Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership





Title: The Romance of the Swag (1907)
Author: Henry Lawson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607191.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

Production notes:
Reformatted from the ebook produced by Russell Tayler

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Romance of the Swag (1907)
Author: Henry Lawson




CONTENTS

The Romance of the Swag
"Buckholts' Gate"
The Bush-Fire
o Squatter and Selector
o Romeo and Juliet
o A Tramp's Match and What It Did
o The Fire at Ross's Farm
The House That Was Never Built
"Barney, Take Me Home Again"
A Droving Yarn
Gettin' Back on Dave Regan
"Shall We Gather at the River?"
His Brother's Keeper
The Story of "Gentleman Once"
The Ghosts of Many Christmases

* * *



THE ROMANCE OF THE SWAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF BILL WHO DIED.



"BUCKOLTS' GATE"


PROLOGUE

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

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

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

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


ACT I

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when about three o'clock they all started home, Mary gave Bertha her
check to kiss instead of her mouth, and that hurt Bertha, who had her cry
riding home, to the astonishment and irritation of her brother Jack, who
rode home with her.

But when they were all gone Mary was missing again and when her mother
called her, and, after a pause, the voice of Harry Dale said,
respectfully, in the darkness, "She's here, Mrs Carey, she's all right,"
the two were discovered sitting on a convenient log of the wood-heap,
with an awkward and overacted interval of log between them.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"I will, Mary, for your sake."

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

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

She smiled bravely.

"Good-bye, Mary!"

"Good-bye, Harry!"

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

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

He turned, swung his horse, and rode slowly down the track, turning now
and again to wave his hand to her, with a farewell flourish of his hat as
he rounded the Spur. His track, five hundred miles, or perhaps a
thousand, into the great north-west; his time, six months, or perhaps a
year. Hers a hundred yards or so back to the dusty, dreary drudgery of
selection life.

The daylight faded into starlight, the sidings grew very dim, and a faint
white figure blurred against the bars of the slippanel.


ACT II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, he didn't!" roared Uncle Abel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"At Buckolts' Gate!" cried Mary.

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

"And where were you?"

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

"Uncle Abel!" exclaimed Aunt Emma.

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

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

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

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

"Have you got the writin's!" shouted Uncle Abel.

"The what?" said Mary.

"The writin's."

"No, of course not."

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

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

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

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

Mary turned quickly to her brother.

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

But Mary got her bonnet and started out.

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

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

"Better let her go, Lizzie," said Aunt Emma, detaining her sister.
"You've done it now, Uncle Abel."

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

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

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

"You know very well, Bertha."

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

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

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

"You met him at your gate that night?"

"I know I did."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MISS BERTHA BUCKOLT, Eurunderee Creek,

and sent it home by one of the school-children.

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

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

She never answered that letter.


ACT III

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

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

It all came about in this way.


Shortly after last New Year Ryan's bull had broken loose and gone astray
for two days and nights, breaking into neighbours' paddocks and filling
himself with hay and damaging other bulls, and making love by night and
hiding in the scrub all day. On the second night he broke through and
jumped over Reid's fences, and destroyed about an acre of grape-vines and
adulterated Reid's stock, besides interfering with certain heifers which
were not of a marriageable age. There was a 5 penalty on a stray bull.
Reid impounded the bull and claimed heavy damages. Ryan, a small selector
of little account, was always pulling some neighbour to court when he
wasn't being "pulled" himself, so he went to court over this case.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"Don't ask me, Jim."

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

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

"What!" cried Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary left the table.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

"That will do," said Bertha, and Jim went to catch his horse.

Next day Harry's reply came: "Coming."


ACT IV

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

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

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

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



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

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

She pulled out the rails with eager, trembling hands and leaned against
the tree.


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

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

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

Uncle Abel peered in again to make sure.

"Well, be sure you git the writin's this time," he said.



THE BUSH-FIRE


I

SQUATTER AND SELECTOR

WALL was a squatter and a hard man. There had been long years of drought
and loss, and then came the rabbit pest--the rabbits swarmed like flies
over his run, and cropped the ground bare where even the poor grass might
have saved thousands of sheep--and the rabbits cost the squatter hundreds
of pounds in "rabbit-proof" fences, trappers' wages, etc., just to keep
them down. Then came arrangements with the bank. And then Wall's wife
died. Wall started to brood over other days, and the days that had gone
between, and developed a temper which drove his children from home one by
one, till only Mary was left. She managed the lonely home with the help
of a half-caste. Then in good seasons came the selectors.

Men remembered Wall as a grand boss and a good fellow, but that was in
the days before rabbits and banks, and syndicates and "pastoralists," or
pastoral companies instead of good squatters.

Runs were mostly pastoral leases for which the squatter paid the
Government so much per square mile (almost a nominal rent). Selections
were small holdings taken up by farmers under residential and other
conditions and paid for by instalments. If you were not ruined by the
drought, and paid up long enough, the land became freehold. The writer is
heir to a dusty patch of three hundred acres or so in the scrub which was
taken up thirty years ago and isn't freehold yet.

Selectors were allowed to take up land on runs or pastoral leases as well
as on unoccupied Crown lands, and as they secured the best bits of land,
and on water frontages if they could, and as, of course, selections
reduced the area of the run, the squatters loved selectors like elder
brothers. One man is allowed to select only a certain amount of land, and
required by law to live on it, so the squatters bought as much freehold
about the homestead as they could afford, selected as much as they are
allowed to by law, and sometimes employed "dummy" selectors to take up
choice bits about the runs and hold them for them. They fought selectors
in many various ways, and, in some cases, annoyed and persecuted them
with devilish ingenuity.

Ross was a selector, and a very hard man physically. He was a short,
nuggety man with black hair and frill beard (a little dusty), bushy black
eyebrows, piercing black eyes, horny knotted hands, and the obstinacy or
pluck of a dozen men to fight drought and the squatter. Ross selected on
Wall's run, in a bend of Sandy Creek, a nice bit of land with a black
soil, flat and red soil sidings from the ridges, which no one had noticed
before, and with the help of his boys he got the land cleared and fenced
in a year or two--taking bush contracts about the district between whiles
to make "tucker" for the family until he got his first crop off.

Wall was never accused of employing dummies, or underhanded methods in
dealings with selectors, but he had been through so much and had brooded
so long that he had grown very hard and bitter and suspicious, and the
reverse of generous--as many men do who start out in life too soft and
goodhearted and with too much faith in human nature. He was a tall, dark
man. He ordered Ross's boys off the run, impounded Ross's stock--before
Ross had got his fencing finished, summoned Ross for trespass, and Ross
retaliated as well as he could, until at last it mightn't have been safe
for one of those men to have met the other with a gun. The impounding of
the selector's cattle led to the last bad quarrel between Wall and his
son Billy, who was a tall, good-natured Cornstalk, and who reckoned that
Australia was big enough for all of us. One day in the drought, and in an
extra bitter mood, Wall heard that some of his sheep had been dogged in
the vicinity of Ross's selection, and he ordered Billy to take a
station-hand and watch Ross's place all night, and, if Ross's cattle put
their noses over the boundary, to drive them to the pound, fifteen miles
away; also to lay poisoned baits for the dogs all round the selection.
And Billy flatly refused.

"I know Ross and the boys," he said, "and I don't believe they dogged the
sheep. Why, they've only got a Newfoundland pup and an old lame, one-eyed
sheep-dog that couldn't hurt a flea. Now, father, this sort of thing has
been going on long enough. What difference does a few paltry acres make
to us? The country is big enough, God knows! Ross is a straight man
and--for God's sake, give the man a chance to get his ground fenced in;
he's doing it as fast as he can, and he can't watch his cattle day and
night."

"Are you going to do as I tell you, or are you not?" shouted Wall.

"Well, if it comes to that, I'm not," said Billy. "I'm not going to sneak
round a place all night and watch for a chance to pound a poor man's
cows."

It was an awful row, down behind the wool-shed, and things looked so bad
that old Peter, the station-hand, who was a witness, took off his coat
and rolled up his sleeves, ready, as he said afterwards, "to roll into"
either the father or the son if one raised a hand against the other.

"Father!" said Billy, though rather sobered by the sight of his father's
trembling, choking passion, "do you call yourself an Englishman?"

"Yes!" yelled Wall, furiously. "What the hell do you call yourself?"

"If it comes to that I'm an Australian," said Billy, and he turned away
and went to catch his horse. He went up-country and knocked about in the
north-west for a year or two.


II

ROMEO AND JULIET

Mary Wall was twenty-five. She was an Australian bush girl every inch of
her five-foot-nine; she had a pink-and-white complexion, dark blue eyes,
blue-black hair, and "the finest figure in the district," on horseback or
afoot. She was the best girl-rider too (saddle or bare-back), and they
say that when she was a tomboy she used to tuck her petticoats under her
and gallop man-fashion through the scrub after horses or cattle. She said
she was going to be an old maid.

There came a jackeroo on a visit to the station. He was related to the
bank with which Wall had relations. He was a dude, with an expensive
education and no brains. He was very vain of his education and prospects.
He regarded Mary with undisguised admiration, and her father had secret
hopes. One evening the jackeroo was down by the homestead-gate when Mary
came cantering home on her tall chestnut. The gate was six feet or more,
and the jackeroo raised his hat and hastened to open it, but Mary reined
her horse back a few yards and the "dood" had barely time to jump aside
when there was a scuffle of hoofs on the road, a "Ha-ha-ha!" in mid-air,
a landing thud, and the girl was away up the home-track in a cloud of
dust.

A few days later the jackeroo happened to be at Kelly's, a wayside
shanty, watching a fight between two bushmen, when Mary rode up. She knew
the men. She whipped her horse in between them and struck at first one
and then the other with her riding-whip.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" she said; "and both married men,
too!"

It evidently struck them that way, for after a bit they shook hands and
went home.

"And I wouldn't have married that girl for a thousand pounds," said the
jackeroo, relating the incidents to some friends in Sydney.

Mary said she wanted a man, if she could get one.



There was no life at home nowadays, so Mary went to all the bush dances
in the district. She thought nothing of riding twenty or thirty miles to
a dance, dancing all night, and riding home again next morning. At one of
these dances she met young Robert Ross, a clean-limbed, good-looking
young fellow about her own age. She danced with him and liked him, and
danced with him again, and he rode part of the way home with her. The
subject of the quarrel between the two homes came up gradually.

"The boss," said Robert, meaning his father, "the boss is always ready to
let bygones be bygones. It's a pity it couldn't be fixed up."

"Yes," said Mary, looking at him (Bob looked very well on horseback), "it
is a pity."

They met several times, and next Prince of Wales's birthday they rode
home from the races together. Both had good horses, and they happened to
be far ahead of the others on the wide, straight clear road that ran
between the walls of the scrub. Along, about dusk, they became very
confidential indeed--Mary had remarked what a sad and beautiful sunset it
was. The horses got confidential, too, and shouldered together, and
touched noses, and, after a long interval in the conversation, during
which Robert, for one, began to breathe quickly, he suddenly leaned over,
put his arm round her waist and made to kiss her. She jerked her body
away, threw up her whiphand, and Robert ducked instinctively; but she
brought her whip down on her horse's flank instead, and raced ahead.
Robert followed--or, rather, his horse did: he thought it was a race, and
took the bit in his teeth. Robert kept calling, appealing:

"Wait a while, Mary! I want to explain! I want to apologize! For God's
sake listen to me, Mary!"

But Mary didn't hear him. Perhaps she misunderstood the reason of the
chase and gave him credit for a spice of the devil in his nature. But
Robert grew really desperate; he felt that the thing must be fixed up now
or never, and gave his horse a free rein. Her horse was the fastest, and
Robert galloped in the dust from his heels for about a mile and a half;
then at the foot of a rise Mary's horse stumbled and nearly threw her
over his head, and then he stopped like the good horse he was.

Robert got down feeling instinctively that he might best make his peace
on foot, and approached Mary with a face of misery--she had dropped her
whip.

"Oh, Bob!" she said, "I'm knocked out;" and she slipped down into his
arms and stayed there a while.

They sat on a log and rested, while their horses made inquiries of each
other's noses, and compared notes.

And after a good while Mary said:

"No, Bob, it's no use talking of marrying just yet. I like you. Bob, but
I could never marry you while things are as they are between your father
and mine. Now, that'll do. Let me get on my horse, Bob. I'll be safer
there."

"Why?" asked Bob.

"Come on, Bob, and don't be stupid." She met him often and "liked" him.


III

A TRAMP'S MATCH AND WHAT IT DID

It was Christmas Eve at Wall's, but there was no score or so of buggies
and horses and dozens of strange dogs round the place as of old. The
glasses and decanters were dusty on the heavy old-fashioned sideboard in
the dining-room; and there was only a sullen, brooding man leaning over
the hurdles and looking at his rams in the yard, and a sullen, brooding
halfcaste at work in the kitchen. Mary had ridden away that morning to
visit a girl chum.

It was towards the end of a long drought, and the country was like tinder
for hundreds of miles round--the ground for miles and miles in the
broiling scrubs "as bare as your hand," or covered with coarse, dry
tufts. There was feed grass in places, but you had to look close to see
it.

Shearing had finished the day before, but there was a black boy and a
station-hand or two about the yards and six or eight shearers and
rouseabouts, and a teamster camped in the men's huts--they were staying
over the holidays to shear stragglers and clean up generally. Old Peter
and a jackeroo were out on the run watching a bush-fire across Sandy
Creek.

A swagman had happened to call at the station that morning; he asked for
work and then for tucker. He irritated Wall, who told him to clear out.
It was the first time that a swagman had been turned away from the
station without tucker.

Swaggy went along the track some miles, brooding over his wrongs, and
crossed Sandy Creek. He struck a match and dropped it into a convenient
tuft of grass in a likely patch of tufts, with dead grass running from it
up into the scrubby ridges--then he hurried on.



Did you ever see a bush-fire? Not sheets of flame sweeping and roaring
from tree-top to tree-top, but the snaky, hissing grassfire of hardwood
country.

The whole country covered with thin blue smoke so that you never know in
what direction the fire is travelling. At night you see it like the
lighted streets of cities, in the distant ranges. It roars up the hollows
of dead trees and gives them the appearance of factory chimneys in the
dusk. It climbs, by shreds of bark, the trunks of old dead white-box and
blue-gums--solid and hard as cast-iron--and cuts off the limbs. And where
there's a piece of recently ringbarked country, with the dead leaves
still on the trees, the fire will roar from bough to bough--a fair
imitation of a softwood forest fire. The bush-fire travels through the
scrubs for hundreds of miles, taking the grass to the roots, scorching
the living bush but leaving it alive--for gumbush is hardest of any to
kill. Where there is no undergrowth, and the country seems bare as a road
for miles, the fire will cross, licking up invisible straws of grass,
dusty leaves, twigs and shreds of bark on the hard ground already baking
in the drought. You hear of a fire miles away, and next day, riding
across the head of a gully, you hear a hissing and crackling and there is
the fire running over the ground in lines and curves of thin blue smoke,
snakelike, with old logs blazing on the blackened ground behind. Did you
ever hear a fire where a fire should not be? There is something hellish
in the sound of it. When the breeze is, say, from the east the fire runs
round western spurs, up sheltered gullies--helped by an "eddy" in the
wind perhaps--and appears along the top of the ridge, ready, with a
change in the wind, to come down on farms and fields of ripe wheat, with
a "front" miles long.

A selector might be protected by a wide sandy creek in front and wide
cleared roads behind, and, any hour in the day or night, a shout from the
farther end of the wheat paddock, and--"Oh, my God! the wheat!"

Wall didn't mind this fire much; most of his sheep were on their way out
back, to a back run where there was young grass; and the dry ridges along
the creek would be better for a burning-off--only he had to watch his
fences.

But, about dusk, Mary came galloping home in her usual breackneck
fashion.

"Father," she cried, "turn out the men and send them at once. The fire is
all down by Ross's farm, and he has ten acres of wheat standing, and no
one at home but him and Bob."

"How do you know?" growled Wall. Then suddenly and suspiciously, "Have
you been there?"

"I came home that way."

"Well--let Ross look after his own," snarled the father.

"But he can't, father. They're fighting the fire now, and they'll be
burnt out before the morning if they don't get help--for God's sake,
father, act like a Christian and send the men. Remember it is
Christmas-time, father. You're surely not going to see a neighbour burnt
out."

"Yes, I am," shouted Wall. "I'd like to see every selector in the country
burnt out, hut and all! Get off that horse and go inside. If a man leaves
the station to-night he needn't come back." (This last for the benefit of
the men's hut.)

"But, father----"

"Get off that horse and go inside," roared Wall.

"I--I won't."

"What!" He darted forward as though to drag her from the saddle, but she
swung her horse away.

"Stop! Where are you going?"

"To help Ross," said Mary. "He had no one to send for help."

"Then go the same way as your brother!" roared her father; "and if you
show your nose back again I'll horse-whip you off the run!"

"I'll go, father," said Mary, and she was away.


IV

THE FIRE AT ROSS'S FARM

Ross's farm was in a corner between the ridges and the creek. The fire
had come down from the creek, but the siding on that side was fairly
clear, and they had stopped the fire there. It went behind the ridge and
ran up and over. The ridge was covered thickly with scrub and dead grass;
the wheat-field went well up the siding, and along the top was a bush
face with only a narrow bridle-track between it and the long dead grass.
Everything depended on the wind. Mary saw Ross and Mrs Ross and the
daughter Jenny, well up the siding above the fence, working desperately,
running to and fro, and beating out the fire with green boughs. Mary left
her horse, ran into the hut, and looked hurriedly round for something to
wear in place of her riding-skirt. She only saw a couple of light print
dresses. She stepped into a skillion room, which happened to be Bob's
room, and there caught sight of a pair of trousers and a coat hanging on
the wall.



Bob Ross, beating desperately along a line of fire that curved down-hill
to his right, and half-choked and blinded with the smoke, almost stumbled
against a figure which was too tall to be his father.

"Why! who's that?" he gasped.

"It's only me, Bob," said Mary, and she lifted her bough again.

Bob stared. He was so astonished that he almost forgot the fire and the
wheat. Bob was not thin--but----

"Don't look at me, Bob!" said Mary, hurriedly. "We're going to be
married, so it doesn't matter. Let us save the wheat."

There was no time to waste; there was a breeze now from over the ridges,
light, but enough to bear the fire down on them. Once, when they had
breathing space, Mary ran to the creek for a billy of water. They beat
out the fire all along the siding to where a rib of granite came down
over the ridge to the fence, and then they thought the wheat was safe.
They came together here, and Ross had time to look and see who the
strange man was; then he stared at Mary from under his black, bushy
eyebrows. Mary, choking and getting her breath after her exertions,
suddenly became aware, said "Oh!" and fled round the track beyond the
point of granite. She felt a gust of wind and looked up the ridge. The
bush fence ended here in a corner, where it was met by a new wire fence
running up from the creek. It was a blind gully full of tall dead grass,
and, glancing up, Mary saw the flames coming down fast. She ran back.

"Come on!" she cried, "come on! The fire's the other side of the rocks!"



Back at the station, Wall walked up and down till he cooled. He went
inside and sat down, but it was no use. He lifted his head and saw his
dead wife's portrait on the wall. Perhaps his whole life ran before him
in detail--but this is not a psychological study.

There were only two tracks open to him now: either to give in, or go on
as he was going--to shut himself out from human nature and become known
as "Mean Wall," "Hungry Wall," or "Mad Wall, the Squatter." He was a
tall, dark man of strong imagination and more than ordinary intelligence.
And it was the great crisis of his ruined life. He walked to the top of a
knoll near the homestead and saw the fire on the ridges above Ross's
farm. As he turned back he saw a horseman ride up and dismount by the
yard.

"Is that you, Peter?"

"Yes, boss. The fences is all right."

"Been near Ross's?"

"No. He's burnt out by this time."

Wall walked to and fro for a few minutes longer. Then he suddenly stopped
and called, "Peter!"

"Ay, ay!" from the direction of the huts.

"Turn out the men!" and Wall went into a shed and came out with his
saddle on his arm.



The fire rushed down the blind gully. Showers of sparks fell on the bush
fence, it caught twice, and they put it out, but the third time it blazed
and roared and a fire-engine could not have stopped it.

"The wheat must go," said Ross. "We've done our best," and he threw down
the blackened bough and leaned against a tree, and covered his eyes with
a grimy hand.

The wheat was patchy in that corner--there were many old stumps of trees,
and there were bare strips where the plough had gone on each side of
them. Mary saw a chance, and climbed the fence.

"Come on, Bob," she cried, "we might save it yet. Mr Ross, pull out the
fence along there," and she indicated a point beyond the fire. They
tramped down and tore up the wheat where it ran between the stumps--the
fire was hissing and crackling round and through it, and just as it ran
past them in one place there was a shout, a clatter of horses' hoofs on
the stones, and Mary saw her father riding up the track with a dozen men
behind him. She gave a shriek and ran straight down, through the middle
of the wheat, towards the hut.

Wall and his men jumped to the ground, wrenched green boughs from the
saplings, and, after twenty minutes' hard fighting, the crop was
saved--save for a patchy acre or so.

When it was all over Ross sat down on a log and rested his head on his
hands, and his shoulders shook.

Presently he felt a hand on his shoulder, looked up, and saw Wall.

"Shake hands, Ross," he said.

And it was Christmas Day.


But in after years they used to nearly chaff the life out of Mary. "You
were in a great hurry to put on the breeches, weren't you, Mary?" "Bob's
best Sunday-go-meetin's, too, wasn't they, Mary?" "Rather tight fit,
wasn't they, Mary?" "Couldn't get 'em on now, could you, Mary?"

"But," reflected old Peter apart to some cronies, "it ain't every young
chap as gits an idea of the shape of his wife afore he marries her--is
it? An' that's sayin' somethin'."

And old Peter was set down as being an innercent sort of ole cove.



THE HOUSE THAT WAS NEVER BUILT

THERE had been heavy rain and landslips all along the branch railway
which left the Great Western Line from Sydney just beyond the Blue
Mountains, and ran through thick bush and scrubby ridgy country and along
great alluvial sidings--where the hills on the opposite side of the wide
valleys (misty in depths) faded from deep blue into the pale azure of the
sky--and over the ends of western spurs to the little farming, mining and
pastoral town of Solong, situated in a circle of blue hills on the banks
of the willow-fringed Cudgegong River.

