange birds made , noises. Tree-ferns rose on their notchy little trunks, and great in with more ordinary bushes. Overhead rose the gum-trees, sometimes with great , dead limbs thrown up, sometimes hands over like pine-trees.  
He sweated up the steep road till at last he came to the top. There, on the farther side, the dip slope, the hills sank and ran in spurs, all fairly wooded, but not like the scarp slope up which he had . The scarp slope was jungle, impenetrable, with tree-ferns and bunchy cabbage-palms and mosses like bushes, a thick matted undergrowth beneath the boles of the trees. But the dip slope was bush: gum trees rather , and a low undergrowth like heath. The same lonely, unbreakable silence and loneliness that seemed to him the real bush. unapproachable to him. The mystery of the bush seems to from you as you advance, and then it is behind you if you look round. Lonely, and weird, and .
He went on till he could look over the tor’s edge at the land below. There was the scalloped sea-shore, for miles, and the strip of flat coast-land, sometimes a mile wide, sprinkled as far as the eye could reach with the pale-grey roofs of the : all scattered like crystals in the loose cells of the dark tree-tissue of the shore. It was suggestive of Japanese landscape, dark trees and little, single, scattered toy houses. Then the bays of the shore, the coal-jetty, far off rocks down the coast, and long white lines of breakers.
But he was looking mostly straight below him, at the{198} massed of the cliff-slope. Down into the centre of the great, dull-green whorls of the tree-ferns, and on to the shaggy mops of the cabbage palms. In one place a long fall of creeper was yellowish with damp flowers. Gum-trees came up in tufts. The previous world!—the world of the coal age. The lonely, lonely world that had waited, it seemed, since the coal age. These ancient flat-topped tree-ferns, these towsled palms like mops. What was the good of trying to be an alert conscious man here? You couldn’t. Drift, drift into a sort of obscurity, into a nameless past, hoary as the country is hoary. Strange old feelings wake in the soul: old, non-human feelings. And an old, old , like a , invades the spirit. An old, saurian torpor. Who wins? There was the land sprinkled with as with granulated sugar. There was a black smoke of steamers on the high pale sea, and a whiteness of steam from a colliery among the dull trees. Was the land awake? Would the people waken this ancient land, or would the land put them to sleep, drift them back into the semi-consciousness of the world of the .
Somers felt the torpor coming over him. He hung there on the parapet looking down, and he didn’t care. How profoundly, darkly he didn’t care. There are no problems for the soul in its darkened, wide-eyed torpor. Neither Harriet nor Kangaroo nor Jaz, nor even the world. Worlds come, and worlds go: even worlds. And when the old, old influence of the fern-world comes over a man, how can he care? He breathes the fern seed and drifts back, becomes darkly half vegetable, of pre-occupations. Even the never-slumbering urge of sex sinks down into something darker, more , of caring: like sex in trees. The dark world before conscious responsibility was born.
A queer bird sat on a a few yards away, just below; a bird like a bunch of old rag, with a small rag of a dark tail, and a pale top like an , and a sort of frill round his neck. He had a long, sharp, dangerous . But he too was sunk in unutterable . A kukooburra! Some instinct made him know that Somers was watching, so he just round on the bough and sat with his back to the man, and became .{199} Somers watched and wondered. Then he whistled. No change. Then he clapped his hands. The bird looked over its shoulder in surprise. What! it seemed to say. Is there somebody alive? Is that a live somebody? It had quite a handsome face, with the long, beak. It slowly took Somers in. Then he clapped again. Making an effort the bird spread quite big wings and whirred in a queer, flight to a bough a dozen yards farther off. And there it again.
Ah well, thought Somers, life is so big, and has such huge ante-worlds of grey twilight. How can one care about anything in particular!
He went home again, and had forgotten the quarrel and forgotten marriage or revolutions or anything: drifted away into the grey pre-world where men didn’t have emotions. Where men didn’t have emotions and personal consciousness, but were shadowy like trees, and on the whole silent, with brains and slow limbs and a great indifference.
