Chapter XXIII

By Mark Twain
From Following the Equator (1897).

Be careless in your dress if you must, but keep a tidy soul.

--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

We left Adelaide in due course, and went to Horsham, in the colony of Victoria; a good deal of a journey, if I remember rightly, but pleasant. Horsham sits in a plain which is as level as a floor--one of those famous dead levels which Australian books describe so often; gray, bare, sombre, melancholy, baked, cracked, in the tedious long drouths, but a horizonless ocean of vivid green grass the day after a rain. A country town, peaceful, reposeful, inviting, full of snug homes, with garden plots, and plenty of shrubbery and flowers.

"Horsham, October 17. At the hotel. The weather divine. Across the way, in front of the London Bank of Australia, is a very handsome cottonwood. It is in opulent leaf, and every leaf perfect. The full power of the on-rushing spring is upon it, and I imagine I can see it grow. Alongside the bank and a little way back in the garden there is a row of soaring fountain- sprays of delicate feathery foliage quivering in the breeze, and mottled with flashes of light that shift and play through the mass like flash- lights through an opal--a most beautiful tree, and a striking contrast to the cottonwood. Every leaf of the cottonwood is distinctly defined--it is a kodak for faithful, hard, unsentimental detail; the other an impressionist picture, delicious to look upon, full of a subtle and exquisite charm, but all details fused in a swoon of vague and soft loveliness."

It turned out, upon inquiry, to be a pepper tree--an importation from China. It has a silky sheen, soft and rich. I saw some that had long red bunches of currant-like berries ambushed among the foliage. At a distance, in certain lights, they give the tree a pinkish tint and a new charm.

There is an agricultural college eight miles from Horsham. We were driven out to it by its chief. The conveyance was an open wagon; the time, noonday; no wind; the sky without a cloud, the sunshine brilliant-- and the mercury at 92 deg. in the shade. In some countries an indolent unsheltered drive of an hour and a half under such conditions would have been a sweltering and prostrating experience; but there was nothing of that in this case. It is a climate that is perfect. There was no sense of heat; indeed, there was no heat; the air was fine and pure and exhilarating; if the drive had lasted half a day I think we should not have felt any discomfort, or grown silent or droopy or tired. Of course, the secret of it was the exceeding dryness of the atmosphere. In that plain 112 deg. in the shade is without doubt no harder upon a man than is 88 or 90 deg. in New York.

The road lay through the middle of an empty space which seemed to me to be a hundred yards wide between the fences. I was not given the width in yards, but only in chains and perches--and furlongs, I think. I would have given a good deal to know what the width was, but I did not pursue the matter. I think it is best to put up with information the way you get it; and seem satisfied with it, and surprised at it, and grateful for it, and say, "My word!" and never let on. It was a wide space; I could tell you how wide, in chains and perches and furlongs and things, but that would not help you any. Those things sound well, but they are shadowy and indefinite, like troy weight and avoirdupois; nobody knows what they mean. When you buy a pound of a drug and the man asks you which you want, troy or avoirdupois, it is best to say "Yes," and shift the subject.

They said that the wide space dates from the earliest sheep and cattle- raising days. People had to drive their stock long distances--immense journeys--from worn-out places to new ones where were water and fresh pasturage; and this wide space had to be left in grass and unfenced, or the stock would have starved to death in the transit.

On the way we saw the usual birds--the beautiful little green parrots, the magpie, and some others; and also the slender native bird of modest plumage and the eternally-forgettable name--the bird that is the smartest among birds, and can give a parrot 30 to 1 in the game and then talk him to death. I cannot recall that bird's name. I think it begins with M. I wish it began with G. or something that a person can remember.

The magpie was out in great force, in the fields and on the fences. He is a handsome large creature, with snowy white decorations, and is a singer; he has a murmurous rich note that is lovely. He was once modest, even diffident; but he lost all that when he found out that he was Australia's sole musical bird. He has talent, and cuteness, and impudence; and in his tame state he is a most satisfactory pet--never coming when he is called, always coming when he isn't, and studying disobedience as an accomplishment. He is not confined, but loafs all over the house and grounds, like the laughing jackass. I think he learns to talk, I know he learns to sing tunes, and his friends say that he knows how to steal without learning. I was acquainted with a tame magpie in Melbourne. He had lived in a lady's house several years, and believed he owned it. The lady had tamed him, and in return he had tamed the lady. He was always on deck when not wanted, always having his own way, always tyrannizing over the dog, and always making the cat's life a slow sorrow and a martyrdom. He knew a number of tunes and could sing them in perfect time and tune; and would do it, too, at any time that silence was wanted; and then encore himself and do it again; but if he was asked to sing he would go out and take a walk.

