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Title:  The Prose Works of Henry Lawson Volume I
Author: Henry Lawson
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The Prose Works of Henry Lawson
Volume I

by
Henry Lawson

Contents
of Volume I

While The Billy Boils
First Series

An Old Mate Of Your Father’s
Settling On The Land
Enter Mitchell
Stiffner And Jim (Thirdly, Bill)
When The Sun Went Down
The Man Who Forgot
Hungerford
A Camp-Fire Yarn
His Country — After All
A Day On A Selection
That There Dog O’ Mine
Going Blind
Arvie Aspinall’s Alarm Clock
Stragglers
The Union Buries Its Dead
On The Edge Of A Plain
In A Dry Season
He’d Come Back
Another Of Mitchell’s Plans For The Future
Steelman
Drifted Back
Remailed
Mitchell Doesn’t Believe In The Sack
Shooting The Moon
His Father’s Mate
An Echo From The Old Bark School
The Shearing Of The Cook’s Dog
Dossing Out And Camping
Across The Straits
Some Day
Brummy Usen

While the Billy Boils
Second Series

The Drover’s Wife
Steelman’s Pupil
An Unfinished Love Story
Board And Residence
His Colonial Oath
A Visit Of Condolence
In A Wet Season
“Rats”
Mitchell: A Character Sketch
The Bush Undertaker
Our Pipes
Coming Across
The Story Of Malachi
Two Dogs And A Fence
Jones’s Alley
Bogg of Geebung
She Wouldn’t Speak
The Geological Spieler
Macquarie’s Mate
Baldy Thompson
For Auld Lang Syne

On The Track

The Songs They used to Sing
A Vision of Sandy Blight
Andy Page’s Rival
The Iron-Bark Chip
Middleton’s Peter
The Mystery of Dave Regan
Mitchell on Matrimony
Mitchell on Women
No Place for a Woman
Mitchell’s Jobs
Bill, the Ventriloquial Rooster
Bush Cats
Meeting Old Mates
Two Larrikins
Mr. Smellingscheck
“A Rough Shed”
Payable Gold
An Oversight of Steelman’s
How Steelman told his Story

Over The Sliprails

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

While the Billy Boils
First Series

 

An Old Mate Of Your Father’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who was she, Tom?”

And Tom—father—would say:

“Oh, you didn’t know her, Mary; she belonged to a family Bill knew at home.”

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

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

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

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

“Have you got that bit of straw yet, Tom?”

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

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

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

Settling On The Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Tom came out there was little left for him to live for; but he took a job of fencing, got a few pounds together, and prepared to settle on the land some more. He got a “missus” and a few cows during the next year; the missus robbed him and ran away with the dummy, and the cows died in the drought, or were impounded by the squatter while on their way to water. Then Tom rented an orchard up the creek, and a hailstorm destroyed all the fruit. Germany happened to be represented at the time, Jacob having sought shelter at Tom’s hut on his way home from town. Tom stood leaning against the door post with the hail beating on him through it all. His eyes were very bright and very dry, and every breath was a choking sob. Jacob let him stand there, and sat inside with a dreamy expression on his hard face, thinking of childhood and fatherland, perhaps. When it was over he led Tom to a stool and said, “You waits there, Tom. I must go home for somedings. You sits there still and waits twenty minutes;” then he got on his horse and rode off muttering to himself; “Dot man moost gry, dot man moost gry.” He was back inside of twenty minutes with a bottle of wine and a cornet under his overcoat. He poured the wine into two pint-pots, made Tom drink, drank himself, and then took his cornet, stood up at the door, and played a German march into the rain after the retreating storm. The hail had passed over his vineyard and he was a ruined man too. Tom did “gry” and was all right. He was a bit disheartened, but he did another job of fencing, and was just beginning to think about “puttin’ in a few vines an’ fruit-trees” when the government surveyors—whom he’d forgotten all about—had a resurrection and came and surveyed, and found that the real selection was located amongst some barren ridges across the creek. Tom reckoned it was lucky he didn’t plant the orchard, and he set about shifting his home and fences to the new site. But the squatter interfered at this point, entered into possession of the farm and all on it, and took action against the selector for trespass—laying the damages at £2500.

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

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

Enter Mitchell

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

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

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

“Cab, Sir!”

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

“Now, do I look as if I want a cab?”

“Well, why not? No harm, anyway—I thought you might want a cab.”

Swaggy scratched his head, reflectively.

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

“To go where you’re going, of course.”

“Do I look knocked up?”

“I didn’t say you did.”

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

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

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

“Why not? Who’ll stop me! There ain’t no law agin it, I b’lieve?”

“But then, you see, it don’t look well, you know.”

“Ah! I thought we’d get to it at last.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stiffner And Jim
(Thirdly, Bill)

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

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

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

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

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

“Something’s got to be done, Bill! What do you think of it?”

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

Bill said:

“We’ll have to sharpen our teeth, that’s all, and chew somebody’s lug.”

“How?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, what’s than” I said.

“Smoke!”

“Smoke be damned,” I snarled, losing my temper.

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

“Well, then,” says Bill, “I’ll toss you to see who’s to face the landlord.”

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

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

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

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

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

Stiffner came in.

“Good morning!”

“Good morning, sir,” says Stiffner.

“It’ll be a nice day, I think?”

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

“Yes, we’ll have to make a move to-day.”

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

“Right you are! Where’s your mate?”

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

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

“What’s yours, boss?” I said.

“Thankee!... Here’s luck!”

“Here’s luck!”

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

“I think I’ll take one of them there flasks of whisky to last us on the road.”

“Right y’are,” says Stiffner. “What’ll ye have—a small one or a big one?”

“Oh, a big one, I think—if I can get it into my pocket.”

“It’ll be a tight squeeze,” he said, and he laughed.

“I’ll try,” I said. “Bet you two drinks I’ll get it in.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lend us the boot, and I’ll fix it in a minute. That’s my old trade.”

“Oh, so you’re a shoemaker,” he said. “I’d never have thought it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, well, we’ll call it thirty bob.”

Perhaps he thought I’d slap down two quid.

“Well,” I says, “and what will you do supposing we don’t pay you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I shut him up. He made me mad.

“Why, you—! What the sheol did you do?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Where the deuce did you get that?”

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

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

My eyes bulged out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We did. I wanted it.”

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

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

P.S.—The name of this should have been: ‘Bill and Stiffner (thirdly, Jim)’

When The Sun Went Down

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

“You ain’t going to let the sun go down, are you, Tom?”

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

“Lower away!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tom! Tom! For Christ’s sake come here!”

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

“To the face, Jack! To the face, for your life!”

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

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

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

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

“All right, Jack!”

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

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

“Oh, God! my back!” he cried.

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

“Jack!” he gasped, “Jack!”

“Right, old man; what’s the matter?”

“I’ve hurt my heart, Jack!—Put your hand—quick!... The sun’s going down.”

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

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

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

The Man Who Forgot

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

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

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

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

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

“Done,” cried Mitchell, the goat of the shed. “I’ll go halves!—or stay, let’s form a syndicate and work the Mystery.”

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

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

The chaps guffawed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom looked disheartened and disappointed. “He’s forgot again,” said he, slowly and impressively.

“Forgot what? We know he’s blessed well forgot to come to graft.”

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

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

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

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

“Why ain’t you at work?”

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

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

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

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

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

It was ascertained that Smith hadn’t.

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

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

Tom looked hard at Mitchell. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hungerford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s what I think of the blanky colonies!” he said.

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

“And if I was at the Victorian and South Australian border I’d do the same thing.”

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

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

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

Consequently, Clancy’s unfavourable opinion of the colonies.

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

A Camp-Fire Yarn

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

“‘You get married again!’ said Mary. ‘Why, father, you wouldn’t get anyone to marry you—who’d have you?’

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

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

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

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

“And what did she say?” asked Mitchell’s mate, after a pause.

“She said she wouldn’t have me at any price!”

The mate laughed, and Mitchell grinned his quiet grin.

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

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

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

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

“What did she do?”

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

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

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

Then Mitchell’s mate told a yarn.

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

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

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

“Well, Bobbie went with her like a—like a lamb; never gave a kick or tried to clear.”

“Hold on,” said Mitchell, “did you ever shear lambs?”

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

“‘Bobbie, Bobbie!’ she says, ‘Where are you going?’

“‘I’m going to bed,’ said Bobbie. ‘Good night!’

“‘Bobbie, Bobbie,’ she says, sharply. ‘That isn’t our room; this is our room, Bobbie. Come back at once! What do you mean, Bobbie? Do you hear me, Bobbie?

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

“‘Bobbie, Bobbie!’ she said, ‘Come and kiss me, Bobbie!’” And he had to do it in front of them all.

“But I believe she made him a good wife.”

His Country-After All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long did you stay there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opposition collapsed.

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

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

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

“But it looks as if anything else would—”

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” said the driver, flicking his horses, “they are.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A thunderin’ old blue-gum!” ejaculated the traveller, regarding the tree with great interest.

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

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

“Well, for my part,” said a tourist in the coach, presently, in a condescending tone, “I can’t see much in Australia. The bally colonies are—”

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

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

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

A Day On A Selection

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

“T-o-o-mmay!”

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

Tomm-a-a-y!”

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

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

Tommy!

“Y-e-e-a-a-s-s!” very passionately and shrilly.

“Ain’t you goin’ to bring those cows down to-day?”

“Y-e-e-a-a-s-s-s!—carn’t yer see I’m comin’?”

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

An hour goes by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corney George (continuing conversation): “But Henry George says, in ‘Progress and Poverty,’ he says—”

Missus (to the fowls): “Shoo! Shoo!”

Corney: “He says—”

Tom: “Marther, jist speak to this Jack.”

Missus (to Jack): “If you can’t behave yourself, leave the table.”

Tom [Corney, probably]: “He says in Progress and—”

Missus: “Shoo!”

Neighbour: “I think ‘Lookin’ Backwards’ is more—”

Missus: “Shoo! Shoo! Tom, can’t you see that fowl?”

Selector: “Now I think ‘Caesar’s Column’ is more likely—Just look at—”

Missus: “Shoo! Shoo!”

Selector: “Just look at the French Revolution.”

Corney: “Now, Henry George—”

Tom: “Marther! I seen a old-man kangaroo up on—”

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

Selector: “Just look at the French—”

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

Neighbour: “But ‘Lookin’ Backwards’ is more—”

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

Selector: “I think ‘Caesar’s Column’ is the only natural—”

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

Selector: “There’s no doubt the man’s mad—”

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

Corney: “But, missus, you—”

Missus (to the fowls): “Shoo! Shoo!”

That There Dog O’ Mine

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

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

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

Macquarie said nothing.

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

“Tie him up in the yard then.”

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

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

“What are you going to do?” they asked.

“You ain’t going to let my dog stop?”

“No. It’s against the rules. There are no dogs allowed on premises.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He rested again.

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

He took another spell.

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

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

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

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

Half an hour later the shearer was comfortably fixed up.

“Where’s my dog!” he asked, when he came to himself.

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

Going Blind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arvie Aspinall’s Alarm Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Better or worse, I’ll have to go to work to-morrow. Gimme the clock, mother.”

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

“It’s no use talking, mother; we can’t starve—and—s’posin’ somebody got my place! Gimme the clock, mother.”

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

“Tain’t no use; they won’t wait; I know them—what does Grinder Bros care if I’m ill? Never mind, mother, I’ll rise above ’em all yet. Give me the clock, mother.”

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

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

He paused to read some words engraved round the dial:

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

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

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

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

Arvie commenced to mutter in his sleep.

“Can’t you get to sleep, Arvie?” she asked. “Is your throat sore? Can I get anything for you?”

“I’d like to sleep,” he muttered, dreamily, “but it won’t seem more’n a moment before—before—”

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

“Before the alarm goes off!”

 He was talking in his sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh! my God!” she moaned.

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

Stragglers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve heard he’s a dirty and slow cook,” says one, addressing Eternity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Union Buries Its Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presently my friend said:

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

“Yes.”

He nodded at the hearse and said “Well, that’s him.”

I thought awhile.

“I didn’t take any particular notice of him,” I said. “He said something, didn’t he?”

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

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

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

“There’s the Devil.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So his name’s James Tyson,” said my drover acquaintance, looking at the plate.

“Why! Didn’t you know that before?” I asked.

“No; but I knew he was a Union man.”

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

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

On The Edge Of A Plain

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

Here he took a pull at his water-bag.

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

He lit his pipe.

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

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

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

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

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

He cut up some more tobacco.

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

“Get drunk?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

In A Dry Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody said, “Here’s Bourke.”

He’d Come Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sympathetic silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lally Thompson: “My oath!”

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

Cries of “Order!”

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

“Reparation,” suggested the joker.

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

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

Bogan Bill nodded approvingly.

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

Long, impressive pause.

“Well, Jack, what did she do?” asked Bogan.

“She didn’t do nothing.”

“Well, Jack, and what did she say?”

Jack sighed and straightened himself up: “She said—she said—’Well, so you’ve come back.’”

“Painful silence.

“Well, Jack, and what did you say?”

“I said yes.”

“Well, and so you had!” said Tom Moonlight.

“It wasn’t that, Tom,” said Jack sadly and wearily—“It was the way she said it!”

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

“I stayed for a year, and then I deserted her again—but meant it that time.”

“Ah, well! It’s time to turn in.”

Another Of Mitchell’s Plans For The Future

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

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

“‘How many have you got?’ I’ll say.

“‘Oh, about fifteen hundred.’

“‘And what d’you think of giving?’

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

“‘It’s all right,’ I’ll say, ‘you needn’t bother; I’ll shear your sheep.’

“‘Why,’ he’ll say, ‘can you shear?’

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

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

“‘Why, what do you want to go for?’ he’ll say, surprised, ‘ain’t you satisfied?’

“‘Oh, yes, I’m satisfied, but I want a change.’

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

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

“‘Well, what about that there girl? Are you goin’ to go away and leave her like that?’

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

“‘Oh!’ he’ll say, ‘you know very well what I mean. The question is: Are you going to marry the girl or not?’

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

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

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

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

Steelman

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

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

Steelman knew his men.

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

“Why, my good woman, you must be mad! I’m your husband’s guest!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter with the little room at the back?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

Mrs Brown said, “I knew you would.”

Steelman knew his men.

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

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

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

Drifted Back

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

“Good afternoon,” said the grocer.

“Good afternoon.”

Pause.

“Nice day,” said the grocer.

Pause.

“Anything I can do for you?”

“Yes; tell the old man there’s a chap wants to speak to him for a minute.”

“Old man? What old man?”

“Hake, of course—old Ben Hake! Ain’t he in?”

The grocer smiled.

“Hake ain’t here now. I’m here.”

“How’s that?”

“Why, he sold out to me ten years ago.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll find him somewhere about town?”

“I don’t think you will. He left Australia when he sold out. He’s—he’s dead now.”

“Dead! Old Ben Hake?”

“Yes. You knew him, then?”

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

“You can give me half a pound of nailrod,” he said, in a quiet tone—“I s’pose young Hake is in town?”

“No; the whole family went away. I think there’s one of the sons in business in Sydney now.”

“I s’pose the M’Lachlans are here yet?”

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

“Ah, well!... I see you’ve got the railway here now.”

“Oh, yes! Six years.”

“Times is changed a lot.”

“They are.”

“I s’pose—I s’pose you can tell me where I’ll find old Jimmy Nowlett?”

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

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

“Before my time, perhaps. There’s no one of that name round here now.”

“Ah, well!... I don’t suppose you knew the Duggans?”

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

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

“Right. I suppose it’s a long time since you were here last?”

“Fifteen years.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes. I don’t s’pose I remind you of anyone you know around here?”

“N—no!” said the grocer with a smile. “I can’t say you do.”

“Ah, well! I s’pose I’ll find the Wilds still living in the same place?”

“The Wilds? Well, no. The old man is dead, too, and—”

“And—and where’s Jim? He ain’t dead?”

“No; he’s married and settled down in Sydney.”

Long pause.

“Can you—” said the stranger, hesitatingly; “did you—I suppose you knew Mary—Mary Wild?”

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

“No, no! She mightn’t remember me!”

He reached hastily for his swag, and shouldered it.

“Well, I must be gettin’ on.”

“I s’pose you’ll camp here over Christmas?”

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

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

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

“Yes, it’s been pretty hot to-day.”

“Yes, it has. Well, s’long.”

“Good day. Merry Christmas!”

“Eh? What? Oh, yes! Same to you! S’long!”

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

Remailed

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

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

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

And Bill says:

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

And, when it is finally lent, Bill says:

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

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

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

Mr. James Mitchell,
      c/o J.  W.  Dowell, Esq.,
           Munnigrub Station—

and so on. “Mitchell” seems strange—Bill couldn’t think of it for the moment—and so does “James.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mitchell Doesn’t Believe In The Sack

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

“But supposing you git the sack?” said his mate.

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

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

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

“‘Why, Mitchell,’ he’ll say, ‘I thought you was gone.’

“‘I didn’t say I was going,’ I’ll say. ‘Who told you that—or what made you think so?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shooting The Moon

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

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

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

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

“This reminds me—Have you got the knife? My pipe’s stuffed up.”

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

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

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

“To hang yourself with?” asked the mate.

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

“And sometimes you lower’d out when there wasn’t a fire.”

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

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

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

“Well, we chummed. His name was Tom—Tom—something, I forget the other name, but it doesn’t matter. Have you got the matches?”

He wasted three matches, and continued—

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

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

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

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

“‘All right?’ I asked in a whisper.

“‘All right!” whispered the shadow.

“I lowered the other swag.

“‘All right?’

“‘All right!’ said the shadow, and just then the moon came out.

“‘All right!’ says the shadow.

“But it wasn’t all right. It was the landlord himself!

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

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

“I felt mean at once, but I said: ‘Well, you see, we didn’t know you, boss.’

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

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

“Well, he was white, any road.”

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

“And did you stoush him?”

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

“Did what? Make a mess of it?”

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

“And could Tom fight?”

“Yes. Tom could fight.”

“Did you travel long with him after that?”

“Ten years.”

“And where is he now?”

“Dead—Give us the matches.”

His Father’s Mate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isley!”

“Yes, father.”

“Send down the bucket.”

“Right.”

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

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

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

“Now then, Isley!”

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

“Isley!” called his father again.

“Yes, father.”

“Have you done that writing lesson yet?”

“Very near.”

“Then send down the slate next time for some sums.”

“All right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look, see here Isley!”

“What is it, Bob?”

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

“Can’t leave the shaft; father’s b’low.”

“How did yer father know there was any—why—wash in the old shaft?”

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

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

“What are yer—why—doin’ on the slate, Isley?” said he, taking out an old clay pipe and lighting it.

“Sums,” said Isley.

Bob puffed away at his pipe a moment.

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

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

“Isley!”

“Right, father.”

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

“You’ll be—why—a strong man some day, Isley,” said Bob, landing the bucket.

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

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

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

“You hed a—why—brother once, didn’t yer?”

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

“And your father hed a brother, too. Did yer ever—why—hear of him?”

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

“And was yer—why—father—why—fond of him?”

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

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

“Eh?” said Isley.

“Oh, it’s—why, why—nothin’,” answered Bob, rousing himself. “Is that a paper in yer father’s coat-pocket, Isley?”

“Yes,” said the boy, taking it out.

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

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

“No, thet’s not it,” said the boy, taking the paper, “it’s something about—”

“Isley!”

“‘Old on, Bob, father wants me.”

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

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

“Mason!”

“Ay?”

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

A few moments, and—

“Now, Bob!”

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

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

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

Presently Isley gave a gasp and opened his eyes.

“Are yer—why—hurt much, Isley?” asked Bob.

“Ba-back’s bruk, Bob!”

“Not so bad as that, old man.”

“Where’s father?”

“Coming up.”

Silence awhile, and then—

“Father! father! be quick, father!”

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

“I’ll, I’ll—why—run fur some brandy,” said Bob.

“No use, Bob,” said Isley. “I’m all bruk up.”

“Don’t yer feel better, sonny?”

“No—I’m—goin’ to—die, Bob.”

“Don’t say it, Isley,” groaned Bob.

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

“Good-bye, Bob!”

Bob made a vain attempt to speak. “Isley!” he said,”—”

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

“Father—father, I’m goin’!”

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

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

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

“He never knowed.”

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

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

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

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

“It will be the last I’ll be able to—why—do for him,” he said.

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

“Knock that table to pieces,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go in; don’t be afraid,’” he said to his companion.

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

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

“Father!”

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

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

“Father! Do you want another mate?”

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

An Echo From The Old Bark School

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

“Arvie Aspinall.”... “’Es, sir.”

“David Cooper.”... “Yes, sir.”

“John Heegard.”... “Yezzer.”

“Joseph Swallow.”... “Yesser.”

“James Bullock.”... “Present.”

“Frederick Swallow.”... “Y’sir.”

“James Nowlett.”... . (Chorus of “Absent.”)

“William Atkins.”... (Chorus of “Absent.”)

“Daniel Lyons.”... “Perresent, sor-r-r.”

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

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

“Bertha Lambert.”... “Yes, ’air.”

“May Carey.”... “Pesin’, sair.”

“Rose Cooper.”... “Yes, sir.”

“Janet Wild.”... “Y-y-yes, s-sir.”

“Mary Wild.”...

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

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

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

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

“Please, sir,” asked the galoot, evidently encouraged by his fancied success, “please, sir, what does ‘D’ stand for?”

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

The Shearing Of The Cook’s Dog

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

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

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

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

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

“Wotter yer growlin’ about?” asked one. “Wot’s the matter with yer, anyway?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dossing Out” And “Camping”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us finish with a sketch:

The scene was Circular Quay, outside the Messageries sheds. The usual number of bundles of misery—covered more or less with dirty sheets of newspaper—lay along the wall under the ghastly glare of the electric light. Time—shortly after midnight. From among the bundles an old man sat up. He cautiously drew off his pants, and then stood close to the wall, in his shirt, tenderly examining the seat of the trousers. Presently he shook them out, folded them with great care, wrapped them in a scrap of newspaper, and laid them down where his head was to be. He had thin, hairy legs and a long grey beard. From a bundle of rags he extracted another pair of pants, which were all patches and tatters, and into which he engineered his way with great caution. Then he sat down, arranged the paper over his knees, laid his old ragged grey head back on his precious Sunday-go-meetings-and slept.

 

Across The Straits

We crossed Cook’s Straits from Wellington in one of those rusty little iron tanks that go up and down and across there for twenty or thirty years and never get wrecked—for no other reason, apparently, than that they have every possible excuse to go ashore or go down on those stormy coasts. The age, construction, or condition of these boats, and the south-easters, and the construction of the coastline, are all decidedly in favour of their going down; the fares are high and the accommodation is small and dirty. It is always the same where there is no competition.

A year or two ago, when a company was running boats between Australia and New Zealand without competition, the steerage fare was three pound direct single, and two pound ten shillings between Auckland and Wellington. The potatoes were black and green and soggy, the beef like bits scraped off the inside of a hide which had lain out for a day or so, the cabbage was cabbage leaves, the tea muddy. The whole business took away our appetite regularly three times a day, and there wasn’t enough to go round, even if it had been good—enough tucker, we mean; there was enough appetite to go round three or four times, but it was driven away by disgust until after meals. If we had not, under cover of darkness, broached a deck cargo of oranges, lemons, and pineapples, and thereby run the risk of being run in on arrival, there would have been starvation, disease, and death on that boat before the end—perhaps mutiny.

You can go across now for one pound, and get something to eat on the road; but the travelling public will go on patronizing the latest reducer of fares until the poorer company gets starved out and fares go up again—then the travelling public will have to pay three or four times as much as they do now, and go hungry on the voyage; all of which ought to go to prove that the travelling public is as big a fool as the general public.

We can’t help thinking that the captains and crews of our primitive little coastal steamers take the chances so often that they in time get used to it, and, being used to it, have no longer any misgivings or anxiety in rough weather concerning a watery grave, but feel as perfectly safe as if they were in church with their wives or sisters—only more comfortable—and go on feeling so until the worn-out machinery breaks down and lets the old tub run ashore, or knocks a hole in her side, or the side itself rusts through at last and lets the water in, or the last straw in the shape of an extra ton of brine tumbles on board, and the John Smith (Newcastle), goes down with a swoosh before the cook has time to leave off peeling his potatoes and take to prayer.

These cheerful—and, maybe, unjust—reflections are perhaps in consequence of our having lost half a sovereign to start with. We arrived at the booking-office with two minutes to spare, two sticks of Juno tobacco, a spare wooden pipe—in case we lost the other—a letter to a friend’s friend down south, a pound note (Bank of New Zealand), and two half-crowns, with which to try our fortunes in the South Island. We also had a few things in a portmanteau and two blankets in a three-bushel bag, but they didn’t amount to much. The clerk put down the ticket with the half-sovereign on top of it, and we wrapped the latter in the former and ran for the wharf. On the way we snatched the ticket out to see the name of the boat we were going by, in order to find it, and it was then, we suppose, that the semi-quid got lost.

Did you ever lose a sovereign or a half-sovereign under similar circumstances? You think of it casually and feel for it carelessly at first, to be sure that it’s there all right; then, after going through your pockets three or four times with rapidly growing uneasiness, you lose your head a little and dredge for that coin hurriedly and with painful anxiety. Then you force yourself to be calm, and proceed to search yourself systematically, in a methodical manner. At this stage, if you have time, it’s a good plan to sit down and think out when and where you last had that half-sovereign, and where you have been since, and which way you came from there, and what you took out of your pocket, and where, and whether you might have given it in mistake for sixpence at that pub where you rushed in to have a beer—and then you calculate the chances against getting it back again. The last of these reflections is apt to be painful, and the painfulness is complicated and increased when there happen to have been several pubs and a like number of hurried farewell beers in the recent past.

And for months after that you cannot get rid of the idea that that half-sov. might be about your clothes somewhere. It haunts you. You turn your pockets out, and feel the lining of your coat and vest inch by inch, and examine your letter papers—everything you happen to have had in your pocket that day—over and over again, and by and by you peer in envelopes and unfold papers that you didn’t have in your pocket at all, but might have had. And when the novelty of the first search has worn off, and the fit takes you, you make another search. Even after many months have passed away, some day—or night—when you are hard up for tobacco and a drink, you suddenly think of that late lamented half-sov., and are moved by adverse circumstances to look through your old clothes in a sort of forlorn hope, or to give good luck a sort of chance to surprise you—the only chance that you can give it.

By the way, seven-and-six of that half-quid should have gone to the landlord of the hotel where we stayed last, and somehow, in spite of this enlightened age, the loss of it seemed a judgment; and seeing that the boat was old and primitive, and there was every sign of a three days’ sou’-easter, we sincerely hoped that judgment was complete—that supreme wrath had been appeased by the fine of ten bob without adding any Jonah business to it.

This reminds us that we once found a lost half-sovereign in the bowl of a spare pipe six months after it was lost. We wish it had stayed there and turned up to-night. But, although when you are in great danger—say, adrift in an open boat—tales of providential escapes and rescues may interest and comfort you, you can’t get any comfort out of anecdotes concerning the turning up of lost quids when you have just lost one yourself. All you want is to find it.

It bothers you even not to be able to account for a bob. You always like to know that you have had something for your money, if only a long beer. You would sooner know that you fooled your money away on a spree, and made yourself sick than lost it out of an extra hole in your pocket, and kept well.

We left Wellington with a feeling of pained regret, a fellow-wanderer by our side telling us how he had once lost “fi-pun-note”—and about two-thirds of the city unemployed on the wharf looking for that half-sovereign. Well, we hope that some poor devil found it; although, to tell the truth, we would then have by far preferred to have found it ourselves.

A sailor said that the Moa was a good sea-boat, and, although she was small and old, he was never afraid of her. He’d sooner travel in her than in some of those big cheap ocean liners with more sand in them than iron or steel—You, know the rest. Further on, in a conversation concerning the age of these coasters, he said that they’d last fully thirty years if well painted and looked after. He said that this one was seldom painted, and never painted properly; and then, seemingly in direct contradiction to his previously expressed confidence in the safety and seaworthiness of the Moa, he said that he could poke a stick through her anywhere. We asked him not to do it.

It came on to splash, and we went below to reflect, and search once more for that half-sovereign. The cabin was small and close, and dimly lighted, and evil smelling, and shaped like the butt end of a coffin. It might not have smelt so bad if we hadn’t lost that half-sovereign. There was a party of those gipsy-like Assyrians—two families apparently—the women and children lying very sick about the lower bunks; and a big, good-humoured-looking young Maori propped between the end of the table and the wall, playing a concertina. The sick people were too sick, and the concertina seemed too much in sympathy with them, and the lost half-quid haunted us more than ever down there; so we started to climb out.

The first thing that struck us was the jagged top edge of that iron hood-like arrangement over the gangway. The top half only of the scuttle was open. There was nothing to be seen except a fog of spray and a Newfoundland dog sea-sick under the lee of something. The next thing that struck us was a tub of salt water, which came like a cannon ball and broke against the hood affair, and spattered on deck like a crockery shop. We climbed down again backwards, and sat on the floor with emphasis, in consequence of stepping down a last step that wasn’t there, and cracked the back of our heads against the edge of the table. The Maori helped us up, and we had a drink with him at the expense of one of the half-casers mentioned in the beginning of this sketch. Then the Maori shouted, then we, then the Maori again, then we again; and then we thought, “Dash it, what’s a half-sovereign? We’ll fall on our feet all right.”

We went up Queen Charlotte’s Sound, a long crooked arm of the sea between big, rugged, black-looking hills. There was a sort of lighthouse down near the entrance, and they said an old Maori woman kept it. There were some whitish things on the sides of the hills, which we at first took for cattle, and then for goats. They were sheep. Someone said that that country was only fit to carry sheep. It must have been bad, then, judging from some of the country in Australia which is only fit to carry sheep. Country that wouldn’t carry goats would carry sheep, we think. Sheep are about the hardiest animals on the face of this planet—barring crocodiles.

You may rip a sheep open whilst watching for the boss’s boots or yarning to a pen-mate, and then when you have stuffed the works back into the animal, and put a stitch in the slit, and poked it somewhere with a tar-stick (it doesn’t matter much where) the jumbuck will be all right and just as lively as ever, and turn up next shearing without the ghost of a scratch on its skin.

We reached Picton, a small collection of twinkling lights in a dark pocket, apparently at the top of a sound. We climbed up on to the wharf, got through between two railway trucks, and asked a policeman where we were, and where the telegraph office was. There were several pretty girls in the office, laughing and chyacking the counter clerks, which jarred upon the feelings of this poor orphan wanderer in strange lands. We gloomily took a telegram form, and wired to a friend in North Island, using the following words: “Wire quid; stumped.”

Then we crossed the street to a pub and asked for a roof and they told us to go up to No. 8. We went up, struck a match, lit the candle, put our bag in a corner, cleared the looking-glass off the toilet table, got some paper and a pencil out of our portmanteau, and sat down and wrote this sketch.

The candle is going out.

 

“Some Day”

The two travellers had yarned late in their camp, and the moon was getting low down through the mulga. Mitchell’s mate had just finished a rather racy yarn, but it seemed to fall flat on Mitchell—he was in a sentimental mood. He smoked a while, and thought, and then said:

“Ah! there was one little girl that I was properly struck on. She came to our place on a visit to my sister. I think she was the best little girl that ever lived, and about the prettiest. She was just eighteen, and didn’t come up to my shoulder; the biggest blue eyes you ever saw, and she had hair that reached down to her knees, and so thick you couldn’t span it with your two hands—brown and glossy—and her skin with like lilies and roses. Of course, I never thought she’d look at a rough, ugly, ignorant brute like me, and I used to keep out of her way and act a little stiff towards her; I didn’t want the others to think I was gone on her, because I knew they’d laugh at me, and maybe she’d laugh at me more than all. She would come and talk to me, and sit near me at table; but I thought that that was on account of her good nature, and she pitied me because I was such a rough, awkward chap. I was gone on that girl, and no joking; and I felt quite proud to think she was a countrywoman of mine. But I wouldn’t let her know that, for I felt sure she’d only laugh.

“Well, things went on till I got the offer of two or three years’ work on a station up near the border, and I had to go, for I was hard up; besides, I wanted to get away. Stopping round where she was only made me miserable.

“The night I left they were all down at the station to see me off—including the girl I was gone on. When the train was ready to start she was standing away by herself on the dark end of the platform, and my sister kept nudging me and winking, and fooling about, but I didn’t know what she was driving at. At last she said:

“‘Go and speak to her, you noodle; go and say good-bye to Edie.’

“So I went up to where she was, and, when the others turned their backs—

“‘Well, good-bye, Miss Brown,’ I said, holding out my hand; ‘I don’t suppose I’ll ever see you again, for Lord knows when I’ll be back. Thank you for coming to see me off.’

“Just then she turned her face to the light, and I saw she was crying. She was trembling all over. Suddenly she said, ‘Jack! Jack!’ just like that, and held up her arms like this.”

Mitchell was speaking in a tone of voice that didn’t belong to him, and his mate looked up. Mitchell’s face was solemn, and his eyes were fixed on the fire.

“I suppose you gave her a good hug then, and a kiss?” asked the mate.

“I s’pose so,” snapped Mitchell. “There is some things a man doesn’t want to joke about.... Well, I think we’ll shove on one of the billies, and have a drink of tea before we turn in.”

“I suppose,” said Mitchell’s mate, as they drank their tea, “I suppose you’ll go back and marry her some day?”

“Some day! That’s it; it looks like it, doesn’t it? We all say, ‘Some day.’ I used to say it ten years ago, and look at me now. I’ve been knocking round for five years, and the last two years constant on the track, and no show of getting off it unless I go for good, and what have I got for it? I look like going home and getting married, without a penny in my pocket or a rag to my back scarcely, and no show of getting them. I swore I’d never go back home without a cheque, and, what’s more, I never will; but the cheque days are past. Look at that boot! If we were down among the settled districts we’d be called tramps and beggars; and what’s the difference? I’ve been a fool, I know, but I’ve paid for it; and now there’s nothing for it but to tramp, tramp, tramp for your tucker, and keep tramping till you get old and careless and dirty, and older, and more careless and dirtier, and you get used to the dust and sand, and heat, and flies, and mosquitoes, just as a bullock does, and lose ambition and hope, and get contented with this animal life, like a dog, and till your swag seems part of yourself, and you’d be lost and uneasy and light-shouldered without it, and you don’t care a damn if you’ll ever get work again, or live like a Christian; and you go on like this till the spirit of a bullock takes the place of the heart of a man. Who cares? If we hadn’t found the track yesterday we might have lain and rotted in that lignum, and no one been any the wiser—or sorrier—who knows? Somebody might have found us in the end, but it mightn’t have been worth his while to go out of his way and report us. Damn the world, say I!”

He smoked for a while in savage silence; then he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, felt for his tobacco with a sigh, and said:

“Well, I am a bit out of sorts to-night. I’ve been thinking.... I think we’d best turn in, old man; we’ve got a long, dry stretch before us to-morrow.”

They rolled out their swags on the sand, lay down, and wrapped themselves in their blankets. Mitchell covered his face with a piece of calico, because the moonlight and wind kept him awake.

 

“Brummy Usen”

We caught up with an old swagman crossing the plain, and tramped along with him till we came to good shade to have a smoke in. We had got yarning about men getting lost in the bush or going away and being reported dead.

“Yes,” said the old ‘whaler’, as he dropped his swag in the shade, sat down on it, and felt for his smoking tackle, “there’s scarcely an old bushman alive—or dead, for the matter of that—who hasn’t been dead a few times in his life—or reported dead, which amounts to the same thing for a while. In my time there was as many live men in the bush who was supposed to be dead as there was dead men who was supposed to be alive—though it’s the other way about now—what with so many jackaroos tramping about out back and getting lost in the dry country that they don’t know anything about, and dying within a few yards of water sometimes. But even now, whenever I hear that an old bush mate of mine is dead, I don’t fret about it or put a black band round my hat, because I know he’ll be pretty sure to turn up sometimes, pretty bad with the booze, and want to borrow half a crown.

“I’ve been dead a few times myself, and found out afterwards that my friends was so sorry about it, and that I was such a good sort of a chap after all, when I was dead that—that I was sorry I didn’t stop dead. You see, I was one of them chaps that’s better treated by their friends and better thought of when—when they’re dead.

“Ah, well! Never mind.... Talking of killing bushmen before their time reminds me of some cases I knew. They mostly happened among the western spurs of the ranges. There was a bullock-driver named Billy Nowlett. He had a small selection, where he kept his family, and used to carry from the railway terminus to the stations up-country. One time he went up with a load and was not heard of for such a long time that his missus got mighty uneasy; and then she got a letter from a publican up Coonamble way to say that Billy was dead. Someone wrote, for the widow, to ask about the wagon and the bullocks, but the shanty-keeper wrote that Billy had drunk them before he died, and that he’d also to say that he’d drunk the money he got for the carrying; and the publican enclosed a five-pound note for the widow—which was considered very kind of him.

“Well, the widow struggled along and managed without her husband just the same as she had always struggled along and managed with him—a little better, perhaps. An old digger used to drop in of evenings and sit by the widow’s fire, and yarn, and sympathize, and smoke, and think; and just as he began to yarn a lot less, and smoke and think a lot more, Billy Nowlett himself turned up with a load of rations for a sheep station. He’d been down by the other road, and the letter he’d wrote to his missus had gone astray. Billy wasn’t surprised to hear that he was dead—he’d been killed before—but he was surprised about the five quid.

“You see, it must have been another bullock-driver that died. There was an old shanty-keeper up Coonamble way, so Billy said, that used to always mistake him for another bullocky and mistake the other bullocky for him—couldn’t tell the one from the other no way—and he used to have bills against Billy that the other bullock-driver’d run up, and bills against the other that Billy’d run up, and generally got things mixed up in various ways, till Billy wished that one of ’em was dead. And the funniest part of the business was that Billy wasn’t no more like the other man than chalk is like cheese. You’ll often drop across some colour-blind old codger that can’t tell the difference between two people that ain’t got a bit of likeness between ’em.

“Then there was young Joe Swallow. He was found dead under a burned-down tree in Dead Man’s Gully—‘dead past all recognition,’ they said—and he was buried there, and by and by his ghost began to haunt the gully: at least, all the schoolkids seen it, and there was scarcely a grown-up person who didn’t know another person who’d seen the ghost—and the other person was always a sober chap that wouldn’t bother about telling a lie. But just as the ghost was beginning to settle down to work in the gully, Joe himself turned up, and then the folks began to reckon that it was another man was killed there, and that the ghost belonged to the other man; and some of them began to recollect that they’d thought all along that the ghost wasn’t Joe’s ghost—even when they thought that it was really Joe that was killed there.

“Then, again, there was the case of Brummy Usen—Hughison I think they spelled it—the bushranger; he was shot by old Mr S—, of E—, while trying to stick the old gentleman up. There’s something about it in a book called ‘Robbery Under Arms’, though the names is all altered—and some other time I’ll tell you all about the digging of the body up for the inquest and burying it again. This Brummy used to work for a publican in a sawmill that the publican had; and this publican and his daughter identified the body by a woman holding up a branch tattooed on the right arm. I’ll tell you all about that another time. This girl remembered how she used to watch this tattooed woman going up and down on Brummy’s arm when he was working in the saw-pit—going up and down and up and down, like this, while Brummy was working his end of the saw. So the bushranger was inquested and justifiable-homicided as Brummy Usen, and buried again in his dust and blood stains and monkey-jacket.

“All the same it wasn’t him; for the real Brummy turned up later on; but he couldn’t make the people believe he wasn’t dead. They was mostly English country people from Kent and Yorkshire and those places; and the most self-opinionated and obstinate people that ever lived when they got a thing into their heads; and they got it into their heads that Brummy Usen was shot while trying to bail up old Mr S— and was dead and buried.

“But the wife of the publican that had the saw-pit knew him; he went to her, and she recognized him at once; she’d got it into her head from the first that it wasn’t Brummy that was shot, and she stuck to it—she was just as self-opinionated as the neighbours, and many a barney she had with them about it. She would argue about it till the day she died, and then she said with her dying breath: ‘It wasn’t Brummy Usen.’ No more it was—he was a different kind of man; he hadn’t spunk enough to be a bushranger, and it was a better man that was buried for him; it was a different kind of woman, holding up a different kind of branch, that was tattooed on Brummy’s arm. But, you see, Brummy’d always kept himself pretty much to himself, and no one knew him very well; and, besides, most of them were pretty drunk at the inquest—except the girl, and she was too scared to know what she was saying—they had to be so because the corpse was in such a bad state.

“Well, Brummy hung around for a time, and tried to prove that he wasn’t an impostor, but no one wouldn’t believe him. He wanted to get some wages that was owing to him.

“He tried the police, but they were just as obstinate as the rest; and, beside, they had their dignity to hold up. ‘If I ain’t Brummy,’ he’d say, ‘who are I?’ But they answered that he knew best. So he did.

“At last he said that it didn’t matter much, any road; and so he went away—Lord knows where—to begin life again, I s’pose.”

The traveller smoked awhile reflectively; then he quietly rolled up his right sleeve and scratched his arm.

And on that arm we saw the tattooed figure of a woman, holding up a branch.

We tramped on by his side again towards the station—thinking very hard and not feeling very comfortable.

He must have been an awful old liar, now we come to think of it

 

While the Billy Boils
Second Series

 

The Drover’s Wife

The two-roomed house is built of round timber, slabs, and stringy-bark, and floored with split slabs. A big bark kitchen standing at one end is larger than the house itself, veranda included.

Bush all round—bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple-trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek. Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilization—a shanty on the main road.

The drover, an ex-squatter, is away with sheep. His wife and children are left here alone.

Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house. Suddenly one of them yells: “Snake! Mother, here’s a snake!”

The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a stick.

“Where is it?”

“Here! gone into the wood-heap!” yells the eldest boy—a sharp-faced urchin of eleven. “Stop there, mother! I’ll have him. Stand back! I’ll have the beggar!”

“Tommy, come here, or you’ll be bit. Come here at once when I tell you, you little wretch!”

The youngster comes reluctantly, carrying a stick bigger than himself. Then he yells, triumphantly:

“There it goes—under the house!” and darts away with club uplifted. At the same time the big, black, yellow-eyed dog-of-all-breeds, who has shown the wildest interest in the proceedings, breaks his chain and rushes after that snake. He is a moment late, however, and his nose reaches the crack in the slabs just as the end of its tail disappears. Almost at the same moment the boy’s club comes down and skins the aforesaid nose. Alligator takes small notice of this, and proceeds to undermine the building; but he is subdued after a struggle and chained up. They cannot afford to lose him.

The drover’s wife makes the children stand together near the dog-house while she watches for the snake. She gets two small dishes of milk and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.

It is near sunset, and a thunderstorm is coming. The children must be brought inside. She will not take them into the house, for she knows the snake is there, and may at any moment come up through a crack in the rough slab floor; so she carries several armfuls of firewood into the kitchen, and then takes the children there. The kitchen has no floor—or, rather, an earthen one—called a “ground floor” in this part of the bush. There is a large, roughly-made table in the centre of the place. She brings the children in, and makes them get on this table. They are two boys and two girls—mere babies. She gives them some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goes into the house, and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes—expecting to see or lay her hand on the snake any minute. She makes a bed on the kitchen table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.

She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the Young Ladies’ Journal. She has brought the dog into the room.

Tommy turns in, under protest, but says he’ll lie awake all night and smash that blinded snake.

His mother asks him how many times she has told him not to swear.

He has his club with him under the bedclothes, and Jacky protests:

“Mummy! Tommy’s skinnin’ me alive wif his club. Make him take it out.”

Tommy: “Shet up, you little—! D’yer want to be bit with the snake?”

Jacky shuts up.

“If yer bit,” says Tommy, after a pause, “you’ll swell up, an’ smell, an’ turn red an’ green an’ blue all over till yer bust. Won’t he, mother?”

“Now then, don’t frighten the child. Go to sleep,” she says.

The two younger children go to sleep, and now and then Jacky complains of being “skeezed.” More room is made for him. Presently Tommy says: “Mother! listen to them (adjective) little ’possums. I’d like to screw their blanky necks.”

And Jacky protests drowsily.

“But they don’t hurt us, the little blanks!”.

Mother: “There, I told you you’d teach Jacky to swear.” But the remark makes her smile. Jacky goes to sleep. Presently Tommy asks:

“Mother! Do you think they’ll ever extricate the (adjective) kangaroo?”

“Lord! How am I to know, child? Go to sleep.”

“Will you wake me if the snake comes out?”

“Yes. Go to sleep.”

Near midnight. The children are all asleep and she sits there still, sewing and reading by turns. From time to time she glances round the floor and wall-plate, and, whenever she hears a noise, she reaches for the stick. The thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle. She places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper to protect it. At every flash of lightning, the cracks between the slabs gleam like polished silver. The thunder rolls, and the rain comes down in torrents.

Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned towards the partition. She knows by this that the snake is there. There are large cracks in that wall opening under the floor of the dwelling-house.

She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves. A little son of her brother-in-law was lately bitten by a snake, and died. Besides, she has not heard from her husband for six months, and is anxious about him.

He was a drover, and started squatting here when they were married. The drought of 18— ruined him. He had to sacrifice the remnant of his flock and go droving again. He intends to move his family into the nearest town when he comes back, and, in the meantime, his brother, who keeps a shanty on the main road, comes over about once a month with provisions. The wife has still a couple of cows, one horse, and a few sheep. The brother-in-law kills one of the latter occasionally, gives her what she needs of it, and takes the rest in return for other provisions. She is used to being left alone. She once lived like this for eighteen months. As a girl she built the usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes and aspirations have long been dead. She finds all the excitement and recreation she needs in the Young Ladies’ Journal, and Heaven help her! takes a pleasure in the fashion-plates.

Her husband is an Australian, and so is she. He is careless, but a good enough husband. If he had the means he would take her to the city and keep her there like a princess. They are used to being apart, or at least she is. “No use fretting,” she says. He may forget sometimes that he is married; but if he has a good cheque when he comes back he will give most of it to her. When he had money he took her to the city several times—hired a railway sleeping compartment, and put up at the best hotels. He also bought her a buggy, but they had to sacrifice that along with the rest.

The last two children were born in the bush—one while her husband was bringing a drunken doctor, by force, to attend to her. She was alone on this occasion, and very weak. She had been ill with a fever. She prayed to God to send her assistance. God sent Black Mary—the “whitest” gin in all the land. Or, at least, God sent King Jimmy first, and he sent Black Mary. He put his black face round the door post, took in the situation at a glance, and said cheerfully: “All right, missus—I bring my old woman, she down alonga creek.”

One of the children died while she was here alone. She rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child.

It must be near one or two o’clock. The fire is burning low. Alligator lies with his head resting on his paws, and watches the wall. He is not a very beautiful dog, and the light shows numerous old wounds where the hair will not grow. He is afraid of nothing on the face of the earth or under it. He will tackle a bullock as readily as he will tackle a flea. He hates all other dogs—except kangaroo-dogs—and has a marked dislike to friends or relations of the family. They seldom call, however. He sometimes makes friends with strangers. He hates snakes and has killed many, but he will be bitten some day and die; most snake-dogs end that way.

Now and then the bushwoman lays down her work and watches, and listens, and thinks. She thinks of things in her own life, for there is little else to think about.

The rain will make the grass grow, and this reminds her how she fought a bush-fire once while her husband was away. The grass was long, and very dry, and the fire threatened to burn her out. She put on an old pair of her husband’s trousers and beat out the flames with a green bough, till great drops of sooty perspiration stood out on her forehead and ran in streaks down her blackened arms. The sight of his mother in trousers greatly amused Tommy, who worked like a little hero by her side, but the terrified baby howled lustily for his “mummy.” The fire would have mastered her but for four excited bushmen who arrived in the nick of time. It was a mixed-up affair all round; when she went to take up the baby he screamed and struggled convulsively, thinking it was a “blackman;” and Alligator, trusting more to the child’s sense than his own instinct, charged furiously, and (being old and slightly deaf) did not in his excitement at first recognize his mistress’s voice, but continued to hang on to the moleskins until choked off by Tommy with a saddle-strap. The dog’s sorrow for his blunder, and his anxiety to let it be known that it was all a mistake, was as evident as his ragged tail and a twelve-inch grin could make it. It was a glorious time for the boys; a day to look back to, and talk about, and laugh over for many years.

She thinks how she fought a flood during her husband’s absence. She stood for hours in the drenching downpour, and dug an overflow gutter to save the dam across the creek. But she could not save it. There are things that a bushwoman can not do. Next morning the dam was broken, and her heart was nearly broken too, for she thought how her husband would feel when he came home and saw the result of years of labour swept away. She cried then.

She also fought the pleuro-pneumonia—dosed and bled the few remaining cattle, and wept again when her two best cows died.

Again, she fought a mad bullock that besieged the house for a day. She made bullets and fired at him through cracks in the slabs with an old shot-gun. He was dead in the morning. She skinned him and got seventeen-and-sixpence for the hide.

She also fights the crows and eagles that have designs on her chickens. Her plan of campaign is very original. The children cry “Crows, mother!” and she rushes out and aims a broomstick at the birds as though it were a gun, and says “Bung!” The crows leave in a hurry; they are cunning, but a woman’s cunning is greater.

Occasionally a bushman in the horrors, or a villainous-looking sundowner, comes and nearly scares the life out of her. She generally tells the suspicious-looking stranger that her husband and two sons are at work below the dam, or over at the yard, for he always cunningly inquires for the boss.

Only last week a gallows-faced swagman—having satisfied himself that there were no men on the place—threw his swag down on the veranda, and demanded tucker. She gave him something to eat; then he expressed his intention of staying for the night. It was sundown then. She got a batten from the sofa, loosened the dog, and confronted the stranger, holding the batten in one hand and the dog’s collar with the other. “Now you go!” she said. He looked at her and at the dog, said “All right, mum,” in a cringing tone, and left. She was a determined-looking woman, and Alligator’s yellow eyes glared unpleasantly—besides, the dog’s chawing-up apparatus greatly resembled that of the reptile he was named after.

She has few pleasures to think of as she sits here alone by the fire, on guard against a snake. All days are much the same to her; but on Sunday afternoon she dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush-track, pushing an old perambulator in front of her. She does this every Sunday. She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city. There is nothing to see, however, and not a soul to meet. You might walk for twenty miles along this track without being able to fix a point in your mind, unless you are a bushman. This is because of the everlasting, maddening sameness of the stunted trees—that monotony which makes a man long to break away and travel as far as trains can go, and sail as far as ship can sail—and farther.

But this bushwoman is used to the loneliness of it. As a girl-wife she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.

She is glad when her husband returns, but she does not gush or make a fuss about it. She gets him something good to eat, and tidies up the children.

She seems contented with her lot. She loves her children, but has no time to show it. She seems harsh to them. Her surroundings are not favourable to the development of the “womanly” or sentimental side of nature.

It must be near morning now; but the clock is in the dwellinghouse. Her candle is nearly done; she forgot that she was out of candles. Some more wood must be got to keep the fire up, and so she shuts the dog inside and hurries round to the woodheap. The rain has cleared off. She seizes a stick, pulls it out, and—crash! the whole pile collapses.

Yesterday she bargained with a stray blackfellow to bring her some wood, and while he was at work she went in search of a missing cow. She was absent an hour or so, and the native black made good use of his time. On her return she was so astonished to see a good heap of wood by the chimney, that she gave him an extra fig of tobacco, and praised him for not being lazy. He thanked her, and left with head erect and chest well out. He was the last of his tribe and a King; but he had built that wood-heap hollow.

She is hurt now, and tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again by the table. She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead. The handkerchief is full of holes, and she finds that she has put her thumb through one, and her forefinger through another.

This makes her laugh, to the surprise of the dog. She has a keen, very keen, sense of the ridiculous; and some time or other she will amuse bushmen with the story.

She had been amused before like that. One day she sat down “to have a good cry,” as she said—and the old cat rubbed against her dress and “cried too.” Then she had to laugh.

It must be near daylight now. The room is very close and hot because of the fire. Alligator still watches the wall from time to time. Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches nearer the partition, and a thrill runs through his body. The hair on the back of his neck begins to bristle, and the battle-light is in his yellow eyes. She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the stick. The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack on both sides. An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten at one of these holes. The snake—a black one—comes slowly out, about a foot, and moves its head up and down. The dog lies still, and the woman sits as one fascinated. The snake comes out a foot farther. She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him. Alligator springs, and his jaws come together with a snap. He misses, for his nose is large, and the snake’s body close down in the angle formed by the slabs and the floor. He snaps again as the tail comes round. He has the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches. Thud, thud comes the woman’s club on the ground. Alligator pulls again. Thud, thud. Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out—a black brute, five feet long. The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the enemy close to the neck. He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a terrier. He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind. The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back with a grip of iron. Thud, thud—the snake’s back is broken in several places. Thud, thud—its head is crushed, and Alligator’s nose skinned again.

She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and dog watch too. She lays her hand on the dog’s head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the fire. Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms round her neck exclaims:

“Mother, I won’t never go drovin’; blarst me if I do!” And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.

 

Steelman’s Pupil

Steelman was a hard case, but some said that Smith was harder. Steelman was big and good-looking, and good-natured in his way; he was a spieler, pure and simple, but did things in humorous style. Smith was small and weedy, of the sneak variety; he had a whining tone and a cringing manner. He seemed to be always so afraid you were going to hit him that he would make you want to hit him on that account alone.

Steelman “had” you in a fashion that would make your friends laugh. Smith would “have” you in a way which made you feel mad at the bare recollection of having been taken in by so contemptible a little sneak.

They battled round together in the North Island of Maoriland for a couple of years.

One day Steelman said to Smith:

“Look here, Smithy, you don’t know you’re born yet. I’m going to take you in hand and teach you.”

And he did. If Smith wouldn’t do as Steelman told him, or wasn’t successful in cadging, or mugged any game they had in hand, Steelman would threaten to stoush him; and, if the warning proved ineffectual after the second or third time, he would stoush him.

One day, on the track, they came to a place where an old Scottish couple kept a general store and shanty. They camped alongside the road, and Smith was just starting up to the house to beg supplies when Steelman cried:

“Here!—hold on. Now where do you think you’re going to?”

“Why, I’m going to try and chew the old party’s lug, of course. We’ll be out of tucker in a couple of days,” said Smith.

Steelman sat down on a stump in a hopeless, discouraged sort of way.

“It’s no use,” he said, regarding Smith with mingled reproach and disgust. “It’s no use. I might as well give it best. I can see that it’s only waste of time trying to learn you anything. Will I ever be able to knock some gumption into your thick skull? After all the time and trouble and pains I’ve took with your education, you hain’t got any more sense than to go and mug a business like that! When will you learn sense? Hey? After all, I—Smith, you’re a born mug!”

He always called Smith a “mug” when he was particularly wild at him, for it hurt Smith more than anything else. “There’s only two classes in the world, spielers and mugs—and you’re a mug, Smith.”

“What have I done, anyway?” asked Smith helplessly. “That’s all I want to know.”

Steelman wearily rested his brow on his hand.

“That will do, Smith,” he said listlessly; “don’t say another word, old man; it’ll only make my head worse; don’t talk. You might, at the very least, have a little consideration for my feelings—even if you haven’t for your own interests.” He paused and regarded Smith sadly. “Well, I’ll give you another show. I’ll stage the business for you.”

He made Smith doff his coat and get into his worst pair of trousers—and they were bad enough; they were hopelessly “gone” beyond the extreme limit of bush decency. He made Smith put on a rag of a felt hat and a pair of “’lastic-sides” which had fallen off a tramp and lain baking and rotting by turns on a rubbish heap; they had to be tied on Smith with bits of rag and string. He drew dark shadows round Smith’s eyes, and burning spots on his cheek-bones with some greasepaints he used when they travelled as “The Great Steelman and Smith Combination Star Dramatic Co.” He damped Smith’s hair to make it dark and lank, and his face more corpse-like by comparison—in short, he made him up to look like a man who had long passed the very last stage of consumption, and had been artificially kept alive in the interests of science.

“Now you’re ready,” said Steelman to Smith. “You left your whare the day before yesterday and started to walk to the hospital at Palmerston. An old mate picked you up dying on the road, brought you round, and carried you on his back most of the way here. You firmly believe that Providence had something to do with the sending of that old mate along at that time and place above all others. Your mate also was hard up; he was going to a job—the first show for work he’d had in nine months—but he gave it up to see you through; he’d give up his life rather than desert a mate in trouble. You only want a couple of shillings or a bit of tucker to help you on to Palmerston. You know you’ve got to die, and you only want to live long enough to get word to your poor old mother, and die on a bed.

“Remember, they’re Scotch up at that house. You understand the Scotch barrack pretty well by now—if you don’t it ain’t my fault. You were born in Aberdeen, but came out too young to remember much about the town. Your father’s dead. You ran away to sea and came out in the Bobbie Burns to Sydney. Your poor old mother’s in Aberdeen now—Bruce or Wallace Wynd will do. Your mother might be dead now—poor old soul!—any way, you’ll never see her again. You wish you’d never run away from home. You wish you’d been a better son to your poor old mother; you wish you’d written to her and answered her last letter. You only want to live long enough to write home and ask for forgiveness and a blessing before you die. If you had a drop of spirits of some sort to brace you up you might get along the road better. (Put this delicately.) Get the whine out of your voice and breathe with a wheeze—like this; get up the nearest approach to a deathrattle that you can. Move as if you were badly hurt in your wind—like this. (If you don’t do it better’n that, I’ll stoush you.) Make your face a bit longer and keep your lips dry—don’t lick them, you damned fool!—breathe on them; make ’em dry as chips. That’s the only decent pair of breeks you’ve got, and the only “shoon.” You’re a Presbyterian—not a U.P., the Auld Kirk. Your mate would have come up to the house only—well, you’ll have to use the stuffing in your head a bit; you can’t expect me to do all the brain work. Remember it’s consumption you’ve got—galloping consumption; you know all the symptoms—pain on top of your right lung, bad cough, and night sweats. Something tells you that you won’t see the new year—it’s a week off Christmas now. And if you come back without anything, I’ll blessed soon put you out of your misery.”

Smith came back with about four pounds of shortbread and as much various tucker as they could conveniently carry; a pretty good suit of cast-off tweeds; a new pair of ’lastic-sides from the store stock; two bottles of patent medicine and a black bottle half-full of home-made consumption-cure; also a letter to a hospital-committee man, and three shillings to help him on his way to Palmerston. He also got about half a mile of sympathy, religious consolation, and medical advice which he didn’t remember.

Now,” he said, triumphantly, “am I a mug or not?”

Steelman kindly ignored the question. “I did have a better opinion of the Scotch,” he said, contemptuously.

Steelman got on at an hotel as billiard-marker and decoy, and in six months he managed that pub. Smith, who’d been away on his own account, turned up in the town one day clean broke, and in a deplorable state. He heard of Steelman’s luck, and thought he was “all right,” so went to his old friend.

Cold type—or any other kind of type—couldn’t do justice to Steelman’s disgust. To think that this was the reward of all the time and trouble he’d spent on Smith’s education! However, when he cooled down, he said:

“Smith, you’re a young man yet, and it’s never too late to mend. There is still time for reformation. I can’t help you now; it would only demoralize you altogether. To think, after the way I trained you, you can’t battle round any better’n this! I always thought you were an irreclaimable mug, but I expected better things of you towards the end. I thought I’d make something of you. It’s enough to dishearten any man and disgust him with the world. Why! you ought to be a rich man now with the chances and training you had! To think—but I won’t talk of that; it has made me ill. I suppose I’ll have to give you something, if it’s only to get rid of the sight of you. Here’s a quid, and I’m a mug for giving it to you. It’ll do you more harm than good; and it ain’t a friendly thing nor the right thing for me—who always had your welfare at heart—to give it to you under the circumstances. Now, get away out of my sight, and don’t come near me till you’ve reformed. If you do, I’ll have to stoush you out of regard for my own health and feelings.”

But Steelman came down in the world again and picked up Smith on the road, and they battled round together for another year or so; and at last they were in Wellington—Steelman “flush” and stopping at an hotel, and Smith stumped, as usual, and staying with a friend. One night they were drinking together at the hotel, at the expense of some mugs whom Steelman was “educating.” It was raining hard. When Smith was going home, he said:

“Look here, Steely, old man. Listen to the rain! I’ll get wringing wet going home. You might as well lend me your overcoat to-night. You won’t want it, and I won’t hurt it.”

And, Steelman’s heart being warmed by his successes, he lent the overcoat.

Smith went and pawned it, got glorious on the proceeds, and took the pawn-ticket to Steelman next day.

Smith had reformed.

An Unfinished Love Story

Brook let down the heavy, awkward sliprails, and the gaunt cattle stumbled through, with aggravating deliberation, and scattered slowly among the native apple-trees along the sidling. First there came an old easygoing red poley cow, then a dusty white cow; then two shaggy, half-grown calves—who seemed already to have lost all interest in existence—and after them a couple of “babies,” sleek, glossy, and cheerful; then three more tired-looking cows, with ragged udders and hollow sides; then a lanky barren heifer—red, of course—with half-blind eyes and one crooked horn—she was noted for her great agility in jumping two-rail fences, and she was known to the selector as “Queen Elizabeth;” and behind her came a young cream-coloured milker—a mighty proud and contented young mother—painfully and patiently dragging her first calf, which was hanging obstinately to a teat, with its head beneath her hind legs. Last of all there came the inevitable red steer, who scratched the dust and let a stupid “bwoo-ur-r-rr” out of him as he snuffed at the rails.

Brook had shifted the rails there often before—fifteen years ago—perhaps the selfsame rails, for stringy-bark lasts long; and the action brought the past near to him—nearer than he wished. He did not like to think of that hungry, wretched selection existence; he felt more contempt than pity for the old-fashioned, unhappy boy, who used to let down the rails there, and drive the cattle through.

He had spent those fifteen years in cities, and had come here, prompted more by curiosity than anything else, to have a quiet holiday. His father was dead; his other relations had moved away, leaving a tenant on the old selection.

Brook rested his elbow on the top rail of an adjacent panel and watched the cattle pass, and thought until Lizzie—the tenant’s niece—shoved the red steer through and stood gravely regarding him (Brook, and not the steer); then he shifted his back to the fence and looked at her. He had not much to look at: a short, plain, thin girl of nineteen, with rather vacant grey eyes, dark ringlets, and freckles; she had no complexion to speak of; she wore an ill-fitting print frock, and a pair of men’s ’lastic-sides several sizes too large for her. She was “studying for a school-teacher;” that was the height of the ambition of local youth. Brook was studying her.

He turned away to put up the rails. The lower rail went into its place all right, but the top one had got jammed, and it stuck as though it was spiked. He worked the rail up and down and to and fro, took it under his arm and tugged it; but he might as well have pulled at one of the posts. Then he lifted the loose end as high as he could, and let it fall—jumping back out of the way at the same time; this loosened it, but when he lifted it again it slid so easily and far into its socket that the other end came out and fell, barking Brook’s knee. He swore a little, then tackled the rail again; he had the same trouble as before with the other end, but succeeded at last. Then he turned away, rubbing his knee.

Lizzie hadn’t smiled, not once; she watched him gravely all the while.

“Did you hurt your knee?” she asked, without emotion.

“No. The rail did.”

She reflected solemnly for a while, and then asked him if it felt sore.

He replied rather briefly in the negative.

“They were always nasty, awkward rails to put up,” she remarked, after some more reflection.

Brook agreed, and then they turned their faces towards the homestead. Half-way down the sidling was a clump of saplings, with a big log lying amongst them. Here Brook paused. “We’ll sit down for a while and have a rest,” said he. “Sit down, Lizzie.”

She obeyed with the greatest of gravity. Nothing was said for awhile. She sat with her hands folded in her lap, gazing thoughtfully at the ridge, which was growing dim. It looked better when it was dim, and so did the rest of the scenery. There was no beauty lost when darkness hid the scenery altogether. Brook wondered what the girl was thinking about. The silence between them did not seem awkward, somehow; but it didn’t suit him just then, and so presently he broke it.