But Harriet was waiting for him rather wistful, and loving him rather quiveringly. And yet even in the quiver of her passion was some of this indifference, this twilight indifference of the fern-world.
and Victoria came for the week-end, and Somers and Callcott met in a much nearer sympathy than they had ever known before. Victoria was always thrilled and fascinated by both the Somers: they had an inexhaustible for her, the tones of their voices, their manner, their way with each other. She could not understand the strange sureness they had in themselves, the sureness of what they were saying or going to say, the sureness of what they were feeling. For herself, her words fluttered out of her without her direct control, and her feelings fluttered in her the same. She was one perpetually dovecot of words and emotions, always trying consciously to find herself amid the whirl, and never quite succeeding. She thought someone might tell her. Whereas the Somers had an unconscious sureness, something that seemed really royal to her. But she had in the last issue the twilight indifference of the fern-world. Only she still quivered for the light.
Poor Victoria! She clung to Jack’s arm vibrating, always needing to vibrate . And he seemed to become more Australian and every week. The great indifference, the darkness of the fern-world, upon his mind. Then of energy, spurts of sudden violent desire, spurts of excitement. But the mind in a kind of twilight sleep.
He made no more appeals. He was just static, and quite gentle. Even at table he was half oblivious of the presence of the other people. Then Victoria would him with her elbow, poke him hard, into consciousness, and bring back the lively Jack that the Somers had first known. Strange that the torpor had come on him so completely of late. Yet there was a queer light in his eyes, as if he might do something dangerous. And when he was once talking, he was logical and showed surprising calm common-sense. When he was discussing or criticising, he seemed so unusually as to be . Like a man in his sleep.
Just outside the station was the football field, and Mullumbimby was playing Wollondindy, Mullumbimby in royal blue, and Wollondindy in rather faded red. Along the roadside buggies and motor-cars were pulled up, the were taken out of harness and left to feed on the roadside grass. Two riders sat on horseback to survey the scene. And under the flowering coral-trees, with their sharp red cockatoo flowers, stood men in their best clothes smoking pipes, or men in their best clothes on the fence, and lasses in or strolling past in white silk stockinette frocks, or pink crêpe de chine, or muslin. Just like prostitutes, arm in arm, strolled the lasses, airing themselves and their pronounced . And the men took no notice, but watched the field.
This scene was too much for Jack Callcott. Somers or no Somers, he must be there. So there he stood, in his best clothes and a cream velour hat and a short pipe, staring with his long, naked, Australian face, impassive. On the field the and the reds madly about, like strange bird-creatures rather than men. They were mostly blond, with hefty legs, and with prominent round buttocks that worked madly inside the little white cotton shorts. And Jack, with his dark eyes, watched as if it was doomsday. Occasionally the tail-end of a smile would{201} cross his face, occasionally he would take his pipe-stem from his mouth and give a bright look into and say, “See that!” Heaven knows what it was that he saw. The game, the skill? Yes. But more, the motion, the wild motion. And most of all, fate. Fate had a fascination for him. It was the only real point of curiosity left in him: how would chance work things out. Chance! Now then, how would chance settle it? Even the football field, with its wildly blues and bits of red, was only a of fate, with men for the instruments. The living instruments of fate! And how would it work out, how would it work out? He could have stood there, static, with his little pipe, till Doomsday, waiting for fate to settle it. The wild scurrying motion, and the jumps in the air, of course made his heart beat faster. Towards the close one of the chaps got a kick on the , and was knocked out. They couldn’t finish the game. Hard lines.
Jack was a queer sight to Somers, when he was in this brightly vacant mood, not a man at all, but a chance thing, gazing spellbound on the evolutions of chance. And in this state, this very Australian state, you could hardly get a word out of him. Or, when he broke into a little volley of speech, you listened with wonder to the noise of it, as if a weird animal had suddenly given voice.
