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The Confessions of a Beachcomber
by E J Banfield
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"All right, by and bye," remarked the storekeeper.

The old man waited, and when it at last dawned upon him that his dodge for the pledging of Tom's credit had failed, stole away, convinced no doubt that there was some magic in the making of letters that he did not quite comprehend.

THE BIG WORD

A tracker, known as Billy Williams—who had passed out of the police service after many years of duty during which he had added largely to his burden of original sin and knowledge of English—stole a valuable diamond ring from the landlord of an hotel. Detected, and promptly brought before two justices of the peace, Billy pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment.

While escorting him to the lockup, the officer in charge remarked— "Well, Billy, you lucky fella. You only get three months. I been think you in for a sixer."

Billy—"By golly, Jack, me bin think me be disqualified for life."

MICKIE'S VERSION

Mickie is apt at repeating the sayings of others. Often his rendering of a commonplace becomes humorous by reason of a slight verbal twist. As the boys toiled to supplant a glorious strip of primeval jungle by a few formal rows of bananas, the boss, glancing over the ruined vegetation, remarked in encouraging tones

"Well, we are getting on fine! Getting on like a house on fire!"

For half an hour or so the boys hacked and chopped away at the vines and trees, and then Mickie swept the scene with a comprehensive glance, saying—"We getting on good fella now. All a same burning down house."

HONOURABLE JOHNNY

Johnny was much averse from work. "Work, work, work, all asame bullocky," as he put it, rasped on his feelings. At midday he was taking his case, while others toiled packing stones on a breakwater. One of them called out—"Why you no work, Johnny? You sit down all the time." Johnny—"Me bin work close up daylight. You lazy black niggers only work when Boss look out."

THE TRANSFORMATION

The wife of a squatter was about to leave the station for a few years, that her daughters might have the opportunity of acquiring accomplishments unobtainable in the Bush. When the hour of departure arrived, the blacks about the place loudly expressed their sorrow. One softhearted creature exclaimed amid the tears—"Good-bye, Miss Madge—good-bye, Miss Yola; me no see little girls any more. Two fella going away, try learn be lady!"

MONEY-MAKING TRICK

A boy who had visited a town and had been taken to a circus, gathered the camp together on the night of his return, and having given an account of the wonders he had seen, announced that he could make money. Satisfaction at such gift being tempered by doubt, the boy took his stand before the expectant semicircle, and having admirably mimicked a conjuror's patter, shouted—"Money!" A half-crown flashed in the air-to be deftly caught and exhibited on the boy's palm.

This trick was repeated nightly. Conscious of the independence that money gives, the whole camp became demoralised, until investigation showed that the boy had a trained confederate in the person of his gin, who, standing apart, on the word, flicked the half-crown in the air. The boy lost his reputation as a maker of money, and his sole coin that self-same night.

HONOURABLE CHASTISEMENT

At a camp of the Native Mounted Police the sergeant reported a trooper for beating his gin. "What you bin doing, Paddy?" asked the sub-inspector. "You bin hammer 'em Topsy?" Paddy, at the salute—"Yes, sir, please sir, me bin hammer 'em that fella. That fella too flash; me no bin hammer 'em all asame black-fella. Hammer 'em all asame white man, alonga strap." Considering the customary means a black adopts to correct the indiscretions of his spouse, Paddy's offence was judged far too trivial for punishment. Topsy, too, was quite vain that Paddy had chastised her with all dignity and indulgence of a white man.

"AND YOU TOO"

Two ladies, who were wont to meet at infrequent intervals, spent the delightful morning in the settlement of arrears of gossip, while two black gins sat in the shade of a mango-tree, smoked incessantly and did nothing placidly. At dinner-time the latter began to chatter volubly, and the mistress of the house, in an outburst of vicarious energy, called from the verandah—"Come, Topsy—come, Rosey. You do nothing all day. You two fella talk all the time."

Rosey—"Yes; me fella yabber, yabber, plenty—all asame white woman."

PARADISE

The beliefs of blacks on the subject of "the otherwhere" seem to be varied and adjustable to individual likes and predilections. Some indeed have no faith whatever in statements as to existence following upon death. Others assert that a delightful country is reached after a long and pleasant journey, that there reunion with relatives and friends takes place, and happiness is in store for all, good and bad alike.

An intelligent boy was asked if after death all went along the same road to the aboriginal paradise. He was reminded that he was a good fellow, and that one of the members of the camp was notoriously a rogue.