“Well, I must go to-morrow.”

“Must you?”

“Yes.”

She thought awhile, and then she asked him if he was glad to go.

“Well, I don’t know. Are you sorry, Lizzie?”

She thought a good long while, and then she said she was.

He moved closer to the girl, and suddenly slipped his arm round her waist. She did not seem agitated; she still gazed dreamily at the line of ridges, but her head inclined slightly towards him.

“Lizzie, did you ever love anyone?”—then anticipating the usual reply—“except, of course, your father and mother, and all that sort of thing.” Then, abruptly: “I mean did you ever have a sweetheart?”

She reflected, so as to be sure; then she said she hadn’t. Long pause, and he, the city man, breathed hard—not the girl. Suddenly he moved nervously, and said:

“Lizzie—Lizzie! Do you know what love means?”

She pondered over this for some minutes, as a result of which she said she thought that she did.

“Lizzie! Do you think you can love me?”

She didn’t seem able to find an answer to that. So he caught her to him in both arms, and kissed her hard and long on the mouth. She was agitated now—he had some complexion now; she struggled to her feet, trembling.

“We must go now,” she said quickly. “They will be waiting for tea.”

He stood up before her, and held her there by both hands.

“There is plenty of time. Lizzie—”

“Mis-ter Br-o-o-k-er! Li-i-z-zee-e-e! Come ter yer tea-e-e!” yelled a boy from the house.

“We must really go now.”

“Oh, they can wait a minute. Lizzie, don’t be frightened”—bending his head—“Lizzie, put your arms round my neck and kiss me—now. Do as I tell you, Lizzie—they cannot see us,” and he drew her behind a bush. “Now, Lizzie.”

She obeyed just as a frightened child might.

“We must go now,” she panted, breathless from such an embrace.

“Lizzie, you will come for a walk with me after tea?”

“I don’t know—I can’t promise. I don’t think it would be right. Aunt mightn’t like me to.”

“Never mind aunt. I’ll fix her. We’ll go for a walk over to the school-teacher’s place. It will be bright moonlight.”

“I don’t like to promise. My father and mother might not—”

“Why, what are you frightened of? What harm is there in it?” Then, softly, “Promise, Lizzie.”

“Promise, Lizzie.”

She was hesitating.

“Promise, Lizzie. I’m going away to-morrow—might never see you again. You will come, Lizzie? It will be our last talk together. Promise, Lizzie.... Oh, then, if you don’t like to, I won’t press you.... Will you come, or no?”

“Ye-es.”

“One more, and I’ll take you home.”

It was nearly dark.

Brook was moved to get up early next morning and give the girl a hand with the cows. There were two rickety bails in the yard. He had not forgotten how to milk, but the occupation gave him no pleasure—it brought the past near again.

Now and then he would turn his face, rest his head against the side of the cow, and watch Lizzie at her work; and each time she would, as though in obedience to an influence she could not resist, turn her face to him—having noted the pause in his milking. There was a wonder in her expression—as if something had come into her life which she could not realize—curiosity in his.

When the spare pail was full, he would follow her with it to the little bark dairy; and she held out the cloth which served as a strainer whilst he poured the milk in, and, as the last drops went through, their mouths would come together.

He carried the slop-buckets to the pigsty for her, and helped to poddy (hand feed) a young calf. He had to grip the calf by the nape of the neck, insert a forefinger in its mouth, and force its nose down into an oil-drum full of skim milk. The calf sucked, thinking it had a teat; and so it was taught to drink. But calves have a habit, born of instinct, of butting the udders with their noses, by way of reminding their mothers to let down the milk; and so this calf butted at times, splashing sour milk over Brook, and barking his wrist against the sharp edge of the drum. Then he would swear a little, and Lizzie would smile sadly and gravely.

Brook did not go away that day, nor the next, but he took the coach on the third day thereafter. He and Lizzie found a quiet corner to say good-bye in. She showed some emotion for the first time, or, perhaps, the second—maybe the third time—in that week of her life. They had been out together in the moonlight every evening. (Brook had been fifteen years in cities.) They had scarcely looked at each other that morning—and scarcely spoken.

He looked back as the coach started and saw her sitting inside the big kitchen window. She waved her hand—hopelessly it seemed. She had rolled up her sleeve, and to Brook the arm seemed strangely white and fair above the line of sunburn round the wrist. He hadn’t noticed it before. Her face seemed fairer too, but, perhaps, it was only the effect of light and shade round that window.

He looked back again, as the coach turned the corner of the fence, and was just in time to see her bury her face in her hands with a passionate gesture which did not seem natural to her.

Brook reached the city next evening, and, “after hours,” he staggered in through a side entrance to the lighted parlour of a private bar.

They say that Lizzie broke her heart that year, but, then, the world does not believe in such things nowadays.

Board And Residence

One o’clock on Saturday. The unemployed’s one o’clock on Saturday! Nothing more can be done this week, so you drag yourself wearily and despairingly “home,” with the cheerful prospect of a penniless Saturday afternoon and evening and the long horrible Australian-city Sunday to drag through. One of the landlady’s clutch—and she is an old hen—opens the door, exclaims:

“Oh, Mr Careless!” and grins. You wait an anxious minute, to postpone the disappointment which you feel by instinct is coming, and then ask hopelessly whether there are any letters for you.

“No, there’s nothing for you, Mr Careless.” Then in answer to the unspoken question, “The postman’s been, but there’s nothing for you.”

You hang up your hat in the stuffy little passage, and start upstairs, when, “Oh, Mr Careless, mother wants to know if you’ve had yer dinner.”

You haven’t, but you say you have. You are empty enough inside, but the emptiness is filled up, as it were, with the wrong sort of hungry vacancy—gnawing anxiety. You haven’t any stomach for the warm, tasteless mess which has been “kep’ ’ot” for you in a cold stove. You feel just physically tired enough to go to your room, lie down on the bed, and snatch twenty minutes’ rest from that terrible unemployed restlessness which, you know, is sure to drag you to your feet to pace the room or tramp the pavement even before your bodily weariness has nearly left you. So you start up the narrow, stuffy little flight of steps called the “stairs.” Three small doors open from the landing—a square place of about four feet by four. The first door is yours; it is open, and—

Decided odour of bedroom dust and fluff, damped and kneaded with cold soap-suds. Rear view of a girl covered with a damp, draggled, dirt-coloured skirt, which gapes at the waistband from the “body,” disclosing a good glimpse of soiled stays (ribs burst), and yawns behind over a decidedly dirty white petticoat, the slit of which last, as she reaches forward and backs out convulsively, half opens and then comes together in an unsatisfactory, startling, tantalizing way, and allows a hint of a red flannel under-something. The frayed ends of the skirt lie across a hopelessly-burst pair of elastic-sides which rest on their inner edges—toes out—and jerk about in a seemingly undecided manner. She is damping and working up the natural layer on the floor with a piece of old flannel petticoat dipped occasionally in a bucket which stands by her side, containing about a quart of muddy water. She looks round and exclaims, “Oh, did you want to come in, Mr Careless?” Then she says she’ll be done in a minute; furthermore she remarks that if you want to come in you won’t be in her road. You don’t—you go down to the dining-room—parlour—sitting-room—nursery—and stretch yourself on the sofa in the face of the painfully-evident disapproval of the landlady.

You have been here, say, three months, and are only about two weeks behind. The landlady still says, “Good morning, Mr Careless,” or “Good evening, Mr Careless,” but there is an unpleasant accent on the “Mr,” and a still more unpleasantly pronounced stress on the “morning” or “evening.” While your money lasted you paid up well and regularly—sometimes in advance—and dined out most of the time; but that doesn’t count now.

Ten minutes pass, and then the landlady’s disapproval becomes manifest and aggressive. One of the little girls, a sharp-faced little larrikiness, who always wears a furtive grin of cunning—it seems as though it were born with her, and is perhaps more a misfortune than a fault—comes in and says please she wants to tidy up.

So you get up and take your hat and go out again to look for a place to rest in—to try not to think.

You wish you could get away up-country. You also wish you were dead.

The landlady, Mrs Jones, is a widow, or grass-widow, Welsh, of course, and clannish; flat face, watery grey eyes, shallow, selfish, ignorant, and a hypocrite unconsciously—by instinct.

But the worst of it is that Mrs Jones takes advantage of the situation to corner you in the passage when you want to get out, or when you come in tired, and talk. It amounts to about this: She has been fourteen years in this street, taking in boarders; everybody knows her; everybody knows Mrs Jones; her poor husband died six years ago (God rest his soul); she finds it hard to get a living these times; work, work, morning, noon, and night (talk, talk, talk, more likely). “Do you know Mr Duff of the Labour Bureau?” He has known her family for years; a very nice gentleman—a very nice gentleman indeed; he often stops at the gate to have a yarn with her on his way to the office (he must be hard up for a yarn). She doesn’t know hardly nobody in this street; she never gossips; it takes her all her time to get a living; she can’t be bothered with neighbours; it’s always best to keep to yourself and keep neighbours at a distance. Would you believe it, Mr Careless, she has been two years in this house and hasn’t said above a dozen words to the woman next door; she’d just know her by sight if she saw her; as for the other woman she wouldn’t know her from a crow. Mr Blank and Mrs Blank could tell you the same.... She always had gentlemen staying with her; she never had no cause to complain of one of them except once; they always treated her fair and honest. Here follows story about the exception; he, I gathered, was a journalist, and she could never depend on him. He seemed, from her statements, to have been decidedly erratic in his movements, mode of life and choice of climes. He evidently caused her a great deal of trouble and anxiety, and I felt a kind of sneaking sympathy for his memory. One young fellow stayed with her five years; he was, etc. She couldn’t be hard on any young fellow that gets out of work; of course if he can’t get it he can’t pay; she can’t get blood out of a stone; she couldn’t turn him out in the street. “I’ve got sons of my own, Mr Careless, I’ve got sons of my own.”... She is sure she always does her best to make her boarders comfortable, and if they want anything they’ve only got to ask for it. The kettle is always on the stove if you want a cup of tea, and if you come home late at night and want a bit of supper you’ve only got to go to the safe (which of us would dare?). She never locks it, she never did.... And then she begins about her wonderful kids, and it goes on hour after hour. Lord! it’s enough to drive a man mad.

We were recommended to this place on the day of our arrival by a young dealer in the furniture line, whose name was Moses—and he looked like it, but we didn’t think of that at the time. He had Mrs Jones’s card in his window, and he left the shop in charge of his missus and came round with us at once. He assured us that we couldn’t do better than stay with her. He said she was a most respectable lady, and all her boarders were decent young fellows—gentlemen; she kept everything scrupulously clean, and kept the best table in town, and she’d do for us (washing included) for eighteen shillings per week; she generally took the first week in advance. We asked him to have a beer—for the want of somebody else to ask—and after that he said that Mrs Jones was a kind, motherly body, and understood young fellows; and that we’d be even more comfortable than in our own home; that we’d be allowed to do as we liked—she wasn’t particular; she wouldn’t mind it a bit if we came home late once in a way—she was used to that, in fact; she liked to see young fellows enjoying themselves. We afterwards found out that he got so much on every boarder he captured. We also found out—after paying in advance—that her gentlemen generally sent out their white things to be done; she only did the coloured things, so we had to pay a couple of bob extra a week to have our “biled” rags and collars sent out and done; and after the first week they bore sad evidence of having been done on the premises by one of the frowsy daughters. But we paid all the same. And, good Lord! if she keeps the best table in town, we are curious to see the worst. When you go down to breakfast you find on the table in front of your chair a cold plate, with a black something—God knows what it looks like—in the centre of it. It eats like something scraped off the inside of a hide and burnt; and with this you have a cup of warm grey slush called a “cup of tea.” Dinner: A slice of alleged roast beef or boiled mutton, of no particular colour or taste; three new spuds, of which the largest is about the size of an ordinary hen’s egg, the smallest that of a bantam’s, and the middle one in between, and which eat soggy and have no taste to speak of, save that they are a trifle bitter; a dab of unhealthy-looking green something, which might be either cabbage leaves or turnip-tops, and a glass of water. The whole mess is lukewarm, including the water—it would all be better cold. Tea: A thin slice of the aforesaid alleged roast or mutton, and the pick of about six thin slices of stale bread—evidently cut the day before yesterday. This is the way Mrs Jones “does” for us for eighteen shillings a week. The bread gave out at tea-time this evening, and a mild financial boarder tapped his plate with his knife, and sent the bread plate out to be replenished. It came back with one slice on it.

The mild financial boarder, with desperate courage, is telling the landlady that he’ll have to shift next week—it is too far to go to work, he cannot always get down in time; he is very sorry he has to go, he says; he is very comfortable here, but it can’t be helped; anyway, as soon as he can get work nearer, he’ll come back at once; also (oh, what cowards men are when women are concerned), he says he wishes she could shift and take a house down at the other end of the town. She says (at least here are some fragments of her gabble which we caught and shorthanded): “Well, I’m very sorry to lose you, Mr Sampson, very sorry indeed; but of course if you must go, you must. Of course you can’t be expected to walk that distance every morning, and you mustn’t be getting to work late, and losing your place... Of course we could get breakfast an hour earlier if... well, as I said before, I’m sorry to lose you and, indeed... You won’t forget to come and see us... glad to see you at any time... Well, any way, if you ever want to come back, you know, your bed will be always ready for you, and you’ll be treated just the same, and made just as comfortable—you won’t forget that” (he says he won’t); “and you won’t forget to come to dinner sometimes” (he says he won’t); “and, of course... You know I always try... Don’t forget to drop in sometimes... Well, anyway, if you ever do happen to hear of a decent young fellow who wants a good, clean, comfortable home, you’ll be sure to send him to me, will you?” (He says he will.) “Well, of course, Mr Sampson, etc., etc., etc., and-so-on, and-so-on, and-so-on, and-so-on,...” It’s enough to give a man rats.

He escapes, and we regard his departure very much as a gang of hopeless convicts might regard the unexpected liberation of one of their number.

This is the sort of life that gives a man a God-Almighty longing to break away and take to the bush.

His Colonial Oath

I lately met an old schoolmate of mine up-country. He was much changed. He was tall and lank, and had the most hideous bristly red beard I ever saw. He was working on his father’s farm. He shook hands, looked anywhere but in my face—and said nothing. Presently I remarked at a venture “So poor old Mr B., the schoolmaster, is dead.”

“My oath!” he replied.

“He was a good old sort.”

“My oath!”

“Time goes by pretty quick, doesn’t it?”

His oath (colonial).

“Poor old Mr B. died awfully sudden, didn’t he?”

He looked up the hill, and said: “My oath!”

Then he added: “My blooming oath!”

I thought, perhaps, my city rig or manner embarrassed him, so I stuck my hands in my pockets, spat, and said, to set him at his ease: “It’s blanky hot to-day. I don’t know how you blanky blanks stand such blank weather! It’s blanky well hot enough to roast a crimson carnal bullock; ain’t it?” Then I took out a cake of tobacco, bit off a quarter, and pretended to chew. He replied:

“My oath!”

The conversation flagged here. But presently, to my great surprise, he came to the rescue with:

“He finished me, yer know.”

“Finished? How? Who?”

He looked down towards the river, thought (if he did think) and said: “Finished me edyercation, yer know.”

“Oh! you mean Mr B.?”

“My oath—he finished me first-rate.”

“He turned out a good many scholars, didn’t he?”

“My oath! I’m thinkin’ about going down to the trainin’ school.”‘

“You ought to—I would if I were you.”

“My oath!”

“Those were good old times,” I hazarded, “you remember the old bark school?”

He looked away across the sidling, and was evidently getting uneasy. He shifted about, and said:

“Well, I must be goin’.”

“I suppose you’re pretty busy now?”

“My oath! So long.”

“Well, good-bye. We must have a yarn some day.”

“My oath!”

He got away as quickly as he could.

I wonder whether he was changed after all—or, was it I? A man does seem to get out of touch with the bush after living in cities for eight or ten years.

A Visit Of Condolence

“Does Arvie live here, old woman?”

“Why?”

“Strike me dead! carn’t yer answer a civil queschin?”

“How dare you talk to me like that, you young larrikin! Be off! or I’ll send for a policeman.”

“Blarst the cops! D’yer think I cares for ’em? Fur two pins I’d fetch a push an’ smash yer ole shanty about yer ears—y’ole cow! I only arsked if Arvie lived here! Holy Mosis! carn’t a feller ask a civil queschin?”

“What do you want with Arvie? Do you know him?”

“My oath! Don’t he work at Grinder Brothers? I only come out of my way to do him a good turn; an’ now I’m sorry I come—damned if I ain’t—to be barracked like this, an’ shoved down my own throat. (Pause) I want to tell Arvie that if he don’t come ter work termorrer, another bloke’ll collar his job. I wouldn’t like to see a cove collar a cove’s job an’ not tell a bloke about it. What’s up with Arvie, anyhow? Is he sick?”

“Arvie is dead!”

“Christ! (Pause) Garn! What-yer-giv’n-us? Tell Arvie Bill Anderson wants-ter see him.”

“My God! haven’t I got enough trouble without a young wretch like you coming to torment me? For God’s sake go away and leave me alone! I’m telling you the truth, my my poor boy died of influenza last night.”

“My oath!”

The ragged young rip gave a long, low whistle, glanced up and down Jones’s Alley, spat out some tobacco-juice, and said “Swelp me Gord! I’m sorry, mum. I didn’t know. How was I to know you wasn’t havin’ me?”

He withdrew one hand from his pocket and scratched the back of his head, tilting his hat as far forward as it had previously been to the rear, and just then the dilapidated side of his right boot attracted his attention. He turned the foot on one side, and squinted at the sole; then he raised the foot to his left knee, caught the ankle in a very dirty hand, and regarded the sole-leather critically, as though calculating how long it would last. After which he spat desperately at the pavement, and said:

“Kin I see him?”

He followed her up the crooked little staircase with a who’s-afraid kind of swagger, but he took his hat off on entering the room.

He glanced round, and seemed to take stock of the signs of poverty—so familiar to his class—and then directed his gaze to where the body lay on the sofa with its pauper coffin already by its side. He looked at the coffin with the critical eye of a tradesman, then he looked at Arvie, and then at the coffin again, as if calculating whether the body would fit.

The mother uncovered the white, pinched face of the dead boy, and Bill came and stood by the sofa. He carelessly drew his right hand from his pocket, and laid the palm on Arvie’s ice-cold forehead.

“Poor little cove!” Bill muttered, half to himself; and then, as though ashamed of his weakness, he said:

“There wasn’t no post mortem, was there?”

“No,” she answered; “a doctor saw him the day before—there was no post mortem.”

“I thought there wasn’t none,” said Bill, “because a man that’s been post mortemed always looks as if he’d been hurt. My father looked right enough at first—just as if he was restin’—but after they’d had him opened he looked as if he’d been hurt. No one else could see it, but I could. How old was Arvie?”

“Eleven.”‘

“I’m twelve—goin’ on for thirteen. Arvie’s father’s dead, ain’t he?”

“Yes.”

“So’s mine. Died at his work, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“So’d mine. Arvie told me his father died of something with his heart!”

“Yes.”

“So’d mine; ain’t it rum? You scrub offices an’ wash, don’t yer?”

“Yes.”

“So does my mother. You find it pretty hard to get a livin’, don’t yer, these times?”

“My God, yes! God only knows what I’ll do now my poor boy’s gone. I generally get up at half-past five to scrub out some offices, and when that’s done I’ve got to start my day’s work, washing. And then I find it hard to make both ends meet.”

“So does my mother. I suppose you took on bad when yer husband was brought home?”

“Ah, my God! Yes. I’ll never forget it till my dying day. My poor husband had been out of work for weeks, and he only got the job two days before he died. I suppose it gave your mother a great shock?”

“My oath! One of the fellows that carried father home said: ‘Yer husband’s dead, mum,’ he says; ‘he dropped off all of a suddint,’ and mother said, ‘My God! my God!’ just like that, and went off.”

“Poor soul! poor soul! And—now my Arvie’s gone. Whatever will me and the children do? Whatever will I do? Whatever will I do? My God! I wish I was under the turf.”

“Cheer up, mum!” said Bill. “It’s no use frettin’ over what’s done.”

He wiped some tobacco-juice off his lips with the back of his hand, and regarded the stains reflectively for a minute or so. Then he looked at Arvie again.

“You should ha’ tried cod liver oil,” said Bill.

“No. He needed rest and plenty of good food.”

“He wasn’t very strong.”

“No, he was not, poor boy.”

“I thought he wasn’t. They treated him bad at Grinder Brothers: they didn’t give him a show to learn nothing; kept him at the same work all the time, and he didn’t have cheek enough to arsk the boss for a rise, lest he’d be sacked. He couldn’t fight, an’ the boys used to tease him; they’d wait outside the shop to have a lark with Arvie. I’d like to see ’em do it to me. He couldn’t fight; but then, of course, he wasn’t strong. They don’t bother me while I’m strong enough to heave a rock; but then, of course, it wasn’t Arvie’s fault. I s’pose he had pluck enough, if he hadn’t the strength.” And Bill regarded the corpse with a fatherly and lenient eye.

“My God!” she cried, “if I’d known this, I’d sooner have starved than have my poor boy’s life tormented out of him in such a place. He never complained. My poor, brave-hearted child! He never complained! Poor little Arvie! Poor little Arvie!”

“He never told yer?”

“No—never a word.”

“My oath! You don’t say so! P’raps he didn’t want to let you know he couldn’t hold his own; but that wasn’t his fault, I s’pose. Y’see, he wasn’t strong.”

An old print hanging over the bed attracted his attention, and he regarded it with critical interest for awhile:

“We’ve got a pickcher like that at home. We lived in Jones’s Alley wunst—in that house over there. How d’yer like livin’ in Jones’s Alley?”

“I don’t like it at all. I don’t like having to bring my children up where there are so many bad houses; but I can’t afford to go somewhere else and pay higher rent.”

“Well, there is a good many night-shops round here. But then,” he added, reflectively, “you’ll find them everywheres. An’, besides, the kids git sharp, an’ pick up a good deal in an alley like this; ’twon’t do ’em no harm; it’s no use kids bein’ green if they wanter get on in a city. You ain’t been in Sydney all yer life, have yer?”

“No. We came from the bush, about five years ago. My poor husband thought he could do better in the city. I was brought up in the bush.”‘

“I thought yer was. Well, men are sick fools. I’m thinking about gittin’ a billet up-country, myself, soon. Where’s he goin’ ter be buried?”

“At Rookwood, to-morrow.”

“I carn’t come. I’ve got ter work. Is the Guvmint goin’ to bury him?”

“Yes.”

Bill looked at the body with increased respect. “Kin I do anythin’ for you? Now, don’t be frightened to arsk!”

“No. Thank you very much, all the same.”

“Well, I must be goin’; thank yer fur yer trouble, mum.”

“No trouble, my boy—mind the step.”

“It is gone. I’ll bring a piece of board round some night and mend it for you, if you like; I’m learnin’ the carpenterin’; I kin nearly make a door. Tell yer what, I’ll send the old woman round to-night to fix up Arvie and lend yer a hand.”

“No, thank you. I suppose your mother’s got work and trouble enough; I’ll manage.”

“I’ll send her round, anyway; she’s a bit rough, but she’s got a soft gizzard; an’ there’s nothin’ she enjoys better than fixin’ up a body. Good-bye, mum.”

“Good-bye, my child.”

He paused at the door, and said:

“I’m sorry, mum. Swelp me God! I’m sorry. S’long, an’ thank yer.”

An awe-stricken child stood on the step, staring at Bill with great brimming eyes. He patted it on the head and said “Keep yer pecker up, young ’un!”

In A Wet Season

It was raining—“general rain.”

The train left Bourke, and then there began the long, long agony of scrub and wire fence, with here and there a natural clearing, which seemed even more dismal than the funereal “timber” itself. The only thing which might seem in keeping with one of these soddened flats would be the ghost of a funeral—a city funeral with plain hearse and string of cabs—going very slowly across from the scrub on one side to the scrub on the other. Sky like a wet, grey blanket; plains like dead seas, save for the tufts of coarse grass sticking up out of the water; scrub indescribably dismal—everything damp, dark, and unspeakably dreary.

Somewhere along here we saw a swagman’s camp—a square of calico stretched across a horizontal stick, some rags steaming on another stick in front of a fire, and two billies to the leeward of the blaze. We knew by instinct that there was a piece of beef in the larger one. Small, hopeless-looking man standing with his back to the fire, with his hands behind him, watching the train; also, a damp, sorry-looking dingo warming itself and shivering by the fire. The rain had held up for a while. We saw two or three similar camps further on, forming a temporary suburb of Byrock.

The population was on the platform in old overcoats and damp, soft felt hats; one trooper in a waterproof. The population looked cheerfully and patiently dismal. The local push had evidently turned up to see off some fair enslavers from the city, who had been up-country for the cheque season, now over. They got into another carriage. We were glad when the bell rang.

The rain recommenced. We saw another swagman about a mile on struggling away from the town, through mud and water. He did not seem to have heart enough to bother about trying to avoid the worst mud-holes. There was a low-spirited dingo at his heels, whose sole object in life was seemingly to keep his front paws in his master’s last footprint. The traveller’s body was bent well forward from the hips up; his long arms—about six inches through his coat sleeves—hung by his sides like the arms of a dummy, with a billy at the end of one and a bag at the end of the other; but his head was thrown back against the top end of the swag, his hat-brim rolled up in front, and we saw a ghastly, beardless face which turned neither to the right nor the left as the train passed him.

After a long while we closed our book, and looking through the window, saw a hawker’s turn-out which was too sorrowful for description.

We looked out again while the train was going slowly, and saw a teamster’s camp: three or four wagons covered with tarpaulins which hung down in the mud all round and suggested death. A long, narrow man, in a long, narrow, shoddy overcoat and a damp felt hat, was walking quickly along the road past the camp. A sort of cattle-dog glided silently and swiftly out from under a wagon, “heeled” the man, and slithered back without explaining. Here the scene vanished.

We remember stopping—for an age it seemed—at half a dozen straggling shanties on a flat of mud and water. There was a rotten weather-board pub, with a low, dripping veranda, and three wretchedly forlorn horses hanging, in the rain, to a post outside. We saw no more, but we knew that there were several apologies for men hanging about the rickety bar inside—or round the parlour fire. Streams of cold, clay-coloured water ran in all directions, cutting fresh gutters, and raising a yeasty froth whenever the water fell a few inches. As we left, we saw a big man in an overcoat riding across a culvert; the tails of the coat spread over the horse’s rump, and almost hid it. In fancy still we saw him—hanging up his weary, hungry little horse in the rain, and swaggering into the bar; and we almost heard someone say, in a drawling tone: “’Ello, Tom! ’Ow are yer poppin’ up?”‘

The train stopped (for about a year) within a mile of the next station. Trucking-yards in the foreground, like any other trucking-yard along the line; they looked drearier than usual, because the rain had darkened the posts and rails. Small plain beyond, covered with water and tufts of grass. The inevitable, God-forgotten “timber,” black in the distance; dull, grey sky and misty rain over all. A small, dark-looking flock of sheep was crawling slowly in across the flat from the unknown, with three men on horse-back zigzagging patiently behind. The horses just moved—that was all. One man wore an oilskin, one an old tweed overcoat, and the third had a three-bushel bag over his head and shoulders.

Had we returned an hour later, we should have seen the sheep huddled together in a corner of the yard, and the three horses hanging up outside the local shanty.

We stayed at Nyngan—which place we refrain from sketching—for a few hours, because the five trucks of cattle of which we were in charge were shunted there, to be taken on by a very subsequent goods train. The Government allows one man to every five trucks in a cattle-train. We shall pay our fare next time, even if we have not a shilling left over and above. We had haunted local influence at Comanavadrink for two long, anxious, heart-breaking weeks ere we got the pass; and we had put up with all the indignities, the humiliation—in short, had suffered all that poor devils suffer whilst besieging Local Influence. We only thought of escaping from the bush.

The pass said that we were John Smith, drover, and that we were available for return by ordinary passenger-train within two days, we think—or words in that direction. Which didn’t interest us. We might have given the pass away to an unemployed in Orange, who wanted to go out back, and who begged for it with tears in his eyes; but we didn’t like to injure a poor fool who never injured us—who was an entire stranger to us. He didn’t know what Out Back meant.

Local Influence had given us a kind of note of introduction to be delivered to the cattle-agent at the yards that morning; but the agent was not there—only two of his satellites, a Cockney colonial-experience man, and a scrub-town clerk, both of whom we kindly ignore. We got on without the note, and at Orange we amused ourself by reading it. It said:

“Dear Old Man—Please send this beggar on; and I hope he’ll be landed safely at Orange—or—or wherever the cattle go—yours,—”

We had been led to believe that the bullocks were going to Sydney. We took no further interest in those cattle.

After Nyngan the bush grew darker and drearier; and the plains more like ghastly oceans; and here and there the “dominant note of Australian scenery” was accentuated, as it were, by naked, white, ring-barked trees standing in the water and haunting the ghostly surroundings.

We spent that night in a passenger compartment of a van which had been originally attached to old No. 1 engine. There was only one damp cushion in the whole concern. We lent that to a lady who travelled for a few hours in the other half of the next compartment. The seats were about nine inches wide and sloped in at a sharp angle to the bare matchboard wall, with a bead on the outer edge; and as the cracks had become well caulked with the grease and dirt of generations, they held several gallons of water each. We scuttled one, rolled ourself in a rug, and tried to sleep; but all night long overcoated and comfortered bushmen would get in, let down all the windows, and then get out again at the next station. Then we would wake up frozen and shut the windows.

We dozed off again, and woke at daylight, and recognized the ridgy gum-country between Dubbo and Orange. It didn’t look any drearier than the country further west—because it couldn’t. There is scarcely a part of the country out west which looks less inviting or more horrible than any other part.

The weather cleared, and we had sunlight for Orange, Bathurst, the Blue Mountains, and Sydney. They deserve it; also as much rain as they need.

“Rats”

“Why, there’s two of them, and they’re having a fight! Come on.”‘

It seemed a strange place for a fight—that hot, lonely, cotton-bush plain. And yet not more than half a mile ahead there were apparently two men struggling together on the track.

The three travellers postponed their smoke-ho and hurried on. They were shearers—a little man and a big man, known respectively as “Sunlight” and “Macquarie,” and a tall, thin, young jackeroo whom they called “Milky.”

“I wonder where the other man sprang from? I didn’t see him before,” said Sunlight.

“He muster bin layin’ down in the bushes,” said Macquarie. “They’re goin’ at it proper, too. Come on! Hurry up and see the fun!”

They hurried on.

“It’s a funny-lookin’ feller, the other feller,” panted Milky. “He don’t seem to have no head. Look! he’s down—they’re both down! They must ha’ clinched on the ground. No! they’re up an’ at it again.... Why, good Lord! I think the other’s a woman!”

“My oath! so it is!” yelled Sunlight. “Look! the brute’s got her down again! He’s kickin’ her. Come on, chaps; come on, or he’ll do for her!”

They dropped swags, water-bags and all, and raced forward; but presently Sunlight, who had the best eyes, slackened his pace and dropped behind. His mates glanced back at his face, saw a peculiar expression there, looked ahead again, and then dropped into a walk.

They reached the scene of the trouble, and there stood a little withered old man by the track, with his arms folded close up under his chin; he was dressed mostly in calico patches; and half a dozen corks, suspended on bits of string from the brim of his hat, dangled before his bleared optics to scare away the flies. He was scowling malignantly at a stout, dumpy swag which lay in the middle of the track.

“Well, old Rats, what’s the trouble?” asked Sunlight.

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” answered the old man, without looking round. “I fell out with my swag, that’s all. He knocked me down, but I’ve settled him.”

“But look here,” said Sunlight, winking at his mates, “we saw you jump on him when he was down. That ain’t fair, you know.”

“But you didn’t see it all,” cried Rats, getting excited. “He hit me down first! And look here, I’ll fight him again for nothing, and you can see fair play.”

They talked awhile; then Sunlight proposed to second the swag, while his mate supported the old man, and after some persuasion, Milky agreed, for the sake of the lark, to act as time-keeper and referee.

Rats entered into the spirit of the thing; he stripped to the waist, and while he was getting ready the travellers pretended to bet on the result.

Macquarie took his place behind the old man, and Sunlight up-ended the swag. Rats shaped and danced round; then he rushed, feinted, ducked, retreated, darted in once more, and suddenly went down like a shot on the broad of his back. No actor could have done it better; he went down from that imaginary blow as if a cannon-ball had struck him in the forehead.

Milky called time, and the old man came up, looking shaky. However, he got in a tremendous blow which knocked the swag into the bushes.

Several rounds followed with varying success.

The men pretended to get more and more excited, and betted freely; and Rats did his best. At last they got tired of the fun, Sunlight let the swag lie after Milky called time, and the jackaroo awarded the fight to Rats. They pretended to hand over the stakes, and then went back for their swags, while the old man put on his shirt.

Then he calmed down, carried his swag to the side of the track, sat down on it and talked rationally about bush matters for a while; but presently he grew silent and began to feel his muscles and smile idiotically.

“Can you len’ us a bit o’ meat?” said he suddenly.

They spared him half a pound; but he said he didn’t want it all, and cut off about an ounce, which he laid on the end of his swag. Then he took the lid off his billy and produced a fishing-line. He baited the hook, threw the line across the track, and waited for a bite. Soon he got deeply interested in the line, jerked it once or twice, and drew it in rapidly. The bait had been rubbed off in the grass. The old man regarded the hook disgustedly.

“Look at that!” he cried. “I had him, only I was in such a hurry. I should ha’ played him a little more.”

Next time he was more careful. He drew the line in warily, grabbed an imaginary fish and laid it down on the grass. Sunlight and Co. were greatly interested by this time.

“Wot yer think o’ that?” asked Rats. “It weighs thirty pound if it weighs an ounce! Wot yer think o’ that for a cod? The hook’s half-way down his blessed gullet!”

He caught several cod and a bream while they were there, and invited them to camp and have tea with him. But they wished to reach a certain shed next day, so—after the ancient had borrowed about a pound of meat for bait—they went on, and left him fishing contentedly.

But first Sunlight went down into his pocket and came up with half a crown, which he gave to the old man, along with some tucker. “You’d best push on to the water before dark, old chap,” he said, kindly.

When they turned their heads again, Rats was still fishing but when they looked back for the last time before entering the timber, he was having another row with his swag; and Sunlight reckoned that the trouble arose out of some lies which the swag had been telling about the bigger fish it caught.

Mitchell: A Character Sketch

It was a very mean station, and Mitchell thought he had better go himself and beard the overseer for tucker. His mates were for waiting till the overseer went out on the run, and then trying their luck with the cook; but the self-assertive and diplomatic Mitchell decided to go.

“Good day,” said Mitchell.

“Good day,” said the manager.

“It’s hot,” said Mitchell.

“Yes, it’s hot.”

“I don’t suppose,” said Mitchell; “I don’t suppose it’s any use asking you for a job?”

“Naw.”

“Well, I won’t ask you,” said Mitchell, “but I don’t suppose you want any fencing done?”

“Naw.”

“Nor boundary-riding’?”

“Naw.”

“You ain’t likely to want a man to knock round?”

“Naw.”

“I thought not. Things are pretty bad just now.”

“Na—yes—they are.”

“Ah, well; there’s a lot to be said on the squatter’s side as well as the men’s. I suppose I can get a bit of rations?”

“Ye-yes.” (Shortly)—“Wot d’yer want?”

“Well, let’s see; we want a bit of meat and flour—I think that’s all. Got enough tea and sugar to carry us on.”

“All right. Cook! have you got any meat?”

“No!”

To Mitchell: “Can you kill a sheep?”

“Rather!”

To the cook: “Give this man a cloth and knife and steel, and let him go up to the yard and kill a sheep.” (To Mitchell) “You can take a fore-quarter and get a bit of flour.”

Half an hour later Mitchell came back with the carcass wrapped in the cloth.

“Here yer are; here’s your sheep,” he said to the cook.

“That’s all right; hang it in there. Did you take a forequarter?”‘

“No.”

“Well, why didn’t you? The boss told you to.”

“I didn’t want a fore-quarter. I don’t like it. I took a hind-quarter.”

So he had.

The cook scratched his head; he seemed to have nothing to say. He thought about trying to think, perhaps, but gave it best. It was too hot and he was out of practice.

“Here, fill these up, will you?” said Mitchell. “That’s the tea-bag, and that’s the sugar-bag, and that’s the flour-bag.” He had taken them from the front of his shirt.

“Don’t be frightened to stretch ’em a little, old man. I’ve got two mates to feed.”

The cook took the bags mechanically and filled them well before he knew what he was doing. Mitchell talked all the time.

“Thank you,” said he—“got a bit of baking-powder?”

“Ye-yes, here you are.”

“Thank you. Find it dull here, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, pretty dull. There’s a bit of cooked beef and some bread and cake there, if you want it!”

“Thanks,” said Mitchell, sweeping the broken victuals into an old pillow-slip which he carried on his person for such an emergency. “I s’pose you find it dull round here.”

“Yes, pretty dull.”

“No one to talk to much?”

“No, not many.”

“Tongue gets rusty?”

“Ye—es, sometimes.”

“Well, so long, and thank yer.”

“So long,” said the cook (he nearly added “thank yer”).

“Well, good day; I’ll see you again.”

“Good day.”

Mitchell shouldered his spoil and left.

The cook scratched his head; he had a chat with the overseer afterwards, and they agreed that the traveller was a bit gone.

But Mitchell’s head wasn’t gone—not much: he had been round a bit—that was all.

The Bush Undertaker

“Five Bob!”

The old man shaded his eyes and peered through the dazzling glow of that broiling Christmas Day. He stood just within the door of a slab-and-bark hut situated upon the bank of a barren creek; sheep-yards lay to the right, and a low line of bare, brown ridges formed a suitable background to the scene.

“Five Bob!” shouted he again; and a dusty sheep-dog rose wearily from the shaded side of the hut and looked inquiringly at his master, who pointed towards some sheep which were straggling from the flock.

“Fetch ’em back,” he said confidently.

The dog went off, and his master returned to the interior of the hut.

“We’ll yard ’em early,” he said to himself; “the super won’t know. We’ll yard ’em early, and have the arternoon to ourselves.”

“We’ll get dinner,” he added, glancing at some pots on the fire. “I cud do a bit of doughboy, an’ that theer boggabri’ll eat like tater-marrer along of the salt meat.” He moved one of the black buckets from the blaze. “I likes to keep it jist on the sizzle,” he said in explanation to himself; “hard bilin’ makes it tough—I’ll keep it jist a-simmerin’.”

Here his soliloquy was interrupted by the return of the dog.

“All right, Five Bob,” said the hatter, “dinner’ll be ready dreckly. Jist keep yer eye on the sheep till I calls yer; keep ’em well rounded up, an’ we’ll yard ’em afterwards and have a holiday.”

This speech was accompanied by a gesture evidently intelligible, for the dog retired as though he understood English, and the cooking proceeded.

“I’ll take a pick an’ shovel with me an’ root up that old blackfellow,” mused the shepherd, evidently following up a recent train of thought; “I reckon it’ll do now. I’ll put in the spuds.”

The last sentence referred to the cooking, the first to a blackfellow’s grave about which he was curious.

“The sheep’s a-campin’,” said the soliloquizer, glancing through the door. “So me an’ Five Bob’ll be able to get our dinner in peace. I wish I had just enough fat to make the pan siss; I’d treat myself to a leather-jacket; but it took three weeks’ skimmin’ to get enough for them theer doughboys.”

In due time the dinner was dished up; and the old man seated himself on a block, with the lid of a gin-case across his knees for a table. Five Bob squatted opposite with the liveliest interest and appreciation depicted on his intelligent countenance.

Dinner proceeded very quietly, except when the carver paused to ask the dog how some tasty morsel went with him, and Five Bob’s tail declared that it went very well indeed.

“Here y’are, try this,” cried the old man, tossing him a large piece of doughboy. A click of Five Bob’s jaws and the dough was gone.

“Clean into his liver!” said the old man with a faint smile. He washed up the tinware in the water the duff had been boiled in, and then, with the assistance of the dog, yarded the sheep.

This accomplished, he took a pick and shovel and an old sack, and started out over the ridge, followed, of course, by his four-legged mate. After tramping some three miles he reached a spur, running out from the main ridge. At the extreme end of this, under some gum-trees, was a little mound of earth, barely defined in the grass, and indented in the centre as all blackfellows’ graves were.

He set to work to dig it up, and sure enough, in about half an hour he bottomed on payable dirt.

When he had raked up all the bones, he amused himself by putting them together on the grass and by speculating as to whether they had belonged to black or white, male or female. Failing, however, to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion, he dusted them with great care, put them in the bag, and started for home.

He took a short cut this time over the ridge and down a gully which was full of ring-barked trees and long white grass. He had nearly reached its mouth when a great greasy black goanna clambered up a sapling from under his feet and looked fightable.

“Dang the jumpt-up thing!” cried the old man. “It ’gin me a start!”

At the foot of the sapling he espied an object which he at first thought was the blackened carcass of a sheep, but on closer examination discovered to be the body of a man; it lay with its forehead resting on its hands, dried to a mummy by the intense heat of the western summer.

“Me luck’s in for the day and no mistake!” said the shepherd, scratching the back of his head, while he took stock of the remains. He picked up a stick and tapped the body on the shoulder; the flesh sounded like leather. He turned it over on its side; it fell flat on its back like a board, and the shrivelled eyes seemed to peer up at him from under the blackened wrists.

He stepped back involuntarily, but, recovering himself, leant on his stick and took in all the ghastly details.

There was nothing in the blackened features to tell aught of name or race, but the dress proclaimed the remains to be those of a European. The old man caught sight of a black bottle in the grass, close beside the corpse. This set him thinking. Presently he knelt down and examined the soles of the dead man’s blucher boots, and then, rising with an air of conviction, exclaimed: “Brummy! by gosh!—busted up at last!

“I tole yer so, Brummy,” he said impressively, addressing the corpse. “I allers told yer as how it ’ud be—an’ here y’are, you thundering jumpt-up cuss-o’-God fool. Yer cud earn more’n any man in the colony, but yer’d lush it all away. I allers sed as how it ’ud end, an’ now yer kin see fur y’self.

“I spect yer was a-comin’ t’ me t’ get fixt up an’ set straight agin; then yer was a-goin’ to swear off, same as yer ’allers did; an’ here y’are, an’ now I expect I’ll have t’ fix yer up for the last time an’ make yer decent, for ’twon’t do t’ leave yer alyin’ out here like a dead sheep.”

He picked up the corked bottle and examined it. To his great surprise it was nearly full of rum.

“Well, this gits me,” exclaimed the old man; “me luck’s in, this Christmas, an’ no mistake. He must ’a’ got the jams early in his spree, or he wouldn’t be a-making for me with near a bottleful left. Howsomenever, here goes.”

Looking round, his eyes lit up with satisfaction as he saw some bits of bark which had been left by a party of strippers who had been getting bark there for the stations. He picked up two pieces, one about four and the other six feet long, and each about two feet wide, and brought them over to the body. He laid the longest strip by the side of the corpse, which he proceeded to lift on to it.

“Come on, Brummy,” he said, in a softer tone than usual, “ye ain’t as bad as yer might be, considerin’ as it must be three good months since yer slipped yer wind. I spect it was the rum as preserved yer. It was the death of yer when yer was alive, an’ now yer dead, it preserves yer like—like a mummy.”

Then he placed the other strip on top, with the hollow side downwards—thus sandwiching the defunct between the two pieces—removed the saddle-strap, which he wore for a belt, and buckled it round one end, while he tried to think of something with which to tie up the other.

“I can’t take any more strips off my shirt,” he said, critically examining the skirts of the old blue overshirt he wore. “I might get a strip or two more off, but it’s short enough already. Let’s see; how long have I been a-wearin’ of that shirt; oh, I remember, I bought it jist two days afore Five Bob was pupped. I can’t afford a new shirt jist yet; howsomenever, seein’ it’s Brummy, I’ll jist borrow a couple more strips and sew ’em on agen when I git home.”

He up-ended Brummy, and placing his shoulder against the middle of the lower sheet of bark, lifted the corpse to a horizontal position; then, taking the bag of bones in his hand, he started for home.

“I ain’t a-spendin’ sech a dull Christmas arter all,” he reflected, as he plodded on; but he had not walked above a hundred yards when he saw a black goanna sidling into the grass.

“That’s another of them theer dang things!” he exclaimed. “That’s two I’ve seed this mornin’.”

Presently he remarked: “Yer don’t smell none too sweet, Brummy. It must ’a’ been jist about the middle of shearin’ when yer pegged out. I wonder who got yer last cheque. Shoo! theer’s another black goanner—theer must be a flock of ’em.”

He rested Brummy on the ground while he had another pull at the bottle, and, before going on, packed the bag of bones on his shoulder under the body, and he soon stopped again.

“The thunderin’ jumpt-up bones is all skew-whift,” he said. “’Ole on, Brummy, an’ I’ll fix ’em”—and he leaned the dead man against a tree while he settled the bones on his shoulder, and took another pull at the bottle.

About a mile further on he heard a rustling in the grass to the right, and, looking round, saw another goanna gliding off sideways, with its long snaky neck turned towards him.

This puzzled the shepherd considerably, the strangest part of it being that Five Bob wouldn’t touch the reptile, but slunk off with his tail down when ordered to “sick ’em.”

“Theer’s sothin’ comic about them theer goanners,” said the old man at last. “I’ve seed swarms of grasshoppers an’ big mobs of kangaroos, but dang me if ever I seed a flock of black goanners afore!”

On reaching the hut the old man dumped the corpse against the wall, wrong end up, and stood scratching his head while he endeavoured to collect his muddled thoughts; but he had not placed Brummy at the correct angle, and, consequently, that individual fell forward and struck him a violent blow on the shoulder with the iron toes of his blucher boots.

The shock sobered him. He sprang a good yard, instinctively hitching up his moleskins in preparation for flight; but a backward glance revealed to him the true cause of this supposed attack from the rear. Then he lifted the body, stood it on its feet against the chimney, and ruminated as to where he should lodge his mate for the night, not noticing that the shorter sheet of bark had slipped down on the boots and left the face exposed.

“I spect I’ll have ter put yer into the chimney-trough for the night, Brummy,” said he, turning round to confront the corpse. “Yer can’t expect me to take yer into the hut, though I did it when yer was in a worse state than—Lord!”

The shepherd was not prepared for the awful scrutiny that gleamed on him from those empty sockets; his nerves received a shock, and it was some time before he recovered himself sufficiently to speak.

“Now, look a-here, Brummy,” said he, shaking his finger severely at the delinquent, “I don’t want to pick a row with yer; I’d do as much for yer an’ more than any other man, an’ well yer knows it; but if yer starts playin’ any of yer jumpt-up pranktical jokes on me, and a-scarin’ of me after a-humpin’ of yer ’ome, by the ’oly frost I’ll kick yer to jim-rags, so I will.”

This admonition delivered, he hoisted Brummy into the chimney-trough, and with a last glance towards the sheep-yards, he retired to his bunk to have, as he said, a snooze.

He had more than a snooze, however, for when he woke, it was dark, and the bushman’s instinct told him it must be nearly nine o’clock.

He lit a slush-lamp and poured the remainder of the rum into a pannikin; but, just as he was about to lift the draught to his lips, he heard a peculiar rustling sound overhead, and put the pot down on the table with a slam that spilled some of the precious liquor.

Five Bob whimpered, and the old shepherd, though used to the weird and dismal, as one living alone in the bush must necessarily be, felt the icy breath of fear at his heart.

He reached hastily for his old shot-gun, and went out to investigate. He walked round the but several times and examined the roof on all sides, but saw nothing. Brummy appeared to be in the same position.

At last, persuading himself that the noise was caused by possums or the wind, the old man went inside, boiled his billy, and, after composing his nerves somewhat with a light supper and a meditative smoke, retired for the night. He was aroused several times before midnight by the same mysterious sound overhead, but, though he rose and examined the roof on each occasion by the light of the rising moon, he discovered nothing.

At last he determined to sit up and watch until daybreak, and for this purpose took up a position on a log a short distance from the hut, with his gun laid in readiness across his knee.

After watching for about an hour, he saw a black object coming over the ridge-pole. He grabbed his gun and fired. The thing disappeared. He ran round to the other side of the hut, and there was a great black goanna in violent convulsions on the ground.

Then the old man saw it all. “The thunderin’ jumpt-up thing has been a-havin’ o’ me,” he exclaimed. “The same cuss-o’-God wretch has a-follered me ’ome, an’ has been a-havin’ its Christmas dinner off of Brummy, an’ a-hauntin’ o’ me into the bargain, the jumpt-up tinker!”

As there was no one by whom he could send a message to the station, and the old man dared not leave the sheep and go himself, he determined to bury the body the next afternoon, reflecting that the authorities could disinter it for inquest if they pleased.

So he brought the sheep home early and made arrangements for the burial by measuring the outer casing of Brummy and digging a hole according to those dimensions.

“That ’minds me,” he said. “I never rightly knowed Brummy’s religion, blest if ever I did. Howsomenever, there’s one thing sartin—none o’ them theer pianer-fingered parsons is a-goin’ ter take the trouble ter travel out inter this God-forgotten part to hold sarvice over him, seein’ as how his last cheque’s blued. But, as I’ve got the fun’ral arrangements all in me own hands, I’ll do jestice to it, and see that Brummy has a good comfortable buryin’—and more’s unpossible.”

“It’s time yer turned in, Brum,” he said, lifting the body down.

He carried it to the grave and dropped it into one corner like a post. He arranged the bark so as to cover the face, and, by means of a piece of clothes-line, lowered the body to a horizontal position. Then he threw in an armful of gum-leaves, and then, very reluctantly, took the shovel and dropped in a few shovelfuls of earth.

“An’ this is the last of Brummy,” he said, leaning on his spade and looking away over the tops of the ragged gums on the distant range.

This reflection seemed to engender a flood of memories, in which the old man became absorbed. He leaned heavily upon his spade and thought.

“Arter all,” he murmured sadly, “arter all—it were Brummy.

“Brummy,” he said at last. “It’s all over now; nothin’ matters now—nothin’ didn’t ever matter, nor—nor don’t. You uster say as how it ’ud be all right termorrer” (pause); “termorrer’s come, Brummy—come fur you—it ain’t come fur me yet, but—it’s a-comin’.”

He threw in some more earth.

“Yer don’t remember, Brummy, an’ mebbe yer don’t want to remember—I don’t want to remember—but—well, but, yer see that’s where yer got the pull on me.”

He shovelled in some more earth and paused again.

The dog rose, with ears erect, and looked anxiously first at his master and then into the grave.

“Theer oughter be somethin’ sed,” muttered the old man; “’tain’t right to put ’im under like a dog. Theer oughter be some sort o’ sarmin.” He sighed heavily in the listening silence that followed this remark and proceeded with his work. He filled the grave to the brim this time, and fashioned the mound carefully with his spade. Once or twice he muttered the words, “I am the rassaraction.” As he laid the tools quietly aside, and stood at the head of the grave, he was evidently trying to remember the something that ought to be said. He removed his hat, placed it carefully on the grass, held his hands out from his sides and a little to the front, drew a long deep breath, and said with a solemnity that greatly disturbed Five Bob: “Hashes ter hashes, dus ter dus, Brummy—an’—an’ in hopes of a great an’ gerlorious rassaraction!”

He sat down on a log near by, rested his elbows on his knees and passed his hand wearily over his forehead—but only as one who was tired and felt the heat; and presently he rose, took up the tools, and walked back to the hut.

And the sun sank again on the grand Australian bush—the nurse and tutor of eccentric minds, the home of the weird.

Our Pipes

The moon rose away out on the edge of a smoky plain, seen through a sort of tunnel or arch in the fringe of mulga behind which we were camped—Jack Mitchell and I. The timber proper was just behind us, very thick and very dark. The moon looked like a big new copper boiler set on edge on the horizon of the plain, with the top turned towards us and a lot of old rags and straw burning inside.

We had tramped twenty-five miles on a dry stretch on a hot day—swagmen know what that means. We reached the water about two hours “after dark”—swagmen know what that means. We didn’t sit down at once and rest—we hadn’t rested for the last ten miles. We knew that if we sat down we wouldn’t want to get up again in a hurry—that, if we did, our leg-sinews, especially those of our calves, would “draw” like red-hot wire’s. You see, we hadn’t been long on the track this time—it was only our third day out. Swagmen will understand.

We got the billy boiled first, and some leaves laid down for our beds and the swags rolled out. We thanked the Lord that we had some cooked meat and a few johnny-cakes left, for we didn’t feel equal to cooking. We put the billy of tea and our tucker-bags between the heads of our beds, and the pipes and tobacco in the crown of an old hat, where we could reach them without having to get up. Then we lay down on our stomachs and had a feed. We didn’t eat much—we were too tired for that—but we drank a lot of tea. We gave our calves time to tone down a bit; then we lit up and began to answer each other. It got to be pretty comfortable, so long as we kept those unfortunate legs of ours straight and didn’t move round much.

We cursed society because we weren’t rich men, and then we felt better and conversation drifted lazily round various subjects and ended in that of smoking.

“How I came to start smoking?” said Mitchell. “Let’s see.” He reflected. “I started smoking first when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I smoked some sort of weed—I forget the name of it—but it wasn’t tobacco; and then I smoked cigarettes—not the ones we get now, for those cost a penny each. Then I reckoned that, if I could smoke those, I could smoke a pipe.”

He reflected.

“We lived in Sydney then—Surry Hills. Those were different times; the place was nearly all sand. The old folks were alive then, and we were all at home, except Tom.”

He reflected.

“Ah, well!... Well, one evening I was playing marbles out in front of our house when a chap we knew gave me his pipe to mind while he went into a church-meeting. The little church was opposite—a ‘chapel’ they called it.”

He reflected.

“The pipe was alight. It was a clay pipe and niggerhead tobacco. Mother was at work out in the kitchen at the back, washing up the tea-things, and, when I went in, she said: ‘You’ve been smoking!’

“Well, I couldn’t deny it—I was too sick to do so, or care much, anyway.

“‘Give me that pipe!’ she said.

“I said I hadn’t got it.

“‘Give—me—that—pipe!’ she said.

“I said I hadn’t got it.

“‘Where is it?’ she said.

“‘Jim Brown’s got it,’ I said, ‘it’s his.’

“‘Then I’ll give it to Jim Brown,’ she said; and she did; though it wasn’t Jim’s fault, for he only gave it to me to mind. I didn’t smoke the pipe so much because I wanted to smoke a pipe just then, as because I had such a great admiration for Jim.”

Mitchell reflected, and took a look at the moon. It had risen clear and had got small and cold and pure-looking, and had floated away back out amongst the stars.

“I felt better towards morning, but it didn’t cure me—being sick and nearly dead all night, I mean. I got a clay pipe and tobacco, and the old lady found it and put it in the stove. Then I got another pipe and tobacco, and she laid for it, and found it out at last; but she didn’t put the tobacco in the stove this time—she’d got experience. I don’t know what she did with it. I tried to find it, but couldn’t. I fancy the old man got hold of it, for I saw him with a plug that looked very much like mine.”

He reflected.

“But I wouldn’t be done. I got a cherry pipe. I thought it wouldn’t be so easy to break if she found it. I used to plant the bowl in one place and the stem in another because I reckoned that if she found one she mightn’t find the other. It doesn’t look much of an idea now, but it seemed like an inspiration then. Kids get rum ideas.”

He reflected.

“Well, one day I was having a smoke out at the back, when I heard her coming, and I pulled out the stem in a hurry and put the bowl behind the water-butt and the stem under the house. Mother was coming round for a dipper of water. I got out of her way quick, for I hadn’t time to look innocent; but the bowl of the pipe was hot and she got a whiff of it. She went sniffing round, first on one side of the cask and then on the other, until she got on the scent and followed it up and found the bowl. Then I had only the stem left. She looked for that, but she couldn’t scent it. But I couldn’t get much comfort out of that. Have you got the matches?

“Then I gave it best for a time and smoked cigars. They were the safest and most satisfactory under the circumstances, but they cost me two shillings a week, and I couldn’t stand it, so I started a pipe again and then mother gave in at last. God bless her, and God forgive me, and us all—we deserve it. She’s been at rest these seventeen long years.”

Mitchell reflected.

“And what did your old man do when he found out that you were smoking?” I asked.

“The old man?”

He reflected.

“Well, he seemed to brighten up at first. You see, he was sort of pensioned off by mother and she kept him pretty well inside his income.... Well, he seemed to sort of brighten up—liven up—when he found out that I was smoking.”

“Did he? So did my old man, and he livened me up, too. But what did your old man do—what did he say?”

“Well,” said Mitchell, very slowly, “about the first thing he did was to ask me for a fill.”

He reflected.

“Ah! many a solemn, thoughtful old smoke we had together on the quiet—the old man and me.”

He reflected.

“Is your old man dead, Mitchell?” I asked softly.

“Long ago—these twelve years,” said Mitchell.

Coming Across
A Study in the Steerage

We were delayed for an hour or so inside Sydney Heads, taking passengers from the Oroya, which had just arrived from England and anchored off Watson’s Bay. An Adelaide boat went alongside the ocean liner, while we dropped anchor at a respectable distance. This puzzled some of us until one of the passengers stopped an ancient mariner and inquired. The sailor jerked his thumb upwards, and left. The passengers stared aloft till some of them got the lockjaw in the back of their necks, and then another sailor suggested that we had yards to our masts, while the Adelaide boat had not.

It seemed a pity that the new chums for New Zealand didn’t have a chance to see Sydney after coming so far and getting so near. It struck them that way too. They saw Melbourne, which seemed another injustice to the old city. However, nothing matters much nowadays, and they might see Sydney in happier times.

They looked like new chums, especially the “furst clarsters,” and there were two or three Scotsmen among them who looked like Scots, and talked like it too; also an Irishman. Great Britain and Ireland do not seem to be learning anything fresh about Australia. We had a yarn with one of these new arrivals, and got talking about the banks. It turned out that he was a radical. He spat over the side and said:

“It’s a something shame the way things is carried on! Now, look here, a banker can rob hundreds of wimmin and children an’ widders and orfuns, and nothin’ is done to him; but if a poor man only embezzles a shilling he gets transported to the colonies for life.” The italics are ours, but the words were his.

We explained to this new chum that transportation was done away with long ago, as far as Australia was concerned, that no more convicts were sent out here—only men who ought to be; and he seemed surprised. He did not call us a liar, but he looked as if he thought that we were prevaricating. We were glad that he didn’t say so, for he was a bigger man. New chums are generally more robust than Australians.

When we got through the Heads someone pointed to the wrong part of the cliff and said:

“That’s where the Dunbar was wrecked.”

Shortly afterwards another man pointed to another wrong part of the cliffs and observed incidentally:

“That’s where the Dunbar was wrecked.”

Pretty soon a third man came along and pointed to a third wrong part of the cliff, and remarked casually:

“That’s where the Dunbar was wrecked.”

We moved aft and met the fourth mate, who jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the cliffs in general, and muttered condescendingly:

“That’s where the Dunbar was wrecked.”

It was not long before a woman turned round and asked “Was that the place where the Dunbar was wrecked, please?”

We said “Yes,” and she said “Lor,” and beckoned to a friend.

We went for’ard and met an old sailor, who glared at us, jerked his thumb at the coast and growled:

“That’s where the Dunbar went down.”

Then we went below; but we felt a slight relief when he said “went down” instead of “was wrecked.”

It is doubtful whether a passenger boat ever cleared Sydney Heads since the wild night of that famous wreck without someone pointing to the wrong part of the cliffs, and remarking:

“That’s where the Dunbar was wrecked.”

The Dunbar fiend is inseparable from Australian coasting steamers.

We travelled second-class in the interests of journalism. You get more points for copy in the steerage. It was a sacrifice; but we hope to profit by it some day.

There were about fifty male passengers, including half a dozen New Zealand shearers, two of whom came on board drunk—their remarks for the first night mainly consisted of “gory.” “Gory” is part of the Australian language now—a big part.

The others were chiefly tradesmen, labourers, clerks and bagmen, driven out of Australia by the hard times there, and glad, no doubt, to get away. There was a jeweller on board, of course, and his name was Moses or Cohen. If it wasn’t it should have been—or Isaacs. His christian name was probably Benjamin. We called him Jacobs. He passed away most of his time on board in swopping watch lies with the other passengers and good-naturedly spoiling their Waterburys.

One commercial traveller shipped with a flower in his buttonhole. His girl gave it to him on the wharf, and told him to keep it till it faded, and then press it. She was a barmaid. She thought he was “going saloon,” but he came forward as soon as the wharf was out of sight. He gave the flower to the stewardess, and told us about these things one moonlight night during the voyage.

There was another—a well-known Sydney man—whose friends thought he was going saloon, and turned up in good force to see him off. He spent his last shilling “shouting,” and kept up his end of the pathetic little farce out of consideration for the feelings of certain proud female relatives, and not because he was “proud”—at least in that way. He stood on a conspicuous part of the saloon deck and waved his white handkerchief until Miller’s Point came between. Then he came forward where he belonged. But he was proud—bitterly so. He had a flower too, but he did not give it to the stewardess. He had it pressed, we think (for we knew him), and perhaps he wears it now over the place where his heart used to be.

When Australia was fading from view we shed a tear, which was all we had to shed; at least, we tried to shed a tear, and could not. It is best to be exact when you are writing from experience.

Just as Australia was fading from view, someone looked through a glass, and said in a sad, tired kind of voice that he could just see the place where the Dunbar was wrecked.

Several passengers were leaning about and saying “Europe! E-u-rope!” in agonized tones. None of them were going to Europe, and the new chums said nothing about it. This reminds us that some people say “Asia! Asia! Ak-kak-Asia!” when somebody spills the pepper. There was a pepper-box without a stopper on the table in our cabin. The fact soon attracted attention.

A new chum came along and asked us whether the Maoris were very bad round Sydney. He’d heard that they were. We told him that we had never had any trouble with them to speak of, and gave him another show.

“Did you ever hear of the wreck of the Dunbar?” we asked. He said that he never “heerd tell” of it, but he had heerd of the wreck of the Victoria.

We gave him best.

The first evening passed off quietly, except for the vinously-excited shearers. They had sworn eternal friendship with a convivial dude from the saloon, and he made a fine specimen fool of himself for an hour or so. He never showed his nose for’ard again.

Now and then a passenger would solemnly seek the steward and have a beer. The steward drew it out of a small keg which lay on its side on a shelf with a wooden tap sticking out of the end of it—out of the end of the keg, we mean. The beer tasted like warm but weak vinegar, and cost sixpence per small glass. The bagman told the steward that he could not compliment him on the quality of his liquor, but the steward said nothing. He did not even seem interested—only bored. He had heard the same remark often before, no doubt. He was a fat, solemn steward—not formal, but very reticent—unresponsive. He looked like a man who had conducted a religious conservative paper once and failed, and had then gone into the wholesale produce line, and failed again, and finally got his present billet through the influence of his creditors and two clergymen. He might have been a sociable fellow, a man about town, even a gay young dog, and a radical writer before he was driven to accept the editorship of the aforesaid periodical. He probably came of a “good English family.” He was now, very likely, either a rigid Presbyterian or an extreme freethinker. He thought a lot, anyway, and looked as if he knew a lot too—too much for words, in fact.

We took a turn on deck before turning in, and heard two men arguing about the way in which the Dunbar was wrecked.

The commercial travellers, the jeweller, and one or two new chums who were well provided with clothing undressed deliberately and retired ostentatiously in pyjamas, but there were others—men of better days—who turned in either very early or very late, when the cabin was quiet, and slipped hurriedly and furtively out of their clothes and between the blankets, as if they were ashamed of the poverty of their underwear. It is well that the Lord can see deep down into the hearts of men, for He has to judge them; it is well that the majority of mankind cannot, because, if they could, the world would be altogether too sorrowful to live in; and we do not think the angels can either, else they would not be happy—if they could and were they would not be angels any longer—they would be devils. Study it out on a slate.