The line was hopelessly blocked, and some publicans at Solong had put on
the old coach-road a couple of buggies, a wagonette, and an old mail
coach--relic of the days of Cobb & Co., which had been resurrected from
some backyard and tinkered up--to bring the train passengers on from the
first break in the line over the remaining distance of forty miles or so.
Capertee Station (old time, "Capertee Camp"--a teamster's camp) was the
last station before the first washout, and there the railway line and the
old road parted company for the last time before reaching Solong--the one
to run round by the ends of the western spurs that spread fanlike, and
the other to go through and over the rough country.

The train reached Capertee about midnight in broad moonlight that was
misty in the valleys and round the blue of Crown Ridge. I got a
"box-seat" beside the driver on the old coach. It was a grand old
road--one of the old main coach-roads of New South Wales--broad and
white, metalled nearly all the way, and in nearly as good condition as on
the day when the first passenger train ran into Solong and the last-used
section of the old road was abandoned. It dated back to the bushranging
days--right back to convict times: it ran through tall dark bush, up over
gaps or "saddles" in high ridges, down across deep dark gullies, and here
and there across grey, marshy, curlew-haunted flats. Cobb & Co's
coach-and-six, with "Royal Mail" gilded on the panels, had dashed over it
in ten and twelve-mile stages in the old days, the three head-lamps
flashing on the wild dark bush at night, and maybe twenty-four passengers
on board. The biggest rushes to richest goldfields in the west had gone
over this old road on coaches, on carts, on drays, on horse and bullock
wagons, on horseback, and on foot; new chums from all the world and from
all stations in life.

When many a step was on the mountains,
Marching west to the land of gold.

And a few came back rich--red, round-faced and jolly--on the box-seat of
Cobb & Co's, treating the driver and all hands, "going home" to
sweethearts or families. (Home people will never feel the meaning of
those two words, "going home," as it is felt in a new land.) And many
came back broken men, tramping in rags, and carrying their swags through
the dusty heat of the drought in December or the bitter, pelting rain in
the mountains in June. Some came back grey who went as boys; and there
were many who never came back.

I remembered the old mile-trees, with a section of bark cut away and the
distances cut in Roman letters in the hardened sap--the distance from
Bowenfels, the railway terminus then. It was a ghostly old road, and if
it wasn't haunted it should have been. There was an old decaying and
nearly deserted coaching town or two; there were abandoned farms and
halfway inns, built of stone, with the roofs gone and nettles growing
high between the walls; the remains of an orchard here and there--a few
gnarled quince-trees--and the bush reclaiming its own again. It was a
haunted ride for me, because I had last ridden over this old road long
ago when I was young--going to see the city for the first time--and
because I was now on my way to attend the funeral of one of my father's
blood from whom I had parted in anger.

We slowly climbed, and almost as slowly descended, the steep siding of a
great hill called Aaron's Pass, and about a mile beyond the foot of the
hill I saw a spot I remembered passing on the last journey down, long
ago. Rising back from the road, and walled by heavy bush, was a square
clearing, and in the background I saw plainly, by the broad moonlight,
the stone foundations for a large house; from the front an avenue of
grown pines came down to the road.

"Why!" I exclaimed, turning to the driver, "was that house burnt down?"

"No," he said slowly. "That house was never built."

I stared at the place again and caught sight of a ghostly-looking light
between the lines of the foundations, which I presently made out to be a
light in a tent.

"There's someone camping there," I said.

"Yes," said the driver, "some old swaggy or 'hatter.' I seen him comin'
down. I don't know nothing about that there place." (I hadn't "shouted"
for him yet.)

I thought and remembered. I remembered myself, as a boy, being sent a
coach journey along this road to visit some relatives in Sydney. We
passed this place, and the women in the coach began to talk of the fine
house that was going to be built there. The ground was being levelled for
the foundations, and young pines had been planted, with stakes round them
to protect them from the cattle. I remembered being mightily interested
in the place, for the women said that the house was to be a two-storied
one. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to see a two-storied house
there in the bush. The height of my ambition was to live in a house with
stairs in it. The women said that this house was being built for young
Brassington, the son of the biggest squatter then in the district, who
was going to marry the daughter of the next biggest squatter. That was
all I remember hearing the women say.

Three or four miles along the road was a public-house, with a post
office, general store, and blacksmith shop attached, as is usual in such
places--all that was left of the old pastoral and coaching town of
Ilford. I "shouted" for the driver at the shanty, but got nothing further
out of him concerning the fate of the house that was never built. I
wanted that house for a story.

However, while yarning with some old residents at Solong, I mentioned the
Brassingtons, and picked up a few first links in the story. The young
couple were married and went to Sydney for their honeymoon. The story
went that they intended to take a trip to the old country and Paris, to
be away a twelve-month, and the house was to be finished and ready for
them on their return. Young Brassington himself had a big sheep-run round
there. The railway wasn't thought of in those days, or if it was, no
Brassington could have dreamed that the line could have been brought to
Solong in any other direction than through the property of the "Big
Brassingtons," as they were called. Well, the young couple went to
Sydney, but whether they went farther the old residents did not know. All
they knew was that within a few weeks, and before the stone foundations
for the brick walls of the house were completed, the building contract
was cancelled, the workmen were dismissed, and the place was left as I
last saw it; only the ornamental pines had now grown to trees. The
Brassingtons and the bride's people were English families and reserved.
They kept the story, if there was a story, to themselves. The girl's
people left the district and squatted on new stations up-country. The Big
Brassingtons came down in the world and drifted to the city, as many
smaller people do, more and more every year. Neither young Brassington
nor his wife was ever again seen or heard of in the district.

I attended my relative's funeral, and next day started back for Sydney.

Just as we reached Ilford, as it happened, the pin of the fore
under-carriage of the coach broke, and it took the blacksmith several
hours to set it right. The place was dull, the publican was not
communicative--or else he harped on the old local grievance of the
railway not having come that way--so about half an hour before I thought
the coach would be ready, I walked on along the road to stretch by legs.
I walked on and on until I came, almost unaware, to the site of the house
that was never built. The tent was still there, in fact, it was a
permanent camp, and I was rather surprised to see the man working with a
trowel on a corner of the unfinished foundations of the house. At first I
thought he was going to build a stone hut in the corner, but when I got
close to him I saw that he was working carefully on the original plan of
the building: he was building the unfinished parts of the foundation
walls up to the required height. He had bricklayer's tools, a bag of
lime, and a heap of sand, and had worked up a considerable quantity of
mortar. It was a rubble foundation: he was knocking off the thin end of a
piece of stone to make it fit, and the clanging of the trowel prevented
his hearing my footsteps.

"Good day, mate," I said, close beside him.

I half expected he'd start when I spoke, but he didn't: he looked round
slowly, but with a haunted look in his eyes as if I might have been one
of his ghosts. He was a tall man, gaunt and haggard-eyed, as many men are
in the bush; he may have been but little past middle age, and grey before
his time.

"Good day," he said, and he set the stone in its place, carefully flush
with the outer edge of the wall, before he spoke again. Then he looked at
the sun, which was low, laid down his trowel, and asked me to come to the
tent-fire. "It's turning chilly," he said. It was a model camp,
everything clean and neat both inside the tent and out; he had made a
stone fireplace with a bark shelter over it, and a table and bench under
another little shed, with shelves for his tin cups and plates and cooking
utensils. He put a box in front of the fire and folded a flour-bag on top
of it for a seat for me, and hung the billy over the fire. He sat on his
heels and poked the burning sticks, abstractedly I thought, or to keep
his hands and thoughts steady.

"I see you're doing a bit of building," I said.

"Yes," he said, keeping his eyes on the fire; "I'm getting on with it
slowly."

I don't suppose he looked at me half a dozen times the whole while I was
is his camp. When he spoke he talked just as if he were sitting yarning
in a row of half a dozen of us. Presently he said suddenly, and giving
the fire a vicious dig with his poker:

"That house must be finished by Christmas."

"Why?" I asked, taken by surprise. "What's the hurry?"

"Because," he said, "I'm going to be married in the New Year--to the best
and dearest girl in the bush."

There was an awkward pause on my part, but presently I pulled myself
together.

"You'll never finish it by yourself," I said. "Why don't you put on some
men?"

"Because," he said, "I can't trust them. Besides, how am I to get
bricklayers and carpenters in a place like this?"

I noticed all through that his madness or the past in his mind was mixed
up with the real and the present.

"Couldn't you postpone the marriage?" I asked.

"No!" he exclaimed, starting to his feet. "No!" and he looked round
wildly on the darkening bush. There was madness in his tone that time,
the last "No!" sounding as if from a man who was begging for his life.

"Couldn't you run up a shanty then, to live in until the house is ready?"
I suggested, to soothe him.

He gave his arm an impatient swing. "Do you think I'd ask that girl to
live in a hut?" he said. "She ought to live in a palace!"

There seemed no way out of it, so I said nothing: he turned his back and
stood looking away over the dark, low-lying sweep of bush towards sunset.
He folded his arms tight, and seemed to me to be holding himself. After a
while he let fall his arms and turned and blinked at me and the fire like
a man just woke from a doze or rousing himself out of a deep reverie.

"Oh, I almost forgot the billy!" he said. "I'll make some tea--you must
be hungry."

He made the tea and fried a couple of slices of ham; he laid the biggest
slice on a thick slice of white baker's bread on a tin plate, and put it
and a pint-pot full of tea on a box by my side. "Have it here, by the
fire," he said; "it's warmer and more comfortable."

I took the plate on my knee, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed that
meal. The bracing mountain air and the walk had made me hungry. The
hatter had his meal standing up, cutting his ham on a slice of bread with
a clasp-knife. It was bush fashion, and set me thinking of some old
times. He ate very little, and, as far as I saw, he didn't smoke.
Non-smokers are very scarce in the bush.

I saw by the way his tent was pitched and his camp arranged generally,
and by the way he managed the cooking, that he must have knocked about
the bush for some years.

He put the plates and things away and came and sat down on the other
empty gin-case by my side, and fell to poking the fire again. He never
showed the least curiosity as to who I was, or where I came from, or what
I was doing on this deserted track: he seemed to take me as a matter of
course--but all this was in keeping with bush life in general.

Presently he got up and stood looking upwards over the place where the
house should have been.

"I think now," he said slowly, "I made a mistake in not having the
verandas carried all round the house."

"I--I beg pardon!"

"I should have had the balcony all round instead of on two sides only, as
the man who made the plan suggested; it would have looked better and made
the house cooler in summer."

I thought as I listened, and presently I saw that it was a case of
madness within madness, so to speak: he was mad on the idea that he could
build the house himself, and then he had moods when he imagined that the
house had been built and he had been married and had reared a family.

"You could easily get the balcony carried round," I said; "it wouldn't
cost much--you can get good carpenters at Solong. "

"Yes," he said. "I'll have it done after Christmas." Then he turned from
the house and blinked down at me.

"I am sorry," he said, "that there's no one at home. I sent the wife and
family to Sydney for a change. I've got the two boys at the Sydney
Grammar School. I think I'll send the eldest to King's School at
Parramatta. The girls will have to get along with a governoss at home and
learn to help their mother "

And so he went on talking away just as a man who has made money in the
bush, and is married and settled down, might yarn to an old bachelor bush
mate.

"I suppose I'll have to get a good piano," he went on. "The girls must
have some amusement: there'll be no end of balls and parties. I suppose
the boys will soon be talking of getting 'fivers' and 'tenners' out of
the 'guvner' or 'old man.' It's the way of the world. And they'll marry
and leave us. It's the way of the world "

It was awful to hear him go on like this, the more so because he never
smiled--just talked on as if he had said the same thing over and over
again. Presently he stopped, and his eyes and hands began to wander: he
sat down on his heel to the fire again and started poking it. I began to
feel uneasy; I didn't know what other sides there might be to his
madness, and wished the coach would come along.

"You've knocked about the bush a good deal?" I asked. I couldn't think of
anything else to say, and I thought he might break loose if I let him
brood too long.

"Yes," he said, "I have."

"Been in Queensland and the Gulf country, I suppose?"

"I have."

His tone and manner seemed a bit more natural. He had knocked about
pretty well all over Australia, and had been in many places where I had
been. I had got him on the right track, and after a bit he started
telling bush yarns and experiences, some of them awful, some of them very
funny, and all of them short and good; and now and then, looking at the
side of his face, which was all he turned to me, I thought I detected the
ghost of a smile.

One thing I noticed about him; when he spoke as a madman, he talked like
a man who had been fairly well educated (or sometimes, I fancied, like a
young fellow who was studying to be a school-teacher); his speech was
deliberate and his grammar painfully correct--far more so than I have
made it; but when he spoke as an old bushman, he dropped his g's and
often turned his grammar back to front. But that reminds me that I have
met English college men who did the same thing after being a few years in
the bush; either they dropped their particular way of speaking because it
was mimicked, because they were laughed and chaffed out of it, or they
fell gradually into the habit of talking as rough bushmen do (they learnt
Australian), as clean-mouthed men fall, in spite of themselves, into the
habit of swearing in the heat and hurry and rough life of a
shearing-shed. And, coming back into civilized life, these men, who had
been well brought up, drop into their old manner and style of speaking as
readily as the foulest-mouthed man in a shed or camp--who, amongst his
fellows, cannot say three words without an oath--can, when he finds
himself in a decent home in the woman-and-girl world, yarn by the hour
without letting slip a solitary little damn.

The hatter warmed up the tea-billy again, got out some currant buns,
which he had baked himself in the camp-oven, and we were yarning
comfortably like two old bushmen, and I had almost forgotten that he was
"ratty," when we heard the coach coming. I jumped up to hurry down to the
road. This seemed to shake him up. He gripped my hand hard and glanced
round in his frightened, haunted way. I never saw the eyes of a man look
so hopeless and helpless as his did just then.

"I'm sorry you're going," he said, in a hurried way. "I'm sorry you're
going. But--but they all go. Come again, come again--we'll all be glad to
see you."

I had to hurry off and leave him. "We all," I suppose, meant himself and
his ghosts.

I ran down between the two rows of pines and reached the road just as the
coach came up. I found the publican from Ilford aboard--he was taking a
trip to Sydney. As the coach went on I looked up the clearing and saw the
hatter standing straight behind the fire, with his arms folded and his
face turned in our direction. He looked ghastly in the firelight, and at
that distance his face seemed to have an expression of listening
blindness. I looked round on the dark bush, with, away to the left, the
last glow of sunset fading from the bed of it, like a bed of reddening
coals, and I looked up at the black loom of Aaron's Pass, and thought
that never a man, sane or mad, was left in such a depth of gloomy
loneliness.

"I see you've been yarning with him yonder," said the publican, who
seemed to have relaxed wonderfully.

"Yes."

"You know these parts, don't you?"

"Yes. I was about here as a boy."

He asked me what my name might be. I told him it was Smith. He blinked a while.

"I never heard of anyone by the name of Smith in the district," he said.

Neither had I. I told him that we lived at Solong, and didn't stay long.
It saved time.

"Ever heard of the Big Brassingtons?"

"Yes."

"Ever heard the yarn of the house that wasn't built?"

I told him how much I had heard of it.

"And that's about all any on 'em knows. Have you any idea who that man
back yonder is?"

"Yes, I have."

"Well, who do you think it is?"

"He is, or rather he was, young Brassington."

"You've hit it!" said the publican. "I know--and a few others."

"And do you know what became of his wife?" I asked.

"I do," said the shanty-keeper, who had a generous supply of whisky with
him, and seemed to have begun to fill himself up for the trip.

He said no more for a while, and when I had remained silent long enough,
he went on, very deliberately and impressively

"One yarn is that the girl wasn't any good; that when she was married to
Brassington, and as soon as they got to Sydney, she met a chap she'd been
carrying on with before she married Brassington (or that she'd been
married to in secret), an' she cleared off with him, leaving her
fortnight-old husband. That was one yarn."

"Was it?" I said.

"Yes," said the publican. "That yarn was a lie." He opened a flask of
whisky and passed it round.

"There was madness in the family," he said, after a nip.

"Whose?" I asked. "Brassington's?"

"No," said the publican, in a tone that implied contempt at my ignorance,
in spite of its innocence, "the girl's. Her mother had been in a 'sylum,
and so had her grandmother. It was--it was heridited. Some madnesses is
heridited, an' some comes through worry and hard graft (that's mine), an'
some comes through drink, and some through worse, and, but as far as I've
heard, all madnesses is pretty much the same. My old man was a warder in
a 'sylum. They have their madnesses a bit different, the same as boozers
has their d.t's different; but, takin' it by the lump, it's pretty much
all the same. The difference is accordin' to their natures when they're
sane. All men are----"

"But about young Mrs Brassington," I interrupted.

"Young Mrs Brassington? Rosy Webb she was, daughter of Webb the squatter.
Rosy was the brightest, best, good-heartedest, an' most ladylike little
girl in the district, an' the heriditry business come on her in Sydney,
about a week after she was married to young Brassington. She was only
twenty. Here--" He passed the flask round.

"And what happened?" I asked.

"What happened?" he repeated. Then he pulled himself together, as if
conscious that he had shown signs of whisky. "Everything was done, but it
was no use. She died in a year in a 'sylum."

"How do you know that?"

"How do I know that?" he repeated in a tone of contempt. "How do I know
that? Well, I'll tell you how. My old wife was in service at
Brassington's station at the time--the oldest servant--an' young
Brassington wired to her from Sydney to come and help him in his trouble.
Old Mrs Brassington was bedridden, an' they kep' it from her."

"And about young Brassington?"

"About young Brassington? He took a swag an' wandered through the bush.
We've had him at our place several times all these years, but he always
wandered off again. My old woman tried everything with him, but it was
all no use. Years ago she used to get him to talk of things as they was,
in hopes of bringin' his mind back, but he was always worse after. She
does all she can for him even now, but he's mighty independent. The last
five or six years he's been taken with the idea of buildin' that cursed
house. He'll stay there till he gets short of money, an' then he'll go
out back, shearin', stock-ridin', drovin', cookin', fencin'--anything
till he gets a few pounds. Then he'll settle down and build away at that
bloody house. He's knocked about so much that he's a regular old bushman.
While he's an old bushman he's all right an' amusin' an' good company;
but when he's Brassington he's mad--Don't you ever let on to my old woman
that I told you. I allers let my tongue run a bit when I get out of that
hole we're living in. We've kept the secret all these years, but what
does it matter now?--I ask you."

"It doesn't matter much," I said.

"Nothing matters much, it seems to me, nothing matters a damn. The Big
Brassingtons come down years ago; the old people's gone, and the young
scattered God knows where or how. The Webbs (the girl's people) are away
up in new country, an' the girls (they was mostly all girls) are married
an' settled down by this time. We kept the secret, an' the Webbs kept the
secret--even when the dirty yarns was goin' round--so's not to spoil the
chances of the other girls. What about the chances of their husbands?
Some on 'em might be in the same hell as Brassington for all I know. The
Brassingtons kept the secret because I suppose they reckoned it didn't
matter much. Nothing matters much in this world--"

But I was thinking of another young couple who had married long ago,
whose married life was twenty long years of shameful quarrels, of useless
brutal recrimination--not because either was bad, but because their
natures were too much alike; of the house that was built, of the family
that was reared, of the sons and daughters who "went wrong," of the
father and mother separated after twenty years, of the mother dead of a
broken heart, of the father (in a lunatic asylum), whose mania was not to
build houses, but to obtain and secrete matches for the purpose of
burning houses down.



"BARNEY, TAKE ME HOME AGAIN"

THIS is a sketch of one of the many ways in which a young married woman,
who is naturally thick-skinned and selfish--as most women are--and who
thinks she loves her husband, can spoil his life because he happens to be
good-natured, generous, sensitive, weak or soft, whichever you like to
call it.

Johnson went out to Australia a good many years ago with his young wife
and two children, as assisted emigrants. He should have left his wife and
children with her mother, in a street off City Road, N., and gone out by
himself and got settled down comfortably and strengthened in the glorious
climate and democratic atmosphere of Australia, and in the knowledge that
he could worry along a while without his wife, before sending for her.
That bit of knowledge would have done her good also, and it would have
been better for both of them. But no man knows the future, and few can
prescribe for their own wives. If we saw our married lives as others see
them, half of us would get divorced. But Johnson was sentimental, he
could not bear to part from his wife for a little while. Moreover, man is
instinctively against leaving his wife behind; it may be either a natural
or a cowardly instinct--but we won't argue that. I don't believe that
Johnson was a coward in that direction; I believe that he trusted his
wife implicitly, or rather that he never dreamed of such a thing--as is
the way with most married men. Sentiment is selfishness, perhaps, but we
won't argue that, such arguments come to nothing.

I heard from a fellow-passenger of Johnson's that he had "a hell of a
voyage" because of his young wife's ignorant selfishness and his own
sensitiveness; he bribed stewards for better food and accommodation for
his wife and children, paid the stewardess to help with the children, got
neither rest, nor peace, nor thanks for himself, and landed in Sydney a
nervous wreck, with five pounds out of the ten he started with.

Johnson was a carpenter. He got work from a firm of contractors in
Sydney, who, after giving him a fortnight's trial, sent him up-country to
work on the railway station buildings, at the little pastoral mining and
farming town of Solong. The railway having come to Solong, things were
busy in the building line, and Johnson settled there.

Johnson was thin when he came to Solong; he had landed a living skeleton,
he said, but he filled out later on. The democratic atmosphere soothed
his mind and he soon loved the place for its unconventional hospitality.
He worked hard and seemed to have plenty of energy--he said he got it in
Australia. He said that another year of the struggle in London would have
driven him mad. He fished in the river on Saturday afternoons and
Sundays, and, perhaps for the first month or so, he thought that he had
found peace. Johnson's wife was a rather stout, unsympathetic-looking
young woman, with the knit of obstinacy in her forehead; she had that
stamp of "hardness" on her face which is the rule amongst English and the
exception amongst Australian women. We of Solong thought her hard,
selfish and narrow-minded, and paltry; later on we thought she was a "bit
touched;" but local people often think that of strangers.

