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´╗┐Title: Over the Sliprails
Author: Lawson, Henry, 1867-1922
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Over the Sliprails" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



OVER THE SLIPRAILS

By Henry Lawson

Author of "While the Billy Boils", "When the World was Wide and Other
Verses", "On the Track", "Verses: Popular and Humorous", &c.



[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are capitalised. Some obvious
errors have been corrected.]



Preface



     Of the stories in this volume many have already appeared
     in the columns of [various periodicals], while several
     now appear in print for the first time.


     H. L.
       Sydney, June 9th, 1900.



Contents



     The Shanty-Keeper's Wife
     A Gentleman Sharper and Steelman Sharper
     An Incident at Stiffner's
     The Hero of Redclay
     The Darling River
     A Case for the Oracle
     A Daughter of Maoriland
     New Year's Night
     Black Joe
     They Wait on the Wharf in Black
     Seeing the Last of You
     Two Boys at Grinder Brothers'
     The Selector's Daughter
     Mitchell on the "Sex" and Other "Problems"
     The Master's Mistake
     The Story of the Oracle



OVER THE SLIPRAILS



The Shanty-Keeper's Wife



There were about a dozen of us jammed into the coach, on the box seat
and hanging on to the roof and tailboard as best we could. We were
shearers, bagmen, agents, a squatter, a cockatoo, the usual joker--and
one or two professional spielers, perhaps. We were tired and stiff and
nearly frozen--too cold to talk and too irritable to risk the inevitable
argument which an interchange of ideas would have led up to. We had been
looking forward for hours, it seemed, to the pub where we were to change
horses. For the last hour or two all that our united efforts had been
able to get out of the driver was a grunt to the effect that it was
"'bout a couple o' miles." Then he said, or grunted, "'Tain't fur now,"
a couple of times, and refused to commit himself any further; he seemed
grumpy about having committed himself that far.

He was one of those men who take everything in dead earnest; who regard
any expression of ideas outside their own sphere of life as trivial, or,
indeed, if addressed directly to them, as offensive; who, in fact, are
darkly suspicious of anything in the shape of a joke or laugh on the
part of an outsider in their own particular dust-hole. He seemed to
be always thinking, and thinking a lot; when his hands were not both
engaged, he would tilt his hat forward and scratch the base of his
skull with his little finger, and let his jaw hang. But his intellectual
powers were mostly concentrated on a doubtful swingle-tree, a misfitting
collar, or that there bay or piebald (on the off or near side) with the
sore shoulder.

Casual letters or papers, to be delivered on the road, were matters
which troubled him vaguely, but constantly--like the abstract ideas of
his passengers.

The joker of our party was a humourist of the dry order, and had been
slyly taking rises out of the driver for the last two or three stages.
But the driver only brooded. He wasn't the one to tell you straight if
you offended him, or if he fancied you offended him, and thus gain your
respect, or prevent a misunderstanding which would result in life-long
enmity. He might meet you in after years when you had forgotten all
about your trespass--if indeed you had ever been conscious of it--and
"stoush" you unexpectedly on the ear.

Also you might regard him as your friend, on occasion, and yet he would
stand by and hear a perfect stranger tell you the most outrageous lies,
to your hurt, and know that the stranger was telling lies, and never put
you up to it. It would never enter his head to do so. It wouldn't be any
affair of his--only an abstract question.

It grew darker and colder. The rain came as if the frozen south were
spitting at your face and neck and hands, and our feet grew as big as
camel's, and went dead, and we might as well have stamped the footboards
with wooden legs for all the feeling we got into ours. But they were
more comfortable that way, for the toes didn't curl up and pain so much,
nor did our corns stick out so hard against the leather, and shoot.

We looked out eagerly for some clearing, or fence, or light--some sign
of the shanty where we were to change horses--but there was nothing
save blackness all round. The long, straight, cleared road was no longer
relieved by the ghostly patch of light, far ahead, where the bordering
tree-walls came together in perspective and framed the ether. We were
down in the bed of the bush.

We pictured a haven of rest with a suspended lamp burning in the frosty
air outside and a big log fire in a cosy parlour off the bar, and a
long table set for supper. But this is a land of contradictions; wayside
shanties turn up unexpectedly and in the most unreasonable places, and
are, as likely as not, prepared for a banquet when you are not hungry
and can't wait, and as cold and dark as a bushman's grave when you are
and can.

Suddenly the driver said: "We're there now." He said this as if he had
driven us to the scaffold to be hanged, and was fiercely glad that he'd
got us there safely at last. We looked but saw nothing; then a light
appeared ahead and seemed to come towards us; and presently we saw that
it was a lantern held up by a man in a slouch hat, with a dark bushy
beard, and a three-bushel bag around his shoulders. He held up his other
hand, and said something to the driver in a tone that might have been
used by the leader of a search party who had just found the body. The
driver stopped and then went on slowly.

"What's up?" we asked. "What's the trouble?"

"Oh, it's all right," said the driver.

"The publican's wife is sick," somebody said, "and he wants us to come
quietly."

The usual little slab and bark shanty was suggested in the gloom, with a
big bark stable looming in the background. We climbed down like so many
cripples. As soon as we began to feel our legs and be sure we had the
right ones and the proper allowance of feet, we helped, as quietly as
possible, to take the horses out and round to the stable.

"Is she very bad?" we asked the publican, showing as much concern as we
could.

"Yes," he said, in a subdued voice of a rough man who had spent several
anxious, sleepless nights by the sick bed of a dear one. "But, God
willing, I think we'll pull her through."

Thus encouraged we said, sympathetically: "We're very sorry to trouble
you, but I suppose we could manage to get a drink and a bit to eat?"

"Well," he said, "there's nothing to eat in the house, and I've only got
rum and milk. You can have that if you like."

One of the pilgrims broke out here.

"Well of all the pubs," he began, "that I've ever--"

"Hush-sh-sh!" said the publican.

The pilgrim scowled and retired to the rear. You can't express your
feelings freely when there's a woman dying close handy.

"Well, who says rum and milk?" asked the joker, in a low voice.

"Wait here," said the publican, and disappeared into the little front
passage.

Presently a light showed through a window, with a scratched and
fly-bitten B and A on two panes, and a mutilated R on the third, which
was broken. A door opened, and we sneaked into the bar. It was like
having drinks after hours where the police are strict and independent.

When we came out the driver was scratching his head and looking at the
harness on the verandah floor.

"You fellows 'll have ter put in the time for an hour or so. The horses
is out back somewheres," and he indicated the interior of Australia with
a side jerk of his head, "and the boy ain't back with 'em yet."

"But dash it all," said the Pilgrim, "me and my mate----"

"Hush!" said the publican.

"How long are the horses likely to be?" we asked the driver.

"Dunno," he grunted. "Might be three or four hours. It's all accordin'."

"Now, look here," said the Pilgrim, "me and my mate wanter catch the
train."

"Hush-sh-sh!" from the publican in a fierce whisper.

"Well, boss," said the joker, "can you let us have beds, then? I don't
want to freeze here all night, anyway."

"Yes," said the landlord, "I can do that, but some of you will have to
sleep double and some of you'll have to take it out of the sofas, and
one or two 'll have to make a shakedown on the floor. There's plenty of
bags in the stable, and you've got rugs and coats with you. Fix it up
amongst yourselves."

"But look here!" interrupted the Pilgrim, desperately, "we can't afford
to wait! We're only 'battlers', me and my mate, pickin' up crumbs by the
wayside. We've got to catch the----"

"Hush!" said the publican, savagely. "You fool, didn't I tell you my
missus was bad? I won't have any noise."

"But look here," protested the Pilgrim, "we must catch the train at Dead
Camel----"

"You'll catch my boot presently," said the publican, with a savage oath,
"and go further than Dead Camel. I won't have my missus disturbed
for you or any other man! Just you shut up or get out, and take your
blooming mate with you."

We lost patience with the Pilgrim and sternly took him aside.

"Now, for God's sake, hold your jaw," we said. "Haven't you got any
consideration at all? Can't you see the man's wife is ill--dying
perhaps--and he nearly worried off his head?"

The Pilgrim and his mate were scraggy little bipeds of the city push
variety, so they were suppressed.

"Well," yawned the joker, "I'm not going to roost on a stump all night.
I'm going to turn in."

"It'll be eighteenpence each," hinted the landlord. "You can settle now
if you like to save time."

We took the hint, and had another drink. I don't know how we "fixed it
up amongst ourselves," but we got settled down somehow. There was a lot
of mysterious whispering and scuffling round by the light of a couple of
dirty greasy bits of candle. Fortunately we dared not speak loud enough
to have a row, though most of us were by this time in the humour to pick
a quarrel with a long-lost brother.

The Joker got the best bed, as good-humoured, good-natured chaps
generally do, without seeming to try for it. The growler of the party
got the floor and chaff bags, as selfish men mostly do--without seeming
to try for it either. I took it out of one of the "sofas", or rather
that sofa took it out of me. It was short and narrow and down by the
head, with a leaning to one corner on the outside, and had more nails
and bits of gin-case than original sofa in it.

I had been asleep for three seconds, it seemed, when somebody shook me
by the shoulder and said:

"Take yer seats."

When I got out, the driver was on the box, and the others were getting
rum and milk inside themselves (and in bottles) before taking their
seats.

It was colder and darker than before, and the South Pole seemed nearer,
and pretty soon, but for the rum, we should have been in a worse fix
than before.

There was a spell of grumbling. Presently someone said:

"I don't believe them horses was lost at all. I was round behind the
stable before I went to bed, and seen horses there; and if they wasn't
them same horses there, I'll eat 'em raw!"

"Would yer?" said the driver, in a disinterested tone.

"I would," said the passenger. Then, with a sudden ferocity, "and you
too!"

The driver said nothing. It was an abstract question which didn't
interest him.

We saw that we were on delicate ground, and changed the subject for a
while. Then someone else said:

"I wonder where his missus was? I didn't see any signs of her about, or
any other woman about the place, and we was pretty well all over it."

"Must have kept her in the stable," suggested the Joker.

"No, she wasn't, for Scotty and that chap on the roof was there after
bags."

"She might have been in the loft," reflected the Joker.

"There was no loft," put in a voice from the top of the coach.

"I say, Mister--Mister man," said the Joker suddenly to the driver, "Was
his missus sick at all?"

"I dunno," replied the driver. "She might have been. He said so, anyway.
I ain't got no call to call a man a liar."

"See here," said the cannibalistic individual to the driver, in the tone
of a man who has made up his mind for a row, "has that shanty-keeper got
a wife at all?"

"I believe he has."

"And is she living with him?"

"No, she ain't--if yer wanter know."

"Then where is she?"

"I dunno. How am I to know? She left him three or four years ago. She
was in Sydney last time I heard of her. It ain't no affair of mine,
anyways."

"And is there any woman about the place at all, driver?" inquired a
professional wanderer reflectively.

"No--not that I knows on. There useter be a old black gin come pottering
round sometimes, but I ain't seen her lately."

"And excuse me, driver, but is there anyone round there at all?"
enquired the professional wanderer, with the air of a conscientious
writer, collecting material for an Australian novel from life, with an
eye to detail.

"Naw," said the driver--and recollecting that he was expected to be
civil and obliging to his employers' patrons, he added in surly apology,
"Only the boss and the stableman, that I knows of." Then repenting
of the apology, he asserted his manhood again, and asked, in a
tone calculated to risk a breach of the peace, "Any more questions,
gentlemen--while the shop's open?"

There was a long pause.

"Driver," asked the Pilgrim appealingly, "was them horses lost at all?"

"I dunno," said the driver. "He said they was. He's got the looking
after them. It was nothing to do with me."

    .   .   .   .   .

"Twelve drinks at sixpence a drink"--said the Joker, as if calculating
to himself--"that's six bob, and, say on an average, four shouts--that's
one pound four. Twelve beds at eighteenpence a bed--that's eighteen
shillings; and say ten bob in various drinks and the stuff we brought
with us, that's two pound twelve. That publican didn't do so bad out of
us in two hours."

We wondered how much the driver got out of it, but thought it best not
to ask him.

    .   .   .   .   .

We didn't say much for the rest of the journey. There was the usual man
who thought as much and knew all about it from the first, but he
wasn't appreciated. We suppressed him. One or two wanted to go back and
"stoush" that landlord, and the driver stopped the coach cheerfully at
their request; but they said they'd come across him again and allowed
themselves to be persuaded out of it. It made us feel bad to think how
we had allowed ourselves to be delayed, and robbed, and had sneaked
round on tiptoe, and how we had sat on the inoffensive Pilgrim and his
mate, and all on account of a sick wife who didn't exist.

The coach arrived at Dead Camel in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and
distrust, and we spread ourselves over the train and departed.



A Gentleman Sharper and Steelman Sharper



Steelman and Smith had been staying at the hotel for several days in the
dress and character of bushies down for what they considered a spree.
The gentleman sharper from the Other Side had been hanging round
them for three days now. Steelman was the more sociable, and, to all
appearances, the greener of the two bush mates; but seemed rather
too much under the influence of Smith, who was reserved, suspicious,
self-contained, or sulky. He almost scowled at Gentleman Sharper's
"Good-morning!" and "Fine day!", replied in monosyllables and turned
half away with an uneasy, sullen, resentful hump of his shoulder and
shuffle of his feet.

Steelman took Smith for a stroll on the round, bald tussock hills
surrounding the city, and rehearsed him for the last act until after
sundown.

Gentleman Sharper was lounging, with a cigar, on the end of the balcony,
where he had been contentedly contemplating the beautiful death of day.
His calm, classic features began to whiten (and sharpen) in the frosty
moonlight.

Steelman and Smith sat on deck-chairs behind a half-screen of ferns
on the other end of the balcony, smoked their after-dinner smoke, and
talked in subdued tones as befitted the time and the scene--great,
softened, misty hills in a semicircle, and the water and harbour lights
in moonlight.

The other boarders were loitering over dinner, in their rooms, or gone
out; the three were alone on the balcony, which was a rear one.

Gentleman Sharper moved his position, carelessly, noiselessly, yet
quickly, until he leaned on the rail close to the ferns and could
overhear every word the bushies said. He had dropped his cigar
overboard, and his scented handkerchief behind a fern-pot en route.

"But he looks all right, and acts all right, and talks all right--and
shouts all right," protested Steelman. "He's not stumped, for I saw
twenty or thirty sovereigns when he shouted; and he doesn't seem to care
a damn whether we stand in with him or not."

"There you are! That's just where it is!" said Smith, with some
logic, but in a tone a wife uses in argument (which tone, by the way,
especially if backed by logic or common sense, makes a man wild sooner
than anything else in this world of troubles).

Steelman jerked his chair half-round in disgust. "That's you!" he
snorted, "always suspicious! Always suspicious of everybody and
everything! If I found myself shot into a world where I couldn't trust
anybody I'd shoot myself out of it. Life would be worse than not worth
living. Smith, you'll never make money, except by hard graft--hard,
bullocking, nigger-driving graft like we had on that damned railway
section for the last six months, up to our knees in water all winter,
and all for a paltry cheque of one-fifty--twenty of that gone already.
How do you expect to make money in this country if you won't take
anything for granted, except hard cash? I tell you, Smith, there's
a thousand pounds lost for every one gained or saved by trusting too
little. How did Vanderbilt and----"

Steelman elaborated to a climax, slipping a glance warily, once or
twice, out of the tail of his eye through the ferns, low down.

"There never was a fortune made that wasn't made by chancing it."

He nudged Smith to come to the point. Presently Smith asked, sulkily:

"Well, what was he saying?"

"I thought I told you! He says he's behind the scenes in this gold boom,
and, if he had a hundred pounds ready cash to-morrow, he'd make three of
it before Saturday. He said he could put one-fifty to one-fifty."

"And isn't he worth three hundred?"

"Didn't I tell you," demanded Steelman, with an impatient ring, and
speaking rapidly, "that he lost his mail in the wreck of the 'Tasman'?
You know she went down the day before yesterday, and the divers haven't
got at the mails yet."

"Yes.... But why doesn't he wire to Sydney for some stuff?"

"I'm----! Well, I suppose I'll have to have patience with a born
natural. Look here, Smith, the fact of the matter is that he's a sort of
black-sheep--sent out on the remittance system, if the truth is known,
and with letters of introduction to some big-bugs out here--that
explains how he gets to know these wire-pullers behind the boom. His
people have probably got the quarterly allowance business fixed hard
and tight with a bank or a lawyer in Sydney; and there'll have to be
enquiries about the lost 'draft' (as he calls a cheque) and a letter or
maybe a cable home to England; and it might take weeks."

"Yes," said Smith, hesitatingly. "That all sounds right enough.
But"--with an inspiration--"why don't he go to one of these big-bug
boomsters he knows--that he got letters of introduction to--and get him
to fix him up?"

"Oh, Lord!" exclaimed Steelman, hopelessly. "Listen to him! Can't you
see that they're the last men he wants to let into his game? Why, he
wants to use THEM! They're the mugs as far as he is concerned!"

"Oh--I see!" said Smith, after hesitating, and rather slowly--as if he
hadn't quite finished seeing yet.

Steelman glanced furtively at the fern-screen, and nudged Smith again.

"He said if he had three hundred, he'd double it by Saturday?"

"That's what he said," replied Steelman, seeming by his tone to be
losing interest in the conversation.

"And... well, if he had a hundred he could double that, I suppose."

"Yes. What are you driving at now?"

"If he had twenty----"

"Oh, God! I'm sick of you, Smith. What the----!"

"Hold on. Let me finish. I was only going to say that I'm willing to put
up a fiver, and you put up another fiver, and if he doubles that for us
then we can talk about standing in with him with a hundred--provided he
can show his hundred."

After some snarling Steelman said: "Well, I'll try him! Now are you
satisfied?"...

"He's moved off now," he added in a whisper; "but stay here and talk a
bit longer."

Passing through the hall they saw Gentleman Sharper standing carelessly
by the door of the private bar. He jerked his head in the direction of
drinks. Steelman accepted the invitation--Smith passed on. Steelman took
the opportunity to whisper to the Sharper--"I've been talking that over
with my mate, and----"

"Come for a stroll," suggested the professional.

"I don't mind," said Steelman.

"Have a cigar?" and they passed out.

When they returned Steelman went straight to the room he occupied with
Smith.

"How much stuff have we got, Smith?"

"Nine pounds seventeen and threepence."

Steelman gave an exclamation of disapproval with that state of financial
affairs. He thought a second. "I know the barman here, and I think he
knows me. I'll chew his lug for a bob or may be a quid."

Twenty minutes later he went to Gentleman Sharper's room with ten
pounds--in very dirty Bank of New Zealand notes--such as those with
which bush contractors pay their men.

Two mornings later the sharper suggested a stroll. Steelman went with
him, with a face carefully made up to hear the worst.

After walking a hundred yards in a silence which might have been
ominous--and was certainly pregnant--the sharper said:

"Well... I tried the water."

"Yes!" said Steelman in a nervous tone. "And how did you find it?"

"Just as warm as I thought. Warm for a big splash."

"How? Did you lose the ten quid?"

"Lose it! What did you take me for? I put ten to your ten as I told you
I would. I landed 50 Pounds----"

"Fifty pounds for twenty?"

"That's the tune of it--and not much of a tune, either. My God! If I'd
only had that thousand of mine by me, or even half of it, I'd have made
a pile!"

"Fifty pounds for twenty!" cried Steelman excitedly. "Why, that's grand!
And to think we chaps have been grafting like niggers all our lives! By
God, we'll stand in with you for all we've got!"

"There's my hand on it," as they reached the hotel.

"If you come to my room I'll give you the 25 Pounds now, if you like."

"Oh, that's all right," exclaimed Steelman impulsively; "you mustn't
think I don't----"

"That's all right. Don't you say any more about it. You'd best have the
stuff to-night to show your mate."

"Perhaps so; he's a suspicious fool, but I made a bargain with him about
our last cheque. He can hang on to the stuff, and I can't. If I'd been
on my own I'd have blued it a week ago. Tell you what I'll do--we'll
call our share (Smith's and mine) twenty quid. You take the odd fiver
for your trouble."

"That looks fair enough. We'll call it twenty guineas to you and your
mate. We'll want him, you know."

In his own and Smith's room Steelman thoughtfully counted twenty-one
sovereigns on the toilet-table cover, and left them there in a pile.

He stretched himself, scratched behind his ear, and blinked at the money
abstractedly. Then he asked, as if the thought just occurred to him: "By
the way, Smith, do you see those yellow boys?"

Smith saw. He had been sitting on the bed with a studiously vacant
expression. It was Smith's policy not to seem, except by request, to
take any interest in, or, in fact, to be aware of anything unusual that
Steelman might be doing--from patching his pants to reading poetry.

"There's twenty-one sovereigns there!" remarked Steelman casually.

"Yes?"

"Ten of 'em's yours."

"Thank yer, Steely."

"And," added Steelman, solemnly and grimly, "if you get taken down for
'em, or lose 'em out of the top-hole in your pocket, or spend so much as
a shilling in riotous living, I'll stoush you, Smith."

Smith didn't seem interested. They sat on the beds opposite each other
for two or three minutes, in something of the atmosphere that pervades
things when conversation has petered out and the dinner-bell is expected
to ring. Smith screwed his face and squeezed a pimple on his throat;
Steelman absently counted the flies on the wall. Presently Steelman,
with a yawning sigh, lay back on the pillow with his hands clasped under
his head.

"Better take a few quid, Smith, and get that suit you were looking
at the other day. Get a couple of shirts and collars, and some socks;
better get a hat while you're at it--yours is a disgrace to your
benefactor. And, I say, go to a chemist and get some cough stuff for
that churchyarder of yours--we've got no use for it just now, and it
makes me sentimental. I'll give you a cough when you want one. Bring me
a syphon of soda, some fruit, and a tract."

"A what?"

"A tract. Go on. Start your boots."

While Smith was gone, Steelman paced the room with a strange, worried,
haunted expression. He divided the gold that was left--(Smith had taken
four pounds)--and put ten sovereigns in a pile on the extreme corner
of the table. Then he walked up and down, up and down the room, arms
tightly folded, and forehead knitted painfully, pausing abruptly now
and then by the table to stare at the gold, until he heard Smith's step.
Then his face cleared; he sat down and counted flies.

Smith was undoing and inspecting the parcels, having placed the syphon
and fruit on the table. Behind his back Steelman hurriedly opened a
leather pocketbook and glanced at the portrait of a woman and child and
at the date of a post-office order receipt.

"Smith," said Steelman, "we're two honest, ignorant, green coves;
hard-working chaps from the bush."

"Yes."

"It doesn't matter whether we are or not--we are as far as the world
is concerned. Now we've grafted like bullocks, in heat and wet, for six
months, and made a hundred and fifty, and come down to have a bit of a
holiday before going back to bullock for another six months or a year.
Isn't that so, Smith?"

"Yes."

"You could take your oath on it?"

"Yes."

"Well, it doesn't matter if it is so or not--it IS so, so far as the
world is concerned. Now we've paid our way straight. We've always been
pretty straight anyway, even if we are a pair of vagabonds, and I don't
half like this new business; but it had to be done. If I hadn't taken
down that sharper you'd have lost confidence in me and wouldn't have
been able to mask your feelings, and I'd have had to stoush you. We're
two hard-working, innocent bushies, down for an innocent spree, and we
run against a cold-blooded professional sharper, a paltry sneak and
a coward, who's got neither the brains nor the pluck to work in the
station of life he togs himself for. He tries to do us out of our
hard-earned little hundred and fifty--no matter whether we had it or
not--and I'm obliged to take him down. Serve him right for a crawler.
You haven't the least idea what I'm driving at, Smith, and that's the
best of it. I've driven a nail of my life home, and no pincers ever made
will get it out."

"Why, Steely, what's the matter with you?"

Steelman rose, took up the pile of ten sovereigns, and placed it neatly
on top of the rest.

"Put the stuff away, Smith."

After breakfast next morning, Gentleman Sharper hung round a bit, and
then suggested a stroll. But Steelman thought the weather looked
too bad, so they went on the balcony for a smoke. They talked of the
weather, wrecks, and things, Steelman leaning with his elbows on the
balcony rail, and Sharper sociably and confidently in the same position
close beside him. But the professional was evidently growing uneasy in
his mind; his side of the conversation grew awkward and disjointed,
and he made the blunder of drifting into an embarrassing silence before
coming to the point. He took one elbow from the rail, and said, with a
bungling attempt at carelessness which was made more transparent by the
awkward pause before it:

"Ah, well, I must see to my correspondence. By the way, when could you
make it convenient to let me have that hundred? The shares are starting
up the last rise now, and we've got no time to lose if we want to double
it."

Steelman turned his face to him and winked once--a very hard, tight,
cold wink--a wink in which there was no humour: such a wink as Steelman
had once winked at a half-drunken bully who was going to have a lark
with Smith.

The sharper was one of those men who pull themselves together in a bad
cause, as they stagger from the blow. But he wanted to think this time.

Later on he approached Steelman quietly and proposed partnership. But
Steelman gave him to understand (as between themselves) that he wasn't
taking on any pupils just then.



An Incident at Stiffner's



They called him "Stiffner" because he used, long before, to get a living
by poisoning wild dogs near the Queensland border. The name stuck to
him closer than misfortune did, for when he rose to the proud and
independent position of landlord and sole proprietor of an out-back pub
he was Stiffner still, and his place was "Stiffner's"--widely known.

They do say that the name ceased not to be applicable--that it fitted
even better than in the old dingo days, but--well, they do say so. All
we can say is that when a shearer arrived with a cheque, and had a drink
or two, he was almost invariably seized with a desire to camp on the
premises for good, spend his cheque in the shortest possible time, and
forcibly shout for everything within hail--including the Chinaman cook
and Stiffner's disreputable old ram.

