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Children of the Bush
by
Henry Lawson



[ Transcriber's notes:  The year of first magazine publication is
shown in the table of contents below.  Additional transcriber's
notes, including a glossary, are included at the end of the EBook. ]




Contents


Send Round the Hat:               1901
The Pretty Girl in the Army:      1901
"Lord Douglas":                   1901
The Blindness of One-eyed Brogan: 1901
The Sundowners:                   1901
A Sketch of Mateship:             1902
On the Tucker Track:              1897
A Bush Publican's Lament:         1901
The Shearer's Dream:              1902
The Lost Souls' Hotel:            1902
The Boozers' Home:                1899
The Sex Problem Again:            1898
The Romance of the Swag:          1901
"Buckholts' Gate":                1901
The Bush-Fire:                    1901
The House that Was Never Built:   1901
"Barney, Take me home Again":     1901
A Droving Yarn:                   1899
Gettin' Back on Dave Regan:       1901
"Shall We Gather at the River":   1901
His Brother's Keeper:             1901
The Ghosts of Many Christmases:   1901






SEND ROUND THE HAT


    Now this is the creed from the Book of the Bush--
    Should be simple and plain to a dunce:
    "If a man's in a hole you must pass round the hat
    Were he jail-bird or gentleman once."



"Is it any harm to wake yer?"

It was about nine o'clock in the morning, and, though it was Sunday
morning, it was no harm to wake me; but the shearer had mistaken me
for a deaf jackaroo, who was staying at the shanty and was something
like me, and had good-naturedly shouted almost at the top of his
voice, and he woke the whole shanty.  Anyway he woke three or four
others who were sleeping on beds and stretchers, and one on a
shake-down on the floor, in the same room.  It had been a wet night,
and the shanty was full of shearers from Big Billabong Shed which had
cut out the day before.  My room mates had been drinking and gambling
overnight, and they swore luridly at the intruder for disturbing them.

He was six-foot-three or thereabout.  He was loosely built, bony,
sandy-complexioned and grey eyed.  He wore a good-humoured grin at
most times, as I noticed later on; he was of a type of bushman that I
always liked--the sort that seem to get more good-natured the longer
they grow, yet are hard-knuckled and would accommodate a man who
wanted to fight, or thrash a bully in a good-natured way.  The sort
that like to carry somebody's baby round, and cut wood, carry water
and do little things for overworked married bushwomen.  He wore a
saddle-tweed sac suit two sizes too small for him, and his face, neck,
great hands and bony wrists were covered with sun-blotches and
freckles.

"I hope I ain't disturbin' yer," he shouted, as he bent over my
bunk, "but there's a cove--"

"You needn't shout!" I interrupted, "I'm not deaf."

"Oh--I beg your pardon!" he shouted.  "I didn't know I was yellin'.
I thought you was the deaf feller."

"Oh, that's all right," I said.  "What's the trouble?"

"Wait till them other chaps is done swearin' and I'll tell yer," he
said.  He spoke with a quiet, good-natured drawl, with something of
the nasal twang, but tone and drawl distinctly Australian--altogether
apart from that of the Americans.

"Oh, spit it out for Christ's sake, Long'un!" yelled One-eyed Bogan,
who had been the worst swearer in a rough shed, and he fell back on
his bunk as if his previous remarks had exhausted him.

"It's that there sick jackaroo that was pickin'-up at Big
Billabong," said the Giraffe.  "He had to knock off the first week,
an' he's been here ever since.  They're sendin' him away to the
hospital in Sydney by the speeshall train.  They're just goin' to take
him up in the wagonette to the railway station, an' I thought I might
as well go round with the hat an' get him a few bob.  He's got a
missus and kids in Sydney."

"Yer always goin' round with yer gory hat!" growled Bogan.  "Yer'd
blanky well take it round in hell!"

"That's what he's doing, Bogan," muttered Gentleman Once, on the
shake-down, with his face to the wall.

The hat was a genuine "cabbage-tree," one of the sort that "last a
lifetime."  It was well coloured, almost black in fact with weather
and age, and it had a new strap round the base of the crown.  I looked
into it and saw a dirty pound note and some silver.  I dropped in half
a crown, which was more than I could spare, for I had only been a
green-hand at Big Billabong.

"Thank yer!" he said.  "Now then, you fellers!"

"I wish you'd keep your hat on your head, and your money in your
pockets and your sympathy somewhere else," growled Jack Moonlight as
he raised himself painfully on his elbow, and felt under his pillow
for two half-crowns.  "Here," he said, "here's two half-casers.
Chuck 'em in and let me sleep for God's sake!"

Gentleman Once, the gambler, rolled round on his shake-down, bringing
his good-looking, dissipated face from the wall.  He had turned in in
his clothes and, with considerable exertion he shoved his hand down
into the pocket of his trousers, which were a tight fit.  He brought
up a roll of pound notes and could find no silver.

"Here," he said to the Giraffe, "I might as well lay a quid.  I'll
chance it anyhow.  Chuck it in."

"You've got rats this mornin', Gentleman Once," growled the
Bogan.  "It ain't a blanky horse race."

"P'r'aps I have," said Gentleman Once, and he turned to the
wall again with his head on his arm.

"Now, Bogan, yer might as well chuck in somethin ," said the
Giraffe.

"What's the matter with the --- jackaroo?" asked the Bogan, tugging his
trousers from under the mattress.

Moonlight said something in a low tone.

"The --- he has!" said Bogan.  "Well, I pity the ---!  Here, I'll chuck in
half a --- quid!" and he dropped half a sovereign into the hat.

The fourth man, who was known to his face as "Barcoo-Rot," and
behind his back as "The Mean Man," had been drinking all night, and
not even Bogan's stump-splitting adjectives could rouse him.  So Bogan
got out of bed, and calling on us (as blanky female cattle) to witness
what he was about to do, he rolled the drunkard over, prospected his
pockets till he made up five shillings (or a "caser" in bush
language), and "chucked" them into the hat.

And Barcoo-Rot is probably unconscious to this day that he was ever
connected with an act of charity.  The Giraffe struck the deaf
jackaroo in the neat room.  I heard the chaps cursing "Long-'un" for
waking them, and "Deaf-'un" for being, as they thought at first, the
indirect cause of the disturbance.  I heard the Giraffe and his hat
being condemned in other rooms and cursed along the veranda where more
shearers were sleeping; and after a while I turned out.

The Giraffe was carefully fixing a mattress and pillows on the floor
of a wagonette, and presently a man, who looked like a corpse, was
carried out and lifted into the trap.

As the wagonette started, the shanty-keeper--a fat, soulless-looking
man--put his hand in his pocket and dropped a quid into the hat which
was still going round, in the hands of the Giraffe's mate, little
Teddy Thompson, who was as far below medium height as the Giraffe was
above it.

The Giraffe took the horse's head and led him along on the most level
parts of the road towards the railway station, and two or three chaps
went along to help get the sick man into the train.

The shearing-season was over in that district, but I got a job of
house-painting, which was my trade, at the Great Western Hotel (a
two-story brick place), and I stayed in Bourke for a couple of months.


The Giraffe was a Victorian native from Bendigo.  He was well known in
Bourke and to many shearers who came through the great dry scrubs from
hundreds of miles round.  He was stakeholder, drunkard's banker,
peacemaker where possible, referee or second to oblige the chaps when
a fight was on, big brother or uncle to most of the children in town,
final court of appeal when the youngsters had a dispute over a
foot-race at the school picnic, referee at their fights, and he was
the stranger's friend.

"The feller as knows can battle around for himself," he'd say.
"But I always like to do what I can for a hard-up stranger cove.  I
was a green-hand jackaroo once meself, and I know what it is."

"You're always bothering about other people, Giraffe," said Tom
Hall, the shearers' union secretary, who was only a couple of inches
shorter than the Giraffe.  "There's nothing in it, you can take it
from me--I ought to know."

"Well, what's a feller to do?" said the Giraffe.  "I'm only hangin'
round here till shearin' starts agen, an' a cove might as well be
doin' something.  Besides, it ain't as if I was like a cove that had
old people or a wife an' kids to look after.  I ain't got no
responsibilities.  A feller can't be doin' nothin'.  Besides, I like
to lend a helpin' hand when I can."

"Well, all I've got to say," said Tom, most of whose screw went in
borrowed quids, etc.  "All I've got to say is that you'll get no
thanks, and you might blanky well starve in the end."

"There ain't no fear of me starvin' so long as I've got me hands
about me; an' I ain't a cove as wants thanks," said the Giraffe.

He was always helping someone or something.  Now it was a bit of a
"darnce" that we was gettin' up for the girls; again it was Mrs
Smith, the woman whose husban' was drowned in the flood in the Began
River lars' Crismas, or that there poor woman down by the
Billabong--her husband cleared out and left her with a lot o' kids.
Or Bill Something, the bullocky, who was run over by his own wagon,
while he was drunk, and got his leg broke.

Toward the end of his spree One-eyed Began broke loose and smashed
nearly all the windows of the Carriers' Arms, and next morning he was
fined heavily at the police court.  About dinner-time I encountered
the Giraffe and his hat, with two half-crowns in it for a start.

"I'm sorry to trouble yer," he said, "but One-eyed Bogan carn't pay
his fine, an' I thought we might fix it up for him.  He ain't half a
bad sort of feller when he ain't drinkin'.  It's only when he gets too
much booze in him."

After shearing, the hat usually started round with the
Giraffe's own dirty crumpled pound note in the bottom of it as a
send-off, later on it was half a sovereign, and so on down to half a
crown and a shilling, as he got short of stuff; till in the end he
would borrow a "few bob"--which he always repaid after next
shearing-"just to start the thing goin'."

There were several yarns about him and his hat.  'Twas said that the
hat had belonged to his father, whom he resembled in every respect,
and it had been going round for so many years that the crown was worn
as thin as paper by the quids, half-quids, casers, half-casers, bobs
and tanners or sprats--to say nothing of the scrums--that had been
chucked into it in its time and shaken up.

They say that when a new governor visited Bourke the Giraffe happened
to be standing on the platform close to the exit, grinning
good-humouredly, and the local toady nudged him urgently and said in
an awful whisper, "Take off your hat!  Why don't you take off your
hat?"

"Why?" drawled the Giraffe, "he ain't hard up, is he?"

And they fondly cherish an anecdote to the effect that, when the
One-Man-One-Vote Bill was passed (or Payment of Members, or when the
first Labour Party went in--I forget on which occasion they said it
was) the Giraffe was carried away by the general enthusiasm, got a few
beers in him, "chucked" a quid into his hat, and sent it round.  The
boys contributed by force of habit, and contributed largely, because
of the victory and the beer.  And when the hat came back to the
Giraffe, he stood holding it in front of him with both hands and
stared blankly into it for a while.  Then it dawned on him.

"Blowed if I haven't bin an' gone an' took up a bloomin' collection
for meself!" he said.

 He was almost a teetotaller, but he stood his shout in reason.  He
mostly drank ginger beer.

"I ain't a feller that boozes, but I ain't got nothin' agen chaps
enjoyin' themselves, so long as they don't go too far."

It was common for a man on the spree to say to him:

"Here!  here's five quid.  Look after it for me, Giraffe, will yer,
till I git off the booze.

"His real name was Bob Brothers, and his bush names, 'Long-'un,'
'The Giraffe,' 'Send-round-the-hat,' 'Chuck-in-a-bob,' and
'Ginger-ale.'"

Some years before, camels and Afghan drivers had been imported to the
Bourke district; the camels did very well in the dry country, they
went right across country and carried everything from sardines to
flooring-boards.  And the teamsters loved the Afghans nearly as much
as Sydney furniture makers love the cheap Chinese in the same line.
They love 'em even as union shearers on strike love blacklegs brought
up-country to take their places.

Now the Giraffe was a good, straight unionist, but in cases of
sickness or trouble he was as apt to forget his unionism, as all
bushmen are, at all times (and for all time), to forget their creed.
So, one evening, the Giraffe blundered into the Carriers' Arms--of all
places in the world--when it was full of teamsters; he had his hat in
his hand and some small silver and coppers in it.

"I say, you fellers, there's a poor, sick Afghan in the camp down
there along the---"

A big, brawny bullock-driver took him firmly by the shoulders, or,
rather by the elbows, and ran him out before any damage was done.  The
Giraffe took it as he took most things, good-humouredly; but, about
dusk, he was seen slipping down towards the Afghan camp with a billy
of soup.

"I believe," remarked Tom Hall, "that when the Giraffe goes to
heaven--and he's the only one of us, as far as I can see, that has a
ghost of a show--I believe that when he goes to heaven, the first
thing he'll do will be to take his infernal hat round amongst the
angels--getting up a collection for this damned world that he left
behind."

"Well, I don't think there's so much to his credit, after all," said
Jack Mitchell, shearer.  "You see, the Giraffe is ambitious; he likes
public life, and that accounts for him shoving himself forward with
his collections.  As for bothering about people in trouble, that's
only common curiosity; he's one of those chaps that are always shoving
their noses into other people's troubles.  And, as for looking after
sick men--why! there's nothing the Giraffe likes better than pottering
round a sick man, and watching him and studying him.  He's awfully
interested in sick men, and they're pretty scarce out here.  I tell
you there's nothing he likes better--except, maybe, it's pottering
round a corpse.  I believe he'd ride forty miles to help and
sympathize and potter round a funeral.  The fact of the matter is that
the Giraffe is only enjoying himself with other people's
troubles--that's all it is.  It's only vulgar curiosity and
selfishness.  I set it down to his ignorance; the way he was brought
up."

A few days after the Afghan incident the Giraffe and his hat had a run
of luck.  A German, one of a party who were building a new wooden
bridge over the Big Billabong, was helping unload some girders from a
truck at the railway station, when a big log slipped on the skids and
his leg was smashed badly.  They carried him to the Carriers' Arms,
which was the nearest hotel, and into a bedroom behind the bar, and
sent for the doctor.  The Giraffe was in evidence as usual.

"It vas not that at all," said German Charlie, when they asked him
if he was in much pain.  "It vas not that at all.  I don't cares a
damn for der bain; but dis is der tird year--und I vas going home dis
year--after der gontract--und der gontract yoost commence!"`

That was the burden of his song all through, between his groans.
There were a good few chaps sitting quietly about the bar and veranda
when the doctor arrived.  The Giraffe was sitting at the end of the
counter, on which he had laid his hat while he wiped his face, neck,
and forehead with a big speckled "sweatrag." It was a very hot day.

The doctor, a good-hearted young Australian, was heard saying
something.  Then German Charlie, in a voice that rung with pain:

"Make that leg right, doctor--quick!  Dis is der tird pluddy
year--und I must go home!"

The doctor asked him if he was in great pain.  "Neffer mind der
pluddy bain, doctor!  Neffer mind der pluddy bain!  Dot vas nossing.
Make dat leg well quick, doctor.  Dis vas der last gontract, and I vas
going home dis year." Then the words jerked out of him by physical
agony: "Der girl vas vaiting dree year, und--by Got!  I must go
home."

The publican--Watty Braithwaite, known as "Watty Broadweight," or,
more familiarly, "Watty Bothways"--turned over the Giraffe's hat in
a tired, bored sort of way, dropped a quid into it, and nodded
resignedly at the Giraffe.

The Giraffe caught up the hint and the hat with alacrity.  The hat
went all round town, so to speak; and, as soon as his leg was firm
enough not to come loose on the road German Charlie went home.

It was well known that I contributed to the Sydney _Bulletin_ and
several other papers.  The Giraffe's bump of reverence was very large,
and swelled especially for sick men and poets.  He treated me with
much more respect than is due from a bushman to a man, and with an odd
sort of extra gentleness I sometimes fancied.  But one day he rather
surprised me.

"I'm sorry to trouble yer," he said in a shamefaced way.  "I don't
know as you go in for sportin', but One-eyed Bogan an' Barcoo-Rot is
goin' to have a bit of a scrap down the Billybong this evenin',
an'---"

"A bit of a what?" I asked.

"A bit of fight to a finish," he said apologetically.  "An' the
chaps is tryin' to fix up a fiver to put some life into the thing.
There's bad blood between One-eyed Bogan and Barcoo-Rot, an' it won't
do them any harm to have it out."

It was a great fight, I remember.  There must have been a couple of
score blood-soaked handkerchiefs (or "sweat-rags") buried in a hole
on the field of battle, and the Giraffe was busy the rest of the
evening helping to patch up the principals.  Later on he took up a
small collection for the loser, who happened to be Barcoo-Rot in spite
of the advantage of an eye.

The Salvation Army lassie, who went round with the _War Cry_,
nearly always sold the Giraffe three copies.

A new-chum parson, who wanted a subscription to build or enlarge a
chapel, or something, sought the assistance of the Giraffe's influence
with his mates.

"Well," said the Giraffe, "I ain't a churchgoer meself.  I ain't
what you might call a religious cove, but I'll be glad to do what I
can to help yer.  I don't suppose I can do much.  I ain't been to
church since I was a kiddy."

The parson was shocked, but later on he learned to appreciate the
Giraffe and his mates, and to love Australia for the bushman's sake,
and it was he who told me the above anecdote.

The Giraffe helped fix some stalls for a Catholic Church bazaar, and
some of the chaps chaffed him about it in the union office.

"You'll be taking up a collection for a joss-house down in the
Chinamen's camp next," said Tom Hall in conclusion.

"Well, I ain't got nothin' agen the Roming Carflics," said the
Giraffe.  "An' Father O'Donovan's a very decent sort of cove.  He
stuck up for the unions all right in the strike anyway."  ("He
wouldn't be Irish if he wasn't," someone commented.)  "I carried
swags once for six months with a feller that was a Carflick, an' he
was a very straight feller.  And a girl I knowed turned Carflick to
marry a chap that had got her into trouble, an' she was always jes'
the same to me after as she was before.  Besides, I like to help
everything that's goin' on."

Tom Hall and one or two others went out hurriedly to have a drink.
But we all loved the Giraffe.

He was very innocent and very humorous, especially when he meant to be
most serious and philosophical.

"Some of them bush girls is regular tomboys," he said to me solemnly
one day.  "Some of them is too cheeky altogether.  I remember once I
was stoppin' at a place--they was sort of relations o' mine--an' they
put me to sleep in a room off the verander, where there was a glass
door an' no blinds.  An' the first mornin' the girls--they was sort o'
cousins o' mine--they come gigglin' and foolin' round outside the door
on the verander, an' kep' me in bed till nearly ten o'clock.  I had to
put me trowsis on under the bed-clothes in the end.  But I got back on
'em the next night," he reflected.

"How did you do that, Bob?" I asked.

"Why, I went to bed in me trowsis!"


One day I was on a plank, painting the ceiling of the bar of the Great
Western Hotel.  I was anxious to get the job finished.  The work had
been kept back most of the day by chaps handing up long beers to me,
and drawing my attention to the alleged fact that I was putting on the
paint wrong side out.  I was slapping it on over the last few boards
when:

"I'm very sorry to trouble yer; I always seem to be troublin' yer;
but there's that there woman and them girls---"

I looked down--about the first time I had looked down on him--and
there was the Giraffe, with his hat brim up on the plank and two
half-crowns in it.

"Oh, that's all right, Bob," I said, and I dropped in half a crown.

There were shearers in the bar, and presently there was some
barracking.  It appeared that that there woman and them girls were
strange women, in the local as well as the Biblical sense of the word,
who had come from Sydney at the end of the shearing-season, and had
taken a cottage on the edge of the scrub on the outskirts of the town.
There had been trouble this week in connection with a row at their
establishment, and they had been fined, warned off by the police, and
turned out by their landlord.

"This is a bit too red-hot, Giraffe," said one of the shearers.
"Them ---s has made enough out of us coves.  They've got plenty of
stuff, don't you fret.  Let 'em go to ---!  I'm blanked if I give a
sprat."

"They ain't got their fares to Sydney," said the Giraffe.  "An',
what's more, the little 'un is sick, an' two of them has kids in
Sydney."

"How the --- do you know?"

"Why, one of 'em come to me an' told me all about it."

There was an involuntary guffaw.

"Look here, Bob," said Billy Woods, the rouseabouts' secretary,
kindly.  "Don't you make a fool of yourself.  You'll have all the
chaps laughing at you.  Those girls are only working you for all
you're worth.  I suppose one of 'em came crying and whining to you.
Don't you bother about 'em.  _You_ don't know 'em; they can pump
water at a moment's notice.  You haven't had any experience with women
yet, Bob."

"She didn't come whinin' and cryin' to me," said the Giraffe, dropping
his twanging drawl a little.  "She looked me straight in the face an'
told me all about it."

"I say, Giraffe," said Box-o'-Tricks, "what have you been doin'?
You've bin down there on the nod.  I'm surprised at yer, Giraffe."

"An' he pretends to be so gory soft an' innocent, too," growled the
Bogan.  "We know all about you, Giraffe."

"Look here, Giraffe," said Mitchell the shearer.  "I'd never have
thought it of you.  We all thought you were the only virgin youth west
the river; I always thought you were a moral young man.  You mustn't
think that because your conscience is pricking you everyone else's
is."

"I ain't had anythin' to do with them," said the Giraffe, drawling
again.  "I ain't a cove that goes in for that sort of thing.  But
other chaps has, and I think they might as well help 'em out of their
fix."

"They're a rotten crowd," said Billy Woods.  "You don't know them,
Bob.  Don't bother about them-they're not worth it.  Put your money in
your pocket.  You'll find a better use for it before next shearing."

"Better shout, Giraffe," said Box-o'-Tricks.

Now in spite of the Giraffe's softness he was the hardest man in
Bourke to move when he'd decided on what he thought was "the fair
thing to do."  Another peculiarity of his was that on occasion, such
for instance as "sayin' a few words" at a strike meeting, he would
straighten himself, drop the twang, and rope in his drawl, so to
speak.

"Well, look here, you chaps," he said now.  "I don't know anything
about them women.  I s'pose they're bad, but I don't suppose they're
worse than men has made them.  All I know is that there's four women
turned out, without any stuff, and every woman in Bourke, an' the
police, an' the law agen 'em.  An' the fact that they is women is
agenst 'em most of all.  You don't expect 'em to hump their swags to
Sydney!  Why, only I ain't got the stuff I wouldn't trouble yer.  I'd
pay their fares meself.  Look," he said, lowering his voice, "there
they are now, an' one of the girls is cryin'.  Don't let 'em see yer
lookin'."

I dropped softly from the plank and peeped out with the rest.

They stood by the fence on the opposite side of the street, a bit up
towards the railway station, with their portmanteaux and bundles at
their feet.  One girl leant with her arms on the fence rail and her
face buried in them, another was trying to comfort her.  The third
girl and the woman stood facing our way.  The woman was good-looking;
she had a hard face, but it might have been made hard.  The third girl
seemed half defiant, half inclined to cry.  Presently she went to the
other side of the girl who was crying on the fence and put her arm
round her shoulder.  The woman suddenly turned her back on us and
stood looking away over the paddocks.

The hat went round.  Billy Woods was first, then Box-o'-Tricks, and
then Mitchell.

Billy contributed with eloquent silence.  "I was only jokin',
Giraffe," said Box-o'-Tricks, dredging his pockets for a couple of
shillings.  It was some time after the shearing, and most of the chaps
were hard up.  "Ah, well," sighed Mitchell.  "There's no help for
it.  If the Giraffe would take up a collection to import some decent
girls to this God-forgotten hole there might be some sense in
it. . . .  It's bad enough for the Giraffe to undermine our religious
prejudices, and tempt us to take a morbid interest in sick Chows and
Afghans, and blacklegs and widows; but when he starts mixing us up
with strange women it's time to buck."  And he prospected his pockets
and contributed two shillings, some odd pennies, and a pinch of
tobacco dust.

"I don't mind helping the girls, but I'm damned if I'll give a penny
to help the old---," said Tom Hall.

"Well, she was a girl once herself," drawled the Giraffe.

The Giraffe went round to the other pubs and to the union offices, and
when he returned he seemed satisfied with the plate, but troubled
about something else.

"I don't know what to do for them for to-night," he said.  "None of
the pubs or boardin'-houses will hear of them, an' there ain't no
empty houses, an' the women is all agen 'em."

"Not all," said Alice, the big, handsome barmaid from Sydney.
"Come here, Bob."  She gave the Giraffe half a sovereign and a look
for which some of us would have paid him ten pounds--had we had the
money, and had the look been transferable.

"Wait a minute, Bob," she said, and she went in to speak to the
landlord.

"There's an empty bedroom at the end of the store in the yard," she
said when she came back.  "They can camp there for to-night if they
behave themselves.  You'd better tell 'em, Bob."

"Thank yer, Alice," said the Giraffe.

Next day, after work, the Giraffe and I drifted together and down by
the river in the cool of the evening, and sat on the edge of the
steep, drought-parched bank.

"I heard you saw your lady friends off this morning, Bob," I said,
and was sorry I said it, even before he answered.

"Oh, they ain't no friends of mine," he said.  "Only four' poor
devils of women.  I thought they mightn't like to stand waitin' with
the crowd on the platform, so I jest offered to get their tickets an'
told 'em to wait round at the back of the station till the bell
rung. . . .  An' what do yer think they did, Harry?" he went on, with
an exasperatingly unintelligent grin.  "Why, they wanted to kiss me."

"Did they?"

"Yes.  An' they would have done it, too, if I hadn't been so
long. . . .  Why, I'm blessed if they didn't kiss me hands."

"You don't say so."

"God's truth.  Somehow I didn't like to go on the platform with them
after that; besides, they was cryin', and I can't stand women cryin'.
But some of the chaps put them into an empty carriage."  He thought a
moment.  Then:

"There's some terrible good-hearted fellers in the world," he
reflected.

I thought so too.  "Bob," I said, "you're a single man.  Why don't
you get married and settle down?"

"Well," he said, "I ain't got no wife an' kids, that's a fact.  But
it ain't my fault."

He may have been right about the wife.  But I thought of the look that
Alice had given him, and---

"Girls seem to like me right enough," he said, "but it don't go no
further than that.  The trouble is that I'm so long, and I always seem
to get shook after little girls.  At least there was one little girl
in Bendigo that I was properly gone on."

"And wouldn't she have you?"

"Well, it seems not."

"Did you ask her?"

"Oh, yes, I asked her right enough."

"Well, and what did she say?"

"She said it would be redicilus for her to be seen trottin' alongside
of a chimbley like me."

"Perhaps she didn't mean that.  There are any amount of little women
who like tall men."

"I thought of that too--afterwards.  P'r'aps she didn't mean it that
way.  I s'pose the fact of the matter was that she didn't cotton on to
me, and wanted to let me down easy.  She didn't want to hurt me
feelin's, if yer understand--she was a very good-hearted little girl.
There's some terrible tall fellers where I come from, and I know two
as married little girls."

He seemed a hopeless case.

"Sometimes," he said, "sometimes I wish that I wasn't so blessed
long."

"There's that there deaf jackaroo," he reflected presently.  "He's
something in the same fig about girls as I am.  He's too deaf and I'm
too long."

"How do you make that out?" I asked.  "He's got three girls, to my
knowledge, and, as for being deaf, why, he gasses more than any man in
the town, and knows more of what's going on than old Mother Brindle
the washerwoman."

"Well, look at that now!" said the Giraffe, slowly.  "Who'd have
thought it?  He never told me he had three girls, an' as for hearin'
news, I always tell him anything that's goin' on that I think he
doesn't catch.  He told me his trouble was that whenever he went out
with a girl people could hear what they was sayin'--at least they
could hear what she was sayin' to him, an' draw their own conclusions,
he said.  He said he went out one night with a girl, and some of the
chaps foxed 'em an' heard her sayin' `don't' to him, an' put it all
round town."

"What did she say `don't' for?" I asked.

"He didn't tell me that, but I s'pose he was kissin' her or huggin'
her or something."

"Bob," I said presently, "didn't you try the little girl in Bendigo
a second time?"

"No," he said.  "What was the use.  She was a good little girl, and I
wasn't goin' to go botherin' her.  I ain't the sort of cove that goes
hangin' round where he isn't wanted.  But somehow I couldn't stay
about Bendigo after she gave me the hint, so I thought I'd come over
an' have a knock round on this side for a year or two."

"And you never wrote to her?"

"No.  What was the use of goin' pesterin' her with letters?  I know
what trouble letters give me when I have to answer one.  She'd have
only had to tell me the straight truth in a letter an' it wouldn't
have done me any good.  But I've pretty well got over it by this
time."

A few days later I went to Sydney.  The Giraffe was the last I shook
hands with from the carriage window, and he slipped something in a
piece of newspaper into my hand.

"I hope yer won't be offended," he drawled, "but some of the chaps
thought you mightn't be too flush of stuff--you've been shoutin' a
good deal; so they put a quid or two together.  They thought it might
help yer to have a bit of a fly round in Sydney."

I was back in Bourke before next shearing.  On the evening of my
arrival I ran against the Giraffe; he seemed strangely shaken over
something, but he kept his hat on his head.

"Would yer mind takin' a stroll as fur as the Billerbong?" he said.
"I got something I'd like to tell yer."

His big, brown, sunburnt hands trembled and shook as he took a letter
from his pocket and opened it.

"I've just got a letter," he said.  "A letter from that little girl
at Bendigo.  It seems it was all a mistake.  I'd like you to read it.
Somehow I feel as if I want to talk to a feller, and I'd rather talk
to you than any of them other chaps."

It was a good letter, from a big-hearted little girl.  She had been
breaking her heart for the great ass all these months.  It seemed that
he had left Bendigo without saying good-bye to her.  "Somehow I
couldn't bring meself to it," he said, when I taxed him with it.  She
had never been able to get his address until last week; then she got
it from a Bourke man who had gone south.  She called him "an awful
long fool," which he was, without the slightest doubt, and she
implored him to write, and come back to her.

"And will you go back, Bob?" I asked.

"My oath!  I'd take the train to-morrer only I ain't got the stuff.
But I've got a stand in Big Billerbong Shed an' I'll soon knock a few
quid together.  I'll go back as soon as ever shearin's over.  I'm
goin' to write away to her to-night."


The Giraffe was the "ringer" of Big Billabong Shed that season.  His
tallies averaged a hundred and twenty a day.  He only sent his hat
round once during shearing, and it was noticed that he hesitated at
first and only contributed half a crown.  But then it was a case of a
man being taken from the shed by the police for wife desertion.

"It's always that way," commented Mitchell.  "Those soft,
good-hearted fellows always end by getting hard and selfish.  The
world makes 'em so.  It's the thought of the soft fools they've been
that finds out sooner or later and makes 'em repent.  Like as not the
Giraffe will be the meanest man out back before he's done."

When Big Billabong cut out, and we got back to Bourke with our dusty
swags and dirty cheques, I spoke to Tom Hall:

"Look here, Tom," I said.  "That long fool, the Giraffe, has been
breaking his heart for a little girl in Bendigo ever since he's been
out back, and she's been breaking her heart for him, and the ass
didn't know it till he got a letter from her just before Big Billabong
started.  He's going to-morrow morning."

That evening Tom stole the Giraffe's hat.  "I s'pose it'll turn up in
the mornin'," said the Giraffe.  "I don't mind a lark," he added,
"but it does seem a bit red hot for the chaps to collar a cove's hat
and a feller goin' away for good, p'r'aps, in the mornin'."

Mitchell started the thing going with a quid.

"It's worth it," he said, "to get rid of him.  We'll have some
peace now.  There won't be so many accidents or women in trouble when
the Giraffe and his blessed hat are gone.  Any way, he's an eyesore in
the town, and he's getting on my nerves for one. . . .  Come on, you
sinners!  Chuck 'em in; we're only taking quids and half-quids."

About daylight next morning Tom Hall slipped into the Giraffe's room
at the Carriers' Arms.  The Giraffe was sleeping peacefully.  Tom put
the hat on a chair by his side.  The collection had been a record one,
and, besides the packet of money in the crown of the hat, there was a
silver-mounted pipe with case--the best that could be bought in
Bourke, a gold brooch, and several trifles--besides an ugly valentine
of a long man in his shirt walking the room with a twin on each arm.

Tom was about to shake the Giraffe by the shoulder, when he noticed a
great foot, with about half a yard of big-boned ankle and shank,
sticking out at the bottom of the bed.  The temptation was too great.
Tom took up the hair-brush, and, with the back of it, he gave a smart
rap on the point of an in-growing toe-nail, and slithered.

We heard the Giraffe swearing good-naturedly for a while, and then
there was a pregnant silence.  He was staring at the hat we supposed.

We were all up at the station to see him off.  It was rather a long
wait.  The Giraffe edged me up to the other end of the platform.

He seemed overcome.

"There's--there's some terrible good-hearted fellers in this world,"
he said.  "You mustn't forgit 'em, Harry, when you make a big name
writin'.  I'm--well, I'm blessed if I don't feel as if I was jist
goin' to blubber!"

I was glad he didn't.  The Giraffe blubberin' would have been a
spectacle.  I steered him back to his friends.

"Ain't you going to kiss me, Bob?" said the Great Western's big,
handsome barmaid, as the bell rang.

"Well, I don't mind kissin' you, Alice," he said, wiping his mouth.
"But I'm goin' to be married, yer know."  And he kissed her fair on
the mouth.

"There's nothin' like gettin' into practice," he said, grinning
round.

We thought he was improving wonderfully; but at the last moment
something troubled him.

"Look here, you chaps," he said, hesitatingly, with his hand in his
pocket, "I don't know what I'm going to do with all this stuff.
There's that there poor washerwoman that scalded her legs liftin' the
boiler of clothes off the fire---"

We shoved him into the carriage.  He hung--about half of him--out the
window, wildly waving his hat, till the train disappeared in the
scrub.

And, as I sit here writing by lamplight at midday, in the midst of a
great city of shallow social sham, of hopeless, squalid poverty, of
ignorant selfishness, cultured or brutish, and of noble and heroic
endeavour frowned down or callously neglected, I am almost aware of a
burst of sunshine in the room, and a long form leaning over my chair,
and:

"Excuse me for troublin' yer; I'm always troublin' yer; but there's
that there poor woman. . . ."

And I wish I could immortalize him!




THAT PRETTY GIRL IN THE ARMY


    Now I often sit at Watty's, when the night is very near,
    With a head that's full of jingles--and the fumes of bottled beer;
    For I always have a fancy that, if I am over there
    When the Army prays for Watty, I'm included in the prayer.
    It would take a lot of praying, lots of thumping on the drum,
    To prepare our sinful, straying, erring souls for Kingdom Come.
    But I love my fellow-sinners! and I hope, upon the whole,
    That the Army gets a hearing when it prays for Watty's soul.
                                             -When the World was Wide.


The Salvation Army does good business in some of the outback towns of
the great pastoral wastes of Australia.  There's the thoughtless,
careless generosity of the bushman, whose pockets don't go far enough
down his trousers (that's what's the matter with him), and who
contributes to anything that comes along, without troubling to ask
questions, like long Bob Brothers of Bourke, who, chancing to be "a
Protestant by rights," unwittingly subscribed towards the erection of
a new Catholic church, and, being chaffed for his mistake, said:

"Ah, well, I don't suppose it'll matter a hang in the end, anyway it
goes.  I ain't got nothink agenst the Roming Carflicks."

There's the shearer, fresh with his cheque from a cut-out shed,
gloriously drunk and happy, in love with all the world, and ready to
subscribe towards any creed and shout for all hands--including Old
Nick if he happened to come along.  There's the shearer, half-drunk
and inclined to be nasty, who has got the wrong end of all things with
a tight grip, and who flings a shilling in the face of out-back
conventionality (as he thinks) by chucking a bob into the Salvation
Army ring.  Then he glares round to see if he can catch anybody
winking behind his back.  There's the cynical joker, a queer mixture,
who contributes generously and tempts the reformed boozer afterwards.
There's the severe-faced old station-hand--in clean shirt and
neckerchief and white moleskins--in for his annual or semi-annual
spree, who contributes on principle, and then drinks religiously until
his cheque is gone and the horrors are come.  There's the shearer,
feeling mighty bad after a spree, and in danger of seeing things when
he tries to go to sleep.  He has dropped ten or twenty pounds over bar
counters and at cards, and he now "chucks" a repentant shilling into
the ring, with a very private and rather vague sort of feeling that
something might come of it.  There's the stout, contented,
good-natured publican, who tips the Army as if it were a barrel-organ.
And there are others and other reasons--black sheep and
ne'er-do-wells--and faint echoes of other times in Salvation Army
tunes.

Bourke, the metropolis of the Great Scrubs, on the banks of the
Darling River, about five hundred miles from Sydney, was suffering
from a long drought when I was there in ninety-two; and the heat may
or may not have been another cause contributing to the success, from a
business point of view, of the Bourke garrison.  There was much beer
boozing--and, besides, it was vaguely understood (as most things are
vaguely understood out there in the drought-haze) that the place the
Army came to save us from was hotter than Bourke.  We didn't hanker to
go to a hotter place than Bourke.  But that year there was an
extraordinary reason for the Army's great financial success there.

She was a little girl, nineteen or twenty, I should judge, the
prettiest girl I ever saw in the Army, and one of the prettiest I've
ever seen out of it.  She had the features of an angel, but her
expression was wonderfully human, sweet and sympathetic.  Her big grey
eyes were sad with sympathy for sufferers and sinners, and her poke
bonnet was full of bunchy, red-gold hair.  Her first appearance was
somewhat dramatic--perhaps the Army arranged it so.

The Army used to pray, and thump the drum, and sing, and take up
collections every evening outside Watty Bothways' Hotel, the Carriers'
Arms.  They performed longer and more often outside Watty's than any
other pub in town--perhaps because Watty was considered the most
hopeless publican and his customers the hardest crowd of boozers in
Bourke.  The band generally began to play about dusk.  Watty would
lean back comfortably in a basket easy-chair on his wide veranda, and
clasp his hands, in a calm, contented way, while the Army banged the
drum and got steam up, and whilst, perhaps, there was a barney going
on in the bar, or a bloodthirsty fight in the backyard.  On such
occasions there was something like an indulgent or fatherly expression
on his fat and usually emotionless face.  And by and by he'd move his
head gently and doze.  The banging and the singing seemed to soothe
him, and the praying, which was often very personal, never seemed to
disturb him in the least.

Well, it was about dusk one day; it had been a terrible day, a hundred
and something startling in the shade, but there came a breeze after
sunset.  There had been several dozen of buckets of water thrown on
the veranda floor and the ground outside.  Watty was seated in his
accustomed place when the Army arrived.  There was no barney in the
bar because there was a fight in the backyard, and that claimed the
attention of all the customers.

The Army prayed for Watty and his clients; then a reformed drunkard
started to testify against publicans and all their works.  Watty
settled himself comfortably, folded his hands, and leaned back and
dozed.

The fight was over, and the chaps began to drop round to the bar.  The
man who was saved waved his arms, and danced round and howled.

"Ye-es!" he shouted hoarsely.  "The publicans, and boozers, and
gamblers, and sinners may think that Bourke is hot, but hell is a
thousand times hotter! I tell you"

"Oh, Lord!" said Mitchell, the shearer, and he threw a penny into
the ring.

"Ye-es! I tell you that hell is a million times hotter than Bourke!
I tell you---"

"Oh, look here," said a voice from the background, "that won't
wash.  Why, don't you know that when the Bourke people die they send
back for their blankets?"

The saved brother glared round.

"I hear a freethinker speaking, my friends," he said.  Then, with
sudden inspiration and renewed energy, "I hear the voice of a
freethinker.  Show me the face of a freethinker," he yelled, glaring
round like a hunted, hungry man.  "Show me the face of a freethinker,
and I'll tell you what he is."

Watty hitched himself into a more comfortable position and clasped his
hands on his knee and closed his eyes again.

"Ya-a-a-s!" shrieked the brand.  "I tell you, my friends, I can
tell a freethinker by his face.  Show me the face of a---"

At this point there was an interruption.  One-eyed, or Wall-eyed,
Bogan, who had a broken nose, and the best side of whose face was
reckoned the ugliest and most sinister--One-eyed Bogan thrust his face
forward from the ring of darkness into the torchlight of salvation.
He had got the worst of a drawn battle; his nose and mouth were
bleeding, and his good eye was damaged.

"Look at my face!" he snarled, with dangerous earnestness.  "Look
at my face!  That's the face of a freethinker, and I don't care who
knows it.  Now!  what have you got to say against my face,
`Man-without-a-Shirt?'"

The brother drew back.  He had been known in the northwest in his
sinful days as "Man-without-a-Shirt," alias "Shirty," or "The
Dirty Man," and was flabbergasted at being recognized in speech.
Also, he had been in a shearing-shed and in a shanty orgy with
One-eyed Bogan, and knew the man.

Now most of the chaps respected the Army, and, indeed, anything that
looked like religion, but the Bogan's face, as representing
free-thought, was a bit too sudden for them.  There were sounds on the
opposite side of the ring as from men being smitten repeatedly and
rapidly below the belt, and long Tom Hall and one or two others got
away into the darkness in the background, where Tom rolled helplessly
on the grass and sobbed.

It struck me that Bogan's face was more the result of free speech than
anything else.

The Army was about to pray when the Pretty Girl stepped forward, her
eyes shining with indignation and enthusiasm.  She had arrived by the
evening train, and had been standing shrinkingly behind an Army lass
of fifty Australian summers, who was about six feet high, flat and
broad, and had a square face, and a mouth like a joint in boiler
plates.

The Pretty Girl stamped her pretty foot on the gravel, and her eyes
flashed in the torchlight.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves," she said.  "Great big men
like you to be going on the way you are.  If you were ignorant or
poor, as I've seen people, there might be some excuse for you.
Haven't you got any mothers, or sisters, or wives to think of?  What
sort of a life is this you lead?  Drinking, and gambling, and
fighting, and swearing your lives away!  Do you ever think of God and
the time when you were children?  Why don't you make homes?  Look at
that man's face!" (she pointed suddenly at Bogan, who collapsed and
sidled behind his mates out of the light).  "Look at that man's face!
Is it a face for a Christian?  And you help and encourage him to
fight.  You're worse than he is.  Oh, it's brutal.  It's--it's wicked.
Great big men like you, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

Long Bob Brothers--about six-foot-four--the longest and most innocent
there, shrunk down by the wall and got his inquiring face out of the
light.  The Pretty Girl fluttered on for a few moments longer, greatly
excited, and then stepped back, seemingly much upset, and was taken
under the wing of the woman with the boiler-plate mouth.

It was a surprise, and very sudden.  Bogan slipped round to the
backyard, and was seen bathing his battered features at the pump.  The
rest wore the expression of men who knew that something unusual has
happened, but don't know what, and are waiting vacantly for
developments.--Except Tom Hall, who had recovered and returned.  He
stood looking over the head of the ring of bushmen, and apparently
taking the same critical interest in the girl as he would in a
fight--his expression was such as a journalist might wear who is
getting exciting copy.

The Army had it all their own way for the rest of the evening, and
made a good collection.  The Pretty Girl stood smiling round with
shining eyes as the bobs and tanners dropped in, and then, being
shoved forward by the flat woman, she thanked us sweetly, and said we
were good fellows, and that she was sorry for some things she'd said
to us.  Then she retired, fluttering and very much flushed, and hid
herself behind the hard woman--who, by the way, had an excrescence on
her upper lip which might have stood for a rivet.

Presently the Pretty Girl came from behind the big woman and stood
watching things with glistening eyes.  Some of the chaps on the
opposite side of the ring moved a little to one side and all were
careful not to meet her eye--not to be caught looking at her--lest she
should be embarrassed.  Watty had roused himself a little at the sound
of a strange voice in the Army (and such a clear, sweet voice too!)
and had a look; then he settled back peacefully again, but it was
noticed that he didn't snore that evening.

And when the Army prayed, the Pretty Girl knelt down with the rest on
the gravel.  One or two tall bushmen bowed their heads as if they had
to, and One-eyed Bogan, with the blood washed from his face, stood
with his hat off, glaring round to see if he could catch anyone
sniggering.

Mitchell, the shearer, said afterwards that the whole business made
him feel for the moment like he felt sometimes in the days when he
used to feel things.

The town discussed the Pretty Girl in the Army that night and for many
days thereafter, but no one could find out who she was or where she
belonged to--except that she came from Sydney last.  She kept her
secret, if she had one, very close--or else the other S.-A.  women
were not to be pumped.  She lived in skillion-rooms at the back of the
big weather-board Salvation Army barracks with two other "lassies,"
who did washing and sewing and nursing, and went shabby, and half
starved themselves, and were baked in the heat, like scores of women
in the bush, and even as hundreds of women, suffering from religious
mania, slave and stint in city slums, and neglect their homes,
husbands and children--for the glory of Booth.

The Pretty Girl was referred to as Sister Hannah by the Army people,
and came somehow to be known by sinners as "Miss Captain."  I don't
know whether that was her real name or what rank she held in the Army,
if indeed she held any.

She sold _War Crys_, and the circulation doubled in a day.
One-eyed Bogan, being bailed up unexpectedly, gave her "half a
caser" for a _Cry_, and ran away without the paper or the
change.  Jack Mitchell bought a _Cry_ for the first time in his
life, and read it.  He said he found some of the articles intensely
realistic, and many of the statements were very interesting.  He said
he read one or two things in the _Cry_ that he didn't know
before.  Tom Hall, taken unawares, bought three _Crys_ from the
Pretty Girl, and blushed to find it fame.

Little Billy Woods, the Labourers' Union secretary--who had a poetic
temperament and more than the average bushman's reverence for higher
things--Little Billy Woods told me in a burst of confidence that he
generally had two feelings, one after the other, after encountering
that girl.  One was that unfathomable far-away feeling of loneliness
and longing, that comes at odd times to the best of married men, with
the best of wives and children--as Billy had.  The other feeling,
which came later on, and was a reaction in fact, was the feeling of a
man who thinks he's been twisted round a woman's little finger for the
benefit of somebody else.  Billy said that he couldn't help being
reminded by the shy, sweet smile and the shy, sweet "thank you" of
the Pretty Girl in the Army, of the shy, sweet smile and the shy,
sweet gratitude of a Sydney private barmaid, who had once roped him
in, in the days before he was married.  Then he'd reckon that the Army
lassie had been sent out back to Bourke as a business speculation.

Tom Hall was inclined to reckon so too--but that was after he'd been
chaffed for a month about the three _War Crys_.

The Pretty Girl was discussed from psychological points of view; not
forgetting the sex problem.  Donald Macdonald--shearer, union leader
and labour delegate to other colonies on occasion--Donald Macdonald
said that whenever he saw a circle of plain or ugly, dried-up women or
girls round a shepherd, evangelist or a Salvation Army drum, he'd say
"sexually starved!"  They were hungry for love.  Religious mania was
sexual passion dammed out of its course.  Therefore he held that
morbidly religious girls were the most easily seduced.

But this couldn't apply to Pretty Girl in the Army.  Mitchell reckoned
that she'd either had a great sorrow--a lot of trouble, or a
disappointment in love (the "or" is Mitchell's); but they couldn't
see how a girl like her could possibly be disappointed in love--unless
the chap died or got into jail for life.  Donald decided that her soul
had been starved somehow.

Mitchell suggested that it might be only a craving for notoriety, the
same thing that makes women and girls go amongst lepers, and out to
the battlefield, and nurse ugly pieces of men back to life again; the
same thing that makes some women and girls swear ropes round men's
necks.  The Pretty Girl might be the daughter of well-to-do
people--even aristocrats, said Mitchell--she was pretty enough and
spoke well enough.  "Every woman's a barmaid at heart," as the
_Bulletin_ puts it, said Mitchell.

But not even one of the haggard women of Bourke ever breathed a
suspicion of scandal against her.  They said she was too good and too
pretty to be where she was.  You see it was not as in an old settled
town where hags blacken God's world with their tongues.  Bourke was
just a little camping town in a big land, where free, good-hearted
democratic Australians, and the best of black sheep from the old world
were constantly passing through; where husband's were often obliged to
be away from home for twelve months, and the storekeepers had to trust
the people, and mates trusted each other, and the folks were
broad-minded.  The mind's eye had a wide range.

After her maiden speech the Pretty Girl seldom spoke, except to return
thanks for collections--and she never testified.  She had a sweet
voice and used to sing.

Now, if I were writing pure fiction, and were not cursed with an
obstinate inclination to write the truth, I might say that, after the
advent of the Pretty Girl, the morals of Bourke improved suddenly and
wonderfully.  That One-eyed Bogan left off gambling and drinking and
fighting and swearing, and put on a red coat and testified and fought
the devil only; that Mitchell dropped his mask of cynicism; that
Donald Macdonald ate no longer of the tree of knowledge and ceased to
worry himself with psychological problems, and was happy; and that Tom
Hall was no longer a scoffer.  That no one sneaked round through the
scrub after dusk to certain necessary establishments in weather-board
cottages on the outskirts of the town; and that the broad-minded and
obliging ladies thereof became Salvation Army lassies.

But none of these things happened.  Drunks quieted down or got out of
the way if they could when the Pretty Girl appeared on the scene,
fights and games of "headin' 'em" were adjourned, and weak, ordinary
language was used for the time being, and that was about all.

Nevertheless, most of the chaps were in love with that Pretty Girl in
the Army--all those who didn't _worship_ her privately.  Long Bob
Brothers hovered round in hopes, they said, that she'd meet with an
accident--get run over by a horse or something--and he'd have to carry
her in; he scared the women at the barracks by dropping firewood over
the fence after dark.  Barcoo-Rot, the meanest man in the back
country, was seen to drop a threepenny bit into the ring, and a rumour
was industriously circulated (by Tom Hall) to the effect that One-eyed
Bogan intended to shave and join the Army disguised as a lassie.

Handsome Jake Boreham (_alias_ Bore-'em), a sentimental shearer
from New Zealand, who had read Bret Harte, made an elaborate attempt
for the Pretty Girl, by pretending to be going to the dogs headlong,
with an idea of first winning her sorrowful interest and sympathy, and
then making an apparently hard struggle to straighten up for her sake.
He related his experience with the cheerful and refreshing absence of
reserve which was characteristic of him, and is of most bushmen.

"I'd had a few drinks," he said, "and was having a spell under a
gum by the river, when I saw the Pretty Girl and another Army woman
coming down along the bank.  It was a blazing hot day.  I thought of
Sandy and the Schoolmistress in Bret Harte, and I thought it would be
a good idea to stretch out in the sun and pretend to be helpless; so I
threw my hat on the ground and lay down, with my head in the blazing
heat, in the most graceful position I could get at, and I tried to put
a look of pained regret on my face, as if I was dreaming of my lost
boyhood and me mother.  I thought, perhaps, the Girl would pity me,
and I felt sure she'd stoop and pick up my hat and put it gently over
my poor troubled head.  Then I was going to become conscious for a
moment, and look hopelessly round, and into her eyes, and then start
and look sorrowful and ashamed, and stagger to my feet, taking off my
hat like the Silver King does to the audience when he makes his first
appearance drunk on the stage; and then I was going to reel off,
trying to walk as straight as I could.  And next day I was going to
clean up my teeth and nails and put on a white shirt, and start to be
a new man henceforth.

"Well, as I lay there with my eyes shut, I heard the footsteps come
up and stop, and heard 'em whisper, and I thought I heard the Pretty
Girl say `Poor fellow!' or something that sounded like that; and just
then I got a God-almighty poke in the ribs with an umbrella--at least
I suppose it was aimed for my ribs; but women are bad shots, and the
point of the umbrella caught me in the side, just between the bottom
rib and the hip-bone, and I sat up with a click, like the blade of a
pocketknife.