By her voice and her habit of whining she should have been a thin,
sharp-faced, untidy, draggled-tailed woman in a back street in London, or
a worn-out selector's wife in the bush. She whined about the climate. "It
will kill the children! It will kill the children! We'll never rear them
here!" She whined about the "wretched hole in the bush" that her husband
had brought her to; and to the women whom she condescended to
visit--because a woman must have a woman to talk to--she exaggerated the
miseries of the voyage until the thing became a sing-song from
repetition. Later on she settled down to endless accounts of her home in
London, of her mother and sisters, of the way they lived. "And I'll never
see it any more. I'll never see them any more."

The Solong climate was reckoned the best in Australia; the "wretched
hole" was a pretty little town on the banks of a clear, willow-bordered
river, with vineyards on the slopes, and surrounded by a circle of blue
hills and peaks. We knew nothing of London, so she had her own way there.

"She'll feel a bit lonely at first, but she'll soon get used to
Australia," said Johnson. He seemed to me to go out of his way to excuse
his wife.

Johnson had had a few contracts in England at one time; they had been in
"better circumstances"--that was the time she looked back to in England;
the last two years of bitter, black struggle at "home" seemed a blank in
her mind--but that's how women jump over facts when they have a selfish
fad.

Johnson rented a cottage and garden on the bank of the sunny river. He
said he took the place because there was ivy growing on the cottage, and
it might cheer his wife; but he had lost sight of the fact that, while he
had been born in an English village, his wife had been born and bred in
London, and had probably never noticed ivy. She said it was worse than
living in a slum.

Johnson was clever at his trade, and at many other things, but his wife
didn't seem aware of it. He was well liked, he grew to be popular, but
she didn't seem proud of the fact; she never seemed interested in him or
his prospects. She only wanted him to take her home again. We mustn't
forget that while he had a rush of work to occupy his mind she had not.

But Johnson grew stouter and prospered in spite of his wife--for a year
or so. New schools were being built in the district and the town was
practically re-built. Johnson took contracts for brickwork, plumbing and
house-painting, as well as carpentering, and had at one time as many as
ten men in his employ. He was making money.

I was working at my trade then, house-painting, and worked for Johnson. I
lodged at his cottage for a while, but soon got tired of hearing about
London, and Mrs Johnson's mother and sisters, and the house they lived
in, and the street it was in, and the parks where they used to take their
babies, and the shopping on Saturday afternoon. That woman was terrible.
She was at Johnson all the time about taking her home. "We'll surely be
able to go home this year, Will." "You promised to take me home by the
end of the year." "Mother says in her last letter that Jack says there's
more building going on about London than ever." "You'll do just as well
in London as you'll do here." "What chance have the children got in a
hole like this?" And the rest of it--every night. When he took a new
contract, it would be, "What did you want to take that new contract for,
Will, when we're going home? You know you promised me you wouldn't take
any more contracts." First he'd try to cheer her, then he'd argue; but
she'd only sit with the knit in her forehead deep, looking as obstinate
as a mule. Then she'd sit down to a little harmonium he'd bought her and
play and sing "Barney, take me Home again," and "The Old Folks at Home,"
and "Swannie Ribber," till I felt like hanging myself--and I wasn't an
exile. Sometimes Johnson would flare up and there'd be a row and he'd go
to the pub. Gentle persuasion, argument, or swearing, it was all the same
with her.

Bosses and men were different towards each other in Solong to what they
are in London; besides, when I wasn't Johnson's sub-contractor I was his
foreman--so we often had a few drinks together; and one night over a beer
(and after a breeze at home, I think) he said to me:

"I can't make it out, Harry; there was nothing but struggle and worry and
misery for us in England, and London was smothering me, my chest was bad
and the wife was always in ill-health; but I suppose I'll have to take
her home in the end or else she'll go melancholy mad!" And he drew a
breath that was more like a gasp than a sigh.

"Why not send her home for a trip, or a year or so, boss?" I asked. "As
likely as not she'll be just as eager to get back; and that will be the
end of it."

"I couldn't do that, Harry," said Johnson. "I couldn't stay here and work
alone. It would be like beginning life again; I've started twice and
couldn't start the third time. You'll understand when you're married,
Harry."

Well, in the end, she wore Johnson out--or wore into him rather. He drank
more, and once or twice I saw him drinking alone. Sometimes he'd "round
on us" at work for nothing at all, and at other times he'd take no
interest in the jobs--he'd let the work go on anyhow. Some thought that
Johnson was getting too big for his boots, that's how men are misjudged.
He grew moody and melancholy and thin again. Johnson was homesick
himself. No doubt it was the misery of his domestic life in Australia
that made him so.

Towards the end of the third or fourth year Johnson threw up a couple of
contracts he had on hand, sacrificed a piece of land which he had bought
and on which he had built a cottage in the short time he had been in
Solong, and, one lovely day in June, when the skies were their fairest,
the hills their bluest, the river its widest and clearest, and the grass
was waving waist high after rain--one blue and green and golden day the
Johnsons left Solong, with the trunks they had brought out with them, for
Sydney, en route for smoky London.

Mrs Johnson was a woman transformed--she was happy and looked it. The
last few weeks she had seemed in every way the opposite of the woman we
had known: cheerful, kind to neighbours in sickness and trouble, even
generous; she made many small presents in the way of mantelshelf
ornaments, pictures, and house-linen. But then it was Johnson who had to
pay for that in the end.

He looked worn and worried at the railway station--more like himself as
he was when he first came to Solong--and as the train moved off I thought
he looked--well, frightened.

That must have been nearly twenty years ago.


London last winter. It was one of those days when London's lurid sun
shows up for a little while like a smoky danger signal. The snow had
melted from the house-tops and the streets were as London streets are
after the first fall of snow of the season. But I could stand the flat no
longer, I had to go out and walk. I was sun-sick--I was heart-sick for
the sun, for the sunny South--for grassy plains, blue mountains, sweeps
of mountain bush and sunny ocean beaches. I walked hard; I walked till I
was mud-splashed to the shoulders; I walked through the squalid,
maddening sameness of miles of dingy, grimy-walled blocks and rows of
four-storied houses till I felt smothered--jailed, hopelessly. "Best get
home and in, and draw the blinds on it," I said, "or my brain will turn."

I was about to ask a policeman where I was when I saw, by the name on a
corner of the buildings, that I was in City Road, North.

All the willow-fringed rivers and the sunny hills of Solong flashed
before me at the sight of the name of that street. I had not been able to
recall the name of the street off City Road in which the Johnsons lived,
though I had heard it often enough in the old days from the tongue of Mrs
Johnson.

I felt it would be a relief to see anyone who had been in Australia.
"Now," I thought, "if I walk along City Road and see the name of that
street I'll remember it"--and I did. It was a blind street, like the
long, narrow yard of a jail, walled by dark houses, all alike. The next
door but one to that at which I knocked to inquire was where the Johnsons
lived; they lived in a four-storied house, or rather a narrow section of
a four-storied terrace. I found later n that they paid the landlord, or
nearly paid him, by letting lodgings. They lived in one room with the use
of the parlour and the kitchen when the lodgers weren't using them, and
the son shared a room with a lodger. The back windows looked out on the
dead wall of a poorhouse of some kind, the front on rows of similar
windows opposite--rows of the same sort of windows that run for miles and
miles in London. In one a man sat smoking in his shirtsleeves, from
another a slavey leaned out watching a fourwheeler that had stopped next
door, in a third a woman sat sewing, and in a fourth a woman was ironing,
with a glimpse of a bedstead behind her. And all outside was gloom and
soot and slush.

I would never have recognized the Johnsons. I have visited them several
times since and their faces are familiar to me now, but I don't know
whether any traces of the old likenesses worked up in my memory. I found
Johnson an old man--old and grey before his time. He had a grizzly
stubble round his chin and cheeks towards the end of the week, because he
could only afford a shave on Saturday afternoon. He was working at some
branch of his trade "in the shop" I understood, but he said he felt the
work come heavier on him every winter. "I've felt very poorly this last
winter or two," he said, "very poorly indeed." He was very sad and
gentle.

Mrs Johnson was old and thin-looking, but seemed cheerful and energetic.
Some chest trouble kept her within doors most of the winter.

"I don't mind so long as I can manage," she said, "but Johnson gets so
depressed."

They seemed very kind towards each other; they spoke little of Australia,
and then only as an incident in their lives which was not of any
importance--had long been past and done with. It was all "before we went
to Australia" or "after we came back from Australia," with Mrs Johnson.

The son, whom I remembered as a bright, robust little fellow, was now a
tall, white-faced, clean-shaven young man, a clerk on thirty shillings a
week. He wore, on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, a tall hat and a frock
coat and overcoat made cheaply in the latest fashion, so he couldn't
afford to help the old folk much.

"David is very extravagant," said the old man, gently. "He won't wear
anything when once the gloss is off it. But," with a sad smile, "I get
the left-off overcoats."

He took me across to see his daughter. She had married a tradesman and
they were having a hard struggle in three rooms in a workman's dwelling.
She was twenty-five, thin, yellow, and looking ten years older.

There were other children who had died. "I think we might have done
better for the children in Australia," said the old man to me, sadly,
when we got outside, "but we did our best."

We went into a hotel and had a drink. Johnson had treated last
time--twenty years before. We call treating "shouting" in Australia.
Presently Johnson let fall a word or two of Australian slang, and
brightened up wonderfully; we got back out into Australia at once and
stayed there an hour or so. Being an old man, Johnson's memory for the
long ago was better than mine, and I picked up links; and, in return, I
told him what Solong was like now, and how some men he knew, who were
going up, had gone down, and others, who were going to the dogs in his
time, had gone up--and we philosophized. About one he'd say, "Ah, well!
who'd have thought it! I never thought that boy would come to any good;"
about another, "Ah, well! and he might have been an independent man." How
familiar that expression sounded!--I think it is used more often in
Australia than in any other country: "He might have been an independent
man."

When I left Johnson I felt less lonely in London, and rather humbled in
spirit. He seemed so resigned--I had never seen such gentle sadness in a
man's eyes, nor heard it in a man's voice. I could get back to Australia
somehow and start life again, but Johnson's day had been dead for many
years. "Besides, assisted emigration's done away with now," he said, with
his sad, sad smile.

I saw the Johnsons again later on. "Things have been going very sadly
with us, very sadly indeed," said the old man, when we'd settled down. He
had broken down at the beginning of the winter, he had dragged himself
out of bed and to work and back again until he could do so no longer; he
had been laid up most of the winter. Mrs Johnson had not been outside the
door for months.

"It comes very hard on us," she said, "and I'm so poorly, and David out
of work, too. I wouldn't mind if I could get about. But," she went on in
her energetic manner, "we've had the house full all the winter; we've had
very good luck with the lodgers, all respectable people, and one of them
answers the door and that keeps me away from the draught--so it might be
worse, mightn't it! But Johnson doesn't seem to mend at all, and he gets
so terribly depressed. But the warm weather coming on, etc."

They and the Lord only knew how they managed to live, for they are honest
people and the lodgers scarcely pay the rent of the house. There was only
David between them and the poorhouse, as far as I could see.

Johnson came out with me a piece and we had a drink or two together--his
was gin hot. He talked a good deal about Australia, but sadly and
regretfully on this occasion.

"We could have done well in Australia," he said, "very well indeed. I
might have been independent and the children well started in life. But we
did things for the best. Mrs Johnson didn't like Australia, you know. It
was a pity we didn't stay there, a great pity. We would have done far
better than in England. I'd go out again now if I had the money, but I'm
getting too old."

"Would Mrs Johnson go out?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. But I'm afraid she wouldn't stand the voyage. . . . Things have
been very sad with us ever since we came back to England, very sad
indeed." And after a while he suddenly caught his breath.

"It takes me that way sometimes," he said. "I catch my breath just as if
I was going to lose it."



A DROVING YARN

ANDY MACULLOCH had heard that old Bill Barker, the wellknown overland
drover, had died over on the Westralian side, and Dave Regan told a yarn
about Bill.

"Bill Barker," said Dave, talking round his pipe stem, "was the
quintessence of a drover--"

"The whatter, Dave?" came the voice of Jim Bentley, in startled tones,
from the gloom on the far end of the veranda.

"The quintessence," said Dave, taking his pipe out of his mouth. "You
shut up, Jim. As I said, Bill Barker was the quintessence of a drover.
He'd been at the game ever since he was a nipper. He run away from home
when he was fourteen and went up into Queensland. He's been all over
Queensland and New South Wales and most of South Australia, and a good
deal of the Western, too: over the great stock routes from one end to the
other, Lord knows how many times. No man could keep up with him riding
out, and no one could bring a mob of cattle or a flock of sheep through
like him. He knew every trick of the game; if there was grass to be had
Bill'd get it, no matter whose run it was on. One of his games in a dry
season was to let his mob get boxed with the station stock on a run where
there was grass, and before Bill's men and the station-hands could cut
'em out, the travelling stock would have a good bellyful to carry them on
the track. Billy was the daddy of the drovers. Some said that he could
ride in his sleep, and that he had one old horse that could jog along in
his sleep too, and that--travelling out from home to take charge of a mob
of bullocks or a flock of sheep--Bill and his horse would often wake up
at daylight and blink round to see where they were and how far they'd
got. Then Bill would make a fire and boil his quart-pot, and roast a bit
of mutton, while his horse had a mouthful of grass and a spell.

"You remember Bill, Andy? Big dark man, and a joker of the loud sort.
Never slept with a blanket over him--always folded under him on the sand
or grass. Seldom wore a coat on the route--though he always carried one
with him, in case he came across a bush ball or a funeral. Moleskins,
flannel waistcoat, cabbage-tree hat and 'lastic-side boots. When it was
roasting hot on the plains and the men swore at the heat, Jim would yell,
'Call this hot? Why, you blanks, I'm freezin'! Where's me overcoat?' When
it was raining and hailing and freezing on Bell's Line in the Blue
Mountains in winter, and someone shivered and asked, 'Is it cold enough
for yer now, Bill?' 'Cold!' Bill would bellow, 'I'm sweatin'!'

"I remember it well. I was little more than a youngster then--Bill Barker
came past our place with about a thousand fat sheep for the Homebush
sale-yards at Sydney, and he gave me a job to help him down with them on
Bell's Line over the mountains, and mighty proud I was to go with him, I
can tell you. One night we camped on the Cudgegong River. The country was
dry and pretty close cropped and we'd been "sweating" the paddocks all
along there for our horses. You see, where there weren't sliprails handy
we'd just take the tomahawk and nick the top of a straight-grained
fence-post, just above the mortise, knock out the wood there, lift the
top rail out and down, and jump the horses in over the lower one--it was
all two-rail fences around there with sheep wires under the lower rail.
And about daylight we'd have the horses out, lift back the rail, and fit
in the chock that we'd knocked out. Simple as striking matches, wasn't
it?

"Well, the horses were getting a good bellyful in the police horse
paddock at night, and Bill took the first watch with the sheep. It was
very cold and frosty on the flat and he thought the sheep might make back
for the ridges, it's always warmer up in the ridges in winter out of the
frost. Bill roused me out about midnight. 'There's the sheep,' he says,
pointing to a white blur. 'They've settled down. I think they'll be quiet
till daylight. Don't go round them; there's no occasion to go near 'em.
You can stop by the fire and keep an eye on 'em.'

"The night seemed very long. I watched and smoked and toasted my shins,
and warmed the billy now and then, and thought up pretty much the same
sort of old things that fellers on night watch think over all over the
world. Bill lay on his blanket, with his back to the fire and his arm
under his head--freezing on one side and roasting on the other. He never
moved. I itched once or twice to turn him over and bake the front of
him--I reckoned he was about done behind.

"At last daylight showed. I took the billy and started down to the river
to get some water to make coffee; but half-way down, near the sheep camp,
I stopped and stared, I was never so surprised in my life. The white blur
of sheep had developed into a couple of acres of long dead silver grass!

"I woke Bill, and he swore as I never heard a man swear before--nor
since. He swore at the sheep, and the grass, and at me; but it would have
wasted time, and besides I was too sleepy and tired to fight. But we
found those sheep scattered over a scrubby ridge about seven miles back,
so they must have slipped away back of the grass and started early in
Bill's watch, and Bill must have watched that blessed grass for the first
half of the night and then set me to watch it. He couldn't get away from
that.

"I wondered what the chaps would say if it got round that Bill Barker,
the boss overland drover, had lost a thousand sheep in clear country with
fences all round; and I suppose he thought that way too, for he kept me
with him right down to Homebush, and when he paid me off he threw in an
extra quid, and he said:

"'Now, listen here, Dave! If I ever hear a word from anyone about
watching that gory grass, I'll find you, Dave, and murder you, if you're
in wide Australia. I'll screw your neck, so look out.'

"But he's dead now, so it doesn't matter."


There was silence for some time after Dave had finished. The chaps made
no comment on the yarn, either one way or the other, but sat smoking
thoughtfully, and in a vague atmosphere as of sadness--as if they'd just
heard of their mother's death and had not been listening to an allegedly
humorous yarn.

Then the voice of old Peter, the station-hand, was heard to growl from
the darkness at the end of the hut, where he sat on a three-bushel bag on
the ground with his back to the slabs.

"What's old Peter growlin' about?" someone asked.

"He wants to know where Dave got that word," someone else replied.

"What word?"

"Quint-essents."

There was a chuckle.

"He got it out back, Peter," said Mitchell, the shearer. "He got it from
a new chum."

"How much did yer give for it, Dave?" growled Peter.

"Five shillings, Peter," said Dave, round his pipe stem. "And stick of
tobacco thrown in."

Peter seemed satisfied, for he was heard no more that evening.



GETTIN' BACK ON DAVE REGAN
A RATHER FISHY YARN FROM THE BUSH
(AS TOLD BY JAMES NOWLETT, BULLOCK-DRIVER)

YOU might work this yarn up. I've often thought of doin' it meself, but I
ain't got the words. I knowed a lot of funny an' rum yarns about the
bush, an' I often wished I had the gift o' writin'. I could tell a lot
better yarns than the rot they put in books sometimes, but I never had no
eddication. But you might be able to work this yarn up--as yer call it.

There useter be a teamster's camp six or seven miles out of Mudgee, at a
place called th' Old Pipeclay, in the days before the railroad went round
to Dubbo, an' most of us bullickies useter camp there for the night.
There was always good water in the crick, an' sometimes we'd turn the
bullicks up in the ridges an' gullies behind for grass, an' camp there
for a few days, and do our washin' an' mendin', and make new yokes
perhaps, an' tinker up the wagons.

There was a woman livin' on a farm there named Mrs Hardwick--an' she was
a hard wick. Her husban', Jimmy Hardwick, was throwed from his horse
agenst a stump one day when he was sober, an' he was killed--an' she was
a widder. She had a tidy bit o' land, an' a nice bit of a orchard an'
vineyard, an' some cattle, an' they say she had a tidy bit o' money in
the bank. She had the worst tongue in the district, no one's character
was safe with her; but she wasn't old, an' she wasn't bad-lookin'--only
hard--so there was some fellers hangin' round arter her. An' Dave Regan's
horse was hangin' up outside her place as often as anybody else's. Dave
was a native an' a bushy, an' a drover an' a digger, an' he was a bit
soft in them days--he got hard enough arterwards.

Mrs Hardwick hated bullick-drivers--she had a awful down on bullickies--I
dunno why. We never interfered with her fowls, an' as for swearin'! why,
she could swear herself. Jimmy Hardwick was a bullick-driver when she
married him, an' p'r'aps that helped to account for it. She wouldn't let
us boil our billies at her kitchen fire, same as any other bushwoman, an'
if one of our bullicks put his nose under her fence for a mouthful of
grass, she'd set her dogs onter him. An' one of her dogs got something
what disagreed with him one day, an' she accused us of layin' poisoned
baits. An', arter that, she 'pounded some of our bullicks that got into
her lucerne paddick one night when we was on the spree in Mudgee, an' put
heavy damages on 'em. She'd left the sliprails down on purpose, I
believe. She talked of puttin' the police onter us, jest as if we was a
sly-grog shop. (If she'd kept a sly-grog shop she'd have had a different
opinion about bullick-drivers.) An' all the bullick-drivers hated her
because she hated bullickies.

Well, one wet season half a dozen of us chaps was camped there for a
fortnight, because the roads was too boggy to travel, an' one night they
got up a darnce at Peter Anderson's shanty acrost the ridges, an' a lot
of gals an' fellers turned up from all round about in spite of the
pourin' rain. Someone had kidded Dave Regan that Mother Hardwick was
comin', an' he turned up, of course, in spite of a ragin' toothache he
had. He was always ridin' the high horse over us bullickies. It was a
very cold night, enough to cut the face an' hands off yer, so we had a
roarin' fire in the big bark-an'-slab kitchen where the darncin' was. It
was one of them big, old-fashioned, clay-lined fire-places that goes
right acrost the end of the room, with a twenty-five foot slab-an'-tin
chimbly outside.

Dave Regan was pretty wild about being had, an' we copped all the gals
for darncin'; he couldn't get one that night, an' when he wasn't proddin'
out his tooth with a red-hot wire someone was chaffin' him about Mrs
Hardwick. So at last he got disgusted an' left; but before he went he got
a wet three-bushel flour-bag an' climbed up very quietly onter the roof
by the battens an' log weights an' riders, an' laid the wet bag very
carefully acrost the top of the chimbly flue.

An' we was a mortal hour tryin' to find out what was the matter with that
infernal chimbly, and tackin' bits o' tin an' baggin' acrost the top of
the fire-place under the mantelshelf to try an' stop it from smokin', an'
all the while the gals set there with the water runnin' out of their
eyes. We took the green back log out an' fetched in a dry one, but that
chimbly smoked worse than ever, an' we had to put the fire out
altogether, an' the gals set there shiverin' till the rain held up a bit
an' the sky cleared, an' then someone goes out an' looks up an' sings
out, "Why, there's somethin' acrost the top of the blazin' chimbly!" an'
someone else climbs up an' fetches down the bag. But the darnce was
spoilt, an' the gals was so disgusted that they went off with their
fellers while the weather held up. They reckoned some of us bullickies
did it for a lark.

