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While the Billy Boils
by
Henry Lawson




[Transcriber's note: In 'A Day on a Selection' a speech is attributed
to "Tom"--in first edition as well as recent ones--which clearly
belongs to "Corney" alias "neighbour". This has been noted in
loc.]




CONTENTS


First Series


An Old Mate of Your Father's

Settling on the Land

Enter Mitchell

Stiffner and Jim (Thirdly, Bill)

When the Sun Went Down

The Man who Forgot

Hungerford

A Camp-fire Yarn

His Country--After All

A Day on a Selection

That There Dog of Mine

Going Blind

Arvie Aspinall's Alarm Clock

Stragglers

The Union Buries its Dead

On the Edge of a Plain

In a Dry Season

He's Come Back

Another of Mitchell's Plans

Steelman

Drifted Back

Remailed

Mitchell Doesn't Believe in the Sack

Shooting the Moon

His Father's Mate

An Echo from the Old Bark School

The Shearing of the Cook's Dog

"Dossing Out" and "Camping"

Across the Straits

Some Day

Brummy Usen



Second Series


The Drover's Wife

Steelman's Pupil

An Unfinished Love Story

Board and Residence

His Colonial Oath

A Visit of Condolence

In a Wet Season

"Rats"

Mitchell: A Character Sketch

The Bush Undertaker

Our Pipes

Coming Across

The Story of Malachi

Two Dogs and a Fence

Jones's Alley

Bogg of Geebung

She Wouldn't Speak

The Geological Spieler

Macquarie's Mate

Baldy Thompson

For Auld Lang Syne





First Series


AN OLD MATE OF YOUR FATHER'S


You remember when we hurried home from the old bush school how we were
sometimes startled by a bearded apparition, who smiled kindly down on
us, and whom our mother introduced, as we raked off our hats, as "An
old mate of your father's on the diggings, Johnny."  And he would pat
our heads and say we were fine boys, or girls--as the case may have
been--and that we had our father's nose but our mother's eyes, or the
other way about; and say that the baby was the dead spit of its
mother, and then added, for father's benefit: "But yet he's like you,
Tom."  It did seem strange to the children to hear him address the
old man by his Christian name---considering that the mother always
referred to him as "Father."  She called the old mate Mr So-and-so,
and father called him Bill, or something to that effect.

Occasionally the old mate would come dressed in the latest city
fashion, and at other times in a new suit of reach-me-downs, and yet
again he would turn up in clean white moleskins, washed tweed coat,
Crimean shirt, blucher boots, soft felt hat, with a fresh-looking
speckled handkerchief round his neck.  But his face was mostly round
and brown and jolly, his hands were always horny, and his beard grey.
Sometimes he might have seemed strange and uncouth to us at first, but
the old man never appeared the least surprised at anything he said or
did--they understood each other so well--and we would soon take to
this relic of our father's past, who would have fruit or lollies for
us--strange that he always remembered them--and would surreptitiously
slip "shilluns" into our dirty little hands, and tell us stories
about the old days, "when me an' yer father was on the diggin's, an'
you wasn't thought of, my boy."

Sometimes the old mate would stay over Sunday, and in the forenoon or
after dinner he and father would take a walk amongst the deserted
shafts of Sapling Gully or along Quartz Ridge, and criticize old
ground, and talk of past diggers' mistakes, and second bottoms, and
feelers, and dips, and leads--also outcrops--and absently pick up
pieces of quartz and slate, rub them on their sleeves, look at them in
an abstracted manner, and drop them again; and they would talk of some
old lead they had worked on: "Hogan's party was here on one side of
us, Macintosh was here on the other, Mac was getting good gold and so
was Hogan, and now, why the blanky blank weren't we on gold?"  And
the mate would always agree that there was "gold in them ridges and
gullies yet, if a man only had the money behind him to git at it."
And then perhaps the guv'nor would show him a spot where he intended
to put down a shaft some day--the old man was always thinking of
putting down a shaft.  And these two old fifty-niners would mooch
round and sit on their heels on the sunny mullock heaps and break clay
lumps between their hands, and lay plans for the putting down of
shafts, and smoke, till an urchin was sent to "look for his father
and Mr So-and-so, and tell 'em to come to their dinner."

And again--mostly in the fresh of the morning--they would hang about
the fences on the selection and review the live stock: five dusty
skeletons of cows, a hollow-sided calf or two, and one shocking piece
of equine scenery--which, by the way, the old mate always praised.
But the selector's heart was not in farming nor on selections--it was
far away with the last new rush in Western Australia or Queensland, or
perhaps buried in the worked-out ground of Tambaroora, Married Man's
Creek, or Araluen; and by-and-by the memory of some half-forgotten
reef or lead or Last Chance, Nil Desperandum, or Brown Snake claim
would take their thoughts far back and away from the dusty patch of
sods and struggling sprouts called the crop, or the few discouraged,
half-dead slips which comprised the orchard.  Then their conversation
would be pointed with many Golden Points, Bakery Hill, Deep Creeks,
Maitland Bars, Specimen Flats, and Chinamen's Gullies.  And so they'd
yarn till the youngster came to tell them that "Mother sez the
breakfus is gettin' cold," and then the old mate would rouse himself
and stretch and say, "Well, we mustn't keep the missus waitin',
Tom!"

And, after tea, they would sit on a log of the wood-heap, or the
edge of the veranda--that is, in warm weather--and yarn about
Ballarat and Bendigo--of the days when we spoke of being on a place
oftener than at it: _on_ Ballarat, _on_ Gulgong, _on_ Lambing Flat,
on _Creswick_--and they would use the definite article before the
names, as: "on The Turon; The Lachlan; The Home Rule; The Canadian
Lead."  Then again they'd yarn of old mates, such as Tom Brook, Jack
Henright, and poor Martin Ratcliffe--who was killed in his golden
hole--and of other men whom they didn't seem to have known much
about, and who went by the names of "Adelaide Adolphus," "Corney
George," and other names which might have been more or less
applicable.

And sometimes they'd get talking, low and mysterious like, about "Th'
Eureka Stockade;" and if we didn't understand and asked questions,
"what was the Eureka Stockade?" or "what did they do it for?"
father'd say: "Now, run away, sonny, and don't bother; me and Mr
So-and-so want to talk."  Father had the mark of a hole on his leg,
which he said he got through a gun accident when a boy, and a scar on
his side, that we saw when he was in swimming with us; he said he got
that in an accident in a quartz-crushing machine.  Mr So-and-so had a
big scar on the side of his forehead that was caused by a pick
accidentally slipping out of a loop in the rope, and falling down a
shaft where he was working.  But how was it they talked low, and their
eyes brightened up, and they didn't look at each other, but away over
sunset, and had to get up and walk about, and take a stroll in the
cool of the evening when they talked about Eureka?

And, again they'd talk lower and more mysterious like, and perhaps
mother would be passing the wood-heap and catch a word, and asked:

"Who was she, Tom?"

And Tom--father--would say:

"Oh, you didn't know her, Mary; she belonged to a family Bill knew at
home."

And Bill would look solemn till mother had gone, and then they would
smile a quiet smile, and stretch and say, "Ah, well!" and start
something else.

They had yarns for the fireside, too, some of those old mates of our
father's, and one of them would often tell how a girl--a queen of the
diggings--was married, and had her wedding-ring made out of the gold
of that field; and how the diggers weighed their gold with the new
wedding-ring--for luck--by hanging the ring on the hook of the scales
and attaching their chamois-leather gold bags to it (whereupon she
boasted that four hundred ounces of the precious metal passed through
her wedding-ring); and how they lowered the young bride, blindfolded,
down a golden hole in a big bucket, and got her to point out the drive
from which the gold came that her ring was made out of.  The point of
this story seems to have been lost--or else we forget it--but it was
characteristic.  Had the girl been lowered down a duffer, and asked to
point out the way to the gold, and had she done so successfully, there
would have been some sense in it.

And they would talk of King, and Maggie Oliver, and G. V. Brooke, and
others, and remember how the diggers went five miles out to meet the
coach that brought the girl actress, and took the horses out and
brought her in in triumph, and worshipped her, and sent her off in
glory, and threw nuggets into her lap.  And how she stood upon the
box-seat and tore her sailor hat to pieces, and threw the fragments
amongst the crowd; and how the diggers fought for the bits and thrust
them inside their shirt bosoms; and how she broke down and cried, and
could in her turn have worshipped those men--loved them, every one.
They were boys all, and gentlemen all.  There were college men,
artists, poets, musicians, journalists--Bohemians all.  Men from all
the lands and one.  They understood art--and poverty was dead.

And perhaps the old mate would say slyly, but with a sad, quiet smile:

"Have you got that bit of straw yet, Tom?"

Those old mates had each three pasts behind them.  The two they told
each other when they became mates, and the one they had shared.

And when the visitor had gone by the coach we noticed that the old man
would smoke a lot, and think as much, and take great interest in the
fire, and be a trifle irritable perhaps.

Those old mates of our father's are
getting few and far between, and only happen along once in a way to
keep the old man's memory fresh, as it were.  We met one to-day, and
had a yarn with him, and afterwards we got thinking, and somehow began
to wonder whether those ancient friends of ours were, or were not,
better and kinder to their mates than we of the rising generation are
to our fathers; and the doubt is painfully on the wrong side.




SETTLING ON THE LAND


The worst bore in Australia just now is the man who raves about
getting the people on the land, and button-holes you in the street
with a little scheme of his own.  He generally does not know what he
is talking about.

There is in Sydney a man named Tom Hopkins who settled on the land
once, and sometimes you can get him to talk about it.  He did very
well at his trade in the city, years ago, until he began to think that
he could do better up-country.  Then he arranged with his sweetheart
to be true to him and wait whilst he went west and made a home.  She
drops out of the story at this point.

He selected on a run at Dry Hole Creek, and for months awaited the
arrival of the government surveyors to fix his boundaries; but they
didn't come, and, as he had no reason to believe they would turn up
within the next ten years, he grubbed and fenced at a venture, and
started farming operations.

Does the reader know what grubbing means?  Tom does.  He found the
biggest, ugliest, and most useless trees on his particular piece of
ground; also the greatest number of adamantine stumps.  He started
without experience, or with very little, but with plenty of advice
from men who knew less about farming than he did.  He found a soft
place between two roots on one side of the first tree, made a narrow,
irregular hole, and burrowed down till he reached a level where the
tap-root was somewhat less than four feet in diameter, and not quite
as hard as flint: then he found that he hadn't room to swing the axe,
so he heaved out another ton or two of earth--and rested.  Next day he
sank a shaft on the other side of the gum; and after tea, over a pipe,
it struck him that it would be a good idea to burn the tree out, and
so use up the logs and lighter rubbish lying round.  So he widened the
excavation, rolled in some logs, and set fire to them--with no better
result than to scorch the roots.

Tom persevered.  He put the trace harness on his horse, drew in all
the logs within half a mile, and piled them on the windward side of
that gum; and during the night the fire found a soft place, and the
tree burnt off about six feet above the surface, falling on a
squatter's boundary fence, and leaving the ugliest kind of stump to
occupy the selector's attention; which it did, for a week.  He waited
till the hole cooled, and then he went to work with pick, shovel, and
axe: and even now he gets interested in drawings of machinery, such as
are published in the agricultural weeklies, for getting out stumps
without graft.  He thought he would be able to get some posts and
rails out of that tree, but found reason to think that a cast-iron
column would split sooner--and straighter.  He traced some of the
surface roots to the other side of the selection, and broke most of
his trace-chains trying to get them out by horse-power--for they had
other roots going down from underneath.  He cleared a patch in the
course of time and for several seasons he broke more ploughshares than
he could pay for.

Meanwhile the squatter was not idle.  Tom's tent was robbed several
times, and his hut burnt down twice.  Then he was charged with
killing some sheep and a steer on the run, and converting them to his
own use, but got off mainly because there was a difference of opinion
between the squatter and the other local J.P. concerning politics and
religion.

Tom ploughed and sowed wheat, but nothing came up to speak of--the
ground was too poor; so he carted stable manure six miles from the
nearest town, manured the land, sowed another crop, and prayed for
rain.  It came.  It raised a flood which washed the crop clean off the
selection, together with several acres of manure, and a considerable
portion of the original surface soil; and the water brought down
enough sand to make a beach, and spread it over the field to a depth
of six inches.  The flood also took half a mile of fencing from along
the creek-bank, and landed it in a bend, three miles down, on a dummy
selection, where it was confiscated.

Tom didn't give up--he was energetic.  He cleared another piece of
ground on the siding, and sowed more wheat; it had the rust in it, or
the smut--and averaged three shillings per bushel.  Then he sowed
lucerne and oats, and bought a few cows: he had an idea of starting a
dairy.  First, the cows' eyes got bad, and he sought the advice of a
German cocky, and acted upon it; he blew powdered alum through paper
tubes into the bad eyes, and got some of it snorted and butted back
into his own.  He cured the cows' eyes and got the sandy blight in his
own, and for a week or so be couldn't tell one end of a cow from the
other, but sat in a dark corner of the hut and groaned, and soaked his
glued eyelashes in warm water.  Germany stuck to him and nursed him,
and saw him through.

Then the milkers got bad udders, and Tom took his life in his hands
whenever he milked them.  He got them all right presently--and butter
fell to fourpence a pound.  He and the aforesaid cocky made
arrangements to send their butter to a better market; and then the
cows contracted a disease which was known in those parts as "plooro
permoanyer," but generally referred to as "th' ploorer."

Again Tom sought advice, acting upon which he slit the cows' ears, cut
their tails half off to bleed them, and poured pints of "pain
killer" into them through their nostrils; but they wouldn't make an
effort, except, perhaps, to rise and poke the selector when he tried
to tempt their appetites with slices of immature pumpkin.  They died
peacefully and persistently, until all were gone save a certain
dangerous, barren, slab-sided luny bovine with white eyes and much
agility in jumping fences, who was known locally as Queen Elizabeth.

Tom shot Queen Elizabeth, and turned his attention to agriculture
again.  Then his plough horses took bad with some thing the Teuton
called "der shtranguls."  He submitted them to a course of treatment
in accordance with Jacob's advice--and they died.

Even then Tom didn't give in--there was grit in that man.  He borrowed
a broken-down dray-horse in return for its keep, coupled it with his
own old riding hack, and started to finish ploughing.  The team wasn't
a success.  Whenever the draught horse's knees gave way and he
stumbled forward, he jerked the lighter horse back into the plough,
and something would break.  Then Tom would blaspheme till he was
refreshed, mend up things with wire and bits of clothes-line, fill his
pockets with stones to throw at the team, and start again.  Finally he
hired a dummy's child to drive the horses.  The brat did his best he
tugged at the head of the team, prodded it behind, heaved rocks at it,
cut a sapling, got up his enthusiasm, and wildly whacked the light
horse whenever the other showed signs of moving--but he never
succeeded in starting both horses at one and the same time.  Moreover
the youth was cheeky, and the selector's temper had been soured: he
cursed the boy along with the horses, the plough, the selection, the
squatter, and Australia.  Yes, he cursed Australia.  The boy cursed
back, was chastised, and immediately went home and brought his father.

Then the dummy's dog tackled the selector's dog and this precipitated
things.  The dummy would have gone under had his wife not arrived on
the scene with the eldest son and the rest of the family.  They all
fell foul of Tom.  The woman was the worst.  The selector's dog chawed
the other and came to his master's rescue just in time---or Tom
Hopkins would never have lived to become the inmate of a lunatic
asylum.

Next year there
happened to be good grass on Tom's selection and nowhere else, and he
thought it wouldn't be a bad idea--to get a few poor sheep, and fatten
them up for market: sheep were selling for about seven-and-sixpence a
dozen at that time.  Tom got a hundred or two, but the squatter had a
man stationed at one side of the selection with dogs to set on the
sheep directly they put their noses through the fence (Tom's was
not a sheep fence).  The dogs chased the sheep across the selection
and into the run again on the other side, where another man waited
ready to pound them.

Tom's dog did his best; but he fell sick while chawing up the fourth
capitalistic canine, and subsequently died.  The dummies had robbed
that cur with poison before starting it across--that was the only way
they could get at Tom's dog.

Tom thought that two might play at the game, and he tried; but his
nephew, who happened to be up from the city on a visit, was arrested
at the instigation of the squatter for alleged sheep-stealing, and
sentenced to two years' hard; during which time the selector himself
got six months for assaulting the squatter with intent to do him
grievous bodily harm-which, indeed, he more than attempted, if a
broken nose, a fractured jaw, and the loss of most of the squatters'
teeth amounted to anything.  The squatter by this time had made peace
with the other local Justice, and had become his father-in-law.

When Tom came out there was little left for him to live for; but he
took a job of fencing, got a few pounds together, and prepared to
settle on the land some more.  He got a "missus" and a few cows
during the next year; the missus robbed him and ran away with the
dummy, and the cows died in the drought, or were impounded by the
squatter while on their way to water.  Then Tom rented an orchard up
the creek, and a hailstorm destroyed all the fruit.  Germany happened
to be represented at the time, Jacob having sought shelter at Tom's
but on his way home from town.  Tom stood leaning against the door
post with the hail beating on him through it all.  His eyes were very
bright and very dry, and every breath was a choking sob.  Jacob let
him stand there, and sat inside with a dreamy expression on his hard
face, thinking of childhood and fatherland, perhaps.  When it was over
he led Tom to a stool and said, "You waits there, Tom.  I must go
home for somedings.  You sits there still and waits twenty minutes;"
then he got on his horse and rode off muttering to himself; "Dot man
moost gry, dot man moost gry."  He was back inside of twenty minutes
with a bottle of wine and a cornet under his overcoat.  He poured the
wine into two pint-pots, made Tom drink, drank himself, and then took
his cornet, stood up at the door, and played a German march into the
rain after the retreating storm.  The hail had passed over his
vineyard and he was a ruined man too.  Tom did "gry" and was all
right.  He was a bit disheartened, but he did another job of fencing,
and was just beginning to think about "puttin' in a few vines an'
fruit-trees" when the government surveyors--whom he'd forgotten all
about--had a resurrection and came and surveyed, and found that the
real selection was located amongst some barren ridges across the
creek.  Tom reckoned it was lucky he didn't plant the orchard, and he
set about shifting his home and fences to the new site.  But the
squatter interfered at this point, entered into possession of the farm
and all on it, and took action against the selector for
trespass--laying the damages at L2500.

Tom was admitted to the lunatic asylum at Parramatta next year, and
the squatter was sent there the following summer, having been ruined
by the drought, the rabbits, the banks, and a wool-ring.  The two
became very friendly, and had many a sociable argument about the
feasibility--or otherwise--of blowing open the flood-gates of Heaven
in a dry season with dynamite.

Tom was discharged a few years since.  He knocks about certain suburbs
a good deal.  He is seen in daylight seldom, and at night mostly in
connection with a dray and a lantern.  He says his one great regret is
that he wasn't found to be of unsound mind before he went up-country.



ENTER MITCHELL


The Western train had just arrived at Redfern railway station with a
lot of ordinary passengers and one swagman.

He was short, and stout, and bow-legged, and freckled, and sandy.  He
had red hair and small, twinkling, grey eyes, and--what often goes
with such things--the expression of a born comedian.  He was dressed
in a ragged, well-washed print shirt, an old black waistcoat with a
calico back, a pair of cloudy moleskins patched at the knees and held
up by a plaited greenhide belt buckled loosely round his hips, a pair
of well-worn, fuzzy blucher boots, and a soft felt hat, green with
age, and with no brim worth mentioning, and no crown to speak of.  He
swung a swag on to the platform, shouldered it, pulled out a billy and
water-bag, and then went to a dog-box in the brake van.

Five minutes later he
appeared on the edge of the cab platform, with an anxious-looking
cattle-dog crouching against his legs, and one end of the chain in his
hand.  He eased down the swag against a post, turned his face to the
city, tilted his hat forward, and scratched the well-developed back of
his head with a little finger.  He seemed undecided what track to
take.

"Cab, Sir!"

The swagman turned slowly and regarded cabby with a quiet grin.

"Now, do I look as if I want a cab?"

"Well, why not?  No harm, anyway--I thought you might want a cab."

Swaggy scratched his head, reflectively.

"Well," he said, "you're the first man that has thought so these
ten years.  What do I want with a cab?"

"To go where you're going, of course."

"Do I look knocked up?"

"I didn't say you did."

"And I didn't say you said I did....Now, I've been on the track this
five years.  I've tramped two thousan' miles since last Chris'mas, and
I don't see why I can't tramp the last mile.  Do you think my old dog
wants a cab?"

The dog shivered and whimpered; he seemed to want to get away from the
crowd.

"But then, you see, you ain't going to carry that swag through the
streets, are you?" asked the cabman.

"Why not?  Who'll stop me!  There ain't no law agin it, I b'lieve?"

"But then, you see, it don't look well, you know."

"Ah!  I thought we'd get to it at last."

The traveller up-ended his bluey against his knee, gave it an
affectionate pat, and then straightened himself up and looked fixedly
at the cabman.

"Now, look here!" he said, sternly and impressively, "can you see
anything wrong with that old swag o' mine?"

It was a stout, dumpy swag, with a red blanket outside, patched with
blue, and the edge of a blue blanket showing in the inner rings at the
end.  The swag might have been newer; it might have been cleaner; it
might have been hooped with decent straps, instead of bits of
clothes-line and greenhide--but otherwise there was nothing the matter
with it, as swags go.

"I've humped that old swag for years," continued the bushman; "I've
carried that old swag thousands of miles--as that old dog knows--an'
no one ever bothered about the look of it, or of me, or of my old dog,
neither; and do you think I'm going to be ashamed of that old swag,
for a cabby or anyone else?  Do you think I'm going to study anybody's
feelings?  No one ever studied mine!  I'm in two minds to summon you
for using insulting language towards me!"

He lifted the swag by the twisted towel which served for a
shoulder-strap, swung it into the cab, got in himself and hauled the
dog after him.

"You can drive me somewhere where I can leave my swag and dog while I
get some decent clothes to see a tailor in," he said to the cabman.
"My old dog ain't used to cabs, you see."

Then he added, reflectively: "I drove a cab myself,
once, for five years in Sydney."



Stiffner and Jim

(Thirdly, Bill)


We were tramping down in Canterbury, Maoriland, at the time, swagging
it--me and Bill--looking for work on the new railway line.  Well, one
afternoon, after a long, hot tramp, we comes to Stiffner's
Hotel--between Christchurch and that other place--I forget the name of
it--with throats on us like sunstruck bones, and not the price of a
stick of tobacco.

We had to have a drink, anyway, so we chanced it.  We walked right
into the bar, handed over our swags, put up four drinks, and tried to
look as if we'd just drawn our cheques and didn't care a curse for any
man.  We looked solvent enough, as far as swagmen go.  We were dirty
and haggard and ragged and tired-looking, and that was all the more
reason why we might have our cheques all right.

This Stiffner was a hard customer.  He'd been a spieler, fighting man,
bush parson, temperance preacher, and a policeman, and a commercial
traveller, and everything else that was damnable; he'd been a
journalist, and an editor; he'd been a lawyer, too.  He was an ugly
brute to look at, and uglier to have a row with--about six-foot-six,
wide in proportion, and stronger than Donald Dinnie.

He was meaner than a gold-field Chinaman, and sharper than a sewer
rat: he wouldn't give his own father a feed, nor lend him a
sprat--unless some safe person backed the old man's I.O.U.

We knew that we needn't expect any mercy from Stiffner; but something
had to be done, so I said to Bill:

"Something's got to be done, Bill!  What do you think of it?"

Bill was mostly a quiet young chap, from Sydney, except when he got
drunk--which was seldom--and then he was a customer, from all round.
He was cracked on the subject of spielers.  He held that the
population of the world was divided into two classes--one was spielers
and the other was the mugs.  He reckoned that he wasn't a mug.  At
first I thought he was a spieler, and afterwards I thought that he was
a mug.  He used to say that a man had to do it these times; that he
was honest once and a fool, and was robbed and starved in consequences
by his friends and relations; but now he intended to take all that he
could get.  He said that you either had to have or be had; that men
were driven to be sharps, and there was no help for it.

Bill said:

"We'll have to sharpen our teeth, that's all, and chew somebody's
lug."

"How?" I asked.

There was a lot of navvies at the pub, and I knew one or two by sight,
so Bill says:

"You know one or two of these mugs.  Bite one of their ears.

"So I took aside a chap that I knowed and bit his ear for ten bob,
and gave it to Bill to mind, for I thought it would be safer with him
than with me.

"Hang on to that," I says, "and don't lose it for your natural
life's sake, or Stiffner'll stiffen us."

We put up about nine bob's worth of drinks that night--me and
Bill--and Stiffner didn't squeal: he was too sharp.  He shouted once
or twice.

By-and-by I left Bill and turned in, and in the morning when I woke up
there was Bill sitting alongside of me, and looking about as lively as
the fighting kangaroo in London in fog time.  He had a black eye and
eighteen pence.  He'd been taking down some of the mugs.

"Well, what's to be done now?" I asked.  "Stiffner can smash us
both with one hand, and if we don't pay up he'll pound our swags and
cripple us.  He's just the man to do it.  He loves a fight even more
than he hates being had."

"There's only one thing to be done, Jim," says Bill, in a tired,
disinterested tone that made me mad.

"Well, what's than" I said.

"Smoke!"

"Smoke be damned," I snarled, losing my temper.

"You know dashed well that our swags are in the bar, and we can't
smoke without them.

"Well, then," says Bill, "I'll toss you to see who's to face the
landlord."

"Well, I'll be blessed!" I says.  "I'll see you further first.  You
have got a front.  You mugged that stuff away, and you'll have to get
us out of the mess."

It made him wild to be called a mug, and we swore and growled at each
other for a while; but we daren't speak loud enough to have a fight,
so at last I agreed to toss up for it, and I lost.

Bill started to give me some of his points, but I shut him up quick.

"You've had your turn, and made a mess of it," I said.  "For God's
sake give me a show.  Now, I'll go into the bar and ask for the swags,
and carry them out on to the veranda, and then go back to settle up.
You keep him talking all the time.  You dump the two swags together,
and smoke like sheol.  That's all you've got to do."

I went into the bar, got the swags front the missus, carried them out
on to the veranda, and then went back.

Stiffner came in.

"Good morning!"

"Good morning, sir," says Stiffner.

"It'll be a nice day, I think?"

"Yes, I think so.  I suppose you are going on?"

"Yes, we'll have to make a move to-day."

Then I hooked carelessly on to the counter with one elbow, and looked
dreamy-like out across the clearing, and presently I gave a sort of
sigh and said: "Ah, well! I think I'll have a beer."

"Right you are!  Where's your mate?"

"Oh, he's round at the back.  He'll be round directly; but he ain't
drinking this morning."

Stiffner laughed that nasty empty laugh of his.  He thought Bill was
whipping the cat.

"What's yours, boss?" I said.

"Thankee!...Here's luck!"

"Here's luck!"

The country was pretty open round there--the nearest timber was better
than a mile away, and I wanted to give Bill a good start across the
flat before the go-as-you-can commenced; so I talked for a while, and
while we were talking I thought I might as well go the whole hog--I
might as well die for a pound as a penny, if I had to die; and if I
hadn't I'd have the pound to the good, anyway, so to speak.  Anyhow,
the risk would be about the same, or less, for I might have the spirit
to run harder the more I had to run for--the more spirits I had to run
for, in fact, as it turned out--so I says:

"I think I'll take one of them there flasks of whisky to last us on
the road."

"Right y'are," says Stiffner.  "What'll ye have--a small one or a
big one?"

"Oh, a big one, I think--if I can get it into my pocket."

"It'll be a tight squeeze," he said, and he laughed.

"I'll try," I said.  "Bet you two drinks I'll get it in."

"Done!" he says.  "The top inside coat-pocket, and no tearing."

It was a big bottle, and all my pockets were small; but I got it into
the pocket he'd betted against.  It was a tight squeeze, but I got it
in.

Then we both laughed, but his laugh was nastier than usual, because it
was meant to be pleasant, and he'd lost two drinks; and my laugh
wasn't easy--I was anxious as to which of us would laugh next.

Just then I noticed something, and an idea struck me--about the
most up-to-date idea that ever struck me in my life.  I noticed that
Stiffner was limping on his right foot this morning, so I said to him:

"What's up with your foot?" putting my hand in my pocket.  "Oh,
it's a crimson nail in my boot," he said.  "I thought I got the
blanky thing out this morning; but I didn't."

There just happened to be an old bag of shoemaker's tools in the bar,
belonging to an old cobbler who was lying dead drunk on the veranda.
So I said, taking my hand out of my pocket again:

"Lend us the boot, and I'll fix it in a minute.  That's my old
trade."

"Oh, so you're a shoemaker," he said.  "I'd never have thought
it."

He laughs one of his useless laughs that wasn't wanted, and slips off
the boot--he hadn't laced it up--and hands it across the bar to me.
It was an ugly brute--a great thick, iron-bound, boiler-plated navvy's
boot.  It made me feel sore when I looked at it.

I got the bag and pretended to fix the nail; but I didn't.

"There's a couple of nails gone from the sole," I said.  "I'll put
'em in if I can find any hobnails, and it'll save the sole," and I
rooted in the bag and found a good long nail, and shoved it right
through the sole on the sly.  He'd been a bit of a sprinter in his
time, and I thought it might be better for me in the near future if
the spikes of his running-shoes were inside.

"There, you'll find that better, I fancy," I said, standing the boot
on the bar counter, but keeping my hand on it in an absent-minded kind
of way.  Presently I yawned and stretched myself, and said in a
careless way:

"Ah, well!  How's the slate?" He scratched the back of his head and
pretended to think.

"Oh, well, we'll call it thirty bob."

Perhaps he thought I'd slap down two quid.

"Well," I says, "and what will you do supposing we don't pay you?"

He looked blank for a moment.  Then he fired up and gasped and choked
once or twice; and then he cooled down suddenly and laughed his
nastiest laugh--he was one of those men who always laugh when they're
wild--and said in a nasty, quiet tone:

"You thundering, jumped-up crawlers!  If you don't (something) well
part up I'll take your swags and (something) well kick your gory pants
so you won't be able to sit down for a month--or stand up either!"

"Well, the sooner you begin the better," I said; and I chucked the
boot into a corner and bolted.


He jumped the bar counter, got his boot, and came after me.  He paused
to slip the boot on--but he only made one step, and then gave a howl
and slung the boot off and rushed back.  When I looked round again
he'd got a slipper on, and was coming--and gaining on me, too.  I
shifted scenery pretty quick the next five minutes.  But I was soon
pumped.  My heart began to beat against the ceiling of my head, and my
lungs all choked up in my throat.  When I guessed he was getting
within kicking distance I glanced round so's to dodge the kick.  He
let out; but I shied just in time.  He missed fire, and the slipper
went about twenty feet up in the air and fell in a waterhole.

He was done then, for the ground was stubbly and stony.  I seen Bill
on ahead pegging out for the horizon, and I took after him and reached
for the timber for all I was worth, for I'd seen Stiffner's missus
coming with a shovel--to bury the remains, I suppose; and those two
were a good match--Stiffner and his missus, I mean.

Bill looked round once, and melted into the bush pretty soon after
that.  When I caught up he was about done; but I grabbed my swag and
we pushed on, for I told Bill that I'd seen Stiffner making for the
stables when I'd last looked round; and Bill thought that we'd better
get lost in the bush as soon as ever we could, and stay lost, too, for
Stiffner was a man that couldn't stand being had.

The first thing that Bill said when we got safe into camp was: "I
told you that we'd pull through all right.  You need never be
frightened when you're travelling with me.  Just take my advice and
leave things to me, and we'll hang out all right.  Now-."

But I shut him up.  He made me mad.

"Why, you--!  What the sheol did _you_ do?"

"Do?" he says.  "I got away with the swags, didn't I?  Where'd they
be now if it wasn't for me?"

Then I sat on him pretty hard for his pretensions, and paid him out
for all the patronage he'd worked off on me, and called him a mug
straight, and walked round him, so to speak, and blowed, and told him
never to pretend to me again that he was a battler.

Then, when I thought I'd licked him into form, I cooled down and
soaped him up a bit; but I never thought that he had three climaxes
and a crisis in store for me.

He took it all pretty cool; he let me have my fling, and gave me time
to get breath; then he leaned languidly over on his right side, shoved
his left hand down into his left trouserpocket, and brought up a
boot-lace, a box of matches, and nine-and-six.

As soon as I got the focus of it I gasped:

"Where the deuce did you get that?"

"I had it all along," he said, "but I seen at the pub that you had
the show to chew a lug, so I thought we'd save it--nine-and-sixpences
ain't picked up every day."

Then he leaned over on his left, went down into the other pocket,
and came up with a piece of tobacco and half-a-sovereign.

My eyes bulged out.

"Where the blazes did you get that from?" I yelled.

"That," he said, "was the half-quid you give me last night.
Half-quids ain't to be thrown away these times; and, besides, I had a
down on Stiffner, and meant to pay him out; I reckoned that if we
wasn't sharp enough to take him down we hadn't any business to be
supposed to be alive.  Anyway, I guessed we'd do it; and so we
did--and got a bottle of whisky into the bargain."

Then he leaned back, tired-like, against the log, and dredged his
upper left-hand waistcoat-pocket, and brought up a sovereign wrapped
in a pound note.  Then he waited for me to speak; but I couldn't.  I
got my mouth open, but couldn't get it shut again.

"I got that out of the mugs last night, but I thought that we'd want
it, and might as well keep it.  Quids ain't so easily picked up,
nowadays; and, besides, we need stuff more'n Stiffner does, and so--"

"And did he know you had the stuff?" I gasped.

"Oh, yes, that's the fun of it.  That's what made him so excited.  He
was in the parlour all the time I was playing.  But we might as well
have a drink!

"We did.  I wanted it."


Bill turned in by-and-by, and looked like a sleeping innocent in the
moonlight.  I sat up late, and smoked, and thought hard, and watched
Bill, and turned in, and thought till near daylight, and then went to
sleep, and had a nightmare about it.  I dreamed I chased Stiffner
forty miles to buy his pub, and that Bill turned out to be his nephew.

Bill divvied up all right, and gave me half a crown over, but I didn't
travel with him long after that.  He was a decent young fellow as far
as chaps go, and a good mate as far as mates go; but he was too far
ahead for a peaceful, easy-going chap like me.  It would have worn me
out in a year to keep up to him.

P.S.--The name of this should have been:
  'Bill and Stiffner (thirdly, Jim)'




WHEN THE SUN WENT DOWN


Jack Drew sat on the edge of the shaft, with his foot in the loop and
one hand on the rope, ready to descend.  His elder brother, Tom, stood
at one end of the windlass and the third mate at the other.  Jack
paused before swinging off, looked up at his brother, and impulsively
held out his hand:

"You ain't going to let the sun go down, are you, Tom?"

But Tom kept both hands on the windlass-handle and said nothing.

"Lower away!"

They lowered him to the bottom, and Tom shouldered his pick in silence
and walked off to the tent.  He found the tin plate, pint-pot, and
things set ready for him on the rough slab table under the bush shed.
The tea was made, the cabbage and potatoes strained and placed in a
billy near the fire.  He found the fried bacon and steak between two
plates in the camp-oven.  He sat down to the table but he could not
eat.  He felt mean.  The inexperience and hasty temper of his brother
had caused the quarrel between them that morning; but then Jack
admitted that, and apologized when he first tried to make it up.

Tom moved round uneasily and tried to smoke: he could not get Jack's
last appeal out of his ears--"You ain't going to let the sun go down,
Tom?"

Tom found himself glancing at the sun.  It was less than two hours
from sunset.  He thought of the words of the old Hebrew--or
Chinese--poet; he wasn't religious, and the authorship didn't matter.
The old poet's words began to haunt him "Let not the sun go down upon
your wrath--Let not the sun go down upon your wrath."

The line contains good, sound advice; for quick-tempered men are often
the most sensitive, and when they let the sun go down on the aforesaid
wrath that quality is likely to get them down and worry them during
the night.

Tom started to go to the claim, but checked himself, and sat down and
tried to draw comfort from his pipe.  He understood his brother
thoroughly, but his brother never understood him--that was where the
trouble was.  Presently he got thinking how Jack would worry about the
quarrel and have no heart for his work.  Perhaps he was fretting over
it now, all alone by himself, down at the end of the damp, dark drive.
Tom had a lot of the old woman about him, in spite of his unsociable
ways and brooding temper.

He had almost made up his mind to go below again, on some excuse, when
his mate shouted from the top of the shaft:

"Tom! Tom! For Christ's sake come here!"

Tom's heart gave a great thump, and he ran like a kangaroo to the
shaft.  All the diggers within hearing were soon on the spot.  They
saw at a glance what had happened.  It was madness to sink without
timber in such treacherous ground.  _The sides of the shaft were
closing in_.  Tom sprang forward and shouted through the crevice:

"To the face, Jack!  To the face, for your life!"

"The old Workings!" he cried, turning to the diggers.  "Bring a fan
and tools.  We'll dig him out."

A few minutes later a fan was rigged over a deserted shaft close by,
where fortunately the windlass had been left for bailing purposes, and
men were down in the old drive.  Tom knew that he and his mates had
driven very close to the old workings.

He knelt in the damp clay before the face and worked like a madman; he
refused to take turn about, and only dropped the pick to seize a
shovel in his strong hands, and snatch back the loose clay from under
his feet; he reckoned that he had six or, perhaps, eight feet to
drive, and he knew that the air could not last long in the new
drive--even if that had not already fallen in and crushed his brother.
Great drops of perspiration stood out on Tom's forehead, and his
breath began to come in choking sobs, but he still struck strong,
savage blows into the clay before him, and the drive lengthened
quickly.  Once he paused a moment to listen, and then distinctly heard
a sound as of a tool or stone being struck against the end of the new
drive.  Jack was safe!

Tom dug on until the clay suddenly fell away from his pick and left a
hole, about the size of a plate, in the "face" before him.  "Thank
God!" said a hoarse, strained voice at the other side.

"All right, Jack!"

"Yes, old man; you are just in time; I've hardly got room to stand
in, and I'm nearly smothered."  He was crouching against the "face"
of the new drive.

Tom dropped his pick and fell back against the man behind him.

"Oh, God! my back!" he cried.

Suddenly he struggled to his knees, and then fell forward on his hand
and dragged himself close to the hole in the end of the drive.

"Jack!" he gasped, "Jack!"

"Right, old man; what's the matter?"

"I've hurt my heart, Jack!--Put your hand--quick!...The sun's going
down."

Jack's hand came out through the hole, Tom gripped it, and then fell
with his face in the damp clay.

They half carried, half dragged him from the drive, for the roof was
low and they were obliged to stoop.  They took him to the shaft and
sent him up, lashed to the rope.

A few blows of the
pick, and Jack scrambled from his prison and went to the surface, and
knelt on the grass by the body of his brother.  The diggers gathered
round and took off their hats.  And the sun went down.



THE MAN WHO FORGOT


"Well, I dunno," said Tom Marshall--known as "The Oracle"--"I've
heerd o' sich cases before: they ain't commin, but--I've heerd o' sich
cases before," and he screwed up the left side of his face whilst he
reflectively scraped his capacious right ear with the large blade of a
pocket-knife.

They were sitting at the western end of the rouseabouts' hut, enjoying
the breeze that came up when the sun went down, and smoking and
yarning.  The "case" in question was a wretchedly forlorn-looking
specimen of the swag-carrying clan whom a boundary-rider had found
wandering about the adjacent plain, and had brought into the station.
He was a small, scraggy man, painfully fair, with a big, baby-like
head, vacant watery eyes, long thin hairy hands, that felt like pieces
of damp seaweed, and an apologetic cringe-and-look-up-at-you manner.
He professed to have forgotten who he was and all about himself.

The Oracle was deeply interested in this case, as indeed he was in
anything else that "looked curious." He was a big, simple-minded
shearer, with more heart than brains, more experience than sense, and
more curiosity than either.  It was a wonder that he had not profited,
even indirectly, by the last characteristic.  His heart was filled
with a kind of reverential pity for anyone who was fortunate or
unfortunate enough to possess an "affliction;" and amongst his mates
had been counted a deaf man, a blind man, a poet, and a man who "had
rats."  Tom had dropped across them individually, when they were down
in the world, and had befriended them, and studied them with great
interest--especially the poet; and they thought kindly of him, and
were grateful--except the individual with the rats, who reckoned Tom
had an axe to grind--that he, in fact, wanted to cut his (Rat's) liver
out as a bait for Darling cod--and so renounced the mateship.

It was natural, then, for The Oracle to take the present case under
his wing.  He used his influence with the boss to get the Mystery on
"picking up," and studied him in spare time, and did his best to
assist the poor hushed memory, which nothing the men could say or do
seemed able to push further back than the day on which the stranger
"kind o' woke up" on the plain, and found a swag beside him.  The
swag had been prospected and fossicked for a clue, but yielded none.
The chaps were sceptical at first, and inclined to make fun of the
Mystery; but Tom interfered, and intimated that if they were skunks
enough to chyack or try on any of their "funny business" with a
"pore afflicted chap," he (Tom) would be obliged to "perform."
Most of the men there had witnessed Tom's performance, and no one
seemed ambitious to take a leading part in it.  They preferred to be
in the audience.

"Yes," reflected The Oracle, "it's a curious case, and I dare say
some of them big doctors, like Morell Mackenzie, would be glad to give
a thousand or two to get holt on a case like this."

"Done," cried Mitchell, the goat of the shed.  "I'll go halves!--or
stay, let's form a syndicate and work the Mystery."

Some of the rouseabouts laughed, but the joke fell as flat with Tom as
any other joke.

"The worst of it is," said the Mystery himself, in the whine that
was natural to him, and with a timid side look up at Tom--"the worst
of it is I might be a lord or duke, and don't know anything about it.
I might be a rich man, with a lot of houses and money.  I might be a
lord."

The chaps guffawed.

"Wot'yer laughing at?" asked Mitchell.  "I don't see anything
unreasonable about it; he might be a lord as far as looks go.  I've
seen two."

"Yes," reflected Tom, ignoring Mitchell, "there's something in
that; but then again, you see, you might be Jack the Ripper.  Better
let it slide, mate; let the dead past bury its dead.  Start fresh with
a clean sheet."

"But I don't even know my name, or whether I'm married or not,"
whined the outcast.  "I might have a good wife and little ones."

"Better keep on forgetting, mate," Mitchell said, "and as for a
name, that's nothing.  I don't know mine, and I've had eight.  There's
plenty good names knocking round.  I knew a man named Jim Smith that
died.  Take his name, it just suits you, and he ain't likely to call
round for it; if he does, you can say you was born with it."

So they called him Smith, and soon began to regard him as a harmless
lunatic and to take no notice of his eccentricities.  Great interest
was taken in the case for a time, and even Mitchell put in his oar
and tried all sorts of ways to assist the Mystery in his weak,
helpless, and almost pitiful endeavours to recollect who he was.  A
similar case happened to appear in the papers at this time, and the
thing caught on to such an extent that The Oracle was moved to impart
some advice from his store of wisdom.

"I wouldn't think too much over it if I was you," said he to
Mitchell, "hundreds of sensible men went mad over that there
Tichborne case who didn't have anything to do with it, but just
through thinking on it; and you're ratty enough already, Jack.  Let it
alone and trust me to find out who's Smith just as soon as ever we cut
out."

Meanwhile Smith ate, worked, and slept, and borrowed tobacco and
forgot to return it--which was made a note of.  He talked freely about
his case when asked, but if he addressed anyone, it was with the air
of the timid but good young man, who is fully aware of the extent and
power of this world's wickedness, and stands somewhat in awe of it,
but yet would beg you to favour a humble worker in the vineyard by
kindly accepting a tract, and passing it on to friends after perusal.


One Saturday morning, about a fortnight before cut out, The Oracle
came late to his stand, and apparently with something on his mind.
Smith hadn't turned up, and the next rouseabout was doing his work, to
the mutual dissatisfaction of all parties immediately concerned.

"Did you see anything of Smith?" asked Mitchell of The Oracle.
"Seems to have forgot to get up this morning."

Tom looked disheartened and disappointed.  _"He's forgot
again_," said he, slowly and impressively.

"Forgot what?  We know he's blessed well forgot to come to graft."

"He's forgot again," repeated Tom.  "He woke up this morning and
wanted to know who he was and where he was."  Comments.

"Better give him best, Oracle," said Mitchell presently.  "If he
can't find out who he is and where he is, the boss'll soon find it out
for him."

"No," said Tom, "when I take a thing in hand I see it through."

This was also characteristic of the boss-over-the-board, though in
another direction.  He went down to the but and inquired for Smith.

"Why ain't you at work?"

"Who am I, sir?  Where am I?" whined Smith. "Can you please tell me
who I am and where I am?"

The boss drew a long breath and stared blankly at the Mystery; then he
erupted.

"Now, look here!" he howled, "I don't know who the gory sheol you
are, except that you're a gory lunatic, and what's more, I don't care
a damn.  But I'll soon show you where you are!  You can call up at the
store and get your cheque, and soon as you blessed well like; and then
take a walk, and don't forget to take your lovely swag with you."

The matter was discussed at the dinner-table.  The Oracle swore that
it was a cruel, mean way to treat a "pore afflicted chap," and
cursed the boss.  Tom's admirers cursed in sympathy, and trouble
seemed threatening, when the voice of Mitchell was heard to rise in
slow, deliberate tones over the clatter of cutlery and tin plates.

"I wonder," said the voice, "I wonder whether Smith forgot his
cheque?"

It was ascertained that Smith hadn't.

There was some eating and thinking done.  Soon Mitchell's voice was
heard again, directed at The Oracle.

It said "Do you keep any vallabels about your bunk, Oracle?"

Tom looked hard at Mitchell.  "Why?"

"Oh, nothin': only I think it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to look
at your bunk and see whether Smith forgot."

The chaps grew awfully interested.  They fixed their eyes on Tom, and
he looked with feeling from one face to another; then he pushed his
plate back, and slowly extracted his long legs from between the stool
and the table.  He climbed to his bunk, and carefully reviewed the
ingredients of his swag.  Smith hadn't forgot.

When The Oracle's face came round again there was in it a strange
expression which a close study would have revealed to be more of anger
than of sorrow, but that was not all.  It was an expression such as a
man might wear who is undergoing a terrible operation, without
chloroform, but is determined not to let a whimper escape him.  Tom
didn't swear, and by that token they guessed how mad he was.  'Twas a
rough shed, with a free and lurid vocabulary, but had they all sworn
in chorus, with One-eyed Bogan as lead, it would not have done justice
to Tom's feelings--and they realized this.

The Oracle took down his bridle from its peg, and started for the door
amid a respectful and sympathetic silence, which was only partly
broken once by the voice of Mitchell, which asked in an awed whisper:

"Going ter ketch yer horse, Tom?" The Oracle nodded, and passed on;
he spake no word--he was too full for words.

Five minutes passed, and then the voice of Mitchell was heard again,
uninterrupted by the clatter of tinware.  It said in impressive tones:

"It would not be a bad idea for some of you chaps that camp in the
bunks along there, to have a look at your things.  Scotty's bunk is
next to Tom's."

Scotty shot out of his place as if a snake had hold of his leg,
starting a plank in the table and upsetting three soup plates.  He
reached for his bunk like a drowning man clutching at a plank, and
tore out the bedding.  Again, Smith hadn't forgot.

Then followed a general overhaul, and it was found in most cases that
Smith had remembered.  The pent-up reservoir of blasphemy burst forth.

The Oracle came up with Smith that night at the nearest shanty, and
found that he had forgotten again, and in several instances, and was
forgetting some more under the influence of rum and of the flattering
interest taken in his case by a drunken Bachelor of Arts who happened
to be at the pub.  Tom came in quietly from the rear, and crooked his
finger at the shanty-keeper.  They went apart from the rest, and
talked together a while very earnestly.  Then they secretly examined
Smith's swag, the core of which was composed of Tom's and his mate's
valuables.

Then The Oracle stirred up Smith's recollections and departed.

Smith was about again in a couple of weeks.  He was damaged somewhat
physically, but his memory was no longer impaired.



HUNGERFORD


One of the hungriest cleared roads in New South Wales runs to within a
couple of miles of Hungerford, and stops there; then you strike
through the scrub to the town.  There is no distant prospect of
Hungerford--you don't see the town till you are quite close to it, and
then two or three white-washed galvanized-iron roofs start out of the
mulga.

They say that a past Ministry commenced to clear the road from Bourke,
under the impression that Hungerford was an important place, and went
on, with the blindness peculiar to governments, till they got to
within two miles of the town.  Then they ran short of rum and rations,
and sent a man on to get them, and make inquiries.  The member never
came back, and two more were sent to find him--or Hungerford.  Three
days later the two returned in an exhausted condition, and submitted a
motion of want-of-confidence, which was lost.  Then the whole House
went on and was lost also.  Strange to relate, that Government was
never missed.

