The coach had broken down at Bullocktown, and we five--that is say, O'Donoghue, Marston, Tom Dibdin, McTaggart and myself--were partaking of eggs, bacon and whisky at Coppinger's.
"I fear I shall be late," said classic Marston, a professor at the Melbourne University, who had been holiday-making with us, "the examinations are on Tuesday."
"Time eneuch to harry the puir deevils," said compassionate M'Taggart, the squatter, of Glenclunie.
"Hould yer whilst," interrupted O'Donoghue, "the professor's thinkin' of how he'll bamboozle the bhoys. If he wasn't quoting Artisophanes in the coach, I mistook the jolting o' the vayhicle for the full-mouthed sintences o' that roarin' old haythen."
"O'Donoghue, you are personal. I never quote Greek."
"Widout book, ye old imposthor! Marsthon, I dispise ye. Ev I don't hate ye may I be cut up into copy-paper and have Argus leaders scribbled upon me."
"In truth," returned Marston, lighting his pipe with a fire-stick, "I was thinking rather of the Latin than the Greek."
"It is much the same," said I rashly, "the Latins prigged their good things wholesale."
"No, by the mass!"
"Look at that elegant robber Horace. The 'O saepe mecum' ode is a calm theft from Alcaelus."
"Pardon me, sir," said a voice at the door, "You do the friend of Virgil an injustice. He is rather sinned against that sinning."
We turned and saw the box passenger, a comfortable, well-dressed fellow with blear eyes.
"Do you mean to say," cried Marston, fired at the interruption, "that Horace did not copy from the Greek? Why, that elegant Epicurean was swaddled in Greek literature. The classics of his day were birched into him by Old Orbilius. He was Greek even in his politics, first a republican, and then a monarchist."
"He has been copied even in that," said the new comer; "there is nothing like free land selection to make your radicals conservative. If the Ministry will give me a Sabine farm I'll cultivate my dried olive, sit under my preserved fig-tree, and vote for them in all particulars."
"Horace was a mean man," said M'Taggart, "for I've heard that he wrote mony a screed against old Mecaenas before he got his patronage."
"The rumour is untrue," says the stranger. "You mean that nonsense about the trailing gown, I presume? The charge was never proved sir."
"I admit it," said the professor, "'twas a calumny."
"He was just a weathercock," cries M'Taggart, "a time-serving rogue, blown aboot wi' every blast o'doctrine."
"He began life as a patriot."
"A youthful indiscretion," said the urbane intruder. "He afterwards repented, and went--to his villa."
"Faix, he jist sold himself for a Government billet, like many an honest man before and since," laughed jolly O'Donoghue.
"The res angusta domi, and being in debt to the butcher, will do much to change a man's opinions," returned the stranger. "What says the bard himself! 'Aurum per medios ire satellites.'"
'Danaë grim-guarded in her brazen tower, With dogs and double-doors 'gainst those who sought her, Fell a sweet victim to this mighty power Of half-a-crown bestowed upon the porter.'
"You seem familiar with the poet," said he.
The stranger smiled sadly.
"Sir," he answered, "I have spent my life in exposing plagiarisms from my--from Horace's writings. It is melancholy to see how the so-called 'original' writers have pilfered from the ancients."
"Sit down, sir and join us!" cries Marton, fairly astride his hobby. "What will you take?"
"You have no Massic?" asked the guest, seating himself.
"To be sure we have," says honest Dibdin. "Coppinger, hot whisky to the gentleman."
The stranger smiled and proceeded. "The moderns are thieves."
"They are," said Marston. "I agree with you. Tennyson owes his being to Theocritus."
"Keates smacked of him."
"No, his plagiarism was unconscious genius. 'Hyperion' might have been a fragment of Æschylus, and yet the doctor's boy was ignorant of Greek."
"I don't think," said I "that our Australian writers can be accused of plagiarising from the Latin. I have observed that quotations printed or spoken are mostly wrong."
