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10. Sunday Afternoon.

I FEEL like a bird in a cage, left without groundsel, seed and water, when masonry forms my horizon on a Sunday afternoon.

In wet weather the damp streets, with their closed shops and towering walls, look like huge graving-docks; in fine, they are monotonous canals of stagnant sunshine. Their Pompeian stillness—unbroken, save by the rattle of an occasional omnibus, and the hoarse croaking of its driver and shrill treble of its cad, ejaculating in amœbean contest “Glebe! Glebe! Newtown! Newtown! Barwan Park!” “Wool'm'loo! 'm'loo!” “Padding-tun!”—oppresses me, congests my brain. The weariness of all the busy week, gathered into one overwhelming feeling of ennui, seems to be brooding in the atmosphere of dust; and when the bells begin to ring for church, you miss their morning's silvery sound of joy, their evening's softer sound of peace. Ding-dong, ding-dong, in dull, metallic tones, without a single touch of poetry, is all they say.

Disregarding their drowsy call to drowsy prayer—afternoon-service to me is always suggestive of undigested pudding on the part of both priest and people—I make a point of joining one of the many throngs that pour out from all sides of Sydney, like swarming bees, on Sunday afternoon. Let me sketch a few of my companions.

Look at those servant-girls with their year's wages on their backs—chaotic heaps of discordant colours—masses of jumbled rainbow; so that a tulip-bed in all its glory is not arrayed like one of these. Like red harvest-moons shining through cloud-wreaths, their round, ruddy faces literally blaze with robust, rude health out of their feathers, flowers and gauze. Their podgy hands seem bursting from their coverings, like overripe gooseberries. Delicate French gloves and glittering bracelets hardly harmonise with raw-beef wrists.

Contrast the little milliner—her pale face flushing into sea-shell pink in the fresh breeze. Her dress, probably, has not cost a tithe of the value of Bridget's; but which looks the more like a lady? Of course, I

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don't blame poor Bridget for her costly and yet clumsy splendour—she knows no better; but I read in the pretty little milliner a pretty little lesson on the benefit of taste.

There goes a shop-boy, smoking and gorgeously attired, and mounted on a hired or borrowed hack. He fondly imagines that he is the focus of hundreds of admiring eyes, and that all who gaze on him consider him a squatter. Alas! his seat bewrayeth him; squatters don't ride like that. The few who do look at him, take him for a tailor.

A pair of lovers: “She,” as the old music-books say, with a face a perfect flower-garden of smiles; “He,” all awkward and confused. Why on earth should the man always be ashamed of being in love? It is the poor woman that commits the folly.

A family group: Paterfamilias, a German baker of bland but spooney aspect; he smiles incessantly upon his little English wife, and punctuates her rapid flow of words with the assenting Ja! or the emphatic Nein! He nurses two of the children, moreover; and very curious it is to behold the bland and spooney aspect of the father's face repeated in the countenances of those young Teutons.

Suppose we embark in one of the crowded craft that wave their smoke-burgees, and scarcely less sooty flags, over holiday-makers bound for Parramatta, Cremorne, Watson's Bay, or Manly Beach. What comical collections of humanity the good folks are—intensely conscious, for the most part, of their “Sunday clothes,” glossy and wrinkled silk and broad-cloth winking, as it were, in the unwonted blaze to which they are exposed—reminiscences of press and drawers suffusing with a bashful blush the immaculate purity of their hebdomodal resurrection. How solemnly the good people take their pleasure—in the orthodox, ponderous manner of Britons, on whatever shore their fate may cast them. Grave they look, as if going to a funeral. The very actors yonder, in abnormal hats—escaped, for a brief respite, from the week-long atmosphere of orange-peel and gas—succumb to the prevailing sentiment, take their key-note from the dominant tone of the circumambient lugubrious glee; and, cigar in mouth,—

With shorn cheeks pale against its ruddy glow,—they cluster around the funnel, as though they would keep themselves in countenance by its example, whilst doing anything so dissipated as smoking. A serious silence reigns from stem to stern, unbroken save when the steersman turns his quid, emitting its mahogany-hued juice upon the sun-scorched deck with a splash that sounds like that of “the first of a thunder-shower,” in the awful hush.