We turned in feeling comfortably dismal, and almost wishing that we had gone down with the Dunbar.

The intoxicated shearers and the dude kept their concert up till a late hour that night—or, rather, a very early hour next morning; and at about midnight they were reinforced by the commercial traveller and Moses, the jeweller, who had been visiting acquaintances aft. This push was encouraged by voices from various bunks, and enthusiastically barracked for by a sandy-complexioned, red-headed comedian with twinkling grey eyes, who occupied the berth immediately above our own.

They stood with their backs to the bunks, and their feet braced against the deck, or lurched round, and took friendly pulls from whisky flasks, and chyacked each other, and laughed, and blowed, and lied like—like Australian bushmen; and occasionally they broke out into snatches of song—and as often broke down. Few Englishmen know more than the first verse, or two lines, of even their most popular song, and, where elevated enough to think they can sing, they repeat the first verse over and over again, with the wrong words, and with a sort of “Ta-ra-ra-rum-ti-tooral, ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-rum-ti, ta-ra-ra-rum-tum-ti-rum-rum-tum-ti-dee-e-e,” by way of variation.

Presently—suddenly, it seemed to our drowsy senses—two of the shearers and the bagman commenced arguing with drunken gravity and precision about politics, even while a third bushman was approaching the climax of an out-back yarn of many adjectives, of which he himself was the hero. The scraps of conversation that we caught were somewhat as follow. We leave out most of the adjectives.

First Voice: “Now, look here. The women will vote for men, not principles. That’s why I’m against women voting. Now, just mark my—”

Third Voice (trying to finish yarn): “Hold on. Just wait till I tell yer. Well, this bloomin’ bloke, he says—”

Second Voice (evidently in reply to first): “Principles you mean, not men. You’re getting a bit mixed, old man.” (Smothered chuckle from comedian over our head.)

Third Voice (seeming to drift round in search of sympathy): “‘You will!’ sez I. ‘Yes, I will,’ he sez. ‘Oh, you will, will yer?’ I sez; and with that I—”

Second Voice (apparently wandering from both subjects) “Blanker has always stuck up for the workin’ man, an’ he’ll get in, you’ll see. Why, he’s a bloomin’ workin’ man himself. Me and Blanker—”

Disgusted voice from a bunk: “Oh, that’s damn rot! We’ve had enough of lumpers in parliament! Horny hands are all right enough, but we don’t want any more blanky horny heads!”

Third Voice (threateningly): “Who’s talkin’ about ’orny heads? That pitch is meant for us, ain’t it? Do you mean to say that I’ve got a ’orny head?”

Here two men commenced snarling at each other, and there was some talk of punching the causes of the dispute; but the bagman interfered, a fresh flask was passed round, and some more eternal friendship sworn to.

We dozed off again, and the next time we were aware of anything the commercial and Moses had disappeared, the rest were lying or sitting in their bunks, and the third shearer was telling a yarn about an alleged fight he had at a shed up-country; and perhaps he was telling it for the benefit of the dissatisfied individual who made the injudicious remark concerning horny heads.

“So I said to the boss-over-the-board, ‘you’re a nice sort of a thing,’ I sez. ‘Who are you talkin’ to?’ he says. ‘You, bless yer,’ I says. ‘Now, look here,’ he says, ‘you get your cheque and clear! ‘All right,’ I says, ‘you can take that!’ and I hauled off and landed him a beauty under the butt of the listener. Then the boss came along with two blacklegs, but the boys made a ring, and I laid out the blanks in just five minutes. Then I sez to the boss, ‘That’s the sort of cove I am,’ I sez, ’an’ now, if you—”

But just here there came a deep, growling voice—seemingly from out of the depths of the forehold—anyway, there came a voice, and it said:

“For the Lord’s sake give her a rest!”

The steward turned off the electricity, but there were two lanterns dimly burning in our part of the steerage. It was a narrow compartment running across the width of the boat, and had evidently been partitioned off from the top floor of the hold to meet the emigration from Australia to New Zealand. There were three tiers of bunks, two deep, on the far side, three rows of single bunks on the other, and two at each end of the cabin, the top ones just under the portholes.

The shearers had turned in “all standing;” two of them were lying feet to feet in a couple of outside lower berths. One lay on his stomach with his face turned outwards, his arm thrown over the side of the bunk, and his knuckles resting on the deck, the other rested on the broad of his back with his arm also hanging over the side and his knuckles resting on the floor. And so they slept the sleep of the drunk.

A fair, girl-faced young Swiss emigrant occupied one of the top berths, with his curly, flaxen head resting close alongside one of the lanterns that were dimly burning, and an Anglo-foreign dictionary in his hand. His mate, or brother, who resembled him in everything except that he had dark hair, lay asleep alongside; and in the next berth a long consumptive-looking new chum sat in his pyjamas, with his legs hanging over the edge, and his hands grasping the sideboard, to which, on his right hand, a sort of tin-can arrangement was hooked. He was staring intently at nothing, and seemed to be thinking very hard.

We dozed off again, and woke suddenly to find our eyes wide open, and the young Swiss still studying, and the jackaroo still sitting in the same position, but with a kind of waiting expression on his face—a sort of expectant light in his eyes. Suddenly he lurched for the can, and after awhile he lay back looking like a corpse.

We slept again, and finally awoke to daylight and the clatter of plates. All the bunks were vacated except two, which contained corpses, apparently.

Wet decks, and a round, stiff, morning breeze, blowing strongly across the deck, abeam, and gustily through the open portholes. There was a dull grey sky, and the sea at first sight seemed to be of a dark blue or green, but on closer inspection it took a dirty slate colour, with splashes as of indigo in the hollows. There was one of those near, yet far-away horizons.

About two-thirds of the men were on deck, but the women had not shown up yet—nor did they show up until towards the end of the trip.

Some of the men were smoking in a sheltered corner, some walking up and down, two or three trying to play quoits, one looking at the poultry, one standing abaft the purser’s cabin with hands in the pockets of his long ragged overcoat, watching the engines, and two more—carpenters—were discussing a big cedar log, about five feet in diameter, which was lashed on deck alongside the hatch.

While we were waiting for the Oroya some of the ship’s officers came and had a consultation over this log and called up part of the crew, who got some more ropes and a chain on to it. It struck us at the time that that log would make a sensation if it fetched loose in rough weather. But there wasn’t any rough weather.

The fore-cabin was kept clean; the assistant steward was good-humoured and obliging; his chief was civil enough to freeze the Never-Never country; but the bill of fare was monotonous.

During the afternoon a first-salooner made himself obnoxious by swelling round for’ard. He was a big bull-necked “Britisher” (that word covers it) with a bloated face, prominent gooseberry eyes, fore ’n’ aft cap, and long tan shoes. He seemed as if he’d come to see a “zoo,” and was dissatisfied with it—had a fine contempt for it, in fact, because it did not come up to other zoological gardens that he had seen in London, and on the aw-continong and in the-aw-er-aw—the States, dontcherknow. The fellows reckoned that he ought to be “took down a peg” (dontcherknow) and the sandy-complexioned comedian said he’d do it. So he stepped softly up to the swell, tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and pointed aft—holding his arm out like a pump handle and his forefinger rigid.

The Britisher’s face was a study; it was blank at first and then it went all colours, and wore, in succession, every possible expression except a pleasant one. He seemed bursting with indignation, but he did not speak—could not, perhaps; and, as soon as he could detach his feet from the spot to which they had been nailed in the first place by astonishment, he stalked aft. He did not come to see the zoo any more.

The fellows in the fore-cabin that evening were growling about the bad quality of the grub supplied.

Then the shearer’s volcano showed signs of activity. He shifted round, spat impatiently, and said:

“You chaps don’t know what yer talkin’ about. You want something to grumble about. You should have been out with me last year on the Paroo in Noo South Wales. The meat we got there was so bad that it uster travel!”

“What?”

“Yes! travel! take the track! go on the wallaby! The cockies over there used to hang the meat up on the branches of the trees, and just shake it whenever they wanted to feed the fowls. And the water was so bad that half a pound of tea in the billy wouldn’t make no impression on the colour—nor the taste. The further west we went the worse our meat got, till at last we had to carry a dog-chain to chain it up at night. Then it got worse and broke the chain, and then we had to train the blessed dogs to shepherd it and bring it back. But we fell in with another chap with a bad old dog—a downright knowing, thieving, old hard-case of a dog; and this dog led our dogs astray—demoralized them—corrupted their morals—and so one morning they came home with the blooming meat inside them, instead of outside—and we had to go hungry for breakfast.”

“You’d better turn in, gentlemen. I’m going to turn off the light,” said the steward.

The yarn reminded the Sydney man of a dog he had, and he started some dog lies.

“This dog of mine,” he said, “knowed the way into the best public-houses. If I came to a strange town and wanted a good drink, I’d only have to say, ‘Jack, I’m dry,’ and he’d lead me all right. He always knew the side entrances and private doors after hours, and I—”

But the yarn did not go very well—it fell flat in fact. Then the commercial traveller was taken bad with an anecdote. “That’s nothing,” he said, “I had a black bag once that knew the way into public-houses.”

“A what?”

“Yes. A black bag. A long black bag like that one I’ve got there in my bunk. I was staying at a boarding-house in Sydney, and one of us used to go out every night for a couple of bottles of beer, and we carried the bottles in the bag; and when we got opposite the pub the front end of the bag would begin to swing round towards the door. It was wonderful. It was just as if there was a lump of steel in the end of the bag and a magnet in the bar. We tried it with ever so many people, but it always acted the same. We couldn’t use that bag for any other purpose, for if we carried it along the street it would make our wrists ache trying to go into pubs. It twisted my wrist one time, and it ain’t got right since—I always feel the pain in dull weather. Well, one night we got yarning and didn’t notice how the time was going, and forgot to go for the beer till it was nearly too late. We looked for the bag and couldn’t find it—we generally kept it under a side-table, but it wasn’t there, and before we were done looking, eleven o’clock went. We sat down round the fire, feeling pretty thirsty, and were just thinking about turning in when we heard a thump on the table behind us. We looked round, and there was that bag with two full bottles of English ale in it.

“Then I remembered that I’d left a bob in the bottom of the bag, and—”

The steward turned off the electric light.

There were some hundreds of cases of oranges stacked on deck, and made fast with matting and cordage to the bulwarks. That night was very dark, and next morning there was a row. The captain said he’d “give any man three months that he caught at those oranges.”

“Wot, yer givin’ us?” said a shearer. “We don’t know anything about yer bloomin’ oranges.... I seen one of the saloon passengers moochin’ round for’ard last night. You’d better search the saloon for your blarsted oranges, an’ don’t come round tacklin’ the wrong men.”

It was not necessary to search our quarters, for the “offside” steward was sweeping orange peel out of the steerage for three days thereafter.

And that night, just as we were about to fall asleep, a round, good-humoured face loomed over the edge of the shelf above and a small, twinkling, grey eye winked at us. Then a hand came over, gave a jerk, and something fell on our nose. It was an orange. We sent a “thank you” up through the boards and commenced hurriedly and furtively to stow away the orange. But the comedian had an axe to grind—most people have—wanted to drop his peel alongside our berth; and it made us uneasy because we did not want circumstantial evidence lying round us if the captain chanced to come down to inquire. The next man to us had a barney with the man above him about the same thing. Then the peel was scattered round pretty fairly, or thrown into an empty bunk, and no man dared growl lest he should come to be regarded as a blackleg—a would-be informer.

The men opposite the door kept a look out; and two Australian jokers sat in the top end berth with their legs hanging over and swinging contentedly, and the porthole open ready for a swift and easy disposal of circumstantial evidence on the first alarm. They were eating a pineapple which they had sliced and extracted in sections from a crate up on deck. They looked so chummy, and so school-boyishly happy and contented, that they reminded us of the days long ago, when we were so high.

The chaps had talk about those oranges on deck next day. The commercial traveller said we had a right to the oranges, because the company didn’t give us enough to eat. He said that we were already suffering from insufficient proper nourishment, and he’d tell the doctor so if the doctor came on board at Auckland. Anyway, it was no sin to rob a company.

“But then,” said our comedian, “those oranges, perhaps, were sent over by a poor, struggling orange grower, with a wife and family to keep, and he’ll have to bear the loss, and a few bob might make a lot of difference to him. It ain’t right to rob a poor man.”

This made us feel doubtful and mean, and one or two got uncomfortable and shifted round uneasily. But presently the traveller came to the rescue. He said that no doubt the oranges belonged to a middleman, and the middleman was the curse of the country. We felt better.

Towards the end of the trip the women began to turn up. There were five grass widows, and every female of them had a baby. The Australian marries young and poor; and, when he can live no longer in his native land, he sells the furniture, buys a steerage ticket to New Zealand or Western Australia, and leaves his wife with her relatives or friends until he earns enough money to send for her. Four of our women were girl-wives, and mostly pretty. One little handful of a thing had a fine baby boy, nearly as big as herself, and she looked so fragile and pale, and pretty and lonely, and had such an appealing light in her big shadowed brown eyes, and such a pathetic droop at the corners of her sweet little mouth, that you longed to take her in your manly arms—baby and all—and comfort her.

The last afternoon on high seas was spent in looking through glasses for the Pinnacles, off North Cape. And, as we neared the land, the commercial traveller remarked that he wouldn’t mind if there was a wreck now—provided we all got saved. “We’d have all our names in the papers,” he said. “Gallant conduct of the passengers and crew. Heroic rescue by Mr So-and-so-climbing the cliffs with a girl under his arm, and all that sort of thing.”

The chaps smiled a doleful smile, and turned away again to look at the Promised Land. They had had no anxiety to speak of for the last two or three days; but now they were again face to face with the cursed question, “How to make a living.” They were wondering whether or no they would get work in New Zealand, and feeling more doubtful about it than when they embarked.

Pity we couldn’t go to sea and sail away for ever, and never see land any more—or, at least, not till better and brighter days—if they ever come.

The Story Of Malachi

Malachi was very tall, very thin, and very round-shouldered, and the sandiness of his hair also cried aloud for an adjective. All the boys considered Malachi the greatest ass on the station, and there was no doubt that he was an awful fool. He had never been out of his native bush in all his life, excepting once, when he paid a short visit to Sydney, and when he returned it was evident that his nerves had received a shaking. We failed to draw one word out of Malachi regarding his views on the city—to describe it was not in his power, for it had evidently been something far beyond his comprehension. Even after his visit had become a matter of history, if you were to ask him what he thought of Sydney the dazed expression would come back into his face, and he would scratch his head and say in a slow and deliberate manner, “Well, there’s no mistake, it’s a caution.” And as such the city remained, so far as Malachi’s opinion of it was concerned.

Malachi was always shabbily dressed, in spite of his pound a week and board, and “When Malachi gets a new suit of clothes” was the expression invariably used by the boys to fix a date for some altogether improbable event. We were always having larks with Malachi, for we looked upon him as our legitimate butt. He seldom complained, and when he did his remonstrance hardly ever went beyond repeating the words, “Now, none of your pranktical jokes!” If this had not the desired effect, and we put up some too outrageous trick on him, he would content himself by muttering with sorrowful conviction, “Well, there’s no mistake, it’s a caution.”

We were not content with common jokes, such as sewing up the legs of Malachi’s trousers while he slept, fixing his bunk, or putting explosives in his pipe—we aspired to some of the higher branches of the practical joker’s art. It was well known that Malachi had an undying hatred for words of four syllables and over, and the use of them was always sufficient to forfeit any good opinions he might have previously entertained concerning the user. “I hate them high-flown words,” he would say—“I got a book at home that I could get them out of if I wanted them; but I don’t.” The book referred to was a very dilapidated dictionary. Malachi’s hatred for high-flown words was only equalled by his aversion to the opposite sex; and, this being known, we used to write letters to him in a feminine hand, threatening divers breach of promise actions, and composed in the high-flown language above alluded to. We used to think this very funny, and by these means we made his life a burden to him. Malachi put the most implicit faith in everything we told him; he would take in the most improbable yarn provided we preserved a grave demeanour and used no high-flown expressions. He would indeed sometimes remark that our yarns were a caution, but that was all.

We played upon him the most gigantic joke of all during the visit of a certain bricklayer, who came to do some work at the homestead. “Bricky” was a bit of a phrenologist, and knew enough of physiognomy and human nature to give a pretty fair delineation of character. He also went in for spirit-rapping, greatly to the disgust of the two ancient housekeepers, who declared that they’d have “no dalins wid him and his divil’s worruk.”

The bricklayer was from the first an object of awe to Malachi, who carefully avoided him; but one night we got the butt into a room where the artisan was entertaining the boys with a seance. After the table-rapping, during which Malachi sat with uncovered head and awe-struck expression, we proposed that he should have his bumps read, and before he could make his escape Malachi was seated in a chair in the middle of the room and the bricklayer was running his fingers over his head. I really believe that Malachi’s hair bristled between the phrenologist’s fingers. Whenever he made a hit his staunch admirer, “Donegal,” would exclaim “Look at that now!” while the girls tittered and said, “Just fancy!” and from time to time Malachi would be heard to mutter to himself, in a tone of the most intense conviction, that, “without the least mistake it was a caution.” Several times at his work the next day Malachi was observed to rest on his spade, while he tilted his hat forward with one hand and felt the back of his head as though he had not been previously aware of its existence.

We “ran” Malachi to believe that the bricklayer was mad on the subject of phrenology, and was suspected of having killed several persons in order to obtain their skulls for experimental purposes. We further said that he had been heard to say that Malachi’s skull was a most extraordinary one, and so we advised him to be careful.

Malachi occupied a hut some distance from the station, and one night, the last night of the bricklayer’s stay, as Malachi sat smoking over the fire the door opened quietly and the phrenologist entered. He carried a bag with a pumpkin in the bottom of it, and, sitting down on a stool, he let the bag down with a bump on the floor between his feet. Malachi was badly scared, but he managed to stammer out—

“’Ello!”

“’Ello!” said the phrenologist.

There was an embarrassing silence, which was at last broken by “Bricky” saying “How are you gettin’ on, Malachi?”

“Oh, jist right,” replied Malachi.

Nothing was said for a while, until Malachi, after fidgeting a good deal on his stool, asked the bricklayer when he was leaving the station.

“Oh, I’m going away in the morning, early,” said he. “I’ve jist been over to Jimmy Nowlett’s camp, and as I was passing I thought I’d call and get your head.”

“What?”

“I come for your skull.

“Yes,” the phrenologist continued, while Malachi sat horror-stricken; “I’ve got Jimmy Nowlett’s skull here,” and he lifted the bag and lovingly felt the pumpkin—it must have weighed forty pounds. “I spoilt one of his best bumps with the tomahawk. I had to hit him twice, but it’s no use crying over spilt milk.” Here he drew a heavy shingling-hammer out of the bag and wiped off with his sleeve something that looked like blood. Malachi had been edging round for the door, and now he made a rush for it. But the skull-fancier was there before him.

“Gor-sake you don’t want to murder me!” gasped Malachi.

“Not if I can get your skull any other way,” said Bricky.

“Oh!” gasped Malachi—and then, with a vague idea that it was best to humour a lunatic, he continued, in a tone meant to be off-hand and careless—“Now, look here, if yer only waits till I die you can have my whole skelington and welcome.”

“Now Malachi,” said the phrenologist sternly, “d’ye think I’m a fool? I ain’t going to stand any humbug. If yer acts sensible you’ll be quiet, and it’ll soon be over, but if yer—”

Malachi did not wait to hear the rest. He made a spring for the back of the hut and through it, taking down a large new sheet of stringy-bark in his flight. Then he could be heard loudly ejaculating “It’s a caution!” as he went through the bush like a startled kangaroo, and he didn’t stop till he reached the station.

Jimmy Nowlett and I had been peeping through a crack in the same sheet of bark that Malachi dislodged; it fell on us and bruised us somewhat, but it wasn’t enough to knock the fun out of the thing.

When Jimmy Nowlett crawled out from under the bark he had to lie down on Malachi’s bunk to laugh, and even for some time afterwards it was not unusual for Jimmy to wake up in the night and laugh till we wished him dead.

I should like to finish here, but there remains something more to be said about Malachi.

One of the best cows at the homestead had a calf, about which she made a great deal of fuss. She was ordinarily a quiet, docile creature, and, though somewhat fussy after calving no one ever dreamed that she would injure anyone. It happened one day that the squatter’s daughter and her intended husband, a Sydney exquisite, were strolling in a paddock where the cow was. Whether the cow objected to the masher or his lady love’s red parasol, or whether she suspected designs upon her progeny, is not certain; anyhow, she went for them. The young man saw the cow coming first, and he gallantly struck a bee-line for the fence, leaving the girl to manage for herself. She wouldn’t have managed very well if Malachi hadn’t been passing just then. He saw the girl’s danger and ran to intercept the cow with no weapon but his hands.

It didn’t last long. There was a roar, a rush, and a cloud of dust, out of which the cow presently emerged, and went scampering back to the bush in which her calf was hidden.

We carried Malachi home and laid him on a bed. He had a terrible wound in the groin, and the blood soaked through the bandages like water. We did all that was possible for him, the boys killed the squatter’s best horse and spoilt two others riding for a doctor, but it was of no use. In the last half-hour of his life we all gathered round Malachi’s bed; he was only twenty-two. Once he said:

“I wonder how mother’ll manage now?”

“Why, where’s your mother?” someone asked gently; we had never dreamt that Malachi might have someone to love him and be proud of him.

“In Bathurst,” he answered wearily—“she’ll take on awful, I ’spect, she was awful fond of me—we’ve been pulling together this last ten years—mother and me—we wanted to make it all right for my little brother Jim—poor Jim!”

“What’s wrong with Jim?” someone asked.

“Oh, he’s blind,” said Malachi “always was—we wanted to make it all right for him agin time he grows up—I—I managed to send home about—about forty pounds a year—we bought a bit of ground, and—and—I think—I’m going now. Tell ’em, Harry—tell ’em how it was—”

I had to go outside then. I couldn’t stand it any more. There was a lump in my throat and I’d have given anything to wipe out my share in the practical jokes, but it was too late now.

Malachi was dead when I went in again, and that night the hat went round with the squatter’s cheque in the bottom of it and we made it “all right” for Malachi’s blind brother Jim.

Two Dogs And A Fence

“Nothing makes a dog madder,” said Mitchell, “than to have another dog come outside his fence and sniff and bark at him through the cracks when he can’t get out. The other dog might be an entire stranger; he might be an old chum, and he mightn’t bark—only sniff—but it makes no difference to the inside dog. The inside dog generally starts it, and the outside dog only loses his temper and gets wild because the inside dog has lost his and got mad and made such a stinking fuss about nothing at all; and then the outside dog barks back and makes matters a thousand times worse, and the inside dog foams at the mouth and dashes the foam about, and goes at it like a million steel traps.

“I can’t tell why the inside dog gets so wild about it in the first place, except, perhaps, because he thinks the outside dog has taken him at a disadvantage and is ‘poking it at him;’ anyway, he gets madder the longer it lasts, and at last he gets savage enough to snap off his own tail and tear it to bits, because he can’t get out and chew up that other dog; and, if he did get out, he’d kill the other dog, or try to, even if it was his own brother.

“Sometimes the outside dog only smiles and trots off; sometimes he barks back good-humouredly; sometimes he only just gives a couple of disinterested barks as if he isn’t particular, but is expected, because of his dignity and doghood, to say something under the circumstances; and sometimes, if the outside dog is a little dog, he’ll get away from that fence in a hurry on the first surprise, or, if he’s a cheeky little dog, he’ll first make sure that the inside dog can’t get out, and then he’ll have some fun.

“It’s amusing to see a big dog, of the Newfoundland kind, sniffing along outside a fence with a broad, good-natured grin on his face all the time the inside dog is whooping away at the rate of thirty whoops a second, and choking himself, and covering himself with foam, and dashing the spray through the cracks, and jolting and jerking every joint in his body up to the last joint in his tail.

“Sometimes the inside dog is a little dog, and the smaller he is the more row he makes—but then he knows he’s safe. And, sometimes, as I said before, the outside dog is a short-tempered dog who hates a row, and never wants to have a disagreement with anybody—like a good many peaceful men, who hate rows, and are always nice and civil and pleasant, in a nasty, unpleasant, surly, sneering sort of civil way that makes you want to knock their heads off; men who never start a row, but keep it going, and make it a thousand times worse when it’s once started, just because they didn’t start it—and keep on saying so, and that the other party did. The short-tempered outside dog gets wild at the other dog for losing his temper, and says:

“‘What are you making such a fuss about? What’s the matter with you, anyway? Hey?’

“And the inside dog says:

“‘Who do you think you’re talking to? You—! I’ll——’ etc., etc., etc.

“Then the outside dog says:

“‘Why, you’re worse than a flaming old slut!’

“Then they go at it, and you can hear them miles off, like a Chinese war—like a hundred great guns firing eighty blank cartridges a minute, till the outside dog is just as wild to get inside and eat the inside dog as the inside dog is to get out and disembowel him. Yet if those same two dogs were to meet casually outside they might get chummy at once, and be the best of friends, and swear everlasting mateship, and take each other home.”

Jones’s Alley

She lived in Jones’s Alley. She cleaned offices, washed, and nursed from daylight until any time after dark, and filled in her spare time cleaning her own place (which she always found dirty—in a “beastly filthy state,” she called it—on account of the children being left in possession all day), cooking, and nursing her own sick—for her family, though small, was so in the two senses of the word, and sickly; one or another of the children was always sick, but not through her fault. She did her own, or rather the family washing, at home too, when she couldn’t do it by kind permission, or surreptitiously in connection with that of her employers. She was a haggard woman. Her second husband was supposed to be dead, and she, lived in dread of his daily resurrection. Her eldest son was at large, but, not being yet sufficiently hardened in misery, she dreaded his getting into trouble even more than his frequent and interested appearances at home. She could buy off the son for a shilling or two and a clean shirt and collar, but she couldn’t purchase the absence of the father at any price—he claimed what he called his “conzugal rights” as well as his board, lodging, washing and beer. She slaved for her children, and nag-nag-nagged them everlastingly, whether they were in the right or in the wrong, but they were hardened to it and took small notice. She had the spirit of a bullock. Her whole nature was soured. She had those “worse troubles” which she couldn’t tell to anybody, but had to suffer in silence.

She also, in what she called her “spare time,” put new cuffs and collar-bands on gentlemen’s shirts. The gentlemen didn’t live in Jones’s Alley—they boarded with a patroness of the haggard woman; they didn’t know their shirts were done there—had they known it, and known Jones’s Alley, one or two of them, who were medical students, might probably have objected. The landlady charged them just twice as much for repairing their shirts as she paid the haggard woman, who, therefore, being unable to buy the cuffs and collar-bands ready-made for sewing on, had no lack of employment with which to fill in her spare time.

Therefore, she was a “respectable woman,” and was known in Jones’s Alley as “Misses” Aspinall, and called so generally, and even by Mother Brock, who kept “that place” opposite. There is implied a world of difference between the “Mother” and the “Misses,” as applied to matrons in Jones’s Alley; and this distinction was about the only thing—always excepting the everlasting “children”—that the haggard woman had left to care about, to take a selfish, narrow-minded sort of pleasure in—if, indeed, she could yet take pleasure, grim or otherwise, in anything except, perhaps, a good cup of tea and time to drink it in.

Times were hard with Mrs Aspinall. Two coppers and two half-pence in her purse were threepence to her now, and the absence of one of the half-pence made a difference to her, especially in Paddy’s market—that eloquent advertisement of a young city’s sin and poverty and rotten wealth—on Saturday night. She counted the coppers as anxiously and nervously as a thirsty dead-beat does. And her house was “falling down on her” and her troubles, and she couldn’t get the landlord to do a “han’stern” to it.

At last, after persistent agitation on her part (but not before a portion of the plastered ceiling had fallen and severely injured one of her children) the landlord caused two men to be sent to “effect necessary repairs” to the three square, dingy, plastered holes—called “three rooms and a kitchen”—for the privilege of living in which, and calling it “my place,” she paid ten shillings a week.

Previously the agent, as soon as he had received the rent and signed the receipt, would cut short her reiterated complaints—which he privately called her “clack”—by saying that he’d see to it, he’d speak to the landlord; and, later on, that he had spoken to him, or could do nothing more in the matter—that it wasn’t his business. Neither it was, to do the agent justice. It was his business to collect the rent, and thereby earn the means of paying his own. He had to keep a family on his own account, by assisting the Fat Man to keep his at the expense of people—especially widows with large families, or women, in the case of Jones’s Alley—who couldn’t afford it without being half-starved, or running greater and unspeakable risks which “society” is not supposed to know anything about.

So the agent was right, according to his lights. The landlord had recently turned out a family who had occupied one of his houses for fifteen years, because they were six weeks in arrears. He let them take their furniture, and explained: “I wouldn’t have been so lenient with them only they were such old tenants of mine.” So the landlord was always in the right according to his lights.

But the agent naturally wished to earn his living as peacefully and as comfortably as possible, so, when the accident occurred, he put the matter so persistently and strongly before the landlord that he said at last: “Well, tell her to go to White, the contractor, and he’ll send a man to do what’s to be done; and don’t bother me any more.”

White had a look at the place, and sent a plasterer, a carpenter, and a plumber. The plasterer knocked a bigger hole in the ceiling and filled it with mud; the carpenter nailed a board over the hole in the floor; the plumber stopped the leak in the kitchen, and made three new ones in worse places; and their boss sent the bill to Mrs Aspinall.

She went to the contractor’s yard, and explained that the landlord was responsible for the debt, not she. The contractor explained that he had seen the landlord, who referred him to her. She called at the landlord’s private house, and was referred through a servant to the agent. The agent was sympathetic, but could do nothing in the matter—it wasn’t his business; he also asked her to put herself in his place, which she couldn’t, not being any more reasonable than such women are in such cases. She let things drift, being powerless to prevent them from doing so; and the contractor sent another bill, then a debt collector and then another bill, then the collector again, and threatened to take proceedings, and finally took them. To make matters worse, she was two weeks in arrears with the rent, and the wood-and-coalman’s man (she had dealt with them for ten years) was pushing her, as also were her grocers, with whom she had dealt for fifteen years and never owed a penny before.

She waylaid the landlord, and he told her shortly that he couldn’t build houses and give them away, and keep them in repair afterwards.

She sought for sympathy and found it, but mostly in the wrong places. It was comforting, but unprofitable. Mrs Next-door sympathized warmly, and offered to go up as a witness—she had another landlord. The agent sympathized wearily, but not in the presence of witnesses—he wanted her to put herself in his place. Mother Brock, indeed, offered practical assistance, which offer was received in breathlessly indignant silence. It was Mother Brock who first came to the assistance of Mrs Aspinall’s child when the plaster accident took place (the mother being absent at the time), and when Mrs Aspinall heard of it, her indignation cured her of her fright, and she declared to Mrs Next-door that she would give “that woman”—meaning Mother Brock—“in char-rge the instant she ever dared to put her foot inside her (Mrs A.’s) respectable door-step again. She was a respectable, honest, hard-working woman, and—” etc.

Whereat Mother Brock laughed good-naturedly. She was a broad-minded bad woman, and was right according to her lights. Poor Mrs A. was a respectable, haggard woman, and was right according to her lights, and to Mrs Next-door’s, perfectly so—they being friends—and vice versa. None of them knew, or would have taken into consideration, the fact that the landlord had lost all his money in a burst financial institution, and half his houses in the general depression, and depended for food for his family on the somewhat doubtful rents of the remainder. So they were all right according to their different lights.

Mrs Aspinall even sought sympathy of “John,” the Chinaman (with whom she had dealt for four months only), and got it. He also, in all simplicity, took a hint that wasn’t intended. He said: “Al li’. Pay bimeby. Nexy time Flyday. Me tlust.” Then he departed with his immortalized smile. It would almost appear that he was wrong—according to our idea of Chinese lights.

Mrs Aspinall went to the court—it was a small local court. Mrs Next-door was awfully sorry, but she couldn’t possibly get out that morning. The contractor had the landlord up as a witness. The landlord and the P.M. nodded pleasantly to each other, and wished each other good morning.... Verdict for plaintiff with costs... Next case!... “You mustn’t take up the time of the court, my good woman.”.. “Now, constable!”... “Arder in the court!”... “Now, my good woman,” said the policeman in an undertone, “you must go out; there’s another case on-come now.” And he steered her—but not unkindly—through the door.

“My good woman” stood in the crowd outside, and looked wildly round for a sympathetic face that advertised sympathetic ears. But others had their own troubles, and avoided her. She wanted someone to relieve her bursting heart to; she couldn’t wait till she got home.

Even “John’s” attentive ear and mildly idiotic expression would have been welcome, but he was gone. He had been in court that morning, and had won a small debt case, and had departed cheerfully, under the impression that he lost it.

“Y’aw Mrs Aspinall, ain’t you?”

She started, and looked round. He was one of those sharp, blue or grey-eyed, sandy or freckled complexioned boys-of-the-world whom we meet everywhere and at all times, who are always going on towards twenty, yet never seem to get clear out of their teens, who know more than most of us have forgotten, who understand human nature instinctively—perhaps unconsciously—and are instinctively sympathetic and diplomatic; whose satire is quick, keen, and dangerous, and whose tact is often superior to that of many educated men-of-the-world. Trained from childhood in the great school of poverty, they are full of the pathos and humour of it.

“Don’t you remember me?”

“No; can’t say I do. I fancy I’ve seen your face before somewhere.”

“I was at your place when little Arvie died. I used to work with him at Grinder Brothers’, you know.”

“Oh, of course I remember you! What was I thinking about? I’ve had such a lot of worry lately that I don’t know whether I’m on my head or my heels. Besides, you’ve grown since then, and changed a lot. You’re Billy—Billy—”

“Billy Anderson’s my name.”

“Of course! To be sure! I remember you quite well.”

“How’ve you been gettin’ on, Mrs Aspinall?”

“Ah! Don’t mention it—nothing but worry and trouble—nothing but worry and trouble. This grinding poverty! I’ll never have anything else but worry and trouble and misery so long as I live.”

“Do you live in Jones’s Alley yet?”

“Yes.”

“Not bin there ever since, have you?”

“No; I shifted away once, but I went back again. I was away nearly two years.”

“I thought so, because I called to see you there once. Well, I’m goin’ that way now. You goin’ home, Mrs Aspinall?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ll go along with you, if you don’t mind.”

“Thanks. I’d be only too glad of company.”

“Goin’ to walk, Mrs Aspinall?” asked Bill, as the tram stopped in their way.

“Yes. I can’t afford trams now—times are too hard.”

“Sorry I don’t happen to have no tickets on me!”

“Oh, don’t mention it. I’m well used to walking. I’d rather walk than ride.”

They waited till the tram passed.

“Some people”—said Bill, reflectively, but with a tinge of indignation in his tone, as they crossed the street—“some people can afford to ride in trams.

“What’s your trouble, Mrs Aspinall—if it’s a fair thing to ask?” said Bill, as they turned the corner.

This was all she wanted, and more; and when, about a mile later, she paused for breath, he drew a long one, gave a short whistle, and said:

“Well, it’s red-hot!”

Thus encouraged, she told her story again, and some parts of it for the third and fourth and even fifth time—and it grew longer, as our stories have a painful tendency to do when we re-write them with a view to condensation.

But Bill heroically repeated that it was “red-hot.”

“And I dealt off the grocer for fifteen years, and the wood-and-coal man for ten, and I lived in that house nine years last Easter Monday and never owed a penny before,” she repeated for the tenth time.

“Well, that’s a mistake,” reflected Bill. “I never dealt off nobody more’n twice in my life.... I heerd you was married again, Mrs Aspinall—if it’s a right thing to ask?”

“Wherever did you hear that? I did get married again—to my sorrow.”

“Then you ain’t Mrs Aspinall—if it’s a fair thing to ask?”

“Oh, yes! I’m known as Mrs Aspinall. They all call me Mrs Aspinall.”

“I understand. He cleared, didn’t he? Run away?”

“Well, yes—no—he—”

“I understand. He’s s’posed to be dead?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s red-hot! So’s my old man, and I hope he don’t resurrect again.”

“You see, I married my second for the sake of my children.”

“That’s a great mistake,” reflected Bill. “My mother married my step-father for the sake of me, and she’s never been done telling me about it.”

“Indeed! Did your mother get married again?”

“Yes. And he left me with a batch of step-sisters and step-brothers to look after, as well as mother; as if things wasn’t bad enough before. We didn’t want no help to be pinched, and poor, and half-starved. I don’t see where my sake comes in at all.”

“And how’s your mother now?”

“Oh, she’s all right, thank you. She’s got a hard time of it, but she’s pretty well used to it.”

“And are you still working at Grinder Brothers’?”

“No. I got tired of slavin’ there for next to nothing. I got sick of my step-father waitin’ outside for me on pay-day, with a dirty, drunken, spieler pal of his waitin’ round the corner for him. There wasn’t nothin’ in it. It got to be too rough altogether.... Blast Grinders!”

“And what are you doing now?”

“Sellin’ papers. I’m always tryin’ to get a start in somethin’ else, but I ain’t got no luck. I always come back to, sellin’ papers.”

Then, after a thought, he added reflectively: “Blast papers!”

His present ambition was to drive a cart.

“I drove a cart twice, and once I rode a butcher’s horse. A bloke worked me out of one billet, and I worked myself out of the other. I didn’t know when I was well off. Then the banks went bust, and my last boss went insolvent, and one of his partners went into Darlinghurst for suicide, and the other went into Gladesville for being mad; and one day the bailiff seized the cart and horse with me in it and a load of timber. So I went home and helped mother and the kids to live on one meal a day for six months, and keep the bum-bailiff out. Another cove had my news-stand.”

Then, after a thought “Blast reconstriction!”

“But you surely can’t make a living selling newspapers?”

“No, there’s nothin’ in it. There’s too many at it. The blessed women spoil it. There’s one got a good stand down in George Street, and she’s got a dozen kids sellin’—they can’t be all hers—and then she’s got the hide to come up to my stand and sell in front of me.... What are you thinkin’ about doin’, Mrs Aspinall?”

“I don’t know,” she wailed. “I really don’t know what to do.”

And there still being some distance to go, she plunged into her tale of misery once more, not forgetting the length of time she had dealt with her creditors.

Bill pushed his hat forward and walked along on the edge of the kerb.

“Can’t you shift? Ain’t you got no people or friends that you can go to for a while?”

“Oh, yes; there’s my sister-in-law; she’s asked me times without number to come and stay with her till things got better, and she’s got a hard enough struggle herself, Lord knows. She asked me again only yesterday.”

“Well, that ain’t too bad,” reflected Bill. “Why don’t you go?”

“Well, you see, if I did they wouldn’t let me take my furniture, and she’s got next to none.”

“Won’t the landlord let you take your furniture?”

“No, not him! He’s one of the hardest landlords in Sydney—the worst I ever had.”

“That’s red-hot!... I’d take it in spite of him. He can’t do nothin’.”

“But I daren’t; and even if I did I haven’t got a penny to pay for a van.”

They neared the alley. Bill counted the flagstones, stepping from one to another over the joints. “Eighteen-nineteen-twenty-twenty-one!” he counted mentally, and came to the corner kerbing. Then he turned suddenly and faced her.

“I’ll tell you what to do,” he said decidedly. “Can you get your things ready by to-night? I know a cove that’s got a cart.”

“But I daren’t. I’m afraid of the landlord.”

“The more fool you,” said Bill. “Well, I’m not afraid of him. He can’t do nothin’. I’m not afraid of a landlady, and that’s worse. I know the law. He can’t do nothin’. You just do as I tell you.”

“I’d want to think over it first, and see my sister-in-law.”

“Where does your sister-’n-law live?”

“Not far.”

“Well, see her, and think over it—you’ve got plenty of time to do it in—and get your things ready by dark. Don’t be frightened. I’ve shifted mother and an aunt and two married sisters out of worse fixes than yours. I’ll be round after dark, and bring a push to lend a hand. They’re decent coves.”

“But I can’t expect your friend to shift me for nothing. I told you I haven’t got a—”

“Mrs Aspinall, I ain’t that sort of a bloke, neither is my chum, and neither is the other fellows—’relse they wouldn’t be friends of mine. Will you promise, Mrs Aspinall?”

“I’m afraid—I—I’d like to keep my few things now. I’ve kept them so long. It’s hard to lose my few bits of things—I wouldn’t care so much if I could keep the ironin’ table.”

“So you could, by law—it’s necessary to your living, but it would cost more’n the table. Now, don’t be soft, Mrs Aspinall. You’ll have the bailiff in any day, and be turned out in the end without a rag. The law knows no ‘necessary.’ You want your furniture more’n the landlord does. He can’t do nothin’. You can trust it all to me.... I knowed Arvie.... Will you do it?”

“Yes, I will.”

At about eight o’clock that evening there came a mysterious knock at Mrs Aspinall’s door. She opened, and there stood Bill. His attitude was business-like, and his manner very impressive. Three other boys stood along by the window, with their backs to the wall, deeply interested in the emptying of burnt cigarette-ends into a piece of newspaper laid in the crown of one of their hats, and a fourth stood a little way along the kerb casually rolling a cigarette, and keeping a quiet eye out for suspicious appearances. They were of different makes and sizes, but there seemed an undefined similarity between them.

“This is my push, Mrs Aspinall,” said Bill; “at least,” he added apologetically, “it’s part of ’em. Here, you chaps, this is Mrs Aspinall, what I told you about.”

They elbowed the wall back, rubbed their heads with their hats, shuffled round, and seemed to take a vacant sort of interest in abstract objects, such as the pavement, the gas-lamp, and neighbouring doors and windows.

“Got the things ready?” asked Bill.

“Oh, yes.”

“Got ’em downstairs?”

“There’s no upstairs. The rooms above belong to the next house.”

“And a nice house it is,” said Bill, “for rooms to belong to. I wonder,” he reflected, cocking his eye at the windows above; “I wonder how the police manage to keep an eye on the next house without keepin’ an eye on yours—but they know.”

He turned towards the street end of the alley and gave a low whistle. Out under the lamp from behind the corner came a long, thin, shambling, hump-backed youth, with his hat down over his head like an extinguisher, dragging a small bony horse, which, in its turn, dragged a rickety cart of the tray variety, such as is used in the dead marine trade. Behind the cart was tied a mangy retriever. This affair was drawn up opposite the door.

“The cove with a cart” was introduced as ‘Chinny’. He had no chin whatever, not even a receding chin. It seemed as though his chin had been cut clean off horizontally. When he took off his hat he showed to the mild surprise of strangers a pair of shrewd grey eyes and a broad high forehead. Chinny was in the empty bottle line.

“Now, then, hold up that horse of yours for a minute, Chinny,” said Bill briskly, “’relse he’ll fall down and break the shaft again.” (It had already been broken in several places and spliced with strips of deal, clothes-line, and wire.) “Now, you chaps, fling yourselves about and get the furniture out.”

This was a great relief to the push. They ran against each other and the door-post in their eagerness to be at work. The furniture—what Mrs A. called her “few bits of things”—was carried out with elaborate care. The ironing table was the main item. It was placed top down in the cart, and the rest of the things went between the legs without bulging sufficiently to cause Chinny any anxiety.

Just then the picket gave a low, earnest whistle, and they were aware of a policeman standing statue-like under the lamp on the opposite corner, and apparently unaware of their existence. He was looking, sphinx-like, past them towards the city.

“It can’t be helped; we must put on front an’ go on with it now,” said Bill.

“He’s all right, I think,” said Chinny. “He knows me.”

“He can’t do nothin’,” said Bill; “don’t mind him, Mrs Aspinall. Now, then (to the push), tie up. Don’t be frightened of the dorg-what are you frightened of? Why! he’d only apologize if you trod on his tail.”

The dog went under the cart, and kept his tail carefully behind him.

The policeman—he was an elderly man—stood still, looking towards the city, and over it, perhaps, and over the sea, to long years agone in Ireland when he and the boys ducked bailiffs, and resisted evictions with “shticks,” and “riz” sometimes, and gathered together at the rising of the moon, and did many things contrary to the peace of Gracious Majesty, its laws and constitutions, crown and dignity; as a reward for which he had helped to preserve the said peace for the best years of his life, without promotion; for he had a great aversion to running in “the boys”—which included nearly all mankind—and preferred to keep, and was most successful in keeping, the peace with no other assistance than that of his own rich fatherly brogue.

Bill took charge of two of the children; Mrs Aspinall carried the youngest.

“Go ahead, Chinny,” said Bill.

Chinny shambled forward, sideways, dragging the horse, with one long, bony, short-sleeved arm stretched out behind holding the rope reins; the horse stumbled out of the gutter, and the cart seemed to pause a moment, as if undecided whether to follow or not, and then, with many rickety complaints, moved slowly and painfully up on to the level out of the gutter. The dog rose with a long, weary, mangy sigh, but with a lazy sort of calculation, before his rope (which was short) grew taut—which was good judgment on his part, for his neck was sore; and his feet being tender, he felt his way carefully and painfully over the metal, as if he feared that at any step he might spring some treacherous, air-trigger trap-door which would drop and hang him.

“Nit, you chaps,” said Bill, “and wait for me.” The push rubbed its head with its hat, said “Good night, Mrs Ashpennel,” and was absent, spook-like.

When the funeral reached the street, the lonely “trap” was, somehow, two blocks away in the opposite direction, moving very slowly, and very upright, and very straight, like an automaton.

Bogg Of Geebung

At the local police court, where the subject of this sketch turned up periodically amongst the drunks, he had “James” prefixed to his name for the sake of convenience and as a matter of form previous to his being fined forty shillings (which he never paid) and sentenced to “a month hard” (which he contrived to make as soft as possible). The local larrikins called him “Grog,” a very appropriate name, all things considered; but to the Geebung Times he was known until the day of his death as “a well-known character named Bogg.” The antipathy of the local paper might have been accounted for by the fact that Bogg strayed into the office one day in a muddled condition during the absence of the staff at lunch and corrected a revise proof of the next week’s leader, placing bracketed “query” and “see proof” marks opposite the editor’s most flowery periods and quotations, and leaving on the margin some general advice to the printers to “space better.” He also corrected a Latin quotation or two, and added a few ideas of his own in good French.

But no one, with the exception of the editor of the Times, ever dreamed that there was anything out of the common in the shaggy, unkempt head upon which poor Bogg used to “do his little time,” until a young English doctor came to practise at Geebung. One night the doctor and the manager of the local bank and one or two others wandered into the bar of the Diggers’ Arms, where Bogg sat in a dark corner mumbling to himself as usual and spilling half his beer on the table and floor. Presently some drunken utterances reached the doctor’s ear, and he turned round in a surprised manner and looked at Bogg. The drunkard continued to mutter for some time, and then broke out into something like the fag-end of a song. The doctor walked over to the table at which Bogg was sitting, and, seating himself on the far corner, regarded the drunkard attentively for some minutes; but the latter’s voice ceased, his head fell slowly on his folded arms, and all became silent except the drip, drip of the overturned beer falling from the table to the form and from the form to the floor.

The doctor rose and walked back to his friends with a graver face.

“You seem interested in Bogg,” said the bank manager.

“Yes,” said the doctor.

“What was he mumbling about?”

“Oh, that was a passage from Homer.”

“What?”

The doctor repeated his answer.

“Then do you mean to say he understands Greek?”

“Yes,” said the doctor, sadly; “he is, or must have been, a classical scholar.”

The manager took time to digest this, and then asked:

“What was the song?”

“Oh, that was an old song we used to sing at the Dublin University,” said the doctor.

During his sober days Bogg used to fossick about among the old mullock heaps, or split palings in the bush, and just managed to keep out of debt. Strange to say, in spite of his drunken habits, his credit was as good as that of any man in the town. He was very unsociable, seldom speaking, whether drunk or sober; but a weary, hard-up sundowner was always pretty certain to get a meal and a shake-down at Bogg’s lonely hut among the mullock heaps. It happened one dark night that a little push of local larrikins, having nothing better to amuse them, wended their way through the old mullock heaps in the direction of the lonely little bark hut, with the object of playing off an elaborately planned ghost joke on Bogg. Prior to commencing operations, the leader of the jokers put his eye to a crack in the bark to reconnoitre. He didn’t see much, but what he did see seemed to interest him, for he kept his eye there till his mates grew impatient. Bogg sat in front of his rough little table with his elbows on the same, and his hands supporting his forehead. Before him on the table lay a few articles such as lady novelists and poets use in their work, and such as bitter cynics often wear secretly next their bitter, cynical hearts.

There was the usual faded letter, a portrait of a girl, something that looked like a pressed flower, and, of course, a lock of hair. Presently Bogg folded his arms over these things, and his face sank lower and lower, till nothing was visible to the unsuspected watcher except the drunkard’s rough, shaggy hair; rougher and wilder looking in the uncertain light of the slush-lamp.

The larrikin turned away, and beckoned his comrades to follow him.

“Wot is it?” asked one, when they had gone some distance. The leader said, “We’re a-goin’ ter let ’im alone; that’s wot it is.”

There was some demur at this, and an explanation was demanded; but the boss bully unbuttoned his coat, and spat on his hands, and said:

“We’re a-goin’ ter let Bogg alone; that’s wot it is.”

So they went away and let Bogg alone.

A few days later the following paragraph appeared in the Geebung Times: “A well-known character named Bogg was found drowned in the river on Sunday last, his hat and coat being found on the bank. At a late hour on Saturday night a member of our staff saw a man walking slowly along the river bank, but it was too dark to identify the person.”

We suppose it was Bogg whom the Times reported, but of course we cannot be sure. The chances are that it was Bogg. It was pretty evident that he had committed suicide, and being “a well-known character,” no doubt he had reasons for his rash act. Perhaps he was walking by himself in the dark along the river bank, and thinking of those reasons when the Times man saw him. Strange to say, the world knows least about the lives and sorrows of “well-known characters” of this kind, no matter what their names might be, and—well, there is no reason why we should bore a reader, or waste any more space over a well-known character named Bogg.

She Wouldn’t Speak

Well, we reached the pub about dinner-time, dropped our swags outside, had a drink, and then went into the dinin’-room. There was a lot of jackaroo swells, that had been on a visit to the squatter, or something, and they were sittin’ down at dinner; and they seemed to think by their looks that we ought to have stayed outside and waited till they were done—we was only two rough shearers, you know. There was a very good-looking servant girl waitin’ on ’em, and she was all smiles—laughin’, and jokin’, and chyackin’, and barrickin’ with ’em like anything.

I thought a damp expression seemed to pass across her face when me and my mate sat down, but she served us and said nothing—we was only two dusty swaggies, you see. Dave said “Good day” to her when we came in, but she didn’t answer; and I could see from the first that she’d made up her mind not to speak to us.

The swells finished, and got up and went out, leaving me and Dave and the servant girl alone in the room; but she didn’t open her mouth—not once. Dave winked at her once or twice as she handed his cup, but it wasn’t no go. Dave was a good-lookin’ chap, too; but we couldn’t get her to say a word—not one.

We finished the first blanky course, and, while she was gettin’ our puddin’ from the side-table, Dave says to me in a loud whisper, so’s she could hear: “Ain’t she a stunner, Joe! I never thought there was sich fine girls on the Darlin’!”

But no; she wouldn’t speak.

Then Dave says: “They pitch a blanky lot about them New Englan’ gals; but I’ll back the Darlin’ girls to lick ’em holler as far’s looks is concerned,” says Dave.

But no; she wouldn’t speak. She wouldn’t even smile. Dave didn’t say nothing for awhile, and then he said: “Did you hear about that red-headed barmaid at Stiffner’s goin’ to be married to the bank manager at Bourke next month, Joe?” says Dave.

But no, not a single word out of her; she didn’t even look up, or look as if she wanted to speak.

Dave scratched his ear and went on with his puddin’ for awhile. Then he said: “Joe, did you hear that yarn about young Scotty and old whatchisname’s missus?”

“Yes,” I says; “but I think it was the daughter, not the wife, and young Scotty,” I says.

But it wasn’t no go; that girl wouldn’t speak.

Dave shut up for a good while, but presently I says to Dave “I see that them hoops is comin’ in again, Dave. The paper says that this here Lady Duff had one on when she landed.”

“Yes, I heard about it,” says Dave. “I’d like to see my wife in one, but I s’pose a woman must wear what all the rest does.”

And do you think that girl would speak? Not a blanky word.

We finished our second puddin’ and fourth cup of tea, and I was just gettin’ up when Dave catches holt on my arm, like that, and pulls me down into my chair again.

“’Old on,” whispers Dave; “I’m goin’ to make that blanky gal speak.”

“You won’t,” I says.

“Bet you a five-pound note,” says Dave.

“All right,” I says.

So I sits down again, and Dave whistles to the girl, and he passes along his cup and mine. She filled ’em at once, without a word, and we got outside our fifth cup of tea each. Then Dave jingled his spoon, and passed both cups along again. She put some hot water in the pot this time, and, after we’d drunk another couple of cups, Dave muttered somethin’ about drownin’ the miller.

“We want tea, not warm water,” he growled, lookin’ sulky and passin’ along both cups again.

But she never opened her mouth; she wouldn’t speak. She didn’t even, look cross. She made a fresh pot of tea, and filled our cups again. She didn’t even slam the cups down, or swamp the tea over into the saucers—which would have been quite natural, considerin’.

“I’m about done,” I said to Dave in a low whisper. “We’ll have to give it up, I’m afraid, Dave,” I says.

“I’ll make her speak, or bust myself,” says Dave.

And I’m blest if he didn’t go on till I was so blanky full of tea that it brimmed over and run out the corners of my mouth; and Dave was near as bad. At last I couldn’t drink another teaspoonful without holding back my head, and then I couldn’t keep it down, but had to let it run back into the blanky cup again. The girl began to clear away at the other end of the table, and now and then she’d lay her hand on the teapot and squint round to see if we wanted any more tea. But she never spoke. She might have thought a lot—but she never opened her lips.

I tell you, without a word of a lie, that we must have drunk about a dozen cups each. We made her fill the teapot twice, and kept her waitin’ nearly an hour, but we couldn’t make her say a word. She never said a single word to us from the time we came in till the time we went out, nor before nor after. She’d made up her mind from the first not to speak to us.

We had to get up and leave our cups half full at last. We went out and sat down on our swags in the shade against the wall, and smoked and gave that tea time to settle, and then we got on to the track again.

The Geological Spieler

There’s nothing so interesting as Geology, even to common and ignorant people, especially when you have a bank or the side of a cutting, studded with fossil fish and things and oysters that were stale when Adam was fresh to illustrate by.  (Remark made by Steelman, professional wanderer, to his pal and pupil, Smith.)

The first man that Steelman and Smith came up to on the last embankment, where they struck the new railway line, was a heavy, gloomy, labouring man with bowyangs on and straps round his wrists. Steelman bade him the time of day and had a few words with him over the weather. The man of mullock gave it as his opinion that the fine weather wouldn’t last, and seemed to take a gloomy kind of pleasure in that reflection; he said there was more rain down yonder, pointing to the southeast, than the moon could swallow up—the moon was in its first quarter, during which time it is popularly believed in some parts of Maoriland that the south-easter is most likely to be out on the wallaby and the weather bad. Steelman regarded that quarter of the sky with an expression of gentle remonstrance mingled as it were with a sort of fatherly indulgence, agreed mildly with the labouring man, and seemed lost for a moment in a reverie from which he roused himself to inquire cautiously after the boss. There was no boss, it was a co-operative party. That chap standing over there by the dray in the end of the cutting was their spokesman—their representative: they called him boss, but that was only his nickname in camp. Steelman expressed his thanks and moved on towards the cutting, followed respectfully by Smith.

Steelman wore a snuff-coloured sac suit, a wide-awake hat, a pair of professional-looking spectacles, and a scientific expression; there was a clerical atmosphere about him, strengthened, however, by an air as of unconscious dignity and superiority, born of intellect and knowledge. He carried a black bag, which was an indispensable article in his profession in more senses than one. Smith was decently dressed in sober tweed and looked like a man of no account, who was mechanically devoted to his employer’s interests, pleasures, or whims.

The boss was a decent-looking young fellow, with a good face—rather solemn—and a quiet manner.

“Good day, sir,” said Steelman.

“Good day, sir,” said the boss.

“Nice weather this.”

“Yes, it is, but I’m afraid it won’t last.”

“I am afraid it will not by the look of the sky down there,” ventured Steelman.

“No, I go mostly by the look of our weather prophet,” said the boss with a quiet smile, indicating the gloomy man.

“I suppose bad weather would put you back in your work?”

“Yes, it will; we didn’t want any bad weather just now.”

Steelman got the weather question satisfactorily settled; then he said:

“You seem to be getting on with the railway.”

“Oh yes, we are about over the worst of it.”

“The worst of it?” echoed Steelman, with mild surprise: “I should have thought you were just coming into it,” and he pointed to the ridge ahead.

“Oh, our section doesn’t go any further than that pole you see sticking up yonder. We had the worst of it back there across the swamps—working up to our waists in water most of the time, in midwinter too—and at eighteenpence a yard.”

“That was bad.”

“Yes, rather rough. Did you come from the terminus?”

“Yes, I sent my baggage on in the brake.”

“Commercial traveller, I suppose?” asked the boss, glancing at Smith, who stood a little to the rear of Steelman, seeming interested in the work.

“Oh no,” said Steelman, smiling—“I am—well—I’m a geologist; this is my man here,” indicating Smith. “(You may put down the bag, James, and have a smoke.) My name is Stoneleigh—you might have heard of it.”

The boss said, “Oh,” and then presently he added “indeed,” in an undecided tone.

There was a pause—embarrassed on the part of the boss—he was silent not knowing what to say. Meanwhile Steelman studied his man and concluded that he would do.

“Having a look at the country, I suppose?” asked the boss presently.

“Yes,” said Steelman; then after a moment’s reflection: “I am travelling for my own amusement and improvement, and also in the interest of science, which amounts to the same thing. I am a member of the Royal Geological Society—vice-president in fact of a leading Australian branch;” and then, as if conscious that he had appeared guilty of egotism, he shifted the subject a bit. “Yes. Very interesting country this—very interesting indeed. I should like to make a stay here for a day or so. Your work opens right into my hands. I cannot remember seeing a geological formation which interested me so much. Look at the face of that cutting, for instance. Why! you can almost read the history of the geological world from yesterday—this morning as it were—beginning with the super-surface on top and going right down through the different layers and stratas—through the vanished ages—right down and back to the pre-historical—to the very primeval or fundamental geological formations!” And Steelman studied the face of the cutting as if he could read it like a book, with every layer or stratum a chapter, and every streak a note of explanation. The boss seemed to be getting interested, and Steelman gained confidence and proceeded to identify and classify the different “stratas and layers,” and fix their ages, and describe the conditions and politics of man in their different times, for the boss’s benefit.

“Now,” continued Steelman, turning slowly from the cutting, removing his glasses, and letting his thoughtful eyes wander casually over the general scenery—“now the first impression that this country would leave on an ordinary intelligent mind—though maybe unconsciously, would be as of a new country—new in a geological sense; with patches of an older geological and vegetable formation cropping out here and there; as for instance that clump of dead trees on that clear alluvial slope there, that outcrop of limestone, or that timber yonder,” and he indicated a dead forest which seemed alive and green because of the parasites. “But the country is old—old; perhaps the oldest geological formation in the world is to be seen here, the oldest vegetable formation in Australasia. I am not using the words old and new in an ordinary sense, you understand, but in a geological sense.”

The boss said, “I understand,” and that geology must be a very interesting study.

Steelman ran his eye meditatively over the cutting again, and turning to Smith said:

“Go up there, James, and fetch me a specimen of that slaty outcrop you see there—just above the coeval strata.”

It was a stiff climb and slippery, but Smith had to do it, and he did it.

“This,” said Steelman, breaking the rotten piece between his fingers, “belongs probably to an older geological period than its position would indicate—a primitive sandstone level perhaps. Its position on that layer is no doubt due to volcanic upheavals—such disturbances, or rather the results of such disturbances, have been and are the cause of the greatest trouble to geologists—endless errors and controversy. You see we must study the country, not as it appears now, but as it would appear had the natural geological growth been left to mature undisturbed; we must restore and reconstruct such disorganized portions of the mineral kingdom, if you understand me.”

The boss said he understood.

Steelman found an opportunity to wink sharply and severely at Smith, who had been careless enough to allow his features to relapse into a vacant grin.

“It is generally known even amongst the ignorant that rock grows—grows from the outside—but the rock here, a specimen of which I hold in my hand, is now in the process of decomposition; to be plain it is rotting—in an advanced stage of decomposition—so much so that you are not able to identify it with any geological period or formation, even as you may not be able to identify any other extremely decomposed body.”

The boss blinked and knitted his brow, but had the presence of mind to say: “Just so.”

“Had the rock on that cutting been healthy—been alive, as it were—you would have had your work cut out; but it is dead and has been dead for ages perhaps. You find less trouble in working it than you would ordinary clay or sand, or even gravel, which formations together are really rock in embryo—before birth as it were.”

The boss’s brow cleared.

“The country round here is simply rotting down—simply rotting down.”

He removed his spectacles, wiped them, and wiped his face; then his attention seemed to be attracted by some stones at his feet. He picked one up and examined it.

“I shouldn’t wonder,” he mused, absently, “I shouldn’t wonder if there is alluvial gold in some of these creeks and gullies, perhaps tin or even silver, quite probably antimony.”

The boss seemed interested.

“Can you tell me if there is any place in this neighbourhood where I could get accommodation for myself and my servant for a day or two?” asked Steelman presently. “I should very much like to break my journey here.”

“Well, no,” said the boss. “I can’t say I do—I don’t know of any place nearer than Pahiatua, and that’s seven miles from here.”‘

“I know that,” said Steelman reflectively, “but I fully expected to have found a house of accommodation of some sort on the way, else I would have gone on in the van.’

“Well,” said the boss. “If you like to camp with us for to night, at least, and don’t mind roughing it, you’ll be welcome, I’m sure.”

“If I was sure that I would not be putting you to any trouble, or interfering in any way with your domestic economy—”

“No trouble at all,” interrupted the boss. “The boys will be only too glad, and there’s an empty whare where you can sleep. Better stay. It’s going to be a rough night.”

After tea Steelman entertained the boss and a few of the more thoughtful members of the party with short chatty lectures on geology and other subjects.

In the meantime Smith, in another part of the camp, gave selections on a tin whistle, sang a song or two, contributed, in his turn, to the sailor yarns, and ensured his popularity for several nights at least. After several draughts of something that was poured out of a demijohn into a pint-pot, his tongue became loosened, and he expressed an opinion that geology was all bosh, and said if he had half his employer’s money he’d be dashed if he would go rooting round in the mud like a blessed old ant-eater; he also irreverently referred to his learned boss as “Old Rocks” over there. He had a pretty easy billet of it though, he said, taking it all round, when the weather was fine; he got a couple of notes a week and all expenses paid, and the money was sure; he was only required to look after the luggage and arrange for accommodation, grub out a chunk of rock now and then, and (what perhaps was the most irksome of his duties) he had to appear interested in old rocks and clay.

Towards midnight Steelman and Smith retired to the unoccupied whare which had been shown them, Smith carrying a bundle of bags, blankets, and rugs, which had been placed at their disposal by their good-natured hosts. Smith lit a candle and proceeded to make the beds. Steelman sat down, removed his specs and scientific expression, placed the glasses carefully on a ledge close at hand, took a book from his bag, and commenced to read. The volume was a cheap copy of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. A little later there was a knock at the door. Steelman hastily resumed the spectacles, together with the scientific expression, took a note-book from his pocket, opened it on the table, and said, “Come in.” One of the chaps appeared with a billy of hot coffee, two pint-pots, and some cake. He said he thought you chaps might like a drop of coffee before you turned in, and the boys had forgot to ask you to wait for it down in the camp. He also wanted to know whether Mr Stoneleigh and his man would be all right and quite comfortable for the night, and whether they had blankets enough. There was some wood at the back of the whare and they could light a fire if they liked.

