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  ― 142 ―

Little Paul.

Little Paul was in the rear of the hut blowing away at his hardest on the battered old trumpet his Uncle Bob had given him, to the consternation of some weedy hens that had fled into the crannies of the firewood stack, panic-stricken at such an uproar, when he heard his mother shouting for him to come and get his bumps read. He instantly stopped blowing, with a wild intention of following the hens baulked by an irresistible stomach-yearning at the unfamiliar smell of boiling cabbage coming from the kitchen, when his fate was settled by Clara swooping on him and depositing him in the parlour ere he had time to kick for freedom. At the sight of a stranger he ducked his head into his left elbow lifted instinctively for protection, and stood on view—a little chap with bare brown legs, in a crimean shirt and patched-up knickers drawn tightly up by a single brace, clutching his beloved trumpet, his black eyes furtively scrutinishing the long-haired, blue-eyed man dressed in dusty black pants and a faded long-tailed coat, seated in his father's armchair talking to his mother.

“Eight years old. Just the age, misses. And I'll”—and


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the stranger's voice gave a jumping snort through some throat impediment—“bet yer what yer like I'll”—another snort—“tell yer what's he good for.”

“I wish ter goodness yer would, Professor, becos he gives me no end of trouble foolin' about the place and waggin' it from schol. An' he's that vent'resum I'm real scared as he'll be drounded. On'y yisterd'y his fether strapped him fur waggin'. It's on'y the bit of cabbige I managed to get from the Chows as is keepin' him—but he sharn't have any if he's not a good lad, an' I paid a bob fur it, fur things is that dear as it beats me what'll come of us. This 'ere drout is a fair terror. An' so yer think our Clara'll make a good nuss?” and fat Mrs. Logan bent forward and took Clara's phrenological chart from the table.

Paul pricked his ears at these words, and squinted across at his 16-year-old sister to see if she had altered at all. He felt relieved that her fat red face and stout, shapeless figure bore no signs of her recent ordeal.

“I marked her seven in order and benevolence. She must”—and his eyes closed as his voice arose snorting over—“cul-tivate contin-uity. Good Lord!”

The last exclamation, uttered with emotion, was accompanied by an expression of great astonishment in the Professor's countenance, who had just caught sight for the first time of Paul's face, lifted cautiously into view. The sudden turning of all eyes into Paul's direction


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so disconcerted him that he stared blankly at them.

“Paul!” exclaimed Mrs. Logan, startled at the Professor's now eager gaze at Paul, and bewildered that she beheld nothing to explain the man's extraordinary behaviour, yet betrayed by force of habit into a sharp rebuke of her son.

There was a loud yell as the Professor pounced on Paul, and, running his hairy fingers over his cranium, kept jerking out:

“Tune 9—time 9—ideality 7; wonderful! Keep quiet, carn't yer? Veneration 8—memory 9—here, missus, I'll bet yer what yer like this 'ere lad's got genus.”

“Got what?” exclaimed Mrs. Logan, alarmed.

“Genus! I tell yer, genus! Great Scott! what a head!” and his fingers ran caressingly over Paul's short-cropped headpiece.

Trembling with anxiety, and a desire to know the worst, Mrs. Logan gazed helplessly at the Professor, whilst the soft-hearted Clara felt such an inclination to cry that she hurried into the kitchen.

“Is it dang'rus, sir?” asked Mrs. Logan, feebly, confounding in her agitation the Professor's vocation with the doctor's.

Paul, who had meanwhile been passing through remarkable body contortions in the vain endeavour to


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escape the manipulating fingers, was invaded by such a paroxysm at this question, associated in his mind by past experience of what he suffered when he had the measles, that the Professor, hitherto indifferent to his attacking feet and fists, fell back with respect for a pair of lusty jaws assaulting his leg, leaving his assailant coiled up like a hedgehog and raising a plaint of remonstrances against having his bumps read amid howls at his having “got genus.”

