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The Parson's Blackboy

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THE Rev. Joseph Simmondsen had been appointed by his bishop to a cure of souls in the Far North, in the days when Queensland was an ungodly and unsanctified place. Naturally, the Rev. J., who was young, green, and zealous, saw a direct mission in front of him. His predecessor had never gone twenty miles outside the little seaport that formed the commercial outlet of the district; but this did not suit Joseph's eager temperament. Once he felt his footing and gained a little experience, he determined on a lengthened tour that should embrace the uttermost limits of his fold.

Now, although beset with the conceit and priggishness inseparable from the early stages of parsonhood, Simmondsen was not a bad fellow, and glimpses of his manly nature

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would at times peep out in spite of himself. This, without his knowledge, ensured him a decent welcome, and he got a good distance inland under most favourable auspices, for, the weather being fine, everybody was willing to lend him a horse or drive him on to the next station upon his route. The Rev. Joseph began to think that the roughness of the back country had been much exaggerated.

In due course he arrived at a station which we will call Upton Downs; beyond it there were only a few newly-taken-up runs. On Upton Downs they were busy mustering, and when the parson enquired about his way for the next day the manager looked rather puzzled. “You see,” he said, “we are rather short-handed, and I can't spare a man to send with you; at the same time the track from here to Gundewarra is not very plain, and I am afraid you might not be able to follow it. However, I will see what I can do.”

Mr. Simmondsen was retiring to rest that night when a whispered conversation made

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itself audible in the next room. No words were distinguishable, but from the sounds of smothered laughter a good joke seemed to be in progress.

“I think I can manage for you,” said the superintendent at breakfast next morning. “When you leave here you will go to Gundewarra, twenty-five miles. From there it is thirty-five miles to Bilton's Camp and ten on to Blue Grass. From Blue Grass you can come straight back here across the bush, about forty miles. I will lend you a blackboy who knows the country well and will see you round safely.”

The young clergyman thanked his host, and, after breakfast, prepared to leave. The blackboy, a good-looking little fellow arrayed in clean moles and twill shirt, was in attendance with a led pack-horse, and the two departed.

For some miles the Reverend Joseph improved the occasion by a little pious talk to the boy, who spoke fairly good English, and showed a white set of teeth when he laughed, as he constantly did at everything the

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parson said. At midday they camped for an hour on the bank of a lagoon, in which Mr. Simmondsen had a refreshing swim. In the evening they arrived at their destination, and received the usual welcome.

“I see you adapt yourself to the customs of the country,” said his host at mealtime, and a slight titter went round the table. The Reverend Joseph joined in, taking it for granted that his somewhat unclerical garb was alluded to. In reply to enquiries he was informed that Bilton's Camp was a rough place, and Blue Grass even worse; and he was pleased to hear it, for up to now his path had been too pleasant altogether; he hadn't had a chance to reprove anybody.

Bilton's Camp proved to be indeed a rough place. The men were civil, however, and as the parson had had another exhilarating bath at the midday camp he appreciated the rude fare set before him, although here, as at the other place, there seemed to be a joke floating about that made everybody snigger.

The next day's journey, to Blue Grass, was but a short stage, and as the reverend

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gentleman had by this time become very friendly with Charley, the blackboy, the two rode along chatting pleasantly until they came somewhat unexpectedly on the new camp.

A very greasy cook and two or three gins in dilapidated shirts were the only people at home, and they stood open-eyed to greet the stranger.

Although Mr. Simmondsen had suited his attire to his surroundings, he still retained enough of the clerical garb to signify his profession. The cook, therefore, at once took in the situation, and invited the parson under the tarpaulin which did temporary duty as a hut.

He informed his visitor, at whom he looked rather curiously, that “everyone” was away, camped out, and that no one would return for a couple of days; that he was alone, excepting for two men who were at work in a yard a short distance off, and who would be in to dinner; in fact, they came up while he was speaking. Mr. Simmondsen took great interest in this, the

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first real “outside” camp he had seen, and as the two bushmen had gone down to the creek for a wash, and the cook was busy preparing a meal, he called Charley to ask him a few questions.

“What are these black women doing about the place, Charley?”

“O! all about missus belongah whitefellow,” was the astonishing reply.

It was some moments before Joseph could grasp the full sense of this communication; then he considered it his duty to read these sinners a severe lecture, and prepared one accordingly.

“Do you not understand,” he said, when the three men were together, “the trespass you are committing against both social and Divine laws? If you do not respect one, perhaps you will the other.”

The cook stared at the bushmen in blank amazement, and the bushmen at the cook.

“I allude to these unfortunate and misled beings,” said the parson, waving his hand towards the half-clad gins.

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A roar of laughter was the reply. “Blessed if that doesn't come well from you!” said the cook, when he could speak. The others chuckled in acquiescence.

“What do you mean?” said the indignant Joseph; “I speak by right of my office.”

“Sit down and have some tucker,” said the cook, “you're not a bad sort, I can see, but don't come the blooming innercent.”

The indignant pastor refused. He saw that his words were treated lightly, that no one would listen to him, and he left in high dudgeon. Charley had told him that there was a good lagoon about twelve miles on the road back to Upton Downs; he would go on there and camp—they had plenty of provisions on the pack-horse—and taking his bridle and calling the boy he went to catch his horse.

As he came back he overheard the fag-end of a remark the cook was making to the others. “They came round the end of the scrub chatting as thick as thieves, and when I seed who it was—Lord! you could have wiped me out with one hand.”

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This was worse than Greek to the Reverend. Greek he might have understood. In spite of a clumsy apology from the delinquent, he departed, and near sundown arrived at the lagoon Charley had spoken of. It was a lovely spot. One end was thick with broad-leaved water-lilies, but there was a clear patch at the other end promising the swim the good parson enjoyed so much.

When the tent was pitched he stood in Nature's garb about to enter the water, when Charley called to him. Pointing towards the lilies he told Mr. Simmondsen that he would get him some seed-pods which the blacks thought splendid eating. The clergyman had only got up to his waist before he heard a plunge behind him and saw Charley's dark form half-splashing, half-swimming towards the lilies. Presently his head emerged from a dive, and he beckoned towards the clergyman to come over and taste the aboriginal luxury. The Reverend paddled lazily over and investigated. The seed-pods proved of very pleasant flavour, and as the sun was nearly down, Mr. Simmondsen

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wended his way to the bank and emerged in the shallow water, with Charley a few paces behind him. For some reason he looked back. Shocking predicament! There was no shirking the fact: all the quiet laughter about “the customs of the country,” the unexplained allusions, the ribald manner of the cook, were evident at a flash. Charley was a woman!

The wicked superintendent of Upton Downs had started him on his travels with (“after the customs of the country”) a black gin dressed in boy's clothes as a valet, and that gin had evidently been recognised by everyone on the road. Mr. Simmondsen thought of the past and blushed. That night was spent in fervent prayer.

“My dear sir,” said Davis, the super. of Upton Downs, “I did the best I could for you. Charlotte is as good as any blackboy and knows all the country round here. Now, own up, did not she look after you well?”

“You forget the scandal that may arise,” said the Reverend Mr. Simmondsen.

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“Lord, man! who cares about what is done out here? Nobody will ever hear of it.”

Davis was wrong. Everybody did hear of it. The Reverend Mr. Simmondsen received indignant letters from his Bishop, his churchwardens, the Reverend Mr. Wriggle, the West Australian Missionary, several missionary societies, and, last and worst, a letter of eternal farewell from the young lady to whom he was engaged. Fortunately he inherited some money at the time; so he did the best thing possible—threw up the church, went into squatting, and is now one of the most popular men in the district.