an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: From Selection to City
Author: Steele Rudd
eBook No.: .html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2024
Most recent update: 2024

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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From Selection to City

Steele Rudd




Chapter 1. - The Invitation
Chapter 2. - The Wedding
Chapter 3. - A Delicate Operation
Chapter 4. - Kidston
Chapter 5. - A Bees’ Nest
Chapter 6. - Maggie
Chapter 7. - The Minister
Chapter 8. - My First Situation
Chapter 9. - Off to the Shearing
Chapter 10. - The Wool Shed
Chapter 11. - A Rain Spell
Chapter 12. - The First Money
Chapter 13. - Boy on a Station
Chapter 14. - My First Day in a Government Office
Chapter 15. - Mulcahy’s Pigs
Chapter 16. - Dad and the Pigs


Chapter 1
The Invitation

I do not know where my memory commenced. I wasn’t very old, however, when the invitation for Bella Belford’s wedding came to our place, but I was ambitious, and loved enjoyment. I couldn’t tell you how much I loved enjoyment; I only know I never grew tired of it. Rarely was there any about the selection to grow tired of, anyway. Tramping the bush after cows; stirring blazing fires that roared through the heat of the day and scorched the green grass and vegetation for yards around; picking your way over the frosted earth, in bare feet at sunrise of a winter’s morning, were disheartening pastimes, and set one wondering if life was always to be the same, and if it would ever be worth living at all!

But when the enjoyment came along—ah! then was the time! All the terrors and tribulations of the selection vanished, or were forgotten, and the dull, dead land became a bright, laughing land, and the world a fine world, a good, grand, glorious old world. I cast away the rake on hearing that invitation, and threw up my hat, and, when it came down, jumped on it, and said I was going to that wedding. Joe, who was affected the same way, jumped too, but not on my hat. He jumped on the up-turned teeth of the rake. Then there was enjoyment! Joe roared like a young bull, and tried to kick himself free of the rake. But it was a good rake. It was one we bought. Mother screamed; Sarah screamed and danced clumsily about, and tramped on the handle of the rake with her big feet, and Joe came off it.

“Fetch some rag! Oh, dear me, dear me! Fetch some rag, quick!” mother moaned.

I ran for the rag. I didn’t know where I was going to get any, but I ran for it. Into the house I dashed, stopped all aflutter, and stared excitedly about. I saw only the papered walls, the gin cases, and the table. There was no time to lose. I rushed out again.

“I can’t see any,” I shouted. “Where’ll I get it?”

“Oh dear, oh dear! the child will bleed to death!” mother cried. “Bring something; anything at all. Quick! oh my heavens!”

I rushed into the house again—and out. I was distracted. I knew Joe would die.

“There’s none!” I blubbered.

“Oh, my God! bring something,” from mother. Her words were touching. My eyes rested on something—something ballooning gaily on the clothes line, and which, to me, seemed capable of supplying a whole hospital with rag. I dashed for that clothes line with both arms outstretched.

“Not them! not them!” Sarah shrieked, rising up from beside Joe. I stopped and looked at Sarah.

“Go on with y’,” she said, “have some sense!” and, racing past me, entered the house herself and returned with yards of calico. It was just in time. Joe’s life was saved. After a while he lifted himself slowly, and limped cautiously about. Mother anxiously watched his movements for a long while. Mother was a good, careful nurse.

“Do you feel the pain going up your leg?” she asked.

Joe didn’t feel any pain much, but, when mother was thoughtful enough to remind him, he hadn’t the heart to disappoint her. He placed both hands on the uninjured limb by mistake, and pulled a face that explained the torture he was silently enduring.

“Do you?” mother repeated with increased anxiety. “Tell me!” And she put her hand on his shoulder to implore an answer. Joe screwed and twisted about some more, before he could speak.

“A b-b-bit,” he murmured. Then there was fresh alarm.

“Oh, good gracious me!” mother exclaimed, turning to Sarah, “the pain’s going up the child’s leg, and it’ll turn to blood poisoning. Fetch him in and put him on the sofa. And your father’s not at home either! Oh, whatever will we do!”

Sarah cross-examined Joe.

“The pain’s there, is it?” she said, squeezing his thigh.

“Y-y-yes—don’t ’urt me.” Joe groaned.

Then Sarah accidentally made a discovery.

 “Why, that isn’t the leg your sore foot is on,” she said.

Mother stared then, and seemed to learn a lot “Go on, boy,” she said, sceptically; “and don’t be shamming, you young scamp.”

A conflict of feeling filled the heart of Joe. He was in doubt whether to feel ashamed of himself or to revile Sarah. He reviled Sarah.

“Well, it’s sore enough, anyhow,” he cried, “an’ if y-y-you had it, yer fool, yer wouldn’t like it”

Then Joe went limp and started to sink to the ground.

“D-d-don’t—oh my!” Sarah gasped, clutching at Joe as she saw him in the act of making a chair of the still upturned rake. But she was too late. Down Joe flopped on the rake, and, with a yell, tried to get off it again. But it was a good rake. It kept its teeth in and clung to him like a signboard. He tried to turn but the long handle prevented him. Then he snatched at it like a dog biting at things on its tail.

“Stand steady, then,” Sarah commanded, taking hold of him with one hand and the rake with the other. Joe stood steady, but rolled his eyes about and shivered. Then Sarah rescued the rake, and even mother laughed.

“Did you ever see the like of it?” I heard mother say when they went inside.

“And what did you think of the other fellow?” (that was me) Sarah asked. “Did you see what he was going to fetch from the line to bandage the foot with?”

They both laughed again, and, feeling curious, I crept back to the clothes line for enlightenment Then I laughed. I was looking up at the line laughing some more, when the voice of mother rang out through the open window: “Steele!”

I stole away and joined Joe.


Chapter 2
The Wedding

“You are not going—neither of you.” “You will go home with Mrs. Brown and sleep at her place, and come back in the morning.”

That was mother’s decision after we had bellowed and blubbered our lungs out to go with her and Sarah to Bella Belford’s wedding.

“Besides”—she added—“you haven’t coats or boots to go anywhere with.”

Then we broke out in a fresh place.

“Well, Ted Smith, and Mick Bailey,” I moaned, “have no boots either, and they’re going.”

“So is Jimmy Doolan,” Joe added.

“That’ll do, now—don’t let me hear another word!” And mother, who had taken us by surprise as we sat whining at the fireplace, glided up and stood shaking a piece of green-hide leg-rope threateningly over our heads. We became silent then. We didn’t even look up at her. We sat motionless, staring hard at the earthen floor, and mechanically scratching the surface of it with our toe-nails.

“I’d put it on them, I would.” Sarah called out heartlessly from the depths of the bedroom. “They want it if ever anyone did! Goin’ on the way they do! They think they’re getting mighty big men all at once!”

Sarah was not an affectionate sister when weddings or parties of any kind were in the air.

“For two pins I would,” mother hissed in our ears, and we fancied we could feel her raise the green hide, and we shuddered and tried to shrivel up inside our clothes. But mother was a soft-hearted woman, and contented herself with administering another caution, after which she returned to her room and continued dressing for the wedding.

We crept outside then, and entrenched ourselves beneath the window. There was more room for us outside. We felt we could agitate more effectively in the open. We began where we left off, when mother interrupted us with the leg-rope.

“I don’t care”—I said in a firm voice—“I’m goin’ to go.” And in a plaintive key Joe made it known that he “wouldn’t stay with Mrs. Brown.”

Looking round during an interval in our lamentations, we saw the familiar figure of Mrs. Brown swinging along down the narrow track that led over a stony, barren ridge, dividing her selection from ours. Our hearts beat heavily. We wished she would fall dead before she reached our rails. We felt as condemned prisoners feel when the sheriff comes in sight.

“Hello!” Mrs. Brown said pleasantly, as she reached the door and passed inside—“Are you ready to come with me, boys?”

We were not; but for anything else—murder, suicide, treason—we were quite prepared. We scarcely looked at her. A few broken sobs was our only reply. And when Mrs. Brown had assisted mother and Sarah to put the finishing touches to their toilettes, and had complimented them upon their appearance in white muslin, and helped them to put out the cat and lock up the house, she turned cheerfully to us. She took our hands, and, with one of us on either side of her, marched off chatting glibly.

“Come along, boys”—she said—“come along; and you’ll be able to see the men threshing with the new machine.”

But we couldn’t “come along” much. We hadn’t the strength; and we didn’t want to see the men threshing, anyway. We only wanted to see the wedding.

“There’s good boys”—she added and proceeded to pull us. With a twist in our bodies, and our heads turned round watching mother and Sarah stepping it out through the timber, we dragged sulkily along. Every step we took we felt was widening the distance between us and our friends for ever. We felt we were being kidnapped, and would never see them any more. Ah, it was a terrible feeling! I got slower and slower in the legs, but my mind was going at high pressure. Its activity was threatening me with typhoid. Resolutions to escape kept shaping and shattering themselves. Then the tragedy of a whole night in a strange house, away from home and everyone, rose up vividly before me. It was too much. I broke—bolted back full split after mother and Sarah. Oh, the glad feeling that freedom brings to the heart of the captive! What joy was mine as I bounded off! When I had covered about a hundred yards I glanced back over my shoulder to see if Mrs. Brown was pursuing me. She wasn’t. Joe was, though, and coming like a racehorse. It didn’t increase my delight when I saw him. Somehow I didn’t approve of Joe escaping from Mrs. Brown. I had a notion that mother and Sarah might tolerate me if Joe was out of the road. I stopped. I was annoyed.

“Go on back. Don’t you come!” I hissed.

“Eh?” he gasped, pulling up short, and staring.

“Don’t you be follerin’ me,” I counselled. “I don’t know where I’m goin’ to.”

My sudden disloyalty was perplexing to Joe. He could only gape.

“You’d better go back to ’er,” I went on, offering good advice. “I’m goin’ to stay at home, an’ sleep all night be me-self.”

I was sure that would turn him. It didn’t, though. Joe knew that sleeping alone in empty houses was not one of my strong points. He grinned and said: “So am I.”

“What!” I answered, “and no one at home? And lots of travellers about? (I was always very suspicious of travellers myself.) And those dingoes that killed Snowy’s calf howlin’ round all night? (I never liked dingoes.)” I looked right into his eyes and waited for an answer. I was sure all those terrors would bring him to his senses.

“Yes, if you are,” he replied stubbornly. I was disappointed. I commenced to think hard, and was debating with myself what line of argument to pursue next, when, all at once, Mrs. Brown appeared within a few yards of us. Startled brumbies were nothing to the way we made off. A small cloud of dust and dead leaves was all she embraced when she sprang for a hold of us, and the next moment Joe was leading by several lengths as we raced to overtake mother and Sarah. We overtook them; but deemed it wise to ease off at a safe distance and follow without alarming them. We kept as many big trees as we could between us and them, so that, when they chanced to look around, which they did at intervals, our presence would not spoil their view. Besides we were shy and modest, and hated publicity. We were not cut out for politicians.

It was a rough tramp through those grassy, heavily-timbered paddocks, too, and after covering a mile or two, mother, who was a big, stout woman, showed signs of fatigue. She sat on the end of a log for a while and fanned herself with her handkerchief. Under cover of the grass and a gigantic gum we stalked them, and for a while were crouched within a few yards of them enjoying their conversation.

“I wonder how the poor little chaps will get on with Mrs. Brown?” mother said, with a touch of genuine regret in her voice. “I wish we could have brought them! They would have enjoyed themselves so much, too. It’s hard to leave them like that.”

“Oh, they’ll be all right, never fret,” Sarah answered, coldly. “And they’re far better where they are; the Belfords don’t want them.”

Mother sighed for us; and then she rose and they went on a little further. We came out from behind the gum and went on some too. And, knowing now how mother felt for us, we gained courage and became hopeful.

When Belford’s place came in sight, a feeling of joy and reckless exultation took possession of us. We felt we would like to be on good terms with everyone, and at peace with the whole world. We longed to sink all petty differences and become broad minded. We were sure, too, the same Christian feeling had entered the souls of mother and Sarah, and had an idea that if we only emerged into the open they would be overjoyed to see us again. We emerged into the open; discarded tact and caution, and walked bravely in the wake of them. We longed for them to look round and discover us. But somehow they never looked around. Their eyes were on Belford’s, and their minds all on the wedding. They laughed merrily together, too, over things they were saying. Their merry mood increased our courage. It gave us our opportunity, and we laughed, too, a hard, forced laugh, and looked up at the trees with one eye and at them with the other. They jumped round as if they had been struck with something, and glared at us. The look on their faces disappointed us. We made a quick calculation and mentally measured the distance between them and us.

“Oh, you young wretches!” mother gasped, while Sarah snatched up a heavy stick and came our way. We started to retreat hurriedly. She dropped the stick and sprinted. It was a good go for fifty yards. But Sarah was hampered by her skirts, and we were in better condition, anyway. When beyond all chances of capture, we stopped and looked round. Mother and Sarah were standing watching us. We laughed together at our own bad judgment, for we found we had run a quarter of a mile further than was necessary. But that was because I thought Joe was Sarah, sometimes; and he thought the same of me. It depended on which of us was in the lead. We stood and watched them for a good while. They came on, making signs of aggression. We ran some more. They continued to come on. We continued to run till we reached our home fence, and crawled under it. Mother and Sarah seemed satisfied then, and made back for Belford’s. We had the true instincts of good sports in us. We allowed them a liberal start, then with all the skill and stealth born of the bush, we pursued them. Our tactics were most successful. From the edge of Belford’s tall corn, where we remained under cover till dark, we saw them mount the front steps and commingle with the crowd that thronged the verandah. And, as the sun disappeared and the gloomy shades of night settled on the land, the cheerful strains of the concertina fell on our ears; we saw the light of the big fire that blazed at the back to illuminate the proceedings; we heard the peals of merriment, and the thump and rattle of feet on the floor, and—we imagined the rest. All was joy to us then, and we didn’t stop running any more till our coatless, bootless figures were lit up by the big blaze.

And such a scene! Large buckets of water were being boiled on the fire for tea; swings were in motion under the trees; crowds of guests in their best clothes capered and careered through the yard, some chasing others around the house with handkerchiefs. We were delighted. We didn’t regret having come. We stood by the fire and grinned when any of the merry gathering recognised us. Mrs. McCarthy, bless her memory, made a lot of us. She inquired if we had had anything to eat. Of course we hadn’t. In fact, we were as hungry as kangaroo dogs. She directed us to a table laden with provender on the back verandah. Oh, that was joy! Bless her some more! We remained at that table longer than we ever remained anywhere in our lives. Then we returned to the fire, feeling splendid. After a while a desire to join in the fun gripped us hard. We began by frisking round Teddy Belford. Teddy was our own age, and we knew him well at school. But Teddy was dressed in a new suit, and wore boots on his feet and a flower in his coat, and he despised us. Besides, several girls, dressed in white and with orange blossoms in their hair, were making much of Teddy. The comradeship of the school had left him so far as we were concerned. He sneered at our bare feet, and encouraged his girl friends to laugh at us. We went cold on Teddy. We sought the society of bigger game. Miss Anderson, rustling her silk sash and skirts, rushed past us to escape Percy Sharpe, who was pursuing her. We clutched at Miss Anderson with all our hands, to hold her for Percy, and render him a good turn. We clutched at her swinging arm, and secured a lot of her skirt, and her red sash, which ripped and tore away from her like a tree struck by lightning. It was a great surprise to her. It was a great surprise to us, too. It was the very last thing we thought would have happened.

“Oh, you young wretches, see what you’ve done!” Miss Anderson cried, gathering her damaged skirt about her.

“Wh-what!” Percy gasped, glaring at the damage, and then at us. “What the devil did you do that for?” We couldn’t say what we had done it for, and shuffled off amongst the guests and tried to lose ourselves. Miss Anderson’s friends, however, soon patched her up, and all went well with us again.

We found our way to the house, where the dance was in full swing, and took up positions each side the door, and looked in. We remained in for some time, until we saw mother and Sarah coming out with someone to get a breath of fresh air. Then we retreated into the shades of the peach trees. But as they reentered the room we backed up again. Ah, yes! We enjoyed watching a good dance, and that was the best one we had ever been at.

The night was well advanced, and the dancers were showing symptoms of fatigue, when we heard the voice of Mrs. McCarthy appealing for “a set for the young people.” Then in lusty tones the M.C. announced “a first set for the kiddies,” and next moment several large hands seized us by the shoulders and dragged us right into the ballroom, and found partners for us. Joy! It was more than joy. It was Heaven. But to mother and Sarah it was purgatory. They didn’t enter into the pleasure of the young people at all. They were different to the others. The others called us by name and cheered us on with loud shouts of hilarity. Mother and Sarah didn’t afford us as much as a smile. They sat looking at each other with long faces. But we pranced through that “set,” manfully, and without scarcely being heard on the floor; and when it was ended we regarded ourselves fully initiated to all the rights and privileges of invited guests, and took our seats with the others. We sat opposite mother and Sarah, and nursed our bare feet. They stared at us as though they had never seen us before. After a while they rose and went out somewhere; and when they appeared again they had their hats and shawls on, and began shaking hands with everyone. We couldn’t understand their going home before it was all over, and became alarmed. A feeling that they would want us to see them home crept over us, and we glided quietly out, and crawling into Belford’s dray we hid our forms in the folds of a tarpaulin that lay in the bottom of it. We intended to come out again and take our places in the ball-room when they would be well on their way home. But we didn’t show out again. We went to sleep.

Next day, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when old Belford took hold of the corners of that tarpaulin with both his hands and pulled it out of the dray, we fell on the ground and got a great start. So did old Belford. And, though thirty years have rolled along the march of time since then, and old Belford has long and peacefully slumbered in an honoured grave in the hollow where the apple-trees wave, I still can hear the deep rumbling laugh he sent after us as we raced like hares across his yard.


