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Poenamo
Book the First - Chapter III.
I Weigh in the Balance the Chances of Life, and Determine to Forsake my Fatherland


"What shall be my future—where pitch my tent and start in life?" These were the absorbing questions which now occupied my mind as the time drew near when I should be dubbed M.D. and hold a legitimate title to exercise "my prentice hand" in the curing or killing, as the case may be, of my trusting or mistrusting, as the case might be, fellow-creatures.

My enterprising mother saw, and nobly joined me in saying, there was no use in my remaining at home. The old gentleman did not take at all kindly to that idea, he would have been quite content to have seen the second brass plate with the "Junior" on the door. Indeed, my mother and I had to canvass privately the friends through whose good offices there was a prospect of procuring a commission in the East India Company's service.

I had determineded to enter upon that field of enterprise.

I ought in an earlier page to have mentioned as a trait of my boyhood's character a deeply-rooted love of travel. When a mere boy I had walked from the east to the west of Scotland to spend my holidays at my grandmother's, and many were the pedestrian excursions I had made through Scotland with my fishing-rod and basket, the latter not to carry fish but to serve as a knapsack. I well remember the one prominent and prevailing desire of my heart was, that some day I should see the world. I believe it was this feeling which was the moving spirit in determining me to have no second brass plate underneath my father's. I believe it was this feeling that decided me to try for the "Company's service." And I well know the book that first kindled this deep desire: it was Mungo Park's Travels in Egypt, and it was the embers still slumbering that fired me to look beyond my own home for my future career.

The description of Egypt's vast monuments and her underground tombs made such a lasting impression on my boyish imagination, that the desire to travel in that land never faded away.

Ah me! it is now long, long ago since I gratified that desire of boyhood's days, and the best part of manhood's too have passed away. The Nile, far beyond where Belzoni's tomb lies hidden, has been ascended, but the ruling passion is ever still strong upon me. Other things "might cloy the appetites they feed," but to me travelling "made hungry where most it satisfied."

But there is a clear face opposite me now which caused the rolling stone to be at rest and gather moss, which created new feelings and new ties, and there are two other dear wee faces for whom I write these memoirs, proclaiming that they are my little anchors dropped in the stream of life to hold me back so that I cannot now go floating away hither and thither over the world to look at it.

But I digress. Let me go back to the time of my cold attic studies.

The end of winter still found me struggling hard to narrow the meshes of my sieve-like memory and hold in time quantum sufficent to face my examiners, but with the spring came a new light as to my future unlooked-for prospects opened up, and it became a question whether I should dare this new path or continue in the beaten track I had chosen. I had no idea, however, of letting one rope go before getting hold of another, so I carried my midnight labours to a successful issue, and duly became an M.D. and surgeon of The Edinburgh Schools of Medicine.

And now rose the question, was I to follow the profession I had chosen, or "throw physic to the dogs?"

The new path which had opened up was one in the great new world—not the Western, but the Great South Land of Australia.

Was I to be, or not to be, a medical officer in the Company's service, and risk the climate of India, or become a squatter in the plains of Australia, and make a fabulous fortune by "growing wool?" This expression, by the way, has grown up since those days when we made use of the more homely term of "keeping sheep." I am now writing of the years 1838-9, when the first great excitement prevailed with regard to Australia, and when the first great stream of emigration set out towards that colony.

The return of some connections of my family, who, had been early settlers there, soon turned the scale, as far as I was concerned, in favour of my descending from the "high estate" of M.D. to shepherd.

True, if I failed in that walk in life I could still fall back upon my profession: But my being an M.D. could do the sheep no possible harm, while I looked after them, which possibly I might shoot with two strings to my bow, and be a bush doctor as well. My late midnight studies might come in handy, with regard to the sheep, if they were overtaken with catarrh or such-like, and there was myself just smitten with the sheep and Australia fever, and no doctor was going to cure me of it.

At last my dear cautious father got bitten with the mania for Australia, and my mother, improving the occasion, ended by talking him over to the new opening for the "only son." The old gentleman was only too glad to get rid of the East India Company's service, having a dread that the climate might bring his only son to an untimely end! So he dropped into the excitement of the day—"the making a fortune in Australia."