However, we found Hungerford and camped there for a day.  The town is
right on the Queensland border, and an interprovincial rabbit-proof
fence--with rabbits on both sides of it--runs across the main street.

This fence is a standing joke with Australian rabbits--about the only
joke they have out there, except the memory of Pasteur and poison and
inoculation.  It is amusing to go a little way out of town, about
sunset, and watch them crack Noah's Ark rabbit jokes about that fence,
and burrow under and play leap-frog over it till they get tired.  One
old buck rabbit sat up and nearly laughed his ears off at a joke of
his own about that fence.  He laughed so much that he couldn't get
away when I reached for him.  I could hardly eat him for laughing.  I
never saw a rabbit laugh before; but I've seen a 'possum do it.

Hungerford consists of two houses and a humpy in New South Wales, and
five houses in Queensland.  Characteristically enough, both the pubs
are in Queensland.  We got a glass of sour yeast at one and paid
sixpence for it--we had asked for English ale.

The post office is in New South Wales, and the police-barracks in
Bananaland.  The police cannot do anything if there's a row going on
across the street in New South Wales, except to send to Brisbane and
have an extradition warrant applied for; and they don't do much if
there's a row in Queensland.  Most of the rows are across the border,
where the pubs are.

At least, I believe that's how it is, though the man who told me might
have been a liar.  Another man said he was a liar, but then _he_
might have been a liar himself--a third person said he was one.  I
heard that there was a fight over it, but the man who told me about
the fight might not have been telling the truth.

One part of the town swears at Brisbane when things go wrong, and the
other part curses Sydney.

The country looks as though a great ash-heap had been spread out
there, and mulga scrub and firewood planted--and neglected.  The
country looks just as bad for a hundred miles round Hungerford, and
beyond that it gets worse--a blasted, barren wilderness that doesn't
even howl.  If it howled it would be a relief.

I believe that Bourke and Wills found Hungerford, and it's a pity they
did; but, if I ever stand by the graves of the men who first travelled
through this country, when there were neither roads nor stations, nor
tanks, nor bores, nor pubs, I'll--I'll take my hat off.  There were
brave men in the land in those days.

It is said that the explorers gave the district its name chiefly
because of the hunger they found there, which has remained there ever
since.  I don't know where the "ford" comes in--there's nothing to
ford, except in flood-time.  Hungerthirst would have been better.  The
town is supposed to be situated on the banks of a river called the
Paroo, but we saw no water there, except what passed for it in a tank.
The goats and sheep and dogs and the rest of the population drink
there.  It is dangerous to take too much of that water in a raw state.

Except in flood-time you couldn't find the bed of the river without
the aid of a spirit-level and a long straight-edge.  There is a
Custom-house against the fence on the northern side.  A pound of tea
often costs six shillings on that side, and you can get a common lead
pencil for fourpence at the rival store across the street in the
mother province.  Also, a small loaf of sour bread sells for a
shilling at the humpy aforementioned.  Only about sixty per cent of
the sugar will melt.

We saw one of the storekeepers give a dead-beat swagman five
shillings' worth of rations to take him on into Queensland.  The
storekeepers often do this, and put it down on the loss side of their
books.  I hope the recording angel listens, and puts it down on the
right side of his book.

We camped on the Queensland side of the fence, and after tea had a
yarn with an old man who was minding a mixed flock of goats and sheep;
and we asked him whether he thought Queensland was better than New
South Wales, or the other way about.

He scratched the back of his head, and thought a while, and hesitated
like a stranger who is going to do you a favour at some personal
inconvenience.

At last, with the bored air of a man who has gone through the same
performance too often before, he stepped deliberately up to the fence
and spat over it into New South Wales.  After which he got leisurely
through and spat back on Queensland.

"That's what I think of the blanky colonies!" he said.

He gave us time to become sufficiently impressed; then he said:

"And if I was at the Victorian and South Australian border I'd do the
same thing."

He let that soak into our minds, and added: "And the same with West
Australia--and--and Tasmania."  Then he went away.

The last would have been a long spit--and he forgot Maoriland.

We heard afterwards that his name was Clancy and he had that day been
offered a job droving at "twenty-five shillings a week and find your
own horse."  Also find your own horse feed and tobacco and soap and
other luxuries, at station prices.  Moreover, if you lost your own
horse you would have to find another, and if that died or went astray
you would have to find a third--or forfeit your pay and return on
foot.  The boss drover agreed to provide flour and mutton--when such
things were procurable.

Consequently, Clancy's unfavourable opinion of the colonies.

My mate
and I sat down on our swags against the fence to talk things over.
One of us was very deaf.  Presently a black tracker went past and
looked at us, and returned to the pub.  Then a trooper in Queensland
uniform came along and asked us what the trouble was about, and where
we came from and were going, and where we camped.  We said we were
discussing private business, and he explained that he thought it was a
row, and came over to see.  Then he left us, and later on we saw him
sitting with the rest of the population on a bench under the hotel
veranda.  Next morning we rolled up our swags and left Hungerford to
the north-west.




A CAMP-FIRE YARN


"This girl," said Mitchell,
continuing a yarn to his mate, "was about the ugliest girl I ever saw,
except one, and I'll tell you about her directly.  The old man had a
carpenter's shop fixed up in a shed at the back of his house, and he
used to work there pretty often, and sometimes I'd come over and yarn
with him.  One day I was sitting on the end of the bench, and the old
man was working away, and Mary was standing there too, all three of
us yarning--she mostly came poking round where I was if I happened to
be on the premises--or at least I thought so--and we got yarning about
getting married, and the old cove said he'd get married again if the
old woman died.

"'_You_ get married again!' said Mary.  'Why, father,
you wouldn't get anyone to marry you--who'd have you?'

"'Well,' he said, 'I bet I'll get someone sooner than you, anyway.
You don't seem to be able to get anyone, and it's pretty near time you
thought of settlin' down and gettin' married.  I wish _someone_
would have you.'

"He hit her pretty hard there, but it served her right.  She got as
good as she gave.  She looked at me and went all colours, and then she
went back to her washtub.

"She was mighty quiet at tea-time--she seemed hurt a lot, and I
began to feel sorry I'd laughed at the old man's joke, for she was
really a good, hard-working girl, and you couldn't help liking her.

"So after tea I went out to her in the kitchen, where she was washing
up, to try and cheer her up a bit.  She'd scarcely speak at first,
except to say 'Yes' or 'No', and kept her face turned away from me;
and I could see that she'd been crying.  I began to feel sorry for her
and mad at the old man, and I started to comfort her.  But I didn't go
the right way to work about it.  I told her that she mustn't take any
notice of the old cove, as he didn't mean half he said.  But she
seemed to take it harder than ever, and at last I got so sorry for her
that I told her that _I'd_ have her if she'd have me."

"And what did she say?" asked Mitchell's mate, after a pause.

"She said she wouldn't have me at any price!"

The mate laughed, and Mitchell grinned his quiet grin.

"Well, this set me thinking," he continued.  "I always knew I was a
dashed ugly cove, and I began to wonder whether any girl would really
have me; and I kept on it till at last I made up my mind to find out
and settle the matter for good--or bad.

"There was another farmer's daughter living close by, and I met her
pretty often coming home from work, and sometimes I had a yarn with
her.  She was plain, and no mistake: Mary was a Venus alongside of
her.  She had feet like a Lascar, and hands about ten sizes too large
for her, and a face like that camel--only red; she walked like a
camel, too.  She looked like a ladder with a dress on, and she didn't
know a great A from a corner cupboard.

"Well, one evening I met her at the sliprails, and presently I asked
her, for a joke, if she'd marry me.  Mind you, I never wanted to marry
_her_; I was only curious to know whether any girl would have me.

"She turned away her face and seemed to hesitate, and I was just
turning away and beginning to think I was a dashed hopeless case,
when all of a sudden she fell up against me and said she'd be my
wife....And it wasn't her fault that she wasn't."

"What did she do?"

"Do!  What didn't she do?  Next day she went down to our place when I
was at work, and hugged and kissed mother and the girls all round, and
cried, and told mother that she'd try and be a dutiful daughter to
her.  Good Lord! You should have seen the old woman and the girls when
I came home.

"Then she let everyone know that Bridget Page was engaged to Jack
Mitchell, and told her friends that she went down on her knees every
night and thanked the Lord for getting the love of a good man.  Didn't
the fellows chyack me, though!  My sisters were raving mad about it,
for their chums kept asking them how they liked their new sister, and
when it was going to come off, and who'd be bridesmaids and best man,
and whether they weren't surprised at their brother Jack's choice; and
then I'd gammon at home that it was all true.

"At last the place got too hot for me.  I got sick of dodging that
girl.  I sent a mate of mine to tell her that it was all a joke, and
that I was already married in secret; but she didn't see it, then I
cleared, and got a job in Newcastle, but had to leave there when my
mates sent me the office that she was coming.  I wouldn't wonder but
what she is humping her swag after me now.  In fact, I thought you was
her in disguise when I set eyes on you first....You needn't get mad
about it; I don't mean to say that you're quite as ugly as she was,
because I never saw a man that was--or a woman either.  Anyway, I'll
never ask a woman to marry me again unless I'm ready to marry her."

Then Mitchell's mate told a yarn.

"I knew a case once something like the one you were telling me about;
the landlady of a hash-house where I was stopping in Albany told me.
There was a young carpenter staying there, who'd run away from Sydney
from an old maid who wanted to marry him.  He'd cleared from the
church door, I believe.  He was scarcely more'n a boy--about
nineteen--and a soft kind of a fellow, something like you, only
good-looking--that is, he was passable.  Well, as soon as the woman
found out where he'd gone, she came after him.  She turned up at the
boarding-house one Saturday morning when Bobbie was at work; and the
first thing she did was to rent a double room from the landlady and
buy some cups and saucers to start housekeeping with.  When Bobbie
came home he just gave her one look and gave up the game.

"'Get your dinner, Bobbie,' she said, after she'd slobbered over him
a bit, 'and then get dressed and come with me and get married!'

"She was about three times his age, and had a face like that picture
of a lady over Sappho Smith's letters in the Sydney _Bulletin_.

"Well, Bobbie went with her like a--like a lamb; never gave a kick or
tried to clear."

"Hold on," said Mitchell, "did you ever shear lambs?"

"Never mind.  Let me finish the yarn.  Bobbie was married; but she
wouldn't let him out of her sight all that afternoon, and he had to
put up with her before them all.  About bedtime he sneaked out and
started along the passage to his room that he shared with two or three
mates.  But she'd her eye on him.

"'Bobbie, Bobbie!' she says, 'Where are you going?'

"'I'm going to bed,' said Bobbie.  'Good night!'

"'Bobbie, Bobbie,' she says, sharply.  'That isn't our room;
_this_ is our room, Bobbie.  Come back at once!  What do you
mean, Bobbie?  _Do you hear me, Bobbie?_'

"So Bobbie came back, and went in with the scarecrow.  Next morning
she was first at the breakfast table, in a dressing-gown and curl
papers.  And when they were all sitting down Bobbie sneaked in,
looking awfully sheepish, and sidled for his chair at the other end of
the table.  But she'd her eyes on him.

"'Bobbie, Bobbie!' she said, 'Come and kiss me, Bobbie!'" And he
had to do it in front of them all.

"But I believe she made him a good wife."




HIS COUNTRY-AFTER ALL


The Blenheim coach was descending into the valley of the Avetere
River--pronounced Aveterry--from the saddle of Taylor's Pass.  Across
the river to the right, the grey slopes and flats stretched away to
the distant sea from a range of tussock hills.  There was no native
bush there; but there were several groves of imported timber standing
wide apart---sentinel-like--seeming lonely and striking in their
isolation.

"Grand country, New Zealand, eh?" said a stout man with a brown
face, grey beard, and grey eyes, who sat between the driver and
another passenger on the box.

"You don't call this grand country!" exclaimed the other passenger,
who claimed to be, and looked like, a commercial traveller, and might
have been a professional spieler--quite possibly both.  "Why, it's
about the poorest country in New Zealand!  You ought to see some of
the country in the North Island--Wairarapa and Napier districts, round
about Pahiatua.  I call this damn poor country."

"Well, I reckon you wouldn't, if you'd ever been in Australia--back
in New South Wales.  The people here don't seem to know what a grand
country they've got.  You say this is the worst, eh?  Well, this would
make an Australian cockatoo's mouth water-the worst of New Zealand
would."

"I always thought Australia was all good country," mused the
driver--a flax-stick.  "I always thought--"

"Good country!" exclaimed the man with the grey beard, in a tone of
disgust.  "Why, it's only a mongrel desert, except some bits round
the coast.  The worst dried-up and God-forsaken country I was ever
in."

There was a silence, thoughtful on the driver's part, and aggressive
on that of the stranger.

"I always thought," said the driver, reflectively, after the
pause--"I always thought Australia was a good country," and he
placed his foot on the brake.

They let him think.  The coach descended the natural terraces above
the river bank, and pulled up at the pub.


"So you're a native of Australia?" said the bagman to the
grey-beard, as the coach went on again.

"Well, I suppose I am.  Anyway, I was born there.  That's the main
thing I've got against the darned country."

"How long did you stay there?"

"Till I got away," said the stranger.  Then, after a think, he
added, "I went away first when I was thirty-five--went to the
islands.  I swore I'd never go back to Australia again; but I did.  I
thought I had a kind of affection for old Sydney.  I knocked about the
blasted country for five or six years, and then I cleared out to
'Frisco.  I swore I'd never go back again, and I never will."

"But surely you'll take a run over and have a look at old Sydney and
those places, before you go back to America, after getting so near?"

"What the blazes do I want to have a look at the blamed country
for?" snapped the stranger, who had refreshed considerably.  "I've
got nothing to thank Australia for--except getting out of it.  It's
the best country to get out of that I was ever in."

"Oh, well, I only thought you might have had some friends over
there," interposed the traveller in an injured tone.

"Friends!  That's another reason.  I wouldn't go back there for all
the friends and relations since Adam.  I had more than quite enough of
it while I was there.  The worst and hardest years of my life were
spent in Australia.  I might have starved there, and did do it half my
time.  I worked harder and got less in my own country in five years
than I ever did in any other in fifteen"--he was getting mixed--"and
I've been in a few since then.  No, Australia is the worst country
that ever the Lord had the sense to forget.  I mean to stick to the
country that stuck to me, when I was starved out of my own dear native
land--and that country is the United States of America.  What's
Australia?  A big, thirsty, hungry wilderness, with one or two cities
for the convenience of foreign speculators, and a few collections of
humpies, called towns--also for the convenience of foreign
speculators; and populated mostly by mongrel sheep, and partly by
fools, who live like European slaves in the towns, and like dingoes in
the bush--who drivel about 'democracy,' and yet haven't any more spunk
than to graft for a few Cockney dudes that razzle-dazzle most of the
time in Paris.  Why, the Australians haven't even got the grit to
claim enough of their own money to throw a few dams across their
watercourses, and so make some of the interior fit to live in.
America's bad enough, but it was never so small as that....Bah!  The
curse of Australia is sheep, and the Australian war cry is Baa!"

"Well, you're the first man I ever heard talk as you've been doing
about his own country," said the bagman, getting tired and impatient
of being sat on all the time.  "'Lives there a man with a soul so
dead, who never said--to--to himself'...I forget the darned thing."

He tried to remember it.  The man whose soul was dead cleared his
throat for action, and the driver--for whom the bagman had shouted
twice as against the stranger's once--took the opportunity to observe
that he always thought a man ought to stick up for his own country.

The stranger ignored him and opened fire on the bagman.  He proceeded
to prove that that was all rot--that patriotism was the greatest curse
on earth; that it had been the cause of all war; that it was the
false, ignorant sentiment which moved men to slave, starve, and fight
for the comfort of their sluggish masters; that it was the enemy of
universal brotherhood, the mother of hatred, murder, and slavery, and
that the world would never be any better until the deadly poison,
called the sentiment of patriotism, had been "educated" out of the
stomachs of the people.  "Patriotism!" he exclaimed scornfully.
"My country!  The darned fools; the country never belonged to them,
but to the speculators, the absentees, land-boomers, swindlers, gangs
of thieves--the men the patriotic fools starve and fight for--their
masters.  Ba-a!"

The opposition collapsed.

The coach had climbed the terraces on the south side of the river, and
was bowling along on a level stretch of road across the elevated flat.

"What trees are those?" asked the stranger, breaking the aggressive
silence which followed his unpatriotic argument, and pointing to a
grove ahead by the roadside.  "They look as if they've been planted
there.  There ain't been a forest here surely?"

"Oh, they're some trees the Government imported," said the bagman,
whose knowledge on the subject was limited.  "Our own bush won't grow
in this soil."

"But it looks as if anything else would--"

Here the stranger sniffed once by accident, and then several times
with interest.

It was a warm morning after rain.  He fixed his eyes on those trees.

They didn't look like Australian gums; they tapered to the tops, the
branches were pretty regular, and the boughs hung in shipshape
fashion.  There was not the Australian heat to twist the branches and
turn the leaves.

"Why!" exclaimed the stranger, still staring and sniffing hard.
"Why, dang me if they ain't (sniff) Australian gums!"

"Yes," said the driver, flicking his horses, "they are."

"Blanky (sniff) blanky old Australian gums!" exclaimed the
ex-Australian, with strange enthusiasm.

"They're not old," said the driver; "they're only young trees.  But
they say they don't grow like that in Australia--'count of the
difference in the climate.  I always thought--"

But the other did not appear to hear him; he kept staring hard at the
trees they were passing.  They had been planted in rows and
cross-rows, and were coming on grandly.

There was a rabbit trapper's camp amongst those trees; he had made a
fire to boil his billy with gum-leaves and twigs, and it was the scent
of that fire which interested the exile's nose, and brought a wave of
memories with it.

"Good day, mate!" he shouted suddenly to the rabbit trapper, and to
the astonishment of his fellow passengers.

"Good day, mate!"  The answer came back like an echo--it seemed to
him--from the past.

Presently he caught sight of a few trees which had evidently been
planted before the others--as an experiment, perhaps--and, somehow,
one of them had grown after its own erratic native fashion--gnarled
and twisted and ragged, and could not be mistaken for anything else
but an Australian gum.

"A thunderin' old blue-gum!" ejaculated the traveller, regarding the
tree with great interest.

He screwed his neck to get a last glimpse, and then sat silently
smoking and gazing straight ahead, as if the past lay before him--and
it _was_ before him.

"Ah, well!" he said, in explanation of a long meditative silence on
his part; "ah, well--them saplings--the smell of them gum-leaves set
me thinking."  And he thought some more.

"Well, for my part," said a tourist in the coach, presently, in a
condescending tone, "I can't see much in Australia.  The bally
colonies are--"

"Oh, that be damned!" snarled the Australian-born--they had finished
the second flask of whisky.  "What do you Britishers know about
Australia?  She's as good as England, anyway."


"Well, I suppose you'll go straight back to the States as soon as
you've done your business in Christchurch," said the bagman, when
near their journey's end they had become confidential.

"Well, I dunno.  I reckon I'll
just take a run over to Australia first.  There's an old mate of mine
in business in Sydney, and I'd like to have a yarn with him."



A DAY ON A SELECTION


The scene is a small New South Wales western selection, the holder
whereof is native-English.  His wife is native-Irish.  Time, Sunday,
about 8 a.m.  A used-up looking woman comes from the slab-and-bark
house, turns her face towards the hillside, and shrieks:

"T-o-o-m_may_!"

No response, and presently she draws a long breath and
screams again:

"_Tom_m-a-a-y!"

A faint echo comes from far up the siding where Tommy's presence is
vaguely indicated by half a dozen cows moving slowly--very
slowly--down towards the cow-yard.

The woman retires.  Ten minutes later she comes out again and screams:

"_Tom_my!

"Y-e-e-a-a-s-s!" very passionately and shrilly.

"Ain't you goin' to bring those cows down to-day?"

"Y-e-e-a-a-s-s-s!--carn't yer see I'm comin'?"

A boy is seen to run wildly along the siding and hurl a missile at a
feeding cow; the cow runs forward a short distance through the trees,
and then stops to graze again while the boy stirs up another milker.

An hour goes by.

The rising Australian generation is represented by a thin, lanky youth
of about fifteen.  He is milking.  The cow-yard is next the house, and
is mostly ankle-deep in slush.  The boy drives a dusty,
discouraged-looking cow into the bail, and pins her head there; then
he gets tackle on to her right hind leg, hauls it back, and makes it
fast to the fence.  There are eleven cows, but not one of them can be
milked out of the bail--chiefly because their teats are sore.  The
selector does not know what makes the teats sore, but he has an
unquestioning faith in a certain ointment, recommended to him by a man
who knows less about cows than he does himself, which he causes to be
applied at irregular intervals--leaving the mode of application to the
discretion of his son.  Meanwhile the teats remain sore.

Having made the cow fast, the youngster cautiously takes hold of the
least sore teat, yanks it suddenly, and dodges the cow's hock.  When
he gets enough milk to dip his dirty hands in, he moistens the teats,
and things go on more smoothly.  Now and then he relieves the monotony
of his occupation by squirting at the eye of a calf which is dozing in
the adjacent pen.  Other times he milks into his mouth.  Every time
the cow kicks, a burr or a grass-seed or a bit of something else falls
into the milk, and the boy drowns these things with a well-directed
stream--on the principle that what's out of sight is out of mind.

Sometimes the boy sticks his head into the cow's side, hangs on by a
teat, and dozes, while the bucket, mechanically gripped between his
knees, sinks lower and lower till it rests on the ground.  Likely as
not he'll doze on until his mother's shrill voice startles him with an
inquiry as to whether he intends to get that milking done to-day;
other times he is roused by the plunging of the cow, or knocked over
by a calf which has broken through a defective panel in the pen.  In
the latter case the youth gets tackle on to the calf, detaches its
head from the teat with the heel of his boot, and makes it fast
somewhere.  Sometimes the cow breaks or loosens the leg-rope and gets
her leg into the bucket and then the youth clings desperately to the
pail and hopes she'll get her hoof out again without spilling the
milk.  Sometimes she does, more often she doesn't--it depends on the
strength of the boy and the pail and on the strategy of the former.
Anyway, the boy will lam the cow down with a jagged yard shovel, let
her out, and bail up another.

When he considers that he has finished milking he lets the cows out
with their calves and carries the milk down to the dairy, where he has
a heated argument with his mother, who--judging from the quantity of
milk--has reason to believe that he has slummed some of the milkers.
This he indignantly denies, telling her she knows very well the cows
are going dry.

The dairy is built of rotten box bark--though there is plenty of good
stringy-bark within easy distance--and the structure looks as if it
wants to lie down and is only prevented by three crooked props on the
leaning side; more props will soon be needed in the rear for the dairy
shows signs of going in that direction.  The milk is set in dishes
made of kerosene-tins, cut in halves, which are placed on bark shelves
fitted round against the walls.  The shelves are not level and the
dishes are brought to a comparatively horizontal position by means of
chips and bits of bark, inserted under the lower side.  The milk is
covered by soiled sheets of old newspapers supported on sticks laid
across the dishes.  This protection is necessary, because the box bark
in the roof has crumbled away and left fringed holes--also because the
fowls roost up there.  Sometimes the paper sags, and the cream may
have to be scraped off an article on dairy farming.

The selector's wife removes the newspapers, and reveals a thick,
yellow layer of rich cream, plentifully peppered with dust that has
drifted in somehow.  She runs a forefinger round the edges of the
cream to detach it from the tin, wipes her finger in her mouth, and
skims.  If the milk and cream are very thick she rolls the cream over
like a pancake with her fingers, and lifts it out in sections.  The
thick milk is poured into a slop-bucket, for the pigs and calves, the
dishes are "cleaned"--by the aid of a dipper full of warm water and
a rag--and the wife proceeds to set the morning's milk.  Tom holds up
the doubtful-looking rag that serves as a strainer while his mother
pours in the milk.  Sometimes the boy's hands get tired and he lets
some of the milk run over, and gets into trouble; but it doesn't
matter much, for the straining-cloth has several sizable holes in the
middle.

The door of the dairy faces the dusty road and is off its hinges and
has to be propped up.  The prop is missing this morning, and Tommy is
accused of having been seen chasing old Poley with it at an earlier
hour.  He never seed the damn prop, never chased no cow with it, and
wants to know what's the use of always accusing him.  He further
complains that he's always blamed for everything.  The pole is not
forthcoming, and so an old dray is backed against the door to keep it
in position.  There is more trouble about a cow that is lost, and
hasn't been milked for two days.  The boy takes the cows up to the
paddock sliprails and lets the top rail down: the lower rail fits
rather tightly and some exertion is required to free it, so he makes
the animals jump that one.  Then he "poddies"-hand-feeds--the calves
which have been weaned too early.  He carries the skim-milk to the
yard in a bucket made out of an oil-drum--sometimes a kerosene-tin--
seizes a calf by the nape of the neck with his left hand, inserts the
dirty forefinger of his right into its mouth, and shoves its head down
into the milk.  The calf sucks, thinking it has a teat, and pretty
soon it butts violently--as calves do to remind their mothers to let
down the milk--and the boy's wrist gets barked against the jagged edge
of the bucket.  He welts that calf in the jaw, kicks it in the
stomach, tries to smother it with its nose in the milk, and finally
dismisses it with the assistance of the calf rope and a shovel, and
gets another.  His hand feels sticky and the cleaned finger makes it
look as if he wore a filthy, greasy glove with the forefinger torn
off.

The selector himself is standing against a fence talking to a
neighbour.  His arms rest on the top rail of the fence, his chin rests
on his hands, his pipe rests between his fingers, and his eyes rest on
a white cow that is chewing her cud on the opposite side of the fence.
The neighbour's arms rest on the top rail also, his chin rests on his
hands, his pipe rests between his fingers, and his eyes rest on the
cow.  They are talking about that cow.  They have been talking about
her for three hours.  She is chewing her cud.  Her nose is well up and
forward, and her eyes are shut.  She lets her lower jaw fall a little,
moves it to one side, lifts it again, and brings it back into position
with a springing kind of jerk that has almost a visible recoil.  Then
her jaws stay perfectly still for a moment, and you would think she
had stopped chewing.  But she hasn't.  Now and again a soft, easy,
smooth-going swallow passes visibly along her clean, white throat and
disappears.  She chews again, and by and by she loses consciousness
and forgets to chew.  She never opens her eyes.  She is young and in
good condition; she has had enough to eat, the sun is just properly
warm for her, and--well, if an animal can be really happy, she ought
to be.

Presently the two men drag themselves away from the fence, fill their
pipes, and go to have a look at some rows of forked sticks, apparently
stuck in the ground for some purpose.  The selector calls these sticks
fruit-trees, and he calls the place "the orchard."  They fool round
these wretched sticks until dinnertime, when the neighbour says he
must be getting home.  "Stay and have some dinner!  Man alive!  Stay
and have some dinner!" says the selector; and so the friend stays.

It is a broiling hot day in summer, and the dinner consists of hot
roast meat, hot baked potatoes, hot cabbage, hot pumpkin, hot peas, and
burning-hot plum-pudding.  The family drinks on an average four cups of
tea each per meal.  The wife takes her place at the head of the table
with a broom to keep the fowls out, and at short intervals she
interrupts the conversation with such exclamations as "Shoo! shoo!"
"Tommy, can't you see that fowl?  Drive it out!"  The fowls evidently
pass a lot of their time in the house.  They mark the circle described
by the broom, and take care to keep two or three inches beyond it.
Every now and then you see a fowl on the dresser amongst the crockery,
and there is great concern to get it out before it breaks something.
While dinner is in progress two steers get into the wheat through a
broken rail which has been spliced with stringy-bark, and a calf or two
break into the vineyard.  And yet this careless Australian selector,
who is too shiftless to put up a decent fence, or build a decent house
and who knows little or nothing about farming, would seem by his
conversation to have read up all the great social and political
questions of the day.  Here are some fragments of conversation caught
at the dinner-table.  Present--the selector, the missus, the neighbour,
Corney George--nicknamed "Henry George"--Tommy, Jacky, and the younger
children.  The spaces represent interruptions by the fowls and
children:

Corney George (continuing conversation): "But Henry George says, in
'Progress and Poverty,' he says--"

Missus (to the fowls): "Shoo! Shoo!"

Corney: "He says--"

Tom: "Marther, jist speak to this Jack."

Missus (to Jack): "If you can't behave yourself, leave the table."

Tom [Corney, probably]: "He says in Progress and--"

Missus: "Shoo!"

Neighbour: "I think 'Lookin' Backwards' is more--"

Missus: "Shoo! Shoo! Tom, can't you see that fowl?"

Selector: "Now I think 'Caesar's Column' is more likely--Just look
at--"

Missus: "Shoo! Shoo!"

Selector: "Just look at the French Revolution."

Corney: "Now, Henry George-"

Tom: "Marther! I seen a old-man kangaroo up on--"

Missus: "Shut up!  Eat your dinner an' hold your tongue.  Carn't
you see someone's speakin'?"

Selector: "Just look at the French--"

Missus (to the fowls): "Shoo!  Shoo!" (turning suddenly and
unexpectedly on Jacky): "Take your fingers out of the sugar!--Blast
yer! that I should say such a thing."

Neighbour: "But 'Lookin' Backwards"'

Missus: "There you go, Tom!  Didn't I say you'd spill that tea?  Go
away from the table!"

Selector: "I think 'Caesar's Column' is the only natural--"

Missus: "Shoo! Shoo!" She loses patience, gets up and fetches a
young rooster with the flat of the broom, sending him flying into the
yard; he falls with his head towards the door and starts in again.
Later on the conversation is about Deeming.

Selector: "There's no doubt the man's mad--"

Missus: "Deeming!  That Windsor wretch!  Why, if I was in the law I'd
have him boiled alive!  Don't tell me he didn't know what he was
doing!  Why, I'd have him--"

Corney: "But, missus, you--"

Missus (to the fowls): "Shoo!  Shoo!"



THAT THERE DOG O' MINE


Macquarie the shearer had met with an accident.  To tell the truth, he
had been in a drunken row at a wayside shanty, from which he had
escaped with three fractured ribs, a cracked head, and various minor
abrasions.  His dog, Tally, had been a sober but savage participator
in the drunken row, and had escaped with a broken leg.  Macquarie
afterwards shouldered his swag and staggered and struggled along the
track ten miles to the Union Town hospital.  Lord knows how he did it.
He didn't exactly know himself.  Tally limped behind all the way, on
three legs.

The doctors examined the man's injuries and were surprised at his
endurance.  Even doctors are surprised sometimes--though they don't
always show it.  Of course they would take him in, but they objected to
Tally.  Dogs were not allowed on the premises.

"You will have to turn that dog out," they said to the shearer, as
he sat on the edge of a bed.

Macquarie said nothing.

"We cannot allow dogs about the place, my man," said the doctor in a
louder tone, thinking the man was deaf.

"Tie him up in the yard then."

"No.  He must go out.  Dogs are not permitted on the grounds."

Macquarie rose slowly to his feet, shut his agony behind his set
teeth, painfully buttoned his shirt over his hairy chest, took up his
waistcoat, and staggered to the corner where the swag lay.

"What are you going to do?" they asked.

"You ain't going to let my dog stop?"

"No.  It's against the rules.  There are no dogs allowed on
premises."

He stooped and lifted his swag, but the pain was too great, and he
leaned back against the wall.

"Come, come now! man alive!"  exclaimed the doctor, impatiently.
"You must be mad.  You know you are not in a fit state to go out.
Let the wardsman help you to undress."

"No!" said Macquarie.  "No.  If you won't take my dog in you don't
take me.  He's got a broken leg and wants fixing up just--just as much
as--as I do.  If I'm good enough to come in, he's good enough--and--
and better."

He paused awhile, breathing painfully, and then went on.

"That--that there old dog of mine has follered me faithful and true,
these twelve long hard and hungry years.  He's about--about the only
thing that ever cared whether I lived or fell and rotted on the cursed
track."

He rested again; then he continued: "That--that there dog was pupped
on the track," he said, with a sad sort of a smile.  "I carried him
for months in a billy, and afterwards on my swag when he knocked
up....And the old slut--his mother--she'd foller along quite
contented--and sniff the billy now and again--just to see if he was
all right....She follered me for God knows how many years.  She
follered me till she was blind--and for a year after.  She follered me
till she could crawl along through the dust no longer, and--and then I
killed her, because I couldn't leave her behind alive!"

He rested again.

"And this here old dog," he continued, touching Tally's upturned
nose with his knotted fingers, "this here old dog has follered me
for--for ten years; through floods and droughts, through fair times
and--and hard--mostly hard; and kept me from going mad when I had no
mate nor money on the lonely track; and watched over me for weeks when
I was drunk--drugged and poisoned at the cursed shanties; and saved my
life more'n once, and got kicks and curses very often for thanks; and
forgave me for it all; and--and fought for me.  He was the only living
thing that stood up for me against that crawling push of curs when
they set onter me at the shanty back yonder--and he left his mark on
some of 'em too; and--and so did I."

He took another spell.

Then he drew in his breath, shut his teeth hard, shouldered his swag,
stepped into the doorway, and faced round again.

The dog limped out of the corner and looked up anxiously.

"That there dog," said Macquarie to the hospital staff in general,
"is a better dog than I'm a man--or you too, it seems--and a better
Christian.  He's been a better mate to me than I ever was to any
man--or any man to me.  He's watched over me; kep' me from getting
robbed many a time; fought for me; saved my life and took drunken
kicks and curses for thanks--and forgave me.  He's been a true,
straight, honest, and faithful mate to me--and I ain't going to desert
him now.  I ain't going to kick him out in the road with a broken leg.
I--Oh, my God! my back!"

He groaned and lurched forward, but they caught him, slipped off the
swag, and laid him on a bed.

Half an hour later the shearer was comfortably fixed up.

"Where's my dog!" he asked, when he came to himself.

"Oh, the dog's all right," said the nurse, rather impatiently.
"Don't bother.  The doctor's setting his leg out in the yard."




GOING BLIND


I met him in the Full-and-Plenty Dining Rooms.  It was a cheap place
in the city, with good beds upstairs let at one shilling per
night--"Board and residence for respectable single men, fifteen
shillings per week."  I was a respectable single man then.  I boarded
and resided there.  I boarded at a greasy little table in the greasy
little corner under the fluffy little staircase in the hot and greasy
little dining-room or restaurant downstairs.  They called it
dining-rooms, but it was only one room, and them wasn't half enough
room in it to work your elbows when the seven little tables and
forty-nine chairs were occupied.  There was not room for an
ordinary-sized steward to pass up and down between the tables; but our
waiter was not an ordinary-sized man--he was a living skeleton in
miniature.  We handed the soup, and the "roast beef one," and
"roast lamb one," "corn beef and cabbage one," "veal and stuffing
one," and the "veal and pickled pork," one--or two, or three, as
the case might be--and the tea and coffee, and the various kinds of
puddings--we handed them over each other, and dodged the drops as well
as we could.  The very hot and very greasy little kitchen was
adjacent, and it contained the bathroom and other conveniences, behind
screens of whitewashed boards.

I resided upstairs in a room where there were five beds and one
wash-stand; one candle-stick, with a very short bit of soft yellow
candle in it; the back of a hair-brush, with about a dozen bristles in
it; and half a comb--the big-tooth end--with nine and a half teeth at
irregular distances apart.

He was a typical bushman, not one of those tall, straight, wiry, brown
men of the West, but from the old Selection Districts, where many
drovers came from, and of the old bush school; one of those slight
active little fellows whom we used to see in cabbage-tree hats,
Crimean shirts, strapped trousers, and elastic-side boots--
"larstins," they called them.  They could dance well; sing
indifferently, and mostly through their noses, the old bush songs;
play the concertina horribly; and ride like--like--well, they
_could_ ride.

He seemed as if he had forgotten to grow old and die out with this old
colonial school to which he belonged.  They _had_ careless and
forgetful ways about them.  His name was Jack Gunther, he said, and
he'd come to Sydney to try to get something done to his eyes.  He had
a portmanteau, a carpet bag, some things in a three-bushel bag, and a
tin bog.  I sat beside him on his bed, and struck up an acquaintance,
and he told me all about it.  First he asked me would I mind shifting
round to the other side, as he was rather deaf in that ear.  He'd been
kicked by a horse, he said, and had been a little dull o' hearing on
that side ever since.

He was as good as blind.  "I can see the people near me," he said,
"but I can't make out their faces.  I can just make out the pavement
and the houses close at hand, and all the rest is a sort of white
blur."  He looked up: "That ceiling is a kind of white, ain't it?
And this," tapping the wall and putting his nose close to it, "is a
sort of green, ain't it?"  The ceiling might have been whiter.  The
prevalent tints of the wall-paper had originally been blue and red,
but it was mostly green enough now--a damp, rotten green; but I was
ready to swear that the ceiling was snow and that the walls were as
green as grass if it would have made him feel more comfortable.  His
sight began to get bad about six years before, he said; he didn't take
much notice of it at first, and then he saw a quack, who made his eyes
worse.  He had already the manner of the blind--the touch of every
finger, and even the gentleness in his speech.  He had a boy down with
him--a "sorter cousin of his," and the boy saw him round.  "I'll
have to be sending that youngster back," he said, "I think I'll send
him home next week.  He'll be picking up and learning too much down
here."

I happened to know the district he came from, and we would sit by the
hour and talk about the country, and chaps by the name of this and
chaps by the name of that--drovers mostly, whom we had met or had
heard of.  He asked me if I'd ever heard of a chap by the name of Joe
Scott--a big sandy-complexioned chap, who might be droving; he was his
brother, or, at least, his half-brother, but he hadn't heard of him
for years; he'd last heard of him at Blackall, in Queensland; he might
have gone overland to Western Australia with Tyson's cattle to the new
country.

We talked about grubbing and fencing and digging and droving and
shearing--all about the bush--and it all came back to me as we talked.
"I can see it all now," he said once, in an abstracted tone, seeming
to fix his helpless eyes on the wall opposite.  But he didn't see the
dirty blind wall, nor the dingy window, nor the skimpy little bed, nor
the greasy wash-stand; he saw the dark blue ridges in the sunlight,
the grassy sidings and flats, the creek with clumps of she-oak here
and there, the course of the willow-fringed river below, the distant
peaks and ranges fading away into a lighter azure, the granite ridge
in the middle distance, and the rocky rises, the stringy-bark and the
apple-tree flats, the scrubs, and the sunlit plains--and all.  I could
see it, too--plainer than ever I did.

He had done a bit of fencing in his time, and we got talking about
timber.  He didn't believe in having fencing-posts with big butts; he
reckoned it was a mistake.  "You see," he said, "the top of the
butt catches the rain water and makes the post rot quicker.  I'd back
posts without any butt at all to last as long or longer than posts
with 'em--that's if the fence is well put up and well rammed."  He
had supplied fencing stuff, and fenced by contract, and--well, you can
get more posts without butts out of a tree than posts with them.  He
also objected to charring the butts.  He said it only made more
work--and wasted time--the butts lasted longer without being charred.

I asked him if he'd ever got stringy-bark palings or shingles out of
mountain ash, and he smiled a smile that did my heart good to see, and
said he had.  He had also got them out of various other kinds of
trees.

We talked about soil and grass, and gold-digging, and many other
things which came back to one like a revelation as we yarned.

He had been to the hospital several times.  "The doctors don't say
they can cure me," he said, "they say they might, be able to improve
my sight and hearing, but it would take a long time--anyway, the
treatment would improve my general health.  They know what's the
matter with my eyes," and he explained it as well as he could.  "I
wish I'd seen a good doctor when my eyes first began to get weak; but
young chaps are always careless over things.  It's harder to get cured
of anything when you're done growing."

He was always hopeful and cheerful.  "If the worst comes to the worst,"
he said, "there's things I can do where I come from.  I might do a
bit o' wool-sorting, for instance.  I'm a pretty fair expert.  Or else
when they're weeding out I could help.  I'd just have to sit down and
they'd bring the sheep to me, and I'd feel the wool and tell them what
it was--being blind improves the feeling, you know."

He had a packet of portraits, but he couldn't make them out very well
now.  They were sort of blurred to him, but I described them and he
told me who they were.  "That's a girl o' mine," he said, with
reference to one--a jolly, good-looking bush girl.  "I got a letter
from her yesterday.  I managed to scribble something, but I'll get
you, if you don't mind, to write something more I want to put in on
another piece of paper, and address an envelope for me."

Darkness fell quickly upon him now--or, rather, the "sort of white
blur" increased and closed in.  But his hearing was better, he said,
and he was glad of that and still cheerful.  I thought it natural that
his hearing should improve as he went blind.

One day he said that he did not think he would bother going to the
hospital any more.  He reckoned he'd get back to where he was known.
He'd stayed down too long already, and the "stuff" wouldn't stand
it.  He was expecting a letter that didn't come.  I was away for a
couple of days, and when I came back he had been shifted out of the
room and had a bed in an angle of the landing on top of the staircase,
with the people brushing against him and stumbling over his things all
day on their way up and down.  I felt indignant, thinking that--the
house being full--the boss had taken advantage of the bushman's
helplessness and good nature to put him there.  But he said that he
was quite comfortable.  "I can get a whiff of air here," he said.

Going in next day I thought for a moment that I had dropped suddenly
back into the past and into a bush dance, for there was a concertina
going upstairs.  He was sitting on the bed, with his legs crossed, and
a new cheap concertina on his knee, and his eyes turned to the patch
of ceiling as if it were a piece of music and he could read it.  "I'm
trying to knock a few tunes into my head," he said, with a brave
smile, "in case the worst comes to the worst."  He tried to be
cheerful, but seemed worried and anxious.  The letter hadn't come.  I
thought of the many blind musicians in Sydney, and I thought of the
bushman's chance, standing at a corner swanking a cheap concertina,
and I felt sorry for him.

I went out with a vague idea of seeing someone about the matter, and
getting something done for the bushman--of bringing a little influence
to his assistance; but I suddenly remembered that my clothes were worn
out, my hat in a shocking state, my boots burst, and that I owed for a
week's board and lodging, and was likely to be thrown out at any
moment myself; and so I was not in a position to go where there was
influence.

When I went back to the restaurant there was a long, gaunt
sandy-complexioned bushman sitting by Jack's side.  Jack introduced
him as his brother, who had returned unexpectedly to his native
district, and had followed him to Sydney.  The brother was rather
short with me at first, and seemed to regard the restaurant
people--all of us, in fact--in the light of spielers who wouldn't
hesitate to take advantage of Jack's blindness if he left him a
moment; and he looked ready to knock down the first man who stumbled
against Jack, or over his luggage--but that soon wore off.  Jack was
going to stay with Joe at the Coffee Palace for a few weeks, and then
go back up-country, he told me.  He was excited and happy.  His
brother's manner towards him was as if Jack had just lost his wife, or
boy or someone very dear to him.  He would not allow him to do
anything for himself, nor try to--not even lace up his boot.  He
seemed to think that he was thoroughly helpless, and when I saw him
pack up Jack's things, and help him at the table and fix his tie and
collar with his great brown hands, which trembled all the time with
grief and gentleness, and make Jack sit down on the bed whilst he got
a cab and carried the trap down to it, and take him downstairs as if
he were made of thin glass, and settle with the landlord--then I knew
that Jack was all right.

We had a drink together--Joe, Jack, the cabman, and I.  Joe was very
careful to hand Jack the glass, and Jack made joke about it for Joe's
benefit.  He swore he could see a glass yet, and Joe laughed, but
looked extra troubled the next moment.

I felt their grips on my hand for five minutes after we parted.




Arvie Aspinall's Alarm Clock


In one of these years a paragraph appeared in a daily paper to the
effect that a constable had discovered a little boy asleep on the
steps of Grinder Bros' factory at four o'clock one rainy morning.
He awakened him, and demanded an explanation.

The little fellow explained that he worked there, and was frightened
of being late; he started work at six, and was apparently greatly
astonished to hear that it was only four.  The constable examined a
small parcel which the frightened child had in his hand.  It contained
a clean apron and three slices of bread and treacle.

The child further explained that he woke up and thought it was late,
and didn't like to wake mother and ask her the time "because she'd
been washin'."  He didn't look at the clock, because they "didn't
have one."  He volunteered no explanations as to how he expected
mother to know the time, but, perhaps, like many other mites of his
kind, he had unbounded faith in the infinitude of a mother's wisdom.
His name was Arvie Aspinall, please sir, and he lived in Jones's
Alley.  Father was dead.

A few days later the same paper took great pleasure in stating, in
reference to that "Touching Incident" noticed in a recent issue,
that a benevolent society lady had started a subscription among her
friends with the object of purchasing an alarm-clock for the little
boy found asleep at Grinder Bros' workshop door.

Later on, it was mentioned, in connection with the touching incident,
that the alarm-clock had been bought and delivered to the boy's
mother, who appeared to be quite overcome with gratitude.  It was
learned, also, from another source, that the last assertion was
greatly exaggerated.

The touching incident was worn out in another paragraph, which left no
doubt that the benevolent society lady was none other than a charming
and accomplished daughter of the House of Grinder.


It was late in the last day of the Easter Holidays, during which Arvie
Aspinall had lain in bed with a bad cold.  He was still what he called
"croopy."  It was about nine o'clock, and the business of Jones's
Alley was in full swing.

"That's better, mother, I'm far better," said Arvie, "the sugar and
vinegar cuts the phlegm, and the both'rin' cough gits out.  It got out
to such an extent for the next few minutes that he could not speak.
When he recovered his breath, he said:

"Better or worse, I'll have to go to work to-morrow.  Gimme the
clock, mother."

"I tell you you shall not go!  It will be your death."

"It's no use talking, mother; we can't starve--and--s'posin' somebody
got my place!  Gimme the clock, mother."

"I'll send one of the children round to say you're ill.  They'll
surely let you off for a day or two."

"Tain't no use; they won't wait; I know them--what does Grinder Bros
care if I'm ill?  Never mind, mother, I'll rise above 'em all yet.
_Give me the clock_, mother."

She gave him the clock, and he proceeded to wind it up and set the
alarm.

"There's somethin' wrong with the gong," he muttered, "it's gone
wrong two nights now, but I'll chance it.  I'll set the alarm at five,
that'll give me time to dress and git there early.  I wish I hadn't to
walk so far."

He paused to read some words engraved round the dial:

    Early to bed and early to rise
    Makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.

He had read the verse often before, and was much taken with the swing
and rhythm of it.  He had repeated it to himself, over and over again,
without reference to the sense or philosophy of it.  He had never
dreamed of doubting anything in print--and this was engraved.  But now
a new light seemed to dawn upon him.  He studied the sentence awhile,
and then read it aloud for the second time.  He turned it over in his
mind again in silence.

"Mother!" he said suddenly, "I think it lies."  She placed the
clock on the shelf, tucked him into his little bed on the sofa, and
blew out the light.

Arvie seemed to sleep, but she lay awake thinking of her troubles.
Of her husband carried home dead from his work one morning; of her
eldest son who only came to loaf on her when he was out of jail;
of the second son, who had feathered his nest in another city,
and had no use for her any longer; of the next--poor delicate little
Arvie--struggling manfully to help, and wearing his young life out at
Grinder Bros when he should be at school; of the five helpless younger
children asleep in the next room: of her hard life--scrubbing floors
from half-past five till eight, and then starting her day's work--
washing!--of having to rear her children in the atmosphere of the
slums, because she could not afford to move and pay a higher rent;
and of the rent.

Arvie commenced to mutter in his sleep.

"Can't you get to sleep, Arvie?" she asked.  "Is your throat sore?
Can I get anything for you?"

"I'd like to sleep," he muttered, dreamily, "but it won't seem
more'n a moment before--before--"

"Before what, Arvie?" she asked, quickly, fearing that he was
becoming delirious.

"Before the alarm goes off!"

 He was talking in his sleep.

She rose gently and put the alarm on two hours.  "He can rest now,"
she whispered to herself.

Presently Arvie sat bolt upright, and said quickly, "Mother! I
thought the alarm went off!"  Then, without waiting for an answer, he
lay down as suddenly and slept.

The rain had cleared away, and a bright, starry dome was over sea and
city, over slum and villa alike; but little of it could be seen from
the hovel in Jones's Alley, save a glimpse of the Southern Cross and a
few stars round it.  It was what ladies call a "lovely night," as
seen from the house of Grinder--"Grinderville"--with its moonlit
terraces and gardens sloping gently to the water, and its windows lit
up for an Easter ball, and its reception-rooms thronged by its own
exclusive set, and one of its charming and accomplished daughters
melting a select party to tears by her pathetic recitation about a
little crossing sweeper.

There _was_ something wrong with the alarm-clock, or else Mrs
Aspinall had made a mistake, for the gong sounded startlingly in the
dead of night.  She woke with a painful start, and lay still,
expecting to hear Arvie get up; but he made no sign.  She turned a
white, frightened face towards the sofa where he lay--the light from
the alley's solitary lamp on the pavement above shone down through the
window, and she saw that he had not moved.

Why didn't the clock wake him?  He was such a light sleeper!
"Arvie!" she called; no answer.  "Arvie !" she called again, with
a strange ring of remonstrance mingling with the terror in her voice.
Arvie never answered.