"The other lassie was the big square-faced woman.  The Pretty Girl
looked rather more frightened and disgusted than sentimental, but she
had plenty of pluck, and soon pulled herself together.  She said I
ought to be ashamed of myself, a great big man like me, lying there
in the dust like a drunken tramp--an eyesore and a disgrace to all the
world.  She told me to go to my camp, wherever that was, and sleep
myself sober.  The square-jawed woman said I looked like a fool
sitting there.  I did feel ashamed, and I reckon I did look like
a fool--a man generally does in a fix like that.  I felt like one,
anyway.  I got up and walked away, and it hurt me so much that I went
over to West Bourke and went to the dogs properly for a fortnight, and
lost twenty quid on a game of draughts against a blindfold player.
Now both those women had umbrellas, but I'm not sure to this day which
of 'em it was that gave me the poke.  It wouldn't have mattered much
anyway.  I haven't borrowed one of Bret Harte's books since."

Jake reflected a while.  "The worst of it was," he said ruefully,
"that I wasn't sure that the girl or the woman didn't see through me,
and that worried me a bit.  You never can tell how much a woman
suspects, and that's the worst of 'em.  I found that out after I got
married."

The Pretty Girl in the Army grew pale and thin and bigger-eyed.  The
women said it was a shame, and that she ought to be sent home to her
friends, wherever they were.  She was laid up for two or three days,
and some of the women cooked delicacies and handed 'em over the
barracks fence, and offered to come in and nurse her; but the square
woman took washing home and nursed the girl herself.

The Pretty Girl still sold _War Crys_ and took up collections,
but in a tired, listless, half shamed-faced way.  It was plain that
she was tired of the Army, and growing ashamed of the Salvationists.
Perhaps she had come to see things too plainly.

You see, the Army does no good out back in Australia--except from a
business point of view.  It is simply there to collect funds for
hungry headquarters.  The bushmen are much too intelligent for the
Army.  There was no poverty in Bourke--as it is understood in the
city; there was plenty of food; and camping out and roughing it come
natural to the bushmen.  In cases of sickness, accident, widows or
orphans, the chaps sent round the hat, without banging a drum or
testifying, and that was all right.  If a chap was hard up he borrowed
a couple of quid from his mate.  If a strange family arrived without a
penny, someone had to fix 'em up, and the storekeepers helped them
till the man got work.  For the rest, we work out our own salvation,
or damnation--as the case is--in the bush, with no one to help us,
except a mate, perhaps.  The Army can't help us, but a fellow-sinner
can, sometimes, who has been through it all himself.  The Army is only
a drag on the progress of Democracy, because it attracts many who
would otherwise be aggressive Democrats--and for other reasons.

Besides, if we all reformed the Army would get deuced little from us
for its city mission.

The Pretty Girl went to service for a while with the stock inspector's
wife, who could get nothing out of her concerning herself or her
friends.  She still slept at the barracks, stuck to the Army, and
attended its meetings.


It was Christmas morning, and there was peace in Bourke and goodwill
towards all men.  There hadn't been a fight since yesterday evening,
and that had only been a friendly one, to settle an argument
concerning the past ownership, and, at the same time, to decide as to
the future possession of a dog.

It had been a hot, close night, and it ended in a suffocating sunrise.
The free portion of the male population were in the habit of taking
their blankets and sleeping out in "the Park," or town square, in
hot weather; the wives and daughters of the town slept, or tried to
sleep, with bedroom windows and doors open, while husbands lay outside
on the verandas.  I camped in a corner of the park that night, and the
sun woke me.

As I sat up I caught sight of a swagman coming along the white, dusty
road from the direction of the bridge, where the cleared road ran
across west and on, a hundred and thirty miles, through the barren,
broiling mulga scrubs, to Hungerford, on the border of Sheol.  I knew
that swagman's walk.  It was John Merrick (Jack Moonlight), one-time
Shearers' Union secretary at Coonamble, and generally "Rep"
(shearers' representative) in any shed where he sheared.  He was a
"better-class shearer," one of those quiet, thoughtful men of whom
there are generally two or three in the roughest of rough sheds, who
have great influence, and give the shed a good name from a Union point
of view.  Not quiet with the resentful or snobbish reserve of the
educated Englishman, but with a sad or subdued sort of quietness that
has force in it--as if they fully realized that their intelligence is
much higher than the average, that they have suffered more real
trouble and heartbreak than the majority of their mates, and that
their mates couldn't possibly understand them if they spoke as they
felt and couldn't see things as they do--yet men who understand and
are intensely sympathetic in their loneliness and sensitive reserve.

I had worked in a shed with Jack Moonlight, and had met him in Sydney,
and to be mates with a bushman for a few weeks is to know him
well--anyway, I found it so.  He had taken a trip to Sydney the
Christmas before last, and when he came back there was something
wanting.  He became more silent, he drank more, and sometimes alone,
and took to smoking heavily.  He dropped his mates, took little or no
interest in Union matters, and travelled alone, and at night.

The Australian bushman is born with a mate who sticks to him through
life--like a mole.  They may be hundreds of miles apart sometimes, and
separated for years, yet they are mates for life.  A bushman may have
many mates in his roving, but there is always one his mate, "my
mate;" and it is common to hear a bushman, who is, in every way, a
true mate to the man he happens to be travelling with, speak of _his
mate's mate_--"Jack's mate"--who might be in Klondyke or South
Africa.  A bushman has always a mate to comfort him and argue with
him, and work and tramp and drink with him, and lend him quids when
he's hard up, and call him a b--- fool, and fight him sometimes; to
abuse him to his face and defend his name behind his back; to bear
false witness and perjure his soul for his sake; to lie to the girl
for him if he's single, and to his wife if he's married; to secure a
"pen" for him at a shed where he isn't on the spot, or, if the mate
is away in New Zealand or South Africa, to write and tell him if it's
any good coming over this way.  And each would take the word of the
other against all the world, and each believes that the other is the
straightest chap that ever lived-"a white man!" And next best to
your old mate is the man you're tramping, riding, working, or drinking
with.

About the first thing the cook asks you when you come along to a
shearers' hut is, "Where's your mate?"  I travelled alone for a
while one time, and it seemed to me sometimes, by the tone of the
inquiry concerning the whereabouts of my mate, that the bush had an
idea that I might have done away with him and that the thing ought to
be looked into.

When a man drops mateship altogether and takes to "hatting" in the
bush, it's a step towards a convenient tree and a couple of
saddle-straps buckled together.

I had an idea that I, in a measure, took the place of Jack Moonlight's
mate about this time.

"'Ullo, Jack!" I hailed as he reached the corner of the park.

"Good morning, Harry!" said Jack, as if he'd seen me last yesterday
evening instead of three months ago.  "How are you getting on?"

We walked together towards the Union Office, where I had a camp in the
skillion-room at the back.  Jack was silent.  But there's no place in
the world where a man's silence is respected so much (within
reasonable bounds) as in the Australian bush, where every man has a
past more or less sad, and every man a ghost--perhaps from other lands
that we know nothing of, and speaking in a foreign tongue.  They say
in the bush, "Oh, Jack's only thinking!"  And they let him think.
Generally you want to think as much as your mate; and when you've been
together some time it's quite natural to travel all day without
exchanging a word.  In the morning Jim says, "Well, I think I made a
bargain with that horse, Bill," and some time late in the afternoon,
say twenty miles farther on, it occurs to Bill to "rejoin," "Well,
I reckon the blank as sold it to you had yer proper!"

I like a good thinking mate, and I believe that thinking in company is
a lot more healthy and more comfortable, as well as less risky, than
thinking alone.

On the way to the Union Office Jack and I passed the Royal Hotel, and
caught a glimpse, through the open door, of a bedroom off the veranda,
of the landlord's fresh, fair, young Sydney girl-wife, sleeping
prettily behind the mosquito-net, like a sleeping beauty, while the
boss lay on a mattress outside on the veranda, across the open door.
(He wasn't necessary for publication, but an evidence of good faith.)

I glanced at Jack for a grin, but didn't get one.  He wore
the pained expression of a man who is suddenly hit hard with the
thought of something that might have been.

I boiled the billy and fried a pound of steak.

"Been travelling all night, .Tack?" I asked.

"Yes," said Jack.  "I camped at Emus yesterday."

He didn't eat.  I began to reckon that he was brooding too much for
his health.  He was much thinner than when I saw him last, and pretty
haggard, and he had something of the hopeless, haggard look that I'd
seen in Tom Hall's eyes after the last big shearing strike, when Tom
had worked day and night to hold his mates up all through the hard,
bitter struggle, and the battle was lost.

"Look here, Jack!" I said at last.  "What's up?"

"Nothing's up, Harry," said Jack.  "What made you think so?"

"Have you got yourself into any fix?" I asked.  "What's the
Hungerford track been doing to you?"

"No, Harry," he said, "I'm all right.  How are you?"  And he
pulled some string and papers and a roll of dusty pound notes from his
pocket and threw them on the bunk.

I was hard up just then, so I took a note and the billy to go to the
Royal and get some beer.  I thought the beer might loosen his mind a
bit.

"Better take a couple of quid," said Jack.  "You look as if you
want some new shirts and things." But a pound was enough for me, and
I think he had reason to be glad of that later on, as it turned out.

"Anything new in Bourke?" asked Jack as we drank the beer.

"No," I said, "not a thing--except there's a pretty girl in the
Salvation Army."

"And it's about time," growled Jack.

"Now, look here, Jack," I said presently, "what's come over you
lately at all?  I might be able to help you.  It's not a bit of use
telling me that there's nothing the matter.  When a man takes to
brooding and travelling alone it's a bad sign, and it will end in a
leaning tree and a bit of clothes-line as likely as not.  Tell me what
the trouble is.  Tell us all about it.  There's a ghost, isn't
there?"

"Well, I suppose so," said Jack.  "We've all got our ghosts for
that matter.  But never you mind, Harry; I'm all right.  I don't go
interfering with your ghosts, and I don't see what call you've got to
come haunting mine.  Why, it's as bad as kicking a man's dog."  And
he gave the ghost of a grin.

"Tell me, Jack," I said,  "is it a woman?"

"Yes," said Jack, "it's a woman.  Now, are you satisfied?"

"Is it a girl?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

So there was no more to be said.  I'd thought it might have been a lot
worse than a girl.  I'd thought he might have got married somewhere,
sometime, and made a mess of it.

We had dinner at Billy Woods's place, and a sensible Christmas dinner
it was--everything cold, except the vegetables, with the hose going on
the veranda in spite of the by-laws, and Billy's wife and her sister,
fresh and cool-looking and jolly, instead of being hot and brown and
cross like most Australian women who roast themselves over a blazing
fire in a hot kitchen on a broiling day, all the morning, to cook
scalding plum pudding and redhot roasts, for no other reason than that
their grandmothers used to cook hot Christmas dinners in England.

And in the afternoon we went for a row on the river, pulling easily up
the anabranch and floating down with the stream under the shade of the
river timber--instead of going to sleep and waking up helpless and
soaked in perspiration, to find the women with headaches, as many do
on Christmas Day in Australia.

Mrs Woods tried to draw Jack out, but it was no use, and in the
evening he commenced drinking, and that made Billy uneasy.  "I'm
afraid Jack's on the wrong track," he said.

After tea most of us collected about Watty's veranda.  Most things
that happened in Bourke happened at Watty's pub, or near it.

If a horse bolted with a buggy or cart, he was generally stopped
outside Watty's, which seemed to suggest, as Mitchell said, that most
of the heroes drank at Watty's--also that the pluckiest men were found
amongst the hardest drinkers.  (But sometimes the horse fetched up
against Watty's sign and lamppost--which was a stout one of
"iron-bark"--and smashed the trap.)  Then Watty's was the Carriers'
Arms, a union pub; and Australian teamsters are mostly hard cases:
while there was something in Watty's beer which made men argue
fluently, and the best fights came off in his backyard.  Watty's dogs
were the most quarrelsome in town, and there was a dog-fight there
every other evening, followed as often as not by a man-fight.  If a
bushman's horse ran away with him the chances were that he'd be thrown
on to Watty's veranda, if he wasn't pitched into the bar; and victims
of accidents, and sick, hard-up shearers, were generally carried to
Watty's pub, as being the most convenient and comfortable for them.
Mitchell denied that it was generosity or good nature on Watty's part,
he said it was all business--advertisement.  Watty knew what he was
doing.  He was very deep, was Watty.  Mitchell further hinted that if
he was sick _he_ wouldn't be carried to Watty's, for Watty knew
what a thirsty business a funeral was.  Tom Hall reckoned that Watty
bribed the Army on the quiet.

I was sitting on a stool along the veranda wall with Donald Macdonald,
Bob Brothers (the Giraffe) and Mitchell, and one or two others, and
Jack Moonlight sat on the floor with his back to the wall and his hat
well down over his eyes.  The Army came along at the usual time, but
we didn't see the Pretty Girl at first--she was a bit late.  Mitchell
said he liked to be at Watty's when the Army prayed and the Pretty
Girl was there; he had no objection to being prayed for by a girl like
that, though he reckoned that nothing short of a real angel could save
him now.  He said his old grandmother used to pray for him every night
of her life and three times on Sunday, with Christmas Day extra when
Christmas Day didn't fall on a Sunday; but Mitchell reckoned that the
old lady couldn't have had much influence because he became more
sinful every year, and went deeper in ways of darkness, until finally
he embarked on a career of crime.

The Army prayed, and then a thin "ratty" little woman bobbed up in
the ring; she'd gone mad on religion as women do on woman's rights and
hundreds of other things.  She was so skinny in the face, her jaws so
prominent, and her mouth so wide, that when she opened it to speak it
was like a ventriloquist's dummy and you could almost see the cracks
open down under her ears.

"They say I'm cracked!" she screamed in a shrill, cracked voice.
"But I'm not cracked--I'm only cracked on the Lord Jesus Christ!
That's all I'm cracked on---."  And just then the Amen man of the
Army--the Army groaner we called him, who was always putting both feet
in it--just then he blundered forward, rolled up his eyes, threw his
hands up and down as if he were bouncing two balls, and said, with
deep feeling:

"Thank the Lord she's got a crack in the right place!"

Tom Hall doubled up, and most of the other sinners seemed to think
there was something very funny about it.  And the Army, too, seemed
struck with an idea that there was something wrong somewhere, for they
started a hymn.

A big American negro, who'd been a night watchman in Sydney, stepped
into the ring and waved his arms and kept time, and as he got excited
he moved his hands up and down rapidly, as if he was hauling down a
rope in a great hurry through a pulley block above, and he kept
saying, "Come down, Lord!" all through the hymn, like a bass
accompaniment, "Come down, Lord; come down, Lord; come down, Lord;
come down, Lord!" and the quicker be said it the faster he hauled.
He was as good as a drum.  And, when the hymn was over, he started to
testify.

"My frens!" he said, "I was once black as der coals in der mined!
I was once black as der ink in der ocean of sin!  But now--thank an'
bless the Lord!--I am whiter dan der dribben snow!"

Tom Hall sat down on the edge of the veranda and leaned his head
against a post and cried.  He had contributed a bob this evening, and
he was getting his money's worth.

Then the Pretty Girl arrived and was pushed forward into the ring.
She looked thinner and whiter than I'd ever seen her, and there was a
feverish brightness in her eyes that I didn't like.

"Men!" she said, "this is Christmas Day-."  I didn't hear any more
for, at the sound of her voice, Jack Moonlight jumped up as if he'd
sat on a baby.  He started forward, stared at her for a moment as if
he couldn't believe his eyes, and then said, "Hannah!" short and
sharp.  She started as if she was shot, gave him a wild look, and
stumbled forward; the next moment he had her in his arms and was
steering for the private parlour.

I heard Mrs Bothways calling for water and smelling-salts; she was as
fat as Watty, and very much like him in the face, but she was
emotional and sympathetic.  Then presently I heard, through the open
window, the Pretty Girl say to Jack, "Oh, Jack, Jack!  Why did you go
away and leave me like that?  It was cruel!"

"But you told me to go, Hannah," said Jack.

"That-that didn't make any difference.  Why didn't you write?"
she sobbed.

"Because you never wrote to me, Hannah," he said.

"That--that was no excuse!" she said.  "It was so k-k-k-cruel of you,
Jack."

Mrs Bothways pulled down the window.  A new-comer asked Watty what the
trouble was, and he said that the Army girl had only found her chap,
or husband, or long-lost brother or something, but the missus was
looking after the business; then he dozed again.

And then we adjourned to the Royal and took the Army with us.

"That's the way of it," said Donald Macdonald.  "With a woman it's
love or religion; with a man it's love or the devil."

"Or with a man," said Mitchell, presently, "it's love and the devil
both, sometimes, Donald."

I looked at Mitchell hard, but for all his face expressed he might
only have said, "I think it's going to rain."



"LORD DOUGLAS"

    They hold him true, who's true to one,
    However false he be.
                          -The Rouseabout of Rouseabouts.


The Imperial Hotel was rather an unfortunate name for an out-back town
pub, for out back is the stronghold of Australian democracy; it was
the out-back vote and influence that brought about "One Man One
Vote," "Payment of Members," and most of the democratic legislation
of late years, and from out back came the overwhelming vote in favour
of Australian as Imperial Federation.

The name Royal Hotel is as familiar as that of the Railway Hotel, and
passes unnoticed and ungrowled at, even by bush republicans.  The
Royal Hotel at Bourke was kept by an Irishman, one O'Donohoo, who was
Union to the backbone, loudly in favour of "Australia for the
Australians," and, of course, against even the democratic New South
Wales Government of the time.  He went round town all one St Patrick's
morning with a bunch of green ribbon fastened to his coat-tail with a
large fish-hook, and wasn't aware of the fact till he sat down on the
point of it.  But that's got nothing to do with it.

The Imperial Hotel at Bourke was unpopular from the first.  It was
said that the very existence of the house was the result of a swindle.
It had been built with money borrowed on certain allotments in the
centre of the town and on the understanding that it should be built on
the mortgaged land, whereas it was erected on a free allotment.  Which
fact was discovered, greatly to its surprise, by the building society
when it came to foreclose on the allotments some years later.  While
the building was being erected the Bourke people understood, in a
vague way, that it was to be a convent (perhaps the building society
thought so, too), and when certain ornaments in brick and cement in
the shape of a bishop's mitre were placed over the corners of the
walls the question seemed decided.  But when the place was finished a
bar was fitted up, and up went the sign, to the disgust of the other
publicans, who didn't know a licence had been taken out--for licensing
didn't go by local option in those days.  It was rumoured that the
place belonged to, and the whole business was engineered by, a priest.
And priests are men of the world.

The Imperial Hotel was patronized by the pastoralists, the civil
servants, the bank manager and clerks--all the scrub aristocracy; it
was the headquarters of the Pastoralists' Union in Bourke; a barracks
for blacklegs brought up from Sydney to take the place of Union
shearers on strike; and the new Governor, on his inevitable visit to
Bourke, was banqueted at the Imperial Hotel.  The editor of the local
"capitalistic rag" stayed there; the pastoralists' member was
elected mostly by dark ways and means devised at the Imperial Hotel,
and one of its managers had stood as a dummy candidate to split the
Labour vote; the management of the hotel was his reward.  In short, it
was there that most of the plots were hatched to circumvent Freedom,
and put away or deliver into the clutches of law and order certain
sons of Light and Liberty who believed in converting blacklegs into
jellies by force of fists when bribes, gentle persuasion and pure
Australian language failed to convert them to clean Unionism.  The
Imperial Hotel was called the "Squatters' Pub," the "Scabbery,"
and other and more expressive names.

The hotel became still more unpopular after Percy Douglas.  had
managed it for a while.  He was an avowed enemy of Labour Unionists.
He employed Chinese cooks, and that in the height of the anti-Chinese
agitation in Australia, and he was known to have kindly feelings
towards the Afghans who, with their camels, were running white
carriers off the roads.  If an excited Unionist called a man a
"blackleg" or "scab" in the Imperial bar he was run out--sometimes
with great difficulty, and occasionally as far as the lock-up.

Percy Douglas was a fine-looking man, "wid a chest on him an' well
hung--a fine fee-_gure_ of a man," as O'Donohoo pronounced it.
He was tall and erect, he dressed well, wore small side-whiskers, had
an eagle nose, and looked like an aristocrat.  Like many of his type,
who start sometimes as billiard-markers and suddenly become hotel
managers in Australia, nothing was known of his past.  Jack Mitchell
reckoned, by the way he treated his employees and spoke to workmen,
that he was the educated son of an English farmer--gone wrong and sent
out to Australia.  Someone called him "Lord Douglas," and the
nickname caught on.

He made himself well hated.  He got One-eyed Bogan "three months'
hard" for taking a bottle of whisky off the Imperial bar counter
because he (Bogan) was drunk and thirsty and had knocked down his
cheque, and because there was no one minding the bar at the moment.

Lord Douglas dismissed the barmaid, and, as she was leaving, he had
her boxes searched and gave her in charge for stealing certain
articles belonging to the hotel.  The chaps subscribed to defend the
case, and subsequently put a few pounds together for the girl.  She
proved her gratitude by bringing a charge of a baby against one of the
chaps--but that was only one of the little ways of the world, as
Mitchell said.  She joined a Chinese camp later on.

Lord Douglas employed a carpenter to do some work about the hotel, and
because the carpenter left before the job was finished, Lord Douglas
locked his tools in an outhouse and refused to give them up; and when
the carpenter, with the spirit of an Australian workman, broke the
padlock and removed his tool-chest, the landlord gave him in charge
for breaking and entering.  The chaps defended the case and won it,
and hated Lord Douglas as much as if he were their elder brother.
Mitchell was the only one to put in a word for him.

"I've been puzzling it out," said Mitchell, as he sat nursing his
best leg in the Union Office, "and, as far as I can see, it all
amounts to this--we're all mistaken in Lord Douglas.  We don't know
the man.  He's all right.  We don't understand him.  He's really a
sensitive, good-hearted man who's been shoved a bit off the track by
the world.  It's the world's fault--he's not to blame.  You see, when
he was a youngster he was the most good-natured kid in the school; he
was always soft, and, consequently, he was always being imposed upon,
and bullied, and knocked about.  Whenever he got a penny to buy
lollies he'd count 'em out carefully and divide 'em round amongst his
schoolmates and brothers and sisters.  He was the only one that worked
at home, and consequently they all hated him.  His father respected
him, but didn't love him, because he wasn't a younger son, and wasn't
bringing his father's grey hairs down in sorrow to the grave.  If it
was in Australia, probably Lord Douglas was an elder son and had to do
all the hard graft, and teach himself at night, and sleep in a bark
skillion while his younger brothers benefited--they were born in the
new brick house and went to boarding-schools.  His mother had a
contempt for him because he wasn't a black sheep and a prodigal, and,
when the old man died, the rest of the family got all the stuff and
Lord Douglas was kicked out because they could do without him now.
And the family hated him like poison ever afterwards (especially his
mother), and spread lies about him--because they had treated him
shamefully and because his mouth was shut--they knew he wouldn't
speak.  Then probably he went in for Democracy and worked for Freedom,
till Freedom trod on him once too often with her hob-nailed boots.
Then the chances are, in the end, he was ruined by a girl or woman,
and driven, against his will, to take refuge in pure individualism.
He's all right, only we don't appreciate him.  He's only fighting
against his old ideals--his old self that comes up sometimes--and
that's what makes him sweat his barmaids and servants, and hate us,
and run us in; and perhaps when he cuts up extra rough it's because
his conscience kicks him when he thinks of the damned soft fool he
used to be.  He's all right--take my word for it.  It's all a mask.
Why, he might be one of the kindest-hearted men in Bourke
underneath."

Tom Hall rubbed his head and blinked, as if he was worried by an idea
that there might be some facts in Mitchell's theories.

"You're allers findin' excuses for blacklegs an' scabs, Mitchell,"
said Barcoo-Rot, who took Mitchell seriously (and who would have taken
a laughing jackass seriously).  "Why, you'd find a white spot on a
squatter.  I wouldn't be surprised if you blacklegged yourself in the
end."

This was an unpardonable insult, from a Union point of view, and the
chaps half-unconsciously made room on the floor for Barcoo-Rot to fall
after Jack Mitchell hit him.  But Mitchell took the insult
philosophically.

"Well, Barcoo-Rot," he said, nursing the other leg, "for the matter
of that, I did find a white spot on a squatter once.  He lent me a
quid when I was hard up.  There's white spots on the blackest
characters if you only drop prejudice and look close enough.  I
suppose even Jack-the-Ripper's character was speckled.  Why, I can
even see spots on your character, sometimes, Barcoo-Rot.  I've known
white spots to spread on chaps' characters until they were little
short of saints.  Sometimes I even fancy I can feel my own wings
sprouting.  And as for turning blackleg--well, I suppose I've got a
bit of the crawler in my composition (most of us have), and a man
never knows what might happen to his principles."

"Well," said Barcoo-Rot, "I beg yer pardon--ain't that enough?"

"No," said Mitchell, "you ought to wear a three-bushel bag and
ashes for three months, and drink water; but since the police would
send you to an asylum if you did that, I think the best thing we can
do is to go out and have a drink."


Lord Douglas married an Australian girl somewhere, somehow, and
brought her to Bourke, and there were two little girls--regular little
fairies.  She was a gentle, kind-hearted little woman, but she didn't
seem to improve him much, save that he was very good to her.

"It's mostly that way," commented Mitchell.  "When a boss gets
married and has children he thinks he's got a greater right to grind
his fellowmen and rob their wives and children.  I'd never work for a
boss with a big family--it's hard enough to keep a single boss
nowadays in this country."

After one stormy election, at the end of a long and bitter shearing
strike, One-eyed Bogan, his trusty enemy, Barcoo-Rot, and one or two
other enthusiastic reformers were charged with rioting, and got from
one to three months' hard.  And they had only smashed three windows of
the Imperial Hotel and chased the Chinese cook into the river.

"I used to have some hopes for Democracy," commented Mitchell, "but
I've got none now.  How can you expect Liberty, Equality or
Fraternity--how can you expect Freedom and Universal Brotherhood and
Equal Rights in a country where Sons of Light get three months' hard
for breaking windows and bashing a Chinaman?  It almost makes me long
to sail away in a gallant barque."

There were other cases in connection with the rotten-egging of
Capitalistic candidates on the Imperial Hotel balcony, and it was
partly on the evidence of Douglas and his friends that certain
respectable Labour leaders got heavy terms of imprisonment for rioting
and "sedition" and "inciting," in connection with organized
attacks on blacklegs and their escorts.

Retribution, if it was retribution, came suddenly and in a most
unexpected manner to Lord Douglas.

It seems he employed a second carpenter for six months to repair and
make certain additions to the hotel, and put him off under various
pretences until he owed him a hundred pounds or thereabout.  At last,
immediately after an exciting interview with Lord Douglas, the
carpenter died suddenly of heart disease.  The widow, a strong-minded
bushwoman, put a bailiff in the hotel on a very short notice--and
against the advice of her lawyer, who thought the case hopeless--and
the Lord Douglas bubble promptly burst.  He had somehow come to be
regarded as the proprietor of the hotel, but now the real proprietors
or proprietor--he was still said to be a priest--turned Douglas out
and put in a new manager.  The old servants were paid after some
trouble.  The local storekeepers and one or two firms in Sydney, who
had large accounts against the Imperial Hotel (and had trusted it,
mainly because it was patronized by Capitalism and Fat), were never
paid.

Lord Douglas cleared out to Sydney, leaving his wife and children, for
the present, with her brother, a hay-and-corn storekeeper, who also
had a large and hopeless account against the hotel; and when the
brother went broke and left the district she rented a two-roomed
cottage and took in dressmaking.

Dressmaking didn't pay so well in the bush then as it did in the old
diggings days when sewing-machines were scarce and the possession of
one meant an independent living to any girl--when diggers paid ten
shillings for a strip of "flannen" doubled over and sewn together,
with holes for arms and head, and called a shirt.  Mrs Douglas had a
hard time, with her two little girls, who were still better and more
prettily dressed than any other children in Bourke.  One grocer
still called on her for orders and pretended to be satisfied to wait
"till Mr Douglas came back," and when she would no longer order what
he considered sufficient provisions for her and the children, and
commenced buying sugar, etc., by the pound, for cash, he one day
sent a box of groceries round to her.  He pretended it was a mistake.

"However," he said, "I'd be very much obliged if you could use 'em,
Mrs Douglas.  I'm overstocked now; haven't got room for another tin of
sardines in the shop.  Don't you worry about bills, Mrs Douglas; I can
wait till Douglas comes home.  I did well enough out of the Imperial
Hotel when your husband had it, and a pound's worth of groceries won't
hurt me now.  I'm only too glad to get rid of some of the stock."

She cried a little, thought of the children, and kept the groceries.

"I suppose I'll be sold up soon meself if things don't git
brighter," said that grocer to a friend, "so it doesn't matter
much."

The same with Foley the butcher, who had a brogue with a sort of
drawling groan in it, and was a cynic of the Mitchell school.

"You see," he said, "she's as proud as the devil, but when I send
round a bit o' rawst, or porrk, or the undercut o' the blade-bawn, she
thinks o' the little gur-r-rls before she thinks o' sendin' it back to
me.  That's where I've got the pull on her."

The Giraffe borrowed a horse and tip-dray one day at the beginning of
winter and cut a load of firewood in the bush, and next morning, at
daylight, Mrs Douglas was nearly startled out of her life by a crash
at the end of the cottage, which made her think that the chimney had
fallen in, or a tree fallen on the house; and when she slipped on a
wrapper and looked out, she saw a load of short-cut wood by the
chimney, and caught a glimpse of the back view of the Giraffe, who
stood in the dray with his legs wide apart and was disappearing into
the edge of the scrub; and soon the rapid clock-clock-clock of the
wheels died away in the west, as if he were making for West Australia.

The next we heard of Lord Douglas he had got two years' hard for
embezzlement in connection with some canvassing he had taken up.  Mrs
Douglas fell ill--a touch of brain-fever--and one of the labourers'
wives took care of the children while two others took turns in
nursing.  While she was recovering, Bob Brothers sent round the hat,
and, after a conclave in the Union Office--as mysterious as any
meeting ever called with the object of downing bloated Capitalism--it
was discovered that one of the chaps--who didn't wish his name to be
mentioned--had borrowed just twenty-five pounds from Lord Douglas in
the old days and now wished to return it to Mrs Douglas.  So the thing
was managed, and if she had any suspicions she kept them to herself.
She started a little fancy goods shop and got along fairly
comfortable.

Douglas, by the way, was, publicly, supposed, for her sake and because
of the little girls, to be away in West Australia on the goldfields.


Time passes without much notice out back, and one hot day, when the
sun hung behind the fierce sandstorms from the northwest as dully
lurid as he ever showed in a London fog, Lord Douglas got out of the
train that had just finished its five-hundred-miles' run, and not
seeing a new-chum porter, who started forward by force of habit to
take his bag, he walked stiffly off the platform and down the main
street towards his wife's cottage.

He was very gaunt, and his eyes, to those who passed him closely,
seemed to have a furtive, hunted expression.  He had let his beard
grow, and it had grown grey.

It was within a few days of Christmas--the same Christmas that we lost
the Pretty Girl in the Salvation Army.  As a rule the big
shearing-sheds within a fortnight of Bourke cut out in time for the
shearers to reach the town and have their Christmas dinners and
sprees--and for some of them to be locked up over Christmas
Day--within sound of a church-going bell.  Most of the chaps gathered
in the Shearers' Union Office on New Year's Eve and discussed Douglas
amongst other things.

"I vote we kick the cow out of the town!" snarled One-eyed Bogan,
viciously.

"We can't do that," said Bob Brothers (the Giraffe), speaking more
promptly than usual.  "There's his wife and youngsters to consider,
yer know."

"He something well deserted his wife," snarled Began, "an' now he
comes crawlin' back to her to keep him."

"Well," said Mitchell, mildly, "but we ain't all got as much
against him as you have, Began."

"He made a crimson jail-bird of me!" snapped Bogan.  "Well," said
Mitchell, "that didn't hurt you much, anyway; it rather improved your
character if anything.  Besides, he made a jail-bird of himself
afterwards, so you ought to have a fellow-feeling--a feathered
feeling, so to speak.  Now you needn't be offended, Bogan, we're all
jail-birds at heart, only we haven't all got the pluck."

"I'm in favour of blanky well tarrin' an' featherin' him an' kickin'
him out of the town!" shouted Bogan.  "It would be a good turn to
his wife, too; she'd be well rid of the---."

"Perhaps she's fond of him," suggested Mitchell; "I've known such
cases before.  I saw them sitting together on the veranda last night
when they thought no one was looking."

"He deserted her," said One-eyed Bogan, in a climbing-down tone,
"and left her to starve."

"Perhaps the police were to blame for that," said Mitchell.  "You
know you deserted all your old mates once for three months, Bogan, and
it wasn't your fault."

"He seems to be a crimson pet of yours, Jack Mitchell," said Bogan,
firing up.

"Ah, well, all I know," said Mitchell, standing up and stretching
himself wearily, "all I know is that he looked like a gentleman once,
and treated us like a gentleman, and cheated us like a gentleman, and
ran some of us in like a gentleman, and, as far as I can see, he's
served his time like a gentleman and come back to face us and live
himself down like a man.  I always had a sneaking regard for a
gentleman."

"Why, Mitchell, I'm beginning to think you are a gentleman
yourself," said Jake Boreham.

"Well," said Mitchell, "I used to have a suspicion once that I had
a drop of blue blood in me somewhere, and it worried me a lot; but I
asked my old mother about it one day, and she scalded me--God bless
her!--and father chased me with a stockwhip, so I gave up making
inquiries."

"You'll join the bloomin' Capitalists next," sneered One-eyed Bogan.

"I wish I could, Bogan," said Mitchell.  "I'd take a trip to Paris
and see for myself whether the Frenchwomen are as bad as they're made
out to be, or go to Japan.  But what are we going to do about
Douglas?"

"Kick the skunk out of town, or boycott him!" said one or two.  "He
ought to be tarred and feathered and hanged."

"Couldn't do worse than hang him," commented Jake Boreham, cheerfully.

"Oh, yes, we could," said Mitchell, sitting down, resting his elbows
on his knees, and marking his points with one forefinger on the other.
"For instance, we might boil him slow in tar.  We might skin him
alive.  We might put him in a cage and poke him with sticks, with his
wife and children in another cage to look on and enjoy the fun."

The chaps, who had been sitting quietly listening to Mitchell, and
grinning, suddenly became serious and shifted their positions
uneasily.

"But I can tell you what would hurt his feelings more than anything
else we could do," said Mitchell.

"Well, what is it, Jack?" said Tom Hall, rather impatiently.

"Send round the hat and take up a collection for him," said
Mitchell, "enough to let him get away with his wife and children and
start life again in some less respectable town than Bourke.  You
needn't grin, I'm serious about it."

There was a thoughtful pause, and one or two scratched their heads.
"His wife seems pretty sick," Mitchell went on in a reflective tone.
"I passed the place this morning and saw him scrubbing out the floor.
He's been doing a bit of house-painting for old Heegard to-day.  I
suppose he learnt it in jail.  I saw him at work and touched my hat to
him."

"What!" cried Tom Hall, affecting to shrink from Mitchell in horror.

"Yes," said Mitchell, "I'm not sure that I didn't take my hat off.
Now I know it's not bush religion for a man to touch his hat, except
to a funeral, or a strange roof or woman sometimes; but when I meet a
braver man than myself I salute him.  I've only met two in my life."

"And who were they, Jack?" asked Jake Boreham.

"One," said Mitchell--"one is Douglas, and the other--well, the
other was the man I used to be.  But that's got nothing to do with
it."

"But perhaps Douglas thought you were crowing over him when you took
off your hat to him--sneerin' at him, like, Mitchell," reflected Jake
Boreham.

"No, Jake," said Mitchell, growing serious suddenly.  "There are ways
of doing things that another man understands."

They all thought for a while.

"Well," said Tom Hall, "supposing we do take up a collection for
him, he'd be too damned proud to take it."

"But that's where we've got the pull on him," said Mitchell,
brightening up.  "I heard Dr Morgan say that Mrs Douglas wouldn't
live if she wasn't sent away to a cooler place, and Douglas knows it;
and, besides, one of the little girls is sick.  We've got him in a
corner and he'll have to take the stuff.  Besides, two years in jail
takes a lot of the pride out of a man."

"Well, I'm damned if I'll give a sprat to help the man who tried
his best to crush the Unions!" said One-eyed Bogan.

"Damned if I will either!" said Barcoo-Rot.

"Now, look here, One-eyed Bogan," said Mitchell, "I don't like to
harp on old things, for I know they bore you, but when you returned to
public life that time no one talked of kicking you out of the town.
In fact, I heard that the chaps put a few pounds together to help you
get away for a while till you got over your modesty."

No one spoke.

"I passed Douglas's place on my way here from my camp to-night,"
Mitchell went on musingly, "and I saw him walking up and down in the
yard with his sick child in his arms.  You remember that little girl,
Bogan?  I saw her run and pick up your hat and give it to you one day
when you were trying to put it on with your feet.  You remember,
Bogan?  The shock nearly sobered you."

There was a very awkward pause.  The position had become too
psychological altogether and had to be ended somehow.  The awkward
silence had to be broken, and Bogan broke it.  He turned up Bob
Brothers's hat, which was lying on the table, and "chucked" in a
"quid," qualifying the hat and the quid, and disguising his feelings
with the national oath of the land.

"We've had enough of this gory, maudlin, sentimental tommy-rot," he
said.  "Here, Barcoo, stump up or I'll belt it out of your hide!
I'll--I'll take yer to pieces!"

But Douglas didn't leave the town.  He sent his wife and children to
Sydney until the heat wave was past, built a new room on to the
cottage, and started a book and newspaper shop, and a poultry farm in
the back paddock, and flourished.

They called him Mr Douglas for a while, then Douglas, then Percy
Douglas, and now he is well-known as Old Daddy Douglas, and the Sydney
_Worker_, _Truth_, and _Bulletin_, and other democratic
rags are on sale at his shop.  He is big with schemes for locking the
Darling River, and he gets his drink at O'Donohoo's.  He is scarcely
yet regarded as a straight-out democrat.  He was a gentleman once,
Mitchell said, and the old blood was not to be trusted.  But, last
elections, Douglas worked quietly for Unionism, and gave the leaders
certain hints, and put them up to various electioneering dodges which
enabled them to return, in the face of Monopoly, a Labour member who
is as likely to go straight as long as any other Labour member.



THE BLINDNESS OF ONE-EYED BOGAN

    They judge not and they are not judged--'tis their philosophy--
    (There's something wrong with every ship that sails upon the sea).
                                     -The Ballad of the Rouseabout.

"And what became of One-eyed Bogan?" I asked Tom Hall when I met him
and Jack Mitchell down in Sydney with their shearing cheques the
Christmas before last.

"You'd better ask Mitchell, Harry," said Tom.  "He can tell you
about Bogan better than I can.  But first, what about the drink we're
going to have?"

We turned out of Pitt Street into Hunter Street, and across George
Street, where a double line of fast electric tramway was running, into
Margaret Street and had a drink at Pfahlert's Hotel, where a counter
lunch--as good as many dinners you get for a shilling--was included
with a sixpenny drink.  "Get a quiet corner," said Mitchell, "I
like to bear myself cackle."  So we took our beer out in the fernery
and got a cool place at a little table in a quiet corner amongst the
fern boxes.

"Well, One-eyed Bogan was a hard case, Mitchell," I said.  "Wasn't
he?"

"Yes," said Mitchell, putting down his "long-beer" glass, "he
was."

"Rather a bad egg?"

"Yes, a regular bad egg," said Mitchell, decidedly.

"I heard he got caught cheating at cards," I said.

"Did you?" said Mitchell.  "Well, I believe he did.  Ah, well," he
added reflectively, after another long pull, "One-eyed Bogan won't
cheat at cards any more."

"Why?" I said.  "Is he dead then?"

"No," said Mitchell, "he's blind."

"Good God!" I said, "how did that happen?"

"He lost the other eye," said Mitchell, and he took another drink.
"Ah, well, he won't cheat at cards any more--unless there's cards
invented for the blind."

"How did it happen?" I asked.

"Well," said Mitchell, "you see, Harry, it was this way.  Bogan
went pretty free in Bourke after the shearing before last, and in the
end he got mixed up in a very ugly-looking business: he was accused of
doing two new-chum jackaroos out of their stuff by some sort of
confidence trick."

"Confidence trick," I said.  "I'd never have thought that One-eyed
Bogan had the brains to go in for that sort of thing."

"Well, it seems he had, or else he used somebody else's brains;
there's plenty of broken-down English gentlemen sharpers knocking
about out back, you know, and Bogan might have been taking lessons
from one.  I don't know the rights of the case, it was hushed up, as
you'll see presently; but, anyway, the jackaroos swore that Bogan had
done 'em out of ten quid.  They were both Cockneys and I suppose they
reckoned themselves smart, but bushmen have more time to think.
Besides, Bogan's one eye was in his favour.  You see he always kept
his one eye fixed strictly on whatever business he had in hand; if
he'd had another eye to rove round and distract his attention and look
at things on the outside, the chances are he would never have got into
trouble."

"Never mind that, Jack," said Tom Hall.  "Harry wants to hear the
yarn."

"Well, to make it short, one of the jackaroos went to the police and
Bogan cleared out.  His character was pretty bad just then, so there
was a piece of blue paper out for him.  Bogan didn't seem to think the
thing was so serious as it was, for he only went a few miles down the
river and camped with his horses on a sort of island inside an
anabranch, till the thing should blow over or the new chums leave
Bourke.

"Bogan's old enemy, Constable Campbell, got wind of Bogan's camp, and
started out after him.  He rode round the outside track and came in on
to the river just below where the anabranch joins it, at the lower end
of the island and right opposite Bogan's camp.  You know what those
billabongs are: dry gullies till the river rises from the Queensland
rains and backs them up till the water runs round into the river again
and makes anabranches of 'em--places that you thought were hollows
you'll find above water, and you can row over places you thought were
hills.  There's no water so treacherous and deceitful as you'll find
in some of those billabongs.  A man starts to ride across a place
where he thinks the water is just over the grass, and blunders into a
deep channel--that wasn't there before--with a steady undercurrent
with the whole weight of the Darling River funnelled into it; and if
he can't swim and his horse isn't used to it--or sometimes if he can
swim--it's a case with him, and the Darling River cod hold an inquest
on him, if they have time, before he's buried deep in Darling River
mud for ever.  And somebody advertises in the missing column for Jack
Somebody who was last heard of in Australia."

"Never mind that, Mitchell, go on," I said.

"Well, Campbell knew the river and saw that there was a stiff current
there, so he hailed Bogan.

"'Good day, Campbell,' shouted Bogan.

"`I want you, Bogan,' said Campbell.  `Come across and bring your
horses.'

"`I'm damned if I will,' says Bogan.  `I'm not going to catch me
death o' cold to save your skin.  If you want me you'll have to bloody
well come and git me.'  Bogan was a good strong swimmer, and he had
good horses, but he didn't try to get away--I suppose he reckoned he'd
have to face the music one time or another--and one time is as good as
another out back.

"Campbell was no swimmer; he had no temptation to risk his life--you
see it wasn't as in war with a lot of comrades watching ready to
advertise a man as a coward for staying alive--so he argued with Bogan
and tried to get him to listen to reason, and swore at him.  `I'll
make it damned hot for you, Bogan,' he said, `if I have to come over
for you.'

"`Two can play at that game,' says Bogan.

"`Look here, Bogan," said Campbell, `I'll tell you what I'll do.
If you give me your word that you'll come up to the police station
to-morrow I'll go back and say nothing about it.  You can say you
didn't know a warrant was out after you.  It will be all the better
for you in the end.  Better give me your word, man.'

"Perhaps Campbell knew Bogan better than any of us.

"`Now then, Bogan,' he said, `don't be a fool.  Give your word like
a sensible man, and I'll go back.  I'll give you five minutes to make
up your mind.' And he took out his watch.

"But Bogan was nasty and wouldn't give his word, so there was
nothing for it but for Campbell to make a try for him.

"Campbell had plenty of pluck, or obstinacy, which amounts to the
same thing.  He put his carbine and revolver under a log, out of the
rain that was coming on, saw to his handcuffs, and then spurred his
horse into the water.  Bogan lit his pipe with a stick from his
camp-fire--so Campbell said afterwards--and sat down on his heels and
puffed away, and waited for him.

"Just as Campbell's horse floundered into the current Bogan shouted
to go back, but Campbell thought it was a threat and kept on.  But
Bogan had caught sight of a log coming down the stream, end on, with a
sharp, splintered end, and before Campbell knew where he was, the
sharp end of the log caught the horse in the flank.  The horse started
to plunge and struggle sideways, with all his legs, and Campbell got
free of him as quick as he could.  Now, you know, in some of those
Darling River reaches the current will seem to run steadily far a
while, and then come with a rush.  (I was caught in one of those
rushes once, when I was in swimming, and would have been drowned if I
hadn't been born to be hanged.)  Well, a rush came along just as
Campbell got free from his horse, and he went down-stream one side of
a snag and his horse the other.  Campbell's pretty stout, you know,
and his uniform was tight, and it handicapped him.

"Just as he was being washed past the lower end of the snag he caught
hold of a branch that stuck out of the water and held on.  He swung
round and saw Bogan running down to the point opposite him.  Now, you
know there was always a lot of low cunning about Bogan, and I suppose
he reckoned that if he pulled Campbell out he'd stand a good show of
getting clear of his trouble; anyway, if he didn't save Campbell it
might be said that he killed him--besides, Bogan was a good swimmer,
so there wasn't any heroism about it anyhow.  Campbell was only a few
feet from the bank, but Bogan started to strip--to make the job look
as big as possible, I suppose.  He shouted to Campbell to say he was
coming, and to hold on.  Campbell said afterwards that Bogan seemed an
hour undressing.  The weight of the current was forcing down the bough
that Campbell was hanging on to, and suddenly, he said, he felt a
great feeling of helplessness take him by the shoulders.  He yelled to
Bogan and let go.

"Now, it happened that Jake Boreham and I were passing away the time
between shearings, and we were having a sort of fishing and shooting
loaf down the river in a boat arrangement that Jake had made out of
boards and tarred canvas.  We called her the _Jolly Coffin_.  We
were just poking up the bank in the slack water, a few hundred yards
below the billabong, when Jake said, `Why, there's a horse or
something in the river.'  Then he shouted, `No, by God, it's a man,'
and we poked the _Coffin_ out into the stream for all she was
worth.  `Looks like two men fighting in the water,' Jake shouts
presently.  `Hurry up, or they'll drown each other.'

"We hailed 'em, and Bogan shouted for help.  He was treading water
and holding Campbell up in front of him now in real professional
style.  As soon as he heard us he threw up his arms and splashed a
bit--I reckoned he was trying to put as much style as he could into
that rescue.  But I caught a crab, and, before we could get to them,
they were washed past into the top of a tree that stood well below
flood-mark.  I pulled the boat's head round and let her stern down
between the branches.  Bogan had one arm over a limb and was holding
Campbell with the other, and trying to lift him higher out of the
water.  I noticed Bogan's face was bleeding--there was a dead limb
stuck in the tree with nasty sharp points on it, and I reckoned he'd
run his face against one of them.  Campbell was gasping like a codfish
out of water, and he was the whitest man I ever saw (except one, and
_he'd_ been drowned for a week).  Campbell had the sense to keep
still.  We asked Bogan if he could hold on, and he said he could, but
he couldn't hold Campbell any longer.  So Jake took the oars and I
leaned over the stern and caught hold of Campbell, and Jake ran the
boat into the bank, and we got him ashore; then we went back for Bogan
and landed him.

"We had some whisky and soon brought Campbell round; but Bogan was
bleeding like a pig from a nasty cut over his good eye, so we bound
wet handkerchiefs round his eyes and led him to a log and he sat down
for a while, holding his hand to his eye and groaning.  He kept
saying, `I'm blind, mates, I'm blind!  I've lost me other eye!' but we
didn't dream it was so bad as that: we kept giving him whisky.  We got
some dry boughs and made a big fire.  Then Bogan stood up and held his
arms stiff down to his sides, opening and shutting his hands as if he
was in great pain.  And I've often thought since what a different man
Bogan seemed without his clothes and with the broken bridge of his
nose and his eyes covered by the handkerchiefs.  He was clean shaven,
and his mouth and chin are his best features, and he's clean limbed
and well hung.  I often thought afterwards that there was something of
a blind god about him as he stood there naked by the fire on the day
he saved Campbell's life--something that reminded me of a statue I saw
once in the Art Gallery.  (Pity the world isn't blinder to a man's
worst points.)

"Presently Jake listened and said, `By God, that's lucky!' and we
heard a steamer coming up-river and presently we saw her coming round
the point with a couple of wool-barges in tow.  We got Bogan aboard
and got some clothes on him, and took him ashore at Bourke to the new
hospital.  The doctors did all they knew, but Bogan was blind for
life.  He never saw anything again--except `a sort of dull white
blur,' as he called it--or his past life sometimes, I suppose.
Perhaps he saw that for the first time.  Ah, well!

"Bogan's old enemy, Barcoo-Rot, went to see him in the hospital, and
Bogan said, `Well, Barcoo, I reckon we've had our last fight.  I owe
you a hiding, but I don't see how I'm going to pay you.'  `Never mind
that, Bogan, old man,' says Barcoo.  `I'll take it from anyone yer
likes to appoint, if that worries yer; and, look here, Bogan, if I
can't fight you I can fight for you--and don't you forget it!'  And
Barcoo used to lead Bogan round about town in his spare time and tell
him all that was going on; and I believe he always had an ear cocked
in case someone said a word against Bogan--as if any of the chaps
would say a word against a blind man.

"Bogan's case was hushed up.  The police told us to fix it up the
best way we could.  One of the jackaroos, who reckoned that Bogan had
swindled him, was a gentleman, and he was the first to throw a quid in
the Giraffe's hat when it went round for Bogan, but the other jackaroo
was a cur: he said he wanted the money that Bogan had robbed him of.
There were two witnesses, but we sent 'em away, and Tom Hall, there,
scared the jackaroo.  You know Tom was always the best hand we had at
persuading witnesses in Union cases to go home to see their mothers."

"How did you scare that jackaroo, Tom?"  I asked.

"Tell you about it some other time," said Tom.

"Well," said Mitchell, "Bogan was always a good woolsorter, so,
next shearing, old Baldy Thompson--(you know Baldy Thompson, Harry, of
West-o'-Sunday Station)--Baldy had a talk with some of the chaps, and
took Bogan out in his buggy with him to West-o'-Sunday.  Bogan would
sit at the end of the rolling tables, in the shearing-shed, with a boy
to hand him the fleeces, and he'd feel a fleece and tell the boy what
bin to throw it into; and by and by he began to learn to throw the
fleeces into the bins himself.  And sometimes Baldy would have a sheep
brought to him and get him to feel the fleece and tell him the quality
of it.  And then again Baldy would talk, just loud enough for Bogan to
overhear, and swear that he'd sooner have Bogan, blind as he was, than
half a dozen scientific jackaroo experts with all their eyes about
them.