The shanty was of the usual kind, and the scenery is as easily disposed
of. There was a great grey plain stretching away from the door in front,
and a mulga scrub from the rear; and in that scrub, not fifty yards from
the kitchen door, were half a dozen nameless graves.

Stiffner was always drunk, and Stiffner's wife--a hard-featured
Amazon--was boss. The children were brought up in a detached cottage,
under the care of a "governess".

Stiffner had a barmaid as a bait for chequemen. She came from Sydney,
they said, and her name was Alice. She was tall, boyishly handsome, and
characterless; her figure might be described as "fine" or "strapping",
but her face was very cold--nearly colourless. She was one of those
selfishly sensual women--thin lips, and hard, almost vacant grey eyes;
no thought of anything but her own pleasures, none for the man's. Some
shearers would roughly call her "a squatter's girl". But she "drew";
she was handsome where women are scarce--very handsome, thought a
tall, melancholy-looking jackeroo, whose evil spirit had drawn him to
Stiffner's and the last shilling out of his pocket.

Over the great grey plain, about a fortnight before, had come "Old
Danny", a station hand, for his semi-annual spree, and one "Yankee Jack"
and his mate, shearers with horses, travelling for grass; and, about a
week later, the Sydney jackeroo. There was also a sprinkling of assorted
swagmen, who came in through the scrub and went out across the plain,
or came in over the plain and went away through the scrub, according to
which way their noses led them for the time being.

There was also, for one day, a tall, freckled native (son of a
neighbouring "cocky"), without a thought beyond the narrow horizon
within which he lived. He had a very big opinion of himself in a very
small mind. He swaggered into the breakfast-room and round the table to
his place with an expression of ignorant contempt on his phiz, his
snub nose in the air and his under lip out. But during the meal he
condescended to ask the landlord if he'd noticed that there horse that
chap was ridin' yesterday; and Stiffner having intimated that he had,
the native entertained the company with his opinion of that horse, and
of a certain "youngster" he was breaking in at home, and divers other
horses, mostly his or his father's, and of a certain cattle slut, &c....
He spoke at the landlord, but to the company, most of the time. After
breakfast he swaggered round some more, but condescended to "shove"
his hand into his trousers, "pull" out a "bob" and "chuck" it into the
(blanky) hat for a pool. Those words express the thing better than any
others we can think of. Finally, he said he must be off; and, there
being no opposition to his departure, he chucked his saddle on to his
horse, chucked himself into the saddle, said "s'long," and slithered
off. And no one missed him.

Danny had been there a fortnight, and consequently his personal
appearance was not now worth describing--it was better left alone,
for the honour of the bush. His hobby was that he was the "stranger's
friend", as he put it. He'd welcome "the stranger" and chum with him,
and shout for him to an unlimited extent, and sympathise with him, hear
of jobs or a "show" for him, assure him twenty times a day that he was
his friend, give him hints and advice more or less worthless, make him
drunk if possible, and keep him so while the cheque lasted; in short,
Danny would do almost anything for the stranger except lend him a
shilling, or give him some rations to carry him on. He'd promise that
many times a day, but he'd sooner spend five pounds on drink for a man
than give him a farthing.

Danny's cheque was nearly gone, and it was time he was gone too; in
fact, he had received, and was still receiving, various hints to that
effect, some of them decidedly pointed, especially the more recent ones.
But Danny was of late becoming foolishly obstinate in his sprees, and
less disposed to "git" when a landlord had done with him. He saw the
hints plainly enough, but had evidently made up his mind to be doggedly
irresponsive. It is a mistake to think that drink always dulls a
man's feelings. Some natures are all the more keenly sensitive when
alcoholically poisoned.

Danny was always front man at the shanty while his cheque was fresh--at
least, so he was given to understand, and so he apparently understood.
He was then allowed to say and do what he liked almost, even to mauling
the barmaid about. There was scarcely any limit to the free and easy
manner in which you could treat her, so long as your money lasted. She
wouldn't be offended; it wasn't business to be so--"didn't pay." But, as
soon as your title to the cheque could be decently shelved, you had to
treat her like a lady. Danny knew this--none better; but he had been
treated with too much latitude, and rushed to his destruction.

It was Sunday afternoon, but that made no difference in things at the
shanty. Dinner was just over. The men were in the mean little parlour
off the bar, interested in a game of cards, and Alice sat in one corner
sewing. Danny was "acting the goat" round the fireplace; as ill-luck
would have it, his attention was drawn to a basket of clean linen which
stood on the side table, and from it, with sundry winks and grimaces,
he gingerly lifted a certain garment of ladies' underwear--to put the
matter decently. He held it up between his forefingers and thumbs, and
cracked a rough, foolish joke--no matter what it was. The laugh didn't
last long. Alice sprang to her feet, flinging her work aside, and struck
a stage attitude--her right arm thrown out and the forefinger pointing
rigidly, and rather crookedly, towards the door.

"Leave the room!" she snapped at Danny. "Leave the room! How dare you
talk like that before me-e-ee!"

Danny made a step and paused irresolutely. He was sober enough to feel
the humiliation of his position, and having once been a man of spirit,
and having still the remnants of manhood about him, he did feel it. He
gave one pitiful, appealing look at her face, but saw no mercy there.
She stamped her foot again, jabbed her forefinger at the door, and said,
"Go-o-o!" in a tone that startled the majority of the company nearly as
much as it did Danny. Then Yankee Jack threw down his cards, rose from
the table, laid his strong, shapely right hand--not roughly--on Danny's
ragged shoulder, and engineered the drunk gently through the door.

"You's better go out for a while, Danny," he said; "there wasn't much
harm in what you said, but your cheque's gone, and that makes all the
difference. It's time you went back to the station. You've got to be
careful what you say now."

When Jack returned to the parlour the barmaid had a smile for him; but
he didn't take it. He went and stood before the fire, with his foot
resting on the fender and his elbow on the mantelshelf, and looked
blackly at a print against the wall before his face.

"The old beast!" said Alice, referring to Danny. "He ought to be kicked
off the place!"

"HE'S AS GOOD AS YOU!"

The voice was Jack's; he flung the stab over his shoulder, and with it a
look that carried all the contempt he felt.

She gasped, looked blankly from face to face, and witheringly at the
back of Jack's head; but that didn't change colour or curl the least
trifle less closely.

"Did you hear that?" she cried, appealing to anyone. "You're a nice lot
o' men, you are, to sit there and hear a woman insulted, and not one of
you man enough to take her part--cowards!"

The Sydney jackeroo rose impulsively, but Jack glanced at him, and he
sat down again. She covered her face with her hands and ran hysterically
to her room.

That afternoon another bushman arrived with a cheque, and shouted five
times running at a pound a shout, and at intervals during the rest of
the day when they weren't fighting or gambling.

Alice had "got over her temper" seemingly, and was even kind to the
humble and contrite Danny, who became painfully particular with his
"Thanky, Alice"--and afterwards offensive with his unnecessarily
frequent threats to smash the first man who insulted her.

But let us draw the curtain close before that Sunday afternoon at
Stiffner's, and hold it tight. Behind it the great curse of the West is
in evidence, the chief trouble of unionism--drink, in its most selfish,
barren, and useless form.

    .   .   .   .   .

All was quiet at Stiffner's. It was after midnight, and Stiffner lay
dead-drunk on the broad of his back on the long moonlit verandah,
with all his patrons asleep around him in various grotesque positions.
Stiffner's ragged grey head was on a cushion, and a broad maudlin smile
on his red, drink-sodden face, the lower half of which was bordered by
a dirty grey beard, like that of a frilled lizard. The red handkerchief
twisted round his neck had a ghastly effect in the bright moonlight,
making him look as if his throat was cut. The smile was the one he
went to sleep with when his wife slipped the cushion under his head and
thoughtfully removed the loose change from about his person. Near him
lay a heap that was Danny, and spread over the bare boards were the
others, some with heads pillowed on their swags, and every man about as
drunk as his neighbour. Yankee Jack lay across the door of the barmaid's
bedroom, with one arm bent under his head, the other lying limp on the
doorstep, his handsome face turned out to the bright moonlight. The
"family" were sound asleep in the detached cottage, and Alice--the only
capable person on the premises--was left to put out the lamps and "shut
up" for the night. She extinguished the light in the bar, came out,
locked the door, and picked her way among and over the drunkards to the
end of the verandah. She clasped her hands behind her head, stretched
herself, and yawned, and then stood for a few moments looking out into
the night, which softened the ragged line of mulga to right and
left, and veiled the awful horizon of that great plain with which the
"traveller" commenced, or ended, the thirty-mile "dry stretch". Then she
moved towards her own door; before it she halted and stood, with folded
arms, looking down at the drunken Adonis at her feet.

She breathed a long breath with a sigh in it, went round to the back,
and presently returned with a buggy-cushion, which she slipped under his
head--her face close to his--very close. Then she moved his arms gently
off the threshold, stepped across him into her room, and locked the door
behind her.

There was an uneasy movement in the heap that stood, or lay, for Danny.
It stretched out, turned over, struggled to its hands and knees, and
became an object. Then it crawled to the wall, against which it
slowly and painfully up-ended itself, and stood blinking round for
the water-bag, which hung from the verandah rafters in a line with its
shapeless red nose. It staggered forward, held on by the cords, felt
round the edge of the bag for the tot, and drank about a quart of water.
Then it staggered back against the wall, stood for a moment muttering
and passing its hand aimlessly over its poor ruined head, and finally
collapsed into a shapeless rum-smelling heap and slept once more.

The jackeroo at the end of the verandah had awakened from his drunken
sleep, but had not moved. He lay huddled on his side, with his head on
the swag; the whole length of the verandah was before him; his eyes
were wide open, but his face was in the shade. Now he rose painfully and
stood on the ground outside, with his hands in his pockets, and gazed
out over the open for a while. He breathed a long breath, too--with a
groan in it. Then he lifted his swag quietly from the end of the floor,
shouldered it, took up his water-bag and billy, and sneaked over the
road, away from the place, like a thief. He struck across the plain, and
tramped on, hour after hour, mile after mile, till the bright moon went
down with a bright star in attendance and the other bright stars waned,
and he entered the timber and tramped through it to the "cleared road",
which stretched far and wide for twenty miles before him, with ghostly
little dust-clouds at short intervals ahead, where the frightened
rabbits crossed it. And still he went doggedly on, with the ghastly
daylight on him--like a swagman's ghost out late. And a mongrel followed
faithfully all the time unnoticed, and wondering, perhaps, at his
master.

"What was yer doin' to that girl yesterday?" asked Danny of Yankee Jack
next evening, as they camped on the far side of the plain. "What was you
chaps sayin' to Alice? I heerd her cryin' in her room last night."

But they reckoned that he had been too drunk to hear anything except an
invitation to come and have another drink; and so it passed.



The Hero of Redclay



The "boss-over-the-board" was leaning with his back to the wall between
two shoots, reading a reference handed to him by a green-hand applying
for work as picker-up or woolroller--a shed rouseabout. It was terribly
hot. I was slipping past to the rolling-tables, carrying three fleeces
to save a journey; we were only supposed to carry two. The boss stopped
me:

"You've got three fleeces there, young man?"

"Yes."

Notwithstanding the fact that I had just slipped a light ragged fleece
into the belly-wool and "bits" basket, I felt deeply injured, and
righteously and fiercely indignant at being pulled up. It was a
fearfully hot day.

"If I catch you carrying three fleeces again," said the boss quietly,
"I'll give you the sack."

"I'll take it now if you like," I said.

He nodded. "You can go on picking-up in this man's place," he said
to the jackeroo, whose reference showed him to be a non-union man--a
"free-labourer", as the pastoralists had it, or, in plain shed terms, "a
blanky scab". He was now in the comfortable position of a non-unionist
in a union shed who had jumped into a sacked man's place.

Somehow the lurid sympathy of the men irritated me worse than the
boss-over-the-board had done. It must have been on account of the heat,
as Mitchell says. I was sick of the shed and the life. It was within a
couple of days of cut-out, so I told Mitchell--who was shearing--that
I'd camp up the Billabong and wait for him; got my cheque, rolled up
my swag, got three days' tucker from the cook, said so-long to him, and
tramped while the men were in the shed.

I camped at the head of the Billabong where the track branched, one
branch running to Bourke, up the river, and the other out towards the
Paroo--and hell.

About ten o'clock the third morning Mitchell came along with his cheque
and his swag, and a new sheep-pup, and his quiet grin; and I wasn't too
pleased to see that he had a shearer called "the Lachlan" with him.

The Lachlan wasn't popular at the shed. He was a brooding, unsociable
sort of man, and it didn't make any difference to the chaps whether he
had a union ticket or not. It was pretty well known in the shed--there
were three or four chaps from the district he was reared in--that he'd
done five years hard for burglary. What surprised me was that Jack
Mitchell seemed thick with him; often, when the Lachlan was sitting
brooding and smoking by himself outside the hut after sunset, Mitchell
would perch on his heels alongside him and yarn. But no one else took
notice of anything Mitchell did out of the common.

"Better camp with us till the cool of the evening," said Mitchell to
the Lachlan, as they slipped their swags. "Plenty time for you to start
after sundown, if you're going to travel to-night."

So the Lachlan was going to travel all night and on a different track. I
felt more comfortable, and put the billy on. I did not care so much what
he'd been or had done, but I was green and soft yet, and his presence
embarrassed me.

They talked shearing, sheds, tracks, and a little unionism--the Lachlan
speaking in a quiet voice and with a lot of sound, common sense, it
seemed to me. He was tall and gaunt, and might have been thirty, or even
well on in the forties. His eyes were dark brown and deep set, and had
something of the dead-earnest sad expression you saw in the eyes of
union leaders and secretaries--the straight men of the strikes of '90
and '91. I fancied once or twice I saw in his eyes the sudden furtive
look of the "bad egg" when a mounted trooper is spotted near the shed;
but perhaps this was prejudice. And with it all there was about the
Lachlan something of the man who has lost all he had and the chances
of all he was ever likely to have, and is past feeling, or caring, or
flaring up--past getting mad about anything--something, all the same,
that warned men not to make free with him.

He and Mitchell fished along the Billabong all the afternoon; I fished
a little, and lay about the camp and read. I had an instinct that the
Lachlan saw I didn't cotton on to his camping with us, though he wasn't
the sort of man to show what he saw or felt. After tea, and a smoke at
sunset, he shouldered his swag, nodded to me as if I was an accidental
but respectful stranger at a funeral that belonged to him, and took the
outside track. Mitchell walked along the track with him for a mile or
so, while I poked round and got some boughs down for a bed, and fed and
studied the collie pup that Jack had bought from the shearers' cook.

I saw them stop and shake hands out on the dusty clearing, and they
seemed to take a long time about it; then Mitchell started back, and
the other began to dwindle down to a black peg and then to a dot on the
sandy plain, that had just a hint of dusk and dreamy far-away gloaming
on it between the change from glaring day to hard, bare, broad
moonlight.

I thought Mitchell was sulky, or had got the blues, when he came back;
he lay on his elbow smoking, with his face turned from the camp towards
the plain. After a bit I got wild--if Mitchell was going to go on like
that he might as well have taken his swag and gone with the Lachlan. I
don't know exactly what was the matter with me that day, and at last I
made up my mind to bring the thing to a head.

"You seem mighty thick with the Lachlan," I said.

"Well, what's the matter with that?" asked Mitchell. "It ain't the first
felon I've been on speaking terms with. I borrowed half-a-caser off a
murderer once, when I was in a hole and had no one else to go to; and
the murderer hadn't served his time, neither. I've got nothing against
the Lachlan, except that he's a white man and bears a faint family
resemblance to a certain branch of my tribe."

I rolled out my swag on the boughs, got my pipe, tobacco, and matches
handy in the crown of a spare hat, and lay down.

Mitchell got up, re-lit his pipe at the fire, and mooned round for
a while, with his hands behind him, kicking sticks out of the road,
looking out over the plain, down along the Billabong, and up through the
mulga branches at the stars; then he comforted the pup a bit, shoved the
fire together with his toe, stood the tea-billy on the coals, and came
and squatted on the sand by my head.

"Joe! I'll tell you a yarn."

"All right; fire away! Has it got anything to do with the Lachlan?"

"No. It's got nothing to do with the Lachlan now; but it's about a chap
he knew. Don't you ever breathe a word of this to the Lachlan or anyone,
or he'll get on to me."

"All right. Go ahead."

"You know I've been a good many things in my time. I did a deal of
house-painting at one time; I was a pretty smart brush hand, and made
money at it. Well, I had a run of work at a place called Redclay, on the
Lachlan side. You know the sort of town--two pubs, a general store, a
post office, a blacksmith's shop, a police station, a branch bank, and
a dozen private weatherboard boxes on piles, with galvanized-iron tops,
besides the humpies. There was a paper there, too, called the 'Redclay
Advertiser' (with which was incorporated the 'Geebung Chronicle'), and
a Roman Catholic church, a Church of England, and a Wesleyan chapel.
Now you see more of private life in the house-painting line than in
any other--bar plumbing and gasfitting; but I'll tell you about my
house-painting experiences some other time.

"There was a young chap named Jack Drew editing the 'Advertiser' then.
He belonged to the district, but had been sent to Sydney to a grammar
school when he was a boy. He was between twenty-five and thirty; had
knocked round a good deal, and gone the pace in Sydney. He got on as a
boy reporter on one of the big dailies; he had brains and could
write rings round a good many, but he got in with a crowd that called
themselves 'Bohemians', and the drink got a hold on him. The paper stuck
to him as long as it could (for the sake of his brains), but they had to
sack him at last.

"He went out back, as most of them do, to try and work out their
salvation, and knocked round amongst the sheds. He 'picked up' in one
shed where I was shearing, and we carried swags together for a couple
of months. Then he went back to the Lachlan side, and prospected amongst
the old fields round there with his elder brother Tom, who was all there
was left of his family. Tom, by the way, broke his heart digging Jack
out of a cave in a drive they were working, and died a few minutes after
the rescue. [*] But that's another yarn. Jack Drew had a bad spree after
that; then he went to Sydney again, got on his old paper, went to the
dogs, and a Parliamentary push that owned some city fly-blisters and
country papers sent him up to edit the 'Advertiser' at two quid a
week. He drank again, and no wonder--you don't know what it is to run a
'Geebung Advocate' or 'Mudgee Budgee Chronicle', and live there. He was
about the same build as the Lachlan, but stouter, and had something the
same kind of eyes; but he was ordinarily as careless and devil-may-care
as the Lachlan is grumpy and quiet.

     * See "When the Sun Went Down", in "While the
       Billy Boils".--

"There was a doctor there, called Dr. Lebinski. They said he was a
Polish exile. He was fifty or sixty, a tall man, with the set of an
old soldier when he stood straight; but he mostly walked with his hands
behind him, studying the ground. Jack Drew caught that trick off
him towards the end. They were chums in a gloomy way, and kept to
themselves--they were the only two men with brains in that town. They
drank and fought the drink together. The Doctor was too gloomy and
impatient over little things to be popular. Jack Drew talked too
straight in the paper, and in spite of his proprietors--about pub
spieling and such things--and was too sarcastic in his progress
committee, town council, and toady reception reports. The Doctor had a
hawk's nose, pointed grizzled beard and moustache, and steely-grey eyes
with a haunted look in them sometimes (especially when he glanced at you
sideways), as if he loathed his fellow men, and couldn't always hide it;
or as if you were the spirit of morphia or opium, or a dead girl he'd
wronged in his youth--or whatever his devil was, beside drink. He was
clever, and drink had brought him down to Redclay.

"The bank manager was a heavy snob named Browne. He complained of being
a bit dull of hearing in one ear--after you'd yelled at him three or
four times; sometimes I've thought he was as deaf as a book-keeper in
both. He had a wife and youngsters, but they were away on a visit while
I was working in Redclay. His niece--or, rather, his wife's niece--a
girl named Ruth Wilson, did the housekeeping. She was an orphan,
adopted by her aunt, and was general slavey and scape-goat to the
family--especially to the brats, as is often the case. She was rather
pretty, and lady-like, and kept to herself. The women and girls called
her Miss Wilson, and didn't like her. Most of the single men--and some
of the married ones, perhaps--were gone on her, but hadn't the brains
or the pluck to bear up and try their luck. I was gone worse than any, I
think, but had too much experience or common sense. She was very good to
me--used to hand me out cups of tea and plates of sandwiches, or bread
and butter, or cake, mornings and afternoons the whole time I was
painting the bank. The Doctor had known her people and was very kind
to her. She was about the only woman--for she was more woman than
girl--that he'd brighten up and talk for. Neither he nor Jack Drew were
particularly friendly with Browne or his push.

"The banker, the storekeeper, one of the publicans, the butcher (a
popular man with his hands in his pockets, his hat on the back of his
head, and nothing in it), the postmaster, and his toady, the lightning
squirter, were the scrub-aristocracy. The rest were crawlers, mostly pub
spielers and bush larrikins, and the women were hags and larrikinesses.
The town lived on cheque-men from the surrounding bush. It was a nice
little place, taking it all round.

"I remember a ball at the local town hall, where the scrub aristocrats
took one end of the room to dance in and the ordinary scum the other.
It was a saving in music. Some day an Australian writer will come along
who'll remind the critics and readers of Dickens, Carlyle, and Thackeray
mixed, and he'll do justice to these little customs of ours in the
little settled-district towns of Democratic Australia. This sort of
thing came to a head one New Year's Night at Redclay, when there was a
'public' ball and peace on earth and good will towards all men--mostly
on account of a railway to Redclay being surveyed. We were all there.
They'd got the Doc. out of his shell to act as M.C.

"One of the aristocrats was the daughter of the local storekeeper;
she belonged to the lawn-tennis clique, and they WERE select. For some
reason or other--because she looked upon Miss Wilson as a slavey, or
on account of a fancied slight, or the heat working on ignorance, or on
account of something that comes over girls and women that no son of sin
can account for--this Miss Tea-'n'-sugar tossed her head and refused
Miss Wilson's hand in the first set and so broke the ladies' chain and
the dance. Then there was a to-do. The Doctor held up his hand to stop
the music, and said, very quietly, that he must call upon Miss So-and-so
to apologise to Miss Wilson--or resign the chair. After a lot of fuss
the girl did apologise in a snappy way that was another insult. Jack
Drew gave Miss Wilson his arm and marched her off without a word--I saw
she was almost crying. Some one said, 'Oh, let's go on with the dance.'
The Doctor flashed round on them, but they were too paltry for him, so
he turned on his heel and went out without a word. But I was beneath
them again in social standing, so there was nothing to prevent me from
making a few well-chosen remarks on things in general--which I did; and
broke up that ball, and broke some heads afterwards, and got myself a
good deal of hatred and respect, and two sweethearts; and lost all the
jobs I was likely to get, except at the bank, the Doctor's, and the
Royal.

"One day it was raining--general rain for a week. Rain, rain, rain, over
ridge and scrub and galvanised iron and into the dismal creeks. I'd done
all my inside work, except a bit under the Doctor's verandah, where he'd
been having some patching and altering done round the glass doors of his
surgery, where he consulted his patients. I didn't want to lose time. It
was a Monday and no day for the Royal, and there was no dust, so it was
a good day for varnishing. I took a pot and brush and went along to give
the Doctor's doors a coat of varnish. The Doctor and Drew were inside
with a fire, drinking whisky and smoking, but I didn't know that when
I started work. The rain roared on the iron roof like the sea. All of a
sudden it held up for a minute, and I heard their voices. The doctor
had been shouting on account of the rain, and forgot to lower his voice.
'Look here, Jack Drew,' he said, 'there are only two things for you
to do if you have any regard for that girl; one is to stop this' (the
liquor I suppose he meant) 'and pull yourself together; and I don't
think you'll do that--I know men. The other is to throw up the
'Advertiser'--it's doing you no good--and clear out.' 'I won't do that,'
says Drew. 'Then shoot yourself,' said the Doctor. '(There's another
flask in the cupboard). You know what this hole is like.... She's a good
true girl--a girl as God made her. I knew her father and mother, and I
tell you, Jack, I'd sooner see her dead than....' The roof roared again.
I felt a bit delicate about the business and didn't like to disturb
them, so I knocked off for the day.

"About a week before that I was down in the bed of the Redclay Creek
fishing for 'tailers'. I'd been getting on all right with the housemaid
at the 'Royal'--she used to have plates of pudding and hot pie for me on
the big gridiron arrangement over the kitchen range; and after the third
tuck-out I thought it was good enough to do a bit of a bear-up in that
direction. She mentioned one day, yarning, that she liked a stroll by
the creek sometimes in the cool of the evening. I thought she'd be off
that day, so I said I'd go for a fish after I'd knocked off. I thought
I might get a bite. Anyway, I didn't catch Lizzie--tell you about that
some other time.

"It was Sunday. I'd been fishing for Lizzie about an hour when I saw a
skirt on the bank out of the tail of my eye--and thought I'd got a bite,
sure. But I was had. It was Miss Wilson strolling along the bank in the
sunset, all by her pretty self. She was a slight girl, not very tall,
with reddish frizzled hair, grey eyes, and small, pretty features. She
spoke as if she had more brains than the average, and had been better
educated. Jack Drew was the only young man in Redclay she could talk to,
or who could talk to a girl like her; and that was the whole trouble in
a nutshell. The newspaper office was next to the bank, and I'd seen her
hand cups of tea and cocoa over the fence to his office window more than
once, and sometimes they yarned for a while.

"She said, 'Good morning, Mr. Mitchell.'

"I said, 'Good morning, Miss.'

"There's some girls I can't talk to like I'd talk to other girls. She
asked me if I'd caught any fish, and I said, 'No, Miss.' She asked me if
it wasn't me down there fishing with Mr. Drew the other evening, and I
said, 'Yes--it was me.' Then presently she asked me straight if he
was fishing down the creek that afternoon? I guessed they'd been down
fishing for each other before. I said, 'No, I thought he was out of
town.' I knew he was pretty bad at the Royal. I asked her if she'd like
to have a try with my line, but she said No, thanks, she must be going;
and she went off up the creek. I reckoned Jack Drew had got a bite and
landed her. I felt a bit sorry for her, too.