"Oh! my God!" she moaned.

She rose and stood by the sofa.  Arvie lay on his back with his arms
folded--a favourite sleeping position of his; but his eyes were wide
open and staring upwards as though they would stare through ceiling
and roof to the place where God ought to be.



STRAGGLERS


An oblong hut, walled with blue-grey hardwood slabs, adzed at the ends
and set horizontally between the round sapling studs; high roof of the
eternal galvanized iron.  A big rubbish heap lies about a yard to the
right of the door, which opens from the middle of one of the side
walls; it might be the front or the back wall--there is nothing to fix
it.  Two rows of rough bunks run round three sides of the interior;
and a fire-place occupies one end--the kitchen end.  Sleeping, eating,
gambling and cooking accommodation for thirty men in about eighteen by
forty feet.

The rouseabouts and shearers use the hut in common during shearing.
Down the centre of the place runs a table made of stakes driven into
the ground, with cross-pieces supporting a top of half-round slabs set
with the flat sides up, and affording a few level places for
soup-plates; on each side are crooked, unbarked poles laid in short
forks, to serve as seats.  The poles are worn smoothest opposite the
level places on the table.  The floor is littered with rubbish--old
wool-bales, newspapers, boots, worn-out shearing pants, rough bedding,
etc., raked out of the bunks in impatient search for missing
articles--signs of a glad and eager departure with cheques when the
shed last cut out.

To the west is a dam, holding back a broad, shallow sheet of grey
water, with dead trees standing in it.

Further up along this water is a brush shearing-shed, a rough
framework of poles with a brush roof.  This kind of shed has the
advantage of being cooler than iron.  It is not rain-proof, but
shearers do not work in rainy weather; shearing even slightly damp
sheep is considered the surest and quickest way to get the worst kind
of rheumatism.  The floor is covered with rubbish from the roof, and
here and there lies a rusty pair of shears.  A couple of dry tar-pots
hang by nails in the posts.  The "board" is very uneven and must be
bad for sweeping.  The pens are formed by round, crooked stakes driven
into the ground in irregular lines, and the whole business reminds us
of the "cubby-house" style of architecture of our childhood.

Opposite stands the wool-shed, built entirely of galvanized iron; a
blinding object to start out of the scrub on a blazing, hot day.  God
forgive the man who invented galvanized iron, and the greed which
introduced it into Australia: you could not get worse roofing material
for a hot country.

The wool-washing, soap-boiling, and wool-pressing arrangements are
further up the dam.  "Government House" is a mile away, and is
nothing better than a bush hut; this station belongs to a company.
And the company belongs to a bank.  And the banks belong to England,
mostly.

Mulga scrub all round, and, in between, patches of reddish sand where
the grass ought to be.

It is New Year's Eve.  Half a dozen travellers are camping in the hut,
having a spell.  They need it, for there are twenty miles of dry
lignum plain between here and the government bore to the east; and
about eighteen miles of heavy, sandy, cleared road north-west to the
next water in that direction.  With one exception, the men do not seem
hard up; at least, not as that condition is understood by the swagmen
of these times.  The least lucky one of the lot had three weeks' work
in a shed last season, and there might probably be five pounds amongst
the whole crowd.  They are all shearers, or at least they say they
are.  Some might be only "rousers."

These men have a kind of stock hope of getting a few stragglers to
shear somewhere; but their main object is to live till next shearing.
In order to do this they must tramp for tucker, and trust to the
regulation--and partly mythical--pint of flour, and bit of meat, or
tea and sugar, and to the goodness of cooks and storekeepers and
boundary-riders.  You can only depend on getting tucker _once_ at
one place; then you must tramp on to the next.  If you cannot get it
once you must go short; but there is a lot of energy in an empty
stomach.  If you get an extra supply you may camp for a day and have a
spell.  To live you must walk.  To cease walking is to die.

The Exception is an outcast amongst bush outcasts, and looks better
fitted for Sydney Domain.  He lies on the bottom of a galvanized-iron
case, with a piece of blue blanket for a pillow.  He is dressed in a
blue cotton jumper, a pair of very old and ragged tweed trousers, and
one boot and one slipper.  He found the slipper in the last shed,
and the boot in the rubbish-heap here.  When his own boots gave out he
walked a hundred and fifty miles with his feet roughly sewn up in
pieces of sacking from an old wool-bale.  No sign of a patch, or an
attempt at mending anywhere about his clothes, and that is a bad sign;
when a swagman leaves off mending or patching his garments, his case
is about hopeless.  The Exception's swag consists of the aforesaid bit
of blanket rolled up and tied with pieces of rag.  He has no water-
bag; carries his water in a billy; and how he manages without a bag is
known only to himself.  He has read every scrap of print within reach,
and now lies on his side, with his face to the wall and one arm thrown
up over his head; the jumper is twisted back, and leaves his skin bare
from hip to arm-pit.  His lower face is brutal, his eyes small and
shifty, and ugly straight lines run across his low forehead.  He says
very little, but scowls most of the time--poor devil.  He might be, or
at least _seem_, a totally different man under more favourable
conditions.  He is probably a free labourer.

A very sick jackaroo lies in one of the bunks.  A sandy,
sawney-looking Bourke native takes great interest in this wreck;
watches his every movement as though he never saw a sick man before.
The men lie about in the bunks, or the shade of the hut, and rest, and
read all the soiled and mutilated scraps of literature they can rake
out of the rubbish, and sleep, and wake up swimming in perspiration,
and growl about the heat.

It _is_ hot, and two shearers' cats--a black and a white one--sit
in one of the upper bunks with their little red tongues out, panting
like dogs.  These cats live well during shearing, and take their
chances the rest of the year--just as shed rouseabouts have to do.
They seem glad to see the traveller come; he makes things more
homelike.  They curl and sidle affectionately round the table-legs,
and the legs of the men,_ and purr, and carry their masts up, and
regard the cooking with feline interest and approval, and look as
cheerful as cats can--and as contented.  God knows how many tired,
dusty, and sockless ankles they rub against in their time.

Now and then a man takes his tucker-bags and goes down to the station
for a bit of flour, or meat, or tea, or sugar, choosing the time when
the manager is likely to be out on the run.  The cook here is a "good
cook," from a traveller's point of view; too good to keep his place
long.

Occasionally someone gets some water in an old kerosene-tin and washes
a shirt or pair of trousers, and a pair or two of socks--or
foot-rags--(Prince Alfreds they call them).  That is, he soaks some of
the stiffness out of these articles.

Three times a day the black billies and cloudy nose-bags are placed on
the table.  The men eat in a casual kind of way, as though it were
only a custom of theirs, a matter of form--a habit which could be left
off if it were worth while.

The Exception is heard to remark to no one in particular that he'll
give all he has for a square meal.

"An' ye'd get it cheap, begod!" says a big Irish shearer.  "Come
and have dinner with us; there's plenty there."

But the Exception only eats a few mouthfuls, and his appetite is gone;
his stomach has become contracted, perhaps.

The Wreck cannot eat at all, and seems internally disturbed by the
sight of others eating.

One of the men is a cook, and this morning he volunteered
good-naturedly to bake bread for the rest.  His mates amuse themselves
by chyacking him.

"I've heard he's a dirty and slow cook," says one, addressing
Eternity.

"Ah!" says the cook, "you'll be glad to come to me for a pint of
flour when I'm cooking and you're on the track, some day.

Sunset.  Some of the men sit at the end of the hut to get the full
benefit of a breeze which comes from the west.  A great bank of
rain-clouds is rising in that direction, but no one says he thinks it
will rain; neither does anybody think we're going to have some rain.
None but the greenest jackaroo would venture that risky and foolish
observation.  Out here, it can look more like rain without raining,
and continue to do so for a longer time, than in most other places.

The Wreck went down to the station this afternoon to get some medicine
and bush medical advice.  The Bourke sawney helped him to do up his
swag; he did it with an awed look and manner, as though he thought it
a great distinction to be allowed to touch the belongings of such a
curiosity.  It was afterwards generally agreed that it was a good idea
for the Wreck to go to the station; he would get some physic and, a
bit of tucker to take him on.  "For they'll give tucker to a sick man
sooner than to a chap what's all right."

The Exception is rooting about in the rubbish for the other blucher
boot.

The men get a little more sociable, and "feel" each other to find
out who's "Union," and talk about water, and exchange hints as to
good tucker-tracks, and discuss the strike, and curse the squatter
(which is all they have got to curse), and growl about Union leaders,
and tell lies against each other sociably.  There are tally lies; and
lies about getting tucker by trickery; and long-tramp-with-heavy-swag-
and-no-water lies; and lies about getting the best of squatters and
bosses-over-the-board; and droving, fighting, racing, gambling and
drinking lies.  Lies _ad libitum_; and every true Australian
bushman must try his best to tell a bigger out-back lie than the last
bush-liar.

Pat is not quite easy in his mind.  He found an old pair of pants in
the scrub this morning, and cannot decide whether they are better than
his own, or, rather, whether his own are worse--if that's possible.
He does not want to increase the weight of his swag unnecessarily by
taking both pairs.  He reckons that the pants were thrown away when
the shed cut out last, but then they might have been lying out exposed
to the weather for a longer period.  It is rather an important
question, for it is very annoying, after you've mended and patched an
old pair of pants, to find, when a day or two further on the track,
that they are more rotten than the pair you left behind.

There is some growling about the water here, and one of the men makes
a billy of tea.  The water is better cooked.  Pint-pots and sugar-bags
are groped out and brought to the kitchen hut, and each man fills his
pannikin; the Irishman keeps a thumb on the edge of his, so as to know
when the pot is full, for it is very dark, and there is no more
firewood.  You soon know this way, especially if you are in the habit
of pressing lighted tobacco down into your pipe with the top of your
thumb.  The old slush-lamps are all burnt out.

Each man feels for the mouth of his
sugar-bag with one hand while he keeps the bearings of his pot with
the other.

The Irishman has lost his match-box, and feels for it all over the
table without success.  He stoops down with his hands on his knees,
gets the table-top on a level with the flicker of firelight, and
"moons" the object, as it were.

Time to turn in.  It is very dark inside and bright moonlight without;
every crack seems like a ghost peering in.  Some of the men will roll
up their swags on the morrow and depart; some will take another day's
spell.  It is all according to the tucker.




THE UNION BURIES ITS DEAD


While out boating one Sunday afternoon on a billabong across the
river, we saw a young man on horseback driving some horses along the
bank.  He said it was a fine day, and asked if the Water was deep
there.  The joker of our party said it was deep enough to drown him,
and he laughed and rode farther up. We didn't take-much notice of him.

Next day a funeral gathered at a corner pub and asked each other in to
have a drink while waiting for the hearse.  They passed away some of
the time dancing jigs to a piano in the bar parlour.  They passed away
the rest of the time skylarking and fighting.

The defunct was a young Union labourer, about twenty-five, who had
been drowned the previous day while trying to swim some horses across
a billabong of the Darling.

He was almost a stranger in town, and the fact of his having been a
Union man accounted for the funeral.  The police found some Union
papers in his swag, and called at the General Labourers' Union Office
for information about him.  That's how we knew.  The secretary had
very little information to give.  The departed was a "Roman," and
the majority of the town were otherwise--but Unionism is stronger than
creed.  Liquor, however, is stronger than Unionism; and, when the
hearse presently arrived, more than two-thirds of the funeral were
unable to follow.

The procession numbered fifteen, fourteen souls following the broken
shell of a soul.  Perhaps not one of the fourteen possessed a soul any
more than the corpse did--but that doesn't matter.

Four or five of the funeral, who were boarders at the pub, borrowed a
trap which the landlord used to carry passengers to and from the
railway station.  They were strangers to us who were on foot, and we
to them.  We were all strangers to the corpse.

A horseman, who looked like a drover just returned from a big trip,
dropped into our dusty wake and followed us a few hundred yards,
dragging his packhorse behind him, but a friend made wild and
demonstrative signals from a hotel veranda--hooking at the air in
front with his right hand and jobbing his left thumb over his shoulder
in the direction of the bar--so the drover hauled off and didn't catch
up to us any more.  He was a stranger to the entire show.

We walked in twos.  There were three twos.  It was very hot and dusty;
the heat rushed in fierce dazzling rays across every iron roof and
light-coloured wall that was turned to the sun.  One or two pubs
closed respectfully until we got past.  They closed their bar doors
and the patrons went in and out through some side or back entrance for
a few minutes.  Bushmen seldom grumble at an inconvenience of this
sort, when it is caused by a funeral.  They have too much respect for
the dead.

On the way to the cemetery we passed three shearers sitting on the
shady side of a fence.  One was drunk--very drunk.  The other two
covered their right ears with their hats, out of respect for the
departed--whoever he might have been--and one of them kicked the drunk
and muttered something to him.

He straightened himself up, stared, and reached helplessly for his
hat, which he shoved half off and then on again.  Then he made a great
effort to pull himself together--and succeeded.  He stood up, braced
his back against the fence, knocked off his hat, and remorsefully
placed his foot on it--to keep it off his head till the funeral
passed.

A tall, sentimental drover, who walked by my side, cynically quoted
Byronic verses suitable to the occasion--to death--and asked with
pathetic humour whether we thought the dead man's ticket would be
recognized "over yonder."  It was a G.L.U. ticket, and the general
opinion was that it would be recognized.

Presently my friend said:

"You remember when we were in the boat yesterday, we saw a man
driving some horses along the bank?"

"Yes."

He nodded at the hearse and said "Well, that's him."

I thought awhile.

"I didn't take any particular notice of him," I said.  "He said
something, didn't he?"

"Yes; said it was a fine day.  You'd have taken more notice if you'd
known that he was doomed to die in the hour, and that those were the
last words he would say to any man in this world."

"To be sure," said a full voice from the rear.  "If ye'd known
that, ye'd have prolonged the conversation."

We plodded on across the railway line and along the hot, dusty road
which ran to the cemetery, some of us talking about the accident, and
lying about the narrow escapes we had had ourselves.  Presently
someone said:

"There's the Devil."

I looked up and saw a priest standing in the shade of the tree by the
cemetery gate.

The hearse was drawn up and the tail-boards were opened.  The funeral
extinguished its right ear with its hat as four men lifted the coffin
out and laid it over the grave.  The priest--a pale, quiet young
fellow--stood under the shade of a sapling which grew at the head of
the grave.  He took off his hat, dropped it carelessly on the ground,
and proceeded to business.  I noticed that one or two heathens winced
slightly when the holy water was sprinkled on the coffin.  The drops
quickly evaporated, and the little round black spots they left were
soon dusted over; but the spots showed, by contrast, the cheapness and
shabbiness of the cloth with which the coffin was covered.  It seemed
black before; now it looked a dusky grey.

Just here man's ignorance and vanity made a farce of the funeral.  A
big, bull-necked publican, with heavy, blotchy features, and a
supremely ignorant expression, picked up the priest's straw hat and
held it about two inches over the head of his reverence during the
whole of the service.  The father, be it remembered, was standing in
the shade.  A few shoved their hats on and off uneasily, struggling
between their disgust far the living and their respect for the dead.
The hat had a conical crown and a brim sloping down all round like a
sunshade, and the publican held it with his great red claw spread over
the crown.  To do the priest justice, perhaps he didn't notice the
incident.  A stage priest or parson in the same position might have
said, "Put the hat down, my friend; is not the memory of our departed
brother worth more than my complexion?"  A wattle-bark layman might
have expressed himself in stronger language, none the less to the
point.  But my priest seemed unconscious of what was going on.
Besides, the publican was a great and important pillar of the church.
He couldn't, as an ignorant and conceited ass, lose such a good
opportunity of asserting his faithfulness and importance to his
church.

The grave looked very narrow under the coffin, and I drew a breath of
relief when the box slid easily down.  I saw a coffin get stuck once,
at Rookwood, and it had to be yanked out with difficulty, and laid on
the sods at the feet of the heart-broken relations, who howled
dismally while the grave-diggers widened the hole.  But they don't cut
contracts so fine in the West.  Our grave-digger was not altogether
bowelless, and, out of respect for that human quality described as
"feelin's," he scraped up some light and dusty soil and threw it
down to deaden the fall of the clay lumps on the coffin.  He also
tried to steer the first few shovelfuls gently down against the end of
the grave with the back of the shovel turned outwards, but the hard
dry Darling River clods rebounded and knocked all the same.  It didn't
matter much--nothing does.  The fall of lumps of clay on a stranger's
coffin doesn't sound any different from the fall of the same things on
an ordinary wooden box--at least I didn't notice anything awesome or
unusual in the sound; but, perhaps, one of us--the most
sensitive--might have been impressed by being reminded of a burial of
long ago, when the thump of every sod jolted his heart.

I have left out the wattle--because it wasn't there.  I have also
neglected to mention the heart-broken old mate, with his grizzled head
bowed and great pearly drops streaming down his rugged cheeks.  He was
absent--he was probably "Out Back."  For similar reasons I have
omitted reference to the suspicious moisture in the eyes of a bearded
bush ruffian named Bill.  Bill failed to turn up, and the only
moisture was that which was induced by the heat.  I have left out the
"sad Australian sunset" because the sun was not going down at the
time.  The burial took place exactly at midday.

The dead bushman's name was Jim, apparently; but they found no
portraits, nor locks of hair, nor any love letters, nor anything of
that kind in his swag--not even a reference to his mother; only some
papers relating to Union matters.  Most of us didn't know the name
till we saw it on the coffin; we knew him as "that poor chap that got
drowned yesterday."

"So his name's James Tyson," said my drover acquaintance, looking at
the plate.

"Why! Didn't you know that before?" I asked.

"No; but I knew he was a Union man."

It turned out, afterwards, that J.T. wasn't his real name--only "the
name he went by."  Anyhow he was buried by it, and most of the
"Great Australian Dailies" have mentioned in their brevity columns
that a young man named James John Tyson was drowned in a billabong of
the Darling last Sunday.

We did hear, later on,
what his real name was; but if we ever chance to read it in the
"Missing Friends Column," we shall not be able to give any
information to heart-broken mother or sister or wife, nor to anyone
who could let him hear something to his advantage--for we have already
forgotten the name.




ON THE EDGE OF A PLAIN


"I'd been away from home for eight years," said Mitchell to his
mate, as they dropped their swags in the mulga shade and sat down.
"I hadn't written a letter--kept putting it off, and a blundering
fool of a fellow that got down the day before me told the old folks
that he'd heard I was dead."

Here he took a pull at his water-bag.

"When I got home they were all in mourning for me.  It was night, and
the girl that opened the door screamed and fainted away like a shot."

He lit his pipe.

"Mother was upstairs howling and moaning in a chair, with all the
girls boo-hoo-ing round her for company.  The old man was sitting in
the back kitchen crying to himself."

He put his hat down on the ground, dinted in the crown, and poured
some water into the hollow for his cattle-pup.

"The girls came rushing down.  Mother was so pumped out that she
couldn't get up.  They thought at first I was a ghost, and then they
all tried to get holt of me at once--nearly smothered me.  Look at
that pup!  You want to carry a tank of water on a dry stretch when
you've got a pup that drinks as much as two men."

He poured a drop more water into the top of his hat.

"Well, mother screamed and nearly fainted when she saw me.  Such a
picnic you never saw.  They kept it up all night.  I thought the old
cove was gone off his chump.  The old woman wouldn't let go my hand
for three mortal hours.  Have you got the knife?"

He cut up some more tobacco.

"All next day the house was full of neighbours, and the first to come
was an old sweetheart of mine; I never thought she cared for me till
then.  Mother and the girls made me swear never to go away any more;
and they kept watching me, and hardly let me go outside for fear
I'd--"

"Get drunk?"

"No--you're smart--for fear I'd clear.  At last I swore on the Bible
that I'd never leave home while the old folks were alive; and then
mother seemed easier in her mind."

He rolled the pup over and examined his feet.  "I expect I'll have to
carry him a bit--his feet are sore.  Well, he's done pretty well this
morning, and anyway he won't drink so much when he's carried."

"You broke your promise about leaving home," said his mate.

Mitchell stood up, stretched himself, and looked dolefully from his
heavy swag to the wide, hot, shadeless cotton-bush plain ahead.

"Oh, yes," he yawned, "I stopped at home for a week, and then they
began to growl because I couldn't get any work to do."

The mate guffawed and Mitchell grinned.  They shouldered the
swags, with the pup on top of Mitchell's, took up their billies and
water-bags, turned their unshaven faces to the wide, hazy distance,
and left the timber behind them.




IN A DRY SEASON


Draw a wire fence and a few ragged gums, and add some scattered sheep
running away from the train.  Then you'll have the bush all along the
New South Wales western line from Bathurst on.

The railway towns consist of a public house and a general store, with
a square tank and a school-house on piles in the nearer distance.  The
tank stands at the end of the school and is not many times smaller
than the building itself.  It is safe to call the pub "The Railway
Hotel," and the store "The Railway Stores," with an "s."  A
couple of patient, ungroomed hacks are probably standing outside the
pub, while their masters are inside having a drink--several drinks.
Also it's safe to draw a sundowner sitting listlessly on a bench on
the veranda, reading the _Bulletin_.  The Railway Stores seem to
exist only in the shadow of the pub, and it is impossible to conceive
either as being independent of the other.  There is sometimes a small,
oblong weather-board building--unpainted, and generally leaning in one
of the eight possible directions, and perhaps with a twist in
another--which, from its half-obliterated sign, seems to have started
as a rival to the Railway Stores; but the shutters are up and the
place empty.

The only town I saw that differed much from the above consisted of a
box-bark humpy with a clay chimney, and a woman standing at the door
throwing out the wash-up water.

By way of variety, the artist might make a water-colour sketch of a
fettler's tent on the line, with a billy hanging over the fire in
front, and three fettlers standing round filling their pipes.

Slop sac suits, red faces, and old-fashioned, flat-brimmed hats, with
wire round the brims, begin to drop into the train on the other side
of Bathurst; and here and there a hat with three inches of crape round
the crown, which perhaps signifies death in the family at some remote
date, and perhaps doesn't.  Sometimes, I believe, it only means grease
under the band.  I notice that when a bushman puts crape round his hat
he generally leaves it there till the hat wears out, or another friend
dies.  In the latter case, he buys a new piece of crape.  This outward
sign of bereavement usually has a jolly red face beneath it.  Death is
about the only cheerful thing in the bush.

We crossed the Macquarie--a narrow, muddy gutter with a dog swimming
across, and three goats interested.

A little farther on we saw the first sundowner.  He carried a Royal
Alfred, and had a billy in one hand and a stick in the other.  He was
dressed in a tail-coat turned yellow, a print shirt, and a pair of
moleskin trousers, with big square calico patches on the knees; and
his old straw hat was covered with calico.  Suddenly he slipped his
swag, dropped his billy, and ran forward, boldly flourishing the
stick.  I thought that he was mad, and was about to attack the train,
but he wasn't; he was only killing a snake.  I didn't have time to see
whether he cooked the snake or not--perhaps he only thought of Adam.

Somebody told me that the country was very dry on the other side of
Nevertire.  It is.  I wouldn't like to sit down on it any where.  The
least horrible spot in the bush, in a dry season, is where the bush
isn't--where it has been cleared away and a green crop is trying to
grow.  They talk of settling people on the land!  Better settle
_in_ it.  I'd rather settle on the water; at least, until some
gigantic system of irrigation is perfected in the West.

Along about Byrock we saw the first shearers.  They dress like the
unemployed, but differ from that body in their looks of independence.
They sat on trucks and wool-bales and the fence, watching the train,
and hailed Bill, and Jim, and Tom, and asked how those individuals
were getting on.

Here we came across soft felt hats with straps round the crowns, and
full-bearded faces under them.  Also a splendid-looking black tracker
in a masher uniform and a pair of Wellington boots.

One or two square-cuts and stand-up collars struggle dismally through
to the bitter end.  Often a member of the unemployed starts cheerfully
out, with a letter from the Government Labour Bureau in his pocket,
and nothing else.  He has an idea that the station where he has the
job will be within easy walking distance of Bourke.  Perhaps he thinks
there'll be a cart or a buggy waiting for him.  He travels for a night
and day without a bite to eat, and, on arrival, he finds that the
station is eighty or a hundred miles away.  Then he has to explain
matters to a publican and a coach-driver.  God bless the publican and
the coach-driver!  God forgive our social system!

Native industry was represented at one place along the line by three
tiles, a chimney-pot, and a length of piping on a slab.

Somebody said to me, "Yer wanter go out back, young man, if yer
wanter see the country.  Yer wanter get away from the line."  I don't
wanter; I've been there.

You could go to the brink of eternity so far as Australia is concerned
and yet meet an animated mummy of a swagman who will talk of going
"out back."  Out upon the out-back fiend!

About Byrock we met the bush liar in all his glory.  He was dressed
like--like a bush larrikin.  His name was Jim.  He had been to a ball
where some blank had "touched" his blanky overcoat.  The overcoat
had a cheque for ten "quid" in the pocket.  He didn't seem to feel
the loss much.  "Wot's ten quid?"  He'd been everywhere, including
the Gulf country.  He still had three or four sheds to go to.  He had
telegrams in his pocket from half a dozen squatters and supers
offering him pens on any terms.  He didn't give a blank whether he
took them or no.  He thought at first he had the telegrams on him but
found that he had left them in the pocket of the overcoat aforesaid.
He had learned butchering in a day.  He was a bit of a scrapper
himself and talked a lot about the ring.  At the last station where he
shore he gave the super the father of a hiding.  The super was a big
chap, about six-foot-three, and had knocked out Paddy Somebody in one
round.  He worked with a man who shore four hundred sheep in nine
hours.

Here a quiet-looking bushman in a corner of the carriage grew
restless, and presently he opened his mouth and took the liar down in
about three minutes.

At 5.30 we saw a long line of camels moving out across the sunset.
There's something snaky about camels.  They remind me of turtles and
goannas.

Somebody said, "Here's Bourke."




HE'D COME BACK


The yarn was all lies, I suppose; but it wasn't bad.  A city bushman
told it, of course, and he told it in the travellers' hut.

"As true's God hears me I never meant to desert her in cold blood,"
he said.  "We'd only been married about two years, and we'd got along
grand together; but times was hard, and I had to jump at the first
chance of a job, and leave her with her people, an' go up-country."

He paused and fumbled with his pipe until all ears were brought to
bear on him.

"She was a beauty, and no mistake; she was far too good for me--I
often wondered how she came to have a chap like me."

He paused again, and the others thought over it--and wondered too,
perhaps.

The joker opened his lips to speak, but altered his mind about it.

"Well, I travelled up into Queensland, and worked back into Victoria
'n' South Australia, an' I wrote home pretty reg'lar and sent what
money I could.  Last I got down on to the south-western coast of South
Australia--an' there I got mixed up with another woman--you know what
that means, boys?"

Sympathetic silence.

"Well, this went on for two years, and then the other woman drove me
to drink.  You know what a woman can do when the devil's in her?"

Sound between a sigh and a groan from Lally Thompson.  "My oath," he
said, sadly.

"You should have made it _three_ years, Jack," interposed the
joker; "you said two years before."  But he was suppressed.

"Well, I got free of them both, at last--drink and the woman, I mean;
but it took another--it took a couple of years to pull myself
straight--"

Here the joker opened his mouth again, but was warmly requested to
shut it.

"Then, chaps, I got thinking.  My conscience began to hurt me,
and--and hurt worse every day.  It nearly drove me to drink again.
Ah, boys, a man--if he is a man--can't expect to wrong a woman and
escape scot-free in the end."  (Sigh from Lally Thompson.)
"It's the one thing that always comes home to a man, sooner
or later--you know what that means, boys."

Lally Thompson: "My oath!"

The joker: "Dry up yer crimson oath!  What do you know about
women?"

Cries of "Order!"

"Well," continued the story-teller, "I got thinking.  I heard that
my wife had broken her heart when I left her, and that made matters
worse.  I began to feel very bad about it.  I felt mean.  I felt
disgusted with myself.  I pictured my poor, ill-treated, little wife
and children in misery and poverty, and my conscience wouldn't let me
rest night or day"--(Lally Thompson seemed greatly moved)--"so at
last I made up my mind to be a man, and make--what's the word?"

"Reparation," suggested the joker.

"Yes, so I slaved like a nigger for a year or so, got a few pounds
together and went to find my wife.  I found out that she was living in
a cottage in Burwood, Sydney, and struggling through the winter on
what she'd saved from the money her father left her.

"I got a shave and dressed up quiet and decent.  I was older-looking
and more subdued like, and I'd got pretty grey in those few years that
I'd been making a fool of myself; and, some how, I felt rather glad
about it, because I reckoned she'd notice it first thing--she was
always quick at noticing things--and forgive me all the quicker.
Well, I waylaid the school kids that evening, and found out mine--a
little boy and a girl--and fine youngsters they were.  The girl took
after her mother, and the youngster was the dead spit o' me.  I gave
'em half a crows each and told them to tell their mother that someone
would come when the sun went down."

Bogan Bill nodded approvingly.

"So at sundown I went and knocked at the door.  It opened and there
stood my little wife looking prettier than ever--only careworn."

Long, impressive pause.

"Well, Jack, what did she do?" asked Bogan.

"She didn't do nothing."

"Well, Jack, and what did she say?"

Jack sighed and straightened himself up: "She said--she said--'Well,
so you've come back.'"

"Painful silence.

"Well, Jack, and what did you say?"

"I said yes."

"Well, and so you had!" said Tom Moonlight.

"It wasn't that, Tom," said Jack sadly and wearily--"_It was the
way she said it_!"

Lally Thompson rubbed his eyes: "And what did you do, Jack?" he
asked gently.

"I stayed for a year, and then I deserted her again--but meant it
that time."

"Ah, well!  It's time to turn in."




ANOTHER OF MITCHELL'S PLANS FOR THE FUTURE


"I'll get down among the cockies along the Lachlan, or some of these
rivers," said Mitchell, throwing down his swag beneath a big tree.
"A man stands a better show down there.  It's a mistake to come out
back.  I knocked around a good deal down there among the farms.  Could
always get plenty of tucker, and a job if I wanted it.  One cocky I
worked for wanted me to stay with him for good.  Sorry I didn't.  I'd
have been better off now.  I was treated more like one of the family,
and there was a couple of good-looking daughters.  One of them was
clean gone on me.  There are some grand girls down that way.  I always
got on well with the girls, because I could play the fiddle and sing a
bit.  They'll be glad to see me when I get back there again, I know.
I'll be all right--no more bother about tucker.  I'll just let things
slide as soon as I spot the house.  I'll bet my boots the kettle will
be boiling, and everything in the house will be on the table before
I'm there twenty minutes.  And the girls will be running to meet the
old cocky when he comes riding home at night, and they'll let down the
sliprails, and ask him to guess 'who's up at our place?'  Yes, I'll
find a job with some old cocky, with a good-looking daughter or two.
I'll get on ploughing if I can; that's the sort of work I like; best
graft about a farm.

"By and by the cocky'll have a few sheep he wants shorn, and one day
he'll say to me, 'Jack, if you hear of a shearer knockin' round let me
know--I've got a few sheep I want shore.'

"'How many have you got?' I'll say.

"'Oh, about fifteen hundred.'

"'And what d'you think of giving?'

"'Well, about twenty-five bob a hundred, but if a shearer sticks out
for thirty, send him up to talk with me.  I want to get 'em shore as
soon as possible.'

"'It's all right,' I'll say, 'you needn't bother; I'll shear your
sheep.'

"'Why,' he'll say, 'can _you_ shear?'

"'Shear?  Of course I can!  I shore before you were born.'  It won't
matter if he's twice as old as me.

"So I'll shear his sheep and make a few pounds, and he'll be glad and
all the more eager to keep me on, so's to always have someone to shear
his sheep.  But by and by I'll get tired of stopping in the one place
and want to be on the move, so I'll tell him I'm going to leave.

"'Why, what do you want to go for?' he'll say, surprised, 'ain't you
satisfied?'

"'Oh, yes, I'm satisfied, but I want a change.'

"'Oh, don't go,' he'll say; 'stop and we'll call it twenty-five bob
a week.'

"But I'll tell him I'm off--wouldn't stay for a hundred when I'd made
up my mind; so, when he sees he can't persuade me he'll get a bit
stiff and say:

"'Well, what about that there girl?  Are you goin' to go away and
leave her like that?'

"'Why, what d'yer mean?' I'll say.  'Leave her like what?'  I won't
pretend to know what he's driving at.

"'Oh!' he'll say, 'you know very well what I mean.  The question is:
_Are you going to marry the girl or not_?'

"I'll see that things are gettin' a little warm and that I'm in a
corner, so I'll say:

"'Why, I never thought about it.  This is pretty sudden and out of
the common, isn't it?  I don't mind marrying the girl if she'll have
me.  Why! I haven't asked her yet!'

"'Well, look here,' he'll say, 'if you agree to marry the girl--and
I'll make you marry her, any road--I'll give you that there farm over
there and a couple of hundred to start on.'

"So, I'll marry her and settle down and be a cocky myself and if you
ever happen to be knocking round there hard up, you needn't go short of
tucker a week or two; but don't come knocking round the house when I'm
not at home."




STEELMAN


Steelman was a hard case.  If you were married, and settled down, and
were so unfortunate as to have known Steelman in other days, he would,
if in your neighbourhood and dead-beat, be sure to look you up.  He
would find you anywhere, no matter what precautions you might take.
If he came to your house, he would stay to tea without invitation, and
if he stayed to tea, he would ask you to "fix up a shake-down on the
floor, old man," and put him up for the night; and, if he stopped all
night, he'd remain--well, until something better turned up.

There was no shaking off Steelman.  He had a way about him which would
often make it appear as if you had invited him to stay, and pressed
him against his roving inclination, and were glad to have him round
for company, while he remained only out of pure goodwill to you.  He
didn't like to offend an old friend by refusing his invitation.

Steelman knew his men.

The married victim generally had neither the courage nor the ability
to turn him out.  He was cheerfully blind and deaf to all hints, and
if the exasperated missus said anything to him straight, he would look
shocked, and reply, as likely as not:

"Why, my good woman, you must be mad!  I'm your husband's guest!"

And if she wouldn't cook for him, he'd cook for himself.  There was no
choking him off.  Few people care to call the police in a case like
this; and besides, as before remarked, Steelman knew his men.  The
only way to escape from him was to move--but then, as likely as not,
he'd help pack up and come along with his portmanteau right on top of
the last load of furniture, and drive you and your wife to the verge
of madness by the calm style in which he proceeded to superintend the
hanging of your pictures.

Once he quartered himself like this on an old schoolmate of his, named
Brown, who had got married and steady and settled down.  Brown tried
all ways to get rid of Steelman, but he couldn't do it.  One day Brown
said to Steelman:


"Look here, Steely, old man, I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid we won't
be able to accommodate you any longer--to make you comfortable, I
mean.  You see, a sister of the missus is coming down on a visit for a
month or two, and we ain't got anywhere to put her, except in your
room.  I wish the missus's relations to blazes!  I didn't marry the
whole blessed family; but it seems I've got to keep them."

Pause--very awkward and painful for poor Brown.  Discouraging silence
from Steelman.  Brown rested his elbows on his knees, and, with a
pathetic and appealing movement of his hand across his forehead, he
continued desperately:

"I'm very sorry, you see, old man--you know I'd like you to stay--I
want you to stay....It isn't my fault--it's the missus's doings.  I've
done my best with her, but I can't help it.  I've been more like a
master in my own house--more comfortable--and I've been better treated
since I've had you to back me up....I'll feel mighty lonely, anyway,
when ycu're gone....But...  you know...as soon as her sister
goes...you know...."

Here poor Brown broke down--very sorry he had spoken at all; but
Steely came to the rescue with a ray of light.

"What's the matter with the little room at the back?" he asked.

"Oh, we couldn't think of putting you there," said Brown, with a
last effort; "it's not fined up; you wouldn't be comfortable, and,
besides, it's damp, and you'd catch your death of cold.  It was never
meant for anything but a wash-house.  I'm sorry I didn't get another
room built on to the house."

"Bosh!" interrupted Steelman, cheerfully.  "Catch a cold!  Here
I've been knocking about the country for the last five years--sleeping
out in all weathers--and do you think a little damp is going to hurt
me?  Pooh!  What do you take me for?  Don't you bother your head about
it any more, old man; I'll fix up the lumber-room for myself, all
right; and all you've got to do is to let me know when the
sister-in-law business is coming on, and I'll shift out of my room in
time for the missus to get it ready for her.  Here, have you got a bob
on you?  I'll go out and get some beer.  A drop'll do you good."

"Well, if you can make yourself comfortable, I'll be only too glad
for you to stay," said Brown, wearily.

"You'd better invite some woman you know to come on a visit, and pass
her off as your sister," said Brown to his wife, while Steelman was
gone for the beer.  "I've made a mess of it."

Mrs Brown said, "I knew you would."

Steelman knew his men.

But at last Brown reckoned that he could stand it no longer.  The
thought of it made him so wild that he couldn't work.  He took a day
off to get thoroughly worked up in, came home that night full to the
chin of indignation and Dunedin beer, and tried to kick Steelman out.
And Steelman gave him a hiding.

Next morning Steelman was sitting beside Brown's bed with a saucer of
vinegar, some brown paper, a raw beef-steak, and a bottle of soda.

"Well, what have you got to say for yourself now, Brown?" he said,
sternly.  "Ain't you jolly well ashamed of yourself to come home in
the beastly state you did last night, and insult a guest in your
house, to say nothing of an old friend--and perhaps the best friend
you ever had, if you only knew it?  Anybody else would have given you
in charge and got you three months for the assault.  You ought to have
some consideration for your wife and children, and your own
character--even if you haven't any for your old mate's feelings.
Here, drink this, and let me fix you up a bit; the missus has got the
breakfast waiting."



DRIFTED BACK



The
stranger walked into the corner grocery with the air of one who had
come back after many years to see someone who would be glad to see
him.  He shed his swag and stood it by the wall with great
deliberation; then he rested his elbow on the counter, stroked his
beard, and grinned quizzically at the shopman, who smiled back
presently in a puzzled way.

"Good afternoon," said the grocer.

"Good afternoon."

Pause.

"Nice day," said the grocer.

Pause.

"Anything I can do for you?"

"Yes; tell the old man there's a chap wants to speak to him for a
minute."

"Old man?  What old man?"

"Hake, of course--old Ben Hake!  Ain't he in?"

The grocer smiled.

"Hake ain't here now.  I'm here."

"How's that?"

"Why, he sold out to me ten years ago."

"Well, I suppose I'll find him somewhere about town?"

"I don't think you will.  He left Australia when he sold out.
He's--he's dead now."

"Dead! Old Ben Hake?"

"Yes.  You knew him, then?"

The stranger seemed to have lost a great deal of his assurance.  He
turned his side to the counter, hooked his elbow on it, and gazed out
through the door along Sunset Track.

"You can give me half a pound of nailrod," he said, in a quiet
tone--"I s'pose young Hake is in town?"

"No; the whole family went away.  I think there's one of the sons in
business in Sydney now."

"I s'pose the M'Lachlans are here yet?"

"No; they are not.  The old people died about five years ago; the
sons are in Queensland, I think; and both the girls are married and in
Sydney."

"Ah, well!...I see you've got the railway here now."

"Oh, yes!  Six years."

"Times is changed a lot."

"They are."

"I s'pose--I s'pose you can tell me where I'll find old Jimmy
Nowlett?"

"Jimmy Nowlett?  Jimmy Nowlett?  I never heard of the name.  What was
he?"

"Oh, he was a bullock-driver.  Used to carry from the mountains
before the railway was made."

"Before my time, perhaps.  There's no one of that name round here
now."

"Ah, well!...I don't suppose you knew the Duggans?"

"Yes, I did.  The old man's dead, too, and the family's gone
away--Lord knows where.  They weren't much loss, to all accounts.  The
sons got into trouble, I b'lieve--went to the bad.  They had a bad
name here."

"Did they?  Well, they had good hearts--at least, old Malachi Duggan
 and the eldest son had....You can give me a couple of pounds of
 sugar."

"Right.  I suppose it's a long time since you were here last?"

"Fifteen years."

"Indeed!"

"Yes.  I don't s'pose I remind you of anyone you know around here?"

"N--no!" said the grocer with a smile.  'I can't say you do."

"Ah, well!  I s'pose I'll find the Wilds still living in the same
place?"

"The Wilds?  Well, no.  The old man is dead, too, and--"

"And--and where's Jim?  He ain't dead?"

"No; he's married and settled down in Sydney."

Long pause.

"Can you--" said the stranger, hesitatingly; "did you--I suppose
you knew Mary--Mary Wild?"

"Mary?" said the grocer, smilingly.  "That was my wife's maiden
name.  Would you like to see her?"

"No, no!  She mightn't remember me!"

He reached hastily for his swag, and shouldered it.

"Well, I must be gettin' on."

"I s'pose you'll camp here over Christmas?"

"No; there's nothing to stop here for--I'll push on.  I did intend to
have a Christmas here--in fact, I came a long way out of my road
a-purpose....I meant to have just one more Christmas with old Ben Hake
an' the rest of the boys--but I didn't know as they'd moved on so far
west.  The old bush school is dyin' out."

There was a smile in his eyes, but his bearded lips twitched a little.

"Things is changed.  The old houses is pretty much the same, an' the
old signs want touchin' up and paintin' jest as had as ever; an'
there's that old palin' fence that me an' Ben Hake an' Jimmy Nowlett
put up twenty year ago.  I've tramped and travelled long ways since
then.  But things is changed--at least, people is....Well, I must be
goin'.  There's nothing to keep me here.  I'll push on and get into my
track again.  It's cooler travellin' in the night."

"Yes, it's been pretty hot to-day."

"Yes, it has.  Well, s'long."

"Good day.  Merry Christmas!"

"Eh?  What?  Oh, yes!  Same to you! S'long!"

"Good day!" He drifted out and away along Sunset Track.




REMAILED



There is an old custom prevalent in Australasia--and other parts, too,
perhaps, for that matter--which, we think, deserves to be written up.
It might not be an "honoured" custom from a newspaper manager's or
proprietor's point of view, or from the point of view (if any)
occupied by the shareholders on the subject; but, nevertheless, it is
a time-honoured and a good old custom.  Perhaps, for several reasons,
it was more prevalent among diggers than with the comparatively
settled bushmen of to-day--the poor, hopeless, wandering swaggy
doesn't count in the matter, for he has neither the wherewithal nor
the opportunity to honour the old custom; also his movements are too
sadly uncertain to permit of his being honoured by it.  We refer to
the remailing of newspapers and journals from one mate to another.

Bill gets his paper and reads it through conscientiously from
beginning to end by candle or slush-lamp as he lies on his back in the
hut or tent with his pipe in his mouth; or, better still, on a Sunday
afternoon as he reclines on the grass in the shade, in all the glory
and comfort of a clean pair of moleskins and socks and a clean shirt.
And when he has finished reading the paper--if it is not immediately
bespoke--he turns it right side out, folds it, and puts it away where
he'll know where to find it.  The paper is generally bespoke in the
following manner:

"Let's have a look at that paper after you, Bill, when yer done with
it," says Jack.

And Bill says:

"I just promised it to Bob.  You can get it after him."

And, when it is finally lent, Bill says:

"Don't forget to give that paper back to me when yer done with it.
Don't let any of those other blanks get holt of it, or the chances are
I won't set eyes on it again."

But the other blanks get it in their turn after being referred to
Bill.  "You must ask Bill," says Jack to the next blank, "I got it
from him."  And when Bill gets his paper back finally--which is often
only after much bush grumbling, accusation, recrimination, and
denial--he severely and carefully re-arranges theme pages, folds the
paper, and sticks it away up over a rafter, or behind a post or
batten, or under his pillow where it will safe.  He wants that paper
to send to Jim.

Bill is but an indifferent hand at folding, and knows
little or nothing about wrappers.  He folds and re-folds the paper
several times and in various ways, but the first result is often the
best, and is finally adopted.  The parcel looks more ugly than neat;
but Bill puts a weight upon it so that it won't fly open, and looks
round for a piece of string to tie it with.  Sometimes he ties it firmly
round the middle, sometimes at both ends; at other times he runs the
string down inside the folds and ties it that way, or both ways, or
all the ways, so as to be sure it won't come undone--which it doesn't
as a rule.  If he can't find a piece of string long enough, he ties
two bits together, and submits the result to a rather severe test;
and if the string is too thin, or he has to use thread, he doubles it.
Then he worries round to find out who has got the ink, or whether
anyone has seen anything of the pen; and when he gets them, he writes
the address with painful exactitude on the margin of the paper,
sometimes in two or three places.  He has to think a moment before he
writes; and perhaps he'll scratch the back of his head afterwards
with an inky finger, and regard the address with a sort of mild,
passive surprise.  His old mate Jim was always plain Jim to him, and
nothing else; but, in order to reach Jim, this paper has to be
addressed to--

    MR JAMES MITCHELL,
    c/o J.  W.  Dowell, Esq.,
    Munnigrub Station--

and so on.  "Mitchell" seems strange--Bill couldn't think of it for
the moment--and so does "James."

And, a week or so later, over on Coolgardie, or away up in northern
Queensland, or bush-felling down in Maoriland, Jim takes a stroll up
to the post office after tea on mail night.  He doesn't expect any
letters, but there might be a paper from Bill.  Bill generally sends
him a newspaper.  They seldom write to each other, these old mates.

There were points, of course, upon which Bill and Jim couldn't
agree--subjects upon which they argued long and loud and often in the
old days; and it sometimes happens that Bill across an article or a
paragraph which agrees with and, so to speak, barracks for a pet
theory of his as against one held by Jim; and Bill marks it with a
chuckle and four crosses at the corners--and an extra one at each side
perhaps--and sends it on to Jim; he reckons it'll rather corner old
Jim.  The crosses are not over ornamental nor artistic, but very
distinct; Jim sees them from the reverse side of the sheet first,
maybe, and turns it over with interest to see what it is.  He grins a
good-humoured grin as he reads--poor old Bill is just as thick-headed
and obstinate as ever--just as far gone on his old fad.  It's rather
rough on Jim, because he's too far off to argue; but, if he's very
earnest on the subject, he'll sit down and write, using all his old
arguments to prove that the man who wrote that rot was a fool.  This
is one of the few things that will make them write to each other.  Or
else Jim will wait till he comes across a paragraph in another paper
which barracks for his side of the argument, and, in his opinion;
rather knocks the stuffing out of Bill's man; then he marks it with
more and bigger crosses and a grin, and sends it along to Bill.  They
are both democrats--these old mates generally are--and at times one
comes across a stirring article or poem, and marks it with approval
and sends it along.  Or it may be a good joke, or the notice of the
death of an old mate.  What a wave of feeling and memories a little
par can take through the land!

Jim is a sinner and a scoffer, and Bill is an earnest, thorough,
respectable old freethinker, and consequently they often get a _War
Cry_ or a tract sent inside their exchanges--somebody puts it in
for a joke.

Long years ago--long years ago Bill and Jim were sweet on a rose of
the bush--or a lily of the goldfields--call her Lily King.  Both
courted her at the same time, and quarrelled over her--fought over
her, perhaps--and were parted by her for years.  But that's all
bygones.  Perhaps she loved Bill, perhaps she loved Jim--perhaps both;
or, maybe, she wasn't sure which.  Perhaps she loved neither, and was
only stringing them on.  Anyway, she didn't marry either the one or
the other.  She married another man--call him Jim Smith.  And so, in
after years, Bill comes across a paragraph in a local paper, something
like the following:

    On July 10th, at her residence, Eureka Cottage, Ballarat-street,
    Tally Town, the wife of James Smith of twins (boy and girl);
    all three doing well.

And Bill marks it with a loud chuckle and big crosses, and sends it
along to Jim.  Then Bill sits and thinks and smokes, and thinks till
the fire goes out, and quite forgets all about putting that necessary
patch on his pants.

And away down on Auckland gum-fields, perhaps, Jim reads the par with
a grin; then grows serious, and sits and scrapes his gum by the
flickering firelight in a mechanical manner, and--thinks.  His
thoughts are far away in the back years--faint and far, far and faint.
For the old, lingering, banished pain returns and hurts a man's heart
like the false wife who comes back again, falls on her knees before
him, and holds up her trembling arms and pleads with swimming,
upturned eyes, which are eloquent with the love she felt too late.

It is supposed to
be something to have your work published in an English magazine, to
have it published in book form, to be flattered by critics and
reprinted throughout the country press, or even to be cut up well and
severely.  But, after all, now we come to think of it, we would almost
as soon see a piece of ours marked with big inky crosses in the
soiled and crumpled rag that Bill or Jim gets sent him by an old mate
of his--the paper that goes thousands of miles scrawled all over with
smudgy addresses and tied with a piece of string.




