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CHAPTER XIII: Public Works in Australasia - Botanical Garden of Sydney - Four Special Socialties - The Government House - A Governor and His Functions - The Admiralty House - The Tour of the Harbor - Shark Fishing - Cecil Rhodes' Shark and his First Fortune - Free Board for Sharks.
The timid man yearns for full value and asks a tenth. The bold man strikes for double value and compromises on par.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
One is sure to be struck by the liberal way in which Australasia spends money upon public works - such as legislative buildings, town halls, hospitals, asylums, parks, and botanical gardens. I should say that where minor towns in America spend a hundred dollars on the town hall and on public parks and gardens, the like towns in Australasia spend a thousand. And I think that this ratio will hold good in the matter of hospitals, also. I have seen a costly and well-equipped, and architecturally handsome hospital in an Australian village of fifteen hundred inhabitants. It was built by private funds furnished by the villagers and the neighboring planters, and its running expenses were drawn from the same sources. I suppose it would be hard to match this in any country. This village was about to close a contract for lighting its streets with the electric light, when I was there. That is ahead of London. London is still obscured by gas - gas pretty widely scattered, too, in some of the districts; so widely indeed, that except on moonlight nights it is difficult to find the gas lamps.
The botanical garden of Sydney covers thirty-eight acres, beautifully laid out and rich with the spoil of all the lands and all the climes of the world. The garden is on high ground in the middle of the town, overlooking the great harbor, and it adjoins the spacious grounds of Government House - fifty-six acres; and at hand also, is a recreation ground containing eighty-two acres. In addition, there are the zoological gardens, the race-course, and the great cricket-grounds where the international matches are played. Therefore there is plenty of room for reposeful lazying and lounging, and for exercise too, for such as like that kind of work.
There are four specialties attainable in the way of social pleasure. If you enter your name on the Visitor's Book at Government House you will receive an invitation to the next ball that takes place there, if nothing can be proven against you. And it will be very pleasant; for you will see everybody except the Governor, and add a number of acquaintances and several friends to your list. The Governor will be in England. He always is. The continent has four or five governors, and I do not know how many it takes to govern the outlying archipelago; but anyway you will not see them. When they are appointed they come out from England and get inaugurated, and give a ball, and help pray for rain, and get aboard ship and go back home. And so the Lieutenant-Governor has to do all the work. I was in Australasia three months and a half, and saw only one Governor. The others were at home.
The Australasian Governor would not be so restless, perhaps, if he had a war, or a veto, or something like that to call for his reserve-energies, but he hasn't. There isn't any war, and there isn't any veto in his hands. And so there is really little or nothing doing in his line. The country governs itself, and prefers to do it; and is so strenuous about it and so jealous of its independence that it grows restive if even the Imperial Government at home proposes to help; and so the Imperial veto, while a fact, is yet mainly a name.
Thus the Governor's functions are much more limited than are a Governor's functions with us. And therefore more fatiguing. He is the apparent head of the State, he is the real head of Society. He represents culture, refinement, elevated sentiment, polite life, religion; and by his example he propagates these, and they spread and flourish and bear good fruit. He creates the fashion, and leads it. His ball is the ball of balls, and his countenance makes the horse-race thrive.
He is usually a lord, and this is well; for his position compels him to lead an expensive life, and an English lord is generally well equipped for that.
Another of Sydney's social pleasures is the visit to the Admiralty House; which is nobly situated on high ground overlooking the water. The trim boats of the service convey the guests thither; and there, or on board the flag-ship, they have the duplicate of the hospitalities of Government House. The Admiral commanding a station in British waters is a magnate of the first degree, and he is sumptuously housed, as becomes the dignity of his office.
Third in the list of special pleasures is the tour of the harbor in a fine steam pleasure-launch. Your richer friends own boats of this kind, and they will invite you, and the joys of the trip will make a long day seem short.
And finally comes the shark-fishing. Sydney Harbor is populous with the finest breeds of man-eating sharks in the world. Some people make their living catching them; for the Government pays a cash bounty on them. The larger the shark the larger the bounty, and some of the sharks are twenty feet long. You not only get the bounty, but everything that is in the shark belongs to you. Sometimes the contents are quite valuable.
The shark is the swiftest fish that swims. The speed of the fastest steamer afloat is poor compared to his. And he is a great gad-about, and roams far and wide in the oceans, and visits the shores of all of them, ultimately, in the course of his restless excursions. I have a tale to tell now, which has not as yet been in print. In 1870 a young stranger arrived in Sydney, and set about finding something to do; but he knew no one, and brought no recommendations, and the result was that he got no employment. He had aimed high, at first, but as time and his money wasted away he grew less and less exacting, until at last he was willing to serve in the humblest capacities if so he might get bread and shelter. But luck was still against him; he could find no opening of any sort. Finally his money was all gone. He walked the streets all day, thinking; he walked them all night, thinking, thinking, and growing hungrier and hungrier. At dawn he found himself well away from the town and drifting aimlessly along the harbor shore. As he was passing by a nodding sharkfisher the man looked up and said - -
"Say, young fellow, take my line a spell, and change my luck for me."
