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Brothers Twain

I

“BOB—I will write to—Bob!”

The sick man turned writhingly upon his hard pallet. There was only a blanket between his body and the bed-frame, for the mattress had been exchanged long since for the money which had fed his children for three days; and the withering flesh was not so benumbed as yet by the pressed fingers of approaching death that the roughness and rigidity of the iron failed to inflict pain. “Bob,” he quavered again, when he faced the door instead of the wall. “Yes, I will write to him!” Then he lifted the cane—solitary relic of the thousand and one uselessnesses which had once been necessaries to him—and tapped on the floor.

“Yes, father.” A boy of twelve, or thereabouts, came and put his head in at the door.




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“I want paper and ink, Ned. I wish to write a letter.”

“A letter, father! Will it be one to post?”

“Yes, chappie. Why?”

“We haven't any money for a stamp, father—not a penny. And there's only one envelope left besides.”

II

“DEAR ROBERT—The address is conventional and means nothing, and therefore I use it. I don't say ‘Bob,’ for that would mean something. It would mean, would it not, that there was a savour of the old days, our very earliest days, when we cared for one another, in my nostrils? And there is not, Robert—not the faintest!

“As ever, since elder boyhood, I hate you, and as you were never the one to change, I am sure you hate me. If I, who was always so variable, could be constant to that one passion of hate, it is certain you hate me no less.

“Then, still hating you, why do I write to you? Not for myself, you may be sure! If you can answer this at once your reply will be delivered by Wednesday. This is Monday—and by Thursday or Friday I shall be over the Boundary. So,


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this is not for myself. It is for the children! And it is not for my share of the children, but for hers! There are two of them, and I beg you to recollect that they are hers as well as mine. A boy twelve, and a girl nine—the boy with some rags upon him, the girl with scarcely any; neither has had a full meal for a month. I write for them, Bob.

“There! The old boyhood's name has slipped off the nib. I did not know it, believe me, till it was done. I got weak for the moment, thinking of the children—there must be some link between the present and the tenderness of the earliest time—and it went down. I will let it stand.

“At the lowest ebb of the tide I write this—and there will be no spring to the tide this time. I shall have ten shillings—perhaps twelve-and-six —to-day from a certain source. Eight of that sum will go for arrears of rent, and on the balance, whether it be two shillings or four-and-six, the children and myself have to live till all is over. When I'm beyond the Line—do you remember how, on the home station, the old assigned cook used to talk of dying as crossing the Boundary? and we lads didn't understand him then; we thought he meant going beyond the settled districts,—parenthetical, as usual; every editor I


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have scribbled for says I am too parenthetical, and why shouldn't I be? I am only a parenthesis myself, slung without apparent motive into the page of the world's life; and the style is of the man, you know—but the long and short of it is, that I won't leave enough to buy a clean shirt to be buried in. Not that it matters to me, but the poor children! Hers as well as mine—don't forget that!

“Brothers that we are, love never, since the first years, was lost between us. You thought when we came from school that I was favoured in everything, I was given everything you coveted, and you had nothing, you said, but what you were pleased to term my leavings. You were always vulgar, Robert. If you help my children—I mean hers—keep them free from that taint, I pray you. Yes, we hated one another; I, you, from superciliousness and pride, because I was the favoured one; you me, from envy. You always were a mean, jealous cur, Robert. That is the reason you have been successful, doubtless. It is so easy to be successful when one runs away from the conscience of a gentleman. Even when I won her from you, your jealousy generated a sharper malignity because with her I got Karanuk out-station. I could appreciate a wholesome hatred


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because I had won the woman upon whom you had set your hopes, but a love of the woman complicated with creek-frontages and lightly timbered country I could not and cannot understand.

“However, that has all gone now—the money, and the station, and the love. Only the hatred remains—and the children.

“Perhaps I am a fool to write this way, perhaps I am not. If you are disposed to help the children, you will do so in spite of this last bubbling forth of my contempt. And if you will not help them, then, if beyond the Boundary they know anything at all, I shall surely be glad I did not abandon that hate at the ebbing of the tide which I had nourished at the flood.