Mr Stoneleigh expressed his thanks and his appreciation of the kindness shown him and his servant. He was extremely sorry to give them any trouble.

The navvy, a serious man, who respected genius or intellect in any shape or form, said that it was no trouble at all, the camp was very dull and the boys were always glad to have someone come round. Then, after a brief comparison of opinions concerning the probable duration of the weather which had arrived, they bade each other good night, and the darkness swallowed the serious man.

Steelman turned into the top bunk on one side and Smith took the lower on the other. Steelman had the candle by his bunk, as usual; he lit his pipe for a final puff before going to sleep, and held the light up for a moment so as to give Smith the full benefit of a solemn, uncompromising wink. The wink was silently applauded and dutifully returned by Smith. Then Steelman blew out the light, lay back, and puffed at his pipe for a while. Presently he chuckled, and the chuckle was echoed by Smith; by and by Steelman chuckled once more, and then Smith chuckled again. There was silence in the darkness, and after a bit Smith chuckled twice. Then Steelman said:

“For God’s sake give her a rest, Smith, and give a man a show to get some sleep.”

Then the silence in the darkness remained unbroken.

The invitation was extended next day, and Steelman sent Smith on to see that his baggage was safe. Smith stayed out of sight for two or three hours, and then returned and reported all well.

They stayed on for several days. After breakfast and when the men were going to work Steelman and Smith would go out along the line with the black bag and poke round amongst the “layers and stratas” in sight of the works for a while, as an evidence of good faith; then they’d drift off casually into the bush, camp in a retired and sheltered spot, and light a fire when the weather was cold, and Steelman would lie on the grass and read and smoke and lay plans for the future and improve Smith’s mind until they reckoned it was about dinner-time. And in the evening they would come home with the black bag full of stones and bits of rock, and Steelman would lecture on those minerals after tea.

On about the fourth morning Steelman had a yarn with one of the men going to work. He was a lanky young fellow with a sandy complexion, and seemingly harmless grin. In Australia he might have been regarded as a “cove” rather than a “chap,” but there was nothing of the “bloke” about him. Presently the cove said:

“What do you think of the boss, Mr Stoneleigh? He seems to have taken a great fancy for you, and he’s fair gone on geology.”

“I think he is a very decent fellow indeed, a very intelligent young man. He seems very well read and well informed.”

“You wouldn’t think he was a University man,” said the cove.

“No, indeed! Is he?”

“Yes. I thought you knew!”

Steelman knitted his brows. He seemed slightly disturbed for the moment. He walked on a few paces in silence and thought hard.

“What might have been his special line?” he asked the cove.

“Why, something the same as yours. I thought you knew. He was reckoned the best—what do you call it?—the best minrologist in the country. He had a first-class billet in the Mines Department, but he lost it—you know—the booze.”

“I think we will be making a move, Smith,” said Steelman, later on, when they were private. “There’s a little too much intellect in this camp to suit me. But we haven’t done so bad, anyway. We’ve had three days’ good board and lodging with entertainments and refreshments thrown in.” Then he said to himself: “We’ll stay for another day anyway. If those beggars are having a lark with us, we’re getting the worth of it anyway, and I’m not thin-skinned. They’re the mugs and not us, anyhow it goes, and I can take them down before I leave.”

But on the way home he had a talk with another man whom we might set down as a “chap.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the boss was a college man,” said Steelman to the chap.

“A what?”

“A University man—University education.”

“Why! Who’s been telling you that?”

“One of your mates.”

“Oh, he’s been getting at you. Why, it’s all the boss can do to write his own name. Now that lanky sandy cove with the birth-mark grin—it’s him that’s had the college education.”

“I think we’ll make a start to-morrow,” said Steelman to Smith in the privacy of their where. “There’s too much humour and levity in this camp to suit a serious scientific gentleman like myself.”

Macquarie’s Mate

The chaps in the bar of Stiffner’s shanty were talking about Macquarie, an absent shearer—who seemed, from their conversation, to be better known than liked by them.

“I ain’t seen Macquarie for ever so long,” remarked Box-o’-Tricks, after a pause. “Wonder where he could ’a’ got to?”

“Jail, p’r’aps—or hell,” growled Barcoo. “He ain’t much loss, any road.”

“My oath, yer right, Barcoo!” interposed “Sally” Thompson. “But, now I come to think of it, Old Awful Example there was a mate of his one time. Bless’d if the old soaker ain’t comin’ to life again!”

A shaky, rag-and-dirt-covered framework of a big man rose uncertainly from a corner of the room, and, staggering forward, brushed the staring thatch back from his forehead with one hand, reached blindly for the edge of the bar with the other, and drooped heavily.

“Well, Awful Example,” demanded the shanty-keeper. “What’s up with you now?”

The drunkard lifted his head and glared wildly round with bloodshot eyes.

“Don’t you—don’t you talk about him! Drop it, I say! Drop it!”

“What the devil’s the matter with you now, anyway?” growled the barman. “Got ’em again? Hey?”

“Don’t you—don’t you talk about Macquarie! He’s a mate of mine! Here! Gimme a drink!”

“Well, what if he is a mate of yours?” sneered Barcoo. “It don’t reflec’ much credit on you—nor him neither.”

The logic contained in the last three words was unanswerable, and Awful Example was still fairly reasonable, even when rum oozed out of him at every pore. He gripped the edge of the bar with both hands, let his ruined head fall forward until it was on a level with his temporarily rigid arms, and stared blindly at the dirty floor; then he straightened himself up, still keeping his hold on the bar.

“Some of you chaps,” he said huskily; “one of you chaps, in this bar to-day, called Macquarie a scoundrel, and a loafer, and a blackguard, and—and a sneak and a liar.”

“Well, what if we did?” said Barcoo, defiantly. “He’s all that, and a cheat into the bargain. And now, what are you going to do about it?”

The old man swung sideways to the bar, rested his elbow on it, and his head on his hand.

“Macquarie wasn’t a sneak and he wasn’t a liar,” he said, in a quiet, tired tone; “and Macquarie wasn’t a cheat!”

“Well, old man, you needn’t get your rag out about it,” said Sally Thompson, soothingly. “P’r’aps we was a bit too hard on him; and it isn’t altogether right, chaps, considerin’ he’s not here. But, then, you know, Awful, he might have acted straight to you that was his mate. The meanest blank—if he is a man at all—will do that.”

“Oh, to blazes with the old sot!” shouted Barcoo. “I gave my opinion about Macquarie, and, what’s more, I’ll stand to it.”

“I’ve got—I’ve got a point for the defence,” the old man went on, without heeding the interruptions. “I’ve got a point or two for the defence.”

“Well, let’s have it,” said Stiffner.

“In the first place—in the first place, Macquarie never talked about no man behind his back.”

There was an uneasy movement, and a painful silence. Barcoo reached for his drink and drank slowly; he needed time to think—Box-o’-Tricks studied his boots—Sally Thompson looked out at the weather—the shanty-keeper wiped the top of the bar very hard—and the rest shifted round and “s’posed they’d try a game er cards.”

Barcoo set his glass down very softly, pocketed his hands deeply and defiantly, and said:

“Well, what of that? Macquarie was as strong as a bull, and the greatest bully on the river into the bargain. He could call a man a liar to his face—and smash his face afterwards. And he did it often, too, and with smaller men than himself.”

There was a breath of relief in the bar.

“Do you want to make out that I’m talking about a man behind his back?” continued Barcoo, threateningly, to Awful Example. “You’d best take care, old man.”

“Macquarie wasn’t a coward,” remonstrated the drunkard, softly, but in an injured tone.

“What’s up with you, anyway?” yelled the publican. “What yer growling at? D’ye want a row? Get out if yer can’t be agreeable!”

The boozer swung his back to the bar, hooked himself on by his elbows, and looked vacantly out of the door.

“I’ve got—another point for the defence,” he muttered. “It’s always best—it’s always best to keep the last point to—the last.”

“Oh, Lord! Well, out with it! Out with it!”

Macquarie’s dead! That—that’s what it is!”

Everyone moved uneasily: Sally Thompson turned the other side to the bar, crossed one leg behind the other, and looked down over his hip at the sole and heel of his elastic-side—the barman rinsed the glasses vigorously—Longbones shuffled and dealt on the top of a cask, and some of the others gathered round him and got interested—Barcoo thought he heard his horse breaking away, and went out to see to it, followed by Box-o’-Tricks and a couple more, who thought that it might be one of their horses.

Someone—a tall, gaunt, determined-looking bushman, with square features and haggard grey eyes—had ridden in unnoticed through the scrub to the back of the shanty and dismounted by the window.

When Barcoo and the others re-entered the bar it soon became evident that Sally Thompson had been thinking, for presently he came to the general rescue as follows:

“There’s a blessed lot of tommy-rot about dead people in this world—a lot of damned old-woman nonsense. There’s more sympathy wasted over dead and rotten skunks than there is justice done to straight, honest-livin’ chaps. I don’t b’lieve in this gory sentiment about the dead at the expense of the living. I b’lieve in justice for the livin’—and the dead too, for that matter—but justice for the livin’. Macquarie was a bad egg, and it don’t alter the case if he was dead a thousand times.”

There was another breath of relief in the bar, and presently somebody said: “Yer right, Sally!”

“Good for you, Sally, old man!” cried Box-o’-Tricks, taking it up. “An’, besides, I don’t b’lieve Macquarie is dead at all. He’s always dyin’, or being reported dead, and then turnin’ up again. Where did you hear about it, Awful?”

The Example ruefully rubbed a corner of his roof with the palm of his hand.

“There’s—there’s a lot in what you say, Sally Thompson,” he admitted slowly, totally ignoring Box-o’-Tricks. “But—but—’

“Oh, we’ve had enough of the old fool,” yelled Barcoo. “Macquarie was a spieler, and any man that ud be his mate ain’t much better.”

“Here, take a drink and dry up, yer ole hass!” said the man behind the bar, pushing a bottle and glass towards the drunkard. “D’ye want a row?”

The old man took the bottle and glass in his shaking bands and painfully poured out a drink.

“There’s a lot in what Sally Thompson says,” he went on, obstinately, “but—but,” he added in a strained tone, “there’s another point that I near forgot, and none of you seemed to think of it—not even Sally Thompson nor—nor Box-o’-Tricks there.”

Stiffner turned his back, and Barcoo spat viciously and impatiently.

“Yes,” drivelled the drunkard, “I’ve got another point for—for the defence—of my mate, Macquarie—”

“Oh, out with it! Spit it out, for God’s sake, or you’ll bust!” roared Stiffner. “What the blazes is it?”

His mate’s alive!” yelled the old man. “Macquarie’s mate’s alive! That’s what it is!”

He reeled back from the bar, dashed his glass and hat to the boards, gave his pants, a hitch by the waistband that almost lifted him off his feet, and tore at his shirt-sleeves.

“Make a ring, boys,” he shouted. “His mate’s alive! Put up your hands, Barcoo! By God, his mate’s alive!”

Someone had turned his horse loose at the rear and had been standing by the back door for the last five minutes. Now he slipped quietly in.

“Keep the old fool off, or he’ll get hurt,” snarled Barcoo.

Stiffner jumped the counter. There were loud, hurried words of remonstrance, then some stump-splitting oaths and a scuffle, consequent upon an attempt to chuck the old man out. Then a crash. Stiffner and Box-o’-Tricks were down, two others were holding Barcoo back, and someone had pinned Awful Example by the shoulders from behind.

“Let me go!” he yelled, too blind with passion to notice the movements of surprise among the men before him. “Let me go! I’ll smash—any man—that—that says a word again’ a mate of mine behind his back. Barcoo, I’ll have your blood! Let me go! I’ll, I’ll, I’ll— Who’s holdin’ me? You—you—”

“It’s Macquarie, old mate!” said a quiet voice.

Barcoo thought he heard his horse again, and went out in a hurry. Perhaps he thought that the horse would get impatient and break loose if he left it any longer, for he jumped into the saddle and rode off.

Baldy Thompson

Rough, squarish face, curly auburn wig, bushy grey eyebrows and moustache, and grizzly stubble—eyes that reminded one of Dampier the actor. He was a squatter of the old order—new chum, swagman, drover, shearer, super, pioneer, cocky, squatter, and finally bank victim. He had been through it all, and knew all about it.

He had been in parliament, and wanted to again; but the men mistrusted him as Thompson, M.P., though they swore by him as old Baldy Thompson the squatter. His hobby was politics, and his politics were badly boxed. When he wasn’t cursing the banks and government he cursed the country. He cursed the Labour leaders at intervals, and seemed to think that he could run the unions better than they could. Also, he seemed to think that he could run parliament better than any premier. He was generally voted a hard case, which term is mostly used in a kindly sense out back.

He was always grumbling about the country. If a shearer or rouseabout was good at argument, and a bit of a politician, he hadn’t to slave much at Thompson’s shed, for Baldy would argue with him all day and pay for it.

“I can’t put on any more men,” he’d say to travellers. “I can’t put on a lot of men to make big cheques when there’s no money in the bank to pay ’em—and I’ve got all I can do to get tucker for the family. I shore nothing but burrs and grass-seed last season, and it didn’t pay carriage. I’m just sending away a flock of sheep now, and I won’t make threepence a head on ’em. I had twenty thousand in the bank season before last, and now I can’t count on one. I’ll have to roll up my swag and go on the track myself next.”

“All right, Baldy,” they’d say, “git out your blooming swag and come along with us, old man; we’ll stick to you and see you through.”

“I swear I’d show you round first,” he’d reply. “Go up to the store and get what rations you want. You can camp in the huts to-night, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

But most likely he’d find his way over after tea, and sit on his heels in the cool outside the hut, and argue with the swagmen about unionism and politics. And he’d argue all night if he met his match.

The track by Baldy Thompson’s was reckoned as a good tucker track, especially when a dissolution of parliament was threatened. Then the guileless traveller would casually let Baldy know that he’d got his name on the electoral list, and show some interest in Baldy’s political opinions, and oppose them at first, and finally agree with them and see a lot in them—be led round to Baldy’s way of thinking, in fact; and ultimately depart, rejoicing, with a full nose-bag, and a quiet grin for his mate.

There are many camp-fire yarns about old Baldy Thompson.

One New Year the shearers—shearing stragglers—roused him in the dead of night and told him that the shed was on fire. He came out in his shirt and without his wig. He sacked them all there and then, but of course they went to work as usual next morning. There is something sad and pathetic about that old practical joke—as indeed there is with all bush jokes. There seems a quiet sort of sadness always running through outback humour—whether alleged or otherwise.

There’s the usual yarn about a jackaroo mistaking Thompson for a brother rouser, and asking him whether old Baldy was about anywhere, and Baldy said:

“Why, are you looking for a job?”

“Yes, do you think I stand any show? What sort of a boss is Baldy?”

“You’d tramp from here to Adelaide,” said Baldy, “and north to the Gulf country, and wouldn’t find a worse. He’s the meanest squatter in Australia. The damned old crawler! I grafted like a nigger for him for over fifty years”—Baldy was over sixty—“and now the old skunk won’t even pay me the last two cheques he owes me—says the bank has got everything he had—that’s an old cry of his, the damned old sneak; seems to expect me to go short to keep his wife and family and relations in comfort, and by God I’ve done it for the last thirty or forty years, and I might go on the track to-morrow worse off than the meanest old whaler that ever humped bluey. Don’t you have anything to do with Scabby Thompson, or you’ll be sorry for it. Better tramp to hell than take a job from him.”

“Well, I think I’ll move on. Would I stand any show for some tucker?”

“Him! He wouldn’t give a dog a crust, and like as not he’d get you run in for trespass if he caught you camping on the run. But come along to the store and I’ll give you enough tucker to carry you on.”

He patronized literature and arts, too, though in an awkward, furtive way. We remember how we once turned up at the station hard up and short of tucker, and how we entertained Baldy with some of his own ideas as ours—having been posted beforehand by our mate—and how he told us to get some rations and camp in the hut and see him in the morning.

And we saw him in the morning, had another yarn with him, agreed and sympathized with him some more, were convinced on one or two questions which we had failed to see at first, cursed things in chorus with him, and casually mentioned that we expected soon to get some work on a political paper.

And at last he went inside and brought out a sovereign. “Wrap this in a piece of paper and put it in your pocket, and don’t lose it,” he said.

But we learnt afterwards that the best way to get along with Baldy, and secure his good will, was to disagree with him on every possible point.

For Auld Lang Syne

These were ten of us there on the wharf when our first mate left for Maoriland, he having been forced to leave Sydney because he could not get anything like regular work, nor anything like wages for the work he could get. He was a carpenter and joiner, a good tradesman and a rough diamond. He had got married and had made a hard fight for it during the last two years or so, but the result only petrified his conviction that “a lovely man could get no blessed show in this condemned country,” as he expressed it; so he gave it best at last—“chucked it up,” as he said—left his wife with her people and four pounds ten, until such time as he could send for her—and left himself with his box of tools, a pair of hands that could use them, a steerage ticket, and thirty shillings.

We turned up to see him off. There were ten of us all told and about twice as many shillings all counted. He was the first of the old push to go—we use the word push in its general sense, and we called ourselves the mountain push because we had worked in the tourist towns a good deal—he was the first of the mountain push to go; and we felt somehow, and with a vague kind of sadness or uneasiness, that this was the beginning of the end of old times and old things. We were plasterers, bricklayers, painters, a carpenter, a labourer, and a plumber, and were all suffering more or less—mostly more—and pretty equally, because of the dearth of regular graft, and the consequent frequency of the occasions on which we didn’t hold it—the “it” being the price of one or more long beers. We had worked together on jobs in the city and up-country, especially in the country, and had had good times together when things were locomotive, as Jack put it; and we always managed to worry along cheerfully when things were “stationary.” On more than one big job up the country our fortnightly spree was a local institution while it lasted, a thing that was looked forward to by all parties, whether immediately concerned or otherwise (and all were concerned more or less), a thing to be looked back to and talked over until next pay-day came. It was a matter for anxiety and regret to the local business people and publicans, and loafers and spielers, when our jobs were finished and we left.

There were between us the bonds of graft, of old times, of poverty, of vagabondage and sin, and in spite of all the right-thinking person may think, say or write, there was between us that sympathy which in our times and conditions is the strongest and perhaps the truest of all human qualities, the sympathy of drink. We were drinking mates together. We were wrong-thinking persons too, and that was another bond of sympathy between us.

There were cakes of tobacco, and books, and papers, and several flasks of “rye-buck”—our push being distantly related to a publican who wasn’t half a bad sort—to cheer and comfort our departing mate on his uncertain way; and these tokens of mateship and the sake of auld lang syne were placed casually in his bunk or slipped unostentatiously into his hand or pockets, and received by him in short eloquent silence (sort of an aside silence), and partly as a matter of course. Every now and then there would be a surreptitious consultation between two of us and a hurried review of finances, and then one would slip quietly ashore and presently return supremely unconscious of a book, magazine, or parcel of fruit bulging out of his pocket.

You may battle round with mates for many years, and share and share alike, good times or hard, and find the said mates true and straight through it all; but it is their little thoughtful attentions when you are going away, that go right down to the bottom of your heart, and lift it up and make you feel inclined—as you stand alone by the rail when the sun goes down on the sea—to write or recite poetry and otherwise make a fool of yourself.

We helped our mate on board with his box, and inspected his bunk, and held a consultation over the merits or otherwise of its position, and got in his way and that of the under-steward and the rest of the crew right down to the captain, and superintended our old chum’s general arrangements, and upset most of them, and interviewed various members of the crew as to when the boat would start for sure, and regarded their statements with suspicion, and calculated on our own account how long it would take to get the rest of the cargo aboard, and dragged our mate ashore for a final drink, and found that we had “plenty of time to slip ashore for a parting wet” so often that his immediate relations grew anxious and officious, and the universe began to look good, and kind, and happy, and bully, and jolly, and grand, and glorious to us, and we forgave the world everything wherein it had not acted straight towards us, and were filled full of love for our kind of both genders—for the human race at large—and with an almost irresistible longing to go aboard, and stay at all hazards, and sail along with our mate. We had just time “to slip ashore and have another” when the gangway was withdrawn and the steamer began to cast off. Then a rush down the wharf, a hurried and confused shaking of hands, and our mate was snatched aboard. The boat had been delayed, and we had waited for three hours, and had seen our chum nearly every day for years, and now we found we hadn’t begun to say half what we wanted to say to him. We gripped his hand in turn over the rail, as the green tide came between, till there was a danger of one mate being pulled aboard—which he wouldn’t have minded much—or the other mate pulled ashore, or one or both yanked overboard. We cheered the captain and cheered the crew and the passengers—there was a big crowd of them going and a bigger crowd of enthusiastic friends on the wharf—and our mate on the forward hatch; we cheered the land they were going to and the land they had left behind, and sang “Auld Lang Syne” and “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (and so yelled all of us) and “Home Rule for Ireland Evermore”—which was, I don’t know why, an old song of ours. And we shouted parting injunctions and exchanged old war cries, the meanings of which were only known to us, and we were guilty of such riotous conduct that, it being now Sunday morning, one or two of the quieter members suggested we had better drop down to about half-a-gale, as there was a severe-looking old sergeant of police with an eye on us; but once, in the middle of a heart-stirring chorus of “Auld Lang Syne,” Jack, my especial chum, paused for breath and said to me:

“It’s all right, Joe, the trap’s joining in.”

And so he was—and leading.

But I well remember the hush that fell on that, and several other occasions, when the steamer had passed the point.

And so our first mate sailed away out under the rising moon and under the morning stars. He is settled down in Maoriland now, in a house of his own, and has a family and a farm; but somehow, in the bottom of our hearts, we don’t like to think of things like this, for they don’t fit in at all with “Auld Lang Syne.”‘

There were six or seven of us on the wharf to see our next mate go. His ultimate destination was known to himself and us only. We had pickets at the shore end of the wharf, and we kept him quiet and out of sight; the send-off was not noisy, but the hand-grips were very tight and the sympathy deep. He was running away from debt, and wrong, and dishonour, a drunken wife, and other sorrows, and we knew it all.

Two went next—to try their luck in Western Australia; they were plasterers. Ten of us turned up again, the push having been reinforced by one or two new members and an old one who had been absent on the first occasion. It was a glorious send-off, and only two found beds that night—the government supplied the beds.

And one by one and two by two they have gone from the wharf since then. Jack went to-day; he was perhaps the most irreclaimable of us all—a hard case where all cases were hard; and I loved him best—anyway I know that, wherever Jack goes, there will be someone who will barrack for me to the best of his ability (which is by no means to be despised as far as barracking is concerned), and resent, with enthusiasm and force if he deems it necessary, the barest insinuation which might be made to the effect that I could write a bad line if I tried, or be guilty of an action which would not be straight according to the rules of mateship.

Ah well! I am beginning to think it is time I emigrated too; I’ll pull myself together and battle round and raise the price of a steerage ticket, and maybe a pound or two over. There may not be anybody to see me off, but some of the boys are sure to be on the wharf or platform “over there,” when I arrive. Lord! I almost hear them hailing now! and won’t I yell back! and perhaps there won’t be a wake over old times in some cosy bar parlour, or camp, in Western Australia or Maoriland some night in a year to come.

 

On The Track

 

The Songs They used to Sing

On the diggings up to twenty odd years ago—and as far back as I can remember—on Lambing Flat, the Pipe Clays, Gulgong, Home Rule, and so through the roaring list; in bark huts, tents, public-houses, sly grog shanties, and—well, the most glorious voice of all belonged to a bad girl. We were only children and didn’t know why she was bad, but we weren’t allowed to play near or go near the hut she lived in, and we were trained to believe firmly that something awful would happen to us if we stayed to answer a word, and didn’t run away as fast as our legs could carry us, if she attempted to speak to us. We had before us the dread example of one urchin, who got an awful hiding and went on bread and water for twenty-four hours for allowing her to kiss him and give him lollies. She didn’t look bad — she looked to us like a grand and beautiful lady-girl— but we got instilled into us the idea that she was an awful bad woman, something more terrible even than a drunken man, and one whose presence was to be feared and fled from. There were two other girls in the hut with her, also a pretty little girl, who called her “Auntie”, and with whom we were not allowed to play—for they were all bad; which puzzled us as much as child-minds can be puzzled. We couldn’t make out how everybody in one house could be bad. We used to wonder why these bad people weren’t hunted away or put in gaol if they were so bad. And another thing puzzled us. Slipping out after dark, when the bad girls happened to be singing in their house, we’d sometimes run against men hanging round the hut by ones and twos and threes, listening. They seemed mysterious. They were mostly good men, and we concluded they were listening and watching the bad women’s house to see that they didn’t kill anyone, or steal and run away with any bad little boys — ourselves, for instance—who ran out after dark; which, as we were informed, those bad people were always on the lookout for a chance to do.

We were told in after years that old Peter McKenzie (a respectable, married, hard-working digger) would sometimes steal up opposite the bad door in the dark, and throw in money done up in a piece of paper, and listen round until the bad girl had sung the “Bonnie Hills of Scotland” two or three times. Then he’d go and get drunk, and stay drunk two or three days at a time. And his wife caught him throwing the money in one night, and there was a terrible row, and she left him; and people always said it was all a mistake. But we couldn’t see the mistake then.

But I can hear that girl’s voice through the night, twenty years ago:

Oh! the bloomin’ heath, and the pale blue bell,
    In my bonnet then I wore;
And memory knows no brighter theme
    Than those happy days of yore.
Scotland! Land of chief and song!
Oh, what charms to thee belong!

And I am old enough to understand why poor Peter McKenzie — who was married to a Saxon, and a Tartar—went and got drunk when the bad girl sang “The Bonnie Hills of Scotland.”

His anxious eye might look in vain
For some loved form it knew!

* * * * * * * * *

And yet another thing puzzled us greatly at the time. Next door to the bad girl’s house there lived a very respectable family— a family of good girls with whom we were allowed to play, and from whom we got lollies (those hard old red-and-white “fish lollies” that grocers sent home with parcels of groceries and receipted bills). Now one washing day, they being as glad to get rid of us at home as we were to get out, we went over to the good house and found no one at home except the grown-up daughter, who used to sing for us, and read “Robinson Crusoe” of nights, “out loud”, and give us more lollies than any of the rest—and with whom we were passionately in love, notwithstanding the fact that she was engaged to a “grown-up man”— (we reckoned he’d be dead and out of the way by the time we were old enough to marry her). She was washing. She had carried the stool and tub over against the stick fence which separated her house from the bad house; and, to our astonishment and dismay, the bad girl had brought her tub over against her side of the fence. They stood and worked with their shoulders to the fence between them, and heads bent down close to it. The bad girl would sing a few words, and the good girl after her, over and over again. They sang very low, we thought. Presently the good grown-up girl turned her head and caught sight of us. She jumped, and her face went flaming red; she laid hold of the stool and carried it, tub and all, away from that fence in a hurry. And the bad grown-up girl took her tub back to her house. The good grown-up girl made us promise never to tell what we saw — that she’d been talking to a bad girl—else she would never, never marry us.

She told me, in after years, when she’d grown up to be a grandmother, that the bad girl was surreptitiously teaching her to sing “Madeline” that day.

I remember a dreadful story of a digger who went and shot himself one night after hearing that bad girl sing. We thought then what a frightfully bad woman she must be. The incident terrified us; and thereafter we kept carefully and fearfully out of reach of her voice, lest we should go and do what the digger did.

* * * * * * * * *

I have a dreamy recollection of a circus on Gulgong in the roaring days, more than twenty years ago, and a woman (to my child-fancy a being from another world) standing in the middle of the ring, singing:

Out in the cold world—out in the street—
Asking a penny from each one I meet;
Cheerless I wander about all the day,
Wearing my young life in sorrow away!

That last line haunted me for many years. I remember being frightened by women sobbing (and one or two great grown-up diggers also) that night in that circus.

“Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me Now”, was a sacred song then, not a peg for vulgar parodies and more vulgar “business” for fourth-rate clowns and corner-men. Then there was “The Prairie Flower”. “Out on the Prairie, in an Early Day”—I can hear the digger’s wife yet: she was the prettiest girl on the field. They married on the sly and crept into camp after dark; but the diggers got wind of it and rolled up with gold-dishes, shovels, &c., &c., and gave them a real good tinkettling in the old-fashioned style, and a nugget or two to start housekeeping on. She had a very sweet voice.

Fair as a lily, joyous and free,
Light of the prairie home was she.

She’s a “granny” now, no doubt—or dead.

And I remember a poor, brutally ill-used little wife, wearing a black eye mostly, and singing “Love Amongst the Roses” at her work. And they sang the “Blue Tail Fly”, and all the first and best coon songs— in the days when old John Brown sank a duffer on the hill.

* * * * * * * * *

The great bark kitchen of Granny Mathews’ “Redclay Inn”. A fresh back-log thrown behind the fire, which lights the room fitfully. Company settled down to pipes, subdued yarning, and reverie.

Flash Jack—red sash, cabbage-tree hat on back of head with nothing in it, glossy black curls bunched up in front of brim. Flash Jack volunteers, without invitation, preparation, or warning, and through his nose:

Hoh!—

There was a wild kerlonial youth,
    John Dowlin was his name!
He bountied on his parients,
    Who lived in Castlemaine!

and so on to—

He took a pistol from his breast
And waved that lit—tle toy—

“Little toy” with an enthusiastic flourish and great unction on Flash Jack’s part—

“I’ll fight, but I won’t surrender!” said
The wild Kerlonial Boy.

Even this fails to rouse the company’s enthusiasm. “Give us a song, Abe! Give us the ‘Lowlands’!” Abe Mathews, bearded and grizzled, is lying on the broad of his back on a bench, with his hands clasped under his head— his favourite position for smoking, reverie, yarning, or singing. He had a strong, deep voice, which used to thrill me through and through, from hair to toenails, as a child.

They bother Abe till he takes his pipe out of his mouth and puts it behind his head on the end of the stool:

The ship was built in Glasgow;
’Twas the “Golden Vanitee”—

Lines have dropped out of my memory during the thirty years gone between—

And she ploughed in the Low Lands, Low!

The public-house people and more diggers drop into the kitchen, as all do within hearing, when Abe sings.

“Now then, boys:

And she ploughed in the Low Lands, Low!

“Now, all together!

The Low Lands! The Low Lands!
And she ploughed in the Low Lands, Low!”

Toe and heel and flat of foot begin to stamp the clay floor, and horny hands to slap patched knees in accompaniment.

“Oh! save me, lads!” he cried,
“I’m drifting with the current,
And I’m drifting with the tide!
And I’m sinking in the Low Lands, Low!
The Low Lands! The Low Lands!”

The old bark kitchen is a-going now. Heels drumming on gin-cases under stools; hands, knuckles, pipe-bowls, and pannikins keeping time on the table.

And we sewed him in his hammock,
And we slipped him o’er the side,
And we sunk him in the Low Lands, Low!
The Low Lands! The Low Lands!
And we sunk him in the Low Lands, Low!

Old Boozer Smith—a dirty gin-sodden bundle of rags on the floor in the corner with its head on a candle box, and covered by a horse rug— old Boozer Smith is supposed to have been dead to the universe for hours past, but the chorus must have disturbed his torpor; for, with a suddenness and unexpectedness that makes the next man jump, there comes a bellow from under the horse rug:

Wot though!—I wear!—a rag!—ged coat!
I’ll wear it like a man!

and ceases as suddenly as it commenced. He struggles to bring his ruined head and bloated face above the surface, glares round; then, no one questioning his manhood, he sinks back and dies to creation; and subsequent proceedings are only interrupted by a snore, as far as he is concerned.

Little Jimmy Nowlett, the bullock-driver, is inspired. “Go on, Jimmy! Give us a song!”

In the days when we were hard up
    For want of wood and wire—

Jimmy always blunders; it should have been “food and fire”—

We used to tie our boots up
    With lit—tle bits—er wire;

and—

I’m sitting in my lit—tle room,
    It measures six by six;
The work-house wall is opposite,
    I’ve counted all the bricks!

“Give us a chorus, Jimmy!”

Jimmy does, giving his head a short, jerky nod for nearly every word, and describing a circle round his crown—as if he were stirring a pint of hot tea—with his forefinger, at the end of every line:

Hall!—Round!—Me—Hat!
I wore a weepin’ willer!

Jimmy is a Cockney.

“Now then, boys!”

Hall—round—me hat!

How many old diggers remember it?

And:

A butcher, and a baker, and a quiet-looking quaker,
All a-courting pretty Jessie at the Railway Bar.

I used to wonder as a child what the “railway bar” meant.

And:

I would, I would, I would in vain
That I were single once again!
But ah, alas, that will not be
Till apples grow on the willow tree.

A drunken gambler’s young wife used to sing that song—to herself.

A stir at the kitchen door, and a cry of “Pinter,” and old Poynton, Ballarat digger, appears and is shoved in; he has several drinks aboard, and they proceed to “git Pinter on the singin’ lay,” and at last talk him round. He has a good voice, but no “theory”, and blunders worse than Jimmy Nowlett with the words. He starts with a howl—

Hoh!
Way down in Covent Gar-ar-r-dings
    A-strolling I did go,
To see the sweetest flow-ow-wers
    That e’er in gardings grow.

He saw the rose and lily—the red and white and blue— and he saw the sweetest flow-ow-ers that e’er in gardings grew; for he saw two lovely maidens (Pinter calls ’em “virgings”) underneath (he must have meant on top of) “a garding chair”, sings Pinter.

And one was lovely Jessie,
With the jet black eyes and hair,

roars Pinter,

And the other was a vir-ir-ging,
I solemn-lye declare!

“Maiden, Pinter!” interjects Mr. Nowlett.

“Well, it’s all the same,” retorts Pinter. “A maiden is a virging, Jimmy. If you’re singing, Jimmy, and not me, I’ll leave off!” Chorus of “Order! Shut up, Jimmy!”

I quicklye step-ped up to her,
    And unto her did sa-a-y:
Do you belong to any young man,
    Hoh, tell me that, I pra-a-y?

Her answer, according to Pinter, was surprisingly prompt and unconventional; also full and concise:

No; I belong to no young man—
    I solemnlye declare!
I mean to live a virging
    And still my laurels wear!

Jimmy Nowlett attempts to move an amendment in favour of “maiden”, but is promptly suppressed. It seems that Pinter’s suit has a happy termination, for he is supposed to sing in the character of a “Sailor Bold”, and as he turns to pursue his stroll in “Covent Gar-ar-dings”:

“Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!” she cried,
“I love a Sailor Bold!”

“Hong-kore, Pinter! Give us the ‘Golden Glove’, Pinter!”

Thus warmed up, Pinter starts with an explanatory “spoken” to the effect that the song he is about to sing illustrates some of the little ways of woman, and how, no matter what you say or do, she is bound to have her own way in the end; also how, in one instance, she set about getting it.

Hoh!
Now, it’s of a young squoire near Timworth did dwell,
Who courted a nobleman’s daughter so well—

The song has little or nothing to do with the “squire”, except so far as “all friends and relations had given consent,” and—

The troo-soo was ordered—appointed the day,
And a farmer were appointed for to give her away—

which last seemed a most unusual proceeding, considering the wedding was a toney affair; but perhaps there were personal interests— the nobleman might have been hard up, and the farmer backing him. But there was an extraordinary scene in the church, and things got mixed.

For as soon as this maiding this farmer espied:
“Hoh, my heart! Hoh, my heart!
“Hoh, my heart!” then she cried.

Hysterics? Anyway, instead of being wed—

This maiden took sick and she went to her bed.

(N.B.— Pinter sticks to ‘virging’.)

Whereupon friends and relations and guests left the house in a body (a strange but perhaps a wise proceeding, after all—maybe they smelt a rat) and left her to recover alone, which she did promptly. And then:

Shirt, breeches, and waistcoat this maiding put on,
And a-hunting she went with her dog and her gun;
She hunted all round where this farmier did dwell,
Because in her own heart she love-ed him well.

The cat’s out of the bag now:

And often she fired, but no game she killed—

which was not surprising—

Till at last the young farmier came into the field—

No wonder. She put it to him straight:

“Oh, why are you not at the wedding?” she cried,
“For to wait on the squoire, and to give him his bride.”

He was as prompt and as delightfully unconventional in his reply as the young lady in Covent Gardings:

“Oh, no! and oh, no! For the truth I must sa-a-y,
I love her too well for to give her a-w-a-a-y!”

which was satisfactory to the disguised “virging”.

“. . . . and I’d take sword in hand,
And by honour I’d win her if she would command.”

Which was still more satisfactory.

Now this virging, being—

(Jimmy Nowlett: “Maiden, Pinter—” Jim is thrown on a stool and sat on by several diggers.)

Now this maiding, being please-ed to see him so bold,
She gave him her glove that was flowered with gold,

and explained that she found it in his field while hunting around with her dog and her gun. It is understood that he promised to look up the owner. Then she went home and put an advertisement in the local Herald; and that ad. must have caused considerable sensation. She stated that she had lost her golden glove, and

The young man that finds it and brings it to me,
Hoh! that very young man my husband shall be!

She had a saving clause in case the young farmer mislaid the glove before he saw the ad., and an old bloke got holt of it and fetched it along. But everything went all right. The young farmer turned up with the glove. He was a very respectable young farmer, and expressed his gratitude to her for having “honour-ed him with her love.” They were married, and the song ends with a picture of the young farmeress milking the cow, and the young farmer going whistling to plough. The fact that they lived and grafted on the selection proves that I hit the right nail on the head when I guessed, in the first place, that the old nobleman was “stony”.

In after years,

. . . she told him of the fun,
How she hunted him up with her dog and her gun.

But whether he was pleased or otherwise to hear it, after years of matrimonial experiences, the old song doesn’t say, for it ends there.

Flash Jack is more successful with “Saint Patrick’s Day”.

I come to the river, I jumped it quite clever!
Me wife tumbled in, and I lost her for ever,
St. Patrick’s own day in the mornin’!

This is greatly appreciated by Jimmy Nowlett, who is suspected, especially by his wife, of being more cheerful when on the roads than when at home.

* * * * * * * * *

“Sam Holt” was a great favourite with Jimmy Nowlett in after years.

Oh, do you remember Black Alice, Sam Holt?
    Black Alice so dirty and dark—
Who’d a nose on her face—I forget how it goes—
    And teeth like a Moreton Bay shark.

Sam Holt must have been very hard up for tucker as well as beauty then, for

Do you remember the ’possums and grubs
She baked for you down by the creek?

Sam Holt was, apparently, a hardened flash Jack.

You were not quite the cleanly potato, Sam Holt.

Reference is made to his “manner of holding a flush”, and he is asked to remember several things which he, no doubt, would rather forget, including

. . . the hiding you got from the boys.

The song is decidedly personal.

But Sam Holt makes a pile and goes home, leaving many a better and worse man to pad the hoof Out Back. And—Jim Nowlett sang this with so much feeling as to make it appear a personal affair between him and the absent Holt—

And, don’t you remember the fiver, Sam Holt,
You borrowed so careless and free?
I reckon I’ll whistle a good many tunes

(with increasing feeling)

Ere you think of that fiver and me.

For the chances will be that Sam Holt’s old mate

Will be humping his drum on the Hughenden Road
To the end of the chapter of fate.

An echo from “The Old Bark Hut”, sung in the opposition camp across the gully:

You may leave the door ajar, but if you keep it shut,
There’s no need of suffocation in the Ould Barrk Hut.

The tucker’s in the gin-case, but you’d better keep it shut—
For the flies will canther round it in the Ould Bark Hut.

However:

What’s out of sight is out of mind, in the Ould Bark Hut.

* * * * * * * * *

We washed our greasy moleskins
On the banks of the Condamine.—

Somebody tackling the “Old Bullock Dray”; it must be over fifty verses now. I saw a bushman at a country dance start to sing that song; he’d get up to ten or fifteen verses, break down, and start afresh. At last he sat down on his heel to it, in the centre of the clear floor, resting his wrist on his knee, and keeping time with an index finger. It was very funny, but the thing was taken seriously all through.

Irreverent echo from the old Lambing Flat trouble, from camp across the gully:

Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the waves!
No more Chinamen will enter Noo South Wales!

and

Yankee Doodle came to town
    On a little pony—
Stick a feather in his cap,
    And call him Maccaroni!

All the camps seem to be singing to-night:

Ring the bell, watchman!
    Ring! Ring! Ring!
Ring, for the good news
    Is now on the wing!

Good lines, the introduction:

High on the belfry the old sexton stands,
Grasping the rope with his thin bony hands! . . .
Bon-fires are blazing throughout the land . . .
Glorious and blessed tidings! Ring! Ring the bell!

* * * * * * * * *

Granny Mathews fails to coax her niece into the kitchen, but persuades her to sing inside. She is the girl who learnt sub rosa from the bad girl who sang “Madeline”. Such as have them on instinctively take their hats off. Diggers, &c., strolling past, halt at the first notes of the girl’s voice, and stand like statues in the moonlight:

Shall we gather at the river,
    Where bright angel feet have trod?
The beautiful—the beautiful river
    That flows by the throne of God!—

Diggers wanted to send that girl “Home”, but Granny Mathews had the old-fashioned horror of any of her children becoming “public”—

Gather with the saints at the river,
    That flows by the throne of God!

* * * * * * * * *

But it grows late, or rather, early. The “Eyetalians” go by in the frosty moonlight, from their last shift in the claim (for it is Saturday night), singing a litany.

“Get up on one end, Abe!—stand up all!” Hands are clasped across the kitchen table. Redclay, one of the last of the alluvial fields, has petered out, and the Roaring Days are dying. . . . The grand old song that is known all over the world; yet how many in ten thousand know more than one verse and the chorus? Let Peter McKenzie lead:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?

And hearts echo from far back in the past and across wide, wide seas:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne?

Now boys! all together!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
    For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
    For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
    And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wandered mony a weary foot,
    Sin’ auld lang syne.

The world was wide then.

We twa hae paidl’t i’ the burn,
    Frae mornin’ sun till dine:

the log fire seems to grow watery, for in wide, lonely Australia—

But seas between us braid hae roar’d,
    Sin’ auld lang syne.

The kitchen grows dimmer, and the forms of the digger-singers seemed suddenly vague and unsubstantial, fading back rapidly through a misty veil. But the words ring strong and defiant through hard years:

And here’s a hand, my trusty frien’,
    And gie’s a grup o’ thine;
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
    For auld lang syne.

* * * * * * * * *

And the nettles have been growing for over twenty years on the spot where Granny Mathew’s big bark kitchen stood.

A Vision of Sandy Blight

I’d been humping my back, and crouching and groaning for an hour or so in the darkest corner of the travellers’ hut, tortured by the demon of sandy blight. It was too hot to travel, and there was no one there except ourselves and Mitchell’s cattle pup. We were waiting till after sundown, for I couldn’t have travelled in the daylight, anyway. Mitchell had tied a wet towel round my eyes, and led me for the last mile or two by another towel— one end fastened to his belt behind, and the other in my hand as I walked in his tracks. And oh! but this was a relief! It was out of the dust and glare, and the flies didn’t come into the dark hut, and I could hump and stick my knees in my eyes and groan in comfort. I didn’t want a thousand a year, or anything; I only wanted relief for my eyes —that was all I prayed for in this world. When the sun got down a bit, Mitchell started poking round, and presently he found amongst the rubbish a dirty-looking medicine bottle, corked tight; when he rubbed the dirt off a piece of notepaper that was pasted on, he saw “eye-water” written on it. He drew the cork with his teeth, smelt the water, stuck his little finger in, turned the bottle upside down, tasted the top of his finger, and reckoned the stuff was all right.

“Here! Wake up, Joe!” he shouted. “Here’s a bottle of tears.”

“A bottler wot?” I groaned.

“Eye-water,” said Mitchell.

“Are you sure it’s all right?” I didn’t want to be poisoned or have my eyes burnt out by mistake; perhaps some burning acid had got into that bottle, or the label had been put on, or left on, in mistake or carelessness.

“I dunno,” said Mitchell, “but there’s no harm in tryin’.”

I chanced it. I lay down on my back in a bunk, and Mitchell dragged my lids up and spilt half a bottle of eye-water over my eye-balls.

The relief was almost instantaneous. I never experienced such a quick cure in my life. I carried the bottle in my swag for a long time afterwards, with an idea of getting it analysed, but left it behind at last in a camp.

Mitchell scratched his head thoughtfully, and watched me for a while.

“I think I’ll wait a bit longer,” he said at last, “and if it doesn’t blind you I’ll put some in my eyes. I’m getting a touch of blight myself now. That’s the fault of travelling with a mate who’s always catching something that’s no good to him.”

As it grew dark outside we talked of sandy-blight and fly-bite, and sand-flies up north, and ordinary flies, and branched off to Barcoo rot, and struck the track again at bees and bee stings. When we got to bees, Mitchell sat smoking for a while and looking dreamily backwards along tracks and branch tracks, and round corners and circles he had travelled, right back to the short, narrow, innocent bit of track that ends in a vague, misty point—like the end of a long, straight, cleared road in the moonlight—as far back as we can remember.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I had about fourteen hives,” said Mitchell—“we used to call them ‘swarms’, no matter whether they were flying or in the box—when I left home first time. I kept them behind the shed, in the shade, on tables of galvanised iron cases turned down on stakes; but I had to make legs later on, and stand them in pans of water, on account of the ants. When the bees swarmed—and some hives sent out the Lord knows how many swarms in a year, it seemed to me— we’d tin-kettle ’em, and throw water on ’em, to make ’em believe the biggest thunderstorm was coming to drown the oldest inhabitant; and, if they didn’t get the start of us and rise, they’d settle on a branch— generally on one of the scraggy fruit trees. It was rough on the bees— come to think of it; their instinct told them it was going to be fine, and the noise and water told them it was raining. They must have thought that nature was mad, drunk, or gone ratty, or the end of the world had come. We’d rig up a table, with a box upside down, under the branch, cover our face with a piece of mosquito net, have rags burning round, and then give the branch a sudden jerk, turn the box down, and run. If we got most of the bees in, the rest that were hanging to the bough or flying round would follow, and then we reckoned we’d shook the queen in. If the bees in the box came out and joined the others, we’d reckon we hadn’t shook the queen in, and go for them again. When a hive was full of honey we’d turn the box upside down, turn the empty box mouth down on top of it, and drum and hammer on the lower box with a stick till all the bees went up into the top box. I suppose it made their heads ache, and they went up on that account.

“I suppose things are done differently on proper bee-farms. I’ve heard that a bee-farmer will part a hanging swarm with his fingers, take out the queen bee and arrange matters with her; but our ways suited us, and there was a lot of expectation and running and excitement in it, especially when a swarm took us by surprise. The yell of ‘Bees swarmin’!’ was as good to us as the yell of ‘Fight!’ is now, or ‘Bolt!’ in town, or ‘Fire’ or ‘Man overboard!’ at sea.

“There was tons of honey. The bees used to go to the vineyards at wine-making and get honey from the heaps of crushed grape-skins thrown out in the sun, and get so drunk sometimes that they wobbled in their bee-lines home. They’d fill all the boxes, and then build in between and under the bark, and board, and tin covers. They never seemed to get the idea out of their heads that this wasn’t an evergreen country, and it wasn’t going to snow all winter. My younger brother Joe used to put pieces of meat on the tables near the boxes, and in front of the holes where the bees went in and out, for the dogs to grab at. But one old dog, ‘Black Bill’, was a match for him; if it was worth Bill’s while, he’d camp there, and keep Joe and the other dogs from touching the meat—once it was put down—till the bees turned in for the night. And Joe would get the other kids round there, and when they weren’t looking or thinking, he’d brush the bees with a stick and run. I’d lam him when I caught him at it. He was an awful young devil, was Joe, and he grew up steady, and respectable, and respected—and I went to the bad. I never trust a good boy now. . . . Ah, well!

“I remember the first swarm we got. We’d been talking of getting a few swarms for a long time. That was what was the matter with us English and Irish and English-Irish Australian farmers: we used to talk so much about doing things while the Germans and Scotch did them. And we even talked in a lazy, easy-going sort of way.

“Well, one blazing hot day I saw father coming along the road, home to dinner (we had it in the middle of the day), with his axe over his shoulder. I noticed the axe particularly because father was bringing it home to grind, and Joe and I had to turn the stone; but, when I noticed Joe dragging along home in the dust about fifty yards behind father, I felt easier in my mind. Suddenly father dropped the axe and started to run back along the road towards Joe, who, as soon as he saw father coming, shied for the fence and got through. He thought he was going to catch it for something he’d done—or hadn’t done. Joe used to do so many things and leave so many things not done that he could never be sure of father. Besides, father had a way of starting to hammer us unexpectedly— when the idea struck him. But father pulled himself up in about thirty yards and started to grab up handfuls of dust and sand and throw them into the air. My idea, in the first flash, was to get hold of the axe, for I thought it was sun-stroke, and father might take it into his head to start chopping up the family before I could persuade him to put it (his head, I mean) in a bucket of water. But Joe came running like mad, yelling:

“‘Swarmer—bees! Swawmmer—bee—ee—es! Bring—a—tin—dish— and—a—dippera—wa-a-ter!’

“I ran with a bucket of water and an old frying-pan, and pretty soon the rest of the family were on the spot, throwing dust and water, and banging everything, tin or iron, they could get hold of. The only bullock bell in the district (if it was in the district) was on the old poley cow, and she’d been lost for a fortnight. Mother brought up the rear—but soon worked to the front— with a baking-dish and a big spoon. The old lady—she wasn’t old then— had a deep-rooted prejudice that she could do everything better than anybody else, and that the selection and all on it would go to the dogs if she wasn’t there to look after it. There was no jolting that idea out of her. She not only believed that she could do anything better than anybody, and hers was the only right or possible way, and that we’d do everything upside down if she wasn’t there to do it or show us how—but she’d try to do things herself or insist on making us do them her way, and that led to messes and rows. She was excited now, and took command at once. She wasn’t tongue-tied, and had no impediment in her speech.

“‘Don’t throw up dust!—Stop throwing up dust!— Do you want to smother ’em?—Don’t throw up so much water!— Only throw up a pannikin at a time!—D’yer want to drown ’em? Bang! Keep on banging, Joe!—Look at that child! Run, someone!—run! you, Jack!—D’yer want the child to be stung to death?—Take her inside! . . . Dy’ hear me? . . . Stop throwing up dust, Tom! [To father.] You’re scaring ’em away! Can’t you see they want to settle?’ [Father was getting mad and yelping: ‘For Godsake shettup and go inside.’] ‘Throw up water, Jack! Throw up—Tom! Take that bucket from him and don’t make such a fool of yourself before the children! Throw up water! Throw—keep on banging, children! Keep on banging!’ [Mother put her faith in banging.] ‘There!—they’re off! You’ve lost ’em! I knew you would! I told yer—keep on bang—!’

“A bee struck her in the eye, and she grabbed at it!

“Mother went home—and inside.

“Father was good at bees—could manage them like sheep when he got to know their ideas. When the swarm settled, he sent us for the old washing stool, boxes, bags, and so on; and the whole time he was fixing the bees I noticed that whenever his back was turned to us his shoulders would jerk up as if he was cold, and he seemed to shudder from inside, and now and then I’d hear a grunting sort of whimper like a boy that was just starting to blubber. But father wasn’t weeping, and bees weren’t stinging him; it was the bee that stung mother that was tickling father. When he went into the house, mother’s other eye had bunged for sympathy. Father was always gentle and kind in sickness, and he bathed mother’s eyes and rubbed mud on, but every now and then he’d catch inside, and jerk and shudder, and grunt and cough. Mother got wild, but presently the humour of it struck her, and she had to laugh, and a rum laugh it was, with both eyes bunged up. Then she got hysterical, and started to cry, and father put his arm round her shoulder and ordered us out of the house.

“They were very fond of each other, the old people were, under it all—right up to the end. . . . Ah, well!”

Mitchell pulled the swags out of a bunk, and started to fasten the nose-bags on.

Andy Page’s Rival

Tall and freckled and sandy,
    Face of a country lout;
That was the picture of Andy—
    Middleton’s rouseabout.
On Middleton's wide dominions
    Plied the stock-whip and shears;
Hadn’t any opinions————

And he hadn’t any “ideers”—at least, he said so himself— except as regarded anything that looked to him like what he called “funny business”, under which heading he catalogued tyranny, treachery, interference with the liberty of the subject by the subject, “blanky” lies, or swindles—all things, in short, that seemed to his slow understanding dishonest, mean or paltry; most especially, and above all, treachery to a mate. That he could never forget. Andy was uncomfortably “straight”. His mind worked slowly and his decisions were, as a rule, right and just; and when he once came to a conclusion concerning any man or matter, or decided upon a course of action, nothing short of an earthquake or a Nevertire cyclone could move him back an inch—unless a conviction were severely shaken, and then he would require as much time to “back” to his starting point as he did to come to the decision.

Andy had come to a conclusion with regard to a selector’s daughter—name, Lizzie Porter—who lived (and slaved) on her father’s selection, near the township corner of the run on which Andy was a general “hand”. He had been in the habit for several years of calling casually at the selector’s house, as he rode to and fro between the station and the town, to get a drink of water and exchange the time of day with old Porter and his “missus”. The conversation concerned the drought, and the likelihood or otherwise of their ever going to get a little rain; or about Porter’s cattle, with an occasional enquiry concerning, or reference to, a stray cow belonging to the selection, but preferring the run; a little, plump, saucy, white cow, by-the-way, practically pure white, but referred to by Andy—who had eyes like a blackfellow—as “old Speckledy”. No one else could detect a spot or speckle on her at a casual glance. Then after a long bovine silence, which would have been painfully embarrassing in any other society, and a tilting of his cabbage-tree hat forward, which came of tickling and scratching the sun-blotched nape of his neck with his little finger, Andy would slowly say: “Ah, well. I must be gettin’. So-long, Mr. Porter. So-long, Mrs. Porter.” And, if she were in evidence —as she generally was on such occasions—“So-long, Lizzie.” And they’d shout: “So-long, Andy,” as he galloped off from the jump. Strange that those shy, quiet, gentle-voiced bushmen seem the hardest and most reckless riders.

But of late his horse had been seen hanging up outside Porter’s for an hour or so after sunset. He smoked, talked over the results of the last drought (if it happened to rain), and the possibilities of the next one, and played cards with old Porter; who took to winking, automatically, at his “old woman”, and nudging, and jerking his thumb in the direction of Lizzie when her back was turned, and Andy was scratching the nape of his neck and staring at the cards.

Lizzie told a lady friend of mine, years afterwards, how Andy popped the question; told it in her quiet way—you know Lizzie’s quiet way (something of the old, privileged house-cat about her); never a sign in expression or tone to show whether she herself saw or appreciated the humour of anything she was telling, no matter how comical it might be. She had witnessed two tragedies, and had found a dead man in the bush, and related the incidents as though they were common-place.

It happened one day—after Andy had been coming two or three times a week for about a year—that she found herself sitting with him on a log of the woodheap, in the cool of the evening, enjoying the sunset breeze. Andy’s arm had got round her— just as it might have gone round a post he happened to be leaning against. They hadn’t been talking about anything in particular. Andy said he wouldn’t be surprised if they had a thunderstorm before mornin’— it had been so smotherin’ hot all day.

Lizzie said, “Very likely.”

Andy smoked a good while, then he said: “Ah, well! It’s a weary world.”

Lizzie didn’t say anything.

By-and-bye Andy said: “Ah, well; it’s a lonely world, Lizzie.”

“Do you feel lonely, Andy?” asked Lizzie, after a while.

“Yes, Lizzie; I do.”

Lizzie let herself settle, a little, against him, without either seeming to notice it, and after another while she said, softly: “So do I, Andy.”

Andy knocked the ashes from his pipe very slowly and deliberately, and put it away; then he seemed to brighten suddenly, and said briskly: “Well, Lizzie! Are you satisfied!”

“Yes, Andy; I’m satisfied.”

“Quite sure, now?”

“Yes; I’m quite sure, Andy. I’m perfectly satisfied.”

“Well, then, Lizzie—it’s settled!”

* * * * * * * *

But to-day—a couple of months after the proposal described above— Andy had trouble on his mind, and the trouble was connected with Lizzie Porter. He was putting up a two-rail fence along the old log-paddock on the frontage, and working like a man in trouble, trying to work it off his mind; and evidently not succeeding— for the last two panels were out of line. He was ramming a post— Andy rammed honestly, from the bottom of the hole, not the last few shovelfuls below the surface, as some do. He was ramming the last layer of clay when a cloud of white dust came along the road, paused, and drifted or poured off into the scrub, leaving long Dave Bentley, the horse-breaker, on his last victim.

“’Ello, Andy! Graftin’?”

“I want to speak to you, Dave,” said Andy, in a strange voice.

“All—all right!” said Dave, rather puzzled. He got down, wondering what was up, and hung his horse to the last post but one.

Dave was Andy’s opposite in one respect: he jumped to conclusions, as women do; but, unlike women, he was mostly wrong. He was an old chum and mate of Andy’s who had always liked, admired, and trusted him. But now, to his helpless surprise, Andy went on scraping the earth from the surface with his long-handled shovel, and heaping it conscientiously round the butt of the post, his face like a block of wood, and his lips set grimly. Dave broke out first (with bush oaths):

“What’s the matter with you? Spit it out! What have I been doin’ to you? What’s yer got yer rag out about, anyway?”

Andy faced him suddenly, with hatred for “funny business” flashing in his eyes.

“What did you say to my sister Mary about Lizzie Porter?”

Dave started; then he whistled long and low. “Spit it all out, Andy!” he advised.

“You said she was travellin’ with a feller!”

“Well, what’s the harm in that? Everybody knows that—”

“If any crawler says a word about Lizzie Porter—look here, me and you’s got to fight, Dave Bentley!” Then, with still greater vehemence, as though he had a share in the garment: “Take off that coat!”

“Not if I know it!” said Dave, with the sudden quietness that comes to brave but headstrong and impulsive men at a critical moment: “Me and you ain’t goin’ to fight, Andy; and” (with sudden energy) “if you try it on I’ll knock you into jim-rags!”

Then, stepping close to Andy and taking him by the arm: “Andy, this thing will have to be fixed up. Come here; I want to talk to you.” And he led him some paces aside, inside the boundary line, which seemed a ludicrously unnecessary precaution, seeing that there was no one within sight or hearing save Dave’s horse.

“Now, look here, Andy; let’s have it over. What’s the matter with you and Lizzie Porter?”

I’m travellin’ with her, that’s all; and we’re going to get married in two years!”

Dave gave vent to another long, low whistle. He seemed to think and make up his mind.

“Now, look here, Andy: we’re old mates, ain’t we?”

“Yes; I know that.”

“And do you think I’d tell you a blanky lie, or crawl behind your back? Do you? Spit it out!”

“N—no, I don’t!”

“I’ve always stuck up for you, Andy, and—why, I’ve fought for you behind your back!”

“I know that, Dave.”

“There’s my hand on it!”

Andy took his friend’s hand mechanically, but gripped it hard.

“Now, Andy, I’ll tell you straight: It’s Gorstruth about Lizzie Porter!”

They stood as they were for a full minute, hands clasped; Andy with his jaw dropped and staring in a dazed sort of way at Dave. He raised his disengaged hand helplessly to his thatch, gulped suspiciously, and asked in a broken voice:

“How—how do you know it, Dave?”

“Know it? Andy, I seen ’em meself!

“You did, Dave?” in a tone that suggested sorrow more than anger at Dave’s part in the seeing of them.

“Gorstruth, Andy!”

* * * * * * * * *

“Tell me, Dave, who was the feller? That’s all I want to know.”

“I can’t tell you that. I only seen them when I was canterin’ past in the dusk.”

“Then how’d you know it was a man at all?”

“It wore trousers, anyway, and was as big as you; so it couldn’t have been a girl. I’m pretty safe to swear it was Mick Kelly. I saw his horse hangin’ up at Porter’s once or twice. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll find out for you, Andy. And, what’s more, I’ll job him for you if I catch him!”

Andy said nothing; his hands clenched and his chest heaved. Dave laid a friendly hand on his shoulder.

“It’s red hot, Andy, I know. Anybody else but you and I wouldn’t have cared. But don’t be a fool; there’s any Gorsquantity of girls knockin’ round. You just give it to her straight and chuck her, and have done with it. You must be bad off to bother about her. Gorstruth! she ain’t much to look at anyway! I’ve got to ride like blazes to catch the coach. Don’t knock off till I come back; I won’t be above an hour. I’m goin’ to give you some points in case you’ve got to fight Mick; and I’ll have to be there to back you!” And, thus taking the right moment instinctively, he jumped on his horse and galloped on towards the town.

His dust-cloud had scarcely disappeared round a corner of the paddocks when Andy was aware of another one coming towards him. He had a dazed idea that it was Dave coming back, but went on digging another post-hole, mechanically, until a spring-cart rattled up, and stopped opposite him. Then he lifted his head. It was Lizzie herself, driving home from town. She turned towards him with her usual faint smile. Her small features were “washed out” and rather haggard.

“’Ello, Andy!”

But, at the sight of her, all his hatred of “funny business” —intensified, perhaps, by a sense of personal injury—came to a head, and he exploded:

“Look here, Lizzie Porter! I know all about you. You needn’t think you’re goin’ to cotton on with me any more after this! I wouldn’t be seen in a paddock with yer! I’m satisfied about you! Get on out of this!”

The girl stared at him for a moment thunderstruck; then she lammed into the old horse with a stick she carried in place of a whip.

She cried, and wondered what she’d done, and trembled so that she could scarcely unharness the horse, and wondered if Andy had got a touch of the sun, and went in and sat down and cried again; and pride came to her aid and she hated Andy; thought of her big brother, away droving, and made a cup of tea. She shed tears over the tea, and went through it all again.

Meanwhile Andy was suffering a reaction. He started to fill the hole before he put the post in; then to ram the post before the rails were in position. Dubbing off the ends of the rails, he was in danger of amputating a toe or a foot with every stroke of the adze. And, at last, trying to squint along the little lumps of clay which he had placed in the centre of the top of each post for several panels back—to assist him to take a line— he found that they swam and doubled, and ran off in watery angles, for his eyes were too moist to see straight and single.

Then he threw down the tools hopelessly, and was standing helplessly undecided whether to go home or go down to the creek and drown himself, when Dave turned up again.

“Seen her?” asked Dave.

“Yes,” said Andy.

“Did you chuck her?”

“Look here, Dave; are you sure the feller was Mick Kelly?”

“I never said I was. How was I to know? It was dark. You don’t expect I’d ‘fox’ a feller I see doing a bit of a bear-up to a girl, do you? It might have been you, for all I knowed. I suppose she’s been talking you round?”

“No, she ain’t,” said Andy. “But, look here, Dave; I was properly gone on that girl, I was, and—and I want to be sure I’m right.”

The business was getting altogether too psychological for Dave Bentley. “You might as well,” he rapped out, “call me a liar at once!”

“’Taint that at all, Dave. I want to get at who the feller is; that’s what I want to get at now. Where did you see them, and when?”

“I seen them Anniversary night, along the road, near Ross’ farm; and I seen ’em Sunday night afore that—in the trees near the old culvert— near Porter’s sliprails; and I seen ’em one night outside Porter’s, on a log near the woodheap. They was thick that time, and bearin’ up proper, and no mistake. So I can swear to her. Now, are you satisfied about her?”

But Andy was wildly pitchforking his thatch under his hat with all ten fingers and staring at Dave, who began to regard him uneasily; then there came to Andy’s eyes an awful glare, which caused Dave to step back hastily.

“Good God, Andy! Are yer goin’ ratty?”

“No!” cried Andy, wildly.

“Then what the blazes is the matter with you? You’ll have rats if you don’t look out!”

Jimminy froth!—It was me all the time!”

“What?”

“It was me that was with her all them nights. It was me that you seen. Why, I popped on the woodheap!”