MITCHELL DOESN'T BELIEVE IN THE SACK



"If ever I do get a job again," said Mitchell, "I'll stick to it
while there's a hand's turn of work to do, and put a few pounds
together.  I won't be the fool I always was.  If I'd had sense a
couple of years ago, I wouldn't be tramping through this damned sand
and mulga now.  I'll get a job on a station, or at some toff's house,
knocking about the stables and garden, and I'll make up my mind to
settle down to graft for four or five years."

"But supposing you git the sack?" said his mate.

"I won't take it.  Only for taking the sack I wouldn't be hard up
to-day.  The boss might come round and say:

'I won't want you after this week, Mitchell.  I haven't got any more
work for you to do.  Come up and see me at the office presently.'

"So I'll go up and get my money; but I'll be pottering round as usual
on Monday, and come up to the kitchen for my breakfast.  Some time in
the day the boss'll be knocking round and see me.

"'Why, Mitchell,' he'll say, 'I thought you was gone.'

"'I didn't say I was going,' I'll say.  'Who told you that--or what
made you think so?'

"'I thought I told you on Saturday that I wouldn't want you any
more,' he'll say, a bit short.  'I haven't got enough work to keep a
man going; I told you that; I thought you understood.  _Didn't I give
you the sack on Saturday_?'

"'It's no use;' I'll say, 'that sort of thing's played out.  I've
been had too often that way; I've been sacked once too often.  Taking
the sack's been the cause of all my trouble; I don't believe in it.
If I'd never taken the sack I'd have been a rich man to-day; it might
be all very well for horses, but it doesn't suit me; it doesn't hurt
you, but it hurts me.  I made up my mind that when I got a place to
suit me, I'd stick in it.  I'm comfortable here and satisfied, and
you've had no cause to find fault with me.  It's no use you trying to
sack me, because I won't take it.  I've been there before, and you
might as well try to catch an old bird with chaff.'

"'Well, I won't pay you, and you'd better be off,' he'll say, trying
not to grin.

"'Never mind the money,' I'll say, 'the bit of tucker won't cost you
anything, and I'll find something to do round the house till you have
some more work.  I won't ask you for anything, and, surely to God I'll
find enough to do to pay for my grub!'

"So I'll potter round and take things easy and call up at the kitchen
as usual at meal times, and by and by the boss'll think to himself:
'Well, if I've got to feed this chap I might as well get some work out
of him.'

"So he'll find me, something regular to do--a bit of fencing, or
carpentering, or painting, or something, and then I'll begin to call up
for my stuff again, as usual."




 SHOOTING THE MOON



We lay in camp in the fringe of the mulga, and watched the big, red,
smoky, rising moon out on the edge of the misty plain, and smoked and
thought together sociably.  Our nose-bags were nice and heavy, and we
still had about a pound of nail-rod between us.

The moon reminded my mate, Jack Mitchell, of something--anything
reminded him of something, in fact.

"Did you ever notice," said Jack, in a lazy tone, just as if he
didn't want to tell a yarn--"Did you ever notice that people always
shoot the moon when there's no moon?  Have you got the matches?"

He lit up; he was always lighting up when he was reminded of
something.

"This reminds me--Have you got the knife?  My pipe's stuffed up."

He dug it out, loaded afresh, and lit up again.

"I remember once, at a pub I was staying at, I had to leave without
saying good-bye to the landlord.  I didn't know him very well at that
time.

"My room was upstairs at the back, with the window opening on to the
backyard.  I always carried a bit of clothes-line in my swag or
portmanteau those times.  I travelled along with a portmanteau those
times.  I carried the rope in case of accident, or in case of fire, to
lower my things out of the window--or hang myself, maybe, if things
got too bad.  No, now I come to think of it, I carried a revolver for
that, and it was the only thing I never pawned."

"To hang yourself with?" asked the mate.

"Yes--you're very smart," snapped Mitchell; "never mind---.  This
reminds me that I got a chap at a pub to pawn my last suit, while I
stopped inside and waited for an old mate to send me a pound; but I
kept the shooter, and if he hadn't sent it I'd have been the late John
Mitchell long ago."

"And sometimes you lower'd out when there wasn't a fire."

"Yes, that will pass; you're improving in the funny business.  But
about the yarn.  There was two beds in my room at the pub, where I had
to go away without shouting for the boss, and, as it happened, there
was a strange chap sleeping in the other bed that night, and, just as
I raised the window and was going to lower my bag out, he woke up.

"'Now, look here,' I said, shaking my fist at him, like that, 'if you
say a word, I'll stoush yer!'

"'Well,' he said, 'well, you needn't be in such a sweat to jump down
a man's throat.  I've got my swag under the bed, and I was just going
to ask you for the loan of the rope when you're done with it.'

"Well, we chummed.  His name was Tom--Tom--something, I forget the
other name, but it doesn't matter.  Have you got the matches?"

He wasted three matches, and continued--

"There was a lot of old galvanized iron lying about under the window,
and I was frightened the swag would make a noise; anyway, I'd have to
drop the rope, and that was sure to make a noise.  So we agreed for
one of us to go down and land the swag.  If we were seen going down
without the swags it didn't matter, for we could say we wanted to go
out in the yard for something."

"If you had the swag you might pretend you were walking in your
sleep," I suggested, for the want of something funnier to say.

"Bosh," said Jack, "and get woke up with a black eye.  Bushies
don't generally carry their swags out of pubs in their sleep, or walk
neither; it's only city swells who do that.  Where's the blessed
matches?

"Well, Tom agreed to go, and presently I saw a shadow under the
window, and lowered away.

"'All right?' I asked in a whisper.

"'All right!" whispered the shadow.

"I lowered the other swag.

"'All right?'

"'All right!' said the shadow, and just then the moon came out.

"'All right!' says the shadow.

"But it wasn't all right.  It was the landlord himself!

"It seems he got up and went out to the back in the night, and just
happened to be coming in when my mate Tom was sneaking out of the back
door.  He saw Tom, and Tom saw him, and smoked through a hole in the
palings into the scrub.  The boss looked up at the window, and dropped
to it.  I went down, funky enough, I can tell you, and faced him.  He
said:

"'Look here, mate, why didn't you come straight to me, and tell me
how you was fixed, instead of sneaking round the trouble in that
fashion?  There's no occasion for it.'

"I felt mean at once, but I said: 'Well, you see, we didn't know you,
boss.'

"'So it seems.  Well, I didn't think of that.  Anyway, call up your
mate and come and have a drink; we'll talk over it afterwards.' So I
called Tom.  'Come on,' I shouted.  'It's all right.'

"And the boss kept us a couple of days, and then gave us
as much tucker as we could carry, and a drop of stuff and a few bob to
go on the track again with."

"Well, he was white, any road."

"Yes.  I knew him well after that, and only heard one man say a word
against him."

"And did you stoush him?"

"No; I was going to, but Tom wouldn't let me.  He said he was
frightened I might make a mess of it, and he did it himself."

"Did what?  Make a mess of it?"

"He made a mess of the other man that slandered that publican.  I'd
be funny if I was you.  Where's the matches?"

"And could Tom fight?"

"Yes.  Tom could fight."

"Did you travel long with him after that?"

"Ten years."

"And where is he now?"

"Dead--Give us the matches."




HIS FATHER'S MATE



It was Golden Gully still, but golden in name only, unless indeed the
yellow mullock heaps or the bloom of the wattle-trees on the hillside
gave it a claim to the title.  But the gold was gone from the gully,
and the diggers were gone, too, after the manner of Timon's friends
when his wealth deserted him.  Golden Gully was a dreary place, dreary
even for an abandoned goldfield.  The poor, tortured earth, with its
wounds all bare, seemed to make a mute appeal to the surrounding bush
to come up and hide it, and, as if in answer to its appeal, the shrub
and saplings were beginning to close in from the foot of the range.
The wilderness was reclaiming its own again.

The two dark, sullen hills that stood on each side were clothed from
tip to hollow with dark scrub and scraggy box-trees; but above the
highest row of shafts on one side ran a line of wattle-trees in full
bloom.

The top of the western hill was shaped somewhat like a saddle, and
standing high above the eucalypti on the point corresponding with the
pommel were three tall pines.  These lonely trees, seen for many miles
around, had caught the yellow rays of many a setting sun long before
the white man wandered over the ranges.

The predominant note of the scene was a painful sense of listening,
that never seemed to lose its tension--a listening as though for the
sounds of digger life, sounds that had gone and left a void that was
accentuated by the signs of a former presence.  The main army of
diggers had long ago vanished to new rushes, leaving only its
stragglers and deserters behind.  These were men who were too poor to
drag families about, men who were old and feeble, and men who had lost
their faith in fortune.  They had dropped unnoticed out of the ranks;
and remained to scratch out a living among the abandoned claims.

Golden Gully had its little community of fossickers who lived in a
clearing called Spencer's Flat on one side and Pounding Flat on the
other, but they lent no life to the scene; they only haunted it.  A
stranger might have thought the field entirely deserted until he came
on a coat and a billy at the foot of saplings amongst the holes, and
heard, in the shallow ground underneath, the thud of a pick, which
told of some fossicker below rooting out what little wash remained.

One afternoon towards Christmas, a windlass was erected over an old
shaft of considerable depth at the foot of the gully.  A greenhide
bucket attached to a rope on the windlass was lying next morning near
the mouth of the shaft, and beside it, on a clear-swept patch, was a
little mound of cool wet wash-dirt.

A clump of saplings near at hand threw a shade over part of the
mullock heap, and in this shade, seated on an old coat, was a small
boy of eleven or twelve years, writing on a slate.

He had fair hair, blue eyes, and a thin old-fashioned face--a face
that would scarcely alter as he grew to manhood.  His costume
consisted of a pair of moleskin trousers, a cotton shirt, and one
suspender.  He held the slate rigidly with a corner of its frame
pressed close against his ribs, whilst his head hung to one side, so
close to the slate that his straggling hair almost touched it.  He was
regarding his work fixedly out of the corners of his eyes, whilst he
painfully copied down the head line, spelling it in a different way
each time.  In this laborious task he appeared to be greatly assisted
by a tongue that lolled out of the corner of his mouth and made an
occasional revolution round it, leaving a circle of temporarily clean
face.  His small clay-covered toes also entered into the spirit of the
thing, and helped him not a little by their energetic wriggling.  He
paused occasionally to draw the back of his small brown arm across his
mouth.

Little Isley Mason, or, as he was called, "His Father's Mate," had
always been a favourite with the diggers and fossickers from the days
when he used to slip out first thing in the morning and take a run
across the frosty flat in his shirt.  Long Bob Sawkins would often
tell how Isley came home one morning from his run in the long, wet
grass as naked as he was born, with the information that he had lost
his shirt.

Later on, when most of the diggers had gone, and Isley's mother was
dead, he was to be seen about the place with bare, sunbrowned arms and
legs, a pick and shovel, and a gold dish about two-thirds of his
height in diameter, with which he used to go "a-speckin'" and
"fossickin'" amongst the old mullock heaps.  Long Bob was Isley's
special crony, and he would often go out of his way to lay the boy
outer bits o' wash and likely spots, lamely excusing his long yarns
with the child by the explanation that it was "amusin' to draw Isley
out."

Isley had been sitting writing for some time when a deep voice called
out from below:

"Isley!"

"Yes, father."

"Send down the bucket."

"Right."

Isley put down his slate, and going to the shaft dropped the bucket
down as far as the slack rope reached; then, placing one hand on the
bole of the windlass and holding the other against it underneath, he
let it slip round between his palms until the bucket reached bottom.
A sound of shovelling was heard for a few moments, and presently the
voice cried, "Wind away, sonny."

"Thet ain't half enough," said the boy, peering down.  "Don't be
frightened to pile it in, father.  I kin wind up a lot more'n thet."

A little more scraping, and the boy braced his feet well upon the
little mound of clay which he had raised under the handle of the
windlass to make up for his deficiency in stature.

"Now then, Isley!"

Isley wound slowly but sturdily, and soon the bucket of "wash"
appeared above the surface; then he took it in short lifts and
deposited it with the rest of the wash-dirt.

"Isley!" called his father again.

"Yes, father."

"Have you done that writing lesson yet?"

"Very near."

"Then send down the slate next time for some sums."

"All right."

The boy resumed his seat, fixed the corner of the slate well into his
ribs, humped his back, and commenced another wavering line.

Tom Mason was known on the place as a silent, hard worker.  He was a
man of about sixty, tall, and dark bearded.  There was nothing
uncommon about his face, except, perhaps, that it hardened, as the
face of a man might harden who had suffered a long succession of
griefs and disappointments.  He lived in little hut under a peppermint
tree at the far edge of Pounding Flat.  His wife had died there about
six years before, and new rushes broke out and he was well able to go,
he never left Golden Gully.

Mason was kneeling in front of the "face" digging away by the light
of a tallow candle stuck in the side.  The floor of the drive was very
wet, and his trousers were heavy and cold with clay and water; but the
old digger was used to this sort of thing.  His pick was not bringing
out much to-day, however, for he seemed abstracted and would
occasionally pause in his work, while his thoughts wandered far away
from the narrow streak of wash-dirt in the "face."

He was digging out pictures from a past life.  They were not pleasant
ones, for his face was stony and white in the dim glow of the candle.

Thud, thud, thud--the blows became slower and more irregular as the
fossicker's mind wandered off into the past.  The sides of the drive
seemed to vanish slowly away, and the "face" retreated far out
beyond a horizon that was hazy in the glow of the southern ocean.  He
was standing on the deck of a ship and by his side stood a brother.
They were sailing southward to the Land of Promise that was shining
there in all its golden glory!  The sails pressed forward in the
bracing wind, and the clipper ship raced along with its burden of the
wildest dreamers ever borne in a vessel's hull!  Up over long blue
ocean ridges, down into long blue ocean gullies; on to lands so new,
and yet so old, where above the sunny glow of the southern skies
blazed the shining names of Ballarat! and Bendigo!  The deck seemed to
lurch, and the fossicker fell forward against the face of the drive.
The shock recalled him, and he lifted his pick once more.

But the blows slacken again as another vision rises before him.  It is
Ballarat now.  He is working in a shallow claim at Eureka, his brother
by his side.  The brother looks pale and ill, for he has been up all
night dancing and drinking.  Out behind them is the line of blue
hills; in front is the famous Bakery Hill, and down to the left Golden
Point.  Two mounted troopers are riding up over Specimen Hill.  What
do they want?

They take the brother away, handcuffed.  Manslaughter last night.
Cause--drink and jealousy.

The vision is gone again.  Thud, thud, goes the pick; it counts the
years that follow--one, two, three, four, up to twenty, and then it
stops for the next scene--a selection on the banks of a bright river
in New South Wales.  The little homestead is surrounded by vines and
fruit-trees.  Many swarms of bees work under the shade of the trees,
and a crop of wheat is nearly ripe on the hillside.

A man and a boy are engaged in clearing a paddock just below the
homestead.  They are father and son; the son, a boy of about
seventeen, is the image of his father.

Horses' feet again!  Here comes Nemesis in mounted troopers' uniform.

The mail was stuck up last night about five miles away, and a
refractory passenger shot.  The son had been out 'possum shooting' all
night with some friends.

The troopers take the son away handcuffed: "Robbery under arms."

The father was taking out a stump when the troopers came.  His foot is
still resting on the spade, which is half driven home.  He watches the
troopers take the boy up to the house, and then, driving the spade to
its full depth, he turns up another sod.  The troopers reach the door
of the homestead; but still he digs steadily, and does not seem to
hear his wife's cry of despair.  The troopers search the boy's room
and bring out some clothing in two bundles; but still the father digs.
They have saddled up one of the farm horses and made the boy mount.
The father digs.  They ride off along the ridge with the boy between
them.  The father never lifts his eyes; the hole widens round the
stump; he digs away till the brave little wife comes and takes him
gently by the arm.  He half rouses himself and follows her to the
house like an obedient dog.

Trial and disgrace follow, and then other misfortunes, pleuro among
the cattle, drought, and poverty.

Thud, thud, thud again!  But it is not the sound of the fossicker's
pick--it is the fall of sods on his wife's coffin.

It is a little bush cemetery, and he stands stonily watching them fill
up her grave.  She died of a broken heart and shame.  "I can't bear
disgrace!  I can't bear disgrace!" she had moaned all these six weary
years--for the poor are often proud.

But he lives on, for it takes a lot to break a man's heart.  He holds
up his head and toils on for the sake of a child that is left, and
that child is--Isley.

And now the fossicker seems to see a vision of the future.  He seems
to be standing somewhere, an old, old man, with a younger one at his
side; the younger one has Isley's face.  Horses' feet again!  Ah, God!
Nemesis once more in troopers' uniform!

The fossicker falls on his knees in the mud and clay at the bottom of
the drive, and prays Heaven to take his last child ere Nemesis comes
for him.


Long Bob Sawkins had been known on the diggings as "Bob the Devil."
His profile at least from one side, certainly did recall that of the
sarcastic Mephistopheles; but the other side, like his true character,
was by no means a devil's.  His physiognomy had been much damaged, and
one eye removed by the premature explosion of a blast in some old
Ballarat mine.  The blind eye was covered with a green patch, which
gave a sardonic appearance to the remaining features.

He was a stupid, heavy, good-natured Englishman.  He stuttered a
little, and had a peculiar habit of wedging the monosyllable "why"
into his conversation at times when it served no other purpose than to
fill up the pauses caused by his stuttering; but this by no means
assisted him in his speech, for he often stuttered over the "why"
itself.

The sun was getting low down, and its yellow rays reached far up among
the saplings of Golden Gully when Bob appeared coming down by the path
that ran under the western hill.  He was dressed in the usual
costume-cotton shirt, moleskin trousers, faded hat and waistcoat, and
blucher boots.  He carried a pick over his shoulder, the handle of
which was run through the heft of a short shovel that hung down
behind, and he had a big dish under his arm.  He paused opposite the
shaft with the windlass, and hailed the boy in his usual form of
salutation.

"Look, see here Isley!"

"What is it, Bob?"

"I seed a young--why--magpie up in the scrub, and yer oughter be able
to catch it."

"Can't leave the shaft; father's b'low."

"How did yer father know there was any--why--wash in the old shaft?"

"Seed old Corney in town Saturday, 'n he said thur was enough to make
it worth while bailin' out.  Bin bailin' all the mornin'."

Bob came over, and letting his tools down with a clatter he hitched up
the knees of his moleskins and sat down on one heel.

"What are yer--why--doin' on the slate, Isley?" said he, taking out
an old clay pipe and lighting it.

"Sums," said Isley.

Bob puffed away at his pipe a moment.

"'Tain't no use!" he said, sitting down on the clay and drawing his
knees up.  "Edication's a failyer."

"Listen at 'im!" exclaimed the boy.  "D'yer mean ter say it ain't
no use learnin' readin' and writin' and sums?"

"Isley!"

"Right, father."

The boy went to the windlass and let the bucket down.  Bob offered to
help him wind up, but Isley, proud of showing his strength to his
friend, insisted on winding by himself.

"You'll be--why--a strong man some day, Isley," said Bob, landing
the bucket.

"Oh, I could wind up a lot more'n father puts in.  Look how I greased
the handles!  It works like butter now," and the boy sent the handles
spinning round with a jerk to illustrate his meaning.

"Why did they call yer Isley for?" queried Bob, as they resumed
their seats.  "It ain't yer real name, is it?"

"No, my name's Harry.  A digger useter say I was a isle in the ocean
to father 'n mother, 'n then I was nicknamed Isle, 'n then Isley."

"You hed a--why--brother once, didn't yer?"

"Yes, but thet was afore I was borned.  He died, at least mother used
ter say she didn't know if he was dead; but father says he's dead as
fur's he's concerned."

"And your father hed a brother, too.  Did yer ever--why--hear of
him?"

"Yes, I heard father talkin' about it wonst to mother.  I think
father's brother got into some row in a bar where a man was killed."

"And was yer--why--father--why--fond of him?"

"I heard father say that he was wonst, but thet was all past."

Bob smoked in silence for a while, and seemed to look at some dark
clouds that were drifting along like a funeral out in the west.
Presently he said half aloud something that sounded like "All,
all--why--past."

"Eh?" said Isley.

"Oh, it's--why, why--nothin'," answered Bob, rousing himself.
"Is that a paper in yer father's coat-pocket, Isley?"

"Yes," said the boy, taking it out.

Bob took the paper and stared hard at it for a moment or so.

"There's something about the new goldfields there," said Bob,
putting his finger on a tailor's advertisement.  "I wish
you'd--why--read it to me, Isley; I can't see the small print they
uses nowadays."

"No, thet's not it," said the boy, taking the paper, "it's
something about--"

"Isley!"

"'Old on, Bob, father wants me."

The boy ran to the shaft, rested his hands and forehead against the
bole of the windlass, and leant over to hear what his father was
saying.

Without a moment's warning the treacherous bole slipped round; a small
body bounded a couple of times against the sides of the shaft and fell
at Mason's feet, where it lay motionless!


"Mason!"

"Ay?"

"Put him in the bucket and lash him to the rope with your belt!"

A few moments, and--

"Now, Bob!"

Bob's trembling hands would scarcely grasp the handle, but he managed
to wind somehow.

Presently the form of the child appeared, motionless and covered with
clay and water.  Mason was climbing up by the steps in the side of the
shaft.

Bob tenderly unlashed the boy and laid him under the saplings on the
grass; then he wiped some of the clay and blood away from the child's
forehead, and dashed over him some muddy water.

Presently Isley gave a gasp and opened his eyes.

"Are yer--why--hurt much, Isley?" asked Bob.

"Ba-back's bruk, Bob!"

"Not so bad as that, old man."

"Where's father?"

"Coming up."

Silence awhile, and then--

"Father! father! be quick, father!"

Mason reached the surface and came and knelt by the other side of the
boy.

"I'll, I'll--why--run fur some brandy," said Bob.

"No use, Bob," said Isley.  "I'm all bruk up."

"Don't yer feel better, sonny?"

"No--I'm--goin' to--die, Bob."

"Don't say it, Isley," groaned Bob.

A short silence, and then the boy's body suddenly twisted with pain.
But it was soon over.  He lay still awhile, and then said quietly:

"Good-bye, Bob!"

Bob made a vain attempt to speak.  "Isley!" he said,"---"

The child turned and stretched out his hands to the silent,
stony-faced man on the other side.

"Father--father, I'm goin'!"

A shuddering groan broke from Mason's lips, and then all was quiet.

Bob had taken off his hat to wipe his, forehead, and his face, in
spite of its disfigurement, was strangely like the face of the
stone-like man opposite.

For a moment they looked at one another across the body of the child,
and then Bob said quietly:

"He never knowed."

"What does it matter?" said Mason gruffly; and, taking up the dead
child, he walked towards the hut.

It was a very sad little group that gathered outside Mason's but next
morning.  Martin's wife had been there all the morning cleaning up and
doing what she could.  One of the women had torn up her husband's only
white shirt for a shroud, and they had made the little body look clean
and even beautiful in the wretched little hut.

One after another the fossickers took off their hats and entered,
stooping through the low door.  Mason sat silently at the foot of the
bunk with his head supported by his hand, and watched the men with a
strange, abstracted air.

Bob had ransacked the camp in search of some boards for a coffin.

"It will be the last I'll be able to--why--do for him," he said.

At last he came to Mrs Martin in despair.  That lady took him into the
dining-room, and pointed to a large pine table, of which she was very
proud.

"Knock that table to pieces," she said.

Taking off the few things that were lying on it, Bob turned it over
and began to knock the top off.

When he had finished the coffin one of the fossicker's wives said it
looked too bare, and she ripped up her black riding-skirt, and made
Bob tack the cloth over the coffin.

There was only one vehicle available in the place, and that was
Martin's old dray; so about two o'clock Pat Martin attached his old
horse Dublin to the shafts with sundry bits of harness and plenty of
old rope, and dragged Dublin, dray and all, across to Mason's hut.

The little coffin was carried out, and two gin-cases were placed by
its side in the dray to serve as seats for Mrs Martin and Mrs
Grimshaw, who mounted in tearful silence.

Pat Martin felt for his pipe, but remembered himself and mounted on
the shaft.  Mason fastened up the door of the hut with a padlock.  A
couple of blows on one of his sharp points roused Dublin from his
reverie.  With a lurch to the right and another to the left he
started, and presently the little funeral disappeared down the road
that led to the "town" and its cemetery.


About six months afterwards Bob Sawkins went on a short journey, and
returned with a tall, bearded young man.  He and Bob arrived after dark,
and went straight to Mason's hut.  There was a light inside, but when
Bob knocked there was no answer.

"Go in; don't be afraid,'" he said to his companion.

The stranger pushed open the creaking door, and stood bareheaded just
inside the doorway.

A billy was boiling unheeded on the fire.  Mason sat at the table with
his face buried in his arms.

"Father!"

There was no answer, but the flickering of the firelight made the
stranger think he could detect an impatient shrug in Mason's shoulders.

For a moment the stranger paused irresolute, and then stepping up to
the table he laid his hand on Mason's arm, and said gently:

"Father! Do you want another mate?"

But the sleeper did not--at least, not in this world.




AN ECHO FROM THE OLD BARK SCHOOL



It was the first Monday after the holidays.  The children had taken
their seats in the Old Bark School, and the master called out the roll
as usual:

"Arvie Aspinall."..."'Es, sir."

"David Cooper."..."Yes, sir."

"John Heegard."..."Yezzer."

"Joseph Swallow."..."Yesser."

"James Bullock."..."Present."

"Frederick Swallow."..."Y'sir."

"James Nowlett."....(Chorus of "Absent.")

"William Atkins."...(Chorus of "Absent.")

"Daniel Lyons."..."Perresent, sor-r-r."

Dan was a young immigrant, just out from the sod, and rolled his
"r's" like a cock-dove.  His brogue was rich enough to make an
Irishman laugh.

Bill was "wagging it."  His own especial chum was of the opinion
that Bill was sick.  The master's opinion did not coincide, so he
penned a note to William's parents, to be delivered by the model boy
of the school.

"Bertha Lambert."..."Yes, 'air."

"May Carey."..."Pesin', sair."

"Rose Cooper."..."Yes, sir."

"Janet Wild."..."Y-y-yes, s-sir."

"Mary Wild."...

A solemn hush fell upon the school, and presently Janet Wild threw her
arms out on the desk before her, let her face fall on them, and sobbed
heart-brokenly.  The master saw his mistake too late; he gave his head
a little half-affirmative, half-negative movement, in that pathetic
old way of his; rested his head on one hand, gazed sadly at the name,
and sighed.

But the galoot of the school spoilt the pathos of it all, for, during
the awed silence which followed the calling of the girl's name, he
suddenly brightened up--the first time he was ever observed to do so
during school hours--and said, briskly and cheerfully "Dead--sir!"

He hadn't been able to answer a question correctly for several days.

"Children," said the master gravely and sadly, "children, this is
the first time I ever had to put 'D' to the name of one of my
scholars.  Poor Mary! she was one of my first pupils--came the first
morning the school was opened.  Children, I want you to be a little
quieter to-day during play-hour, out of respect for the name of your
dead schoolmate whom it has pleased the Almighty to take in her
youth."

"Please, sir," asked the galoot, evidently encouraged by his fancied
success, "please, sir, what does 'D' stand for?"

"Damn you for a hass!" snarled Jim Bullock between his teeth, giving
the galoot a vicious dig in the side with his elbow.




THE SHEARING OF THE COOK'S DOG



The dog was a little conservative mongrel poodle, with long dirty
white hair all over him--longest and most over his eyes, which
glistened through it like black beads.  Also he seemed to have a bad
liver.  He always looked as if he was suffering from a sense of
injury, past or to come.  It did come.  He used to follow the shearers
up to the shed after breakfast every morning, but he couldn't have
done this for love--there was none lost between him and the men.  He
wasn't an affectionate dog; it wasn't his style.  He would sit close
against the shed for an hour or two, and hump himself, and sulk, and
look sick, and snarl whenever the "Sheep-Ho" dog passed, or a man
took notice of him.  Then he'd go home.  What he wanted at the shed at
all was only known to himself; no one asked him to come.  Perhaps he
came to collect evidence against us.  The cook called him "my darg,"
and the men called the cook "Curry and Rice," with "old" before it
mostly.

Curry-and-Rice was a little, dumpy, fat man, with a round, smooth,
good-humoured face, a bald head, feet wide apart, and a big blue cotton
apron.  He had been a ship's cook.  He didn't look so much out of place
in the hut as the hut did round him.  To a man with a vivid imagination,
if he regarded the cook dreamily for a while, the floor might seem to
roll gently like the deck of a ship, and mast, rigging, and cuddy rise
mistily in the background.  Curry might have dreamed of the cook's
galley at times, but he never mentioned it.  He ought to have been at
sea, or comfortably dead and stowed away under ground, instead of
cooking for a mob of unredeemed rouseabouts in an uncivilized shed in
the scrub, six hundred miles from the ocean.

They chyacked the cook occasionally, and grumbled--or pretended to
grumble--about their tucker, and then he'd make a roughly pathetic
speech, with many references to his age, and the hardness of his work,
and the smallness of his wages, and the inconsiderateness of the men.
Then the joker of the shed would sympathize with the cook with his
tongue and one side of his face--and joke with the other.


One day in the shed, during smoke-ho the devil whispered to a shearer
named Geordie that it would be a lark to shear the cook's dog--the
Evil One having previously arranged that the dog should be there,
sitting close to Geordie's pen, and that the shearer should have a
fine lamb comb on his machine.  The idea was communicated through
Geordie to his mates, and met with entire and general approval; and
for five or ten minutes the air was kept alive by shouting and
laughter of the men, and the protestations of the dog.  When the
shearer touched skin, he yelled "Tar!" and when he finished he
shouted "Wool away!" at the top of his voice, and his mates echoed
him with a will.  A picker-up gathered the fleece with a great show of
labour and care, and tabled it, to the well-ventilated disgust of old
Scotty, the wool-roller.  When they let the dog go he struck for
home--a clean-shaven poodle, except for a ferocious moustache and a
tuft at the end of his tail.

The cook's assistant said that he'd have given a five-pound note for a
portrait of Curry-and-Rice when that poodle came back from the shed.
The cook was naturally very indignant; he was surprised at first--then
he got mad.  He had the whole afternoon to get worked up in, and at
tea-time he went for the men properly.

"Wotter yer growlin' about?" asked one.  "Wot's the matter with
yer, anyway?"

"I don't know nothing about yer dog!" protested a rouseabout;
"wotyer gettin' on to me for?"

"Wotter they bin doin' to the cook now?"  inquired a ring leader
innocently, as he sprawled into his place at the table.  "Can't yer
let Curry alone?  Wot d'yer want to be chyackin' him for?  Give it a
rest."

"Well, look here, chaps," observed Geordie, in a determined tone,
"I call it a shame, that's what I call it.  Why couldn't you leave an
old man's dog alone?  It was a mean, dirty trick to do, and I suppose
you thought it funny.  You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, the
whole lot of you, for a drafted mob of crawlers.  If I'd been there it
wouldn't have been done; and I wouldn't blame Curry if he was to
poison the whole convicted push."

General lowering of faces and pulling of hats down over eyes, and
great working of knives and forks; also sounds like men trying not to
laugh.

"Why couldn't you play a trick on another man's darg?"  said Curry.
"It's no use tellin' me.  I can see it all as plain as if I was on
the board--all of you runnin' an' shoutin' an' cheerin' an' laughin',
and all over shearin' and ill-usin' a poor little darg!  Why couldn't
you play a trick on another man's darg?...  It doesn't matter
much--I'm nearly done cookie' here now.... Only that I've got a family
to think of I wouldn't 'a' stayed so long.  I've got to be up at five
every mornin', an' don't get to bed till ten at night, cookin' an'
bakin' an' cleanin' for you an' waitin' on you.  First one lot in from
the wool-wash, an' then one lot in from the shed, an' another lot in,
an' at all hours an' times, an' all wantin' their meals kept hot, an'
then they ain't satisfied.  And now you must go an' play a dirty trick
on my darg!  Why couldn't you have a lark with some other man's
darg!"

Geordie bowed his head and ate as though he had a cud, like a cow, and
could chew at leisure.  He seemed ashamed, as indeed we all
were--secretly.  Poor old Curry's oft-repeated appeal, "Why couldn't
you play a trick with another man's dog?" seemed to have something
pathetic about it.  The men didn't notice that it lacked philanthropy
and logic, and probably the cook didn't notice it either, else he
wouldn't have harped on it.  Geordie lowered his face, and just then,
as luck or the devil would have it, he caught sight of the dog.  Then
he exploded.

The cook usually forgot all about it in an hour, and then, if you
asked him what the chaps had been doing, he'd say, "Oh, nothing!
nothing!  Only their larks!"  But this time he didn't; he was narked
for three days, and the chaps marvelled much and were sorry, and
treated him with great respect and consideration.  They hadn't thought
he'd take it so hard--the dog shearing business--else they wouldn't
have done it.  They were a little puzzled too, and getting a trifle
angry, and would shortly be prepared to take the place of the injured
party, and make things unpleasant for the cook.  However, he
brightened up towards the end of the week, and then it all came out.

"I wouldn't 'a' minded so much," he said, standing by the table with
a dipper in one hand, a bucket in the other, and a smile on his face.
"I wouldn't 'a' minded so much only they'll think me a flash man in
Bourke with that theer darg trimmed up like that!"




"DOSSING OUT" AND "CAMPING"



At least two hundred poor beggars were counted sleeping out on the
pavements of the main streets of Sydney the other night--grotesque
bundles of rags lying under the verandas of the old Fruit Markets and
York Street shops, with their heads to the wall and their feet to the
gutter.  It was raining and cold that night, and the unemployed had
been driven in from Hyde Park and the bleak Domain--from dripping
trees, damp seats, and drenched grass--from the rain, and cold, and
the wind.  Some had sheets of old newspapers to cover them-and some
hadn't.  Two were mates, and they divided a _Herald_ between
them.  One had a sheet of brown paper, and another (lucky man!) had a
bag--the only bag there.  They all shrank as far into their rags as
possible--and tried to sleep.  The rats seemed to take them for
rubbish, too, and only scampered away when one of the outcasts moved
uneasily, or coughed, or groaned--or when a policeman came along.

One or two rose occasionally and rooted in the dust-boxes on the
pavement outside the shops--but they didn't seem to get anything.
They were feeling "peckish," no doubt, and wanted to see if they
could get something to eat before the corporation carts came along.
So did the rats.

Some men can't sleep very well on an empty stomach--at least, not at
first; but it mostly comes with practice.  They often sleep for ever
in London.  Not in Sydney as yet--so we say.

Now and then one of our outcasts would stretch his cramped limbs to
ease them--but the cold soon made him huddle again.  The pavement must
have been hard on the men's "points," too; they couldn't dig holes
nor make soft places for their hips, as you can in camp out back.  And
then, again, the stones had nasty edges and awkward slopes, for the
pavements were very uneven.

The Law came along now and then, and had a careless glance at the
unemployed in bed.  They didn't look like sleeping beauties.  The Law
appeared to regard them as so much rubbish that ought not to have been
placed there, and for the presence of which somebody ought to be
prosecuted by the Inspector of Nuisances.  At least, that was the
expression the policeman had on his face.

And so Australian workmen lay at two o'clock in the morning in the
streets of Sydney, and tried to get a little sleep before the traffic
came along and took their bed.

The idea of sleeping out might be nothing to bushmen--not even an
idea; but "dossing out" in the city and "camping" in the bush are
two very different things.  In the bush you can light a fire, boil
your billy, and make some tea--if you have any; also fry a chop (there
are no sheep running round in the city).  You can have a clean meal,
take off your shirt and wash it, and wash yourself--if there's water
enough--and feel fresh and clean.  You can whistle and sing by the
camp-fire, and make poetry, and breathe fresh air, and watch the
everlasting stars that keep the mateless traveller from going mad as
he lies in his lonely camp on the plains.  Your privacy is even more
perfect than if you had a suite of rooms at the Australia; you are at
the mercy of no policeman; there's no one to watch you but God--and He
won't move you on.  God watches the "dossers-out," too, in the city,
but He doesn't keep them from being moved on or run in.

With the city unemployed the case is entirely different.  The city
outcast cannot light a fire and boil a billy--even if he has one--he'd
be run in at once for attempting to commit arson, or create a riot, or
on suspicion of being a person of unsound mind.  If he took off his
shirt to wash it, or went in for a swim, he'd be had up for indecently
exposing his bones--and perhaps he'd get flogged.  He cannot whistle
or sing on his pavement bed at night, for, if he did, he'd be
violently arrested by two great policemen for riotous conduct.  He
doesn't see many stars, and he's generally too hungry to make poetry.
He only sleeps on the pavement on sufferance, and when the policeman
finds the small hours hang heavily on him, he can root up the
unemployed with his big foot and move him on--or arrest him for being
around with the intention to commit a felony; and, when the wretched
"dosser" rises in the morning, he cannot shoulder his swag and take
the track--he must cadge a breakfast at some back gate or restaurant,
and then sit in the park or walk round and round, the same old
hopeless round, all day.  There's no prison like the city for a poor
man.

Nearly every man the traveller meets in the bush is about as dirty and
ragged as himself, and just about as hard up; but in the city nearly
every man the poor unemployed meets is a dude, or at least, well
dressed, and the unemployed _feels_ dirty and mean and degraded
by the contrast--and despised.

And he can't help feeling like a criminal.  It may be imagination, but
every policeman seems to regard him with suspicion, and this is
terrible to a sensitive man.

We once had the key of the street for a night.  We don't know how much
tobacco we smoked, how many seats we sat on, or how many miles we
walked before morning.  But we do know that we felt like a felon, and
that every policeman seemed to regard us with a suspicious eye; and at
last we began to squint furtively at every trap we met, which,
perhaps, made him more suspicious, till finally we felt bad enough to
be run in and to get six months' hard.

Three winters ago a man, whose name doesn't matter, had a small office
near Elizabeth Street, Sydney.  He was an hotel broker, debt
collector, commission agent, canvasser, and so on, in a small way--a
very small way--but his heart was big.  He had a partner.  They
batched in the office, and did their cooking over a gas lamp.  Now,
every day the man-whose-name-doesn't-matter would carefully collect
the scraps of food, add a slice or two of bread and butter, wrap it
all up in a piece of newspaper, and, after dark, step out and leave
the parcel on a ledge of the stonework outside the building in the
street.  Every morning it would be gone.  A shadow came along in the
night and took it.  This went on for many months, till at last one
night the man-whose-name-doesn't-matter forgot to put the parcel out,
and didn't think of it till he was in bed.  It worried him, so that at
last he had to get up and put the scraps outside.  It was midnight.
He felt curious to see the shadow, so he waited until it came along.
It wasn't his long-lost brother, but it was an old mate of his.

Let us finish with a sketch:

The scene was Circular Quay, outside the Messageries sheds.  The usual
number of bundles of misery--covered more or less with dirty sheets of
newspaper--lay along the wall under the ghastly glare of the electric
light.  Time--shortly after midnight.  From among the bundles an old
man sat up.  He cautiously drew off his pants, and then stood close to
the wall, in his shirt, tenderly examining the seat of the trousers.
Presently he shook them out, folded them with great care, wrapped them
in a scrap of newspaper, and laid them down where his head was to be.
He had thin, hairy legs and a long grey beard.  From a bundle of rags
he extracted another pair of pants, which were all patches and
tatters, and into which he engineered his way with great caution.
Then he sat down, arranged the paper over his knees, laid his old
ragged grey head back on his precious Sunday-go-meetings-and slept.




ACROSS THE STRAITS



We crossed Cook's Straits from Wellington in one of those rusty little
iron tanks that go up and down and across there for twenty or thirty
years and never get wrecked--for no other reason, apparently, than
that they have every possible excuse to go ashore or go down on those
stormy coasts.  The age, construction, or condition of these boats,
and the south-easters, and the construction of the coastline, are all
decidedly in favour of their going down; the fares are high and the
accommodation is small and dirty.  It is always the same where there
is no competition.

A year or two ago, when a company was running boats between Australia
and New Zealand without competition, the steerage fare was three pound
direct single, and two pound ten shillings between Auckland and
Wellington.  The potatoes were black and green and soggy, the beef
like bits scraped off the inside of a hide which had lain out for a
day or so, the cabbage was cabbage leaves, the tea muddy.  The whole
business took away our appetite regularly three times a day, and there
wasn't enough to go round, even if it had been good--enough tucker, we
mean; there was enough appetite to go round three or four times, but
it was driven away by disgust until after meals.  If we had not, under
cover of darkness, broached a deck cargo of oranges, lemons, and
pineapples, and thereby run the risk of being run in on arrival, there
would have been starvation, disease, and death on that boat before the
end--perhaps mutiny.

You can go across now for one pound, and get something to eat on the
road; but the travelling public will go on patronizing the latest
reducer of fares until the poorer company gets starved out and fares
go up again--then the travelling public will have to pay three or four
times as much as they do now, and go hungry on the voyage; all of
which ought to go to prove that the travelling public is as big a fool
as the general public.

We can't help thinking that the captains and crews of our primitive
little coastal steamers take the chances so often that they in time
get used to it, and, being used to it, have no longer any misgivings
or anxiety in rough weather concerning a watery grave, but feel as
perfectly safe as if they were in church with their wives or
sisters--only more comfortable--and go on feeling so until the
worn-out machinery breaks down and lets the old tub run ashore, or
knocks a hole in her side, or the side itself rusts through at last
and lets the water in, or the last straw in the shape of an extra ton
of brine tumbles on board, and the _John Smith (Newcastle)_, goes
down with a swoosh before the cook has time to leave off peeling his
potatoes and take to prayer.

These cheerful--and, maybe, unjust--reflections are perhaps in
consequence of our having lost half a sovereign to start with.  We
arrived at the booking-office with two minutes to spare, two sticks of
Juno tobacco, a spare wooden pipe--in case we lost the other--a letter
to a friend's friend down south, a pound note (Bank of New Zealand),
and two half-crowns, with which to try our fortunes in the South
Island.  We also had a few things in a portmanteau and two blankets in
a three-bushel bag, but they didn't amount to much.  The clerk put
down the ticket with the half-sovereign on top of it, and we wrapped
the latter in the former and ran for the wharf.  On the way we
snatched the ticket out to see the name of the boat we were going by,
in order to find it, and it was then, we suppose, that the semi-quid
got lost.

Did you ever lose a sovereign or a half-sovereign under similar
circumstances?  You think of it casually and feel for it carelessly at
first, to be sure that it's there all right; then, after going through
your pockets three or four times with rapidly growing uneasiness, you
lose your head a little and dredge for that coin hurriedly and with
painful anxiety.  Then you force yourself to be calm, and proceed to
search yourself systematically, in a methodical manner.  At this
stage, if you have time, it's a good plan to sit down and think out
when and where you last had that half-sovereign, and where you have
been since, and which way you came from there, and what you took out
of your pocket, and where, and whether you might have given it in
mistake for sixpence at that pub where you rushed in to have a
beer--and then you calculate the chances against getting it back
again.  The last of these reflections is apt to be painful, and the
painfulness is complicated and increased when there happen to have
been several pubs and a like number of hurried farewell beers in the
recent past.

And for months after that you cannot get rid of the idea that that
half-sov. might be about your clothes somewhere.  It haunts you.  You
turn your pockets out, and feel the lining of your coat and vest inch
by inch, and examine your letter papers--everything you happen to have
had in your pocket that day--over and over again, and by and by you
peer in envelopes and unfold papers that you didn't have in your
pocket at all, but might have had.  And when the novelty of the first
search has worn off, and the fit takes you, you make another search.
Even after many months have passed away, some day--or night--when you
are hard up for tobacco and a drink, you suddenly think of that late
lamented half-sov., and are moved by adverse circumstances to look
through your old clothes in a sort of forlorn hope, or to give good
luck a sort of chance to surprise you--the only chance that you can
give it.

By the way, seven-and-six of that half-quid should have gone to the
landlord of the hotel where we stayed last, and somehow, in spite of
this enlightened age, the loss of it seemed a judgment; and seeing
that the boat was old and primitive, and there was every sign of a
three days' sou'-easter, we sincerely hoped that judgment was
complete--that supreme wrath had been appeased by the fine of ten bob
without adding any Jonah business to it.

This reminds us that we once found a lost half-sovereign in the bowl
of a spare pipe six months after it was lost.  We wish it had stayed
there and turned up to-night.  But, although when you are in great
danger--say, adrift in an open boat--tales of providential escapes and
rescues may interest and comfort you, you can't get any comfort out of
anecdotes concerning the turning up of lost quids when you have just
lost one yourself.  All you want is to find it.

It bothers you even not to be able to account for a bob.  You always
like to know that you have had something for your money, if only a
long beer.  You would sooner know that you fooled your money away on a
spree, and made yourself sick than lost it out of an extra hole in
your pocket, and kept well.

We left Wellington with a feeling of pained regret, a fellow-wanderer
by our side telling us how he had once lost "fi-pun-note"--and about
two-thirds of the city unemployed on the wharf looking for that
half-sovereign.  Well, we hope that some poor devil found it;
although, to tell the truth, we would then have by far preferred to
have found it ourselves.

A sailor said that the _Moa_ was a good sea-boat, and, although
she was small and old, _he_ was never afraid of her.  He'd sooner
travel in her than in some of those big cheap ocean liners with more
sand in them than iron or steel--You, know the rest.  Further on, in a
conversation concerning the age of these coasters, he said that they'd
last fully thirty years if well painted and looked after.  He said
that this one was seldom painted, and never painted properly; and
then, seemingly in direct contradiction to his previously expressed
confidence in the safety and seaworthiness of the _Moa_, he said
that he could poke a stick through her anywhere.  We asked him not to
do it.

It came on to splash, and we went below to reflect, and search once
more for that half-sovereign.  The cabin was small and close, and
dimly lighted, and evil smelling, and shaped like the butt end of a
coffin.  It might not have smelt so bad if we hadn't lost that
half-sovereign.  There was a party of those gipsy-like Assyrians--two
families apparently--the women and children lying very sick about the
lower bunks; and a big, good-humoured-looking young Maori propped
between the end of the table and the wall, playing a concertina.  The
sick people were too sick, and the concertina seemed too much in
sympathy with them, and the lost half-quid haunted us more than ever
down there; so we started to climb out.

The first thing that struck us was the jagged top edge of that iron
hood-like arrangement over the gangway.  The top half only of the
scuttle was open.  There was nothing to be seen except a fog of spray
and a Newfoundland dog sea-sick under the lee of something.  The next
thing that struck us was a tub of salt water, which came like a cannon
ball and broke against the hood affair, and spattered on deck like a
crockery shop.  We climbed down again backwards, and sat on the floor
with emphasis, in consequence of stepping down a last step that wasn't
there, and cracked the back of our heads against the edge of the
table.  The Maori helped us up, and we had a drink with him at the
expense of one of the half-casers mentioned in the beginning of this
sketch.  Then the Maori shouted, then we, then the Maori again, then
we again; and then we thought, "Dash it, what's a half-sovereign?
We'll fall on our feet all right."

We went up Queen Charlotte's Sound, a long crooked arm of the sea
between big, rugged, black-looking hills.  There was a sort of
lighthouse down near the entrance, and they said an old Maori woman
kept it.  There were some whitish things on the sides of the hills,
which we at first took for cattle, and then for goats.  They were
sheep.  Someone said that that country was only fit to carry sheep.
It must have been bad, then, judging from some of the country in
Australia which is only fit to carry sheep.  Country that wouldn't
carry goats would carry sheep, we think.  Sheep are about the hardiest
animals on the face of this planet--barring crocodiles.

You may rip a sheep open whilst watching for the boss's boots or
yarning to a pen-mate, and then when you have stuffed the works back
into the animal, and put a stitch in the slit, and poked it somewhere
with a tar-stick (it doesn't matter much where) the jumbuck will be
all right and just as lively as ever, and turn up next shearing
without the ghost of a scratch on its skin.

We reached Picton, a small collection of twinkling lights in a dark
pocket, apparently at the top of a sound.  We climbed up on to the
wharf, got through between two railway trucks, and asked a policeman
where we were, and where the telegraph office was.  There were several
pretty girls in the office, laughing and chyacking the counter clerks,
which jarred upon the feelings of this poor orphan wanderer in strange
lands.  We gloomily took a telegram form, and wired to a friend in
North Island, using the following words: "Wire quid; stumped."

Then we crossed the street to a pub and asked for a roof and they told
us to go up to No. 8.  We went up, struck a match, lit the candle, put
our bag in a corner, cleared the looking-glass off the toilet table,
got some paper and a pencil out of our portmanteau, and sat down and
wrote this sketch.

The candle is going out.




