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  ― 195 ―

Products.

I PADDLED up the river.

I was tired of civilisation and its products, so I turned my back upon the city and bore up against the tide. The river set its current against me and bore down for civilisation and the city.

The river was an Australian river, and its winding reaches were framed in gnarled stems and twisted branches of quaint device, in twining creepers and drooping, lance-shaped leaves, in rough boulders and grim caves where the black man had crouched beside his boomerang and devoured his feast of shell-fish.

But the caves now bear the legend of Smith, Brown and Jones; the boulders advertise patent soaps; among clearings in tortuous gum-bush gleam the white turrets of the modern villa; on the slopes the creepers have been cut away for the straight, trim beds of artificial garden.

The legends and the soaps, the villas and the gardens, are all products of civilisation.

I paddled up the river.

Suddenly I came upon a Relic of Romance. A dismantled chimney, a ruined wall over which trailed fresh green leaves, an old horse browsing where a cottage room had been, some soft-eyed cattle gazing at me,—all the elements of a domestic idyll. I stepped ashore to shed a few tears over the idyll and analyse the elements; some of them resolved themselves into disused boilers pervaded by a peculiar odour.

Then I remembered. I stood on the site of a boiling-down establishment which had once polluted the air.




  ― 196 ―

The boiling-down process was a product, and it had moved down the river.

I paddled up.

At a bend of the stream rose a tall building, with straight lines, jutting outhouses and gabled roof. Some terraced cottages stood near, also straight-lined and gable-roofed. Opposite, twining greenery and rich underscrub and starry flannel-flower nestled in the curve under the shadow of the cool cliff. Here, utilitarian energy bristled in the glare.

I went inside the building. It was a factory, with whirring wheels and ponderous grindstones and huge vats, all used in the production of a fancy food for digestions spoiled by civilisation. Strong men were busy among the machines, slight women were busy in the packing-rooms. I spoke to one of the girls: she was young and not uncomely; her head was bent and her nimble fingers folded squares of cardboard into box-form and pasted on the paper covers.

“How many can you make in a day?” I asked.

“About three hundred,” she answered in a monotone, her fingers still folding.

Outside, the mullet were leaping, the loose-leaved branches were idly waving to other branches in the water, the laugh of the kookaburra pealed in the distance.

Inside, the sun streamed hotly on pale faces and tired fingers.

I looked at the girl,—her face was dainty and wistful.

“Don't you sometimes hate it?” I said.

The girl looked at me, and answered:

“Yes.”

She was a product of civilisation and was drifting down the river. I paddled up.

At last I lighted on my camping-ground. It was roomy and retired, protected by a shore of black ooze and a cliff undisfigured by names; a waterhole was near at hand. I contentedly lighted my camp-fire, and sat down to meditate on products.




  ― 197 ―

Suddenly a boatful of them arrived and took possession. They were undeniable: male products in speckless flannels, straw hats and city respectability; female products in gay draperies and city smirk.

I fled to my waterhole. There the water dripped with a musical patter down the ruddy cliffs; the yellow “speckle-eye” flitted about the branches with cheerful chirp; the sunbeams quivered through the interweaving leaves; the locusts played their bagpipes with a subdued drone. I was listening to it when the product in flannels swooped down on me, armed with curiosity and conversation.

“Nice place,” he said, annexing my waterhole; “nice soap,” appropriating mine; “nice weather, nice camping-ground, nice to get away from the city now and then.”

When I went back the products were gathered round my fire, crooning “Daisy Bell” preparatory to going down the river. I paddled up.

On the oozy bank I spied, afar off, a flamingo stalking in the mud. On nearing, my flamingo resolved itself into an elderly gentleman in a red shirt paddling for bait.

This looked like close intimacy with Nature. I made advances to the flamingo, which presently took a bath, resumed human attire, and conducted me over a thriving orchard.

I admired a fruitful vine on a barren rock. I marvelled at a peach-bearing tree which had sprung into existence in a crevice. I stood beneath a forty-year-old apple-tree which formed a natural bower, and dreamed of the children who had frolicked under its boughs.

The flamingo's voice broke in:

“I don't get half I used to for them apples,” it said; “if I couldn't do my own cartage by road I'd give the land up; it don't pay these days.”

The flamingo was also a product.

I paddled up the river.




  ― 198 ―

I swerved aside to enter a sinuous creek, just wide enough for my boat. On one marshy side tall rushes grew, on the other old trees caressed my head with their drooping boughs. The water rippled under the keel, and a dog's baying echoed far away.

I drifted up to a thickly-set orchard, with a soft carpet of green weed beneath the peach-and nectarine-dropping trees. In the fore ground a group of men were busy sorting fruit and packing it in market cases.

The master stood up, a tall, well-built young fellow, and as I stepped on shore he came forward with grave courtesy:

“You are a stranger,” he said; “and——” his glance wandered uneasily from my unkempt beard, doubtful garments, and bare feet, to the boat. She was trim and shipshape. His glance returned, satisfied. “And an artist?” he continued; “a good many come our way. You are welcome. The orchard is more interesting further on, and you will find some fruit to your liking.”

So I had lighted on Paradise at last, and civilisation was in the rear. As I lay under the enclosing boughs of a pear-tree that had seen three generations, catching glimpses, between the clustering fruit, of tree-ferns guarding scarlet tomato and ripening watermelon,—with the murmur of the creek, the buzz of the bee, and the hum of the fly in my ear,—I felt I had nothing to reproach Adam and Eve with. Their little interview with the serpent had not robbed me of Nature's spoils.

But another sound disturbed my reverie. A sibilant sound, recalling city products. Creeping forward stealthily, I peered through the branches, and there, in the gathering shadows, I spied a pair—of the species known as larrikin. They were hard at work, too, and the bags beside them suggested weight.

A hand fell on my shoulder.

“Will you help me?” said the quiet voice of the sturdy young farmer. “We are evenly matched, and if we surprise them it will be a sure thing.”

It was a sure thing. Within half-an-hour the invaders were on their way towards the hospitable police-station. Apparently


  ― 199 ―
they were waste products. I had come painfully near civilisation again.

“I am much indebted to you,” said the farmer. “They would have escaped had I lost time going to look for my men, and really this sort of thing is not to be borne. The rights of property are sacred; I see you are with me there.”

I was not with him there, because I have no property. My boat was a hired one. But I understood.

Still, I was sorry. It struck me that my farmer was a product, too, in his own simple fashion, and that I had not yet wandered far enough.

I wished to paddle up the river.

“Wait,” said the farmer; “you must come up to the house; we both need a drink after that little affair.”

“This stuff won't harm anyone,” he added presently, holding up the aromatic golden liquor to the light. “You don't find this brand in every house, and where you do it's not always genuine.”

I glanced at the brand; it was “Bertrandt and Co.” Bertrandt is the rich godfather to whom I look for a legacy.

“Do they dare to tamper with it?” I asked righteously.

Tampering with Bertrandt's brandy might affect my legacy.

“Not with this,” laughed the farmer; “I have special opportunities for securing the real thing,”—and he whispered a word in my ear. “We all like our little comforts, and we like them good,” he added cheerily.

“Yes,” I answered absently, “we like them good.”

Was it really five years since I had written to Bertrandt.

Then I realised that I also was a product.

I paddled down the river.

A. ROSE-SOLEY.

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