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held the horrible suspicion at bay, and laughed back at the ground face; but the laugh stuck in my throat, and-I can say it now-came near to being a sob. That log with the jagged hollow limb sticking out of it, the closely nibbled grass-no, the hideous thing must be impossible. I got myself to ground slowly, jeering again at the suspicion. All the while I knew it was the truth, and there, so that nothing should be wanting to drive it home, was my own sheath-knife, stuck in the log. I had left it there after cutting my fill of tobacco. As I dragged the knife out of the wood and looked stupidly at my initials carved on the handle, my heart went went to water in me, and I shivered with fear, for now indeed was I lost, and the arch curse of the lost man had come upon me, to wander in a perpetual circle, always under the impression that I was going straight.
I felt beaten, cowed by the loneliness, hungry, thirsty, and oh so very small. Suddenly the senseless rage gripped me again, and I flared round upon the horse; but I said nothing, nor did I strike him any more, for something of my manhood came to the rescue, and I sat down upon the log to take my gruel as best I could. It was like being in a prison of which all the doors were open, yet somehow there was no escape.
I knew that the bush took its yearly toll, and that a heavy one, of men who died slowly of hunger and thirst, a
merciful madness coming to them as first freedom. Many stories of these gruesome endings came flocking to me as I sat still with my head in my hands. I saw my own dead body stretched at the foot of a tree, and felt very sorry for myself. For a little while I gave up, and literally mourned for myself as both dear and departed, forgetting that for every man who loses himself and dies, there must be hundreds that lose themselves and are either found by others or find themselves.
I lifted my head and stared at the moon. My horse, that I had left with the rein loose upon the ground, had stopped feeding, and stood with drooped head and one foreleg bent, a statue of fatigue: the night breeze, that had seemed like some last remnant of companionship, had died away, and there was a stillness that was as deadly still as though the very earth itself, void now of all other human beings, had halted in its eternal march to watch me die.
Into the vast hush that awed me like a presence there came daring it like a goblin apparition a little tiny noise of tapping that startled me to a tingling, though, oddly enough, it filled me at the same time with gratitude. Tap, tap, tick, tick, . . . I laughed softly as I recognised a friend that I had clean forgotten, and pulled out my watch. It was five minutes to twelve, not midnight yet. "Well done, old watch!" I said to it out loud, "don't you hurry." I certainly
had been going ahead too fast altogether, looking face to face with the day after to-morrow and the day after that, and all the time I hadn't been six hours away from my friends the justices. There came the picture as I waved them goodbye: well, that wasn't going to be farewell to the world and all the joy of it, not without a fight anyhow. There was a slight reaction as I thought of how these good fellows would turn out and track me down if they knew of my strait, and of how they never could possibly know.
Pride may be the forerunner of falling it compensates by being among the best of restoratives after the fall. It was another experience to add to my adventures; here is a pride that floats youth on to the doing of much good work, and some evil. I was travelling through another cluster of outof-the-way sensations, and even the recurrent thought that after a fight for life I might have to go out alone and unspoken, became a sort of melancholy self-gratification. It had been the way of pioneer heroes and explorers from all time; their way was good enough for me. All this was not very exalted, perhaps, but such as it was it set me slowly on my mental feet again, and gave me heart to make another bid for the liberty that lay somewhere outside my open prison.
Without doubt I had unwittingly guided the horse while thinking that I had left everything to him. This time I would take entire charge, and
now that the moon was up, surely I would be able to keep my back to it and travel westward till I came to some road or habitation. Then for the first time there occurred to me the primary instrument for the salvation of the lost man. To send my voice out farther I stood upon the log, put my hands to my mouth, and sent out a long wailing coo-e-e. There came no answering sound. I shouted again, listened again: there was not even the faintest echo. My voice went out into the night and, if it may be said of a sound, disappeared. It seemed, indeed, like something more of me that was lost, and would go on wandering in hunted circles until it died somewhere alone. And the stillness that followed was worse by far than the hush that had succeeded to the death of the night breeze, for it brought a feeling that I had somehow done some wrong, that I had disturbed or hurt something.
Often afterwards I had that same sensation; but it was not for many years-indeed, not until only a little way back from the present time-that I came to some dim knowledge of my crime.
Women often go deeper into the mysteries of life than men. One told me this, that often in summer she would go out into the garden at night-time. Unlike most women, she would be entirely without fear of the dark. Even if there were no moon nor any stars it would be to her like going among friends, to walk or stand for
hours in the shrubberies, or look with a deep sense of companionship and yet of wonder at the night - altered flowers and the great self-contained trees.
Only there was one condition, which was that she must make as little noise as possible. If she would move she must tread softly from place to place, so as not to disturb anything. For at the slightest noise the spirits of the night, the humanity that lurked in the trees, the earth, the flowers, and the wordless little sounds that were all around, would become so she put it-hostile, and she would immediately become afraid, but only until she was quiet again. As she forced herself back eagerly into the same silence that was around her she became merged in it, and could feel all of themthem-"All of what?" I said; but she took no notice regarding her as a friend. It seemed to her that this dark - time was the only time in which the things "What things?" I said again; but she went on would take any notice of her; and it was an exquisite pleasure to be taken in amongst them, to be treated as an equal by the stately trees, the beautiful roses, and all the other things. I did not any longer say "What things?" for I was beginning to understand her, and to gather, as yet only dimly, that I had felt all this before, and had but never as she had come to know about it, and to feel grateful to the presences of solitude.
