« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
SOME HUMOURS IN A COLONIAL BISHOP'S LIFE. .
CONDITIONS of life in Australia and America are productive of humourous situations, and there is no particular sanctity hedging a bishop in the public mind. 'He's just an ordinary sort of bloke as wears a pink dickey,' said a bushman, describing the writer to some friends. His quick eye, which received with photographic exactness and almost photographic quickness every detail of horse, harness, and buggy, had marked my purple stock. He saw nothing incongruous in the fact that I was as dirty and sweat-smeared as a town dustman; that, seated on the box of Cobb's coach, I was wrestling not very effectually with a hard-mouthed team of six horses; and that I was embarrassed, and obviously humiliated, by a whip with a lash twenty feet long. Whatever humour there was in the situation must be sought in the contrast between the dignified figure of a bishop in the public mind and the actualities of life. While the bishop's particular qualification as a humourist probably lies in the fact that, like the little girl condemned to stand silent in a corner, he must find solace for his isolation in 'thinking funny thoughts.'
It is impossible to resist the temptation of telling a story against my brother bishops in England and myself. Some years ago I found in Sydney a youthful scion of the aristocracy travelling to gain ‘experience of Australian life' before he entered 'the House.' I pointed out to him the futility of thinking that he would gain much knowledge going from Government House to Government House, with occasional visits to show stations where the girls would wear Paris frocks and the men would organise polo matches in his honour. At the same time I invited him to accompany me on a trip I proposed taking to some mining camps in North Queensland. My invitation was accepted with almost indecent haste, and in due course my guest became as dust-grimed and cheerful withal as his companion. I hoped to make him see how strenuous is the life of a colonist in tropical Australia, what hardships must be borne as a matter of course, and with what difficulty are won the jewels of an Empire's crown. On the whole I was pleased with my stage management. I was not surprised when my guest shook my hand warmly at a 'way back ’ railway station, saying that he had learned a good deal. When he was silent for a while
I thought that he felt some glimmering consciousness of what the duty of the House of Lords was towards the brave men and women on England's outposts. But I was not prepared for the remark made with great earnestness : ‘Don't you think it would be a good thing for English bishops if they worked in North Queensland for a bit ?' Yet are not sermons as a rule applied to other people ?
After my guest had returned to the coast and Government Houses I turned my face to a decadent mining camp-I mean decadent from a metalliferous point of view. The journey was dusty, hot, and sufficiently perilous to preclude monotony. A Roman priest, nervous at the accelerating pace of the buckboard in which he was travelling down a hill on the same road, is said to have exclaimed that he would give five pounds to be out of the buggy. Keep your money in your pocket, Father. You'll be out for nothing,' said the driver, and the driver was right. A tree was broken in the process of getting out, but whether by buckboard or priest history doth not narrate. A hungry-looking expectant wild dingo trotted close beside us going down the same hill—but neither can this fact be pressed too far. The good priest would have done better had he followed the example of the man, who not fancying either horses, hill, or driver, alighted at the top of the hill and remarked that he would rather be a 'coward than a corpse any day.' I too have lived in Arcady! Driving with a sugar-cane farmer near the coast one afternoon, the wheel of our buggy slipped over the side of a culvert hidden in the long coarse grass, and, in far less time than it takes to write it, we found ourselves sitting beyond the wreckage on opposite sides of a fallen tree. For a moment speech failed us, but memory, which according to Locke is only a wind sweeping over a field of corn, reasserted itself in my companion. He remarked impressively : 'I turned another bishop out here twenty years ago.'
We held a service in the store of the mining camp. It was the only available room. Everyone came, and I should have been much better pleased if some had stayed away. Among them was a Scotch admirer who had come in from an outside 'copper show' to support me. I think he came into the camp quite prepared for * & service,' but during the day he made up his mind that my principal aim was to preside at a meeting to consider the erection of a hospital. Nothing could change his mind when once made
up. It was suggested to me that it might be advantageous to put him VOL. XXXIV.-NO. 202, N.S.
out of the store before the service began. This suggestion did not commend itself to me. I knew my friend was a difficult man to put out, and even if he was put out he might be a bigger problem to manage outside than inside. Give him a seat in front of me,'
'I said, ' where I can talk to him.' And so the service began. It was of the simplest character. I stood, with my back to a wall, in grey flannels—some members of the congregation had remarked incidentally that a surplice reminded them unpleasantly of funerals--and I gave out a hymn. I remember it was the Old Hundredth,' and I precented it. I had barely got under way, however, when a great mountain of a man rose up before me and protested in a voice of thunder that 'psalmody is a' richt in its ain place, but a hospital meetin' is no the time for roarin' hymns.' The position was critical, and it was no use speaking a ' language not understood of the people.' 'Look here, Mac,'I said quietly at the conclusion of the protest, ' are you running this meeting or am I?' 'I ken you're in the chair, Bishop,' was the guarded reply. But I gave my 'ruling' and the hymn was duly sung. It was followed by a simple prayer, another hymn, and then my sermon. Here I had Mac's unwavering support growing in enthusiasm until he could sit no longer, and he rose once more offering ‘half a quid for that hospital.' The offer was subsequently doubled in the same manner, and so the service passed.