"SOME DAY"



The two travellers had yarned late in their camp, and the moon was
getting low down through the mulga.  Mitchell's mate had just finished
a rather racy yarn, but it seemed to fall flat on Mitchell--he was in
a sentimental mood.  He smoked a while, and thought, and then said:

"Ah! there was one little girl that I was properly struck on.  She
came to our place on a visit to my sister.  I think she was the best
little girl that ever lived, and about the prettiest.  She was just
eighteen, and didn't come up to my shoulder; the biggest blue eyes you
ever saw, and she had hair that reached down to her knees, and so
thick you couldn't span it with your two hands--brown and glossy--and
her skin with like lilies and roses.  Of course, I never thought she'd
look at a rough, ugly, ignorant brute like me, and I used to keep out
of her way and act a little stiff towards her; I didn't want the
others to think I was gone on her, because I knew they'd laugh at me,
and maybe she'd laugh at me more than all.  She would come and talk to
me, and sit near me at table; but I thought that that was on account
of her good nature, and she pitied me because I was such a rough,
awkward chap.  I was gone on that girl, and no joking; and I felt
quite proud to think she was a countrywoman of mine.  But I wouldn't
let her know that, for I felt sure she'd only laugh.

"Well, things went on till I got the offer of two or three years'
work on a station up near the border, and I had to go, for I was hard
up; besides, I wanted to get away.  Stopping round where she was only
made me miserable.

"The night I left they were all down at the station to see me
off--including the girl I was gone on.  When the train was ready to
start she was standing away by herself on the dark end of the
platform, and my sister kept nudging me and winking, and fooling
about, but I didn't know what she was driving at.  At last she said:

"'Go and speak to her, you noodle; go and say good-bye to Edie.'

"So I went up to where she was, and, when the others turned their
backs--

"'Well, good-bye, Miss Brown,' I said, holding out my hand; 'I don't
suppose I'll ever see you again, for Lord knows when I'll be back.
Thank you for coming to see me off.'

"Just then she turned her face to the light, and I saw she was
crying.  She was trembling all over.  Suddenly she said, 'Jack! Jack!'
just like that, and held up her arms like this."

Mitchell was speaking in a tone of voice that didn't belong to him,
and his mate looked up.  Mitchell's face was solemn, and his eyes were
fixed on the fire.

"I suppose you gave her a good hug then, and a kiss?" asked the
mate.

"I s'pose so," snapped Mitchell.  "There is some things a man
doesn't want to joke about.... Well, I think we'll shove on one of the
billies, and have a drink of tea before we turn in."

"I suppose," said Mitchell's mate, as they drank their tea, "I
suppose you'll go back and marry her some day?"

"Some day!  That's it; it looks like it, doesn't it?  We all say,
'Some day.'  I used to say it ten years ago, and look at me now.  I've
been knocking round for five years, and the last two years constant on
the track, and no show of getting off it unless I go for good, and
what have I got for it?  I look like going home and getting married,
without a penny in my pocket or a rag to my back scarcely, and no show
of getting them.  I swore I'd never go back home without a cheque,
and, what's more, I never will; but the cheque days are past.  Look at
that boot!  If we were down among the settled districts we'd be called
tramps and beggars; and what's the difference?  I've been a fool, I
know, but I've paid for it; and now there's nothing for it but to
tramp, tramp, tramp for your tucker, and keep tramping till you get
old and careless and dirty, and older, and more careless and dirtier,
and you get used to the dust and sand, and heat, and flies, and
mosquitoes, just as a bullock does, and lose ambition and hope, and
get contented with this animal life, like a dog, and till your swag
seems part of yourself, and you'd be lost and uneasy and
light-shouldered without it, and you don't care a damn if you'll ever
get work again, or live like a Christian; and you go on like this till
the spirit of a bullock takes the place of the heart of a man.  Who
cares?  If we hadn't found the track yesterday we might have lain and
rotted in that lignum, and no one been any the wiser--or sorrier--who
knows?  Somebody might have found us in the end, but it mightn't have
been worth his while to go out of his way and report us.  Damn the
world, say I!"

He smoked for a while in savage silence; then he knocked the ashes out
of his pipe, felt for his tobacco with a sigh, and said:

"Well, I am a bit out of sorts to-night.  I've been thinking....I
think we'd best turn in, old man; we've got a long, dry stretch before
us to-morrow."

They rolled out their swags on the sand, lay down, and wrapped
themselves in their blankets.  Mitchell covered his face with a piece
of calico, because the moonlight and wind kept him awake.




"BRUMMY USEN"



We caught up with an old swagman crossing the plain, and tramped along
with him till we came to good shade to have a smoke in.  We had got
yarning about men getting lost in the bush or going away and being
reported dead.

"Yes," said the old 'whaler', as he dropped his swag in the shade,
sat down on it, and felt for his smoking tackle, "there's scarcely an
old bushman alive--or dead, for the matter of that--who hasn't been
dead a few times in his life--or reported dead, which amounts to the
same thing for a while.  In my time there was as many live men in the
bush who was supposed to be dead as there was dead men who was
supposed to be alive--though it's the other way about now--what with
so many jackaroos tramping about out back and getting lost in the dry
country that they don't know anything about, and dying within a few
yards of water sometimes.  But even now, whenever I hear that an old
bush mate of mine is dead, I don't fret about it or put a black band
round my hat, because I know he'll be pretty sure to turn up
sometimes, pretty bad with the booze, and want to borrow half a crown.

"I've been dead a few times myself, and found out afterwards that my
friends was so sorry about it, and that I was such a good sort of a
chap after all, when I was dead that--that I was sorry I didn't stop
dead.  You see, I was one of them chaps that's better treated by their
friends and better thought of when--when they're dead.

"Ah, well!  Never mind....Talking of killing bushmen before their
time reminds me of some cases I knew.  They mostly happened among the
western spurs of the ranges.  There was a bullock-driver named Billy
Nowlett.  He had a small selection, where he kept his family, and used
to carry from the railway terminus to the stations up-country.  One
time he went up with a load and was not heard of for such a long time
that his missus got mighty uneasy; and then she got a letter from a
publican up Coonamble way to say that Billy was dead.  Someone wrote,
for the widow, to ask about the wagon and the bullocks, but the
shanty-keeper wrote that Billy had drunk them before he died, and that
he'd also to say that he'd drunk the money he got for the carrying;
and the publican enclosed a five-pound note for the widow--which was
considered very kind of him.

"Well, the widow struggled along and managed without her husband just
the same as she had always struggled along and managed with him--a
little better, perhaps.  An old digger used to drop in of evenings and
sit by the widow's fire, and yarn, and sympathize, and smoke, and
think; and just as he began to yarn a lot less, and smoke and think a
lot more, Billy Nowlett himself turned up with a load of rations for a
sheep station.  He'd been down by the other road, and the letter he'd
wrote to his missus had gone astray.  Billy wasn't surprised to hear
that he was dead--he'd been killed before--but he was surprised about
the five quid.

"You see, it must have been another bullock-driver that died.  There
was an old shanty-keeper up Coonamble way, so Billy said, that used to
always mistake him for another bullocky and mistake the other bullocky
for him--couldn't tell the one from the other no way--and he used to
have bills against Billy that the other bullock-driver'd run up, and
bills against the other that Billy'd run up, and generally got things
mixed up in various ways, till Billy wished that one of 'em was dead.
And the funniest part of the business was that Billy wasn't no more
like the other man than chalk is like cheese.  You'll often drop
across some colour-blind old codger that can't tell the difference
between two people that ain't got a bit of likeness between 'em.

"Then there was young Joe Swallow.  He was found dead under a
burned-down tree in Dead Man's Gully--'dead past all recognition,'
they said--and he was buried there, and by and by his ghost began to
haunt the gully: at least, all the schoolkids seen it, and there was
scarcely a grown-up person who didn't know another person who'd seen
the ghost--and the other person was always a sober chap that wouldn't
bother about telling a lie.  But just as the ghost was beginning to
settle down to work in the gully, Joe himself turned up, and then the
folks began to reckon that it was another man was killed there, and
that the ghost belonged to the other man; and some of them began to
recollect that they'd thought all along that the ghost wasn't Joe's
ghost--even when they thought that it was really Joe that was killed
there.

"Then, again, there was the case of Brummy Usen--Hughison I think
they spelled it--the bushranger; he was shot by old Mr S---, of E---,
while trying to stick the old gentleman up.  There's something about
it in a book called 'Robbery Under Arms', though the names is all
altered--and some other time I'll tell you all about the digging of
the body up for the inquest and burying it again.  This Brummy used to
work for a publican in a sawmill that the publican had; and this
publican and his daughter identified the body by a woman holding up a
branch tattooed on the right arm.  I'll tell you all about that
another time.  This girl remembered how she used to watch this
tattooed woman going up and down on Brummy's arm when he was working
in the saw-pit--going up and down and up and down, like this, while
Brummy was working his end of the saw.  So the bushranger was
inquested and justifiable-homicided as Brummy Usen, and buried again
in his dust and blood stains and monkey-jacket.

"All the same it wasn't him; for the real Brummy turned up later on;
but he couldn't make the people believe he wasn't dead.  They was
mostly English country people from Kent and Yorkshire and those
places; and the most self-opinionated and obstinate people that ever
lived when they got a thing into their heads; and they got it into
their heads that Brummy Usen was shot while trying to bail up old Mr
S--- and was dead and buried.

"But the wife of the publican that had the saw-pit knew him; he went
to her, and she recognized him at once; she'd got it into her head
from the first that it wasn't Brummy that was shot, and she stuck to
it--she was just as self-opinionated as the neighbours, and many a
barney she had with them about it.  She would argue about it till the
day she died, and then she said with her dying breath: 'It wasn't
Brummy Usen.'  No more it was--he was a different kind of man; he
hadn't spunk enough to be a bushranger, and it was a better man that
was buried for him; it was a different kind of woman, holding up a
different kind of branch, that was tattooed on Brummy's arm.  But, you
see, Brummy'd always kept himself pretty much to himself, and no one
knew him very well; and, besides, most of them were pretty drunk at
the inquest--except the girl, and she was too scared to know what she
was saying--they had to be so because the corpse was in such a bad
state.

"Well, Brummy hung around for a time, and tried to prove that he
wasn't an impostor, but no one wouldn't believe him.  He wanted to get
some wages that was owing to him.

"He tried the police, but they were just as obstinate as the rest;
and, beside, they had their dignity to hold up.  'If I ain't Brummy,'
he'd say, 'who are I?'  But they answered that he knew best.  So he
did.

"At last he said that it didn't matter much, any road; and so he went
away--Lord knows where--to begin life again, I s'pose."

The traveller smoked awhile reflectively; then he quietly rolled up
his right sleeve and scratched his arm.

And on that arm we saw the tattooed figure of a woman, holding up a
branch.

We tramped on by his side again towards the station-thinking very hard
and not feeling very comfortable.

 He must have been an awful old liar, now we come to think of it.





Second Series




THE DROVER'S WIFE




The two-roomed house is built of round timber, slabs, and
stringy-bark, and floored with split slabs.  A big bark kitchen
standing at one end is larger than the house itself, veranda included.

Bush all round--bush with no horizon, for the country is flat.  No
ranges in the distance.  The bush consists of stunted, rotten native
apple-trees.  No undergrowth.  Nothing to relieve the eye save the
darker green of a few she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow,
almost waterless creek.  Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of
civilization--a shanty on the main road.

The drover, an ex-squatter, is away with sheep.  His wife and children
are left here alone.

Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house.
Suddenly one of them yells: "Snake! Mother, here's a snake!"

The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her
baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a
stick.

"Where is it?"

"Here! gone into the wood-heap!" yells the eldest boy--a sharp-faced
urchin of eleven.  "Stop there, mother!  I'll have him.  Stand back!
I'll have the beggar!"

"Tommy, come here, or you'll be bit.  Come here at once when I tell
you, you little wretch!"

The youngster comes reluctantly, carrying a stick bigger than himself.
Then he yells, triumphantly:

"There it goes--under the house!" and darts away with club uplifted.
At the same time the big, black, yellow-eyed dog-of-all-breeds, who
has shown the wildest interest in the proceedings, breaks his chain
and rushes after that snake.  He is a moment late, however, and his
nose reaches the crack in the slabs just as the end of its tail
disappears.  Almost at the same moment the boy's club comes down and
skins the aforesaid nose.  Alligator takes small notice of this, and
proceeds to undermine the building; but he is subdued after a
struggle and chained up.  They cannot afford to lose him.

The drover's wife makes the children stand together near the dog-house
while she watches for the snake.  She gets two small dishes of milk
and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour
goes by and it does not show itself.

It is near sunset, and a thunderstorm is coming.  The children must be
brought inside.  She will not take them into the house, for she knows
the snake is there, and may at any moment come up through a crack in
the rough slab floor; so she carries several armfuls of firewood into
the kitchen, and then takes the children there.  The kitchen has no
floor--or, rather, an earthen one--called a "ground floor" in this part
of the bush.  There is a large, roughly-made table in the centre of
the place.  She brings the children in, and makes them get on this
table.  They are two boys and two girls--mere babies.  She gives them
some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goes into the house,
and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes--expecting to see or lay
her hand on the snake any minute.  She makes a bed on the kitchen
table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.

She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in
readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a
copy of the _Young Ladies' Journal_.  She has brought the dog
into the room.

Tommy turns in, under protest, but says he'll lie awake all night and
smash that blinded snake.

His mother asks him how many times she has told him not to swear.

He has his club with him under the bedclothes, and Jacky protests:

"Mummy!  Tommy's skinnin' me alive wif his club.  Make him take it
out."

Tommy: "Shet up, you little---!  D'yer want to be bit with the snake?"

Jacky shuts up.

"If yer bit," says Tommy, after a pause, "you'll swell up, an' smell,
an' turn red an' green an' blue all over till yer bust.  Won't he,
mother?"

"Now then, don't frighten the child.  Go to sleep," she says.

The two younger children go to sleep, and now and then Jacky
complains of being "skeezed."  More room is made for him.  Presently
Tommy says: "Mother!  listen to them (adjective) little possums.
I'd like to screw their blanky necks."

And Jacky protests drowsily.

"But they don't hurt us, the little blanks!".

Mother: "There, I told you you'd teach Jacky to swear."  But the
remark makes her smile.  Jacky goes to sleep.  Presently Tommy asks:

"Mother!  Do you think they'll ever extricate the (adjective)
kangaroo?"

"Lord!  How am I to know, child?  Go to sleep."

"Will you wake me if the snake comes out?"

"Yes.  Go to sleep."

Near midnight.  The children are all asleep and she sits there still,
sewing and reading by turns.  From time to time she glances round the
floor and wall-plate, and, whenever she hears a noise, she reaches for
the stick.  The thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through
the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle.  She
places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper
to protect it.  At every flash of lightning, the cracks between the
slabs gleam like polished silver.  The thunder rolls, and the rain
comes down in torrents.

Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned
towards the partition.  She knows by this that the snake is there.
There are large cracks in that wall opening under the floor of the
dwelling-house.

She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves.  A
little son of her brother-in-law was lately bitten by a snake, and
died.  Besides, she has not heard from her husband for six months,
and is anxious about him.

He was a drover, and started squatting here when they were married.
The drought of 18-- ruined him.  He had to sacrifice the remnant of
his flock and go droving again.  He intends to move his family into
the nearest town when he comes back, and, in the meantime, his
brother, who keeps a shanty on the main road, comes over about once a
month with provisions.  The wife has still a couple of cows, one
horse, and a few sheep.  The brother-in-law kills one of the latter
occasionally, gives her what she needs of it, and takes the rest in
return for other provisions.  She is used to being left alone.  She
once lived like this for eighteen months.  As a girl she built the
usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes and aspirations
have long been dead.  She finds all the excitement and recreation she
needs in the _Young Ladies' Journal_, and Heaven help her! takes
a pleasure in the fashion-plates.

Her husband is an Australian, and so is she.  He is careless, but a
good enough husband.  If he had the means he would take her to the
city and keep her there like a princess.  They are used to being
apart, or at least she is.  "No use fretting," she says.  He may
forget sometimes that he is married; but if he has a good cheque when
he comes back he will give most of it to her.  When he had money he
took her to the city several times--hired a railway sleeping
compartment, and put up at the best hotels.  He also bought her a
buggy, but they had to sacrifice that along with the rest.

The last two children were born in the bush--one while her husband was
bringing a drunken doctor, by force, to attend to her.  She was alone
on this occasion, and very weak.  She had been ill with a fever.  She
prayed to God to send her assistance.  God sent Black Mary--the
"whitest" gin in all the land.  Or, at least, God sent King Jimmy
first, and he sent Black Mary.  He put his black face round the door
post, took in the situation at a glance, and said cheerfully: "All
right, missus--I bring my old woman, she down alonga creek."

One of the children died while she was here alone.  She rode nineteen
miles for assistance, carrying the dead child.


It must be near one or two o'clock.  The fire is burning low.
Alligator lies with his head resting on his paws, and watches the
wall.  He is not a very beautiful dog, and the light shows numerous
old wounds where the hair will not grow.  He is afraid of nothing on
the face of the earth or under it.  He will tackle a bullock as
readily as he will tackle a flea.  He hates all other dogs--except
kangaroo-dogs--and has a marked dislike to friends or relations of the
family.  They seldom call, however.  He sometimes makes friends with
strangers.  He hates snakes and has killed many, but he will be bitten
some day and die; most snake-dogs end that way.

Now and then the bushwoman lays down her work and watches, and
listens, and thinks.  She thinks of things in her own life, for there
is little else to think about.

The rain will make the grass grow, and this reminds her how she fought
a bush-fire once while her husband was away.  The grass was long, and
very dry, and the fire threatened to burn her out.  She put on an old
pair of her husband's trousers and beat out the flames with a green
bough, till great drops of sooty perspiration stood out on her
forehead and ran in streaks down her blackened arms.  The sight of his
mother in trousers greatly amused Tommy, who worked like a little hero
by her side, but the terrified baby howled lustily for his "mummy."
The fire would have mastered her but for four excited bushmen who
arrived in the nick of time.  It was a mixed-up affair all round; when
she went to take up the baby he screamed and struggled convulsively,
thinking it was a "blackman;" and Alligator, trusting more to the
child's sense than his own instinct, charged furiously, and (being old
and slightly deaf) did not in his excitement at first recognize his
mistress's voice, but continued to hang on to the moleskins until
choked off by Tommy with a saddle-strap.  The dog's sorrow for his
blunder, and his anxiety to let it be known that it was all a mistake,
was as evident as his ragged tail and a twelve-inch grin could make
it.  It was a glorious time for the boys; a day to look back to, and
talk about, and laugh over for many years.

She thinks how she fought a flood during her husband's absence.  She
stood for hours in the drenching downpour, and dug an overflow gutter
to save the dam across the creek.  But she could not save it.  There
are things that a bushwoman can not do.  Next morning the dam was
broken, and her heart was nearly broken too, for she thought how her
husband would feel when he came home and saw the result of years of
labour swept away.  She cried then.

She also fought the pleuro-pneumonia--dosed and bled the few remaining
cattle, and wept again when her two best cows died.

Again, she fought a mad bullock that besieged the house for a day.
She made bullets and fired at him through cracks in the slabs with an
old shot-gun.  He was dead in the morning.  She skinned him and got
seventeen-and-sixpence for the hide.

She also fights the crows and eagles that have designs on her
chickens.  Her plan of campaign is very original.  The children cry
"Crows, mother!" and she rushes out and aims a broomstick at the
birds as though it were a gun, and says "Bung!" The crows leave in a
hurry; they are cunning, but a woman's cunning is greater.

Occasionally a bushman in the horrors, or a villainous-looking
sundowner, comes and nearly scares the life out of her.  She generally
tells the suspicious-looking stranger that her husband and two sons
are at work below the dam, or over at the yard, for he always
cunningly inquires for the boss.

Only last week a gallows-faced swagman--having satisfied himself that
there were no men on the place--threw his swag down on the veranda,
and demanded tucker.  She gave him something to eat; then he expressed
his intention of staying for the night.  It was sundown then.  She got
a batten from the sofa, loosened the dog, and confronted the stranger,
holding the batten in one hand and the dog's collar with the other.
"Now you go!" she said.  He looked at her and at the dog, said "All
right, mum," in a cringing tone, and left.  She was a determined-
looking woman, and Alligator's yellow eyes glared unpleasantly--
besides, the dog's chawing-up apparatus greatly resembled that of the
reptile he was named after.

She has few pleasures to think of as she sits here alone by the fire,
on guard against a snake.  All days are much the same to her; but on
Sunday afternoon she dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens
up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush-track, pushing an
old perambulator in front of her.  She does this every Sunday.  She
takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she
would if she were going to do the block in the city.  There is nothing
to see, however, and not a soul to meet.  You might walk for twenty
miles along this track without being able to fix a point in your mind,
unless you are a bushman.  This is because of the everlasting, maddening
sameness of the stunted trees--that monotony which makes a man long to
break away and travel as far as trains can go, and sail as far as
ship can sail--and farther.

But this bushwoman is used to the loneliness of it.  As a girl-wife
she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.

She is glad when her husband returns, but she does not gush or make a
fuss about it.  She gets him something good to eat, and tidies up the
children.

She seems contented with her lot.  She loves her children, but has no
time to show it.  She seems harsh to them.  Her surroundings are not
favourable to the development of the "womanly" or sentimental side of
nature.


It must be near morning now; but the clock is in the dwellinghouse.
Her candle is nearly done; she forgot that she was out of candles.
Some more wood must be got to keep the fire up, and so she shuts the
dog inside and hurries round to the woodheap.  The rain has cleared
off.  She seizes a stick, pulls it out, and--crash! the whole pile
collapses.

Yesterday she bargained with a stray blackfellow to bring her some
wood, and while he was at work she went in search of a missing cow.
She was absent an hour or so, and the native black made good use of
his time.  On her return she was so astonished to see a good heap of
wood by the chimney, that she gave him an extra fig of tobacco, and
praised him for not being lazy.  He thanked her, and left with head
erect and chest well out.  He was the last of his tribe and a King;
but he had built that wood-heap hollow.

She is hurt now, and tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again
by the table.  She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but
pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead.  The handkerchief is
full of holes, and she finds that she has put her thumb through one,
and her forefinger through another.

This makes her laugh, to the surprise of the dog.  She has a keen,
very keen, sense of the ridiculous; and some time or other she will
amuse bushmen with the story.

She had been amused before like that.  One day she sat down "to have
a good cry," as she said--and the old cat rubbed against her dress and
"cried too." Then she had to laugh.


It must be near daylight now.  The room is very close and hot because
of the fire.  Alligator still watches the wall from time to time.
Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches
nearer the partition, and a thrill runs through his body.  The hair on
the back of his neck begins to bristle, and the battle-light is in his
yellow eyes.  She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the
stick.  The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack
on both sides.  An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten
at one of these holes.  The snake--a black one--comes slowly out,
about a foot, and moves its head up and down.  The dog lies still, and
the woman sits as one fascinated.  The snake comes out a foot farther.
She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of
danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the
slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him.  Alligator springs,
and his jaws come together with a snap.  He misses, for his nose is
large, and the snake's body close down in the angle formed by the
slabs and the floor.  He snaps again as the tail comes round.  He has
the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches.  Thud, thud comes the
woman's club on the ground.  Alligator pulls again.  Thud, thud.
Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out--a black brute,
five feet long.  The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the
enemy close to the neck.  He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a
terrier.  He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in
common with mankind.  The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and
tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back with a grip of
iron.  Thud, thud--the snake's back is broken in several places.
Thud, thud--its head is crushed, and Alligator's nose skinned again.

She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to
the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the
snake burn.  The boy and dog watch too.  She lays her hand on the
dog's head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow
eyes.  The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep.
The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the
fire.  Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and,
throwing his arms round her neck exclaims:

"Mother, I won't never go drovin'; blarst me if I do!"  And she hugs
him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together
while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.




STEELMAN'S PUPIL



Steelman was a hard case, but some said that Smith was harder.
Steelman was big and good-looking, and good-natured in his way; he was
a spieler, pure and simple, but did things in humorous style.  Smith
was small and weedy, of the sneak variety; he had a whining tone and a
cringing manner.  He seemed to be always so afraid you were going to
hit him that he would make you want to hit him on that account alone.

Steelman "had" you in a fashion that would make your friends laugh.
Smith would "have" you in a way which made you feel mad at the bare
recollection of having been taken in by so contemptible a little
sneak.

They battled round together in the North Island of Maoriland for a
couple of years.

One day Steelman said to Smith:

"Look here, Smithy, you don't know you're born yet.  I'm going to take
you in hand and teach you."

And he did.  If Smith wouldn't do as Steelman told him, or wasn't
successful in cadging, or mugged any game they had in hand, Steelman
would threaten to stoush him; and, if the warning proved ineffectual
after the second or third time, he would stoush him.

One day, on the track, they came to a place where an old Scottish
couple kept a general store and shanty.  They camped alongside the
road, and Smith was just starting up to the house to beg supplies when
Steelman cried:

"Here!--hold on.  Now where do you think you're going to?"

"Why, I'm going to try and chew the old party's lug, of course.
We'll be out of tucker in a couple of days," said Smith.

Steelman sat down on a stump in a hopeless, discouraged sort of way.

"It's no use," he said, regarding Smith with mingled reproach and
disgust.  "It's no use.  I might as well give it best.  I can see
that it's only waste of time trying to learn you anything.  Will I
ever be able to knock some gumption into your thick skull?  After all
the time and trouble and pains I've took with your education, you
hain't got any more sense than to go and mug a business like that!
When will you learn sense?  Hey?  After all, I--Smith, you're a born
mug!"

He always called Smith a "mug" when he was particularly wild at him,
for it hurt Smith more than anything else.  "There's only two classes
in the world, spielers and mugs--and you're a mug, Smith."

"What have I done, anyway?" asked Smith helplessly.  "That's all I
want to know."

Steelman wearily rested his brow on his hand.

"That will do, Smith," he said listlessly; "don't say another word,
old man; it'll only make my head worse; don't talk.  You might, at
the very least, have a little consideration for my feelings--even if
you haven't for your own interests."  He paused and regarded Smith
sadly.  "Well, I'll give you another show.  I'll stage the business
for you."

He made Smith doff his coat and get into his worst pair of
trousers--and they were bad enough; they were hopelessly "gone"
beyond the extreme limit of bush decency.  He made Smith put on a rag
of a felt hat and a pair of "'lastic-sides" which had fallen off a
tramp and lain baking and rotting by turns on a rubbish heap; they had
to be tied on Smith with bits of rag and string.  He drew dark shadows
round Smith's eyes, and burning spots on his cheek-bones with some
greasepaints he used when they travelled as "The Great Steelman and
Smith Combination Star Dramatic Co."  He damped Smith's hair to make
it dark and lank, and his face more corpse-like by comparison--in
short, he made him up to look like a man who had long passed the very
last stage of consumption, and had been artificially kept alive in the
interests of science.

"Now you're ready," said Steelman to Smith.  "You left your whare
the day before yesterday and started to walk to the hospital at
Palmerston.  An old mate picked you up dying on the road, brought you
round, and carried you on his back most of the way here.  You firmly
believe that Providence had something to do with the sending of that
old mate along at that time and place above all others.  Your mate
also was hard up; he was going to a job--the first show for work he'd
had in nine months--but he gave it up to see you through; he'd give up
his life rather than desert a mate in trouble.  You only want a couple
of shillings or a bit of tucker to help you on to Palmerston.  You
know you've got to die, and you only want to live long enough to get
word to your poor old mother, and die on a bed.

"Remember, they're Scotch up at that house.  You understand the
Scotch barrack pretty well by now--if you don't it ain't my fault.
You were born in Aberdeen, but came out too young to remember much
about the town.  Your father's dead.  You ran away to sea and came out
in the _Bobbie Burns_ to Sydney.  Your poor old mother's in
Aberdeen now--Bruce or Wallace Wynd will do.  Your mother might be
dead now--poor old soul!--any way, you'll never see her again.  You
wish you'd never run away from home.  You wish you'd been a better son
to your poor old mother; you wish you'd written to her and answered
her last letter.  You only want to live long enough to write home and
ask for forgiveness and a blessing before you die.  If you had a drop
of spirits of some sort to brace you up you might get along the road
better.  (Put this delicately.)  Get the whine out of your voice and
breathe with a wheeze--like this; get up the nearest approach to a
deathrattle that you can.  Move as if you were badly hurt in your
wind--like this.  (If you don't do it better'n that, I'll stoush you.)
Make your face a bit longer and keep your lips dry--don't lick them,
you damned fool!-_breathe_ on them; make 'em dry as chips.
That's the only decent pair of breeks you've got, and the only shoon.
You're a Presbyterian--not a U.P., the Auld Kirk.  Your mate would
have come up to the house only--well, you'll have to use the stuffing
in your head a bit; you can't expect me to do all the brain work.
Remember it's consumption you've got--galloping consumption; you know
all the symptoms--pain on top of your right lung, bad cough, and night
sweats.  Something tells you that you won't see the new year--it's a
week off Christmas now.  And if you come back without anything, I'll
blessed soon put you out of your misery."


Smith came back with about four pounds of shortbread and as much
various tucker as they could conveniently carry; a pretty good suit of
cast-off tweeds; a new pair of 'lastic-sides from the store stock; two
bottles of patent medicine and a black bottle half-full of home-made
consumption-cure; also a letter to a hospital-committee man, and three
shillings to help him on his way to Palmerston.  He also got about
half a mile of sympathy, religious consolation, and medical advice
which he didn't remember.

"_Now_," he said, triumphantly, "am I a mug or not?"

Steelman kindly ignored the question.  "I _did_ have a better
opinion of the Scotch," he said, contemptuously.


Steelman got on at an hotel as billiard-marker and decoy, and in six
months he managed that pub.  Smith, who'd been away on his own
account, turned up in the town one day clean broke, and in a
deplorable state.  He heard of Steelman's luck, and thought he was
"all right," so went to his old friend.

Cold type--or any other kind of type--couldn't do justice to
Steelman's disgust.  To think that this was the reward of all the time
and trouble he'd spent on Smith's education!  However, when he cooled
down, he said:

"Smith, you're a young man yet, and it's never too late to mend.
There is still time for reformation.  I can't help you now; it would
only demoralize you altogether.  To think, after the way I trained
you, you can't battle round any better'n this!  I always thought you
were an irreclaimable mug, but I expected better things of you towards
the end.  I thought I'd make _something_ of you.  It's enough to
dishearten any man and disgust him with the world.  Why! you ought
to be a rich man now with the chances and training you had!  To
think--but I won't talk of that; it has made me ill.  I suppose I'll
have to give you something, if it's only to get rid of the sight of
you.  Here's a quid, and I'm a mug for giving it to you.  It'll do you
more harm than good; and it ain't a friendly thing nor the right
thing for me--who always had your welfare at heart--to give it to you
under the circumstances.  Now, get away out of my sight, and don't
come near me till you've reformed.  If you do, I'll have to stoush you
out of regard for my own health and feelings."


But Steelman came down in the world again and picked up Smith on the
road, and they battled round together for another year or so; and at
last they were in Wellington--Steelman "flush" and stopping at an
hotel, and Smith stumped, as usual, and staying with a friend.  One
night they were drinking together at the hotel, at the expense of some
mugs whom Steelman was "educating."  It was raining hard.  When
Smith was going home, he said:

"Look here, Steely, old man.  Listen to the rain!  I'll get wringing
wet going home.  You might as well lend me your overcoat to-night.
You won't want it, and I won't hurt it."

And, Steelman's heart being warmed by his successes, he lent the
overcoat.

Smith went and pawned it, got glorious on the proceeds, and took the
pawn-ticket to Steelman next day.

Smith had reformed.




AN UNFINISHED LOVE STORY



Brook let down the heavy, awkward sliprails, and the gaunt cattle
stumbled through, with aggravating deliberation, and scattered slowly
among the native apple-trees along the sidling.  First there came an
old easygoing red poley cow, then a dusty white cow; then two shaggy,
half-grown calves--who seemed already to have lost all interest in
existence--and after them a couple of "babies," sleek, glossy, and
cheerful; then three more tired-looking cows, with ragged udders and
hollow sides; then a lanky barren heifer--red, of course--with
half-blind eyes and one crooked horn--she was noted for her great
agility in jumping two-rail fences, and she was known to the selector
as "Queen Elizabeth;" and behind her came a young cream-coloured
milker--a mighty proud and contented young mother--painfully and
patiently dragging her first calf, which was hanging obstinately to a
teat, with its head beneath her hind legs.  Last of all there came the
inevitable red steer, who scratched the dust and let a stupid
"bwoo-ur-r-rr" out of him as he snuffed at the rails.

Brook had shifted the rails there often before--fifteen years
ago--perhaps the selfsame rails, for stringy-bark lasts long; and the
action brought the past near to him--nearer than he wished.  He did
not like to think of that hungry, wretched selection existence; he
felt more contempt than pity for the old-fashioned, unhappy boy, who
used to let down the rails there, and drive the cattle through.

He had spent those fifteen years in cities, and had come here,
prompted more by curiosity than anything else, to have a quiet
holiday.  His father was dead; his other relations had moved away,
leaving a tenant on the old selection.

Brook rested his elbow on the top rail of an adjacent panel and
watched the cattle pass, and thought until Lizzie--the tenant's
niece--shoved the red steer through and stood gravely regarding him
(Brook, and not the steer); then he shifted his back to the fence and
looked at her.  He had not much to look at: a short, plain, thin girl
of nineteen, with rather vacant grey eyes, dark ringlets, and
freckles; she had no complexion to speak of; she wore an ill-fitting
print frock, and a pair of men's 'lastic-sides several sizes too large
for her.  She was "studying for a school-teacher;" that was the
height of the ambition of local youth.  Brook was studying her.

He turned away to put up the rails.  The lower rail went into its place
all right, but the top one had got jammed, and it stuck as though it
was spiked.  He worked the rail up and down and to and fro, took it
under his arm and tugged it; but he might as well have pulled at one
of the posts.  Then he lifted the loose end as high as he could, and
let it fall--jumping back out of the way at the same time; this
loosened it, but when he lifted it again it slid so easily and far
into its socket that the other end came out and fell, barking Brook's
knee.  He swore a little, then tackled the rail again; he had the
same trouble as before with the other end, but succeeded at last.
Then he turned away, rubbing his knee.

Lizzie hadn't smiled, not once; she watched him gravely all the
while.

"Did you hurt your knee?" she asked, without emotion.

"No.  The rail did."

She reflected solemnly for a while, and then asked him if it felt
sore.

He replied rather briefly in the negative.

"They were always nasty, awkward rails to put up," she remarked,
after some more reflection.

Brook agreed, and then they turned their faces towards the
homestead.  Half-way down the sidling was a clump of saplings, with a
big log lying amongst them.  Here Brook paused.  "We'll sit down for a
while and have a rest," said he.  "Sit down, Lizzie."

She obeyed with the greatest of gravity.  Nothing was said for awhile.
She sat with her hands folded in her lap, gazing thoughtfully at the
ridge, which was growing dim.  It looked better when it was dim, and
so did the rest of the scenery.  There was no beauty lost when
darkness hid the scenery altogether.  Brook wondered what the girl was
thinking about.  The silence between them did not seem awkward,
somehow; but it didn't suit him just then, and so presently he broke
it.

"Well, I must go to-morrow."

"Must you?"

"Yes."

She thought awhile, and then she asked him if he was glad to go.

"Well, I don't know.  Are you sorry, Lizzie?"

She thought a good long while, and then she said she was.

He moved closer to the girl, and suddenly slipped his arm round her
waist.  She did not seem agitated; she still gazed dreamily at the
line of ridges, but her head inclined slightly towards him.

"Lizzie, did you ever love anyone?"--then anticipating the usual
reply--"except, of course, your father and mother, and all that sort
of thing." Then, abruptly: "I mean did you ever have a sweetheart?"

She reflected, so as to be sure; then she said she hadn't.  Long
pause, and he, the city man, breathed hard--not the girl.  Suddenly
he moved nervously, and said:

"Lizzie--Lizzie!  Do you know what love means?"

She pondered over this for some minutes, as a result of which she said
she thought that she did.

"Lizzie!  Do you think you can love me?"

She didn't seem able to find an answer to that.  So he caught her to
him in both arms, and kissed her hard and long on the mouth.  She was
agitated now--he had some complexion now; she struggled to her feet,
trembling.

"We must go now," she said quickly.  "They will be waiting for tea."

He stood up before her, and held her there by both hands.

"There is plenty of time.  Lizzie--"

"Mis-ter Br-o-o-k-er!  Li-i-z-zee-e-e!  Come ter yer tea-e-e!"
yelled a boy from the house.

"We must really go now."

"Oh, they can wait a minute.  Lizzie, don't be frightened"--bending his
head--"Lizzie, put your arms round my neck and kiss me--now.  Do as I
tell you, Lizzie--they cannot see us," and he drew her behind a
bush.  "Now, Lizzie."

She obeyed just as a frightened child might.

"We must go now," she panted, breathless from such an embrace.

"Lizzie, you will come for a walk with me after tea?"

"I don't know--I can't promise.  I don't think it would be right.
Aunt mightn't like me to."

"Never mind aunt.  I'll fix her.  We'll go for a walk over to the
school-teacher's place.  It will be bright moonlight."

"I don't like to promise.  My father and mother might not--"

"Why, what are you frightened of?  What harm is there in it?"  Then,
softly, "Promise, Lizzie."

"Promise, Lizzie."

She was hesitating.

"Promise, Lizzie.  I'm going away to-morrow--might never see you
again.  You will come, Lizzie?  It will be our last talk together.
Promise, Lizzie....Oh, then, if you don't like to, I won't press
you.... Will you come, or no?"

"Ye-es."

"One more, and I'll take you home."

It was nearly dark.


Brook was moved to get up early next morning and give the girl a hand
with the cows.  There were two rickety bails in the yard.  He had not
forgotten how to milk, but the occupation gave him no pleasure--it
brought the past near again.

Now and then he would turn his face, rest his head against the side of
the cow, and watch Lizzie at her work; and each time she would, as
though in obedience to an influence she could not resist, turn her
face to him--having noted the pause in his milking.  There was a
wonder in her expression--as if something had come into her life which
she could not realize--curiosity in his.

When the spare pail was full, he would follow her with it to the
little bark dairy; and she held out the cloth which served as a
strainer whilst he poured the milk in, and, as the last drops went
through, their mouths would come together.

He carried the slop-buckets to the pigsty for her, and helped to poddy
(hand feed) a young calf.  He had to grip the calf by the nape of the
neck, insert a forefinger in its mouth, and force its nose down into
an oil-drum full of skim milk.  The calf sucked, thinking it had a
teat; and so it was taught to drink.  But calves have a habit, born of
instinct, of butting the udders with their noses, by way of reminding
their mothers to let down the milk; and so this calf butted at times,
splashing sour milk over Brook, and barking his wrist against the
sharp edge of the drum.  Then he would swear a little, and Lizzie
would smile sadly and gravely.

Brook did not go away that day, nor the next, but he took the coach on
the third day thereafter.  He and Lizzie found a quiet corner to say
good-bye in.  She showed some emotion for the first time, or, perhaps,
the second--maybe the third time--in that week of her life.  They had
been out together in the moonlight every evening.  (Brook had been
fifteen years in cities.)  They had scarcely looked at each other that
morning--and scarcely spoken.

He looked back as the coach started and saw her sitting inside the big
kitchen window.  She waved her hand--hopelessly it seemed.  She had
rolled up her sleeve, and to Brook the arm seemed strangely white and
fair above the line of sunburn round the wrist.  He hadn't noticed it
before.  Her face seemed fairer too, but, perhaps, it was only the
effect of light and shade round that window.

He looked back again, as the coach turned the corner of the fence,
and was just in time to see her bury her face in her hands with a
passionate gesture which did not seem natural to her.

Brook reached the city next evening, and, "after hours," he staggered
in through a side entrance to the lighted parlour of a private bar.

They say that Lizzie broke her heart that year, but, then, the world
does not believe in such things nowadays.




BOARD AND RESIDENCE



One o'clock on Saturday.  The unemployed's one o'clock on Saturday!
Nothing more can be done this week, so you drag yourself wearily and
despairingly "home," with the cheerful prospect of a penniless
Saturday afternoon and evening and the long horrible Australian-city
Sunday to drag through.  One of the landlady's clutch--and she
_is_ an old hen--opens the door, exclaims:

"Oh, Mr Careless!" and grins.  You wait an anxious minute, to
postpone the disappointment which you feel by instinct is coming, and
then ask hopelessly whether there are any letters for you.

"No, there's nothing for you, Mr Careless."  Then in answer to the
unspoken question, "The postman's been, but there's nothing for you."

You hang up your hat in the stuffy little passage, and start upstairs,
when, "Oh, Mr Careless, mother wants to know if you've had yer
dinner."

You haven't, but you say you have.  You are empty enough inside, but
the emptiness is filled up, as it were, with the wrong sort of hungry
vacancy--gnawing anxiety.  You haven't any stomach for the warm,
tasteless mess which has been "kep' 'ot" for you in a cold stove.
You feel just physically tired enough to go to your room, lie down on
the bed, and snatch twenty minutes' rest from that terrible unemployed
restlessness which, you know, is sure to drag you to your feet to pace
the room or tramp the pavement even before your bodily weariness has
nearly left you.  So you start up the narrow, stuffy little flight of
steps call the "stairs."  Three small doors open from the landing--a
square place of about four feet by four.  The first door is yours; it
is open, and--

Decided odour of bedroom dust and fluff, damped and kneaded with cold
soap-suds.  Rear view of a girl covered with a damp, draggled,
dirt-coloured skirt, which gapes at the waistband from the "body,"
disclosing a good glimpse of soiled stays (ribs burst), and yawns
behind over a decidedly dirty white petticoat, the slit of which last,
as she reaches forward and backs out convulsively, half opens and then
comes together in an unsatisfactory, startling, tantalizing way, and
allows a hint of a red flannel under-something.  The frayed ends of
the skirt lie across a hopelessly-burst pair of elastic-sides which
rest on their inner edges--toes out--and jerk about in a seemingly
undecided manner.  She is damping and working up the natural layer on
the floor with a piece of old flannel petticoat dipped occasionally in
a bucket which stands by her side, containing about a quart of muddy
water.  She looks round and exclaims, "Oh, did you want to come in,
Mr Careless?"  Then she says she'll be done in a minute; furthermore
she remarks that if you want to come in you won't be in her road.  You
don't--you go down to the dining-room--parlour--sitting-room---
nursery--and stretch yourself on the sofa in the face of the
painfully-evident disapproval of the landlady.

You have been here, say, three months, and are only about two weeks
behind.  The landlady still says, "Good morning, Mr Careless," or
"Good evening, Mr Careless," but there is an unpleasant accent on
the "Mr," and a still more unpleasantly pronounced stress on the
"morning" or "evening."  While your money lasted you paid up well
and regularly--sometimes in advance--and dined out most of the time;
but that doesn't count now.

Ten minutes pass, and then the landlady's disapproval becomes manifest
and aggressive.  One of the little girls, a sharp-faced little
larrikiness, who always wears a furtive grin of cunning--it seems as
though it were born with her, and is perhaps more a misfortune than a
fault--comes in and says please she wants to tidy up.

So you get up and take your hat and go out again to look for a place
to rest in--to try not to think.

You _wish_ you could get away up-country.  You also wish you were dead.


The landlady, Mrs Jones, is a widow, or grass-widow, Welsh, of course,
and clannish; flat face, watery grey eyes, shallow, selfish,
ignorant, and a hypocrite unconsciously--by instinct.

But the worst of it is that Mrs Jones takes advantage of the situation
to corner you in the passage when you want to get out, or when you
come in tired, and talk.  It amounts to about this: She has been
fourteen years in this street, taking in boarders; everybody knows
her; everybody knows Mrs Jones; her poor husband died six years ago
(God rest his soul); she finds it hard to get a living these times;
work, work, morning, noon, and night (talk, talk, talk, more likely).
"Do you know Mr Duff of the Labour Bureau?"  He has known her family
for years; a very nice gentleman--a very nice gentleman indeed; he
often stops at the gate to have a yarn with her on his way to the
office (he must be hard up for a yarn).  She doesn't know hardly
nobody in this street; she never gossips; it takes her all her time to
get a living; she can't be bothered with neighbours; it's always best
to keep to yourself and keep neighbours at a distance.  Would you
believe it, Mr Careless, she has been two years in this house and
hasn't said above a dozen words to the woman next door; she'd just
know her by sight if she saw her; as for the other woman she wouldn't
know her from a crow.  Mr Blank and Mrs Blank could tell you the
same....She always had gentlemen staying with her; she never had no
cause to complain of one of them except once; they always treated her
fair and honest.  Here follows story about the exception; he, I
gathered, was a journalist, and she could never depend on him.  He
seemed, from her statements, to have been decidedly erratic in his
movements, mode of life and choice of climes.  He evidently caused her
a great deal of trouble and anxiety, and I felt a kind of sneaking
sympathy for his memory.  One young fellow stayed with her five years;
he was, etc.  She couldn't be hard on any young fellow that gets out
of work; of course if he can't get it he can't pay; she can't get
blood out of a stone; she couldn't turn him out in the street.  "I've
got sons of my own, Mr Careless, I've got sons of my own."...She is
sure she always does her best to make her boarders comfortable, and if
they want anything they've only got to ask for it.  The kettle is
always on the stove if you want a cup of tea, and if you come home
late at night and want a bit of supper you've only got to go to the
safe (which of us would dare?).  She never locks it, she never
did....And then she begins about her wonderful kids, and it goes on
hour after hour.  Lord! it's enough to drive a man mad.

We were recommended to this place on the day of our arrival by a young
dealer in the furniture line, whose name was Moses--and he looked like
it, but we didn't think of that at the time.  He had Mrs Jones's card
in his window, and he left the shop in charge of his missus and came
round with us at once.  He assured us that we couldn't do better than
stay with her.  He said she was a most respectable lady, and all her
boarders were decent young fellows-gentlemen; she kept everything
scrupulously clean, and kept the best table in town, and she'd do for
us (washing included) for eighteen shillings per week; she generally
took the first week in advance.  We asked him to have a beer--for the
want of somebody else to ask--and after that he said that Mrs Jones
was a kind, motherly body, and understood young fellows; and that we'd
be even more comfortable than in our own home; that we'd be allowed to
do as we liked--she wasn't particular; she wouldn't mind it a bit if
we came home late once in a way--she was used to that, in fact; she
liked to see young fellows enjoying themselves.  We afterwards found
out that he got so much on every boarder he captured.  We also found
out--after paying in advance---that her gentlemen generally sent out
their white things to be done; she only did the coloured things, so we
had to pay a couple of bob extra a week to have our "biled" rags and
collars sent out and done; and after the first week they bore sad
evidence of having been done on the premises by one of the frowsy
daughters.  But we paid all the same.  And, good Lord! if she keeps
the best table in town, we are curious to see the worst.  When you go
down to breakfast you find on the table in front of your chair a cold
plate, with a black something--God knows what it looks like--in the
centre of it.  It eats like something scraped off the inside of a hide
and burnt; and with this you have a cup of warm grey slush called a
"cup of tea."  Dinner: A slice of alleged roast beef or boiled
mutton, of no particular colour or taste; three new spuds, of which
the largest is about the size of an ordinary hen's egg, the smallest
that of a bantam's, and the middle one in between, and which eat soggy
and have no taste to speak of, save that they are a trifle bitter; a
dab of unhealthy-looking green something, which might be either
cabbage leaves or turnip-tops, and a glass of water.  The whole mess
is lukewarm, including the water--it would all be better cold.  Tea: A
thin slice of the aforesaid alleged roast or mutton, and the pick of
about six thin slices of stale bread--evidently cut the day before
yesterday.  This is the way Mrs Jones "does" for us for eighteen
shillings a week.  The bread gave out at tea-time this evening, and a
mild financial boarder tapped his plate with his knife, and sent the
bread plate out to be replenished.  It came back with _one_ slice
on it.

The mild financial boarder, with desperate courage, is telling the
landlady that he'll have to shift next week--it is too far to go to
work, he cannot always get down in time; he is very sorry he has to
go, he says; he is very comfortable here, but it can't be helped;
anyway, as soon as he can get work nearer, he'll come back at once;
also (oh, what cowards men are when women are concerned), he says he
wishes she could shift and take a house down at the other end of the
town.  She says (at least here are some fragments of her gabble which
we caught and shorthanded): "Well, I'm very sorry to lose you, Mr
Sampson, very sorry indeed; but of course if you must go, you must.
Of course you can't be expected to walk that distance every morning,
and you mustn't be getting to work late, and losing your place...  Of
course we could get breakfast an hour earlier if...well, as I said
before, I'm sorry to lose you and, indeed...You won't forget to come
and see us...glad to see you at any time... Well, any way, if you ever
want to come back, you know, your bed will be always ready for you,
and you'll be treated just the same, and made just as comfortable--you
won't forget that" (he says he won't); "and you won't forget to
come to dinner sometimes" (he says he won't); "and, of course...You
know I always try...Don't forget to drop in sometimes... Well, anyway,
if you ever do happen to hear of a decent young fellow who wants a
good, clean, comfortable home, you'll be sure to send him to me, will
you?" (He says he will.)  "Well, of course, Mr Sampson, etc., etc.,
etc., and-so-on, and-so-on, and-so-on, and-so-on, ..."  It's enough
to give a man rats.