The indifference, the marvellous, bed-rock indifference. Not the static fatalism of the east. But an indifference based on real recklessness, an indifference with a deep flow of loose energy beneath it, ready to break out like a geyser. Ready to break into a kind of , a berserk frenzy, running amok in wild , or still more wild smashing up. The wild joy in letting loose, in a smash-up. But will he ever let loose? Or will the static patience settle deeper, and the fern-twilight altogether him. The slow transmutation! What does to-day matter, or this country? Time is so huge, and in Australia the next step back is to the fern age.
The township looked its queerest as dusk fell. Then the odd electric lights shone at rather wide , the wide, unmade roads of rutted earth seemed to belong again to the wild, in the semi-dark, and the low bungalows with the doors open and the light showing seemed like in the{202} , a settlement in the fierce gloom of the wilderness. Then youths dashed fiercely on horseback down the soft roads, in the stirrups and over the neck of the thin, queer brown racehorses that along like ghosts. And the young , in , dashed through the village on his cream . A collier who had been staying somewhere cantered stiffly away into the dark on a pony like a rocking horse. Young in cotton dresses stood at the little rail gates of their homes talking to young men in a buggy, or to a young man on foot, or to the last tradesman’s cart, or to youths who were strolling past. It was evening, and the intense dusk of the far-off land, and white folks peering out of the dusk almost like aborigines. The far-off land, just as far-off when you are in it: , then furthest off.
The evening came very dark, with lightning playing in the south-east, over the sea. There was nothing to be done with Jack but to play with him. He wasn’t in a real sporting mood, so he let himself be beaten even at draughts. When he was in a sporting mood he could cast a spell of confusion over Somers, and win every time, with a sort of gloating. But when he wasn’t in a sporting mood he would shove up his men recklessly, and lose them. He didn’t care. He just leaned back and stretched himself in that intense physical way which Somers thought just a trifle less than human. The man was all body: a strong body full of energy like a machine that has got steam up, but is inactive. He had no mind, no spirit, no soul: just a tense, inactive body, and an eye rather and a trifle bloodshot. The old slowly .
Meanwhile Victoria in a trill of nervous excitement and exaltation was talking Europe with Harriet. Victoria was just the opposite of Jack: she was all a quiver of excited consciousness, to know, to see, to realise. She would almost have done anything, to be able to look at life, look at the inside of it, see it in its . She had had wild ideas of being a on a boat, a chambermaid in an hotel, a waitress in a good restaurant, a hospital nurse—anything, so that she could see the , touch the private mysteries. To travel seemed to her the great desirable: to go to Europe and India, and{203} see it all. She loved Australia, loved it far more quiveringly and excitedly than he. But it wasn’t Australia that fascinated her: it was the secret intimacies of life, and what other folks felt. That strange and indifference that was bottommost in him seemed like a dynamo in her. She fluttered in the air like a loose live nerve, a nerve of the sympathetic system. She was all sympathetic drive: and he was nearly all check. He sat there apathetic, nothing but body and solid, steady, physical indifference. He did not oppose her at all, or go counter to her. He was just the heavy opposite pole of her energy. And of course she belonged to him as one pole belongs to the other pole in a circuit.
And he, he would stretch his body continuously, but he would not go to bed, though Somers suggested it. No, there he sat. So Somers joined in the more exciting conversation of the women, and Jack sat solidly there. Whether he listened or whether he didn’t, who knows? The aboriginal sympathetic apathy was upon him, he was like some creature that has lost its soul, and simply stares.
The morning was one of the loveliest Australian mornings, perfectly golden, all the air pure gold, the great gold to seaward, and the pure, cold pale-blue inland, over the dark range. The wind was blowing from inland, the sea was quiet as a purring cat with white paws, becoming darkish green-blue flecked with innumerable white like rain-spots splashing the surface of a pool. The horizon was a clear and hard and dark sea against an almost white sky, but from far behind the horizon showed the mirage-magic tops of , gold-white clouds, that seemed as if they indicated the far Pacific .
Though it was cold, Jack was about sauntering in his shirt-sleeves with his waistcoat open and his hands in his pockets: rather to the vexation of Victoria. “Pull yourself together, Jack dear, do. Put your collar and tie on,” she , fondling him.
