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2-327 (Raw)

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author,male,Landor, Edward Wilson,36 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Kramer, 1985
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2-327-raw.txt — 10 KB

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There is a pleasant ride along the shore from Fremantle to a little bay about seven miles distant, one side of which, covered with lofty trees, runs far into the sea, and is called Woodman's Point. The sea in this part appears to be only a few miles broad; Garden-island forming the opposite shore, the southern extremity of which seems almost to join Cape Perron, and thus presents the appearance of a vast bay. Not long ago, the blackened remains of a small house, or hovel, were to be seen on the verge of the wood, facing towards Cape Perron. Around it might be distinguished the traces of a garden of considerable extent; a few stunted vines still continued annually to put forth the appearance of verdure, which served only to tempt the appetite of the stray cattle that wandered down to this solitary spot. A large bed of geraniums had extended itself across the path which used to lead to the door of the house; and their varied and beautiful flowers, rejoicing in this congenial climate, gave additional melancholy to the scene. It was evident those plants had been reared, and tended, and prized for their beauty; they had once been carefully cultured, pruned, and watered - now they were left to bloom or to die, as accident permitted. Near to this bed of geraniums, but apart and solitary, untouched even by weeds, of which there were only few in that sandy soil, grew an English rose-tree. Its long, unpruned boughs straggled wildly on the ground. It looked the picture of desolation and despair. A few imperfect flowers occasionally peeped forth, but knew only a short and precarious existence, for the shrub being no longer sheltered behind the house, was now exposed to the daily violence of the sea-breeze.
This widowed rose, deprived of the hand which had tended it so carefully, and of the heart which its beauty had gladdened, seemed now in its careless desolation awaiting the hour when it should die. [21]
It really looked, with its drooping boughs, its torn blossoms, and its brown leaves, rustling and sighing to the breeze, like a sentient being mourning without hope. Those who have never lived in exile from their native land, can have no idea of the feelings with which a lonely colonist, long separated from all the associations of home, would regard a solitary plant which so peculiarly calls up home memories. Pardon us, good reader, this appearance of sentiment; you who will read these lines in Old England - that land which we must ever think of with pardonable emotion - will evince but little sympathy with us, who necessarily feel some fond regard for the Mother from whom we are parted, and are naturally drawn towards the inanimate things by which we are reminded of her. There is in this colony of Western Australia a single daisy root; and never was the most costly hot-house plant in England so highly prized as this humble little exile. The fortunate possessor pays it far more attention than he bestows upon any of the gorgeous flowers that bloom about it; and those who visit his garden of rare plants find nothing there that fills them with so profound a feeling of interest as the meek and lowly flower which recalls to their memories the pleasant pastures of Old England.
But to return to the ruins of Woodman's Point. This plot of land, now so neglected and forlorn, was once the blooming garden of a very singular old man, who owed his support to the vegetables which it produced, and to the fish that he caught from the little cobble which danced at anchor in the bay, whenever the weather permitted the fisherman to exercise his art. No one knew his history, but his conversation and deportment told you that he was of gentle birth, and had been well educated. His manners were particularly amiable and retiring, and every one who visited the solitary old man came away impressed with a melancholy interest in his fate.
He always welcomed a visitor with gentle pleasure, and seemed glad of the opportunity of showing his crops of vegetables and the flowers in which he delighted.
The rose-tree never failed to arrest his steps for a moment. He had brought it himself from England as a cutting, and there was evidently some history attached to it; but he never shared his confidence with any one; and the history of the rose-tree, like his own, was never revealed.
There was only one point on which he betrayed any feeling of pride - and that was his name. No one else would perhaps have been so proud of it, but he himself ever seemed to regard it with veneration.
He called himself Anthony Elisha Simson; and never failed to make you observe that his patronymic was spelt without a "p."
Nothing irritated him so much as to receive a note addressed, "A. E. Simpson, Esq."
The Simsons, he would assure you, were an old family in the northern counties of England, and traced back their genealogy to the Conquest; whereas the Simpsons were of quite a different, and doubtless inferior origin. [22] Nothing more than this did he ever relate concerning his family or his personal history.