For I had known loneliness such as fortunately she can never know. I had shouted myself hoarse to fill the quiet bushland with what I took for song, and thought that I had company. It was only living on the memories that were associated with the song; and when I had finished there would be no applause, but only an opposing, chilling, disturbed silence that frightened. Utterly awed and unstrung, I had stared into the camp-fire that seemed to have a right to make its tiny noises where I had none. Gradually I had lifted my eyes to the heavens. Very gently and slowly the stars, the grass, the trees, and the other things had gathered round and made friends. With a minimum of noise I had then crept into my blankets by the fire, and looked around, to find a palpable, friendly, comforting peace, and later-sleep.
To have these presences of solitude for friends is, to the man who must live much alone, the saving grace from lonely madness. I had had them, and I had never thanked them.
It had been left for her, who had never known the stress of utter loneliness as I had, to point out to me, as it were, to introduce me, to these so unassuming helpmeets of minehelpmeets through many weary years. It is then, through her, if she will do it for me, that I wish to thank them; for still she must always know them better than I do.
I only know that they gorather they come-to make up all that there is of peace in this
world. Perhaps her better knowledge means & clearer forecast, than that given to most, of the Peace that passeth all understanding.
I do not know.
Once more I rode off into the night, keeping my moon shadow dead ahead of me. It was easy now to hold on a comparatively straight course. Moreover, it was one that I knew was, roughly speaking, in the direction I wanted to go. Suddenly a glimmer rose up in front of me, and presently I came out on to a small clearing. On the far side of it was a bark hut, with a hole in the wall for a window. Between me and the hut was a large roughly built yard that my lately acquired sheep-lore told me held about two and a half thousand sheep. I rode round the yard, got off my horse, and looked in through the window. The candle that had guided me was stuck crookedly in the mouth of a bottle that stood on a packingcase by the side of a bunk. I noted all the squalid untidiness of a man who lived carelessly among the dirtinesses that grow like fungi in that dank mental swamp that is called loneliness. Unwashed rusty tin dishes and plates were scattered over the rough table built of packing cases; the earthen floor was littered with rubbish and ancient copies of a big weekly from the far-away capital city on the sea-coast.
No dog had barked at my approach or since: this fact now struck me with a quick uncanny chill. Under a bell
shaped mosquito- curtain I could see the dim outlines of a human shape. Then I jumped aside startled, my face and hair tingling-something had rubbed against both my legs. I looked down and saw that it was a bob-tailed Smithfield sheep-dog, that stood perfectly still looking up at me.
What could have cowed him so that, being awake, he had made no sound at a strange arrival; or had the dog been expecting somebody? Then he stretched himself out on the ground with his head resting on my foot. I saw it all in a flash: the shepherd, his master, was dead, and the dog wanted companionship and sympathy in his grief. I stooped and patted him on the head: he made none of the ordinary dog answers to such an advance, but just wriggled his jaws a little farther across my boot, as much as to say, "I don't mind SO much now you're here."
I turned to my horse to mount and ride away from this desolation. Foot in stirrup, I paused, and it came to me that I had no evidence the man was dead, except that there was a dog that had not barked and was particularly undemonstrative and mournful. The ridiculous inconclusiveness of this reasoning set me gaping at the fly-away state of my mind, which at the same time would allow of no alternative. Nevertheless, my hands and eyes must be satisfied. Perhaps he was not dead but dying, in which case I might help him; and again,
perhaps, after all, I was a little mad from hunger, thirst, and the lost feeling, and he was only sleeping the sleep of the tired shepherd, in which case I could rouse him and get the meat and drink that I stood in need of, and directions that would get me back on to my road.
I hung my bridle-rein over a post of the yard and walked back to the hut, the dog following me. As I stooped to pass through the low doorway the dog ran ahead, and, standing by the foot of the bunk, put up his head, and sent out a long-drawn howl that seemed to fill the place with grief that was tangible: you could have put out your hand and plucked sorrow into it. There was neither sound nor movement from under the mosquito curtain. Then knew, but still my hands and eyes must feel and see. took off my hat as I came to the bunkside.
The dog, who had known without any touching of eyeballs, was looking up at me gratefully. I knew, if any more proof were needed, that had the old shepherd been alive and asleep, the dog would have done his best to tear me to pieces. I could not eat or drink in that place. At the door I turned back to the dog where he had stood by me he was stretched on the ground.
"You'd better come along with me," I said. "Come on.'
He was a very old man,older, I judged, than our oldest shepherd at the camp; he had a long grey-white beard, and his hands were folded across his chest. He was like a picture that I called to mind as I looked at him, of Moses in an old Bible at home. I had heard that a live man must move if his naked eyeball is touched, so I lifted the curtain, stretched out my forefinger, and boldly touched the glassy surface. There was no tremor I closed his eyes, anywhere. and dropped the curtain of that silent, lonely last act in the drama of a lifetime.
He looked up at the bunk, then put his head down on his forepaws, and watched me quietly until I turned my back on him.
Outside in the open there was a new radiance in the east struggling up to drown the light of my friend the moon, who presently took on the appearance of nothing but a lost little piece of a cloud swinging very slowly to the west.
I hunted round the clearing, the while the sheep in the yard began to bleat, and couples of them to charge buttingly at one another, making a noise that had much headache in it. Then wheel-tracks that greeted my eyes like two old friends, and seemed the end of loneliness, and spoke of food as well as companionship. They were running away from the eastern light, and as I looked along them there came suddenly a voice from no great distance away singing
"Wait till the clouds roll by, Jenny, Wait till the clouds roll by."
It had been the popular song when I had left the capital, and