An' arter that Dave'd come ridin' past, an' sing out to know if we knew
of a good cure for a smokin' chimbly, an' them sorter things. But he
always got away before we could pull him off of his horse. Three of us
chased him on horseback one day, but we didn't ketch him.

So we made up our minds to git back on Dave some way or other, an' it
come about this way.

About six months arter the smoked-out darnce, four or five of us same
fellers was campin' on th' Pipeclay agen, an' it was a dry season. It was
dryer an' hotter than it was cold 'n' wet the larst time. Dave was still
hangin' round Mrs Hardwick's an' doin' odd jobs for her. Well, one very
hot day we seen Dave ridin' past into Mudgee, an' we knowed he'd have a
spree in town that night, an' call at Mrs Hardwick's for sympathy comin'
out next day; an' arter he'd been gone an hour or two, Tom Tarrant comes
drivin' past on his mail-coach, an' drops some letters an' papers an' a
bag o' groceries at our camp.

Tom was a hard case. I remember wonst I was drivin' along a lonely bit o'
track, an' it was a grand mornin', an' I felt great, an' I got singin'
an' practisin' a recitation that I allers meant to give at a bush darnce
some night. (I never sung or spouted poetry unless I was sure I was miles
away from anyone.) An' I got worked up, an' was wavin' me arms about an'
throwin' it off of me chest, when Tom's coach comes up behind, round a
bend in the road, an' took me by surprise. An' Tom looked at me very hard
an' he says, "What are yer shoutin' an' swearin' an' darncin' an' goin'
on at the bullicks like that for, Jimmy? They seem to be workin' all
right." It took me back, I can tell yer. The coach was full of grinnin'
passengers, an' the worst of it was that I didn't know how long Tom had
been drivin' slow behind me an' takin' me out of windin'. There's nothin'
upsets a cove as can't sing so much as to be caught singin' or spoutin'
poetry when he thinks he's privit'.

An' another time I remember Tom's coach broke down on the track, an' he
had to ride inter town with the mails on horseback; an' he left a couple
of greenhides, for Skinner the tanner at Mudgee, for me to take on in the
wagon, an' a bag of potatoes for Murphy the storekeeper at Home Rule, an'
a note that said: "Render unto Murphy the things which is murphies, and
unto Skinner them things which is skins." Tom was a hard case.

Well, this day, when Tom handed down the tucker an' letters, he got down
to stretch his legs and give the horses a breathe. The coach was full of
passengers, an' I noticed they all looked extra glum and sulky, but I
reckoned it was the heat an' dust. Tom looked extra solemn, too, an' no
one was talkin'. Then I suddenly began to notice something in the
atmosphere, as if there was a dead beast not far away, an' my mates
started sniffin' too. An' that reminds me, it's funny why some people
allers sniff hard instead of keepin' their noses shut when there's a
stink; the more it stinks the more they sniff. Tom spit in the dust an'
thought a while; then he took a parcel out of the boot an' put it on the
corner post of the fence. "There," he said, "There's some fresh fish that
come up from Sydney by train an' Cobb & Co's coach larst night. They're
meant for White the publican at Gulgong, but they won't keep this weather
till I git out there. Pity to waste them! you chaps might as well have a
feed of 'em. I'll tell White they went bad an' I had to throw them out,"
says Tom. Then he got on to the coach agen an' drove off in a cloud of
dust. We undone the brown paper, an' the fish was in a small deal box,
with a lid fastened by a catch. We nicked back the catch an' the lid flew
open, an' then we knowed where the smell corned from all right. There
wasn't any doubt about that! We didn't have to put our noses in the box
to see if the fish was bad. They was packed in salt, but that made no
difference.

You know how a smell will start sudden in the bush on a hot, still day,
an' then seem to take a spell, an' then get to work agen stronger than
ever. You might be clost alongside of a horse that has been dead a
fortnight an' smell nothin' particular till you start to walk away, an'
the further you go the worse it stinks. It seems to smell most round in a
circle of a hundred yards or so. But these fish smelt from the centre
right out. Tom Tarrant told us arterwards that them fish started to smell
as soon as he left Mudgee. At first they reckoned it was a dead horse by
the road; but arter a while the passengers commenced squintin' at each
other suspicious like, an' the conversation petered out, an' Tom thought
he felt all their eyes on his back, an' it was very uncomfortable; an' he
sat tight an' tried to make out where the smell come from; an' it got
worse every hundred yards--like as if the track was lined with dead
horses, an' every one dead longer than the last--till it was like drivin'
a funeral. An' Tom never thought of the fish till he got down to stretch
his legs and fetched his nose on a level with the boot.

Well, we shut down the lid of that box quick an' took it an' throwed it
in the bushes a good way away from the camp, but next mornin', while we
was havin' breakfast, Billy Grimshaw got an idea, an' arter breakfast he
wetted a canvas bag he had an' lit up his pipe, an' went an' got that
there box o' fish, an' put it in the wet bag, an' wrapped it tight round
it an' tied it up tight with string. Billy had a nipper of a nephew with
him, about fourteen, named Tommy, an' he was a sharp kid if ever there
was one. So Billy says, "Look here, Tommy, you take this fish up to Mrs
Hardwick's an' tell her that Dave Regan sent 'em with his compliments,
an' he hopes she'll enjoy 'em. Tell her that Dave fetched 'em from
Mudgee, but he's gone back to look for a pound note that he dropped out
of a hole in his pocket somewheers along the road, an' he asked you to
take the fish up." So Tommy takes the fish an' goes up to the house with
'em. When he come back he says that Mrs Hardwick smiled like a parson an'
give him a shillin'--an' he didn't wait. We watched the house, an' about
half an hour arterwards we seen her run out of the kitchen with the open
box in her hand, an' run a good way away from the house an' throw the
fish inter the bushes, an' then go back quick, holdin' her nose.

An' jest then, as luck would have it, we seen Dave Regan ridin' up from
the creek towards the house. He got down an' went into the kitchen, an'
then come backin' out agen in a hurry with her in front of him. We could
hear her voice from where we was, but we couldn't hear what she said. But
we could see her arms wavin' as if she was drivin' fowls, an' Dave backed
all the way to his horse and gets on an' comes ridin' away quick, she
screamin' arter him all the time. When he got down opposite the camp we
sung out to know what was the matter. "What have you been doin' to Mrs
Hardwick, Dave?" we says. "We heerd her goin' for yer proper jest now."
"Damned if I know," says Dave. "I ain't done nothin' to her that I knows
of. She's called me everything she can lay her tongue to, an' she's
ravin' about my stinkin' fish, or somethin'. I can't make it out at all.
I believe she's gone ratty."

"But you must have been doin' somethin' to the woman," we says, "or else
she wouldn't have gone on at yer like that."

But Dave swore he hadn't, an' we talked it over for a while an' couldn't
make head nor tail of it, an' we come to the conclusion that it was only
a touch o' the sun.

"Never mind, Dave," we says. "Go up agen in a day or two, when she's
cooled down, an' find out what the matter is. Or write to her. It might
only have been someone makin' mischief. That's what it is."

But Dave only sat an' rubbed his head, an' presently he started home to
wherever he was hangin' out. He wanted a quiet week to think.

"Her chimbly might have been smokin', Dave," we shouted arter him, but he
was too dazed like to ketch on.

Well, in a month or two we was campin' there agen, an' we found she'd
fenced in a lane to the crick she had no right to, an' we had to take the
bullicks a couple o' miles round to grass an' water. Well, the first
mornin' we seen her down in the corner of her paddick near the camp
drivin' some heifers, an' Billy Grimshaw went up to the fence an' spoke
to her. Billy was the only one of us that dared face her and he was the
only one she was ever civil to--p'r'aps because Billy had a squint an' a
wall eye and that put her out of countenance.

Billy took off his hat very respectful an' sings out, "Mrs Hardwick." (It
was Billy's bullicks she'd "pounded," by the way.)

"What is it?" she says.

"I want to speak to you, Mrs Hardwick," says Billy.

"Well, speak," she says. "I've got no time to waste talkin' to
bullick-drivers."

"Well, the fact is, Mrs Hardwick," says Billy, "that I want to explain
somethin', an' apologize for that young scamp of a nephew o' mine, young
Tommy. He ain't here or I'd make him beg your pardon hisself, or I'd cut
him to pieces with the bullick-whip. I heard all about Dave Regan sendin'
you that stinkin' fish, an' I think it was a damned mean, dirty thing to
do--to send stinkin' fish to a woman, an' especially to a widder an' an
unprotected woman like you, Mrs Hardwick. I've had mothers an' sisters of
me own. An' I want to tell you that I'm sorry a relation o' mine ever had
anythin' to do with it. As soon as I heerd of it I give young Tommy a
lambastin' he won't forgit in a hurry."

"Did Tommy know the fish was bad?" she says.

"It doesn't matter a rap," says Billy; "he had no right to go takin'
messages from nobody to nobody."

Mrs Hardwick thought a while. Then she says: "P'r'aps arter all Dave
Regan didn't know the fish was bad. I've often thought I might have been
in too much of a hurry. Things goes bad so quick out here in this
weather. An' Dave was always very friendly. I can't understand why he'd
do a dirty thing on me like that. I never done anything to Dave."

Now I forgot to tell you that Billy had a notion that Dave helped drive
his bullicks to pound that time, though I didn't believe it. So Billy
says:

"Don't you believe that for a minute, Mrs Hardwick. Dave knew what he was
a-doin' of all right; an' if I ketch him I'll give him a beltin' for it
if no one else is man enough to stand up for a woman!" says Billy.

"How d'yer know Dave knew?" says Mrs Hardwick.

"Know!" says Billy. "Why, he talked about it all over the district. "

"What!" she screamed out, an' I moved away from that there fence, for she
had a stick to drive them heifers with. But Billy stood his ground. "Is
that the truth, Billy Grimshaw?" she screams.

"Yes," he says. "I'll take me oath on it. He blowed about it all over the
district, as if it was very funny, an' he says" An' Billy stopped.

"What did he say?" she shouted.

"Well, the fact is," says Billy, "that I hardly like to tell it to a
lady. I wouldn't like to tell yer, Mrs Hardwick."

"But you'll have to tell me, Billy Grimshaw," she screams. "I have a
right to know. If you don't tell me I'll pull him next week an' have it
dragged out of you in the witness-box!" she says. "An' I'll have
satisfaction out of him in the felon's dock of a court of law!" she says.
"What did the villain say?" she screams.

"Well," says Billy, "if yer must have it--an', anyway, I'm hanged if I'm
goin' to stand by an' see a woman scandalized behind her back--if yer
must have it I'll tell yer. Dave said that the fish didn't smell no worse
than your place anyway."

We got away from there then. She cut up too rough altogether. I can't
tell you what she said--I ain't got the words. She went up to the house,
an' we seen the farm-hand harnessin' up the horse, an' we reckoned she
was goin' to drive into town straight away an' take out a summons agenst
Dave Regan. An' jest then Dave hisself comes ridin' past--jest when he
was most wanted, as usual. He always rode fast past Mrs Hardwick's
nowadays, an' never stopped there, but Billy shouted after him:

"Hullo, Dave! I want to speak to yer," shouts Billy. An' Dave yanks his
horse round.

"What is it, Billy?" he says.

"Look here, Dave," says Billy. "You had your little joke about the
chimbly, an' we had our little joke about the fish an' Mrs Hardwick, so
now we'll call it quits. A joke's a joke, but it can go too far, an' this
one's gettin' too red-hot altogether. So we've fixed it up with Mrs
Hardwick."

"What fish an' what joke?" says Dave, rubbin' his head. "An' what have
yer fixed up with Mrs Hardwick? Whatever are yer talkin' about, Billy?"

So Billy told him all about us sendin' the stinkin' fish to Mrs Hardwick
by Tommy, an' sayin' Dave sent 'em--Dave rubbin' the back of his neck an'
starin' at Billy all the time. "An" now," says Billy, "I won't say
anything about them bullicks; but I went up and seen Mrs Hardwick this
mornin', an' told her the whole truth about them fish, an' how you knowed
nothin' about it, an' I apologized an' told her we was very sorry; an'
she says she was very sorry too on your account, an' wanted to see yer. I
promised to tell yer as soon as I seen yer. It ought to be fixed up. You
ought to go right up to the house an' see her now. She's awfully cut up
about it."

"All right," says Dave, brightenin' up. "It was a dirty, mean trick
anyway to play on a cove; but I'll go up an' see her." An' he went there
'n' then.

An' about fifteen minutes arterwards he comes boltin' back from the house
one way an' his horse the other. The horse acted as if it had a big
scare, an' so did Dave. Billy went an' ketched Dave's horse for him, an'
I got Dave a towel to wipe the dirty dish-water off of his face an' out
of his hair an' collar, an' I give him a piece of soap to rub on the
places where he'd been scalded.

"Why, the woman must be ravin' mad," I says. "Whatever did yer say to her
this time, Dave? Yer allers gettin' inter hot water with her."

"I didn't say nothin'," says Dave. "I jest went up laughin' like, an'
says, 'How are yer, Mrs Hardwick?' an' she ups an' lets me have a dish of
dirty wash-up water, an' then on top of that she let fly with a dipper of
scaldin'-hot, greasy water outer the boiler. She's gone clean ravin' mad,
I think."

"She's as mad as a hatter, right enough, Dave," says Billy Grimshaw.
"Don't you go there no more, Dave, it ain't safe." An' we lent Dave a hat
an' a clean shirt, an' he went on inter town. "You ought to have humoured
her," says Billy, as Dave rode away. "You ought to have told her to put a
wet bag over her chimbly an' hang the fish inside to smoke." But Dave was
too stunned to ketch on. He went on inter the town an' got on a howlin'
spree. An' while he was soberin' up the thing began to dawn on him. An'
the nex' time he met Billy they had a fight. An' Dave got another woman
to speak to Mrs Hardwick, an' Mrs Hardwick ketched young Tommy goin' past
her place one day an' bailed him up an' scared the truth out of him.

"Look here!" she says to him, "I want the truth, the whole truth, an'
nothin' but the truth about them fish, an' if I don't get it outer you
I'll wring her young neck for tryin' to poison me, an' save yer from the
gallust!" she says to Tommy.

So he told her the whole truth, swelp him, an' got away; an' he respected
Mrs Hardwick arter that.

An' next time we come past with the teams we seen Dave's horse hangin' up
outside Mrs Hardwick's, an' we went some miles further along the road an'
camped in a new place where we'd be more comfortable. An' ever arter that
we used to always whip up an' drive past her place as if we didn't know
her.



"SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER?"

God's preacher, of churches unheeded,
God's vineyard, though barren the sod,
Plain spokesman where spokesman is needed,
Rough link 'twixt the Bushman and God.
The Christ of the Never.

TOLD BY JOE WILSON

I NEVER told you about Peter M'Laughlan. He was a sort of bush missionary
up-country and out back in Australia, and before he died he was known
from Riverina down south in New South Wales to away up through the
Never-Never country inwestern Queensland.

His past was a mystery, so, of course, there were all sorts of yarns
about him. He was supposed to be a Scotchman from London, and some said
that he had got into trouble in his young days and had had to clear out
of the old country; or, at least, that he had been a ne'e-er-do-well and
had been sent out to Australia on the remittance system. Some said he'd
studied for the law, some said he'd studied for a doctor, while others
believed that he was, or had been, an ordained minister. I remember one
man who swore (when he was drinking) that he had known Peter M'Laughlan
as a medical student in a big London hospital, and that he had started in
practice for himself somewhere near Gray's Inn Road in London. Anyway, as
I got to know him he struck me as being a man who had looked into the
eyes of so much misery in his life that some of it had got into his own.

He was a tall man, straight and well built, and about forty or
forty-five, when I first saw him. He had wavy dark hair, and a close,
curly beard. I once heard a woman say that he had a beard like you see in
some Bible pictures of Christ. Peter M'Laughlan seldom smiled; there was
something in his big dark brown eyes that was scarcely misery, nor yet
sadness--a sort of haunted sympathy.

He must have had money, or else he got remittances from home, for he paid
his way and helped many a poor devil. They said that he gave away most of
his money. Sometimes he worked for a while himself as bookkeeper at a
shearing-shed, wool-sorter, shearer, even rouseabout; he'd work at
anything a bushman could get to do. Then he'd go out back to
God-forgotten districts and preach to bushmen in one place, and get a few
children together in another and teach them to read. He could take his
drink, and swear a little when he thought it necessary. On one occasion,
at a rough shearing-shed, he called his beloved brethren "damned fools"
for drinking their cheques.

Towards the end of his life if he went into a "rough" shed or shanty west
of the Darling River--and some of them were rough--there would be a rest
in the language and drinking, even a fight would be interrupted, and
there would be more than one who would lift their hats to Peter
M'Laughlan. A bushman very rarely lifts his hat to a man, yet the worst
characters of the West have listened bareheaded to Peter when he
preached.

It was said in our district that Peter only needed to hint to the
squatter that he wanted fifty or a hundred pounds to help someone or
something, and the squatter would give it to him without question or
hesitation.

He'd nurse sick boundary-riders, shearers, and station-hands, often
sitting in the desolate hut by the bedside of a sick man night after
night. And, if he had time, he'd look up the local blacks and see how
they were getting on. Once, on a far out back sheep station, he sat for
three nights running, by the bedside of a young Englishman, a B.A. they
said he was, who'd been employed as tutor at the homestead and who died a
wreck, the result of five years of life in London and Paris. The poor
fellow was only thirty. And the last few hours of his life he talked to
Peter in French, nothing but French. Peter understood French and one or
two other languages, besides English and Australian; but whether the
young wreck was raving or telling the story of a love, or his life, none
of us ever knew, for Peter never spoke of it. But they said that at the
funeral Peter's eyes seemed haunted more than usual.

There's the yarn about Peter and the dying cattle at Piora Station one
terrible drought, when the surface was as bare as your hand for hundreds
of miles, and the heat like the breath of a furnace, and the sheep and
cattle were perishing by thousands. Peter M'Laughlan was out on the run
helping the station-hands to pull out cattle that had got bogged in the
muddy waterholes and were too weak to drag themselves out, when, about
dusk, a gentlemanly "piano-fingered" parson, who had come to the station
from the next town, drove out in his buggy to see the men. He spoke to
Peter M'Laughlan.

"Brother," he said, "do you not think we should offer up a prayer?"

"What for?" asked Peter, standing in his shirt sleeves, a rope in his
hands and mud from head to foot.

"For? Why, for rain, brother," replied the parson, a bit surprised.

Peter held up his finger and said "Listen!"

Now, with a big mob of travelling stock camped on the plain at night,
there is always a lowing, soughing or moaning sound, a sound like that of
the sea on the shore at a little distance; and, altogether, it might be
called the sigh or yawn of a big mob in camp. But the long, low moaning
of cattle dying of hunger and thirst on the hot barren plain in a drought
is altogether different, and, at night, there is something awful about
it--you couldn't describe it. This is what Peter M'Laughlan heard.

"Do you hear that?" he asked the other preacher.

The little parson said he did. Perhaps he only heard the weak lowing of
cattle.

"Do you think that God will hear us when He does not hear that?" asked
Peter.

The parson stared at him for a moment and then got into his buggy and
drove away, greatly shocked and deeply offended. But, later on, over tea
at the homestead, he said that he felt sure that that "unfortunate man,"
Peter M'Laughlan, was not in his right mind; that his wandering,
irregular life, or the heat, must have affected him.

I well remember the day when I first heard Peter M'Laughlan preach. I was
about seventeen then. We used sometimes to attend service held on Sunday
afternoon, about once a month, in a little slab-and-bark school-house in
the scrub off the main road, three miles or so from our selection, in a
barren hole amongst the western ridges of the Great Dividing Range.
School was held in this hut for a few weeks or a few months now and
again, when a teacher could be got to stay there and teach, and cook for
himself, for a pound a week, more or less contributed by the parents. A
parson from the farming town to the east, or the pastoral town over the
ridges to the west, used to come in his buggy when it didn't rain and
wasn't too hot to hold the service.

I remember this Sunday. It was a blazing hot day towards the end of a
long and fearful drought which ruined many round there. The parson was
expected, and a good few had come to "chapel" in spring-carts, on
horseback, and on foot; farmers and their wives and sons and daughters.
The children had been brought here to Sunday-school, taught by some of
the girls, in the morning. I can see it all now quite plain: The
one-roomed hut, for it was no more, with the stunted blue-grey gum scrub
all round. The white, dusty road, so hot that you could cook eggs in the
dust. The horses tied up, across the road, in the supposed shade under
clumps of scraggy saplings along by the fence of a cattle-run. The little
crowd outside the hut: selectors in washed and mended tweeds, some with
paper collars, some wearing starched and ironed white coats, and in
blucher boots, greased or blackened, or the young men wearing "larstins"
(elastic-side boots). The women and girls in prints and cottons (or cheap
"alpaca," etc.), and a bright bit of ribbon here and there amongst the
girls. The white heat blazed everywhere, and "dazzled" across
light-coloured surfaces--dead white trees, fence-posts, and sand-heaps,
like an endless swarm of bees passing in the sun's glare. And over above
the dry box-scrub-covered ridges, the great Granite Peak, glaring like a
molten mass.

The people didn't like to go inside out of the heat and sit down before
the minister came. The wretched hut was a rough school, sometimes with a
clay fire-place where the teacher cooked, and a corner screened off with
sacking where he had his bunk; it was a camp for tramps at other times,
or lizards and possums, but to-day it was a house of God, and as such the
people respected it.

The town parson didn't turn up. Perhaps he was unwell, or maybe the hot,
dusty ten-mile drive was too much for him to face. One of the farmers,
who had tried to conduct service on a previous occasion on which the
ordained minister had failed us, had broken down in the middle of it, so
he was out of the question. We waited for about an hour, and then who
should happen to ride along but Peter M'Laughlan, and one or two of the
elder men asked him to hold service. He was on his way to see a sick
friend at a sheep station over the ridges, but he said that he could
spare an hour or two. (Nearly every man who was sick, either in stomach
or pocket, was a friend of Peter M'Laughlan.) Peter tied up his horse
under a bush shed at the back of the hut, and we followed him in.