"The next Saturday evening after the rainy Monday at the Doctor's, I
went down to fish for tailers--and Lizzie. I went down under the banks
to where there was a big she-oak stump half in the water, going quietly,
with an idea of not frightening the fish. I was just unwinding the line
from my rod, when I noticed the end of another rod sticking out from
the other side of the stump; and while I watched it was dropped into the
water. Then I heard a murmur, and craned my neck round the back of
the stump to see who it was. I saw the back view of Jack Drew and
Miss Wilson; he had his arm round her waist, and her head was on his
shoulder. She said, 'I WILL trust you, Jack--I know you'll give up the
drink for my sake. And I'll help you, and we'll be so happy!' or words
in that direction. A thunderstorm was coming on. The sky had darkened
up with a great blue-black storm-cloud rushing over, and they hadn't
noticed it. I didn't mind, and the fish bit best in a storm. But just
as she said 'happy' came a blinding flash and a crash that shook the
ridges, and the first drops came peltering down. They jumped up and
climbed the bank, while I perched on the she-oak roots over the water to
be out of sight as they passed. Half way to the town I saw them standing
in the shelter of an old stone chimney that stood alone. He had his
overcoat round her and was sheltering her from the wind...."

"Smoke-oh, Joe. The tea's stewing."

Mitchell got up, stretched himself, and brought the billy and pint-pots
to the head of my camp. The moon had grown misty. The plain horizon
had closed in. A couple of boughs, hanging from the gnarled and blasted
timber over the billabong, were the perfect shapes of two men hanging
side by side. Mitchell scratched the back of his neck and looked down at
the pup curled like a glob of mud on the sand in the moonlight, and an
idea struck him. He got a big old felt hat he had, lifted his pup, nose
to tail, fitted it in the hat, shook it down, holding the hat by the
brim, and stood the hat near the head of his doss, out of the moonlight.
"He might get moonstruck," said Mitchell, "and I don't want that pup
to be a genius." The pup seemed perfectly satisfied with this new
arrangement.

"Have a smoke," said Mitchell. "You see," he added, with a sly grin,
"I've got to make up the yarn as I go along, and it's hard work. It
seems to begin to remind me of yarns your grandmother or aunt tells of
things that happened when she was a girl--but those yarns are true. You
won't have to listen long now; I'm well on into the second volume.

"After the storm I hurried home to the tent--I was batching with a
carpenter. I changed my clothes, made a fire in the fire-bucket with
shavings and ends of soft wood, boiled the billy, and had a cup of
coffee. It was Saturday night. My mate was at the Royal; it was cold and
dismal in the tent, and there was nothing to read, so I reckoned I might
as well go up to the Royal, too, and put in the time.

"I had to pass the Bank on the way. It was the usual weatherboard box
with a galvanised iron top--four rooms and a passage, and a detached
kitchen and wash-house at the back; the front room to the right (behind
the office) was the family bedroom, and the one opposite it was the
living room. The 'Advertiser' office was next door. Jack Drew camped
in a skillion room behind his printing office, and had his meals at the
Royal. I noticed the storm had taken a sheet of iron off the
skillion, and supposed he'd sleep at the Royal that night. Next to the
'Advertiser' office was the police station (still called the Police
Camp) and the Courthouse. Next was the Imperial Hotel, where the scrub
aristocrats went. There was a vacant allotment on the other side of the
Bank, and I took a short cut across this to the Royal.

"They'd forgotten to pull down the blind of the dining-room window, and
I happened to glance through and saw she had Jack Drew in there and was
giving him a cup of tea. He had a bad cold, I remember, and I suppose
his health had got precious to her, poor girl. As I glanced she stepped
to the window and pulled down the blind, which put me out of face a
bit--though, of course, she hadn't seen me. I was rather surprised at
her having Jack in there, till I heard that the banker, the postmaster,
the constable, and some others were making a night of it at the
Imperial, as they'd been doing pretty often lately--and went on doing
till there was a blow-up about it, and the constable got transferred
Out Back. I used to drink my share then. We smoked and played cards
and yarned and filled 'em up again at the Royal till after one in the
morning. Then I started home.

"I'd finished giving the Bank a couple of coats of stone-colour that
week, and was cutting in in dark colour round the spouting, doors, and
window-frames that Saturday. My head was pretty clear going home, and as
I passed the place it struck me that I'd left out the only varnish brush
I had. I'd been using it to give the sashes a coat of varnish colour,
and remembered that I'd left it on one of the window-sills--the sill
of her bedroom window, as it happened. I knew I'd sleep in next day,
Sunday, and guessed it would be hot, and I didn't want the varnish tool
to get spoiled; so I reckoned I'd slip in through the side gate, get it,
and take it home to camp and put it in oil. The window sash was jammed,
I remember, and I hadn't been able to get it up more than a couple of
inches to paint the runs of the sash. The grass grew up close under
the window, and I slipped in quietly. I noticed the sash was still up
a couple of inches. Just as I grabbed the brush I heard low voices
inside--Ruth Wilson's and Jack Drew's--in her room.

"The surprise sent about a pint of beer up into my throat in a lump. I
tip-toed away out of there. Just as I got clear of the gate I saw the
banker being helped home by a couple of cronies.

"I went home to the camp and turned in, but I couldn't sleep. I lay
think--think--thinking, till I thought all the drink out of my head. I'd
brought a bottle of ale home to last over Sunday, and I drank that. It
only made matters worse. I didn't know how I felt--I--well, I felt as
if I was as good a man as Jack Drew--I--you see I've--you might think it
soft--but I loved that girl, not as I've been gone on other girls, but
in the old-fashioned, soft, honest, hopeless, far-away sort of way; and
now, to tell the straight truth, I thought I might have had her. You
lose a thing through being too straight or sentimental, or not having
enough cheek; and another man comes along with more brass in his blood
and less sentimental rot and takes it up--and the world respects him;
and you feel in your heart that you're a weaker man than he is. Why,
part of the time I must have felt like a man does when a better man
runs away with his wife. But I'd drunk a lot, and was upset and
lonely-feeling that night.

"Oh, but Redclay had a tremendous sensation next day! Jack Drew, of all
the men in the world, had been caught in the act of robbing the bank.
According to Browne's account in court and in the newspapers, he
returned home that night at about twelve o'clock (which I knew was a
lie, for I saw him being helped home nearer two) and immediately retired
to rest (on top of the quilt, boots and all, I suppose). Some time
before daybreak he was roused by a fancied noise (I suppose it was his
head swelling); he rose, turned up a night lamp (he hadn't lit it,
I'll swear), and went through the dining-room passage and office to
investigate (for whisky and water). He saw that the doors and windows
were secure, returned to bed, and fell asleep again.

"There is something in a deaf person's being roused easily. I know the
case of a deaf chap who'd start up at a step or movement in the house
when no one else could hear or feel it; keen sense of vibration, I
reckon. Well, just at daybreak (to shorten the yarn) the banker woke
suddenly, he said, and heard a crack like a shot in the house. There was
a loose flooring-board in the passage that went off like a pistol-shot
sometimes when you trod on it; and I guess Jack Drew trod on it,
sneaking out, and he weighed nearly twelve stone. If the truth were
known, he probably heard Browne poking round, tried the window, found
the sash jammed, and was slipping through the passage to the back door.
Browne got his revolver, opened his door suddenly, and caught Drew
standing between the girl's door (which was shut) and the office door,
with his coat on his arm and his boots in his hands. Browne covered him
with his revolver, swore he'd shoot if he moved, and yelled for help.
Drew stood a moment like a man stunned; then he rushed Browne, and in
the struggle the revolver went off, and Drew got hit in the arm. Two of
the mounted troopers--who'd been up looking to the horses for an early
start somewhere--rushed in then, and took Drew. He had nothing to say.
What could he say? He couldn't say he was a blackguard who'd taken
advantage of a poor unprotected girl because she loved him. They found
the back door unlocked, by the way, which was put down to the burglar;
of course Browne couldn't explain that he came home too muddled to lock
doors after him.

"And the girl? She shrieked and fell when the row started, and they
found her like a log on the floor of her room after it was over.

"They found in Jack's overcoat pocket a parcel containing a cold chisel,
small screw-wrench, file, and one or two other things that he'd bought
that evening to tinker up the old printing press. I knew that, because
I'd lent him a hand a few nights before, and he told me he'd have to get
the tools. They found some scratches round the key-hole and knob of the
office door that I'd made myself, scraping old splashes of paint off the
brass and hand-plate so as to make a clean finish. Oh, it taught me the
value of circumstantial evidence! If I was judge I wouldn't give a man
till the 'risin' av the coort' on it, any more than I would on the bare
word of the noblest woman breathing.

"At the preliminary examination Jack Drew said he was guilty. But it
seemed that, according to law, he couldn't be guilty until after he was
committed. So he was committed for trial at the next Quarter Sessions.
The excitement and gabble were worse than the Dean case, or Federation,
and sickened me, for they were all on the wrong track. You lose a lot of
life through being behind the scenes. But they cooled down presently to
wait for the trial.

"They thought it best to take the girl away from the place where she'd
got the shock; so the Doctor took her to his house, where he had an old
housekeeper who was as deaf as a post--a first class recommendation for
a housekeeper anywhere. He got a nurse from Sydney to attend on Ruth
Wilson, and no one except he and the nurse were allowed to go near
her. She lay like dead, they said, except when she had to be held down
raving; brain fever, they said, brought on by the shock of the attempted
burglary and pistol shot. Dr. Lebinski had another doctor up from Sydney
at his own expense, but nothing could save her--and perhaps it was as
well. She might have finished her life in a lunatic asylum. They were
going to send her to Sydney, to a brain hospital; but she died a week
before the Sessions. She was right-headed for an hour, they said, and
asking all the time for Jack. The Doctor told her he was all right and
was coming--and, waiting and listening for him, she died.

"The case was black enough against Drew now. I knew he wouldn't have the
pluck to tell the truth now, even if he was that sort of a man. I didn't
know what to do, so I spoke to the Doctor straight. I caught him coming
out of the Royal, and walked along the road with him a bit. I suppose
he thought I was going to show cause why his doors ought to have another
coat of varnish.

"'Hallo, Mitchell!' he said, 'how's painting?'

"'Doctor!' I said, 'what am I going to do about this business?'

"'What business?'

"'Jack Drew's.'

"He looked at me sideways--the swift haunted look. Then he walked on
without a word, for half a dozen yards, hands behind, and studying the
dust. Then he asked, quite quietly:

"'Do you know the truth?'

"'Yes!'

"About a dozen yards this time; then he said:

"'I'll see him in the morning, and see you afterwards,' and he shook
hands and went on home.

"Next day he came to me where I was doing a job on a step ladder. He
leaned his elbow against the steps for a moment, and rubbed his hand
over his forehead, as if it ached and he was tired.

"'I've seen him, Mitchell,' he said.

"'Yes.'

"'You were mates with him, once, Out Back?'

"'I was.'

"'You know Drew's hand-writing?'

"'I should think so.'

"He laid a leaf from a pocketbook on top of the steps. I read the
message written in pencil:

"'To Jack Mitchell.--We were mates on the track. If you know anything of
my affair, don't give it away.--J. D.'

"I tore the leaf and dropped the bits into the paint-pot.

"'That's all right, Doctor,' I said; 'but is there no way?'

"'None.'

"He turned away, wearily. He'd knocked about so much over the world
that he was past bothering about explaining things or being surprised at
anything. But he seemed to get a new idea about me; he came back to the
steps again, and watched my brush for a while, as if he was thinking,
in a broody sort of way, of throwing up his practice and going in for
house-painting. Then he said, slowly and deliberately:

"'If she--the girl--had lived, we might have tried to fix it up quietly.
That's what I was hoping for. I don't see how we can help him now, even
if he'd let us. He would never have spoken, anyway. We must let it
go on, and after the trial I'll go to Sydney and see what I can do at
headquarters. It's too late now. You understand, Mitchell?'

"'Yes. I've thought it out.'

"Then he went away towards the Royal.

"And what could Jack Drew or we do? Study it out whatever way you like.
There was only one possible chance to help him, and that was to go to
the judge; and the judge that happened to be on that circuit was a man
who--even if he did listen to the story and believe it--would have felt
inclined to give Jack all the more for what he was charged with. Browne
was out of the question. The day before the trial I went for a long walk
in the bush, but couldn't hit on anything that the Doctor might have
missed.

"I was in the court--I couldn't keep away. The Doctor was there too.
There wasn't so much of a change in Jack as I expected, only he had the
gaol white in his face already. He stood fingering the rail, as if it
was the edge of a table on a platform and he was a tired and bored and
sleepy chairman waiting to propose a vote of thanks."

The only well-known man in Australia who reminds me of Mitchell is Bland
Holt, the comedian. Mitchell was about as good hearted as Bland Holt,
too, under it all; but he was bigger and roughened by the bush. But he
seemed to be taking a heavy part to-night, for, towards the end of his
yarn, he got up and walked up and down the length of my bed, dropping
the sentences as he turned towards me. He'd folded his arms high and
tight, and his face in the moonlight was--well, it was very different
from his careless tone of voice. He was like--like an actor acting
tragedy and talking comedy. Mitchell went on, speaking quickly--his
voice seeming to harden:

    .   .   .   .   .

"The charge was read out--I forget how it went--it sounded like a long
hymn being given out. Jack pleaded guilty. Then he straightened up for
the first time and looked round the court, with a calm, disinterested
look--as if we were all strangers and he was noting the size of the
meeting. And--it's a funny world, ain't it?--everyone of us shifted
or dropped his eyes, just as if we were the felons and Jack the judge.
Everyone except the Doctor; he looked at Jack and Jack looked at him.
Then the Doctor smiled--I can't describe it--and Drew smiled back. It
struck me afterwards that I should have been in that smile. Then the
Doctor did what looked like a strange thing--stood like a soldier with
his hands to Attention. I'd noticed that, whenever he'd made up his mind
to do a thing, he dropped his hands to his sides: it was a sign that he
couldn't be moved. Now he slowly lifted his hand to his forehead, palm
out, saluted the prisoner, turned on his heel, and marched from the
court-room. 'He's boozin' again,' someone whispered. 'He's got a touch
of 'em.' 'My oath, he's ratty!' said someone else. One of the traps
said:

"'Arder in the car-rt!'

"The judge gave it to Drew red-hot on account of the burglary being the
cause of the girl's death and the sorrow in a respectable family; then
he gave him five years' hard.

"It gave me a lot of confidence in myself to see the law of the land
barking up the wrong tree, while only I and the Doctor and the prisoner
knew it. But I've found out since then that the law is often the only
one that knows it's barking up the wrong tree."

    .   .   .   .   .

Mitchell prepared to turn in.

"And what about Drew," I asked.

"Oh, he did his time, or most of it. The Doctor went to headquarters,
but either a drunken doctor from a geebung town wasn't of much account,
or they weren't taking any romance just then at headquarters. So the
Doctor came back, drank heavily, and one frosty morning they found him
on his back on the bank of the creek, with his face like note-paper
where the blood hadn't dried on it, and an old pistol in his hand--that
he'd used, they said, to shoot Cossacks from horseback when he was a
young dude fighting in the bush in Poland."

Mitchell lay silent a good while; then he yawned.

"Ah, well! It's a lonely track the Lachlan's tramping to-night; but I
s'pose he's got his ghosts with him."

I'd been puzzling for the last half-hour to think where I'd met or heard
of Jack Drew; now it flashed on me that I'd been told that Jack Drew was
the Lachlan's real name.

I lay awake thinking a long time, and wished Mitchell had kept his yarn
for daytime. I felt--well, I felt as if the Lachlan's story should have
been played in the biggest theatre in the world, by the greatest actors,
with music for the intervals and situations--deep, strong music, such as
thrills and lifts a man from his boot soles. And when I got to sleep I
hadn't slept a moment, it seemed to me, when I started wide awake to
see those infernal hanging boughs with a sort of nightmare idea that the
Lachlan hadn't gone, or had come back, and he and Mitchell had hanged
themselves sociably--Mitchell for sympathy and the sake of mateship.

But Mitchell was sleeping peacefully, in spite of a path of moonlight
across his face--and so was the pup.



The Darling River



The Darling--which is either a muddy gutter or a second Mississippi--is
about six times as long as the distance, in a straight line, from its
head to its mouth. The state of the river is vaguely but generally
understood to depend on some distant and foreign phenomena to which
bushmen refer in an off-hand tone of voice as "the Queenslan' rains",
which seem to be held responsible, in a general way, for most of the
out-back trouble.

It takes less than a year to go up stream by boat to Walgett or Bourke
in a dry season; but after the first three months the passengers
generally go ashore and walk. They get sick of being stuck in the same
sort of place, in the same old way; they grow weary of seeing the same
old "whaler" drop his swag on the bank opposite whenever the boat ties
up for wood; they get tired of lending him tobacco, and listening to his
ideas, which are limited in number and narrow in conception.

It shortens the journey to get out and walk; but then you will have to
wait so long for your luggage--unless you hump it with you.

We heard of a man who determined to stick to a Darling boat and travel
the whole length of the river. He was a newspaper man. He started on
his voyage of discovery one Easter in flood-time, and a month later the
captain got bushed between the Darling and South Australian border. The
waters went away before he could find the river again, and left his boat
in a scrub. They had a cargo of rations, and the crew stuck to the craft
while the tucker lasted; when it gave out they rolled up their swags and
went to look for a station, but didn't find one. The captain would study
his watch and the sun, rig up dials and make out courses, and follow
them without success. They ran short of water, and didn't smell any
for weeks; they suffered terrible privations, and lost three of their
number, NOT including the newspaper liar. There are even dark hints
considering the drawing of lots in connection with something too
terrible to mention. They crossed a thirty-mile plain at last, and
sighted a black gin. She led them to a boundary rider's hut, where they
were taken in and provided with rations and rum.

Later on a syndicate was formed to explore the country and recover the
boat; but they found her thirty miles from the river and about eighteen
from the nearest waterhole deep enough to float her, so they left her
there. She's there still, or else the man that told us about it is the
greatest liar Out Back.

    .   .   .   .   .

Imagine the hull of a North Shore ferry boat, blunted a little at the
ends and cut off about a foot below the water-line, and parallel to it,
then you will have something shaped somewhat like the hull of a Darling
mud-rooter. But the river boat is much stronger. The boat we were on
was built and repaired above deck after the different ideas of many bush
carpenters, of whom the last seemed by his work to have regarded the
original plan with a contempt only equalled by his disgust at the work
of the last carpenter but one. The wheel was boxed in, mostly with round
sapling-sticks fastened to the frame with bunches of nails and spikes
of all shapes and sizes, most of them bent. The general result was
decidedly picturesque in its irregularity, but dangerous to the mental
welfare of any passenger who was foolish enough to try to comprehend
the design; for it seemed as though every carpenter had taken the
opportunity to work in a little abstract idea of his own.

The way they "dock" a Darling River boat is beautiful for its
simplicity. They choose a place where there are two stout trees about
the boat's length apart, and standing on a line parallel to the river.
They fix pulley-blocks to the trees, lay sliding planks down into the
water, fasten a rope to one end of the steamer, and take the other end
through the block attached to the tree and thence back aboard a second
steamer; then they carry a rope similarly from the other end through the
block on the second tree, and aboard a third boat. At a given signal
one boat leaves for Wentworth, and the other starts for the Queensland
border. The consequence is that craft number one climbs the bank
amid the cheers of the local loafers, who congregate and watch the
proceedings with great interest and approval. The crew pitch tents, and
set to work on the hull, which looks like a big, rough shallow box.

    .   .   .   .   .

We once travelled on the Darling for a hundred miles or so on a boat
called the 'Mud Turtle'--at least, that's what WE called her. She might
reasonably have haunted the Mississippi fifty years ago. She didn't seem
particular where she went, or whether she started again or stopped
for good after getting stuck. Her machinery sounded like a chapter of
accidents and was always out of order, but she got along all the same,
provided the steersman kept her off the bank.

Her skipper was a young man, who looked more like a drover than a
sailor, and the crew bore a greater resemblance to the unemployed than
to any other body we know of, except that they looked a little
more independent. They seemed clannish, too, with an unemployed or
free-labour sort of isolation. We have an idea that they regarded our
personal appearance with contempt.

    .   .   .   .   .

Above Louth we picked up a "whaler", who came aboard for the sake of
society and tobacco. Not that he hoped to shorten his journey; he had no
destination. He told us many reckless and unprincipled lies, and gave
us a few ornamental facts. One of them took our fancy, and impressed
us--with its beautiful simplicity, I suppose. He said: "Some miles
above where the Darlin' and the Warrygo runs inter each other, there's a
billygong runnin' right across between the two rivers and makin' a sort
of tryhangular hyland; 'n' I can tel'yer a funny thing about it." Here
he paused to light his pipe. "Now," he continued, impressively, jerking
the match overboard, "when the Darlin's up, and the Warrygo's LOW,
the billygong runs from the Darlin' into the WARRYGO; AND, when the
Warrygo's up 'n' the Darlin's down, the waters runs FROM the Warrygo 'n'
inter the Darlin'."

What could be more simple?

The steamer was engaged to go up a billabong for a load of shearers from
a shed which was cutting out; and first it was necessary to tie up in
the river and discharge the greater portion of the cargo in order that
the boat might safely negotiate the shallow waters. A local fisherman,
who volunteered to act as pilot, was taken aboard, and after he was
outside about a pint of whisky he seemed to have the greatest confidence
in his ability to take us to hell, or anywhere else--at least, he said
so. A man was sent ashore with blankets and tucker to mind the wool, and
we crossed the river, butted into the anabranch, and started out back.
Only the Lord and the pilot know how we got there. We travelled over the
bush, through its branches sometimes, and sometimes through grass and
mud, and every now and then we struck something that felt and sounded
like a collision. The boat slid down one hill, and "fetched" a stump at
the bottom with a force that made every mother's son bite his tongue or
break a tooth.

The shearers came aboard next morning, with their swags and two
cartloads of boiled mutton, bread, "brownie", and tea and sugar. They
numbered about fifty, including the rouseabouts. This load of sin sank
the steamer deeper into the mud; but the passengers crowded over to
port, by request of the captain, and the crew poked the bank away with
long poles. When we began to move the shearers gave a howl like the
yell of a legion of lost souls escaping from down below. They gave three
cheers for the rouseabouts' cook, who stayed behind; then they cursed
the station with a mighty curse. They cleared a space on deck, had
a jig, and afterwards a fight between the shearers' cook and his
assistant. They gave a mighty bush whoop for the Darling when the boat
swung into that grand old gutter, and in the evening they had a general
all-round time. We got back, and the crew had to reload the wool without
assistance, for it bore the accursed brand of a "freedom-of-contract"
shed.

We slept, or tried to sleep, that night on the ridge of two wool bales
laid with the narrow sides up, having first been obliged to get ashore
and fight six rounds with a shearer for the privilege of roosting there.
The live cinders from the firebox went up the chimney all night, and
fell in showers on deck. Every now and again a spark would burn through
the "Wagga rug" of a sleeping shearer, and he'd wake suddenly and get up
and curse. It was no use shifting round, for the wind was all ways,
and the boat steered north, south, east, and west to humour the river.
Occasionally a low branch would root three or four passengers off their
wool bales, and they'd get up and curse in chorus. The boat started two
snags; and towards daylight struck a stump. The accent was on the stump.
A wool bale went overboard, and took a swag and a dog with it; then the
owner of the swag and dog and the crew of the boat had a swearing match
between them. The swagman won.

About daylight we stretched our cramped limbs, extricated one leg from
between the wool bales, and found that the steamer was just crayfishing
away from a mud island, where she had tied up for more wool. Some of the
chaps had been ashore and boiled four or five buckets of tea and coffee.
Shortly after the boat had settled down to work again an incident came
along. A rouseabout rose late, and, while the others were at breakfast,
got an idea into his head that a good "sloosh" would freshen him up; so
he mooched round until he found a big wooden bucket with a rope to it.
He carried the bucket aft of the wheel. The boat was butting up stream
for all she was worth, and the stream was running the other way, of
course, and about a hundred times as fast as a train. The jackeroo gave
the line a turn round his wrist; before anyone could see him in time to
suppress him, he lifted the bucket, swung it to and fro, and dropped it
cleverly into the water.

This delayed us for nearly an hour. A couple of men jumped into the row
boat immediately and cast her adrift. They picked up the jackeroo about
a mile down the river, clinging to a snag, and when we hauled him aboard
he looked like something the cat had dragged in, only bigger. We revived
him with rum and got him on his feet; and then, when the captain and
crew had done cursing him, he rubbed his head, went forward, and had a
look at the paddle; then he rubbed his head again, thought, and remarked
to his mates:

"Wasn't it lucky I didn't dip that bucket FOR'ARD the wheel?"

This remark struck us forcibly. We agreed that it was lucky--for him;
but the captain remarked that it was damned unlucky for the world,
which, he explained, was over-populated with fools already.

Getting on towards afternoon we found a barge loaded with wool and tied
up to a tree in the wilderness. There was no sign of a man to be seen,
nor any sign, except the barge, that a human being had ever been there.
The captain took the craft in tow, towed it about ten miles up the
stream, and left it in a less likely place than where it was before.

Floating bottles began to be more frequent, and we knew by that same
token that we were nearing "Here's Luck!"--Bourke, we mean. And this
reminds us.