Dave was taken too suddenly to whistle this time.

“And you went for her just now?”

“Yes!” yelled Andy.

“Well—you’ve done it!”

“Yes,” said Andy, hopelessly; “I’ve done it!”

Dave whistled now—a very long, low whistle. “Well, you’re a bloomin’ goat, Andy, after this. But this thing’ll have to be fixed up!” and he cantered away. Poor Andy was too badly knocked to notice the abruptness of Dave’s departure, or to see that he turned through the sliprails on to the track that led to Porter’s.

* * * * * * * * *

Half an hour later Andy appeared at Porter’s back door, with an expression on his face as though the funeral was to start in ten minutes. In a tone befitting such an occasion, he wanted to see Lizzie.

Dave had been there with the laudable determination of fixing the business up, and had, of course, succeeded in making it much worse than it was before. But Andy made it all right.

The Iron-Bark Chip

Dave Regan and party—bush-fencers, tank-sinkers, rough carpenters, &c.— were finishing the third and last culvert of their contract on the last section of the new railway line, and had already sent in their vouchers for the completed contract, so that there might be no excuse for extra delay in connection with the cheque.

Now it had been expressly stipulated in the plans and specifications that the timber for certain beams and girders was to be iron-bark and no other, and Government inspectors were authorised to order the removal from the ground of any timber or material they might deem inferior, or not in accordance with the stipulations. The railway contractor’s foreman and inspector of sub-contractors was a practical man and a bushman, but he had been a timber-getter himself; his sympathies were bushy, and he was on winking terms with Dave Regan. Besides, extended time was expiring, and the contractors were in a hurry to complete the line. But the Government inspector was a reserved man who poked round on his independent own and appeared in lonely spots at unexpected times —with apparently no definite object in life—like a grey kangaroo bothered by a new wire fence, but unsuspicious of the presence of humans. He wore a grey suit, rode, or mostly led, an ashen-grey horse; the grass was long and grey, so he was seldom spotted until he was well within the horizon and bearing leisurely down on a party of sub-contractors, leading his horse.

Now iron-bark was scarce and distant on those ridges, and another timber, similar in appearance, but much inferior in grain and “standing” quality, was plentiful and close at hand. Dave and party were “about full of” the job and place, and wanted to get their cheque and be gone to another “spec” they had in view. So they came to reckon they’d get the last girder from a handy tree, and have it squared, in place, and carefully and conscientiously tarred before the inspector happened along, if he did. But they didn’t. They got it squared, and ready to be lifted into its place; the kindly darkness of tar was ready to cover a fraud that took four strong men with crowbars and levers to shift; and now (such is the regular cussedness of things) as the fraudulent piece of timber lay its last hour on the ground, looking and smelling, to their guilty imaginations like anything but iron-bark, they were aware of the Government inspector drifting down upon them obliquely, with something of the atmosphere of a casual Bill or Jim who had dropped out of his easy-going track to see how they were getting on, and borrow a match. They had more than half hoped that, as he had visited them pretty frequently during the progress of the work, and knew how near it was to completion, he wouldn’t bother coming any more. But it’s the way with the Government. You might move heaven and earth in vain endeavour to get the “Guvermunt” to flutter an eyelash over something of the most momentous importance to yourself and mates and the district— even to the country; but just when you are leaving authority severely alone, and have strong reasons for not wanting to worry or interrupt it, and not desiring it to worry about you, it will take a fancy into its head to come along and bother.

“It’s always the way!” muttered Dave to his mates. “I knew the beggar would turn up! . . . And the only cronk log we’ve had, too!” he added, in an injured tone. “If this had ’a’ been the only blessed iron-bark in the whole contract, it would have been all right. . . . Good-day, sir!” (to the inspector). “It’s hot?”

The inspector nodded. He was not of an impulsive nature. He got down from his horse and looked at the girder in an abstracted way; and presently there came into his eyes a dreamy, far-away, sad sort of expression, as if there had been a very sad and painful occurrence in his family, way back in the past, and that piece of timber in some way reminded him of it and brought the old sorrow home to him. He blinked three times, and asked, in a subdued tone:

“Is that iron-bark?”

Jack Bentley, the fluent liar of the party, caught his breath with a jerk and coughed, to cover the gasp and gain time. “I—iron-bark? Of course it is! I thought you would know iron-bark, mister.” (Mister was silent.) “What else d’yer think it is?”

The dreamy, abstracted expression was back. The inspector, by-the-way, didn’t know much about timber, but he had a great deal of instinct, and went by it when in doubt.

“L—look here, mister!” put in Dave Regan, in a tone of innocent puzzlement and with a blank bucolic face. “B—but don’t the plans and specifications say iron-bark? Ours does, anyway. I—I’ll git the papers from the tent and show yer, if yer like.”

It was not necessary. The inspector admitted the fact slowly. He stooped, and with an absent air picked up a chip. He looked at it abstractedly for a moment, blinked his threefold blink; then, seeming to recollect an appointment, he woke up suddenly and asked briskly:

“Did this chip come off that girder?”

Blank silence. The inspector blinked six times, divided in threes, rapidly, mounted his horse, said “Day,” and rode off.

Regan and party stared at each other.

“Wha—what did he do that for?” asked Andy Page, the third in the party.

“Do what for, you fool?” enquired Dave.

“Ta—take that chip for?”

“He’s taking it to the office!” snarled Jack Bentley.

“What—what for? What does he want to do that for?”

“To get it blanky well analysed! You ass! Now are yer satisfied?” And Jack sat down hard on the timber, jerked out his pipe, and said to Dave, in a sharp, toothache tone:

“Gimmiamatch!”

“We—well! what are we to do now?” enquired Andy, who was the hardest grafter, but altogether helpless, hopeless, and useless in a crisis like this.

“Grain and varnish the bloomin’ culvert!” snapped Bentley.

But Dave’s eyes, that had been ruefully following the inspector, suddenly dilated. The inspector had ridden a short distance along the line, dismounted, thrown the bridle over a post, laid the chip (which was too big to go in his pocket) on top of it, got through the fence, and was now walking back at an angle across the line in the direction of the fencing party, who had worked up on the other side, a little more than opposite the culvert.

Dave took in the lay of the country at a glance and thought rapidly.

“Gimme an iron-bark chip!” he said suddenly.

Bentley, who was quick-witted when the track was shown him, as is a kangaroo dog (Jack ran by sight, not scent), glanced in the line of Dave’s eyes, jumped up, and got a chip about the same size as that which the inspector had taken.

Now the “lay of the country” sloped generally to the line from both sides, and the angle between the inspector’s horse, the fencing party, and the culvert was well within a clear concave space; but a couple of hundred yards back from the line and parallel to it (on the side on which Dave’s party worked their timber) a fringe of scrub ran to within a few yards of a point which would be about in line with a single tree on the cleared slope, the horse, and the fencing party.

Dave took the iron-bark chip, ran along the bed of the water-course into the scrub, raced up the siding behind the bushes, got safely, though without breathing, across the exposed space, and brought the tree into line between him and the inspector, who was talking to the fencers. Then he began to work quickly down the slope towards the tree (which was a thin one), keeping it in line, his arms close to his sides, and working, as it were, down the trunk of the tree, as if the fencing party were kangaroos and Dave was trying to get a shot at them. The inspector, by-the-bye, had a habit of glancing now and then in the direction of his horse, as though under the impression that it was flighty and restless and inclined to bolt on opportunity. It was an anxious moment for all parties concerned—except the inspector. They didn’t want him to be perturbed. And, just as Dave reached the foot of the tree, the inspector finished what he had to say to the fencers, turned, and started to walk briskly back to his horse. There was a thunderstorm coming. Now was the critical moment— there were certain prearranged signals between Dave’s party and the fencers which might have interested the inspector, but none to meet a case like this.

Jack Bentley gasped, and started forward with an idea of intercepting the inspector and holding him for a few minutes in bogus conversation. Inspirations come to one at a critical moment, and it flashed on Jack’s mind to send Andy instead. Andy looked as innocent and guileless as he was, but was uncomfortable in the vicinity of “funny business”, and must have an honest excuse. “Not that that mattered,” commented Jack afterwards; “it would have taken the inspector ten minutes to get at what Andy was driving at, whatever it was.”

“Run, Andy! Tell him there’s a heavy thunderstorm coming and he’d better stay in our humpy till it’s over. Run! Don’t stand staring like a blanky fool. He’ll be gone!”

Andy started. But just then, as luck would have it, one of the fencers started after the inspector, hailing him as “Hi, mister!” He wanted to be set right about the survey or something —or to pretend to want to be set right—from motives of policy which I haven’t time to explain here.

That fencer explained afterwards to Dave’s party that he “seen what you coves was up to,” and that’s why he called the inspector back. But he told them that after they had told their yarn—which was a mistake.

“Come back, Andy!” cried Jack Bentley.

Dave Regan slipped round the tree, down on his hands and knees, and made quick time through the grass which, luckily, grew pretty tall on the thirty or forty yards of slope between the tree and the horse. Close to the horse, a thought struck Dave that pulled him up, and sent a shiver along his spine and a hungry feeling under it. The horse would break away and bolt! But the case was desperate. Dave ventured an interrogatory “Cope, cope, cope?” The horse turned its head wearily and regarded him with a mild eye, as if he’d expected him to come, and come on all fours, and wondered what had kept him so long; then he went on thinking. Dave reached the foot of the post; the horse obligingly leaning over on the other leg. Dave reared head and shoulders cautiously behind the post, like a snake; his hand went up twice, swiftly—the first time he grabbed the inspector’s chip, and the second time he put the iron-bark one in its place. He drew down and back, and scuttled off for the tree like a gigantic tailless “goanna”.

A few minutes later he walked up to the culvert from along the creek, smoking hard to settle his nerves.

The sky seemed to darken suddenly; the first great drops of the thunderstorm came pelting down. The inspector hurried to his horse, and cantered off along the line in the direction of the fettlers’ camp.

He had forgotten all about the chip, and left it on top of the post!

Dave Regan sat down on the beam in the rain and swore comprehensively.

“Middleton’s Peter”

I
The First Born

The struggling squatter is to be found in Australia as well as the “struggling farmer”. The Australian squatter is not always the mighty wool king that English and American authors and other uninformed people apparently imagine him to be. Squatting, at the best, is but a game of chance. It depends mainly on the weather, and that, in New South Wales at least, depends on nothing.

Joe Middleton was a struggling squatter, with a station some distance to the westward of the furthest line reached by the ordinary “new chum”. His run, at the time of our story, was only about six miles square, and his stock was limited in proportion. The hands on Joe’s run consisted of his brother Dave, a middle-aged man known only as “Middleton’s Peter” (who had been in the service of the Middleton family ever since Joe Middleton could remember), and an old black shepherd, with his gin and two boys.

It was in the first year of Joe’s marriage. He had married a very ordinary girl, as far as Australian girls go, but in his eyes she was an angel. He really worshipped her.

One sultry afternoon in midsummer all the station hands, with the exception of Dave Middleton, were congregated about the homestead door, and it was evident from their solemn faces that something unusual was the matter. They appeared to be watching for something or someone across the flat, and the old black shepherd, who had been listening intently with bent head, suddenly straightened himself up and cried:

“I can hear the cart. I can see it!”

You must bear in mind that our blackfellows do not always talk the gibberish with which they are credited by story writers.

It was not until some time after Black Bill had spoken that the white — or, rather, the brown — portion of the party could see or even hear the approaching vehicle. At last, far out through the trunks of the native apple-trees, the cart was seen approaching; and as it came nearer it was evident that it was being driven at a break-neck pace, the horses cantering all the way, while the motion of the cart, as first one wheel and then the other sprang from a root or a rut, bore a striking resemblance to the Highland Fling. There were two persons in the cart. One was Mother Palmer, a stout, middle-aged party (who sometimes did the duties of a midwife), and the other was Dave Middleton, Joe’s brother.

The cart was driven right up to the door with scarcely any abatement of speed, and was stopped so suddenly that Mrs. Palmer was sent sprawling on to the horse’s rump. She was quickly helped down, and, as soon as she had recovered sufficient breath, she followed Black Mary into the bedroom where young Mrs. Middleton was lying, looking very pale and frightened. The horse which had been driven so cruelly had not done blowing before another cart appeared, also driven very fast. It contained old Mr. and Mrs. Middleton, who lived comfortably on a small farm not far from Palmer’s place.

As soon as he had dumped Mrs. Palmer, Dave Middleton left the cart and, mounting a fresh horse which stood ready saddled in the yard, galloped off through the scrub in a different direction.

Half an hour afterwards Joe Middleton came home on a horse that had been almost ridden to death. His mother came out at the sound of his arrival, and he anxiously asked her:

“How is she?”

“Did you find Doc. Wild?” asked the mother.

“No, confound him!” exclaimed Joe bitterly. “He promised me faithfully to come over on Wednesday and stay until Maggie was right again. Now he has left Dean’s and gone — Lord knows where. I suppose he is drinking again. How is Maggie?”

“It’s all over now — the child is born. It’s a boy; but she is very weak. Dave got Mrs. Palmer here just in time. I had better tell you at once that Mrs. Palmer says if we don’t get a doctor here to-night poor Maggie won’t live.”

“Good God! and what am I to do?” cried Joe desperately.

“Is there any other doctor within reach?”

“No; there is only the one at B——; that’s forty miles away, and he is laid up with the broken leg he got in the buggy accident. Where’s Dave?”

“Gone to Black’s shanty. One of Mrs. Palmer’s sons thought he remembered someone saying that Doc. Wild was there last week. That’s fifteen miles away.”

“But it is our only hope,” said Joe dejectedly. “I wish to God that I had taken Maggie to some civilised place a month ago.”

Doc. Wild was a well-known character among the bushmen of New South Wales, and although the profession did not recognise him, and denounced him as an empiric, his skill was undoubted. Bushmen had great faith in him, and would often ride incredible distances in order to bring him to the bedside of a sick friend. He drank fearfully, but was seldom incapable of treating a patient; he would, however, sometimes be found in an obstinate mood and refuse to travel to the side of a sick person, and then the devil himself could not make the doctor budge. But for all this he was very generous — a fact that could, no doubt, be testified to by many a grateful sojourner in the lonely bush.

II
The Only Hope

Night came on, and still there was no change in the condition of the young wife, and no sign of the doctor. Several stockmen from the neighbouring stations, hearing that there was trouble at Joe Middleton’s, had ridden over, and had galloped off on long, hopeless rides in search of a doctor. Being generally free from sickness themselves, these bushmen look upon it as a serious business even in its mildest form; what is more, their sympathy is always practical where it is possible for it to be so. One day, while out on the run after an “outlaw”, Joe Middleton was badly thrown from his horse, and the break-neck riding that was done on that occasion from the time the horse came home with empty saddle until the rider was safe in bed and attended by a doctor was something extraordinary, even for the bush.

Before the time arrived when Dave Middleton might reasonably have been expected to return, the station people were anxiously watching for him, all except the old blackfellow and the two boys, who had gone to yard the sheep.

The party had been increased by Jimmy Nowlett, the bullocky, who had just arrived with a load of fencing wire and provisions for Middleton. Jimmy was standing in the moonlight, whip in hand, looking as anxious as the husband himself, and endeavouring to calculate by mental arithmetic the exact time it ought to take Dave to complete his double journey, taking into consideration the distance, the obstacles in the way, and the chances of horse-flesh.

But the time which Jimmy fixed for the arrival came without Dave.

Old Peter (as he was generally called, though he was not really old) stood aside in his usual sullen manner, his hat drawn down over his brow and eyes, and nothing visible but a thick and very horizontal black beard, from the depth of which emerged large clouds of very strong tobacco smoke, the product of a short, black, clay pipe.

They had almost given up all hope of seeing Dave return that night, when Peter slowly and deliberately removed his pipe and grunted:

“He’s a-comin’.”

He then replaced the pipe, and smoked on as before.

All listened, but not one of them could hear a sound.

“Yer ears must be pretty sharp for yer age, Peter. We can’t hear him,” remarked Jimmy Nowlett.

“His dog ken,” said Peter.

The pipe was again removed and its abbreviated stem pointed in the direction of Dave’s cattle dog, who had risen beside his kennel with pointed ears, and was looking eagerly in the direction from which his master was expected to come.

Presently the sound of horse’s hoofs was distinctly heard.

“I can hear two horses,” cried Jimmy Nowlett excitedly.

“There’s only one,” said old Peter quietly.

A few moments passed, and a single horseman appeared on the far side of the flat.

“It’s Doc. Wild on Dave’s horse,” cried Jimmy Nowlett. “Dave don’t ride like that.”

“It’s Dave,” said Peter, replacing his pipe and looking more unsociable than ever.

Dave rode up and, throwing himself wearily from the saddle, stood ominously silent by the side of his horse.

Joe Middleton said nothing, but stood aside with an expression of utter hopelessness on his face.

“Not there?” asked Jimmy Nowlett at last, addressing Dave.

“Yes, he’s there,” answered Dave, impatiently.

This was not the answer they expected, but nobody seemed surprised.

“Drunk?” asked Jimmy.

“Yes.”

Here old Peter removed his pipe, and pronounced the one word — “How?”

“What the hell do you mean by that?” muttered Dave, whose patience had evidently been severely tried by the clever but intemperate bush doctor.

“How drunk?” explained Peter, with great equanimity.

“Stubborn drunk, blind drunk, beastly drunk, dead drunk, and damned well drunk, if that’s what you want to know!”

“What did Doc. say?” asked Jimmy.

“Said he was sick — had lumbago — wouldn’t come for the Queen of England; said he wanted a course of treatment himself. Curse him! I have no patience to talk about him.”

“I’d give him a course of treatment,” muttered Jimmy viciously, trailing the long lash of his bullock-whip through the grass and spitting spitefully at the ground.

Dave turned away and joined Joe, who was talking earnestly to his mother by the kitchen door. He told them that he had spent an hour trying to persuade Doc. Wild to come, and, that before he had left the shanty, Black had promised him faithfully to bring the doctor over as soon as his obstinate mood wore off.

Just then a low moan was heard from the sick room, followed by the sound of Mother Palmer’s voice calling old Mrs. Middleton, who went inside immediately.

No one had noticed the disappearance of Peter, and when he presently returned from the stockyard, leading the only fresh horse that remained, Jimmy Nowlett began to regard him with some interest. Peter transferred the saddle from Dave’s horse to the other, and then went into a small room off the kitchen, which served him as a bedroom; from it he soon returned with a formidable-looking revolver, the chambers of which he examined in the moonlight in full view of all the company. They thought for a moment the man had gone mad. Old Middleton leaped quickly behind Nowlett, and Black Mary, who had come out to the cask at the corner for a dipper of water, dropped the dipper and was inside like a shot. One of the black boys came softly up at that moment; as soon as his sharp eye “spotted” the weapon, he disappeared as though the earth had swallowed him.

“What the mischief are yer goin’ ter do, Peter?” asked Jimmy.

“Goin’ to fetch him,” said Peter, and, after carefully emptying his pipe and replacing it in a leather pouch at his belt, he mounted and rode off at an easy canter.

Jimmy watched the horse until it disappeared at the edge of the flat, and then after coiling up the long lash of his bullock-whip in the dust until it looked like a sleeping snake, he prodded the small end of the long pine handle into the middle of the coil, as though driving home a point, and said in a tone of intense conviction:

“He’ll fetch him.”

III
Doc. Wild

Peter gradually increased his horse’s speed along the rough bush track until he was riding at a good pace. It was ten miles to the main road, and five from there to the shanty kept by Black.

For some time before Peter started the atmosphere had been very close and oppressive. The great black edge of a storm-cloud had risen in the east, and everything indicated the approach of a thunderstorm. It was not long coming. Before Peter had completed six miles of his journey, the clouds rolled over, obscuring the moon, and an Australian thunderstorm came on with its mighty downpour, its blinding lightning, and its earth-shaking thunder. Peter rode steadily on, only pausing now and then until a flash revealed the track in front of him.

Black’s shanty — or, rather, as the sign had it, “Post Office and General Store” — was, as we have said, five miles along the main road from the point where Middleton’s track joined it. The building was of the usual style of bush architecture. About two hundred yards nearer the creek, which crossed the road further on, stood a large bark and slab stable, large enough to have met the requirements of a legitimate bush “public”.

The reader may doubt that a “sly grog shop” could openly carry on business on a main Government road along which mounted troopers were continually passing. But then, you see, mounted troopers get thirsty like other men; moreover, they could always get their thirst quenched ‘gratis’ at these places; so the reader will be prepared to hear that on this very night two troopers’ horses were stowed snugly away in the stable, and two troopers were stowed snugly away in the back room of the shanty, sleeping off the effects of their cheap but strong potations.

There were two rooms, of a sort, attached to the stables — one at each end. One was occupied by a man who was “generally useful”, and the other was the surgery, office, and bedroom pro tem. of Doc. Wild.

Doc. Wild was a tall man, of spare proportions. He had a cadaverous face, black hair, bushy black eyebrows, eagle nose, and eagle eyes. He never slept while he was drinking. On this occasion he sat in front of the fire on a low three-legged stool. His knees were drawn up, his toes hooked round the front legs of the stool, one hand resting on one knee, and one elbow (the hand supporting the chin) resting on the other. He was staring intently into the fire, on which an old black saucepan was boiling and sending forth a pungent odour of herbs. There seemed something uncanny about the doctor as the red light of the fire fell on his hawk-like face and gleaming eyes. He might have been Mephistopheles watching some infernal brew.

He had sat there some time without stirring a finger, when the door suddenly burst open and Middleton’s Peter stood within, dripping wet. The doctor turned his black, piercing eyes upon the intruder (who regarded him silently) for a moment, and then asked quietly:

“What the hell do you want?”

“I want you,” said Peter.

“And what do you want me for?”

“I want you to come to Joe Middleton’s wife. She’s bad,” said Peter calmly.

“I won’t come,” shouted the doctor. “I’ve brought enough horse-stealers into the world already. If any more want to come they can go to blazes for me. Now, you get out of this!”

“Don’t get yer rag out,” said Peter quietly. “The hoss-stealer’s come, an’ nearly killed his mother ter begin with; an’ if yer don’t get yer physic-box an’ come wi’ me, by the great God I’ll ——”

Here the revolver was produced and pointed at Doc. Wild’s head. The sight of the weapon had a sobering effect upon the doctor. He rose, looked at Peter critically for a moment, knocked the weapon out of his hand, and said slowly and deliberately:

“Wall, ef the case es as serious as that, I (hic) reckon I’d better come.”

Peter was still of the same opinion, so Doc. Wild proceeded to get his medicine chest ready. He explained afterwards, in one of his softer moments, that the shooter didn’t frighten him so much as it touched his memory — “sorter put him in mind of the old days in California, and made him think of the man he might have been,” he’d say, — “kinder touched his heart and slid the durned old panorama in front of him like a flash; made him think of the time when he slipped three leaden pills into ‘Blue Shirt’ for winking at a new chum behind his (the Doc.’s) back when he was telling a truthful yarn, and charged the said ‘Blue Shirt’ a hundred dollars for extracting the said pills.”

Joe Middleton’s wife is a grandmother now.

Peter passed after the manner of his sort; he was found dead in his bunk.

Poor Doc. Wild died in a shepherd’s hut at the Dry Creeks. The shepherds (white men) found him, “naked as he was born and with the hide half burned off him with the sun,” rounding up imaginary snakes on a dusty clearing, one blazing hot day. The hut-keeper had some “quare” (queer) experiences with the doctor during the next three days and used, in after years, to tell of them, between the puffs of his pipe, calmly and solemnly and as if the story was rather to the doctor’s credit than otherwise. The shepherds sent for the police and a doctor, and sent word to Joe Middleton. Doc. Wild was sensible towards the end. His interview with the other doctor was characteristic. “And, now you see how far I am,” he said in conclusion — “have you brought the brandy?” The other doctor had. Joe Middleton came with his waggonette, and in it the softest mattress and pillows the station afforded. He also, in his innocence, brought a dozen of soda-water. Doc. Wild took Joe’s hand feebly, and, a little later, he “passed out” (as he would have said) murmuring “something that sounded like poetry”, in an unknown tongue. Joe took the body to the home station. “Who’s the boss bringin’?” asked the shearers, seeing the waggonette coming very slowly and the boss walking by the horses’ heads. “Doc. Wild,” said a station hand. “Take yer hats off.”

They buried him with bush honours, and chiselled his name on a slab of bluegum — a wood that lasts.

The Mystery of Dave Regan

“And then there was Dave Regan,” said the traveller. “Dave used to die oftener than any other bushman I knew. He was always being reported dead and turnin’ up again. He seemed to like it — except once, when his brother drew his money and drank it all to drown his grief at what he called Dave’s ‘untimely end’. Well, Dave went up to Queensland once with cattle, and was away three years and reported dead, as usual. He was drowned in the Bogan this time while tryin’ to swim his horse acrost a flood — and his sweetheart hurried up and got spliced to a worse man before Dave got back.

“Well, one day I was out in the bush lookin’ for timber, when the biggest storm ever knowed in that place come on. There was hail in it, too, as big as bullets, and if I hadn’t got behind a stump and crouched down in time I’d have been riddled like a — like a bushranger. As it was, I got soakin’ wet. The storm was over in a few minutes, the water run off down the gullies, and the sun come out and the scrub steamed — and stunk like a new pair of moleskin trousers. I went on along the track, and presently I seen a long, lanky chap get on to a long, lanky horse and ride out of a bush yard at the edge of a clearin’. I knowed it was Dave d’reckly I set eyes on him.

“Dave used to ride a tall, holler-backed thoroughbred with a body and limbs like a kangaroo dog, and it would circle around you and sidle away as if it was frightened you was goin’ to jab a knife into it.

“‘’Ello! Dave!’ said I, as he came spurrin’ up. ‘How are yer!’

“‘’Ello, Jim!’ says he. ‘How are you?’

“‘All right!’ says I. ‘How are yer gettin’ on?’

“But, before we could say any more, that horse shied away and broke off through the scrub to the right. I waited, because I knowed Dave would come back again if I waited long enough; and in about ten minutes he came sidlin’ in from the scrub to the left.

“‘Oh, I’m all right,’ says he, spurrin’ up sideways; ‘How are you?’

“‘Right!’ says I. ‘How’s the old people?’

“‘Oh, I ain’t been home yet,’ says he, holdin’ out his hand; but, afore I could grip it, the cussed horse sidled off to the south end of the clearin’ and broke away again through the scrub.

“I heard Dave swearin’ about the country for twenty minutes or so, and then he came spurrin’ and cursin’ in from the other end of the clearin’.

“‘Where have you been all this time?’ I said, as the horse came curvin’ up like a boomerang.

“‘Gulf country,’ said Dave.

“‘That was a storm, Dave,’ said I.

“‘My oath!’ says Dave.

“‘Get caught in it?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘Got to shelter?’

“‘No.’

“‘But you’re as dry’s a bone, Dave!’

“Dave grinned. ‘——— and ——— and ——— the ————!’ he yelled.

“He said that to the horse as it boomeranged off again and broke away through the scrub. I waited; but he didn’t come back, and I reckoned he’d got so far away before he could pull up that he didn’t think it worth while comin’ back; so I went on. By-and-bye I got thinkin’. Dave was as dry as a bone, and I knowed that he hadn’t had time to get to shelter, for there wasn’t a shed within twelve miles. He wasn’t only dry, but his coat was creased and dusty too — same as if he’d been sleepin’ in a holler log; and when I come to think of it, his face seemed thinner and whiter than it used ter, and so did his hands and wrists, which always stuck a long way out of his coat-sleeves; and there was blood on his face — but I thought he’d got scratched with a twig. (Dave used to wear a coat three or four sizes too small for him, with sleeves that didn’t come much below his elbows and a tail that scarcely reached his waist behind.) And his hair seemed dark and lank, instead of bein’ sandy and stickin’ out like an old fibre brush, as it used ter. And then I thought his voice sounded different, too. And, when I enquired next day, there was no one heard of Dave, and the chaps reckoned I must have been drunk, or seen his ghost.

“It didn’t seem all right at all — it worried me a lot. I couldn’t make out how Dave kept dry; and the horse and saddle and saddle-cloth was wet. I told the chaps how he talked to me and what he said, and how he swore at the horse; but they only said it was Dave’s ghost and nobody else’s. I told ’em about him bein’ dry as a bone after gettin’ caught in that storm; but they only laughed and said it was a dry place where Dave went to. I talked and argued about it until the chaps began to tap their foreheads and wink — then I left off talking. But I didn’t leave off thinkin’ — I always hated a mystery. Even Dave’s father told me that Dave couldn’t be alive or else his ghost wouldn’t be round — he said he knew Dave better than that. One or two fellers did turn up afterwards that had seen Dave about the time that I did — and then the chaps said they was sure that Dave was dead.

“But one fine day, as a lot of us chaps was playin’ pitch and toss at the shanty, one of the fellers yelled out:

“‘By Gee! Here comes Dave Regan!’

“And I looked up and saw Dave himself, sidlin’ out of a cloud of dust on a long lanky horse. He rode into the stockyard, got down, hung his horse up to a post, put up the rails, and then come slopin’ towards us with a half-acre grin on his face. Dave had long, thin bow-legs, and when he was on the ground he moved as if he was on roller skates.

“‘’El-lo, Dave!’ says I. ‘How are yer?’

“‘’Ello, Jim!’ said he. ‘How the blazes are you?’

“‘All right!’ says I, shakin’ hands. ‘How are yer?’

“‘Oh! I’m all right!’ he says. ‘How are yer poppin’ up!’

“Well, when we’d got all that settled, and the other chaps had asked how he was, he said: ‘Ah, well! Let’s have a drink.’

“And all the other chaps crawfished up and flung themselves round the corner and sidled into the bar after Dave. We had a lot of talk, and he told us that he’d been down before, but had gone away without seein’ any of us, except me, because he’d suddenly heard of a mob of cattle at a station two hundred miles away; and after a while I took him aside and said:

“‘Look here, Dave! Do you remember the day I met you after the storm?’

“He scratched his head.

“‘Why, yes,’ he says.

“‘Did you get under shelter that day?’

“‘Why — no.’

“‘Then how the blazes didn’t yer get wet?’

“Dave grinned; then he says:

“‘Why, when I seen the storm coming I took off me clothes and stuck ’em in a holler log till the rain was over.’

“‘Yes,’ he says, after the other coves had done laughin’, but before I’d done thinking; ‘I kept my clothes dry and got a good refreshin’ shower-bath into the bargain.’

“Then he scratched the back of his neck with his little finger, and dropped his jaw, and thought a bit; then he rubbed the top of his head and his shoulder, reflective-like, and then he said:

“‘But I didn’t reckon for them there blanky hailstones.’”

Mitchell on Matrimony

“I suppose your wife will be glad to see you,” said Mitchell to his mate in their camp by the dam at Hungerford. They were overhauling their swags, and throwing away the blankets, and calico, and old clothes, and rubbish they didn’t want—everything, in fact, except their pocket-books and letters and portraits, things which men carry about with them always, that are found on them when they die, and sent to their relations if possible. Otherwise they are taken in charge by the constable who officiates at the inquest, and forwarded to the Minister of Justice along with the depositions.

It was the end of the shearing season. Mitchell and his mate had been lucky enough to get two good sheds in succession, and were going to take the coach from Hungerford to Bourke on their way to Sydney. The morning stars were bright yet, and they sat down to a final billy of tea, two dusty Johnny-cakes, and a scrag of salt mutton.

“Yes,” said Mitchell’s mate, “and I’ll be glad to see her too.”

“I suppose you will,” said Mitchell. He placed his pint-pot between his feet, rested his arm against his knee, and stirred the tea meditatively with the handle of his pocket-knife. It was vaguely understood that Mitchell had been married at one period of his chequered career.

“I don’t think we ever understood women properly,” he said, as he took a cautious sip to see if his tea was cool and sweet enough, for his lips were sore; “I don’t think we ever will—we never took the trouble to try, and if we did it would be only wasted brain power that might just as well be spent on the blackfellow’s lingo; because by the time you’ve learnt it they’ll be extinct, and woman ‘ll be extinct before you’ve learnt her. . . . The morning star looks bright, doesn’t it?”

“Ah, well,” said Mitchell after a while, “there’s many little things we might try to understand women in. I read in a piece of newspaper the other day about how a man changes after he’s married; how he gets short, and impatient, and bored (which is only natural), and sticks up a wall of newspaper between himself and his wife when he’s at home; and how it comes like a cold shock to her, and all her air-castles vanish, and in the end she often thinks about taking the baby and the clothes she stands in, and going home for sympathy and comfort to mother.

“Perhaps she never got a word of sympathy from her mother in her life, nor a day’s comfort at home before she was married; but that doesn’t make the slightest difference. It doesn’t make any difference in your case either, if you haven’t been acting like a dutiful son-in-law.

“Somebody wrote that a woman’s love is her whole existence, while a man’s love is only part of his—which is true, and only natural and reasonable, all things considered. But women never consider as a rule. A man can’t go on talking lovey-dovey talk for ever, and listening to his young wife’s prattle when he’s got to think about making a living, and nursing her and answering her childish questions and telling her he loves his little ownest every minute in the day, while the bills are running up, and rent mornings begin to fly round and hustle and crowd him.

“He’s got her and he’s satisfied; and if the truth is known he loves her really more than he did when they were engaged, only she won’t be satisfied about it unless he tells her so every hour in the day. At least that’s how it is for the first few months.

“But a woman doesn’t understand these things—she never will, she can’t— and it would be just as well for us to try and understand that she doesn’t and can’t understand them.”

Mitchell knocked the tea-leaves out of his pannikin against his boot, and reached for the billy.

“There’s many little things we might do that seem mere trifles and nonsense to us, but mean a lot to her; that wouldn’t be any trouble or sacrifice to us, but might help to make her life happy. It’s just because we never think about these little things—don’t think them worth thinking about, in fact— they never enter our intellectual foreheads.

“For instance, when you’re going out in the morning you might put your arms round her and give her a hug and a kiss, without her having to remind you. You may forget about it and never think any more of it— but she will.

“It wouldn’t be any trouble to you, and would only take a couple of seconds, and would give her something to be happy about when you’re gone, and make her sing to herself for hours while she bustles about her work and thinks up what she’ll get you for dinner.”

Mitchell’s mate sighed, and shifted the sugar-bag over towards Mitchell. He seemed touched and bothered over something.

“Then again,” said Mitchell, “it mightn’t be convenient for you to go home to dinner—something might turn up during the morning— you might have some important business to do, or meet some chaps and get invited to lunch and not be very well able to refuse, when it’s too late, or you haven’t a chance to send a message to your wife. But then again, chaps and business seem very big things to you, and only little things to the wife; just as lovey-dovey talk is important to her and nonsense to you. And when you come to analyse it, one is not so big, nor the other so small, after all; especially when you come to think that chaps can always wait, and business is only an inspiration in your mind, nine cases out of ten.

“Think of the trouble she takes to get you a good dinner, and how she keeps it hot between two plates in the oven, and waits hour after hour till the dinner gets dried up, and all her morning’s work is wasted. Think how it hurts her, and how anxious she’ll be (especially if you’re inclined to booze) for fear that something has happened to you. You can’t get it out of the heads of some young wives that you’re liable to get run over, or knocked down, or assaulted, or robbed, or get into one of the fixes that a woman is likely to get into. But about the dinner waiting. Try and put yourself in her place. Wouldn’t you get mad under the same circumstances? I know I would.

“I remember once, only just after I was married, I was invited unexpectedly to a kidney pudding and beans—which was my favourite grub at the time— and I didn’t resist, especially as it was washing day and I told the wife not to bother about anything for dinner. I got home an hour or so late, and had a good explanation thought out, when the wife met me with a smile as if we had just been left a thousand pounds. She’d got her washing finished without assistance, though I’d told her to get somebody to help her, and she had a kidney pudding and beans, with a lot of extras thrown in, as a pleasant surprise for me.

“Well, I kissed her, and sat down, and stuffed till I thought every mouthful would choke me. I got through with it somehow, but I’ve never cared for kidney pudding or beans since.”

Mitchell felt for his pipe with a fatherly smile in his eyes.

“And then again,” he continued, as he cut up his tobacco, “your wife might put on a new dress and fix herself up and look well, and you might think so and be satisfied with her appearance and be proud to take her out; but you want to tell her so, and tell her so as often as you think about it—and try to think a little oftener than men usually do, too.”

* * * * * * * *

“You should have made a good husband, Jack,” said his mate, in a softened tone.

“Ah, well, perhaps I should,” said Mitchell, rubbing up his tobacco; then he asked abstractedly: “What sort of a husband did you make, Joe?”

“I might have made a better one than I did,” said Joe seriously, and rather bitterly, “but I know one thing, I’m going to try and make up for it when I go back this time.”

“We all say that,” said Mitchell reflectively, filling his pipe. “She loves you, Joe.”

“I know she does,” said Joe.

Mitchell lit up.

“And so would any man who knew her or had seen her letters to you,” he said between the puffs. “She’s happy and contented enough, I believe?”

“Yes,” said Joe, “at least while I was there. She’s never easy when I’m away. I might have made her a good deal more happy and contented without hurting myself much.”

Mitchell smoked long, soft, measured puffs.

His mate shifted uneasily and glanced at him a couple of times, and seemed to become impatient, and to make up his mind about something; or perhaps he got an idea that Mitchell had been “having” him, and felt angry over being betrayed into maudlin confidences; for he asked abruptly:

“How is your wife now, Mitchell?”

“I don’t know,” said Mitchell calmly.

“Don’t know?” echoed the mate. “Didn’t you treat her well?”

Mitchell removed his pipe and drew a long breath.

“Ah, well, I tried to,” he said wearily.

“Well, did you put your theory into practice?”

“I did,” said Mitchell very deliberately.

Joe waited, but nothing came.

“Well?” he asked impatiently, “How did it act? Did it work well?”

“I don’t know,” said Mitchell (puff); “she left me.”

“What!”

Mitchell jerked the half-smoked pipe from his mouth, and rapped the burning tobacco out against the toe of his boot.

“She left me,” he said, standing up and stretching himself. Then, with a vicious jerk of his arm, “She left me for—another kind of a fellow!”

He looked east towards the public-house, where they were taking the coach-horses from the stable.

“Why don’t you finish your tea, Joe? The billy’s getting cold.”

Mitchell on Women

“All the same,” said Mitchell’s mate, continuing an argument by the camp-fire; “all the same, I think that a woman can stand cold water better than a man. Why, when I was staying in a boarding-house in Dunedin, one very cold winter, there was a lady lodger who went down to the shower-bath first thing every morning; never missed one; sometimes went in freezing weather when I wouldn’t go into a cold bath for a fiver; and sometimes she’d stay under the shower for ten minutes at a time.”

“How’d you know?”

“Why, my room was near the bath-room, and I could hear the shower and tap going, and her floundering about.”

“Hear your grandmother!” exclaimed Mitchell, contemptuously. “You don’t know women yet. Was this woman married? Did she have a husband there?”

“No; she was a young widow.”

“Ah! well, it would have been the same if she was a young girl— or an old one. Were there some passable men-boarders there?”

I was there.”

“Oh, yes! But I mean, were there any there beside you?”

“Oh, yes, there were three or four; there was—a clerk and a——”

“Never mind, as long as there was something with trousers on. Did it ever strike you that she never got into the bath at all?”

“Why, no! What would she want to go there at all for, in that case?”

“To make an impression on the men,” replied Mitchell promptly. “She wanted to make out she was nice, and wholesome, and well-washed, and particular. Made an impression on you, it seems, or you wouldn’t remember it.”

“Well, yes, I suppose so; and, now I come to think of it, the bath didn’t seem to injure her make-up or wet her hair; but I supposed she held her head from under the shower somehow.”

“Did she make-up so early in the morning?” asked Mitchell.

“Yes—I’m sure.”

“That’s unusual; but it might have been so where there was a lot of boarders. And about the hair—that didn’t count for anything, because washing-the-head ain’t supposed to be always included in a lady’s bath; it’s only supposed to be washed once a fortnight, and some don’t do it once a month. The hair takes so long to dry; it don’t matter so much if the woman’s got short, scraggy hair; but if a girl’s hair was down to her waist it would take hours to dry.”

“Well, how do they manage it without wetting their heads?”

“Oh, that’s easy enough. They have a little oilskin cap that fits tight over the forehead, and they put it on, and bunch their hair up in it when they go under the shower. Did you ever see a woman sit in a sunny place with her hair down after having a wash?”

“Yes, I used to see one do that regular where I was staying; but I thought she only did it to show off.”

“Not at all—she was drying her hair; though perhaps she was showing off at the same time, for she wouldn’t sit where you—or even a Chinaman— could see her, if she didn’t think she had a good head of hair. Now, I’ll tell you a yarn about a woman’s bath. I was stopping at a shabby-genteel boarding-house in Melbourne once, and one very cold winter, too; and there was a rather good-looking woman there, looking for a husband. She used to go down to the bath every morning, no matter how cold it was, and flounder and splash about as if she enjoyed it, till you’d feel as though you’d like to go and catch hold of her and wrap her in a rug and carry her in to the fire and nurse her till she was warm again.”

Mitchell’s mate moved uneasily, and crossed the other leg; he seemed greatly interested.

“But she never went into the water at all!” continued Mitchell. “As soon as one or two of the men was up in the morning she’d come down from her room in a dressing-gown. It was a toney dressing-gown, too, and set her off properly. She knew how to dress, anyway; most of that sort of women do. The gown was a kind of green colour, with pink and white flowers all over it, and red lining, and a lot of coffee-coloured lace round the neck and down the front. Well, she’d come tripping downstairs and along the passage, holding up one side of the gown to show her little bare white foot in a slipper; and in the other hand she carried her tooth-brush and bath-brush, and soap—like this—so’s we all could see ’em; trying to make out she was too particular to use soap after anyone else. She could afford to buy her own soap, anyhow; it was hardly ever wet.

“Well, she’d go into the bathroom and turn on the tap and shower; when she got about three inches of water in the bath, she’d step in, holding up her gown out of the water, and go slithering and kicking up and down the bath, like this, making a tremendous splashing. Of course she’d turn off the shower first, and screw it off very tight— wouldn’t do to let that leak, you know; she might get wet; but she’d leave the other tap on, so as to make all the more noise.”

“But how did you come to know all about this?”

“Oh, the servant girl told me. One morning she twigged her through a corner of the bathroom window that the curtain didn’t cover.”

“You seem to have been pretty thick with servant girls.”

“So do you with landladies! But never mind—let me finish the yarn. When she thought she’d splashed enough, she’d get out, wipe her feet, wash her face and hands, and carefully unbutton the two top buttons of her gown; then throw a towel over her head and shoulders, and listen at the door till she thought she heard some of the men moving about. Then she’d start for her room, and, if she met one of the men-boarders in the passage or on the stairs, she’d drop her eyes, and pretend to see for the first time that the top of her dressing-gown wasn’t buttoned— and she’d give a little start and grab the gown and scurry off to her room buttoning it up.

“And sometimes she’d come skipping into the breakfast-room late, looking awfully sweet in her dressing-gown; and if she saw any of us there, she’d pretend to be much startled, and say that she thought all the men had gone out, and make as though she was going to clear; and someone ‘d jump up and give her a chair, while someone else said, ‘Come in, Miss Brown! come in! Don’t let us frighten you. Come right in, and have your breakfast before it gets cold.’ So she’d flutter a bit in pretty confusion, and then make a sweet little girly-girly dive for her chair, and tuck her feet away under the table; and she’d blush, too, but I don’t know how she managed that.

“I know another trick that women have; it’s mostly played by private barmaids. That is, to leave a stocking by accident in the bathroom for the gentlemen to find. If the barmaid’s got a nice foot and ankle, she uses one of her own stockings; but if she hasn’t she gets hold of a stocking that belongs to a girl that has. Anyway, she’ll have one readied up somehow. The stocking must be worn and nicely darned; one that’s been worn will keep the shape of the leg and foot—at least till it’s washed again. Well, the barmaid generally knows what time the gentlemen go to bath, and she’ll make it a point of going down just as a gentleman’s going. Of course he’ll give her the preference—let her go first, you know— and she’ll go in and accidentally leave the stocking in a place where he’s sure to see it, and when she comes out he’ll go in and find it; and very likely he’ll be a jolly sort of fellow, and when they’re all sitting down to breakfast he’ll come in and ask them to guess what he’s found, and then he’ll hold up the stocking. The barmaid likes this sort of thing; but she’ll hold down her head, and pretend to be confused, and keep her eyes on her plate, and there’ll be much blushing and all that sort of thing, and perhaps she’ll gammon to be mad at him, and the landlady’ll say, ‘Oh, Mr. Smith! how can yer? At the breakfast table, too!’ and they’ll all laugh and look at the barmaid, and she’ll get more embarrassed than ever, and spill her tea, and make out as though the stocking didn’t belong to her.”

No Place for a Woman

He had a selection on a long box-scrub siding of the ridges, about half a mile back and up from the coach road. There were no neighbours that I ever heard of, and the nearest “town” was thirty miles away. He grew wheat among the stumps of his clearing, sold the crop standing to a Cockie who lived ten miles away, and had some surplus sons; or, some seasons, he reaped it by hand, had it thrashed by travelling “steamer” (portable steam engine and machine), and carried the grain, a few bags at a time, into the mill on his rickety dray.

He had lived alone for upwards of 15 years, and was known to those who knew him as “Ratty Howlett”.

Trav’lers and strangers failed to see anything uncommonly ratty about him. It was known, or, at least, it was believed, without question, that while at work he kept his horse saddled and bridled, and hung up to the fence, or grazing about, with the saddle on—or, anyway, close handy for a moment’s notice—and whenever he caught sight, over the scrub and through the quarter-mile break in it, of a traveller on the road, he would jump on his horse and make after him. If it was a horseman he usually pulled him up inside of a mile. Stories were told of unsuccessful chases, misunderstandings, and complications arising out of Howlett’s mania for running down and bailing up travellers. Sometimes he caught one every day for a week, sometimes not one for weeks—it was a lonely track.

The explanation was simple, sufficient, and perfectly natural—from a bushman’s point of view. Ratty only wanted to have a yarn. He and the traveller would camp in the shade for half an hour or so and yarn and smoke. The old man would find out where the traveller came from, and how long he’d been there, and where he was making for, and how long he reckoned he’d be away; and ask if there had been any rain along the traveller’s back track, and how the country looked after the drought; and he’d get the traveller’s ideas on abstract questions— if he had any. If it was a footman (swagman), and he was short of tobacco, old Howlett always had half a stick ready for him. Sometimes, but very rarely, he’d invite the swagman back to the hut for a pint of tea, or a bit of meat, flour, tea, or sugar, to carry him along the track.

And, after the yarn by the road, they said, the old man would ride back, refreshed, to his lonely selection, and work on into the night as long as he could see his solitary old plough horse, or the scoop of his long-handled shovel.

And so it was that I came to make his acquaintance—or, rather, that he made mine. I was cantering easily along the track —I was making for the north-west with a pack horse—when about a mile beyond the track to the selection I heard, “Hi, Mister!” and saw a dust cloud following me. I had heard of “Old Ratty Howlett” casually, and so was prepared for him.

A tall gaunt man on a little horse. He was clean-shaven, except for a frill beard round under his chin, and his long wavy, dark hair was turning grey; a square, strong-faced man, and reminded me of one full-faced portrait of Gladstone more than any other face I had seen. He had large reddish-brown eyes, deep set under heavy eyebrows, and with something of the blackfellow in them—the sort of eyes that will peer at something on the horizon that no one else can see. He had a way of talking to the horizon, too—more than to his companion; and he had a deep vertical wrinkle in his forehead that no smile could lessen.

I got down and got out my pipe, and we sat on a log and yarned awhile on bush subjects; and then, after a pause, he shifted uneasily, it seemed to me, and asked rather abruptly, and in an altered tone, if I was married. A queer question to ask a traveller; more especially in my case, as I was little more than a boy then.

He talked on again of old things and places where we had both been, and asked after men he knew, or had known—drovers and others—and whether they were living yet. Most of his inquiries went back before my time; but some of the drovers, one or two overlanders with whom he had been mates in his time, had grown old into mine, and I knew them. I notice now, though I didn’t then—and if I had it would not have seemed strange from a bush point of view—that he didn’t ask for news, nor seem interested in it.

Then after another uneasy pause, during which he scratched crosses in the dust with a stick, he asked me, in the same queer tone and without looking at me or looking up, if I happened to know anything about doctoring—if I’d ever studied it.

I asked him if anyone was sick at his place. He hesitated, and said “No.” Then I wanted to know why he had asked me that question, and he was so long about answering that I began to think he was hard of hearing, when, at last, he muttered something about my face reminding him of a young fellow he knew of who’d gone to Sydney to “study for a doctor”. That might have been, and looked natural enough; but why didn’t he ask me straight out if I was the chap he “knowed of”? Travellers do not like beating about the bush in conversation.

He sat in silence for a good while, with his arms folded, and looking absently away over the dead level of the great scrubs that spread from the foot of the ridge we were on to where a blue peak or two of a distant range showed above the bush on the horizon.

I stood up and put my pipe away and stretched. Then he seemed to wake up. “Better come back to the hut and have a bit of dinner,” he said. “The missus will about have it ready, and I’ll spare you a handful of hay for the horses.”

The hay decided it. It was a dry season. I was surprised to hear of a wife, for I thought he was a hatter—I had always heard so; but perhaps I had been mistaken, and he had married lately; or had got a housekeeper. The farm was an irregularly-shaped clearing in the scrub, with a good many stumps in it, with a broken-down two-rail fence along the frontage, and logs and “dog-leg” the rest. It was about as lonely-looking a place as I had seen, and I had seen some out-of-the-way, God-forgotten holes where men lived alone. The hut was in the top corner, a two-roomed slab hut, with a shingle roof, which must have been uncommon round there in the days when that hut was built. I was used to bush carpentering, and saw that the place had been put up by a man who had plenty of life and hope in front of him, and for someone else beside himself. But there were two unfinished skilling rooms built on to the back of the hut; the posts, sleepers, and wall-plates had been well put up and fitted, and the slab walls were up, but the roof had never been put on. There was nothing but burrs and nettles inside those walls, and an old wooden bullock plough and a couple of yokes were dry-rotting across the back doorway. The remains of a straw-stack, some hay under a bark humpy, a small iron plough, and an old stiff coffin-headed grey draught horse, were all that I saw about the place.

But there was a bit of a surprise for me inside, in the shape of a clean white tablecloth on the rough slab table which stood on stakes driven into the ground. The cloth was coarse, but it was a tablecloth —not a spare sheet put on in honour of unexpected visitors—and perfectly clean. The tin plates, pannikins, and jam tins that served as sugar bowls and salt cellars were polished brightly. The walls and fireplace were whitewashed, the clay floor swept, and clean sheets of newspaper laid on the slab mantleshelf under the row of biscuit tins that held the groceries. I thought that his wife, or housekeeper, or whatever she was, was a clean and tidy woman about a house. I saw no woman; but on the sofa —a light, wooden, batten one, with runged arms at the ends—lay a woman’s dress on a lot of sheets of old stained and faded newspapers. He looked at it in a puzzled way, knitting his forehead, then took it up absently and folded it. I saw then that it was a riding skirt and jacket. He bundled them into the newspapers and took them into the bedroom.

“The wife was going on a visit down the creek this afternoon,” he said rapidly and without looking at me, but stooping as if to have another look through the door at those distant peaks. “I suppose she got tired o’ waitin’, and went and took the daughter with her. But, never mind, the grub is ready.” There was a camp-oven with a leg of mutton and potatoes sizzling in it on the hearth, and billies hanging over the fire. I noticed the billies had been scraped, and the lids polished.

There seemed to be something queer about the whole business, but then he and his wife might have had a “breeze” during the morning. I thought so during the meal, when the subject of women came up, and he said one never knew how to take a woman, etc.; but there was nothing in what he said that need necessarily have referred to his wife or to any woman in particular. For the rest he talked of old bush things, droving, digging, and old bushranging—but never about live things and living men, unless any of the old mates he talked about happened to be alive by accident. He was very restless in the house, and never took his hat off.

There was a dress and a woman’s old hat hanging on the wall near the door, but they looked as if they might have been hanging there for a lifetime. There seemed something queer about the whole place—something wanting; but then all out-of-the-way bush homes are haunted by that something wanting, or, more likely, by the spirits of the things that should have been there, but never had been.

As I rode down the track to the road I looked back and saw old Howlett hard at work in a hole round a big stump with his long-handled shovel.

I’d noticed that he moved and walked with a slight list to port, and put his hand once or twice to the small of his back, and I set it down to lumbago, or something of that sort.

Up in the Never Never I heard from a drover who had known Howlett that his wife had died in the first year, and so this mysterious woman, if she was his wife, was, of course, his second wife. The drover seemed surprised and rather amused at the thought of old Howlett going in for matrimony again.

* * * * * * * * *

I rode back that way five years later, from the Never Never. It was early in the morning—I had ridden since midnight. I didn’t think the old man would be up and about; and, besides, I wanted to get on home, and have a look at the old folk, and the mates I’d left behind—and the girl. But I hadn’t got far past the point where Howlett’s track joined the road, when I happened to look back, and saw him on horseback, stumbling down the track. I waited till he came up.

He was riding the old grey draught horse this time, and it looked very much broken down. I thought it would have come down every step, and fallen like an old rotten humpy in a gust of wind. And the old man was not much better off. I saw at once that he was a very sick man. His face was drawn, and he bent forward as if he was hurt. He got down stiffly and awkwardly, like a hurt man, and as soon as his feet touched the ground he grabbed my arm, or he would have gone down like a man who steps off a train in motion. He hung towards the bank of the road, feeling blindly, as it were, for the ground, with his free hand, as I eased him down. I got my blanket and calico from the pack saddle to make him comfortable.

“Help me with my back agen the tree,” he said. “I must sit up— it’s no use lyin’ me down.”

He sat with his hand gripping his side, and breathed painfully.

“Shall I run up to the hut and get the wife?” I asked.

“No.” He spoke painfully. “No!” Then, as if the words were jerked out of him by a spasm: “She ain’t there.”

I took it that she had left him.

“How long have you been bad? How long has this been coming on?”

He took no notice of the question. I thought it was a touch of rheumatic fever, or something of that sort. “It’s gone into my back and sides now—the pain’s worse in me back,” he said presently.

I had once been mates with a man who died suddenly of heart disease, while at work. He was washing a dish of dirt in the creek near a claim we were working; he let the dish slip into the water, fell back, crying, “O, my back!” and was gone. And now I felt by instinct that it was poor old Howlett’s heart that was wrong. A man’s heart is in his back as well as in his arms and hands.

The old man had turned pale with the pallor of a man who turns faint in a heat wave, and his arms fell loosely, and his hands rocked helplessly with the knuckles in the dust. I felt myself turning white, too, and the sick, cold, empty feeling in my stomach, for I knew the signs. Bushmen stand in awe of sickness and death.

But after I’d fixed him comfortably and given him a drink from the water bag the greyness left his face, and he pulled himself together a bit; he drew up his arms and folded them across his chest. He let his head rest back against the tree—his slouch hat had fallen off revealing a broad, white brow, much higher than I expected. He seemed to gaze on the azure fin of the range, showing above the dark blue-green bush on the horizon.

Then he commenced to speak—taking no notice of me when I asked him if he felt better now—to talk in that strange, absent, far-away tone that awes one. He told his story mechanically, monotonously—in set words, as I believe now, as he had often told it before; if not to others, then to the loneliness of the bush. And he used the names of people and places that I had never heard of—just as if I knew them as well as he did.

“I didn’t want to bring her up the first year. It was no place for a woman. I wanted her to stay with her people and wait till I’d got the place a little more ship-shape. The Phippses took a selection down the creek. I wanted her to wait and come up with them so’s she’d have some company— a woman to talk to. They came afterwards, but they didn’t stop. It was no place for a woman.

“But Mary would come. She wouldn’t stop with her people down country. She wanted to be with me, and look after me, and work and help me.”

He repeated himself a great deal—said the same thing over and over again sometimes. He was only mad on one track. He’d tail off and sit silent for a while; then he’d become aware of me in a hurried, half-scared way, and apologise for putting me to all that trouble, and thank me. “I’ll be all right d’reckly. Best take the horses up to the hut and have some breakfast; you’ll find it by the fire. I’ll foller you, d’reckly. The wife’ll be waitin’ an’——” He would drop off, and be going again presently on the old track:—

“Her mother was coming up to stay awhile at the end of the year, but the old man hurt his leg. Then her married sister was coming, but one of the youngsters got sick and there was trouble at home. I saw the doctor in the town—thirty miles from here—and fixed it up with him. He was a boozer—I’d ’a shot him afterwards. I fixed up with a woman in the town to come and stay. I thought Mary was wrong in her time. She must have been a month or six weeks out. But I listened to her. . . . Don’t argue with a woman. Don’t listen to a woman. Do the right thing. We should have had a mother woman to talk to us. But it was no place for a woman!”

He rocked his head, as if from some old agony of mind, against the tree-trunk.

“She was took bad suddenly one night, but it passed off. False alarm. I was going to ride somewhere, but she said to wait till daylight. Someone was sure to pass. She was a brave and sensible girl, but she had a terror of being left alone. It was no place for a woman!

“There was a black shepherd three or four miles away. I rode over while Mary was asleep, and started the black boy into town. I’d ’a shot him afterwards if I’d ’a caught him. The old black gin was dead the week before, or Mary would a’ bin alright. She was tied up in a bunch with strips of blanket and greenhide, and put in a hole. So there wasn’t even a gin near the place. It was no place for a woman!

“I was watchin’ the road at daylight, and I was watchin’ the road at dusk. I went down in the hollow and stooped down to get the gap agen the sky, so’s I could see if anyone was comin’ over. . . . I’d get on the horse and gallop along towards the town for five miles, but something would drag me back, and then I’d race for fear she’d die before I got to the hut. I expected the doctor every five minutes.

“It come on about daylight next morning. I ran back’ards and for’ards between the hut and the road like a madman. And no one come. I was running amongst the logs and stumps, and fallin’ over them, when I saw a cloud of dust agen sunrise. It was her mother an’ sister in the spring-cart, an’ just catchin’ up to them was the doctor in his buggy with the woman I’d arranged with in town. The mother and sister was staying at the town for the night, when they heard of the black boy. It took him a day to ride there. I’d ’a shot him if I’d ’a caught him ever after. The doctor’d been on the drunk. If I’d had the gun and known she was gone I’d have shot him in the buggy. They said she was dead. And the child was dead, too.

“They blamed me, but I didn’t want her to come; it was no place for a woman. I never saw them again after the funeral. I didn’t want to see them any more.”

He moved his head wearily against the tree, and presently drifted on again in a softer tone—his eyes and voice were growing more absent and dreamy and far away.

“About a month after—or a year, I lost count of the time long ago—she came back to me. At first she’d come in the night, then sometimes when I was at work—and she had the baby—it was a girl—in her arms. And by-and-bye she came to stay altogether. . . . I didn’t blame her for going away that time—it was no place for a woman. . . . She was a good wife to me. She was a jolly girl when I married her. The little girl grew up like her. I was going to send her down country to be educated—it was no place for a girl.

“But a month, or a year, ago, Mary left me, and took the daughter, and never came back till last night—this morning, I think it was. I thought at first it was the girl with her hair done up, and her mother’s skirt on, to surprise her old dad. But it was Mary, my wife—as she was when I married her. She said she couldn’t stay, but she’d wait for me on the road; on—the road. . . .”

His arms fell, and his face went white. I got the water-bag. “Another turn like that and you’ll be gone,” I thought, as he came to again. Then I suddenly thought of a shanty that had been started, when I came that way last, ten or twelve miles along the road, towards the town. There was nothing for it but to leave him and ride on for help, and a cart of some kind.

“You wait here till I come back,” I said. “I’m going for the doctor.”

He roused himself a little. “Best come up to the hut and get some grub. The wife’ll be waiting. . . .” He was off the track again.

“Will you wait while I take the horse down to the creek?”

“Yes—I’ll wait by the road.”

“Look!” I said, “I’ll leave the water-bag handy. Don’t move till I come back.”

“I won’t move—I’ll wait by the road,” he said.

I took the packhorse, which was the freshest and best, threw the pack-saddle and bags into a bush, left the other horse to take care of itself, and started for the shanty, leaving the old man with his back to the tree, his arms folded, and his eyes on the horizon.

One of the chaps at the shanty rode on for the doctor at once, while the other came back with me in a spring-cart. He told me that old Howlett’s wife had died in child-birth the first year on the selection—“she was a fine girl he’d heered!” He told me the story as the old man had told it, and in pretty well the same words, even to giving it as his opinion that it was no place for a woman. “And he ‘hatted’ and brooded over it till he went ratty.”

I knew the rest. He not only thought that his wife, or the ghost of his wife, had been with him all those years, but that the child had lived and grown up, and that the wife did the housework; which, of course, he must have done himself.

When we reached him his knotted hands had fallen for the last time, and they were at rest. I only took one quick look at his face, but could have sworn that he was gazing at the blue fin of the range on the horizon of the bush.

Up at the hut the table was set as on the first day I saw it, and breakfast in the camp-oven by the fire.

Mitchell’s Jobs

“I’m going to knock off work and try to make some money,” said Mitchell, as he jerked the tea-leaves out of his pannikin and reached for the billy. “It’s been the great mistake of my life — if I hadn’t wasted all my time and energy working and looking for work I might have been an independent man to-day.”

“Joe!” he added in a louder voice, condescendingly adapting his language to my bushed comprehension. “I’m going to sling graft and try and get some stuff together.”

I didn’t feel in a responsive humour, but I lit up and settled back comfortably against the tree, and Jack folded his arms on his knees and presently continued, reflectively:

“I remember the first time I went to work. I was a youngster then. Mother used to go round looking for jobs for me. She reckoned, perhaps, that I was too shy to go in where there was a boy wanted and barrack for myself properly, and she used to help me and see me through to the best of her ability. I’m afraid I didn’t always feel as grateful to her as I should have felt. I was a thankless kid at the best of times — most kids are — but otherwise I was a straight enough little chap as nippers go. Sometimes I almost wish I hadn’t been. My relations would have thought a good deal more of me and treated me better — and, besides, it’s a comfort, at times, to sit and watch the sun going down in the bed of the bush, and think of your wicked childhood and wasted life, and the way you treated your parents and broke their hearts, and feel just properly repentant and bitter and remorseful and low-spirited about it when it’s too late.

“Ah, well! . . . I generally did feel a bit backward in going in when I came to the door of an office or shop where there was a ‘Strong Lad’, or a ‘Willing Youth’, wanted inside to make himself generally useful. I was a strong lad and a willing youth enough, in some things, for that matter; but I didn’t like to see it written up on a card in a shop window, and I didn’t want to make myself generally useful in a close shop in a hot dusty street on mornings when the weather was fine and the great sunny rollers were coming in grand on the Bondi Beach and down at Coogee, and I could swim. . . . I’d give something to be down along there now.”

Mitchell looked away out over the sultry sandy plain that we were to tackle next day, and sighed.

“The first job I got was in a jam factory. They only had ‘Boy Wanted’ on the card in the window, and I thought it would suit me. They set me to work to peel peaches, and, as soon as the foreman’s back was turned, I picked out a likely-looking peach and tried it. They soaked those peaches in salt or acid or something — it was part of the process — and I had to spit it out. Then I got an orange from a boy who was slicing them, but it was bitter, and I couldn’t eat it. I saw that I’d been had properly. I was in a fix, and had to get out of it the best way I could. I’d left my coat down in the front shop, and the foreman and boss were there, so I had to work in that place for two mortal hours. It was about the longest two hours I’d ever spent in my life. At last the foreman came up, and I told him I wanted to go down to the back for a minute. I slipped down, watched my chance till the boss’ back was turned, got my coat, and cleared.

