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HOME > Classical Novels > Kangaroo > CHAP: XIV. BITS.
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 The following day Somers felt with himself again. “Fool that I am, fool!” he said, mentally kicking himself. And he looked at the big pink spread of his Sydney Bulletin viciously. The Bulletin was the only periodical in the world that really amused him. The horrible of English newspapers he could not stand: they had the same effect on him as fish-balls in a restaurant, fare. English magazines were too piffling, too imbecile. But the “Bully,” even if it was made up all of bits, and had neither head nor tail nor feet nor wings, was still a lively creature. He liked its and the kick in some of its tantrums. It beat no solemn drums. It had no deadly earnestness. It was just stoical, and spitefully humorous. Yes, at the moment he liked the Bulletin better than any paper he knew, though even the Bulletin tried a bit of swagger sometimes, especially on the pink page. But then the pink page was just “literary,” and who cares?  
Who cares, anyhow? Perhaps a bit sad, after all. But more fool you for being sad.
So he rushed to read the “bits.” They would make Latimer forget himself and his martyrdom at the stake.
“1085: The casual Digger of war-days has carried it into civvies. Sighted one of the original Tenth at the Outer Harbour (Adelaide) last week fishing. His sinker was his 1914 Star.”
Yes, couldn’t Somers just see that forlorn Outer Harbour at Adelaide, and the digger, like some rag of sea-weed dripping over the edge of the wharf, fishing, and using his medal for a weight?
“Wilfrido: A recent advertisement for the Wellington (New Zealand) Art Gallery attracted 72 . Among them were two (one an M.A.); five sheep-farmers, on whose lands the mortgagee had foreclosed; and a multitude of clerks. The post is not exactly a , either: it demands attendance on seven days a week at £150 p.a.”
Then a little cartoon of Ivan, the Russian workman, going for a tram-drive, and taking huge bundles of money with him, sackfuls of roubles, to pay the fare. The “Bully” was about Bolshevism.
“Ned Kelly: Hearing the deuce of a racket in the abo (aborigines) camp near our place, we strolled over to see what was wrong, and saw a young Binghi giving his gin a father of a hiding for making eyes at another . Every respectable Binghi has the right to wallop his missis, but this one laid it on so much that he knocked her senseless. This her relatives, and they went for him en masse, while two or three gins restoratives to the wife. She soon came round, and, seeing how things were, grabbed a waddy and went to the assistance of her lord and master. In the end the twain routed the phalanxed relations. Same old woman, whatever her line!”
Bits about bullock drivers and the biggest loads on record, about the biggest piece of land ploughed by a man in a day, recipes for mange in horses, twins, , accidents to reverend clergymen, and so on.
“Pick: In the parts out back the wild birds infallibly indicate to the when the water in his bag must be vigorously . If in the early morning they in flocks to the plain, and there collect the globules of dew among the dry stalks of grass, it means that every tank, gilgal and puddle-hole within a bird’s drinking flight has gone dry.”
“Cellu Lloyd: Before you close down on mangey horses here’s a cure I’ve never known to fail. To one bullock’s add to make up a full . Heat to enable it to mix well, not forgetting, of course, that half of it is kerosene. When well mixed add one of chrysophanic acid. Bottle and shake well. Before applying take a hard scrubbing brush and scrub the part with carbolic soap and hot water, and when applying the mixture use the brush again. In one case I struck a pair of buggy that had actually bitten pieces from each other, and rubbed down a hundred yards or so of fence in trying to the burning . Two months afterwards they were growing hair and gaining condition, and not a trace of mange remained. It is wonderful, however, how lightly some horse-owners treat the matter. When a horse works hard all day, and spends the night rubbing a fence flat in his itch , he at once loses condition and usefulness; but in most cases the owner builds the fence stronger instead of giving the unfortunate animal the necessary attention.”
This recipe brought many biting comments in later issues.
Somers liked the , style. It seemed to him and without trimmings. Put ship-shape in the office, no doubt. Sometimes the drawings were good, and sometimes they weren’t.
“Lady (who has just opened door to country girl carrying suitcase): ‘I am suited. A country girl has been engaged, and I’m getting her to-morrow.’
“Girl: ‘I’m her; and you’re not. The ’ouse is too big’.”
There, thought Somers, you have the whole spirit of Australian labour.
“K. Sped: A week or two back a Mildura (Vic.) motorcyclist ran over a tiger-snake while travelling at 35 m.p.h. Ten minutes later the leg became itchy, and shortly afterwards, feeling giddy, he started back to the local hospital. He made a wobbly passage and at the hospital gates. He was bad for a week, and was told that if the had not struck him on the bone he would never have reached the . The snake must have doubled up when the wheel struck it, and by the merest fluke struck the rider’s leg in mid-air.”