When the Brewarrina people observe a more than ordinary number of
bottles floating down the river, they guess that Walgett is on the
spree; when the Louth chaps see an unbroken procession of dead marines
for three or four days they know that Bourke's drunk. The poor,
God-abandoned "whaler" sits in his hungry camp at sunset and watches the
empty symbols of Hope go by, and feels more God-forgotten than ever--and
thirstier, if possible--and gets a great, wide, thirsty, quaking, empty
longing to be up where those bottles come from. If the townspeople knew
how much misery they caused by their thoughtlessness they would drown
their dead marines, or bury them, but on no account allow them to go
drifting down the river, and stirring up hells in the bosoms of less
fortunate fellow-creatures.

There came a man from Adelaide to Bourke once, and he collected all the
empty bottles in town, stacked them by the river, and waited for a boat.
What he wanted them for the legend sayeth not, but the people reckoned
he had a "private still", or something of that sort, somewhere down the
river, and were satisfied. What he came from Adelaide for, or whether he
really did come from there, we do not know. All the Darling bunyips are
supposed to come from Adelaide. Anyway, the man collected all the empty
bottles he could lay his hands on, and piled them on the bank, where
they made a good show. He waited for a boat to take his cargo, and,
while waiting, he got drunk. That excited no comment. He stayed drunk
for three weeks, but the townspeople saw nothing unusual in that. In
order to become an object of interest in their eyes, and in that line,
he would have had to stay drunk for a year and fight three times a
day--oftener, if possible--and lie in the road in the broiling
heat between whiles, and be walked on by camels and Afghans and
free-labourers, and be locked up every time he got sober enough to smash
a policeman, and try to hang himself naked, and be finally squashed by a
loaded wool team.

But while he drank the Darling rose, for reasons best known to itself,
and floated those bottles off. They strung out and started for the
Antarctic Ocean, with a big old wicker-worked demijohn in the lead.

For the first week the down-river men took no notice; but after the
bottles had been drifting past with scarcely a break for a fortnight or
so, they began to get interested. Several whalers watched the procession
until they got the jimjams by force of imagination, and when their
bodies began to float down with the bottles, the down-river people got
anxious.

At last the Mayor of Wilcannia wired Bourke to know whether Dibbs or
Parkes was dead, or democracy triumphant, or if not, wherefore the
jubilation? Many telegrams of a like nature were received during that
week, and the true explanation was sent in reply to each. But it wasn't
believed, and to this day Bourke has the name of being the most drunken
town on the river.

After dinner a humorous old hard case mysteriously took us aside and
said he had a good yarn which we might be able to work up. We asked him
how, but he winked a mighty cunning wink and said that he knew all about
us. Then he asked us to listen. He said:

"There was an old feller down the Murrumbidgee named Kelly. He was a
bit gone here. One day Kelly was out lookin' for some sheep, when he
got lost. It was gettin' dark. Bymeby there came an old crow in a tree
overhead.

"'Kel-ley, you're lo-o-st! Kel-ley, you're lo-o-st!' sez the crow.

"'I know I am,' sez Kelly.

"'Fol-ler me, fol-ler me,' sez the crow.

"'Right y'are,' sez Kelly, with a jerk of his arm. 'Go ahead.'

"So the crow went on, and Kelly follered, an' bymeby he found he was on
the right track.

"Sometime after Kelly was washin' sheep (this was when we useter wash
the sheep instead of the wool). Kelly was standin' on the platform with
a crutch in his hand landin' the sheep, when there came a old crow in
the tree overhead.

"'Kelly, I'm hun-gry! Kel-ley, I'm hun-ger-ry!' sez the crow.

"'Alright,' sez Kelly; 'be up at the hut about dinner time 'n' I'll
sling you out something.'

"'Drown--a--sheep! Drown--a--sheep, Kel-ley,' sez the crow.

"'Blanked if I do,' sez Kelly. 'If I drown a sheep I'll have to pay for
it, be-God!'

"'Then I won't find yer when yer lost agin,' sez the crow.

"'I'm damned if yer will,' says Kelly. 'I'll take blanky good care I
won't get lost again, to be found by a gory ole crow.'"

    .   .   .   .   .

There are a good many fishermen on the Darling. They camp along the
banks in all sorts of tents, and move about in little box boats that
will only float one man. The fisherman is never heavy. He is mostly a
withered little old madman, with black claws, dirty rags (which he never
changes), unkempt hair and beard, and a "ratty" expression. We cannot
say that we ever saw him catch a fish, or even get a bite, and we
certainly never saw him offer any for sale.

He gets a dozen or so lines out into the stream, with the shore end
fastened to pegs or roots on the bank, and passed over sticks about four
feet high, stuck in the mud; on the top of these sticks he hangs bullock
bells, or substitutes--jam tins with stones fastened inside to bits of
string. Then he sits down and waits. If the cod pulls the line the bell
rings.

The fisherman is a great authority on the river and fish, but has
usually forgotten everything else, including his name. He chops firewood
for the boats sometimes, but it isn't his profession--he's a fisherman.
He is only sane on points concerning the river, though he has all the
fisherman's eccentricities. Of course he is a liar.

When he gets his camp fixed on one bank it strikes him he ought to be
over on the other, or at a place up round the bend, so he shifts. Then
he reckons he was a fool for not stopping where he was before. He
never dies. He never gets older, or drier, or more withered looking,
or dirtier, or loonier--because he can't. We cannot imagine him as ever
having been a boy, or even a youth. We cannot even try to imagine him
as a baby. He is an animated mummy, who used to fish on the Nile three
thousand years ago, and catch nothing.

    .   .   .   .   .

We forgot to mention that there are wonderfully few wrecks on the
Darling. The river boats seldom go down--their hulls are not built that
way--and if one did go down it wouldn't sink far. But, once down, a boat
is scarcely ever raised again; because, you see, the mud silts up round
it and over it, and glues it, as it were, to the bottom of the river.
Then the forty-foot alligators--which come down with the "Queenslan'
rains", we suppose--root in the mud and fill their bellies with sodden
flour and drowned deck-hands.

They tried once to blow up a wreck with dynamite because it (the
wreck) obstructed navigation; but they blew the bottom out of the river
instead, and all the water went through. The Government have been boring
for it ever since. I saw some of the bores myself--there is one at
Coonamble.

There is a yarn along the Darling about a cute Yankee who was invited
up to Bourke to report on a proposed scheme for locking the river. He
arrived towards the end of a long and severe drought, and was met at the
railway station by a deputation of representative bushmen, who invited
him, in the first place, to accompany them to the principal pub--which
he did. He had been observed to study the scenery a good deal while
coming up in the train, but kept his conclusions to himself. On the way
to the pub he had a look at the town, and it was noticed that he tilted
his hat forward very often, and scratched the back of his head a
good deal, and pondered a lot; but he refrained from expressing an
opinion--even when invited to do so. He guessed that his opinions
wouldn't do much good, anyway, and he calculated that they would keep
till he got back "over our way"--by which it was reckoned he meant the
States.

When they asked him what he'd have, he said to Watty the publican:

"Wal, I reckon you can build me your national drink. I guess I'll try
it."

A long colonial was drawn for him, and he tried it. He seemed rather
startled at first, then he looked curiously at the half-empty glass,
set it down very softly on the bar, and leaned against the same and
fell into a reverie; from which he roused himself after a while, with a
sorrowful jerk of his head.

"Ah, well," he said. "Show me this river of yourn."

They led him to the Darling, and he had a look at it.

"Is this your river?" he asked.

"Yes," they replied, apprehensively.

He tilted his hat forward till the brim nearly touched his nose,
scratched the back of his long neck, shut one eye, and looked at the
river with the other. Then, after spitting half a pint of tobacco juice
into the stream, he turned sadly on his heel and led the way back to the
pub. He invited the boys to "pisen themselves"; after they were served
he ordered out the longest tumbler on the premises, poured a drop into
it from nearly every bottle on the shelf, added a lump of ice, and drank
slowly and steadily.

Then he took pity on the impatient and anxious population, opened his
mouth, and spake.

"Look here, fellows," he drawled, jerking his arm in the direction of
the river, "I'll tell you what I'll dew. I'll bottle that damned river
of yourn in twenty-four hours!"

Later on he mellowed a bit, under the influence of several drinks which
were carefully and conscientiously "built" from plans and specifications
supplied by himself, and then, among other things, he said:

"If that there river rises as high as you say it dew--and if this was
the States--why, we'd have had the Great Eastern up here twenty years
ago"----or words to that effect.

Then he added, reflectively:

"When I come over here I calculated that I was going to make things
hum, but now I guess I'll have to change my prospectus. There's a lot of
loose energy laying round over our way, but I guess that if I wanted
to make things move in your country I'd have to bring over the entire
American nation--also his wife and dawg. You've got the makings of a
glorious nation over here, but you don't get up early enough!"

    .   .   .   .   .

The only national work performed by the blacks is on the Darling. They
threw a dam of rocks across the river--near Brewarrina, we think--to
make a fish trap. It's there yet. But God only knows where they got the
stones from, or how they carried them, for there isn't a pebble within
forty miles.



A Case for the Oracle



The Oracle and I were camped together. The Oracle was a bricklayer by
trade, and had two or three small contracts on hand. I was "doing a
bit of house-painting". There were a plasterer, a carpenter, and a
plumber--we were all T'othersiders, and old mates, and we worked
things together. It was in Westralia--the Land of T'othersiders--and,
therefore, we were not surprised when Mitchell turned up early one
morning, with his swag and an atmosphere of salt water about him.

He'd had a rough trip, he said, and would take a spell that day and take
the lay of the land and have something cooked for us by the time we came
home; and go to graft himself next morning. And next morning he went to
work, "labouring" for the Oracle.

The Oracle and his mates, being small contractors and not pressed for
time, had dispensed with the services of a labourer, and had done their
own mixing and hod-carrying in turns. They didn't want a labourer now,
but the Oracle was a vague fatalist, and Mitchell a decided one. So it
passed.

The Oracle had a "Case" right under his nose--in his own employ, in
fact; but was not aware of the fact until Mitchell drew his attention
to it. The Case went by the name of Alfred O'Briar--which hinted a mixed
parentage. He was a small, nervous working-man, of no particular colour,
and no decided character, apparently. If he had a soul above bricks, he
never betrayed it. He was not popular on the jobs. There was something
sly about Alf, they said.

The Oracle had taken him on in the first place as a day-labourer,
but afterwards shared the pay with him as with Mitchell. O'Briar
shouted--judiciously, but on every possible occasion--for the Oracle;
and, as he was an indifferent workman, the boys said he only did this so
that the Oracle might keep him on. If O'Briar took things easy and did
no more than the rest of us, at least one of us would be sure to get it
into his head that he was loafing on us; and if he grafted harder than
we did, we'd be sure to feel indignant about that too, and reckon that
it was done out of nastiness or crawlsomeness, and feel a contempt for
him accordingly. We found out accidentally that O'Briar was an excellent
mimic and a bit of a ventriloquist, but he never entertained us with his
peculiar gifts; and we set that down to churlishness.

O'Briar kept his own counsel, and his history, if he had one; and hid
his hopes, joys, and sorrows, if he had any, behind a vacant grin,
as Mitchell hid his behind a quizzical one. He never resented alleged
satire--perhaps he couldn't see it--and therefore he got the name of
being a cur. As a rule, he was careful with his money, and was called
mean--not, however, by the Oracle, whose philosophy was simple, and
whose sympathy could not realise a limit; nor yet by Mitchell. Mitchell
waited.

    .   .   .   .   .

O'Briar occupied a small tent by himself, and lived privately of
evenings. When we began to hear two men talking at night in his tent,
we were rather surprised, and wondered in a vague kind of way how any of
the chaps could take sufficient interest in Alf to go in and yarn with
him. In the days when he was supposed to be sociable, we had voted him a
bore; even the Oracle was moved to admit that he was "a bit slow".

But late one night we distinctly heard a woman's voice in O'Briar's
tent. The Oracle suddenly became hard of hearing, and, though we heard
the voice on several occasions, he remained exasperatingly deaf, yet
aggressively unconscious of the fact. "I have got enough to do puzzling
over me own whys and wherefores," he said. Mitchell began to take some
interest in O'Briar, and treated him with greater respect. But our camp
had the name of being the best-constructed, the cleanest, and the most
respectable in the vicinity. The health officer and constable in charge
had complimented us on the fact, and we were proud of it. And there were
three young married couples in camp, also a Darby and Joan; therefore,
when the voice of a woman began to be heard frequently and at
disreputable hours of the night in O'Briar's tent, we got uneasy about
it. And when the constable who was on night duty gave us a friendly
hint, Mitchell and I agreed that something must be done.

"Av coorse, men will be men," said the constable, as he turned his
horse's head, "but I thought I'd mention it. O'Briar is a dacent man,
and he's one of yer mates. Av coorse. There's a bad lot in that camp in
the scrub over yander, and--av coorse. Good-day to ye, byes."

    .   .   .   .   .

Next night we heard the voice in O'Briar's tent again, and decided to
speak to Alf in a friendly way about it in the morning. We listened
outside in the dark, but could not distinguish the words, though I
thought I recognised the voice.

"It's the hussy from the camp over there; she's got holt of that fool,
and she'll clean him out before she's done," I said. "We're Alf's mates,
any way it goes, and we ought to put a stop to it."

"What hussy?" asked Mitchell; "there's three or four there."

"The one with her hair all over her head," I answered.

"Where else should it be?" asked Mitchell. "But I'll just have a peep
and see who it is. There's no harm in that."

He crept up to the tent and cautiously moved the flap. Alf's candle was
alight; he lay on his back in his bunk with his arms under his head,
calmly smoking. We withdrew.

"They must have heard us," said Mitchell; "and she's slipped out under
the tent at the back, and through the fence into the scrub."

Mitchell's respect for Alf increased visibly.

But we began to hear ominous whispers from the young married couples,
and next Saturday night, which was pay-night, we decided to see it
through. We did not care to speak to Alf until we were sure. He stayed
in camp, as he often did, on Saturday evening, while the others went
up town. Mitchell and I returned earlier than usual, and leaned on the
fence at the back of Alf's tent.

We were scarcely there when we were startled by a "rat-tat-tat" as of
someone knocking at a door. Then an old woman's voice INSIDE the tent
asked: "Who's there?"

"It's me," said Alf's voice from the front, "Mr. O'Briar from Perth."

"Mary, go and open the door!" said the old woman. (Mitchell nudged me to
keep quiet.)

"Come in, Mr. O'Breer," said the old woman. "Come in. How do you do?
When did you get back?"

"Only last night," said Alf.

"Look at that now! Bless us all! And how did you like the country at
all?"

"I didn't care much for it," said Alf. We lost the thread of it until
the old woman spoke again.

"Have you had your tea, Mr. O'Breer?"

"Yes, thank you, Mrs. O'Connor."

"Are you quite sure, man?"

"Quite sure, thank you, Mrs. O'Connor." (Mitchell trod on my foot.)

"Will you have a drop of whisky or a glass of beer, Mr. O'Breer?"

"I'll take a glass of beer, thank you, Mrs. O'Connor."

There seemed to be a long pause. Then the old woman said, "Ah, well, I
must get my work done, and Mary will stop here and keep you company, Mr.
O'Breer." The arrangement seemed satisfactory to all parties, for there
was nothing more said for a while. (Mitchell nudged me again, with
emphasis, and I kicked his shin.)

Presently Alf said: "Mary!" And a girl's voice said, "Yes, Alf."

"You remember the night I went away, Mary?"

"Yes, Alf, I do."

"I have travelled long ways since then, Mary; I worked hard and lived
close. I didn't make my fortune, but I managed to rub a note or two
together. It was a hard time and a lonesome time for me, Mary. The
summer's awful over there, and livin's bad and dear. You couldn't have
any idea of it, Mary."

"No, Alf."

"I didn't come back so well off as I expected."

"But that doesn't matter, Alf."

"I got heart-sick and tired of it, and couldn't stand it any longer,
Mary."

"But that's all over now, Alf; you mustn't think of it."

"Your mother wrote to me."

"I know she did"--(very low and gently).

"And do you know what she put in it, Mary?"

"Yes, Alf."

"And did you ask her to put it in?"

"Don't ask me, Alf."

"And it's all true, Mary?"

There was no answer, but the silence seemed satisfactory.

"And be sure you have yourself down here on Sunday, Alf, me son."
("There's the old woman come back!" said Mitchell.)

"An' since the girl's willin' to have ye, and the ould woman's
willin'--there's me hand on it, Alf, me boy. An' God bless ye both."
("The old man's come now," said Mitchell.)

    .   .   .   .   .

"Come along," said Mitchell, leading the way to the front of the tent.

"But I wouldn't like to intrude on them. It's hardly right, Mitchell, is
it?"

"That's all right," said Mitchell. He tapped the tent pole.

"Come in," said Alf. Alf was lying on his bunk as before, with his arms
under his head. His face wore a cheerful, not to say happy, expression.
There was no one else in the tent. I was never more surprised in my
life.

"Have you got the paper, Alf?" said Mitchell.

"Yes. You'll find it there at the foot of the bunk. There it is. Won't
you sit down, Mitchell?"

"Not to-night," said Mitchell. "We brought you a bottle of ale. We're
just going to turn in."

And we said "good-night". "Well," I said to Mitchell when we got inside,
"what do you think of it?"

"I don't think of it at all," said Mitchell. "Do you mean to say you
can't see it now?"

"No, I'm dashed if I can," I said. "Some of us must be drunk, I think,
or getting rats. It's not to be wondered at, and the sooner we get out
of this country the better."

"Well, you must be a fool, Joe," said Mitchell. "Can't you see? ALF
THINKS ALOUD."

"WHAT?"

"Talks to himself. He was thinking about going back to his sweetheart.
Don't you know he's a bit of a ventriloquist?"

Mitchell lay awake a long time, in the position that Alf usually lay in,
and thought. Perhaps he thought on the same lines as Alf did that night.
But Mitchell did his thinking in silence.

We thought it best to tell the Oracle quietly. He was deeply interested,
but not surprised. "I've heerd of such cases before," he said. But the
Oracle was a gentleman. "There's things that a man wants to keep to
himself that ain't his business," he said. And we understood this remark
to be intended for our benefit, and to indicate a course of action upon
which the Oracle had decided, with respect to this case, and which we,
in his opinion, should do well to follow.

Alf got away a week or so later, and we all took a holiday and went down
to Fremantle to see him off. Perhaps he wondered why Mitchell gripped
his hand so hard and wished him luck so earnestly, and was surprised
when he gave him three cheers.

"Ah, well!" remarked Mitchell, as we turned up the wharf.

"I've heerd of such cases before," said the Oracle, meditatively. "They
ain't common, but I've hear'd of such cases before."



A Daughter of Maoriland

    A sketch of poor-class Maoris



The new native-school teacher, who was "green", "soft", and poetical,
and had a literary ambition, called her "August", and fondly hoped to
build a romance on her character. She was down in the school registers
as Sarah Moses, Maori, 16 years and three months. She looked twenty; but
this was nothing, insomuch as the mother of the youngest child in the
school--a dear little half-caste lady of two or three summers--had not
herself the vaguest idea of the child's age, nor anybody else's, nor
of ages in the abstract. The church register was lost some six years
before, when "Granny", who was a hundred, if a day, was supposed to
be about twenty-five. The teacher had to guess the ages of all the new
pupils.

August was apparently the oldest in the school--a big, ungainly, awkward
girl, with a heavy negro type of Maori countenance, and about as much
animation, mentally or physically, as a cow. She was given to brooding;
in fact, she brooded all the time. She brooded all day over her school
work, but did it fairly well. How the previous teachers had taught her
all she knew was a mystery to the new one. There had been a tragedy in
August's family when she was a child, and the affair seemed to have cast
a gloom over the lives of the entire family, for the lowering brooding
cloud was on all their faces. August would take to the bush when things
went wrong at home, and climb a tree and brood till she was found and
coaxed home. Things, according to pa gossip, had gone wrong with her
from the date of the tragedy, when she, a bright little girl, was
taken--a homeless orphan--to live with a sister, and, afterwards, with
an aunt-by-marriage. They treated her, 'twas said, with a brutality
which must have been greatly exaggerated by pa-gossip, seeing
that unkindness of this description is, according to all the best
authorities, altogether foreign to Maori nature.

Pa-gossip--which is less reliable than the ordinary washerwoman kind,
because of a deeper and more vicious ignorance--had it that one time
when August was punished by a teacher (or beaten by her sister or
aunt-by-marriage) she "took to the bush" for three days, at the
expiration of which time she was found on the ground in an exhausted
condition. She was evidently a true Maori or savage, and this was one of
the reasons why the teacher with the literary ambition took an interest
in her. She had a print of a portrait of a man in soldier's uniform,
taken from a copy of the 'Illustrated London News', pasted over the
fireplace in the whare where she lived, and neatly bordered by vandyked
strips of silvered tea-paper. She had pasted it in the place of honour,
or as near as she could get to it. The place of honour was sacred
to framed representations of the Nativity and Catholic subjects,
half-modelled, half-pictured. The print was a portrait of the last Czar
of Russia, of all the men in the world; and August was reported to have
said that she loved that man. His father had been murdered, so had her
mother. This was one of the reasons why the teacher with the literary
ambition thought he could get a romance out of her.

After the first week she hung round the new schoolmistress,
dog-like--with "dog-like affection", thought the teacher. She came down
often during the holidays, and hung about the verandah and back door for
an hour or so; then, by-and-bye, she'd be gone. Her brooding seemed
less aggressive on such occasions. The teacher reckoned that she had
something on her mind, and wanted to open her heart to "the wife", but
was too ignorant or too shy, poor girl; and he reckoned, from his theory
of Maori character, that it might take her weeks, or months, to come to
the point. One day, after a great deal of encouragement, she explained
that she felt "so awfully lonely, Mrs. Lorrens." All the other girls
were away, and she wished it was school-time.

She was happy and cheerful again, in her brooding way, in the
playground. There was something sadly ludicrous about her great,
ungainly figure slopping round above the children at play. The
schoolmistress took her into the parlour, gave her tea and cake, and was
kind to her; and she took it all with broody cheerfulness.

One Sunday morning she came down to the cottage and sat on the edge of
the verandah, looking as wretchedly miserable as a girl could. She was
in rags--at least, she had a rag of a dress on--and was barefooted and
bareheaded. She said that her aunt had turned her out, and she was going
to walk down the coast to Whale Bay to her grandmother--a long day's
ride. The teacher was troubled, because he was undecided what to do.
He had to be careful to avoid any unpleasantness arising out of Maori
cliquism. As the teacher he couldn't let her go in the state she was in;
from the depths of his greenness he trusted her, from the depths of
his softness he pitied her; his poetic nature was fiercely indignant on
account of the poor girl's wrongs, and the wife spoke for her. Then he
thought of his unwritten romance, and regarded August in the light of
copy, and that settled it. While he talked the matter over with his
wife, August "hid in the dark of her hair," awaiting her doom. The
teacher put his hat on, walked up to the pa, and saw her aunt. She
denied that she had turned August out, but the teacher believed
the girl. He explained his position, in words simplified for Maori
comprehension, and the aunt and relations said they understood, and that
he was "perfectly right, Mr. Lorrens." They were very respectful. The
teacher said that if August would not return home, he was willing to let
her stay at the cottage until such time as her uncle, who was absent,
returned, and he (the teacher) could talk the matter over with him. The
relations thought that that was the very best thing that could be done,
and thanked him. The aunt, two sisters, and as many of the others,
including the children, as were within sight or hail at the time--most
of them could not by any possible means have had the slightest
connection with the business in hand--accompanied the teacher to the
cottage. August took to the flax directly she caught sight of her
relations, and was with difficulty induced to return. There was a lot
of talk in Maori, during which the girl and her aunt shuffled and swung
round at the back of each other, and each talked over her shoulder, and
laughed foolishly and awkwardly once or twice; but in the end the girl
was sullenly determined not to return home, so it was decided that she
should stay. The schoolmistress made tea.

August brightened from the first day. She was a different girl
altogether. "I never saw such a change in a girl," said the young
schoolmistress, and one or two others. "I always thought she was a
good girl if taken the right way; all she wanted was a change and kind
treatment." But the stolid old Maori chairman of the school committee
only shrugged his shoulders and said (when the schoolmistress,
woman-like, pressed him for an opinion to agree with her own), "You can
look at it two ways, Mrs. Lorrens." Which, by the way, was about the
only expression of opinion that the teacher was ever able to get out of
him on any subject.

August worked and behaved well. She was wonderfully quick in picking up
English ways and housework. True, she was awkward and not over cleanly
in some things, but her mistress had patience with her. Who wouldn't
have? She "couldn't do enough" for her benefactress; she hung on her
words and sat at her footstool of evenings in a way that gladdened the
teacher's sentimental nature; she couldn't bear to see him help his wife
with a hat-pin or button--August must do it. She insisted on doing her
mistress' hair every night. In short, she tried in every way to show her
gratitude. The teacher and his wife smiled brightly at each other behind
her back, and thought how cheerful the house was since she came, and
wondered what they'd do without her. It was a settled thing that they
should take her back to the city with them, and have a faithful and
grateful retainer all their lives and a sort of Aunt Chloe for their
children, when they had any. The teacher got yards of copy out of her
for his "Maori Sketches and Characters", worked joyously at his romance,
and felt great already, and was happy. She had a bed made up temporarily
(until the teacher could get a spring mattress for her from town) on the
floor in the dining-room, and when she'd made her bed she'd squat on it
in front of the fire and sing Maori songs in a soft voice. She'd sing
the teacher and his wife, in the next room, to sleep. Then she'd get up
and have a feed, but they never heard her.

Her manners at the table (for she was treated "like one of themselves"
in the broadest sense of the term) were surprisingly good, considering
that the adults of her people were decidedly cow-like in white society,
and scoffed sea-eggs, shell-fish, and mutton-birds at home with a gallop
which was not edifying. Her appetite, it was true, was painful at times
to the poetic side of the teacher's nature; but he supposed that she'd
been half-starved at home, poor girl, and would get over it. Anyway, the
copy he'd get out of her would repay him for this and other expenses a
hundredfold. Moreover, begging and borrowing had ceased with her advent,
and the teacher set this down to her influence.

