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  ― v ―

A SCRAP OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY

I do not know how other people write short stories, but for myself I seldom do it unless I come across an incident that interests me deeply or some scene that cries out to be illustrated. I know I never write a successful short story unless one of these conditions is fulfilled, so it comes that in collecting together this book I seem to be going step by step once again through my own life.

I was a baby of six when the wanderings of my parents took me to Gippsland in the south of Victoria, and the vivid green of the dense tea-tree scrub impressed itself on my mind. There I first remember seeing the Australian aboriginal, and there I first heard, without comprehending the grim tragedy that lay behind, the story of the brig that was wrecked on Ninety Mile Beach, and the white woman who lived with the blacks and despairingly traced initials on the forest trees. My father was a commissioner, then called a warden, of the goldfields, and he used to tell us tales of the early days and the strange people he had come across, and how in the wild rush for gold it often happened that the criminal ended a gentleman and the gentleman a criminal, and we children in our turn speculated what our father would have done had an old friend come to him with a price upon


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his head. So when I grew older I wrote “A Dilemma.”

We grew up, we little band of children, and scattered literally to the ends of the earth — the boys first, and I remember how I listened enthralled when one of the sailor boys told me how his boat had been adrift in December for a whole day and night south of the Horn, how bitter cold it had been, how the sea rose up round them and the sky fitted over like a lid, and how they feared the ship would never find them and dreaded their fate if it did not. Many years later I wrote “The Mate's Salvage,”and he corrected it for me and did the seamanship. Later on he told me an accident of a little war in which he was a looker-on, and the tight fit the Americans were in when the Colt jammed. Of course I wrote that. It was too good to miss, with its tropical setting; and then to my amusement the Colt people wrote to me to say that the Colt never jammed. It was impossible, and if I would visit their warehouse they would demonstrate why. They evidently thought I was interested in munitions — I who did not know one end of a gun from another, and shouldn't have recognised a Colt if 1 had met it.

I married and went to live in the pretty little town of Warrnambool on the south coast of Victoria, and there I made the acquaintance of the gentleman who ran an illicit whisky still. Everybody knew it, and I remember his offer to my husband, “Sure, Doctor dear, leave the bit gayrden gate open wan night an' it's jist a keg I'll be lavin' yez on the verandy. It'll warm, yer heart these could nights, an' not a sowl the wiser at all, at all.” My father, a judge by that time, tried


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the case, and laughed at the manners and customs of the folks of my new home.

And the years, after all not so very many years, went on, and I was a widow earning my living by my pen. I found nothing inspiring in the London streets, so of necessity I fell back upon the incidents of my youth for material, and as I succeeded, and money allowed, I wandered farther afield.

“Peter Addie and the Ju-ju” reminds me of a weird night I spent alone on Anum Mountain, and the long trek by night from Ho to Palime in the heart of that Togo land we have just taken from the Germans. As the lights my carriers bore flashed on the wet trees, there grew up in me a little fear and the strong feeling that when I had time I must make a story with some such setting.

And when I came back from West Africa I went to China — China of the ages. I remember one summer day drifting down the canal outside the walls of Peking, my companions “The Woman who did not Care” and a man who had served the British American Tobacco Company. Together we three worked out the story, lunching in a grassy graveyard, the people, courteous and unwashed, who hoped to occupy that graveyard in the future, sitting round us in a ring waiting patiently for our scraps. 1 went farther inland, where no one but a missionary would go, and living with some American missionaries just outside a walled city, I met the man who told me the incident of the old gun in the gateway and the armed men hanging threatening over the city walls. Indeed I did more, for I went on till I almost reached the city of the story. But White


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Wolf, the great robber chief, held the land in terror, and my men came to me saying that he either held the city Sui Te Chou or besieged it. I might have acted my own tale had I gone a day's journey farther, only then I think the end would have been tragedy.

So I turned in my tracks and went north, north to the mighty rivers and the far eastern shores of Siberia, just wakened to their summer trade, to the Island of Saghalien which used to seem to me the end of the earth; and before I turned west again I too had seen lying in the mouth of the great Amur River the sealing schooners that my brother had told me of when, years before, together we wrote “North Of 53°.”

The Graphic published “North Of 53°” and “The Good Samaritan,” a true tale of Tasmania, Pearson's Magazine published “A Dilemma” and“When the Colt Jammed” — all four long before I had realised the value of copyright; therefore am I much indebted to the editors of these papers for permission to republish in book form. “Sergeant Mahone” first saw the light in the Sphere, and neither Mr Shorter nor I can remember the terms on which I sold it; but whatever they were I have his good wishes for its success and he has my thanks.

And since I am being grateful to people, in addition to Mrs Lang who helped me choose the stories, I really think I ought to be grateful to and indeed dedicate the whole book to the enterprising publisher who not only helped me to see strange sights but who has the pluck to bring out a book for me at such a time.

For the doings have been of deepest interest.


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If my readers get out of the book a tenth of the interest I have had in collecting the information and writing the stories, I shall be well paid. A tenth did I say? A hundredth would more than pay me.

And last but not least — nay greatest of all — when I look over this record of my life, there comes to me a curious knowledge, a knowledge that can only come with the passing of years. A tiny girl once watched the daybreak, the red and gold of the sky barred by the trunks of the great Gippsland gums that stood up against the skyline, and realised, possibly for the first time in her life, the beauty of the dawn. The years passed, years full of joy and sorrow, and a woman, a woman who had drunk of life's cup, watched another dawn come up across the green fields and rugged hills of Saghalien, watched the light like arrows of gold cut through the mists that for ever envelop the island, watched and saw the beauty of the northern even as the child had seen the beauty of the subtropical dawn in the faraway south; and then the woman knew that the mind — the soul — what you will — that received these impressions belongs to no time, that part of her was not young in the little child, but it was no older in the woman who felt she had been to the ends of the earth, even as it will not be old if it be granted her to fill life's allotted span, it is of no age because it is eternal.

MARY GAUNT.

MARY HAVEN,

NEW ELTHAM, KENT.

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