"Of course Bogan wasn't worth anything much to Baldy, but Baldy gave
him two pounds a week out of his own pocket, and another quid that we
made up between us; so he made enough to pull him through the rest of
the year.

"It was curious to see how soon he learned to find his way about the
hut and manage his tea and tucker.  It was a rough shed, but everybody
was eager to steer Bogan about--and, in fact, two of them had a fight
about it one day.  Baldy and all of us---and especially visitors when
they came--were mighty interested in Bogan; and I reckon we were
rather proud of having a blind wool-sorter.  I reckon Bogan had thirty
or forty pairs of eyes watching out for him in case he'd run against
something or fall.  It irritated him to be messed round too much--he
said a baby would never learn to walk if it was held all the time.  He
reckoned he'd learn more in a year than a man who'd served a lifetime
to blindness; but we didn't let him wander much--for fear he'd fall
into the big rocky waterhole there, by accident.

"And after the shearing-season Bogan's wife turned up in Bourke---"

"Bogan's wife!" I exclaimed.  "Why, I never knew Bogan was
married."

"Neither did anyone else," said Mitchell.  "But he was.  Perhaps
that was what accounted for Bogan.  Sometimes, in his sober moods, I
used to have an idea that there must have been something behind the
Bogan to account for him.  Perhaps he got trapped--or got married and
found out that he'd made a mistake--which is about the worst thing a
man can find out---"

"Except that his wife made the mistake, Mitchell," said Tom Hall.

"Or that both did," reflected Mitchell.  "Ah, well!--never
mind--Bogan had been married two or three years.  Maybe he got married
when he was on the spree--I knew that he used to send money to someone
in Sydney and I suppose it was her.  Anyway, she turned up after he
was blind.  She was a hard-looking woman--just the sort that might
have kept a third-rate pub or a sly-grog shop.  But you can't judge
between husband and wife, unless you've lived in the same house with
them--and under the same roofs with their parents right back to Adam
for that matter.  Anyway, she stuck to Bogan all right; she took a
little two-roomed cottage and made him comfortable--she's got a
sewing-machine and a mangle and takes in washing and sewing.  She
brought a carrotty-headed youngster with her, and the first time I saw
Bogan sitting on the veranda with that youngster on his knee I thought
it was a good thing that he was blind."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because the youngster isn't his," said Mitchell.

"How do you know that?"

"By the look of it--and by the look on her face, once, when she
caught me squinting from the kid's face to Bogan's."

"And whose was it?" I asked, without thinking.

"How am I to know?" said Mitchell.  "It might be yours for all I
know--it's ugly enough, and you never had any taste in women.  But you
mustn't speak of that in Bourke.  But there's another youngster
coming, and I'll swear that'll be Bogan's all right.

"A curious thing about Bogan is that he's begun to be fidgety about
his personal appearance--and you know he wasn't a dood.  He wears a
collar now, and polishes his boots; he wears elastic-sides, and
polishes 'em himself--the only thing is that he blackens over the
elastic.  He can do many things for himself, and he's proud of it.  He
says he can see many things that he couldn't see when he had his eyes.
You seldom hear him swear, save in a friendly way; he seems much
gentler, but he reckons he would stand a show with Barcoo-Rot even
now, if Barcoo would stand up in front of him and keep yelling---"

"By the way," I asked, "how did Bogan lose the sight of his other
eye?"

"Sleeping out in the rain when he was drunk," said Mitchell.  "He
got a cold in his eye."  Then he asked, suddenly:

"Did you ever see a blind man cry?"

"No," I said.

"Well, I have," said Mitchell.

"You know Bogan wears goggles to hide his eyes--his wife made him do
that.  The chaps often used to drop round and have a yarn with Bogan
and cheer him up, and one evening I was sitting smoking with him, and
yarning about old times, when he got very quiet all of a sudden, and I
saw a tear drop from under one of his shutters and roll down his
cheek.  It wasn't the eye he lost saving Campbell--it was the old
wall-eye he used to use in the days before he was called 'One-eyed
Bogan.'  I suppose he thought it was dark and that I couldn't see his
face.  (There's a good many people in this world who think you can't
see because they can't.)  It made me feel like I used to feel
sometimes in the days when I felt things---"

"Come on, Mitchell," said Tom Hall, "you've had enough beer."

"I think I have," said Mitchell.  "Besides, I promised to send a
wire to Jake Boreham to tell him that his mother's dead.  Jake's
shearing at West-o'-Sunday; shearing won't be over for three or four
weeks, and Jake wants an excuse to get away without offending old
Baldy and come down and have a fly round with us before the holidays
are over."

Down at the telegraph-office Mitchell took a form and filled it in
very carefully: "Jacob Boreham.  West-o'-Sunday Station.  Bourke.
Come home at once.  Mother is dead.  In terrible trouble.  Father
dying.--MARY BOREHAM."

"I think that will do," said Mitchell.  "It ought to satisfy Baldy,
and it won't give Jake too much of a shock, because he hasn't got a
sister or sister-in-law, and his father and mother's been dead over
ten years."

"Now, if I was running a theatre," said Mitchell, as we left the
office, "I'd give five pounds a night for the face Jake'll have on
him when he takes that telegram to Baldy Thompson."




TWO SUNDOWNERS


Sheep stations in Australia are any distance from twenty to a hundred
miles apart, to keep well within the boundaries of truth and the great
pastoral country.  Shearing at any one shed only lasts a few weeks in
the year; the number of men employed is according to the size of the
shed--from three to five men in the little bough-covered shed of the
small "cockatoo," up to a hundred and fifty or two hundred hands all
told in the big corrugated iron machine shed of a pastoral company.

Shearing starts early up in northern Queensland, where you can get a
"January shed;" and further south, in February, March or April
sheds, and so on down into New South Wales, where shearing often lasts
over Christmas.  Shearers travel from shed to shed; some go a travel
season without getting a pen, and an unlucky shearer might ride or
tramp for several seasons and never get hands in wool; and all this
explains the existence of the "footman" with his swag and the horse
man with his packhorse.  They have a rough life, and the Australian
shearers are certainly the most democratic and perhaps the most
independent, intelligent and generous body of workmen in the world.

Shearers at a shed elect their own cook, pay him so much a head, and
they buy their rations in the lump from the station store; and
"travellers," i.e. shearers and rouseabouts travelling for work, are
invited, as a matter of course, to sit down to the shearers' table.
Also a certain allowance of tea, sugar, flour or meat is still made to
travellers at most Western station stores; so it would be rather
surprising if there weren't some who, travelled on the game.  The
swagman loafer, or "bummer," times himself, especially in bad
weather, to arrive at the shed just about sundown; he is then sure of
"tea," shelter for the night, breakfast, and some tucker from the
cook to take him on along the track.  Brummy and Swampy were
sundowners.

Swampy was a bummer born--and proud of it.  Brummy had drifted down to
loaferdom, and his nature was soured and his spirit revengeful against
the world because of the memory of early years wasted at hard work and
in being honest.  Both were short and stout, and both had scrubby
beards, but Brummy's beard was a dusty black and Swampy's fiery
red--he indulged in a monkey-shave sometimes, but his lower face was
mostly like a patch of coarse stubble with a dying hedge round it.
They had travelled together for a long time.  They seemed at times to
hate each other with a murderous hatred, but they were too lazy to
fight.  Sometimes they'd tramp side, by side and growl at each other
by the hour, other times they'd sulk for days; one would push on ahead
and the other drop behind until there was a mile or two between them;
but one always carried the billy, or the sugar, or something that was
necessary to the comfort of the other, so they'd come together at
sundown.  They had travelled together a long time, and perhaps that
was why they hated each other.  They often agreed to part and take
different tracks, and sometimes they parted--for a while.  They agreed
in cadging, and cadged in turn.  They carried a spare set of
tucker-bags, and if, for instance, they were out of sugar and had
plenty flour and tea, Brummy or Swampy would go to the store,
boundary-rider's hut, or selector's, with the sugar-bag in his hand
and the other bags in his shirt front on spec.  He'd get the sugar
first, and then, if it looked good enough, the flour-bag would come
out, then the tea-bag.  And before he left he'd remark casually that
he and his mate hadn't had a smoke for two days.  They never missed a
chance.  And when they'd cadged more tucker than they could
comfortably carry, they'd camp for a day or two and eat it down.
Sometimes they'd have as much as a pound of tobacco, all in little
"borrowed" bits, cut from the sticks or cakes of honest travellers.
They never missed a chance.  If a stranger gave Swampy his cake of
tobacco with instructions to "cut off a pipeful," Swampy would cut
off as much as he thought judicious, talking to the stranger and
watching his eye all the time, and hiding his palm as much as
possible--and sometimes, when he knew he'd cut off more than he could
cram into his pipe, he'd put his hand in his pocket for the pipe and
drop some of the tobacco there.  Then he'd hand the plug to his mate,
engage the stranger in conversation and try to hold his eye or detract
his attention from Brummy so as to give Brummy a chance of cutting off
a couple of pipefuls, and, maybe, nicking off a corner of the cake and
slipping it into his pocket.  I once heard a bushman say that no one
but a skunk would be guilty of this tobacco trick--that it is about
the meanest trick a man could be capable of--_because it spoils the
chances of the next hard-up swaggy who asks the victim for
tobacco._

When Brummy and Swampy came to a shed where shearing was in full
swing, they'd inquire, first thing, and with some show of anxiety, if
there was any chance of gettin' on; if the shed was full-handed they'd
growl about hard times, wonder what the country was coming to; talk of
their missuses and kids that they'd left in Sydney, curse the
squatters and the Government, and, next morning, get a supply of
rations from the cook and depart with looks of gloom.  If, on the
other hand, there was room in the shed for one or both of them, and
the boss told them to go to work in the morning, they'd keep it quiet
from the cook if possible, and depart, after breakfast,
unostentatiously.

Sometimes, at the beginning of a drought, when the tall dead grass was
like tinder for hundreds of miles and a carelessly-dropped match would
set the whole country on fire, Swampy would strike a hard-faced
squatter, manager or overseer with a cold eye, and the conversation
would be somewhat as follows:

Swampy: "Good day, boss!"

Boss (shortly): "'Day."

Swampy: "Any chance of a job?"

Boss: "Naw.  Got all I want and we don't start for a fortnight."

Swampy: "Can I git a bit o' meat?"

Boss: "Naw!  Don't kill till Saturday."

Swampy: "Pint o' flour?"

Boss: "Naw.  Short ourselves."

Swampy: "Bit o' tea or sugar, boss?"

Boss: "Naw--what next?"

Swampy: "Bit o' baccer, boss.  Ain't had a smoke for a week."

Boss: "Naw. Ain't got enough for meself till the wagon comes out."

Swampy: "Ah, well!  It's hot, ain't it, boss?"

Boss: "Yes-it's hot."

Swampy: "Country very dry?"

Boss: "Yes.  Looks like it."

Swampy: "A fire 'ud be very bad just now?"

Boss: "Eh?"

Swampy: "Yes.  Now I'm allers very careful with matches an' fire when
I'm on the track."

Boss "Are yer?"

Swampy: "Yes.  I never lights a fire near the grass--allers in the
middle of the track--it's the safest place yer can get.  An' I allers
puts the fire out afore I leaves the camp.  If there ain't no water
ter spare I covers the ashes with dirt.  An' some fellers are so
careless with matches lightin' their pipes." (Reflective pause.)

Boss: "Are they?"

Swampy: "Yes.  Now, when I lights me pipe on the track in dry weather
I allers rubs the match head up an' drops it in the dust.  I never
drops a burnin' match.  But some travellers is so careless.  A chap
might light his pipe an' fling the match away without thinkin' an' the
match might fall in a dry tuft, an'-there yer are!" (with a wave of
his arms).  "Hundreds of miles o' grass gone an' thousands o' sheep
starvin'.  Some fellers is so careless--they never thinks. . . .  An'
what's more, they don't care if they burn the whole country."

Boss (scratching his head reflectively): "Ah-umph!  You can go up to
the store and get a bit of tucker.  The storekeeper might let yer have
a bit o' tobacco."


On one occasion, when they were out of flour and meat; Brummy and
Swampy came across two other pilgrims camped on a creek, who were also
out of flour and meat.  One of them had tried a surveyors' camp a
little further down, but without success.  The surveyors' cook had
said that he was short of flour and meat himself.  Brummy tried
him--no luck.  Then Swampy said he'd go and have a try.  As luck would
have it, the surveyors' cook was just going to bake; he had got the
flour out in the dish, put in the salt and baking powder, mixed it up,
and had gone to the creek for a billy of water when Swampy arrived.
While the cook was gone Swampy slipped the flour out of the dish into
his bag, _wiped_ the dish, set it down again, and planted the bag
behind a tree at a little distance.  Then he stood waiting, holding a
spare empty bag in his hand.  When the cook came back he glanced at
the dish, lowered the billy of water slowly to the ground, scratched
his head, and looked at the dish again in a puzzled way.

"Blanked if I didn't think I got that flour out!" he said.

"What's that, mate?" asked Swampy.

"Why!  I could have sworn I got the flour out in the dish and mixed
it before I went for the water," said the cook, staring at the dish
again.  "It's rum what tricks your memory plays on you sometimes."

"Yes," said Swampy, showing interest, while the cook got some more
flour out into the dish from a bag in the back of the tent.  "It is
strange.  I've done the same, thing meself.  I suppose it's the heat
that makes us all a bit off at times."

"Do you cook, then?" asked the surveyors' cook.

"Well, yes.  I've done a good bit of it in me time; but it's about
played out.  I'm after stragglers now."  (Stragglers are stray sheep
missed in the general muster and found about the out paddocks and
shorn after the general shearing.)

They had a yarn and Swampy "bit the cook's ear" for a "bit o' meat
an' tea an' sugar," not forgetting "a handful of flour if yer can
spare it."

"Sorry," said the cook, "but I can only let you have about a pint.
We're very short ourselves."

"Oh, that's all right!" said Swampy, as he put the stuff into his
spare bags.  "Thank you!  Good day!"

"Good day," said the cook.  The cook went on with his work and
Swampy departed, catching up the bag of flour from behind the tree as
he passed it, and keeping the clump of timber well between him and the
surveyors' camp, lest the cook should glance round, and, noticing the
increased bulk of his load, get some new ideas concerning mental
aberration.


Nearly every bushman has at least one superstition, or
notion, that lasts his time--as nearly every bushman has at least one
dictionary word which lasts him all his life.  Brummy had a gloomy
notion--Lord knows how he got it!--that he should 'a' gone on the
boards if his people hadn't been so ignorant.  He reckoned that he had
the face and cut of an actor, could mimic any man's voice, and had
wonderful control over his features.  They came to a notoriously
"hungry" station, where there was a Scottish manager and
storekeeper.  Brummy went up to "government house" in his own proper
person, had a talk with the storekeeper, spoke of a sick mate, and got
some flour and meat.  They camped down the creek, and next morning
Brummy started to shave himself.

"Whatever are you a-doin' of, Brummy?" gasped Swampy in great
astonishment.

"Wait and see," growled Brummy, with awful impressiveness, as if he
were going to cut Swampy's throat after he'd finished shaving.  He
shaved off his beard and whiskers, put on a hat and coat belonging to
Swampy, changed his voice, dropped his shoulders, and went limping up
to the station on a game leg.  He saw the cook and got some
"brownie," a bit of cooked meat and a packet of baking powder.  Then
he saw the storekeeper and approached the tobacco question.  Sandy
looked at him and listened with some slight show of interest, then he
said:

"Oh that's all right now!  But ye needn't ha' troublt shavin' yer
beard--the cold weather's comin' on!  An' yer mate's duds don't suit
ye--they 're too sma'; an' yer game leg doesn't fit ye either--it
takes a lot o' practice.  Ha' ye got ony tea an' sugar?"

Brummy must have touched something responsive in that old Scot
somewhere, but his lack of emotion upset Brummy somewhat, or else an
old deep-rooted superstition had been severely shaken.  Anyway he let
Swampy do the cadging for several days thereafter.


But one bad season they were very hard up indeed--even for Brummy and
Swampy.  They'd tramped a long hungry track and had only met a few
wretched jackaroos, driven out of the cities by hard times, and
tramping hopelessly west.  They were out of tobacco, and their
trousers were so hopelessly "gone" behind that when they went to
cadge at a place where there was a woman they were moved to back and
sidle and edge away again--and neither Brummy nor Swampy was over
fastidious in matters of dress or personal appearance.  It was
absolutely necessary to earn a pound or two, so they decided to go to
work for a couple of weeks.  It wouldn't hurt them, and then there was
the novelty of it.

They struck West-o'-Sunday Station, and the boss happened to want a
rouseabout to pick up wool and sweep the floor for the shearers.

"I can put _one_ of you on," he said.  "Fix it up between
yourselves and go to work in the morning."

Brummy and Swampy went apart to talk it over.

"Look here! Brum, old man," said Swampy, with great heartiness,
"we've been mates for a long while now, an' shared an' shared alike.
You've allers acted straight to me an' I want to do the fair thing by
you.  _I_ don't want to stand in _your_ light.  You take the
job an' I'll be satisfied with a pair of pants out of it and a bit o'
tobacco now an' agen.  There yer are!  I can't say no fairer than
that."

"Yes," said Brummy, resentfully, "an' you'll always be thrown' it
up to me afterwards that I done you out of a job!"

"I'll swear I won't," said Swampy, hurriedly.  "But since you're
so blasted touchy and suspicious about it, _you_ take this job an'
I'll take the next that turns up.  How'll that suit you?"

Brummy thought resentfully.

"Look here!" he said presently, "let's settle it and have done with
this damned sentimental tommy-rot.  I'll tell you what I'll do--I'll
give you the job and take my chance.  The boss might want another man
to-morrow.  Now, are you satisfied?"

But Swampy didn't look grateful or happy.

"Well," growled Brummy, "of all the --- I ever travelled with
you're the ---.  What do you want anyway?  What'll satisfy you?
That's all I want to know.  Hey?--can't yer speak?"

"Let's toss up for it," said Swampy, sulkily.

"All right," said Brummy, with a big oath, and he felt in his pocket
for two old pennies he had.  But Swampy had got a suspicion somehow
that one of those pennies had two heads on it, and he wasn't sure that
the other hadn't two tails--also, he suspected Brummy of some skill in
"palming," so he picked up a chip from the wood-heap, spat on it,
and spun it into the air.  "Sing out!" he cried, "wet or dry?"

"Dry," said Brummy, promptly.  He had a theory that the wet side of
the chip, being presumably heaviest, was more likely to fall
downwards; but this time it was "wet" up three times in succession.
Brummy ignored Swampy's hand thrown out in hearty congratulation; and
next morning he went to work in the shed.  Swampy camped down the
river, and Brummy supplied him with a cheap pair of moleskin trousers,
tucker and tobacco.  The shed cut out within three weeks and the two
sundowners took the track again, Brummy with two pounds odd in his
pocket--he having negotiated his cheque at the shed.

But now there was suspicion, envy, and distrust in the hearts of those
two wayfarers.  Brummy was now a bloated capitalist, and proud, and
anxious to get rid of Swampy--at least Swampy thought so.  He thought
that the least that Brummy might have done was to have shared the
"stuff" with him.

"Look here, Brummy," he said reproachfully, "we've shared and shared
alike, and---"

"We never shared money," said Brummy, decidedly.

"Do you think I want yer blasted money?" retorted Swampy,
indignantly.  "When did I ever ask yer for a sprat?  Tell me that!"

"You wouldn't have got it if you had asked," said Brummy,
uncompromisingly.  "Look here!"  with vehemence.  "Didn't I keep
yer in tobacco and buy yer gory pants?  What are you naggin' about
anyway?"

"Well," said Swampy, "all I was goin' to say was that yer might let
me carry one of them quids in case you lost one--yer know you're
careless and lose things; or in case anything happened to you."

"I ain't going to lose it--if that's all that's fretting you," said
Brummy, "and there ain't nothing going to happen to me--and don't you
forget it."

"That's all the thanks I get for givin' yer my gory job," said
Swampy, savagely.  "I won't be sick a soft fool agen, I can tell
yer."

Brummy was silent, and Swampy dropped behind.  He brooded darkly, and
it's a bad thing for a man to brood in the bush.  He was reg'lar
disgusted with Brummy.  He'd allers acted straight to him, and Brummy
had acted like a "cow."  He'd stand it no longer; but he'd have some
satisfaction.  He wouldn't be a fool.  If Brummy was mean skunk enough
to act to a mate like that, Swampy would be even with him; he would
wait till Brummy was asleep, collar the stuff, and clear.  It was his
job, anyway, and the money was his by rights.  He'd have his rights.

Brummy, who carried the billy, gave Swampy a long tramp before he
camped and made a fire.  They had tea in silence, and smoked moodily
apart until Brummy turned in.  They usually slept on the ground, with
a few leaves under them, or on the sand where there was any, each
wrapped in his own blankets, and with their spare clothes, or rags
rather, for pillows.  Presently Swampy turned in and pretended to
sleep, but he lay awake watching, and listening to Brummy's breathing.
When he thought it was safe he moved cautiously and slipped his hand
under Brummy's head, but Brummy's old pocket-book--in which he carried
some dirty old letters in a woman's handwriting--was not there.  All
next day Swampy watched Brummy sharply every time he put his hands
into his pockets, to try and find out in which pocket he kept his
money.  Brummy seemed very cheerful and sociable, even considerate, to
his mate all day, and Swampy pretended to be happy.  They yarned more
than they had done for many a day.  Brummy was a heavy sleeper, and
that night Swampy went over him carefully and felt all his pockets,
but without success.  Next day Brummy seemed in high spirits--they
were nearing Bourke, where they intended to loaf round the pubs for a
week or two.  On the third night Swampy waited till about midnight,
and then searched Brummy, every inch of him he could get at, and
tickled him, with a straw of grass till he turned over, and ran his
hands over the other side of him, and over his feet (Brummy slept with
his socks on), and looked in his boots, and in the billy and in the
tucker-bags, and felt in every tuft of grass round the camp, and under
every bush, and down a hollow stump, and up a hollow log: but there
was no pocket-book.  Brummy couldn't have lost the money and kept it
dark--he'd have gone back to look for it at once.  Perhaps he'd thrown
away the book and sewn the money in his clothes somewhere.  Swampy
crept back to him and felt the lining of his hat, and was running his
hand over Brummy's chest when Brummy suddenly started to snore, and
Swampy desisted without loss of time.  He crept back to bed, breathing
short, and thought hard.  It struck him that there was something
aggressive about that snore.  He began to suspect that Brummy was up
to his little game, and it pained him.

Next morning Brummy was decidedly frivolous.  At any other time Swampy
would have put it down to a "touch o' the sun," but now he felt a
growing conviction that Brummy knew what he'd been up to the last
three nights, and the more he thought of it the more it pained
him--till at last he could stand it no longer.

"Look here, Brummy," he said frankly, "where the hell do you keep
that flamin' stuff o' yourn?  I been tryin' to git at it ever since we
left West-o'-Sunday."

"I know you have, Swampy," said Brummy, affectionately--as if he
considered that Swampy had done his best in the interests of mateship.

"I _knowed_ yer knowed!" exclaimed Swampy, triumphantly.  "But
where the blazes did yer put it?"

"Under _your_ head, Swampy, old man," said Brummy, cheerfully.

Swampy was hurt now.  He commented in the language that used to be
used by the bullock-punchers of the good days as they pranced up and
down by their teams and lammed into the bullocks with saplings and
crow-bars, and called on them to lift a heavy load out of a bog in the
bed of a muddy creek.

"Never mind, Swampy!" said Brummy, soothingly, as his mate paused
and tried to remember worse oaths.  "It wasn't your fault."

But they parted at Bourke.  Swampy had allers acted straight
ter Brummy--share 'n' share alike.  He'd do as much for a mate as any
other man, an' put up with as much from a mate.  He had put up with a
lot from Brummy: he'd picked him up on the track and learned him all
he knowed; Brummy would have starved many a time if it hadn't been
for Swampy; Swampy had learned him how to "battle."  He'd stick to
Brummy yet, but he couldn't stand ingratitude.  He hated low cunnin'
an' suspicion, and when a gory mate got suspicious of his own old
mate and wouldn't trust him, an' took to plantin' his crimson
money--it was time to leave him.



A SKETCH OF MATESHIP


Bill and Jim, professional shearers, were coming into Bourke from the
Queensland side.  They were horsemen and had two packhorses.  At the
last camp before Bourke Jim's packhorse got disgusted and home-sick
during the night and started back for the place where he was foaled.
Jim was little more than a new-chum jackaroo; he was no bushman and
generally got lost when he went down the next gully.  Bill was a
bushman, so it was decided that he should go back to look for the
horse.

Now Bill was going to sell his packhorse, a well-bred mare, in Bourke,
and he was anxious to get her into the yards before the horse sales
were over; this was to be the last day of the sales.  Jim was the best
"barracker" of the two; he had great imagination; he was a very
entertaining story-teller and conversationalist in social life, and a
glib and a most impressive liar in business, so it was decided that he
should hurry on into Bourke with the mare and sell her for Bill.
Seven pounds, reserve.

Next day Bill turned up with the missing horse and saw Jim standing
against a veranda-post of the Carriers' Arms, with his hat down over
his eyes, and thoughtfully spitting in the dust.  Bill rode over to
him.

"'Ullo, Jim."

"'Ullo, Bill.  I see you got him."

"Yes, I got him."

Pause.

"Where'd yer find him?"

"'Bout ten mile back.  Near Ford's Bridge.  He was just feedin'
along."

Pause.  Jim shifted his feet and spat in the dust.

"Well," said Bill at last.  "How did you get on, Jim?"

"Oh, all right," said Jim.  "I sold the mare."

"That's right," said Bill.  "How much did she fetch?"

"Eight quid;" then, rousing himself a little and showing some
emotion, "An' I could 'a' got ten quid for her if I hadn't been a
dam' fool."

"Oh, that's good enough," said Bill.

"I could 'a' got ten quid if I'd 'a' waited."

"Well, it's no use cryin'.  Eight quid is good enough.  Did you get
the stuff?"

"Oh, yes.  They parted all right.  If I hadn't been such a dam' fool
an' rushed it, there was a feller that would 'a' given ten quid for
that mare."

"Well, don't break yer back about it," said Bill.  "Eight is good
enough."

"Yes.  But I could 'a' got ten," said Jim, languidly, putting his
hand in his pocket.

Pause.  Bill sat waiting for him to hand over the money; but Jim
withdrew his hand empty, stretched, and said:

"Ah, well, Bill, I done it in.  Lend us a couple o' notes."

Jim had been drinking and gambling all night and he'd lost the eight
pounds as well as his own money.

Bill didn't explode.  What was the use?  He should have known that Jim
wasn't to be trusted with money in town.  It was he who had been the
fool.  He sighed and lent Jim a pound, and they went in to have a
drink.

Now it strikes me that if this had happened in a civilized country
(like England) Bill would have had Jim arrested and jailed for larceny
as a bailee, or embezzlement, or whatever it was.  And would Bill or
Jim or the world have been any better for it?




ON THE TUCKER TRACK: A STEELMAN STORY


Steelman and Smith, professional wanderers from New Zealand, took a
run over to Australia one year to have a look at the country, and
drifted out back, and played cards and "headin' 'em" at the
shearing-sheds (while pretending to be strangers to each other), and
sold eye-water and unpatented medicine, and worked the tucker tracks.
They struck a streak of bad luck at West-o'-Sunday Station, where they
were advised (by the boss and about fifty excited shearers) to go
east, and not to stop till they reached the coast.  They were tramping
along the track towards Bourke; they were very hard up and had to
"battle" for tucker and tobacco along the track.  They came to a
lonely shanty, about two camps west of Bourke.

"We'll turn off into the scrub and strike the track the other side of
the shanty and come back to it," said Steelman.  "You see, if they
see us coming into Bourke they'll say to themselves, `Oh, we're never
likely to see these chaps again,' and they won't give us anything, or,
perhaps, only a pinch of tea or sugar in a big lump of paper.  There's
some women that can never see a tucker-bag, even if you hold it right
under their noses.  But if they see us going out back they'll reckon
that we'll get a shed likely as not, and we'll be sure to call there
with our cheques coming back.  I hope the old man's got the lumbago,
or sciatica, or something."

"Why?" asked Smith.

"Because whenever I see an old man poking round the place on a stick
I always make for him straight and inquire about his trouble; and no
matter what complaint he's got, my old man suffered from it for years.
It's pretty hard graft listening to an old man with a pet leg, but I
find it pays; and I always finish up by advising him to try St Jacob's
oil.  Perhaps he's been trying it for years, but that doesn't matter;
the consultation works out all right all the same, and there's never
been a remedy tried yet but I've got another.

"I've got a lot of Maori and blackfellow remedies in my mind, and
when they fail I can fall back on the Chinese; and if that isn't
enough I've got a list of my grandmother's remedies that she wrote
down for me when I was leaving home, and I kept it for a curiosity.
It took her three days to write them, and I reckon they'll fill the
bill.

"You don't want a shave.  You look better with that stubble on.  You
needn't say anything; just stand by and wear your usual expression,
and if they ask me what's the matter with my mate I'll fix up a
disease for you to have, and get something extra on your account, poor
beggar!

"I wish we had a chap with us that could sing a bit and run the gamut
on a fiddle or something.  With a sickly-looking fish like you to
stand by and look interesting and die slowly of consumption all the
time, and me to do the talking, we'd be able to travel from one end
of the bush to the other and live on the fat of the land.  I wouldn't
cure you for a hundred pounds:"

They reached the shanty, and there, sure enough, was an old man
pottering round with a list to starboard.  He was working with a hoe
inside a low paling fence round a sort of garden.  Steelman and Smith
stopped outside the fence.

"Good day, boss!"

"'Day."

"It's hot."

"It's hot."

So far it was satisfactory.

He was a little man, with a wiry, red beard.  He might have been a
Scandinavian.

"You seem to be a bit lame," said Steelman.  "Hurt your foot?"

"Naw," said the old man.  "It's an old thing."

"Ah!" said Steelman, "lumbago, I suppose?  My father suffered cruel
from it for years."

"Naw," said the old man, moving closer to the fence.  "It ain't in
me back; the trouble's with me leg."

"Oh!" said Steelman.  "One a bit shorter than the other?"

"Well, yes.  It seems to be wearin' a bit shorter.  I must see to
it."

"Hip disease, perhaps?" said Steelman.  "A brother o' mine had---"

"Naw, it's not in the hip," said the old man.  "My leg's gone at
the knee."

"Oh!  stiff joint; I know what that is.  Had a touch of it once
myself.  An uncle of mine was nearly crippled with it.  He used to use
St Jacob's oil.  Ever try St Jacob's oil?"

"Naw," said the old man, "not that I know of.  I've used linseed
oil though."

"Linseed oil!" said Steelman; "I've never heard of that for stiff
knee.  How do you use it?"

"Use it raw," said the old man.  "Raw linseed oil; I've rubbed it
in, and I've soaked me leg in it."

"Soaked your leg in it!" said Steelman.  "And did it do it any
good?"

"Well, it seems to preserve it--keeps it from warping, and it wears
better--and it makes it heavier.  It seemed a bit too light before."

Steelman nudged Smith under cover of the palings.  The old man was
evidently a bit ratty.

"Well, I hope your leg will soon be all right, boss," said Steelman.

"Thank you," said the old man, "but I don't think there's much
hope.  I suppose you want some tucker?"

"Well, yes," said Steelman, rather taken aback by the old man's
sudden way of putting it.  "We're hard up."

"Well, come along to the house and I'll see if I can get yer
something," said the old man; and they walked along outside the
fence, and he hobbled along inside, till he came to a little gate at
the corner.  He opened the gate and stumped out.  He had a wooden leg.
He wore his trouser-leg down over it, and the palings had hidden the
bottom from Steelman and Smith.

He wanted them to stay to dinner, but Steelman didn't feel
comfortable, and thanked him, and said they'd rather be getting on
(Steelman always spoke for Smith); so the old man gave them some
cooked meat, bread, and a supply of tea and sugar.  Steelman watched
his face very close, but he never moved a muscle.  But when they
looked back he was leaning on his hoe, and seemed to be shaking.

"Took you back a bit, Steely, didn't it?" suggested Smith.

"How do you make that out?" snorted Steelman, turning on him
suddenly.  "I knew a carpenter who used to soak his planes in raw
linseed oil to preserve them and give them weight.  There's nothing
funny about that."

Smith rubbed his head.




A BUSH PUBLICAN'S LAMENT

    . . . For thirst is long and throats is short
    Among the sons o' men.
                                       M. J. C.

I Wish I was spifflicated before I ever seen a pub!

You see, it's this way.  Suppose a cove comes along on a blazin' hot
day in the drought--an' _you_ ought to know how hell-hot it can
be out here--an' he dumps his swag in the corner of the bar; an' he
turns round an' he ses ter me, "Look here boss, I ain't got a lonely
steever on me, an' God knows when I'll git one.  I've tramped ten mile
this mornin', an' I'll have ter tramp another ten afore to-night.  I'm
expectin' ter git on shearin' with of Baldy Thompson at West-o'-Sunday
nex' week.  I got a thirst on me like a sun-struck bone, an', for God
sake, put up a couple o' beers for me an' my mate, an' I'll fix it up
with yer when I come back after shearin'."

An' what's a feller ter do?  I bin there meself, an--I put it to you!
I've known what it is to have a thirst on me.

An' suppose a poor devil comes along in the jim-jams, with every inch
on him jumpin' an' a look in his eyes like a man bein' murdered an'
sent ter hell, an' a whine in his voice like a whipped cur, an' the
snakes a-chasing of him; an' he hooks me with his finger ter the far
end o' the bar--as if he was goin' ter tell me that the world was
ended--an' he hangs over the bar an' chews me lug, an' tries to speak,
an' breaks off inter a sort o' low shriek, like a terrified woman, an'
he says, "For Mother o' Christ's sake, giv' me a drink!"  An' what
am I to do?  I bin there meself.  I knows what the horrors is.  He
mighter blued his cheque at the last shanty.  But what am I ter do?  I
put it ter you.  If I let him go he might hang hisself ter the nex'
leanin' tree.

What's a drink? yer might arst--I don't mind a drink or two; but when
it comes to half a dozen in a day it mounts up, I can tell yer.
Drinks is sixpence here--I have to pay for it, an' pay carriage on it.
It's all up ter me in the end.  I used sometimes ter think it was
lucky I wasn't west o' the sixpenny line, where I'd lose a shillin' on
every drink I give away.

An' supposen a sundowner comes along smokin' tea-leaves, an' ses ter
me, "Look her, boss! me an' my mate ain't had a smoke for three
days!"  What's a man ter do?  I put it ter you!  I'm a heavy smoker
meself, an' I've known what it is to be without a smoke on the track.
But "nail-rod" is ninepence a stick out here, an' I have ter pay
carriage.  It all mounts up, I can tell yer.

An' supposen Ole King Billy an' his ole black gin comes round at
holiday time and squats on the verander, an' blarneys an' wheedles and
whines and argues like a hundred Jews an' ole Irishwomen put
tergether, an' accuses me o' takin' his blarsted country from him, an'
makes me an' the missus laugh; an' we gives him a bottl'er rum an' a
bag of grub ter get rid of him an' his rotten ole scarecrow tribe--It
all tells up.  I was allers soft on the blacks, an', beside, a ole gin
nursed me an' me mother when I was born, an' saved me blessed
life--not that that mounts to much.  But it all tells up, an' I got me
licence ter pay.  An' some bloody skunk goes an' informs on me for
supplyin' the haboriginalls with intossicatin' liquor, an' I have ter
pay a fine an' risk me licence.  But what's a man ter do?

An' three or four herrin'-gutted jackaroos comes along about
dinner-time, when the table's set and the cookin' smellin' from the
kichen, with their belts done up three holes, an' not the price of a
feed on 'em.  What's a man ter do?  I've known what it is ter do a
perish on the track meself.  It's not the tucker I think on.  I don't
care a damn for that.  When the shearers come every one is free to
go inter the kitchin an' forage for hisself when he feels hungry--so
long as he pays for his drink.  But the jackaroos can't pay for
drinks, an' I have ter pay carriage on the flour an' tea an' sugar an'
groceries--an' it all tells up by the end o' the year.

An' a straight chap that knows me gets a job to take a flock o' sheep
or a mob o' cattle ter the bloomin' Gulf, or South Australia, or
somewheers--an' loses one of his horses goin' out ter take charge, an'
borrers eight quid from me ter buy another.  He'll turn up agen in a
year or two an' most likely want ter make me take twenty quid for that
eight--an' make everybody about the place blind drunk--but I've got
ter wait, an' the wine an' sperit merchants an' the brewery won't.
They know I can't do without liquor in the place.

An' lars' rains Jimmy Nowlett, the bullick-driver, gets bogged over
his axle-trees back there on the Blacksoil Plains between two flooded
billerbongs, an' prays till the country steams an' his soul's busted,
an' his throat like a lime-kiln.  He taps a keg o' rum or beer ter
keep his throat in workin' order.  I don't mind that at all, but him
an' his mates git flood-bound for near a week, an' broach more kegs,
an' go on a howlin' spree in ther mud, an' spill mor'n they swipe, an'
leave a tarpaulin off a load, an' the flour gets wet, an' the sugar
runs out of the bags like syrup, an'-- What's a feller ter do?  Do yer
expect me to set the law onter Jimmy?  I've knowed him all my life,
an' he knowed my father afore I was born.  He's been on the roads this
forty year, till he's as thin as a rat, and as poor as a myall black;
an' he's got a family ter keep back there in Bourke.  No, I have ter
pay for it in the end, an' it all mounts up, I can tell yer.

An' suppose some poor devil of a new-chum black sheep comes along,
staggerin' from one side of the track to the other, and spoutin'
poetry; dyin' o' heat or fever, or heartbreak an' home-sickness, or a
life o' disserpation he'd led in England, an' without a sprat on him,
an' no claim on the bush; an' I ketches: him in me arms as he stumbles
inter the bar, an' he wants me ter hold him up while he turns English
inter Greek for me.  An' I put him ter bed, an' he gits worse, an' I
have ter send the buggy twenty mile for a doctor--an' pay him.  An'
the jackaroo gits worse, an' has ter be watched an' nursed an' held
down sometimes; an' he raves about his home an' mother in England, an'
the blarsted University that he was eddicated at--an' a woman--an'
somethin' that sounds like poetry in French; an' he upsets my missus a
lot, an' makes her blubber.  An' he dies, an' I have ter pay a man ter
bury him (an' knock up a sort o' fence round the grave arterwards ter
keep the stock out), an' send the buggy agen for a parson, an'--Well,
what's a man ter do?  I couldn't let him wander away an' die like a
dog in the scrub, an' be shoved underground like a dog, too, if his
body was ever found.  The Government might pay ter bury him, but there
ain't never been a pauper funeral from my house yet, an' there won't
be one if I can help it--except it be meself.

An' then there's the bother goin' through his papers to try an' find
out who he was an' where his friends is.  An' I have ter get the
missus to write a letter to his people, an' we have ter make up lies
about how he died ter make it easier for 'em.  An' goin' through his
letters, the missus comes across a portrait an' a locket of hair, an'
letters from his mother an' sisters an' girl; an' they upset her, an'
she blubbers agin, an' gits sentimental--like she useter long ago when
we was first married.

There was one bit of poetry--I forgit it now--that that there jackaroo
kep' sayin' over an' over agen till it buzzed in me head; an', weeks
after, I'd ketch the missus mutterin' it to herself in the kitchen
till I thought she was goin' ratty.

An' we gets a letter from the jackaroo's friends that puts us to a lot
more bother.  I hate havin' anythin' to do with letters.  An'
someone's sure to say he was lambed down an' cleaned out an' poisoned
with bad bush liquor at my place.  It's almost enough ter make a man
wish there _was_ a recorin' angel.

An' what's the end of it?  I got the blazin' bailiff in the place now!
I can't shot him out because he's a decent, hard-up, poor devil from
Bourke, with consumption or somethin', an' he's been talkin' to the
missus about his missus an' kids; an' I see no chance of gittin' rid
of him, unless the shearers come along with their cheques from
West-o'-Sunday nex' week and act straight by me.  Like as not I'll
have ter roll up me swag an' take the track meself in the end.  They
say publicans are damned, an' I think so, too; an' I wish I'd bin
operated on before ever I seen a pub.




THE SHEARER'S DREAM


Mitchell and I rolled up our swags after New Year and started to tramp
west.  It had been a very bad season after a long drought.  Old Baldy
Thompson had only shorn a few bales of grass-seed and burrs, so he
said, and thought of taking the track himself; but we hoped to get on
shearing stragglers at West-o'-Sunday or one of the stations of the
Hungerford track.

It was very hot weather, so we started after sunset, intending to
travel all night.  We crossed the big billabong, and were ploughing
through the dust and sand towards West Bourke, when a buggy full of
city girls and swells passed by.  They were part of a theatrical
company on tour in the Back-Blocks, and some local Johnnies.  They'd
been driven out to see an artesian bore, or wool-shed, or something.
The horses swerved, and jerked a little squawk out of one of the
girls.  Then another said:

"Ow-w!  Two old swaggies.  He! he! he!"

I glanced at Mitchell to see if he was hit, and caught his head down;
but he pulled himself up and pretended to hitch his swag into an
easier position.

About a hundred yards further on he gave me a side look and said:

"Did that touch you, Harry"

"No," I said, and I laughed.

"You see," reflected Mitchell, "they're more to be pitied than
blamed.  It's their ignorance.  In the first place, we're not two old
tramps, as they think.  We are professional shearers; and the
Australian shearers are about the most independent and intelligent
class of men in the world.  We've got more genius in one of our little
fingers than there is in the whole of that wagonette-load of
diddle-daddle and fiddle-faddle and giggles.  Their intellects are on
a level with the rotten dramas they travel with, and their lives about
as false.  They are slaves to the public, and their home is the
pub-parlour, with sickly, senseless Johnnies to shout suppers and
drink for them and lend their men money.  If one of those girls is
above the average, how she must despise those Johnnies--and the life!
She must feel a greater contempt for them than the private-barmaid
does for the boozer she cleans out.  He gets his drink and some
enjoyment, anyhow.  And how she must loathe the life she leads!  And
what's the end of it as often as not?  I remember once, when I was a
boy, I was walking out with two aunts of mine--they're both dead now.
God rest their fussy, innocent old souls!--and one of 'em said
suddenly, 'Look! Quick, Jack!  There's Maggie So-and-So, the great
actress.'  And I looked and saw a woman training vines in a porch.  It
seemed like seeing an angel to me, and I never forgot her as she was
then.  The diggers used to go miles out of town to meet the coach that
brought her, and take the horses out and drag it in, and throw gold in
her lap, and worship her.

"The last time I was in Sydney I saw her sitting in the back parlour
of a third-rate pub.  She was dying of dropsy and couldn't move from
her chair.  She showed me a portrait of herself as I remembered her,
and talked quite seriously about going on the stage again.

"Now, our home is about two thousand miles wide, and the world's our
stage.  If the worst comes to the worst we can always get tucker and
wood and water for nothing.  If we're camping at a job in a tent
there's no house-cleaning to bother us.  All we've got to do when the
camp gets too dirty is to shift the tent to a fresh place.  We've got
time to think and--we're free.

"But then, agen," he reflected, "there's the world's point of view
to be considered.  Some day I might be flashing past in a buggy or
saloon-carriage--or, the chances are it will be you--and you might
look out the window and see an old swaggy tramping along in the dust,
or camped under a strip of calico in the rain in the scrub.
(And it might be me--old Mitchell--that really wrote your books,
only the world won't know it.)  And then you'll realize what a
wretched, miserable life it was.  We never realize the miseries of
life till we look back--the mistakes and miseries that had to be and
couldn't be helped.  It's all luck--luck and chance."

But those girls seemed to have gravelled Mitchell, and he didn't seem
able to talk himself round.  He tramped on, brooding for a while, and
then suddenly he said:

"Look here, Harry!  Those girls are giving a dance to-night,
and if I liked to go back to Bourke and tog up and go to the dance I
could pick out the prettiest, dance with her all the evening, and
take her for a stroll afterwards, old tramp as they thought me.  I've
lived--but it wouldn't be worth my while now."

I'd seen Jack in a mood like this before, and thought it best to say
nothing.  Perhaps the terrible heat had affected him a little.  We
walked on in silence until we came to the next billabong.  "Best boil
the billy here, Harry," said Mitchell, "and have some tea before we
go any further."

I got some sticks together and made a fire and put the billy on.  The
country looked wretched--like the ghost of a burnt-out land--in the
moonlight.  The banks of the creek were like ashes, the thin, gnarled
gum-bush seemed dry-rotting fast, and in many places the surface of
the ground was cracked in squares where it had shrunk in the drought.
In the bed of the creek was a narrow gutter of water that looked like
bad milk.

Mitchell sat on his swag, with his pint of tea on the ground by his
foot, and chewed his pipe.

"What's up, Jack?" I asked.  "Have you got the blues?"

"Well, yes, Harry," he said.  "I'm generally dull the first day on
the track.  The first day is generally the worst, anywhere or
anytime--except, perhaps, when you're married. . . .  I got--well, I got
thinking of the time when a woman's word could have hurt me."

Just then one of the "travellers" who were camped a bit up the creek
suddenly commenced to sing.  It was a song called "The Shearer's
Dream," and I suppose the buggy of girls, or the conversation they
started, reminded him of it.  He started his verses and most of his
lines with a howl; and there were unexpected howls all through the
song, and it wailed off, just as unexpectedly, in places where there
was no pathos that I could see:

    Oh, I dreamt I shore in a shearer's shed, and it was a dream of joy,
    For every one of the rouseabouts was a girl dressed up as a boy--
    Dressed up like a page in a pantomime, and the prettiest ever seen--
    They had flaxen hair, they had coal-black hair--and every shade between.

"Every" with sudden and great energy, a long drop on to "shade," and a
wail of intense sadness and regret running on into "between," the
dirge reaching its wailsomest in the "tween" in every case.

    The shed was cooled by electric fans that was over every "shoot";
    The pens was of polished ma-ho-gany, and ev'rything else to suit;
    The huts was fixed with spring-mattresses, and the tucker was
         simply grand,
    And every night by the biller-bong we darnced to a German band.

   "_Chorus, boys!"_

    There was short, plump girls, there was tall, slim girls,
         and the handsomest ever seen
    They was four-foot-five, they was six-foot high, and hevery size
         between.
    Our pay was the wool on the jumbucks' backs, so we shore till all
         was blue
    The sheep was washed afore they was shore (and the rams was scented
         too);
    And we all of us cried when the shed cut out, in spite of the
         long, hot days,
    For hevery hour them girls waltzed in with whisky and beer on
         tr-a-a-a-ys!

    "_Chorus_! _you_ ---!"

    They had kind grey eyes, they had coal-black eyes, and the
         grandest ever seen
    They had plump pink hands, they had slim white hands, and hevery
         shape be-tw-e-e-n.
    There was three of them girls to every chap, and as jealous as they
         could be--

"Ow! you ---"

The singer's voice or memory seemed suddenly to have failed him at
this point, but whether his mates hit him on the back of the head
with a tomahawk, or only choked him, I do not know.  Mitchell was
inclined to think, from the sound of it, that they choked him.




THE LOST SOULS' HOTEL



Hunqerford Road, February.  One hundred and thirty miles of heavy
reddish sand, bordered by dry, hot scrubs.  Dense cloud of hot dust.
Four wool-teams passing through a gate in a "rabbit proof" fence
which crosses the road.  Clock, clock, clock of wheels and rattle and
clink of chains, crack of whips and explosions of Australian language.
Bales and everything else coated with dust.  Stink of old axle-grease
and tarpaulins.  Tyres hot enough to fry chops on: bows and chains so
hot that it's a wonder they do not burn through the bullock's hides.
Water lukewarm in blistered kegs slung behind the wagons.  Bullocks
dragging along as only bullocks do.  Wheels ploughing through the deep
sand, and the load lurching from side to side.  Half-way on a
"dry-stretch" of seventeen miles.  Big "tank" full of good water
through the scrub to the right, but it is a private tank and a
boundary-rider is shepherding it.  Mulga scrub and sparse, spiky
undergrowth.

The carriers camp for dinner and boil their billies while the bullocks
droop under their yokes in the blazing heat; one or two lie down and
the leaders drag and twist themselves round under a dead tree, under
the impression that there is shade there.  The carriers look like Red
Indians, with the masks of red dust "bound" with sweat on their
faces, but there is an unhealthy-looking, whitish space round their
eyes, caused by wiping away the blinding dust, sweat, and flies.  The
dry sticks burn with a pale flame and an almost invisible thin pale
blue smoke.  The sun's heat dancing and dazzling across every white
fence-post, sandhill, or light-coloured object in the distance.

One man takes off his boot and sock, empties half a pint of sand out
of them, and pulls up his trouser-leg.  His leg is sheathed to the
knee in dust and sweat; he absently scrapes it with his knife, and
presently he amuses himself by moistening a strip with his forefinger
and shaving it, as if he were vaguely curious to see if he is still a
white man.

The Hungerford coach ploughs past in a dense cloud of dust.

The teams drag on again like a "wounded snake that dies at sundown,"
if a wounded snake that dies at sundown could revive sufficiently next
morning to drag on again until another sun goes down.

Hopeless-looking swagmen are met with during the afternoon, and one
carrier--he of the sanded leg--lends them tobacco; his mates contribute
"bits o'" tea, flour, and sugar.

Sundown and the bullocks done up.  The teamsters unyoke them and drive
them on to the next water--five miles--having previously sent a mate
to reconnoitre and see that boundary-rider is not round, otherwise, to
make terms with him, for it is a squatter's bore.  They hurry the
bullocks down to the water and back in the twilight, and then, under
cover of darkness, turn them into a clearing in the scrub off the
road, where a sign in the grass might be seen--if you look close.  But
the "bullockies" are better off than the horse-teamsters, for bad
chaff is sold by the pound and corn is worth its weight in gold.


Mitchell and I turned off the track at the rabbit-proof fence and made
for the tank in the mulga.  We boiled the billy and had some salt
mutton and damper.  We were making back for Bourke, having failed to
get a cut in any of the sheds on the Hungerford track.  We sat under a
clump of mulga saplings, with our backs to the trunks, and got out our
pipes.  Usually, when the flies were very bad on the track, we had to
keep twigs or wild-turkey=tail feathers going in front of our faces
the whole time to keep the mad flies out of our eyes; and, when we
camped, one would keep the feather going while the other lit his
pipe--then the smoke would keep them away.  But the flies weren't so
bad in a good shade or in a darkened hut.  Mitchell's pipe would have
smoked out Old Nick; it was an ancient string-bound meerschaum, and
strong enough to kill a blackfellow.  I had one smoke out of it, once
when I felt bad in my inside and wanted to be sick, and the result was
very satisfactory.

Mitchell looked through his old pocket-book--more by force of habit
than anything else--and turned up a circular from Tattersall's.  And
that reminded him.

"Do you know what I'd do, Harry," he said, if I won Tattersall's
big sweep, or was to come into fifty or a hundred thousand pounds, or,
better still, a million?"

"Nothing I suppose," I said, "except to get away to Sydney or some
cooler place than this."

"I'll tell you what I'd do," said Mitchell, talking round his pipe.
"I'd build a Swagman's Rest right here."

"A Swagman's Rest?"