"How do you know I won't make it worse?"
"Because you can't. It has been at its worst all night.
If you can't change it, no harm's done; if you do change it, it's for the better, of course. Come."
"All right, what will you give.?"
"I'll give you the shark, if you catch one."
"And I will eat it, bones and all. Give me the line."
"Here you are. I will get away, now, for awhile, so that my luck won't spoil yours; for many and many a time I've noticed that if - - there, pull in, pull in, man, you've got a bite! I knew how it would be. Why, I knew you for a born son of luck the minute I saw you. All right - he's landed."
It was an unusually large shark - "a full nineteen-footer," the fisherman said, as he laid the creature open with his knife.
"Now you rob him, young man, while I step to my hamper for a fresh bait. There's generally something in them worth going for. You've changed my luck, you see. But my goodness, I hope you haven't changed your own."
"Oh, it wouldn't matter; don't worry about that. Get your bait. I'll rob him."
When the fisherman got back the young man had just finished washing his hands in the bay, and was starting away.
"What, you are not going?"
"But what about your shark?"
"The shark? Why, what use is he to me?"
"What use is he? I like that. Don't you know that we can go and report him to Government, and you'll get a clean solid eighty shillings bounty? Hard cash, you know. What do you think about it now?"
"Oh, well, you can collect it."
"And keep it? Is that what you mean?"
"Well, this is odd. You're one of those sort they call eccentrics, I judge. The saying is, you mustn't judge a man by his clothes, and I'm believing it now. Why yours are looking just ratty, don't you know; and yet you must be rich."
The young man walked slowly back to the town, deeply musing as he went. He halted a moment in front of the best restaurant, then glanced at his clothes and passed on, and got his breakfast at a "stand-up." There was a good deal of it, and it cost five shillings. He tendered a sovereign, got his change, glanced at his silver, muttered to himself, "There isn't enough to buy clothes with," and went his way.
At half-past nine the richest wool-broker in Sydney was sitting in his morning-room at home, settling his breakfast with the morning paper. A servant put his head in and said:
"There's a sundowner at the door wants to see you, sir."
"What do you bring that kind of a message here for? Send him about his business."
"He won't go, sir. I've tried."
"He won't go? That's - why, that's unusual. He's one of two things, then: he's a remarkable person, or he's crazy. Is he crazy?"
"No, sir. He don't look it."
"Then he's remarkable. What does he say he wants?"
"He won't tell, sir; only says it's very important."
"And won't go. Does he say he won't go?"
"Says he'll stand there till he sees you, sir, if it's all day."
"And yet isn't crazy. Show him up."
The sundowner was shown in. The broker said to himself, "No, he's not crazy; that is easy to see; so he must be the other thing."
Then aloud, "Well, my good fellow, be quick about it; don't waste any words; what is it you want?"
"I want to borrow a hundred thousand pounds."
"Scott! (It's a mistake; he is crazy . . . . No - he can't be - not with that eye.) Why, you take my breath away. Come, who are you?"
"Nobody that you know."
"What is your name?"
"No, I don't remember hearing the name before. Now then - just for curiosity's sake - what has sent you to me on this extraordinary errand?"
"The intention to make a hundred thousand pounds for you and as much for myself within the next sixty days."
"Well, well, well. It is the most extraordinary idea that - sit down - you interest me. And somehow you - well, you fascinate me; I think that that is about the word. And it isn't your proposition - no, that doesn't fascinate me; it's something else, I don't quite know what; something that's born in you and oozes out of you, I suppose. Now then just for curiosity's sake again, nothing more: as I understand it, it is your desire to bor - - "
"I said intention."
"Pardon, so you did. I thought it was an unheedful use of the word - an unheedful valuing of its strength, you know."
"I knew its strength."
"Well, I must say - but look here, let me walk the floor a little, my mind is getting into a sort of whirl, though you don't seem disturbed any. (Plainly this young fellow isn't crazy; but as to his being remarkable-well, really he amounts to that, and something over.) Now then, I believe I am beyond the reach of further astonishment. Strike, and spare not. What is your scheme?"
"To buy the wool crop - deliverable in sixty days."
"What, the whole of it?"
"The whole of it."
"No, I was not quite out of the reach of surprises, after all. Why, how you talk! Do you know what our crop is going to foot up?"
"Two and a half million sterling - maybe a little more."
"Well, you've got your statistics right, any way. Now, then, do you know what the margins would foot up, to buy it at sixty days?"
"The hundred thousand pounds I came here to get."
"Right, once more. Well, dear me, just to see what would happen, I wish you had the money. And if you had it, what would you do with it?"
"I shall make two hundred thousand pounds out of it in sixty days."
"You mean, of course, that you might make it if - - "
"I said 'shall'."
