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- Children of the Bush - 20/48 -


sort of identity and joker to brighten up things. I wouldn't get a man who'd been happy and comfortable all his life; I'd get hold of some old codger whose wife had nagged him till she died, and who'd been sold off many times, and run in for drowning his sorrows, and who started as an undertaker and failed at that, and finally got a job pottering round--gardener, or gatekeeper, or something--in a lunatic asylum. I'd get him. He'd most likely be a humorist and a philosopher, and he'd help cheer up the Lost Souls' Hotel. I reckon the lost souls would get very fond of him."

"And would you have drink at Lost Souls'?" I asked.

"Yes," said Mitchell. "I'd have the best beer and spirits and wine to be had. After tea I'd let every man have just enough to make him feel comfortable and happy, and as good and clever, and innocent and honest as any other man, but no more. But if a poor devil came along in the horrors, with every inch of him jumping, and snakes, and green-eyed yahoos, and flaming-nosed bunyips chasing him, we'd take him in and give him soothing draughts, and nurse him, and watch him, and clear him out with purgatives, and keep giving him nips of good whisky, and, above all, we'd sympathize with him, and tell him that we were worse than he was many a time. We wouldn't tell him what a weak, selfish man he was, or harp on his ruined life. We'd try to make him out a good deal better morally than he really was. It's remorse that hurries most men to hell--especially in the Bush. When a man firmly believes he is a hopeless case, then there's no hope for him: but let him have doubts and there's a chance. Make him believe that there are far worse cases than his. We wouldn't preach the sin of dissipation to him, no--but we'd try to show him the _folly_ of a wasted life. I ought to be able to preach that, God knows.

"And, above all, we'd try to drive out of his head the cursed old popular idea that it's hard to reform--that a man's got to fight a hard battle with himself to get away from drink--pity drunkards can't believe how easy it is. And we'd put it to him straight whether his few hours' enjoyment were worth the days he had to suffer hell for it."

"And, likely as not," I said, "when you'd put him on his feet he'd take the nearest track to the next shanty, and go on a howling spree, and come back to Lost Souls' in a week, raving aid worse than ever. What would you do then?"

"We'd take him in again, and build him up some more; and a third or fourth time if necessary. I believe in going right on with a thing once I take it in hand. And if he didn't turn up after the last spree we'd look for him up the scrub and bring him in and let him die on a bed, and make his death as comfortable as possible. I've seen one man die on the ground, and found one dead in the bush. We'd bury him under a gum and put `Sacred to the Memory of a Man who Died. (Let him R.I.P.)' over him. I'd have a nice little graveyard, with gums for tombstones--and I'd have some original epitaphs--I promise you."

"And how much gratitude would you expect to get out of the Lost Souls' Hotel?" I asked.

"None," said Mitchell, promptly. "It wouldn't be a Gratitude Discovery Syndicate. People might say that the Lost Souls' Hotel was a den for kidnapping women and girls to be used as decoys for the purpose of hocussing and robbing bushmen, and the law and retribution might come after me--but I'd fight the thing out. Or they might want to make a K.C.M.G., or a god of me, and worship me before they hung me. I reckon a philanthropist or reformer is lucky if he escapes with a whole skin in the end, let alone his character--- But there!--- Talking of gratitude: it's the fear of ingratitude that keeps thousands from doing good. It's just as paltry and selfish and cowardly as any other fear that curses the world--it's rather more selfish than most fears, in fact--take the fear of being thought a coward, or being considered eccentric, or conceited, or affected, or too good, or too bad, for instance. The man that's always canting about the world's ingratitude has no gratitude owing to him as a rule--generally the reverse--he ought to be grateful to the world for being let live. He broods over the world's ingratitude until he gets to be a cynic. He sees the world like the outside of a window, as it were, with the blind drawn and the dead, cold moonlight shining on it, and he passes on with a sour face; whereas, if he took the trouble to step inside he'd most likely find a room full of ruddy firelight, and sympathy and cheerfulness, and kindness, and love, and gratitude. Sometimes, when he's right down on his uppers, and forced to go amongst people and hustle for bread, he gets a lot of surprises at the amount of kindness he keeps running against in the world--and in places where he'd never have expected to find it. But--ah, well! I'm getting maudlin."

"And you've forgot all about the Lost Souls' Hotel," I said.

"No, I haven't," said Mitchell; "I'd fix that up all right. As soon as I'd got things going smoothly under a man I could trust, I'd tie up every penny I had for the benefit of the concern; get some `white men' for trustees, and take the track again. I'm getting too old to stay long in one place--(I'm a lost soul that always got along better in another place). I'm so used to the track that if I was shut up in a house I'd get walking up and down in my room of nights and disturb the folk; and, besides, I'd feel lost and light-shouldered without the swag."