He escapes, and we regard his departure very much as a gang of
hopeless convicts might regard the unexpected liberation of one of
their number.

This is the sort of life that gives a man a God-Almighty longing to
break away and take to the bush.




HIS COLONIAL OATH



I lately met an old schoolmate of mine up-country.  He was much
changed.  He was tall and lank, and had the most hideous bristly red
beard I ever saw.  He was working on his father's farm.  He shook hands,
looked anywhere but in my face--and said nothing.  Presently I remarked
at a venture "So poor old Mr B., the schoolmaster, is dead."

"My oath!" he replied.

"He was a good old sort."

"My oath!"

"Time goes by pretty quick, doesn't it?"

His oath (colonial).

"Poor old Mr B.  died awfully sudden, didn't he?"

He looked up the hill, and said: "My oath!"

Then he added: "My blooming oath!"

I thought, perhaps, my city rig or manner embarrassed him, so I stuck
my hands in my pockets, spat, and said, to set him at his ease: "It's
blanky hot to-day.  I don't know how you blanky blanks stand such
blank weather!  It's blanky well hot enough to roast a crimson carnal
bullock; ain't it?"  Then I took out a cake of tobacco, bit off a
quarter, and pretended to chew.  He replied:

"My oath!"

The conversation flagged here.  But presently, to my great surprise,
he came to the rescue with:

"He finished me, yer know."

"Finished?  How?  Who?"

He looked down towards the river, thought (if he did think) and said:
"Finished me edyercation, yer know."

"Oh! you mean Mr B.?"

"My oath--he finished me first-rate."

"He turned out a good many scholars, didn't he?"

"My oath!  I'm thinkin' about going down to the trainin' school."'

"You ought to--I would if I were you."

"My oath!"

"Those were good old times," I hazarded, "you remember the old bark
school?"

He looked away across the sidling, and was evidently getting uneasy.
He shifted about, and said:

"Well, I must be goin'."

"I suppose you're pretty busy now?"

"My oath!  So long."

"Well, good-bye.  We must have a yarn some day."

"My oath!"

He got away as quickly as he could.

I wonder whether he _was_ changed after all--or, was it I?  A
man does seem to get out of touch with the bush after living in cities
for eight or ten years.




A VISIT OF CONDOLENCE



"Does Arvie live here, old woman?"

"Why?"

"Strike me dead! carn't yer answer a civil queschin?"

"How dare you talk to me like that, you young larrikin!  Be off! or
I'll send for a policeman."

"Blarst the cops!  D'yer think I cares for 'em?  Fur two pins I'd
fetch a push an' smash yer ole shanty about yer ears--y'ole cow!
_I only arsked if Arvie lived here_!  Holy Mosis! carn't a feller
ask a civil queschin?"

"What do you want with Arvie?  Do you know him?"

"My oath!  Don't he work at Grinder Brothers?  I only come out of my
way to do him a good turn; an' now I'm sorry I come--damned if I
ain't--to be barracked like this, an' shoved down my own throat.
(_Pause_) I want to tell Arvie that if he don't come ter work
termorrer, another bloke'll collar his job.  I wouldn't like to see a
cove collar a cove's job an' not tell a bloke about it.  What's up
with Arvie, anyhow?  Is he sick?"

"Arvie is dead!"

"Christ!  (_Pause_) Garn!  What-yer-giv'n-us?  Tell Arvie Bill
Anderson wants-ter see him."

"My God! haven't I got enough trouble without a young wretch like
you coming to torment me?  For God's sake go away and leave me alone!
I'm telling you the truth, my my poor boy died of influenza last
night."

"My oath!"

The ragged young rip gave a long, low whistle, glanced up and down
Jones's Alley, spat out some tobacco-juice, and said "Swelp me Gord!
I'm sorry, mum.  I didn't know.  How was I to know you wasn't havin'
me?"

He withdrew one hand from his pocket and scratched the back of his
head, tilting his hat as far forward as it had previously been to the
rear, and just then the dilapidated side of his right boot attracted
his attention.  He turned the foot on one side, and squinted at the
sole; then he raised the foot to his left knee, caught the ankle in a
very dirty hand, and regarded the sole-leather critically, as though
calculating how long it would last.  After which he spat desperately
at the pavement, and said:

"Kin I see him?"

He followed her up the crooked little staircase with a who's-afraid
kind of swagger, but he took his hat off on entering the room.

He glanced round, and seemed to take stock of the signs of poverty--so
familiar to his class--and then directed his gaze to where the body
lay on the sofa with its pauper coffin already by its side.  He looked
at the coffin with the critical eye of a tradesman, then he looked at
Arvie, and then at the coffin again, as if calculating whether the
body would fit.

The mother uncovered the white, pinched face of the dead boy, and Bill
came and stood by the sofa.  He carelessly drew his right hand from
his pocket, and laid the palm on Arvie's ice-cold forehead.

"Poor little cove!" Bill muttered, half to himself; and then, as
though ashamed of his weakness, he said:

"There wasn't no post mortem, was there?"

"No," she answered; "a doctor saw him the day before--there was no
post mortem."

"I thought there wasn't none," said Bill, "because a man that's been
post mortemed always looks as if he'd been hurt.  My father looked
right enough at first--just as if he was restin'--but after they'd had
him opened he looked as if he'd been hurt.  No one else could see it,
but I could.  How old was Arvie?"

"Eleven."'

"I'm twelve--goin' on for thirteen.  Arvie's father's dead, ain't he?"

"Yes."

"So's mine.  Died at his work, didn't he?"

"Yes."

"So'd mine.  Arvie told me his father died of something with his
heart!"

"Yes."

"So'd mine; ain't it rum?  You scrub offices an' wash, don't yer?"

"Yes."

"So does my mother.  You find it pretty hard to get a livin', don't
yer, these times?"

"My God, yes!  God only knows what I'll do now my poor boy's gone.
I generally get up at half-past five to scrub out some offices, and
when that's done I've got to start my day's work, washing.  And then
I find it hard to make both ends meet."

"So does my mother.  I suppose you took on bad when yer husband was
brought home?"

"Ah, my God! Yes.  I'll never forget it till my dying day.  My poor
husband had been out of work for weeks, and he only got the job two
days before he died.  I suppose it gave your mother a great shock?"

"My oath!  One of the fellows that carried father home said: 'Yer
husband's dead, mum,' he says; 'he dropped off all of a suddint,'
and mother said, 'My God! my God!' just like that, and went off."

"Poor soul! poor soul!  And--now my Arvie's gone.  Whatever will me
and the children do?  Whatever will I do?  Whatever will I do?  My
God! I wish I was under the turf."

"Cheer up, mum!" said Bill.  "It's no use frettin' over what's done."

He wiped some tobacco-juice off his lips with the back of his hand,
and regarded the stains reflectively for a minute or so.  Then he
looked at Arvie again.

"You should ha' tried cod liver oil," said Bill.

"No.  He needed rest and plenty of good food."

"He wasn't very strong."

"No, he was not, poor boy."

"I thought he wasn't.  They treated him bad at Grinder Brothers: they
didn't give him a show to learn nothing; kept him at the same work all
the time, and he didn't have cheek enough to arsk the boss for a rise,
lest he'd be sacked.  He couldn't fight, an' the boys used to tease
him; they'd wait outside the shop to have a lark with Arvie.  I'd like
to see 'em do it to me.  He couldn't fight; but then, of course, he
wasn't strong.  They don't bother me while I'm strong enough to heave
a rock; but then, of course, it wasn't Arvie's fault.  I s'pose he had
pluck enough, if he hadn't the strength."  And Bill regarded the
corpse with a fatherly and lenient eye.

"My God!" she cried, "if I'd known this, I'd sooner have starved than
have my poor boy's life tormented out of him in such a place.  He
never complained.  My poor, brave-hearted child!  He never
complained!  Poor little Arvie!  Poor little Arvie!"

"He never told yer?"

"No--never a word."

"My oath! You don't say so!  P'raps he didn't want to let you know he
couldn't hold his own; but that wasn't his fault, I s'pose.  Y'see, he
wasn't strong."

An old print hanging over the bed attracted his attention, and he
regarded it with critical interest for awhile:

"We've got a pickcher like that at home.  We lived in Jones's Alley
wunst--in that house over there.  How d'yer like livin' in Jones's
Alley?"

"I don't like it at all.  I don't like having to bring my children up
where there are so many bad houses; but I can't afford to go somewhere
else and pay higher rent."

"Well, there _is_ a good many night-shops round here.  But
then," he added, reflectively, "you'll find them everywheres.  An',
besides, the kids git sharp, an' pick up a good deal in an alley like
this; 'twon't do 'em no harm; it's no use kids bein' green if they
wanter get on in a city.  You ain't been in Sydney all yer life, have
yer?"

"No.  We came from the bush, about five years ago.  My poor husband
thought he could do better in the city.  I was brought up in the
bush."'

"I thought yer was.  Well, men are sick fools.  I'm thinking about
gittin' a billet up-country, myself, soon.  Where's he goin' ter be
buried?"

"At Rookwood, to-morrow."

"I carn't come.  I've got ter work.  Is the Guvmint goin' to bury
him?"

"Yes."

Bill looked at the body with increased respect.  "Kin I do anythin'
for you?  Now, don't be frightened to arsk!"

"No.  Thank you very much, all the same."

"Well, I must be goin'; thank yer fur yer trouble, mum."

"No trouble, my boy--mind the step."

"It _is_ gone.  I'll bring a piece of board round some night and mend it
for you, if you like; I'm learnin' the carpenterin'; I kin nearly
make a door.  Tell yer what, I'll send the old woman round to-night to
fix up Arvie and lend yer a hand."

"No, thank you.  I suppose your mother's got work and trouble enough;
I'll manage."

"I'll send her round, anyway; she's a bit rough, but she's got a soft
gizzard; an' there's nothin' she enjoys better than fixin' up a body.
Good-bye, mum."

"Good-bye, my child."

He paused at the door, and said:

"I'm sorry, mum.  Swelp me God! I'm sorry.  S'long, an' thank yer."

An awe-stricken child stood on the step, staring at Bill with great
brimming eyes.  He patted it on the head and said "Keep yer pecker up,
young 'un!"




IN A WET SEASON



It was raining--"general rain."

The train left Bourke, and then there began the long, long agony of
scrub and wire fence, with here and there a natural clearing, which
seemed even more dismal than the funereal "timber" itself.  The only
thing which might seem in keeping with one of these soddened flats
would be the ghost of a funeral--a city funeral with plain hearse and
string of cabs--going very slowly across from the scrub on one side
to the scrub on the other.  Sky like a wet, grey blanket; plains
like dead seas, save for the tufts of coarse grass sticking up out of
the water; scrub indescribably dismal--everything damp, dark, and
unspeakably dreary.

Somewhere along here we saw a swagman's camp--a square of calico
stretched across a horizontal stick, some rags steaming on another
stick in front of a fire, and two billies to the leeward of the blaze.
We knew by instinct that there was a piece of beef in the larger one.
Small, hopeless-looking man standing with his back to the fire, with
his hands behind him, watching the train; also, a damp, sorry-looking
dingo warming itself and shivering by the fire.  The rain had held up
for a while.  We saw two or three similar camps further on, forming a
temporary suburb of Byrock.

The population was on the platform in old overcoats and damp, soft
felt hats; one trooper in a waterproof.  The population looked
cheerfully and patiently dismal.  The local push had evidently turned
up to see off some fair enslavers from the city, who had been
up-country for the cheque season, now over.  They got into another
carriage.  We were glad when the bell rang.

The rain recommenced.  We saw another swagman about a mile on
struggling away from the town, through mud and water.  He did not seem
to have heart enough to bother about trying to avoid the worst
mud-holes.  There was a low-spirited dingo at his heels, whose sole
object in life was seemingly to keep his front paws in his master's
last footprint.  The traveller's body was bent well forward from the
hips up; his long arms--about six inches through his coat
sleeves--hung by his sides like the arms of a dummy, with a billy at
the end of one and a bag at the end of the other; but his head was
thrown back against the top end of the swag, his hat-brim rolled up in
front, and we saw a ghastly, beardless face which turned neither to
the right nor the left as the train passed him.

After a long while we closed our book, and looking through the window,
saw a hawker's turn-out which was too sorrowful for description.

We looked out again while the train was going slowly, and saw a
teamster's camp: three or four wagons covered with tarpaulins which
hung down in the mud all round and suggested death.  A long, narrow
man, in a long, narrow, shoddy overcoat and a damp felt hat, was
walking quickly along the road past the camp.  A sort of cattle-dog
glided silently and swiftly out from under a wagon, "heeled" the
man, and slithered back without explaining.  Here the scene vanished.

We remember stopping--for an age it seemed--at half a dozen straggling
shanties on a flat of mud and water.  There was a rotten weather-board
pub, with a low, dripping veranda, and three wretchedly forlorn horses
hanging, in the rain, to a post outside.  We saw no more, but we knew
that there were several apologies for men hanging about the rickety
bar inside--or round the parlour fire.  Streams of cold, clay-coloured
water ran in all directions, cutting fresh gutters, and raising a
yeasty froth whenever the water fell a few inches.  As we left, we saw
a big man in an overcoat riding across a culvert; the tails of the
coat spread over the horse's rump, and almost hid it.  In fancy still
we saw him--hanging up his weary, hungry little horse in the rain, and
swaggering into the bar; and we almost heard someone say, in a
drawling tone: "'Ello, Tom!  'Ow are yer poppin' up?"'

The train stopped (for about a year) within a mile of the next
station.  Trucking-yards in the foreground, like any other
trucking-yard along the line; they looked drearier than usual, because
the rain had darkened the posts and rails.  Small plain beyond,
covered with water and tufts of grass.  The inevitable, God-forgotten
"timber," black in the distance; dull, grey sky and misty rain over
all.  A small, dark-looking flock of sheep was crawling slowly in
across the flat from the unknown, with three men on horse-back
zigzagging patiently behind.  The horses just moved--that was all.
One man wore an oilskin, one an old tweed overcoat, and the third had
a three-bushel bag over his head and shoulders.

Had we returned an hour later, we should have seen the sheep huddled
together in a corner of the yard, and the three horses hanging up
outside the local shanty.

We stayed at Nyngan--which place we refrain from sketching--for a few
hours, because the five trucks of cattle of which we were in charge
were shunted there, to be taken on by a very subsequent goods train.
The Government allows one man to every five trucks in a cattle-train.
We shall pay our fare next time, even if we have not a shilling left
over and above.  We had haunted local influence at Comanavadrink for
two long, anxious, heart-breaking weeks ere we got the pass; and we
had put up with all the indignities, the humiliation--in short, had
suffered all that poor devils suffer whilst besieging Local Influence.
We only thought of escaping from the bush.

The pass said that we were John Smith, drover, and that we were
available for return by ordinary passenger-train within two days, we
think--or words in that direction.  Which didn't interest us.  We
might have given the pass away to an unemployed in Orange, who wanted
to go out back, and who begged for it with tears in his eyes; but we
didn't like to injure a poor fool who never injured us--who was an
entire stranger to us.  He didn't know what Out Back meant.

Local Influence had given us a kind of note of introduction to be
delivered to the cattle-agent at the yards that morning; but the
agent was not there--only two of his satellites, a Cockney
colonial-experience man, and a scrub-town clerk, both of whom we
kindly ignore.  We got on without the note, and at Orange we amused
ourself by reading it.  It said:

"Dear Old Man--Please send this beggar on; and I hope he'll be landed
safely at Orange--or--or wherever the cattle go--yours,---"

We had been led to believe that the bullocks were going to Sydney.  We
took no further interest in those cattle.

After Nyngan the bush grew darker and drearier; and the plains more
like ghastly oceans; and here and there the "dominant note of
Australian scenery" was accentuated, as it were, by naked, white,
ring-barked trees standing in the water and haunting the ghostly
surroundings.

We spent that night in a passenger compartment of a van which had been
originally attached to old No. 1 engine.  There was only one damp
cushion in the whole concern.  We lent that to a lady who travelled
for a few hours in the other half of the next compartment.  The seats
were about nine inches wide and sloped in at a sharp angle to the bare
matchboard wall, with a bead on the outer edge; and as the cracks had
become well caulked with the grease and dirt of generations, they held
several gallons of water each.  We scuttled one, rolled ourself in a
rug, and tried to sleep; but all night long overcoated and comfortered
bushmen would get in, let down all the windows, and then get out again
at the next station.  Then we would wake up frozen and shut the
windows.

We dozed off again, and woke at daylight, and recognized the ridgy
gum-country between Dubbo and Orange.  It didn't look any drearier
than the country further west--because it couldn't.  There is scarcely
a part of the country out west which looks less inviting or more
horrible than any other part.

The weather cleared, and we had sunlight for Orange, Bathurst, the
Blue Mountains, and Sydney.  They deserve it; also as much rain as
they need.




"RATS"



"Why, there's two of them, and they're having a fight!  Come on."'

It seemed a strange place for a fight--that hot, lonely, cotton-bush
plain.  And yet not more than half a mile ahead there were apparently
two men struggling together on the track.

The three travellers postponed their smoke-ho and hurried on.  They
were shearers--a little man and a big man, known respectively as
"Sunlight" and "Macquarie," and a tall, thin, young jackeroo whom
they called "Milky."

"I wonder where the other man sprang from?  I didn't see him before,"
said Sunlight.

"He muster bin layin' down in the bushes," said Macquarie.  "They're
goin' at it proper, too.  Come on!  Hurry up and see the fun!"

They hurried on.

"It's a funny-lookin' feller, the other feller," panted Milky.  "He
don't seem to have no head.  Look! he's down--they're both down!  They
must ha' clinched on the ground.  No! they're up an' at it again....
Why, good Lord!  I think the other's a woman!"

"My oath! so it is!" yelled Sunlight.  "Look! the brute's got her
down again!  He's kickin' her.  Come on, chaps; come on, or he'll do
for her!"

They dropped swags, water-bags and all, and raced forward; but
presently Sunlight, who had the best eyes, slackened his pace and
dropped behind.  His mates glanced back at his face, saw a peculiar
expression there, looked ahead again, and then dropped into a walk.

They reached the scene of the trouble, and there stood a little
withered old man by the track, with his arms folded close up under
his chin; he was dressed mostly in calico patches; and half a dozen
corks, suspended on bits of string from the brim of his hat, dangled
before his bleared optics to scare away the flies.  He was scowling
malignantly at a stout, dumpy swag which lay in the middle of the
track.

"Well, old Rats, what's the trouble?" asked Sunlight.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," answered the old man, without looking round.
"I fell out with my swag, that's all.  He knocked me down, but I've
settled him."

"But look here," said Sunlight, winking at his mates, "we saw you
jump on him when he was down.  That ain't fair, you know."

"But you didn't see it all," cried Rats, getting excited.  "He hit
_me_ down first!  And look here, I'll fight him again for nothing,
and you can see fair play."

They talked awhile; then Sunlight proposed to second the swag, while
his mate supported the old man, and after some persuasion, Milky
agreed, for the sake of the lark, to act as time-keeper and referee.

Rats entered into the spirit of the thing; he stripped to the waist,
and while he was getting ready the travellers pretended to bet on the
result.

Macquarie took his place behind the old man, and Sunlight up-ended the
swag.  Rats shaped and danced round; then he rushed, feinted, ducked,
retreated, darted in once more, and suddenly went down like a shot on
the broad of his back.  No actor could have done it better; he went
down from that imaginary blow as if a cannon-ball had struck him in
the forehead.

Milky called time, and the old man came up, looking shaky.  However,
he got in a tremendous blow which knocked the swag into the bushes.

Several rounds followed with varying success.

The men pretended to get more and more excited, and betted freely;
and Rats did his best.  At last they got tired of the fun, Sunlight
let the swag lie after Milky called time, and the jackaroo awarded
the fight to Rats.  They pretended to hand over the stakes, and then
went back for their swags, while the old man put on his shirt.

Then he calmed down, carried his swag to the side of the track, sat
down on it and talked rationally about bush matters for a while; but
presently he grew silent and began to feel his muscles and smile
idiotically.

"Can you len' us a bit o' meat?" said he suddenly.

They spared him half a pound; but he said he didn't want it all, and
cut off about an ounce, which he laid on the end of his swag.  Then he
took the lid off his billy and produced a fishing-line.  He baited
the hook, threw the line across the track, and waited for a bite.
Soon he got deeply interested in the line, jerked it once or twice,
and drew it in rapidly.  The bait had been rubbed off in the grass.
The old man regarded the hook disgustedly.

"Look at that!" he cried.  "I had him, only I was in such a hurry.
I should ha' played him a little more."

Next time he was more careful.  He drew the line in warily, grabbed an
imaginary fish and laid it down on the grass.  Sunlight and Co. were
greatly interested by this time.

"Wot yer think o' that?" asked Rats.  "It weighs thirty pound if it
weighs an ounce!  Wot yer think o' that for a cod? The hook's half-way
down his blessed gullet!"

He caught several cod and a bream while they were there, and invited
them to camp and have tea with him.  But they wished to reach a
certain shed next day, so--after the ancient had borrowed about a pound
of meat for bait--they went on, and left him fishing contentedly.

But first Sunlight went down into his pocket and came up with half a
crown, which he gave to the old man, along with some tucker.  "You'd
best push on to the water before dark, old chap," he said, kindly.

When they turned their heads again, Rats was still fishing but when
they looked back for the last time before entering the timber, he was
having another row with his swag; and Sunlight reckoned that the
trouble arose out of some lies which the swag had been telling about
the bigger fish it caught.




MITCHELL: A CHARACTER SKETCH



It was a very mean station, and Mitchell thought he had better go
himself and beard the overseer for tucker.  His mates were for waiting
till the overseer went out on the run, and then trying their luck with
the cook; but the self-assertive and diplomatic Mitchell decided to
go.

"Good day," said Mitchell.

"Good day," said the manager.

"It's hot," said Mitchell.

"Yes, it's hot."

"I don't suppose," said Mitchell; "I don't suppose it's any use
asking you for a job?"

"Naw."

"Well, I won't ask you," said Mitchell, "but I don't suppose you want
any fencing done?"

"Naw."

"Nor boundary-riding'?"

"Naw."

"You ain't likely to want a man to knock round?"

"Naw."

"I thought not.  Things are pretty bad just now."

"Na--yes--they are."

"Ah, well; there's a lot to be said on the squatter's side as well as
the men's.  I suppose I can get a bit of rations?"

"Ye-yes."  (_Shortly_)--"Wot d'yer want?"

"Well, let's see; we want a bit of meat and flour--I think that's
all.  Got enough tea and sugar to carry us on."

"All right.  Cook! have you got any meat?"

"No!"

To Mitchell: "Can you kill a sheep?"

"Rather!"

To the cook: "Give this man a cloth and knife and steel, and let him
go up to the yard and kill a sheep."  (To Mitchell) "You can take a
fore-quarter and get a bit of flour."

Half an hour later Mitchell came back with the carcass wrapped in the
cloth.

"Here yer are; here's your sheep," he said to the cook.  "That's all
right; hang it in there.  Did you take a forequarter?"'

"No."

"Well, why didn't you?  The boss told you to."

"I didn't want a fore-quarter.  I don't like it.  I took a
hind-quarter."

So he had.

The cook scratched his head; he seemed to have nothing to say.  He
thought about trying to think, perhaps, but gave it best.  It was too
hot and he was out of practice.

"Here, fill these up, will you?" said Mitchell.  "That's the tea-bag,
and that's the sugar-bag, and that's the flour-bag."  He had taken them
from the front of his shirt.

"Don't be frightened to stretch 'em a little, old man.  I've got two
mates to feed."

The cook took the bags mechanically and filled them well before he
knew what he was doing.  Mitchell talked all the time.

"Thank you," said he--"got a bit of baking-powder?"

"Ye-yes, here you are."

"Thank you.  Find it dull here, don't you?"

"Well, yes, pretty dull.  There's a bit of cooked beef and some bread
and cake there, if you want it!"

"Thanks," said Mitchell, sweeping the broken victuals into an old
pillow-slip which he carried on his person for such an emergency.
"I s'pose you find it dull round here."

"Yes, pretty dull."

"No one to talk to much?" "No, not many."

"Tongue gets rusty?"

"Ye--es, sometimes."

"Well, so long, and thank yer."

"So long," said the cook (he nearly added "thank yer").

"Well, good day; I'll see you again."

"Good day."

Mitchell shouldered his spoil and left.

The cook scratched his head; he had a chat with the overseer
afterwards, and they agreed that the traveller was a bit gone.

But Mitchell's head wasn't gone--not much: he had been round a
bit--that was all.




THE BUSH UNDERTAKER



"Five Bob!"

The old man shaded his eyes and peered through the dazzling glow of
that broiling Christmas Day.  He stood just within the door of a
slab-and-bark hut situated upon the bank of a barren creek;
sheep-yards lay to the right, and a low line of bare, brown ridges
formed a suitable background to the scene.

"Five Bob!" shouted he again; and a dusty sheep-dog rose wearily
from the shaded side of the but and looked inquiringly at his master,
who pointed towards some sheep which were straggling from the flock.

"Fetch 'em back," he said confidently.

The dog went off, and his master returned to the interior of the hut.

"We'll yard 'em early," he said to himself; "the super won't know.
We'll yard 'em early, and have the arternoon to ourselves."

"We'll get dinner," he added, glancing at some pots on the fire.
"I cud do a bit of doughboy, an' that theer boggabri'll eat like
tater-marrer along of the salt meat."  He moved one of the black
buckets from the blaze.  "I likes to keep it jist on the sizzle," he
said in explanation to himself; "hard bilin' makes it tough--I'll keep
it jist a-simmerin'."

Here his soliloquy was interrupted by the return of the dog.

"All right, Five Bob," said the hatter, "dinner'll be ready
dreckly.  Jist keep yer eye on the sheep till I calls yer; keep 'em
well rounded up, an' we'll yard 'em afterwards and have a holiday."

This speech was accompanied by a gesture evidently intelligible, for
the dog retired as though he understood English, and the cooking
proceeded.

"I'll take a pick an' shovel with me an' root up that old
blackfellow," mused the shepherd, evidently following up a recent
train of thought; "I reckon it'll do now.  I'll put in the spuds."

The last sentence referred to the cooking, the first to a
blackfellow's grave about which he was curious.

"The sheep's a-campin'," said the soliloquizer, glancing through the
door.  "So me an' Five Bob'll be able to get our dinner in peace.  I
wish I had just enough fat to make the pan siss; I'd treat myself to a
leather-jacket; but it took three weeks' skimmin' to get enough for
them theer doughboys."

In due time the dinner was dished up; and the old man seated himself
on a block, with the lid of a gin-case across his knees for a table.
Five Bob squatted opposite with the liveliest interest and
appreciation depicted on his intelligent countenance.

Dinner proceeded very quietly, except when the carver paused to ask
the dog how some tasty morsel went with him, and Five Bob's tail
declared that it went very well indeed.

"Here y'are, try this," cried the old man, tossing him a large piece
of doughboy.  A click of Five Bob's jaws and the dough was gone.

"Clean into his liver!" said the old man with a faint smile.  He
washed up the tinware in the water the duff had been boiled in, and
then, with the assistance of the dog, yarded the sheep.

This accomplished, he took a pick and shovel and an old sack, and
started out over the ridge, followed, of course, by his four-legged
mate.  After tramping some three miles he reached a spur, running out
from the main ridge.  At the extreme end of this, under some
gum-trees, was a little mound of earth, barely defined in the grass,
and indented in the centre as all blackfellows' graves were.

He set to work to dig it up, and sure enough, in about half an hour he
bottomed on payable dirt.

When he had raked up all the bones, he amused himself by putting them
together on the grass and by speculating as to whether they had
belonged to black or white, male or female.  Failing, however, to
arrive at any satisfactory conclusion, he dusted them with great care,
put them in the bag, and started for home.

He took a short cut this time over the ridge and down a gully which
was full of ring-barked trees and long white grass.  He had nearly
reached its mouth when a great greasy black goanna clambered up a
sapling from under his feet and looked fightable.

"Dang the jumpt-up thing!" cried the old man.  "It 'gin me a
start!"

At the foot of the sapling he espied an object which he at first
thought was the blackened carcass of a sheep, but on closer
examination discovered to be the body of a man; it lay with its
forehead resting on its hands, dried to a mummy by the intense heat
of the western summer.

"Me luck's in for the day and no mistake!" said the shepherd,
scratching the back of his head, while he took stock of the remains.
He picked up a stick and tapped the body on the shoulder; the flesh
sounded like leather.  He turned it over on its side; it fell flat on
its back like a board, and the shrivelled eyes seemed to peer up at
him from under the blackened wrists.

He stepped back involuntarily, but, recovering himself, leant on his
stick and took in all the ghastly details.

There was nothing in the blackened features to tell aught of name or
race, but the dress proclaimed the remains to be those of a European.
The old man caught sight of a black bottle in the grass, close beside
the corpse.  This set him thinking.  Presently he knelt down and
examined the soles of the dead man's blucher boots, and then, rising
with an air of conviction, exclaimed: "Brummy! by gosh!--busted up at
last!

"I tole yer so, Brummy," he said impressively, addressing the
corpse.  "I allers told yer as how it 'ud be--an' here y'are, you
thundering jumpt-up cuss-o'-God fool.  Yer cud earn more'n any man in
the colony, but yer'd lush it all away.  I allers sed as how it 'ud
end, an' now yer kin see fur y'self.

"I spect yer was a-comin' t' me t' get fixt up an' set straight agin;
then yer was a-goin' to swear off, same as yer 'allers did; an' here
y'are, an' now I expect I'll have t' fix yer up for the last time an'
make yer decent, for 'twon't do t' leave yer alyin' out here like a
dead sheep."

He picked up the corked bottle and examined it.  To his great surprise
it was nearly full of rum.

"Well, this gits me," exclaimed the old man; "me luck's in, this
Christmas, an' no mistake.  He must 'a' got the jams early in his
spree, or he wouldn't be a-making for me with near a bottleful left.
Howsomenever, here goes."

Looking round, his eyes lit up with satisfaction as he saw some bits
of bark which had been left by a party of strippers who had been
getting bark there for the stations.  He picked up two pieces, one
about four and the other six feet long, and each about two feet wide,
and brought them over to the body.  He laid the longest strip by the
side of the corpse, which he proceeded to lift on to it.

"Come on, Brummy," he said, in a softer tone than usual, "ye ain't
as bad as yer might be, considerin' as it must be three good months
since yer slipped yer wind.  I spect it was the rum as preserved yer.
It was the death of yer when yer was alive, an' now yer dead, it
preserves yer like--like a mummy."

Then he placed the other strip on top, with the hollow side
downwards--thus sandwiching the defunct between the two
pieces--removed the saddle-strap, which he wore for a belt, and
buckled it round one end, while he tried to think of something with
which to tie up the other.

"I can't take any more strips off my shirt," he said, critically
examining the skirts of the old blue overshirt he wore.  "I might get
a strip or two more off, but it's short enough already.  Let's see;
how long have I been a-wearin' of that shirt; oh, I remember, I bought
it jist two days afore Five Bob was pupped.  I can't afford a new
shirt jist yet; howsomenever, seein' it's Brummy, I'll jist borrow a
couple more strips and sew 'em on agen when I git home."

He up-ended Brummy, and placing his shoulder against the middle of the
lower sheet of bark, lifted the corpse to a horizontal position;
then, taking the bag of bones in his hand, he started for home.

"I ain't a-spendin' sech a dull Christmas arter all," he reflected,
as he plodded on; but he had not walked above a hundred yards when he
saw a black goanna sidling into the grass.

"That's another of them theer dang things!" he exclaimed.  "That's two
I've seed this mornin'."

Presently he remarked: "Yer don't smell none too sweet, Brummy.
It must 'a' been jist about the middle of shearin' when yer pegged out.
I wonder who got yer last cheque.  Shoo! theer's another black
goanner--theer must be a flock of 'em."

He rested Brummy on the ground while he had another pull at the
bottle, and, before going on, packed the bag of bones on his shoulder
under the body, and he soon stopped again.

"The thunderin' jumpt-up bones is all skew-whift," he said.  "'Ole
on, Brummy, an' I'll fix 'em"--and he leaned the dead man against a
tree while he settled the bones on his shoulder, and took another pull
at the bottle.

About a mile further on he heard a rustling in the grass to the right,
and, looking round, saw another goanna gliding off sideways, with its
long snaky neck turned towards him.

This puzzled the shepherd considerably, the strangest part of it being
that Five Bob wouldn't touch the reptile, but slunk off with his tail
down when ordered to "sick 'em."

"Theer's sothin' comic about them theer goanners," said the old man
at last.  "I've seed swarms of grasshoppers an' big mobs of
kangaroos, but dang me if ever I seed a flock of black goanners
afore!"

On reaching the hut the old man dumped the corpse against the wall,
wrong end up, and stood scratching his head while he endeavoured to
collect his muddled thoughts; but he had not placed Brummy at the
correct angle, and, consequently, that individual fell forward and
struck him a violent blow on the shoulder with the iron toes of his
blucher boots.

The shock sobered him.  He sprang a good yard, instinctively hitching
up his moleskins in preparation for flight; but a backward glance
revealed to him the true cause of this supposed attack from the rear.
Then he lifted the body, stood it on its feet against the chimney, and
ruminated as to where he should lodge his mate for the night, not
noticing that the shorter sheet of bark had slipped down on the boots
and left the face exposed.

"I spect I'll have ter put yer into the chimney-trough for the
night, Brummy," said he, turning round to confront the corpse.  "Yer
can't expect me to take yer into the hut, though I did it when yer was
in a worse state than--Lord!"

The shepherd was not prepared for the awful scrutiny that gleamed on
him from those empty sockets; his nerves received a shock, and it
was some time before he recovered himself sufficiently to speak.

"Now, look a-here, Brummy," said he, shaking his finger severely at
the delinquent, "I don't want to pick a row with yer; I'd do as much
for yer an' more than any other man, an' well yer knows it; but if yer
starts playin' any of yer jumpt-up pranktical jokes on me, and
a-scarin' of me after a-humpin' of yer 'ome, by the 'oly frost I'll
kick yer to jim-rags, so I will."

This admonition delivered, he hoisted Brummy into the chimney-trough,
and with a last glance towards the sheep-yards, he retired to his bunk
to have, as he said, a snooze.

He had more than a snooze, however, for when he woke, it was dark, and
the bushman's instinct told him it must be nearly nine o'clock.

He lit a slush-lamp and poured the remainder of the rum into a
pannikin; but, just as he was about to lift the draught to his lips,
he heard a peculiar rustling sound overhead, and put the pot down on
the table with a slam that spilled some of the precious liquor.

Five Bob whimpered, and the old shepherd, though used to the weird and
dismal, as one living alone in the bush must necessarily be, felt the
icy breath of fear at his heart.

He reached hastily for his old shot-gun, and went out to investigate.
He walked round the but several times and examined the roof on all
sides, but saw nothing.  Brummy appeared to be in the same position.

At last, persuading himself that the noise was caused by possums or
the wind, the old man went inside, boiled his billy, and, after
composing his nerves somewhat with a light supper and a meditative
smoke, retired for the night.  He was aroused several times before
midnight by the same mysterious sound overhead, but, though he rose
and examined the roof on each occasion by the light of the rising
moon, he discovered nothing.

At last he determined to sit up and watch until daybreak, and for this
purpose took up a position on a log a short distance from the hut,
with his gun laid in readiness across his knee.

After watching for about an hour, he saw a black object coming over
the ridge-pole.  He grabbed his gun and fired.  The thing disappeared.
He ran round to the other side of the hut, and there was a great black
goanna in violent convulsions on the ground.

Then the old man saw it all.  "The thunderin' jumpt-up thing has been
a-havin' o' me," he exclaimed.  "The same cuss-o'-God wretch has
a-follered me 'ome, an' has been a-havin' its Christmas dinner off of
Brummy, an' a-hauntin' o' me into the bargain, the jumpt-up tinker!"

As there was no one by whom he could send a message to the station,
and the old man dared not leave the sheep and go himself, he
determined to bury the body the next afternoon, reflecting that
the authorities could disinter it for inquest if they pleased.

So he brought the sheep home early and made arrangements for the
burial by measuring the outer casing of Brummy and digging a hole
according to those dimensions.

"That 'minds me," he said.  "I never rightly knowed Brummy's
religion, blest if ever I did.  Howsomenever, there's one thing
sartin--none o' them theer pianer-fingered parsons is a-goin' ter
take the trouble ter travel out inter this God-forgotten part to hold
sarvice over him, seein' as how his last cheque's blued.  But, as
I've got the fun'ral arrangements all in me own hands, I'll do jestice
to it, and see that Brummy has a good comfortable buryin'--and more's
unpossible."

"It's time yer turned in, Brum," he said, lifting the body down.

He carried it to the grave and dropped it into one corner like a post.
He arranged the bark so as to cover the face, and, by means of a
piece of clothes-line, lowered the body to a horizontal position.
Then he threw in an armful of gum-leaves, and then, very reluctantly,
took the shovel and dropped in a few shovelfuls of earth.

"An' this is the last of Brummy," he said, leaning on his spade and
looking away over the tops of the ragged gums on the distant range.

This reflection seemed to engender a flood of memories, in which the
old man became absorbed.  He leaned heavily upon his spade and
thought.

"Arter all," he murmured sadly, "arter all--it were Brummy.

"Brummy," he said at last.  "It's all over now; nothin' matters
now--nothin' didn't ever matter, nor--nor don't.  You uster say as how
it 'ud be all right termorrer" (pause); "termorrer's come,
Brummy--come fur you--it ain't come fur me yet, but--it's a-comin'."

He threw in some more earth.

"Yer don't remember, Brummy, an' mebbe yer don't want to remember--
_I_ don't want to remember--but--well, but, yer see that's where
yer got the pull on me."

He shovelled in some more earth and paused again.

The dog rose, with ears erect, and looked anxiously first at his
master and then into the grave.

"Theer oughter be somethin' sed," muttered the old man; "'tain't
right to put 'im under like a dog.  Theer oughter be some sort o'
sarmin."  He sighed heavily in the listening silence that followed
this remark and proceeded with his work.  He filled the grave to the
brim this time, and fashioned the mound carefully with his spade.
Once or twice he muttered the words, "I am the rassaraction."  As he
laid the tools quietly aside, and stood at the head of the grave, he
was evidently trying to remember the something that ought to be said.
He removed his hat, placed it carefully on the grass, held his hands
out from his sides and a little to the front, drew a long deep breath,
and said with a solemnity that greatly disturbed Five Bob: "Hashes
ter hashes, dus ter dus, Brummy--an'--an' in hopes of a great an'
gerlorious rassaraction!"

He sat down on a log near by, rested his elbows on his knees and
passed his hand wearily over his forehead--but only as one who was
tired and felt the heat; and presently he rose, took up the tools,
and walked back to the hut.

And the sun sank again on the grand Australian bush--the nurse and
tutor of eccentric minds, the home of the weird.




OUR PIPES



The moon rose away out on the edge of a smoky plain, seen through a
sort of tunnel or arch in the fringe of mulga behind which we were
camped--Jack Mitchell and I.  The timber proper was just behind us,
very thick and very dark.  The moon looked like a big new copper
boiler set on edge on the horizon of the plain, with the top turned
towards us and a lot of old rags and straw burning inside.

We had tramped twenty-five miles on a dry stretch on a hot
day--swagmen know what that means.  We reached the water about two
hours "after dark "--swagmen know what that means.  We didn't sit
down at once and rest--we hadn't rested for the last ten miles.  We
knew that if we sat down we wouldn't want to get up again in a hurry--
that, if we did, our leg-sinews, especially those of our calves, would
"draw" like red-hot wire's.  You see, we hadn't been long on the
track this time--it was only our third day out.  Swagmen will
understand.

We got the billy boiled first, and some leaves laid down for our beds
and the swags rolled out.  We thanked the Lord that we had some cooked
meat and a few johnny-cakes left, for we didn't feel equal to cooking.
We put the billy of tea and our tucker-bags between the heads of our
beds, and the pipes and tobacco in the crown of an old hat, where we
could reach them without having to get up.  Then we lay down on our
stomachs and had a feed.  We didn't eat much--we were too tired for
that--but we drank a lot of tea.  We gave our calves time to tone down
a bit; then we lit up and began to answer each other.  It got to be
pretty comfortable, so long as we kept those unfortunate legs of ours
straight and didn't move round much.

We cursed society because we weren't rich men, and then we felt
better and conversation drifted lazily round various subjects and
ended in that of smoking.

"How came to start smoking?" said Mitchell.  "Let's see."  He
reflected.  "I started smoking first when I was about fourteen or
fifteen.  I smoked some sort of weed--I forget the name of it--but it
wasn't tobacco; and then I smoked cigarettes--not the ones we get now,
for those cost a penny each.  Then I reckoned that, if I could smoke
those, I could smoke a pipe."

He reflected.

"We lived in Sydney then--Surry Hills.  Those were different times;
the place was nearly all sand.  The old folks were alive then, and we
were all at home, except Tom."

He reflected.

"Ah, well!...Well, one evening I was playing marbles out in front of
our house when a chap we knew gave me his pipe to mind while he went
into a church-meeting.  The little church was opposite--a 'chapel' they
called it."

He reflected.

"The pipe was alight.  It was a clay pipe and niggerhead tobacco.
Mother was at work out in the kitchen at the back, washing up the
tea-things, and, when I went in, she said: 'You've been smoking!'

"Well, I couldn't deny it--I was too sick to do so, or care much,
anyway.

"'Give me that pipe!' she said.

"I said I hadn't got it.

"'_Give--me--that--pipe_!' she said.

"I said I hadn't got it.

"'Where is it?' she said.

"'Jim Brown's got it,' I said, 'it's his.'

"'Then I'll give it to Jim Brown,' she said; and she did; though it
wasn't Jim's fault, for he only gave it to me to mind.  I didn't smoke
the pipe so much because I wanted to smoke a pipe just then, as
because I had such a great admiration for Jim."

Mitchell reflected, and took a look at the moon.  It had risen clear
and had got small and cold and pure-looking, and had floated away back
out amongst the stars.

"I felt better towards morning, but it didn't cure me--being sick and
nearly dead all night, I mean.  I got a clay pipe and tobacco, and the
old lady found it and put it in the stove.  Then I got another pipe
and tobacco, and she laid for it, and found it out at last; but she
didn't put the tobacco in the stove this time--she'd got experience.
I don't know what she did with it.  I tried to find it, but couldn't.
I fancy the old man got hold of it, for I saw him with a plug that
looked very much like mine."

He reflected.

"But I wouldn't be done.  I got a cherry pipe.  I thought it wouldn't
be so easy to break if she found it.  I used to plant the bowl in one
place and the stem in another because I reckoned that if she found one
she mightn't find the other.  It doesn't look much of an idea now, but
it seemed like an inspiration then.  Kids get rum ideas."

He reflected.

"Well, one day I was having a smoke out at the back, when I heard her
coming, and I pulled out the stem in a hurry and put the bowl behind
the water-butt and the stem under the house.  Mother was coming round
for a dipper of water.  I got out of her way quick, for I hadn't time
to look innocent; but the bowl of the pipe was hot and she got a whiff
of it.  She went sniffing round, first on one side of the cask and
then on the other, until she got on the scent and followed it up and
found the bowl.  Then I had only the stem left.  She looked for that,
but she couldn't scent it.  But I couldn't get much comfort out of
that.  Have you got the matches?

"Then I gave it best for a time and smoked cigars.  They were the
safest and most satisfactory under the circumstances, but they cost me
two shillings a week, and I couldn't stand it, so I started a pipe
again and then mother gave in at last.  God bless her, and God forgive
me, and us all--we deserve it.  She's been at rest these seventeen
long years."

Mitchell reflected.

"And what did your old man do when he found out that you were
smoking?" I asked.

"The old man?"

He reflected.

"Well, he seemed to brighten up at first.  You see, he was sort of
pensioned off by mother and she kept him pretty well inside his
income....Well, he seemed to sort of brighten up--liven up--when he
found out that I was smoking."

"Did he?  So did my old man, and he livened me up, too.  But what did
your old man do--what did he say?"

"Well," said Mitchell, very slowly, "about the first thing he did
was to ask me for a fill."

He reflected.

"Ah!  many a solemn, thoughtful old smoke we had together on the
quiet--the old man and me."

He reflected.

"Is your old man dead, Mitchell?" I asked softly.  "Long ago--these
twelve years," said Mitchell.




COMING ACROSS



We were delayed for an hour or so inside Sydney Heads, taking
passengers from the _Oroya_, which had just arrived from England
and anchored off Watson's Bay.  An Adelaide boat went alongside the
ocean liner, while we dropped anchor at a respectable distance.  This
puzzled some of us until one of the passengers stopped an ancient
mariner and inquired.  The sailor jerked his thumb upwards, and left.
The passengers stared aloft till some of them got the lockjaw in the
back of their necks, and then another sailor suggested that we had
yards to our masts, while the Adelaide boat had not.

It seemed a pity that the new chums for New Zealand didn't have a
chance to see Sydney after coming so far and getting so near.  It
struck them that way too.  They saw Melbourne, which seemed another
injustice to the old city.  However, nothing matters much nowadays,
and they might see Sydney in happier times.

They looked like new chums, especially the "furst clarsters," and
there were two or three Scotsmen among them who looked like Scots, and
talked like it too; also an Irishman.  Great Britain and Ireland do
not seem to be learning anything fresh about Australia.  We had a yarn
with one of these new arrivals, and got talking about the banks.  It
turned out that he was a radical.  He spat over the side and said:

"It's a something shame the way things is carried on!  Now, look
here, a banker can rob hundreds of wimmin and children an' widders and
orfuns, and nothin' is done to him; but if a poor man only embezzles a
shilling _he gets transported to the colonies for life_."  The
italics are ours, but the words were his.

We explained to this new chum that transportation was done away with
long ago, as far as Australia was concerned, that no more convicts
were sent out here--only men who ought to be; and he seemed surprised.
He did not call us a liar, but he looked as if he thought that we were
prevaricating.  We were glad that he didn't say so, for he was a
bigger man.  New chums are generally more robust than Australians.

When we got through the Heads someone pointed to the wrong part of the
cliff and said:

"That's where the _Dunbar_ was wrecked."

Shortly afterwards another man pointed to another wrong part of the
cliffs and observed incidentally:

"That's where the _Dunbar_ was wrecked."

Pretty soon a third man came along and pointed to a third wrong part
of the cliff, and remarked casually:

"That's where the _Dunbar_ was wrecked."

We moved aft and met the fourth mate, who jerked his thumb over his
shoulder at the cliffs in general, and muttered condescendingly:

"That's where the _Dunbar_ was wrecked."

It was not long before a woman turned round and asked "Was that the
place where the Dunbar was wrecked, please?"

We said "Yes," and she said "Lor," and beckoned to a friend.

We went for'ard and met an old sailor, who glared at us, jerked his
thumb at the coast and growled:

"That's where the _Dunbar_ went down."

Then we went below; but we felt a slight relief when he said "went
down" instead of "was wrecked."

It is doubtful whether a passenger boat ever cleared Sydney Heads
since the wild night of that famous wreck without someone pointing to
the wrong part of the cliffs, and remarking:

"That's where the _Dunbar_ was wrecked."

The _Dunbar_ fiend is inseparable from Australian coasting steamers.


We travelled second-class in the interests of journalism.  You get
more points for copy in the steerage.  It was a sacrifice; but we
hope to profit by it some day.

There were about fifty male passengers, including half a dozen New
Zealand shearers, two of whom came on board drunk--their remarks for
the first night mainly consisted of "gory." "Gory" is part of the
Australian language now--a big part.

The others were chiefly tradesmen, labourers, clerks and bagmen,
driven out of Australia by the hard times there, and glad, no doubt,
to get away.  There was a jeweller on board, of course, and his name
was Moses or Cohen.  If it wasn't it should have been--or Isaacs.  His
christian name was probably Benjamin.  We called him Jacobs.  He
passed away most of his time on board in swopping watch lies with the
other passengers and good-naturedly spoiling their Waterburys.

One commercial traveller shipped with a flower in his buttonhole.  His
girl gave it to him on the wharf, and told him to keep it till it
faded, and then press it.  She was a barmaid.  She thought he was
"going saloon," but he came forward as soon as the wharf was out of
sight.  He gave the flower to the stewardess, and told us about these
things one moonlight night during the voyage.

There was another--a well-known Sydney man--whose friends thought he
was going saloon, and turned up in good force to see him off.  He
spent his last shilling "shouting," and kept up his end of the
pathetic little farce out of consideration for the feelings of certain
proud female relatives, and not because he was "proud"--at least in
that way.  He stood on a conspicuous part of the saloon deck and waved
his white handkerchief until Miller's Point came between.  Then he
came forward where he belonged.  But he was proud--bitterly so.  He
had a flower too, but he did not give it to the stewardess.  He had it
pressed, we think (for we knew him), and perhaps he wears it now over
the place where his heart used to be.