As for my darling old mother, I knew she had visions of transplanting the whole family to the banks of some beautiful river in the far-off land, and of all of us ending our days there in some hitherto unaccomplished patriarchal manner. The dear old lady little thought that the rivers of that land sometimes dry up. and cease to flow for a year or two at a time, or that I should stand on the banks of one within a year of our discussing "the making a fortune in the Antipodes," and look down on an immense river-bed—all that was to be seen of the river being a little green pool every two or three miles.

But I am describing the future long before I have left my fatherland, so I had better make my start therefrom first.

And had I not much to learn before I left? Truly yes. My life hitherto had been purely a college one. I had, it is true, generally passed my summer vacations with relations in the country, where I had seen farming operations going on, in which I had helped in a very small way. I could load a cart with sheaves of corn, and take it to the stockyard. I could even build the stack—all save the top! I had seen bulls, and cows, and steers, and really knew one from the other quite well; but when I heard my country friends from Australia talking about ewes and maiden ewes, and wethers and hoggets, I felt I was not "up in sheep" as an intending shepherd ought to be, and that wise adage of ne sutor ultra crepidam, would keep rising up before me n a way that forced home the necessity of being up and doing.

Well, I was up and doing all sorts of things, for we had decided that I was to be a squatter, and I laid my plans accordingly, and made a rush at the acquisition of some knowledge of the various trades which I hoped would serve me in good stead in my future life at the Antipodes. When my eight o'clock in the morning class at college ended with the winter session I exchanged the college for the carpenter's shop, and I used to commence there at seven.

My studies now were a strange mixture, as it was quite a question whether my professional or my trade knowledge was going to serve me best in afterlife. Of course I took kindly to the carpenter's shop, for I had always displayed a strong mechanical bent, and was never happier than when at work at some carpentry or other. As my college education came to an end so did my apprenticeship at the carpenter's shop, but at the end of the spring session I had served three months at it, and had produced a huge splendidly dovetailed tool-chest, which was to carry an ample supply of tools for Antipodean use. It was carpentering at early morn, then a turn at college, then a rush between lectures to the cattle-market, and to where the cattle were slaughtered, or how else could I have known whether sheep were skinned and pigs scalded, or vice versa?—a most necessary knowledge when I had made up my mind to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, and very likely might have to do everything myself, or superintend others who knew no better! Then one required to know how to mend a saddle-girth, and to be able to do that one required to know how to put a bristle on the thread that had to be used. I found it so much more easy to remember all these things that I saw, than to remember the minute anatomy of the eye which saw them, which I had to remember by the aid of memory alone, that I found my day studies much more simple than my night ones. But they all came to a conclusion in early summer. I had passed my examinations, and written a wonderful thesis (lying unappreciated in the archives of the University to this very day), proving how the tongue was not the organ of taste, thus complying with the last requirement before going through the ceremony of being "dubbed." But as this dubbing of neophytes was forbidden unless they were of the age of one-and-twenty, and as I had not as yet attained that ripe age of green manhood at the time of the last dubbing, and should not be forthcoming when the next one came off, the Senatus Acadeimeus had to make a special case of it, and allow me to be dubbed by proxy, keeping back my parchment certificate of M.D. until after said dubbing ceremony, which came off in August, had been gone through; But it was now only June. The time had come, however, that was to witness my departure from the parental roof. The "only son" bidding it farewell, starting on pilgrimage in life. The inheritance to which he was succeeding was simply that which he could carve out for himself in the race for life, the patrimony in hand summed up in his education of M.D. and a five-hundred-pound note. My worthy father had come to believe so completely ill keeping sheep" in Australia that he had raised a thousand pounds, giving me one-half, the other to be invested by me on his account.

How call I tell all that I felt in leaving the home of my youth before starting oil long voyage—a home in which we had been so united, where no discordant element of "incompatibility" had ever entered to mar the family happiness? And I was parting from a sister to whom I was attached by all affection as deep as that by which it was returned. Yes, if ever there was a union of two beings who were as one ill love for each other—in sympathy of ideas and feelings—who had no desire or wish unless shared ill the other—that union was ours.

We also had our dreams of a home by a beautiful river ill great far-away land; we had often together created the spot and built the home that was to unite us once more; we had wandered with each other along the banks of that river and through shady, luxuriant groves.

Ah! never more were we to wander together— our first parting was our last. It was not to be a new home in the New World nor our old home in our "ain kintrie" that was ever to unite us again.


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