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Such mournful merrymakers become tiresome after a bit; so leaving them, as Elia says of the Egyptian hermits, to “enjoy one another's want of conversation,” let us look around.

The flags of all nations flash like splendid meteors athwart the sapphire sky, and boats with snowy sails fly like sea-birds over the blue waters. Now we pass a huge emigrant-ship, alive with passengers, gazing anxiously over the bulwarks at their “promised land;” and anon a tiny, anchored yacht, that seems to be fretting for freedom, as it pulls at its tether like little Barbara Lewthwaite's lamb, and then, finding the effort vain, swims round and round its buoy in a pretty little pet of impatient, impotent anger.

We may well be proud of our harbour. Lovely are its deep, indenting waters; covered with dancing dimples, swathed in sheets of gold; rolling in emerald green, heaving in violet blue; blushing beneath the parting gaze of the setting sun, or looking up to him pale and trembling in the morn, when all night long the thunder has pealed and echoed through the dark. Still, although a gem of the first water, Port Jackson would certainly be all the better for a brighter setting.

Like a mighty army of Huns in never-ending march, the gloomy trees sweep down from the far distance to the melancholy shore. Here and there, it is true, the sombre mass is enlivened by a break that beams in cultivated beauty and tells of the sweet charities of Home; but even on its enlivener the black bush casts a shadow from its superfluity of shade. The islands, too, that, clad in verdure—waving with the foliage of more favoured lands—might be so beautiful, remind one now, as they gaze drearily upon their doubles in the reflecting waters, of widows in old mourning, embrowned by the dust and heat of many a weary day, hanging over their mirrors in half-hopeless longing for the time when they may cast aside their rusty weeds. Pinchgut is free from the “sad-coloured” raiment; but Pinchgut decorated with a tower like a gigantic hat—a monstrously magnified drab Mountcastle—doth not add greatly to the harbour's picturesque.

Now let us land on the North Shore, and wander through the fragrant forest—not so ugly when one is in it, and can discriminate the hues that blend into a pall of gloom when seen from a distance; let us roam through its silent solitudes sprinkled with many a holy, happy nunnery of flowers, until we come to St. Leonard's churchyard. “Rejoice, Oh, young man, in thy youth!” has hitherto been the summer-breeze's song; the rest of the text it murmurs, like a solemn refrain, as it rustles in the waving grass above the graves.

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In the “Deaths”—calmly chronicled in that little tablet above the programme of the day's bustle and merry-making—there is an appeal that catches every eye, and dims for a moment its kindling fires of revelry or greed. An other of Time's waves has dashed its spray upon the shore. We all of us take, perforce, an interest in Death, because it is our common doom. The loneliness of deaths out here adds a peculiar melancholy to these records. Far from the old familiar places, the old familiar faces, we drop unheeded as the yellow leaves silently falling in the quiet autumn air, and rot like them unnoticed in the ground. How many a one for whom Love across the sea has looked and longed in vain lies in our graveyards! Those despairing mothers' and sisters' appeals for tidings of So-and-so, who sailed from such a place, in this ship or the other, “and has not since been heard of,” make the third column of the Herald a very pathetic one to me. I am afraid the tidings are but seldom gained, or if gained, are very seldom glad. Disappointment, Dissipation, Desperation, Death, keep a firm grip upon their victims. Not once in a hundred times is the missing son or brother found: when found, perhaps, it would have been better for the peace of those who sought him, that he should have remained lost to them in knowledge as in life. A foul, festered heart, contrasted with the pure, bright spirit that those who seek the lost one loved, is but a dreary resurrection after long, weary years of brow-wrinkling, eye-dimming, heart-breaking, anxiety.

I ought, perhaps, to apologise for preaching: my excuse for my sermon must be that I have been writing on—SUNDAY AFTERNOON.