The first jar came when she was sent on horseback to the town for
groceries, and didn't get back till late the next day. She explained
that some of her relations got hold of her and made her stay, and wanted
her to go into public-houses with them, but she wouldn't. She said that
SHE wanted to come home. But why didn't she? The teacher let it pass,
and hoped she'd gain strength of character by-and-bye. He had waited up
late the night before with her supper on the hob; and he and his wife
had been anxious for fear something had happened to the poor girl
who was under their care. He had walked to the treacherous river-ford
several times during the evening, and waited there for her. So perhaps
he was tired, and that was why he didn't write next night.

The sugar-bag, the onion-basket, the potato-bag and the tea-chest began
to "go down" alarmingly, and an occasional pound of candles, a pigeon,
a mutton-bird (plucked and ready for Sunday's cooking), and other little
trifles went, also. August couldn't understand it, and the teacher
believed her, for falsehood and deceit are foreign to the simple natures
of the modern Maoris. There were no cats; but no score of ordinary cats
could have given colour to the cat theory, had it been raised in this
case. The breath of August advertised onions more than once, but no
human stomach could have accounted for the quantity. She surely could
not have eaten the other things raw--and she had no opportunities for
private cooking, as far as the teacher and his wife could see. The other
Maoris were out of the question; they were all strictly honest.

Thefts and annoyances of the above description were credited to the
"swaggies" who infested the roads, and had a very bad name down that
way; so the teacher loaded his gun, and told August to rouse him at
once, if she heard a sound in the night. She said she would; but a
heavy-weight "swaggie" could have come in and sat on her and had a smoke
without waking her.

She couldn't be trusted to go a message. She'd take from three to six
hours, and come back with an excuse that sounded genuine from its very
simplicity. Another sister of hers lay ill in an isolated hut, alone and
uncared for, except by the teacher's wife, and occasionally by a poor pa
outcast who had negro blood in her veins, and a love for a white loafer.
God help her! All of which sounds strange, considering that Maoris are
very kind to each other. The schoolmistress sent August one night to
stay with the sick Maori woman and help her as she could, and gave her
strict instructions to come to the cottage first thing in the morning,
and tell her how the sick woman was. August turned up at lunch-time next
day. The teacher gave her her first lecture, and said plainly that he
wasn't to be taken for a fool; then he stepped aside to get cool, and,
when he returned, the girl was sobbing as if her heart would break, and
the wife comforting her. She had been up all night, poor girl, and was
thoroughly worn out. Somehow the teacher didn't feel uncomfortable about
it. He went down to the whare. August had not touched a dishcloth or
broom. She had slept, as she always did, like a pig, all night, while
her sister lay and tossed in agony; in the morning she ate everything
there was to eat in the house (which, it seemed, was the Maori way of
showing sympathy in sickness and trouble), after which she brooded
by the fire till the children, running out of school, announced the
teacher's lunch hour.

August braced up again for a little while. The master thought of the
trouble they had with Ayacanora in "Westward Ho", and was comforted, and
tackled his romance again. Then the schoolmistress fell sick and things
went wrong. The groceries went down faster than ever, and the house got
very dirty, and began to have a native smell about it. August grew fat,
and lazy, and dirty, and less reliable on washing-days, or when there
was anything special to do in the house. "The savage blood is strong,"
thought the teacher, "and she is beginning to long for her own people
and free unconventional life." One morning--on a washing-day, too, as it
happened--she called out, before the teacher and his wife were up, that
the Maoris who supplied them with milk were away, and she had promised
to go up and milk the cow and bring the milk down. The teacher gave her
permission. One of the scholars usually brought the milk early. Lunch
time came and no August, no milk--strangest of all, only half the school
children. The teacher put on his hat, and went up to the pa once more.
He found August squatted in the midst of a circle of relations. She was
entertaining them with one of a series of idealistic sketches of the
teacher's domestic life, in which she showed a very vivid imagination,
and exhibited an unaccountable savage sort of pessimism. Her intervals
of absence had been occupied in this way from the first. The astounding
slanders she had circulated concerning the teacher's private life came
back, bit by bit, to his ears for a year afterwards, and her character
sketches of previous teachers, and her own relations--for she spared
nobody--would have earned a white woman a long and well-merited term of
imprisonment for criminal libel. She had cunningly, by straightforward
and unscrupulous lying, prejudiced the principal mother and boss woman
of the pa against the teacher and his wife; as a natural result of which
the old lady, who, like the rest, was very ignorant and ungrateful,
"turned nasty" and kept the children from school. The teacher lost
his temper, so the children were rounded up and hurried down to
school immediately; with them came August and her aunt, with alleged
explanations and excuses, and a shell-fish. The aunt and sisters said
they'd have nothing to do with August. They didn't want her and wouldn't
have her. The teacher said that, under those circumstances, she'd better
go and drown herself; so she went home with them.

The whole business had been a plot by her nearest relations. They
got rid of the trouble and expense of keeping her, and the bother of
borrowing in person, whenever in need of trifles in the grocery line.
Borrowing recommenced with her dismissal; but the teacher put a full
stop to it, as far as he was concerned. Then August, egged on by her
aunt, sent a blackguardly letter to the teacher's wife; the sick sister,
by the way, who had been nursed and supplied with food by her all along,
was in it, and said she was glad August sent the letter, and it served
the schoolmistress right. The teacher went up to the pa once more; an
hour later, August in person, accompanied, as usual, by a relation
or two, delivered at the cottage an abject apology in writing, the
composition of which would have discouraged the most enthusiastic
advocate of higher education for the lower classes.

Then various petty annoyances were tried. The teacher is firmly
convinced that certain animal-like sounds round the house at night were
due to August's trying to find out whether his wife was as likely to be
haunted as the Maoris were. He didn't dream of such a thing at the time,
for he did not believe that one of them had the pluck to venture out
after dark. But savage superstition must give way to savage hate.
The girl's last "try-on" was to come down to the school fence, and
ostentatiously sharpen a table-knife on the wires, while she scowled
murderously in the direction of the schoolmistress, who was hanging out
her washing. August looked, in her dark, bushy, Maori hair, a thoroughly
wild savage. Her father had murdered her mother under particularly
brutal circumstances, and the daughter took after her father.

The teacher called her and said: "Now, look here, my lady, the best
thing you can do is to drop that nonsense at once" (she had dropped the
knife in the ferns behind her), "for we're the wrong sort of people
to try it on with. Now you get out of this and tell your aunt--she's
sneaking there in the flax--what I tell you, and that she'd better clear
out of this quick, or I'll have a policeman out and take the whole
gang into town in an hour. Now be off, and shut that gate behind you,
carefully, and fasten it." She did, and went.

The worst of it was that the August romance copy was useless. Her lies
were even less reliable and picturesque than the common Jones Alley hag
lie. Then the teacher thought of the soft fool he'd been, and that made
him wild. He looked like a fool, and was one to a great extent, but it
wasn't good policy to take him for one.

Strange to say, he and others had reason to believe that August
respected him, and liked him rather than otherwise; but she hated his
wife, who had been kind to her, as only a savage can hate. The younger
pupils told the teacher, cheerfully and confidently, that August said
she'd cut Mrs. Lorrens' throat the first chance she got. Next week the
aunt sent down to ask if the teacher could sell her a bar of soap, and
sent the same old shilling; he was tired of seeing it stuck out in front
of him, so he took it, put it in his pocket, and sent the soap. This
must have discouraged them, for the borrowing industry petered out. He
saw the aunt later on, and she told him, cheerfully, that August was
going to live with a half-caste in a certain house in town.

Poor August! For she was only a tool after all. Her "romance" was
briefly as follows:--She went, per off-hand Maori arrangement, as
'housekeeper' in the hut of a labourer at a neighbouring saw-mill. She
stayed three months, for a wonder; at the expiration of which time she
put on her hat and explained that she was tired of stopping there, and
was going home. He said, 'All right, Sarah, wait a while and I'll take
you home.' At the door of her aunt's house he said, 'Well, good-bye,
Sarah,' and she said, in her brooding way, 'Good-bye, Jim.' And that was
all.

As the last apparent result of August's mischief-making, her brother
or someone one evening rode up to the cottage, drunk and inclined to
bluster. He was accompanied by a friend, also drunk, who came to see the
fun, and was ready to use his influence on the winning side. The teacher
went inside, brought out his gun, and slipped two cartridges in.
"I've had enough of this," he said. "Now then, be off, you insolent
blackguards, or I'll shoot you like rabbits. Go!" and he snapped his jaw
and the breech of his gun together. As they rode off, the old local hawk
happened to soar close over a dead lamb in the fern at the corner of the
garden, and the teacher, who had been "laying" for him a long time, let
fly both barrels at him, without thinking. When he turned, there was
only a cloud of dust down the track.

    .   .   .   .   .

The teacher taught that school for three years thereafter, without a
hitch. But he went no more on Universal Brotherhood lines. And, for
years after he had gone, his name was spoken of with great respect by
the Maoris.



New Year's Night



It was dark enough for anything in Dead Man's Gap--a round, warm, close
darkness, in which retreating sounds seemed to be cut off suddenly at a
distance of a hundred yards or so, instead of growing faint and fainter,
and dying away, to strike the ear once or twice again--and after
minutes, it might seem--with startling distinctness, before being
finally lost in the distance, as it is on clear, frosty nights. So with
the sounds of horses' hoofs, stumbling on the rough bridle-track through
the "saddle", the clatter of hoof-clipped stones and scrape of gravel
down the hidden "siding", and the low sound of men's voices, blurred
and speaking in monosyllables and at intervals it seemed, and in hushed,
awed tones, as though they carried a corpse. To practical eyes, grown
used to such a darkness, and at the nearest point, the passing blurrs
would have suggested two riders on bush hacks leading a third with an
empty saddle on its back--a lady's or "side-saddle", if one could have
distinguished the horns. They may have struck a soft track or level, or
rounded the buttress of the hill higher up, but before they had time
to reach or round the foot of the spur, blurs, whispers, stumble and
clatter of hoofs, jingle of bridle rings, and the occasional clank
together of stirrup irons, seemed shut off as suddenly and completely as
though a great sound-proof door had swung to behind them.

It was dark enough on the glaringest of days down in the lonely hollow
or "pocket", between two spurs, at the head of a blind gully behind
Mount Buckaroo, where there was a more or less dusty patch, barely
defined even in broad daylight by a spidery dog-legged fence on
three sides, and a thin "two-rail" (dignified with the adjective
"split-rail"--though rails and posts were mostly of saplings split in
halves) running along the frontage. In about the middle of it a little
slab hut, overshadowed by a big stringy-bark shed, was pointed out as
Johnny Mears's Farm.

"Black as--as charcoal," said Johnny Mears. He had never seen coal, and
was a cautious man, whose ideas came slowly. He stooped, close by the
fence, with his hands on his knees, to "sky" the loom of his big shed
and so get his bearings. He had been to have a look at the penned
calves, and see that all slip-rails were up and pegged, for the words of
John Mears junior, especially when delivered rapidly and shrilly and in
injured tones, were not to be relied upon in these matters.

"It's hot enough to melt the belly out of my fiddle," said Johnny Mears
to his wife, who sat on a three-legged stool by the rough table in the
little whitewashed "end-room", putting a patch of patches over the seat
of a pair of moleskin knickerbockers. He lit his pipe, moved a stool
to the side of the great empty fireplace, where it looked cooler--might
have been cooler on account of a possible draught suggested by the
presence of the chimney, and where, therefore, he felt a breath
cooler. He took his fiddle from a convenient shelf, tuned it slowly and
carefully, holding his pipe (in his mouth) well up and to one side, as
if the fiddle were an inquisitive and restless baby. He played "Little
Drops o' Brandy" three times, right through, without variations,
blinking solemnly the while; then he put the violin carefully back in
its box, and started to cut up another pipeful.

"You should have gone, Johnny," said the haggard little woman.

"Rackin' the horse out a night like this," retorted Johnny, "and
startin' ploughin' to-morrow. It ain't worth while. Let them come for me
if they want me. Dance on a night like this! Why! they'll dance in----"

"But you promised. It won't do you no good, Johnny."

"It won't do me no harm."

The little woman went on stitching.

"It's smotherin' hot," said Johnny, with an impatient oath. "I don't
know whether I'll turn in, or turn out, under the shed to-night. It's
too d----d hot to roost indoors."

She bent her head lower over the patch. One smoked and the other
stitched in silence for twenty minutes or so, during which time Johnny
might be supposed to have been deliberating listlessly as to whether
he'd camp out on account of the heat, or turn in. But he broke the
silence with a clout at a mosquito on the nape of his neck, and a bad
word.

"I wish you wouldn't swear so much, Johnny," she said wearily--"at least
not to-night."

He looked at her blankly.

"Why--why to-night? What's the matter with you to-night, Mary? What's
to-night more than any other night to you? I see no harm--can't a man
swear when a mosquito sticks him?"

"I--I was only thinking of the boys, Johnny."

"The boys! Why, they're both on the hay in the shed." He stared at
her again, shifted uneasily, crossed the other leg tightly, frowned,
blinked, and reached for the matches. "You look a bit off-colour, Mary.
It's the heat that makes us all a bit ratty at times. Better put that by
and have a swill o' oatmeal and water, and turn in."

"It's too hot to go to bed. I couldn't sleep. I'm all right. I'll--I'll
just finish this. Just reach me a drink from the water-bag--the
pannikin's on the hob there, by your boot."

He scratched his head helplessly, and reached for the drink. When he
sat down again, he felt strangely restless. "Like a hen that didn't know
where to lay," he put it. He couldn't settle down or keep still, and
didn't seem to enjoy his pipe somehow. He rubbed his head again.

"There's a thunderstorm comin'," he said. "That's what it is; and the
sooner it comes the better."

He went to the back door, and stared at the blackness to the east, and,
sure enough, lightning was blinking there.

"It's coming, sure enough; just hang out and keep cool for another hour,
and you'll feel the difference."

He sat down again on the three-legged stool, folded his arms, with his
elbows on his knees, drew a long breath, and blinked at the clay floor
for a while; then he twisted the stool round on one leg, until he faced
the old-fashioned spired wooden clock (the brass disc of the pendulum
moving ghost-like through a scarred and scratched marine scene--Margate
in England--on the glass that covered the lower half) that stood alone
on the slab shelf over the fireplace. The hands indicated half-past
two, and Johnny, who had studied that clock and could "hit the time nigh
enough by it," after knitting his brows and blinking at the dial for a
full minute by its own hand, decided "that it must be getting on toward
nine o'clock."

It must have been the heat. Johnny stood up, raking his hair, turned to
the door and back again, and then, after an impatient gesture, took up
his fiddle and raised it to his shoulder. Then the queer thing happened.
He said afterwards, under conditions favourable to such sentimental
confidence, that a cold hand seemed to take hold of the bow, through
his, and--anyway, before he knew what he was about he had played the
first bars of "When First I Met Sweet Peggy", a tune he had played
often, twenty years before, in his courting days, and had never happened
to play since. He sawed it right through (the cold hand left after the
first bar or two) standing up; then still stood with fiddle and bow
trembling in his hands, with the queer feeling still on him, and a
rush of old thoughts going through his head, all of which he set down
afterwards to the effect of the heat. He put the fiddle away hastily,
damning the bridge of it at the same time in loud but hurried tones,
with the idea of covering any eccentricity which the wife might have
noticed in his actions. "Must 'a' got a touch o' sun," he muttered
to himself. He sat down, fumbled with knife, pipe, and tobacco, and
presently stole a furtive glance over his shoulder at his wife.

The washed-out little woman was still sewing, but stitching blindly, for
great tears were rolling down her worn cheeks.

Johnny, white-faced on account of the heat, stood close behind her,
one hand on her shoulder and the other clenched on the table; but the
clenched hand shook as badly as the loose one.

"Good God! What is the matter, Mary? You're sick!" (They had had little
or no experience of illness.) "Tell me, Mary--come now! Has the boys
been up to anything?"

"No, Johnny; it's not that."

"What is it then? You're taken sick! What have you been doing with
yourself? It might be fever. Hold up a minute. You wait here quiet while
I roost out the boys and send 'em for the doctor and someone----"

"No! no! I'm not sick, John. It's only a turn. I'll be all right in a
minute."

He shifted his hand to her head, which she dropped suddenly, with a
life-weary sigh, against his side.

"Now then!" cried Johnny, wildly, "don't you faint or go into
disterricks, Mary! It'll upset the boys; think of the boys! It's only
the heat--you're only takin' queer."

"It's not that; you ought to know me better than that. It
was--I--Johnny, I was only thinking--we've been married twenty years
to-night--an'--it's New Year's Night!"

"And I've never thought of it!" said Johnny (in the afterwards). "Shows
what a God-forgotten selection will make of a man. She'd thought of it
all the time, and was waiting for it to strike me. Why! I'd agreed to go
and play at a darnce at Old Pipeclay School-house all night--that very
night--and leave her at home because she hadn't asked to come; and
it never struck me to ask her--at home by herself in that hole--for
twenty-five bob. And I only stopped at home because I'd got the hump,
and knew they'd want me bad at the school."

They sat close together on the long stool by the table, shy and awkward
at first; and she clung to him at opening of thunder, and they started
apart guiltily when the first great drops sounded like footsteps on the
gravel outside, just as they'd done one night-time before--twenty years
before.

If it was dark before, it was black now. The edge of the awful
storm-cloud rushed up and under the original darkness like the best
"drop" black-brushed over the cheap "lamp" variety, turning it grey by
contrast. The deluge lasted only a quarter of an hour; but it cleared
the night, and did its work. There was hail before it, too--big as emu
eggs, the boys said--that lay feet deep in the old diggers' holes on
Pipeclay for days afterwards--weeks some said.

The two sweethearts of twenty years ago and to-night watched the retreat
of the storm, and, seeing Mount Buckaroo standing clear, they went to
the back door, which opened opposite the end of the shed, and saw to the
east a glorious arch of steel-blue, starry sky, with the distant peaks
showing clear and blue away back under the far-away stars in the depth
of it.

They lingered awhile--arms round each other's waists--before she called
the boys, just as they had done this time of night twenty years ago,
after the boys' grandmother had called her.

"Awlright, mother!" bawled back the boys, with unfilial independence
of Australian youth. "We're awlright! We'll be in directly! Wasn't it a
pelterer, mother?"

They went in and sat down again. The embarrassment began to wear off.

"We'll get out of this, Mary," said Johnny. "I'll take Mason's offer
for the cattle and things, and take that job of Dawson's, boss or no
boss"--(Johnny's bad luck was due to his inability in the past to "get
on" with any boss for any reasonable length of time)--"I can get the
boys on, too. They're doing no good here, and growing up. It ain't doing
justice to them; and, what's more, this life is killin' you, Mary. That
settles it! I was blind. Let the jumpt-up selection go! It's making a
wall-eyed bullock of me, Mary--a dry-rotted rag of a wall-eyed bullock
like Jimmy Nowlett's old Strawberry. And you'll live in town like a
lady."

"Somebody coming!" yelled the boys.

There was a clatter of sliprails hurriedly thrown down, and clipped by
horses' hoofs.

"Insoide there! Is that you, Johnny?"

"Yes!" ("I knew they'd come for you," said Mrs. Mears to Johnny.)

"You'll have to come, Johnny. There's no get out of it. Here's Jim
Mason with me, and we've got orders to stun you and pack you if you show
fight. The blessed fiddler from Mudgee didn't turn up. Dave Regan burst
his concertina, and they're in a fix."

"But I can't leave the missus."

"That's all right. We've got the school missus's mare and side-saddle.
She says you ought to be jolly well ashamed of yourself, Johnny Mears,
for not bringing your wife on New Year's Night. And so you ought!"

Johnny did not look shame-faced, for reasons unknown to them.

"The boys couldn't find the horses," put in Mrs. Mears. "Johnny was just
going down the gully again."

He gave her a grateful look, and felt a strange, new thrill of
admiration for his wife.

"And--there's a bottle of the best put by for you, Johnny," added Pat
McDurmer, mistaking Johnny's silence; "and we'll call it thirty bob!"
(Johnny's ideas were coming slowly again, after the recent rush.)
"Or--two quid!--there you are!"

"I don't want two quid, nor one either, for taking my wife to a dance on
New Year's Night!" said Johnny Mears. "Run and put on your best bib and
tucker, Mary."

And she hurried to dress as eager and excited, and smiling to herself
as girlishly as she had done on such occasions on evenings before the
bright New Year's Night twenty years ago.--For a related story, see "A
Bush Dance", in "Joe Wilson and His Mates".--A. L., 1998.--



Black Joe



They called him Black Joe, and me White Joe, by way of distinction and
for the convenience of his boss (my uncle), and my aunt, and mother; so,
when we heard the cry of "Bla-a-ack Joe!" (the adjective drawn out until
it became a screech, after several repetitions, and the "Joe" short
and sharp) coming across the flat in a woman's voice, Joe knew that the
missus wanted him at the house, to get wood or water, or mind the baby,
and he kept carefully out of sight; he went at once when uncle called.
And when we heard the cry of "Wh-i-i-te Joe!" which we did with
difficulty and after several tries--though Black Joe's ears were of the
keenest--we knew that I was overdue at home, or absent without leave,
and was probably in for a warming, as the old folk called it. On some
occasions I postponed the warming as long as my stomach held out, which
was a good while in five-corner, native-cherry, or yam season--but the
warming was none the cooler for being postponed.

Sometimes Joe heard the wrong adjective, or led me to believe he
did--and left me for a whole afternoon under the impression that the
race of Ham was in demand at the homestead, when I myself was wanted
there, and maternal wrath was increasing every moment of my absence.

But Joe knew that my conscience was not so elastic as his, and--well,
you must expect little things like this in all friendships.

Black Joe was somewhere between nine and twelve when I first met him,
on a visit to my uncle's station; I was somewhere in those years too.
He was very black, the darker for being engaged in the interesting but
uncertain occupation of "burning off" in his spare time--which wasn't
particularly limited. He combined shepherding, 'possum and kangaroo
hunting, crawfishing, sleeping, and various other occupations and
engagements with that of burning off. I was very white, being a sickly
town boy; but, as I took great interest in burning off, and was not
particularly fond of cold water--it was in winter time--the difference
in our complexions was not so marked at times.

Black Joe's father, old Black Jimmie, lived in a gunyah on the rise
at the back of the sheepyards, and shepherded for my uncle. He was a
gentle, good-humoured, easy-going old fellow with a pleasant smile;
which description applies, I think, to most old blackfellows in
civilisation. I was very partial to the old man, and chummy with him,
and used to slip away from the homestead whenever I could, and squat
by the campfire along with the other piccaninnies, and think, and
yarn socially with Black Jimmie by the hour. I would give something to
remember those conversations now. Sometimes somebody would be sent to
bring me home, when it got too late, and Black Jimmie would say:

"Piccaninnie alonga possum rug," and there I'd be, sound asleep, with
the other young Australians.

I liked Black Jimmie very much, and would willingly have adopted him
as a father. I should have been quite content to spend my days in the
scrub, enjoying life in dark and savage ways, and my nights "alonga
possum rug"; but the family had other plans for my future.

It was a case of two blackfellows and one gin, when Black Jimmie went
a-wooing--about twelve years before I made his acquaintance--and he
fought for his bride in the black fashion. It was the last affair of
that kind in the district. My uncle's brother professed to have been
present at the fight, and gave me an alleged description of it. He said
that they drew lots, and Black Jimmie put his hands on his knees and
bent his head, and the other blackfellow hit him a whack on the skull
with a nulla nulla. Then they had a nip of rum all round--Black Jimmie
must have wanted it, for the nulla nulla was knotted, and heavy, and
made in the most approved fashion. Then the other blackfellow bent his
head, and Jimmie took the club and returned the whack with interest.
Then the other fellow hit Jimmie a lick, and took a clout in return.
Then they had another drink, and continued thus until Jimmie's rival
lost all heart and interest in the business. But you couldn't take
everything my uncle's brother said for granted.

Black Mary was a queen by right, and had the reputation of being
the cleanest gin in the district; she was a great favourite with the
squatters' wives round there. Perhaps she hoped to reclaim Jimmie--he
was royal, too, but held easy views with regard to religion and the
conventionalities of civilisation. Mary insisted on being married
properly by a clergyman, made the old man build a decent hut, had all
her children christened, and kept him and them clean and tidy up to the
time of her death.

Poor Queen Mary was ambitious. She started to educate her children,
and when they got beyond her--that is when they had learnt their
letters--she was grateful for any assistance from the good-natured bush
men and women of her acquaintance. She had decided to get her eldest boy
into the mounted police, and had plans for the rest, and she worked hard
for them, too. Jimmie offered no opposition, and gave her no assistance
beyond the rations and money he earned shepherding--which was as much as
could be expected of him.

He did as many husbands do "for the sake of peace and quietness"--he
drifted along in the wake of his wife, and took things as easily as her
schemes of reformation and education would allow him to.

Queen Mary died before her time, respected by all who knew or had heard
of her. The nearest squatter's wife sent a pair of sheets for a shroud,
with instructions to lay Mary out, and arranged (by bush telegraph) to
drive over next morning with her sister-in-law and two other white women
in the vicinity, to see Mary decently buried.

But the remnant of Jimmie's tribe were there beforehand. They tore the
sheets in strips and tied Mary up in a bundle, with her chin to her
knees--preparing her for burial in their own fashion--and mourned all
night in whitewash and ashes. At least, the gins did. The white women
saw that it was hopeless to attempt to untie any of the innumerable
knots and double knots, even if it had been possible to lay Mary out
afterwards; so they had to let her be buried as she was, with black and
white obsequies. And we've got no interest in believing that she did not
"jump up white woman" long ago.