It was long believed that fruit trees would not grow in that baked and waterless plain around Horsham, but the agricultural college has dissipated that idea. Its ample nurseries were producing oranges, apricots, lemons, almonds, peaches, cherries, 48 varieties of apples--in fact, all manner of fruits, and in abundance. The trees did not seem to miss the water; they were in vigorous and flourishing condition.

Experiments are made with different soils, to see what things thrive best in them and what climates are best for them. A man who is ignorantly trying to produce upon his farm things not suited to its soil and its other conditions can make a journey to the college from anywhere in Australia, and go back with a change of scheme which will make his farm productive and profitable.

There were forty pupils there--a few of them farmers, relearning their trade, the rest young men mainly from the cities--novices. It seemed a strange thing that an agricultural college should have an attraction for city-bred youths, but such is the fact. They are good stuff, too; they are above the agricultural average of intelligence, and they come without any inherited prejudices in favor of hoary ignorances made sacred by long descent.

The students work all day in the fields, the nurseries, and the shearing- sheds, learning and doing all the practical work of the business--three days in a week. On the other three they study and hear lectures. They are taught the beginnings of such sciences as bear upon agriculture--like chemistry, for instance. We saw the sophomore class in sheep-shearing shear a dozen sheep. They did it by hand, not with the machine. The sheep was seized and flung down on his side and held there; and the students took off his coat with great celerity and adroitness. Sometimes they clipped off a sample of the sheep, but that is customary with shearers, and they don't mind it; they don't even mind it as much as the sheep. They dab a splotch of sheep-dip on the place and go right ahead.

The coat of wool was unbelievably thick. Before the shearing the sheep looked like the fat woman in the circus; after it he looked like a bench. He was clipped to the skin; and smoothly and uniformly. The fleece comes from him all in one piece and has the spread of a blanket.

The college was flying the Australian flag--the gridiron of England smuggled up in the northwest corner of a big red field that had the random stars of the Southern Cross wandering around over it.

>From Horsham we went to Stawell. By rail. Still in the colony of Victoria. Stawell is in the gold-mining country. In the bank-safe was half a peck of surface-gold--gold dust, grain gold; rich; pure in fact, and pleasant to sift through one's fingers; and would be pleasanter if it would stick. And there were a couple of gold bricks, very heavy to handle, and worth $7,500 a piece. They were from a very valuable quartz mine; a lady owns two-thirds of it; she has an income of $75,000 a month from it, and is able to keep house.

The Stawell region is not productive of gold only; it has great vineyards, and produces exceptionally fine wines. One of these vineyards--the Great Western, owned by Mr. Irving--is regarded as a model. Its product has reputation abroad. It yields a choice champagne and a fine claret, and its hock took a prize in France two or three years ago. The champagne is kept in a maze of passages under ground, cut in the rock, to secure it an even temperature during the three-year term required to perfect it. In those vaults I saw 120,000 bottles of champagne. The colony of Victoria has a population of 1,000,000, and those people are said to drink 25,000,000 bottles of champagne per year. The dryest community on the earth. The government has lately reduced the duty upon foreign wines. That is one of the unkindnesses of Protection. A man invests years of work and a vast sum of money in a worthy enterprise, upon the faith of existing laws; then the law is changed, and the man is robbed by his own government.

On the way back to Stawell we had a chance to see a group of boulders called the Three Sisters--a curiosity oddly located; for it was upon high ground, with the land sloping away from it, and no height above it from whence the boulders could have rolled down. Relics of an early ice- drift, perhaps. They are noble boulders. One of them has the size and smoothness and plump sphericity of a balloon of the biggest pattern.

The road led through a forest of great gum-trees, lean and scraggy and sorrowful. The road was cream-white--a clayey kind of earth, apparently. Along it toiled occasional freight wagons, drawn by long double files of oxen. Those wagons were going a journey of two hundred miles, I was told, and were running a successful opposition to the railway! The railways are owned and run by the government.

Those sad gums stood up out of the dry white clay, pictures of patience and resignation. It is a tree that can get along without water; still it is fond of it--ravenously so. It is a very intelligent tree and will detect the presence of hidden water at a distance of fifty feet, and send out slender long root-fibres to prospect it. They will find it; and will also get at it even through a cement wall six inches thick. Once a cement water-pipe under ground at Stawell began to gradually reduce its output, and finally ceased altogether to deliver water. Upon examining into the matter it was found stopped up, wadded compactly with a mass of root-fibres, delicate and hair-like. How this stuff had gotten into the pipe was a puzzle for some little time; finally it was found that it had crept in through a crack that was almost invisible to the eye. A gum tree forty feet away had tapped the pipe and was drinking the water.

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