He arrived in the colony a few years after its foundation, without any other effects than what were contained in a portmanteau and carpet-bag, and with only a few sovereigns in his purse. Without associating himself with any one, he early fixed upon the spot where he afterwards built his house, and established his permanent abode. Here he began to make his garden, and did not disdain to earn a few shillings occasionally by cutting firewood for a man who supplied Fremantle with that necessary article. It was this occupation that caused the settlers, who knew nothing more of him, to give him the title of "The Woodman" - a name which soon attached to the locality.
After he had been some time in the colony, Mr Simson began to express great impatience for the arrival of letters from England. Whenever a vessel arrived at the port, he would put on his old shooting-coat, and walk along the shore to Fremantle, where, after having inquired in vain at the post-office, he would purchase a pound of tea, and then return home again.
Years went by. Every time that a vessel arrived, poor Simson would hurry to Fremantle. He would watch, with eyes of ill-repressed eagerness, the mail carried to the post-office in boxes and large sacks. Surely amid that multitude of letters there must be one for him! Patiently would he wait for hours at the window, whilst the postmaster and his assistants sorted the letters; and when he had received the usual answer to his inquiry, he would return to his abode with down-cast looks.
As time passed on he grew more fretful and impatient. Receiving no intelligence from England, he seemed to be anxious to return thither. He would drop expressions which led his visitors (generally government officers who called upon him in their rides) to believe he would depart from the colony were he rich enough to pay his passage, or were he not restrained by some other powerful motive.
His mind ran altogether upon the Old Country, and it was with reluctance that he planted the vegetables and cured the fish which were essential to his support.
For many hours during the day he used to be seen standing fixed as a sentinel on the low rock which formed the extremity of the ridge called after himself - the Woodman's Point - and looking homewards.
Doubtless, thought was busy within him - the thought of all he had left or acted there. None had written to him; none remembered or perhaps wished to remember him. But home was in his heart, even whilst he felt there was no longer a home for him. A restless anxiety preyed upon his mind, and he grew thin and feeble; but still whenever a sail was seen coming round the north end of Rottnest, and approaching the port, he would seize his staff, and set out upon his long journey to Fremantle to inquire if there were, at last, a letter awaiting him. [23]
May we imagine the growing despair in the heart of this poor old exile, as life seemed ebbing away, and yet there came no news, no hope to him from home? Frequently he wrote himself, but always to the same address - that of a broker, it was supposed, in Throgmorton-street. But no answer was ever returned. Had he no children - no friends?
Naturally weak-minded, he had now grown almost imbecile; but his manners were still so gentle, and every thing about him seemed to betoken so amiable and so resigned a spirit, that those who visited him could scarcely part again without tears. As he grew more feeble in body, he became more anxious to receive a letter from home; he expected that every one who approached his dwelling was the bearer of the intelligence so long hoped for in vain; and he would hasten to greet him at the gate with eager looks and flushed cheeks - again only to be disappointed.
At length it was with difficulty that he tottered to the Point, to look for a vessel which might bring him news. Although no ship had arrived since he last sent to the post-office, he would urge his visitor, though with hesitating earnestness, to be so good as to call there on his return, and ascertain if by chance a letter were not awaiting him. He said he felt that his hour was approaching, but he could not bear to think of setting out on that long journey without having once heard from home. Sometimes he muttered, as it were to himself, that treachery had been practised against him, and he would go and expose it; but he never allowed himself to indulge long in this strain. Sometimes he would try to raise money enough by drawing bills to pay his passage, but no one would advance anything upon them.
Daily he became more feeble, and men began to talk of sending him a nurse. The last visitor who beheld him alive, found him seated in the chair which he had himself constructed, and appearing less depressed than usual. He said he expected soon to receive news from home, and smiled with child-like glee. His friend helped him to walk as far as the rose-tree, which was then putting forth its buds. "Promise," said the old man, laying his trembling hand upon the other's arm, "promise that when I am gone you will come and see them in full blow? Promise! you will make me happy." .
The next day they sent a lad from Fremantle to attend upon him. The boy found him seated in his chair. He was dead. A mound of earth at the foot of a mahogany-tree, still marks the spot where he was buried. Those friends at home who neglected or repulsed him when living, may by chance meet with this record from the hand of a stranger - but it will not move them; nor need it now.