"Yes.  Right here on this very God-forsaken spot.  I'd build a
Swagman's Rest and call it the Lost Souls' Hotel, or the Sundowners'
Arms, or the Half-way House to ---, or some such name that would take
the bushmen's fancy.  I'd have it built on the best plans for coolness
in a hot country; bricks, and plenty of wide verandas with brick
floors, and balconies, and shingles, in the old Australian style.  I
wouldn't have a sheet of corrugated iron about the place.  And I'd
have old-fashioned hinged sashes with small panes and vines round 'em;
they look cooler and more homely and romantic than the glaring sort
that shove up.

"And I'd dig a tank or reservoir for surface water as big as a lake,
and bore for artesian water--and get it, too, if I had to bore right
through to England; and I'd irrigate the ground and make it grow
horse-feed and fruit, and vegetables too, if I had to cart manure from
Bourke.  And every teamster's bullock or horse, and every shearer's
hack, could burst itself free, but I'd make travelling stock pay--for
it belongs to the squatters and capitalists.  All carriers could camp
for one night only.  And I'd--no, I wouldn't have any flowers; they
might remind some heart-broken, new-chum black sheep of the house
where he was born, and the mother whose heart he broke--and the father
whose grey hairs he brought down in sorrow to the grave--and break him
up altogether."

"But what about the old-fashioned windows and the vines?" I asked.

"Oh!" said Mitchell, "I forgot them.  On second thought, I think I
would have some flowers; and maybe a bit of ivy-green.  The new chum
might be trying to work out his own salvation, and the sight of the
roses and ivy would show him that he hadn't struck such a
God-forgotten country after all, and help strengthen the hope for
something better that's in the heart of every vagabond till he dies."

Puff, puff, puff, slowly and reflectively.

"Until he dies," repeated Mitchell.  "And, maybe," he said,
rousing himself, "I'd have a little room fixed up like a corner of a
swell restaurant, with silver and napkins on the table, and I'd fix up
a waiter, so that when a broken-down University wreck came along he
might feel, for an hour or so, something like the man he used to be.
But I suppose," Mitchell reflected, "he wouldn't feel completely his
old self without a lady friend sitting opposite to him.  I might fix
up a black gin for him, but I suppose he'd draw the colour line.  But
that's nonsense.

"All teamsters and travellers could camp there for one night only.
I'd have shower-baths; but I wouldn't force any man to have a bath
against his will.  They could sit down to a table and have a feed off
a table-cloth, and sleep in sheets, and feel like they did before
their old mothers died, or before they ran away from home."

"Who?  The mothers?" I asked.

"Yes, in some cases," said Mitchell.  "And I'd have a nice, cool
little summer-house down near the artificial lake, out of earshot of
the house, where the bullock-drivers could sit with their pipes after
tea, and tell yarns, and talk in their own language.  And I'd have
boats on the lake, too, in case an old Oxford or Cambridge man, or an
old sailor came along--it might put years on to his life to have a
pull at the oars.  You remember that old sailor we saw in charge of
the engine back there at the government tank?  You saw how he had the
engine?--clean and bright as a new pin--everything spick-and-span and
shipshape, and his hut fixed up like a ship's cabin.  I believe he
thinks he's at sea half his time, and shoving her through it, instead
of pumping muddy water out of a hole in the baking scrubs for starving
stock.  Or maybe he reckons he's keeping her afloat."

"And would you have fish in this lake of yours?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," said Mitchell, "and any ratty old shepherd or sundowner,
that's gone mad of heat and loneliness--like the old codger we met
back yonder--he could sit by the lagoon in the cool of the evening and
fish to his heart's content with a string and a bent pin, and dream
he's playing truant from school and fishing in the brook near his
native village in England about fifty years ago.  It would seem more
real than fishing in the dust as some mad old bushmen do."

"But you'd draw the line somewhere?" I asked.

"No," said Mitchell, "not even at poets.  I'd try to cure them,
too, with good wholesome food and plenty of physical exercise.  The
Lost Souls' Hotel would be a refuge for men who'd been jail-birds once
as well as men who were gentlemen once, and for physical wrecks and
ruined drunkards as well as healthy honest shearers.  I'd sit down and
talk to the boozer or felon just as if I thought he was as good a man
as me--and he might be, for that matter--God knows.

"The sick man would be kept till he recovered, or died; and the
boozer, suffering from a recovery, I'd keep him till he was on his
legs again."

"Then you'd have to have a doctor," I said.

"Yes," said Mitchell, "I'd fix that up all right.  I wouldn't
bother much about a respectable medical practitioner from the city.
I'd get a medical wreck who had a brilliant career before him once in
England and got into disgrace, and cleared out to the colonies--a man
who knows what the d.t.'s is--a man who's been through it all and
knows it all."

"Then you'd want a manager, or a clerk or secretary," I suggested.

"I suppose I would," said Mitchell.  "I've got no head for figures.
I suppose I'd have to advertise for him.  If an applicant came with
the highest testimonials of character, and especially if one was
signed by a parson, I'd tell him to call again next week; and if a
young man could prove that he came of a good Christian family, and
went to church regularly, and sang in the choir, and taught
Sunday-school, I'd tell him that he needn't come again, that the
vacancy was filled, for I couldn't trust, him.  The man who's been
extra religious and honest and hard-working in his young days is most
likely to go wrong afterwards.  I'd sooner trust some poor old devil
of a clerk who'd got into the hands of a woman or racing men when he
was young, and went wrong, and served his time for embezzlement;
anyway, I'd take him out and give him another chance."

"And what about woman's influence?" I asked.

"Oh, I suppose there'd have to be a woman, if only to keep the doctor
on the line.  I'd get a woman with a past, one that hadn't been any
better than she should have been, they're generally the most
kind-hearted in the end.  Say an actress who'd come down in the world,
or an old opera-singer who'd lost her voice but could still sing a
little.  A woman who knows what trouble is.  And I'd get a girl to
keep her company, a sort of housemaid, with a couple of black gins or
half-castes to help her.  I'd get hold of some poor girl who'd been
deceived and deserted: and a baby or two wouldn't be an objection--the
kids would amuse the chaps and help humanize the place."

"And what if the manageress fell in love with the doctor?" I asked.

"Well, I couldn't provide against love," said Mitchell.  "I fell in
love myself more than once--and I don't suppose I'd have been any
worse off if I'd have stayed in love.  Ah, well!  But suppose she did
fall in love with the doctor and marry him, or suppose she fell in
love with him and didn't marry him, for that matter--and suppose the
girl fell in love with the secretary?  There wouldn't be any harm
done; it would only make them more contented with the home and bind
them to it.  They'd be a happy family, and the Lost Souls' Hotel would
be more cheerful and homelike than ever."

"But supposing they all fell in love with each other and cleared
out," I said.

"I don't see what they'd have to clear out for," said Mitchell.
"But suppose they did.  There's more than one medical wreck in
Australia, and more than one woman with a past, and more than one
broken old clerk who went wrong and was found out, and who steadied
down in jail, and there's more than one poor girl that's been
deceived.  I could easily replace 'em.  And the Lost Souls' Hotel
might be the means of patching up many wrecked lives in that
way--giving people with pasts the chance of another future, so to
speak."

"I suppose you'd have music and books and pictures?" I said.

"Oh, yes," said Mitchell.  "But I wouldn't have any bitter or
sex-problem books.  They do no good.  Problems have been the curse of
the world ever since it started.  I think one noble, kindly, cheerful
character in a book does more good than all the clever villains or
romantic adventurers ever invented.  And I think a man ought to get
rid of his maudlin sentiment in private, or when he's drunk.  It's a
pity that every writer couldn't put all his bitterness into one book
and then burn it.

"No; I'd have good cheerful books of the best and brightest sides of
human nature--Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain, and Bret Harte, and
those men.  And I'd have all Australian pictures--showing the
brightest and best side of Australian life.  And I'd have all
Australian songs.  I wouldn't have `Swannie Ribber,' or `Home, Sweet
Home,' or `Annie Laurie,' or any of those old songs sung at the Lost
Souls' Hotel--they're the cause of more heartbreaks and drink and
suicide in the bush than anything else.  And if a jackaroo got up to
sing, `Just before the battle, mother,' or, `Mother bit me in me
sleep,' he'd find it was just before the battle all right.  He'd have
to go out and sleep in the scrub, where the mosquitoes and bulldog
ants would bite him out of his sleep.  I hate the man who's always
whining about his mother through his nose, because, as a rule, he
never cared a rap for his old mother, nor for anyone else, except his
own paltry, selfish little self.

"I'd have intellectual and elevating conversation for those that---"

"Who'd take charge of that department?" I inquired hurriedly.

"Well," reflected Mitchell, "I did have an idea of taking it on
myself for a while anyway; but, come to think of it, the doctor or the
woman with the past would have more experience; and I could look after
that part of the business at a pinch.  Of course you're not in a
position to judge as to my ability in the intellectual line; you see,
I've had no one to practise on since I've been with you.  But no
matter--- There'd be intellectual conversation for the benefit of
black-sheep new chums.  And any broken-down actors that came along
could get up a play if they liked--it would brighten up things and
help elevate the bullock-drivers and sundowners.  I'd have a stage
fixed up and a bit of scenery.  I'd do all I could to attract shearers
to the place after shearing, and keep them from rushing to the next
shanty with their cheques, or down to Sydney, to be cleaned out by
barmaids.

"And I'd have the hero squashed in the last act for a selfish sneak,
and marry the girl to the villain--he'd be more likely to make her
happy in the end."


"And what about the farm?" I asked.  "I suppose you'd get some
expert from the agricultural college to manage that?"

"No," said Mitchell.  "I'd get some poor drought-ruined selector
and put him in charge of the vegetation.  Only, the worst of it is,"
he reflected, "if you take a selector who has bullocked all his life
to raise crops on dusty, stony patches in the scrubs, and put him on
land where there's plenty of water and manure, and where he's only got
to throw the seed on the ground and then light his pipe and watch it
grow, he's apt to get disheartened.  But that's human nature.

"And, of course, I'd have to have a `character' about the place--a
sort of identity and joker to brighten up things.  I wouldn't get a
man who'd been happy and comfortable all his life; I'd get hold of
some old codger whose wife had nagged him till she died, and who'd
been sold off many times, and run in for drowning his sorrows, and who
started as an undertaker and failed at that, and finally got a job
pottering round--gardener, or gatekeeper, or something--in a lunatic
asylum.  I'd get him.  He'd most likely be a humorist and a
philosopher, and he'd help cheer up the Lost Souls' Hotel.  I reckon
the lost souls would get very fond of him."

"And would you have drink at Lost Souls'?" I asked.

"Yes," said Mitchell.  "I'd have the best beer and spirits and wine
to be had.  After tea I'd let every man have just enough to make him
feel comfortable and happy, and as good and clever, and innocent and
honest as any other man, but no more.  But if a poor devil came along
in the horrors, with every inch of him jumping, and snakes, and
green-eyed yahoos, and flaming-nosed bunyips chasing him, we'd take
him in and give him soothing draughts, and nurse him, and watch him,
and clear him out with purgatives, and keep giving him nips of good
whisky, and, above all, we'd sympathize with him, and tell him that we
were worse than he was many a time.  We wouldn't tell him what a weak,
selfish man he was, or harp on his ruined life.  We'd try to make him
out a good deal better morally than he really was.  It's remorse that
hurries most men to hell--especially in the Bush.  When a man firmly
believes he is a hopeless case, then there's no hope for him: but let
him have doubts and there's a chance.  Make him believe that there are
far worse cases than his.  We wouldn't preach the sin of dissipation
to him, no--but we'd try to show him the _folly_ of a wasted
life.  I ought to be able to preach that, God knows.

"And, above all, we'd try to drive out of his head the cursed old
popular idea that it's hard to reform--that a man's got to fight a
hard battle with himself to get away from drink--pity drunkards can't
believe how easy it is.  And we'd put it to him straight whether his
few hours' enjoyment were worth the days he had to suffer hell for
it."

"And, likely as not," I said, "when you'd put him on his feet he'd
take the nearest track to the next shanty, and go on a howling spree,
and come back to Lost Souls' in a week, raving aid worse than ever.
What would you do then?"

"We'd take him in again, and build him up some more; and a third or
fourth time if necessary.  I believe in going right on with a thing
once I take it in hand.  And if he didn't turn up after the last spree
we'd look for him up the scrub and bring him in and let him die on a
bed, and make his death as comfortable as possible.  I've seen one man
die on the ground, and found one dead in the bush.  We'd bury him
under a gum and put `Sacred to the Memory of a Man who Died.  (Let him
R.I.P.)' over him.  I'd have a nice little graveyard, with gums for
tombstones--and I'd have some original epitaphs--I promise you."

"And how much gratitude would you expect to get out of the Lost
Souls' Hotel?" I asked.

"None," said Mitchell, promptly.  "It wouldn't be a Gratitude
Discovery Syndicate.  People might say that the Lost Souls' Hotel was
a den for kidnapping women and girls to be used as decoys for the
purpose of hocussing and robbing bushmen, and the law and retribution
might come after me--but I'd fight the thing out.  Or they might want
to make a K.C.M.G., or a god of me, and worship me before they hung
me.  I reckon a philanthropist or reformer is lucky if he escapes with
a whole skin in the end, let alone his character--- But there!---
Talking of gratitude: it's the fear of ingratitude that keeps
thousands from doing good.  It's just as paltry and selfish and
cowardly as any other fear that curses the world--it's rather more
selfish than most fears, in fact--take the fear of being thought a
coward, or being considered eccentric, or conceited, or affected, or
too good, or too bad, for instance.  The man that's always canting
about the world's ingratitude has no gratitude owing to him as a
rule--generally the reverse--he ought to be grateful to the world for
being let live.  He broods over the world's ingratitude until he gets
to be a cynic.  He sees the world like the outside of a window, as it
were, with the blind drawn and the dead, cold moonlight shining on it,
and he passes on with a sour face; whereas, if he took the trouble to
step inside he'd most likely find a room full of ruddy firelight, and
sympathy and cheerfulness, and kindness, and love, and gratitude.
Sometimes, when he's right down on his uppers, and forced to go
amongst people and hustle for bread, he gets a lot of surprises at the
amount of kindness he keeps running against in the world--and in
places where he'd never have expected to find it.  But--ah, well! I'm
getting maudlin."

"And you've forgot all about the Lost Souls' Hotel," I said.

"No, I haven't," said Mitchell; "I'd fix that up all right.  As
soon as I'd got things going smoothly under a man I could trust, I'd
tie up every penny I had for the benefit of the concern; get some
`white men' for trustees, and take the track again.  I'm getting too
old to stay long in one place--(I'm a lost soul that always got along
better in another place).  I'm so used to the track that if I was shut
up in a house I'd get walking up and down in my room of nights and
disturb the folk; and, besides, I'd feel lost and light-shouldered
without the swag."

"So you'd put all your money in the concern?"

"Yes--except a pound or two to go on the track with--for, who knows,
I might come along there, dusty and tired, and ragged and hard up and
old, some day, and be very glad of a night's rest at the Lost Souls'
Hotel.  But I wouldn't let on that I was old Mitchell, the
millionaire, who founded Lost Souls'.  They might be too officious,
and I hate fuss. . . .  But it's time to take the track, Harry."

There came a cool breeze with sunset; we stood up stiffly, shouldered
our swags and tucker-bags, and pushed on, for we had to make the next
water before we camped.  We were out of tobacco, so we borrowed some
from one of the bullock-drivers.




THE BOOZERS' HOME


"A dipsomaniac," said Mitchell, "needs sympathy and commonsense
treatment.  (Sympathy's a grand and glorious thing, taking it all
round and looking at it any way you will: a little of it makes a man
think that the world's a good world after all, and there's room and
hope for sinners, and that life's worth living; enough of it makes him
sure of it: and an overdose of sympathy makes a man _feel_ weak
and ashamed of himself, and so moves him to stop whining--and
wining--and buck up.)

"Now, I'm not taking the case of a workman who goes on the spree on
pay night and sweats the drink out of himself at work next day, nor a
slum-bred brute who guzzles for the love of it; but a man with brains,
who drinks to drown his intellect or his memory.  He's generally a man
under it all, and a sensitive, generous, gentle man with finer
feelings as often as not.  The best and cleverest and whitest men in
the world seem to take to drink mostly.  It's an awful pity.  Perhaps
it's because they're straight and the world's crooked and they can see
things too plain.  And I suppose in the bush the loneliness and the
thoughts of the girl-world they left behind help to sink 'em.

"Now a drunkard seldom reforms at home, because he's always
surrounded by the signs of the ruin and misery he has brought on the
home; and the sight and thought of it sets him off again before he's
had time to recover from the last spree.  Then, again, the noblest
wife in the world mostly goes the wrong way to work with a drunken
husband--nearly everything she does is calculated to irritate him.
If, for instance, he brings a bottle home from the pub, it shows that
he wants to stay at home and not go back to the pub any more; but the
first thing the wife does is to get hold of the bottle and plant it,
or smash it before his eyes, and that maddens him in the state he is
in then.

"No.  A dipsomaniac needs to be taken away from home for a while.  I
knew a man that got so bad that the way he acted at home one night
frightened him, and next morning he went into an inebriate home of his
own accord--to a place where his friends had been trying to get him
for a year past.  For the first day or two he was nearly dead with
remorse and shame--mostly shame; and he didn't know what they were
going to do to him next--and he only wanted them to kill him quick and
be done with it.  He reckons he felt as bad as if he was in jail.  But
there were ten other patients there, and one or two were worse than he
was, and that comforted him a lot.  They compared notes and
sympathized and helped each other.  They discovered that all their
wives were noble women.  He struck one or two surprises too--one of
the patients was a doctor who'd attended him one time, and another was
an old boss of his, and they got very chummy.  And there was a man
there who was standing for Parliament--he was supposed to be having a
rest down the coast. . . .  Yes, my old mate felt very bad for the first
day or two; it was all Yes, Nurse, and Thank you, Nurse, and Yes,
Doctor, and No, Doctor, and Thank you, Doctor.  But, inside a week, he
was calling the doctor 'Ol' Pill-Box' behind his back, and making love
to one of the nurses.

"But he said it was pitiful when women relatives came to visit
patients the first morning.  It shook the patients up a lot, but I
reckon it did 'em good.  There were well-bred old lady mothers in
black, and hard-working, haggard wives and loving daughters--and the
expressions of sympathy and faith and hope in those women's faces!  My
old mate said it was enough in itself to make a man swear off drink
for ever. . . .  Ah, God--what a world it is!

"Reminds me how I once went with the wife of another old mate of mine
to see him.  He was in a lunatic asylum.  It was about the worst hour
I ever had in my life, and I've had some bad ones.  The way she tried
to coax him back to his old self.  She thought she could do it when
all the doctors had failed.  But I'll tell you about him some other
time.

"The old mate said that the principal part of the treatment was
supposed to be injection of bi-chloride of gold or something, and it
was supposed to be a secret.  It might have been water and sugar for
all he knew, and he thought it was.  You see, when patients got better
they were allowed out, two by two, on their honour--one to watch the
other--and it worked.  But it was necessary to have an extra hold on
them; so they were told that if they were a minute late for
`treatment,' or missed one injection, all the good would be undone.
This was dinged into their ears all the time.  Same as many things are
done in the Catholic religion--to hold the people.  My old mate said
that, as far as the medical treatment was concerned, he could do all
that was necessary himself.  But it was the sympathy that counted,
especially the sympathy between the patients themselves.  They always
got hold of a new patient and talked to him and cheered him up; he
nearly always came in thinking he was the most miserable wretch in
this world.  And it comforts a man and strengthens him and makes him
happier to meet another man who's worse off or sicker, or has been
worse swindled than he has been.  That's human nature. . . .  And a man
will take draughts from a nurse and eat for her when he wouldn't do it
for his own wife--not even though she had been a trained nurse
herself.  And if a patient took a bad turn in the night at the
Boozers' Home and got up to hunt the snakes out of his room, he
wouldn't be sworn at, or laughed at, or held down; no, they'd help him
shoo the snakes out and comfort him.  My old mate said that, when he
got better, one of the new patients reckoned that he licked St
Pathrick at managing snakes.  And when he came out he didn't feel a
bit ashamed of his experience.  The institution didn't profess to cure
anyone of drink, only to mend up shattered nerves and build up wrecked
constitutions; give them back some will-power if they weren't too far
gone.  And they set my old mate on his feet all right.  When he went
in his life seemed lost, he had the horror of being sober, he couldn't
start the day without a drink or do any business without it.  He
couldn't live for more than two hours without a drink; but when he
came out he didn't feel as if he wanted it.  He reckoned that those
six weeks in the institution were the happiest he'd ever spent in his
life, and he wished the time had been longer; he says he'd never met
with so much sympathy and genius, and humour and human nature under
one roof before.  And he said it was nice and novel to be looked after
and watched and physicked and bossed by a pretty nurse in uniform--but
I don't suppose he told his wife that.  And when he came out he never
took the trouble to hide the fact that he'd been in.  If any of his
friends had a drunkard in the family, he'd recommend the institution
and do his best to get him into it.  But when he came out he firmly
believed that if he took one drink he'd be a lost man.  He made a
mania of that.  One curious effect was that, for some time after he
left the institution, he'd sometimes feel suddenly in high
spirits--with nothing to account for it--something like he used to
feel when he had half a dozen whiskies in him; then suddenly he'd feel
depressed and sort of hopeless--with nothing to account for that
either--just as if he was suffering a recovery.  But those moods never
lasted long and he soon grew out of them altogether.  He didn't flee
temptation.  He'd knock round the pubs on Saturday nights with his old
mates, but never drank anything but soft stuff--he was always careful
to smell his glass for fear of an accident or trick.  He drank gallons
of ginger beer, milk-and-soda, and lemonade; and he got very fond of
sweets, too--he'd never liked them before.  He said he enjoyed the
novelty of the whole thing and his mates amused him at first; but he
found he had to leave them early in the evening, and, after a while,
he dropped them altogether.  They seemed such fools when they were
drunk (they'd never seemed fools to him before).  And, besides, as
they got full, they'd get suspicious of him, and then mad at him,
because he couldn't see things as they could.  That reminds me that it
nearly breaks a man's heart when his old drinking chum turns
teetotaller--it's worse than if he got married or died.  When two
mates meet and one is drunk and the other sober there is only one of
two things for them to do if they want to hit it together--either the
drunken mate must get sober or the sober mate drunk.  And that reminds
me: Take the case of two old mates who've been together all their
lives, say they always had their regular sprees together and went
through the same stages of drunkenness together, and suffered their
recoveries and sobered up together, and each could stand about the
same quantity of drink and one never got drunker than the other.
Each, when he's boozing, reckons his mate the cleverest man and the
hardest case in the world--second to himself.  But one day it happens,
by a most extraordinary combination of circumstances, that Bill, being
sober, meets Jim very drunk, and pretty soon Bill is the most
disgusted man in this world.  He never would have dreamed that his old
mate could make such a fool and such a public spectacle of himself.
And Bill's disgust intensifies all the time he is helping Jim home,
and Jim arguing with him and wanting to fight him, and slobbering over
him and wanting to love him by turns, until Bill swears he'll give Jim
a hammering as soon as ever he's able to stand steady on his feet."

"I suppose your old boozing mate's wife was very happy when he
reformed," I said to Mitchell.

"Well, no," said Mitchell, rubbing his head rather ruefully.  "I
suppose it was an exceptional case.  But I knew her well, and the fact
is that she got more discontented and thinner, and complained and
nagged him worse than she'd ever done in his drinking days.  And she'd
never been afraid of him.  Perhaps it was this way: She loved and
married a careless, good-natured, drinking scamp, and when he reformed
and became a careful, hard-working man, and an honest and respected
fellow-townsman, she was disappointed in him.  He wasn't the man that
won her heart when she was a girl.  Or maybe he was only company for
her when he was half drunk.  Or maybe lots of things.  Perhaps he'd
killed the love in her before he reformed--and reformed too late.  I
wonder how a man feels when he finds out for the first time that his
wife doesn't love him any longer?  But my old mate wasn't the nature
to find out that sort of thing.  Ah, well!  If a woman caused all our
trouble, my God! women have suffered for it since--and they suffer
like martyrs mostly and with the patience of working bullocks.  Anyway
it goes, if I'm the last man in the world, and the last woman is the
worst, and there's only room for one more in Heaven, I'll step down at
once and take my chances in Blazes."




THE SEX PROBLEM AGAIN


It was Mitchell's habit to take an evening off now and then from
yarning or reflecting, and proceed, in a most methodical manner, to
wash his spare shirts and patch his pants.  I was in the habit of
contributing to some Sydney papers, and every man is an editor at
heart, so, at other times, Mitchell would take another evening off,
and root out my swag, and go through my papers in the same methodical
manner, and make alterations and additions without comment or
reference to me; and sometimes he'd read a little thing of my own
which didn't meet his views, and accidentally drop it into the fire;
and at other times he'd get hold of some rhyme or sketch that was
troubling me, and wrap it up and give it to a passing mailman
unbeknown to me.  The unexpected appearance of such articles in the
paper, as well as the effects of the involuntary collaboration in
other pieces, gave me several big surprises.

It was in camp on a fencing contract west of Bourke.  We had a book
which we'd borrowed from a library at Bourke for a year or two--never
mind the name of it--it was in ninety-one or ninety-two, and the sex
problem was booming then.  I had been surreptitiously tearing some
carefully-written slips of manuscript--leaves taken from an old
pocket-book--into small pieces; I dropped them, with apparent
carelessness, into the fire and stood with my back to it.

"I'll bet five pounds," said Mitchell, suddenly, "that you've been
trying your hand on a sex-problem story."

I shifted uneasily and brought my hands from behind me into my
pockets.  "Well, to tell you the truth," I admitted, "I have."

"I thought so," exclaimed Mitchell.  "We'll be put to the expense
of sending you to Sydney for medical treatment yet.  You've been
having too easy times lately, plenty of hard graft and no anxiety
about tucker or the future.  What are the symptoms?"

"Well," I said, taking a hand out to scratch the back of my head,
"the plot looked all right--at first sight."

"So there's a plot, is there?  Well, in the first place, a plot is a
problem.  Well, what's the plot? . . .  Come on, you needn't be
frightened to tell an old mate like me."

"Well," I said, "the yarn looked all right at first sight; that
article of `T's' in the _Bulletin_ turned me off it; listen and
see what you think of it: There was a young fellow, a bit of a
genius---"

"Just so, it's the geniuses that build the sex problems.  It's an
autobiography.  Go on."

"Well, he married a girl."

Mitchell (sotto voce): "God help her."

"He loved her, and she loved him: but after they'd been married a
while he found out that, although he understood her, she didn't and
couldn't possibly ever understand him."

"Yes," commented Mitchell, "and if he hadn't caught the sex
problem, nor been reading about it, he would never have found that
out."

"It was a terrible disappointment," I continued--I had got into the
habit of taking Mitchell's interruptions and comments as matters of
course--"He saw that his life would be a hell with her---"

Mitchell: "Didn't strike him that her life would be a hell with
him?"

"They had no thought in common."

Mitchell: "She was in her right mind then."

"But he couldn't leave her because he loved her, and because he knew
that she loved him and would break her heart if he left her."

"Must have been a pretty cocksure sort of a fellow," remarked
Mitchell, "but all geniuses are."

"When he was with her he saw all her obstinacy, unreason, and
selfishness; but when he was away he only saw her good points."

Mitchell: "Pity such men don't stop away."

"He thought and thought, and brooded over it till his life was a
hell---"

Mitchell: "Jes-so: thanks to the problemaniacs."

"He thought of killing her and himself, and so taking her with him"

"Where?" asked Mitchell.  "He must have loved her a lot. . . .  Good
Lord!  That shows the awful effects of the sex problem on the mind of
a healthy young man like you;" and Mitchell stood up.

"He lay awake by her side at nights thinking and fighting the thing
out."

"And you've been lying awake, thinking, with me and `the Oracle' by
your side.  We'll have to plant the tommy-hawk, and watch you by turns
at night till you get over this."

"One night he rested on his elbow, and watched her sleeping, and
tried to reconstruct his ideal out of her, and, just when he was
getting into a happier frame of mind, her mouth fell open, and she
snored. . . .  I didn't get any further than the snore," I said.

"No, of course you didn't," said Mitchell, "and none of the sex
problemers ever will--unless they get as far as `blanky.'  You might
have made the snore cure him; did it?"

"No, it was making things worse in my idea of the yarn.  He fell back
and lay staring at the ceiling in a hopeless kind of a way."

"Then he was a fit case for the lunatic asylum. . . .  Now, look here,
Harry, you're a good-natured, soft old fool when you're in your right
mind; just you go on being a good-natured, soft old fool, and don't
try to make a problem out of yourself or anybody else, or you'll come
to a bad end.  A pocket-book's to keep your accounts in, not to take
notes in (you take them in your head and use 'em in your arms), not to
write sex-problem rot in--that's spoilt many a good pocket-book, and
many a good man.  You've got a girl you're talking about going back to
as soon as we've finished this contract.  Don't you make a problem of
her; make a happy wife and mother of her. . . .  I was very clever when
I was young"--and here Mitchell's voice took a tinge of bitterness, or
sadness.  "I used to make problems out of things. . . .  I ain't much to
boast of now. . . .  Seems to me that a good many men want to make angels
of their wives without first taking trouble of making saints of
themselves.  We want to make women's ways our ways--it would be just
as fair to make our ways theirs.  Some men want to be considered gods
in their own homes; you'll generally find that sort of men very small
potatoes outside; if they weren't they wouldn't bother so much about
being cocks on their own little dunghills. . . .  And again, old mates
seldom quarrel, because they understand each other's moods.  Now, if
you went brooding round for any length of time I'd say to you.  `Now
then, Harry, what have I been doing to you?  Spit it out, old man.'
And you'd do the same by me; but how many men would take even that
much trouble with their wives?"

A breeze stirred the mulga and brought the sound of a good voice
singing in the surveyors' camp:

    Should old acquaintance be forgot
      And never brought to min'?
    Should old acquaintance be forgot
      And the days of Auld Lang Syne?

"That damned old tune will upset the Oracle for the rest of the
night," I said.

"Now, there's the Oracle," said Mitchell.  "He was wronged by a woman
as few men are wronged; his life was ruined--but he isn't the man to
take any stock in sex problems on account of her.  He thinks he's
great on problems, but he isn't.  It all amounts to this--that he's
sorry for most men and all women and tries to act up to it to the best
of his ability; and if he ain't a Christian, God knows what is--I don't.
No matter what a woman does to you, or what you think she does to you,
there come times, sooner or later, when you feel sorry for her--deep
down in your heart--that is if you're a man.  And, no matter what action
or course you might take against her, and no matter how right or
justified you might seem in doing it, there comes a time when, deep
down in your heart, you feel mean and doubtful about your own part.
You can take that as a general thing as regards men against women,
and man against man, I think.  And I believe that deep-down feeling
of being doubtful, or mean, or sorry, that comes afterwards, when you
are cooler and know more about the world, is a right and natural thing,
and we ought to act more in accordance with it."

Came the refrain from the surveyors' camp:

    We twa hae run about the braes,
      An' pu'd the gowans fine;
    But we've wandered mony a weary foot
      Sin' Auld Lang Syne.

"We feel sorry for our quarrels with our worst enemy when we see him
lying still and quiet--dead.  Why can't we try and feel a bit sorry
beforehand?"

        For Auld Lang Syne.
    We twa ha' padl't i' the burn,
      Fra mornin' sun till dine;
    But seas between us braid ha' roar'd
      Sin' Auld Lang Syne.

"I used to feel blazing bitter against things one time but it never
hurt anybody but myself in the end.  I argued and quarrelled with a
girl once--and made a problem of the thing and went away.  She's
married to a brute now, and I'm what I am.  I made a problem of a good
home or the world once, and went against the last man in God's world
that I should have gone against, and turned my back on his hand, and
left him.  His hand was very cold the next time I took it in mine.  We
don't want problems to make us more bitter against the world than we
get sometimes."

    And here's a han' my trusty frien',
      An' gie's a han' o' thine,
    We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
      For Auld Lang Syne.

"And that song's the answer of all problems," said Mitchell.  But it
was I who lay awake and thought that night.

[Children of the Bush by Henry Lawson II]



THE ROMANCE OF THE SWAG

The Australian swag fashion is the easiest way in the world of
carrying a load.  I ought to know something about carrying loads: I've
carried babies, which are the heaviest and most awkward and
heartbreaking loads in this world for a boy or man to carry, I fancy.
God remember mothers who slave about the housework (and do sometimes a
man's work in addition in the bush) with a heavy, squalling kid on one
arm!  I've humped logs on the selection, "burning-off," with loads of
fencing-posts and rails and palings out of steep, rugged gullies (and
was happier then, perhaps); I've carried a shovel, crowbar, heavy
"rammer," a dozen insulators on an average (strung round my shoulders
with raw flax)-to say nothing of soldiering kit, tucker-bag, billy and
climbing spurs--all day on a telegraph line in rough country in New
Zealand, and in places where a man had to manage his load with one
hand and help himself climb with the other; and I've helped hump and
drag telegraph-poles up cliffs and sidings where the horses couldn't
go.  I've carried a portmanteau on the hot dusty roads in green old
jackaroo days.  Ask any actor who's been stranded and had to count
railway sleepers from one town to another! he'll tell you what sort of
an awkward load a portmanteau is, especially if there's a
broken-hearted man underneath it.  I've tried knapsack fashion--one of
the least healthy and most likely to give a man sores; I've carried my
belongings in a three-bushel sack slung over my shoulder--blankets,
tucker, spare boots and poetry all lumped together.  I tried carrying
a load on my head, and got a crick in my neck and spine for days.
I've carried a load on my mind that should have been shared by editors
and publishers.  I've helped hump luggage and furniture up to, and
down from, a top flat in London.  And I've carried swag for months out
back in Australia--and it was life, in spite of its "squalidness" and
meanness and wretchedness and hardship, and in spite of the fact that
the world would have regarded us as "tramps"--and a free life amongst
_men_ from all the world!

The Australian swag was born of Australia and no other land--of the
Great Lone Land of magnificent distances and bright heat; the land of
self-reliance, and never-give-in, and help-your-mate.  The grave of
many of the world's tragedies and comedies--royal and otherwise.  The
land where a man out of employment might shoulder his swag in Adelaide
and take the track, and years later walk into a hut on the Gulf, or
never be heard of any more, or a body be found in the bush and buried
by the mounted police, or never found and never buried--what does it
matter?

The land I love above all others--not because it was kind to me, but
because I was born on Australian soil, and because of the foreign
father who died at his work in the ranks of Australian pioneers, and
because of many things.  Australia!  My country!  Her very name is
music to me.  God bless Australia! for the sake of the great hearts of
the heart of her!  God keep her clear of the old-world shams and
social lies and mockery, and callous commercialism, and sordid shame!
And heaven send that, if ever in my time her sons are called upon to
fight for her young life and honour, I die with the first rank of them
and be buried in Australian ground.

But this will probably be called false, forced or "maudlin
sentiment" here in England, where the mawkish sentiment of the
music-halls, and the popular applause it receives, is enough to make
a healthy man sick, and is only equalled by music-hall vulgarity.
So I'll get on.

In the old digging days the knapsack, or straps-across-the chest
fashion, was tried, but the load pressed on a man's chest and impeded
his breathing, and a man needs to have his bellows free on long tracks
in hot, stirless weather.  Then the "horse-collar," or rolled
military overcoat style--swag over one shoulder and under the other
arm--was tried, but it was found to be too hot for the Australian
climate, and was discarded along with Wellington boots and leggings.
Until recently, Australian city artists and editors--who knew as much
about the bush as Downing Street knows about the British colonies in
general--seemed to think the horse-collar swag was still in existence;
and some artists gave the swagman a stick, as if he were a tramp of
civilization with an eye on the backyard and a fear of the dog.
English artists, by the way, seem firmly convinced that the Australian
bushman is born in Wellington boots with a polish on 'em you could
shave yourself by.

The swag is usually composed of a tent "fly" or strip of calico (a
cover for the swag and a shelter in bad weather--in New Zealand it is
oilcloth or waterproof twill), a couple of blankets, blue by custom
and preference, as that colour shows the dirt less than any other
(hence the name "bluey" for swag), and the core is composed of spare
clothing and small personal effects.  To make or "roll up" your
swag: lay the fly or strip of calico on the ground, blueys on top of
it; across one end, with eighteen inches or so to spare, lay your
spare trousers and shirt, folded, light boots tied together by the
laces toe to heel, books, bundle of old letters, portraits, or
whatever little knick-knacks you have or care to carry, bag of
needles, thread, pen and ink, spare patches for your pants, and
bootlaces.  Lay or arrange the pile so that it will roll evenly with
the swag (some pack the lot in an old pillowslip or canvas bag), take
a fold over of blanket and calico the whole length on each side, so as
to reduce the width of the swag to, say, three feet, throw the spare
end, with an inward fold, over the little pile of belongings, and then
roll the whole to the other end, using your knees and judgment to make
the swag tight, compact and artistic; when within eighteen inches of
the loose end take an inward fold in that, and bring it up against the
body of the swag.  There is a strong suggestion of a roley-poley in a
rag about the business, only the ends of the swag are folded in, in
rings, and not 'tied.  Fasten the swag with three or four straps,
according to judgment and the supply of straps.  To the top strap, for
the swag is carried (and eased down in shanty bars and against walls
or veranda-posts when not on the track) in a more or less vertical
position--to the top strap, and lowest, or lowest but one, fasten the
ends of the shoulder strap (usually a towel is preferred as being
softer to the shoulder), your coat being carried outside the swag at
the back, under the straps.  To the top strap fasten the string of the
nose-bag, a calico bag about the size of a pillowslip, containing the
tea, sugar and flour bags, bread, meat, baking-powder and salt, and
brought, when the swag is carried from the left shoulder, over the
right on to the chest, and so balancing the swag behind.  But a
swagman can throw a heavy swag in a nearly vertical position against
his spine, slung from one shoulder only and without any balance, and
carry it as easily as you might wear your overcoat.  Some bushmen
arrange their belongings so neatly and conveniently, with swag straps
in a sort of harness, that they can roll up the swag in about a
minute, and unbuckle it and throw it out as easily as a roll of
wall-paper, and there's the bed ready on the ground with the wardrobe
for a pillow.  The swag is always used for a seat on the track; it is
a soft seat, so trousers last a long time.  And, the dust being mostly
soft and silky on the long tracks out back, boots last marvellously.
Fifteen miles a day is the average with the swag, but you must travel
according to the water: if the next bore or tank is five miles on, and
the next twenty beyond, you camp at the five-mile water to-night and
do the twenty next day.  But if it's thirty miles you have to do it.
Travelling with the swag in Australia is variously and picturesquely
described as "humping bluey," "walking Matilda," "humping
Matilda," "humping your drum," "being on the wallaby," "jabbing
trotters," and "tea and sugar burglaring," but most travelling
shearers now call themselves trav'lers, and say simply "on the
track," or "carrying swag."

And there you have the Australian swag.  Men from all the world have
carried it--lords and low-class Chinamen, saints and world martyrs,
and felons, thieves, and murderers, educated gentlemen and boors who
couldn't sign their mark, gentlemen who fought for Poland and convicts
who fought the world, women, and more than one woman disguised as a
man.  The Australian swag has held in its core letters and papers in
all languages, the honour of great houses, and more than one national
secret, papers that would send well-known and highly-respected men to
jail, and proofs of the innocence of men going mad in prisons, life
tragedies and comedies, fortunes and papers that secured titles and
fortunes, and the last pence of lost fortunes, life secrets, portraits
of mothers and dead loves, pictures of fair women, heart-breaking old
letters written long ago by vanished hands, and the pencilled
manuscript of more than one book which will be famous yet.

The weight of the swag varies from the light rouseabout's swag,
containing one blanket and a clean shirt, to the "royal Alfred,"
with tent and all complete, and weighing part of a ton.  Some old
sundowners have a mania for gathering, from selectors' and shearers'
huts, and dust-heaps, heart-breaking loads of rubbish which can never
be of any possible use to them or anyone else.  Here is an inventory
of the contents of the swag of an old tramp who was found dead on the
track, lying on his face on the sand, with his swag on top of him, and
his arms stretched straight out as if he were embracing the mother
earth, or had made, with his last movement, the sign of the cross to
the blazing heavens:


Rotten old tent in rags.  Filthy blue blanket, patched with squares of
red and calico.  Half of "white blanket" nearly black now, patched
with pieces of various material and sewn to half of red blanket.
Three-bushel sack slit open.  Pieces of sacking.  Part of a woman's
skirt.  Two rotten old pairs of moleskin trousers.  One leg of a pair
of trousers.  Back of a shirt.  Half a waistcoat.  Two tweed coats,
green, old and rotting, and patched with calico.  Blanket, etc.  Large
bundle of assorted rags for patches, all rotten.  Leaky billy-can,
containing fishing-line, papers, suet, needles and cotton, etc.
Jam-tin, medicine bottles, corks on strings, to hang to his hat to
keep the flies off (a sign of madness in the bush, for the corks would
madden a sane man sooner than the flies could).  Three boots of
different sizes, all belonging to the right foot, and a left slipper.
Coffee-pot, without handle or spout, and quart-pot full of
rubbish--broken knives and forks, with the handles burnt off, spoons,
etc., picked up on rubbish-heaps; and many rusty nails, to be used as
buttons, I suppose.

Broken saw blade, hammer, broken crockery, old pannikins, small rusty
frying-pan without a handle, children's old shoes, many bits of old
bootleather and greenhide, part of yellowback novel, mutilated English
dictionary, grammar and arithmetic book, a ready reckoner, a cookery
book, a bulgy anglo-foreign dictionary, part of a Shakespeare, book in
French and book in German, and a book on etiquette and courtship.  A
heavy pair of blucher boots, with uppers parched and cracked, and
soles so patched (patch over patch) with leather, boot protectors,
hoop iron and hobnails that they were about two inches thick, and the
boots weighed over five pounds.  (If you don't believe me go into the
Melbourne Museum, where, in a glass case in a place of honour, you
will see a similar, perhaps the same, pair of bluchers labelled "An
example of colonial industry.")  And in the core of the swag was a
sugar-bag tied tightly with a whip-lash, and containing another old
skirt, rolled very tight and fastened with many turns of a length of
clothes-line, which last, I suppose, he carried to hang himself with
if he felt that way.  The skirt was rolled round a small packet of old
portraits and almost indecipherable letters--one from a woman who had
evidently been a sensible woman and a widow, and who stated in the
letter that she did not intend to get married again as she had enough
to do already, slavin' her finger-nails off to keep a family, without
having a second husband to keep.  And her answer was "final for good
and all," and it wasn't no use comin' "bungfoodlin'" round her
again.  If he did she'd set Satan on to him.  "Satan" was a dog, I
suppose.

The letter was addressed to "Dear Bill," as were others.  There were
no envelopes.  The letters were addressed from no place in particular,
so there weren't any means of identifying the dead man.  The police
buried him under a gum, and a young trooper cut on the tree the words:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
  BILL
WHO DIED.




"BUCKOLTS' GATE"

PROLOGUE

Old Abel Albury had a genius for getting the bull by the tail with a
tight grip, and holding on with both hands and an obstinacy born of
ignorance--and not necessarily for the sake of self-preservation or
selfishness--while all the time the bull might be, so to speak,
rooting up life-long friendships and neighbourly relations, and
upsetting domestic customs and traditions with his horns.

Yes, Uncle Abel was always grasping the wrong end of things, and
sticking to it with that human mulishness which is often stronger, and
more often wearies and breaks down the opposition than an intelligent
man's arguments.  He was---or professed to be, the family said--unable
for a long time to distinguish between his two grand-nephews, one of
whom was short and fat, while the other was tall and thin, the only
points of resemblance between them being that each possessed the old
family nose and eyes.  When they were boys he used to lay the strap
about one in mistake for the other.  They had a saying that Uncle Abel
saw with ten squinting eyes.

Also, he could never-or would not, as the family said--remember names.
He referred to Mrs Porter, a thin, haggard selector's wife, as "Mrs
Stout" and he balanced matters by calling Mrs Southwick "Mrs
Porterwicket"--when he didn't address her as "Mrs What's-the-
woman's-name"--and he succeeded in deeply offending both ladies.

Uncle Abel was Mrs Carey's uncle.

Down at the lower end of Carey's selection at Rocky Rises, in the
extreme corner of the lower or outer paddock, were sliprails opening
into the main road, which ran down along the siding, round the foot of
a spur from ridge, and out west.  These sliprails were called "The
Lower Sliprails" by the family, and it occurred to Uncle Abel to refer
to them as "Buckolts' Gate," for no other reason apparently than that
Buckolts' farm lay in that direction.  The farm was about a mile
further on, on the other side of the creek, and the gate leading to it
from the main road was round the spur, out of sight of Carey's
selection.  It is quite possible that Uncle Abel reasoned the thing
out for days, for of such material are some human brains.  Sliprails,
or a slip-panel, is a panel of fencing of which the rails are made to
be slipped out of the mortise holes in the posts so as to give passage
to horses, vehicles and cattle.  I suppose Abel called it a gate,
because he was always going to hang a proper gate there some day.  The
family were unaware of his new name for the Lower Sliprails, and after
he had, on one or two occasions, informed the boys that they would
find a missing cow or horse at the Buckolts' Gate, and they had found
it calmly camped at the Lower Sliprails, and after he had made several
appointments to meet parties at Buckolts' Gate, and had been found
leaning obstinately on the fence by the Lower Sliprails with no
explanation to offer other than that he _was_ waiting at Buckolts'
Gate, they began to fear that he was becoming weak in his mind.

ACT I

It was New Year's Eve at Rocky Rises.  There was no need for fireworks
nor bonfires, for the bush-fires were out all along the ranges to the
east, and, as night came on, lines and curves of lights--clear lights,
white lights, and, in the nearer distance, red lights and smoky
lights--marked the sidings and ridges of a western spur of the Blue
Mountain Range, and seemed suspended against a dark sky, for the stars
and the loom of the hills were hidden by smoke and drought haze.


There was a dance at Careys'.  Old Carey was a cheerful, broad-minded
bushman, haunted at times by the memories of old days, when he was the
beau of the bush balls, and so when he built his new slab-and-bark
barn he had it properly floored with hard-wood, and the floor
well-faced "to give the young people a show when they wanted a
dance," he said.  The floor had a spring in it, and bush boys and
girls often rode twenty miles and more to dance on that floor.  The
girls said it was a lovely floor.

On this occasion Carey had stacked his wheat outside until after the
New Year.  Spring-carts, and men and girls on horseback came in from
miles round.  "Sperm" candles had been cut up and thrown on the
floor during the afternoon, and rubbed over by feet cased tightly in
'lastic-sides; and hoops were hung horizontally from the tie-beams,
with candles stuck round them.  There were fresh-faced girls, and
sweet, freckled-faced girls, and jolly girls, and shy girls--all sorts
of girls except sulky, "toney" girls--and lanky chaps, most of them
sawney, and weird, whiskered agriculturists, who watched the dancers
with old, old time-worn smiles, or stood, or sat on their heels
yarning, with their pipes, outside, where two boilers were slung over
a log-fire to boil water for tea; and there were leathery women, with
complexions like dried apples, who gossiped--for the first time in
months perhaps--and watched the young people, and thought at times, no
doubt, of other days--of other days when they were girls.  (And not so
far distant either, in some cases, for women dry quickly in the bush.)


And there were one or two old soldiers and their wives, whose eyes
glistened when Jim Bullock played "The Girl I Left Behind Me."

Jim Bullock was there with his concertina.  He sat on a stool in front
of a bench, on which was a beer-keg, piles of teacups and saucers,
several big tin teapots, and plates of sandwiches, sponge-cakes, and
tarts.  Jim sat in his shirt-sleeves, with his flat-brimmed,
wire-bound, "hard-hitter" hat on, slanting over his weaker eye.  He
held one leg loosely and the other rigid, with the concertina on his
knee, and swanked away at the instrument by the hour, staring straight
in front of him with the expression of a cod-fish, and never moving a
muscle except the muscles of his great hairy arms and big chapped and
sun-blotched hands; while chaps in tight "larstins" (elastic-side
boots), slop suits of black, bound with braid, and with coats too
short in the neck and arms, and trousers bell-mouthed at the bottoms,
and some with paper collars, narrow red ribbon ties, or scarfs through
walnut shells, held their partners rigidly, and went round the room
with their eyes--most of them--cocked at the rafters in semi-idiotic
ecstasy.

But there was tall, graceful, pink-and-white Bertha Buckolt, blue-eyed
and blue-black-haired, and little Mary Carey with the kind, grey eyes
and red-gold hair; there was Mary's wild brother Jim, with curly black
hair and blue eyes and dimples of innocence; and there was Harry Dale,
the drover, Jim's shearing and droving mate, a tall, good-looking,
brown-eyed and brown-haired young fellow, a "better-class" bushman
and the best dancer in the district.  Uncle Abel usurped the position
of M.C., and roared "Now then! take yer partners!" and bawled
instructions and interrupted and tangled up the dancers, until they
got used to taking no notice of his bull voice.  Mary Carey was too
shy--because she loved him, and secretly and fondly hoped and doubted
that he cared for her--to be seen dancing more than once with Harry
Dale, so he shared Bertha Buckolt, the best girl dancer there, with
Jim Carey, who danced with his sister when Harry was dancing with
Bertha Buckolt, and who seemed, for some reason best known to himself,
to be perfectly satisfied with the arrangement.  Poor little Mary
began to fret presently, and feel a little jealous of Bertha, her old
schoolmate.  She was little and couldn't dance like Bertha, and she
couldn't help noticing how well Bertha looked to-night, and what a
well-matched pair she and Harry made; and so, when twelve o'clock came
and they all went outside to watch the Old Year out and the New Year
in--with a big bonfire on the distant ridge where the grass fires had
reached a stretch of dry scrub--and to join hands all round and sing
"Auld Lang Syne," little Mary was not to be found, for she was
sitting on a log round behind the cow-yard, crying softly to herself.

And when about three o'clock they all started home, Mary gave Bertha
her cheek to kiss instead of her mouth, and that hurt Bertha, who had
_her_ cry riding home, to the astonishment and irritation of her
brother Jack, who rode home with her.  But when they were all gone
Mary was missing again and when her mother called her, and, after a
pause, the voice of Harry Dale said, respectfully, in the darkness,
"She's here, Mrs Carey, she's all right," the two were discovered
sitting on a convenient log of the wood-heap, with an awkward and
overacted interval of log between them.

Old Carey liked Harry Dale, and seemed very well satisfied with the
way things appeared to be going.  He pressed Harry to stay at the
selection overnight.  "The missus will make you a shake-down on the
floor," he said.  Harry had no appointments, and stayed cheerfully,
and old Carey, having had a whisky or two, insisted on Mary making the
shake-down, and the old folks winked at each other behind the young
folks' backs to see how poor little Mary spread a spare mattress, with
redhot, averted face, and found an extra pillow and a spare pair of
ironed sheets for the shake-down.

At sunrise she stole out to milk the cows, which was her regular duty;
there was no other way out from her room than through the dining-room,
where Harry lay on his back, with his arms folded, resting peacefully.
He seemed sound asleep and safe for a good two hours, so she ventured.
As she passed out she paused a moment looking down on him with all the
lovelight in her eyes, and, obeying a sudden impulse, she stooped
softly and touched his forehead with her lips, then she slipped out.
Harry stretched, opened his eyes, winked solemnly at the ceiling, and
then, after a decent interval, he got up, dressed, and went out to
help her to milk.



