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(xviii)

HIS Excellency Sir Richard Bourke stood up before a number of gentlemen by profession and one gentleman by courtesy, whose attention was focused upon his boots. To launch the expected oratory a platform had been erected, behind whose bunting rose the skeleton of a building not yet finished with bricks and mortar. This in turn took for its background the oyster-grey dullness, lucent, of a December sky. Said Sir Richard:

“I have not been long among you, but one thing I have observed, one characteristic of the inhabitants of the Colony. You have a strong desire of independence; you


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are ready, you are willing and able, to help yourselves. Let me say that these are qualities apt to command my most hearty admiration. I am a soldier, I have fought in two hemispheres, and I say, out of that experience, the best soldiers are not always the most biddable. You say: We are at peace now. Long may we remain so! But this is a matter of universal application, and I trust that, should war ever come, you will not let them drill this excellent independence out of you. Each man on his own feet, each man able to maintain himself honestly. That, I believe, is what you would wish as a community for the individuals who grow up and seek to thrive among you. You wish it and work for it. Nay, you are prepared to pay for it; and that is the criterion whereby, in any country, you may find out what it is that the people honestly desire. Mr. Archdeacon, I tread in your preserves, but we have authority for believing that where a man's treasure is there is his heart also. All honour to those who bestow their treasure and their hearts wisely.”

The gentlemen by profession swelled their chests, hearing themselves thus extolled. The gentleman by courtesy continued to regard his boots.

“A man finds himself—never mind the circumstances—in this newest of the colonies of our Crown. He works; he does well for himself through natural aptitude and constant labour. One day he rattles the money in his pocket, and he thinks: I had no help to make this money. But I should have been all the better for help. I should have been glad of a chance to study, and learn the ins and


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outs of a trade. So I will give to others, younger men, the opportunity I have not had myself. With that your respected fellow-citizen Mr. Samson Flusky”—more nods and glances—“says to me: Will you sanction the building of a Mechanics' Institute here in Sydney? A place where young men of the labouring classes may go and be taught letters and a trade. I say to him: Not only will I sanction it, but I authorize you to use for your building some of the labour at my disposal. When you have chosen your site and designed that building, let me know, and I shall make it my business to give it public approval.

“Here I stand, ladies and gentlemen, in pursuance of that promise. Your fellow-citizen is performing a public-spirited action. I believe that this Institute, when the roof is on it and the instructors at work inside it, will do service to your community. Under this stone which I am to lay have been placed, according to custom, three coins: gold, silver and copper. They may stand, the gold for opportunity, the silver for knowledge, the copper for application. I have no more to say, except to hope most heartily that the moral riches, of which these coins are emblematic, may ever belong to the young men of this city, and that these same young men, when they come to handle their riches, will not forget what they owe to Mr. Samson Flusky.”

There was dignified applause. A few ill-chosen spectators at the rear of the crowd shouted references to the need of a professorship of prigging, but were hushed down. The denizens of the platform exchanged remarks


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behind hands while a hod with mortar and a bright new trowel were preparing for His Excellency's hands.

“Confound the fellow, who wants free labourers? We shall have to pay 'em wages. Mark my word, this is the thin end of the wedge, they'll be stopping assignment. I haven't paid a labourer for fifteen years, I don't propose to begin. Still, it looks well, a Mechanics' Institute—progressive, independent. Oh, it looks well enough. I don't know which is worse, a Governor with notions, or a Governor without. Ah, but this one, say what you like, can sit a horse. Then, by God, he ought to know better than to cock up the emancipists and currency individuals in this way. Flusky won't make a speech, will he? Won't he? His Excellency's talking——”

“I declare the foundation stone of this Institute well and truly laid.”

The platform dignitaries raised a sound that was not exactly cheering, but a sort of decent approving clamour. Their wives at the front of the audience exchanged speculations.

“Her ladyship—absurd it sounds in these wilds—does not appear?”

“Her health—at least, that is the excuse.”

“May not this failing of hers be hereditary? ‘Drunk as a lord,’ you know. There is often some measure of truth in a proverb.”

“Oh, we shall soon have her about again. The young man, you know, is back.”

“Not——?”




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“Yes, indeed, Mr. Charles Adare is back. And staying with them in Woolloomooloo.”

“Very interesting.”

Most interesting.”

“My husband tells me he saw them together yesterday in Sydney; she in high good looks.”

“And he?”

“Oh, my husband did not observe. Men do not notice other men, you know, unless there is business of some kind. There is your individual getting up to speak.”

The ladies, momentarily quiet, studied Flusky, then resumed their prattle.

“One cannot really blame her. Vulgar, gross, the way his hair is plastered! For a lady by birth, on a public occasion such as this! I too should make an excuse, I believe, not to be present.”

“Especially if you had somebody more presentable to occupy you at home.”

“Hush! He's to speak. Count the dropped h's.”

Mr. Samson Flusky was brief.

“I thank His Excellency. We got plenty schools for book-learning. This will be a school to teach hands their job, what this settlement needs, to my mind, more'n books. What we want out here is to think our own thoughts, instead of other people's. This school will do what it can. I thank you for giving it a send-off.”

He paused, there was clapping, but he did not sit down. The astonished uniforms heard him say further:

“It's a thirsty day. There's a tent rigged up——” his


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hand indicated its whereabouts. “If you care to take a glass of anything, my wife asks me to say you're very welcome.”

