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Title: Joe Wilson and His Mates
Author: Lawson, Henry
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.

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JOE WILSON AND HIS MATES

by Henry Lawson


Transcriber’s Note: This etext was entered twice (manually) and
electronically compared, by Alan R. Light This method assures a low rate
of errors in the text--often lower than in the original. Special thanks
go to Gary M. Johnson, of Takoma Park, Maryland, for his assistance in
procuring a copy of the original text, and to the readers of
soc.culture.australian and rec.arts.books (USENET newsgroups) for their
help in preparing the glossary. Italicized words or phrases are
capitalized. Some obvious errors may have been corrected.


*****


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


“A house where they took in cards on a tray” (from Joe Wilson’s
Courtship): An upper class house, with servants who would take a
visitor’s card (on a tray) to announce their presence, or, if the family
was out, to keep a record of the visit.

Anniversary Day: Mentioned in the text, is now known as Australia Day.
It commemorates the establishment of the first English settlement in
Australia, at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), on 26 January 1788.

Gin: An obvious abbreviation of “aborigine”, it only refers to *female*
aborigines, and is now considered derogatory. It was not considered
derogatory at the time Lawson wrote.

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. Variant: Jackeroo.

Old-fashioned child: A child that acts old for their age. Americans
would say ‘Precocious’.

‘Possum: In Australia, a class of marsupials that were originally
mistaken for possums. They are not especially related to the possums of
North and South America, other than both 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.

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.

Shout: In addition to the regular meaning, it also refers to buying
drinks for all the members of a group, etc. The use of this term can be
confusing, so the first instance is footnoted in the text.

Sly-grog-shop: An unlicensed bar or liquor-store.

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

Store Bullock: Lawson makes several references to these. A bullock is
a castrated bull. Bullocks were used in Australia for work that was
too heavy for horses. ‘Store’ may refer to those cattle, and their
descendants, brought to Australia by the British government, and sold to
settlers from the ‘Store’--hence, the standard draft animal.

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.

--A. L.



JOE WILSON AND HIS MATES


Author of “While the Billy Boils”, “On the Track and Over the
Sliprails”, “When the World was Wide, and other verses”, “Verses,
Popular and Humorous”, “Children of the Bush”, “When I was King, and
other verses”, etc.



The Author’s Farewell to the Bushmen.



    Some carry their swags in the Great North-West
     Where the bravest battle and die,
    And a few have gone to their last long rest,
     And a few have said “Good-bye!”
     The coast grows dim, and it may be long
     Ere the Gums again I see;
    So I put my soul in a farewell song
     To the chaps who barracked for me.

    Their days are hard at the best of times,
     And their dreams are dreams of care--
    God bless them all for their big soft hearts,
     And the brave, brave grins they wear!
    God keep me straight as a man can go,
     And true as a man may be!
    For the sake of the hearts that were always so,
     Of the men who had faith in me!

    And a ship-side word I would say, you chaps
     Of the blood of the Don’t-give-in!
    The world will call it a boast, perhaps--
     But I’ll win, if a man can win!
    And not for gold nor the world’s applause--
     Though ways to the end they be--
    I’ll win, if a man might win, because
     Of the men who believed in me.



Contents.


     Prefatory Verses--

       The Author’s Farewell to the Bushmen.


             Part I.

     Joe Wilson’s Courtship.
     Brighten’s Sister-In-Law.
     ‘Water Them Geraniums’.
         I.  A Lonely Track.
        II.  ‘Past Carin’’.
     A Double Buggy at Lahey’s Creek.
         I.  Spuds, and a Woman’s Obstinacy.
        II.  Joe Wilson’s Luck.
       III.  The Ghost of Mary’s Sacrifice.
        IV.  The Buggy Comes Home.


             Part II.

     The Golden Graveyard.
     The Chinaman’s Ghost.
     The Loaded Dog.
     Poisonous Jimmy Gets Left.
         I.  Dave Regan’s Yarn.
        II.  Told by One of the Other Drovers.
     The Ghostly Door.
     A Wild Irishman.
     The Babies in the Bush.
     A Bush Dance.
     The Buck-Jumper.
     Jimmy Grimshaw’s Wooing.
     At Dead Dingo.
     Telling Mrs Baker.
     A Hero in Dingo-Scrubs.
     The Little World Left Behind.


     Concluding Verses--
       The Never-Never Country.



Part I.



Joe Wilson’s Courtship.



There are many times in this world when a healthy boy is happy. When he
is put into knickerbockers, for instance, and ‘comes a man to-day,’ as
my little Jim used to say. When they’re cooking something at home that
he likes. When the ‘sandy-blight’ or measles breaks out amongst the
children, or the teacher or his wife falls dangerously ill--or dies, it
doesn’t matter which--‘and there ain’t no school.’ When a boy is naked
and in his natural state for a warm climate like Australia, with three
or four of his schoolmates, under the shade of the creek-oaks in the
bend where there’s a good clear pool with a sandy bottom. When his
father buys him a gun, and he starts out after kangaroos or ‘possums.
When he gets a horse, saddle, and bridle, of his own. When he has his
arm in splints or a stitch in his head--he’s proud then, the proudest
boy in the district.

I wasn’t a healthy-minded, average boy: I reckon I was born for a poet
by mistake, and grew up to be a Bushman, and didn’t know what was the
matter with me--or the world--but that’s got nothing to do with it.

There are times when a man is happy. When he finds out that the girl
loves him. When he’s just married. When he’s a lawful father for the
first time, and everything is going on all right: some men make fools
of themselves then--I know I did. I’m happy to-night because I’m out of
debt and can see clear ahead, and because I haven’t been easy for a long
time.

But I think that the happiest time in a man’s life is when he’s courting
a girl and finds out for sure that she loves him and hasn’t a thought
for any one else. Make the most of your courting days, you young chaps,
and keep them clean, for they’re about the only days when there’s a
chance of poetry and beauty coming into this life. Make the best of them
and you’ll never regret it the longest day you live. They’re the days
that the wife will look back to, anyway, in the brightest of times as
well as in the blackest, and there shouldn’t be anything in those days
that might hurt her when she looks back. Make the most of your courting
days, you young chaps, for they will never come again.

A married man knows all about it--after a while: he sees the woman world
through the eyes of his wife; he knows what an extra moment’s pressure
of the hand means, and, if he has had a hard life, and is inclined to be
cynical, the knowledge does him no good. It leads him into awful messes
sometimes, for a married man, if he’s inclined that way, has three times
the chance with a woman that a single man has--because the married man
knows. He is privileged; he can guess pretty closely what a woman means
when she says something else; he knows just how far he can go; he can go
farther in five minutes towards coming to the point with a woman than an
innocent young man dares go in three weeks. Above all, the married man
is more decided with women; he takes them and things for granted. In
short he is--well, he is a married man. And, when he knows all this, how
much better or happier is he for it? Mark Twain says that he lost all
the beauty of the river when he saw it with a pilot’s eye,--and there
you have it.

But it’s all new to a young chap, provided he hasn’t been a young
blackguard. It’s all wonderful, new, and strange to him. He’s a
different man. He finds that he never knew anything about women. He sees
none of woman’s little ways and tricks in his girl. He is in heaven one
day and down near the other place the next; and that’s the sort of thing
that makes life interesting. He takes his new world for granted. And,
when she says she’ll be his wife----!

Make the most of your courting days, you young chaps, for they’ve got a
lot of influence on your married life afterwards--a lot more than you’d
think. Make the best of them, for they’ll never come any more, unless
we do our courting over again in another world. If we do, I’ll make the
most of mine.

But, looking back, I didn’t do so badly after all. I never told you
about the days I courted Mary. The more I look back the more I come to
think that I made the most of them, and if I had no more to regret in
married life than I have in my courting days, I wouldn’t walk to and fro
in the room, or up and down the yard in the dark sometimes, or lie awake
some nights thinking.... Ah well!

I was between twenty-one and thirty then: birthdays had never been any
use to me, and I’d left off counting them. You don’t take much stock in
birthdays in the Bush. I’d knocked about the country for a few years,
shearing and fencing and droving a little, and wasting my life without
getting anything for it. I drank now and then, and made a fool of
myself. I was reckoned ‘wild’; but I only drank because I felt less
sensitive, and the world seemed a lot saner and better and kinder when
I had a few drinks: I loved my fellow-man then and felt nearer to him.
It’s better to be thought ‘wild’ than to be considered eccentric
or ratty. Now, my old mate, Jack Barnes, drank--as far as I could
see--first because he’d inherited the gambling habit from his father
along with his father’s luck: he’d the habit of being cheated and losing
very bad, and when he lost he drank. Till drink got a hold on him. Jack
was sentimental too, but in a different way. I was sentimental about
other people--more fool I!--whereas Jack was sentimental about himself.
Before he was married, and when he was recovering from a spree, he’d
write rhymes about ‘Only a boy, drunk by the roadside’, and that sort of
thing; and he’d call ‘em poetry, and talk about signing them and sending
them to the ‘Town and Country Journal’. But he generally tore them up
when he got better. The Bush is breeding a race of poets, and I don’t
know what the country will come to in the end.

Well. It was after Jack and I had been out shearing at Beenaway shed in
the Big Scrubs. Jack was living in the little farming town of Solong,
and I was hanging round. Black, the squatter, wanted some fencing done
and a new stable built, or buggy and harness-house, at his place
at Haviland, a few miles out of Solong. Jack and I were good Bush
carpenters, so we took the job to keep us going till something else
turned up. ‘Better than doing nothing,’ said Jack.

‘There’s a nice little girl in service at Black’s,’ he said. ‘She’s more
like an adopted daughter, in fact, than a servant. She’s a real good
little girl, and good-looking into the bargain. I hear that young Black
is sweet on her, but they say she won’t have anything to do with him. I
know a lot of chaps that have tried for her, but they’ve never had any
luck. She’s a regular little dumpling, and I like dumplings. They call
her ‘Possum. You ought to try a bear up in that direction, Joe.’

I was always shy with women--except perhaps some that I should have
fought shy of; but Jack wasn’t--he was afraid of no woman, good, bad, or
indifferent. I haven’t time to explain why, but somehow, whenever a girl
took any notice of me I took it for granted that she was only playing
with me, and felt nasty about it. I made one or two mistakes, but--ah
well!

‘My wife knows little ‘Possum,’ said Jack. ‘I’ll get her to ask her out
to our place and let you know.’

I reckoned that he wouldn’t get me there then, and made a note to be on
the watch for tricks. I had a hopeless little love-story behind me, of
course. I suppose most married men can look back to their lost love; few
marry the first flame. Many a married man looks back and thinks it was
damned lucky that he didn’t get the girl he couldn’t have. Jack had been
my successful rival, only he didn’t know it--I don’t think his wife knew
it either. I used to think her the prettiest and sweetest little girl in
the district.

But Jack was mighty keen on fixing me up with the little girl at
Haviland. He seemed to take it for granted that I was going to fall in
love with her at first sight. He took too many things for granted as far
as I was concerned, and got me into awful tangles sometimes.

‘You let me alone, and I’ll fix you up, Joe,’ he said, as we rode up
to the station. ‘I’ll make it all right with the girl. You’re rather
a good-looking chap. You’ve got the sort of eyes that take with girls,
only you don’t know it; you haven’t got the go. If I had your eyes along
with my other attractions, I’d be in trouble on account of a woman about
once a-week.’

‘For God’s sake shut up, Jack,’ I said.

Do you remember the first glimpse you got of your wife? Perhaps not in
England, where so many couples grow up together from childhood; but it’s
different in Australia, where you may hail from two thousand miles away
from where your wife was born, and yet she may be a countrywoman of
yours, and a countrywoman in ideas and politics too. I remember the
first glimpse I got of Mary.

It was a two-storey brick house with wide balconies and verandahs all
round, and a double row of pines down to the front gate. Parallel at the
back was an old slab-and-shingle place, one room deep and about eight
rooms long, with a row of skillions at the back: the place was used for
kitchen, laundry, servants’ rooms, &c. This was the old homestead before
the new house was built. There was a wide, old-fashioned, brick-floored
verandah in front, with an open end; there was ivy climbing up the
verandah post on one side and a baby-rose on the other, and a grape-vine
near the chimney. We rode up to the end of the verandah, and Jack called
to see if there was any one at home, and Mary came trotting out; so it
was in the frame of vines that I first saw her.

More than once since then I’ve had a fancy to wonder whether the
rose-bush killed the grape-vine or the ivy smothered ‘em both in the
end. I used to have a vague idea of riding that way some day to see. You
do get strange fancies at odd times.

Jack asked her if the boss was in. He did all the talking. I saw a
little girl, rather plump, with a complexion like a New England or Blue
Mountain girl, or a girl from Tasmania or from Gippsland in Victoria.
Red and white girls were very scarce in the Solong district. She had the
biggest and brightest eyes I’d seen round there, dark hazel eyes, as I
found out afterwards, and bright as a ‘possum’s. No wonder they called
her ‘’Possum’. I forgot at once that Mrs Jack Barnes was the prettiest
girl in the district. I felt a sort of comfortable satisfaction in the
fact that I was on horseback: most Bushmen look better on horseback. It
was a black filly, a fresh young thing, and she seemed as shy of girls
as I was myself. I noticed Mary glanced in my direction once or twice
to see if she knew me; but, when she looked, the filly took all my
attention. Mary trotted in to tell old Black he was wanted, and after
Jack had seen him, and arranged to start work next day, we started back
to Solong.

I expected Jack to ask me what I thought of Mary--but he didn’t. He
squinted at me sideways once or twice and didn’t say anything for a long
time, and then he started talking of other things. I began to feel wild
at him. He seemed so damnably satisfied with the way things were going.
He seemed to reckon that I was a gone case now; but, as he didn’t say
so, I had no way of getting at him. I felt sure he’d go home and
tell his wife that Joe Wilson was properly gone on little ‘Possum at
Haviland. That was all Jack’s way.

Next morning we started to work. We were to build the buggy-house at
the back near the end of the old house, but first we had to take down
a rotten old place that might have been the original hut in the Bush
before the old house was built. There was a window in it, opposite the
laundry window in the old place, and the first thing I did was to take
out the sash. I’d noticed Jack yarning with ‘Possum before he started
work. While I was at work at the window he called me round to the other
end of the hut to help him lift a grindstone out of the way; and when
we’d done it, he took the tips of my ear between his fingers and thumb
and stretched it and whispered into it--

‘Don’t hurry with that window, Joe; the strips are hardwood and hard to
get off--you’ll have to take the sash out very carefully so as not to
break the glass.’ Then he stretched my ear a little more and put his
mouth closer--

‘Make a looking-glass of that window, Joe,’ he said.

I was used to Jack, and when I went back to the window I started to
puzzle out what he meant, and presently I saw it by chance.

That window reflected the laundry window: the room was dark inside and
there was a good clear reflection; and presently I saw Mary come to the
laundry window and stand with her hands behind her back, thoughtfully
watching me. The laundry window had an old-fashioned hinged sash, and I
like that sort of window--there’s more romance about it, I think. There
was thick dark-green ivy all round the window, and Mary looked prettier
than a picture. I squared up my shoulders and put my heels together and
put as much style as I could into the work. I couldn’t have turned round
to save my life.

Presently Jack came round, and Mary disappeared.

‘Well?’ he whispered.

‘You’re a fool, Jack,’ I said. ‘She’s only interested in the old house
being pulled down.’

‘That’s all right,’ he said. ‘I’ve been keeping an eye on the business
round the corner, and she ain’t interested when I’M round this end.’

‘You seem mighty interested in the business,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ said Jack. ‘This sort of thing just suits a man of my rank in
times of peace.’

‘What made you think of the window?’ I asked.

‘Oh, that’s as simple as striking matches. I’m up to all those dodges.
Why, where there wasn’t a window, I’ve fixed up a piece of looking-glass
to see if a girl was taking any notice of me when she thought I wasn’t
looking.’

He went away, and presently Mary was at the window again, and this
time she had a tray with cups of tea and a plate of cake and
bread-and-butter. I was prizing off the strips that held the sash,
very carefully, and my heart suddenly commenced to gallop, without any
reference to me. I’d never felt like that before, except once or
twice. It was just as if I’d swallowed some clockwork arrangement,
unconsciously, and it had started to go, without warning. I reckon it
was all on account of that blarsted Jack working me up. He had a
quiet way of working you up to a thing, that made you want to hit him
sometimes--after you’d made an ass of yourself.

I didn’t hear Mary at first. I hoped Jack would come round and help me
out of the fix, but he didn’t.

‘Mr--Mr Wilson!’ said Mary. She had a sweet voice.

I turned round.

‘I thought you and Mr Barnes might like a cup of tea.’

‘Oh, thank you!’ I said, and I made a dive for the window, as if hurry
would help it. I trod on an old cask-hoop; it sprang up and dinted my
shin and I stumbled--and that didn’t help matters much.

‘Oh! did you hurt yourself, Mr Wilson?’ cried Mary.

‘Hurt myself! Oh no, not at all, thank you,’ I blurted out. ‘It takes
more than that to hurt me.’

I was about the reddest shy lanky fool of a Bushman that was ever taken
at a disadvantage on foot, and when I took the tray my hands shook so
that a lot of the tea was spilt into the saucers. I embarrassed her too,
like the damned fool I was, till she must have been as red as I was, and
it’s a wonder we didn’t spill the whole lot between us. I got away
from the window in as much of a hurry as if Jack had cut his leg with a
chisel and fainted, and I was running with whisky for him. I blundered
round to where he was, feeling like a man feels when he’s just made an
ass of himself in public. The memory of that sort of thing hurts you
worse and makes you jerk your head more impatiently than the thought of
a past crime would, I think.

I pulled myself together when I got to where Jack was.

‘Here, Jack!’ I said. ‘I’ve struck something all right; here’s some tea
and brownie--we’ll hang out here all right.’

Jack took a cup of tea and a piece of cake and sat down to enjoy it,
just as if he’d paid for it and ordered it to be sent out about that
time.

He was silent for a while, with the sort of silence that always made me
wild at him. Presently he said, as if he’d just thought of it--

‘That’s a very pretty little girl, ‘Possum, isn’t she, Joe? Do you
notice how she dresses?--always fresh and trim. But she’s got on her
best bib-and-tucker to-day, and a pinafore with frills to it. And it’s
ironing-day, too. It can’t be on your account. If it was Saturday or
Sunday afternoon, or some holiday, I could understand it. But perhaps
one of her admirers is going to take her to the church bazaar in Solong
to-night. That’s what it is.’

He gave me time to think over that.

‘But yet she seems interested in you, Joe,’ he said. ‘Why didn’t you
offer to take her to the bazaar instead of letting another chap get in
ahead of you? You miss all your chances, Joe.’

Then a thought struck me. I ought to have known Jack well enough to have
thought of it before.

‘Look here, Jack,’ I said. ‘What have you been saying to that girl about
me?’

‘Oh, not much,’ said Jack. ‘There isn’t much to say about you.’

‘What did you tell her?’

‘Oh, nothing in particular. She’d heard all about you before.’

‘She hadn’t heard much good, I suppose,’ I said.

‘Well, that’s true, as far as I could make out. But you’ve only got
yourself to blame. I didn’t have the breeding and rearing of you. I
smoothed over matters with her as much as I could.’

‘What did you tell her?’ I said. ‘That’s what I want to know.’

‘Well, to tell the truth, I didn’t tell her anything much. I only
answered questions.’

‘And what questions did she ask?’

‘Well, in the first place, she asked if your name wasn’t Joe Wilson; and
I said it was, as far as I knew. Then she said she heard that you wrote
poetry, and I had to admit that that was true.’

‘Look here, Jack,’ I said, ‘I’ve two minds to punch your head.’

‘And she asked me if it was true that you were wild,’ said Jack, ‘and I
said you was, a bit. She said it seemed a pity. She asked me if it was
true that you drank, and I drew a long face and said that I was sorry
to say it was true. She asked me if you had any friends, and I said none
that I knew of, except me. I said that you’d lost all your friends; they
stuck to you as long as they could, but they had to give you best, one
after the other.’

‘What next?’

‘She asked me if you were delicate, and I said no, you were as tough as
fencing-wire. She said you looked rather pale and thin, and asked me if
you’d had an illness lately. And I said no--it was all on account of
the wild, dissipated life you’d led. She said it was a pity you hadn’t
a mother or a sister to look after you--it was a pity that something
couldn’t be done for you, and I said it was, but I was afraid that
nothing could be done. I told her that I was doing all I could to keep
you straight.’

I knew enough of Jack to know that most of this was true. And so she
only pitied me after all. I felt as if I’d been courting her for six
months and she’d thrown me over--but I didn’t know anything about women
yet.

‘Did you tell her I was in jail?’ I growled.

‘No, by Gum! I forgot that. But never mind I’ll fix that up all right.
I’ll tell her that you got two years’ hard for horse-stealing. That
ought to make her interested in you, if she isn’t already.’

We smoked a while.

‘And was that all she said?’ I asked.

‘Who?--Oh! ‘Possum,’ said Jack rousing himself. ‘Well--no; let me
think---- We got chatting of other things--you know a married man’s
privileged, and can say a lot more to a girl than a single man can. I
got talking nonsense about sweethearts, and one thing led to another
till at last she said, “I suppose Mr Wilson’s got a sweetheart, Mr
Barnes?”’

‘And what did you say?’ I growled.

‘Oh, I told her that you were a holy terror amongst the girls,’ said
Jack. ‘You’d better take back that tray, Joe, and let us get to work.’

I wouldn’t take back the tray--but that didn’t mend matters, for Jack
took it back himself.

I didn’t see Mary’s reflection in the window again, so I took the window
out. I reckoned that she was just a big-hearted, impulsive little thing,
as many Australian girls are, and I reckoned that I was a fool for
thinking for a moment that she might give me a second thought, except
by way of kindness. Why! young Black and half a dozen better men than me
were sweet on her, and young Black was to get his father’s station and
the money--or rather his mother’s money, for she held the stuff (she
kept it close too, by all accounts). Young Black was away at the time,
and his mother was dead against him about Mary, but that didn’t make
any difference, as far as I could see. I reckoned that it was only
just going to be a hopeless, heart-breaking, stand-far-off-and-worship
affair, as far as I was concerned--like my first love affair, that I
haven’t told you about yet. I was tired of being pitied by good girls.
You see, I didn’t know women then. If I had known, I think I might have
made more than one mess of my life.

Jack rode home to Solong every night. I was staying at a pub some
distance out of town, between Solong and Haviland. There were three or
four wet days, and we didn’t get on with the work. I fought shy of Mary
till one day she was hanging out clothes and the line broke. It was the
old-style sixpenny clothes-line. The clothes were all down, but it was
clean grass, so it didn’t matter much. I looked at Jack.

‘Go and help her, you capital Idiot!’ he said, and I made the plunge.

‘Oh, thank you, Mr Wilson!’ said Mary, when I came to help. She had the
broken end of the line and was trying to hold some of the clothes off
the ground, as if she could pull it an inch with the heavy wet sheets
and table-cloths and things on it, or as if it would do any good if she
did. But that’s the way with women--especially little women--some of ‘em
would try to pull a store bullock if they got the end of the rope on
the right side of the fence. I took the line from Mary, and accidentally
touched her soft, plump little hand as I did so: it sent a thrill right
through me. She seemed a lot cooler than I was.

Now, in cases like this, especially if you lose your head a bit, you get
hold of the loose end of the rope that’s hanging from the post with one
hand, and the end of the line with the clothes on with the other, and
try to pull ‘em far enough together to make a knot. And that’s about
all you do for the present, except look like a fool. Then I took off
the post end, spliced the line, took it over the fork, and pulled, while
Mary helped me with the prop. I thought Jack might have come and taken
the prop from her, but he didn’t; he just went on with his work as if
nothing was happening inside the horizon.

She’d got the line about two-thirds full of clothes, it was a bit short
now, so she had to jump and catch it with one hand and hold it down
while she pegged a sheet she’d thrown over. I’d made the plunge now,
so I volunteered to help her. I held down the line while she threw
the things over and pegged out. As we got near the post and higher I
straightened out some ends and pegged myself. Bushmen are handy at most
things. We laughed, and now and again Mary would say, ‘No, that’s not
the way, Mr Wilson; that’s not right; the sheet isn’t far enough over;
wait till I fix it,’ &c. I’d a reckless idea once of holding her up
while she pegged, and I was glad afterwards that I hadn’t made such a
fool of myself.

‘There’s only a few more things in the basket, Miss Brand,’ I said. ‘You
can’t reach--I’ll fix ‘em up.’

She seemed to give a little gasp.

‘Oh, those things are not ready yet,’ she said, ‘they’re not rinsed,’
and she grabbed the basket and held it away from me. The things looked
the same to me as the rest on the line; they looked rinsed enough and
blued too. I reckoned that she didn’t want me to take the trouble, or
thought that I mightn’t like to be seen hanging out clothes, and was
only doing it out of kindness.

‘Oh, it’s no trouble,’ I said, ‘let me hang ‘em out. I like it. I’ve
hung out clothes at home on a windy day,’ and I made a reach into the
basket. But she flushed red, with temper I thought, and snatched the
basket away.

‘Excuse me, Mr Wilson,’ she said, ‘but those things are not ready yet!’
and she marched into the wash-house.

‘Ah well! you’ve got a little temper of your own,’ I thought to myself.

When I told Jack, he said that I’d made another fool of myself. He said
I’d both disappointed and offended her. He said that my line was to
stand off a bit and be serious and melancholy in the background.

That evening when we’d started home, we stopped some time yarning with
a chap we met at the gate; and I happened to look back, and saw Mary
hanging out the rest of the things--she thought that we were out of
sight. Then I understood why those things weren’t ready while we were
round.

For the next day or two Mary didn’t take the slightest notice of me,
and I kept out of her way. Jack said I’d disillusioned her--and hurt her
dignity--which was a thousand times worse. He said I’d spoilt the thing
altogether. He said that she’d got an idea that I was shy and poetic,
and I’d only shown myself the usual sort of Bush-whacker.

I noticed her talking and chatting with other fellows once or twice, and
it made me miserable. I got drunk two evenings running, and then, as it
appeared afterwards, Mary consulted Jack, and at last she said to him,
when we were together--

‘Do you play draughts, Mr Barnes?’

‘No,’ said Jack.

‘Do you, Mr Wilson?’ she asked, suddenly turning her big, bright eyes on
me, and speaking to me for the first time since last washing-day.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I do a little.’ Then there was a silence, and I had to
say something else.

‘Do you play draughts, Miss Brand?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but I can’t get any one to play with me here of an
evening, the men are generally playing cards or reading.’ Then she said,
‘It’s very dull these long winter evenings when you’ve got nothing to
do. Young Mr Black used to play draughts, but he’s away.’

I saw Jack winking at me urgently.

‘I’ll play a game with you, if you like,’ I said, ‘but I ain’t much of a
player.’

‘Oh, thank you, Mr Wilson! When shall you have an evening to spare?’

We fixed it for that same evening. We got chummy over the draughts. I
had a suspicion even then that it was a put-up job to keep me away from
the pub.

Perhaps she found a way of giving a hint to old Black without committing
herself. Women have ways--or perhaps Jack did it. Anyway, next day the
Boss came round and said to me--

‘Look here, Joe, you’ve got no occasion to stay at the pub. Bring along
your blankets and camp in one of the spare rooms of the old house. You
can have your tucker here.’

He was a good sort, was Black the squatter: a squatter of the old
school, who’d shared the early hardships with his men, and couldn’t see
why he should not shake hands and have a smoke and a yarn over old times
with any of his old station hands that happened to come along. But he’d
married an Englishwoman after the hardships were over, and she’d never
got any Australian notions.

Next day I found one of the skillion rooms scrubbed out and a bed fixed
up for me. I’m not sure to this day who did it, but I supposed that
good-natured old Black had given one of the women a hint. After tea
I had a yarn with Mary, sitting on a log of the wood-heap. I don’t
remember exactly how we both came to be there, or who sat down
first. There was about two feet between us. We got very chummy and
confidential. She told me about her childhood and her father.

He’d been an old mate of Black’s, a younger son of a well-to-do English
family (with blue blood in it, I believe), and sent out to Australia
with a thousand pounds to make his way, as many younger sons are, with
more or less. They think they’re hard done by; they blue their thousand
pounds in Melbourne or Sydney, and they don’t make any more nowadays,
for the Roarin’ Days have been dead these thirty years. I wish I’d had a
thousand pounds to start on!

Mary’s mother was the daughter of a German immigrant, who selected
up there in the old days. She had a will of her own as far as I could
understand, and bossed the home till the day of her death. Mary’s
father made money, and lost it, and drank--and died. Mary remembered
him sitting on the verandah one evening with his hand on her head, and
singing a German song (the ‘Lorelei’, I think it was) softly, as if to
himself. Next day he stayed in bed, and the children were kept out of
the room; and, when he died, the children were adopted round (there was
a little money coming from England).

Mary told me all about her girlhood. She went first to live with a sort
of cousin in town, in a house where they took in cards on a tray, and
then she came to live with Mrs Black, who took a fancy to her at first.
I’d had no boyhood to speak of, so I gave her some of my ideas of what
the world ought to be, and she seemed interested.

Next day there were sheets on my bed, and I felt pretty cocky until
I remembered that I’d told her I had no one to care for me; then I
suspected pity again.

But next evening we remembered that both our fathers and mothers were
dead, and discovered that we had no friends except Jack and old Black,
and things went on very satisfactorily.

And next day there was a little table in my room with a crocheted cover
and a looking-glass.

I noticed the other girls began to act mysterious and giggle when I was
round, but Mary didn’t seem aware of it.

We got very chummy. Mary wasn’t comfortable at Haviland. Old Black
was very fond of her and always took her part, but she wanted to be
independent. She had a great idea of going to Sydney and getting into
the hospital as a nurse. She had friends in Sydney, but she had no
money. There was a little money coming to her when she was twenty-one--a
few pounds--and she was going to try and get it before that time.

‘Look here, Miss Brand,’ I said, after we’d watched the moon rise. ‘I’ll
lend you the money. I’ve got plenty--more than I know what to do with.’

But I saw I’d hurt her. She sat up very straight for a while, looking
before her; then she said it was time to go in, and said ‘Good-night, Mr
Wilson.’

I reckoned I’d done it that time; but Mary told me afterwards that she
was only hurt because it struck her that what she said about money might
have been taken for a hint. She didn’t understand me yet, and I didn’t
know human nature. I didn’t say anything to Jack--in fact about this
time I left off telling him about things. He didn’t seem hurt; he worked
hard and seemed happy.

I really meant what I said to Mary about the money. It was pure good
nature. I’d be a happier man now, I think, and richer man perhaps, if
I’d never grown any more selfish than I was that night on the wood-heap
with Mary. I felt a great sympathy for her--but I got to love her. I
went through all the ups and downs of it. One day I was having tea in
the kitchen, and Mary and another girl, named Sarah, reached me a clean
plate at the same time: I took Sarah’s plate because she was first, and
Mary seemed very nasty about it, and that gave me great hopes. But all
next evening she played draughts with a drover that she’d chummed up
with. I pretended to be interested in Sarah’s talk, but it didn’t seem
to work.

A few days later a Sydney Jackaroo visited the station. He had a good
pea-rifle, and one afternoon he started to teach Mary to shoot at a
target. They seemed to get very chummy. I had a nice time for three or
four days, I can tell you. I was worse than a wall-eyed bullock with
the pleuro. The other chaps had a shot out of the rifle. Mary called ‘Mr
Wilson’ to have a shot, and I made a worse fool of myself by sulking. If
it hadn’t been a blooming Jackaroo I wouldn’t have minded so much.

Next evening the Jackaroo and one or two other chaps and the girls went
out ‘possum-shooting. Mary went. I could have gone, but I didn’t. I
mooched round all the evening like an orphan bandicoot on a burnt ridge,
and then I went up to the pub and filled myself with beer, and damned
the world, and came home and went to bed. I think that evening was
the only time I ever wrote poetry down on a piece of paper. I got so
miserable that I enjoyed it.

I felt better next morning, and reckoned I was cured. I ran against Mary
accidentally and had to say something.

‘How did you enjoy yourself yesterday evening, Miss Brand?’ I asked.

‘Oh, very well, thank you, Mr Wilson,’ she said. Then she asked, ‘How
did you enjoy yourself, Mr Wilson?’

I puzzled over that afterwards, but couldn’t make anything out of it.
Perhaps she only said it for the sake of saying something. But about
this time my handkerchiefs and collars disappeared from the room and
turned up washed and ironed and laid tidily on my table. I used to keep
an eye out, but could never catch anybody near my room. I straightened
up, and kept my room a bit tidy, and when my handkerchief got too dirty,
and I was ashamed of letting it go to the wash, I’d slip down to the
river after dark and wash it out, and dry it next day, and rub it up to
look as if it hadn’t been washed, and leave it on my table. I felt
so full of hope and joy that I worked twice as hard as Jack, till one
morning he remarked casually--

‘I see you’ve made a new mash, Joe. I saw the half-caste cook tidying
up your room this morning and taking your collars and things to the
wash-house.’

I felt very much off colour all the rest of the day, and I had such
a bad night of it that I made up my mind next morning to look the
hopelessness square in the face and live the thing down.


It was the evening before Anniversary Day. Jack and I had put in a good
day’s work to get the job finished, and Jack was having a smoke and a
yarn with the chaps before he started home. We sat on an old log along
by the fence at the back of the house. There was Jimmy Nowlett the
bullock-driver, and long Dave Regan the drover, and big Jim Bullock the
fencer, and one or two others. Mary and the station girls and one or
two visitors were sitting under the old verandah. The Jackaroo was
there too, so I felt happy. It was the girls who used to bring the chaps
hanging round. They were getting up a dance party for Anniversary night.
Along in the evening another chap came riding up to the station: he was
a big shearer, a dark, handsome fellow, who looked like a gipsy: it was
reckoned that there was foreign blood in him. He went by the name of
Romany. He was supposed to be shook after Mary too. He had the nastiest
temper and the best violin in the district, and the chaps put up with
him a lot because they wanted him to play at Bush dances. The moon had
risen over Pine Ridge, but it was dusky where we were. We saw Romany
loom up, riding in from the gate; he rode round the end of the
coach-house and across towards where we were--I suppose he was going to
tie up his horse at the fence; but about half-way across the grass he
disappeared. It struck me that there was something peculiar about the
way he got down, and I heard a sound like a horse stumbling.

‘What the hell’s Romany trying to do?’ said Jimmy Nowlett. ‘He couldn’t
have fell off his horse--or else he’s drunk.’

A couple of chaps got up and went to see. Then there was that waiting,
mysterious silence that comes when something happens in the dark and
nobody knows what it is. I went over, and the thing dawned on me. I’d
stretched a wire clothes-line across there during the day, and had
forgotten all about it for the moment. Romany had no idea of the line,
and, as he rode up, it caught him on a level with his elbows and scraped
him off his horse. He was sitting on the grass, swearing in a surprised
voice, and the horse looked surprised too. Romany wasn’t hurt, but the
sudden shock had spoilt his temper. He wanted to know who’d put up that
bloody line. He came over and sat on the log. The chaps smoked a while.

‘What did you git down so sudden for, Romany?’ asked Jim Bullock
presently. ‘Did you hurt yerself on the pommel?’

‘Why didn’t you ask the horse to go round?’ asked Dave Regan.

‘I’d only like to know who put up that bleeding wire!’ growled Romany.

‘Well,’ said Jimmy Nowlett, ‘if we’d put up a sign to beware of the line
you couldn’t have seen it in the dark.’

‘Unless it was a transparency with a candle behind it,’ said Dave Regan.
‘But why didn’t you get down on one end, Romany, instead of all along?
It wouldn’t have jolted yer so much.’

All this with the Bush drawl, and between the puffs of their pipes.
But I didn’t take any interest in it. I was brooding over Mary and the
Jackaroo.

‘I’ve heard of men getting down over their horse’s head,’ said
Dave presently, in a reflective sort of way--‘in fact I’ve done it
myself--but I never saw a man get off backwards over his horse’s rump.’

But they saw that Romany was getting nasty, and they wanted him to play
the fiddle next night, so they dropped it.

Mary was singing an old song. I always thought she had a sweet voice,
and I’d have enjoyed it if that damned Jackaroo hadn’t been listening
too. We listened in silence until she’d finished.

‘That gal’s got a nice voice,’ said Jimmy Nowlett.

‘Nice voice!’ snarled Romany, who’d been waiting for a chance to be
nasty. ‘Why, I’ve heard a tom-cat sing better.’

I moved, and Jack, he was sitting next me, nudged me to keep quiet. The
chaps didn’t like Romany’s talk about ‘Possum at all. They were all fond
of her: she wasn’t a pet or a tomboy, for she wasn’t built that way,
but they were fond of her in such a way that they didn’t like to hear
anything said about her. They said nothing for a while, but it meant a
lot. Perhaps the single men didn’t care to speak for fear that it would
be said that they were gone on Mary. But presently Jimmy Nowlett gave a
big puff at his pipe and spoke--

‘I suppose you got bit too in that quarter, Romany?’

‘Oh, she tried it on, but it didn’t go,’ said Romany. ‘I’ve met her sort
before. She’s setting her cap at that Jackaroo now. Some girls will run
after anything with trousers on,’ and he stood up.

Jack Barnes must have felt what was coming, for he grabbed my arm, and
whispered, ‘Sit still, Joe, damn you! He’s too good for you!’ but I was
on my feet and facing Romany as if a giant hand had reached down and
wrenched me off the log and set me there.

‘You’re a damned crawler, Romany!’ I said.

Little Jimmy Nowlett was between us and the other fellows round us
before a blow got home. ‘Hold on, you damned fools!’ they said. ‘Keep
quiet till we get away from the house!’ There was a little clear flat
down by the river and plenty of light there, so we decided to go down
there and have it out.

Now I never was a fighting man; I’d never learnt to use my hands. I
scarcely knew how to put them up. Jack often wanted to teach me, but I
wouldn’t bother about it. He’d say, ‘You’ll get into a fight some day,
Joe, or out of one, and shame me;’ but I hadn’t the patience to learn.
He’d wanted me to take lessons at the station after work, but he used to
get excited, and I didn’t want Mary to see him knocking me about. Before
he was married Jack was always getting into fights--he generally tackled
a better man and got a hiding; but he didn’t seem to care so long as
he made a good show--though he used to explain the thing away from a
scientific point of view for weeks after. To tell the truth, I had a
horror of fighting; I had a horror of being marked about the face; I
think I’d sooner stand off and fight a man with revolvers than fight him
with fists; and then I think I would say, last thing, ‘Don’t shoot me
in the face!’ Then again I hated the idea of hitting a man. It seemed
brutal to me. I was too sensitive and sentimental, and that was what
the matter was. Jack seemed very serious on it as we walked down to the
river, and he couldn’t help hanging out blue lights.

‘Why didn’t you let me teach you to use your hands?’ he said. ‘The
only chance now is that Romany can’t fight after all. If you’d waited
a minute I’d have been at him.’ We were a bit behind the rest, and Jack
started giving me points about lefts and rights, and ‘half-arms’, and
that sort of thing. ‘He’s left-handed, and that’s the worst of it,’ said
Jack. ‘You must only make as good a show as you can, and one of us will
take him on afterwards.’

But I just heard him and that was all. It was to be my first fight since
I was a boy, but, somehow, I felt cool about it--sort of dulled. If the
chaps had known all they would have set me down as a cur. I thought of
that, but it didn’t make any difference with me then; I knew it was a
thing they couldn’t understand. I knew I was reckoned pretty soft. But
I knew one thing that they didn’t know. I knew that it was going to be
a fight to a finish, one way or the other. I had more brains and
imagination than the rest put together, and I suppose that that was the
real cause of most of my trouble. I kept saying to myself, ‘You’ll have
to go through with it now, Joe, old man! It’s the turning-point of your
life.’ If I won the fight, I’d set to work and win Mary; if I lost, I’d
leave the district for ever. A man thinks a lot in a flash sometimes; I
used to get excited over little things, because of the very paltriness
of them, but I was mostly cool in a crisis--Jack was the reverse. I
looked ahead: I wouldn’t be able to marry a girl who could look back and
remember when her husband was beaten by another man--no matter what sort
of brute the other man was.

I never in my life felt so cool about a thing. Jack kept whispering
instructions, and showing with his hands, up to the last moment, but it
was all lost on me.

Looking back, I think there was a bit of romance about it: Mary singing
under the vines to amuse a Jackaroo dude, and a coward going down to the
river in the moonlight to fight for her.

It was very quiet in the little moonlit flat by the river. We took off
our coats and were ready. There was no swearing or barracking. It seemed
an understood thing with the men that if I went out first round Jack
would fight Romany; and if Jack knocked him out somebody else would
fight Jack to square matters. Jim Bullock wouldn’t mind obliging for
one; he was a mate of Jack’s, but he didn’t mind who he fought so long
as it was for the sake of fair play--or ‘peace and quietness’, as he
said. Jim was very good-natured. He backed Romany, and of course Jack
backed me.

As far as I could see, all Romany knew about fighting was to jerk one
arm up in front of his face and duck his head by way of a feint, and
then rush and lunge out. But he had the weight and strength and length
of reach, and my first lesson was a very short one. I went down early
in the round. But it did me good; the blow and the look I’d seen
in Romany’s eyes knocked all the sentiment out of me. Jack said
nothing,--he seemed to regard it as a hopeless job from the first.
Next round I tried to remember some things Jack had told me, and made a
better show, but I went down in the end.

I felt Jack breathing quick and trembling as he lifted me up.

‘How are you, Joe?’ he whispered.

‘I’m all right,’ I said.

‘It’s all right,’ whispered Jack in a voice as if I was going to be
hanged, but it would soon be all over. ‘He can’t use his hands much more
than you can--take your time, Joe--try to remember something I told you,
for God’s sake!’

When two men fight who don’t know how to use their hands, they stand a
show of knocking each other about a lot. I got some awful thumps,
but mostly on the body. Jimmy Nowlett began to get excited and jump
round--he was an excitable little fellow.

‘Fight! you----!’ he yelled. ‘Why don’t you fight? That ain’t fightin’.
Fight, and don’t try to murder each other. Use your crimson hands or, by
God, I’ll chip you! Fight, or I’ll blanky well bullock-whip the pair of
you;’ then his language got awful. They said we went like windmills, and
that nearly every one of the blows we made was enough to kill a bullock
if it had got home. Jimmy stopped us once, but they held him back.

Presently I went down pretty flat, but the blow was well up on the head
and didn’t matter much--I had a good thick skull. And I had one good eye
yet.

‘For God’s sake, hit him!’ whispered Jack--he was trembling like a leaf.
‘Don’t mind what I told you. I wish I was fighting him myself! Get a
blow home, for God’s sake! Make a good show this round and I’ll stop the
fight.’

That showed how little even Jack, my old mate, understood me.

I had the Bushman up in me now, and wasn’t going to be beaten while
I could think. I was wonderfully cool, and learning to fight. There’s
nothing like a fight to teach a man. I was thinking fast, and learning
more in three seconds than Jack’s sparring could have taught me in three
weeks. People think that blows hurt in a fight, but they don’t--not
till afterwards. I fancy that a fighting man, if he isn’t altogether an
animal, suffers more mentally than he does physically.

While I was getting my wind I could hear through the moonlight and still
air the sound of Mary’s voice singing up at the house. I thought hard
into the future, even as I fought. The fight only seemed something that
was passing.

I was on my feet again and at it, and presently I lunged out and felt
such a jar in my arm that I thought it was telescoped. I thought I’d put
out my wrist and elbow. And Romany was lying on the broad of his back.

I heard Jack draw three breaths of relief in one. He said nothing as
he straightened me up, but I could feel his heart beating. He said
afterwards that he didn’t speak because he thought a word might spoil
it.

I went down again, but Jack told me afterwards that he FELT I was all
right when he lifted me.

Then Romany went down, then we fell together, and the chaps separated
us. I got another knock-down blow in, and was beginning to enjoy the
novelty of it, when Romany staggered and limped.

‘I’ve done,’ he said. ‘I’ve twisted my ankle.’ He’d caught his heel
against a tuft of grass.

‘Shake hands,’ yelled Jimmy Nowlett.

I stepped forward, but Romany took his coat and limped to his horse.

‘If yer don’t shake hands with Wilson, I’ll lamb yer!’ howled Jimmy; but
Jack told him to let the man alone, and Romany got on his horse somehow
and rode off.

I saw Jim Bullock stoop and pick up something from the grass, and heard
him swear in surprise. There was some whispering, and presently Jim
said--

‘If I thought that, I’d kill him.’

‘What is it?’ asked Jack.

Jim held up a butcher’s knife. It was common for a man to carry a
butcher’s knife in a sheath fastened to his belt.

‘Why did you let your man fight with a butcher’s knife in his belt?’
asked Jimmy Nowlett.

But the knife could easily have fallen out when Romany fell, and we
decided it that way.

‘Any way,’ said Jimmy Nowlett, ‘if he’d stuck Joe in hot blood before us
all it wouldn’t be so bad as if he sneaked up and stuck him in the back
in the dark. But you’d best keep an eye over yer shoulder for a year or
two, Joe. That chap’s got Eye-talian blood in him somewhere. And now the
best thing you chaps can do is to keep your mouth shut and keep all this
dark from the gals.’

Jack hurried me on ahead. He seemed to act queer, and when I glanced
at him I could have sworn that there was water in his eyes. I said that
Jack had no sentiment except for himself, but I forgot, and I’m sorry I
said it.

‘What’s up, Jack?’ I asked.

‘Nothing,’ said Jack.

‘What’s up, you old fool?’ I said.

‘Nothing,’ said Jack, ‘except that I’m damned proud of you, Joe, you
old ass!’ and he put his arm round my shoulders and gave me a shake.
‘I didn’t know it was in you, Joe--I wouldn’t have said it before,
or listened to any other man say it, but I didn’t think you had the
pluck--God’s truth, I didn’t. Come along and get your face fixed up.’

We got into my room quietly, and Jack got a dish of water, and told one
of the chaps to sneak a piece of fresh beef from somewhere.

Jack was as proud as a dog with a tin tail as he fussed round me.
He fixed up my face in the best style he knew, and he knew a good
many--he’d been mended himself so often.

While he was at work we heard a sudden hush and a scraping of feet
amongst the chaps that Jack had kicked out of the room, and a girl’s
voice whispered, ‘Is he hurt? Tell me. I want to know,--I might be able
to help.’

It made my heart jump, I can tell you. Jack went out at once, and there
was some whispering. When he came back he seemed wild.

‘What is it, Jack?’ I asked.

‘Oh, nothing,’ he said, ‘only that damned slut of a half-caste cook
overheard some of those blanky fools arguing as to how Romany’s knife
got out of the sheath, and she’s put a nice yarn round amongst the
girls. There’s a regular bobbery, but it’s all right now. Jimmy
Nowlett’s telling ‘em lies at a great rate.’

Presently there was another hush outside, and a saucer with vinegar and
brown paper was handed in.

One of the chaps brought some beer and whisky from the pub, and we had
a quiet little time in my room. Jack wanted to stay all night, but I
reminded him that his little wife was waiting for him in Solong, so he
said he’d be round early in the morning, and went home.

I felt the reaction pretty bad. I didn’t feel proud of the affair at
all. I thought it was a low, brutal business all round. Romany was a
quiet chap after all, and the chaps had no right to chyack him. Perhaps
he’d had a hard life, and carried a big swag of trouble that we didn’t
know anything about. He seemed a lonely man. I’d gone through enough
myself to teach me not to judge men. I made up my mind to tell him how I
felt about the matter next time we met. Perhaps I made my usual mistake
of bothering about ‘feelings’ in another party that hadn’t any feelings
at all--perhaps I didn’t; but it’s generally best to chance it on the
kind side in a case like this. Altogether I felt as if I’d made another
fool of myself and been a weak coward. I drank the rest of the beer and
went to sleep.

About daylight I woke and heard Jack’s horse on the gravel. He came
round the back of the buggy-shed and up to my door, and then, suddenly,
a girl screamed out. I pulled on my trousers and ‘lastic-side boots and
hurried out. It was Mary herself, dressed, and sitting on an old stone
step at the back of the kitchen with her face in her hands, and Jack was
off his horse and stooping by her side with his hand on her shoulder.
She kept saying, ‘I thought you were----! I thought you were----!’ I
didn’t catch the name. An old single-barrel, muzzle-loader shot-gun was
lying in the grass at her feet. It was the gun they used to keep loaded
and hanging in straps in a room of the kitchen ready for a shot at a
cunning old hawk that they called ‘’Tarnal Death’, and that used to be
always after the chickens.

When Mary lifted her face it was as white as note-paper, and her eyes
seemed to grow wilder when she caught sight of me.

‘Oh, you did frighten me, Mr Barnes,’ she gasped. Then she gave a little
ghost of a laugh and stood up, and some colour came back.

‘Oh, I’m a little fool!’ she said quickly. ‘I thought I heard old
‘Tarnal Death at the chickens, and I thought it would be a great thing
if I got the gun and brought him down; so I got up and dressed quietly
so as not to wake Sarah. And then you came round the corner and
frightened me. I don’t know what you must think of me, Mr Barnes.’

‘Never mind,’ said Jack. ‘You go and have a sleep, or you won’t be
able to dance to-night. Never mind the gun--I’ll put that away.’ And he
steered her round to the door of her room off the brick verandah where
she slept with one of the other girls.

‘Well, that’s a rum start!’ I said.

‘Yes, it is,’ said Jack; ‘it’s very funny. Well, how’s your face this
morning, Joe?’

