previous
next

Hanging and Hell.

THERE are at least six Hanging Rocks and three Gallows Hills in New South Wales. There is one Hell. I've been there, thus:

Assize time in Wagga Wagga and a man on trial for murder. Another man, myself, on trial of sobriety, dead broke, hat battered, boots unlaced, swag all no-how, and so nervous that the gambolling of Pop scares me. Funny that that animal is never so delighted as when I shoulder bluey. I pass the court-house; a knot of idlers are round the gate, a policeman comes out and says, “They'll hang


  ― 287 ―
him!” I'm off like a shot, and in my ears the din of “Hang him, hangin', hangin', hang, 'ang, 'ng—ng—ng!” Then I turn a corner to get out of public gaze. Unluckily, I pass the side door of the building. I am spell-bound; there I see an awful visage, a face with such a ghastly mouth, and such a dress below the mouth, for the mouth has taken charge of the face, like the Cheshire Cat's grin in Wonderland. Then the grin and the hair, the mouth and the gown, the words and the black cap take me by the shoulders and elsewhere and hustle me on to the river bank. “Hang, hang, hang—ng—ng!” and now I've got them. I know they're on me and so does Pop, because he whines and fawns on me. But for Pop I'd have shown the horrors. Now I only feel them.

Then I walk and walk and walk. It seems two days, but it's not so wearisome, because I have music,—that rhythm, you know, always in my ears. It's company if it's horrible, and the dog is some consolation. Next, I find myself by a vineyard full of angels; they give me three tumblers of wine and a bottle for the road. They wish me to stay, and see me through my recovery, but—that grin, that mug, that wig, and the little black cap! I'm off.

Again I travel about a week, in my mind's eye, and camp near an old shed under a tree. There's a paling fence near, and it looks like the bars of a cage or prison.

But the tree—the gallows-tree! The boughs are scraggy, and the leaves white on top; there's a break in the middle, and a guard round the barrel. It looks like that head. The gap is the cavernous mouth, and the soughing of the breeze is “Hang him, they'll hang him!”

Still, I'm not so badly off. I can see an angel or two feeding Pop. A man comes down with a pint of tea and a plate of soup. He tells me this is the “Burnt Hut,” and that the fires are Hell. Just then he's called by the overseer, and says “Hang him!” Now I'm off again. The din begins, the tree shivers, the head wags, the mug mutters, some crows perch on the top and make a black cap, and I fall asleep near the paling fence—the prison cage.




  ― 288 ―

When I wake I look through. I see Pop, watching my swag on the other side, and a man tieing the legs of a sheep. That sheep is, to me, myself. He skins it, and calls to his mate, “Come and help me to hang him!” The wretch is going to hang me, the same good fellow who gave me the soup. Luckily, I spot the bottle of wine. I reach for it and drink it, holding the bottle by the neck. I know that I am being hung—hanged, I mean; but I'm not going to let them touch me, myself, the “alter ego.” They come near me and fetch the overseer, who brings me a nip of the real Mackay. It is now a little funny: I'm hung, and still drinking whisky, and the hangman isn't so bad. I suppose the overseer's the devil, because he says, in a sort of pitying tone, “Well! isn't this hell?”

Another snooze, and I awake. It ought to be dark, but it isn't. The night is lit up by bush-fires on and around a pinnacle of smoke and flame. We can see the timbers falling, the sparks rising. “We” are the men and I. I can see the wig and the mouth and the grin and the corpse, standing out like red lights on a murky background. A calico shroud has been tied round the sheep, and it now looks like a suspended ghost. I fancy its soul has gone to—well, blazes was my thought. Then I become sure of it, because the overseer—the devil, I mean—calls the men to look at the Hanging Rock, the pillar of fire, and tells them or half asks them, “Isn't it hell?” What with the Hanging and the Hell, I start again (mentally), and have my little song of “Hang him, hang him, hell, 'ell, well—not so bad—hang—hell!”

And I awoke; and behold, it was a dream. “Well, old fellow! Are you better? Can you cook? Can have a job if you like. Only me and some fencers. We're out all day. Tackle it to-morrow. I'll give you a nip or two—I've had 'em myself.”

But there are few overseers like the one who used to be at the Burnt Hut, under the Hanging Rock. “Isn't it hell?”

PHIL. MOWBRAY.

previous
next