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Title: Old Blastus of Bandicoot Author: Miles Franklin * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0801311h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2015 Most recent update: March 2015 Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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"...so essentially Australian in
character and atmosphere
that it could be set in no other country."
"A hearty, good-natured book, full of
character and good writing..."
LESLIE ETHEL & RUBY
who first heard this story in its original dramatic form.
"The poor old horse, must go of course,
If cars have come to stay,
The engine is the greater force
And so must have its way."
The gossips had their say. The poor old horse, since then perforce
Has gone. Ah, lack-a-day!
God rest his bones! The wind intones
For him a heartfelt lay.
It was in those days, so lately fled, when horseless carriages were a curiosity beyond the seaboard. Some young bloods had made the journey from Sydney to Melbourne in one as the most enterprising adventure at command following the picturesque performances of the Boer War, and had thereby rendered themselves as glamorous as minor flight pilots of later years. Desirous of inspecting the country which produced their high-priced staples, a few German or French wool-buyers had penetrated by car to the Southern Tableland, but these were foreigners, and in local consideration, their potentialities were outweighed by their peculiarities.
It was another pair of sleeves when Sandy Lindsey and his son Ross came back from Sydney with a car of their own. Motor cars became a personal and local concern from Canberra to Brindabullah, Bombala to Yass, and back again to Bandicoot, and the kernel of gossip. Nothing had so titillated the neighbourhood since Mabel Barry "went wrong."
There was panic among the horses. Even the most ring-boned and sluggish, as though of instinctive premonition, stood on their tails and with terrified snorts and breathings, regardless of culverts or cuttings, backed from the devilish monster which threatened their existence. Horse breeders were derisive. Wait till the horseless wonder started up when no one was in it and careered over a precipice or crashed into a shop window in Monaro Street! Such evil-smelling, unnatural contrivances should be stopped by law. What were innocent women, mothers of large families, to do when a man had the right to make the roads unsafe for them? People who drove cars were murderers.
Such a clack, but a salutary change from morbid preoccupation with varicose and renal or uterine derangements.
The ordinary cackled as the ordinary do concerning each advance or innovation: the percipient and young were interested: none but were curious and agog to see the notorious contraption. From Bungendore and Tharwa, Uriarra and Gininderra everyone approached Queanbeyan hoping to see the new machine traversing the plains: to have seen it scattering the horses in Crawford or Monaro Streets, or standing before Walsh's Hotel, was achievement.
William Barry from Bandicoot expressed loud contempt. He condemned Lindsey's possession of the car as to be expected from such a flash jackass. Lindsey would be rightly served if the fakement ran away from him down the Eight Mile and broke his neck. If the car frightened his horses Barry wasn't going to wait to have the law on Lindsey, but would thrash him in Monaro Street for all to see. He ached for e justifiable demonstration against Lindsey. This was his unwavering attitude towards Lindsey operations. Many jokes were current about each new ebullition. So far, he, Lindsey and the car had not met in Queanbeyan or elsewhere. Such a meeting was the luck of Dora Barry, seldom allowed abroad alone owing to her father's notions.
Mabel, the elder daughter, never went to Queanbeyan or Yass at all—never. This seclusion was connected in Dora's mind with Mabel's weak heart: that the symptom was isolated had not yet occurred to Dora. Mrs. Barry was also a confirmed home bird on account of headaches, so it was usually Dora's father who accompanied her abroad. She was a great pet with him and when inclined could wheedle him to her needs.
She sang with natural ease and her voice was much admired by those who heard it raised in the tuneful Weatherley melodies. She had mastered the piano according to local standards, from her governesses, and now that the days were growing longer, had coaxed her father to let her take singing lessons. Owing to the singing lessons and contrary to custom, she was allowed to go to Queanbeyan unattended.
It was a glorious season and the combination of lambing and foot-rot had on one or two occasions made Father too busy to give a whole day to going to Queanbeyan for a trivial singing lesson. On the other hand, he was paying three whole guineas per quarter in advance for those blasted lessons, an enormous outlay for a bit of foolish ah-ing and squeaking—sheer robbery and impudence—worse than the bushrangers. And if a day were missed not to make it good! What was the world coming to, full of every kind of swindler bent upon making money without honest work. However, Barry was in the power of this extortioner and meant to have the worth of his guineas.
Thus Dora, under weighty, injunctions as to behaviour, and on Challenger, one of the best saddle hacks extant, had ridden to town alone one fine Wednesday. She set off gleefully, elated by her freedom.
"What on earth could happen me, Daddy?" she demanded, using her pet title, permitted on emotional occasions and to her alone. To other members of the family he was strictly 'Father.' "No one on the road could catch me on old Challenger, and there aren't any bushrangers."
But Father's suspicions were deeply rooted in spleen, in the stock allegations against human nature, and alas, in disastrous experience.
The girl skimmed across the plains which were pullulating with spring, a fair Monaro breeze whipping her cheeks to a deeper pink, and Challenger dripping with the sweat of too much green food and too L exercise. She had the coveted singing lesson and returned home in less time than allocated. Her father's careful questionings elicited nothing beyond that she had eaten her dinner at the Royal in company with old Slattery and his wife and Rose Ann from Whipstick Crossing.
Dora omitted to mention that she met Ross Lindsey bang in the middle of Crawford Street, riding his black racing colt, but newly broken. The colt had lately succeeded a prize-winning trotting mare that was the delight and envy of the youth of the district. Unable to resist a glance at the new colt, Dora had found Ross looking back after her. Caught in the act, she smiled. Ross promptly raised his hat and smiled in response, showing a set of teeth, long, white and narrow-arched—most fascinating. She was disappointed not to encounter the car, but this was something.
On the second Wednesday of her escape from tutelage she had better luck. Entering the town a few paces past where the Hotel Queanbeyan to-day catches the winds and the full glare of the sun without a sheltering tree, she branched down Campbell Street on an errand for her mother, and when she turned into Monaro Street, there before the Royal, for which she was bound, she discerned the motor car. She cantered up so as not to miss her opportunity. The engine was running and the approaching Challenger acted like any green two-year-old. He snorted and backed, and when his rider urged him forward, he reared uncompromisingly. Dora applied the whip. Challenger gave a ripping exhibition, which Dora and all the quickly gathering loiterers immensely enjoyed. The girl, sprucely habited, with her pretty tackle on the shining blood was a glad sight; she sat so easily and the horse capered so perfectly.
Lindsey, Sr., dived out of the bar and stopped his engine. Ross sprang towards Dora, who now rode around into the hotel yard. Ross followed. "Miss Barry, I presume," he said with a little excess of manner, which old Barry regarded as flash hypocrisy, but it was delightful to Dora. Ross would have been a dunce to presume her other than herself, as they had been reared on the same ridings, but Dora was of an inexperience to value conventionality. Ross hoped she had not been alarmed. With a "Permit me," he unstrapped her music and handed it to her with effusive compliments on her handling of the startled horse.
"Oh, that's nothing! Old Challenger is as easy as a rocking chair," deprecated Dora, flushing rosily.
"You could carry everything before you if you only rode at the Show."
"Father would never let me be what he calls 'conspicuous'," said Dora, hurriedly escaping, regretting the brevity of the encounter, while to prolong it was beyond her. Ross let her go with a gallant sweep of his hat plus another smile.
All through her singing lesson Dora was wishing such exciting happenings could be repeated, and was delighted when she went to dinner upstairs at her hotel, to see Lindsey already seated in company with old Slattery. They were talking politics and took little notice of Dora, but when she was leaving the room, Lindsey rose and opened the door for her, bowing with exaggerated courtesy and expressing regret that he had frightened her horse. Dora never had had anyone open a door for her, and thought it wonderful manners on Lindsey's part. When she later rode out of the hotel yard, Lindsey, Sr., was issuing on the veranda with Slattery, and gravely raised his hat again. A glorious and entertaining day.
"The gurrl remoinds me," remarked Slattery in an important and reverberating whisper, "that 'tis a pity owld Blastus wouldn't be afther burying the hatchet."
Lindsey himself during his courtesies to Dora had been thinking peace would be good business, but he dismissed his neighbour's observation with a nod and continued their discussion.
Dora thought of the inspiring encounter all the way home, all the way across the rolling treeless plain guarded by its lone English spire, till leaving the shouldered masses of Black Mountain and Ainslie the view widened again beyond the Eight Mile, showing Bandicoot Hill like another Mount Ainslie all bald and tamed in the distant foreground, and beyond it piled the vallary beauty of the Tinderies, the Bimberies, the Brindabullahs—all the blue and timeless splendour of the Murrumbidgee Ranges.
He raised his hat with winning smile,
She turned her head, but no word said;
She laughed, and that is all.
But as a fire in grasses tall,
When wind is high, a smile or sigh
Can carry young love many a mile.
In warm weather it was old Barry's custom to snooze after mid-day dinner, to have tea about three-thirty and then work till dark. He was getting up in years and a division of the day was grateful to him when practicable. He had no need to slog now, but ceaseless industry had been his youthful habit and he clung to its semblance by rising at dawn and ignoring the time he spent on the verandas. He extended his formidable vision with a pair of binoculars, and any man thinking ca'canny tactics would pass on Bandicoot Hill Station was speedily undeceived. Old Barry's muscles had developed first as son and then as owner, ringing, felling, grubbing, scrubbing and burning-off on its wide acreage. He was so proud of his battle against the trees that he would never admit that Bandicoot Hill was too treeless. In later years never a blackberry, briar nor castor oil plant remained to hide from view sheep, horse or man. The proprietor could sit on one of his verandas and inspect the home paddocks of rolling country or foothills intersected by the main road and also by a stream, which can be herein known as the Bandicoot River, though it is otherwise written on the map. If he contemplated mustering in the other direction, he could look up to the treeless peaks of his own ranges, and, locating his beasts, set out or depute a retainer. Nor could his stock be driven off by marauders, unless on very dark nights, always spread out under his eye as they were.
Hardly a tree showed to the top of the skyline behind the house where the western sun hung, and high on the rim of the chief peak—Bandicoot himself—a salt shed was outlined. Beyond that edge were gullies and gorges still untamed backing into the mountainous region which has since become Federal Territory and summer relief country. Here Bandicoot was bounded by part of Lindsey's run, and much of Lindsey holdings remained "unimproved." Old Barry's opinion of Lindsey's back paddocks was so familiar as no longer to be amusing.
Barry spent hours on one or other of his verandas doting on his peerless Vermonts, prize-winners unbeaten in a wide radius including Cooma, Bombala, Yass and Goulburn. In the hot weather it was the family's custom to have afternoon tea on the back veranda, a comfortable retreat shaded from the sun and sheltered from the famous Monaro winds.
The day that Dora encountered the Lindseys was unusually hot for the time of year, so the family moved out. Father, through the binoculars, recognised Dora, a speck five miles distant across the ridges, and she arrived before the tea things were cleared away. A spirited horse going homeward and ridden with youthful zest ticked off the miles in record time. She put Challenger in the stable to cool a little before he could have a drink, and made her way through the big white gates of the backyard, feeling no fatigue from nearly fifty miles in the saddle since early morning, an arresting figure of young womanhood in her form-fitting habit of dark cloth, smartly held. Galloping in the breeze and blazing sunlight had made her delicate cheeks fiery red, and she pulled off her neat felt hat and white veil showing a mass of red-gold hair restrained in a heavy plait but escaping in shining tendrils around her snow white brow and ears.
"Good-day, Mick!" She nodded with disfavour at a man in dark shirt and working trousers, who was eating his tea at the edge of the veranda. He never raised his hat to her. He did not know enough to take it off when on the veranda. He sat on his hunkers—when there were plenty of seats—his jungle beard wagged as he ate, and she knew his eyes were slyly aware of her every detail. How nice if she could have come home to find a young man like Ross Lindsey present instead of this one.
She even looked with disappointment at her father, who had his shirt sleeves rolled up exposing his broad forearms, tanned as brown as leather. He too had a brushwood beard, differing only in colour from Mick's. Why couldn't he trim it neatly like Mr. Lindsey's, and not look so much and so complacently the old bush-whacker? Nevertheless she advanced upon him, kissed him filially and proclaimed that she was starving.
"Better hurry," remarked her mother, "or Arthur will have everything gormandised."
Arthur was her younger brother. There was only ten months between him and Dora. Some said there was not seven months, which is the key to a relationship of which Dora and Arthur alone were ignorant.
"Is there any mail for me?" inquired Dora, noting the papers strewn about. On mail days Mick Bell, under excuse of collecting his own mail, of which there was rarely anything but a circular, would ride in from his selection beyond Lindsey's, picking up the Bandicoot bag at the turn-off as he came. Governor, his fat old nag, a cross between a coacher and a light draft, was flinching the flies off his flanks under the hawthorn trees near the stables.
"There's this," said Father, self-consciously producing a parcel from behind his chair.
"Anthony Hordern and Sons—goodie! What is it?"
"It's addressed to you, not me."
"Save the string," said Mother.
"I was in such a hurry, I forgot," said Dora, sawing with a knife.
A length of fine white muslin, laces, ribbons and sashes billowed from a packet weighted with a fashion book. Everyone crowded to look, even Mabel the elder daughter, who was thirty-seven, and looked forty-five, and thought of nothing but work.
"Aw! Girl's stuff!" said Arthur contemptuously, wrinkling his freckled nose.
"Did you expect a pipe and bowyangs for Concertina?" said Dora, looking with animosity towards Mick's knees, and thinking he'd be out of place if anyone like Miss Lindsey called. "Oh, Father, you are a duck-a-down-dilly for keeps."
Satisfaction beamed from Father's large red face as he bent himself from behind the newspaper for Dora's hug. "Make it up nice and pretty from the book, for your birthday, and I'll get your photo taken in it for Christmas...There's never anything in this dashed rag, I don't know why I pay for it," he observed, tossing the paper aside. It was seized upon by Mother, who had been waiting for it.
"Aw, I wish I was a girl," complained Arthur. "Dora always gets everything."
"Never mind, Arthur. You hill the potatoes as Father told you and I'll see that you get a Christmas present too," said Mother.
"Aw, a pair of Blucher boots I suppose, w'en me toes are acting potatoes outer these. Why can't I have me photer taken too?"
"You an' me could be took together to scare the crows from the turkeys," offered Mick.
"Don't choose a style too hard to do up and make more work," said Mother.
"I'll do it up for you, Kiddy," said Mabel. "You make it just as pretty as you can."
"You're a trump, Mabel! I'll make a dress for you too."
"Oh, I don't want anything gay."
Mabel brought Dora some fresh tea, and Father inquired concerning her day in Queanbeyan.
"I forgot in the surprise of the parcel. I've seen the great and wonderful motor car; and didn't old Challenger just play up!"
"There's a long article in the Queanbeyan Courier about it," remarked Mother.
"Where?" demanded Father. "You might have had the politeness to mention it."
"You ought to have seen it. You had the paper first."
Father snatched the paper and after reading for a few minutes shouted: "Him, blast him! The bleeding skunk is not fit...
"What is the matter now, Father? Everyone has known this three weeks or more that Lindsey has a motor car."
"Matter, woman! Matter! One of the lowest blasted scoundrels that ever walked God's earth..."
Father became incoherent as he tore the paper across and stamped on it. Dora pieced it together and began: "'Our readers will learn with pleasure...'"
"Our readers—be damned! With pleasure, be damned! Never let that blasted rag come inside the house again!"
Unmoved by so familiar an outburst, Dora proceeded, "'Alexander Lindsey, the popular owner of...'"
"Good God! Pop'ler! A jail bird at large—pop'ler!"
"But that's the way to be popular," interjected Mabel.
"'The popular owner of Chesham Park'," persisted Dora, adding her comment. "Good for old Sandy! He ought to call it Wombat Castle and be done with it. He'll be an English lord next if he doesn't take care! What a lark!"
"I knowed the place w'en it was Dead Horse Crik," contributed Mick Bell, and added gratuitously: "He's been made a Justice of the Peace."
"I wonder he wasn't that years ago," said Mother.
"A J.P.! The first thing he ought to do is give himself ten years without the option. Blasted..."
"Listen! Listen! to the book of words. 'Mr. Lindsey, who is a leading pioneer of the district...'"
"A leading cattle duffer is nearer the mark..."
"'Has converted what was at his coming primeval forest...'"
"Primeval forest, be blowed! It was just bush—poor wallaby scrub most of it, not near as good land as Bandicoot. That's written by some of these townie liars that are wrong in the head."
"'...primeval forest into a valuable estate'."
"Estate be blasted! He started like the rest of us. We had a good bark hut before he was born. I am the King Billy pioneer of these parts among them that's still living, mark my words! My father put up the first slab hut this side of the Murrumbidgee. All the world came to look at it. Sandy Lindsey never came here till thirty years ago, and where did he come from? Nobody knows. R'ared in some town I suppose. He came here and sat down on the tail of my coat. I treated him white..."
"'Mr. Lindsey was the first in the district to instal the telephone'," proceeded Dora.
"So as he can listen to other people's business—the crawler! I wouldn't have a telephone if it was put in free."
"I wish we had one," murmured Mother.
"I knowed him when he hadn't a second shirt to his back," inserted Mick in his lingering drawl, as though he lacked sufficient bellows force to propel the words from his beard.
"You always knowed everyone when he hadn't a shirt to his back. Must have been in the Garden of Eden," rebuked Dora, and continued. "'Mr. Lindsey, who has done more for the district than any man in it, is again to the fore in purchasing a motor car'."
"More for the district! He was only a new chum. He didn't know a stringy-bark from a brittle gum till I showed him..."
"An' he never can see w'en another brand ain't his own to this day," slyly assisted Mick.
"Gosh, man! You're right there. And he couldn't ride an old milking cow, that's why he's got this—motor car."
"He doesn't need to ride a milking cow that I can see; that would curdle the cream," observed Dora, antagonised by Mick's pandering to her father's bile. "A car would get him miles and miles ahead of a horse, let alone a cow."
"You'll see him sitting in the bog out there by Slattery's and he'd be glad of a cow—or a team of bullocks to take him home, mark my words! With all his flash motor car he never has known enough to run a fire break."
"I knowed him w'en if he wanted a w'eelbarrer he'd have to borrer it."
"Yes. I wet-nursed him, and how did he reward me?—By duffing my cattle and riding the tails off my horses while I was down with a bad back. Now it's a motor car. Some dodge behind it I'll swear, like the time he got his advance on my sheep."
"All the same, Mr. Lindsey spoke very nicely to me."
"He would! Them snakes in the grass are great at speaking nicely. But what right had he to speak to you at all?"
"He was having dinner at the Royal."
"I've left two hotels because of him, and if I have to leave a third...Never let me catch you having anything to do with a Lindsey."
"There's not much danger. I don't think they'd find us stylish enough to touch with anything but a roping pole. Ross Lindsey said..."
"How do you know what Ross Lindsey said?"
"I met him face to face in the hotel yard. He had as good a right to be there as I had, and I couldn't bolt like a piker with a hot brand on her hide. It was so silly, we laughed, that is all."
"Enough too! Laughed! I'm sorry that a girl of mine wouldn't know better than to lower herself by laughing with a Lindsey. A Barry and a Lindsey could never laugh together except in hell." Father had assumed an arch-episcopal tone which was droll to Dora. She laughed.
"What are we to do then—pipe our eyes?"
"Now my girl, don't be pert. Nothing is gained by treating serious things flippantly, and this is more serious than you know. Lindsey and his brood of vipers have done that to me which can never be undone in this world, nor forgiven in the next."
"Now Father, that about the next world is a little too strong—blaspheming against God, I call it, and Dora, you've had enough argument with Father now. Let Lindsey and his motor car alone: time will show whether it's a success or not."
Father, checked for the moment, took up his glasses and scanned the landscape.
"A good deal of castor oil down there near the peppermints, Arthur." The lad could always be pounced upon when other quarry eluded.
"Aw! It grows like old boots with all this blooming rain," defended Arthur between gobblings.
"Cut it out before it seeds," commanded Father continuing his long-range inspection. "Two or three of those old ewes look like foot-rot. Did you notice them as you came along, Mick?"
Mick evaded. "I reckon you're the only man I know can see the condition of a beast seven miles out on the run."
"And there're too many cotton tails there for my health. One—two—three—four—five. I must take a go with the poison cart and get One-eyed Sam in there with his dogs. Gosh! I never saw such a season. We'll have a devil of a time with fires if it turns dry with all this grass."
"All the same, Bandicoot is cleaner of rabbits than any place this side of the watershed," commended Mick.
"God bless me soul, I'd have it as clean as the backyard if it depended on me, but with a J.P. running a breeding ground for all the vermin known next door...but now that he has a motor car we'll have the millennium before they choose the Federal Capital. Well, this won't do. Are you staying the night?"
"I don't mind if I do. Old Governor has a bit of a stone bruise."
"It's lucky it's always near here when things happen old Governor," said Dora.
"Run the cows in with him and turn him out. He'll get his belly too full anywhere now...Too much grass! If it's not drought, it's fluke and foot-rot...Now Arthur, are you going to see those sheep through Stringy-bark, or am I? Mick can give us a tune on the 4 concertina to-night."
"Goodness gracious Arthur, are you never going to be done!" exclaimed Dora, rescuing the tea cloth from a clumsily held teapot.
This pricked Mabel. "A pretty thing if the boy can't even have enough to eat."
"Enough, yes. But he must be a boa constrictor."
"Growing boys never know when to cry crack," said Mother pacifically. "But get along now, boy. You'll have another chance as soon as your work is done."
"Pooh! Dora's stuck-up because she has a new dress," said Arthur, grabbing a final supply. "Dora, the Roarer, the Rick-stick-storer; the Reebor-Ribor-Cock-tailed Dora! Dora's growing a moustache!"
"And Arthur wishes he was—always looking in the glass to see if it's coming," countered Dora.
"A moustache!" said Father ponderously. "Never let me hear you say a coarse thing like that about any decent woman—or an indecent one either. If you do, I'll give you such a skelping that you won't sit down for a week. Mark my words!"
"He only meant it in fun," said Mabel tensely.
"Well, get about your business and come back at once and don't get talking to the drover."
"I was torkin' to him w'en he came larst night, an' he arsked me w'at relation I was to old Blastus—that's w'at he called you, Father. An' I told him he was a mutton-head, that you were my Dad. An' he tried to shove it down my throat that you are my grandfather. He bet me a bob. He said to arsk you an' see how you took it. Some of these blokes try to be funny an' don't know how, I reckon."
"You mind your business and let the drover mind his," said Father, helplessly mild, and added: "Leave old Challenger saddled."
"Orl right! But that's w'at that bloke said." Arthur went out through the back gates, slashing with his stockwhip and whistling for his dog.
Mabel took refuge in the kitchen, but not before Mick Bell could wink at her.
"Dora, before you change your habit, are you man enough to run the horses from the River paddock and pick out those we want? I promised to go and look at that fistula on old Mother Turpey's mare."
Dora put on her hat and taking a stockwhip went out the back gate with Concertina Mick. Despite her attitude he found her irresistible and now offered her his hand to mount. Dora was off before he could attain old Governor to accompany her. She looked back and flipped roguishly at him with the whip, calling out: "Mick, I knowed old Challenger before he had a saddle to his back."
The old, quaint songs, alas, are sung,
Their singers gone to come no more,
But mem'ry lingers softly strung,
And sweetly sound the chords of yore.
Old Barry moved in and out on various chores and roared to Mabel: "Bring me a bottle of that balsam I made up when Bally was down."
Mabel produced it with her ceaseless, tireless efficiency and disappeared again quickly before her father could say anything.
"I'll ride around by the travelling sheep. They'll do a service to eat down a bit of the grass, but in the name of reason can you understand a man who would say a thing like that to the boy?"
"People like to say something nasty that they know will sting, and if they've been given the chance, you have to put up with it, and grin on the other side of your face."
"I believe it would have been better to bring him and Dora up knowing. We've only got to face it some day."
"It's better for the young people as it is. Say nothing and it will pass over." Mrs. Barry continued to tickle the earth in her flower pots on the back veranda of the house. It was connected with the kitchen veranda by a wide awning of galvanised iron supported by adzed gum posts. She was a placid looking woman with mousy brown hair going grey, screwed in a bun at the back and frizzed in front. She was wearing a dress of zephyr and a large white bibles apron with crochetted lace on the hem. Her husband often bent to her will as the boisterous do to the meekly-mannered. He took his coat off a nail on a post of the kitchen wall, and his old donkey supper hat, with the fly veil, from a peg near-by, and, after inspecting himself in the mirror for men's toilets, went off to his neighbour's aid.
Old Mrs. Turpey kept the post-office and a lolly shop several miles away on the roadside. There was also a blacksmith shop when "the boys"—her grandsons—were home; but they had some weeks since gone clown the Riverina shearing and thus she had sent for Barry. Everyone sent for him when in need. Practical experience upon industry, strength and innate giftedness gave him unsurpassed knowledge in all that appertained to the land on the Southern Tableland. He knew more than all the stock inspectors, vets, and agricultural collegians combined, and never jibbed at a request for help or advice. In addition, he was always at hand. He had had but few trips to Sydney in his life, and since he had reached fifty rarely went farther afield than Queanbeyan once or twice a week, or to Yass occasionally.
As he dropped out of view in the direction of Turpey's, Tom Harris, who lived beyond Lindsey's on the other side, hove into sight on the ridges Queanbeyanwards. He was driving a score of mixed cattle he had picked up to put on the surplus grass that the season promised, and as one of the animals had developed a swelling that he did not like, he left the herd in an angle near the Bandicoot while he came to the homestead for Barry's opinion.
Tom was a long, narrow, awkward young man, who did not know what to do about his hat. He lacked the courage to raise it with the dash of Ross Lindsey, or the fortitude to keep it tight on his head as did Concertina Mick, and between two minds generally foozled it. He was wearing a greasy felt hat and coloured shirt, grey moleskin trousers, with leggings, and hobnailed boots. He was entitled to equal social standing with the Lindseys, and financially, Blastus was fond of declaring that he had a banking account of his own while all that Ross had was his father's overdraft.
In the hope of seeing Dora in passing, he had contemplated a mid-week shave, but had funked at the last lest such lah-de-dahing might announce what was just dawning on himself, that Dora could attract his ten-stone-eight ten or twelve miles as easily as a magnet a needle.
He rode up and asked Mrs. Barry for the Boss. She invited him in, and he, hoping to see Dora, entered sheepishly and then told his business about the cow. Mrs. Barry explained her husband's absence and his sure return by dark. No word or sight of Dora. Tom arose in the attitude of a man fearing his garments may slip, and murmured: "I must he getting back or the beasts may stray."
Mrs. Barry advised him to put his stock in the paddock and stay the night. Tom mumbled something unintelligible and withdrew, still in trouble about his hat, peering into it and circuitously shuffling it into place. Nevertheless he was sufficiently tenacious of purpose to hang about till the return of Barry, who was firm about the cattle being put in the paddock and Tom staying the night. It would be easier to diagnose the cow's infirmity by daylight.
"What's your hurry? There's plenty grass, and Mick can give us a tune on his hurdy-gurdy."
Dora later found Tom washing on the kitchen veranda with her father and looked at him contemptuously. The encounter with Ross Lindsey and his father had grown a new bud on her standards.
After the evening meal they gathered in the "best" room, a ceremonial apartment dedicated to the piano and enlarged photographs of Barry's champions. The latter, elaborately framed as for the Royal Academy, were hung all around the walls, and a growing array of trophies rested on a silver tray on a sideboard. Anti-macassars of elaborate crochet, and fat cushions of wool-work covered every available space. There were also some photographs of people. It was the day of photographs and silver frames. It was Dora's ambition to have photographs of celebrities standing about as certificates of social standing as the clergyman's fife had in her drawing-room.
Mick Bell was a celebrated performer on concertinas and such and owing to this proficiency was known as Concertina Mick, or more intimately, Concertina. Dora hated Mick and his accordion. His beard also offended her ripening womanhood. The male social lights of the younger broods were clean-shaven to a man. Mick's beard, of a rich brown with scarcely a grey hair despite his fifty years, was the variety that sprouts on a chin never scraped, and as wide east and west from the cheeks as southward from the nose. A veteran pipe usually marked the whereabouts of his mouth.
Tom borrowed the razor he had secretly given Arthur two years before, but even at that date it had been "as blunt as a butter knife," so Tom did not look much better for its passage.
Father had an ear for music and was proud of Dora's singing and mastery of the piano and it was irritating to her that he insisted upon her singing now when she was trying to acquire the new method of the expensive teacher from Goulburn. She was perforce overborne because Father thought he knew as much about music as merinos. The evening was an increasing trial to the girl. She sang the old songs demanded by Dad: "We wandered to-day to the Hill, Maggie"; "Her bright Smile haunts me still"; "Shades of evening close not o'er me";—-the tried favourites with which he had courted his wife. Tom sang "Sweet Belle Mahone," to Mick's accompaniment, and with his eyes closed, and also "The Letter that never came." In response to his request Dora sang: "Then fly with me across the sea, and leave the wo-o-rld behind, for here am I-I, to live or die-i, as you prove hard or kind, as you prove ha-a-rd or kind. Oh-ah-ah-la-ah, as you prove ha-a-rd or kind."
Tom was entranced, unable to discern that as she trilled she was filled with discontent and craved the inspiration of a more congenial audience than sleepy sawny Tom, and Mick with his large beard and nipping remarks.
Between numbers Father detailed the symptoms of Turpey's old hollow-backed mare, and asked Tom's advice.
"It sounds like a fistula," he offered. "But I wouldn't venture with an expert like you in the field."
"Tom's makin' a track to Dad's heart to git near Dorer," whispered Concertina aside, taking himself farther, if possible, from Dora's regard. She was relieved by Arthur's demand for "Where did you get that Hat?" This made Arthur chortle, but he was sent to bed well before nine o'clock. Father's bright idea was to leave Dora and Tom in the parlour for a little chaste companionship amid the champions. Dora was nearly a woman now, and he meant to look ahead for her. No use in going against nature. Dora developed unknown fatigue, and Tom was too Bauch to improve his opportunity, so they all wound up in the kitchen where Mabel provided tea and cake, and a fire which was still cosy in the evenings.
Dora was noticeably uncordial in the morning when Concertina offered to give Tom a hand, and Father went with them to see the cow. Father so disapproved of her attitude that he decided to speak to her. He came back after seeing the cow and called for morning tea to further that purpose. He had no hesitancy. He sat down on one of the cane chairs on the veranda, and began: "Dora, I want to speak to you."
Dora was assisting her mother to give the pot plants a spring overhauling. These were in a varied collection of buckets, boxes and kerosene cans set on stands like stairs all painted green.
"Come and sit down and listen properly when I speak to you."
Dora was wrestling with a justicea in a mutilated toilet jug. She halted, pot in arms, but did not make any remark.
"I want to speak about your behaviour. If you want to be pop'lar you shouldn't be so snippy to Mick Bell. It's not lady-like."
Dora had no desire to be popular with Mick Bell. "I thought you said it was the sign of a jail bird to try to be popular."
"Now, my girl, I've told you before not to be pert. Mick Bell is as fine and honest a man as you'll find; and he'll have a home of his own when some of these flash squibs are sold up by the bailiffs."
"Old pipe-sucker! He'll get lost in his beard one of these days. You ought to run a fire break in it for him."
"And there's Tom Harris," proceeded Father undaunted. It would never penetrate his self-complacence that he could be out of touch with the heart of a girl or a youth.
"Gawpy-looking object!" said Dora, equally undashed.
"There's not a finer young fellow in the district than Tom. Honest and steady and unassuming. You'll never see him too big for his boots."
"That would be hard when they reach from here to Brindabullah."
"That's silly exaggeration. He doesn't want flash boots like a jockey or buck-jump rider when he's about his work. He shows his sense."
"He doesn't even know how to raise his hat."
"Any girl who gets Tom will be lucky."