He sat down, and there was further clapping. Gentlemen sought their wives' eyes, exchanged twitches of the eyebrows and nods. The ladies, inquisitive, yet would not commit themselves. The Governor, they decided wordlessly, unanimously as a flock of birds, must give the cue; and when it was evident from his hand on Flusky's arm that the Governor was to honour the tent, they fell in with the utmost naturalness at his heels, agreeably commenting on the proceedings. So good to take the trouble, quite an impressive ceremony, if only there were a similar institute for cooks, surely not impossible, why not consult—the name twittered agreeably on their tongues—Lady Henrietta? The foremost group ceased its chatter, with interest perceiving that “my wife” was no mere civil formula, it stood for her ladyship in the flesh. They peered forward to catch sight of her.

She was coming out of the tent, a parasol tilted to keep from her eyes the glare of the leaden sky. By her side—the ladies glanced at each other—walked Mr. Adare, so deeply browned that his stock looked theatrically white, and the new whiskers that softened the angle of his jaw theatrically fair. A naval lady surveyed Flusky's expression in preference to watching the advancing couple, as a subtle artist studies his subject in a mirror to get its true proportions; thereby she derived small satisfaction, neither jealousy nor self-esteem could be deciphered.


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Lady Henrietta had a smile for Mr. Flusky; indeed the identical smile with which the Governor was greeted reached Mr. Flusky first, and in its full effulgence. The naval lady, cheated of scandal, could only murmur to her neighbour of the Survey:

“Of course, trust the aristocracy to carry off that sort of thing.”

Secret lovers, public drunkenness, plebeian husbands? The Survey lady's wondering glance demanded which of these Lady Henrietta might be carrying off under her parasol. But His Excellency was speaking:

“Well, we have made our beginning well and truly. Ah, Charles! You didn't listen to our speechifying.”

“It went to my heart, sir, to see you bury that guinea under a hundredweight of sandstone. Too much for me entirely. I kept Lady Hattie company, out of the heat.”

Delightful ease, the ladies granted Mr. Adare, eyeing him with the interest that attaches to a careless conqueror. Puppy! thought their husbands, the while they ponderously greeted him:

“Well, sir, what news from the interior? How much gold did you bring back? Any suitable grazing country? Water? You will be having your name on our maps, no doubt. You will be taking up land, I dare say. A change from Ireland! When I was younger——”

Thus the chosen few. In the distance lesser spectators, after wandering about among the piled bricks, and spelling out with their fingers, letter by letter, the inscription on the foundation stone, took themselves off to


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public-houses. The convict builders had been withdrawn while the gentry made speeches, in order not to affront enthusiasm by their incongruous appearance and dress; they were locked in a travelling cage half a mile from the site, while their soldier guards took an hour off for dinner. The Mechanics' Institute, as yet a matter of brick rectangles set in the ground, with one imposing sandstone square rising a couple of feet above the courses, remained unattended.

Inside the tent, hotter than the outer air, yet preferred because of its shade, a gentleman with nothing to say, but accustomed to public speaking, had taken it upon himself to propose a toast: His Excellency's health, coupled with that of their respected fellow-citizen. Mr. Flusky made a bow whose clumsiness, had he but known, did something to dispel a current legend: (“My dear, he cannot have been a footman as they say, any butler must have taught him to bow better than that.”) His Excellency responded with a smile in the appropriate direction, and reflected that for his part he must often have drunk good luck to a worse man.

“I wish to God, though,” protested that side of his mind where the prejudices lodged, “I could get the gaol smell out of my nose when I talk to him. They never quite shake it off. There's the walk; something in the look, too. Why didn't Pitt take Mattra's offer, and colonize this country with loyalist Americans after the Independence? It's no disgrace, I dare say, to have been gaoled. Stone walls do not a prison make, as Charles


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would say. No, but the imitation of one that they provide is damned convincing where a fellow like Flusky is concerned. What is there about him that could take her fancy?” He saw her face across the crowd. “And keep it, too.”

The champagne had been excellent, but it was finished. There was nothing to detain the ladies and gentlemen any longer from their vehicles and, eventually, their homes. They emerged from the tent, looking appealingly up, bending courteously down, parading their gentility before His Excellency's eye. But Sir Richard, accustomed to cast his glance round about on emerging from shelter to air, and more particularly thrown back towards this military mannerism by the fact that the shelter in question was a tent, had found other occupation for his eye; he stopped in mid-compliment. The uniforms, mutely enquiring the reason, saw that he was staring intently in the direction of that stone so well and truly laid half an hour earlier.

“By Jupiter!” vouchsafed His Excellency; the crowd swung to his exclamation. “The rogues! I wonder it hasn't happened before this.”

Sydney's most favoured citizens then perceived that the foundation stone had been heaved by main force out of its fresh mortar. They checked their steps to exclaim and to conjecture, then advanced, gentlemen leading, upon the phenomenon. Sir Richard did not hurry himself. He sauntered, rightly conjecturing what would be found. In fact, when the military and naval gentlemen, with gentlemen of bar and bench, arrived at the stone, it


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was evident that the silver and gold, emblems of opportunity and knowledge, had disappeared; only a penny, symbolizing application, had been left, from which the pop-eyed profile of the third George stared helplessly away from the denizens of his newest dominion.

“Mr. Flusky, if you wish, the ceremony can be repeated. Though I think, you know, that my meaning has already been taken.”

Thus the Governor. But at his elbow a gentleman of the press noted on a cuff: Outrage at Ceremony, and all about the insulted stone, faces of aides-de-camp, clergymen, justices and gentry stiffened or flexed with indignation, according to the temperament of the wearers, above the collars of uniforms.

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