The "school" had been furnished with a rough deal table and a wooden
chair for "the teacher," and with a few rickety desks and stools cadged
from an old "provisional" school in town when the new public school was
built; and the desks and stools had been fastened to the floor to
strengthen them; they had been made for "infant" classes, and youth out
our way ran to length. But when grown men over six feet high squeezed in
behind the desks and sat down on the stools the effect struck me as being
ridiculous. In fact, I am afraid that on the first occasion it rather
took my attention from the sermon, and I remember being made very
uncomfortable by a school chum., Jack Barnes, who took a delight in
catching my eye and winking or grinning. He could wink without changing a
solemn line in his face and grin without exploding, and I couldn't. The
boys usually sat on seats, slabs on blocks of wood, along the wall at the
far end of the room, which was comfortable, for they had a rest for their
backs. One or two of the boys were nearing six feet high, so they could
almost rest their chins on their knees as they sat. But I squatted with
some of my tribe on a stool along the wall by the teacher's table, and so
could see most of the congregation.

Above us bare tie-beams and the round sapling rafters (with the bark
still on), and the inner sides of the sheets of stringybark that formed
the roof. The slabs had been lined with sacking at one time, but most of
it had fallen or dry-rotted away; there were wide cracks between the
slabs and we could see the white glare of sunlight outside, with a strip
of dark shade, like a deep trench in the white ground, by the back wall.
Someone had brought a canvas water-bag and hung it to the beans on the
other side of the minister's table, with a pint-pot over the tap, and the
drip, drip from the bag made the whole place seem cooler.

I studied Peter M'Laughlan first. He was dressed in washed and mended
tweed vest and trousers, and had on a long, lightcoloured coat of a
material which we called "Chinese silk." He wore a "soft" cotton shirt
with collar attached, and blucher boots.

He gave out a hymn in his quiet, natural way, said a prayer, gave out
another hymn, read a chapter from the Bible, and then gave out another
hymn. They liked to sing, out in those places. The Southwicks used to
bring a cranky little harmonium in the back of their old dog-cart, and
Clara Southwick used to accompany the hymns. She was a very pretty girl,
fair, and could play and sing well. I used to think she had the sweetest
vice I ever heard. But--ah, well----

Peter didn't sing himself, at first. I got an idea that he couldn't.
While they were singing he stood loosely, with one hand in his
trouser-pocket, scratching his beard with his hymn-book, and looking as
if he were thinking things over, and only rousing himself to give another
verse. He forgot to give it once or twice, but we got through all right.
I noticed the wife of one of the men who had asked Peter to preach
looking rather black at her husband, and I reckoned that he'd get it
hotter than the weather on the way home.

Then Peter stood up and commenced to preach. He stood with both hands in
his pockets, at first, his coat ruffled back, and there was the stem of a
clay pipe sticking out of his waistcoatpocket. The pipe fascinated me for
a while, but after that I forgot the pipe and was fascinated by the man.
Peter's face was one that didn't strike you at first with its full
strength, it grew on you; it grew on me, and before he had done preaching
I thought it was the noblest face I had ever seen.

He didn't preach much of hope in this world. How could he? The drought
had been blazing over these districts for nearly a year, with only a
shower now and again, which was a mockery--scarcely darkening the baked
ground. Wheat crops came up a few inches and were parched by the sun or
mown for hay, or the cattle turned on them; and last year there had been
rust and smut in the wheat. And, on top of it all, the dreadful cattle
plague, pleuro-pneumonia, had somehow been introduced into the district.
One big farmer had lost fifty milkers in a week.

Peter M'Laughlan didn't preach much of hope in this world; how could he?
There were men there who had slaved for twenty, thirty, forty years;
worked as farmers have to work in few other lands--first to clear the
stubborn bush from the barren soil, then to fence the ground, and manure
it, and force crops from it--and for what? There was Cox, the farmer,
starved off his selection after thirty years and going out back with his
drays to work at tank-sinking for a squatter. There was his eldest son
going shearing or droving--anything he could get to do--a
stoop-shouldered, young-old man of thirty. And behind them, in the end,
would be a dusty patch in the scrub, a fencepost here and there, and a
pile of chimney-stones and a hardwood slab or two where the hut was--for
thirty hard years of the father's life and twenty of the son's.

I forget Peter's text, if he had a text; but the gist of his sermon was
that there was a God--there was a heaven! And there were men there
listening who needed to believe these things. There was old Ross from
across the creek, old, but not sixty, a hard man. Only last week he had
broken down and fallen on his knees on the baked sods in the middle of
his ploughed ground and prayed for rain. His frightened boys had taken
him home, and later on, the same afternoon, when they brought news of
four more cows down with "the pleuro" in an outer paddock, he had stood
up outside his own door and shaken his fist at the brassy sky and cursed
high heaven to the terror of his family, till his brave, sun-browned wife
dragged him inside and soothed him. And Peter M'Laughlan knew all about
this.

Ross's family had the doctor out to him, and persuaded him to come to
church this Sunday. The old man sat on the front seat, stooping forward,
with his elbow resting on the desk and his chin on his hand, bunching up
his beard over his mouth with his fingers and staring gloomily at Peter
with dark, piercing eyes from under bushy eyebrows, just as I've since
seen a Scotchman stare at Max O'Rell all through a humorous lecture
called "A nicht wi' Sandy."

Ross's right hand resting on the desk was very eloquent horny, scarred
and knotted at every joint, with broken, twisted nails, and nearly
closed, as though fitted to the handle of an axe or a spade. Ross was an
educated man (he had a regular library of books at home), and perhaps
that's why he suffered so much.

Peter preached as if he were speaking quietly to one person only, but
every word was plain and every sentence went straight to someone. I
believe he looked every soul in the eyes before he had done. Once he said
something and caught my eye, and I felt a sudden lump in my throat. There
was a boy there, a pale, thin, sensitive boy who was eating his heart out
because of things he didn't understand. He was ambitious and longed for
something different from this life; he'd written a story or two and some
rhymes for the local paper; his companions considered him a "bit ratty"
and the grown-up people thought him a "bit wrong in his head," idiotic,
or at least "queer." And during his sermon Peter spoke of "unsatisfied
longings," of the hope of something better, and said that one had to
suffer much and for long years before he could preach or write; and then
he looked at that boy. I knew the boy very well; he has risen in the
world since then.

Peter spoke of the life we lived, of the things we knew, and used names
and terms that we used. "I don't know whether it was a blanky sermon or a
blanky lecture," said long swanky Jim Bullock afterwards, "but it was
straight and hit some of us hard. It hit me once or twice, I can tell
yer." Peter spoke of our lives: "And there is beauty--even in this life
and in this place," he said. "Nothing is wasted--nothing is without
reason. There is beauty even in this place----"

I noticed something like a hint of a hard smile on Ross's face; he moved
the hand on the desk and tightened it.

"Yes," said Peter, as if in answer to Ross's expression and the movement
of his hand, "there is beauty in this life here. After a good season, and
when the bush is tall and dry, when the bush-fires threaten a man's crop
of ripened wheat, there are tired men who run and ride from miles round
to help that man, and who fight the fire all night to save his wheat--and
some of them may have been wrangling with him for years. And in the
morning, when the wheat is saved and the danger is past, when the fire is
beaten out or turned, there are blackened, grimy hands that come together
and grip--hands that have not joined for many a long day."

Old Palmer, Ross's neighbour, moved uneasily. He had once helped Ross to
put a fire out, but they had quarrelled again since. Ross still sat in
the same position, looking the hard man he was. Peter glanced at Ross,
looked down and thought a while, and then went on again:

"There is beauty even in this life and in this place. When a man loses
his farm, or his stock, or his crop, through no fault of his own, there
are poor men who put their hands into their pockets to help him."

Old Kurtz, over the ridge, had had his stacked crop of wheat in sheaf
burned--some scoundrel had put a match to it at night--and the farmers
round had collected nearly fifty pounds for him.

"There is beauty even in this life and in this place. In the blazing
drought, when the cattle he down and cannot rise from weakness,
neighbours help neighbours to lift them. When one man has hay or chaff
and no stock, he gives it or sells it cheaply to the poor man who has
starving cattle and no fodder."

I only knew one or two instances of this kind; but Peter was preaching of
what man should do as well as what they did.

"When a man meets with an accident, or dies, there are young men who go
with their ploughs and horses and plough the ground for him or his widow
and put in the crop."

Jim Bullock and one or two other young men squirmed. They had ploughed
old Leonard's land for him when he met with an accident in the shape of a
broken leg got by a kick from a horse. They had also ploughed the ground
for Mrs Phipps when her husband died, working, by the way, all Saturday
afternoon and Sunday, for they were very busy at home at that time.

"There is beauty even in this life and in this place. There are women who
were friends in girlhood and who quarrelled bitterly over a careless
word, an idle tale, or some paltry thing, who live within a mile of each
other and have not spoken for years; yet let one fall ill, or lose
husband or child, and the other will hurry across to her place and take
off her bonnet and tuck up her sleeves, and set to work to help
straighten things, and they will kiss, and cry in each other's arms, and
be sisters again."

I saw tears in the eyes of two hard and hard-faced women I knew; but they
were smiling to each other through their tears.

"And now," said Peter, "I want to talk to you about some other things. I
am not preaching as a man who has been taught to preach comfortably, but
as a man who has learned in the world's school. I know what trouble is.
Men," he said, still speaking quietly, "and women too! I have been
through trouble as deep as any of yours--perhaps deeper. I know how you
toil and suffer, I know what battles you fight, I know. I too fought a
battle, perhaps as hard as any you fight. I carry a load and am fighting
a battle still." His eyes were very haggard just them. "But this is not
what I wanted to talk to you about. I have nothing to say against a young
man going away from this place to better himself, but there are young men
who go out back shearing or droving, young men who are goodhearted but
careless, who make cheques, and spend their money gambling or drinking
and never think of the old folk at home until it is too late. They never
think of the old people, alone, perhaps, in a desolate hut on a
worked-out farm in the scrub."

Jim Bullock squirmed again. He had gone out back last season and made a
cheque, and lost most of it on horse-racing and cards.

"They never think--they cannot think how, perhaps, long years agone in
the old days, the old father, as a young man, and his brave young wife,
came out here and buried themselves in the lonely bush and toiled for
many years, trying--it does not matter whether they failed or not--trying
to make homes for their children; toiled till the young man was bowed and
grey, and the young wife brown and wrinkled and worn out. Exiles they
were in the early days--boy-husbands and girl-wives some of them, who
left their native lands, who left all that was dear, that seemed
beautiful, that seemed to make life worth living, and sacrificed their
young lives in drought and utter loneliness to make homes for their
children. I want you young men to think of this. Some of them came from
England, Ireland, Bonnie Scotland." Ross straightened up and let his
hands fall loosely on his knees. "Some from Europe--your foreign
fathers--some from across the Rhine in Germany." We looked at old Kurtz.
He seemed affected.

Then Peter paused for a moment and blinked thoughtfully at Ross, then he
took a drink of water. I can see now that the whole thing was a battle
between Peter M'Laughlan and Robert Ross--Scot met Scot. "It seemed to
me," Jim Bullock said afterwards, "that Peter was only tryin' to make
some of us blanky well blubber."

"And there are men," Peter went on, "who have struggled and suffered and
failed, and who have fought and failed again till their tempers are
spoiled, until they grow bitter. They go in for self-pity, and self-pity
leads to moping and brooding and madness; self-pity is the most selfish
and useless thing on the face of God's earth. It is cruel, it is deadly,
both to the man and to those who love him, and whom he ought to love. His
load grows heavier daily in his imagination, and he sinks down until it
is in him to curse God and die. He ceases to care for or to think of his
children who are working to help him." (Ross's sons were good, steady,
hard-working boys.) "Or the brave wife who has been so true to him for
many hard years, who left home and friends and country for his sake. Who
bears up in the blackest of times, and persists in looking at the bright
side of things for his sake; who has suffered more than he if he only
knew it, and suffers now, through him and because of him, but who is
patient and bright and cheerful while her heart is breaking. He thinks
she does not suffer, that she cannot suffer as a man does. My God! he
doesn't know. He has forgotten in her the bright, fresh-faced, loving
lassie he loved and won long years agone--long years agone----"

There was a sob, like the sob of an over-ridden horse as it sinks down
broken-hearted, and Ross's arms went out on the desk in front of him, and
his head went down on them. He was beaten.

He was steered out gently with his wife on one side of him and his eldest
son on the other.

"Don't be alarmed, my friends," said Peter, standing by the water-bag
with one hand on the tap and the pannikin in the other. "Mr Ross has not
been well lately, and the heat has been too much for him." And he went
out after Ross. They took him round under the bush shed behind the hut,
where it was cooler.

When Peter came back to his place he seemed to have changed his whole
manner and tone. "Our friend, Mr Ross, is much better," he said. "We will
now sing"--he glanced at Clara Southwick at the harmonium--"we will now
sing 'Shall We Gather at the River?'" We all knew that hymn; it was an
old favourite round there, and Clara Southwick played it well in spite of
the harmonium.

And Peter sang--the first and last time I ever heard him sing. I never
had an ear for music; but I never before nor since heard a man's voice
that stirred me as Peter M'Laughlan's. We stood like emus, listening to
him all through one verse, then we pulled ourselves together.

Shall we gather at the River,
    Where bright angels' feet have trod--

The only rivers round there were barren creeks, the best of them only
strings of muddy waterholes, and across the ridge, on the sheep-runs, the
creeks were dry gutters, with baked banks and beds, and perhaps a mudhole
every mile or so, and dead beasts rotting and stinking every few yards.

Gather with the saints at the River,
    That flows by the throne of God.

Peter's voice trembled and broke. He caught his breath, and his eyes
filled. But he smiled then--he stood smiling at us through his tears.

The beautiful, the beautiful River,
    That flows by the throne of God.

Outside I saw women kiss each other who had been at daggers drawn ever
since I could remember, and men shake hands silently who had hated each
other for years. Every family wanted Peter to come home to tea, but he
went across to Ross's, and afterwards down to Kurtz's place, and bled and
inoculated six cows or so in a new way, and after tea he rode off over
the gap to see his friend.



HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER

By his paths through the parched desolation,
    Hot rides and the terrible tramps;
By the hunger, the thirst, the privation
    Of his work in the furthermost camps;
By his worth in the light that shall search men
    And prove--ay! and justify each--
I place him in front of all Churchmen
    Who feel not, who know not--but preach!
--The Christ of the Never.

I TOLD you about Peter M'Laughlan, the bush missionary, and how he
preached in the little slab-and-bark school-house in the scrub on Ross's
Creek that blazing hot Sunday afternoon long ago, when the drought was
ruining the brave farmers all round there and breaking their hearts. And
how hard old Ross, the selector, broke down at the end of the sermon, and
blubbered, and had to be taken out of church.

I left home and drifted to Sydney, and "back into the Great North-West
where all the rovers go," and knocked about the country for six or seven
years before I met Peter M'Laughlan again. I was young yet, but felt old
at times, and there were times, in the hot, rough, greasy shearing-shed
on blazing days, or in the bare "men's hut" by the flicker of the
stinking slushlamp at night, or the wretched wayside shanty with its
drinkmadness and blasphemy, or tramping along the dusty, endless
track--there were times when I wished I could fall back with all the
experience I'd got, and sit once more in the little slab-and-bark
"chapel" on Ross's Creek and hear Peter M'Laughlan and the poor,
struggling selectors sing "Shall We Gather at the River?" and then go out
and start life afresh.

My old school chum and bush mate, Jack Barnes, had married pretty little
Clara Southwick, who used to play the portable harmonium in chapel. I
nearly broke my heart when they were married, but then I was a young
fool. Clara was a year or so older than I, and I could never get away
from a boyish feeling of reverence for her, as if she were something
above and out of my world. And so, while I was worshipping her in chapel
once a month, and at picnics and parties in between, and always at a
distance, Jack used to ride up to Southwick's place on Saturday and
Sunday afternoons, and on other days, and hang his horse up outside, or
turn it in the paddock, and argue with old Southwick, and agree with the
old woman, and court Clara on the sly. And he got her.

It was at their wedding that I first got the worse for drink.

Jack was a blue-eyed, curly black-haired, careless, popular young scamp;
as good-hearted as he was careless. He could ride like a circus monkey,
do all kinds of bush work, add two columns of figures at once, and write
like copper-plate.

Jack was given to drinking, gambling and roving. He steadied up when he
got married and started on a small selection of his own; but within the
year Clara was living in a back skillion of her father's house and Jack
was up-country shearing. He was "ringer" of the shed at Piora Station one
season and made a decent cheque; and within a fortnight after the shed
"cut out" he turned up at home in a very bad state from drink and with
about thirty shillings in his pockets. He had fallen from his horse in
the creek near Southwick's, and altogether he was a nice sort of young
husband to go home to poor, heart-broken Clara.

I remember that time well. She stopped me one day as I was riding past to
ask me if I'd seen Jack, and I got off my horse. Her chin and mouth began
to twitch and tremble and I saw her eyes filling with tears. She laid her
hand on my arm and asked me to promise not to drink with Jack if I met
him, but to try and persuade him to come home. And--well, have you, as a
man, ever, with the one woman that you can't have, and no matter at what
time or place, felt a sudden mad longing to take her in your arms and
kiss her--and damn the world? I got on my horse again. She must have
thought me an ignorant brute, but I felt safer there. And when I thought
how I had nearly made a fool of myself, and been a cowardly brute, and a
rotten mate to my mate, I rode ten miles to find Jack and get him home.

He straightened up again after a bit and went out and got another shed,
and they say that Peter M'Laughlan got hold of him there. I don't know
what Peter did to him then--Jack never spoke of it, even to me, his old
mate; but, anyway, at the end of the shearing season Jack's cheque came
home to Clara in a registered envelope, addressed in Peter's
hand-writing, and about a week later Jack turned up a changed man.

He got work as a temporary clerk in the branch government land office at
Solong, a pretty little farming town in a circle of blue hills on the
banks of a clear, willow-fringed river, where there were rich,
black-soil, river-flat farms, and vineyards on the red soil slopes, and
blue peaks in the distance. It was a great contrast to Ross's Creek. Jack
paid a deposit on an allotment of land, a bit out of town, on the river
bank, and built a little weather-board box of a cottage in spare times,
and planted roses and grape-vines to hide its ugliness by and by. It
wasn't much of a place, but Clara was mighty proud of it because it was
"our house." They were very happy, and she was beginning to feel sure of
Jack. She seemed to believe that the miserable old time was all past and
gone.

When the work at the land's office gave out, Jack did all sorts of jobs
about town, and at last, one shearing season, when there was a heavy clip
of wool, and shearers were getting 1. a hundred, he decided to go out
back. I know that Clara was against it, but he argued that it was the
only chance for him, and she persuaded herself that she could trust him.
I was knocking about Solong at the time, and Jack and I decided to go out
together and share his packhorse between us. He wrote to Beenaway Shed,
about three hundred miles north-west in the Great Scrubs, and got pens
for both of us.

It was a fine fresh morning when we started; it was in a good season and
the country looked grand. When I rode up to Jack's place I saw his horse
and packhorse tied up outside the gate. He had wanted me to come up the
evening before and have tea with them and camp at his place for the
night. "Come up! man alive!" he said. " We'll make you a shake-down!" But
I wouldn't; I said I had to meet a chap. Jack wouldn't have understood. I
had been up before, but when I saw him and Clara so happy and
comfortable, and thought of the past and my secret, and thought of
myself, a useless, purposeless, restless, homeless sort of fellow,
hanging out at a boarding-house, it nearly broke me up, and I had to have
a drink or two afterwards. I often wonder if Clara guessed and
understood. You never know how much a woman knows; but--ah, well!

Jack had taken my things home with him and he and Clara had packed them.
I found afterwards that she had washed, dried and ironed some collars and
handkerchiefs of mine during the night. Clara and Jack came out to the
gate, and as I wouldn't go in to have a cup of tea there was nothing for
it but to say good-bye. She was dressed in a fresh-looking print blouse
and dark skirt, and wore a white hood that fell back from her head; she
was a little girl, with sweet, small, freckled features, and red-gold
hair, and kind, sympathetic grey eyes. I thought her the freshest, and
fairest, and daintiest little woman in the district.

I was Jack's mate, so she always treated me as a sort of brother-in-law,
and called me by my Christian name. Mates are closer than brothers in the
bush.

I turned my back and pretended to tighten the straps and girths on the
packhorse while she said good-bye to Jack. I heard her speaking earnestly
to him, and once I heard her mention Peter M'Laughlan's name. I thought
Jack answered rather impatiently. "Oh, that's all right, Clara," he said,
"that's all over--past and gone. I wish you would believe it. You
promised never to speak of that any more."

I know how it was. Jack never cared to hear about Peter; he was too
ashamed of the past, perhaps; besides, deep down, we feel a sort of
resentment towards any reference to a man who has helped or saved us in
the past. It's human nature.

Then they spoke in low tones for a while, and then Jack laughed, and
kissed her, and said, "Oh, I'll be back before the time's up." Then he
ran into the house to say good-bye to Mary's sister, who was staying with
her, and who was laid up with a sprained ankle.

Then Clara stepped up to me and laid her fingers on my shoulder. I
trembled from head to foot and hoped she didn't notice it.

"Joe," she said, looking at me with her big, searching grey eyes, "I
believe I can trust you. I want you to look after Jack. You know why.
Never let him have one drink if you can help it. One drink--the first
drink will do it. I want you to promise me that you will never have a
drink with Jack, no matter what happens or what he says."

"I never will," I said, and I meant it.

"It's the first time he's been away from me since he gave up drinking,
and if he comes back all right this time I will be sure of him and
contented. But, Joe, if he comes back wrong it will kill me; it will
break my heart. I want you to promise that if anything happens you will
ride or wire for Peter M'Laughlan. I hear he's wool-sorting this year at
Beenaway Station. Promise me that if anything happens you will ride for
Peter M'Laughlan and tell him, no matter what Jack says."

"I promise," I said.

She half-held out her hand to me, but I kept both mine behind my back. I
suppose she thought I didn't notice that she wanted to shake hands on the
bargain; but the truth was that my hands shook so, and I didn't want her
to notice that.