He seemed a lot more serious than usual.

We were hard at work all the morning cleaning out the big wool-shed and
getting it ready for the dance, hanging hoops for the candles, making
seats, &c. I kept out of sight of the girls as much as I could. One side
of my face was a sight and the other wasn’t too classical. I felt as if
I had been stung by a swarm of bees.

‘You’re a fresh, sweet-scented beauty now, and no mistake, Joe,’ said
Jimmy Nowlett--he was going to play the accordion that night. ‘You ought
to fetch the girls now, Joe. But never mind, your face’ll go down
in about three weeks. My lower jaw is crooked yet; but that fight
straightened my nose, that had been knocked crooked when I was a boy--so
I didn’t lose much beauty by it.’

When we’d done in the shed, Jack took me aside and said--

‘Look here, Joe! if you won’t come to the dance to-night--and I can’t
say you’d ornament it--I tell you what you’ll do. You get little Mary
away on the quiet and take her out for a stroll--and act like a man. The
job’s finished now, and you won’t get another chance like this.’

‘But how am I to get her out?’ I said.

‘Never you mind. You be mooching round down by the big peppermint-tree
near the river-gate, say about half-past ten.’

‘What good’ll that do?’

‘Never you mind. You just do as you’re told, that’s all you’ve got to
do,’ said Jack, and he went home to get dressed and bring his wife.

After the dancing started that night I had a peep in once or twice. The
first time I saw Mary dancing with Jack, and looking serious; and the
second time she was dancing with the blarsted Jackaroo dude, and looking
excited and happy. I noticed that some of the girls, that I could see
sitting on a stool along the opposite wall, whispered, and gave Mary
black looks as the Jackaroo swung her past. It struck me pretty forcibly
that I should have taken fighting lessons from him instead of from poor
Romany. I went away and walked about four miles down the river road,
getting out of the way into the Bush whenever I saw any chap riding
along. I thought of poor Romany and wondered where he was, and thought
that there wasn’t much to choose between us as far as happiness was
concerned. Perhaps he was walking by himself in the Bush, and feeling
like I did. I wished I could shake hands with him.

But somehow, about half-past ten, I drifted back to the river slip-rails
and leant over them, in the shadow of the peppermint-tree, looking at
the rows of river-willows in the moonlight. I didn’t expect anything, in
spite of what Jack said.

I didn’t like the idea of hanging myself: I’d been with a party who
found a man hanging in the Bush, and it was no place for a woman round
where he was. And I’d helped drag two bodies out of the Cudgeegong river
in a flood, and they weren’t sleeping beauties. I thought it was a pity
that a chap couldn’t lie down on a grassy bank in a graceful position in
the moonlight and die just by thinking of it--and die with his eyes
and mouth shut. But then I remembered that I wouldn’t make a beautiful
corpse, anyway it went, with the face I had on me.

I was just getting comfortably miserable when I heard a step behind me,
and my heart gave a jump. And I gave a start too.

‘Oh, is that you, Mr Wilson?’ said a timid little voice.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Is that you, Mary?’

And she said yes. It was the first time I called her Mary, but she did
not seem to notice it.

‘Did I frighten you?’ I asked.

‘No--yes--just a little,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know there was any
one----’ then she stopped.

‘Why aren’t you dancing?’ I asked her.

‘Oh, I’m tired,’ she said. ‘It was too hot in the wool-shed. I thought
I’d like to come out and get my head cool and be quiet a little while.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it must be hot in the wool-shed.’

She stood looking out over the willows. Presently she said, ‘It must be
very dull for you, Mr Wilson--you must feel lonely. Mr Barnes said----’
Then she gave a little gasp and stopped--as if she was just going to put
her foot in it.

‘How beautiful the moonlight looks on the willows!’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘doesn’t it? Supposing we have a stroll by the river.’

‘Oh, thank you, Mr Wilson. I’d like it very much.’

I didn’t notice it then, but, now I come to think of it, it was a
beautiful scene: there was a horseshoe of high blue hills round behind
the house, with the river running round under the slopes, and in front
was a rounded hill covered with pines, and pine ridges, and a soft blue
peak away over the ridges ever so far in the distance.

I had a handkerchief over the worst of my face, and kept the best side
turned to her. We walked down by the river, and didn’t say anything for
a good while. I was thinking hard. We came to a white smooth log in a
quiet place out of sight of the house.

‘Suppose we sit down for a while, Mary,’ I said.

‘If you like, Mr Wilson,’ she said.

There was about a foot of log between us.

‘What a beautiful night!’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘isn’t it?’

Presently she said, ‘I suppose you know I’m going away next month, Mr
Wilson?’

I felt suddenly empty. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I didn’t know that.’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I thought you knew. I’m going to try and get into the
hospital to be trained for a nurse, and if that doesn’t come off I’ll
get a place as assistant public-school teacher.’

We didn’t say anything for a good while.

‘I suppose you won’t be sorry to go, Miss Brand?’ I said.

‘I--I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Everybody’s been so kind to me here.’

She sat looking straight before her, and I fancied her eyes glistened.
I put my arm round her shoulders, but she didn’t seem to notice it. In
fact, I scarcely noticed it myself at the time.

‘So you think you’ll be sorry to go away?’ I said.

‘Yes, Mr Wilson. I suppose I’ll fret for a while. It’s been my home, you
know.’

I pressed my hand on her shoulder, just a little, so as she couldn’t
pretend not to know it was there. But she didn’t seem to notice.

‘Ah, well,’ I said, ‘I suppose I’ll be on the wallaby again next week.’

‘Will you, Mr Wilson?’ she said. Her voice seemed very soft.

I slipped my arm round her waist, under her arm. My heart was going like
clockwork now.

Presently she said--

‘Don’t you think it’s time to go back now, Mr Wilson?’

‘Oh, there’s plenty of time!’ I said. I shifted up, and put my arm
farther round, and held her closer. She sat straight up, looking right
in front of her, but she began to breathe hard.

‘Mary,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ she said.

‘Call me Joe,’ I said.

‘I--I don’t like to,’ she said. ‘I don’t think it would be right.’

So I just turned her face round and kissed her. She clung to me and
cried.

‘What is it, Mary?’ I asked.

She only held me tighter and cried.

‘What is it, Mary?’ I said. ‘Ain’t you well? Ain’t you happy?’

‘Yes, Joe,’ she said, ‘I’m very happy.’ Then she said, ‘Oh, your poor
face! Can’t I do anything for it?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘That’s all right. My face doesn’t hurt me a bit now.’

But she didn’t seem right.

‘What is it, Mary?’ I said. ‘Are you tired? You didn’t sleep last
night----’ Then I got an inspiration.

‘Mary,’ I said, ‘what were you doing out with the gun this morning?’

And after some coaxing it all came out, a bit hysterical.

‘I couldn’t sleep--I was frightened. Oh! I had such a terrible dream
about you, Joe! I thought Romany came back and got into your room and
stabbed you with his knife. I got up and dressed, and about daybreak
I heard a horse at the gate; then I got the gun down from the
wall--and--and Mr Barnes came round the corner and frightened me. He’s
something like Romany, you know.’

Then I got as much of her as I could into my arms.

And, oh, but wasn’t I happy walking home with Mary that night! She was
too little for me to put my arm round her waist, so I put it round
her shoulder, and that felt just as good. I remember I asked her who’d
cleaned up my room and washed my things, but she wouldn’t tell.

She wouldn’t go back to the dance yet; she said she’d go into her room
and rest a while. There was no one near the old verandah; and when she
stood on the end of the floor she was just on a level with my shoulder.

‘Mary,’ I whispered, ‘put your arms round my neck and kiss me.’

She put her arms round my neck, but she didn’t kiss me; she only hid her
face.

‘Kiss me, Mary!’ I said.

‘I--I don’t like to,’ she whispered.

‘Why not, Mary?’

Then I felt her crying or laughing, or half crying and half laughing.
I’m not sure to this day which it was.

‘Why won’t you kiss me, Mary? Don’t you love me?’

‘Because,’ she said, ‘because--because I--I don’t--I don’t think it’s
right for--for a girl to--to kiss a man unless she’s going to be his
wife.’

Then it dawned on me! I’d forgot all about proposing.

‘Mary,’ I said, ‘would you marry a chap like me?’

And that was all right.

     *****

Next morning Mary cleared out my room and sorted out my things, and
didn’t take the slightest notice of the other girls’ astonishment.

But she made me promise to speak to old Black, and I did the same
evening. I found him sitting on the log by the fence, having a yarn on
the quiet with an old Bushman; and when the old Bushman got up and went
away, I sat down.

‘Well, Joe,’ said Black, ‘I see somebody’s been spoiling your face for
the dance.’ And after a bit he said, ‘Well, Joe, what is it? Do you want
another job? If you do, you’ll have to ask Mrs Black, or Bob’ (Bob was
his eldest son); ‘they’re managing the station for me now, you know.’ He
could be bitter sometimes in his quiet way.

‘No,’ I said; ‘it’s not that, Boss.’

‘Well, what is it, Joe?’

‘I--well the fact is, I want little Mary.’

He puffed at his pipe for a long time, then I thought he spoke.

‘What did you say, Boss?’ I said.

‘Nothing, Joe,’ he said. ‘I was going to say a lot, but it wouldn’t be
any use. My father used to say a lot to me before I was married.’

I waited a good while for him to speak.

‘Well, Boss,’ I said, ‘what about Mary?’

‘Oh! I suppose that’s all right, Joe,’ he said. ‘I--I beg your pardon. I
got thinking of the days when I was courting Mrs Black.’



Brighten’s Sister-In-Law.


Jim was born on Gulgong, New South Wales. We used to say ‘on’
Gulgong--and old diggers still talked of being ‘on th’ Gulgong’--though
the goldfield there had been worked out for years, and the place was
only a dusty little pastoral town in the scrubs. Gulgong was about the
last of the great alluvial ‘rushes’ of the ‘roaring days’--and dreary
and dismal enough it looked when I was there. The expression ‘on’ came
from being on the ‘diggings’ or goldfield--the workings or the goldfield
was all underneath, of course, so we lived (or starved) ON them--not in
nor at ‘em.

Mary and I had been married about two years when Jim came----His name
wasn’t ‘Jim’, by the way, it was ‘John Henry’, after an uncle godfather;
but we called him Jim from the first--(and before it)--because Jim was a
popular Bush name, and most of my old mates were Jims. The Bush is full
of good-hearted scamps called Jim.

We lived in an old weather-board shanty that had been a sly-grog-shop,
and the Lord knows what else! in the palmy days of Gulgong; and I did
a bit of digging [‘fossicking’, rather), a bit of shearing, a bit of
fencing, a bit of Bush-carpentering, tank-sinking,--anything, just to
keep the billy boiling.

We had a lot of trouble with Jim with his teeth. He was bad with every
one of them, and we had most of them lanced--couldn’t pull him through
without. I remember we got one lanced and the gum healed over before
the tooth came through, and we had to get it cut again. He was a plucky
little chap, and after the first time he never whimpered when the doctor
was lancing his gum: he used to say ‘tar’ afterwards, and want to bring
the lance home with him.

The first turn we got with Jim was the worst. I had had the wife and Jim
out camping with me in a tent at a dam I was making at Cattle Creek; I
had two men working for me, and a boy to drive one of the tip-drays,
and I took Mary out to cook for us. And it was lucky for us that the
contract was finished and we got back to Gulgong, and within reach of
a doctor, the day we did. We were just camping in the house, with our
goods and chattels anyhow, for the night; and we were hardly back home
an hour when Jim took convulsions for the first time.

Did you ever see a child in convulsions? You wouldn’t want to see it
again: it plays the devil with a man’s nerves. I’d got the beds fixed up
on the floor, and the billies on the fire--I was going to make some tea,
and put a piece of corned beef on to boil over night--when Jim
(he’d been queer all day, and his mother was trying to hush him to
sleep)--Jim, he screamed out twice. He’d been crying a good deal, and
I was dog-tired and worried (over some money a man owed me) or I’d have
noticed at once that there was something unusual in the way the child
cried out: as it was I didn’t turn round till Mary screamed ‘Joe!
Joe!’ You know how a woman cries out when her child is in danger or
dying--short, and sharp, and terrible. ‘Joe! Look! look! Oh, my God! our
child! Get the bath, quick! quick! it’s convulsions!’

Jim was bent back like a bow, stiff as a bullock-yoke, in his mother’s
arms, and his eyeballs were turned up and fixed--a thing I saw twice
afterwards, and don’t want ever to see again.

I was falling over things getting the tub and the hot water, when the
woman who lived next door rushed in. She called to her husband to run
for the doctor, and before the doctor came she and Mary had got Jim into
a hot bath and pulled him through.

The neighbour woman made me up a shake-down in another room, and stayed
with Mary that night; but it was a long while before I got Jim and
Mary’s screams out of my head and fell asleep.

You may depend I kept the fire in, and a bucket of water hot over it,
for a good many nights after that; but (it always happens like this)
there came a night, when the fright had worn off, when I was too tired
to bother about the fire, and that night Jim took us by surprise. Our
wood-heap was done, and I broke up a new chair to get a fire, and had
to run a quarter of a mile for water; but this turn wasn’t so bad as the
first, and we pulled him through.

You never saw a child in convulsions? Well, you don’t want to. It must
be only a matter of seconds, but it seems long minutes; and half an
hour afterwards the child might be laughing and playing with you,
or stretched out dead. It shook me up a lot. I was always pretty
high-strung and sensitive. After Jim took the first fit, every time he
cried, or turned over, or stretched out in the night, I’d jump: I was
always feeling his forehead in the dark to see if he was feverish, or
feeling his limbs to see if he was ‘limp’ yet. Mary and I often laughed
about it--afterwards. I tried sleeping in another room, but for nights
after Jim’s first attack I’d be just dozing off into a sound sleep,
when I’d hear him scream, as plain as could be, and I’d hear Mary cry,
‘Joe!--Joe!’--short, sharp, and terrible--and I’d be up and into their
room like a shot, only to find them sleeping peacefully. Then I’d feel
Jim’s head and his breathing for signs of convulsions, see to the fire
and water, and go back to bed and try to sleep. For the first few nights
I was like that all night, and I’d feel relieved when daylight came.
I’d be in first thing to see if they were all right; then I’d sleep till
dinner-time if it was Sunday or I had no work. But then I was run down
about that time: I was worried about some money for a wool-shed I put up
and never got paid for; and, besides, I’d been pretty wild before I met
Mary.

I was fighting hard then--struggling for something better. Both Mary and
I were born to better things, and that’s what made the life so hard for
us.

Jim got on all right for a while: we used to watch him well, and have
his teeth lanced in time.

It used to hurt and worry me to see how--just as he was getting fat
and rosy and like a natural happy child, and I’d feel proud to take him
out--a tooth would come along, and he’d get thin and white and pale and
bigger-eyed and old-fashioned. We’d say, ‘He’ll be safe when he gets his
eye-teeth’: but he didn’t get them till he was two; then, ‘He’ll be safe
when he gets his two-year-old teeth’: they didn’t come till he was going
on for three.

He was a wonderful little chap--Yes, I know all about parents thinking
that their child is the best in the world. If your boy is small for his
age, friends will say that small children make big men; that he’s a
very bright, intelligent child, and that it’s better to have a bright,
intelligent child than a big, sleepy lump of fat. And if your boy is
dull and sleepy, they say that the dullest boys make the cleverest
men--and all the rest of it. I never took any notice of that sort of
clatter--took it for what it was worth; but, all the same, I don’t
think I ever saw such a child as Jim was when he turned two. He was
everybody’s favourite. They spoilt him rather. I had my own ideas about
bringing up a child. I reckoned Mary was too soft with Jim. She’d say,
‘Put that’ (whatever it was) ‘out of Jim’s reach, will you, Joe?’ and
I’d say, ‘No! leave it there, and make him understand he’s not to have
it. Make him have his meals without any nonsense, and go to bed at a
regular hour,’ I’d say. Mary and I had many a breeze over Jim. She’d
say that I forgot he was only a baby: but I held that a baby could be
trained from the first week; and I believe I was right.

But, after all, what are you to do? You’ll see a boy that was brought up
strict turn out a scamp; and another that was dragged up anyhow (by the
hair of the head, as the saying is) turn out well. Then, again, when
a child is delicate--and you might lose him any day--you don’t like to
spank him, though he might be turning out a little fiend, as delicate
children often do. Suppose you gave a child a hammering, and the same
night he took convulsions, or something, and died--how’d you feel about
it? You never know what a child is going to take, any more than you can
tell what some women are going to say or do.

I was very fond of Jim, and we were great chums. Sometimes I’d sit
and wonder what the deuce he was thinking about, and often, the way he
talked, he’d make me uneasy. When he was two he wanted a pipe above all
things, and I’d get him a clean new clay and he’d sit by my side, on the
edge of the verandah, or on a log of the wood-heap, in the cool of the
evening, and suck away at his pipe, and try to spit when he saw me do
it. He seemed to understand that a cold empty pipe wasn’t quite the
thing, yet to have the sense to know that he couldn’t smoke tobacco
yet: he made the best he could of things. And if he broke a clay pipe
he wouldn’t have a new one, and there’d be a row; the old one had to be
mended up, somehow, with string or wire. If I got my hair cut, he’d
want his cut too; and it always troubled him to see me shave--as if he
thought there must be something wrong somewhere, else he ought to have
to be shaved too. I lathered him one day, and pretended to shave him:
he sat through it as solemn as an owl, but didn’t seem to appreciate
it--perhaps he had sense enough to know that it couldn’t possibly be the
real thing. He felt his face, looked very hard at the lather I scraped
off, and whimpered, ‘No blood, daddy!’

I used to cut myself a good deal: I was always impatient over shaving.

Then he went in to interview his mother about it. She understood his
lingo better than I did.

But I wasn’t always at ease with him. Sometimes he’d sit looking into
the fire, with his head on one side, and I’d watch him and wonder what
he was thinking about (I might as well have wondered what a Chinaman
was thinking about) till he seemed at least twenty years older than me:
sometimes, when I moved or spoke, he’d glance round just as if to see
what that old fool of a dadda of his was doing now.

I used to have a fancy that there was something Eastern, or
Asiatic--something older than our civilisation or religion--about
old-fashioned children. Once I started to explain my idea to a woman I
thought would understand--and as it happened she had an old-fashioned
child, with very slant eyes--a little tartar he was too. I suppose
it was the sight of him that unconsciously reminded me of my infernal
theory, and set me off on it, without warning me. Anyhow, it got me
mixed up in an awful row with the woman and her husband--and all their
tribe. It wasn’t an easy thing to explain myself out of it, and the row
hasn’t been fixed up yet. There were some Chinamen in the district.

I took a good-size fencing contract, the frontage of a ten-mile paddock,
near Gulgong, and did well out of it. The railway had got as far as the
Cudgeegong river--some twenty miles from Gulgong and two hundred
from the coast--and ‘carrying’ was good then. I had a couple of
draught-horses, that I worked in the tip-drays when I was tank-sinking,
and one or two others running in the Bush. I bought a broken-down waggon
cheap, tinkered it up myself--christened it ‘The Same Old Thing’--and
started carrying from the railway terminus through Gulgong and along the
bush roads and tracks that branch out fanlike through the scrubs to the
one-pub towns and sheep and cattle stations out there in the howling
wilderness. It wasn’t much of a team. There were the two heavy horses
for ‘shafters’; a stunted colt, that I’d bought out of the pound for
thirty shillings; a light, spring-cart horse; an old grey mare, with
points like a big red-and-white Australian store bullock, and with the
grit of an old washerwoman to work; and a horse that had spanked along
in Cob & Co.’s mail-coach in his time. I had a couple there that didn’t
belong to me: I worked them for the feeding of them in the dry weather.
And I had all sorts of harness, that I mended and fixed up myself. It
was a mixed team, but I took light stuff, got through pretty quick, and
freight rates were high. So I got along.

Before this, whenever I made a few pounds I’d sink a shaft somewhere,
prospecting for gold; but Mary never let me rest till she talked me out
of that.

I made up my mind to take on a small selection farm--that an old mate of
mine had fenced in and cleared, and afterwards chucked up--about thirty
miles out west of Gulgong, at a place called Lahey’s Creek. (The places
were all called Lahey’s Creek, or Spicer’s Flat, or Murphy’s Flat, or
Ryan’s Crossing, or some such name--round there.) I reckoned I’d have
a run for the horses and be able to grow a bit of feed. I always had a
dread of taking Mary and the children too far away from a doctor--or a
good woman neighbour; but there were some people came to live on Lahey’s
Creek, and besides, there was a young brother of Mary’s--a young scamp
(his name was Jim, too, and we called him ‘Jimmy’ at first to make room
for our Jim--he hated the name ‘Jimmy’ or James). He came to live with
us--without asking--and I thought he’d find enough work at Lahey’s
Creek to keep him out of mischief. He wasn’t to be depended on much--he
thought nothing of riding off, five hundred miles or so, ‘to have a look
at the country’--but he was fond of Mary, and he’d stay by her till I
got some one else to keep her company while I was on the road. He would
be a protection against ‘sundowners’ or any shearers who happened to
wander that way in the ‘D.T.’s’ after a spree. Mary had a married sister
come to live at Gulgong just before we left, and nothing would suit her
and her husband but we must leave little Jim with them for a month or
so--till we got settled down at Lahey’s Creek. They were newly married.

Mary was to have driven into Gulgong, in the spring-cart, at the end
of the month, and taken Jim home; but when the time came she wasn’t too
well--and, besides, the tyres of the cart were loose, and I hadn’t time
to get them cut, so we let Jim’s time run on a week or so longer, till I
happened to come out through Gulgong from the river with a small load of
flour for Lahey’s Creek way. The roads were good, the weather grand--no
chance of it raining, and I had a spare tarpaulin if it did--I would
only camp out one night; so I decided to take Jim home with me.

Jim was turning three then, and he was a cure. He was so old-fashioned
that he used to frighten me sometimes--I’d almost think that there was
something supernatural about him; though, of course, I never took any
notice of that rot about some children being too old-fashioned to live.
There’s always the ghoulish old hag (and some not so old nor haggish
either) who’ll come round and shake up young parents with such croaks
as, ‘You’ll never rear that child--he’s too bright for his age.’ To the
devil with them! I say.

But I really thought that Jim was too intelligent for his age, and I
often told Mary that he ought to be kept back, and not let talk too much
to old diggers and long lanky jokers of Bushmen who rode in and hung
their horses outside my place on Sunday afternoons.

I don’t believe in parents talking about their own children
everlastingly--you get sick of hearing them; and their kids are
generally little devils, and turn out larrikins as likely as not.

But, for all that, I really think that Jim, when he was three years old,
was the most wonderful little chap, in every way, that I ever saw.

For the first hour or so, along the road, he was telling me all about
his adventures at his auntie’s.

‘But they spoilt me too much, dad,’ he said, as solemn as a native bear.
‘An’ besides, a boy ought to stick to his parrans!’

I was taking out a cattle-pup for a drover I knew, and the pup took up a
good deal of Jim’s time.

Sometimes he’d jolt me, the way he talked; and other times I’d have
to turn away my head and cough, or shout at the horses, to keep from
laughing outright. And once, when I was taken that way, he said--

‘What are you jerking your shoulders and coughing, and grunting, and
going on that way for, dad? Why don’t you tell me something?’

‘Tell you what, Jim?’

‘Tell me some talk.’

So I told him all the talk I could think of. And I had to brighten up,
I can tell you, and not draw too much on my imagination--for Jim was a
terror at cross-examination when the fit took him; and he didn’t think
twice about telling you when he thought you were talking nonsense. Once
he said--

‘I’m glad you took me home with you, dad. You’ll get to know Jim.’

‘What!’ I said.

‘You’ll get to know Jim.’

‘But don’t I know you already?’

‘No, you don’t. You never has time to know Jim at home.’

And, looking back, I saw that it was cruel true. I had known in my heart
all along that this was the truth; but it came to me like a blow from
Jim. You see, it had been a hard struggle for the last year or so; and
when I was home for a day or two I was generally too busy, or too tired
and worried, or full of schemes for the future, to take much notice of
Jim. Mary used to speak to me about it sometimes. ‘You never take notice
of the child,’ she’d say. ‘You could surely find a few minutes of an
evening. What’s the use of always worrying and brooding? Your brain will
go with a snap some day, and, if you get over it, it will teach you a
lesson. You’ll be an old man, and Jim a young one, before you realise
that you had a child once. Then it will be too late.’

This sort of talk from Mary always bored me and made me impatient with
her, because I knew it all too well. I never worried for myself--only
for Mary and the children. And often, as the days went by, I said to
myself, ‘I’ll take more notice of Jim and give Mary more of my time,
just as soon as I can see things clear ahead a bit.’ And the hard days
went on, and the weeks, and the months, and the years---- Ah, well!

Mary used to say, when things would get worse, ‘Why don’t you talk
to me, Joe? Why don’t you tell me your thoughts, instead of shutting
yourself up in yourself and brooding--eating your heart out? It’s hard
for me: I get to think you’re tired of me, and selfish. I might be cross
and speak sharp to you when you are in trouble. How am I to know, if you
don’t tell me?’

But I didn’t think she’d understand.

And so, getting acquainted, and chumming and dozing, with the gums
closing over our heads here and there, and the ragged patches of
sunlight and shade passing up, over the horses, over us, on the front of
the load, over the load, and down on to the white, dusty road again--Jim
and I got along the lonely Bush road and over the ridges, some fifteen
miles before sunset, and camped at Ryan’s Crossing on Sandy Creek for
the night. I got the horses out and took the harness off. Jim wanted
badly to help me, but I made him stay on the load; for one of the
horses--a vicious, red-eyed chestnut--was a kicker: he’d broken a
man’s leg. I got the feed-bags stretched across the shafts, and the
chaff-and-corn into them; and there stood the horses all round with
their rumps north, south, and west, and their heads between the shafts,
munching and switching their tails. We use double shafts, you know, for
horse-teams--two pairs side by side,--and prop them up, and stretch bags
between them, letting the bags sag to serve as feed-boxes. I threw the
spare tarpaulin over the wheels on one side, letting about half of
it lie on the ground in case of damp, and so making a floor and a
break-wind. I threw down bags and the blankets and ‘possum rug against
the wheel to make a camp for Jim and the cattle-pup, and got a gin-case
we used for a tucker-box, the frying-pan and billy down, and made a good
fire at a log close handy, and soon everything was comfortable. Ryan’s
Crossing was a grand camp. I stood with my pipe in my mouth, my hands
behind my back, and my back to the fire, and took the country in.

Reedy Creek came down along a western spur of the range: the banks here
were deep and green, and the water ran clear over the granite bars,
boulders, and gravel. Behind us was a dreary flat covered with those
gnarled, grey-barked, dry-rotted ‘native apple-trees’ (about as much
like apple-trees as the native bear is like any other), and a nasty bit
of sand-dusty road that I was always glad to get over in wet weather.
To the left on our side of the creek were reedy marshes, with frogs
croaking, and across the creek the dark box-scrub-covered ridges ended
in steep ‘sidings’ coming down to the creek-bank, and to the main road
that skirted them, running on west up over a ‘saddle’ in the ridges and
on towards Dubbo. The road by Lahey’s Creek to a place called Cobborah
branched off, through dreary apple-tree and stringy-bark flats, to the
left, just beyond the crossing: all these fanlike branch tracks from the
Cudgeegong were inside a big horse-shoe in the Great Western Line, and
so they gave small carriers a chance, now that Cob & Co.’s coaches and
the big teams and vans had shifted out of the main western terminus.
There were tall she-oaks all along the creek, and a clump of big ones
over a deep water-hole just above the crossing. The creek oaks have
rough barked trunks, like English elms, but are much taller, and higher
to the branches--and the leaves are reedy; Kendel, the Australian
poet, calls them the ‘she-oak harps Aeolian’. Those trees are always
sigh-sigh-sighing--more of a sigh than a sough or the ‘whoosh’ of
gum-trees in the wind. You always hear them sighing, even when you can’t
feel any wind. It’s the same with telegraph wires: put your head against
a telegraph-post on a dead, still day, and you’ll hear and feel the
far-away roar of the wires. But then the oaks are not connected with the
distance, where there might be wind; and they don’t ROAR in a gale, only
sigh louder and softer according to the wind, and never seem to go above
or below a certain pitch,--like a big harp with all the strings the
same. I used to have a theory that those creek oaks got the wind’s voice
telephoned to them, so to speak, through the ground.

I happened to look down, and there was Jim (I thought he was on the
tarpaulin, playing with the pup): he was standing close beside me with
his legs wide apart, his hands behind his back, and his back to the
fire.

He held his head a little on one side, and there was such an old, old,
wise expression in his big brown eyes--just as if he’d been a child for
a hundred years or so, or as though he were listening to those oaks and
understanding them in a fatherly sort of way.

‘Dad!’ he said presently--‘Dad! do you think I’ll ever grow up to be a
man?’

‘Wh--why, Jim?’ I gasped.

‘Because I don’t want to.’

I couldn’t think of anything against this. It made me uneasy. But I
remembered *I* used to have a childish dread of growing up to be a man.

‘Jim,’ I said, to break the silence, ‘do you hear what the she-oaks
say?’

‘No, I don’t. Is they talking?’

‘Yes,’ I said, without thinking.

‘What is they saying?’ he asked.

I took the bucket and went down to the creek for some water for tea. I
thought Jim would follow with a little tin billy he had, but he didn’t:
when I got back to the fire he was again on the ‘possum rug, comforting
the pup. I fried some bacon and eggs that I’d brought out with me. Jim
sang out from the waggon--

‘Don’t cook too much, dad--I mightn’t be hungry.’

I got the tin plates and pint-pots and things out on a clean new
flour-bag, in honour of Jim, and dished up. He was leaning back on the
rug looking at the pup in a listless sort of way. I reckoned he was
tired out, and pulled the gin-case up close to him for a table and put
his plate on it. But he only tried a mouthful or two, and then he said--

‘I ain’t hungry, dad! You’ll have to eat it all.’

It made me uneasy--I never liked to see a child of mine turn from his
food. They had given him some tinned salmon in Gulgong, and I was afraid
that that was upsetting him. I was always against tinned muck.

‘Sick, Jim?’ I asked.

‘No, dad, I ain’t sick; I don’t know what’s the matter with me.’

‘Have some tea, sonny?’

‘Yes, dad.’

I gave him some tea, with some milk in it that I’d brought in a bottle
from his aunt’s for him. He took a sip or two and then put the pint-pot
on the gin-case.

‘Jim’s tired, dad,’ he said.

I made him lie down while I fixed up a camp for the night. It had turned
a bit chilly, so I let the big tarpaulin down all round--it was made to
cover a high load, the flour in the waggon didn’t come above the rail,
so the tarpaulin came down well on to the ground. I fixed Jim up a
comfortable bed under the tail-end of the waggon: when I went to lift
him in he was lying back, looking up at the stars in a half-dreamy,
half-fascinated way that I didn’t like. Whenever Jim was extra
old-fashioned, or affectionate, there was danger.

‘How do you feel now, sonny?’

It seemed a minute before he heard me and turned from the stars.

‘Jim’s better, dad.’ Then he said something like, ‘The stars are looking
at me.’ I thought he was half asleep. I took off his jacket and boots,
and carried him in under the waggon and made him comfortable for the
night.

‘Kiss me ‘night-night, daddy,’ he said.

I’d rather he hadn’t asked me--it was a bad sign. As I was going to the
fire he called me back.

‘What is it, Jim?’

‘Get me my things and the cattle-pup, please, daddy.’

I was scared now. His things were some toys and rubbish he’d brought
from Gulgong, and I remembered, the last time he had convulsions, he
took all his toys and a kitten to bed with him. And ‘’night-night’ and
‘daddy’ were two-year-old language to Jim. I’d thought he’d forgotten
those words--he seemed to be going back.

‘Are you quite warm enough, Jim?’

‘Yes, dad.’

I started to walk up and down--I always did this when I was extra
worried.

I was frightened now about Jim, though I tried to hide the fact from
myself. Presently he called me again.

‘What is it, Jim?’

‘Take the blankets off me, fahver--Jim’s sick!’ (They’d been teaching
him to say father.)

I was scared now. I remembered a neighbour of ours had a little girl die
(she swallowed a pin), and when she was going she said--

‘Take the blankets off me, muvver--I’m dying.’

And I couldn’t get that out of my head.

I threw back a fold of the ‘possum rug, and felt Jim’s head--he seemed
cool enough.

‘Where do you feel bad, sonny?’

No answer for a while; then he said suddenly, but in a voice as if he
were talking in his sleep--

‘Put my boots on, please, daddy. I want to go home to muvver!’

I held his hand, and comforted him for a while; then he slept--in a
restless, feverish sort of way.

I got the bucket I used for water for the horses and stood it over the
fire; I ran to the creek with the big kerosene-tin bucket and got
it full of cold water and stood it handy. I got the spade (we always
carried one to dig wheels out of bogs in wet weather) and turned a
corner of the tarpaulin back, dug a hole, and trod the tarpaulin down
into the hole, to serve for a bath, in case of the worst. I had a tin of
mustard, and meant to fight a good round for Jim, if death came along.

I stooped in under the tail-board of the waggon and felt Jim. His head
was burning hot, and his skin parched and dry as a bone.

Then I lost nerve and started blundering backward and forward between
the waggon and the fire, and repeating what I’d heard Mary say the last
time we fought for Jim: ‘God! don’t take my child! God! don’t take my
boy!’ I’d never had much faith in doctors, but, my God! I wanted one
then. The nearest was fifteen miles away.

I threw back my head and stared up at the branches, in desperation;
and--Well, I don’t ask you to take much stock in this, though most old
Bushmen will believe anything of the Bush by night; and--Now, it might
have been that I was all unstrung, or it might have been a patch of sky
outlined in the gently moving branches, or the blue smoke rising up. But
I saw the figure of a woman, all white, come down, down, nearly to the
limbs of the trees, point on up the main road, and then float up and up
and vanish, still pointing. I thought Mary was dead! Then it flashed on
me----

Four or five miles up the road, over the ‘saddle’, was an old shanty
that had been a half-way inn before the Great Western Line got round as
far as Dubbo and took the coach traffic off those old Bush roads. A man
named Brighten lived there. He was a selector; did a little farming,
and as much sly-grog selling as he could. He was married--but it wasn’t
that: I’d thought of them, but she was a childish, worn-out, spiritless
woman, and both were pretty ‘ratty’ from hardship and loneliness--they
weren’t likely to be of any use to me. But it was this: I’d heard talk,
among some women in Gulgong, of a sister of Brighten’s wife who’d gone
out to live with them lately: she’d been a hospital matron in the city,
they said; and there were yarns about her. Some said she got the sack
for exposing the doctors--or carrying on with them--I didn’t remember
which. The fact of a city woman going out to live in such a place, with
such people, was enough to make talk among women in a town twenty miles
away, but then there must have been something extra about her, else
Bushmen wouldn’t have talked and carried her name so far; and I wanted
a woman out of the ordinary now. I even reasoned this way, thinking
like lightning, as I knelt over Jim between the big back wheels of the
waggon.

I had an old racing mare that I used as a riding hack, following the
team. In a minute I had her saddled and bridled; I tied the end of a
half-full chaff-bag, shook the chaff into each end and dumped it on to
the pommel as a cushion or buffer for Jim; I wrapped him in a blanket,
and scrambled into the saddle with him.

The next minute we were stumbling down the steep bank, clattering and
splashing over the crossing, and struggling up the opposite bank to the
level. The mare, as I told you, was an old racer, but broken-winded--she
must have run without wind after the first half mile. She had the old
racing instinct in her strong, and whenever I rode in company I’d have
to pull her hard else she’d race the other horse or burst. She ran low
fore and aft, and was the easiest horse I ever rode. She ran like
wheels on rails, with a bit of a tremble now and then--like a railway
carriage--when she settled down to it.

The chaff-bag had slipped off, in the creek I suppose, and I let the
bridle-rein go and held Jim up to me like a baby the whole way. Let the
strongest man, who isn’t used to it, hold a baby in one position for
five minutes--and Jim was fairly heavy. But I never felt the ache in my
arms that night--it must have gone before I was in a fit state of mind
to feel it. And at home I’d often growled about being asked to hold the
baby for a few minutes. I could never brood comfortably and nurse a baby
at the same time. It was a ghostly moonlight night. There’s no timber in
the world so ghostly as the Australian Bush in moonlight--or just about
daybreak. The all-shaped patches of moonlight falling between ragged,
twisted boughs; the ghostly blue-white bark of the ‘white-box’ trees; a
dead naked white ring-barked tree, or dead white stump starting out here
and there, and the ragged patches of shade and light on the road that
made anything, from the shape of a spotted bullock to a naked
corpse laid out stark. Roads and tracks through the Bush made by
moonlight--every one seeming straighter and clearer than the real one:
you have to trust to your horse then. Sometimes the naked white trunk of
a red stringy-bark tree, where a sheet of bark had been taken off, would
start out like a ghost from the dark Bush. And dew or frost glistening
on these things, according to the season. Now and again a great grey
kangaroo, that had been feeding on a green patch down by the road, would
start with a ‘thump-thump’, and away up the siding.

The Bush seemed full of ghosts that night--all going my way--and being
left behind by the mare. Once I stopped to look at Jim: I just sat
back and the mare ‘propped’--she’d been a stock-horse, and was used
to ‘cutting-out’. I felt Jim’s hands and forehead; he was in a burning
fever. I bent forward, and the old mare settled down to it again. I kept
saying out loud--and Mary and me often laughed about it (afterwards):
‘He’s limp yet!--Jim’s limp yet!’ (the words seemed jerked out of me by
sheer fright)--‘He’s limp yet!’ till the mare’s feet took it up. Then,
just when I thought she was doing her best and racing her hardest, she
suddenly started forward, like a cable tram gliding along on its own and
the grip put on suddenly. It was just what she’d do when I’d be riding
alone and a strange horse drew up from behind--the old racing instinct.
I FELT the thing too! I felt as if a strange horse WAS there! And
then--the words just jerked out of me by sheer funk--I started saying,
‘Death is riding to-night!... Death is racing to-night!... Death is
riding to-night!’ till the hoofs took that up. And I believe the old
mare felt the black horse at her side and was going to beat him or break
her heart.

I was mad with anxiety and fright: I remember I kept saying, ‘I’ll be
kinder to Mary after this! I’ll take more notice of Jim!’ and the rest
of it.

I don’t know how the old mare got up the last ‘pinch’. She must have
slackened pace, but I never noticed it: I just held Jim up to me and
gripped the saddle with my knees--I remember the saddle jerked from the
desperate jumps of her till I thought the girth would go. We topped the
gap and were going down into a gully they called Dead Man’s Hollow, and
there, at the back of a ghostly clearing that opened from the road
where there were some black-soil springs, was a long, low, oblong
weatherboard-and-shingle building, with blind, broken windows in the
gable-ends, and a wide steep verandah roof slanting down almost to the
level of the window-sills--there was something sinister about it, I
thought--like the hat of a jail-bird slouched over his eyes. The place
looked both deserted and haunted. I saw no light, but that was because
of the moonlight outside. The mare turned in at the corner of the
clearing to take a short cut to the shanty, and, as she struggled across
some marshy ground, my heart kept jerking out the words, ‘It’s deserted!
They’ve gone away! It’s deserted!’ The mare went round to the back and
pulled up between the back door and a big bark-and-slab kitchen. Some
one shouted from inside--

‘Who’s there?’

‘It’s me. Joe Wilson. I want your sister-in-law--I’ve got the boy--he’s
sick and dying!’

Brighten came out, pulling up his moleskins. ‘What boy?’ he asked.

‘Here, take him,’ I shouted, ‘and let me get down.’

‘What’s the matter with him?’ asked Brighten, and he seemed to hang
back. And just as I made to get my leg over the saddle, Jim’s head went
back over my arm, he stiffened, and I saw his eyeballs turned up and
glistening in the moonlight.

I felt cold all over then and sick in the stomach--but CLEAR-HEADED in
a way: strange, wasn’t it? I don’t know why I didn’t get down and rush
into the kitchen to get a bath ready. I only felt as if the worst had
come, and I wished it were over and gone. I even thought of Mary and the
funeral.

Then a woman ran out of the house--a big, hard-looking woman. She had
on a wrapper of some sort, and her feet were bare. She laid her hand on
Jim, looked at his face, and then snatched him from me and ran into the
kitchen--and me down and after her. As great good luck would have it,
they had some dirty clothes on to boil in a kerosene tin--dish-cloths or
something.

Brighten’s sister-in-law dragged a tub out from under the table,
wrenched the bucket off the hook, and dumped in the water, dish-cloths
and all, snatched a can of cold water from a corner, dashed that in,
and felt the water with her hand--holding Jim up to her hip all the
time--and I won’t say how he looked. She stood him in the tub and
started dashing water over him, tearing off his clothes between the
splashes.

‘Here, that tin of mustard--there on the shelf!’ she shouted to me.

She knocked the lid off the tin on the edge of the tub, and went on
splashing and spanking Jim.

It seemed an eternity. And I? Why, I never thought clearer in my life. I
felt cold-blooded--I felt as if I’d like an excuse to go outside till
it was all over. I thought of Mary and the funeral--and wished that that
was past. All this in a flash, as it were. I felt that it would be a
great relief, and only wished the funeral was months past. I felt--well,
altogether selfish. I only thought for myself.

Brighten’s sister-in-law splashed and spanked him hard--hard enough to
break his back I thought, and--after about half an hour it seemed--the
end came: Jim’s limbs relaxed, he slipped down into the tub, and the
pupils of his eyes came down. They seemed dull and expressionless, like
the eyes of a new baby, but he was back for the world again.

I dropped on the stool by the table.

‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘It’s all over now. I wasn’t going to let
him die.’ I was only thinking, ‘Well it’s over now, but it will come on
again. I wish it was over for good. I’m tired of it.’

She called to her sister, Mrs Brighten, a washed-out, helpless little
fool of a woman, who’d been running in and out and whimpering all the
time--

‘Here, Jessie! bring the new white blanket off my bed. And you,
Brighten, take some of that wood off the fire, and stuff something in
that hole there to stop the draught.’

Brighten--he was a nuggety little hairy man with no expression to be
seen for whiskers--had been running in with sticks and back logs from
the wood-heap. He took the wood out, stuffed up the crack, and went
inside and brought out a black bottle--got a cup from the shelf, and put
both down near my elbow.

Mrs Brighten started to get some supper or breakfast, or whatever it
was, ready. She had a clean cloth, and set the table tidily. I noticed
that all the tins were polished bright (old coffee- and mustard-tins
and the like, that they used instead of sugar-basins and tea-caddies and
salt-cellars), and the kitchen was kept as clean as possible. She was
all right at little things. I knew a haggard, worked-out Bushwoman who
put her whole soul--or all she’d got left--into polishing old tins till
they dazzled your eyes.

I didn’t feel inclined for corned beef and damper, and post-and-rail
tea. So I sat and squinted, when I thought she wasn’t looking, at
Brighten’s sister-in-law. She was a big woman, her hands and feet were
big, but well-shaped and all in proportion--they fitted her. She was a
handsome woman--about forty I should think. She had a square chin, and
a straight thin-lipped mouth--straight save for a hint of a turn down
at the corners, which I fancied (and I have strange fancies) had been a
sign of weakness in the days before she grew hard. There was no sign
of weakness now. She had hard grey eyes and blue-black hair. She hadn’t
spoken yet. She didn’t ask me how the boy took ill or I got there, or
who or what I was--at least not until the next evening at tea-time.

She sat upright with Jim wrapped in the blanket and laid across her
knees, with one hand under his neck and the other laid lightly on him,
and she just rocked him gently.

She sat looking hard and straight before her, just as I’ve seen a tired
needlewoman sit with her work in her lap, and look away back into the
past. And Jim might have been the work in her lap, for all she seemed to
think of him. Now and then she knitted her forehead and blinked.

Suddenly she glanced round and said--in a tone as if I was her husband
and she didn’t think much of me--

‘Why don’t you eat something?’

‘Beg pardon?’

‘Eat something!’

I drank some tea, and sneaked another look at her. I was beginning to
feel more natural, and wanted Jim again, now that the colour was coming
back into his face, and he didn’t look like an unnaturally stiff and
staring corpse. I felt a lump rising, and wanted to thank her. I sneaked
another look at her.

She was staring straight before her,--I never saw a woman’s face change
so suddenly--I never saw a woman’s eyes so haggard and hopeless. Then
her great chest heaved twice, I heard her draw a long shuddering breath,
like a knocked-out horse, and two great tears dropped from her wide
open eyes down her cheeks like rain-drops on a face of stone. And in the
firelight they seemed tinged with blood.

I looked away quick, feeling full up myself. And presently (I hadn’t
seen her look round) she said--

‘Go to bed.’

‘Beg pardon?’ (Her face was the same as before the tears.)

‘Go to bed. There’s a bed made for you inside on the sofa.’

‘But--the team--I must----’

‘What?’

‘The team. I left it at the camp. I must look to it.’

‘Oh! Well, Brighten will ride down and bring it up in the morning--or
send the half-caste. Now you go to bed, and get a good rest. The boy
will be all right. I’ll see to that.’

I went out--it was a relief to get out--and looked to the mare. Brighten
had got her some corn* and chaff in a candle-box, but she couldn’t eat
yet. She just stood or hung resting one hind-leg and then the other,
with her nose over the box--and she sobbed. I put my arms round her neck
and my face down on her ragged mane, and cried for the second time since
I was a boy.

     * Maize or Indian corn--wheat is never called corn in
     Australia.--

As I started to go in I heard Brighten’s sister-in-law say, suddenly and
sharply--

‘Take THAT away, Jessie.’

And presently I saw Mrs Brighten go into the house with the black
bottle.

The moon had gone behind the range. I stood for a minute between the
house and the kitchen and peeped in through the kitchen window.

She had moved away from the fire and sat near the table. She bent over
Jim and held him up close to her and rocked herself to and fro.

I went to bed and slept till the next afternoon. I woke just in time
to hear the tail-end of a conversation between Jim and Brighten’s
sister-in-law. He was asking her out to our place and she promising to
come.

‘And now,’ says Jim, ‘I want to go home to “muffer” in “The Same Ol’
Fling”.’

‘What?’

Jim repeated.

‘Oh! “The Same Old Thing”,--the waggon.’

The rest of the afternoon I poked round the gullies with old Brighten,
looking at some ‘indications’ (of the existence of gold) he had found.
It was no use trying to ‘pump’ him concerning his sister-in-law;
Brighten was an ‘old hand’, and had learned in the old Bush-ranging and
cattle-stealing days to know nothing about other people’s business. And,
by the way, I noticed then that the more you talk and listen to a bad
character, the more you lose your dislike for him.

I never saw such a change in a woman as in Brighten’s sister-in-law
that evening. She was bright and jolly, and seemed at least ten years
younger. She bustled round and helped her sister to get tea ready. She
rooted out some old china that Mrs Brighten had stowed away somewhere,
and set the table as I seldom saw it set out there. She propped Jim up
with pillows, and laughed and played with him like a great girl. She
described Sydney and Sydney life as I’d never heard it described before;
and she knew as much about the Bush and old digging days as I did. She
kept old Brighten and me listening and laughing till nearly midnight.
And she seemed quick to understand everything when I talked. If she
wanted to explain anything that we hadn’t seen, she wouldn’t say that it
was ‘like a--like a’--and hesitate (you know what I mean); she’d hit the
right thing on the head at once. A squatter with a very round, flaming
red face and a white cork hat had gone by in the afternoon: she said
it was ‘like a mushroom on the rising moon.’ She gave me a lot of good
hints about children.

But she was quiet again next morning. I harnessed up, and she dressed
Jim and gave him his breakfast, and made a comfortable place for him
on the load with the ‘possum rug and a spare pillow. She got up on the
wheel to do it herself. Then was the awkward time. I’d half start to
speak to her, and then turn away and go fixing up round the horses, and
then make another false start to say good-bye. At last she took Jim up
in her arms and kissed him, and lifted him on the wheel; but he put his
arms tight round her neck, and kissed her--a thing Jim seldom did
with anybody, except his mother, for he wasn’t what you’d call an
affectionate child,--he’d never more than offer his cheek to me, in his
old-fashioned way. I’d got up the other side of the load to take him
from her.

‘Here, take him,’ she said.

I saw his mouth twitching as I lifted him. Jim seldom cried nowadays--no
matter how much he was hurt. I gained some time fixing Jim comfortable.

‘You’d better make a start,’ she said. ‘You want to get home early with
that boy.’

I got down and went round to where she stood. I held out my hand and
tried to speak, but my voice went like an ungreased waggon wheel, and I
gave it up, and only squeezed her hand.

‘That’s all right,’ she said; then tears came into her eyes, and she
suddenly put her hand on my shoulder and kissed me on the cheek. ‘You be
off--you’re only a boy yourself. Take care of that boy; be kind to your
wife, and take care of yourself.’

‘Will you come to see us?’

‘Some day,’ she said.

I started the horses, and looked round once more. She was looking up at
Jim, who was waving his hand to her from the top of the load. And I saw
that haggard, hungry, hopeless look come into her eyes in spite of the
tears.


