an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: The Book of Dan
Author: Steele Rudd
eBook No.: 240017h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2024
Most recent update: June 2024

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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The Book of Dan

Steele Rudd




Chapter 1. - Dan Puts Down a Bore
Chapter 2. - Dan and Ted
Chapter 3. - Before Church Went In
Chapter 4. - Dan Resents a Shabby Trick
Chapter 5. - Dan Decides to go West
Chapter 6. - At McClure’s
Chapter 7. - Dan Takes Another Billet
Chapter 8. - Shows His Employer Some Points
Chapter 9. - When Uncle Died
Chapter 10. - The Shearing Championship
Chapter 11. - Before the Battle
Chapter 12. - The Contest
Chapter 13. - After Many Years


Chapter 1
Dan Puts Down a Bore

A loud laugh went up that was heard all over the district when Dan turned up one morning in possession of a boring plant, and asked for a job. And when the humorous aspect of it wore off everyone fell to wondering how on earth Dan came by so costly an asset; and some expressed the opinion that his title to it would hardly hold good in a court of law. Hitherto, Dan was never known to possess more than a wife and family and what he stood up in; and what Dan usually stood up in would scarcely finance him into a boring plant.

But Dan was no ordinary man, and his ideas of finance were not those of the average person. The man was never known who could get out of difficulties more easily than Dan, and the man was never born who could get into difficulties as easily as Dan! In fact, Dan’s whole career was one long succession of difficulties, mostly financial. And he generally contrived to come through with scarcely a scratch. This time he came through with a boring plant. But how or why, nobody seemed to know.

“Well,” McCarthy answered, with a broad smile, when Dan stopped the puffing traction before his door, and inquired if he wanted water found on his farm; “I want warter arright, but” —he paused and smiled again—“can you do the boring, Dan? That’s the point.”

“Well, now, what th’ devil do you think I’m cartin’ this about th’ country for?” And Dan indignantly waved his long, brown arm over the plant, which consisted of the engine, the boring apparatus, and a dilapidated spring-cart that was pulled along by a lean, lonely-looking horse harnessed to it with wire and scraps of rope and binding twine. “You give me twelve bob a foot, an’ I’ll bloomin’ quick show you whether I can bore or not. Give me twelve bob, and I’ll put a hole down in any part of yer ground for y’ deep enough to hold your overdraft in.

Mrs. McCarthy, and Mary Ann McCarthy, and Julia Catherine McCarthy came out of the house like the occupants leaving Noah’s Ark, and stared and gaped at Dan’s machinery, and were instantly followed by quite a small regiment of younger McCarthys, who made an excited raid on the plant, and climbed all over it like monkeys, and scrutinised it closely.

McCarthy, who rarely ever knew his own mind, “hummed and hahed” for quite a while, and finally mumbled:

“Oh, well, I dunno; p’rraps some other time, Dan.”

“Yes, ‘p’r’aps’! I know all about your ‘p’r’aps,’ Mac!” Dan sneered impudently. “That means y’ don’t want it done at all; or yer can’t afford to pay for it, only y’ ain’t game to say it straight out. Any way. Look out!” Dan swept more than half the young McCarthys from the plant with his long arm, like a horse whisking flies from him with his tail.

McCarthy grinned.

“You’re the sort of cove, Mac,” Dan added, “what always votes against the Labour Party, because yer reckon they wants to tax yer bloomin’ improvements. Why, if they was to come along here termorrer, y’ couldn’t give them a drink of water if they was dyin’ for one!”

McCarthy grinned some more.

“Pshaw! I’m only wastin’ me time an’ talents here!” And Dan swept the remainder of the young McCarthys from his plant.

Dan carried a competent engine-driver on board, but to display his own professional abilities to the spectators, pulled the lever himself and started the rumbling traction. (He had learned how to pull the lever while travelling the road that morning.) Then when she was moving he allowed the driver to take charge, and waved his hat in derision to the staring family.

* * * * * * * * *

“Make for old Skinnerlouse’s,” were Dan’s directions to his driver, “an’ we’ll see if we can knock anything out of him!

Skinnerlouse was the oldest and wealthiest inhabitant—and the meanest. And when Dan’s plant came puffing into his farmyard, he hurried out and stood staring and scratching his head. And when he saw the engine tear down a gate-post to make room for itself to get in, he jumped several feet in the air, and yelled and blasphemed.

“Hang you, and your boring plant!” he shouted, when Dan proceeded to solicit business, “Who gave you authority to bring it into my yard? Take it away—the heap of rubbish! Be off with it, fellow!”

The reception was not quite so friendly as Dan had expected, as he would have wished; still Dan knew it was necessary to put up with a lot when one was in business. He promptly humbled himself before the man of money with studied servility. He submitted without a word of remonstrance to Skinnerlouse away his character, and the character of his relations and ancestors. Indeed, Dan approved of many of the vile epithets that Skinnerlouse applied to his relations, and murmured meekly:

“I can’t deny what y’ say, Mister Skinnerlouse; they’re a rotten lot some of ’em, an’ I’ve always said so meself; but that’s no fault o’ mine, is it? You would hardly blame me on their account?’’

“Blame you!” Skinerlouse yelled. “Of course I blame you!” And for a good quarter-hour he lashed himself into frenzy and foam, telling Dan just what a useless loafer he reckoned he was, and luridly prophesied that his future would be all spent in languishing behind the walls of the goal.

Dan smiled at the word picture of himself, and got right to business.

“Well, anyway,” he said humbly, “a man like y’self, Mr. Skinerlouse, who’s at the head o’ everythin’ going on in th’ distric’, ought, y’ know, to encourage a chap when he’s gettin’ a move on, an’ showin’ a bit o’ push an’ industry.”

“Blast your push an’ industry!” the old man snorted. “To th’ devil with y’! Do you call knocking down a man’s gatepost like that”—pointing with his finger to the ruin—“push and industry? Do you?”

Dan meekly apologised for the accident, and promised to repair the damage.

“I’ll see you don’t go out of here till you do. Not one foot . . . if I have to send for the police!” Skinnerlouse roared, and started to walk away.

But Dan trotted after him. Dan was a hard man to shake off.

“Well, but won’t y’ have a bore put down, though, Mr. Skinnerlouse?” he pleaded meekly. “It’ll pay y’ well, y’ know, to have one.”

“Go to th’ devil, and put down a bore in your own place!” the other snapped, without turning his head.

But Dan kept at his side, and answered;

“Well, I would, sir, quick enough, but I haven’t got a place o’ me own, yet.”

“Then it’s bally near time you had! Go off with you!”

“Well, I hope I will have one very soon, now,” was Dan’s reply. “When I get goin’ properly, which won’t be long, I hope, for—for—er—I’ve—er—left the Labour party, Mr. Skinnerlouse.”

“You’ve what?” And old Skinnerlouse stopped suddenly, and looked Dan square in the face.

“Ah, yes! left the Party for ever,” Dan repeated with steady emphasis; and added: “I don’t vote that ticket no more, Mr. Skinnerlouse. I’m after a bit o’ land now; an’ they’re no good to me with their bloomin’ tax on a chap’s thrift an’ his little ’ome.”

“It’s taken you a blamed long time to find it out!” Skinnerlouse grunted, and moved on again.

Still Dan clung courageously to him. “Well, will y’ make up yer mind to have one put down here, in th’ yard, Mr. Skinnerlouse?” he repeated. “Or—er—anywhere here would be a good place to get water, sir, an’ now’s yer time while the plant’s idle.”

Skinnerlouse ignored him, and walked faster, at the same time waving his hand at a boy in his employ, and commanding him in bad language to drive some calves from the lucerne.

Dan lost hope. He spat viciously, and was just in the act of telling Skinnerlouse to go to a place, the name of which shall be kept secret, when that individual suddenly stopped again and faced him. There was a changed look in his grizzled countenance. Roguery was in his eye. He smiled, and said:

“Well then, look here! What’s the cheapest you will deepen that well there for?” and he pointed to a cranky old windlass surrounded by a mass of gravel and blue-metal boulders.

Dan smiled, and striding across to the well, removed some of the rude covering and looked down it.

It was an old warrior of a hole about sixty feet deep, that had broken the hearts of numerous gangs of well-sinkers, all of whom abandoned it with seared souls and evil thoughts.

“Twelve shilings a foot,” Dan said, straightening himself up.

Skinerlouse reflected for a moment.

“No,” he answered, “I won’t. But I’ll give you nothing for the first five feet, and twelve and six for every foot after that.”

It was Dan’s turn to reflect. He took his full time.

“Twelve an’ six . . after the first five feet,” he soliloquised.

“Yes, and you can take it or leave it,” Skinnerlouse jerked out.

Dan thought he saw his way to make it pay.

“Orright, then, Mr. Skinerlouse,” he replied, “I’ll do it at that an’ I’ll start an’ bump the bottom out of her for yer, right now.”

“That’s a bargain, then, and the money’s there for you when you’re finished.” And Skinerlouse, with a pleased smile on his hard face, went inside.

“The fool will be there till he’s grey-headed, and never get down five feet in that rock!” he said to his wife.

Meanwhile, Dan and his engine-driver set the plant in position and commenced operations on the well. The engine-driver manipulated the drill, while Dan at intervals carted water, with the dejected horse to the engine. At longer intervals he mooched about with his hands behind his back, smoking tranquily.

“Bump! bump! thump! thump!” the drill echoed in monotonous regularity until night, and proceeded long into the night. Early next morning it commenced again, and went right ahead, taking no interval for breakfast.

About noon old Skinnerlouse came along, and with a nasty grin asked Dan if he had struck water yet.

“Not yet,” Dan said. “We’re only down a couple o’ feet.”

Skinnerlouse went away pleased. He was barely out of earshot when the man at the drill gave a jump, and called out: “Water!”

Dan staggered as if he had been hit behind the ear with one of the blue-metal boulders.

“Gam! .. No?” he gasped.

“Sure as I’m livin’!”

With the aid of a piece of mirror they both examined the hole. Water there was, and coming in abundance. It was starting to flood the floor of the well.

“That’s a nark!” the engine-driver said, with a pathetic look at his employer. “What’ll you do, Dan?”

A serious look was in Dan’s eye. It was clear he fully realised the gravity of the situation.

“There’s only one thing to do,” he said quickly. “Lower me down, an’ I’ll plug her up.”

He rushed round and secured a wooden peg, that was made to fit the bore-hole. Then the engine-driver half-lowered, half-dropped Dan into the well. Dan plugged that hole in quick time, and came to the top in wet boots, and nervously looked about to see if old Skinerlouse was near. But Skinnerlouse was half a mile off abusing one of his ploughmen for knocking a horse down with a spade.

“We’ll pack up now, and be ready to pull out whenever he comes along,” Dan said.

Dan would have made a great leader of a fusion party.

“I never saw anything like it,” the engine-driver remarked concernedly. “Fancy getting water, and giving it to that old vagabond for nothing.”

“He ain’t got it for nothing yet,” Dan said sternly. “You wait a bit.”

Though born in Australia and by Scotch parents, Dan was a real Englishman. He never knew when he was beaten. He hadn’t the sense to know.

They “waited a bit”—hung idly round the plant for about two hours, smoking and waiting for Skinnerlouse to show up.

He showed up.

“Hello!” he said. “What’s up?”

Dan drew himself to full height, and hitched his pants several times.

“Oh—er,” he drawled. “I don’t think we’d ever find water there, Mr. Skinnerlouse.”

“Why, you fool,” Skinnerlouse laughed, “I could have told you that before you started.”

“Well, I never like to be beat,” Dan said modestly, “so I’ll tell you what I’ll do if yer like, Mr. Skinnerlouse.” (Skinnerlouse turned his ear sharply, and listened like a cunning old cockatoo.) “If you let me divine a place myself, I’ll guarantee to find you a good supply for £50, and no money if I don’t.”

“Fifty pounds for a good supply, and nothing if you fail; that is to say, no water, no money?” Skinnerlouse said.

Dan nodded assent.

Skinnerlouse thought he had precipitated a good joke.

“Fire away, then,” he chuckled; “it’s not often fellows come round here putting down bores for the good of their health.”

Dan produced his divining rod—a piece of forked willow tree—and taking a firm grip of it with both hands, went off “merry-widowing” round Skinnerlouse’s yard. The rod dragged him right back to the well, where it doubled him like a bullock-bow and threatened to pin him to the earth.

“This is the place,” Dan said. “There’s a crick runnin’ strong under here, and the well just missed it by a couple o’ feet.”

Skinnerlouse ran away, laughing hoarsely.

“The man who said it would be a big saving to the country to build asylums to put sensible people into, and let the others about outside, was a wise man,” he remarked to his wife.

Dan and the engine-driver set the plant again, and recommenced operations.

“I think I’ll cover this well over better than it is,” Dan said with a grin, “in case someone falls down it.”

Dan was a careful workman where human life was concerned.

Then, while the driver turned the drill, Dan heaped all the heavy timber he could see about on the well.

“Only a burglar could get into it now,” he said, and filling his pipe with the engine-driver’s tobacco, sat down and smoked peacefully, and at intervals hummed snatches of “Abide with Me”.

For about a week Dan’s boring plant could be heard bumping continuously at Skinnerlouse’s.

Then one day it suddenly ceased, and a commotion set in that attracted the whole of that end of the district. The engine whistled with all its might; Dan “hurrayed,” and kicked his hat up and down the yard; Skinnerlouse’s dogs barked and howled; his turkeys—and he had hundreds of them—gobbled; Skinnerlouse, himself, and his two sons, and his farm-hands came running from different parts of the estate, and shared in the excitement. Dan McSmith, ploughing on his little eighty acre allotment, stopped his team to shout to his wife, who was in the cornfield, that “Dan had struck water for old Skinerlouse.” And Barney O’Brown, who despised Skinnerlouse, scowled at the horizon upon hearing the jubilating, and said: “Just imagine the old devil finding water on that stony ridge!”

“A thousand gallons a hour!” Dan exclaimed, after testing the supply. “An’ struck it at sixty feet!”

“Are you sure it’s a thousand gallons?” Skinnerlouse asked excitedly.

“Certain,” Dan said.

Skinerlouse ran off, and returned with a bottle of whisky and a glass.

“Help yourselves,” he said recklessly.

Dan and the engine-driver helped themselves, and Dan mixed some of the newly-found water with his, just to prove its bona-fides.

“And darn good water it is, too,” Dan said, smacking his lips.

“A thousand gallons an hour!” repeated old Skinnerlouse. “Why, it’s worth as many pounds to me.”

“You was always a lucky dorg, Mr. Skinnerlouse,” Dan said, in a complimentary sort of way.

* * * * * * * *

Skinnerlouse laughed pleasantly, and paid Dan fifty pounds. Dan pocketed the cheque, and hurried his plant off the premises.

* * * * * * * *

Two years after. Old Skinnerlouse’s sons one day uncovered the well, and one was lowered to the bottom in search of some missing tools. The plug that Dan had placed in the bore-hole attracted his attention. He removed it; then shouted wildly to be hauled up. Young Skinnerlouse couldn’t swim, and when he reached the top he was pale and wet.

“Oh, th’—scoundrel! Th’—th’—daylight robber!” old Skinnerlouse yelled, when he realised how matters were at the bottom of the well. “I’ll—I’ll—I’ll—” he stammered. Then getting back his full voice, bellowed: “Get me my horse!

He found Dan, at home, on the broad of his back, with his boots off, singing songs diluted with fag ends of “Abide with Me” to the baby, while his wife was out cutting wood.

“Do you call yourself a man?” Skinnerlouse howled, when Dan appeared at the door in answer to his call.

“Well,” Dan replied with a grin, “I’d hardly be able to pass meself off as a woman!

“It wouldn’t be much uset him tryin’, either, if y’ arsts me,” Dan’s wife said, appearing at the moment with a load of wood in her arms, and large drops of perspiration on her brow.

“You’re a robber!” Skinnerlouse shouted in his fury. “A bare-faced robber!”

Dan calmly stroked his long black beard, and said:

“When did yer find thet out?”

“Not twenty minutes ago, when my son went down that well, you low skunk!” he yelled.

“Went down what well?” inquired Dan, with an innocent twinkle in his eye.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know, man—the well you plugged, you scoundrel, and took my money for doing it!”

For a moment Dan was lost for a reply.

Mrs. Dan dropped her load of wood and stared in astonishment from one to the other. She seemed to regard it her husband’s duty to clear himself of the imputation.

“Do you hear what he says?” she cried, addressing Dan. “He says you plugged his well. I don’t know as what that quite means, but if you plugged his well you done somethin’ against a neighbour as you wouldn’t have him do to you. Now, what about it?”

“If he dersen’t pretty soon make himself scarce from here I’ll plug ’im! That’s what about it!” And Dan made a lurch as though he would execute the threat there and then.

But Dan’s wife held him back. She threw her arms about him, and shrieked to him not to take the law into his own hands; and she shrieked to old Skinnerlouse “to go; for heaven’s sake to get away at oncet”.

But she could have held Dan back with a cotton thread.

“He said once that I would end me days in gaol,” Dan gurgled, struggling with his wife, “an’ I’m only sorry”— straining harder—“it will be for takin’ the life”—hisses and gasps—“of a thing like ’im, an’ not a”—a tremendous effort to get free—“a man!

Dan at last got free, and flung himself out of the door. But old Skinnerlouse was then galoping down the road.

Dan turned angrily on his wife.

“What did yer hold me for?” he growled.

“Because I didn’t want y’ to get ’urt,” she said.


Chapter 2
Dan and Ted

It was spitting rain, and Ted knew it would be an off-day with Dan, and decided to drop in for a yarn. Ted knew it would be an off-day with Dan, anyhow. Ted understood Dan. He understood him because he revered him, because be believed all the lies Dan told him. And in the art of lying Dan was a wowser. To Ted Dan was the tree of knowledge, the pillar of light. To Dan Ted was a “jolly decent little bloke”.

Ted found Dan lying on the broad of his back in the doorway. His large, bare feet, like the front ends of a couple of large goannas playing hide and seek among the ironbarks, were sprawling up along either door-post, while the bulk of his hulking carcase blocked the entrance like the fork end of a large log-swept in by the back way. In this comfortable attitude Dan was looking after the yearling infant; keeping it quiet by balancing it above his head on his broad palms, and at intervals heaving it at the rafters and catching it again. Now and again the voice of Mrs. Dan, moving about in the performance of the housework, would call warningly:

“Be careful you don’t let ’er fall, now.”