Chapter 3
A Delicate Operation

There’s a lot I could write about Rosie Rhyne; but one chapter of her will be sufficient—

A nice girl was Rosie Rhyne. A tall, well-shaped girl, too; and a fine singer, and only eighteen. Everyone round our district liked Rosie—everyone except Charlie Brown and Dave. They didn’t dislike her, though. They loved her—loved her heart and soul. They were mad about her, in fact; and mad about each other. Charlie Brown saw more of Rosie, though, than Dave did—so everyone said. Charlie was built different to Dave. There was more go in him. Whenever he went to Rosie’s place he would always remain for dinner, whether he was asked to, or not, and all that sort of thing. Besides, Rosie’s brother was after Charlie’s sister, and that gave Charlie a pull over Dave. By helping Rosie’s brother he was able to make chances for himself that could never enter into Dave’s life. But Dave was a patient young man—a long-suffering sort of lover, and a great believer in the hoary old lie that “everything comes to the chap who waits”. Dave waited.

Dave’s opportunity came, however—came the day Rosie was bitten on the lip by a red spider, and he, having volunteered his services, was sent, full gallop, for the doctor. It never occurred to Dave to hurry Charlie off for the medico, and remain behind, himself, to soothe Rosie, and cheer her up by sitting beside her on the sofa and stroking her yellow hair, and murmuring nice things in her ear. Ah, no, Dave never thought of anything like that till it was too late. In that respect Dave was an Englishman.

The doctor was absent on an “urgent case” when Dave, all dust and perspiration, reached the place, and wouldn’t return for twelve hours. The nurse was very sorry about it—so she said; but that didn’t give Dave any comfort or help him at all.

“Won’t be back for twelve hours?” he said, frowning heavily, after the nurse had repeated the painful communication to him at least six times.

“Fully that”— she answered, varying it a little, and looking away absent-mindedly.

“Oh, dammit!” Dave said, feelingly.

The nurse became attentive again. She stared at him, and then broke into a half smile.

Twelve hours!” Dave said again, looking up and down the verandah.

“Twel-ve—hours.” With a broad smile from the nurse.

Blast ’im!” Dave said.

The nurse laughed right out, then composed herself and asked:

“Is it a very urgent case?”

“Me girl’s bit be a red spider”—Dave answered in a broken voice.

“Oh!”—promptly from the nurse—“in cases of that kind the only thing to do is to make an incision in the wound and suck the poison out. Then you could drive her in, and the doctor would be here, perhaps.”

“Make a what?” Dave said, puzzled-looking.

“An incision—that is, cut the wound with a clean razor.”

“Oh, yairs,” Dave said, beginning to understand—“I know.” Then after a pause:

“The wound did you say?”

“Yes, cut the wound to open it and make it bleed.”

“But she wasn’t shot with anything”—Dave explained— “she was bit be a spider!”

The nurse was a lady. She didn’t laugh at Dave. She pretended she had misunderstood him, and said:

“Well, it doesn’t matter, just lance the part that was bitten.”

“Yairs, yairs; now I understand”—Dave replied eagerly, and waited to hear no more. The next moment he was gone again.

Rhyne’s humble dining-room was filled with anxious sympathisers when Dave alighted from his horse and rushed in. Disappointment filled their faces, however, when they saw the doctor had not come.

“He’s away, and won’t be back till to-morrow,” Dave jerked out

‘Till to-morrow!” came sadly from them all.

“But they told me all what I’m to do,” Dave added, assuming an air of wisdom and superiority. “Get me a razor. A slit has ter be made in th’ bite.”

“Oi told yez that,” Regan explained with a triumphant glare at the others. “Oi told yez.”

A razor was procured, and while Regan and Charlie Brown held Rosie lightly and tenderly, Dave took the razor and operated on her lip. Rosie never flinched. Turning to Charlie, Dave said, handing him the razor, “Hold that.” Charlie held it tight, and watched closely for the next move.

“Now then,” Dave said, extending his two long arms like a plain turkey taking wing, and brushing everyone away from Rosie. Then he closed them about her, and putting his head down fastened his lips on to hers and began to suck the poison out. Dave worked hard and made a noise like a pump.

“H’n-n-yum,” he murmured at intervals.

Ah, it was an affectionate-looking operation, and Rosie didn’t seem to mind it at all. The others all regarded it the right way too, and looked on with faces as solemn as a church —all except Charlie Brown. He kept shifting restlessly about, and changing colour, and when “H’n-n-yum” came from Dave again, Charlie poked him with the handle of the razor and growled:

“That ought to do, oughtn’t it?”

Without disengaging his arms from Rosie, Dave let go with a “flouk,” and turning his eyes to Charlie, spat on the floor and said: “Some o’ th’ pizen.” Then like an infant interrupted at the breast, he turned longingly to the wound again, and murmured as he fastened himself to it: “H’n-n-yum.” Ah, it was a beautiful time Dave was having. It was really a feast for the gods.

At last, however, Rosie became restless, and confessed with an effort to “feeling a lot better.” Then Dave slowly released his hold and sat back staring at Rosie with a glow on his face.

“It’ll have to be done again in the mornin’,” he said—“that was the instructions.”

Dave lied; but the lie was justifiable.

Rosie improved wonderfully, and became herself again within a few hours. And next morning, when Dave turned up to attend to the wound again, he found Charlie Brown with the patient in his arms. Dave stared, then coughed and mumbled, “mornin’” Charlie swayed about and murmured: “H’n-n-yum.”

Then he looked round and spat, and said: “Pizen.”



Chapter 4

I cherish memories of my selection life for its freedom, its joys, its careless hopes and sorrows, its utter irresponsibility. Its freedom led me anywhere, and everywhere. Its joys presented me with a dog—a rare dog, a thick-skinned, shaggy-haired, blue dog, a smooging mongrel dog. Dogs were worth more than men or horses then, and I valued him. I honoured him. I called him Kidston. I treated him well. Whenever he caught something—a rat or a ’roo—I fed him. When he failed to catch something, which was very often, he fed himself from the pantry. As time went by Kidston became my unreliable servant, and my most constant and unfaithful companion.

Still I liked him. I liked him for his thick skin, for his presence of mind, his unreliability, and his unconscious humour. To see Kidston when a mob of kangaroos started up in front of him, and led the way across creek and fence, was a higher education. He never pursued the enemy like another dog. He would never run straight. He’d hit out when I cried “Sool ’em,” and run in a different direction to the enemy. He’d steer to the left or right. And I would scream violent language after him and order him to “come back!” But once having decided on his course, Kidston was the devil. He wasn’t to be put off. He was as deaf then as he was hairy and humorous at other times.

Presently, however, I would be compelled to cease screaming after him, and in breathless expectation I’d hold my hand over my heart and scan the horizon. And there, away at the foot of a ridge, I would see the kangaroos taking an altered course, and bounding along right into the jaws of Kidston. And running my eye in advance of them I would discover Kidston’s strategic movements. There he would lie, calm and confident, waiting for them to come to him. And when they came bounding over him, what a reception he gave them! What havoc he made amongst them! Kidston was deadly at close quarters. He snatched patches of hide and fur from a half-dozen of them before finally deciding on his ’roo. And then, how I would forgive Kidston everything! And how I would applaud him, and confess my ignorance of things and admit his superiority. But, of course, that was when Kidston went to the right. There were times, though, when he went to the left. In fact, he mostly went to the left, and it was then that his great intelligence and his humorous capacity for cloaking an error of judgment showed themselves at their best.

Kidston never looked disappointed when he took a short cut and found himself miles from the ’roos. He was full of natural resources and subterfuge. (He used to eat eggs.) He never lost his presence of mind. He would hunt industriously about till he stirred up a quail or something, and chase it hard and noisily. And when he returned he wouldn’t come all the way to me. He was cautious. He would stand off a distance and study me to see how I was taking his performance. If I swung my arms about loosely, and didn’t say anything to him, he knew he was forgiven, and would wag his tail and smooge. If one hand remained behind my back, Kidston knew a waddy was concealed there, and off he’d go home, and put an end to the day’s fun. Kidston was a selfish hound when he took it in his head.

I gave up hunting ’roos with Kidston for a bad job. His unreliability was too much of a strain on me. Besides, a new and exciting species of vermin found its way into our district. Hares took possession of the land, and were as numerous as they were on Kidston’s back. They started up from under-foot wherever one went. Everyone took to hare-hunting. It became the popular pastime—the sport of all us bush kings. I wished to be in the thick of it. I put Kidston on the chain for a week to make him fine. He used to bark and agitate untiringly when he couldn’t get to the pantry, and it used to improve his wind. And when I took him off the chain again he was fit to race for a bank.

He relished the idea of hare-hunting, too; he fairly revelled in it. I took him out and he pursued his first hare with tremendous confidence, and with his mouth wide open. It was a treat to watch Kidston when he was extended. He opened and closed like a door. He was just in the act of grabbing that hare in his teeth when it suddenly wheeled at a right-angle and Kidston went floundering on ahead somewhere. It was the only time I ever saw him look foolish. When he recovered and looked round he hadn’t the remotest idea where the hare had gone to. It was all a mystery to Kidston. But he made no noise about it. He just walked along thinking the matter over; and after awhile he brightened up and frisked hopefully about. I could see by his confident strut that he had solved the puzzle, and had his mind made up to have it all his own way with the next hare.

The next hare left cover suddenly. Kidston took after it for twenty yards, then cut across to the right. He was working a point by anticipating the hare. But Kidston continued “cutting across”. The hare never altered its course and Kidston was deceived again. Somehow he couldn’t make it out. He seemed disgusted and started to sulk. Just then Anderson’s greyhound flew past on the heels of another hare, but Kidston showed no anxiety to join in the hunt. He pricked his ears, though, and watched the contest. Kidston was always ready to learn. And he learned that when the greyhound got left every time it was only folly for him to try and catch a hare. Then it was that Kidston excelled himself. He began by displaying unusual eagerness for another chance. He soon got it. Up started a hare. Kidston nearly broke several blood vessels. For about thirty yards there was nothing between him and the hare. Then the hare wheeled, and Kidston went on—went on with intent to deceive, and started plunging in the air and bounding about in search of the enemy, and barking in a “lost ball” sort of way. Kidston was a great fraud, but he had brains.

Kidston conceived an incurable dislike to hare-hunting and avoided the sport. He avoided me, too, and was always out somewhere when I whistled for him. And when he wasn’t out he mostly refused to follow; and, if he did consent to follow, it was in a sad, low-spirited, indifferent sort of way, and after dragging along a few hundred yards or so he’d stand and look at me. I’d coax him and say nice things to him. He’d stand looking at me just the same. Then I’d lose patience and say: “You—!—!” And he’d run home.

Kidston took up with the women. He was a terror for women, Kidston was. He would follow mother and Sarah when they visited the neighbours, and steal from the neighbours’ pantries, and, when he was full, lie under the table and fill their places with fleas. And Kidston could spare them a lot of fleas. He must have had millions on him. But it was useless trying to keep Kidston at home. If I held him with a hat over his eyes and hammered him till mother and Sarah were out of sight, he was off hot on their scent, the moment he was released; and he’d yelp with joy as he came up with them. Ah! it was humiliating to mother and Sarah to be followed about like that by Kidston; but it wasn’t my fault.

“You’ll have to tie that brute of a dog up,” mother said at breakfast one morning. “We’re going to see Mrs. Anderson’s sick little baby to-day, and don’t want him near the place, poking his nose into everything, and scratching the fleas off himself the way he does.”

“Well, their own dog has fleas!”—I said, defending Kidston for the first time in my life.

“It doesn’t matter!” Mother snapped firmly. “You tie him up.”

I said I would. But Kidston was a hard dog to beat. When he saw them getting ready he summed everything up, and cleared out. And when they reached Anderson’s, the first to come to the verandah to meet them was Kidston.

I had intended poisoning Kidston with matches, but he became suspicious and deserted our place. He went over to old Bob Philp’s place and lived with him.


Chapter 5
A Bees’ Nest

Before the church went up, and the parson came along to hold service at Shingle Hut, Sunday was always a long, dull day. We had always to find something to do, or go somewhere to put in the time, and it was a place where there was lots of time.

One Sabbath we were all hanging round, wondering how we would pull through, when George Brown happened along and said he knew where there was a splendid bees’ nest. Joy! The excitement of felling a tree and robbing a bees’ nest was what we loved; and honey we delighted in. We hadn’t tasted any honey for weeks, either; and, besides, we were right out of sugar. We were always right out of sugar. George said it was only about three miles to the place in a straight line across the station paddocks, and it was an old nest, and was sure to be loaded with honey. He had known it for four years. Fresh joy!

We raced round and found the axe and the crosscut saw, and three kerosene tin buckets, and a billy can, and some mosquito curtain, and fought with each other for the honour of carrying them. When mother had stepped in and mediated, and our individual rights were settled according to seniority, we locked up the house; then in single and double file, from mother down to Barty, we stepped out and followed George. And George took some following. He took a straight line, and took it with long swinging strides.

We were an irregular, formidable looking band wending our way over ridge and through forests of box and brigalow. We were a sight for the gods; also for the kangaroos, and the sheep, and the cattle by the way. They took alarm at our approach, and fell over each other in their haste to leave us in full possession of the land. The first mile or so was nothing but poetry to us. We were walking on air, enjoying the breeze and the hum of the locusts, and the perfume of the blossoms, and racing and vieing with each other for possession of the wild flowers and the hanging wattle bloom and loading ourselves up with them. But after a while the novelty of it all began to wear off, the wattle bloom and the wild flowers commenced to grow heavy, and the bees’ nest to seem a long way off. We threw away the wattle bloom and the wild flowers one by one, and gazed wearily at the mountain peaks and spurs that loomed ahead, and in turn, asked George “how far it was now?”

“Do you see that mountain there?” George would answer as he pointed with his finger; “not the low one, nor the next one to it, but the one next to that?” And, like the Israelites looking to Moses for a glimpse of the promised land, we would collect round our guide and look long and hard in the direction he was pointing. Those of us who fixed our eyes on the wrong mountain cheered up and loudly declared it was no distance. The others sighed and stumbled on silently. Barty, who had been lagging far behind, threw up the sponge, and dropped in the grass and started to cry, and said he couldn’t walk any further. Sarah pleaded with Dave to take up his little brother and carry him.

“Oh, hang him!” Dave growled. “I’ve got the axe; and I’ve got enough to do to carry meself. What did he want comin’ for if he can’t walk it?”

Then Sarah took Barty on her back, and Barty ceased to murmur, and was pleased to continue the journey.

When we had covered some more miles, George stopped, and, pointing with the crosscut, said encouragingly:—

“We’ve only got to go to the foot of that ridge, now.” And “that ridge” looked a good three miles off! We mentally measured the distance, and perspired terribly.

“I thought you said it was only about three miles altogether, George!” Sarah said, in an aggrieved sort of way, puffing hard under the burden of Barty.

Three mile! Oh, dear me!” mother echoed contemptuously, and dropped down on the end of a log.

“Well, I dunno,” George answered, gazing back retrospectively. “It’s not much more.”

“Not much more! oh dear,” and mother took out her pocket handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from her brow.

“Bah!” Dave sneered. “It’s seven miles if it’s a bloomin’ yard.”

“Well, I suppose I’ve walked it a hundred times ’tween shepherdin’ and huntin’ kangaroos, and I oughter know somethin’ about it,” George remarked warmly.

“You mighter walked it a thousand times,” Dave retorted, “but yer don’t know anything about it, all the same.”

“That’ll do, boy!” mother put in, reproving Dave.

“Well, I wouldn’t ask your opinion about it, any how,” George said, looking at Dave, “fer I don’t think you was ever here in your life before.”

“Wasn’t I?” Dave snapped. “I was here before ever you was.”

“Oh, hold your tongue, and let us get on,” Sarah said to Dave, “or it’ll be night time before we get there.”

“Before ever I was? I’ll swear you wasn’t!” from George.

“Well, I swear I was!” recklessly, from Dave.

“Shut up, can’t you, and come on,” mother said, addressing Dave as she rose from the log.

“You’re a liar, if you say that!” hotly from George.

Dave threw down the axe.

“Say that again,” he hissed, looking George square between the eyes.

“Dave!” mother squealed in alarm.

George threw down the crosscut.

“You’re a liar,” he repeated, again looking Dave square between the eyes.

Dave threw away his hat, then put up his hands and danced about.

George put up his hands and danced about. For quite a long interval they both danced about.

“My gracious me, they’re fighting!” mother screamed, throwing her arms about.

“Don’t take any notice of him, George, don’t mind him,” Sarah counselled in wild, impartial tones.

But just then Dave let out and hit George hard on the ear, and George was forced to pay a lot of attention to him. He showed his teeth, and hissed like a serpent, and aimed one at Dave’s chin. Dave dodged it, and planted a heavy one on George’s ribs, which sounded like a bale of wool being belted with a spreader. George grunted and doubled up. George was a long thin chap, made more for running than fighting. Dave hit him again, and George went down in a heap on the grass. Then Dave stood over him, ready to give him some more when he would rise. But George wasn’t in a hurry to rise. He took the full time allowed by the rules.

“You scoundrel!” mother cried, “You’ve hurt him! and if he dies you’ll be hung!”

And Sarah flew at Dave and scratched him for disabling our Moses.

“Mind y’self,” Dave hissed at her, “or I’ll give you one to go on with.”

“You coward!” Sarah howled, and reached for Dave again.

Dave stepped back to avoid her, and tripped over the form of George. George rose suddenly to his hands and knees, and threw himself full length on Dave, and gripped him by the throat. Dave gripped George by the throat, too. Then they both roared like wild animals, and locked their legs round each other, and gurgled and choked and rolled over and over on the grass like two large dogs. Mother and Sarah screamed and tried in vain to separate them. The rest of us cried and yelled and did nothing material.

“They’ll be over, oh my gracious!” mother cried as the combatants rolled down a slope and struggled for supremacy right on the edge of a high bank that hung over a large waterhole.