Harry Dale and Jim Carey were going out to take charge of a mob of
bullocks going north-west, away up in Queensland.  And as they had
lost a day and night to be at the dance, they decided to start in the
cool of the evening and travel all night.  Mary walked from the
homestead to the Lower Sliprails between her brother, who
rode--because he was her brother--and led a packhorse on the other
side, and Harry, who walked and led his horse--because he was her
sweetheart, avowed only since last night.

There were thunderstorms about, and Mary had repented sufficiently
with regard to Bertha Buckolt to wear on her shoulders a cape which
Bertha had left behind her last night.

When they reached the Lower Sliprails Jim said he'd go on and that
Harry needn't hurry: he stooped over his horse's neck, kissed his
sister, promised to keep away from the drink, not to touch a card,
and to leave off fighting, and rode on.  And when he rounded the Spur
he saw a tall, graceful figure slipping through the trees from the
creek towards Buckolts' Gate.

Then came the critical time at the Lower Sliprails.  The shadows from
the setting sun lengthened quickly on the siding, and then the sun
slipped out of sight over a "saddle" in the ridges, and all was soon
dusk save the sunlit peaks of the Blue Mountains away to the east over
the sweeps of blue-grey bush.

"Ah, well! Mary," said Harry, "I must make a start now."

"You'll--you'll look after Jim, won't you, Harry?" said Mary.

"I will, Mary, for your sake."

Her mouth began to twitch, her chin to tremble, and her eyes brimmed
suddenly.

"You must cheer up, Mary," he said with her in his arms.  "I'll be
back before you know where you are, and then we'll be married right
off at once and settle down for life."

She smiled bravely.

"Good-bye, Mary!"

"Good-bye, Harry!"

He led his horse through the rails and lifted them, with trembling
hands, and shot them home.  Another kiss across the top rail and he
got on his horse.  She mounted the lower rail, and he brought his
horse close alongside the fence and stooped to kiss her again.

"Cheer up, Mary!" he said.  "I'll tell you what I'll do--when I come
back I'll whistle when I reach the Spur and you be here to let the
sliprails down for me.  I'll time myself to get here about sundown.
I'll whistle `Willie Riley,' so you'll know it's me.  Good-bye, little
girl!  I must go now.  Don't fret--the time will soon go by."

He turned, swung his horse, and rode slowly down the track, turning
now and again to wave his hand to her, with a farewell flourish of his
hat as he rounded the Spur.  His track, five hundred miles, or perhaps
a thousand, into the great north-west; his time, six months, or
perhaps a year.  Hers a hundred yards or so back to the dusty, dreary
drudgery of selection life.  The daylight faded into starlight, the
sidings grew very dim, and a faint white figure blurred against the
bars of the slip-panel.


ACT II


It was the last day of the threshing--shortly after New Year--at Rocky
Rises.  The green boughs, which had been lashed to the veranda-posts
on Christmas Eve, had withered and been used for firewood.  The
travelling steamer had gone with its gang of men, and the family sat
down to tea, the men tired with hard work and heat, and with prickly
heat and irritating wheaten chaff and dust under their clothes--and
with smut (for the crop had been a smutty one) "up their brains" as
Uncle Abel said--the women worn out with cooking for a big gang of
shearers.

Good-humoured Aunt Emma--who was Uncle Abel's niece
--recovered first, and started the conversation.  There were one or two
neighbours' wives who bad lent crockery and had come over to help with
the cooking in their turns.  Jim Carey's name came up incidentally, but
was quickly dropped, for ill reports of Jim had come home.  Then Aunt
Emma mentioned Harry Dale, and glanced meaningly at Mary, whose face
flamed as she bent over her plate.

"Never mind, Mary," said Aunt Emma, "it's nothing to be ashamed of.
We were all girls once.  There's many a girl would jump at Harry."

"Who says I'm ashamed?" said Mary, straightening up indignantly.

"Don't tease her, Emma," said Mrs Carey, mildly.

"I'll tell yer what," said young Tom Carey, frankly, "Mary got a
letter from him to-day.  I seen her reading it behind the house."

Mary's face flamed again and went down over her plate.


"Mary," said her mother, with sudden interest, "did Harry say anything
of Jim?"

"No, mother," said Mary.  "And that's why I didn't tell you
about the letter."

There was a pause.  Then Tommy said, with that delightful tact which
usually characterizes young Tommies:

"Well, Mary needn't be so cocky about Harry Dale, anyhow.  I seen him
New Year's Eve when we had the dance.  I seen him after the dance
liftin' Bertha Buckolt onter her horse in the dark--as if she couldn't
get on herself--she's big enough.  I seen him lift her on, an' he took
her right up an' lifted her right inter the saddle, 'stead of holdin'
his hand for her to tread on like that new-chum jackaroo we had.  An',
what's more, I seen him hug her an' give her a kiss before he lifted
her on.  He told her he was as good as her brother."

"What did he mean by that, Tommy?" asked Mrs Porter, to break an
awkward pause.

"How'm I ter know what he means?" said Tommy, politely.

"And, Tommy, I seen Harry Dale give young Tommy Carey a lick with a
strap the day before New Year's Eve for throwing his sister's cat into
the dam," said Aunt Emma, coming to poor Mary's rescue.  "Never
mind, Mary, my dear, he said goodbye to you last."

"No, _he didn't_!" roared Uncle Abel.

They were used to Uncle Abel's sudden bellowing, but it startled them
this time.

"Why, Uncle Abel," cried both Aunt Emma and Mrs Carey, "whatever do
you mean?"

"What I means is that I ain't a-goin' to have the feelin's of a niece
of mine trifled with.  What I means is that I seen Harry Dale with
Bertha Buckolt on New Year's night after he left here.  That's what I
means--"

"Don't speak so loud, Abel, we're not deaf," interrupted Carey, as
Mary started up white-faced.  "What do you want to always shout
for?"

"I speak loud because I want people to hear me!" roared Uncle Abel,
turning on him.

"Go on, Uncle Abel," said Mary, "tell me what you mean."

"I mean," said Uncle Abel, lowering his voice a little, "that I
seen Harry Dale and Bertha Buckolt at Buckolts' Gate that night--I
seen it all--"

"At _Buckolts_' Gate!" cried Mary.

"_Yes_! at Buckolts' Gate!  Ain't I speakin' loud enough?"

"And where were you?"

"Never mind wheers I was.  I was comin' home along the ridges, and
I seen them.  I seen them say good-bye; I seen them hug an' kiss--"

"Uncle Abel!" exclaimed Aunt Emma.

"It's no use Uncle Abelin' me.  What I sez I sez.  I ain't a-goin' to
have a niece of mine bungfoodled--"

"Uncle Abel," cried Mary, staring at him wild-eyed, "do be careful
what you say.  You must have made a mistake.  Are you sure it was
Bertha and Harry?"

"Am I sure my head's on me neck?" roared Uncle Abel.  "Would I see
'em if I didn't see 'em?  I tell you--"

"Now wait a moment, Uncle Abel," interrupted Mary, with dangerous
calmness.  "Listen to me.  Harry Dale and I are engaged to be
married, and--"

"Have you got the writings!" shouted Uncle Abel.

"The what?" said Mary.

"The writings."

"No, of course not."

"Then that's where you are," said Uncle Abel, triumphantly.  "If
you had the writings you could sue him for breach of contract."

Uncle Abel, who couldn't read, had no faith whatever in verbal
agreements (he wouldn't sign one, he said), all others he referred
to as "writings."

"Now, listen to me, Uncle Abel," said Mary, trembling now.  "Are you
sure you saw Harry Dale and Bertha Buckolt at Buckolts' Gate after he
left here that night?"

"Yes.  An' what's more, I seen young Tommy there ridin' on his pony
along by the Spur a little while after, an' he muster seen them too,
if he's got a tongue."

Mary turned quickly to her brother.

"Well, all I can say," said Tommy, quietened now, "is that I seen
_her_ at Buckolts' Gate that night.  I was comin' home from
Two-Mile Flat, and I met Jim with his packhorse about a mile the other
side of Buckolts', and while we was talkin' Harry Dale caught up, so I
jist said 'So-long' an' left 'em.  And when I got to Buckolt's Gate I
seen Bertha Buckolt.  She was standin' under a tree, and she looked as
if she was cryin"'

But Mary got her bonnet and started out.

"Where are you going to, Mary?" asked her mother, starting up
nervously.

"I'm going across to Buckolts' to find out the truth," said Mary,
and she went out.

"Better let her go, Lizzie," said Aunt Emma, detaining her sister.

"You've done it now, Uncle Abel."

"Well, why didn't she get the writings?" retorted Uncle Abel.

Half-way to Buckolts' Mary met Bertha Buckolt herself, coming over to
the selection for the first time since the night of the party.  Bertha
started forward to kiss Mary, but stopped short as Mary stood
stock-still and faced her, with her hands behind her back.

"Why! whatever is the matter, Mary?"  exclaimed Bertha.

"You know very well, Bertha."

"Why!  Whatever do you mean?  What have I done?"

"What haven't you done?  You've--you've broken my heart."

"Good gracious me!  Whatever are you talking about?  Tell me what it
is, Mary?"

"You met him at your gate that night?"

"I know I did."

"Oh, Bertha!  How could you be so mean and deceitful?"

"Mean and deceitful!  What do you mean by that?  Whatever are you
talking about?  I suppose I've got as good a right to meet him as
anyone else."

"No, you haven't," retorted Mary, "you're only stringing him on.
You only did it to spite me.  You helped him to deceive me.
You ought to be ashamed to look me in the face."

"Good gracious!  Whatever are you talking about?  Ain't I good enough
for him!  I ought to be, God knows!  I suppose he can marry who he
likes, and if I'm poor fool enough to love him and marry him, what
then?  Mary, you ought to be the last to speak--speak to--to me like
that."

"Yes.  He can marry all, the girls in the country for all I care.
I never want to see either him or you any more.  You're a cruel,
deceitful, brazen-faced hussy, and he's a heartless, deceiving
blackguard."

"Mary!  I believe you're mad," said Bertha, firmly.  "How dare you
speak to me like that!  And as for him being a blackguard.  Why, you
ought to be the last in the world to say such a thing; you ought to be
the last to say a word against him.  Why, I don't believe you ever
cared a rap for him in spite of all your pretence.  He could go to the
devil for all you cared."

"That's enough, Bertha Buckolt!" cried Mary.  "_You_--you!
Why, you're a barefaced girl, that's what you are!  I don't want to
see your brazen face again."  With that she turned and stumbled
blindly in the direction of home.

"Send back my cape," cried Bertha as she too turned away.

Mary walked wildly home and fled to her room and locked the door.
Bertha did likewise.

Mary let Aunt Emma in after a while, ceased sobbing and allowed
herself to be comforted a little.  Next morning she was out milking at
the usual time, but there were dark hollows under her eyes, and her
little face was white and set.  After breakfast she rolled the cape up
very tight in a brown-paper parcel, addressed it severely to

MISS BERTHA BUCKOLT,

Eurunderee Creek,

and sent it home by one of the school-children.  She wrote to Harry
Dale and told him that she knew all about it (not stating what), but
she forgave him and hoped he'd be happy.  She never wanted to see his
face again, and enclosed his portrait.

Harry, who was as true and straight as a bushman could be, puzzled it
out and decided that some one of his old love affairs must have come
to Mary's ears, and wrote demanding an explanation.

She never answered that letter.


ACT III

It was Christmas Day at Rocky Rises.  The plum puddings had been made,
as usual, weeks beforehand, and hung in rags to the tie-beams and
taken down and boiled again.  Poultry had been killed and plucked and
cooked, and all the toil had been gone through, and every preparation
made for a red-hot dinner on a blazing hot day--and for no other
reason than that our great-grandmothers used to do it in a cold
climate at Christmas-times that came in mid-winter.  Merry men hadn't
gone forth to the wood to gather in the mistletoe (if they ever did in
England, in the olden days, instead of sending shivering, wretched
vassals in rags to do it); but Uncle Abel had gone gloomily up the
ridge on Christmas Eve, with an axe on his shoulder (and Tommy
unwillingly in tow, scowling and making faces behind his back), and
had cut young pines and dragged them home and lashed them firmly to
the veranda-posts, which was the custom out there.

There was little goodwill or peace between the three or four farms
round Rocky Rises that Christmas Day, and Uncle Abel had been the
cause of most of the ill-feeling, though they didn't know, and he was
least aware of it of any.

It all came about in this way.

Shortly after last New Year Ryan's bull had broken loose and gone
astray for two days and nights, breaking into neighbours' paddocks and
filling himself with hay and damaging other bulls, and making love by
night and hiding in the scrub all day.  On the second night he broke
through and jumped over Reid's fences, and destroyed about an acre of
grape-vines and adulterated Reid's stock, besides interfering with
certain heifers which were not of a marriageable age.  There was a L5
penalty on a stray bull.  Reid impounded the bull and claimed heavy
damages.  Ryan, a small selector of little account, was always pulling
some neighbour to court when he wasn't being "pulled" himself, so he
went to court over this case.

Now, it appears that the bull, on his holiday, had spent a part of the
first night in Carey's lower paddock, and Uncle Abel (who was out
mooching about the bush at all hours, "havin' a look at some timber"
or some "indercations" [of gold], or on some mysterious business or
fad, the mystery of which was of his own making)--Uncle Abel saw the
bull in the paddock at daylight and turned it out the sliprails, and
talked about it afterwards, referring to the sliprails as "Buckolts'
Gate," of course, and spoke mysteriously of the case, and put on an
appearance of great importance, and allowed people to get an idea that
he knew a lot if he only liked to speak; and finally he got himself
"brought up" as a witness for Ryan.

He had a lot of beer in town before he went to the courthouse.  All he
knew would have been of no use to either party, but he swore that he
had seen Ryan's bull inside Buckolts' Gate at daylight (on the day
which wasn't in question) and had turned him out.  Uncle Abel mixed up
the court a good deal, and roared like the bull, and became more
obstinate the more he was cross-examined, and narrowly escaped being
committed for contempt of court.

Ryan, who had a high opinion of the breed of his bull, got an idea
that the Buckolts had enticed or driven the bull into their paddock
for stock-raising purposes, instead of borrowing it honestly or
offering to pay for the use of it.  Then Ryan wanted to know why Abel
had driven his bull out of Buckolts' Gate, and the Buckolts wanted to
know what business Abel Albury had to drive Ryan's bull out of their
paddock, if the bull had really ever been there.  And so it went on
till Rocky Rises was ripe for a tragedy.

The breach between the Careys and the Buckolts was widened, the
quarrel between Ryan and Reid intensified.  Ryan got a down on the
Careys because he reckoned that Uncle Abel had deliberately spoilt his
case with his evidence; and the Reids and Careys were no longer on
speaking terms, because nothing would convince old Reid that Abel
hadn't tried to prove that Ryan's bull had never been in Reid's
paddock at all.


Well, it was Christmas Day, and the Carey family and Aunt Emma sat
down to dinner.  Jim was present, having arrived overnight, with no
money, as usual, and suffering a recovery.  The elder brother, Bob
(who had a selection up-country), and his wife were there.  Mrs Carey
moved round with watchful eyes and jealous ears, lest there should be
a word or a look which might hurt the feelings of her wild son--for of
such are mothers.


Dinner went on very moodily, in spite of Aunt Emma, until at last Jim
spoke--almost for the first time, save for a long-whispered and, on his
part, repentant conversation with his mother.

"Look here, Mary!" said Jim.  "What did you throw Harry Dale over
for?"

"Don't ask me, Jim."

"Rot!  What did he do to you?  I'm your brother" (with a glance
at Bob), "and I ought to know."

"Well, then, ask Bertha Buckolt.  She saw him last."

"What!" cried Jim.

"Hold your tongue, Jim!  You'll make her cry," said Aunt Emma.

"Well, what's it all about, anyway?" demanded Jim.  "All I know is
that Mary wrote to Harry and threw him over, and he ain't been the
same man since.  He swears he'll never come near the district again."

"Tell Jim, Aunt Emma," said Mary.  And Aunt Emma started to tell the
story as far as she knew.

"Saw her at Buckolt's sliprails!" cried Jim, starting up.  "Well,
he couldn't have had time to more than say good-bye to her, for I was
with her there myself, and Harry caught up to me within a mile of the
gate--and I rode pretty fast."

"He had a jolly long good-bye with her," shouted Uncle Abel.
"Look here, Jim!  I ain't goin' to stand by and see a nephew of mine
bungfoodled by no girl; an', I tell you I seen 'em huggin' and kissin'
and canoodlin' for half an hour at Buckolts' Gate!"

"It's a--a-- Look here, Uncle Abel, be careful what you say.  You've
got the bull by the tail again, that's what it is!"  Jim's face grew
whiter--and it had been white enough on account of the drink.  "How
did you know it was them?  You're always mistaking people.  It might
have been someone else."

"I know Harry Dale on horseback two miles off!" roared Uncle Abel.
"And I knowed her by her cape."

It was Mary's turn to gasp and stare at Uncle Abel.

"Uncle Abel," she managed to say, "Uncle Abel!  Wasn't it at our
Lower Sliprails you saw them and not Buckolts' Gate?"

"Well!" bellowed Uncle Abel.  "You might call 'em the `Lower
Sliprails,' but I calls 'em Buckolts' Gate!  They lead to'r'ds
Buckolts', don't they?  Hey?  Them other sliprails"--jerking his arms
in the direction of the upper paddock "them theer other sliprails
that leads outer Reid's lane I calls Reid's Sliprails.  I don't know
nothing about no upper or lower, or easter or wester, or any other
la-di-dah names you like to call 'em."

"Oh, uncle," cried Mary, trembling like a leaf, "why didn't you
explain this before?  Why didn't you tell us?"

"What cause have I got to tell any of you everything I sez or does or
thinks?  It 'ud take me all me time.  Ain't you got any more brains
than Ryan's bull, any of you?  Hey!--You've got heads, but so has
cabbages.  Explain!  Why, if the world wasn't stuffed so full of
jumped-up fools there'd be never no need for explainin'."

Mary left the table.

"What is it, Mary?" cried Aunt Emma.

"I'm going across to Bertha," said Mary, putting on her hat with
trembling hands.  "It was me Uncle Abel saw.  I had Bertha's cape on
that night."

"Oh, Uncle Abel," cried Aunt Emma, "whatever have you done?"

"Well," said Uncle Abel, "why didn't she get the writin's as I told
her?  It's to be hoped she won't make such a fool of herself next
time."


Half an hour later, or thereabouts, Mary sat on Bertha Buckolt's bed,
with Bertha beside her and Bertha's arm round her, and they were
crying and laughing by turns.

"But-but-why didn't you _tell_ me it was Jim?" said
Mary.

"Why didn't you tell me it was Harry, Mary?" asked Bertha.  "It
would have saved all this year of misery.

"I didn't see Harry Dale at all that night," said Bertha.  "I was--I
was crying when Jim left me, and when Harry came along I slipped
behind a tree until he was past.  And now, look here, Mary, I can't
marry Jim until he steadies down, but I'll give him another chance.
But, Mary, I'd sooner lose him than you."

Bertha walked home with Mary, and during the afternoon she took
Jim aside and said:

"Look here, Jim, I'll give you another chance--for a year.  Now I
want you to ride into town and send a telegram to Harry Dale.  How
long would it take him to get here?"

"He couldn't get here before New Year," said Jim.

"That will do," said Bertha, and Jim went to catch his horse.
Next day Harry's reply came: "Coming"


ACT IV

New Year's Eve.  The dance was at Buckolts' this year, but Bertha
didn't dance much; she was down by the gate most of the time with
little Mary Carey, waiting, and watching the long, white road, and
listening for horses' feet, and disappointed often as other horsemen
rode by or turned up to the farm.

And in the hot sunrise that morning, within a hundred 'miles of Rocky
Rises, a tired, dusty drover camped in the edge of a scrub, boiled his
quart-pot, broiled a piece of mutton on the coals, and lay down on the
sand to rest an hour or so before pushing on to a cattle station he
knew to try and borrow fresh horses.  He had ridden all night.

Old Buckolt and Carey and Reid smoked socially under the grape-vines,
with bottles of whisky and glasses, and nudged each other and coughed
when they wanted to laugh at Old Abel Albury, who was, for about the
first time in his life, condescending to explain.  He was explaining
to them what thund'rin' fools they had been.

Later on they sent a boy on horseback with a bottle of whisky and a
message to Ryan, who turned up in time to see the New Year in with
them and contradict certain slanders concerning the breed of his bull.


Meanwhile Bertha comforted Mary, and at last persuaded her to go home.
"He's sure to be here to-morrow, Mary," she said, "and you need to
look fresh and happy."

But Mary didn't sleep that night; she was up before daylight, had the
kettle on and some chops ready to fry, and at daybreak she was down by
the sliprails again.  She was turning away for the second time when
she heard a clear whistle round the Spur--then the tune of "Willie
Riley," and the hobble-chains and camp-ware on the packhorse jingling
to the tune.

She pulled out the rails with eager, trembling hands and leaned
against the tree.  An hour later a tired drover lay on his back, in
his ragged, track-worn clothes and dusty leggings, on Mary's own
little bed in the skillion off the living-room, and rested.  Mary
bustled round getting breakfast ready, and singing softly to herself;
once she slipped in, bent over Harry and kissed him gently on the
lips, and ran out as he stirred.

"Why, who's that?" exclaimed Uncle Abel, poking round early and
catching a glimpse of Harry through the open door.


"It's only Harry, Uncle Abel," said Mary.

Uncle Abel peered in again to make sure.

"Well, be sure you git the writin's this time," he said.



THE BUSH-FIRE

I

SQUATTER AND SELECTOR

Wall was a squatter and a hard man.  There had been long years of
drought and loss, and then came the rabbit pest--the rabbits swarmed
like flies over his run, and cropped the ground bare where even the
poor grass might have saved thousands of sheep--and the rabbits cost
the squatter hundreds of pounds in "rabbit-proof" fences, trappers'
wages, etc., just to keep them down.  Then came arrangements with the
bank.  And then Wall's wife died.  Wall started to brood over other
days, and the days that had gone between, and developed a temper which
drove his children from home one by one, till only Mary was left.  She
managed the lonely home with the help of a half-caste.  Then in good
seasons came the selectors.

Men remembered Wall as a grand boss and a good fellow, but that was in
the days before rabbits and banks, and syndicates and "pastoralists"
or pastoral companies instead of good squatters.  Runs were mostly
pastoral leases for which the squatter paid the Government so much per
square mile (almost a nominal rent).  Selections were small holdings
taken up by farmers under residential and other conditions and paid
for by instalments.  If you were not ruined by the drought, and paid
up long enough, the land became freehold.  The writer is heir to a
dusty patch of three hundred acres or so in the scrub which was taken
up thirty years ago and isn't freehold yet.


Selectors were allowed to take up land on runs or pastoral leases as
well as on unoccupied Crown lands, and as they secured the best bits
of land, and on water frontages if they could, and as, of course,
selections reduced the area of the run, the squatters loved selectors
like elder brothers.  One man is allowed to select only a certain
amount of land, and required by law to live on it, so the squatters
bought as much freehold about the homestead as they could afford,
selected as much as they are allowed to by law, and sometimes employed
"dummy" selectors to take up choice bits about the runs and hold
them for them.  They fought selectors in many various ways, and, in
some cases, annoyed and persecuted them with devilish ingenuity.

Ross was a selector, and a very hard man physically.  He was a short,
nuggety man with black hair and frill beard (a little dusty), bushy
black eyebrows, piercing black eyes, horny knotted hands, and the
obstinacy or pluck of a dozen men to fight drought and the squatter.
Ross selected on Wall's run, in a bend of Sandy Creek, a nice bit of
land with a black soil, flat and red soil sidings from the ridges,
which no one had noticed before, and with the help of his boys he got
the land cleared and fenced in a year or two--taking bush contracts
about the district between whiles to make "tucker" for the family
until he got his first crop off.

Wall was never accused of employing dummies, or underhanded methods in
dealings with selectors, but he had been through so much and had
brooded so long that he had grown very hard and bitter and suspicious,
and the reverse of generous--as many men do who start out in life too
soft and goodhearted and with too much faith in human nature.  He was
a tall, dark man.  He ordered Ross's boys off the run, impounded
Ross's stock--before Ross had got his fencing finished, summoned Ross
for trespass, and Ross retaliated as well as he could, until at last
it mightn't have been safe for one of those men to have met the other
with a gun.  The impounding of the selector's cattle led to the last
bad quarrel between Wall and his son Billy, who was a tall,
good-natured Cornstalk, and who reckoned that Australia was big enough
for all of us.  One day in the drought, and in an extra bitter mood,
Wall heard that some of his sheep had been dogged in the vicinity of
Ross's selection, and he ordered Billy to take a station-hand and
watch Ross's place all night, and, if Ross's cattle put their noses
over the boundary, to drive them to the pound, fifteen miles away;
also to lay poisoned baits for the dogs all round the selection.  And
Billy flatly refused.

"I know Ross and the boys," he said, "and I don't believe they
dogged the sheep.  Why, they've only got a Newfoundland pup, and an
old lame, one-eyed sheep-dog that couldn't hurt a flea.  Now, father,
this sort of thing has been going on long enough.  What difference
does a few paltry acres make to us?  The country is big enough, God
knows!  Ross is a straight man and--for God's sake, give the man a
chance to get his ground fenced in; he's doing it as fast as he can,
and he can't watch his cattle day and night."

"Are you going to do as I tell you, or are you not?" shouted Wall.

"Well, if it comes to that, I'm not," said Billy.  "I'm not
going to sneak round a place all night and watch for a chance to pound
a poor man's cows."

It was an awful row, down behind the wool-shed, and things looked so
bad that old Peter, the station-hand, who was a witness, took off his
coat and rolled up his sleeves, ready, as he said afterwards, "to
roll into" either the father or the son if one raised a hand against
the other.

"Father!" said Billy, though rather sobered by the sight of his
father's trembling, choking passion, "do you call yourself an
Englishman?"

"Yes!" yelled Wall, furiously. "What the hell do you call
yourself?"

"If it comes to that I'm an Australian," said Billy, and he turned
away and went to catch his horse.  He went up-country and knocked
about in the north-west for a year or two.


II

ROMEO AND JULIET

Mary Wall was twenty-five.  She was an Australian bush girl, every
inch of her five-foot-nine; she had a pink-and-white complexion, dark
blue eyes, blue-black hair, and "the finest figure in the district,"
on horseback or afoot.  She was the best girlrider too (saddle or
bare-back), and they say that when she was a tomboy she used to tuck
her petticoats under her and gallop man-fashion through the scrub
after horses or cattle.  She said she was going to be an old maid.

There came a jackaroo on a visit to the station.  He was related to
the bank with which Wall had relations.  He was a dude, with an
expensive education and no brains.  He was very vain of his education
and prospects.  He regarded Mary with undisguised admiration, and her
father had secret hopes.  One evening the jackaroo was down by the
homestead-gate when Mary came cantering home on her tall chestnut.
The gate was six feet or more, and the jackaroo raised his hat and
hastened to open it, but Mary reined her horse back a few yards and
the "dood" had barely time to jump aside when there was a scuffle of
hoofs on the road, a "Ha-ha-ha!" in mid-air, a landing thud, and the
girl was away up the home-track in a cloud of dust.

A few days later the jackaroo happened to be at Kelly's, a wayside
shanty, watching a fight between two bushmen, when Mary rode up.  She
knew the men.  She whipped her horse in between them and struck at
first one and then the other with her riding-whip.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" she said; "and both married
men, too!"

It evidently struck them that way, for after a bit they shook hands
and went home.

"And I wouldn't have married that girl for a thousand pounds," said
the jackaroo, relating the incidents to some friends in Sydney.

Mary said she wanted a man, if she could get one.


There was no life at home nowadays, so Mary went to all the bush
dances in the district.  She thought nothing of riding twenty or
thirty miles to a dance, dancing all night, and riding home again next
morning.  At one of these dances she met young Robert Ross, a
clean-limbed, good-looking young fellow about her own age.  She danced
with him and liked him, and danced with him again, and he rode part of
the way home with her.  The subject of the quarrel between the two
homes came up gradually.

"The boss," said Robert, meaning his father, "the boss is always
ready to let bygones be bygones.  It's a pity it couldn't be fixed
up."

"Yes," said Mary, looking at him (Bob looked very well on
horseback), "it is a pity."

They met several times, and next Prince of Wales's birthday they rode
home from the races together.  Both had good horses, and they happened
to be far ahead of the others on the wide, straight clear road that
ran between the walls of the scrub.  Along, about dusk, they became
very confidential indeed--Mary had remarked what a sad and beautiful
sunset it was.  The horses got confidential, too, and shouldered
together, and touched noses, and, after a long interval in the
conversation, during which Robert, for one, began to breathe quickly,
he suddenly leaned over, put his arm round her waist and made to kiss
her.  She jerked her body away, threw up her whiphand, and Robert
ducked instinctively; but she brought her whip down on her horse's
flank instead, and raced ahead.  Robert followed--or, rather, his
horse did: he thought it was a race, and took the bit in his teeth.
Robert kept calling, appealing:

"Wait a while, Mary!  I want to explain!  I want to apologize!  For
God's sake listen to me, Mary!"

But Mary didn't hear him.  Perhaps she misunderstood the reason of the
chase and gave him credit for a spice of the devil in his nature.  But
Robert grew really desperate; he felt that the thing must be fixed up
now or never, and gave his horse a free rein.  Her horse was the
fastest, and Robert galloped in the dust from his heels for about a
mile and a half; then at the foot of a rise Mary's horse stumbled and
nearly threw her over his head, and then he stopped like the good
horse he was.

Robert got down feeling instinctively that he might best make his
peace on foot, and approached Mary with a face of misery--she had
dropped her whip.

"Oh, Bob!" she said, "I'm knocked out;" and she slipped down into
his arms and stayed there a while.

They sat on a log and rested, while their horses made inquiries of
each other's noses, and compared notes.

And after a good while Mary said "No, Bob, it's no use talking of
marrying just yet.  I like you, Bob, but I could never marry you while
things are as they are between your father and mine.  Now, that'll do.
Let me get on my horse, Bob.  I'll be safer there."

"Why?" asked Bob.


"Come on, Bob, and don't be stupid."

She met him often and "liked" him.


III

A TRAMP'S MATCH AND WHAT IT DID

It was Christmas Eve at Wall's, but there was no score or so of
buggies and horses and dozens of strange dogs round the place as of
old.  The glasses and decanters were dusty on the heavy old-fashioned
sideboard in the dining-room; and there was only a sullen, brooding
man leaning over the hurdles and looking at his rams in the yard, and
a sullen, brooding half-caste at work in the kitchen.  Mary had ridden
away that morning to visit a girl chum.

It was towards the end of a long drought, and the country was like
tinder for hundreds of miles round--the ground for miles and miles in
the broiling scrubs "as bare as your hand," or covered with coarse,
dry tufts.  There was feed grass in places, but you had to look close
to see it.

Shearing had finished the day before, but there was a black boy and a
station-hand or two about the yards and six or eight shearers and
rouseabouts, and a teamster camped in the men's huts--they were
staying over the holidays to shear stragglers and clean up generally.
Old Peter and a jackaroo were out on the run watching a bush-fire
across Sandy Creek.

A swagman had happened to call at the station that morning; he asked
for work and then for tucker.  He irritated Wall, who told him to
clear out.  It was the first time that a swagman had been turned away
from the station without tucker.

Swaggy went along the track some miles, brooding over his wrongs, and
crossed Sandy Creek.  He struck a match and dropped it into a
convenient tuft of grass in a likely patch of tufts, with dead grass
running from it up into the scrubby ridges--then he hurried on.


Did you ever see a bush-fire?  Not sheets of flame sweeping and
roaring from tree-top to tree-top, but the snaky, hissing grass-fire
of hardwood country.

The whole country covered with thin blue smoke so that you never know
in what direction the fire is travelling.  At night you see it like
the lighted streets of cities, in the distant ranges.  It roars up the
hollows of dead trees and gives them the appearance of factory
chimneys in the dusk.  It climbs, by shreds of bark, the trunks of old
dead white-box and blue-gums--solid and hard as cast-iron--and cuts
off the limbs.  And where there's a piece of recently ringbarked
country, with the dead leaves still on the trees, the fire will roar
from bough to bough--a fair imitation of a softwood forest fire.  The
bush-fire travels through the scrubs for hundreds of miles, taking the
grass to the roots, scorching the living bush but leaving it
alive--for gumbush is hardest of any to kill.  Where there is no
undergrowth, and the country seems bare as a road for miles, the fire
will cross, licking up invisible straws of grass, dusty leaves, twigs
and shreds of bark on the hard ground already baking in the drought.
You hear of a fire miles away, and next day, riding across the head of
a gully, you hear a hissing and crackling and there is the fire
running over the ground in lines and curves of thin blue smoke,
snakelike, with old logs blazing on the blackened ground behind.  Did
you ever _hear_ a fire where a fire should not be?  There is
something hellish in the sound of it.  When the breeze is, say, from
the east the fire runs round western spurs, up sheltered
gullies--helped by an "eddy" in the wind perhaps--and appears along
the top of the ridge, ready, with a change in the wind, to come down
on farms and fields of ripe wheat, with a "front" miles long.

A selector might be protected by a wide sandy creek in front and wide
cleared roads behind, and, any hour in the day or night, a shout from
the farther end of the wheat paddock, and--"Oh, my God! the wheat!"

Wall didn't mind this fire much; most of his sheep were on their way
out back, to a back run where there was young grass; and the dry
ridges along the creek would be better for a burning-off--only he had
to watch his fences.

But, about dusk, Mary came galloping home in her usual breakneck
fashion.

"Father," she cried, "turn out the men and send them at once.  The
fire is all down by Ross's farm, and he has ten acres of wheat
standing, and no one at home but him and Bob."

"How do you know?" growled Wall.  Then suddenly and suspiciously,
"Have you been there?"

"I came home that way."

"Well--let Ross look after his own," snarled the father.

"But he can't, father.  They're fighting the fire now, and they'll be
burnt out before the morning if they don't get help--for God's sake,
father, act like a Christian and send the men.  Remember it is
Christmas-time, father.  You're surely not going to see a neighbour
burnt out."

"Yes, I am," shouted Wall.  "I'd like to see every selector in the
country burnt out, hut and all!  Get off that horse and go inside.  If
a man leaves the station to-night he needn't come back."  (This last
for the benefit of the men's hut.)

"But, father--"

"Get off that horse and go inside," roared Wall.

"I--I won't."

"What!"  He darted forward as though to drag her from the saddle,
but she swung her horse away.

"Stop!  Where are you going?"

"To help Ross," said Mary.  "He had no one to send for help."

"Then go the same way as your brother!" roared her father; "and
if you show your nose back again I'll horse-whip you off the run!"

"I'll go, father," said Mary, and she was away.


IV

THE FIRE AT ROSS'S FARM

Ross's farm was in a corner between the ridges and the creek.  The
fire had come down from the creek, but the siding on that side was
fairly clear, and they had stopped the fire there.  It went behind the
ridge and ran up and over.  The ridge was covered thickly with scrub
and dead grass; the wheat-field went well up the siding, and along the
top was a bush face with only a narrow bridle-track between it and the
long dead grass.  Everything depended on the wind.  Mary saw Ross and
Mrs Ross and the daughter Jenny, well up the siding above the fence,
working desperately, running to and fro, and beating out the fire with
green boughs.  Mary left her horse, ran into the hut, and looked
hurriedly round for something to wear in place of her riding-skirt.
She only saw a couple of light print dresses.  She stepped into a
skillion room, which happened to be Bob's room, and there caught sight
of a pair of trousers and a coat hanging on the wall.

Bob Ross, beating desperately along a line of fire that curved
down-hill to his right, and half-choked and blinded with the smoke,
almost stumbled against a figure which was too tall to be his father.

"Why! who's that?" he gasped.

"It's only me, Bob," said Mary, and she lifted her bough again.

Bob stared.  He was so astonished that he almost forgot the fire
and the wheat.  Bob was not thin--but--

"Don't look at me, Bob!"  said Mary, hurriedly.  "We're going to
be married, so it doesn't matter.  Let us save the wheat."

There was no time to waste; there was a breeze now from over the
ridges, light, but enough to bear the fire down on them.  Once, when
they had breathing space, Mary ran to the creek for a billy of water.
They beat out the fire all along the siding to where a rib of granite
came down over the ridge to the fence, and then they thought the wheat
was safe.  They came together here, and Ross had time to look and see
who the strange man was; then he stared at Mary from under his black,
bushy eyebrows.  Mary, choking and getting her breath after her
exertions, suddenly became aware, said "Oh!" and fled round the
track beyond the point of granite.  She felt a gust of wind and looked
up the ridge.  The bush fence ended here in a corner, where it was met
by a new wire fence running up from the creek.  It was a blind gully
full of tall dead grass, and, glancing up, Mary saw the flames coming
down fast.  She ran back.

"Come on!" she cried, "come on!  The fire's the other side of the
rocks!"


Back at the station, Wall walked up and down till he cooled.  He went
inside and sat down, but it was no use.  He lifted his head and saw
his dead wife's portrait on the wall.  Perhaps his whole life ran
before him in detail--but this is not a psychological study.

There were only two tracks open to him now: either to give in, or go
on as he was going--to shut himself out from human nature and become
known as "Mean Wall," "Hungry Wall," or "Mad Wall, the Squatter."
He was a tall, dark man of strong imagination and more than ordinary
intelligence.  And it was the great crisis of his ruined life.
He walked to the top of a knoll near the homestead and saw the fire
on the ridges above Ross's farm.  As he turned back he saw a
horseman ride up and dismount by the yard.

"Is that you, Peter?"

"Yes, boss.  The fences is all right."

"Been near Ross's?"

"No.  He's burnt out by this time."

Wall walked to and fro for a few minutes longer.  Then he suddenly
stopped and called, "Peter!"

"Ay, ay!" from the direction of the huts.

"Turn out the men!" and Wall went into a shed and came out with his
saddle on his arm.


The fire rushed down the blind gully.  Showers of sparks fell on
the bush fence, it caught twice, and they put it out, but the third
time it blazed and roared and a fire-engine could not have stopped it.


"The wheat must go," said Ross.  "We've done our best," and he
threw down the blackened bough and leaned against a tree, and covered
his eyes with a grimy hand.

The wheat was patchy in that corner--there were many old stumps of
trees, and there were bare strips where the plough had gone on each
side of them.  Mary saw a chance, and climbed the fence.

"Come on, Bob," she cried, "we might save it ye.  Mr Ross, pull out
the fence along there," and she indicated a point beyond the fire.
They tramped down and tore up the wheat where it ran between the
stumps--the fire was hissing and crackling round and through it, and
just as it ran past them in one place there was a shout, a clatter of
horses' hoofs on the stones, and Mary saw her father riding up the
track with a dozen men behind him.  She gave a shriek and ran straight
down, through the middle of the wheat, towards the hut.

Wall and his men jumped to the ground, wrenched green boughs from the
saplings, and, after twenty minutes' hard fighting, the crop was
saved--save for a patchy acre or so.  When it was all over Ross sat
down on a log and rested his head on his hands, and his shoulders
shook.  Presently he felt a hand on his shoulder, looked up, and saw
Wall.

"Shake hands, Ross," he said.

And it was Christmas Day.


But in after years they used to nearly chaff the life out of Mary.
"You were in a great hurry to put on the breeches, weren't you,
Mary?"  "Bob's best Sunday-go-meetin's, too, wasn't they, Mary?"
"Rather tight fit, wasn't they, Mary?"  "Couldn't get 'em on now,
could you, Mary?"

"But," reflected old Peter apart to some cronies, "it ain't every
young chap as gits an idea of the shape of his wife afore he marries
her--is it?  An' that's sayin' somethin"'

And old Peter was set down as being an innercent sort of ole cove.




THE HOUSE THAT WAS NEVER BUILT


There had been heavy rain and landslips all along the branch railway
which left the Great Western Line from Sydney just beyond the Blue
Mountains, and ran through thick bush and scrubby ridgy country and
along great alluvial sidings--were the hills on the opposite side of
the wide valleys (misty in depths) faded from deep blue into the pale
azure of the sky--and over the ends of western spurs to the little
farming, mining and pastoral town of Solong, situated in a circle of
blue hills on the banks of the willow-fringed Cudgegong River.

The line was hopelessly blocked, and some publicans at Solong had put
on the old coach-road a couple of buggies, a wagonette, and an old
mail coach--relic of the days of Cobb & Co., which had been
resurrected from some backyard and tinkered up--to bring the train
passengers on from the first break in the line over the remaining
distance of forty miles or so.  Capertee Station (old time, "Capertee
Camp"--a teamster's camp) was the last station before the first
washout, and there the railway line and the old road parted company
for the last time before reaching Solong--the one to run round by the
ends of the western spurs that spread fanlike, and the other to go
through and over, the rough country.

The train reached Capertee about midnight in broad moonlight that was
misty in the valleys and round the blue of Crown Ridge.  I got a
"box-seat" beside the driver on the old coach.  It was a grand old
road--one of the old main coach-roads of New South Wales--broad and
white, metalled nearly all the way, and in nearly as good condition as
on the day when the first passenger train ran into Solong and the
last-used section of the old road was abandoned.  It dated back to the
bushranging days--right back to convict times: it ran through tall
dark bush, up over gaps or "saddles" in high ridges, down across
deep dark gullies, and here and there across grey, marshy,
curlew-haunted flats.  Cobb & Co's coach-and-six, with "Royal Mail"
gilded on the panels, had dashed over it in ten and twelve-mile stages
in the old days, the three head-lamps flashing on the wild dark bush
at night, and maybe twenty-four passengers on board.  The biggest
rushes to richest goldfields in the west had gone over this old road
on coaches, on carts, on drays, on horse and bullock wagons, on
horseback, and on foot; new chums from all the world and from all
stations in life.

    When many a step was on the mountains,
    Marching west to the land of gold.

And a few came back rich--red, round-faced and jolly--on the box-seat
of Cobb & Co's, treating the driver and all hands, "going home" to
sweethearts or families.  (Home people will never feel the meaning of
those two words, "going home," as it is felt in a new land.) And
many came back broken men, tramping in rags, and carrying their swags
through the dusty heat of the drought in December or the bitter,
pelting rain in the mountains in June.  Some came back grey who went
as boys; and there were many who never came back.

I remembered the old mile-trees, with a section of bark cut away and
the distances cut in Roman letters in the hardened sap--the distance
from Bowenfels, the railway terminus then.  It was a ghostly old road,
and if it wasn't haunted it should have been.  There was an old
decaying and nearly deserted coaching town or two; there were
abandoned farms and halfway inns, built of stone, with the roofs gone
and nettles growing high between the walls; the remains of an orchard
here and there--a few gnarled quince-trees--and the bush reclaiming
its own again.  It was a haunted ride for me, because I had last
ridden over this old road long ago when I was young--going to see the
city for the first time--and because I was now on my way to attend the
funeral of one of my father's blood from whom t had parted in anger.

We slowly climbed, and almost as slowly descended, the steep siding of
a great hill called Aaron's Pass, and about a mile beyond the foot of
the hill I saw a spot I remembered passing on the last journey down,
long ago.  Rising back from the road, and walled by heavy bush, was a
square clearing, and in the background I saw plainly, by the broad
moonlight, the stone foundations for a large house; from the front an
avenue of grown pines came down to the road.

"Why!" I exclaimed, turning to the driver, "was that house burnt
down?"

"No," he said slowly.  "That house was never built."

I stared at the place again and caught sight of a ghostly-looking
light between the lines of the foundations, which I presently made out
to be a light in a tent.

"There's someone camping there," I said.

"Yes," said the driver, "some old swaggy or `hatter.'  I seen him
comin' down.  I don't know nothing about that there place."  (I
hadn't "shouted" for him yet.)

I thought and remembered.  I remembered myself, as a boy, being sent a
coach journey along this road to visit some relatives in Sydney.  We
passed this place, and the women in the coach began to talk of the
fine house that was going to be built there.  The ground was being
levelled for the foundations, and young pines had been planted, with
stakes round them to protect them from the cattle.  I remembered being
mightily interested in the place, for the women said that the house
was to be a two-storied one.  I thought it would be a wonderful thing
to see a two-storied house there in the bush.  The height of my
ambition was to live in a house with stairs in it.  The women said
that this house was being built for young Brassington, the son of the
biggest squatter then in the district, who was going to marry the
daughter of the next biggest squatter.  That was all I remember
hearing the women say.

Three or four miles along the road was a public-house, with a post
office, general store, and blacksmith shop attached, as is usual in
such places--all that was left of the old pastoral and coaching town
of Ilford.  I "shouted" for the driver at the shanty, but got
nothing further out of him concerning the fate of the house that was
never built.  I wanted that house for a story.

However, while yarning with some old residents at Solong, I mentioned
the Brassingtons, and picked up a few first links in the story.  The
young couple were married and went to Sydney for their honeymoon.  The
story went that they intended to take a trip to the old country and
Paris, to be away a twelve-month, and the house was to be finished and
ready for them on their return.  Young Brassington himself had a big
sheep-run round there.  The railway wasn't thought of in those days,
or if it was, no Brassington could have dreamed that the line could
have been brought to Solong in any other direction than through the
property of the "Big Brassingtons," as they were called.  Well, the
young couple went to Sydney, but whether they went farther the old
residents did not know.  All they knew was that within a few weeks,
and before the stone foundations for the brick walls of the house were
completed, the building contract was cancelled, the workmen were
dismissed, and the place was left as I last saw it; only the
ornamental pines had now grown to trees.  The Brassingtons and the
bride's people were English families and reserved.  They kept the
story, if there was a story, to themselves.  The girl's people left
the district and squatted on new stations up-country.  The Big
Brassingtons came down in the world and drifted to the city, as many
smaller people do, more and more every year.  Neither young
Brassington nor his wife was ever again seen or heard of in the
district.

I attended my relative's funeral, and next day started back for
Sydney.

Just as we reached Ilford, as it happened, the pin of the fore
under-carriage of the coach broke, and it took the blacksmith several
hours to set it right.  The place was dull, the publican was not
communicative--or else he harped on the old local grievance of the
railway not having come that way--so about half an hour before I
thought the coach would be ready, I walked on along the road to
stretch by legs.  I walked on and on until I came, almost unaware, to
the site of the house that was never built.  The tent was still there,
in fact, it was a permanent camp, and I was rather surprised to see
the man working with a trowel on a corner of the unfinished
foundations of the house.  At first I thought he was going to build a
stone hut in the corner, but when I got close to him I saw that he was
working carefully on the original plan of the building: he was
building the unfinished parts of the foundation walls up to the
required height.  He had bricklayer's tools, a bag of lime, and a
heap of sand, and had worked up a considerable quantity of mortar.  It
was a rubble foundation: he was knocking off the thin end of a piece
of stone to make it fit, and the clanging of the trowel prevented his
hearing my footsteps.

"Good day, mate," I said, close beside him.

I half expected he'd start when I spoke, but he didn't: he looked
round slowly, but with a haunted look in his eyes as if I might have
been one of his ghosts.  He was a tall man, gaunt and haggard-eyed, as
many men are in the bush; he may have been but little past middle age,
and grey before his time.

"Good day," he said, and he set the stone in its place, carefully
flush with the outer edge of the wall, before he spoke again.  Then he
looked at the sun, which was low, laid down his trowel, and asked me
to come to the tent-fire.  "It's turning chilly," he said.  It was a
model camp, everything clean and neat both inside the tent and out; he
had made a stone fireplace with a bark shelter over it, and a table
and bench under another little shed, with shelves for his tin cups and
plates and cooking utensils.  He put a box in front of the fire and
folded a flour-bag on top of it for a seat for me, and hung the billy
over the fire.  He sat on his heels and poked the burning sticks,
abstractedly I thought, or to keep his hands and thoughts steady.

"I see you're doing a bit of building," I said.

"Yes," he said, keeping his eyes on the fire; "I'm getting on with
it slowly."

I don't suppose he looked at me half a dozen times the whole while I
was in his camp.  When he spoke he talked just as if he were sitting
yarning in a row of half a dozen of us.  Presently he said suddenly,
and giving the fire a vicious dig with his poker:

"That house must be finished by Christmas."

"Why?" I asked, taken by surprise.  "What's the hurry?"

"Because," he said, "I'm going to be married in the New
Year--to the best and dearest girl in the bush."

There was an awkward pause on my part, but presently I pulled myself
together.

"You'll never finish it by yourself," I said.  "Why don't you put
on some men?"

"Because," he said, "I can't trust them.  Besides, how am I to
get bricklayers and carpenters in a place like this?"

I noticed all through that his madness or the past in his mind was
mixed up with the real and the present.

"Couldn't you postpone the marriage?" I asked.

"No!" he exclaimed, starting to his feet.  "No!" and he looked
round wildly on the darkening bush.  There was madness in his tone
that time, the last "No!" sounding as if from a man who was begging
for his life.

"Couldn't you run up a shanty then, to live in until the house is
ready?" I suggested, to soothe him.

He gave his arm an impatient swing.  "Do you think I'd ask that girl
to live in a hut?" he said.  "She ought to live in a palace!"

There seemed no way out of it, so I said nothing: he turned his back
and stood looking away over the dark, low-lying sweep of bush towards
sunset.  He folded his arms tight, and seemed to me to be holding
himself.  After a while he let fall his arms and turned and blinked at
me and the fire like a man just woke from a doze or rousing himself
out of a deep reverie.

"Oh, I almost forgot the billy!" he said.  "I'll make some tea--you
must be hungry."

He made the tea and fried a couple of slices of ham; he laid the
biggest slice on a thick slice of white baker's bread on a tin plate,
and put it and a pint-pot full of tea on a box by my side.  "Have it
here, by the fire," he said; "it's warmer and more comfortable."

I took the plate on my knee, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed that
meal.  The bracing mountain air and the walk had made me hungry.  The
hatter had his meal standing up, cutting his ham on a slice of bread
with a clasp-knife.  It was bush fashion, and set me thinking of some
old times.  He ate very little, and, as far as I saw, he didn't smoke.
Non-smokers are very scarce in the bush.

I saw by the way his tent was pitched and his camp arranged generally,
and by the way he managed the cooking, that he must have knocked about
the bush for some years.

He put the plates and things away and came and sat down on the other
empty gin-case by my side, and fell to poking the fire again.  He
never showed the least curiosity as to who I was, or where I came
from, or what I was doing on this deserted track: he seemed to take me
as a matter of course--but all this was in keeping with bush life in
general.

Presently he got up and stood looking upwards over the place where the
house should have been.

"I think now," he said slowly, "I made a mistake in not having the
verandas carried all round the house."

"I--I beg pardon!"

"I should have had the balcony all round instead of on two sides
only, as the man who made the plan suggested; it would have looked
better and made the house cooler in summer."

I thought as I listened, and presently I saw that it was a case of
madness within madness, so to speak: he was mad on the idea that he
could build the house himself, and then he had moods when he imagined
that the house had been built and he had been married and had reared a
family.

"You could easily get the balcony carried round," I said; "it
wouldn't cost much--you can get good carpenters at Solong."