My uncle and his brother took the two eldest boys. Black Jimmie
shifted away from the hut at once with the rest of his family--for the
"devil-devil" sat down there--and Mary's name was strictly "tabooed" in
accordance with aboriginal etiquette.

Jimmie drifted back towards the graves of his fathers in company with
a decreasing flock of sheep day by day (for the house of my uncle had
fallen on times of drought and depression, and foot-rot and wool rings,
and over-drafts and bank owners), and a few strips of bark, a dying
fire, a black pipe, some greasy 'possum rugs and blankets, a litter of
kangaroo tails, etc., four neglected piccaninnies, half a score of mangy
mongrels, and, haply, a "lilly drap o' rum", by night.

The four little Australians grew dirtier and more shy and savage, and
ate underdone kangaroo and 'possum and native bear, with an occasional
treat of oak grubs and goanna by preference--and died out, one by
one, as blacks do when brought within the ever widening circle of
civilisation. Jimmie moved promptly after each death, and left the
evil one in possession, and built another mia-mia--each one being less
pretentious than the last. Finally he was left, the last of his tribe,
to mourn his lot in solitude.

But the devil-devil came and sat down by King Jimmie's side one night,
so he, too, moved out across the Old Man border, and the mia-mia rotted
into the ground and the grass grew there.

    .   .   .   .   .

I admired Joe; I thought him wiser and cleverer than any white boy in
the world. He could smell out 'possums unerringly, and I firmly believed
he could see yards through the muddiest of dam water; for once, when I
dropped my boat in, and was not sure of the spot, he fished it out first
try. With cotton reels and bits of stick and bark he would make the
model of a station homestead, slaughter-yards, sheep-yards, and all
complete, working in ideas and improvements of his own which might
have been put into practice with advantage. He was a most original and
interesting liar upon all subjects upon which he was ignorant and
which came up incidentally. He gave me a very interesting account of an
interview between his father and Queen Victoria, and mentioned casually
that his father had walked across the Thames without getting wet.

He also told me how he, Joe, had tied a mounted trooper to a verandah
post and thrashed him with pine saplings until the timber gave out and
he was tired. I questioned Jimmie, but the incidents seemed to have
escaped the old king's memory.

Joe could build bigger woodheaps with less wood than any black or white
tramp or loafer round there. He was a born architect. He took a world
of pains with his wood-heaps--he built them hollow, in the shape of a
break-wind, with the convex side towards the house for the benefit of
his employers. Joe was easy-going; he had inherited a love of peace and
quietness from his father. Uncle generally came home after dark, and Joe
would have little fires lit at safe distances all round the house,
in order to convey an impression that the burning off was proceeding
satisfactorily.

When the warm weather came, Joe and I got into trouble with an old hag
for bathing in a waterhole in the creek in front of her shanty, and she
impounded portions of our wardrobe. We shouldn't have lost much if she
had taken it all; but our sense of injury was deep, especially as she
used very bad grammar towards us.

Joe addressed her from the safe side of the water. He said, "Look here!
Old leather-face, sugar-eye, plar-bag marmy, I call it you."

"Plar-bag marmy" meant "Mother Flour-bag", and ration sugar was
decidedly muddy in appearance.

She came round the waterhole with a clothes prop, and made good time,
too; but we got across and away with our clothes.

That little incident might have changed the whole course of my
existence. Plar-bag Marmy made a formal complaint to uncle, who happened
to pass there on horseback about an hour later; and the same evening
Joe's latest and most carefully planned wood heap collapsed while aunt
was pulling a stick out of it in the dark, and it gave her a bad scare,
the results of which might have been serious.

So uncle gave us a thrashing, without the slightest regard for racial
distinctions, and sent us to bed without our suppers.

We sought Jimmie's camp, but Joe got neither sympathy nor damper from
his father, and I was sent home with a fatherly lecture "for going
alonga that fella," meaning Joe.

Joe and I discussed existence at a waterhole down the creek next
afternoon, over a billy of crawfish which we had boiled and a piece of
gritty damper, and decided to retire beyond the settled districts--some
five hundred miles or so--to a place that Joe said he knew of, where
there were lagoons and billabongs ten miles wide, alive with ducks and
fish, and black cockatoos and kangaroos and wombats, that only waited to
be knocked over with a stick.

I thought I might as well start and be a blackfellow at once, so we
got a rusty pan without a handle, and cooked about a pint of fat yellow
oak-grubs; and I was about to fall to when we were discovered, and the
full weight of combined family influence was brought to bear on the
situation. We had broken a new pair of shears digging out those grubs
from under the bark of the she-oaks, and had each taken a blade as his
own especial property, which we thought was the best thing to do under
the circumstances. Uncle wanted those shears badly, so he received us
with the buggy whip--and he didn't draw the colour line either. All
that night and next day I wished he had. I was sent home, and Joe went
droving with uncle soon after that, else I might have lived a life of
freedom and content and died out peacefully with the last of my adopted
tribe.

Joe died of consumption on the track. When he was dying uncle asked: "Is
there anything you would like?"

And Joe said: "I'd like a lilly drap o' rum, boss."

Which were his last words, for he drank the rum and died peacefully.

I was the first to hear the news at home, and, being still a youngster,
I ran to the house, crying "Oh, mother! aunt's Joe is dead!"

There were visitors at our place at the time, and, as the eldest child
of the maternal aunt in question had also been christened Joe--after a
grandfather of our tribe (my tribe, not Black Joe's)--the news caused
a sudden and unpleasant sensation. But cross-examination explained the
mistake, and I retired to the rear of the pig-sty, as was my custom when
things went wrong, with another cause for grief.



They Wait on the Wharf in Black

        "Seems to me that honest, hard-working men seem to accumulate
        the heaviest swags of trouble in this world."--Steelman.

    Told by Mitchell's Mate.



We were coming back from West Australia, steerage--Mitchell, the Oracle,
and I. I had gone over saloon, with a few pounds in my pocket. Mitchell
said this was a great mistake--I should have gone over steerage with
nothing but the clothes I stood upright in, and come back saloon with a
pile. He said it was a very common mistake that men made, but, as far
as his experience went, there always seemed to be a deep-rooted popular
prejudice in favour of going away from home with a few pounds in one's
pocket and coming back stumped; at least amongst rovers and vagabonds
like ourselves--it wasn't so generally popular or admired at home, or in
the places we came back to, as it was in the places we went to. Anyway
it went, there wasn't the slightest doubt that our nearest and dearest
friends were, as a rule, in favour of our taking away as little as we
could possibly manage with, and coming back with a pile, whether we came
back saloon or not; and that ought to settle the matter as far as any
chap that had the slightest consideration for his friends or family was
concerned.

There was a good deal of misery, underneath, coming home in that
steerage. One man had had his hand crushed and amputated out Coolgardie
way, and the stump had mortified, and he was being sent to Melbourne by
his mates. Some had lost their money, some a couple of years of their
life, some their souls; but none seemed to have lost the heart to
call up the quiet grin that southern rovers, vagabonds, travellers for
"graft" or fortune, and professional wanderers wear in front of it
all. Except one man--an elderly eastern digger--he had lost his wife in
Sydney while he was away.

They sent him a wire to the Boulder Soak, or somewhere out back of
White Feather, to say that his wife was seriously ill; but the wire went
wrong, somehow, after the manner of telegrams not connected with mining,
on the lines of "the Western". They sent him a wire to say that his wife
was dead, and that reached him all right--only a week late.

I can imagine it. He got the message at dinner-time, or when they came
back to the camp. His mate wanted him to sit in the shade, or lie in
the tent, while he got the billy boiled. "You must brace up and pull
yourself together, Tom, for the sake of the youngsters." And Tom for
long intervals goes walking up and down, up and down, by the camp--under
the brassy sky or the gloaming--under the brilliant star-clusters that
hang over the desert plain, but never raising his eyes to them; kicking
a tuft of grass or a hole in the sand now and then, and seeming to watch
the progress of the track he is tramping out. The wife of twenty years
was with him--though two thousand miles away--till that message came.

I can imagine Tome sitting with his mates round the billy, they talking
in quiet, subdued tones about the track, the departure of coaches,
trains and boats--arranging for Tom's journey East, and the working of
the claim in his absence. Or Tom lying on his back in his bunk, with his
hands under his head and his eyes fixed on the calico above--thinking,
thinking, thinking. Thinking, with a touch of his boyhood's faith
perhaps; or wondering what he had done in his long, hard-working married
life, that God should do this thing to him now, of all times.

"You'd best take what money we have in the camp, Tom; you'll want it
all ag'in' the time you get back from Sydney, and we can fix it up
arterwards.... There's a couple o' clean shirts o' mine--you'd best take
'em--you'll want 'em on the voyage.... You might as well take them there
new pants o' mine, they'll only dry-rot out here--and the coat, too,
if you like--it's too small for me, anyway. You won't have any time in
Perth, and you'll want some decent togs to land with in Sydney."

    .   .   .   .   .

"I wouldn't 'a' cared so much if I'd 'a' seen the last of her," he said,
in a quiet, patient voice, to us one night by the rail. "I would 'a'
liked to have seen the last of her."

"Have you been long in the West?"

"Over two years. I made up to take a run across last Christmas, and have
a look at 'em. But I couldn't very well get away when 'exemption-time'
came. I didn't like to leave the claim."

"Do any good over there?"

"Well, things brightened up a bit the last month or two. I had a hard
pull at first; landed without a penny, and had to send back every
shilling I could rake up to get things straightened up a bit at home.
Then the eldest boy fell ill, and then the baby. I'd reckoned on
bringing 'em over to Perth or Coolgardie when the cool weather came, and
having them somewheres near me, where I could go and have a look at 'em
now and then, and look after them."

"Going back to the West again?"

"Oh, yes. I must go for the sake of the youngsters. But I don't seem
to have much heart in it." He smoked awhile. "Over twenty years we
struggled along together--the missus and me--and it seems hard that I
couldn't see the last of her. It's rough on a man."

"The world is damned rough on a man sometimes," said Mitchell, "most
especially when he least deserves it."

The digger crossed his arms on the rail like an old "cocky" at the fence
in the cool of the evening, yarning with an old crony.

"Mor'n twenty years she stuck to me and struggled along by my side. She
never give in. I'll swear she was on her feet till the last, with
her sleeves tucked up--bustlin' round.... And just when things was
brightening and I saw a chance of giving her a bit of a rest and comfort
for the end of her life.... I thought of it all only t'other week when
things was clearing up ahead; and the last 'order' I sent over I set
to work and wrote her a long letter, putting all the good news and
encouragement I could think of into it. I thought how that letter would
brighten up things at home, and how she'd read it round. I thought of
lots of things that a man never gets time to think of while his nose is
kept to the grindstone. And she was dead and in her grave, and I never
knowed it."

Mitchell dug his elbow into my ribs and made signs for the matches to
light his pipe.

"An' yer never knowed," reflected the Oracle.

"But I always had an idea when there was trouble at home," the digger
went on presently, in his quiet, patient tone. "I always knowed; I
always had a kind of feeling that way--I felt it--no matter how far I
was away. When the youngsters was sick I knowed it, and I expected the
letter that come. About a fortnight ago I had a feeling that way when
the wife was ill. The very stars out there on the desert by the Boulder
Soak seemed to say: 'There's trouble at home. Go home. There's trouble
at home.' But I never dreamed what that trouble was. One night I did
make up my mind to start in the morning, but when the morning came I
hadn't an excuse, and was ashamed to tell my mates the truth. They might
have thought I was going ratty, like a good many go out there." Then he
broke off with a sort of laugh, as if it just struck him that we
might think he was a bit off his head, or that his talk was getting
uncomfortable for us. "Curious, ain't it?" he said.

"Reminds me of a case I knowed,----" commenced the Oracle, after a
pause.

I could have pitched him overboard; but that was a mistake. He and the
old digger sat on the for'ard hatch half the night yarning, mostly about
queer starts, and rum go's, and curious cases the Oracle had knowed,
and I think the Oracle did him a lot of good somehow, for he seemed more
cheerful in the morning.

We were overcrowded in the steerage, but Mitchell managed to give up his
berth to the old digger without letting him know it. Most of the chaps
seemed anxious to make a place at the first table and pass the first
helpings of the dishes to the "old cove that had lost his missus."

They all seemed to forget him as we entered the Heads; they had their
own troubles to attend to. They were in the shadow of the shame of
coming back hard up, and the grins began to grow faint and sickly. But I
didn't forget him. I wish sometimes that I didn't take so much notice of
things.

There was no mistaking them--the little group that stood apart near the
end of the wharf, dressed in cheap black. There was the eldest single
sister--thin, pale, and haggard-looking--that had had all the hard
worry in the family till her temper was spoilt, as you could see by the
peevish, irritable lines in her face. She had to be the mother of them
all now, and had never known, perhaps, what it was to be a girl or a
sweetheart. She gave a hard, mechanical sort of smile when she saw her
father, and then stood looking at the boat in a vacant, hopeless sort of
way. There was the baby, that he saw now for the first time, crowing and
jumping at the sight of the boat coming in; there was the eldest boy,
looking awkward and out of place in his new slop-suit of black, shifting
round uneasily, and looking anywhere but at his father. But the little
girl was the worst, and a pretty little girl she was, too; she never
took her streaming eyes off her father's face the whole time. You could
see that her little heart was bursting, and with pity for him. They were
too far apart to speak to each other as yet. The boat seemed a cruel
long long time swinging alongside--I wished they'd hurry up. He'd
brought his traps up early, and laid 'em on the deck under the rail; he
stood very quiet with his hands behind him, looking at his children. He
had a strong, square, workman's face, but I could see his chin and mouth
quivering under the stubbly, iron-grey beard, and the lump working in
his throat; and one strong hand gripped the other very tight behind, but
his eyelids never quivered--only his eyes seemed to grow more and more
sad and lonesome. These are the sort of long, cruel moments when a man
sits or stands very tight and quiet and calm-looking, with his whole
past life going whirling through his brain, year after year, and over
and over again. Just as the digger seemed about to speak to them he met
the brimming eyes of his little girl turned up to his face. He looked
at her for a moment, and then turned suddenly and went below as if
pretending to go down for his things. I noticed that Mitchell--who
hadn't seemed to be noticing anything in particular--followed him down.
When they came on deck again we were right alongside.

"'Ello, Nell!" said the digger to the eldest daughter.

"'Ello, father!" she said, with a sort of gasp, but trying to smile.

"'Ello, Jack, how are you getting on?"

"All right, father," said the boy, brightening up, and seeming greatly
relieved.

He looked down at the little girl with a smile that I can't describe,
but didn't speak to her. She still stood with quivering chin and mouth
and great brimming eyes upturned, full of such pity as I never saw
before in a child-face--pity for him.

"You can get ashore now," said Mitchell; "see, they've got the gangway
out aft."

Presently I saw Mitchell with the portmanteau in his hand, and the baby
on his arm, steering them away to a quiet corner of the shed at the top
of the wharf. The digger had the little girl in his arms, and both hers
were round his neck, and her face hidden on his shoulder.

When Mitchell came back, he leant on the rail for a while by my side, as
if it was a boundary fence out back, and there was no hurry to break up
camp and make a start.

"What did you follow him below that time for, Mitchell?" I asked
presently, for want of something better to say.

Mitchell looked at me out of the corners of his eyes.

"I wanted to score a drink!" he said. "I thought he wanted one and
wouldn't like to be a Jimmy Woodser."



Seeing the Last of You



"When you're going away by boat," said Mitchell, "you ought to say
good-bye to the women at home, and to the chaps at the last pub. I hate
waiting on the wharf or up on deck when the boat's behind time. There's
no sense in it, and a lot of unnecessary misery. Your friends wait on
the wharf and you are kept at the rail to the bitter end, just when they
and you most want a spell. And why? Some of them hang out because they
love you, and want to see the last of you; some because they don't like
you to see them going away without seeing the last of you; and you hang
out mostly because it would hurt 'em if you went below and didn't give
them a chance of seeing the last of you all the time--and you curse the
boat and wish to God it would start. And those who love you most--the
women-folk of the family--and who are making all the fuss and breaking
their hearts about having to see the last of you, and least want to do
it--they hang out the longest, and are the most determined to see it.
Where's the sense in it? What's the good of seeing the last of you? How
do women manage to get consolation out of a thing like that?

"But women get consolation out of queer things sometimes," he added
reflectively, "and so do men.

"I remember when I was knocking about the coasts, an old aunt of mine
always persisted in coming down to see the last of me, and bringing the
whole family too--no matter if I was only going away for a month. I was
her favourite. I always turned up again in a few months; but if I'd come
back every next boat it wouldn't have made the slightest difference to
her. She'd say that I mightn't come back some day, and then she'd never
forgive herself nor the family for not seeing me off. I suppose she'll
see the end of me yet if she lives long enough--and she's a wiry old
lady of the old school. She was old-fashioned and dressed like a fright,
they said at home. They hated being seen in public with her; to tell the
truth, I felt a bit ashamed, too, at times. I wouldn't be, now. When I'd
get her off on to the wharf I'd be overcome with my feelings, and have
to retire to the privacy of the bar to hide my emotions till the
boat was going. And she'd stand on the end of the pier and wave her
handkerchief and mop her old eyes with it until she was removed by
force.

"God bless her old heart! There wasn't so much affection wasted on me
at home that I felt crowded by hers; and I never lost anything by her
seeing the last of me.

"I do wish the Oracle would stop that confounded fiddle of his--it makes
you think over damned old things."



Two Boys at Grinder Brothers'



Five or six half-grown larrikins sat on the cemented sill of the big
window of Grinder Bros.' Railway Coach Factory waiting for the work
bell, and one of the number was Bill Anderson--known as "Carstor
Hoil"--a young terror of fourteen or fifteen.

"Here comes Balmy Arvie," exclaimed Bill as a pale, timid-looking little
fellow rounded the corner and stood against the wall by the door. "How's
your parents, Balmy?"

The boy made no answer; he shrank closer to the entrance. The first bell
went.

"What yer got for dinner, Balmy? Bread 'n' treacle?" asked the young
ruffian; then for the edification of his chums he snatched the boy's
dinner bag and emptied its contents on the pavement.

The door opened. Arvie gathered up his lunch, took his time-ticket, and
hurried in.

"Well, Balmy," said one of the smiths as he passed, "what do you think
of the boat race?"

"I think," said the boy, goaded to reply, "that it would be better if
young fellows of this country didn't think so much about racin' an'
fightin'."

The questioner stared blankly for a moment, then laughed suddenly in the
boy's face, and turned away. The rest grinned.

"Arvie's getting balmier than ever," guffawed young Bill.

"Here, Carstor Hoil," cried one of the smiths' strikers, "how much oil
will you take for a chew of terbaccer?"

"Teaspoonful?"

"No, two."

"All right; let's see the chew, first."

"Oh, you'll get it. What yer frighten' of?... Come on, chaps, 'n' see
Bill drink oil."

Bill measured out some machine oil and drank it. He got the tobacco, and
the others got what they called "the fun of seein' Bill drink oil!"

The second bell rang, and Bill went up to the other end of the shop,
where Arvie was already at work sweeping shavings from under a bench.

The young terror seated himself on the end of this bench, drummed his
heels against the leg, and whistled. He was in no hurry, for his foreman
had not yet arrived. He amused himself by lazily tossing chips at
Arvie, who made no protest for a while. "It would be--better--for this
country," said the young terror, reflectively and abstractedly, cocking
his eye at the whitewashed roof beams and feeling behind him on the
bench for a heavier chip--"it would be better--for this country--if
young fellers didn't think so much about--about--racin'--AND fightin'."

"You let me alone," said Arvie.

"Why, what'll you do?" exclaimed Bill, bringing his eye down with
feigned surprise. Then, in an indignant tone, "I don't mind takin' a
fall out of yer, now, if yer like."

Arvie went on with his work. Bill tossed all the chips within reach, and
then sat carelessly watching some men at work, and whistling the "Dead
March". Presently he asked:

"What's yer name, Balmy?"

No answer.

"Carn't yer answer a civil question? I'd soon knock the sulks out of yer
if I was yer father."

"My name's Arvie; you know that."

"Arvie what?"

"Arvie Aspinall."

Bill cocked his eye at the roof and thought a while and whistled; then
he said suddenly:

"Say, Balmy, where d'yer live?"

"Jones' Alley."

"What?"

"Jones' Alley."

A short, low whistle from Bill. "What house?"

"Number Eight."

"Garn! What yer giv'nus?"

"I'm telling the truth. What's there funny about it? What do I want to
tell you a lie for?"

"Why, we lived there once, Balmy. Old folks livin'?"

"Mother is; father's dead."

Bill scratched the back of his head, protruded his under lip, and
reflected.

"I say, Arvie, what did yer father die of?"

"Heart disease. He dropped down dead at his work."

Long, low, intense whistle from Bill. He wrinkled his forehead and
stared up at the beams as if he expected to see something unusual there.
After a while he said, very impressively: "So did mine."

The coincidence hadn't done striking him yet; he wrestled with it for
nearly a minute longer. Then he said:

"I suppose yer mother goes out washin'?"

"Yes."

"'N' cleans offices?"

"Yes."

"So does mine. Any brothers 'n' sisters?"

"Two--one brother 'n' one sister."

Bill looked relieved--for some reason.

"I got nine," he said. "Yours younger'n you?"

"Yes."

"Lot of bother with the landlord?"

"Yes, a good lot."

"Had any bailiffs in yet?"

"Yes, two."

They compared notes a while longer, and tailed off into a silence which
lasted three minutes and grew awkward towards the end.

Bill fidgeted about on the bench, reached round for a chip, but
recollected himself. Then he cocked his eye at the roof once more and
whistled, twirling a shaving round his fingers the while. At last
he tore the shaving in two, jerked it impatiently from him, and said
abruptly:

"Look here, Arvie! I'm sorry I knocked over yer barrer yesterday."

"Thank you."

This knocked Bill out the first round. He rubbed round uneasily on
the bench, fidgeted with the vise, drummed his fingers, whistled, and
finally thrust his hands in his pockets and dropped on his feet.

"Look here, Arvie!" he said in low, hurried tones. "Keep close to me
goin' out to-night, 'n' if any of the other chaps touches yer or says
anything to yer I'll hit 'em!"

Then he swung himself round the corner of a carriage "body" and was
gone.

    .   .   .   .   .

Arvie was late out of the shop that evening. His boss was a
sub-contractor for the coach-painting, and always tried to find twenty
minutes' work for his boys just about five or ten minutes before the
bell rang. He employed boys because they were cheap and he had a lot of
rough work, and they could get under floors and "bogies" with their pots
and brushes, and do all the "priming" and paint the trucks. His name was
Collins, and the boys were called "Collins' Babies". It was a joke
in the shop that he had a "weaning" contract. The boys were all "over
fourteen", of course, because of the Education Act. Some were nine or
ten--wages from five shillings to ten shillings. It didn't matter
to Grinder Brothers so long as the contracts were completed and the
dividends paid. Collins preached in the park every Sunday. But this has
nothing to do with the story.

When Arvie came out it was beginning to rain and the hands had all gone
except Bill, who stood with his back to a verandah-post, spitting with
very fair success at the ragged toe of one boot. He looked up, nodded
carelessly at Arvie, and then made a dive for a passing lorry, on the
end of which he disappeared round the next corner, unsuspected by the
driver, who sat in front with his pipe in his mouth and a bag over his
shoulders.

Arvie started home with his heart and mind pretty full, and a stronger,
stranger aversion to ever going back to the shop again. This new,
unexpected, and unsought-for friendship embarrassed the poor lonely
child. It wasn't welcome.

But he never went back. He got wet going home, and that night he was a
dying child. He had been ill all the time, and Collins was one "baby"
short next day.



The Selector's Daughter



    I.

She rode slowly down the steep siding from the main road to a track in
the bed of the Long Gully, the old grey horse picking his way zig-zag
fashion. She was about seventeen, slight in figure, and had a pretty
freckled face with a pathetically drooping mouth, and big sad brown
eyes. She wore a faded print dress, with an old black riding skirt drawn
over it, and her head was hidden in one of those ugly, old-fashioned
white hoods, which, seen from the rear, always suggest an old woman.
She carried several parcels of groceries strapped to the front of the
dilapidated side-saddle.

The track skirted a chain of rocky waterholes at the foot of the gully,
and the girl glanced nervously at these ghastly, evil-looking pools as
she passed them by. The sun had set, as far as Long Gully was concerned.
The old horse carefully followed a rough bridle track, which ran up the
gully now on one side of the watercourse and now on the other; the gully
grew deeper and darker, and its sullen, scrub-covered sides rose more
steeply as he progressed.

The girl glanced round frequently, as though afraid of someone following
her. Once she drew rein, and listened to some bush sound. "Kangaroos,"
she murmured; it was only kangaroos. She crossed a dimmed little
clearing where a farm had been, and entered a thick scrub of box and
stringy-bark saplings. Suddenly with a heavy thud, thud, an "old man"
kangaroo leapt the path in front, startling the girl fearfully, and went
up the siding towards the peak.

"Oh, my God!" she gasped, with her hand on her heart.

She was very nervous this evening; her heart was hurt now, and she held
her hand close to it, while tears started from her eyes and glistened in
the light of the moon, which was rising over the gap ahead.

"Oh, if I could only go away from the bush!" she moaned.

The old horse plodded on, and now and then shook his head--sadly, it
seemed--as if he knew her troubles and was sorry.

She passed another clearing, and presently came to a small homestead in
a stringy-bark hollow below a great gap in the ridges--"Deadman's
Gap". The place was called "Deadman's Hollow", and looked like it.
The "house"--a low, two-roomed affair, with skillions--was built of
half-round slabs and stringy-bark, and was nearly all roof; the bark,
being darkened from recent rain, gave it a drearier appearance than
usual.