And from Dan would come a “Heigh, hup-la, hup! Hoh-h, that was a big one.”

Ted arrived at the front of Dan’s bark hut. He didn’t shout: “Good-day,” or knock, or announce himself in any way. Ted was filled with a notion to steal in quietly and surprise Dan. He had scarcely conceived the notion when his eye rested on one of Dan’s bare feet embracing the door-post. Ted stared hard at that bare foot for several seconds.

“Hup-la! Hup! Hoh-h-h,’’ came from Dan.

Ted grinned to himself.

“Oh, not s’ ’igh as thet!” from Mrs. Dan.

Ted cautiously approached the door-post.

“Now, again, hup!” from Dan.

Ted pressed close to the bare foot, and bit Dan’s big toe hard, hard enough to put some life into the dead. It put quite a lot into Dan. A loud yell came from him, then an oath, followed by a bump on the floor, and screams from the baby.

“Oh, you’ve done it now! You’ve done it! I know’d you would!” Mrs. Dan rushing from the bedroom end of the humpy, screeched, “Oh, you usetless man!”

Renewed screams came from the infant as its mother hugged and hushed it.

“Oh, why couldn’t y’ mind th’ child properly! You wretch!”

But Dan, who had gained his feet, darted out the open door and looked about. There was nothing suspicious in view. He examined the door-post curiously. It presented no suspicious features. Then taking the wounded toe in one hand, he hopped inside again, and sitting down, proceeded to inspect it closely.

“Oh, my poor li’l’ darling; mother’s li’l’ pet! What did ’e do to yer?” murmured Mrs. Dan into the offspring’s ear.

“By cripes,” Dan said, “some bloomin’ thing bit me on th’ toe.”

“It’s a pity it didn’t bite yer ’ead off,” rejoined his wife, savagely, “for lettin’ ’er fall purpusly. Oh, you are a pretty man! A nicet father!”

“For lettin’ yer gran’mother fall purpusly,” Dan growled.

“Yer a crawler! a usetless crawler! that’s all y’ar’!” howled Mrs. Dan.

“An’ what are you?” Dan inquired, with indiference.

“If I did right I’d go an’ leave yer!” in loud, hysterical tones from Mrs. Dan.

“Well, what’s th’ use o’ doin’ what’s wrong?” Dan inquired, gazing hard at his toe.

“To think y’ would let a ’elpless li’l’ child fall on th’ ’ard floor! Yer a dog, that’s what y’ar’,” fairly screamed his better half.

“Well, why don’t yer mind yer kid th’ same as other women have ter do?” cold-bloodedly from Dan.

“Same as hother women have to do!’’ echoed Mrs. Dan. Then raising her voice several notes higher: “Hother women ain’t got ter cook, an’ bake, an’ scrub, an’ clean, an’ cut wood, an’ carry warter, an’ keep YOU too!’

Dan raised his toe nearer his eyes and growled calmly:

“Keep me? No, they ain’t . . . neither have you.”

“Oh, haven’t I? Huh!” with a contemptuous scoff, “haven’t I? Eh? Ah! Oh no! Huh!” Then lapsing into a silence, she fell to searching the baby, inside and out for fractures.

Dan took his big toe nearer the light to diagnose it more.

The silence lasted quite a while—lasted till Dan, himself, broke it.

“If them ain’t teeth marks,” he said, “I’ll eat me bloomin’ hat.”

Ted sauntered in by the back way.

Dan and Mrs. Dan looked up together upon hearing the footsteps.

“Helloa, Ted” they said.

“Havin’ some more wet weather!” Ted said.

“And it looks like continyin,” Dan answered, with a glance at the bit of a drizzle that was barely wetting the grass in front of the door.

Ted flopped into a seat like a blackfellow’s dog into a shade.

Mrs. Dan laughed a ready-made sort of laugh, and said:

“Oh, I wisht y’ had come a bit sooner, Ted.” Then her eyes settled on Dan in a loving sort of way.

“Why, was ennerthin’ on?” Ted drawled.

“Would yer believe it, Ted. ’E (still looking fondly at Dan) couldn’t hold th’ baby fer a couple o’ minets without lettin’ it fall. ’E’s a pretty nurse, Ted.”

“He oughter be able t’ be this time,” Ted drawled.

Dan presented his wounded toe to Ted, and explained.

“Now, just yeou take care it wasn’t one o’ them red spiders what bit y’!” Mrs. Dan said, with a tender regard for her husband.

“Yes, they’re dangerous!” Ted put in.

A troubled look came over Dan. The red spider business had silently occupied his thoughts for some time. And where poison was concerned Dan was a cur. He was a cur where poison wasn’t concerned.

“Lots o’ people have been bit be them red spiders without knowin’ it, an’ have died too,” the wife added for Dan’s information and consolation.

“Lots of ’em,” from Ted.

Dan leaned down and squeezed his toe long and thoughtfully.

Ted winked vigorously at Mrs. Dan, and made unskilled efforts to let her into the secret that lurked in his bosom.

Mrs. Dan wondered if Ted was going mad.

“Sure it wasn’t a snake?” Ted said, and chancing to look up quickly Dan detected the fag end of a grin that Ted meant for Mrs. Dan. Then Dan’s big, resourceful brain became active. And Dan had a keen scent for deception and dissimulation. He eyed Ted closely; regarded his mouth critically. Ted felt he was looking into his very soul, and quailed under the scrutiny. Dan was satisfied; was confident; relieved.

“Them ain’t th’ kind o’ marks a snake makes with his fangs,” he remarked, holding up his toe, “But any way, if it wer’ a snake he won’t be far off, ’cause when he bit it that toe was all over arsenic that I put on to kill that corn.”

Dan chuckled a fiendish sort of chuckle, and from out the corner of his eye watched Ted. But he hadn’t to watch long. All at once Ted’s eyes began to roll; his jaws to work automatically, and his whole frame seemed to be falling to pieces.

He rose and staggered to the door and showed symptoms of sea sickness. Mrs. Dan took alarm at his sudden turn. She offered him sauce and tried him with pain killer, and suggested a dose of oil.

But Dan sat and grinned like the villain in a play. He put his fingers to his nose, too, and signalled at the back of Ted as though sending a wireless through him.

All at once Ted reeled round, and with perspiration and desperation on his brow, faced Dan.

“Fer heaven’s s-s-sake tell me, was th-there arsenic on yer toe, Dan?” he cried tragically.

“But it wouldn’t matter to you if there were, would it, Ted?” Dan said.

“It was me th-that bit y’, Dan. Oh, my heavens, it wa-was me!” Ted groaned and sank on the floor.

“Yer clown!” Dan cried, hitting him on the back, “git up; I know’d it was you.”

Ted partly recovered.

“But wa-was there any on it, Dan?” he asked, seeking the other’s assurance.

“Pshaw! none,” Dan replied.

Ted smiled a little and said: “Sure, Dan?”

“Look”, Dan said, extending his big toe to the infant as though offering it a lollie stick, “I’d let th’ kid bite it!”

Ted looked down at the innocent offspring and smiled. “Oh, yer little devil!” Dan suddenly shouted, drawing himself together, “darn me if she ain’t got teeth.”

“Eh? A tooth?” Mrs. Dan cried wildly, grabbing up the infant. “Oh, show me, deary, deary, deary!”

“A bloomin’ mouthful of ’em” Dan growled.

And Ted laughed heartily.


Chapter 3
Before Church Went In

Church Sunday at Nelanjie. The congregation was waiting for the parson to come along; the female portion of it, about a dozen strong, standing round the front door, which was also the back door, sheltering themselves from a fierce, unrelenting heat under half as many umbrellas; the male element lolloping against the walls, rubbing the white-wash off with their clothes, and talking weirdly about rain, and rifle-shooting and cows and crops, and the prospect of a certain big estate that had blocked their progress, and the progress of their fathers and their grandfathers for more than half a century, being subdivided and sold in small areas.

“Look here, if you blokes want that station cut up,” Dan observed advisedly, “do as we did down at Tumburraboo: make yerselves an infernal nuisance to th’ Government, and y’ll get it. Take it from me.”

“Darn well kick them outer office; they’re no good to th’ country!” little Alfred, an ardent Labour man, snapped feelingly.

“It’s for that very reason yer want to keep them in,” Dan replied, looking round upon the others with the air of a man of much wisdom. But his meaning was too deep for them. They were not politicians.

“Well, if you can understand, is what we did,” Dan went on, “’n’ now I’ll tell you all about it,” and dragging his ungainly length from the wall, and taking up a central position on the grass, proceeded to explain.

“We were burstin’, of course, same as you blokes are now, to have Tumburraboo cut up, but we didn’t want the Government to do it, y’ follow me?”

They didn’t follow him. His words were a mystery to them, and one said:

“Didn’t want th’ Government to do it, and yet you asked them to do it?”

“No, we only wanted to scare the syndicate that was after it into buying it, quick like. And where’d be the use of the Government buying any way?”

Dan paused for a reply. One came promptly from little Alfred.

“Why, longer an’ easier terms, of course,” he said.

Dan smiled pathetically on little Alfred, and answered, tapping that individual convincingly on the foot:

“Government terms were no use to us, my boy, when the land had to go to ballot, and they won’t be any use to any of you here, either, though you mightn’t think it.”

“Rats!” little Alfred said, and started the others laughing. And little Alfred, in gratitude for their appreciation of his argument, laughed with them.

But Dan didn’t laugh. He didn’t even smile. A sensitive man was Dan when the fit moved him. He was also a hotheaded man in debate, or in business, or in a drink, and he possessed a large pair of hairy arms, and a long ugly reach. For several seconds he fixed a pair of half-closed eyes steadily upon little Alfred, then said:

“For two pins I’d wring your neck,”

“You wouldn’t wring it for two quid, old chap, without y’ got plenty of help,” little Alfred shot back, and set the others laughing more. He laughed some more himself, too.

Dan rose, and without further remark, brought his long ugly reach into action. His great hands went out and groped for little Alfred’s wind pipe. But little Alfred was well trained in the first law of nature. He ducked under that reach, and rapped Dan hard and unexpectedly on the ribs; one! two! three! Then dancing out into the open he sparred round like a star performer in a Bora ceremony.

The congregation were carried away with joy. So sudden a change came over them that one would have thought they had just risen from the dead. For variation they started to cheer little Alfred lustily.

“Just keep your mouths shut now,” Dan said threateningly to those who cheered loudest.

But little Alfred responded to their applause. There was nothing of the white feather about little Alfred. He sailed in again like a small torpedo boat bunting the side of a cliff, and hit Dan some more in the ribs, and came away from him as though hauled back by invisible wires. Little Alfred’s leg-work was perfection, it was a revelation—to Dan.

Pleased with the impression he had made on Dan’s ribs he fixed his attention to his nose. Dan’s nose was a big nose, and little Alfred started in with the intention of planting one on the bridge of it. But his laudable design was unexpectedly frustrated. A useless, mongrel dog in search of a bit of shade— Alfred’s own mongrel too—sauntered up and got in the way and interfered with his side-step. Alfred blundered, and Dan succeeded in getting the grip he had been groping for with closed eyes ever since the fight started. And a terrible grip it was. He hugged and mauled little Alfred like a parent bear. Little Alfred kicked, and bit, and scratched, and yelled indictable language to the others to rescue him. But he might just as well have appealed to them to drown themselves in the little tin tank attached to the church. But one was there, a quaint, ragged, bare-footed orphan boy, known in the district as “Snowy”, and who was religiously sent to church once a month by his guardian employer, instead of to a day school, who entertained no fear for Dan. Snowy started in and attacked Dan in the rear with his bare foot. Dan glanced back over his shoulder to see what was assaulting him. If he had possessed a tail he might have “flicked” him off; but he hadn’t. So Dan just cow-kicked Snowy in the empty stomach and temporarily disabled him.

Little Alfred continued to yell for first aid, but none was forthcoming. Dan, at arm’s-length, elevated him bodily above his head, and was glaring murderously about for a wheel or something to break him across, when the parson himself strolled quietly round the church corner.

Dan was a coward where parsons were concerned, and at sight of the cloth instantly lowered little Alfred to the ground and smiled forgivingly and apologetically upon him.

But there was no forgiveness in the soul of little Alfred, neither was there any fear for the church about him. He met Dan’s smile of forgiveness with a volley of scorching profanity, and was well on his way with a second lot when the parson with horror in his eye fell upon him.

“What! What! What! What’s this I hear?” he cried angrily. “Oh, wretched sinner! and in the presence of the Lord, too! How do you expect to go to Heaven! Eh! how do you?”

“In a wheelbarrow, if I can’t go any other way!” little Alfred shouted in a voice of rage calculated to silence the clergy once and for ever. But the parson was one who took a hand every year in celebrating the glories of St. George, and had never missed a chance to boast of the “bull-dog” blood that trickled proudly through his pious veins, and wasn’t easily silenced, anyhow.

“Look here, my man,” he said, “I come of a good old fighting stock, just you remember that, and there are times when even a Minister of the Gospel might be justified in taking it into his own hands to administer physical punishment to sinners such as you. And, mark you this: though you see me wearing the cloth, I haven’t forgotten my boxing days at Cambridge, and I haven’t neglected my dumb-bells either, not for a single morning.” And with vain pride he tapped that part of his arm where the most muscle should have been, and smiled a brave sort of smile upon his congregation.

But little Alfred was in no mood to weigh words of warning with the church. He was in no mood but a fighting mood, and wasn’t particular where the fight came from.

“Oh! H’m!” he snarled, contemptously looking the parson all over, “you, is it? Well, put ’em up,” and off he danced into the second act of the Bora ceremony, circling and sparring all round the enemy.

And the congregation showed no signs of alarm. They weren’t at all horrified at the turn things had taken. On the contrary, their faces shone and glowed with joyful expectancy, as they formed themselves into a ring.

“All right, then sinner,” the parson replied accommodatingly; and calmly divesting himself of his long black coat tossed it in business-like fashion over his shoulder. The cloth settled on the ragged form of Snowy. Snowy embraced it as a trophy. He pulled it on; then with both hands dug deep into the pockets among the sermons, and expanding his murky features into a large grin, paraded proudly behind the “ring”. Jim McSmith and Joe O’Brown and some more at sight of Snowy fell on the grass, and wriggled and writhed in merriment.

The parson, with cuffs that were not the same colour as his shirt, rolled up, sparred in real Cambridge fashion, and getting quickly to work led with the right at little Alfred’s head and knocked all the skin off his own knuckles.

The congregation grinned and gufawed, and applauded their shepherd.

The shepherd wrung his fingers, and grimaced and exposed his gold-mounted teeth; then he sparred for another opening.

“Give us another o’ those!” little Alfred said, “throwing off” at his adversary, “come on!”

The congregation laughed.

Little Alfred brought his foot-work into action and darted about in several directions at the same time. The church narrowly missed little Alfred’s ear with its left.

“That all they learnt y’ at Cambridge?” little Alfred said, with a grin.

The congregation laughed again.

Then like an infuriated ram little Alfred charged the parson and aimed six or seven of his best at all parts of him. The parson grunted several times, and closed with little Alfred.

“Off! Off! Let go!” Dan cried, assuming the office of referee. “Square dinkum!”

Little Alfred broke away, then swopped his right for the church’s left.

“Aha, sinner!” the church chuckled gleefully.

“Good men! Good men!” Dan cried encouragingly. “A dern good little fight!”

“Into ’im, Alfy!” from Snowy. “Into ’im!’’

“I’ll make him lick his chops directly,” little Alfred said.

More merriment from the congregation.

Then true to his word, little Alfred rushed the enemy, and hitting out wildly and blindly, felled him.

“Jeerusalem!” Dan cried, “he’s gone right out to it!”

“Good man, Alfy!” from Snowy, “that fetched him!”

Dan stood over the fallen parson, and started to count him out.

“One …two …three …four …five …six …seven …eight …nine…’’

“Ten, yer dorg!” little Alfred said savagely, at the same time landing Dan his best punch on “the point”. Dan went down in a limp heap beside the parson, and grabbing up his clothes little Alfred jumped the fence, and departed without waiting for the service.

The congregation turned pale. Terror took possession of every soul of them. They were in the act of flying from the field and leaving someone else be charged with murder, when the parson showed signs of life. Then they remained. The parson sat up and gazed about in a dazed sort of way. One of the congregation spoke to him anxiously.

“Revelations, first chapter, second verse,” he said.

Then Dan stirred himself, and sat up dreamily.

“What, is it daylight?” he said, staring foolishly about.

“No, it’s starlight, blokey,” Snowy said, patting him on the head, “don’t yer see Jupitus shinin’?”


Chapter 4
Dan Resents a Shabby Trick

Dan was much perturbed over the prospects of ringing the giant trees that towered in solemn, stately possession of his patch of wild, unreclaimed earth.

“It’ll take the beggars a good year or two to die, too, when they are rung!” came dolefully from him as he rubbed the broken butt of a file over the face of a rusty old axe held between his knees. “That’s if they don’t all sucker, them!”

“Did y’ see in th’ paper that come round th’ soap,” his wife inquired helpfully, “where someone wrote a letter sayin’ as how be puttin’ bluestone on the axe he killed, oh! ever such a lot o’ timber, in about a fortnight?”

Dan cheered up.

“Eh” he said, “bluestone? . . . on the axe? . . . Why, that’ll be what they was talkin’ about at th’ fact’ry. . . . Bluestone? . . . Cripes! . . . on the axe, eh? . . . But how? . . . what way, I wonder?”

Mrs. Dan, feeling she had suddenly risen to someone of importance in the eyes of her husband, rushed away and began hunting for the paper that “come round the soap”.

“Here it is; I’ve found it!” she cried, returning in triumph with a fragment of a daily.

Dan eagerly seized the scrap, and laboriously spelt over a letter addressed to the editor, a letter forming part of a weird controversy that had been carried on in the daily anent “ring-barking green timber’’.

“Cripes, eh!” he ejaculated when he reached the end of it. “You’ve on’y to soak the blade of the axe in bluestone the night before y’ start ringin . . . That’s easy enough done, an’ I just happen to have a bit o’ bluestone, to . . . Kills ’em all in a fortnight . . . Christmas, that’s better than waitin’ for years.”

“There y’ar’, now, yer see,” his wife said pleasantly, “yer wouldn’t have know’d that on’y for me.”

“Oh, I’d have found it out orright,” Dan drawled stubbornly, “some other way or other.”

Dan was not a man to admit anything to a woman’s credit. Dan understood women, and knew how easy it was to spoil them.

“That’s alez th’ way with you men,” Mrs. Dan observed. “Yer never likes to give a woman credit for anything she does.”

“Yous don’t want any credit,” Dan said with an affectionate grin. “We give yer all our hard cash.”

Mrs. Dan laughed a short, harsh laugh, a laugh that sounded like a washing machine in full swing, and answered:

“Well, that’s th’ on’y joke I ever heerd y’ make, Dan Rudd.”

“Then yer don’t know me very well, if it is,” from Dan, as he rose to hunt up that bit of bluestone.

“If I don’t know y’,” his wife shouted after him, “I don’t know who does then, for there ain’t much of yer that I ain’t seen.”

* * * * * * *

For about a month Dan rose early, and with his axe stained with bluestone, went out and swung it hard at those giant trees. Never in his life before did Dan swing an axe so hard and honestly.

At the end of the long days he would lean heavily on the handle, and regarding the patches he had rung with a look of satisfaction, would say to his wife: “Now, if that lot goes off right away, as they ought to, we’ll have this twenty acres cleared and under the plough in no time.”

And his wife with joy in her heart would roam the multitude of mutilated ironbarks, scanning them closely for symptoms of early decay.

“It’s a month or more now since yer rung th’ fust ones.” she said one day, “and they ain’t startin’ to die yet.” And in her voice there was just a suspicion of doubt and disappointment.

“They don’t seem to be . . . and y’d think they would be,” Dan agreed, pulling hard and thoughtfully at his beard. After a long pause he added: “That’s if there’s ennerthin’ in th’ bloomin’ bluestone business!”

But one day, in response to a personal appeal from McDoolan, Dan put the axe aside and went over to give a hand at the threshing. Among the irregular hands engaged on the thresher was a scholarly sort of ne’er-do-well, a talkative individual with an overwhelming predilection for engaging in arguments. He engaged in one with McDoolan on the political situation.

“I appeal to any of these men,” the ne’er-do-well said, turning to all hands on the machine, “to say if I’m not right, and I’ll lay a hundred on it I am.”

Rarely was ever an appeal made in vain to Dan, unless it was one for tobacco or money or something that had to be bought with money. The ne’er-do-well didn’t appeal in vain.

“He’s right,” Dan said advisedly to McDoolan, “I know he’s right.” Dan scarcely knew what the argument was all about.

“Pshaw! listen here,” snorted McDoolan, and from memory proceeded to quote the views of the editor of the daily on the matter, concluding confidently with: “So there, who’s right an’ who’s wrong now?”

The ne’er-do-well burst into loud, derisive laughter.

“Fancy anyone with a grain o’ common quoting the editor of that paper,” he cried, and laughed some more.

“Oh, them blanky editors writes a ’orrible lot o’ rot,” Dan mentioned incidentally.

“The editor of that paper in particular writes, prints, and believes anything that’s sent him or told him,” the ne’er-do-well said, “and to prove it I’ll let you into a little secret.” Addressing himself to McDoolan: “You read, I suppose, those letters that appeared not long ago about ring-barking?”

McDoolan nodded. Dan nodded too, while his eyes widened with rapture and interest. He also shifted his position, so as not to miss anything that might be said about the ring-barking.

“Well, just for a joke, and to see if the editor was ass enough to print it, I sent one in advising ringbarkers to soak their axes in bluestone before starting on the trees—”

A loud laugh came from all hands, all except Dan. He started up, and began shifting restlessly about. “And blow me if he didn’t print every word of it.”

More laughter from all hands again—except Dan.

“But be writin’ a thing like that you might ’a’ caused a lot o’ poor beggars to start bluestonin’ their axes like fools!” one man said in disapproval.

“Be heavens then!” McDoolan cried, forgetting all about the argument and bursting into laughter on his own account. “Dan Rudd here wer’ a-ringin’ trees like th’ divil when I went forrim yesserd’y. May be he greased the axe wid bluestone.”

Great merriment at Dan’s expense.

With a heavy, sinking feeling at his heart, Dan slouched off to his place on the stack. Seizing the pitch-fork he prodded it hard into a sheaf, and said in a forced voice:

“Come on, Mac; never mind yer bloomin’ bluestone an’ politics! Let us get thrashin’ over or we’ll be here all night.”

McDoolan went on; the machine rattled, and rust and dust flew up in great clouds again.

* * * * * * *

The ne’er-do-well and Dan left the stacks together, and were waking towards McDoolan’s cottage, where tea was prepared.

“Yes, that was a true bill,” the ne’er-do-well said confidentially to Dan. “I wrote a letter to the Daily advising all bally simpletons to soak their axes well in—”

“In bul-lood!” Dan yelled, jumping round savagely and landing him one between the two eyes.

“I—I—s-say!” stammered the ne’er-do-well, staggering back, “Wh-what did I d-d-do to you?”

“You know what you did all right.” Dan snarled, and walked off.


Chapter 5
Dan Decides to go West

The world was wagging badly with Dan. There was nothing coming in; no money available to meet the store account, and no work in the district. The confounded country, Dan reckoned, was going to the devil. Still Dan didn’t regard the position as serious enough to worry hard over.

“Well, it’s ready now,” Mrs. Dan said moodily, as she completed laying the table for dinner. (It didn’t take long to lay Dan’s dinner table). “An’ yer better sit up, I suppose, an’ have what there is to have.”

Dan slowly up-ended himself from the floor where for an hour and more he had been planning schemes for the future.

“H’m!” he muttered, casting his eyes over the scantily-appointed board, “what, has it got down to nothin, but tea?”

“It ’as! There’s only them two bits o’ bread left,” his wife answered, “an’ if yer eat them there’ll be no sop for th’ child!”

“What, ain’t there a egg, or nothin’?”

“There ain’t!”

“H’m!” Dan muttered again, “h’m,” then contented himself by sipping noisily and thoughtfully at the black tea.

“An’ unless there’s somethin’ done soon,” his wife whimpered, “I’m sure I don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t stay here for ever an’ live on air!”

“Well, I don’t see much use me hangin’ round this rotten place any longer,” Dan said feelingly. “There’s nothin’ for a cove to get, an’ I suppose the only thing to do is to roll up me blanket straightaway, an’ make for the Diamantina.”

Mrs. Dan offered no comment on her husband’s sudden resolution to rise up and do something.

“Who could yer get to stay with y’ while I’d be away?” Dan asked. Dan never liked to go away anywhere without first seeing to his wife’s comfort during his absence. Dan was a thoughtful husband.

“I suppose I could get Johnnie McDoolan to come over an’ sleep with me,” the wife said, in a weird, hopeless sort of way.

Dan looked up quickly.

“Eh?” he said, “which of them is Johnnie?”

“Well, he’s not the oldest one!” Mrs. Dan snapped, as though inclined to resent the question. Then the humour of suspicion seemed to dawn upon her, and her bottom lip curled up till her face broke into a smile.

He’s the youngest,” she added, lifting her voice; “doesn’t anyone know that? But I don’t know that he would like to come all the same.”

“Must be young!” Dan muttered stubbornly, “if he wouldn’t.”

“Pshaw!” the wife broke out indignantly, “he’s only a child, not six years yet. But who would y’ have stay with me, then?” And she eyed her husband sternly.

“Well, I was thinkin’,” Dan muttered, “that p’r’aps Ted would come over an’ camp on the sofa.”

“Indeed he won’t, then!” was the answer, “for I’d feel much safer with little Johnnie McDoolan in th’ bed with me if he was as old again than your friend Ted on th’ sofa—or even outside th’ door!”

Dan’s eyes opened wide. For several seconds he seemed like one who had been hit hard with something. Then he put several leading questions to his better half.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter!” she snapped, “so never y’ mind!”

“Oh, well then,” Dan said resolutely, “get Johnnie McDoolan to come over.”

* * * * * * *

Next day, Dan, with a blanket strapped to the saddle, and holding the bridle-reins in his hand, stood at the door, prepared to make a start for the Diamantina.

“Tat-taa,’’ he said to the baby, and took its little hand in his.

“We’ll go as far as the rails to see you off,” his wife said gloomily. And with the infant in her arms she walked beside Dan, talking of the future, while he led the horse.

“Oh, yairs, I’ll write reg’lar,” Dan replied, in answer to her final injunction. “An’ I’ll send some money be registered letter as soon as I get into work.”

“An’ whatever y’ do, don’t go taking any drink!”

“There’s no need to tell me that,” and Dan looked like one ready to fly off and take offence at the bare suggestion of a glass.

“Well, see y’ doan’t! ” the wife insisted, “for if ever we want to be well off yer’ll have to give it up. ”

Just then a familiar-looking seat on horseback turned into the lane that led to Dan’s house.

“The storekeeper! . . . Coming again, I really believe!” Mrs. Dan gasped.

“Oh, well, take care o’ yourself,” and Dan hurriedly scrambled into the saddle.

‘‘Wait for a minute, an’ see what—’’.

But before Mrs. Dan could say any more Dan was going at a hand-gallop towards the Diamantina. The Diamantina was about five hundred miles out.

* * * * * * * * *

For about an hour Dan travelled briskly along, till presently the Tambooroora township came in sight. Tambooroora was the average sort of agricultural township where Government purchased support with a few public buildings and an equal distribution of J.P.-ships.

Dan was wondering if it wouldn’t be wise to ride right past the place without turning his head to look at it, when he suddenly remembered that he knew the publican well, and thought he’d drop in and bid old Tom good-bye.

“An’ pwhat th’ divil do you want to go to the Diamantina for?” old Tom asked, shaking Dan affectionately by the hand. “Isn’t there plenty of room in this part of the country for you?”

“Oh, I dunno,” Dan drawled, “things is gettin’ pretty dull about here.”

“You’ve just said it then; you’ve just said it,” changing his voice and staring seriously at Dan. “By heavens, they are dull now! S’help me goodness, I haven’t taken a single bob over the counter for a fortnit.”

Dan grinned broadly. Dan understood old Tom thoroughly.

“Well, he said, “if I had one left on me you’d take it now, Tom.”

“Oh, I don’t mean that; I don’t mean that. Of course I would. I know I would. But what I’ve been tellin’ you is only the plain, Gospel terruth. Still,” he looked up pleasantly at the bottles on the shelves, “I think I can afford to buy a couple of drinks.” And laughing a squeaky laugh—the laugh of the prosperous humbug pretending poverty—he reached one down and banged it, along with two glasses, on the counter.

“Help y’self,” he said.

Dan helped himself.

“Pshaw! man! take a good one when you’re about it,” and he generously spilt some more into Dan’s glass.

“Woh-h,” Dan cried.

“Garn!” Then old Tom helped himself to one—just a small one.

“My best respecks, Tom,” Dan said, lifting his glass.

“Good luck,” from Tom, “and a fortune to you in the West.”

“Thanks,” Dan murmured, and emptied his glass in a gulp.

Both glasses were returned to the counter together.

“That’s a drop o’ good stuff,” old Tom claimed, screwing up his face.

“As good as I’ve ever tasted,” and Dan smacked his lips. Then taking from a slit in his hat an old clay pipe, he searched himself all over for tobacco.

“Here y’ are,” and old Tom pushed a cake towards him.

“Ah-h, thanks” Dan said, in a surprised sort of voice, “I had some somewhere on me, but I’m blowed if I know what I did with it. ”

Dan never did know anything of the whereabouts of his tobacco.

Dan cut himself a liberal fill, and placed the balance of the cake in his pocket, suiting the action with a word or two of compliment on old Tom’s healthy appearance.

“I was never better in all my life,” Tom returned proudly.

“You (puff) look it (puff) anyhow, Tom.”

Then Dan leaned one elbow on the bar-counter, and smoked placidly.

Several well-dressed strangers, accompanied by a number of the leading townsmen, passed the pub door.

“Who’s them coves they’ve got with ’em, Tom?” Dan enquired, staring hard through the door.

“Well, one is the distinguished member for the district, you ought to know him” Tom answered, “another is the Minister for Lands, and I suppose his private secretary, and I couldn’t tell you who the other cove is in the straw hat to save me life.”

‘“N’ what th’ devil ’ll they be after around here?” Dan further inquired.

“Like yerself, lookin’ for a job, I suppose.” and old Tom laughed merrily.

“I’d like to swop jobs with ’em anytime they like,” Dan growled.

“Then I suppose ye would, and so would I,” old Tom added, “for they have th’ rosy times, have them same fellows. They’re here to see if we need anything; you see the general election is coming on.” And he laughed some more.

“’Which chap is the Minister for Lands?” Dan interrogated again.

“The thin-looking man with the umbrella.”

“A smart chap, ain’t he?” from Dan, who vaguely remembered having heard a favourable criticism passed on the Minister some time or other.

“He is,” Tom answered with decision, “an’ far too smart for anyone what haven’t got two good eyes to watch his two hands.” Old Tom had no respect for Ministers who failed to frequent his hotel.

“H’m! is that th’ sort o’ bloke he is,” and Dan struck another match and applied it to his pipe.

“They’ll be coming back this way in a minute,” Tom informed Dan, “to look over the cheese factory, and if you’re not in a great hurry we’ll join the party.”

Dan wasn’t in a great hurry—he wasn’t in any hurry.

In a short while the visitors were seen returning. Handing over charge of the bar to his wife, old Tom, dragging Dan after him, went out and intercepted them.

Introductions were exchanged. Then, addressing the Minister for Lands, old Tom said: “This is Mr. Dan Rudd, Mr. Parkes.”

“How do you do!” said the Minister.

“I’m very well, indeed! how’s yourself?” Dan answered, shaking the great official warmly by the hand. “And if I might say it, that’s if it’s not a breach of presumption”—Dan was a polished speaker in polite society—“I hope the visit of yourself and your excellent friends here, they’re the right sort, I can see in a glance, to our little town and district, so to speak, will be as great a pleasure to yourself and to them as it will be a benefit to every one of us here.”

“Hear! Hear!” enthusiastically from old Tom, and the Minister, a solemn, serious sort of individual, bowed to Dan and said: “Thank you.”

The leading townspeople stood by, and said nothing. Their faces resembled so many gaol doors. In fact, they silently declined to acknowledge Dan as a desirable addition to the party.

The visitors were escorted to the factory. Dan swinging his arm about, as he moved along, directed the Minister’s attention to the rapid rise of the town. “During the last year,” he said, “it’s simply rose like a creek in flood.” Then he recounted incidents of its pioneering days—incidents that had no more truth in them than the professions of a politician. Still the party became interested in Dan, and encouraged him to tell all he knew about the place. Dan told them all he knew, and a lot he didn’t know.

“There’s a vast difference,” the Minister for Lands remarked, gazing over the unsettled space that breasted the township, “between this coastal country and the plains of the West.”

“Oh dear, yes” from Dan, “wonderful, marvellous! an unthinkably believable difference. And so you know the West then, Mr. Sparks?”

Some of the party smiled at Dan’s mistake. The local people silently exchanged sneers.

“Parkes,” the Minister said, correcting Dan.

“Oh—I—er humbly beg for pardon!” and Dan bowed low to the ground.

“Oh, yes,” the Minister went on, “I’ve seen a good deal of the West, a good deal. As Minister for Lands of course it’s necessary I should.”

“So it would be! What was I thinking about! Why, you’ll know it from A to Z, of course you will,” from Dan.

“Pretty well,” the great official concurred proudly.

“And there’s not the slightest doubt, sir, that what you have concluded from what you have seen is quite correct. I’m with you every time on that point. There is indeed a terrible difference between the West and the inside here. Now for instance, take the grass of the Diamantina—”

“Do you know the Diamantina?” the Minister interrupted.

“Oh, know it—every rise and slope in it. Why, that’s where I’m off to now. But isn’t it great country, sir? Did you ever see grass like it anywhere else in yer life, eh?”

The Minister hadn’t.

“I’ve fattened cattle out there in three weeks—cattle that low and weak in condition that we had to hold their heads up to give them a drink,” Dan brazenly declared.

“You’ve a holding out there, I suppose?” the Minister enquired .

Dan promptly lied, and rattled on: “As grass country, I wouldn’t give an acre on the Diamantina for twenty here.”

Old Tom was forced to smile at Dan’s audacity, while the townspeople murmured things to each other as though hatching a conspiracy.

The party reached the cheese factory.

“I say, Rudd,” one of the directors, acting on behalf of his brothers said, calling Dan to one side.

Dan stepped aside with him, and lowered his woolly ear for him to speak into.

“Don’t you think it’s about time you went off somewhere and lost yourself. We’re quite able to run this show,” he growled.

Dan laughed a loud, hearty “Ha! Ha!” and clapping the leading citizen on the back, cried cheerfully:

“You were always a droll old dog, Swenson.”

Next moment Dan was at the Minister’s side again, and leading the way through the establishment like the proud proprietor of a Mount Morgan.

The local inhabitants, proud of their co-operative institution, were bursting to explain its wonderful works, and eager to hear the visitors, in return, praise them for their enterprise and self-reliance, and all that sort of thing.

“This,” drawled one of the directors, drawing attention to a large vat, “contains this morning’s milk. Presently it will—”

But that was as far as he got. With a lordly sweep of the hand Dan threw cold water over that milk vat, and carrying the Minister off his legs, so to speak, hustled him into the “store-room,” where quite a multitude of cheeses were arranged on the shelving.

“There’s a sight you don’t see every day,” he exclaimed, with real pride in his eye.

The Minister threw up his eyebrows and gazed upon the cheese.

“Sufficient to make a feast fit for the gods,” he remarked, attempting a stock joke.

“Fit for the dogs!” Dan shouted mirthfully. “Hoh! Hoh! No, sir! We’d hardly give them to the dogs. Not us. Oh, bli. No!”

“For the gods,” the Minister repeated, smiling at Dan. “For the gods!”

“Oh, them!’ Dan said, snapping his finger (Dan always snapped his finger when pretending he understood things that were Dutch to him) “I thought you meant the blankey mongrels.”

“You’ve quite a lot in stock,” the Minister said, referring to the cheese.

“That lot,” Dan replied, “let me see”—turning to the manager of the factory, who stood grinning at his elbow, Dan murmured: “What do they represent?” and the manager answered “Three months”—“represents three months’ making, sir.”

“Have you any difficulty finding a market?” asked the Minister.

“None whatever,” Dan answered promptly.

The manager stared, and evinced an inclination to correct Dan, but Dan was talking fast.

“Every cheese we make here,” he added, “is bought before a cloth goes on it.”

The manager looked round and blinked meaningly at the directors, who were crowding in the rear.

“D—n him!” one of them hissed, “that’s one of the things we want to see about!” And the chairman of directors reached after Dan and tugged at his coat. But Dan only swung his arms about and hustled the Minister along further.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “here’s something you ought to have a look at,” and dragging the Minister to the back verandah pointed out a smellsome, open drain, oozing and stagnating into a fever bed.

The Minister shrank from it.

“Now, that’s the only thing you could say was at all wrong with this little concern of ours,” Dan rattled on. “This time o’ th’ day it’s not so bad, though, but on a moonlight night when you’re on any of the verandahs about here (here Dan pulled ugly faces) it’s a scorcher, I tell you! Pshew!” he exclaimed, as the breeze lifted the full strength of the drain. “Pshew!” and jumped back.

Those directors looked daggers at Dan. The Minister spat several times, then turned to them.

“Dear me, gentlemen!” he said, “that drainage is abominable! It’s a danger! A menace to public health! It can’t be allowed to exist.”

A guilty feeling took possession of the directors, and they looked like convicted criminals.

The Minister cast an appealing look upon Dan.

‘Well, that’s just what I’ve always maintained,” Dan said loftily.

And as though he would exonerate him while censuring the others, the Minister continued:

“Of course I know that in a co-operative concern such as yours it is utterly useless for one man to try and carry out reforms if the others are against him.”

The manager of the factory stole away and stuffed cotton-waste into his mouth to smother his mirth.

“But I feel it is my duty to tell you, and I do so advisedly, that you are courting trouble by keeping that drain there.”

The member for the district saw a chance to get into favour with the management and its friends, and threw oil on the troubled water by getting off on an apologetic speech. In Australia it is the duty of members of Parliament to condone the sins of those who support them—and of those who are likely to support them.

“The fine smell the cheese have,” he concluded, “more than make up for the sniff you get out there.”

The party moved to the machinery room. Here Dan, by some mischance, became separated from the main body.

Seizing the opportunity he had been waiting for, the chairman of directors sidled up to Dan, and whispering hoarsely and savagely into his ear, said:

“You go to blazes out of this!”

“Well, I never!” Dan exclaimed, with a surprised look on his face.

“I mean it!” hissed the chairman, clenching his fists.

Old Tom, scenting trouble, beckoned Dan into a secluded corner, and talked softly and confidentially to him.

Dan laughed lightly and said:

“Well, I’m beggared! I can’t understand anyone being so touchy as that.”

Old Tom lowered his voice again, and spoke some more in confidence.

“Well,” Dan said, glancing toward the front door, “I’ll have to be going now, in any case.”

“Well, good-bye again, old fellow,” and Tom held out his hand, “and may you have lots o’ good luck on the Diamantina.”

Dan glanced round quickly to assure himself no eyes were upon them. Then with a shake of the head he motioned old Tom still further into the shades of that secluded corner. He seemed to have a great and awful secret to impart to Tom.

Tom put his ear up to Dan’s mouth, and Dan imparted the secret.

“Well, that’s all I’ve got on me,” Tom said, handing Dan a half-crown.

“Oh, that’ll see me through,” Dan said eagerly, and put the half-crown in his pocket. Then he held out his hand to Tom and shook him vigorously, saying as he looked him between the two eyes: “Good old Tom! A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

“Good-bye! Good-bye!” Tom said peevishly.

“I’ll drop you a line when I get out there,” Dan called back, as he reached the door, “and let y’ know how things are.”

“Oh, go to th’ devil!” Tom growled, sotto voce, “blasht y’.” Then he hurried to the machinery room and rejoined the visitors.

Before mounting his horse to continue his journey Dan stepped into the bar to say “good-bye” to Mrs. Brown, old Tom’s wife.

“An’ are you leaving your wife behind you?” Mrs. Brown enquired, with a look of astonishment.

“Oh, I couldn’t think of takin’ her all the way out there,” Dan answered.

“And can she trust you now, all that distance away from her?” and Mrs. Brown smiled like a maiden of sixteen.

“Oh, my oath,” Dan said, and “chucked” Mrs. Brown familiarly under the chin.

“Go along wid you!” she cried, jumping back and colouring up. “What is it you want to drink?”

“Whisky every time,” Dan said, flashing the half-crown and banging it down hard on the counter.

Mrs. Brown reached down a bottle, and Dan poured himself out a stiff one.

He drank it, then picked up the half-crown and put it back into his pocket.

“Can y’ lend us a match, Mrs. B?” he asked.

Mrs. Brown handed him a full box.

“You can have those,” she said.

“Thanks, they’ll be handy,” Dan said, and put them into his pocket too.

“Well, good-bye, Mrs. B,” he said, “take care of yourself!” and hurried out the door.

* * * * * * * * *

The sun had just gone down.

Mrs. Dan and little Johnnie McDoolan were having their first tea together, and on the table was a pile of home-made scones that Mrs. McDoolan had sent over with Johnnie.

“I wonder where your daddy is now?” Mrs. Dan was saying to the infant dangling from her knee. “Boiling his billy under a tree, perhaps,” when she heard a footstep at the door. She rose quickly, and looked out.

“My heavens!” she cried in surprise, “what on earth’s happened! What has brought you back already?”

“Oh, I dunno!” Dan drawled. “I think I can get work closer, without goin’ all that bloomin’ distance for it.”

Then he came right in.

“Hello!” he said, “this is (hic) Johnnie, is it?”

Johnnie blushed and grinned.

Dan’s eyes rested on the pile of scones.

“Scones (hic) eh?” he said, cheerfully. “And by Jo’ (hic) Jove, I’m just about (hic) fit for them.”

And Dan was. He ate them all except two!


Chapter 6
At McClure s

Duncan McClure, of Narralane, required a farm-hand, and Dan was given the job. Dan was given the job because he answered all the questions that Duncan put to him about agriculture and dairying in a learned sort of way.

“By Jove, he can dae ony bl-oomin’ thing aboot a fairm,” Duncan told his wife, joyfully. “He’s jist the man I’m wantin’ awfu’ bad. Ye canna beat th’ r-rale Australian native. Thae ither chaps frae the auld country are r-rale gossoons. They dinna ken hoo things are wantit tae be dune. An’ yet they think they ken a deil o’ a lot. By cripes, they dae that! In fac’, they’ll tell ye hoo ye’re daein’ things a’ wrang yoursel’! An’ sic awfu’ puir hauns wi horses! It takes them maist five year tae drive sax beasts i’ a team. But this yun,” meaning Dan, “can dae a’ them things wi’ won’erfu’ confidence an’ speed.”

Dan, with eight horses drawing a waggon loaded with timber for a stable that Duncan was having erected, came swinging through the farm-yard gate.

“Here he comes th’ noo wi’ th’ loadin’,” Duncan remarked, gazing off the end of his front verandah, “ye can tell in a glance he’s a guid driver; he’s sae unconcerned aboot it a’.”

Gee back!” came in loud, ringing tones from Dan, “gee back! Oh you—! you—! blast your—! you—!”

Mrs. McClure, standing beside Duncan, was horrified. “Oh, heavenly faither!” she gasped, “better he couldna drive ava than use sic awfu’ words!”

Some more bad language came from Dan.

“Pshaw! shut ye up!” screamed Mrs. McClure, “ye mauna, man! Ye mauna say sic things! It’s weeked o’ you!”

Then addressing Duncan:

“Ye maun stop him frae it! Oh, what if th’ meenister wer’ here sittin’ wi’ us? It would be sinfu’ to his ears!”

“By cr-ripes, he can swear a’ richt,” Duncan drawled philosophically. Then stepping from the verandah he passed out the gate and strode leisurely across to the team.

“Hello!” he said, greeting Dan, “did ye get them to go a’ richt?”

“Oh, my word,” Dan replied cheerfuly. “They’re good little ’orses to pull, boss—as good as ever looked through a winker, but they’ve been fooled about a lot.”

“I heerd y’ sweerin’ at them comin’ in th’ gate,” Duncan said in low, confidential sort of tones.

Dan laughed lightly, and wiped the perspiration from his brow with the crown of his old felt hat. Dan seemed to think his employer was paying him a high compliment. “Oh yairs,” he added, “I let off steam a bit sometimes. It’s the only way to get horses to take any notice of you.”

“Dae ye r-reckon it is?” Duncan asked cautiously.

“Oh, my word!” confidentially from Dan. “It’s wondered how they understand it. Now, just you watch that little bald-faced mare when I speak to her.” Dan faced the team, and addressed a few words of warning in a calm voice to the bald-face mare. The mare never let on she heard him. Then Dan walked up to her and spoke terrible language into her ear. The mare threw up her head and started prancing.

“See that?” and Dan turned triumphantly to Duncan.

“By th’ holy smoke, ye’re richt aboot her,” and Duncan smiled broadly.

“Now, just you try it on th’ big brown horse yourself,” Dan suggested. “Just speak to him the way I spoke to the mare.”

Duncan threw a sly glance in the direction of his wife, and answered:

“I dina think I could sweer gude eneuch. ”

But Dan insisted.

“Just try it for the fun o’ th’ thing,” he said.

“Oh, well” Duncan consented, slowly squaring himself for the effort, “I’ll just try it once.”

“Broonie,” he cried, “I’ll skin ye alive if ye dinna pu’ mair ’n ye’re daein’, ye auld sod.”

Brownie paid no attention.

“See that,” from Dan, with a grin of approval.

Then Duncan approached the horse and said into his ear:

“Bl-larst ye, Broome!”

But not a budge was there from Brownie.

“Oh, he doesna mind me sweerin’,” Duncan said with a laugh.

“Swearin’!” Dan snorted in disgust. “You don’t call that swearin’, do you! Yer might as well have said yer prayers to him!”

“By Jove, they’d reckon that was sweerin’ in Scotland,” Duncan replied.

“Pshaw!” and Dan walked up to Brownie and poured such a torrent of profanity into his woolly ear that the animal tied himself up in the chains in a frantic effort to escape.

Then the voice of Mrs. McClure angrily protesting in broad Scotch floated across the yard.

Dan looked across and saw her shaking her fist.

“The misses is gettin’ up steam about somethin’,” he remarked, with a grin.

“She doesna like it when ye sweer at the horses,” Duncan, in a whisper, confided to Dan. “She’s awfu’ releegious, ye ken.”

Dan chuckled, and hopping on the waggon said:

“Well, she can make up her mind to hear plenty of it while I’m here.”

For several seconds Duncan regarded Dan with an air of amusement, then turning on his heel strode slowly back to the house.

“By jingo,” he said to Mrs. McClure, “he’ll nae tak’ ony hints. I’ll hae tae talk richt at him, I can see that.”

“An’ didna ye talk richt at him th’ noo, man?” inquired his wife, sternly.

“Weel, I couldna be seveere for th’ first time,” Duncan told her, “but if I hae tae speak wi’ him again I’ll no be sae blate wi’ him. I’ll gie it him!”

* * * * * * * * *

A week went by. And talk about work! The best horse on the farm could scarcely hold out beside Dan. From one job he rushed to another without cessation or rest. He mended broken fences, built pig-sties, cut wood, greased waggon-wheels, oiled harness, thatched wheat-stacks, constructed a corn-bin, fed horses, pursued strange cattle round the farm, fixed up swingle-trees, and a score of other miscellaneous jobs, and then complained to his employer that there wasn’t half enough to do.

“Hoot mon!” Duncan said, “Ye’ll kill yoursel’!”

“Oh, no,” Dan answered with a brave sort of smile, “work’s meat to me, sir, and unless I get a real skinful of it I’m no good.”

“But ye can owerdae it,” Duncan replied, with a concerned look at Dan, and in truth Dan looked as though he had already overdone it. His form was visibly shrinking, his cheeks hollow, his pants clinging to his clammy limbs, and altogether strong symptoms of exhaustion were upon him. Dan in fact was not in good enough form for this sudden fit of energy.

“Oh, I always believe in givin’ a man full value for his money,” he gasped. ‘‘Nothin’ fer nothin’ is my motto.”

“Well, dinna yae owerdae it,” Duncan counseled kindly, “because if ye was tae kill yoursel’ I’d be wi’out a gude man.”

“Oh, is that it? I see,” and Dan laughed. “Two for yourself and one for me.”

Duncan walked off smiling, while Dan proceeded to yoke up the plough-team.

It was summer-time, and the flies were bad. They were worrying the horses and maddening them. They were also worrying Dan, and making him bad-tempered. He swore savagely at Diamond for stamping her feet and throwing her head about. Diamond threw her head about and stamped her feet more; then she aggravated the offence by tramping heavily upon Dan’s big toe when he was in the act of buckling her collar on! Dan erupted like a volcano. He heaped language, loud and lurid, on the offending head of Diamond, and punched her on the nose—punched her till she sat back on her haunches and made trouble with the harness; then he kicked her in the ribs. Mrs. McClure, with a dish of food-stuff for the fowls, chanced to cross the yard.

“Ye mauna kick th’ beastie, man,” she shrieked broadly, “ye mauna. An’ I’ll no let ye!”

Dan glared over the mare’s back at Mrs. McClure.

“What th’ blank! blank! blank! has it got to do with you?” he yelled. “Mind your own business!”

“It is ma business! An, I’ll no let ye kick th’ beastie!” Mrs. McClure flung back.

“Oh, it is, is it?” Dan snarled contemptuously, “then at that rate I’m not takin’ any blanky women bosses! Where’s me money?—I’m off,” and tearing the harness from the horses he threw it back into the harness-room.

Mrs. McClure hurried away and apprised Duncan.

“Ye shouldna tak’ nae notice,” Duncan said quietly, “ye ken what sorrt women are.”

“By cripes, yes,” Dan shouted excitedly, “I do know! and that’s why I’m off!”

“Dinna do anythin’ r-rash,” Duncan said advisedly.

“It’s no use, boss,” and Dan waved his hands about, “it’s no use; when I say I’m going from a place I’m going, and I wouldn’t stay if you gave me the blooming farm. Where’s me money?”

Duncan went away and returned with a cheque in his hand.

“Weel, noo, R-Rudd,” he said, “if ye care to change ye’re mind and stay on I’ll gi’ you ten shillin’s a week mair?”

Dan thought hard for a few moments, then in a half-hearted sort of way answered: “Well, of course, I’ve had no row with you, so for that reason, I don’t mind if I stay.”

McClure was delighted, and assured Dan he would never be interfered with again by Mrs. McClure, and gave him a free hand to carry on the farm work as he saw fit.

* * * * * * * * *

For three months or so Dan carried on the work of McClure’s farm as he saw fit. But Dan didn’t see fit to put a lot of energy into things any more. In that direction Dan started out to economise. A few calves that had been taking up a little of his time he promptly knocked on the head then argued the point with his employer. “No farmer,” he said, “with any brains rears calves these days; it’s cheaper to buy grown-up cattle.” McClure went off and thought over the matter in Gaelic.

Next Dan turned to the pig department.

“Now look here,” he said “breedin’ your own pigs is rot. What them sows ’ll eat in a year you’ll never make up if you sell hundreds out of ’em. The right way an’ the only way to work pigs is ter wait til they’re down pretty low in th’ market, then buy up a cheap lot an’ fatten ’em. But them sows—pshaw! I wouldn’t have ’em about th’ place.”

‘‘Weel, I havena made sic a lot oot o’ th’m,” McClure observed, as he thoughtfully eyed the ponderous sows across the sty rails.

“An’ you never will,” Dan said emphatically, “until yer do th’ way I tell y’,”

McQure did the way Dan told him.

“Well now,” Dan remarked a few days later, “it’s no bloomin’ good me tryin’ to grow good crops if I’ve got to keep on workin’ th’ ground with a plough like that one you’ve got here.” (It was a good plough, but had no seat on it, and when working it Dan was compelled to walk a long way in a day.) It’s an old-fashioned piece o’ iron, and must have been out o’ date twenty year ago. What we want to do the work that’s to be done here is a four-furrow with a seat on it; a McCronkie, they’re the only ploughs worth having. They cost a bit, o’ course, but one of ’em ’ll pay for itself in three months. I worked one of ’em for five or six years,” Dan lied in conclusion.

McQure shook his head, and began to debate the matter. Where hard cash was to be laid out Duncan was a hard man to move. But Dan waxed warm, then grew surly on the question of that plough. And finally he hinted at “chucking the whole thing up altogether.”

That settled the matter, and within a week the new McCronkie came along.

“Ech!” growled Mrs. McClure to Duncan, “ye shouldna give in tae him. Ye shouldna give it tae him. Ye shouldna!”

“Weel, he’s a gr-reat chap, ye ken,” Duncan drawled, “for havin’ things r-right up tae date.”

Only one more reform now remained to be effected, and make Dan happy. A number of spare horses that were kept on the farm had worried him daily since his arrival. They worried Dan because he had to feed them like other horses.

“Now, I don’t see what you want with all those bloomin’ horses,” he said to McClure one day, “they’re no good to you. I’d get rid o’ them if I were you. Five or six horses is all that’s wanted here, an’ even that’s one too many; besides, I’m sick an’ tired o’ lookin’ at that bloomin’ lot o’ rubbish.”

“But, dang it mon, dinna I get foals frae them?” Duncan said, in surprised tones.

‘Pshaw! foals yer call them?” Dan replied, “Why, I wouldn’t give yer a quid for th’ lot o’ them.”

“Ye wouldna then!” Duncan answered warmly, “an’ ye wouldna give me fefty queeds for them aither.”

“Well, anyone with half an eye can see they’re only in the bloomin’ road here,” Dan persisted stubbornly, “an’ as I said before, I’m sick o’ lookin’ at them.”

“Ay, are ye noo?” Duncan said.

“I am,” Dan repeated, with a lofty wave of his hand, “an’ when I see a farm ain’t run in th’ way to make itself pay as it ought to, it gets on me nerve,”

“Ay, an’ what is it ye would preepose?” Duncan sneered again.

“Well, I propose to go if y’ don’t get rid o’ them horses,” Dan said boldly.

“Weel, ye can go tae th’ de’il!” Duncan answered promptly, “an’ here’s ye’re money.” And he handed Dan a cheque. Dan was knocked all of a heap.

“Oh, I didn’t mean that,” he said, climbing down like a politician. “Any way, we’ll let th’ horses slide, an’ say no more about them, boss.”

“Vera weel, we willna!” Duncan agreed. “We’ll turn tae saethin’ else. Whit way, ye tell me, were ye sleepin’ i’ th’ corn th’ maist part o’ yester forenoon?”

“Oh, here,” Dan snapped savagely, “I don’t want to waste time naggin’ with y’. You can give my job to your old woman. I’m off! So long.”

And Dan went.


Chapter 7
Dan Takes Another Billet

While the few pounds that he earned from Duncan McClure lasted Dan lived a lordly and independent life at home. At sight of the little money, too, his wife cheered up and took a fresh and lively interest in the home and things around her. She was inspired with renewed confidence in Dan, and was filled with great hopes of him for the future. And Dan’s plans for the future promised big things. They were the forecasts of abundance and plenty, the key to veritable gold-mines. According to Dan he and his wife would one day own half the country, and become the envy and admiration of the world.

“I wish’d we had some of it just now,” Mrs. Dan murmured, with a far-away look in her eye.” If it was only a undered pounds I’d be satisfied.”

“Oh, you want to go just a little too fast,” Dan admonished gently. “Everything can’t be done all in a day! But just you wait a bit.”

They were interrupted by the arrival of John Sweeney, a dairyman from the head of the creek.

“I wasn’t sure if I would find you at home,” Sweeney said, entering the door, “but I thought I’d come down and see.”

“Well, it’s just a fluke you did find me here,” Dan said, sliding a gin-case into position for his visitor to sit on, “for I’ve just got home from McClure’s (Dan had been home a month) where I’ve been workin’ this good while. But him an’ me couldn’t hit it—at least his old woman and me couldn’t. She’s th’ bloomin’ boss, and that didn’t suit this child.”

“Ah, well,” Sweeney said, getting down to the object of his visit, “you better come over to my place. I’m stuck badly for a good man that can milk and do a bit o’ ploughin’. And no old woman to boss you round, either.”

Dan chuckled, while his wife said:

“It’s a wonder you never got married yourself, Mr. Sweeney, and you with such a big dairy farm!”

“Sure, no one would have an old fellow like me,’’ Sweeney answered pleasantly.

But Mrs. Dan didn’t agree with him.

“I don’t know s’ much about that,” she said, “you’re not that old yet.”

“They’d have y’ quick enough, any amount o’ them,” Dan assured him, “but if yer take my advice yer a jolly sight better off without ’em.”

Sweeney laughed.

“Well, indeed, if thet ain’t good,” protested Mrs. Dan. “Do you think ’e ’d better off hisself it he weren’t married Mr. Sweeney?” she asked.

“Oh, he doesn’t mean that, Mrs. Rudd,” Sweeney said, casting a furtive glance around the ill-furnished abode.

“Indeed, I’d just like to see him gettin’ his own meals, an’ doin’ his own washin’,” and Mrs. Dan laughed to her own satisfaction at the mental picture she drew of her ungainly helpmate acting as his own cook and laundress.

“Yes, but that ain’t what I mean,” Dan grunted.

“I should think it wer’ not,” and Mrs. Dan started on the floor with the broom.

Sweeney got down to business again.

“Well,” he said to Dan, “you come? I’m badly in need of someone. I’ll give you twenty-five shillngs a week, and if there’s good returns a share of the profits at the end of the year, for I always believe in encouraging anyone who works for me to do his best. It’s a lot better for them, and better for me.”

“Well, Dan drawled, untruthfully, “I was thinkin’, of gettin’ a bit of a herd together and makin’ a start for meself.

“You couldn’t do better,” Sweeney answered promptly. Sweeney was one of the few fair-minded men who liked to see others get along as well as himself. And he added: “Have you the cows and plenty water on your place?”

“Well, not yet,” Dan answered slowly. “I’ve got me eye on some, though, and it wouldn’t take long to put down a bore once I got goin’—”

“ ’E was jist talkin’ about it when y’ come to th’ door,” Mrs. Dan chipped in.

“Well, he couldn’t do better,” Sweeney said again, and taking out his pipe waited for Dan’s final answer.

“Well, yairs . . . still . . . o’ course,” came thoughtfully from Dan, as he sat brooding over the proposition. Then, after a further interval he looked up interrogatingly at his wife.

“Please yerself about it,” she said. “It’s all th’ same to me what yer do!”

“What did yer say—twenty-five bob?” and Dan looked up at Sweeney.

“Twenty-five, that’s what I always give to men.”

“Twenty-seven and six I was gettin’ from McClure,” Dan muttered in an incidental sort of way. Dan had received a pound a week from McClure.

Sweeney opened his eyes wide.

“ ’Twas a big wage as wages go now-a-days,” he said thoughtfully.

“O’ course I worked jolly well night an’ day for it,” Dan observed casually.

Worked!” Mrs. Dan put in with wifely emphasis, “ ’E was as thin as a rake when ’e come home, an’ I sez to him, I sez, if yer had stayed there much longers you’d ’a’ been fetched home in yer coffin.”

“Well, I’ll give you twenty-seven an’ six,” Sweeney said, with business-like decision.

Mrs. Dan regarded her husband with a look of nervous anxiety. She seemed to have been suddenly filled with a fear that Dan would hesitate too long and lose the billet. But Dan was in no hurry. Dan was not a man of excitable temperament.

“An’ what ’ll th’ bonus be?” he asked slowly.

“According to the kind of year we have; ten pounds, fifteen pounds, perhaps twenty pounds.”

Mrs. Dan could scarcely control herself. She slipped from one side of the room to the other in the hope of catching her breadwinner’s eye and signaling him to accept the job.

“Yairs,” Dan drawled, pensively hacking the edge of the pine table with a pocket knife, while he looked down along his nose.

“It’s the fairest I can offer,” Sweeney added, as he rose from the gin case, “and I’ll wager there’s no other man in the district getting as much.”

Mrs. Dan clinched her hands together anxiously. She seemed to see the beginning of the gold mine that Dan had planted in her breast.

“But how am I to know if it’s a good year or not?” Dan mumbled.

“How are you to know?” cried Sweeney in an injured sort of voice. “God bless me, anyone would know! Won’t you be taking th’ milk to th’ fact’ry every morning yourself, man? And do you think I would try to make out it was a bad year if it was a good one, just for the sake of doing a man out of a pound or two?”

“Of course Mr. Sweeney wouldn’t think of such a thing!” Dan’s wife affirmed positively.

“Well, some of ’em do y’ know!” Dan observed doggedly.

“I’m sorry to say that it has been done,” Sweeney concurred, “but I’d sooner go on to the road and carry me swag than do it to any man!”

“O’ course y’ would,” from Mrs. Dan, “an’ ’e” (Dan) “knows well thet yer would!”

“Oh, I know that right enough,” slowly from Dan, and without lifting his eyes or ceasing whittling the table.

“Well, what’s it to be?” said Sweeney, pressing for a final answer. Dan lifted his head.

“Well,” he answered, “could’n’ ye fix th’ bonus for certain at twenty quid?”

“I could not!” firmly from Sweeney, “for then it would be no inducement for a man to do his best!”

“Oh, I’d do me best,” Dan assured him. “An’ there’s no one can say that I never did me best, no matter what I was at, bonus or no bonus,” and his eyes flashed with the fire and pride of hypocrisy.

“I don’t say for a moment that you didn’t,” came from Sweeney, “and I wouldn’t be here now offering you twenty-seven an’ six a week if I thought otherwise!”

“There’s no man ’ll do a better day’s work than I will, I’ll swear,” and Dan spoke like a man whose honour and feeling had been mortally wounded.

“You misunderstand me, Rudd, oh, you misunderstand me altogether!” cried Sweeney, in an apologetic sort of way.

“By cripes, if I can’t do a good day’s work I can’t do anything!” Dan went on in a sulky manner.

“I should think you could, and a lot better,” said Sweeney, “a lot better.”

“No, I don’t say I’m any better, but I’ll swear I’m as good, and I don’t care whether th’ man’s a boss or what he is!”

“Oh, they would all like t’ get ’im to work for them,” Mrs. Dan confided aside to the visitor.

“Well, so would I, so what is it to be, Rudd?”

“Oh, I dunno,” indifferently from Dan.

‘‘It’s no use wasting time, then,” and Sweeney took his leave.

“Oh, you edjit of a man!” Mrs. Dan squealed as soon as Sweeney was out of hearing, “ter let sich a job as that go past yer! Yer can’t think very much of yer wife an’ child, so yer can’t!”

“Pshaw! hold yer gab!” and Dan rose and followed Sweeney to where his horse was fastened.

“Well, when would you want me to come?” he called out.

“As soon as ever you can come, Dan, to-night or tomorrow morning if possible,” Sweeney answered as he reached the saddle.

“Right you are, tomorrow mornin’ then,” Dan said, and returned to the house, whistling.

“Oh, I could hug yer for takin’ it,” and Mrs. Dan threw her arms around her husband.

“Garn! gerrout with yer!” and Dan ducked from her embrace. “I’ll get all th’ muggin’ I want, from his bloomin’ old cows.”


Chapter 8
Shows His Employer Some Points

Dan went to work at Sweeney’s with avarice at his heart and the light of “boodle” in his eye. The thoughts of a twenty-pound bonus at the year’s end deprived of sleep and encouraged him to alter old habits by leaving bed while the stars were yet flickering in the sky. And soon people noticed that there was a new broom employed at Sweeney’s, for his milk now was first to arrive at the cheese factory, and his milk-cans shone like a jeweller’s window.

“Look alive now, an’ get a move on,” Dan would shout to the factory hands, “shake yerselves up and let me get out of this! Yer too slow to catch jew-lizards, th’ whole bloomin’ lot o’ you.” And the factory hands would regard Dan with sour, sulky looks, and think profane things about him. Factory hands, like policemen, don’t like to be pushed about.

“How is it you’re always in such a devil of a hurry, there was never any o’ that about Bilkins?” the factory manager, referring to Dan’s predecessor one day, observed.

“No, by cripes no! there wasn’t from what I’ve seen an’ heard about him!” Dan said, “A hundred gallons from cows was his tally, and then hardly ever fattened a pig or reared a calf! He suited you chaps though, I suppose. Gave yer nothin’ much to do, an’ all day to do it in. But I’ll keep yer hoppin’,” Dan chuckled. “Two hundred an’ twenty gallons I’ll pour into yer directly, and I’ll want back every drop o’ th’ whey, too, to th’ blanky pint. These other blokes have been gettin’ all th’ whey up to now and bringin’ no milk to entitle ’em to it either, any how, not much more than a bloke could put in his eye.”

The factory manager became indignant.

“It’s a lie,” he said, “a low down lie! And anyone that don’t get all their whey from this factory is to blame themselves.”

“Well, it’s th’ boss’s word I’m goin’ on,” Dan snorted back, “and I’d sooner take his word than yours any day!”

“It pays you to, perhaps!” sneeringly from the factory manager.

“Well, whether it does or whether it don’t,” Dan paused and laughed briefly, “I can’t stop here all day to please you. Where’s me blanky whey?”

Dan backed his cart to the whey-tank and filled the cans. Then he gathered the reins together, and was pulling out when the factory manager made a discovery.

“Here!” he cried, “how many cans have you filled there?”

“How many d’ yer think?” Dan snarled.

“That’s not right! That won’t do! You brought two empties with you, and you’re taking them all back full.”

“Pshaw!” Dan growled, whipping up the horse and indicating a number of suppliers with the whip handle, “go and attend to yer customers an’ don’t keep them hangin’ round th’ fact’ry all day, waitin’ on yer!”

The manager clenched his fists, and yelled a profane send-off to Dan.

Dan swung round on his box seat, and cheerfully waved his old felt hat.

“Dot vas kervite right, my man,” said a venerable old German, who supplied milk in a small way, “dem pig pugs dey vants all der vey, efery drop! Mine geracious, yes! I not get some vey for a veek! I not sell one fat pig! Dere now, you see dot! Huh, my geracious!”

“Oh, I’ll stop that gentleman next time he tries that game on!” growled the manager, taking no notice of the old German.

“Yah, dot vas it, my poy!” the German approved enthusiastically. “You shtob him, huh? Oh, mine geracious I tink so!” and he clapped the manager in a valedictory way on the back.

“Oh, go to th’ devil, Holstein!” and the manager pulled away angrily, and went off to his office.

Holstein hobbled back to his milk-cart.

It was Christmas with Sweeney’s pigs when Dan arrived with the cargo of whey. And Dan hung round the sties admiring the gorgings hogs, and dreaming of results, and the bonus that would be his at the end of the year.

Sweeney came across and inquired how the swine were getting along.

“All right, now,” Dan answered, ‘‘since they’ve been gettin’ fed.”

Then Sweeney went into calculations on the number fattened for twelve months.

Dan laughed derisively.

“Why, you ought to have fattened three times that many,” he said, “with th’ milk y’ should have been gettin’. And what was y’ gettin? Nothin’! I’d cut their throats if I couldn’t get more out o’ them than they’ve been givin’ you. In less than three months I reckon they’ll double it, easy, for me. But of course it’ll all be the way I feed ’em.”

Sweeney smiled an encouraging sort of smile, and said:

“If you can coax them to find room for more than I’ve been putting into them, Dan, you’re welcome to do it. Anyway, I’ll leave the feeding of them all in your hands.”

“Right!” Dan answered joyfully, “right you are; and as much as you know about cows, I’ll open your eyes in a week or two.”

 Sweeney smiled like a proud parent upon Dan, and strolled off down the paddock.

* * * * * * *

Under Dan’s particular care and attention Sweeney’s herd, in less than a week, started going up in their milk, gallon after gallon, bucket after bucket.

Dan smiled triumphantly.

“They’re givin’ a drop now,” he said.

Sweeney agreed that they were. And he proceeded to praise Dan to his face in a way that would have ruined many a man that wasn’t as well-balanced.

A few mornings later Dan said:

“You’ll need to get another can or two—perhaps three maybe four, to hold it.”

Sweeney was amazed. He was also wildly delighted, and if Dan had been a woman nothing could have saved him (or her). Sweeney would surely have hugged him. As it was he patted him vigorously on the back as though he were a big, hairy retriever, and said:

“Well, I have fed cows for the last twenty years, and, as I thought, fed them well, but after seein’ what you can do with them I’m satisfied I’m only a child at the game.”

“Well, it’s nothin’ but regerlarity,” Dan said modestly, “regerlarity”.

“There’s more than that in it,” from Sweeney, who was determined that his servant should have every credit for his achievement. “There must be! there must be! Oh, I know it! I’m sure of it!”

“Well, of course,” Dan admitted knowingly, “yer’ve got to know exactly how much charcoal to put in their water, an’ that sort o’ thing.”

“Charcoal! I never heard of charcoal being given to a cow for anything; never in my life.” Sweeney confessed. “But of course I knew it was good for pigs, but for cows, never!”

“Oh, an’ cows, if yer know how to give it,” and Dan grinned mysteriously.

Sweeney’s curiosity was aroused.

“And how do you give it?” he asked.

Dan laughed, and clapping his employer affectionately on the back, said boastingly:

“I wouldn’t tell you for a thousand quid.”

“You wouldn’t?” in surprise from Sweeney.

“I wouldn’t, and what’s more, if you was to sit up all night an’ watch me you wouldn’t find out.”

“I wouldn’t?” the other echoed in increased wonder.

“You wouldn’t! But,” Dan added, as a sort of favour, “some day, p’raps it might pay me to let you into it.”

* * * * * * * *

The factory manager’s eyes opened wide the morning Dan arrived with a further increase of twenty-five gallons of milk.

“The boss’s cows must be milking well,” he said, “or has he added to his herd? ”

“Why, bless my soul,” Dan answered, “we’re not milking as many now as we were a fortnight ago.” And he started whistling a popular air as he wrestled with the weighty cans.

“He’s got some champion cows, then,” the manager further remarked.

‘‘Oh, I dunno,” Dan drawled, “they’re darn well looked after, though.”

“Who’s looking after them?”

Dan straightened up, and striking him self hard on the chest, said:

“Your humble servant, sir.”

The factory manager curled his lip satirically and mumbled:

“If you look after them as well as you do the whey I can understand it.”

“Ha! Ha!” merrily from Dan, concluding with: “You makes me smile, sir.”

Holstein, the aged German supplier, left his cart and hobbled across to Dan, and stood shaking his head admiringly at the swag of milk-cans.

“Well, what th’ devil’s th’ matter with you, Bismarck?” Dan asked off-handedly.

“You pring all of dem gans full mid milk, my man?” Holstein inquired, with astonishment.

“Now what the blazes else would you think I’d bring them full of?” Dan snorted, “lager beer, bloomin’ sausages or what?”

“By heavens sake not, you vool!” and the German strode leisurely back to his cart.

Dan stared after him.

“Top o’ th’ morning, Rudd,” rang out in sharp Irish accents. And looking round, Dan recognised Mr. Doolan, Sweeney’s nearest neighbour.

“Hello!” Dan greeted him, “bringin’ th’ milk yerseif this mornin’?”

“I am,” said Doolan, “and it’s not a great undertaking either.”

“Cows not milkin’ well, eh?” from Dan.

“They are not, then,” emphaticaily from Doolan, “and t’s not for th’ want o’ plenty good feed. I suppose no other mahn in th’ district feeds as well as I do, and yet they’re goin’ off— goin’ off to th’ very divil.”

“Well, his is doin’ pretty good just now,” Dan remarked, referring to Sweeney’s cows, “better’n they ever did before, in fact.’’

“I can see they are,” casting an eye over the cans, “but I’m d—d if I can say the same for me own!” And Doolan went off into the factory.

Dan bustled about and procured his just measure of whey. Then seeking the manager he inquired if he “had a cheese cut”.

‘‘There’s one there that was cut yesterday,” the manager mumbled sulkily, “but whatever you take will have to be charged up to Mr. Sweeney.”

“Pshaw! charged up to your grandmother!” Dan answered, making straight for that cheese, “I like to hear yer talkin’!” Then he hacked off several pounds of the cheese, and stuffing a plug of it in his mouth and the rest of it in his shirt, observed further, between munches: “You blokes have nothin’ to do here all day but stuff yourselves with cheese (munching harder) an’ I’d like to know just for the fun o’ th’ thing who th’ devil it’s all put down to?”

“Look here!” the manager roared, pointing his finger dramatically at the big front door, “you clear out of this factory!” Dan stuffed another plug of cheese into his mouth, and holding it in his jaw grunted:

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to get now, anyhow, whether I like it or not. What’s th’ blanky time?”

The factory manager, as though to prevent himself doing Dan bodily harm, turned impulsively away and walked on.

Dan pulled ugly faces at his retreating figure, then left the factory.

“Strong as mustard, that fellow!” the factory manager said angrily when Dan had gone.

Doolan inquired what he meant.

The factory manager explained.

“The very best man in the district!” Doolan told him, standing up for Dan.

“What, that crawler?” cried the manager.

“That very same gentleman,” impressively from Doolan. “And Sweeney tells me,” he added, “that there never was the likes of him to feed cattle, or to milk them.”

The factory manager admitted that Sweeney’s milk supply had gone up wonderfully.

“Oi never did hear the likes of it!” Doolan said. “never did! Never!”

* * * * * * *

The work and worry entailed keeping Sweeney’s cows up to concert pitch began to tell on Dan. He started to waste, and looked as poor as wood. He wore the appearance of a man who never went to bed, but spent the nights in dissipation.

“Do you ever go to sleep at all, Dan?” Sweeney asked him one day, “or do you sit up all night feeding the cows?”

“By Jove,” Dan replied, “I’m just the very cove that does sleep, now, too jolly much sometimes,” and he dodged hurriedly off down the yard. Dan showed a secret reluctance to be questioned on his sleeping habits. There were times when Dan was of a most sensitive disposition.

Just then Doolan came riding into the yard with a sad, sorrowful look on his face.

“What’s th’ matter with you?” Sweeney inquired of him. “You look as if you had been left with a corpse on your hands.”

“I’ll be left with nothing on my hands soon, the way my cows are milking!” Doolan answered.

Sweeney laughed, and asked if he had “tried feeding them?” Doolan worked up a sickly sort of laugh, and said:

“You know d—d well I have!” Then added: “But I think this man you have here can show me a wrinkle, and that’s what has brought me over.”

“He can if he will,” Sweeney agreed. “But I’ve not been able to learn anything from him myself. I know he gives them charcoal, and that’s all!”

Charcoal!” Doolan exclaimed, “I never heard of cows taking charcoal!”

“Nor me!” from Sweeney, “but he gives it to them.”

Doolan was perplexed.

Dan appeared in sight, and Sweeney hailed him.

“Mr. Doolan wants to know something about feeding cows,” he said with a grin.

“I do,” Doolan put in quickly. Then proceeded to put a number of questions to Dan.

Dan looked wise, and shaking his head, said:

“H’m! if I was doin’ th’ feedin’ for you myself I’d send them up in the fluid pretty quick. But (pausing) yer see they’re in different hands.”

“But can’t ye give me a hint what to do?” Doolan pleaded. “I’ll pay you handsomely for the information. I’m not a mean man like that.”

Dan shook his head and said:

“No, I refused the same thing to the boss here,” then walked away.

“By heavens now,” cried Doolan in a rage, “I’ll find out what he does whether he likes it or not, and won’t pay him anything!”

“I wouldn’t mind finding out what he does myself,” Sweeney mumbled gravely.

“Then join me this vera night, and we’ll watch him!” suggested Doolan quickly.

Sweeney said he would.

Doolan winked a determined sort of wink, and rode away.

* * * * * * *

That very night Doolan and Sweeney hid themselves away in an old hay-stack, like a pair of criminals hiding from the law, and silently kept watch over Dan’s sleeping quarters. For several long, weary hours they waited for him to turn out and commence feeding the milkers—waited till their limbs became cramped, and stiff and cold. At last they heard a noise as of someone moving stealthily about; next minute the coated form of Dan with a string of milk-cans slung about him, issued full into the moonlight.

Doolan nudged Sweeney; Sweeney nudged Doolan.

“ ’Tis him!” Doolan whispered, his heart beating fast with the joy of anticipation.

Dan moved across the yard, and what seemed surprising, crawled through the fence on to the main road. Doolan and Sweeney left their hiding-place and followed cautiously.

Dan crawled through another fence and entered Doolan’s grass paddock.

“Dammit!” where’s he going!” Doolan whispered in surprise, “he can’t be going to feed them at all!”

Sweeney was puzzled.

“He’s a strange cove!” he mumbled under his breath.

They also entered Doolan’s paddock.

Dan kept a straight course, and swung along smartly through the long, dewy grass. Doolan and Sweeney were almost compelled to run to keep him in sight.

“The man’s gone stark, staring mad!” Doolan gasped, pausing for breath.

“Or else he’s walking in his sleep,” from Sweeney, in tones of sympathy.

“I’ve a mind to yell out to him!” Doolan whispered, as they started in pursuit again.

“No, let him go a while longer,” Sweeney advised, “whatever secret he has, perhaps he plants it over here!”

Dan went a while longer. He went until he came across Doolan’s herd of milkers snugly camped in a warm corner of the paddock. Then he put down the surplus buckets, and kicking up one of the herd sat beneath her and commenced on her with both hands.

“Swish-h! swish-h!” went the milk into the bucket like a waterfall. “Swish-h-h-h.”

Doolan and Sweeney stood and stared as though there was a ghost before them. Once only did they shift their eyes, and then only to look at each other. They stood like fixtures in the ground, and all the time Dan, sitting with his back to them, made headway with the “swishing” act. Several times Doolan’s mouth opened wide to the moonlight and snapped shut like a spring trap. Then his blood suddenly started to circulate. He made a sign to Sweeney not to move, and looking round lifted a stick fit to slay a horse with, and started to creep up behind Dan. Sweeney then seemed to come to his senses.

“No! my God, no!” he broke out, springing upon Doolan to avert a tragedy.

“Let go of me! Yah-h s-s-s-s. Let go-h! Oh-h-h!” roared Doolan like forty devils upon the still night. The herd bounded to its feet. Dan bounded to his. And while Doolan struggled with Sweeney and Sweeney struggled with Doolan, Dan ran as man never ran before.

“Surely yer ain’t left Mr. Sweeney a’ ready?” his wife cried as Dan entered the door of the home again.

“Pshaw! left him!” Dan said, throwing himself full length on the sofa, “I’d sooner work for a blackfellow!


Chapter 9
When Uncle Died

Uncle (Dan’s Uncle Peter) fell ill one day and took to his old bag bed. He took to it until Sandy and Kate, with whom he had lived for many years, carried him from it, and placed him in their own. They placed him in their own because it was softer, and bigger and better and a lot more respectable than the one he had been used to; besides, if he were to die they thought he would make a more attractive corpse on a good bed. The respect and humanity that people desire to show their fellow-being when they are dead almost surpasses the understanding. For months Sandy and Kate watched over Uncle, caring for him, nursing him as tenderly as though he were a member of the Royal Family. It was hard on them, poor souls! sitting by the smouldering fire through the silences of those long, long nights, watching, hoping for a change for the better, and responding tirelessly to every moan, every murmur. And all this after working hard throughout the live-long day, too!

Morning after morning some of the neighbours would call, and in a kindly way repeat the old, old inquiry. And ever hopeful, Sandy always fancied that Uncle seemed a little better.

Of an evening, after supper, Mrs. O’Riley would drop in; and in a kind, motherly way talk to Kate, and coax her to go and lie down for a while and rest herself. And when Kate, having taken her advice, would drop off to sleep on the sofa, Mrs. O’Riley would sit through the night with Sandy, and do all there was to be done. A kind, big-hearted woman was Mrs. O’Riley.

And thus the nursing of Uncle was carried on.

It was approaching sundown one evening, with a sky dappled over with flakes of fugitive clouds all tinted with gold, when Kate rushed out to the barn and called anxiously for Sandy. Sandy abandoned the work he was engaged in, and ran to meet her.

“Come and see him!” Kate cried in tones of alarm. “I think he has taken a turn!”

Sandy hurried back to the sick chamber and softly and silently bent over the wasted invalid. Lifting the frail hand which hung over the bed he asked Uncle how he felt.

A feeble murmur was all the response.

Sandy turned away.

“What do you think of him?” Kate, pale and apprehensive, whispered.

Sandy shook his head, and thought things to himself.

“Shouldn’t you go for a doctor?” Kate suggested.

“Perhaps it’d be as well,” Sandy said slowly; then he looked at the invalid again, and fell into fresh thought.

“I don’t think we should consider the cost,” Kate whispered, reading what was in Sandy’s mind. “We’ll manage to pay off the bill somehow. It won’t matter!”

“I better go,” and Sandy ran out and saddled a horse. Then, when he had bolted a cup of tea and mouthful of bread, and tied a clean handkerchief round his neck he started for town— thirty miles away.

A long, lonely ride it was to town too, and when Sandy entered the main street all was in darkness. Sandy knew almost nothing of the town, and where to find a doctor he hadn’t the slightest idea. No one was to be seen about—the town was in bed so he dismounted from the tired horse, and hammered on the shutters of the nearest establishment. He repeated the hammering several times before receiving any response. The flicker of a light flashed through a glass panel, and a man, half dressed and scarcely half sober, holding a lantern in his hand, appeared in bad humour.

“Yah! this ain’t th’ — doctor’s!” he growled. “He’s round th’ corner, there! This is th’ undertaker’s. And if yer don’t want a darn coffin, wot do yer want huntin’ me out for? There’s plenty of ’em waitin’ here!’ He flashed the lantern over the establishment, and Sandy’s eyes encountered numbers of coffins of all sizes, waiting, yawning, with the lids off, for tenants.

Sandy shuddered, and with a sickly feeling at his heart turned away. He was mounting his horse again, when a policeman in a heavy top coat strolled along. He was a friendly sort of officer, and after a word or two, accompanied Sandy to the doctor’s door and pulled the bell that roused the medico from bed.

The doctor invited Sandy to step inside, where he listened attentively to him. He inquired Uncle’s age, how long he had been ill, and all about him in general. Sandy explained Uncle’s condition as well as he could—as well as the tears that came into his eyes, and the lump that rose in his throat would allow.

The doctor placed his hand on Sandy’s shoulder, and said: “Now, don’t you worry, I’ll give you some medicine to take back with you, and he’ll be all right.”

A heavy load, then, was lifted from Sandy’s mind.

Handing Sandy a bottle of medicine, the doctor said further: “As soon as you reach home give him a tablespoonful, and repeat every two hours.”

Sandy, who was not well versed in the classification of spoons and things, wondered if “they had the sort of spoon at home.” The doctor produced one of the kind he meant.

“Oh yairs, oh yairs!” Sandy said, stuffing the medicine into his pocket. “I see.”

“And if he doesn’t show any improvement, say by noon tomorrow,” the doctor said, opening the door to pass Sandy into the street, “let me know, and I’ll come out.”

Sandy said he would; then mounting his horse again turned its head for home and rode hard.

The cocks were crowing, and the feeble light of the waning moon fast disappearing when Sandy reached the rails. Dismounting, he threw the saddle on the ground, and leaving the horse to find its way to the grass-paddock, hurried into the house with the medicine in his hand.

Kate and Mrs. O’Riley met him at the door.

“How is he now?” Sandy asked in a low voice.

For a moment neither spoke.

Gone,” Kate said at last, and sorted to sob.

Sandy tried to speak, but his voice failed him.

“Yes—he’s—dead!” Kate murmured, and she continued to sob til Mrs. O’Riley, putting her arms about her, and drawing her to the sofa, sat beside her and soothed her with words of comfort and kindness.

Sandy moved into the death-chamber, and stood gazing upon the lifeless form of Uncle.

“Poor old chap!” he muttered, and turning away sunk heavily into a chair. Then with elbows resting on his knees, his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the floor, he sat and reflected.

“Ah well!” came consolingly from Mrs. O’Riley, “his troubles are all over now, poor man; and perhaps he’s better off.”

“Poor old Uncle!” Kate sobbed aloud, “he had a hard-life, and oh, I do wish we had been more considerate and kind to him.”

“Don’t now, there’s a good girl!” Mrs. O’Riley said. “No one, I’m sure, could have been kinder to your Uncle than you were and everyone knows it.”

“It can’t be helped, Kate!” Sandy murmured, “we did all we could for him.”

Kate wiped the tears from her eyes with her apron, and made an effort to pull herself together. Then remembering that Sandy had had nothing to eat for many long hours she hurried off to set the table in the little rude kitchen.

But Sandy was not hungry, and could only sip the tea.

Then with Mrs. O’Riley they sat waiting together for daylight, and in low tones talking of all that was required to be done.

“You’ll go first and tell Dad,” Kate said, looking compassionately at Sandy, and he can send someone to tell Dan and all the others. “You’ll have to go to the store for a few little things, too. We’ll want some crepe, or black merino if they haven’t any. Then there’s the coffin?”

“Richardson ’ll do that!” Sandy said, “and I’ll get Smith to help with the grave!” And at this, despite Kate’s resolution to be brave, a fresh flood of tears burst from her, and she sobbed hard again.

Then the cocks started crowing, and daylight streamed in through the cracks in the walls of the rough wooden kitchen.

With bridle on arm Sandy proceeded to the grass paddock for the horse again, tramping through grass as high as his head, and ringing wet with dew.

There’s nothing else,’’ Kate said, when he was ready to start, “except to tell Sarah to come if she can. And get yourself a black hat at the store.”

* * * * * *

They received a great shock at Shingle Hut when Sandy arrived with news of Uncle’s death. There had been no deaths in the family before, and Dad couldn’t understand it now.

“Well, I’m d—d!” he said, and “You don’t tell me that!” And he folded his arms and walked thoughtfully about the yard.

“I’ll go over at once,” he cried, and ordered the horses to be put in the buggy.

* * * * * * *

Far and wide the news of Uncle’s death was carried in a few hours, and by nightfall it had almost reached the other end of the earth.

Next day people left their work, and in traps, carts, drays, and upon horseback and “footback” rolled up to attend the funeral. They gathered silently at the fence, about the barn, and around the door of the house, and waited reverently. They sympathised with Kate and Dad, and Sandy, and Sarah and all the rest of the relations, and inquired if there was anything they could do to lighten the load of sorrow. But there was little left to be done, for from early morning the house had been filled with eager, willing hands.

Dan was the last of the relatives to arrive. With, firm, resolute strides he walked into the death-chamber, and, gazing momentarily upon the shrunken face of the sleeper, said: “H’m! he’s dead orright. I never see anyone look deader ’n that though at any time, at th’ best o’ times, he was never what you’d call a goin’ concern.”

Kate standing by shuddered.

Dan went out again, and accosting Sandy, who was mooning about in a sad, sorrowful sort of way, inquired what was the matter.

“There’s n-nothin’ up with m-me, Dan,” Sandy answered gloomily.

“Oh!” Dan grunted, “why th’ devil don’t yer wake up. Anyone ’d think it was your blanky funeral, be th’ look o’ yer!”

“It’s been a big blow to us!” Sandy murmured, “to lose the ol’ chap!”

“A blow to yer! Pshaw! talk sense!” Dan said. “A blanky boon, I’d reckon.”

“Oh—I—dunno, Dan,” Sandy drawled meekly.

“Why bless me, he was on’y in his own bloomin’ way, wasn’t he?” Dan interrogated, cold-bloodedly. “But what are y’ goin’ to do with him, anyhow? Who’s diggin’ th’ hole?”

Sandy explained the burial arangements.

“Oh,” Dan grunted, “I’ll go down then and lend a hand to put it down a foot or two deeper. Better to make a good job o’ that part of it. Sometimes they get out again, y’ know!”

Dan jumped on his horse then, and made for the cemetery. A feeble old man, with long, grey hair, came tottering along with the aid of a crook stick and went inside. He was the clergyman.

Beneath the shade of the wire-fence Bill Saunders talked entertainingly to a group of sombre-looking souls about the funerals of “early days”.

Dan came galloping back from the cemetery, and, reining up at the door in military fashion, called out to Sandy: “There’s some water at the bottom of it, about eighteen inches, but that won’t matter, I suppose.”

Sandy came out and pulled a long face and was about to turn and consult the rest of the family, when Dan, like a general addressing his army, called to the people gathered about: “Now, line up, and make a start.” They lined up.

“What are you going to take the coffin on?” Saunders, who was to drive the hearse, inquired of Dan. “On a dray, or a buggy, or what?”

“On none o’ them things,” Dan answered. “We’ll take him in that German waggon of Holstein’s. And,” he added, “don’t be frightent to drive it, Bill. Crawlin’ along a road with a corpse is a lot o’ rot.”

“I reckon it is, too,” Saunders replied, as he hurried off to take charge of Holstein’s waggon and pair.

A few minutes later the remains of Uncle were carried out and placed in the German waggon. Then taking the reins, Saunders climbed on board and the funeral started. It was a long funeral—the longest that had ever been seen at Sleepy Creek.

The hearse moved slowly along until all the vehicles and horsemen had dropped into place. Then Saunders stood up in the waggon, and, with one foot on the coffin to steady it, applied the whip to Holstein’s pair of bays. The hearse jumped off at great speed Bump! bump! rattle! rattle! over ruts, gullies, dead timber, stones, and down long, steep cuttings! For a while it resembled a locomotive that had broken the couplings and left the carriages behind. Then disorder broke out in the ranks. First one, then another, and another, and another, and another, left the line, and, under the whip, started in pursuit.

“By Christmas!” Dan cried, spurring his horse to keep in sight, “he never had a ride like that when he was alive, I’ll swear,” and old O’Riley, bumping about in the bottom of his trap, yelled: “Oh, be jabers, but this do beat th’ Darby!”

A hoary, weary-looking old traveller, resting in the middle of the road, fled at sight of the funeral’s approach, and rolled himself under a fence for safety.

Dan, in a loud, hilarious voice, called attention to the affrighted wayfarer as the cortege raced past.

But at last the hearse came to a standstill before the gate of the secluded burial ground—a thickly timbered spot hidden in a hollow of the bushland and fenced with a two-rail fence. Only a few graves as yet were there, and the apple-trees that waved above were fragrant with bloom, and from the boughs clusters of parrots screamed a welcome.

“Better wait till they all come up,” Saunders said to Dan. Dan laughed and answered: “It’ll take some of ’em all night.”

“Oh, mine Gott!” old Holstein protested to Saunders, “you drife too hard, mein friend! too hard altergadder!”

“Plase God we’re here!” O’Riley said, crawling down out of his trap. “ ’Tis a mercy.”

Then Dad and Sandy and Dave and Dan and Saunders and some more took the coffin on their shoulders, and carried it to the grave. The others bared their heads and followed in slow procession. Ah, with all, it was a sad scene. They crowded around the open grave. The coffin was lowered slowly to the bottom. The parrots in the boughs ceased their screaming.

In feeble, faltering voice the clergyman pronounced the words: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Dad and Sandy and Kate and Dave and Joe leaned over and for the time rested their eyes on the shell that held the remains of Uncle. Then the shovels rattled and rang, and the earth rolled in, and rose and rose till only a new-made mound was there.

“When I peg out,” Dan said, throwing down the shovel, “I hope there’ll be none o’ this humbug about me. Sling me up into the fork of a blanky tree, that’ll be enough!”

Then the sun dipped down behind the ranges, and day died out. Night birds hooted and whooped from the shades of the eerie scrub; the curlews wailed in the long, rank grass; the wild dogs howled down the mountain gorges, and all kept tryst round that lonely little country burial ground.


Chapter 10
The Shearing Championship

The great shearing match for the world’s championship and a purse of sovereigns, that had been boomed and par’d and puffed for many months, had just taken place in the city, and the newspapers were full of accounts of the contest.

Country people, denied the chance of witnessing the match, hastened to the local railway station and awaited eagerly the arrival of the papers. And when the train brought them in a large bundle they scrambled for them, and, tearing the wrappers away, scanned the columns excitedly.

“Fitzgerald!” they cried, when the name in large, startling black letters met their eye, “Fitzgerald wins by ten sheep.”

“You don’t tell me that!” Dan said, looking over the shoulder of old Tom, the publican.

“I don’t tell it t’ ye at all; ’tis here!’’ Tom answered; then continued to peruse his bit of print in selfish silence.

Dan, who was the only one without a paper, stood waiting for more particulars, and gazing from one to another.

Johnny O’Dea, sitting alone at one end of the platform with his head buried in a Gazette broke out into a chuckle.

“What was that, Johnny?” Dan cried, dancing to Johnny’s side, “what does it say?”

Johnny slavishly spelt aloud for Dan’s information: “Seeing his opponent let go the first sheep a few seconds in advance of him, Malone ceased shearing, and looking up, said: “That’s right, old man, take all the lead you can while you’re fresh, you won’t have time to think of it directly.’ ”

Dan laughed heartily, and said: “That’s Malone to a T. I can just imagine Paddy sayin’ it. He was always giggin’ me when I was shearin’ against him at Billybong and Wakakallabong, and them places. ‘Take a bit of a lead old man, while you’re fresh.’ A great old gag of his!” And Dan again laughed his appreciation of Paddy Malone.

“Yis, but he got dem well walloped fer all o’ that!’’ Johnny O’Dea said aggressively. “Huh! so he did!”

“So it would seem, eh!” Dan said seriously, almost pathetically.

“Oh, hoh! Oh, hoh! Oh, hoh!” excitedly from old Tom.

“What’s that, Tom, eh?” and Dan pranced back to the side of the public.

“Be th’ powers, they vera nearly had a fight,” and Tom threatened to go into hysterics with merriment.

“You don’t tell me that!” excitedly from Dan.

“I do tell it to you, I tell you!” and this time Tom read aloud for Dan’s benefit. When it came to the end of the passage Dan hit himself on the knee and exclaimed wildly:

“Good man, Paddy! and you take it from me he’s just the man that can use them! (Dan had never been nearer than a thousand miles of Malone in his life.) Don’t I know it, too, by crikey I do. It took me all my time one day at Curramungarallabah to—”

“But ’twas Fitzgerald who was goin’ to biff Malone, man, can’t you understand?” old Tom interrupted.

Dan twisted his eye-brows about, and peering hard at the back of the paper, said he “didn’t catch it quite”

Without attempting any further explanation Tom read on quietly to himself while Charlie Hunt and the local banker, sharing the same sheet, began to chuckle.

Dan skipped across to them. “What was that, Charlie?” he inquired, “any more punchin’?”

“One on ’em, it sez,” Charlie informed him, “took th’ tail right off er a bloomin’ sheep.”

As it was only a tail that was taken off Dan seemed disappointed.

“Oh, that was nothin’,” he grumbled, “I took th’ head off an ole yoe one day at Weelawandabingee when I was givin’ a New Zealand chap a go to see who—”

Again he was interrupted by the voice of the publican announcing:

“Fitzgerald shore sixty-nine sheep in three hours, and Malone fifty-seven.

“How many?” Dan cried, making his way back to Tom. Tom read out the figures again; then going into calculations on his own account remarked: “That would be at the rate of a hundred and eighty-four a day.”

“A hundred and eighty-four a day!” Dan echoed disparagingly. “What th’ diggin’s were they shearin’—cows?

“Fair sized wethers, it says,” the public answered. “Supplied for the purpose by the owner of Nelanjie.”

“Oh, y’ must be makin’ a bloomer about th’ figures!” Dan growled stubbornly.

“No, that’s what it says, here, too,” Johnny O’Dea called out in support of old Tom.

“Knock me end-ways, then!” Dan snarled, spitting right across on to the goods-shed platform, “I’ve put that many through with the shears before breakfast! ”

“Well, if you put that many through now, Dan, with the machines, or even half of it,” said the publican, “there’s a pot o’ money to be made be backin’ you, for listen here (reading from the paper): “When spoken to after the match Fitzgerald declared his willingness to shear against any man in the world for £300 aside and the championship.

“I’ll shear Fitz,” Dan said resolutely and confidently, “any time he likes, anywhere he likes, and for any blanky sum he likes to name,” and jerking his head over his shoulder he spat on to the goods-shed roof.

“You will?” said the publican, with loot in his eye.

“I’ll shear for his shirt!” Dan repeated with emphasis.

Others of the company having read all they wished to read gathered round and concentrated their attention on Dan.

The local banker said, addressing Dan: “Have you ever met Fitzgerald?”

Dan promptly lied.

“Met him!” he said, “I should think I have! I suppose, if I’ve shorn against Fitzy at one shed I’ve shorn against him a thousand.”

“He must be a good man,” the banker observed, with real admiration for the champion.

Dan laughed one of those short, sneery laughs that damn more than faint praise, and said: “Look here, I’ve seen learners, mere kids at th’ game, who Fitz couldn’t make sweat. I don’t reckon he can shear any—now, that’s tellin’ you straight.”

“How does he come to be a champion then?” the banker asked sceptically.

“I don’t know,” Dan replied, “but the last time I met Fitz on the boards was at Muckamundaboobee, just before I come in here. And let me tell you this (Dan waved his arms about), th’ Muckamundaboobee mob was a lot o’ horny wethers wrinkly as a concertina and rotten to th’ toes with grass seed and prickly pear. I had a bad hand, too, to start with—I hurt it spreadin’ a cove out at Dillybong, and could hardly hold a machine. Well, with all that chucked in, s’elp me, if Fitz could make me raise a sweat. Th’ first half-dozen or so he did let go fairly fast, but from that out I was doing nothing but slingin’ belly wool to him!”

Old Tom punched his left palm jubilantly with his right fist, and said:

“Will ye take him on, Dan?”

“Take him on!” and Dan this time spat right over the goods-shed, “I tell y’. Tom, I’ll shear him one hand!”

The publican’s thoughts semed to be travelling very fast.

“He’d be a water-melon to me,” Dan remarked in the interim, and the little crowd gazed in wonder upon him.

After a bit the publican came to a definite decision.

“How much could you put up yourself, Dan?” he inquired in firm, business-like tones.

“Well, I’ve a couple of quid here to say I can wallop Fitz whenever he’s got a day to spare.” And Dan slapped his empty trouser-pocket very hard and convincingly.

“Be hivens, I’ve a mind to back you,” and old Tom looked interrogatingly at the banker. The banker was the person who had charge of Tom’s account, which was no mean one.

“Well, if y’ do,” Dan put it, “you’l be pickin’ up three hundred quid, that’s all.” And he grinned a seductive sort of grin.

“Do ye think I can stand it?” Tom said in a pretending sort of way to the banker.

“Oh, I think the bank would trust you,” the other drawled.

“Come over to my place and we’ll have a chat,” and grabbing Dan by the shoulder Tom led him across to the pub.

“I’d like to see Brown back that chap and drop his three hundred;” the banker remarked feelingly; then strode off, paper in hand, to his office. Bankers have a particular way, sometimes, of sharing their sympathy and loyalty to customers.


Chapter 11
Before the Battle

A week later.



was the announcement made in the newspaper one morning, in large, exciting headlines. Then underneath:

“A shearing match for the championship of the world and a wager of £300 has been arranged to take place between Fitzgerald, who recently defeated Malone, and Dan Rudd, of Saddletop. The agreement was completed last evening between the parties and the contest is to take place at the Great Palladium in a month’s time. The enterprising manager speaks of this match as likely to create a draw that will be something approaching the sensational, as Rudd, who is the ringer of the West, claims to hold an unbeaten record in any class sheep.”

From that moment Dan became a hero of the first rank. The local township rose up and accepted him at his own value. His name was in the paper! They had read it. Nothing could be nobler. Mortal couldn’t achieve anything greater—anything grander. Beach, Trumper, Messenger, Ned Kelly, Carbine, and all the cream-testers and pig-buyers were dead now, and buried.

The storekeeper, representing the feeling of his customers, welcomed Dan’s entrance to his shop in words of joy and jubilation. He shook hands with him, too, across the counter, and thrilled at the touch of his big, brown hand. He thrilled some more when the hero looked calmly round at the wares and spoke of a “decent suit o’ clobber,” and cheerfully charged the price of it up to him, with a reckless disregard of the fact that the credit of Daniel Damascus Rudd had long enough been stopped, and stopped at the point of a Petty Debts judgment that in due official course had been returned endorsed Nulla Bona by the bailif, together with that genial gentleman’s humble account for “mileage, service of summons, levy fee, etc.,” an account which the storekeeper himself paid by cash, and with bad grace, and many loud misgivings on the rottenness of the law and the folly of litigation.

The village blacksmith, too, and the local station-master took Dan between them and walked him across to the pub, where they drank to his health, and success, and to the health and success of his backer, who leaned and breathed heavily on the bar-counter, and smilingly tossed them back their bit of change.

“We hope you win, old man,” they said, putting down their empty glasses and clapping Dan warmly on the back.

“And you deserve success, too, Tom,” they added, addressing boniface, “for you’re a game ’un, there’s no doubt about it. The district should be proud of you.”

“Well, I’m backing a good horse,” Tom told them, running his eye proudly over the form of the idol. “But I’ve tied him down strictly to soft rations until it’s all over. Hard stuff is no good to train on.”

“My oath, it ain’t,” Dan agreed, at the same instant bestowing a look upon the half-drained glass of ginger-beer lingering long and sadly in his hand that convicted him of perjury.

And the ever recurring commercial traveller stepping from the train with his pretentious swag of leather bags and gorgeous rugs was filled with excitement for the shearing match.

“This chap Rudd who’s taking on Fitzgerald belongs here, doesn’t he?” he said to the storekeeper.

With much local patriotism in his eye the storekeeper answered in the affirmative, adding enthusiastically: “Do you see that tall fellow over there swinging his arms about talking to those two coves on the pub verandah?”

The commercial, after squinting hard through a pair of magnificent gold-rim glasses that obscured his sight said he did.

“Well, that’s him, that’s th’ chap, that’s Dan,” responded the storekeeper.

“Oh, is that the fellow?” And the man of many leather bags spoke with a voice deep with interest and curiosity. “He looks a strapping chap.”

“Oh, my word, ain’t he just!” the storekeeper enthused. “He’s a fearfully—frightfully strong fellow. You wouldn’t believe what he can lift! I’ve seen him take things and lift them into a dray—things that—that—that—well, that you and me together couldn’t lift an inch!”

“Go on!” and the commercial again squinted in the direction of Dan.

“By gum, yes!” the storekeeper, with whom it was a mental effort to express himself freely, said “He’s a terribly, awfully powerful fellow. Do you know what— now, I tell y’ what we’ve seen him do here—seen him ourselves, mind you.”

The man of samples cocked his ears and listened.

“You know those coils of heavy barb wire?”

“We supply them,” the commercial said, “and can do you a cheap line now if you’re out.”

“Well, he’s come in here and picked one of them up, oh, just as if it was air, and threw it up to the roof and caught it again, and flung it up again.”

“What! barb wire, caught it in his hands?” and the man of bags looked awed.

“Yes, in his hands! Oh, he’s got hands just like board,” the storekeeper confirmed.

“It’s good enough to put a quid on him,” the other suggested, with an eye to the main chance.

“Well, I don’t bet, you see,” the storekeeper explained, “but if I did, you understand, I’d put a pound on him quick.”

“Have you ever seen him shearing?” the other inquired.

“No, I haven’t seen him shearing myself, y’ understand!” answered the storekeeper, “but for all that I know he’s a great hand at it. He’s been at it so long, y’ know. And fellows who’ve been out West and all those places with him talk a terrible lot about how he can shear.”

The commercial took another squint at Dan, then settled down to business.

* * * * * * * *

The days started to pass quickly, and each succeeding day found Dan a bigger lion than on the day before. And, by the time the final touches were put into his training work and his backer had announced him “fit as twenty fiddles,” the admiration that Dan’s native township had for Dan amounted to idolatry.


Chapter 12
The Contest

The night of the great battle at last came round And what a night it was! The promoters neither spared themselves nor their money to create a draw. And it was a draw! It drew people from everywhere. It left every milking-yard and shearing-shed within travelling distance short-handed. It emptied the streets, demoralised the town band, threw cold water on church meetings, and postponed an important gathering of the People’s Slowgressive League. Long before the advertised hour the grounds surrounding the great Palladium were bearing streams of eager humanity that poured themselves headlong into its amphitheatre.

Admission charges ranged from two shillings to one guinea, and it would be difficult to say whether the two shilling ticket official or the one guinea gent was the busier. The writer, possessed of a desire to satisfy himself on this point, paused to take observations, but was carried along on the shoulders of the crushing throng and dumped down astride the back of a long form. And what a scene it was that met his view within. On the basement floor rows and rows of seats ran back as far as one could see, and into them, and over them, a noisy, disorderly mass of people jumped and climbed and sprawled. Parties and friends in the rush and tumble lost each other. Shouts and calls issued from every quarter. Overhead circled a great gallery, into which fresh crowds poured, stamping and crashing like wild horses galloping over loose cliff.

On the stage where the champions were presently to appear all was peaceful and quiet. No gorgeous drop curtain hung there to excite curious speculation as to the mysteries concealed beyond, or rouse the feelings of expectancy.

A mob of patient, woolly sheep, obviously indifferent to what was happening, or what was to happen, were enclosed in a hurdle yard. At intervals they bleated and bah-ed innocently. On either side of the sheep was an empty pen, into which they were presently to be shied, heaved, kicked, bundled without their coats.

At the respective “stands” assigned to them stood the rival foes, each silently adjusting his shearing paraphernalia. Judges and referee sauntered quietly about examining the sheep to see they were genuine, and concluding their arrangements with each other.

Pressmen, note-books in hand, dogged the heels of judges and referee, and “worded” the champions themselves for hints and information to spice their copy with. On such occasions pressmen are the most important looking people of all. They revere the limelight—love to pose under the public eye. It may be they require no information whatever; already they may have collected a surplusage; but the temptation to advertise their persons to a great assemblage is strong drink to pressmen.

Moments went quickly by. Only another quarter-hour to pass. The great audience, like all audiences, began to grow restless. Calls and shouts increased. But the promoters were prepared for all emergencies. A palliative was ready at hand. The great Paladium band, the winning band of a hundred interstate contests, lay sheltered under the left wing like a military regiment in reserve. At the manager’s signal, and by a species of musical flank movements, that band of brass smashed in on the whistling noises and cat-calls and fairly blew them to perdition. Their fort was silenced.

But the music took a different effect upon Dan. It seemed to make him feel he had left his earthly troubles and joined the angels above. He suddenly started off into a variety of light fantastic flights and jiggetty jiggetty jumps. In one voice the audience laughed loud at him, and pounded its feet on the floor. Dan waltzed right across the stage. The crowd laughed more and shouted till it made mince-meat of the band music.

Old Tom, Dan’s backer, sitting handy to the platform, hopped on to the stage, and seizing Dan roughly by both shoulders, talked excitedly at him.

“Don’t make a fool o’ yourself, man!” he was heard to say, “take it from me you’ll want all you’ve got in you!”

Yells of applause, mingled with shouts of disapproval, from the audience. Dan smiled dumbly, and waving his long arms in response to the house, took Tom’s advice and returned to his stand.

The band stopped playing.

Then the manager of the great Palladium, a tall, bulky, bony, aggressive-looking man, stepped forward and made the usual introductory speech. He examined the conditions under which the contest would be conducted, and challenged anyone in the audience who had the least doubt that everything was not as Caesar’s wife, above reproach, to stand up and say so right where he was sitting. But whether it was honest, convincing tones in which the manager spoke or the size of him that satisfied the audience we do not know; but none accepted the challenge.

“This shearing match,” the manager concluded, “will I am sure, prove the most sensational that ever took place in any part of the world. Fitzgerald, the present holder of the championship, is well known to you, and Dan Rudd (pointing to Dan, who stood shaking his head about) comes before you as the ‘ringer of the West,’ and with the reputation of having shorn no less than three hundred and eighty sheep in one day at Muckamundaboobee.”

Deafening applause, at the end of which a man with a head for western geography rose up in the audience and desired to be informed “where the devil Muckamundaboobee was”.

Several thousand angry voices peremptorily ordered him to “sit down”.

The man sat down.

Then the engine that drove the shearing machines was put in motion, and the noise it introduced to the stage reminded us of the machinery section at a national show.

The champions squared up, and breasting the wicket gate that opened into the sheep-yard, waited for the word to go.

“Are you ready?” said the manager.

Both were ready.

“Then go,”

They went.

Fitzgerald, who was nearer the gate-latch, placed his hands calmly and leisurely on it to open the way. But Dan was in a hurry. With a tremendous spring he cleared Fitzgerald, gate and all, and landed in amongst the wethers.

A great cheer went up for Dan. And Dan’s township supporters, led by the storekeeper, cheered longest of all.

Catching a sheep up in his arms, Dan ran out with it and dumped it down hard on its end on the boards. Then he tugged his hat off, a greasy old felt, and threw it recklessly from him. The old hat floated lightly into the guinea seats, and rested affectionately in the lap of a lady in evening dress. The lady looked upon it as though it were a reptile, and vainly endeavoured to escape it by wriggling in her chair and making grimaces and gestures. But a gallant gentleman beside her in a white shirt front and high collar came to her assistance. He lifted the old felt hat carefully on the point of his cane and poked it along the floor.

“Thank you very much indeed,” the lady gasped, with a tremendous sigh of relief, and the gallant gentleman bowed and begged her “not to mention it.”

Meanwhile Dan switched on the power, and taking a firm grip of his machine commenced hurriedly on the belly wool.

Fitzgerald, with a sheep in his arms, arrived later on the scene, and taking time to adjust himself comfortably, started leisurely in pursuit of Dan. He was in no hurry, and moved like one who was reared in the “Land-o’-lots-o’-Time”.

Dan flung away the belly wool with a flash of the hand; ripped off the “top knot,” snipped a bit of wool from round the horns; gave the animal’s head a violent twist; opened up the neck; down over the shoulder; flung the sheep into fresh position, and was half finished before his opponent had barely made a start. Then when he flew down the “whipping side,” set the sheep on its legs and booted it into the pen before his opponent was a-quarter way through he became popular with the audience. It shouted and howled its appreciation of him.

“I told you so!” some cried boastfully to those who had discounted Dan’s chances, while some more cried plaintively: “Shake it up, Fitz; don’t let him get all over you!”

Dan patted Fitzgerald encouragingly on his stooped back, as he passed by, then jumping the gate again sallied forth with his second sheep.

Fitzgerald’s supporter’s resented Dan’s familiarity with their idol, and began to hoot Dan. Dan’s friends responded with groans, and a large body who were neutral in the matter joined in with peals of merriment.

Dan waded in to the second sheep, working with arms, hands, head and feet, and throwing wool all about him. No one could doubt his pace, and he was making it too—like a race horse.

Fitzgerald, coming along with clean, sweeping blow and a light sympathetic hand on his sheep, seemed in no way perturbed about Dan. But those who understood the business saw he was travelling like an express. And when he let go his second sheep simultaneous with Dan’s a great burst of excitement filled the Palladium.

But no one was more surprised than Dan—or seemed to be. He cast a quick look in the direction of Fitzgerald, then jumped the gate again; but this time he blundered and nearly fell on his head, and caused an outburst of derisive laughter.

Both men started together on the third sheep.

“This’ll tell! This’ll tell!” was murmured breathlessly, expectantly. “If he runs away again from Fitz on this sheep he wins!’’

For two exciting minutes the machines fairly whistled, while flakes of white wool rolled on the boards like foam from an ocean liner. Then Fitzgerald let go while Dan was only half-way through.

Howls of applause—and some laughter that was meant for Dan.

Fitzgerald secured his fourth sheep and started in pursuit of Dan again. He caught him, amidst wild excitement—and more laughter which was meant for Dan. Tally: Fitzgerald, four sheep; Rudd, three.

“Shake it up! Shake it up!” old Tom, thinking of his three hundred pounds, called anxiously.

A small man with a large head of black hair cried out from the gallery:

“Pshaw! he can shear none, that bloke! He’s got too much frill!”

And the crowd enjoyed his courage.

Again both men reached the gate together; but this time Dan made no attempt to jump it. All the vitality seemed to have left him. The perspiration was beginning to pour from him, too, and he was showing signs of going to pieces. Then it was that the audience began to forget that Dan was its idol.

“Why don’t you jump it, old chap?” a lot of them shouted, while more laughed and guffawed.

Seeing to work again, Dan made a desperate sprint to overtake his man, but instead of gaining he went further to pieces, and cut and hacked his sheep into the bargain. Then as fate would have it, Dan struck a fractious brute of a wether that resented the loss of its fleece with all its legs and head, and as though appealing to the audience for assistance bellowed terribly.

Some people laugh at anything, and it was wonderful the number that laughed at that sheep, and at Dan’s distress. But Dan wasn’t a man to be tampered with by a sheep, or by an audience for that matter. Dan just straightened up and kicked that wether in its side, and when it bellowed for more Dan had it ready. Bif! Bif! Bif! went Dan’s big foot. Then there was a howl, and yells of Shame! Shame! Shame! Why, you’d think it was the audience Dan had kicked, it went on so!

But Dan just lifted his head and bared his teeth savagely to them, like a dingo at bay, and taking advantage of the moment, the wether stubbornly scrambled to its feet and plunged and reared for liberty, and tangled its horns in Dan’s singlet.

Dan came Donald Dinie over that sheep, and threw him with a loud bang on the boards.

More shouts of “Shame! Shame!”

Dan could stand it no longer. With his knee on the quadruped he lifted his head again and shouted:

“Go to th’ devil!”

“Ber-r er-r,” bellowed the sheep.

Roars of laughter.

Dan punched it on the nose.

A babel of hoots went up, and confusion set in in the ranks of the audience. Missiles in the shape of peaches and bananas began to fall about Dan. But Dan had the spirit of a tiger. Placing both knees on the sheep he sat up, and conveyed profane things to them by connecting his nose and fingers into a wireless telegraphy instrument. That settled a lot of them; they rose and hurried to the doors. But something like a thousand or more were not settled by any means. They came down from those seats howling like wolves for Dan’s blood, and stampeded for the stage.

Giving the wether its liberty Dan tore a hurdle from the sheep fence, and up-ending it above his head prepared to engage all and sundry from the edge of the platform. Dan would have made a great leader on a battle field.

Numerous officials, headed by the manager, flew on to the stage, and holding up their hands, appealed to the mob for a hearing. The police arrived, and fighting their way to the front, waved their batons and pulled up their jacket sleeves, and shook their heads menacingly. Half the sheep wandered from the yard through the opening that Dan had made, and stared curiously at the yelling crowd.

“Have sinse, men! Have sinse!” the police cried advisedly.

“Let him put that hurdle away, then!” one man shouted, referring to Dan.

The police advised and pleaded some more, and the sergeant added, addressing a leader: “Now, Bill Smith, you surely ought to know better than this! A man in your position, too, and a Justice of the Peace.”

And somehow Bill Smith suddenly thought he did know better.

“That’s enough,” he cried and beat a retreat, and was gradually followed by the whole mob, who returned to the seats.

Taking time by the forelock the manager stood forward and spoke feelingly to the crowd. He waved his hands dramatically and referred to the King of England, our great Empire, and the freedom and spirit of fair play that was so dear to the heart of every Britisher worth his salt. Then he asked them to be Britons worthy of their grand-parents, and “give these two men a chance”.

Great cheering and waving of hats.

When calm was restored Dan and Fitzgerald faced the music again.

“Well, now, I’ll show y’ a bit o’ shearin’,” Dan said at the top of his voice, and the audience laughed.

Into the pen Dan bounded like a wallaby, and selected a sheep.

Both men began again together, and all Dan’s early form returned. He was shearing now, like a new man. Work how Fitzgerald would to retain his lead it was fast slipping from him. Dan moved like a flying machine. Sheep after sheep left the floor, and for every fleece he tossed aside Dan gained half a sheep.

In the excitement Fitzgerald cut his hand with the machines, and that helped Dan a good deal.

In less than an hour Dan drew level, and for twenty minutes the men shore sheep for sheep.

Old Tom and the storekeeper rose in their places and led the cheering for Dan.

Dan didn’t hear them.

Only five minutes to go. In and out of the pen, and together they opened on their last sheep.

The audience nearly went wild. They stood on the chairs and shouted and cheered. The officials collected near the men and watched them keenly. Dan was shearing as though possessed of several devils, and shearing clean and close. “Fitzgerald! Fitzgerald! the audience shouted. Not a move was in either sheep. They lay like angels in the hands of the shearers. Both machines started, blow for blow down the whipping side. “Rudd! Rudd! Rudd wins!” Then one of the sheep moved. It was Dan’s. He set it on its feet and shoved it into the pen. A tremendous cheering went up, and there was more waving of hats.

Old Tom, and the storekeeper, and all Dan’s local acquaintances, scrambled on to the stage and shook him by the hand. Perspiring like a hog, and gasping for breath, Dan stammered: “Oh, on’y kid’s play.”

“I declare Mr. D. Rudd to be the winner of to-night’s contest,” said the manager in a loud voice, “and I further declare him to be the champion shearer of the world!”

Great applause, during which old Tom and the storekeeper shook hands once more with Dan, and led him away.


Chapter 13
After Many Years

More than twenty years had past since we last saw Dan, and we thought him dead. We thought dead until one year we had reason to travel south and then west in search of official information. At Mullabrie they told us to see Rudd—Dan Rudd of Showery Plains. They said we would find him an exceptionally well-informed and interesting settler.

We found him in the cow-yard calmly waving a bucket at a herd of milkers.

“Oh, my colonial,” Dan said, “it makes good readin’, all right, does all this preachin’ about us blokes on th’ land makin’ money for ourselves out of crops an’ cows. It suits the moneylender and th’ bloomin’ middleman an’ th’ bloke in office all right. My word, yes, don’t it?”

Here he broke off and ran—but not so actively as of old— to block a cow from doubling back to the paddock. He blocked the cow, and turned to us again.

“Makin’ money for ourselves out of crops and cows, eh!” Dan laughed a short, choky sort of laugh. “Now, look here,” standing the bucket on a corner post, and placidly removing his old slouch hat, and scratching his head, “if there’s to be this great Judgment Day that we hear so much about—if a Grand Jury is to take all our weights and measures and award us all our just measure of fire and brimstone an’ hot lead, or whatever it is that’s in pickle for us, then all I’ve got to say— and I’ve broken a commandment or two meself in me time— is God help th’ boodlers!”

We said we were sorry he took such an extreme view of things at his time of life.

“Yous needn’t be sorry, then,” Dan answered, “I’m only one among hundreds o’ them down here that take it—that bloomin’ well have to take it! This farm that y’ see me sittin’ down on here, no doubt is a pretty wealthy and profitable looking concern to you, with all them buildings an’ yards an’ machinery about it to orniment it with. I bought—now let me see—for two pound ten an acre. I got it from a syndicate, and they gave me twenty years to pay the installments. Do you follow me?”

We said we followed him.

“Well, of course I had settled down to work then, and to meet them installments, you see, and at th’ same time to make a livin’ for the family I toiled and grafted from daylight to starlight, year in an’ year out—what I never did before—and so did th’ wife, my colonial, she did, livin’ on just th’ bare bit o’ food that was necessary to keep us alive, and doin’ with th’ least bit o’ clothes you could mention. Well, I don’t suppose we were exactly what you would call like John th’ Baptist, more like a whole family of him, with the one difference, perhaps, that we worked a lot harder. Ah, my bloomin’ oath, it was all work! There was never any sport or play-time about it. You see, whenever there was any bit of a gathering on— a tea party, or a concert or a little race-meetin’—and God knows they very seldom happened, anyhow—we could never think of showin’ up to them. In th’ first place, you see, we could never afford to give a bob or two towards any of them. And in the second place our clobber was always a bloomin’ lion in the path.

“Anyway, as seasons came and went, we reaped some pretty good crops, no mistake about that, and some were that bad that we didn’t reap them at all. No mistake about that either! But by constant pluggin’ an’ peggin’ away, and battlin’, the soil, takin’ it all round, yielded, I dare say, enough to clear the place of debt, and to keep us all alive, and pretty humble along with it. My eyes, yes!

“The bloomin’ ghost of that syndicate stopped hauntin’ us in our sleep and at last th’ little home became our own. My oath, that was a great moment in my life, in all our lives. I shall never forget the relief it fetched! One time it wouldn’t have mattered a fig! I might have got tight on th’ strength of it, but that would have been all. Heaven may be all what it’s cracked up to be; but it only holds half th’ joy the parting with that syndicate brought to Daniel then he’s prepared to crawl on his hands and knees over precipices and glass bottles to get there.”

“And so you see, the money that before had gone to meet principal and interest we began to get a few comforts with now. And how they were welcomed, believe me! A brighter and a softer side of life, you understand, started to reveal itself to us—a side we had only heard of before. Then we put our heads together of an evening, and began to plan little schemes for improving the holding, and bettering our position—schemes laid out on simple, modest lines, if you understand. In fact, to cut a long story short, we decided to go in only for those things that we could afford to pay cash for as we went along. Up to this time, you understand, we had only built a bit of a slab hut —that’s it standing over there, still used for the kitchen—a cow-yard, and the rummiest bit of fencing you ever looked at. And, take it from me, if we had continued along those lines I’d be a different man to-day. But that’s where the rub comes in!”

“Well, a sudden change came over this district. I don’t know and can’t tell you how or why it came; but it came. It certainly wasn’t because farmers or dairymen were makin’ any more or any less out of their stuff than they had been makin’ all along. But new-comers from the South came crowdin’ down upon us here—new-comers who might have been Solomons at agriculture in their own cabbage gardens, for all any of us knew to the contrary; but any way they knew little or nothin’ of the conditions rulin’ here. Well, they were all carted round the country by the Government at our expense of course, and they talked themselves hoarse, did these blokes, about the great bloomin’ gold mine they saw us sitting down on, and darn well shed tears about the beauty and the wealth of it all, and they never seemed to get tired of boasting that our bit of earth was miles ahead of theirs in the South, which people were falling over one another and pawning their souls to buy at £50 an acre! And everything these southern grocers and schoolmasters and starved-out clerks—for that’s all the most of ’em were, I promise you—said, was devoured like water-melons and printed in large letters in the newspapers, and a darn lot they didn’t think of sayin’ was printed there too. Then, spare me days, a young town started to rise up all round the railway station. “Town” allotments were auctioned and purchased at high figures—some of ’em bogus o’ course. Costly two-storey pubs went up in a night, and hung round waitin’ for tenants. Commission agents opened offices. Then with horses and sulkies and a week’s supply of the grandest ideas you ever heard of about “land values” and the “prospects in view” they started tearing through the country in the devil’s own hurry.”

“This new turn things had taken was a staggerer to us old hands, of course. For the life of us we couldn’t form any sane idea as to what the rush was all about, neither could we see what the ‘town’ was going to live on—there was no rations in sight as far as we could make out. But when the Bank of North Jonah came along and built a branch office hung out its sign-board we were more than ever up a bloomin’ tree. Some of us began to suspect that there was a gold-mine hidden somewhere. My colonial, it was more of a wonder to us than a late frost. We gave it all up at last, and just sat down and waited for it to explain itself. And, I tell you, we hadn’t long to wait either. The manager of that branch bank wheeled himself through the district at greater speed than even the commission agents. And takin’ us in turn he called on us all with a full explanation. “This is how he explained the matter to me:

“ ‘Now,’ said he, sittin’ down in the old humpy that was, ‘what do you reckon this farm of yours is worth, Rudd, if you were goin’ to sell it?’

“ ‘Well,’ I answered, ‘I reckon I paid as good as four quid an acre for it, and if anyone wants it I wouldn’t take a bob less.’ “He gave a bit of a chuckle, you know, and looking wiser than a whole hospital full of doctors, asked me if I knew what its value really was.

“Just for a moment, you know, I got a divil of a fright. A terrible suspicion that my bit of earth after all my years of graft was only worth about five bob or so, got a grip o’ me, and kept crawling all over me till I went stone cold. Anyway, I managed to keep silent, and waited for the worst.

“‘Ten pounds an acre,’ he said.

“ ‘What!’ I shouted, and I jumped to my feet like a scared wallaby. ‘You must be joking.’

“ ‘Possibly twelve,’ blow me if he didn’t answer, and he looked as calm as though it was cucumbers we were talkin’ about.

“Well, that was far too much for me, and I went off on a go-as-you-please round the bloomin’ room. I must have done about twenty laps, I dare say, before me proper senses came back to me.

“ ‘Why, dammit then,’ I sez to him, ‘I must be worth four thousand quid,’ and I stopped dead in front of him and looked him right in the forehead.

“ ‘If there’s four hundred acres in it you are,’ he sez.

“ ‘There’s four hundred and twenty acres,’ I shouted.

“ ‘Then you’re worth four thousand two hundred quid,’ he sez.

“I didn’t say any more. I couldn’t if you understand. I just grabbed him by his two lovely white hands and shook them for joy.

“When I had done shaking he laughed one o’ them short, grizzly sort o’ laughs that coves carry about with ’em, and said he could easily understand my feelin’s. Then from that out he got right down to business, and what that bank manager didn’t know about his side of th’ blanky business wasn’t worth knowin’, if you understand.

“ ‘What you should do with this place, Rudd,’ he starts off with, ‘is to improve it properly. You want a good barn here, and a bore and a windmill and milking machines, and a hay shed, and a silo, and a lot more machinery and all that sort o’ thing to make it an up-to-date and payable property.’

“I was simply delighted to hear me own idea of things confirmed, if you understand me, by such a high-up authority, and right away, as coves will do, y’ know, I lets him into the secret of our own little scheme—that old-fashioned scheme, you know, of going slowly and paying cash for everything as we could afford it. And when I had finished, so help me, he just laughed —laughed one of those wretched discouraging laughs that break a fellow up, and make him feel that he was never anything else but a bloomin’ fool.

“ ‘Pshaw!’’ he sniggered ‘that’s no good to a cove in your position. Look here, our bank will advance you all the money you want, right away, up to sixty per cent. of its full value’— them I think were his words, as well as I can remember— ‘but of course you would have to put it into improvements— that’s all we ask.’

“That started me thinkin’ in a dazed sort of way, same as a chap would when he’s had a drop too much, and while I was doin’ th’ thinkin’ act, you understand, he got further down to business. He gave me some o’ th’ loveliest information you ever heard about banking, about the good friendly side of it, and showed me as clear as day, that be followin’ my own wretched idea of finance I would only be marking time. Also I might tell you that before he left he gave me about two thousand quid as a present, at five per cent. which I caled round to the bank for at different times later on.

“That’s five bloomin’ years ago!” Here Dan paused awhile, and stared dreamily at the dim horizon. “And this farm o’ mine, now worth ten quid an acre, doesn’t bring me in any more than it did when it was only worth two pound ten. But,” he paused again, and we noticed how wrinkled and old-looking he had grown—“what I bring in to the bank is a lot more than it was. There’s been a good improvement in that respect. On that two thousand quid I’m paying seven and a-half per cent. now instead of five per cent., if you understand. In fact, to tell you straight, I’m just about workin’ for th’ bloomin’ bank. And whenever there’s an election about, somehow I’m always votin’ for it!

“My colonial, yes,” Dan concluded, lifting the bucket from the corner-post, “it’s simply marvellous what us blokes are making out of the land—in the blanky newspapers!”


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