When Australia was fading from view we shed a tear, which was all we
had to shed; at least, we tried to shed a tear, and could not.  It is
best to be exact when you are writing from experience.

Just as Australia was fading from view, someone looked through a
glass, and said in a sad, tired kind of voice that he could just see
the place where the _Dunbar_ was wrecked.

Several passengers were leaning about and saying "Europe!
E-u-rope!"  in agonized tones.  None of them were going to Europe,
and the new chums said nothing about it.  This reminds us that some
people say "Asia! Asia! Ak-kak-Asia!" when somebody spills the
pepper.  There was a pepper-box without a stopper on the table in our
cabin.  The fact soon attracted attention.

A new chum came along and asked us whether the Maoris were very bad
round Sydney.  He'd heard that they were.  We told him that we had
never had any trouble with them to speak of, and gave him another
show.

"Did you ever hear of the wreck of the _Dunbar_?" we asked.  He
said that he never "heerd tell" of it, but he had heerd of the wreck
of the _Victoria_.

We gave him best.

The first evening passed off quietly, except for the vinously-excited
shearers.  They had sworn eternal friendship with a convivial dude
from the saloon, and he made a fine specimen fool of himself for an
hour or so.  He never showed his nose for'ard again.

Now and then a passenger would solemnly seek the steward and have a
beer.  The steward drew it out of a small keg which lay on its side on
a shelf with a wooden tap sticking out of the end of it--out of the
end of the keg, we mean.  The beer tasted like warm but weak vinegar,
and cost sixpence per small glass.  The bagman told the steward that
he could not compliment him on the quality of his liquor, but the
steward said nothing.  He did not even seem interested--only bored.
He had heard the same remark often before, no doubt.  He was a fat,
solemn steward--not formal, but very reticent--unresponsive.  He
looked like a man who had conducted a religious conservative paper
once and failed, and had then gone into the wholesale produce line,
and failed again, and finally got his present billet through the
influence of his creditors and two clergymen.  He might have been a
sociable fellow, a man about town, even a gay young dog, and a radical
writer before he was driven to accept the editorship of the aforesaid
periodical.  He probably came of a "good English family."  He was
now, very likely, either a rigid Presbyterian or an extreme
freethinker.  He thought a lot, anyway, and looked as if he knew a lot
too--too much for words, in fact.

We took a turn on deck before turning in, and heard two men arguing
about the way in which the _Dunbar_ was wrecked.

The commercial travellers, the jeweller, and one or two new chums who
were well provided with clothing undressed deliberately and retired
ostentatiously in pyjamas, but there were others--men of better
days--who turned in either very early or very late, when the cabin was
quiet, and slipped hurriedly and furtively out of their clothes and
between the blankets, as if they were ashamed of the poverty of their
underwear.  It is well that the Lord can see deep down into the hearts
of men, for He has to judge them; it is well that the majority of
mankind cannot, because, if they could, the world would be altogether
too sorrowful to live in; and we do not think the angels can either,
else they would not be happy--if they could and were they would not be
angels any longer--they would be devils.  Study it out on a slate.

We turned in feeling comfortably dismal, and almost wishing that we
had gone down with the _Dunbar_.

The intoxicated shearers and the dude kept their concert up till a
late hour that night--or, rather, a very early hour next morning;
and at about midnight they were reinforced by the commercial
traveller and Moses, the jeweller, who had been visiting acquaintances
aft.  This push was encouraged by voices from various bunks, and
enthusiastically barracked for by a sandy-complexioned, red-headed
comedian with twinkling grey eyes, who occupied the berth immediately
above our own.

They stood with their backs to the bunks, and their feet braced
against the deck, or lurched round, and took friendly pulls from
whisky flasks, and chyacked each other, and laughed, and blowed, and
lied like--like Australian bushmen; and occasionally they broke out
into snatches of song--and as often broke down.  Few Englishmen know
more than the first verse, or two lines, of even their most popular
song, and, where elevated enough to think they can sing, they repeat
the first verse over and over again, with the wrong words, and with a
sort of "Ta-ra-ra-rum-ti-tooral, ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-rum-ti, ta-ra-ra-rum-
tum-ti-rum-rum-tum-ti-dee-e-e," by way of variation.

Presently--suddenly, it seemed to our drowsy senses--two of the
shearers and the bagman commenced arguing with drunken gravity and
precision about politics, even while a third bushman was approaching
the climax of an out-back yarn of many adjectives, of which he himself
was the hero.  The scraps of conversation that we caught were somewhat
as follow.  We leave out most of the adjectives.

First Voice: "Now, look here.  The women will vote for men, not
principles.  That's why I'm against women voting.  Now, just mark
my---"

Third Voice (trying to finish yarn): "Hold on.  Just wait till I
tell yer.  Well, this bloomin' bloke, he says---"

Second Voice (evidently in reply to first): "Principles you mean,
not men.  You're getting a bit mixed, old man."  (Smothered chuckle
from comedian over our head.)

Third Voice (seeming to drift round in search of sympathy): "'You
will!' sez I.  'Yes, I will,' he sez.  'Oh, you will, will yer?' I
sez; and with that I---"

Second Voice (apparently wandering from both subjects) "Blanker has
always stuck up for the workin' man, an' he'll get in, you'll see.
Why, he's a bloomin' workin' man himself.  Me and Blanker---"

Disgusted voice from a bunk: "Oh, that's damn rot!  We've had enough
of lumpers in parliament!  Horny hands are all right enough, but we
don't want any more blanky horny heads!"

Third Voice (threateningly): "Who's talkin' about 'orny heads?  That
pitch is meant for us, ain't it?  Do you mean to say that I've got a
'orny head?"

Here two men commenced snarling at each other, and there was some talk
of punching the causes of the dispute; but the bagman interfered, a
fresh flask was passed round, and some more eternal friendship sworn
to.

We dozed off again, and the next time we were aware of anything the
commercial and Moses had disappeared, the rest were lying or sitting
in their bunks, and the third shearer was telling a yarn about an
alleged fight he had at a shed up-country; and perhaps he was telling
it for the benefit of the dissatisfied individual who made the
injudicious remark concerning horny heads.

"So I said to the boss-over-the-board, 'you're a nice sort of a
thing,' I sez.  'Who are you talkin' to?' he says.  'You, bless
yer,' I says.  'Now, look here,' he says, 'you get your cheque and
clear! 'All right,' I says, 'you can take that!' and I hauled off
and landed him a beauty under the butt of the listener.  Then the
boss came along with two blacklegs, but the boys made a ring, and I
laid out the blanks in just five minutes.  Then I sez to the boss,
'That's the sort of cove I am,' I sez, 'an' now, if you---"

But just here there came a deep, growling voice--seemingly from out of
the depths of the forehold--anyway, there came a voice, and it said:

"For the Lord's sake give her a rest!"

The steward turned off the electricity, but there were two lanterns
dimly burning in our part of the steerage.  It was a narrow
compartment running across the width of the boat, and had evidently
been partitioned off from the top floor of the hold to meet the
emigration from Australia to New Zealand.  There were three tiers of
bunks, two deep, on the far side, three rows of single bunks on the
other, and two at each end of the cabin, the top ones just under the
portholes.

The shearers had turned in "all standing;" two of them were lying
feet to feet in a couple of outside lower berths.  One lay on his
stomach with his face turned outwards, his arm thrown over the side of
the bunk, and his knuckles resting on the deck, the other rested on
the broad of his back with his arm also hanging over the side and his
knuckles resting on the floor.  And so they slept the sleep of the
drunk.

A fair, girl-faced young Swiss emigrant occupied one of the top
berths, with his curly, flaxen head resting close alongside one of the
lanterns that were dimly burning, and an Anglo-foreign dictionary in
his hand.  His mate, or brother, who resembled him in everything
except that he had dark hair, lay asleep alongside; and in the next
berth a long consumptive-looking new chum sat in his pyjamas, with his
legs hanging over the edge, and his hands grasping the sideboard, to
which, on his right hand, a sort of tin-can arrangement was hooked.
He was staring intently at nothing, and seemed to be thinking very
hard.

We dozed off again, and woke suddenly to find our eyes wide open, and
the young Swiss still studying, and the jackaroo still sitting in the
same position, but with a kind of waiting expression on his face--a
sort of expectant light in his eyes.  Suddenly he lurched for the can,
and after awhile he lay back looking like a corpse.

We slept again, and finally awoke to daylight and the clatter of
plates.  All the bunks were vacated except two, which contained
corpses, apparently.


Wet decks, and a round, stiff, morning breeze, blowing strongly
across the deck, abeam, and gustily through the open portholes.
There was a dull grey sky, and the sea at first sight seemed to be of
a dark blue or green, but on closer inspection it took a dirty slate
colour, with splashes as of indigo in the hollows.  There was one of
those near, yet far-away horizons.

About two-thirds of the men were on deck, but the women had not shown
up yet--nor did they show up until towards the end of the trip.

Some of the men were smoking in a sheltered corner, some walking up
and down, two or three trying to play quoits, one looking at the
poultry, one standing abaft the purser's cabin with hands in the
pockets of his long ragged overcoat, watching the engines, and two
more--carpenters--were discussing a big cedar log, about five feet in
diameter, which was lashed on deck alongside the hatch.

While we were waiting for the _Oroya_ some of the ship's officers
came and had a consultation over this log and called up part of the
crew, who got some more ropes and a chain on to it.  It struck us at
the time that that log would make a sensation if it fetched loose in
rough weather.  But there wasn't any rough weather.

The fore-cabin was kept clean; the assistant steward was good-humoured
and obliging; his chief was civil enough to freeze the Never-Never
country; but the bill of fare was monotonous.

During the afternoon a first-salooner made himself obnoxious by
swelling round for'ard.  He was a big bull-necked "Britisher" (that
word covers it) with a bloated face, prominent gooseberry eyes, fore
'n' aft cap, and long tan shoes.  He seemed as if he'd come to see a
"zoo," and was dissatisfied with it--had a fine contempt for it, in
fact, because it did not come up to other zoological gardens that he
had seen in London, and on the _aw_--continong and in the--_aw_-er--
_aw_--the States, dontcherknow.  The fellows reckoned that he ought to
be "took down a peg" (dontcherknow) and the sandy-complexioned comedian
said he'd do it.  So he stepped softly up to the swell, tapped him
lightly on the shoulder, and pointed aft--holding his arm out like a
pump handle and his forefinger rigid.

The Britisher's face was a study; it was blank at first and then it
went all colours, and wore, in succession, every possible expression
except a pleasant one.  He seemed bursting with indignation, but he
did not speak--could not, perhaps; and, as soon as he could detach his
feet from the spot to which they had been nailed in the first place by
astonishment, he stalked aft.  He did not come to see the zoo any more.

The fellows in the fore-cabin that evening were growling about the bad
quality of the grub supplied.

Then the shearer's volcano showed signs of activity.  He shifted round,
spat impatiently, and said:

"You chaps don't know what yer talkin' about.  You want something to
grumble about.  You should have been out with me last year on the
Paroo in Noo South Wales.  The meat we got there was so bad that it
uster travel!"

"What?"

"Yes! travel! take the track! go on the wallaby!  The cockies over
there used to hang the meat up on the branches of the trees, and just
shake it whenever they wanted to feed the fowls.  And the water was
so bad that half a pound of tea in the billy wouldn't make no
impression on the colour--nor the taste.  The further west we went the
worse our meat got, till at last we had to carry a dog-chain to chain
it up at night.  Then it got worse and broke the chain, and then we
had to train the blessed dogs to shepherd it and bring it back.  But
we fell in with another chap with a bad old dog--a downright knowing,
thieving, old hard-case of a dog; and this dog led our dogs
astray---demoralized them--corrupted their morals--and so one morning they
came home with the blooming meat inside them, instead of outside--and
we had to go hungry for breakfast."

"You'd better turn in, gentlemen.  I'm going to turn off the light,"
said the steward.

The yarn reminded the Sydney man of a dog he had, and he started some
dog lies.

"This dog of mine," he said, "knowed the way into the best
public-houses.  If I came to a strange town and wanted a good drink,
I'd only have to say, 'Jack, I'm dry,' and he'd lead me all right.
He always knew the side entrances and private doors after hours, and
I--"

But the yarn did not go very well--it fell flat in fact.  Then the
commercial traveller was taken bad with an anecdote.  "That's
nothing," he said, "I had a black bag once that knew the way into
public-houses."

"A what?"

"Yes.  A black bag.  A long black bag like that one I've got there in
my bunk.  I was staying at a boarding-house in Sydney, and one of us
used to go out every night for a couple of bottles of beer, and we
carried the bottles in the bag; and when we got opposite the pub the
front end of the bag would begin to swing round towards the door.  It
was wonderful.  It was just as if there was a lump of steel in the end
of the bag and a magnet in the bar.  We tried it with ever so many
people, but it always acted the same.  We couldn't use that bag for
any other purpose, for if we carried it along the street it would
make our wrists ache trying to go into pubs.  It twisted my wrist one
time, and it ain't got right since--I always feel the pain in dull
weather.  Well, one night we got yarning and didn't notice how the
time was going, and forgot to go for the beer till it was nearly too
late.  We looked for the bag and couldn't find it--we generally kept
it under a side-table, but it wasn't there, and before we were done
looking, eleven o'clock went.  We sat down round the fire, feeling
pretty thirsty, and were just thinking about turning in when we heard
a thump on the table behind us.  We looked round, and there was that
bag with two full bottles of English ale in it.

"Then I remembered that I'd left a bob in the bottom of the bag,
and---"

The steward turned off the electric light.

There were some hundreds of cases of oranges stacked on deck, and
made fast with matting and cordage to the bulwarks.  That night was
very dark, and next morning there was a row.  The captain said he'd
"give any man three months that he caught at those oranges."

"Wot, yer givin' us?" said a shearer.  "We don't know anything
about yer bloomin' oranges....I seen one of the saloon passengers
moochin' round for'ard last night.  You'd better search the saloon for
your blarsted oranges, an' don't come round tacklin' the wrong men."

It was not necessary to search our quarters, for the "offside"
steward was sweeping orange peel out of the steerage for three days
thereafter.

And that night, just as we were about to fall asleep, a round,
good-humoured face loomed over the edge of the shelf above and a
small, twinkling, grey eye winked at us.  Then a hand came over, gave
a jerk, and something fell on our nose.  It was an orange.  We sent a
"thank you" up through the boards and commenced hurriedly and
furtively to stow away the orange.  But the comedian had an axe to
grind--most people have--wanted to drop his peel alongside our berth;
and it made us uneasy because we did not want circumstantial evidence
lying round us if the captain chanced to come down to inquire.  The
next man to us had a barney with the man above him about the same
thing.  Then the peel was scattered round pretty fairly, or thrown
into an empty bunk, and no man dared growl lest he should come to be
regarded as a blackleg--a would-be informer.

The men opposite the door kept a look out; and two Australian jokers
sat in the top end berth with their legs hanging over and swinging
contentedly, and the porthole open ready for a swift and easy disposal
of circumstantial evidence on the first alarm.  They were eating a
pineapple which they had sliced and extracted in sections from a crate
up on deck.  They looked so chummy, and so school-boyishly happy and
contented, that they reminded us of the days long ago, when we were so
high.

The chaps had talk about those oranges on deck next day.  The
commercial traveller said we had a right to the oranges, because the
company didn't give us enough to eat.  He said that we were already
suffering from insufficient proper nourishment, and he'd tell the
doctor so if the doctor came on board at Auckland.  Anyway, it was no
sin to rob a company.

"But then," said our comedian, "those oranges, perhaps, were sent
over by a poor, struggling orange grower, with a wife and family to
keep, and he'll have to bear the loss, and a few bob might make a lot
of difference to him.  It ain't right to rob a poor man."

This made us feel doubtful and mean, and one or two got uncomfortable
and shifted round uneasily.  But presently the traveller came to the
rescue.  He said that no doubt the oranges belonged to a middleman,
and the middleman was the curse of the country.  We felt better.

Towards the end of the trip the women began to turn up.  There were
five grass widows, and every female of them had a baby.  The
Australian marries young and poor; and, when he can live no longer in
his native land, he sells the furniture, buys a steerage ticket to New
Zealand or Western Australia, and leaves his wife with her relatives
or friends until he earns enough money to send for her.  Four of our
women were girl-wives, and mostly pretty.  One little handful of a
thing had a fine baby boy, nearly as big as herself, and she looked so
fragile and pale, and pretty and lonely, and had such an appealing
light in her big shadowed brown eyes, and such a pathetic droop at the
corners of her sweet little mouth, that you longed to take her in your
manly arms--baby and all--and comfort her.

The last afternoon on high seas was spent in looking through glasses
for the Pinnacles, off North Cape.  And, as we neared the land, the
commercial traveller remarked that he wouldn't mind if there was a
wreck now--provided we all got saved.  "We'd have all our names in
the papers," he said.  "Gallant conduct of the passengers and crew.
Heroic rescue by Mr So-and-so-climbing the cliffs with a girl under
his arm, and all that sort of thing."

The chaps smiled a doleful smile, and turned away again to look at the
Promised Land.  They had had no anxiety to speak of for the last two
or three days; but now they were again face to face with the cursed
question, "How to make a living."  They were wondering whether or no
they would get work in New Zealand, and feeling more doubtful about it
than when they embarked.

Pity we couldn't go to sea and sail away for ever, and never see
land any more--or, at least, not till better and brighter days--if they
ever come.




THE STORY OF MALACHI



Malachi was very tall, very thin, and very round-shouldered, and the
sandiness of his hair also cried aloud for an adjective.  All the boys
considered Malachi the greatest ass on the station, and there was no
doubt that he _was_ an awful fool.  He had never been out of his
native bush in all his life, excepting once, when he paid a short
visit to Sydney, and when he returned it was evident that his nerves
had received a shaking.  We failed to draw one word out of Malachi
regarding his views on the city--to describe it was not in his power,
for it had evidently been something far beyond his comprehension.
Even after his visit had become a matter of history, if you were to
ask him what he thought of Sydney the dazed expression would come back
into his face, and he would scratch his head and say in a slow and
deliberate manner, "Well, there's no mistake, it's a caution."  And
as such the city remained, so far as Malachi's opinion of it was
concerned.

Malachi was always shabbily dressed, in spite of his pound a week and
board, and "When Malachi gets a new suit of clothes" was the
expression invariably used by the boys to fix a date for some
altogether improbable event.  We were always having larks with
Malachi, for we looked upon him as our legitimate butt.  He seldom
complained, and when he did his remonstrance hardly ever went beyond
repeating the words, "Now, none of your pranktical jokes!"  If this
had not the desired effect, and we put up some too outrageous trick on
him, he would content himself by muttering with sorrowful conviction,
"Well, there's no mistake, it's a caution."

We were not content with common jokes, such as sewing up the legs of
Malachi's trousers while he slept, fixing his bunk, or putting
explosives in his pipe--we aspired to some of the higher branches of
the practical joker's art.  It was well known that Malachi had an
undying hatred for words of four syllables and over, and the use of
them was always sufficient to forfeit any good opinions he might have
previously entertained concerning the user.  "I hate them high-flown
words," he would say--"I got a book at home that I could get them
out of if I wanted them; but I don't."  The book referred to was a
very dilapidated dictionary.  Malachi's hatred for high-flown words
was only equalled by his aversion to the opposite sex; and, this being
known, we used to write letters to him in a feminine hand, threatening
divers breach of promise actions, and composed in the high-flown
language above alluded to.  We used to think this very funny, and by
these means we made his life a burden to him.  Malachi put the most
implicit faith in everything we told him; he would take in the most
improbable yarn provided we preserved a grave demeanour and used no
high-flown expressions.  He would indeed sometimes remark that our
yarns were a caution, but that was all.

We played upon him the most gigantic joke of all during the visit of a
certain bricklayer, who came to do some work at the homestead.
"Bricky" was a bit of a phrenologist, and knew enough of physiognomy
and human nature to give a pretty fair delineation of character.  He
also went in for spirit-rapping, greatly to the disgust of the two
ancient housekeepers, who declared that they'd have "no dalins wid
him and his divil's worruk."'

The bricklayer was from the first an object of awe to Malachi, who
carefully avoided him; but one night we got the butt into a room where
the artisan was entertaining the boys with a seance.  After the
table-rapping, during which Malachi sat with uncovered head and
awe-struck expression, we proposed that he should have his bumps read,
and before he could make his escape Malachi was seated in a chair in
the middle of the room and the bricklayer was running his fingers over
his head.  I really believe that Malachi's hair bristled between the
phrenologist's fingers.  Whenever he made a hit his staunch admirer,
"Donegal," would exclaim "Look at that now!" while the girls
tittered and said, "Just fancy!" and from time to time Malachi would
be heard to mutter to himself, in a tone of the most intense
conviction, that, "without the least mistake it was a caution."
Several times at his work the next day Malachi was observed to rest on
his spade, while he tilted his hat forward with one hand and felt the
back of his head as though he had not been previously aware of its
existence.

We "ran" Malachi to believe that the bricklayer was mad on the
subject of phrenology, and was suspected of having killed several
persons in order to obtain their skulls for experimental purposes.
We further said that he had been heard to say that Malachi's skull
was a most extraordinary one, and so we advised him to be careful.

Malachi occupied a hut some distance from the station, and one night,
the last night of the bricklayer's stay, as Malachi sat smoking over
the fire the door opened quietly and the phrenologist entered.  He
carried a bag with a pumpkin in the bottom of it, and, sitting down on
a stool, he let the bag down with a bump on the floor between his
feet.  Malachi was badly scared, but he managed to stammer out--

"'Ello!"
"'Ello!" said the phrenologist.

There was an embarrassing silence, which was at last broken by
"Bricky" saying "How are you gettin' on, Malachi?"

"Oh, jist right," replied Malachi.

Nothing was said for a while, until Malachi, after fidgeting a good
deal on his stool, asked the bricklayer when he was leaving the
station.

"Oh, I'm going away in the morning, early," said he.  "I've jist been
over to Jimmy Nowlett's camp, and as I was passing I thought I'd call
and get your head."

"What?"

"I come for your skull.

"Yes," the phrenologist continued, while Malachi sat horror-stricken;
"I've got Jimmy Nowlett's skull here," and he lifted the bag and
lovingly felt the pumpkin--it must have weighed forty pounds.  "I
spoilt one of his best bumps with the tomahawk.  I had to hit him
twice, but it's no use crying over spilt milk."  Here he drew a heavy
shingling-hammer out of the bag and wiped off with his sleeve
something that looked like blood.  Malachi had been edging round for
the door, and now he made a rush for it.  But the skull-fancier was
there before him.

"Gor-sake you don't want to murder me!" gasped Malachi.

"Not if I can get your skull any other way," said Bricky.

"Oh!" gasped Malachi--and then, with a vague idea that it was best
to humour a lunatic, he continued, in a tone meant to be off-hand and
careless--"Now, look here, if yer only waits till I die you can have
my whole skelington and welcome."

"Now Malachi," said the phrenologist sternly, "d'ye think I'm a fool?
I ain't going to stand any humbug.  If yer acts sensible you'll be
quiet, and it'll soon be over, but if yer---"

Malachi did not wait to hear the rest.  He made a spring for the back
of the hut and through it, taking down a large new sheet of
stringy-bark in his flight.  Then he could be heard loudly ejaculating
"It's a caution!" as he went through the bush like a startled
kangaroo, and he didn't stop till he reached the station.

Jimmy Nowlett and I had been peeping through a crack in the same
sheet of bark that Malachi dislodged; it fell on us and bruised us
somewhat, but it wasn't enough to knock the fun out of the thing.

When Jimmy Nowlett crawled out from under the bark he had to lie down
on Malachi's bunk to laugh, and even for some time afterwards it was
not unusual for Jimmy to wake up in the' night and laugh till we
wished him dead.

I should like to finish here, but there remains something more to be
said about Malachi.

One of the best cows at the homestead had a calf, about which she made
a great deal of fuss.  She was ordinarily a quiet, docile creature,
and, though somewhat fussy after calving no one ever dreamed that she
would injure anyone.  It happened one day that the squatter's daughter
and her intended husband, a Sydney exquisite, were strolling in a
paddock where the cow was.  Whether the cow objected to the masher or
his lady love's red parasol, or whether she suspected designs upon her
progeny, is not certain; anyhow, she went for them.  The young man saw
the cow coming first, and he gallantly struck a bee-line for the
fence, leaving the girl to manage for herself.  She wouldn't have
managed very well if Malachi hadn't been passing just then.  He saw
the girl's danger and ran to intercept the cow with no weapon but his
hands.

It didn't last long.  There was a roar, a rush, and a cloud of dust,
out of which the cow presently emerged, and went scampering back to
the bush in which her calf was hidden.

We carried Malachi home and laid him on a bed.  He had a terrible
wound in the groin, and the blood soaked through the bandages like
water.  We did all that was possible for him, the boys killed the
squatter's best horse and spoilt two others riding for a doctor, but
it was of no use.  In the last half-hour of his life we all gathered
round Malachi's bed; he was only twenty-two.  Once he said:

"I wonder how mother'll manage now?"

"Why, where's your mother?" someone asked gently; we had never dreamt
that Malachi might have someone to love him and be proud of him.

"In Bathurst," he answered wearily--"she'll take on awful, I 'spect,
she was awful fond of me--we've been pulling together this last ten
years--mother and me--we wanted to make it all right for my little
brother Jim--poor Jim!"

"What's wrong with Jim?" someone asked.

"Oh, he's blind," said Malachi "always was--we wanted to make it all
right for him agin time he grows up--I--I managed to send home
about--about forty pounds a year--we bought a bit of ground, and--and--I
think--I'm going now.  Tell 'em, Harry--tell 'em how it was--"

I had to go outside then.  I couldn't stand it any more.  There was a
lump in my throat and I'd have given anything to wipe out my share
in the practical jokes, but it was too late now.

Malachi was dead when I went in again, and that night the hat went
round with the squatter's cheque in the bottom of it and we made it
"all right" for Malachi's blind brother Jim.




TWO DOGS AND A FENCE



"Nothing makes a dog madder," said Mitchell, "than to have another
dog come outside his fence and sniff and bark at him through the
cracks when he can't get out.  The other dog might be an entire
stranger; he might be an old chum, and he mightn't bark--only
sniff--but it makes no difference to the inside dog.  The inside dog
generally starts it, and the outside dog only loses his temper and
gets wild because the inside dog has lost his and got mad and made
such a stinking fuss about nothing at all; and then the outside dog
barks back and makes matters a thousand times worse, and the inside
dog foams at the mouth and dashes the foam about, and goes at it like
a million steel traps.

"I can't tell why the inside dog gets so wild about it in the first
place, except, perhaps, because he thinks the outside dog has taken
him at a disadvantage and is 'poking it at him;' anyway, he gets
madder the longer it lasts, and at last he gets savage enough to snap
off his own tail and tear it to bits, because he can't get out and
chew up that other dog; and, if he did get out, he'd kill the other
dog, or try to, even if it was his own brother.

"Sometimes the outside dog only smiles and trots off; sometimes he
barks back good-humouredly; sometimes he only just gives a couple of
disinterested barks as if he isn't particular, but is expected,
because of his dignity and doghood, to say something under the
circumstances; and sometimes, if the outside dog is a little dog,
he'll get away from that fence in a hurry on the first surprise, or,
if he's a cheeky little dog, he'll first make sure that the inside dog
can't get out, and then he'll have some fun.

"It's amusing to see a big dog, of the Newfoundland kind, sniffing
along outside a fence with a broad, good-natured grin on his face all
the time the inside dog is whooping away at the rate of thirty whoops
a second, and choking himself, and covering himself with foam, and
dashing the spray through the cracks, and jolting and jerking every
joint in his body up to the last joint in his tail.

"Sometimes the inside dog is a little dog, and the smaller he is the
more row he makes--but then he knows he's safe.  And, sometimes, as I
said before, the outside dog is a short-tempered dog who hates a row,
and never wants to have a disagreement with anybody--like a good many
peaceful men, who hate rows, and are always nice and civil and
pleasant, in a nasty, unpleasant, surly, sneering sort of civil way
that makes you want to knock their heads off; men who never start a
row, but keep it going, and make it a thousand times worse when it's
once started, just because they didn't start it--and keep on saying
so, and that the other party did.  The short-tempered outside dog gets
wild at the other dog for losing his temper, and says:

"'What are you making such a fuss about?  What's the matter with you,
anyway?  Hey?'

"And the inside dog says:

"'Who do you think you're talking to?  You---!  I'll----' etc., etc.,
etc.

"Then the outside dog says:

"'Why, you're worse than a flaming old slut!'

"Then they go at it, and you can hear them miles off, like a
Chinese war--like a hundred great guns firing eighty blank cartridges
a minute, till the outside dog is just as wild to get inside and eat
the inside dog as the inside dog is to get out and disembowel him.
Yet if those same two dogs were to meet casually outside they might
get chummy at once, and be the best of friends, and swear everlasting
mateship, and take each other home."




JONES'S ALLEY



She lived in Jones's Alley.  She cleaned offices, washed, and nursed
from daylight until any time after dark, and filled in her spare time
cleaning her own place (which she always found dirty--in a "beastly
filthy state," she called it--on account of the children being left
in possession all day), cooking, and nursing her own sick--for her
family, though small, was so in the two senses of the word, and
sickly; one or another of the children was always sick, but not
through her fault.  She did her own, or rather the family washing, at
home too, when she couldn't do it by kind permission, or
surreptitiously in connection with that of her employers.  She was a
haggard woman.  Her second husband was supposed to be dead, and she,
lived in dread of his daily resurrection.  Her eldest son was at
large, but, not being yet sufficiently hardened in misery, she dreaded
his getting into trouble even more than his frequent and interested
appearances at home.  She could buy off the son for a shilling or two
and a clean shirt and collar, but she couldn't purchase the absence of
the father at any price--_he_ claimed what he called his
"conzugal rights" as well as his board, lodging, washing and beer.
She slaved for her children, and nag-nag-nagged them everlastingly,
whether they were in the right or in the wrong, but they were hardened
to it and took small notice.  She had the spirit of a bullock.  Her
whole nature was soured.  She had those "worse troubles" which she
couldn't tell to anybody, but bad to suffer in silence.

She also, in what she called her "spare time," put new cuffs and
collar-bands on gentlemen's shirts.  The gentlemen didn't live in
Jones's Alley--they boarded with a patroness of the haggard woman;
they didn't know their shirts were done there--had they known it, and
known Jones's Alley, one or two of them, who were medical students,
might probably have objected.  The landlady charged them just twice as
much for repairing their shirts as she paid the haggard woman, who,
therefore, being unable to buy the cuffs and collar-bands ready-made
for sewing on, had no lack of employment with which to fill in her
spare time.

Therefore, she was a "respectable woman," and was known in Jones's
Alley as "Misses" Aspinall, and called so generally, and even by
Mother Brock, who kept "that place" opposite.  There is implied a
world of difference between the "Mother" and the "Misses," as
applied to matrons in Jones's Alley; and this distinction was about
the only thing--always excepting the everlasting "children"--that
the haggard woman had left to care about, to take a selfish,
narrow-minded sort of pleasure in--if, indeed, she could yet take
pleasure, grim or otherwise, in anything except, perhaps, a good cup
of tea and time to drink it in.

Times were hard with Mrs Aspinall.  Two coppers and two half-pence in
her purse were threepence to her now, and the absence of one of the
half-pence made a difference to her, especially in Paddy's
market--that eloquent advertisement of a young city's sin and poverty
and rotten wealth--on Saturday night.  She counted the coppers as
anxiously and nervously as a thirsty dead-beat does.  And her house
was "falling down on her" and her troubles, and she couldn't get the
landlord to do a "han'stern" to it.

At last, after persistent agitation on her part (but not before a
portion of the plastered ceiling had fallen and severely injured one
of her children) the landlord caused two men to be sent to "effect
necessary repairs" to the three square, dingy, plastered
holes--called "three rooms and a kitchen"--for the privilege of
living in which, and calling it "my place," she paid ten shillings a
week.

Previously the agent, as soon as he had received the rent and signed
the receipt, would cut short her reiterated complaints--which he
privately called her "clack"--by saying that he'd see to it, he'd
speak to the landlord; and, later on, that he _had_ spoken to
him, or could do nothing more in the matter--that it wasn't his
business.  Neither it was, to do the agent justice.  It was his
business to collect the rent, and thereby earn the means of paying his
own.  He had to keep a family on his own account, by assisting the Fat
Man to keep his at the expense of people--especially widows with large
families, or women, in the case of Jones's Alley--who couldn't afford
it without being half-starved, or running greater and unspeakable
risks which "society" is not supposed to know anything about.

So the agent was right, according to his lights.  The landlord had
recently turned out a family who had occupied one of his houses for
fifteen years, because they were six weeks in arrears.  He let them
take their furniture, and explained: "I wouldn't have been so lenient
with them only they were such old tenants of mine."  So the landlord
was always in the right according to _his_ lights.

But the agent naturally wished to earn his living as peacefully and
as comfortably as possible, so, when the accident occurred, he put
the matter so persistently and strongly before the landlord that he
said at last: "Well, tell her to go to White, the contractor, and
he'll send a man to do what's to be done; and don't bother me any
more."

White had a look at the place, and sent a plasterer, a carpenter, and
a plumber.  The plasterer knocked a bigger hole in the ceiling and
filled it with mud; the carpenter nailed a board over the hole in the
floor; the plumber stopped the leak in the kitchen, and made three new
ones in worse places; and their boss sent the bill to Mrs Aspinall.

She went to the contractor's yard, and explained that the landlord was
responsible for the debt, not she.  The contractor explained that he
had seen the landlord, who referred him to her.  She called at the
landlord's private house, and was referred through a servant to the
agent.  The agent was sympathetic, but could do nothing in the
matter--it wasn't his business; he also asked her to put herself in
his place, which she couldn't, not being any more reasonable than such
women are in such cases.  She let things drift, being powerless to
prevent them from doing so; and the contractor sent another bill, then
a debt collector and then another bill, then the collector again, and
threatened to take proceedings, and finally took them.  To make
matters worse, she was two weeks in arrears with the rent, and the
wood-and-coalman's man (she had dealt with them for ten years) was
pushing her, as also were her grocers, with whom she had dealt for
fifteen years and never owed a penny before.

She waylaid the landlord, and he told her shortly that he couldn't
build houses and give them away, and keep them in repair afterwards.

She sought for sympathy and found it, but mostly in the wrong places.
It was comforting, but unprofitable.  Mrs Next-door sympathized
warmly, and offered to go up as a witness--she had another landlord.
The agent sympathized wearily, but not in the presence of
witnesses--he wanted her to put herself in his place.  Mother Brock,
indeed, offered practical assistance, which offer was received in
breathlessly indignant silence.  It was Mother Brock who first came to
the assistance of Mrs Aspinall's child when the plaster accident took
place (the mother being absent at the time), and when Mrs Aspinall
heard of it, her indignation cured her of her fright, and she declared
to Mrs Next-door that she would give "that woman"--meaning Mother
Brock--"in char-rge the instant she ever _dared_ to put her foot
inside her (Mrs A.'s) respectable door-step again.  She was a
respectable, honest, hard-working woman, and---" etc.

Whereat Mother Brock laughed good-naturedly.  She was a broad-minded
bad woman, and was right according to _her_ lights.  Poor Mrs
A. was a respectable, haggard woman, and was right according to
_her_ lights, and to Mrs Next-door's, perfectly so--they being
friends--and _vice versa_.  None of them knew, or would have
taken into consideration, the fact that the landlord had lost all his
money in a burst financial institution, and half his houses in the
general depression, and depended for food for his family on the
somewhat doubtful rents of the remainder.  So they were all right
according to their different lights.

Mrs Aspinall even sought sympathy of "John," the Chinaman (with whom
she had dealt for four months only), and got it.  He also, in all
simplicity, took a hint that wasn't intended.  He said: "Al li'.  Pay
bimeby.  Nexy time Flyday.  Me tlust." Then he departed with his
immortalized smile.  It would almost appear that he was wrong--
according to our idea of Chinese lights.

Mrs Aspinall went to the court--it was a small local court.  Mrs
Next-door was awfully sorry, but she couldn't possibly get out that
morning.  The contractor had the landlord up as a witness.  The
landlord and the P.M. nodded pleasantly to each other, and wished each
other good morning....Verdict for plaintiff with costs...Next
case!..."You mustn't take up the time of the court, my good
woman."..  "Now, constable!"  .."Arder in the court!"..."Now, my
good woman," said the policeman in an undertone, "you must go out;
there's another case on-come now."  And he steered her--but not
unkindly--through the door.

"My good woman" stood in the crowd outside, and looked wildly round
for a sympathetic face that advertised sympathetic ears.  But others
had their own troubles, and avoided her.  She wanted someone to
relieve her bursting heart to; she couldn't wait till she got home.

Even "John's" attentive ear and mildly idiotic expression would have
been welcome, but he was gone.  He _had_ been in court that
morning, and had won a small debt case, and had departed cheerfully,
under the impression that he lost it.

"Y'aw Mrs Aspinall, ain't you?"

She started, and looked round.  He was one of those sharp, blue or
grey-eyed, sandy or freckled complexioned boys-of-the-world whom we
meet everywhere and at all times, who are always going on towards
twenty, yet never seem to get clear out of their teens, who know more
than most of us have forgotten, who understand human nature
instinctively--perhaps unconsciously--and are instinctively
sympathetic and diplomatic; whose satire is quick, keen, and
dangerous, and whose tact is often superior to that of many educated
men-of-the-world.  Trained from childhood in the great school of
poverty, they are full of the pathos and humour of it.

"Don't you remember me?"

"No; can't say I do.  I fancy I've seen your face before somewhere."

"I was at your place when little Arvie died.  I used to work with him at
Grinder Brothers', you know."

"Oh, of course I remember you!  What was I thinking about?  I've had
such a lot of worry lately that I don't know whether I'm on my head
or my heels.  Besides, you've grown since then, and changed a lot.
You're Billy--Billy---"

"Billy Anderson's my name."

"Of course! To be sure!  I remember you quite well."

"How've you been gettin' on, Mrs Aspinall?"

"Ah! Don't mention it--nothing but worry and trouble--nothing but worry
and trouble.  This grinding poverty!  I'll never have anything else
but worry and trouble and misery so long as I live."

"Do you live in Jones's Alley yet?"

"Yes."

"Not bin there ever since, have you?"

"No; I shifted away once, but I went back again.  I was away nearly
two years."

"I thought so, because I called to see you there once.  Well, I'm
goin' that way now.  You goin' home, Mrs Aspinall?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'll go along with you, if you don't mind."

"Thanks.  I'd be only too glad of company."

"Goin' to walk, Mrs Aspinall?" asked Bill, as the tram stopped in
their way.

"Yes.  I can't afford trams now--times are too hard."

"Sorry I don't happen to have no tickets on me!"

"Oh, don't mention it.  I'm well used to walking.  I'd rather walk
than ride."

They waited till the tram passed.

"Some people"--said Bill, reflectively, but with a tinge of indignation
in his tone, as they crossed the street--"some people can afford to
ride in trams.

"What's your trouble, Mrs Aspinall--if it's a fair thing to ask?" said
Bill, as they turned the corner.

This was all she wanted, and more; and when, about a mile later, she
paused for breath, he drew a long one, gave a short whistle, and said:

"Well, it's red-hot!"

Thus encouraged, she told her story again, and some parts of it for
the third and fourth and even fifth time--and it grew longer, as our
stories have a painful tendency to do when we re-write them with a
view to condensation.

But Bill heroically repeated that it was "red-hot."

"And I dealt off the grocer for fifteen years, and the wood-and-coal
man for ten, and I lived in that house nine years last Easter Monday
and never owed a penny before," she repeated for the tenth time.

"Well, that's a mistake," reflected Bill.  "I never dealt off nobody
more'n twice in my life....I heerd you was married again, Mrs
Aspinall--if it's a right thing to ask?"

"Wherever did you hear that?  I did get married again--to my sorrow."

"Then you ain't Mrs Aspinall--if it's a fair thing to ask?"

"Oh, yes!  I'm known as Mrs Aspinall.  They all call me Mrs
Aspinall."

"I understand.  He cleared, didn't he?  Run away?"

"Well, yes--no---he---"

"I understand.  He's s'posed to be dead?"

"Yes."

"Well, that's red-hot!  So's my old man, and I hope he don't
resurrect again."

"You see, I married my second for the sake of my children."

"That's a great mistake," reflected Bill.  "My mother married my
step-father for the sake of me, and she's never been done telling me
about it."

"Indeed!  Did _your_ mother get married again?"

"Yes.  And he left me with a batch of step-sisters and step-brothers to
look after, as well as mother; as if things wasn't bad enough before.
We didn't want no help to be pinched, and poor, and half-starved.  I
don't see where my sake comes in at all."

"And how's your mother now?"

"Oh, she's all right, thank you.  She's got a hard time of it, but
she's pretty well used to it."

"And are you still working at Grinder Brothers'?"

"No.  I got tired of slavin' there for next to nothing.  I got sick
of my step-father waitin' outside for me on pay-day, with a dirty,
drunken, spieler pal of his waitin' round the corner for him.  There
wasn't nothin' in it.  It got to be too rough altogether....Blast
Grinders!"

"And what are you doing now?"

"Sellin' papers.  I'm always tryin' to get a start in somethin'
else, but I ain't got no luck.  I always come back to, sellin'
papers."

Then, after a thought, he added reflectively: "Blast papers!"

His present ambition was to drive a cart.

"I drove a cart twice, and once I rode a butcher's horse.  A bloke
worked me out of one billet, and I worked myself out of the other.  I
didn't know when I was well off.  Then the banks went bust, and my
last boss went insolvent, and one of his partners went into
Darlinghurst for suicide, and the other went into Gladesville for
being mad; and one day the bailiff seized the cart and horse with me
in it and a load of timber.  So I went home and helped mother and the
kids to live on one meal a day for six months, and keep the
bum-bailiff out.  Another cove had my news-stand."

Then, after a thought "Blast reconstriction!"

"But you surely can't make a living selling newspapers?"

"No, there's nothin' in it.  There's too many at it.  The blessed
women spoil it.  There's one got a good stand down in George Street,
and she's got a dozen kids sellin'--they can't be all hers-and then
she's got the hide to come up to my stand and sell in front of
me....What are you thinkin' about doin', Mrs Aspinall?"

"I don't know," she wailed.  "I really don't know what to do."

And there still being some distance to go, she plunged into her tale
of misery once more, not forgetting the length of time she had dealt
with her creditors.

Bill pushed his hat forward and walked along on the edge of the kerb.

"Can't you shift?  Ain't you got no people or friends that you can go
to for a while?"

"Oh, yes; there's my sister-in-law; she's asked me times without
number to come and stay with her till things got better, and she's
got a hard enough struggle herself, Lord knows.  She asked me again
only yesterday."

"Well, that ain't too bad," reflected Bill. "Why don't you go?"

"Well, you see, if I did they wouldn't let me take my furniture, and
she's got next to none."

"Won't the landlord let you take your furniture?"

"No, not him!  He's one of the hardest landlords in Sydney--the worst I
ever had."

"That's red-hot!...I'd take it in spite of him.  He can't do
nothin'."

"But I daren't; and even if I did I haven't got a penny to pay for
a van."

They neared the alley.  Bill counted the flagstones, stepping from one
to another over the joints.  "Eighteen-nineteen-twenty-twenty-one!"
he counted mentally, and came to the corner kerbing.  Then he turned
suddenly and faced her.

"I'll tell you what to do," he said decidedly.  "Can you get your
things ready by to-night?  I know a cove that's got a cart."

"But I daren't.  I'm afraid of the landlord."

"The more fool you," said Bill.  "Well, I'm not afraid of him.  He
can't do nothin'.  I'm not afraid of a landlady, and that's worse.  I
know the law.  He can't do nothin'.  You just do as I tell you."

"I'd want to think over it first, and see my sister-in-law."

"Where does your sister-'n-law live?"

"Not far."

"Well, see her, and think over it--you've got plenty of time to do it
in--and get your things ready by dark.  Don't be frightened.  I've
shifted mother and an aunt and two married sisters out of worse fixes
than yours.  I'll be round after dark, and bring a push to lend a
hand.  They're decent coves."

"But I can't expect your friend to shift me for nothing.  I told you
I haven't got a---"

"Mrs Aspinall, I ain't that sort of a bloke, neither is my chum, and
neither is the other fellows--'relse they wouldn't be friends of mine.
Will you promise, Mrs Aspinall?"

"I'm afraid--I--I'd like to keep my few things now.  I've kept them
so long.  It's hard to lose my few bits of things--I wouldn't care so
much if I could keep the ironin' table."

"So you could, by law--it's necessary to your living, but it would
cost more'n the table.  Now, don't be soft, Mrs Aspinall.  You'll have
the bailiff in any day, and be turned out in the end without a rag.
The law knows no 'necessary.' You want your furniture more'n the
landlord does.  He can't do nothin'.  You can trust it all to me....I
knowed Arvie....Will you do it?"

"Yes, I will."

At about eight o'clock that evening there came a mysterious knock at
Mrs Aspinall's door.  She opened, and there stood Bill.  His attitude
was business-like, and his manner very impressive.  Three other boys
stood along by the window, with their backs to the wall, deeply
interested in the emptying of burnt cigarette-ends into a piece of
newspaper laid in the crown of one of their hats, and a fourth stood a
little way along the kerb casually rolling a cigarette, and keeping a
quiet eye out for suspicious appearances.  They were of different
makes and sizes, but there seemed an undefined similarity between
them.

"This is my push, Mrs Aspinall," said Bill; "at least," he added
apologetically, "it's part of 'em.  Here, you chaps, this is Mrs
Aspinall, what I told you about."

They elbowed the wall back, rubbed their heads with their hats,
shuffled round, and seemed to take a vacant sort of interest in
abstract objects, such as the pavement, the gas-lamp, and neighbouring
doors and windows.

"Got the things ready?" asked Bill.

"Oh, yes."

"Got 'em downstairs?"

"There's no upstairs.  The rooms above belong to the next house."

"And a nice house it is," said Bill, "for rooms to belong to.
I wonder," he reflected, cocking his eye at the windows above;
"I wonder how the police manage to keep an eye on the next house
without keepin' an eye on yours--but they know."

He turned towards the street end of the alley and gave a low whistle.
Out under the lamp from behind the corner came a long, thin,
shambling, hump-backed youth, with his hat down over his head like an
extinguisher, dragging a small bony horse, which, in its turn, dragged
a rickety cart of the tray variety, such as is used in the dead marine
trade.  Behind the cart was tied a mangy retriever.  This affair was
drawn up opposite the door.

"The cove with a cart" was introduced as 'Chinny'.  He had no chin
whatever, not even a receding chin.  It seemed as though his chin had
been cut clean off horizontally.  When he took off his hat he showed
to the mild surprise of strangers a pair of shrewd grey eyes and a
broad high forehead.  Chinny was in the empty bottle line.

"Now, then, hold up that horse of yours for a minute, Chinny," said
Bill briskly, "'relse he'll fall down and break the shaft again."
(It had already been broken in several places and spliced with strips
of deal, clothes-line, and wire.)  "Now, you chaps, fling yourselves
about and get the furniture out."

This was a great relief to the push.  They ran against each other and
the door-post in their eagerness to be at work.  The furniture--what
Mrs A. called her "few bits of things"--was carried out with
elaborate care.  The ironing table was the main item.  It was placed
top down in the cart, and the rest of the things went between the legs
without bulging sufficiently to cause Chinny any anxiety.

Just then the picket gave a low, earnest whistle, and they were aware
of a policeman standing statue-like under the lamp on the opposite
corner, and apparently unaware of their existence.  He was looking,
sphinx-like, past them towards the city.

"It can't be helped; we must put on front an' go on with it now,"
said Bill.

"He's all right, I think," said Chinny.  "He knows me."

"He can't do nothin'," said Bill; "don't mind him, Mrs Aspinall.
Now, then (to the push), tie up.  Don't be frightened of the dorg-what
are you frightened of?  Why! he'd only apologize if you trod on his
tail."

The dog went under the cart, and kept his tail carefully behind him.

The policeman--he was an elderly man--stood still, looking towards the
city, and over it, perhaps, and over the sea, to long years agone in
Ireland when he and the boys ducked bailiffs, and resisted evictions
with "shticks," and "riz" sometimes, and gathered together at the
rising of the moon, and did many things contrary to the peace of
Gracious Majesty, its laws and constitutions, crown and dignity; as a
reward for which he had helped to preserve the said peace for the best
years of his life, without promotion; for he had a great aversion to
running in "the boys"--which included nearly all mankind--and
preferred to keep, and was most successful in keeping, the peace with
no other assistance than that of his own rich fatherly brogue.

Bill took charge of two of the children; Mrs Aspinall carried the
youngest.

"Go ahead, Chinny," said Bill.