A big, coarse-looking youth of about twenty was nailing a green kangaroo
skin to the slabs; he was out of temper because he had bruised his
thumb. The girl unstrapped the parcels and carried them in; as she
passed her brother, she said:

"Take the saddle off for me, will you, Jack?"

"Oh, carnt yer take it off yerself?" he snarled; "carnt yer see I'm
busy?"

She took off the saddle and bridle, and carried them into a shed, where
she hung them on a beam. The patient old hack shook himself with an
energy that seemed ill-advised, considering his age and condition, and
went off towards the "dam".

An old woman sat in the main room beside a fireplace which took up
almost the entire end of the house. A plank-table, supported on stakes
driven into the ground, stood in the middle of the room, and two slab
benches were fixtures on each side. The floor was clay. All was clean
and poverty-stricken; all that could be whitewashed was white, and
everything that could be washed was scrubbed. The slab shelves were
covered with clean newspapers, on which bright tins, and pannikins, and
fragments of crockery were set to the greatest advantage. The walls,
however, were disfigured by Christmas supplements of illustrated
journals.

The girl came in and sat down wearily on a stool opposite to the old
woman.

"Are you any better, mother?" she asked.

"Very little, Mary, very little. Have you seen your father?"

"No."

"I wonder where he is?"

"You might wonder. What's the use of worrying about it, mother?"

"I suppose he's drinking again."

"Most likely. Worrying yourself to death won't help it!"

The old woman sat and moaned about her troubles, as old women do. She
had plenty to moan about.

"I wonder where your brother Tom is? We haven't heard from him for a
year now. He must be in trouble again; something tells me he must be in
trouble again."

Mary swung her hood off into her lap.

"Why do you worry about it, mother? What's the use?"

"I only wish I knew. I only wish I knew!"

"What good would that do? You know Tom went droving with Fred Dunn, and
Fred will look after him; and, besides, Tom's older now and got more
sense."

"Oh, you don't care--you don't care! You don't feel it, but I'm his
mother, and----"

"Oh, for God's sake, don't start that again, mother; it hurts me more
than you think. I'm his sister; I've suffered enough, God knows! Don't
make matters worse than they are!"

"Here comes father!" shouted one of the children outside, "'n' he's
bringing home a steer."

The old woman sat still, and clasped her hands nervously. Mary tried to
look cheerful, and moved the saucepan on the fire. A big, dark-bearded
man, mounted on a small horse, was seen in the twilight driving a steer
towards the cow-yard. A boy ran to let down the slip-rails.

Presently Mary and her mother heard the clatter of rails let down and
put up again, and a minute later a heavy step like the tread of a horse
was heard outside. The selector lumbered in, threw his hat in a
corner, and sat down by the table. His wife rose and bustled round with
simulated cheerfulness. Presently Mary hazarded--

"Where have you been, father?"

"Somewheers."

There was a wretched silence, lasting until the old woman took courage
to say timidly:

"So you've brought a steer, Wylie?"

"Yes!" he snapped; the tone seemed defiant.

The old woman's hands trembled, so that she dropped a cup. Mary turned a
shade paler.

"Here, git me some tea. Git me some TEA!" shouted Mr. Wylie. "I ain't
agoin' to sit here all night!"

His wife made what haste her nervousness would allow, and they soon sat
down to tea. Jack, the eldest son, was sulky, and his father muttered
something about knocking the sulks out of him with an axe.

"What's annoyed you, Jack?" asked his mother, humbly.

He scowled and made no answer.

The younger children--three boys and a girl--began quarrelling as soon
as they sat down. Wylie yelled at them now and then, and grumbled at the
cooking, and at his wife for not being able to keep the children quiet.
It was: "Marther! you didn't put no sugar in my tea." "Mother, Jimmy's
got my place; make him move." "Mawther! do speak to this Fred." "Oh!
father, this big brute of a Harry's kickin' me!" And so on.


    II.

When the miserable meal was over, Wylie got a rope and a butcher's
knife, and went out to slaughter the steer; but first there was a row,
because he thought--or pretended to think--that somebody had been
using his knife. He lassoed the beast, drew it up to the rails, and
slaughtered it.

Meanwhile, Jack and his next brother took an old gun, let the dogs
loose, and went 'possum shooting.

Presently Wylie came in again, sat down by the fire, and smoked. The
children quarrelled over a boy's book; Mrs. Wylie made weak attempts
to keep the peace, but they took no notice of her. Suddenly her husband
rose with an oath, seized the novel, and threw it behind the fire.

"Git to bed! git to bed!" he roared at the children; "git to bed, or
I'll smash your brains with the axe!"

They got to bed. It was made of saplings and bark, covered with three
bushel-bags full of straw and old pieces of blanket sewn together. The
children quarrelled in bed till their father took off his belt and "went
into" them, according to promise. There was a sudden hush, followed by
a sound like a bird-clapper; then howls; then a peaceful calm fell upon
that happy home.

Wylie went out again, and was absent an hour; on his return he sat by
the fire and smoked sullenly. After a while he snatched the pipe from
his mouth, and looked impatiently at the old woman.

"Oh! for God's sake, git to bed," he snapped, "and don't be asittin'
there like a blarsted funeral! You're enough to give a man the dismals."

Mrs. Wylie gathered up her sewing and retired. Then he said to his
daughter: "You come and hold the candle."

Mary put on her hood and followed her father to the yard. The carcase
lay close to the rails, against which two sheets of bark had been raised
as a break-wind. The beast had been partly skinned, and a portion of
the hide, where a brand might have been, was carefully turned back. Mary
noticed this at once. Her father went on with his work, and occasionally
grumbled at her for not holding the candle right.

"Where did you buy the steer, father?" she asked.

"Ask no questions and hear no lies." Then he added, "Carn't you see it's
a clear skin?"

She had a keen sense of humour, and the idea of a "'clear skin' steer"
would have amused her at any other time. She didn't smile now.

He turned the carcase over; the loose hide fell back, and the light
shone on a distinct brand. White as a sheet went Mary's face, and her
hand trembled so that she nearly let the candle fall.

"What are you adoin' of now?" shouted her father. "Hold the candle,
carn't you? You're worse than the old woman."

"Father! the beast is branded! See!---- What does PB stand for?"

"Poor Beggar, like myself. Hold the candle, carn't you?--and hold your
tongue."

Mary was startled again by hearing the tread of a horse, but it was only
the old grey munching round. Her father finished skinning, and drew the
carcase up to a make-shift "gallows". "Now you can go to bed," he said,
in a gentler tone.

She went to her bedroom--a small, low, slab skillion, built on to the
end of the house--and fell on her knees by the bunk.

"God help me! God help us all!" she cried.

She lay down, but could not sleep. She was nervously ill--nearly mad,
because of the dark, disgraceful cloud of trouble which hung over her
home. Always in trouble--always in trouble. It started long ago, when
her favourite brother Tom ran away. She was little more than a child
then, intensely sensitive; and when she sat in the old bark school she
fancied that the other children were thinking or whispering to each
other, "Her brother's in prison! Mary Wylie's brother's in prison! Tom
Wylie's in gaol!" She was thinking of it still. They were ever with her,
those horrible days and nights of the first shadow of shame. She had the
same horror of evil, the same fearful dread of disgrace that her mother
had. She had been ambitious; she had managed to read much, and had wild
dreams of going to the city and rising above the common level, but that
was all past now.

How could she rise when the cruel hand of disgrace was ever ready to
drag her down at any moment. "Ah, God!" she moaned in her misery, "if
we could only be born without kin--with no one to disgrace us but
ourselves! It's cruel, God, it's cruel to suffer for the crimes of
others!" She was getting selfish in her troubles--like her mother. "I
want to go away from the bush and all I know.... O God, help me to
go away from the bush!" Presently she fell asleep--if sleep it may be
called--and dreamt of sailing away, sailing away far out on the sea
beyond the horizon of her dread. Then came a horrible nightmare, in
which she and all her family were arrested for a terrible crime. She
woke in a fright, and saw a reddish glare on the window. Her father
was poking round some logs where they had been "burning-off". A pungent
odour came through a broken pane and turned her sick. He was burning the
hide.


Wylie did not go to bed that night; he got his breakfast before
daylight, and rode up through the frosty gap while the stars were still
out, carrying a bag of beef in front of him on the grey horse. Mary said
nothing about the previous night. Her mother wondered how much "father"
had given for the steer, and supposed he had gone into town to sell
the hide; the poor soul tried to believe that he had come by the steer
honestly. Mary fried some meat, and tried to eat it for her mother's
sake, but could manage only a few mouthfuls. Mrs. Wylie also seemed
to have lost her appetite. Jack and his brother, who had been out
all night, made a hearty breakfast. Then Jimmy started to peg out the
'possum skins, while Jack went to look for a missing pony. Mary was left
to milk all the cows, and feed the calves and pigs.


Shortly after dinner one of the children ran to the door, and cried:

"Why, mother--here's three mounted troopers comin' up the gully!"

"Oh, my God!" cried the mother, sinking back in her chair and trembling
like a leaf. The children ran and hid in the scrub. Mary stood up,
terribly calm, and waited. The eldest trooper dismounted, came to the
door, glanced suspiciously at the remains of the meal, and abruptly
asked the dreaded question:

"Mrs. Wylie, where's your husband?"

She dropped the tea-cup, from which she had pretended to be drinking
unconcernedly.

"What? Why, what do you want my husband for?" she asked in pitiful
desperation. SHE looked like the guilty party.

"Oh, you know well enough," he sneered impatiently.

Mary rose and faced him. "How dare you talk to my mother like that?" she
cried. "If my poor brother Tom was only here--you--you coward!"

The youngest trooper whispered something to his senior, and then, stung
by a sharp retort, said:

"Well, you needn't be a pig."

His two companions passed through into the spare skillion, where they
found some beef in a cask, and more already salted down under a bag on
the end of a bench; then they went out at the back and had a look at the
cow-yard. The younger trooper lingered behind.

"I'll try and get them up the gully on some excuse," he whispered to
Mary. "You plant the hide before we come back."

"It's too late. Look there!" She pointed through the doorway.

The other two were at the logs where the fire had been; the burning hide
had stuck to the logs in places like glue.

"Wylie's a fool," remarked the old trooper.


    III.

Jack disappeared shortly after his father's arrest on a charge of horse
and cattle-stealing, and Tom, the prodigal, turned up unexpectedly.
He was different from his father and eldest brother. He had an open
good-humoured face, and was very kind-hearted; but was subject to
peculiar fits of insanity, during which he did wild and foolish things
for the mere love of notoriety. He had two natures--one bright and
good, the other sullen and criminal. A taint of madness ran in the
family--came down from drunken and unprincipled fathers of dead
generations; under different conditions, it might have developed into
genius in one or two--in Mary, perhaps.

"Cheer up, old woman!" cried Tom, patting his mother on the back. "We'll
be happy yet. I've been wild and foolish, I know, and gave you some
awful trouble, but that's all done with. I mean to keep steady, and
by-and-bye we'll go away to Sydney or Queensland. Give us a smile,
mother."

He got some "grubbing" to do, and for six months kept the family
in provisions. Then a change came over him. He became moody and
sullen--even brutal. He would sit for hours and grin to himself without
any apparent cause; then he would stay away from home for days together.

"Tom's going wrong again," wailed Mrs. Wylie. "He'll get into trouble
again, I know he will. We are disgraced enough already, God knows."

"You've done your best, mother," said Mary, "and can do no more.
People will pity us; after all, the thing itself is not so bad as the
everlasting dread of it. This will be a lesson for father--he wanted
one--and maybe he'll be a better man." (She knew better than that.) "YOU
did your best, mother."

"Ah, Mary! you don't know what I've gone through these thirty years
in the bush with your father. I've had to go down on my knees and beg
people not to prosecute him--and the same with your brother Tom; and
this is the end of it."

"Better to have let them go, mother; you should have left father when
you found out what sort of a man he was; it would have been better for
all."

"It was my duty to stick by him, child; he was my husband. Your father
was always a bad man, Mary--a bad man; I found it out too late. I could
not tell you a quarter of what I have suffered with him.... I was proud,
Mary; I wanted my children to be better than others.... It's my fault;
it's a judgment.... I wanted to make my children better than others....
I was so proud, Mary."

Mary had a sweetheart, a drover, who was supposed to be in Queensland.
He had promised to marry her, and take her and her mother away when he
returned; at least, she had promised to marry him on that condition. He
had now been absent on his latest trip for nearly six months, and there
was no news from him. She got a copy of a country paper to look for the
"stock passings"; but a startling headline caught her eye:


                IMPUDENT ATTEMPT AT ROBBERY UNDER ARMS.
                                ----
       "A drover known to the police as Frederick Dunn, alias Drew,
                  was arrested last week at----"


She read to the bitter end, and burned the paper. And the shadow of
another trouble, darker and drearier than all the rest, was upon her.

So the little outcast family in Long Gully existed for several months,
seeing no one save a sympathetic old splitter who would come and smoke
his pipe by the fire of nights, and try to convince the old woman that
matters might have been worse, and that she wouldn't worry so much if
she knew the troubles of some of our biggest families, and that things
would come out all right and the lesson would do Wylie good. Also, that
Tom was a different boy altogether, and had more sense than to go
wrong again. "It was nothing," he said, "nothing; they didn't know what
trouble was."

But one day, when Mary and her mother were alone, the troopers came
again.

"Mrs. Wylie, where's your son Tom?" they asked.

She sat still. She didn't even cry, "Oh, my God!"

"Don't be frightened, Mrs. Wylie," said one of the troopers, gently. "It
ain't for much anyway, and maybe Tom'll be able to clear himself."

Mary sank on her knees by her mother's side, crying "Speak to me,
mother. Oh, my God, she's dying! Speak for my sake, mother. Don't die,
mother; it's all a mistake. Don't die and leave me here alone."

But the poor old woman was dead.

    .   .   .   .   .

Wylie came out towards the end of the year, and a few weeks later he
brought home a--another woman.


    IV.

Bob Bentley, general hawker, was camping under some rocks by the main
road, near the foot of Long Gully. His mate was fast asleep under the
tilted trap. Bob stood with his back to the fire, his pipe in his mouth,
and his hands clasped behind him. The fire lit up the undersides of the
branches above; a native bear sat in a fork blinking down at it, while
the moon above him showed every hair on his ears. From among the trees
came the pleasant jingle of hobble-chains, the slow tread of hoofs, and
the "crunch, crunch" at the grass, as the horses moved about and grazed,
now in moonlight, now in the soft shadows. "Old Thunder", a big black
dog of no particular breed, gave a meaning look at his master, and
started up the ridge, followed by several smaller dogs. Soon Bob heard
from the hillside the "hy-yi-hi, whomp, whomp, whomp!" of old Thunder,
and the yop-yop-yopping of the smaller fry--they had tree'd a 'possum.
Bob threw himself on the grass, and pretended to be asleep. There was
a sound as of a sizeable boulder rolling down the hill, and presently
Thunder trotted round the fire to see if his master would come. Bob
snored. The dog looked suspiciously at him, trotted round once or twice,
and as a last resource gave him two great slobbery licks across the
face. Bob got up with a good-natured oath.

"Well, old party," he said to Thunder, "you're a thundering old
nuisance; but I s'pose you won't be satisfied till I come." He got a gun
from the waggonette, loaded it, and started up the ridge; old Thunder
rushing to and fro to show the way--as if the row the other dogs were
making wasn't enough to guide his master.

When Bob returned with the 'possums he was startled to see a woman in
the camp. She was sitting on a log by the fire, with her elbows on her
knees and her face in her hands.

"Why--what the dev--who are you?"

The girl raised a white desperate face to him. It was Mary Wylie.

"My father and--and the woman--they're drinking--they turned me out!
they turned me out."

"Did they now? I'm sorry for that. What can I do for you?... She's mad
sure enough," he thought to himself; "I thought it was a ghost."

"I don't know," she wailed, "I don't know. You're a man, and I'm a
helpless girl. They turned me out! My mother's dead, and my brothers
gone away. Look! Look here!" pointing to a bruise on her forehead. "The
woman did that. My own father stood by and saw it done--said it served
me right! Oh, my God!"

"What woman? Tell me all about it."

"The woman father brought home!... I want to go away from the bush! Oh!
for God's sake take me away from the bush!... Anything! anything!--you
know!--only take me away from the bush!"

Bob and his mate--who had been roused--did their best to soothe her;
but suddenly, without a moment's warning, she sprang to her feet and
scrambled to the top of the rock overhanging the camp. She stood for a
moment in the bright moonlight, gazing intently down the vacant road.

"Here they come!" she cried, pointing down the road. "Here they
come--the troopers! I can see their cap-peaks glistening in
the moonlight!... I'm going away! Mother's gone. I'm going
now!--Good-bye!--Good-bye! I'm going away from the bush!"

Then she ran through the trees towards the foot of Long Gully. Bob and
his mate followed; but, being unacquainted with the locality, they lost
her.

She ran to the edge of a granite cliff on the higher side of the deepest
of the rocky waterholes. There was a heavy splash, and three startled
kangaroos, who had been drinking, leapt back and sped away, like three
grey ghosts, up the ridge towards the moonlit peak.



Mitchell on the "Sex" and Other "Problems"



"I agree with 'T' in last week's 'Bulletin'," said Mitchell, after
cogitating some time over the last drop of tea in his pannikin, held
at various angles, "about what they call the 'Sex Problem'. There's no
problem, really, except Creation, and that's not our affair; we can't
solve it, and we've no right to make a problem out of it for ourselves
to puzzle over, and waste the little time that is given us about. It's
we that make the problems, not Creation. We make 'em, and they only
smother us; they'll smother the world in the end if we don't look
out. Anything that can be argued, for and against, from half a dozen
different points of view--and most things that men argue over can
be--and anything that has been argued about for thousands of years (as
most things have) is worse than profitless; it wastes the world's time
and ours, and often wrecks old mateships. Seems to me the deeper you
read, think, talk, or write about things that end in ism, the less
satisfactory the result; the more likely you are to get bushed and
dissatisfied with the world. And the more you keep on the surface of
plain things, the plainer the sailing--the more comfortable for you and
everybody else. We've always got to come to the surface to breathe, in
the end, in any case; we're meant to live on the surface, and we might
as well stay there and look after it and ourselves for all the good we
do diving down after fish that aren't there, except in our imagination.
And some of 'em are very dead fish, too--the 'Sex Problem', for
instance. When we fall off the surface of the earth it will be time
enough to make a problem out of the fact that we couldn't stick on. I'm
a Federal Pro-trader in this country; I'm a Federalist because I think
Federation is the plain and natural course for Australia, and I'm a
Free-tectionist because I'm in favour of sinking any question, or any
two things, that enlightened people can argue and fight over, and try,
one after the other, for fifty years without being able to come to a
decision about, or prove which is best for the welfare of the country.
It only wastes a young country's time, and keeps it off the right track.
Federation isn't a problem--it's a plain fact--but they make a problem
out of every panel they have to push down in the rotten old boundary
fences."

"Personal interests," suggested Joe.

"Of course. It's personal interest of the wrong sort that makes all the
problems. You can trace the sex problem to people who trade in unhealthy
personal interests. I believe in personal interests of the right
sort--true individualism. If we all looked after ourselves, and our
wives and families--if we have any--in the proper way, the world would
be all right. We waste too much time looking after each other.

"Now, supposing we're travelling and have to get a shed and make a
cheque so's to be able to send a few quid home, as soon as we can, to
the missus, or the old folks, and the next water is twenty miles ahead.
If we sat down and argued over a social problem till doomsday, we
wouldn't get to the tank; we'd die of thirst, and the missus and kids,
or the old folks, would be sold up and turned out into the streets,
and have to fall back on a 'home of hope', or wait their turn at the
Benevolent Asylum with bags for broken victuals. I've seen that, and I
don't want anybody belonging to me to have to do it.

"Reminds me that when a poor, deserted girl goes to a 'home' they don't
make a problem of her--they do their best for her and try to get her
righted. And the priests, too: if there's anything in the sex or any
other problem--anything that hasn't been threshed out--they're the men
that'll know it. I'm not a Catholic, but I know this: that if a girl
that's been left by one--no matter what Church she belongs to--goes to
the priest, they'll work all the points they know (and they know 'em
all) to get her righted, and, if the chap, or his people, won't come up
to the scratch, Father Ryan'll frighten hell out of 'em. I can't say as
much for our own Churches."

"But you're in favour of socialism and democracy?" asked Joe.

"Of course I am. But the world won't do any good arguing over it.
The people will have to get up and walk, and, what's more, stick
together--and I don't think they'll ever do that--it ain't in human
nature. Socialism, or democracy, was all right in this country till
it got fashionable and was made a fad or a problem of. Then it got
smothered pretty quick. And a fad or a problem always breeds a host of
parasites or hangers-on. Why, as soon as I saw the advanced idealist
fools--they're generally the middle-class, shabby-genteel families that
catch Spiritualism and Theosophy and those sort of complaints, at the
end of the epidemic--that catch on at the tail-end of things and think
they've caught something brand, shining, new;--as soon as I saw them,
and the problem spielers and notoriety-hunters of both sexes, beginning
to hang round Australian Unionism, I knew it was doomed. And so it was.
The straight men were disgusted, or driven out. There are women who hang
on for the same reason that a girl will sometimes go into the dock and
swear an innocent man's life away. But as soon as they see that the
cause is dying, they drop it at once, and wait for another. They come
like bloody dingoes round a calf, and only leave the bones. They're
about as democratic as the crows. And the rotten 'sex-problem' sort of
thing is the cause of it all; it poisons weak minds--and strong ones too
sometimes.

"Why, you could make a problem out of Epsom salts. You might argue as to
why human beings want Epsom salts, and try to trace the causes that
led up to it. I don't like the taste of Epsom salts--it's nasty in
the mouth--but when I feel that way I take 'em, and I feel better
afterwards; and that's good enough for me. We might argue that black is
white, and white is black, and neither of 'em is anything, and nothing
is everything; and a woman's a man and a man's a woman, and it's really
the man that has the youngsters, only we imagine it's the woman because
she imagines that she has all the pain and trouble, and the doctor is
under the impression that he's attending to her, not the man, and the
man thinks so too because he imagines he's walking up and down outside,
and slipping into the corner pub now and then for a nip to keep his
courage up, waiting, when it's his wife that's doing that all the time;
we might argue that it's all force of imagination, and that imagination
is an unknown force, and that the unknown is nothing. But, when we've
settled all that to our own satisfaction, how much further ahead are we?
In the end we'll come to the conclusion that we ain't alive, and never
existed, and then we'll leave off bothering, and the world will go on
just the same."

"What about science?" asked Joe.

"Science ain't 'sex problems'; it's facts.... Now, I don't mind
Spiritualism and those sort of things; they might help to break the
monotony, and can't do much harm. But the 'sex problem', as it's written
about to-day, does; it's dangerous and dirty, and it's time to settle it
with a club. Science and education, if left alone, will look after sex
facts.

"You can't get anything out of the 'sex problem', no matter how you
argue. In the old Bible times they had half a dozen wives each, but we
don't know for certain how THEY got on. The Mormons tried it again, and
seemed to get on all right till we interfered. We don't seem to be able
to get on with one wife now--at least, according to the 'sex problem'.
The 'sex problem' troubled the Turks so much that they tried three. Lots
of us try to settle it by knocking round promiscuously, and that leads
to actions for maintenance and breach of promise cases, and all sorts of
trouble. Our blacks settle the 'sex problem' with a club, and so far I
haven't heard any complaints from them.

    .   .   .   .   .

"Take hereditary causes and surrounding circumstances, for instance. In
order to understand or judge a man right, you would need to live under
the same roof with him from childhood, and under the same roofs, or
tents, with his parents, right back to Adam, and then you'd be blocked
for want of more ancestors through which to trace the causes that led
to Abel--I mean Cain--going on as he did. What's the use or sense of it?
You might argue away in any direction for a million miles and a million
years back into the past, but you've got to come back to where you are
if you wish to do any good for yourself, or anyone else.

"Sometimes it takes you a long while to get back to where you
are--sometimes you never do it. Why, when those controversies were
started in the 'Bulletin' about the kangaroos and other things, I
thought I knew something about the bush. Now I'm damned if I'm sure I
could tell a kangaroo from a wombat.

"Trying to find out things is the cause of all the work and trouble in
this world. It was Eve's fault in the first place--or Adam's, rather,
because it might be argued that he should have been master. Some men are
too lazy to be masters in their own homes, and run the show properly;
some are too careless, and some too drunk most of their time, and some
too weak. If Adam and Eve hadn't tried to find out things there'd have
been no toil and trouble in the world to-day; there'd have been no
bloated capitalists, and no horny-handed working men, and no politics,
no freetrade and protection--and no clothes. The woman next door
wouldn't be able to pick holes in your wife's washing on the line. We'd
have been all running about in a big Garden of Eden with nothing on, and
nothing to do except loaf, and make love, and lark, and laugh, and play
practical jokes on each other."

Joe grinned.

"That would have been glorious. Wouldn't it, Joe? There'd have been no
'sex problem' then."



The Master's Mistake



William Spencer stayed away from school that hot day, and "went
swimming". The master wrote a note to William's father, and gave it to
William's brother Joe to carry home.

"You'll give that to your father to-night, Joseph."

"Yes, sir."

Bill waited for Joe near the gap, and walked home with him.

"I s'pose you've got a note for father."

"Yes," said Joe.

"I s'pose you know what's in it?"

"Ye--yes. Oh, why did you stop away, Bill?"

"You don't mean to say that you're dirty mean enough to give it to
father? Hey?"

"I must, Will. I promised the master."

"He needn't never know."

"Oh, yes, he will. He's coming over to our place on Saturday, and he's
sure to ask me to-morrow."

Pause.

"Look here, Joe!" said Bill, "I don't want to get a hiding and go
without supper to-night. I promised to go 'possuming with Johnny
Nowlett, and he's going to give me a fire out of his gun. You can come,
too. I don't want to cop out on it to-night--if I do I'll run away from
home again, so there."