"If he was the last man on a desert island with me, I wouldn't allow him to save my life."
"It's lack of judgment to pass by solid worth for fal-de-rals that are negleegible. I wanted to talk to you yesterday when you came home from town, but Mick Bell was here. Don't let me hear of you talking to Ross Lindsey or the old man again. It's the thin edge of the wedge."
"What wedge?" said Dora, letting the pot crash.
"Now let me know best in this, my girl. Ross Lindsey has got himself up in a scutty turn-out with buttons on the sides of his pants and long boots like a circus rider, and rides a flash horse that isn't half so flash as himself, but it isn't in his breed to be a white man. I've sworn that if ever a Lindsey attempted to darken my door again I'd take a gun to him myself; and if ever one of mine darkened the door of a Lindsey, I'm done with her for ever. Don't let me have to say this again."
Dora felt rebellious, but there was nothing she could do. She sat down and crossed her knees exposing slim ankles which looked a picture amid her flounces. Father became pontifical.
"My girl, I don't want to talk about these things, but never let me see you sitting in that loud way. It is the first symptom of a girl going to the dogs, like a fast woman, if she is immodest about showing her lower limbs. You'll never have a man respect you if you act like that." Those were the days when a man could not name a male animal correctly in the hearing of a "refined" woman.
"I don't want a man to respect me. I'll disrespect a man for a bit of a change," said Dora, relieved by this opportunity for opposition.
"Hush! You don't know the world. I do."
"For goodness' sake, Dora, don't come to issues with your father over nothing. It upsets me so that I can't sleep, and you're shirking your work with these pots."
Mother, though she condemned Dora's standings-up to her father, found them an alleviation of stagnation, Dora put her feet genteelly together. She was chafing to end her father's dull and familiar homily, and to be rid of her mother's tiresome old pot plants, in order to practice her singing lesson and try a new song, and plan her new dress, and day-dream of what might happen the next time she went to Queanbeyan, still six days distant, and no possibility of anything happening till then.
"If you get bold and flippant," pursued her father, "you'll have to give up flashing about to town and help Mabel and your mother with the work."
This was alarming. If Father got his bristles up he would be capable of wasting the tuition fee, or of making the teacher return it. Dora capitulated.
"All right, Father. I didn't mean anything. Old Lindsey only came to the Royal to see Mr. Slattery about something. They're not likely to be there again."
"What could he be after old Slattery for? Old Slattery ought to have more sense than to have anything to do with Lindsey."
"It's no use of trying to stampede others to your way of thinking," observed Mother among her pot plants.
The row began farther back, they say,
When Chesham Park was Dead Horse Creek,
And bandicoots not far to seek,
Tho' the little dears are scarce to-day.
Dora was not allowed to ride to town on the following Wednesday. Her father drove her as usual and Ross Lindsey kept as carefully out of sight as a mosquito on La Pampa when dragon flies appear. Dora had a good lesson and was commended for her progress, but it was all a little dull, lacking a motor car about the streets or on the road to provide entertainment, and with no good-looking and prohibited young man to take off his hat to her as if he meant it. Not even Tom was in evidence to offer relief as something to snub. There was only old Slattery with his big red face and jew lizard frill of beard from ear to ear under his jaw. Rose Ann Slattery was slightly more interesting at dinner when she talked about the party to provide funds for the hospital. She wanted to know if Dora was to attend.
"You're old enough now, Dora. Now's the time to dance and enjoy yourself. Ross Lindsey is a crack dancer. He waltzes like heaven."
Dora said her father did not approve of dancing and that she had no one to take her because Mabel had a weak heart, and her mother was subject to deadly headaches. She brooded on that party and Ross's ability as a dancer all the way home. Being unaware of the main reason for the feud, she considered her father's dislike of the Lindsey's excessive. She had heard about the sheep, and that night asked Mabel to go over the old story in detail.
Lindsey once upon a time had seen a good opportunity to clear £3,000 in a cash deal, if only he could raise £1,000 for a few days. The bank manager was much impressed with his representations but demanded security. Lindsey offered his sheep—four thousand picked ewes for which he said he would not take £1 per head. He had been measuring the banker, new to the district, and no stockman.
He suggested driving the banker out to inspect. It was urgent. They would barely have time to see the sheep before dark. Lindsey had the intrepidity and the power of quick decision of a gambler. He knew Barry to be away in Yass. As he passed Bandicoot that morning he had seen the magnificent ewes in the paddock near the roadside, where they had been put to eat clown young briar shoots. Chance favours the daring.
They reached the sheep just as the sun was sinking back of Bandicoot and the ewes streaming up a hillside to camp for the night. They couldn't have been better arranged for inspection by a couple of drovers. Lindsey tethered his horses to the fence, and on foot hurried the callow bank man into the paddock among the bleating merinos. Even he could estimate that it was an exceptional flock in exceptional health and condition, as was everything under Bandicoot management, always.
The bank official was so impressed that he would have been willing to risk his personal savings on such security. The sheep were all branded with a big BB, but as they were in long wool it was not decipherable by the inexpert. It never occurred to him that he was the victim of a trick.
"I didn't realise you had such beautiful sheep, Mr. Lindsey;" he repeated. "A photograph of such a flock should be in the papers. Do you win many prizes?"
Lindsey said something about it being too rough on sheep to drag them about to shows. On finding that the banker was willing to make the necessary advance, Lindsey apologised profusely that he was unable to take him home with him for the night. He must unfortunately hurry back to Queanbeyan to send a telegram. He must act instantly—business before pleasure. The bank man fully understood. The jaded horses were whipped back across hill and plain, the travellers freezing in the wide wild winds that sweep over Canberra and Queanbeyan from the snow-capped Muniongs.
The bank man further understood Lindsey's need for secrecy till the deal was through, but later it was through the banker that the story became current. Lindsey never said a word himself. This was his defence when eventually tackled by Barry. He also urged his necessity. He had known the £3,000 was certain if only he had £1,000 with which to operate. It was a simple harmless dodge that injured no one and comforted the bank manager. If Barry had been at home he would have asked him, but Barry snorted at that. The story added lustre to Lindsey. Only Barry and the banker were dissentient, and the laugh was against them.
Dora listened with unusual attention to the old story, putting her own interpretation upon it. She found it amusing, and in any case, as it had been before she was born, she could not see that it mattered now. Ross too had only been a tiny thing in those days.
Mabel, alarmed by this attitude, marshalled other instances of Lindsey's lack of principle. Dad had "copped" him once making off with Bandicoot cattle, but Lindsey as usual had wriggled out of the situation. Dora didn't see why her father alone should be policeman, and she be guarded from the Lindseys as if they were contaminating, when they were courted by everyone in the district and out of it. Dora put it down to the general silliness of old people.
She knew there was another grievance with regard to Sid Lindsey jilting Mabel, and that Father seemed to feel worse about it than Mabel herself, in fact he acted as if it were a big disgrace. But that too had been before her birth, and she had never seen Sid Lindsey nor heard of him anywhere about the district. She wanted to ask Mabel the particulars of that story too, but it was not so approachable as the one about the sheep deal. Mabel was awfully good to shield her from work. There was never any danger of Mabel "telling on her," but in this Lindsey business, and when Dora wanted to go abroad alone, Mabel lined up with Father, which Dora put down to Mabel's advanced years.
She sat over the blackening coals with Mabel pondering the case. Dad, though fiery of temper, would surely not threaten to shoot Lindsey because Sid had changed his mind about marrying Mabel. Better to keep quiet and not let the Lindseys know it mattered. It made Mabel cheap, Dora considered. Some reserve about Mabel made it impossible for her to open the subject direct.
"Don't you think there must have been something else?" she prospected. "Lindsey must have stung Dad's vanity deeply in some way that he doesn't say anything about, but just lays it on the sheep deal and a few other things. Instead of being so jealous and raging, why doesn't Dad get up in society himself. He easily could. I'd like to find out what is really the matter."
Dora retired and sat for a time on the edge of her bed, embowered in her bright tresses, her Mind busy. She was full of concrete discontent and vague longings, for what she hardly knew, except that something should happen—romance, adventure, action to fill the days.
Mabel remained in the kitchen crouching over the dying coals. Dora's curiosity about old dead days frightened her. She shivered. The day must come when Dora would learn the truth, and Mabel steeled her heart. She had thought it dead long ago, but through the years it had recovered somewhat and when Dora should come to knowledge and repudiate her it would be a blow.
Dora was a clever girl, she could not permanently he kept in the dark about anything, also she was of an uncompromising disposition and would not assume innocence to keep up appearances. She already suspected that Lindsey's sharp practice could not be the real reason for so solid a feud. She would one day learn that the families had remained on visiting terms and marrying prospects till one dread day Mabel had stood before her father's terrible rage. Her mother, in a delicate condition preceding the arrival of Dora, had fainted dead away, and at intervals until Dora's birth her life had been despaired of.
Barry had taken his daughter's fall so hard that all the district rocked with the tragedy. Dave and Bob, the elder sons, taking their tone from their father, had threatened to shoot Sid Lindsey and traipsed about the bush with loaded rifles. So much rage was behind their threats that their mother was relieved to have them leave the district for a time. Mrs. Lindsey and Mrs. Barry had tried to retrieve the disaster peacefully by marriage, but the boys wanted murder. Old Barry, too, was violently against marriage, the only stand possible to his hurt pride.
Lindsey swore that Sid must marry Mabel or leave home and the district for ever, and meant it. Sid was recalcitrant. He put restitution to Mabel beyond possibility by marrying a barmaid in a public house in Yass. Gossip said he did this to be safe from Mabel, and also that he had been between two guns and married to spike one of them. In any case, Lindsey fulfilled his threat and forbade him the paternal roof for evermore.
The young Barrys went away to Queensland and had never been back since. Altogether a terrible business for both families, though Bandicoot saw only his own side of it.
Mabel stayed on at Bandicoot, caring for her mother, rearing her boy—when he came—becoming the household drudge. She never brooded on her case or put it forward. No one realised that she had one. Expiation was her lot. She worked and worked, a miracle among housewives, her service accepted as unconsciously as the sunlight or the rain. As soon as he was able to hold a tomahawk or cow's teat, her boy too worked always, knowing nothing else on Bandicoot, and nothing beyond Bandicoot.
The Bandicoot homestead became a hermitage. As it paid no visits, in time no visitors came to it. On the other hand, Chesham Park (it was but lately that park had been substituted for creek) took an upward trend after that £3,000 in cash. Lindsey, emboldened, made one coup after another. He ascended in the social scale and became firmly familiar with the pioneerage of the district, some of the households with pretentions approximating the landed gentry of Great Britain and Ireland.
Barry remained where he had started socially. He could not be ignored as a pioneer squatter whose beginnings were as early as any, and whose antecedents were more blameless than many. His father, employing a social boast in days when there were free and Government men, maintained that he and his father before him never had a key turned on them in their lives. Barry was highly esteemed for his honesty, for his ever-ready services to all neighbours, and his sound financial ability and pastoral knowledge, but his women and those of the would-be seigniorial cliques did not know each other.
Half a dozen years since Lindsey had built a fine stone house, and following this, Kate Lindsey had Chesham Park boldly embossed on her stationery. Fiercely loyal to the adzed gum posts of his verandas, Barry boasted that he had built his own house whereas Lindsey couldn't drive a nail without hitting his thumb with the hammer.
Georgina Lindsey, who had gone to the smartest school in Sydney, took advantage of her training to marry young Judson of Cobbramorragong, near Bungendore, whose sister had married a son of a seignioral and historical family of Queanbeyan district. In spite of Sid's disgrace and banishment with a barmaid wife—daughter of a bullocky-selector—Lindsey thus put the cap on his social connections, while old Barry foolishly made his daughter's disgrace a chain ball about the leg of his.
He had raged for a week about the Judson-Lindsey-Cameron alliances and the rottenness of these jumped-up people, giving themselves such infernal airs, all of them without any principle, and with pedigrees that could not stand nearly so strong a search-light as his own. If there was anything he despised it was this society frill and flummery. Dishonesty and immorality and a tissue of lies. There was old K—— of G——, one of the superfine swells, with whom Lindsey had managed to crawl in, like a native cat after the fowls, and it was well known that Mrs. K—— could never keep a housemaid because of the old man. No respectable ettler would allow his daughters near the place. Barry adduced other cases, all authenticated, enough to stuff a pillow case or the columns of the Queanbeyan Courier, which went to show that the society of Counties Murray and Monaro was like that of most other counties and boroughs.
Mrs. Barry had an unerring facility in deflation. "If you don't like society and think it's rotten, what does it matter to you, as you can't get in it?" she would logically demand. "And if Lindsey can get there, that takes him off your beat and you ought to be satisfied."
"But woman, think of the principle of the thing! Setting himself up, and a man's brands are not safe with him."
"There are lots of others who don't set themselves up who are the same about brands, so I don't see what that has to do with this argument."
"But goodness me, there's..."
"You're jealous, Father. That's what's the matter with you. It's a terrible thing to have a jealous disposition. You make yourself unhappy for no cause. Let Lindsey get up in society without a pedigree, if he can. What's the use of you having such a fine pedigree if you don't get into society with it. You can't use it for anything else that I can see. It's not like a sheep's. I'm always thankful that I haven't a jealous disposition."
What a triumph for Barry had he known how little was thought of the society lights of County Murray by those of the English shires and boroughs. The effect on him of the knowledge that there were sets which denied that Australia had any endurable society at all, was not to be computed, except apoplectically. How he would have acted-towards those who in ignorance and prejudice considered any swarthy Australian "Eurasian" or otherwise tarbrush, goodness alone knows, but Wm. Barry was so perfect a flower of his Own environment, that lacking interest in any other, he was saved much useless and irritating information.
Mrs. Barry would have been content could visits to Mrs. Lindsey have continued. It would have enriched her life to gloat even second-hand and vicariously on the social doings around Queanbeyan. She was not socially ambitious. She was the daughter of a brumby selector far up the Bandicoot. It had been a great social lift when young Barry of Bandicoot Hill Station had married her and brought her to a sthall home on the place, and later, when the old Barrys died, to the main homestead. She didn't know what her great grandfather nor even her grandfather was, whether free or Government men, and she did not care. She was satisfied with a pedigree inferior to her husband's, one reason her marriage continued to be a personal success. As a rule men prefer inferior wives. The superior can be so uncomfortably supertoploftical.
Bandicoot was the best-fenced, best-improved place in the district, and magnificently watered. Too much timber had disappeared but Barry had corrected that by buying a selection on his back boundary from which excellent timber for all purposes could be procured. No drought or other crisis was able to leave Barry without a bank balance. Even the nabobs envied and respected him for that. Lindsey rarely was free from an overdraft. But that was his own business and did not prevent his family visiting Sydney and appearing at the select races and shows and other social events around Goulburn and elsewhere, and Chesham Park saw many guests.
Barry kept his family confined to Bandicoot, a regime which ran smoothly till that very spring had found Dora verging on eighteen and restless for her birthright of fun and frolic and youthful companionship. Nature was very grand before and behind Bandicoot Hill, but it was singularly desolate to Dora's hot young heart expanding to life. Two or three young folks about her own age would at that date have made a social centre of a camp, and an unrivalled theatre of delight of Queanbeyan or Yass. The banal stagnation of her days would have been electrified, but she had little to do or see and champed her bit from one week to the next on Bandicoot. No callers but swagmen, drovers, or the odious Tom Harris and Concertina Mick, or old Slattery (without even Rose Ann who would have talked of those matters about which she longed to hear). Was ever such social bankruptcy!
She planned and re-planned her new dress. Dad was of the old brigade that insisted on his women doing their own dressmaking, and Dora's talent had ripened with practice.
The plains were glowing with bluebells, trigger plant, creamy stackhousia, the little pink tetratheca thymifolia and other flowers. Magpies, butcher and soldier birds, leatherheads, thrushes and warblers filled the day with music. The orchard was a paradise—the apple trees bridal bouquets with fluttering butterflies; the pear and cherry trees bridal veils, and the quince trees with a beauty of their own. The premises were hedged about with yellow broom and roses, old-fashioned hardy bloomers richly smelling. The flower beds were tightly packed posies of foxglove, snapdragon, verbena, sweet william, gaillardia, ranunculus, iris, calliopsis, lupin, larkspur, columbine, balsam, candytuft, gypsophila, pansies and other sweet friends. The wistaria shook out its exotic perfumed glory on the wide awning between house and kitchen, and was again the wonder of the district. It had been measured, photographed and reproduced in the Town and Country Journal.
The young lambs cried on the hillsides, the frizzy-tailed foals frisked with the soft young calves, chickens and ducklings ran about like balls of fluff. A burgeoning world was around Dora and her heart expanded with it. One of the most glorious inland views on the globe unfolded before her every time she went abroad but she scanned it only in the hope of seeing the magic motor car or a dapper rider on a spirited black colt, or sitting jauntily behind a prize mare in a trotting spider.
When she missed this sight one Wednesday it was a long time to wait till the next. True, she was free to ride about the station and was frequently to be seen galloping towards the main road on Challenger or on her own filly, Greygown. Lately she had taken it into her head to tear down across the new bridge and disappear up Dingo Creek which was a short cut to Chesham Park, otherwise six or seven miles distant from Bandicoot Hill. She dug up some of the maiden hair which abounded along Dingo Creek and took it home for her pots, should Father be curious about her direction. Then she would ride homeward by the road past Chesham Park gates about a quarter of a mile from the house.
On one occasion she was lucky in seeing the motor car full of people just about to turn in. Greygown was a nervous animal and inexperienced. She behaved frantically, really bucking in her fright and resentment of the monster, a pioneer among those that have superseded the Challengers and Greygowns—God rest their hooves!
Lindsey stopped the engine. The motorists were so alarmed for the girl's safety that they capered to her assistance, but she laughingly assured them all was well, and after bringing the terrified filly to a standstill and petting her arching neck, went off at a gallop, waving her handkerchief to show she was completely at her ease.
In the car with Lindsey were Blackett, Federal Member for the district, and Slattery and McTavish, the latter a lean old Scot with a naked upper lip in the middle of a stiff white beard. These two were neighbouring squatters but decidedly dunniewassals when compared with the social standing attained by Lindsey. They had a taint of the farmer about them and were mid-way between heaven and hell, as Bandicoot Sr expressed it. That the trio were riding about in the new car with Lindsey was such entertaining news that Dora risked telling it that night at tea, as the evening meal was called regardless of the bill of fare. Barry bit immediately.
"What were that old bogtrotter and that old sour belly Presbyterian McTavish doing with Blackett in Lindsey's motor car? Lindsey is very likely making-up to them for Rose Ann Slattery or Jean McTavish for that flash circus rider. He's so pushed for money, he's lowering the pedigree a bit—can't get the pure toff to take his flash son. It's always easier for girls to marry above them. Lindsey will be glad to rope in a goanna soon to save bankruptcy. And what was Blackett doing there? I supported him last election, but I won't again."
"Now Father, I think that downright silly," said Mother. "Blackett has to look after his supporters even if they do buy a motor car, and if he busied himself about their characters he wouldn't find enough to put him in Parliament."
"But you haven't seen him here. Isn't my vote and yours and Mabel's as good as old Lindsey's? and that old Slattery and McTavish running about in a motor car—the old fools! Can't they see that cars would only bring down the price of horses and oats?"
"Perhaps Mr. Blackett will come here to-morrow. He can't be in two places at once," said Mother, bringing peace for the time.
Love is a duel more oft than a jewel,
So I have heard them tell, my dear,
So I have heard them tell.
And 'tis Dan Cupid's merry jest,
'Twixt enemies to give it zest
It lacks where all is well, my dear,
It lacks where all is well.
Dora quickly disappeared from the tea table, thankful to have escaped her father's curiosity. She played and sang in the best room under the aegis of the aristocratic merinos. She was delighted with a new song, "Whisper and I shall hear," but early tired of singing to herself. She longed for an audience other than those of her own household, or Tom and Mick, and went to her room to dress her hair in some new fashion and to try on her new dress, and dream of what might be.
She was ambitious to go to the socially pretentious races and wear ravishing dresses. "Miss Dora Barry on the lawn!" "Miss Dora Barry in the saddling paddock!" What could she do as a kick-off? If only she could sing as well as that girl who was such a rage two or three years ago, and now in Paris studying!
Dora scarcely felt of prima donna weight. Neither did she feel capable of writing a book as that other girl, about whom everyone, even the old bushwhackers, made such a fuss. She was more practical than artistic. If Father would permit her, she could ride at the Shows, not only in Yass and Queanbeyan and Goulburn, but in Sydney as some of the other up-country girls had done, who were not nearly such good riders, as she was. Or if she had a chance to dance she could undoubtedly eclipse that giraffe of a Rose Ann Slattery, who had no ear for music and must wear No. 9 shoes like, "Oh, my darling, Oh, my darling, Oh, my darling Clementine," in Arthur's silly ass of a song; but Father was quite cracked about dancing.
She blew out her candle early with the fervent wish that something would happen, preferably something delightful and eventful, but barring that, something—anything, it did not matter what so long as it relieved a monotonous and prosaic routine.
Something to happen was her last thought as she fell asleep.
Her wish was speedily to be answered generally and particularly.
That very evening, as she slept, things were moving on the general score at Chesham Park.
Old Smithers, the sitting member for the Weeowera district of the State Parliament, in which were situated the holdings of Lindsey, Slattery, McTavish, Barry and others, had whispered that at the next general election, about a year distant, he was to retreat upon a safe metropolitan seat which would not entail such hard canvassing on his ancient bones. Blackett was desirous of having Lindsey put forward as the candidate. A man of the district for the district would be a good cry. Thus Lindsey was likely to have another honour thrust upon him, and this meeting at Chesham Park was a first and secret move among his supporters.
The possibilities were discussed when Mrs. Lindsey went to bed, and her daughter Kate was flirting with a neighbouring squatter, who bored her, but flirting was one of the few diversions open to her. Ross was absent at a dance in Queanbeyan.
Up and down the gullies were a number of "cockies" who could turn the election if they voted solidly. The big landholders were sure to stand by one of themselves. Old Barry was the reason for caution. His enmity was so bitter that he could not be expected to vote for Lindsey, but if he would keep quiet and merely abstain from voting as a protest, all would be well. If he would come out on Lindsey's side it would be a walk-over. The danger was that he would create an uproar, and, by sheer obstinacy, vote and canvass for the other side. There was an even deadlier possibility that he might oppose Lindsey himself. That would finish Lindsey's hope of election and be a joke for the wags. Old Blastus had money and energy and by his sheer ingenuousness would be a riot on the hustings and capture every little man on the land in the electorate. Hence the circumspection lest the Lindsey caucus should be prematurely defeated.
"Shure we'd betther wait till we're ready," observed old Slattery, "and the first gun be foired by Mr. Blackett, and you and me, Mr. McTavish, as the two most important neeburs, could act next."
"You're richt," said McTavish solemnly. "Wi' auld Blastus on his side 'twould save us much money."
"Now if a deputation of prominent min loike you and me, Mr. McTavish, and wan or two others, with Mr. Blackett and Mr. Smithers at our head, was to put it to owld Bandicoot as a public matther that his ill will is an obsthruction of public affairs, do ye think 'twould hilp anny?"
"'Twould need thinking on, Muster Slattery," cautiously responded McTavish.
Lindsey being called to the telephone, discussion took a personal turn.
"Shure, the only way to settle that now would be for the young feller here to take up wid the gurrl."
"And I don't see how he could help himself," said the Federal Member gallantly. "I never saw a prettier girl; and the way she handled that horse!"
"And a power o' Biller. Auld Bandicoot is the richest mon i' the distreect if you get down to solid assets."
"Sure the young feller couldn't do betther. Do you think now, Mr. Blackett, that Lindsey would cotton to that?"
"I haven't an idea. Mr. Lindsey has never said a word."
"Ach, Sondy's the deep one. You'll never know what he'd be thinkin' gin you'd wait till he tellt you."
As a result of their conclave it was agreed that Slattery and McTavish should cautiously mound certain souls in the electorate. They did not ascertain what Lindsey might think of a conjugal way out of the feud. His manner did not invite sufficient familiarity.
Magnetism, youth, romance, Cupid or what not was moving more forcefully than political wire-pulling, and on the very next afternoon.
At Bandicoot it was the hour when Father, awakened from siesta, was scanning the roads or doting on his woolly darlings with the aid of his binoculars. Mother was teetering with her equally beloved pot plants. Dora was laying the tea on the back veranda. Arthur, unable to restrain his appetite was spreading honey and butter mixed on a slab of bread and devouring it. Mabel was thumping resoundingly with a ten-pound sad iron. The elaborate garments hung on a line to air testified to her industry and skill as a laundress. She was neat and clean, but patently paid no other attention to appearances. Her mousy hair, like her mother's was drawn back severely and carelessly from her thin temples. She was slightly bent, sunburned and wrinkled, and her hands were as horny as a navvy's.
It was mail day once more and Mick had brought the bag. He turned Governor out without subterfuge before coming in, as he was to remain some days at Bandicoot and construct new stables for the prize merinos. He was wearing a snake-skin belt, significant to no one but Arthur, who instantly demanded one similar and then secured some more bread and honey.
Dora snatched a gun from the wall and ran out. While observation was on a hawk in the heavens, Concertina approached Mabel and handed her a small parcel.
"What's that?" she demanded in a brusque whisper.
"I never take presents."
"It ain't exactly a present. I won 'em in a in a raffle and thought you might have a sweet tooth. If you don't want 'em, you can sling 'em to the chooks."
Mabel disappeared under excuse of a hot iron. It was so long since she had been tendered chocolates that she was upset. A bifurcated frilly garment fell on Mick from the line. He picked it up and waggishly proceeded to examine it. His were days of much humbug about women's underclothing. Mabel, returning, recovered her self-possession by seizing the garment.
"You're a great ironer, Mabel," drawled Mick. "If you perked-up in some of them fal-de-rals yourself you could hold your own yet."
"How do you mean—hold my own?"
"To ketch a man, er course."
"Humph! About as useful as an alligator when he is caught. It's the women who are caught, if you ask me."
A shot sounded from behind the kitchen and Mick moved away to investigate, not without observing from the corner of his eye that Mabel hid the box of chocolates amid the linen.
Dora returned swinging a dead hawk by its wing and stood the gun beside the post. "There! I upset his duck house just as he was swooping on Mother's turkeys."
"Mind where you put that gun!" aclmonished Father.
"It's not loaded."
"Hang it up at once. It's always the unloaded gun that kills, mark my words."
Mick had taken down his accordion and was tuning-up.
"That sounds like the tune the old cow died of," said Dora. "Take some tea and see if you feel better."
"Dora likes blokes to play the peanner," said Mick as a reprisal. "I hear Ross Lindsey is takin' lessons again. I see him as I come along—makin' this way. Oughter reach here just about tea."
Dora had her father's complexion and turned a fiery red. She loathed Mick and was exasperated to feel herself blushing. Mick was triumphant to see his shafts go home. His gifts would have been of infinite service to a fortune teller.
"Making here," said Father. "What would he be doing coming this way?"
"Short cut," replied Mick with a sly wink at Dora. It was at least seven miles out of the way to come by Bandicoot to get to Chesham Park. Father turned his glasses on the road. Mick did not need glasses. His eyesight would have made a telescope envious.
"It looks like the cut of that flash weedy colt of his," observed Barry with the glasses.
Arthur added the testimony of his sharp eyesight. Dora's heart quickened. She busied herself with tea.
"Put his foot in a rabbit hole," drawled Mick.
"Golly! The horse went right on top of him," yelled Arthur.
"Some circus trick to get in here, I'll bet me boots," said Father, lowering the glasses with feigned indifference. Dora adjusted them hastily to her vision.
"His horse has got away from him," shouted Arthur.
"He's lying quite still. He may be killed." Dora's voice was cold and dead. It sounded far away to herself. She laid down the glasses and ran through the big white gates in the direction of the road. Arthur bounded after her. Mick too sprang up with more agility than his bowyanged knees promised, and pursued, all three heedless of what Barry was roaring.
"Has there been an accident?" inquired Mother, placidly turning from her pots.
"If there is, it's a judgment of God and nearly time."
"Hush! I don't think you ought to talk about God that way. Think of his poor mother."
"There's plenty hot water if it's wanted," said Mabel, looking into the kitchen. She set down her iron and came to where she could get a view. As Father disdained the glasses, she picked them up. "He's lying quite still," she remarked.
Mother claimed the glasses now. Mabel, feeling nervous and unhappy, went back to her work, her unfailing refuge. In work alone had she found refuge for more than seventeen hard years. Father took down his whip and skelped an innocent dog to ease himself.
"Arthur is there now. The horse is galloping over beyond the creek. It oughtn't to be let go home to startle his mother. Couldn't you go after it, Father?"
Father growled like an old Hereford. No one knew what he said. He did not know himself.
"He still does not move," reported Mother. "Mick and Dora are picking him up and carrying him this way. You ought to go and help them, Father."
"There's nothing the matter with him! I won't have him here if there is. Never shall a Lindsey cross my doorstep and I know it."
"That's all right in its place, but you couldn't turn away from an injured man, if it was the devil. He may be dying. We must get ready."
"Everything is spick and span in the spare room," said Mabel. "I've only got to put the sheets on the bed."
"We'd better remove some of the things."
Mother and Mabel hurried into the house and began to remove surplus furniture from the spare room. Mother in casual tones called for Father's aid in shifting a wardrobe to give better access to the bed. Father rumbled like a Hereford bull but acted as obediently as a trained dog. He was very much master in his own house. Mother never disputed his governance: she upheld it, but managed to be heroine of her own domain.
When the room was ready, they went out to see the progress of the first-aid party. Unskilled in carrying a limp form, the weight was almost too much for Dora. Mabel went to the gates and laid them open.
"Shut those gates," bellowed the Hereford now. "I won't have him here."
Mabel's impulse to relieve Dora was checked, but she left the gates open. Dora and Mick approached slowly step by step with the slender, dark-haired form. It was quite limp, eyes closed, arms dangling. Dirt encrusted the top boots and the smart grey corduroy breeches like tights with the pearl button decoration that so disgusted old Barry. One of the spanking long-necked spurs was twisted.
"Don't bring that blasted son of a viper here!"
"Oh, Mother, do come quick. I think he's dead!" cried Dora, overburdened and distressed, her face flaming with emotion and exertion.
"No Lindsey crosses my doorstep—dead or alive!" It was Father's final gesture.
"That's all right, Father," said Mother diplomatically. "Take him in the side way, Mick."
"Mother, is he really dead?" demanded Arthur, gambolling about in the intoxication of the biggest adventure that had come to Bandicoot in his day. "He just looks like he always does, only his eyes are closed."
Welcoming diversion, Barry turned fiercely upon the boy. "You get away out of here or I'll skelp the pants off you."
"Gently, gently! Don't hurt him—oh, don't hurt him!" exclaimed Dora, as they were lowering the injured man on to the bed.
"Is that what people look like when they're dead? It's just like w'en they are alive," said Arthur, the threat not having penetrated his absorption.
"If you don't go at once and hoe those potatoes, mark my words, I'll, I'll..."
"Yes. Get away, boy. Go after his horse and don't let it get to Chesham to frighten Mrs. Lindsey. That's something for you to do."
"Yes, go at once," supplemented Father.
"Orl right. But if he's really dead, can I see him?" Mother and Mabel undid Ross's collar. Mick pulled off his boots. The work of first aid went ahead.
"He can't be dead. He doesn't feel dead, Mother," cried Dora, unnerved by this near approach of death to one but lately as vigorous as herself. "Don't let him die! I couldn't bear to see him dead like an old person."
"He's not dead!" reported Mother. "I expect it's concussion like young Turpey when he was pitched on his head and never spoke for three weeks. We must have the doctor at once."
"Let me go for him. I ride lighter than anyone here."
"There's no need for that. We can telephone from Turpeys'. At a time like this a telephone would be very useful in the house."
"I better git a horse saddled," said Mick.
"Yes. Mr. and Mrs. Lindsey must know at once. Father, will you see about that?"
The Hereford emitted one last bellow of protest to vindicate his prestige. "I'll do nothing," he said and followed it by a dramatic pause. "But go you, Mick Bell, take old Challenger. Don't girth him too tight, and ease him up the pinches. He's fat and rising ten but there's not another to match him within a hundred miles. I bred him meself, that's why! As for that Lindsey dunky tumbling on its nose and killing a man..."
Concertina enjoyably awaited the completion of the sentence. He knew the old man. He needed someone to see his dexterous and expressive wink. It was wasted on the masses of grape-like blossoms of the wistaria filling the sunset hour with ecstasy.
"Oh, Mother, I think his eyelids moved. He's not dead!" cried Dora. "Oh, Daddy!" she turned to her father, nervously excited and burst into sobs in his beard.
"He's not dead," said Mabel, halting in her work with sponge and basin. She too was nervously disturbed but rigidly suppressed. She left the room, turning at the door to remark: "He's not dead! It's to be hoped the day won't come when you'll wish he had been."
"There! There! There!" comforted Father, the last vestige of Hereford prestige relinquished by an affectionate and over-indulgent parent, a man moved by feminine tears. "There! There! He's all right with your mother."
"He can't help being a Lindsey, Daddy," said Dora, youthfully sentimental. "He hasn't a good father like you." Mick winked again communicatively. It was again lost on the wistaria, as his smile was drowned in his bushy beard.
"Go you Mick Bell to Turpeys' and get them to telephone for the doctor immediately. And telephone Lindsey's to come here. They'll be welcome. Tell them Ross can't be moved till the doctor sees him. Say it just as I tell you."
Mick hurried away with his commission. No old Mother Turpey's for him, when it was only three miles farther to Chesham Park, where the Lindseys could do their own telephoning, and Mick, hungry for events, could witness a much fuller and more stylish comedy.
"Oh, Daddy! I knew you'd think differently," exclaimed Dora triumphantly, as Mick disappeared.
"I don't think a jot different," maintained the old man. "Nothing is altered. A scoundrel is a scoundrel, and I never saw a worse one than that young man's father; but a neighbour is a neighbour, and no matter what the other fellow does, never yet have I, William Barry of Bandicoot, been a bad neighbour, so help me God!"
I must up and take the way
Over the hill.
My heart has grown afraid
Sitting dumbly in the shade—
The shade itself has made—
And there's rust upon the blade.
I must! I will!
I shall up and make my way
Over the hill.
Where the brave heart surely may
Find courage still.
* * * * *
Mabel thus might pause to ruminate.
But prosaic, inarticulate.
Lacked words. No poet she.
She sighed. Her lot would ne'er abate.
She dar'd not dream one day of being free:
Seeking no ease, nor mental salves,
She turned about to pen the calves,
And feed the fowls, and set the tea.
Ross lay unconscious hour after hour. Mabel or Mother sat beside him in turn, though there was nothing they could do. Dad ordered Dora to bed, but she would not go. Mother advised Father to go himself, but was that likely either?
Arthur was the only one who could be commanded, and his protests were vigorous; but having filled his stomach to outside capacity while free from surveillance, sleep eventually overcame him.
Dora was startled and felt a little guilty by what seemed an excessive fulfilment of her wish for something—anything to happen, but it was so far the most eventful night of her life.
They awaited both the doctor and the Lindseys. Mick found Lindsey absent in Queanbeyan, ad Kate in attendance upon her mother, who was undergoing one of her bad spells. Every now and again Mrs. Lindsey's life was despaired of. She was a confirmed invalid, frail as a leaf. Kate could not leave her for long at the best of times. Nurses were unsatisfactory for the case.
Lindsey had left Queanbeyan well before the telephone message went through. The doctor set out with his buggy and pair. Lindsey had a breakdown and after tinkering for an hour and walking another was given a lift by old Slattery to Whipstick Crossing. He stayed to dinner and a game of cards, ambling home in the small hours. He set out for Bandicoot at once. The doctor had just been and was to come again on the afternoon of the day already four hours old. Lindsey explained that his daughter could not leave his wife, and that his own tardy appearance was owing to his car having broken down.
Ross was stunned. The doctor had found no broken bones. He would know more when he came again. For the present the patient must not be moved.
"Gosh!" laughed Barry. "Lindsey sitting in his horseless wonder in the mud near Slattery's like a hen on eggs in the dark, as I prophesied, and his flash circus rider near dead off his weedy Junky and lying helpless at my place!"
He was in great humour, triumphant, resourcefully full of hospitality, king of his own backyard and of Lindsey's too for the time. Lindsey could only await the doctor's progressive report. He rode to Turpeys', the nearest telephone, and guardedly explained the situation to Kate. Mrs. Lindsey had not yet been informed of the accident. She thought her husband's absence was connected with the motor car, and Ross was often away for a night or two on business or pleasure. The doctor was to go on to Chesham Park after his second visit to Bandicoot.
He said little following this. He could tell better after two or three days. He did not fear any complications. In a world of reckless horsemen he was familiar with such cases. Complete quiet was imperative and lie forbade removal for a week or ten days.
Lindsey had to accept the situation. He did not feel it so humiliating as Barry would have done had the position been reversed. He wanted to engage a professional nurse, but Barry maintained that his wife and daughter were worth a dozen of these flipperty-jibbets from town. Lindsey suggested payment at rates current in private hospitals. Barry's enjoyment mounted.
"I've never yet charged a neighbour for a meal or bed under my roof, nor did my father before me, and I'm not going to start now," said the old man grandly. "You can pay for the doctor and medicine and that sort of thing, but the bit of food and the bed, and the women looking after him, why man alive, they'd do the same for a black or Chinaman, if he had the same happen to him near by."
Lindsey submitted sensibly. His present anxiety was Ross's condition and the effect the news might have on his wife. He rode home to tell her and received word that the motor car had been hauled to Queanbeyan by a horse team, was suffering a sheered axle and that it was necessary to have parts from Sydney for repairs.
Mrs. Lindsey was unusually ill. She was told that Ross had broken his leg to account for his detention at Bandicoot. They telegraphed for daughter Georgina (Mrs. Judson) but she was prevented from coming by sickness in her own home.
Barry made light of the care that Ross required, provided the doctor paid regular visits-to advise his home nurses. The weight of the work fell on Mabel, and the glory on Mother and Dad, so all was satisfactory.
It was an event and situation of piquant interest for the district. Everyone babbled about it. Old Slattery and McTavish dug each other in the ribs and chuckled gaily. "This, bedad, will woipe out the owld row, and we'll have owld Bandicoot wid us for the election. It seems as if the young feller done it providential."
"Ye're richt, Muster Slattery. We'll bide a wee while and see what happens."
There was a weak area in Father's satisfaction, the danger to Dora's affections of this devil's offspring being thus placed in a situation to touch her imagination. Mabel was equally alarmed, but said nothing. Dora was forbidden the hospital room, so was Arthur. Mabel did the lion's share, relieved by Mother, with Father as self-constituted final authority, and consultant-in-chief.
Days, which had seemed flatly empty to Dora, became radiantly alive. It was she who rode to Turpeys' each morning to report by telephone Ross's progress and to inquire of Mrs. Lindsey's condition, and she became interested in new household responsibilities to free Mabel as nurse.
On the fifth day Ross was able to speak to them, but he complained of his head so the doctor ordered continuance of the quiet. Father could not be an unremitting dragon and Dora after that soon gladdened Ross with her smiles and bubbling vitality. He responded to her advances gaily with no complaints about his head. Father and Mabel, quickly noting this, increased their vigilance, and at the end of ten days the doctor said the patient could be removed to his home.
Lindsey rode over upon each visit of the doctor, and as the car was recommissioned determined to bring it at the earliest possible moment. Mrs. Barry said there was no need for haste and insisted that Ross should he up for a part of the day several times before his removal.
The country was wrapped in a glowing October and it was particularly warm for the time of year. Ross on his last two days at Bandicoot lay on a cane lounge just outside the "best" room on the front veranda, while Dora, under pretext of practising and getting the worth of her tuition, played or sang softly specially for him. He pronounced the new song "Whisper and I shall hear," the prettiest he had heard in many a day, and joined in the refrain. He assured Mrs. Barry that music did not hurt his head.
Father had the mischance to be called away on urgent veterinary business. A good draught mare had ripped herself on a barbed wire fence. He saw Rosa alone on the veranda, apparently sound asleep, and let matters take a chance. The plight of the valuable mare engrossed him, and Ross would be gone on the morrow and all would be safe.
As soon as his voice faded in the distance, Rosa called Dora softly. Mabel and Mother were in the back premises deep in laundering the Lindsey linen in readiness for the morrow. Kate had sent over ample supplies.
"How do you feel? Do you want something?" inquired Dora archly, coming out on the veranda.
"Only to talk to you."
"I wish they wouldn't take you away so soon. It might shake you up, and it'll be as dead as a door nail when you go."
"With motor cars it will be like living next door."
"Yes, if they didn't keep up this silly old fight. But don't you think this has ended it all now? They seem quite friendly!"
"I shouldn't reckon too much on it. They're pretty old in the horn, and the Pater's determined—neat but not noisy."
"And Father's a hummer!" She laughed gaily. "The thing is to stand up to him."
"Better to wait till things blow past."
"I haven't the patience."
"At any rate I'm not going to lose my little rose of Bandicoot."
"Who calls me that?"
"But you're a poor old silican with a broken pate."
"Mr. Blackett says you are a rose blushing unseen behind Bandicoot Hill."
"Well, Father thinks a girl can't be let off the chain without coming to harm."
"He knows some that would be better tied up; and you see, I made good use of the first opportunity that came my way."
"Wasn't it funny! I couldn't believe it was the terrible Ross Lindsey. 'Oh, excuse me! Miss Barry, I presume'," she mimicked him mischievously. "As if you didn't know me! You couldn't very well mistake me for Jean McTavish."
"Ha! Ha! I hung about till I took root waiting for you."
"Hypocrite! You pretended to be so surprised!"
"Your Pater knows a little after all," chuckled Ross. "At any rate I broke into acquaintance with you, though I had to break my head to get any farther."
"Dad says that was because your ill-bred donkey fell down. He thinks old Challenger is the only real horse alive."
"The horse isn't foaled that's proof against putting his foot in a rabbit hole. I'm pacing him for a lady."
"What lady?" Coquetry was in the inquiry.
"One who could run rings around everyone if she rode at the Shows."
"I've often wished to ride at the Shows," said. Dora affecting to misunderstand him, "but Father won't let me be 'conspicuous,' he calls it."
"We must see that all that sort of tosh is finished, after this, one way or another. You do want to see me again as much as I want to see you, don't you?
"You're too fond of that word perhaps."
"It's such a dear useful little word."
"Too uncertain for my taste."
"Perhaps Father will keep up his old rules."
"In that case, we must be military strategists...You know that old hollow tree up the pinch by Dingo Creek, on the short cut home?"
"Rather! I often go there for ferns. Lots of these came from there," said Dora, indicating her mother's display.
"Well, if we don't get a chance to see each other in Queanbeyan or elsewhere, perhaps there might be some thing in that hollow, in a tin—one with a lid would best."
"If your horse or mine left a track within a mile of each other perhaps old Concertina Mick would spot it and insinuate to Father."
"I'll tie my horse at the turn-off."
"That wouldn't help. He said you were sneaking around here to see me the day your horse fell."
"Perhaps I was. What Concertina doesn't know won't be any use to the trackers. He's one of the old bush telegraphs who could be useful."
"I don't know what for, unless to keep a pipe warm. I hate his sneaking, sneering old ways, and no perhaps about that."
"Don't let him know it and get his knife into you. Can you dance?"
"Oh, if only I could get the chance, I'm sure I could, and I'd just love it!"
"You've got the cut of a ripping little dancer. You had better kiss me good-bye now in case we don't get another chance."
"Ho! Ho! Who said I was going to kiss you good-bye! You get Rose Ann Slattery to kiss you welcome home."
"Now Dora," said her mother, coming around the corner, "is that you chattering like a pet magpie, when you know Ross has to keep very quiet."
"I hardly heard her," said Ross with affected drowsiness. "I was just dropping off to sleep."
"That's good...Then Dora, you can come and spread out the clothes and relieve me, and leave him in peace."
Dora had no chance of private chat with Ross again. Father Barry bore him company during the afternoon, and Mother banished him early to the quiet of his bedroom to rest for the morrow's journey.
In the kitchen preparations raged for the Lindsey arrival. Mother had hesitated to ask Lindsey at what hour he could be expected. In view of the paradoxical state of association she was not equal either to pressing or limiting hospitality. Lindsey had caused a flutter by murmuring that Kate might come with him to take care of Ross on the homeward way.
Kate had not been to Bandicoot since she was younger than Dora, and since then had gone to the top of the social ladder. Mrs. Barry was determined to show-off her housekeeping and cooking, and Mabel therefore spared no effort. Mabel was most uncomfortable. She longed to disappear for the day, but that was unthinkable. She would be escaping the work, a thing she had not attempted since she had gone astray.
In case they should arrive before dinner, a heavy banquet was in course of preparation, and virtually another for afternoon tea. Kate Lindsey was equally in a quandary, wondering what she had best do and how the Barrys might construe her actions.
"Do the kindest thing possible, my dear," weakly murmured her mother, "and then you'll have done your duty: and don't forget to give my love as well as thanks to Mrs. Barry and that poor girl, Mabel. How I wish I could do something for her."
They decided to obviate possible embarrassment about meals, as well as to avoid making extra work where they had already made so much, by setting nut immediately after lunch and returning well before afternoon tea.
"To combat these roarings and shoutings,
Because of unauthorised outings
I'm highly unable," mus'd long-suff'ring Mabel.
"Without any floutings or two-penny doubtings,
I'd rather go live in a stable."
Mid-day and one o'clock passed without guests to eat the banquet. It was disappointing. When she had cleared away and washed the dishes and pots, Mabel took refuge and relief from her nervousness in ironing. She kept in the deep old kitchen to-day, hoping to see without being seen from behind the screens of roses and jasmine. The Chesham Park linen, to go home with Ross, was laundered as for an exhibition and hanging on a line to air, while Mabel turned to her mother's and Dora's petticoats, like crinolines with their ruched or crochetted flouncings, or netting stiffened in raw starch. Each garment took an hour to iron as Mabel turned it out.
Bandicoot himself, for all his assumed contempt of towniness and society airs and graces, was nervous at the prospect of one of the Lindsey women. He roared in and out of the house, unable to settle to anything, and demonstrating his importance in various chores. Challenger got a new pair of shoes before it was necessary because the smithy was near the house. Dora, who had inherited something of her father's temperament as well as his colouring, was simply seething. Ross found her much too inattentive through restlessness to proceed with his courtship, whether real or fictitious, his fever was insufficiently advanced for him to determine. Dora's wayward indifference piqued him to rather more than he had intended to say.
"Perhaps something has happened so they aren't coming to-day," Dora remarked to him after lunch.
"Well, I'm quite content, if you are?" Ross gave the words extra meaning by a laughing lift in his lively black eyes.
Mother gave her pots an extra tickle. Dora walked in and out, sang a bar, said a word or two to Ross or examined her dress material, and frequently encountered her father who was acting similarly, with the anvil instead of the piano as his chief instrument.
Mabel thumped resoundingly with the heavy iron and glanced under a corner of the window veil to command a view of the approaching road. The motor car was to be an added excitement for her.
Ross asked Dora to sing him "Whisper and I shall hear" once more, and said he would procure a copy and be able to play the accompaniment for her next time they met. In spite of his head he essayed a couplet or two of "Anchored" and "The Vagabond" to Dora's accompaniment.
During one of these breaks Arthur walloped in like a half-grown puppy and announced that the motor car was coming. It did not come right to the house, to the triumph of Dad and the disappointment of Mabel. It gave out at the foot of the incline that led to the back gates, and Lindsey and Kate had to walk the last quarter of a mile. Dora ran and Mother walked to meet them. Even Father advanced, natural hospitality overcoming unnatural hostility. Mabel peeped and peeped from various windows, and made sure that the fountain was full of boiling water. It was her pride that she could produce water, boiling or near the boil, day and night, for any emergency. Then she fell upon her ironing with renewed ferocity.
Kate Lindsey was two years Mabel's junior but looked fully ten as she advanced towards the house. She had discarded her dust-coat, veil and goggles and was stylishly dressed in the trailing flounces of the prevailing mode, which she held about her ankles with exceeding skill. She was tall, healthy and good-looking. She gave the idea of capacity and good nature. She was perhaps a trifle showy and town for Bandicoot in her delicate high-heeled shoes. Full-bosomed and long and slender-waisted, she moved like a dancer. She was much admired for her fine carriage and figure.
Mrs. Barry was saying she had expected them to dinner. Kate said that Ross had made enough trouble already, and that now with the motor car they could go quite long distances between meals. As they neared the gates, Lindsey said he would not go inside, as he would have to see what was the matter with the car. "I'll have to borrow a spanner or screw wrench from you, Barry."
Barry led the way to his tool house with a feeling of superiority that gave him pride and good humour. Lindsey bettered matters by asking him to look at the engine.
"There's hardly a thresher or a shearing turn-out within twenty miles that I haven't been called in to doctor, but I've never tackled one of these contraptions."
"Good practice by the time you get one yourself."
"I'd rather have a good old horse that I could depend on."
Father and Lindsey went away to the car. Ross stood on the veranda and waved his hand to show that he was quite well. Kate and he kissed affectionately, and the four went into the best room with all the framed merinos and the piano. It was difficult for them to talk. In good bush fashion Mrs. Barry invited Kate to take off her hat, but Kate said they could only stay a few moments as she was anxious to return to her mother.
Mrs. Barry inquired minutely about Mrs. Lindsey. Conversation dried up again. Kate admired the roses, especially a bowl of perfumed blush ones not commonly seen. Mrs. Barry said she would send some to Mrs. Lindsey who of old had always admired that rose bush.
"Won't you show me the garden?" said Kate. This took her and Mother outside. Dora remained with Ross. While Mrs. Barry clipped and Kate enthusiastically admired, she also said she would like to see Mabel again.
"She was in the kitchen ironing a little while ago. I'll tell her," said Mrs. Barry.
"I'll go and see her, if I may, while you are cutting the flowers. I haven't forgotten the way."
This dismissed Mrs. Barry and Kate found herself treading a path that was laden with memories. At Bandicoot all remained as of yore. No new house as at Chesham had superseded the pioneer structure. Kate had been a rollicking girl younger than Dora and riding with Dora's skill, when she used to push her way between the roses and jasmine, finding delight in the banter and pursuit of the long-absent Bob, while Sid and Mabel had been wont to disappear. She noted how well-kept the flower-beds were, how massed with vigorous bloom—a contrast to Chesham Park, where the new and more pretentious lay-out was often disreputably shaggy.
She stepped softly through the doorway of the old kitchen, while Mabel faced the other way, ironing steadily. Kate's voice startled her. She dropped the petticoat.
"It's only me, Mabel. Have I changed so that I frighten you?"
Mabel was too nervous for speech. Kate, radiant, well-dressed, mature but unwithered made her feel a miserable derelict. Kate picked up the garment and came to the ironer's rescue. "How perfectly you iron. All these things of Ross's done up as for the Show. I use the mangle on those."
Mabel found her voice, but only fretfully: "I think a mangle a lazy woman's dodge."
"I have so much to do that I have to adopt any dodge that will keep it all going: and we entertain a good deal."
The last phrase made Mabel feel that Kate was putting on "side."
"I thought you kept servants," she said ungraciously.
"We do. But they need a great deal of supervision, and then I have Mother on my hands."
"How is your mother these days?"
"She has had a bad turn this time, but ordinarily she is about the same. Lies on a sofa, or sometimes sits in an armchair. It's her nerves, the doctor says."
Mabel made no comment. She took up a fresh iron. She did not invite Kate to be seated. Kate continued her efforts: "Mabel, she sent her love to you and asked me to thank you for all your kindness to Ross, and to say that she is sorry he made you so much extra work."
Mabel did not know what to say. She put the hot iron back at the fire in her flurry and took up the previous one. Kate took a packet from her handbag and laid it on the table. "Mother sent you this."
"I don't want anything. I won't take anything!" protested Mabel, brusque with nervousness and long seclusion.
"I know you don't want anything, but I couldn't tell poor old Mother that: she is so frail. She said you were to be sure and wear that with her love. May I tell her that you asked after her health?"
Mabel's tension was relieved by Arthur bursting in at the back door on an errand from Father. He came to a halt, rather loose-mouthed and staring, a tall, ungainly lout, well-acquainted with hard work. He had Bandicoot's colouring and large frame, but the Lindsey cast of features was striking.
"This is the boy—Arthur?" said Kate to Mabel under her breath. Arthur was transfixed with the adventure of seeing one of the grand female members of the devilish Lindsey brood in the kitchen talking to Mabel while she ironed. No one but Concertina ever talked specially to Mabel.
"Take off your hat!" commanded Mabel.
This brought Arthur to himself. "Father wants an old boot to make a washer."
"Look behind the duck house, and shut the gate after you."
"How are you, Arthur?" said Kate kindly, offering her hand. "I have something for you."
"W'at is it?" demanded Arthur, bemused.
"Just a little remembrance from my mother."
"You've done so much for Ross."
"Who said I done anything?"
"Father is wanting you," said Mabel nervously.
"Oh, you've all been very good to Ross, and wouldn't you like this handkerchief and spurs?"
"I asked Ross if I could have his broken pair."
Kate produced a splendid pair, a replica of Ross's, and a brilliant silk handkerchief.
"There! A new pair of your own."
Arthur was overcome. "Oh, thank you KKK-Kate—I mean Miss Lindsey. These are bosker."
Father's shout here intervened. "Are you coming to-day or next week?"
Arthur hurriedly hid his treasures in Mabel's ironing basket and whooped off, elated. Kate watched him closely.
"Someone told me he was the image of poor Sid, and I see it is true."
"Good thing he is!" said Mabel, thumping prodigiously, the petrified hurt of years finding expression. "You tried hard enough to blacken me by fastening him on to everyone else."
"Not quite so bad as that, Mabel. But Sid was my brother, and I felt so terribly disgraced, and was frantic to shift the blame, and you know how girls are reared to believe that a man won't misbehave if a woman keeps him in his place."
"The men have got it all fixed up to suit themselves, but some of us know different."
"We do now, but I had no experience in those days, and I've always wanted you to know how sorry I am."
"All the mud was slung at me."
"Not all, Mabel. Your father did his share—still does. He won't let it die out, and he's quite a snorter, you must admit."
"I expect he has good reasons," said Mabel pointedly.
Kate was stung to retort, but Ross had asked Dora to sing just once again, and the girl's voice with its happy young lilt floated across from the house:
"Just whisper my name to the woodlands,
Sigh what your heart would say
And I shall hear, your message, dear,
Born on the breeze awa-a-y.
Oh, winds that blow from the South
Sighing so soft and low,
Whisper your secret sweet,
Whisper and I shall kno-o-w."
Kate smiled, tempted to join in the refrain. Mabel again changed her iron unnecessarily. Kate turned the subject.
"Do you ever hear from your brother Bob?"
"Not likely! Do you?"
"A Christmas card now and again. It's a wonder he doesn't come home to see his mother."
"You know as well as I do, Kate Lindsey, that Bill and Bob went off swearing they'd never come back again where they were known as my brothers, and cursing me for the disgrace."
"Very likely they feel differently now."
"If you want Bob, you'd better write and tell him so yourself," said Mabel, roughly.
"We've all had time to suffer and learn a lot since then," offered Kate, tolerantly.
"I'm the one that's borne all the suffering, and I can keep on without asking for help."
"Not all the suffering, Mabel. Mother has never recovered from the shock. If she could make it up to you with her life, she would. Mother never allows any mud to be thrown."
"Your mother was always kind," murmured Mabel, suddenly touched. She had to bite her lip to hide its trembling.
"Not only that; the Pater never let Sid come near the house from that day, no matter how Mother pled for him."
"I didn't think your father cared only to chuck mud at me."
"He's a very ambitious man, and Sid spoiled everything." They were both silent. Kate looked at the irons before the fire, at the shining brass lid of the water fountain, from which steam issued. She looked at the canisters and pot lids and dish covers, everything was spotless and shining, giving evidence of unrelaxing housewifery, which it was impossible to buy for Chesham Park. She thought how comfortable and homey the old place looked and so prosperous, so paid-up. Then she turned back to Mabel and asked softly: "Did you hear that Sid is dead?"
"Dead! I never knew." Mabel went white under her weather-beaten tan.
"The Pater wouldn't have his name mentioned, even for that."
"When was it?"
"Some months ago—in New Zealand."
Mabel turned abruptly from the ironing table and disappeared into an adjoining store-room, shutting the door after her. The young voices floated over from the house in a melodious duet. The warm afternoon air was heavy with wistaria perfume and fluttering butterflies. The roses leant against the window panes and framed the doorway. Kate stood a minute or two and then tapped on the store-room door. There was no sound, so she returned to the drawing-room. Mother, under orders from Father, was so closely chaperoning Dora that the young pair had taken refuge in music.
Mrs. Barry urged tea. Kate said that would be ridiculous, as they had only just had luncheon. She suggested going to see how the car was progressing. They were out the back gate together before Mrs. Barry noticed that Dora had remained with Ross.
Mabel heard them going, and feeling the need of outlet for her strictured emotions, fell upon the ironing with renewed fury. At this moment Concertina Mick entered through the orchard, pipe in face as usual. An acute or suspicious observer might have thought him rather togged-up. In addition to the envied snakeskin belt to supplement prosaic braces, about a fourth of an inch had been rounded off his beard, and he was without bowyangs. It was mail day and with telepathic instinct for news he knew it was about the time for Ross's removal, and was irresistibly drawn to the theatre of events.
"Good-day! Hard at it as usual," he remarked.
"Someone has to do the work. We can't all be jumped-up swells and live on mortgages or botching other people's brands."
"No more we can, nor ride about in motor cars neither," agreed Mick.
"I've got a terrible lot to do, and the fountain's boiling dry," said Mabel as that neglected property emitted a long clattering sound like the cackle of geese.
"I'll give her a drink. But ain't you sockin' it into them a little more than usual?" he inquired as he took the dipper and went for water. Before seating himself, he took a parcel from his pocket. He had some difficulty in extracting it. When unwrapped it proved to be a pound or two of boiled lollies very much stuck together and to the paper. He put it down beside Mabel.
"I told you I don't take presents."
"But you did the larst time."
"You told me you won that in a raffle and had to get rid of it."
"Well, this time I got it specially for you, ain't that goin' one better?"
"You mustn't do that," she said tensely.
"It's a free country. Surely to God a bloke can do w'at he likes sometimes."
Mabel shook her head and bent lower over her work. She was trembling so that she could scarcely stand and escaped again to the store-room. Gasping, she clutched the doorpost striving to keep command of her faculties and limbs. A question from Mick recalled her to her work.
"W'at's Lord Wallaby's horseless carriage doin' down there—too swell to git any nearer?"
"It's gone bung and Father and old Sandy are trying to tinker it up."
"Gripes! That would please the old man. How's he takin' it?"
"Which old man?"
"Both of 'em, only I know the Dook of Chesham Park is too slimy to give hisself away. Anyone with him?"
"A Wonder she never come afore, and not leave everythink to you."
"I'm not the sort has to have people running after me to pick up my handkerchief," snapped Mabel, thumping even harder, if that were possible.
Mick agreed equably. "Gripes, you're right there! Here Mabel, you take these lollies."
Mabel flinched from the proffered gift, then suddenly snatched it. "Perhaps I might as well. It can't matter now."
"Gripes! Has Kate or any of that mob been slinging-off at you?"
"Nothing's been said that matters to anyone in the world only me, but it will be different now."
"About time in sonic ways. I'll go an' see if I can lend a hand with the royal coach." As soon as he was safely gone Mabel thrust the sweets into her ironing basket.
Meanwhile Ross had been making the most of opportunity.
"What about that good-bye kiss?" he bantered, laughing, audacious, detaining Dora by her wrist as she passed the sofa where he reclined.
"You're so silly about kissing! Someone will see us."
"Would you care if they did?"
"Perhaps! But there, that's to mend your silly old pate. If it goes bad again, send for me and I'll do it up in vinegar and brown paper." She lightly touched his forehead with her lips.
"Thanks awfully. My head is terrible now. Keep on."
"Oh, people don't kiss unless they're engaged or something deadly," laughed Dora, her light words disguising her fluttering pulses.
"Oh, look here," said Ross vigorously. "You must come to our ball this year."
"Oh, if I only could!" Dora's eyes enlarged with longing.
"If you do, you'll give me a real kiss then."
"What ever for?"
"Oh, girls always kiss their principal partner at their first ball."
"I'm sure!" retorted Dora in the catch phrase of another day.
"Yes they do. You ask—now let me see whom you could ask."
"Rose Ann Slattery," mischievously suggested Dora.
"Or Tom Harris," riposted Ross. "He must have had whips of experience."
They laughed merrily, and Dora, while entertained as she had never been before, was also inconsistently-driven to escape. "I must go and help Mabel with the tea," she said.
"You had better say good-bye to me now, and remember the old hollow tree, just in case hostilities are resumed."
"Concertina would upset that duck house for us."
"The thing with Concertina is to find out his pet duck house and let him know that upsetting a duck house is a game that we all could play at."
Mabel sent Dora to find out if they were nearly finished working on the car, ad she reached it just as Kate said good-afternoon to Mick.
"Good-afternoon Miss!" he responded, respectfully touching his hat.
"How's the concertina?"
"Same as ever, Miss."
"I'd like to hear it again. Where are you wheeling your barrow these days?"
"On me selection out beyond the Little Ten Mile."
Father here rolled from under the car. Lindsey cranked-up and found the engine all right. Father was very pleased with himself. "I would soon get the hang of it, but I'd rather have an old draught horse in a tip dray and travel in the seat like a human being, than a thing that goes shoost-bust! for a mile or two, and then a man has-to get out and travel the rest of the way on his belly underneath like a goanna."
"Oh, but this is only the beginning," contended Lindsey. "Motor cars have come to stay. It means a revolution in the way of life and the value of property. It will bring the outlying places near to the market. You and I who have been in the Back Blocks will be practically in the suburbs of Queanbeyan as soon as the horseless vehicle is properly on the market."
"And if it doesn't break down in Slattery's bog when you are going for the doctor," guffawed Father, pleased with his own wit.
Lindsey forced a propitiatory laugh—good practice for a prospective parliamentary candidate. Barry added: "What will the horse breeders do?"
"They'll have to move with the times and do something else."
"Come and have some tea?"
"I have to meet a man at home at four o'clock, thanks," said Lindsey.
"I expect the women have some ready. Come and have a wash."
They approached the door of the kitchen where Mabel had laid out a towel and soap beside hand basins improvised from kerosene tins. Barry was in a picture of a mess. His white moleskins were enough to dismay the most hardened washer-woman, covered as they were with grease and dust. Lindsey was strikingly in contrast throughout. He was spare of form and smartly dressed. His black hair and close-cropped beard showed the merest sprinkling of white. He was only a few years younger than Barry but looked no more than fifty. His manner was polite and alert, his movements quick and deft. He was not at all disarrayed; only his hands were soiled.
"We'll need some hot water to get rid of this," observed Barry and called to Mabel to bring some. It did not occur to him that he was submitting her to an ordeal. It did not occur to her to disobey. She had not encountered Lindsey since the old days. She passed swiftly out, set down a dipper of boiling water and withdrew without a glance to right or left. Palpitant, she listened inside the kitchen and heard both Kate and her father firmly refuse even a cup of tea.
"We've made you trouble enough as it is." said Lindsey.
"And I cannot leave Mother longer than absolutely necessary. She will be impatient to see Ross."
Mabel sent Arthur to the motor car with the linen. Dora and her parents between them conducted Ross and his belongings. He was comfortably placed with a pillow or two. Dora was eagerly interested in the car.
"You look like a mummy!" she said gaily as Kate enveloped herself in goggles and the voluminous veils and dustcoats that were deemed indispensable by pioneer motorists.
"One feels the dust and glare so in a motor," said Kate.
Lindsey had put on his smart silk duster and swung his goggles on his finger as he awaited Kate.
"It must be wonderful," pursued Dora. "I'd love a ride in one."
"Come a little way with us now," invited Kate.
Father interposed firmly. "The old buggy and horses have served me pretty well, and I reckon they'll do me to the end; and a horse vehicle will have to do Dora as long as she's a daughter of mine, thank you, Miss Lindsey."
Kate and her father estimated that the old man was still harbouring his enmity. Ross thought with satisfaction of the hollow tree trunk by Dingo Creek, and purposely to deceive Barry, hardly noticed Dora in his adieux.
Kate warmly expressed her thanks. She told Mrs. Barry that her mother often wished for a talk with her.'
"Good-day, Barry. Many thanks," said Lindsey. "If an opportunity arises I'll be glad to repay some of what you have done for Ross."
"Don't mention it! It's only what me and my wife would do for any tramp." The old men merely nodded without attempting to shake hands.
With a few; snorts and lurches the car was off and the Barrys turned back to the house.
He took off his bowyangs and put on a belt
From a serpent,
Then off he went
In a trusty wide-spreading old hat of felt.
With voice so soft and low,
On Gov'nor smug and slow,
He went a-courting:
No loud and sporting
Tho' out his beard he often sneered
With firm intent,
Or tuned an old-time song
To push his cause along.
Mabel had tea laid and they fell upon it, seasoning it with voluble chatter of the great event now ended. Concertina Mick fired the first squib. "She's as flash as a fashion plate now, but I've seed her running about barefooted."
Dora resented this. She had noted Mick's servile manner at the motor car and was indignant that he should have the right to call her Dora and to sit at the table with her and speak disparagingly of Kate. "You hate to see people going up in the world. If you always knowed them when they were down, it's a give-away that you were down too. Mother, don't you think Kate Lindsey is awfully nice?"
"Yes. She was always a nice friendly little girl."
"She wasn't friendly enough to have tea with you. Oh, no!"
"You are trying to manufacture a grievance, Father." Mother spoke puncturingly. She was thinking what a pleasure it would be to resume visits to the Lindseys to hear all the doings of the district's upper ten. "If Kate Lindsey ever went barefooted it was only for fun. All children love to take off their boots," she added to Mick, thereby supporting Dora.
"Mrs. Lindsey was the granddaughter of old Harnett the shepherd, and when he used to come to my father he ate in the kitchen. So that is the origin of your flash Lindseys, with their horseless wonder, that won't go till I make it, and—and—goggles."
"There were lots of aristocrats among the shepherds in the old days," said Mrs. Barry. "Dr. Morton was a shepherd at first."
"And it isn't Mrs. Lindsey you say things against—it's Mr. Lindsey," persisted Dora, looking at Mick, and wishing he could be banished to the kitchen for meals.
"Humph!" said Father.
"It's better to rise from a shepherd in any case than slip back from a swell," continued Dora.
"Yes," agreed her mother. "I never think it anything hut creditable to improve one's circumstances."
"If it's done honestly."
Arthur, having taken the sharp edge off his appetite with about half a loaf of bread and "cockies' joy" now went to seek his treasures in the ironing basket. He found there also the parcel of boiled lollies which Mabel had forgotten. He rushed forth and plumped down his booty. "Look w'at Kate Lindsey gave me, and this must be w'at she gave Mabel."
"Give that to me," said Mabel, rescuing her gift.
"You don't mean, Mabel, that a Lindsey had the hide to offer you anything, and that you'd be crawler enough to take it," said Father, witheringly.
"Kate Lindsey did not give me these."
"Was it Mr. Lindsey then?" inquired Dora.
"Look at me things, that she gave me, Dad," exclaimed Arthur.
"Don't ever let me hear any of this loud dad business to me.."
"That's w'at Ross called old Lindsey."
"It's good enough for him, but don't let me catch you dadding me."
"Well Father, ain't that a bosker handkerchief?"
"Fling them on the manure heap behind the cow-yard. That's the place for such presents. Take them away."
"Who gave you the lollies, Mabel?" again inquired Dora.
"It would be a pity if anyone gave me anything, wouldn't it?"
"I think you are mean to make such a mystery of it. I always tell you if I get anything."
Mabel had seized Arthur's booty. He was not going to relinquish it tamely. "Dad!" burst from him.
"I'll flay the skin off you if you call me Dad again!"
"It's not your business to forget, blast you."
"Well, Father, what right has Mabel to boss me and collar me things w'at was gave to me?"
"You do what Mabel tells you and mind your own business. Go and hill those potatoes at the far end of the paddock. Go at once—look lively."
"It ain't fair," blubbered Arthur. "I didn't ought to be treated this way."
"I'll teach you what's fair, and how you ought to be treated—mark my words!"
"I don't think it's fair either," said Dora gallantly. "Kate gave me a beautiful silver photo frame."
"You'll give me that frame."
"What for? It's mine."
"Do you defy me?"
"I've just been dying for a frame for Bob's photo."
"I'll get you one if you want it. You don't have to take things from that crew."
"Then why were you so sweet to their faces?"
"I had to offer hospitality. I wouldn't be inhospitable to the devil if he was injured: but who are you to question me—this insolence and defiance."
"For goodness' sake, Dora, can't you live without coming to issues with your father about nothing?"—Mother's locutions were well-worn—"It upsets me so I can't sleep. You're as childish as she is,"—she turned to her husband. "She couldn't be rude to Kate about the frame. I was there when Kate gave it. It was a kindly thought. She wanted to make some return, and you wouldn't let them pay. Can't you let it go at that and say no more about it?"
"If that was all!"
Mick saw a thunderstorm at hand. No one would have enjoyed the claps more than he, but instinct warned him that both Mrs. Barry and Dora were hostile to him on this occasion, so he took himself to the backyard and cut some wood. When he had disappeared, Father turned towards Dora in earnest.
"Now, do you hear this, let that be the last of the Lindseys for all of you, mark my words."
Mrs. Barry was disappointed. She found seclusion dull and had hoped the accidental obtrusion of the Lindseys might have ended it. Dora attempted to ignore her father.
"I'll start on my lovely new dress at once. I'll make it like Kate Lindsey's while the idea is in my head. I'll need a petticoat, too. Did you notice Kate's—it was simply glorious."
"It was one of those that Davy Jones and Company is advertising for ten-and-six—madapollam with Inde linen flounce," observed Mabel. "I noticed the five tucks and a space, and then five more tucks."
Dora sought the Town and Country Journal and there in the advertisement pages, amid requests for emu eggs, and praise of bile beans for biliousness, etc., etc., was pictured the very petticoat that Kate had worn. Dora pored over it, but Father was not to be hoodwinked.
"Sit down, I want to talk to you, and no evasion or back talk. You heard what I said about the Lindseys. If I catch you making up to Ross Lindsey, I'll—I'll, well, the long and the short of it is, I won't have it—so there!"
Dora received this in silence, her mind on the torchon frill, and a forming determination to have a hat pictured in an adjacent illustration, like a distorted dinner plate, with a wreath of roses and supports of ribbon blobs.
"Do you hear? I'll have no making up to Ross Lindsey or anyone of his breed. And I won't have any of this sulking when I speak to you. Do you hear?" boomed Father.
"You roar so that you deafen me, and if I answer, I get blown up for back talk."
"You're very pert, aren't you? I've had to speak before about it, but mark my words, I won't have you making up to Ross Lindsey."
"I wasn't," said Dora indignantly.
"Then I won't have him making up to you. I'll put it that way. Now do you hear?"
"Why shouldn't he make up to me, as you call it, or to any other girl who would be silly enough to listen to him? It's a free country."
"Now listen to me." Father emitted the real Hereford roar. Still it did not daunt Dora. She was accustomed to it. She always met it blithely without subterfuge or diplomatic wriggling.
"It would be fun for you to listen to me for a change. You just shout at me and never give any reason. You say old Lindsey took your cattle in the old days, and always got his mutton from his neighbours, and will pop his brand on any stray sheep if he can get away with it, but what has Ross ever done? He's the only young man about here with a spark of gentlemanliness."
"There are false standards of gentlemanliness, and the Lindseys are one of them. It's all very fine to prance about with a man in a scutty turn-out—that's courting. It's a horse of a different weight when it comes to washing his old moleskin trousers—and that's marriage."
"That's why I'm not particularly struck on marriage, and if I had a husband and he wore those disgusting old moleskins and messed them up, I wouldn't wash them—I'd burn them."
Mother went to tickle her plants to be within hearing. The disturbance was going quite entertainingly. There were no radio sets in those days to bemuse the empty minds the half-occupied housewives and rouseabouts. They were dependent on other pabulum.
Barry was jolted out of step. He returned to the main theme with a bang. "It's no use trying to deceive me. Ross was making up to you. Can you answer me this, if he wasn't? Why did it happen that if I wanted to talk to him, his head had to be kept quiet; or if your mother said a few words to him, he was sleepy; but if we went out of sight he talked to you nineteen to the dozen? If he's such a gentlemanly young fellow—blast him—was it nice for him to be so insulting lb me and your mother, who were saving his life in our house?"
"Perhaps it was I did the talking to him and waked him up."
"Ha! Ha!" said Father triumphantly. "Give you enough rope and you'll hang yourself. I thought you said you weren't making up to him."
"I did. That was only talking to him."
"But that's how it begins, my fine lady. It doesn't begin by holding your tongue and keeping away from a young man."
"I'd have to be in a deaf and dumb asylum to please you."
"I warned you before about being pert. You can't put me off the track. You thought I didn't see him kiss you? Have you no self-respect?" This was a venture on the old man's part. He hoped for complete denial, but Dora nonplussed and alarmed him.
"He was just grateful because we saved his life."
"He was! Was he? Why didn't he kiss me and your mother then?" He was so thunderstruck by Dora's admission of osculation that he was quiet. How to extirpate this noxious weed which in spite of him seemed to have taken firm root! He was floored by Dora's unconfused manner. She did not act like a girl disturbed by amatory emotion. On the other hand if she was so casual about her first experience, as her father believed it to be, and he had guarded her unrelaxingly, good God, no vigilance would save her from Mabel's fate!
Dora laughed openly. "I must tell him he forgot to kiss you, and your feelings are hurt. I'd simply love to see him kissing you."
"Didn't I tell you you were never to speak to him again?"
"But if he comes up and says good-day, have I to tell him the row that was gone-again like Donnegan, is in-again like Finnegan's whiskers? It was all right while I was supposed not to know him and could pretend."
"You're very pert with your tongue."
"You just say that because I bested you in the argument, but supposing Ross, being a man, is a villain, what has Kate ever done that is wrong? Everyone likes her."
"It's easy enough to get liked."
"That's not any argument. What is the matter with Ross Lindsey?"
"Why is he riding about the country on a flash horse, not half so flash as himself, and such a mongrel in the legs that it falls down and breaks the fine fellow's head for not minding his own business?"
"You object to a motor car, too. He'll have to get a flying machine to please you. When you were young, you have often told me, you had a fall and broke your collar bone. Did everyone say you were a flash, useless young fool?"
"I expect they did often enough, and it would be no lie."
"It seems to me that old people always think young people are flash fools and useless if they don't tie themselves up in a blanket all night, and hill potatoes all day."
"Then supposing just for argument we admit that the police are not after Ross Lindsey yet: but I don't like a man whose eyes run in near under his nose like that. It always means a mean character that you can't trust. Mark my words."
"Arthur's eyes are just the same. Is he a mean character?"
"As I was saying...as I was going to say—er," said Father, thrown out of stride again for the moment, "Ross Lindsey may be a dove in a hawk's nest. But seeing the law of throw-back in all animals, you'd be safer in my opinion in looking for good stock, and taking a hawk out of a dove's nest, than a dove out of a hawk's nest."
"You are talking about animals. Human beings are different!"
"In what way, pray, unless most animals are gentlemen compared with most so-called gentlemen?"
"Well, haven't I a right to a little fun? I never can go to anything for fear the Lindseys will be there. Supposing they do duff a few sheep, it's none of my business. It's a pleasure to see Mr. Lindsey raise his hat. Most men fumble as if they had rheumatism in the joints."
"Raise his hat! Be damned! Blast him and his hat!" Father roused to the loudest Hereford bellow. "I've always noticed that these villains in the newspapers, that embezzle and murder, are well-dressed and very polite. They raise their hats! I think raising the hat is one of the signs of a scoundrel. I'll never raise my hat again to anyone as long as I live. I'll set an example against this hat-raising among decent men."
"Oh, Father! What a card you are." Dora laughed outright. "People will only think it's because you have a chin-strap or because your head is slippery like an ostrich egg."
She escaped into the house on this note, her father check-mated for the moment, calling after her: "You needn't try to change the subject. You hear now! I'll have no goings-on with Ross Lindsey under any excuse or name. I'll stop it if I have to keep you on a chain under lock and key."
He turned to Mother, a note of defeat in his declamation. "Not whether he's a good neighbour, or a good husband and father, or clever with stock, or keeps his fences trailed in a dry season, but to put a man on a pedestal because he raises his hat! Gosh! What can the world be coming to?"
"It's the same as it always was, Father."
"Did you notice when I said he kissed her, she was as bold as brass? I'm not going to have a second case of Mabel, if I have to take a gun to both of them."
"You make her wilful trying to coerce her, and if you blare the same thing at her over and over again, it loses its effect."
"Do you countenance them?"
"I don't; but why not try being peaceful for a time?"
"And let it happen all over again. Gosh, how can you be so cool about it? It must have come from your side of the family. There was never any looseness in mine."
"Everything good came from your wonderful family and everything bad from mine. It's a lucky thing I just had sufficient intelligence to marry you." Mother returned to her pots definitely. Father drooped with dejection. Mother looked at him and added: "The trouble is, you are so much alike."
"Alike! When did I ever carry on with this defiance?"
"Anyone can see you're out of the same basket. You're going the right way to drive her to Ross Lindsey. His attraction lies in being forbidden fruit, and she doesn't know the rights of the old trouble."
"Well, that's your idea, keeping it from her. I don't believe in secrets, and she'll have to find out some time."
"I think she is much happier not to know."
Father reflected that all he could do was to increase his vigilance as chaperon. "Gosh, it beats Bannagher; girls will pass by good deserving young men and be caught by—by—God bless me soul, by hat-raising."
"As for that, when you were courting me, my father had a sawny something like Tom Harris picked out; but I wouldn't look at him once you came my way."
"But God bless me soul, I was never as flash as Ross Lindsey."
"My father thought you were."
"But not you—eh?"
"I wonder what you would think now?"
"I suppose I'd do it all over again."
"We haven't done so badly," said Father in a mollified tone. "Some of the young ones will have their work cut out to do as well...Dear me, and so you would do it all over again."
"I suppose I'd have to. Girls have very little choice," said Mother with a sigh. This qualifying rider did not prevent Barry from stooping to kiss her affectionately before departing on an evening tour of inspection. He put his hat on his head and pulled down the green fly veil. Then he turned to survey himself in the looking glass hanging on the kitchen wall. He regarded the big beard. Once it had been a hearty red, now it was the colour of straw. If his face could be turned upside down, he mused, he would have a tremendous shock of hair. Apropos of his threat against hat-raising, he undid his chin-strap and lifted his hat. His head, as Dora announced, was naked as an ostrich egg in a slight nest of bleached grass. No, he was damned if he was going to act like a monkey on a stick with his hat. He jammed it on and buckled the strap a hole tighter than comfortable. He took a long stockwhip from a peg and went out by the back gates.
While he and Dora had been wrangling, Concertina Mick chopped and carried a fine supply of wood for Mabel. He consulted her about oven wood and long wood and remarked with meaning: "There's one thing I'd never let a woman belonging to me do, and that's chop wood. A man that lets a woman cut wood is a crawler, I reckon."
With this sentiment Dad Barry would have cordially agreed had he been within hearing. Mother or Dora had never chopped wood except in extreme emergency. Mabel frequently chopped wood when she ran out, but no one noticed. She never uttered a word of criticism of her lot. She was deeply grounded in the belief that she had brought it on herself and in doing so had also ruined the lots of all her family. She never thought of changing her lot nor yet of escaping from it. She just plugged away like a working cow, only the law forbade that cows should be worked in chains or ploughs.
Something in the way Mick looked at her while uttering his noble sentiments suddenly suggested new possibilities, that and the two offerings of sweets. Also, Sid was dead. The shock of the announcement had made her feel sick at first, but now it was like an eased ligature. When Mick played on the accordion that evening, she stayed among his audience and darned socks instead of going to her own room as was her habit when there were visitors, though Mick was more of a cross between a station "hand" and a member of the household than a visitor.
Dora regarded him with increasing disfavour. She was also discontented with her father in his white flannel undershirt, collarless. He had only put a coat over it for the evening meal, and still wore his moleskins anchored by able braces of striped elastic.
He irritated her in comparison with the Lindseys. They would not be eating with such as Concertina. Kate might even be in real evening dress. Dora felt her home dull and empty, and life a deflated toy balloon. The Lindseys had gone, and future association with them was forbidden. Downcast and lonely, she retired early. She dragged the comb savagely through her heavy curls till she remembered what Ross had said in case of hostilities being resumed. The old tree hollow by Dingo Creek. Would he really leave a message there! It was an interesting possibility.
Even Father and Mother were feeling cheerless, and retired early. Mabel, contrary to custom, went to the kitchen, where Mick followed, and she made a cup of tea in which he joined her. Arthur came blinking from his bed in the adjoining store-room, complaining of toothache. Concertina was fertile in remedies, and Arthur subsided in a way suggesting that his malady contained a good deal of heart ache. He was wrath about the withholding of his gifts.
"W'at right has Father to take me things? He doesn't give me any money to get things meself, and I work a lot more than one-eyed Sam, and he gets near a quid a week."
"But you get all your food and clothes," said Mabel, alarmed by this rebellion.
"I'd rather be working for someone else. If Father won't give back me things, I've a good mind to go and arsk Mr. Lindsey for a job."
"You couldn't do that! Mr. Lindsey wouldn't give you a job," said Mabel earnestly.
"How do you know? I could arsk him at any rate."
"You better come and help me, Arthur. I must have a man to help me for a few weeks. That 'u'd be a bit of a start for you. I was thinkin' of arskin' for your help in return for me doin' something here, and I could let you have a few bob for yourself."
"Great jumping snakes, do you mean it, Concertina?"
"You bet your shirt, I do. I'll ask the Dad ter morrer."
Mabel persuaded Arthur to suppress his excitement and go to bed upon this, and his snores soon arose.
"I've been thinkin' of that for a good while," said Concertina. "The boy wants a bit of a change. It's a pity he gets nothink but work. I could take him to the cricket match at Canberra."
"You're the first person ever thought of Arthur," said Mabel. Mick saw with satisfaction that she was overcome. This had had an immediate result whereas his snake-skin belt and trimmed beard had apparently gone unnoticed. He was moved to go farther.
"A bloke would be lucky to have a son like Arthur, all ready grown, so to speak—he's as splendid a worker as there is in the district."
But at this Mabel left the kitchen, simply warning Mick to blow out the lamp and bolt the door. Mick however was satisfied. He had noted her trembling lip.
She threw herself on her bed and sobbed carefully, into the pillow so that she could not be heard through the slab walls. She had not sobbed for many years. Long ago the well of her tears had been scorched dry, but these tears were relieving as raindrops on the dust after prolonged drought.
She soon dried her eyes and took out the parcel sent by Mrs. Lindsey. It was filmy lace of exquisite quality. She put it away, startled by its beauty, and wept again.
Sid Lindsey was dead. He had become non-existent. She could no longer maintain her hatred of him for his cowardice and cruelty to her. His mother had sent her love and this beautiful lace. Mick had said a man would be lucky to have a son like Arthur, and that a women belonging to him would never have to chop wood. Mick's voice was soft and low and slow. Her lot lightened as the landscape under the rising sun. Perhaps she need not for ever endure Father's bullyragging about the bed she had made. There might be another bed for her, and it couldn't be harder than her present couch for all it was cushioned with feathers.
Mick pulled off his boots thinking he would have to act up to his offer to Arthur. He was growing very fond of his sojourns at Bandicoot. The bed was grand, so were the meals—all Mabel's work. Gripes, what a good worker she was! The old man if properly managed might let a bit of cash come with her as an offset to. Arthur. A double bargain in that, as Arthur was as good as a man and used to bullocking. It would be great to have a fire and a meal awaiting him at dark, and a woman moving about looking to things. First rate to have a feather bed of his own, and a wife in it. His consideration reverted to Arthur. Mick, like Mrs. Barry, was not socially ambitious. If Arthur had been some tramp brat, it would not be so good, but he was Sid Lindsey's, and Sid Lindsey was dead. Mick knew that, as he also knew that Sid's father had parliamentary opportunities. It pricked Mick's sense of humour to think of Arthur as his own stepson and at the same time grandson of a member of the Legislative Assembly. Mirk was like that.
ROSS TO DORA
"Why should some old story
Shut us from the glory
Of soft shadows falling
When night birds are calling,
When spring's at its sweetest,
And life's at its fleetest
What harm can there possibly be?
Why, none that I possibly see."
DORA TO ROSS
"Sir! Your hand to my toe,
To my saddle I go,
Then off in the spring.
Swiftly hoof-falls shall ring
And chime with our song
As we gallop along.
Oh, come for a gallop with me,
A gallop, a gallop with me!"
The ordinary routine of life was resumed at Bandicoot. Old Barry was healthily occupied superintending his flocks and homestead, in riding abroad on business connected with his property. He was honorary consulting—and often working—veterinary to the district. His time was full and his life might have been happy and public but for the kink in his temper which made him nurse and exaggerate his wounded pride and rancour against Lindsey.
Mabel too was very busy. She worked so unremittingly from morning till night that she usually went to bed thoroughly tired. On her thin shoulders fell the task, stealthily, of helping Arthur to milk the cows in the winter when his fingers were cracked and bleeding with chilblains. Or she would creep to the dark room at the end of the stables help him de-sprout the potatoes, or to the orchard and assist in bandaging and whitewashing the apple trees, or to the barn to work with the chaff cutter or corn sheller or the prize merinos—anything to brighten his loneliness and soften his nascent rebellion, everything to avoid Arthur's altercations with her father. Those Hereford bellows that stimulated her mother and failed to bruise Dora, fell on Mabel's shattered nerves like a sledge hammer.
Despite her efforts Arthur grew more loutish and fractious from too much dull drudgery and suppression. From the age of twelve, a huge, over-grown fellow, he had earned his keep. For the last two years, since he had turned fifteen, eager and energetic, he had swelled with pride because he could outdo any ordinary man hired to work on the station. He had to be restrained from some work, such as fencing, lest he injure himself in his desire to demonstrate his strength and size. He had Barry's physique and colouring—the features only of his father. The Barry resemblance which in regular conditions would have been full of pride for the old man, was but an additional thorn in his hand. The relationship of the bastard—a Lindsey bastard—was evident, and as grit between his teeth.
It never occurred to him that he was mean to accept so much work from Mabel and Arthur without wages. On the contrary he prided himself as an unsurpassed husband and father. He had not struck Mabel nor kicked her out upon the dreadful discovery. He kept both her and the boy. Mabel still in her own room. They were free at the table to eat their fill without comment save Dora's animadversions upon the youth's appetite. They were clothed. In making out the list for his own dungarees, hoots, etc., Barry always provided a good supply for Arthur, and his wife purchased Mabel's dress requisites with her own. After the first outbreak he had never directly attacked nor abused Mabel. His roarings were no more directed at her than at Dora, the darling, only in Mabel's case they fell on a wound that never healed, on her own count and her boy's.
"He's a good boy! Why should Father be so hard on him?" she would question resentfully, and lie awake and plan. Though her father withheld wages he was generous with perquisites. She took charge of the dairy and poultry. So long as there was a plentiful supply of butter and eggs she was permitted to sell the surplus as opportunity offered. She had some stud fowls too with which she won prizes in Father's name, and he allowed her the money. This had likewise been the rule with preserves and fruit. Pound by pound she wag adding to her store for her old age in the expectation of the alienation of her normal share in her father's property.
She started a bank account, getting Dora as she grew up to take the money in a sealed envelope, and a receipt or other notice from the bank was her only correspondence. She was secret concerning her hoard, and fearing that it might some day be confiscated, had in addition a golden store in a crock buried in the earthen floor of the dairy. When a sovereign came her way she put it in the crock, and there had been nearly a hundred at latest counting.
Confronted by Arthur's discontent her thoughts were continually on this hoard. She wondered if she could select a block of land somewhere, far away from her disgrace and her father's bellowings, and with the aid of Arthur work it. When it came to the point she was too timid from seclusion, and shrank also from the sensation her course would excite all over again. She was also afraid to tackle her father with such a scheme, and the thought of leaving Bandicoot and the orchard and the live stock with which she was so intimate and in which she found her association, held her. She would only work up to the final act by some move against Arthur or herself.
Then Concertina Mick put on a snake-skin belt and trimmed his beard and brought her sweets.
The sly, observant man had noticed that perquisites went her way. He had no idea to what extent and was too wise to ask Mabel. He considered that fifty pounds or one hundred pounds in cash with a wife would be a great lift, and that Arthur was cheap labour.
Mrs. Barry, though past the meridian, also had her discontents for lack of occupation and recreation. Her flowers did not engage all her energy. She did not read. She was weak on fancy work. She had no correspondents. Father did not encourage her relatives. They were always wanting to borrow money or live stock. Some years since most of them had moved to the Bellinger, and Barry hoped they would remain safely there. Mrs. Barry needed that diversion that comes through human contacts, that drama which for her was contained in gossip, and the few folks who visited Bandicoot lacked direct access to the big establishments that flecked Canberra Plain. If she could have resumed association with Chesham Park, she could have sat in some corner and quietly pumped diverting information from various sources.
Dora too was running to waste for the right kind of occupation, and every time Mabel heard her bewail the lack of fun and friends, the knowledge that it was due to her own fall so stabbed Mabel that she strove to make life physically easier for Dora. The girl was thus freed in the wrong way, but Mabel knew no other, Dora was not educated to employ leisure. It degenerated to idleness fermenting with restlessness. She had grown up and clamoured for her birthright. Matters were merely precipitated by Ross Lindsey breaking his pate at Bandicoot gates. In any case the old situation could not have been maintained.
Following Ross's departure she became increasingly aware of the unsatisfactory nature of her days. Once a week to town for a singing lesson from an elderly woman, to which she was firmly escorted by her father, did not meet her ideas of a gay life. She could put on her smart habit and admire her developing figure assisted by a pair of Excelsior corsets to assume those lines indispensable to the ultra feminine in her day. She could mount Greygown, worth forty or fifty pounds in the open market, but who was there to appreciate her person or her horsemanship? She could gallop to old Mrs. Turpey's on some excuse, but that was not exciting. She was not forbidden calls upon a few settlers' families on cleared patches in the gullies back of Bandicoot range, but she craved the more interesting companionship of Kate and Ross Lindsey, and it was incomprehensible that her father would not let her go near them.
There was Tom Harris. Her father was delighted with him. He had lately bought out a couple of inept selectors and was entrenching himself as a sound man of property. There was nothing against either his principles or his breed. He was a cousin of one of the seigniorial homesteads dotting the plains between Bungendore and Yass, but to Dora's taste he was on a level with Concertina.
He came at least once a week, and Concertina remarked with a grin to Mabel: "Cripes! He's got it bad!"
"Mark my words, Tom will own as far as you can see when some of these other fellows will be trying to cadge a bob for a bed and a drink," Father would exclaim.
Tom wanted to escort Dora to a cricket match and King's birthday picnic at Canberra. Father was ready for Dora to accept, but she wasn't going to make a laughing-stock of herself by appearing with Tom. She did not approve of his tailor. He had a reddy-brown suit that sickened her, and she hated the way the stubble appeared on his chin, and as for his ears, she could have cheerfully cut them off. She averred she could hear them flapping a mile distant. His horse too was a trial. The faithful beast could not keep up with Greygown's superb walk, and Tom was always hop-hopping after her in a sort of running jog, half-standing in the stirrups, "As if he was drunk." One of the shearers that came each year always rode in the stirrups, and he was described as "a regular old swamp hog for booze."
Things were somewhat tame at Chesham Park, too. The political plans for Lindsey were retarded for the time. Whatever Lindsey's principles in business, he was a model husband. Mrs. Lindsey adored him and he showed her the utmost devotion. She begged him not to stand for Parliament as it would take him so much from her, she not being strong enough to go to Sydney with him.
Lindsey asked his supporters to find someone else. They did not press the question. There would be no dissolution for nearly a year, and other matters such as the choice of the site for the Federal Capital and the compensation likely to be paid to the dispossessed squatters were more vital to the district. Bearded chins wagged unceasingly on every public-house veranda.
Noting Dora's restlessness and to keep her out of danger, her father attempted to entertain her. He took her here and there in his light buggy drays drawn by the prize pair of greys. Cajolements had netted the stylish hat like a distorted dinner plate filled with roses, advertised by Anthony Hordern and Sons, and in which Dora looked a picture.
As a great splash, Father took her to the Church of England Bazaar in Queanbeyan, where she immediately become one of the pretty maidens in the stall presided over by the wife of the leading bank manager. Dora was a new attraction and in her enthusiasm and energy did the work of three.
Barry was an enormous success at the bazaar. So was Tom Harris, and he looked quite personable, so that Dora hoped one of the Misses Chitters (daughters of the banker) would take him off her hands. They applied their blandishments in vain. Tom had the faithfulness of the unattractive.
Delight was heightened for Dora when she saw Kate Lindsey entering the hall, followed by Mr. Lindsey and Ross. Barry was in a hole. He wanted to shepherd Dora, but he did not want to be too friendly to Lindsey. He suspected something of the curiosity there might be to observe how he met Lindsey since Ross had been laid up at Bandicoot. He nodded "Good day" curtly. He did not offer to shake hands, but Lindsey had been too crafty to offer his. He raised his hat.
Kate put out her hand, which Barry could not refuse, and he asked after Mrs. Lindsey. He did not raise his hat, much to Dora's chagrin. She was at that age when this was a minor disgrace. The district was used to Blastus however, and was not critical of what he did with his hat. At bazaars it was his fat and freely flowing purse that was popular, and in the district at large it was his veterinary skill and electoral influence that counted.
Kate, genuinely kind, asked Dora if there were any of the Bandicoot preserves or cakes on sale. If so she wanted them all. They were away at the provision stall provided over by matrons with as lively a sense of values as of rivalry. Kate said she would go there later when Ross was ready to go home and help her carry things. The gossips said that Kate was "smoodging" so to the Barrys that her father's candidature was still to be expected. They were only postponing announcement till old Blastus could be buttered up a little.
Then Ross began his depreciations among the beauties. They had the Sweets Stall and the Fish Pond and the Post Office and were reaping a rich harvest of fun and silver. A Miss Chitters got him to take a ticket for a tin of station sweets which she was raffling. Dora likewise asked him to contribute towards her offering which was a huge box of chocolates. While she was writing his name and he was sharpening her spare pencil, he asked the price of another prize box at the back of the stall. It was in the shape of a crescent moon, very large, tied up with a blue sash and decorated with a lovely girl and "the man in the moon."
"It's a guinea. We'll have to raffle that too to get the money," said Dora.
But when Ross returned the pencil, he also passed a sovereign and a shilling and murmured laughingly: "Say there is a reserve on it, and when you are going home take it yourself. Only she's not half so pretty, the girl reminds me of you, and I'm afraid Tom Harris will be nabbing her."
Dora laughed, all confusion and excitement. Poor Tom was like a gissob, wobbling and stuttering and unable to say yes or no. He had spent two or three pounds already and yet he could not do a stylish thing like that. No wonder people liked the Lindseys.
"I must go to the post office to send you all letters, and be sure you all reply," continued Ross to the girl in charge at that moment.
A gay chorus rang after him as he penned his missives. He certainly knew how to do things. He went off raising his hat. Dora fairly revelled in his proficiency in this salute. He smiled back over his shoulder, inexpressibly handsome and lithe, his lips fascinating about his long white teeth of the narrow arch. Old Barry, watching him from a little distance muttered: "Blasted fox! That's just what he looks like."
Ross no sooner left the post office than it was besieged by the Misses Chitters, Dora and others. None had been forgotten.
"I do think Ross Lindsey is the loveliest young man in the district," said the elder Miss Chitters, to be married at Easter. "Listen to this: 'Dear Miss Chitters, why were you in such a hurry? No one else but Bob Cameron had a chance.' What has he said to the rest of you?"
One girl announced a request for a place on her programme at the next ball, a third a merry gibe about an admirer, and so it went. "And now Miss Barry must read what he said to her." Dora could not escape. She trembled lest Ross might have divulged something, but it was merely: "Don't forget the old bush post office. There may be something there for you." They all wanted to know what this meant. Dora said she took it as a reminder that they all had promised to write replies. This busied them.
Dora after a few attempts wrote: "The dear old bush post office."
During the evening a request floated around for a song from Miss Dora Barry. No one but Ross knew how it had originated. Dora protested genuinely and said she had no music with her, but business was a little flat and the chief organiser was ready to pounce on anyone to create diversion. Dora was pressed as far as consenting if she had her music. Ross stepped forward and said he would play the accompaniment of "Whisper and I shall hear." He had practised designedly. Dora, swept on by her high spirits, almost of others' volition, found herself on the platform, with a sudden sickness of stage fright so that all the faces seemed running together and her knees to be melting like sperm candles in the summer. But Ross played the prelude twice to give her time, and whispered "Ready!" with such a heartening smile that she sang as youthful excitement can sing when it has a pleasing voice and immense vitality. The effort was really enjoyable, Dora looked so splendid in her glowing beauty and youth, made endearing by her evident nervousness. She was vociferously recalled.
"What shall it be?" whispered Ross, his face stuck too blasted close to Dora's, thought old Barry, but the clergyman's wife was beside him, "chirruping like a blasted old magpie" and Hereford tactics were impossible in Protestant Hall, on Crawford Street at the Church of England Bazaar.
Dora suggested "Twickenham Ferry." Ross had practised that too, so off they went.
"Who is the girl?" many inquired with interest and admiration. "Someone from Sydney I suppose."
The last supposition was rapture to Dora, when repeated to her with the additional information that the lady, an artist from Sydney, had raved about her "glorious. Titian hair." Dora's success was assured. She had sung quite delightfully and Ross had accompanied with dash. Congratulations were poured on father as well as daughter and put the former in a quandary. Ross was the blot, but Dad did not know how to frame his gravamen. The wife of the Presbyterian minister sought him immediately and asked if Dora might sing at a concert that was being arranged for funds to repair the manse. "She would be such an attraction. Such a lovely girl." Father demurred.
"Oh, but it's only for the church, just here in the same hall. You could come and look after her, and she could stay the night with me."
Father could not bellow at the meenister's wife, and was quickly involved in a 'possum dance of a conversation from which he did not extricate himself till promising what the lady wanted. He would have been puffed up by Dora's triumph if Ross could have been eliminated and Tom Harris substituted, but Tom could not play so much as "The Piper's Son" on a mouth organ. He looked on from afar disconsolately. What a lucky fellow that Ross Lindsey was. Not only did his horse fall near Bandicoot, but he could play the piano like a professor.
The bazaar lasted three days and this was only the first. Father did not know which way to turn for safety. A beautiful young daughter proved a handful. She was invited to stay with the Misses Chitters—Barry kept a solid balance at the bank. He placed no reliance on the Chitters. The way they acted, it looked as if Ross Lindsey might be in and out at the bank residence for meals. When the elder Miss Chitters appeared in a real town evening dress he was startled. She seemed a scarlet woman to him. What on earth was he to do? The idea that Dora might be able to hold her own—her own virtue, be safe within her own cleanly courage, did not occur to him. His idea was to guard her by main strength. His previous experience of freedom for daughters had been disastrous. He sent word to Mother that he was staying in town too for the duration.
The bazaar came to an end at last and Dora was safely at home, still unspotted from the world, her father felt reasonably sure. He had funked making a rumpus about Ross playing her accompaniments. How to keep her out of future danger he did not know. He would have been staggered had he known how much of dancing Dora had acquired in the intervals of the bazaar during her stay at the bank with the Misses Chitters.
However, following the bazaar, Dora seemed content and unusually biddable. She wrote her father's letters and sang his favourite songs with alacrity. She also practised diligently. Her father would have been dismayed could he have understood the import of her quieter demeanour. It covered a determination to live her own life that was remarkably fixed for one of her age and day. She did not quite know how to set about it but the intention was brewing like yeast. She would not sit down with Concertina and Tom and Mabel and Arthur and forego a radiant future out in the world.
She smiled when she looked at the big crescent box. The Misses Chitters suspected it had come from Tom Harris, a suspicion which Dora fostered. She read and re-read the note about the post office and threw it among her ribbons. Was love awakening towards Ross Lindsey? Was it rather that she had an untried maiden's love of love and Ross was so much more a seemly instrument of romance than was Tom Harris?
When Lindsey invites him, no reck how it spites
Her father says: "Ho! I shan't let her know,"
And thinks thus to settle her flings,
But Cupid says: "No! I'll send her a beau,
Who can dance; and play while she sings."
Attentions to Dora which caused consternation and worry at Bandicoot passed unnoticed at Chesham Park, where they were used to Ross's gallantries. He played accompaniments for Rose Ann, who could not keep the key, and for Blackett M.H.R. while he bleated. "Larboard Watch," and for the stream of Young ladies who visited Chesham Park, some coming from as far afield as Melbourne, and all feeling for a time that they had made a conquest of Ross. He had undoubted social gifts.
When Mrs. Lindsey pleaded with her husband not to stand for Parliament she said: "What good will it do you? You will be out of pocket by it and won't be able to attend to the station."
These arguments were to be overborne by insistence upon the immense amount of good Lindsey could do for the district, especially now when there was a possibility that the Federal Capital might be placed in its midst. It was pointed out that Ross could manage the station and that a sojourn in the climate of Sydney with hot sea water baths—which were then a medical fashion—might set Mrs. Lindsey up. These arguments had a certain weight. Lindsey had sufficient leaning toward Parliament to consider a ball for the district.
The inner caucus discussed it secretly. It was proposed for new year, in the warm weather, so that the old as well as the young could attend. It was to be held somewhat in the open air in and about the woolshed and to be preceded by a picnic high tea at the house. To that sort of affair every one could be invited, and more particularly the selector neighbours. If the time seemed propitious Lindsey as a candidate could be sprung on the assembled multitude.
Would the Barrys accept an invitation? This would prove whether or not the old man would be against Lindsey, or consent at least to be neutral.
Kate wrote a kind letter to Mrs. Barry hoping that she would come, as her mother was specially looking forward to seeing her. Unfortunately that letter reached Bandicoot on the day that Father opened the Courier and read a piece copied from the Sydney papers. Some free lance familiar with the Queanbeyan district had written an article on London wherein he stated that in a window of one of the great shipping companies in Cockspur Street he had noticed a fleece of merino tied up with a blue sash that took him back to Queanbeyan and Yass. On examining the attached ticket it proved to be a prize fleece from Bandicoot Hill Station near Queanbeyan, whose owner, Mr. Wm. Barry, a type of fine old pioneer—alas, becoming rare—had done so much for Australian wool growing. The article had been copied in full and there were other compliments to Barry.
"There!" he said, elated. "That's the kind of tribute that a man can take comfort in. Something honest and solid and practical behind it. Compare that with having the first telephone, or buying the first motor car and splashing about. Any fool with an overdraft and burrs in his wool can do that, but raising the breed of sheep, raises the price of wool and brings more money to the whole district. I'm prouder of that honour than if I was made a dozen J.P.'s. I'd like to see that fleece in the window in London."
"It mightn't be your fleece at all," said Mother.
"God bless me soul, woman, what do you mean by that?"
"It might be any fleece, and your name just stuck on it for an advertisement."
"Nonsense! You don't know what you're talking about. Business men don't do that sort of thing." Mother's words however took so much gas out of him that he turned from the delectable article to another column. If, instead of puncturing him, Mrs. Barry had humoured him and called him apart to consider Kate's letter while he was glowing, he may have surrendered, at least to the picnic, but in her love of taking him clown a peg or two, she lost the right moment. In the gossip column someone had been indiscreet: there was a paragraph about a little bird whispering that Mr. Lindsey was probably the next parliamentary representative for Weeowera. This surpassed the fleece. Father was off.
"Good God! Here's old Sandy Lindsey been chose for member of Parliament instead of Smithers."
"Show me," said Mother, and later remarked: "It's no use of counting chickens before they're hatched. He would have to be voted in."
"He'll never e voted in if any votes I can control can keep him out. I will not stand for a scoundrel like that being made a god of. How could a crawler that can't keep laws know how to make them. I'll stump the district against him."
Mrs. Barry, knowing that this attitude was fatal to her hopes and in the sting of disappointment, arose and remarked that jealousy was a terrible thing and that bad temper was madness. It was worse than dishonesty to poison one's life. Father bellowed, but Mother went off to tickle her plants. She did not find the virus so stimulating when it thwarted her own plans as when it was operating against some other wight. Father did not pursue the matter with her. She was one of those meekly stubborn people as set in her own way as was her spouse.
Though Father was lord of his stock runs and the "best room" adorned with the merino chiefs, Mother had little difficulty in reigning on the front veranda or in the conjugal apartment. A woman of small spiritual and mental register, and with a lively sense of number one, was well-adapted to succeed in the individualistic circle herein considered. Protected by the unavailability of other complaisant women, or the inexperience plus conventional respectability which prevented her man seeking extra marital service, she had a firm hold on him through his sexual frailty. Father's snortings were rarely directed towards his wife. She had a comfortable existence. The seclusion insisted upon by Father irked her more than the disgrace which had caused it and which had provided her with an unresisting and permanent domestic slave. She had no such puritanical moral sense as Barry, as he perspicaciously suspected, and would have enjoyed going abroad to gossip and to pose as a martyr—the "had a lot of trouble" role in which women starved for drama and sex adventures revel.
She did not show her husband Kate's letter till he was safely in bed. To her surprise he did not roar. He spoke almost in a whisper. "Dora must not see this. Take no notice of it. Don't let them know we ever received it." Father assumed the role of virtuous parent. "I'm very anxious about Dora. She is taken by the flash airs of Ross and he means no good, I can see that. This coming by here was on purpose to worm his way in, only he overdid it."
"Nonsense, Father! He wouldn't risk his life."
"No, but he pretended to be a lot worse than he was."
"How could he deceive the doctor?"
"Well, can you answer me how a fellow so bad as he was supposed to be, only a few weeks after was in Queanbeyan flashing about, all night at bazaars."
"I thought the bazaar closed before midnight, and he was only there one evening. Youth soon recovers. You'd better make a nun of Dora if you want her to be quite safe."
"I've noticed him with all the girls—you'd think he was struck on them all, and Dora is silly enough to think she comes first."
"How can you tell what she thinks? You'd he the last to find out."
"What does she think, if you know?"
"I don't. That's why I don't pretend to say."
Father went off on another track. "I knew the Lindseys were smoodging to us for some end of their own. It wasn't our society they suddenly wanted. This member of Parliament business explains it all. If he thinks he can pull the wool over my eyes, he's a fool—blast him! He's too flash to have a meal here, and he only invites you there with old McTavish, who looks like a pauper with the sign of 'God help us' on him; and old Slattery, the real old bog-trotter with a face like a big red potato; and his daughter like alike a flour-bag on a clothes-prop."
"Nonsense, Father! That's spleen. If he asked you there when there was only the family, you'd say it was because you weren't good enough for anyone else to see. He couldn't please you if he tried."
"Now you've spoken the truth. He couldn't please me because a scoundrel couldn't please an honest man, who has carried his day as a pioneer and will continue to carry it without these crawlers..."
"All right, Father. I know all about that. I pioneered with you, bore my children without help and suffered in many ways. You carry your day and let Lindsey carry his now."
"Nonsense! I can't say a thing but you take it up wrong."
"All right. I'll hold my tongue, and you hold yours. If I'm worried I can't sleep."
As a final gesture Barry tore the letter to pieces, filling Mother with resentment. It was her letter and she was interested in the embossed note-paper. Despite this she was soon soundly asleep while her husband lay awake seething, the poison of habitual rancour boiling in his veins. He thought of his "improved" acres, while Lindsey's were still wild or choked with briars, blackberries or other noxious weeds, and alive with rabbits. He thought of his Vermont darlings and the fleece of one in a blue sash in a great window in London. What maddened him was that despite such solidities people were attracted by Lindsey's spurious style and his financial show which was a mere shell supported by a heavy overdraft.
Mrs. Barry said nothing of the invitation to Dora. She confided in Mabel, who was unusually noncommittal. As a rule she was as suspicious of Lindsey good-will as was her father, but Sid Lindsey was dead now. Her rock of rancour had dissolved, leaving an open stream on which she contemplated embarking.
Every now and again when safely bolted in her own room for the night she would look at Mrs. Lindsey's lace. The gift, and the beauty of it had the softening effect of a flower on one long shut in a dungeon. And there was the bank balance and also the crock in the dairy. She was beginning to dream of a way out of the weary turmoil about the Lindseys.
Mick Bell would not let a woman of his cut wood. His voice was soft and low and slow. He was kind to Arthur. Perhaps he would be willing to go out of the district. A new bed. It couldn't be any harder than the old one, though that was of feathers and down, and in winter was covered by a gorgeous 'possum rug. Concertina and his beard would be in the new bed; but Mabel was no feminist. She had no ambition to struggle on without a man. She felt a husband would help to reinstate her.
Could she trust Mick? Was he, under his soft manner, a liar and a coward like Sid Lindsey? She must keep her money to herself, make legally sure of it. To test whether Mick really cared for her she would not let him guess how much she had.
Mrs. Barry replied to Kate's letter. She said that she never went to any public function now, and that as Dora's father did not approve of her dancing they would not be present at the picnic or ball. She was very thankful for the kind invitation and sent her love to Mrs. Lindsey. She would make an effort to visit her at some other time.
To post this, Mrs. Barry drove over in her sulky to see old Mrs. Turpey at the post office and when no one was looking, dropped the letter in the mail box.
"Hum!" said Lindsey, when Kate showed him the letter. "Old Blastus has put his foot down. Bellowing old bull, it would take an earthquake to change him." That was all Lindsey said. He never wasted energy in fulminating, a great asset to an intending M.L.A. when not on the hustings.
Was Ross in love with Dora? Was she to be the major passion of his life? Was he capable of a major passion? Is there more practical value in a major than a minor passion? The matter is openly controversial to-day. In Dora's day and in the neighbourhood of Bandicoot there were set conventions. Major or minor, passion on coming to a head had either to be sent about other business or confined in legal marriage, and no hanky-panky.
Ross had a gay and volatile disposition ungiven to brooding or introspective immersion. Dora was a present delight. She was immensely good-looking in form and face and full of youthful high spirits. She rode superbly on topping horses, it was a pride to be seen riding with her and a pleasure to play her accompaniments when she sang. Added to that, the difficulties of association with her lent zest to pursuit. Farther than that he had not examined himself.
Following the bazaar he found it impossible to see her at all. The girl was as disappointed as he. She had made up the fine new dress in time for her birthday. She put up her hair, first like the Misses Chitters', and then like Kate's, and then copied the fashion books; but it was wasted with no one to conquer but Tom and Concertina, and no spectators but the magpies, and peewits, plovers and willy-wags. She needed someone to dress-up for instead of dress-down-to as at Bandicoot. She looked at Mother in an apron in the "best" room. She looked at the best room with its big table and anti-macassars and rams and ewes, and was irritated by its hybrid inelegant furniture and arrangement since she had seen the drawing-room at the bank manager's. She could not picture the bank man in a collarless flannel undershirt, with elbow sleeves exposing forearms hairy and tanned like leather, as her father came to table now that the days were hot. Mabel too had no pretensions to gentility and little to amiability, though she was always ready to do Dora's work for her upon request. Arthur was a great trying lout who ate, and ate, and ate. Dora brooded upon what an afflicted girl she was. She read a "little piece" about counting her blessings, and as her high spirits revived, remembered that Greygown was much superior to the black colt, and that Father's buggy pair could not be equalled. The Lindseys had a motor car, but it was at that date more of a phenomenon than the social distinction cars later became.
Dora saddled Greygown and penetrated to Dingo Creek, just to see if there was anything in the old hollow tree. To her surprise there was a bright new mustard tin and in it a note. "If you are really game for an adventure, why not come to the New Year ball?" Dora had a stump of pencil and wrote on the note: "F, would kill me."
A day or two later she found another note. "Not a bit of fear. Bark worse than bite."
"People cannot go where not invited."
"Invited a dozen times, by me and K."
This game gave a spice of romance to the girl's days, but she had more character than to be satisfied with a petty intrigue or the netting of Ross. She was more her father than her mother.
She cogitated much on possible ways of escape from Bandicoot, of which she was weary. She could not measure the opulent resources of the place, because she had known nothing else. She craved singleheartedly those things lacking—congenial youthful companions and other outlet for her energy than household tasks. Not that she would have objected to the daily tasks if they could have been done for more inspiration than Tom and Concertina could supply. She would have been occupied for a time with a houseful of guests. But reared alone, she had no friends, nor any circle of homes with which to exchange visits.
She thought and thought. There was one possible avenue of escape. She would become a trained nurse in one of the big Sydney hospitals. That was the usual opening for girls of social pretensions who had to earn a livelihood. Daughters of widows and clergymen, who were poor, filled the ranks, and were joined by the lesser squatters' daughters bored with bush life. Few of them had a divine call to tend the sick. It was fashionable work in which they could engage without losing social caste, and to housewives it presented no difficulties, requiring principally stamina in feet and a modicum of capability plus industry.
Dora surprised the family by announcing her intention.
"You'd soon come home," said her mother. "You'd never be able to get up in the morning."
Father was so alarmed that he preached a rousing homily against girls who wanted to run about and show-off in uniforms, nursing strangers. The real womanly girls were those who could nurse their fathers and mothers. Dora out-faced him.
"You and Mother aren't old enough to die yet, and if I had the training I could look after you better when the time comes."
"You're too young."
"I wrote to the Matron of the Sydney Hospital and also to Prince Alfred's, and they both wrote me very nice letters. They would like me to be a little older, and the Sydney Matron says she likes country girls and gives them every chance to begin young."
Father trembled in his bluchers. "The right thing for a girl is to marry, that's in accordance with nature. She'll get all the nursing she wants with her own children. This loud business of wanting to be before the public never ends well."
"I don't want to marry," said Dora with finality, and added: "Besides, if I did, there's no one to marry. Who would I see here?"
Father discussed it in bed that night. "Has seen for herself that that flash scut is only philandering, and she has taken this turn. I'm glad of it."
"Nonsense! The Miss Chitters and some of the girls she met in Queanbeyan are going to be nurses—it's imitation. Don't oppose her, tell her she can go when she's twenty—and long before that age she'll forget all about it."
Father was so uneasy that he laid himself out to entertain. He obtained the makings of another dress and when it was compiled took Dora to be photographed. He promised that she should drive with him at the Show. Dora pictured herself in the ring in the light double buggy with the hood thrown back, the horses spanking around and she looking tremendously grown-up in a stylish hat and one of the new gowns that trailed on the ground, but a photograph in November, or the Show away in the autumn, was not much of a sop to the restlessness of hearty eighteen.
Dora had other plans to fill the time until old enough to be called up at P.A. or the Sydney Hospital. Each of these fortunate institutions had a waiting list of the finest young womanhood extant that would take about that time to work through and reach Dora Barry.
Father's security in his notion that Dora had received a set-back from Ross was helpful to the post office trysts, merrily proceeding. Ross boldly suggested her being present at the ball without her father's knowledge, Dora was at first aghast but later began to consider the adventure, Ross met her in person one afternoon and planned for her to slip down to the gate on the main road after her people retired, where he would meet her in a sulky with his fast trotting mare and arrive at the ball in about half an hour.
Dora's qualms gradually faded. She prepared for the worst. Should her father e so angry as to beat her or turn her out of doors, she would run away to Bob in Queensland. Ross said that ten chances to one she would never be missed, as he would return her well before daylight, and no one would tell. Ross relied on the political expediency involved to silence talebearers.
Dora had more forethought, more management than that. The first letter she had ever written had been to big brother Bob in Queensland, and though he had not seen her since she could sit up, they were great friends. He never failed to send her presents for birthday and Christmas, and she wrote regularly. The other brother, Bill, was married; but Bob was still a bachelor. The brothers had remained in partnership and had done well, being as practical as their father.
Dora had a romantic affection for this big brother, he no less a warm sentiment for the baby sister whose photo came at various stages of development. He was proud of her beauty, and when he received the latest picture, he saw, as she announced, that she was really grown-up, even to having her hair up. She told him at this date of her determination to leave Bandicoot, and asked Bob to let her go to Queensland and house-keep for him until she was old enough to enter the hospital as a probationer. Later she sent a note saying she was sick of having no fun, while other girls could do as they liked, and for a lark was going to slip out with Ross Lindsey for a dance or two at Lindsey's ball. She explained that her father had an unaccountable derry on the Lindseys, and she was tired of it. She also stated that if Dad found out he would probably be so fierce that Bob must not be surprised to find her on his doorstep some morning with nothing but her toothbrush for luggage.
A day or so previously Bob had received a letter from Kate Lindsey in reply to his carefully and sentimentally chosen Christmas card. Kate, too, had mentioned the coming ball and recalled that Bob had been her first ball partner. She mentioned her disappointment that despite all efforts the weary old feud with Bandicoot still continued and was spoiling the young people's association as it had broken her own and Bob's.
Kate enclosed a few photographs of herself among the roses at Chesham Park, taken by an amateur enthusiast. She observed, half wistfully, half humorously, that she was so old and fat that he would not recognise her, and it was a sure sign of advancing senility that old days and friends seemed so much sweeter than new ones.
That letter had made Bob consult a railway guide and talk about taking a trip home in the autumn—in time for the Show. Dora's note on top of it set him to packing his gladstone.
The long day closes o'er the purple hills,
The cooler night its starry splendour spills.
By rock and sedge
To water's edge
The thirsty small things creep;
And Mabel's heart all cold and sad
Groping a way, or good or bad,
If only they be free,
Her lonely boy and she,
Full weary falls asleep.
Dora's expressed determination against marriage and in favour of nursing threw her father off the scent. More concrete signs threw Concertina on. His only reading was the local newspaper. Otherwise he read the roads, the trees, the whole landscape about him. He could not have missed Greygown's tracks back and forth unless he had two bungy eyes. They were as plain to him as hobnail boots on new asphalt. The black Lindsey colt too had left his signatures near by.
One day Mick had seen Dora approaching Dingo Creek, and hiding behind a tree, watched her movements. A little tracking and prospecting led him to the private post office. With undisguised pleasure and no niceties he was free of the trysting secrets. They were a juicy morsel in a prosaic day. Mick smiled in his beard. What should he do with his news?
Finally he confided in Mabel. Relations had considerably ripened between them. Mabel gave him late supper in the kitchen every night he stayed at Bandicoot now, and had told him of her desire to leave the district. Concertina agreed that he too would like a change if he saw an opportunity of bettering himself. A man with a little capital could start a dairy. Butter was looking up, with all the talk of capturing the Japanese butter trade. Mabel confessed to having nearly fifty pounds in cash, which she would like to put into something for Arthur. Concertina had made a tentative offer, he said Arthur would be a good partner for any man with sense. It stood at that. After the fruit season and Show, Mabel would have added to her hoard, and she did not want to be hurried.
Mick felt it decent to do something about Ross and Dora. He did not think Ross very serious and, to do him justice, was as interested to avert trouble as to satisfy curiosity. That he regarded it in terms of "trouble" merely showed Mick of an orthodox mind. He told Mabel under seal of secrecy.
She was panic stricken. She could see her father's rage and Dora's danger. She thought of it as danger only. She did not want to get Dora into trouble, but if later there was tragedy, she would never forgive herself. Again, she was remorseful. She was the cause of Dora's seclusion which had this dubious result. If she and Arthur left the district, Dora would have a better field. It was Dora's repression (her fault) that was at the bottom of this disobedience. Mabel recalled the old days of eighteen or nineteen years past when she and Bill and Bob had been free to roam the district at will and to bring home their friends at any hour or day and raise a racket of fun. Father used to join in heartily, the only regulation being that work should not be scamped for pleasure. Then after her slip...and it had come about so simply, so unbelievably, she could see the same pitfall yawning for Dora, no romance, only danger...And Sid, so eager, so loving, so full of promises, and then, he the first to repudiate her, to treat all her wild pleadings with scorn—treacherous, cruel. He the first to Slander her, she who had worshipped him, who had been entirely innocent except for him. Her heart hardened against Ross, who reminded her of Sid. He was wonderful now, full of flattery even to her, but...she was distraught to picture that immediate and dastardly change.
What should she do? She tried to quieten her fears. Surely it was only talk between the young people. They could not be so daring. In any case it was evident that Ross and Dora were meeting in the wilds, and that was more alarming than the contemplated appearance at the ball without her father's permission and in defiance of his edicts.
The night of the ball approached. The entertainment was never mentioned by Father and Mother. Mabel counted on Concertina coming to Bandicoot on New Year's day, but unaccountably there was no sign of him. It increased Mabel's dilemma. She had thought to enlist him as an unseen guardian of Dora. Mick was almost as wonderful as an Aborigine at being stealthily present at all sorts of functions.
Mick had been waylaid by Ross when on the way to Bandicoot, riding cheerfully and carefully because of a sack across Governor's loins, each end of which was weighted with a prime watermelon, the first of the season, and exceedingly early—as a present for Mabel and Arthur. For the double purpose of his music and to hold him so that he could not report Dora's presence till too late, Ross asked Mick to play some accordion numbers. To earn ten bob and be in the thick of things was joyous luck to the lonely man, but there was not time to go to Bandicoot and back again as well as to return to his selection for his clothes. It was not Saturday afternoon or Sunday, so he was not wearing his best suit, and his new accordion also happened to be at the selection. The hollow post office tree was not a hundred yards distant, and Mick said he would leave his cargo there, a grin of impish humour being still-born in his beard as he watched Ross's face, but Ross "never gave hisself away," as Mick reported later. "He's as foxy as the old bloke." To be present at the ball also satisfied Mick because he would be able to keep an eye on Dora, but as he was unable to inform Mabel it was no help to her.
Barry, instead of going to the sports at Canberra as Arthur had pleaded, out of sheer stubbornness kept the boy bullocking from daylight till dark. In anticipation of a plague of fires, the old man had ploughed firebreaks everywhere as soon as the grass began to dry. Not alone the surplus grass but in certain seasons something in the air—stronger electric currents perhaps—seemed to conduct fire astonishing distances by air alone. Without wind to blow sparks Father had known fires start spontaneously many yards apart. This was going to be that kind of a season, mark his words, and instead of doing his share to make the district safe, there was that crawler of a Lindsey giving a ball to dupe people to vote for him so that he would be in a better position to fleece the public. The flash Chesham Park had grass to the eyes, a menace to the country. Where would it be if a tramp threw a match, or left a bit of fire! See how much the motor car and dancing would help then!
Mother, disappointed about the party, said that Father, as usual, was looking for trouble. Father roared that he had been watching the signs of the season, and that the extensive fires both in Victoria and about Sydney itself showed that the Southern Tableland's turn would come any day. He had noticed in The Daily Telegraph that in nearly every case it had been reported that the cause of the fires was a mystery.
Mother's pricks and his own rancour because he could not bring himself to accept the Lindsey olive branch, drove him hard. "Mark my words, I know what I'm talking about. I don't need anyone to teach me my business in these parts," he said, coming in at mid-day with a face like the sun, and grime from head to foot. Arthur was like a blackamoor and in rebellious temper at being driven to work on New Year's day. Dad pretended that his tactics were so important that he couldn't even indulge in siesta, but sweated himself and the youth all the blazing afternoon in burning the grass which had grown and dried on the firebreaks since their ploughing.
By nightfall he was exhausted as well as irritable and this helped Dora's purpose. Arthur wanted to sit up to celebrate the-New Year. Father said he could blasted well celebrate by himself. Arthur pled with Dora, but she too repudiated any celebration as unnecessary, especially as it was twenty-four hours late. This was such a blow to Arthur, and he looked so dejected that she offered to sing a few songs as a substitute.
The boy was so tired that he objected to cleaning himself so extensively as demanded by the society of the sacred merinos in the "best" room, and compromised by sitting on the veranda outside the window. He kept awake through "Where did you get that Hat?" and "The Rooster laid a Brick," but "The Letter that never came" put him on the blink.
Mabel had made a minor Christmas cake and plenty of honey mead of a quality to shame much night club champagne at thirty shillings per bottle, and that was the end of Arthur. It was also the end of Father. He snored in his chair. Mother waked him. She said if he snuffled and snorted there he would keep her awake later. The result was that before 9.30 p.m. the parents and Arthur were sound asleep.
Dora was in her room awaiting the hour of meeting. Mabel went to her on the excuse of bringing some home-made sweets, and saw that she was quite in bed. She was dressed under her night robe. She had no need to crinkle her hair artificially, or that might have been a clue. Certain boxes were strewn about, but Dora had a habit of dressing-up in her finery. Mabel was not satisfied though Dora seemed very drowsy. She withdrew to her own room, and Dora reconnoitring later saw that her light was out.
Ross was to be at the main road gate at ten o'clock and wait till Dora appeared. She left home at ten-to-ten, well covered in a dark macintosh and carrying her dress and dancing shoes in a bandbox. She was to complete her toilet at Chesham Park. Mabel did not hear her go as she was at the other side of the house, but after a time she slipped out to the kitchen and sat there. She could not arouse Dora's suspicions by prowling around her door again. She would wait till nearly twelve and then peep in.
She mused on Concertina's voice so soft and slow. He would not bellow his displeasure, and he liked Arthur; but she must not weakly count on seeming kindness. Her bank deposits and crock of gold had more surety. She must not put her head in a noose without legal partnership. She would go to Goulburn to a lawyer who did not know her—run down on the excuse of seeing a dentist there—and secretly find out her powers to possess her own money. Father would roar and Mother be curious, but she must brave that.
She thought of Bob. He had written her kind letters for the last Christmas and birthday, and sent her a five-pound note as he had often done to Dora. More money! That was grand, and now that Sid Lindsey was dead there was no sense in keeping alive the grudge she had against Bob and Bill for the bitter things they had said.
In the new hope that was bracing her, she recognised that her seclusion had been a mistake, not so much for her own sake as Dora's. People might have despised her, but she could have held her head stiffly and now would he in a position to follow Dora herself instead of telling her father, as would be necessary if Dora really went to the ball.
As for the talk, people always babbled and criticised the blameless as well as the culpable. She habitually restrained herself with Dora, feeling that as soon as the girl knew the rights of the case there would be a bitter re-awakening of the old trouble. She was beginning to hope that she would be away out of the district before Dora became enlightened, and in case Dora should hate her she need never cross her path again.
List to Willy-wag! Hark to his brag!
"See how he meets her! Watch how he greets her!"
The moke-pokes cry as the pair speed by,
And the plovers call: "Away to the ball! The ball!
'Tis wrong! But-but!"
The merry night with summer dight
Has a half-grown moon in her hair.
"I shall be there! I shall be there!
Oh, how I long to do and to dare,"
Thus throbbed the girl. Away! Away!
The iron hoofs of the trotting mare
Fling the gravel like spray.
Down through the gully the water sings
Soft as the whisper of angels' wings
Lisping, loving nocturnal things.
What does the young man say?
"We're in for it now, but I don't care
How much the old man curse or swear.
Let him go ramp and rage and blare"
Away! Away! The tree tops sway,
And dance with the stars till break o' day.
The old can wait: they are out of date.
But the young must love, and yearn
To light their candle and seek their fate
While yet they have time to burn.
The merry night with summer dight
Had a half-grown moon in her hair.
Dora went down to the road stepping circumspectly to avoid grass seeds and deep ruts of dust. Her dark macintosh covered her white underclothes; but it was moonlight—a growing moon, and Ross saw her coming and whistled softly from where he was drawn up behind a high clump of briars.
Excited greetings in subdued tones. The bandbox was stowed. One lithe hand on the reins, the other safely swinging Dora into the bounding vehicle, a swift, excited hug, then all attention to the reefing blood and they were off, the gravel flying around them like hail. Ross thrilled with conquest. He had old Barry's pet girl with him to display like a banner before his world—a silken, starry banner, an unsurpassed prize for its own sake, and it was immense to tweak the old man's tail and think of his rage and roars.
Dora regarded Ross as a fine cavalier, a hat-raiser, an exponent of manners with whom she could e seen without humiliation, a daring, stylish young gentleman who carried out this adventure with a prize trotter such as few girls had sat behind. She gasped a little to realise her own audacity and her father's ire. She never thought to evade the latter. Her mind was farther ahead, on the setting-out to Bob in Queensland, there to await a call to one of the hospitals. No young man could overcome her with amorous blandishments. Her father had little cause for worry. Mabel could have gone to bed and slept soundly. Character and intelligence behind maidenhood keep it safer than all the duennas and bars ever marshalled. But Mabel, trembling and feeling the pain of old wounds, could not know that, neither could old Blastus tossing wakefully, -unhappy in his spleen. People have to be big themselves to measure size in others.
At Chesham Park all was going well. The inner clique knew that overtures towards peace had been rejected and that Bandicoot would not he represented at the gathering. "Still 'twill have done a power of good," said Slattery. "Shure he will be able to roar that he rayfused an invite, and that will put him in such good humour wid himself that ye'd be able to play marbles on his coat tail."
People were interested in the possibility of the Barrys being present. There was an idea that the old feud must have broken down when Ross lay at death's door at Bandicoot and was nursed by the Barrys while the Lindseys were occupied with Mrs. Lindsey.
Mrs. Lindsey was remarkably well and had sat out on the veranda for an hour among the picnickers, she had also expressed a wish to watch the dancing. To that end Kate laid her away to rest during the early part of the evening while dressing and final preparations had the house in a commotion.
When the Barrys did not appear, people wondered if they had been invited. No one had the temerity to ask the Lindseys direct, as they had sufficient reserve to keep impertinence at a distance, and the inside clique kept the secret for political reasons. The Barrys were forgotten. People had their own comedies to conduct. The young could not be restrained from beginning the ball as soon as dusk had fallen. They repaired to the woolshed about half a mile from the house, complaining of the grass seeds. Not even around the homestead buildings had any trailing been done at Chesham Park.
It had been a blazing day. No thunderstorm had relieved the heat for three weeks. Everything was dry. The landscape far and wide except for lucerne patches had been bleached to ivory by the pitiless glare. The wide sweeping zephyrs ran like a silken shiver over the undulations of Canberra Plain clad in long fine grasses brittle from December heat. The treeless knolls about Bandicoot had a naked appearance like a glistening bald head—the head of a wicked old man who knows all about life and knows it so little good that he is cynical. The wind had collected the dry fairy grasses against the rabbit fences where they clung in miles of mats, tinder dry.
Ross and Kate were very active, supporting their father in hospitality. Kate was slightly decollete in a white silk dress with many flounces frilled and looped with lace, her splendid figure accentuated at the waist by a peaked belt. The chief persons had given thought to their apparel to suit the occasion. The full-bosomed nakedness of fashionable evening dress for women would have caused a scandal among the untravelled matrons of the Murrumbidgee gullies in those days ere the engines of Thor had rent Mrs. Grundy's castle of propriety. On the other hand if they were not sufficiently decorated it would e looked upon as a slight. Kate's gown was just about right, quite grand yet modest. Lindsey Sr., carefully on guard against "side," was in a well-cut black cloth suit with a blaze of shirt and cuffs. Ross had attired himself in white ducks with a cummerbund of oriental splendour and was much admired. He had sartorial as well as social knack.
It was not exclusively a gathering of the seigniorage, but there was a sprinkling, which together with the Queanbeyan professional clique and some of the medium old pioneerage and dunniewassals was sufficient to make the hoi-polloi feel they were seeing high society. The bankers' and lawyers' and clergymen's wives were there, and one or two women representatives of the homesteads whose woolly supporters were grazing where Canberra City lies to-day. Mrs. Blackett, the Federal Member's wife, was present and generated whisperings as being excitingly "townie" because she had ventured on the right degree of evening dress for the occasion, to wit, a work of black lace with elbow sleeves and white kid gloves, and a transparent net yoke through which the contours of her motherly though nulliparous bosom could be discerned by intrepid investigators. She was further exciting by a jewelled pendant, gift of the constituents.
Mrs. Judson (Georgina Lindsey) was there, and then all the neighbours and their families from the octogenarians down to half-fledged misses in short frocks—short for those days, about the length worn by conservative grandmothers in the sartorially saner period of 19254930. It was a fine muster of parental squatters, male and female, well-conditioned and weather-beaten, and specially attired with great respect to themselves, their hosts and fellow guests though not in evening uniforms. The place was alive with people knowing a great deal about live stock and nothing at all about literature or psycho-analysis, men immensely familiar with crops and innocent of academic culture, women who thought that in violent housewifery they fulfilled all that God intended for the intellect of female human beings.
Ross buzzed about teasing the matrons and asking them for dances. He even steered one or two of the more grandmotherly under the mistletoe, still hanging in the dining room, and exacted tribute, and was riotously popular.
"Shure if the young feller put up, he'd be very pop'lar wid the ladies," said Slattery, looking on.
Dancing was vigorously proceeding. Ross had danced with the Misses Chitters, and got out of the way of the hoofs of Rose Ann, as he would have expressed it, and then suggested about 9.15 that a stroll to the house would be nice and cool.
The ceremonial quadrille was to be about ten o'clock, at which hour Mrs. Lindsey wanted to e in the shed, and until which the celebrities were not expected to appear. Ross was to transport them in the car to escape the grass seeds. He was seen everywhere till a little after nine o'clock but as soon as he suggested dispersal he raced to the stable where his fast trotter was tethered in the sulky all ready, and easing himself out of sight, tore off to Bandicoot as for the doctor. He was back at the house by ten-thirty, and with a word to the surprised Kate popped Dora into her room to complete her toilet while he went on duty to the shed. Lindsey Sr., wondering where the deuce his son had gone—with what charmer—himself had taken several car loads to the shed, and the opening quadrille was awaited. Ross and Kate set it in motion, themselves not dancing in it.
Then someone having obliged with "The Newchum Rider," Blackett, McTavish, Slattery and Lindsey made up one table of cards, and the other parliamentarian, the two bankers and a seigniorial pioneer a second in a corner cunningly arranged and well-lighted. Later they would decamp to the house for more comfort and a snooze, but for the time they were on duty. Their wives were similarly busy admiring the girls and asking about teething babies or laying hens. Their lords were concerned with the proper time to put Lindsey forward as candidate. They did not see the first waltz. One by one the couples took the floor. When it was comfortably full, in whirled Ross with Dora in his arms. The political plotters missed this sensation. A buzz of gossip ran around the edge where the matrons were sitting, as well as around the higher tier where the non-dancing men were established, many perched on the rails of the sheep pens.
Mrs. Lindsey, a sensitive palsied wraith, was in a deep armchair to one side and immediately caught sight of the new arrival, closely but modestly pressed to her pet son's breast. They were the most striking pair on the floor, for their contrasting good looks, their dress and their zestful demeanour. Dora's gown had been copied from a fashion plate. It had elbow sleeves and she had daringly removed the high collar. Her hair, more brilliant than a new penny, was elaborately "up" in a style she had practised for days, with white roses tucked in it and also at waist and shoulder. Like a rose bud about to open, she was radiant, healthy, excited. Ross, slim as a reed, dark as a gipsy, was equally outstanding.
Mrs. Lindsey called Kate to her as she was about to enter the circle with an elderly squatter. "Who is that lovely girl dancing with Ross?"
"Dora Barry! Impossible!" Mrs. Lindsey started and trembled and could not control herself for some time. Kate sat on the arm of her chair and held her frail fingers. "But my dear, my dear! Does her father know she is here? I wish I had been told."
"I knew nothing about it, Mother, till Ross brought her to dress in my room, and I've been too busy to ask him about it."
Dora was the observed of all eyes. Georgina Judson, a buxom woman of Kate's pattern, but riper, was much interested in her. Tom Harris was another goggle-eyed to see her. She had told him her family was not invited, yet here she was with that Ross! How did she get there? Things had never been promising to Tom, but there had been hope. This quenched it. He went outside and mopped his brow, though the night was turning suddenly cool. The sky had a look of wind high up.
Kate took her mother a sip of lemonade. "Not tiring you, Mother?"
"No dear. It is so nice to see you all enjoying yourselves. But I'm so anxious—to see that poor little girl here, against her father!"
"It's pathetic to see how she is enjoying herself."
"You'll keep her here all night and take care of her?"
"She wants to get home without old Blastus knowing."
Mrs. Lindsey clutched Kate's sleeve. "Then you'll go with her and Ross?"
"I expect they'd rather be alone." Kate, noting Ross's absorption in Dora, wondered what it meant. Ross could hardly be so foolish as to humbug Dora Barry, seeing the circumstances. Had seriousness befallen Ross unawares? She decided to take Dora apart and have a little chat when things settled down.
"We can't afford to be careless with that child's reputation. You know what her father is. He'll think we have set a trap to ruin her. Promise me, Kate, you won't let her out of your sight and will take her home yourself."
"Yes, Mother darling, I'll see to her, though I hope we can trust Ross."
"I can trust my boy, but it is the look of the thing."
Tom rushed up to ask Dora for a dance but she postponed him because Mrs. Judson stopped to speak to her.
"I remember your brother Bill very well. Do you ever hear from him?"
"Bob is the one who always writes to me.
"Bill was quite a beau of mine—like you and Ross seem to be to-night, but he went away and forgot me."
"You forgot him too, Mrs. Judson."
"Looks like it, with a girl of fourteen." The matron laughed good naturedly and went on to her mother, while eager partners surrounded Dora.
Another dance was ending and Ross was determined on his deserts. He led Dora to a nook he knew amid a few bales of wool from stragglers and fittingly lit by Japanese lanterns.
The card players were stoking their pipes and having a chat between games. Slattery's bass was leading. "Some of my yeos were very light-woolled and had a touch of fluke in them. Och, there's too much grass this season."
"Yes," squeaked McTavish. "I was ridin' about the day to pick oot the paddock wi' the least grass seeds."
"Well now," began Slattery. "At supper Mr. Blackett and the mimer for Queanbeyan can foire the first guns, an' me an' Mr. McTavish, as two of the most important neeburs, can second it."
At this moment the light fell on Dora's gleaming head as she passed with Ross. The elderly gentlemen were shaken out of their political stride by that glad and unexpected sight. Had old Blastus relented? Scarcely! In any case if not a complication, it was a stimulation. The self-contained Lindsey Sr. made no remark other than that he had forgotten something and would have to be excused for five minutes. He would send someone to take his hand. He sent Tom Harris, who was mooning about unengaged.
"Sondy's a guid mon for the deestrik," remarked McTavish while they were waiting, "for all it is best to count your sheep wi' him and watch the brands. He! He!"
"Ha! Ha!" agreed Slattery.
"That's aye what auld Blastus says, but he has the auld reason for his. blether, and he'll hae maim the nicht, I'm thinking."
Here Tom took his seat.
"Crikey won't there be a nize whin owld Blastus foinds out that the gurrl has eloped to the ball wid the young fellow," old Slattery remarked to him genially. "Shure whoi did ye let him cut ye out, young man?"
This was an infelicitous remark to Tom and no less to McTavish, who was pleased with Tom's steadiness and tendencies toward accumulating property, and shepherding him for Jeanie McTavish, a long thin girl with a bleak nose and a bad complexion.
McTavish said: "Maye this ginger lassie Will do better than her sister and ketch the young fellow outright."
"Shure I hear he's trying to ketch Concertina Mick for the owld wan. He'll be lucky to git her off." The old man cackled.
"If these two bairns wad settle doon together, it wad be weel for all concerned. Auld Blastus wadna oppose us then."
"Yes, and Lindsey's a goer, always first, and it's to him we mostly owe the bridge."
Tom was uneasy thinking of Ross and Dora away in some romantic corner. His suspicions were grounded. No sooner was Ross sure of being alone with Dora than he clasped her without preliminary approach and kissed her rapturously.
Dora was not expecting such a sudden and devouring onslaught. She was breathless and thrilled. This was life indeed! Romance! However, she protested.
"But that's what you promised me. This is the first ball. I've been patient all these weeks and weeks."
Dora was not quite satisfied. Ross was putting things out of place. "I don't think people should go about kissing unless they are relatives or engaged," she said naively.
"You darling!" he exclaimed. "That's easily remedied. That's what I want you—us—to be engaged. Say it's a go."
This placed his overtures on a proper footing for Dora. She became mistress of the situation. "Oh, but I don't want to get married or even be engaged." Her career was still first. This did not make her waver in her plan to go to Queensland and then to a hospital for training. Ross was acting splendidly in harmony with his hat-raising proficiency. Dora savoured power and success. The way those Miss Chitters gassed about Mr. Ross Lindsey, and how Rose Ann gloated on him! If they only knew what he was saying and doing now! Dora emitted a triumphant giggle which Ross interpreted as his own conquest. She was charmed by Ross's quick witty remarks and dashing address. It was intoxicating to feel the rhythm of the dance in his arms, but she was in no danger of the complete abandon that had brought disaster to Mabel.
"Ross, what really made our fathers such dreadfully bad friends? What did Sid and Mabel do?" Her question was direct, earnest and practical.
"Oh, it was rather over the mark. Sid was engaged to Mabel and then went off and married some streel in a pub at the very last minute."
"I wouldn't advertise it if I were thrown over."
"Oh, but Sid hadn't much stamina. He made a complete fool of poor old Mabel; and I expect there were other things too."
"I know some of them, like Father's boots and the sheep, but still the whole thing is silly. If one man didn't want me, I'd find another, or do without. I think," she pursued, provocatively, "that I'd really prefer to do without altogether. In any case this is the loveliest night in all my life so far. I wish it could last for ever."
"That's easy. It can, the minute you say the word." She turned her face up, not at all because she had surrendered, but paradoxically because she felt that Ross was her trophy. "We'd better be making back to the dance. We mustn't set every old cockadoodle cackling from here to Queanbeyan and Yass."
Lindsey, on leaving the card players, sought Kate and sent her to shoo Ross and Dora back to the crowd while he said a word to his wife. Kate told Ross his father wanted a word with him and detained Dora.
"Enjoying yourself, Dora?"
"Oh yes, it's heavenly, and I think you look lovely. You are the belle."
"I leave that to you now."
"Thank you so much for inviting me."
"Did Ross tell you that I invited you?"
"Oh, yes. Of course if Father finds out he'll kill me, but it's worth it. I'll run away to Bob."
"Does Bob ever talk of coming home?"
"No...I wish he would...Your sister Mrs. Judson says Bill used to be an old beau of hers, and Mabel said that Bob was snooks on you. Is that true?"
"Oh, we may have had a little fun like you and Ross to-night, but such things don't count for much."
This was damping. "Oh, don't you think they do—not ever?"
"It would mostly be better if they didn't." Kate sighed as if weary of the ball. Dora at eighteen did not conceive of Kate at thirty-five as still young and marriageable.
"Why have old people such a derry on love? Didn't they fall in love themselves?"
"Perhaps it was the falling out of love that biassed them." Kate did not contest the inference of her elderliness.
"Bob doesn't talk of coming home, but I asked him to. You see, Father is sure to make an awful noise, so I asked Bob to come to this ball, right here."
"Good for you! What did he say?"
"He never replied, but he hardly had time. There may e a letter for me to-morrow."
While they talked, Lindsey Sr. said a word aside to Ross. "How did that Barry girl get here?"
"I brought her, Pater."
"Clever way of stirring up the mud just now when we're trying to bring old Blastus around! He'll be bellowing around the electorate like his old bally bull. Watch how you tread with her."
"Kate and I are taking her home. The old man has no right to keep her like a nun."
"He'll let you know his rights in the case." It did not occur to Lindsey to inquire if his son were serious. "Bring her around and I'll have a dance with her. That will give some of them a pain in the curiosity."
Ross returned to claim Dora and to take her to his mother. Mrs. Lindsey had assessed the beatific expression of Ross when with the girl.
"Mother, this is Miss Dora Barry. I brought her to our party."
"God bless you, my dear. How I wish your father had come too. You must stay with us till the morning. Kate can tuck you in with her."
"Oh, no, thank you, Mrs. Lindsey. I must go home just as soon as supper is over."
"Well, my dear, enjoy yourself...I see you think my baby boy is rather nice."
"I expect, that, like all babies, he's not bad when he's asleep," she said archly, and then impulsively bent down and kissed Mrs. Lindsey. "I think you are lovely. Thank you ever so much for being so beautiful to me."
Ross was here called upon to manage the lancers, and Dora was in great demand. Old Slattery, confined in heavy tweeds, mopped his brow and dug her in the ribs. "Phwat will feyther say, whin he foinds out?"
"Were you never young yersel'?" rebuked McTavish, lean as a bean stalk, with a leather face.
"You are not going to tell on me, are you, Mr. Slattery?" countered Dora.
"Divvil a bit! Wan doesn't live at peace wid the neeburs by tellin' tales out of school. Oi'm going to dance wid ye instid, if ye'll say the worrud."
"Of course, I shall be delighted."
"Shure we'll have to wait for a good owld rayspictable dance. That teetering round and round is vulgar. It would give annywan wid annything in his head the dizzies."
"You must dance with me, too," interposed Mr. Blackett.
"Oh, yes, if I can dance well enough. I've never danced with a member of Parliament."
"Now, young Miss; ye're not daysertin' me for a rascally mimber of Parliament?"
"Oh, no, Mr. Slattery, of course not. I'll dance with you both."
"They all seem very taken with the little girl from Bandicoot," remarked Mrs. Lindsey.
"Yes. If a girl is pretty or marked out by any notoriety, the old men are more rabid than the young ones," replied the indulgent voice of her daughter Georgina.
Applause followed the entry of Ross, escorting Concertina and his accordion. Dora saw him with dismay and disgust, though he was looking inoffensive and incontestably respectable in a dark slop suit and the snake-skin belt, but minus the bowyangs, slouch felt hat and seasoned pipe. His reception was unmistakably cordial. It made Dora doubt the worth of her own.
Familiar old tunes broke out in a rich roar after the thinner tones of fiddle and piano. A large crowd danced, or rather bumped about, Mrs. Blackett and several other celebrities being too fat and heavy really to dance. Ross deputed Tom Harris to be M.C. and did not dance himself as Dora was otherwise engaged. He arranged his mother's pillows and talked to her.
"What do you think of her, Mater?"
"She's as pretty as a picture and full of life and excitement. But, laddie, do you think it's wise to have her here? It will shake up all the bad feeling with the old man."
"Mater, we can't let that old roarer squeeze every bit of fun out of life. I don't care if she's the devil's daughter—I want her, Mater." It suddenly seemed to Ross that that is how it was with him.
"I see you do, but heaven help me, if I can see a happy end to it...Ah, laddie, it was fate I suppose that took you to Bandicoot for old Barry's pet girl." Ross watched Dora in the dance with an eager absorption there was no mistaking. His mother watched him watching the girl. "Kate will go with you to take her home."
"Mater, it seems as if you didn't trust us, but even if I was a crawler, she's the straightest little girl I know."
"I trust you, my boy. It's not that, but you know what's behind this old rage—she doesn't. Every old gossip here will be trying to pick holes in her behaviour because of what is past. I need say no more, laddie."
"All right, Mater: Kate will come with us, and I'll call two or three of the biggest bush telegraphs to see us start."
"That's a dear laddie."
Kate sat pensively on the wool bales where Dora had left her. Dora's unconscious reference to her as old was depressing. Old! She supposed she was out of the running now. Balls certainly bored her, though she was a splendid dancer and still much sought as a partner. When Dora's age, she had been equally enthusiastic, and so had Bob Barry. No one could quite take Bob's place. He had been so manly, so fiery, so proud, No man seemed to feel things so keenly as Bob had done. He had been so savage and hurt. He need not have been with her, for she too had been wounded by the disgrace. Yes, something was lacking since those days. Youth. They could get on without her. She was old. She remained where she was, dispirited. She longed to go to bed, but there was no possibility of that for hours, and when the ball waned she would have to tear all the way to Bandicoot, squeezed and bumped, three in a sulky. Oh, well!
A tall, bronzed, bearded stranger stood in the opening in the gloom, regarding her with a spreading smile that was most infectious. He a-hemmed so as not to startle her: "Good evening, Miss Lindsey. May I come into your nook?"
"Yes, of course," she said politely. "But I can't see who it is."
"Perhaps you don't remember me," he said, swinging up and extending his hand. "Don't you know me, Kate?"
"Bob, isn't it? I might not have known you only we have just been talking about you, and I was thinking about you."
"By George, that's good to hear."
"I know your eyes now," she smiled. "And your hands. There's the same old lumpy finger-nail where you smashed it in the slip-rail at Dingo Creek."
"So you remember that. Do you ever go that way now?"
"The new road goes wide of it and I have no need of a trysting place these days."
"You're a sight for homesick eyes, and not changed at all." His glances covered her devouringly.
"Dora tells me she wrote to you about this ball."
"Yes, and I got your letter too, and here I am, and what can I do for both of you?"
"Mountains of things. Dora is here, and you know what that will mean when your father finds out. We invited them all with no result and then Ross went clandestinely and brought Dora."
"The Dad hasn't let-up with the years?"
"Not an inch. They were so good to Ross while he was there with a cracked head—I suppose Dora told you—that we thought it would begin a reign of peace, but no."
"Poor old Dad. And there's not a better old fellow going, according to his lights."
"There's nothing sly about him." Kate's tone was perfunctory. She inquired politely: "Have you come home for a real stay or only a flying visit?"
"I'm determined to clear up this old row before I go back."
"That's nice. We'll have you here for the remainder of our lives." Kate's tone still lacked enthusiasm. "Do they know at Bandicoot that you've come?"
"Haven't a suspicion. I just dropped in for a private peep at you, and then I must off home like greased lightning."
Bob looked at her and smiled. He was an immense man, vivid and overflowing, like his father, though his waving crest had never been so fiery, and his skin tanned without freckling and peeling. There was something so magnetic and friendly about him that Kate's weariness began to melt. She felt warmer and younger than following Dora's revelation. Bob had enough of his mother's placidity to be soothing as well as energetic.
"I want my appearance here to be secret. It would break the Dad's heart to know I came here before going home."
"Oh, yes, too much for human nature," she responded, kindling to her usual kindliness, and with a smile that matched somewhat the gladness in his. "Aren't you hungry? I could take you to the house and smuggle a snack."
"Still the same old Kate! By George, it is spilling to see you." They laughed at the old slang word. He looked her over with remembrance from their youth and she eased and expanded when she read in his eyes that he found her as good in her maturity as he had done in her budding.
"Come and take a peep at Dora. We can see her without being seen."
"I've been watching a young couple here having a fine time. What about following a good example and welcoming a fellow home?"
"With that beard!"
"Show me where to shave?"
She led him to an aperture between some boughs and he balanced her on the top rail of a sheep pen while he looked over her shoulder, using her and a post as a shield. He held her carefully, chastely, yet Kate could feel in the surrounding atmosphere that her nearness was delightful to him, comforting and exhilarating to her, so different from the repulsive liberties taken by the clumsily, crudely amatory.
The quadrille ended. Bob chuckled with glee to recognise old Slattery in the middle of the floor, mopping his brow on a large coloured handkerchief. "Not a day older! and I used to think the old geezer old a life-time ago."
"They have a habit of growing younger as we get old ourselves. It's nice to have someone about my own age," she said, pressing his arm.
"You! Why, bless me, you're a girl yet. You don't look a clay over twenty-five." Kate felt retrieved from senescence at a stroke. She could have accepted the comfort of Bob's arms without further preliminaries, but various inhibitions and conventions rolled between.
"Och, it's a hot toime of year fur a dance—and in this shed," grunted Slattery. "The house would have been betther."
"The ball has been held in the shed and at this time of year by special request, Mr. Slattery. The old folks got goose flesh in the draughts last time."
"That's Ross," whispered Kate.
"By George, is it, the little nipper! He's grown out of sight, and quite a dandy."
"Oh, yes, the real ladies' man."
"Shure, it stands to rayson 'twouldn't be the owld payple who were discontinted. 'Twas the young, I'll bet ye, wanted the shed for the corners and the turtledoving." There was loud laughter at this, as at a witticism, led by Slattery himself. "An' none is betther at that than yerself, young fellow."
The laugh was against Ross.
"Can ye no gie us a song?" inquired McTavish. "'Annie Laurie,' or the C'auld, cauld blast.' Wouldn't a wee bittie be guid in this heat. He! He! He!"
Half a dozen voices called upon Miss Barry. "Now you'll see Dora," whispered Kate.
"So that was Dora! Can she sing?" inquired Bob with gathering excitement. This was a delightful homecoming.
"Oh, yes, quite nicely. She's taking lessons."
Ross led the girl forward amid general applause and evident interest. Bob could not credit his eyes that this splendid, strange young woman, gathering the roses of flattery on all sides, was his own sister. Ross seated himself at the piano.
"So that's it, is it?" exclaimed Bob. "I'm learning lots of things in a short time."
Dora sang "Whisper and I shall hear," and as encore, "Twickenham Ferry." Then it was Ross's turn. He gave "Anchored" and "The Bedouin's love song." Dora could not manage the accompaniment of the latter, so to a Miss Chitters fell the triumph, but it was at Dora that Ross looked over the piano as he chanted:
"Till the sun grows cold and the stars are old
And the leaves of the Judgment Book un—fold.
I love thee! I love but thee! With a love that
shall not die————"
with the unabashed exuberance and intoxication of amour in full crow. It disturbed the old no more than a passing breeze, but Tom Harris endowed it with deadly importance. His temperature fell into his boots. He felt driven to do something, even to rush forth and drone "Sweet Belle Mahone." That would not have helped. Quite the reverse. Amour is cruel if its vanity is touched. It has no mercy for ridiculous deeds though they may manifest a nature magnificently conditioned for the hum-drum wear and tear of the marriage arena.
"By George! There's old Concertina Mick! Well, I never! and the same pipe too, I do believe!"
Bob whispered that he must be off to forestall his father in case of accident. Kate led him by a secluded way to supper and cool drinks and shaving tackle.
"It's been so nice to see you. I hope this is not the last of you, except at a distance," she said as she explained the changes in the track to Bandicoot.
"No jolly fear! e bang over to see you tomorrow afternoon—if you'll be awake. I'm not going to let the old tow-row spoil things any longer. The Dad won't be able to keep set against all of us. So long!"
He had been driven out of town, but now went off on a bicycle with which he had provided himself for independent transport. Kate stood watching his departure, a dark figure against the moonlight. He looked back and caught the gleam of her white gown and felt that his homecoming was a great success.
Soon as Time and the Wind began
Or ever Life had fashioned Man,
And thrust him pent upon this ball,
Reckless of portent, careless of gain,
Time made songs of dreams and deeds,
Of softest whisper out the reeds,
And the blithe Wind piped them all.
All of laughter, all of pain,
Dream of saint, or passion of brute,
Only Time and the Wind remain—
Time the player, the Wind his lute.
Mabel sat in the kitchen in the dark till nearly eleven and then decided it would be safe to investigate. She crept through the drawing-room, off which Dora's opened. The outside door was open, the moonlight streamed through the window.. The bed was vacant. There was every sign of where Dora had gone.
The girl was in danger as measured by tragic experience. Mabel was dismayed. She must act, come what may. For a moment she considered going after Dora herself, but her courage failed at the prospect of breaking her long seclusion in such a dramatic manner. She was forced to tell her father or to go to bed and feign ignorance of Dora's actions. She was too conscientious, according to her light, for the latter course. It was through her old fall that Dora was driven to this subterfuge, she therefore owed it to Dora at whatever sacrifice to save her from catastrophe.
She went to her parents' room with candle lit. The door was open owing to the warm night. Her mother was sound asleep. She slept like a child though it was one of her little pretensions of feminine refinement to insist that she hardly slept at all. After an hour's good snore, Barry's exhaustion had eased and his perturbation of mind had wakened him. He lay there picturing his enemy's success at his ball with the whole district gathered about him to hear the announcement of the candidature, while all Bandicoot success with woolgrowing was eclipsed, all its owner's virtue with firebreaks unnoted—perhaps unnecessary.
There was Mabel at his side with a candle. She beckoned and signed for quiet. He slipped out without disturbing his wife. Mabel took his Sunday clothes off a peg and he picked up his boots and socks. Safely in the kitchen Mabel confessed what had happened. She shirked disclosing that she had any suspicions until going to Dora's room for eau de cologne. Some cover was necessary for survival. It was rather relieving than otherwise to the old warrior simmering in perspiration and his own rancour. Now he could burst into Lindsey's grand party and show up Ross's tactics. Temper is more closely allied to lunacy than is pity to love.
He ordered Mabel to harness the horse to the sulky while he dressed. In lieu of a telephone he always kept a horse handy at night. He said no unnecessary word. His unusual quietness was ominous to Mabel, Nor did he question Dora's whereabouts. He insisted upon something to eat and then was ready.
"Don't disturb your mother till necessary," he cautioned. He had an idea that his wife might enjoy Dora's defiance and with a word reduce the proportions of the drama he was bent on enacting. On dit that all women of feminine capability dramatise their lives. Men are inclined to melodramatise women's lives with sentimentality, but Dad Barry insisted upon bellow-dramatising his existence, and the inconvenience to his women folk be blasted!
Mabel did not dare plead with him to conduct the rescue quietly. She had surrendered such privileges long ago. When he had gone she made a fire under the fountain, as she was shivering in spite of the time of year.
Dora's escapade would bring things to such a climax that her own days at Bandicoot were probably numbered. She would come in for all the blame again, and her old disgrace very likely be disclosed to Dora. She wound accept Mick's overtures and with him and Arthur retreat to some new district and begin her own life. It couldn't be more cruel to her whatever Mick might turn out, and when she was gone life could be arranged with more liveliness for Dora.
All fell silent around the homestead again. The dogs settled down and the cry of the woke-pokes could be heard in the peppermint trees around the cow-yard.
Why such rage, Old Man? Why such rage?
The young command a different wage,
Alignments new to meet their age,
And whether you be dunce or sage,
'Tis you, Old Man, must change your gauge.
When Kate returned to the shed a barn dance was in progress, the music being supplied by Mick Bell, who had been hoisted on to the wool table. Mick was asked to add a polka or schottische, but he took his pipe from his mouth and drawled: "I must fust see what a bit of fire up the crik means. I've been watchin' it. It mightn't be much, but then again with all this grass and if the wind rose, it might."