“In a minute,” he said.
The indifference—the fern-dark indifference of this remote golden Australia. Not to care—from the bottom of one’s soul, not to care. Overpowered in the twilight of fern-odour. Just to keep enough grip to run the of the day: and beyond that, to let yourself{204} drift, not to think or strain or make any effort to consciousness . That was Jack, sauntering down there in his shirt-sleeves, with his waistcoat open showing his white shirt, his strong neck bare: sauntering with his hands in his pockets beside Somers, at the water’s edge. Somers wore a dark jacket, and his necktie hung dark and broke the intimacy of the white shirt-breast.
The two women stood on the cliff, the low, bushy cliff, looking down. Harriet was in a plain dress of dark-coloured purplish-and-brown hand-woven stuff of cotton and silk mixture, with old silver lace round the collar; Victoria in a pale-green knitted dress. So they stood in the morning light, watching the men on the fawn-coloured sand by the sea-fringe, waiting to wave when they looked up.
Jack looked up first. The two women coo-eed and waved. He took his pipe from his mouth and held it high in his hand, in answer. A strange signal. The pale-green wisp of Victoria in the sky was part of his landscape. But the darker figure of Harriet had for some reason a menace to him, up there. He suddenly felt as if he were down below: he suddenly realised a need to bethink himself. He turned to Somers, looking down and saying in his peculiar Australian tone:
“Well, I suppose we’d better be going up.”
The curious note of in the twang!
Victoria made him put on coat and collar and tie for breakfast.
“Yes, dear, come on. I’ll tie your tie for you.”
“I suppose a man was born to give in,” said he, with good humour and . But he was a little uneasy. He realised the need to gather himself together.
“You get like the rest of them,” Victoria scolded him in a tone. “You used to be so smart. And you promised me you’d never go slack like they all are. Didn’t you, you bad boy?”
“I forget,” said he. But nevertheless the of breakfast pulled him up. Because Harriet really , and he didn’t know what was inside that rose-and-brown-purple cloud of her. The ancient of the Old World. So he gathered himself somewhat together. But he was so far, fern-lost, from the old world.{205}
“My God!” thought Somers. “These are the men Kangaroo wants to build up a new state with.”
After breakfast Somers got Jack to talk about Kangaroo and his plans. He heard again all about the Diggers’ Clubs: nearly all soldiers and sailors who had been in the war, but not restricted to these. They had started like any other social club: games, , lectures, readings, discussions, debates. No gambling, no drink, no class or party distinction. The clubs were still chiefly athletics, but not sporting. They went in for boxing, wrestling, fencing, and knife-throwing, and revolver practice. But they had swimming and rowing , and rifle-ranges for rifle practice, and they had regular military training. The colonel who planned out the military training was a clever chap. The men were grouped in little squads of twenty, each with and corporal. Each of these twenty was trained to act like a , independently, though the worked in absolute among themselves, and were pledged to absolute obedience of higher commands. These commands, however, left most of the devising and method of execution of the job in hand to the squad itself. In New South Wales the Maggies, as these private squads were called, numbered already about fourteen hundred, all perfectly trained and equipped. They had a badge of their own: a white, broad-brimmed felt hat, like the ordinary khaki military hat, but white, and with a tuft of white feathers. “Because,” said Ennis, the colonel, “we’re the only ones that can afford to show the white feather.”
These Maggies, probably from , because Colonel Ennis used to wear white riding-breeches and black gaiters, and a black jacket and a white stock, with his white hat—were the core and heart of the Digger Movement. But Kangaroo had slaved at the other half of the business, the mental side. He did want his men to grip on to the problem of the future of Australia. He had insisted on attendance at debates and discussions: Australia and the World, Australia and the Future, White Australia, Australia and the Reds, Class Feeling in Australia, Politics and Australia, Australians and Work, What is Democracy? What is an Australian? What do our Politicians do for Australia? What our State Parliament does for us,{206} What our Federal Parliament does for us, What side of the Australian does Parliament represent? Is Parliament necessary to Democracy? What is wron............
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