"Yes," he said.  "I'll have it done after Christmas."  Then he
turned from the house and blinked down at me.  "I am sorry," he
said, "that there's no one at home.  I sent the wife and family to
Sydney for a change.  I've got the two boys at the Sydney Grammar
School.  I think I'll send the eldest to King's School at Parramatta.
The girls will have to get along with a governess at home and learn to
help their mother--"

And so he went on talking away just as a man who has made money in the
bush, and is married and settled down, might yarn to an old bachelor
bush mate.

"I suppose I'll have to get a good piano," he went on.  "The girls
must have some amusement: there'll be no end of balls and parties.  I
suppose the boys will soon be talking of getting `fivers' and
`tenners' out of the `guvner' or `old man.'  It's the way of the
world.  And they'll marry and leave us.  It's the way of the world--"

It was awful to hear him go on like this, the more so because he never
smiled--just talked on as if he had said the same thing over and over
again.  Presently he stopped, and his eyes and hands began to wander:
he sat down on his heel to the fire again and started poking it.  I
began to feel uneasy; I didn't know what other sides there might be to
his madness, and wished the coach would come along.

"You've knocked about the bush a good deal?" I asked.  I couldn't
think of anything else to say, and I thought he might break loose if I
let him brood too long.

"Yes," he said, "I have."

"Been in Queensland and the Gulf country, I suppose?"

"I have."

His tone and manner seemed a bit more natural.  He had knocked about
pretty well all over Australia, and had been in many places where I
had been.  I had got him on the right track, and after a bit he
started telling bush yarns and experiences, some of them awful, some
of them very funny, and all of them short and good; and now and then,
looking at the side of his face, which was all he turned to me, I
thought I detected the ghost of a smile.

One thing I noticed about him; when he spoke as a madman, he talked
like a man who had been fairly well educated (or sometimes, I fancied,
like a young fellow who was studying to be a school-teacher); his
speech was deliberate and his grammar painfully correct--far more so
than I have made it; but when he spoke as an old bushman, he dropped
his g's and often turned his grammar back to front.  But that reminds
me that I have met English college men who did the same thing after
being a few years in the bush; either they dropped their particular
way of speaking because it was mimicked, because they were laughed and
chaffed out of it, or they fell gradually into the habit of talking as
rough bushmen do (they learnt Australian), as clean-mouthed men fall,
in spite of themselves, into the habit of swearing in the heat and
hurry and rough life of a shearing-shed.  And, coming back into
civilized life, these men, who had been well brought up, drop into
their old manner and style of speaking as readily as the
foulest-mouthed man in a shed or camp--who, amongst his fellows,
cannot say three words without an oath--can, when he finds himself in
a decent home in the woman-and-girl world, yarn by the hour without
letting slip a solitary little damn.

The hatter warmed up the tea-billy again, got out some currant buns,
which he had baked himself in the camp-oven, and we were yarning
comfortably like two old bushmen, and I had almost forgotten that he
was "ratty," when we heard the coach coming.  I jumped up to hurry
down to the road.  This seemed to shake him up.  He gripped my hand
hard and glanced round in his frightened, haunted way.  I never saw
the eyes of a man look so hopeless and helpless as his did just then.

"I'm sorry you're going," he said, in a hurried way.  "I'm sorry
you're going.  But--but they all go.  Come again, come again--we'll
all be glad to see you."

I had to hurry off and leave him.  "We all," I suppose, meant
himself and his ghosts.

I ran down between the two rows of pines and reached the road just as
the coach came up.  I found the publican from Ilford aboard--he was
taking a trip to Sydney.  As the coach went on I looked up the
clearing and saw the hatter standing straight behind the fire, with
his arms folded and his face turned in our direction.  He looked
ghastly in the firelight, and at that distance his face seemed to have
an expression of listening blindness.  I looked round on the dark
bush, with, away to the left, the last glow of sunset fading from the
bed of it, like a bed of reddening coals, and I looked up at the black
loom of Aaron's Pass, and thought that never a man, sane or mad, was
left in such a depth of gloomy loneliness.

"I see you've been yarning with him yonder," said the publican, who
seemed to have relaxed wonderfully.

"Yes."

"You know these parts, don't you?"

"Yes.  I was about here as a boy."

He asked me what my name might be.  I told him it was Smith.  He
blinked a while.

"I never heard of anyone by the name of Smith in the district," he
said.

Neither had I.  I told him that we lived at Solong, and didn't stay
long.  It saved time.

"Ever heard of the Big Brassingtons?"

"Yes."

"Ever heard the yarn of the house that wasn't built?"

I told him how much I had heard of it.

"And that's about all any on 'em knows.  Have you any idea who that
man back yonder is?"

"Yes, I have."

"Well, who do you think it is?"

"He is, or rather he was, young Brassington."

"You've hit it!" said the publican.  "I know--and a few others."

"And do you know what became of his wife?" I asked.

"I do," said the shanty-keeper, who had a generous supply of whisky
with him, and seemed to have begun to fill himself up for the trip.

He said no more for a while, and when I had remained silent long
enough, he went on, very deliberately and impressively:

"One yarn is that the girl wasn't any good; that when she was married
to Brassington, and as soon as they got to Sydney, she met a chap
she'd been carrying on with before she married Brassington (or that
she'd been married to in secret), an' she cleared off with him,
leaving her fortnight-old husband.  That was one yarn."

"Was it?" I said.

"Yes," said the publican.  "That yarn was a lie." He opened a
flask of whisky and passed it round.

"There was madness in the family," he said, after a nip.

"Whose?" I asked.  "Brassington's?"

"No," said the publican, in a tone that implied contempt at my
ignorance, in spite of its innocence, "the girl's.  Her mother had
been in a 'sylum, and so had her grandmother.  It was--it was
heridited.  Some madnesses is heridited, an' some comes through worry
and hard graft (that's mine), an' some comes through drink, and some
through worse, and, but as far as I've heard, all madnesses is pretty
much the same.  My old man was a warder in a 'sylum.  They have their
madnesses a bit different, the same as boozers has their d.t.'s
different; but, takin' it by the lump, it's pretty much all the
same.  The difference is accordin' to their natures when they're sane.
All men are--"

"But about young Mrs Brassington," I interrupted.

"Young Mrs Brassington?  Rosy Webb she was, daughter of Webb the
squatter.  Rosy was the brightest, best, good-heartedest, an' most
ladylike little girl in the district, an' the heriditry business come
on her in Sydney, about a week after she was married to young
Brassington.  She was only twenty.  Here--"  He passed the flask round.


"And what happened?"  I asked.

"What happened?" he repeated.  Then he pulled himself together, as
if conscious that he had shown signs of whisky.  "Everything was
done, but it was no use.  She died in a year in a 'sylum."

"How do you know that?"

"How do I know that?" he repeated in a tone of contempt.  "How do I
know that?  Well, I'll tell you how.  _My old wife_ was in
service at Brassington's station at the time--the oldest servant--an'
young Brassington wired to her from Sydney to come and help him in his
trouble.  Old Mrs Brassington was bedridden, an' they kep' it from
her."

"And about young Brassington?"

"About young Brassington?  He took a swag an' wandered through the
bush.  We've had him at our place several times all these years, but
he always wandered off again.  My old woman tried everything with him,
but it was all no use.  Years ago she used to get him to talk of
things as they was, in hopes of bringin' his mind back, but he was
always worse after.  She does all she can for him even now, but he's
mighty independent.  The last five or six years he's been taken with
the idea of buildin' that cursed house.  He'll stay there till he gets
short of money, an' then he'll go out back, shearin', stock-ridin',
drovin', cookin', fencin'--anything till he gets a few pounds.  Then
he'll settle down and build away at that bloody house.  He's knocked
about so much that he's a regular old bushman.  While he's an old
bushman he's all right an' amusin' an' good company;--but when he's
Brassington he's mad--Don't you ever let on to my old woman that I told
you.  I allers let my tongue run a bit when I get out of that hole
we're living in.  We've kept the secret all these years, but what does
it matter now?--I ask you."

"It doesn't matter much," I said.

"Nothing matters much, it seems to me, nothing matters a damn.  The
Big Brassingtons come down years ago; the old people's gone, and the
young scattered God knows where or how.  The Webbs (the girl's people)
are away up in new country, an' the girls (they was mostly all girls)
are married an' settled down by this time.  We kept the secret, an'
the Webbs kept the secret--even when the dirty yarns was goin'
round--so's not to spoil the chances of the other girls.  What about the
chances of their husbands?  Some on 'em might be in the same hell as
Brassington for all I know.  The Brassingtons kept the secret because
I suppose they reckoned it didn't matter much.  Nothing matters much
in this world--"

But I was thinking of another young couple who had
married long ago, whose married life was twenty long years of shameful
quarrels, of useless brutal recrimination--not because either was bad,
but because their natures were too much alike; of the house that was
built, of the family that was reared, of the sons and daughters who
"went wrong," of the father and mother separated after twenty years,
of the mother dead of a broken heart, of the father (in a lunatic
asylum), whose mania was not to build houses, but to obtain and
secrete matches for the purpose of burning houses down.



"BARNEY, TAKE ME HOME AGAIN"

This is a sketch of one of the many ways in which a young married
woman, who is naturally thick-skinned and selfish--as most women
are--and who thinks she loves her husband, can spoil his life because
he happens to be good-natured, generous, sensitive, weak or soft,
whichever you like to call it.

Johnson went out to Australia a good many years ago with his young
wife and two children, as assisted emigrants.  He should have left his
wife and children with her mother, in a street off City Road, N., and
gone out by himself and got settled down comfortably and strengthened
in the glorious climate and democratic atmosphere of Australia, and in
the knowledge that he could worry along a while without his wife,
before sending for her.  That bit of knowledge would have done her
good also, and it would have been better for both of them.  But no man
knows the future, and few can prescribe for their own wives.  If we
saw our married lives as others see them, half of us would get
divorced.  But Johnson was sentimental, he could not bear to part from
his wife for a little while.  Moreover, man is instinctively against
leaving his wife behind; it may be either a natural or a cowardly
instinct-but we won't argue that.  I don't believe that Johnson was a
coward in that direction; I believe that he trusted his wife
implicitly, or rather that he never dreamed of such a thing--as is the
way with most married men.  Sentiment is selfishness, perhaps, but we
won't argue that, such arguments come to nothing.

I heard from a fellow-passenger of Johnson's that he had "a hell of a
voyage" because of his young wife's ignorant selfishness and his own
sensitiveness; he bribed stewards for better food and accommodation
for his wife and children, paid the stewardess to help with the
children, got neither rest, nor peace, nor thanks for himself, and
landed in Sydney a nervous wreck, with five pounds out of the ten he
started with.

Johnson was a carpenter.  He got work from a firm of contractors in
Sydney, who, after giving him a fortnight's trial, sent him up-country
to work on the railway station buildings, at the little pastoral
mining and farming town of Solong.  The railway having come to Solong,
things were busy in the building line, and Johnson settled there.

Johnson was thin when he came to Solong; he had landed a living
skeleton, he said, but he filled out later on.  The democratic
atmosphere soothed his mind and he soon loved the place for its
unconventional hospitality.  He worked hard and seemed to have plenty
of energy--he said he got it in Australia.  He said that another year
of the struggle in London would have driven him mad.  He fished in the
river on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, and, perhaps for the first
month or so, he thought that he had found peace.  Johnson's wife was a
rather stout, unsympathetic-looking young woman, with the knit of
obstinacy in her forehead; she had that stamp of "hardness" on her
face which is the rule amongst English and the exception amongst
Australian women.  We of Solong thought her hard, selfish and
narrow-minded, and paltry; later on we thought she was a "bit
touched;" but local people often think that of strangers.

By her voice and her habit of whining she should have been a thin,
sharp-faced, untidy, draggled-tailed woman in a back street in London,
or a worn-out selector's wife in the bush.  She whined about the
climate.  "It will kill the children!  It will kill the children!
We'll never rear them here!"  She whined about the "wretched hole in
the bush" that her husband had brought her to; and to the women whom
she condescended to visit--because a woman must have a woman to talk
to--she exaggerated the miseries of the voyage until the thing became
a sing-song from repetition.  Later on she settled down to endless
accounts of her home in London, of her mother and sisters, of the way
they lived.  "And I'll never see it any more.  I'll never see them
any more."

The Solong climate was reckoned the best in Australia; the "wretched
hole" was a pretty little town on the banks of a clear,
willow-bordered river, with vineyards on the slopes, and surrounded by
a circle of blue hills and peaks.  We knew nothing of London, so she
had her own way there.


"She'll feel a bit lonely at first, but she'll soon get used to
Australia," said Johnson.  He seemed to me to go out of his way to
excuse his wife.

Johnson had had a few contracts in England at one time; they had been
in "better circumstances"--that was the time she looked back to in
England; the last two years of bitter, black struggle at "home"
seemed a blank in her mind--but that's how women jump over facts when
they have a selfish fad.

Johnson rented a cottage and garden on the bank of the sunny river.
He said he took the place because there was ivy growing on the
cottage, and it might cheer his wife; but he had lost sight of the
fact that, while he had been born in an English village, his wife had
been born and bred in London, and had probably never noticed ivy.  She
said it was worse than living in a slum.

Johnson was clever at his trade, and at many other things, but his
wife didn't seem aware of it.  He was well liked, he grew to be
popular, but she didn't seem proud of the fact; she never seemed
interested in him or his prospects.  She only wanted him to take her
home again.  We mustn't forget that while he had a rush of work to
occupy his mind she had not.

But Johnson grew stouter and prospered in spite of his wife--for a
year or so.  New schools were being built in the district and the town
was practically re-built.  Johnson took contracts for brickwork,
plumbing and house-painting, as well as carpentering, and had at one
time as many as ten men in his employ.  He was making money.

I was working at my trade then, house-painting, and worked for
Johnson.  I lodged at his cottage for a while, but soon got tired of
hearing about London, and Mrs Johnson's mother and sisters, and the
house they lived in, and the street it was in, and the parks where
they used to take their babies, and the shopping on Saturday
afternoon.  That woman was terrible.  She was at Johnson all the time
about taking her home.  "We'll surely be able to go home this year,
Will."  "You promised to take me home by the end of the year."
"Mother says in her last letter, that Jack says there's more building
going on about London than ever."  "You'll do just as well in London
as you'll do here."  "What chance have the children got in a hole
like this?"  And the rest of it--every night.  When he took a new
contract, it would be, "What did you want to take that new contract
for, Will, when we're going home?  You know you promised me you
wouldn't take any more contracts."  First he'd try to cheer her, then
he'd argue; but she'd only sit with the knit in her forehead deep,
looking as obstinate as a mule.  Then she'd sit down to a little
harmonium he'd bought her and play and sing "Barney, take me Home
again," and "The Old Folks at Home," and "Swannie Ribber," till I
felt like hanging myself--and I wasn't an exile.  Sometimes Johnson
would flare up and there'd be a row and he'd go to the pub.  Gentle
persuasion, argument, or swearing, it was all the same with her.

Bosses and men were different towards each other in Solong to what
they are in London; besides, when I wasn't Johnson's sub-contractor I
was his foreman--so we often had a few drinks together; and one night
over a beer (and after a breeze at home, I think) he said to me:

"I can't make it out, Harry; there was nothing but struggle and worry
and misery for us in England, and London was smothering me, my chest
was bad and the wife was always in ill-health; but I suppose I'll have
to take her home in the end or else she'll go melancholy mad!"  And
he drew a breath that was more like a gasp than a sigh.

"Why not send her home for a trip, or a year or so, boss?" I asked.
"As likely as not she'll be just as eager to get back; and that will
be the end of it."

"I couldn't do that, Harry," said Johnson.  "I couldn't stay here
and work alone.  It would be like beginning life again; I've started
twice and couldn't start the third time.  You'll understand when
you're married, Harry."

Well, in the end, she wore Johnson out--or wore into him rather.  He
drank more, and once or twice I saw him drinking alone.  Sometimes
he'd "round on us" at work for nothing at all, and at other times
he'd take no interest in the jobs--he'd let the work go on anyhow.
Some thought that Johnson was getting too big for his boots, that's
how men are misjudged.  He grew moody and melancholy and thin again.
Johnson was homesick himself.  No doubt it was the misery of his
domestic life in Australia that made him so.

Towards the end of the third or fourth year Johnson threw up a couple
of contracts he had on hand, sacrificed a piece of land which he had
bought and on which he had built a cottage in the short time he had
been in Solong, and, one lovely day in June, when the skies were their
fairest, the hills their bluest, the river its widest and clearest,
and the grass was waving waist high after rain--one blue and green and
golden day the Johnsons left Solong, with the trunks they had brought
out with them, for Sydney, _en route_ for smoky London.

Mrs Johnson was a woman transformed--she was happy and looked it.  The
last few weeks she had seemed in every way the opposite of the woman
we had known: cheerful, kind to neighbours in sickness and trouble,
even generous; she made many small presents in the way of mantelshelf
ornaments, pictures, and house-linen.  But then it was Johnson who had
to pay for that in the end.

He looked worn and worried at the railway station--more like himself
as he was when he first came to Solong--and as the train moved off I
thought he looked--well, frightened.

That must have been nearly twenty years ago.


London last winter.  It was one of those days when London's lurid sun
shows up for a little while like a smoky danger signal.  The snow had
melted from the house-tops and the streets were as London streets are
after the first fall of snow of the season.  But I could stand the
flat no longer, I had to go out and walk.  I was sun-sick--I was
heart-sick for the sun, for the sunny South--for grassy plains, blue
mountains, sweeps of mountain bush and sunny ocean beaches.  I walked
hard; I walked till I was mud-splashed to the shoulders; I walked
through the squalid, maddening sameness of miles of dingy,
grimy-walled blocks and rows of four-storied houses till I felt
smothered--jailed, hopelessly.  "Best get home and in, and draw the
blinds on it," I said, "or my brain will turn."

I was about to ask a policeman where I was when I saw, by the name on
a corner of the buildings, that I was in City Road, North.  All the
willow-fringed rivers and the sunny hills of Solong flashed before me
at the sight of the name of that street.  I had not been able to
recall the name of the street off City Road in which the Johnsons
lived, though I had heard it often enough in the old days from the
tongue of Mrs Johnson.

I felt it would be a relief to see anyone who had been in Australia.
"Now," I thought, "if I walk along City Road and see the name of
that street I'll remember it"--and I did.  It was a blind street,
like the long, narrow yard of a jail, walled by dark houses, all
alike.  The next door but one to that at which I knocked to inquire
was where the Johnsons lived; they lived in a four-storied house, or
rather a narrow section of a four-storied terrace.  I found later on
that they paid the land-lord, or nearly paid him, by letting lodgings.
They lived in one room with the use of the parlour and the kitchen
when the lodgers weren't using them, and the son shared a room with a
lodger.  The back windows looked out on the dead wall of a poorhouse
of some kind, the front on rows of similar windows opposite--rows of
the same sort of windows that run for miles and miles in London.  In
one a man sat smoking in his shirtsleeves, from another a slavey
leaned out watching a fourwheeler that had stopped next door, in a
third a woman sat sewing, and in a fourth a woman was ironing, with a
glimpse of a bedstead behind her.  And all outside was gloom and soot
and slush.

I would never have recognized the Johnsons.  I have visited them
several times since and their faces are familiar to me now, but I
don't know whether any traces of the old likenesses worked up in my
memory.  I found Johnson an old man--old and grey before his time.  He
had a grizzly stubble round his chin and cheeks towards the end of the
week, because he could only afford a shave on Saturday afternoon.  He
was working at some branch of his trade "in the shop" I understood,
but he said he felt the work come heavier on him every winter.  "I've
felt very poorly this last winter or two," he said, "very poorly
indeed."  He was very sad and gentle.

Mrs Johnson was old and thin-looking, but seemed cheerful and
energetic.  Some chest trouble kept her within doors most of the
winter.

"I don't mind so long as I can manage," she said, "but Johnson gets
so depressed."

They seemed very kind towards each other; they spoke little of
Australia, and then only as an incident in their lives which was not
of any importance--had long been past and done with.  It was all
"before we went to Australia" or "after we came back from
Australia," with Mrs Johnson.

The son, whom I remembered as a bright, robust little fellow, was now
a tall, white-faced, clean-shaven young man, a clerk on thirty
shillings a week.  He wore, on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, a tall
hat and a frock coat and overcoat made cheaply in the latest fashion,
so he couldn't afford to help the old folk much.

"David is very extravagant," said the old man, gently.  "He won't
wear anything when once the gloss is off it.  But," with a sad smile,
"I get the left-off overcoats."

He took me across to see his daughter.  She had married a tradesman
and they were having a hard struggle in three rooms in a workman's
dwelling.  She was twenty-five, thin, yellow, and looking ten years
older.

There were other children who had died.  "I think we might have done
better for the children in Australia," said the old man to me, sadly,
when we got outside, "but we did our best."

We went into a hotel and had a drink.  Johnson had treated last
time--twenty years before.  We call treating "shouting" in
Australia.  Presently Johnson let fall a word or two of Australian
slang, and brightened up wonderfully; we got back out into Australia
at once and stayed there an hour or so.  Being an old man, Johnson's
memory for the long ago was better than mine, and I picked up links;
and, in return, I told him what Solong was like now, and how some men
he knew, who were going up, had gone down, and others, who were going
to the dogs in his time, had gone up--and we philosophized.  About one
he'd say, "Ah, well!  who'd have thought it!  I never thought that
boy would come to any good;" about another, "Ah, well!  and he might
have been an independent man."  How familiar that expression
sounded!--I think it is used more often in Australia than in any other
country: "He might have been an independent man."

When I left Johnson I felt less lonely in London, and rather humbled
in spirit.  He seemed so resigned--I had never seen such gentle
sadness in a man's eyes, nor heard it in a man's voice.  I could get
back to Australia somehow and start life again, but Johnson's day had
been dead for many years.  "Besides, assisted emigration's done away
with now," he said, with his sad, sad smile.

I saw the Johnsons again later on.  "Things have been going very
sadly with us, very sadly indeed," said the old man, when we'd
settled down.  He had broken down at the beginning of the winter, he
had dragged himself out of bed and to work and back again until he
could do so no longer; he had been laid up most of the winter.  Mrs
Johnson had not been outside the door for months.

"It comes very hard on us," she said, "and I'm so poorly, and David
out of work, too.  I wouldn't mind if I could get about.  But," she
went on in her energetic manner, "we've had the house full all the
winter; we've had very good luck with the lodgers, all respectable
people, and one of them answers the door and that keeps me away from
the draught--so it might be worse, mightn't it?  But Johnson doesn't
seem to mend at all, and he gets so terribly depressed.  But the warm
weather coming on, etc."

They and the Lord only knew how they managed to live, for they are
honest people and the lodgers scarcely pay the rent of the house.
There was only David between them and the poorhouse, as far as I could
see.

Johnson came out with me a piece and we had a drink or two
together--his was gin hot.  He talked a good deal about Australia, but
sadly and regretfully on this occasion.

"We could have done well in Australia," he said, "very well indeed.
I might have been independent and the children well started in life.
But we did things for the best.  Mrs Johnson didn't like Australia,
you know.  It was a pity we didn't stay there, a great pity.  We would
have done far better than in England.  I'd go out again now if I had
the money, but I'm getting too old."

"Would Mrs Johnson go out?" I asked.

"Oh, yes.  But I'm afraid she wouldn't stand the voyage. . . .  Things
have been very sad with us ever since we came back to England, very
sad indeed."  And after a while he suddenly caught his breath.

"It takes me that way sometimes," he said.  "I catch my breath just
as if I was going to lose it."



A DROVING YARN


Andy Maculloch had heard that old Bill Barker, the well-known overland
drover, had died over on the Westralian side, and Dave Regan told a
yarn about Bill.

"Bill Barker," said Dave, talking round his pipe stem, "was the
_quintessence_ of a drover--"

"The whatter, Dave?" came the voice of Jim Bentley, in startled
tones, from the gloom on the far end of the veranda.

"The quintessence," said Dave, taking his pipe out of his mouth.
"You shut up, Jim.  As I said, Bill Barker was the quintessence of
a drover.  He'd been at the game ever since he was a nipper.  He run
away from home when he was fourteen and went up into Queensland.
He's been all over Queensland and New South Wales and most of South
Australia, and a good deal of the Western, too: over the great stock
routes from one end to the other, Lord knows how many times.
No man could keep up with him riding out, and no one could bring a
mob of cattle or a flock of sheep through like him.  He knew every
trick of the game; if there was grass to be had Bill'd get it,
no matter whose run it was on.  One of his games in a dry season was
to let his mob get boxed with the station stock on a run where there
was grass, and before Bill's men and the station-hands could cut 'em
out, the travelling stock would have a good bellyful to carry them on
the track.  Billy was the daddy of the drovers.  Some said that he
could ride in his sleep, and that he had one old horse that could jog
along in his sleep too, and that--travelling out from home to take
charge of a mob of bullocks or a flock of sheep--Bill and his horse
would often wake up at daylight and blink round to see where they
were and how far they'd got.  Then Bill would make a fire and boil
his quart-pot, and roast a bit of mutton, while his horse had a
mouthful of grass and a spell.

"You remember Bill, Andy?  Big dark man, and a joker of the loud
sort.  Never slept with a blanket over him--always folded under him on
the sand or grass.  Seldom wore a coat on the route--though he always
carried one with him, in case he came across a bush ball or a funeral.
Moleskins, flannel waistcoat, cabbage-tree hat and 'lastic-side boots.
When it was roasting hot on the plains and the men swore at the heat,
Jim would yell, `Call this hot?  Why, you blanks, I'm freezin'!
Where's me overcoat?'  When it was raining and hailing and freezing on
Bell's Line in the Blue Mountains in winter, and someone shivered and
asked, `Is it cold enough for yer now, Bill?'  `Cold!'  Bill would
bellow, `I'm sweatin'!'

"I remember it well.  I was little more than a youngster then--Bill
Barker came past our place with about a thousand fat sheep for the
Homebush sale-yards at Sydney, and he gave me a job to help him down
with them on Bell's Line over the mountains, and mighty proud I was to
go with him, I can tell you.  One night we camped on the Cudgegong
River.  The country was dry and pretty close cropped and we'd been
"sweating" the paddocks all along there for our horses.  You see,
where there weren't sliprails handy we'd just take the tomahawk and
nick the top of a straight-grained fence-post, just above the mortise,
knock out the wood there, lift the top rail out and down, and jump the
horses in over the lower one--it was all two-rail fences around there
with sheep wires under the lower rail.  And about daylight we'd have
the horses out, lift back the rail, and fit in the chock that we'd
knocked out.  Simple as striking matches, wasn't it?

"Well, the horses were getting a good bellyful in the police horse
paddock at night, and Bill took the first watch with the sheep.  It
was very cold and frosty on the flat and he thought the sheep might
make back for the ridges, it's always warmer up in the ridges in
winter out of the frost.  Bill roused me out about midnight.  `There's
the sheep,' he says, pointing to a white blur.  `They've settled down.
I think they'll be quiet till daylight.  Don't go round them; there's
no occasion to go near 'em.  You can stop by the fire and keep an eye
on 'em.'

"The night seemed very long.  I watched and smoked and toasted my
shins, and warmed the billy now and then, and thought up pretty much
the same sort of old things that fellers on night watch think over all
over the world.  Bill lay on his blanket, with his back to the fire
and his arm under his head--freezing on one side and roasting on the
other.  He never moved.  I itched once or twice to turn him over and
bake the front of him--I reckoned he was about done behind.

"At last daylight showed.  I took the billy and started down to the
river to get some water to make coffee; but half-way down, near the
sheep camp, I stopped and stared, I was never so surprised in my life.
The white blur of sheep had developed into a couple of acres of long
dead silver grass!

"I woke Bill, and he swore as I never heard a man swear before--nor
since.  He swore at the sheep, and the grass, and at me; but it would
have wasted time, and besides I was too sleepy and tired to fight.
But we found those sheep scattered over a scrubby ridge about seven
miles back, so they must have slipped away back of the grass and
started early in Bill's watch, and Bill must have watched that blessed
grass for the first half of the night and then set me to watch it.  He
couldn't get away from that.

"I wondered what the chaps would say if it got round that Bill
Barker, the boss overland drover, had lost a thousand sheep in clear
country with fences all round; and I suppose he thought that way too,
for he kept me with him right down to Homebush, and when he paid me
off he threw in an extra quid, and he said:

"`Now, listen here, Dave!  If I ever hear a word from anyone about
watching that gory grass, I'll find you, Dave, and murder you, if
you're in wide Australia.  I'll screw your neck, so look out.'

"But he's dead now, so it doesn't matter."


There was silence for some time after Dave had finished.  The chaps
made no comment on the yarn, either one way or the other, but sat
smoking thoughtfully, and in a vague atmosphere as of sadness--as if
they'd just heard of their mother's death and had not been listening
to an allegedly humorous yarn.

Then the voice of old Peter, the station-hand, was heard to growl from
the darkness at the end of the hut, where he sat on a three-bushel bag
on the ground with his back to the slabs.

"What's old Peter growlin' about?" someone asked.

"He wants to know where Dave got that word," someone else replied.

"What word?"

"_Quint-essents_."

There was a chuckle.

"He got it out back, Peter," said Mitchell, the shearer.  "He got
it from a new chum."

"How much did yer give for it, Dave?" growled Peter.

"Five shillings, Peter," said Dave, round his pipe stem.  "And
stick of tobacco thrown in."

Peter seemed satisfied, for he was heard no more that evening.




GETTIN' BACK ON DAVE REGAN

A RATHER FISHY YARN FROM THE BUSH

(AS TOLD BY JAMES NOWLETT, BULLOCK-DRIVER)


You might work this yarn up.  I've often thought of doin' it meself,
but I ain't got the words.  I knowed a lot of funny an' rum yarns
about the bush, an' I often wished I had the gift o' writin'.  I could
tell a lot better yarns than the rot they put in books sometimes, but
I never had no eddication.  But you might be able to work this yarn
up--as yer call it.

There useter be a teamster's camp six or seven miles out of Mudgee, at
a place called th' Old Pipeclay, in the days before the railroad went
round to Dubbo, an' most of us bullickies useter camp there for the
night.  There was always good water in the crick, an' sometimes we'd
turn the bullicks up in the ridge, an' gullies behind for grass, an'
camp there for a few days, and do our washin' an' mendin', and make
new yokes perhaps, an tinker up the wagons.

There was a woman livin' on a farm there named Mrs Hardwick--an' she
_was_ a hard wick.  Her husban', Jimmy Hardwick was throwed from
his horse agenst a stump one day when he was sober, an' he was
killed--an' she was a widder.  She had a tidy bit o' land, an' a nice
bit of a orchard an' vineyard, an some cattle, an' they say she had a
tidy bit o' money in the bank.  She had the worst tongue in the
district, no one's character was safe with her; but she wasn't old, an'
she wasn't bad-lookin'--only hard--so there was some fellers hangin'
round arter her.  An' Dave Regan's horse was hangin' up outside her
place as often as anybody else's.  Dave was a native an' a bushy, an'
drover an' a digger, an' he was a bit soft in them days--he got hard
enough arterwards.

Mrs Hardwick hated bullick-drivers--she had a awful down on
bullickies--I dunno why.  We never interfered with her fowls, an' as
for swearin'! why, she could swear herself.  Jimmy Hardwick was a
bullick-driver when she married him, an' p'r'aps that helped to
account for it.  She wouldn't let us boil our billies at her kitchen
fire, same as any other bushwoman, an' if one of our bullicks put his
nose under her fence for a mouthful of grass, she'd set her dogs onter
him.  An' one of her dogs got something what disagreed with him one
day, an' she accused us of layin' poisoned baits.  An', arter that,
she 'pounded some of our bullicks that got into her lucerne paddick
one night when we was on the spree in Mudgee, an' put heavy damages on
'em.  She'd left the sliprails down on purpose, I believe.  She talked
of puttin' the police onter us, jest as if we was a sly-grog shop.
(If _she'd_ kept a sly-grog shop she'd have had a different
opinion about bullick-drivers.)  An' all the bullick-drivers hated her
because she hated bullickies.

Well, one wet season half a dozen of us chaps was camped there for a
fortnight, because the roads was too boggy to travel, an' one night
they got up a darnce at Peter Anderson's shanty acrost the ridges, an'
a lot of gals an' fellers turned up from all round about in spite of
the pourin' rain.  Someone had kidded Dave Regan that Mother Hardwick
was comin', an' he turned up, of course, in spite of a ragin'
toothache he had.  He was always ridin' the high horse over us
bullickies.  It was a very cold night, enough to cut the face an'
hands off yer, so we had a roarin' fire in the big bark-an'-slab
kitchen where the darncin' was.  It was one of them big,
old-fashioned, clay-lined fire-places that goes right acrost the end
of the room, with a twenty-five foot slab-an'-tin chimbly outside.

Dave Regan was pretty wild about being had, an' we copped all the gals
for darncin'; he couldn't get one that night, an' when he wasn't
proddin' out his tooth with a red-hot wire some one was chaffin' him
about Mrs Hardwick.  So at last he got disgusted an' left; but before
he went he got a wet three-bushel flour-bag an' climbed up very
quietly onter the roof by the battens an' log weights an' riders, an'
laid the wet bag very carefully acrost the top of the chimbly flue.

An' we was a mortal hour tryin' to find out what was the matter with
that infernal chimbly, and tackin' bits o' tin an' baggin' acrost the
top of the fire-place under the mantelshelf to try an' stop it from
smokin', an' all the while the gals set there with the water runnin'
out of their eyes.  We took the green back log out an' fetched in a
dry one, but that chimbly smoked worse than ever, an' we had to put
the fire out altogether, an' the gals set there shiverin' till the
rain held up a bit an' the sky cleared, an' then someone goes out an'
looks up an' sings out, "Why, there's somethin' acrost the top of the
blazin' chimbly!" an' someone else climbs up an' fetches down the
bag.  But the darnce was spoilt, an' the gals was so disgusted that
they went off with their fellers while the weather held up.  They
reckoned some of us bullickies did it for a lark.

An' arter that Dave'd come ridin' past, an' sing out to know if we
knew of a good cure for a smokin' chimbly, an' them sorter things.
But he always got away before we could pull him off of his horse.
Three of us chased him on horseback one day, but we didn't ketch him.

So we made up our minds to git back on Dave some way or other, an' it
come about this way.

About six months arter the smoked-out darnce, four or five of us same
fellers was campin' on th' Pipeclay agen, an' it was a dry season.  It
was dryer an' hotter than it was cold 'n' wet the larst time.  Dave
was still hangin' round Mrs Hardwick's an' doin' odd jobs for her.
Well, one very hot day we seen Dave ridin' past into Mudgee, an' we
knowed he'd have a spree in town that night, an' call at Mrs
Hardwick's for sympathy comin' out next day; an' arter he'd been gone
an hour or two, Tom Tarrant comes drivin' past on his mail-coach, an'
drops some letters an' papers an' a bag o' groceries at our camp.

Tom was a hard case.  I remember wonst I was drivin' along a lonely
bit o' track, an' it was a grand mornin', an' I felt great, an' I got
singin' an' practisin' a recitation that I allers meant to give at a
bush darnce some night.  (I never sung or spouted poetry unless I was
sure I was miles away from anyone.)  An' I got worked up, an' was
wavin' me arms about an' throwin' it off of me chest, when Tom's coach
comes up behind, round a bend in the road, an' took me by surprise.
An' Tom looked at me very hard an' he says, "What are yer shoutin'
an' swearin' an' darncin' an' goin' on at the bullicks like that for,
Jimmy?  They seem to be workin' all right."  It took me back, I can
tell yer.  The coach was full of grinnin' passengers, an' the worst of
it was that I didn't know how long Tom had been drivin' slow behind me
an' takin' me out of windin'.  There's nothin' upsets a cove as can't
sing so much as to be caught singin' or spoutin' poetry when he thinks
he's privit'.

An' another time I remember Tom's coach broke down on the track, an'
he had to ride inter town with the mails on horseback; an' he left a
couple of greenhides, for Skinner the tanner at Mudgee, for me to take
on in the wagon, an' a bag of potatoes for Murphy the storekeeper at
Home Rule, an' a note that said: "Render unto Murphy the things which
is murphies, and unto Skinner them things which is skins."  Tom was a
hard case.

Well, this day, when Tom handed down the tucker an' letters, he got
down to stretch his legs and give the horses a breathe.  The coach was
full of passengers, an' I noticed they all looked extra glum and
sulky, but I reckoned it was the heat an' dust.  Tom looked extra
solemn, too, an' no one was talkin'.  Then I suddenly began to notice
something in the atmosphere, as if there was a dead beast not far
away, an' my mates started sniffin' too.  An' that reminds me, it's
funny why some people allers sniff hard instead of keepin' their noses
shut when there's a stink; the more it stinks the more they sniff.
Tom spit in the dust an' thought a while; then he took a parcel out of
the boot an' put it on the corner post of the fence.  "There," he
said, "There's some fresh fish that come up from Sydney by train an'
Cobb & Co's coach larst night.  They're meant for White the publican
at Gulgong, but they won't keep this weather till I git out there.
Pity to waste them! you chaps might as well have a feed of 'em.  I'll
tell White they went bad an' I had to throw them out," says Tom.
Then he got on to the coach agen an' drove off in a cloud of dust.  We
undone the brown paper, an' the fish was in a small deal box, with a
lid fastened by a catch.  We nicked back the catch an' the lid flew
open, an' then we knowed where the smell comed from all right.  There
wasn't any doubt about that!  We didn't have to put our noses in the
box to see if the fish was bad.  They was packed in salt, but that
made no difference.

You know how a smell will start sudden in the bush on a hot, still
day, an' then seem to take a spell, an' then get to work agen stronger
than ever.  You might be clost alongside of a horse that has been dead
a fortnight an' smell nothin' particular till you start to walk away,
an' the further you go the worse it stinks.  It seems to smell most
round in a circle of a hundred yards or so.  But these fish smelt from
the centre right out.  Tom Tarrant told us arterwards that them fish
started to smell as soon as he left Mudgee.  At first they reckoned it
was a dead horse by the road; but arter a while the passengers
commenced squintin' at each other suspicious like, an' the
conversation petered out, an' Tom thought he felt all their eyes on
his back, an' it was very uncomfortable; an' he sat tight an' tried to
make out where the smell come from; an' it got worse every hundred
yards--like as if the track was lined with dead horses, an' every one
dead longer than the last--till it was like drivin' a funeral.  An'
Tom never thought of the fish till he got down to stretch his legs and
fetched his nose on a level with the boot.

Well, we shut down the lid of that box quick an' took it an' throwed
it in the bushes a good way away from the camp, but next mornin',
while we was havin' breakfast, Billy Grimshaw got an idea, an' arter
breakfast he wetted a canvas bag he had an' lit up his pipe, an' went
an' got that there box o' fish, an' put it in the wet bag, an' wrapped
it tight round it an' tied it up tight with string.  Billy had a
nipper of a nephew with him, about fourteen, named Tommy, an' he was a
sharp kid if ever there was one.  So Billy says, "Look here, Tommy,
you take this fish up to Mrs Hardwick's an' tell her that Dave Regan
sent 'em with his compliments, an' he hopes she'll enjoy 'em.  Tell
her that Dave fetched 'em from Mudgee, but he's gone back to look for
a pound note that he dropped out of a hole in his pocket somewheers
along the road, an' he asked you to take the fish up."  So Tommy
takes the fish an' goes up to the house with 'em.  When he come back
he says that Mrs Hardwick smiled like a parson an' give him a
shillin'--an' he didn't wait.  We watched the house, an' about half an
hour arterwards we seen her run out of the kitchen with the open box
in her hand, an' run a good way away from the house an' throw the fish
inter the bushes, an' then go back quick, holdin' her nose.

An' jest then, as luck would have it, we seen Dave Regan ridin' up
from the creek towards the house.  He got down an' went into the
kitchen, an' then come backin' out agen in a hurry with her in front
of him.  We could hear her voice from where we was, but we couldn't
hear what she said.  But we could see her arms wavin' as if she was
drivin' fowls, an' Dave backed all the way to his horse and gets on
an' comes ridin' away quick, she screamin' arter him all the time.
When he got down opposite the camp we sung out to know what was the
matter.  "What have you been doin' to Mrs Hardwick, Dave?" we says.
"We heerd her goin' for yer proper jest now."  "Damned if I know,"
says Dave.  "I ain't done nothin' to her that I knows of.  She's
called me everything she can lay her tongue to, an' she's ravin' about
my stinkin' fish, or somethin'.  I can't make it out at all.  I
believe she's gone ratty."

"But you _must_ have been doin' somethin' to the woman," we
says, "or else she wouldn't have gone on at yer like that."

But Dave swore he hadn't, an' we talked it over for a while an'
couldn't make head nor tail of it, an' we come to the conclusion that
it was only a touch o' the sun.


"Never mind, Dave," we says.  "Go up agen in a day or two, when she's
cooled down, an' find out what the matter is.  Or write to her.  It
might only have been someone makin' mischief.  That's what it is."

But Dave only sat an' rubbed his head, an' presently he started home
to wherever he was hangin' out.  He wanted a quiet week to think.

"Her chimbly might have been smokin', Dave," we shouted arter him,
but he was too dazed like to ketch on.

Well, in a month or two we was campin' there agen, an' we found she'd
fenced in a lane to the crick she had no right to, an' we had to take
the bullicks a couple o' miles round to grass an' water.  Well, the
first mornin' we seen her down in the corner of her paddick near the
camp drivin' some heifers, an' Billy Grimshaw went up to the fence an'
spoke to her.  Billy was the only one of us that dared face her and he
was the only one she was ever civil to--p'r'aps because Billy had a
squint an' a wall eye and that put her out of countenance.

Billy took off his hat very respectful an' sings out, "Mrs
Hardwick."  (It was Billy's bullicks she'd "pounded," by the way.)

"What is it?" she says.

"I want to speak to you, Mrs Hardwick," says Billy.

"Well, speak," she says.  "I've got no time to waste talkin' to
bullick-drivers."

"Well, the fact is, Mrs Hardwick," says Billy, "that I want to
explain somethin', an' apologize for that young scamp of a nephew o'
mine, young Tommy.  He ain't here or I'd make him beg your pardon
hisself, or I'd cut him to pieces with the bullick-whip.  I heard all
about Dave Regan sendin' you that stinkin' fish, an' I think it was a
damned mean, dirty thing to do--to send stinkin' fish to a woman, an'
especially to a widder an' an unprotected woman like you, Mrs
Hardwick.  I've had mothers an' sisters of me own.  An' I want to tell
you that I'm sorry a relation o' mine ever had anythin' to do with it.
As soon as I heerd of it I give young Tommy a lambastin' he won't
forgot in a hurry."

"Did Tommy know the fish was bad?" she says.

"It doesn't matter a rap," says Billy; "he had no right to go
takin' messages from nobody to nobody."


Mrs Hardwick thought a while.  Then she says: "P'r'aps arter all Dave
Regan didn't know the fish was bad.  I've often thought I might have
been in too much of a hurry.  Things goes bad so quick out here in
this weather.  An' Dave was always very friendly.  I can't understand
why he'd do a dirty thing on me like that.  I never done anything to
Dave."

Now I forgot to tell you that Billy had a notion that Dave helped
drive his bullicks to pound that time, though I didn't believe it.  So
Billy says:

"Don't you believe that for a minute, Mrs Hardwick.  Dave knew what
he was a-doin' of all right; an' if I ketch him _I'll_ give him a
beltin' for it if no one else is man enough to stand up for a woman!"
says Billy.

"How d'yer know Dave knew?" says Mrs Hardwick.

"Know!" says Billy.  "Why, he talked about it all over the
district."

"What!" she screamed out, an' I moved away from that there fence,
for she had a stick to drive them heifers with.  But Billy stood his
ground.  "Is that the truth, Billy Grimshaw?" she screams.

"Yes;" he says.  "I'll-take me oath on it.  He blowed about it all
over the district, as if it was very funny, an' he says--" An' Billy
stopped.

"What did he say?" she shouted.

"Well, the fact is," says Billy, "that I hardly like to tell it to
a lady.  I wouldn't like to tell yer, Mrs Hardwick."

"But you'll have to tell me, Billy Grimshaw," she screams.  "I have
a right to know.  If you don't tell me I'll pull him next week an'
have it dragged out of you in the witness-box!" she says.  "An' I'll
have satisfaction out of him in the felon's dock of a court of law!"
she says.  "What did the villain say?" she screams.


"Well," says Billy, "if yer must have it--an', anyway, I'm hanged
if I'm goin' to stand by an' see a woman scandalized behind her
back--if yer must have it I'll tell yer.  Dave said that the fish
didn't smell no worse than your place anyway."

We got away from there then.  She cut up too rough altogether.  I
can't tell you what she said--I ain't got the words.  She went up to
the house, an' we seen the farm-hand harnessin' up the horse, an' we
reckoned she was goin' to drive into town straight away an' take out a
summons agenst Dave Regan.  An' jest then Dave hisself comes ridin'
past--jest when he was most wanted, as usual.  He always rode fast
past Mrs Hardwick's nowadays, an' never stopped there, but Billy
shouted after him:

"Hullo, Dave!  I want to speak to yer," shouts Billy.  An' Dave
yanks his horse round.

"What is it, Billy?" he says.

"Look here, Dave," says Billy.  "You had your little joke about the
chimbly, an' we had our little joke about the fish an' Mrs Hardwick,
so now we'll call it quits.  A joke's a joke, but it can go too far,
an' this one's gettin' too red-hot altogether.  So we've fixed it up
with Mrs Hardwick."

"What fish an' what joke?"  says Dave, rubbin' his head.  "An' what
have yer fixed up with Mrs Hardwick?  Whatever are yer talkin' about,
Billy?"

So Billy told him all about us sendin' the stinkin' fish to Mrs
Hardwick by Tommy, an' sayin' Dave sent 'em--Dave rubbin' the back of
his neck an' starin' at Billy all the time.  "An' now," says Billy,
"I won't say anything about them bullicks; but I went up and seen Mrs
Hardwick this mornin', an' told her the whole truth about them fish,
an' how you knowed nothin' about it, an' I apologized an' told her we
was very sorry; an' she says she was very sorry too on your account,
an' wanted to see yer.  I promised to tell yer as soon as I seen yer.
It ought to be fixed up.  You ought to go right up to the house an'
see her now.  She's awfully cut up about it."

"All right," says Dave, brightenin' up.  "It was a dirty, mean
trick anyway to play on a cove; but I'll go up an' see her."  An' he
went there 'n' then.

An' about fifteen minutes arterwards he comes boltin' back from the
house one way an' his horse the other.  The horse acted as if it had a
big scare, an' so did Dave.  Billy went an' ketched Dave's horse for
him, an' I got Dave a towel to wipe the dirty dish-water off of his
face an' out of his hair an' collar, an' I give him a piece of soap to
rub on the places where he'd been scalded.

"Why, the woman must be ravin' mad," I says.  "Whatever did yer say
to her this time, Dave?  Yer allers gettin' inter hot water with
her."

"I didn't say nothin'," says Dave.  "I jest went up laughin' like,
an' says, `How are yer, Mrs Hardwick?'  an' she ups an' lets me have a
dish of dirty wash-up water, an' then on top of that she let fly with
a dipper of scaldin'-hot, greasy water outer the boiler.  She's gone
clean ravin' mad, I think."

"She's as mad as a hatter, right enough, Dave," says Billy Grimshaw.
"Don't you go there no more, Dave, it ain't safe."  An' we lent Dave
a hat an' a clean shirt, an' he went on inter town.  "You ought to
have humoured her," says Billy, as Dave rode away.  "You ought to
have told her to put a wet bag over her chimbly an' hang the fish
inside to smoke."  But Dave was too stunned to ketch on.  He went on
inter the town an' got on a howlin' spree.  An' while he was soberin'
up the thing began to dawn on him.  An' the nex' time he met Billy
they had a fight.  An' Dave got another woman to speak to Mrs
Hardwick, an' Mrs Hardwick ketched young Tommy goin' past her place
one day an' bailed him up an' scared the truth out of him.

"Look here!" she says to him, "I want the truth, the whole truth,
an' nothin' but the truth about them fish, an' if I don't get it outer
you I'll wring yer young neck for tryin' to poison me, an' save yer
from the gallust!" she says to Tommy.

So he told her the whole truth, swelp him, an' got away; an' he
respected Mrs Hardwick arter that.

An' next time we come past with the teams we seen Dave's horse hangin'
up outside Mrs Hardwick's, an' we went some miles further along the
road an' camped in a new place where we'd be more comfortable.  An'
ever arter that we used to always whip up an' drive past her place as
if we didn't know her.



"SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER?"

    God's preacher, of churches unheeded,
    God's vineyard, though barren the sod,
    Plain spokesman where spokesman is needed,
    Rough link 'twixt the Bushman and God.
                             The Christ of the Never.

         TOLD BY JOE WILSON


I never told you about Peter M'Laughlan.  He was a sort of bush
missionary up-country and out back in Australia, and before he died he
was known from Riverina down south in New South Wales to away up
through the Never-Never country in western Queensland.

His past was a mystery, so, of course, there were all sorts of yarns
about him.  He was supposed to be a Scotchman from London, and some
said that he had got into trouble in his young days and had had to
clear out of the old country; or, at least, that he had been a
ne'e-er-do-well and had been sent out to Australia on the remittance
system.  Some said he'd studied for the law, some said he'd studied
for a doctor, while others believed that he was, or had been, an
ordained minister.  I remember one man who swore (when he was
drinking) that he had known Peter M'Laughlan as a medical student in a
big London hospital, and that he had started in practice for himself
somewhere near Gray's Inn Road in London.  Anyway, as I got to know
him he struck me as being a man who had looked into the eyes of so
much misery in his life that some of it had got into his own.

He was a tall man, straight and well built, and about forty or
forty-five, when I first saw him.  He had wavy dark hair, and a close,
curly beard.  I once heard a woman say that he had a beard like you
see in some Bible pictures of Christ.  Peter M'Laughlan seldom smiled;
there was something in his big dark brown eyes that was scarcely
misery, nor yet sadness--a sort of haunted sympathy.

He must have had money, or else he got remittances from home, for he
paid his way and helped many a poor devil.  They said that he gave
away most of his money.  Sometimes he worked for a while himself as
bookkeeper at a shearing-shed, wool-sorter, shearer, even rouseabout;
he'd work at anything a bushman could get to do.  Then he'd go out
back to God-forgotten districts and preach to bushmen in one place,
and get a few children together in another and teach them to read.  He
could take his drink, and swear a little when he thought it necessary.
On one occasion, at a rough shearing-shed, he called his beloved
brethren "damned fools" for drinking their cheques.

Towards the end of his life if he went into a "rough" shed or shanty
west of the Darling River--and some of them _were_ rough--there
would be a rest in the language and drinking, even a fight would be
interrupted, and there would be more than one who would lift their
hats to Peter M'Laughlan.  A bushman very rarely lifts his hat to a
man, yet the worst characters of the West have listened bareheaded to
Peter when he preached.

It was said in our district that Peter only needed to hint to the
squatter that he wanted fifty or a hundred pounds to help someone or
something, and the squatter would give it to him without question or
hesitation.