I got on my horse and felt steadier. Then, "Good-bye, Clara "--"Good-bye,
Jack." She bore up bravely, but I saw her eyes brimming. Jack got on his
horse, and I bent over and shook hands with her. Jack bent down and
kissed her while she stood on tiptoe. "Good-bye, little woman," he said.
"Cheer up, and I'll be back before you know where you are! You mustn't
fret--you know why."

"Good-bye, Jack!"--she was breaking down.

"Come on, Jack!" I said, and we rode off, turning and waving our hats to
her as she stood by the gate, looking a desolate little thing, I thought,
till we turned down a bend of the road into the river.

As we jogged along with the packhorse trotting behind us, and the
quart-pots and hobble-chains jingling on the pack saddle, I pictured
Clara running inside, to cry a while in her sister's arms, and then to
bustle round and cheer up, for Jack's sake--and for the sake of something
else.

"I'll christen him after you, Joe," said Jack, later on, when we'd got
confidential over our pipes after tea in our first camp. It never seemed
to enter his head that there was the ghost of a chance that it might be a
girl. "I'm glad he didn't come along when I was drinking," he said.

And as we lay rolled in our blankets under the stars I swore a big oath
to myself.

We got along comfortably and reached Beenaway Station in about a week,
the day before the shearers' roll-call. Jack never showed the slightest
inclination to go into a shanty; and several times we talked about old
times and what damned fools we'd been throwing away our money over shanty
bars shouting for loafers and cadgers. "Isn't this ever so much better,
Joe?" said Jack, as we lay on our blankets smoking one moonlight night.
"There's nothing in boozing, Joe, you can take it from me. Just you sling
it for a year and then look back; you won't want to touch it again.
You've been straight for a couple of months. Sling it for good, Joe,
before it gets a hold on you, like it did on me."



It was the morning after cut-out at Beenaway Shed, and we were glad. We
were tired of the rush and roar and rattle and heat and grease and
blasphemy of the big, hot, iron machine shed in that dusty patch in the
barren scrubs. Swags were rolled up, saddle-bags packed, horses had been
rounded up and driven in, the shearers' cook and his mate had had their
fight, and about a hundred men--shearers, rouseabouts, and
wool-washers--were waiting round the little iron office to get their
cheques.

We were about half through when one bushman said to another: "Stop your
damned swearin', Jim. Here's Peter M'Laughlan!" Peter walked up and the
men made way for him and he went into the office. There was always
considerably less swearing for a few feet round about where Peter
M'Laughlan happened to be working in a shearing-shed. It seemed to be an
understood thing with the men. He took no advantages, never volunteered
to preach at a shed where he was working, and only spoke on union
subjects when the men asked him to. He was "rep." (Shearers' Union
representative) at this shed, but squatters and station managers
respected him as much as the men did.

He seemed much greyer now, but still stood square and straight. And his
eyes still looked one through.

When Peter came out and the crowd had cleared away he took Jack aside and
spoke to him in a low voice for a few minutes. I heard Jack say, "Oh,
that's all right, Peter! You have my word for it," and he got on his
horse. I heard Peter say the one word, "Remember!" "Oh, that's all
right," said Jack, and he shook hands with Peter, shouted, "Come on,
Joe!" and started off with the packhorse after him.

"I wish I were going down with you, Joe." said Peter to me, "but I can't
get away till to-morrow. I've got that sick rouseabout on my hands, and
I'll have to see him fixed up somehow and started off to the hospital"
(the nearest was a hundred miles away). "And, by the way, I've taken up a
collection for him; I want a few shillings from you, Joe. I nearly forgot
you. The poor fellow only got in about a fortnight's work, and there's a
wife and youngsters in Sydney. I'll be down after you to-morrow. I
promised to go to Comesomehow* and get the people together and start an
agitation for a half-time school there. Anyway, I'll be there by the end
of the week. Good-bye, Joe. I must get some more money for the rouser
from some of those chaps before they start."

Comesomehow was a wretched cockatoo settlement, a bit off the track,
about one hundred and fifty miles on our road home, where the settlers
lived like savages and the children ran wild. I reckoned that Peter would
have his work cut out to start a craving for education in that place.

By saying he'd be there I think he intended to give me a hint, in case
anything happened. I believe now that Jack's wife had got anxious and had
written to him.

We jogged along comfortably and happily for three or four days, and as we
passed shanty after shanty, and town after town, without Jack showing the
slightest inclination to pull up at any of them, I began to feel safe
about him.

Then it happened, in the simplest way, as most things of this sort happen
if you don't watch close.

The third night it rained, rained heavens-hard, and rainy nights can be
mighty cold out on those plains, even in mid-summer. Jack and I rigged up
a strip of waterproof stuff we had to cover the swags on the packhorse,
but the rain drove in, almost horizontally, and we got wet through,
blankets, clothes and all. Jack got a bad cold and coughed fit to break
himself; so about daylight, when the rain held up a bit, we packed up and
rode on to the next pub, a wretched little weather board place in the
scrub.

Jack reckoned he'd get some stuff for his cold there. I didn't like to
speak, but before we reached the place I said, "You won't touch a drink,
Jack."

"Do you think I'm a blanky fool?" said Jack, and I shut up.

The shanty was kept by a man who went by the name of Thomas, a notorious
lamber-down, as I found out afterwards. He was a big, awkward bullock of
a man, a selfish, ignorant brute, as anyone might have seen by his face;
but he had a loud voice, and adopted a careless, rollicking,
hail-fellow-well-met! come-in-and-sit-down-man-alive!
clap-you-on-the-back style, which deceived a good many, or which a good
many pretended to believe in. His "missus" was an animal of his own
species, but she was duller and didn't bellow.

He had a rather good-looking girl there--I don't know whether she was his
daughter or not. They said that when he saw the shearers coming he'd say,
"Run and titivate yourself, Mary; here comes the shearers!"

But what surprised me was that Jack Barnes didn't seem able to see
through Thomas; he thought that he was all right, "a bit of a rough
diamond." There are any amount of scoundrels and swindlers knocking about
the world disguised as rough diamonds.

Jack had a fit of coughing when we came in.

"Why, Jack!" bellowed Thomas, "that's a regular churchyarder you've got.
Go in to the kitchen fire and I'll mix you a stiff toddy."

"No, thank you, Thomas," said Jack, glancing at me rather sheepishly, I
thought. "I'll have a hot cup of coffee presently, that'll do me more
good."

"Why, man alive, one drink won't hurt you!" said Thomas. "I know you're
on the straight, and you know I'm the last man that 'ud try to get you
off it. But you want something for that cold. You don't want to die on
the track, do you? What would your missus say? That cough of yours is
enough to bust a bullock."

"Jack isn't drinking, Thomas," I said rather shortly, "and neither am I."

"I'll have a cup of coffee at breakfast," said Jack; "thank you all the
same, Thomas."

"Right you are, Jack!" said Thomas. "Mary!" he roared at the girl, "chuck
yerself about and get breakfast, and make a strong cup of coffee; and I
say, missus" (to his wife), "git some honey and vinegar in a cup, will
yer? or see if there's any of that cough stuff left in the bottle. Go
into the kitchen, you chaps, and dry yourselves at the fire, you're
wringing wet." Jack went through into the kitchen.

I stepped out to see if the horses were all right, and as I came in again
through the bar, Thomas, who had slipped behind the counter, crooked his
finger at me and poured out a stiff whisky. "I thought you might like to
have it on the quiet," he whispered, with a wink.

Now, there was this difference between Jack and me. When I was on the
track, and healthy and contented, I could take a drink, or two drinks,
and then leave it; or at other times I could drink all day, or all night,
and be as happy as a lord, and be mighty sick and repentant all next day,
and then not touch drink for a week; but if Jack once started, he was a
lost man for days, for weeks, for months--as long as his cash or credit
lasted. I felt a cold coming on me this morning, and wanted a whisky, so
I had a drink with Thomas. Then, of course, I shouted in my turn, keeping
an eye out in case Jack should come in. I went into the kitchen and
steamed with Jack for a while in front of a big log fire, taking care to
keep my breath away from him. Then we went in to breakfast. Those two
drinks were all I meant to have, and we were going right on after
breakfast.

It was a good breakfast, ham and eggs, and we enjoyed it. The two
whiskies had got to work. I hadn't touched drink for a long time. I
shouldn't like to say that Thomas put anything in the drink he gave me.
Before we started breakfast he put a glass down in front of me and said

"There's a good ginger-ale, it will warm you up."

I tasted it; it was rum, hot. I said nothing. What could I say?

There was some joke about Jack being married and settled and steadied
down, and me, his old mate, still on the wallaby; and Mrs Thomas said
that I ought to follow Jack's example. And just then I felt a touch of
that loneliness that some men feel when an old drinking mate turns
teetotaller.

Jack started coughing again, like an old cow with the pleuro.

"That cough will kill you, Jack." said Thomas. "Let's put a drop of
brandy in your coffee, that won't start you, anyhow; it's real 'Three
Star.' " And he reached a bottle from the side-table.

I should have stood up then, for my manhood, for my mate, and for little
Clara, but I half rose from my chair, and Jack laughed and said, "Sit
down, Joe, you old fool, you're tanked. I know all about your seeing
about the horses and your ginger ales. It's all right, old man. Do you
think I'm going on the booze? Why, I'll have to hold you on the horse all
day." I sat down and took up my glass.

"Here's luck, Joe!" said Jack, laughing, and lifting up his cup of coffee
with the brandy in it. "Here's luck, Joe."

Then suddenly, and as clearly as I ever heard it, came Clara's voice to
my ear: "Promise me, whatever you do, that you will never have a drink
with Jack." And I felt cold and sick to the stomach.

I got up and went out. They thought that the drink had made me sick, but
if I'd stayed there another minute I would have tackled Thomas; and I
knew that I needed a clear head to tackle a bullock like him. I walked
about a bit, and when I came in again Jack and Thomas were in the bar,
and Jack had a glass before him.

"Come on, Joe, you old bounder," said Jack, "come and have a
whisky-and-soda; it will straighten you up."

"What's that you're drinking, Jack?" I asked.

"Oh, don't be a fool!" said Jack. "One drink won't hurt me. Do you think
I'm going on the booze? Have a soda and straighten up; we must make a
start directly."

I remember we had two or three whiskies, and then suddenly I tackled
Thomas, and Jack was holding me back, and laughing and swearing at me at
the same time, and I had a tussle with him; and then I was suddenly
calmer and sensible, and we were shaking hands all round, and Jack was
talking about just one more spree for the sake of old times.

"A bit of a booze won't hurt me. Joe, you old fool," he said. "We'll have
one more night of it, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, and start at
daylight in the morning. You go and see to the horses, it will straighten
you up. Take the saddle off and hobble 'em out."

But I insisted on starting at once, and Jack promised he would. We were
gloriously happy for an hour or so, and then I went to sleep.

When I woke it was late in the afternoon. I was very giddy and shaky; the
girl brought me a whisky-and-soda, and that steadied me. Some more
shearers had arrived, and Jack was playing cards with two of them on top
of a cask in the bar. Thomas was dead drunk on the floor, or pretending
to be so, and his wife was behind the bar. I went out to see to the
horses; I found them in a bush yard at the back. The packhorse was
rolling in the mud with the pack-saddle and saddlebags on. One of the
chaps helped me take off the saddles and put them in the harness-room
behind the kitchen.

I'll pass over that night. It wouldn't be very edifying to the great,
steady-living, sober majority, and the others, the ne'er-do-wells, the
rovers, wrecks and failures, will understand only too well without being
told--only too well, God help them!

When I woke in the morning I couldn't have touched a drink to save my
life. I was fearfully shaky, and swimming about the head, but I put my
head over a tub under the pump and got the girl to pump for a while, and
then I drank a pint of tea and managed to keep it down, and felt better.

All through the last half of the night I'd kept saying, in a sort of
drink nightmare, "I'll go for Peter M'Laughlan in the morning. I'll go
for Peter as soon as I can stand! " and repeating Clara Barnes's words,
"Ride for Peter if anything happens. Ride for Peter M'Laughlan."

There were drunken shearers, horsemen and swagmen sleeping all over the
place, and in all sorts of odd positions; some on the veranda with their
heads on their swags, one sitting back against the wall, and one on the
broad of his back with his head on the bare boards and his mouth open.
There was another horse rolling in its saddle, and I took the saddle off.
The horse belonged to an English University man.

I went in to see how Jack was. He was lying in the parlour on a little,
worn-out, horse-hair sofa, that might have seen better days in some clean
home in the woman-and-girl world. He had been drinking and playing cards
till early that morning, and he looked awful--he looked as if he'd been
boozing for a month.

"See what you've done!" he said, sitting up and glaring at me; then he
said, "Bring me a whisky-and-soda, Joe, for God's sake!"

I got a whisky-and-soda from the girl and took it to him.

I talked to him for a while, and at last he said, "Well, go and get the
horses and we'll start."

I got the horses ready and brought them round to the front, but by that
time he'd had more drink, and he said he wanted to sleep before he
started. Next he was playing cards with one of the chaps, and asked me to
wait till he'd finished that game. I knew he'd keep promising and
humbugging me till there was a row, so at last I got him aside and said:

"Look here, Jack, I'm going for Peter M'Laughlan----"

"Go to hell!" said Jack.

I put the other horses back in the yard, the saddles in the skillion, got
on my horse and rode off. Thomas and the others asked me no questions,
they took no notice. In a place like that a man could almost do anything,
short of hanging himself, without anyone interfering or being surprised.
And probably, if he did hang himself, they'd let him swing for a while to
get a taste of it.

Comesomehow was about fifteen miles back on a track off the main road. I
reckoned that I could find Peter and bring him on by the afternoon, and I
rode hard, sick as I was. I was too sick to smoke.

As it happened, Peter had started early from his last camp and I caught
him just as he was turning off into Comesomehow track.

"What's up, Joe?" he asked as I rode up to him--but he could see.

"Jack Barnes is on the booze at Thomas's," I said.

Peter just looked right through me. Then he turned his horse's head
without a word, and rode back with me. And, after a while, he said, as if
to himself:

"Poor Clara! Poor little lassie!"

By the time we reached the shanty it was well on in the afternoon. A
fight was stopped in the first round and voices lowered when the chaps
caught sight of us. As Peter walked into the bar one or two drunks
straightened themselves and took off their hats with drunken sentiment.

"Where is Jack Barnes, Thomas?" asked Peter, quietly.

"He's in there if you want to see him," said Thomas, jerking his head
towards the parlour.

We went in, and when Peter saw Jack lying there I noticed that swift,
haunted look came into his eyes, as if he'd seen a ghost of the past.

He sat down by the sofa to wait until Jack woke. I thought as he sat
there that his eyes were like a woman's for sympathy and like a dog's for
faithfulness. I was very shaky.

Presently Thomas looked in. "Is there anything I can do for you,
M'Laughlan?" he asked in as civil a tone as he could get to.

"Yes," said Peter, "bring me a flask of your best whisky--your own,
mind--and a glass.

"We shall need the whisky for him on the track, Joe," said Peter, when
the flask came. "Get another glass and a bottle of soda; you want a nip."
He poured out a drink for himself.

"The first thing we've got to do is to get him away; then I'll soon put
him on his feet. But we'll let him sleep a while longer. I find I've got
business near Solong, and I'm going down with you."

By and by Jack woke up and glared round, and when he caught sight of
Peter he just reached for his hands and said, "Peter! Thank God you've
come!" Then he said, "But I must have a drink first, Peter."

"All right, Jack, you shall have a drink," said Peter; and he gave him a
stiff nobbler. It steadied Jack a bit.

"Now listen to me, Jack," said Peter. "How much money have you got left?"

"I--I can't think," said Jack. "I've got a cheque for twenty pounds here,
sewn inside my shirt."

"Yes; but you drew thirty-six in three cheques. Where's the rest?"

"Thomas has ten," said Jack, "and the six-well, the six is gone. I was
playing cards last night."

Peter stepped out into the bar.

"Look here, Thomas," he said quietly, "you've got a. ten-pound cheque
from Barnes."

"I know I have."

"Well, how much of it does he owe you?"

"The whole, and more."

"Do you mean to tell me that? He has only been here since yesterday
morning."

"Yes; but he's been shoutin' all round. Look at all these chaps here."

"They only came yesterday afternoon," said Peter. "Here, you had best
take this and give me the cheque;" and Peter laid a five-pound note on
the bar. Thomas bucked at first, but in the end he handed over the
cheque--he had had several warnings from the police. Then he suddenly
lost all control over himself; he came round from behind the bar and
faced Peter.

"Now, look here, you mongrel parson!" he said. "What the ---- do you mean
by coming into my bar and interfering with me. Who the ---- are you
anyway? A ----!" He used the worst oaths that were used in the bush.
"Take off ---- your coat!" he roared at last, shaping up to Peter.

Peter stepped back a pace and buttoned his coat and threw back his head.

"No need to take off my coat, Thomas," he said, "I am ready." He said it
very quietly, but there was a danger-signal--a red light in his eyes. He
was quiet-voiced but hard-knuckled, as some had reason to know.

Thomas balked like a bull at a spread umbrella. Jack lurched past me as I
stood in the parlour door, but I caught him and held him back; and almost
at the same moment a wretched old boozer that we called "Awful Example,"
who had been sitting huddled, a dirty bundle of rags and beard and hair,
in the corner of the bar, struggled to his feet, staggered forward and
faced Thomas, looking once again like something that might have been a
man. He snatched a thick glass bottle from the counter and held it by the
neck in his right hand.

"Stand back, Thomas!" he shouted. "Lay a hand--lay a finger on Peter
M'Laughlan, and I'll smash your head, as sure as there's a God above us
and I'm a ruined man!"

Peter took "Awful" gently by the shoulders and sat him down. "You keep
quiet, old man," he said; "nothing is going to happen." Thomas went round
behind the bar muttering something about it not being worth his while to,
etc.

"You go and get the horses ready, Joe," said Peter to me; "and you sit
down, Jack, and keep quiet."

"He can get the horses," growled Thomas, from behind the bar, "but I'm
damned if he gets the saddles. I've got them locked up, and I'll
something well keep them till Barnes is sober enough to pay me what he
owes me."

Just then a tall, good-looking chap, with dark-blue eyes and a long,
light-coloured moustache, stepped into the bar from the crowd on the
veranda.

"What's all this, Thomas?" he asked.

"What's that got to do with you, Gentleman Once?" shouted Thomas.

"I think it's got something to do with me," said Gentleman Once. "Now,
look here, Thomas; you can do pretty well what you like with us poor
devils, and you know it, but we draw the line at Peter M'Laughlan. If you
really itch for the thrashing you deserve you must tempt someone else to
give it to you. "

"What the ---- are you talking about?" snorted Thomas. "You're drunk or
ratty!"

"What's the trouble, M'Laughlan?" asked Gentleman Once, turning to Peter.

"No trouble at all, Gentleman Once," said Peter; "thank you all the same.
I've managed worse men than our friend Thomas. Now, Thomas, don't you
think it would pay you best to hand over the key of the harness-room and
have done with this nonsense? I'm a patient man--a very patient man--but
I've not always been so, and the old blood comes up sometimes, you know."

Thomas couldn't stand this sort of language, because he couldn't
understand it. He threw the key on the bar and told us to clear out.

We were all three very quiet riding along the track that evening. Peter
gave Jack a nip now and again from the flask, and before we turned in in
camp he gave him what he called a soothing draught from a little medicine
chest that he carried in his saddle-bag. Jack seemed to have got rid of
his cough; he slept all night, and in the morning, after he'd drunk a
pint of mutton-broth that Peter had made in one of the billies, he was
all right--except that he was quiet and ashamed. I had never known him to
be so quiet, and for such a length of time, since we were boys together.
He had learned his own weakness; he'd lost all his cocksureness. I know
now just exactly how he felt. He felt as if his sober year had been lost
and he would have to live it all over again.

Peter didn't preach. He just jogged along and camped with us as if he
were an ordinary, every-day mate. He yarned about all sorts of things. He
could tell good yarns, and when he was fairly on you could listen to him
all night. He seemed to have been nearly all over the world. Peter never
preached except when he was asked to hold service in some bush pub,
station-homestead or bush church. But in a case like ours he had a way of
telling a little life story, with something in it that hit the young man
he wanted to reform, and hit him hard. He'd generally begin quietly, when
we were comfortable with our pipes in camp after tea, with "I once knew a
young man--" or "That reminds me of a young fellow I knew--" and so on.
You never knew when he was going to begin, or when he was going to hit
you. In our last camp, before we reached Solong, he told two of his
time-fuse yarns. I haven't time to tell them now, but one stuffed up my
pipe for a while, and made Jack's hand tremble when he tried to light
his. I'm glad it was too dark to see our faces. We lay a good while
afterwards, rolled in our blankets, and couldn't get to sleep for
thinking; but Peter seemed to fall asleep as soon as he turned in.

Next day he told Jack not to tell Clara that he'd come down with us. He
said he wouldn't go right into Solong with us; he was going back along
another road to stay a day or two with an old friend of his.

When we reached Solong we stopped on the river-bank just out of sight of
Jack's house. Peter took the ten-pound cheque from his pocket and gave it
to Jack. Jack hadn't seen Peter give the shanty-keeper the five-pound
note.

"But I owed Thomas something," said Jack, staring. "However did you
manage to get the cheque out of him?"

"Never mind, Jack, I managed," said Peter.

Jack sat silent for a while, then he began to breathe hard.

"I don't know what to say, Peter."

"Say nothing, Jack. Only promise me that you will give Clara the cheques
as soon as you go home, and let her take care of the cash for a while."

"I will," said Jack.

Jack looked down at the ground for a while, then he lifted his head and
looked Peter in the eyes.

"Peter," he said, "I can't speak. I'm ashamed to make a promise; I've
broken so many. I'll try to thank you in a year's time from now."

"I ask for no promises," said Peter, and he held out his hand. Jack
gripped it.

"Aren't you coming home with me, Joe?" he asked.

"No," I said; "I'll go into town. See you in the morning."

Jack rode on. When he got along a piece Peter left his horse and moved up
to the head of the lane to watch Jack, and I followed. As Jack neared the
cottage we saw a little figure in a cloak run out to the front gate. She
had heard the horses and the jingle of the camp-ware on the pack-saddle.
We saw Jack jump down and take her in his arms. I looked at Peter, and as
he watched them, something, that might have been a strange look of the
old days, came into his eyes.