She had scarcely spoken when away they went over and over, like a large log rolling down the side of a mountain. Talk about screaming! You should have heard mother and Sarah! You’d think they were on fire. Dave and George must have got a fright, too, because they let go each other and separated before they reached the bottom.

And the splash they made when they hit the water was tragic. Dave rose to the top in a hurry and started for the low ground on the other side. Dave could swim, but George couldn’t. He stayed in the middle and started to drown.

“Oh, my heavens, save him!” mother cried, wringing her hands. And Dave, who was sitting limp and breathless on a rock, lifted a long stick that lay near him, and feebly poked the end of it at George. George grabbed it, and held on; then Sarah scrambled down the bank and pulled him ashore.

For a long while George lay on the rocks groaning and discharging water, and when he was himself again he rose, and said, we could go and find the bees’ nest ourselves. Then he left us, and took a short cut home.

“It was all your fault,” Sarah whined, addressing Dave as we collected the axe and the buckets and commenced our retreat.

“Oh, of course,” Dave grunted, slouching along with the axe and the crosscut on his shoulder, “of course, blame it on me!”


Chapter 6

“Oh, you young wretches!” mother said to Joe and me, one afternoon, after the parson had mounted his horse and ridden away. “What is that you have been telling the magpie to say?” We hung our heads, and scratched the ground with our big toes, and answered sullenly,

“It wasn’t us, it was Jim Miller told her to say it.”

“You young vagabonds!” mother went on, “if ever I hear it saying such things again, when anyone’s here, I’ll give it away to someone and have the pair of you flogged.”

The prospects of a flogging didn’t disconcert us much, but we didn’t cherish the thoughts of losing Maggie. Maggie we had fed, and fondled, and cared for since the day we got her out of the nest. For years she had been our constant companion, our joy, our amusement. She was one of us. We taught her all she knew, and what Maggie didn’t know wasn’t worth learning.

She could read, drive horses and bullocks, take clothes off a line, “coo-ee” the family to dinner, and discourse on almost any subject on earth but theology. In theology she had never received any tuition. We were not sound in theology ourselves. But in profanity, Maggie graduated wonderfully. In that she was an M.A., B.C. Her originality and delivery were gifts to envy and aspire to. But she knew a lot that we didn’t teach her. We didn’t teach her to drive bullocks. We had no bullocks.

In that branch she took lessons from old Joe, the station bullock driver. Old Joe used to pass our place once a month with loading, and, every time he passed, he used to swear at the bullocks from the weary polers to the panting leaders. If he didn’t he would never get over a steep dangerous pinch that formed the sides of an ugly gully running out of our paddock. And Maggie always seemed to know when the team was approaching, and would go out and perch herself on the slip-rail and assist old Joe to urge the bullocks:—

“Gee, Bugler!” she would scream.

“Wah, Bounce! Wah, Bounce! You—,—,—,! Star! You loafing—,—, crawler . . . . Wah, Bluey! Gee back, Cocky! Bee back.”

And when the lumbering dray was clear of the pinch old Joe would rest the team, and laugh and compliment Maggie, and offer to buy her from mother.

“She’d make a grand off-sider,” he used to say. “A grand off-sider.”

And mother would look at us and say,

“I’m afraid the boys wouldn’t let me part with her, though sometimes I threaten to give her away on them.”

“You’d be foolish if you did,” old Joe would advise. “She’s wuth money, she is.”

And we would secure Maggie and hurry her off out of the market.

But, one day, when old Joe was negotiating the pinch with a load of station wool, Maggie, perched as usual on the rails, remained silent until the dray was almost at the top. Then all at once she called in the deep bass voice of old Joe.

“Wa-a-a-y! Wa-a-a-y!” And, responding, the bullocks stopped at the critical moment, and the dray rolled back, taking them with it.

Old Joe countermanded the order in loud, frantic oaths, and flogged the team with the long whip, but it was too late. One of the wheels left the track and over went the dray, wool and all, into the bottom of the gully.

Poor old Joe! He threw up his hands in horror, then turned and furiously slashed the whip at Maggie and took one of her toes off.

“Murder! Murder!” she screamed, fluttering for the house.

We all ran out. Old Joe hobbled after Maggie to “ring her (awful) neck”. But Maggie always had a place to go in moments of danger. She got under the bed. Then old Joe turned his wrath on mother and us, and blasphemed, and said we should have all been hung for keeping a bird like that about the place. Joe nervously ventured to defend Maggie, but the maddened old bullock driver slashed at him with the whip, and we all ran inside and closed the door.

“Go and kill the wretch of a bird, kill it this minute,” mother moaned when old Joe had gone off. Joe and I went off to interview Maggie. We found her with a fast beating heart, and in a listening attitude, cocking her head from side to side.

“We’ve come to kill you, Maggie!” we said, with a grin. And in the despairing voice of old Joe she cried:—

“Gee, Tumbler! Gee, Star! Oh, my God!”

Then we laughed and caressed her.

Maggie visited Delaney’s place one day, without being invited, and got us into fresh trouble. Mrs. Delaney had a lot of work to do assisting her husband in the field, and she was handicapped a lot by a nine months’ old baby that insisted on crawling about everywhere and innocently taking risks with its young life. Delaney, who was of an original turn of mind, constructed a roomy “cage” out of stakes and wire netting, into which Mrs. Delaney used to dump the infant, and leave it without worrying when she would be out in the paddocks. And when Maggie came along the child had its face pressed close to the netting, bellowing boisterously for its liberty.

Maggie was in a matronly mood. She crooned to it in a motherly sort of way, then went off and procured a large grasshopper, which she handed through the wire on the point of her beak to Delaney’s infant. Maggie pursued grasshoppers in the interests of that infant for about an hour. Then for dessert she brought some long, wriggling worms from the newly-ploughed ground. Maggie was handing in a lizard when Mrs. Delaney happened to return—and then,

Murder! Murder!” she screamed, as Mrs. Delaney pursued in the direction of our place.

“Oh, it’s too bad—too bad altogether!” mother moaned after visiting Delaney’s to see if the child was going to die. “And there was a worm, ever so long, hanging on the wire when I went there, and grasshoppers! Oh, dear, dear, the place and the child’s frock were full of them.”

“Oh, kill the blessed magpie, and be done with her,” Sarah snapped angrily.

“Very well, you do it.” Then Joe and I rushed away and concealed Maggie from the eyes of the executioner. Joe planted her in his shirt.

“Where is she?” Sarah cried, with a murderous look in her eye.

We said we didn’t know.

“Damn it!” Maggie screamed from the folds of Joe’s shirt.

Then Sarah rushed at Joe, but I got in Sarah’s way; and Joe raced off down the paddock.

But a day came when we all regretted not having realised on Maggie and bought something with the money. Jim Smith was at our place boasting about his cattle pup, and showing how skillfully it could heel stock. One of our draught horses—Tiger —a wicked old warrior, happened to saunter into the yard in search of something to eat. There was never anything to eat in our yard, but somehow the horses always went there, to search for some.

“S-s-s, take him!” Jim whispered to his pup.

And the pup, without a whimper, stole up behind Tiger and took him by the heels. Tiger let fly at him, but the pup dropped flat on his stomach and the murderous hoofs went over him. Then the pup rose like a flash and fastened on to Tiger again. Tiger snorted and raced round the yard.

“That’ll do,” Jim said, and began patting the pup proudly. And, while he was patting him, Maggie, who had been watching the fun from the top of the dray, jumped down and danced lightly up to Tiger, and, when he was looking across the fence, plucked a beakful of hair out of his heel.

Tiger let out with the force of forty horses, and all that we saw of Maggie, when we looked round, was a heap of feathers separating from each other, high in the air, and blowing softly about.


Chapter 7
The Minister

It was a hot day, hot in the paddock gathering sticks and limbs and stones off the patch that was to be ploughed some day, and sown with wheat and lucerne, and the Lord knows what, when we got money enough to buy the seed. We had just finished dinner and were sitting, and lounging, and lying on the sofa and the cool floor, digesting the corn beef and pumpkin, and dreaming of liqueurs and black coffees, and things we had never heard of, and at long intervals discussing our prospects and plans for the future. Our prospects didn’t call for much discussion, however; they were like our Sundays, always much the same. But our plans for the future were numerous as hail stones and variable as the seasons. They occupied our minds perpetually, and kept us as busy as the bailiffs keep journalists and politicians. Our plans were always far-reaching too. Their scope was tremendous. They embraced and provided for everything between earth and heaven—everything except disappointments and chances of missing the ’bus. And our chances of missing the ’bus were always worth backing. But we never backed them. We would have lost if we had. We lost, anyway.

Mother, with a lot of good advice, had just consigned me to a shearing shed.

“Yes,” she was saying, “Steele can go next week, along with Dave, and get his name down for tar-boy,” when Sarah, with a gasp and a bound, suddenly broke in and interrupted our “plans”. “Oh-h,” she said, “th’ minister!” Then there was a wild disorderly scramble. The lot of us bounced up like kangaroos surprised in their morning slumbers, and made for different doors.

None of us loved being found at home when the minister paid the house a visit. He was such a lively, cheerful man, so excessively droll and funny, that we couldn’t trust our risible faculties with him, and deemed it wise always to get out of the way before he discovered us. But it was hard to avoid him when you weren’t sure which door he would enter by. We didn’t know which door he was making for now.

“Stay where you are,’ mother cried, “and don’t be like a lot of wild children.”

But mother didn’t understand our feelings towards the minister. She might just as well have asked us to sit still if the house was in flames.

“Look out!” Dave cried excitedly, “he’ll come this way sure as eggs,” and, leaving the front door, from where he had observed the minister’s approach, hurried in the lead to the back one, which he opened just wide enough to squint through and admit the kitten’s head. Dave pinched the kitten’s neck with the door, and chuckled when it squealed and spat and fought for liberty. “Why couldn’t y’ stay out, then!” Dave growled, looking down at pussy’s upturned eyes, then he eased the door to locate the minister again, and the kitten raced inside and round the room and flew on to the side table and startled mother. We all grinned and remained behind Dave ready to escape when he would throw the door wide open, and rush out. And we knew Dave wouldn’t throw it open till he was sure the minister was coming in by the front one.

Meanwhile, mother bustled about and spread a cloth on the table and snatched up miscellaneous articles strewn untidily on the floor and put them out of sight.

“For heaven’s sake, sit down, all of you, and have a little sense,” she cried, but cried in vain.

Suddenly Dave banged the door, and, holding it tight, gasped, “Holy! he’s comin’ this way.”

Then there was fresh pandemonium. No bogey man or burglar could have had so much terror for us as the approach of that minister. Dave couldn’t abandon his position at the door half fast enough. We were all in his way. He plunged like a roped brumby, and fouled us. We fell back, one on top of the other. Dave jumped over us and rushed to get out at the front door.

“My heavens, look at them—just look at them!” mother moaned.

Dave grabbed the door, and pulled it hard. It was a well-hung door, and would only open a little at a time, if you were in a hurry and forced it unnecessarily. If you were not in a hurry, and humoured it a little by lifting it a few inches, it would respond smoothly. Dave was in a hurry—a wild, tearing, desperate hurry. He nearly tore the house down in his haste. Then he squeezed himself through the small aperture and fell out on to the verandah, and the door shook and rattled like a shattered sheep-hurdle. And when he found his feet the minister was standing wonderingly before him. Dave got a great surprise.

“Well, Davey,” the minister said, “it’s a fine day, is it not?”

“Yes, she’s at home,” Dave spluttered, not knowing whether he was standing on his head or his heels. Then the door rattled vigorously again, and I came out in pursuit of Dave.

“Hello, and how are you to-day?” the minister said. The shock was too much for me. I turned and tried to get inside again. But the way was blocked. Joe and Bill were straining and struggling to get out at the same time. “Let me out! Let me out!” Joe gasped, “the parson’s at the back door.”

The minister stared at Joe’s head, for a moment, then turned to Dave. But Dave, taking long swift strides, was disappearing behind the haystack. The minister turned to me.

“What ever on earth is the—” was all I heard him say. I didn’t draw breath till I overtook Dave.

“By cripes!” Dave said, breathing heavily, “right into his bloomin’ arms.”


Chapter 8
My First Situation

Mother lost her leather purse—emptied it into the yard, one day, when she was airing her pillows, and one of the old cows that was always hovering about the back door on the look-out for choice things swallowed it and we couldn’t find it anywhere. We were turning the homestead inside out in search of it when Monihan rode up to the door and said he was in need of a smart lad, and asked mother could she spare me. Lawd, how I crimsoned with pride when I heard him say it! I suddenly realised my importance, and lost all interest in the missing purse. A “smart lad”. Me! Christmas! I shuffled closer to Monihan—came out into the open and struck the attitude of a drill instructor. I had never seen a drill instructor, but I struck the attitude of one.

“I’ll give him five shillings a week,” Monihan said, as he sucked at a straw that he held in his teeth. Plague and wooden legs! My hair began to stand. I became alarmed lest mother would hesitate, and the golden opportunity of my life be sacrificed. It seemed a year before she answered. One would have thought mother had no use for money.

“Well,” she said, at last, “he’s never been away from home yet, at all, Mr. Monihan, and—”

Thunder and lightning! what was mother thinking about! Surely she wasn’t going to put the man off me, and ruin my prospects! blast my whole career in life? My head drooped; my heart beat heavily.

“Oh, he’ll be all right. I’ll look after him,” Monihan answered lightly. “It will be just the same as bein’ at home for him. And he’ll have nothing to do but ride about after the cows and horses, and water them, and that kind of thing; and may be husk a bit of corn when he has nothing else to do.”

Mother seemed undetermined. She shook her head, and said slowly:

“Of course, I wouldn’t like him to be too much on horses. If he got a buster and got hurt—”

Confound it! if I got a buster!

Mother evidently thought I couldn’t ride! She was lowering me in the eyes of Monihan. She had no appreciation for danger and adventure. I had. I was indignant.

“Oh, there’s no fear,” Monihan said, with great assurance. “The old pony I’ll give him to ride’s quiet as a sheep. A baby could crawl all over him.”

“Still I wouldn’t like him to get thrown, you know,” mother groaned in her persistent way.

“Of course, not! Of course, not! I wouldn’t like it meself,” from Monihan.

I felt the reflection on my horsemanship, and went red, and longed, hoped, looked round expectantly for some untamable brumby, for a wild bull, an old man kangaroo, for anything to come along and afford me a chance to prove my capabilities and mother’s foolishness.

“Well, then, I can rely on him coming?” and Monihan pressed the point.

Mother looked at Sarah, and asked her opinion.

“Oh, I dunno,” Sarah answered. “I suppose there’s no harm letting him go.”

“I’ll give him five shillings a week,” Monihan said; repeating the figure in a voice which seemed to imply that he was doubtful whether mother had realised the magnitude of the, sum.

Five shillings a week! Heavens! It rang in my ears like gold dropping into a dish. And why mother didn’t rush it was beyond my comprehension. I was beginning to wonder if poverty was her idea of happiness, when all at once she said:

“Very well, Mr. Monihan,” and I jumped in the air like a wallaby.

“When would you want him?” she supplemented.

“Now—right away.”

Mother looked at Sarah again; then answered sensitively:

“He could hardly go to-day. We’ve nothing ready for him. His things are all out to dry,” and she glanced at the clothes line, where a skilful eye might have detected a calico shirt and a short pair of moles of mine battling with the wind. “But,” she added, as an afterthought, “We could run the iron over them after dinner, and let him go to you in the morning.”

I became apprehensive lest the case for my prospects in life might yet break down, and said nervously:

“I could go in these all right,” and turned myself round to display the cleanest side of me.

“Pshaw!” Monihan said, “he’s good enough—too good! You’re too particular, Mrs. Rudd. God bless me, what does he want with clean clothes at all for? They get dirty as soon as they’re put on, and washing them only wears them out.”

But mother was an obstinate woman where dress and cleanliness were concerned, and would have her way. And upon the following morning, spick and span, in white moles and calico shirt, and with a small swag containing some “extras,” and an old copy of the New Testament under my arm, I turned up at Monihan’s place. Monihan, who was a bachelor, was inside with bare feet and sleeves rolled up, cutting a bullock’s hide into long strips, and scraping the hair off them, for plough reins.

“Didn’t get over in time to run the horses in,” he grunted, straightening himself up as I darkened the door.

“They wouldn’t let me,” I answered truthfully.

“H’m; afraid you’d dirty your clothes.”

I changed colour; and, while he went on hacking at the hide, stood nursing my swag, and wondering where my quarters were to be.

“Hold that,” Monihan said, handing me the end of one of the strips of hide.

“Where’ll I put this?” I asked, anxious to be relieved of my bundle.

“Oh, drop th’ d— thing down anywhere,” he answered impatiently.

I dropped it down on the dusty, greasy floor of his hovel; and, taking the end of the hide, held on to it with fingers and thumb. Starting perilously near my thumb, he began scraping the hair off in flakes. I had had two fingers cut off once with a tomahawk, whilst sinking a well, and the thoughts of it made me flinch.

“D— it, hold it tight! What are you frightent off?” he yelled, glaring at me with a butcher’s knife in his hand.

I held it tight—held strip after strip for hours, while at regular intervals my employer would break out and blast me and wish me everywhere but in heaven for letting the strain off. Somehow Monihan wasn’t the same man now that he was when he came to our place to engage me; and I began to wonder when the stock-riding would start. I could see no romance in holding greenhide all day while he swore, and shaved the hair off it. Still the munificent sum I was to receive in wages rose up in my mind at intervals and saved me.

“How many eggs can you eat?” my employer asked, banging a frying pan on the table and proceeding to crack eggs on the edge of it and empty them into it.

“Oh, one,” I said, bashfully.

One!” he exclaimed, glaring round at me; “why d— it, I eat seven, and Bill eats seven.

“Oh well,” I said, “I’ll have seven.”

Later on he said:

“Go and tell Bill to knock off for dinner.”

I hadn’t been introduced to Bill yet, and inquired his whereabouts.

“Down in th’ paddock, there—ploughin’ ”—and he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb as he turned the steaming frying pan upside down and emptied layers of eggs into the plates.

I went off and located Bill’s team without any difficulty, but Bill himself wasn’t anywhere in sight After some searching, though, I came upon him in a small patch of corn. He was sitting with his back to me, his head deep in a water melon. I approached him nervously, wishing all the time he would look round and discover my presence.

“Heigh!” I said, and my voice must have resembled Monihan’s. Bill jumped up suddenly, and let the melon fall into the black soil.

“Hah; blast you!” he said when he saw me. “What are you prowling round here for?”

He turned and lifted the melon, but it had fallen face downward, and was covered with dirt. “The devil bust it,” he added, looking at me again. “Who sent you here?”

“’E told me to tell y’ dinner is ready,” I answered.

“Oh”—and Bill grinned—“you’re the cove that’s comin’ to pull the corn?”

“To run the horses and cows in,” I said, correcting him.

“You’ll get on well here,” Bill grunted encouragingly, “if you’re fond of hard work, and like fried eggs. Do you like eggs?” This with a grin.

“Sometimes,” I said.

“You’ll have to like ’em all times, if you’re going to stay here.”

After a pause.

“How much is he givin’ you a week?”

“Five shillings.”

“You’ll earn it,” and Bill strode over to the plough and unharnessed the team.

“Now wire in to that, and don’t waste any time,” and Monihan shoved a tin plate containing seven fried eggs before me. “And when you’re finished, slither up and bring down those horses you see looking over the fence up there. We’ll pull a bit of corn this evenin’ and bring it in.”

I wired in, silently wondering all the while when the romantic side of my engagement was to commence.

“Eggs again, Boss?” Bill grunted insinuatingly, as he took his place at the table.

“You ought to be d— lucky to have them,” the Boss answered, “any amount of men never see an egg.”

“I’d like to see something else, though, once in a while,” Bill mumbled.

“If you don’t like it, you can leave it,” the Boss yelled.

Bill didn’t leave it. Neither did I. I liked fried eggs, but I had never before tried to take seven in one breath. In the middle of the undertaking I stopped and looked up pathetically at my employer.

“Can’t you finish them?” he rasped out across the table.

I couldn’t, and feebly put down my knife and fork.

“Well, what the devil did you say you wanted them for?” he yelled. “You’re only wastin’ good grub. Go and get the horses.”

I went and got the horses.

“Do you know how to harness a horse?” Monihan asked, coming to the yard.

I knew.

“Well, put the shaft harness on the black mare there, and I’ll be back be the time you’re finished.”

Monihan came back, bringing Bill with him; and with the mare in the dray the three of us proceeded to the corn paddock.

It was a magnificent crop with cobs as long as your arm, and as thick as your leg, reader. And between the rows Bathurst burr and thistle, and all the weeds on earth flourished luxuriantly.

I didn’t see much fun or excitement in tearing those cobs from the stalks and tossing them into the dray. But it seemed an interesting occupation to Monihan. Whenever I missed a cob in the rows allotted me, he would go back and pull it, and curse me for my negligence. A heavy feeling entered my heart, I began to regard my employer with disfavour, and to think of home and mother.

When the dray filled in the centre, Bill mounted the load to level it and make room for more. Then it was that things began to go wrong. I was pulling cobs on one side of the dray; Monihan on the other.

“Lead the mare along, boy,” he said.

I took the animal by the head, and led her along.

“Look out! look out for that pumpkin!” he shouted, “don’t go over it.”

I went over it, and the wheel divided it.

“Damn you!” Monihan yelled, and threw a cob of corn across the mare’s back at me. I dodged it, and threw one at Monihan. I was a better shot than Monihan, and he had had no practice in dodging.

“D—!—!—! you!” he roared, and rushed round to my side the dray. I rushed round to his. He threw another cob across the mare. I ducked in time, and directed a miniature pumpkin at him. He stopped the pumpkin with his chest.

“You—!—!” he howled again. Bill, perched placidly on the load, started to laugh, and drew the fire on to himself. Monihan lifted the pumpkin and hit Bill on his dinner with it. Bill suddenly lost his temper, and began his defence with a round of profanity that made the very cornstalks tremble, and startled families of birds from out it; then he rained corn cobs down upon him till he nearly emptied the dray. Monihan turned and ran into the thick of the corn. I turned and ran home.

“You must have done something,” mother moaned when I explained the cause of my return.

I said I was innocent.

“And didn’t you bring your clothes?” Sarah exclaimed.

I said: “How could I?”

“Oh, I must go and see Mr. Monihan,” mother whined; and next day she set out and saw Mr. Monihan.

“If you take my advice,” he said to her, “you’ll send him to a reformatory. You’ll be sorry for it some day, if you don’t.”

Mother sent me to a shearing shed, and it was I who was sorry.


Chapter 9
Off to the Shearing

“Well,” said mother as Dave and I jig-jogged into the yard after riding to the station and back, “how did you get on?”

“Oh-h, grand,” Dave answered, jumping from the saddle. “I’m down for rollin-up at a pound a week, and (pausing and grinning disrespectfully at me) he’s ter get on shearin’”

“Shearing?” mother echoed in a surprised tone.

“Yes; that’s what they said they wanted yer for, isn’t it?” Dave answered, grinning at me again.

I ignored Dave, and addressing mother, said modestly: “No, as tar boy.”

“Oh,” Dave chuckled, “I thought it was a job of shearin’ you asked for!”

I said “Rats!

“Then you both got your names down,” mother said with pride, and the prospects of a big cheque in her eye.

“Yairs,” Dave drawled, “but if it had been left to him (meaning me) his would never have been down. He didn’t even ask how much a week they were going to give him, when he did get it down. I had to ask that for him as well.”

“ ’N’ had yer!” I said.

“Well, of course, you’re the oldest, Dave,” mother put in with a peaceful smile, “and it’s only right you should speak up for him, you know.”

“Yairs,” from Dave, with a nasty grin; “but he reckons he’s such a smart fellow, y’ know.”

“Who said ’e reckoned ’e was?” And I flashed at Dave like lightning, and only that Joe rushed out of the house at the moment, serious complications might have happened, and the peace of our home been seriously disturbed.

“Hello!” Joe shouted, “did yer get a job?”

“Yairs,” Dave answered, with another grin at me. “He’s goin’ shearin’.”

’E is? ’im?” and Joe laughed. “A f-f-fat lot ’e’d shear.”

Then Dave laughed. That laugh was the last straw. I ran round and looked for a stone. I was a great believer in stones for an argument.

“That’ll do,” mother cried; “don’t be quarrelling over it.”

“Well, isn’t he goin’ shearin?” Dave added maliciously, and raced off inside. But the stone arrived at the door several seconds before him, and made a great noise when it went to pieces and scattered about. Dave stopped and turned on me with his fists clenched, and fight in his eye. Dave was an ugly looking foe when his blood was up. I got behind mother. I always liked to get behind mother in a fight. She was the English navy of our family, and carried a lot of guns. She was good cover, and having a lot of the military spirit in me I always favoured fighting under cover.

“Stop it!” mother cried, throwing her hands up at Dave to repel his advance.

“Well, why the diggin’s can’t he stand a bit of chaff, then, without chuckin’ stones!” Dave bellowed.

“Well ’n why can’t you, too,” I replied from behind the fortress.

“Do y’ call chuckin’ stones, chaff?” and Dave dodged round mother in pursuit of me.

“That’ll do, that’ll do,” and mother kept turning like a searchlight to keep Dave in check, and making it difficult for me to keep behind her.

You never hit anyone with a stone—you never hit Jim Brown, did yer?” I hinted truthfully.

Never hit Jim Brown, did yer?” Dave snarled in my voice. Dave was a nasty mimic when he was angry.

“You needn’t talk,” I mumbled in a grieved tone; “you haven’t got such a pretty voice yourself.” I thought it was a good opportunity to turn Dave from the question of fight.

Got such a pretty voice yourself,” Dave echoed again, then chuckled. Dave always chuckled when he thought he had wounded your susceptibilities. I remained silent. I dropped my head and looked conquered.

“Let the child alone,” mother said.

Dave was satisfied.

“Ha! ha!” he laughed; “he’s goin’ shearin’” and ran off again. But another stone made a dint in the door just as he reached it. Dave jumped round again.

“By cripes!” But I had nearly reached the corn before he could say any more.

“Good-bye, and God bless you and send you safe home again when the shearing’s over,” mother said with big tears in her eyes when Dave and I had strapped our swags to the old makeshift saddles, and remarked that we “were ready to make a start”. Then we shook hands with Kate, and Norah, and Sarah, and Joe, and Bill, and kissed Barty, and, struggling into the saddles behind our swags, rode off with full and heavy hearts.

Passing out the sliprails which were always down, and about a hundred yards from the house, the road to the station brought us back past the door again, and afforded the opportunity of a second “goodbye”. Mother and Kate, and the others, were all on the verandah, and, as they watched to see the last of us, waved their hands feebly.

“Now take care of yourselves,” mother called in parting warning, and with large lumps in our throats we tried to smile as we answered back.

Ah, yes! it was all very well talking of going away, and looking forward to the day of our departure, but, when the moment came and we saw them all around the door of the old home with sorrowful faces and tears in their eyes, our minds became flooded with memories of the merriest moments at home, and all the kind words of the past, and big holes were made in our hearts that left us sad and relenting.

For the first mile we jogged along in silence, and the trailing of the horses’ hoofs over the ground, and the creaking of the saddles were all that could be heard.

“Ah, well!” Dave said, pulling himself together at last, “it won’t be long before we’re back again.”

I coughed several times, and tried to look right through the thin blue sky that draped the fringe of distant ranges away on my left. All the while I could feel Dave was looking at me.

“Never mind,” he said, kindly, “don’t think of it any more.”

But I had rather he hit me with his stirrup iron. After all my straining and struggling to “be a man,” everything now snapped and I went to pieces inwardly. There was no help for it The tears gushed through, and, casting a glance behind for the house now hidden from view, I cried, cried freely, and righteously.

Dave kept silent. Dave understood. We must have travelled four or five miles, and were crossing one of the expansive station paddocks where woolly-headed sheep were flying from us on either side, when I dashed away the final tear and looked Dave’s way.

“What sort do you call them?” I asked. Dave seemed glad I spoke.

“Crossbreds,” he said, “They’re all to be shorn. Every one o’ them ’ll have to go through the shed. You’ll see plenty o’ them to-morrer.”

The ice was broken; and, for the rest of the way, we talked cheerfully of our prospects, wondering how we would get on the first day, and looking forward all the while to a glimpse of the station roofs.

Numbers of shearers and rouseabouts had arrived on the scene before us, and the station was all astir. A heavy cloud of dust rose from the yards where station-hands were yarding and drafting sheep. Dogs were barking, men yapping and yelling at the top of their voices. There were shearers hobbling their horses, and unrolling their swags at the huts, and spreading blankets on the grass, and over heads of fallen trees. Others were seated here, there, and everywhere, smoking and filing down their shears and fixing “dummies” on them. More were trooping in with bed-ticks newly stuffed with grass. Several were playing quoits with horseshoes, while an ambitious one was wobbling about on a wire stretched between two trees, and saying “blanky” everytime he lost his balance. And he lost his balance every time he attempted the feat. The whole surroundings, as we approached, filled us with joy and pleasurable anticipation. We began to feel that we had been wasting our lives in a dull, uneventful existence at the selection.

We rode to the door of the hut that was set aside for the accommodation of rouseabouts, let our horses go, and claimed a space on the floor for our swags. It was a slab hut, with two rooms and no bunks in it, and was surrounded with stones and prickly pear. A well-ventilated hut it was, too. A lot of the shingles were missing from the roof, and nearly all the slabs that had once enclosed the fireplace were lying on the ground, underneath the pear.

“I’d put me bed a little further over, if I wer’ you,” a ragged, grey-bearded, old man, with grass seed in his hair, and a black, stumpy clay pipe in his mouth, drawled advisedly to Dave from his place in a corner of the hut, “an’ cover up that hole. A snake went down intil it jest now, an’ he won’t likely try ter come up again if ye’re lyin’ on it.”

“A snake! . .. down there?” Dave gasped, glaring at a hole in the floor with wide-open eyes and mouth. Dave was nervous amongst snakes. Dave was bitten on the leg by one once, and somehow he never seemed to forget it.

“Ay!” the old chap replied, indifferently. “It weren’t a very big one, though, at least not what I see of it There wer’ about four feet of ’im I suppose—p’raps five. . . There’ll be two of ’em, may be more,” he added, for our information.

Holy!” Dave said, looking hard at me. And while Dave, who was down on his knees on his blanket, was looking at me the snake put its head up through the hole and started to glide calmly over to the floor.

“Look out!” I shouted, and jumped back and fell all over the old man, and broke his pipe in small pieces on the floor.

Dave hadn’t time to jump, or do anything artistic. He threw himself back and rolled out of danger.

Blast yer! See what yer’ve done!” the old man howled furiously at me, and shoved me from him.

The snake! Quick!” Dave shouted, thinking to urge the aged one into action, and glaring about for a weapon.

Damn th’ snake!” the old greybeard roared, “He’s broke my pipe!” And he glared terribly at me. I tried to murmur an apology, but words failed me. It was all too unexpected.

The snake headed for the fireplace. Dave lifted a black billycan that stood on the floor and aimed it hard at the departing reptile. Tea flew out of the can and splashed the ashes and stones.

“Damn —, —, —!” the old man yelled, jumping frantically to his feet. “My —billy, and all the tea I had! You— , —, —! You!”

“Oh, I didn’t think it was yours!” Dave mumbled in humble apology. “By cripes, I’m sorry,” and proceeded to gather up the can and put it together again.

“Who th’ devil’s did yer think it was—th’ snake’s?” and the derelict shoved his chin into Dave’s face.

“Nuh,” Dave mumbled nervously, “course I didn’t.”

“Well, why didn’t yer leave it alone!” and the injured one sat on his blanket again, and swore and growled to himself for quite a while.

Dave and I explored the fireplace in search of the snake, but it had vanished.

“A good pipe it wer’, too, damn it,” came from the old man as he took its twin brother from his pocket and filled it with the tobacco dust that was strewn on the floor.

Dave and I finished unrolling our blankets, and sat and eyed our ill-humoured companion in silence for a while.

“Goin’ to work at th’ shearin’, Mister?” Dave asked, wishing to become friendly.

“Pshaw!” the old man snarled, “work in a ole’ of a place like this!” And he lay back and smoked up at the rafters.

We grinned at each other, and wondered who he was, and if he was well off. Then Dave remembered that our beds were not completed.

“We better go and fill our ticks,” he said, and, rising, led the way to an old tumble-down hayshed that stood on the bank of the creek, where some grass and Bathurst burr and stuff had been mown and stored about the time Leichhardt disappeared from the earth. We stared in silence at the unprotected heap of rubbish for quite a while, wondering if it was worth while making a bed of it.

“Better try it, I suppose!” Dave murmured, at last, as he kicked some of it about with his foot.

“You hold th’ ticks open, and I’ll stick the best of it in.”

I held the ticks; but it was useless trying to separate the grass from the burr—there was more burr than grass. We just stuffed the ticks as full as wool bales, then pounded them with a heavy rail to bruise and break any prickles that might be pointing outward. That done we hurried back to the hut with them on our backs, and dumped them down into position.

“That’s A1,” Dave said, sinking down on his as if it were a velvet cushion. Dave seemed very satisfied with it till he bounced up suddenly and rubbed himself hard.

“There was something longer an’ sharper ’n burr to come right through blanket an’ all,” he growled, staring down at his bed. Then he turned the blanket down and felt the tick all over for the thorn.

“Won’t be long afore yer empty all thet out,” the old man mumbled. “Can’t yer do without a tick?”

Without one?” and Dave looked round in astonishment at the derelict. Dave never heard of anyone sleeping inside a place without a tick.

“Yes—boards are a lot better.” And the ancient battler cuddled closer to his blanket as if he wanted to hug the hard floor.

Dave grinned, and went on feeling his tick.

“Hooh!” he stammered, and pulled his hand away quickly. Dave had found something. He pressed the spot cautiously and a steel point came through the calico.

“Cripes! just look at that,” and Dave held up the broken prong of an old pitchfork.

I stared at Dave’s discovery and wondered if there were any concealed in mine.

“Might have gone into a cove’s stomach,” Dave murmured, tossing the prong away, and rubbing himself again.

Some more rouseabouts, accompanied by the station overseer, arrived. The overseer put his head in at the door and spoke to Dave:—

“Getting fixed up?” he asked.

“Pretty well,” Dave answered.

Then the eye of the overseer rested on the form of our hoary companion slumbering in the corner.

“Here, you infernal old caterpillar,” he said, taking him by the two heels and dragging him to the door, “come out of this. Didn’t I tell you to clear out yesterday and loaf somewhere else?” The boots came off the old man’s feet and the overseer threw them outside.

We laughed.

The old man, for the moment, thought it was Dave who was attacking him, and, with his head mixed up in the ruffled blanket, began to blaspheme and use threatening language. But when he discovered the overseer he started to shake as if he had the d.t.’s.

“Out of this,” the overseer persisted, gathering up the blanket and heaving it out in pursuit of the boots.

“Yer needn’t be in sich a flarin’ ’urry,” the ancient snarled, and strutted out

We laughed again.

“He’s been here for a week,” the overseer said, “and if he was left much longer we might have to bury him.”

“What’s his name?” Dave asked.

“I don’t know,” the overseer said; “but they call him Morgan, because he’s such a d— fraud.” Then he went off.

He wasn’t long gone when Morgan, with his swag strapped to his back ready for the road, appeared at the door again.

“Have yer got a bit o’ tobaccer about y’, any o’ y’?” he asked.

Dave hadn’t; but one of the new arrivals had.

“That’ll do me,” Morgan said, stuffing the donation into his pocket. Then he went off without saying “good day,” and we saw no more of him.

Dave and I thought we would have a “look round,” and strolled down to the woolshed, and leaned over the yard watching the men penning up sheep. We watched them until the manager invited us to give a hand. Then we hopped over the rails and raced about, and whistled and shouted, and barked like dogs and swallowed dust until the shed was so full of sheep that the strength of several men was required to close the hurdle behind the heels of the last one.

There was nothing more to do, and we felt hungry.

“Come on,” Dave said, “we get our tucker at the shearers’ hut.”

I was never in a shearers’ hut before, and the crowd of big, noisy men scrambling for their grub, and plunging pannikins into tea buckets, disconcerted me. Dave struck out, and taking a pannikin from the table journeyed to the tea bucket.

I hesitated.

“Go on, Johnny,” a shearer man said to me; “don’t be afraid; wire in. Collar a pint.”

I collared a pint.

“A relation of yours, Jack?” another shearer asked of the one who had befriended me.

Jack smiled and said:—

“No, but he’s got a couple of good-looking sisters, and he’s going to put in a good word for me, ain’t y’, Johnny?”

I felt embarrassed.

“Oh be dad, if that’s it,” the other said, “I must keep in with him for one of them. Here, Sonny, have some spot,” and he loaded me with a supply of currant cake, sufficient to repeat the miracle of the seven loaves with.

The cook, who was a sour old heathen, happened along with a limp and a calico cap.

“Now then, you youngster,” he growled, “don’t be stuffin’ yourself with all the cake afore anyone else has any.”

“Now then, cook,” Jack said, “don’t you insult the boy, he’s promised to give me ’is sister.”

Just then Dave dug me in the ribs and said:—

“Come on outside.”

I followed Dave out, and together we sat and took our bread, and beef, and spot in private on the short, cool grass.

“What was that cove sayin’ to y’ about your sister?” Dave asked, when we had emptied our pannikins and sat back.

I told Dave all I could remember.

“Well, if he sez it again to yer, tell him to mind his own business,” Dave growled. Dave was a sensitive chap where anything concerning the family was concerned.

“We’ll have to be out as soon as the bell rings in th’ mornin’,” Dave said as we turned into bed. Then in feverish anticipation of the excitement the morning would bring, we closed our eyes and slept—slept until we moved about on our new beds and worked the prickles through into our skins.


Chapter 10
The Wool Shed

We were awake long before the station bell rang, and were glad to get out of bed Not that we disapproved altogether of the practice of lying in bed, but the burr prickles we had stuffed the ticks with had multiplied to such an extent that we felt we were sleeping on porcupines, and turned out to search for them. Porcupines, we knew, were harmless things, and we didn’t like to do them an injury.

A bucket of water that we had carried from the store tank before retiring, stood in the corner of the fireplace, and a rust-eaten tin dish, with numerous holes in it, was outside, near the door, where someone had used it the year before. Dave brought in that dish and filled it, and as the water was escaping through the holes and flooding the floor, washed his face hurriedly in it. Then, while he dried himself on a towel that mother had packed for us, I put more water through the dish, and took my turn, beating the leakage by about a splash and a half. Dave grinned when he saw me rap the empty dish with my knuckles and said:—

“Yer’ve got to be pretty sharp.”

Then I stood waiting for the towel, and allowed the water that didn’t escape through the dish, to trickle down my neck.

“Look after it,” Dave said, with a suspicious eye on the other rouseabouts, as they began to stir, “and put this under th’ piller when yer’ve done”; and along with the towel he handed me a piece of a comb, with scarcely any teeth in it, that mother had also carefully packed for us.

I used the towel and the comb, then we rolled up our beds and stacked them in a corner, so as they wouldn’t be used for carpets.

“Is this what yer washed in?” one of our hut companions said to me, lifting the tin dish and looking through the bottom of it.

I said: “Yes ”

“In this?” in a surprised sort of way.

I nodded.

He chuckled and said: “Well I don’t know how th’ devil you did it.” Then he procured a piece of soap and wasted it blocking the holes. He wasted a lot of useful profanity over it, too, without blocking any holes.

The bell rang before he succeeded in making the dish watertight, and we all hurried to the woolshed. And as we entered the massive old wooden rookery I felt strange and nervous. Great things I was sure would be expected of me, and I began to lose confidence in myself. The fumes of tar and turps, and lamp black, and sweet oil, and dead wool, mingled with the smell and breath of a thousand sheep, just off the run, pervaded the whole place. The shearers streamed in from the hut, and thronged the boards, and took up their stands. Some had a final touch to give to their shears; some a pint of tea to swallow. All were fresh and eager as racehorses. The cook, his white apron and cap matching his beard, struggled in with two kerosene tins of steaming black tea and a supply of “spot,” and dumped them down.

“Hurry up an’ collar a pint,” Dave said, dipping into a bucket and seizing a slug of cake.

I hurried up.

We had only gulped the tea down, and were wondering if we could do another, when the Boss, watch in hand, walked in. Word of his arrival was instantly passed along the boards, and the eagerness of the shearers increased.

Like pedestrians on the mark waiting for the crack of the pistol, they hung on to the wicket gates opening into the pens.

The Boss, with lordly step, passed through the shed, ran his eye along the boards and looked at his watch.

Tommy Brady, a “picker-up,” approached me.

“You’re tarrin’ on my side,” he said. “This is our board, and here’s your broom, and them’s your tar-pots along there. I filled them for you yes’dy.”

I joined Tommy; and, armed with a new broom, stood in readiness.

‘You’ll have to be pretty smart,” Tommy added, “and sweep up the pieces as soon as I pick up a fleece, ’cause they won’t wait a second.”

I nodded—nodded because I couldn’t speak; and somehow I began to wish that I had stayed away from the shearing.

It didn’t seem the sort of place I had pictured it in my mind to be. I had been looking forward to a term of sport and excitement with music. But instead, there was a grim seriousness about everything and everybody, that made me feel doomed.

The Boss looked at his watch again. Everyone looked at the Boss.

“Commence!” he called in a loud voice, then turned and walked into the wool room, and procured himself a pint of tea. And those shearers did commence! They threw open the wicket gates, rushed in like wolves amongst the sheep, grabbed one, rushed out with it, dumped it down on its thick end, snapped up the shears, and, before one had time to look, belly wools were flying all about the board. Then a quick change of position, and the shear-points disappeared in the neck wool, while all around only the swish! swish! click! click! of half a hundred shears could be heard. I was astonished. I stared from one to another. I saw that every man there was straining, bursting to out-do his fellow. Ah! this was where the excitement came in. I began to understand. I became intensely interested. I noticed one man in particular was leaving the others behind at every snip. My heart started jumping wildly on his account. I would have liked to put a pound on him.

“Tar!” one who was a few feet from me suddenly called, with a sly glance along the board to locate the Boss.

I didn’t hear him.

“Tar here!” he repeated in a louder key.

“Tar there!” Tommy Brady echoed, from his place down the board.

I woke up. I let fall the broom, and sprang to a tar-pot. The broom handle fell into the mouth of the shears of the man whom I had been interested in. He nearly cut it in two.

“Damn it,” he said, “what are you doing!” and stopped to look at his shears; then he threw the broom against the wall.

I rushed to the man who had called “tar,” and with a trembling hand poked the dripping stick under his nose.

“Where th’ devil do you want to put it?” he growled.

“There!” And he laid bare a wound about an inch long in the sheep’s flank. I shuddered and dabbed tar on the polished blades of his shears.

“— ,— ,— ! it!” he howled like a profane animal. “What sort of a — ,— — , of a boy are you?” and he snatched the tar-stick out of my hand and dabbed tar on the wound himself. Then he threw it yards from him, and casting another glance along the board to see where the Boss was, wiped his shears in the fleece and hissed: “Get out of this!”

I got out, and looked for the tar-stick.

“Tar here!” from a man at the bottom of the board.

“There! down there!” Tommy Brady said, pointing to the man who had called.

I bounded to the tar-pot for a fresh supply.

“Tar here!” from one at the opposite end.

“Up there,” Tommy said.

I looked up. Then down; hesitated, and raced for the one at the top of the board.

“Tar here, boy!” the one at the bottom repeated angrily. I was confused. I showed the tar-stick to the man at the top, and turned and raced for the man at the bottom. When I was half way down the board two others, simultaneously, called “tar” right under my ear. I stopped to tar them.

“Where?” I said to one who, I thought, had called.

“Damn it!” he said, “I don’t want tar.”

“Here, boy,” the man on the south side of him grunted, and the one on the north of him said:

“Tar, here, too, boy! tar! tar!”

The perspiration started to run off me in streams. The light seemed to go from my eyes. In an unconscious sort of way I hovered round the one on the south side.

“Tar here! damn it, tar here!” came in loud violent tones from the shearer at the bottom of the board. Several of the others chuckled. I heard those chuckles. They fell on my ears like a death sentence.

Tommy saw I was in distress and ran to procure a tar-stick, but just then there was a sharp rattle of hoofs on the boards, and the first sheep was let go. Tommy abandoned the idea of helping me, and rushed for the fleece. His innings was now commencing. I dashed some tears out of my eyes, and found my way to the angry man at the bottom of the board.

“Have you got wool in your ears?” he said savagely.

I regarded him seriously. I said: “I hadn’t.”

“Well you’re— deaf,” he hissed.

I tarred his sheep in several places.

“Dammit,” he yelled, “are you going to dip th’ — thing?”

The man who had let go the first sheep was back from the pen with another.

“Broom!” he yelled, pausing a moment before putting the animal on the floor. “Broom!”

I heard him, and rushed for the broom. I had just seized the handle of it when—

“Tar! Tar!” was called for in three places.

I was bewildered. I gave the floor a smack with the broom, and the man who was holding the sheep said:—

“Oh, that’ll do!” and planted the animal down hard on the head of the broom. I released the handle and ran for the tar-stick.

‘Tar! Tar! Tar! Damn it, tar!” came from all quarters of the board. Then another shearer, and another, and another, let go a sheep, and sent Tommy racing for dear life to pick the fleeces up in time. Cries of “wool away” became mingled with yells for “tar,” and “broom”; and we were both racing, sometimes together, sometimes in a different direction. We raced without a spell till our limbs ached, till it was 8 o’clock, and the Boss called: “Knock off for breakfast.”

We knocked off.

“Well,” Dave said, coming from his place in the woolroom, after we had swept the board, “how do yer like it?”

“Oh, it’s orright,” I answered, forcing back a lump that was in my throat big enough to strangle a camel. “I think I’ll (another lump) like it.”


Chapter 11
A Rain Spell

We had been a fortnight at the shearing, and nothing was left for me to learn—nothing was there that I didn’t know about it; all the poetry had gone from it, and each day was a weary replica of the other. It was turn out at daybreak as tired as when you had turned in at night, and rush off, half asleep, to the shed and rush up and down, up and down, the greasy, slippery, sweat-stained, blood-bespattered floor the whole live-long day. And when the Boss called: “Knock off for breakfast,” or “smoko,” or “dinner,” or whatever it was, there was no intermission for the poor rouseabout. He went all the harder to “clean up,” and when by any chance he had finished before the interval was spent his services would be required in the hot, dusty yards to augment the army of exhausted canines that slunk at the heels of the roaring, swearing, distracted penners-up.

But one day it rained. God bless it, how it came down! It fell in torrents and washed a lot of the sheep right off the station, and soaked to the skin every hoof that was housed in the old tumble-down woolshed, and we rejoiced. We felt we were the Israelites delivered from bondage, and lifted up our voices. The shearers lifted up their voices, too!

“You bellowing tar-pot,” a sour, stiff-backed old shearer, with a large family waiting at home for his cheque, said to me in grieved tones; “what are you glad about!”

“’Cause we’ll get a spell,” I answered exultingly.

“Get a spell!” he growled.

“O’ course,” in a higher key, “there’ll be no more shearin’ till the sheep can get dry again, will there?”

“If you don’t clear out o’ this,” he went off, “there’ll be a dem funeral before they’re dry again.”

I cleared out. And in the course of time learned, as I learned many other things, that rain meant loss and idleness to the shearer, and it is often wise to look sad when your heart is full with joy.

Ah, it was heaven, though, to lie in bed undisturbed by the ring of the infernal station bell, until nearly breakfast time! And how we wished it would rain pell-mell every day!

After breakfast, we rouseabouts, in answer to a summons from the overseer, trooped along to the horseyard, where the regular station hands were receiving their orders for the day.

“Well, now, let me see,” the overseer mused, stroking his beard and running his eye over us; “I suppose you boys can all ride.”

Our eyes shone. Ride! rather! We thought we saw some reckless galloping after flash cattle on blood horses, ahead of us, and answered in one voice, and instantly began a mental summing-up of the mettle of the mixed lot of horses standing facing us in the yard. A magnificent grey resting his snout on the cap took my fancy, and in my mind I could already feel him reefing and bounding under me.

“That little yaller cove there is the one I’ll go for,” Steve Burton murmured, nudging me in the ribs. “Which of ’em de yeou like?”

“Well, then,” the overseer went on, “you can take a horse each, and go down to the washpool paddock and cut the burr and thistle that’s there. You’ll get hoes at the store.”

Joy! We rushed the stable for bridles and saddles, then entered the yard and pursued the animals we fancied.

“Oh, wait a bit,” the overseer called, with a grin. “Don’t take him (entering the yard). You take old Fairy,” addressing me and pointing to a chestnut mare, very poor and subdued-looking, and with a sore back that seemed natural to her, and sad, hollow eyes that seemed to plead for mercy and forgiveness. I put the bridle on Fairy and pulled her out of the yard.

“And you,” he said to Steve Burton, “ride old Boko,” and he indicated an ancient bay with a big head, big legs, a switch tail, and an eye missing. Steve did the laughing act when introduced to Boko, and repeated it when he got astride him.

There were not enough old screws to provide the lot of us, so Dave and George Brown were given decent mounts, mounts that hadn’t all the life galloped out of them. They were delighted—that is, Dave and George were, not the horses— and left the yard with their hats tilted back, and their hands lightly on the reins. You’d think they were going out to break the record high jump of the world.

“Now, Pat,” the overseer said, when handing out the hoes, “you take charge and see that everyone does his work,” and he gave Pat full and minute directions as to where the most burr, and thistle were to be found. Pat nodded and said, “Yessir.” Pat was a steady, conscientious fellow, and had earned the confidence of the station for many shearing seasons. “And,” the overseer added as a final injunction, “see these boys don’t knock the horses about, Pat.”

Pat promised to protect the animals, and each with a hoe on his shoulder we rode off.

It was grand, glorious riding over those broad, grassy paddocks in the fresh of the glowing morn, and we felt that the world was a bright cheerful world, and were thankful for all the good things it promised.

“Come on,” Steve Burton said, stirring his one-eyed war steed into action with the handle of his hoe, and the weight of his heels, “and I’ll give you a race from here to the gate.” I applied the hoe handle to my quadruped, and away we went!

“Steady there!” Pat called out; “don’t go racin’.” But our Norman Saxon blood was up, and we heard not the voice of Pat.

Pat whistled with all his fingers, so did Dave. Nothing could deter us, though. Steve was working Boko well into the lead, when somehow the brute’s legs got entangled in each other and he fell down and hit Steve hard against a stump. We stopped then, and Steve rolled about on the ground, and said: “Oh-h —oh-h,” and Boko, who was an opportunist, galloped for the station with Dave and some more going hard at his heels.

“Well, I sung out to you not to go racin’,” Pat said angrily, as he came up and dismounted to see if Steve was injured.

Steve said: “Oh-h!” some more.

“Are y’ hurt?” Pat asked, lifting him up.

“Oh-h!” from Steve.

“Well I told yer,” Pat repeated with anxiety in his voice.

“Oh-h, oh-h,” and Steve rolled over again.

“Try and see can y’ stand,” assisting him.

Steve, with a great effort, and a greater groan, stood a little.

“Where are y’ hurt?”

“Here, oh-h!” and Steve clasped his thigh with his hand. “Gee! Oh-h! when I get ’im I’ll— Oh-h! cut his—gee! Oh-h!— blanky throat!”

Then he hopped around some, and we laughed.

“It’s nothing—s-s-s, oh-h (bending down) to laugh at,” Steve groaned. And we laughed again. We laughed with joy— laughed because we wished to bring him round quickly, and get him off our hands as a corpse.

Dave, and George Brown, and the others, came galloping back in charge of the runaway.

“Did he go right back to the yard before you got ’im?” Pat. asked apprehensively.

“Right back!” Dave answered, “and the Boss was there, and wanted to know what happened.”

A look of distress and fear came into Steve’s eyes.

“And we told him,” Dave went on, “that he pulled away when Steve got off to cut a burr he saw growin’ near the road.”

We all chuckled. We admired Dave. We reckoned he was cut out for a Queensland politician.

“An’ he said,” George Brown put in, with a smile that was good enough for a long journey, “that he forgot to tell us Boko was a terrible old dog to clear home if he got the chance, and to look out for him.”

We all laughed again.

“You old cow!” Steve said, taking the bridle reins from Dave, “I’ll teach yer!” And he gave Boko one with the hoe to go on with; and Boko plunged back, and broke right away from him, and raced for the station again in faster time than he did before. We all dashed in pursuit. “Stop him! Stop him!” Pat shouted to Dave, who was in the lead. But Boko was as hard to stop as Tommy Burns. Whenever Dave headed him, he raced on Dave’s heels till he headed Dave. And once when George Brown drew up on the blind side of him, Boko pretended he didn’t know George was about anywhere, and forced George against a tree and lamed him for the rest of the shearing. It was no use; we couldn’t stock-ride Boko, and he led the way straight back to the yard, where the overseer was still hanging round.

‘That’s quite enough!” we heard him say, as one after another we pulled up like the ruck finishing in the Melbourne Cup. “Get off your horses, the whole lot of you!”

We got off, slowly, sadly, disapprovingly. “Ther’s a patch of pear on the hill there,” he added severely, “go and cut that, and waste no more time.”

“It was your bloomin’ fault, you yahoo!” Dave hissed into my ear as we all slunk up the hill to attack the pear. “Couldn’t do what y’ wer’ told ter!”

“Yes,” Pat moaned, “they would go racin,’ th’ blessed ejits! An’ we all got ter suffer for it.”

I looked sadly round to see if Steve was coming. I felt it was unduly hard to suffer all the censure and chagrin without him. But Steve didn’t come. Unobserved he crept into the hut, and joined us at dinner time.


Chapter 12
The First Money

It was the end of the shearing. And how we—that is Dave and I—rejoiced when the shed was cut out, and the click, click, of the shears, and the cries of “Wool away,” and “Tar,” suddenly ceased. The rush and rattle of cloven hoofs, the slamming of gates, and dragging of hurdles; the ordering here, and the ordering there; the scamper and hustle through shed and yard; the picking and clipping of smellsome wool, and the growling and the swearing were all over, and nought was in our minds but the cheques we were to receive and carry home, and the happiness they would bring there. Ah, yes! we knew how they were waiting for them there, and it was a grand feeling—a fascinating compensation.

The shearers straightened their bent backs, collected their paraphernalia, and, with coats thrown loosely over their shoulders, to keep out the chill, left their pens, and returned to the hut to roll their swags.

Horses were run from this paddock and that till the yards were full of horses, and the rails surrounded by men with bridles on their arms peering through to see if “their’s was there”.

An hour or so later and the station looked like a large circus breaking camp.

“Here you are, Steele,” the Boss said, handing me the first cheque I had earned—the first I had ever seen, in fact—“six weeks, three pounds. What are you going to have to drink?” This with a smile at the open bottle that stood on the counter.

I grinned, and crept away with a wildly beating heart.

Three pounds! Great jumping kangaroos! How my hand trembled at touch of the precious paper! I was perplexed to know how to carry it home safely—on what part of my person to secrete it. A premonition that I’d be bailed up and robbed took possession of me. It made me downhearted

“You better give it ter me,” Dave said, stuffing his own down deep in his trouser pocket and drawing his belt over the aperture; “I’ll carry th’ two.”

I hesitated I doubted if Dave would be a safe depository for so much wealth.

“You’ll lose it,” he added, “if yer ain’t got a good pocket.”

I hadn’t a good pocket. I hadn’t any pocket. That was mother’s idea. And she expected me to go out into the world and return with them full of money. Mother was always a woman.

“Well, give it ter me again before we get home,” I answered.

“Orright,” from Dave.

“Strike yer breast,” from me.

“Oh, yer can have it, don’t fear,” Dave growled like a bank manager. “Ain’t I got one o’ me own?” And he slapped his trouser pocket hard with his hand, while his eyes twinkled like diamonds in a window.

I was satisfied; and allowed Dave to become my gold escort. He folded my cheque in his, and slapped his trouser pocket again—slapped it twice this time. Then what a hurry we were in to pack our bits of things and depart!

“We won’t want that no more, anyway,” Dave said, tossing the grass and Bathurst burr out of the bed-ticks, on to the floor of the old hut, and rousing the fleas. “But chuck that bit o’ soap in,” he added covetously. “I don’t know whose it is, but we might as well take it as anyone else.”

I threw the scrap of soap in.

“Goin’ to take those?” and Dave disparagingly eyed a collection of discarded shears that I had collected at the shed as a souvenir, and was fondly nursing.

“Oh, my word!” I said, “they’re all good.”

“What, are they new?” and Dave stared like a pawnbroker.

I lied.

“Never been used?”

I lied again.

“Oh, my bloomin’ oath!” Dave said, “chuck them in.”

I chucked them in. Then Dave rolled the swags, and strapped them to the saddles, and away we went.

How we rode! thinking of nothing but home— home! We hadn’t seen it for six weeks.

We reined up to open a station gate, and I said to Dave, with a sudden feeling of apprehension:—

“Have yer got th’ cheques?”

Dave glanced out of the corner of his eye down along his left arm, buried elbow-deep in his trouser-pocket, where his fingers were in close touch with the treasure. My apprehensions were allayed. I was assured Dave was a careful custodian.

We pushed on again, straining all the while for a glimpse of the familiar mountain-top that marked the lay of our selection. And as we crossed paddock after paddock the white-skinned, newly-shorn sheep started out of the long grass by the roadside and raced from us.

“My word!” Dave said, “we had a good lot to do with those beggars, I bet.”

“My word!” I gasped, fighting the wind for my hat, as we rattled along. Then Dave yelled “Hool em,” after the affrighted mobs.

We were rounding the edge of a plain with timber on our right, and lagoons on our left, when Dave, who was in front, shouted excitedly:—

“A dorg! A nater dorg! A dingo! And off he went, hell-for- leather, in pursuit. I went in pursuit of Dave. There was a station sovereign on that dingo’s head, or tail, and for a sovereign Dave would have pursued it for a week without food. The dingo didn’t see us, or know we were about till Dave swooped down on him like a hawk. Then we didn’t see the dingo any more. We only saw a long, straight streak of dust, and dead leaves reaching to the horizon. Still Dave followed— followed till there wasn’t a trot left in his horse. When we pulled up Dave looked the colour of a corpse.

“By cripes!” he gasped, and felt and fumbled his pockets, “I’ve lost th’—th’ cheques!

I nearly choked. I felt ill.

“L-l-lost them!” I gurgled.

Dave felt himself over some more, and said:—“Blast it!” in a hallowed, reverend sort of way.

He looked at me. I looked at him.

“Cripes!” he gasped, “how—how—(he swallowed a lump that was in his throat) th’ devil (he swallowed another lump) did I do that!”

Once more he searched himself. Then he sat, patting his cheek, and reflecting.

“Must have dragged them out,” he murmured, “when I started after th’ dingo. Damn ’im! Wish we hadn’t seen him! Blast ’im!”

I suggested returning to the station.

“By cripes! they’re gone, blowed if they ain’t!” and Dave felt himself again. After a while he looked inside his hat, but there was nothing there. It was all up. We were penniless— poor as wood, and destitute of hope.

We sat there in the saddles, staring upon each other in grim silence, while our minds ran sadly upon the welcome we had been looking forward to at home, and all the things mother had planned to do with our earnings. We were broken-hearted.

“I dunno,” Dave moaned, looking at the sun, “p’r’aps we had better try and run our tracks back to where we started th’ dog. We might find them.”

And slowly we rode back, straining our eye-nerves all the time in useless effort to convert every particle of feathery grass into the lost cheques, and never speaking a word.

Away in the distance shearers were crossing the plain, making homeward, and at sight of them our spirits took another drop. Remorse set in.

“Fools! fools! fools! that we were!” Dave groaned.

I shed tears. But, just when we reached the point where we had left the road, Dave uttered a shout of joy.

“Here they are, blowed if they ain’t!” he shouted, jumping from his horse and falling on the treasure. “Cripes!” he said, lifting the cheques, “wasn’t that a stroke of luck?”

We both smiled. We nearly went off our heads, the reaction was so great.

“Give me mine,” I said, hysterically. “I’ll carry it now.” I had lost faith in Dave as a safe deposit. “Give it ter me,” I cried.

Dave raised no objection. He seemed pleased to be relieved of the responsibility.

“I’ve had ernough of it,” he said, handing me the cheque.

I spelt it through to make sure it was all there. It was quite intact. I placed it carefully in the lining of my hat, and dragged the old felt tight over my head, and with one hand clung to the leaf to keep it in position. Then off we raced again. And how we rode to make up lost time! We never stopped till we were near home. And what feelings of pride and joy filled our heart as we entered the sliprails and approached the house. We felt we had all the wealth of the world upon us, and were about to do away with want and care and make every one happy.

Mother and Kate, and Sarah, and Joe and Bill ran out to meet and greet us. How delighted they were! They surrounded us, and shook our hands, and said how pleased they were we had come back. And they carried our swags into the house for us. We could hardly say anything. We just handed our cheques over in silence to mother.

“Gee wiz!” Joe said excitedly, “how much?” And Kate murmured, “Oh my,” in a kind encouraging way. And the others all said something that was good to hear, and crowded round mother.

Mother looked at the cheques thoughtfully, and for a moment played with them in her lap. Then her large, soft eyes rested kindly upon Dave and me, and glistened, and filled with tears till they seemed to swim. She didn’t speak. But we understood.


Chapter 13
Boy on a Station

Like all things earthly, the joy that our shearing cheques brought to the home came to an end; and, in a few weeks or less, matters had drifted back into the same uneventful old groove, and life was dragging along in the same hopeless, old way, when a messenger from the station happened along one day, and said that the Boss required a boy to yard the horses every morning, and run the mail twice a week, and perform sundry other light work on horseback. In fact, a permanent billet was open to him, and the wage was to be £25 a year. The messenger looked at me, said I was just the chap for the job, and added that “the Boss had mentioned my name”.

Then mother looked at me. I looked round for my share of the family blanket to roll my belongings in and, telling the man “to hold on a bit,” rushed away to saddle the old moke that I was in the habit of calling mine.

A permanent station hand and £25 a year! Great money bags! My goal was reached. It was what I had dreamed of every night since I had been born. My millennium had arrived.

I caught the moke, and was ready to start—ready to leave home, and mother, and Kate, and all the rest for all time.

I heard mother say, as I climbed into the saddle: “I would like to have kept him at his books a little longer, to see if we could make something more of him than we have of the others, but—” I spurred my charger into action lest mother should change her mind and call me back again. Ah, yes! Mother had great hopes of me then. But it wasn’t her fault. She couldn’t help it. All mothers do see promises of great things in some member or other of their families; and I happened to be that unfortunate one in our family. But it made no difference to the others. My early genius never created jealousy in any of them.

For five years I remained on that station, five years running in horses at early morning, when the white frost cracked under hoof and bit at your ears, and drew blood from the cracks in your hands—five years picking wool from the carcases of dead sheep that lay strewn over the sunbaked plains, and stuffing it into smellsome bags to lumber before me on the saddle to the woolshed—five years following the creek banks in all their windings to rescue sheep that were bogged, and skin others that were dead (they were mostly dead)—five years running the mail through drought and flood to the township, twenty miles off, and lumbering packets of tea, and kettles, and reels of cotton, and yards of calico, and brooms and frying pans, when “I didn’t mind,” or ‘If it wasn’t too much trouble,” for selectors’ wives isolated by the roadside!

Ah, yes, the life of the permanent station hand wasn’t all sport and butter-fat! It was dull and hard enough sometimes, but it had its moods and bright spots. It had its romance and excitements, too. When the manager announced a general muster of cattle for a draught of fats for the butcher, and warned us to be well-mounted, and see to our girths; ah, that was the time! Those were the moments when dull care was thrown to the winds, and the warm blood surged and tingled through every vein. The eager expectancy of a mad, reckless gallop down ridge and spur, filled one with new life and a desire to live long.

And when the staring, rushing herds assembled from all quarters, “their voices all blent into one,” and we had to hold them together on the camp while the fats were cut out, the life then was grand! The galloping, the yelling, the swearing, the wheeling, and the “spills,” were extra grand. But when all that was over, and the order of the day was cutting burr on the sheltered plains, or draughting stubborn, sulky sheep in the dust-choked yards, or chopping wood, the reaction was heartbreaking. It was like being sentenced to hard labour. I was never sentenced to hard labour, but it was like that.

Sometimes I was given a pack-horse, and told to take rations to the shepherds stationed at different parts of the run. Ration-carrying was not an objectionable job. I preferred it to cutting burr or polishing the Boss’s boots. There was more variety—more novelty in it. It afforded an opportunity for a yarn with the shepherds. I liked yarning with the shepherds. They were so entertaining, so interesting, so well informed—they were an education—and a cheap one. And the shepherds loved to get the ear of someone to yarn into. The circle of their society was pretty limited. It was confined to the sheep, and the dogs— and themselves. It was wonderful, though, how they could keep going! how they could sustain a conversation. I believe they could have kept going for a week, if the audience remained. Still some were not so interesting as others; some were more gifted, the hair some had was worth showing. Old Ben, who was stationed at the washpool, showed the most. He was a university man. He wouldn’t have been shepherding if he hadn’t been. Ben was a saver of words. He never wasted any on preliminary courtesies. He never said “good day” when you arrived.

“Well, now,” he would begin, on hearing you approach, and without looking up—“if it was so, and Scripture say it was, that from seven small loaves and five small fishes (or was it five small loaves?) the Lord caused a multitude of hungry people to feast in plenty, how is it”—here he would look up and stare steadily at you—“that all these sheep, and bullocks, and goats, and fowl of the air are required to feed the people of the world to-day?”

Once I tried to supply some answer to his question, but that was on my first visit to him. On the second I was prepared; and, acting on the storekeeper’s advice, said “rats!” to him, and rode away.

But old Charlie was different to Ben. Charlie wasn’t a thinker or a reader. Nothing ever worried Charlie. He simply sat on a log all day and dozed, and allowed his hair to get long and white. If you failed to shout a greeting to him when you came upon him to announce your presence, he would take convulsions, and clutch the log to save himself from falling off it, and gasp.

“Oh-h, yer frightened me—damme if I saw yer comin’.”

But when he had recovered from the shock he would want to know all that was going on, and everyone’s business at the head station. Charlie loved gossip. In that respect he was a woman. I don’t know in what respect he was a man.

“What th’ devil are they up ter, in there?” he would ask in a grieved tone. And, on being told, he would sneer,

“They’re bally well killed with work, they are. Why don’t they come out here if they want somethin’ to do?”

Then, after a short doze,

“When are they goin’ to send a man out here to shift me, and let that bally old fool Ben come here? I’m gettin’ full o’ this, an’ it looks as if they’d like ter see me buried in this blasted hole. You tell th’ overseer.”

And one Xmas Eve, when work was slack, and we thought we had finished for the year, the overseer remembered Charlie’s prayer, and sent me with a pack-horse to shift his belongings to the washpool, and settle him in the hut there. The pack-horse I was given was a saddle-horse—a touchy, nervous, headstrong brute, that had been spelling. It was the first time he had carried a pack, and Charlie’s belongings made a formidable-looking burden. They consisted of blankets, a full bed tick, a billy can and pint pots, a supply of cabbage-tree that he made hats out of, sometimes, a frying pan, a bucket, a bottle of pickles, a tin of jam, and other luxuries he had promised himself for Xmas Day. And when it was all packed on the saddle, there was hardly any of the horse to be seen. The horse, himself, couldn’t see anything but the pack, and the situation heightened his nervousness. For the first few miles of the way he led beside me in an uncertain sort of way; but when the plain was reached he seemed to get used to the business and jogged along good-naturedly. I had twelve miles to go, and crawling slowly along in the heat and flies was the devil. I couldn’t see why that pack-horse shouldn’t raise a canter and break the monotony. He raised a canter. He broke the monotony, too! He also broke all station records for that distance, and he broke everything that was tied on him, and he pretty well broke my heart

It was like this—when he started to canter, the billy can and pint pots started to beat out a refrain on the frying pan. That horse had no ear for music. He took fright and started to buck and bolt alternately. I bolted with him. It was my only hope to steady him, but trouble set in. The billy can separated from the pack and travelled heavenward like a rocket. I didn’t hear it fall. I must have been a furlong from it when it hit the earth. Then the pickles were hurled at my head, and the jam was propelled into the long grass. I was distracted; but steady that pack-horse I couldn’t.

I spurred my own mount to keep pace with him. It must have been a fine race to watch. He gradually forged ahead of me. I leaned out of the saddle, clinging to my grip of the halter. I was in hopes he would tire. He never tired. I tired, and let go the halter. He went faster. Then I got a splendid view of the frying pan as it was whirled from the pack and floated through the air. The bed-tick showed signs of unrest. It flopped about like a plain turkey on the wing, then ducked under the animal’s belly and turned into straw and dust and scraps of rag. Straw and rag fell all over the plain. Still that horse was going strong. Thoughts of old Charlie, and the Boss, and home, flashed through me, and my heart sank.

A white gate showed itself on ahead. Joy! There was a chance of the runaway pulling up there, and handing himself over. He pulled up, and he handed himself over, too. But that was all he did hand over. He had nothing on but the halter. He was naked. Misery, me! What was to be done! I could never collect the wreck. I wept—leaned on the brute’s foam-flaked neck and wept. After a while the uselessness of my emotion struck me, and I swore manfully, kicked the brute in the ribs, and then led him back to the station.

There have been instances in my life when I didn’t know how to act. This was not one of them. I acted silently. I saw no use of making a song about the disaster, and let no one into the secret. I ate well at tea time, but somehow I went right off my sleep that night. Old Charlie seemed to be sleeping at the foot of my bunk. I fancied I could see him standing over me, brandishing the frying pan.

There was no room in my mind, though, for fancy when he turned up at the station next day, searching for his Xmas dinner. There was no room for me at the station, either. I detested explanations. Besides I was “full up” of station life.

I left.


Chapter 14
My First Day in a Government Office

I was sixteen now, and out of work. One day I rolled up my swag to go west along with Johnny McRae in search of some. We had listened to many lies about the glory of running wild horses and cattle in the mulga, and took the “fever” badly. But a hitch occurred, and our start was delayed. Some would say it was Fate; some a dispensation of Providence. I never called it anything myself. I have never worried about useless things. Life has always been a matter of chance to me, with a lot of hard graft thrown in to make the most of one, whenever it happened my way.

One happened now. A letter arrived from an old friend of the family who had become a Cabinet Minister — even the poorest family has a friend about it sometimes—saying: “Bring your son down and let me see him. I will do what I can if he is at all suitable to an office.”

Great Professors, and Prime Ministers! Was there ever so much excitement in a home before?

“Steele is to go to the city to be a clerk in an office,” mother told everyone in the district, and many who were not in it. And Kate and Sarah, and Dave told them, too. And everyone who came near the house was shown that Cabinet Minister’s letter. And the wonder to them all was how we ever came to be on speaking terms with such a person. Ah, yes! it was harder to understand than the loaves and small fishes act. But there it was in writing, just as the other was in the Bible, and couldn’t be disputed.

And how I rose in the minds of the little community! I went up like shares in a gold mine. A clerk, a swell, a gentleman, a toff sitting in an office all day with tweed clothes and a white shirt on, and, of course, drawing large pay. Talk about luck, and being born with a silver spoon in your mouth! They reckoned I was born with my head in a gold goblet as big as a barrel.

It never occurred to them or me, either, that offices down in the city were teeming with white-skinned, hollow-cheeked, nervous, poor devils in tweed suits and white shirts, who scarcely got any pay at all—helpless poor beggars, creeping through life along the slough of fear and grovel and servility— men to whom the “service” offered no prospects, while it robbed them of all independence and manhood. Ah, yes! there were lots of things didn’t occur to anyone just then!

I was taken to the city, and that Cabinet Minister put on his glasses and had a good look at me. He was a kind and courteous gentleman. But shall I ever forget the moment, shall I ever forget the impression the surroundings made on me! Such luxurious furniture I had never seen before—not even in pictures. And the carpet! It puzzled me. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to tramp on it with your boots, or whether you were expected to take them off, or to crawl over it on your hands and knees.

“Let me see a specimen of your handwriting,” said that Minister to me, swinging himself round on a revolving chair that attracted a lot of my notice.

A specimen of my handwriting! I was taken by surprise. My handwriting hadn’t occurred to me as something I would require on the journey—as something he would ask for, and I felt undone when I hadn’t any about me. I felt the corpuscles race through my veins like mice careering after each other behind a papered wall. My hair started to lie down. I could feel it flattening against my skull like a sensitive plant closing its doors.

I said: “Er—eh?” and twisted my fingers tight round each other as if they were wire-strainers.

The Minister mentioned the matter again, with just the suspicion of a twinkle in his eye.

I told him in a gentle murmur that I had forgotten to bring some with me.

“Just write me something,” he said, shoving a pen and paper across the table to me—“till I see what sort of a penman you are.”

That took more out of me than a fall from a horse. I stumbled off the chair I was sitting on, and in an unconscious sort of way reached for the pen.

“Write anything at all,” he added, quite off-handedly, and sat and waited.

My old felt hat that I had been carefully nursing all the while now began to play a leading part in my embarrassment. I didn’t know what to do with it. I tried to balance it on my knee again while I wrestled for the correct grip, or what I vaguely remembered as the correct grip, of the pen. But the old felt started to slip, and was nearly on the carpet when I grabbed it, and put it in my teeth. I don’t remember if the Minister smiled. I adjusted the pen several times, then leaned heavily on the paper, and trembled till all the ink dropped off the nib. I dipped for more ink. I began to think hard. I thought of Shingle Hut, and home, and Dave and Joe.

“What’ll I write, S’?” I said, dipping some more.

“Oh, anything at all; it doesn’t matter,” he replied. “Write your name and address.” And he took up a large document, and started studying it on his own account.

I was relieved. I proceeded laboriously, but with tremendous confidence.

The Minister finished reading that document, which contained as much as a newspaper, and took up another. He had just concluded that one when I finished, and glanced up. He reached for my name and handwriting, and looked at it.

“Steal rud, shingelut,” I had written.

“Is that the right spelling?” he asked quietly.

A terrible feeling lest I had shown a weakness in my orthography fastened itself onto my vitals, and I stammered something incoherent in reply.

“H’m!” he said, and looked grave.

I wondered what his verdict would be. But he didn’t pass judgment. Taking my name and handwriting with him, he stepped into an outer room. I didn’t know then, but I know now, it was to consult his Under Secretary, and reveal to him the talent he had discovered.

When he returned he said:

“Yes, I’ll be able to find him a post as messenger in one of the offices here, and his salary will be fifty-two pounds a year.”

Then he offered me a lot of good advice, and pointed out the possibilities there would be of rising in the world if I was diligent and studious, and looked after myself, and avoided evil companions. But I didn’t hear all he said. My mind was running on the “messenger” and the “£52 a year.” It got a great grip of me. I struggled hard to realise just how much it all meant. I was still struggling in a dazed sort of way, when the Minister rose and held out his hand.

“That’s as much as I’ll be able to do for him,” he said kindly—“the rest now depends upon himself.”

A few mornings after I left the boarding house, where I had with great confidence undertook to pay fifteen shillings a week for board out of my fifty-two pounds a year (the balance was to clothe me in tweed suits and white shirts, and keep me in pocket money to spend about the town), and nervously presented myself to the head of my department. I must have been a coming event in his office, because I found he expected me.

“Oh, yes,” he said, putting aside his pen and looking me all over. “You’ll be all right here. Come along into the clerk’s room.”

I followed him. He shoved the door in, and introduced me to the staff. The staff were a well-groomed, high-collared bunch of swells, who looked at me as though I had escaped from the circus. One was a long-legged, clean-faced fellow with a heavy gold ring on his finger, and a smile that came from his eyes. The chief introduced him as the clerk. Another was a perky old bachelor, with hair dyed the colour of a taffy horse’s tail, and a face that glowed like polished cedar. He was the principal clerk. And a third was a knock-kneed man with a violent brogue, and a large foot that had been developed in the Irish constabulary. He wore a war-like moustache, and looked worried. (The clerk informed me confidentially in after years that he was child-hungry.) He was the deputy, and next in command to the chief.

“You sit here,” the chief said, after introducing me,—“and occupy this table.” Then, turning to the six and a-half feet of clerk: “You’ll see that Rudd is fixed up with pens and ink, and all that, won’t you, old fellow? And just show him what he’s got to do.” Then he rushed back to his own room.

The tall clerk unfolded his stilts-like limbs, and slowly opened a cedar press, from which he took various articles of stationery, and turned to me.

“What sort of nibs do you write with?” he asked.

“Oh, any kind,” I said.

“How will these suit you?”

“Oh, orright,” I said, and he tossed the lot on to my table.

“I don’t know what I can give you to do just now,” he went on, casting his eyes about his own table. “What sort of a hand do you write?”

“Pretty fair,” I said.

“Any way,” he decided, “You can sit down and amuse yourself for the present.”

I sat down and looked all round the room till I became familiar with it After a while I placed a pen behind one ear, and a pencil behind the other, and looked round the room some more. I looked round it till lunch-time. A gun went off somewhere outside, and rattled the windows.

“One o’clock,” the clerk said to himself.

“Is that the gun?” the old bachelor asked, and rose from his chair, and washed his hands in a basin and looked at himself in a glass.

The door banged open, and the chief entered, and putting his face close to mine in a confidential sort of way, said:

“Are you busy, old chap?”

“N—not very,” I said.

“Well, you know East Brisbane, don’t you?”

I stared at him. He might just as well have assumed that I knew some of the many ends of London, or was on visiting terms with the President of the United States.

He seemed to read my thoughts, or my looks.

“Well, you know South Brisbane?”

That, I guessed, must be something easier; but could only answer with a far-away shake of the head. I had been under the impression that there was only one Brisbane.

“Well,” the chief went on, “I want you to deliver this letter for me.” I looked suspiciously and apprehensively at the letter he held in his hand.

“Take the South Brisbane ’bus; get out at Shafton Road, and turn down to the right. Then it’s the second house on your left after you cross the second street. Just hand this note to whoever is there, and they’ll give you something to bring back for me. You can’t miss the place. It’s a large new house with a white gate in front.”

“South Brisbane. ’Bus.” I muttered, feeling more bewildered than I was ever in my life before.

“What name did y’ say, S’?” And I broke out into a heavy perspiration.

The chief looked a little bewildered, too. He turned to the clerk:

“Just direct him how to find this place like a good fellow,” he said, and handed him the letter, and rushed out again.

The clerk looked at me, and struck a sitting attitude. Then he took a piece of white paper, and, with his pencil, struck a couple of lines across it that looked like a lane.

“That’s Shafton Road,” he said, indicating the lane.

I stared blankly at Shafton Road.

The clerk dashed the pencil across the paper again, and said:

“That’s the road the ’bus takes from Woolloongabba.”

“Woollen—what?” I moaned.

“Woolloongabba,” he repeated with wonderful ease.

“Wollengabba,” I echoed with an effort.

“You know where it is?” And he looked up at me.

I confessed my ignorance. I was forced to. He looked at me in astonishment.

“Don’t you know where Woolloongabba is?”

I didn’t. I had never even heard of it.

The clerk laughed. You’d think he had discovered something humorous.

“Do you know where South Brisbane is?” he asked, with a broad grin.

I shook my head. I was in great pain.

He probed me some more.

“Where do you come from?” he asked.

“Shingle Hut ”

He grinned again, and inquired its whereabouts.

I gave him its geographical position as near as possible.

“And don’t you know anything about Brisbane at all?” he added curiously.

When I shook my head, he jumped up.

“Come on,” he said, “and I’ll put you on the right ’bus.”

After timorously interrogating a policeman, and exhibiting the letter I carried to numerous people, who led me further and further astray, I came on the house I was seeking accidentally, after hunting for it about three hours. It was the home of a ship’s captain.

“Oh, yes,” a woman to whom I delivered the message said, “they were landed yesterday. Do you think you can carry them?”

I had formed the opinion that whatever I was to procure for the chief I would be able to put in my pocket. But, when I was confronted with a bundle of formidable war weapons, the pride of some South Sea Islanders, a cargo of spears of all lengths, one as long as a tram section, and pointed and jagged with fish bones and sharks’ teeth—I fell back several paces, and ran my palm across my perspiring brow.

“I don’t think they’re very heavy, though,” the woman said, seeing my distress; “but you’ll have to be very careful with them, for they’re most valuable curios.”

I made no response. I stood mentally endeavouring to conciliate my exalted dreams of an office with the lumbering of these infernal things through the streets. A small rebellion began to rise within me. I only wanted a leader, or a little encouragement to make trouble—to make tracks, anyway. But that woman was not the person to inflame me to violence. She didn’t seem to be aware of my social status. She took a lot for granted. She also took up the gruesome consignment of pointed sticks and shark’s teeth, and balanced them on my shoulder without asking leave. I thought I saw dry blood on one, and shuddered.

“Mind them going out the gate,” she squeaked as a final injunction, “and give my regards to Mr.—” And off I strode with nothing but evil and animus in my heart for the chief of my department. I felt he had deceived and humiliated me.

A large dog bounded for me as I started, and woke my instincts of self-preservation. I immediately descended to the level of the savage. I unloaded slightly, and thrust the spear points at him. The woman screeched assurances that “Carlo wouldn’t bite.” But I had my own opinion. I distrusted dogs, and Carlo, I could see, was all over a dog. I made another dig at him with the shark’s teeth, and the woman, in a high key, cried:

“You impudent fellow; I’ll report you to your master!”

Then I made for the gate, with one eye keeping a lookout in the rear, and the other on the spear tips, which were pointing the way out, some yards in advance of me.

I hurried along a footpath. The first turn to the left I remembered was mine. I reached the corner, or rather, the fishbone and sharks’ teeth reached it, and was negotiating it successfully, when an unwieldy man with a large corporation, coming in the opposite direction, reached it too. He threw up his hands and howled, just as he was about to be speared in the stomach. I saved his life, and quickened my pace.

“Young man!” he gasped after me. I looked round, but didn’t stop. And when I turned my head again the sharks’ teeth were flirting with the back hair of a young lady wheeling a pram a little in front of me. I directed them past her ear, and when they crossed her vision she gave an appalling scream, and deserted her pram. The wild stare in her eyes when she faced me made me feel like an assassin. But I said nothing. I kept going. And how I began to sweat! And I wished myself back on the open plains, away from the gaze of the strange and gaping crowd! I thought to minimise the chances of murder, and halted and reversed arms.

It was several miles to the office, and I made up my mind to walk, and avoid trouble on the ’bus. Past this person and that I steered my burden, every now and again evading a charge of manslaughter by a hair’s breadth. Once, with a deal of skill, I steered clear of a wobbling, inattentive Chinaman, carrying a pair of baskets, and heard a woman squeal just behind me. I eased up, and looked round to see what was going on, and as my shoulders turned I caught sight of the woman frantically clutching for a red parasol that was gliding away from her in the sharks’ teeth. Thoughts of handcuffs and lockups rushed through me; but I kept my presence of mind. I used my body like a crane, and swung the parasol back, and lowered it into the arms of the woman—into the arms of a dozen women, in fact, and as many men, for a crowd quickly collected. Then the woman screamed things, and dodged under the barbed curios, and brandished her damaged property in my face. I silently damned the chief of my department for the interest he took in barbarians, and escaped.

After that I deemed it safer to keep the sharks’ teeth in front of me, and changed ends again. I was getting on well. I was becoming skilled in the art of shaving the hair off people’s ears with a spear without hurting them. Old fools of men who came along, half-screwed, arguing things, and waving their hands about, and looking into each other’s faces, gave me most trouble. It required all I had learned about handling the weapons to save their lives. Whenever I ported helm, they ported helm. Then I would have to stand still and yell a danger signal to them. And how they would wake up when they found themselves within an inch or two of being impaled as trophies on the handiwork of Tommy Tanna! I didn’t laugh at them, an omission I have always regretted. It was one of the “perfect moments” I failed to seize.

The newsboys, though, worried me a lot; and impeded my way more than all the others put together. And they were pretty thick at that hour. They followed me, ran along beside me, shouting at the top of their voices:—

“Th’ new Gov’nor! He’s lost ’eself outer th’ percession.” And one snatched a rival’s newspaper and impaled it on the spear points. The additional weight wasn’t perceptible, so I made no demur. I bore that evening rag aloft as a savage would a scalp, and the news rascals were delighted. They cheered, and jeered in triumph, and used me as one hired to advertise their wares. An elderly man, with sympathy in his eye, overtook me and released that newspaper and hurled it on to the street. The newsboys scowled at him, and in injured tones growled in chorus, “Dicken! !”

I saw the great stone building where the office was located, and felt intense relief. A short distance further and I mounted the steps and guided those spear heads into the main corridor. It was a long one with numerous doors on each side. Some of the occupants on their way out—it was closing-time now—saw me advancing and flattened themselves against the wall till I had passed. Others poked their heads out of the doors and withdrew them again hurriedly. I thanked heaven I had only a few more paces to go. The door of the chiefs room opened as I approached it, and the deputy, in all the glory of a volunteer’s uniform, rushed out in a blind hurry. I saw him before he saw me. I only had time to say “Hoh!” when he bunted the fish bone and shark’s teeth with his military shoulder and knocked me back.

“Oh, my heaven!” he exclaimed, “my heaven!” holding his shoulder and doing the wriggling act in the corridor. I felt sure I had fatally wounded somebody at last. And while I was engaged in this pleasant feeling a bellow came from the deputy that brought all the building along, including the charwoman.

“Phwhat ar-r-e them?” he howled, eyeing Tanna’s implements of war as though they were snakes. Then he lifted his voice an octave higher, and announced to the world that he was “pizend—pizend! bigod!”

“Dear me! dear me!” the chief said, appearing on the scene, “what is the matter?” And he looked first at me, then at the wounded deputy, and then at his own lovely curios which I still held balanced on my shoulder.

“Th-th-that d— foohl —” the deputy began.

But I didn’t hear any more. I jumped from under the spears and rushed into the office and put my head on the table.

After a while the clerk came in, and said:—

“How did you manage to do that?”

I made no reply. Visions of the deputy’s funeral came to me. I was lost.

“Pity you didn’t put one right through him,” came from the clerk. Then I heard him open the door and go home.

A little later the charwoman entered with her broom and pans, and started throwing the furniture about.

“Was it you as stuck thet thing into Mr.—?” she asked with a chuckle.

“But it wasn’t my fault,” I murmured.

“I wished yer had er’—” she broke off, and added: “Ah, well, I won’t say what I was goin’ to.”

Then I went off to the boarding-house. And that was my first day in an office.


Chapter 15
Mulcahy’s Pigs

Two buyers were scouring our district, giving high prices for fat pigs. They purchased thirty-four from us, and six from Martin Mulcahy, a bachelor eking out a hard lonely existence out on the hot, sweltering plains of the Darling Downs. Martin got excited over his prospects—’twas the first lot of porkers he had raised—and rushed into our yard early next morning to know if Dave or Joe or someone could give him a hand to cart them to the railway yard and truck for the buyers. Dave was sorry he couldn’t assist him—so was Joe. Their hands were full with the handling of our own. Martin was in distress, and stood scratching his head through his thin felt hat.

Dad came out and asked what was the matter.

Joe explained.

“Well,” Dad said, “I’ll help him.”

Martin demurred.

“I wouldn’t expect it from you, Mr. Rudd,” he said, remembering Dad had once been a Member of Parliament. But Dad was not a snob.

“Tut, tut,” he said, and went inside, and put on an old hat.

“You’re the man for the country,” Martin said, when Dad returned. (Martin had a flattering way with him when he liked.)

Then they both went off together.

As they crossed the paddocks Martin explained that he had kept his horses in the yard all night, and would have been able to make an early start, only that old Regan passing by before daylight, saw them, and thinking they had been left there by mistake, threw the sliprail down and let them out.

“They’re down be the grass trees,” Martin added, “an’ if you don’t mind, we’ll go round that way, an’ drive them up before us.”

“Very well, very well,” Dad answered cheerfully, and followed Martin on a four-mile tramp through long wet grass, over broken gullies and melon holes, and amongst acres and acres of Bathurst burr and Scotch thistles, and beds of weeds and rubbish where snakes and hares and kangaroo rats and all the vermin of the earth abounded in any number.

Dad began to get tired.

“Confound it!” he would break out at intervals, as he stumbled along after Martin; “what th’ devil did the feller want letting th’ horses out for?”

And Martin, without pausing or turning his head, would explain the reason all over again.

“But he had no right,” Dad would shout out, “to throw down another man’s sliprails, and let his horses out.” And Martin would agree with Dad, and to keep him in good humour would curse old Regan fluently and with violence. There were times when Martin used to show a lot of tact.

At last they found the horses, and hunted them to the yard just about dinner time. The brutes were in a sportive mood, and raced up and stood waiting with their tails elevated. Martin urged Dad to run so as to be up in time to block them coming out of the yard. But they didn’t come out of the yard. They didn’t go into the yard. They couldn’t get in. Someone had been there since Martin had left, and put the rails up. Martin struck himself on the thigh with the palm of his hand, and swore earnestly. Dad grunted, and said that the sliprails of a yard should always be left down.

“Well, it’s a holy terror,” Martin murmured. Then, after thinking hard, he told Dad to walk up quietly and throw the sliprails down again, and he would block the horses himself if they broke back. Dad stalked up quietly, and threw one rail down. The sound of it startled the animals, and away they went at full gallop. Martin threw up his arms and shouted at them to stop. They went faster. They nearly ran over Martin, and raced down the plain till they were only dim specks moving in the distance. Martin followed in pursuit. Dad fixed the sliprails, and hobbled along after Martin with an angry scowl on his face.

Another hour and they were back with the horses, and this time secured them in the yard.

“If I’d known it meant all this runnin’ about,” Dad said, removing his hat, and wiping the perspiration from his forehead with a large coloured handkerchief—“I wouldn’t ’a come for fifty poun’.”

“Ah, we’ve got ’em now, Mr. Rudd,” Martin answered soothingly, “and I’ll have ’em caught and harnessed while you’re lookin’, an’ in half an hour we’ll be loaded an’ away.”

But Martin didn’t catch the horses with the ease he anticipated. The black mare had not had a pair of winkers on since she had had the foal, and she snorted and rushed and poked her head into the cow bail and into every hole and corner of the yard for a good solid hour—until Dad wanted to know “what th’ devil was th’ use of thinkin’ of takin’ pigs to the railway with a fool of a thing like her.” But Martin explained it was the foal that was doing it, and assured him she would be as right as rain when they got loaded and going.

They didn’t get loaded for another hour—not until Dad had wasted a lot of profanity on the pigs, and had fallen down several times under them in the sty, and broken several waddies on them, and left the imprint of his big right foot on the ribs of almost every porker. And they didn’t get going until the black mare had bucked all round the humpy in the shafts, and buried the point of one in the hindquarters of the leader, and run the wheel of the dray through the water cask, and bumped the side out of the dwelling with the tail board; and not until Martin had found some wire and greenhide, and mended all the harness again.

“How th’ devil do you expect to get to the railway to-night with a mad mare like that?” Dad raved, “She’ll never pull.”

But Martin reckoned she would be “orright drekeley,” and patted the trembling beast on the neck.

“She’s collar proud, that’s all. She’ll settle down soon as we get outer the gate,” he said. Martin had a lot of confidence in the black mare.

He adjusted the reins, and patting the brute again, turned to Dad.

“Now, if you jump up behind the pigs (the pigs were enclosed in a rough paling frame open at the top like a small garden, and which was as deep as Dad was tall) I’ll walk and drive.”

Dad hesitated and suspiciously eyed the ricketty old dray, with its extravagant bandages of wire and greenhide; then looked at the horses, and said—

“Maybe it would be better if I drove.”

But Martin wouldn’t hear of Dad driving.

“No, no, no,” he said, “’tis a long distance to—(wa-ah) —walk is eight mi—(wa-ah)—miles; you jump up.”

Dad looked askance at the feverish, restless black mare, and again at the fractured shafts and plugged wheels; then slowly and reluctantly crawled up into the back of the dray and stood behind the “cage.”

“Now then,” Martin said, addressing the horses, and touching them lightly with the reins. Both animals started, the leader at a prance, the black mare with a bound and a buck. Martin ran beside them holding the reins and keeping their heads straight for the open gate. Dad got a feeling into his head that the whole turnout was going to pieces under him, and became alarmed.

“Confound it! Hold them! hold them, man!” he yelled.

Martin was doing his best—so were the horses.

Dad glanced round to see if there was any chance of jumping off with safety. There was no chance. Then, he appealed to the animals.

“Wa-ay, horses, wa-ay there,” he shouted. Just then one of the wheels struck the gatepost with a loud bang, and the dray and the pigs and Dad were for a moment on the verge of eternity.

“Stop them, man, and let me down! Confound you!” Dad roared, clinging to the “cage.” But Martin swung the horses round into the road, and kept them going, and with nothing before her but open plain the black mare settled down.

“She’s orright now,” Martin called out, looking up at Dad with a grin, “good little puller?”

But Dad didn’t pass any compliments upon the black mare, or upon her prancing companion either. He saw nothing but the steep banks of the creek looming ahead, and was thinking of his neck.

Martin eased up when he came to the creek to let the horses get their wind.

“Do you reckon they can take it up that other bank?” Dad asked, staring at the cutting with deep concern.

Martin in his own heart had a deal of doubt about it, but said they would “manage it easy,” then started them into it.

“Careful, now,” Dad shouted, as the dray began to descend, “careful.”

“Right, right, right,” Martin answered, hanging on to the mare’s head.

The pigs tumbled and rolled about and crowded to the front (the low end going down hill) of the “cage,” and the black mare staggered under the extra weight, but got safely down. The water in the bed of the creek was a couple of feet deep, and at the edge of it, Martin called “Wa-ay.” The animal “wa-ayed,” and puffed and pawed the water into foam.

Martin looked at Dad, and said—

“Get in with the pigs, and keep them from coming back when we’re going up the other side. Keep them well up in front of the “cage.”

Dad demurred again.

“Damn it,” he growled, “can’t you manage without me getting in there?”

“You see,” Martin said persuasively, “the pigs ’ll come back to the tail end going up the bank, and the weight might lift the mare off her feet.”

“It’s a fool of a way to bring pigs to a railway, anyhow,” Dad grunted, and climbed up stiffly, and entered the “cage.”

Then Martin didn’t lose any time. He gathered the reins together again, and jumped on the back of the black mare.

“What th’ devil are you doing?” Dad yelled down at him.

“She’s quiet,” Martin answered calmly, “and I might as well get over dry as soakin’ wet.”

“Confound it! Hold on till I get down, you fool of a fellow.” And Dad made an effort to descend. But Martin spoke to the horses, “Git erp,” he said, and the black mare, who had never been broken to saddle, feeling something astride her, bounded through the water and started up the opposite bank at full gallop. Martin clung to her like an ourang-outang, and yelled at the leader for not keeping in front.

Dad hung on to the “cage,” and kicked at the porkers, and reviled Martin at the top of his voice.


Another bound or two from the black mare, and the dray would have landed safely out of the cutting, but somehow or other, just when it was in the steepest place the catch of it—it was a tip dray—got loose, and up it went without any warning, and the “cage” and Dad and all the pigs toppled back and landed in the water.

“Good girl, good girl,” Martin called out, complimenting the mare on her performance, as she reached the top. Then he said, “Wa-ay,” and looked smilingly round to see how Dad was getting on. But he saw Dad wasn’t on at all.

“Oh my, my!” he murmured, and dismounted, and rushed down the cutting. Dad was there wrestling with a heavy porker right in the middle of the stream. The other pigs were promiscuously poking about the bank.

Martin took in the situation at a glance.

“Hold him, hold him,” he shouted, “till I bring a rein.”

“Hold him be dashed,” Dad answered, releasing his grip of the porker’s ear, and delivering the brute a farewell kick in the flanks. Then he waded out of the water, and called Martin a lunatic, and said he should be in the asylum.

“Well, I can’t understand how it happened,” Martin murmured, returning to the dray.

“It happened,” Dad snorted, “because a fool was driving.”

Martin said no more but straightened the dray in silence, and waited till Dad cooled down, and was amenable to reason. Then he made a suggestion.

 “Ryan’s place,” he said “is not far along. We’ll get the pigs together, and if you drive them, I’ll take the dray along, and we can load them there.”

Dad swore some more at Martin, then sulkily went with him after the pigs.

At Ryan’s—with the assistance of two other men— they reloaded the porkers and started again, and reached the railway without further mishap.

The buyers had finished trucking, and were just turning away.

“Back your dray up to that truck there,” one of them said, pointing to a waggon that was almost packed with pigs—and lift them in carefully.”

The buyers then crossed over to the hotel.

Martin, after a lot of pushing and grunting and swearing, in which Dad joined heartily, worked the dray into position. Then he pushed back the sliding door of the truck, and commenced trucking. Everything went smoothly. There was only one more pig to lift in.’

“The last, thank God,” Dad said, as Martin caught the brute by the ear. Then Dad gripped the other ear, and locked hands with Martin under the brute’s belly.

“Now then,” Martin said, and they were just going to heave it into the truck when something disturbed the black mare, and she jumped forward, and Dad and Martin and the porker fell in a struggling heap on the ground.

“Wa-ay,” Martin shouted to the mare.

The pig found its legs first, and made off up the line. Martin rose and pursued it. Dad pulled himself together and hobbled after Martin.

After running about two hundred yards, Martin gave up and turned round. Nothing but pigs met his eyes.

“Oh hang it! Why didn’t you shut the door?” he shouted to Dad, who was still hobbling along.

Dad looked round then, and saw a long coloured line of pigs—about fifty in all—reaching from within a couple of yards of himself to the door of the railway truck.

Dad’s two arms went up like a pair of railway signals, and his mouth and eyes opened wide. Then he turned with a savage glare to Martin. But Dad didn’t speak. He couldn’t. His mouth closed with a snap like a spring trap, and he rushed through the fence, and left.


Chapter 16
Dad and the Pigs

Dad disregarded our advice and went in heavily for pigs. He reckoned there was money in pigs, and argued they would “rise” but he didn’t say how. We wondered if he meant they would fly.

Dad bred the brutes for several years—bred till the sties couldn’t hold them—till the yard contained swine of all sorts and sizes. Black, white, brown, grey, sandy, and piebald pigs—fat, sleepy pigs—poor pigs, scaly, scabby pigs, and pigs with snouts like the nose of a smithy’s bellows, roamed round at all hours raking and rooting into every hole and corner of the place.

If a bucket, a can, or a cask were left about anywhere, they’d swarm round it, and fight for its contents, if it contained anything, and when they had cleaned it out they would roll it away somewhere and leave it. Pigs! The farm was overrun with the rubbish! If a stranger approached the house on horseback, ’twas at the risk of breaking his neck, for if his horse didn’t fall over a heap of slumbering swine, a family of suckers would start out noisily from some corner or other to greet him, and make the animal bolt. Strangers always spoke disparagingly of our pigs.

To remonstrate with Dad was only waste of time.

“Wait a while,” he’d say, confidently, “they’ll be valuable directly; they’ll go up when this new Government gets things into shape.”

’Twas wonderful the faith Dad had in new Governments! Far more than he had in new braces or boots. Of the new Government, we knew nothing; but we understood a lot about Dad’s pigs, and wished a flood would come and wash them all away. We were sick of seeing them—weary of cursing the wretches; tired of throwing things at them, and of hearing the Regans and others complain of their crops being rooted out of the ground by them.

“Why don’t y’ get rid o’ them?” Dave said to Dad one day, “you’d get six or seven shillings a-piece for them, just now.”

“Tut, tut,” Dad answered—“pigs’ll be valuable directly, man; hold on awhile.”

We held on for twelve months. Then the newspapers began to talk about pigs, and about a “bacon industry,” till at last factories sprang up in the city, and agents came round on the heels of each other buying up “porkers.”

They came to Dad.

“Yes,” Dad grunted, “I’ve a few,” and reluctantly parted with forty of them for £100. He just as reluctantly promised to have forty more ready in three months’ time. Dave and Joe couldn’t understand it. They said they had no idea pigs would ever be worth anything.

“Pshaw!” Dad answered, “anyone with brains would have known. It was clear enough t’ me. I could see it years ago.”

Dave and Joe smiled placidly. So much foresight on Dad’s part was a novelty to them.

Pigs went up in our estimation. We treated them with kindness and respect now. To disparage their presence or heave a stone at them was as much as one’s life was worth.

Dad spent a few pounds in proper paling yards, and made extensive additions to the sties, and as much care was bestowed on the pigs as on the dairy cows. All the wasters were weeded out, boars of the best blood introduced, and breeding carried on with care and discrimination.

When corn was selling cheap in the markets, Dad gave every grain we grew to the pigs, and every month, as regular as clock-work, sold a score or more, and pocketed thirty and forty, and sometimes fifty pounds. Money! Dad was making heaps of it.

Mother worried Dad for a change of diet. Salt beef every day of the year, she reckoned, was injurious.

“It gets sickening,” she said, and Dad, after brooding over the matter for about three months, decided to kill a pig. Killing a pig for our own use was a big sacrifice for Dad to make. To him it was throwing good money away. But we were ready to eat the lot of them.

We were to kill the pig one Saturday, and from the excitement and preparations that were made you would think there was to be a wedding.

A cask was emptied and cleaned; the salting bench renovated and scrubbed; a huge fire kindled in the yard beneath a boilerful of water, and the knives touched up on the grindstone. When evening came all of us left work, and, headed by Dad carrying the axe, proceeded to the sty.

“The black one with th’ white foot ought t’ do,” Dad said, in answer to Dave.

“You stun ’im, then,” Dave said, “an’ we’ll stick ’im.”

But it wasn’t an easy matter to stun the brute. All of them seemed seized with a presentiment of evil, and when Dad entered the sty, they raced round in confusion, and fought with each other. Dad couldn’t get a hit in on the black one with the white foot, at all. He knocked a piece of ear off one of the others, and roused its ferocity.

Joe made a suggestion.

“Come out,” he said to Dad, “and stand off a yard or two; and when I fetch a dish of corn they’ll put their front feet on the top rail an’ look over. Then go up quietly, an’ y’ll get him.”

Dad complied.

Joe went away and returned with the corn. The pigs placed their front feet on the top rail, and stared and clamoured as he approached.

Joe rattled the corn to show there was no deception.

Dad became excited. He gripped the axe, and moved stealthily by inches.

Dave grinned, sitting on his haunches.

“Not yet,” Joe said in a low tone, “wait till I get a bit closer.”

Joe stood within a foot or two of the sty, and held the dish out invitingly. The pigs strained to reach it.

“Now,” he said, turning the corners of his eyes round at Dad.

Dad stepped up cautiously, and swung the axe with force enough to knock a house down. He hit the black pig on its white foot. You never heard anything like the squeals that came from that pig! It went fairly mad, and rushed about on three legs trying to get out. Dad bounced into the sty with a determined look in his eye, and in mistake struck an old boar hard on the back. There was commotion then!

“Look out! look out!” Dave shouted. But it was too late. The old boar shoved his head between the rails and burst the side of the sty away, and out they all rushed.

Joe pursued the brute that Dad had maimed. So did Dave. The dogs took to the boar, and fell over each other fighting for a hold of his ear. Dad swore and yelled at them to desist.

Joe captured the black pig with the white foot in the middle of the yard, and held on to his hind legs barrow fashion.

The pig poked its nose in the dirt, opened its mouth, and squealed appallingly. You’d think it knew it was to die. The cries of the brute drove Mother and Sarah into the house with their fingers in their ears. Joe felt like a murderer. He was on the verge of reprieving the animal when Dad rushed up waving the axe wildly. The pig struggled in a circle, and fought for liberty. Dad aimed a heavy blow at its forehead, and drove the axe up to the handle in the ground. He became exasperated, and danced round excitedly.

“Take y’r time,” yelled Joe.

Dad missed again, and sunk another hole in the earth.

“Use th’ back—th’ back,” angrily from Joe.

Dad reversed arms, swung again, and this time the pig went out.

Then there was confusion. Success depended on prompt and proper bleeding.

“Th’ knife, quick,” Joe cried, placing a foot on the neck of the fallen, and holding out his hand.

Dad jumped round.

“Where’re th’ knives?” he roared to Dave.

You had them,” Dave answered, looking anxiously about, “what did y’ do with them?”

Damn it!” and Dad ran toward the sties.

Joe called inquiringly to Sarah.

Dad kicked the earth up near the sties, threw his arms about, and yelled more profanity.

Dave rushed away to search the kitchen.

Mother called out that she “saw father with them.”

All at once Joe became engaged in a new struggle. The pig recovered, jumped up, and filled the air with his screams again.

Dad ran back calling out, “Hold ’im.”

Joe held him.

“Here they are,” Dave cried, having discovered the knives—“y’ left them on the post.”

But Dad’s attention was all on the pig.

“Give the axe t’ Dave,” Joe shouted, holding the animal by the hind legs again.

Dad sparred murderously with the weapon.

“Now, now!” Joe jerked out—“while he’s quiet.”

Then down came the axe, and once more the pig was silenced.

Joe seized the long knife, and probed and poked till the brute was bled successfully, and it was almost dark when we dragged its form across the yard, and spread it on the bench that Dad had prepared.

Dad yelled for a light. Sarah brought one. Then we rushed about, procured buckets, and poured gallons of hot water on the hog, scalded it from head to foot—and it never flinched!

And while Mother and Sarah stood round holding lighted candles, Dad took an old knife, and Dave and Joe the lids of saucepans, and the three of them scraped till there wasn’t a hair left on any part of that pig.

When it was dressed and hung up you wouldn’t have known it—it made a lovely corpse, smooth and white as marble, except in patches where Dad had bruised it with the axe.

“Fine bit o’ pork,” Dad said, holding up a candle and eyeing the carcass closely—“plenty of bacon now for a while.”

Then we collected the knives and the buckets and the saucepan lids, tied the dogs up, cleaned ourselves, and went inside and had tea.


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