“The next job I got was in a mat factory; at least, Aunt got that for me. I didn’t want to have anything to do with mats or carpets. The worst of it was the boss didn’t seem to want me to go, and I had a job to get him to sack me, and when he did he saw some of my people and took me back again next week. He sacked me finally the next Saturday.

“I got the next job myself. I didn’t hurry; I took my time and picked out a good one. It was in a lolly factory. I thought it would suit me — and it did, for a while. They put me on stirring up and mixing stuff in the jujube department; but I got so sick of the smell of it and so full of jujube and other lollies that I soon wanted a change; so I had a row with the chief of the jujube department and the boss gave me the sack.

“I got a job in a grocery then. I thought I’d have more variety there. But one day the boss was away, sick or something, all the afternoon, and I sold a lot of things too cheap. I didn’t know. When a customer came in and asked for something I’d just look round in the window till I saw a card with the price written up on it, and sell the best quality according to that price; and once or twice I made a mistake the other way about and lost a couple of good customers. It was a hot, drowsy afternoon, and by-and-bye I began to feel dull and sleepy. So I looked round the corner and saw a Chinaman coming. I got a big tin garden syringe and filled it full of brine from the butter keg, and, when he came opposite the door, I let him have the full force of it in the ear.

“That Chinaman put down his baskets and came for me. I was strong for my age, and thought I could fight, but he gave me a proper mauling.

“It was like running up against a thrashing machine, and it wouldn’t have been well for me if the boss of the shop next door hadn’t interfered. He told my boss, and my boss gave me the sack at once.

“I took a spell of eighteen months or so after that, and was growing up happy and contented when a married sister of mine must needs come to live in town and interfere. I didn’t like married sisters, though I always got on grand with my brothers-in-law, and wished there were more of them. The married sister comes round and cleans up the place and pulls your things about and finds your pipe and tobacco and things, and cigarette portraits, and “Deadwood Dicks”, that you’ve got put away all right, so’s your mother and aunt wouldn’t find them in a generation of cats, and says:

“‘Mother, why don’t you make that boy go to work. It’s a scandalous shame to see a big boy like that growing up idle. He’s going to the bad before your eyes.’ And she’s always trying to make out that you’re a liar, and trying to make mother believe it, too. My married sister got me a job with a chemist, whose missus she knew.

“I got on pretty well there, and by-and-bye I was put upstairs in the grinding and mixing department; but, after a while, they put another boy that I was chummy with up there with me, and that was a mistake. I didn’t think so at the time, but I can see it now. We got up to all sorts of tricks. We’d get mixing together chemicals that weren’t related to see how they’d agree, and we nearly blew up the shop several times, and set it on fire once. But all the chaps liked us, and fixed things up for us. One day we got a big black dog — that we meant to take home that evening — and sneaked him upstairs and put him on a flat roof outside the laboratory. He had a touch of the mange and didn’t look well, so we gave him a dose of something; and he scrambled over the parapet and slipped down a steep iron roof in front, and fell on a respected townsman that knew my people. We were awfully frightened, and didn’t say anything. Nobody saw it but us. The dog had the presence of mind to leave at once, and the respected townsman was picked up and taken home in a cab; and he got it hot from his wife, too, I believe, for being in that drunken, beastly state in the main street in the middle of the day.

“I don’t think he was ever quite sure that he hadn’t been drunk or what had happened, for he had had one or two that morning; so it didn’t matter much. Only we lost the dog.

“One day I went downstairs to the packing-room and saw a lot of phosphorus in jars of water. I wanted to fix up a ghost for Billy, my mate, so I nicked a bit and slipped it into my trouser pocket.

“I stood under the tap and let it pour on me. The phosphorus burnt clean through my pocket and fell on the ground. I was sent home that night with my leg dressed with lime-water and oil, and a pair of the boss’s pants on that were about half a yard too long for me, and I felt miserable enough, too. They said it would stop my tricks for a while, and so it did. I’ll carry the mark to my dying day — and for two or three days after, for that matter.”

 * * * * * * * * *

I fell asleep at this point, and left Mitchell’s cattle pup to hear it out.

Bill, the Ventriloquial Rooster

“When we were up country on the selection, we had a rooster at our place, named Bill,” said Mitchell; “a big mongrel of no particular breed, though the old lady said he was a ‘brammer’—and many an argument she had with the old man about it too; she was just as stubborn and obstinate in her opinion as the governor was in his. But, anyway, we called him Bill, and didn’t take any particular notice of him till a cousin of some of us came from Sydney on a visit to the country, and stayed at our place because it was cheaper than stopping at a pub. Well, somehow this chap got interested in Bill, and studied him for two or three days, and at last he says:

“‘Why, that rooster’s a ventriloquist!’

“‘A what?’

“‘A ventriloquist!’

“‘Go along with yer!’

“‘But he is. I’ve heard of cases like this before; but this is the first I’ve come across. Bill’s a ventriloquist right enough.’

“Then we remembered that there wasn’t another rooster within five miles —our only neighbour, an Irishman named Page, didn’t have one at the time— and we’d often heard another cock crow, but didn’t think to take any notice of it. We watched Bill, and sure enough he was a ventriloquist. The ‘ka-cocka’ would come all right, but the ‘co-ka-koo-oi-oo’ seemed to come from a distance. And sometimes the whole crow would go wrong, and come back like an echo that had been lost for a year. Bill would stand on tiptoe, and hold his elbows out, and curve his neck, and go two or three times as if he was swallowing nest-eggs, and nearly break his neck and burst his gizzard; and then there’d be no sound at all where he was—only a cock crowing in the distance.

“And pretty soon we could see that Bill was in great trouble about it himself. You see, he didn’t know it was himself—thought it was another rooster challenging him, and he wanted badly to find that other bird. He would get up on the wood-heap, and crow and listen—crow and listen again— crow and listen, and then he’d go up to the top of the paddock, and get up on the stack, and crow and listen there. Then down to the other end of the paddock, and get up on a mullock-heap, and crow and listen there. Then across to the other side and up on a log among the saplings, and crow ‘n’ listen some more. He searched all over the place for that other rooster, but, of course, couldn’t find him. Sometimes he’d be out all day crowing and listening all over the country, and then come home dead tired, and rest and cool off in a hole that the hens had scratched for him in a damp place under the water-cask sledge.

“Well, one day Page brought home a big white rooster, and when he let it go it climbed up on Page’s stack and crowed, to see if there was any more roosters round there. Bill had come home tired; it was a hot day, and he’d rooted out the hens, and was having a spell-oh under the cask when the white rooster crowed. Bill didn’t lose any time getting out and on to the wood-heap, and then he waited till he heard the crow again; then he crowed, and the other rooster crowed again, and they crowed at each other for three days, and called each other all the wretches they could lay their tongues to, and after that they implored each other to come out and be made into chicken soup and feather pillows. But neither’d come. You see, there were three crows—there was Bill’s crow, and the ventriloquist crow, and the white rooster’s crow— and each rooster thought that there was two roosters in the opposition camp, and that he mightn’t get fair play, and, consequently, both were afraid to put up their hands.

“But at last Bill couldn’t stand it any longer. He made up his mind to go and have it out, even if there was a whole agricultural show of prize and honourable-mention fighting-cocks in Page’s yard. He got down from the wood-heap and started off across the ploughed field, his head down, his elbows out, and his thick awkward legs prodding away at the furrows behind for all they were worth.

“I wanted to go down badly and see the fight, and barrack for Bill. But I daren’t, because I’d been coming up the road late the night before with my brother Joe, and there was about three panels of turkeys roosting along on the top rail of Page’s front fence; and we brushed ’em with a bough, and they got up such a blessed gobbling fuss about it that Page came out in his shirt and saw us running away; and I knew he was laying for us with a bullock whip. Besides, there was friction between the two families on account of a thoroughbred bull that Page borrowed and wouldn’t lend to us, and that got into our paddock on account of me mending a panel in the party fence, and carelessly leaving the top rail down after sundown while our cows was moving round there in the saplings.

“So there was too much friction for me to go down, but I climbed a tree as near the fence as I could and watched. Bill reckoned he’d found that rooster at last. The white rooster wouldn’t come down from the stack, so Bill went up to him, and they fought there till they tumbled down the other side, and I couldn’t see any more. Wasn’t I wild? I’d have given my dog to have seen the rest of the fight. I went down to the far side of Page’s fence and climbed a tree there, but, of course, I couldn’t see anything, so I came home the back way. Just as I got home Page came round to the front and sung out, ‘Insoid there!’ And me and Jim went under the house like snakes and looked out round a pile. But Page was all right—he had a broad grin on his face, and Bill safe under his arm. He put Bill down on the ground very carefully, and says he to the old folks:

“‘Yer rooster knocked the stuffin’ out of my rooster, but I bear no malice. ’Twas a grand foight.’

“And then the old man and Page had a yarn, and got pretty friendly after that. And Bill didn’t seem to bother about any more ventriloquism; but the white rooster spent a lot of time looking for that other rooster. Perhaps he thought he’d have better luck with him. But Page was on the look-out all the time to get a rooster that would lick ours. He did nothing else for a month but ride round and enquire about roosters; and at last he borrowed a game-bird in town, left five pounds deposit on him, and brought him home. And Page and the old man agreed to have a match— about the only thing they’d agreed about for five years. And they fixed it up for a Sunday when the old lady and the girls and kids were going on a visit to some relations, about fifteen miles away— to stop all night. The guv’nor made me go with them on horseback; but I knew what was up, and so my pony went lame about a mile along the road, and I had to come back and turn him out in the top paddock, and hide the saddle and bridle in a hollow log, and sneak home and climb up on the roof of the shed. It was a awful hot day, and I had to keep climbing backward and forward over the ridge-pole all the morning to keep out of sight of the old man, for he was moving about a good deal.

“Well, after dinner, the fellows from roundabout began to ride in and hang up their horses round the place till it looked as if there was going to be a funeral. Some of the chaps saw me, of course, but I tipped them the wink, and they gave me the office whenever the old man happened around.

“Well, Page came along with his game-rooster. Its name was Jim. It wasn’t much to look at, and it seemed a good deal smaller and weaker than Bill. Some of the chaps were disgusted, and said it wasn’t a game-rooster at all; Bill’d settle it in one lick, and they wouldn’t have any fun.

“Well, they brought the game one out and put him down near the wood-heap, and rousted Bill out from under his cask. He got interested at once. He looked at Jim, and got up on the wood-heap and crowed and looked at Jim again. He reckoned this at last was the fowl that had been humbugging him all along. Presently his trouble caught him, and then he’d crow and take a squint at the game ’un, and crow again, and have another squint at gamey, and try to crow and keep his eye on the game-rooster at the same time. But Jim never committed himself, until at last he happened to gape just after Bill’s whole crow went wrong, and Bill spotted him. He reckoned he’d caught him this time, and he got down off that wood-heap and went for the foe. But Jim ran away—and Bill ran after him.

“Round and round the wood-heap they went, and round the shed, and round the house and under it, and back again, and round the wood-heap and over it and round the other way, and kept it up for close on an hour. Bill’s bill was just within an inch or so of the game-rooster’s tail feathers most of the time, but he couldn’t get any nearer, do how he liked. And all the time the fellers kept chyackin Page and singing out, ‘What price yer game ’un, Page! Go it, Bill! Go it, old cock!’ and all that sort of thing. Well, the game-rooster went as if it was a go-as-you-please, and he didn’t care if it lasted a year. He didn’t seem to take any interest in the business, but Bill got excited, and by-and-by he got mad. He held his head lower and lower and his wings further and further out from his sides, and prodded away harder and harder at the ground behind, but it wasn’t any use. Jim seemed to keep ahead without trying. They stuck to the wood-heap towards the last. They went round first one way for a while, and then the other for a change, and now and then they’d go over the top to break the monotony; and the chaps got more interested in the race than they would have been in the fight—and bet on it, too. But Bill was handicapped with his weight. He was done up at last; he slowed down till he couldn’t waddle, and then, when he was thoroughly knocked up, that game-rooster turned on him, and gave him the father of a hiding.

“And my father caught me when I’d got down in the excitement, and wasn’t thinking, and he gave me the step-father of a hiding. But he had a lively time with the old lady afterwards, over the cock-fight.

“Bill was so disgusted with himself that he went under the cask and died.”

Bush Cats

“Domestic cats” we mean—the descendants of cats who came from the northern world during the last hundred odd years. We do not know the name of the vessel in which the first Thomas and his Maria came out to Australia, but we suppose that it was one of the ships of the First Fleet. Most likely Maria had kittens on the voyage —two lots, perhaps—the majority of which were buried at sea; and no doubt the disembarkation caused her much maternal anxiety.

* * * * * * * * *

The feline race has not altered much in Australia, from a physical point of view—not yet. The rabbit has developed into something like a cross between a kangaroo and a possum, but the bush has not begun to develop the common cat. She is just as sedate and motherly as the mummy cats of Egypt were, but she takes longer strolls of nights, climbs gum-trees instead of roofs, and hunts stranger vermin than ever came under the observation of her northern ancestors. Her views have widened. She is mostly thinner than the English farm cat— which is, they say, on account of eating lizards.

English rats and English mice—we say “English” because everything which isn’t Australian in Australia, is English (or British)— English rats and English mice are either rare or non-existent in the bush; but the hut cat has a wider range for game. She is always dragging in things which are unknown in the halls of zoology; ugly, loathsome, crawling abortions which have not been classified yet—and perhaps could not be.

The Australian zoologist ought to rake up some more dead languages, and then go Out Back with a few bush cats.

The Australian bush cat has a nasty, unpleasant habit of dragging a long, wriggling, horrid, black snake—she seems to prefer black snakes—into a room where there are ladies, proudly laying it down in a conspicuous place (usually in front of the exit), and then looking up for approbation. She wonders, perhaps, why the visitors are in such a hurry to leave.

Pussy doesn’t approve of live snakes round the place, especially if she has kittens; and if she finds a snake in the vicinity of her progeny— well, it is bad for that particular serpent.

This brings recollections of a neighbour’s cat who went out in the scrub, one midsummer’s day, and found a brown snake. Her name —the cat’s name—was Mary Ann. She got hold of the snake all right, just within an inch of its head; but it got the rest of its length wound round her body and squeezed about eight lives out of her. She had the presence of mind to keep her hold; but it struck her that she was in a fix, and that if she wanted to save her ninth life, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go home for help. So she started home, snake and all.

The family were at dinner when Mary Ann came in, and, although she stood on an open part of the floor, no one noticed her for a while. She couldn’t ask for help, for her mouth was too full of snake. By-and-bye one of the girls glanced round, and then went over the table, with a shriek, and out of the back door. The room was cleared very quickly. The eldest boy got a long-handled shovel, and in another second would have killed more cat than snake; but his father interfered. The father was a shearer, and Mary Ann was a favourite cat with him. He got a pair of shears from the shelf and deftly shore off the snake’s head, and one side of Mary Ann’s whiskers. She didn’t think it safe to let go yet. She kept her teeth in the neck until the selector snipped the rest of the snake off her. The bits were carried out on a shovel to die at sundown. Mary Ann had a good drink of milk, and then got her tongue out and licked herself back into the proper shape for a cat; after which she went out to look for that snake’s mate. She found it, too, and dragged it home the same evening.

Cats will kill rabbits and drag them home. We knew a fossicker whose cat used to bring him a bunny nearly every night. The fossicker had rabbits for breakfast until he got sick of them, and then he used to swap them with a butcher for meat. The cat was named Ingersoll, which indicates his sex and gives an inkling to his master’s religious and political opinions. Ingersoll used to prospect round in the gloaming until he found some rabbit holes which showed encouraging indications. He would shepherd one hole for an hour or so every evening until he found it was a duffer, or worked it out; then he would shift to another. One day he prospected a big hollow log with a lot of holes in it, and more going down underneath. The indications were very good, but Ingersoll had no luck. The game had too many ways of getting out and in. He found that he could not work that claim by himself, so he floated it into a company. He persuaded several cats from a neighbouring selection to take shares, and they watched the holes together, or in turns—they worked shifts. The dividends more than realised even their wildest expectations, for each cat took home at least one rabbit every night for a week.

A selector started a vegetable garden about the time when rabbits were beginning to get troublesome up country. The hare had not shown itself yet. The farmer kept quite a regiment of cats to protect his garden—and they protected it. He would shut the cats up all day with nothing to eat, and let them out about sundown; then they would mooch off to the turnip patch like farm-labourers going to work. They would drag the rabbits home to the back door, and sit there and watch them until the farmer opened the door and served out the ration of milk. Then the cats would turn in. He nearly always found a semi-circle of dead rabbits and watchful cats round the door in the morning. They sold the product of their labour direct to the farmer for milk. It didn’t matter if one cat had been unlucky —had not got a rabbit—each had an equal share in the general result. They were true socialists, those cats.

One of those cats was a mighty big Tom, named Jack. He was death on rabbits; he would work hard all night, laying for them and dragging them home. Some weeks he would graft every night, and at other times every other night, but he was generally pretty regular. When he reckoned he had done an extra night’s work, he would take the next night off and go three miles to the nearest neighbour’s to see his Maria and take her out for a stroll. Well, one evening Jack went into the garden and chose a place where there was good cover, and lay low. He was a bit earlier than usual, so he thought he would have a doze till rabbit time. By-and-bye he heard a noise, and slowly, cautiously opening one eye, he saw two big ears sticking out of the leaves in front of him. He judged that it was an extra big bunny, so he put some extra style into his manoeuvres. In about five minutes he made his spring. He must have thought (if cats think) that it was a whopping, old-man rabbit, for it was a pioneer hare—not an ordinary English hare, but one of those great coarse, lanky things which the bush is breeding. The selector was attracted by an unusual commotion and a cloud of dust among his cabbages, and came along with his gun in time to witness the fight. First Jack would drag the hare, and then the hare would drag Jack; sometimes they would be down together, and then Jack would use his hind claws with effect; finally he got his teeth in the right place, and triumphed. Then he started to drag the corpse home, but he had to give it best and ask his master to lend a hand. The selector took up the hare, and Jack followed home, much to the family’s surprise. He did not go back to work that night; he took a spell. He had a drink of milk, licked the dust off himself, washed it down with another drink, and sat in front of the fire and thought for a goodish while. Then he got up, walked over to the corner where the hare was lying, had a good look at it, came back to the fire, sat down again, and thought hard. He was still thinking when the family retired.

Meeting Old Mates

I
Tom Smith

You are getting well on in the thirties, and haven’t left off being a fool yet. You have been away in another colony or country for a year or so, and have now come back again. Most of your chums have gone away or got married, or, worse still, signed the pledge— settled down and got steady; and you feel lonely and desolate and left-behind enough for anything. While drifting aimlessly round town with an eye out for some chance acquaintance to have a knock round with, you run against an old chum whom you never dreamt of meeting, or whom you thought to be in some other part of the country— or perhaps you knock up against someone who knows the old chum in question, and he says:

“I suppose you know Tom Smith’s in Sydney?”

“Tom Smith! Why, I thought he was in Queensland! I haven’t seen him for more than three years. Where’s the old joker hanging out at all? Why, except you, there’s no one in Australia I’d sooner see than Tom Smith. Here I’ve been mooning round like an unemployed for three weeks, looking for someone to have a knock round with, and Tom in Sydney all the time. I wish I’d known before. Where’ll I run against him— where does he live?”

“Oh, he’s living at home.”

“But where’s his home? I was never there.”

“Oh, I’ll give you his address. . . . There, I think that’s it. I’m not sure about the number, but you’ll soon find out in that street— most of ’em’ll know Tom Smith.”

“Thanks! I rather think they will. I’m glad I met you. I’ll hunt Tom up to-day.”

So you put a few shillings in your pocket, tell your landlady that you’re going to visit an old aunt of yours or a sick friend, and mayn’t be home that night; and then you start out to hunt up Tom Smith and have at least one more good night, if you die for it.

 * * * * * * * * *

This is the first time you have seen Tom at home; you knew of his home and people in the old days, but only in a vague, indefinite sort of way. Tom has changed! He is stouter and older-looking; he seems solemn and settled down. You intended to give him a surprise and have a good old jolly laugh with him, but somehow things get suddenly damped at the beginning. He grins and grips your hand right enough, but there seems something wanting. You can’t help staring at him, and he seems to look at you in a strange, disappointing way; it doesn’t strike you that you also have changed, and perhaps more in his eyes than he in yours. He introduces you to his mother and sisters and brothers, and the rest of the family; or to his wife, as the case may be; and you have to suppress your feelings and be polite and talk common-place. You hate to be polite and talk common-place. You aren’t built that way— and Tom wasn’t either, in the old days. The wife (or the mother and sisters) receives you kindly, for Tom’s sake, and makes much of you; but they don’t know you yet. You want to get Tom outside, and have a yarn and a drink and a laugh with him—you are bursting to tell him all about yourself, and get him to tell you all about himself, and ask him if he remembers things; and you wonder if he is bursting the same way, and hope he is. The old lady and sisters (or the wife) bore you pretty soon, and you wonder if they bore Tom; you almost fancy, from his looks, that they do. You wonder whether Tom is coming out to-night, whether he wants to get out, and if he wants to and wants to get out by himself, whether he’ll be able to manage it; but you daren’t broach the subject, it wouldn’t be polite. You’ve got to be polite. Then you get worried by the thought that Tom is bursting to get out with you and only wants an excuse; is waiting, in fact, and hoping for you to ask him in an off-hand sort of way to come out for a stroll. But you’re not quite sure; and besides, if you were, you wouldn’t have the courage. By-and-bye you get tired of it all, thirsty, and want to get out in the open air. You get tired of saying, “Do you really, Mrs. Smith?” or “Do you think so, Miss Smith?” or “You were quite right, Mrs. Smith,” and “Well, I think so too, Mrs. Smith,” or, to the brother, “That’s just what I thought, Mr. Smith.” You don’t want to “talk pretty” to them, and listen to their wishy-washy nonsense; you want to get out and have a roaring spree with Tom, as you had in the old days; you want to make another night of it with your old mate, Tom Smith; and pretty soon you get the blues badly, and feel nearly smothered in there, and you’ve got to get out and have a beer anyway—Tom or no Tom; and you begin to feel wild with Tom himself; and at last you make a bold dash for it and chance Tom. You get up, look at your hat, and say: “Ah, well, I must be going, Tom; I’ve got to meet someone down the street at seven o’clock. Where’ll I meet you in town next week?”

But Tom says:

“Oh, dash it; you ain’t going yet. Stay to tea, Joe, stay to tea. It’ll be on the table in a minute. Sit down—sit down, man! Here, gimme your hat.”

And Tom’s sister, or wife, or mother comes in with an apron on and her hands all over flour, and says:

“Oh, you’re not going yet, Mr. Brown? Tea’ll be ready in a minute. Do stay for tea.” And if you make excuses, she cross-examines you about the time you’ve got to keep that appointment down the street, and tells you that their clock is twenty minutes fast, and that you have got plenty of time, and so you have to give in. But you are mightily encouraged by a winksome expression which you see, or fancy you see, on your side of Tom’s face; also by the fact of his having accidentally knocked his foot against your shins. So you stay.

One of the females tells you to “Sit there, Mr. Brown,” and you take your place at the table, and the polite business goes on. You’ve got to hold your knife and fork properly, and mind your p’s and q’s, and when she says, “Do you take milk and sugar, Mr. Brown?” you’ve got to say, “Yes, please, Miss Smith—thanks—that’s plenty.” And when they press you, as they will, to have more, you’ve got to keep on saying, “No, thanks, Mrs. Smith; no, thanks, Miss Smith; I really couldn’t; I’ve done very well, thank you; I had a very late dinner, and so on”—bother such tommy-rot. And you don’t seem to have any appetite, anyway. And you think of the days out on the track when you and Tom sat on your swags under a mulga at mid-day, and ate mutton and johnny-cake with clasp-knives, and drank by turns out of the old, battered, leaky billy.

And after tea you have to sit still while the precious minutes are wasted, and listen and sympathize, while all the time you are on the fidget to get out with Tom, and go down to a private bar where you know some girls.

And perhaps by-and-bye the old lady gets confidential, and seizes an opportunity to tell you what a good steady young fellow Tom is now that he never touches drink, and belongs to a temperance society (or the Y.M.C.A.), and never stays out of nights.

Consequently you feel worse than ever, and lonelier, and sorrier that you wasted your time coming. You are encouraged again by a glimpse of Tom putting on a clean collar and fixing himself up a bit; but when you are ready to go, and ask him if he’s coming a bit down the street with you, he says he thinks he will in such a disinterested, don’t-mind-if-I-do sort of tone, that he makes you mad.

At last, after promising to “drop in again, Mr. Brown, whenever you’re passing,” and to “don’t forget to call,” and thanking them for their assurance that they’ll “be always glad to see you,” and telling them that you’ve spent a very pleasant evening and enjoyed yourself, and are awfully sorry you couldn’t stay—you get away with Tom.

You don’t say much to each other till you get round the corner and down the street a bit, and then for a while your conversation is mostly common-place, such as, “Well, how have you been getting on all this time, Tom?” “Oh, all right. How have you been getting on?” and so on.

But presently, and perhaps just as you have made up your mind to chance the alleged temperance business and ask Tom in to have a drink, he throws a glance up and down the street, nudges your shoulder, says “Come on,” and disappears sideways into a pub.

 * * * * * * * * *

“What’s yours, Tom?” “What’s yours, Joe?” “The same for me.” “Well, here’s luck, old man.” “Here’s luck.” You take a drink, and look over your glass at Tom. Then the old smile spreads over his face, and it makes you glad—you could swear to Tom’s grin in a hundred years. Then something tickles him—your expression, perhaps, or a recollection of the past—and he sets down his glass on the bar and laughs. Then you laugh. Oh, there’s no smile like the smile that old mates favour each other with over the tops of their glasses when they meet again after years. It is eloquent, because of the memories that give it birth.

“Here’s another. Do you remember——? Do you remember——?” Oh, it all comes back again like a flash. Tom hasn’t changed a bit; just the same good-hearted, jolly idiot he always was. Old times back again! “It’s just like old times,” says Tom, after three or four more drinks.

* * * * * * * * *

And so you make a night of it and get uproariously jolly. You get as “glorious” as Bobby Burns did in the part of Tam O’Shanter, and have a better “time” than any of the times you had in the old days. And you see Tom as nearly home in the morning as you dare, and he reckons he’ll get it hot from his people—which no doubt he will— and he explains that they are very particular up at home —church people, you know—and, of course, especially if he’s married, it’s understood between you that you’d better not call for him up at home after this—at least, not till things have cooled down a bit. It’s always the way. The friend of the husband always gets the blame in cases like this. But Tom fixes up a yarn to tell them, and you aren’t to “say anything different” in case you run against any of them. And he fixes up an appointment with you for next Saturday night, and he’ll get there if he gets divorced for it. But he might have to take the wife out shopping, or one of the girls somewhere; and if you see her with him you’ve got to lay low, and be careful, and wait —at another hour and place, perhaps, all of which is arranged— for if she sees you she’ll smell a rat at once, and he won’t be able to get off at all.

And so, as far as you and Tom are concerned, the “old times” have come back once more.

 * * * * * * * * *

But, of course (and we almost forgot it), you might chance to fall in love with one of Tom’s sisters, in which case there would be another and a totally different story to tell.

II
Jack Ellis

Things are going well with you. You have escaped from “the track”, so to speak, and are in a snug, comfortable little billet in the city. Well, while doing the block you run against an old mate of other days—very other days—call him Jack Ellis. Things have gone hard with Jack. He knows you at once, but makes no advance towards a greeting; he acts as though he thinks you might cut him—which, of course, if you are a true mate, you have not the slightest intention of doing. His coat is yellow and frayed, his hat is battered and green, his trousers “gone” in various places, his linen very cloudy, and his boots burst and innocent of polish. You try not to notice these things —or rather, not to seem to notice them—but you cannot help doing so, and you are afraid he’ll notice that you see these things, and put a wrong construction on it. How men will misunderstand each other! You greet him with more than the necessary enthusiasm. In your anxiety to set him at his ease and make him believe that nothing—not even money—can make a difference in your friendship, you over-act the business; and presently you are afraid that he’ll notice that too, and put a wrong construction on it. You wish that your collar was not so clean, nor your clothes so new. Had you known you would meet him, you would have put on some old clothes for the occasion.

You are both embarrassed, but it is you who feel ashamed— you are almost afraid to look at him lest he’ll think you are looking at his shabbiness. You ask him in to have a drink, but he doesn’t respond so heartily as you wish, as he did in the old days; he doesn’t like drinking with anybody when he isn’t “fixed”, as he calls it— when he can’t shout.

It didn’t matter in the old days who held the money so long as there was plenty of “stuff” in the camp. You think of the days when Jack stuck to you through thick and thin. You would like to give him money now, but he is so proud; he always was; he makes you mad with his beastly pride. There wasn’t any pride of that sort on the track or in the camp in those days; but times have changed—your lives have drifted too widely apart— you have taken different tracks since then; and Jack, without intending to, makes you feel that it is so.

You have a drink, but it isn’t a success; it falls flat, as far as Jack is concerned; he won’t have another; he doesn’t “feel on”, and presently he escapes under plea of an engagement, and promises to see you again.

And you wish that the time was come when no one could have more or less to spend than another.

P.S.—I met an old mate of that description once, and so successfully persuaded him out of his beastly pride that he borrowed two pounds off me till Monday. I never got it back since, and I want it badly at the present time. In future I’ll leave old mates with their pride unimpaired.

Two Larrikins

“Y’orter do something, Ernie. Yer know how I am. You don’t seem to care. Y’orter to do something.”

Stowsher slouched at a greater angle to the greasy door-post, and scowled under his hat-brim. It was a little, low, frowsy room opening into Jones’ Alley. She sat at the table, sewing—a thin, sallow girl with weak, colourless eyes. She looked as frowsy as her surroundings.

“Well, why don’t you go to some of them women, and get fixed up?”

She flicked the end of the table-cloth over some tiny, unfinished articles of clothing, and bent to her work.

“But you know very well I haven’t got a shilling, Ernie,” she said, quietly. “Where am I to get the money from?”

“Who asked yer to get it?”

She was silent, with the exasperating silence of a woman who has determined to do a thing in spite of all reasons and arguments that may be brought against it.

“Well, wot more do yer want?” demanded Stowsher, impatiently.

She bent lower. “Couldn't we keep it, Ernie?”

“Wot next?” asked Stowsher, sulkily—he had half suspected what was coming. Then, with an impatient oath, “You must be gettin’ ratty.”

She brushed the corner of the cloth further over the little clothes.

“It wouldn’t cost anything, Ernie. I’d take a pride in him, and keep him clean, and dress him like a little lord. He’ll be different from all the other youngsters. He wouldn’t be like those dirty, sickly little brats out there. He’d be just like you, Ernie; I know he would. I’ll look after him night and day, and bring him up well and strong. We’d train his little muscles from the first, Ernie, and he’d be able to knock ’em all out when he grew up. It wouldn’t cost much, and I’d work hard and be careful if you’d help me. And you’d be proud of him, too, Ernie—I know you would.”

Stowsher scraped the doorstep with his foot; but whether he was “touched”, or feared hysterics and was wisely silent, was not apparent.

“Do you remember the first day I met you, Ernie?” she asked, presently.

Stowsher regarded her with an uneasy scowl: “Well—wot o’ that?”

“You came into the bar-parlour at the ‘Cricketers’ Arms’ and caught a push of ’em chyacking your old man.”

“Well, I altered that.”

“I know you did. You done for three of them, one after another, and two was bigger than you.”

“Yes! and when the push come up we done for the rest,” said Stowsher, softening at the recollection.

“And the day you come home and caught the landlord bullying your old mother like a dog——”

“Yes; I got three months for that job. But it was worth it!” he reflected. “Only,” he added, “the old woman might have had the knocker to keep away from the lush while I was in quod. . . . But wot’s all this got to do with it?”

He might barrack and fight for you, some day, Ernie,” she said softly, “when you’re old and out of form and ain’t got no push to back you.”

The thing was becoming decidedly embarrassing to Stowsher; not that he felt any delicacy on the subject, but because he hated to be drawn into a conversation that might be considered “soft”.

“Oh, stow that!” he said, comfortingly. “Git on yer hat, and I’ll take yer for a trot.”

She rose quickly, but restrained herself, recollecting that it was not good policy to betray eagerness in response to an invitation from Ernie.

“But—you know—I don’t like to go out like this. You can’t— you wouldn’t like to take me out the way I am, Ernie!”

“Why not? Wot rot!”

“The fellows would see me, and—and——”

“And . . . wot?”

“They might notice——”

“Well, wot o’ that? I want ’em to. Are yer comin’ or are yer ain’t? Fling round now. I can’t hang on here all day.”

They walked towards Flagstaff Hill.

One or two, slouching round a pub. corner, saluted with “Wotcher, Stowsher!”

“Not too stinkin’,” replied Stowsher. “Soak yer heads.”

“Stowsher’s goin’ to stick,” said one privately.

“An’ so he orter,” said another. “Wish I had the chanst.”

The two turned up a steep lane.

“Don’t walk so fast up hill, Ernie; I can’t, you know.”

“All right, Liz. I forgot that. Why didn’t yer say so before?”

She was contentedly silent most of the way, warned by instinct, after the manner of women when they have gained their point by words.

Once he glanced over his shoulder with a short laugh. “Gorblime!” he said, “I nearly thought the little beggar was a-follerin’ along behind!”

When he left her at the door he said: “Look here, Liz. ’Ere’s half a quid. Git what yer want. Let her go. I’m goin’ to graft again in the mornin’, and I’ll come round and see yer to-morrer night.”

Still she seemed troubled and uneasy.

“Ernie.”

“Well. Wot now?”

“S’posin’ it's a girl, Ernie.”

Stowsher flung himself round impatiently.

“Oh, for God’s sake, stow that! Yer always singin’ out before yer hurt. . . . There’s somethin’ else, ain’t there—while the bloomin’ shop’s open?”

“No, Ernie. Ain’t you going to kiss me? . . . I’m satisfied.”

“Satisfied! Yer don’t want the kid to be arst ’oo ’is father was, do yer? Yer’d better come along with me some day this week and git spliced. Yer don’t want to go frettin’ or any of that funny business while it’s on.”

“Oh, Ernie! do you really mean it?”—and she threw her arms round his neck, and broke down at last.

* * * * * * * * *

“So-long, Liz. No more funny business now—I’ve had enough of it. Keep yer pecker up, old girl. To-morrer night, mind.” Then he added suddenly: “Yer might have known I ain’t that sort of a bloke” —and left abruptly.

Liz was very happy.

Mr. Smellingscheck

I met him in a sixpenny restaurant—“All meals, 6d.—Good beds, 1s.” That was before sixpenny restaurants rose to a third-class position, and became possibly respectable places to live in, through the establishment, beneath them, of fourpenny hash-houses (good beds, 6d.), and, beneath them again, of three-penny “dining-rooms—clean beds, 4d.”

There were five beds in our apartment, the head of one against the foot of the next, and so on round the room, with a space where the door and washstand were. I chose the bed the head of which was near the foot of his, because he looked like a man who took his bath regularly. I should like, in the interests of sentiment, to describe the place as a miserable, filthy, evil-smelling garret; but I can’t—because it wasn’t. The room was large and airy; the floor was scrubbed and the windows cleaned at least once a week, and the beds kept fresh and neat, which is more—a good deal more— than can be said of many genteel private boarding-houses. The lodgers were mostly respectable unemployed, and one or two—fortunate men!— in work; it was the casual boozer, the professional loafer, and the occasional spieler—the one-shilling-bed-men— who made the place objectionable, not the hard-working people who paid ten pounds a week for the house; and, but for the one-night lodgers and the big gilt black-and-red bordered and “shaded” “6d.” in the window —which made me glance guiltily up and down the street, like a burglar about to do a job, before I went in—I was pretty comfortable there.

They called him “Mr. Smellingscheck”, and treated him with a peculiar kind of deference, the reason for which they themselves were doubtless unable to explain or even understand. The haggard woman who made the beds called him “Mr. Smell-’is-check”. Poor fellow! I didn’t think, by the look of him, that he’d smelt his cheque, or anyone else’s, or that anyone else had smelt his, for many a long day. He was a fat man, slow and placid. He looked like a typical monopolist who had unaccountably got into a suit of clothes belonging to a Domain unemployed, and hadn’t noticed, or had entirely forgotten, the circumstance in his business cares—if such a word as care could be connected with such a calm, self-contained nature. He wore a suit of cheap slops of some kind of shoddy “tweed”. The coat was too small and the trousers too short, and they were drawn up to meet the waistcoat—which they did with painful difficulty, now and then showing, by way of protest, two pairs of brass buttons and the ends of the brace-straps; and they seemed to blame the irresponsive waistcoat or the wearer for it all. Yet he never gave way to assist them. A pair of burst elastic-sides were in full evidence, and a rim of cloudy sock, with a hole in it, showed at every step.

But he put on his clothes and wore them like—like a gentleman. He had two white shirts, and they were both dirty. He’d lay them out on the bed, turn them over, regard them thoughtfully, choose that which appeared to his calm understanding to be the cleaner, and put it on, and wear it until it was unmistakably dirtier than the other; then he’d wear the other till it was dirtier than the first. He managed his three collars the same way. His handkerchiefs were washed in the bathroom, and dried, without the slightest disguise, in the bedroom. He never hurried in anything. The way he cleaned his teeth, shaved, and made his toilet almost transformed the place, in my imagination, into a gentleman’s dressing-room.

He talked politics and such things in the abstract—always in the abstract —calmly in the abstract. He was an old-fashioned Conservative of the Sir Leicester Deadlock style. When he was moved by an extra shower of aggressive democratic cant—which was seldom— he defended Capital, but only as if it needed no defence, and as if its opponents were merely thoughtless, ignorant children whom he condescended to set right because of their inexperience and for their own good. He stuck calmly to his own order—the order which had dropped him like a foul thing when the bottom dropped out of his boom, whatever that was. He never talked of his misfortunes.

He took his meals at the little greasy table in the dark corner downstairs, just as if he were dining at the Exchange. He had a chop—rather well-done—and a sheet of the Herald for breakfast. He carried two handkerchiefs; he used one for a handkerchief and the other for a table-napkin, and sometimes folded it absently and laid it on the table. He rose slowly, putting his chair back, took down his battered old green hat, and regarded it thoughtfully—as though it had just occurred to him in a calm, casual way that he’d drop into his hatter’s, if he had time, on his way down town, and get it blocked, or else send the messenger round with it during business hours. He’d draw his stick out from behind the next chair, plant it, and, if you hadn’t quite finished your side of the conversation, stand politely waiting until you were done. Then he’d look for a suitable reply into his hat, put it on, give it a twitch to settle it on his head—as gentlemen do a “chimney-pot”—step out into the gangway, turn his face to the door, and walk slowly out on to the middle of the pavement— looking more placidly well-to-do than ever. The saying is that clothes make a man, but he made his almost respectable just by wearing them. Then he’d consult his watch—(he stuck to the watch all through, and it seemed a good one—I often wondered why he didn’t pawn it); then he’d turn slowly, right turn, and look down the street. Then slowly back, left-about turn, and take a cool survey in that direction, as if calmly undecided whether to take a cab and drive to the Exchange, or (as it was a very fine morning, and he had half an hour to spare) walk there and drop in at his club on the way. He’d conclude to walk. I never saw him go anywhere in particular, but he walked and stood as if he could.

Coming quietly into the room one day, I surprised him sitting at the table with his arms lying on it and his face resting on them. I heard something like a sob. He rose hastily, and gathered up some papers which were on the table; then he turned round, rubbing his forehead and eyes with his forefinger and thumb, and told me that he suffered from—something, I forget the name of it, but it was a well-to-do ailment. His manner seemed a bit jolted and hurried for a minute or so, and then he was himself again. He told me he was leaving for Melbourne next day. He left while I was out, and left an envelope downstairs for me. There was nothing in it except a pound note.

I saw him in Brisbane afterwards, well-dressed, getting out of a cab at the entrance of one of the leading hotels. But his manner was no more self-contained and well-to-do than it had been in the old sixpenny days—because it couldn’t be. We had a well-to-do whisky together, and he talked of things in the abstract. He seemed just as if he’d met me in the Australia.

“A Rough Shed”

A hot, breathless, blinding sunrise—the sun having appeared suddenly above the ragged edge of the barren scrub like a great disc of molten steel. No hint of a morning breeze before it, no sign on earth or sky to show that it is morning—save the position of the sun.

A clearing in the scrub—bare as though the surface of the earth were ploughed and harrowed, and dusty as the road. Two oblong huts —one for the shearers and one for the rouseabouts— in about the centre of the clearing (as if even the mongrel scrub had shrunk away from them) built end-to-end, of weatherboards, and roofed with galvanised iron. Little ventilation; no verandah; no attempt to create, artificially, a breath of air through the buildings. Unpainted, sordid—hideous. Outside, heaps of ashes still hot and smoking. Close at hand, “butcher’s shop”—a bush and bag breakwind in the dust, under a couple of sheets of iron, with offal, grease and clotted blood blackening the surface of the ground about it. Greasy, stinking sheepskins hanging everywhere with blood-blotched sides out. Grease inches deep in great black patches about the fireplace ends of the huts, where wash-up and “boiling” water is thrown.

Inside, a rough table on supports driven into the black, greasy ground floor, and formed of flooring boards, running on uneven lines the length of the hut from within about 6ft. of the fire-place. Lengths of single six-inch boards or slabs on each side, supported by the projecting ends of short pieces of timber nailed across the legs of the table to serve as seats.

On each side of the hut runs a rough framework, like the partitions in a stable; each compartment battened off to about the size of a manger, and containing four bunks, one above the other, on each side— their ends, of course, to the table. Scarcely breathing space anywhere between. Fireplace, the full width of the hut in one end, where all the cooking and baking for forty or fifty men is done, and where flour, sugar, etc., are kept in open bags. Fire, like a very furnace. Buckets of tea and coffee on roasting beds of coals and ashes on the hearth. Pile of “brownie” on the bare black boards at the end of the table. Unspeakable aroma of forty or fifty men who have little inclination and less opportunity to wash their skins, and who soak some of the grease out of their clothes —in buckets of hot water—on Saturday afternoons or Sundays. And clinging to all, and over all, the smell of the dried, stale yolk of wool —the stink of rams!

* * * * * * * * *

“I am a rouseabout of the rouseabouts. I have fallen so far that it is beneath me to try to climb to the proud position of ‘ringer’ of the shed. I had that ambition once, when I was the softest of green hands; but then I thought I could work out my salvation and go home. I’ve got used to hell since then. I only get twenty-five shillings a week (less station store charges) and tucker here. I have been seven years west of the Darling and never shore a sheep. Why don’t I learn to shear, and so make money? What should I do with more money? Get out of this and go home? I would never go home unless I had enough money to keep me for the rest of my life, and I’ll never make that Out Back. Otherwise, what should I do at home? And how should I account for the seven years, if I were to go home? Could I describe shed life to them and explain how I lived. They think shearing only takes a few days of the year—at the beginning of summer. They’d want to know how I lived the rest of the year. Could I explain that I ‘jabbed trotters’ and was a ‘tea-and-sugar burglar’ between sheds. They’d think I’d been a tramp and a beggar all the time. Could I explain anything so that they’d understand? I’d have to be lying all the time and would soon be tripped up and found out. For, whatever else I have been I was never much of a liar. No, I’ll never go home.

“I become momentarily conscious about daylight. The flies on the track got me into that habit, I think; they start at day-break— when the mosquitoes give over.

“The cook rings a bullock bell.

“The cook is fire-proof. He is as a fiend from the nethermost sheol and needs to be. No man sees him sleep, for he makes bread —or worse, brownie—at night, and he rings a bullock bell loudly at half-past five in the morning to rouse us from our animal torpors. Others, the sheep-ho’s or the engine-drivers at the shed or wool-wash, call him, if he does sleep. They manage it in shifts, somehow, and sleep somewhere, sometime. We haven’t time to know. The cook rings the bullock bell and yells the time. It was the same time five minutes ago—or a year ago. No time to decide which. I dash water over my head and face and slap handfuls on my eyelids —gummed over aching eyes—still blighted by the yolk o’ wool— grey, greasy-feeling water from a cut-down kerosene tin which I sneaked from the cook and hid under my bunk and had the foresight to refill from the cask last night, under cover of warm, still, suffocating darkness. Or was it the night before last? Anyhow, it will be sneaked from me to-day, and from the crawler who will collar it to-morrow, and ‘touched’ and ‘lifted’ and ‘collared’ and recovered by the cook, and sneaked back again, and cause foul language, and fights, maybe, till we ‘cut-out’.

“No; we didn’t have sweet dreams of home and mother, gentle poet— nor yet of babbling brooks and sweethearts, and love’s young dream. We are too dirty and dog-tired when we tumble down, and have too little time to sleep it off. We don’t want to dream those dreams out here— they’d only be nightmares for us, and we’d wake to remember. We mustn’t remember here.

“At the edge of the timber a great galvanised-iron shed, nearly all roof, coming down to within 6ft. 6in. of the ‘board’ over the ‘shoots’. Cloud of red dust in the dead timber behind, going up—noon-day dust. Fence covered with skins; carcases being burned; blue smoke going straight up as in noonday. Great glossy (greasy-glossy) black crows ‘flopping’ around.

“The first syren has gone. We hurry in single files from opposite ends of rouseabouts’ and shearers’ huts (as the paths happen to run to the shed) gulping hot tea or coffee from a pint-pot in one hand and biting at a junk of brownie in the other.

“Shed of forty hands. Shearers rush the pens and yank out sheep and throw them like demons; grip them with their knees, take up machines, jerk the strings; and with a rattling whirring roar the great machine-shed starts for the day.

“‘Go it, you —— tigers!’ yells a tar-boy. ‘Wool away!’ ‘Tar!’ ‘Sheep Ho!’ We rush through with a whirring roar till breakfast time.

“We seize our tin plate from the pile, knife and fork from the candle-box, and crowd round the camp-oven to jab out lean chops, dry as chips, boiled in fat. Chops or curry-and-rice. There is some growling and cursing. We slip into our places without removing our hats. There’s no time to hunt for mislaid hats when the whistle goes. Row of hat brims, level, drawn over eyes, or thrust back—according to characters or temperaments. Thrust back denotes a lucky absence of brains, I fancy. Row of forks going up, or jabbing, or poised, loaded, waiting for last mouthful to be bolted.

“We pick up, sweep, tar, sew wounds, catch sheep that break from the pens, jump down and pick up those that can’t rise at the bottom of the shoots, ‘bring-my-combs-from-the-grinder-will-yer,’ laugh at dirty jokes, and swear—and, in short, are the ‘will-yer’ slaves, body and soul, of seven, six, five, or four shearers, according to the distance from the rolling tables.

“The shearer on the board at the shed is a demon. He gets so much a hundred; we, 25s. a week. He is not supposed, by the rules of the shed, the Union, and humanity, to take a sheep out of the pen after the bell goes (smoke-ho, meals, or knock-off), but his watch is hanging on the post, and he times himself to get so many sheep out of the pen before the bell goes, and one more—the ‘bell-sheep’—as it is ringing. We have to take the last fleece to the table and leave our board clean. We go through the day of eight hours in runs of about an hour and 20 minutes between smoke-ho’s—from 6 to 6. If the shearers shore 200 instead of 100, they’d get 2 Pounds a day instead of 1 Pound, and we’d have twice as much work to do for our 25s. per week. But the shearers are racing each other for tallies. And it’s no use kicking. There is no God here and no Unionism (though we all have tickets). But what am I growling about? I’ve worked from 6 to 6 with no smoke-ho’s for half the wages, and food we wouldn’t give the sheep-ho dog. It’s the bush growl, born of heat, flies, and dust. I’d growl now if I had a thousand a year. We must growl, swear, and some of us drink to d.t.’s, or go mad sober.

“Pants and shirts stiff with grease as though a couple of pounds of soft black putty were spread on with a painter’s knife.

“No, gentle bard!—we don’t sing at our work. Over the whirr and roar and hum all day long, and with iteration that is childish and irritating to the intelligent greenhand, float unthinkable adjectives and adverbs, addressed to jumbucks, jackaroos, and mates indiscriminately. And worse words for the boss over the board—behind his back.

“I came of a Good Christian Family—perhaps that’s why I went to the Devil. When I came out here I’d shrink from the man who used foul language. In a short time I used it with the worst. I couldn’t help it.

“That’s the way of it. If I went back to a woman’s country again I wouldn’t swear. I’d forget this as I would a nightmare. That’s the way of it. There’s something of the larrikin about us. We don’t exist individually. Off the board, away from the shed (and each other) we are quiet—even gentle.

“A great-horned ram, in poor condition, but shorn of a heavy fleece, picks himself up at the foot of the ‘shoot’, and hesitates, as if ashamed to go down to the other end where the ewes are. The most ridiculous object under Heaven.

“A tar-boy of fifteen, of the bush, with a mouth so vile that a street-boy, same age (up with a shearing uncle), kicks him behind—having proved his superiority with his fists before the shed started. Of which unspeakable little fiend the roughest shearer of a rough shed was heard to say, in effect, that if he thought there was the slightest possibility of his becoming the father of such a boy he’d——take drastic measures to prevent the possibility of his becoming a proud parent at all.

“Twice a day the cooks and their familiars carry buckets of oatmeal-water and tea to the shed, two each on a yoke. We cry, ‘Where are you coming to, my pretty maids?’

“In ten minutes the surfaces of the buckets are black with flies. We have given over trying to keep them clear. We stir the living cream aside with the bottoms of the pints, and guzzle gallons, and sweat it out again. Occasionally a shearer pauses and throws the perspiration from his forehead in a rain.

“Shearers live in such a greedy rush of excitement that often a strong man will, at a prick of the shears, fall in a death-like faint on the board.

“We hate the Boss-of-the-Board as the shearers’ ‘slushy’ hates the shearers’ cook. I don’t know why. He’s a very fair boss.

“He refused to put on a traveller yesterday, and the traveller knocked him down. He walked into the shed this morning with his hat back and thumbs in waistcoat—a tribute to man’s weakness. He threatened to dismiss the traveller’s mate, a bigger man, for rough shearing—a tribute to man’s strength. The shearer said nothing. We hate the boss because he is boss, but we respect him because he is a strong man. He is as hard up as any of us, I hear, and has a sick wife and a large, small family in Melbourne. God judge us all!

“There is a gambling-school here, headed by the shearers’ cook. After tea they head-’em, and advance cheques are passed from hand to hand, and thrown in the dust until they are black. When it’s too dark to see with nose to the ground, they go inside and gamble with cards. Sometimes they start on Saturday afternoon, heading ’em till dark, play cards all night, start again heading ’em Sunday afternoon, play cards all Sunday night, and sleep themselves sane on Monday, or go to work ghastly—like dead men.

“Cry of ‘Fight’; we all rush out. But there isn’t much fighting. Afraid of murdering each other. I’m beginning to think that most bush crime is due to irritation born of dust, heat, and flies.

“The smothering atmosphere shudders when the sun goes down. We call it the sunset breeze.

“Saturday night or Sunday we’re invited into the shearers’ hut. There are songs that are not hymns and recitations and speeches that are not prayers.

“Last Sunday night: Slush lamps at long intervals on table. Men playing cards, sewing on patches—(nearly all smoking)— some writing, and the rest reading Deadwood Dick. At one end of the table a Christian Endeavourer endeavouring; at the other a cockney Jew, from the hawker’s boat, trying to sell rotten clothes. In response to complaints, direct and not chosen generally for Sunday, the shearers’ rep. requests both apostles to shut up or leave.

“He couldn’t be expected to take the Christian and leave the Jew, any more than he could take the Jew and leave the Christian. We are just amongst ourselves in our hell.

 * * * * * * * * *

“Fiddle at the end of rouseabouts’ hut. Voice of Jackeroo, from upper bunk with apologetic oaths: ‘For God’s sake chuck that up; it makes a man think of blanky old things!’

“A lost soul laughs (mine) and dreadful night smothers us.”

Payable Gold

Among the crowds who left the Victorian side for New South Wales about the time Gulgong broke out was an old Ballarat digger named Peter McKenzie. He had married and retired from the mining some years previously and had made a home for himself and family at the village of St. Kilda, near Melbourne; but, as was often the case with old diggers, the gold fever never left him, and when the fields of New South Wales began to blaze he mortgaged his little property in order to raise funds for another campaign, leaving sufficient behind him to keep his wife and family in comfort for a year or so.

As he often remarked, his position was now very different from what it had been in the old days when he first arrived from Scotland, in the height of the excitement following on the great discovery. He was a young man then with only himself to look out for, but now that he was getting old and had a family to provide for he had staked too much on this venture to lose. His position did certainly look like a forlorn hope, but he never seemed to think so.

Peter must have been very lonely and low-spirited at times. A young or unmarried man can form new ties, and even make new sweethearts if necessary, but Peter’s heart was with his wife and little ones at home, and they were mortgaged, as it were, to Dame Fortune. Peter had to lift this mortgage off.

Nevertheless he was always cheerful, even at the worst of times, and his straight grey beard and scrubby brown hair encircled a smile which appeared to be a fixture. He had to make an effort in order to look grave, such as some men do when they want to force a smile.

It was rumoured that Peter had made a vow never to return home until he could take sufficient wealth to make his all-important family comfortable, or, at least, to raise the mortgage from the property, for the sacrifice of which to his mad gold fever he never forgave himself. But this was one of the few things which Peter kept to himself.

The fact that he had a wife and children at St. Kilda was well known to all the diggers. They had to know it, and if they did not know the age, complexion, history and peculiarities of every child and of the “old woman” it was not Peter’s fault.

He would cross over to our place and talk to the mother for hours about his wife and children. And nothing pleased him better than to discover peculiarities in us children wherein we resembled his own. It pleased us also for mercenary reasons. “It’s just the same with my old woman,” or “It’s just the same with my youngsters,” Peter would exclaim boisterously, for he looked upon any little similarity between the two families as a remarkable coincidence. He liked us all, and was always very kind to us, often standing between our backs and the rod that spoils the child—that is, I mean, if it isn’t used. I was very short-tempered, but this failing was more than condoned by the fact that Peter’s “eldest” was given that way also. Mother’s second son was very good-natured; so was Peter’s third. Her “third” had a great aversion for any duty that threatened to increase his muscles; so had Peter’s “second”. Our baby was very fat and heavy and was given to sucking her own thumb vigorously, and, according to the latest bulletins from home, it was just the same with Peter’s “last”.

I think we knew more about Peter’s family than we did about our own. Although we had never seen them, we were as familiar with their features as the photographer’s art could make us, and always knew their domestic history up to the date of the last mail.

We became interested in the McKenzie family. Instead of getting bored by them as some people were, we were always as much pleased when Peter got a letter from home as he was himself, and if a mail were missed, which seldom happened—we almost shared his disappointment and anxiety. Should one of the youngsters be ill, we would be quite uneasy, on Peter’s account, until the arrival of a later bulletin removed his anxiety, and ours.

It must have been the glorious power of a big true heart that gained for Peter the goodwill and sympathy of all who knew him.

Peter’s smile had a peculiar fascination for us children. We would stand by his pointing forge when he’d be sharpening picks in the early morning, and watch his face for five minutes at a time, wondering sometimes whether he was always smiling inside, or whether the smile went on externally irrespective of any variation in Peter’s condition of mind.

I think it was the latter case, for often when he had received bad news from home we have heard his voice quaver with anxiety, while the old smile played on his round, brown features just the same.

Little Nelse (one of those queer old-man children who seem to come into the world by mistake, and who seldom stay long) used to say that Peter “cried inside”.

Once, on Gulgong, when he attended the funeral of an old Ballarat mate, a stranger who had been watching his face curiously remarked that McKenzie seemed as pleased as though the dead digger had bequeathed him a fortune. But the stranger had soon reason to alter his opinion, for when another old mate began in a tremulous voice to repeat the words “Ashes to ashes, an’ dust to dust,” two big tears suddenly burst from Peter’s eyes, and hurried down to get entrapped in his beard.

Peter’s goldmining ventures were not successful. He sank three duffers in succession on Gulgong, and the fourth shaft, after paying expenses, left a little over a hundred to each party, and Peter had to send the bulk of his share home. He lived in a tent (or in a hut when he could get one) after the manner of diggers, and he “did for himself”, even to washing his own clothes. He never drank nor “played”, and he took little enjoyment of any kind, yet there was not a digger on the field who would dream of calling old Peter McKenzie “a mean man”. He lived, as we know from our own observations, in a most frugal manner. He always tried to hide this, and took care to have plenty of good things for us when he invited us to his hut; but children’s eyes are sharp. Some said that Peter half-starved himself, but I don’t think his family ever knew, unless he told them so afterwards.

Ah, well! the years go over. Peter was now three years from home, and he and Fortune were enemies still. Letters came by the mail, full of little home troubles and prayers for Peter’s return, and letters went back by the mail, always hopeful, always cheerful. Peter never gave up. When everything else failed he would work by the day (a sad thing for a digger), and he was even known to do a job of fencing until such time as he could get a few pounds and a small party together to sink another shaft.

Talk about the heroic struggles of early explorers in a hostile country; but for dogged determination and courage in the face of poverty, illness, and distance, commend me to the old-time digger—the truest soldier Hope ever had!

In the fourth year of his struggle Peter met with a terrible disappointment. His party put down a shaft called the Forlorn Hope near Happy Valley, and after a few weeks’ fruitless driving his mates jibbed on it. Peter had his own opinion about the ground—an old digger’s opinion, and he used every argument in his power to induce his mates to put a few days’ more work in the claim. In vain he pointed out that the quality of the wash and the dip of the bottom exactly resembled that of the “Brown Snake”, a rich Victorian claim. In vain he argued that in the case of the abovementioned claim, not a colour could be got until the payable gold was actually reached. Home Rule and The Canadian and that cluster of fields were going ahead, and his party were eager to shift. They remained obstinate, and at last, half-convinced against his opinion, Peter left with them to sink the “Iawatha”, in Log Paddock, which turned out a rank duffer— not even paying its own expenses.

A party of Italians entered the old claim and, after driving it a few feet further, made their fortune.

* * * * * * * * *

We all noticed the change in Peter McKenzie when he came to “Log Paddock”, whither we had shifted before him. The old smile still flickered, but he had learned to “look” grave for an hour at a time without much effort. He was never quite the same after the affair of Forlorn Hope, and I often think how he must have “cried” sometimes “inside”.

However, he still read us letters from home, and came and smoked in the evening by our kitchen-fire. He showed us some new portraits of his family which he had received by a late mail, but something gave me the impression that the portraits made him uneasy. He had them in his possession for nearly a week before showing them to us, and to the best of our knowledge he never showed them to anybody else. Perhaps they reminded him of the flight of time—perhaps he would have preferred his children to remain just as he left them until he returned.

But stay! there was one portrait that seemed to give Peter infinite pleasure. It was the picture of a chubby infant of about three years or more. It was a fine-looking child taken in a sitting position on a cushion, and arrayed in a very short shirt. On its fat, soft, white face, which was only a few inches above the ten very podgy toes, was a smile something like Peter’s. Peter was never tired of looking at and showing the picture of his child—the child he had never seen. Perhaps he cherished a wild dream of making his fortune and returning home before that child grew up.

* * * * * * * * *

McKenzie and party were sinking a shaft at the upper end of Log Paddock, generally called “The other end”. We were at the lower end.

One day Peter came down from “the other end” and told us that his party expected to “bottom” during the following week, and if they got no encouragement from the wash they intended to go prospecting at the “Happy Thought”, near Specimen Flat.

The shaft in Log Paddock was christened “Nil Desperandum”. Towards the end of the week we heard that the wash in the “Nil” was showing good colours.

Later came the news that “McKenzie and party” had bottomed on payable gold, and the red flag floated over the shaft. Long before the first load of dirt reached the puddling machine on the creek, the news was all round the diggings. The “Nil Desperandum” was a “Golden Hole”!

* * * * * * * * *

We will not forget the day when Peter went home. He hurried down in the morning to have an hour or so with us before Cobb and Co. went by. He told us all about his little cottage by the bay at St. Kilda. He had never spoken of it before, probably because of the mortgage. He told us how it faced the bay—how many rooms it had, how much flower garden, and how on a clear day he could see from the window all the ships that came up to the Yarra, and how with a good telescope he could even distinguish the faces of the passengers on the big ocean liners.

And then, when the mother’s back was turned, he hustled us children round the corner, and surreptitiously slipped a sovereign into each of our dirty hands, making great pantomimic show for silence, for the mother was very independent.

And when we saw the last of Peter’s face setting like a good-humoured sun on the top of Cobb and Co.’s, a great feeling of discontent and loneliness came over all our hearts. Little Nelse, who had been Peter’s favourite, went round behind the pig-stye, where none might disturb him, and sat down on the projecting end of a trough to “have a cry”, in his usual methodical manner. But old “Alligator Desolation”, the dog, had suspicions of what was up, and, hearing the sobs, went round to offer whatever consolation appertained to a damp and dirty nose and a pair of ludicrously doleful yellow eyes.

An Oversight of Steelman’s

Steelman and Smith—professional wanderers—were making back for Wellington, down through the wide and rather dreary-looking Hutt Valley. They were broke. They carried their few remaining belongings in two skimpy, amateurish-looking swags. Steelman had fourpence left. They were very tired and very thirsty—at least Steelman was, and he answered for both. It was Smith’s policy to feel and think just exactly as Steelman did. Said Steelman:

“The landlord of the next pub. is not a bad sort. I won’t go in— he might remember me. You’d best go in. You’ve been tramping round in the Wairarapa district for the last six months, looking for work. You’re going back to Wellington now, to try and get on the new corporation works just being started there—the sewage works. You think you’ve got a show. You’ve got some mates in Wellington, and they’re looking out for a chance for you. You did get a job last week on a sawmill at Silverstream, and the boss sacked you after three days and wouldn’t pay you a penny. That’s just his way. I know him— at least a mate of mine does. I’ve heard of him often enough. His name’s Cowman. Don’t forget the name, whatever you do. The landlord here hates him like poison; he’ll sympathize with you. Tell him you’ve got a mate with you; he’s gone ahead—took a short cut across the paddocks. Tell him you’ve got only fourpence left, and see if he’ll give you a drop in a bottle. Says you: ‘Well, boss, the fact is we’ve only got fourpence, but you might let us have a drop in a bottle’; and very likely he’ll stand you a couple of pints in a gin-bottle. You can fling the coppers on the counter, but the chances are he won’t take them. He’s not a bad sort. Beer’s fourpence a pint out here, same’s in Wellington. See that gin-bottle lying there by the stump; get it and we’ll take it down to the river with us and rinse it out.”

They reached the river bank.

“You’d better take my swag—it looks more decent,” said Steelman. “No, I’ll tell you what we’ll do: we’ll undo both swags and make them into one—one decent swag, and I’ll cut round through the lanes and wait for you on the road ahead of the pub.”

He rolled up the swag with much care and deliberation and considerable judgment. He fastened Smith’s belt round one end of it, and the handkerchiefs round the other, and made a towel serve as a shoulder-strap.

“I wish we had a canvas bag to put it in,” he said, “or a cover of some sort. But never mind. The landlord’s an old Australian bushman, now I come to think of it; the swag looks Australian enough, and it might appeal to his feelings, you know—bring up old recollections. But you’d best not say you come from Australia, because he’s been there, and he’d soon trip you up. He might have been where you’ve been, you know, so don’t try to do too much. You always do mug-up the business when you try to do more than I tell you. You might tell him your mate came from Australia—but no, he might want you to bring me in. Better stick to Maoriland. I don’t believe in too much ornamentation. Plain lies are the best.”

“What’s the landlord’s name?” asked Smith.

“Never mind that. You don’t want to know that. You are not supposed to know him at all. It might look suspicious if you called him by his name, and lead to awkward questions; then you’d be sure to put your foot into it.”

“I could say I read it over the door.”