"Your Australians are not plagiarists!" cries our guest, swallowing his whisky at a gulp. "'Ye powers that smile on virtuous theft!' But two days since the editor of the Dead Horse Gully Tribune inserted the following as original poetry. You will see that the idea is stolen from Horace, the ninth ode of the first book beginning--
'Vides ut altâ, stet nive candidum Soracte.'
"The fellow had the impertinence to call it 'The Squatter's Advice to his Nephew,'" and helping himself to another jorum, our visitor warbled--
(Air--"Rosin the Beau.")
"Come, Jack, draw your rocking-chair nigher, Mount Macedon's white with the snow; Pitch another pine log on the fire, And tip us 'Old Rosin the Beau.'
I ne'er saw the bush look so barren (When I rode out this morning with Sam), And last night--so I'm told by M'Claren-- There's something like ice on the dam.
Let it slide. To us all heaven's handy.1 To the cold ground we one day must go; In the meantime--that's Hennessy's brandy Sit down, lad, and rosin your bow.
Who knows what may happen to-morrow, What lot is our ultimate fate; There are some who rejoice to court sorrow-- I'd rather be courting of Kate.
God gave lasses and glasses to men, Jack-- 'Twould be wrong not to use them, you know; When you're bald as a bandicot, then, Jack, 'Twill be time to be solemn and slow.
In the spring time, life's music was playing, Do we pause in the melody's flow; In the winter--the cause for delaying Is, of course, Jack, to rosin the bow!"
"Euge! Euge!" cried Marston, "but the last verse is not a paraphrase on the original."
"True," said the stranger, "The last verse contains an allusion that likes me not. The 'risus ah angulo', the 'laugh from the corner' might be thought to hint at Ballarat and its Stock Exchange."
"By the mass" says O'Donoghue, "but the strain is worthy of Trinity. 'Leonum arida nutrix.' Mac, ye spalpeen, I feel my heart big within me, and could break your head for the honour o' ould Ireland on the slightest provocation."
"True indeed for--
Baktrion epi tauton me gar de melathalainon. Poluphlois ketikimboun, kai kikety rolopoloios,'
"If that's not Homer, it's mighty like him," cries O'Donoghue. "Ah, ye deceaver, it's gibberish you're talking. Marston, hand me the impty bottle that I may throw it at him."
"Brawling in your cups, gentlemen! Fie! That is but barbarian at best. As Horace says--
'Natis in usum laetitiae scyphis, Pugnare Thracum est,'
or, as a countryman of your friend's has translated it--
'To foight over punch is like Donnybrook fair, When an Irishman, all in his glory, is there. Hould your whist! See the combatants, Bacchus between, With that sprig of shillalagh, his Thyrsus so green!'"
"Sir," said O'Donoghue, in great heat, "you wrong the illustrious composer of that ancient melody. The janius o' Paddy Macguire never stooped to copy. But you don't drink; the whisky is with you."
"Non sum qualis eram, bonae sub regno Cinarae," said the red-eyed stranger. "I am not the man I was when I supped with Lola Montes. I have poor and unhappy brains for drinking. I mingle my liquors with water, and one amphora of Reisling will set my brain-pan bubbling."
"This is a quaint fellow," whispered Marston to me. "Let us draw him out. Though he avows himself a model of sobriety, there is a twinkle in his eye that speaks an application for grape-juice. I hate your dry talks. Coppinger! Another bottle of whisky! Sir, I salute you."
"I looks towards you, sir, and likewise bows."
"The whisky will open his heart," said Marston.
"We'll drag out his tongue, and while the sinner gapes, look for spots of plagiarism in his entrails!"
"Steady!" cried M'Taggart, "the chiel hasna proved his case! That the Southern poets may grab frae Horace, I mak' nae doot o'; but the Scotch! Eh, man, whar's your plagiarism in Rabbie Burrrns?"