Chinny shambled forward, sideways, dragging the horse, with one long,
bony, short-sleeved arm stretched out behind holding the rope reins;
the horse stumbled out of the gutter, and the cart seemed to pause a
moment, as if undecided whether to follow or not, and then, with many
rickety complaints, moved slowly and painfully up on to the level out
of the gutter.  The dog rose with a long, weary, mangy sigh, but with
a lazy sort of calculation, before his rope (which was short) grew
taut--which was good judgment on his part, for his neck was sore; and
his feet being tender, he felt his way carefully and painfully over
the metal, as if he feared that at any step he might spring some
treacherous, air-trigger trap-door which would drop and hang him.

"Nit, you chaps," said Bill, "and wait for me."  The push rubbed
its head with its hat, said "Good night, Mrs Ashpennel," and was
absent, spook-like.

When the funeral reached the street, the lonely "trap" was, somehow,
two blocks away in the opposite direction, moving very slowly, and
very upright, and very straight, like an automaton.




BOGG OF GEEBUNG



At the local police court, where the subject of this sketch turned up
periodically amongst the drunks, he had "James" prefixed to his name
for the sake of convenience and as a matter of form previous to his
being fined forty shillings (which he never paid) and sentenced to "a
month hard" (which he contrived to make as soft as possible).  The
local larrikins called him "Grog," a very appropriate name, all
things considered; but to the Geebung Times he was known until the day
of his death as "a well-known character named Bogg."  The antipathy
of the local paper might have been accounted for by the fact that Bogg
strayed into the office one day in a muddled condition during the
absence of the staff at lunch and corrected a revise proof of the next
week's leader, placing bracketed "query" and "see proof" marks
opposite the editor's most flowery periods and quotations, and leaving
on the margin some general advice to the printers to "space better."
He also corrected a Latin quotation or two, and added a few ideas of
his own in good French.

But no one, with the exception of the editor of the Times, ever
dreamed that there was anything out of the common in the shaggy,
unkempt head upon which poor Bogg used to "do his little time,"
until a young English doctor came to practise at Geebung.  One night
the doctor and the manager of the local bank and one or two others
wandered into the bar of the Diggers' Arms, where Bogg sat in a dark
corner mumbling to himself as usual and spilling half his beer on the
table and floor.  Presently some drunken utterances reached the
doctor's ear, and he turned round in a surprised manner and looked at
Bogg.  The drunkard continued to mutter for some time, and then broke
out into something like the fag-end of a song.  The doctor walked over
to the table at which Bogg was sitting, and, seating himself on the
far corner, regarded the drunkard attentively for some minutes; but
the latter's voice ceased, his head fell slowly on his folded arms,
and all became silent except the drip, drip of the overturned beer
falling from the table to the form and from the form to the floor.

The doctor rose and walked back to his friends with a graver face.

"You seem interested in Bogg," said the bank manager.

"Yes," said the doctor.

"What was he mumbling about?"

"Oh, that was a passage from Homer."

"What?"

The doctor repeated his answer.

"Then do you mean to say he understands Greek?"

"Yes," said the doctor, sadly; "he is, or must have been, a
classical scholar."

The manager took time to digest this, and then asked:

"What was the song?"

"Oh, that was an old song we used to sing at the Dublin University,"
said the doctor.

During his sober days Bogg used to fossick about among the old mullock
heaps, or split palings in the bush, and just managed to keep out of
debt.  Strange to say, in spite of his drunken habits, his credit was
as good as that of any man in the town.  He was very unsociable,
seldom speaking, whether drunk or sober; but a weary, hard-up
sundowner was always pretty certain to get a meal and a shake-down at
Bogg's lonely but among the mullock heaps.  It happened one dark night
that a little push of local larrikins, having nothing better to amuse
them, wended their way through the old mullock heaps in the direction
of the lonely little bark hut, with the object of playing off an
elaborately planned ghost joke on Bogg.  Prior to commencing
operations, the leader of the jokers put his eye to a crack in the
bark to reconnoitre.  He didn't see much, but what he did see seemed
to interest him, for he kept his eye there till his mates grew
impatient.  Bogg sat in front of his rough little table with his
elbows on the same, and his hands supporting his forehead.  Before him
on the table lay a few articles such as lady novelists and poets use
in their work, and such as bitter cynics often wear secretly next
their bitter, cynical hearts.

There was the usual faded letter, a portrait of a girl, something that
looked like a pressed flower, and, of course, a lock of hair.
Presently Bogg folded his arms over these things, and his face sank
lower and lower, till nothing was visible to the unsuspected watcher
except the drunkard's rough, shaggy hair; rougher and wilder looking
in the uncertain light of the slush-lamp.

The larrikin turned away, and beckoned his comrades to follow him.

"Wot is it?" asked one, when they had gone some distance.  The
leader said, "We're a-goin' ter let 'im alone; that's wot it is."

There was some demur at this, and an explanation was demanded; but the
boss bully unbuttoned his coat, and spat on his hands, and said:

"We're a-goin' ter let Bogg alone; that's wot it is."

So they went away and let Bogg alone.


A few days later the following paragraph appeared in the _Geebung
Times_: "A well-known character named Bogg was found drowned in
the river on Sunday last, his hat and coat being found on the bank.
At a late hour on Saturday night a member of our staff saw a man
walking slowly along the river bank, but it was too dark to identify
the person."

We suppose it was Bogg whom the _Times_ reported, but of course
we cannot be sure.  The chances are that it was Bogg.  It was pretty
evident that he had committed suicide, and being "a well-known
character," no doubt he had reasons for his rash act.  Perhaps he was
walking by himself in the dark along the river bank, and thinking of
those reasons when the _Times_ man saw him.  Strange to say, the
world knows least about the lives and sorrows of "well-known
characters" of this kind, no matter what their names might be,
and--well, there is no reason why we should bore a reader, or waste
any more space over a well-known character named Bogg.




SHE WOULDN'T SPEAK



Well, we reached the pub about dinner-time, dropped our swags outside,
had a drink, and then went into the dinin'-room.  There was a lot of
jackaroo swells, that had been on a visit to the squatter, or
something, and they were sittin' down at dinner; and they seemed to
think by their looks that we ought to have stayed outside and waited
till they were done--we was only two rough shearers, you know.  There
was a very good-looking servant girl waitin' on 'em, and she was all
smiles--laughin', and jokin', and chyackin', and barrickin' with 'em
like anything.

I thought a damp expression seemed to pass across her face when me and
my mate sat down, but she served us and said nothing--we was only two
dusty swaggies, you see.  Dave said "Good day" to her when we came
in, but she didn't answer; and I could see from the first that she'd
made up her mind not to speak to us.

The swells finished, and got up and went out, leaving me and Dave and
the servant girl alone in the room; but she didn't open her mouth--not
once.  Dave winked at her once or twice as she handed his cup, but it
wasn't no go.  Dave was a good-lookin' chap, too; but we couldn't get
her to say a word--not one.

We finished the first blanky course, and, while she was gettin' our
puddin' from the side-table, Dave says to me in a loud whisper, so's
she could hear: "Ain't she a stunner, Joe! I never thought there was
sich fine girls on the Darlin'!"

But no; she wouldn't speak.

Then Dave says: "They pitch a blanky lot about them New Englan'
gals; but I'll back the Darlin' girls to lick 'em holler as far's
looks is concerned," says Dave.

But no; she wouldn't speak.  She wouldn't even smile.  Dave didn't
say nothing for awhile, and then he said: "Did you hear about that
red-headed barmaid at Stiffner's goin' to be married to the bank
manager at Bourke next month, Joe?" says Dave.

But no, not a single word out of her; she didn't even look up, or
look as if she wanted to speak.

Dave scratched his ear and went on with his puddin' for awhile.  Then
he said: "Joe, did you hear that yarn about young Scotty and old
whatchisname's missus?"

"Yes," I says; "but I think it was the daughter, not the wife, and
young Scotty," I says.

But it wasn't no go; that girl wouldn't speak.

Dave shut up for a good while, but presently I says to Dave "I see
that them hoops is comin' in again, Dave.  The paper says that this
here Lady Duff had one on when she landed."

"Yes, I heard about it," says Dave.  "I'd like to see my wife in
one, but I s'pose a woman must wear what all the rest does."

And do you think that girl would speak?  Not a blanky word.

We finished our second puddin' and fourth cup of tea, and I was just
gettin' up when Dave catches holt on my arm, like that, and pulls me
down into my chair again.

"'Old on," whispers Dave; "I'm goin' to make that blanky gal speak."

"You won't," I says.

"Bet you a five-pound note," says Dave.

"All right," I says.

So I sits down again, and Dave whistles to the girl, and he passes
along his cup and mine.  She filled 'em at once, without a word, and
we got outside our fifth cup of tea each.  Then Dave jingled his
spoon, and passed both cups along again.  She put some hot water in
the pot this time, and, after we'd drunk another couple of cups, Dave
muttered somethin' about drownin' the miller.

"We want tea, not warm water," he growled, lookin' sulky and passin'
along both cups again.

But she never opened her mouth; she wouldn't speak.  She didn't even,
look cross.  She made a fresh pot of tea, and filled our cups again.
She didn't even slam the cups down, or swamp the tea over into the
saucers--which would have been quite natural, considerin'.

"I'm about done," I said to Dave in a low whisper.  "We'll have to
give it up, I'm afraid, Dave," I says.

"I'll make her speak, or bust myself," says Dave.

And I'm blest if he didn't go on till I was so blanky full of tea that
it brimmed over and run out the corners of my mouth; and Dave was near
as bad.  At last I couldn't drink another teaspoonful without holding
back my head, and then I couldn't keep it down, but had to let it run
back into the blanky cup again.  The girl began to clear away at the
other end of the table, and now and then she'd lay her hand on the
teapot and squint round to see if we wanted any more tea.  But she
never spoke.  She might have thought a lot--but she never opened her
lips.

I tell you, without a word of a lie, that we must have drunk about a
dozen cups each.  We made her fill the teapot twice, and kept her
waitin' nearly an hour, but we couldn't make her say a word.  She
never said a single word to us from the time we came in till the time
we went out, nor before nor after.  She'd made up her mind from the
first not to speak to us.

We had to get up and leave our cups half full at last.  We went out
and sat down on our swags in the shade against the wall, and smoked
and gave that tea time to settle, and then we got on to the track
again.




THE GEOLOGICAL SPIELER

  There's nothing so interesting as Geology, even to common and
  ignorant people, especially when you have a bank or the side of a
  cutting, studded with fossil fish and things and oysters that were
  stale when Adam was fresh to illustrate by.  (Remark made by
  Steelman, professional wanderer, to his pal and pupil, Smith.)



The first man that Steelman and Smith came up to on the last
embankment, where they struck the new railway line, was a heavy,
gloomy, labouring man with bowyangs on and straps round his wrists.
Steelman bade him the time of day and had a few words with him over
the weather.  The man of mullock gave it as his opinion that the fine
weather wouldn't last, and seemed to take a gloomy kind of pleasure in
that reflection; he said there was more rain down yonder, pointing to
the southeast, than the moon could swallow up--the moon was in its
first quarter, during which time it is popularly believed in some
parts of Maoriland that the south-easter is most likely to be out on
the wallaby and the weather bad.  Steelman regarded that quarter of
the sky with an expression of gentle remonstrance mingled as it were
with a sort of fatherly indulgence, agreed mildly with the labouring
man, and seemed lost for a moment in a reverie from which he roused
himself to inquire cautiously after the boss.  There was no boss, it
was a co-operative party.  That chap standing over there by the dray
in the end of the cutting was their spokesman--their representative:
they called him boss, but that was only his nickname in camp.
Steelman expressed his thanks and moved on towards the cutting,
followed respectfully by Smith.

Steelman wore a snuff-coloured sac suit, a wide-awake hat, a pair of
professional-looking spectacles, and a scientific expression; there
was a clerical atmosphere about him, strengthened, however, by an air
as of unconscious dignity and superiority, born of intellect and
knowledge.  He carried a black bag, which was an indispensable article
in his profession in more senses than one.  Smith was decently dressed
in sober tweed and looked like a man of no account, who was
mechanically devoted to his employer's interests, pleasures, or whims.

The boss was a decent-looking young fellow, with a good face--rather
solemn--and a quiet manner.

"Good day, sir," said Steelman.

"Good day, sir," said the boss.

"Nice weather this."

"Yes, it is, but I'm afraid it won't last."

"I am afraid it will not by the look of the sky down there,"
ventured Steelman.

"No, I go mostly by the look of our weather prophet," said the boss
with a quiet smile, indicating the gloomy man.

"I suppose bad weather would put you back in your work?"

"Yes, it will; we didn't want any bad weather just now."

Steelman got the weather question satisfactorily settled; then he
said:

"You seem to be getting on with the railway."

"Oh yes, we are about over the worst of it."

"The worst of it?" echoed Steelman, with mild surprise: "I should
have thought you were just coming into it," and he pointed to the
ridge ahead.

"Oh, our section doesn't go any further than that pole you see
sticking up yonder.  We had the worst of it back there across the
swamps--working up to our waists in water most of the time, in
midwinter too--and at eighteenpence a yard."

"That was bad."

"Yes, rather rough.  Did you come from the terminus?"

"Yes, I sent my baggage on in the brake."

"Commercial traveller, I suppose?" asked the boss, glancing at Smith,
who stood a little to the rear of Steelman, seeming interested in the
work.

"Oh no," said Steelman, smiling--"I am--well--I'm a geologist; this
is my man here," indicating Smith.  "(You may put down the bag,
James, and have a smoke.)  My name is Stoneleigh--you might have heard
of it."

The boss said, "Oh," and then presently he added "indeed," in an
undecided tone.

There was a pause--embarrassed on the part of the boss--he was silent not
knowing what to say.  Meanwhile Steelman studied his man and concluded
that he would do.

"Having a look at the country, I suppose?" asked the boss presently.

"Yes," said Steelman; then after a moment's reflection: "I am
travelling for my own amusement and improvement, and also in the
interest of science, which amounts to the same thing.  I am a member
of the Royal Geological Society--vice-president in fact of a leading
Australian branch;" and then, as if conscious that he had appeared
guilty of egotism, he shifted the subject a bit.  "Yes.  Very
interesting country this--very interesting indeed.  I should like to
make a stay here for a day or so.  Your work opens right into my
hands.  I cannot remember seeing a geological formation which
interested me so much.  Look at the face of that cutting, for
instance.  Why! you can almost read the history of the geological
world from yesterday--this morning as it were--beginning with the
super-surface on top and going right down through the different layers
and stratas--through the vanished ages--right down and back to the
pre-historical--to the very primeval or fundamental geological
formations!"  And Steelman studied the face of the cutting as if he
could read it like a book, with every layer or stratum a chapter, and
every streak a note of explanation.  The boss seemed to be getting
interested, and Steelman gained confidence and proceeded to identify
and classify the different "stratas and layers," and fix their ages,
and describe the conditions and politics of man in their different
times, for the boss's benefit.

"Now," continued Steelman, turning slowly from the cutting, removing
his glasses, and letting his thoughtful eyes wander casually over the
general scenery--"now the first impression that this country would
leave on an ordinary intelligent mind--though maybe unconsciously,
would be as of a new country--new in a geological sense; with patches
of an older geological and vegetable formation cropping out here and
there; as for instance that clump of dead trees on that clear alluvial
slope there, that outcrop of limestone, or that timber yonder," and
he indicated a dead forest which seemed alive and green because of the
parasites.  "But the country is old--old; perhaps the oldest
geological formation in the world is to be seen here, the oldest
vegetable formation in Australasia.  I am not using the words old and
new in an ordinary sense, you understand, but in a geological sense."

The boss said, "I understand," and that geology must be a very
interesting study.

Steelman ran his eye meditatively over the cutting again, and turning
to Smith said:

"Go up there, James, and fetch me a specimen of that slaty outcrop
you see there--just above the coeval strata."

It was a stiff climb and slippery, but Smith had to do it, and he did
it.

"This," said Steelman, breaking the rotten piece between his
fingers, "belongs probably to an older geological period than its
position would indicate--a primitive sandstone level perhaps.  Its
position on that layer is no doubt due to volcanic upheavals--such
disturbances, or rather the results of such disturbances, have been
and are the cause of the greatest trouble to geologists--endless
errors and controversy.  You see we must study the country, not as it
appears now, but as it would appear had the natural geological growth
been left to mature undisturbed; we must restore and reconstruct such
disorganized portions of the mineral kingdom, if you understand me."

The boss said he understood.

Steelman found an opportunity to wink sharply and severely at
Smith, who had been careless enough to allow his features to relapse
into a vacant grin.

"It is generally known even amongst the ignorant that rock
grows--grows from the outside--but the rock here, a specimen of which
I hold in my hand, is now in the process of decomposition; to be plain
it is rotting--in an advanced stage of decomposition--so much so that
you are not able to identify it with any geological period or
formation, even as you may not be able to identify any other extremely
decomposed body."

The boss blinked and knitted his brow, but had the presence of mind to
say: "Just so."

"Had the rock on that cutting been healthy--been alive, as it were--you
would have had your work cut out; but it is dead and has been dead
for ages perhaps.  You find less trouble in working it than you would
ordinary clay or sand, or even gravel, which formations together are
really rock in embryo--before birth as it were."

The boss's brow cleared.

"The country round here is simply rotting down--simply rotting
down."

He removed his spectacles, wiped them, and wiped his face; then his
attention seemed to be attracted by some stones at his feet.  He
picked one up and examined it.

"I shouldn't wonder," he mused, absently, "I shouldn't wonder if there
is alluvial gold in some of these creeks and gullies, perhaps tin or
even silver, quite probably antimony."

The boss seemed interested.

"Can you tell me if there is any place in this neighbourhood where I
could get accommodation for myself and my servant for a day or two?"
asked Steelman presently.  "I should very much like to break my
journey here."

"Well, no," said the boss.  "I can't say I do--I don't know of any
place nearer than Pahiatua, and that's seven miles from here."'

"I know that," said Steelman reflectively, "but I fully expected to
have found a house of accommodation of some sort on the way, else I
would have gone on in the van.'

"Well," said the boss.  "If you like to camp with us for to night,
at least, and don't mind roughing it, you'll be welcome, I'm sure."

"If I was sure that I would not be putting you to any trouble, or
interfering in any way with your domestic economy---"

"No trouble at all," interrupted the boss.  "The boys will be only
too glad, and there's an empty whare where you can sleep.  Better
stay.  It's going to be a rough night."

After tea Steelman entertained the boss and a few of the more
thoughtful members of the party with short chatty lectures on
geology and other subjects.

In the meantime Smith, in another part of the camp, gave selections on
a tin whistle, sang a song or two, contributed, in his turn, to the
sailor yarns, and ensured his popularity for several nights at least.
After several draughts of something that was poured out of a demijohn
into a pint-pot, his tongue became loosened, and he expressed an
opinion that geology was all bosh, and said if he had half his
employer's money he'd be dashed if he would go rooting round in the
mud like a blessed old ant-eater; he also irreverently referred to his
learned boss as "Old Rocks" over there.  He had a pretty easy billet
of it though, he said, taking it all round, when the weather was fine;
he got a couple of notes a week and all expenses paid, and the money
was sure; he was only required to look after the luggage and arrange
for accommodation, grub out a chunk of rock now and then, and (what
perhaps was the most irksome of his duties) he had to appear
interested in old rocks and clay.

Towards midnight Steelman and Smith retired to the unoccupied whare
which had been shown them, Smith carrying a bundle of bags, blankets,
and rugs, which had been placed at their disposal by their
good-natured hosts.  Smith lit a candle and proceeded to make the
beds.  Steelman sat down, removed his specs and scientific
expression, placed the glasses carefully on a ledge close at hand,
took a book from his bag, and commenced to read.  The volume was a
cheap copy of Jules Verne's _Journey to the Centre of the
Earth_.  A little later there was a knock at the door.  Steelman
hastily resumed the spectacles, together with the scientific
expression, took a note-book from his pocket, opened it on the table,
and said, "Come in."  One of the chaps appeared with a billy of hot
coffee, two pint-pots, and some cake.  He said he thought you chaps
might like a drop of coffee before you turned in, and the boys had
forgot to ask you to wait for it down in the camp.  He also wanted to
know whether Mr Stoneleigh and his man would be all right and quite
comfortable for the night, and whether they had blankets enough.
There was some wood at the back of the whare and they could light a
fire if they liked.

Mr Stoneleigh expressed his thanks and his appreciation of the
kindness shown him and his servant.  He was extremely sorry to give
them any trouble.

The navvy, a serious man, who respected genius or intellect in any
shape or form, said that it was no trouble at all, the camp was very
dull and the boys were always glad to have someone come round.  Then,
after a brief comparison of opinions concerning the probable duration
of the weather which had arrived, they bade each other good night, and
the darkness swallowed the serious man.

Steelman turned into the top bunk on one side and Smith took the lower
on the other.  Steelman had the candle by his bunk, as usual; he lit
his pipe for a final puff before going to sleep, and held the light up
for a moment so as to give Smith the full benefit of a solemn,
uncompromising wink.  The wink was silently applauded and dutifully
returned by Smith.  Then Steelman blew out the light, lay back, and
puffed at his pipe for a while.  Presently he chuckled, and the
chuckle was echoed by Smith; by and by Steelman chuckled once more,
and then Smith chuckled again.  There was silence in the darkness, and
after a bit Smith chuckled twice.  Then Steelman said:

"For God's sake give her a rest, Smith, and give a man a show to get
some sleep."

Then the silence in the darkness remained unbroken.

The invitation was extended next day, and Steelman sent Smith on to
see that his baggage was safe.  Smith stayed out of sight for two or
three hours, and then returned and reported all well.


They stayed on for several days.  After breakfast and when the men
were going to work Steelman and Smith would go out along the line with
the black bag and poke round amongst the "layers and stratas" in
sight of the works for a while, as an evidence of good faith; then
they'd drift off casually into the bush, camp in a retired and
sheltered spot, and light a fire when the weather was cold, and
Steelman would lie on the grass and read and smoke and lay plans for
the future and improve Smith's mind until they reckoned it was about
dinner-time.  And in the evening they would come home with the black
bag full of stones and bits of rock, and Steelman would lecture on
those minerals after tea.

On about the fourth morning Steelman had a yarn with one of the men
going to work.  He was a lanky young fellow with a sandy complexion,
and seemingly harmless grin.  In Australia he might have been regarded
as a "cove" rather than a "chap," but there was nothing of the
"bloke" about him.  Presently the cove said:

"What do you think of the boss, Mr Stoneleigh?  He seems to have
taken a great fancy for you, and he's fair gone on geology."

"I think he is a very decent fellow indeed, a very intelligent young
man.  He seems very well read and well informed."

"You wouldn't think he was a University man," said the cove.

"No, indeed!  Is he?"

"Yes.  I thought you knew!"

Steelman knitted his brows.  He seemed slightly disturbed for the
moment.  He walked on a few paces in silence and thought hard.

"What might have been his special line?" he asked the cove.

"Why, something the same as yours.  I thought you knew.  He was
reckoned the best--what do you call it?--the best minrologist in the
country.  He had a first-class billet in the Mines Department, but he
lost it--you know--the booze."

"I think we will be making a move, Smith," said Steelman, later on,
when they were private.  "There's a little too much intellect in this
camp to suit me.  But we haven't done so bad, anyway.  We've had three
days' good board and lodging with entertainments and refreshments
thrown in." Then he said to himself: "We'll stay for another day
anyway.  If those beggars are having a lark with us, we're getting the
worth of it anyway, and I'm not thin-skinned.  They're the mugs and
not us, anyhow it goes, and I can take them down before I leave."

But on the way home he had a talk with another man whom we might set
down as a "chap."

"I wouldn't have thought the boss was a college man," said Steelman to
the chap.

"A what?"

"A University man--University education."

"Why!  Who's been telling you that?"

"One of your mates."

"Oh, he's been getting at you.  Why, it's all the boss can do to
write his own name.  Now that lanky sandy cove with the birth-mark
grin--it's him that's had the college education."

"I think we'll make a start to-morrow," said Steelman to Smith in the
privacy of their where.  "There's too much humour and levity in this
camp to suit a serious scientific gentleman like myself."




MACQUARIE'S MATE



The chaps in the bar of Stiffner's shanty were talking about
Macquarie, an absent shearer--who seemed, from their conversation,
to be better known than liked by them.

"I ain't seen Macquarie for ever so long," remarked Box-o'-Tricks,
after a pause.  "Wonder where he could 'a' got to?"

"Jail, p'r'aps--or hell," growled Barcoo.  "He ain't much loss, any
road."

"My oath, yer right, Barcoo!" interposed "Sally" Thompson.  "But,
now I come to think of it, Old Awful Example there was a mate of his
one time.  Bless'd if the old soaker ain't comin' to life again!"

A shaky, rag-and-dirt-covered framework of a big man rose uncertainly
from a corner of the room, and, staggering forward, brushed the
staring thatch back from his forehead with one hand, reached blindly
for the edge of the bar with the other, and drooped heavily.

"Well, Awful Example," demanded the shanty-keeper.  "What's up with
you now?"

The drunkard lifted his head and glared wildly round with bloodshot
eyes.

"Don't you--don't you talk about him!  _Drop it_, I say!  DROP it!"

"What the devil's the matter with you now, anyway?" growled the
barman.  "Got 'em again?  Hey?"

"Don't you--don't you talk about Macquarie!  He's a mate of mine!
Here! Gimme a drink!"

"Well, what if he is a mate of yours?" sneered Barcoo.  "It don't
reflec' much credit on you--nor him neither."

The logic contained in the last three words was unanswerable, and
Awful Example was still fairly reasonable, even when rum oozed out of
him at every pore.  He gripped the edge of the bar with both hands,
let his ruined head fall forward until it was on a level with his
temporarily rigid arms, and stared blindly at the dirty floor; then he
straightened himself up, still keeping his hold on the bar.

"Some of you chaps," he said huskily; "one of you chaps, in this bar
to-day, called Macquarie a scoundrel, and a loafer, and a blackguard,
and--and a sneak and a liar."

"Well, what if we did?" said Barcoo, defiantly.  "He's all that, and a
cheat into the bargain.  And now, what are you going to do about it?"

The old man swung sideways to the bar, rested his elbow on it, and his
head on his hand.

"Macquarie wasn't a sneak and he wasn't a liar," he said, in a quiet,
tired tone; "and Macquarie wasn't a cheat!"

"Well, old man, you needn't get your rag out about it," said Sally
Thompson, soothingly.  "P'r'aps we was a bit too hard on him; and it
isn't altogether right, chaps, considerin' he's not here.  But, then,
you know, Awful, he might have acted straight to you that was his
mate.  The meanest blank--if he is a man at all--will do that."

"Oh, to blazes with the old sot!" shouted Barcoo.  "I gave my opinion
about Macquarie, and, what's more, I'll stand to it."

"I've got--I've got a point for the defence," the old man went on,
without heeding the interruptions.  "I've got a point or two for the
defence."

"Well, let's have it," said Stiffner.

"In the first place--in the first place, Macquarie never talked about
no man behind his back."

There was an uneasy movement, and a painful silence.  Barcoo reached
for his drink and drank slowly; he needed time to think--Box-o'-Tricks
studied his boots--Sally Thompson looked out at the weather--the
shanty-keeper wiped the top of the bar very hard--and the rest shifted
round and "s'posed they'd try a game er cards."

Barcoo set his glass down very softly, pocketed his hands deeply and
defiantly, and said:

"Well, what of that?  Macquarie was as strong as a bull, and the
greatest bully on the river into the bargain.  He could call a man a
liar to his face--and smash his face afterwards.  And he did it often,
too, and with smaller men than himself."

There was a breath of relief in the bar.

"Do you want to make out that I'm talking about a man behind his
back?" continued Barcoo, threateningly, to Awful Example.  "You'd
best take care, old man."

"Macquarie wasn't a coward," remonstrated the drunkard, softly, but in
an injured tone.

"What's up with you, anyway?" yelled the publican.  "What yer growling
at?  D'ye want a row?  Get out if yer can't be agreeable!"

The boozer swung his back to the bar, hooked himself on by his elbows,
and looked vacantly out of the door.

"I've got--another point for the defence," he muttered.  "It's always
best--it's always best to keep the last point to--the last."

"Oh, Lord!  Well, out with it!  _Out with it_!"

"_Macquarie's dead_!  That--that's what it is!"

Everyone moved uneasily: Sally Thompson turned the other side to the
bar, crossed one leg behind the other, and looked down over his hip at
the sole and heel of his elastic-side--the barman rinsed the glasses
vigorously--Longbones shuffled and dealt on the top of a cask, and
some of the others gathered round him and got interested--Barcoo
thought he heard his horse breaking away, and went out to see to it,
followed by Box-o'-Tricks and a couple more, who thought that it might
be one of their horses.

Someone--a tall, gaunt, determined-looking bushman, with square
features and haggard grey eyes--had ridden in unnoticed through the
scrub to the back of the shanty and dismounted by the window.

When Barcoo and the others re-entered the bar it soon became evident
that Sally Thompson had been thinking, for presently he came to the
general rescue as follows:

"There's a blessed lot of tommy-rot about dead people in this world--
a lot of damned old-woman nonsense.  There's more sympathy wasted over
dead and rotten skunks than there is justice done to straight, honest-
livin' chaps.  I don't b'lieve in this gory sentiment about the dead
at the expense of the living.  I b'lieve in justice for the livin'--and
the dead too, for that matter--but justice for the livin'.  Macquarie
was a bad egg, and it don't alter the case if he was dead a thousand
times."

There was another breath of relief in the bar, and presently somebody
said: "Yer tight, Sally!"

"Good for you, Sally, old man!" cried Box-o'-Tricks, taking it up.
"An', besides, I don't b'lieve Macquarie is dead at all.  He's always
dyin', or being reported dead, and then turnin' up again.  Where did
you hear about it, Awful?"

The Example ruefully rubbed a corner of his roof with the palm of his
hand.

"There's--there's a lot in what you say, Sally Thompson," he admitted
slowly, totally ignoring Box-o'-Tricks.  "But--but---'

"Oh, we've had enough of the old fool," yelled Barcoo.  "Macquarie was
a spieler, and any man that ud be his mate ain't much better."

"Here, take a drink and dry up, yer ole hass!" said the man behind
the bar, pushing a bottle and glass towards the drunkard.  "D'ye want
a row?"

The old man took the bottle and glass in his shaking bands and
painfully poured out a drink.

"There's a lot in what Sally Thompson says," he went on,
obstinately, "but--but," he added in a strained tone, "there's
another point that I near forgot, and none of you seemed to think of
it--not even Sally Thompson nor--nor Box-o'-Tricks there."

Stiffner turned his back, and Barcoo spat viciously and impatiently.

"Yes," drivelled the drunkard, "I've got another point for--for the
defence--of my mate, Macquarie--"

"Oh, out with it!  Spit it out, for God's sake, or you'll bust!"
roared Stiffner.  "What the blazes is it?"

"HIS MATE'S ALIVE!" yelled the old man.  "Macquarie's mate's alive!
That's what it is!"

He reeled back from the bar, dashed his glass and hat to the boards,
gave his pants, a hitch by the waistband that almost lifted him off
his feet, and tore at his shirt-sleeves.

"Make a ring, boys," he shouted.  "His mate's alive!  Put up your
hands, Barcoo!  By God, his mate's alive!"

Someone had turned his horse loose at the rear and had been standing
by the back door for the last five minutes.  Now he slipped quietly
in.

"Keep the old fool off, or he'll get hurt," snarled Barcoo.

Stiffner jumped the counter.  There were loud, hurried words of
remonstrance, then some stump-splitting oaths and a scuffle,
consequent upon an attempt to chuck the old man out.  Then a crash.
Stiffner and Box-o'-Tricks were down, two others were holding Barcoo
back, and someone had pinned Awful Example by the shoulders from
behind.

"Let me go!" he yelled, too blind with passion to notice the
movements of surprise among the men before him.  "Let me go!  I'll
smash--any man--that--that says a word again' a mate of mine behind
his back.  Barcoo, I'll have your blood!  Let me go!  I'll, I'll,
I'll-- Who's holdin' me?  You--you---"

"It's Macquarie, old mate!" said a quiet voice.

Barcoo thought he heard his horse again, and went out in a hurry.
Perhaps he thought that the horse would get impatient and break loose
if he left it any longer, for he jumped into the saddle and rode off.




BALDY THOMPSON



Rough, squarish face, curly auburn wig, bushy grey eyebrows and
moustache, and grizzly stubble--eyes that reminded one of Dampier the
actor.  He was a squatter of the old order--new chum, swagman, drover,
shearer, super, pioneer, cocky, squatter, and finally bank victim.
He had been through it all, and knew all about it.

He had been in parliament, and wanted too again; but the men
mistrusted him as Thompson, M.P., though they swore by him as old
Baldy Thompson the squatter.  His hobby was politics, and his politics
were badly boxed.  When he wasn't cursing the banks and government he
cursed the country.  He cursed the Labour leaders at intervals, and
seemed to think that he could run the unions better than they could.
Also, he seemed to think that he could run parliament better than any
premier.  He was generally voted a hard case, which term is mostly
used in a kindly sense out back.

He was always grumbling about the country.  If a shearer or rouseabout
was good at argument, and a bit of a politician, he hadn't to slave
much at Thompson's shed, for Baldy would argue with him all day and
pay for it.

"I can't put on any more men," he'd say to travellers.  "I can't
put on a lot of men to make big cheques when there's no money in the
bank to pay 'em--and I've got all I can do to get tucker for the
family.  I shore nothing but burrs and grass-seed last season, and it
didn't pay carriage.  I'm just sending away a flock of sheep now, and
I won't make threepence a head on 'em.  I had twenty thousand in the
bank season before last, and now I can't count on one.  I'll have to
roll up my swag and go on the track myself next."

"All right, Baldy," they'd say, "git out your blooming swag and
come along with us, old man; we'll stick to you and see you through."

"I swear I'd show you round first," he'd reply.  "Go up to the
store and get what rations you want.  You can camp in the huts
to-night, and I'll see you in the morning."

But most likely he'd find his way over after tea, and sit on his heels
in the cool outside the hut, and argue with the swagmen about unionism
and politics.  And he'd argue all night if he met his match.

The track by Baldy Thompson's was reckoned as a good tucker track,
especially when a dissolution of parliament was threatened.  Then the
guileless traveller would casually let Baldy know that he'd got his
name on the electoral list, and show some interest in Baldy's
political opinions, and oppose them at first, and finally agree with
them and see a lot in them--be led round to Baldy's way of thinking,
in fact; and ultimately depart, rejoicing, with a full nose-bag, and
a quiet grin for his mate.

There are many camp-fire yarns about old Baldy Thompson.

One New Year the shearers--shearing stragglers--roused him in the dead
of night and told him that the shed was on fire.  He came out in his
shirt and without his wig.  He sacked them all there and then, but of
course they went to work as usual next morning.  There is something
sad and pathetic about that old practical joke--as indeed there is
with all bush jokes.  There seems a quiet sort of sadness always
running through outback humour--whether alleged or otherwise.

There's the usual yarn about a jackaroo mistaking Thompson for a
brother rouser, and asking him whether old Baldy was about anywhere,
and Baldy said:

"Why, are you looking for a job?"

"Yes, do you think I stand any show?  What sort of a boss is Baldy?"

"You'd tramp from here to Adelaide," said Baldy, "and north to the
Gulf country, and wouldn't find a worse.  He's the meanest squatter in
Australia.  The damned old crawler!  I grafted like a nigger for him
for over fifty years"--Baldy was over sixty--"and now the old skunk
won't even pay me the last two cheques he owes me--says the bank has
got everything he had--that's an old cry of his, the damned old sneak;
seems to expect me to go short to keep his wife and family and
relations in comfort, and by God I've done it for the last thirty or
forty years, and I might go on the track to-morrow worse off than the
meanest old whaler that ever humped bluey.  Don't you have anything to
do with Scabby Thompson, or you'll be sorry for it.  Better tramp to
hell than take a job from him."

"Well, I think I'll move on.  Would I stand any show for some
tucker?"

"Him!  He wouldn't give a dog a crust, and like as not he'd get you
run in for trespass if he caught you camping on the run.  But come
along to the store and I'll give you enough tucker to carry you on."

He patronized literature and arts, too, though in an awkward, furtive
way.  We remember how we once turned up at the station hard up and
short of tucker, and how we entertained Baldy with some of his own
ideas as ours--having been posted beforehand by our mate--and how he
told us to get some rations and camp in the hut and see him in the
morning.

And we saw him in the morning, had another yarn with him, agreed and
sympathized with him some more, were convinced on one or two questions
which we had failed to see at first, cursed things in chorus with him,
and casually mentioned that we expected soon to get some work on a
political paper.

And at last he went inside and brought out a sovereign.  "Wrap this
in a piece of paper and put it in your pocket, and don't lose it," he
said.

But we learnt afterwards that the best way to get along with Baldy,
and secure his good will, was to disagree with him on every possible
point.




FOR AULD LANG SYNE



These were ten of us there on the wharf when our first mate left for
Maoriland, he having been forced to leave Sydney because he could not
get anything like regular work, nor anything like wages for the work
he could get.  He was a carpenter and joiner, a good tradesman and a
rough diamond.  He had got married and had made a hard fight for it
during the last two years or so, but the result only petrified his
conviction that "a lovely man could get no blessed show in this
condemned country," as he expressed it; so he gave it best at
last--"chucked it up," as he said--left his wife with her people and
four pounds ten, until such time as he could send for her--and left
himself with his box of tools, a pair of hands that could use them, a
steerage ticket, and thirty shillings.

We turned up to see him off.  There were ten of us all told and about
twice as many shillings all counted.  He was the first of the old push
to go--we use the word push in its general sense, and we called
ourselves the mountain push because we had worked in the tourist towns
a good deal--he was the first of the mountain push to go; and we felt
somehow, and with a vague kind of sadness or uneasiness, that this was
the beginning of the end of old times and old things.  We were
plasterers, bricklayers, painters, a carpenter, a labourer, and a
plumber, and were all suffering more or less--mostly more--and pretty
equally, because of the dearth of regular graft, and the consequent
frequency of the occasions on which we didn't hold it--the "it"
being the price of one or more long beers.  We had worked together on
jobs in the city and up-country, especially in the country, and had
had good times together when things were locomotive, as Jack put it;
and we always managed to worry along cheerfully when things were
"stationary."  On more than one big job up the country our
fortnightly spree was a local institution while it lasted, a thing
that was looked forward to by all parties, whether immediately
concerned or otherwise (and all were concerned more or less), a thing
to be looked back to and talked over until next pay-day came.  It was
a matter for anxiety and regret to the local business people and
publicans, and loafers and spielers, when our jobs were finished and
we left.

There were between us the bonds of graft, of old times, of poverty, of
vagabondage and sin, and in spite of all the right-thinking person may
think, say or write, there was between us that sympathy which in our
times and conditions is the strongest and perhaps the truest of all
human qualities, the sympathy of drink.  We were drinking mates
together.  We were wrong-thinking persons too, and that was another
bond of sympathy between us.

There were cakes of tobacco, and books, and papers, and several flasks
of "rye-buck"--our push being distantly related to a publican who
wasn't half a bad sort--to cheer and comfort our departing mate on his
uncertain way; and these tokens of mateship and the sake of auld lang
syne were placed casually in his bunk or slipped unostentatiously
into his hand or pockets, and received by him in short eloquent
silence (sort of an aside silence), and partly as a matter of course.
Every now and then there would be a surreptitious consultation
between two of us and a hurried review of finances, and then one would
slip quietly ashore and presently return supremely unconscious of a
book, magazine, or parcel of fruit bulging out of his pocket.

You may battle round with mates for many years, and share and share
alike, good times or hard, and find the said mates true and straight
through it all; but it is their little thoughtful attentions when you
are going away, that go right down to the bottom of your heart, and
lift it up and make you feel inclined--as you stand alone by the rail
when the sun goes down on the sea--to write or recite poetry and
otherwise make a fool of yourself.

We helped our mate on board with his box, and inspected his bunk, and
held a consultation over the merits or otherwise of its position, and
got in his way and that of the under-steward and the rest of the crew
right down to the captain, and superintended our old chum's general
arrangements, and upset most of them, and interviewed various members
of the crew as to when the boat would start for sure, and regarded
their statements with suspicion, and calculated on our own account how
long it would take to get the rest of the cargo aboard, and dragged
our mate ashore for a final drink, and found that we had "plenty of
time to slip ashore for a parting wet" so often that his immediate
relations grew anxious and officious, and the universe began to look
good, and kind, and happy, and bully, and jolly, and grand, and
glorious to us, and we forgave the world everything wherein it had not
acted straight towards us, and were filled full of love for our kind
of both genders--for the human race at large--and with an almost
irresistible longing to go aboard, and stay at all hazards, and sail
along with our mate.  We had just time "to slip ashore and have
another" when the gangway was withdrawn and the steamer began to cast
off.  Then a rush down the wharf, a hurried and confused shaking of
hands, and our mate was snatched aboard.  The boat had been delayed,
and we had waited for three hours, and had seen our chum nearly every
day for years, and now we found we hadn't begun to say half what we
wanted to say to him.  We gripped his hand in turn over the rail, as
the green tide came between, till there was a danger of one mate being
pulled aboard--which he wouldn't have minded much--or the other mate
pulled ashore, or one or both yanked overboard.  We cheered the
captain and cheered the crew and the passengers--there was a big crowd
of them going and a bigger crowd of enthusiastic friends on the
wharf--and our mate on the forward hatch; we cheered the land they
were going to and the land they had left behind, and sang "Auld Lang
Syne" and "He's a Jolly Good Fellow" (and so yelled all of us) and
"Home Rule for Ireland Evermore"--which was, I don't know why, an
old song of ours.  And we shouted parting injunctions and exchanged
old war cries, the meanings of which were only known to us, and we
were guilty of such riotous conduct that, it being now Sunday morning,
one or two of the quieter members suggested we had better drop down to
about half-a-gale, as there was a severe-looking old sergeant of
police with an eye on us; but once, in the middle of a heart-stirring
chorus of "Auld Lang Sync," Jack, my especial chum, paused for
breath and said to me:

"It's all right, Joe, the trap's joining in."

And so he was--and leading.

But I well remember the hush that fell on that, and several other
occasions, when the steamer had passed the point.

And so our first mate sailed away out under the rising moon and under
the morning stars.  He is settled down in Maoriland now, in a house of
his own, and has a family and a farm; but somehow, in the bottom of
our hearts, we don't like to think of things like this, for they don't
fit in at all with "Auld Lang Syne."'

There were six or seven of us on the wharf to see our next mate go.
His ultimate destination was known to himself and us only.  We had
pickets at the shore end of the wharf, and we kept him quiet and out
of sight; the send-off was not noisy, but the hand-grips were very
tight and the sympathy deep.  He was running away from debt, and
wrong, and dishonour, a drunken wife, and other sorrows, and we knew
it all.

Two went next--to try their luck in Western Australia; they were
plasterers.  Ten of us turned up again, the push having been
reinforced by one or two new members and an old one who had been
absent on the first occasion.  It was a glorious send-off, and only
two found beds that night--the government supplied the beds.

And one by one and two by two they have gone from the wharf since
then.  Jack went to-day; he was perhaps the most irreclaimable of us
all--a hard case where all cases were hard; and I loved him
best--anyway I know that, wherever Jack goes, there will be someone
who will barrack for me to the best of his ability (which is by no
means to be despised as far as barracking is concerned), and resent,
with enthusiasm and force if he deems it necessary, the barest
insinuation which might be made to the effect that I could write a bad
line if I tried, or be guilty of an action which would not be straight
according to the rules of mateship.

Ah well!  I am beginning to think it is time I emigrated too; I'll
pull myself together and battle round and raise the price of a
steerage ticket, and maybe a pound or two over.  There may not be
anybody to see me off, but some of the boys are sure to be on the
wharf or platform "over there," when I arrive.  Lord! I almost hear
them hailing now! and won't I yell back! and perhaps there won't be a
wake over old times in some cosy bar parlour, or camp, in Western
Australia or Maoriland some night in a year to come.





Notes on Australianisms. Based on my own speech over the years, with
some checking in the dictionaries.  Not all of these are peculiar to
Australian slang, but are important in Lawson's stories, and carry
overtones.


bagman: commercial traveller
Bananaland: Queensland
billabong.  Based on an aboriginal word.  Sometimes used for an
  anabranch (a bend in a river cut off by a new channel, 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.
billy: quintessentially Australian.  It is like (or may even be made
 out of) a medium-sized can, with wire handles and a lid.  Used to
 boil water.   If for tea, the leaves are added into the billy itself;
 the billy may be swung ('to make the leaves settle') or a eucalyptus
 twig place across the top, more ritual than pragmatic.
 These stories are supposedly told while the billy is suspended over
 the fire at night, at the end of a tramp.
 (Also used in want of other things, for cooking)
blackfellow (also, blackman): 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"
blucher: a kind of half-boot (named after Austrian general)
blued: of a wages cheque: all spent extravagantly--and rapidly.
bluey: swag.  Supposedly because blankets were mostly blue (so Lawson)
boggabri: never heard of it.  It is a town in NSW: the dictionaries
 seem to suggest that it is a plant, which fits context.  What then is
 a 'tater-marrer' (potato-marrow?).  Any help?
bowyangs: ties (cord, rope, cloth) put around trouser legs below knee
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.
bush: originally referred to the low tangled scrubs of the semi-desert
  regions ('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.

cheque: wages for a full season of sheep-shearing; meant to last until
 the next year, including a family, but often "blued' in a 'spree'
chyack: (chy-ike) like chaffing; to tease, mildly abuse
cocky: a farmer, esp. dairy farmers (='cow-cockies')
cubby-house: or cubby.  Children's playhouse ("Wendy house" is
 commercial form))

Darlinghurst: Sydney suburb--where the gaol was in those days
dead marine: empty beer bottle
dossing: sleeping rough or poorly (as in a "doss-house")
doughboy: kind of dumpling
drover: one who "droves" cattle or sheep.
droving: driving on horseback cattle or sheep from where they were
 fattened to a a city, or later, a rail-head.
drown the miller: to add too much water to flour when cooking.
 Used metaphorically in story.

fossick: pick over areas for gold.  Not mining as such.
half-caser: Two shillings and sixpence.  As a coin, a half-crown.
half-sov.: a coin worth half a pound (sovereign)

Gladesville: Sydney suburb--site of mental hospital.
goanna: various kinds of monitor lizards.  Can be quite a size.

Homebush: Saleyard, market area in Sydney
humpy: originally an aboriginal shelter (=gunyah); extended to a
 settler's hut

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")
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.
larrikiness: jocular feminine form
leather-jacket: kind of pancake (more often a fish, these days)
lucerne: cattle feed-a leguminous plant, alfalfa in US
lumper: labourer; esp. on wharves?

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.
Maoriland: Lawson's name for New Zealand
marine, dead: see dead
mooching: wandering idly, not going anywhere in particular
mug: gullible person, a con-man's 'mark' (potential victim)
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

narked: annoyed
navvies: labourers (especially making roads, railways; originally
 canals, thus from 'navigators')
nobbler: a drink
nuggety: compact but strong physique; small but well-muscled

pannikin: metal mug
peckish: hungry--usually only mildly so.  Use here is thus ironic.
poley: a dehorned cow
poddy-(calf): a calf separated from its mother but still needing milk

rouseabout: labourer in a (sheep) shearing shed.  Considered to be,
  as far as any work is, unskilled labour.

sawney: silly, gormless
selector: small farmer who under the "Selection Act (Alienation of
 Land Act", Sydney 1862 could settle on a few acres of land and farm
 it, with hope of buying it.  As the land had been leased by
 "squatters" to run sheep, they were NOT popular.  The land was
 usually pretty poor, and there was little transport to get food to
 market,  many, many failed. (The same mistake was made after WWI--
 returned soldiers were given land to starve on.)
shanty: besides common meaning of shack it refers to an unofficial
  (and illegal) grog-shop; in contrast to the legal 'pub'.
spieler; con artist
sliprails: in lieu of a gate, the rails of a fence may be loosely
 socketed into posts, so that they may 'let down' (i.e. one end pushed
 in socket, the other end resting on the ground).  See 'A Day on a
 Selection'
spree: prolonged drinking bout--days, weeks.
stoush: a fight,
strike, the  perhaps the Shearers' strike in Barcaldine, Queensland,
 1891 gjc]
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.  In view of the Great Depression of the time, these
  expressions of attitude are probably unfair, but the attitudes are
  common enough even today.
Surry Hills: Sydney inner suburb (where I live)
swagman (swaggy):  Generally, anyone who is walking in the "outback"
  with  a swag. (See "The Romance of the Swag" in Children of the
  Bush, also a PG Etext) Lawson also restricts it at times to those
  whom he  considers to be tramps, not looking for work but for
  "handouts".  See 'travellers'.
'swelp: mild oath of affirmation ="so help me [God]"
travellers:  "shearers and rouseabouts travelling for work" (Lawson).
whare: small Maori house--is it used here for European equivalent?
  Help anyone?
whipping the cat: drunk





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