"So you'd put all your money in the concern?"

"Yes--except a pound or two to go on the track with--for, who knows, I might come along there, dusty and tired, and ragged and hard up and old, some day, and be very glad of a night's rest at the Lost Souls' Hotel. But I wouldn't let on that I was old Mitchell, the millionaire, who founded Lost Souls'. They might be too officious, and I hate fuss. . . . But it's time to take the track, Harry."

There came a cool breeze with sunset; we stood up stiffly, shouldered our swags and tucker-bags, and pushed on, for we had to make the next water before we camped. We were out of tobacco, so we borrowed some from one of the bullock-drivers.

THE BOOZERS' HOME

"A dipsomaniac," said Mitchell, "needs sympathy and commonsense treatment. (Sympathy's a grand and glorious thing, taking it all round and looking at it any way you will: a little of it makes a man think that the world's a good world after all, and there's room and hope for sinners, and that life's worth living; enough of it makes him sure of it: and an overdose of sympathy makes a man _feel_ weak and ashamed of himself, and so moves him to stop whining--and wining--and buck up.)

"Now, I'm not taking the case of a workman who goes on the spree on pay night and sweats the drink out of himself at work next day, nor a slum-bred brute who guzzles for the love of it; but a man with brains, who drinks to drown his intellect or his memory. He's generally a man under it all, and a sensitive, generous, gentle man with finer feelings as often as not. The best and cleverest and whitest men in the world seem to take to drink mostly. It's an awful pity. Perhaps it's because they're straight and the world's crooked and they can see things too plain. And I suppose in the bush the loneliness and the thoughts of the girl-world they left behind help to sink 'em.

"Now a drunkard seldom reforms at home, because he's always surrounded by the signs of the ruin and misery he has brought on the home; and the sight and thought of it sets him off again before he's had time to recover from the last spree. Then, again, the noblest wife in the world mostly goes the wrong way to work with a drunken husband--nearly everything she does is calculated to irritate him. If, for instance, he brings a bottle home from the pub, it shows that he wants to stay at home and not go back to the pub any more; but the first thing the wife does is to get hold of the bottle and plant it, or smash it before his eyes, and that maddens him in the state he is in then.

"No. A dipsomaniac needs to be taken away from home for a while. I knew a man that got so bad that the way he acted at home one night frightened him, and next morning he went into an inebriate home of his own accord--to a place where his friends had been trying to get him for a year past. For the first day or two he was nearly dead with remorse and shame--mostly shame; and he didn't know what they were going to do to him next--and he only wanted them to kill him quick and be done with it. He reckons he felt as bad as if he was in jail. But there were ten other patients there, and one or two were worse than he was, and that comforted him a lot. They compared notes and sympathized and helped each other. They discovered that all their wives were noble women. He struck one or two surprises too--one of the patients was a doctor who'd attended him one time, and another was an old boss of his, and they got very chummy. And there was a man there who was standing for Parliament--he was supposed to be having a rest down the coast. . . . Yes, my old mate felt very bad for the first day or two; it was all Yes, Nurse, and Thank you, Nurse, and Yes, Doctor, and No, Doctor, and Thank you, Doctor. But, inside a week, he was calling the doctor 'Ol' Pill-Box' behind his back, and making love to one of the nurses.

"But he said it was pitiful when women relatives came to visit patients the first morning. It shook the patients up a lot, but I reckon it did 'em good. There were well-bred old lady mothers in black, and hard-working, haggard wives and loving daughters--and the expressions of sympathy and faith and hope in those women's faces! My old mate said it was enough in itself to make a man swear off drink for ever. . . . Ah, God--what a world it is!

"Reminds me how I once went with the wife of another old mate of mine to see him. He was in a lunatic asylum. It was about the worst hour I ever had in my life, and I've had some bad ones. The way she tried to coax him back to his old self. She thought she could do it when all the doctors had failed. But I'll tell you about him some other time.

"The old mate said that the principal part of the treatment was supposed to be injection of bi-chloride of gold or something, and it was supposed to be a secret. It might have been water and sugar for all he knew, and he thought it was. You see, when patients got better they were allowed out, two by two, on their honour--one to watch the other--and it worked. But it was necessary to have an extra hold on them; so they were told that if they were a minute late for `treatment,' or missed one injection, all the good would be undone. This was dinged into their ears all the time. Same as many things are done in the Catholic religion--to hold the people. My old mate said that, as far as the medical treatment was concerned, he could do all that was necessary himself. But it was the sympathy that counted, especially the sympathy between the patients themselves. They always got hold of a new patient and talked to him and cheered him up; he nearly always came in thinking he was the most miserable wretch in this world. And it comforts a man and strengthens him and makes him


Children of the Bush - 20/48

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