“… Do you see this stain? The bleeding came on again while I was sitting up to write, and the stigma of the ‘ensanguined drops’ will give you pleasure surely, O my brother! They would to me, I declare to you, were our positions reversed. They are so eloquent of what even you, dear sir, with your M.L.C.-ship and your stations, and your dummied selections—perjury must have been congenial to you, good brother Robert—and your flocks and herds will have to do; you, even you, will have to pass the Boundary!

“And the boy—he's come back, and says he


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received but nine shillings for the cane. The Jew, because the lad had defaced the engraving of the name, gave him that and no more. He has paid the rent and brought back elevenpence, and a penny stamp. Really, how grateful I am to Parliament for enacting penny postage! Now, had it been twopence still, the youngsters would have been short one pennyworth of milk—a full meal for them, O my brother, according to our present dietary scale. Oh, and by the way, you voted against that reduction. Had you some premonition of how great a blow you could inflict upon me, could you involve me in double expenses for postage in my extremity? No, of course not; to suppose that would be to presume you had occasionally some swift vision into things unconnected with barbed wire and the price of shearers’ rations; which, as old Euclid hath it, would be absurd.

“Yes, elevenpence. And do you know what that elevenpence represents? Father's gold-headed cane! From the earliest boyhood when you rode it straddle-legged—I laugh now as heartily as my lung will allow me, to recall how even your infantile steed used to trip you up, and so forecast the miserable horsemanship of your latter years—Heavens! the newest jackeroo on your run ridicules you when you mount your horse—what am I


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writing?—when you are assisted to mount your horse, I should say—I say from boyhood you craved to have that cane. And now, I have sold it—to a Jew, Robert, to a Jew!—Benjamin, of Swanston Street. Perhaps you would like to buy it after all? He will not charge you surely more than two hundred per cent. profit. I hope he won't charge you less! I shall grieve beyond the Line if he does, for I should like to know you had to pay twenty-seven shillings—twenty-seven drops of your heart's blood—for what you always thought should have been yours by right. Still, even if you pay twenty-seven shillings for it, the gold will be cheap at that. For you, of course, will only value it for the gold—you couldn't enter into the sense of that subtle companionship which links a man to a cane his dead friend or foe has carried—at least a guinea and a half. Think of it, O my brother! You might make four shillings and sixpence upon an expenditure of twenty-seven shillings. Look at the gain!

“So—my strength will not suffice to write another five lines even if I had paper—I close.

“Dear Robert, believe that in death as in life I am

  “Your hating and hated

    “CHARLIE.




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“P.S.—I have strength yet to strike out ‘Bob,’ and I do it. Still—remember the children for her sake.”

III

“Father, here's a gentleman to see you.”

“A gentleman! Surely not! Oh! it is you, Robert! It is a natural mistake of the lad's. He has not sufficient knowledge of the world yet to perceive that a man may wear fine clothes and a gold cable for a watch-guard, and own a gold railway pass, and still not be a gentleman! So you got my letter? I am sorry that I cannot offer you a seat. We have been doing without chairs for some time.”

“Any further insults?”

“At present—none! Chappie, this is your uncle!”

“Boy, here are two sovereigns. Go and buy back the cane you sold two days ago!”

“Ah—Robert, you do value it, then? I thought I could not err in my judgment. But are you not indiscreet in giving so loose a commission? He might give more than twenty-seven shillings!”

“Never mind that! I could not spare the time to go for it myself. I came here as speedily as I


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could—and you're obviously too near the Boundary, as you say, for me to leave you now.”

“Robert, you are positively kind! And you've come to do something for the children?”

“Before I answer you, let me remind you that once I swore I would have that cane before you died, and would flog you with it. Do you remember?”

“Surely, O my brother, yes!”

“I am glad of it. Now I will answer you. I shall do nothing for your children!”

“Then why—if it is not impertinent—did you come here?”

“I cannot flog you with that cane now. But I can spurn you with it when you are carrion. I came for that—and to see you die!”

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