The stranger tossed off a mutchkin o' Glenlivet, and smiled a ghastly smile. "Rabbi Burns," said he, in a strong Scotch accent, "was just the biggest leear and thief extaunt. Leesten to this, mon," and again he sang--
MY NANCY O!
"I've lately lived amang the girls, And fought not wi'oot glory O! But now nae mair they tug my curls, My pow is getting hoary O!
Hang up my staff o mickle micht, My pipes fa' tapsalterie O! Hang up my lantern, by whose licht, I clambered to my deary O!
O Venus, dear, I'm fidgin' fain, Come down and ease my fance, O! O' a' the girls I lo'e but ane, Ah, leeze me on my Nancy O!"
"Now, sir," said the songster, "if that is not an impudent transcription of 'vixi puellis nuper idoneus,' the twenty-sixth ode of the third book, bray me in a mortar, and daub the walls of a printing-house with me. Retro Sathanas!"
"Sir!" cried the Scotchman, amid the laughter of the company, "Rab never wrote these lines. I defy you to prove him a plagiarist. May I never sup parritch again if Rab was not a genius of Heaven's ain makin'. He combined, sir, the antitheses o' Pope, wi' the tenderness o' Herrick. Byron only surpassed him, in his love deeties and----"
"Horace, in his moments o' leesure," interrupted the stranger. "Stuff, my good sir! 'Foenum habes in cornu.' you have a bannock to barley meal skewered tae yer bonnet. I'll sing ye a mair rantin' melody, a carmen seculare, a ditty not fitted for churchgoers. (Alas! Parcus deorum cultor et infrequens, I have only been twice to the new Scotch Kirk since I came to Melbourne), and I will ask you to judge calmly. Horace's ode begins 'Vitas hinnuleo me similis Chloe.' 'Tis the twenty-third of the first book, as I need not remind you. The impertinent gauger paraphrases it thus:--
"Hoot! Why like a cantie heifer, Skippin' at each breathin' sephyr, Bonnie Peggy, fly me! Though but rough my manners be, They're no sae rough tae flechter thee; Peggy, lassie, gang wi' me-- Sonsie Peggy, try me!
I'm nae bleth'rin, rantin' laddie, But thy bairns maun hae a daddie; Bonnie Peggy, try me! Thy mither says 'tis time to wed; Mithers must be no gainsaid-- Come and mak' thy weddin' bed, Bonnie Peggy, by me!"
"Maist indecent, sir," said M'Taggart. "I'll no believe it o' Rabbie. And yet I confess that the similes are unco alike."
Marston burst into Homeric laughter.
"Virginibus puerisque canto," said our guest with a blush. "I'm singing-master at the common school, and am not used to such warmth of language--save on occasions."
"Faith, then, this is one of them," said O'Donoghue. "There's Dibdin half-seas-over already. It takes an Irishman to drink whisky. Your English brains sop beer like sponges, but the thrue nectar of the gods intoxicates their dull sowls."
"The gentleman has b-bowled you all out," said Didbin, huskily, "but my grandfather, poor Ch-Charles, is at least spared. He was n-no p-p-plagiarist."
"Didbin!" cried the stranger, leaping to his feet with an agility which in a person teres atque rotundus was simply marvellous. "Charles Didbin! The most unblushing scoundrel of them all! That 'O saepe mecum' ode of which you were speaking when I entered has been transferred bodily to Didbin's pages in the following infamous travistie":--
JACK JUNK'S RETURN TO WAPPING.
"Jack Junk, my old comrade, what fortunate breeze Has blown you to Wapping and me? Jack Junk, with whom after I ploughed the salt seas, When Blake sailed to Trincomalee.
Jack Junk, by the Lord, lad, how often we've sat In the fok'sel in boisterous weather, And greased our pig-tails with the primest o' fat, And swigged at the grog-can together.