"Yes, by George, you did say 'shall'! You are the most definite devil I ever saw, in the matter of language. Dear, dear, dear, look here! Definite speech means clarity of mind. Upon my word I believe you've got what you believe to be a rational reason, for venturing into this house, an entire stranger, on this wild scheme of buying the wool crop of an entire colony on speculation. Bring it out - I am prepared - acclimatized, if I may use the word. Why would you buy the crop, and why would you make that sum out of it? That is to say, what makes you think you - - "
"I don't think - I know."
"Definite again. How do you know?"
"Because France has declared war against Germany, and wool has gone up fourteen per cent. in London and is still rising."
"Oh, in-deed? Now then, I've got you! Such a thunderbolt as you have just let fly ought to have made me jump out of my chair, but it didn't stir me the least little bit, you see. And for a very simple reason: I have read the morning paper. You can look at it if you want to. The fastest ship in the service arrived at eleven o'clock last night, fifty days out from London. All her news is printed here. There are no warclouds anywhere; and as for wool, why, it is the low-spiritedest commodity in the English market. It is your turn to jump, now . . . . Well, why, don't you jump? Why do you sit there in that placid fashion, when - - "
"Because I have later news."
"Later news? Oh, come - later news than fifty days, brought steaming hot from London by the - - "
"My news is only ten days old."
"Oh, Mun-chausen, hear the maniac talk! Where did you get it?"
"Got it out of a shark."
"Oh, oh, oh, this is too much! Front! call the police bring the gun-raise the town! All the asylums in Christendom have broken loose in the single person of - - "
"Sit down! And collect yourself. Where is the use in getting excited? Am I excited? There is nothing to get excited about. When I make a statement which I cannot prove, it will be time enough for you to begin to offer hospitality to damaging fancies about me and my sanity."
"Oh, a thousand, thousand pardons! I ought to be ashamed of myself, and I am ashamed of myself for thinking that a little bit of a circumstance like sending a shark to England to fetch back a market report - - "
"What does your middle initial stand for, sir?"
"Andrew. What are you writing?"
"Wait a moment. Proof about the shark - and another matter. Only ten lines. There - now it is done. Sign it."
"Many thanks - many. Let me see; it says - it says oh, come, this is interesting! Why - why - look here! prove what you say here, and I'll put up the money, and double as much, if necessary, and divide the winnings with you, half and half. There, now - I've signed; make your promise good if you can. Show me a copy of the London Times only ten days old."
"Here it is - and with it these buttons and a memorandum book that belonged to the man the shark swallowed. Swallowed him in the Thames, without a doubt; for you will notice that the last entry in the book is dated 'London,' and is of the same date as the Times, and says, 'Ber confequentz der Kreigeseflarun, reife ich heute nach Deutchland ab, aur bak ich mein leben auf dem Ultar meines Landes legen mag' - - , as clean native German as anybody can put upon paper, and means that in consequence of the declaration of war, this loyal soul is leaving for home to-day, to fight. And he did leave, too, but the shark had him before the day was done, poor fellow."
"And a pity, too. But there are times for mourning, and we will attend to this case further on; other matters are pressing, now. I will go down and set the machinery in motion in a quiet way and buy the crop. It will cheer the drooping spirits of the boys, in a transitory way. Everything is transitory in this world. Sixty days hence, when they are called to deliver the goods, they will think they've been struck by lightning. But there is a time for mourning, and we will attend to that case along with the other one. Come along, I'll take you to my tailor. What did you say your name is?"
"It is hard to remember. However, I think you will make it easier by and by, if you live. There are three kinds of people - Commonplace Men, Remarkable Men, and Lunatics. I'll classify you with the Remarkables, and take the chances."
The deal went through, and secured to the young stranger the first fortune he ever pocketed.
The people of Sydney ought to be afraid of the sharks, but for some reason they do not seem to be. On Saturdays the young men go out in their boats, and sometimes the water is fairly covered with the little sails. A boat upsets now and then, by accident, a result of tumultuous skylarking; sometimes the boys upset their boat for fun - such as it is with sharks visibly waiting around for just such an occurrence. The young fellows scramble aboard whole - sometimes - not always. Tragedies have happened more than once. While I was in Sydney it was reported that a boy fell out of a boat in the mouth of the Paramatta river and screamed for help and a boy jumped overboard from another boat to save him from the assembling sharks; but the sharks made swift work with the lives of both.
The government pays a bounty for the shark; to get the bounty the fishermen bait the hook or the seine with agreeable mutton; the news spreads and the sharks come from all over the Pacific Ocean to get the free board. In time the shark culture will be one of the most successful things in the colony.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XIV: Bad Health - To Melbourne by Rail - Maps Defective - The Colony of Victoria - A Round-trip Ticket from Sydney - Change Cars, from Wide to Narrow Gauge, a Peculiarity at Albury - Customs-fences-'My Word' - The Blue Mountains - Rabbit Piles - Government R. R. Restaurants - Duchesses for Waiters-'Sheep-dip' - Railroad Coffee - Things Seen and Not Seen