Checking with a hasty movement of his hand Mrs. Logan's commencement of a tirade of grievances against the district, the Professor whipped out a flute from his breast pocket, and with deliberate coolness began breathing out in soothing notes the memory-laden air of “Home, Sweet Home.” With a far-away expression in his upturned eyes he filled the little parlor with the soft, pathetic melody. Mrs. Logan's apron kept moving absently to her eyes as they filled, for happy scenes of her childhood and courtship days in England's green lanes, fragrant with wild flowers, flitted through her memory. The assemblage of huts alongside the sun-glaring road sloping to the apology for a little town, the mines working night and day, with the treeless, sandy waste stretching monotonously around them all, for a few minutes quite faded from her life. Her dreaming mind, however, was all at once awakened by an inrush of astonishment as her wandering


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eyes happened to fall on Paul, who had uncoiled, and was straining his little figure eagerly as though he were drinking in the music at every pore, his swarthy features transfixed, his eyes gazing with a devouring passion at the sweet sound-dispensing flute. She turned an inquiring glance towards Clara, now listening at the doorway, without getting any response, and then towards the Professor, who was evidently waiting for it, since he winked prodigiously, discoursed a final flourish, and gazed at her triumphantly.

“There, missis! are yer satisfied? Why, bless yer,”—and, catching hold of Paul, who seemed too dazed to offer any resistance, and tapping his forehead about the outer eyebrow with a sort of rapture, he exclaimed—“he's a musical genus, that's what he is. Look, missis, this is tune—see how big it is; and this is time. They're abnormal. The lad's a real genus, the first I've come across, and I've travelled the country for thirty years.” And he gazed down at the little chap, who was picking the ends of his fingers, with the pride one imagines a naturalist must feel when he examines the specimen of a new species of insect he has accidentally found. His excitement was such that his speech impediment for a time had been overcome.

Mrs. Logan's sudden relief from anxiety, produced by an indefinite impression regarding the meaning of “genus,” might have precipitated her into scolding little


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Paul for being somehow responsible for having it, had not the Professor broken out into an incoherent account of the poverty and sickness and unhappy marriages of men of “genus” in general, and of the fame and wealth and glorious lives of some exceptions in particular, all the while fingering Paul's abnormal organs with reverential fondness.

“Dear, dear!”—when the Professor at last paused for breath—ejaculated Mrs. Logan, too overcome by his energetic manner and display of knowledge to connect them with any applicability to Paul.

“An' yer think he takes after his Uncle Bob, then, as plays in the band? He doesn't get it from me, Professor, as our side wasn't brought up with no fiddle-faddle ways. Though my sister Sarah,” she added reflectively, “has Annie learnin' the pianer, but her old man can afford it. Anyways,” she continued with conviction, “the lad's fair mad after trumpits and such things. A body cannot get a bit of peace fur him. His fether gets fair knocked up on night-shifts, getting no sleep from the row, and strappin's no good.”

“Strapping, missis!” broke in the Professor in a high-pitched tone of angry amazement. “Killing a heaven-born genus in embro! Now, listen to me,” he went on hastily, seeing by Mrs. Logan's rearing in her chair that she was taking offence, “this lad wants


  ― 148 ―
learning music. Don't yer bother your head, as I'll”—(snort)—“learn him for nothing. Only yer mustn't strap him any more. He'll be a good boy for me, and when he plays ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ I'll”—(snort—“give him this 'ere flute.”

“It's very good, Professor, I'm sure! His fether'll be home soon,” and Mrs. Logan flurriedly turned to Paul. “What do you say to the Professor fur his kindness, eh?”

Paul glanced up at the Professor's face with an expression dawning in his eyes, evidently understood by the other, for he waved his hand deprecatingly at Mrs. Logan's:

“Say ‘thank yer, sir,’ yer rude boy. Yer've no manners than a pig!”

And so it was finally arranged that during his stay in the district, which might be some months, the Professor should cultivate little Paul's musical “genus,” and in return for which kindness Mrs. Logan, who could not bear to be beholden to a stranger, should attend to his washing and what not, as he looked “fair lost, poor man, for want of a woman to his bit of duds.”