Divine Service may be a little trying to those who are blessedor cursed—with a sense of humour. I remember taking one service in a practically deserted mining township where the congregation consisted of more dogs than human beings. I record with relief that they were peace-loving dogs. But during the consecration of a little wooden church elsewhere, a number of quarrelsome dogs had a general mêlée under the flooring beneath my seat. The male population hastily left the church, and, after many obviously bad shots, dislodged with stones the combatants, who fled howling. Once in the bush I held a service where there were only five in the congregation-myself, a deacon who was travelling with me, a talkative man with his silent wife, and a dour Chinaman. The church was a 'bough-shed '—that is a building walled and ceiled with gum-tree branches. I gave out a hymn, and while I was searching in my inner consciousness for the opening note, the talkative man broke in, “It's no use your givin' out hymns, Bishop. I can't sing and my wife's got no more voice nor an old crow.' The outlook was not promising, but, like old Thomas Fuller, the good wife preferred chattering with the crows to being silent, and the celestial showed himself infected by music if after a somewhat unconventional fashion. The result was not altogether unsuccessful. The singing was certainly hearty! It is far more trying when the congregation remain severely and attentively silent. You didn't render that sacred song at all badly, Mister,' said one miner to a bush brother who had laboured through many verses painfully and alone.
If any member of a congregation in a mining camp has anything he wants to say during service he generally says it. “That's a lie,' remarked one man cheerfully during a service at which I was speaking. He was not questioning my general veracity, but the accuracy of my information. A brother bishop, who was preaching somewhat at length, made a magnificent pause, the effect of which was somewhat marred by a tired voice remarking, 'Ain't you spinnin' rather a long yarn to-night, Mister ?' But then a wearied member of the congregation in the bush has one consolation denied to his more conventional brother in England. He can always go outside for a smoke if he so desires it. And it is never disconcerting to me to know that outside the open windows I have a congregation whose presence can only be detected by the tiny intermittent flames of matches, and the constant aroma of tobacco. Sometimes there is low-voiced conversation on something I have said, but the general attention and courtesy are remarkable.
A Cambridge Don once asked me what style of Church architecture we adopted in tropical Australia. The question was a reasonable one, but the only answer possible was that I thought it was the ‘Noah's Ark ' style. For truly our churches resemble nothing more than these children's toys—with their straight wooden walls, their acute-angled roofs, their crude colouring and their general box-like appearance. There is a pathetic story of a Scotchman, condemned to live in a district where all the churches were like whitewashed barns, finding inspiration and satisfaction in the contemplation of one small flying buttress on his parish church. He took all his visiting friends to share with him the joy of seeing this belated sprig of Gothic architecture. They would probably feel as I do when some bushman descants upon the perfections of his wooden church, or shows me some villanous attempt at mural decoration. I know how much that tiny House of God means where the whole world so lonely is that God Himself scarce seemeth there to be.
In North Queensland churches are few. Consequently I have ministered more frequently in shearing sheds with a wool bale for a pulpit-in butchers' shops where a huge tree-stump will serve alike for block and altar-in blacksmiths' forges with the anvil for reading-desk-in kitchens and in stores-under great trees and verandahs-on steamers and railway platforms—anywhere where two or three can be gathered together in Christ's name. I remember one Sunday afternoon I took service in the corrugatediron dancing-hall of a bush hotel. The hall had been used the previous evening for a pugilistic encounter. The publican had shown himself equally benevolent to both events. Both were calculated incidentally to improve his trade. He had advertised them on the same poster, which in its general arrangement ran, to the best of my memory, something like this :
Bob Sweeney v. Tom Smith.
Ten pounds prize.
ROLL UP, BOYS.
At this service there was a self-constituted ceremoniarius who in a stentorian undertone gave orders to the congregation—'Stand up, blokes,' or 'Sit down '-as the occasion appeared to him necessary.
A very trying feature of a North Queensland bishop's life is the constant succession of 'conversaziones,' as his local receptions are called. A dance usually follows the official welcome, so the forms are arranged round the room, leaving a huge empty space in the centre. Accompanied by the local clergyman and church officers the bishop solemnly walks like a crab sideways round the room shaking hands with those present. They are chiefly women, girls, and small boys intent upon cake, all of whom are obviously relieved when the semi-crustacean procession has passed thein by. The men wisely remain outside the door, in clusters, smoking. After the speeches--what British function is complete without a speech ?-the dancing commences. The younger men then drift into the room, seize their respective partners, gyrate more or less solemnly; when the music ceases incontinently fly outside to