"Mootee go along a you, all asame place? That fella no good. You good fella."

"Yes," he answered. "All one track me fella go. Good track—blenty tchugar-bag, blenty hegg, blenty wallaby, close up. You no wan' run about. Catch 'em blenty close up. Bi'mby me go long way. Me come more better country—blenty everything. Father belonga me sit down. He got two good young fella gins. My word, good one gins. He say—'Hello! you come up? You sit down here altogether. Two fella good gins belonga you!'"

This was paradise!



CHAPTER IV



AND THIS OUR LIFE

"I would admonish the world that all persons, indifferently, are not fit for this sort of diversion."

Whereas the average town-dweller could not endure the commonplaces of Nature which entertain me, rouse my wonder, enliven my imagination, and gratify my inmost thoughts, so his pursuits are to me devoid of purpose, insipid, dismally unsatisfactory. To one whose everyday admission (apology if you like) is that he is not as other men are—fond of society and of society's occupations, pastimes, refinements, and (pardon) illusions—the unsoiled jungle is more desirable than all the prim parks and clipped gardens; all this amplitude of time and space than the one "crowded hour." Here I came to my birthright a heritage of nothing save the most glorious of all possessions: freedom—freedom beyond the dreams of most men in its comprehensiveness and exactitude. These few haphazard notes refer to the exercise of rare independence. They cannot be otherwise than trivial and dull, but they at least fulfil the purpose to which I was pledged. They reveal my puny efforts to be none other than myself. So tranquil, so uniform are our days, that but for the diary—the civilised substitute for the notched stick—count of them might be lost. And this extorts yet another confession. One year, Good Friday passed, and Easter-time had progressed to the joyful Monday, ere cognisance of the season came. Speedy is the descent to the automaton. A mechanical mis-entry in the diary threw all the orderly days of the week into a whirling jumble. We knew not Wednesday from Thursday, nor Thursday from Friday, though we calculated and checked notes of the transactions and traits of successive days. To what purpose was the effort to memorise one day from another when all were precisely alike in colour and uneventfulness? Each day had been blue—radiantly blue—nothing more. And the entries in the diary set at naught dogmatic assertions of disproof. But the steamer cuts a deep weekly notch. We jolted into it and became harmonised once more with the rigid calendar of the workaday world.

Thus we keep the noiseless tenor of our way, finding in life if not great and gaudy pleasures, at least content and relief from many of the vexations that gnaw away the lives of the multitude. Though it was acknowledged a long time ago to be—indecorous—an abominable thing for a man to commend his ways; though his mode of living may not commend itself to others; though it may seem blank and colourless, thin and watery, devoid of expectation, and the hope of fame, name, and that kind of success which comes of the acquirement of riches, yet—and in a spirit of thankfulness be it said—the obscure and minor part the writer plays in the tragic-comedy of life affords gratification. He does what he likes to do. He frankly confesses that he sought isolation because of the lack of those qualities which make for dutiful citizenship, because of indifference to the ordinary enchantments of the kaleidoscopic world, not because of any lack of appreciation of the wisdom of the majority. He has dared to be what he is, rather than submit to be pulled this way and that on the rack of fashion and custom.

Remember that "the measure of choosing well is whether a man likes what he has chosen." Other men have other ranks to take, other fates to command. Do not politicians and publicists; professional men and princes of trade; those who toil for others, with brain or hands; the charitable and the miserly; those who pine if removed from the noise and breath of the crowd; those who spend their days in meditation and study; those who live conscientiously every moment in "the gateway of the life eternal"; those who are at enmity to law and order; the honest toiler and the impostor, the thief and the rogue, each and all respectively find pleasure in the particular walk of life he elects to take? "Each to the favourite happiness attends." When God gave manna to His people, every Israelite found in it what best pleased him. "The young tasted bread, the old honey, and the children oil." No doubt an expert burglar feels as keen a sense of joy in the planning and execution of a deed of darkness demanding originality, skill, daring and resourcefulness, as does the humane surgeon in the performance of an operation for the salvation of a valuable life, or as does his lordship the bishop in the delivery of a homily overflowing with persuasive eloquence. The burglar has his appreciation of pleasure, and the others theirs; and so long as the pleasures of the individual are not immoral and dishonourable, do not trespass upon the rights and liberties of others, let each pursue that which allures.

In the long run he will find himself responsible to himself; and if his days have been ill spent, and his opportunities slighted, his the punishment and the remorse. But—

"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal—that is your success."

THE END

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