He'd nurse sick boundary-riders, shearers, and station-hands, often
sitting in the desolate hut by the bedside of a sick man night after
night.  And, if he had time, he'd look up the local blacks and see how
they were getting on.  Once, on a far outback sheep station, he sat
for three nights running, by the bedside of a young Englishman, a
B.A. they said he was, who'd been employed as tutor at the homestead
and who died a wreck, the result of five years of life in London and
Paris.  The poor fellow was only thirty.  And the last few hours of
his life he talked to Peter in French, nothing but French.  Peter
understood French and one or two other languages, besides English and
Australian; but whether the young wreck was raving or telling the
story of a love, or his life, none of us ever knew, for Peter never
spoke of it.  But they said that at the funeral Peter's eyes seemed
haunted more than usual.

There's the yarn about Peter and the dying cattle at Piora Station one
terrible drought, when the surface was as bare as your hand for
hundreds of miles, and the heat like the breath of a furnace, and the
sheep and cattle were perishing by thousands.  Peter M'Laughlan was
out on the run helping the station-hands to pull out cattle that had
got bogged in the muddy waterholes and were too weak to drag
themselves out, when, about dusk, a gentlemanly "piano-fingered"
parson, who had come to the station from the next town, drove out in
his buggy to see the men.  He spoke to Peter M'Laughlan.

"Brother," he said, "do you not think we should offer up a
prayer?"

"What for?" asked Peter, standing in his shirt sleeves, a rope in his
hands and mud from head to foot.

"For?  Why, for rain, brother," replied the parson, a bit surprised.

Peter held up his finger and said "Listen!"

Now, with a big mob of travelling stock camped on the plain at night,
there is always a lowing, soughing or moaning sound, a sound like that
of the sea on the shore at a little distance; and, altogether, it
might be called the sigh or yawn of a big mob in camp.  But the long,
low moaning of cattle dying of hunger and thirst on the hot barren
plain in a drought is altogether different, and, at night there is
something awful about it--you couldn't describe it.  This is what
Peter M'Laughlan heard.

"Do you hear that?" he asked the other preacher.

The little parson said he did.  Perhaps _he_ only heard the weak
lowing of cattle.

"Do you think that God will hear us when He does not hear
_that_?" asked Peter.

The parson stared at him for a moment and then got into his buggy and
drove away, greatly shocked and deeply offended.  But, later on, over
tea at the homestead, he said that he felt sure that that
"unfortunate man," Peter M'Laughlan, was not in his right mind; that
his wandering, irregular life, or the heat, must have affected him.

I well remember the day when I first heard Peter M'Laughlan preach.  I
was about seventeen then.  We used sometimes to attend service held on
Sunday afternoon, about once a month, in a little slab-and-bark
school-house in the scrub off the main road, three miles or so from
our selection, in a barren hole amongst the western ridges of the
Great Dividing Range.  School was held in this hut for a few weeks or
a few months now and again, when a teacher could be got to stay there
and teach, and cook for himself, for a pound a week, more or less
contributed by the parents.  A parson from the farming town to the
east, or the pastoral town over the ridges to the west, used to come
in his buggy when it didn't rain and wasn't too hot to hold the
service.

I remember this Sunday.  It was a blazing hot day towards the end of a
long and fearful drought which ruined many round there.  The parson
was expected, and a good few had come to "chapel" in spring-carts,
on horseback, and on foot; farmers and their wives and sons and
daughters.  The children had been brought here to Sunday-school,
taught by some of the girls, in the morning.  I can see it all now
quite plain: The one-roomed hut, for it was no more, with the stunted
blue-grey gum, scrub all round.  The white, dusty road, so hot that
you could cook eggs in the dust.  The horses tied up, across the road,
in the supposed shade under clumps of scraggy saplings along by the
fence of a cattle-run.  The little crowd outside the hut: selectors in
washed and mended tweeds, some with paper collars, some wearing
starched and ironed white coats, and in blucher boots, greased or
blackened, or the young men wearing "larstins" (elastic-side boots).
The women and girls in prints and cottons (or cheap "alpaca," etc.),
and a bright bit of ribbon here and there amongst the girls.  The
white heat blazed everywhere, and "dazzled" across light-coloured
surfaces--dead white trees, fence-posts, and sand-heaps, like an
endless swarm of bees passing in the sun's glare.  And over above the
dry boxscrub-covered ridges, the great Granite Peak, glaring like a
molten mass.

The people didn't like to go inside out of the heat and sit down
before the minister came.  The wretched hut was a rough school,
sometimes with a clay fire-place where the teacher cooked, and a
corner screened off with sacking where he had his bunk; it was a camp
for tramps at other times, or lizards and possums, but to-day it was a
house of God, and as such the people respected it.

The town parson didn't turn up.  Perhaps he was unwell, or maybe the
hot, dusty ten-mile drive was too much for him to face.  One of the
farmers, who had tried to conduct service on a previous occasion on
which the ordained minister had failed us, had broken down in the
middle of it, so he was out of the question.  We waited for about an
hour, and then who should happen to ride along but Peter M'Laughlan,
and one or two of the elder men asked him to hold service.  He was on
his way to see a sick friend at a sheep station over the ridges, but
he said that he could spare an hour or two.  (Nearly every man who was
sick, either in stomach or pocket, was a friend of Peter M'Laughlan.)
Peter tied up his horse under a bush shed at the back of the hut, and
we followed him in.

The "school" had been furnished with a rough deal table and a wooden
chair for "the teacher," and with a few rickety desks and stools
cadged from an old "provisional" school in town when the new public
school was built; and the desks and stools had been fastened to the
floor to strengthen them; they had been made for "infant" classes,
and youth out our way ran to length.  But when grown men over six feet
high squeezed in behind the desks and sat down on the stools the
effect struck me as being ridiculous.  In fact, I am afraid that on
the first occasion it rather took my attention from the sermon, and I
remember being made very uncomfortable by a school chum, Jack Barnes,
who took a delight in catching my eye and winking or grinning.  He
could wink without changing a solemn line in his face and grin without
exploding, and I couldn't.  The boys usually sat on seats, slabs on
blocks of wood, along the wall at the far end of the room, which was
comfortable, for they had a rest for their backs.  One or two of the
boys were nearing six feet high, so they could almost rest their chins
on their knees as they sat.  But I squatted with some of my tribe on a
stool along the wall by the teacher's table, and so could see most of
the congregation.

Above us bare tie-beams and the round sapling rafters (with the bark
still on), and the inner sides of the sheets of stringybark that
formed the roof.  The slabs had been lined with sacking at one time,
but most of it had fallen or dry-rotted away; there were wide cracks
between the slabs and we could see the white glare of sunlight
outside, with a strip of dark shade, like a deep trench in the white
ground, by the back wall.  Someone had brought a canvas water-bag and
hung it to the beam on the other side of the minister's table, with a
pint-pot over the tap, and the drip, drip from the bag made the whole
place seem cooler.

I studied Peter M`Laughlan first.  He was dressed in washed and mended
tweed vest and trousers, and had on a long, lightcoloured coat of a
material which we called "Chinese silk."  He wore a "soft" cotton
shirt with collar attached, and blucher boots.  He gave out a hymn in
his quiet, natural way, said a prayer, gave out another hymn, read a
chapter from the Bible, and then gave out another hymn.  They liked to
sing, out in those places.  The Southwicks used to bring a cranky
little harmonium in the back of their old dog-cart, and Clara
Southwick used to accompany the hymns.  She was a very pretty girl,
fair, and could play and sing well.  I used to think she had the
sweetest voice I ever heard.  But--ah, well---

Peter didn't sing himself, at first.  I got an idea that he couldn't.
While they were singing he stood loosely, with one hand in his
trouser-pocket, scratching his beard with his hymn-book, and looking
as if he were thinking things over, and only rousing himself to give
another verse.  He forgot to give it once or twice, but we got through
all right.  I noticed the wife of one of the men who had asked Peter
to preach looking rather black at her husband, and I reckoned that
he'd get it hotter than the weather on the way home.

Then Peter stood up and commenced to preach.  He stood with both hands
in his pockets, at first, his coat ruffled back, and there was the
stem of a clay pipe sticking out of his waistcoat pocket.  The pipe
fascinated me for a while, but after that I forgot the pipe and was
fascinated by the man.  Peter's face was one that didn't strike you at
first with its full strength, it grew on you; it grew on me, and
before he had done preaching I thought it was the noblest face I had
ever seen.

He didn't preach much of hope in this world.  How could he?  The
drought had been blazing over these districts for nearly a year, with
only a shower now and again, which was a mockery--scarcely darkening
the baked ground.  Wheat crops came up a few inches and were parched
by the sun or mown for hay, or the cattle turned on them; and last
year there had been rust and smut in the wheat.  And, on top of it
all, the dreadful cattle plague, pleuro-pneumonia, had somehow been
introduced into the district.  One big farmer had lost fifty milkers
in a week.

Peter M'Laughlan didn't preach much of hope in this world; how could
he?  There were men there who had slaved for twenty, thirty, forty
years; worked as farmers have to work in few other lands--first to
clear the stubborn bush from the barren soil, then to fence the
ground, and manure it, and force crops from it--and for what?  There
was Cox, the farmer, starved off his selection after thirty years and
going out back with his drays to work at tank-sinking for a squatter.
There was his eldest son going shearing or droving--anything he could
get to do--a stoop-shouldered, young-old man of thirty.  And behind
them, in the end, would be a dusty patch in the scrub, a fencepost
here and there, and a pile of chimney-stones and a hardwood slab or
two where the but was--for thirty hard years of the father's life and
twenty of the son's.

I forget Peter's text, if he had a text; but the gist of his sermon
was that there was a God--there was a heaven!  And there were men
there listening who needed to believe these things.  There was old
Ross from across the creek, old, but not sixty, a hard man.  Only last
week he had broken down and fallen on his knees on the baked sods in
the middle of his ploughed ground and prayed for rain.  His frightened
boys had taken him home, and later on, the same afternoon, when they
brought news of four more cows down with "the pleuro" in an outer
paddock, he had stood up outside his own door and shaken his fist at
the brassy sky and cursed high heaven to the terror of his family,
till his brave, sun-browned wife dragged him inside and soothed him.
And Peter M'Laughlan knew all about this.

Ross's family had the doctor out to him, and persuaded him to come to
church this Sunday.  The old man sat on the front seat, stooping
forward, with his elbow resting on the desk and his chin on his hand,
bunching up his beard over his mouth with his fingers and staring
gloomily at Peter with dark, piercing eyes from under bushy eyebrows,
just as I've since seen a Scotchman stare at Max O'Rell all through a
humorous lecture called "A nicht wi' Sandy."

Ross's right hand resting on the desk was very eloquent: horny,
scarred and knotted at every joint, with broken, twisted nails, and
nearly closed, as though fitted to the handle of an axe or a spade.
Ross was an educated man (he had a regular library of books at home),
and perhaps that's why he suffered so much.

Peter preached as if he were speaking quietly to one person only, but
every word was plain and every sentence went straight to someone.  I
believe he looked every soul in the eyes before he had done.  Once he
said something and caught my eye, and I felt a sudden lump in my
throat.  There was a boy there, a pale, thin, sensitive boy who was
eating his heart out because of things he didn't understand.  He was
ambitious and longed for something different from this life; he'd
written a story or two and some rhymes for the local paper; his
companions considered him a "bit ratty" and the grown-up people
thought him a "bit wrong in his head," idiotic, or at least
"queer."  And during his sermon Peter spoke of "unsatisfied
longings," of the hope of something better, and said that one had to
suffer much and for long years before he could preach or write; and
then he looked at that boy.  I knew the boy very well; he has risen in
the world since then.

Peter spoke of the life we lived, of the things we knew, and used
names and terms that we used.  "I don't know whether it was a blanky
sermon or a blanky lecture," said long swanky Jim Bullock afterwards,
"but it was straight and hit some of us hard.  It hit me once or
twice, I can tell yer."  Peter spoke of our lives: "And there is
beauty--even in this life and in this place," he said.  "Nothing is
wasted--nothing is without reason.  There is beauty even in this
place---"

I noticed something like a hint of a hard smile on Ross's face; he
moved the hand on the desk and tightened it.

"Yes," said Peter, as if in answer to Ross's expression and the
movement of his hand, "there is beauty in this life here.  After a
good season, and when the bush is tall and dry, when the bush-fires
threaten a man's crop of ripened wheat, there are tired men who run
and ride from miles round to help that man, and who fight the fire all
night to save his wheat--and some of them may have been wrangling with
him for years.  And in the morning, when the wheat is saved and the
danger is past, when the fire is beaten out or turned, there are
blackened, grimy hands that come together and grip-hands that have not
joined for many a long day."

Old Palmer, Ross's neighbour, moved uneasily.  He had once helped Ross
to put a fire out, but they had quarrelled again since.  Ross still
sat in the same position, looking the hard man he was.  Peter glanced
at Ross, looked down and thought a while, and then went on again:

"There is beauty even in this life and in this place.  When a man
loses his farm, or his stock, or his crop, through no fault of his
own, there are poor men who put their hands into their pockets to help
him."

Old Kurtz, over the ridge, had had his stacked crop of wheat in sheaf
burned--some scoundrel had put a match to it at night--and the farmers
round had collected nearly fifty pounds for him.

"There is beauty even in this life and in this place.  In the blazing
drought, when the cattle lie down and cannot rise from weakness,
neighbours help neighbours to lift them.  When one man has hay or
chaff and no stock, he gives it or sells it cheaply to the poor man
who has starving cattle and no fodder."

I only knew one or two instances of this kind; but Peter was preaching
of what man should do as well as what they did.

"When a man meets with an accident, or dies, there are young men who
go with their ploughs and horses and plough the ground for him or his
widow and put in the crop."

Jim Bullock and one or two other young men squirmed.  They had
ploughed old Leonard's land for him when he met with an accident in
the shape of a broken leg got by a kick from a horse.  They had also
ploughed the ground for Mrs Phipps when her husband died, working, by
the way, all Saturday afternoon and Sunday, for they were very busy at
home at that time.

"There is beauty even in this life and in this place.  There are
women who were friends in girlhood and who quarrelled bitterly over a
careless word, an idle tale, or some paltry thing, who live within a
mile of each other and have not spoken for years; yet let one fall
ill, or lose husband or child, and the other will hurry across to her
place and take off her bonnet and tuck up her sleeves, and set to work
to help straighten things, and they will kiss, and cry in each other's
arms, and be sisters again."

I saw tears in the eyes of two hard and hard-faced women I knew; but
they were smiling to each other through their tears.

"And now," said Peter, "I want to talk to you about some other
things.  I am not preaching as a man who has been taught to preach
comfortably, but as a man who has learned in the world's school.  I
know what trouble is.  Men," he said, still speaking quietly, "and
women too!  I have been through trouble as deep as any of
yours--perhaps deeper.  I know how you toil and suffer, I know what
battles you fight, I know.  I too fought a battle, perhaps as hard as
any you fight.  I carry a load and am fighting a battle still."  His
eyes were very haggard just them.  "But this is not what I wanted to
talk to you about.  I have nothing to say against a young man going
away from this place to better himself, but there are young men who go
out back shearing or droving, young men who are goodhearted but
careless, who make cheques, and spend their money gambling or drinking
and never think of the old folk at home until it is too late.  They
never think of the old people, alone, perhaps, in a desolate but on a
worked-out farm in the scrub."

Jim Bullock squirmed again.  He had gone out back last season and made
a cheque, and lost most of it on horse-racing and cards.

"They never think--they cannot think how, perhaps, long years agone
in the old days, the old father, as a young man, and his brave young
wife, came out here and buried themselves in the lonely bush and
toiled for many years, trying--it does not matter whether they failed
or not--trying to make homes for their children; toiled till the young
man was bowed and grey, and the young wife brown and wrinkled and worn
out.  Exiles they were in the early days--boy-husbands and girl-wives
some of them, who left their native lands, who left all that was dear,
that seemed beautiful, that seemed to make life worth living, and
sacrificed their young lives in drought and utter loneliness to make
homes for their children.  I want you young men to think of this.
Some of them came from England, Ireland, Bonnie Scotland."  Ross
straightened up and let his hands fall loosely on his knees.  "Some
from Europe--your foreign fathers--some from across the Rhine in
Germany."  We looked at old Kurtz.  He seemed affected.

Then Peter paused for a moment and blinked thoughtfully at Ross, then
he took a drink of water.  I can see now that the whole thing was a
battle between Peter M'Laughlan and Robert Ross--Scot met Scot.  "It
seemed to me," Jim Bullock said afterwards, "that Peter was only
tryin' to make some of us blanky well blubber."

"And there are men," Peter went on, "who have struggled and
suffered and failed, and who have fought and failed again till their
tempers are spoiled, until they grow bitter.  They go in for
self-pity, and self-pity leads to moping and brooding and madness;
self-pity is the most selfish and useless thing on the face of God's
earth.  It is cruel, it is deadly, both to the man and to those who
love him, and whom he ought to love.  His load grows heavier daily in
his imagination, and he sinks down until it is in him to curse God and
die.  He ceases to care for or to think of his children who are
working to help him."  (Ross's sons were good, steady, hard-working
boys.)  "Or the brave wife who has been so true to him for many hard
years, who left home and friends and country for his sake.  Who bears
up in the blackest of times, and persists in looking at the bright
side of things for his sake; who has suffered more than he if he only
knew it, and suffers now, through him and because of him, but who is
patient and bright and cheerful while her heart is breaking.  He
thinks she does not suffer, that she cannot suffer as a man does.  My
God! he doesn't know.  He has forgotten in her the bright,
fresh-faced, loving lassie he loved and won long years agone--long
years agone---"

There was a sob, like the sob of an over-ridden horse as it sinks down
broken-hearted, and Ross's arms went out on the desk in front of him,
and his head went down on them.  He was beaten.

He was steered out gently with his wife on one side of him and his
eldest son on the other.

"Don't be alarmed, my friends," said Peter, standing by the
water-bag with one hand on the tap and the pannikin in the other.
"Mr Ross has not been well lately, and the heat has been too much for
him."  And he went out after Ross.  They took him round under the
bush shed behind the hut, where it was cooler.

When Peter came back to his place he seemed to have changed his whole
manner and tone.  "Our friend, Mr Ross, is much better," he said.
"We will now sing"--he glanced at Clara Southwick at the
harmonium--"we will now sing `Shall We Gather at the River?'"  We
all knew that hymn; it was an old favourite round there, and Clara
Southwick played it well in spite of the harmonium.

And Peter sang--the first and last time I ever heard him sing.
I never had an ear for music; but I never before nor since heard
a man's voice that stirred me as Peter M'Laughlan's.  We stood like
emus, listening to him all through one verse, then we pulled
ourselves together.

    Shall we gather at the River,
      Where bright angels' feet have trod--

The only rivers round there were barren creeks, the best of them only
strings of muddy waterholes, and across the ridge, on the sheep-runs,
the creeks were dry gutters, with baked banks and beds, and perhaps a
mudhole every mile or so, and dead beasts rotting and stinking every
few yards.

    Gather with the saints at the River,
      That flows by the throne of God.

Peter's voice trembled and broke.  He caught his breath, and his eyes
filled.  But he smiled then--he stood smiling at us through his tears.

    The beautiful, the beautiful River,
      That flows by the throne of God.

Outside I saw women kiss each other who had been at daggers drawn ever
since I could remember, and men shake hands silently who had hated
each other for years.  Every family wanted Peter to come home to tea,
but he went across to Ross's, and afterwards down to Kurtz's place,
and bled and inoculated six cows or so in a new way, and after tea he
rode off over the gap to see his friend.



HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER

    By his paths through the parched desolation,
      Hot rides and the terrible tramps;
    By the hunger, the thirst, the privation
      Of his work in the furthermost camps;

    By his worth in the light that shall search men
      And prove--ay! and justify each--
    I place him in front of all Churchmen
      Who feel not, who _know_ not--but preach!
                                  --The Christ of the Never.

I told you about Peter M'Laughlan, the bush missionary, and how he
preached in the little slab-and-bark school-house in the scrub on
Ross's Creek that blazing hot Sunday afternoon long ago, when the
drought was ruining the brave farmers all round there and breaking
their hearts.  And how hard old Ross, the selector, broke down at the
end of the sermon, and blubbered, and had to be taken out of church.

I left home and drifted to Sydney, and "back into the Great
North-West where all the rovers go," and knocked about the country
for six or seven years before I met Peter M'Laughlan again.  I was
young yet, but felt old at times, and there were times, in the hot,
rough, greasy shearing-shed on blazing days, or in the bare "men's
hut" by the flicker of the stinking slush-lamp at night, or the
wretched wayside shanty with its drink-madness and blasphemy, or
tramping along the dusty, endless track--there were times when I
wished I could fall back with all the experience I'd got, and sit once
more in the little slab-and-bark "chapel" on Ross's Creek and hear
Peter M'Laughlan and the poor, struggling selectors sing "Shall We
Gather at the River?" and then go out and start life afresh.

My old school chum and bush mate, Jack Barnes, had married pretty
little Clara Southwick, who used to play the portable harmonium in
chapel.  I nearly broke my heart when they were married, but then I
was a young fool.  Clara was a year or so older than I, and I could
never get away from a boyish feeling of reverence for her, as if she
were something above and out of my world.  And so, while I was
worshipping her in chapel once a month, and at picnics and parties in
between, and always at a distance, Jack used to ride up to Southwick's
place on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and on other days, and hang
his horse up outside, or turn it in the paddock, and argue with old
Southwick, and agree with the old woman, and court Clara on the sly.
And he got her.

It was at their wedding that I first got the worse for drink.

Jack was a blue-eyed, curly black-haired, careless, popular young
scamp; as good-hearted as he was careless.  He could ride like a
circus monkey, do all kinds of bush work, add two columns of figures
at once, and write like copper-plate.

Jack was given to drinking, gambling and roving.  He steadied up when
he got married and started on a small selection of his own; but within
the year Clara was living in a back skillion of her father's house and
Jack was up-country shearing.  He was "ringer" of the shed at Piora
Station one season and made a decent cheque; and within a fortnight
after the shed "cut out" he turned up at home in a very bad state
from drink and with about thirty shillings in his pockets.  He had
fallen from his horse in the creek near Southwick's, and altogether he
was a nice sort of young husband to go home to poor, heart-broken
Clara.

I remember that time well.  She stopped me one day as I was riding
past to ask me if I'd seen Jack, and I got off my horse.  Her chin and
mouth began to twitch and tremble and I saw her eyes filling with
tears.  She laid her hand on my arm and asked me to promise not to
drink with Jack if I met him, but to try and persuade him to come
home.  And--well, have you, as a man, ever, with the one woman that
you can't have, and no matter at what time or place, felt a sudden mad
longing to take her in your arms and kiss her--and damn the world?  I
got on my horse again.  She must have thought me an ignorant brute,
but I felt safer there.  And when I thought how I had nearly made a
fool of myself, and been a cowardly brute, and a rotten mate to my
mate, I rode ten miles to find Jack and get him home.

He straightened up again after a bit and went out and got another
shed, and they say that Peter M'Laughlan got hold of him there.  I
don't know what Peter did to him then--Jack never spoke of it, even to
me, his old mate; but, anyway, at the end of the shearing season
Jack's cheque came home to Clara in a registered envelope, addressed
in Peter's hand-writing, and about a week later Jack turned up a
changed man.

He got work as a temporary clerk in the branch government land office
at Solong, a pretty little farming town in a circle of blue hills on
the banks of a clear, willow-fringed river, where there were rich,
black-soil, river-flat farms, and vineyards on the red soil slopes,
and blue peaks in the distance.  It was a great contrast to Ross's
Creek.  Jack paid a deposit on an allotment of land, a bit out of
town, on the river bank, and built a little weather-board box of a
cottage in spare times, and planted roses and grape-vines to hide its
ugliness by and by.  It wasn't much of a place, but Clara was mighty
proud of it because it was "our house."  They were very happy, and
she was beginning to feel sure of Jack.  She seemed to believe that
the miserable old time was all past and gone.

When the work at the land's office gave out, Jack did all sorts of
jobs about town, and at last, one shearing season, when there was a
heavy clip of wool, and shearers were getting L1 a hundred, he decided
to go out back.  I know that Clara was against it, but he argued that
it was the only chance for him, and she persuaded herself that she
could trust him.  I was knocking about Solong at the time, and Jack
and I decided to go out together and share his packhorse between us.
He wrote to Beenaway Shed, about three hundred: miles north-west in
the Great Scrubs, and got pens for both of us.

It was a fine fresh morning when we started; it was in a good season
and the country looked grand.  When I rode up to Jack's place I saw
his horse and packhorse tied up outside the gate.  He had wanted me to
come up the evening before and have tea with them and camp at his
place for the night.  "Come up! man alive!" he said.  "We'll make
you a shake-down!"  But I wouldn't; I said I had to meet a chap.
Jack wouldn't have understood.  I had been up before, but when I saw
him and Clara so happy and comfortable, and thought of the past and my
secret, and thought of myself, a useless, purposeless, restless,
homeless sort of fellow, hanging out at a boarding-house, it nearly
broke me up, and I had to have a drink or two afterwards.  I often
wonder if Clara guessed and understood.  You never know how much a
woman knows; but--ah, well!

Jack had taken my things home with him and he and Clara had packed
them.  I found afterwards that she had washed, dried and ironed some
collars and handkerchiefs of mine during the night.  Clara and Jack
came out to the gate, and as I wouldn't go in to have a cup of tea
there was nothing for it but to say good-bye.  She was dressed in a
fresh-looking print blouse and dark skirt, and wore a white hood that
fell back from her head; she was a little girl, with sweet, small,
freckled features, and red-gold hair, and kind, sympathetic grey eyes.
I thought her the freshest, and fairest, and daintiest little woman in
the district.

I was Jack's mate, so she always treated me as a sort of
brother-in-law, and called me by my Christian name.  Mates are closer
than brothers in the bush.

I turned my back and pretended to tighten the straps and girths on the
packhorse while she said good-bye to Jack.  I heard her speaking
earnestly to him, and once I heard her mention Peter M`Laughlan's
name.  I thought Jack answered rather impatiently.  "Oh, that's all
right, Clara," he said, "that's all over--past and gone.  I wish you
would believe it.  You promised never to speak of that any more."

I know how it was.  Jack never cared to hear about Peter; he was too
ashamed of the past, perhaps; besides, deep down, we feel a sort of
resentment towards any reference to a man who has helped or saved us
in the past.  It's human nature.

Then they spoke in low tones for a while, and then Jack laughed, and
kissed her, and said, "Oh, I'll be back before the time's up."  Then
he ran into the house to say good-bye to Mary's sister, who was
staying with her, and who was laid up with a sprained ankle.

Then Clara stepped up to me and laid her fingers on my shoulder.
I trembled from head to foot and hoped she didn't notice it.

"Joe," she said, looking at me with her big, searching grey eyes,
"I believe I can trust you.  I want you to look after Jack.  You know
why.  Never let him have one drink if you can help it.  One drink--the
first drink will do it.  I want you to promise me that you will never
have a drink with Jack, no matter what happens or what he says."

"I never will," I said, and I meant it.

"It's the first time he's been away from me since he gave up
drinking, and if he comes back all right this time I will be sure of
him and contented.  But, Joe, if he comes back wrong it will kill me;
it will break my heart.  I want you to promise that if anything
happens you will ride or wire for Peter M'Laughlan.  I hear he's
wool-sorting this year at Beenaway Station.  Promise me that if
anything happens you will ride for Peter M'Laughlan and tell him, no
matter what Jack says."

"I promise," I said.

She half-held out her hand to me, but I kept both mine behind my back.
I suppose she thought I didn't notice that she wanted to shake hands
on the bargain; but the truth was that my hands shook so, and I didn't
want her to notice _that_.

I got on my horse and felt steadier.  Then, "Good-bye,
Clara"--"Good-bye, Jack."  She bore up bravely, but I saw her eyes
brimming.  Jack got on his horse, and I bent over and shook hands with
her.  Jack bent down and kissed her while she stood on tiptoe.
"Good-bye, little woman," he said.  "Cheer up, and I'll be back
before you know where you are!  You mustn't fret--you know why."

"Good-bye, Jack!"--she was breaking down.

"Come on, Jack!" I said, and we rode off, turning and waving our
hats to her as she stood by the gate, looking a desolate little thing,
I thought, till we turned down a bend of the road into the river.

As we jogged along with the packhorse trotting behind us, and the
quart-pots and hobble-chains jingling on the packsaddle, I pictured
Clara running inside, to cry a while in her sister's arms, and then to
bustle round and cheer up, for Jack's sake--and for the sake of
something else.


"I'll christen him after you, Joe," said Jack, later on, when we'd
got confidential over our pipes after tea in our first camp.  It never
seemed to enter his head that there was the ghost of a chance that it
might be a girl.  "I'm glad he didn't come along when I was
drinking," he said.

And as we lay rolled in our blankets under the stars I swore a big
oath to myself.

We got along comfortably and reached Beenaway Station in about a week,
the day before the shearers' roll-call.  Jack never showed the
slightest inclination to go into a shanty; and several times we talked
about old times and what damned fools we'd been throwing away our
money over shanty bars shouting for loafers and cadgers.  "Isn't this
ever so-much better, Joe!" said Jack, as we lay on our blankets
smoking one moonlight night.  "There's nothing in boozing, Joe, you
can take it from me.  Just you sling it for a year and then look back;
you won't want to touch it again.  You've been straight for a couple
of months.  Sling it for good, Joe, before it gets a hold on you, like
it did on me."


It was the morning after cut-out at Beenaway Shed, and we were glad.
We were tired of the rush and roar and rattle and heat and grease and
blasphemy of the big, hot, iron machine shed in that dusty patch in
the barren scrubs.  Swags were rolled up, saddle-bags packed, horses
had been rounded up and driven in, the shearers' cook and his mate had
had their fight, and about a hundred men--shearers, rouseabouts, and
wool-washers--were waiting round the little iron office to get their
cheques.

We were about half through when one bushman said to another: "Stop
your damned swearin', Jim.  Here's Peter M'Laughlan!"  Peter walked
up and the men made way for him and he went into the office.  There
was always considerably less swearing for a few feet round about where
Peter M'Laughlan happened to be working in a shearing-shed.  It seemed
to be an understood thing with the men.  He took no advantages, never
volunteered to preach at a shed where he was working, and only spoke
on union subjects when the men asked him to.  He was "rep."
(Shearers' Union representative) at this shed, but squatters and
station managers respected him as much as the men did.

He seemed much greyer now, but still stood square and straight.  And
his eyes still looked one through.

When Peter came out and the crowd had cleared away he took Jack aside
and spoke to him in a low voice for a few minutes.  I heard Jack say,
"Oh, that's all right, Peter!  You have my word for it," and he got
on his horse.  I heard Peter say the one word, "Remember!"  "Oh,
that's all right," said Jack, and he shook hands with Peter, shouted,
"Come on, Joe!" and started off with the packhorse after him.

"I wish I were going down with you, Joe," said Peter to me, "but I can't
get away till to-morrow.  I've got that sick rouseabout on my hands,
and I'll have to see him fixed up somehow and started off to the
hospital" (the nearest was a hundred miles away).  "And, by the way,
I've taken up a collection for him; I want a few shillings from you,
Joe.  I nearly forgot you.  The poor fellow only got in about a
fortnight's work, and there's a wife and youngsters in Sydney.  I'll
be down after you to-morrow.  I promised to go to Comesomehow* and get
the people together and start an agitation for a half-time school
there.  Anyway, I'll be there by the end of the week.  Good-bye, Joe.  I
must get some more money for the rouser from some of those chaps
before they start."

[ *  There is a postal district in new South Wales called "Come-by-Chance"]

Comesomehow was a wretched cockatoo settlement, a bit off the track,
about one hundred and fifty miles on our road home, where the settlers
lived like savages and the children ran wild.  I reckoned that Peter
would have his work cut out to start a craving for education in that
place.

By saying he'd be there I think he intended to give me a hint, in case
anything happened.  I believe now that Jack's wife had got anxious and
had written to him.

We jogged along comfortably and happily for three or four days, and as
we passed shanty after shanty, and town after town, without Jack
showing the slightest inclination to pull up at any of them, I began
to feel safe about him.

Then it happened, in the simplest way, as most things of this sort
happen if you don't watch close.

The third night it rained, rained heavens-hard, and rainy nights can
be mighty cold out on those plains, even in midsummer.  Jack and I
rigged up a strip of waterproof stuff we had to cover the swags on the
packhorse, but the rain drove in, almost horizontally, and we got wet
through, blankets, clothes and all.  Jack got a bad cold and coughed
fit to break himself; so about daylight, when the rain held up a bit,
we packed up and rode on to the next pub, a wretched little
weather-board place in the scrub.

Jack reckoned he'd get some stuff for his cold there.  I didn't like
to speak, but before we reached the place I said, "You won't touch a
drink, Jack."

"Do you think I'm a blanky fool?" said Jack, and I shut up.

The shanty was kept by a man who went by the name of Thomas, a
notorious lamber-down,* as I found out afterwards.  He was a big,
awkward bullock of a man, a selfish, ignorant brute, as anyone might
have seen by his face; but he had a loud voice, and adopted a careless,
rollicking, hail-fellow-well-met! come-in-and-sit-down-man-alive!
clap-you-on-the-back style, which deceived a good many, or which a
good many pretended to believe in.  His "missus" was an animal of his
own species, but she was duller and didn't bellow.

[ *  "Lamber-down," a shanty keeper who entices cheque-men to drink. ]

He had a rather good-looking girl there--I don't know
whether she was his daughter or not.  They said that when he saw the
shearers coming he'd say, "Run and titivate yourself, Mary; here comes
the shearers!"

But what surprised me was that Jack Barnes didn't seem able to see
through Thomas; he thought that he was all right, "a bit of a rough
diamond."  There are any amount of scoundrels and swindlers knocking
about the world disguised as rough diamonds.

Jack had a fit of coughing when we came in.

"Why, Jack!" bellowed Thomas, "that's a regular churchyarder you've
got.  Go in to the kitchen fire and I'll mix you a stiff toddy."

"No, thank you, Thomas," said Jack, glancing at me rather
sheepishly, I thought.  "I'll have a hot cup of coffee presently,
that'll do me more good."

"Why, man alive, one drink won't hurt you!" said Thomas.  "I know
you're on the straight, and you know I'm the last man that 'ud try to
get you off it.  But you want something for that cold.  You don't want
to die on the track, do you?  What would your missus say?  That cough
of yours is enough to bust a bullock."

"Jack isn't drinking, Thomas," I said rather shortly, "and neither
am I."

"I'll have a cup of coffee at breakfast," said Jack; "thank you all
the same, Thomas."

"Right you are, Jack!" said Thomas.  "Mary!" he roared at the girl,
"chuck yerself about and get breakfast, and make a strong cup of
coffee; and I say, missus" (to his wife), "git some honey and
vinegar in a cup, will yer? or see if there's any of that cough stuff
left in the bottle.  Go into the kitchen, you chaps, and dry
yourselves at the fire, you're wringing wet."

Jack went through into the kitchen.  I stepped out to see if the
horses were all right, and as I came in again through the bar, Thomas,
who had slipped behind the counter, crooked his finger at me and
poured out a stiff whisky.  "I thought you might like to have it on
the quiet," he whispered, with a wink.

Now, there was this difference between Jack and me.  When I was on the
track, and healthy and contented, I could take a drink, or two drinks,
and then leave it; or at other times I could drink all day, or all
night, and be as happy as a lord, and be mighty sick and repentant all
next day, and then not touch drink for a week; but if Jack once
started, he was a lost man for days, for weeks, for, months--as long
as his cash or credit lasted.  I felt a cold coming on me this
morning, and wanted a whisky, so I had a drink with Thomas.  Then, of
course, I shouted in my turn, keeping an eye out in case Jack should
come in.  I went into the kitchen and steamed with Jack for a while in
front of a big log fire, taking care to keep my breath away from him.
Then we went in to breakfast.  Those two drinks were all I meant to
have, and we were going right on after breakfast.

It was a good breakfast, ham and eggs, and we enjoyed it.  The two
whiskies had got to work.  I hadn't touched drink for a long time.  I
shouldn't like to say that Thomas put anything in the drink he gave
me.  Before we started breakfast he put a glass down in front of me
and said:

"There's a good ginger-ale, it will warm you up."

I tasted it; it was rum, hot.  I said nothing.  What could I say?

There was some joke about Jack being married and settled and steadied
down, and me, his old mate, still on the wallaby; and Mrs Thomas said
that I ought to follow Jack's example.  And just then I felt a touch
of that loneliness that some men feel when an old drinking mate turns
teetotaller.

Jack started coughing again, like an old cow with the pleuro.

"That cough will kill you, Jack," said Thomas.  "Let's put a drop
of brandy in your coffee, that won't start you, anyhow; it's real
`Three Star.'"  And he reached a bottle from the side-table.

I should have stood up then, for my manhood, for my mate, and for
little Clara, but I half rose from my chair, and Jack laughed and said,
"Sit down, Joe, you old fool, you're tanked.  I know all about your
seeing about the horses and your ginger-ales.  It's all right, old man.
Do you think I'm going on the booze?  Why, I'll have to hold you on the
horse all day."

"Here's luck, Joe!"  said Jack, laughing, and lifting up his cup of
coffee with the brandy in it.  "Here's luck, Joe."

Then suddenly, and as clearly as I ever heard it, came Clara's voice
to my ear: "Promise me, whatever you do, that you will never have a
drink with Jack."  And I felt cold and sick to the stomach.

I got up and went out.  They thought that the drink had made me sick,
but if I'd stayed there another minute I would have tackled Thomas;
and I knew that I needed a clear head to tackle a bullock like him.  I
walked about a bit, and when I came in again Jack and Thomas were in
the bar, and Jack had a glass before him.

"Come on, Joe, you old bounder," said Jack, "come and have a
whisky-and-soda; it will straighten you up."

"What's that you're drinking, Jack?" I asked.

"Oh, don't be a fool!" said Jack.  "One drink won't hurt me.  Do
you think I'm going on the booze?  Have a soda and straighten up; we
must make a start directly."

I remember we had two or three whiskies, and then suddenly I tackled
Thomas, and Jack was holding me back, and laughing and swearing at me
at the same time, and I had a tussle with him; and then I was suddenly
calmer and sensible, and we were shaking hands all round, and Jack was
talking about just one more spree for the sake of old times.

"A bit of a booze won't hurt me, Joe, you old fool," he said.
"We'll have one more night of it, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, and
start at daylight in the morning.  You go and see to the horses, it
will straighten you up.  Take the saddle off and hobble 'em out."

But I insisted on starting at once, and Jack promised he would.  We
were gloriously happy for an hour or so, and then I went to sleep.

When I woke it was late in the afternoon.  I was very giddy and shaky;
the girl brought me a whisky-and-soda, and that steadied me.  Some
more shearers had arrived, and Jack was playing cards with two of them
on top of a cask in the bar.  Thomas was dead drunk on the floor, or
pretending to be so, and his wife was behind the bar.  I went out to
see to the horses; I found them in a bush yard at the back.  The
packhorse was rolling in the mud with the pack-saddle and saddlebags
on.  One of the chaps helped me take off the saddles and put them in
the harness-room behind the kitchen.

I'll pass over that night.  It wouldn't be very edifying to the great,
steady-living, sober majority, and the others, the never-do-wells, the
rovers, wrecks and failures, will understand only too well without
being told--only too well, God help them!

When I woke in the morning I couldn't have touched a drink to save my
life.  I was fearfully shaky, and swimming about the head, but I put
my head over a tub under the pump and got the girl to pump for a
while, and then I drank a pint of tea and managed to keep it down, and
felt better.

All through the last half of the night I'd kept saying, in a sort of
drink nightmare, "I'll go for Peter M'Laughlan in the morning.  I'll
go for Peter as soon as I can stand!"  and repeating Clara Barnes's
words, "Ride for Peter if anything happens.  Ride for Peter
M'Laughlan."

There were drunken shearers, horsemen and swagmen sleeping all over
the place, and in all sorts of odd positions; some on the veranda with
their heads on their swags, one sitting back against the wall, and one
on the broad of his back with his head on the bare boards and his
mouth open.  There was another horse rolling in its saddle, and I took
the saddle off.  The horse belonged to an English University man.

I went in to see how Jack was.  He was lying in the parlour on a
little, worn-out, horse-hair sofa, that might have seen better days in
some clean home in the woman-and-girl world.  He had been drinking and
playing cards till early that morning, and he looked awful--he looked
as if he'd been boozing for a month.

"See what you've done!" he said, sitting up and glaring at me; then
he said, "Bring me a whisky-and-soda, Joe, for God's sake!"

I got a whisky-and-soda from the girl and took it to him.

I talked to him for a while, and at last he said, "Well, go and get
the horses and we'll start."

I got the horses ready and brought them round to the front, but by
that time he'd had more drink, and he said he wanted to sleep before
he started.  Next he was playing cards with one of the chaps, and
asked me to wait till he'd finished that game.  I knew he'd keep
promising and humbugging me till there was a row, so at last I got him
aside and said:

"Look here, Jack, I'm going for Peter M'Laughlan---"

"Go to hell!" said Jack.

I put the other horses back in the yard, the saddles in the skillion,
got on my horse and rode off.  Thomas and the others asked me no
questions, they took no notice.  In a place like that a man could
almost do anything, short of hanging himself, without anyone
interfering or being surprised.  And probably, if he did hang himself,
they'd let him swing for a while to get a taste of it.

Comesomehow was about fifteen miles back on a track off the main road.
I reckoned that I could find Peter and bring him on by the afternoon,
and I rode hard, sick as I was.  I was too sick to smoke.

As it happened, Peter had started early from his last camp and I
caught him just as he was turning off into Comesomehow track.

"What's up, Joe?" he asked as I rode up to him--but he could see.

"Jack Barnes is on the booze at Thomas's," I said.

Peter just looked right through me.  Then he turned his horse's head
without a word, and rode back with me.  And, after a while, he said,
as if to himself:

"Poor Clara!  Poor little lassie!"

By the time we reached the shanty it was well on in the afternoon.  A
fight was stopped in the first round and voices lowered when the chaps
caught sight of us.  As Peter walked into the bar one or two drunks
straightened themselves and took off their hats with drunken
sentiment.

"Where is Jack Barnes, Thomas?" asked Peter, quietly.

"He's in there if you want to see him," said Thomas, jerking his
head towards the parlour.

We went in, and when Peter saw Jack lying there I noticed that swift,
haunted look came into his eyes, as if he'd seen a ghost of the past.
He sat down by the sofa to wait until Jack woke.  I thought as he sat
there that his eyes were like a woman's for sympathy and like a dog's
for faithfulness.  I was very shaky.

Presently Thomas looked in.  "Is there anything I can do for you,
M'Laughlan?" he asked in as civil a tone as he could get to.

"Yes," said Peter, "bring me a flask of your best whisky--your own,
mind--and a glass.

"We shall need the whisky for him on the track, Joe," said Peter,
when the flask came.  "Get another glass and a bottle of soda; you
want a nip." He poured out a drink for himself.

"The first thing we've got to do is to get him away; then I'll soon
put him on his feet.  But we'll let him sleep a while longer.  I find
I've got business near Solong, and I'm going down with you."

By and by Jack woke up and glared round, and when he caught sight of
Peter he just reached for his hands and said, "Peter!  Thank God
you've come!"  Then he said, "But I must have a drink first, Peter."

"All right, Jack, you shall have a drink," said Peter; and he gave
him a stiff nobblerq.  It steadied Jack a bit.

"Now listen to me, Jack," said Peter.  "How much money have you got
left?"

"I--I can't think," said Jack.  "I've got a cheque for twenty pounds
here, sewn inside my shirt."

"Yes; but you drew thirty-six in three cheques.  Where's the rest?"

"Thomas has ten," said Jack, "and the six--well, the six is gone.
I was playing cards last night."

Peter stepped out into the bar.

"Look here, Thomas," he said quietly, "you've got a ten-pound
cheque from Barnes."

"I know I have."

"Well, how much of it does he owe you?"

"The whole, and more."

"Do you mean to tell me that?  He has only been here since yesterday
morning."

"Yes; but he's been shoutin' all round.  Look at all these chaps
here."

"They only came yesterday afternoon," said Peter.  "Here, you had
best take this and give me the cheque;" and Peter laid a five-pound
note on the bar.  Thomas bucked at first, but in the end he handed over
the cheque--he had had several warnings from the police.  Then he
suddenly lost all control over himself; he came round from behind the
bar and faced Peter.

"Now, look here, you mongrel parson!" he said.  "What the --- do
you mean by coming into my bar and, interfering with me.  Who the ---
are you anyway?  A ---!"  He used the worst oaths that were used in
the bush.  "Take off your --- coat!" he roared at last, shaping up
to Peter.

Peter stepped back a pace and buttoned his coat and threw back his
head.

"No need to take off my coat, Thomas," he said, "I am ready."

He said it very quietly, but there was a danger-signal--a red light in
his eyes.  He was quiet-voiced but hard-knuckled, as some had reason
to know.

Thomas balked like a bull at a spread umbrella.  Jack lurched past me
as I stood in the parlour door, but I caught him and held him back;
and almost at the same moment a wretched old boozer that we called
"Awful Example," who had been sitting huddled, a dirty bundle of
rags and beard and hair, in the corner of the bar, struggled to his
feet, staggered forward and faced Thomas, looking once again like
something that might have been a man.  He snatched a thick glass
bottle from the counter and held it by the neck in his right hand.


"Stand back, Thomas!" he shouted.  "Lay a hand--lay a finger on
Peter M'Laughlan, and I'll smash your head, as sure as there's a God
above us and I'm a ruined man!"

Peter took "Awful" gently by the shoulders and sat him down.  "You
keep quiet, old man," he said; "nothing is going to happen."
Thomas went round behind the bar muttering something about it not
being worth his while to, etc.

"You go and get the horses ready, Joe," said Peter to me; "and you
sit down, Jack, and keep quiet."

"He can get the horses," growled Thomas, from behind the bar, "but
I'm damned if he gets the saddles.  I've got them locked up, and I'll
something well keep them till Barnes is sober enough to pay me what he
owes me."

Just then a tall, good-looking chap, with dark-blue eyes and a long,
light-coloured moustache, stepped into the bar from the crowd on the
veranda.

"What's all this, Thomas?" he asked.

"What's that got to do with you, Gentleman Once?" shouted Thomas.

"I think it's got something to do with me," said Gentleman Once.
"Now, look here, Thomas; you can do pretty well what you like with us
poor devils, and you know it, but we draw the line at Peter
M'Laughlan.  If you really itch for the thrashing, you deserve you
must tempt someone else to give it to you."

"What the --- are you talking about?" snorted Thomas.  "You're drunk
or ratty!"

"What's the trouble, M'Laughlan?" asked Gentleman Once, turning to
Peter.  "No trouble at all, Gentleman Once," said Peter; "thank you
all the same.  I've managed worse men than our friend Thomas.  Now,
Thomas, don't you think it would pay you best to hand over the key of
the harness-room and have done with this nonsense?  I'm a patient
man--a very patient man--but I've not always been so, and the old
blood comes up sometimes, you know."

Thomas couldn't stand this sort of language, because he couldn't
understand it.  He threw the key on the bar and told us to clear out.

We were all three very quiet riding along the track that evening.
Peter gave Jack a nip now and again from the flask, and before we
turned in in camp he gave him what he called a soothing draught from a
little medicine chest that he carried in his saddle-bag.  Jack seemed
to have got rid of his cough; he slept all night, and in the morning,
after he'd drunk a pint of mutton-broth that Peter had made in one of
the billies, he was all right--except that he was quiet and ashamed.
I had never known him to be so quiet, and for such a length of time,
since we were boys together.  He had learned his own weakness; he'd
lost all his cocksureness.  I know now just exactly how he felt.  He
felt as if his sober year had been lost and he would have to live it
all over again.

Peter didn't preach.  He just jogged along and camped with us as if he
were an ordinary, every-day mate.  He yarned about all sorts of
things.  He could tell good yarns, and when he was fairly on you could
listen to him all night.  He seemed to have been nearly all over the
world.  Peter never preached except when he was asked to hold service
in some bush pub, station-homestead or bush church.  But in a case
like ours he had a way of telling a little life story, with something
in it that hit the young man he wanted to reform, and hit him hard.
He'd generally begin quietly, when we were comfortable with our pipes
in camp after tea, with "I once knew a young man--" or "That
reminds me of a young fellow I knew--" and so on.  You never knew
when he was going to begin; or when he was going to hit you.  In our
last camp, before we reached Solong, he told two of his time-fuse
yarns.  I haven't time to tell them now, but one stuffed up my pipe
for a while, and made Jack's hand tremble when he tried to light his.
I'm glad it was too dark to see our faces.  We lay a good while
afterwards, rolled in our blankets, and couldn't get to sleep for
thinking; but Peter seemed to fall asleep as soon as he turned in.

Next day he told Jack not to tell Clara that he'd come down with us.
He said he wouldn't go right into Solong with us; he was going back
along another road to stay a day or two with an old friend of his.

When we reached Solong we stopped on the river-bank just out of sight
of Jack's house.  Peter took the ten-pound cheque from his pocket and
gave it to Jack.  Jack hadn't seen Peter give the shanty-keeper the
five-pound note.

"But I owed Thomas something," said Jack, staring.  "However did
you manage to get the cheque out of him?"

"Never mind, Jack, I managed," said Peter.

Jack sat silent for a while, then he began to breathe hard.

"I don't know what to say, Peter."

"Say nothing, Jack.  Only promise me that you will give Clara the
cheques as soon as you go home, and let her take care of the cash for
a while."

"I will," said Jack.

Jack looked down at the ground for a while, then he lifted his head
and looked Peter in the eyes.

"Peter," he said, "I can't speak.  I'm ashamed to make a promise;
I've broken so many. I'll try to thank you in a year's time from now."

"I ask for no promises," said Peter, and he held out his hand.  Jack
gripped it.

"Aren't you coming home with me, Joe?" he asked.

"No," I said; "I'll go into town.  See you in the morning."

Jack rode on.  When he got along a piece Peter left his horse and
moved up to the head of the lane to watch Jack, and I followed.  As
Jack neared the cottage we saw a little figure in a cloak run out to
the front gate.  She had heard the horses and the jingle of the
camp-ware on the pack-saddle.  We saw Jack jump down and take her in
his arms.  I looked at Peter, and as he watched them, something, that
might have been a strange look of the old days, came into his eyes.

He shook hands with me.  "Good-bye, Joe."

He rode across the river again.  He took the track that ran
along the foot of the spurs by the river, and up over a gap in the
curve of blue hills, and down and out west towards the Big Scrubs.
And as he rounded the last spur, with his packhorse trotting after
him, I thought he must have felt very lonely.  And I felt lonely too.




THE STORY OF "GENTLEMAN ONCE"

    They learn the world from black-sheep,
    Who know it all too well.
                            -Out Back.

Peter M'Laughlan, bush missionary, Joe Wilson and his mate, Jack
Barnes, shearers for the present, and a casual swagman named Jack
Mitchell, were camped at Cox's Crossing in a bend of Eurunderee Creek.

It was a grassy little flat with gum-trees standing clear and clean
like a park.  At the back was the steep grassy siding of a ridge, and
far away across the creek to the south a spur from the Blue Mountain
range ran west, with a tall, blue granite peak showing clear in the
broad moonlight, yet dream-like and distant over the sweeps of dark
green bush.