He shook hands with me. "Good-bye, Joe."

He rode across the river again. He took the track that ran along the foot
of the spurs by the river, and up over a gap in the curve of blue hills,
and down and out west towards the Big Scrubs. And as he rounded the last
spur, with his packhorse trotting after him, I thought he must have felt
very lonely. And I felt lonely too.



THE STORY OF "GENTLEMAN ONCE"

They learn the world from black-sheep,
Who know it all too well.
--Out Back.


PETER M'LAUGHLAN, bush missionary, Joe Wilson and his mate, Jack Barnes,
shearers for the present, and a casual swagman named Jack Mitchell, were
camped at Cox's Crossing in a bend of Eurunderee Creek.

It was a grassy little flat with gum-trees standing clear and clean like
a park. At the back was the steep grassy siding of a ridge, and far away
across the creek to the south a spur from the Blue Mountain range ran
west, with a tall, blue granite peak showing clear in the broad
moonlight, yet dream-like and distant over the sweeps of dark green bush.

There was the jingle of hobble-chains and a crunching at the grass where
the horses moved in the soft shadows amongst the trees. Up the creek on
the other side was a surveyors' camp, and from there now and again came
the sound of a good voice singing verses of old songs; and later on the
sound of a violin and a cornet being played, sometimes together and
sometimes each on its own.

Wilson and Barnes were on their way home from shearing out back in the
great scrubs at Beenaway Shed. They had been rescued by Peter M'Laughlan
from a wayside shanty where they had fallen, in spite of mutual oaths and
past promises, sacred and profane, because they had got wringing wet in a
storm on the track and caught colds, and had been tempted to take just
one drink.

They were in a bad way, and were knocking down their cheques beautifully
when Peter M'Laughlan came along. He rescued them and some of their cash
from the soulless shantykeeper, and was riding home with them, on some
pretence, because he had known them as boys, because Joe Wilson had a
vein of poetry in him--a something in sympathy with something in Peter;
because Jack Barnes had a dear little girl-wife who was much too good for
him, and who was now anxiously waiting for him in the pretty little
farming town of Solong amongst the western spurs. Because, perhaps, of
something in Peter's early past which was a mystery. Simply and plainly
because Peter M'Laughlan was the kindest, straightest and truest man in
the West--a "white man."

They all knew Mitchell and welcomed him heartily when he turned up in
their camp, because he was a pathetic humorist and a kindly cynic--a
"joker" or "hard case" as the bushmen say.

Peter was about fifty and the other three were young men.

There was another man in camp who didn't count and was supposed to be
dead. Old Danny Quinn, champion "beer chewer" of the district, was on his
way out, after a spree, to one of Rouse's stations, where, for the sake
of past services--long past--and because of old times, he was supposed to
be working. He had spent his last penny a week before and had clung to
his last-hope hotel until the landlord had taken him in one hand and his
swag in the other and lifted them clear of the veranda. Danny had
blundered on, this far, somehow; he was the last in the world who could
have told how, and had managed to light a fire; then he lay with his head
on his swag and enjoyed nips of whisky in judicious doses and at
reasonable intervals, and later on a tot of mutton-broth, which he made
in one of the billies.

It was after tea. Peter sat on a log by the fire with Joe and Jack
Mitchell on one side and Jack Barnes on the other. Jack Mitchell sat on
the grass with his back to the log, his knees drawn up, and his arms
abroad on them: his most comfortable position and one which seemed to
favour the flow of his philosophy. They talked of bush things or
reflected, sometimes all three together, sometimes by turns.

From the surveyors' camp

I remember, I remember,
    The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
    Came peeping in at morn----

The breeze from the west strengthened and the voice was blown away.

"That chap seems a bit sentimental but he's got a good voice," said
Mitchell. Then presently he remarked, round his pipe

"I wonder if old Danny remembers?"

And presently Peter said quietly, as if the thought had just occurred to
him

"By the way, Mitchell, I forgot to ask after your old folk. I knew your
father, you know."

"Oh, they're all right, Peter, thank you."

"Heard from them lately?" asked Peter, presently, in a lazy tone.

Mitchell straightened himself up. "N--no. To tell the truth, Peter, I
haven't written for--I don't know how long."

Peter smoked reflectively.

"I remember your father well, Jack," he said. "He was a big-hearted man."

Old Danny was heard remonstrating loudly with spirits from a warmer clime
than Australia, and Peter stepped over to soothe him.

"I thought I'd get it, directly after I opened my mouth," said Mitchell.
"I suppose it will be your turn next, Joe."

"I suppose so," said Joe, resignedly. The wind fell.

I remember, I remember,
    And it gives me little joy,
To think I'm further off from heaven,
    Than when I was a boy!

When Peter came back another thought seemed to have occurred to him.

"How's your mother getting on, Joe?" he asked. "She shifted to Sydney
after your father died, didn't she?"

"Oh, she's getting on all right!" said Joe, without elaboration.

"Keeping a boarding-house, isn't she?"

"Yes," said Joe.

"Hard to make ends meet, I suppose?" said Peter. "It's almost a harder
life than it could have been on the old selection, and there's none of
the old independence about it. A woman like your mother must feel it,
Joe."

"Oh, she's all right," said Joe. "She's used to it by this time. I manage
to send her a few pounds now and again. I send her all I can," he added
resentfully.

Peter sat corrected for a few moments. Then he seemed to change the
subject.

"It's some time since you were in Sydney last, isn't it, Joe?"

"Yes, Peter," said Joe. "I haven't been there for two years. I never did
any good there. I'm far better knocking about out back."

There was a pause.

"Some men seem to get on better in one place, some in another," reflected
Mitchell, lazily. "For my part, I seem to get on better in another."

Peter blinked, relit his pipe with a stick from the fire and reflected.

The surveyor's song had been encored:

I remember, I remember----

Perhaps Peter remembered. Joe did, but there were no vines round the
house where he was born, only drought and dust, and raspy voices raised
in recrimination, and hardship most times.

"I remember," said Peter, quietly, "I remember a young fellow at home in
the old country. He had every advantage. He had a first-class education,
a great deal more money than he needed--almost as much as he asked for,
and nearly as much freedom as he wanted. His father was an English
gentleman and his mother an English lady. They were titled people, if I
remember rightly. The old man was proud, but fond of his son; he only
asked him to pay a little duty or respect now and again. We don't
understand these things in Australia--they seem formal and cold to us.
The son paid his respects to his father occasionally--a week or so before
he'd be wanting money, as a rule. The mother was a dear lady. She
idolized her son. She only asked for a little show of affection from him,
a few days or a week of his society at home now and then--say once in
three months. But he couldn't spare her even that--his time was taken up
so much in fashionable London and Paris and other places. He would give
the world to be able to take his proud, soft old father's hand now and
look into his eyes as one man who understands another. He would be glad
and eager to give his mother twelve months out of the year if he thought
it would make her happier. It has been too late for more than twenty
years."

Old Danny called for Peter.

Mitchell jerked his head approvingly and gave a sound like a sigh and
chuckle conjoined, the one qualifying the other. "I told you you'd get
it, Joe," he said.

"I don't see how it hits me," said Joe.

"But it hit all the same, Joe."

"Well, I suppose it did," said Joe, after a short pause.

"He wouldn't have hit you so hard if you hadn't tried to parry,"
reflected Mitchell. "It's your turn now, Jack."

Jack Barnes said nothing.

"Now I know that Peter would do anything for a woman or child, or an
honest, straight, hard-up chap," said Mitchell, straightening out his
legs and folding his arms, "but I can't quite understand his being so
partial to drunken scamps and vagabonds, black sheep and ne'er-do-wells.
He's got a tremendous sympathy for drunks. He'd do anything to help a
drunken man. Ain't it marvellous? It's my private opinion that Peter must
have been an awful boozer and scamp in his time."

The other two only thought. Mitchell was privileged. He was a young man
of freckled, sandy complexion, and quizzical grey eyes. "Sly Joker"
"could take a rise out of anyone on the quiet;" "You could never tell
when he was getting at you;" "Face of a born comedian," as bushmen said
of Mitchell. But he would probably have been a dead and dismal failure on
any other stage than that of wide Australia.

Peter came back and they sat and smoked, and maybe they reflected along
four very different back-tracks for a while.

The surveyor started to sing again:

I have heard the mavis singing
    Her love-song to the morn.
I have seen the dew-drop clinging
    To the rose just newly born.

They smoked and listened in silence all through to the end. It was very
still. The full moon was high. The long white slender branches of a
box-tree stirred gently overhead; the she-aks in the creek sighed as they
are always sighing, and the southern peak seemed ever so far away.

That has made me thine for ever!
    Bonny Mary of Argyle.

"Blarst my pipe!" exclaimed Mitchell, suddenly. "I beg your pardon,
Peter. My pipe's always getting stuffed up," and he proceeded to shell
out and clear his pipe.

The breeze had changed and strengthened. They heard the violin playing
"Annie Laurie."

"They must be having a Scotch night in that camp tonight," said Mitchell.
The voice came again:

Maxwelton Braes are bonny--
    Where early fa's the dew,
For 'twas there that Annie Laurie
    Gie me her promise true--

Mitchell threw out his arm impatiently.

"I wish they wouldn't play and sing those old songs," he said. "They make
you think of damned old things. I beg your pardon, Peter."

Peter sat leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands
fingering his cold pipe nervously. His sad eyes had grown haggard and
haunted. It is in the hearts of exiles in new lands that the old songs
are felt.

"Take no thought of the morrow, Mitchell," said Peter, abstractedly. "I
beg your pardon, Mitchell. I mean----"

"That's all right, Peter," said Mitchell. "You're right; to-morrow is the
past, as far as I'm concerned."

Peter blinked down at him as if he were a new species.

"You're an odd young man, Mitchell," he said. "You'll have to take care
of that head of yours or you'll be found hanging by a saddle-strap to a
leaning tree on a lonely track, or find yourself in a lunatic asylum
before you're forty-five."

"Or else I'll be a great man," said Mitchell. "But--ah, well!"

Peter turned his eyes to the fire and smiled sadly.

"Not enjoyment and not sorrow, is our destined end or way," he repeated
to the fire.

"But we get there just the same," said Mitchell, "destined or not."

But to live, that each to-morrow,
    Finds us further than to-day!

"Why, that just fits my life, Peter," said Mitchell. "I might have to
tramp two or three hundred miles before I get a cut or a job, and if
to-morrow didn't find me nearer than to-day I'd starve or die of thirst
on a dry stretch."

"Why don't you get married and settle down, Mitchell?" asked Peter, a
little tired. "You're a teetotaller."

"If I got married I couldn't settle down," said Mitchell. "I reckon I'd
be the loneliest man in Australia." Peter gave him a swift glance. "I
reckon I'd be single no matter how much married I might be. I couldn't
get the girl I wanted, and--ah, well!"

Mitchell's expression was still quaintly humorous round the lower part of
his face, but there was a sad light in his eyes. The strange light as of
the old dead days, and he was still young.

The cornet had started in the surveyors' camp.

"Their blooming tunes seem to fit in just as if they knew what we were
talking about," remarked Mitchell.

The cornet

You'll break my heart, you little bird,
That sings upon the flowering thorn--
Thou mind 'st me of departed joys,
Departed never to return.

"Damn it all," said Mitchell, sitting up, "I'm getting sentimental."
Then, as if voicing something that was troubling him, "Don't you think a
woman pulls a man down as often as she lifts him up, Peter?"

"Some say so," said Peter.

"Some say so, and they write it, too," said Mitchell. "Sometimes it seems
to me as if women were fated to drag a man down ever since Adam's time.
If Adam hadn't taken his wife's advice--but there, perhaps he took her
advice a good many times and found it good, and, just because she
happened to be wrong this time, and to get him into a hole, the sons of
Adam have never let the daughters of Eve hear the last of it. That's
human nature."

Jack Barnes, the young husband, who was suffering a recovery, had been
very silent all the evening. "I think a man's a fool to always listen to
his wife's advice," he said, with the unreasonable impatience of a man
who wants to think while others are talking. "She only messes him up, and
drives him to the devil as likely as not, and gets a contempt for him in
the end."

Peter gave him a surprised, reproachful look, and stood up. He paced
backwards and forwards on the other side of the fire, with his hands
behind his back for a while; then he came and settled himself on the log
again and filled his pipe.

"Yes," he said, "a man can always find excuses for himself when his
conscience stings him. He puts mud on the sting. Man at large is
beginning all over the world to rake up excuses for himself; he disguises
them as 'Psychological studies,' and thinks he is clean and clever and
cultured, or he calls 'em problems--the sex problem, for instance, and
thinks he is brave and fearless. "

Danny was in trouble again, and Peter went to him. He complained that
when he lay down he saw the faces worse, and he wanted to be propped up
somehow, so Peter got a pack-saddle and propped the old man's shoulders
up with that.

"I remember," Peter began, when be came back to the fire, "I remember a
young man who got married----"

Mitchell hugged himself. He knew Jack Barnes. He knew that Jack had a
girl-wife who was many times too good for him; that Jack had been wild,
and had nearly broken her heart, and he had guessed at once that Jack had
broken out again, and that Peter M'Laughlan was shepherding him home.
Mitchell had worked as mates with Jack, and liked him because of the good
heart that was in him in spite of all; and, because he liked him, he was
glad that Jack was going to get a kicking, so to speak, which might do
him good. Mitchell saw it coming, as he said afterwards, and filled his
pipe, and settled himself comfortably to listen.

"I remember the case of a naturally selfish young man who got married"
said Peter. "He didn't know he was selfish; in fact, he thought he was
too much the other way--but that doesn't matter now. His name was--well,
we'll call him--we'll call him, 'Gentleman Once.'"

"Do you mean Gentleman Once that we saw drinking back at Thomas's
shanty?" asked Joe.

"No," said Peter, "not him. There have been more than one in the bush who
went by the nickname of 'Gentleman Once.' I knew one or two. It's a big
clan, the clan of Gentleman Once, and scattered all over the world."

"By the way," said Mitchell--"excuse me for interrupting, Peter--but
wasn't old Danny, there, a gentleman once? I've heard chaps say he was."

"I know he was," said Peter.

"Gentleman Once! Who's talking about Gentleman Once?" said an awful
voice, suddenly and quickly. "About twenty or thirty years ago I was
called Gentleman Once or Gentleman Jack, I don't know which--Get out! Get
out, I say! It's all lies, and you're the devil. There's four devils
sitting by the fire. I see them."

Two of the four devils by the fire looked round, rather startled.

Danny was sitting up, his awful bloodshot eyes glaring in the firelight,
and his ruined head looking like the bloated head of a hairy poodle that
had been drowned and dried. Peter went to the old man and soothed him by
waving off the snakes and devils with his hands, and telling them to go.

"I've heard Danny on the Gentleman Once racket before," remarked
Mitchell. "Seems funny, doesn't it, for a man to be proud of the fact
that he was called 'Gentleman Once' about twenty years ago?"

"Seems more awful than funny to me," said Joe.

"You're right, Joe," said Mitchell. "But the saddest things are often
funny."

When Peter came back he went on with his story, and was only interrupted
once or twice by Danny waking up and calling him to drive off the snakes,
and green and crimson dogs with crocodile heads, and devils with flaming
tails, and those unpleasant sorts of things that force their company on
boozers and madmen.

"Gentleman Once," said Peter, "he came from the old country with a good
education and no character. He disgraced himself and family once too
often and came, or was sent, out to Australia to reform. It's a great
mistake. If a man is too far gone, or hasn't the strength to live the
past down and reform at home, he won't do it in a new country, unless a
combination of circumstances compels him to it. A man rises by chance;
just as often he falls by chance. Some men fall into the habit of keeping
steady and stick to it, for the novelty of it, until they are on their
feet and in their sane minds and can look at the past, present and future
sensibly. I knew one case-- But that's got nothing to do with the story.

"Gentleman Once came out on the remittance system. That system is fatal
in nine cases out of ten. The remittance system is an insult to any
manhood that may be left in the black sheep, and an insult to the land he
is sent to. The cursed quarterly allowance is a stone round his neck
which will drag him down deeper in a new land than he would have fallen
at home. You know that remittance men are regarded with such contempt in
the bush that a man seldom admits he is one, save when he's drunk and
reckless and wants money or credit. When a ne'er-do-well lands in
Melbourne or Sydney without a penny he will probably buck-up and do
something for himself. When he lands with money he will probably spend it
all in the first few months and then straighten up, because he has to.
But when he lands on the remittance system he drinks, first to drown
homesickness. He decides that he'll wait till he gets his next quarter's
allowance and then look round. He persuades himself that it's no use
trying to do anything: that, in fact, he can't do anything until he gets
his money. When he gets it he drifts into one 'last' night with chums he
has picked up in second and third-rate hotels. He drinks from pure
selfishness. No matter what precautions his friends at home take, he
finds means of getting credit or drawing on his allowance before it is
due--until he is two or three quarters behind. He drinks because he feels
happy and jolly and clever and good-natured and brave and honest while he
is drinking. Later on he drinks because he feels the reverse of all these
things when he is sober. He drinks to drown the past and repentance. He
doesn't know that a healthy-minded man doesn't waste time in repenting.
He doesn't know how easy it is to reform, and is too weakwilled to try.
He gets a muddled idea that the past can't be mended. He finds it easy to
get drink and borrow money on the strength of his next quarter's
allowance, so he soon gets a quarter or two behind, and sometimes gets
into trouble connected with borrowed money. He drifts to the bush and
drinks, to drown the past only. The past grows blacker and blacker until
it is a hell without repentance; and often the black sheep gets to that
state when a man dreads his sober hours. And the end? Well, you see old
Danny there, and you saw old Awful Example back at Thomas's shanty--he's
worse than Danny, if anything. Sometimes the end comes sooner. I saw a
young new-land-new-leaf man dying in a cheap lodging-house in Sydney. He
was a schoolmate of mine, by the way. For six weeks he lay on his back
and suffered as I never saw a man suffer in this world; and I've seen
some bad cases. They had to chloroform him every time they wanted to move
him. He had affected to be hard and cynical, and I must say that he
played it out to the end. It was a strong character, a strong mind sodden
and diseased with drink. He never spoke of home and his people except
when he was delirious. He never spoke, even to me, of his mental agony.
That was English home training. You young Australians wouldn't understand
it; most bushmen are poets and emotional.

"My old schoolmate was shifted to the Sydney Hospital at last, and
consented to the amputation of one leg. But it was too late. He was gone
from the hips down. Drink--third-rate hotel and bush shanty drink--and
low debauchery."

Jack Barnes drew up his leg and rubbed it surreptitiously. He had "pins
and needles." Mitchell noticed and turned a chuckle into a grunt.

"Gentleman Once was a remittance man," continued Peter. "But before he
got very far he met an Australian girl in a boarding-house. Her mother
was the landlady. They were bush people who had drifted to the city. The
girl was pretty, intelligent and impulsive. She pitied him and nursed
him. He wasn't known as Gentleman Once then, he hadn't got far enough to
merit the nickname."

Peter paused. Presently he jerked his head, as if he felt a spasm of
pain, and leaned forward to get a stick from the fire to light his pipe.

"Now, there's the girl who marries a man to reform him, and when she has
reformed him never lets him hear the last of it. Sometimes, as a woman,
she drives him back again. But this was not one of that sort of girls. I
once held a theory that sometimes a girl who has married a man and
reformed him misses in the reformed man the something which attracted her
in the careless scamp, the something which made her love him--and so she
ceases to love him, and their married life is a far more miserable one
than it would have been had he continued drinking. I hold no theory of
that kind now. Such theories ruin many married lives."

Peter jerked his head again as if impatient with a thought, and reached
for a fire-stick.

"But that's got nothing to do with the story. When Gentleman Once
reformed his natural selfishness came back. He saw that he had made a
mistake. It's a terrible thing for a young man, a few months, perhaps a
few weeks after his marriage, to ask himself the question, 'Have I made a
mistake?' But Gentleman Once wasn't to be pitied. He discovered that he
had married beneath him in intellect and education. Home training again.
He couldn't have discovered that he had married beneath him as far as
birth was concerned, for his wife's father had been a younger son of an
older and greater family than his own-- But Gentleman Once wouldn't have
been cad enough to bother about birth. I'll do him that much justice. He
discovered, or thought he did, that he and his wife could never have one
thought in common; that she couldn't possibly understand him. I'll tell
you later on whether he was mistaken or not. He was gloomy most times,
and she was a bright, sociable, busy little body. When she tried to draw
him out of himself he grew irritable. Besides, having found that they
couldn't have a thought in common he ceased to bother to talk to her.
There are many men who don't bother talking to their wives; they don't
think their wives feel it--because the wives cease to complain after a
while; they grow tired of trying to make the man realize how they suffer.
Gentleman Once tried his best--according to his lights--and weakness.
Then he went in for self-pity and all the problems. He liked to brood,
and his poor little wife's energy and cheerfulness were wearying to him.
He wanted to be left alone. They were both high-spirited, in different
ways; she was highly strung and so was he--because of his past life
mostly. They quarrelled badly sometimes. Then he drank again and she
stuck to him. Perhaps the only time he seemed cheerful and affectionate
was when he had a few drinks in him. It was a miserable existence--a
furnished room in a cheap lodging-house, and the use of the kitchen.

"He drank alone.

"Now a dipsomaniac mostly thinks he is in the right--except, perhaps,
after he has been forced to be sober for a week. The noblest woman in the
world couldn't save him--everything she does to reform him irritates him;
but a strong friend can save him sometimes--a man who has been through it
himself. The poor little wife of Gentleman Once went through it all. And
she stuck to him. She went into low pubs after him."

Peter shuddered again.

"She went through it all. He swore promises. He'd come home sober and
fill her with hope of future happiness, and swear that he'd never take
another glass. 'And we'll be happy yet, my poor boy,' she'd say, 'we'll
be happy yet. I believe you, I trust you' (she used to call him her
'bonny boy' when they were first married). And next night he'd come home
worse than ever. And one day he--he struck her!"

Peter shuddered, head and shoulders, like a man who had accidentally
smashed his finger.