I smoothed over that story and shortened it a lot, when I told it to
Mary--I didn’t want to upset her. But, some time after I brought Jim
home from Gulgong, and while I was at home with the team for a few days,
nothing would suit Mary but she must go over to Brighten’s shanty and
see Brighten’s sister-in-law. So James drove her over one morning in the
spring-cart: it was a long way, and they stayed at Brighten’s overnight
and didn’t get back till late the next afternoon. I’d got the place in a
pig-muck, as Mary said, ‘doing for’ myself, and I was having a snooze
on the sofa when they got back. The first thing I remember was some one
stroking my head and kissing me, and I heard Mary saying, ‘My poor boy!
My poor old boy!’

I sat up with a jerk. I thought that Jim had gone off again. But it
seems that Mary was only referring to me. Then she started to pull grey
hairs out of my head and put ‘em in an empty match-box--to see how many
she’d get. She used to do this when she felt a bit soft. I don’t
know what she said to Brighten’s sister-in-law or what Brighten’s
sister-in-law said to her, but Mary was extra gentle for the next few
days.



‘Water Them Geraniums’.



I. A Lonely Track.


The time Mary and I shifted out into the Bush from Gulgong to ‘settle on
the land’ at Lahey’s Creek.

I’d sold the two tip-drays that I used for tank-sinking and dam-making,
and I took the traps out in the waggon on top of a small load of rations
and horse-feed that I was taking to a sheep-station out that way. Mary
drove out in the spring-cart. You remember we left little Jim with
his aunt in Gulgong till we got settled down. I’d sent James (Mary’s
brother) out the day before, on horseback, with two or three cows and
some heifers and steers and calves we had, and I’d told him to clean up
a bit, and make the hut as bright and cheerful as possible before Mary
came.

We hadn’t much in the way of furniture. There was the four-poster cedar
bedstead that I bought before we were married, and Mary was rather proud
of it: it had ‘turned’ posts and joints that bolted together. There was
a plain hardwood table, that Mary called her ‘ironing-table’, upside
down on top of the load, with the bedding and blankets between the
legs; there were four of those common black kitchen-chairs--with apples
painted on the hard board backs--that we used for the parlour; there was
a cheap batten sofa with arms at the ends and turned rails between the
uprights of the arms (we were a little proud of the turned rails); and
there was the camp-oven, and the three-legged pot, and pans and buckets,
stuck about the load and hanging under the tail-board of the waggon.

There was the little Wilcox & Gibb’s sewing-machine--my present to Mary
when we were married (and what a present, looking back to it!). There
was a cheap little rocking-chair, and a looking-glass and some
pictures that were presents from Mary’s friends and sister. She had her
mantel-shelf ornaments and crockery and nick-nacks packed away, in the
linen and old clothes, in a big tub made of half a cask, and a box
that had been Jim’s cradle. The live stock was a cat in one box, and in
another an old rooster, and three hens that formed cliques, two against
one, turn about, as three of the same sex will do all over the world. I
had my old cattle-dog, and of course a pup on the load--I always had a
pup that I gave away, or sold and didn’t get paid for, or had ‘touched’
(stolen) as soon as it was old enough. James had his three spidery,
sneaking, thieving, cold-blooded kangaroo-dogs with him. I was taking
out three months’ provisions in the way of ration-sugar, tea, flour, and
potatoes, &c.

I started early, and Mary caught up to me at Ryan’s Crossing on Sandy
Creek, where we boiled the billy and had some dinner.

Mary bustled about the camp and admired the scenery and talked too much,
for her, and was extra cheerful, and kept her face turned from me as
much as possible. I soon saw what was the matter. She’d been crying
to herself coming along the road. I thought it was all on account of
leaving little Jim behind for the first time. She told me that she
couldn’t make up her mind till the last moment to leave him, and that,
a mile or two along the road, she’d have turned back for him, only that
she knew her sister would laugh at her. She was always terribly anxious
about the children.

We cheered each other up, and Mary drove with me the rest of the way
to the creek, along the lonely branch track, across native-apple-tree
flats. It was a dreary, hopeless track. There was no horizon, nothing
but the rough ashen trunks of the gnarled and stunted trees in all
directions, little or no undergrowth, and the ground, save for the
coarse, brownish tufts of dead grass, as bare as the road, for it was
a dry season: there had been no rain for months, and I wondered what I
should do with the cattle if there wasn’t more grass on the creek.

In this sort of country a stranger might travel for miles without
seeming to have moved, for all the difference there is in the scenery.
The new tracks were ‘blazed’--that is, slices of bark cut off from both
sides of trees, within sight of each other, in a line, to mark the track
until the horses and wheel-marks made it plain. A smart Bushman, with
a sharp tomahawk, can blaze a track as he rides. But a Bushman a little
used to the country soon picks out differences amongst the trees, half
unconsciously as it were, and so finds his way about.

Mary and I didn’t talk much along this track--we couldn’t have heard
each other very well, anyway, for the ‘clock-clock’ of the waggon and
the rattle of the cart over the hard lumpy ground. And I suppose we
both began to feel pretty dismal as the shadows lengthened. I’d noticed
lately that Mary and I had got out of the habit of talking to each
other--noticed it in a vague sort of way that irritated me (as vague
things will irritate one) when I thought of it. But then I thought, ‘It
won’t last long--I’ll make life brighter for her by-and-by.’

As we went along--and the track seemed endless--I got brooding, of
course, back into the past. And I feel now, when it’s too late, that
Mary must have been thinking that way too. I thought of my early
boyhood, of the hard life of ‘grubbin’’ and ‘milkin’’ and ‘fencin’’ and
‘ploughin’’ and ‘ring-barkin’’, &c., and all for nothing. The few months
at the little bark-school, with a teacher who couldn’t spell. The cursed
ambition or craving that tortured my soul as a boy--ambition or craving
for--I didn’t know what for! For something better and brighter, anyhow.
And I made the life harder by reading at night.

It all passed before me as I followed on in the waggon, behind Mary in
the spring-cart. I thought of these old things more than I thought of
her. She had tried to help me to better things. And I tried too--I had
the energy of half-a-dozen men when I saw a road clear before me,
but shied at the first check. Then I brooded, or dreamed of making a
home--that one might call a home--for Mary--some day. Ah, well!----

And what was Mary thinking about, along the lonely, changeless miles? I
never thought of that. Of her kind, careless, gentleman father, perhaps.
Of her girlhood. Of her homes--not the huts and camps she lived in with
me. Of our future?--she used to plan a lot, and talk a good deal of our
future--but not lately. These things didn’t strike me at the time--I was
so deep in my own brooding. Did she think now--did she begin to feel
now that she had made a great mistake and thrown away her life, but must
make the best of it? This might have roused me, had I thought of it. But
whenever I thought Mary was getting indifferent towards me, I’d think,
‘I’ll soon win her back. We’ll be sweethearts again--when things
brighten up a bit.’

It’s an awful thing to me, now I look back to it, to think how far apart
we had grown, what strangers we were to each other. It seems, now, as
though we had been sweethearts long years before, and had parted, and
had never really met since.

The sun was going down when Mary called out--

‘There’s our place, Joe!’

She hadn’t seen it before, and somehow it came new and with a shock to
me, who had been out here several times. Ahead, through the trees to
the right, was a dark green clump of the oaks standing out of the creek,
darker for the dead grey grass and blue-grey bush on the barren ridge in
the background. Across the creek (it was only a deep, narrow gutter--a
water-course with a chain of water-holes after rain), across on the
other bank, stood the hut, on a narrow flat between the spur and the
creek, and a little higher than this side. The land was much better than
on our old selection, and there was good soil along the creek on both
sides: I expected a rush of selectors out here soon. A few acres round
the hut was cleared and fenced in by a light two-rail fence of timber
split from logs and saplings. The man who took up this selection left it
because his wife died here.

It was a small oblong hut built of split slabs, and he had roofed it
with shingles which he split in spare times. There was no verandah, but
I built one later on. At the end of the house was a big slab-and-bark
shed, bigger than the hut itself, with a kitchen, a skillion for tools,
harness, and horse-feed, and a spare bedroom partitioned off with sheets
of bark and old chaff-bags. The house itself was floored roughly, with
cracks between the boards; there were cracks between the slabs all
round--though he’d nailed strips of tin, from old kerosene-tins, over
some of them; the partitioned-off bedroom was lined with old chaff-bags
with newspapers pasted over them for wall-paper. There was no ceiling,
calico or otherwise, and we could see the round pine rafters and
battens, and the under ends of the shingles. But ceilings make a hut hot
and harbour insects and reptiles--snakes sometimes. There was one
small glass window in the ‘dining-room’ with three panes and a sheet
of greased paper, and the rest were rough wooden shutters. There was a
pretty good cow-yard and calf-pen, and--that was about all. There was
no dam or tank (I made one later on); there was a water-cask, with the
hoops falling off and the staves gaping, at the corner of the house, and
spouting, made of lengths of bent tin, ran round under the eaves. Water
from a new shingle roof is wine-red for a year or two, and water from
a stringy-bark roof is like tan-water for years. In dry weather the
selector had got his house water from a cask sunk in the gravel at
the bottom of the deepest water-hole in the creek. And the longer the
drought lasted, the farther he had to go down the creek for his water,
with a cask on a cart, and take his cows to drink, if he had any. Four,
five, six, or seven miles--even ten miles to water is nothing in some
places.


James hadn’t found himself called upon to do more than milk old ‘Spot’
(the grandmother cow of our mob), pen the calf at night, make a fire
in the kitchen, and sweep out the house with a bough. He helped me
unharness and water and feed the horses, and then started to get the
furniture off the waggon and into the house. James wasn’t lazy--so
long as one thing didn’t last too long; but he was too uncomfortably
practical and matter-of-fact for me. Mary and I had some tea in the
kitchen. The kitchen was permanently furnished with a table of split
slabs, adzed smooth on top, and supported by four stakes driven into the
ground, a three-legged stool and a block of wood, and two long
stools made of half-round slabs (sapling trunks split in halves) with
auger-holes bored in the round side and sticks stuck into them for legs.
The floor was of clay; the chimney of slabs and tin; the fireplace
was about eight feet wide, lined with clay, and with a blackened pole
across, with sooty chains and wire hooks on it for the pots.

Mary didn’t seem able to eat. She sat on the three-legged stool near the
fire, though it was warm weather, and kept her face turned from me.
Mary was still pretty, but not the little dumpling she had been: she was
thinner now. She had big dark hazel eyes that shone a little too much
when she was pleased or excited. I thought at times that there was
something very German about her expression; also something aristocratic
about the turn of her nose, which nipped in at the nostrils when she
spoke. There was nothing aristocratic about me. Mary was German in
figure and walk. I used sometimes to call her ‘Little Duchy’ and ‘Pigeon
Toes’. She had a will of her own, as shown sometimes by the obstinate
knit in her forehead between the eyes.

Mary sat still by the fire, and presently I saw her chin tremble.

‘What is it, Mary?’

She turned her face farther from me. I felt tired, disappointed, and
irritated--suffering from a reaction.

‘Now, what is it, Mary?’ I asked; ‘I’m sick of this sort of thing.
Haven’t you got everything you wanted? You’ve had your own way. What’s
the matter with you now?’

‘You know very well, Joe.’

‘But I DON’T know,’ I said. I knew too well.

She said nothing.

‘Look here, Mary,’ I said, putting my hand on her shoulder, ‘don’t go on
like that; tell me what’s the matter?’

‘It’s only this,’ she said suddenly, ‘I can’t stand this life here; it
will kill me!’

I had a pannikin of tea in my hand, and I banged it down on the table.

‘This is more than a man can stand!’ I shouted. ‘You know very well that
it was you that dragged me out here. You run me on to this! Why weren’t
you content to stay in Gulgong?’

‘And what sort of a place was Gulgong, Joe?’ asked Mary quietly.

(I thought even then in a flash what sort of a place Gulgong was. A
wretched remnant of a town on an abandoned goldfield. One street, each
side of the dusty main road; three or four one-storey square brick
cottages with hip roofs of galvanised iron that glared in the heat--four
rooms and a passage--the police-station, bank-manager and schoolmaster’s
cottages, &c. Half-a-dozen tumble-down weather-board shanties--the three
pubs., the two stores, and the post-office. The town tailing off into
weather-board boxes with tin tops, and old bark huts--relics of the
digging days--propped up by many rotting poles. The men, when at home,
mostly asleep or droning over their pipes or hanging about the verandah
posts of the pubs., saying, ‘’Ullo, Bill!’ or ‘’Ullo, Jim!’--or
sometimes drunk. The women, mostly hags, who blackened each other’s and
girls’ characters with their tongues, and criticised the aristocracy’s
washing hung out on the line: ‘And the colour of the clothes! Does that
woman wash her clothes at all? or only soak ‘em and hang ‘em out?’--that
was Gulgong.)

‘Well, why didn’t you come to Sydney, as I wanted you to?’ I asked Mary.

‘You know very well, Joe,’ said Mary quietly.

(I knew very well, but the knowledge only maddened me. I had had an idea
of getting a billet in one of the big wool-stores--I was a fair wool
expert--but Mary was afraid of the drink. I could keep well away from it
so long as I worked hard in the Bush. I had gone to Sydney twice since
I met Mary, once before we were married, and she forgave me when I came
back; and once afterwards. I got a billet there then, and was going to
send for her in a month. After eight weeks she raised the money somehow
and came to Sydney and brought me home. I got pretty low down that
time.)

‘But, Mary,’ I said, ‘it would have been different this time. You would
have been with me. I can take a glass now or leave it alone.’

‘As long as you take a glass there is danger,’ she said.

‘Well, what did you want to advise me to come out here for, if you can’t
stand it? Why didn’t you stay where you were?’ I asked.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘why weren’t you more decided?’

I’d sat down, but I jumped to my feet then.

‘Good God!’ I shouted, ‘this is more than any man can stand. I’ll chuck
it all up! I’m damned well sick and tired of the whole thing.’

‘So am I, Joe,’ said Mary wearily.

We quarrelled badly then--that first hour in our new home. I know now
whose fault it was.

I got my hat and went out and started to walk down the creek. I didn’t
feel bitter against Mary--I had spoken too cruelly to her to feel that
way. Looking back, I could see plainly that if I had taken her advice
all through, instead of now and again, things would have been all right
with me. I had come away and left her crying in the hut, and James
telling her, in a brotherly way, that it was all her fault. The trouble
was that I never liked to ‘give in’ or go half-way to make it up--not
half-way--it was all the way or nothing with our natures.

‘If I don’t make a stand now,’ I’d say, ‘I’ll never be master. I gave up
the reins when I got married, and I’ll have to get them back again.’

What women some men are! But the time came, and not many years after,
when I stood by the bed where Mary lay, white and still; and, amongst
other things, I kept saying, ‘I’ll give in, Mary--I’ll give in,’ and
then I’d laugh. They thought that I was raving mad, and took me from the
room. But that time was to come.

As I walked down the creek track in the moonlight the question rang in
my ears again, as it had done when I first caught sight of the house
that evening--

‘Why did I bring her here?’

I was not fit to ‘go on the land’. The place was only fit for some
stolid German, or Scotsman, or even Englishman and his wife, who had no
ambition but to bullock and make a farm of the place. I had only drifted
here through carelessness, brooding, and discontent.

I walked on and on till I was more than half-way to the only
neighbours--a wretched selector’s family, about four miles down the
creek,--and I thought I’d go on to the house and see if they had any
fresh meat.

A mile or two farther I saw the loom of the bark hut they lived in, on
a patchy clearing in the scrub, and heard the voice of the selector’s
wife--I had seen her several times: she was a gaunt, haggard Bushwoman,
and, I supposed, the reason why she hadn’t gone mad through hardship
and loneliness was that she hadn’t either the brains or the memory to go
farther than she could see through the trunks of the ‘apple-trees’.

‘You, An-nay!’ (Annie.)

‘Ye-es’ (from somewhere in the gloom).

‘Didn’t I tell yer to water them geraniums!’

‘Well, didn’t I?’

‘Don’t tell lies or I’ll break yer young back!’

‘I did, I tell yer--the water won’t soak inter the ashes.’

Geraniums were the only flowers I saw grow in the drought out there.
I remembered this woman had a few dirty grey-green leaves behind some
sticks against the bark wall near the door; and in spite of the sticks
the fowls used to get in and scratch beds under the geraniums, and
scratch dust over them, and ashes were thrown there--with an idea of
helping the flower, I suppose; and greasy dish-water, when fresh water
was scarce--till you might as well try to water a dish of fat.

Then the woman’s voice again--

‘You, Tom-may!’ (Tommy.)

Silence, save for an echo on the ridge.

‘Y-o-u, T-o-m-MAY!’

‘Ye-e-s!’ shrill shriek from across the creek.

‘Didn’t I tell you to ride up to them new people and see if they want
any meat or any think?’ in one long screech.

‘Well--I karnt find the horse.’

‘Well-find-it-first-think-in-the-morning and.
And-don’t-forgit-to-tell-Mrs-Wi’son-that-mother’ll-be-up-as-soon-as-she-can.’


I didn’t feel like going to the woman’s house that night. I felt--and
the thought came like a whip-stroke on my heart--that this was what Mary
would come to if I left her here.

I turned and started to walk home, fast. I’d made up my mind. I’d take
Mary straight back to Gulgong in the morning--I forgot about the load I
had to take to the sheep station. I’d say, ‘Look here, Girlie’ (that’s
what I used to call her), ‘we’ll leave this wretched life; we’ll leave
the Bush for ever! We’ll go to Sydney, and I’ll be a man! and work my
way up.’ And I’d sell waggon, horses, and all, and go.

When I got to the hut it was lighted up. Mary had the only kerosene
lamp, a slush lamp, and two tallow candles going. She had got both rooms
washed out--to James’s disgust, for he had to move the furniture and
boxes about. She had a lot of things unpacked on the table; she had
laid clean newspapers on the mantel-shelf--a slab on two pegs over the
fireplace--and put the little wooden clock in the centre and some of
the ornaments on each side, and was tacking a strip of vandyked American
oil-cloth round the rough edge of the slab.

‘How does that look, Joe? We’ll soon get things ship-shape.’

I kissed her, but she had her mouth full of tacks. I went out in the
kitchen, drank a pint of cold tea, and sat down.

Somehow I didn’t feel satisfied with the way things had gone.



II. ‘Past Carin’’.


Next morning things looked a lot brighter. Things always look brighter
in the morning--more so in the Australian Bush, I should think, than in
most other places. It is when the sun goes down on the dark bed of the
lonely Bush, and the sunset flashes like a sea of fire and then fades,
and then glows out again, like a bank of coals, and then burns away to
ashes--it is then that old things come home to one. And strange, new-old
things too, that haunt and depress you terribly, and that you can’t
understand. I often think how, at sunset, the past must come home to
new-chum blacksheep, sent out to Australia and drifted into the Bush.
I used to think that they couldn’t have much brains, or the loneliness
would drive them mad.

I’d decided to let James take the team for a trip or two. He could drive
alright; he was a better business man, and no doubt would manage better
than me--as long as the novelty lasted; and I’d stay at home for a
week or so, till Mary got used to the place, or I could get a girl from
somewhere to come and stay with her. The first weeks or few months of
loneliness are the worst, as a rule, I believe, as they say the first
weeks in jail are--I was never there. I know it’s so with tramping or
hard graft*: the first day or two are twice as hard as any of the rest.
But, for my part, I could never get used to loneliness and dulness; the
last days used to be the worst with me: then I’d have to make a move, or
drink. When you’ve been too much and too long alone in a lonely place,
you begin to do queer things and think queer thoughts--provided you have
any imagination at all. You’ll sometimes sit of an evening and watch the
lonely track, by the hour, for a horseman or a cart or some one that’s
never likely to come that way--some one, or a stranger, that you can’t
and don’t really expect to see. I think that most men who have been
alone in the Bush for any length of time--and married couples too--are
more or less mad. With married couples it is generally the husband who
is painfully shy and awkward when strangers come. The woman seems to
stand the loneliness better, and can hold her own with strangers, as a
rule. It’s only afterwards, and looking back, that you see how queer you
got. Shepherds and boundary-riders, who are alone for months, MUST have
their periodical spree, at the nearest shanty, else they’d go raving
mad. Drink is the only break in the awful monotony, and the yearly or
half-yearly spree is the only thing they’ve got to look forward to: it
keeps their minds fixed on something definite ahead.

     * ‘Graft’, work.  The term is now applied, in Australia, to
     all sorts of work, from bullock-driving to writing poetry.

But Mary kept her head pretty well through the first months of
loneliness. WEEKS, rather, I should say, for it wasn’t as bad as it
might have been farther up-country: there was generally some one came
of a Sunday afternoon--a spring-cart with a couple of women, or maybe
a family,--or a lanky shy Bush native or two on lanky shy horses. On
a quiet Sunday, after I’d brought Jim home, Mary would dress him and
herself--just the same as if we were in town--and make me get up on one
end and put on a collar and take her and Jim for a walk along the creek.
She said she wanted to keep me civilised. She tried to make a gentleman
of me for years, but gave it up gradually.

Well. It was the first morning on the creek: I was greasing the
waggon-wheels, and James out after the horse, and Mary hanging out
clothes, in an old print dress and a big ugly white hood, when I heard
her being hailed as ‘Hi, missus!’ from the front slip-rails.

It was a boy on horseback. He was a light-haired, very much freckled boy
of fourteen or fifteen, with a small head, but with limbs, especially
his bare sun-blotched shanks, that might have belonged to a grown
man. He had a good face and frank grey eyes. An old, nearly black
cabbage-tree hat rested on the butts of his ears, turning them out at
right angles from his head, and rather dirty sprouts they were. He wore
a dirty torn Crimean shirt; and a pair of man’s moleskin trousers rolled
up above the knees, with the wide waistband gathered under a greenhide
belt. I noticed, later on, that, even when he wore trousers short enough
for him, he always rolled ‘em up above the knees when on horseback, for
some reason of his own: to suggest leggings, perhaps, for he had them
rolled up in all weathers, and he wouldn’t have bothered to save them
from the sweat of the horse, even if that horse ever sweated.

He was seated astride a three-bushel bag thrown across the ridge-pole of
a big grey horse, with a coffin-shaped head, and built astern something
after the style of a roughly put up hip-roofed box-bark humpy.* His
colour was like old box-bark, too, a dirty bluish-grey; and, one time,
when I saw his rump looming out of the scrub, I really thought it was
some old shepherd’s hut that I hadn’t noticed there before. When he
cantered it was like the humpy starting off on its corner-posts.

     * ‘Humpy’, a rough hut.

‘Are you Mrs Wilson?’ asked the boy.

‘Yes,’ said Mary.

‘Well, mother told me to ride acrost and see if you wanted anythink. We
killed lars’ night, and I’ve fetched a piece er cow.’

‘Piece of WHAT?’ asked Mary.

He grinned, and handed a sugar-bag across the rail with something heavy
in the bottom of it, that nearly jerked Mary’s arm out when she took
it. It was a piece of beef, that looked as if it had been cut off with a
wood-axe, but it was fresh and clean.

‘Oh, I’m so glad!’ cried Mary. She was always impulsive, save to me
sometimes. ‘I was just wondering where we were going to get any fresh
meat. How kind of your mother! Tell her I’m very much obliged to her
indeed.’ And she felt behind her for a poor little purse she had. ‘And
now--how much did your mother say it would be?’

The boy blinked at her, and scratched his head.

‘How much will it be,’ he repeated, puzzled. ‘Oh--how much does it weigh
I-s’pose-yer-mean. Well, it ain’t been weighed at all--we ain’t got no
scales. A butcher does all that sort of think. We just kills it, and
cooks it, and eats it--and goes by guess. What won’t keep we salts down
in the cask. I reckon it weighs about a ton by the weight of it if yer
wanter know. Mother thought that if she sent any more it would go bad
before you could scoff it. I can’t see----’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Mary, getting confused. ‘But what I want to know is,
how do you manage when you sell it?’

He glared at her, and scratched his head. ‘Sell it? Why, we only goes
halves in a steer with some one, or sells steers to the butcher--or
maybe some meat to a party of fencers or surveyors, or tank-sinkers, or
them sorter people----’

‘Yes, yes; but what I want to know is, how much am I to send your mother
for this?’

‘How much what?’

‘Money, of course, you stupid boy,’ said Mary. ‘You seem a very stupid
boy.’

Then he saw what she was driving at. He began to fling his heels
convulsively against the sides of his horse, jerking his body backward
and forward at the same time, as if to wind up and start some clockwork
machinery inside the horse, that made it go, and seemed to need
repairing or oiling.

‘We ain’t that sorter people, missus,’ he said. ‘We don’t sell meat
to new people that come to settle here.’ Then, jerking his thumb
contemptuously towards the ridges, ‘Go over ter Wall’s if yer wanter buy
meat; they sell meat ter strangers.’ (Wall was the big squatter over the
ridges.)

‘Oh!’ said Mary, ‘I’m SO sorry. Thank your mother for me. She IS kind.’

‘Oh, that’s nothink. She said to tell yer she’ll be up as soon as she
can. She’d have come up yisterday evening--she thought yer’d feel lonely
comin’ new to a place like this--but she couldn’t git up.’

The machinery inside the old horse showed signs of starting. You
almost heard the wooden joints CREAK as he lurched forward, like an old
propped-up humpy when the rotting props give way; but at the sound of
Mary’s voice he settled back on his foundations again. It must have been
a very poor selection that couldn’t afford a better spare horse than
that.

‘Reach me that lump er wood, will yer, missus?’ said the boy, and he
pointed to one of my ‘spreads’ (for the team-chains) that lay inside the
fence. ‘I’ll fling it back agin over the fence when I git this ole cow
started.’

‘But wait a minute--I’ve forgotten your mother’s name,’ said Mary.

He grabbed at his thatch impatiently. ‘Me mother--oh!--the old woman’s
name’s Mrs Spicer. (Git up, karnt yer!)’ He twisted himself round, and
brought the stretcher down on one of the horse’s ‘points’ (and he had
many) with a crack that must have jarred his wrist.

‘Do you go to school?’ asked Mary. There was a three-days-a-week school
over the ridges at Wall’s station.

‘No!’ he jerked out, keeping his legs going. ‘Me--why I’m going on fur
fifteen. The last teacher at Wall’s finished me. I’m going to Queensland
next month drovin’.’ (Queensland border was over three hundred miles
away.)

‘Finished you? How?’ asked Mary.

‘Me edgercation, of course! How do yer expect me to start this horse
when yer keep talkin’?’

He split the ‘spread’ over the horse’s point, threw the pieces over the
fence, and was off, his elbows and legs flinging wildly, and the old
saw-stool lumbering along the road like an old working bullock trying a
canter. That horse wasn’t a trotter.

And next month he DID start for Queensland. He was a younger son and a
surplus boy on a wretched, poverty-stricken selection; and as there was
‘northin’ doin’’ in the district, his father (in a burst of fatherly
kindness, I suppose) made him a present of the old horse and a new
pair of Blucher boots, and I gave him an old saddle and a coat, and he
started for the Never-Never Country.

And I’ll bet he got there. But I’m doubtful if the old horse did.

Mary gave the boy five shillings, and I don’t think he had anything more
except a clean shirt and an extra pair of white cotton socks.

‘Spicer’s farm’ was a big bark humpy on a patchy clearing in the native
apple-tree scrub. The clearing was fenced in by a light ‘dog-legged’
fence (a fence of sapling poles resting on forks and X-shaped uprights),
and the dusty ground round the house was almost entirely covered with
cattle-dung. There was no attempt at cultivation when I came to live on
the creek; but there were old furrow-marks amongst the stumps of another
shapeless patch in the scrub near the hut. There was a wretched sapling
cow-yard and calf-pen, and a cow-bail with one sheet of bark over it for
shelter. There was no dairy to be seen, and I suppose the milk was set
in one of the two skillion rooms, or lean-to’s behind the hut,--the
other was ‘the boys’ bedroom’. The Spicers kept a few cows and steers,
and had thirty or forty sheep. Mrs Spicer used to drive down the creek
once a-week, in her rickety old spring-cart, to Cobborah, with butter
and eggs. The hut was nearly as bare inside as it was out--just a frame
of ‘round-timber’ (sapling poles) covered with bark. The furniture was
permanent (unless you rooted it up), like in our kitchen: a rough slab
table on stakes driven into the ground, and seats made the same
way. Mary told me afterwards that the beds in the bag-and-bark
partitioned-off room [‘mother’s bedroom’) were simply poles laid side
by side on cross-pieces supported by stakes driven into the ground, with
straw mattresses and some worn-out bed-clothes. Mrs Spicer had an old
patchwork quilt, in rags, and the remains of a white one, and Mary said
it was pitiful to see how these things would be spread over the beds--to
hide them as much as possible--when she went down there. A packing-case,
with something like an old print skirt draped round it, and a cracked
looking-glass (without a frame) on top, was the dressing-table.
There were a couple of gin-cases for a wardrobe. The boys’ beds were
three-bushel bags stretched between poles fastened to uprights. The
floor was the original surface, tramped hard, worn uneven with much
sweeping, and with puddles in rainy weather where the roof leaked. Mrs
Spicer used to stand old tins, dishes, and buckets under as many of
the leaks as she could. The saucepans, kettles, and boilers were old
kerosene-tins and billies. They used kerosene-tins, too, cut longways in
halves, for setting the milk in. The plates and cups were of tin;
there were two or three cups without saucers, and a crockery plate or
two--also two mugs, cracked and without handles, one with ‘For a Good
Boy’ and the other with ‘For a Good Girl’ on it; but all these were kept
on the mantel-shelf for ornament and for company. They were the only
ornaments in the house, save a little wooden clock that hadn’t gone for
years. Mrs Spicer had a superstition that she had ‘some things packed
away from the children.’

The pictures were cut from old copies of the ‘Illustrated Sydney News’
and pasted on to the bark. I remember this, because I remembered, long
ago, the Spencers, who were our neighbours when I was a boy, had the
walls of their bedroom covered with illustrations of the American Civil
War, cut from illustrated London papers, and I used to ‘sneak’ into
‘mother’s bedroom’ with Fred Spencer whenever we got the chance, and
gloat over the prints. I gave him a blade of a pocket-knife once, for
taking me in there.

I saw very little of Spicer. He was a big, dark, dark-haired and
whiskered man. I had an idea that he wasn’t a selector at all, only a
‘dummy’ for the squatter of the Cobborah run. You see, selectors were
allowed to take up land on runs, or pastoral leases. The squatters
kept them off as much as possible, by all manner of dodges and paltry
persecution. The squatter would get as much freehold as he could afford,
‘select’ as much land as the law allowed one man to take up, and then
employ dummies (dummy selectors) to take up bits of land that he fancied
about his run, and hold them for him.

Spicer seemed gloomy and unsociable. He was seldom at home. He was
generally supposed to be away shearin’, or fencin’, or workin’ on
somebody’s station. It turned out that the last six months he was away
it was on the evidence of a cask of beef and a hide with the brand cut
out, found in his camp on a fencing contract up-country, and which he
and his mates couldn’t account for satisfactorily, while the squatter
could. Then the family lived mostly on bread and honey, or bread and
treacle, or bread and dripping, and tea. Every ounce of butter and every
egg was needed for the market, to keep them in flour, tea, and sugar.
Mary found that out, but couldn’t help them much--except by ‘stuffing’
the children with bread and meat or bread and jam whenever they came up
to our place--for Mrs Spicer was proud with the pride that lies down in
the end and turns its face to the wall and dies.

Once, when Mary asked Annie, the eldest girl at home, if she was
hungry, she denied it--but she looked it. A ragged mite she had with her
explained things. The little fellow said--

‘Mother told Annie not to say we was hungry if yer asked; but if yer
give us anythink to eat, we was to take it an’ say thenk yer, Mrs
Wilson.’

‘I wouldn’t ‘a’ told yer a lie; but I thought Jimmy would split on me,
Mrs Wilson,’ said Annie. ‘Thenk yer, Mrs Wilson.’

She was not a big woman. She was gaunt and flat-chested, and her face
was ‘burnt to a brick’, as they say out there. She had brown eyes,
nearly red, and a little wild-looking at times, and a sharp face--ground
sharp by hardship--the cheeks drawn in. She had an expression
like--well, like a woman who had been very curious and suspicious at one
time, and wanted to know everybody’s business and hear everything, and
had lost all her curiosity, without losing the expression or the quick
suspicious movements of the head. I don’t suppose you understand. I
can’t explain it any other way. She was not more than forty.

I remember the first morning I saw her. I was going up the creek to look
at the selection for the first time, and called at the hut to see if she
had a bit of fresh mutton, as I had none and was sick of ‘corned beef’.

‘Yes--of--course,’ she said, in a sharp nasty tone, as if to say, ‘Is
there anything more you want while the shop’s open?’ I’d met just the
same sort of woman years before while I was carrying swag between the
shearing-sheds in the awful scrubs out west of the Darling river, so I
didn’t turn on my heels and walk away. I waited for her to speak again.

‘Come--inside,’ she said, ‘and sit down. I see you’ve got the waggon
outside. I s’pose your name’s Wilson, ain’t it? You’re thinkin’ about
takin’ on Harry Marshfield’s selection up the creek, so I heard. Wait
till I fry you a chop and boil the billy.’

Her voice sounded, more than anything else, like a voice coming out of
a phonograph--I heard one in Sydney the other day--and not like a voice
coming out of her. But sometimes when she got outside her everyday
life on this selection she spoke in a sort of--in a sort of lost
groping-in-the-dark kind of voice.

She didn’t talk much this time--just spoke in a mechanical way of the
drought, and the hard times, ‘an’ butter ‘n’ eggs bein’ down, an’ her
husban’ an’ eldest son bein’ away, an’ that makin’ it so hard for her.’

I don’t know how many children she had. I never got a chance to count
them, for they were nearly all small, and shy as piccaninnies, and used
to run and hide when anybody came. They were mostly nearly as black as
piccaninnies too. She must have averaged a baby a-year for years--and
God only knows how she got over her confinements! Once, they said, she
only had a black gin with her. She had an elder boy and girl, but she
seldom spoke of them. The girl, ‘Liza’, was ‘in service in Sydney.’ I’m
afraid I knew what that meant. The elder son was ‘away’. He had been a
bit of a favourite round there, it seemed.

Some one might ask her, ‘How’s your son Jack, Mrs Spicer?’ or, ‘Heard of
Jack lately? and where is he now?’

‘Oh, he’s somewheres up country,’ she’d say in the ‘groping’ voice, or
‘He’s drovin’ in Queenslan’,’ or ‘Shearin’ on the Darlin’ the last time
I heerd from him.’ ‘We ain’t had a line from him since--les’ see--since
Chris’mas ‘fore last.’

And she’d turn her haggard eyes in a helpless, hopeless sort of way
towards the west--towards ‘up-country’ and ‘Out-Back’.*


     * ‘Out-Back’ is always west of the Bushman, no matter how
     far out he be.


The eldest girl at home was nine or ten, with a little old face and
lines across her forehead: she had an older expression than her mother.
Tommy went to Queensland, as I told you. The eldest son at home, Bill
(older than Tommy), was ‘a bit wild.’

I’ve passed the place in smothering hot mornings in December, when the
droppings about the cow-yard had crumpled to dust that rose in the
warm, sickly, sunrise wind, and seen that woman at work in the cow-yard,
‘bailing up’ and leg-roping cows, milking, or hauling at a rope round
the neck of a half-grown calf that was too strong for her (and she was
tough as fencing-wire), or humping great buckets of sour milk to the
pigs or the ‘poddies’ (hand-fed calves) in the pen. I’d get off the
horse and give her a hand sometimes with a young steer, or a cranky old
cow that wouldn’t ‘bail-up’ and threatened her with her horns. She’d
say--

‘Thenk yer, Mr Wilson. Do yer think we’re ever goin’ to have any rain?’

I’ve ridden past the place on bitter black rainy mornings in June or
July, and seen her trudging about the yard--that was ankle-deep in black
liquid filth--with an old pair of Blucher boots on, and an old coat of
her husband’s, or maybe a three-bushel bag over her shoulders. I’ve seen
her climbing on the roof by means of the water-cask at the corner, and
trying to stop a leak by shoving a piece of tin in under the bark. And
when I’d fixed the leak--

‘Thenk yer, Mr Wilson. This drop of rain’s a blessin’! Come in and have
a dry at the fire and I’ll make yer a cup of tea.’ And, if I was in a
hurry, ‘Come in, man alive! Come in! and dry yerself a bit till the rain
holds up. Yer can’t go home like this! Yer’ll git yer death o’ cold.’

I’ve even seen her, in the terrible drought, climbing she-oaks and
apple-trees by a makeshift ladder, and awkwardly lopping off boughs to
feed the starving cattle.

‘Jist tryin’ ter keep the milkers alive till the rain comes.’

They said that when the pleuro-pneumonia was in the district and amongst
her cattle she bled and physicked them herself, and fed those that were
down with slices of half-ripe pumpkins (from a crop that had failed).

‘An’, one day,’ she told Mary, ‘there was a big barren heifer (that we
called Queen Elizabeth) that was down with the ploorer. She’d been down
for four days and hadn’t moved, when one mornin’ I dumped some wheaten
chaff--we had a few bags that Spicer brought home--I dumped it in front
of her nose, an’--would yer b’lieve me, Mrs Wilson?--she stumbled onter
her feet an’ chased me all the way to the house! I had to pick up me
skirts an’ run! Wasn’t it redic’lus?’

They had a sense of the ridiculous, most of those poor sun-dried
Bushwomen. I fancy that that helped save them from madness.

‘We lost nearly all our milkers,’ she told Mary. ‘I remember one day
Tommy came running to the house and screamed: ‘Marther! [mother] there’s
another milker down with the ploorer!’ Jist as if it was great news.
Well, Mrs Wilson, I was dead-beat, an’ I giv’ in. I jist sat down
to have a good cry, and felt for my han’kerchief--it WAS a rag of a
han’kerchief, full of holes (all me others was in the wash). Without
seein’ what I was doin’ I put me finger through one hole in the
han’kerchief an’ me thumb through the other, and poked me fingers into
me eyes, instead of wipin’ them. Then I had to laugh.’

There’s a story that once, when the Bush, or rather grass, fires were
out all along the creek on Spicer’s side, Wall’s station hands were up
above our place, trying to keep the fire back from the boundary, and
towards evening one of the men happened to think of the Spicers: they
saw smoke down that way. Spicer was away from home, and they had a small
crop of wheat, nearly ripe, on the selection.

‘My God! that poor devil of a woman will be burnt out, if she ain’t
already!’ shouted young Billy Wall. ‘Come along, three or four of you
chaps’--(it was shearing-time, and there were plenty of men on the
station).

They raced down the creek to Spicer’s, and were just in time to save the
wheat. She had her sleeves tucked up, and was beating out the burning
grass with a bough. She’d been at it for an hour, and was as black as a
gin, they said. She only said when they’d turned the fire: ‘Thenk yer!
Wait an’ I’ll make some tea.’

     *****

After tea the first Sunday she came to see us, Mary asked--

‘Don’t you feel lonely, Mrs Spicer, when your husband goes away?’

‘Well--no, Mrs Wilson,’ she said in the groping sort of voice. ‘I uster,
once. I remember, when we lived on the Cudgeegong river--we lived in
a brick house then--the first time Spicer had to go away from home I
nearly fretted my eyes out. And he was only goin’ shearin’ for a month.
I muster bin a fool; but then we were only jist married a little while.
He’s been away drovin’ in Queenslan’ as long as eighteen months at a
time since then. But’ (her voice seemed to grope in the dark more
than ever) ‘I don’t mind,--I somehow seem to have got past carin’.
Besides--besides, Spicer was a very different man then to what he is
now. He’s got so moody and gloomy at home, he hardly ever speaks.’

Mary sat silent for a minute thinking. Then Mrs Spicer roused herself--

‘Oh, I don’t know what I’m talkin’ about! You mustn’t take any notice of
me, Mrs Wilson,--I don’t often go on like this. I do believe I’m gittin’
a bit ratty at times. It must be the heat and the dulness.’

But once or twice afterwards she referred to a time ‘when Spicer was a
different man to what he was now.’

I walked home with her a piece along the creek. She said nothing for
a long time, and seemed to be thinking in a puzzled way. Then she said
suddenly--

‘What-did-you-bring-her-here-for? She’s only a girl.’

‘I beg pardon, Mrs Spicer.’

‘Oh, I don’t know what I’m talkin’ about! I b’lieve I’m gittin’ ratty.
You mustn’t take any notice of me, Mr Wilson.’

She wasn’t much company for Mary; and often, when she had a child with
her, she’d start taking notice of the baby while Mary was talking, which
used to exasperate Mary. But poor Mrs Spicer couldn’t help it, and she
seemed to hear all the same.

Her great trouble was that she ‘couldn’t git no reg’lar schoolin’ for
the children.’

‘I learns ‘em at home as much as I can. But I don’t git a minute to
call me own; an’ I’m ginerally that dead-beat at night that I’m fit for
nothink.’

Mary had some of the children up now and then later on, and taught them
a little. When she first offered to do so, Mrs Spicer laid hold of the
handiest youngster and said--

‘There--do you hear that? Mrs Wilson is goin’ to teach yer, an’
it’s more than yer deserve!’ (the youngster had been ‘cryin’’ over
something). ‘Now, go up an’ say “Thenk yer, Mrs Wilson.” And if yer
ain’t good, and don’t do as she tells yer, I’ll break every bone in yer
young body!’

The poor little devil stammered something, and escaped.

The children were sent by turns over to Wall’s to Sunday-school. When
Tommy was at home he had a new pair of elastic-side boots, and there was
no end of rows about them in the family--for the mother made him lend
them to his sister Annie, to go to Sunday-school in, in her turn. There
were only about three pairs of anyway decent boots in the family, and
these were saved for great occasions. The children were always as clean
and tidy as possible when they came to our place.

And I think the saddest and most pathetic sight on the face of God’s
earth is the children of very poor people made to appear well: the
broken worn-out boots polished or greased, the blackened (inked) pieces
of string for laces; the clean patched pinafores over the wretched
threadbare frocks. Behind the little row of children hand-in-hand--and
no matter where they are--I always see the worn face of the mother.

Towards the end of the first year on the selection our little girl came.
I’d sent Mary to Gulgong for four months that time, and when she came
back with the baby Mrs Spicer used to come up pretty often. She came up
several times when Mary was ill, to lend a hand. She wouldn’t sit down
and condole with Mary, or waste her time asking questions, or talking
about the time when she was ill herself. She’d take off her hat--a
shapeless little lump of black straw she wore for visiting--give
her hair a quick brush back with the palms of her hands, roll up her
sleeves, and set to work to ‘tidy up’. She seemed to take most pleasure
in sorting out our children’s clothes, and dressing them. Perhaps she
used to dress her own like that in the days when Spicer was a different
man from what he was now. She seemed interested in the fashion-plates
of some women’s journals we had, and used to study them with an interest
that puzzled me, for she was not likely to go in for fashion. She never
talked of her early girlhood; but Mary, from some things she noticed,
was inclined to think that Mrs Spicer had been fairly well brought up.
For instance, Dr Balanfantie, from Cudgeegong, came out to see Wall’s
wife, and drove up the creek to our place on his way back to see how
Mary and the baby were getting on. Mary got out some crockery and some
table-napkins that she had packed away for occasions like this; and
she said that the way Mrs Spicer handled the things, and helped set the
table (though she did it in a mechanical sort of way), convinced her
that she had been used to table-napkins at one time in her life.

Sometimes, after a long pause in the conversation, Mrs Spicer would say
suddenly--

‘Oh, I don’t think I’ll come up next week, Mrs Wilson.’

‘Why, Mrs Spicer?’

‘Because the visits doesn’t do me any good. I git the dismals
afterwards.’

‘Why, Mrs Spicer? What on earth do you mean?’

‘Oh,-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-talkin’-about. You mustn’t take any notice
of me.’ And she’d put on her hat, kiss the children--and Mary too,
sometimes, as if she mistook her for a child--and go.

Mary thought her a little mad at times. But I seemed to understand.

Once, when Mrs Spicer was sick, Mary went down to her, and down again
next day. As she was coming away the second time, Mrs Spicer said--

‘I wish you wouldn’t come down any more till I’m on me feet, Mrs Wilson.
The children can do for me.’

‘Why, Mrs Spicer?’

‘Well, the place is in such a muck, and it hurts me.’

We were the aristocrats of Lahey’s Creek. Whenever we drove down on
Sunday afternoon to see Mrs Spicer, and as soon as we got near enough
for them to hear the rattle of the cart, we’d see the children running
to the house as fast as they could split, and hear them screaming--

‘Oh, marther! Here comes Mr and Mrs Wilson in their spring-cart.’

And we’d see her bustle round, and two or three fowls fly out the
front door, and she’d lay hold of a broom (made of a bound bunch of
‘broom-stuff’--coarse reedy grass or bush from the ridges--with a stick
stuck in it) and flick out the floor, with a flick or two round in front
of the door perhaps. The floor nearly always needed at least one flick
of the broom on account of the fowls. Or she’d catch a youngster and
scrub his face with a wet end of a cloudy towel, or twist the towel
round her finger and dig out his ears--as if she was anxious to have him
hear every word that was going to be said.

No matter what state the house would be in she’d always say, ‘I was jist
expectin’ yer, Mrs Wilson.’ And she was original in that, anyway.

She had an old patched and darned white table-cloth that she used to
spread on the table when we were there, as a matter of course [‘The
others is in the wash, so you must excuse this, Mrs Wilson’), but I saw
by the eyes of the children that the cloth was rather a wonderful thing
to them. ‘I must really git some more knives an’ forks next time I’m in
Cobborah,’ she’d say. ‘The children break an’ lose ‘em till I’m ashamed
to ask Christians ter sit down ter the table.’

She had many Bush yarns, some of them very funny, some of them rather
ghastly, but all interesting, and with a grim sort of humour about them.
But the effect was often spoilt by her screaming at the children to
‘Drive out them fowls, karnt yer,’ or ‘Take yer maulies [hands] outer
the sugar,’ or ‘Don’t touch Mrs Wilson’s baby with them dirty maulies,’
or ‘Don’t stand starin’ at Mrs Wilson with yer mouth an’ ears in that
vulgar way.’

Poor woman! she seemed everlastingly nagging at the children. It was
a habit, but they didn’t seem to mind. Most Bushwomen get the nagging
habit. I remember one, who had the prettiest, dearest, sweetest, most
willing, and affectionate little girl I think I ever saw, and she nagged
that child from daylight till dark--and after it. Taking it all round,
I think that the nagging habit in a mother is often worse on ordinary
children, and more deadly on sensitive youngsters, than the drinking
habit in a father.

One of the yarns Mrs Spicer told us was about a squatter she knew who
used to go wrong in his head every now and again, and try to commit
suicide. Once, when the station-hand, who was watching him, had his eye
off him for a minute, he hanged himself to a beam in the stable. The
men ran in and found him hanging and kicking. ‘They let him hang for
a while,’ said Mrs Spicer, ‘till he went black in the face and stopped
kicking. Then they cut him down and threw a bucket of water over him.’

‘Why! what on earth did they let the man hang for?’ asked Mary.

‘To give him a good bellyful of it: they thought it would cure him of
tryin’ to hang himself again.’

‘Well, that’s the coolest thing I ever heard of,’ said Mary.

‘That’s jist what the magistrate said, Mrs Wilson,’ said Mrs Spicer.

‘One morning,’ said Mrs Spicer, ‘Spicer had gone off on his horse
somewhere, and I was alone with the children, when a man came to the
door and said--

‘“For God’s sake, woman, give me a drink!”

‘Lord only knows where he came from! He was dressed like a new chum--his
clothes was good, but he looked as if he’d been sleepin’ in them in the
Bush for a month. He was very shaky. I had some coffee that mornin’,
so I gave him some in a pint pot; he drank it, and then he stood on his
head till he tumbled over, and then he stood up on his feet and said,
“Thenk yer, mum.”

‘I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to say, so I jist said,
“Would you like some more coffee?”

‘“Yes, thenk yer,” he said--“about two quarts.”

‘I nearly filled the pint pot, and he drank it and stood on his head
as long as he could, and when he got right end up he said, “Thenk yer,
mum--it’s a fine day,” and then he walked off. He had two saddle-straps
in his hands.’

‘Why, what did he stand on his head for?’ asked Mary.

‘To wash it up and down, I suppose, to get twice as much taste of the
coffee. He had no hat. I sent Tommy across to Wall’s to tell them that
there was a man wanderin’ about the Bush in the horrors of drink, and
to get some one to ride for the police. But they was too late, for he
hanged himself that night.’

‘O Lord!’ cried Mary.

‘Yes, right close to here, jist down the creek where the track to Wall’s
branches off. Tommy found him while he was out after the cows. Hangin’
to the branch of a tree with the two saddle-straps.’

Mary stared at her, speechless.

‘Tommy came home yellin’ with fright. I sent him over to Wall’s at once.
After breakfast, the minute my eyes was off them, the children slipped
away and went down there. They came back screamin’ at the tops of their
voices. I did give it to them. I reckon they won’t want ter see a dead
body again in a hurry. Every time I’d mention it they’d huddle together,
or ketch hold of me skirts and howl.

‘“Yer’ll go agen when I tell yer not to,” I’d say.

‘“Oh no, mother,” they’d howl.

‘“Yer wanted ter see a man hangin’,” I said.

‘“Oh, don’t, mother! Don’t talk about it.”

‘“Yer wouldn’t be satisfied till yer see it,” I’d say; “yer had to see
it or burst. Yer satisfied now, ain’t yer?”

‘“Oh, don’t, mother!”

‘“Yer run all the way there, I s’pose?”

‘“Don’t, mother!”

‘“But yer run faster back, didn’t yer?”

‘“Oh, don’t, mother.”