“Fraoch: I knew another case of a white girl marrying an about 20 years ago on the Northern Rivers (N.S.W.). She was rather pretty, a descendant of an English family. Binghi was a landed , having acquired a very decent estate on the death of a former spinster employer. (Binghi must have had ’a way wid ’im’). He owned a large, well-furnished house, did himself well, and had a fair education, and was a good rough-rider. But every year the ‘call of the wild’ came to him, and he would leave his wife and kids (they had three) and take himself to an old tumble-down hut in the bush, and there for a month or two live in on his natural tucker. Under the will of the aforesaid spinster, upon Binghi’s the estate was to to her relatives. With an optimism that was not without a of its own, they used to out every in the district for their dusky friend to ride; but his neck was still intact when I left.”
“Sucre: Peering through her drawing-room window shortly before lunch, the old lady saw a shivering man in a ruined overcoat. Not all the members of the capitalist classes are iron-souled creatures on grinding the faces of the , yet poor. Taking a ten shilling note from a heavily-beaded bag, she on a piece of paper the words: Cheer Up, put both in an envelope, and told the maid to give it to the outcast from her. While the family was at dinner that evening a ring sounded at the front door. Argument followed in the hall between a male voice and that of the maid. ‘You can’t come in. They’re at dinner.’ ‘I’d rather come in, miss. Always like for to fix these things up in person.’ ‘You can’t come.’ Another moment and the wayfarer was in the dining-room. He carefully laid five £1 notes on the table before his benefactress. ‘There you are, mum,’ he said, with a rough . ‘Cheer Up won all right. I’m mostly on the corner, race days, as your cook will tell you; an’ I’d like to say that if any uv your friends—’”
Bits, bits, bits. Yet Richard Lovat read on. It was not anecdotage. It was the sheer momentaneous life of the continent. There was no thread. Only the laconic courage of experience.
All the better. He could have kicked himself for wanting to help mankind, join in revolutions or reforms or any of that stuff. And he kicked himself still harder thinking of his struggles with the “soul” and the “dark god” and the “listener” and the “answerer.” Blarney—blarney—blarney! He was a preacher and a blatherer, and he hated himself for it. Damn the “soul,” damn the “dark god,” damn the “listener” and the “answerer,” and above all, damn his own , self.
What right had he to go nosing round Kangaroo, and making up to Jaz or to ? Why couldn’t he keep off it all? Let the whole show go its own gay course to hell, without Mr Richard Lovat Somers trying to show it the way it should go.
A very strong wind had got up from the west. It blew down from the dark hills in a fury, and was cold as flat ice. It blew the sea back until the great water looked like dark, mole-fur. It blew it back till the waves got littler and littler, and could hardly uncurl the least swish of a rat-tail of .
On such a day his restlessness had driven them on a trip along the coast to Wolloona. They got to the lost little town just before mid-day, and looked at the shops. The sales were on, and prices were “smashed to bits,” “Prices Smashed to Bits,” in big labels. Harriet, of course, fascinated in the Main Street, that ran towards the sea, with the steep hills at the back. “Hitch your motor to a star.—Star Motor Company.” “Your piano is the most important article of furniture in your drawing-room. You will not be proud of your drawing-room unless your piano has a Handsome Appearance and a Beautiful Tone. Both these requisites—”
It was a wonderful Main Street, and, thank heaven, out of the wind. There were several large but rather scaring brown hotels, with balconies all round: there was a yellow stucco church with a red-painted tin steeple, like a toy: there were high roofs and low roofs, all iron: and you came to an opening, and there, , were one or two forlorn inside their wooden palings, and then the void. The naked bush, sinking in a hollow to a sort of , and then down the coast some sort of “works,” brick-works or something, smoking. All as if it had tumbled off the pantechnicon of as it dragged round the edges of this wild land, and there lay, busy but not rooted in. As if none of the houses had any foundations.
Bright the sun, the air of marvellous clarity, tall stalks of cabbage palms rising in the hollow, and far off, tufted gum trees against a new sky, the tufts at the end of wire branches. And farther off, blue, blue hills. In the Main Street, large and expensive motor-cars and women in fuzzy fur coats; long, Australian men in tired-out-looking navy blue suits on brown ponies, with a carpet-bag in one hand, doing the shopping; girls in very much-made hats, also flirtily shopping; three boys with big, magnificent bare legs, lying in a sunny corner in the dust; a lonely white as if forever to a post at a street-corner.
“I like it,” said Harriet. “It doesn’t feel finished.”
“Not even begun,” he laughed.
But he liked it too: even the slummyness of some of the bungalows inside their wooden palings, drab-wood, houses, old tins, broken pots, a greeny-white pony reminding one of a old shoe, two half-naked babies sitting like bits of live refuse in the dirt, but with bonny, healthy bare legs: the awful place called “The Travellers’ Rest—Mrs Coddy’s Boarding Home”—a sort of blind, squalid, corner-building made of wood and tin, with flat pieces of old lace-curtain nailed inside the windows, and the green blinds hermetically . What must it have been like inside? Then an open space, and coral-trees with red crest-flowers on their bare, cold : and the hollow space of the open country, and the marvellous blue hills of the distance.
