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Chapter 23

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.


Mark Twain