‘But,’ said Mrs Spicer, in conclusion, ‘I’d been down to see it myself
before they was up.’

‘And ain’t you afraid to live alone here, after all these horrible
things?’ asked Mary.

‘Well, no; I don’t mind. I seem to have got past carin’ for anythink
now. I felt it a little when Tommy went away--the first time I felt
anythink for years. But I’m over that now.’

‘Haven’t you got any friends in the district, Mrs Spicer?’

‘Oh yes. There’s me married sister near Cobborah, and a married brother
near Dubbo; he’s got a station. They wanted to take me an’ the children
between them, or take some of the younger children. But I couldn’t bring
my mind to break up the home. I want to keep the children together as
much as possible. There’s enough of them gone, God knows. But it’s a
comfort to know that there’s some one to see to them if anythink happens
to me.’

     *****

One day--I was on my way home with the team that day--Annie Spicer came
running up the creek in terrible trouble.

‘Oh, Mrs Wilson! something terribl’s happened at home! A trooper’
(mounted policeman--they called them ‘mounted troopers’ out there), ‘a
trooper’s come and took Billy!’ Billy was the eldest son at home.

‘What?’

‘It’s true, Mrs Wilson.’

‘What for? What did the policeman say?’

‘He--he--he said, “I--I’m very sorry, Mrs Spicer; but--I--I want
William.”’

It turned out that William was wanted on account of a horse missed from
Wall’s station and sold down-country.

‘An’ mother took on awful,’ sobbed Annie; ‘an’ now she’ll only sit
stock-still an’ stare in front of her, and won’t take no notice of any
of us. Oh! it’s awful, Mrs Wilson. The policeman said he’d tell Aunt
Emma’ (Mrs Spicer’s sister at Cobborah), ‘and send her out. But I had to
come to you, an’ I’ve run all the way.’

James put the horse to the cart and drove Mary down.

Mary told me all about it when I came home.

‘I found her just as Annie said; but she broke down and cried in my
arms. Oh, Joe! it was awful! She didn’t cry like a woman. I heard a man
at Haviland cry at his brother’s funeral, and it was just like that. She
came round a bit after a while. Her sister’s with her now.... Oh, Joe!
you must take me away from the Bush.’

Later on Mary said--

‘How the oaks are sighing to-night, Joe!’

     *****

Next morning I rode across to Wall’s station and tackled the old man;
but he was a hard man, and wouldn’t listen to me--in fact, he ordered
me off the station. I was a selector, and that was enough for him. But
young Billy Wall rode after me.

‘Look here, Joe!’ he said, ‘it’s a blanky shame. All for the sake of a
horse! And as if that poor devil of a woman hasn’t got enough to put up
with already! I wouldn’t do it for twenty horses. I’LL tackle the boss,
and if he won’t listen to me, I’ll walk off the run for the last time,
if I have to carry my swag.’

Billy Wall managed it. The charge was withdrawn, and we got young Billy
Spicer off up-country.

But poor Mrs Spicer was never the same after that. She seldom came up to
our place unless Mary dragged her, so to speak; and then she would talk
of nothing but her last trouble, till her visits were painful to look
forward to.

‘If it only could have been kep’ quiet--for the sake of the other
children; they are all I think of now. I tried to bring ‘em all up
decent, but I s’pose it was my fault, somehow. It’s the disgrace that’s
killin’ me--I can’t bear it.’

I was at home one Sunday with Mary and a jolly Bush-girl named Maggie
Charlsworth, who rode over sometimes from Wall’s station (I must tell
you about her some other time; James was ‘shook after her’), and we got
talkin’ about Mrs Spicer. Maggie was very warm about old Wall.

‘I expected Mrs Spicer up to-day,’ said Mary. ‘She seems better lately.’

‘Why!’ cried Maggie Charlsworth, ‘if that ain’t Annie coming running up
along the creek. Something’s the matter!’

We all jumped up and ran out.

‘What is it, Annie?’ cried Mary.

‘Oh, Mrs Wilson! Mother’s asleep, and we can’t wake her!’

‘What?’

‘It’s--it’s the truth, Mrs Wilson.’

‘How long has she been asleep?’

‘Since lars’ night.’

‘My God!’ cried Mary, ‘SINCE LAST NIGHT?’

‘No, Mrs Wilson, not all the time; she woke wonst, about daylight this
mornin’. She called me and said she didn’t feel well, and I’d have to
manage the milkin’.’

‘Was that all she said?’

‘No. She said not to go for you; and she said to feed the pigs and
calves; and she said to be sure and water them geraniums.’

Mary wanted to go, but I wouldn’t let her. James and I saddled our
horses and rode down the creek.

     *****

Mrs Spicer looked very little different from what she did when I last
saw her alive. It was some time before we could believe that she was
dead. But she was ‘past carin’’ right enough.



A Double Buggy at Lahey’s Creek.



I. Spuds, and a Woman’s Obstinacy.


Ever since we were married it had been Mary’s great ambition to have a
buggy. The house or furniture didn’t matter so much--out there in the
Bush where we were--but, where there were no railways or coaches, and
the roads were long, and mostly hot and dusty, a buggy was the great
thing. I had a few pounds when we were married, and was going to get
one then; but new buggies went high, and another party got hold of a
second-hand one that I’d had my eye on, so Mary thought it over and at
last she said, ‘Never mind the buggy, Joe; get a sewing-machine and I’ll
be satisfied. I’ll want the machine more than the buggy, for a while.
Wait till we’re better off.’

After that, whenever I took a contract--to put up a fence or wool-shed,
or sink a dam or something--Mary would say, ‘You ought to knock a buggy
out of this job, Joe;’ but something always turned up--bad weather or
sickness. Once I cut my foot with the adze and was laid up; and, another
time, a dam I was making was washed away by a flood before I finished
it. Then Mary would say, ‘Ah, well--never mind, Joe. Wait till we are
better off.’ But she felt it hard the time I built a wool-shed and
didn’t get paid for it, for we’d as good as settled about another
second-hand buggy then.

I always had a fancy for carpentering, and was handy with tools. I made
a spring-cart--body and wheels--in spare time, out of colonial hardwood,
and got Little the blacksmith to do the ironwork; I painted the cart
myself. It wasn’t much lighter than one of the tip-drays I had, but it
WAS a spring-cart, and Mary pretended to be satisfied with it: anyway, I
didn’t hear any more of the buggy for a while.

I sold that cart, for fourteen pounds, to a Chinese gardener who wanted
a strong cart to carry his vegetables round through the Bush. It was
just before our first youngster came: I told Mary that I wanted the
money in case of extra expense--and she didn’t fret much at losing
that cart. But the fact was, that I was going to make another try for
a buggy, as a present for Mary when the child was born. I thought of
getting the turn-out while she was laid up, keeping it dark from her
till she was on her feet again, and then showing her the buggy standing
in the shed. But she had a bad time, and I had to have the doctor
regularly, and get a proper nurse, and a lot of things extra; so the
buggy idea was knocked on the head. I was set on it, too: I’d thought of
how, when Mary was up and getting strong, I’d say one morning, ‘Go round
and have a look in the shed, Mary; I’ve got a few fowls for you,’ or
something like that--and follow her round to watch her eyes when she saw
the buggy. I never told Mary about that--it wouldn’t have done any good.

Later on I got some good timber--mostly scraps that were given to
me--and made a light body for a spring-cart. Galletly, the coach-builder
at Cudgeegong, had got a dozen pairs of American hickory wheels up from
Sydney, for light spring-carts, and he let me have a pair for cost price
and carriage. I got him to iron the cart, and he put it through
the paint-shop for nothing. He sent it out, too, at the tail of Tom
Tarrant’s big van--to increase the surprise. We were swells then for
a while; I heard no more of a buggy until after we’d been settled at
Lahey’s Creek for a couple of years.

I told you how I went into the carrying line, and took up a selection at
Lahey’s Creek--for a run for the horses and to grow a bit of feed--and
shifted Mary and little Jim out there from Gulgong, with Mary’s young
scamp of a brother James to keep them company while I was on the road.
The first year I did well enough carrying, but I never cared for it--it
was too slow; and, besides, I was always anxious when I was away from
home. The game was right enough for a single man--or a married one whose
wife had got the nagging habit (as many Bushwomen have--God help ‘em!),
and who wanted peace and quietness sometimes. Besides, other small
carriers started (seeing me getting on); and Tom Tarrant, the
coach-driver at Cudgeegong, had another heavy spring-van built, and put
it on the roads, and he took a lot of the light stuff.

The second year I made a rise--out of ‘spuds’, of all the things in the
world. It was Mary’s idea. Down at the lower end of our selection--Mary
called it ‘the run’--was a shallow watercourse called Snake’s Creek, dry
most of the year, except for a muddy water-hole or two; and, just above
the junction, where it ran into Lahey’s Creek, was a low piece of good
black-soil flat, on our side--about three acres. The flat was fairly
clear when I came to the selection--save for a few logs that had been
washed up there in some big ‘old man’ flood, way back in black-fellows’
times; and one day, when I had a spell at home, I got the horses and
trace-chains and dragged the logs together--those that wouldn’t split
for fencing timber--and burnt them off. I had a notion to get the flat
ploughed and make a lucern-paddock of it. There was a good water-hole,
under a clump of she-oak in the bend, and Mary used to take her stools
and tubs and boiler down there in the spring-cart in hot weather, and
wash the clothes under the shade of the trees--it was cooler, and
saved carrying water to the house. And one evening after she’d done the
washing she said to me--

‘Look here, Joe; the farmers out here never seem to get a new idea: they
don’t seem to me ever to try and find out beforehand what the market is
going to be like--they just go on farming the same old way and putting
in the same old crops year after year. They sow wheat, and, if it comes
on anything like the thing, they reap and thresh it; if it doesn’t,
they mow it for hay--and some of ‘em don’t have the brains to do that in
time. Now, I was looking at that bit of flat you cleared, and it struck
me that it wouldn’t be a half bad idea to get a bag of seed-potatoes,
and have the land ploughed--old Corny George would do it cheap--and
get them put in at once. Potatoes have been dear all round for the last
couple of years.’

I told her she was talking nonsense, that the ground was no good for
potatoes, and the whole district was too dry. ‘Everybody I know has
tried it, one time or another, and made nothing of it,’ I said.

‘All the more reason why you should try it, Joe,’ said Mary. ‘Just try
one crop. It might rain for weeks, and then you’ll be sorry you didn’t
take my advice.’

‘But I tell you the ground is not potato-ground,’ I said.

‘How do you know? You haven’t sown any there yet.’

‘But I’ve turned up the surface and looked at it. It’s not rich enough,
and too dry, I tell you. You need swampy, boggy ground for potatoes. Do
you think I don’t know land when I see it?’

‘But you haven’t TRIED to grow potatoes there yet, Joe. How do you
know----’

I didn’t listen to any more. Mary was obstinate when she got an idea
into her head. It was no use arguing with her. All the time I’d be
talking she’d just knit her forehead and go on thinking straight ahead,
on the track she’d started,--just as if I wasn’t there,--and it used to
make me mad. She’d keep driving at me till I took her advice or lost my
temper,--I did both at the same time, mostly.

I took my pipe and went out to smoke and cool down.

A couple of days after the potato breeze, I started with the team down
to Cudgeegong for a load of fencing-wire I had to bring out; and after
I’d kissed Mary good-bye, she said--

‘Look here, Joe, if you bring out a bag of seed-potatoes, James and I
will slice them, and old Corny George down the creek would bring his
plough up in the dray and plough the ground for very little. We could
put the potatoes in ourselves if the ground were only ploughed.’

I thought she’d forgotten all about it. There was no time to argue--I’d
be sure to lose my temper, and then I’d either have to waste an hour
comforting Mary or go off in a ‘huff’, as the women call it, and be
miserable for the trip. So I said I’d see about it. She gave me another
hug and a kiss. ‘Don’t forget, Joe,’ she said as I started. ‘Think it
over on the road.’ I reckon she had the best of it that time.

About five miles along, just as I turned into the main road, I heard
some one galloping after me, and I saw young James on his hack. I got a
start, for I thought that something had gone wrong at home. I remember,
the first day I left Mary on the creek, for the first five or six miles
I was half-a-dozen times on the point of turning back--only I thought
she’d laugh at me.

‘What is it, James?’ I shouted, before he came up--but I saw he was
grinning.

‘Mary says to tell you not to forget to bring a hoe out with you.’

‘You clear off home!’ I said, ‘or I’ll lay the whip about your young
hide; and don’t come riding after me again as if the run was on fire.’

‘Well, you needn’t get shirty with me!’ he said. ‘*I* don’t want to have
anything to do with a hoe.’ And he rode off.

I DID get thinking about those potatoes, though I hadn’t meant to. I
knew of an independent man in that district who’d made his money out
of a crop of potatoes; but that was away back in the roaring
‘Fifties--‘54--when spuds went up to twenty-eight shillings a
hundredweight (in Sydney), on account of the gold rush. We might get
good rain now, and, anyway, it wouldn’t cost much to put the potatoes
in. If they came on well, it would be a few pounds in my pocket; if the
crop was a failure, I’d have a better show with Mary next time she was
struck by an idea outside housekeeping, and have something to grumble
about when I felt grumpy.

I got a couple of bags of potatoes--we could use those that were
left over; and I got a small iron plough and a harrow that Little the
blacksmith had lying in his yard and let me have cheap--only about
a pound more than I told Mary I gave for them. When I took advice, I
generally made the mistake of taking more than was offered, or adding
notions of my own. It was vanity, I suppose. If the crop came on well I
could claim the plough-and-harrow part of the idea, anyway. (It didn’t
strike me that if the crop failed Mary would have the plough and harrow
against me, for old Corny would plough the ground for ten or fifteen
shillings.) Anyway, I’d want a plough and harrow later on, and I might
as well get it now; it would give James something to do.

I came out by the western road, by Guntawang, and up the creek home; and
the first thing I saw was old Corny George ploughing the flat. And
Mary was down on the bank superintending. She’d got James with the
trace-chains and the spare horses, and had made him clear off every
stick and bush where another furrow might be squeezed in. Old Corny
looked pretty grumpy on it--he’d broken all his ploughshares but one, in
the roots; and James didn’t look much brighter. Mary had an old felt
hat and a new pair of ‘lastic-side boots of mine on, and the boots were
covered with clay, for she’d been down hustling James to get a rotten
old stump out of the way by the time Corny came round with his next
furrow.

‘I thought I’d make the boots easy for you, Joe,’ said Mary.

‘It’s all right, Mary,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to growl.’ Those boots
were a bone of contention between us; but she generally got them off
before I got home.

Her face fell a little when she saw the plough and harrow in the waggon,
but I said that would be all right--we’d want a plough anyway.

‘I thought you wanted old Corny to plough the ground,’ she said.

‘I never said so.’

‘But when I sent Jim after you about the hoe to put the spuds in, you
didn’t say you wouldn’t bring it,’ she said.

I had a few days at home, and entered into the spirit of the thing. When
Corny was done, James and I cross-ploughed the land, and got a stump or
two, a big log, and some scrub out of the way at the upper end and added
nearly an acre, and ploughed that. James was all right at most Bushwork:
he’d bullock so long as the novelty lasted; he liked ploughing or
fencing, or any graft he could make a show at. He didn’t care for
grubbing out stumps, or splitting posts and rails. We sliced the
potatoes of an evening--and there was trouble between Mary and James
over cutting through the ‘eyes’. There was no time for the hoe--and
besides it wasn’t a novelty to James--so I just ran furrows and they
dropped the spuds in behind me, and I turned another furrow over them,
and ran the harrow over the ground. I think I hilled those spuds, too,
with furrows--or a crop of Indian corn I put in later on.

It rained heavens-hard for over a week: we had regular showers all
through, and it was the finest crop of potatoes ever seen in the
district. I believe at first Mary used to slip down at daybreak to see
if the potatoes were up; and she’d write to me about them, on the road.
I forget how many bags I got; but the few who had grown potatoes in the
district sent theirs to Sydney, and spuds went up to twelve and fifteen
shillings a hundredweight in that district. I made a few quid out of
mine--and saved carriage too, for I could take them out on the waggon.
Then Mary began to hear (through James) of a buggy that some one had for
sale cheap, or a dogcart that somebody else wanted to get rid of--and
let me know about it, in an offhand way.



II. Joe Wilson’s Luck.


There was good grass on the selection all the year. I’d picked up
a small lot--about twenty head--of half-starved steers for next to
nothing, and turned them on the run; they came on wonderfully, and my
brother-in-law (Mary’s sister’s husband), who was running a butchery
at Gulgong, gave me a good price for them. His carts ran out twenty or
thirty miles, to little bits of gold-rushes that were going on at th’
Home Rule, Happy Valley, Guntawang, Tallawang, and Cooyal, and those
places round there, and he was doing well.

Mary had heard of a light American waggonette, when the steers went--a
tray-body arrangement, and she thought she’d do with that. ‘It would
be better than the buggy, Joe,’ she said--‘there’d be more room for
the children, and, besides, I could take butter and eggs to Gulgong,
or Cobborah, when we get a few more cows.’ Then James heard of a small
flock of sheep that a selector--who was about starved off his selection
out Talbragar way--wanted to get rid of. James reckoned he could get
them for less than half-a-crown a-head. We’d had a heavy shower of rain,
that came over the ranges and didn’t seem to go beyond our boundaries.
Mary said, ‘It’s a pity to see all that grass going to waste, Joe.
Better get those sheep and try your luck with them. Leave some money
with me, and I’ll send James over for them. Never mind about the
buggy--we’ll get that when we’re on our feet.’

So James rode across to Talbragar and drove a hard bargain with that
unfortunate selector, and brought the sheep home. There were about two
hundred, wethers and ewes, and they were young and looked a good breed
too, but so poor they could scarcely travel; they soon picked up,
though. The drought was blazing all round and Out-Back, and I think that
my corner of the ridges was the only place where there was any grass to
speak of. We had another shower or two, and the grass held out. Chaps
began to talk of ‘Joe Wilson’s luck’.

I would have liked to shear those sheep; but I hadn’t time to get a shed
or anything ready--along towards Christmas there was a bit of a boom
in the carrying line. Wethers in wool were going as high as thirteen
to fifteen shillings at the Homebush yards at Sydney, so I arranged to
truck the sheep down from the river by rail, with another small lot that
was going, and I started James off with them. He took the west road, and
down Guntawang way a big farmer who saw James with the sheep (and who
was speculating, or adding to his stock, or took a fancy to the wool)
offered James as much for them as he reckoned I’d get in Sydney, after
paying the carriage and the agents and the auctioneer. James put the
sheep in a paddock and rode back to me. He was all there where riding
was concerned. I told him to let the sheep go. James made a Greener
shot-gun, and got his saddle done up, out of that job.

I took up a couple more forty-acre blocks--one in James’s name, to
encourage him with the fencing. There was a good slice of land in an
angle between the range and the creek, farther down, which everybody
thought belonged to Wall, the squatter, but Mary got an idea, and went
to the local land office and found out that it was ‘unoccupied Crown
land’, and so I took it up on pastoral lease, and got a few more
sheep--I’d saved some of the best-looking ewes from the last lot.

One evening--I was going down next day for a load of fencing-wire for
myself--Mary said,--

‘Joe! do you know that the Matthews have got a new double buggy?’

The Matthews were a big family of cockatoos, along up the main road, and
I didn’t think much of them. The sons were all ‘bad-eggs’, though the
old woman and girls were right enough.

‘Well, what of that?’ I said. ‘They’re up to their neck in debt, and
camping like black-fellows in a big bark humpy. They do well to go
flashing round in a double buggy.’

‘But that isn’t what I was going to say,’ said Mary. ‘They want to sell
their old single buggy, James says. I’m sure you could get it for six or
seven pounds; and you could have it done up.’

‘I wish James to the devil!’ I said. ‘Can’t he find anything better to
do than ride round after cock-and-bull yarns about buggies?’

‘Well,’ said Mary, ‘it was James who got the steers and the sheep.’

Well, one word led to another, and we said things we didn’t mean--but
couldn’t forget in a hurry. I remember I said something about Mary
always dragging me back just when I was getting my head above water and
struggling to make a home for her and the children; and that hurt her,
and she spoke of the ‘homes’ she’d had since she was married. And that
cut me deep.

It was about the worst quarrel we had. When she began to cry I got my
hat and went out and walked up and down by the creek. I hated anything
that looked like injustice--I was so sensitive about it that it made
me unjust sometimes. I tried to think I was right, but I couldn’t--it
wouldn’t have made me feel any better if I could have thought so. I got
thinking of Mary’s first year on the selection and the life she’d had
since we were married.

When I went in she’d cried herself to sleep. I bent over and, ‘Mary,’ I
whispered.

She seemed to wake up.

‘Joe--Joe!’ she said.

‘What is it Mary?’ I said.

‘I’m pretty well sure that old Spot’s calf isn’t in the pen. Make James
go at once!’

Old Spot’s last calf was two years old now; so Mary was talking in her
sleep, and dreaming she was back in her first year.

We both laughed when I told her about it afterwards; but I didn’t feel
like laughing just then.

Later on in the night she called out in her sleep,--

‘Joe--Joe! Put that buggy in the shed, or the sun will blister the
varnish!’

I wish I could say that that was the last time I ever spoke unkindly to
Mary.

Next morning I got up early and fried the bacon and made the tea, and
took Mary’s breakfast in to her--like I used to do, sometimes, when we
were first married. She didn’t say anything--just pulled my head down
and kissed me.

When I was ready to start Mary said,--

‘You’d better take the spring-cart in behind the dray and get the tyres
cut and set. They’re ready to drop off, and James has been wedging them
up till he’s tired of it. The last time I was out with the children
I had to knock one of them back with a stone: there’ll be an accident
yet.’

So I lashed the shafts of the cart under the tail of the waggon, and
mean and ridiculous enough the cart looked, going along that way. It
suggested a man stooping along handcuffed, with his arms held out and
down in front of him.

It was dull weather, and the scrubs looked extra dreary and endless--and
I got thinking of old things. Everything was going all right with me,
but that didn’t keep me from brooding sometimes--trying to hatch out
stones, like an old hen we had at home. I think, taking it all round, I
used to be happier when I was mostly hard-up--and more generous. When I
had ten pounds I was more likely to listen to a chap who said, ‘Lend me
a pound-note, Joe,’ than when I had fifty; THEN I fought shy of careless
chaps--and lost mates that I wanted afterwards--and got the name of
being mean. When I got a good cheque I’d be as miserable as a miser over
the first ten pounds I spent; but when I got down to the last I’d buy
things for the house. And now that I was getting on, I hated to spend
a pound on anything. But then, the farther I got away from poverty the
greater the fear I had of it--and, besides, there was always before us
all the thought of the terrible drought, with blazing runs as bare and
dusty as the road, and dead stock rotting every yard, all along the
barren creeks.

I had a long yarn with Mary’s sister and her husband that night in
Gulgong, and it brightened me up. I had a fancy that that sort of a
brother-in-law made a better mate than a nearer one; Tom Tarrant had
one, and he said it was sympathy. But while we were yarning I couldn’t
help thinking of Mary, out there in the hut on the Creek, with no one to
talk to but the children, or James, who was sulky at home, or Black
Mary or Black Jimmy (our black boy’s father and mother), who weren’t
oversentimental. Or maybe a selector’s wife (the nearest was five
miles away), who could talk only of two or three things--‘lambin’’ and
‘shearin’’ and ‘cookin’ for the men’, and what she said to her old man,
and what he said to her--and her own ailments--over and over again.

It’s a wonder it didn’t drive Mary mad!--I know I could never listen to
that woman more than an hour. Mary’s sister said,--

‘Now if Mary had a comfortable buggy, she could drive in with the
children oftener. Then she wouldn’t feel the loneliness so much.’

I said ‘Good night’ then and turned in. There was no getting away from
that buggy. Whenever Mary’s sister started hinting about a buggy, I
reckoned it was a put-up job between them.



III. The Ghost of Mary’s Sacrifice.


When I got to Gudgeegong I stopped at Galletly’s coach-shop to leave the
cart. The Galletlys were good fellows: there were two brothers--one was
a saddler and harness-maker. Big brown-bearded men--the biggest men in
the district, ‘twas said.

Their old man had died lately and left them some money; they had men,
and only worked in their shops when they felt inclined, or there was a
special work to do; they were both first-class tradesmen. I went into
the painter’s shop to have a look at a double buggy that Galletly had
built for a man who couldn’t pay cash for it when it was finished--and
Galletly wouldn’t trust him.

There it stood, behind a calico screen that the coach-painters used to
keep out the dust when they were varnishing. It was a first-class piece
of work--pole, shafts, cushions, whip, lamps, and all complete. If you
only wanted to drive one horse you could take out the pole and put in
the shafts, and there you were. There was a tilt over the front seat;
if you only wanted the buggy to carry two, you could fold down the back
seat, and there you had a handsome, roomy, single buggy. It would go
near fifty pounds.

While I was looking at it, Bill Galletly came in, and slapped me on the
back.

‘Now, there’s a chance for you, Joe!’ he said. ‘I saw you rubbing your
head round that buggy the last time you were in. You wouldn’t get a
better one in the colonies, and you won’t see another like it in the
district again in a hurry--for it doesn’t pay to build ‘em. Now you’re a
full-blown squatter, and it’s time you took little Mary for a fly round
in her own buggy now and then, instead of having her stuck out there in
the scrub, or jolting through the dust in a cart like some old Mother
Flourbag.’

He called her ‘little Mary’ because the Galletly family had known her
when she was a girl.

I rubbed my head and looked at the buggy again. It was a great
temptation.

‘Look here, Joe,’ said Bill Galletly in a quieter tone. ‘I’ll tell you
what I’ll do. I’ll let YOU have the buggy. You can take it out and send
along a bit of a cheque when you feel you can manage it, and the rest
later on,--a year will do, or even two years. You’ve had a hard pull,
and I’m not likely to be hard up for money in a hurry.’

They were good fellows the Galletlys, but they knew their men. I
happened to know that Bill Galletly wouldn’t let the man he built the
buggy for take it out of the shop without cash down, though he was a
big-bug round there. But that didn’t make it easier for me.

Just then Robert Galletly came into the shop. He was rather quieter than
his brother, but the two were very much alike.

‘Look here, Bob,’ said Bill; ‘here’s a chance for you to get rid of your
harness. Joe Wilson’s going to take that buggy off my hands.’

Bob Galletly put his foot up on a saw-stool, took one hand out of his
pockets, rested his elbow on his knee and his chin on the palm of his
hand, and bunched up his big beard with his fingers, as he always did
when he was thinking. Presently he took his foot down, put his hand
back in his pocket, and said to me, ‘Well, Joe, I’ve got a double set of
harness made for the man who ordered that damned buggy, and if you like
I’ll let you have it. I suppose when Bill there has squeezed all he
can out of you I’ll stand a show of getting something. He’s a regular
Shylock, he is.’

I pushed my hat forward and rubbed the back of my head and stared at the
buggy.

‘Come across to the Royal, Joe,’ said Bob.

But I knew that a beer would settle the business, so I said I’d get the
wool up to the station first and think it over, and have a drink when I
came back.

I thought it over on the way to the station, but it didn’t seem good
enough. I wanted to get some more sheep, and there was the new run to
be fenced in, and the instalments on the selections. I wanted lots of
things that I couldn’t well do without. Then, again, the farther I got
away from debt and hard-upedness the greater the horror I had of it. I
had two horses that would do; but I’d have to get another later on, and
altogether the buggy would run me nearer a hundred than fifty pounds.
Supposing a dry season threw me back with that buggy on my hands.
Besides, I wanted a spell. If I got the buggy it would only mean an
extra turn of hard graft for me. No, I’d take Mary for a trip to Sydney,
and she’d have to be satisfied with that.

I’d got it settled, and was just turning in through the big white
gates to the goods-shed when young Black, the squatter, dashed past the
station in his big new waggonette, with his wife and a driver and a lot
of portmanteaus and rugs and things. They were going to do the grand
in Sydney over Christmas. Now it was young Black who was so shook after
Mary when she was in service with the Blacks before the old man died,
and if I hadn’t come along--and if girls never cared for vagabonds--Mary
would have been mistress of Haviland homestead, with servants to wait on
her; and she was far better fitted for it than the one that was there.
She would have been going to Sydney every holiday and putting up at the
old Royal, with every comfort that a woman could ask for, and seeing
a play every night. And I’d have been knocking around amongst the big
stations Out-Back, or maybe drinking myself to death at the shanties.

The Blacks didn’t see me as I went by, ragged and dusty, and with an
old, nearly black, cabbage-tree hat drawn over my eyes. I didn’t care
a damn for them, or any one else, at most times, but I had moods when I
felt things.

One of Black’s big wool teams was just coming away from the shed, and
the driver, a big, dark, rough fellow, with some foreign blood in him,
didn’t seem inclined to wheel his team an inch out of the middle of the
road. I stopped my horses and waited. He looked at me and I looked at
him--hard. Then he wheeled off, scowling, and swearing at his horses.
I’d given him a hiding, six or seven years before, and he hadn’t
forgotten it. And I felt then as if I wouldn’t mind trying to give some
one a hiding.

The goods clerk must have thought that Joe Wilson was pretty grumpy that
day. I was thinking of Mary, out there in the lonely hut on a barren
creek in the Bush--for it was little better--with no one to speak to
except a haggard, worn-out Bushwoman or two, that came to see her
on Sunday. I thought of the hardships she went through in the first
year--that I haven’t told you about yet; of the time she was ill, and I
away, and no one to understand; of the time she was alone with James and
Jim sick; and of the loneliness she fought through out there. I thought
of Mary, outside in the blazing heat, with an old print dress and a
felt hat, and a pair of ‘lastic-siders of mine on, doing the work of
a station manager as well as that of a housewife and mother. And her
cheeks were getting thin, and her colour was going: I thought of the
gaunt, brick-brown, saw-file voiced, hopeless and spiritless Bushwomen I
knew--and some of them not much older than Mary.

When I went back down into the town, I had a drink with Bill Galletly at
the Royal, and that settled the buggy; then Bob shouted,* and I took the
harness. Then I shouted, to wet the bargain. When I was going, Bob said,
‘Send in that young scamp of a brother of Mary’s with the horses: if
the collars don’t fit I’ll fix up a pair of makeshifts, and alter the
others.’ I thought they both gripped my hand harder than usual, but that
might have been the beer.

     * ‘Shout’, to buy a round of drinks.--A. L., 1997.



IV. The Buggy Comes Home.


I ‘whipped the cat’ a bit, the first twenty miles or so, but then, I
thought, what did it matter? What was the use of grinding to save money
until we were too old to enjoy it. If we had to go down in the world
again, we might as well fall out of a buggy as out of a dray--there’d be
some talk about it, anyway, and perhaps a little sympathy. When Mary had
the buggy she wouldn’t be tied down so much to that wretched hole in the
Bush; and the Sydney trips needn’t be off either. I could drive down to
Wallerawang on the main line, where Mary had some people, and leave the
buggy and horses there, and take the train to Sydney; or go right on, by
the old coach-road, over the Blue Mountains: it would be a grand drive.
I thought best to tell Mary’s sister at Gulgong about the buggy; I told
her I’d keep it dark from Mary till the buggy came home. She entered
into the spirit of the thing, and said she’d give the world to be able
to go out with the buggy, if only to see Mary open her eyes when she saw
it; but she couldn’t go, on account of a new baby she had. I was rather
glad she couldn’t, for it would spoil the surprise a little, I thought.
I wanted that all to myself.

I got home about sunset next day, and, after tea, when I’d finished
telling Mary all the news, and a few lies as to why I didn’t bring the
cart back, and one or two other things, I sat with James, out on a log
of the wood-heap, where we generally had our smokes and interviews, and
told him all about the buggy. He whistled, then he said--

‘But what do you want to make it such a Bushranging business for?
Why can’t you tell Mary now? It will cheer her up. She’s been pretty
miserable since you’ve been away this trip.’

‘I want it to be a surprise,’ I said.

‘Well, I’ve got nothing to say against a surprise, out in a hole like
this; but it ‘ud take a lot to surprise me. What am I to say to Mary
about taking the two horses in? I’ll only want one to bring the cart
out, and she’s sure to ask.’

‘Tell her you’re going to get yours shod.’

‘But he had a set of slippers only the other day. She knows as much
about horses as we do. I don’t mind telling a lie so long as a chap has
only got to tell a straight lie and be done with it. But Mary asks so
many questions.’

‘Well, drive the other horse up the creek early, and pick him up as you
go.’

‘Yes. And she’ll want to know what I want with two bridles. But I’ll fix
her--YOU needn’t worry.’

‘And, James,’ I said, ‘get a chamois leather and sponge--we’ll want ‘em
anyway--and you might give the buggy a wash down in the creek, coming
home. It’s sure to be covered with dust.’

‘Oh!--orlright.’

‘And if you can, time yourself to get here in the cool of the evening,
or just about sunset.’

‘What for?’

I’d thought it would be better to have the buggy there in the cool
of the evening, when Mary would have time to get excited and get over
it--better than in the blazing hot morning, when the sun rose as hot as
at noon, and we’d have the long broiling day before us.

‘What do you want me to come at sunset for?’ asked James. ‘Do you want
me to camp out in the scrub and turn up like a blooming sundowner?’

‘Oh well,’ I said, ‘get here at midnight if you like.’

We didn’t say anything for a while--just sat and puffed at our pipes.
Then I said,--

‘Well, what are you thinking about?’

I’m thinking it’s time you got a new hat, the sun seems to get in
through your old one too much,’ and he got out of my reach and went to
see about penning the calves. Before we turned in he said,--

‘Well, what am I to get out of the job, Joe?’

He had his eye on a double-barrel gun that Franca the gunsmith in
Cudgeegong had--one barrel shot, and the other rifle; so I said,--

‘How much does Franca want for that gun?’

‘Five-ten; but I think he’d take my single barrel off it. Anyway, I can
squeeze a couple of quid out of Phil Lambert for the single barrel.’
(Phil was his bosom chum.)

‘All right,’ I said. ‘Make the best bargain you can.’

He got his own breakfast and made an early start next morning, to get
clear of any instructions or messages that Mary might have forgotten to
give him overnight. He took his gun with him.

I’d always thought that a man was a fool who couldn’t keep a secret
from his wife--that there was something womanish about him. I found out.
Those three days waiting for the buggy were about the longest I ever
spent in my life. It made me scotty with every one and everything;
and poor Mary had to suffer for it. I put in the time patching up the
harness and mending the stockyard and the roof, and, the third morning,
I rode up the ridges to look for trees for fencing-timber. I remember I
hurried home that afternoon because I thought the buggy might get there
before me.

At tea-time I got Mary on to the buggy business.

‘What’s the good of a single buggy to you, Mary?’ I asked. ‘There’s only
room for two, and what are you going to do with the children when we go
out together?’

‘We can put them on the floor at our feet, like other people do. I can
always fold up a blanket or ‘possum rug for them to sit on.’

But she didn’t take half so much interest in buggy talk as she would
have taken at any other time, when I didn’t want her to. Women are
aggravating that way. But the poor girl was tired and not very well, and
both the children were cross. She did look knocked up.

‘We’ll give the buggy a rest, Joe,’ she said. (I thought I heard it
coming then.) ‘It seems as far off as ever. I don’t know why you want to
harp on it to-day. Now, don’t look so cross, Joe--I didn’t mean to hurt
you. We’ll wait until we can get a double buggy, since you’re so set on
it. There’ll be plenty of time when we’re better off.’

After tea, when the youngsters were in bed, and she’d washed up, we sat
outside on the edge of the verandah floor, Mary sewing, and I smoking
and watching the track up the creek.

‘Why don’t you talk, Joe?’ asked Mary. ‘You scarcely ever speak to me
now: it’s like drawing blood out of a stone to get a word from you. What
makes you so cross, Joe?’

‘Well, I’ve got nothing to say.’

‘But you should find something. Think of me--it’s very miserable for me.
Have you anything on your mind? Is there any new trouble? Better tell
me, no matter what it is, and not go worrying and brooding and making
both our lives miserable. If you never tell one anything, how can you
expect me to understand?’

I said there was nothing the matter.

‘But there must be, to make you so unbearable. Have you been drinking,
Joe--or gambling?’

I asked her what she’d accuse me of next.

‘And another thing I want to speak to you about,’ she went on. ‘Now,
don’t knit up your forehead like that, Joe, and get impatient----’

‘Well, what is it?’

‘I wish you wouldn’t swear in the hearing of the children. Now, little
Jim to-day, he was trying to fix his little go-cart and it wouldn’t run
right, and--and----’

‘Well, what did he say?’

‘He--he’ (she seemed a little hysterical, trying not to laugh)--‘he said
“damn it!”’

I had to laugh. Mary tried to keep serious, but it was no use.

‘Never mind, old woman,’ I said, putting an arm round her, for her
mouth was trembling, and she was crying more than laughing. ‘It won’t be
always like this. Just wait till we’re a bit better off.’

Just then a black boy we had (I must tell you about him some other time)
came sidling along by the wall, as if he were afraid somebody was going
to hit him--poor little devil! I never did.

‘What is it, Harry?’ said Mary.

‘Buggy comin’, I bin thinkit.’

‘Where?’

He pointed up the creek.

‘Sure it’s a buggy?’

‘Yes, missus.’

‘How many horses?’

‘One--two.’

We knew that he could hear and see things long before we could. Mary
went and perched on the wood-heap, and shaded her eyes--though the sun
had gone--and peered through between the eternal grey trunks of the
stunted trees on the flat across the creek. Presently she jumped down
and came running in.

‘There’s some one coming in a buggy, Joe!’ she cried, excitedly. ‘And
both my white table-cloths are rough dry. Harry! put two flat-irons down
to the fire, quick, and put on some more wood. It’s lucky I kept those
new sheets packed away. Get up out of that, Joe! What are you sitting
grinning like that for? Go and get on another shirt. Hurry--Why! It’s
only James--by himself.’

She stared at me, and I sat there, grinning like a fool.

‘Joe!’ she said, ‘whose buggy is that?’

‘Well, I suppose it’s yours,’ I said.

She caught her breath, and stared at the buggy and then at me again.
James drove down out of sight into the crossing, and came up close to
the house.

‘Oh, Joe! what have you done?’ cried Mary. ‘Why, it’s a new double
buggy!’ Then she rushed at me and hugged my head. ‘Why didn’t you tell
me, Joe? You poor old boy!--and I’ve been nagging at you all day!’ and
she hugged me again.

James got down and started taking the horses out--as if it was an
everyday occurrence. I saw the double-barrel gun sticking out from under
the seat. He’d stopped to wash the buggy, and I suppose that’s what made
him grumpy. Mary stood on the verandah, with her eyes twice as big as
usual, and breathing hard--taking the buggy in.

James skimmed the harness off, and the horses shook themselves and
went down to the dam for a drink. ‘You’d better look under the seats,’
growled James, as he took his gun out with great care.

Mary dived for the buggy. There was a dozen of lemonade and ginger-beer
in a candle-box from Galletly--James said that Galletly’s men had a
gallon of beer, and they cheered him, James (I suppose he meant they
cheered the buggy), as he drove off; there was a ‘little bit of a
ham’ from Pat Murphy, the storekeeper at Home Rule, that he’d ‘cured
himself’--it was the biggest I ever saw; there were three loaves of
baker’s bread, a cake, and a dozen yards of something ‘to make up for
the children’, from Aunt Gertrude at Gulgong; there was a fresh-water
cod, that long Dave Regan had caught the night before in the Macquarie
river, and sent out packed in salt in a box; there was a holland suit
for the black boy, with red braid to trim it; and there was a jar of
preserved ginger, and some lollies (sweets) [‘for the lil’ boy’), and
a rum-looking Chinese doll and a rattle [‘for lil’ girl’) from Sun Tong
Lee, our storekeeper at Gulgong--James was chummy with Sun Tong Lee,
and got his powder and shot and caps there on tick when he was short of
money. And James said that the people would have loaded the buggy with
‘rubbish’ if he’d waited. They all seemed glad to see Joe Wilson getting
on--and these things did me good.

We got the things inside, and I don’t think either of us knew what we
were saying or doing for the next half-hour. Then James put his head in
and said, in a very injured tone,--

‘What about my tea? I ain’t had anything to speak of since I left
Cudgeegong. I want some grub.’

Then Mary pulled herself together.

‘You’ll have your tea directly,’ she said. ‘Pick up that harness at
once, and hang it on the pegs in the skillion; and you, Joe, back
that buggy under the end of the verandah, the dew will be on it
presently--and we’ll put wet bags up in front of it to-morrow, to
keep the sun off. And James will have to go back to Cudgeegong for the
cart,--we can’t have that buggy to knock about in.’

‘All right,’ said James--‘anything! Only get me some grub.’

Mary fried the fish, in case it wouldn’t keep till the morning, and
rubbed over the tablecloths, now the irons were hot--James growling
all the time--and got out some crockery she had packed away that had
belonged to her mother, and set the table in a style that made James
uncomfortable.

‘I want some grub--not a blooming banquet!’ he said. And he growled a
lot because Mary wanted him to eat his fish without a knife, ‘and that
sort of Tommy-rot.’ When he’d finished he took his gun, and the black
boy, and the dogs, and went out ‘possum-shooting.

When we were alone Mary climbed into the buggy to try the seat, and
made me get up alongside her. We hadn’t had such a comfortable seat for
years; but we soon got down, in case any one came by, for we began to
feel like a pair of fools up there.

Then we sat, side by side, on the edge of the verandah, and talked
more than we’d done for years--and there was a good deal of ‘Do you
remember?’ in it--and I think we got to understand each other better
that night.

And at last Mary said, ‘Do you know, Joe, why, I feel to-night
just--just like I did the day we were married.’

And somehow I had that strange, shy sort of feeling too.



The Writer Wants to Say a Word.


In writing the first sketch of the Joe Wilson series, which happened
to be ‘Brighten’s Sister-in-law’, I had an idea of making Joe Wilson a
strong character. Whether he is or not, the reader must judge. It seems
to me that the man’s natural sentimental selfishness, good-nature,
‘softness’, or weakness--call it which you like--developed as I wrote
on.

I know Joe Wilson very well. He has been through deep trouble since the
day he brought the double buggy to Lahey’s Creek. I met him in Sydney
the other day. Tall and straight yet--rather straighter than he had
been--dressed in a comfortable, serviceable sac suit of ‘saddle-tweed’,
and wearing a new sugar-loaf, cabbage-tree hat, he looked over the
hurrying street people calmly as though they were sheep of which he was
not in charge, and which were not likely to get ‘boxed’ with his. Not
the worst way in which to regard the world.

He talked deliberately and quietly in all that roar and rush. He is a
young man yet, comparatively speaking, but it would take little Mary a
long while now to pick the grey hairs out of his head, and the process
would leave him pretty bald.

In two or three short sketches in another book I hope to complete the
story of his life.



Part II.



The Golden Graveyard.


Mother Middleton was an awful woman, an ‘old hand’ (transported convict)
some said. The prefix ‘mother’ in Australia mostly means ‘old hag’,
and is applied in that sense. In early boyhood we understood, from
old diggers, that Mother Middleton--in common with most other ‘old
hands’--had been sent out for ‘knocking a donkey off a hen-roost.’ We
had never seen a donkey. She drank like a fish and swore like a trooper
when the spirit moved her; she went on periodical sprees, and swore on
most occasions. There was a fearsome yarn, which impressed us greatly
as boys, to the effect that once, in her best (or worst) days, she had
pulled a mounted policeman off his horse, and half-killed him with a
heavy pick-handle, which she used for poking down clothes in her boiler.
She said that he had insulted her.

She could still knock down a tree and cut a load of firewood with any
Bushman; she was square and muscular, with arms like a navvy’s; she had
often worked shifts, below and on top, with her husband, when he’d be
putting down a prospecting shaft without a mate, as he often had to
do--because of her mainly. Old diggers said that it was lovely to see
how she’d spin up a heavy green-hide bucket full of clay and ‘tailings’,
and land and empty it with a twist of her wrist. Most men were afraid of
her, and few diggers’ wives were strong-minded enough to seek a second
row with Mother Middleton. Her voice could be heard right across Golden
Gully and Specimen Flat, whether raised in argument or in friendly
greeting. She came to the old Pipeclay diggings with the ‘rough crowd’
(mostly Irish), and when the old and new Pipeclays were worked out, she
went with the rush to Gulgong (about the last of the great alluvial or
‘poor-man’s’ goldfields) and came back to Pipeclay when the Log Paddock
goldfield ‘broke out’, adjacent to the old fields, and so helped prove
the truth of the old digger’s saying, that no matter how thoroughly
ground has been worked, there is always room for a new Ballarat.

Jimmy Middleton died at Log Paddock, and was buried, about the last,
in the little old cemetery--appertaining to the old farming town on the
river, about four miles away--which adjoined the district racecourse, in
the Bush, on the far edge of Specimen Flat. She conducted the funeral.
Some said she made the coffin, and there were alleged jokes to the
effect that her tongue had provided the corpse; but this, I think, was
unfair and cruel, for she loved Jimmy Middleton in her awful way, and
was, for all I ever heard to the contrary, a good wife to him. She then
lived in a hut in Log Paddock, on a little money in the bank, and did
sewing and washing for single diggers.

I remember hearing her one morning in neighbourly conversation, carried
on across the gully, with a selector, Peter Olsen, who was hopelessly
slaving to farm a dusty patch in the scrub.

‘Why don’t you chuck up that dust-hole and go up country and settle on
good land, Peter Olsen? You’re only slaving your stomach out here.’ (She
didn’t say stomach.)

*Peter Olsen* (mild-whiskered little man, afraid of his wife). ‘But then
you know my wife is so delicate, Mrs Middleton. I wouldn’t like to take
her out in the Bush.’

*Mrs Middleton*. ‘Delicate, be damned! she’s only shamming!’ (at her
loudest.) ‘Why don’t you kick her off the bed and the book out of her
hand, and make her go to work? She’s as delicate as I am. Are you a man,
Peter Olsen, or a----?’

This for the edification of the wife and of all within half a mile.

Long Paddock was ‘petering’. There were a few claims still being worked
down at the lowest end, where big, red-and-white waste-heaps of clay and
gravel, rising above the blue-grey gum-bushes, advertised deep sinking;
and little, yellow, clay-stained streams, running towards the creek over
the drought-parched surface, told of trouble with the water below--time
lost in baling and extra expense in timbering. And diggers came up with
their flannels and moleskins yellow and heavy, and dripping with wet
‘mullock’.

Most of the diggers had gone to other fields, but there were a few
prospecting, in parties and singly, out on the flats and amongst the
ridges round Pipeclay. Sinking holes in search of a new Ballarat.

Dave Regan--lanky, easy-going Bush native; Jim Bently--a bit of a ‘Flash
Jack’; and Andy Page--a character like what ‘Kit’ (in the ‘Old Curiosity
Shop’) might have been after a voyage to Australia and some Colonial
experience. These three were mates from habit and not necessity, for
it was all shallow sinking where they worked. They were poking down
pot-holes in the scrub in the vicinity of the racecourse, where the
sinking was from ten to fifteen feet.

Dave had theories--‘ideers’ or ‘notions’ he called them; Jim Bently laid
claim to none--he ran by sight, not scent, like a kangaroo-dog. Andy
Page--by the way, great admirer and faithful retainer of Dave Regan--was
simple and trusting, but, on critical occasions, he was apt to be
obstinately, uncomfortably, exasperatingly truthful, honest, and he had
reverence for higher things.

Dave thought hard all one quiet drowsy Sunday afternoon, and next
morning he, as head of the party, started to sink a hole as close to the
cemetery fence as he dared. It was a nice quiet spot in the thick scrub,
about three panels along the fence from the farthest corner post
from the road. They bottomed here at nine feet, and found encouraging
indications. They ‘drove’ (tunnelled) inwards at right angles to the
fence, and at a point immediately beneath it they were ‘making tucker’;
a few feet farther and they were making wages. The old alluvial bottom
sloped gently that way. The bottom here, by the way, was shelving,
brownish, rotten rock.

Just inside the cemetery fence, and at right angles to Dave’s drive,
lay the shell containing all that was left of the late fiercely lamented
James Middleton, with older graves close at each end. A grave
was supposed to be six feet deep, and local gravediggers had been
conscientious. The old alluvial bottom sloped from nine to fifteen feet
here.

Dave worked the ground all round from the bottom of his shaft,
timbering--i.e., putting in a sapling prop--here and there where he
worked wide; but the ‘payable dirt’ ran in under the cemetery, and in no
other direction.

Dave, Jim, and Andy held a consultation in camp over their pipes
after tea, as a result of which Andy next morning rolled up his swag,
sorrowfully but firmly shook hands with Dave and Jim, and started to
tramp Out-Back to look for work on a sheep-station.

This was Dave’s theory--drawn from a little experience and many long
yarns with old diggers:--

He had bottomed on a slope to an old original water-course, covered with
clay and gravel from the hills by centuries of rains to the depth of
from nine or ten to twenty feet; he had bottomed on a gutter running
into the bed of the old buried creek, and carrying patches and streaks
of ‘wash’ or gold-bearing dirt. If he went on he might strike it rich
at any stroke of his pick; he might strike the rich ‘lead’ which was
supposed to exist round there. (There was always supposed to be a rich
lead round there somewhere. ‘There’s gold in them ridges yet--if a man
can only git at it,’ says the toothless old relic of the Roaring Days.)

Dave might strike a ledge, ‘pocket’, or ‘pot-hole’ holding wash rich
with gold. He had prospected on the opposite side of the cemetery, found
no gold, and the bottom sloping upwards towards the graveyard. He had
prospected at the back of the cemetery, found a few ‘colours’, and the
bottom sloping downwards towards the point under the cemetery towards
which all indications were now leading him. He had sunk shafts across
the road opposite the cemetery frontage and found the sinking twenty
feet and not a colour of gold. Probably the whole of the ground under
the cemetery was rich--maybe the richest in the district. The old
gravediggers had not been gold-diggers--besides, the graves, being six
feet, would, none of them, have touched the alluvial bottom. There
was nothing strange in the fact that none of the crowd of experienced
diggers who rushed the district had thought of the cemetery and
racecourse. Old brick chimneys and houses, the clay for the bricks of
which had been taken from sites of subsequent goldfields, had been put
through the crushing-mill in subsequent years and had yielded ‘payable
gold’. Fossicking Chinamen were said to have been the first to detect a
case of this kind.

Dave reckoned to strike the ‘lead’, or a shelf or ledge with a good
streak of wash lying along it, at a point about forty feet within the
cemetery. But a theory in alluvial gold-mining was much like a theory
in gambling, in some respects. The theory might be right enough, but old
volcanic disturbances--‘the shrinkage of the earth’s surface,’ and that
sort of old thing--upset everything. You might follow good gold along
a ledge, just under the grass, till it suddenly broke off and the
continuation might be a hundred feet or so under your nose.

Had the ‘ground’ in the cemetery been ‘open’ Dave would have gone to the
point under which he expected the gold to lie, sunk a shaft there, and
worked the ground. It would have been the quickest and easiest way--it
would have saved the labour and the time lost in dragging heavy buckets
of dirt along a low lengthy drive to the shaft outside the fence. But
it was very doubtful if the Government could have been moved to open
the cemetery even on the strongest evidence of the existence of a rich
goldfield under it, and backed by the influence of a number of diggers
and their backers--which last was what Dave wished for least of all. He
wanted, above all things, to keep the thing shady. Then, again, the old
clannish local spirit of the old farming town, rooted in years way back
of the goldfields, would have been too strong for the Government, or
even a rush of wild diggers.

‘We’ll work this thing on the strict Q.T.,’ said Dave.

He and Jim had a consultation by the camp fire outside their tent. Jim
grumbled, in conclusion,--

‘Well, then, best go under Jimmy Middleton. It’s the shortest and
straightest, and Jimmy’s the freshest, anyway.’

Then there was another trouble. How were they to account for the size of
the waste-heap of clay on the surface which would be the result of such
an extraordinary length of drive or tunnel for shallow sinkings? Dave
had an idea of carrying some of the dirt away by night and putting it
down a deserted shaft close by; but that would double the labour, and
might lead to detection sooner than anything else. There were boys
‘possum-hunting on those flats every night. Then Dave got an idea.

There was supposed to exist--and it has since been proved--another, a
second gold-bearing alluvial bottom on that field, and several had tried
for it. One, the town watchmaker, had sunk all his money in ‘duffers’,
trying for the second bottom. It was supposed to exist at a depth
of from eighty to a hundred feet--on solid rock, I suppose. This
watchmaker, an Italian, would put men on to sink, and superintend in
person, and whenever he came to a little ‘colour’-showing shelf, or
false bottom, thirty or forty feet down--he’d go rooting round and spoil
the shaft, and then start to sink another. It was extraordinary that
he hadn’t the sense to sink straight down, thoroughly test the second
bottom, and if he found no gold there, to fill the shaft up to the other
bottoms, or build platforms at the proper level and then explore them.
He was living in a lunatic asylum the last time I heard of him. And the
last time I heard from that field, they were boring the ground like a
sieve, with the latest machinery, to find the best place to put down a
deep shaft, and finding gold from the second bottom on the bore. But I’m
right off the line again.

‘Old Pinter’, Ballarat digger--his theory on second and other bottoms
ran as follows:--

‘Ye see, THIS here grass surface--this here surface with trees an’ grass
on it, that we’re livin’ on, has got nothin’ to do with us. This here
bottom in the shaller sinkin’s that we’re workin’ on is the slope to the
bed of the NEW crick that was on the surface about the time that men was
missin’ links. The false bottoms, thirty or forty feet down, kin be said
to have been on the surface about the time that men was monkeys. The
SECON’ bottom--eighty or a hundred feet down--was on the surface about
the time when men was frogs. Now----’

But it’s with the missing-link surface we have to do, and had the
friends of the local departed known what Dave and Jim were up to they
would have regarded them as something lower than missing-links.

‘We’ll give out we’re tryin’ for the second bottom,’ said Dave Regan.
‘We’ll have to rig a fan for air, anyhow, and you don’t want air in
shallow sinkings.’

‘And some one will come poking round, and look down the hole and see the
bottom,’ said Jim Bently.

‘We must keep ‘em away,’ said Dave. ‘Tar the bottom, or cover it with
tarred canvas, to make it black. Then they won’t see it. There’s not
many diggers left, and the rest are going; they’re chucking up the
claims in Log Paddock. Besides, I could get drunk and pick rows with the
rest and they wouldn’t come near me. The farmers ain’t in love with
us diggers, so they won’t bother us. No man has a right to come poking
round another man’s claim: it ain’t ettykit--I’ll root up that old
ettykit and stand to it--it’s rather worn out now, but that’s no matter.
We’ll shift the tent down near the claim and see that no one comes
nosing round on Sunday. They’ll think we’re only some more second-bottom
lunatics, like Francea [the mining watchmaker]. We’re going to get our
fortune out from under that old graveyard, Jim. You leave it all to me
till you’re born again with brains.’

Dave’s schemes were always elaborate, and that was why they so often
came to the ground. He logged up his windlass platform a little higher,
bent about eighty feet of rope to the bole of the windlass, which was a
new one, and thereafter, whenever a suspicious-looking party (that is
to say, a digger) hove in sight, Dave would let down about forty feet of
rope and then wind, with simulated exertion, until the slack was taken
up and the rope lifted the bucket from the shallow bottom.

‘It would look better to have a whip-pole and a horse, but we can’t
afford them just yet,’ said Dave.

But I’m a little behind. They drove straight in under the cemetery,
finding good wash all the way. The edge of Jimmy Middleton’s box
appeared in the top corner of the ‘face’ (the working end) of the drive.
They went under the butt-end of the grave. They shoved up the end of the
shell with a prop, to prevent the possibility of an accident which might
disturb the mound above; they puddled--i.e., rammed--stiff clay up round
the edges to keep the loose earth from dribbling down; and having given
the bottom of the coffin a good coat of tar, they got over, or rather
under, an unpleasant matter.

Jim Bently smoked and burnt paper during his shift below, and grumbled a
good deal. ‘Blowed if I ever thought I’d be rooting for gold down among
the blanky dead men,’ he said. But the dirt panned out better every
dish they washed, and Dave worked the ‘wash’ out right and left as they
drove.

But, one fine morning, who should come along but the very last man
whom Dave wished to see round there--‘Old Pinter’ (James Poynton),
Californian and Victorian digger of the old school. He’d been
prospecting down the creek, carried his pick over his shoulder--threaded
through the eye in the heft of his big-bladed, short-handled shovel that
hung behind--and his gold-dish under his arm.

I mightn’t get a chance again to explain what a gold-dish and what
gold-washing is. A gold washing-dish is a flat dish--nearer the shape
of a bedroom bath-tub than anything else I have seen in England, or the
dish we used for setting milk--I don’t know whether the same is used
here: the gold-dish measures, say, eighteen inches across the top. You
get it full of wash dirt, squat down at a convenient place at the edge
of the water-hole, where there is a rest for the dish in the water just
below its own depth. You sink the dish and let the clay and gravel soak
a while, then you work and rub it up with your hands, and as the clay
dissolves, dish it off as muddy water or mullock. You are careful to
wash the pebbles in case there is any gold sticking to them. And so till
all the muddy or clayey matter is gone, and there is nothing but clean
gravel in the bottom of the dish. You work this off carefully, turning
the dish about this way and that and swishing the water round in it. It
requires some practice. The gold keeps to the bottom of the dish, by
its own weight. At last there is only a little half-moon of sand or fine
gravel in the bottom lower edge of the dish--you work the dish slanting
from you. Presently the gold, if there was any in the dirt, appears in
‘colours’, grains, or little nuggets along the base of the half-moon of
sand. The more gold there is in the dirt, or the coarser the gold is,
the sooner it appears. A practised digger can work off the last speck of
gravel, without losing a ‘colour’, by just working the water round and
off in the dish. Also a careful digger could throw a handful of gold
in a tub of dirt, and, washing it off in dishfuls, recover practically
every colour.

The gold-washing ‘cradle’ is a box, shaped something like a boot, and
the size of a travelling trunk, with rockers on, like a baby’s cradle,
and a stick up behind for a handle; on top, where you’ll put your foot
into the boot, is a tray with a perforated iron bottom; the clay and
gravel is thrown on the tray, water thrown on it, and the cradle rocked
smartly. The finer gravel and the mullock goes through and down over a
sloping board covered with blanket, and with ledges on it to catch the
gold. The dish was mostly used for prospecting; large quantities of wash
dirt was put through the horse-power ‘puddling-machine’, which there
isn’t room to describe here.

‘’Ello, Dave!’ said Pinter, after looking with mild surprise at the size
of Dave’s waste-heap. ‘Tryin’ for the second bottom?’

‘Yes,’ said Dave, guttural.

Pinter dropped his tools with a clatter at the foot of the waste-heap
and scratched under his ear like an old cockatoo, which bird he
resembled. Then he went to the windlass, and resting his hands on his
knees, he peered down, while Dave stood by helpless and hopeless.

Pinter straightened himself, blinking like an owl, and looked carelessly
over the graveyard.

‘Tryin’ for a secon’ bottom,’ he reflected absently. ‘Eh, Dave?’

Dave only stood and looked black.

Pinter tilted back his head and scratched the roots of his
chin-feathers, which stuck out all round like a dirty, ragged fan held
horizontally.

‘Kullers is safe,’ reflected Pinter.

‘All right?’ snapped Dave. ‘I suppose we must let him into it.’

‘Kullers’ was a big American buck nigger, and had been Pinter’s mate for
some time--Pinter was a man of odd mates; and what Pinter meant was that
Kullers was safe to hold his tongue.

Next morning Pinter and his coloured mate appeared on the ground early,
Pinter with some tools and the nigger with a windlass-bole on his
shoulders. Pinter chose a spot about three panels or thirty feet along
the other fence, the back fence of the cemetery, and started his hole.
He lost no time for the sake of appearances, he sunk his shaft and
started to drive straight for the point under the cemetery for which
Dave was making; he gave out that he had bottomed on good ‘indications’
running in the other direction, and would work the ground outside the
fence. Meanwhile Dave rigged a fan--partly for the sake of appearances,
but mainly because his and Jim’s lively imaginations made the air in the
drive worse than it really was. A ‘fan’ is a thing like a paddle-wheel
rigged in a box, about the size of a cradle, and something the shape of
a shoe, but rounded over the top. There is a small grooved wheel on the
axle of the fan outside, and an endless line, like a clothes-line, is
carried over this wheel and a groove in the edge of a high light wooden
driving-wheel rigged between two uprights in the rear and with a handle
to turn. That’s how the thing is driven. A wind-chute, like an endless
pillow-slip, made of calico, with the mouth tacked over the open toe of
the fan-box, and the end taken down the shaft and along the drive--this
carries the fresh air into the workings.

Dave was working the ground on each side as he went, when one morning
a thought struck him that should have struck him the day Pinter went to
work. He felt mad that it hadn’t struck him sooner.

Pinter and Kullers had also shifted their tent down into a nice quiet
place in the Bush close handy; so, early next Sunday morning, while
Pinter and Kullers were asleep, Dave posted Jim Bently to watch their
tent, and whistle an alarm if they stirred, and then dropped down into
Pinter’s hole and saw at a glance what he was up to.

After that Dave lost no time: he drove straight on, encouraged by the
thuds of Pinter’s and Kullers’ picks drawing nearer. They would strike
his tunnel at right angles. Both parties worked long hours, only
knocking off to fry a bit of steak in the pan, boil the billy, and throw
themselves dressed on their bunks to get a few hours’ sleep. Pinter had
practical experience and a line clear of graves, and he made good time.
The two parties now found it more comfortable to be not on speaking
terms. Individually they grew furtive, and began to feel criminal
like--at least Dave and Jim did. They’d start if a horse stumbled
through the Bush, and expected to see a mounted policeman ride up at
any moment and hear him ask questions. They had driven about thirty-five
feet when, one Saturday afternoon, the strain became too great, and Dave
and Jim got drunk. The spree lasted over Sunday, and on Monday morning
they felt too shaky to come to work and had more drink. On Monday
afternoon, Kullers, whose shift it was below, stuck his pick through the
face of his drive into the wall of Dave’s, about four feet from the end
of it: the clay flaked away, leaving a hole as big as a wash-hand basin.
They knocked off for the day and decided to let the other party take the
offensive.

Tuesday morning Dave and Jim came to work, still feeling shaky. Jim
went below, crawled along the drive, lit his candle, and stuck it in the
spiked iron socket and the spike in the wall of the drive, quite close
to the hole, without noticing either the hole or the increased freshness
in the air. He started picking away at the ‘face’ and scraping the clay
back from under his feet, and didn’t hear Kullers come to work. Kullers
came in softly and decided to try a bit of cheerful bluff. He stuck his
great round black face through the hole, the whites of his eyes rolling
horribly in the candle-light, and said, with a deep guffaw--

‘’Ullo! you dar’?’

No bandicoot ever went into his hole with the dogs after him quicker
than Jim came out of his. He scrambled up the shaft by the foot-holes,
and sat on the edge of the waste-heap, looking very pale.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Dave. ‘Have you seen a ghost?’

‘I’ve seen the--the devil!’ gasped Jim. ‘I’m--I’m done with this here
ghoul business.’

The parties got on speaking terms again. Dave was very warm, but Jim’s
language was worse. Pinter scratched his chin-feathers reflectively till
the other party cooled. There was no appealing to the Commissioner for
goldfields; they were outside all law, whether of the goldfields or
otherwise--so they did the only thing possible and sensible, they joined
forces and became ‘Poynton, Regan, & Party’. They agreed to work the
ground from the separate shafts, and decided to go ahead, irrespective
of appearances, and get as much dirt out and cradled as possible before
the inevitable exposure came along. They found plenty of ‘payable dirt’,
and soon the drive ended in a cluster of roomy chambers. They timbered
up many coffins of various ages, burnt tarred canvas and brown
paper, and kept the fan going. Outside they paid the storekeeper with
difficulty and talked of hard times.

But one fine sunny morning, after about a week of partnership, they got
a bad scare. Jim and Kullers were below, getting out dirt for all they
were worth, and Pinter and Dave at their windlasses, when who should
march down from the cemetery gate but Mother Middleton herself. She was
a hard woman to look at. She still wore the old-fashioned crinoline and
her hair in a greasy net; and on this as on most other sober occasions,
she wore the expression of a rough Irish navvy who has just enough drink
to make him nasty and is looking out for an excuse for a row. She had
a stride like a grenadier. A digger had once measured her step by her
footprints in the mud where she had stepped across a gutter: it measured
three feet from toe to heel.

She marched to the grave of Jimmy Middleton, laid a dingy bunch of
flowers thereon, with the gesture of an angry man banging his fist down
on the table, turned on her heel, and marched out. The diggers were dirt
beneath her feet. Presently they heard her drive on in her spring-cart
on her way into town, and they drew breaths of relief.

It was afternoon. Dave and Pinter were feeling tired, and were just
deciding to knock off work for that day when they heard a scuffling in
the direction of the different shafts, and both Jim and Kullers dropped
down and bundled in in a great hurry. Jim chuckled in a silly way, as if
there was something funny, and Kullers guffawed in sympathy.

‘What’s up now?’ demanded Dave apprehensively.

‘Mother Middleton,’ said Jim; ‘she’s blind mad drunk, and she’s got a
bottle in one hand and a new pitchfork in the other, that she’s bringing
out for some one.’

‘How the hell did she drop to it?’ exclaimed Pinter.

‘Dunno,’ said Jim. ‘Anyway she’s coming for us. Listen to her!’

They didn’t have to listen hard. The language which came down the
shaft--they weren’t sure which one--and along the drives was enough to
scare up the dead and make them take to the Bush.

‘Why didn’t you fools make off into the Bush and give us a chance,
instead of giving her a lead here?’ asked Dave.

Jim and Kullers began to wish they had done so.

Mrs Middleton began to throw stones down the shaft--it was Pinter’s--and
they, even the oldest and most anxious, began to grin in spite of
themselves, for they knew she couldn’t hurt them from the surface, and
that, though she had been a working digger herself, she couldn’t fill
both shafts before the fumes of liquor overtook her.

‘I wonder which shaf’ she’ll come down,’ asked Kullers in a tone
befitting the place and occasion.

‘You’d better go and watch your shaft, Pinter,’ said Dave, ‘and Jim and
I’ll watch mine.’

‘I--I won’t,’ said Pinter hurriedly. ‘I’m--I’m a modest man.’

Then they heard a clang in the direction of Pinter’s shaft.

‘She’s thrown her bottle down,’ said Dave.

Jim crawled along the drive a piece, urged by curiosity, and returned
hurriedly.

‘She’s broke the pitchfork off short, to use in the drive, and I believe
she’s coming down.’

‘Her crinoline’ll handicap her,’ said Pinter vacantly, ‘that’s a
comfort.’

‘She’s took it off!’ said Dave excitedly; and peering along Pinter’s
drive, they saw first an elastic-sided boot, then a red-striped
stocking, then a section of scarlet petticoat.

‘Lemme out!’ roared Pinter, lurching forward and making a swimming
motion with his hands in the direction of Dave’s drive. Kullers
was already gone, and Jim well on the way. Dave, lanky and awkward,
scrambled up the shaft last. Mrs Middleton made good time, considering
she had the darkness to face and didn’t know the workings, and when Dave
reached the top he had a tear in the leg of his moleskins, and the blood
ran from a nasty scratch. But he didn’t wait to argue over the price of
a new pair of trousers. He made off through the Bush in the direction of
an encouraging whistle thrown back by Jim.

‘She’s too drunk to get her story listened to to-night,’ said Dave. ‘But
to-morrow she’ll bring the neighbourhood down on us.’

‘And she’s enough, without the neighbourhood,’ reflected Pinter.

Some time after dark they returned cautiously, reconnoitred their camp,
and after hiding in a hollow log such things as they couldn’t carry,
they rolled up their tents like the Arabs, and silently stole away.



The Chinaman’s Ghost.


‘Simple as striking matches,’ said Dave Regan, Bushman; ‘but it gave me
the biggest scare I ever had--except, perhaps, the time I stumbled in
the dark into a six-feet digger’s hole, which might have been eighty
feet deep for all I knew when I was falling. (There was an eighty-feet
shaft left open close by.)

‘It was the night of the day after the Queen’s birthday. I was sinking a
shaft with Jim Bently and Andy Page on the old Redclay goldfield, and
we camped in a tent on the creek. Jim and me went to some races that was
held at Peter Anderson’s pub., about four miles across the ridges, on
Queen’s birthday. Andy was a quiet sort of chap, a teetotaller, and
we’d disgusted him the last time he was out for a holiday with us, so he
stayed at home and washed and mended his clothes, and read an arithmetic
book. (He used to keep the accounts, and it took him most of his spare
time.)

‘Jim and me had a pretty high time. We all got pretty tight after the
races, and I wanted to fight Jim, or Jim wanted to fight me--I don’t
remember which. We were old chums, and we nearly always wanted to fight
each other when we got a bit on, and we’d fight if we weren’t stopped. I
remember once Jim got maudlin drunk and begged and prayed of me to fight
him, as if he was praying for his life. Tom Tarrant, the coach-driver,
used to say that Jim and me must be related, else we wouldn’t hate each
other so much when we were tight and truthful.

‘Anyway, this day, Jim got the sulks, and caught his horse and went home
early in the evening. My dog went home with him too; I must have been
carrying on pretty bad to disgust the dog.

‘Next evening I got disgusted with myself, and started to walk home. I’d
lost my hat, so Peter Anderson lent me an old one of his, that he’d worn
on Ballarat he said: it was a hard, straw, flat, broad-brimmed affair,
and fitted my headache pretty tight. Peter gave me a small flask of
whisky to help me home. I had to go across some flats and up a long dark
gully called Murderer’s Gully, and over a gap called Dead Man’s Gap,
and down the ridge and gullies to Redclay Creek. The lonely flats
were covered with blue-grey gum bush, and looked ghostly enough in the
moonlight, and I was pretty shaky, but I had a pull at the flask and a
mouthful of water at a creek and felt right enough. I began to whistle,
and then to sing: I never used to sing unless I thought I was a couple
of miles out of earshot of any one.

‘Murderer’s Gully was deep and pretty dark most times, and of course it
was haunted. Women and children wouldn’t go through it after dark; and
even me, when I’d grown up, I’d hold my back pretty holler, and whistle,
and walk quick going along there at night-time. We’re all afraid of
ghosts, but we won’t let on.

‘Some one had skinned a dead calf during the day and left it on the
track, and it gave me a jump, I promise you. It looked like two corpses
laid out naked. I finished the whisky and started up over the gap. All
of a sudden a great ‘old man’ kangaroo went across the track with a
thud-thud, and up the siding, and that startled me. Then the naked,
white glistening trunk of a stringy-bark tree, where some one had
stripped off a sheet of bark, started out from a bend in the track in a
shaft of moonlight, and that gave me a jerk. I was pretty shaky before
I started. There was a Chinaman’s grave close by the track on the top
of the gap. An old chow had lived in a hut there for many years, and
fossicked on the old diggings, and one day he was found dead in the
hut, and the Government gave some one a pound to bury him. When I was a
nipper we reckoned that his ghost haunted the gap, and cursed in Chinese
because the bones hadn’t been sent home to China. It was a lonely,
ghostly place enough.

‘It had been a smotheringly hot day and very close coming across the
flats and up the gully--not a breath of air; but now as I got higher I
saw signs of the thunderstorm we’d expected all day, and felt the breath
of a warm breeze on my face. When I got into the top of the gap the
first thing I saw was something white amongst the dark bushes over the
spot where the Chinaman’s grave was, and I stood staring at it with
both eyes. It moved out of the shadow presently, and I saw that it was
a white bullock, and I felt relieved. I’d hardly felt relieved when, all
at once, there came a “pat-pat-pat” of running feet close behind me!
I jumped round quick, but there was nothing there, and while I stood
staring all ways for Sunday, there came a “pat-pat”, then a pause, and
then “pat-pat-pat-pat” behind me again: it was like some one dodging and
running off that time. I started to walk down the track pretty fast,
but hadn’t gone a dozen yards when “pat-pat-pat”, it was close behind me
again. I jerked my eyes over my shoulder but kept my legs going. There
was nothing behind, but I fancied I saw something slip into the Bush to
the right. It must have been the moonlight on the moving boughs; there
was a good breeze blowing now. I got down to a more level track, and
was making across a spur to the main road, when “pat-pat!” “pat-pat-pat,
pat-pat-pat!” it was after me again. Then I began to run--and it began
to run too! “pat-pat-pat” after me all the time. I hadn’t time to look
round. Over the spur and down the siding and across the flat to the road
I went as fast as I could split my legs apart. I had a scared idea that
I was getting a touch of the “jim-jams”, and that frightened me more
than any outside ghost could have done. I stumbled a few times, and
saved myself, but, just before I reached the road, I fell slithering
on to my hands on the grass and gravel. I thought I’d broken both
my wrists. I stayed for a moment on my hands and knees, quaking and
listening, squinting round like a great gohana; I couldn’t hear nor
see anything. I picked myself up, and had hardly got on one end, when
“pat-pat!” it was after me again. I must have run a mile and a half
altogether that night. It was still about three-quarters of a mile to
the camp, and I ran till my heart beat in my head and my lungs choked up
in my throat. I saw our tent-fire and took off my hat to run faster. The
footsteps stopped, then something about the hat touched my fingers, and
I stared at it--and the thing dawned on me. I hadn’t noticed at Peter
Anderson’s--my head was too swimmy to notice anything. It was an old hat
of the style that the first diggers used to wear, with a couple of loose
ribbon ends, three or four inches long, from the band behind. As long
as I walked quietly through the gully, and there was no wind, the tails
didn’t flap, but when I got up into the breeze, they flapped or were
still according to how the wind lifted them or pressed them down flat
on the brim. And when I ran they tapped all the time; and the hat being
tight on my head, the tapping of the ribbon ends against the straw
sounded loud of course.

‘I sat down on a log for a while to get some of my wind back and cool
down, and then I went to the camp as quietly as I could, and had a long
drink of water.

‘“You seem to be a bit winded, Dave,” said Jim Bently, “and mighty
thirsty. Did the Chinaman’s ghost chase you?”

‘I told him not to talk rot, and went into the tent, and lay down on my
bunk, and had a good rest.’



The Loaded Dog.


Dave Regan, Jim Bently, and Andy Page were sinking a shaft at Stony
Creek in search of a rich gold quartz reef which was supposed to exist
in the vicinity. There is always a rich reef supposed to exist in the
vicinity; the only questions are whether it is ten feet or hundreds
beneath the surface, and in which direction. They had struck some
pretty solid rock, also water which kept them baling. They used the
old-fashioned blasting-powder and time-fuse. They’d make a sausage or
cartridge of blasting-powder in a skin of strong calico or canvas, the
mouth sewn and bound round the end of the fuse; they’d dip the cartridge
in melted tallow to make it water-tight, get the drill-hole as dry as
possible, drop in the cartridge with some dry dust, and wad and ram with
stiff clay and broken brick. Then they’d light the fuse and get out of
the hole and wait. The result was usually an ugly pot-hole in the bottom
of the shaft and half a barrow-load of broken rock.

There was plenty of fish in the creek, fresh-water bream, cod, cat-fish,
and tailers. The party were fond of fish, and Andy and Dave of fishing.
Andy would fish for three hours at a stretch if encouraged by a ‘nibble’
or a ‘bite’ now and then--say once in twenty minutes. The butcher was
always willing to give meat in exchange for fish when they caught more
than they could eat; but now it was winter, and these fish wouldn’t
bite. However, the creek was low, just a chain of muddy water-holes,
from the hole with a few bucketfuls in it to the sizable pool with an
average depth of six or seven feet, and they could get fish by baling
out the smaller holes or muddying up the water in the larger ones
till the fish rose to the surface. There was the cat-fish, with spikes
growing out of the sides of its head, and if you got pricked you’d know
it, as Dave said. Andy took off his boots, tucked up his trousers, and
went into a hole one day to stir up the mud with his feet, and he knew
it. Dave scooped one out with his hand and got pricked, and he knew it
too; his arm swelled, and the pain throbbed up into his shoulder, and
down into his stomach too, he said, like a toothache he had once, and
kept him awake for two nights--only the toothache pain had a ‘burred
edge’, Dave said.

Dave got an idea.

‘Why not blow the fish up in the big water-hole with a cartridge?’ he
said. ‘I’ll try it.’

He thought the thing out and Andy Page worked it out. Andy usually put
Dave’s theories into practice if they were practicable, or bore the
blame for the failure and the chaffing of his mates if they weren’t.

He made a cartridge about three times the size of those they used in the
rock. Jim Bently said it was big enough to blow the bottom out of the
river. The inner skin was of stout calico; Andy stuck the end of a
six-foot piece of fuse well down in the powder and bound the mouth of
the bag firmly to it with whipcord. The idea was to sink the cartridge
in the water with the open end of the fuse attached to a float on
the surface, ready for lighting. Andy dipped the cartridge in melted
bees’-wax to make it water-tight. ‘We’ll have to leave it some time
before we light it,’ said Dave, ‘to give the fish time to get over their
scare when we put it in, and come nosing round again; so we’ll want it
well water-tight.’

Round the cartridge Andy, at Dave’s suggestion, bound a strip of sail
canvas--that they used for making water-bags--to increase the force of
the explosion, and round that he pasted layers of stiff brown paper--on
the plan of the sort of fireworks we called ‘gun-crackers’. He let the
paper dry in the sun, then he sewed a covering of two thicknesses
of canvas over it, and bound the thing from end to end with stout
fishing-line. Dave’s schemes were elaborate, and he often worked his
inventions out to nothing. The cartridge was rigid and solid enough
now--a formidable bomb; but Andy and Dave wanted to be sure. Andy sewed
on another layer of canvas, dipped the cartridge in melted tallow,
twisted a length of fencing-wire round it as an afterthought, dipped it
in tallow again, and stood it carefully against a tent-peg, where he’d
know where to find it, and wound the fuse loosely round it. Then he
went to the camp-fire to try some potatoes which were boiling in their
jackets in a billy, and to see about frying some chops for dinner. Dave
and Jim were at work in the claim that morning.

They had a big black young retriever dog--or rather an overgrown pup, a
big, foolish, four-footed mate, who was always slobbering round them
and lashing their legs with his heavy tail that swung round like a
stock-whip. Most of his head was usually a red, idiotic, slobbering grin
of appreciation of his own silliness. He seemed to take life, the world,
his two-legged mates, and his own instinct as a huge joke. He’d retrieve
anything: he carted back most of the camp rubbish that Andy threw
away. They had a cat that died in hot weather, and Andy threw it a good
distance away in the scrub; and early one morning the dog found the cat,
after it had been dead a week or so, and carried it back to camp,
and laid it just inside the tent-flaps, where it could best make
its presence known when the mates should rise and begin to sniff
suspiciously in the sickly smothering atmosphere of the summer sunrise.
He used to retrieve them when they went in swimming; he’d jump in after
them, and take their hands in his mouth, and try to swim out with them,
and scratch their naked bodies with his paws. They loved him for his
good-heartedness and his foolishness, but when they wished to enjoy a
swim they had to tie him up in camp.

He watched Andy with great interest all the morning making the
cartridge, and hindered him considerably, trying to help; but about noon
he went off to the claim to see how Dave and Jim were getting on, and to
come home to dinner with them. Andy saw them coming, and put a panful of
mutton-chops on the fire. Andy was cook to-day; Dave and Jim stood with
their backs to the fire, as Bushmen do in all weathers, waiting till
dinner should be ready. The retriever went nosing round after something
he seemed to have missed.

Andy’s brain still worked on the cartridge; his eye was caught by the
glare of an empty kerosene-tin lying in the bushes, and it struck him
that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to sink the cartridge packed with clay,
sand, or stones in the tin, to increase the force of the explosion. He
may have been all out, from a scientific point of view, but the notion
looked all right to him. Jim Bently, by the way, wasn’t interested in
their ‘damned silliness’. Andy noticed an empty treacle-tin--the
sort with the little tin neck or spout soldered on to the top for the
convenience of pouring out the treacle--and it struck him that this
would have made the best kind of cartridge-case: he would only have had
to pour in the powder, stick the fuse in through the neck, and cork and
seal it with bees’-wax. He was turning to suggest this to Dave, when
Dave glanced over his shoulder to see how the chops were doing--and
bolted. He explained afterwards that he thought he heard the pan
spluttering extra, and looked to see if the chops were burning. Jim
Bently looked behind and bolted after Dave. Andy stood stock-still,
staring after them.

‘Run, Andy! run!’ they shouted back at him. ‘Run!!! Look behind you, you
fool!’ Andy turned slowly and looked, and there, close behind him, was
the retriever with the cartridge in his mouth--wedged into his broadest
and silliest grin. And that wasn’t all. The dog had come round the fire
to Andy, and the loose end of the fuse had trailed and waggled over the
burning sticks into the blaze; Andy had slit and nicked the firing end
of the fuse well, and now it was hissing and spitting properly.

Andy’s legs started with a jolt; his legs started before his brain did,
and he made after Dave and Jim. And the dog followed Andy.

Dave and Jim were good runners--Jim the best--for a short distance; Andy
was slow and heavy, but he had the strength and the wind and could last.
The dog leapt and capered round him, delighted as a dog could be to find
his mates, as he thought, on for a frolic. Dave and Jim kept shouting
back, ‘Don’t foller us! don’t foller us, you coloured fool!’ but Andy
kept on, no matter how they dodged. They could never explain, any
more than the dog, why they followed each other, but so they ran, Dave
keeping in Jim’s track in all its turnings, Andy after Dave, and the
dog circling round Andy--the live fuse swishing in all directions and
hissing and spluttering and stinking. Jim yelling to Dave not to follow
him, Dave shouting to Andy to go in another direction--to ‘spread out’,
and Andy roaring at the dog to go home. Then Andy’s brain began to work,
stimulated by the crisis: he tried to get a running kick at the dog, but
the dog dodged; he snatched up sticks and stones and threw them at the
dog and ran on again. The retriever saw that he’d made a mistake about
Andy, and left him and bounded after Dave. Dave, who had the presence of
mind to think that the fuse’s time wasn’t up yet, made a dive and a grab
for the dog, caught him by the tail, and as he swung round snatched
the cartridge out of his mouth and flung it as far as he could: the dog
immediately bounded after it and retrieved it. Dave roared and cursed at
the dog, who seeing that Dave was offended, left him and went after Jim,
who was well ahead. Jim swung to a sapling and went up it like a native
bear; it was a young sapling, and Jim couldn’t safely get more than ten
or twelve feet from the ground. The dog laid the cartridge, as carefully
as if it was a kitten, at the foot of the sapling, and capered and
leaped and whooped joyously round under Jim. The big pup reckoned that
this was part of the lark--he was all right now--it was Jim who was out
for a spree. The fuse sounded as if it were going a mile a minute. Jim
tried to climb higher and the sapling bent and cracked. Jim fell on his
feet and ran. The dog swooped on the cartridge and followed. It all took
but a very few moments. Jim ran to a digger’s hole, about ten feet deep,
and dropped down into it--landing on soft mud--and was safe. The dog
grinned sardonically down on him, over the edge, for a moment, as if he
thought it would be a good lark to drop the cartridge down on Jim.

‘Go away, Tommy,’ said Jim feebly, ‘go away.’

The dog bounded off after Dave, who was the only one in sight now; Andy
had dropped behind a log, where he lay flat on his face, having suddenly
remembered a picture of the Russo-Turkish war with a circle of
Turks lying flat on their faces (as if they were ashamed) round a
newly-arrived shell.

There was a small hotel or shanty on the creek, on the main road, not
far from the claim. Dave was desperate, the time flew much faster in
his stimulated imagination than it did in reality, so he made for the
shanty. There were several casual Bushmen on the verandah and in the
bar; Dave rushed into the bar, banging the door to behind him. ‘My dog!’
he gasped, in reply to the astonished stare of the publican, ‘the blanky
retriever--he’s got a live cartridge in his mouth----’

The retriever, finding the front door shut against him, had bounded
round and in by the back way, and now stood smiling in the doorway
leading from the passage, the cartridge still in his mouth and the fuse
spluttering. They burst out of that bar. Tommy bounded first after one
and then after another, for, being a young dog, he tried to make friends
with everybody.

The Bushmen ran round corners, and some shut themselves in the stable.
There was a new weather-board and corrugated-iron kitchen and wash-house
on piles in the back-yard, with some women washing clothes inside.
Dave and the publican bundled in there and shut the door--the publican
cursing Dave and calling him a crimson fool, in hurried tones, and
wanting to know what the hell he came here for.

The retriever went in under the kitchen, amongst the piles, but, luckily
for those inside, there was a vicious yellow mongrel cattle-dog sulking
and nursing his nastiness under there--a sneaking, fighting, thieving
canine, whom neighbours had tried for years to shoot or poison. Tommy
saw his danger--he’d had experience from this dog--and started out and
across the yard, still sticking to the cartridge. Half-way across
the yard the yellow dog caught him and nipped him. Tommy dropped the
cartridge, gave one terrified yell, and took to the Bush. The yellow dog
followed him to the fence and then ran back to see what he had dropped.

Nearly a dozen other dogs came from round all the corners and under the
buildings--spidery, thievish, cold-blooded kangaroo-dogs, mongrel sheep-
and cattle-dogs, vicious black and yellow dogs--that slip after you in
the dark, nip your heels, and vanish without explaining--and yapping,
yelping small fry. They kept at a respectable distance round the nasty
yellow dog, for it was dangerous to go near him when he thought he had
found something which might be good for a dog to eat. He sniffed at the
cartridge twice, and was just taking a third cautious sniff when----

It was very good blasting powder--a new brand that Dave had recently got
up from Sydney; and the cartridge had been excellently well made. Andy
was very patient and painstaking in all he did, and nearly as handy as
the average sailor with needles, twine, canvas, and rope.

Bushmen say that that kitchen jumped off its piles and on again. When
the smoke and dust cleared away, the remains of the nasty yellow dog
were lying against the paling fence of the yard looking as if he had
been kicked into a fire by a horse and afterwards rolled in the dust
under a barrow, and finally thrown against the fence from a distance.
Several saddle-horses, which had been ‘hanging-up’ round the verandah,
were galloping wildly down the road in clouds of dust, with broken
bridle-reins flying; and from a circle round the outskirts, from every
point of the compass in the scrub, came the yelping of dogs. Two of them
went home, to the place where they were born, thirty miles away, and
reached it the same night and stayed there; it was not till towards
evening that the rest came back cautiously to make inquiries. One was
trying to walk on two legs, and most of ‘em looked more or less singed;
and a little, singed, stumpy-tailed dog, who had been in the habit of
hopping the back half of him along on one leg, had reason to be glad
that he’d saved up the other leg all those years, for he needed it
now. There was one old one-eyed cattle-dog round that shanty for years
afterwards, who couldn’t stand the smell of a gun being cleaned. He it
was who had taken an interest, only second to that of the yellow dog, in
the cartridge. Bushmen said that it was amusing to slip up on his blind
side and stick a dirty ramrod under his nose: he wouldn’t wait to bring
his solitary eye to bear--he’d take to the Bush and stay out all night.

For half an hour or so after the explosion there were several Bushmen
round behind the stable who crouched, doubled up, against the wall, or
rolled gently on the dust, trying to laugh without shrieking. There
were two white women in hysterics at the house, and a half-caste rushing
aimlessly round with a dipper of cold water. The publican was holding
his wife tight and begging her between her squawks, to ‘hold up for my
sake, Mary, or I’ll lam the life out of ye.’

Dave decided to apologise later on, ‘when things had settled a bit,’ and
went back to camp. And the dog that had done it all, ‘Tommy’, the great,
idiotic mongrel retriever, came slobbering round Dave and lashing his
legs with his tail, and trotted home after him, smiling his broadest,
longest, and reddest smile of amiability, and apparently satisfied for
one afternoon with the fun he’d had.

Andy chained the dog up securely, and cooked some more chops, while Dave
went to help Jim out of the hole.

And most of this is why, for years afterwards, lanky, easy-going
Bushmen, riding lazily past Dave’s camp, would cry, in a lazy drawl and
with just a hint of the nasal twang--

‘’El-lo, Da-a-ve! How’s the fishin’ getting on, Da-a-ve?’



Poisonous Jimmy Gets Left.



I. Dave Regan’s Yarn.


‘When we got tired of digging about Mudgee-Budgee, and getting no gold,’
said Dave Regan, Bushman, ‘me and my mate, Jim Bently, decided to take a
turn at droving; so we went with Bob Baker, the drover, overland with a
big mob of cattle, way up into Northern Queensland.

‘We couldn’t get a job on the home track, and we spent most of our
money, like a pair of fools, at a pub. at a town way up over the border,
where they had a flash barmaid from Brisbane. We sold our pack-horses
and pack-saddles, and rode out of that town with our swags on our
riding-horses in front of us. We had another spree at another place, and
by the time we got near New South Wales we were pretty well stumped.

‘Just the other side of Mulgatown, near the border, we came on a big mob
of cattle in a paddock, and a party of drovers camped on the creek. They
had brought the cattle down from the north and were going no farther
with them; their boss had ridden on into Mulgatown to get the cheques to
pay them off, and they were waiting for him.

‘“And Poisonous Jimmy is waiting for us,” said one of them.

‘Poisonous Jimmy kept a shanty a piece along the road from their camp
towards Mulgatown. He was called “Poisonous Jimmy” perhaps on account
of his liquor, or perhaps because he had a job of poisoning dingoes on a
station in the Bogan scrubs at one time. He was a sharp publican. He had
a girl, and they said that whenever a shearing-shed cut-out on his side
and he saw the shearers coming along the road, he’d say to the girl,
“Run and get your best frock on, Mary! Here’s the shearers comin’.” And
if a chequeman wouldn’t drink he’d try to get him into his bar and shout
for him till he was too drunk to keep his hands out of his pockets.

‘“But he won’t get us,” said another of the drovers. “I’m going to ride
straight into Mulgatown and send my money home by the post as soon as I
get it.”

‘“You’ve always said that, Jack,” said the first drover.

‘We yarned a while, and had some tea, and then me and Jim got on our
horses and rode on. We were burned to bricks and ragged and dusty and
parched up enough, and so were our horses. We only had a few shillings
to carry us four or five hundred miles home, but it was mighty hot and
dusty, and we felt that we must have a drink at the shanty. This was
west of the sixpenny-line at that time--all drinks were a shilling along
here.

‘Just before we reached the shanty I got an idea.

‘“We’ll plant our swags in the scrub,” I said to Jim.

‘“What for?” said Jim.

‘“Never mind--you’ll see,” I said.

‘So we unstrapped our swags and hid them in the mulga scrub by the
side of the road; then we rode on to the shanty, got down, and hung our
horses to the verandah posts.

‘“Poisonous” came out at once, with a smile on him that would have made
anybody home-sick.

‘He was a short nuggety man, and could use his hands, they said; he
looked as if he’d be a nasty, vicious, cool customer in a fight--he
wasn’t the sort of man you’d care to try and swindle a second time.
He had a monkey shave when he shaved, but now it was all frill and
stubble--like a bush fence round a stubble-field. He had a broken nose,
and a cunning, sharp, suspicious eye that squinted, and a cold stony eye
that seemed fixed. If you didn’t know him well you might talk to him for
five minutes, looking at him in the cold stony eye, and then discover
that it was the sharp cunning little eye that was watching you all the
time. It was awful embarrassing. It must have made him awkward to deal
with in a fight.

‘“Good day, mates,” he said.

‘“Good day,” we said.

‘“It’s hot.”

‘“It’s hot.”

‘We went into the bar, and Poisonous got behind the counter.

‘“What are you going to have?” he asked, rubbing up his glasses with a
rag.

‘We had two long-beers.

‘“Never mind that,” said Poisonous, seeing me put my hand in my pocket;
“it’s my shout. I don’t suppose your boss is back yet? I saw him go in
to Mulgatown this morning.”

‘“No, he ain’t back,” I said; “I wish he was. We’re getting tired of
waiting for him. We’ll give him another hour, and then some of us will
have to ride in to see whether he’s got on the boose, and get hold of
him if he has.”

‘“I suppose you’re waiting for your cheques?” he said, turning to fix
some bottles on the shelf.

‘“Yes,” I said, “we are;” and I winked at Jim, and Jim winked back as
solemn as an owl.

‘Poisonous asked us all about the trip, and how long we’d been on the
track, and what sort of a boss we had, dropping the questions offhand
now an’ then, as for the sake of conversation. We could see that he
was trying to get at the size of our supposed cheques, so we answered
accordingly.

‘“Have another drink,” he said, and he filled the pewters up again.
“It’s up to me,” and he set to work boring out the glasses with his rag,
as if he was short-handed and the bar was crowded with customers, and
screwing up his face into what I suppose he considered an innocent or
unconscious expression. The girl began to sidle in and out with a smart
frock and a see-you-after-dark smirk on.

‘“Have you had dinner?” she asked. We could have done with a good meal,
but it was too risky--the drovers’ boss might come along while we were
at dinner and get into conversation with Poisonous. So we said we’d had
dinner.

‘Poisonous filled our pewters again in an offhand way.

‘“I wish the boss would come,” said Jim with a yawn. “I want to get into
Mulgatown to-night, and I want to get some shirts and things before I go
in. I ain’t got a decent rag to me back. I don’t suppose there’s ten bob
amongst the lot of us.”

‘There was a general store back on the creek, near the drovers’ camp.

‘“Oh, go to the store and get what you want,” said Poisonous, taking a
sovereign from the till and tossing it on to the counter. “You can fix
it up with me when your boss comes. Bring your mates along.”

‘“Thank you,” said Jim, taking up the sovereign carelessly and dropping
it into his pocket.

‘“Well, Jim,” I said, “suppose we get back to camp and see how the chaps
are getting on?”

‘“All right,” said Jim.

‘“Tell them to come down and get a drink,” said Poisonous; “or, wait,
you can take some beer along to them if you like,” and he gave us half
a gallon of beer in a billy-can. He knew what the first drink meant with
Bushmen back from a long dry trip.

‘We got on our horses, I holding the billy very carefully, and rode back
to where our swags were.

‘“I say,” said Jim, when we’d strapped the swags to the saddles,
“suppose we take the beer back to those chaps: it’s meant for them, and
it’s only a fair thing, anyway--we’ve got as much as we can hold till we
get into Mulgatown.”

‘“It might get them into a row,” I said, “and they seem decent chaps.
Let’s hang the billy on a twig, and that old swagman that’s coming along
will think there’s angels in the Bush.”

‘“Oh! what’s a row?” said Jim. “They can take care of themselves;
they’ll have the beer anyway and a lark with Poisonous when they take
the can back and it comes to explanations. I’ll ride back to them.”

‘So Jim rode back to the drovers’ camp with the beer, and when he came
back to me he said that the drovers seemed surprised, but they drank
good luck to him.

‘We rode round through the mulga behind the shanty and came out on the
road again on the Mulgatown side: we only stayed at Mulgatown to buy
some tucker and tobacco, then we pushed on and camped for the night
about seven miles on the safe side of the town.’



II. Told by One of the Other Drovers.


‘Talkin’ o’ Poisonous Jimmy, I can tell you a yarn about him. We’d
brought a mob of cattle down for a squatter the other side of Mulgatown.
We camped about seven miles the other side of the town, waitin’ for the
station hands to come and take charge of the stock, while the boss rode
on into town to draw our money. Some of us was goin’ back, though in
the end we all went into Mulgatown and had a boose up with the boss. But
while we was waitin’ there come along two fellers that had been drovin’
up north. They yarned a while, an’ then went on to Poisonous Jimmy’s
place, an’ in about an hour one on ‘em come ridin’ back with a can of
beer that he said Poisonous had sent for us. We all knew Jimmy’s little
games--the beer was a bait to get us on the drunk at his place; but we
drunk the beer, and reckoned to have a lark with him afterwards. When
the boss come back, an’ the station hands to take the bullocks, we
started into Mulgatown. We stopped outside Poisonous’s place an’ handed
the can to the girl that was grinnin’ on the verandah. Poisonous come
out with a grin on him like a parson with a broken nose.

‘“Good day, boys!” he says.

‘“Good day, Poisonous,” we says.

‘“It’s hot,” he says.

‘“It’s blanky hot,” I says.

‘He seemed to expect us to get down. “Where are you off to?” he says.

‘“Mulgatown,” I says. “It will be cooler there,” and we sung out,
“So-long, Poisonous!” and rode on.

‘He stood starin’ for a minute; then he started shoutin’, “Hi! hi
there!” after us, but we took no notice, an’ rode on. When we looked
back last he was runnin’ into the scrub with a bridle in his hand.

‘We jogged along easily till we got within a mile of Mulgatown, when
we heard somebody gallopin’ after us, an’ lookin’ back we saw it was
Poisonous.

‘He was too mad and too winded to speak at first, so he rode along with
us a bit gasping: then he burst out.

‘“Where’s them other two carnal blanks?” he shouted.

‘“What other two?” I asked. “We’re all here. What’s the matter with you
anyway?”

‘“All here!” he yelled. “You’re a lurid liar! What the flamin’ sheol do
you mean by swiggin’ my beer an’ flingin’ the coloured can in me face?
without as much as thank yer! D’yer think I’m a flamin’----!”

‘Oh, but Poisonous Jimmy was wild.

‘“Well, we’ll pay for your dirty beer,” says one of the chaps, puttin’
his hand in his pocket. “We didn’t want yer slush. It tasted as if it
had been used before.”

‘“Pay for it!” yelled Jimmy. “I’ll----well take it out of one of yer
bleedin’ hides!”

‘We stopped at once, and I got down an’ obliged Jimmy for a few rounds.
He was a nasty customer to fight; he could use his hands, and was cool
as a cucumber as soon as he took his coat off: besides, he had one
squirmy little business eye, and a big wall-eye, an’, even if you knowed
him well, you couldn’t help watchin’ the stony eye--it was no good
watchin’ his eyes, you had to watch his hands, and he might have
managed me if the boss hadn’t stopped the fight. The boss was a big,
quiet-voiced man, that didn’t swear.

‘“Now, look here, Myles,” said the boss (Jimmy’s name was Myles)--“Now,
look here, Myles,” sez the boss, “what’s all this about?”

‘“What’s all this about?” says Jimmy, gettin’ excited agen. “Why, two
fellers that belonged to your party come along to my place an’ put up
half-a-dozen drinks, an’ borrered a sovereign, an’ got a can o’ beer on
the strength of their cheques. They sez they was waitin’ for you--an’ I
want my crimson money out o’ some one!”

‘“What was they like?” asks the boss.

‘“Like?” shouted Poisonous, swearin’ all the time. “One was a blanky
long, sandy, sawny feller, and the other was a short, slim feller with
black hair. Your blanky men knows all about them because they had the
blanky billy o’ beer.”

‘“Now, what’s this all about, you chaps?” sez the boss to us.

‘So we told him as much as we knowed about them two fellers.

‘I’ve heard men swear that could swear in a rough shearin’-shed, but I
never heard a man swear like Poisonous Jimmy when he saw how he’d been
left. It was enough to split stumps. He said he wanted to see those
fellers, just once, before he died.

‘He rode with us into Mulgatown, got mad drunk, an’ started out along
the road with a tomahawk after the long sandy feller and the slim dark
feller; but two mounted police went after him an’ fetched him back. He
said he only wanted justice; he said he only wanted to stun them two
fellers till he could give ‘em in charge.

‘They fined him ten bob.’



The Ghostly Door.

Told by one of Dave’s mates.



Dave and I were tramping on a lonely Bush track in New Zealand, making
for a sawmill where we expected to get work, and we were caught in one
of those three-days’ gales, with rain and hail in it and cold enough to
cut off a man’s legs. Camping out was not to be thought of, so we
just tramped on in silence, with the stinging pain coming between our
shoulder-blades--from cold, weariness, and the weight of our swags--and
our boots, full of water, going splosh, splosh, splosh along the
track. We were settled to it--to drag on like wet, weary, muddy working
bullocks till we came to somewhere--when, just before darkness settled
down, we saw the loom of a humpy of some sort on the slope of a
tussock hill, back from the road, and we made for it, without holding a
consultation.

It was a two-roomed hut built of waste timber from a sawmill, and was
either a deserted settler’s home or a hut attached to an abandoned
sawmill round there somewhere. The windows were boarded up. We dumped
our swags under the little verandah and banged at the door, to make
sure; then Dave pulled a couple of boards off a window and looked in:
there was light enough to see that the place was empty. Dave pulled
off some more boards, put his arm in through a broken pane, clicked the
catch back, and then pushed up the window and got in. I handed in the
swags to him. The room was very draughty; the wind came in through
the broken window and the cracks between the slabs, so we tried the
partitioned-off room--the bedroom--and that was better. It had been
lined with chaff-bags, and there were two stretchers left by some
timber-getters or other Bush contractors who’d camped there last; and
there were a box and a couple of three-legged stools.

We carried the remnant of the wood-heap inside, made a fire, and put
the billy on. We unrolled our swags and spread the blankets on the
stretchers; and then we stripped and hung our clothes about the fire
to dry. There was plenty in our tucker-bags, so we had a good feed. I
hadn’t shaved for days, and Dave had a coarse red beard with a twist in
it like an ill-used fibre brush--a beard that got redder the longer it
grew; he had a hooked nose, and his hair stood straight up (I never saw
a man so easy-going about the expression and so scared about the head),
and he was very tall, with long, thin, hairy legs. We must have looked a
weird pair as we sat there, naked, on the low three-legged stools, with
the billy and the tucker on the box between us, and ate our bread and
meat with clasp-knives.

‘I shouldn’t wonder,’ says Dave, ‘but this is the “whare” * where the
murder was that we heard about along the road. I suppose if any one was
to come along now and look in he’d get scared.’ Then after a while he
looked down at the flooring-boards close to my feet, and scratched
his ear, and said, ‘That looks very much like a blood-stain under your
stool, doesn’t it, Jim?’

     * ‘Whare’, ‘whorrie’, Maori name for house.

I shifted my feet and presently moved the stool farther away from the
fire--it was too hot.

I wouldn’t have liked to camp there by myself, but I don’t think Dave
would have minded--he’d knocked round too much in the Australian Bush to
mind anything much, or to be surprised at anything; besides, he was more
than half murdered once by a man who said afterwards that he’d mistook
him for some one else: he must have been a very short-sighted murderer.

Presently we put tobacco, matches, and bits of candle we had, on the two
stools by the heads of our bunks, turned in, and filled up and smoked
comfortably, dropping in a lazy word now and again about nothing in
particular. Once I happened to look across at Dave, and saw him sitting
up a bit and watching the door. The door opened very slowly, wide, and
a black cat walked in, looked first at me, then at Dave, and walked out
again; and the door closed behind it.

Dave scratched his ear. ‘That’s rum,’ he said. ‘I could have sworn I
fastened that door. They must have left the cat behind.’

‘It looks like it,’ I said. ‘Neither of us has been on the boose
lately.’

He got out of bed and up on his long hairy spindle-shanks.

The door had the ordinary, common black oblong lock with a brass knob.
Dave tried the latch and found it fast; he turned the knob, opened the
door, and called, ‘Puss--puss--puss!’ but the cat wouldn’t come. He shut
the door, tried the knob to see that the catch had caught, and got into
bed again.

He’d scarcely settled down when the door opened slowly, the black cat
walked in, stared hard at Dave, and suddenly turned and darted out as
the door closed smartly.

I looked at Dave and he looked at me--hard; then he scratched the back
of his head. I never saw a man look so puzzled in the face and scared
about the head.

He got out of bed very cautiously, took a stick of firewood in his hand,
sneaked up to the door, and snatched it open. There was no one there.
Dave took the candle and went into the next room, but couldn’t see the
cat. He came back and sat down by the fire and meowed, and presently
the cat answered him and came in from somewhere--she’d been outside
the window, I suppose; he kept on meowing and she sidled up and rubbed
against his hairy shin. Dave could generally bring a cat that way.
He had a weakness for cats. I’d seen him kick a dog, and hammer a
horse--brutally, I thought--but I never saw him hurt a cat or let any
one else do it. Dave was good to cats: if a cat had a family where Dave
was round, he’d see her all right and comfortable, and only drown a fair
surplus. He said once to me, ‘I can understand a man kicking a dog, or
hammering a horse when it plays up, but I can’t understand a man hurting
a cat.’

He gave this cat something to eat. Then he went and held the light close
to the lock of the door, but could see nothing wrong with it. He found a
key on the mantel-shelf and locked the door. He got into bed again, and
the cat jumped up and curled down at the foot and started her old drum
going, like shot in a sieve. Dave bent down and patted her, to tell her
he’d meant no harm when he stretched out his legs, and then he settled
down again.

We had some books of the ‘Deadwood Dick’ school. Dave was reading ‘The
Grisly Ghost of the Haunted Gulch’, and I had ‘The Dismembered Hand’,
or ‘The Disembowelled Corpse’, or some such names. They were first-class
preparation for a ghost.

I was reading away, and getting drowsy, when I noticed a movement and
saw Dave’s frightened head rising, with the terrified shadow of it on
the wall. He was staring at the door, over his book, with both eyes.
And that door was opening again--slowly--and Dave had locked it! I never
felt anything so creepy: the foot of my bunk was behind the door, and
I drew up my feet as it came open; it opened wide, and stood so. We
waited, for five minutes it seemed, hearing each other breathe, watching
for the door to close; then Dave got out, very gingerly, and up on one
end, and went to the door like a cat on wet bricks.

‘You shot the bolt OUTSIDE the catch,’ I said, as he caught hold of the
door--like one grabs a craw-fish.

‘I’ll swear I didn’t,’ said Dave. But he’d already turned the key a
couple of times, so he couldn’t be sure. He shut and locked the door
again. ‘Now, get out and see for yourself,’ he said.

I got out, and tried the door a couple of times and found it all right.
Then we both tried, and agreed that it was locked.

I got back into bed, and Dave was about half in when a thought struck
him. He got the heaviest piece of firewood and stood it against the
door.

‘What are you doing that for?’ I asked.

‘If there’s a broken-down burglar camped round here, and trying any of
his funny business, we’ll hear him if he tries to come in while we’re
asleep,’ says Dave. Then he got back into bed. We composed our nerves
with the ‘Haunted Gulch’ and ‘The Disembowelled Corpse’, and after a
while I heard Dave snore, and was just dropping off when the stick fell
from the door against my big toe and then to the ground with tremendous
clatter. I snatched up my feet and sat up with a jerk, and so did
Dave--the cat went over the partition. That door opened, only a little
way this time, paused, and shut suddenly. Dave got out, grabbed a stick,
skipped to the door, and clutched at the knob as if it were a nettle,
and the door wouldn’t come!--it was fast and locked! Then Dave’s face
began to look as frightened as his hair. He lit his candle at the fire,
and asked me to come with him; he unlocked the door and we went into the
other room, Dave shading his candle very carefully and feeling his way
slow with his feet. The room was empty; we tried the outer door and
found it locked.

‘It muster gone by the winder,’ whispered Dave. I noticed that he said
‘it’ instead of ‘he’. I saw that he himself was shook up, and it only
needed that to scare me bad.

We went back to the bedroom, had a drink of cold tea, and lit our pipes.
Then Dave took the waterproof cover off his bunk, spread it on the
floor, laid his blankets on top of it, his spare clothes, &c., on top of
them, and started to roll up his swag.

‘What are you going to do, Dave?’ I asked.

‘I’m going to take the track,’ says Dave, ‘and camp somewhere farther
on. You can stay here, if you like, and come on in the morning.’

I started to roll up my swag at once. We dressed and fastened on the
tucker-bags, took up the billies, and got outside without making any
noise. We held our backs pretty hollow till we got down on to the road.

‘That comes of camping in a deserted house,’ said Dave, when we were
safe on the track. No Australian Bushman cares to camp in an abandoned
homestead, or even near it--probably because a deserted home looks
ghostlier in the Australian Bush than anywhere else in the world.

It was blowing hard, but not raining so much.

We went on along the track for a couple of miles and camped on the
sheltered side of a round tussock hill, in a hole where there had been a
landslip. We used all our candle-ends to get a fire alight, but once we
got it started we knocked the wet bark off ‘manuka’ sticks and logs and
piled them on, and soon had a roaring fire. When the ground got a little
drier we rigged a bit of shelter from the showers with some sticks and
the oil-cloth swag-covers; then we made some coffee and got through the
night pretty comfortably. In the morning Dave said, ‘I’m going back to
that house.’

‘What for?’ I said.

‘I’m going to find out what’s the matter with that crimson door. If I
don’t I’ll never be able to sleep easy within a mile of a door so long
as I live.’

So we went back. It was still blowing. The thing was simple enough by
daylight--after a little watching and experimenting. The house was built
of odds and ends and badly fitted. It ‘gave’ in the wind in almost any
direction--not much, not more than an inch or so, but just enough to
throw the door-frame out of plumb and out of square in such a way as to
bring the latch and bolt of the lock clear of the catch (the door-frame
was of scraps joined). Then the door swung open according to the hang of
it; and when the gust was over the house gave back, and the door swung
to--the frame easing just a little in another direction. I suppose
it would take Edison to invent a thing like that, that came about by
accident. The different strengths and directions of the gusts of wind
must have accounted for the variations of the door’s movements--and
maybe the draught of our big fire had helped.

Dave scratched his head a good bit.

‘I never lived in a house yet,’ he said, as we came away--‘I never lived
in a house yet without there was something wrong with it. Gimme a good
tent.’



A Wild Irishman.


About seven years ago I drifted from Out-Back in Australia to
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and up country to a little town
called Pahiatua, which meaneth the ‘home of the gods’, and is situated
in the Wairarappa (rippling or sparkling water) district. They have a
pretty little legend to the effect that the name of the district was not
originally suggested by its rivers, streams, and lakes, but by the
tears alleged to have been noticed, by a dusky squire, in the eyes of
a warrior chief who was looking his first, or last--I don’t remember
which--upon the scene. He was the discoverer, I suppose, now I come to
think of it, else the place would have been already named. Maybe the
scene reminded the old cannibal of the home of his childhood.

Pahiatua was not the home of my god; and it rained for five weeks.
While waiting for a remittance, from an Australian newspaper--which, I
anxiously hoped, would arrive in time for enough of it to be left (after
paying board) to take me away somewhere--I spent many hours in the
little shop of a shoemaker who had been a digger; and he told me yarns
of the old days on the West Coast of Middle Island. And, ever and anon,
he returned to one, a hard-case from the West Coast, called ‘The Flour
of Wheat’, and his cousin, and his mate, Dinny Murphy, dead. And ever
and again the shoemaker (he was large, humorous, and good-natured) made
me promise that, when I dropped across an old West Coast digger--no
matter who or what he was, or whether he was drunk or sober--I’d ask him
if he knew the ‘Flour of Wheat’, and hear what he had to say.

I make no attempt to give any one shade of the Irish brogue--it can’t be
done in writing.


‘There’s the little red Irishman,’ said the shoemaker, who was Irish
himself, ‘who always wants to fight when he has a glass in him; and
there’s the big sarcastic dark Irishman who makes more trouble and
fights at a spree than half-a-dozen little red ones put together;
and there’s the cheerful easy-going Irishman. Now the Flour was a
combination of all three and several other sorts. He was known from the
first amongst the boys at Th’ Canary as the Flour o’ Wheat, but no one
knew exactly why. Some said that the right name was the F-l-o-w-e-r, not
F-l-o-u-r, and that he was called that because there was no flower on
wheat. The name might have been a compliment paid to the man’s character
by some one who understood and appreciated it--or appreciated it without
understanding it. Or it might have come of some chance saying of the
Flour himself, or his mates--or an accident with bags of flour. He might
have worked in a mill. But we’ve had enough of that. It’s the man--not
the name. He was just a big, dark, blue-eyed Irish digger. He worked
hard, drank hard, fought hard--and didn’t swear. No man had ever heard
him swear (except once); all things were ‘lovely’ with him. He was
always lucky. He got gold and threw it away.

‘The Flour was sent out to Australia (by his friends) in connection with
some trouble in Ireland in eighteen-something. The date doesn’t matter:
there was mostly trouble in Ireland in those days; and nobody, that
knew the man, could have the slightest doubt that he helped the
trouble--provided he was there at the time. I heard all this from a man
who knew him in Australia. The relatives that he was sent out to were
soon very anxious to see the end of him. He was as wild as they made
them in Ireland. When he had a few drinks, he’d walk restlessly to and
fro outside the shanty, swinging his right arm across in front of him
with elbow bent and hand closed, as if he had a head in chancery, and
muttering, as though in explanation to himself--

‘“Oi must be walkin’ or foightin’!--Oi must be walkin’ or foightin’!--Oi
must be walkin’ or foightin’!”

‘They say that he wanted to eat his Australian relatives before he was
done; and the story goes that one night, while he was on the spree, they
put their belongings into a cart and took to the Bush.

‘There’s no floury record for several years; then the Flour turned up on
the west coast of New Zealand and was never very far from a pub. kept
by a cousin (that he had tracked, unearthed, or discovered somehow) at a
place called “Th’ Canary”. I remember the first time I saw the Flour.

‘I was on a bit of a spree myself, at Th’ Canary, and one evening I was
standing outside Brady’s (the Flour’s cousin’s place) with Tom Lyons and
Dinny Murphy, when I saw a big man coming across the flat with a swag on
his back.

‘“B’ God, there’s the Flour o’ Wheat comin’ this minute,” says Dinny
Murphy to Tom, “an’ no one else.”

‘“B’ God, ye’re right!” says Tom.

‘There were a lot of new chums in the big room at the back, drinking and
dancing and singing, and Tom says to Dinny--

‘“Dinny, I’ll bet you a quid an’ the Flour’ll run against some of those
new chums before he’s an hour on the spot.”

‘But Dinny wouldn’t take him up. He knew the Flour.

‘“Good day, Tom! Good day, Dinny!”

‘“Good day to you, Flour!”

‘I was introduced.

‘“Well, boys, come along,” says the Flour.

‘And so we went inside with him. The Flour had a few drinks, and then
he went into the back-room where the new chums were. One of them was
dancing a jig, and so the Flour stood up in front of him and commenced
to dance too. And presently the new chum made a step that didn’t please
the Flour, so he hit him between the eyes, and knocked him down--fair
an’ flat on his back.

‘“Take that,” he says. “Take that, me lovely whipper-snapper, an’ lay
there! You can’t dance. How dare ye stand up in front of me face to
dance when ye can’t dance?”

‘He shouted, and drank, and gambled, and danced, and sang, and fought
the new chums all night, and in the morning he said--

‘“Well, boys, we had a grand time last night. Come and have a drink with
me.”

‘And of course they went in and had a drink with him.

     *****

‘Next morning the Flour was walking along the street, when he met a
drunken, disreputable old hag, known among the boys as the “Nipper”.

‘“Good MORNING, me lovely Flour o’ Wheat!” says she.

‘“Good MORNING, me lovely Nipper!” says the Flour.

‘And with that she outs with a bottle she had in her dress, and smashed
him across the face with it. Broke the bottle to smithereens!

‘A policeman saw her do it, and took her up; and they had the Flour as a
witness, whether he liked it or not. And a lovely sight he looked, with
his face all done up in bloody bandages, and only one damaged eye and a
corner of his mouth on duty.

‘“It’s nothing at all, your Honour,” he said to the S.M.; “only a
pin-scratch--it’s nothing at all. Let it pass. I had no right to speak
to the lovely woman at all.”

‘But they didn’t let it pass,--they fined her a quid.

‘And the Flour paid the fine.

‘But, alas for human nature! It was pretty much the same even in those
days, and amongst those men, as it is now. A man couldn’t do a woman
a good turn without the dirty-minded blackguards taking it for granted
there was something between them. It was a great joke amongst the boys
who knew the Flour, and who also knew the Nipper; but as it was carried
too far in some quarters, it got to be no joke to the Flour--nor to
those who laughed too loud or grinned too long.

     *****

‘The Flour’s cousin thought he was a sharp man. The Flour got “stiff”.
He hadn’t any money, and his credit had run out, so he went and got
a blank summons from one of the police he knew. He pretended that he
wanted to frighten a man who owed him some money. Then he filled it up
and took it to his cousin.

‘“What d’ye think of that?” he says, handing the summons across the bar.
“What d’ye think of me lovely Dinny Murphy now?”

‘“Why, what’s this all about?”

‘“That’s what I want to know. I borrowed a five-pound-note off of him a
fortnight ago when I was drunk, an’ now he sends me that.”

‘“Well, I never would have dream’d that of Dinny,” says the cousin,
scratching his head and blinking. “What’s come over him at all?”

‘“That’s what I want to know.”

‘“What have you been doing to the man?”

‘“Divil a thing that I’m aware of.”

‘The cousin rubbed his chin-tuft between his forefinger and thumb.

‘“Well, what am I to do about it?” asked the Flour impatiently.

‘“Do? Pay the man, of course?”

‘“How can I pay the lovely man when I haven’t got the price of a drink
about me?”

‘The cousin scratched his chin.

‘“Well--here, I’ll lend you a five-pound-note for a month or two. Go and
pay the man, and get back to work.”

‘And the Flour went and found Dinny Murphy, and the pair of them had a
howling spree together up at Brady’s, the opposition pub. And the cousin
said he thought all the time he was being had.

    .   .   .   .   .

‘He was nasty sometimes, when he was about half drunk. For instance,
he’d come on the ground when the Orewell sports were in full swing and
walk round, soliloquising just loud enough for you to hear; and just
when a big event was coming off he’d pass within earshot of some
committee men--who had been bursting themselves for weeks to work the
thing up and make it a success--saying to himself--

‘“Where’s the Orewell sports that I hear so much about? I don’t see
them! Can any one direct me to the Orewell sports?”

‘Or he’d pass a raffle, lottery, lucky-bag, or golden-barrel business of
some sort,--

‘“No gamblin’ for the Flour. I don’t believe in their little shwindles.
It ought to be shtopped. Leadin’ young people ashtray.”

‘Or he’d pass an Englishman he didn’t like,--

‘“Look at Jinneral Roberts! He’s a man! He’s an Irishman! England has
to come to Ireland for its Jinnerals! Luk at Jinneral Roberts in the
marshes of Candyhar!”

     *****

‘They always had sports at Orewell Creek on New Year’s Day--except
once--and old Duncan was always there,--never missed it till the day he
died. He was a digger, a humorous and good-hearted “hard-case”. They all
knew “old Duncan”.

‘But one New Year’s Eve he didn’t turn up, and was missed at once.
“Where’s old Duncan? Any one seen old Duncan?” “Oh, he’ll turn up
alright.” They inquired, and argued, and waited, but Duncan didn’t come.

‘Duncan was working at Duffers. The boys inquired of fellows who came
from Duffers, but they hadn’t seen him for two days. They had fully
expected to find him at the creek. He wasn’t at Aliaura nor Notown. They
inquired of men who came from Nelson Creek, but Duncan wasn’t there.

‘“There’s something happened to the lovely man,” said the Flour of Wheat
at last. “Some of us had better see about it.”

‘Pretty soon this was the general opinion, and so a party started out
over the hills to Duffers before daylight in the morning, headed by the
Flour.


‘The door of Duncan’s “whare” was closed--BUT NOT PADLOCKED. The Flour
noticed this, gave his head a jerk, opened the door, and went in. The
hut was tidied up and swept out--even the fireplace. Duncan had “lifted
the boxes” and “cleaned up”, and his little bag of gold stood on a
shelf by his side--all ready for his spree. On the table lay a clean
neckerchief folded ready to tie on. The blankets had been folded neatly
and laid on the bunk, and on them was stretched Old Duncan, with his
arms lying crossed on his chest, and one foot--with a boot on--resting
on the ground. He had his “clean things” on, and was dressed except for
one boot, the necktie, and his hat. Heart disease.

‘“Take your hats off and come in quietly, lads,” said the Flour. “Here’s
the lovely man lying dead in his bunk.”

‘There were no sports at Orewell that New Year. Some one said that the
crowd from Nelson Creek might object to the sports being postponed on
old Duncan’s account, but the Flour said he’d see to that.

‘One or two did object, but the Flour reasoned with them and there were
no sports.

‘And the Flour used to say, afterwards, “Ah, but it was a grand time we
had at the funeral when Duncan died at Duffers.”

    .   .   .   .   .

‘The Flour of Wheat carried his mate, Dinny Murphy, all the way in from
Th’ Canary to the hospital on his back. Dinny was very bad--the man was
dying of the dysentery or something. The Flour laid him down on a spare
bunk in the reception-room, and hailed the staff.

‘“Inside there--come out!”

‘The doctor and some of the hospital people came to see what was the
matter. The doctor was a heavy swell, with a big cigar, held up in front
of him between two fat, soft, yellow-white fingers, and a dandy little
pair of gold-rimmed eye-glasses nipped onto his nose with a spring.

‘“There’s me lovely mate lying there dying of the dysentry,” says the
Flour, “and you’ve got to fix him up and bring him round.”

‘Then he shook his fist in the doctor’s face and said--

‘“If you let that lovely man die--look out!”

‘The doctor was startled. He backed off at first; then he took a puff at
his cigar, stepped forward, had a careless look at Dinny, and gave some
order to the attendants. The Flour went to the door, turned half round
as he went out, and shook his fist at them again, and said--

‘“If you let that lovely man die--mind!”

‘In about twenty minutes he came back, wheeling a case of whisky in a
barrow. He carried the case inside, and dumped it down on the floor.

‘“There,” he said, “pour that into the lovely man.”

‘Then he shook his fist at such members of the staff as were visible,
and said--

‘“If you let that lovely man die--look out!”

‘They were used to hard-cases, and didn’t take much notice of him, but
he had the hospital in an awful mess; he was there all hours of the day
and night; he would go down town, have a few drinks and a fight maybe,
and then he’d say, “Ah, well, I’ll have to go up and see how me lovely
mate’s getting on.”

‘And every time he’d go up he’d shake his fist at the hospital in
general and threaten to murder ‘em all if they let Dinny Murphy die.

‘Well, Dinny Murphy died one night. The next morning the Flour met the
doctor in the street, and hauled off and hit him between the eyes, and
knocked him down before he had time to see who it was.

‘“Stay there, ye little whipper-snapper,” said the Flour of Wheat; “you
let that lovely man die!”

‘The police happened to be out of town that day, and while they were
waiting for them the Flour got a coffin and carried it up to the
hospital, and stood it on end by the doorway.

‘“I’ve come for me lovely mate!” he said to the scared staff--or as much
of it as he baled up and couldn’t escape him. “Hand him over. He’s going
back to be buried with his friends at Th’ Canary. Now, don’t be sneaking
round and sidling off, you there; you needn’t be frightened; I’ve
settled with the doctor.”

‘But they called in a man who had some influence with the Flour, and
between them--and with the assistance of the prettiest nurse on the
premises--they persuaded him to wait. Dinny wasn’t ready yet; there were
papers to sign; it wouldn’t be decent to the dead; he had to be
prayed over; he had to be washed and shaved, and fixed up decent and
comfortable. Anyway, they’d have him ready in an hour, or take the
consequences.

‘The Flour objected on the ground that all this could be done equally as
well and better by the boys at Th’ Canary. “However,” he said, “I’ll
be round in an hour, and if you haven’t got me lovely mate ready--look
out!” Then he shook his fist sternly at them once more and said--

‘“I know yer dirty tricks and dodges, and if there’s e’er a pin-scratch
on me mate’s body--look out! If there’s a pairin’ of Dinny’s toe-nail
missin’--look out!”

‘Then he went out--taking the coffin with him.

‘And when the police came to his lodgings to arrest him, they found the
coffin on the floor by the side of the bed, and the Flour lying in it on
his back, with his arms folded peacefully on his bosom. He was as
dead drunk as any man could get to be and still be alive. They knocked
air-holes in the coffin-lid, screwed it on, and carried the coffin, the
Flour, and all to the local lock-up. They laid their burden down on the
bare, cold floor of the prison-cell, and then went out, locked the door,
and departed several ways to put the “boys” up to it. And about midnight
the “boys” gathered round with a supply of liquor, and waited, and
somewhere along in the small hours there was a howl, as of a strong
Irishman in Purgatory, and presently the voice of the Flour was heard to
plead in changed and awful tones--

‘“Pray for me soul, boys--pray for me soul! Let bygones be bygones
between us, boys, and pray for me lovely soul! The lovely Flour’s in
Purgatory!”

‘Then silence for a while; and then a sound like a dray-wheel passing
over a packing-case.... That was the only time on record that the Flour
was heard to swear. And he swore then.

‘They didn’t pray for him--they gave him a month. And, when he came
out, he went half-way across the road to meet the doctor, and he--to his
credit, perhaps--came the other half. They had a drink together, and
the Flour presented the doctor with a fine specimen of coarse gold for a
pin.

‘“It was the will o’ God, after all, doctor,” said the Flour. “It was
the will o’ God. Let bygones be bygones between us; gimme your hand,
doctor.... Good-bye.”

‘Then he left for Th’ Canary.’



The Babies in the Bush.


    ‘Oh, tell her a tale of the fairies bright--
       That only the Bushmen know--
    Who guide the feet of the lost aright,
    Or carry them up through the starry night,
       Where the Bush-lost babies go.’


He was one of those men who seldom smile. There are many in the
Australian Bush, where drift wrecks and failures of all stations and
professions (and of none), and from all the world. Or, if they do smile,
the smile is either mechanical or bitter as a rule--cynical. They seldom
talk. The sort of men who, as bosses, are set down by the majority--and
without reason or evidence--as being proud, hard, and selfish,--‘too
mean to live, and too big for their boots.’

But when the Boss did smile his expression was very, very gentle, and
very sad. I have seen him smile down on a little child who persisted in
sitting on his knee and prattling to him, in spite of his silence and
gloom. He was tall and gaunt, with haggard grey eyes--haunted grey eyes
sometimes--and hair and beard thick and strong, but grey. He was not
above forty-five. He was of the type of men who die in harness, with
their hair thick and strong, but grey or white when it should be brown.
The opposite type, I fancy, would be the soft, dark-haired, blue-eyed
men who grow bald sooner than they grow grey, and fat and contented, and
die respectably in their beds.

His name was Head--Walter Head. He was a boss drover on the overland
routes. I engaged with him at a place north of the Queensland border to
travel down to Bathurst, on the Great Western Line in New South Wales,
with something over a thousand head of store bullocks for the Sydney
market. I am an Australian Bushman (with city experience)--a rover, of
course, and a ne’er-do-well, I suppose. I was born with brains and a
thin skin--worse luck! It was in the days before I was married, and I
went by the name of ‘Jack Ellis’ this trip,--not because the police
were after me, but because I used to tell yarns about a man named Jack
Ellis--and so the chaps nicknamed me.

The Boss spoke little to the men: he’d sit at tucker or with his pipe
by the camp-fire nearly as silently as he rode his night-watch round the
big, restless, weird-looking mob of bullocks camped on the dusky
starlit plain. I believe that from the first he spoke oftener and more
confidentially to me than to any other of the droving party. There was a
something of sympathy between us--I can’t explain what it was. It seemed
as though it were an understood thing between us that we understood each
other. He sometimes said things to me which would have needed a deal of
explanation--so I thought--had he said them to any other of the party.
He’d often, after brooding a long while, start a sentence, and break off
with ‘You know, Jack.’ And somehow I understood, without being able to
explain why. We had never met before I engaged with him for this trip.
His men respected him, but he was not a popular boss: he was too gloomy,
and never drank a glass nor ‘shouted’ on the trip: he was reckoned a
‘mean boss’, and rather a nigger-driver.

He was full of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the English-Australian poet who
shot himself, and so was I. I lost an old copy of Gordon’s poems on the
route, and the Boss overheard me inquiring about it; later on he asked
me if I liked Gordon. We got to it rather sheepishly at first, but
by-and-by we’d quote Gordon freely in turn when we were alone in camp.
‘Those are grand lines about Burke and Wills, the explorers, aren’t
they, Jack?’ he’d say, after chewing his cud, or rather the stem of his
briar, for a long while without a word. (He had his pipe in his mouth as
often as any of us, but somehow I fancied he didn’t enjoy it: an empty
pipe or a stick would have suited him just as well, it seemed to me.)
‘Those are great lines,’ he’d say--

    ‘“In Collins Street standeth a statue tall--
         A statue tall on a pillar of stone--
      Telling its story to great and small
       Of the dust reclaimed from the sand-waste lone.

         *****

    Weary and wasted, worn and wan,
       Feeble and faint, and languid and low,
    He lay on the desert a dying man,
       Who has gone, my friends, where we all must go.”

     That’s a grand thing, Jack.  How does it go?--
    “With a pistol clenched in his failing hand,
       And the film of death o’er his fading eyes,
     He saw the sun go down on the sand,”’--

    The Boss would straighten up with a sigh that might have been half a yawn--
    ‘“And he slept and never saw it rise,”’
    --speaking with a sort of quiet force all the time.
    Then maybe he’d stand with his back to the fire roasting his dusty leggings,
    with his hands behind his back and looking out over the dusky plain.

    ‘“What mattered the sand or the whit’ning chalk,
       The blighted herbage or blackened log,
    The crooked beak of the eagle-hawk,
       Or the hot red tongue of the native dog?”

They don’t matter much, do they, Jack?’

‘Damned if I think they do, Boss!’ I’d say.

    ‘“The couch was rugged, those sextons rude,
       But, in spite of a leaden shroud, we know
    That the bravest and fairest are earth-worms’ food
       Where once they have gone where we all must go.”’

Once he repeated the poem containing the lines--

    ‘“Love, when we wandered here together,
    Hand in hand through the sparkling weather--
    God surely loved us a little then.”

Beautiful lines those, Jack.

    “Then skies were fairer and shores were firmer,
       And the blue sea over the white sand rolled--
     Babble and prattle, and prattle and murmur’--

How does it go, Jack?’ He stood up and turned his face to the light, but
not before I had a glimpse of it. I think that the saddest eyes on earth
are mostly women’s eyes, but I’ve seen few so sad as the Boss’s were
just then.

It seemed strange that he, a Bushman, preferred Gordon’s sea poems to
his horsey and bushy rhymes; but so he did. I fancy his favourite poem
was that one of Gordon’s with the lines--

    ‘I would that with sleepy soft embraces
       The sea would fold me, would find me rest
    In the luminous depths of its secret places,
       Where the wealth of God’s marvels is manifest!’

He usually spoke quietly, in a tone as though death were in camp; but
after we’d been on Gordon’s poetry for a while he’d end it abruptly
with, ‘Well, it’s time to turn in,’ or, ‘It’s time to turn out,’ or he’d
give me an order in connection with the cattle. He had been a well-to-do
squatter on the Lachlan river-side, in New South Wales, and had been
ruined by the drought, they said. One night in camp, and after smoking
in silence for nearly an hour, he asked--

‘Do you know Fisher, Jack--the man that owns these bullocks?’

‘I’ve heard of him,’ I said. Fisher was a big squatter, with stations
both in New South Wales and in Queensland.

‘Well, he came to my station on the Lachlan years ago without a penny in
his pocket, or decent rag to his back, or a crust in his tucker-bag, and
I gave him a job. He’s my boss now. Ah, well! it’s the way of Australia,
you know, Jack.’

The Boss had one man who went on every droving trip with him; he
was ‘bred’ on the Boss’s station, they said, and had been with him
practically all his life. His name was ‘Andy’. I forget his other name,
if he really had one. Andy had charge of the ‘droving-plant’ (a tilted
two-horse waggonette, in which we carried the rations and horse-feed),
and he did the cooking and kept accounts. The Boss had no head for
figures. Andy might have been twenty-five or thirty-five, or anything in
between. His hair stuck up like a well-made brush all round, and his big
grey eyes also had an inquiring expression. His weakness was girls, or
he theirs, I don’t know which (half-castes not barred). He was, I think,
the most innocent, good-natured, and open-hearted scamp I ever met.
Towards the middle of the trip Andy spoke to me one night alone in camp
about the Boss.

‘The Boss seems to have taken to you, Jack, all right.’

‘Think so?’ I said. I thought I smelt jealousy and detected a sneer.

‘I’m sure of it. It’s very seldom HE takes to any one.’

I said nothing.

Then after a while Andy said suddenly--

‘Look here, Jack, I’m glad of it. I’d like to see him make a chum of
some one, if only for one trip. And don’t you make any mistake about the
Boss. He’s a white man. There’s precious few that know him--precious few
now; but I do, and it’ll do him a lot of good to have some one to yarn
with.’ And Andy said no more on the subject for that trip.

The long, hot, dusty miles dragged by across the blazing plains--big
clearings rather--and through the sweltering hot scrubs, and we reached
Bathurst at last; and then the hot dusty days and weeks and months that
we’d left behind us to the Great North-West seemed as nothing,--as I
suppose life will seem when we come to the end of it.

The bullocks were going by rail from Bathurst to Sydney. We were all one
long afternoon getting them into the trucks, and when we’d finished the
boss said to me--

‘Look here, Jack, you’re going on to Sydney, aren’t you?’

‘Yes; I’m going down to have a fly round.’

‘Well, why not wait and go down with Andy in the morning? He’s going
down in charge of the cattle. The cattle-train starts about daylight. It
won’t be so comfortable as the passenger; but you’ll save your fare, and
you can give Andy a hand with the cattle. You’ve only got to have a
look at ‘em every other station, and poke up any that fall down in the
trucks. You and Andy are mates, aren’t you?’

I said it would just suit me. Somehow I fancied that the Boss seemed
anxious to have my company for one more evening, and, to tell the truth,
I felt really sorry to part with him. I’d had to work as hard as any
of the other chaps; but I liked him, and I believed he liked me. He’d
struck me as a man who’d been quietened down by some heavy trouble, and
I felt sorry for him without knowing what the trouble was.

‘Come and have a drink, Boss,’ I said. The agent had paid us off during
the day.

He turned into a hotel with me.

‘I don’t drink, Jack,’ he said; ‘but I’ll take a glass with you.’

‘I didn’t know you were a teetotaller, Boss,’ I said. I had not been
surprised at his keeping so strictly from the drink on the trip; but now
that it was over it was a different thing.

‘I’m not a teetotaller, Jack,’ he said. ‘I can take a glass or leave
it.’ And he called for a long beer, and we drank ‘Here’s luck!’ to each
other.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I wish I could take a glass or leave it.’ And I meant
it.

Then the Boss spoke as I’d never heard him speak before. I thought for
the moment that the one drink had affected him; but I understood before
the night was over. He laid his hand on my shoulder with a grip like a
man who has suddenly made up his mind to lend you five pounds. ‘Jack!’
he said, ‘there’s worse things than drinking, and there’s worse things
than heavy smoking. When a man who smokes gets such a load of trouble on
him that he can find no comfort in his pipe, then it’s a heavy load.
And when a man who drinks gets so deep into trouble that he can find no
comfort in liquor, then it’s deep trouble. Take my tip for it, Jack.’

He broke off, and half turned away with a jerk of his head, as if
impatient with himself; then presently he spoke in his usual quiet
tone--

‘But you’re only a boy yet, Jack. Never mind me. I won’t ask you to take
the second drink. You don’t want it; and, besides, I know the signs.’

He paused, leaning with both hands on the edge of the counter, and
looking down between his arms at the floor. He stood that way thinking
for a while; then he suddenly straightened up, like a man who’d made up
his mind to something.

‘I want you to come along home with me, Jack,’ he said; ‘we’ll fix you a
shake-down.’

I forgot to tell you that he was married and lived in Bathurst.

‘But won’t it put Mrs Head about?’

‘Not at all. She’s expecting you. Come along; there’s nothing to see in
Bathurst, and you’ll have plenty of knocking round in Sydney. Come on,
we’ll just be in time for tea.’

He lived in a brick cottage on the outskirts of the town--an
old-fashioned cottage, with ivy and climbing roses, like you see in some
of those old settled districts. There was, I remember, the stump of a
tree in front, covered with ivy till it looked like a giant’s club with
the thick end up.

When we got to the house the Boss paused a minute with his hand on the
gate. He’d been home a couple of days, having ridden in ahead of the
bullocks.

‘Jack,’ he said, ‘I must tell you that Mrs Head had a great trouble at
one time. We--we lost our two children. It does her good to talk to a
stranger now and again--she’s always better afterwards; but there’s very
few I care to bring. You--you needn’t notice anything strange. And agree
with her, Jack. You know, Jack.’

‘That’s all right, Boss,’ I said. I’d knocked about the Bush too long,
and run against too many strange characters and things, to be surprised
at anything much.

The door opened, and he took a little woman in his arms. I saw by the
light of a lamp in the room behind that the woman’s hair was grey, and
I reckoned that he had his mother living with him. And--we do have odd
thoughts at odd times in a flash--and I wondered how Mrs Head and her
mother-in-law got on together. But the next minute I was in the room,
and introduced to ‘My wife, Mrs Head,’ and staring at her with both
eyes.

It was his wife. I don’t think I can describe her. For the first minute
or two, coming in out of the dark and before my eyes got used to the
lamp-light, I had an impression as of a little old woman--one of those
fresh-faced, well-preserved, little old ladies--who dressed young, wore
false teeth, and aped the giddy girl. But this was because of Mrs Head’s
impulsive welcome of me, and her grey hair. The hair was not so grey as
I thought at first, seeing it with the lamp-light behind it: it was like
dull-brown hair lightly dusted with flour. She wore it short, and
it became her that way. There was something aristocratic about her
face--her nose and chin--I fancied, and something that you couldn’t
describe. She had big dark eyes--dark-brown, I thought, though they
might have been hazel: they were a bit too big and bright for me, and
now and again, when she got excited, the white showed all round the
pupils--just a little, but a little was enough.

She seemed extra glad to see me. I thought at first that she was a bit
of a gusher.

‘Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come, Mr Ellis,’ she said, giving my hand a
grip. ‘Walter--Mr Head--has been speaking to me about you. I’ve been
expecting you. Sit down by the fire, Mr Ellis; tea will be ready
presently. Don’t you find it a bit chilly?’ She shivered. It was a bit
chilly now at night on the Bathurst plains. The table was set for tea,
and set rather in swell style. The cottage was too well furnished
even for a lucky boss drover’s home; the furniture looked as if it had
belonged to a tony homestead at one time. I felt a bit strange at first,
sitting down to tea, and almost wished that I was having a comfortable
tuck-in at a restaurant or in a pub. dining-room. But she knew a lot
about the Bush, and chatted away, and asked questions about the trip,
and soon put me at my ease. You see, for the last year or two I’d
taken my tucker in my hands,--hunk of damper and meat and a clasp-knife
mostly,--sitting on my heel in the dust, or on a log or a tucker-box.

There was a hard, brown, wrinkled old woman that the Heads called
‘Auntie’. She waited at the table; but Mrs Head kept bustling round
herself most of the time, helping us. Andy came in to tea.

Mrs Head bustled round like a girl of twenty instead of a woman of
thirty-seven, as Andy afterwards told me she was. She had the figure and
movements of a girl, and the impulsiveness and expression too--a womanly
girl; but sometimes I fancied there was something very childish about
her face and talk. After tea she and the Boss sat on one side of the
fire and Andy and I on the other--Andy a little behind me at the corner
of the table.

‘Walter--Mr Head--tells me you’ve been out on the Lachlan river, Mr
Ellis?’ she said as soon as she’d settled down, and she leaned forward,
as if eager to hear that I’d been there.

‘Yes, Mrs Head. I’ve knocked round all about out there.’

She sat up straight, and put the tips of her fingers to the side of her
forehead and knitted her brows. This was a trick she had--she often did
it during the evening. And when she did that she seemed to forget what
she’d said last.

She smoothed her forehead, and clasped her hands in her lap.

‘Oh, I’m so glad to meet somebody from the back country, Mr Ellis,’
she said. ‘Walter so seldom brings a stranger here, and I get tired of
talking to the same people about the same things, and seeing the same
faces. You don’t know what a relief it is, Mr Ellis, to see a new face
and talk to a stranger.’

‘I can quite understand that, Mrs Head,’ I said. And so I could. I never
stayed more than three months in one place if I could help it.

She looked into the fire and seemed to try to think. The Boss
straightened up and stroked her head with his big sun-browned hand, and
then put his arm round her shoulders. This brought her back.

‘You know we had a station out on the Lachlan, Mr Ellis. Did Walter ever
tell you about the time we lived there?’

‘No,’ I said, glancing at the Boss. ‘I know you had a station there;
but, you know, the Boss doesn’t talk much.’

‘Tell Jack, Maggie,’ said the Boss; ‘I don’t mind.’

She smiled. ‘You know Walter, Mr Ellis,’ she said. ‘You won’t mind him.
He doesn’t like me to talk about the children; he thinks it upsets me,
but that’s foolish: it always relieves me to talk to a stranger.’ She
leaned forward, eagerly it seemed, and went on quickly: ‘I’ve been
wanting to tell you about the children ever since Walter spoke to me
about you. I knew you would understand directly I saw your face. These
town people don’t understand. I like to talk to a Bushman. You know we
lost our children out on the station. The fairies took them. Did Walter
ever tell you about the fairies taking the children away?’

This was a facer. ‘I--I beg pardon,’ I commenced, when Andy gave me a
dig in the back. Then I saw it all.

‘No, Mrs Head. The Boss didn’t tell me about that.’

‘You surely know about the Bush Fairies, Mr Ellis,’ she said, her big
eyes fixed on my face--‘the Bush Fairies that look after the little ones
that are lost in the Bush, and take them away from the Bush if they are
not found? You’ve surely heard of them, Mr Ellis? Most Bushmen have that
I’ve spoken to. Maybe you’ve seen them? Andy there has?’ Andy gave me
another dig.

‘Of course I’ve heard of them, Mrs Head,’ I said; ‘but I can’t swear
that I’ve seen one.’

‘Andy has. Haven’t you, Andy?’

‘Of course I have, Mrs Head. Didn’t I tell you all about it the last
time we were home?’

‘And didn’t you ever tell Mr Ellis, Andy?’

‘Of course he did!’ I said, coming to Andy’s rescue; ‘I remember it now.
You told me that night we camped on the Bogan river, Andy.’

‘Of course!’ said Andy.

‘Did he tell you about finding a lost child and the fairy with it?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy; ‘I told him all about that.’

‘And the fairy was just going to take the child away when Andy found it,
and when the fairy saw Andy she flew away.’

‘Yes,’ I said; ‘that’s what Andy told me.’

‘And what did you say the fairy was like, Andy?’ asked Mrs Head, fixing
her eyes on his face.

‘Like. It was like one of them angels you see in Bible pictures, Mrs
Head,’ said Andy promptly, sitting bolt upright, and keeping his big
innocent grey eyes fixed on hers lest she might think he was telling
lies. ‘It was just like the angel in that Christ-in-the-stable picture
we had at home on the station--the right-hand one in blue.’

She smiled. You couldn’t call it an idiotic smile, nor the foolish
smile you see sometimes in melancholy mad people. It was more of a happy
childish smile.

‘I was so foolish at first, and gave poor Walter and the doctors a lot
of trouble,’ she said. ‘Of course it never struck me, until afterwards,
that the fairies had taken the children.’

She pressed the tips of the fingers of both hands to her forehead, and
sat so for a while; then she roused herself again--

‘But what am I thinking about? I haven’t started to tell you about the
children at all yet. Auntie! bring the children’s portraits, will you,
please? You’ll find them on my dressing-table.’

The old woman seemed to hesitate.

‘Go on, Auntie, and do what I ask you,’ said Mrs Head. ‘Don’t be
foolish. You know I’m all right now.’

‘You mustn’t take any notice of Auntie, Mr Ellis,’ she said with a
smile, while the old woman’s back was turned. ‘Poor old body, she’s a
bit crotchety at times, as old women are. She doesn’t like me to get
talking about the children. She’s got an idea that if I do I’ll start
talking nonsense, as I used to do the first year after the children were
lost. I was very foolish then, wasn’t I, Walter?’

‘You were, Maggie,’ said the Boss. ‘But that’s all past. You mustn’t
think of that time any more.’

‘You see,’ said Mrs Head, in explanation to me, ‘at first nothing would
drive it out of my head that the children had wandered about until they
perished of hunger and thirst in the Bush. As if the Bush Fairies would
let them do that.’

‘You were very foolish, Maggie,’ said the Boss; ‘but don’t think about
that.’

The old woman brought the portraits, a little boy and a little girl:
they must have been very pretty children.

‘You see,’ said Mrs Head, taking the portraits eagerly, and giving them
to me one by one, ‘we had these taken in Sydney some years before the
children were lost; they were much younger then. Wally’s is not a good
portrait; he was teething then, and very thin. That’s him standing on
the chair. Isn’t the pose good? See, he’s got one hand and one little
foot forward, and an eager look in his eyes. The portrait is very dark,
and you’ve got to look close to see the foot. He wants a toy rabbit that
the photographer is tossing up to make him laugh. In the next portrait
he’s sitting on the chair--he’s just settled himself to enjoy the fun.
But see how happy little Maggie looks! You can see my arm where I was
holding her in the chair. She was six months old then, and little Wally
had just turned two.’

She put the portraits up on the mantel-shelf.

‘Let me see; Wally (that’s little Walter, you know)--Wally was five and
little Maggie three and a half when we lost them. Weren’t they, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie,’ said the Boss.

‘You were away, Walter, when it happened.’

‘Yes, Maggie,’ said the Boss--cheerfully, it seemed to me--‘I was away.’

‘And we couldn’t find you, Walter. You see,’ she said to me, ‘Walter--Mr
Head--was away in Sydney on business, and we couldn’t find his address.
It was a beautiful morning, though rather warm, and just after the
break-up of the drought. The grass was knee-high all over the run. It
was a lonely place; there wasn’t much bush cleared round the homestead,
just a hundred yards or so, and the great awful scrubs ran back from the
edges of the clearing all round for miles and miles--fifty or a hundred
miles in some directions without a break; didn’t they, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie.’

‘I was alone at the house except for Mary, a half-caste girl we had, who
used to help me with the housework and the children. Andy was out on the
run with the men, mustering sheep; weren’t you, Andy?’

‘Yes, Mrs Head.’

‘I used to watch the children close as they got to run about, because
if they once got into the edge of the scrub they’d be lost; but this
morning little Wally begged hard to be let take his little sister down
under a clump of blue-gums in a corner of the home paddock to gather
buttercups. You remember that clump of gums, Walter?’

‘I remember, Maggie.’

‘“I won’t go through the fence a step, mumma,” little Wally said. I
could see Old Peter--an old shepherd and station-hand we had--I could
see him working on a dam we were making across a creek that ran down
there. You remember Old Peter, Walter?’

‘Of course I do, Maggie.’

‘I knew that Old Peter would keep an eye to the children; so I told
little Wally to keep tight hold of his sister’s hand and go straight
down to Old Peter and tell him I sent them.’

She was leaning forward with her hands clasping her knee, and telling me
all this with a strange sort of eagerness.

‘The little ones toddled off hand in hand, with their other hands
holding fast their straw hats. “In case a bad wind blowed,” as little
Maggie said. I saw them stoop under the first fence, and that was the
last that any one saw of them.’

‘Except the fairies, Maggie,’ said the Boss quickly.

‘Of course, Walter, except the fairies.’

She pressed her fingers to her temples again for a minute.

‘It seems that Old Peter was going to ride out to the musterers’ camp
that morning with bread for the men, and he left his work at the dam
and started into the Bush after his horse just as I turned back into the
house, and before the children got near him. They either followed
him for some distance or wandered into the Bush after flowers or
butterflies----’ She broke off, and then suddenly asked me, ‘Do you
think the Bush Fairies would entice children away, Mr Ellis?’

The Boss caught my eye, and frowned and shook his head slightly.

‘No. I’m sure they wouldn’t, Mrs Head,’ I said--‘at least not from what
I know of them.’

She thought, or tried to think, again for a while, in her helpless
puzzled way. Then she went on, speaking rapidly, and rather
mechanically, it seemed to me--

‘The first I knew of it was when Peter came to the house about an hour
afterwards, leading his horse, and without the children. I said--I
said, “O my God! where’s the children?”’ Her fingers fluttered up to her
temples.