There was the jingle of hobble-chains and a crunching at the grass
where the horses moved in the soft shadows amongst the trees.  Up the
creek on the other side was a surveyors' camp, and from there now and
again came the sound of a good voice singing verses of old songs; and
later on the sound of a violin and a cornet being played, sometimes
together and sometimes each on its own.

Wilson and Barnes were on their way home from shearing out back in the
great scrubs at Beenaway Shed.  They had been rescued by Peter
M`Laughlan from a wayside shanty where they had fallen, in spite of
mutual oaths and past promises, sacred and profane, because they had
got wringing wet in a storm on the track and caught colds, and had
been tempted to take just one drink.

They were in a bad way, and were knocking down their cheques
beautifully when Peter M'Laughlan came along.  He rescued them and
some of their cash from the soulless shanty keeper, and was riding
home with them, on some pretence, because he had known them as boys,
because Joe Wilson had a vein of poetry in him--a something in
sympathy with something in Peter; because Jack Barnes had a dear
little girl-wife who was much too good for him, and who was now
anxiously waiting for him in the pretty little farming town of Solong
amongst the western spurs.  Because, perhaps, of something in Peter's
early past which was a mystery.  Simply and plainly because Peter
M'Laughlan was the kindest, straightest and truest man in the West--
a "white man."

They all knew Mitchell and welcomed him heartily when he turned up in
their camp, because he was a pathetic humorist and a kindly cynic--a
"joker" or "hard case" as the bushmen say.

Peter was about fifty and the other three were young men.

There was another man in camp who didn't count and was supposed to be
dead.  Old Danny Quinn, champion "beer-chewer" of the district, was
on his way out, after a spree, to one of Rouse's stations, where, for
the sake of past services--long past--and because of old times, he was
supposed to be working.  He had spent his last penny a week before and
had clung to his last-hope hotel until the landlord had taken him in
one hand and his swag in the other and lifted them clear of the
veranda.  Danny had blundered on, this far, somehow; he was the last
in the world who could have told how, and had managed to light a fire;
then he lay with his head on his swag and enjoyed nips of whisky in
judicious doses and at reasonable intervals, and later on a tot of
mutton-broth, which he made in one of the billies.

It was after tea.  Peter sat on a log by the fire with Joe and Jack
Mitchell on one side and Jack Barnes on the other.  Jack Mitchell sat
on the grass with his back to the log, his knees drawn up, and his
arms abroad on them: his most comfortable position and one which
seemed to favour the flow of his philosophy.  They talked of bush
things or reflected, sometimes all three together, sometimes by turns.

From the surveyors' camp:

    I remember, I remember,
      The house where I was born,
    The little window where the sun
      Came peeping in at morn---

The breeze from the west strengthened and the voice was blown
away.

"That chap seems a bit sentimental but he's got a good voice,"
said Mitchell.  Then presently he remarked, round his pipe:

"I wonder if old Danny remembers?"  And presently Peter said
quietly, as if the thought had just occurred to him:

"By the way, Mitchell, I forgot to ask after your old folk.  I knew
your father, you know."

"Oh, they're all right, Peter, thank you."

"Heard from them lately?" asked Peter, presently, in a lazy tone.

Mitchell straightened himself up.  "N--no.  To tell the truth, Peter, I
haven't written for--I don't know how long."

Peter smoked reflectively.

"I remember your father well, Jack," he said.  "He was a big-hearted man."

Old Danny was heard remonstrating loudly with spirits from a warmer
clime than Australia, and Peter stepped over to soothe him.

"I thought I'd get it, directly after I opened my mouth," said
Mitchell.  "I suppose it will be your turn next, Joe."

"I suppose so," said Joe, resignedly.

The wind fell.

    I remember, I remember,
      And it gives me little joy,
    To think I'm further off from heaven,
      Than when I was a boy!

When Peter came back another thought seemed to have occurred to him.

"How's your mother getting on, Joe?" he asked.  "She shifted to
Sydney after your father died, didn't she?"

"Oh, she's getting on all right!" said Joe, without elaboration.

"Keeping a boarding-house, isn't she?"

"Yes," said Joe.

"Hard to make ends meet, I suppose?" said Peter.  "It's almost a
harder life than it could have been on the old selection, and there's
none of the old independence about it.  A woman like your mother must
feel it, Joe."

"Oh, she's all right," said Joe.  "She's used to it by this time.
I manage to send her a few pounds now and again.  I send her all I
can," he added resentfully.

Peter sat corrected for a few moments.  Then he seemed to change the
subject.

"It's some time since you were in Sydney last, isn't it, Joe?'

"Yes, Peter," said Joe.  "I haven't been there for two years.  I
never did any good there.  I'm far better knocking about out back."

There was a pause.

"Some men seem to get on better in one place, some in another,"
reflected Mitchell, lazily.  "For my part, I seem to get on better in
another."

Peter blinked, relit his pipe with a stick from the fire and
reflected.

The surveyor's song had been encored:

    I remember, I remember---

Perhaps Peter remembered.  Joe did, but there were no vines round the
house where he was born, only drought and dust, and raspy voices
raised in recrimination, and hardship most times.

"I remember," said Peter, quietly, "I remember a young fellow at
home in the old country.  He had every advantage.  He had a
first-class education, a great deal more money than he needed--almost
as much as he asked for, and nearly as much freedom as he wanted.  His
father was an English gentleman and his mother an English lady.  They
were titled people, if I remember rightly.  The old man was proud, but
fond of his son; he only asked him to pay a little duty or respect now
and again.  We don't understand these things in Australia--they seem
formal and cold to us.  The son paid his respects to his father
occasionally--a week or so before he'd be wanting money, as a rule.
The mother was a dear lady.  She idolized her son.  She only asked for
a little show of affection from him, a few days or a week of his
society at home now and then--say once in three months.  But he
couldn't spare her even that--his time was taken up so much in
fashionable London and Paris and other places.  He would give the
world to be able to take his proud, soft old father's hand now and
look into his eyes as one man who understands another.  He would be
glad and eager to give his mother twelve months out of the year if he
thought it would make her happier.  It has been too late for more than
twenty years."

Old Danny called for Peter.

Mitchell jerked his head approvingly and gave a sound like a sigh
and chuckle conjoined, the one qualifying the other.

"I told you you'd get it, Joe," he said.

"I don't see how it hits me," said Joe.

"But it hit all the same, Joe."

"Well, I suppose it did," said Joe, after a short pause.

"He wouldn't have hit you so hard if you hadn't tried to parry,"
reflected Mitchell.  "It's your turn now, Jack."

Jack Barnes said nothing.

"Now I know that Peter would do anything for a woman or child, or an
honest, straight, hard-up chap," said Mitchell, straightening out his
legs and folding his arms, "but I can't quite understand his being so
partial to drunken scamps and vagabonds, black sheep and
never-do-wells.  He's got a tremendous sympathy for drunks.  He'd do
anything to help a drunken man.  Ain't it marvellous?  It's my private
opinion that Peter must have been an awful boozer and scamp in his
time."

The other two only thought.  Mitchell was privileged.  He was a young
man of freckled, sandy complexion, and quizzical grey eyes.  "Sly
Joker" "could take a rise out of anyone on the quiet;" "You could
never tell when he was getting at you;" "Face of a born comedian,"
as bushmen said of Mitchell.  But he would probably have been a dead
and dismal failure on any other stage than that of wide Australia.

Peter came back and they sat and smoked, and maybe they reflected
along four very different back-tracks for a while.

The surveyor started to sing again:

    I have heard the mavis singing
      Her love-song to the morn.
    I have seen the dew-drop clinging
      To the rose just newly born.

They smoked and listened in silence all through to the end.  It was
very still.  The full moon was high.  The long white slender branches
of a box-tree stirred gently overhead; the she-oaks in the creek
sighed as they are always sighing, and the southern peak seemed ever
so far away.

    That has made me thine for ever!
      Bonny Mary of Argyle.

"Blarst my pipe!" exclaimed Mitchell, suddenly.  "I beg your
pardon, Peter.  My pipe's always getting stuffed up," and he
proceeded to shell out and clear his pipe.

The breeze had changed and strengthened.  They heard the violin
playing "Annie Laurie."

"They must be having a Scotch night in that camp tonight," said
Mitchell.  The voice came again:

    Maxwelton Braes are bonny--
      Where early fa's the dew,
    For 'twas there that Annie Laurie
      Gie me her promise true---

Mitchell threw out his arm impatiently.  "I wish they wouldn't play
and sing those old songs," he said.  "They make you think of damned
old things.  I beg your pardon, Peter."

Peter sat leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his
hands fingering his cold pipe nervously.  His sad eyes had grown
haggard and haunted.  It is in the hearts of exiles in new lands that
the old songs are felt.

"Take no thought of the morrow, Mitchell," said Peter, abstractedly.
"I beg your pardon, Mitchell.  I mean---"

"That's all right, Peter," said Mitchell.  "You're right; to-morrow
is the past, as far as I'm concerned."

 Peter blinked down at him as if he were a new species.

"You're an odd young man, Mitchell," he said.  "You'll have to take
care of that head of yours or you'll be found hanging by a
saddle-strap to a leaning tree on a lonely track, or find yourself in
a lunatic asylum before you're forty-five."

"Or else I'll be a great man," said Mitchell.  "But--ah, well!"

Peter turned his eyes to the fire and smiled sadly.  "Not enjoyment
and not sorrow, is our destined end or way," he repeated to the fire.

"But we get there just the same," said Mitchell, "destined or
not."

    But to live, that each to-morrow,
      Finds us further than to-day!

"Why, that just fits my life, Peter," said Mitchell.  "I might have
to tramp two or three hundred miles before I get a cut* or a job,
and if to-morrow didn't find me nearer than to-day I'd starve or die
of thirst on a dry stretch."

[ *  Cut--a pen or "stand" in a shearing shed ]

"Why don't you get married and settle down, Mitchell?"  asked Peter,
a little tired.  "You're a teetotaller."

"If I got married I couldn't settle down," said Mitchell.  "I
reckon I'd be the loneliest man in Australia."  Peter gave him a
swift glance.  "I reckon I'd be single no matter how much married I
might be.  I couldn't get the girl I wanted, and--ah, well!"

Mitchell's expression was still quaintly humorous round the lower part
of his face, but there was a sad light in his eyes.  The strange light
as of the old dead days, and he was still young.

The cornet had started in the surveyors' camp.

"Their blooming tunes seem to fit in just as if they knew what we were
talking about," remarked Mitchell.

The cornet:

    You'll break my heart, you little bird,
    That sings upon the flowering thorn
    Thou mind'st me of departed joys,
    Departed never to return.

"Damn it all," said Mitchell, sitting up, "I'm getting
sentimental."  Then, as if voicing something that was troubling him,
"Don't you think a woman pulls a man down as often as she lifts him
up, Peter?"

"Some say so," said Peter.

"Some say so, and they write it, too," said Mitchell.

"Sometimes it seems to me as if women were fated to drag a man down
ever since Adam's time.  If Adam hadn't taken his wife's advice--but
there, perhaps he took her advice a good many times and found it good,
and, just because she happened to be wrong this time, and to get him
into a hole, the sons of Adam have never let the daughters of Eve hear
the last of it.  That's human nature."

Jack Barnes, the young husband, who was suffering a recovery, had been
very silent all the evening.  "I think a man's a fool to always
listen to his wife's advice," he said, with the unreasonable
impatience of a man who wants to think while others are talking.
"She only messes him up, and drives him to the devil as likely as
not, and gets a contempt for him in the end."

Peter gave him a surprised, reproachful look, and stood up.  He paced
backwards and forwards on the other side of the fire, with his hands
behind his back for a while; then he came and settled himself on the
log again and filled his pipe.

"Yes," he said, "a man can always find excuses for himself when his
conscience stings him.  He puts mud on the sting.  Man at large is
beginning all over the world to rake up excuses for himself; he
disguises them as `Psychological studies,' and thinks he is clean and
clever and cultured, or he calls 'em problems--the sex problem, for
instance, and thinks he is brave and fearless."

Danny was in trouble again, and Peter went to him.  He complained that
when he lay down he saw the faces worse, and he wanted to be propped
up somehow, so Peter got a pack-saddle and propped the old man's
shoulders up with that.

"I remember," Peter began, when he came back to the fire, "I remember
a young man who got married---"

Mitchell hugged himself.  He knew Jack Barnes.  He knew that Jack had
a girl-wife who was many times too good for him; that Jack had been
wild, and had nearly broken her heart, and he had guessed at once that
Jack had broken out again, and that Peter M'Laughlan was shepherding
him home.  Mitchell had worked as mates with Jack, and liked him
because of the good heart that was in him in spite of all; and,
because he liked him, he was glad that Jack was going to get a
kicking, so to speak, which might do him good. Mitchell saw it coming,
as he said afterwards, and filled his pipe, and settled himself
comfortably to listen.

"I remember the case of a naturally selfish young man who got
married" said Peter.  "He didn't know he was selfish; in fact, he
thought he was too much the other way--but that doesn't matter now.
His name was--well, we'll call him--we'll call him, `Gentleman Once.'"

"Do you mean Gentleman Once that we saw drinking back at Thomas's
shanty?" asked Joe.

"No," said Peter, "not him.  There have been more than one in the
bush who went by the nickname of `Gentleman Once.'  I knew one or two.
It's a big clan, the clan of Gentleman Once, and scattered all over
the world."

"By the way," said Mitchell--"excuse me for interrupting,
Peter--but wasn't old Danny, there, a gentleman once?  I've heard
chaps say he was."

"I know he was," said Peter.

"Gentleman Once!  Who's talking about Gentleman Once?" said an awful
voice, suddenly and quickly.  "About twenty or thirty years ago I was
called Gentleman Once or Gentleman Jack, I don't know which--Get out!
_Get out_, I say!  It's all lies, and you're the devil.  There's
four devils sitting by the fire.  I see them."

Two of the four devils by the fire looked round, rather startled.

Danny was sitting up, his awful bloodshot eyes glaring in the
firelight, and his ruined head looking like the bloated head of a
hairy poodle that had been drowned and dried.  Peter went to the old
man and soothed him by waving off the snakes and devils with his
hands, and telling them to go.

"I've heard Danny on the Gentleman Once racket before," remarked
Mitchell.

"Seems funny, doesn't it, for a man to be proud of the fact that he
was called `Gentleman Once' about twenty years ago?"

"Seems more awful than funny to me," said Joe.

"You're right, Joe," said Mitchell.  "But the saddest things are
often funny."

When Peter came back he went on with his story, and was
only interrupted once or twice by Danny waking up and calling him to
drive off the snakes, and green and crimson dogs with crocodile heads,
and devils with flaming tails, and those unpleasant sorts of things
that force their company on boozers and madmen.

"Gentleman Once," said Peter, "he came from the old country with a
good education and no character.  He disgraced himself and family
once too often and came, or was sent, out to Australia to reform.
It's a great mistake.  If a man is too far gone, or hasn't the strength
to live the past down and reform at home, he won't do it in a new
country, unless a combination of circumstances compels him to it.
A man rises by chance; just as often he falls by chance.  Some men
fall into the habit of keeping steady and stick to it, for the
novelty of it, until they are on their feet and in their sane minds
and can look at the past, present and future sensibly.  I knew one
case--But that's got nothing to do with the story.

"Gentleman Once came out on the remittance system.  That system is
fatal in nine cases out of ten.  The remittance system is an insult to
any manhood that may be left in the black sheep, and an insult to the
land he is sent to.  The cursed quarterly allowance is a stone round
his neck which will drag him down deeper in a new land than he would
have fallen at home.  You know that remittance men are regarded with
such contempt in the bush that a man seldom admits he is one, save
when he's drunk and reckless and wants money or credit.  When a
ne'er-do-well lands in Melbourne or Sydney without a penny he will
probably buck-up and do something for himself.  When he lands with
money he will probably spend it all in the first few months and then
straighten up, because he has to.  But when he lands on the remittance
system he drinks, first to drown homesickness.  He decides that he'll
wait till he gets his next quarter's allowance and then look round.
He persuades himself that it's no use trying to do anything: that, in
fact, he can't do anything until he gets his money.  When he gets it
he drifts into one `last' night with chums he has picked up in second
and third-rate hotels.  He drinks from pure selfishness.  No matter
what precautions his friends at home take, he finds means of getting
credit or drawing on his allowance before it is due--until he is two
or three quarters behind.  He drinks because he feels happy and jolly
and clever and good-natured and brave and honest while he is drinking.
Later on he drinks because he feels the reverse of all these things
when he is sober.  He drinks to drown the past and repentance.  He
doesn't know that a healthy-minded man doesn't waste time in
repenting.  He doesn't know how easy it is to reform, and is too
weak-willed to try.  He gets a muddled idea that the past can't be
mended.  He finds it easy to get drink and borrow money on the
strength of his next quarter's allowance, so he soon gets a quarter or
two behind, and sometimes gets into trouble connected with borrowed
money.  He drifts to the bush and drinks, to drown the past only.  The
past grows blacker and blacker until it is a hell without repentance;
and often the black sheep gets to that state when a man dreads his
sober hours.  And the end?  Well, you see old Danny there, and you saw
old Awful Example back at Thomas's shanty--he's worse than Danny, if
anything.  Sometimes the end comes sooner.  I saw a young
new-land-new-leaf man dying in a cheap lodging-house in Sydney.  He
was a schoolmate of mine, by the way.  For six weeks he lay on his
back and suffered as I never saw a man suffer in this world; and I've
seen some bad cases.  They had to chloroform him every time they
wanted to move him.  He had affected to be hard and cynical, and I
must say that he played it out to the end.  It was a strong character,
a strong mind sodden and diseased with drink.  He never spoke of home
and his people except when he was delirious.  He never spoke, even to
me, of his mental agony.  That was English home training.  You young
Australians wouldn't understand it; most bushmen are poets and
emotional.

"My old schoolmate was shifted to the Sydney Hospital at last, and
consented to the amputation of one leg.  But it was too late.  He was
gone from the hips down.  Drink--third-rate hotel and bush shanty
drink--and low debauchery."

Jack Barnes drew up his leg and rubbed it surreptitiously.  He had
"pins and needles." Mitchell noticed and turned a chuckle into a
grunt.

"Gentleman Once was a remittance man," continued Peter.  "But
before he got very far he met an Australian girl in a boarding-house.
Her mother was the landlady.  They were bush people who had drifted to
the city.  The girl was pretty, intelligent and impulsive.  She pitied
him and nursed him.  He wasn't known as Gentleman Once then, he hadn't
got far enough to merit the nickname."

Peter paused.  Presently he jerked his head, as if he felt a spasm of
pain, and leaned forward to get a stick from the fire to light his
pipe.

"Now, there's the girl who marries a man to reform him, and when she
has reformed him never lets him hear the last of it.  Sometimes, as a
woman, she drives him back again.  But this was not one of that sort
of girls.  I once held a theory that sometimes a girl who has married
a man and reformed him misses in the reformed man the something which
attracted her in the careless scamp, the something which made her love
him--and so she ceases to love him, and their married life is a far
more miserable one than it would have been had he continued drinking.
I hold no theory of that kind now.  Such theories ruin many married
lives."

Peter jerked his head again as if impatient with a thought, and
reached for a fire-stick.

"But that's got nothing to do with the story.  When Gentleman Once
reformed his natural selfishness came back.  He saw that he had
made a mistake.  It's a terrible thing for a young man, a few months,
perhaps a few weeks after his marriage, to ask himself the question,
`Have I made a mistake?'  But Gentleman Once wasn't to be pitied.
He discovered that he had married beneath him in intellect and
education.  Home training again.  He couldn't have discovered that
he had married beneath him as far as birth was concerned, for his
wife's father had been a younger son of an older and greater family
than his own--But Gentleman Once wouldn't have been cad enough to
bother about birth.  I'll do him that much justice.  He discovered,
or thought he did, that he and his wife could never have one thought
in common; that she couldn't possibly understand him.  I'll tell you
later on whether he was mistaken or not.  He was gloomy most times,
and she was a bright, sociable, busy little body.  When she tried to
draw him out of himself he grew irritable.  Besides, having found
that they couldn't have a thought in common he ceased to bother to
talk to her.  There are many men who don't bother talking to their
wives; they don't think their wives feel it--because the wives cease
to complain after a while; they grow tired of trying to make the man
realize how they suffer.  Gentleman Once tried his best--according to
his lights--and weakness.  Then he went in for self-pity and all the
problems.  He liked to brood, and his poor little wife's energy and
cheerfulness were wearying to him.  He wanted to be left alone.
They were both high-spirited, in different ways; she was highly strung
and so was he--because of his past life mostly. They quarrelled badly
sometimes.  Then he drank again and she stuck to him.  Perhaps the
only time he seemed cheerful and affectionate was when he had a few
drinks in him.  It was a miserable existence--a furnished room in a
cheap lodging-house, and the use of the kitchen.

"He drank alone.

"Now a dipsomaniac mostly thinks he is in the right--except, perhaps,
after he has been forced to be sober for a week.  The noblest woman in
the world couldn't save him--everything she does to reform him
irritates him; but a strong friend can save him sometimes--a man who
has been through it himself.  The poor little wife of Gentleman Once
went through it all.  And she stuck to him.  She went into low pubs
after him."

Peter shuddered again.  "She went through it all.  He swore promises.
He'd come home sober and fill her with hope of future happiness, and
swear that he'd never take another glass.  `And we'll be happy yet, my
poor boy,' she'd say, `we'll be happy yet.  I believe you, I trust
you' (she used to call him her `bonny boy' when they were first
married).  And next night he'd come home worse than ever.  And one day
he--he struck her!"

Peter shuddered, head and shoulders, like a man who had accidentally
smashed his finger.

"And one day he struck her.  He was sober when he did it--anyhow he
had not taken drink for a week.  A man is never sober who gets drunk
more than once a week, though he might think he is.  I don't know how
it happened, but anyway he struck her, and that frightened him.  He
got a billet in the Civil Service up-country.  No matter in what town
it was.  The little wife hoped for six months.

"I think it's a cruel thing that a carelessly selfish young man
cannot realize how a sensitive young wife suffers for months after he
has reformed.  How she hopes and fears, how she dreads the moment he
has to leave her, and frets every hour he is away from home--and
suffers mental agony when he is late.  How the horror of the wretched
old past time grows upon her until she dares not think of it.  How she
listens to his step and voice and watches his face, when he comes
home, for a sign of drink.  A young man, a mate of mine, who drank
hard and reformed, used to take a delight in pretending for a few
minutes to be drunk when he came home.  He was good-hearted, but
dense.  He said he only did it to give his wife a pleasant surprise
afterwards.  I thought it one of the most cruel things I had ever
seen.

"Gentleman Once found that he could not stand the routine of office
work and the dull life in that place.  He commenced to drink again,
and went on till he lost his billet.  They had a little boy, a bright
little boy, yet the father drank.

"The last spree was a terrible one.  He was away from home a
fortnight, and in that fortnight he got down as deep as a man could
get.  Then another man got hold of him and set him on his feet, and
straightened him up.  The other man was a ruined doctor, a wreck whose
devil was morphia.  I don't hold that a man's salvation is always in
his own hands; I've seen mates pull mates out of hell too often to
think that.

"Then Gentleman Once saw the past as he had never seen it before--he
saw hope for the future with it.  And he swore an oath that he felt he
would keep.

"He suffered from reaction on his way home, and, as he neared the
town, a sudden fear, born of his nervous state, no doubt, sent a cold,
sick emptiness through him: `Was it too late?'

"As he turned into the street where he lived, he noticed a little
group of bush larrikins standing at the corner.  And they moved
uneasily when they caught sight of him, and, as he passed, they
touched and lifted their hats to him.  Now he knew that he had lost
the respect even of bush larrikins; and he knew enough of the bush to
know that a bushman never lifts his hat to a man--only to death, and a
woman sometimes.  He hurried home and read the truth in his wife's
eyes.  His little boy was dead.  He went down under the blow, and she
held his head to her breast and kept saying.  `My poor boy, my poor
boy!'

"It was he that she meant, not the boy she had lost.  She knew him,
she understood him better than he did himself, and, heart-broken as
she was, she knew how he was going to suffer, and comforted him.  `My
poor boy, my poor, foolish boy!'

"He mended the past, as far as he could, during the next two years,
and she seemed happy.  He was very gentle, he was very kind to her.
He was happy, too, in a new, strange way.  But he had learned what it
was to suffer through his own fault, and now he was to learn what it
was to suffer through no fault of his own, and without the consolation
of saying `I was wrong!  I was to blame!'  At the end of the two years
there was another child, and his wife died."

The four sat silently smoking until Jack Barnes asked:

"And what did he do then, Peter?"

"Who?" said Peter, abstractedly.

"Why, Gentleman Once."

Peter roused himself.

"Well, I've told the story, and it is about time to turn in," he
said.  "I can't say exactly what Gentleman Once did when his wife
died.  He might have gone down to a deeper depth than Danny's.  He
might have risen higher than he had ever been before.  From what I
knew of his character he would never have gone down an easy slope as
Danny has done.  He might have dropped plump at first and then climbed
up.  Anyway, he had the memory of the last two years to help him.

"Then there's the reformed drunkard who has trained himself to take a
drink when he needs it, to drink in moderation--he's the strongest
character of all, I think--but it's time to turn in."

The cornet up the creek was playing a march.

Peter walked across and looked at Danny, who seemed to be sleeping as
peacefully as could be expected of him.

Jack Barnes got up and walked slowly down the creek in the moonlight.
He wanted to think.

Peter rolled out his blankets on the grass and arranged his
saddle-bags for a pillow.  Before he turned in Mitchell shook hands
with him, a most unusual and unnecessary proceeding in camp.  But
there's something in the bush grip which means "I know," or "I
understand."

Joe Wilson rolled out his blankets close to Mitchell's camp; he wanted
to enjoy some of Mitchell's quiet humour before he went to sleep, but
Mitchell wasn't in a philosophical mood.  He wanted to reflect.

"I wonder who Gentleman Once was?" said Joe to Mitchell.  "Could he
have been Danny, or old Awful Example back there at the shanty?"

"Dunno," said Mitchell.  He puffed three long puffs at his pipe, and
then said, reflectively:

"I've heard men tell their own stories before to-night Joe."

It was Joe who wanted to think now.


About four o'clock Mitchell woke and stood up.  Peter was lying rolled
in his blanket with his face turned to the west.  The moon was low,
the shadows had shifted back, and the light was on Peter's face.
Mitchell stood looking at him reverently, as a grown son might who
sees his father asleep for the first time.  Then Mitchell quietly got
some boughs and stuck them in the ground at a little distance from
Peter's head, to shade his face from the bright moonlight; and then he
turned in again to sleep till the sun woke him.




THE GHOSTS OF MANY CHRISTMASES


Did you ever trace back your Christmas days?--right back to the days
when you were innocent and Santa Claus was real.  At times you thought
you were very wicked, but you never realize how innocent you were
until you've grown up and knocked about the world.

Let me think!

Christmas in an English village, with bare hedges and trees, and
leaden skies that lie heavy on our souls as we walk, with overcoat and
umbrella, sons of English exiles and exiles in England, and think of
bright skies and suns overhead, and sweeps of country disappearing
into the haze, and blue mountain ranges melting into the azure of
distant lower skies, and curves of white and yellow sand beaches, and
runs of shelving yellow sandstone sea-walls--and the glorious Pacific!
Sydney Harbour at sunrise, and the girls we took to Manly Beach.

Christmas in a London flat.  Gloom and slush and soot.  It is not the
cold that affects us Australians so much, but the horrible gloom.  We
get heart-sick for the sun.

Christmas at sea--three Christmases, in fact--one going saloon from
Sydney to Westralia early in the Golden Nineties with funds; and one,
the Christmas after next, coming back steerage with nothing but the
clothes we'd slept in.  All of which was bad judgment on our part--the
order and manner of our going and coming should have been reversed.

Christmas in a hessian tent in "th' Westren," with so many old mates
from the East that it was just old times over again.  We had five
pounds of corned beef and a kerosene-tin to boil it in; and while we
were talking of old things the skeleton of a kangaroo-dog grabbed the
beef out of the boiling water and disappeared into the scrub--which
made it seem more like old times than ever.

Christmas going to New Zealand, with experience, by the s.s.
_Tasmania_.  We had plum duff, but it was too "soggy" for
us to eat.  We dropped it overboard, lest it should swamp the
boat--and it sank to the ooze.  The Tasmania was saved on that
occasion, but she foundered next year outside Gisborne.  Perhaps the
cook had made more duff.  There was a letter from a sweetheart of mine
amongst her mails when she went down; but that's got nothing to do
with it, though it made some difference in my life.

Christmas on a new telegraph line with a party of lining gangmen in
New Zealand.  There was no duff nor roast because there was no
firewood within twenty miles.  The cook used to pile armfuls of
flax-sticks under the billies, and set light to them when the last man
arrived in camp.

Christmas in Sydney, with a dozen invitations out to dinner.  The one
we accepted was to a sensible Australian Christmas dinner; a typical
one, as it should be, and will be before the Commonwealth is many
years old.  Everything cold except the vegetables, the hose playing on
the veranda and vines outside, the men dressed in sensible pyjama-like
suits, and the women and girls fresh and cool and jolly, instead of
being hot and cross and looking like boiled carrots, and feeling like
boiled rags, and having headaches after dinner, as would have been the
case had they broiled over the fire in a hot kitchen all the blazing
forenoon to cook a scalding, indigestible dinner, as many Australian
women do, and for no other reason than that it was the fashion in
England.  One of those girls was very pretty and--ah, well!--

Christmas dinner in a greasy Sydney sixpenny restaurant, that opened a
few days before with brass band going at full blast at the door by way
of advertisement.  "Roast-beef, one!  Cabbage and potatoes, one!
Plum pudding, two!"  (That was the first time I dined to music.)  The
Christmas dinner was a good one, but my appetite was spoilt by the
expression of the restaurant keeper, a big man with a heavy jowl, who
sat by the door with a cold eye on the sixpences, and didn't seem to
have much confidence in human nature.


Christmas--no, that was New Year--on the Warrego River, out back (an
alleged river with a sickly stream that looked like bad milk).  We
spent most of that night hunting round in the dark and feeling on the
ground for camel and horse droppings with which to build fires and
make smoke round our camp to keep off the mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes
started at sunset and left off at daybreak, when the flies got to work
again.

Christmas dinner under a brush shearing-shed.  Mutton and plum
pudding--and fifty miles from beer!

An old bush friend of mine, one Jimmy Nowlett, who ranked as a
bullock-driver, told me of a Christmas time he had.  He was cut off by
the floods with his team, and had nothing to eat for four days but
potatoes and honey.  He said potatoes dipped in honey weren't so bad;
but he had to sleep on bullock yokes laid on the ground to keep him
out of the water, and he got a toothache that paralysed him all down
one side.

And speaking of plum pudding, I consider it one of the most barbarous
institutions of the British.  It is a childish, silly, savage
superstition; it must have been a savage inspiration, looking at it
all round--but then it isn't so long since the British were savages.

I got a letter last year from a mate of mine in Western
Australia--prospecting the awful desert out beyond White
Feather--telling me all about a "perish" he did on plum pudding.  He
and his mates were camped at the Boulder Soak with some three or four
hundred miles--mostly sand and dust--between them and the nearest
grocer's shop.  They ordered a case of mixed canned provisions from
Perth to reach them about Christmas.  They didn't believe in plum
pudding--there are a good many British institutions that bushmen don't
believe in but the cook was a new chum, and he said he'd go home to
his mother if he didn't have plum pudding for Christmas, so they
ordered a can for him.  Meanwhile, they hung out on kangaroo and
damper and the knowledge that it couldn't last for ever.  It was in a
terrible drought, and the kangaroos used to come into the "Soak" for
water, and they were too weak to run.  Later on, when wells were dug,
the kangaroos used to commit suicide in them--there was generally a
kangaroo in the well in the morning.

The storekeeper packed the case of tinned dog, etc., but by some
blunder he or his man put the label on the wrong box, and it went per
rail, per coach, per camel, and the last stage per boot, and reached
my friends' camp on Christmas Eve, to their great joy.  My friend
broke the case open by the light of the camp-fire.

"Here, Jack!" he said, tossing out a can, "here's your plum
pudding."

He held the next can in his hand a moment longer and read the label
twice.

"Why! he's sent two," he said, "and I'm sure I only ordered one.
Never mind--Jack'll have a tuck-out."

He held the next can close to the fire and blinked at it hard.  "I'm
damned if he hasn't sent three tins of plum pudding.  Never mind,
we'll manage to scoff some of it between us.  You're in luck's way
this trip, Jack, and no mistake."

He looked harder still at the fourth can; then he read the labels on
the other tins again to see if he'd made a mistake.

He didn't tell me what he said then, but a milder mate suggested that
the storekeeper had sent half a dozen tins by mistake.  But when they
reached the seventh can the language was not even fit to be written
down on a piece of paper and handed up to the magistrate.  The
storekeeper had sent them an unbroken case of canned plum pudding, and
probably by this time he was wondering what had become of that blanky
case of duff.

The kangaroos disappeared about this time and my friend tells me that
he and his mates had to live for a mortal fortnight on canned plum
pudding.  They tried it cold and they tried it boiled, they tried it
baked, they had it fried, and they had it toasted, they had it for
breakfast, dinner and tea.  They had nothing else to think, or talk,
or argue and quarrel about; and they dreamed about it every night, my
friend says.  It wasn't a joke--it gave them the nightmare and
day-horrors.

They tried it with salt.  They picked as many of the raisins out as
they could and boiled it with salt kangaroo.  They tried to make
Yorkshire pudding out of it; but it was too rich.

My friend was experimenting and trying to discover a simple process
for separating the ingredients of plum pudding when a fresh supply of
provisions came along.  He says he was never so sick of anything in
his life, and he has had occasion to be sick of a good many things.

The new-chum jackaroo is still alive, but he won't ever eat plum
pudding any more, he says.  It cured him of homesickness.  He wouldn't
eat it even if his bride made it.


Christmas on the goldfields in the last of the roaring days, in the
palmy days of Gulgong and those fields.  Let's see! it must be nearly
thirty years ago! Oh, how the time goes by!

Santa Claus, young, fresh-faced and eager; Santa Claus, blonde and
flaxen; Santa Claus, dark; Santa Claus with a brogue and Santa Claus
speaking broken English; Santa Claus as a Chinaman (Sun Tong Lee &
Co. storekeepers), with strange, delicious sweets that melted in our
mouths, and rum toys and Chinese dolls for the children.


Lucky diggers who were with difficulty restrained from putting pound
notes and nuggets and expensive lockets and things into the little
ones' stockings.  Santa Claus in flannel shirt and clay-covered
moleskins.  Diggers who bought lollies by the pound and sent the
little ones home with as much as they could carry.

Diggers who gave a guinea or more for a toy for a child that reminded
them of some other child at home.  Diggers who took as many children
as they could gather on short notice into a store, slapped a
five-pound note down on the counter and told the little ones to call
for whatever they wanted.  Who set a family of poor children side by
side on the counter and called for a box of mixed children's
boots--the best--and fitted them on with great care and anxiety and
frequent inquiries as to whether they pinched.  Who stood little girls
and boys on the counter and called for the most expensive frocks, the
latest and best in sailor suits, and the brightest ribbons; and things
came long distances by bullock dray and were expensive in those days.
Impressionable diggers--and most of them were--who threw nuggets to
singers, and who, sometimes, slipped a parcel into the hands of a
little boy or girl, with instructions to give it to an elder sister
(or young mother, perhaps) whom the digger had never spoken to, only
worshipped from afar off.  And the elder sister or young mother,
opening the parcel, would find a piece of jewellery or a costly
article of dress, and wonder who sent it.

Ah, the wild generosity of luck-intoxicated diggers of those days!
and the reckless generosity of the drinkers.  "We thought it was
going to last for ever!"

"If I don't spend it on the bairns I'll spend it on the drink,"
Sandy Burns used to say.  "I ha' nane o' me own, an' the lass who was
to gi' me bairns, she couldn't wait."

Sandy had kept steady and travelled from one end of the world to the
other, and roughed it and toiled for five years, and the very day he
bottomed his golden hole on the Brown Snake Lead at Happy Valley he
got a letter from his girl in Scotland to say she had grown tired of
waiting and was married.  Then he drank, and drink and luck went
together.

Gulgong on New Year's Eve!  Rows and rows of lighted tents and
camp-fires, with a clear glow over it all.  Bonfires on the hills and
diggers romping round them like big boys.  Tin kettling--gold dishes
and spoons, and fiddles, and hammers on pointing anvils, and sticks
and empty kerosene-tins (they made a row); concertinas and cornets,
shot-guns, pistols and crackers, all sorts of instruments, and "Auld
Lang Syne" in one mighty chorus.  And now--a wretched little pastoral
town; a collection of glaring corrugated-iron hip-roofs, and maybe a
rotting propped-up bark or weather-board humpy or two--relics of the
roaring days; a dried-up storekeeper and some withered hags; a waste
of caved-in holes with rain-washed mullock heaps and quartz and gravel
glaring in the sun; thistles and burrs where old bars were; drought,
dryness, desolation and goats.

Lonely graves in the bush and grey old diggers here and there,
anywhere in the world, doing anything for a living, lonely yet because
of the girls who couldn't wait, but prospecting and fossicking here
and there, and dreaming still.

They thought it was going to last for ever.


Christmas at Eurunderee Creek, amongst the old selection farms in the
western spurs of the Blue Mountains.  They used to call it "Th'
Pipeclay" thirty years ago, but the old black names have been
restored.  They make plum puddings yet, weeks beforehand, and boil
them for hours and hang them in cloths to the rafters to petrify; then
they take them down and boil them again.  On Christmas Eve the boys
cut boughs or young pines on the hills, and drag them home and lash
them to the veranda-posts.

Ted has turned up with his wife and children from his selection out
back.  The wheat is in and shearing is over on the big stations.
Tom--steady-going old Tom--clearing or fencing or dam-sinking
up-country, hides his tools in the scrub and gets his horse and rides
home.  Aunt Emma (to everyone's joy) has arrived from Sydney with
presents (astonishing bargains in frocks, etc.) and marvellous
descriptions of town life.

Joe, "poor" Mary's husband, who has been droving in Queensland since
the Christmas before last--while poor Mary, who is afraid to live
alone, shared a skillion and the family quarrels at home--Joe rides
day and night and reaches home at sunrise on Christmas morning, tired
and dusty, gaunt and haggard, but with his last cheque intact.  He
kisses his wife and child and throws himself on the bed to sleep till
dinner-time, while Mary moves round softly, hushes the baby, dresses
it and herself, lays out Joe's clean things, and bends over him now
and then, and kisses him, perhaps, as he sleeps.

In the morning the boys and some of the men go down to the creek for a
swim in the big shady pool, under the she-oaks and take their Sunday
clothes with them and dress there.

Some of them ride into town to church, and some of the women and
children drive in in spring-carts--the children to go to Sunday
school, leaving mother and the eldest daughter--usually a hard-worked,
disappointed, short-tempered girl--at home to look after the cooking.

There is some anxiety (mostly on mother's part) about Jim, who is
"wild," and is supposed to be somewhere out back.  There was "a
piece of blue paper" out for Jim on account of sweating (illegally
using) a horse, but his mother or father has got a hint--given in a
kindly way by the police-sergeant--that Jim is free to come home and
stay at home if he behaves himself.  (There is usually a horse missing
when Jim goes out back.)

Jim turns up all right--save that he has no money--and is welcomed
with tearful affection by his favourite sister Mary, shakes hands
silently with his father, and has a long whispered conversation with
his mother, which leaves him very subdued.  His brothers forbear to
sneer at him, partly because it is Christmas, partly on mother's
account, and thirdly, because Jim can use his hands.  Aunt Emma, who
is fond of him, cheers him up wonderfully.

The family sit down to dinner.  "An old mate of your father's"--a
bearded old digger--has arrived and takes the place of honour.  ("I
knowed yer father, sonny, on the diggings long afore any of you was
ever thought on.")

The family have only been a few hours together, yet there is an
undercurrent of growling, that, to the stranger, mysterious yet
evident undercurrent of nastiness and resentment which goes on in all
families and drags many a promising young life down.  But Aunt Emma
and the old mate make things brighter, and so the dinner--of hot roast
and red-hot plum pudding--passes off fairly well.

The men sleep the afternoon away and wake up bathed in perspiration
and helpless; some of the women have headaches.  After tea they gather
on the veranda in the cool of the evening, and that's the time when
the best sides of their natures and the best parts of the past have a
chance of coming uppermost, and perhaps they begin to feel a bit sorry
that they are going to part again.

The local races or "sports" on Boxing Day.  There is nothing to keep
the boys home over New Year.  Ted and his wife go back to their lonely
life on their selection; Tom returns to his fencing or tank-sinking
contract; Jim, who has borrowed "a couple of quid" from Tom, goes
out back with strong resolutions for the New Year, and shears
"stragglers," breaks in horses, cooks and clerks for survey parties,
and gambles and drinks, and gets into trouble again.  Maybe Joe
"knocks about" the farm a bit before going into the Great North-West
with another mob of cattle.

The last time I saw the Old Year out at Eurunderee the bushfires were
burning all over the ranges, and looked like great cities lighted up.
No need for bonfires then.  Christmas in Bourke, the metropolis of the
great pastoral scrubs and plains, five hundred miles west, with the
thermometer one-hundred-and-something-scarey in the shade.  The rough,
careless shearers come in from stations many dusty miles out in the
scrubs to have their Christmas sprees, to drink and "shout" and
fight--and have the horrors some of them--and be run in and locked up
with difficulty, within sound of a church-going bell.

The Bourke Christmas is a very beery and exciting one.  The hotels
shut up in front on Christmas Day to satisfy the law (or out of
consideration for the feelings of the sergeant in charge of the police
station), and open behind to satisfy the public, who are supposed to
have made the law.

Sensible cold dinners are the fashion in Bourke, I think, with the
hose going, and free-and-easy costumes.

The free males take their blankets and sleep in the "park;" the
women sleep with doors and windows open, and the married men on
mattresses on the verandas across the open doors--in case of
accidents.

Christmas in Sydney, though Christmas holidays are not so popular as
Easter, or even Anniversary Day, in the Queen city of the South.
Buses, electric, cable and the old steam trams crowded with
holiday-makers with baskets.  Harbour boats loaded down to the water's
edge with harbour picnic-parties.  "A trip round the harbour and to
the head of Middle Harbour one shilling return!"  Strings of tourist
trains running over the Blue Mountains and the Great Zigzag, and up
the coast to Gosford and Brisbane Water, and down the south coast to
beautiful Illawarra, until after New Year.  Hundreds of young fellows
going out with tents to fish in lonely bays or shoot in the mountains,
and rough it properly like bushmen--not with deck chairs, crockery, a
piano and servants.  For you can camp in the grand and rugged solitude
of the bush within a stone's throw of the city, so to speak.

Jolly camps and holiday parties all round the beautiful bays of the
harbour, and up and down the coast, and all close to home.  Camps in
the moonlight on sandy beaches under great dark bluffs and headlands,
where yellow, shelving, sandstone cliffs run, broken only by
sandy-beached bays, and where the silver-white breakers leap and roar.

And Manly Beach on a holiday!  Thousands of people in fresh summer
dress, hundreds of bare-legged, happy children running where the
"blue sea over the white sand rolls," racing in and out with the
rollers, playing with the glorious Pacific.  Manly--"Our Village"
--Manly Beach, where we used to take our girls, with the most
beautiful harbour in the world on one side, and the width of the
grandest ocean on the other.  Ferny gullies and "fairy dells" to
north and south, and every shady nook its merry party or happy couple.

Manly Beach--I remember five years ago (oh, how the time goes
by!)--and two names that were written together in the sand when the
tide was coming in.  And the boat home in the moonlight, past the
Heads, where we felt the roll of the ocean, and the moonlit
harbour--and the harbour lights of Sydney--the grandest of them all.





Transcriber's Notes:

Henry Lawson  17th June 1867 - 2nd September 1922.

These stories were first published as a collection in 1902.
Republished as "Send Round the Hat" and "The Romance of
the Swag" in 1907.



Notes on Australianisms. Based on my own speech over the years, with
some checking in the dictionaries, e.g. "Macquarie Book of Slang"
(2000), Oxford English Dictionary.  Not all of these are peculiar to
Australian slang, but are important in Lawson's stories, and carry
overtones.


 anabranch: A bend in a river that has been cut through by the stream.
   The main current now runs straight, the anabranch diverges and then
   rejoins.  See billabong.
 Barcoo-rot. "Persistent ulceration of the skin, chiefly on the hands,
   and often originating in abrasions".  (Morris, Australian
   English).  Barcoo is a river in Queensland.
 billabong.  Based on an aboriginal word.  Sometimes used for an
   anabranch, but more often used for one that, in dry season or droughts
   especially, is cut off at either or both ends from the main stream.
   It is often just a muddy pool, and may indeed dry up completely.
 blackfellow: condescending for Australian Aboriginal
 blackleg: someone who is employed to cross a union picket line to
   break a workers' strike.  As Molly Ivins said, she was brought up
   on the three great commandments: do not lie; do not steal; never
   cross a picket line.  Also scab.
 blanky or  --- :  Fill in your own favourite word.  Usually however used
   for "bloody"--see crimson/gory.
 blooming: actually used in speech instead of "bloody" (see crimson).
 bluey: swag.  Explanation in Lawson's "The romance of the Swag" here.
 bob: one shilling
 bullocky: Bullock driver.  A man who drove teams of bullocks yoked to
   wagons carrying e.g. wool bales or provisions.  Proverbially rough and
   foul mouthed.
 bummer:  A cadger or bludger.  Someone who begs for food.  Interesting
   Americanism already.  Also, tramp. (Different meaning today)
 bush: originally referred to the low tangled scrubs of the semi-desert
   regions (cf. `mulga' and `mallee'), and hence equivalent to
   "outback".  Now used generally for remote rural areas ("the
   bush") and scrubby forest.
 bushfire: wild fires: whether forest fires or grass fires.
 bushman/bushwoman: someone who lives an isolated existence, far from
   cities, "in the bush". (today: a "bushy")
 bushranger: an Australian "highwayman", who lived in the `bush'--
   scrub--and attacked especially gold carrying coaches and banks.
   Romanticised as anti-authoritarian Robin Hood figures--cf. Ned
   Kelly--but usually very violent.
 bunyip: Aboriginal monster, inhabiting waterholes, billabongs
   particularly.  Adopted into European legends.
 caser: Five shillings (12 pence to the shilling, 20 shillings to the
   pound ("quid")).  As a coin, a crown piece.
 chaffing: teasing, mocking good-humouredly
 churchyarder: Sounding as if dying--ready for the churchyard = cemetery
 crimson = gory: literary substitutes for "bloody"--the "colonial oath",
   unacceptable in polite company.  Why, is a complete mystery.
   Popularly explained as contraction of "by Our Lady".   Unproved.
   In reproducing (badly) a German's pronunciation of Australian,
   Lawson retains the word, but spells it "pluddy".
 dood: Dude.  A classy/cool dresser.
 drover: one who "droves"
 droving: driving on horseback cattle or sheep from where they were
   fattened to a a city, or later, a rail-head.
 fiver: a five pound note
 gory, see crimson
 Homebush: Saleyard, market area in Sydney
 humpy: rough shack
 half-caser: Two shillings and sixpence.  As a coin, a half-crown.
 jackaroo: (Jack + kangaroo; sometimes jackeroo)--someone, in early
   days a new immigrant from England, learning to work on a
   sheep/cattle station (U.S. "ranch".)
 jim-jams: the horrors, d.t.'s
 jumbuck: a sheep (best known from Waltzing Matilda: "where's that
   jolly jumbuck, you've got in your tucker bag".)
 larrikin: anything from a disrespectful young man to a violent member
   of a gang ("push").  Was considered a major social problem in
   Sydney of the 1880's to 1900. The _Bulletin_, a magazine in
   which much of Lawson was published, spoke of the "aggressive,
   soft-hatted stoush brigade".  Anyone today who is disrespectful of
   authority or convention is said to show the larrikin element in the
   Australian character.
 lucerne: Alfalfa in US
 mallee: dwarfed eucalyptus trees growing in very poor soil and under
   harsh rainfall conditions.  Usually many stems emerging from the
   ground, creating a low thicket.
 mateship: See Lawson story, "Mateship".  A heavily romanticised,
   but nevertheless very practical form of (male) loyalty to a (male)
   companion who travels with/works with him.  A "mate" provides not
   only companionship, but help in emergencies.  Typical of an
   Australian in the "outback"--or "Never-Never", or under war
   conditions.  A man without a mate was a "hatter"--"his hat
   covers his family".  Such a person might go "ratty" (see further
   in The romance of the Swag).
   Equivalent to the "buddy system" in SCUBA diving.
 metalled: of a road, covered in crushed rock (e.g. "blue metal")
 mulga: Acacia sp. ("wattle" in Australian) especially Acacia aneura;
   growing in semi-desert conditions.  Used as a description of such
   a harsh region.
 mullock: the tailings left after gold has been removed.  In Lawson
   generally mud (alluvial) rather than rock
 myall: aboriginal living in a traditional--pre-conquest--manner
 nobbler: a drink
 nuggety: compact but strong physique; small but well-muscled
 pastoralist: OED sees it a equivalent to "squatter", but in
   Lawson someone often someone managing a large cattle/sheep
   "station"  for a "pastoral company" rather than an individual.
   Seen as ultimate capitalist oppression.
 pluddy: see crimson
 quid: monetary unit; one pound
 ratty: insane--or, very eccentric, "cranky".
 ringer: the champion sheep shearer in a shed that season
 rouseabout: Labourer in a (sheep) shearing shed.  Considered to be,
   as far as any work is, unskilled labour.
 sawney: silly, gormless
 scab: see blackleg
 shout: In a group; to stand (pay for) a round of drinks.  Bad form
   to leave before your turn comes around.  Much peer pressure to
   drink more than one wished.  One can also "shout" for everyone
   in the pub.
 skillion(-room): A "lean-to", a room built up against the back of
   some other building, with separate roof.
 spifflicated: punished, thrashed without mercy.
 spree: prolonged drinking bout--days, weeks.
 squatter: Someone who took up large areas of land, originally without
   official permission ("squatted"), for sheep especially.  Became
   the "landed aristocracy" of Australia.
   ("Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred")
 steever: Originally a Dutch coin.  Used here like "penny"--or brass razoo.
 sundowner: a swagman (see) who is NOT looking for work, but a
   "handout".  Lawson explains the term as referring to someone who
   turns up at a station at sundown, just in time for "tea" i.e. the
   evening meal. Line (2494) of actual text (not counting
   P.G. matter).
 swagman (swaggy):  Generally, anyone who is walking in the "outback"
   with  a swag. (See "The Romance of the Swag".)   Lawson also
   restricts  it at times  to those whom he considers to be tramps,
   not  looking for work but for "handouts".  In view of the Great
   Depression  (1890->.  In 1892 it was reckoned 1/3 men were out of
   work)  perhaps unfairly.  Perhaps because he _was_ there.
   See `travellers'.
 Tattersalls: The earliest public lottery in Australia. (1881)
 tenner: a ten pound note.
 tin-kettling: making noise by striking metal pots/pans.  May be
   celebratory (weddings--in this collection, New Year's Eve), or may
   indicate extreme social disapproval of someone.
 travellers:  "shearers and rouseabouts travelling for work" (Lawson).





THE END






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