D'ye mind how I fared, Jack, at Spirito Bar, When the Portuguese boarded the wreck, And, o'erpowered by numbers, full many a tar Gasped his honest life out on the deck?
It was touch and go, Jack, for my heart was grown soft, And thumped at my ribs like a knocker; But that sweet little cherub that sits up aloft, Snatched Tom Pipes from old Davy Jones' locker!
I've been in a few stiffish fights in my life, But in that one I own I felt queer, Though I chiefly regret that I left poor Poll's knife In the ribs of that bloody mounseer.2
I got my discharge, Jack, and warped into port, And the glass of life's fortune set fair; But you--you old sea-dog--who by my side fought, Must needs ship in the old 'Temeraire.'
Shove your wooden leg under the table, my lad! The egg's fresh, the rasher is flaky; Here's a quid of tibbacky, the best can be had, And a can of right rousing Jammaiky!
So bouse round the bowl! Fill again! Damn my eyes, To get drunk with a shipmate is proper! I drink first! No! Well, lest a dispute should arise, We'll decide it by skying a copper.3
Now wet t'other eye, man! Poll, lass, me old wife, It ain't often I get on the spree; But if even I mean to get sprung in my life, It is now! With Jack Junk home from sea!"
"Hear! Hear!" roared the Professor, banging on the table, "Habet! Habet! He's got it, by Hercules! A delicate paraphrase, if ever there was one."
But Didbin snored unconscious.
"Another strain, O most musical of strangers! No? Another drink then!"
"We won't go home till morning," roars O'Donoghue, "dum rediens jugat asthra Phaybus. Till the early milk froightens the cats from door-step. Hurroo! Nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus. Now's the time to shake a loose leg, boys!"
"Let us batter down a door," cries M'Taggart.
"Or filch a sign," says Marston.
"There's the barber down the street," hiccups the classical stranger. "Obsceno ruber porrectus ab (hic) palus, with a thundering great red pole stuck out of his dirty little shop window! Let's have that!"
"Quo me Bacche rapis tui plenum," exclaimed I, feeling the whisky impelling me to recklessness.
"Another song, a classic ditty!" cries Marston. "Tip us a stave of modern Roman, mo jovial, potwalloping blade!"
"Absit somnus! Let slape me quite for iver if I go to bed this night.
"Och, Stony Stratford's a fool to Coppinger's."
Didbin, waking from his slumbers, began to sing--
I'm bound to win, when I go in, Tommy Dodd! Tommy Dodd! Heads or tails, I'm, bound to win, Hurrah for Tommy Dodd!"
"Peace, wretch!" roared our guest. "Insult not the manes of the dead! That ditty was Marcus Tullius Cicero's, and while I live shall be sung in the original. Come, gentlemen, a chorus--
"'Civis nam Romanus sum, Cicero! Cicero! Ergo semper Vinco, quum, Ineo! Ineo! Sortem spargant aleaee, Gaudeo! Gaudeo! Seu Venus, seu Caniculae. Evoé Cicero! '"
Didbin did not show in the morning; but I, having a slight headache, went down to breathe the fresh air, and take a brandy and soda.
At the bar were M'Taggart and Marston consulting Coppinger.
"Went away in a buggy at six this morning to Quartzborough," said Marston. "Who can he be?"
All were silent.
"Don't you know the stranger's name, Coppinger," said I.
"Mr. Flack, I think he said," replied Coppinger. "'Q.H.F.' was on his portmanteau."
We stared at one another.
QUINTUS HORATIUS FLACCUS.
"It's impossible!" cried I.
"It's totally prepostherous!" said O'Donoghue.
"It's a metempsychosis!" suggested Marston.
"It's just whusky!" concluded M'Taggart.
[Footnote 1: Heaven is above all.--Cassio] [Footnote 2: "Poor Poll's knife." How different in tone from the graceful Relicta non bene parmula] [Footnote 3: A most impudent rendering of the elegant original. Ovem Venus arbitrium dicet hibendi]