"And one day he struck her. He was sober when he did it--anyhow he had
not taken drink for a week. A man is never sober who gets drunk more than
once a week, though he might think he is. I don't know how it happened,
but anyway he struck her, and that frightened him. He got a billet in the
Civil Service up-country. No matter in what town it was. The little wife
hoped for six months.

"I think it's a cruel thing that a carelessly selfish young man cannot
realize how a sensitive young wife suffers for months after he has
reformed. How she hopes and fears, how she dreads the moment he has to
leave her, and frets every hour he is away from home--and suffers mental
agony when he is late. How the horror of the wretched old past time grows
upon her until she dares not think of it. How she listens to his step and
voice and watches his face, when he comes home, for a sign of drink. A
young man, a mate of mine, who drank hard and reformed, used to take a
delight in pretending for a few minutes to be drunk when he came home. He
was goodhearted, but dense. He said he only did it to give his wife a
pleasant surprise afterwards. I thought it one of the most cruel things I
had ever seen.

"Gentleman Once found that he could not stand the routine of office work
and the dull life in that place. He commenced to drink again, and went on
till he lost his billet. They had a little boy, a bright little boy, yet
the father drank.

"The last spree was a terrible one. He was away from home a fortnight,
and in that fortnight he got down as deep as a man could get. Then
another man got hold of him and set him on his feet, and straightened him
up. The other man was a ruined doctor, a wreck whose devil was morphia. I
don't hold that a man's salvation is always in his own hands; I've seen
mates pull mates out of hell too often to think that.

"Then Gentleman Once saw the past as he had never seen it before--he saw
hope for the future with it. And he swore an oath that he felt he would
keep.

"He suffered from reaction on his way home, and, as he neared the town, a
sudden fear, born of his nervous state, no doubt, sent a cold, sick
emptiness through him: 'Was it too late?'

"As he turned into the street where he lived, he noticed a little group
of bush larrikins standing at the corner. And they moved uneasily when
they caught sight of him, and, as he passed, they touched and lifted
their hats to him. Now he knew that he had lost the respect even of bush
larrikins; and he knew enough of the bush to know that a bushman never
lifts his hat to a man--only to death, and a woman sometimes. He hurried
home and read the truth in his wife's eyes. His little boy was dead. He
went down under the blow, and she held his head to her breast and kept
saying, 'My poor boy, my poor boy!'

"It was he that she meant, not the boy she had lost. She knew him, she
understood him better than he did himself, and, heart-broken as she was,
she knew how he was going to suffer, and comforted him. 'My poor boy, my
poor, foolish boy!'

"He mended the past, as far as he could, during the next two years, and
she seemed happy. He was very gentle, he was very kind to her. He was
happy, too, in a new, strange way. But he had learned what it was to
suffer through his own fault, and now he was to learn what it was to
suffer through no fault of his own, and without the consolation of saying
'I was wrong! I was to blame!' At the end of the two years there was
another child, and his wife died."

The four sat silently smoking until Jack Barnes asked:

"And what did he do then, Peter?"

"Who?" said Peter, abstractedly.

"Why, Gentleman Once."

Peter roused himself.

"Well, I've told the story, and it is about time to turn in, he said. "I
can't say exactly what Gentleman Once did when his wife died. He might
have gone down to a deeper depth than Danny's. He might have risen higher
than he had ever been before. From what I knew of his character he would
never have gone down an easy slope as Danny has done. He might have
dropped plump at first and then climbed up. Anyway, he had the memory of
the last two years to help him.

"Then there's the reformed drunkard who has trained himself to take a
drink when he needs it, to drink in moderation--he's the strongest
character of all, I think--but it's time to turn in."

The cornet up the creek was playing a march.

Peter walked across and looked at Danny, who seemed to be sleeping as
peacefully as could be expected of him.

Jack Barnes got up and walked slowly down the creek in the moonlight. He
wanted to think.

Peter rolled out his blankets on the grass and arranged his saddle-bags
for a pillow. Before he turned in Mitchell shook hands with him, a most
unusual and unnecessary proceeding in camp. But there's something in the
bush grip which means "I know," or "I understand."

Joe Wilson rolled out his blankets close to Mitchell's camp; he wanted to
enjoy some of Mitchell's quiet humour before he went to sleep, but
Mitchell wasn't in a philosophical mood. He wanted to reflect.

"I wonder who Gentleman Once was?" said Joe to Mitchell. "Could he have
been Danny, or old Awful Example back there at the shanty?"

"Dunno," said Mitchell. He puffed three long puffs at his pipe, and then
said, reflectively

"I've heard men tell their own stories before to-night Joe."

It was Joe who wanted to think now.


About four o'clock Mitchell woke and stood up. Peter was lying rolled in
his blanket with his face turned to the west. The moon was low, the
shadows had shifted back, and the light was on Peter's face. Mitchell
stood looking at him reverently, as a grown son might who sees his father
asleep for the first time. Then Mitchell quietly got some boughs and
stuck them in the ground at a little distance from Peter's head, to shade
his face from the bright moonlight; and then he turned in again to sleep
till the sun woke him.



THE GHOSTS OF MANY CHRISTMASES

DID you ever trace back your Christmas days?--right back to the days when
you were innocent and Santa Claus was real. At times you thought you were
very wicked, but you never realize how innocent you were until you've
grown up and knocked about the world.

Let me think!

Christmas in an English village, with bare hedges and trees, and leaden
skies that lie heavy on our souls as we walk, with overcoat and umbrella,
sons of English exiles and exiles in England, and think of bright skies
and suns overhead, and sweeps of country disappearing into the haze, and
blue mountain ranges melting into the azure of distant lower skies, and
curves of white and yellow sand beaches, and runs of shelving yellow
sandstone sea-walls--and the glorious Pacific! Sydney Harbour at sunrise,
and the girls we took to Manly Beach.

Christmas in a London flat. Gloom and slush and soot. It is not the cold
that affects us Australians so much, but the horrible gloom. We get
heart-sick for the sun.

Christmas at sea--three Christmases, in fact--one going saloon from
Sydney to Westralia early in the Golden Nineties with funds; and one, the
Christmas after next, coming back steerage with nothing but the clothes
we'd slept in. All of which was bad judgment on our part--the order and
manner of our going and coming should have been reversed.

Christmas in a hessian tent in " th' Westren," with so many old mates
from the East that it was just old times oven again. We had five pounds
of corned beef and a kerosene-tin to boil it in; and while we were
talking of old things the skeleton of a kangaroo-dog grabbed the beef out
of the boiling water and disappeared into the scrub--which made it seem
more like old times than ever.

Christmas going to New Zealand, with experience, by the s.s. Tasmania. We
had plum duff, but it was too "soggy" for us to eat. We dropped it
overboard, lest it should swamp the boat--and it sank to the ooze. The
Tasmania was saved on that occasion, but she foundered next year outside
Gisborne. Perhaps the cook had made more duff. There was a letter from a
sweetheart of mine amongst her mails when she went down; but that's got
nothing to do with it, though it made some difference in my life.

Christmas on a new telegraph line with a party of lining gangmen in New
Zealand. There was no duff nor roast because there was no firewood within
twenty miles. The cook used to pile armfuls of flax-sticks under the
billies, and set light to them when the last man arrived in camp.

Christmas in Sydney, with a dozen invitations out to dinner. The one we
accepted was to a sensible Australian Christmas dinner; a typical one, as
it should be, and will be before the Commonwealth is many years old.
Everything cold except the vegetables, the hose playing on the veranda
and vines outside, the men dressed in sensible pyjama-like suits, and the
women and girls fresh and cool and jolly, instead of being hot and cross
and looking like boiled carrots, and feeling like boiled rags, and having
headaches after dinner, as would have been the case had they broiled over
the fire in a hot kitchen all the blazing forenoon to cook a scalding,
indigestible dinner, as many Australian women do, and for no other reason
than that it was the fashion in England. One of those girls was very
pretty and--ah, well!--

Christmas dinner in a greasy Sydney sixpenny restaurant, that opened a
few days before with brass band going at full blast at the door by way of
advertisement. "Roast-beef, one! Cabbage and potatoes, one! Plum pudding,
two!" (That was the first time I dined to music.) The Christmas dinner
was a good one, but my appetite was spoilt by the expression of the
restaurant keeper, a big man with a heavy jowl, who sat by the door with
a cold eye on the sixpences, and didn't seem to have much confidence in
human nature.

Christmas--no, that was New Year--on the Warrego River, out back (an
alleged river with a sickly stream that looked like bad milk). We spent
most of that night hunting round in the dark and feeling on the ground
for camel and horse droppings with which to build fires and make smoke
round our camp to keep off the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes started at
sunset and left off at daybreak, when the flies got to work again.

Christmas dinner under a brush shearing-shed. Mutton and plum
pudding--and fifty miles from beer!

An old bush friend of mine, one Jimmy Nowlett, who ranked as a
bullock-driver, told me of a Christmas time he had. He was cut off by the
floods with his team, and had nothing to eat for four days but potatoes
and honey. He said potatoes dipped in honey weren't so bad; but he had to
sleep on bullock yokes laid on the ground to keep him out of the water,
and he got a toothache that paralysed him all down one side.

And speaking of plum pudding, I consider it one of the most barbarous
institutions of the British. It is a childish, silly, savage
superstition; it must have been a savage inspiration, looking at it all
round--but then it isn't so long since the British were savages.

I got a letter last year from a mate of mine in Western
Australia--prospecting the awful desert out beyond White Feather--telling
me all about a "perish" he did on plum pudding. He and his mates were
camped at the Boulder Soak with some three or four hundred miles--mostly
sand and dust--between them and the nearest grocer's shop. They ordered a
case of mixed canned provisions from Perth to reach them about Christmas.
They didn't believe in plum pudding--there are a good many British
institutions that bushmen don't believe in--but the cook was a new chum,
and he said he'd go home to his mother if he didn't have plum pudding for
Christmas, so they ordered a can for him. Meanwhile, they hung out on
kangaroo and damper and the knowledge that it couldn't last for ever. It
was in a terrible drought, and the kangaroos used to come into the "Soak"
for water, and they were too weak to run. Later on, when wells were dug,
the kangaroos used to commit suicide in them--there was generally a
kangaroo in the well in the morning.

The storekeeper packed the case of tinned dog, etc., but by some blunder
he or his man put the label on the wrong box, and it went per rail, per
coach, per camel, and the last stage per boot, and reached my friends'
camp on Christmas Eve, to their great joy. My friend broke the case open
by the light of the camp-fire.

"Here, Jack!" he said, tossing out a can, "here's your plum pudding."

He held the next can in his hand a moment longer and read the label
twice.

"Why! he's sent two," he said, "and I'm sure I only ordered one. Never
mind--Jack'll have a tuck-out."

He held the next can close to the fire and blinked at it hard.

"I'm damned if he hasn't sent three tins of plum pudding. Never mind,
we'll manage to scoff some of it between us. You're in luck's way this
trip, Jack, and no mistake."

He looked harder still at the fourth can; then he read the labels on the
other tins again to see if he'd made a mistake.

He didn't tell me what he said then, but a milder mate suggested that the
storekeeper had sent half a dozen tins by mistake. But when they reached
the seventh can the language was not even fit to be written down on a
piece of paper and handed up to the magistrate. The storekeeper had sent
them an unbroken case of canned plum pudding, and probably by this time
he was wondering what had become of that blanky case of duff.

The kangaroos disappeared about this time and my friend tells me that he
and his mates had to live for a mortal fortnight on canned plum pudding.
They tried it cold and they tried it boiled, they tried it baked, they
had it fried, and they had it toasted, they had it for breakfast, dinner
and tea. They had nothing else to think, or talk, or argue and quarrel
about; and they dreamed about it every night, my friend says. It wasn't a
joke--it gave them the nightmare and day-horrors.

They tried it with salt. They picked as many of the raisins out as they
could and boiled it with salt kangaroo. They tried to make Yorkshire
pudding out of it; but it was too rich.

My friend was experimenting and trying to discover a simple process for
separating the ingredients of plum pudding when a fresh supply of
provisions came along. He says he was never so sick of anything in his
life, and he has had occasion to be sick of a good many things.

The new-chum jackeroo is still alive, but he won't ever eat plum pudding
any more, he says. It cured him of home-sickness. He wouldn't eat it even
if his bride made it.


Christmas on the goldfields in the last of the roaring days, in the palmy
days of Gulgong and those fields. Let's see! it must be nearly thirty
years ago! Oh, how the time goes by!

Santa Claus, young, fresh-faced and eager; Santa Claus, blonde and
flaxen; Santa Claus, dark; Santa Claus with a brogue and Santa Claus
speaking broken English; Santa Claus as a Chinaman (Sun Tong Lee & Co.
storekeepers), with strange, delicious sweets that melted in our mouths,
and rum toys and Chinese dolls for the children.

Lucky diggers who were with difficulty restrained from putting pound
notes and nuggets and expensive lockets and things into the little ones'
stockings. Santa Claus in flannel shirt and clay-covered moleskins.
Diggers who bought lollies by the pound and sent the little ones home
with as much as they could carry.

Diggers who gave a guinea or more for a toy for a child that reminded
them of some other child at home. Diggers who took as many children as
they could gather on short notice into a store, slapped a five-pound note
down on the counter and told the little ones to call for whatever they
wanted. Who set a family of poor children side by side on the counter and
called for a box of mixed children's boots--the best-and fitted them on
with great care and anxiety and frequent inquiries as to whether they
pinched. Who stood little girls and boys on the counter and called for
the most expensive frocks, the latest and best in sailor suits, and the
brightest ribbons; and things came long distances by bullock dray and
were expensive in those days. Impressionable diggers--and most of them
were--who threw nuggets to singers, and who, sometimes, slipped a parcel
into the hands of a little boy or girl, with instructions to give it to
an elder sister (or young mother, perhaps) whom the digger had never
spoken to, only worshipped from afar off. And the elder sister or young
mother, opening the parcel, would find a piece of jewellery or a costly
article of dress, and wonder who sent it.

Ah, the wild generosity of luck-intoxicated diggers of those days! and
the reckless generosity of the drinkers. "We thought it was going to last
for ever!"

"If I don't spend it on the bairns I'll spend it on the drink," Sandy
Burns used to say. "I ha' nane o' me own, an' the lass who was to gi' me
bairns, she couldn't wait."

Sandy had kept steady and travelled from one end of the world to the
other, and roughed it and toiled for five years, and the very day he
bottomed his golden hole on the Brown Snake Lead at Happy Valley he got a
letter from his girl in Scotland to say she had grown tired of waiting
and was married. Then he drank, and drink and luck went together.

Gulgong on New Year's Eve! Rows and rows of lighted tents and camp-fires,
with a clear glow over it all. Bonfires on the hills and diggers romping
round them like big boys. Tin kettling--gold dishes and spoons, and
fiddles, and hammers on pointing anvils, and sticks and empty
kerosene-tins (they made a row); concertinas and cornets, shot-guns,
pistols and crackers, all sorts of instruments, and "Auld Lang Syne" in
one mighty chorus.

And now--a wretched little pastoral town; a collection of glaring
corrugated-iron hip-roofs, and maybe a rotting propped-up bark or
weather-board humpy or two-relics of the roaring days; a dried-up
storekeeper and some withered hags; a waste of caved-in holes with
rain-washed mullock heaps and quartz and gravel glaring in the sun;
thistles and burrs where old bars were; drought, dryness, desolation and
goats.

Lonely graves in the bush and grey old diggers here and there, anywhere
in the world, doing anything for a living, lonely yet because of the
girls who couldn't wait, but prospecting and fossicking here and there,
and dreaming still.

They thought it was going to last for ever.


Christmas at Eurunderee Creek, amongst the old selection farms in the
western spurs of the Blue Mountains. They used to call it "Th' Pipeclay"
thirty years ago, but the old black names have been restored. They make
plum puddings yet, weeks beforehand, and boil them for hours and hang
them in cloths to the rafters to petrify; then they take them down and
boil them again. On Christmas Eve the boys cut boughs or young pines on
the hills, and drag them home and lash them to the veranda-posts.

Ted has turned up with his wife and children from his selection out back.
The wheat is in and shearing is over on the big stations.
Tom--steady-going old Tom--clearing or fencing or dam-sinking up-country,
hides his tools in the scrub and gets his horse and rides home. Aunt Emma
(to everyone's joy) has arrived from Sydney with presents (astonishing
bargains in frocks, etc.) and marvellous descriptions of town life.

Joe, "poor" Mary's husband, who has been droving in Queensland since the
Christmas before last--while poor Mary, who is afraid to live alone,
shared a skillion and the family quarrels at home Joe rides day and night
and reaches home at sunrise on Christmas morning, tired and dusty, gaunt
and haggard, but with his last cheque intact. He kisses his wife and
child and throws himself on the bed to sleep till dinner-time, while Mary
moves round softly, hushes the baby, dresses it and herself, lays out
Joe's clean things, and bends over him now and then, and kisses him,
perhaps, as he sleeps.

In the morning the boys and some of the men go down to the creek for a
swim in the big shady pool under the she-oaks and take their Sunday
clothes with them and dress there.

Some of them ride into town to church, and some of the women and children
drive in in spring-carts--the children to go to Sunday school, leaving
mother and the eldest daughter--usually a hard-worked, disappointed,
short-tempered girl--at home to look after the cooking.

There is some anxiety (mostly on mother's part) about Jim, who is "wild,"
and is supposed to be somewhere out back. There was "a piece of blue
paper" out for Jim on account of sweating (illegally using) a horse, but
his mother or father has got a hint--given in a kindly way by the
police-sergeant--that Jim is free to come home and stay at home if he
behaves himself. (There is usually a horse missing when Jim goes out
back.)

Jim turns up all right--save that he has no money--and is welcomed with
tearful affection by his favourite sister Mary, shakes hands silently
with his father, and has a long whispered conversation with his mother,
which leaves him very subdued. His brothers forbear to sneer at him,
partly because it is Christmas, partly on mother's account, and thirdly,
because Jim can use his hands. Aunt Emma, who is fond of him, cheers him
up wonderfully.

The family sit down to dinner. "An old mate of your father's"--a bearded
old digger--has arrived and takes the place of honour. ("I knowed yer
father, sonny, on the diggings long afore any of you was ever thought
on.")

The family have only been a few hours together, yet there is an
undercurrent of growling, that, to the stranger, mysterious yet evident
undercurrent of nastiness and resentment which goes on in all families
and drags many a promising young life down. But Aunt Emma and the old
mate make things brighter, and so the dinner--of hot roast and red-hot
plum pudding--passes off fairly well.

The men sleep the afternoon away and wake up bathed in perspiration and
helpless; some of the women have headaches. After tea they gather on the
veranda in the cool of the evening, and that's the time when the best
sides of their natures and the best parts of the past have a chance of
coming uppermost, and perhaps they begin to feel a bit sorry that they
are going to part again.

The local races or "sports" on Boxing Day. There is nothing to keep the
boys home over New Year. Ted and his wife go back to their lonely life on
their selection; Tom returns to his fencing or tank-sinking contract;
Jim, who has borrowed "a couple of quid" from Tom, goes out back with
strong resolutions for the New Year, and shears "stragglers," breaks in
horses, cooks and clerks for survey parties, and gambles and drinks, and
gets into trouble again. Maybe Joe "knocks about" the farm a bit before
going into the Great North-West with another mob of cattle.

The last time I saw the Old Year out at Eurunderee the bushfires were
burning all over the ranges, and looked like great cities lighted up. No
need for bonfires then.

Christmas in Bourke, the metropolis of the great pastoral scrubs and
plains, five hundred miles west, with the thermometer
one-hundred-and-something-scarey in the shade. The rough, careless
shearers come in from stations many dusty miles out in the scrubs to have
their Christmas sprees, to drink and "shout" and fight--and have the
horrors some of them--and be run in and locked up with difficulty, within
sound of a church-going bell.

The Bourke Christmas is a very beery and exciting one. The hotels shut up
in front on Christmas Day to satisfy the law (or out of consideration for
the feelings of the sergeant in charge of the police station), and open
behind to satisfy the public, who are supposed to have made the law.

Sensible cold dinners are the fashion in Bourke, I think, with the hose
going, and free-and-easy costumes.

The free males take their blankets and sleep in the "park;" the women
sleep with doors and windows open, and the married men on mattresses on
the verandas across the open doors--in case of accidents.

Christmas in Sydney, though Christmas holidays are not so popular as
Easter, or even Anniversary Day, in the Queen city of the South. Buses,
electric, cable and the old steam trams crowded with holiday-makers with
baskets. Harbour boats loaded down to the water's edge with harbour
picnic-parties. "A trip round the harbour and to the head of Middle
Harbour one shilling return!" Strings of tourist trains running over the
Blue Mountains and the Great Zigzag, and up the coast to Gosford and
Brisbane Water, and down the south coast to beautiful Illawarra, until
after New Year. Hundreds of young fellows going out with tents to fish in
lonely bays or shoot in the mountains, and rough it properly like
bushmen--not with deck chairs, crockery, a piano and servants. For you
can camp in the grand and rugged solitude of the bush within a stone's
throw of the city, so to speak.

Jolly camps and holiday parties all round the beautiful bays of the
harbour, and up and down the coast, and all close to home. Camps in the
moonlight on sandy beaches under great dark bluffs and headlands, where
yellow, shelving, sandstone cliffs run, broken only by sandy-beached
bays, and where the silver-white breakers leap and roar.

And Manly Beach on a holiday! Thousands of people in fresh summer dress,
hundreds of bare-legged, happy children running where the "blue sea over
the white sand rolls," racing in and out with the rollers, playing with
the glorious Pacific. Manly--"Our Village"--Manly Beach, where we used to
take our girls, with the most beautiful harbour in the world on one side,
and the width of the grandest ocean on the other. Ferny gullies and
"fairy dells" to north and south, and every shady nook its merry party or
happy couple.

Manly Beach--I remember five years ago (oh, how the time goes by!)--and
two names that were written together in the sand when the tide was coming
in.

And the boat home in the moonlight, past the Heads, where we felt the
roll of the ocean, and the moonlit harbour--and the harbour lights of
Sydney--the grandest of them all.


THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia