an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: The Old Homestead
Author: Steele Rudd
eBook No.: .html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2024
Most recent update: 2024

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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The Old Homestead

Steele Rudd




Chapter 1. - Why We Left Magoola
Chapter 2. - How Tom Got Lost
Chapter 3. - How Tom Was Found
Chapter 4. - A Bad Evening
Chapter 5. - Burning Off
Chapter 6. - Aunt Sue Meets Trouble
Chapter 7. - She Wouldn’t Take Them
Chapter 8. - We Start Dairying
Chapter 9. - The First Consignment
Chapter 10. - Mrs. Dorihey Jumps to a Conclusion
Chapter 11. - Going Into Figures
Chapter 12. - Breaking Up
Chapter 13. - Aunt Maria
Chapter 14. - A Set Back
Chapter 15. - An Unexpected Development
Chapter 16. - A Birthday Honour
Chapter 17. - The Justice Receives a Call
Chapter 18. - Andy’s Watch and a Kangaroo
Chapter 19. - Tat-ta-a-a
Chapter 20. - The Wedding
Chapter 21. - An Unexpected Visitor
Chapter 22. - Puttinga Puts Things in Order


Chapter 1
Why We Left Magoola

After we had all hunted and searched and turned the house upside down, Father one day found the deeds behind the calico lining of Mother’s bedroom. Then early next morning, with a coat over his arm, he started for town. We didn’t go with him because town was a long way off: besides it was summer time and Father decided to walk. He decided to walk because the drought left us no horse to ride or drive. We accompanied him to the slip-rails, though, and waved to him till he was out of sight. Then for quite a while we sat on the fence and wondered if he would bring any money back with him. And at intervals throughout the day we gathered at the sick bed and tried to comfort Mother by urging her to get well. But our efforts to cheer her were futile. No notice would she take of us. And one by one we turned away from the room with sad sinking hearts, and looked for something to do. Next day Father returned from town and brought £50 with him, besides a bottle of medicine for Mother and a swag of miscellaneous articles for the rest of us.

Aunt Sue and Dora unrolled the bank notes and counted them, and gazed at them, and felt them again and again with their fingers. They got as much joy out of the fingering of these notes as they would from the nursing of a new baby. And while Father sat to the meal they prepared for him, he entertained us with details of the trip; told us how he met Charlie Carpenter, who had become a J.P., and how Charlie introduced him to a commission agent, who advanced him the money on the deeds.

“Charlie’s got a lot older since I seen him last,” he said, “a lot older.” But Father didn’t tell us that the “receipt” he signed for the money advanced on the Deeds, and witnessed by his old friend Charlie, was a carefully folded land transfer form and that our selection home on Old Magoola was now really the property of a pair of city scoundrels! He couldn’t tell us these things because he didn’t know, or even suspect them himself.

Mother got over her illness and flew round with more life and energy than ever. The presence of a number of strange cows at the yard surprised her and started her thinking. She questioned Father about them. Father smiled proudly and told her how he became possessed of them.

“The Deeds?” she gasped. “Where did you get them?”

Father explained.

Then Mother walked about excitedly. Mother didn’t believe in mortgages, nor in Father’s ways of doing business.

“I’ll go and see all about it at once,” she said. “I could never rest till I know what you’ve done.”

And she didn’t rest. But she didn’t go to town. The Commission Agent saved her the trouble. He came along in a buggy and wanted to know when we were going to leave the place and give him possession?

“What!” Mother said; “give you possession?”

“Surely you know that I bought the place?” the Commission Agent answered. “Anyhow your husband does.”

“Bought it!” Mother gasped. “Are you mad?” And a cold, sickly feeling came over her.

“It was only a mortgage,” Aunt Sue put in.

“Only a mortgage!” And the swindler laughed.

“What in the name of heaven does this mean?” And seizing hold of Father, who seemed to be in a trance, Mother nearly shook the life out of him.

“Only a mortgage!” Father stammered.

“Now, now, Pettigrew,” the Commission Agent protested. “When Carpenter brought you to me didn’t I say I would buy the place for £50?”

“For fifty pounds!” And Mother threw up her hands.

“And didn’t I give you the money in notes,” the Agent went on brazenly. “And didn’t you sign a transfer of the land? And didn’t your friend Charlie Carpenter witness your signature for you?”

“No!” Father shouted at the top of his voice—“No!”

Then Mother, who lost control of herself, sprang at the man and, taking him by the neck, shoved him out and showed him the slip-rails.

“You’ll be sorry for this!” he shouted, getting into his buggy. “I’ll show you whose property it is—I’ll show you!”

Three months later. The Commission Agent, accompanied by the Sheriffs bailiff, a bum-bailiff and the township policeman, came into the yard.

All of us collected on the verandah, feeling sure that something terrible was pending.

“I’ve a Warrant of Possession here,” the Sheriff’s bailiff said to Father, “commanding me to hand over this selection to the plaintiff, James McGooley,” And he pointed to the wretched Commission Agent

Then he read a lot of highfalutin’ stuff about “McGooley v. Pettigrew” and “whereas” and “I command you” and “hereof fail not”—until we all felt we were about to be hanged.

“And are we to be turned out of our home?” Mother asked.

The Sheriff’s officer said he was afraid so.

“Well, I dare any of you to enter my house!” Mother cried, placing her back firmly against the door. Then addressing us. “Stand beside me children—everyone of you!”

We stood beside her, and Andy, reaching down an iron brand from the rafters, fixed his eyes on the Commission Agent.

Old Parson Bennie, on his rounds, rode in through the rails. He stared hard in surprise, then asked what was the matter.

Mother, bursting into tears, told him.

“I see—I see,” he said sympathetically. “Now, keep calm, Mrs. Pettigrew, till I hear what they have to say on the other side.”

The Sheriff’s bailiff produced his warrant and waved it about.

“Mrs. Pettigrew is making matters worse for herself, sir,” he said, “that’s all she’s doing.”

The old parson thought hard. Then turning to Mother he placed a hand on her shoulder and said: “’Tis both foolish and useless to resist. Have courage and God will help you.”

Mother gulped down a lump that was in her throat and silently led us all inside.

Then the bailiffs entered and carried all the furniture out. And that was why we left Magoola and went to live on a homestead at Ironbark.


Chapter 2
How Tom Got Lost

Ironbark was a wild, lonely, scrubby place. Besides the few struggling selectors scattered about, it boasted of an hotel. A fine, commodious hotel it was, too, built of bark and wool bales. The bark was taken from the tall, gaunt trees that stand there like skeletons to this day; and the wool-bales from a neighbouring station where Dunn, the proprietor, drove bullocks for 15s. a week before he went into business. A signboard with “Dick Dunn—Travellers’ Arms” printed on it with tar, stood above the front verandah, and before the bar-door a tree with the limbs lopped off supported a broken lamp that never gave any light. In the rear of the hotel a killing-yard and a number of rookeries were huddled together. And all the rest, as far as the eye could see, was boxtrees, gum trees, grass and ridges.

Dunn one day came to our homestead in search of a boy to do “light bits of jobs about the pub”, and said the wages would be 2s. 6d. a week and keep.

Mother pointed to Tom, and said if Dunn thought he would be any use he could have him.

Dunn, a big, hairy, gravy-eyed, red-whiskered man, looked at Tom squatting under the wooden window on the ground floor of the verandah, and said:

“Stan’ up till I have a squint at th’ size o’ y’.”

Tom blushed and drew up his knees till they reached his ears, and hid his head and shoulders between them.

“He’s fritent t’,” Andy, a couple of years older than Tom, guffawed.

“Get up, you young wretch, when th’ man asks you t’, and let him see y’! Sittin’ there like a porkapine!” Mother said, giving Tom a root with her big toe that protruded through her boot.

Mother was a strong, determined woman who wouldn’t be disobeyed, and who would always have her own way in everything.

“A porkapine!” Andy repeated in jeering tones, and pointed his finger at Tom.

Tom, pressing his chin hard against his chest, and turning up the whites of his eyes, slowly and laboriously shoved himself up along the slab wall.

“Just look at th’ mopoke!” Mother said in disgust. “Hold your head up, can’t you! You silly gork of a fellow! Wherever you got your manners from I’m sure I don’t know!” And she shot an ugly, insinuating glance at Limpy, a nervous, stifflegged, scraggy whiskered cousin of ours who lived with us, and who just then limped from the wood-heap with the axe in his hand.

Limpy shrunk back several paces, and starting thumping the axe-head on the face of a block to tighten the handle that already was wedged as tight as could be.

“How are y’ on a horse—can y’ ride?” Dunn asked of Tom.

Tom didn’t open his lips.

Him ride! Crickey!” Andy said in derision—“why a calf slung ’im into th’ dam this mornin’, an’ would a’ smothercated ’im only I was there.”

“Oh, indeed, ’e can ride every bit as well as yeou!” Martha, a year older than Andy, said in defence of Tom. “Who fell off Smith’s pig? ’M, yah!”

Andy pulled a face at Martha behind Mother’s back, and Martha pulled a series of faces at Andy.

“You can chop wood, I suppose—an’ milk?” Dunn further asked of Tom.

Tom closed his eyes, and scratched the ground floor with his big toe, but made no reply.

“Why can’t you answer when y’r asked a civil question— why can’t y’?” And Mother seized Tom by his unkempt hair with both hands and shook him.

“Y-Y-Yes! Yes, I can, Mother. I c-c-can, I can!” Tom bellowed.

“You can! You can what?” and Mother woolled him some more.

“C-C-Can ride,” howled Tom.

“Oh, my word ’e can ride jolly well. Dom can d’ so.” Limpy affirmed, leaning calmly on the axe.

“Then he doesn’t take after you, thank God!” Mother snapped at Limpy. Mother was always hard on her nephew.

Limpy staggered back another step or two, trailing the axe after him or before him.

You’ll be gettin’ a woollin’ next, Limpy,” Andy with a grin, drawled in a low tone to his crippled cousin.

Limpy frowned at Andy.

Andy moved towards Tom, and asked him was he going to take the job or was he not?

“He’s going to take it all right,” Dunn put in. “An’ I’ll make a man of him in a couple o’ months.”

“He’ll have to take it,” Mother said firmly. “An’ he’s not going t’ be asked about it, either. There’s quite enough of them here without him—eating an’ drinking what little’s coming in, an’ doing precious little for it. An’ if there was situations for the lot o’ them they could all go.”

“Limpy, too, Mother?” chuckled Andy.

Limpy nearly dropped down at the mention of his name and, recovering, scowled at Andy.

“Oh! I didn’t mean him!” Mother answered satirically. “The place couldn’t get on without him!

Andy guffawed; and Dunn looked at Limpy and laughed aloud.

Limpy shuffled back to the wood-heap, and in a feeble, useless way swung the axe several times at a log, then looked back over his shoulder at the rest of us.

Father, carrying a broken swingletree in one hand, and a piece of plough chain in the other, happened along.

Mother explained matters to him. Father gazed upon Tom in an amused kindly way, and expressed approval with his large, hairy eyes. Father mostly expressed himself with his eyes, and always laughed with them.

“All right, then,” Dunn said, “send him over tomorrow, Mrs. Pettigrew.”

Then, turning away he mounted his horse and rode off.

Next day.

Limpy drove Tom to Dunn’s hotel in the old spring cart. There was a lot of commotion on the verandah as they drove up.

“Dere’s a jolly row goin’ on, I tink,” Limpy murmured, steadying the old mare in her eternal jog, and staring hard with his dull little eyes.

Tom clutched Limpy’s arm, and said he wasn’t “goin’ to stop there, not fer anything”.

“Oh, dey won’t touch you, Dom,” Limpy assured him. “You’re not big enough. It’s me dey would like to hab a slab ad! … I don’t tink I’ll dribe right up to d’ door … I bedder stop d’ jolly cart when we ged a bid closer an’ let you jumb oud … Den I can cut back.”

Just then a drunk was thrown right off the hotel verandah on to his head, and a red swag flew after him.

“Cribes! Woe! Woe!” Limpy called to the old mare, and the cart stopped within half a chain of the hotel.

“Jump oud, Dom, quick! an’ take y’ clothes!” And lifting a bundle tied in a spotted handkerchief from the bottom of the cart, Limpy dropped it hurriedly over the wheel.

Tom cast a frantic look at the hotel, then at the drunk, and gripping the seat with both hands, blubbered:

“I won’t get out! I won’t go in there! I’m goin’ back ’ome!” The man who was thrown out rose from the dust and pulled his shirt off. Then, roaring like a bull, swung his arms wildly about, and challenged everyone in the hotel to come out and fight.

Limpy became agitated.

“Cribes, Dom, ged oud! Dere’s a good chab!” he moaned. “If y’ come bag y’ know, y’r modder’ll harp kill y’.”

“I’d sooner be half-killed be ’er,” Tom cried, eyeing the drunk, “th-th-than killed be ’im.”

Suddenly Limpy gave a start, and, dropping the reins, exclaimed:

“Oh, cribes! ’e’s comin’ dis way!”

Tom, seeing the man stagger towards them with a big stone in each hand, left the cart as though it were on fire. Limpy left it, too, but with a great struggle, and took shelter behind the mare. Tom bolted headlong for the rear of the hotel, and scrambled wildly into an empty cask that stood on its end in one of the rookeries. And as he scrambled into it a sitting hen flapped and fluttered out of it: then proceeded to make pandemonium in the yard.

Tom sank hurriedly down and sat crouched in that cask like a ’possum in a hollow tree. His eyes bulged in his head, and he started and trembled at every sound. For several minutes he sat there unconsciously on fourteen eggs. But when the contents of the shells began to soak through his double-seated pants, he realised everything. Poor Tom! The position filled him with a new terror. He deemed it prudent, however, not to make any effort to alter matters, and sat tight, and soaked and stared up in awe at the mouth of the cask.

The affrighted hen ceased her cackling and decided to return to her eggs. Determinedly she mounted the cask and looked down sideways at Tom. Tom shuddered at first sight of her; then he scrowled and shook his fist threateningly at her. The hen stretched her neck, and let out a loud “kuk-kuk-kuk-a-kur-r-k!” and emulating Blondin, she circumnavigated the cask, looking down all the while, and observing Tom from every point of the compass. Once she nearly fell in on top of him, and Tom shut his eyes and dropped his head. Finally he gathered enough courage to strike at her with his hat. The hen overbalanced, and, dropping to the ground, cackling and calling violently for assistance.

A pair of stately roosters and an aged, frowsy cockatoo came to her aid. The roosters yabbered incoherently, and clawed up the earth in a useless way. But the cockatoo started to inquire into the trouble.

What th’ hell’s th’ matter? What th’ hell’s th’ matter?” he asked, strutting round the base of the cask.

Tom heard the strange voice, and thought his hour had come.

The cockatoo flew up, and, perching on the edge of the cask, gazed furtively down at Tom. Tom gazed wildly up at the bird.

Who th’ hell are you?” it asked in a deep bass voice.

Tom didn’t say who he was. Tom couldn’t

Who th’ hell are you?” the cockatoo repeated.

Tom’s heart jumped violently.

Then the cockatoo hopped round, and showing its tail to Tom, screamed at the top of its voice:

Dick! Dick! Come and cut his head off!

Out of that cask Tom plunged like a wild horse, and with egg shell and egg-flip dropping from him in flakes, raced furiously for the open. And in front of him all the way across the yard that cockatoo, flapping its wings, shrieked:

“Dick! Dick! Murder! They’re killing cockie! They’re killing poor cockie!”

Next moment the voice of Dunn thundered in Tom’s ears as he reached the open, to “Come here! … Come here!

Tom ran harder.

Dunn shouted a volley of oaths after him.

Tom reached a clump of wattles, and like an emu disappeared in a flash.

“Th’ d—d young fool!” Dunn growled, “he’s cleared!”

And that was how Tom got lost for four days and four nights.


Chapter 3
How Tom Was Found

Tom had been away two days, and Mother and Dora and Aunt Sue, busy at the washing, were talking about him, and wondering how he liked his new place. Aunt Sue always helped Mother and Dora with the washing because she lived in the same house as we did. In fact some of it belonged to her. The partition between her bedroom and our front room formed part of the line that marked the boundary between her homestead and father’s. Father was a Socialist in some things, and reckoned it waste of time and labour building a separate house for his sister when she could fulfil conditions just as well by sharing the end of ours. And he considered it would be more comfortable for her, anyway; and said she would be company for Mother and the girls, and they would be company for her. And Mother and Dora became excited at the prospect of having Aunt Sue living so near, and one blazing hot day drove twenty-five miles in the old spring-cart to meet her and bring her to the homestead.

“I can only find one pair of Tom’s trousers in the wash, Dora,” Mother said, bending over a pile of dirty clothes, and tossing them and re-tossing them about. “There should be two—where’s the new pair I made for him?”

“But he’s got a pair on, hasn’t he?” Dora answered carelessly, as she rubbed at a shirt of Father’s.

“I suppose he has! I suppose everyone has! At least I hope they have!” Mother snapped angrily.

Dora wriggled silently over the tub for several seconds, then suddenly lifted her head and holding her sides with her wet hands, shrieked merrily into the overhanging boughs of the gum-tree that served as a wash-shed.

Mother, holding a pair of Andy’s pants in her hand, straightened up and stared hard at her eldest daughter.

Aunt Sue looked up from the tub she was engaged over, and smiled in a cynical, wooden sort of way.

“It seems to amuse you very much!” Mother said to Dora.

“Goodness, Mother!” Dora gasped, getting her breath back, “was that meant for me or—or—for Aunt Sue?” And she let go another shriek.

“What was meant?” And Aunt Sue’s long, serious face lengthened another inch or two. Aunt Sue was a sensitive, suspicious old maid.

“I don’t know what she meant,” and Dora bent over the tub and laughed more.

“I meant that your brother’s trousers are not to be found! Is there anything funny in that?” Mother fumed,

“Oh, there’s not—not in that,” and Dora tittered to herself.

“Did you ever see such a girl?” Mother cried, appealing to Aunt Sue.

“Don’t make people think you’re silly, Dora,” Aunt Sue observed advisedly.

Dora’s attitude changed suddenly.

“I wouldn’t like to,” she fired up, turning round. “If I did I might get left on the shelf all me blessed life—like some people I know.”

It was Aunt Sue’s turn to change her attitude. And she changed it like a moving picture.

“You’re a cheeky girl—a bold, cheeky hussy, so you are!” She screamed at Dora; and covering her face with her apron, burst into loud, hysterical sobs.

Mother let fall Andy’s trousers, and threw her arms round Aunt Sue.

Father’s cattle-pup pounced on the trousers, and raced off with them in his teeth.

“Don’t mind her! Don’t take any notice, Sue!” Mother said, consolingly.

“It’s not en-en-enough to be s-s-s-slaving an-an-and working one’s hands off tr-tr-trying to please evryone!” sobbed Aunt Sue, “but to be in-in-insulted to me (sob) very face— and be a chit of a g-g-g-girl, too! (several violent sobs). Oh, I can’t stand it any longer!”

“Well, if I am a chit of a girl,” retorted Dora, “it doesn’t hurt me if anyone says so. And it won’t hurt me, neither, if they say I’m an old maid when I got to be one—if ever I do!”

Aunt Sue dropped her apron and squealed: “I’m not an old maid. You’re lying, so you are! And your mother stands here listening to you!”

“Goodness me, what are you then?” retorted Dora. “You’re forty, ain’t y’?”

“I’m not forty—I am not; and that’s where you’re lying again!” shrieked Aunt Sue. “I’m only thirty-nine. And lots of girls have got married at thirty-nine. Better girls than you!”

“Lots of old women—lots of old wall-flowers have, y’ mean!” Dora chuckled. And taking to her apron again, Aunt Sue wept loudly.

“Dora! go into the house and make up the beds, and leave the washing alone!” Mother commanded.

“Oh, very well, if that’ll please her!” Dora answered, walking off. “But I won’t make hers up for her!”

“Oh, I can’t live here in this place any longer, Alice,” Aunt Sue blubbered; “everyone hates me! I know they hate me! And you all want me to go! I know you all want me to go! I have felt it (sobs) ever since the first day I came … Abe, as—as well as th’ rest o’ you is tired of me!”

Abe was Father.

“That’s all rubbish and nonsense! Don’t be stupid, Sue!” Mother said. “Why everyone of us would be real sorry if you were to go—Dora just as well as the rest. I’m sure of that.”

“And I know I’m blamed for everything that goes wrong!” Aunt Sue, stubbornly. “Th’ scones and th’ cake (sobs) that were missed yest’day and th’ day before I was blamed fer taking! Oh, it’s too bad altogether!”

“Dear me, you must be going off your head, Sue!” Mother explained. “Who ever thought of blaming you for such things? Why, everyone knows the children took them.”

At this stage Dora returned, and said Dunn, the hotelkeeper, was at the front door.

“Dunn, the hotelkeeper!” Mother repeated, in surprise; and, hurriedly wiping her hands, went off to see him.

Aunt Sue quickly dried her eyes in her apron; then, smoothing her hair over with the palms of her hands and adjusting the neck of her dress, returned to the tub and began washing again as though nothing had happened.

“Well, and how’s Tom getting along?” Mother inquired pleasantly of Dunn.

Dunn thought Mother was jesting.

Mother assured him she was in earnest.

“Haven’t you got the young beggar here?” Dunn said, looking puzzled.

Mother began to tremble.

“How—oh, how could we have him here?” she answered nervously.

Then, raising her voice almost to a shriek:

“Where is the boy? What have you done with him?”

“Done with him be d—d!” roared Dunn. “I never saw anything of him but his heels! He cleared out like a—wallaby when he saw me! But (lowering his voice and looking sympathetic) are you serious—isn’t he here?”

“Can’t you see he isn’t?” And Mother shook with excitement.

“Then be th’ Lord, he’s lorst!” Dunn concluded gravely. “Oh, my God! and it’s two days ago!” And Mother gazed in horror at the broad belt of grim, silent scrub that almost came to the very door of the homestead.

Aunt Sue, who had left the washing to see what was the matter, threw her arms round Mother’s neck and whimpered: “Oh-h, Alice, I am sorry for you! I have never been a mother myself, but”—

Mother shook herself free from Aunt Sue’s embrace, and said scornfully:

“What need is there to be sorry for me! For heaven’s sake have sense, and think of the child! For the love of mercy do something.”

Then to Dora:

“Run, girl; run and tell your father!”

Dora ran to where Father and Andy and Martha and Limpy were burning off timber to clear a patch for the plough.

Presently Father and Andy and Martha, with Limpy far behind, arrived.

Father listened to what Mother and Dunn had to say, then smiled with his eyes, and said:

“Tom won’t get lost. Tom’s all right. Tom’ll find his way.”

“Lord o’ mercy, haven’t you any understanding, man?” Mother cried—“the boy is lost, and what are we going to do?”

“Yes, yes, Alice,” chirped Aunt Sue. “You always did know what was best in everything.”

Ignoring the latter, Mother waited for a suggestion from Father.

“No fear of it,” Father answered cheerfully. “Tom knows th’ country. Tom’ll turn up directly all right.”

Good God!” Mother said in a voice that startled everyone but Father. Then she started walking about.

The cattle-pup, having finished with Andy’s pants, sauntered round in search of a fresh toy. A tattered fragment dangling to the tail of Mother’s skirt attracted the brute. It crept behind Mother and eyed that fragment suspiciously for several seconds, then struck at it with its paw. The fragment moved when Mother moved, and the pup sprang at it. Finally, it seized the tail-end of her skirt in its mouth, and raced round to the front of her with it. Mother felt her skirts raised behind, and kicked at the pup. The pup growled, and raced back behind her; then round the other way to the front of her again. Once more Mother felt her skirts lifting at the rear, and kicked out at the pup with both feet, and cried to Andy to “kill that wretch of a dog”.

Andy shouted to the brute to “lie down”, but Dunn, judging the distance like a footballer, kicked the pup into the air. And the pup took Mother’s skirts up with him and spread them over her head.

Dora and Aunt Sue screamed, and rushed to Mother.

Dunn turned away and started grinning and talking to the yelping pup.

“I’m all right! Go ’way! Go ’way!” Mother said to Aunt Sue and Dora. And Mother turned very red in the face.

“What way did Tom go when he left yer place?” Andy inquired of Dunn.

Dunn told him.

“He’d never find e’s road that way!” Andy judged. “He’d get into Devil’s Gorge, where Grogan lost ’isself.”

“Oh, wouldn’t ’e!” Martha sneered at Andy. “He’d find th’ road just as well as yer would.”

Martha was a loyal sister to Tom.

“We must all go and look for him,” Mother said—“every one of us.”

Dunn agreed with Mother, and said he would ride round the district and inform the neighbours.

At that moment Limpy, with perspiration and charcoal on his face, and a look of wonder in his eyes, arrived.

“Wottid d’ madder wid Dom?” he asked.

Mother flew at him.

“You wretch!” she cried, seizing him by the back of the neck. “You told us nothing about this when you came home with the cart. You said you left the boy all right at the hotel. You liar!” And she swung Limpy round and round as though he were made of straw, and contemptuously shoved him from her. Limpy toppled over backwards, and, falling into a sitting position, propped himself up with his hands and gazed bewilderedly at all of us.

For two days and two nights the whole countryside searched high and low for Tom, but not a trace of him could they find. One by one they gave up and abandoned hope. And, finally, everyone but Father was agreed that Tom’s skeleton might one day be found, which was the most that could be hoped for. Father, though, couldn’t see why Tom wouldn’t turn up all right. Father never could see why anything wouldn’t turn up or turn out all right. Nothing in the wide world could go wrong, according to Father. A confident, serene old soul was Father.

And as the sun went down on the third day Mother lost all hope. She separated herself from the rest of us, and went and sat on a large shell of a log that lay a short distance from the house, and with her head bowed down thought and thought about Tom. Aunt Sue went to her, and, taking the risk of annoying her again, sat silently beside her and put an arm around her waist. But Mother took it in the right way; and sadly shaking her head from side to side, murmured at intervals:

“Poor Tom! Poor, poor Tom! It was your Mother’s doing! She should never have sent you away!”

And as Mother and Aunt Sue sat there on the end of the log Martha seemed to become demented. With her short, skimpy skirt flying above her knees she raced round the house and peeped at them first from one corner of it, then from another. Next she skedaddled across to a big ironbark tree and observed them closely from behind it.

Andy drew Father’s attention to Martha, and for the first time in his life Father was puzzled and perturbed.

All at once a scream came from Aunt Sue that rang all round the ridges, and she and Mother sprang from the log and ran a distance from it. And curiously, Martha also screamed and fled to another tree.

“Oh, my heavens!” gasped Aunt Sue, “something’s bit me! Something’s bit me! Oh, mercy!” And, bending down she pulled up her skirts and shoved down her stocking.

Father and Andy and Dora ran to see what had happened.

“Something has bit your sister!” Mother said to Father. “Oh, Lord, I hope it wasn’t a snake!”

Then, after examining the part:

“Oh, that’s all right. It’s nothing.”

But it wasn’t all right; and it was something. Aunt Sue felt it; and blood was oozing in three places from the calf of her leg. And when Aunt Sue saw the blood she started to faint.

Dora ran for water.

Andy, leaning forward, crept cautiously up to the mouth of the log, which, having been gutted by fire, resembled a huge trough with no “ends” to it, turned upside down. Within a few feet of it he balanced himself lightly on his finger tips; and, craning his neck, stared into the dark recesses for quite a while. All at once Martha swooped down on him like a hawk, and kicked him with her bare foot. Andy got a start, and, jumping to his feet, turned upon Martha, and threatened her. Martha danced on to the roof of the log, and ran up and down it. Martha behaved like a plover when its nest is in danger. Andy got down on his hands again, and peered closer into the log. suddenly he sprang back and guffawed.

“Do you see anything, Andy?” Mother asked, pale and alarmed looking.

“By cripes, I do!” Andy shouted.

Aunt Sue swooned right off in Father’s arms.

“By cripes, ’e ought to get a hidin’! By crimes, ’e is a bloke!”

“Who? What is it, Andy?” Mother asked excitedly.

“That dorg, Tom! That’s who it is!” answered Andy. “And she,” pointing to Martha—“knew ’e was ’ere all th’ time; an’ she’s been feedin’ ’im. There’s plates and stuff in with ’im. By cripes!”

Martha bolted for the house; and Father and Dora left Aunt Sue to look after herself.

Come out here!” Mother said, looking into the log. “Come out here!

Tom crawled out in the new trousers that Mother had been looking for, and Mother pinned him by the back of the neck.

“Into the house you march!” she said, shoving Tom in front of her.

Tom marched into the house.

Dora raked several scones out of the log, and, holding them up, said:

“Look at that! That’s where they went!”

Aunt Sue sighed; while Father humped his back and smiled on the provender.

Next day Andy asked Tom in confidence what he bit Aunt Sue for.

“I didn’t!” Tom answered. “I was havin’ me supper, an’ she come an’ sat on th’ end o’ th’ log an’ blocked out all th’ light, an’ I stuck th’ table-fork in ’er leg.”


Chapter 4
A Bad Evening

We had eaten three scrub turkeys for supper, and all of us were in good humour.

“Well, there’s one thing,” Father said, pushing back his three-legged stool. “Whatever else goes wrong, we can’t very well starve in a place like this, not while we have the gun and some powder and shot.”

“Could lib jolly well,” Limpy put in, “widdout eber buyin’ a ting.”

Some people could, no doubt,” Mother said, “and do!”

Limpy was always the weevil in Mother’s wheat. But rarely did he take any notice of her. Limpy was a blind horse where hints and innuendoes were concerned.

“Turkey to-day; kangaroo-tail yes’-day; parrots th’ day bufor’ yes’-day—wonder what’ll it be turmorrer?” joyfully from Martha.

“S’pose that ’possum we got in th’ trap this mornin’,” Tom said.

“Shut up, you vagabond,” Mother cried. “Who do you think’s going to eat ’possum!”

“Der blacks alwuz did, den,” Limpy mentioned informatively.

“Did they!” snapped Mother. “Well, there’s going to be no blacks here, if I know anything about it.”

“And lived well on them,” Father affirmed. “There were some fine men among the blacks.” Father took a great interest in the history of the blacks, and used to read things out of the paper to us about them.

“Oh, it’s not our stomachs, or what the blacks put in theirs, or what they didn’t, that we’ve got to think of now,” Mother said; “but it’s getting some ground cleared and ploughed and put under wheat. Can it all be done in time for this season, that’s the question?”

Mother was a pushing, practical woman.

“Oh, yes,” Father answered, “can, easy.” Father was the only one in the family who understood how to get land ready. Father worked in a cemetery when first he came to the country. And a good opening he reckoned it was for a new chum to drop into. All of us understood how to get land ready now, though.

“How many are dere ob us aldergedder?” and Limpy proceeded to count heads. “Nine,” he concluded. “Enub to plough twelve acres in no dime.”

“And will the nine of us be ploughing?” Mother asked disdainfully of Limpy.

“It’d be a jolly lot quicker dan one; don’t you tink so?” And Limpy appealed to Father.

Father smiled weirdly, and combed his hair with his fingers. Father’s hair— excepting his whiskers—was all bunched at the back of his head and about his ears. And wonderful hair it was, too!

“What would we all have to do then?” Dora asked, smiling at Limpy—“pull along with the horses?”

The rest of us laughed.

“Dere ain’t mudch to larf ad,” Limpy protested.

“And is that what you mean?” sharply from Mother.

“Preddy well,” Limpy answered.

“You ass!” And Mother rose from the table and carried away the teapot.

Limpy wheeled on his seat and blinked steadily into the fire, and didn’t shift his eyes, or attempt to break the silence again till Tom, playing with a pair of rusty old pincers he had found while playing in the ashes of a surveyor’s camp, took hold of his (Limpy’s) ear with them. Limpy suddenly yelled, and hung backwards over the seat, and kicked Aunt Sue in the waist with his stiff leg, and nearly knocked her into the fire. Aunt Sue clutched at the mantelpiece—a dressed slab resting temporarily on two frail supports of Father’s manufacture. The mantelpiece gave way, and came down end-ways on top of Martha and Andy and Limpy. And the alarm clock, and a quantity of shelled beans, and a tin of mustard, and a broken parcel of pepper, and a collection of “minerals” came down with it. The pepper lodged on Limpy, and went to pieces in his hair, and entered his eyes and mouth. Limpy snorted, and spat, and sneezed, and plunged round the room with his hands over his eyes.

Andy and Tom laughed. Martha broke in upon their mirth with cries of “Oh! oh! Aunt Sue’s on fire! on fire!” Aunt Sue glanced quickly about herself, and discovering a flame mounting the back of her skirt, screamed and rushed for the door. Mother and Father intercepted her. “Hold her!” Mother cried. “Don’t let her into the wind! Shut the door!” Dora slammed the door violently, and it flew open again. Limpy, staggering across the room, plunged blindly in his own interests. He collided with Aunt Sue and Father. Aunt Sue fell against the edge of the sofa. Limpy fell on her feet, and the flames raging in her skirt attacked his red hair and whiskers. “Cribes! FIRE!” Limpy shouted, slashing all round his head with both hands. Father, regardless of Limpy, seized hold of Aunt Sue and jerked, and bumped, and tugged at her till he emptied her out of her dress. Talk about screaming! We couldn’t hear ourselves shouting for it! Aunt Sue screamed at Father, then at Mother, till her tongue came right out. “Stop it! stop it! stop it! Heavens, can’t you see you’ve nearly pulled the clothes off me!” she cried at last.

All of us stood up, and gaped and gasped over the table at Aunt Sue.

“Sit down!” Mother shouted to us. “Sit down, you young wretches!” We sat down and looked under the table at Aunt Sue in her broken stays and red flannel petticoat. Just then Dora rushed in at the back door with a bucket of water—good, clean, drinking water, too, that Andy and Tom carried from the rocks before tea—and as Aunt Sue opened her mouth to scream again, Dora emptied it over her. Aunt Sue shut up, and sank under the torrent as though the shock had killed her. And as Dora saw the water go over Aunt Sue the humour of it seemed to strike her. She squealed cheerfully. Then her eyes rested on Limpy struggling on the floor, and she squealed again, and threw the empty bucket at his head. Limpy called out “Mercy!” and, rising to his feet, threw himself at the table and broke some of the cups. And we hadn’t enough to go round as it was! But Mother didn’t hear the smash. She was too occupied with Aunt Sue.

“You can thank God, you can, you can, that you weren’t burnt to death!” Mother cried to her. “Oh, my! oh, my! oh, my! Such an escape!” Then while Father, puffing like a draught horse, stamped and danced heavily on the smouldering skirts with his big boots, she hurried Aunt Sue into her room.

After that we thought the trouble and excitement were all over, and started to grin at each other. We were grinning when Father suddenly faced us and roared:

“I’ll tear th’ liver out o’ th’ one that did it! Who DID it?”

Never before had we known Father to take a turn like it, and out of the door all of us scrambled—all except Dora and Limpy.

“Who th’ devil did it?” We heard him roar again as we listened at the cracks. “I’m GOIN’ to KNOW!”

Limpy started sneezing.

“Well, it wasn’t ME!” Dora cried. “It was th’ rotten mantelpiece that fell down, as we always said it would!” And she burst into tears.

“Who was it, then?” Father bellowed stubbornly.

“Lizzen d’ me”—and Limpy, raising his hands above his head, essayed to make an explanation.

Father turned his hairy ear to him and listened.

Limpy contorted his features, and struggled inwardly with himself. Then he opened his mouth wide and sneezed placidly.

Atchew! Atchew! Atchew! Atchew!

Father clutched himself by the hair and ran out the backdoor.

We crept inside again, and looked wonderingly at Martha, and grinned at Limpy, and pinched him on the stiff leg.

Suddenly the back door burst open, and in walked Father again with a waddy in his hand, and a look of tremendous determination in his eye.

“Now then,” he roared, covering the lot of us with the waddy, “who did it?

Martha and Tom and Andy dived under the table. Dora rose from the box she was sitting on, and stood with her back to the wall.

“Who did it?” Father shouted again.

Mother, with her hair hanging down and disordered, and fire in her eyes, issued from the bedroom.

“Who DID it?” she echoed, flying at Father. “Who in the name of God do you think did it if you didn’t do it yourself, man?”

Father dropped the waddy on the floor, and staggering against the wall, stood trembling beside Dora.

“Yourself! Yourself! YOURSELF!” And Mother stamped her foot, and shoved her face close to Father’s. “The rubbishing way you do things!” she continued shouting. “Look at your work! Look at it! Look at it!” And she pointed dramatically to the wrecked mantelpiece.

Father cast a quick despairing glance at his handiwork, then bolted outside.

“There’s a man for you!” Mother shouted, addressing Dora. “There’s a beautiful father! His children ought to be proud of him—proud of him!”

Limpy, who all the while had looked very uneasy, shuffled quietly towards the door.

“You’re off, too, are you!” Mother cried, rushing at him.

Limpy reached the door and pulled it open just in time for Mother to shove him right through on to the dog lying outside.

“A pair of lovely men!” she foamed, turning to her room. “Oh, a lovely pair of men! Brave men to run away from a woman! Brave! brave men!”


Chapter 5
Burning Off

The wind was howling in the tops of the big ironbark trees, and chopping round ridges and through fallen timber the day we started burning off the twelve acres. And what a delight it was starting! The prospects of seeing a wheat-field waving where all was wilderness and waste, and the hope of rising to fortune on it filled us with joy.

“We mustn’t waste any matches,” Mother said, producing the box from her dress pocket, and handing Father one with no head to light the first fire with. “When you get that one going we can all take firesticks to light the rest.”

Father bent down beside a pile of dry bushes and logs, and using his hat as a break-wind rubbed the match on his boot. He rubbed it several times; then looked at it, and declared they were “rotten matches”.

“Come out of th’ road! You’ll waste all that’s in th’ box!” And squatting down beside Father, Mother struck a match on the box and set the bushes ablaze.

“It’s been the same ever since you’ve been married,” she said, reviling him. “You’ve never lit a fire yet that didn’t cost us half a dozen boxes of matches!” Then she proceeded to arrange the lucifers so that none would fall out of the box, or the heads get jammed in the lid.

“I’ve made fires without a match at all,” Father boasted, “just be rubbin’ two sticks together same as th’ blacks, an’ sometimes be strikin’ me knife on a bit o’ flint.” And lifting a scrap of ironstone that lay at his feet he began knocking it against the back of his knife. Martha and Tom attracted by the operation raced one another through the grass to reach him. Martha jostled Tom, and Tom, fouling Mother, bumped the matches out of her hand into the fire.

“Oh, my soul, look at that! Look what the wretch of a boy has done!” And Mother threw up her hands, and danced round the fire as though one of us were in it. Tom, though, made no attempt to rescue the matches. He pulled himself together, and raced to the nearest tree and hid behind the trunk of it.

Father put his knife away and gazed solemnly and uselessly into the fire.

“Where is he?” Mother cried, jumping round and lifting a stick.

Andy grinned, and pointed to the tree behind which Tom was concealed.

Mother, gripping the stick firmly, tip-toed to the tree. Andy threw up his hat, and rejoiced inwardly. Father and Aunt Sue and Dora, with amused looks on their faces, first watched Mother, then the tree. As Mother reached one side of the iron-bark Tom glided instinctively to the other. Then Mother darted round and struck at him. But Tom wasn’t there! Mother looked surprised. Then she looked back at Andy, and cried: “I’ll warm you, me shaver, for making a fool of me!”

Father and Aunt Sue and Dora joined together in mirth.

Andy started stealthily forward to capture Tom and hand him over to Mother. Andy possessed all the instincts of a mean policeman.

Run, Tom, run!” Martha screamed. Tom left the tree and ran.

Then Mother turned to Father.

“Unless you do as a Father should,” she said, “and see those children behave themselves and obey their mother, and do something for what they eat and wear, I’m not going to put up with it! I’ll not suffer this place, nor them, nor YOU, not another day, not another hour. You can take me out of it— take me wherever you like, I’m sick of it!”

Father swung round, and facing the wilderness, roared: “Torm-m!” He roared “Torm-m!” twenty times. Tom, whining and hopping on one leg, at last emerged from a clump of green bushes. “Ooh! Ooh!” he groaned, holding up his foot, and showing a wound on the instep from which blood was trickling.

Father’s heart softened.

“W-why, what’s th’ matter, eh? What’s up?” he asked in a tender voice.

“Ooh! Ooh, s-s-s-s-!” And Tom’s face filled with painful grimaces.

Father approached him and examined the wound; then called to Mother to know if she had a bit of rag about her.

Mother had no rag, and she had no sympathy for Tom, either. “I’ll give him rag,” she said, “if I lay my hands on him!” Father tore the lining from the waistband of his trousers and clumsily bandaged Tom’s foot with it.

“There y’are, me boy,” he said, patting the patient on the head; “that’ll be all right now! Never mind! Never mind! Where’s Andy? Andy!

“Oh, I’m ere!” Andy, standing by grumbled.

“Oh, yer there, are y’! I didn’t see y’. Well, come on now, all o’ y’ everyone o’ y’, and get firesticks and make a start.” Andy took a firestick and went off swinging it about to keep it flaring; Martha secured another; Tom, with one eye on Mother, who stood near by, bent down and reached cautiously for a third.

“You tinker!” Mother cried, and aimed a kick at Tom’s ribs. Tom flopped flat on the ground like a cattle pup, and, missing him, Mother’s foot went up in the air and propelled her on to her back. Tom grabbed a fire-stick and forgetting his wounded foot, bounded off like a marsupial. Aunt Sue and Dora shrieked merrily at Mother. But Mother didn’t rise and abuse them. She turned over on the grass, and burying her face between her arms, began to sob. Aunt Sue and Dora got a shock. They stopped laughing and stared at each other, and turned red in the face. They felt like criminals. Then they spoke apologetically and consolingly to Mother, and coaxed her to get up. “Leave me!” Mother said, in a sad, broken voice—“leave me!” and wept more. Aunt Sue and Dora started to blubber then! they shed tears all over Mother, and wailed as if someone were dead belonging to them. Mother couldn’t stand much of Aunt Sue and Dora.

“Oh, I know I’m silly to take any notice,” she said at last, and rising with an effort, smiled through her tears at them.

Then Aunt Sue and Dora wiped their tears away and smiled too. And they chatted and frisked round Mother, and fawned on her, and explained why it was they had laughed when she fell. They proceeded to illustrate the humour of the episode to her. First Dora made an imaginary kick at Tom and toppled over; then Aunt Sue, forgetting how prude and prim she always pretended to be, went one better than Dora. And as she fell and rolled amongst the grass a strange and unexpected voice called out:

Hi! yi! yi! yi!

Aunt Sue screamed and struggled to her feet. Mother and Dora looked round, and saw a robust, middle-aged man, in patched moleskin pants and brown whiskers, smiling at them. Aunt Sue hung her head and hid behind Mother.

“You don’t like dot, I see, yoong laty, hah?” the stranger said, grinning pleasantly at Aunt Sue. “Nefer mindt, I saay noding aboudt dot you make spordt mid yousselluf. Py heavens sake, n-no!”

Mother and Dora burst out laughing, and looked to see where Father was.

Removing his hat—a three-cornered old felt patched with pieces of moleskin, sewn with string—the stranger advanced and handed it to Aunt Sue. Aunt Sue shrank from it. “Take it,” Mother said; “take it, and see what he wants.”

Aunt Sue took the hat, and held it as though it were something that would bite her.

Stepping back a few paces the stranger hitched up his pants. “Now den,” he said, “I shows you soomding. Oop mid him, yoong laty.”

Aunt Sue didn’t understand.

“Oop mid him, leedle creadure—oop so high as you head.”

“Oh, he wants to kick it,” Dora cried, the truth suddenly dawning upon her.

“Oh, indeed,” said Aunt Sue, and she stood on tiptoes and held the hat up at arm’s length.

“Yah!” exclaimed the Dane, “dot vas him. He nod like you”—he added, grimacing cheerfully at Aunt Sue. “He haf quick brain.”

Great mirth from Dora.

Then fixing his eyes on the hat, the Dane took a short run, and bringing up both arms and legs, kicked it out of Aunt Sue’s hand.

“Dere now,” he said, smiling at Aunt Sue, “dot vas saamding for you. You make spordt mid him soom day.” And securing his old felt, and pressing it tight on his head again, turned away and saluted Father with a series of friendly nods and grunts and smiles.

“You nod know Villiam Brandt, already yet. I dink so. Hah?” he said, introducing himself.

“Oh, you’re Mr. Brandt,” Father said, remembering we had a neighbour of that name living about two miles away.

Mr. Brandt shook hands with Father; then stared all round at the timber we were starting to burn off, and pulled ugly pessimistic faces at it. Then noticing Martha and Andy and Tom grinning at him, said:

“Py heaven’t sake, vas all dem yours, my frien’?”

Father, with pride in his eyes, owned up to all of us.

Villiam Brandt patted him on the back.

“Vat for you vant to work?” he said. “You vill get rich too quick aldergedder. You go home, mein frien’ und sleeb.”

Father stared.

“Yah, you off to sleeb,” Villiam repeated, and wagging his head, strode off through the timber, and left us all laughing.

After that we settled down to work and commenced firing the timber in real earnest. Not a log, stump or standing tree escaped. And as the smoke and flames entered and roared up the hollow logs and hollow trees, and licked up tufts of long dry grass, kangaroo rats, ’possums, paddymelons, cats and the vermin of the bush, scorched and singed, left them, and careered stupidly around in search of fresh air and fresh cover. Talk about excitement! We were excited! Father, armed with a heavy stick, pursued a half-cremated rat; Andy chased one that staggered and hiccoughed like a drunken man; Martha and Tom took after a ’possum that was making off with some of the fire on its back; while Mother and Aunt Sue and Dora, shrieking at the top of their voices and holding their skirts wide with both hands, tried to make prisoners of everything that came their way. Joy! There was no end to it. Whenever we paused for breath, a fresh batch of scared vermin would present themselves, and the fun would begin all over again.

We tired of it at last, though, and together threw ourselves on the grass and laughed, and perspired. Mother and Aunt Sue said they “never, never had any idea that so many animals lived in the bush.” And Father wished to heavens some of his relations in the Old Country were with us. “It’d open the eyes of some of them,” he said, “that think there’s nothing out here only hard work and blacks.”

Next day we continued burning off. But somehow we didn’t take so much interest in the vermin. And the day after that they had no interest for us at all. We weren’t so enthusiastic about the burning-off, either—at least, we younger ones weren’t. Father and Mother, though, were as warm on it as ever. They had a lot of faith in the burning-off, had Father and Mother. They rarely talked about anything else. According to them, the burning-off was the commencement, the middle and the end of everything. It was nearly the end of us.

“If we can only get the ground ready and the wheat in before the rain comes,” Mother would say, “things will go on right enough—right enough.” In those days the rain always came at the end of June—so the people and the papers, who were mostly liars, used to say.

For days, weeks and months we delved and slaved at the burning-off. At last we finished it—at least for the time being. We didn’t finish it all till fifteen years later—till it had finished several ploughs and scores of swingle-trees, and broken the heart of every old horse that came on to the place. But we got the ground ready and the wheat in before the rain came. The rain came many months after the wheat was put in.


Chapter 6
Aunt Sue Meets Trouble

Sunday morning.

Father on the verandah resting in an easy chair of his own manufacture, reading the newspaper; Mother and Aunt Sue and Dora, busy tiding up and preparing dinner; Andy in the front room telling Tom and Martha lies about Jerry Manning riding Edens’ buckjumper, and disfiguring the pine table with a pocket knife; Limpy crossing the yard, blowing music from a split stick and a gum leaf. (Limpy spent most of his spare time blowing music from a split stick. And most of his time was spare time.) Father looked up and frowned as Limpy stepped under the verandah. Andy assailed him with shouts of, “Shut up, and clear out o’ here with that bloomin’ thing”—when he stepped inside.

“Dis id a good one,” Limpy claimed, removing the contrivance from his mouth and admiring it.

“But yer can’t play any toons on th’ dash thing— on’y make a beggarin’ noise!” Andy told him. “What’s th’ good o’ that?”

Limpy reckoned he could “blay lods o’ doons”.

“Well, play us a step dance,” Andy asked, grinning.

Limpy put the stick to his mouth again, and set up a series of screeches.

Andy, grinning more, mounted the table and commenced stepping to them.

Martha and Tom sat back and laughed.

Dora came to the back door; then ran back to the kitchen.

“Quicker,” Andy shouted. Limpy blew himself red in the face.

Mother bounced in with the broom in her hands.

“Upon my soul!” she cried—and jabbing Limpy in the neck and in the stomach with the butt-end of it, propelled him through the door on to the broad of his back and stopped the music. Then she made a stroke at Andy’s shins; but Andy jumped for the door, and trampled over Limpy in his haste to escape. Baffled by Andy. Mother raised the broom to take the full worth out of Limpy while he was down. The broom descended just as Father inserted his bald head through the door to see what was taking place. You’d have thought Father was a pithed bullock the way he dropped on his knees.

“And on Sunday morning, too.” Mother foamed, throwing down the broom and violently bundling the furniture into position again. “Th’ cheek o’ them! No more respect for the Sabbath than a lot of barbarians! Now, look here!” She lifted the broom and went to the door again. But observing the arrival of a visitor she checked her temper, and withdrew to the kitchen, where, with Aunt Sue and Dora, she began laughing.

“Hello, Villiam!” Andy shouted joyfully and cheekily. “How you vas?”

“Good morning, Mr. Brandt,” from Father. Father was always polite to the neighbours.

Villiam Brandt, wearing a spanking new shirt and tweed trousers wrinkled all over like a concertina, and carrying a square case by a leather handle, grinned and nodded his shaggy head in friendly greeting.

“You don’t nod vork to-dah, mine friend. I dink so—huh?” he said, addressing Father.

“Not to-day; not on Sunday, Mr. Brandt,” Father answered; and rising, offered him his patent easy chair.

“Oh, py goodness saake, nod at all,” Villiam protested, putting the square case down beside the verandah post, and waving the chair away with both hands. “I vos not lazyie like dot. Sit on him youselluf, my poy,” and playfully taking Father by the shoulders shoved him back into the patent.

The rest of us laughed. Villiam laughed with us, and patted Father on the head as he would a boy.

Limpy blew a blast from the split stick.

“Oh, I zee,” Villiam said, jumping round and eyeing him curiously. “You makes museek mid youselluf—eh? Py shingo!”

Limpy, encouraged, blew some more.

Villiam shielded his ears with the palms of his hands, and made ugly faces.

 “You make people granky mid dot squealin’ ding!” he said. “In Denmark, my poy, dey put you by youselluf in der mad place. You see, now? Yust you keep kviet mit dot rubbeedge und I show you soomdings.”

“Take it away, can’t yer! Go on!” and snatching the “music” from Limpy, Andy threw it almost as far as the sliprails.

“And how long is it since you left Denmark, Mr. Brandt?” Father inquired, settling himself for a yam.

“Too long aldergedder, mine friend,” Villiam answered. “I wish me all der vile somedimes dot I was baack dere already yet.”

Mother, with a broad smile, appeared at the door, and said: “Good morning, Mr. Brandt.”

Villiam snatched his hat off, and placing it under his left arm, curtsied extravagantly.

“Mine great greatness,” he said, striking an astonished attitude, “you get most mighty fat efery day, Meesis Perrigrewd.”

“Surely not?” and laughing, Mother placed her hands on her hips, and attempted to draw herself in.

“Oh, dot vos no good—no good ad all, mine goot voman!” Villiam cried, “you could squeeze youselluf oop der hollow log, und nod make soom deeference. Huh? You see now?”

“Oh, go along with you, Mr. Brandt,” Mother said, stepping on to the verandah to make room for Aunt Sue and Dora, who came pushing behind her.

Both the latter smilingly bid Villiam good morning.

“Oh, py gracious saake!” Villiam gasped, placing his hat under his right arm and bowing and scraping all about the verandah. “Dem vas der laties!”

“It’s a nice morning, Mr. Brandt,” Aunt Sue said, blushing and smiling.

Dora thrust her head forward, and said:

“I saw you in the paddock yesterday, Mr. Brandt, but you wouldn’t speak to me.”

Villiam looked alarmed. He cocked his head to one side and thought hard. But his memory failed to assist him.

“You see me, you dink?” he said.

Dora nodded her head in the affirmative.

“Mighty saake!” and Villiam took himself by the ears. “I vos nod, you dink, behind some more dress? Eh? Noh? Huh? my laty?”

All of us, including Mother, burst out laughing.

“Oh, no! Oh, no!” Dora hastily assured him, “you were just walking alonk—just walking along, Mr. Brandt.”

Villiam’s eyes filled with joy and gratitude. He remembered that he had been in swimming that day.

“I am bleased,” he said. “Oh, py great mighty greatness, I em bleased for dot.”

Then turning to the square case, which Tom was turning upside down to see if anything was under it, placed it on his knee and brought forth an accordion.

Had he brought forth Noah’s Ark with a brass band and a banquet on board we couldn’t have been more surprised or delighted. Mother stared; Dora shoved Aunt Sue through the doorway, and came on to the verandah herself; Father sat up in his easy chair and smiled; Limpy put away the split stick, which he had secured again, and stood gaping, open-mouthed.

The rest of us crowded close to Villiam and endeavoured to touch the instrument with our finger-tips, while we watched him fixing his hands in the straps.

“I dole you, my boy, dot I shows you soomdings drekeley— you see now!” he said to Limpy.

Limpy was dumbfounded.

Seating himself comfortably on the ground Villiam wagged his head cheerfully and started playing.

Talk about joy! We were in Paradise. No man ever rose quicker or higher in a flying machine than Villiam rose in our estimation. We younger ones couldn’t squeeze close enough to him. He had to motion and elbow us away to provide working room for his arms.

Villiam changed the tune.

“A waltz,” Dora cried, excitedly. “A waltz!” and seizing Aunt Sue by the waist, forcibly twirled her along the verandah.

Villiam smiled and nodded in approval.

“Stop it, Dora! Stop it!” Aunt Sue cried “Don’t you know it’s Sunday?”

“Dot was rightd,” Villiam shouted above the strain of the music to Dora. “Go id!”

Dora “went it,” and dragged Aunt Sue with her.

Then Martha, becoming suddenly inspired, began careering over the grass on her own account. Tom up and followed her example. Andy gripped Limpy in catch-as-catch-can style, and joined in the fun as though it were a three-legged race.

“Stop it, children!” Mother called out. “Stop it. If it was any other day it wouldn’t matter.”

But the tone of Mother’s voice was not convincing, and the smile on her face only encouraged the dancers. It also encouraged Father. Rising steadily in his chair, like a dish of dough, he finally came to his feet, with his cheeks bulged and his sides heaving with premeditation. Then suddenly thumping the earth with his big foot, opened his arms and shouted: “Come on!” to Mother. Mother came on; and into the thick of it they trundled furiously. Dora, releasing Aunt Sue, pointed to Father and Mother, and screamed till she dropped. But Father and Mother went on with the dance. They went on with it till the music suddenly stopped, and Villiam stood up and bowed to them. Then Mother gasped out that she “never thought she could be such an old fool,” and ran inside and started setting the table for dinner.

After dinner.

Father and Villiam, with Martha and Tom slinking at their heels, strolled over the yard, talking about shelling corn and growing potatoes.

Mrs. Holstein and her daughter, Amelia Mary, a big, fat girl with a baby face and a thin, useless voice came walking along the cultivation paddock fence, holding their dresses above their knees to escape the grass seed.

Aunt Sue and Dora, calling out “You’ve come at last,” ran to meet them.

“Dot vas a shplendeed voman, mine friend. Oh, py gracious! I can’t dink me of her soomedimes!” Villiam said, bursting into raptures over Aunt Sue.

“What, my sister?” from Father, with a smile.

“Look you here at me,” and Villiam waved his hands and grimaced tenderly at Father. “I gif mine blace: I gif everydings I hef no for myselluf to be der same like you, mine friend!”

“To be her brother?” And Father looked surprised.

“Nod egsagtly qvite dot, my friend—but vad you call id?” And Villiam shook his head in search of the right word.

“You mean her husband?” And Father smiled.

“My poy”—and Villiam patted him affectionately upon the back—“now you shpeakd id—her hoosban’.”

“Go and ask her,” Father said into his ear; “she might have you.” There was a lot of humour in Father sometimes, though few people ever suspected it.

“You dink dot so, huh? eh? Oh-h, great greatness, mine friend.” And Villiam heaved a succession of sighs at Father, and patted him on the back again.

Just here, Martha, who had been all eyes and ears, darted for the house, where Mother and Aunt Sue and Dora were endeavouring to entertain their visitors.

“Mother! Mother! Mother!” she shouted, bursting in upon them, “Villiam Brandt’s going to be Aunt Sue’s husband. He just told Father; and Father said he could!”

Mother of Mercy! Had a bull or a bomb-shell burst into the room more commotion could not have been made. Mrs. Holstein and Mary Amelia suddenly screamed and gesticulated at each other.

“You silly girl!” Aunt Sue gasped at Martha, “Go—go out of this! G-g-go outside.” Dora rocked about on the sofa with merriment. Mother jumped to her feet and asked Mrs. Holstein “what was the matter?” “What was up?” Mrs. Holstein, striking an unfriendly attitude, turned the English language inside out in frantic efforts to inform Mother that Villiam Brandt “vas Amelia Mary’s young shap,” and that “Amelia Mary she lof him”. And Amelia Mary, with tears trickling down her fat chubby cheeks, nodded endorsement.

“Well, I’m sure I don’t want him,” Aunt Sue said, forcing a smile.

“You a gruel ding!” Amelia Mary squeaked at her, “Vy nod you get one for youselluf?”

Martha dashed out again, and, breaking in upon Father and Villiam, yelled: “Mrs. Holstein’s in a awful frightful scot about it, and sez Mr. Brandt is to be Amelia Mary’s husband; and Amelia Mary sez it too; and they’re all fightin’ like any-think about him.”

Villiam jumped right off his feet, and made use of several bad languages.

“I talk mid dem beople, py —! —! —!” he cried, and ran towards the house.

“Heigh! Heigh! Man!” Father called, running after him. “Brandt! VILLIAM!” But Villiam wasn’t to be deterred in love matters. Into the presence of the enemy he bowled, and confronting Mrs. Holstein across the table, addressed her wildly in Danish. Mrs. Holstein gesticulated and shouted back at him. And Amelia Mary in a broken-hearted way approached him tenderly, and would have put her arms around his neck. But Villiam wanted none of her. He ducked from her embrace, and declaring himself in Danish, pointed meaningly to Aunt Sue. Aunt Sue went pale and gurgled: “Don’t! don’t! don’t drag me into it!” Villiam placing a hand over his heart, indicated her again with his trembling finger. And Aunt Sue cried: “My heavens! what is the man saying?” Amelia Mary explained. She screamed, and spat at Aunt Sue, and tried to scratch her. Mrs. Holstein spat across the table at Villiam. Then Villiam spat back again at Mrs. Holstein, and throwing a kiss to Aunt Sue with his hand, turned on his heels and fled without the accordion.

Mrs. Holstein and Amelia Mary rushed out in pursuit of him. They pursued him noisily to the foot of the cultivation paddock, where they abandoned the chase, and slowly directed their steps homeward.

“Did you ever in all your born days!” gasped Aunt Sue, pale and terrified looking.

“No never! never! never!” Mother answered with anger and excitement

But Dora wasn’t at all perturbed.

“My word, YOU did keep it quiet, Aunt,” she said with a titter.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Aunt Sue squealed, and ran to her room.


Chapter 7
She Wouldn’t Take Them

“We’ve finished borin’ all th’ posts,” Andy cheerfully announced as Father and Limpy and he, flushed with heat and perspiration, came in for dinner. “Want th’ wire now, then th’ two cultivation paddicks ’ll be fenced all round, an’ nothin’ in th’ world ’ll ever get in.”

“An’ a tough job id was, doo, wid dem jolly rusty o’d augers,” Limpy stammered, taking a dish of water and sluicing himself extravagantly near the back door.

“I don’t know where the wire is to come from, then, I’m sure!” Mother said despondently. Mother, during the morning, had received the account from the store, and for hours did nothing but mope about thinking, thinking and thinking over it.

“Where does everything come from?” Andy answered carelessly.

“Yes, where does everything come from!” gloomily from Mother—“where!”

“From the store, I ’spect.” And Andy scrutinised the dinner table with hunger and disappointment in his eye.

“Then no more will come from the store,” flashed from Mother—“not until we’ve paid for what has already been got, and every penny of it.” And, worried-looking, she paced up and down the room, while the rest of us fixed our eyes on the floor and watched the wretched flies swarming over it, and felt miserable.

“Eighteen pounds, and not a fraction in the place to pay it with!” Mother murmured at intervals. “And the woman wants the money perhaps more than anyone!” Mother alluded to the storekeeper, a big, kind-hearted widow, struggling hard to support a large family with her modest little store.

“If der jolly whead had come ub,” Limpy observed, combing his hair with the palm of his hand, “dat lot could hab been wibed oud quick an’ libely.”

“If you had come up!” Mother snapped, pausing and glaring angrily at him. Then to Dora, and in a sad, calm voice:

“Give them their dinner, girl—if there is any to give!” And, turning away, she went out to the commodious bark kitchen, and sitting on a hardwood stool, leaned her elbow on the corner of the table, and there thought more and more, and more.

“There isn’t much for you to-day,” Dora murmured apologetically, as we tumbled into our places around the scanty board.

Father gazed hard at the little there was, and said nothing. Limpy gazed at it, too, and said the same.

“No meat?” Andy asked, lifting his eyes to Dora.

Dora shook her head gloomily, and taking up the tea-pot, begun pouring out the tea.

“The Edens owe us some, don’t they?” Father inquired thoughtfully.

“They owe us a roast,” Dora answered, “but I s’pose they haven’t it to spare yet. Mrs. Eden said last week that the boys were looking everywhere for a steer they were going to kill, but couldn’t find it.”

“That one-eyed one with the white flank?” Andy inquired. “He’s runnin’ at th’ back o’ our paddick—has been fer munce.”

“Has he?” eagerly from Father. “Well, you go over an’ tell them about him Andy—go as soon as you finish your dinner.”

“Well, that won’t be long, I don’t think,” and a grim, sickly grin passed over the face of Andy.

“Not unless you’re very fond of spinage,” Dora said, chuckling in spite of herself.

“Ah, well!” Father remarked, with an attempt at cheerfulness, as he spread himself over an enormous dish of spinage, as green as grass, and proceeded to divide it up, “it won’t hurt any of us for once, at all events”.

“Well, no, not if it’s only for once.” And Dora spoke as though she had doubts about the matter; then chuckled again, and passed round the tea.

“Things will soon be different—soon be different.” And Father commenced on the spinage with an air of confidence and appreciation. Father was fortunate in that he could adjust his appetite to any kind of diet.

Andy wasn’t eager to commence on the green stuff, though. And took some on his fork and smelled it. Then he asked Dora what the deuce it was, and where it was grown.

“Why, the spinage that grows about the yard, of course,” Dora moving to the fireplace more to hide a smile than to replenish the teapot with hot water, informed him.

‘Spinage! round about the yard?” Andy echoed. “Do y’ mean those weeds out there?”

“Weeds, no; not at all. Spinage is the right name for it,” and Father filled his mouth with a supply of the vegetable, and made a great noise eating it.

“It’s nod der worst tack in der world, eider,” Limpy said, following Father’s example.

Andy tasted the green stuff cautiously.

“Yous can have it!” he said, pulling an ugly face. Then shoving his plate from him, he commenced on bread and salt, without further complaint. When there was no butter or cream, or dripping, or sugar to eat with our bread, Mother always insisted on us taking salt.

Tom, though, was hardest to appease. Tom started murmuring like an Israelite. He seemed to think the slump in provisions was due to mismanagement on the part of the home. But Tom, grown older, knows better now. Tom has a homestead of his own now—snug, prosperous little homestead— and a family growing up around him. And often by the fireside on a winter’s evening, he sits and talks of the bitter hard times the old people went through, and his eyes fill with tears as recollection after recollection rises up and floods his memory, and the hearts of his offspring beat with pride and pity for the poor, brave old grandfather and grandmother, whose honest, care-worn, withered faces, treasured in frames of oak upon the wall, they have long since learned to love and reverence.

And, somehow, Aunt Sue didn’t sit to dinner that day. She hung about outside. And when we all rose and left the table she went to the kitchen, and sitting beside Mother, talked to her in a kindly womanly way. Though Aunt Sue was often stiff, and touchy, and sensitive, and suspicious, yet never breathed a soul more unselfish or sympathetic when anguish and misfortune entered the home.

“What’s the use of worrying any more, Alice?” she said softly. “You know I have some cows and calves left yet— there are six altogether—doing nothing but eating grass. Why not let Mrs. Brayton have them, and settle the account?”

“No! no!” Mother cried. “No! no! no! It wouldn’t be fair to you, Sue; it wouldn’t be fair at all.”

But Aunt Sue persisted. She claimed some of the debt as hers, too; and said that when things improved, and there was a good crop, Father could give her other cows in place of them.

“If one could only be sure that they will improve!” Mother sighed, “it wouldn’t matter. But think of what will happen if they don’t! Think of you being without a beast or stick to your name!” And large, hot tears dropped from her eyes and formed into a miniature pool on the rough table.

“Well, if things get worse, Alice, let them get worse!” Aunt Sue said, with defiance in her eye. “And a pinch won’t hurt me any more than it will hurt you—perhaps not as much.”

Eventually Mother gave in, and accepted Aunt Sue’s offer. Then she pulled herself together, and, after explaining matters to Dora, told her to catch old Cobby and run the cattle down to Mrs. Brayton.

And what a hard half-hour Dora put in on old Cobby before she induced those cows and calves—strong, rowdy bull calves they were—to leave the homestead! Cobby was a sterling horse, too, a stock-horse in a thousand. Where or how Father came by him I don’t know; and Dora could ride him like an angel. “Dear me! dear me! that girl will kill herself!” Mother kept exclaiming, as Dora, in a wretched make-shift of a saddle, the girth tied with scraps of kangaroo hide, dashed and wheeled amongst the ironbarks, and followed the black cow across Father’s two-rail fence more than once. But when she got the animals bunched together on the track leading to the main road they steadied down and trotted off without further trouble.

The sun had gone down, and night was closing in over the great, solemn, silent bushland when Dora was seen returning. And, what seemed strange, she was bringing the cattle home again.

Mother and Aunt Sue, surprised looking, went to the slip-rails to meet her. Neither of them spoke. Both stood waiting for Dora to explain.

“She wouldn’t take them,” Dora cried, sliding off Cobby, with a parcel under one arm. “Do you know what Mrs. Brayton said, Mother?”

Mother didn’t. Mother looked into Dora’s laughing face, and trembled.

“She told me to tell my mother that she would sooner tramp the roads and beg for bread than take her few head of cattle. And I was also to tell you,” Dora rattled on, “that you weren’t to worry about anything, but to send down and get just whatever you wanted and pay for them when there was a crop.”

Then, holding up the parcel containing a tin of jam and two tins of fish: “And Mrs. Brayton gave me this to give you for yourself.”

Mother’s breathing could have been heard chains away. She took the parcel from Dora, and after holding it in her hands for several moments in silence, burst into a choking sob.

But Dora and Aunt Sue understood.

Thinking of Mrs. Brayton, the latter said: “A woman in a hundred!”

“A woman in a hundred?” repeated Dora, leading Cobby away to unsaddle him—“a woman in a million!”

At supper Mother was bright and cheerful again. She talked hopefully of the future to Father and Aunt Sue, and assured the rest of us that if we made up our minds and worked willingly and well, and had a little patience for a while longer, there would sure to be a crop, and we would all get new boots and new clothes after the harvest.

And when Dora, beaming with smiles, placed the jam, and the fish upon the table we thought the harvest had already begun.


Chapter 8
We Start Dairying

Aunt Sue, returning from a visit to the Dorsetts one afternoon, hurried inside, and said excitedly to Mother:

“Do you know—they are making £8 a month over there out of butter that they send to town, Alice?”

Mother didn’t know.

“All I know,” she said, “is that we are not, anyway; and that we don’t even make £8 out of the corn or out of the potatoes.”

“Well, it surprised me, Alice, when they told me,” Aunt Sue continued, “I wouldn’t have believed a word of it only Mrs. Dorsett told me herself, and showed me. And out of THEIR few cows they’re making it, too! Why, we’ve twice as many, and better ones. I’ve more than they have myself.”

“Yes, maybe you have,” thoughtfully and indifferently from Mother.

“Well, why shouldn’t we make butter, and send it to town, too?” inquired Aunt Sue, earnestly.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” answered Mother.

“And I don’t know, either, unless it is because we are a lot of fools,” and Aunt Sue removed her hat and placed it on the table.

“Where would you send it if you made it?” Mother asked, brightening a little.

“To the place they send theirs—to Push and Push. And they want a lot more than Mrs. Dorsett is sending them, so they said in a letter she showed me. And they’re giving half a crown a pound for it. But she makes lovely butter, Alice. Oh, it’s simply beautiful!” Aunt Sue sat down, and clasping her hands and opening her eyes wide, rolled them about in admiration of Mrs. Dorsett.

“I can make butter, too, for that matter”—Mother said, the spirit of rivalry starting to assert itself—“make just as good butter as she can, and perhaps better if I tried.”

“But you never saw richer butter in all your life, Alice,” the other insisted. “And the color of it—dear me, the color of it— t’s as yaller—as yaller—as—as”—

“Oh, the color’s nothing! Why, I made the best of butter before I was ten years old,” Mother interrupted; and “more than ever she made, I’m sure of that.”

“Then why can’t we get all the cows in and make it now?” cried Aunt Sue, “and do the milking, and everything ourselves, and let the men go on with the farming?”

“Yes, and I’ll do the stockriding”—Dora, entering the room with the frying pan in her hand, chimed in.

“Dora will do all the stockriding,” repeated Aunt Sue with increased enthusiasm. “And I’ll be the milkmaid.”

“Mein sweet leettle meelk-maidens, I lof you,” and Dora started singing in the voice of Villiam Brandt; then burst out laughing.

The blood suddenly rushed to Aunt Sue’s cheeks.

“Just when a person is trying to do the best for everyone you insult them,” she sobbed; and snatching up her hat, rushed off in a temper to her room.

“What on earth do you mean?” And Mother flew into a passion with Dora. “Why do you come in here just to say things to annoy your aunt?”

“I don’t say things just to annoy her,” answered Dora.

“Heaven and mercy! Haven’t I got ears?” in a loud voice from Mother.

“I suppose you have,” quietly from Dora.

“You suppose I have! Don’t you know I have?” And Mother approached Dora menacingly.

“Yes, I know you have,” Dora admitted, coloring and edging away; “but what harm is there in singing Villiam Brandt’s silly old song to her; and why should it hurt her?”

“Don’t you know it does hurt her?” demanded Mother. “Don’t you?” and she ground her teeth and drew closer to Dora.

“I suppose it does!” sullenly from Dora.

“You SUPPOSE it does? Don’t you see it does?” yelled Mother.

“Oh, she pretends it does!” And Dora turned to the fireplace.

“Then you stop it! I’m not going to have it; do you hear that?”

Dora made faces at the frying-pan, and Mother, receiving no answer swung on her heels and went off to make peace with Aunt Sue.

Martha, carrying things in Tom’s hat, entered the room. Tom, with his hair in his eyes and a grin on his face, slunk at her heels.

“What are y’ larfin’ to yerself fer?” Martha asked of Dora.

Dora turned quickly from the fireplace and surveyed her sister.

“Mother’ll give you laughing, my lady,” she said, “when she she sees how you’ve torn all your dress getting up trees after bears.”

“Well, it wasn’t, then; so you’re out of it,” Martha replied. “It was after young parrots, and we got them, too—see!”

“Three o’ them,” Tom put in, his eyes beaming with joy. “Show them t’ ’er!”

“There y’ are, if y’ don’t like t’ believe it”—and opening Tom’s hat Martha exposed three wretched, miserable naked birds to view. Their heads were larger than their bodies, and scraps of shell were clinging to them.

Dora peeped into the hat, and gasped: “Oh, you’ll get it! You’ll get it when Mother comes; taking those poor, harmless little birds away from their mother before they have even a feather on, just to let them die of cold and hunger, for you’ll never feed them. How would both of YOU like it if you had been taken away from your mother without a stitch of anything on when you were just babies, I’d like to know?”

Martha shrugged her shoulders, and gazed triumphantly into the hat.

“Well, then, I was” Tom answered proudly. “Didn’t old Dolly Banks find me in a hollow log without anythin’ on, and fetch me ten mile when it was a cold night?”

“And it’s a pity she didn’t leave you in the log,” Dora snapped at him.

Then to Martha:

“Go and put those poor little birds back with their mothers at once, or look out when Mother comes.”

“If they won’t live then, why can’t we eat them?” Tom suggested.

“Ugh! you young savage!” and Dora scowled.

“Well, I bet Father’d eat them,” and Tom shook his head stubbornly.

Just then Mother was heard coming from Aunt Sue’s quarters.

Martha hurried out the back door, and in her haste spilt two of the birds on the floor. Tom picked them up by the legs and ran after her.

When we sat to supper that night, Mother was in a high state of amiability. She spoke cheerfully of milking the cows and sending butter to Push and Push.

“The girls and myself,” she said, “are going to start dairying. Other people are making money that way, and why shouldn’t we?”

Aunt Sue nodded approval, then gazed round the table to see how the announcement was taken.

Andy laughed and said:

“Yous milk cows? Milk kangaroos, you mean!”

Martha and Tom enjoyed Andy, and kicked each other under the table.

“Yes, kangaroos, more like,” Andy repeated, a smile spreading all over his round, fat face, which, from the rubbing he had given it with the towel, was shining like the moon.

“No, not kangaroos,” Mother stated firmly, “but our own cows.”

“It’s easy enub milkin’ der jolly cows,” Limpy, straining with a mouthful of pumpkin, observed; “it’s gettin’ rid ob der beggarin’ butter dat’ll be d’ trouble.”

“There’ll be no trouble while you’re here,” Mother said, without lifting her eyes from her plate.

We laughed; and when the mirth subsided Aunt Sue asked Father for his opinion on the dairying idea.

“Well,” Father answered thoughtfully, “I’ve been thinkin’ about it. And I dare say that money can be made that way as well as any other.”

Father was a wise man.

“What other way can it be made?” Mother, looking Father straight in the eyes, asked.

“Oh, plenty other ways—plenty other ways,” Father answered. “But, certainly, certainly, by all means,” he added, “try th’ cows an’ see what y’ can do”.

“Whether it’s the right way or the wrong way,” said Mother —“whether there’s money in it or whether there isn’t, it’s decided. And to-morrow,” rising and thumping the table like a man—“to-morrow we commence dairying.”

Next morning. Dora mounted on old Cobby went off to rake the bush for cows in profit. She returned late in the evening with seven of them tearing along in front of her, and only a fragment of her riding skirt hanging to her. The rest of it she left clinging to the up-turned roots of a fallen tree way back on the edge of the big scrub.

All of us rushed out, when we heard the stockwhip crack, and frightened the cows. At sight of us they turned and stampeded. And as Dora laid the whip on Cobby and raced abreast of the black cow, as wild as a wallaby, we heard her swear several times.

“As much sense as a lot o’ blessed mad people!” she shouted through the dusk.

Andy guffawed. And Father cried, “Stand in behind the trees—in behind the trees, and the cattle won’t see you.”

Father was a good hand at yarding cattle.

All of us ran to trees and hid ourselves. And when Dora, slashing the stockwhip, and wheeling and propping and crying with temper, worked the cattle back to the yard, every iron-bark and gum in the vicinity of the rails concealed a human being.

The animals didn’t rush the yard. They became suspicious and stared nervously on every side.

“Don’t move! Don’t move!” Father called out to the rest of us, and the cattle gave a jump and stared harder at the sound of his voice. Dora, with tears and venom in her voice, urged them hard in the rear, at intervals yelling: “Fools! Senseless goats!” to us and asking why we “didn’t stay inside, where we should always be!”

An old red cow, with one teat as large as a black pudding, detected Aunt Sue’s skirt fluttering round the foot of an iron-bark, and approached it cautiously. Aunt Sue glanced round, and finding the old red cow had discovered her, rushed out, screaming, into the open. Talk about cattle seeing ghosts! Those cattle saw eight ghosts in quick succession! All of us suddenly left cover and waved our arms. And no matter in what direction they rushed they were confronted with an apparition. The yard was the only avenue of escape open to them, and into it they bounded with their tails in the air. Father ran to secure the rails, and the rest of us, armed with sticks, posted ourselves at the various panels.

“It’s a wonder to me y’ didn’t have the rails up all the time!” Dora snarled, tossing her hair back and sliding off Cobby.

“They’d have gone in just the same,” Father assured her with enthusiasm. “They’d have broken ’em down to get in, they would.”

Then we started to pen up the calves—at least Dora did. She went into the yard and flogged them right and left with the whip. We remained on guard, outside of the yard, and hit at every head that showed itself between the rails or under them. Excited! We were excited. So were the cows.

“Only one more to go in, Dora,” Mother in a pleased voice called through the rails.

“Merry Mag it is,” Dora answered, dropping the whip on to a white bull calf. The calf careered frantically round the arena, then charged at the panel that Tom was protecting. “Look out, Tom! Look out!” All of us shouted. Tom swung his stick and kicked with both feet. But the calf forged its way under the rails and bolted off with Tom hanging to its tail. Rover, a useless, senseless canine, joined in the fun. He grabbed the calf in the rear, and made it bellow and go faster, and Tom lost his hold, and his feet. The calf butted into Father’s new wire fence, and rebounded several lengths. It struggled to its feet, and butted the fence again, and got caught in it by every leg. Father deserted the rails of the yard, and ran to save his fence from the calf. Merry Mag attacked the rails in Father’s absence, and carried most of them away on her back. She charged wildly in pursuit of her offspring, and arrived just when Father and Tom succeeded in freeing some of its legs. They hadn’t time to free all of them. They fled in two directions. Merry Mag selected Father. Father yelled, and waved his hands and zig-zagged. It was wonderful, the ground Father covered before she caught him! And it was wonderful, too, the ground he covered when she did catch him! And if he had been a second later rolling under the fence, Andy reckoned, Merry Mag would have eaten him.

After a lot more excitement we secured the calf and dragged him by the neck and the tail to the pen.

“Now, over with the wretch!” Andy said.

Over we threw him, and when he landed amongst the others they burst the side of the pen down and escaped—every one of them.


Chapter 9
The First Consignment

Talk about butter! We had butter! Never before had we seen so much in one lot. And never before did we get less of it to eat. You would think it was gold or diamonds we were devouring, Mother was so sparing and jealous of it!

“We are not making it for you to gorge yourselves on, remember that,” she would say. “If it’s to be sold it’s to be sold, and that’s all about it.”

And how she and Aunt Sue persevered in the preparation of it! What pains and trouble they took washing, tittivating and tattooing it! The night before the first consignment was to go to Push and Push we thought they would never go to bed. They sat up working at it and admiring it, and building castles in the air on the hopes of it till long after everyone else had retired and fallen asleep. In the middle of the night Martha and Tom woke up, and hearing voices in the kitchen stole silently out to reconnoitre. Mother and Aunt Sue, satisfied with the result of their labors, were enjoying a cup of tea and sampling the butter with hot bread they had just lifted from the oven.

“Y’ah!” Tom growled, rubbing his sleepy eyes against the sapling doorpost. “We found yous out!”

And Martha nodded:

“Thought yous wasn’t goin’ to eat any of it?”

“Just look at those two!” exclaimed Aunt Sue, “coming out here at this hour!”

Mother, in her haste to rebuke the intruders, nearly choked herself with butter and bread, and while she coughed and coughed, and Aunt Sue patted her on the back and laughed at her sudden distress, Martha and Tom went right in and began on the supper.

“Here!” Mother shouted, recovering her breath, “off with you! How dare you leave your warm beds and come out here without asking? Away with you!” And she waved her hands at them and coughed some more.

“Oh, let them be, Alice,” Aunt Sue pleaded good-naturedly; “let them have some.”

Mother relented.

“Well, go on then,” in a softer tone; “take some and go back to your beds. But don’t let the whole house know about it.”

Martha and Tom took all they could lay hands on and cheerfully withdrew.

“Eh? What?” Andy said, sitting up in the dark and rubbing his eyes when Tom shook him, and breathed the breath of fresh butter and crumbs upon him. “Who? Where?”

“We’s has been havin’ a great feed,” Tom chuckled into his ear. “Yous is all out of it.”

Andy comprehended instantly.

“By cripes!” he cried, and knocked the fat lamp off the gin-case that stood beside the bed, as he jumped on to the floor.

Father heard the noise and called out: “What’s th’ matter?”

“Everythin’! By cripes!” Andy said, groping for the door. “Come on; get up, Father.”

Then, grinning and sniffing like Rover, he glided into the kitchen.

“I thought I smelled somethin’,” he said, grimacing pleasantly at the provender.

Mother stared in surprise at Aunt Sue; Aunt Sue stared at Mother; both stared together at Andy, then at the great dish of butter ready for the market.

“Oh, yous are pretty cunnin’,” Andy said, drawing a seat into the table and making himself comfortable, “but y’ can’t beat a cove with a good scent.”

“What—what’s up? What’s happened?” And Father, in his night gear, arrived at the door.

Aunt Sue burst out laughing.

“Did yer smell it, too, Father?” Andy asked, digging into the butter.

Father rolled his eyes about and grunted: “Oh-h, I thought there was a fire or somethin’!” and turned to go back to bed.

“So there is, Father,” Andy chuckled, digging into the butter again.

“But it can’t do any harm, th’ kettle’s sittin’ on it.

“Come on, Abe,” Aunt Sue called out. “Don’t go away; have a cup o’ tea now that you’re out of bed.”

Father didn’t go away.

“Must be near mornin’?” he mumbled, taking a seat near Andy.

Mornin’?” And Andy cut himself more bread; “it’s break-fust time.”

Aunt Sue poured out a cup of tea and handed it to Father.

“Well, you might have put your trousers on, man!” Mother said angrily.

“Oh, he’s all right!” Aunt Sue said, forgivingly.

“All right!” Mother echoed with a sneer.

“It’s a wonder you wouldn’t have more sense!” And she scowled and curved her lip at Father.

“ ’Tis a wonder yer wouldn’t,” Andy repeated, “ ’cause a ’possum might get up under there and cling to yer back.” And with his bare foot he took liberties with Father’s nightshirt.

Father doubled himself up into a ball, and said:

“Never mind! Never mind! Never mind me,” and began eating.

Mother rose and removed the consignment of butter.

“There, they can have that bit, Sue, if they want any more,” she said, placing a spare slice on a saucer and shoving it into the centre of the table. “But no more of the other is going to be touched—not a scrap!”

Dora, with a blanket thrown round her, rushed in.

“Well, upon my soul!” Mother gasped.

“Yes, it is upon my soul!” Dora repeated, making straight for the eatables. “This is what you’ve been doin’, is it?”

Limpy, without socks and his greenhide belt dangling behind him, came hopping along.

“Well, I declare!” And Mother started wrapping cloths hurriedly around the butter.

“Oh, he can’t eat anythin’,” Andy said, with his mouth full. “He ain’t awake. He’s one o’ them whot-d’-y’-call-’ems, thet walks in their sleep.”

“Goats!” Mother suggested.

The others laughed.

“Well, der goat was nearly walkin’ too jolly lade for dis lot.” And Limpy moved round the table as though it were a banquet.

Aunt Sue looked hard at Mother.

“Oh, let them make breakfast of it,” Mother said, in a reckless sort of way, and removed the cloths from the butter.

Then, while Aunt Sue filled the teapot again and cut more bread, Andy took fresh liberties with Father’s nightshirt.

“Have some manners, fellow! Have some manners!” Father growled, tugging at the bottom of the rag to make it cover his feet.

“Manners!” Andy guffawed. “Oh, I like that, Father! Tellin’ a bloke t’ have manners when yer ain’t got any trousers on!”

Then Martha and Tom, looking as though they never had anything to eat in their lives, stole back again. And when the hot steaming tea was poured out we all squeezed round the table and began another meal. And though we often had better meals, and often had many worse ones, a merrier meal we never had at the Old Homestead.


Chapter 10
Mrs. Dorihey Jumps to a Conclusion

“That blessed old yeast isn’t a bit o’ good!” Dora, sweeping out the front room, complained. “Th’ flour has been set since yesterday morning, and hasn’t shown any signs of rising yet.”

“Keep th’ dish well covered, and near the fire,” Mother advised.

“Oh, it’s been covered and at the fire all night long.” And without any apparent reason Dora suddenly attacked Rover with the broom, and called him a mongrel, and abused the owners of him for keeping his likes about the place. We were all owners of him.

Rover, yelping, rushed out the front door, and was sauntering calmly in by the back once again, when Dora anticipating his cunning, met him there and assaulted him further. Rover snarled and retreated sullenly. Dora closed the back door and hastened to the front one. She met Rover again.

Damn y’!” she exclaimed, throwing the broom at him.

Dora!” Mother cried. “What on earth is that I hear you saying?”

“Well, th’ wretch will come in th’ house in spite of me!” answered Dora. “He’s enough to make a saint swear.”

“Don’t let me hear you again, that’s all,” firmly from Mother.

“Very well, I won’t let you next time, Mother,” and Dora blushed and sniggered.

“What’s that you say?” and Mother, with a determined step, came from her room.

“Oh, it was only a slip.” And, putting down the broom, Dora inspected the dish of flour again. Then she tucked the flannel covering—a discarded old petticoat of Mother’s— closely about it to keep it warm.

“We’ve just got enough bread to do the dinner,” she said. “A damper would do for supper, I suppose? But if anyone comes this afternoon I don’t know what on earth we’ll do.”

“Oh, there’ll be nobody come,” Mother said, confidently. “People don’t come very often—unless,” she added, after a silence, “you know of someone who is coming?”

Dora knew it was possible for Jerry Manning to come. Jerry frequently made brief visits when passing with cattle or horses. But Dora didn’t say he might come on this occasion. Dora rarely said anything about Jerry in Mother’s presence. And it was only when speaking of young George Dunn that Mother ever mentioned the name of Jerry to Dora. She mentioned his name to her now.

“That George Dunn,” she said, thoughtfully, “is a decent young fellow, Dora! A young fellow, too, I should think that any girl would be proud to get for a husband. The only one in the family, isn’t he? And he’ll be well off some day, too.”

Dora shrugged her shoulders and gave a light laugh.

“Oh, you can laugh,” Mother snapped, getting into a temper. “You’re just like all the rest of the girls of your age! The silly, empty lot of creatures that they are! But, believe me, my lady, if ever that scoury Jerry Manning, the cattle stealer that he be, comes here again, with his sly ways and his strapped trousers, I’ll scald him with a kettleful of hot water!”

Dora hurriedly invented an excuse to run away to the kitchen.

About three o’clock that afternoon Mrs. Dorsett and her three grown-up daughters locked up their slab house by driving a peg in the door and crawling out through the window, and started off together to pay a visit to the Doriheys. At the same hour Mrs. Dorihey and old Mrs. Dorihey, her mother-in-law, locked up their home and went off to visit the Dorsetts.

The parties met half-way, at the back of our grass paddock. Talk about a surprise! and a disappointment! You could hear them expressing their feelings a mile away. Neither party could believe its eyes.

“Why, goodness, gracious me, if Mother and me wasn’t just going across to your place!” young Mrs. Dorihey cried.

Old Mrs. Dorihey, energetically working her toothless gums and blinking her dim little eyes, said: “I declare to God that’s the very truth!”

“Well, I never!” laugher Mrs. Dorsett; “and we were just going over to see yous.”

And with that they all flopped down on the stony ground and laughed together. But there was nothing real or hearty in their mirth. It was strained and forced, and was followed by an awkward silence on both sides. The Doriheys, like ourselves that day, were right out of bread, and in their hearts were hoping and wishing that the Dorsetts would turn back and lead the way to their place. But the Dorsetts were also out of bread; they were also out of sugar, and had been out of it for three days. And rather than permit their friends to discover the fact were prepared to remain seated on those stones till next morning. Though the Dorsetts were poor, they possessed a wealth of pride.

“A Quaker’s meeting,” Jessie Dorsett remarked, with a sad effort to work up some more mirth.

Her mother said something about “the lovely view”, while young Mrs. Dorihey became intensely interested in the blouse that Nora Dorsett was wearing. Finally, old Mrs. Dorihey came down with a brilliant idea. Like most mothers-in-law, she was as full of brilliant ideas as an oyster.

“Well, seein’ we’re all here, and don’t know what to do,” she said, “what if we all of us go and see Mrs. Pettigrew? We” (meaning the daughter-in-law and herself) “haven’t seen any of them for munce.”

The others all answered at the same time, and in loud, eager voices. There wasn’t a dissenting one in the number; and next moment they were on their feet, hurrying and jostling each other as they stepped it out through the long, rank kangaroo grass in the direction of our homestead.

Dora and Aunt Sue, gazing meditatively through the window of the old kitchen, saw the crowd of laughing visitors approaching. Consternation! Had it been a tribe of war-like blacks, or an army of soldiers, or the Devil himself, they couldn’t have been more surprised or excited or alarmed. Both of them rushed wildly into the house and danced a war-dance round Mother.

“Oh, great heavens!” And Mother, in her annoyance at the intelligence, almost shed tears.

“And every one of them dressed up to the very nines!” Aunt Sue cried, wringing her hands despairingly.

“And not a mouthful in th’ place to offer them; not a blessed mouthful!” Dora moaned, flying uselessly from one corner of the room to another.

“Dear, oh dear, oh dear! Oh-h-h DAMN it!” distractedly from Mother. “And just look at the state I’m in! Just look at me!” And she clutched at her greasy, ragged workaday skirt as though the miserable raiment were to blame.

“It’s awful! It’s—it’s—rotten to come at such a time!” And Dora ran and slammed the back door.

“Oh, for the mercy o’ me!” Mother groaned, making a fresh discovery. “I haven’t even a boot or a stocking on! Whatever are we going to do?”

Aunt Sue, with a long hopeless face, remained silent and motionless.

“You get into bed, Mother—into bed, Mother; into bed— into bed.” And Dora threw herself excitedly upon Mother, and began hustling and forcing her towards the bedroom.

“Quick! quick! quick! Get in! Get in! and we’ll cover you up, and tell them you’re ill.”

Mother resisted, and hissed: “Are y’ mad; Are y’ mad?”

Aunt Sue, suddenly seeing the sense of Dora’s suggestion, cried:

“Yes, Alice; you get into bed, and they won’t stay—they’ll go.” And she helped Dora to shove Mother into the room.

“For heaven’s sake what does this mean? Are y’ both cranky?” Mother kept hissing. She also kept working nearer to the bed.

At last she gave in, and was speedily covered over with the bedclothes.

“Try and look sick, Mother!” Dora enjoined, “and keep your head covered up as much as possible.”

“And don’t let your feet stick out—they’re not very clean!” Aunt Sue advised.

Mother snatched her feet in quickly, and drew them up to the middle of the bed.

Then, with her head resting uneasily on the pillow and a frown on her forehead, she looked a sour, bad tempered invalid.

“Now you go out and meet them, and tell them whatever you’re going to tell them, and I’ll sit here,” Aunt Sue, taking her place beside the bed, whispered hoarsely to Dora.

Dora, hastily arming herself with a basin and the oil bottle, which contained only a few dead flies, and a spoon, and striving to look concerned about Mother’s illness, sauntered out to the kitchen.

Mother’s heart started thumping the bedclothes about. Mother felt she was committing a crime, and gave signs of rising and bursting up the conspiracy. Aunt Sue held up a finger warningly, and whispered: “Sh-h-h. Still, Alice! They’re here!

A clattering chorus of cheerful greetings was heard outside, to which Dora responded in a hushed and lying voice. A running fire of the tenderest expressions of sympathy then reached Mother’s ears through the cracks in the walls, and she groaned, and grimaced, and showed her teeth to Aunt Sue.

The latter became dreadfully anxious and uneasy. Motioning Mother to remain still, she rose, and tip-toeing her way to the back door so as not to disturb the quiet of the patient with unnecessary noise, said in a soft, tender voice:

“Dora, don’t speak so loud, dear; she has just dozed off again.”

Next instant, like a crowd of theatre-goers waiting for tickets, the visitors gathered round the back door, which Aunt Sue was careful only to partially open, and in subdued tones bombarded her with questions concerning Mother’s illness.

Aunt Sue was an awkward, clumsy liar for a woman.

“And are you nursing her yourself, Miss Pettigrew?” old Mrs. Dorihey asked, blinking out of the hollows of her head at Aunt Sue.

Aunt Sue fidgeted, and nodded in the affirmative.

“And is it your first case?” the old dame further inquired.

And Aunt Sue nodded again, and clutched the door with both hands.

“Give her plenty of castor oil,” old Mrs. Dorihey advised. “Two tablespoonful.”

Aunt Sue started to cough.

Dora, in the kitchen, coughed, too.

“And how old is her youngest?” next inquired the old lady.

Aunt Sue looked dazed.

“Oh, dear me,” Mrs. Dorsett whispered, “the youngest is quite a big boy now. He must be twelve or thirteen, I’m sure.”

“Then she should think herself very fortunate,” murmured old Mrs. Dorihey. And added: “Look at me”—gathering the simple thread-worn cape tightly about her aged shoulders— “look at me; I had sixteen of them—yes, sixteen—and there wasn’t more than fifteen months between any of them, and only twelve and a half months between the last two, that’s Jacob and William Henry.”

Dora was seized with a violent fit of coughing over the kitchen fire.

I th-th-think I hear her … good bye,” and Aunt Sue, closing the door quietly, rushed back to Mother, and throwing herself across the bed hid her face in the blanket.

“Have they gone?” Mother inquired.

Aunt Sue shook and wriggled, but made no reply.

Mother, kicking her, repeated the question.

Dora stampeded into the room.

“They’re gone!” she cried, flopping on the floor and screaming with merriment.

Aunt Sue lifted her head, and screamed louder than Dora.

Mother, with a black, angry look in her eye, sprang from the bed.

“Fool that I was; whatever will the people think!” she cried. “Never— never will I ever do such a thing again! Not if I have to say I’m starving, and offer them grass to eat!”

“Think?” yelled Aunt Sue, the tears running down her cheeks. “Only what they think now.”

“What do they think now?” demanded Mother hotly.

“Old Mrs. Dorihey told me to give you—oil,” screamed Aunt Sue—“and asked how old your—your YOUNGEST was?”

Mother stepped back and stared for quite a while.

“THE OLD WRETCH!” she said.


Chapter 11
Going Into Figures

Mother herself took the butter to the railway siding; she took it in the old spring cart. And when a cheque for £3 15s, and a letter from Push and Push asking for more came to hand a few days later, she and Aunt Sue and Dora nearly went crazy with joy. The trio eagerly scanned the letter together, and before reading scarcely any of it threw up their hands and started jumping round the table. They shook hands with each other, too, and waved the cheque triumphantly at Father and Andy.

“Well, it shows y’—” Father said, eyeing the piece of paper with great gravity—“that there’s plenty o’ money to be made on th’ place—plenty of it.”

Father had a peculiar confidence in the Old Homestead.

“It’s a wonder to me,” Limpy said, “dat y’ neber starded miltin’ der jolly gows long enough ago.”

What?” and Mother scowled at him.

Aunt Sue with a smile advised Limpy to “shut up”.

“My old peoble,” Limpy rambled on, “milt gows der Sebenteen Mile long beford eber I could remember, an’ done jolly well outer dem, too.”

W-hat!” and Mother scowled hard at him.

We laughed because we knew what a curious liar Limpy was.

“That was when th’ nurst let y’ go wallop off th’ eighty-guinea pianer on to th’ marble floor, an’ lamed y’, I s’pose?” drawled Andy, referring to an ancient lie of Limpy’s.

Limpy wrinkled his brow, and thought hard.

“After dat a good whide,” he answered.

We all laughed more—all except Mother. She stared at Limpy as though suspecting him of insanity.

“Four yeards after, if I can renember right,” he added for Andy’s information.

We laughed again, and this time Mother joined in the mirth. Then, taking his “music” from his pocket, Limpy started to entertain himself on the floor, and was forgotten.

Mother and Dora and Aunt Sue went into fresh raptures over the butter cheque. They rushed about, and searched the house high and low for a lead-pencil. And when Dora unearthed one barely an inch long, Aunt Sue, with a piece of paper before her, sat down and began working out the amount the cows would earn in a year.

She worked hard with the pencil for a long while.

“Surely not a hundred pounds?” Mother, all atremble with feelings of joy and fear, said when the result was announced.

Andy guffawed, and advised Aunt Sue to “do it again”.

Aunt Sue wet the lead with her lips and started to check her arithmetic. And while she pondered her figures Mother and Dora stood restlessly by, clutching their fingers nervously and cracking every joint in them. They seemed to feel that the fate of the Empire depended on the accuracy of Aunt Sue’s calculations.

At last Aunt reached the end. Mother and Dora almost reached their end. The suspense was telling on them.

“It’s a few shillings more, if anything,” cried Aunt Sue, with a tremour in her voice.

Mother gasped, and rattled her teeth. Dora clapped her hands and made a great fuss.

“A ’undred quid! Cripes!” Andy muttered solemnly.

“N-No! Sh-urely!” gasped Mother.

“A hundred pounds, three shillings, four pence, and five farthings,” said Aunt Sue, positively.

Mother clutched at her heart to stop it from fluttering. “Work it out for yourself, Alice,” Aunt Sue said, “and you’ll see that’s what it is.”

“Oh-h. I’m too excited!” Mother stammered. “Let me be— for—for—just a minute.”

We let her be for several minutes.

“Now,” she said, and began calculating on her fingers.

All of us watched her.

Presently she took her eyes off her fingers, and asked, thoughtfully:

“How much is 154 pence?”

“A hun-dred and fifty-four pence,” Dora mumbled slowly, looking at Aunt Sue.

“A hundred and fifty-four pence.” And Aunt Sue resorted to pencil and paper again.

“Ain’t there no table-book in the house?” Father inquired of no one in particular.

Mother frowned and shook her head in signal to him to keep quiet.

Father played with his whiskers and kept quiet.

“A ’undred an’ fifty pence was what old Stingy Diggler offered Tommy Moore for his piebald,” Andy said, thinking hard, “and he paid him a half-sovereign. I see him get paid. And a half-sovereign bein’ ten shillins, a ’undred an’ fifty-four pence must be four more, mustn’t it?—Four on to ten is fourteen. Fourteen bob.”

“He’s did it,” Father said excitedly. “Andy’s got it for y’. Fourteen shillings it be.”

Andy’s eyes started to glow with pride, and he asked Aunt Sue if “she was goin’ to take all th’ day to do that bit of a sum?”

“Well, it’s not quite fourteen shillings,” Aunt Sue said, looking up. “Thirteen shillings and eleven pence ha’-penny it is, Alice.”

“Well, I wasn’t far out o’ it, anyway,” Andy claimed. “A ha’-penny ain’t much to blow about.”

“How did y’ do it?” Aunt Sue inquired of him.

“How did I do it? How d’ y’ think I do’d it?” And grinning, Andy tapped himself proudly on the forehead.

Mother continued her calculations. She manipulated her fingers as though talking to a deaf and dumb institution; then suddenly pausing, fixed her eyes intently on the cross beam where Dora’s old one-horned saddle occupied a prominent position.

“Yer won’t find it up there, Mother,” Andy said. “If yer ain’t got it ’ere,” tapping himself on the forehead again, “ye’re flummicksed.”

The rest of us laughed, and made a great noise.

“There! bless it! You’ve made me lose it just when I had it!” Mother cried. Then snapping at Dora—“Keep quiet, can’t you, for a minute. I’ve got to go right over it again, through your talking!”

She started over it again.

Dora began to titter.

“Quiet! quiet! Let her be!” Aunt Sue said, in Mother’s interest.

“O’ course, give ’er a charnce an’ she’ll do it orright,” Andy said, grinning hopefully at Mother.

“Fifty and forty-one?” Mother asked, closing here left eye and nervously moving her fingers—“Fifty and forty-one— quick!”

“Fifty and forty-one! Andy drawled in distressed tones. “Yer want a bloomin’ schoolmaster for that!”

“Well, fifty and fifty,” Dora said slowly, and doubtfully, “would be a hundred, wouldn’t it?”

“A what?” Andy asked in surprise.

“A hundred,” Dora repeated.

“Gerr out!” from Andy.

“Yes”—and Aunt Sue agreed with Dora.

“Well then,” Dora continued, “subtract nine”—

“S’tract yer granny!” Andy broke in. “What’s to s’tract? There’s no s’traction about it—its addin’ up.”

“Well, ain’t that what I want to do?” And Dora thought harder.

“An’ what are y’ talkin’ about s’traction’ for then?” Andy asked aggressively.

“Oh, shut up! You’ve put me out altogether now.” And Dora abandoned the effort, and sat down on the sofa.

Mother, with one eye still on the rafters, kept moving her fingers as she waited for an answer.

“I’ve got it!” Aunt Sue cried, putting down the pencil; “a hundred and nineteen.”

Father shook his head dismally and said he thought it “would be more’n than that”.

“I’ll swear it’s a lot more, if y’ mean it in ’orses or cattle,” and Andy shook his head confidently.

Aunt Sue looked confused.

“But it doesn’t matter what it’s in, does it?” she murmured hesitatingly; “that can’t make any difference, I don’t think.”

“Oh, can’t it, but!” from Andy. “You’re workin’ it out in butter, ain’t yer?”

Aunt Sue said she was; and her confusion increased.

“Well then”—Andy cleared his throat—“ain’t there a different table to go by fer butter?”

Father nodded in agreement with Andy, and said:


“Certainly!” Andy repeated with proud emphasis.

“Yes—but—but”—stammered Aunt Sue, frowning and puzzling and eating some of the pencil—“but we only want to know what fifty and forty-one make, ain’t that all?”

“O’ course! What else?” Andy concurred loudly. “Not what they don’t make! We knows that a’ready.”

“Well, how can it matter, then,” Aunt Sue argued further, “whether it’s in horses, or anything else? I can’t see that it can.”

“Oh, can’t it, though! I can see how it can,” Andy maintained. “It all derpends where Mother is got to in th’ sum, don’t it? An’ whether she’s fetchin’ it into cows, or into pounds o’ butter or what.”

Addressing Mother:

“What are y’ bringin’ it into, Mother—into butter, or— er—”

“Into th’ devil!” Mother shouted, and ran out of the room.


Chapter 12
Breaking Up

Breaking up the twelve acres was the devil. It would have been as easy to break up a drought. We had only three draught horses to break up with and they were all broken up themselves. They were honest and willing enough though; and once they warmed up to their work and felt the collars, they never thought of “coming back”. It took them a long time to warm up though. They had always to be warmed up. Andy mostly warmed them up. He held the reins and a stick, and drove the brutes. But Limpy helped him. Limpy carried a supply of stones, and dodged from one side to the other, and pelted them. Father’s place was between the handles of the plough. That was the most important place. Father filled it well, too. He did good work between those handles. He shoved and grunted, and perspired, and called out “Woh” whenever he wanted a spell. He wanted a spell every twenty yards or so. “It’s very heavy on them,” he would gasp, dropping down on his haunches, “very heavy”. Father was an unselfish, generous ploughman. He deserved a place in the book of martyrs. In an instant, though, he would rise and tackle the handles again.

They understood their work thoroughly, did those old horses. And in those days it was difficult to get horses to understand anything. There was nothing for them to understand. With our horses, though, it was a gift. I remember they had never seen corn until we grew some. And yet when Father merely rattled some of it in a nose-bag they knew all about it. They pursued him for it as greedily as though it had been a favourite dish with them all their lives. But more surprising still was their consideration for the plough. Their thoughts were on it the whole time it was behind them. Whenever it touched a root, no matter how small, or whenever it was likely to touch one, they would all three stop instantly, and stand at ease. And they could stand easy, those old horses! You’d think they had been trained in the army. Although there were numerous occasions when they didn’t all pull together, there never was one when they didn’t all stop together.

Once when the nose of the plough was right against a stiff root Andy called upon them to “get up”. The quadrupeds got up several inches, then strained and groaned and grunted, and leaned heavily through their collars and blew holes in the dust with the breath of their nostrils. Andy, dancing and jumping up and down, jerked and tugged the reins, and yelled encouragingly to them to get up some more. Limpy threw stones and mud at them from the off-side, then hopped round and continued the attack from the rear. Father shoved and groaned, and broke up the earth with his toes; but the plough made no headway. Andy discarded the reins in disgust, and put all his energy into a bramble. He smashed a lot of it across the near-sider; some more of it across the middle brute; then he jumped over the plough, and got to work on the furrow horse.

Up to it!” he shouted, “Stick to it. Now then!—Now!” and rushing back he rattled all that was left of the bramble on the fleshy part of Father. Father let go on the handles and wildly remonstrated with Andy.

Dang it!” he cried, “d’ y’ think I’m one o’ them?”

“I think you’re better ’n any two o’ them.” And Andy, exhausted, dropped on the ploughed ground and laughed. Limpy disapproved of Andy’s methods.

“It’s nod a jolly bit o’ good,” he said, “blayin’ d’ fool.”

“No, it’s not,” Andy agreed, rising to his feet; “but it strikes me that’s just what the lot of us is up t’!”

“No wonder! Not a bit o’ wonder! No wonder at all they couldn’t pull it,” Father exclaimed, making a discovery, “why th’ nose of her is against a root.”

“I made sure dere musdt have been somethin’ in d’ way when d’ little grey mare couldn’t shift id,” Limpy observed. Limpy had a peculiar affection for the little grey scarecrow.

“It’s somethin’ that’ll shift her, y’ mean!” Andy growled, “th’ cow!” And he threw a lump of hard mud at the little grey, which struck Father on the back of the ear.

“Dang it!” Father roared, jumping round, and shaping up to Limpy, “what are y’ doin’?”

Limpy jumped back, surprised, and becoming tangled in his own feet, fell down.

“Think because I don’t take no notis that I’m to stand any dern nornsense?” Father shouted, standing over him with the plough scraper. “Do yer?”

Limpy shook and trembled, but made no answer.

“Don’t think it no longer, then!” And Father lowered the scraper, and rubbing his neck turned to the plough again.

Limpy sat up and glared at Andy.

“You’re a jolly nice sord o’ gentleman,” he said, accusingly.

Andy grinned, and started whistling dance music through his teeth.

Father manipulated the plough so as to clear it of the root, then started the team again.

Jason Jerricks, one of our neighbours, came along nibbling the end of some kangaroo grass.

Woh!” and Father stopped the team out of respect for Jason.

Jason looked the team over.

“They goes nice an’ stiddy,” he said. Father rubbed the sweat off himself with his hat, and looked proudly at the brutes.

“Oh, yes,” he answered, “they’re settlin’ down well to it now, very well.”

Andy sniggered, and squatting down on his heels, looked up from under his slouch hat at old Jerricks.

Limpy perched himself in front of Andy, and began playing his “music”.

Jason looked at the plough then cast his eyes over the grass patch.

“You’re gettin’ over it,” he said.

“Oh, yes; it don’t take long when yer keeps to it constant,” Father answered.

“Gettin’ over more’n we’re gettin’ under,” Andy observed, catching a fly and firing it, marble fashion, at Limpy.

“Yer don’t wants to be under it yet a bit, do ye?” Jason said, failing to appreciate Andy’s sarcasm. “All on us’ll be there a good while soom day.” Then the old fossil laughed, and Father laughed with him. Father had a rare regard for Jason Jerricks, and always enjoyed his society.

Andy caught a large horse fly, and aimed it at Limpy. Limpy stood up, out of the line of fire, and finished the “piece” on his feet.

“Won’t ’n take fright at that?” Jason, thinking of the horses and the music, asked gravely of Father.

“Oh, they’re very quiet—very quiet,” Father assured him. “The three o’ them are.”

“Nothin’ only work frightens ’em.” And lowering his head, Andy chuckled at the earth.

Father frowned at the crown of Andy’s hat.

Jason, as though measuring the area of it with his eye, gazed over the grass patch again, and said, turning to Father:

“Could y’ do that bit o’ mine for me, when y’ finish?”

“Oh yes,” Father replied without thinking. “I dare say, certainly.”

Father never had the heart to say “no” to anything. And if old Jerricks had asked him for his trousers, Father, without thinking, would have taken them off and given them to him.

“I wants to make a little this year soomhow or t’other,” Jason explained, “and without I gets in a few taters I don’t see how as where it’s comin’ from … Not havin’ no team of a man’s own, it’s awkid on a time like what is now.”

“Quite so; quite so; I see,” Father said, sympathetically.

“And when, think y’, will yer finish this?” Jason asked.

“Well—see—Father stared all round. “About a week, I’ve no doubt.” And he appealed to Andy for confirmation.

Andy sprang to his feet, and shook the dirt off himself.

“What, with these mokes?” he said, pointing scornfully at the team.

“With them, o’ course. What’s wrong with them?” from Father.

“Well, we’ll be lucky, I reckon, to finish it this side o’ twenty years!” And Andy sat down again.

Father’s mouth and eyes flew open like windows.

“Go away with y’,” he mumbled, “talks some sense!”

Jason, ignoring Andy, suggested coming himself and giving a hand for a day or two to accelerate the work.

“Have yer a collar and chains to fit yer?” Andy asked of him with a grin.

“Dang it! Think y’ I means to pull in th’ plough, m’self?” Jason shouted wildly.

“It’d be no good comin’ unlest y’ did!” Andy shouted back at him. Andy wasn’t afraid of old Jerricks. Andy wasn’t afraid of anyone.

“Pshaw!” Jason growled. “Pshaw!”

“Anyway,” Father said decisively, “we’ll do it!”

Jason, who was a very religious man at times, grabbed Father by the hand and thanked him fervently.

“If I can’t pay y’, friend,” he said, “then Some Body else will.” And with his big, hard finger he pointed confidently and impressively to the great, glorious, blue sky above.

* * * * * * *

A fortnight later.

“Whatever on earth is up!” Dora, hearing Mother’s voice raised heaven’s high, in the yard, cried, and rushed out of the kitchen.

Alice! Alice!” Aunt Sue called excitedly; and hurrying from the house arrived in the yard just in time to see Mother pull the harness off the team and assault Father with it.

“I declare to God!” she foamed, addressing the rest of us when Father had taken refuge behind the pig-sty, “if the man wasn’t actually taking the horses away to do ploughing for other people. Actually taking them away and leaving his own ground standing there waiting to be done! Heavens above us! If he wasn’t going off to help others before doing a hand’s turn for himself—before earning a single shilling to keep the place and his family with!”

Dora and Aunt Sue, with their eyes fixed thoughtfully on their toes, silently retraced their steps to the house.

Father didn’t go and break up for Jason Jerricks, though. And now old Jason tells everyone that Mother wears Father’s pants.


Chapter 13
Aunt Maria

Tom one evening brought a letter from the post office for Aunt Sue; and when she opened it she rushed excitedly through the house, and round it, and down to the milking yard in search of Mother and Father and Dora. Martha and Tom joining in her excitement, ran beside her shouting: “What’s it?” Tell us, Aunt. Tell us, quick!” But the contents of that letter were much too valuable to be wasted.

“Wherever have they gone?” And Aunt Sue stared in every direction.

“Tell us and we’ll find them,” Martha stipulated, eagerly.

But just then Mother and Father and Dora issued from the sorghum patch with bundles of it in their arms. Aunt Sue, waving the letter, shouted: “Maria! From Maria! She’s coming Saturd’y!” And ran to them as fast as her legs could carry her.

Maria!” Mother echoed, throwing down her bundle of sorghum.

Aunt Maria?” and Dora let fall her burden.

Be she?” And Father unloaded.

Aunt Sue proceeded to make a great fuss.

“She wonders if she’ll know any of us?” she said; “but there’s some words I can’t make out. Such a long, nice letter it is—six pages. Read it out, Alice.” And she handed the precious epistle to Mother.

Mother, smiling and flushing and trembling with excitement, wiped her hands on her old rag dress, and, taking the smudged screed proceeded to read laboriously. And as she spelt it out, Father, all eyes and attention, nodded and mumbled approval. Dora giggled and laughed, and at proper intervals Aunt Sue made complimentary references to her sister’s startling composition. Martha and Tom, having grasped the introductory remarks, bounded off to enlighten Andy and Limpy, who were coming in from the paddock with the grubbing tools on their shoulders.

“Aunt Maria’s comin’,” they cried, “we’s got a letter.”

“Id she!” Limpy answered, brightening up and quickening his hop to top speed. Limpy had known Aunt Maria when she “wad ony a bid of a kid no higher dan hid little finger”. But to Andy, as to the rest of us, she was a blank, except in name.

“Limpy’s glad,” Martha shouted, racing back again. “Look at ’im tryin’ ter run!”

They all looked; also laughed.

Then, as they came nearer, Dora shouted the glad news to Andy.

“Go on!” Andy grunted. “Another Ant! There’ll be a nest o’ them here dreckly! Yer better put on plenty hot water.”

Aunt Sue frowned and hung her bottom lip.

“Never mind him!” Mother advised, treating Andy with contempt. “Let’s go inside and see about everything at once. And Dora, you’ll have to bake some cakes to-night—there’s enough dripping, I think; and to-morrow the house and everything will all have to be done out… She don’t say, I don’t think, how long she’s going to stay; but there’s some of it I can’t quite make out.”

“I expect a couple o’ weeks, surely?” Aunt Sue said.

“We won’t let her back before a month.” And Dora appealed to Father.

“Well, yes, quite so, no doubt,” Father reckoned. “A month will soon pass here.”

“I s’pose she’ll stay till there’s a bust-up!” Andy broke in, cold-bloodedly.

Mother turned on him like lightening. “A bust up? Why will there be a bust up?” she yelled. “Th’ cheek o’ you to say it! You, you thing of a fellow! How dare y’!”

“I’d like to bet a bit on it, all th’ same,” came stubbornly from Andy.

You’d like to bet! You would! You”—and lifting a sorghum stalk Mother showed him the butt-end of it. “Very flash you’re getting, my shaver! Very flash with your betting— your betting, indeed!”

Andy, grinning, wisely walked off to the old shed to put away the tools he was carrying.

Mother, foaming and puffing, and talking all the while to no one in particular, led the way to the house. We followed in a string.

At the door of the old shed Andy swung round and shouted: “What d’ you reckon, Father?”

But Father didn’t reckon anything. Father had had too much experience in domestic affairs to reckon things in Mother’s presence.

“He’s getting far too big for his boots lately, that’s what he is!” Mother raged, sitting on the sofa and spreading the sheets of Aunt Maria’s letter on her lap.

“Oh, Andy doesn’t mean half what he says, Mother,” Dora put in in the interests of her brother.

“Well, then, I mean all what I say!” And Mother wagged her head aggressively at Dora. “And I say if he doesn’t take care how he talks to me he’ll have to leave here and go and do for himself somewhere else.”

Alice! Alice!” pleadingly from Aunt Sue.

“Asking his Father what he thinks, indeed!” Mother stormed on. “As if it mattered a straw what he thinks!”

Father blinked, and rolled his big eyes about uneasily.

“I’ve no doubt his Father agrees with him, though—no doubt of it whatever; for it’s just what”—

“Oh, never mind, Mother! Read the letter to us!” Dora interrupted trying to smile.

“Read th’ letter? Read it yourselves!” and throwing the sheets from her, Mother bounced off the sofa and flew into her room.

Saturday arrived. Mother and Aunt Sue, with their best hats and boots on, drove off in the old spring cart to meet Aunt Maria at the railway siding. Dora, with a pot of paste and an assortment of newspapers on the table, applied herself to putting the finishing touches to the front room. Martha and Tom, charged with the responsibilities of cleaning up the front door and putting everything tidy, argued and fought for possession of the rake, and in lucid moments, excited and upset Dora by bellowing, “Here they comes”.

At last, though, and just when Dora had finished dressing and was squinting frontways and sideways at herself in the looking-glass, they came. Talk about excitement! The coming of the coach or arrival of a new Governor was a dull circumstance beside it.

“Auntie! Hello, Auntie Maria!” Martha and Tom, rushing off to meet the cart, yelled repeatedly.

“Don’t frighten the mare now; don’t frighten th’ mare!” Mother cried to them, as though it were possible to scare poor, sad, old Rosina.

Dora, leaving the house as if it were on fire, and making as much noise with her skirts as a rushing train, sped across the yard shouting: “You got her! She come?”

Simutaneously Father and Limpy crept from the old bark shed, which, for an hour or more had served them as a waiting-room. Father, his hair and whiskers combed out and rounded, resembled a grass-tree moving along on legs. Limpy, wearing a white drill suit that had been washed and done up for him when the school was opened a year before, looked like an important member of a minstrel troupe.

Aunt Maria, smiling all over her face, descended from the cart and exchanged kisses with Dora and Father, and shook hands with Limpy. She would have kissed Martha and Tom, too, but they were not of her mind. They hung their heads and shuffled shyly away.

Martha!” Mother said sharply, “Martha!

“Never mind,” Aunt Maria said, large heartedly, “I’ve something better for them.” And, taking out a large leather purse bulging with letters and buttons, raked two threepenny pieces from the depths of it and gave one each to Martha and Tom. “There!” she added, “there!” And her voice was the voice of one conscious of penetrating a great philanthropic feat.

“Maria! oh, why did you do that?” Mother gasped; “giving your money away like that! They don’t want it.”

But the looks of unmistakable joy that spread over the faces of Martha and Tom gave a denial to her statement.

“That’s her all over; that’s Maria,” Aunt Sue remarked proudly. “She never was happy if she wasn’t giving something away.”

“Well, and what do you say for it?” Mother said, prompting the lucky recipients.

Martha, grinning, waited for Tom to make a speech. Tom, turning the silver over and over in his hand, waited for Martha.

“What do you say?” And Mother raised her voice and scowled.

“God bless Auntie,” Martha tittered.

“And make her good,” Tom added, and bolted.

They all looked in surprise at each other, then burst out laughing.

“Here’s Andy,” Aunt Sue announced for the benefit of her sister, as the former, with clean shirt and pants on, his hat off, his hair brushed up in front like a cockatoo’s “top-nut”, and ten or twelve inches of his waist belt dangling in front of him, came round the corner of the house working his way with his shoulders, and sliding along on the ground on the heels of his boots.

“You don’t know me, Andy?” Aunt Maria called pleasantly to him.

We all smiled, and waited for Andy to answer. He didn’t answer till he came right close to her.

“I’d know yer ’ide on a fence,” he said; “How’re y’ cookin’, Ant?” And he shook her by the hand till she screamed to him to let go. He let go, and, looking hard into her face, suddenly cried: “Why, which o’ yer is it? Or are yer both one in two or the same as th’ sayin’ is, or what, eh?”

Then we remembered that our two Aunts were twins, and that often we had been told that no one could ever distinguish one from the other, and all of us gathered round them and laughed at their similarity, and made them stand beside each other, front ways and back to back.

“Their mother couldn’t never tell the difference,” Father said solemnly.

“I can tell them by their clothes,” Dora remarked.

“Yes, but if they hadn’t any bloomin’ clothes on?” Andy argued, wagging his head at Dora.

Andy!” And Mother stamped her foot. “Andy!

Father, smiling to himself, hobbled round to the back of the cart and began dragging out Maria’s luggage—a pillow-slip bursting with clothes. The others, with Limpy at their heels, all hurried inside—all but Andy. Andy remained behind to sympathise with the old mare and take her out of the cart.

“Poor old Rosina!” he murmured, fondling her. “Did it knock it out o’ yer draggin’ them fat old fowls up the hill?”

Then he lowered the shafts to the ground, and invited her kindly to “get out, old girl”. And when she didn’t get out with a rush like a two-year-old he gave her a kick and called her a “silly old cow.”

With Aunt Maria in the home the days and moments flew quickly by. All of us got on well with her, especially Martha and Tom and Dora. Martha and Tom pursued and pestered her every minute in the day. They dragged her here, there and everywhere, showed her everything about the place, and told her all they knew—told her things that Mother had warned them over and over again not to breathe a word of to any living soul. Dora confided her love for Jerry Manning to her, and complained of the way Mother always treated him. “Mother would like me to have George Dunn,” Dora told her one day, “but I don’t think I could like him; not well enough to marry him, y’ know.” Aunt Maria knew—at least, she said she did, and in return confided an old lovesore of her own to Dora. And when Dora heard the whole of the sad story she cried and kissed Aunt Maria and said she was “so, so sorry for her”.

“But perhaps I’m just as well off,” Aunt Maria sighed, “just as well.” And she quietly hustled a tear away from her eye.

“But you might get a better catch yet,” Dora, sniffing, said encouragingly. “How do you know who might take it into his head to come along?”

Aunt Maria sighed several more times, then added: “Some men do take silly things into their heads, but I don’t think any of them will take that one.” And she laughed a faint, miserable laugh.

“Well, look at Aunt Sue, she’s had an offer,” Dora went on; “and more than once, too.”

Sue?” And Aunt Maria jumped several feet and clutched Dora excitedly. “When? Who? Tell me, oh Dora, tell me!”

“Well, you won’t let on if I do, will you?” Dora stipulated with a giggle.

Aunt Maria struck herself on the chest, and said she wouldn’t let on for the world.

Then Dora leaned on her and whispered the name of Villiam Brandt into her ear. “And the poor fellow comes nearly every Sunday to see her,” she said, “and she won’t even come out of her room the whole time he’s here.”

Then they laughed and squealed together, and hugged each other for quite a while.

Presently a brilliant idea occurred to Aunt Maria, and throwing her arms around Dora again she laughed the inspiration into her ear.

Dora received it with a loud shriek, and said, “It would be great fun if you’re game to do it.”

Just then the voice of Aunt Sue calling them to dinner was heard. And when they appeared at the table their eyes were still wet with tears of joy, and neither could “eat anything for laughing”.

Sunday afternoon. Aunt Maria and Dora, after conspiring together all the morning, said they were going for a walk down the paddock, They took Andy into their confidence, and he prepared to accompany them. He seemed proud of the privilege, too, and patted himself nobly on the chest.

“If yous two come follern’,” he said, turning aggressively on Martha and Tom, “I’ll interdooce me boot-maker to yer bloomin’ tailor, if yous knows what that means.”

Martha and Tom seemed to know what it meant, and promptly slunk out of the way. Then, together, the three conspirators started off cheerfully, and soon were lost sight of amongst the timber.

“This is ’im,” Andy said with a chuckle, as Villiam Brandt, in his best clothes, was seen hurrying along the track in the direction of our Homestead.

Dora became excited and began giggling, and pinching Aunt Maria.

“Whatever will you say to him, Aunt?” she said, nervously: “what if—if”—

“I won’t say anything,” the other laughed. “He’ll have to do all the saying. But you two mustn’t go far away, now, will you? Mind that.”

“We’ll keep y’ in sight,” Andy assured her.

Then, raising his voice as Villiam came near: “Hello, General!”

“Vy you nod shalute me den, mein poy?” And coming to “attention”, Villiam saluted in real, royal, military fashion.

Dora laughed and shook hands with him.

“You know me Ant Maria, Villiam?” Andy said.

Dora pinched Andy.

“Me Aunt Sue, I mean,” and Andy corrected his mistake.

“Undrews mein poy!” Villiam said, placing his two hands affectionately on the former’s shoulders. “Yust for von, dwo, three meenit I spheak mid Shoosan. I dake sharge mid her for you, eh? You go orf mid yourselluf und lose der vay. Mein gerracious, I dink so, Undrew?”

Meanwhile, Aunt Maria, like a bashful young maiden, hung her head and probed at the earth with the toe of her boot.

Andy poked Villiam in the ribs, and winked knowingly at him.

Then Dora put in a word.

“We’re going over to see if there’s much water at the rocks, Aunt,” she said; “we’ll only be a few minutes.”

“You haf gerreat sense, mein gerracious.” And Villiam patted Dora on the head.

Aunt Maria, with her eyes still fixed on the toe of her boot, remained silent.

“Come on then.” And Andy hustled Dora off the field.

When they had gone about seventy yards they looked back and saw Villiam kneeling on the ground before Aunt Maria, gesticulating and holding out his two hands imploringly to her.

“Well, ain’t ’e a goat!” Andy grunted.

“Look at him! look at him now, though! look! look! oh, look!” Dora cried. “He’s kissing her hand— and she’s letting him!”

“Lickin’ it like a bloomin’ dorg,” Andy drawled.

“Whatever will he do next?” and Dora threatened to hurt herself with mirth.

“Kiss her on th’ mug, I ’spect,” Andy said.

“Oh, if he does—if he does!” And Dora started dancing about.

But Villiam took his time, and rising to his feet, stood for several moments facing Aunt Maria with his head thrown back and his arms out wide.

Aunt Maria stood playing with the corner of her handkerchief.

Suddenly Villiam sprang forward and clasped her in his arms. Aunt Maria struggled and wriggled, and succeeded in turning the back of her hat to his whiskers. Villiam poked his nose first at one side of her face then at the other.

“I reckon it’s about time to blow th’ whistle,” Andy said, “or he’ll be breakin’ th’ rules.”

Dora thought so too, and they hurried back.

Andy coughed loud when they came up, and Villiam, smiling hard, released Aunt Maria and confronted him.

“I thought yous was havin’ a fight!” Andy said.

Villiam laughed a deep, happy sort of laugh, and, placing his hands on Andy’s shoulders, again whispered hoarsely:

“Undrews, I come nex Sund’y-daay and tol’ you soomdings. I vent me home now, bleased mid mein-selluf. You see— eh-h?”

“Oh, is that it—a wedding, I s’pose?” And Andy poked Villiam in the ribs again.

“Eh-h, mein poy!” And Villiam returned the poke.

“Well, we’re going home now, too,” Andy further said; “so long.”

Villiam, smiling, bowed very low, and the parties went their separate ways rejoicing.


Chapter 14
A Set Back

Sunday again. Dinner over; and what a feast it was! Cabbage, beans, peas, potatoes, pudding! And all in honor of Aunt Maria!

“Well, I think I’ll go and have a lie down for a few minutes.” And Mother went off to her room.

“And I’m going to read one of the books Maria brought,” Aunt Sue said, taking possession of the sofa.

Andy yawned and declared Sunday to be “th’ rottenest day in th’ week.”

“Mond’y’s der jolly day I don’t like.” And Limpy, elevating his chin, thoughtfully scratched his scraggy wiskers.

“And Toosd’y an’ We’n’sd’y, I ’spect?” Andy added with a grin.

Limpy, without replying, rose and strolled on to the verandah. Presently he was joined by Father.

Dora, from the kitchen, called to Aunt Maria.

“Y-e-s-s-s,” Maria answered, wonderingly, and ran out.

Dora, all smiles and giggles, pointed to the form of Villiam Brandt coming along the cultivation paddock fence, and said: “For goodness sake run and hide yourself.”

Aunt Maria flew into the skillion-room, and, throwing herself on Dora’s bed, lay there pricking her ears and cocking her head from side to side, and trying to stop her heart from thumping.

Dora called to Andy.

Andy, feeling suspicious, sauntered to the kitchen.

Dora indicated Villiam Brandt.

Andy pulled a significant face, and, whistling steadily through his teeth, strolled across the yard and waited for Villiam to arrive.

Villiam arrived, and, smiling blandly, greeted Andy cheerfully.

Andy saluted him in extravagant military fashion.

“Undrews,” Villiam inquired, “coom me der broper time, you dink so?”

“You’re in splendid time,” Andy answered, “she’s waitin’ for you inside on the sofa.”

Villiam, pulling a large coloured handkerchief from his pocket and smelling it, made haste for the house. Andy hurried round the back way, where he grinned and rejoiced in the presence of Dora. Dora, red and flurried, placed her ear to the door.

“Hello, Mr. Brandt,” Father said, as Villiam stepped on to the verandah.

“I spheaks mid you direkelys,” Villiam answered; and straight inside he went.

Aunt Sue suddenly let her book fall and rose to a sitting position.

“You vas vait for me, eh-h, sweet greature?” And dropping down beside her, Villiam put his arms round her waist.

A scream that fairly rattled the roof came from Aunt Sue, and she attacked Villiam with both hands and feet, and, escaping from his embrace, rushed off screaming, “WRETCH! WRETCH!”

All of us hurried in to investigate—all of us except Aunt Maria. She crawled under the bed.

“What th’ devil!” Father shouted in astonishment at Villiam.

“Dis sord o’ ding won’t do, y’ know!” Limpy, hopping all round the culprit, declared bravely.

Villiam stared and gasped, and made several futile efforts to explain matters.

Mother, with her hair down, made her way through the rest of us like a policeman. She pulled Father backwards, sent Martha and Tom spinning in front of her, tossed Limpy off his legs, and furiously faced Villiam.

“What’s this?” she cried. “What are you up to? Eh, what?” Then she reached for him and pulled his nose.

Villiam, astonished and stupefied, staggered back and placed the table between them.

“No! no! no! No-h-h!” he broke out, holding up both hands. “I do noding! I dinks”—staring wildly at all of us—“I dinks me I vas in der mad house!”

“You’ll be there very soon, or in the lock-up, you bad man!” Mother shouted to him. “Away with you out of my house!” And she pointed to the door.

At this stage Andy squeezed into the room, and Villiam’s eyes immediately rested upon him in a hopeful sort of way.

“Undrews,” he gasped, “Shpeak for me vat I dink! Shpeak mid your Moder! You told her! Mighty gerracious!” And beads of perspiration broke out all over him.

“Yes, I know all about it, Villiam,” Andy said. “I know, I know” (to Mother): “It’s all right, Mother. I’ll tell y’ all about it, drekeley. Let him alone! Let him alone. (Then taking Villiam by the arm and leading him to the door): “You’re all right, Villiam; come on with me! Come on! I’ll tell them all about it when I come in.”

Andy took Villiam out and escorted him part of the way home. When he returned, Mother, still furious, came from Aunt Sue’s quarters and said:

“Now then what’s this you know? Who’s it about? And what have you to say for that man?”

“Well,” Andy drawled, “Just this much; that if I ’adn’t got him away quiet he might have done for someone! He’s off ‘is dot! An’ none o’ yer had the sense to see it!”


Chapter 15
An Unexpected Development

A bright beautiful day. All of us, including Aunt Maria, in the field pulling corn. We were anxious to take the crop off and get it out of the way—at least Father was. Not that it was a very valuable crop, or a particularly bounteous one; but Father wanted to start the plough going. Whether there was to be a crop or whether there wasn’t was never the question with Father. Father’s idea of good farming consisted entirely of keeping the plough moving. So long as the bit of ground was perpetually being turned upside down, Father reckoned things were just buzzing along, and that all our fortunes were being made.

For hours, long, heavy hours, too, we raced each other up and down the cranky, crooked rows, rattling and cracking the wretched stunted stalks in search of cobs, that for the most part were never there.

Andy and Dora worked in with Aunt Maria and helped to lighten her load by doing her share as well as their own. And the trio kept aloof from the rest of us, too, and always contrived to be at one end of the field when we were at the other. And those rounds of wretched drudgery seemed to give them pleasure. While we slogged on without exchanging a word one way or the other, except with the flies, they laughed and talked together about Villiam Brandt and Aunt Sue. And at intervals one or the other would look over the top of the miserable corn to make certain none of us was within hearing.

“He doesn’t seem to be such a bad fellow, though?” Aunt Maria said as a mild reproach against her sister.

Bad?” Andy echoed indignantly; “by cripes, Villiam’s an orl right bloke, you take it from me. An’ ’e ain’t th’ fool they think ’e is, neither. An’ for work! He’d work half th’ coots about here inter their grave in a day!”

Then Dora said a good word for Villiam.

“Indeed, I like him,” she said, positively; “and he’s a nice man if he’s treated properly. And believe me, Aunt Sue, although she knows such a lot, could have done a lot worse.”

Aunt Maria started chewing corn and thinking hard.

“I’m going down to give him a hand with his pulling when we finishes this,” Andy announced after a silence.

Dora became excited.

“What do you say if we go down, too, some evening, Aunt?” she said.

Aunt Maria thought it a splendid idea, and asked Andy for his opinion.

Andy, pulling burr prickles from his fingers, shook his head gravely.

“Oh—no,” he drawled, “I don’t think so. He’d reckon you was Aunt Sue.”

“But we’ll tell him,” Dora urged enthusiastically. “We’ll introduce her properly as our other Aunt— Aunt Sue’s sister upon a holiday, and tell him we’ve brought her down to see his place.”

“Oh, that’s right enough,” Andy agreed. “That’d be orlright. Come down towards evenin’ then, an’ I’ll tell him yer was comin’.”

Aunt Maria became excited, and said she would wear clothes quite different to Sue’s that day, and do her hair up differently too; in fact, make herself look as unlike her sister as it was possible for art to do. And Dora became even more excited. She wrung Aunt Maria by the hand and danced round about her, and left Andy to hunt for all the cobs.

Another bright, beautiful day. They were all bright, beautiful days now. Nothing else around was bright and beautiful though.

Dora and Aunt Maria cleaned their teeth with ashes, and fastened their hair with snoods, and started off merrily for Villiam Brandt’s farmstead.

When they were gone, Aunt Sue turned to Mother and said she thought “they would have had more sense than to go near the place of a man like that!

“Well, they say they’re not a bit afraid,” Mother answered. “Besides, Andy is there, and surely the three of them can manage him!”

“In any case,” growled Aunt Sue, “what do they want going near him at all for? Maria, anyway, ought to know better. If I’d been in her place I know I’d treat him differently to that!”

Mother went out to the kitchen and left Aunt Sue grumbling to herself.

“My word, Mr. Brandt,” Dora cried, greeting Villiam in his maize paddock, “You’ve got a good crop!”

Villiam made faces at the corn-stalks and heaped pious imprecations on the dry weather and the gravelly soil and the country generally.

“This is my other Aunt, General,” Andy said, introducing Aunt Maria.

Aunt Maria smiled and bowed, and extending her hand to Villiam asked him “how he was getting along, and if he was fond of farming?”

“Mighty Zake!” Villiam gasped. “Yeou vas so gereatly like Sushan!”

“Like my sister?” repeated Aunt Maria in a winning sort of way. “I believe I am in some things. But not in all—not in all, Mr. Brandt.”

“Heavens Zake, n-no; I hope nod! Eh-h?” And Villiam shook his head and groaned.

“I’m afraid she’s a great flirt,” ventured Aunt Maria.

“Mighty, I dink so—yess!” sighed Villiam.

“They’re twins, Aunt Sue and this one, did you know that?” Andy put in with a grin at Aunt Maria.

Tvins?” echoed Villiam, with wide open eyes.

“Greatness, yeou told me dat, eh-h?”

“Oh, yes,” Dora confirmed; “they were both born on the same day.”

“Shiminey!” Villiam laughed. “Dink o’ dot, now, eh-h … Und mein heifer cow, Yellerboy, she too haf some tvins. Yah; dree day ol’ soon now.”

Dora and Aunt Maria started giggling.

“Bute dey vas nod d’same like yeou,” Villiam added, smiling at the latter. “Von, der bull, vas plack; der odder shap, she vas shtrawperry.”

Dora and Aunt Maria laughed aloud.

“Nefer mindt, laties,” Villiam went on apologetically, “coom now, und make yousellufs soom tea, und I show yeou my blace.”

Then to Andy:

“You make yourselluf a holiday for a vile, my poy.”

“I’m goin’ down to have some tea, too; my colonial,” Andy answered, throwing some cobs he held in his hands on to a heap. “You’re not going to lose me.”

Then, leading the way along a track that wound in and out the rank grass and through a dog-legged fence, Villiam conducted the party to his hut.

And when Dora and Aunt Maria crossed the threshold they stood and gazed in astonishment at the interior. To their surprise, everything was spotlessly clean and tidy, and the room adorned with strong, comfortable furniture of Villiam’s own making. They looked at each other, and complimented him upon the state of his home.

“I vants me yust von dring more to make happeeness,” said he smiling and blushing and wagging his head.

“Oh, she’ll come along directly, Mr. Brandt,” Aunt Maria assured him, meaningly.

“I daught me dot, too, soom leetle vile beck!” And Villiam shook his head sadly. “But I makes me a meestake.”

Dora laughed and said:

“There’s just as good a fish in the sea as was ever caught, Mr. Brandt.”

“Yah, dot is righd; bute I vish me I could ketch him.” And Villiam grinned insinuatingly in the direction of Aunt Maria.

Pretending to take no notice, the latter interested herself in a quaint-looking arm chair that had once been a beer barrel.

Andy poked Villiam slyly in the ribs.

Villiam, indulging in a side view of Aunt Maria, suddenly discovered a further resemblance in her to Aunt Sue, and began enlarging on the matter.

“The only difference in us,” Aunt Maria informed him, “is that I’ve got a mole just there, see?” bending down her head and showing him the nape of her neck, “and she hasn’t.”

Villiam touched the “difference” tenderly with his fingers, and laughed like an angel.

Andy nudged Dora, and drew her attention to a pair of military pictures ornamenting the wall. The daubs held no earthly interest for Dora, still she expressed a loud admiration for them, and hung round them, and killed a lot of time.

Meanwhile Villiam proceeded to make hay while the sun was shining on the backs of Andy and Dora. He produced an album and showed Aunt Maria a photo, of himself taken in military uniform; and photos of his father and mother and other curious looking folk “in Denmark”. And he plunged into a long rigmarole about himself and his native land. And finally, venturing to touch her tenderly under the chin with one of his big, restless fingers, he hurried to the fireplace and made a billy of tea, and fried a panful of eggs.

When it was time to go, Aunt Maria gave Villiam’s hand an extra squeeze, and said she and Dora would come down again another afternoon.

They went down another afternoon—they went down several afternoons; then went down until Aunt Maria was head over ears in love with Villiam, and became engaged to be married to him. And when Villiam, in turn, started calling at our homestead to take Aunt Maria out for walks, Mother was quite puzzled. And she remained puzzled until Dora whispered a number of things into her ear. Then she threw back her head, kicked one of her blucher boots into the air, and laughed like a man

“Well, I used to think it strange,” she said, controlling her mirth, “if he would do anything wrong, for he was always such a very respectable man.”

“And don’t you think Aunt Sue was a fool, Mother?” Dora inquired.

“A fool?” Mother answered. “Would she be single so long if she was anything else?”

Then, one day, Mother in confidence asked Aunt Sue if she knew there was going to be a match between Maria and Villiam Brandt.

Aunt Sue, who for weeks had preserved a peculiar silence, and didn’t seem the same person at all, suddenly burst into sobs.

Mother couldn’t understand her. “Why, don’t you believe in it, Sue?” she asked anxiously.

“You n-n-know well enough I don’t,” blubbered Aunt Sue. “It’s b-b-bad ’nough … b-b-bad ’nough for others … but wh-wh-when y’r own sister … y’r own flesh and blood … kuh-kuh-comes in y’r way … Oo! Oo! Buh-boo! hoo!

Mother understood her.

“Well, you are a curious woman,” she said, “why bless me, it’s your own fault, isn’t it?”

No; it isn’t my own fault!” screamed Aunt Sue.

“Then why didn’t you have him when he asked you to?” Mother snapped unsympathetically.

Why should I—why should I have him the very first time he asked me to?” yelled Aunt Sue. “Do you think everyone is like yourself?”

“Like—like who?” … And Mother, enraged, sprang to her feet.

But Aunt Sue was looking for fight.

“Like you!” she shouted through her falling hair.

“You lying wretch of a woman!” And Mother stamped her blucher boots one after the other, on the floor. “I was not like you! I was not like you! I could have had a dozen husbands if I had wanted them!”

“Then why didn’t you have them?” And Aunt Sue threw a fistful of her hair from her eyes, and glared defiantly at Mother. “Why didn’t y’—why didn’t y’?”

“You—you screaming mad huzzie!” stammered Mother. “I didn’t because”—poking her face into Aunt Sue’s, and raising her voice to a yell—“because one fool was enough for me to slave for!”

“Well, anyway,” squealed Aunt Sue, “she hasn’t got him yet. And what’s more, she won’t get him— she won’t get him! She won’t! She won’t! She WON’T!” And throwing the rest of hair out of her eyes she left Mother, and rushed off to her own end of the dwelling.


Chapter 16
A Birthday Honour

“A hot day! Too hot to eat!” Father said, sitting back from the dinner-table.

A portly, well dressed, well-fed looking man, wearing a heavy gold chain and carrying a large gold-headed walking-stick, stepped on to the verandah and called out “Good-day” in a loud, cheerful voice.

“Mr. McFlosh,” Father gasped, and went to the door.

“Th’ Member o’ Parliament,” Andy said. And Mother whispered to him “Shut up!”

Father brought the M.L.A, inside, and he shook hands with all of us, from Mother down to Tom, and inquired after our health. He looked about the room and seemed disappointed when there was no baby to cuddle and kiss. Then he sat down and talked of the country’s prosperity and progress, and mentioned a lot of things he had done for our district and more that he was going to do. Finally he supposed that Father knew there was going to be another election, and that he could depend on his support again?

“Oh, yes,” Father stammered.

But Mother wasn’t so sure.

“You only want our votes,” she said. “As soon as you get in we won’t see any more of you till next election.” Then she asked him what the Government meant by making a J.P. of the publican, and the bank clerk, and the commission agent at the township, and leaving the men on the land out of it?

Mr. McFlosh pulled a notebook from his pocket and said: “What’s your husband’s full name, madam?”

“He’s well enough able to tell you that himself,” Mother answered.

The M.L.A. turned to Father. But, taken by surprise, Father seemed to forget what his name was, and sat staring stupidly.

“Abe,” Andy answered coming to his parent’s assistance.

“Abel,” Martha said, correcting Andy.

“Its Abraham, isn’t it, Father?” Dora inquired softly.

“Well, it doesn’t matter about being exact to the letter— any of them is near enough.” And Mr. McFlosh wet the pencil on his tongue and made a careful note in his book. Then he looked up at Father and said: “I’ll see you are made a Justice of the Peace, Mr. Pettigrew. And no mistake about it, it should have been done years ago.”

“No, not me!” Father, finding his tongue, and wagging his head, protested. “I don’t want to be nothing!”

“You don’t want to be nothing?” Mother roared at him. “Have you ever been anything else? And do you think no one in the family wants to be anything? If I was a man I would want to be everything—I’d want to be Premier!”

“And damme, Madam, if I don’t think you would be, too.” And the M.L.A. broke into a loud laugh in which all of us joined except Mother.

“Don’t want to be nothing!” she repeated, scowling at Father.

“If Mr. Pettigrew won’t take it, what about this young man?” And the M.L.A. looked at Andy.

Martha and Tom began to snigger.

“I’d make as good a one as them blokes at the township,” Andy claimed. “Cripes, wouldn’t I. But it would be no good to me. I don’t want to be giving blokes six months for nothing!”

“Well, if no one else ith game to take id on!” Limpy put in. “I’ll hab a go ad it.”

Mr. McFosh stared hard at Limpy, and asked his name and what his politics were.

Mother explained Limpy’s relationship, and said she “supposed his politics were all right”. Limpy always voted Labour and Mr. McFlosh was a Liberal.

“Yes, of course,” the latter said to Limpy; “I knew all your family as well as I know my own. Very well, my friend, I’ll see that your name is put on the list of magistrates.”

“Dey mightn’t put it on,” Limpy suggested.

“By jingo, if the Home Secretary refuses to do it,” the M.L.A. answered, “there’ll be a change in the Cabinet pretty soon.”

Limpy thanked him, and Mother handed him a cup of tea.

* * * * * * *

Months after the election. A large letter with a red seal on it came addressed to Limpy. Had it been a summons, or an invitation to Government House we couldn’t have been more excited.

Limpy opened it, and holding the communication upside down, gazed hard at it. Limpy’s education was limited to drawing. He always drew his signature.

“Here y’ are,” he said, handing the communication to Mother. “What’s der jolly ding all about?”

“I have the honour to inform you,” Mother read, “that His Excellency the Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to appoint you a Justice of the Peace for the State of Queensland.”

Limpy’s mouth opened wide. So did ours.

“The Governor himself has done it,” Dora exclaimed.

“And he was pleased to do it,” Martha added.

“He must know about everyone in the country,” Father observed.

“They say he’s a awfully nice man, the Governor,” from Aunt Sue. “I saw him when he opened the show at Toowoomba. If Andy was a little older and not so straight and sunburnt, you wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other.”

“Look at that now!” And Mother’s eyes, beaming with admiration, rested on Andy. Mother was proud to have a son who resembled the Governor.

“Cripes!” Andy said; “he must be a handsome bloke! Don’t y’ think so, Father?”

Father grinned.

“Read dat again,” Limpy requested.

Mother read the official note again.

“Well it’s somedun to be proud of,” and Limpy rose and hobbled thoughtfully round the room. “And on me birthday, too!”

A week later. The local newspaper announced that “Thomas Sampson Muggles, of Ironbark, farmer, was appointed a Justice of the Peace.”

Joy. One by one we lifted our heads from the columns of The Sage and regarded Limpy as Australia’s Noblest Son.

“Everyone will soon know about it now,” Mother chuckled; “and I wonder what they’ll say?”

Days and weeks passed and no one said anything. They didn’t say anything until one day Mother mentioned it to the Dorsetts. Then we discovered that none of our neighbours knew who Thomas Sampson Muggles was. But when they were enlightened they scoffed and sneered, and said anyone could be a J.P.

“Never mind what they say,” Mother counselled Limpy; “but just do what I tell you!”

And Limpy did everything that Mother told him. And everyone said she was the J.P.

One day Limpy rebelled and reminded Mother that he was the magistrate.

‘What!” Mother shouted. “Put on airs to me, will you?” And she poked the head of the broom under his chin and pinned him to the wall.

Limpy yelled for help, and Dora rushed to his rescue.

“For goodness sake, Mother,” she cried. “What are you doing?”

“Doing!” And swinging the broom with both hands, Mother battered Limpy’s head with it.

Ducking and dodging, and fouling the furniture, he blundered through the house and fell out on to the verandah. Mother pitched the broom after him and yelled:

“Tell me you’re a J.P. will you?”


Chapter 17
The Justice Receives a Call

Limpy preparing to visit the township; Paley calling excitedly, drove in to the yard in his milkcart.

“Stay inside,” Mother counselled; “and I’ll see what he wants.”

“I want the Justice,” Paley howled in reply to her.

“You can’t see him, he’s getting ready to attend a case.”

“There’s no case so important as mine,” Paley urged. “Them Gilgrooms attack me every day when I’m goin’ to th’ facthry. They waits on the road for me with stones and waddies—th’ cowards that they are!”

Mother doubted if Limpy would have any influence with such people as the Gilgrooms.

“He don’t want influence!” Paley shouted angrily, “He have th’ law on his side, and I want him to drive along with me in th’ cart and ketch them in the act!”

Mother returned to the house and shook her finger at Limpy and warned him to be sure and side with the Gilgrooms. Mother had a warm place in her heart for the Gilgrooms. Mrs. Gilgroom used to swap settings of eggs with her, and once she gave her two pullets for a rooster that tried to snatch a piece of meat off a steel trap that Gilgroom had set for dingoes. And when Mother heard that it took the bird’s head off, she had nothing but sympathy in her heart for Mrs. Gilgroom ever after.

“I know none of them would do anything to him,” she went on, “unless he did something to them first—and even if he didn’t, he deserves everything they do to him.”

“I don’t know about dat; I only got to hold d’ scales of Justice.” And Limpy hung his lip, and looked as important as a Chief Justice.

“The scales of your gradmother! If you don’t take the Gilgroom’s part I’ll scale you when you come back with the poker.” And Mother shook her fist at him.

Limpy put on his hat and slumped stubbornly out without making further reply.

“Remember what I have told you,” Mother shouted after him, “or you’ll get it!”

“They never gives me a moment’s peace,” Paley spluttered in reply to Limpy. “And not satisfied with blackgardin’ and scandalizin’ me to everyone, they wants to stop me now from taking me milk to th’ facthry.”

“If dat’s dere jolly game,” the Justice said, crawling into the cart, “I’ll make it hot for them.”

“Ye’re own eyes will tell you it is, there!” And whipping up the horse, Paley drove rapidly down the lane.

Nearing Gilgroom’s place, which stood close to the road, Paley advised the J.P. to hide himself in the bottom of the conveyance. “If they sees th’ least bit o’ ye,” he added, “they’ll shmell a rat.”

Limpy curled himself up among the empty cans in the bottom of the cart, and rolled and bumped about on the milk-stained floor like a corpse.

The Gilgrooms, moving peacefully about the farm, saw Paley approaching, but made no unfriendly demonstration towards him. Paley was disappointed. It wasn’t the sort of reception he expected. He slowed down to a walk and stared insolently in their direction. Still the Gilgrooms disregarded his presence. Paley shook his first at them. The Gilgrooms took notice. They stared hard. Paley touched his nose with his fingers. Old Gilgroom and his eldest boy rushed and seized the horse by the head.

“I’ll give ye both in charge,” Paley shouted in grieved tones.

“I’ll give you a broken head,” old Gilgroom shouted back.

Then the horse started to rear, and Paley to roar “Woa!” and “Weh-h!”

Mrs. Gilgroom and one of the girls laden with bad eggs and over-ripe tomatoes, arrived. They pelted Paley with the rapidity of machine-guns, and Paley dodged and ducked and spat and swore loudly in the presence of the hidden J.P.

“Give it to the dog!” old Gilgroom shouted at intervals to his wife. “Give it to him; he can’t get away!”

Then Paley roared for the law to rise and do his duty.

The J.P. cautiously raised his head, and nervously peeped over the edge of the cart.

‘There’s a fellow in with him!” Annie Gilgroom cried, letting fly a shell that burst in the Justice’s eye. Limpy dropped down on the floor of the cart and flattened himself like a turtle. Then Paley, with egg-flip and tomato dropping from him, seized an empty milkcan and heaved it at the Gilgrooms. Mrs. Gilgroom and Annie dodged it and responded with more eggs. William Gilgroom lifted the milk-can and threw it into the paddock. Paley called upon the J.P. to witness the theft. The J.P. ignored him.

“Damn you!” Paley roared, and grabbing him by the coat collar stood him on his legs. Fresh shells burst and bespattered his white coat. Limpy stuttered and struggled, but Paley, holding him firmly, used him as a shield.

“Run for more eggs, Annie!” Mrs. Gilgroom commanded. But just then old Gilgroom pulled the winkers off the horse and “hooshed” it. The brute swung round and bolted along the lane. Paley jumped out and rolled in a gully, but Limpy remained in the cart He remained in it till it fouled a stump and turned over.

Then he got out and rolled on his head. And when he was carried home and questioned by the township policeman, he declined to make a statement. But next day Mrs. Gilgroom came over to our place and between intervals of mirth told Mother all about “the great fun they had”.


Chapter 18
Andy’s Watch and a Kangaroo

Andy reared three calves on the bucket; three calves that old Bill Bush, who decided to go in for dairying on scientific principles, was going to knock on the head with his axe—and exchanged them with Jim Blaises for a silver watch. And a splendid watch it was, too. Father said he never saw a nicer, or felt a heavier one in his life.

“Don’t y’ think ’e was a fool to give it for th’ poddies, Father?” Andy chuckled, pressing the turnip to his ear listening to its ticking.

Father did; and reckoned “a watch like that must have cost a good lot of money”.

“Well, th’ calves didn’t cost much, anyway.” And chuckling more, Andy opened all the lids of the timepiece and gazed learnedly at the mechanism.

Martha and Tom crowded round. “Now yous keep away,” Andy commanded, “an’ don’t be shovin’ near it!”

“Who’s shovin’ near it? Yer very fritent of th’ old thing, ain’t y’?” from Martha.

“No, I ain’t fritent of th’ old thing!” Andy repeated loudly; “but I’m fritent of a clumsy goat like you.”

Martha poked her tongue out.

“Let’s see what makes it go?” Tom pleaded humbly.

“Yer can see what makes it go, can’t y’, without wantin’ to put your breath on it an’ stop it from keepin’ proper time?”

“What’s the proper time on it now?” and Tom strained his neck to see.

“Yer can’t tell th’ proper time on that side!” Andy informed him. “Here’s where yer’ve got to look for that.” And closing the back of the watch with a loud snap, displayed the face of it to Tom.

“Half a hour past,” Tom announced solemnly.

“Half an hour past! Yer galoot, that’s not what th’ time is! Lovely bloke you’d be to tell how th’ evenin’ was goin’ on a job!” And Andy laughed.

“Well, tell us yerself what time it is then, if yer so smart?” Martha demanded.

“Eh—tell yer—the er—what time?” Andy studied the turnip hard for several seconds. “It’s twenty to; that’s what it is if y’ want to know.”

“Well it isn’t, then,” snapped Martha. “An’ yer can’t tell th’ time yerself, though you do own th’ blessed old thing!”

Andy turned to Limpy.

“Ain’t I right?”—showing the cripple the face of the watch —“Isn’t that twenty to?”

“I tan alweds manage to tell der time od a clock,” Limpy confessed; “but I neber could understand dem jolly things.

Andy appealed to Father.

Father stared at the Waterbury, and it seemed to perplex him.

“I can’t quite make them hands out,” he said. “On th’ watch I used to have, one wer’ a bit bigger’n other. Them’s both th’ one size.

Andy’s blood went cold.

“Oh, I dunno,” he growled; “they’re th’ same sort o’ hands as is on all watches, ain’t they?”

“Well, if that’s the big hand,” Father indicated one with his thumb, “it’d be now just erzactly ten minutes to ten. But if th’ other’s the biggest hand, it’s—well—see (calculating) it’s just th’ other way about—ten minutes after ten.”

“Oh, well, in any case, that ain’t a big lot o’ difference.” And Andy cheerfully returned the jewellery to his pocket, and fondly pressed his hand over it.

You, and your rubbishing watch!” Mother broke in like an explosion. “Much better indeed if you had kept the calves! They might have been some use on the place, and something made out of them! Taking a useless, trashy thing like that for them! It shows what a fool you are!”

“Well, they was me own proputty, wasn’t they?” Andy protested sulkily.

“I don’t know that they were your own proputty. I don’t know that they were!” Mother swung her arms like a pugilist “Other people looked after them, and reared them just as much as you did, and a good deal more than you did. And whose milk was it they were reared on, I would like to ask; was it your milk, was it?”

“Oh, I dunno whose milk it was,” Andy drawled. “It wasn’t mine, I don’t expect.”

“No, it wasn’t yours! Of course it wasn’t yours!” yelled Mother. “And well you know it!”

“But this watch is mine, though.” And grinning hard, Andy went off to the barn, where he took the Waterbury from his pocket again and studied the time some more.

* * * * * *

Andy drove a large nail into the wall of his room, and having warned everyone in the home to “keep out an’ let things alone that didn’t belong to them,” hung his watch carefully on it.

Several times a day he would race in from the paddock to see if the Waterbury was all right, and to wind it up. It was wonderful the amount of winding up it required, and how hard it was to wind. A windlass was no harder to wind. Being so strong and well made was the reason of it, Andy reckoned.

One day when he came in to see it, the face was open, and one of the hands was missing.

“By cripes, who’s been at my watch an’ broke it?” he bellowed, careering wildly into the front room with the damaged turnip in his hand.

Who d’ y’ think would be at it!” Mother snorted. “No one but yourself. Ain’t y’ always at it? Are you ever doing anything else? When are you not wasting your time running to it and fooling an’ humbugging with the rubbishing thing! And a blessed good job that it is broke, for perhaps you’ll settle down and do something now!”

“Is it a good job!” howled Andy, with tears in his voice.

“Yes it is!” yelled Mother.

“Well, anyway,” bellowed Andy, “whoever broke it I’ll break their bloomin’ necks for them!”

Martha and Tom outside, with their ears to the cracks in the slabs, suddenly scampered like rabbits for the barn.

“Will you! Oh, will you! You’ll do a lot my fine fellow!” And Mother, tugging at her sleeves, moved menacingly towards Andy.

Andy backed cautiously in the directions of the front door, and was about to bolt when Limpy, in a strangely excited state, hopped in by the back way. He pointed at the wall, and gasped, and grimaced and gesticulated, but failed to make himself intelligible. Mother stared at him. So did Andy. Limpy hopped towards the door and wildly motioned them to follow. Mother remembered that Father was engaged sinking a well in the gully and jumped to a conclusion.

“It’s your Father,” she cried to Andy, “He’s met with an accident—run!

Andy ran. Mother ran, too, and Limpy dodged along behind.

A pack of strange dogs of all breeds and descriptions clamoring round the well, or hole—there was no windlass on it, and it was only down about twelve feet—caught Andy’s eye.

“Somethin’s up!” he yelled back to Mother, and ran harder. Arriving on the scene he kicked the yelping mongrels right and left and looked in to the hole. The anxious look on his face instantly changed to a curious, joyful grin. Then he burst out laughing, and shouted as Mother came puffing down the slope: “It’s a kuh-kuh-kangaroo! Down th’ bloomin’ well along with Father!”

“What-what d’ y’ say!” Mother gasped, peering down the hole. And there, sure enough, was a good-sized kangaroo, standing erect on one side, and facing Father with fire and fight in his eyes.

“Merciful heavens!” she said, “what’s to be done?”

“Get th’ gun,” Andy suggested, excitedly. “I’ll shoot ’im.”

“And shoot your Father, you fool!” Mother yelled in deprecation.

Then Father’s voice, loud and terrible, rose from the hole.

“Lower th’ ladder!” it said. “And keep them d—d dogs from shovin’ stones in!”

“But can’t yer brain him with the pick, Father? An’ how did ’e get in there with y’?” Andy shouted back.

“D—n it, he’s standin’ on th’ pick!” Father roared. “If I stoop won’t he get me down! (To the ’roo) Hoo! Hoo! Would yer!” Bif! bif! thump! And for quite a while an interchange of scratches and clinches took place below.

Andy laughed and cheered, and counselled Father to “get him by the throat”, and in his excitement shoved a quantity of blue metal down.

“Keep them d—n dorgs from shovin’ stones in! An’ get th’ ladder!” howled Father.

Limpy knew where the ladder was.

Andy turned and attacked the mongrels with both feet, and two of them, a large black and white kangaroo dog and a small brute with no tail, in evading the kicks, fell down the well together. Mother threw up her hands when she saw them disappearing, and groaned.

Father cursed and swore worse than any bullockdriver we ever heard; but his words were soon drowned in the trouble those dogs made.

“Wad d’ debil hab y’ done now?” Limpy, struggling with the ladder, asked.

Done!” yelled Andy, “two bloomin’ dorgs gone down!”

Dora and Aunt Maria and Martha and Tom arrived and wanted to know what was the matter. But no one had time to tell them.

“Down with the ladder quick!” Mother cried.

All of them steadied the ladder, and as soon as it reached the bottom the kangaroo started to ascend it with the dog in his arms. He ascended in a spasmodic sort of way till he was nearly at the top.

“Loot oud for ’im! Loot oud for ’im!” Limpy shouted, hopping away from the well.

Andy reached down and struck at the ’roo with his hat. Then the big black and white kangaroo dog which had been worrying Father in a corner discovered his mistake and seized the marsupial by the tail. The marsupial dropped back to the bottom of the hole and kicked the big dog against the wall, and pranced all over Father.

Andy, leaning down, shouted to Father to get on the ladder. Father, his shirt scratched off his back and his chest all clawed and bitten and bleeding, feebly clutched the ladder with his two hands, and was struck on the top of the head with Andy’s watch. Consternation! Andy danced round and round that well shouting: “It’s down!

“What’s down now?” Mother yelled.

“Th’ watch! Th’ watch!” Andy groaned, clutching at his empty pocket like a drowning man at a straw.

“Then thank God!” Mother said, “and a pity you didn’t go with it!” Then grabbing hold of Father as he struggled up the ladder, she laid him out on the grass, and sent Tom for some water.

Dora and Aunt Maria, looking down the hole, excitedly shouted:

“He’s killing the poor dogs! He’s killing them both!” And all of us gathered round the hole again—all of us—except Father.

“Th’ wretch!” Andy hissed between his teeth; “An’ he’s standin’ on my watch! I can see it. Where’s that rope what was here? I’ll fix him! I’ll fix th’ sod!”

Limpy, anticipating Andy, produced a hemp rope to which an old bucket was fastened.

Discarding the bucket Andy quickly adjusted a running noose on the end of the rope, and threw it down to the ’roo. The brute seized the hemp with both paws, and for several exciting seconds engaged the lot of us in a tug-of-war. When he found we were too many for him, though, he let go, and Mother fell heavily on Aunt Maria and hurt her leg.

Andy adjusted the noose again, and threw it a second time.

“Got ’im roun’ th’ waist!” he shouted wildly. “Pull! PULL!”

We fell in behind Andy and pulled for our lives.

The ’roo snorted and made a high standing jump, and when he jumped we hauled in the slack, and suspended him half way up the hole with his big feet kicking the ladder about.

“Hold him there! Hold him!” Andy cried. “Hold him while I throw the end over here,” And taking the end of the rope he heaved it over the grim arm of a big dead tree that hung over the well like a gallows. Then all of us shifted our grips and pulled with Andy. Even Father, becoming excited at the prospects of publicly executing that marsupial, scrambled to his feet and got on the rope. Never before had we taken a prominent part in an execution, and the joy and novelty of it filled us with mirth.

The head of the condemned appeared over the hole.

“Look! he’s comin’,” Andy cried; “stick to ’im! Stick to ’im!”

We stuck to him, and gradually the great ’roo, his eyes bulging from their sockets, rose till his toes touched the top of the hole. Then, in a flash he made a mighty spring at the space above our heads and took all the strain off the hemp. We fell down and took all the slack with us, and the brute became suspended in mid-air.

“Blime!” Andy gasped. “If I could only get a look at me watch we’d know th’ time it was when he was hanged.”

Then the dogs became active again, and started biting the ’roo’s tail. We all laughed at the dogs, and while we laughed the ’roo doubled himself into a ball, and sticking his long toenails under the rope around his waist, stiffened and strained and struggled till the muscles of his thighs stood out like Samson’s, and the sinews in his legs threatened to snap. And just when Andy called: “Now then! A little higher!” that rope flew into several fragments, and the marsupial fell on the dogs, and all of us fell on top of one another.

When we jumped up and looked round, the brute was jumping as hard as he could up the other side of the gully, and throwing dust and distance at the pack of mongrels limping in pursuit.

“Well, well, well!” Father murmured.


Chapter 19

When a month expired, Aunt Maria didn’t say anything about returning to her situation. She didn’t say anything about returning when two months expired. She settled calmly down to work, and became a permanent member of our household. As time went on she purchased a supply of drapery, and assisted by Mother and Dora, sat all the afternoon, and late into the nights, cutting out and making up pillow-slips, and sheets, and dresses, and night-gowns, and all sorts of unmentionable underclothing for herself to wear later on. And beautiful underclothing it was, too. The sight of it nearly turned Dora’s head. She used to stop sewing to turn it over and over on the table and admire it. And several times she wondered if she would ever be lucky enough to own so many nice things. And the finishing touches that graced the bottoms of some of the articles were almost divine— they were ornamented with three and four rows of the most lovely lace Dora had ever seen. Mother, though, was not so delighted with Aunt Maria’s finery. Mother didn’t approve of such an elaborate display of lace. Mother always took an economical view of everything; and extravagance in dress was a crime in her eyes.

“Surely one row of lace should be enough to put on those things!” she said to Aunt Maria, one day. “In fact, I don’t know what an old thing like you wants with any on them at all for! It’s simply waste and flashness, and nothing else. I never had any on mine in all my life—and neither had anyone that ever I knew.”

Aunt Maria turned red in the face and would have taken offence at Mother’s remarks only for Dora.

“Indeed, Mother,” Dora put in, “it’s the right thing to have lace on them. Perhaps when you were getting married they mightn’t have been so particular. But it’s the fashion now with everyone; they all have lace put on.”

“When I got married, me lady,” Mother snorted, “they were a lot more particular than they are now, and girls had a lot more sense. No one ever heard of anyone in my days wasting their bit of money on such trumpery! Sticking yards of good lace that costs money, where no one in the wide world will ever see it! Pshaw! It’s dirty pride, that’s what it is!”

Dora and Aunt Maria looked at each other, then burst into mirth.

“You may laugh and snigger,” Mother grumbled on, “but I’m sure the money would be much better spent in boots, or a milk-bucket or something.”

“Lots will see the lace on the clothes-line,” Dora giggled.

“Yes, and laugh and sneer and poke fun at it, too,” Mother answered.

“Villiam won’t, will he, Aunt?” And Dora giggled more.

“No, Villiam won’t,” growled Mother. “No man ever sees the senselessness of anything when he gets married, and if his wife’s as ugly as an ape he thinks she’s a beauty. But wait awhile—wait for a month or two!” And shaking her hand she plunged the needle into the underclothing and started sewing furiously.

And while Aunt Maria was carrying out her share of the marriage preparations, Villiam Brandt knocked the end out of his humpy and totally changed its sad, lonely-looking appearance by adding two rooms and a verandah. Several times a week, too, he would put down the hammer and come along to our Homestead, and report progress to Aunt Maria. One day he came along when Aunt Maria, Mother and Dora were over at Bush’s seeing Mrs. Bill Bush’s little baby, and only Aunt Sue and Martha at home. When Aunt Sue saw him coming, she ran in and put on Aunt Maria’s best hat and smiled at herself in the glass. Then leaving Martha staring and wondering, strutted out and met Villiam a short distance from the house. Villiam met her with a broad smile, and greeted her as “Mari”; and clasping her in his arms, playfully, lifted her several times off her feet. Then he stooped and kissed her on both cheeks, and on the mouth, and led her to a wild fig tree that spread itself all over the gully. There they sat close beside each other on the bare ground, their backs to the base of the tree, and murmured about the future into each other’s ears. After a lapse, Aunt Sue burst into tears, and in distressed tones told Villiam that all of us, especially her sister (she didn’t mention her name) had turned against her, and were treating her shamefully, and wanted her to break off the engagement.

Villiam’s eyes flashed, and his lips quivered; and he swore an oath that he would break all our heads.

“Sushan, dot wretch!” he cried excitedly. “She vos jealous of yeuo, mein sveet kerreature.”

“So she is, Villiam,” Aunt Sue stammered, letting her head fall on his shoulder; “and on that account we shouldn’t wait any longer, don’t y’ think so?”

“I nod vait von more (unprintable) meenit!” Villiam exclaimed.

“I can’t tell you all they’ve done and said just now,” sobbed Aunt Sue; “but I think it’s best not to wait.”

“Mighty, I goes me home now and puts me der mare inter der spreeng cart and drive sweeftly to der train.”

“Well, make haste and hurry, Villiam,” Aunt Sue urged, drying her eyes, “and we’ll be away before any of them comes back.”

Villiam rushed home as fast as he could run. Aunt Sue hurried back to the house, and, to the astonishment of Martha, put on Aunt Maria’s wedding dress, and packed all the new clothes that she and Mother and Dora had made, into a box.

“Oh, I know wot y’re up to,” Martha said, intruding, “think I deon’t!”

Martha was on the side of Aunt Maria.

“You go out of this, you prying little cat, and mind your own business!” Aune Sue said, fumbling excitedly with a rope she was fastening the box with.

“You want t’ make him believe yer Aunt Maria, doen’t yer?” sneered Martha; “but she’ll be here drekly, they’re comin’ now over th’ hill.”

“Don’t you come here telling any of your lies, you little wretch,” and Aunt Sue, greatly alarmed, began to perspire.

Martha darted out into the yard and shouted: “Aunt Maria-a-a! Aunt Maria-a-a! Hurry er-r-p!” to no one in particular.

Aunt Sue grabbed up the box and struggled to the verandah with it just as Villiam rattled up with the cart.

“Kvick, my sveet kerrature!” urged Villiam, jumping out and taking possession of the box.

“Don’t you b’lieve ’er, Mr. Brandt, don’t you b’lieve ’er! She’s not Aunt Maria, she’s Aunt Sue!” Martha squealed.

Villiam, seating himself beside Aunt Sue in the cart, and gathering up the reins, made ugly faces at Martha, and in broken language committed to her care a number of violent messages for “der oders ven dey cooms beck”, and one special one for “her Aundt Sushan”.

“Yer must be a galoot,” Martha answered contemptuously, returning his ugly faces.

Just then the others, returning suddenly, appeared round the corner of the house. Mother excitedly screamed things to them. Mother and Aunt Maria grasped the situation in an instant. So did Dora. She collapsed in a fit of merriment. Mother, in her loudest voice called to Villiam to “Wait man! wait man!” Aunt Maria screamed and rushed towards the moving cart with her arms out. But Villiam wasn’t to be deterred. Urging the mare to a fast trot, he looked round triumphantly and pulled faces at Aunt Maria. Then Aunt Sue, with one arm round Villiam, waved her other hand and cried: “Tat-ta-a! Tat-ta-a-a-a!”


Chapter 20
The Wedding

When the cart containing Aunt Sue and Villiam Brandt had rolled away, Aunt Maria turned and ran inside and threw herself face downwards on the sofa and wept.

All of us, except Mother and Andy, stood gloomily round staring silently and sorrowfully at her. We were sorry, because we had been looking forward to her wedding with great joy, and to think that no marriage would now take place in the house was a great blow to us.

“It’s a wonder they would do a thing like that,” Father murmured.

“But I’m sure he doesn’t know it’s her ’es gone off with,” Martha explained. “The first time ’e come, when all of you was away, and before he went to fetch the cart, she was wearin’ Aunt Maria’s dress, an’ it seemed to strike me, somehow, then, that somethin’ was wrong.”

“Couldn’t yer tell him?” Father asked thoughtfully.

Father was a deep thinker sometimes.

“Tell him,” echoed Martha—“I might just as well have tried to tell things to a traction engine. She had him stuffed with her lies.”

“If it had been anyone else,” Aunt Maria moaned. “Oh-h-h! Anyone else—anyone else! Anyone but my own sister!—my own sis—”

“Baa!” Mother interrupted, suddenly entering the door. “Your own sister, indeed! What have you to cry about, let me ask? Didn’t you treat her in the very same way yourself? And who has the most right to him—you, Maria, or her?”

Aunt Maria tried hard to take a fit, and when she stiffened out she kicked Limpy, who was seated sorrowfully on the end of the sofa watching her, on to the floor.

Martha and Tom laughed hard, and Mother ordered them outside. They went out cheerfully.

Aunt Maria’s teeth began to chatter and she drew her knees almost up to her chin.

“Well, you needn’t lie showing your legs to everyone,” Mother shouted at her.

Aunt Maria screamed and sprang from the sofa, and said she wasn’t showing her legs to anyone.

Turning to Father, Mother ordered him to put the horse in the cart at once.

“If Sue’s to be married,” she said determinedly, “I’m going to see it’s done proper. She stuck to me all her life, and I’m not going to desert her just when she’ll want someone near her.”

Father went out and caught Marvellous, and we helped harness him and put him in the old spring cart. Then Mother flew round and dressed herself in her best clothes; and when she was stepping into the cart she thought Father had better accompany her.

“But I’ve got nothin’ on!” Father mumbled, looking mournfully at his tattered shirt sleeves and mud-bespattered milking pants and unlaced “clodhoppers.”

“You’ve got a shirt and trousers and boots on, haven’t you? Do you want any more than that?” Mother snapped.

“Oh, I don’t care,” and Father mounted the cart. Father would do anything for the sake of peace. Father was always an obedient husband.

“Does that feather look all right in my hat, Martha?” Mother asked.

Martha said it did.

“Give me the reins!” And snatching them out of Father’s hands, Mother drove off down the lane.

* * * * * *

Nightfall. Aunt Maria sulking in her room. Dora came in from the yard and wondered aloud “if they were married yet?”

Aunt Maria, wiping her eyes came out from her room and said resolutely: “I’ll break my heart over no man! If she marries him—let her. I don’t care!” And she snapped her fingers and wagged her head.

“That’s the right way to take it, Aunt!” Dora agreed. “And there’s just as good fish in the sea as has ever been caught.”

“There might be in the sea,” Andy put in; “but accordin’ to Father, them in the crick is nothin’ to what they was twenty-five years ago.”

“Pshaw! Neither is he!” And Dora shrugged her shoulders.

“Still, if I liked,” Aunt Maria added thoughtfully, “I could have my noble William Brandt up for breach of promise.”

“Could you, Aunt?” enthusiastically from Andy.

“Because both of you heard him ask me to have him.” And Aunt Maria looked from one to the other for confirmation.

“I don’t think I ever did, Aunt,” Dora answered. Dora scented trouble. So did Andy.

“Nor me, by crimes, no!” he gasped; “I know nothin’ about your courtin’ business.”

Andy had once been summoned to court as a witness in an assault case.

“But you do!’’ Aunt Maria insisted.

“But I DON’T!” stubbornly from Andy.

“Oh, let them get married, Aunt! What does it matter?” And Dora assumed a conciliatory attitude.

“You might do twenty times better yet, and I believe you will”

Aunt Maria swallowed a lump that was in her throat, and said: “He isn’t worth worrying about, anyway, the old crawler that he is, but he’s only like all the others.”

Then she went off to her room again.

* * * * * *

Next evening. The sun slowly sinking behind the range. Dora and Martha, and Andy and Tom in the milking-yard; Aunt Maria moping about the fowlhouse; the Paleys passing along the road behind their milking cows.

Andy, about to bail up his fourth cow, glanced through the rails and saw two carts approaching.

“There they are, back again,” he called out; and letting the milking rip, bolted off with the empty bucket in his hand. The others followed excitedly. Aunt Maria ran into the house and hid herself.

Villiam and Aunt Sue, occupying the first cart, waved their hands; Mother and Father in the second one, waved pieces of white ribbon. Andy responded with the bucket, while the others threw their hats up.

The carts stopped at the rails and Mother and Martha said: “Hold on now—wait a while! Don’t be in a hurry!” And when they had all alighted safely she gripped Father by the arm and proceeded to form a procession. Mother was a great believer in etiquette.

“I’ll be der jolly band,” Limpy said, producing his split stick and breaking into music.

Then Mother and Father led the way. Entering the home, the former lifted her voice and shouted “Welcome!” All of us echoed “Welcome!” and gave three cheers to boot. Then there was much kissing. And when Villiam kissed Dora and claimed her as a sister. Aunt Sue told him that she was “watching him”.

“You vatch me, eh, little goosling?” And Villiam approached his bride and tickled her under the chin. She returned him a tender, loving smile.

Then Mother took the bride aside, and after whispering things to her, left the room with her. And while we talked to Villiam and asked him what it was like getting married, Aunt Maria, with paint on her cheeks and ribbons and roses in her hair, entered.

Villiam mistook her for the bride.

“You vas come back to me already, leetle goosling?” he said, throwing his arms round her.

We stared.

Aunt Maria broke angrily from his embrace and spat at him, and called him a deceiver.

We laughed.

Villiam was dumbfounded. But when Aunt Sue returned, he saw his mistake.

Then Aunt Maria spat at the two of them and hoping they would be “happy with each other”, turned on her heel and went out.


Chapter 21
An Unexpected Visitor

A glorious autumn day. There had been copious rains, and all the land was green and grand.

Father, standing in the doorway, looked out at the grass waving waist high, and wished he could afford to buy a hundred steers to fatten on it. Father was always crying for the moon.

A lady and gentleman, on stable-fed horses, rode briskly in through the gate, and gave Father a great surprise.

“Who’s this?” he whispered.

Mother peeped over his shoulder. Dora squinted through the window, then fled into the bedroom, Martha and Tom slipped round the house and concealed themselves in the chimney corner.

“Helloa, Pettigrew!” the gentleman said, riding right up to the verandah—“and how are you getting along over here?”

“It’s Harry Bellbridge—or Mr. Bellbridge, I should say!” And Father looked as proud and pleased as a schoolboy with a holiday.

“Harry is good enough,” the other said, dismounting and shaking hands with Father.

Mother rapidly wiped the hand she was going to shake with in her apron, and flinging her hair back behind her ears, rushed out noisily.

Mr. Bellbridge shook hands with her, too, and Mother made a great fuss about him.

“And this is the young lady that was a baby when we left the station?” and Mother beamed proudly on Miss Bellbridge.

“That’s the little Ida, then,” the parent said.

“Well, well, well!” and Mother stared harder at her.

The young lady urged her restless horse forward, and leaning from the saddle, cheerfully put her gloved hand in Mother’s.

“I can just remember when you and your husband were on the station, Mrs. Pettigrew,” she said, and Mother quickly reckoned up her age and admitted “it were possible”.

The heads of Martha and Tom appeared cautiously round the chimney corner.

Mother frowned at them.

“We just came from the wash-pool paddock,” Mr. Bellbridge explained, “where we were helping Sandersen to give delivery of a draft of bullocks to Will Springfield, the drover for the Meat Company now.”

“Just so,” Mother broke in, wagging and nodding her head. “And my daughter was determined that we should give you a call before returning to the station.”

Tears of joy and gratitude filled Mother’s eyes, and Father tried hard to express the pride he felt at their favoured visit, but words failed him.

“That’s all right, Abe!—that’s all right!” Mr. Bellbridge interrupted sympathetically, “you were a good servant to me. And I hope you have never regretted leaving the station to go on your own.”

“Oh, no!” Father mumbled, as if he wasn’t quite sure. But Mother said she reckoned if he had it over again he’d never go on a selection. Mother was always making Father out to be a liar some way or another.

“But we had a lot more ready money,” she added, “when we was working on the station.”

“Money is nothing!” the squatter said, and jokingly predicted the time when Mother would be taking a trip round the world along with Father.

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it, Mrs. Pettigrew?” the daughter laughed, and taking her foot out of the stirrup, jumped lightly from the saddle.

“A bit too nice for an old slave like me,” and Mother laughed, too.

“Here, Tom, where away?” Father called—“Come and hold these horses.”

Tom left the chimney corner like a startled rat leaving a hollow log, and fled for the hay-stacks.

“Don’t bother, Abe,” Bellbridge said. “I’ll fasten them to this post for a few minutes, while I trouble you for a glass of water.”

“Yes! Yes! Wait till I get you a glass,” Father answered.

At mention of water, Martha, who knew they would have to pass her hiding-place to reach the tank, left the chimney corner even more abruptly than Tom, and flew like an emu for the harness shed. And while Father went inside to procure the only glass we possessed, which he carefully wiped clean with the slack of his shirt, Mother inquired if Will Springfield would be passing our road with the cattle?

Bellbridge said he “thought he would be”, and followed Father to the tank.

“A nice lad is Will Springfield,” Mother remarked incidentally.

“I’m so glad you think so, Mrs. Pettigrew,” and the young lady flushed the colour of a tomato and seemed inclined to embrace Mother.

Mother, who had a keen instinct for love affairs, displayed a quick interest, and gave Will Springfield, who often called at our place on his trips, a character that would have made a princess long to elope with him. And before the others returned from the tank the young lady opened her heart to Mother and confessed her love for Will, and told her how Pa didn’t approve of her keeping company with him, and how he wanted her to have Sandersen, his manager, and the things he did to keep her from meeting Will. Then, hearing the others returning round the house, Mother squeezed the young lady’s hand, and called her “dear”, and told her not to be down-hearted, that it would all come right in the end, and promised to help her and Will all she could.

Just then who should turn off the road and ride straight in but Will Springfield himself.

There was mild confusion. Mother went forward hurriedly to meet him. Never before did she make half so much of Will. She greeted him as if he was the Governor come to open the new cheese factory, and told him it was in Parliament he ought to be and not droving cattle. Of course, Mother didn’t know any better then; she thought Parliament was a place for intelligent and honest people. She knows better now. When she had finished welcoming Will, Mr. Bellbridge asked him how the cattle were shaping, and if he thought they would travel all right? And when Will told him they were moving along splendidly, the squatter grunted “H’m”, and “Huh”, and “Ah”, then going to release the bridle reins from the post, said: “Come along, Ida.”

It was here that Mother showed her ready resources.

“Wasn’t you sayin’ there was somethin’ you wanted signed by a J.P.?” she said, with a sudden significant look at Father.

“Eh! No—I don’t think so!” and a frown of perplexity came over Father’s face. Father could rarely ever see through anything straight away—except it was a gate or a wide gap in the timber with a blue sky behind it.

“Of course there was.” Mother tramped on his foot. “Something about tendering for the Board contract,” and she tramped on his other foot.

Father began to follow the light.

“Oh, yes, of course!” he said. “I want you to sign something for me, Mr. Bellbridge.”

Then Mother told Father to bring Mr. Bellbridge inside while she looked for the pen. Father brought him inside and Mother was a long time finding the pen. Having found it, she suggested that Father also tell Mr. Bellbridge all about a wretched feud he had had for years with old Maguire about a dividing fence, and ask his opinion about it. She made this suggestion so as to afford extended time for the young couple. Having waited till Mr. Bellbridge witnessed Father’s signature, and was leaning back with a wise and attentive air listening to the dreary details of the endless squabble with old Maguire, she slipped outside and winked at the young lady. Then she ran inside again and contradicted Father in his statement of fact, and started at the beginning and gave the particulars all in her own way.

Father shook his head in disagreement with Mother.

“Nonsense, man,” she persisted; “why you’ve got no memory at all.” And to prove that her version was the right one, proceeded to mention everything that had happened in the district for ten years past and more. And while Mr. Bellbridge pressed his brow with the palm of his hand and stared bewilderingly at Mother, the angry voice of a stranger calling someone “a d— scoundrel”, was heard outside.

“That’s Sandersen!” And Mr. Bellbridge jumped off the chair and ran outside. Father and Mother ran out too. And there, ducking and side-stepping amongst the horses, were Sandersen and Springfield, with their coats off, dealing it out left and right to each other, while the young lady stood, pale and trembling.

“Here! What’s this? What’s this?” And Bellbridge forced himself between them. The fight stopped. Then scowling at Sandersen, he added: “Scandalous! Scandalous!”

The combatants, puffing and blowing and bleeding from the nose, started putting down their sleeves and walking aimlessly about. Three minutes later, Bellbridge and his daughter were cantering briskly away, and Sandersen and Springfield, hard at it again, were rolling about in the dirt and clutching each other by the throat and digging one another with longnecked spurs.


Chapter 22
Puttinga Puts Things in Order

Everyone was saying the Bank had taken over Magoola Station and that Harry Bellbridge had “gone off his head”. Father and Mother wouldn’t believe it, but when Ida Bellbridge, who had no living relation other than her father, came one day and said it was true, and sobbed into her handkerchief, they were surprised.

“Dear, oh dear! oh dear!” Mother moaned; and Father said, “Good God!” Father in his young days had worked for many years on Magoola, and somehow always seemed to think that he owned an interest in the station.

To our delight, Ida consented to stay with us for a while, or, as Mother put it: “Until she got settled in her mind and saw how things were going to turn out”. And if the way she used to sit sadly by the window, and other moments mope round the homestead shedding tears when Mother would condole with her, were circumstances to judge by, I fancy things were a long while turning out well with her.

At intervals the Bank manager would call and talk in confidence to Ida about her father’s overdraft. We knew it was about his overdraft, because Martha and Tom used to listen outside with their ears to the cracks in the wall.

Once Sandersen called; but when Ida heard his voice telling the dogs to go to the hot place because they barked at him, she told Mother she didn’t want to see him and hid herself in the bedroom.

Will Springfield, though, never called to see Ida, and all of us used to wonder why. At Tom’s suggestion, Martha asked Ida the reason one day and made her blush to the ears.

“Martha!” Mother rebuked with a scowl, “run away and mind your own business.”

Martha ran away and sneaked into Ida’s room and looked into her box.

Three weeks passed. Christmas approaching. A scorching December sun baking and parching the earth; dogs, fowls, milking cows and all living things except Polly, the old spring-cart mare, vainly endeavouring to side-step the heat and the flies. (Polly never wasted her energies. She just stood in the open with her head down, her eyes closed, silently enduring everything, like the good, willing, uncomplaining, battered, dying old slave she was.) Ida, thinking of leaving us; all of us wishing she would change her mind and remain at the old homestead for ever.

Puttinga, a faithful, intelligent blackfellow, who was reared and employed on Magoola all his life, glided noiselessly to the back door and said he “wanted a speak alonga Miss Ida”.

“Puttinga!” Ida exclaimed, when Tom delivered the message; and with tears of joy rushing to her eyes, ran out and greeted the black like a lost brother.

“Don’t a you cry, Miss Ida!” the old servant said; “I come to tell a you secret”—

Ida pulled herself together.

“A secret, Puttinga?”

“I don’t a want you to hear,” and the black, glaring at Martha and Tom, waved them away.

Both slunk round the house.

“Yes, Puttinga?” And Ida clutched at his shirt sleeve.

Then, after glancing round the corner to assure himself that Martha and Tom were not lingering there.

“Someone who a you know been a steal big fella mob a bullock Magoola a moonlight a long a time now.”

“Stealing Magoola bullocks for a long time, Puttinga? Who; tell me?” And the expression on Ida’s face changed quickly.

Puttinga looked round the corner again, then whispered in her ear.

Ida started back and asked him “if he was sure it was true?”

“Been a true as hell, Miss Ida,” and the eyes of the aboriginal rolled in their sockets like billiard balls.

Ida, clenching her white hands and biting at her lip, turned her head away.

When she relaxed and faced Puttinga again, he had vanished.

It had been a record frosty morning. Breakfast over; Mother, blue in the face and rubbing her hands together, came from the yard and told Ida “it was lovely out in the sun!”

Presently the latter went out and walked along the headlands of the wheat paddock. The warmth of the sun, though, seemed to find no place in her thoughts. Pausing at the farthest corner of the field, she leaned both elbows on the top of the round post and gazed thoughtfully down the bush track that led to old Magoola Homestead. Suddenly she heard a movement in the undergrowth outside the fence; then a man, pale, haggard and hunted-looking, appeared and hurriedly approached her.

“Will!” she gasped with a start.

Casting suspicious glances all around him, Springfield in a broken, agitated voice told her he was blamed for stealing Magoola cattle, and that the police had been hunting him for weeks to arrest him.

“But you haven’t stolen any of the cattle, Will?” Ida asked calmly.

Before all in heaven and on earth Will declared he was innocent. Then added; “What you would think if I was arrested, makes me afraid to face them.”

“I would think you were innocent,” she answered; “because I know who has been stealing the cattle.”

“You—know?” And Springfield stared.

But Ida was too excited to explain. She urged him to hurry with her and tell Father and Mother all about it.

Will hesitated and glanced back to where his horse was fastened in the dense undergrowth.

“Leave your horse and I will tell Andy to come and watch it.” And Ida moved towards the house.

Will crept through the fence and joined her.

Noticing a man crossing the wheat paddock beside her, we stared and wondered what was up. We wondered more when Ida hustled Will, whom we recognised, straight into the front room and called earnestly for Mother and Father. But when she returned to the verandah and whispered things to Andy, and warned the rest of us to keep our tongues in our cheeks should anyone call to ask questions about Will Springfield, we knew then that something very serious was up.

* * * * * * *

Andy, who had been reconnoitering in the vicinity of Will’s horse, returned excitedly.

“Tom! Tom!” he called, “bring the gun, quick! There’s a big ole man wallaroo down in th’ brigalow.”

“What did y’ say, Andy” from Tom.

Andy rushed into the kitchen and secured the gun himself.

“A what? A ole man wallaroo?” Tom repeated.

“An’ he let me get right up to him ’fore he moved.” And Andy started ramming home a charge of shot.

“A big cove? A black one? And did he look at y’?”

“By cripes he did!” And to assure the gun going off, Andy placed a pinch of powder in the nipple and put a cap on.

“Hurry up, quick! afore Father comes out,” from Tom.

Andy hurried up and crept away with the loaded gun on his shoulder just as Father came out of the house.

A few minutes later Sandersen rode into the yard and dismounted.

“Well, Pettigrew, how are you getting along over here— making a fortune?” he said jauntily to Father.

“Well enough; but no thanks to you,” Father answered. Father had got to hate Alf Sandersen, the manager of Magoola.

Sandersen laughed ironically, and Father scowled at him.

Ida came to the verandah to ask if Andy had returned. Sandersen raised his hat and said he had something very important to say to her.

“Well, say it to yourself, if you have, Mr. Sandersen!” And Ida turned her back on him and went inside.

Then Sandersen burst into profanity, and turning to Father, asked if he knew a warrant was out for the arrest of Will Springfield for stealing 5000 head of Magoola bullocks? “Do you?” and he lifted his voice to a roar.

“No!” Father grunted, “an’ I don’t want to, either.”

“Well, do you know he’s hiding in that humpy from the police?” And the other pointed scornfully to our house and added: “Because if you don’t, I DO!”

“You know a lot!” And Father tried to look unconcerned.

“And I know the police will be here in less than half an hour. But, listen to me!” and Sandersen shoved his angry-looking face near Father’s, “If he’ll take the last chance that will be given to him, there’s time yet to get his horse and cross the border into New South Wales.”

Father never said anything. But inside, Mother and Ida were fighting and struggling to restrain Will from rushing out to tear Sandersen to pieces.

Suddenly a gun-shot rang out, and a volume of smoke rose above the undergrowth.

Sandersen turned with a start. Father stared in the direction of the report, too, and wondered.

“The police! Didn’t I tell you?” The former said, turning again to Father.

“Then I hope they’ll make haste and arrest YOU!” And Ida’s face appeared at the window.

“For God’s sake don’t be a fool! Do you know what this means?” Sandersen appealed to her.

“Perfectly!” she answered. “You think to get Will to prove himself guilty by running away, you villain! When it was yourself who stole the cattle!”

“A lie!” and Sandersen broke into fresh profanity.

Puttinga, who unnoticed had been lurking in the chimney corner, suddenly stepped forward and grinned at Sandersen.

“You been steal a bullock all a right, Alf a Sandersen,” he said. “I been watch a you longa time in a moonlight.”

Sandersen stepped back and glared fiercely at the aboriginal.

“Ebera time Will Springfield buy a mob,” Puttinga went on, “you take a mob, too, and travel in a night alonga same tracks, and camp all a day in a scrub. I know. I been follow you.”

Then there was excitement!

Like a madman Sandersen rushed Puttinga, and seizing him by the throat tried to tear his tongue out.

“Leave him alone! Leave him!” Father shouted, picking up a stick.

Sandersen swung round and knocked Father down.

Then Will Springfield, leaving fragments of his clothes in the clutches of Mother and Ida, jumped through the window and laid Sandersen out.

All of us hastily gathered round, and Mother and Ida knelt beside Sandersen to see if he was dead.

In the middle of it all, a dismounted sergeant of police, hopping and dancing on one leg and bellowing “I’m shot! I’m shot!” entered the yard.

Fresh consternation.

“My God!” And Father ran to the wounded officer.

Then Andy, trailing the gun after him, appeared and gave himself up.

“I didn’t mean to do it!” he blubbered. “I thought he was th’ wallaroo.”

The trial of Sandersen, which lasted a fortnight, was the most sensational cattle-stealing case ever heard in Queensland. And the marriage of Will Springfield to Ida Bellbridge, six months later, which took place at our homestead, was the greatest and the liveliest wedding that Father or Mother or Limpy, or any of the Aunties, could ever remember.


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