The graziers melted away to inspect the fire. It was visible to few besides Concertina, a tiny glint on a far horizon. The members of Parliament and other elders clustered around Dora, as enthusiastic about her singing as if she were a prima donna. The wine of success mounted to Dora's inexperienced head. It was a repetition of her appearance at the bazaar. She outshone all the other girls, everybody was so hearty and fraternal, yet her father kept her shut up because of extraordinary notions.
A later moment brought disillusion. She moved away behind a post to escape Tom Harris, whom she saw steering towards her. While she was in hiding, Mrs. Blackett, making herself agreeable to Mr. Slattery, an important supporter, descanted upon the charm of the old accordion music.
"And that gentleman who plays so well, is he a resident of the district?"
"Divvil a jintleman, he's a selector up the creek here. He does a good deal of work for owld Blastus on Bandicoot, that is the feyther of the girl who was singing. Her owld sister made a mess of it some years ago wid a Lindsey, and that's how the row began that we're all thryin' to patch up. I'm hearing now that the owld man is thryin' to ketch the accordion player for the said sister. Shure I hope he succeeds. Maybe we could dispose of the botheration if she was settled."
"And the young people, do you think they are serious?"
"You mean the red-headed wan and young Ross? Sure if she knew enough to hang on, but shure there's room in his heart for more than wan. He makes up to Rose Ann, but she has been too well-rared to flout her religion."
Mrs. Blackett murmured understandingly. Dora fled incontinently, her cheeks flaming, her blood drumming in her ears. Red-head indeed! The Sydney lady with the Chitters simply raved about it as Titian.
If left to herself she would be among the elite but she was dragged down to the level of that old Concertina with his stale pipe and jungle beard, by her father and that stupid Mabel who roosted at home for ever like an owl! And Ross—not in earnest! He had to be polite to that great galumphing Rose Ann; and her old potato hogtrotting father thought it was Rose Ann's religion held her back, when it was her big feet, and her long dull face. Dora could see Jean McTavish in the distance fawning upon Ross.
She would test it. She would let Tom and Ross propose to her completely and accept them both. When asked why she did such a thing she would be as cool as a cucumber and say she never dreamt that they were in earnest. She would so entirely reverse this business of Mabel mooning like a hermit because Sid Lindsey had changed his mind about her, that that indignity would be dispersed. As a beginning she would stay in the wool bale corner and see if Ross missed her.
"What's this the noo? Fire did ye say?"
"It's likely to be in moi direction," said Slattery. "And in mine. Wi' grass like a hay field a sough of wind would send it to Kingdom come."
"Owld Blastus has been roarin' around the country this month past about trailin' finces and ploughing firebreaks around the stacks and houses."
"Awld Blastus aye knows what he is talkin' aboot when it is practical matters."
They moved off among others to discover what substance was in the rumour of fire.
Dora did not have long to wait in her retreat, till Ross, taking advantage of the interest in the fire, came eagerly seeking her. He was for kisses again, but found a changed Dora.
"What is the matter, darling?" he inquired, her distance making him sure in his predilection. "Are you tired?"
"Tired! There's been nothing to make me tired, but I want you to take me home at once. It doesn't seem to me to be very dignified to be here secretly. It may disturb your mother, and she is such a darling, and so frail that I'd hate to worry her."
"There's not many can come up to the Mater," agreed Ross. "I can get away as soon as supper is well started."
"You must remember I have to face Father, and that awful old Concertina will bake my cake."
"But you'll have me to face things with you now. Do let's be publicly engaged."
"But I want to go to Queensland with Bob."
"Queensland is not off the earth. I could soon get you from there."
Dora was walking towards the crowd who were discussing the possibilities of fire.
"It's all right so long as the wind doesn't rise," said Tom Harris, who though no Chesterfield was an excellent bushman.
"But the wind will be high as soon as the moon sets," said Concertina, looking at the sky.
"A fire could only run down into the river there," said Lindsey Sr.
"Too far to the left."
"Someone has been trailing and let it get away."
"Or a tramp has left a fire."
"Father has everything safe about Bandicoot," announced Dora.
"Ay, I knew it. If he was here he'd tell us," said McTavish.
"Let us get away to supper," said Lindsey, "and by that time we'll know whether there's a fire or not."
Mrs. Judson went with her mother and Mrs. Blackett, her father driving. Ross and Kate stayed with the other guests of importance and years who were to make successive loads.
"I'm off to see the fire," said Mick Bell. "You better come too. It's in your direction as well as mine."
Tom consented and they disappeared together, Lindsey Sr. had just departed with the second earful of guests when the others were electrified by the appearance of Barry with a buggy-whip in his hand. Bob had taken the bridle track and had missed him on the way.
"Hussy! Is this where I find you? I'd sooner see you in your coffin!" He went straight to Dora, oblivious of making an exhibition of himself. He would have laid the whip about the girl but for Ross's intervention. He seized the handle and the two men confronted each other, the elder determined to strike, the younger desirous of protecting himself without undue violence.
"Father! Father! Please stop. It is all my fault," said Dora, clutching his arm.
Kate also hurried forward. "Mr. Barry, no harm has been done—just a little dance among the neighbours.
"You brazen harlot!"
"Oh, Mr. Barry, you forget yourself."
"Wasn't it enough to make Mabel like yourself, without working for the downfall of this child?"
"Haud on mon, ye're oot o' yersel'!"
"And who are you, you old jew lizard, to interfere between a man and his family?"
"Havers mon! There's no harrum done."
"Shure the choild has been but here in full view of the neeburs all night."
"Please God, I've found her in time. If I haven't, I'll shoot you like a snake, Ross Lindsey. That's what you are—a snake! I took you into my home, and this is the reward I get—you blasted viper!"
"No man shall speak to me like that!"
"Who are you to tell your superiors how to speak, you flash pup." Barry rushed at Ross with the freed whip. Dora sprang between.
"Run away till he cools down," she said, aside.
"Yes, lave this to us," said Slattery.
"Shure Barry, ye're mad. Mad as an owld hat."
"Aye, an' there's weightier matters the nicht."
"I know what are weighty matters to me, and will allow no man to dictate to me."
"Oh, Mr. Barry, do listen," pleaded Kate.
"Hold your tongue, you shameless slut with your bosom exposed."
"Oh, Father, don't say such terrible things."
"Hold your tongue too—you with your neck bare like a loud woman," he bellowed, throwing Dora violently to the floor. Slattery and Kate picked her up while Ross held on to the excited old man.
"Muster Barry, yell bust a blood vessel."
"Ye're out of ye're moind, Bill Barry. It's unseemly among neeburs."
"Auch aye, 'tis all that noo. Your dochter will never come to harrum wi' us, Muster Barry."
"Shure do ye quischin our rayspictability? The district has put up with these exhibitions too long."
Barry dropped the buggy-whip, wrenched free from Ross and made a rush at Slattery. "I want my daughter in my own home, and I'll shoot any man that helps to entice her out of it."
"Hoots mon, ye're haverin'. Some amang us hae been decidin' the nicht that you..."
"You've been deciding—you!" said Barry with crushing scorn.
"Yes, Bill Barry, some of the neeburs have come to the conclusion that this lunacy..."
"When it comes to lunacy, you old bogtrotter..."
"That hardly becomes you, Muster Barry."
"And you, you old jew lizard with your frill."
"Some of the most important people in the district," valiantly proceeded Slattery, and not without dignity, "have come to the conclusion that ye'r capers are an obsthruction of the public amity and..."
"You'd talk to me like that, would you?"
"Let him alone till he comes to. He doesn't know what he is saying," advised Kate in a whisper.
"Hoots! It's no safe for a mon to approach him. Let him bide wi' the petticoats till he comes to."
"Father, come on home."
"Bill Barry, ye're loike a mad dog, and only I know ye're no dhrinker...
"You know, you!"
"Come on, Father, come home."
"Nearly time," he yelled with a shove that sent her reeling. "Another word out of you and I'll flay you on foot all the way to Bandicoot."
"We'll lave ye to the faymales, ye owld mad bull," said Slattery, his ire at last aroused. McTavish had had enough. He edged away.
Slattery glared and Barry glared. It was a glowering match.
"You would, would you! You old—old—you Irish potato!"
"Potato ye'rself, ye owld—owld—ye ugly owld bald-headed Australian goanna."
Dora made off in the hope of finding her father's sulky and ending the humiliating scenes. Her father followed. Ross and Kate pursued Barry. Dora got into the sulky. Her father unhitched the horse. Ross attempted to say good night but Barry bashed at him with a sheep-pen slat and Ross sprang out of the way.
"Kate, come with me," he pleaded. "I can't let the poor little kid in for such an unholy row without doing something. The old lunatic will beat her and shut her up. I might as well face it out now as later. He shan't be able to say I'm acting like Sid. I proposed to Dora to-night and she as good as said yes. If I announce that to the old roarer it puts his evil suspicions out of court."
Kate thought it wiser to allow the old man time to cool, particularly in light of her knowledge that Bob was on the scene. But she had promised her mother to go with Dora, and knowledge of the full force of this eruption must be kept from her, at least for to-night while she was undergoing the unusual exertion of the entertainment. The thought of seeing Bob handle this emergency also took from the ordeal and added to the interest of getting to Bandicoot that night. She consented. She had however to go to the house for a cloak. She merely whispered to her mother that she and Ross were off to Bandicoot, taking a bit of supper to eat on the way. She left her father and Georgina Judson in charge. These delays gave Barry a good start.
The ball was over in any case, and the supper hurried and disturbed by anxiety. The wind was dropping downwards from the high heavens. Already an occasional whisper could be heard in a lifted leaf. There was confusion in the darkness of the departing moon's great shadows of trees and rocks and ranges. Men whistled or dropped an oath, the sound of vehicles and hoofs was everywhere. Folks wanted to be home in case of danger, the possibilities of which the skilled would not minimise.
Concertina and Tom Harris had been the stormy petrels. The fire could be plainly seen now. From the size of a lamp it had grown to be a bonfire on the rim with a hint of much volume on the other side of the spur. If only the wind would not whisper, but it continued and grew louder in the gullies and foothills of the ranges back of Chesham Park and gained volume for its onward sweep across Canberra Plains.
Down the road beside the river,
There the phantom stations lie,
Where the sunlight seems to quiver,
And the gum trees touch the sky.
There the old folks wrought a clearing
'Mid the trees so grand and tall,
Nothing doubting, nothing fearing,
Asking nought and giving all.
But a generation passes;
Days of old come not again;
Graves lie deep in seeding grasses;
New folks buy the hill and plain,
And the old folks soundly sleeping,
Now alone in mem'ry 'bide,
Ghostly watches softly keeping
O'er loved road and riverside..
Down the road beside the rivers,
There the old-time stations lay,
Where the burning sunlight quivers,
In that lone land far away.
The shadows from the west were blacking out the wide white moonlight as Bob Barry ran up to the old place, straining his eyes to recognise remembered contours. He dismounted softly, laid his machine against the palings of the backyard and stood looking about him ere raising the hasp of the gates. Everrything slept. No, there was a light in the kitchen.
Mabel was there, with a little fire of coals, and her water fountain on the boil, as her father would he sure to demand tea upon his return. To pass the trying wait, she had brought out the big tray of silver trophies and polished them, and now was engaged on a basket of mending.
Every now and again she strained to listen, fancying she heard something, but it was only a moke-poke calling to his mate.
"Moke-poke! Moke-poke! Moke-poke! Moke-poke!" or the willy-wags twittering: "A little stick to beat her! A little stick to beat her!"
Bob opened the gates and quietly entered. He knew his way about here. Nothing was changed, whereas at Chesham Park, so far as he could discern in the moonlight, it was an entirely new place.
Mabel heard his step and knew it was not her father, coming so quietly without the dogs barking or any sound of hoof or wheel. It might be Mick. Bob knocked on the door. It was firmly pegged.
"It that you, Mabel?"
"Bob. Don't be frightened. Straight wire, it's me."
She opened the door in some trepidation and stood well back while he entered. "Are you really Bob?"
"As sure as eggs are eggs."
"You are very changed."
"You bet your sweet life I am—from a hobbledehoy into an old man."
"I don't remember you."
"Ask me any test questions you like. Perhaps you remember my lumpy nail. Someone else did today."
"Oh yes. I do remember it now, and there is a resemblance to Father. How did you come?"
"I biked it from the turn-off."
She made no advances. She did not seem to know what to do. Bob kissed her kindly on the cheek. "You'd better sit down," she said, setting a chair.
"How is Mother these days?"
"She says she doesn't sleep, but she does."
"And how are you—a bit thin on it."
"I'm all right."
Embarrassment silenced them. Bob looked around the old kitchen with the indulgence and delight of one who returns after long years of homesickness. It was a wide room of adzed slabs, papered with pictures from the Sydney Mail and Town and Country Journal, and such publications. He fondly regarded the dresser of rough timber reaching from floor to ceiling, decorated with newspaper valances cut in peaks, a different pattern to each shelf. He missed nothing, from the big colonial oven in one corner of the mighty white hearth, to the great meat dishes, and the graduated row of metal dish covers gleaming on another wall. Everything gleamed, advertising vigilant housewifery and no sparing of elbow grease. On the opposite wall above the door was a well-known picture of Queen Victoria with an order on her bosom, and similar pictures of King Edward and Queen Alexandra. These had appeared as coloured supplements to The Town and Country Journal. They were contained in home-made frames of peach and apricot stones, glued on boards and varnished.
"By George! I'm glad to see everything just the same, and shining like gold. If you knew how often I've longed for a squint at this old kitchen, and here it is at last. Oh, a happy New Year, Mabel, old girl." He patted her on the shoulder and went to the trophies. "This looks like a jeweller's window."
"Father's champion cups."
Bob read an inscription: "'Champion two-year-old Ewe.' Does he still call it yeo?"
"Yes. Dora tries to change him, but it's not much use."
"He's all right as he is, bless him," chuckled Bob, picking up the smallest cup. "'Champion hogget in class...'"
"That's his pet. He got it away from Lindsey the only time he had a chance of winning."
Bob let this pass. His glances wandered happily around the old room again. "By George, there's the old boiler where you used to plant the cake. Many a raid I've made on it and was threatened with tally-whack. Is there anything in it these days?"
"Oh, yes! I-made a New Year cake. You must be hungry. I'm getting something ready for Father. I'm expecting him any minute."
"How does he happen to be out so late?"
It was relieving to Mabel's tension to speak. "Oh, Bob, you've fallen in for a big row. There's a shivoo to-night at Chesham Park—as they call it since they built the new house—and Dora sneaked off to it with Ross Lindsey."
"So that's what young Ross has come to."
"Yes. He's a towney sort of chap, a bit flash with horses and riding togs, and as Dora can ride anything, that's the attraction."
"You think the Dad will cut-up rough about it?"
"You won't be able to hear your ears."
"Oh well, if there a dust-up, it will show if young Ross means business."
"He means business all right, but I don't know what sort."
"It's about this whole business with the Lindseys that I've come home. I thought the young people mightn't be getting a fair show, and it's time the old scrimmage was turned out to grass."
He seated himself astride a chair, filling his pipe and lighting it, then rested his arms comfortably. "I believe I made this old chair myself! By gum, it's dinkum to find the old place the same. Everything else but the ranges in the whole blooming district is so changed."
Mabel offered him a cool drink of honey mead. "You don't mean we should have anything to do with the Lindseys?"
"You don't countenance dishonesty, do you?"
"Not on your life. But don't spend your life in a peltering rage because some other fellow is not as honest as you think you are or he ought to be."
"But old Lindsey is an out-and-outer."
"He's an infant unborn compared with most smart business men who get on, and a lot of it is only in the Dad's bile."
"I never thought I'd hear you talking lightly of dishonesty."
"I don't...But look at the Dad. Not an honester or cleverer old geezer in the world. I had to go away from home to get the full measure of him. Yet he spoiled all our lives because he once found Lindsey making off with a few head of Bandicoot cattle."
"But that sort of thing goes on all the time still."
"Well now, I have a story I want to tell you...It bears on all this...When Bill and I took up land in Queensland we had next to us a fellow from England—any amount of capital but didn't know B from bull's foot about working the land. Bill and I weren't reared by the Dad for nothing, and all the time we could spare, this fellow had us on his place...Well, I found him one day out on our run making off with a good little lot of our sheep. His excuse would have looked pretty drought-stricken on paper—about as good as Lindsey's famous snake yarn that he found the Dad's stock straying and was bringing them home—in the opposite direction. Dad ought to have accepted that yarn...but to get on with my own...By this time Bill was dead snooks on the chap's sister."
"He soon forgot Georgina Lindsey."
"That's another thing. Some are born to remember and others to forget, and there's nothing gained by jawing about it either way. Luckily I was struck by the parallel to our case here and didn't raise a rumpus, and the upshot was that the chap took us into partnership. We should never have got on at the rate we did without his backing."
"He has gone straight since then?"
"Yes. We keep him up to it, and Bill has a fine wife and kiddies and we've never looked back. Well now, I come back to Queanbeyan, and was mooching about there waiting for the coach and I heard a lot."
"Didn't they know you?"
"I had a beard this morning."
"Well, I never!"
"There was a great deal of talk about Lindsey—about his motor car and his prominence in getting this low level bridge, and some of them say he is sure to be our next member of Parliament."
"You should have heard how Father went on about that."
"Lindsey is a rising man all the time. I asked about the Dad when I saw they didn't know me, and it was readily admitted that he's the smartest all-round man on the land; but they talk about his language and his bad temper. He's only 'old Blastus,' but it's Mister Lindsey. People would rather have a pleasant-mannered man who's not an apostle for principle, than St. Peter bellowing at them."
"It's easy to be popular."
"It's easier to be unpopular if you don't take care—and it's not nearly such good business. Not a man said that the family row was because Lindsey was a sheep duffer, but because 'old Blastus' had a daughter go a mucker with one of the Lindsey boys years ago, and he'll never let it rest...They might have let it die down if Father had acted sensibly. He'll make another noise to-night, and it'll be great sport for all the pub loafers...How did he find out?"
Mabel felt desperate. "I told him," she faltered. "Well, it was Mick Bell told me. He saw them meeting at Dingo Creek. It looked as if they were not content with one of us being ruined."
"Mabel! Tsst! Tsst! How could you think the Lindseys such fools as to want another mess. Why on earth didn't you stop the kiddy before she went?"
"I didn't believe she'd really dare go till I found her gone."
"Why didn't you follow her yourself—quietly, decently?"
"I've never set foot off Bandicoot—not since...I could no more go out where they'd all be glaring at me than..."
"I see. Poor old girl! Never mind...Does the kiddy give you any reason to think she's like...that she's that sort of girl?"
"You mean the same sort of girl as I am."
"No. No. I mean what has she grown up like?"
"She's very petted by Father, by everyone—coming so long after us all. She's wilful and fiery like Father himself. He spoils her one minute and has a shindy with her the next, but she can hold her own with him. What he says doesn't upset her for long, and then she wheedles him." Mabel moved from one object to another without purpose. "You don't think I should have sent Father, but Bob, I was nearly off my head with worry about her. I'd die to save her from what I've been through. She was such a dear brave little thing when she used to play with Arthur. She used to ask me why I cried so much." Mabel broke down piteously, the first emotion she had let anyone see in her for years.
"Never mind, you did your best, and we must stand the gaff now. Poor old girl, tell me what your own life has been all these years."
"Oh, nothing. I've just kept on working and working. I'm always afraid I spoiled things for poor little Dora, so I try to make home easy for her."
He noticed her careworn look and her knotted, work-roughened hands with a pang. It suddenly brought home Mabel's side of the case to him. "I expect you made it too easy for them all, and no one thought about making it better for you."
"And Bob, when you ask if Dora is inclined to be my sort of a girl..."
"Oh, no, Mabel, don't take me up so short. I didn't mean..."
"I know what you mean; but I wasn't 'that sort of girl' till it happened. I was more thunderstruck than the rest of you. I'm not that sort of woman, though it may seem like it."
"I know. I think the world is too hard on that kind of a—an accident. But we can't make the world over again; we can only take it as it comes."
"It comes as unjust as a bush fire."
"We were brutes not to think of it from your point of view, but only from the disgrace; and you've stuck it like a trojan."
"I can't stand it much longer."
"Is there any truth in this about Mick Bell?"
"What about him?"
"Oh, that he's sneaking around after you."
"He comes before everyone; he doesn't sneak to places at night like Ross Lindsey."
"Sorry I said the wrong thing again. I only meant that I heard he was giving you some attention. It would be easy to do worse. He's as steady as a church. No hanging around pubs or race courses for Concertina. Sort of old chap to have a tidy nest-egg."
"If he suits me it oughtn't to matter to the rest of you, so long as you need never see me again."
"So you really mean to make a go of it?"
"Don't say anything to the others yet. I want to go dairying down about Wollongong or in Gippsland."
"Better stick to wool. You can sit down while the sheep are growing it—that suits me all to pieces; but this dairying is continual slavery."
"I'm used to that. I want to get away where I can mind my own business and let other people mind theirs. I'm sick of hints of it all everlastingly, and Father for ever roaring in my ears about what I've done or not done. I'm dead sick of Bandicoot."
"Little wonder. This jumping down people's throats is a mistake. But there's a better-idea than kicking over the traces altogether. Come away to Queensland with me for a year. You've stuck in this groove too long."
"I couldn't gad about—and there's Arthur."
"Bring him with you. They'd take him for my young brother honestly up there."
Mabel was so touched by this that she sat by the table and bent her head on her arms. "Dora doesn't know yet," she murmured.
"I reckon she's the only being in the district doesn't and it will soon be flung at Arthur when he gets among men."
"It's been thrown at him already. That's why I want to get him away."
"How's he shaping?"
"Big for his age, and works better than a man."
"The Dad would see to that...Any wages?"
"No. Father believes in visiting the sins of the mother."
"Oh, well, things are going to change." Bob had a comfortable belief in his own powers of dispensation.
"You never married," Mabel presently remarked. "Kate Lindsey was asking after you."
"I used to think a lot of Kate. How is she these days?"
"Much the same. She wears well. Takes good care of herself."
"I've never seen a finer-looking girl anywhere."
"She's like a towney. Likes to stick on the jam. Has her dresses made by the dressmaker."
"She's none the worse for that. If a woman can run her house and looks well, it's a great help to a man."
"The Lindseys have got up among the tip-top swells."
"That's where the Dad could be too if he acted sensibly. I bet he has a sounder property than Chesham, and his pedigree is as good, or better."
They demanded beauty—
That was youth—
To give thanks and testify
Of love with courage high,
That seemed all of duty,
And the truth.
While Bob was talking to Mabel, Dad Barry was running swiftly towards them, Dora, hatless and without any wrap over her light dress, sitting very straight beside him. It was a warm night, and in any case she was too excited to feel cold. That she had carefully turned up her skirts to preserve her new dress indicated that she was unafraid of her father and unconvicted of sin in her dire insubordination. Old Barry was beyond speech. He drove furiously, bottling his denunciations till he reached home. Dora was likewise hardening her resentment and determination. No thought of surrender weakened her. She was so angry with her father for the humiliating exhibition to which she had been subjected that she was contemplating her packing to set out to Queensland.
Ross and Kate, equally silently and swiftly pursued Dora and Dad. Bullocky Bill, sent to mobilise Barry, and those not on the telephone, followed Kate and Ross, for the wind had reached down from on high and was disturbing the grasses like the waves of the sea over those open undulating square miles where the wilful new city gleams to-day.
"They're here," said Mabel, who had been painfully on the qui vive. Swiftly upon her words Dora entered with spirited mien followed by Father with portentous attitude as about to wrestle with unrighteousness.
"Father, Bob has come home," announced Mabel, in an effort to divert too loud a crash.
"Bob! Never! God bless me soul, me boy! Where did you spring from? Let me look at you. Man alive, this is a pleasant surprise."
"Thanks, Father. I should have known you anywhere."
"Let me see...fifteen years last October."
"Seventeen years this May," corrected Mabel. "Why didn't you send word and let us meet you properly?"
"I wanted to save Mabel and Mother any fuss about preparations."
"Man alive, this will be great for your mother! Run and wake her, Mabel."
"Don't disturb Mother whatever you do."
Dora had been looking at him critically and now ran to him, clasping her arms about his neck and sobbing with excitement: "Bob, why didn't you come to the ball and save me from..."
Father sat down ponderously and a trifle pompously.
"I'm sorry Bob, that your homecoming after all these years should happen on such a night. My grey hairs are being shamed a second time. In spite of all my efforts to save her she seems bent on going the same way as Mabel. Good God, it must be in them, though they didn't get that sort of thing from me."
Bob noted that Mabel cowered as if struck, and was smitten with renewed regret to remember how indifferent they all had been to Mabel's sufferings. He hastened to interpose. "Well, Father, I've done some thinking since last we met, and it seems to me that what is in Mabel is to be the best housekeeper and hardest worker I have ever seen."
"Bob, I'm going away with you to Queensland. Father rushed in like the old Hereford bull when he's mad, and disgraced me so that I never want to show my face around Bandicoot again."
"That's just what I want, some girls to go back to Queensland with me. Mabel must come first."
"Oh, no, take me first. Father is not always picking at Mabel like he is at me. I can't stand it any longer."
"Well, well, well,". said Bob cheerfully. "Who's going to speak first?"
Mabel busied herself with the fountain and cupboard. Dora and her father spoke excitedly and mostly in duet. The old man was sure of Bob's support. As a lad he had been solidly behind his father in the Sid Lindsey disaster.
"My boy, I grieve to welcome you home to this."
"You've just come at the right time to save me."
"I've been to Lindsey's and found Dora at a dance where she went with young Lindsey, as Sneaking a viper as ever his father was. I took him in here and me and your mother nursed him back to life when he fell with a dunkey so badly bred..."
"Father came roaring over to Chesham Park."
"With a buggy-whip as if I were a slave in a harem."
"That's what you will be if you go the ways of harlotry."
"He called me dreadful bad names before everyone and tried to thrash people with his whip as if he was drunk."
"I pray God I was not too late. By God if I was..."
"Why should he say such fearful things about me as if, as if, oh, as if I was something terrible?"
"Well, well now, we must sort this out," said Bob. Mabel proceeded with her preparations. The clock on the mantel struck one. The moke-pokes out of doors resumed their calling.
"Ross Lindsey has never been anything but a gentleman to me. He's the only young man within twenty miles of Bandicoot who knows how to behave."
"Gentleman!...Hold your tongue while I speak."
"I won't! You're not fair."
"I found her jumping about in a half-naked dress with young Lindsey. What sort of self-respect is it to go where she's not wanted with a scut who is bent on ruining her?"
"Take me away, Bob. I never want to see Father again as long as I live."
"Tsst! Tsst! Tsst! Strong words for a little tummy. Let us all keep our hair on. Father, what reason have you to think that Ross Lindsey was offering Dora insult?"
"Insult! My daughter sneaked out of her bed to go to an enemy. It was an insult for him to take her there."
"How has Ross treated you, Dora? He has me to reckon with as well as Father if..."
"He has asked me to be engaged to him. If you think that an insult—Father himself is married—at least I've always supposed him to be."
"That'll show you the kind of mind she has on serious subjects," said Father, scandalised.
"Well," said Dora, who from solid training was able to take care of herself in these storms, "if you are married, as I've always been led to believe, you must have proposed to Mother first. That's how Ross Lindsey has insulted me—by proposing."
"Girls that are led astray are always promised marriage. What guarantee have I that it isn't a case of Sid?"
"Wait a minute, Father. We'll leave that out of it," said Bob, wincing on Mabel's behalf.
"I'd like to see the man who could lead me astray," said Dora contemptuously. "He'd have to be lots more wonderful than any I've seen so far."
"Ross has shown good taste to propose to you. What do you think about it, little sis?"
"Think about it-with that son of a viper."
"Suppose we hear what Dora says."
"Ross is good fun, and it's a relief to see someone with nice manners, but how could I think about him either way with Father disgracing me and threatening murder."
"Saving you from disgrace, no matter what anyone thinks."
"If Ross wants to marry her, that's no disgrace. I don't suppose there's a girl within twenty miles who wouldn't think him a catch."
"Catch be damned—catch in a dingo trap. He's as flash as a new concertina with his Chesham Park and motor car and—and goggles, but they're mortgaged up to the ears."
"Ross at least knows how to behave and not make a fool of himself every time he opens his mouth with bad grammar and a beard and bowyangs."
Father turned to Bob. "Old Lindsey is the same man he always was. Only three weeks ago I went across to Yass to the sales: and it's always well to keep an eye on any lot that Lindsey is putting up. I spotted a sheep with old McTavish's brand botched up, but as soon as Lindsey knew I was on the scene the sheep mysteriously disappeared."
"Aw, I bet old Mac knows all about it and finds a sheep or two worth it to be in with Lindsey. Let him mind his own duck house."
"That sort of thing goes on all the time."
"Then the only way to keep our flocks intact would be to get old Lindsey in the family," smiled Bob.
"What does Father mean about going the same way as Mabel, and that it must be in me? What must be in me? I'm sure I don't run after a hideous old pipe-sucking noodle who goes about in bowyangs and sits on his hunkers like an orang outang." Dora seethed over in another direction.
"What's this about?" inquired Bob.
"That old Mick Bell. He's called Concertina, that will show what people think of him."
"People think a great deal more of him than they do of the Lindseys," maintained Father, halted by this flank attack.
"Rubbish! An old working man that they put in the kitchen to eat. And I heard them saying to-night that you are trying to catch him for Mabel. That shows their respect for us in connection with him."
"If you heard nothing worse, you have little to complain of," said Father, rather inconsequently.
"You are awfully angry when I associate with Ross Lindsey and the aristocrats. You must have a queer taste for men. Concertina for Mabel, and that gawping idiot of a Tom Harris for me—or better still, One-eyed Sam the rabbitter."
"You're beside yourself! Mick Bell is as fine and honest a man as we've got in the district, and he'll have a comfortable home when some of the flash windbags are sold up by the bailiffs."
"A beard like a gorilla," interjected Dora.
"Mick's beard is as the Almighty made it," gasped Father, plucking at his own.
"Then I don't think much of the Almighty." Dora was merely baiting her father now. She had recovered her spirits. She produced the expected roar. "Don't let me hear you blaspheme."
"I think it's blasphemy to blame the Almighty for beards. If he had anything to do with them and is omnipotent, he'd surely have put more of them on the top of men's heads and not have such a frowsy mess around their mouths and under their chins."
"Silence! I won't have this blasphemy against the Almighty."
"It's against beards.. You're not fair in keeping to the point."
"A little disrespect to beards isn't any harm," said Bob, smothering a smile. "They're a darned nuisance. If a man isn't always scraping at himself like a pig, he becomes a frowsy old bison."
"The sacred, sweet, pipe-sucking-orang-outang-bearded-bowyanged-Concertina-Mick was at the ball to-night, as large as life."
"We're all born, but we're not all buried yet," remarked Mabel as she went from kitchen to pantry.
"Mick comes here trying to curry favour with Father by everlastingly saying snaky things against the Lindseys, yet he was there."
"Mick knows what he is doing, you don't," said Father, a little taken back by this defection on Mick's part.
At this moment Ross Lindsey knocked on the door, and Bob, opening it said: "Come in."
Ross stepped into the light of the kerosene lamp. "Excuse me, Mr. Barry," he began.
"To what do I owe this intrusion?" inquired Father, grimly and grandly.
"Owing to things you said at the woolshed, I have come to make explanations. My sister Kate is with me."
Kate stepped in, blinking in the light. She greeted Mabel kindly. Bob brought a chair forward. There was a confusion of greetings. Dora whispered to Kate that this was Bob: "He did come after all." Kate and Bob bowed without admitting their previous meeting.
"You've grown a little since last I saw you, Ross," said Bob, shaking hands with him and hoping Father would be more reasonable now, but his mental rheum was barnacled with years. He glowered unrelentingly.