“Bosh. Travellers don’t read the names over the doors, when they go into pubs. You’re an entire stranger to him. Call him ‘Boss’. Say ‘Good-day, Boss,’ when you go in, and swing down your swag as if you’re used to it. Ease it down like this. Then straighten yourself up, stick your hat back, and wipe your forehead, and try to look as hearty and independent and cheerful as you possibly can. Curse the Government, and say the country’s done. It don’t matter what Government it is, for he’s always against it. I never knew a real Australian that wasn’t. Say that you’re thinking about trying to get over to Australia, and then listen to him talking about it— and try to look interested, too! Get that damned stone-deaf expression off your face! . . . He’ll run Australia down most likely (I never knew an Other-sider that had settled down over here who didn’t). But don’t you make any mistake and agree with him, because, although successful Australians over here like to run their own country down, there’s very few of them that care to hear anybody else do it. . . . Don’t come away as soon as you get your beer. Stay and listen to him for a while, as if you’re interested in his yarning, and give him time to put you on to a job, or offer you one. Give him a chance to ask how you and your mate are off for tobacco or tucker. Like as not he’ll sling you half a crown when you come away—that is, if you work it all right. Now try to think of something to say to him, and make yourself a bit interesting—if you possibly can. Tell him about the fight we saw back at the pub. the other day. He might know some of the chaps. This is a sleepy hole, and there ain’t much news knocking round. . . . I wish I could go in myself, but he’s sure to remember me. I’m afraid he got left the last time I stayed there (so did one or two others); and, besides, I came away without saying good-bye to him, and he might feel a bit sore about it. That’s the worst of travelling on the old road. Come on now, wake up!”

“Bet I’ll get a quart,” said Smith, brightening up, “and some tucker for it to wash down.”

“If you don’t,” said Steelman, “I’ll stoush you. Never mind the bottle; fling it away. It doesn’t look well for a traveller to go into a pub. with an empty bottle in his hand. A real swagman never does. It looks much better to come out with a couple of full ones. That’s what you’ve got to do. Now, come along.”

Steelman turned off into a lane, cut across the paddocks to the road again, and waited for Smith. He hadn’t long to wait.

Smith went on towards the public-house, rehearsing his part as he walked— repeating his “lines” to himself, so as to be sure of remembering all that Steelman had told him to say to the landlord, and adding, with what he considered appropriate gestures, some fancy touches of his own, which he determined to throw in in spite of Steelman’s advice and warning. “I’ll tell him (this)—I’ll tell him (that). Well, look here, boss, I’ll say you’re pretty right and I quite agree with you as far as that’s concerned, but,” &c. And so, murmuring and mumbling to himself, Smith reached the hotel. The day was late, and the bar was small, and low, and dark. Smith walked in with all the assurance he could muster, eased down his swag in a corner in what he no doubt considered the true professional style, and, swinging round to the bar, said in a loud voice which he intended to be cheerful, independent, and hearty:

“Good-day, boss!”

But it wasn’t a “boss”. It was about the hardest-faced old woman that Smith had ever seen. The pub. had changed hands.

“I—I beg your pardon, missus,” stammered poor Smith.

It was a knock-down blow for Smith. He couldn’t come to time. He and Steelman had had a landlord in their minds all the time, and laid their plans accordingly; the possibility of having a she —and one like this—to deal with never entered into their calculations. Smith had no time to reorganise, even if he had had the brains to do so, without the assistance of his mate’s knowledge of human nature.

“I—I beg your pardon, missus,” he stammered.

Painful pause. She sized him up.

“Well, what do you want?”

“Well, missus—I—the fact is—will you give me a bottle of beer for fourpence?”

“Wha—what?”

“I mean——. The fact is, we’ve only got fourpence left, and—I’ve got a mate outside, and you might let us have a quart or so, in a bottle, for that. I mean—anyway, you might let us have a pint. I’m very sorry to bother you, missus.”

But she couldn’t do it. No. Certainly not. Decidedly not! All her drinks were sixpence. She had her license to pay, and the rent, and a family to keep. It wouldn’t pay out there—it wasn’t worth her while. It wouldn’t pay the cost of carting the liquor out, &c., &c.

“Well, missus,” poor Smith blurted out at last, in sheer desperation, “give me what you can in a bottle for this. I’ve—I’ve got a mate outside.” And he put the four coppers on the bar.

“Have you got a bottle?”

“No—but——”

“If I give you one, will you bring it back? You can’t expect me to give you a bottle as well as a drink.”

“Yes, mum; I’ll bring it back directly.”

She reached out a bottle from under the bar, and very deliberately measured out a little over a pint and poured it into the bottle, which she handed to Smith without a cork.

Smith went his way without rejoicing. It struck him forcibly that he should have saved the money until they reached Petone, or the city, where Steelman would be sure to get a decent drink. But how was he to know? He had chanced it, and lost; Steelman might have done the same. What troubled Smith most was the thought of what Steelman would say; he already heard him, in imagination, saying: “You’re a mug, Smith— Smith, you are a mug.”

But Steelman didn’t say much. He was prepared for the worst by seeing Smith come along so soon. He listened to his story with an air of gentle sadness, even as a stern father might listen to the voluntary confession of a wayward child; then he held the bottle up to the fading light of departing day, looked through it (the bottle), and said:

“Well—it ain’t worth while dividing it.”

Smith’s heart shot right down through a hole in the sole of his left boot into the hard road.

“Here, Smith,” said Steelman, handing him the bottle, “drink it, old man; you want it. It wasn’t altogether your fault; it was an oversight of mine. I didn’t bargain for a woman of that kind, and, of course, you couldn’t be expected to think of it. Drink it! Drink it down, Smith. I’ll manage to work the oracle before this night is out.”

Smith was forced to believe his ears, and, recovering from his surprise, drank.

“I promised to take back the bottle,” he said, with the ghost of a smile.

Steelman took the bottle by the neck and broke it on the fence.

“Come on, Smith; I’ll carry the swag for a while.”

And they tramped on in the gathering starlight.

How Steelman told his Story

It was Steelman’s humour, in some of his moods, to take Smith into his confidence, as some old bushmen do their dogs.

“You’re nearly as good as an intelligent sheep-dog to talk to, Smith— when a man gets tired of thinking to himself and wants a relief. You’re a bit of a mug and a good deal of an idiot, and the chances are that you don’t know what I’m driving at half the time— that’s the main reason why I don’t mind talking to you. You ought to consider yourself honoured; it ain’t every man I take into my confidence, even that far.”

Smith rubbed his head.

“I’d sooner talk to you—or a stump—any day than to one of those silent, suspicious, self-contained, worldly-wise chaps that listen to everything you say—sense and rubbish alike—as if you were trying to get them to take shares in a mine. I drop the man who listens to me all the time and doesn’t seem to get bored. He isn’t safe. He isn’t to be trusted. He mostly wants to grind his axe against yours, and there’s too little profit for me where there are two axes to grind, and no stone—though I’d manage it once, anyhow.”

“How’d you do it?” asked Smith.

“There are several ways. Either you join forces, for instance, and find a grindstone—or make one of the other man’s axe. But the last way is too slow, and, as I said, takes too much brain-work— besides, it doesn’t pay. It might satisfy your vanity or pride, but I’ve got none. I had once, when I was younger, but it—well, it nearly killed me, so I dropped it.

“You can mostly trust the man who wants to talk more than you do; he’ll make a safe mate—or a good grindstone.”

Smith scratched the nape of his neck and sat blinking at the fire, with the puzzled expression of a woman pondering over a life-question or the trimming of a hat. Steelman took his chin in his hand and watched Smith thoughtfully.

“I—I say, Steely,” exclaimed Smith, suddenly, sitting up and scratching his head and blinking harder than ever—“wha—what am I?”

“How do you mean?”

“Am I the axe or the grindstone?”

“Oh! your brain seems in extra good working order to-night, Smith. Well, you turn the grindstone and I grind.” Smith settled. “If you could grind better than I, I’d turn the stone and let you grind, I’d never go against the interests of the firm—that’s fair enough, isn’t it?”

“Ye-es,” admitted Smith; “I suppose so.”

“So do I. Now, Smith, we’ve got along all right together for years, off and on, but you never know what might happen. I might stop breathing, for instance—and so might you.”

Smith began to look alarmed.

“Poetical justice might overtake one or both of us—such things have happened before, though not often. Or, say, misfortune or death might mistake us for honest, hard-working mugs with big families to keep, and cut us off in the bloom of all our wisdom. You might get into trouble, and, in that case, I’d be bound to leave you there, on principle; or I might get into trouble, and you wouldn’t have the brains to get me out— though I know you’d be mug enough to try. I might make a rise and cut you, or you might be misled into showing some spirit, and clear out after I’d stoushed you for it. You might get tired of me calling you a mug, and bossing you and making a tool or convenience of you, you know. You might go in for honest graft (you were always a bit weak-minded) and then I’d have to wash my hands of you (unless you agreed to keep me) for an irreclaimable mug. Or it might suit me to become a respected and worthy fellow townsman, and then, if you came within ten miles of me or hinted that you ever knew me, I’d have you up for vagrancy, or soliciting alms, or attempting to levy blackmail. I’d have to fix you—so I give you fair warning. Or we might get into some desperate fix (and it needn’t be very desperate, either) when I’d be obliged to sacrifice you for my own personal safety, comfort, and convenience. Hundreds of things might happen.

“Well, as I said, we’ve been at large together for some years, and I’ve found you sober, trustworthy, and honest; so, in case we do part —as we will sooner or later—and you survive, I’ll give you some advice from my own experience.

“In the first place: If you ever happen to get born again —and it wouldn’t do you much harm—get born with the strength of a bullock and the hide of one as well, and a swelled head, and no brains— at least no more brains than you’ve got now. I was born with a skin like tissue-paper, and brains; also a heart.

“Get born without relatives, if you can: if you can’t help it, clear out on your own just as soon after you’re born as you possibly can. I hung on.

“If you have relations, and feel inclined to help them any time when you’re flush (and there’s no telling what a weak-minded man like you might take it into his head to do)—don’t do it. They’ll get a down on you if you do. It only causes family troubles and bitterness. There’s no dislike like that of a dependant. You’ll get neither gratitude nor civility in the end, and be lucky if you escape with a character. (You’ve got no character, Smith; I’m only just supposing you have.) There’s no hatred too bitter for, and nothing too bad to be said of, the mug who turns. The worst yarns about a man are generally started by his own tribe, and the world believes them at once on that very account. Well, the first thing to do in life is to escape from your friends.

“If you ever go to work—and miracles have happened before— no matter what your wages are, or how you are treated, you can take it for granted that you’re sweated; act on that to the best of your ability, or you’ll never rise in the world. If you go to see a show on the nod you’ll be found a comfortable seat in a good place; but if you pay the chances are the ticket clerk will tell you a lie, and you’ll have to hustle for standing room. The man that doesn’t ante gets the best of this world; anything he’ll stand is good enough for the man that pays. If you try to be too sharp you’ll get into gaol sooner or later; if you try to be too honest the chances are that the bailiff will get into your house—if you have one—and make a holy show of you before the neighbours. The honest softy is more often mistaken for a swindler, and accused of being one, than the out-and-out scamp; and the man that tells the truth too much is set down as an irreclaimable liar. But most of the time crow low and roost high, for it’s a funny world, and you never know what might happen.

“And if you get married (and there’s no accounting for a woman’s taste) be as bad as you like, and then moderately good, and your wife will love you. If you’re bad all the time she can’t stand it for ever, and if you’re good all the time she’ll naturally treat you with contempt. Never explain what you’re going to do, and don’t explain afterwards, if you can help it. If you find yourself between two stools, strike hard for your own self, Smith—strike hard, and you’ll be respected more than if you fought for all the world. Generosity isn’t understood nowadays, and what the people don’t understand is either ‘mad’ or ‘cronk’. Failure has no case, and you can’t build one for it. . . . I started out in life very young—and very soft.”

* * * * * * * * *

“I thought you were going to tell me your story, Steely,” remarked Smith.

Steelman smiled sadly.

 

Over the Sliprails

 

The Shanty-Keeper’s Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s up?” we asked. “What’s the trouble?”

“Oh, it’s all right,” said the driver.

“The publican’s wife is sick,” somebody said, “and he wants us to come quietly.”

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

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

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

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

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

One of the pilgrims broke out here.

“Well of all the pubs,” he began, “that I’ve ever—”

“Hush-sh-sh!” said the publican.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But dash it all,” said the Pilgrim, “me and my mate—”

“Hush!” said the publican.

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

“Dunno,” he grunted. “Might be three or four hours. It’s all accordin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But look here,” protested the Pilgrim, “we must catch the train at Dead Camel—”

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

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

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

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

“Well,” yawned the joker, “I’m not going to roost on a stump all night. I’m going to turn in.”

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

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

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

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

“Take yer seats.”

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

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

There was a spell of grumbling. Presently someone said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Must have kept her in the stable,” suggested the Joker.

“No, she wasn’t, for Scotty and that chap on the roof was there after bags.”

“She might have been in the loft,” reflected the Joker.

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

“I say, Mister—Mister man,” said the Joker suddenly to the driver, “Was his missus sick at all?”

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

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

“I believe he has.”

“And is she living with him?”

“No, she ain’t—if yer wanter know.”

“Then where is she?”

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

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

“No—not that I knows on. There useter be a old black gin come pottering round sometimes, but I ain’t seen her lately.”

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

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

There was a long pause.

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

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

* * * * * * * * *

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

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

* * * * * * * * *

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

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

A Gentleman Sharper and Steelman Sharper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There never was a fortune made that wasn’t made by chancing it.”

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

“Well, what was he saying?”

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

“And isn’t he worth three hundred?”

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

“Yes.... But why doesn’t he wire to Sydney for some stuff?”

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

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

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

“Oh—I see!” said Smith, after hesitating, and rather slowly—as if he hadn’t quite finished seeing yet.

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

“He said if he had three hundred, he’d double it by Saturday?”

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

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

“Yes. What are you driving at now?”

“If he had twenty—”

“Oh, God! I’m sick of you, Smith. What the—!”

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

After some snarling Steelman said: “Well, I’ll try him! Now are you satisfied?”...

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

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

“Come for a stroll,” suggested the professional.

“I don’t mind,” said Steelman.

“Have a cigar?” and they passed out.

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

“How much stuff have we got, Smith?”

“Nine pounds seventeen and threepence.”

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

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

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

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

“Well... I tried the water.”

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

“Just as warm as I thought. Warm for a big splash.”

“How? Did you lose the ten quid?”

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

“Fifty pounds for twenty?”

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

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

“There’s my hand on it,” as they reached the hotel.

“If you come to my room I’ll give you the 25 Pounds now, if you like.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” exclaimed Steelman impulsively; “you mustn’t think I don’t—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s twenty-one sovereigns there!” remarked Steelman casually.

“Yes?”

“Ten of ’em’s yours.”

“Thank yer, Steely.”

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

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

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

“A what?”

“A tract. Go on. Start your boots.”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

“Yes.”

“You could take your oath on it?”

“Yes.”

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

“Why, Steely, what’s the matter with you?”

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

“Put the stuff away, Smith.”

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

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

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

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

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

An Incident at Stiffner’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s as good as you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hero of Redclay

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

“You’ve got three fleeces there, young man?”

“Yes.”

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

“If I catch you carrying three fleeces again,” said the boss quietly, “I’ll give you the sack.”

“I’ll take it now if you like,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You seem mighty thick with the Lachlan,” I said.

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

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

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

“Joe! I’ll tell you a yarn.”

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

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

“All right. Go ahead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She said, ‘Good morning, Mr. Mitchell.’

“I said, ‘Good morning, Miss.’

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

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

“Smoke-oh, Joe. The tea’s stewing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There is something in a deaf person’s being roused easily. I know the case of a deaf chap who’d start up at a step or movement in the house when no one else could hear or feel it; keen sense of vibration, I reckon. Well, just at daybreak (to shorten the yarn) the banker woke suddenly, he said, and heard a crack like a shot in the house. There was a loose flooring-board in the passage that went off like a pistol-shot sometimes when you trod on it; and I guess Jack Drew trod on it, sneaking out, and he weighed nearly twelve stone. If the truth were known, he probably heard Browne poking round, tried the window, found the sash jammed, and was slipping through the passage to the back door. Browne got his revolver, opened his door suddenly, and caught Drew standing between the girl’s door (which was shut) and the office door, with his coat on his arm and his boots in his hands. Browne covered him with his revolver, swore he’d shoot if he moved, and yelled for help. Drew stood a moment like a man stunned; then he rushed Browne, and in the struggle the revolver went off, and Drew got hit in the arm. Two of the mounted troopers—who’d been up looking to the horses for an early start somewhere—rushed in then, and took Drew. He had nothing to say. What could he say? He couldn’t say he was a blackguard who’d taken advantage of a poor unprotected girl because she loved him. They found the back door unlocked, by the way, which was put down to the burglar; of course Browne couldn’t explain that he came home too muddled to lock doors after him.

“And the girl? She shrieked and fell when the row started, and they found her like a log on the floor of her room after it was over.

“They found in Jack’s overcoat pocket a parcel containing a cold chisel, small screw-wrench, file, and one or two other things that he’d bought that evening to tinker up the old printing press. I knew that, because I’d lent him a hand a few nights before, and he told me he’d have to get the tools. They found some scratches round the key-hole and knob of the office door that I’d made myself, scraping old splashes of paint off the brass and hand-plate so as to make a clean finish. Oh, it taught me the value of circumstantial evidence! If I was judge I wouldn’t give a man till the ‘risin’ av the coort’ on it, any more than I would on the bare word of the noblest woman breathing.

“At the preliminary examination Jack Drew said he was guilty. But it seemed that, according to law, he couldn’t be guilty until after he was committed. So he was committed for trial at the next Quarter Sessions. The excitement and gabble were worse than the Dean case, or Federation, and sickened me, for they were all on the wrong track. You lose a lot of life through being behind the scenes. But they cooled down presently to wait for the trial.

“They thought it best to take the girl away from the place where she’d got the shock; so the Doctor took her to his house, where he had an old housekeeper who was as deaf as a post—a first class recommendation for a housekeeper anywhere. He got a nurse from Sydney to attend on Ruth Wilson, and no one except he and the nurse were allowed to go near her. She lay like dead, they said, except when she had to be held down raving; brain fever, they said, brought on by the shock of the attempted burglary and pistol shot. Dr. Lebinski had another doctor up from Sydney at his own expense, but nothing could save her—and perhaps it was as well. She might have finished her life in a lunatic asylum. They were going to send her to Sydney, to a brain hospital; but she died a week before the Sessions. She was right-headed for an hour, they said, and asking all the time for Jack. The Doctor told her he was all right and was coming—and, waiting and listening for him, she died.

“The case was black enough against Drew now. I knew he wouldn’t have the pluck to tell the truth now, even if he was that sort of a man. I didn’t know what to do, so I spoke to the Doctor straight. I caught him coming out of the Royal, and walked along the road with him a bit. I suppose he thought I was going to show cause why his doors ought to have another coat of varnish.

“‘Hallo, Mitchell!’ he said, ‘how’s painting?’

“‘Doctor!’ I said, ‘what am I going to do about this business?’

“‘What business?’

“‘Jack Drew’s.’

“He looked at me sideways—the swift haunted look. Then he walked on without a word, for half a dozen yards, hands behind, and studying the dust. Then he asked, quite quietly:

“‘Do you know the truth?’

“‘Yes!’

“About a dozen yards this time; then he said:

“‘I’ll see him in the morning, and see you afterwards,’ and he shook hands and went on home.

“Next day he came to me where I was doing a job on a step ladder. He leaned his elbow against the steps for a moment, and rubbed his hand over his forehead, as if it ached and he was tired.

“‘I’ve seen him, Mitchell,’ he said.

“‘Yes.’

“‘You were mates with him, once, Out Back?’

“‘I was.’

“‘You know Drew’s hand-writing?’

“‘I should think so.’

“He laid a leaf from a pocketbook on top of the steps. I read the message written in pencil:

“‘To Jack Mitchell.—We were mates on the track. If you know anything of my affair, don’t give it away.—J. D.’

“I tore the leaf and dropped the bits into the paint-pot.

“‘That’s all right, Doctor,’ I said; ‘but is there no way?’

“‘None.’

“He turned away, wearily. He’d knocked about so much over the world that he was past bothering about explaining things or being surprised at anything. But he seemed to get a new idea about me; he came back to the steps again, and watched my brush for a while, as if he was thinking, in a broody sort of way, of throwing up his practice and going in for house-painting. Then he said, slowly and deliberately:

“‘If she—the girl—had lived, we might have tried to fix it up quietly. That’s what I was hoping for. I don’t see how we can help him now, even if he’d let us. He would never have spoken, anyway. We must let it go on, and after the trial I’ll go to Sydney and see what I can do at headquarters. It’s too late now. You understand, Mitchell?’

“‘Yes. I’ve thought it out.’

“Then he went away towards the Royal.

“And what could Jack Drew or we do? Study it out whatever way you like. There was only one possible chance to help him, and that was to go to the judge; and the judge that happened to be on that circuit was a man who—even if he did listen to the story and believe it—would have felt inclined to give Jack all the more for what he was charged with. Browne was out of the question. The day before the trial I went for a long walk in the bush, but couldn’t hit on anything that the Doctor might have missed.

“I was in the court—I couldn’t keep away. The Doctor was there too. There wasn’t so much of a change in Jack as I expected, only he had the gaol white in his face already. He stood fingering the rail, as if it was the edge of a table on a platform and he was a tired and bored and sleepy chairman waiting to propose a vote of thanks.”

The only well-known man in Australia who reminds me of Mitchell is Bland Holt, the comedian. Mitchell was about as good hearted as Bland Holt, too, under it all; but he was bigger and roughened by the bush. But he seemed to be taking a heavy part to-night, for, towards the end of his yarn, he got up and walked up and down the length of my bed, dropping the sentences as he turned towards me. He’d folded his arms high and tight, and his face in the moonlight was—well, it was very different from his careless tone of voice. He was like—like an actor acting tragedy and talking comedy. Mitchell went on, speaking quickly—his voice seeming to harden:

* * * * * * * * *

“The charge was read out—I forget how it went—it sounded like a long hymn being given out. Jack pleaded guilty. Then he straightened up for the first time and looked round the court, with a calm, disinterested look—as if we were all strangers and he was noting the size of the meeting. And—it’s a funny world, ain’t it?—everyone of us shifted or dropped his eyes, just as if we were the felons and Jack the judge. Everyone except the Doctor; he looked at Jack and Jack looked at him. Then the Doctor smiled—I can’t describe it—and Drew smiled back. It struck me afterwards that I should have been in that smile. Then the Doctor did what looked like a strange thing—stood like a soldier with his hands to Attention. I’d noticed that, whenever he’d made up his mind to do a thing, he dropped his hands to his sides: it was a sign that he couldn’t be moved. Now he slowly lifted his hand to his forehead, palm out, saluted the prisoner, turned on his heel, and marched from the court-room. ‘He’s boozin’ again,’ someone whispered. ‘He’s got a touch of ’em.’

‘My oath, he’s ratty!’ said someone else. One of the traps said:

“‘Arder in the car-rt!’

“The judge gave it to Drew red-hot on account of the burglary being the cause of the girl’s death and the sorrow in a respectable family; then he gave him five years’ hard.

“It gave me a lot of confidence in myself to see the law of the land barking up the wrong tree, while only I and the Doctor and the prisoner knew it. But I’ve found out since then that the law is often the only one that knows it’s barking up the wrong tree.”

* * * * * * * * *

Mitchell prepared to turn in.

“And what about Drew,” I asked.

“Oh, he did his time, or most of it. The Doctor went to headquarters, but either a drunken doctor from a geebung town wasn’t of much account, or they weren’t taking any romance just then at headquarters. So the Doctor came back, drank heavily, and one frosty morning they found him on his back on the bank of the creek, with his face like note-paper where the blood hadn’t dried on it, and an old pistol in his hand—that he’d used, they said, to shoot Cossacks from horseback when he was a young dude fighting in the bush in Poland.”

Mitchell lay silent a good while; then he yawned.

“Ah, well! It’s a lonely track the Lachlan’s tramping to-night; but I s’pose he’s got his ghosts with him.”

I’d been puzzling for the last half-hour to think where I’d met or heard of Jack Drew; now it flashed on me that I’d been told that Jack Drew was the Lachlan’s real name.

I lay awake thinking a long time, and wished Mitchell had kept his yarn for daytime. I felt—well, I felt as if the Lachlan’s story should have been played in the biggest theatre in the world, by the greatest actors, with music for the intervals and situations—deep, strong music, such as thrills and lifts a man from his boot soles. And when I got to sleep I hadn’t slept a moment, it seemed to me, when I started wide awake to see those infernal hanging boughs with a sort of nightmare idea that the Lachlan hadn’t gone, or had come back, and he and Mitchell had hanged themselves sociably—Mitchell for sympathy and the sake of mateship.

But Mitchell was sleeping peacefully, in spite of a path of moonlight across his face—and so was the pup.

The Darling River

The Darling—which is either a muddy gutter or a second Mississippi—is about six times as long as the distance, in a straight line, from its head to its mouth. The state of the river is vaguely but generally understood to depend on some distant and foreign phenomena to which bushmen refer in an off-hand tone of voice as “the Queenslan’ rains”, which seem to be held responsible, in a general way, for most of the out-back trouble.

It takes less than a year to go up stream by boat to Walgett or Bourke in a dry season; but after the first three months the passengers generally go ashore and walk. They get sick of being stuck in the same sort of place, in the same old way; they grow weary of seeing the same old “whaler” drop his swag on the bank opposite whenever the boat ties up for wood; they get tired of lending him tobacco, and listening to his ideas, which are limited in number and narrow in conception.

It shortens the journey to get out and walk; but then you will have to wait so long for your luggage—unless you hump it with you.

We heard of a man who determined to stick to a Darling boat and travel the whole length of the river. He was a newspaper man. He started on his voyage of discovery one Easter in flood-time, and a month later the captain got bushed between the Darling and South Australian border. The waters went away before he could find the river again, and left his boat in a scrub. They had a cargo of rations, and the crew stuck to the craft while the tucker lasted; when it gave out they rolled up their swags and went to look for a station, but didn’t find one. The captain would study his watch and the sun, rig up dials and make out courses, and follow them without success. They ran short of water, and didn’t smell any for weeks; they suffered terrible privations, and lost three of their number, not including the newspaper liar. There are even dark hints considering the drawing of lots in connection with something too terrible to mention. They crossed a thirty-mile plain at last, and sighted a black gin. She led them to a boundary rider’s hut, where they were taken in and provided with rations and rum.

Later on a syndicate was formed to explore the country and recover the boat; but they found her thirty miles from the river and about eighteen from the nearest waterhole deep enough to float her, so they left her there. She’s there still, or else the man that told us about it is the greatest liar Out Back.

* * * * * * * * *

Imagine the hull of a North Shore ferry boat, blunted a little at the ends and cut off about a foot below the water-line, and parallel to it, then you will have something shaped somewhat like the hull of a Darling mud-rooter. But the river boat is much stronger. The boat we were on was built and repaired above deck after the different ideas of many bush carpenters, of whom the last seemed by his work to have regarded the original plan with a contempt only equalled by his disgust at the work of the last carpenter but one. The wheel was boxed in, mostly with round sapling-sticks fastened to the frame with bunches of nails and spikes of all shapes and sizes, most of them bent. The general result was decidedly picturesque in its irregularity, but dangerous to the mental welfare of any passenger who was foolish enough to try to comprehend the design; for it seemed as though every carpenter had taken the opportunity to work in a little abstract idea of his own.

The way they “dock” a Darling River boat is beautiful for its simplicity. They choose a place where there are two stout trees about the boat’s length apart, and standing on a line parallel to the river. They fix pulley-blocks to the trees, lay sliding planks down into the water, fasten a rope to one end of the steamer, and take the other end through the block attached to the tree and thence back aboard a second steamer; then they carry a rope similarly from the other end through the block on the second tree, and aboard a third boat. At a given signal one boat leaves for Wentworth, and the other starts for the Queensland border. The consequence is that craft number one climbs the bank amid the cheers of the local loafers, who congregate and watch the proceedings with great interest and approval. The crew pitch tents, and set to work on the hull, which looks like a big, rough shallow box.

* * * * * * * * *

We once travelled on the Darling for a hundred miles or so on a boat called the ‘Mud Turtle’—at least, that’s what we called her. She might reasonably have haunted the Mississippi fifty years ago. She didn’t seem particular where she went, or whether she started again or stopped for good after getting stuck. Her machinery sounded like a chapter of accidents and was always out of order, but she got along all the same, provided the steersman kept her off the bank.

Her skipper was a young man, who looked more like a drover than a sailor, and the crew bore a greater resemblance to the unemployed than to any other body we know of, except that they looked a little more independent. They seemed clannish, too, with an unemployed or free-labour sort of isolation. We have an idea that they regarded our personal appearance with contempt.

* * * * * * * * *

Above Louth we picked up a “whaler”, who came aboard for the sake of society and tobacco. Not that he hoped to shorten his journey; he had no destination. He told us many reckless and unprincipled lies, and gave us a few ornamental facts. One of them took our fancy, and impressed us—with its beautiful simplicity, I suppose. He said: “Some miles above where the Darlin’ and the Warrygo runs inter each other, there’s a billygong runnin’ right across between the two rivers and makin’ a sort of tryhangular hyland; ’n’ I can tel’yer a funny thing about it.” Here he paused to light his pipe. “Now,” he continued, impressively, jerking the match overboard, “when the Darlin’s up, and the Warrygo’s low, the billygong runs from the Darlin’ into the Warrygo; and, when the Warrygo’s up ’n’ the Darlin’s down, the waters runs from the Warrygo ’n’ inter the Darlin’.”

What could be more simple?

The steamer was engaged to go up a billabong for a load of shearers from a shed which was cutting out; and first it was necessary to tie up in the river and discharge the greater portion of the cargo in order that the boat might safely negotiate the shallow waters. A local fisherman, who volunteered to act as pilot, was taken aboard, and after he was outside about a pint of whisky he seemed to have the greatest confidence in his ability to take us to hell, or anywhere else—at least, he said so. A man was sent ashore with blankets and tucker to mind the wool, and we crossed the river, butted into the anabranch, and started out back. Only the Lord and the pilot know how we got there. We travelled over the bush, through its branches sometimes, and sometimes through grass and mud, and every now and then we struck something that felt and sounded like a collision. The boat slid down one hill, and “fetched” a stump at the bottom with a force that made every mother’s son bite his tongue or break a tooth.

The shearers came aboard next morning, with their swags and two cartloads of boiled mutton, bread, “brownie”, and tea and sugar. They numbered about fifty, including the rouseabouts. This load of sin sank the steamer deeper into the mud; but the passengers crowded over to port, by request of the captain, and the crew poked the bank away with long poles. When we began to move the shearers gave a howl like the yell of a legion of lost souls escaping from down below. They gave three cheers for the rouseabouts’ cook, who stayed behind; then they cursed the station with a mighty curse. They cleared a space on deck, had a jig, and afterwards a fight between the shearers’ cook and his assistant. They gave a mighty bush whoop for the Darling when the boat swung into that grand old gutter, and in the evening they had a general all-round time. We got back, and the crew had to reload the wool without assistance, for it bore the accursed brand of a “freedom-of-contract” shed.

We slept, or tried to sleep, that night on the ridge of two wool bales laid with the narrow sides up, having first been obliged to get ashore and fight six rounds with a shearer for the privilege of roosting there. The live cinders from the firebox went up the chimney all night, and fell in showers on deck. Every now and again a spark would burn through the “Wagga rug” of a sleeping shearer, and he’d wake suddenly and get up and curse. It was no use shifting round, for the wind was all ways, and the boat steered north, south, east, and west to humour the river. Occasionally a low branch would root three or four passengers off their wool bales, and they’d get up and curse in chorus. The boat started two snags; and towards daylight struck a stump. The accent was on the stump. A wool bale went overboard, and took a swag and a dog with it; then the owner of the swag and dog and the crew of the boat had a swearing match between them. The swagman won.

About daylight we stretched our cramped limbs, extricated one leg from between the wool bales, and found that the steamer was just crayfishing away from a mud island, where she had tied up for more wool. Some of the chaps had been ashore and boiled four or five buckets of tea and coffee. Shortly after the boat had settled down to work again an incident came along. A rouseabout rose late, and, while the others were at breakfast, got an idea into his head that a good “sloosh” would freshen him up; so he mooched round until he found a big wooden bucket with a rope to it. He carried the bucket aft of the wheel. The boat was butting up stream for all she was worth, and the stream was running the other way, of course, and about a hundred times as fast as a train. The jackeroo gave the line a turn round his wrist; before anyone could see him in time to suppress him, he lifted the bucket, swung it to and fro, and dropped it cleverly into the water.

This delayed us for nearly an hour. A couple of men jumped into the row boat immediately and cast her adrift. They picked up the jackeroo about a mile down the river, clinging to a snag, and when we hauled him aboard he looked like something the cat had dragged in, only bigger. We revived him with rum and got him on his feet; and then, when the captain and crew had done cursing him, he rubbed his head, went forward, and had a look at the paddle; then he rubbed his head again, thought, and remarked to his mates:

“Wasn’t it lucky I didn’t dip that bucket for’ard the wheel?”

This remark struck us forcibly. We agreed that it was lucky—for him; but the captain remarked that it was damned unlucky for the world, which, he explained, was over-populated with fools already.

Getting on towards afternoon we found a barge loaded with wool and tied up to a tree in the wilderness. There was no sign of a man to be seen, nor any sign, except the barge, that a human being had ever been there. The captain took the craft in tow, towed it about ten miles up the stream, and left it in a less likely place than where it was before.

Floating bottles began to be more frequent, and we knew by that same token that we were nearing “Here’s Luck!”—Bourke, we mean. And this reminds us.

When the Brewarrina people observe a more than ordinary number of bottles floating down the river, they guess that Walgett is on the spree; when the Louth chaps see an unbroken procession of dead marines for three or four days they know that Bourke’s drunk. The poor, God-abandoned “whaler” sits in his hungry camp at sunset and watches the empty symbols of Hope go by, and feels more God-forgotten than ever—and thirstier, if possible—and gets a great, wide, thirsty, quaking, empty longing to be up where those bottles come from. If the townspeople knew how much misery they caused by their thoughtlessness they would drown their dead marines, or bury them, but on no account allow them to go drifting down the river, and stirring up hells in the bosoms of less fortunate fellow-creatures.

There came a man from Adelaide to Bourke once, and he collected all the empty bottles in town, stacked them by the river, and waited for a boat. What he wanted them for the legend sayeth not, but the people reckoned he had a “private still”, or something of that sort, somewhere down the river, and were satisfied. What he came from Adelaide for, or whether he really did come from there, we do not know. All the Darling bunyips are supposed to come from Adelaide. Anyway, the man collected all the empty bottles he could lay his hands on, and piled them on the bank, where they made a good show. He waited for a boat to take his cargo, and, while waiting, he got drunk. That excited no comment. He stayed drunk for three weeks, but the townspeople saw nothing unusual in that. In order to become an object of interest in their eyes, and in that line, he would have had to stay drunk for a year and fight three times a day—oftener, if possible—and lie in the road in the broiling heat between whiles, and be walked on by camels and Afghans and free-labourers, and be locked up every time he got sober enough to smash a policeman, and try to hang himself naked, and be finally squashed by a loaded wool team.

But while he drank the Darling rose, for reasons best known to itself, and floated those bottles off. They strung out and started for the Antarctic Ocean, with a big old wicker-worked demijohn in the lead.

For the first week the down-river men took no notice; but after the bottles had been drifting past with scarcely a break for a fortnight or so, they began to get interested. Several whalers watched the procession until they got the jimjams by force of imagination, and when their bodies began to float down with the bottles, the down-river people got anxious.

At last the Mayor of Wilcannia wired Bourke to know whether Dibbs or Parkes was dead, or democracy triumphant, or if not, wherefore the jubilation? Many telegrams of a like nature were received during that week, and the true explanation was sent in reply to each. But it wasn’t believed, and to this day Bourke has the name of being the most drunken town on the river.

After dinner a humorous old hard case mysteriously took us aside and said he had a good yarn which we might be able to work up. We asked him how, but he winked a mighty cunning wink and said that he knew all about us. Then he asked us to listen. He said:

“There was an old feller down the Murrumbidgee named Kelly. He was a bit gone here. One day Kelly was out lookin’ for some sheep, when he got lost. It was gettin’ dark. Bymeby there came an old crow in a tree overhead.

“‘Kel-ley, you’re lo-o-st! Kel-ley, you’re lo-o-st!’ sez the crow.

“‘I know I am,’ sez Kelly.

“‘Fol-ler me, fol-ler me,’ sez the crow.

“‘Right y’are,’ sez Kelly, with a jerk of his arm. ‘Go ahead.’

“So the crow went on, and Kelly follered, an’ bymeby he found he was on the right track.

“Sometime after Kelly was washin’ sheep (this was when we useter wash the sheep instead of the wool). Kelly was standin’ on the platform with a crutch in his hand landin’ the sheep, when there came a old crow in the tree overhead.

“‘Kelly, I’m hun-gry! Kel-ley, I’m hun-ger-ry!’ sez the crow.

“‘Alright,’ sez Kelly; ‘be up at the hut about dinner time ’n’ I’ll sling you out something.’

“‘Drown—a—sheep! Drown—a—sheep, Kel-ley,’ sez the crow.

“‘Blanked if I do,’ sez Kelly. ‘If I drown a sheep I’ll have to pay for it, be-God!’

“‘Then I won’t find yer when yer lost agin,’ sez the crow.

“‘I’m damned if yer will,’ says Kelly. ‘I’ll take blanky good care I won’t get lost again, to be found by a gory ole crow.’”

* * * * * * * * *

There are a good many fishermen on the Darling. They camp along the banks in all sorts of tents, and move about in little box boats that will only float one man. The fisherman is never heavy. He is mostly a withered little old madman, with black claws, dirty rags (which he never changes), unkempt hair and beard, and a “ratty” expression. We cannot say that we ever saw him catch a fish, or even get a bite, and we certainly never saw him offer any for sale.

He gets a dozen or so lines out into the stream, with the shore end fastened to pegs or roots on the bank, and passed over sticks about four feet high, stuck in the mud; on the top of these sticks he hangs bullock bells, or substitutes—jam tins with stones fastened inside to bits of string. Then he sits down and waits. If the cod pulls the line the bell rings.

The fisherman is a great authority on the river and fish, but has usually forgotten everything else, including his name. He chops firewood for the boats sometimes, but it isn’t his profession—he’s a fisherman. He is only sane on points concerning the river, though he has all the fisherman’s eccentricities. Of course he is a liar.

When he gets his camp fixed on one bank it strikes him he ought to be over on the other, or at a place up round the bend, so he shifts. Then he reckons he was a fool for not stopping where he was before. He never dies. He never gets older, or drier, or more withered looking, or dirtier, or loonier—because he can’t. We cannot imagine him as ever having been a boy, or even a youth. We cannot even try to imagine him as a baby. He is an animated mummy, who used to fish on the Nile three thousand years ago, and catch nothing.

* * * * * * * * *

We forgot to mention that there are wonderfully few wrecks on the Darling. The river boats seldom go down—their hulls are not built that way—and if one did go down it wouldn’t sink far. But, once down, a boat is scarcely ever raised again; because, you see, the mud silts up round it and over it, and glues it, as it were, to the bottom of the river. Then the forty-foot alligators—which come down with the “Queenslan’ rains”, we suppose—root in the mud and fill their bellies with sodden flour and drowned deck-hands.

They tried once to blow up a wreck with dynamite because it (the wreck) obstructed navigation; but they blew the bottom out of the river instead, and all the water went through. The Government have been boring for it ever since. I saw some of the bores myself—there is one at Coonamble.

There is a yarn along the Darling about a cute Yankee who was invited up to Bourke to report on a proposed scheme for locking the river. He arrived towards the end of a long and severe drought, and was met at the railway station by a deputation of representative bushmen, who invited him, in the first place, to accompany them to the principal pub—which he did. He had been observed to study the scenery a good deal while coming up in the train, but kept his conclusions to himself. On the way to the pub he had a look at the town, and it was noticed that he tilted his hat forward very often, and scratched the back of his head a good deal, and pondered a lot; but he refrained from expressing an opinion—even when invited to do so. He guessed that his opinions wouldn’t do much good, anyway, and he calculated that they would keep till he got back “over our way”—by which it was reckoned he meant the States.

When they asked him what he’d have, he said to Watty the publican:

“Wal, I reckon you can build me your national drink. I guess I’ll try it.”

A long colonial was drawn for him, and he tried it. He seemed rather startled at first, then he looked curiously at the half-empty glass, set it down very softly on the bar, and leaned against the same and fell into a reverie; from which he roused himself after a while, with a sorrowful jerk of his head.

“Ah, well,” he said. “Show me this river of yourn.”

They led him to the Darling, and he had a look at it.

“Is this your river?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, apprehensively.

He tilted his hat forward till the brim nearly touched his nose, scratched the back of his long neck, shut one eye, and looked at the river with the other. Then, after spitting half a pint of tobacco juice into the stream, he turned sadly on his heel and led the way back to the pub. He invited the boys to “pisen themselves”; after they were served he ordered out the longest tumbler on the premises, poured a drop into it from nearly every bottle on the shelf, added a lump of ice, and drank slowly and steadily.

Then he took pity on the impatient and anxious population, opened his mouth, and spake.

“Look here, fellows,” he drawled, jerking his arm in the direction of the river, “I’ll tell you what I’ll dew. I’ll bottle that damned river of yourn in twenty-four hours!”

Later on he mellowed a bit, under the influence of several drinks which were carefully and conscientiously “built” from plans and specifications supplied by himself, and then, among other things, he said:

“If that there river rises as high as you say it dew—and if this was the States—why, we’d have had the Great Eastern up here twenty years ago”—or words to that effect.

Then he added, reflectively:

“When I come over here I calculated that I was going to make things hum, but now I guess I’ll have to change my prospectus. There’s a lot of loose energy laying round over our way, but I guess that if I wanted to make things move in your country I’d have to bring over the entire American nation—also his wife and dawg. You’ve got the makings of a glorious nation over here, but you don’t get up early enough!”

* * * * * * * * *

The only national work performed by the blacks is on the Darling. They threw a dam of rocks across the river—near Brewarrina, we think—to make a fish trap. It’s there yet. But God only knows where they got the stones from, or how they carried them, for there isn’t a pebble within forty miles.

A Case for the Oracle

The Oracle and I were camped together. The Oracle was a bricklayer by trade, and had two or three small contracts on hand. I was “doing a bit of house-painting”. There were a plasterer, a carpenter, and a plumber—we were all T’othersiders, and old mates, and we worked things together. It was in Westralia—the Land of T’othersiders—and, therefore, we were not surprised when Mitchell turned up early one morning, with his swag and an atmosphere of salt water about him.

He’d had a rough trip, he said, and would take a spell that day and take the lay of the land and have something cooked for us by the time we came home; and go to graft himself next morning. And next morning he went to work, “labouring” for the Oracle.

The Oracle and his mates, being small contractors and not pressed for time, had dispensed with the services of a labourer, and had done their own mixing and hod-carrying in turns. They didn’t want a labourer now, but the Oracle was a vague fatalist, and Mitchell a decided one. So it passed.

The Oracle had a “Case” right under his nose—in his own employ, in fact; but was not aware of the fact until Mitchell drew his attention to it. The Case went by the name of Alfred O’Briar—which hinted a mixed parentage. He was a small, nervous working-man, of no particular colour, and no decided character, apparently. If he had a soul above bricks, he never betrayed it. He was not popular on the jobs. There was something sly about Alf, they said.

The Oracle had taken him on in the first place as a day-labourer, but afterwards shared the pay with him as with Mitchell. O’Briar shouted—judiciously, but on every possible occasion—for the Oracle; and, as he was an indifferent workman, the boys said he only did this so that the Oracle might keep him on. If O’Briar took things easy and did no more than the rest of us, at least one of us would be sure to get it into his head that he was loafing on us; and if he grafted harder than we did, we’d be sure to feel indignant about that too, and reckon that it was done out of nastiness or crawlsomeness, and feel a contempt for him accordingly. We found out accidentally that O’Briar was an excellent mimic and a bit of a ventriloquist, but he never entertained us with his peculiar gifts; and we set that down to churlishness.

O’Briar kept his own counsel, and his history, if he had one; and hid his hopes, joys, and sorrows, if he had any, behind a vacant grin, as Mitchell hid his behind a quizzical one. He never resented alleged satire—perhaps he couldn’t see it—and therefore he got the name of being a cur. As a rule, he was careful with his money, and was called mean—not, however, by the Oracle, whose philosophy was simple, and whose sympathy could not realise a limit; nor yet by Mitchell. Mitchell waited.

* * * * * * * * *

O’Briar occupied a small tent by himself, and lived privately of evenings. When we began to hear two men talking at night in his tent, we were rather surprised, and wondered in a vague kind of way how any of the chaps could take sufficient interest in Alf to go in and yarn with him. In the days when he was supposed to be sociable, we had voted him a bore; even the Oracle was moved to admit that he was “a bit slow”.

But late one night we distinctly heard a woman’s voice in O’Briar’s tent. The Oracle suddenly became hard of hearing, and, though we heard the voice on several occasions, he remained exasperatingly deaf, yet aggressively unconscious of the fact. “I have got enough to do puzzling over me own whys and wherefores,” he said. Mitchell began to take some interest in O’Briar, and treated him with greater respect. But our camp had the name of being the best-constructed, the cleanest, and the most respectable in the vicinity. The health officer and constable in charge had complimented us on the fact, and we were proud of it. And there were three young married couples in camp, also a Darby and Joan; therefore, when the voice of a woman began to be heard frequently and at disreputable hours of the night in O’Briar’s tent, we got uneasy about it. And when the constable who was on night duty gave us a friendly hint, Mitchell and I agreed that something must be done.

“Av coorse, men will be men,” said the constable, as he turned his horse’s head, “but I thought I’d mention it. O’Briar is a dacent man, and he’s one of yer mates. Av coorse. There’s a bad lot in that camp in the scrub over yander, and—av coorse. Good-day to ye, byes.”

* * * * * * * * *

Next night we heard the voice in O’Briar’s tent again, and decided to speak to Alf in a friendly way about it in the morning. We listened outside in the dark, but could not distinguish the words, though I thought I recognised the voice.

“It’s the hussy from the camp over there; she’s got holt of that fool, and she’ll clean him out before she’s done,” I said. “We’re Alf’s mates, any way it goes, and we ought to put a stop to it.”

“What hussy?” asked Mitchell; “there’s three or four there.”

“The one with her hair all over her head,” I answered.

“Where else should it be?” asked Mitchell. “But I’ll just have a peep and see who it is. There’s no harm in that.”

He crept up to the tent and cautiously moved the flap. Alf’s candle was alight; he lay on his back in his bunk with his arms under his head, calmly smoking. We withdrew.

“They must have heard us,” said Mitchell; “and she’s slipped out under the tent at the back, and through the fence into the scrub.”

Mitchell’s respect for Alf increased visibly.

But we began to hear ominous whispers from the young married couples, and next Saturday night, which was pay-night, we decided to see it through. We did not care to speak to Alf until we were sure. He stayed in camp, as he often did, on Saturday evening, while the others went up town. Mitchell and I returned earlier than usual, and leaned on the fence at the back of Alf’s tent.

We were scarcely there when we were startled by a “rat-tat-tat” as of someone knocking at a door. Then an old woman’s voice inside the tent asked: “Who’s there?”

“It’s me,” said Alf’s voice from the front, “Mr. O’Briar from Perth.”

“Mary, go and open the door!” said the old woman. (Mitchell nudged me to keep quiet.)

“Come in, Mr. O’Breer,” said the old woman. “Come in. How do you do? When did you get back?”

“Only last night,” said Alf.

“Look at that now! Bless us all! And how did you like the country at all?”

“I didn’t care much for it,” said Alf. We lost the thread of it until the old woman spoke again.

“Have you had your tea, Mr. O’Breer?”

“Yes, thank you, Mrs. O’Connor.”

“Are you quite sure, man?”

“Quite sure, thank you, Mrs. O’Connor.” (Mitchell trod on my foot.)

“Will you have a drop of whisky or a glass of beer, Mr. O’Breer?”

“I’ll take a glass of beer, thank you, Mrs. O’Connor.”

There seemed to be a long pause. Then the old woman said, “Ah, well, I must get my work done, and Mary will stop here and keep you company, Mr. O’Breer.” The arrangement seemed satisfactory to all parties, for there was nothing more said for a while. (Mitchell nudged me again, with emphasis, and I kicked his shin.)

Presently Alf said: “Mary!” And a girl’s voice said, “Yes, Alf.”

“You remember the night I went away, Mary?”

“Yes, Alf, I do.”

“I have travelled long ways since then, Mary; I worked hard and lived close. I didn’t make my fortune, but I managed to rub a note or two together. It was a hard time and a lonesome time for me, Mary. The summer’s awful over there, and livin’s bad and dear. You couldn’t have any idea of it, Mary.”

“No, Alf.”

“I didn’t come back so well off as I expected.”

“But that doesn’t matter, Alf.”

“I got heart-sick and tired of it, and couldn’t stand it any longer, Mary.”

“But that’s all over now, Alf; you mustn’t think of it.”

“Your mother wrote to me.”

“I know she did”—(very low and gently).

“And do you know what she put in it, Mary?”

“Yes, Alf.”

“And did you ask her to put it in?”

“Don’t ask me, Alf.”

“And it’s all true, Mary?”

There was no answer, but the silence seemed satisfactory.

“And be sure you have yourself down here on Sunday, Alf, me son.” (“There’s the old woman come back!” said Mitchell.)

“An’ since the girl’s willin’ to have ye, and the ould woman’s willin’—there’s me hand on it, Alf, me boy. An’ God bless ye both.” (“The old man’s come now,” said Mitchell.)

* * * * * * * * *

“Come along,” said Mitchell, leading the way to the front of the tent.

“But I wouldn’t like to intrude on them. It’s hardly right, Mitchell, is it?”

“That’s all right,” said Mitchell. He tapped the tent pole.

“Come in,” said Alf. Alf was lying on his bunk as before, with his arms under his head. His face wore a cheerful, not to say happy, expression. There was no one else in the tent. I was never more surprised in my life.

“Have you got the paper, Alf?” said Mitchell.

“Yes. You’ll find it there at the foot of the bunk. There it is. Won’t you sit down, Mitchell?”

“Not to-night,” said Mitchell. “We brought you a bottle of ale. We’re just going to turn in.”

And we said “good-night”. “Well,” I said to Mitchell when we got inside, “what do you think of it?”

“I don’t think of it at all,” said Mitchell. “Do you mean to say you can’t see it now?”

“No, I’m dashed if I can,” I said. “Some of us must be drunk, I think, or getting rats. It’s not to be wondered at, and the sooner we get out of this country the better.”

“Well, you must be a fool, Joe,” said Mitchell. “Can’t you see? Alf thinks aloud.”

What?

“Talks to himself. He was thinking about going back to his sweetheart. Don’t you know he’s a bit of a ventriloquist?”

Mitchell lay awake a long time, in the position that Alf usually lay in, and thought. Perhaps he thought on the same lines as Alf did that night. But Mitchell did his thinking in silence.

We thought it best to tell the Oracle quietly. He was deeply interested, but not surprised. “I’ve heerd of such cases before,” he said. But the Oracle was a gentleman. “There’s things that a man wants to keep to himself that ain’t his business,” he said. And we understood this remark to be intended for our benefit, and to indicate a course of action upon which the Oracle had decided, with respect to this case, and which we, in his opinion, should do well to follow.

Alf got away a week or so later, and we all took a holiday and went down to Fremantle to see him off. Perhaps he wondered why Mitchell gripped his hand so hard and wished him luck so earnestly, and was surprised when he gave him three cheers.

“Ah, well!” remarked Mitchell, as we turned up the wharf.

“I’ve heerd of such cases before,” said the Oracle, meditatively. “They ain’t common, but I’ve hear’d of such cases before.”

A Daughter of Maoriland

A Sketch of Poor-Class Maoris

The new native-school teacher, who was “green”, “soft”, and poetical, and had a literary ambition, called her “August”, and fondly hoped to build a romance on her character. She was down in the school registers as Sarah Moses, Maori, 16 years and three months. She looked twenty; but this was nothing, insomuch as the mother of the youngest child in the school—a dear little half-caste lady of two or three summers—had not herself the vaguest idea of the child’s age, nor anybody else’s, nor of ages in the abstract. The church register was lost some six years before, when “Granny”, who was a hundred, if a day, was supposed to be about twenty-five. The teacher had to guess the ages of all the new pupils.

August was apparently the oldest in the school—a big, ungainly, awkward girl, with a heavy negro type of Maori countenance, and about as much animation, mentally or physically, as a cow. She was given to brooding; in fact, she brooded all the time. She brooded all day over her school work, but did it fairly well. How the previous teachers had taught her all she knew was a mystery to the new one. There had been a tragedy in August’s family when she was a child, and the affair seemed to have cast a gloom over the lives of the entire family, for the lowering brooding cloud was on all their faces. August would take to the bush when things went wrong at home, and climb a tree and brood till she was found and coaxed home. Things, according to pa gossip, had gone wrong with her from the date of the tragedy, when she, a bright little girl, was taken—a homeless orphan—to live with a sister, and, afterwards, with an aunt-by-marriage. They treated her, ’twas said, with a brutality which must have been greatly exaggerated by pa-gossip, seeing that unkindness of this description is, according to all the best authorities, altogether foreign to Maori nature.

Pa-gossip—which is less reliable than the ordinary washerwoman kind, because of a deeper and more vicious ignorance—had it that one time when August was punished by a teacher (or beaten by her sister or aunt-by-marriage) she “took to the bush” for three days, at the expiration of which time she was found on the ground in an exhausted condition. She was evidently a true Maori or savage, and this was one of the reasons why the teacher with the literary ambition took an interest in her. She had a print of a portrait of a man in soldier’s uniform, taken from a copy of the Illustrated London News, pasted over the fireplace in the whare where she lived, and neatly bordered by vandyked strips of silvered tea-paper. She had pasted it in the place of honour, or as near as she could get to it. The place of honour was sacred to framed representations of the Nativity and Catholic subjects, half-modelled, half-pictured. The print was a portrait of the last Czar of Russia, of all the men in the world; and August was reported to have said that she loved that man. His father had been murdered, so had her mother. This was one of the reasons why the teacher with the literary ambition thought he could get a romance out of her.

After the first week she hung round the new schoolmistress, dog-like—with “dog-like affection”, thought the teacher. She came down often during the holidays, and hung about the verandah and back door for an hour or so; then, by-and-bye, she’d be gone. Her brooding seemed less aggressive on such occasions. The teacher reckoned that she had something on her mind, and wanted to open her heart to “the wife”, but was too ignorant or too shy, poor girl; and he reckoned, from his theory of Maori character, that it might take her weeks, or months, to come to the point. One day, after a great deal of encouragement, she explained that she felt “so awfully lonely, Mrs. Lorrens.” All the other girls were away, and she wished it was school-time.

She was happy and cheerful again, in her brooding way, in the playground. There was something sadly ludicrous about her great, ungainly figure slopping round above the children at play. The schoolmistress took her into the parlour, gave her tea and cake, and was kind to her; and she took it all with broody cheerfulness.

One Sunday morning she came down to the cottage and sat on the edge of the verandah, looking as wretchedly miserable as a girl could. She was in rags—at least, she had a rag of a dress on—and was barefooted and bareheaded. She said that her aunt had turned her out, and she was going to walk down the coast to Whale Bay to her grandmother—a long day’s ride. The teacher was troubled, because he was undecided what to do. He had to be careful to avoid any unpleasantness arising out of Maori cliquism. As the teacher he couldn’t let her go in the state she was in; from the depths of his greenness he trusted her, from the depths of his softness he pitied her; his poetic nature was fiercely indignant on account of the poor girl’s wrongs, and the wife spoke for her. Then he thought of his unwritten romance, and regarded August in the light of copy, and that settled it. While he talked the matter over with his wife, August “hid in the dark of her hair,” awaiting her doom. The teacher put his hat on, walked up to the pa, and saw her aunt. She denied that she had turned August out, but the teacher believed the girl. He explained his position, in words simplified for Maori comprehension, and the aunt and relations said they understood, and that he was “perfectly right, Mr. Lorrens.” They were very respectful. The teacher said that if August would not return home, he was willing to let her stay at the cottage until such time as her uncle, who was absent, returned, and he (the teacher) could talk the matter over with him. The relations thought that that was the very best thing that could be done, and thanked him. The aunt, two sisters, and as many of the others, including the children, as were within sight or hail at the time—most of them could not by any possible means have had the slightest connection with the business in hand—accompanied the teacher to the cottage. August took to the flax directly she caught sight of her relations, and was with difficulty induced to return. There was a lot of talk in Maori, during which the girl and her aunt shuffled and swung round at the back of each other, and each talked over her shoulder, and laughed foolishly and awkwardly once or twice; but in the end the girl was sullenly determined not to return home, so it was decided that she should stay. The schoolmistress made tea.

August brightened from the first day. She was a different girl altogether. “I never saw such a change in a girl,” said the young schoolmistress, and one or two others. “I always thought she was a good girl if taken the right way; all she wanted was a change and kind treatment.” But the stolid old Maori chairman of the school committee only shrugged his shoulders and said (when the schoolmistress, woman-like, pressed him for an opinion to agree with her own), “You can look at it two ways, Mrs. Lorrens.” Which, by the way, was about the only expression of opinion that the teacher was ever able to get out of him on any subject.

August worked and behaved well. She was wonderfully quick in picking up English ways and housework. True, she was awkward and not over cleanly in some things, but her mistress had patience with her. Who wouldn’t have? She “couldn’t do enough” for her benefactress; she hung on her words and sat at her footstool of evenings in a way that gladdened the teacher’s sentimental nature; she couldn’t bear to see him help his wife with a hat-pin or button—August must do it. She insisted on doing her mistress’ hair every night. In short, she tried in every way to show her gratitude. The teacher and his wife smiled brightly at each other behind her back, and thought how cheerful the house was since she came, and wondered what they’d do without her. It was a settled thing that they should take her back to the city with them, and have a faithful and grateful retainer all their lives and a sort of Aunt Chloe for their children, when they had any. The teacher got yards of copy out of her for his “Maori Sketches and Characters”, worked joyously at his romance, and felt great already, and was happy. She had a bed made up temporarily (until the teacher could get a spring mattress for her from town) on the floor in the dining-room, and when she’d made her bed she’d squat on it in front of the fire and sing Maori songs in a soft voice. She’d sing the teacher and his wife, in the next room, to sleep. Then she’d get up and have a feed, but they never heard her.

Her manners at the table (for she was treated “like one of themselves” in the broadest sense of the term) were surprisingly good, considering that the adults of her people were decidedly cow-like in white society, and scoffed sea-eggs, shell-fish, and mutton-birds at home with a gallop which was not edifying. Her appetite, it was true, was painful at times to the poetic side of the teacher’s nature; but he supposed that she’d been half-starved at home, poor girl, and would get over it. Anyway, the copy he’d get out of her would repay him for this and other expenses a hundredfold. Moreover, begging and borrowing had ceased with her advent, and the teacher set this down to her influence.

The first jar came when she was sent on horseback to the town for groceries, and didn’t get back till late the next day. She explained that some of her relations got hold of her and made her stay, and wanted her to go into public-houses with them, but she wouldn’t. She said that she wanted to come home. But why didn’t she? The teacher let it pass, and hoped she’d gain strength of character by-and-bye. He had waited up late the night before with her supper on the hob; and he and his wife had been anxious for fear something had happened to the poor girl who was under their care. He had walked to the treacherous river-ford several times during the evening, and waited there for her. So perhaps he was tired, and that was why he didn’t write next night.

The sugar-bag, the onion-basket, the potato-bag and the tea-chest began to “go down” alarmingly, and an occasional pound of candles, a pigeon, a mutton-bird (plucked and ready for Sunday’s cooking), and other little trifles went, also. August couldn’t understand it, and the teacher believed her, for falsehood and deceit are foreign to the simple natures of the modern Maoris. There were no cats; but no score of ordinary cats could have given colour to the cat theory, had it been raised in this case. The breath of August advertised onions more than once, but no human stomach could have accounted for the quantity. She surely could not have eaten the other things raw—and she had no opportunities for private cooking, as far as the teacher and his wife could see. The other Maoris were out of the question; they were all strictly honest.

Thefts and annoyances of the above description were credited to the “swaggies” who infested the roads, and had a very bad name down that way; so the teacher loaded his gun, and told August to rouse him at once, if she heard a sound in the night. She said she would; but a heavy-weight “swaggie” could have come in and sat on her and had a smoke without waking her.

She couldn’t be trusted to go a message. She’d take from three to six hours, and come back with an excuse that sounded genuine from its very simplicity. Another sister of hers lay ill in an isolated hut, alone and uncared for, except by the teacher’s wife, and occasionally by a poor pa outcast who had negro blood in her veins, and a love for a white loafer. God help her! All of which sounds strange, considering that Maoris are very kind to each other. The schoolmistress sent August one night to stay with the sick Maori woman and help her as she could, and gave her strict instructions to come to the cottage first thing in the morning, and tell her how the sick woman was. August turned up at lunch-time next day. The teacher gave her her first lecture, and said plainly that he wasn’t to be taken for a fool; then he stepped aside to get cool, and, when he returned, the girl was sobbing as if her heart would break, and the wife comforting her. She had been up all night, poor girl, and was thoroughly worn out. Somehow the teacher didn’t feel uncomfortable about it. He went down to the whare. August had not touched a dishcloth or broom. She had slept, as she always did, like a pig, all night, while her sister lay and tossed in agony; in the morning she ate everything there was to eat in the house (which, it seemed, was the Maori way of showing sympathy in sickness and trouble), after which she brooded by the fire till the children, running out of school, announced the teacher’s lunch hour.

August braced up again for a little while. The master thought of the trouble they had with Ayacanora in “Westward Ho”, and was comforted, and tackled his romance again. Then the schoolmistress fell sick and things went wrong. The groceries went down faster than ever, and the house got very dirty, and began to have a native smell about it. August grew fat, and lazy, and dirty, and less reliable on washing-days, or when there was anything special to do in the house. “The savage blood is strong,” thought the teacher, “and she is beginning to long for her own people and free unconventional life.” One morning—on a washing-day, too, as it happened—she called out, before the teacher and his wife were up, that the Maoris who supplied them with milk were away, and she had promised to go up and milk the cow and bring the milk down. The teacher gave her permission. One of the scholars usually brought the milk early. Lunch time came and no August, no milk—strangest of all, only half the school children. The teacher put on his hat, and went up to the pa once more. He found August squatted in the midst of a circle of relations. She was entertaining them with one of a series of idealistic sketches of the teacher’s domestic life, in which she showed a very vivid imagination, and exhibited an unaccountable savage sort of pessimism. Her intervals of absence had been occupied in this way from the first. The astounding slanders she had circulated concerning the teacher’s private life came back, bit by bit, to his ears for a year afterwards, and her character sketches of previous teachers, and her own relations—for she spared nobody—would have earned a white woman a long and well-merited term of imprisonment for criminal libel. She had cunningly, by straightforward and unscrupulous lying, prejudiced the principal mother and boss woman of the pa against the teacher and his wife; as a natural result of which the old lady, who, like the rest, was very ignorant and ungrateful, “turned nasty” and kept the children from school. The teacher lost his temper, so the children were rounded up and hurried down to school immediately; with them came August and her aunt, with alleged explanations and excuses, and a shell-fish. The aunt and sisters said they’d have nothing to do with August. They didn’t want her and wouldn’t have her. The teacher said that, under those circumstances, she’d better go and drown herself; so she went home with them.