‘Don’t mind about that, Maggie,’ said the Boss, hurriedly, stroking her
head. ‘Tell Jack about the fairies.’

‘You were away at the time, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie.’

‘And we couldn’t find you, Walter?’

‘No, Maggie,’ very gently. He rested his elbow on his knee and his chin
on his hand, and looked into the fire.

‘It wasn’t your fault, Walter; but if you had been at home do you think
the fairies would have taken the children?’

‘Of course they would, Maggie. They had to: the children were lost.’

‘And they’re bringing the children home next year?’

‘Yes, Maggie--next year.’

She lifted her hands to her head in a startled way, and it was some time
before she went on again. There was no need to tell me about the lost
children. I could see it all. She and the half-caste rushing towards
where the children were seen last, with Old Peter after them. The
hurried search in the nearer scrub. The mother calling all the time
for Maggie and Wally, and growing wilder as the minutes flew past. Old
Peter’s ride to the musterers’ camp. Horsemen seeming to turn up in no
time and from nowhere, as they do in a case like this, and no matter
how lonely the district. Bushmen galloping through the scrub in all
directions. The hurried search the first day, and the mother mad with
anxiety as night came on. Her long, hopeless, wild-eyed watch through
the night; starting up at every sound of a horse’s hoof, and reading
the worst in one glance at the rider’s face. The systematic work of the
search-parties next day and the days following. How those days do fly
past. The women from the next run or selection, and some from the town,
driving from ten or twenty miles, perhaps, to stay with and try to
comfort the mother. [‘Put the horse to the cart, Jim: I must go to that
poor woman!’) Comforting her with improbable stories of children who had
been lost for days, and were none the worse for it when they were
found. The mounted policemen out with the black trackers. Search-parties
cooeeing to each other about the Bush, and lighting signal-fires. The
reckless break-neck rides for news or more help. And the Boss himself,
wild-eyed and haggard, riding about the Bush with Andy and one or two
others perhaps, and searching hopelessly, days after the rest had given
up all hope of finding the children alive. All this passed before me as
Mrs Head talked, her voice sounding the while as if she were in another
room; and when I roused myself to listen, she was on to the fairies
again.

‘It was very foolish of me, Mr Ellis. Weeks after--months after, I
think--I’d insist on going out on the verandah at dusk and calling for
the children. I’d stand there and call “Maggie!” and “Wally!” until
Walter took me inside; sometimes he had to force me inside. Poor Walter!
But of course I didn’t know about the fairies then, Mr Ellis. I was
really out of my mind for a time.’

‘No wonder you were, Mrs Head,’ I said. ‘It was terrible trouble.’

‘Yes, and I made it worse. I was so selfish in my trouble. But it’s all
right now, Walter,’ she said, rumpling the Boss’s hair. ‘I’ll never be
so foolish again.’

‘Of course you won’t, Maggie.’

‘We’re very happy now, aren’t we, Walter?’

‘Of course we are, Maggie.’

‘And the children are coming back next year.’

‘Next year, Maggie.’

He leaned over the fire and stirred it up.

‘You mustn’t take any notice of us, Mr Ellis,’ she went on. ‘Poor Walter
is away so much that I’m afraid I make a little too much of him when he
does come home.’

She paused and pressed her fingers to her temples again. Then she said
quickly--

‘They used to tell me that it was all nonsense about the fairies, but
they were no friends of mine. I shouldn’t have listened to them, Walter.
You told me not to. But then I was really not in my right mind.’

‘Who used to tell you that, Mrs Head?’ I asked.

‘The Voices,’ she said; ‘you know about the Voices, Walter?’

‘Yes, Maggie. But you don’t hear the Voices now, Maggie?’ he asked
anxiously. ‘You haven’t heard them since I’ve been away this time, have
you, Maggie?’

‘No, Walter. They’ve gone away a long time. I hear voices now sometimes,
but they’re the Bush Fairies’ voices. I hear them calling Maggie and
Wally to come with them.’ She paused again. ‘And sometimes I think I
hear them call me. But of course I couldn’t go away without you, Walter.
But I’m foolish again. I was going to ask you about the other voices, Mr
Ellis. They used to say that it was madness about the fairies; but then,
if the fairies hadn’t taken the children, Black Jimmy, or the black
trackers with the police, could have tracked and found them at once.’

‘Of course they could, Mrs Head,’ I said.

‘They said that the trackers couldn’t track them because there was rain
a few hours after the children were lost. But that was ridiculous. It
was only a thunderstorm.’

‘Why!’ I said, ‘I’ve known the blacks to track a man after a week’s
heavy rain.’

She had her head between her fingers again, and when she looked up it
was in a scared way.

‘Oh, Walter!’ she said, clutching the Boss’s arm; ‘whatever have I been
talking about? What must Mr Ellis think of me? Oh! why did you let me
talk like that?’

He put his arm round her. Andy nudged me and got up.

‘Where are you going, Mr Ellis?’ she asked hurriedly. ‘You’re not going
to-night. Auntie’s made a bed for you in Andy’s room. You mustn’t mind
me.’

‘Jack and Andy are going out for a little while,’ said the Boss.
‘They’ll be in to supper. We’ll have a yarn, Maggie.’

‘Be sure you come back to supper, Mr Ellis,’ she said. ‘I really don’t
know what you must think of me,--I’ve been talking all the time.’

‘Oh, I’ve enjoyed myself, Mrs Head,’ I said; and Andy hooked me out.

‘She’ll have a good cry and be better now,’ said Andy when we got away
from the house. ‘She might be better for months. She has been fairly
reasonable for over a year, but the Boss found her pretty bad when he
came back this time. It upset him a lot, I can tell you. She has turns
now and again, and always ends up like she did just now. She gets a
longing to talk about it to a Bushman and a stranger; it seems to do her
good. The doctor’s against it, but doctors don’t know everything.’

‘It’s all true about the children, then?’ I asked.

‘It’s cruel true,’ said Andy.

‘And were the bodies never found?’

‘Yes;’ then, after a long pause, ‘I found them.’

‘You did!’

‘Yes; in the scrub, and not so very far from home either--and in a
fairly clear space. It’s a wonder the search-parties missed it; but it
often happens that way. Perhaps the little ones wandered a long way and
came round in a circle. I found them about two months after they were
lost. They had to be found, if only for the Boss’s sake. You see, in
a case like this, and when the bodies aren’t found, the parents never
quite lose the idea that the little ones are wandering about the Bush
to-night (it might be years after) and perishing from hunger, thirst,
or cold. That mad idea haunts ‘em all their lives. It’s the same, I
believe, with friends drowned at sea. Friends ashore are haunted for a
long while with the idea of the white sodden corpse tossing about and
drifting round in the water.’

‘And you never told Mrs Head about the children being found?’

‘Not for a long time. It wouldn’t have done any good. She was raving
mad for months. He took her to Sydney and then to Melbourne--to the best
doctors he could find in Australia. They could do no good, so he sold
the station--sacrificed everything, and took her to England.’

‘To England?’

‘Yes; and then to Germany to a big German doctor there. He’d offer a
thousand pounds where they only wanted fifty. It was no good. She
got worse in England, and raved to go back to Australia and find the
children. The doctors advised him to take her back, and he did. He spent
all his money, travelling saloon, and with reserved cabins, and a
nurse, and trying to get her cured; that’s why he’s droving now. She was
restless in Sydney. She wanted to go back to the station and wait there
till the fairies brought the children home. She’d been getting the fairy
idea into her head slowly all the time. The Boss encouraged it. But the
station was sold, and he couldn’t have lived there anyway without going
mad himself. He’d married her from Bathurst. Both of them have got
friends and relations here, so he thought best to bring her here. He
persuaded her that the fairies were going to bring the children here.
Everybody’s very kind to them. I think it’s a mistake to run away from a
town where you’re known, in a case like this, though most people do it.
It was years before he gave up hope. I think he has hopes yet--after
she’s been fairly well for a longish time.’

‘And you never tried telling her that the children were found?’

‘Yes; the Boss did. The little ones were buried on the Lachlan river at
first; but the Boss got a horror of having them buried in the Bush, so
he had them brought to Sydney and buried in the Waverley Cemetery near
the sea. He bought the ground, and room for himself and Maggie when they
go out. It’s all the ground he owns in wide Australia, and once he had
thousands of acres. He took her to the grave one day. The doctors were
against it; but he couldn’t rest till he tried it. He took her out, and
explained it all to her. She scarcely seemed interested. She read the
names on the stone, and said it was a nice stone, and asked questions
about how the children were found and brought here. She seemed quite
sensible, and very cool about it. But when he got her home she was back
on the fairy idea again. He tried another day, but it was no use; so
then he let it be. I think it’s better as it is. Now and again, at her
best, she seems to understand that the children were found dead, and
buried, and she’ll talk sensibly about it, and ask questions in a quiet
way, and make him promise to take her to Sydney to see the grave
next time he’s down. But it doesn’t last long, and she’s always worse
afterwards.’

We turned into a bar and had a beer. It was a very quiet drink. Andy
‘shouted’ in his turn, and while I was drinking the second beer a
thought struck me.

‘The Boss was away when the children were lost?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy.

‘Strange you couldn’t find him.’

‘Yes, it was strange; but HE’LL have to tell you about that. Very likely
he will; it’s either all or nothing with him.’

‘I feel damned sorry for the Boss,’ I said.

‘You’d be sorrier if you knew all,’ said Andy. ‘It’s the worst trouble
that can happen to a man. It’s like living with the dead. It’s--it’s
like a man living with his dead wife.’

When we went home supper was ready. We found Mrs Head, bright and
cheerful, bustling round. You’d have thought her one of the happiest and
brightest little women in Australia. Not a word about children or the
fairies. She knew the Bush, and asked me all about my trips. She told
some good Bush stories too. It was the pleasantest hour I’d spent for a
long time.

‘Good night, Mr Ellis,’ she said brightly, shaking hands with me when
Andy and I were going to turn in. ‘And don’t forget your pipe. Here it
is! I know that Bushmen like to have a whiff or two when they turn
in. Walter smokes in bed. I don’t mind. You can smoke all night if you
like.’

‘She seems all right,’ I said to Andy when we were in our room.

He shook his head mournfully. We’d left the door ajar, and we could hear
the Boss talking to her quietly. Then we heard her speak; she had a very
clear voice.

‘Yes, I’ll tell you the truth, Walter. I’ve been deceiving you, Walter,
all the time, but I did it for the best. Don’t be angry with me, Walter!
The Voices did come back while you were away. Oh, how I longed for you
to come back! They haven’t come since you’ve been home, Walter. You
must stay with me a while now. Those awful Voices kept calling me, and
telling me lies about the children, Walter! They told me to kill myself;
they told me it was all my own fault--that I killed the children. They
said I was a drag on you, and they’d laugh--Ha! ha! ha!--like that.
They’d say, “Come on, Maggie; come on, Maggie.” They told me to come to
the river, Walter.’

Andy closed the door. His face was very miserable.

We turned in, and I can tell you I enjoyed a soft white bed after months
and months of sleeping out at night, between watches, on the hard ground
or the sand, or at best on a few boughs when I wasn’t too tired to pull
them down, and my saddle for a pillow.

But the story of the children haunted me for an hour or two. I’ve never
since quite made up my mind as to why the Boss took me home. Probably
he really did think it would do his wife good to talk to a stranger;
perhaps he wanted me to understand--maybe he was weakening as he grew
older, and craved for a new word or hand-grip of sympathy now and then.

When I did get to sleep I could have slept for three or four days, but
Andy roused me out about four o’clock. The old woman that they called
Auntie was up and had a good breakfast of eggs and bacon and coffee
ready in the detached kitchen at the back. We moved about on tiptoe and
had our breakfast quietly.

‘The wife made me promise to wake her to see to our breakfast and say
Good-bye to you; but I want her to sleep this morning, Jack,’ said the
Boss. ‘I’m going to walk down as far as the station with you. She made
up a parcel of fruit and sandwiches for you and Andy. Don’t forget it.’

Andy went on ahead. The Boss and I walked down the wide silent street,
which was also the main road; and we walked two or three hundred yards
without speaking. He didn’t seem sociable this morning, or any way
sentimental; when he did speak it was something about the cattle.

But I had to speak; I felt a swelling and rising up in my chest, and at
last I made a swallow and blurted out--

‘Look here, Boss, old chap! I’m damned sorry!’

Our hands came together and gripped. The ghostly Australian daybreak was
over the Bathurst plains.

We went on another hundred yards or so, and then the Boss said quietly--

‘I was away when the children were lost, Jack. I used to go on a howling
spree every six or nine months. Maggie never knew. I’d tell her I had to
go to Sydney on business, or Out-Back to look after some stock. When
the children were lost, and for nearly a fortnight after, I was beastly
drunk in an out-of-the-way shanty in the Bush--a sly grog-shop. The old
brute that kept it was too true to me. He thought that the story of the
lost children was a trick to get me home, and he swore that he hadn’t
seen me. He never told me. I could have found those children, Jack. They
were mostly new chums and fools about the run, and not one of the three
policemen was a Bushman. I knew those scrubs better than any man in the
country.’

I reached for his hand again, and gave it a grip. That was all I could
do for him.

‘Good-bye, Jack!’ he said at the door of the brake-van. ‘Good-bye,
Andy!--keep those bullocks on their feet.’

The cattle-train went on towards the Blue Mountains. Andy and I sat
silent for a while, watching the guard fry three eggs on a plate over a
coal-stove in the centre of the van.

‘Does the boss never go to Sydney?’ I asked.

‘Very seldom,’ said Andy, ‘and then only when he has to, on business.
When he finishes his business with the stock agents, he takes a run out
to Waverley Cemetery perhaps, and comes home by the next train.’

After a while I said, ‘He told me about the drink, Andy--about his being
on the spree when the children were lost.’

‘Well, Jack,’ said Andy, ‘that’s the thing that’s been killing him ever
since, and it happened over ten years ago.’



A Bush Dance.



‘Tap, tap, tap, tap.’

The little schoolhouse and residence in the scrub was lighted brightly
in the midst of the ‘close’, solid blackness of that moonless December
night, when the sky and stars were smothered and suffocated by drought
haze.

It was the evening of the school children’s ‘Feast’. That is to say that
the children had been sent, and ‘let go’, and the younger ones ‘fetched’
through the blazing heat to the school, one day early in the holidays,
and raced--sometimes in couples tied together by the legs--and caked,
and bunned, and finally improved upon by the local Chadband, and got
rid of. The schoolroom had been cleared for dancing, the maps rolled and
tied, the desks and blackboards stacked against the wall outside. Tea
was over, and the trestles and boards, whereon had been spread better
things than had been provided for the unfortunate youngsters, had been
taken outside to keep the desks and blackboards company.

On stools running end to end along one side of the room sat about twenty
more or less blooming country girls of from fifteen to twenty odd.

On the rest of the stools, running end to end along the other wall, sat
about twenty more or less blooming chaps.

It was evident that something was seriously wrong. None of the girls
spoke above a hushed whisper. None of the men spoke above a hushed oath.
Now and again two or three sidled out, and if you had followed them you
would have found that they went outside to listen hard into the darkness
and to swear.

‘Tap, tap, tap.’

The rows moved uneasily, and some of the girls turned pale faces
nervously towards the side-door, in the direction of the sound.

‘Tap--tap.’

The tapping came from the kitchen at the rear of the teacher’s
residence, and was uncomfortably suggestive of a coffin being made: it
was also accompanied by a sickly, indescribable odour--more like that of
warm cheap glue than anything else.

In the schoolroom was a painful scene of strained listening. Whenever
one of the men returned from outside, or put his head in at the door,
all eyes were fastened on him in the flash of a single eye, and then
withdrawn hopelessly. At the sound of a horse’s step all eyes and ears
were on the door, till some one muttered, ‘It’s only the horses in the
paddock.’

Some of the girls’ eyes began to glisten suspiciously, and at last the
belle of the party--a great, dark-haired, pink-and-white Blue Mountain
girl, who had been sitting for a full minute staring before her, with
blue eyes unnaturally bright, suddenly covered her face with her hands,
rose, and started blindly from the room, from which she was steered in
a hurry by two sympathetic and rather ‘upset’ girl friends, and as she
passed out she was heard sobbing hysterically--

‘Oh, I can’t help it! I did want to dance! It’s a sh-shame! I can’t help
it! I--I want to dance! I rode twenty miles to dance--and--and I want to
dance!’

A tall, strapping young Bushman rose, without disguise, and followed the
girl out. The rest began to talk loudly of stock, dogs, and horses, and
other Bush things; but above their voices rang out that of the girl from
the outside--being man comforted--

‘I can’t help it, Jack! I did want to dance! I--I had such--such--a
job--to get mother--and--and father to let me come--and--and now!’

The two girl friends came back. ‘He sez to leave her to him,’ they
whispered, in reply to an interrogatory glance from the schoolmistress.

‘It’s--it’s no use, Jack!’ came the voice of grief. ‘You don’t know
what--what father and mother--is. I--I won’t--be able--to ge-get
away--again--for--for--not till I’m married, perhaps.’

The schoolmistress glanced uneasily along the row of girls. ‘I’ll take
her into my room and make her lie down,’ she whispered to her sister,
who was staying with her. ‘She’ll start some of the other girls
presently--it’s just the weather for it,’ and she passed out quietly.
That schoolmistress was a woman of penetration.

A final ‘tap-tap’ from the kitchen; then a sound like the squawk of a
hurt or frightened child, and the faces in the room turned quickly in
that direction and brightened. But there came a bang and a sound like
‘damn!’ and hopelessness settled down.

A shout from the outer darkness, and most of the men and some of the
girls rose and hurried out. Fragments of conversation heard in the
darkness--

‘It’s two horses, I tell you!’

‘It’s three, you----!’

‘Lay you----!’

‘Put the stuff up!’

A clack of gate thrown open.

‘Who is it, Tom?’

Voices from gatewards, yelling, ‘Johnny Mears! They’ve got Johnny
Mears!’

Then rose yells, and a cheer such as is seldom heard in scrub-lands.

Out in the kitchen long Dave Regan grabbed, from the far side of the
table, where he had thrown it, a burst and battered concertina, which
he had been for the last hour vainly trying to patch and make air-tight;
and, holding it out towards the back-door, between his palms, as a
football is held, he let it drop, and fetched it neatly on the toe of
his riding-boot. It was a beautiful kick, the concertina shot out into
the blackness, from which was projected, in return, first a short,
sudden howl, then a face with one eye glaring and the other covered by
an enormous brick-coloured hand, and a voice that wanted to know who
shot ‘that lurid loaf of bread?’

But from the schoolroom was heard the loud, free voice of Joe Matthews,
M.C.,--

‘Take yer partners! Hurry up! Take yer partners! They’ve got Johnny
Mears with his fiddle!’



The Buck-Jumper.

Saturday afternoon.

There were about a dozen Bush natives, from anywhere, most of them lanky
and easy-going, hanging about the little slab-and-bark hotel on the
edge of the scrub at Capertee Camp (a teamster’s camp) when Cob & Co.’s
mail-coach and six came dashing down the siding from round Crown Ridge,
in all its glory, to the end of the twelve-mile stage. Some wiry,
ill-used hacks were hanging to the fence and to saplings about the
place. The fresh coach-horses stood ready in a stock-yard close to the
shanty. As the coach climbed the nearer bank of the creek at the foot of
the ridge, six of the Bushmen detached themselves from verandah posts,
from their heels, from the clay floor of the verandah and the rough slab
wall against which they’d been resting, and joined a group of four or
five who stood round one. He stood with his back to the corner post
of the stock-yard, his feet well braced out in front of him, and
contemplated the toes of his tight new ‘lastic-side boots and whistled
softly. He was a clean-limbed, handsome fellow, with riding-cords,
leggings, and a blue sash; he was Graeco-Roman-nosed, blue-eyed, and
his glossy, curly black hair bunched up in front of the brim of a new
cabbage-tree hat, set well back on his head.

‘Do it for a quid, Jack?’ asked one.

‘Damned if I will, Jim!’ said the young man at the post. ‘I’ll do it for
a fiver--not a blanky sprat less.’

Jim took off his hat and ‘shoved’ it round, and ‘bobs’ were ‘chucked’
into it. The result was about thirty shillings.

Jack glanced contemptuously into the crown of the hat.

‘Not me!’ he said, showing some emotion for the first time. ‘D’yer think
I’m going to risk me blanky neck for your blanky amusement for thirty
blanky bob. I’ll ride the blanky horse for a fiver, and I’ll feel the
blanky quids in my pocket before I get on.’

Meanwhile the coach had dashed up to the door of the shanty. There
were about twenty passengers aboard--inside, on the box-seat, on the
tail-board, and hanging on to the roof--most of them Sydney men going up
to the Mudgee races. They got down and went inside with the driver for
a drink, while the stablemen changed horses. The Bushmen raised their
voices a little and argued.

One of the passengers was a big, stout, hearty man--a good-hearted,
sporting man and a racehorse-owner, according to his brands. He had
a round red face and a white cork hat. ‘What’s those chaps got on
outside?’ he asked the publican.

‘Oh, it’s a bet they’ve got on about riding a horse,’ replied the
publican. ‘The flash-looking chap with the sash is Flash Jack, the
horse-breaker; and they reckon they’ve got the champion outlaw in the
district out there--that chestnut horse in the yard.’

The sporting man was interested at once, and went out and joined the
Bushmen.

‘Well, chaps! what have you got on here?’ he asked cheerily.

‘Oh,’ said Jim carelessly, ‘it’s only a bit of a bet about ridin’
that blanky chestnut in the corner of the yard there.’ He indicated an
ungroomed chestnut horse, fenced off by a couple of long sapling poles
in a corner of the stock-yard. ‘Flash Jack there--he reckons he’s the
champion horse-breaker round here--Flash Jack reckons he can take it out
of that horse first try.’

‘What’s up with the horse?’ inquired the big, red-faced man. ‘It looks
quiet enough. Why, I’d ride it myself.’

‘Would yer?’ said Jim, who had hair that stood straight up, and an
innocent, inquiring expression. ‘Looks quiet, does he? YOU ought to know
more about horses than to go by the looks of ‘em. He’s quiet enough just
now, when there’s no one near him; but you should have been here an
hour ago. That horse has killed two men and put another chap’s shoulder
out--besides breaking a cove’s leg. It took six of us all the morning to
run him in and get the saddle on him; and now Flash Jack wants to back
out of it.’

‘Euraliar!’ remarked Flash Jack cheerfully. ‘I said I’d ride that blanky
horse out of the yard for a fiver. I ain’t goin’ to risk my blanky neck
for nothing and only to amuse you blanks.’

‘He said he’d ride the horse inside the yard for a quid,’ said Jim.

‘And get smashed against the rails!’ said Flash Jack. ‘I would be a
fool. I’d rather take my chance outside in the scrub--and it’s rough
country round here.’

‘Well, how much do you want?’ asked the man in the mushroom hat.

‘A fiver, I said,’ replied Jack indifferently. ‘And the blanky stuff in
my pocket before I get on the blanky horse.’

‘Are you frightened of us running away without paying you?’ inquired one
of the passengers who had gathered round.

‘I’m frightened of the horse bolting with me without me being paid,’
said Flash Jack. ‘I know that horse; he’s got a mouth like iron. I might
be at the bottom of the cliff on Crown Ridge road in twenty minutes with
my head caved in, and then what chance for the quids?’

‘You wouldn’t want ‘em then,’ suggested a passenger. ‘Or, say!--we’d
leave the fiver with the publican to bury you.’

Flash Jack ignored that passenger. He eyed his boots and softly whistled
a tune.

‘All right!’ said the man in the cork hat, putting his hand in his
pocket. ‘I’ll start with a quid; stump up, you chaps.’

The five pounds were got together.

‘I’ll lay a quid to half a quid he don’t stick on ten minutes!’ shouted
Jim to his mates as soon as he saw that the event was to come off. The
passengers also betted amongst themselves. Flash Jack, after putting the
money in his breeches-pocket, let down the rails and led the horse into
the middle of the yard.

‘Quiet as an old cow!’ snorted a passenger in disgust. ‘I believe it’s a
sell!’

‘Wait a bit,’ said Jim to the passenger, ‘wait a bit and you’ll see.’

They waited and saw.

Flash Jack leisurely mounted the horse, rode slowly out of the yard, and
trotted briskly round the corner of the shanty and into the scrub, which
swallowed him more completely than the sea might have done.

Most of the other Bushmen mounted their horses and followed Flash Jack
to a clearing in the scrub, at a safe distance from the shanty; then
they dismounted and hung on to saplings, or leaned against their horses,
while they laughed.

At the hotel there was just time for another drink. The driver climbed
to his seat and shouted, ‘All aboard!’ in his usual tone. The passengers
climbed to their places, thinking hard. A mile or so along the road the
man with the cork hat remarked, with much truth--

‘Those blanky Bushmen have got too much time to think.’

     *****

The Bushmen returned to the shanty as soon as the coach was out of
sight, and proceeded to ‘knock down’ the fiver.



Jimmy Grimshaw’s Wooing.


The Half-way House at Tinned Dog (Out-Back in Australia) kept Daniel
Myers--licensed to retail spirituous and fermented liquors--in drink and
the horrors for upward of five years, at the end of which time he lay
hidden for weeks in a back skillion, an object which no decent man would
care to see--or hear when it gave forth sound. ‘Good accommodation
for man and beast’; but few shanties save his own might, for a
consideration, have accommodated the sort of beast which the man Myers
had become towards the end of his career. But at last the eccentric Bush
doctor, ‘Doc’ Wild’ (who perhaps could drink as much as Myers without
its having any further effect upon his temperament than to keep him
awake and cynical), pronounced the publican dead enough to be buried
legally; so the widow buried him, had the skillion cleaned out, and the
sign altered to read, ‘Margaret Myers, licensed, &c.’, and continued to
conduct the pub. just as she had run it for over five years, with the
joyful and blessed exception that there was no longer a human pig and
pigstye attached, and that the atmosphere was calm. Most of the regular
patrons of the Half-way House could have their horrors decently, and,
comparatively, quietly--or otherwise have them privately--in the Big
Scrub adjacent; but Myers had not been one of that sort.

Mrs Myers settled herself to enjoy life comfortably and happily, at
the fixed age of thirty-nine, for the next seven years or so. She was
a pleasant-faced dumpling, who had been baked solid in the droughts of
Out-Back without losing her good looks, and had put up with a hard life,
and Myers, all those years without losing her good humour and nature.
Probably, had her husband been the opposite kind of man, she would have
been different--haggard, bad-tempered, and altogether impossible--for
of such is woman. But then it might be taken into consideration that she
had been practically a widow during at least the last five years of her
husband’s alleged life.

Mrs Myers was reckoned a good catch in the district, but it soon seemed
that she was not to be caught.

‘It would be a grand thing,’ one of the periodical boozers of Tinned Dog
would say to his mates, ‘for one of us to have his name up on a pub.; it
would save a lot of money.’

‘It wouldn’t save you anything, Bill, if I got it,’ was the retort. ‘You
needn’t come round chewing my lug then. I’d give you one drink and no
more.’

The publican at Dead Camel, station managers, professional shearers,
even one or two solvent squatters and promising cockatoos, tried their
luck in vain. In answer to the suggestion that she ought to have a man
to knock round and look after things, she retorted that she had had one,
and was perfectly satisfied. Few trav’lers on those tracks but tried
‘a bit of bear-up’ in that direction, but all to no purpose. Chequemen
knocked down their cheques manfully at the Half-way House--to get
courage and goodwill and ‘put it off’ till, at the last moment, they
offered themselves abjectly to the landlady; which was worse than bad
judgment on their part--it was very silly, and she told them so.

One or two swore off, and swore to keep straight; but she had no faith
in them, and when they found that out, it hurt their feelings so much
that they ‘broke out’ and went on record-breaking sprees.

About the end of each shearing the sign was touched up, with an extra
coat of paint on the ‘Margaret’, whereat suitors looked hopeless.

One or two of the rejected died of love in the horrors in the Big
Scrub--anyway, the verdict was that they died of love aggravated by the
horrors. But the climax was reached when a Queensland shearer, seizing
the opportunity when the mate, whose turn it was to watch him, fell
asleep, went down to the yard and hanged himself on the butcher’s
gallows--having first removed his clothes, with some drink-lurid idea of
leaving the world as naked as he came into it. He climbed the pole, sat
astride on top, fixed the rope to neck and bar, but gave a yell--a yell
of drunken triumph--before he dropped, and woke his mates.

They cut him down and brought him to. Next day he apologised to Mrs
Myers, said, ‘Ah, well! So long!’ to the rest, and departed--cured of
drink and love apparently. The verdict was that the blanky fool should
have dropped before he yelled; but she was upset and annoyed, and it
began to look as though, if she wished to continue to live on happily
and comfortably for a few years longer at the fixed age of thirty-nine,
she would either have to give up the pub. or get married.

Her fame was carried far and wide, and she became a woman whose name was
mentioned with respect in rough shearing-sheds and huts, and round the
camp-fire.

About thirty miles south of Tinned Dog one James Grimshaw,
widower--otherwise known as ‘Old Jimmy’, though he was little past
middle age--had a small selection which he had worked, let, given up,
and tackled afresh (with sinews of war drawn from fencing contracts)
ever since the death of his young wife some fifteen years agone. He was
a practical, square-faced, clean-shaven, clean, and tidy man, with a
certain ‘cleanness’ about the shape of his limbs which suggested the
old jockey or hostler. There were two strong theories in connection with
Jimmy--one was that he had had a university education, and the other
that he couldn’t write his own name. Not nearly such a ridiculous nor
simple case Out-Back as it might seem.

Jimmy smoked and listened without comment to the ‘heard tells’ in
connection with Mrs Myers, till at last one night, at the end of his
contract and over a last pipe, he said quietly, ‘I’ll go up to Tinned
Dog next week and try my luck.’

His mates and the casual Jims and Bills were taken too suddenly to
laugh, and the laugh having been lost, as Bland Holt, the Australian
actor would put it in a professional sense, the audience had time to
think, with the result that the joker swung his hand down through an
imaginary table and exclaimed--

‘By God! Jimmy’ll do it.’ (Applause.)

     *****

So one drowsy afternoon at the time of the year when the breathless day
runs on past 7 P.M., Mrs Myers sat sewing in the bar parlour, when a
clean-shaved, clean-shirted, clean-neckerchiefed, clean-moleskinned,
greased-bluchered--altogether a model or stage swagman came up, was
served in the bar by the half-caste female cook, and took his way to the
river-bank, where he rigged a small tent and made a model camp.

A couple of hours later he sat on a stool on the verandah, smoking a
clean clay pipe. Just before the sunset meal Mrs Myers asked, ‘Is that
trav’ler there yet, Mary?’

‘Yes, missus. Clean pfellar that.’

The landlady knitted her forehead over her sewing, as women do when
limited for ‘stuff’ or wondering whether a section has been cut
wrong--or perhaps she thought of that other who hadn’t been a ‘clean
pfellar’. She put her work aside, and stood in the doorway, looking out
across the clearing.

‘Good-day, mister,’ she said, seeming to become aware of him for the
first time.

‘Good-day, missus!’

‘Hot!’

‘Hot!’

Pause.

‘Trav’lin’?’

‘No, not particular!’

She waited for him to explain. Myers was always explaining when he
wasn’t raving. But the swagman smoked on.

‘Have a drink?’ she suggested, to keep her end up.

‘No, thank you, missus. I had one an hour or so ago. I never take more
than two a-day--one before breakfast, if I can get it, and a night-cap.’

What a contrast to Myers! she thought.

‘Come and have some tea; it’s ready.’

‘Thank you. I don’t mind if I do.’

They got on very slowly, but comfortably. She got little out of him
except the facts that he had a selection, had finished a contract,
and was ‘just having a look at the country.’ He politely declined a
‘shake-down’, saying he had a comfortable camp, and preferred being out
this weather. She got his name with a ‘by-the-way’, as he rose to leave,
and he went back to camp.

He caught a cod, and they had it for breakfast next morning, and
got along so comfortable over breakfast that he put in the forenoon
pottering about the gates and stable with a hammer, a saw, and a box of
nails.

And, well--to make it short--when the big Tinned Dog shed had cut-out,
and the shearers struck the Half-way House, they were greatly impressed
by a brand-new sign whereon glistened the words--

            HALF-WAY HOUSE HOTEL,
                     BY
               JAMES GRIMSHAW.
                Good Stabling.

The last time I saw Mrs Grimshaw she looked about thirty-five.



At Dead Dingo.


It was blazing hot outside and smothering hot inside the weather-board
and iron shanty at Dead Dingo, a place on the Cleared Road, where
there was a pub. and a police-station, and which was sometimes called
‘Roasted’, and other times ‘Potted Dingo’--nicknames suggested by the
everlasting drought and the vicinity of the one-pub. township of Tinned
Dog.

From the front verandah the scene was straight-cleared road, running
right and left to Out-Back, and to Bourke (and ankle-deep in the red
sand dust for perhaps a hundred miles); the rest blue-grey bush, dust,
and the heat-wave blazing across every object.

There were only four in the bar-room, though it was New Year’s Day.
There weren’t many more in the county. The girl sat behind the bar--the
coolest place in the shanty--reading ‘Deadwood Dick’. On a worn and torn
and battered horse-hair sofa, which had seen cooler places and better
days, lay an awful and healthy example, a bearded swagman, with his arms
twisted over his head and his face to the wall, sleeping off the death
of the dead drunk. Bill and Jim--shearer and rouseabout--sat at a table
playing cards. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and they had
been gambling since nine--and the greater part of the night before--so
they were, probably, in a worse condition morally (and perhaps
physically) than the drunken swagman on the sofa.

Close under the bar, in a dangerous place for his legs and tail, lay a
sheep-dog with a chain attached to his collar and wound round his neck.

Presently a thump on the table, and Bill, unlucky gambler, rose with an
oath that would have been savage if it hadn’t been drawled.

‘Stumped?’ inquired Jim.

‘Not a blanky, lurid deener!’ drawled Bill.

Jim drew his reluctant hands from the cards, his eyes went slowly and
hopelessly round the room and out the door. There was something in the
eyes of both, except when on the card-table, of the look of a man waking
in a strange place.

‘Got anything?’ asked Jim, fingering the cards again.

Bill sucked in his cheeks, collecting the saliva with difficulty, and
spat out on to the verandah floor.

‘That’s all I got,’ he drawled. ‘It’s gone now.’

Jim leaned back in his chair, twisted, yawned, and caught sight of the
dog.

‘That there dog yours?’ he asked, brightening.

They had evidently been strangers the day before, or as strange to each
other as Bushmen can be.

Bill scratched behind his ear, and blinked at the dog. The dog woke
suddenly to a flea fact.

‘Yes,’ drawled Bill, ‘he’s mine.’

‘Well, I’m going Out-Back, and I want a dog,’ said Jim, gathering the
cards briskly. ‘Half a quid agin the dog?’

‘Half a quid be----!’ drawled Bill. ‘Call it a quid?’

‘Half a blanky quid!’

‘A gory, lurid quid!’ drawled Bill desperately, and he stooped over his
swag.

But Jim’s hands were itching in a ghastly way over the cards.

‘Alright. Call it a---- quid.’

The drunkard on the sofa stirred, showed signs of waking, but died
again. Remember this, it might come in useful.

Bill sat down to the table once more.

Jim rose first, winner of the dog. He stretched, yawned ‘Ah, well!’ and
shouted drinks. Then he shouldered his swag, stirred the dog up with his
foot, unwound the chain, said ‘Ah, well--so long!’ and drifted out and
along the road toward Out-Back, the dog following with head and tail
down.

Bill scored another drink on account of girl-pity for bad luck,
shouldered his swag, said, ‘So long, Mary!’ and drifted out and along
the road towards Tinned Dog, on the Bourke side.

     *****

A long, drowsy, half hour passed--the sort of half hour that is as long
as an hour in the places where days are as long as years, and years hold
about as much as days do in other places.

The man on the sofa woke with a start, and looked scared and wild for a
moment; then he brought his dusty broken boots to the floor, rested his
elbows on his knees, took his unfortunate head between his hands, and
came back to life gradually.

He lifted his head, looked at the girl across the top of the bar, and
formed with his lips, rather than spoke, the words--

‘Put up a drink?’ *

     * ‘Put up a drink’--i.e., ‘Give me a drink on credit’, or
     ‘Chalk it up’.

She shook her head tightly and went on reading.

He staggered up, and, leaning on the bar, made desperate distress
signals with hand, eyes, and mouth.

‘No!’ she snapped. ‘I means no when I says no! You’ve had too many last
drinks already, and the boss says you ain’t to have another. If you
swear again, or bother me, I’ll call him.’

He hung sullenly on the counter for a while, then lurched to his
swag, and shouldered it hopelessly and wearily. Then he blinked round,
whistled, waited a moment, went on to the front verandah, peered round,
through the heat, with bloodshot eyes, and whistled again. He turned and
started through to the back-door.

‘What the devil do you want now?’ demanded the girl, interrupted in her
reading for the third time by him. ‘Stampin’ all over the house. You
can’t go through there! It’s privit! I do wish to goodness you’d git!’

‘Where the blazes is that there dog o’ mine got to?’ he muttered. ‘Did
you see a dog?’

‘No! What do I want with your dog?’

He whistled out in front again, and round each corner. Then he came back
with a decided step and tone.

‘Look here! that there dog was lyin’ there agin the wall when I went
to sleep. He wouldn’t stir from me, or my swag, in a year, if he wasn’t
dragged. He’s been blanky well touched [stolen], and I wouldn’ter lost
him for a fiver. Are you sure you ain’t seen a dog?’ then suddenly, as
the thought struck him: ‘Where’s them two chaps that was playin’ cards
when I wenter sleep?’

‘Why!’ exclaimed the girl, without thinking, ‘there was a dog, now I
come to think of it, but I thought it belonged to one of them chaps.
Anyway, they played for it, and the other chap won it and took it away.’

He stared at her blankly, with thunder gathering in the blankness.

‘What sort of a dog was it?’

Dog described; the chain round the neck settled it.

He scowled at her darkly.

‘Now, look here,’ he said; ‘you’ve allowed gamblin’ in this bar--your
boss has. You’ve got no right to let spielers gamble away a man’s dog.
Is a customer to lose his dog every time he has a doze to suit your
boss? I’ll go straight across to the police camp and put you away, and
I don’t care if you lose your licence. I ain’t goin’ to lose my dog. I
wouldn’ter taken a ten-pound note for that blanky dog! I----’

She was filling a pewter hastily.

‘Here! for God’s sake have a drink an’ stop yer row.’

He drank with satisfaction. Then he hung on the bar with one elbow and
scowled out the door.

‘Which blanky way did them chaps go?’ he growled.

‘The one that took the dog went towards Tinned Dog.’

‘And I’ll haveter go all the blanky way back after him, and most likely
lose me shed! Here!’ jerking the empty pewter across the bar, ‘fill that
up again; I’m narked properly, I am, and I’ll take twenty-four blanky
hours to cool down now. I wouldn’ter lost that dog for twenty quid.’

He drank again with deeper satisfaction, then he shuffled out,
muttering, swearing, and threatening louder every step, and took the
track to Tinned Dog.

               *****

Now the man, girl, or woman, who told me this yarn has never quite
settled it in his or her mind as to who really owned the dog. I leave it
to you.



Telling Mrs Baker.


Most Bushmen who hadn’t ‘known Bob Baker to speak to’, had ‘heard tell
of him’. He’d been a squatter, not many years before, on the Macquarie
river in New South Wales, and had made money in the good seasons, and
had gone in for horse-racing and racehorse-breeding, and long trips to
Sydney, where he put up at swell hotels and went the pace. So after a
pretty severe drought, when the sheep died by thousands on his runs, Bob
Baker went under, and the bank took over his station and put a manager
in charge.

He’d been a jolly, open-handed, popular man, which means that he’d been
a selfish man as far as his wife and children were concerned, for
they had to suffer for it in the end. Such generosity is often born of
vanity, or moral cowardice, or both mixed. It’s very nice to hear the
chaps sing ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, but you’ve mostly got to pay
for it twice--first in company, and afterwards alone. I once heard the
chaps singing that I was a jolly good fellow, when I was leaving a place
and they were giving me a send-off. It thrilled me, and brought a warm
gush to my eyes; but, all the same, I wished I had half the money I’d
lent them, and spent on ‘em, and I wished I’d used the time I’d wasted
to be a jolly good fellow.

When I first met Bob Baker he was a boss-drover on the great
north-western route, and his wife lived at the township of Solong on
the Sydney side. He was going north to new country round by the Gulf of
Carpentaria, with a big mob of cattle, on a two years’ trip; and I and
my mate, Andy M’Culloch, engaged to go with him. We wanted to have a
look at the Gulf Country.

After we had crossed the Queensland border it seemed to me that the Boss
was too fond of going into wayside shanties and town pubs. Andy had been
with him on another trip, and he told me that the Boss was only going
this way lately. Andy knew Mrs Baker well, and seemed to think a deal of
her. ‘She’s a good little woman,’ said Andy. ‘One of the right stuff. I
worked on their station for a while when I was a nipper, and I know.
She was always a damned sight too good for the Boss, but she believed in
him. When I was coming away this time she says to me, “Look here, Andy,
I’m afraid Robert is drinking again. Now I want you to look after him
for me, as much as you can--you seem to have as much influence with him
as any one. I want you to promise me that you’ll never have a drink with
him.”

‘And I promised,’ said Andy, ‘and I’ll keep my word.’ Andy was a chap
who could keep his word, and nothing else. And, no matter how the Boss
persuaded, or sneered, or swore at him, Andy would never drink with him.

It got worse and worse: the Boss would ride on ahead and get drunk at a
shanty, and sometimes he’d be days behind us; and when he’d catch up to
us his temper would be just about as much as we could stand. At last he
went on a howling spree at Mulgatown, about a hundred and fifty miles
north of the border, and, what was worse, he got in tow with a flash
barmaid there--one of those girls who are engaged, by the publicans up
country, as baits for chequemen.

He went mad over that girl. He drew an advance cheque from the
stock-owner’s agent there, and knocked that down; then he raised some
more money somehow, and spent that--mostly on the girl.

We did all we could. Andy got him along the track for a couple of
stages, and just when we thought he was all right, he slipped us in the
night and went back.

We had two other men with us, but had the devil’s own bother on account
of the cattle. It was a mixed-up job all round. You see it was all big
runs round there, and we had to keep the bullocks moving along the route
all the time, or else get into trouble for trespass. The agent wasn’t
going to go to the expense of putting the cattle in a paddock until
the Boss sobered up; there was very little grass on the route or the
travelling-stock reserves or camps, so we had to keep travelling for
grass.

The world might wobble and all the banks go bung, but the cattle have
to go through--that’s the law of the stock-routes. So the agent wired
to the owners, and, when he got their reply, he sacked the Boss and sent
the cattle on in charge of another man. The new Boss was a drover coming
south after a trip; he had his two brothers with him, so he didn’t want
me and Andy; but, anyway, we were full up of this trip, so we arranged,
between the agent and the new Boss, to get most of the wages due to
us--the Boss had drawn some of our stuff and spent it.

We could have started on the back track at once, but, drunk or sober,
mad or sane, good or bad, it isn’t Bush religion to desert a mate in a
hole; and the Boss was a mate of ours; so we stuck to him.

We camped on the creek, outside the town, and kept him in the camp with
us as much as possible, and did all we could for him.

‘How could I face his wife if I went home without him?’ asked Andy, ‘or
any of his old mates?’

The Boss got himself turned out of the pub. where the barmaid was, and
then he’d hang round the other pubs., and get drink somehow, and fight,
and get knocked about. He was an awful object by this time, wild-eyed
and gaunt, and he hadn’t washed or shaved for days.

Andy got the constable in charge of the police station to lock him up
for a night, but it only made him worse: we took him back to the camp
next morning and while our eyes were off him for a few minutes he
slipped away into the scrub, stripped himself naked, and started to hang
himself to a leaning tree with a piece of clothes-line rope. We got to
him just in time.

Then Andy wired to the Boss’s brother Ned, who was fighting the drought,
the rabbit-pest, and the banks, on a small station back on the border.
Andy reckoned it was about time to do something.

Perhaps the Boss hadn’t been quite right in his head before he started
drinking--he had acted queer some time, now we came to think of
it; maybe he’d got a touch of sunstroke or got brooding over his
troubles--anyway he died in the horrors within the week.

His brother Ned turned up on the last day, and Bob thought he was the
devil, and grappled with him. It took the three of us to hold the Boss
down sometimes.

Sometimes, towards the end, he’d be sensible for a few minutes and talk
about his ‘poor wife and children’; and immediately afterwards he’d
fall a-cursing me, and Andy, and Ned, and calling us devils. He cursed
everything; he cursed his wife and children, and yelled that they were
dragging him down to hell. He died raving mad. It was the worst case of
death in the horrors of drink that I ever saw or heard of in the Bush.

Ned saw to the funeral: it was very hot weather, and men have to be
buried quick who die out there in the hot weather--especially men who
die in the state the Boss was in. Then Ned went to the public-house
where the barmaid was and called the landlord out. It was a desperate
fight: the publican was a big man, and a bit of a fighting man; but
Ned was one of those quiet, simple-minded chaps who will carry a thing
through to death when they make up their minds. He gave that publican
nearly as good a thrashing as he deserved. The constable in charge of
the station backed Ned, while another policeman picked up the publican.
Sounds queer to you city people, doesn’t it?

Next morning we three started south. We stayed a couple of days at
Ned Baker’s station on the border, and then started on our
three-hundred-mile ride down-country. The weather was still very hot, so
we decided to travel at night for a while, and left Ned’s place at dusk.
He parted from us at the homestead gate. He gave Andy a small packet,
done up in canvas, for Mrs Baker, which Andy told me contained Bob’s
pocket-book, letters, and papers. We looked back, after we’d gone a
piece along the dusty road, and saw Ned still standing by the gate; and
a very lonely figure he looked. Ned was a bachelor. ‘Poor old Ned,’ said
Andy to me. ‘He was in love with Mrs Bob Baker before she got married,
but she picked the wrong man--girls mostly do. Ned and Bob were together
on the Macquarie, but Ned left when his brother married, and he’s been
up in these God-forsaken scrubs ever since. Look, I want to tell you
something, Jack: Ned has written to Mrs Bob to tell her that Bob died of
fever, and everything was done for him that could be done, and that he
died easy--and all that sort of thing. Ned sent her some money, and she
is to think that it was the money due to Bob when he died. Now I’ll have
to go and see her when we get to Solong; there’s no getting out of it,
I’ll have to face her--and you’ll have to come with me.’

‘Damned if I will!’ I said.

‘But you’ll have to,’ said Andy. ‘You’ll have to stick to me; you’re
surely not crawler enough to desert a mate in a case like this? I’ll
have to lie like hell--I’ll have to lie as I never lied to a woman
before; and you’ll have to back me and corroborate every lie.’

I’d never seen Andy show so much emotion.

‘There’s plenty of time to fix up a good yarn,’ said Andy. He said no
more about Mrs Baker, and we only mentioned the Boss’s name casually,
until we were within about a day’s ride of Solong; then Andy told me the
yarn he’d made up about the Boss’s death.

‘And I want you to listen, Jack,’ he said, ‘and remember every word--and
if you can fix up a better yarn you can tell me afterwards. Now it
was like this: the Boss wasn’t too well when he crossed the border. He
complained of pains in his back and head and a stinging pain in the back
of his neck, and he had dysentery bad,--but that doesn’t matter; it’s
lucky I ain’t supposed to tell a woman all the symptoms. The Boss stuck
to the job as long as he could, but we managed the cattle and made it as
easy as we could for him. He’d just take it easy, and ride on from camp
to camp, and rest. One night I rode to a town off the route (or you did,
if you like) and got some medicine for him; that made him better for a
while, but at last, a day or two this side of Mulgatown, he had to give
up. A squatter there drove him into town in his buggy and put him up
at the best hotel. The publican knew the Boss and did all he could for
him--put him in the best room and wired for another doctor. We wired for
Ned as soon as we saw how bad the Boss was, and Ned rode night and day
and got there three days before the Boss died. The Boss was a bit off
his head some of the time with the fever, but was calm and quiet towards
the end and died easy. He talked a lot about his wife and children, and
told us to tell the wife not to fret but to cheer up for the children’s
sake. How does that sound?’

I’d been thinking while I listened, and an idea struck me.

‘Why not let her know the truth?’ I asked. ‘She’s sure to hear of
it sooner or later; and if she knew he was only a selfish, drunken
blackguard she might get over it all the sooner.’

‘You don’t know women, Jack,’ said Andy quietly. ‘And, anyway, even if
she is a sensible woman, we’ve got a dead mate to consider as well as a
living woman.’

‘But she’s sure to hear the truth sooner or later,’ I said, ‘the Boss
was so well known.’

‘And that’s just the reason why the truth might be kept from her,’ said
Andy. ‘If he wasn’t well known--and nobody could help liking him, after
all, when he was straight--if he wasn’t so well known the truth might
leak out unawares. She won’t know if I can help it, or at least not yet
a while. If I see any chaps that come from the North I’ll put them up
to it. I’ll tell M’Grath, the publican at Solong, too: he’s a straight
man--he’ll keep his ears open and warn chaps. One of Mrs Baker’s sisters
is staying with her, and I’ll give her a hint so that she can warn off
any women that might get hold of a yarn. Besides, Mrs Baker is sure to
go and live in Sydney, where all her people are--she was a Sydney girl;
and she’s not likely to meet any one there that will tell her the truth.
I can tell her that it was the last wish of the Boss that she should
shift to Sydney.’