As might be expected, the Professor's visit that morning turned out of mighty importance to the growth of little Paul's mind. A strong desire in his nature ever since he could remember to imitate every agreeable


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sound he heard had become almost overpowering after a visit with his Uncle Bob to the town one Saturday night to hear the band playing in the main street. Bob, who was cornet-player, thereafter became in Paul's eyes a sought of divinity among his heroes. There was Pat Murphy, who had once fought for the middle-weight championship, and was only just beaten after as tremendous a slogging as had been witnessed in the ring for years, the referee in every local fight, a mate of his dad's, and working in the same copper-mine; there was Ted Hardy, who had taught him to swim in the mill-dam, a swaggy wisp of a chap with horribly squinting eyes, and a voice like the rumble of a traction engine, that could paralyse every lad in the district. But the Professor not only soon outstripped these two heroes, but reached a pinnacle in Paul's mind above even his divinity. Probably the Professor's unflagging enthusiasm in everything connected with the little chap's “genus,” together with the bestowal of an indulgence at every visit in the shape of some sweetmeats or longed-for toy, both won his allegiance and captured his effections. Then the Professor had travelled so much, with an observing eye and a retentive memory; had actually known Red Angus, the bush-ranger; seen the Commonwealth procession, though he condemned the waste of money over it; and heard hundreds of musicians playing together. This was all very


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interesting, despite his snorts at the most enthralling parts of his stories, and the intrusion of phrenology when least expected. Little Paul soon got accustomed to these mannerisms, however, and such comments as “she's too big in self-esteem; he didn't like me tell-ing him he was wanting in caution; I cleared, for he was defici-ent in conscientiousness and veneration,” came as a matter of course.

As was natural, the little fellow must reciprocate with odds and ends of information he had picked up about the mines; that such and such a number “oughter to be seen ter by the 'spector, who was a fair cow——By gum! jackets is bustin';” or drag the Professor to the mill-dam to show off, perhaps barking his knees and elbows in his anxiety to accomplish some impossible feat. The Professor learned what to do when he had sandy blight, and the particulars of the worst dust-storm dad had ever seen, and such-like desirable items. The impressions Paul has received of this world were not over-varied and inspiring. The assemblage of miners' huts, most of them without enclosures, surrounded by a herbless waste, constituted his most immediate and strongest. About half a mile to the right of the huts, pouring out sulphurous smoke that, veering with the wind, half-suffocated the inhabitants around, the big copper mine lifted its ugly scaffolding towards the flaming, brassy-blue sky from the centre


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of its huge breastworks of slag. To the left, on the top of the sloping hill, about a mile away, another mine projected into sight from a huddle of huts and small cottages, connected with some outlying excavations by a bridge spanning the road, along which trucks kept moving to and fro, discernible as black dots. In front stretched the level desolate country, with columns of dust gyrating in the sky here and there like reddish and pale smoke, into a vaporish haze of sombre timber in the distance. Behind was the little town, hidden in a dip. No trees, no flowers, not even grass anywhere to relieve the eyes, aching with the pitiless sun-glare. The only water obtainable for household purposes was pumped from a tank four miles away, and distributed amongst the inhabitants in carts—a tawny, warm, silky water, of which you could drink and drink and drink, and still be thirsty. It was quite a treat to wander to the brackish mill-dam, dismal as it was, for a glimpse of its preciousness. Day after day the same exhausting heat; the same bright, naked, wearying sky; the same shadowless, distressing spread of brickish-red desert; and, alas! the same depressing sight of pale, haggard men, uncouthly garbed, listlessly wending to and fro betwixt the huts and the copper mine at the sound of the steam horn. When longed-for night at last shut off the blinding glare, the whole district was plunged into stifling darkness. At intervals a fiery


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torrent of molten slag pouring down one side of the copper mine's breastwork would shed a brilliant illumination for a few moments, and then fade into a dull, ruddy glow. Every now and again the steam horn would sound discordantly, as though the mine were a monster demanding its victims. Then tiny lights, like stars, singly and in clusters, begin to appear, travelling mysteriously to and fro. Did you approach them they would develop into miners carrying their crib with oil lamps fastened to their caps. Then the hours toil nervelessly on, the district breathing heavily under the choking sulphurous smoke, till dawn, like glittering steel, ushers in another destroying day of drought.

You may be sure there was much ado among the youngsters about the huts at Paul's acquisition of the rudiments of music. The Professor was delighted in the boy's progress, and spread his fame as a “genus” in his bump-reading dissertations at the huts he canvassed. He was now in great demand by anxious parents curious to know what their “Tom or Sal was good fur.” In fact, the Professor was doing a roaring trade when Fortune suddenly set her face dead against him.