The wind was cold enough to make you die. Harriet was disgusted at having been dragged away from home. They trailed to the sea to try and get out of it, for it blew from the land, and the sun was hot. On the bay one man flinging a line into the water, on the edge of the conch-shaped, sloping sands. Dark-blue water, ruffled like mole-fur, and all over with froth as with bits of feather-fluff. And many white gannets turning in the air like a snow-storm and down into the water like bombs. And fish leaped in the water, as if the wind had turned them upside-down. And the gannets dropping and exploding into the wave, and disappearing. On the sea’s horizon, so perfectly clear, a steamer like a walking slowly along. Clear, with a non-earthly clarity.
Harriet and Somers sat and ate sandwiches with a little sand, she dazed but still expostulating. Then they went to walk on the sea’s edge, where the sands might be firm. But the beach sloped too much, and they were not firm. The lonely fisherman held up his thin silvery line for them to pass under.
“Don’t bother,” said Somers.
“Right O!” said he.
He had a sad, beery moustache, a very cold-looking face, and, of course, a little boy, his son, no doubt, for a satellite.
There were little, pink shells, like Venetian pink glass with white or black veins round their sharp little steeples. Harriet loved them, among her , and they began to gather them: “for trimmings,” said Harriet. So, in the flat-icy wind, that no life had ever and no god ever tempered, they on the sea’s edge picking these marvellous little shells.
Suddenly, with a cry, to find the water rushing round their ankles and surging up their legs, they dragged their way wildly forward with the wave, and out and up the sand. Where immediately a stronger blast seized Lovat’s hat and sent it spinning to the sea again, and he after it like a bird. He caught it as the water lifted it, and then the waste of waters him. Above his knees the green flood, there was water all around him swaying, he looked down at it in , reeling and clutching his hat.
Then once more he clambered out. Harriet had fallen on her knees on the sand in a paroxysm of laughter, and there she was doubled up like a sack, between her :
“His hat! His hat! He wouldn’t let it go”—, and her head like a sand-bag to the sand—“no—not if he had to swim”—shrieks—“swim to Samoa.”
He was looking at his wet legs and with his inward laughter. Vivid, the blue sky: intensely clear, the dark sea, the yellow sands, the of the bay, the low headlands: clear like a miracle. And the water bubbling in his shoes as he walked rolling up the sands.
At last she recovered enough to crawl after him. They sat in a sand-hollow under a big bush with odd red berries, and he out his socks, and all he could of his underpants and trousers. Then he put on his socks and shoes again, and they set off for the station.
“The Pacific water,” he said, “is so very seaey, it is almost warm.”
At which, looking at his wet legs and wet hat, she went off into shrieks again. But she made him be quick, because there was a train they could catch.
However in the Main Street they thought they would buy another pair of socks. So he bought them, and changed in the shop. And they missed the train, and Harriet expostulated louder.
They went home in a motor-bus and a cloud of dust, with the heaven bluer than blue above, the hills dark and fascinating, and the land so remote seeming. Everything so clear, so very distinct, and yet so marvellously .
All the miles alongside the road tin bungalows in their paling fences: and a man on a pony, in a long black overcoat and a cold nose, driving three happy, fleecy cows: long men in and white kerchiefs round their necks, à la Bill, riding nice slim horses; a woman riding astride top speed on the roadside grass. A motor-car at the palings of one of the bungalows. A few carts coming.
And the occupants of the ’bus bouncing and bobbing like a circus, because of the very road.
“Shakes your dinner down,” said the old woman with the terribly home-made hat—oh, such difficult, awful hats.
“It does, if you’ve had any,” laughed Harriet.
“Why, you’ve ’ad your dinner, ’aven’t you?”
As concerned as if Harriet was her own stomach, such a nice old woman. And a lovely little boy with the bright, wide, gentle eyes of these Australians. So alert and alive and with that lovableness that almost hurts one. Absolute trust in the “niceness” of the world. A tall, stalky, man with the same bright eyes and a turned-up nose and long stalky legs. An elderly man with bright, friendly, elderly eyes and careless hair and careless clothing. He was Joe, and the other was Alf. Real careless Australians, careless of their appearance, careless of their speech, of their money, of everything—except of their happy-go-lucky, democratic . Really nice, with bright, quick, willing eyes. Then a young man, perhaps a commercial traveller, with a suit-case. He was quite smartly dressed, and had fancy socks. He was one of those with the big, heavy legs, heavy and that showed even in his trousers. And he was very self-conscious, very self-conscious of Lovat and Harriet. The driver’s face was long and deep red. He was absolutely laconic. And yet, absolutely willing, as if life held no other possibility than that of being an absolutely willing citizen. A fat man with a fat little girl waiting at one of the corners.
“Up she goes!” ............
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