Bill walked on a bit in moody, Joe in troubled, silence.

Bill tried again: he threatened, argued, and pleaded, but Joe was firm.
"The master trusted me, Will," he said.

"Joe," said Bill at last, after a long pause, "I wouldn't do it to you."

Joe was troubled.

"I wouldn't do it to you, Joe."

Joe thought how Bill had stood up and fought for him only last week.

"I'd tear the note in bits; I'd tell a hundred lies; I'd take a dozen
hidings first, Joe--I would."

Joe was greatly troubled. His chest heaved, and the tears came to his
eyes.

"I'd do more than that for you, Joe, and you know it."

Joe knew it. They were crossing the old goldfield now. There was a shaft
close to the path; it had fallen in, funnel-shaped, at the top, but was
still thirty or forty feet deep; some old logs were jammed across about
five feet down. Joe suddenly snatched the note from his pocket and threw
it in. It fluttered to the other side and rested on a piece of the old
timber. Bill saw it, but said nothing, and, seeing their father coming
home from work, they hurried on.

Joe was deep in trouble now. Bill tried to comfort and cheer him, but it
was no use. Bill promised never to run away from home any more, to go
to school every day, and never to fight, or steal, or tell lies. But Joe
had betrayed his trust for the first time in his life, and wouldn't be
comforted.

Some time in the night Bill woke, and found Joe sitting up in bed
crying.

"Why, what's the matter, Joe?"

"I never done a mean thing like that before," sobbed Joe. "I wished I'd
chucked meself down the shaft instead. The master trusted me, Will; an'
now, if he asks me to-morrow, I'll have to tell a lie."

"Then tell the truth, Joe, an' take the hidin'; it'll soon be over--just
a couple of cuts with the cane and it'll be all over."

"Oh, no, it won't. He won't never trust me any more. I've never been
caned in that school yet, Will, and if I am I'll never go again. Oh! why
will you run away from home, Will, and play the wag, and steal, and
get us all into such trouble? You don't know how mother takes on about
it--you don't know how it hurts father! I've deceived the master, and
mother and father to-day, just because you're so--so selfish," and he
laid down and cried himself to sleep.

Bill lay awake and thought till daylight; then he got up quietly, put on
his clothes, and stole away from the house and across the flat, followed
by the dog, who thought it was a 'possum-hunting expedition. Bill wished
the dog would not be quite so demonstrative, at least until they got
away from the house. He went straight to the shaft, let himself down
carefully on to one of the old logs, and stooped to pick up the note,
gleaming white in the sickly summer daylight. Then the rotten timber
gave way suddenly, without a moment's warning.

    .   .   .   .   .

They found him that morning at about nine o'clock. The dog attracted
the attention of an old fossicker passing to his work. The letter was
gripped in Bill's right hand when they brought him up. They took him
home, and the father went for a doctor. Bill came to himself a little
just before the last, and said: "Mother! I wasn't running away,
mother--tell father that--I--I wanted to try and catch a 'possum on the
ground.... Where's Joe? I want Joe. Go out, mother, a minute, and send
Joe."

"Here I am, Bill," said Joe, in a choking, terrified voice.

"Has the master been yet?"

"No."

"Bend down, Joe. I went for the note, and the logs gave way. I meant to
be back before they was up. I dropped it down inside the bed; you watch
your chance and get it; and say you forgot it last night--say you
didn't like to give it--that won't be a lie. Tell the master I'm--I'm
sorry--tell the master never to send no notes no more--except by
girls--that's all.... Mother! Take the blankets off me--I'm dyin'."



The Story of the Oracle



"We young fellows," said "Sympathy Joe" to Mitchell, after tea, in
their first camp west the river--"and you and I ARE young fellows,
comparatively--think we know the world. There are plenty of young chaps
knocking round in this country who reckon they've been through it
all before they're thirty. I've met cynics and men-o'-the-world, aged
twenty-one or thereabouts, who've never been further than a trip to
Sydney. They talk about 'this world' as if they'd knocked around in
half-a-dozen other worlds before they came across here--and they are
just as off-hand about it as older Australians are when they talk about
this colony as compared with the others. They say: 'My oath!--same
here.' 'I've been there.' 'My oath!--you're right.' 'Take it from me!'
and all that sort of thing. They understand women, and have a contempt
for 'em; and chaps that don't talk as they talk, or do as they do, or
see as they see, are either soft or ratty. A good many reckon that 'life
ain't blanky well worth livin''; sometimes they feel so blanky somehow
that they wouldn't give a blank whether they chucked it or not; but
that sort never chuck it. It's mostly the quiet men that do that, and
if they've got any complaints to make against the world they make 'em at
the head station. Why, I've known healthy, single, young fellows
under twenty-five who drank to drown their troubles--some because
they reckoned the world didn't understand nor appreciate 'em--as if it
COULD!"

"If the world don't understand or appreciate you," said Mitchell
solemnly, as he reached for a burning stick to light his pipe--"MAKE
it!"

"To drown THEIR troubles!" continued Joe, in a tone of impatient
contempt. "The Oracle must be well on towards the sixties; he can take
his glass with any man, but you never saw him drunk."

"What's the Oracle to do with it?"

"Did you ever hear his history?"

"No. Do you know it?"

"Yes, though I don't think he has any idea that I do. Now, we were
talking about the Oracle a little while ago. We know he's an old ass;
a good many outsiders consider that he's a bit soft or ratty, and,
as we're likely to be mates together for some time on that fencing
contract, if we get it, you might as well know what sort of a man he is
and was, so's you won't get uneasy about him if he gets deaf for a while
when you're talking, or does funny things with his pipe or pint-pot, or
walks up and down by himself for an hour or so after tea, or sits on a
log with his head in his hands, or leans on the fence in the gloaming
and keeps looking in a blank sort of way, straight ahead, across the
clearing. For he's gazing at something a thousand miles across country,
south-east, and about twenty years back into the past, and no doubt he
sees himself (as a young man), and a Gippsland girl, spooning under the
stars along between the hop-gardens and the Mitchell River. And, if you
get holt of a fiddle or a concertina, don't rasp or swank too much
on old tunes, when he's round, for the Oracle can't stand it. Play
something lively. He'll be down there at that surveyor's camp yarning
till all hours, so we'll have plenty of time for the story--but don't
you ever give him a hint that you know.

"My people knew him well; I got most of the story from them--mostly from
Uncle Bob, who knew him better than any. The rest leaked out through the
women--you know how things leak out amongst women?"

Mitchell dropped his head and scratched the back of it. HE knew.

"It was on the Cudgegong River. My Uncle Bob was mates with him on one
of those 'rushes' along there--the 'Pipeclay', I think it was, or the
'Log Paddock'. The Oracle was a young man then, of course, and so was
Uncle Bob (he was a match for most men). You see the Oracle now, and you
can imagine what he was when he was a young man. Over six feet, and as
straight as a sapling, Uncle Bob said, clean-limbed, and as fresh as
they made men in those days; carried his hands behind him, as he does
now, when he hasn't got the swag--but his shoulders were back in
those days. Of course he wasn't the Oracle then; he was young Tom
Marshall--but that doesn't matter. Everybody liked him--especially women
and children. He was a bit happy-go-lucky and careless, but he didn't
know anything about 'this world', and didn't bother about it; he hadn't
'been there'. 'And his heart was as good as gold,' my aunt used to
say. He didn't understand women as we young fellows do nowadays, and
therefore he hadn't any contempt for 'em. Perhaps he understood, and
understands, them better than any of us, without knowing it. Anyway, you
know, he's always gentle and kind where a woman or child is concerned,
and doesn't like to hear us talk about women as we do sometimes.

"There was a girl on the goldfields--a fine lump of a blonde, and pretty
gay. She came from Sydney, I think, with her people, who kept shanties
on the fields. She had a splendid voice, and used to sing 'Madeline'.
There might have been one or two bad women before that, in the Oracle's
world, but no cold-blooded, designing ones. He calls the bad ones
'unfortunate'.

"Perhaps it was Tom's looks, or his freshness, or his innocence, or
softness--or all together--that attracted her. Anyway, he got mixed up
with her before the goldfield petered out.

"No doubt it took a long while for the facts to work into Tom's head
that a girl might sing like she did and yet be thoroughly unprincipled.
The Oracle was always slow at coming to a decision, but when he does
it's generally the right one. Anyway, you can take that for granted, for
you won't move him.

"I don't know whether he found out that she wasn't all that she
pretented to be to him, or whether they quarrelled, or whether she
chucked him over for a lucky digger. Tom never had any luck on the
goldfields. Anyway, he left and went over to the Victorian side, where
his people were, and went up Gippsland way. It was there for the first
time in his life that he got what you would call 'properly gone on a
girl'; he got hard hit--he met his fate.

"Her name was Bertha Bredt, I remember. Aunt Bob saw her afterwards.
Aunt Bob used to say that she was 'a girl as God made her'--a good,
true, womanly girl--one of those sort of girls that only love once. Tom
got on with her father, who was packing horses through the ranges to the
new goldfields--it was rough country and there were no roads; they had
to pack everything there in those days, and there was money in it. The
girl's father took to Tom--as almost everybody else did--and, as far as
the girl was concerned, I think it was a case of love at first sight.
They only knew each other for about six months, and were only 'courting'
(as they called it then) for three or four months altogether, but she
was that sort of girl that can love a man for six weeks and lose him for
ever, and yet go on loving him to the end of her life--and die with his
name on her lips.

"Well, things were brightening up every way for Tom, and he and his
sweetheart were beginning to talk about their own little home in future,
when there came a letter from the 'Madeline' girl in New South Wales.

"She was in terrible trouble. Her baby was to be born in a month. Her
people had kicked her out, and she was in danger of starving. She begged
and prayed of him to come back and marry her, if only for his child's
sake. He could go then, and be free; she would never trouble him any
more--only come and marry her for the child's sake.

"The Oracle doesn't know where he lost that letter, but I do. It was
burnt afterwards by a woman, who was more than a mother to him in his
trouble--Aunt Bob. She thought he might carry it round with the rest of
his papers, in his swag, for years, and come across it unexpectedly when
he was camped by himself in the bush and feeling dull. It wouldn't have
done him any good then.

"He must have fought the hardest fight in his life when he got that
letter. No doubt he walked to and fro, to and fro, all night, with his
hands behind him, and his eyes on the ground, as he does now sometimes.
Walking up and down helps you to fight a thing out.

"No doubt he thought of things pretty well as he thinks now: the poor
girl's shame on every tongue, and belled round the district by every hag
in the township; and she looked upon by women as being as bad as any
man who ever went to Bathurst in the old days, handcuffed between two
troopers. There is sympathy, a pipe and tobacco, a cheering word, and,
maybe, a whisky now and then, for the criminal on his journey; but
there is no mercy, at least as far as women are concerned, for the
poor foolish girl, who has to sneak out the back way and round by back
streets and lanes after dark, with a cloak on to hide her figure.

"Tom sent what money he thought he could spare, and next day he went to
the girl he loved and who loved him, and told her the truth, and showed
her the letter. She was only a girl--but the sort of girl you COULD go
to in a crisis like that. He had made up his mind to do the right thing,
and she loved him all the more for it. And so they parted.

"When Tom reached 'Pipeclay', the girl's relations, that she was
stopping with, had a parson readied up, and they were married the same
day."

"And what happened after that?" asked Mitchell.

"Nothing happened for three or four months; then the child was born. It
wasn't his!"

Mitchell stood up with an oath.

"The girl was thoroughly bad. She'd been carrying on with God knows how
many men, both before and after she trapped Tom."

"And what did he do then?"

"Well, you know how the Oracle argues over things, and I suppose he was
as big an old fool then as he is now. He thinks that, as most men would
deceive women if they could, when one man gets caught, he's got no call
to squeal about it; he's bound, because of the sins of men in general
against women, to make the best of it. What is one man's wrong counted
against the wrongs of hundreds of unfortunate girls.

"It's an uncommon way of arguing--like most of the Oracle's ideas--but
it seems to look all right at first sight.

"Perhaps he thought she'd go straight; perhaps she convinced him that he
was the cause of her first fall; anyway he stuck to her for more than
a year, and intended to take her away from that place as soon as he'd
scraped enough money together. It might have gone on up till now, if
the father of the child--a big black Irishman named Redmond--hadn't come
sneaking back at the end of a year. He--well, he came hanging round Mrs.
Marshall while Tom was away at work--and she encouraged him. And Tom was
forced to see it.

"Tom wanted to fight out his own battle without interference, but the
chaps wouldn't let him--they reckoned that he'd stand very little show
against Redmond, who was a very rough customer and a fighting man. My
uncle Bob, who was there still, fixed it up this way: The Oracle was
to fight Redmond, and if the Oracle got licked Uncle Bob was to take
Redmond on. If Redmond whipped Uncle Bob, that was to settle it; but if
Uncle Bob thrashed Redmond, then he was also to fight Redmond's
mate, another big, rough Paddy named Duigan. Then the affair would be
finished--no matter which way the last bout went. You see, Uncle Bob was
reckoned more of a match for Redmond than the Oracle was, so the thing
looked fair enough--at first sight.

"Redmond had his mate, Duigan, and one or two others of the rough gang
that used to terrorise the fields round there in the roaring days of
Gulgong. The Oracle had Uncle Bob, of course, and long Dave Regan, the
drover--a good-hearted, sawny kind of chap that'd break the devil's
own buck-jumper, or smash him, or get smashed himself--and little Jimmy
Nowlett, the bullocky, and one or two of the old, better-class diggers
that were left on the field.

"There's a clear space among the saplings in Specimen Gully, where they
used to pitch circuses; and here, in the cool of a summer evening, the
two men stood face to face. Redmond was a rough, roaring, foul-mouthed
man; he stripped to his shirt, and roared like a bull, and swore, and
sneered, and wanted to take the whole of Tom's crowd while he was at it,
and make one clean job of 'em. Couldn't waste time fighting them all one
after the other, because he wanted to get away to the new rush at Cattle
Creek next day. The fool had been drinking shanty-whisky.

"Tom stood up in his clean, white moles and white flannel shirt--one of
those sort with no sleeves, that give the arms play. He had a sort
of set expression and a look in his eyes that Uncle Bob--nor none of
them--had ever seen there before. 'Give us plenty of----room!' roared
Redmond; 'one of us is going to hell, now! This is going to be a fight
to a----finish, and a----short one!' And it was!" Joe paused.

"Go on," said Mitchell--"go on!"

Joe drew a long breath.

"The Oracle never got a mark! He was top-dog right from the start.
Perhaps it was his strength that Redmond had underrated, or his want
of science that puzzled him, or the awful silence of the man that
frightened him (it made even Uncle Bob uneasy). Or, perhaps, it was
Providence (it was a glorious chance for Providence), but, anyway, as
I say, the Oracle never got a mark, except on his knuckles. After a few
rounds Redmond funked and wanted to give in, but the chaps wouldn't let
him--not even his own mates--except Duigan. They made him take it as
long as he could stand on his feet. He even shammed to be knocked out,
and roared out something about having broken his----ankle--but it was
no use. And the Oracle! The chaps that knew thought that he'd refuse to
fight, and never hit a man that had given in. But he did. He just stood
there with that quiet look in his eyes and waited, and, when he did hit,
there wasn't any necessity for Redmond to PRETEND to be knocked down.
You'll see a glint of that old light in the Oracle's eyes even now, once
in a while; and when you do it's a sign that you or someone are going
too far, and had better pull up, for it's a red light on the line, old
as he is.

"Now, Jimmy Nowlett was a nuggety little fellow, hard as cast iron,
good-hearted, but very excitable; and when the bashed Redmond was
being carted off (poor Uncle Bob was always pretty high-strung, and was
sitting on a log sobbing like a great child from the reaction), Duigan
made some sneering remark that only Jimmy Nowlett caught, and in an
instant he was up and at Duigan.

"Perhaps Duigan was demoralised by his mate's defeat, or by the
suddenness of the attack; but, at all events, he got a hiding, too.
Uncle Bob used to say that it was the funniest thing he ever saw in his
life. Jimmy kept yelling: 'Let me get at him! By the Lord, let me get at
him!' And nobody was attempting to stop him, he WAS getting at him all
the time--and properly, too; and, when he'd knocked Duigan down, he'd
dance round him and call on him to get up; and every time he jumped or
bounced, he'd squeak like an india-rubber ball, Uncle Bob said, and he
would nearly burst his boiler trying to lug the big man on to his feet
so's he could knock him down again. It took two of Jimmy's mates all
their time to lam him down into a comparatively reasonable state of mind
after the fight was over.

"The Oracle left for Sydney next day, and Uncle Bob went with him. He
stayed at Uncle Bob's place for some time. He got very quiet, they said,
and gentle; he used to play with the children, and they got mighty fond
of him. The old folks thought his heart was broken, but it went through
a deeper sorrow still after that and it ain't broken yet. It takes a lot
to break the heart of a man."

"And his wife," asked Mitchell--"what became of her?"

"I don't think he ever saw her again. She dropped down pretty low after
he left her--I've heard she's living somewhere quietly. The Oracle's
been sending someone money ever since I knew him, and I know it's a
woman. I suppose it's she. He isn't the sort of a man to see a woman
starve--especially a woman he had ever had anything to do with."

"And the Gippsland girl?" asked Mitchell.

"That's the worst part of it all, I think. The Oracle went up North
somewhere. In the course of a year or two his affair got over Gippsland
way through a mate of his who lived over there, and at last the story
got to the ears of this girl, Bertha Bredt. She must have written a
dozen letters to him, Aunt Bob said. She knew what was in 'em, but, of
course, she'd never tell us. The Oracle only wrote one in reply. Then,
what must the girl do but clear out from home and make her way over to
Sydney--to Aunt Bob's place, looking for Tom. She never got any further.
She took ill--brain-fever, or broken heart, or something of that sort.
All the time she was down her cry was--'I want to see him! I want to
find Tom! I only want to see Tom!'

"When they saw she was dying, Aunt Bob wired to the Oracle to come--and
he came. When the girl saw it was Tom sitting by the bed, she just gave
one long look in his face, put her arms round his neck, and laid her
head on his shoulder--and died.... Here comes the Oracle now."

Mitchell lifted the tea-billy on to the coals.



[End of original text.]



From the original advertisements (March, 1900), books by the same
author:



When the World was Wide & Other Verses

By Henry Lawson, Author of "While the Billy Boils".

  Ninth Thousand.  With photogravure portrait and vignette title.
  Crown 8vo, cloth, gilt top, 5s.; post free, 5s. 5d.


Mr. R. Le Gallienne, in The Idler: "A striking volume of ballad
poetry. A volume to console one for the tantalising postponement of Mr.
Kipling's promised volume of sea ballads."

Weekly Chronicle, Newcastle (Eng.): "Swinging, rhythmic verse."

Sydney Morning Herald: "The verses have natural vigour, the writer has
a rough, true faculty of characterisation, and the book is racy of the
soil from cover to cover."

Melbourne Age: "'In the Days when the World was Wide and Other Verses',
by Henry Lawson, is poetry, and some of it poetry of a very high order."

Otago Witness: "It were well to have such books upon our shelves... they
are true History."

New Zealand Herald: "There is a heart-stirring ring about the verses."

Bulletin: "How graphic he is, how natural, how true, how strong."



While the Billy Boils: Australian Stories.

By Henry Lawson.

Author of "In the Days when the World was Wide".

  Twelfth Thousand.  With eight plates and vignette title by F. P. Mahony.
  Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s. 6d.; paper cover, 2s. 6d. (postage, 6d.)

  Also in two parts (each complete in itself), in picture covers, at 1s.;
  post free, 1s. 3d. each (Commonwealth Series).


The Academy: "A book of honest, direct, sympathetic, humorous writing
about Australia from within is worth a library of travellers' tales. Mr.
Lawson shows us what living in the bush really means. The result is
a real book--a book in a hundred. His language is terse, supple, and
richly idiomatic."

Mr. A. Patchett Martin, in Literature (London): "A book which Mrs.
Campbell Praed, the Australian novelist, assured me made her feel that
all she had written of bush life was pale and ineffective."

The Spectator: "In these days when short, dramatic stories are eagerly
looked for, it is strange that one we would venture to call the greatest
Australian writer should be practically unknown in England. Short
stories, but biting into the very heart of the bushman's life, ruthless
in truth, extraordinarily dramatic, and pathetically uneven...."

The Times: "A collection of short and vigorous studies and stories of
Australian life and character. A little in Bret Harte's manner, crossed,
perhaps, with that of Guy de Maupassant."



[The Announcements at the end of this section give alternate titles
for two of Lawson's works, to wit: "On the Track" is given as such, but
"Over the Sliprails" is given as "By the Sliprails", and the combined
work "On the Track and Over the Sliprails" is given as "By Track and
Sliprails". Of course, only "On the Track" had actually been printed at
the date of the advertisement, so it might be theorized that these had
been working titles, afterwards discarded, whose inclusion here was
overlooked.--A. L., 1998.]



About the author:



Henry Lawson was born near Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia on
17 June 1867. Although he has since become Australia's most acclaimed
writer, in his own lifetime his writing was often "on the side"--his
"real" work being whatever he could find. His writing was frequently
taken from memories of his childhood, especially at Pipeclay/Eurunderee.
In his autobiography, he states that many of his characters were
taken from the better class of diggers and bushmen he knew there.
His experiences at this time deeply influenced his work, for it is
interesting to note a number of descriptions and phrases that are
identical in his autobiography and in his stories and poems. He died at
Sydney, 2 September 1922. He is most famous for his short stories.

"On the Track" and "Over the Sliprails" were both published at Sydney
in 1900, the prefaces being dated March and June respectively--and so,
though printed separately, a combined edition was printed the same
year (the two separate, complete works were simply put together in one
binding); hence they are sometimes referred to as "On the Track and Over
the Sliprails". The opposite occurred with "Joe Wilson and His Mates",
which was later divided into "Joe Wilson" and "Joe Wilson's Mates"
(1901). All of these works are now online, as well as one book of
Lawson's verse, "In the Days When the World was Wide" (1896).

    .   .   .   .   .

An incomplete glossary of Australian terms and concepts which may prove
helpful to understanding this book:

  Billy:  Any container used to boil water, especially for tea; a
  special container designed for this purpose.

  Bunyip:  [pronounced bun-yup]  A large mythological creature, said
  by the Aborigines to inhabit watery places.  There may be some
  relation to an actual creature that is now extinct. Lawson uses an
  obsolete sense of the term, meaning "imposter".

  Gin:  An aboriginal woman; use of the term is analogous to "squaw"
  in N. America.  May be considered derogatory in modern usage.

  Goanna:  Any of various lizards of the genus Varanus (monitor
  lizards) native to Australia.

  Graft:  Work; hard work.

  Gunyah:  (Aboriginal)  A rough or temporary hut or shelter in the
  bush, especially one built from bark, branches, and the like. A
  humpy, wurley, or mia-mia.  Variant:  Gunya.

  Jackeroo/Jackaroo:  At the time Lawson wrote, a Jackaroo was a "new
  chum" or newcomer to Australia, who sought work on a station to gain
  experience. The term now applies to any young man working as a
  station hand. A female station hand is a Jillaroo.

  Jimmy Woodser:  A person who drinks alone; a drink drunk alone.

  Larrikin:  A hoodlum.

  Lorry:  A large, low wagon without sides, used for heavy loads.

  Mia-mia:  (Aboriginal)  A rough or temporary hut or shelter in the
  bush, especially one built from bark, branches, and the like. A
  humpy, wurley, or gunyah.

  Native bear:  A koala.

  Pa:  A Maori village.

  'Possum/Possum:  In Australia, a class of marsupials that were
  originally mistaken for the American animal of the same name. They
  are not especially related to the possums of North and South
  America, other than being marsupials.

  Public/Pub.:  The traditional pub. in Australia was a hotel with a
  "public" bar--hence the name.  The modern pub has often (not
  always) dispensed with the lodging, and concentrated on the bar.

  Push:  A group of people sharing something in common; Lawson uses
  the word in an older and more particular sense, as a gang of violent
  city hoodlums.

  Ratty:  Shabby, dilapidated; somewhat eccentric, perhaps even
  slightly mad.

  Selector:  A free selector, a farmer who selected and settled land
  by lease or license from the government.

  Shout:  To buy a round of drinks.

  Skillion:  A lean-to or outbuilding.

  Sliprails/slip-rails:  movable rails, forming a section of fence,
  which can be taken down in lieu of a gate.  "Over the Sliprails",
  the title of this volume, might be translated as "Through the Gate".

  Squatter:  A person who first settled on land without government
  permission, and later continued by lease or license, generally to
  raise stock; a wealthy rural landowner.

  Station:  A farm or ranch, especially one devoted to cattle or
  sheep.

  Stoush:  Violence; to do violence to.

  Tea:  In addition to the regular meaning, Tea can also mean a light
  snack or a meal (i.e., where Tea is served). In particular, Morning
  Tea (about 10 AM) and Afternoon Tea (about 3 PM) are nothing more
  than a snack, but Evening Tea (about 6 PM) is a meal. When just
  "Tea" is used, it usually means the evening meal. Variant:  Tea-
  time.

  Tucker:  Food.

  Whare:  [pronounced war-ee]  A Maori term for a hut or similar
  dwelling.


  Also:  a hint with the seasons--remember that the seasons are
  reversed from those in the northern hemisphere, hence June may be
  hot, but December is even hotter.  Australia is at a lower latitude
  than the United States, so the winters are not harsh by US
  standards, and are not even mild in the north.  In fact, large parts
  of Australia are governed more by "dry" versus "wet" than by Spring-
  Summer-Fall-Winter.


(Alan R. Light, Monroe, North Carolina, April 1998.)


A number of obvious errors were corrected, after being compared against
other editions. The original edition was the primary source.





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