An epidemic of petty burglaries had all at once broken out in the district. There was hardly a night that some articles of clothing or bits of jewellery did not vanish from its owner's hut. Eatables began to follow


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suit, causing dismay to hungry households. These depredations continued for some weeks, bewildering everyone, till a report that a bottle of mustard pickles had departed from old Mother Hayes's kitchen table in broad daylight threw the whole community into hysteria. This startling occurrence became the standard theme of conversation in the mines, in the pubs, and especially at mealtimes in the huts. Who was the burglar? Suspicions were levelled now at one person, now at another—newcomers to the district. Of course, the burglar was a stranger, no doubt of that. The Sydney travellers hurriedly booked their customers' orders and fled, alarmed at the vindictive glances from every side. The tide of suspicion set permanently towards the unfortunate Professor, however, when old Mother Hayes supplemented her last report with the information that “that there blamed prosser chap was worritin' her innards out about the kids when t' bottle was tuk.” The change of attitude of the whole district was as swift as it was disastrous towards him. Doors were banged to at his approach, angry faces glared at him from windows, scrutinising eyes followed him everywhere. He was shunned like a leper. His business connection was severed at one stroke. Fierce murmurs began to arise against the police for not arresting him. His bump-reading was only a blind. Why should he come to their part? They'd no money, and didn't believe in “fortin'-tellin'.”


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Then someone spread the terrible report that he was an escaped criminal. The whole place actually seethed with fury at the news. Several miners spoke vaguely of “slaggin' ” him if they caught him out of a night. The poor Professor was thrust unceremoniously into an almost dangerous position. Meanwhile the burglaries continued merrily.

The Professor, however, faced it all unflinchingly. He tramped from hut to hut, condemning the inmates when they slammed the door in his face for having flat heads, for having no “moral develop-ments,” and endeavoring to collect the little balances to his credit—but 'twas of no avail. At last he hopelessly desisted, and determined to depart by the excursion train advertised for the next month.

Little Paul, however, remained faithful to his teacher. He blubbered when the Professor, wiping a tear from his big blue eye, told him his father had forbidden him the hut. With a great thrill he felt the little chap's arms around his neck, and overlooked that thundering oath connected with something about “dirty leein' divils,” rapped out viciously.

It was on a Saturday night following this blubbering fit that Paul had his mettle tested. His father was on night-shift, and his mother and Clara were in town shopping, and he had been left in his cot as usual. He was too miserable, however, to sleep, and the heat augmented


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his discomfort. Why shouldn't he play on his flute? No one would know. He crept from his cot, and was groping about the room, when he happened to glance through the window. The scattered huts were enveloped in silence and gloom, with a faint light only here and there shining from a window, for they were nearly always deserted on a Saturday night. Paul caught his breath with surprise as a flash of light from the window of Jim Jensen's hut at that moment arrested his glance, and disappeared. Jim was an old bachelor, a reputed miser, and was on night-shift with his dad. Again the light flashed and vanished. In another moment Paul had unfastened the window and crept through, his mind big with one thought: “They're in Jim's hut.”

As he dropped lightly to his feet, he felt a faint shiver at the darkness. Nothing short of his passionate affection for the Professor, whose big blue eyes seemed somehow to be looking pathetically at him, would have set him creeping towards Jim's hut in a darkness that appeared dancing with uncanny things. Twice he stopped with a deadly chill striking at his hair roots, and peered for some place of safety, and then approached cautiously to within a few yards of the hut. All at once he discerned a dark form issue from the window and hasten away, and he silently sped after it, his teeth clenched, one thought absorbing him. On reaching the


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road the figure halted as though listening, and then strode on towards the copper mine. With a flash of inspiration Paul made a bee-line for a recent clay-pan opposite the smouldering slag embankment, into which he crept, his head peeping from behind a small hillock alongside the road. The man came striding on, obviously careless now he was away from the huts. At the sudden illumination of the molten slag, splashing and streaming down the embankment, he slackened his pace to avoid the searching glare, and passed when the crackling surface of the slag threw only a deep crimson shadow. But Paul's keen eyes had detected his face. He arose silently and shadowed Bill Foggerty, the gaol-bird, who had recently returned to the district.

Before many weeks the Professor was not only reinstated in his former glory as the greatest bump-reader in Australia, was not only congratulated and repeatedly informed by those who had been most suspicious of him that “they'd allus said he'd nought to do wiv it,” but this Christmas he and little Paul, by special invitation, will play at a concert to be given in aid of the local hospital the memory-laden air of “Home, Sweet Home,” in duet, arranged by himself.

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