The whole business had been a plot by her nearest relations. They got rid of the trouble and expense of keeping her, and the bother of borrowing in person, whenever in need of trifles in the grocery line. Borrowing recommenced with her dismissal; but the teacher put a full stop to it, as far as he was concerned. Then August, egged on by her aunt, sent a blackguardly letter to the teacher’s wife; the sick sister, by the way, who had been nursed and supplied with food by her all along, was in it, and said she was glad August sent the letter, and it served the schoolmistress right. The teacher went up to the pa once more; an hour later, August in person, accompanied, as usual, by a relation or two, delivered at the cottage an abject apology in writing, the composition of which would have discouraged the most enthusiastic advocate of higher education for the lower classes.

Then various petty annoyances were tried. The teacher is firmly convinced that certain animal-like sounds round the house at night were due to August’s trying to find out whether his wife was as likely to be haunted as the Maoris were. He didn’t dream of such a thing at the time, for he did not believe that one of them had the pluck to venture out after dark. But savage superstition must give way to savage hate. The girl’s last “try-on” was to come down to the school fence, and ostentatiously sharpen a table-knife on the wires, while she scowled murderously in the direction of the schoolmistress, who was hanging out her washing. August looked, in her dark, bushy, Maori hair, a thoroughly wild savage. Her father had murdered her mother under particularly brutal circumstances, and the daughter took after her father.

The teacher called her and said: “Now, look here, my lady, the best thing you can do is to drop that nonsense at once” (she had dropped the knife in the ferns behind her), “for we’re the wrong sort of people to try it on with. Now you get out of this and tell your aunt—she’s sneaking there in the flax—what I tell you, and that she’d better clear out of this quick, or I’ll have a policeman out and take the whole gang into town in an hour. Now be off, and shut that gate behind you, carefully, and fasten it.” She did, and went.

The worst of it was that the August romance copy was useless. Her lies were even less reliable and picturesque than the common Jones Alley hag lie. Then the teacher thought of the soft fool he’d been, and that made him wild. He looked like a fool, and was one to a great extent, but it wasn’t good policy to take him for one.

Strange to say, he and others had reason to believe that August respected him, and liked him rather than otherwise; but she hated his wife, who had been kind to her, as only a savage can hate. The younger pupils told the teacher, cheerfully and confidently, that August said she’d cut Mrs. Lorrens’ throat the first chance she got. Next week the aunt sent down to ask if the teacher could sell her a bar of soap, and sent the same old shilling; he was tired of seeing it stuck out in front of him, so he took it, put it in his pocket, and sent the soap. This must have discouraged them, for the borrowing industry petered out. He saw the aunt later on, and she told him, cheerfully, that August was going to live with a half-caste in a certain house in town.

Poor August! For she was only a tool after all. Her “romance” was briefly as follows:—She went, per off-hand Maori arrangement, as ‘housekeeper’ in the hut of a labourer at a neighbouring saw-mill. She stayed three months, for a wonder; at the expiration of which time she put on her hat and explained that she was tired of stopping there, and was going home. He said, ‘All right, Sarah, wait a while and I’ll take you home.’ At the door of her aunt’s house he said, ‘Well, good-bye, Sarah,’ and she said, in her brooding way, ‘Good-bye, Jim.’ And that was all.

As the last apparent result of August’s mischief-making, her brother or someone one evening rode up to the cottage, drunk and inclined to bluster. He was accompanied by a friend, also drunk, who came to see the fun, and was ready to use his influence on the winning side. The teacher went inside, brought out his gun, and slipped two cartridges in. “I’ve had enough of this,” he said. “Now then, be off, you insolent blackguards, or I’ll shoot you like rabbits. Go!” and he snapped his jaw and the breech of his gun together. As they rode off, the old local hawk happened to soar close over a dead lamb in the fern at the corner of the garden, and the teacher, who had been “laying” for him a long time, let fly both barrels at him, without thinking. When he turned, there was only a cloud of dust down the track.

* * * * * * * * *

The teacher taught that school for three years thereafter, without a hitch. But he went no more on Universal Brotherhood lines. And, for years after he had gone, his name was spoken of with great respect by the Maoris.

New Year’s Night

It was dark enough for anything in Dead Man’s Gap—a round, warm, close darkness, in which retreating sounds seemed to be cut off suddenly at a distance of a hundred yards or so, instead of growing faint and fainter, and dying away, to strike the ear once or twice again—and after minutes, it might seem—with startling distinctness, before being finally lost in the distance, as it is on clear, frosty nights. So with the sounds of horses’ hoofs, stumbling on the rough bridle-track through the “saddle”, the clatter of hoof-clipped stones and scrape of gravel down the hidden “siding”, and the low sound of men’s voices, blurred and speaking in monosyllables and at intervals it seemed, and in hushed, awed tones, as though they carried a corpse. To practical eyes, grown used to such a darkness, and at the nearest point, the passing blurs would have suggested two riders on bush hacks leading a third with an empty saddle on its back—a lady’s or “side-saddle”, if one could have distinguished the horns. They may have struck a soft track or level, or rounded the buttress of the hill higher up, but before they had time to reach or round the foot of the spur, blurs, whispers, stumble and clatter of hoofs, jingle of bridle rings, and the occasional clank together of stirrup irons, seemed shut off as suddenly and completely as though a great sound-proof door had swung to behind them.

It was dark enough on the glaringest of days down in the lonely hollow or “pocket”, between two spurs, at the head of a blind gully behind Mount Buckaroo, where there was a more or less dusty patch, barely defined even in broad daylight by a spidery dog-legged fence on three sides, and a thin “two-rail” (dignified with the adjective “split-rail”—though rails and posts were mostly of saplings split in halves) running along the frontage. In about the middle of it a little slab hut, overshadowed by a big stringy-bark shed, was pointed out as Johnny Mears’s Farm.

“Black as—as charcoal,” said Johnny Mears. He had never seen coal, and was a cautious man, whose ideas came slowly. He stooped, close by the fence, with his hands on his knees, to “sky” the loom of his big shed and so get his bearings. He had been to have a look at the penned calves, and see that all slip-rails were up and pegged, for the words of John Mears junior, especially when delivered rapidly and shrilly and in injured tones, were not to be relied upon in these matters.

“It’s hot enough to melt the belly out of my fiddle,” said Johnny Mears to his wife, who sat on a three-legged stool by the rough table in the little whitewashed “end-room”, putting a patch of patches over the seat of a pair of moleskin knickerbockers. He lit his pipe, moved a stool to the side of the great empty fireplace, where it looked cooler—might have been cooler on account of a possible draught suggested by the presence of the chimney, and where, therefore, he felt a breath cooler. He took his fiddle from a convenient shelf, tuned it slowly and carefully, holding his pipe (in his mouth) well up and to one side, as if the fiddle were an inquisitive and restless baby. He played “Little Drops o’ Brandy” three times, right through, without variations, blinking solemnly the while; then he put the violin carefully back in its box, and started to cut up another pipeful.

“You should have gone, Johnny,” said the haggard little woman.

“Rackin’ the horse out a night like this,” retorted Johnny, “and startin’ ploughin’ to-morrow. It ain’t worth while. Let them come for me if they want me. Dance on a night like this! Why! they’ll dance in—”

“But you promised. It won’t do you no good, Johnny.”

“It won’t do me no harm.”

The little woman went on stitching.

“It’s smotherin’ hot,” said Johnny, with an impatient oath. “I don’t know whether I’ll turn in, or turn out, under the shed to-night. It’s too d—d hot to roost indoors.”

She bent her head lower over the patch. One smoked and the other stitched in silence for twenty minutes or so, during which time Johnny might be supposed to have been deliberating listlessly as to whether he’d camp out on account of the heat, or turn in. But he broke the silence with a clout at a mosquito on the nape of his neck, and a bad word.

“I wish you wouldn’t swear so much, Johnny,” she said wearily—“at least not to-night.”

He looked at her blankly.

“Why—why to-night? What’s the matter with you to-night, Mary? What’s to-night more than any other night to you? I see no harm—can’t a man swear when a mosquito sticks him?”

“I—I was only thinking of the boys, Johnny.”

“The boys! Why, they’re both on the hay in the shed.” He stared at her again, shifted uneasily, crossed the other leg tightly, frowned, blinked, and reached for the matches. “You look a bit off-colour, Mary. It’s the heat that makes us all a bit ratty at times. Better put that by and have a swill o’ oatmeal and water, and turn in.”

“It’s too hot to go to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I’m all right. I’ll—I’ll just finish this. Just reach me a drink from the water-bag—the pannikin’s on the hob there, by your boot.”

He scratched his head helplessly, and reached for the drink. When he sat down again, he felt strangely restless. “Like a hen that didn’t know where to lay,” he put it. He couldn’t settle down or keep still, and didn’t seem to enjoy his pipe somehow. He rubbed his head again.

“There’s a thunderstorm comin’,” he said. “That’s what it is; and the sooner it comes the better.”

He went to the back door, and stared at the blackness to the east, and, sure enough, lightning was blinking there.

“It’s coming, sure enough; just hang out and keep cool for another hour, and you’ll feel the difference.”

He sat down again on the three-legged stool, folded his arms, with his elbows on his knees, drew a long breath, and blinked at the clay floor for a while; then he twisted the stool round on one leg, until he faced the old-fashioned spired wooden clock (the brass disc of the pendulum moving ghost-like through a scarred and scratched marine scene—Margate in England—on the glass that covered the lower half) that stood alone on the slab shelf over the fireplace. The hands indicated half-past two, and Johnny, who had studied that clock and could “hit the time nigh enough by it,” after knitting his brows and blinking at the dial for a full minute by its own hand, decided “that it must be getting on toward nine o’clock.”

It must have been the heat. Johnny stood up, raking his hair, turned to the door and back again, and then, after an impatient gesture, took up his fiddle and raised it to his shoulder. Then the queer thing happened. He said afterwards, under conditions favourable to such sentimental confidence, that a cold hand seemed to take hold of the bow, through his, and—anyway, before he knew what he was about he had played the first bars of “When First I Met Sweet Peggy”, a tune he had played often, twenty years before, in his courting days, and had never happened to play since. He sawed it right through (the cold hand left after the first bar or two) standing up; then still stood with fiddle and bow trembling in his hands, with the queer feeling still on him, and a rush of old thoughts going through his head, all of which he set down afterwards to the effect of the heat. He put the fiddle away hastily, damning the bridge of it at the same time in loud but hurried tones, with the idea of covering any eccentricity which the wife might have noticed in his actions. “Must ’a’ got a touch o’ sun,” he muttered to himself. He sat down, fumbled with knife, pipe, and tobacco, and presently stole a furtive glance over his shoulder at his wife.

The washed-out little woman was still sewing, but stitching blindly, for great tears were rolling down her worn cheeks.

Johnny, white-faced on account of the heat, stood close behind her, one hand on her shoulder and the other clenched on the table; but the clenched hand shook as badly as the loose one.

“Good God! What is the matter, Mary? You’re sick!” (They had had little or no experience of illness.) “Tell me, Mary—come now! Has the boys been up to anything?”

“No, Johnny; it’s not that.”

“What is it then? You’re taken sick! What have you been doing with yourself? It might be fever. Hold up a minute. You wait here quiet while I roost out the boys and send ’em for the doctor and someone—”

“No! no! I’m not sick, John. It’s only a turn. I’ll be all right in a minute.”

He shifted his hand to her head, which she dropped suddenly, with a life-weary sigh, against his side.

“Now then!” cried Johnny, wildly, “don’t you faint or go into disterricks, Mary! It’ll upset the boys; think of the boys! It’s only the heat—you’re only takin’ queer.”

“It’s not that; you ought to know me better than that. It was—I—Johnny, I was only thinking—we’ve been married twenty years to-night—an’—it’s New Year’s Night!”

“And I’ve never thought of it!” said Johnny (in the afterwards). “Shows what a God-forgotten selection will make of a man. She’d thought of it all the time, and was waiting for it to strike me. Why! I’d agreed to go and play at a darnce at Old Pipeclay School-house all night—that very night—and leave her at home because she hadn’t asked to come; and it never struck me to ask her—at home by herself in that hole—for twenty-five bob. And I only stopped at home because I’d got the hump, and knew they’d want me bad at the school.”

They sat close together on the long stool by the table, shy and awkward at first; and she clung to him at opening of thunder, and they started apart guiltily when the first great drops sounded like footsteps on the gravel outside, just as they’d done one night-time before—twenty years before.

If it was dark before, it was black now. The edge of the awful storm-cloud rushed up and under the original darkness like the best “drop” black-brushed over the cheap “lamp” variety, turning it grey by contrast. The deluge lasted only a quarter of an hour; but it cleared the night, and did its work. There was hail before it, too—big as emu eggs, the boys said—that lay feet deep in the old diggers’ holes on Pipeclay for days afterwards—weeks some said.

The two sweethearts of twenty years ago and to-night watched the retreat of the storm, and, seeing Mount Buckaroo standing clear, they went to the back door, which opened opposite the end of the shed, and saw to the east a glorious arch of steel-blue, starry sky, with the distant peaks showing clear and blue away back under the far-away stars in the depth of it.

They lingered awhile—arms round each other’s waists—before she called the boys, just as they had done this time of night twenty years ago, after the boys’ grandmother had called her.

“Awlright, mother!” bawled back the boys, with unfilial independence of Australian youth. “We’re awlright! We’ll be in directly! Wasn’t it a pelterer, mother?”

They went in and sat down again. The embarrassment began to wear off.

“We’ll get out of this, Mary,” said Johnny. “I’ll take Mason’s offer for the cattle and things, and take that job of Dawson’s, boss or no boss”—(Johnny’s bad luck was due to his inability in the past to “get on” with any boss for any reasonable length of time)—“I can get the boys on, too. They’re doing no good here, and growing up. It ain’t doing justice to them; and, what’s more, this life is killin’ you, Mary. That settles it! I was blind. Let the jumpt-up selection go! It’s making a wall-eyed bullock of me, Mary—a dry-rotted rag of a wall-eyed bullock like Jimmy Nowlett’s old Strawberry. And you’ll live in town like a lady.”

“Somebody coming!” yelled the boys.

There was a clatter of sliprails hurriedly thrown down, and clipped by horses’ hoofs.

“Insoide there! Is that you, Johnny?”

“Yes!” (“I knew they’d come for you,” said Mrs. Mears to Johnny.)

“You’ll have to come, Johnny. There’s no get out of it. Here’s Jim Mason with me, and we’ve got orders to stun you and pack you if you show fight. The blessed fiddler from Mudgee didn’t turn up. Dave Regan burst his concertina, and they’re in a fix.”

“But I can’t leave the missus.”

“That’s all right. We’ve got the school missus’s mare and side-saddle. She says you ought to be jolly well ashamed of yourself, Johnny Mears, for not bringing your wife on New Year’s Night. And so you ought!”

Johnny did not look shame-faced, for reasons unknown to them.

“The boys couldn’t find the horses,” put in Mrs. Mears. “Johnny was just going down the gully again.”

He gave her a grateful look, and felt a strange, new thrill of admiration for his wife.

“And—there’s a bottle of the best put by for you, Johnny,” added Pat McDurmer, mistaking Johnny’s silence; “and we’ll call it thirty bob!” (Johnny’s ideas were coming slowly again, after the recent rush.) “Or—two quid!—there you are!”

“I don’t want two quid, nor one either, for taking my wife to a dance on New Year’s Night!” said Johnny Mears. “Run and put on your best bib and tucker, Mary.”

And she hurried to dress as eager and excited, and smiling to herself as girlishly as she had done on such occasions on evenings before the bright New Year’s Night twenty years ago.

Black Joe

They called him Black Joe, and me White Joe, by way of distinction and for the convenience of his boss (my uncle), and my aunt, and mother; so, when we heard the cry of “Bla-a-ack Joe!” (the adjective drawn out until it became a screech, after several repetitions, and the “Joe” short and sharp) coming across the flat in a woman’s voice, Joe knew that the missus wanted him at the house, to get wood or water, or mind the baby, and he kept carefully out of sight; he went at once when uncle called. And when we heard the cry of “Wh-i-i-te Joe!” which we did with difficulty and after several tries—though Black Joe’s ears were of the keenest—we knew that I was overdue at home, or absent without leave, and was probably in for a warming, as the old folk called it. On some occasions I postponed the warming as long as my stomach held out, which was a good while in five-corner, native-cherry, or yam season—but the warming was none the cooler for being postponed.

Sometimes Joe heard the wrong adjective, or led me to believe he did—and left me for a whole afternoon under the impression that the race of Ham was in demand at the homestead, when I myself was wanted there, and maternal wrath was increasing every moment of my absence.

But Joe knew that my conscience was not so elastic as his, and—well, you must expect little things like this in all friendships.

Black Joe was somewhere between nine and twelve when I first met him, on a visit to my uncle’s station; I was somewhere in those years too. He was very black, the darker for being engaged in the interesting but uncertain occupation of “burning off” in his spare time—which wasn’t particularly limited. He combined shepherding, ’possum and kangaroo hunting, crawfishing, sleeping, and various other occupations and engagements with that of burning off. I was very white, being a sickly town boy; but, as I took great interest in burning off, and was not particularly fond of cold water—it was in winter time—the difference in our complexions was not so marked at times.

Black Joe’s father, old Black Jimmie, lived in a gunyah on the rise at the back of the sheepyards, and shepherded for my uncle. He was a gentle, good-humoured, easy-going old fellow with a pleasant smile; which description applies, I think, to most old blackfellows in civilisation. I was very partial to the old man, and chummy with him, and used to slip away from the homestead whenever I could, and squat by the campfire along with the other piccaninnies, and think, and yarn socially with Black Jimmie by the hour. I would give something to remember those conversations now. Sometimes somebody would be sent to bring me home, when it got too late, and Black Jimmie would say:

“Piccaninnie alonga possum rug,” and there I’d be, sound asleep, with the other young Australians.

I liked Black Jimmie very much, and would willingly have adopted him as a father. I should have been quite content to spend my days in the scrub, enjoying life in dark and savage ways, and my nights “alonga possum rug”; but the family had other plans for my future.

It was a case of two blackfellows and one gin, when Black Jimmie went a-wooing—about twelve years before I made his acquaintance—and he fought for his bride in the black fashion. It was the last affair of that kind in the district. My uncle’s brother professed to have been present at the fight, and gave me an alleged description of it. He said that they drew lots, and Black Jimmie put his hands on his knees and bent his head, and the other blackfellow hit him a whack on the skull with a nulla nulla. Then they had a nip of rum all round—Black Jimmie must have wanted it, for the nulla nulla was knotted, and heavy, and made in the most approved fashion. Then the other blackfellow bent his head, and Jimmie took the club and returned the whack with interest. Then the other fellow hit Jimmie a lick, and took a clout in return. Then they had another drink, and continued thus until Jimmie’s rival lost all heart and interest in the business. But you couldn’t take everything my uncle’s brother said for granted.

Black Mary was a queen by right, and had the reputation of being the cleanest gin in the district; she was a great favourite with the squatters’ wives round there. Perhaps she hoped to reclaim Jimmie—he was royal, too, but held easy views with regard to religion and the conventionalities of civilisation. Mary insisted on being married properly by a clergyman, made the old man build a decent hut, had all her children christened, and kept him and them clean and tidy up to the time of her death.

Poor Queen Mary was ambitious. She started to educate her children, and when they got beyond her—that is when they had learnt their letters—she was grateful for any assistance from the good-natured bush men and women of her acquaintance. She had decided to get her eldest boy into the mounted police, and had plans for the rest, and she worked hard for them, too. Jimmie offered no opposition, and gave her no assistance beyond the rations and money he earned shepherding—which was as much as could be expected of him.

He did as many husbands do “for the sake of peace and quietness”—he drifted along in the wake of his wife, and took things as easily as her schemes of reformation and education would allow him to.

Queen Mary died before her time, respected by all who knew or had heard of her. The nearest squatter’s wife sent a pair of sheets for a shroud, with instructions to lay Mary out, and arranged (by bush telegraph) to drive over next morning with her sister-in-law and two other white women in the vicinity, to see Mary decently buried.

But the remnant of Jimmie’s tribe were there beforehand. They tore the sheets in strips and tied Mary up in a bundle, with her chin to her knees—preparing her for burial in their own fashion—and mourned all night in whitewash and ashes. At least, the gins did. The white women saw that it was hopeless to attempt to untie any of the innumerable knots and double knots, even if it had been possible to lay Mary out afterwards; so they had to let her be buried as she was, with black and white obsequies. And we’ve got no interest in believing that she did not “jump up white woman” long ago.

My uncle and his brother took the two eldest boys. Black Jimmie shifted away from the hut at once with the rest of his family—for the “devil-devil” sat down there—and Mary’s name was strictly “tabooed” in accordance with aboriginal etiquette.

Jimmie drifted back towards the graves of his fathers in company with a decreasing flock of sheep day by day (for the house of my uncle had fallen on times of drought and depression, and foot-rot and wool rings, and over-drafts and bank owners), and a few strips of bark, a dying fire, a black pipe, some greasy ’possum rugs and blankets, a litter of kangaroo tails, etc., four neglected piccaninnies, half a score of mangy mongrels, and, haply, a “lilly drap o’ rum”, by night.

The four little Australians grew dirtier and more shy and savage, and ate underdone kangaroo and ’possum and native bear, with an occasional treat of oak grubs and goanna by preference—and died out, one by one, as blacks do when brought within the ever widening circle of civilisation. Jimmie moved promptly after each death, and left the evil one in possession, and built another mia-mia—each one being less pretentious than the last. Finally he was left, the last of his tribe, to mourn his lot in solitude.

But the devil-devil came and sat down by King Jimmie’s side one night, so he, too, moved out across the Old Man border, and the mia-mia rotted into the ground and the grass grew there.

* * * * * * * * *

I admired Joe; I thought him wiser and cleverer than any white boy in the world. He could smell out ’possums unerringly, and I firmly believed he could see yards through the muddiest of dam water; for once, when I dropped my boat in, and was not sure of the spot, he fished it out first try. With cotton reels and bits of stick and bark he would make the model of a station homestead, slaughter-yards, sheep-yards, and all complete, working in ideas and improvements of his own which might have been put into practice with advantage. He was a most original and interesting liar upon all subjects upon which he was ignorant and which came up incidentally. He gave me a very interesting account of an interview between his father and Queen Victoria, and mentioned casually that his father had walked across the Thames without getting wet.

He also told me how he, Joe, had tied a mounted trooper to a verandah post and thrashed him with pine saplings until the timber gave out and he was tired. I questioned Jimmie, but the incidents seemed to have escaped the old king’s memory.

Joe could build bigger woodheaps with less wood than any black or white tramp or loafer round there. He was a born architect. He took a world of pains with his wood-heaps—he built them hollow, in the shape of a break-wind, with the convex side towards the house for the benefit of his employers. Joe was easy-going; he had inherited a love of peace and quietness from his father. Uncle generally came home after dark, and Joe would have little fires lit at safe distances all round the house, in order to convey an impression that the burning off was proceeding satisfactorily.

When the warm weather came, Joe and I got into trouble with an old hag for bathing in a waterhole in the creek in front of her shanty, and she impounded portions of our wardrobe. We shouldn’t have lost much if she had taken it all; but our sense of injury was deep, especially as she used very bad grammar towards us.

Joe addressed her from the safe side of the water. He said, “Look here! Old leather-face, sugar-eye, plar-bag marmy, I call it you.”

“Plar-bag marmy” meant “Mother Flour-bag”, and ration sugar was decidedly muddy in appearance.

She came round the waterhole with a clothes prop, and made good time, too; but we got across and away with our clothes.

That little incident might have changed the whole course of my existence. Plar-bag Marmy made a formal complaint to uncle, who happened to pass there on horseback about an hour later; and the same evening Joe’s latest and most carefully planned wood heap collapsed while aunt was pulling a stick out of it in the dark, and it gave her a bad scare, the results of which might have been serious.

So uncle gave us a thrashing, without the slightest regard for racial distinctions, and sent us to bed without our suppers.

We sought Jimmie’s camp, but Joe got neither sympathy nor damper from his father, and I was sent home with a fatherly lecture “for going alonga that fella,” meaning Joe.

Joe and I discussed existence at a waterhole down the creek next afternoon, over a billy of crawfish which we had boiled and a piece of gritty damper, and decided to retire beyond the settled districts—some five hundred miles or so—to a place that Joe said he knew of, where there were lagoons and billabongs ten miles wide, alive with ducks and fish, and black cockatoos and kangaroos and wombats, that only waited to be knocked over with a stick.

I thought I might as well start and be a blackfellow at once, so we got a rusty pan without a handle, and cooked about a pint of fat yellow oak-grubs; and I was about to fall to when we were discovered, and the full weight of combined family influence was brought to bear on the situation. We had broken a new pair of shears digging out those grubs from under the bark of the she-oaks, and had each taken a blade as his own especial property, which we thought was the best thing to do under the circumstances. Uncle wanted those shears badly, so he received us with the buggy whip—and he didn’t draw the colour line either. All that night and next day I wished he had. I was sent home, and Joe went droving with uncle soon after that, else I might have lived a life of freedom and content and died out peacefully with the last of my adopted tribe.

Joe died of consumption on the track. When he was dying uncle asked: “Is there anything you would like?”

And Joe said: “I’d like a lilly drap o’ rum, boss.”

Which were his last words, for he drank the rum and died peacefully.

I was the first to hear the news at home, and, being still a youngster, I ran to the house, crying “Oh, mother! aunt’s Joe is dead!”

There were visitors at our place at the time, and, as the eldest child of the maternal aunt in question had also been christened Joe—after a grandfather of our tribe (my tribe, not Black Joe’s)—the news caused a sudden and unpleasant sensation. But cross-examination explained the mistake, and I retired to the rear of the pig-sty, as was my custom when things went wrong, with another cause for grief.

They Wait on the Wharf in Black

“Seems to me that honest, hard-working men seem to accumulate the heaviest swags of trouble in this world.”—Steelman.

Told by Mitchell’s Mate.

We were coming back from West Australia, steerage—Mitchell, the Oracle, and I. I had gone over saloon, with a few pounds in my pocket. Mitchell said this was a great mistake—I should have gone over steerage with nothing but the clothes I stood upright in, and come back saloon with a pile. He said it was a very common mistake that men made, but, as far as his experience went, there always seemed to be a deep-rooted popular prejudice in favour of going away from home with a few pounds in one’s pocket and coming back stumped; at least amongst rovers and vagabonds like ourselves—it wasn’t so generally popular or admired at home, or in the places we came back to, as it was in the places we went to. Anyway it went, there wasn’t the slightest doubt that our nearest and dearest friends were, as a rule, in favour of our taking away as little as we could possibly manage with, and coming back with a pile, whether we came back saloon or not; and that ought to settle the matter as far as any chap that had the slightest consideration for his friends or family was concerned.

There was a good deal of misery, underneath, coming home in that steerage. One man had had his hand crushed and amputated out Coolgardie way, and the stump had mortified, and he was being sent to Melbourne by his mates. Some had lost their money, some a couple of years of their life, some their souls; but none seemed to have lost the heart to call up the quiet grin that southern rovers, vagabonds, travellers for “graft” or fortune, and professional wanderers wear in front of it all. Except one man—an elderly eastern digger—he had lost his wife in Sydney while he was away.

They sent him a wire to the Boulder Soak, or somewhere out back of White Feather, to say that his wife was seriously ill; but the wire went wrong, somehow, after the manner of telegrams not connected with mining, on the lines of “the Western”. They sent him a wire to say that his wife was dead, and that reached him all right—only a week late.

I can imagine it. He got the message at dinner-time, or when they came back to the camp. His mate wanted him to sit in the shade, or lie in the tent, while he got the billy boiled. “You must brace up and pull yourself together, Tom, for the sake of the youngsters.” And Tom for long intervals goes walking up and down, up and down, by the camp—under the brassy sky or the gloaming—under the brilliant star-clusters that hang over the desert plain, but never raising his eyes to them; kicking a tuft of grass or a hole in the sand now and then, and seeming to watch the progress of the track he is tramping out. The wife of twenty years was with him—though two thousand miles away—till that message came.

I can imagine Tom sitting with his mates round the billy, they talking in quiet, subdued tones about the track, the departure of coaches, trains and boats—arranging for Tom’s journey East, and the working of the claim in his absence. Or Tom lying on his back in his bunk, with his hands under his head and his eyes fixed on the calico above—thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking, with a touch of his boyhood’s faith perhaps; or wondering what he had done in his long, hard-working married life, that God should do this thing to him now, of all times.

“You’d best take what money we have in the camp, Tom; you’ll want it all ag’in’ the time you get back from Sydney, and we can fix it up arterwards.... There’s a couple o’ clean shirts o’ mine—you’d best take ’em—you’ll want ’em on the voyage.... You might as well take them there new pants o’ mine, they’ll only dry-rot out here—and the coat, too, if you like—it’s too small for me, anyway. You won’t have any time in Perth, and you’ll want some decent togs to land with in Sydney.”

* * * * * * * * *

“I wouldn’t ’a’ cared so much if I’d ’a’ seen the last of her,” he said, in a quiet, patient voice, to us one night by the rail. “I would ’a’ liked to have seen the last of her.”

“Have you been long in the West?”

“Over two years. I made up to take a run across last Christmas, and have a look at ’em. But I couldn’t very well get away when ‘exemption-time’ came. I didn’t like to leave the claim.”

“Do any good over there?”

“Well, things brightened up a bit the last month or two. I had a hard pull at first; landed without a penny, and had to send back every shilling I could rake up to get things straightened up a bit at home. Then the eldest boy fell ill, and then the baby. I’d reckoned on bringing ’em over to Perth or Coolgardie when the cool weather came, and having them somewheres near me, where I could go and have a look at ’em now and then, and look after them.”

“Going back to the West again?”

“Oh, yes. I must go for the sake of the youngsters. But I don’t seem to have much heart in it.” He smoked awhile. “Over twenty years we struggled along together—the missus and me—and it seems hard that I couldn’t see the last of her. It’s rough on a man.”

“The world is damned rough on a man sometimes,” said Mitchell, “most especially when he least deserves it.”

The digger crossed his arms on the rail like an old “cocky” at the fence in the cool of the evening, yarning with an old crony.

“Mor’n twenty years she stuck to me and struggled along by my side. She never give in. I’ll swear she was on her feet till the last, with her sleeves tucked up—bustlin’ round.... And just when things was brightening and I saw a chance of giving her a bit of a rest and comfort for the end of her life.... I thought of it all only t’other week when things was clearing up ahead; and the last ‘order’ I sent over I set to work and wrote her a long letter, putting all the good news and encouragement I could think of into it. I thought how that letter would brighten up things at home, and how she’d read it round. I thought of lots of things that a man never gets time to think of while his nose is kept to the grindstone. And she was dead and in her grave, and I never knowed it.”

Mitchell dug his elbow into my ribs and made signs for the matches to light his pipe.

“An’ yer never knowed,” reflected the Oracle.

“But I always had an idea when there was trouble at home,” the digger went on presently, in his quiet, patient tone. “I always knowed; I always had a kind of feeling that way—I felt it—no matter how far I was away. When the youngsters was sick I knowed it, and I expected the letter that come. About a fortnight ago I had a feeling that way when the wife was ill. The very stars out there on the desert by the Boulder Soak seemed to say: ‘There’s trouble at home. Go home. There’s trouble at home.’ But I never dreamed what that trouble was. One night I did make up my mind to start in the morning, but when the morning came I hadn’t an excuse, and was ashamed to tell my mates the truth. They might have thought I was going ratty, like a good many go out there.” Then he broke off with a sort of laugh, as if it just struck him that we might think he was a bit off his head, or that his talk was getting uncomfortable for us. “Curious, ain’t it?” he said.

“Reminds me of a case I knowed,—” commenced the Oracle, after a pause.

I could have pitched him overboard; but that was a mistake. He and the old digger sat on the for’ard hatch half the night yarning, mostly about queer starts, and rum go’s, and curious cases the Oracle had knowed, and I think the Oracle did him a lot of good somehow, for he seemed more cheerful in the morning.

We were overcrowded in the steerage, but Mitchell managed to give up his berth to the old digger without letting him know it. Most of the chaps seemed anxious to make a place at the first table and pass the first helpings of the dishes to the “old cove that had lost his missus.”

They all seemed to forget him as we entered the Heads; they had their own troubles to attend to. They were in the shadow of the shame of coming back hard up, and the grins began to grow faint and sickly. But I didn’t forget him. I wish sometimes that I didn’t take so much notice of things.

There was no mistaking them—the little group that stood apart near the end of the wharf, dressed in cheap black. There was the eldest single sister—thin, pale, and haggard-looking—that had had all the hard worry in the family till her temper was spoilt, as you could see by the peevish, irritable lines in her face. She had to be the mother of them all now, and had never known, perhaps, what it was to be a girl or a sweetheart. She gave a hard, mechanical sort of smile when she saw her father, and then stood looking at the boat in a vacant, hopeless sort of way. There was the baby, that he saw now for the first time, crowing and jumping at the sight of the boat coming in; there was the eldest boy, looking awkward and out of place in his new slop-suit of black, shifting round uneasily, and looking anywhere but at his father. But the little girl was the worst, and a pretty little girl she was, too; she never took her streaming eyes off her father’s face the whole time. You could see that her little heart was bursting, and with pity for him. They were too far apart to speak to each other as yet. The boat seemed a cruel long long time swinging alongside—I wished they’d hurry up. He’d brought his traps up early, and laid ’em on the deck under the rail; he stood very quiet with his hands behind him, looking at his children. He had a strong, square, workman’s face, but I could see his chin and mouth quivering under the stubbly, iron-grey beard, and the lump working in his throat; and one strong hand gripped the other very tight behind, but his eyelids never quivered—only his eyes seemed to grow more and more sad and lonesome. These are the sort of long, cruel moments when a man sits or stands very tight and quiet and calm-looking, with his whole past life going whirling through his brain, year after year, and over and over again. Just as the digger seemed about to speak to them he met the brimming eyes of his little girl turned up to his face. He looked at her for a moment, and then turned suddenly and went below as if pretending to go down for his things. I noticed that Mitchell—who hadn’t seemed to be noticing anything in particular—followed him down. When they came on deck again we were right alongside.

“’Ello, Nell!” said the digger to the eldest daughter.

“’Ello, father!” she said, with a sort of gasp, but trying to smile.

“’Ello, Jack, how are you getting on?”

“All right, father,” said the boy, brightening up, and seeming greatly relieved.

He looked down at the little girl with a smile that I can’t describe, but didn’t speak to her. She still stood with quivering chin and mouth and great brimming eyes upturned, full of such pity as I never saw before in a child-face—pity for him.

“You can get ashore now,” said Mitchell; “see, they’ve got the gangway out aft.”

Presently I saw Mitchell with the portmanteau in his hand, and the baby on his arm, steering them away to a quiet corner of the shed at the top of the wharf. The digger had the little girl in his arms, and both hers were round his neck, and her face hidden on his shoulder.

When Mitchell came back, he leant on the rail for a while by my side, as if it was a boundary fence out back, and there was no hurry to break up camp and make a start.

“What did you follow him below that time for, Mitchell?” I asked presently, for want of something better to say.

Mitchell looked at me out of the corners of his eyes.

“I wanted to score a drink!” he said. “I thought he wanted one and wouldn’t like to be a Jimmy Woodser.”

Seeing the Last of You

“When you’re going away by boat,” said Mitchell, “you ought to say good-bye to the women at home, and to the chaps at the last pub. I hate waiting on the wharf or up on deck when the boat’s behind time. There’s no sense in it, and a lot of unnecessary misery. Your friends wait on the wharf and you are kept at the rail to the bitter end, just when they and you most want a spell. And why? Some of them hang out because they love you, and want to see the last of you; some because they don’t like you to see them going away without seeing the last of you; and you hang out mostly because it would hurt ’em if you went below and didn’t give them a chance of seeing the last of you all the time—and you curse the boat and wish to God it would start. And those who love you most—the women-folk of the family—and who are making all the fuss and breaking their hearts about having to see the last of you, and least want to do it—they hang out the longest, and are the most determined to see it. Where’s the sense in it? What’s the good of seeing the last of you? How do women manage to get consolation out of a thing like that?

“But women get consolation out of queer things sometimes,” he added reflectively, “and so do men.

“I remember when I was knocking about the coasts, an old aunt of mine always persisted in coming down to see the last of me, and bringing the whole family too—no matter if I was only going away for a month. I was her favourite. I always turned up again in a few months; but if I’d come back every next boat it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference to her. She’d say that I mightn’t come back some day, and then she’d never forgive herself nor the family for not seeing me off. I suppose she’ll see the end of me yet if she lives long enough—and she’s a wiry old lady of the old school. She was old-fashioned and dressed like a fright, they said at home. They hated being seen in public with her; to tell the truth, I felt a bit ashamed, too, at times. I wouldn’t be, now. When I’d get her off on to the wharf I’d be overcome with my feelings, and have to retire to the privacy of the bar to hide my emotions till the boat was going. And she’d stand on the end of the pier and wave her handkerchief and mop her old eyes with it until she was removed by force.

“God bless her old heart! There wasn’t so much affection wasted on me at home that I felt crowded by hers; and I never lost anything by her seeing the last of me.

“I do wish the Oracle would stop that confounded fiddle of his—it makes you think over damned old things.”

Two Boys at Grinder Brothers’

Five or six half-grown larrikins sat on the cemented sill of the big window of Grinder Bros.’ Railway Coach Factory waiting for the work bell, and one of the number was Bill Anderson—known as “Carstor Hoil”—a young terror of fourteen or fifteen.

“Here comes Balmy Arvie,” exclaimed Bill as a pale, timid-looking little fellow rounded the corner and stood against the wall by the door. “How’s your parents, Balmy?”

The boy made no answer; he shrank closer to the entrance. The first bell went.

“What yer got for dinner, Balmy? Bread ’n’ treacle?” asked the young ruffian; then for the edification of his chums he snatched the boy’s dinner bag and emptied its contents on the pavement.

The door opened. Arvie gathered up his lunch, took his time-ticket, and hurried in.

“Well, Balmy,” said one of the smiths as he passed, “what do you think of the boat race?”

“I think,” said the boy, goaded to reply, “that it would be better if young fellows of this country didn’t think so much about racin’ an’ fightin’.”

The questioner stared blankly for a moment, then laughed suddenly in the boy’s face, and turned away. The rest grinned.

“Arvie’s getting balmier than ever,” guffawed young Bill.

“Here, Carstor Hoil,” cried one of the smiths’ strikers, “how much oil will you take for a chew of terbaccer?”

“Teaspoonful?”

“No, two.”

“All right; let’s see the chew, first.”

“Oh, you’ll get it. What yer frighten’ of?... Come on, chaps, ’n’ see Bill drink oil.”

Bill measured out some machine oil and drank it. He got the tobacco, and the others got what they called “the fun of seein’ Bill drink oil!”

The second bell rang, and Bill went up to the other end of the shop, where Arvie was already at work sweeping shavings from under a bench.

The young terror seated himself on the end of this bench, drummed his heels against the leg, and whistled. He was in no hurry, for his foreman had not yet arrived. He amused himself by lazily tossing chips at Arvie, who made no protest for a while. “It would be—better—for this country,” said the young terror, reflectively and abstractedly, cocking his eye at the whitewashed roof beams and feeling behind him on the bench for a heavier chip—“it would be better—for this country—if young fellers didn’t think so much about—about—racin’—and fightin’.”

“You let me alone,” said Arvie.

“Why, what’ll you do?” exclaimed Bill, bringing his eye down with feigned surprise. Then, in an indignant tone, “I don’t mind takin’ a fall out of yer, now, if yer like.”

Arvie went on with his work. Bill tossed all the chips within reach, and then sat carelessly watching some men at work, and whistling the “Dead March”. Presently he asked:

“What’s yer name, Balmy?”

No answer.

“Carn’t yer answer a civil question? I’d soon knock the sulks out of yer if I was yer father.”

“My name’s Arvie; you know that.”

“Arvie what?”

“Arvie Aspinall.”

Bill cocked his eye at the roof and thought a while and whistled; then he said suddenly:

“Say, Balmy, where d’yer live?”

“Jones’ Alley.”

“What?”

“Jones’ Alley.”

A short, low whistle from Bill. “What house?”

“Number Eight.”

“Garn! What yer giv’nus?”

“I’m telling the truth. What’s there funny about it? What do I want to tell you a lie for?”

“Why, we lived there once, Balmy. Old folks livin’?”

“Mother is; father’s dead.”

Bill scratched the back of his head, protruded his under lip, and reflected.

“I say, Arvie, what did yer father die of?”

“Heart disease. He dropped down dead at his work.”

Long, low, intense whistle from Bill. He wrinkled his forehead and stared up at the beams as if he expected to see something unusual there. After a while he said, very impressively: “So did mine.”

The coincidence hadn’t done striking him yet; he wrestled with it for nearly a minute longer. Then he said:

“I suppose yer mother goes out washin’?”

“Yes.”

“’N’ cleans offices?”

“Yes.”

“So does mine. Any brothers ’n’ sisters?”

“Two—one brother ’n’ one sister.”

Bill looked relieved—for some reason.

“I got nine,” he said. “Yours younger’n you?”

“Yes.”

“Lot of bother with the landlord?”

“Yes, a good lot.”

“Had any bailiffs in yet?”

“Yes, two.”

They compared notes a while longer, and tailed off into a silence which lasted three minutes and grew awkward towards the end.

Bill fidgeted about on the bench, reached round for a chip, but recollected himself. Then he cocked his eye at the roof once more and whistled, twirling a shaving round his fingers the while. At last he tore the shaving in two, jerked it impatiently from him, and said abruptly:

“Look here, Arvie! I’m sorry I knocked over yer barrer yesterday.”

“Thank you.”

This knocked Bill out the first round. He rubbed round uneasily on the bench, fidgeted with the vise, drummed his fingers, whistled, and finally thrust his hands in his pockets and dropped on his feet.

“Look here, Arvie!” he said in low, hurried tones. “Keep close to me goin’ out to-night, ’n’ if any of the other chaps touches yer or says anything to yer I’ll hit ’em!”

Then he swung himself round the corner of a carriage “body” and was gone.

* * * * * * * * * *

Arvie was late out of the shop that evening. His boss was a sub-contractor for the coach-painting, and always tried to find twenty minutes’ work for his boys just about five or ten minutes before the bell rang. He employed boys because they were cheap and he had a lot of rough work, and they could get under floors and “bogies” with their pots and brushes, and do all the “priming” and paint the trucks. His name was Collins, and the boys were called “Collins’ Babies”. It was a joke in the shop that he had a “weaning” contract. The boys were all “over fourteen”, of course, because of the Education Act. Some were nine or ten—wages from five shillings to ten shillings. It didn’t matter to Grinder Brothers so long as the contracts were completed and the dividends paid. Collins preached in the park every Sunday. But this has nothing to do with the story.

When Arvie came out it was beginning to rain and the hands had all gone except Bill, who stood with his back to a verandah-post, spitting with very fair success at the ragged toe of one boot. He looked up, nodded carelessly at Arvie, and then made a dive for a passing lorry, on the end of which he disappeared round the next corner, unsuspected by the driver, who sat in front with his pipe in his mouth and a bag over his shoulders.

Arvie started home with his heart and mind pretty full, and a stronger, stranger aversion to ever going back to the shop again. This new, unexpected, and unsought-for friendship embarrassed the poor lonely child. It wasn’t welcome.

But he never went back. He got wet going home, and that night he was a dying child. He had been ill all the time, and Collins was one “baby” short next day.

The Selector’s Daughter

I.

She rode slowly down the steep siding from the main road to a track in the bed of the Long Gully, the old grey horse picking his way zig-zag fashion. She was about seventeen, slight in figure, and had a pretty freckled face with a pathetically drooping mouth, and big sad brown eyes. She wore a faded print dress, with an old black riding skirt drawn over it, and her head was hidden in one of those ugly, old-fashioned white hoods, which, seen from the rear, always suggest an old woman. She carried several parcels of groceries strapped to the front of the dilapidated side-saddle.

The track skirted a chain of rocky waterholes at the foot of the gully, and the girl glanced nervously at these ghastly, evil-looking pools as she passed them by. The sun had set, as far as Long Gully was concerned. The old horse carefully followed a rough bridle track, which ran up the gully now on one side of the watercourse and now on the other; the gully grew deeper and darker, and its sullen, scrub-covered sides rose more steeply as he progressed.

The girl glanced round frequently, as though afraid of someone following her. Once she drew rein, and listened to some bush sound. “Kangaroos,” she murmured; it was only kangaroos. She crossed a dimmed little clearing where a farm had been, and entered a thick scrub of box and stringy-bark saplings. Suddenly with a heavy thud, thud, an “old man” kangaroo leapt the path in front, startling the girl fearfully, and went up the siding towards the peak.

“Oh, my God!” she gasped, with her hand on her heart.

She was very nervous this evening; her heart was hurt now, and she held her hand close to it, while tears started from her eyes and glistened in the light of the moon, which was rising over the gap ahead.

“Oh, if I could only go away from the bush!” she moaned.

The old horse plodded on, and now and then shook his head—sadly, it seemed—as if he knew her troubles and was sorry.

She passed another clearing, and presently came to a small homestead in a stringy-bark hollow below a great gap in the ridges—“Deadman’s Gap”. The place was called “Deadman’s Hollow”, and looked like it. The “house”—a low, two-roomed affair, with skillions—was built of half-round slabs and stringy-bark, and was nearly all roof; the bark, being darkened from recent rain, gave it a drearier appearance than usual.

A big, coarse-looking youth of about twenty was nailing a green kangaroo skin to the slabs; he was out of temper because he had bruised his thumb. The girl unstrapped the parcels and carried them in; as she passed her brother, she said:

“Take the saddle off for me, will you, Jack?”

“Oh, carnt yer take it off yerself?” he snarled; “carnt yer see I’m busy?”

She took off the saddle and bridle, and carried them into a shed, where she hung them on a beam. The patient old hack shook himself with an energy that seemed ill-advised, considering his age and condition, and went off towards the “dam”.

An old woman sat in the main room beside a fireplace which took up almost the entire end of the house. A plank-table, supported on stakes driven into the ground, stood in the middle of the room, and two slab benches were fixtures on each side. The floor was clay. All was clean and poverty-stricken; all that could be whitewashed was white, and everything that could be washed was scrubbed. The slab shelves were covered with clean newspapers, on which bright tins, and pannikins, and fragments of crockery were set to the greatest advantage. The walls, however, were disfigured by Christmas supplements of illustrated journals.

The girl came in and sat down wearily on a stool opposite to the old woman.

“Are you any better, mother?” she asked.

“Very little, Mary, very little. Have you seen your father?”

“No.”

“I wonder where he is?”

“You might wonder. What’s the use of worrying about it, mother?”

“I suppose he’s drinking again.”

“Most likely. Worrying yourself to death won’t help it!”

The old woman sat and moaned about her troubles, as old women do. She had plenty to moan about.

“I wonder where your brother Tom is? We haven’t heard from him for a year now. He must be in trouble again; something tells me he must be in trouble again.”

Mary swung her hood off into her lap.

“Why do you worry about it, mother? What’s the use?”

“I only wish I knew. I only wish I knew!”

“What good would that do? You know Tom went droving with Fred Dunn, and Fred will look after him; and, besides, Tom’s older now and got more sense.”

“Oh, you don’t care—you don’t care! You don’t feel it, but I’m his mother, and—”

“Oh, for God’s sake, don’t start that again, mother; it hurts me more than you think. I’m his sister; I’ve suffered enough, God knows! Don’t make matters worse than they are!”

“Here comes father!” shouted one of the children outside, “’n’ he’s bringing home a steer.”

The old woman sat still, and clasped her hands nervously. Mary tried to look cheerful, and moved the saucepan on the fire. A big, dark-bearded man, mounted on a small horse, was seen in the twilight driving a steer towards the cow-yard. A boy ran to let down the slip-rails.

Presently Mary and her mother heard the clatter of rails let down and put up again, and a minute later a heavy step like the tread of a horse was heard outside. The selector lumbered in, threw his hat in a corner, and sat down by the table. His wife rose and bustled round with simulated cheerfulness. Presently Mary hazarded—

“Where have you been, father?”

“Somewheers.”

There was a wretched silence, lasting until the old woman took courage to say timidly:

“So you’ve brought a steer, Wylie?”

“Yes!” he snapped; the tone seemed defiant.

The old woman’s hands trembled, so that she dropped a cup. Mary turned a shade paler.

“Here, git me some tea. Git me some tea!” shouted Mr. Wylie. “I ain’t agoin’ to sit here all night!”

His wife made what haste her nervousness would allow, and they soon sat down to tea. Jack, the eldest son, was sulky, and his father muttered something about knocking the sulks out of him with an axe.

“What’s annoyed you, Jack?” asked his mother, humbly.

He scowled and made no answer.

The younger children—three boys and a girl—began quarrelling as soon as they sat down. Wylie yelled at them now and then, and grumbled at the cooking, and at his wife for not being able to keep the children quiet. It was: “Marther! you didn’t put no sugar in my tea.” “Mother, Jimmy’s got my place; make him move.” “Mawther! do speak to this Fred.” “Oh! father, this big brute of a Harry’s kickin’ me!” And so on.

II

When the miserable meal was over, Wylie got a rope and a butcher’s knife, and went out to slaughter the steer; but first there was a row, because he thought—or pretended to think—that somebody had been using his knife. He lassoed the beast, drew it up to the rails, and slaughtered it.

Meanwhile, Jack and his next brother took an old gun, let the dogs loose, and went ’possum shooting.

Presently Wylie came in again, sat down by the fire, and smoked. The children quarrelled over a boy’s book; Mrs. Wylie made weak attempts to keep the peace, but they took no notice of her. Suddenly her husband rose with an oath, seized the novel, and threw it behind the fire.

“Git to bed! git to bed!” he roared at the children; “git to bed, or I’ll smash your brains with the axe!”

They got to bed. It was made of saplings and bark, covered with three bushel-bags full of straw and old pieces of blanket sewn together. The children quarrelled in bed till their father took off his belt and “went into” them, according to promise. There was a sudden hush, followed by a sound like a bird-clapper; then howls; then a peaceful calm fell upon that happy home.

Wylie went out again, and was absent an hour; on his return he sat by the fire and smoked sullenly. After a while he snatched the pipe from his mouth, and looked impatiently at the old woman.

“Oh! for God’s sake, git to bed,” he snapped, “and don’t be asittin’ there like a blarsted funeral! You’re enough to give a man the dismals.”

Mrs. Wylie gathered up her sewing and retired. Then he said to his daughter: “You come and hold the candle.”

Mary put on her hood and followed her father to the yard. The carcase lay close to the rails, against which two sheets of bark had been raised as a break-wind. The beast had been partly skinned, and a portion of the hide, where a brand might have been, was carefully turned back. Mary noticed this at once. Her father went on with his work, and occasionally grumbled at her for not holding the candle right.

“Where did you buy the steer, father?” she asked.

“Ask no questions and hear no lies.” Then he added, “Carn’t you see it’s a clear skin?”

She had a keen sense of humour, and the idea of a “‘clear skin’ steer” would have amused her at any other time. She didn’t smile now.

He turned the carcase over; the loose hide fell back, and the light shone on a distinct brand. White as a sheet went Mary’s face, and her hand trembled so that she nearly let the candle fall.

“What are you adoin’ of now?” shouted her father. “Hold the candle, carn’t you? You’re worse than the old woman.”

“Father! the beast is branded! See!— What does PB stand for?”

“Poor Beggar, like myself. Hold the candle, carn’t you?—and hold your tongue.”

Mary was startled again by hearing the tread of a horse, but it was only the old grey munching round. Her father finished skinning, and drew the carcase up to a make-shift “gallows”. “Now you can go to bed,” he said, in a gentler tone.

She went to her bedroom—a small, low, slab skillion, built on to the end of the house—and fell on her knees by the bunk.

“God help me! God help us all!” she cried.

She lay down, but could not sleep. She was nervously ill—nearly mad, because of the dark, disgraceful cloud of trouble which hung over her home. Always in trouble—always in trouble. It started long ago, when her favourite brother Tom ran away. She was little more than a child then, intensely sensitive; and when she sat in the old bark school she fancied that the other children were thinking or whispering to each other, “Her brother’s in prison! Mary Wylie’s brother’s in prison! Tom Wylie’s in gaol!” She was thinking of it still. They were ever with her, those horrible days and nights of the first shadow of shame. She had the same horror of evil, the same fearful dread of disgrace that her mother had. She had been ambitious; she had managed to read much, and had wild dreams of going to the city and rising above the common level, but that was all past now.

How could she rise when the cruel hand of disgrace was ever ready to drag her down at any moment. “Ah, God!” she moaned in her misery, “if we could only be born without kin—with no one to disgrace us but ourselves! It’s cruel, God, it’s cruel to suffer for the crimes of others!” She was getting selfish in her troubles—like her mother. “I want to go away from the bush and all I know.... O God, help me to go away from the bush!” Presently she fell asleep—if sleep it may be called—and dreamt of sailing away, sailing away far out on the sea beyond the horizon of her dread. Then came a horrible nightmare, in which she and all her family were arrested for a terrible crime. She woke in a fright, and saw a reddish glare on the window. Her father was poking round some logs where they had been “burning-off”. A pungent odour came through a broken pane and turned her sick. He was burning the hide.

Wylie did not go to bed that night; he got his breakfast before daylight, and rode up through the frosty gap while the stars were still out, carrying a bag of beef in front of him on the grey horse. Mary said nothing about the previous night. Her mother wondered how much “father” had given for the steer, and supposed he had gone into town to sell the hide; the poor soul tried to believe that he had come by the steer honestly. Mary fried some meat, and tried to eat it for her mother’s sake, but could manage only a few mouthfuls. Mrs. Wylie also seemed to have lost her appetite. Jack and his brother, who had been out all night, made a hearty breakfast. Then Jimmy started to peg out the ’possum skins, while Jack went to look for a missing pony. Mary was left to milk all the cows, and feed the calves and pigs.

Shortly after dinner one of the children ran to the door, and cried:

“Why, mother—here’s three mounted troopers comin’ up the gully!”

“Oh, my God!” cried the mother, sinking back in her chair and trembling like a leaf. The children ran and hid in the scrub. Mary stood up, terribly calm, and waited. The eldest trooper dismounted, came to the door, glanced suspiciously at the remains of the meal, and abruptly asked the dreaded question:

“Mrs. Wylie, where’s your husband?”

She dropped the tea-cup, from which she had pretended to be drinking unconcernedly.

“What? Why, what do you want my husband for?” she asked in pitiful desperation. She looked like the guilty party.

“Oh, you know well enough,” he sneered impatiently.

Mary rose and faced him. “How dare you talk to my mother like that?” she cried. “If my poor brother Tom was only here—you—you coward!”

The youngest trooper whispered something to his senior, and then, stung by a sharp retort, said:

“Well, you needn’t be a pig.”

His two companions passed through into the spare skillion, where they found some beef in a cask, and more already salted down under a bag on the end of a bench; then they went out at the back and had a look at the cow-yard. The younger trooper lingered behind.

“I’ll try and get them up the gully on some excuse,” he whispered to Mary. “You plant the hide before we come back.”

“It’s too late. Look there!” She pointed through the doorway.

The other two were at the logs where the fire had been; the burning hide had stuck to the logs in places like glue.

“Wylie’s a fool,” remarked the old trooper.

III.

Jack disappeared shortly after his father’s arrest on a charge of horse and cattle-stealing, and Tom, the prodigal, turned up unexpectedly. He was different from his father and eldest brother. He had an open good-humoured face, and was very kind-hearted; but was subject to peculiar fits of insanity, during which he did wild and foolish things for the mere love of notoriety. He had two natures—one bright and good, the other sullen and criminal. A taint of madness ran in the family—came down from drunken and unprincipled fathers of dead generations; under different conditions, it might have developed into genius in one or two—in Mary, perhaps.

“Cheer up, old woman!” cried Tom, patting his mother on the back. “We’ll be happy yet. I’ve been wild and foolish, I know, and gave you some awful trouble, but that’s all done with. I mean to keep steady, and by-and-bye we’ll go away to Sydney or Queensland. Give us a smile, mother.”

He got some “grubbing” to do, and for six months kept the family in provisions. Then a change came over him. He became moody and sullen—even brutal. He would sit for hours and grin to himself without any apparent cause; then he would stay away from home for days together.

“Tom’s going wrong again,” wailed Mrs. Wylie. “He’ll get into trouble again, I know he will. We are disgraced enough already, God knows.”

“You’ve done your best, mother,” said Mary, “and can do no more. People will pity us; after all, the thing itself is not so bad as the everlasting dread of it. This will be a lesson for father—he wanted one—and maybe he’ll be a better man.” (She knew better than that.) “You did your best, mother.”

“Ah, Mary! you don’t know what I’ve gone through these thirty years in the bush with your father. I’ve had to go down on my knees and beg people not to prosecute him—and the same with your brother Tom; and this is the end of it.”

“Better to have let them go, mother; you should have left father when you found out what sort of a man he was; it would have been better for all.”

“It was my duty to stick by him, child; he was my husband. Your father was always a bad man, Mary—a bad man; I found it out too late. I could not tell you a quarter of what I have suffered with him.... I was proud, Mary; I wanted my children to be better than others.... It’s my fault; it’s a judgment.... I wanted to make my children better than others.... I was so proud, Mary.”

Mary had a sweetheart, a drover, who was supposed to be in Queensland. He had promised to marry her, and take her and her mother away when he returned; at least, she had promised to marry him on that condition. He had now been absent on his latest trip for nearly six months, and there was no news from him. She got a copy of a country paper to look for the “stock passings”; but a startling headline caught her eye:

IMPUDENT ATTEMPT AT ROBBERY UNDER ARMS

“A drover known to the police as Frederick Dunn, alias Drew, was arrested last week at—”

She read to the bitter end, and burned the paper. And the shadow of another trouble, darker and drearier than all the rest, was upon her.

So the little outcast family in Long Gully existed for several months, seeing no one save a sympathetic old splitter who would come and smoke his pipe by the fire of nights, and try to convince the old woman that matters might have been worse, and that she wouldn’t worry so much if she knew the troubles of some of our biggest families, and that things would come out all right and the lesson would do Wylie good. Also, that Tom was a different boy altogether, and had more sense than to go wrong again. “It was nothing,” he said, “nothing; they didn’t know what trouble was.”

But one day, when Mary and her mother were alone, the troopers came again.

“Mrs. Wylie, where’s your son Tom?” they asked.

She sat still. She didn’t even cry, “Oh, my God!”

“Don’t be frightened, Mrs. Wylie,” said one of the troopers, gently. “It ain’t for much anyway, and maybe Tom’ll be able to clear himself.”

Mary sank on her knees by her mother’s side, crying “Speak to me, mother. Oh, my God, she’s dying! Speak for my sake, mother. Don’t die, mother; it’s all a mistake. Don’t die and leave me here alone.”

But the poor old woman was dead.

* * * * * * * * *

Wylie came out towards the end of the year, and a few weeks later he brought home a—another woman.

IV

Bob Bentley, general hawker, was camping under some rocks by the main road, near the foot of Long Gully. His mate was fast asleep under the tilted trap. Bob stood with his back to the fire, his pipe in his mouth, and his hands clasped behind him. The fire lit up the undersides of the branches above; a native bear sat in a fork blinking down at it, while the moon above him showed every hair on his ears. From among the trees came the pleasant jingle of hobble-chains, the slow tread of hoofs, and the “crunch, crunch” at the grass, as the horses moved about and grazed, now in moonlight, now in the soft shadows. “Old Thunder”, a big black dog of no particular breed, gave a meaning look at his master, and started up the ridge, followed by several smaller dogs. Soon Bob heard from the hillside the “hy-yi-hi, whomp, whomp, whomp!” of old Thunder, and the yop-yop-yopping of the smaller fry—they had tree’d a ’possum. Bob threw himself on the grass, and pretended to be asleep. There was a sound as of a sizeable boulder rolling down the hill, and presently Thunder trotted round the fire to see if his master would come. Bob snored. The dog looked suspiciously at him, trotted round once or twice, and as a last resource gave him two great slobbery licks across the face. Bob got up with a good-natured oath.

“Well, old party,” he said to Thunder, “you’re a thundering old nuisance; but I s’pose you won’t be satisfied till I come.” He got a gun from the waggonette, loaded it, and started up the ridge; old Thunder rushing to and fro to show the way—as if the row the other dogs were making wasn’t enough to guide his master.

When Bob returned with the ’possums he was startled to see a woman in the camp. She was sitting on a log by the fire, with her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands.

“Why—what the dev—who are you?”

The girl raised a white desperate face to him. It was Mary Wylie.

“My father and—and the woman—they’re drinking—they turned me out! they turned me out.”

“Did they now? I’m sorry for that. What can I do for you?... She’s mad sure enough,” he thought to himself; “I thought it was a ghost.”

“I don’t know,” she wailed, “I don’t know. You’re a man, and I’m a helpless girl. They turned me out! My mother’s dead, and my brothers gone away. Look! Look here!” pointing to a bruise on her forehead. “The woman did that. My own father stood by and saw it done—said it served me right! Oh, my God!”

“What woman? Tell me all about it.”

“The woman father brought home!... I want to go away from the bush! Oh! for God’s sake take me away from the bush!... Anything! anything!—you know!—only take me away from the bush!”

Bob and his mate—who had been roused—did their best to soothe her; but suddenly, without a moment’s warning, she sprang to her feet and scrambled to the top of the rock overhanging the camp. She stood for a moment in the bright moonlight, gazing intently down the vacant road.

“Here they come!” she cried, pointing down the road. “Here they come—the troopers! I can see their cap-peaks glistening in the moonlight!... I’m going away! Mother’s gone. I’m going now!—Good-bye!—Good-bye! I’m going away from the bush!”

Then she ran through the trees towards the foot of Long Gully. Bob and his mate followed; but, being unacquainted with the locality, they lost her.

She ran to the edge of a granite cliff on the higher side of the deepest of the rocky waterholes. There was a heavy splash, and three startled kangaroos, who had been drinking, leapt back and sped away, like three grey ghosts, up the ridge towards the moonlit peak.

Mitchell on the “Sex” and Other “Problems”

“I agree with ‘T’ in last week’s ‘Bulletin’,” said Mitchell, after cogitating some time over the last drop of tea in his pannikin, held at various angles, “about what they call the ‘Sex Problem’. There’s no problem, really, except Creation, and that’s not our affair; we can’t solve it, and we’ve no right to make a problem out of it for ourselves to puzzle over, and waste the little time that is given us about. It’s we that make the problems, not Creation. We make ’em, and they only smother us; they’ll smother the world in the end if we don’t look out. Anything that can be argued, for and against, from half a dozen different points of view—and most things that men argue over can be—and anything that has been argued about for thousands of years (as most things have) is worse than profitless; it wastes the world’s time and ours, and often wrecks old mateships. Seems to me the deeper you read, think, talk, or write about things that end in ism, the less satisfactory the result; the more likely you are to get bushed and dissatisfied with the world. And the more you keep on the surface of plain things, the plainer the sailing—the more comfortable for you and everybody else. We’ve always got to come to the surface to breathe, in the end, in any case; we’re meant to live on the surface, and we might as well stay there and look after it and ourselves for all the good we do diving down after fish that aren’t there, except in our imagination. And some of ’em are very dead fish, too—the ‘Sex Problem’, for instance. When we fall off the surface of the earth it will be time enough to make a problem out of the fact that we couldn’t stick on. I’m a Federal Pro-trader in this country; I’m a Federalist because I think Federation is the plain and natural course for Australia, and I’m a Free-tectionist because I’m in favour of sinking any question, or any two things, that enlightened people can argue and fight over, and try, one after the other, for fifty years without being able to come to a decision about, or prove which is best for the welfare of the country. It only wastes a young country’s time, and keeps it off the right track. Federation isn’t a problem—it’s a plain fact—but they make a problem out of every panel they have to push down in the rotten old boundary fences.”

“Personal interests,” suggested Joe.

“Of course. It&