We smoked and thought a while, and by-and-by Andy had what he called a
‘happy thought’. He went to his saddle-bags and got out the small canvas
packet that Ned had given him: it was sewn up with packing-thread, and
Andy ripped it open with his pocket-knife.

‘What are you doing, Andy?’ I asked.

‘Ned’s an innocent old fool, as far as sin is concerned,’ said Andy. ‘I
guess he hasn’t looked through the Boss’s letters, and I’m just going to
see that there’s nothing here that will make liars of us.’

He looked through the letters and papers by the light of the fire. There
were some letters from Mrs Baker to her husband, also a portrait of her
and the children; these Andy put aside. But there were other letters
from barmaids and women who were not fit to be seen in the same street
with the Boss’s wife; and there were portraits--one or two flash ones.
There were two letters from other men’s wives too.

‘And one of those men, at least, was an old mate of his!’ said Andy, in
a tone of disgust.

He threw the lot into the fire; then he went through the Boss’s
pocket-book and tore out some leaves that had notes and addresses on
them, and burnt them too. Then he sewed up the packet again and put it
away in his saddle-bag.

‘Such is life!’ said Andy, with a yawn that might have been half a sigh.

We rode into Solong early in the day, turned our horses out in a
paddock, and put up at M’Grath’s pub. until such time as we made up our
minds as to what we’d do or where we’d go. We had an idea of waiting
until the shearing season started and then making Out-Back to the big
sheds.

Neither of us was in a hurry to go and face Mrs Baker. ‘We’ll go after
dinner,’ said Andy at first; then after dinner we had a drink, and felt
sleepy--we weren’t used to big dinners of roast-beef and vegetables and
pudding, and, besides, it was drowsy weather--so we decided to have a
snooze and then go. When we woke up it was late in the afternoon, so we
thought we’d put it off till after tea. ‘It wouldn’t be manners to walk
in while they’re at tea,’ said Andy--‘it would look as if we only came
for some grub.’

But while we were at tea a little girl came with a message that Mrs
Baker wanted to see us, and would be very much obliged if we’d call
up as soon as possible. You see, in those small towns you can’t move
without the thing getting round inside of half an hour.

‘We’ll have to face the music now!’ said Andy, ‘and no get out of it.’
He seemed to hang back more than I did. There was another pub. opposite
where Mrs Baker lived, and when we got up the street a bit I said to
Andy--

‘Suppose we go and have another drink first, Andy? We might be kept in
there an hour or two.’

‘You don’t want another drink,’ said Andy, rather short. ‘Why, you seem
to be going the same way as the Boss!’ But it was Andy that edged off
towards the pub. when we got near Mrs Baker’s place. ‘All right!’ he
said. ‘Come on! We’ll have this other drink, since you want it so bad.’

We had the drink, then we buttoned up our coats and started across the
road--we’d bought new shirts and collars, and spruced up a bit. Half-way
across Andy grabbed my arm and asked--

‘How do you feel now, Jack?’

‘Oh, I’M all right,’ I said.

‘For God’s sake!’ said Andy, ‘don’t put your foot in it and make a mess
of it.’

‘I won’t, if you don’t.’

Mrs Baker’s cottage was a little weather-board box affair back in a
garden. When we went in through the gate Andy gripped my arm again and
whispered--

‘For God’s sake stick to me now, Jack!’

‘I’ll stick all right,’ I said--‘you’ve been having too much beer,
Andy.’

I had seen Mrs Baker before, and remembered her as a cheerful, contented
sort of woman, bustling about the house and getting the Boss’s shirts
and things ready when we started North. Just the sort of woman that is
contented with housework and the children, and with nothing particular
about her in the way of brains. But now she sat by the fire looking like
the ghost of herself. I wouldn’t have recognised her at first. I never
saw such a change in a woman, and it came like a shock to me.

Her sister let us in, and after a first glance at Mrs Baker I had eyes
for the sister and no one else. She was a Sydney girl, about twenty-four
or twenty-five, and fresh and fair--not like the sun-browned women we
were used to see. She was a pretty, bright-eyed girl, and seemed quick
to understand, and very sympathetic. She had been educated, Andy had
told me, and wrote stories for the Sydney ‘Bulletin’ and other Sydney
papers. She had her hair done and was dressed in the city style, and
that took us back a bit at first.

‘It’s very good of you to come,’ said Mrs Baker in a weak, weary voice,
when we first went in. ‘I heard you were in town.’

‘We were just coming when we got your message,’ said Andy. ‘We’d have
come before, only we had to see to the horses.’

‘It’s very kind of you, I’m sure,’ said Mrs Baker.

They wanted us to have tea, but we said we’d just had it. Then Miss
Standish (the sister) wanted us to have tea and cake; but we didn’t feel
as if we could handle cups and saucers and pieces of cake successfully
just then.

There was something the matter with one of the children in a back-room,
and the sister went to see to it. Mrs Baker cried a little quietly.

‘You mustn’t mind me,’ she said. ‘I’ll be all right presently, and then
I want you to tell me all about poor Bob. It’s seeing you, that saw the
last of him, that set me off.’

Andy and I sat stiff and straight, on two chairs against the wall,
and held our hats tight, and stared at a picture of Wellington meeting
Blucher on the opposite wall. I thought it was lucky that that picture
was there.

The child was calling ‘mumma’, and Mrs Baker went in to it, and her
sister came out. ‘Best tell her all about it and get it over,’ she
whispered to Andy. ‘She’ll never be content until she hears all about
poor Bob from some one who was with him when he died. Let me take your
hats. Make yourselves comfortable.’

She took the hats and put them on the sewing-machine. I wished she’d let
us keep them, for now we had nothing to hold on to, and nothing to do
with our hands; and as for being comfortable, we were just about as
comfortable as two cats on wet bricks.

When Mrs Baker came into the room she brought little Bobby Baker, about
four years old; he wanted to see Andy. He ran to Andy at once, and Andy
took him up on his knee. He was a pretty child, but he reminded me too
much of his father.

‘I’m so glad you’ve come, Andy!’ said Bobby.

‘Are you, Bobby?’

‘Yes. I wants to ask you about daddy. You saw him go away, didn’t you?’
and he fixed his great wondering eyes on Andy’s face.

‘Yes,’ said Andy.

‘He went up among the stars, didn’t he?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy.

‘And he isn’t coming back to Bobby any more?’

‘No,’ said Andy. ‘But Bobby’s going to him by-and-by.’

Mrs Baker had been leaning back in her chair, resting her head on her
hand, tears glistening in her eyes; now she began to sob, and her sister
took her out of the room.

Andy looked miserable. ‘I wish to God I was off this job!’ he whispered
to me.

‘Is that the girl that writes the stories?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he said, staring at me in a hopeless sort of way, ‘and poems
too.’

‘Is Bobby going up among the stars?’ asked Bobby.

‘Yes,’ said Andy--‘if Bobby’s good.’

‘And auntie?’

‘Yes.’

‘And mumma?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you going, Andy?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy hopelessly.

‘Did you see daddy go up amongst the stars, Andy?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy, ‘I saw him go up.’

‘And he isn’t coming down again any more?’

‘No,’ said Andy.

‘Why isn’t he?’

‘Because he’s going to wait up there for you and mumma, Bobby.’

There was a long pause, and then Bobby asked--

‘Are you going to give me a shilling, Andy?’ with the same expression of
innocent wonder in his eyes.

Andy slipped half-a-crown into his hand. ‘Auntie’ came in and told him
he’d see Andy in the morning and took him away to bed, after he’d kissed
us both solemnly; and presently she and Mrs Baker settled down to hear
Andy’s story.

‘Brace up now, Jack, and keep your wits about you,’ whispered Andy to me
just before they came in.

‘Poor Bob’s brother Ned wrote to me,’ said Mrs Baker, ‘but he scarcely
told me anything. Ned’s a good fellow, but he’s very simple, and never
thinks of anything.’

Andy told her about the Boss not being well after he crossed the border.

‘I knew he was not well,’ said Mrs Baker, ‘before he left. I didn’t want
him to go. I tried hard to persuade him not to go this trip. I had a
feeling that I oughtn’t to let him go. But he’d never think of anything
but me and the children. He promised he’d give up droving after this
trip, and get something to do near home. The life was too much for
him--riding in all weathers and camping out in the rain, and living like
a dog. But he was never content at home. It was all for the sake of me
and the children. He wanted to make money and start on a station again.
I shouldn’t have let him go. He only thought of me and the children! Oh!
my poor, dear, kind, dead husband!’ She broke down again and sobbed, and
her sister comforted her, while Andy and I stared at Wellington meeting
Blucher on the field of Waterloo. I thought the artist had heaped up the
dead a bit extra, and I thought that I wouldn’t like to be trod on by
horses, even if I was dead.

‘Don’t you mind,’ said Miss Standish, ‘she’ll be all right presently,’
and she handed us the ‘Illustrated Sydney Journal’. This was a great
relief,--we bumped our heads over the pictures.

Mrs Baker made Andy go on again, and he told her how the Boss broke down
near Mulgatown. Mrs Baker was opposite him and Miss Standish opposite
me. Both of them kept their eyes on Andy’s face: he sat, with his hair
straight up like a brush as usual, and kept his big innocent grey eyes
fixed on Mrs Baker’s face all the time he was speaking. I watched Miss
Standish. I thought she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen; it was a
bad case of love at first sight, but she was far and away above me, and
the case was hopeless. I began to feel pretty miserable, and to think
back into the past: I just heard Andy droning away by my side.

‘So we fixed him up comfortable in the waggonette with the blankets
and coats and things,’ Andy was saying, ‘and the squatter started into
Mulgatown.... It was about thirty miles, Jack, wasn’t it?’ he asked,
turning suddenly to me. He always looked so innocent that there were
times when I itched to knock him down.

‘More like thirty-five,’ I said, waking up.

Miss Standish fixed her eyes on me, and I had another look at Wellington
and Blucher.

‘They were all very good and kind to the Boss,’ said Andy. ‘They thought
a lot of him up there. Everybody was fond of him.’

‘I know it,’ said Mrs Baker. ‘Nobody could help liking him. He was one
of the kindest men that ever lived.’

‘Tanner, the publican, couldn’t have been kinder to his own brother,’
said Andy. ‘The local doctor was a decent chap, but he was only a young
fellow, and Tanner hadn’t much faith in him, so he wired for an older
doctor at Mackintyre, and he even sent out fresh horses to meet the
doctor’s buggy. Everything was done that could be done, I assure you,
Mrs Baker.’

‘I believe it,’ said Mrs Baker. ‘And you don’t know how it relieves me
to hear it. And did the publican do all this at his own expense?’

‘He wouldn’t take a penny, Mrs Baker.’

‘He must have been a good true man. I wish I could thank him.’

‘Oh, Ned thanked him for you,’ said Andy, though without meaning more
than he said.

‘I wouldn’t have fancied that Ned would have thought of that,’ said Mrs
Baker. ‘When I first heard of my poor husband’s death, I thought perhaps
he’d been drinking again--that worried me a bit.’

‘He never touched a drop after he left Solong, I can assure you, Mrs
Baker,’ said Andy quickly.

Now I noticed that Miss Standish seemed surprised or puzzled, once or
twice, while Andy was speaking, and leaned forward to listen to him;
then she leaned back in her chair and clasped her hands behind her head
and looked at him, with half-shut eyes, in a way I didn’t like. Once or
twice she looked at me as if she was going to ask me a question, but I
always looked away quick and stared at Blucher and Wellington, or into
the empty fireplace, till I felt that her eyes were off me. Then she
asked Andy a question or two, in all innocence I believe now, but it
scared him, and at last he watched his chance and winked at her sharp.
Then she gave a little gasp and shut up like a steel trap.

The sick child in the bedroom coughed and cried again. Mrs Baker went
to it. We three sat like a deaf-and-dumb institution, Andy and I staring
all over the place: presently Miss Standish excused herself, and went
out of the room after her sister. She looked hard at Andy as she left
the room, but he kept his eyes away.

‘Brace up now, Jack,’ whispered Andy to me, ‘the worst is coming.’

When they came in again Mrs Baker made Andy go on with his story.

‘He--he died very quietly,’ said Andy, hitching round, and resting his
elbows on his knees, and looking into the fireplace so as to have his
face away from the light. Miss Standish put her arm round her sister.
‘He died very easy,’ said Andy. ‘He was a bit off his head at times, but
that was while the fever was on him. He didn’t suffer much towards the
end--I don’t think he suffered at all.... He talked a lot about you and
the children.’ (Andy was speaking very softly now.) ‘He said that you
were not to fret, but to cheer up for the children’s sake.... It was the
biggest funeral ever seen round there.’

Mrs Baker was crying softly. Andy got the packet half out of his pocket,
but shoved it back again.

‘The only thing that hurts me now,’ says Mrs Baker presently, ‘is to
think of my poor husband buried out there in the lonely Bush, so far
from home. It’s--cruel!’ and she was sobbing again.

‘Oh, that’s all right, Mrs Baker,’ said Andy, losing his head a little.
‘Ned will see to that. Ned is going to arrange to have him brought down
and buried in Sydney.’ Which was about the first thing Andy had told her
that evening that wasn’t a lie. Ned had said he would do it as soon as
he sold his wool.

‘It’s very kind indeed of Ned,’ sobbed Mrs Baker. ‘I’d never have
dreamed he was so kind-hearted and thoughtful. I misjudged him all
along. And that is all you have to tell me about poor Robert?’

‘Yes,’ said Andy--then one of his ‘happy thoughts’ struck him. ‘Except
that he hoped you’d shift to Sydney, Mrs Baker, where you’ve got friends
and relations. He thought it would be better for you and the children.
He told me to tell you that.’

‘He was thoughtful up to the end,’ said Mrs Baker. ‘It was just like
poor Robert--always thinking of me and the children. We are going to
Sydney next week.’

Andy looked relieved. We talked a little more, and Miss Standish wanted
to make coffee for us, but we had to go and see to our horses. We got up
and bumped against each other, and got each other’s hats, and promised
Mrs Baker we’d come again.

‘Thank you very much for coming,’ she said, shaking hands with us. ‘I
feel much better now. You don’t know how much you have relieved me. Now,
mind, you have promised to come and see me again for the last time.’

Andy caught her sister’s eye and jerked his head towards the door to let
her know he wanted to speak to her outside.

‘Good-bye, Mrs Baker,’ he said, holding on to her hand. ‘And don’t you
fret. You’ve--you’ve got the children yet. It’s--it’s all for the best;
and, besides, the Boss said you wasn’t to fret.’ And he blundered out
after me and Miss Standish.

She came out to the gate with us, and Andy gave her the packet.

‘I want you to give that to her,’ he said; ‘it’s his letters and papers.
I hadn’t the heart to give it to her, somehow.’

‘Tell me, Mr M’Culloch,’ she said. ‘You’ve kept something back--you
haven’t told her the truth. It would be better and safer for me to know.
Was it an accident--or the drink?’

‘It was the drink,’ said Andy. ‘I was going to tell you--I thought it
would be best to tell you. I had made up my mind to do it, but, somehow,
I couldn’t have done it if you hadn’t asked me.’

‘Tell me all,’ she said. ‘It would be better for me to know.’

‘Come a little farther away from the house,’ said Andy. She came along
the fence a piece with us, and Andy told her as much of the truth as he
could.

‘I’ll hurry her off to Sydney,’ she said. ‘We can get away this week as
well as next.’ Then she stood for a minute before us, breathing quickly,
her hands behind her back and her eyes shining in the moonlight. She
looked splendid.

‘I want to thank you for her sake,’ she said quickly. ‘You are good men!
I like the Bushmen! They are grand men--they are noble! I’ll probably
never see either of you again, so it doesn’t matter,’ and she put her
white hand on Andy’s shoulder and kissed him fair and square on the
mouth. ‘And you, too!’ she said to me. I was taller than Andy, and had
to stoop. ‘Good-bye!’ she said, and ran to the gate and in, waving her
hand to us. We lifted our hats again and turned down the road.

I don’t think it did either of us any harm.



A Hero in Dingo-Scrubs.


This is a story--about the only one--of Job Falconer, Boss of the
Talbragar sheep-station up country in New South Wales in the early
Eighties--when there were still runs in the Dingo-Scrubs out of the
hands of the banks, and yet squatters who lived on their stations.

Job would never tell the story himself, at least not complete, and as
his family grew up he would become as angry as it was in his easy-going
nature to become if reference were made to the incident in his presence.
But his wife--little, plump, bright-eyed Gerty Falconer--often told the
story (in the mysterious voice which women use in speaking of private
matters amongst themselves--but with brightening eyes) to women friends
over tea; and always to a new woman friend. And on such occasions she
would be particularly tender towards the unconscious Job, and ruffle his
thin, sandy hair in a way that embarrassed him in company--made him look
as sheepish as an old big-horned ram that has just been shorn and turned
amongst the ewes. And the woman friend on parting would give Job’s hand
a squeeze which would surprise him mildly, and look at him as if she
could love him.

According to a theory of mine, Job, to fit the story, should have been
tall, and dark, and stern, or gloomy and quick-tempered. But he wasn’t.
He was fairly tall, but he was fresh-complexioned and sandy (his skin
was pink to scarlet in some weathers, with blotches of umber), and his
eyes were pale-grey; his big forehead loomed babyishly, his arms were
short, and his legs bowed to the saddle. Altogether he was an awkward,
unlovely Bush bird--on foot; in the saddle it was different. He hadn’t
even a ‘temper’.

The impression on Job’s mind which many years afterwards brought about
the incident was strong enough. When Job was a boy of fourteen he saw
his father’s horse come home riderless--circling and snorting up by the
stockyard, head jerked down whenever the hoof trod on one of the snapped
ends of the bridle-reins, and saddle twisted over the side with bruised
pommel and knee-pad broken off.

Job’s father wasn’t hurt much, but Job’s mother, an emotional woman, and
then in a delicate state of health, survived the shock for three months
only. ‘She wasn’t quite right in her head,’ they said, ‘from the day
the horse came home till the last hour before she died.’ And, strange to
say, Job’s father (from whom Job inherited his seemingly placid nature)
died three months later. The doctor from the town was of the opinion
that he must have ‘sustained internal injuries’ when the horse threw
him. ‘Doc. Wild’ (eccentric Bush doctor) reckoned that Job’s father was
hurt inside when his wife died, and hurt so badly that he couldn’t pull
round. But doctors differ all over the world.


Well, the story of Job himself came about in this way. He had been
married a year, and had lately started wool-raising on a pastoral lease
he had taken up at Talbragar: it was a new run, with new slab-and-bark
huts on the creek for a homestead, new shearing-shed, yards--wife and
everything new, and he was expecting a baby. Job felt brand-new himself
at the time, so he said. It was a lonely place for a young woman;
but Gerty was a settler’s daughter. The newness took away some of the
loneliness, she said, and there was truth in that: a Bush home in the
scrubs looks lonelier the older it gets, and ghostlier in the twilight,
as the bark and slabs whiten, or rather grow grey, in fierce summers.
And there’s nothing under God’s sky so weird, so aggressively lonely, as
a deserted old home in the Bush.

Job’s wife had a half-caste gin for company when Job was away on the
run, and the nearest white woman (a hard but honest Lancashire woman
from within the kicking radius in Lancashire--wife of a selector) was
only seven miles away. She promised to be on hand, and came over two or
three times a-week; but Job grew restless as Gerty’s time drew near, and
wished that he had insisted on sending her to the nearest town (thirty
miles away), as originally proposed. Gerty’s mother, who lived in town,
was coming to see her over her trouble; Job had made arrangements with
the town doctor, but prompt attendance could hardly be expected of a
doctor who was very busy, who was too fat to ride, and who lived thirty
miles away.

Job, in common with most Bushmen and their families round there, had
more faith in Doc. Wild, a weird Yankee who made medicine in a saucepan,
and worked more cures on Bushmen than did the other three doctors of
the district together--maybe because the Bushmen had faith in him, or
he knew the Bush and Bush constitutions--or, perhaps, because he’d do
things which no ‘respectable practitioner’ dared do. I’ve described him
in another story. Some said he was a quack, and some said he wasn’t.
There are scores of wrecks and mysteries like him in the Bush. He drank
fearfully, and ‘on his own’, but was seldom incapable of performing an
operation. Experienced Bushmen preferred him three-quarters drunk: when
perfectly sober he was apt to be a bit shaky. He was tall, gaunt, had
a pointed black moustache, bushy eyebrows, and piercing black eyes. His
movements were eccentric. He lived where he happened to be--in a town
hotel, in the best room of a homestead, in the skillion of a sly-grog
shanty, in a shearer’s, digger’s, shepherd’s, or boundary-rider’s hut;
in a surveyor’s camp or a black-fellows’ camp--or, when the horrors were
on him, by a log in the lonely Bush. It seemed all one to him. He lost
all his things sometimes--even his clothes; but he never lost a pigskin
bag which contained his surgical instruments and papers. Except once;
then he gave the blacks 5 Pounds to find it for him.

His patients included all, from the big squatter to Black Jimmy; and he
rode as far and fast to a squatter’s home as to a swagman’s camp. When
nothing was to be expected from a poor selector or a station hand, and
the doctor was hard up, he went to the squatter for a few pounds. He
had on occasions been offered cheques of 50 Pounds and 100 Pounds by
squatters for ‘pulling round’ their wives or children; but such offers
always angered him. When he asked for 5 Pounds he resented being offered
a 10 Pound cheque. He once sued a doctor for alleging that he held no
diploma; but the magistrate, on reading certain papers, suggested a
settlement out of court, which both doctors agreed to--the other doctor
apologising briefly in the local paper. It was noticed thereafter
that the magistrate and town doctors treated Doc. Wild with great
respect--even at his worst. The thing was never explained, and the case
deepened the mystery which surrounded Doc. Wild.

As Job Falconer’s crisis approached Doc. Wild was located at a shanty
on the main road, about half-way between Job’s station and the town.
(Township of Come-by-Chance--expressive name; and the shanty was the
‘Dead Dingo Hotel’, kept by James Myles--known as ‘Poisonous Jimmy’,
perhaps as a compliment to, or a libel on, the liquor he sold.) Job’s
brother Mac. was stationed at the Dead Dingo Hotel with instructions
to hang round on some pretence, see that the doctor didn’t either drink
himself into the ‘D.T.’s’ or get sober enough to become restless; to
prevent his going away, or to follow him if he did; and to bring him
to the station in about a week’s time. Mac. (rather more careless,
brighter, and more energetic than his brother) was carrying out these
instructions while pretending, with rather great success, to be himself
on the spree at the shanty.

But one morning, early in the specified week, Job’s uneasiness was
suddenly greatly increased by certain symptoms, so he sent the black boy
for the neighbour’s wife and decided to ride to Come-by-Chance to hurry
out Gerty’s mother, and see, by the way, how Doc. Wild and Mac. were
getting on. On the arrival of the neighbour’s wife, who drove over in a
spring-cart, Job mounted his horse (a freshly broken filly) and started.

‘Don’t be anxious, Job,’ said Gerty, as he bent down to kiss her. ‘We’ll
be all right. Wait! you’d better take the gun--you might see those
dingoes again. I’ll get it for you.’

The dingoes (native dogs) were very bad amongst the sheep; and Job and
Gerty had started three together close to the track the last time they
were out in company--without the gun, of course. Gerty took the loaded
gun carefully down from its straps on the bedroom wall, carried it out,
and handed it up to Job, who bent and kissed her again and then rode
off.

It was a hot day--the beginning of a long drought, as Job found to his
bitter cost. He followed the track for five or six miles through the
thick, monotonous scrub, and then turned off to make a short cut to the
main road across a big ring-barked flat. The tall gum-trees had been
ring-barked (a ring of bark taken out round the butts), or rather
‘sapped’--that is, a ring cut in through the sap--in order to kill them,
so that the little strength in the ‘poor’ soil should not be drawn out
by the living roots, and the natural grass (on which Australian stock
depends) should have a better show. The hard, dead trees raised their
barkless and whitened trunks and leafless branches for three or four
miles, and the grey and brown grass stood tall between, dying in the
first breaths of the coming drought. All was becoming grey and ashen
here, the heat blazing and dancing across objects, and the pale brassy
dome of the sky cloudless over all, the sun a glaring white disc with
its edges almost melting into the sky. Job held his gun carelessly ready
(it was a double-barrelled muzzle-loader, one barrel choke-bore for
shot, and the other rifled), and he kept an eye out for dingoes. He was
saving his horse for a long ride, jogging along in the careless Bush
fashion, hitched a little to one side--and I’m not sure that he didn’t
have a leg thrown up and across in front of the pommel of the saddle--he
was riding along in the careless Bush fashion, and thinking
fatherly thoughts in advance, perhaps, when suddenly a great black,
greasy-looking iguana scuttled off from the side of the track amongst
the dry tufts of grass and shreds of dead bark, and started up a
sapling. ‘It was a whopper,’ Job said afterwards; ‘must have been over
six feet, and a foot across the body. It scared me nearly as much as the
filly.’

The filly shied off like a rocket. Job kept his seat instinctively,
as was natural to him; but before he could more than grab at the
rein--lying loosely on the pommel--the filly ‘fetched up’ against a dead
box-tree, hard as cast-iron, and Job’s left leg was jammed from stirrup
to pocket. ‘I felt the blood flare up,’ he said, ‘and I knowed that
that’--(Job swore now and then in an easy-going way)--‘I knowed that
that blanky leg was broken alright. I threw the gun from me and freed
my left foot from the stirrup with my hand, and managed to fall to the
right, as the filly started off again.’

What follows comes from the statements of Doc. Wild and Mac. Falconer,
and Job’s own ‘wanderings in his mind’, as he called them. ‘They took
a blanky mean advantage of me,’ he said, ‘when they had me down and I
couldn’t talk sense.’

The filly circled off a bit, and then stood staring--as a mob of
brumbies, when fired at, will sometimes stand watching the smoke. Job’s
leg was smashed badly, and the pain must have been terrible. But he
thought then with a flash, as men do in a fix. No doubt the scene at
the lonely Bush home of his boyhood started up before him: his father’s
horse appeared riderless, and he saw the look in his mother’s eyes.

Now a Bushman’s first, best, and quickest chance in a fix like this is
that his horse go home riderless, the home be alarmed, and the horse’s
tracks followed back to him; otherwise he might lie there for days, for
weeks--till the growing grass buries his mouldering bones. Job was on an
old sheep-track across a flat where few might have occasion to come for
months, but he did not consider this. He crawled to his gun, then to a
log, dragging gun and smashed leg after him. How he did it he doesn’t
know. Half-lying on one side, he rested the barrel on the log, took aim
at the filly, pulled both triggers, and then fell over and lay with his
head against the log; and the gun-barrel, sliding down, rested on his
neck. He had fainted. The crows were interested, and the ants would come
by-and-by.


Now Doc. Wild had inspirations; anyway, he did things which seemed,
after they were done, to have been suggested by inspiration and in no
other possible way. He often turned up where and when he was wanted
above all men, and at no other time. He had gipsy blood, they said; but,
anyway, being the mystery he was, and having the face he had, and living
the life he lived--and doing the things he did--it was quite probable
that he was more nearly in touch than we with that awful invisible world
all round and between us, of which we only see distorted faces and hear
disjointed utterances when we are ‘suffering a recovery’--or going mad.

On the morning of Job’s accident, and after a long brooding silence,
Doc. Wild suddenly said to Mac. Falconer--

‘Git the hosses, Mac. We’ll go to the station.’

Mac., used to the doctor’s eccentricities, went to see about the horses.

And then who should drive up but Mrs Spencer--Job’s mother-in-law--on
her way from the town to the station. She stayed to have a cup of tea
and give her horses a feed. She was square-faced, and considered a
rather hard and practical woman, but she had plenty of solid flesh, good
sympathetic common-sense, and deep-set humorous blue eyes. She lived
in the town comfortably on the interest of some money which her husband
left in the bank. She drove an American waggonette with a good width
and length of ‘tray’ behind, and on this occasion she had a pole and two
horses. In the trap were a new flock mattress and pillows, a generous
pair of new white blankets, and boxes containing necessaries,
delicacies, and luxuries. All round she was an excellent mother-in-law
for a man to have on hand at a critical time.

And, speaking of mother-in-law, I would like to put in a word for her
right here. She is universally considered a nuisance in times of peace
and comfort; but when illness or serious trouble comes home! Then it’s
‘Write to Mother! Wire for Mother! Send some one to fetch Mother! I’ll
go and bring Mother!’ and if she is not near: ‘Oh, I wish Mother were
here! If Mother were only near!’ And when she is on the spot, the
anxious son-in-law: ‘Don’t YOU go, Mother! You’ll stay, won’t you,
Mother?--till we’re all right? I’ll get some one to look after your
house, Mother, while you’re here.’ But Job Falconer was fond of his
mother-in-law, all times.

Mac. had some trouble in finding and catching one of the horses. Mrs
Spencer drove on, and Mac. and the doctor caught up to her about a mile
before she reached the homestead track, which turned in through the
scrubs at the corner of the big ring-barked flat.

Doc. Wild and Mac. followed the cart-road, and as they jogged along in
the edge of the scrub the doctor glanced once or twice across the flat
through the dead, naked branches. Mac. looked that way. The crows were
hopping about the branches of a tree way out in the middle of the flat,
flopping down from branch to branch to the grass, then rising hurriedly
and circling.

‘Dead beast there!’ said Mac. out of his Bushcraft.

‘No--dying,’ said Doc. Wild, with less Bush experience but more
intellect.

‘There’s some steers of Job’s out there somewhere,’ muttered Mac. Then
suddenly, ‘It ain’t drought--it’s the ploorer at last! or I’m blanked!’

Mac. feared the advent of that cattle-plague, pleuro-pneumonia, which
was raging on some other stations, but had been hitherto kept clear of
Job’s run.

‘We’ll go and see, if you like,’ suggested Doc. Wild.

They turned out across the flat, the horses picking their way amongst
the dried tufts and fallen branches.

‘Theer ain’t no sign o’ cattle theer,’ said the doctor; ‘more likely a
ewe in trouble about her lamb.’

‘Oh, the blanky dingoes at the sheep,’ said Mac. ‘I wish we had a
gun--might get a shot at them.’

Doc. Wild hitched the skirt of a long China silk coat he wore, free of
a hip-pocket. He always carried a revolver. ‘In case I feel obliged to
shoot a first person singular one of these hot days,’ he explained once,
whereat Bushmen scratched the backs of their heads and thought feebly,
without result.

‘We’d never git near enough for a shot,’ said the doctor; then he
commenced to hum fragments from a Bush song about the finding of a lost
Bushman in the last stages of death by thirst,--

   ‘“The crows kept flyin’ up, boys!
       The crows kept flyin’ up!
    The dog, he seen and whimpered, boys,
       Though he was but a pup.”’

‘It must be something or other,’ muttered Mac. ‘Look at them blanky
crows!’

    ‘“The lost was found, we brought him round,
       And took him from the place,
    While the ants was swarmin’ on the ground,
       And the crows was sayin’ grace!”’

‘My God! what’s that?’ cried Mac., who was a little in advance and rode
a tall horse.

It was Job’s filly, lying saddled and bridled, with a rifle-bullet (as
they found on subsequent examination) through shoulders and chest, and
her head full of kangaroo-shot. She was feebly rocking her head against
the ground, and marking the dust with her hoof, as if trying to write
the reason of it there.

The doctor drew his revolver, took a cartridge from his waistcoat
pocket, and put the filly out of her misery in a very scientific manner;
then something--professional instinct or the something supernatural
about the doctor--led him straight to the log, hidden in the grass,
where Job lay as we left him, and about fifty yards from the dead filly,
which must have staggered off some little way after being shot. Mac.
followed the doctor, shaking violently.

‘Oh, my God!’ he cried, with the woman in his voice--and his face so
pale that his freckles stood out like buttons, as Doc. Wild said--‘oh,
my God! he’s shot himself!’

‘No, he hasn’t,’ said the doctor, deftly turning Job into a healthier
position with his head from under the log and his mouth to the air: then
he ran his eyes and hands over him, and Job moaned. ‘He’s got a
broken leg,’ said the doctor. Even then he couldn’t resist making a
characteristic remark, half to himself: ‘A man doesn’t shoot himself
when he’s going to be made a lawful father for the first time, unless he
can see a long way into the future.’ Then he took out his whisky-flask
and said briskly to Mac., ‘Leave me your water-bag’ (Mac. carried a
canvas water-bag slung under his horse’s neck), ‘ride back to the track,
stop Mrs Spencer, and bring the waggonette here. Tell her it’s only a
broken leg.’

Mac. mounted and rode off at a break-neck pace.

As he worked the doctor muttered: ‘He shot his horse. That’s what gits
me. The fool might have lain there for a week. I’d never have suspected
spite in that carcass, and I ought to know men.’

But as Job came round a little Doc. Wild was enlightened.

‘Where’s the filly?’ cried Job suddenly between groans.

‘She’s all right,’ said the doctor.

‘Stop her!’ cried Job, struggling to rise--‘stop her!--oh God! my leg.’

‘Keep quiet, you fool!’

‘Stop her!’ yelled Job.

‘Why stop her?’ asked the doctor. ‘She won’t go fur,’ he added.

‘She’ll go home to Gerty,’ shouted Job. ‘For God’s sake stop her!’

‘O--h!’ drawled the doctor to himself. ‘I might have guessed that. And I
ought to know men.’

‘Don’t take me home!’ demanded Job in a semi-sensible interval. ‘Take me
to Poisonous Jimmy’s and tell Gerty I’m on the spree.’

When Mac. and Mrs Spencer arrived with the waggonette Doc. Wild was in
his shirt-sleeves, his Chinese silk coat having gone for bandages. The
lower half of Job’s trouser-leg and his ‘lastic-side boot lay on the
ground, neatly cut off, and his bandaged leg was sandwiched between
two strips of bark, with grass stuffed in the hollows, and bound by
saddle-straps.

‘That’s all I kin do for him for the present.’

Mrs Spencer was a strong woman mentally, but she arrived rather pale and
a little shaky: nevertheless she called out, as soon as she got within
earshot of the doctor--

‘What’s Job been doing now?’ (Job, by the way, had never been remarkable
for doing anything.)

‘He’s got his leg broke and shot his horse,’ replied the doctor. ‘But,’
he added, ‘whether he’s been a hero or a fool I dunno. Anyway, it’s a
mess all round.’

They unrolled the bed, blankets, and pillows in the bottom of the trap,
backed it against the log, to have a step, and got Job in. It was a
ticklish job, but they had to manage it: Job, maddened by pain and heat,
only kept from fainting by whisky, groaning and raving and yelling to
them to stop his horse.

‘Lucky we got him before the ants did,’ muttered the doctor. Then he had
an inspiration--

‘You bring him on to the shepherd’s hut this side the station. We must
leave him there. Drive carefully, and pour brandy into him now and then;
when the brandy’s done pour whisky, then gin--keep the rum till the
last’ (the doctor had put a supply of spirits in the waggonette at
Poisonous Jimmy’s). ‘I’ll take Mac.’s horse and ride on and send Peter’
(the station hand) ‘back to the hut to meet you. I’ll be back myself if
I can. THIS BUSINESS WILL HURRY UP THINGS AT THE STATION.’

Which last was one of those apparently insane remarks of the doctor’s
which no sane nor sober man could fathom or see a reason for--except in
Doc. Wild’s madness.

He rode off at a gallop. The burden of Job’s raving, all the way, rested
on the dead filly--

‘Stop her! She must not go home to Gerty!... God help me shoot!...
Whoa!--whoa, there!... “Cope--cope--cope”--Steady, Jessie, old girl....
Aim straight--aim straight! Aim for me, God!--I’ve missed!... Stop her!’
&c.

‘I never met a character like that,’ commented the doctor afterwards,
‘inside a man that looked like Job on the outside. I’ve met men behind
revolvers and big mustarshes in Califo’nia; but I’ve met a derned sight
more men behind nothing but a good-natured grin, here in Australia.
These lanky sawney Bushmen will do things in an easy-going way some day
that’ll make the old world sit up and think hard.’

He reached the station in time, and twenty minutes or half an hour
later he left the case in the hands of the Lancashire woman--whom he saw
reason to admire--and rode back to the hut to help Job, whom they soon
fixed up as comfortably as possible.

They humbugged Mrs Falconer first with a yarn of Job’s alleged
phenomenal shyness, and gradually, as she grew stronger, and the truth
less important, they told it to her. And so, instead of Job being
pushed, scarlet-faced, into the bedroom to see his first-born, Gerty
Falconer herself took the child down to the hut, and so presented Uncle
Job with my first and favourite cousin and Bush chum.

Doc. Wild stayed round until he saw Job comfortably moved to the
homestead, then he prepared to depart.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Job, who was still weak--‘I’m sorry for that there
filly. I was breaking her in to side-saddle for Gerty when she should
get about. I wouldn’t have lost her for twenty quid.’

‘Never mind, Job,’ said the doctor. ‘I, too, once shot an animal I was
fond of--and for the sake of a woman--but that animal walked on two legs
and wore trousers. Good-bye, Job.’

And he left for Poisonous Jimmy’s.



The Little World Left Behind.


I lately revisited a western agricultural district in Australia after
many years. The railway had reached it, but otherwise things were
drearily, hopelessly, depressingly unchanged. There was the same old
grant, comprising several thousands of acres of the richest land in the
district, lying idle still, except for a few horses allowed to run there
for a shilling a-head per week.

There were the same old selections--about as far off as ever from
becoming freeholds--shoved back among the barren ridges; dusty little
patches in the scrub, full of stones and stumps, and called farms,
deserted every few years, and tackled again by some little dried-up
family, or some old hatter, and then given best once more. There was
the cluster of farms on the flat, and in the foot of the gully, owned by
Australians of Irish or English descent, with the same number of stumps
in the wheat-paddock, the same broken fences and tumble-down huts and
yards, and the same weak, sleepy attempt made every season to scratch up
the ground and raise a crop. And along the creek the German farmers--the
only people there worthy of the name--toiling (men, women, and children)
from daylight till dark, like slaves, just as they always had done; the
elder sons stoop-shouldered old men at thirty.

The row about the boundary fence between the Sweeneys and the Joneses
was unfinished still, and the old feud between the Dunderblitzens
and the Blitzendunders was more deadly than ever--it started three
generations ago over a stray bull. The O’Dunn was still fighting for his
great object in life, which was not to be ‘onneighborly’, as he put it.
‘I DON’T want to be onneighborly,’ he said, ‘but I’ll be aven wid some
of ‘em yit. It’s almost impossible for a dacent man to live in sich a
neighborhood and not be onneighborly, thry how he will. But I’ll be aven
wid some of ‘em yit, marruk my wurrud.’

Jones’s red steer--it couldn’t have been the same red steer--was
continually breaking into Rooney’s ‘whate an’ bringin’ ivery head av
the other cattle afther him, and ruinin’ him intirely.’ The Rooneys and
M’Kenzies were at daggers drawn, even to the youngest child, over the
impounding of a horse belonging to Pat Rooney’s brother-in-law, by a
distant relation of the M’Kenzies, which had happened nine years ago.

The same sun-burned, masculine women went past to market twice a-week
in the same old carts and driving much the same quality of carrion. The
string of overloaded spring-carts, buggies, and sweating horses went
whirling into town, to ‘service’, through clouds of dust and broiling
heat, on Sunday morning, and came driving cruelly out again at noon.
The neighbours’ sons rode over in the afternoon, as of old, and hung up
their poor, ill-used little horses to bake in the sun, and sat on their
heels about the verandah, and drawled drearily concerning crops, fruit,
trees, and vines, and horses and cattle; the drought and ‘smut’ and
‘rust’ in wheat, and the ‘ploorer’ (pleuro-pneumonia) in cattle,
and other cheerful things; that there colt or filly, or that there
cattle-dog (pup or bitch) o’ mine (or ‘Jim’s’). They always talked
most of farming there, where no farming worthy of the name was
possible--except by Germans and Chinamen. Towards evening the old local
relic of the golden days dropped in and announced that he intended to
‘put down a shaft’ next week, in a spot where he’d been going to put
it down twenty years ago--and every week since. It was nearly time that
somebody sunk a hole and buried him there.

An old local body named Mrs Witherly still went into town twice a-week
with her ‘bit av prodjuce’, as O’Dunn called it. She still drove a long,
bony, blind horse in a long rickety dray, with a stout sapling for a
whip, and about twenty yards of clothes-line reins. The floor of the
dray covered part of an acre, and one wheel was always ahead of the
other--or behind, according to which shaft was pulled. She wore, to all
appearances, the same short frock, faded shawl, men’s ‘lastic sides, and
white hood that she had on when the world was made. She still stopped
just twenty minutes at old Mrs Leatherly’s on the way in for a yarn and
a cup of tea--as she had always done, on the same days and at the same
time within the memory of the hoariest local liar. However, she had a
new clothes-line bent on to the old horse’s front end--and we fancy that
was the reason she didn’t recognise us at first. She had never looked
younger than a hard hundred within the memory of man. Her shrivelled
face was the colour of leather, and crossed and recrossed with lines
till there wasn’t room for any more. But her eyes were bright yet, and
twinkled with humour at times.

She had been in the Bush for fifty years, and had fought fires,
droughts, hunger and thirst, floods, cattle and crop diseases, and all
the things that God curses Australian settlers with. She had had two
husbands, and it could be said of neither that he had ever done an
honest day’s work, or any good for himself or any one else. She had
reared something under fifteen children, her own and others; and there
was scarcely one of them that had not given her trouble. Her sons had
brought disgrace on her old head over and over again, but she held up
that same old head through it all, and looked her narrow, ignorant world
in the face--and ‘lived it down’. She had worked like a slave for fifty
years; yet she had more energy and endurance than many modern city women
in her shrivelled old body. She was a daughter of English aristocrats.

And we who live our weak lives of fifty years or so in the cities--we
grow maudlin over our sorrows (and beer), and ask whether life is worth
living or not.

I sought in the farming town relief from the general and particular
sameness of things, but there was none. The railway station was about
the only new building in town. The old signs even were as badly in need
of retouching as of old. I picked up a copy of the local ‘Advertiser’,
which newspaper had been started in the early days by a brilliant
drunkard, who drank himself to death just as the fathers of our nation
were beginning to get educated up to his style. He might have made
Australian journalism very different from what it is. There was nothing
new in the ‘Advertiser’--there had been nothing new since the last time
the drunkard had been sober enough to hold a pen. There was the same
old ‘enjoyable trip’ to Drybone (whereof the editor was the hero), and
something about an on-the-whole very enjoyable evening in some place
that was tastefully decorated, and where the visitors did justice to the
good things provided, and the small hours, and dancing, and our host and
hostess, and respected fellow-townsmen; also divers young ladies sang
very nicely, and a young Mr Somebody favoured the company with a comic
song.

There was the same trespassing on the valuable space by the old
subscriber, who said that ‘he had said before and would say again’, and
he proceeded to say the same things which he said in the same paper when
we first heard our father reading it to our mother. Farther on the old
subscriber proceeded to ‘maintain’, and recalled attention to the fact
that it was just exactly as he had said. After which he made a few
abstract, incoherent remarks about the ‘surrounding district’, and
concluded by stating that he ‘must now conclude’, and thanking the
editor for trespassing on the aforesaid valuable space.

There was the usual leader on the Government; and an agitation was still
carried on, by means of horribly-constructed correspondence to both
papers, for a bridge over Dry-Hole Creek at Dustbin--a place where no
sane man ever had occasion to go.

I took up the ‘unreliable contemporary’, but found nothing there except
a letter from ‘Parent’, another from ‘Ratepayer’, a leader on the
Government, and ‘A Trip to Limeburn’, which latter I suppose was made in
opposition to the trip to Drybone.

There was nothing new in the town. Even the almost inevitable gang of
city spoilers hadn’t arrived with the railway. They would have been
a relief. There was the monotonous aldermanic row, and the worse than
hopeless little herd of aldermen, the weird agricultural portion of whom
came in on council days in white starched and ironed coats, as we had
always remembered them. They were aggressively barren of ideas; but
on this occasion they had risen above themselves, for one of them had
remembered something his grandfather (old time English alderman) had
told him, and they were stirring up all the old local quarrels and
family spite of the district over a motion, or an amendment on a motion,
that a letter--from another enlightened body and bearing on an
equally important matter (which letter had been sent through the
post sufficiently stamped, delivered to the secretary, handed to the
chairman, read aloud in council, and passed round several times for
private perusal)--over a motion that such letter be received.

There was a maintenance case coming on--to the usual well-ventilated
disgust of the local religious crank, who was on the jury; but the case
differed in no essential point from other cases which were always coming
on and going off in my time. It was not at all romantic. The local youth
was not even brilliant in adultery.

After I had been a week in that town the Governor decided to visit
it, and preparations were made to welcome him and present him with
an address. Then I thought that it was time to go, and slipped away
unnoticed in the general lunacy.



The Never-Never Country.


    By homestead, hut, and shearing-shed,
     By railroad, coach, and track--
    By lonely graves of our brave dead,
     Up-Country and Out-Back:
    To where ‘neath glorious clustered stars
     The dreamy plains expand--
    My home lies wide a thousand miles
     In the Never-Never Land.

    It lies beyond the farming belt,
     Wide wastes of scrub and plain,
    A blazing desert in the drought,
     A lake-land after rain;
    To the sky-line sweeps the waving grass,
     Or whirls the scorching sand--
    A phantom land, a mystic land!
     The Never-Never Land.

    Where lone Mount Desolation lies,
     Mounts Dreadful and Despair--
    ‘Tis lost beneath the rainless skies
     In hopeless deserts there;
    It spreads nor’-west by No-Man’s Land--
     Where clouds are seldom seen--
    To where the cattle-stations lie
     Three hundred miles between.

    The drovers of the Great Stock Routes
     The strange Gulf country know--
    Where, travelling from the southern droughts,
     The big lean bullocks go;
    And camped by night where plains lie wide,
     Like some old ocean’s bed,
    The watchmen in the starlight ride
     Round fifteen hundred head.

    And west of named and numbered days
     The shearers walk and ride--
    Jack Cornstalk and the Ne’er-do-well,
     And the grey-beard side by side;
    They veil their eyes from moon and stars,
     And slumber on the sand--
    Sad memories sleep as years go round
     In Never-Never Land.

    By lonely huts north-west of Bourke,
     Through years of flood and drought,
    The best of English black-sheep work
     Their own salvation out:
    Wild fresh-faced boys grown gaunt and brown--
     Stiff-lipped and haggard-eyed--
    They live the Dead Past grimly down!
     Where boundary-riders ride.

    The College Wreck who sunk beneath,
     Then rose above his shame,
    Tramps West in mateship with the man
     Who cannot write his name.
    ‘Tis there where on the barren track
     No last half-crust’s begrudged--
    Where saint and sinner, side by side,
     Judge not, and are not judged.

    Oh rebels to society!
     The Outcasts of the West--
    Oh hopeless eyes that smile for me,
     And broken hearts that jest!
    The pluck to face a thousand miles--
     The grit to see it through!
    The communism perfected!--
     And--I am proud of you!

    The Arab to true desert sand,
     The Finn to fields of snow;
    The Flax-stick turns to Maoriland,
     Where the seasons come and go;
    And this old fact comes home to me--
     And will not let me rest--
    However barren it may be,
     Your own land is the best!

    And, lest at ease I should forget
     True mateship after all,
    My water-bag and billy yet
     Are hanging on the wall;
    And if my fate should show the sign,
     I’d tramp to sunsets grand
    With gaunt and stern-eyed mates of mine
     In Never-Never Land.



[End of original text.]



*****



A Note on the Author and the Text:


Henry Lawson was born near Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia on 17
June 1867. Although he has since become the most acclaimed Australian
writer, in his own lifetime his writing was often “on the side”--his
“real” work was whatever he could find, often painting houses, or
doing rough carpentry. His writing was often 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 in Sydney, 2 September 1922. Much of his
writing was for periodicals, and even his regular publications were
so varied, including books originally released as one volume being
reprinted as two, and vice versa, that the multitude of permutations
cannot be listed here. However, the following should give a basic
outline of his major works.


  Books of Short Stories:
    While the Billy Boils  (1896)
    On the Track  (1900)
    Over the Sliprails  (1900)
    The Country I Come From  (1901)     | These works were first published
    Joe Wilson and His Mates  (1901)    | in England, during or shortly after
    Children of the Bush  (1902)        | Lawson’s stay there.
    Send Round the Hat  (1907)          | These two books were first published
    The Romance of the Swag  (1907)     | as “Children of the Bush”.
    The Rising of the Court  (1910)

  Poetry:
    In the Days When the World Was Wide  (1896)
    Verses Popular and Humorous  (1900)
    When I Was King and Other Verses (1905)
    The Skyline Riders (1910)
    Selected Poems of Henry Lawson (1918)


Joe Wilson and His Mates was later published as two separate volumes,
“Joe Wilson” and “Joe Wilson’s Mates”, which correspond to Parts I & II
in Joe Wilson and His Mates. This work was first published in England,
which may be evident from some of Lawson’s comments in the text which
are directed at English readers. For example, Lawson writes in ‘The
Golden Graveyard’: “A gold washing-dish is a flat dish--nearer the shape
of a bedroom bath-tub than anything else I have seen in England, or the
dish we used for setting milk--I don’t know whether the same is used
here....”

Alan Light, Monroe, North Carolina, June 1997.





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