"The whole thing will take some explaining."
"The things you said, Mr. Barry. I know you were excited," began Ross ineptly.
"Excited, what was there to be excited about?"
"Well, I wanted to say your accusations were utterly unfounded. I've already made known my wishes to Miss Dora, and I do so again before you all."
"That's very fine and glib, but I ask you if it was a neighbourly or decent way to do it—to entice my girl...
"I wasn't enticed, as if I were an idiot. I went because I was invited."
"What sort of an invitation?" He turned to Kate. "Now, Miss Lindsey, you're a little too towney for my taste, but you are an upstanding woman of the world: when you knew my idea of the ball, do you think it was a fair thing to endanger the name of a young girl by..."
Ross interrupted. "I must take the blame there. I alone was responsible for Miss Dora's presence at the woolshed to-night. Kate knew nothing about it till Miss Dora arrived."
Father looked from one to the other and grinned in his great beige beard.
Kate spoke up generously. "As soon as I knew she was there I added my invitation, and my mother added her welcome, though she was upset about what you might think, and greatly regretted your absence."
"There! You see how you were invited."
Dora was nonplussed. She burst out ingenuously: "I should never have gone only I thought Kate invited me."
"I did. The whole family were formally invited, and immediately you arrived my invitation became retrospective, as they say in the Acts of Parliament."
"What else have you to say? This fine flash offer of marriage, is that retrospective too, or is it negligible?" Father, having won a round seemed in slightly better humour.
"A man has to make an offer of marriage on his own," said Bob.
"Perhaps. But his whole family is involved in the success or failure of it. What, may I ask, would be your father's attitude towards such a marriage?"
"I don't suppose in his heart he's any sweeter to you, than you are to him, but the Pater is a business man."
"Humph!" snorted Father. "Is that what you call it?"
"Let us talk this out quietly," said Bob.
"Well, as I was saying, the Pater..."
"The Pater—what does that mean?"
"It's the Latin word for father," said Dora.
"Why the blazes then, can't he say father? Plain English is good enough for better men than he'll ever be."
All this time Mabel moved back and forth preparing food. She had quietly secured an elaborate cloth and good china from the house since the Lindseys had been added to the arrivals.
"Well," conceded Ross, "the Dad, I know, thinks there has been enough of our lives wasted in this row. He'd be satisfied to hear the end of it."
Barry turned to Kate with exaggerated calm: "Now, Miss Lindsey, I ask you, knowing what is between our families, if you think there could be a happy marriage between a Barry and a Lindsey?"
"Yes, Mr. Barry. The old trouble was about a marriage that did not take place. It separated us and was magnified out of all proportion. Let us unite now, and forget it as far as possible."
"Is that your idea of morality?"
"Father, I agree with Kate. We've let it spoil too much of our lives. If there was a marriage between the families the trouble would soon be forgotten."
"Such things are never forgotten between decent people."
Bob persisted. "But there's a difference between a thing being remembered and being continual sport for the whole district."
Dora asserted herself. "I think there's been a silly fuss about Sid jilting Mabel. I wouldn't have all the neighbourhood in an uproar if a man got tired of me and married someone else. He could go any minute he liked, and good riddance."
"You speak without knowing the facts," said Father grimly.
"Well, what are the facts?" There was an embarrassed silence. Mabel laid out the New Year cake. The tea was steaming in the silver teapot, Mabel's skilled cooking was spread on the tea cloth laundered to perfection.
"Have something to eat," she said. "Excuse it being set here, but I didn't want to wake Mother, and the fire is nice now that the wind is driving over the plains."
"It's lovely, Mabel, and I am quite peckish," Kate hastened to say, hoping to avert tragedy.
"Yes," Bob was quick to support her. "I'm quite hungry too, and that's one of Mabel's very own brand of cakes."
Dora was not to be put off. She felt she was being treated as a child. Her voice came clear and determined: "What are the facts that Father talks about? I don't want any more of these hints. You tell me the facts, Mabel."
"What facts?" asked Mabel, but her pallor made it evident that this was subterfuge. Her hand trembled as she placed a chair.
"You know—about Sid Lindsey jilting you."
"Mabel, tell her the facts," ordered her father.
Kate's and Bob's hearts were wrung by Mabel's predicament. They were also sorry for what Dora was bringing on herself.
"Oh, Mr. Barry, it's not fair to Mabel, and now that Sid is dead...let it rest in his grave."
"Yes," said Bob. "Let old things rest and begin again."
"I shall find out the truth whether you tell me or not," announced Dora.
"I never do believe in secrets. Tell her, Mabel," said Father, obtuse to any but his own point of view.
"Tell her yourself, if you want her to know," said Mabel piteously, as if struck.
"This is not the point at all," stammered Bob. "If Mabel's love affair did not end happily..."
"But what did Sid do that's so terrible that Father talks as if Ross were an alligator lying in wait to devour me?"
The food waited. The clock ticked loudly. The moke-pokes' cry could be heard. The rising wind whispered around the house and sped to rustle the silken grasses on the open rises.
"We must give Ross a chance to show his mettle," Bob thrashed into the gap of silence. "Father, will you consent to Ross coming to see Dora?"
"You're getting away from the point. I want to get down to bed rock and be done with it."
Mabel saw that her hour had come. She had lived in dread of it this ten years. She faced it as a victim the operating table, nerving herself to the ordeal. "Goodness knows, I want to be done with it too, and I'm going to be after this." Mick or no Mick, she had a bank balance and a crock of sovereigns in the dairy. She felt their support and resumed. "Well, Sid Lindsey and I..." She baulked.
"Come on, Mabel, you've made your bed," said Father.
Mabel turned and looked at them bitterly. At bay, she spoke savagely: "You've never let me forget that. Have it then, if you want it, Dora...Arthur is not your brother—he's—he's your nephew."
Dora stepped towards her unbelievingly. "What do you mean? Oh, you can't mean..."
"Sid Lindsey and I were never married. That's the bed Father means I made. He's always taken care I never got off it for a moment. I've been thrown-off at and thrown-off at till I'm dead sick of it. Father can get someone else to bellow at from this day on."
It was Mabel's first word of rebellion. With it some constriction gave way and loosed her to the vehement declamation to which she had been reared.
The revelation foundered Dora. "Oh, oh, oh, do you mean that Mabel is a-a-a-Oh, oh, I can't bear it."
Kate moved towards Mabel, but Mabel's attitude was stony. She turned and went out into the night with the moke-pokes and willy-wags and the wind, the hilarious wind that was growing rude and wild. She had a feeling of guilt that her chief emotion was relief that Mick had not witnessed her final humiliation. The anguish of enlightening Dora had been robbed of potency by the long years of anticipation. Sympathy too had lost power to wound or to comfort. She had won self-reliance and fortitude.
Bob moved to Dora but she repulsed him. Ross was in a highly nervous state, chewing his knuckles and tapping with his toe. Father alone wore a triumphant expression as if he had finally exposed the full villainy of the Lindseys.
Bob put his arm around Dora. "Never mind, Kiddy. It's an old affair, all past long ago."
"Yes," added Kate. "You had nothing to do with it. You were scarcely born."
"But Mabel—my own sister—a bad woman. I suppose everyone has been looking at me and thinking I'm the same. Oh, I hate you all," she sobbed with sudden passion. "Deceiving me and making a fool of me! I thought the ball was a lark because Father's always trying to come the harem lord on me. If I'd known, not the invitation of the Governor-General himself would have got me to Chesham Park. Ross, how dared you treat me like that!"
"Oh, Dora, I am sure you're taking it too hard."
"Now you know, I hope you're satisfied," said Father complacently. "If you'd minded me..."
"I hate you worst of all—roaring over to the wool-shed and making an exhibition of me before everyone. If you had behaved quietly it wouldn't have been so terrible. You needn't roar about it any more or try to keep me from the Lindseys or anyone else. The longest day I live, I'll never show my face about Queanbeyan again."
Passionate sobs stifled further utterance. Ross moved towards her, but Bob intervened. "Leave her to me for the present. Give her time."
"Poor little girl, it is hard on her," murmured Kate. "Yes. It came as such a knock-down blow. You remember how we felt at her age."
Thus unwise graziers caught a-napping
When word of fire came a-tapping
At their door,
Ran in and out and back again
And round about as maids and men
Have done before.
The appetising supper lay untouched. The cry of the moke-pokes disappeared before whip cracks sounding like rifle shots.
"Listen! Something's up," said Bob.
Arthur bundled in from the adjoining store-room clad in shirt and trousers, his tousled hair on end. He blinked comically.
"Hullo, Arthur! Sorry we disturbed you," said Kate.
"You're Kate Lindsey," he announced, pointing a horny finger. "And what's Dora yowling about? And I don't know you," he concluded to Bob.
The whip cracks came in off the main road. The men went out and returned after a few minutes with Bullocky Bill from up the Bandicoot River. He was a tall, lean, black-bearded bushman, clad in felt hat, flannel shirt and moleskins. He announced that the fire was sweeping the country back of Dead Horse Spur, not to be seen from Bandicoot homestead, and that he had been sent to get Barry out of his bed, as there was no one from Queanbeyan to Riverina so useful in a bush fire.
"I heerd as I come by Turpeys' that the fire is gettin' away from 'em, and with the wind risin' no man could tackle it like you," said Bullocky.
"When did the fire start, and where?" inquired Barr.
Ross volunteered that it had started in a haystack up by the head of Dingo Creek about 11 p.m.
"Why the devil wasn't I told when I was at the wool-shed?" bawled Father. "And, blasted jackass, what are you doing here poking your nose into other people's business, when the grass around your precious park is like hay! Mabel!" he yelled.
Mabel appeared with a bottle in hand. The technique of a life-time could not be discarded in a moment.
"That's right! Give Bill a nip..."
"I don't mind if I do," said that worthy, licking his lips.
The dramatic call to action came at the right moment to release Father from an unhappy predicament of his own engineering. He stood at the back door of the kitchen, master of himself and the situation, unmistakable leader of those around him, scrutinising the night. "The wind is coming towards us. If the fire gets to the old saw mill, there's nothing between it and Lindsey's but the road from Whipstick Crossing. Blasted fools! I've been telling the whole district till I'm black in the face to prepare for fire; with no rain for weeks on top of all that grass; but no, they prefer to run about in motor cars, and swing flash goggles on their thumbs, and give balls to the aristocracy, and philander with girls who ought to have more sense than to look their way!"
Father's prestige was restored.
"Come on Kate, let's get home," said Ross. He was halted by Barry.
"Blasted fools! You Lindseys have no more practical sense than the rabbits—and that's underestimating the rabbits. You can't get round the way you came with the wind where it is without burning the tail off your horse. You'll have to go up Dingo Creek and leave the horse go loose and run the sulky in the water hole under the rocks."
He strode from the kitchen to the store-room collecting bags, axes and other gear, and roaring orders. "Arthur, fling a saddle on old Challenger. Tell One-eyed Sam I want him. Look slippy when I tell you. Don't tread on a snake!"
"Get me some of Father's moleskins, there's a pet," said Bob to Dora, "and don't worry over this thing now. It'll be better bye and bye. I'll tell you the right way to look at it to-morrow. We've all been through it. Think of poor old Mabel, she's the one we must consider. It's gone by years ago in any case."
Dora collected herself and went to do his bidding. Father returned to the kitchen, stuffing his shirt into his moleskins.
"You haven't forgotten what I taught you of trailing when you were a boy?"
"No. I remember it all and some more of my own."
"Then you and Ross, get through the best way you can, and trail that spur back of McTavish down into Slattery's flats. You can help to save Lindsey's that way."
"Is it as bad as that!" exclaimed Kate.
"A smoke like Sodom and Germorrer," contributed Bill. "I'll be making tracks."
"Where's Concertina Mick?"
"He went off at the beginning with Tom Harris," replied Kate.
"I thought so. There'll be two men there, thank God, with a little more sense than a cross-eyed wombat."
"I must get home somehow," said Kate.
"Just let Dad get out of sight and I'll go with you," said Dora, rising like her father to emergency.
Arthur shouted that Challenger was ready. Father bulked in the doorway giving final injunctions. "Keep inside the house. You'll be pretty safe here, but watch the wind. Mark my words, this is going to be one of those fires than runs in the atmosphere. If it gets any nearer than big Bandicoot go to Turpeys' and turn all the old woman's live stock loose and bring her up here."
Mabel handed her father his tucker bags. Loaded with his gear he left the lighted doorway, and soon Challenger's hoofs could be heard in smart action. He was followed by Ross and Bob in Bandicoot clothes and the Lindsey sulky. Dora took Kate with her to change their ball attire. Mabel provided something stout and plain for Kate's wear.
Mother now appeared, wanting to know what was happening.
"Don't tell Mother about anything but the fire," adjured Dora. Mabel nodded understandingly.
Dora and Kate got away as the sky was paling for Dawn. It was full of mighty mares' tails rayed out from rim to rim, rose-coloured, resembling a colossal mock sun and heralding continuing wind. The fire could now be seen from the hill behind Bandicoot homestead, sending up great columns of smoke and devouring the ranges towards the Murrumbidgee.
Arthur pleaded wildly to go, and Dora undertook to be responsible for him. He raced off with a whoop to put a horse in the sulky for Dora and Kate, and to saddle another for himself. Mabel released him from the milking, the care of the pigs and Father's stud rams and ewes, and everything else about the place.
Wild and wide the fire swept,
Swift the creeks aria roads o'er-leapt:
With fortitude plus skill, adept,
Safe their homes the bushmen kept.
That terrible week in January finished as an overwhelming triumph for old Bandicoot. Before it was half through he was vindicated as a prophet and a bushman.
His own homestead stood as a model. The group of buildings was protected in general by a wide ploughed surface. In addition around every neat haystack was its own firebreak, not so long ploughed and in other instances burned black the very day of the ball. There was no scrub, and even the loss of green timber, the place's one drawback, now had its purpose. Bandicoot was as safe as those houses on Canberra Plains where fires started up like magic now and again but were readily beaten out leaving no devastation other than great black patches which reduced a little of the dead grass and would sweeten the pasturage after the autumn rains.
It was beyond the Murrumbidgee in the foothills backed by those fastnesses which lie upon the heavens like a necklace of sapphires and opals that men warred day and night against one of nature's elemental forces to save their lives' hard work. Here it was that Bandicoot was a Joffre or Foch of the Allied Forces, with Concertina, Bob, Tom Harris and several others as a Haig or Pershing or Monash under him. Men rolled up from all directions, called by telephone from Queanbeyan or Gininderra, and the most skilled, the very ablest called by the smoke in the sky. Pioneers by nature, by breed, by training, saw the signs afar and sped to their neighbours' need. They rallied in communal self-preservation.
The fire had started ten miles from Chesham in a haystack. A sundowner was blamed. A miracle in wind swept the flames from the house instead of towards it, or a grass-widow and her children—Pat Burns was away towards Cooma, fencing—might have been burned in their beds. From here the flames rushed as if in special tubes towards the holdings of McTavish, Slattery and three or four other extensive graziers, but especially towards Chesham Park. The fire eddied and leapt by gully and spur and made it difficult to reach its head, and there was no use in hanging on to its tail.
Dora and Kate, driving desperately, with a horse that shied and swerved, got through about sunrise with nothing worse than singed paint on the sulky and a few inches off the horse's tail. They were a great comfort to Mrs. Lindsey, who, with the cook and housemaid, were all that were left in the house.
Dora, pet and companion of her Daddy, had spent much of her infantile life in the open with him imitating or sharing his tasks till he had banished her to the house so as not to spoil her chances of feminine gentility. Her early training gave her the leadership now and was the most wholesome thing that could have happened her in the special circumstances. She set to work with confident management. Mrs. Lindsey asked to be where she could see, so the girls placed her in her big chair on one of the verandas.
"You be sentinel and keep us informed," said Dora cheerfully, having postponed the debacle of her life. She took stock of the premises, which she had not seen at close quarters except last night in the moonlight. There was ample ground for her father's censure. The motor car and social pretensions subsided considerably in the murk of that blazing January morning, with timber and underbrush to within a quarter of a mile of the orchards and weeds and grass everywhere, even along the sides of the house, in the drive and around the hen houses and pig sty. There was no break but a swamp full of dry reeds and bulrushes, and a small lucerne patch, which had been allowed to run down because of the surplus of natural fodder that season.
There was a great deal of her father in Dora as she inspected that homestead and compared it with Bandicoot. The Lindsey superiority was tarnished.
"We must let the race on everywhere we can, and have you a hose? We must turn it on the house and garden and have everything as sopping as possible."
Nothing approached Bandicoot method. The race had not been maintained in first-class order because of the season. There were breaks, and she and Kate worked exhaustingly to mend it. At Bandicoot, wet season or dry, the race and water supply were always in working order.
Before the sun was properly up it was plain that it was to be a black day. The sky was heavy with smoke, the sun shone as a red disc, the wind was relentless. For the first six or eight hours the beaters concentrated on saving McTavish and Slattery. By nine 'o'clock it was evident that every effort backed by daring and experience would be needed to save Chesham Park homestead.
Bandicoot had been quite right, the fire seemed to carry in the air, or to start of spontaneous combustion, and the wind was bringing the flames without halt straight towards the Lindsey home paddocks. Flames ran up green gum trees as if they were tinder and sent crashing blazing tops in a vast shower of brands and sparks to set alight hundreds of yards around. Matters were so serious that Dora sprang on to her own sulky horse without a saddle and galloped for her father. She found him sweating and blackened from his heroic labour, and clever as a sailor in a veering flaw tacking the greedy flames.
He went back with Dora. He armed himself with green saplings and set a match to the dry grass in the paddock between the orchard and the timber. Dora and Kate continued their efforts about the house. They freed all the small stock—dogs, pigs and poultry—to the safety of the water from the race. Later it became necessary to turn cattle, sheep and horses on the main road where they could run free for twenty miles.
Kate and the maids, with buckets and dippers, threw water on the creepers and vines covering the wooden verandas of the back premises. By mid-day it was dark as twilight in the house, the air full of floating cinders. The crockery on the kitchen dresser became too hot to hold in the hands. Mrs. Lindsey's armchair was moved to another veranda but nevertheless it was so hot that Dora and Kate each fanned her for a few minutes as they passed.
More and more men arrived to concentrate on the flames, and work desperately. They would be cut off, surrounded by flames, escape with clothes on fire to be extinguished by their fellow beaters. Ross tore in to remove his mother to a settler's home on the bank of the river where there was better promise of safety. He brought a horse and sulky around, lifted his mother in and supported her with one arm and drove with the other. He said Kate and Dora should retreat too. Dora, forgetting that her life had been smashed, cockadoodled at him and threw some water over him for safety. He looked comical with her father's mighty trousers hanging on him and gathered round his slim loins. Neither Kate nor Dora could be spared from their efforts to save the house.
During the hottest hour of the afternoon a hundred men or more gathered on the opposite hillside battling with the flames. Only Barry's acres, safely burned in spite of the high wind, lay as a barrier between the house and the oncoming flames. Barry was the general, in spite of his years working like ten, encouraging others, risking his life, doing daring deeds like a vulcan, his beige beard long since singed and blackened beyond repair. Bob was his able lieutenant. Arthur worked like a wild thing, and to save his life, had to be ordered back time after time. He worked beside Lindsey. He had a desire to do well in Lindsey's eyes and ask him for a job later.
Tom Harris and Mick Bell were leaders at another strategic point, and Ross strove furiously. Lindsey worked superhumanly to save his home and family but he could not out-do old Bandicoot, who was a giant beside him, and performed with the abandon of a highly geared temperament spending the pent-up rancour and hurt of half a lifetime in a gladiatorial gesture in the eyes of his world.
Many of the men were more tired than they should have been had they been called from bed instead of from a ball. No one dared halt, no one thought of rest nor needed it for the first twenty-four hours. As the battle drew nearer, the women from Chesham carried tea along the ranks, and food which the men snatched in blackened hands, and bolted without desisting from beating.
At night the ranges were alight like towns, or that vain new city which spreads to-day on the old plains, where in those days the spire of St. John's reigned over an area as large as a principality, and Duntroon was a private township far from neighbours.
Rabbits; kangaroos, wallabies, lizards, goannas, snakes, birds of all descriptions rushed from their flame-swept hinterlands. Many thousands of pounds' worth of fencing was wrecked.
The flames licked the old haystacks and bark-roofed cowsheds. When all seemed lost, Bandicoot turned the fire and Kate ran with a bucket of water and extinguished his clothes. Pursued by tongues of flame, many of the men rolled in the race, and rising soaked, rushed to work again. Neither roads nor streams were much break on the flames that day and night.
The second dawning showed the house still untouched, but the fire was menacing it from another scrubby point. The men were not so full of speed and strength to-day. It seemed for a time as if the flames would conquer them. There was a tall old box tree not far from the stables. It was riddled with borers and pipey. The flames reaching the dry bark of its trunk ran up its hollow as up a chimney. It threw sparks right on the stable, and beyond that, via storehouses and pantry, lay the house. Here it was that Arthur surpassed himself. It was he who really saved the premises, at one crisis pulling Lindsey Sr. out of the flames cast by a dead falling limb of the tree and himself receiving a painful burn on the upper arm. Even that did not deter him till the danger from that point was past.
The men had been too busy to note the sky and to see that the mares' tails had massed in mighty thunder clouds like celestial mountains. Then miraculously the wind went out. A few big drops fell hissing in the ashes around the beaters. They could not believe their senses. They halted and looked up. Effort immediately slackened. The exhausted earlier beaters withdrew, leaving later corners on guard.
Ross took the sulky and went away to see if his mother was safe. He feared for her comfort in the crowded quarters of the settler. Men trooped to the house. Some sat on the edge of the verandas, heads against wall or post. Others stretched out on the floor, asleep as they lay.
Old Barry, with beard gone and eyelashes singed off, scars like brands on hands and arms, tumbled into Mrs. Lindsey's armchair. Lindsey tried to get him inside to rest properly.
"He's a great old warrior," he admitted.
"Yes," agreed Kate. "I don't care how he roars hereafter, it will seem no more than the song of a canary to me."
Lindsey too had his thoughts on neighbourliness, seeing the old man exhausted and battered and knowing to the full that the safety of Chesham homestead was largely due to him. He said nothing however. It was his habit to act. Bandicoot was triumphant now. He, Lindsey, must make some public acknowledgment of it as the time came.
Kate and Dora went around throwing rugs over heated and exhausted old men or putting cushions under their heads. Now that the tension had relaxed, Arthur was howling with the pain of his burn. Kate and Dora applied baking powder and oil and other remedies, but they failed to relieve him. He screamed for cold water despite all advice. He rushed off to the race and thrust his arm in. The cool water brought a certain amount of relief and he was so exhausted that he fell asleep as he lay half in the water and the rain falling on him.
Ross brought his mother home, and as she came the horse shied at Arthur. Ross saw what had happened and was able to reassure his mother, but only partly.
"That dear child!" she wept to Kate. "It is our boy, poor Sid's child. He has suffered pain and danger saving the home which cast him out and has never been his." Kate, calmed her mother by promising deeply that in future they should do all that was possible for Arthur.
The rain mercifully continued, a sharp thunder shower, lasting half an hour; never had one been so opportune. Everyone could now safely seek rest, and later there were jolly episodes in foraging for food.
Dora awakened after a couple of hours and found the fire was safely subdued by the rain and she back again in that desolation wrought on the night of the ball by knowledge of Mabel's fall. It was a worn-out Sensation or a calloused cicatrix to others, to Dora it was crushingly new. The fire had been an interruption of her tragedy but she returned to it now with a sick jolt. She insisted upon going home immediately. She imperiously refused Ross's escort. She roused up Arthur, who looked ill from fatigue and pain, and took him, leaving both her father and Bob sleeping soundly.
Kate, on the contrary, as she drifted into well-earned sleep felt that life would begin anew on waking. It would have freshened purpose and savour. Bob was a sheltering rock. He was so big and comfortable, and the look in his eyes made her feel young and beautiful still, cleansed from the corrosion of age with which Dora's unwitting imputation had stained her.
Dora found a full house at Bandicoot. Mabel had had some work to save the post office, and ended by bringing old Mrs. Turpey to Bandicoot for safety: Later she had seen the roads dark with liberated live stock, and with the assistance of a wise old stock horse and Ginger, an expert dog, had turned everything that came along into the paddocks where they could not cause a shortage of grass that season. Lindsey's brand predominated, but McTavish, Slattery and others were well represented. Mabel saved half a dozen neighbours endless trouble and loss and was later blessed for miles around.
She also baked a mighty batch of bread and cakes galore, and boiled a vast round of beef to be sent to Chesham, where she estimated a Mother Hubbard condition would be inevitable.
Bob returned home not so long after Dora and was sent back with the provender, a congenial jaunt as it took him again to Kate. The adventures of the last couple of nights had re-established their youthful relations in a manner which under normal conditions might have been uncertain or in any case tardy.
All is the same, yet none the same, I see!
A shade has come across the sun
And turn'd my world of gold to dun,
The old, they do not understand—Ah me!
The grass, was green again on Whipstick Crossing and Bonnie Brae (McTavish's), Chesham Park and Turpey's, and all the other charred places. The winds in the early morning and at sundown had an edge that reminded they would soon rush cuttingly across Canberra Plains from the frore highlands beyond the Timlinbillies and Brindabullahs. Folks were saying that the bridge picnic would be too late as the days were perceptibly shortening. The official opening of the bridge, which Lindsey was largely credited with securing, was to be the culminating summer event of the district.
Following the bush fires, life had shaken back into its accustomed ruts. Everyone knew that Bob Barry was home from Queensland, developed into an enormous man and said to be highly well-to-do. He was as striking a figure as his father and without his father's defects of temper. He was invited everywhere and went everywhere without restraint or snobbery. He was the current social lion.
"Shure, if he was put up for mimber there would be none against him," said old Slattery, and others agreed. But Bob made it clear that he would never return to the cold country permanently after knowing the Queensland climate. Rose Ann was equally delighted with him and her father would have aided her in "ketching" him regardless of his religion, but Bob was always at Chesham Park. The know-alls recollected that he and Kate had been sweethearts of yore. A mere girl and boy affair, but it was remarkable that Kate, with plenty of opportunities, had not married, and that Bob was still a bachelor.
Everyone looked upon the Barry-Lindsey embroglio as washed-out at last. The perspicacious Lindsey was not so sure about it. The old man was subdued in manner and changed by his closely-cropped beard that was slow to regain its old luxuriance. Dora would have been pleased if he had clipped it in a smart peak, but he insisted upon it being round, which she said made him look more like a feeble-minded 'possum than the old style. He walked proudly before men these days, but he simply could not quite give in. Some clot of spleen remained undissolved.
To Dora all was changed. She refused to go abroad, so keenly did she feel the old disgrace. She would not even go to Queanbeyan for singing lessons, though, her quarter being finished, her father sought to coax her with another.
Following the fire, Ross rode over boldly. Bob welcomed him and brought him in. Father, though not gushing, was neutral. Dora disappeared. Ross enlisted Bob's support. He said to give her time. The shock had been great, but she would recover. Dora said she did not want to see Ross or any other man again, all she asked was to return to Queensland and remain with Bob till old enough to train as a nurse.
Father noted with satisfaction that she did not always disappear when Tom Harris came. Tom knew better than to take heart, because she managed so that he never saw her a moment alone, and she ignored his letters. She returned Ross's.
This subdued her father. He was worried to death about her. He was mild and indulgent and tried to arouse her interest in any kind of pleasure. He promised to take her to all the up-country Shows, and later to Sydney at Easter. He grew insistent. It was unavailing against the new Dora, who would not be led into the dissipation of invective as of old. She wanted only to know when Bob was returning to Queensland. He postponed it for one thing and another, which seemed trivial to Dora. She wondered how Bill could do without him, but now he had finalised his stay by promising his friends to remain for the bridge picnic. In seventeen years he had never taken a holiday; it was the right time of year for him to have leave of absence, and he did not find three months too long to devote to what he considered the most important business of his life.
Mabel was worried by Dora's withdrawal from all she had been demanding and by her changed attitude and demeanour, Bob had had many long talks with Dora following the fire. Patiently, wisely., affectionately, earnestly, he discussed the subject that had changed her. He laid before her the great mistake of his own youth, which had been to follow his father in enmity towards the Lindseys, and his failure till recently to recognise Mabel's tragedy. He confessed his determination to compensate Mabel by treating her with all possible consideration and tenderness now and hereafter. He had pleaded for Dora's co-operation.
The girl had responded generously and warmheartedly to Bob's representations as far as tenderness to Mabel was concerned. She turned from her carefree ways and relieved Mabel of much of her hard drudgery and affectionately, almost fiercely championed her, but her own withdrawal continued. This was more difficult to Mabel than if Dora had hated her and been hard to her. That she had expected, and had the technique for enduring. Her lonely heart swelled with affection towards Dora but she was filled with renewed remorse owing to what she had brought upon the girl. It set her intention to leave the old place and district without any backward glances. Bob, suspecting something of her feelings, pleaded with her to be brave and wait a while without doing anything rash. This alone was causing her to delay.
She and Mick had arrived at a definite understanding, and in the kitchen when he remained the night at Bandicoot, and when the family were in bed, they would discuss the pros and cons of the home they were to make together. They were to add poultry keeping to dairying, and Mabel was fascinated with the illustrations and directions concerning incubators to be seen in certain publications, and deeply absorbed in the reports of a popular egg-laying contest proceeding near Sydney. Mick was against incubators. Late at night, as-the coals subsided and he and Mabel drew nearer over them, he might have been heard to maintain: "There ain't nothink you can teach a good old hen with all her feathers on. I'm allus for nature as much as possible."
Under cover of a visit to the dentist, Mabel had been to Goulburn to consult a lawyer. She went down at the time of the Highland Gathering—from Queanbeyan. Mick had proceeded via Yass, a subterfuge which had not prevented certain Queanbeyan sleuths from putting two and two together, and the result was a good deal of chuckling and gossip. Mick had wanted to be married then, but Bob's pleas for delay restrained Mabel, and she needed just a little more time to steady herself for the final plunge. To her intense surprise she found that Arthur was entirely hers as he could not have been with a legal father, and her plans immediately coalesced more richly around him. Everything was to be arranged for his protection. Any slight to Arthur would have jeopardised Concertina's position, but Concertina was enamoured of Arthur as a valuable asset, and too cautious to take risks. Besides, he liked the lad and was touched by his friendliness and belief in him, Concertina being the only person other than Mabel who had ever paid him particular attention.
Other plots were ripening.
"The poor old Dad just can't give in," said Bob to Kate as they were exploring one of the old tracks and came to a halt on the rim of Bandicoot Hill, with the foothills and ramparts of the mountains wreathed in the background, and the plains towards Queanbeyan and Gininderra and Yass spread far in the bright sunlight before. "There's a sort of mental gallstone left that wants operating upon."
"If Ross breaking his head and your Dad to the rescue, then the fire and he being boss hero of the district, hasn't melted him and given him sufficient satisfaction, it would take some gelignite."
"The trouble with these old fellows is that they are so much cock of their own walks that they get an exaggerated idea of their importance. I got thinking when I got away to Queensland, also there are three of us in partnership there, and we've had to consider each other and none of this bellowing as soon as another point of view comes up. These old chaps are like monarchs on their own dust heap and no one dare say boo. The Dad's been made worse by having poor old Mabel as an absolute slave. By George! what she does!—as much as two women and a jolly good man. If she dropped out the king-pin of Bandicoot would be gone. It would have to be entirely reorganised, and the Dad would find he'd have to soft-pedal a bit with people in a position to roll up their swags and clear out if things didn't please them."
"But where could Mabel drop out to? She has stayed in that rut so long she would be lost elsewhere." Kate was fishing to discover if there was any truth in the rumours about Concertina. She so little esteemed him as a possible brother-in-law that she would not ask the question direct. Bob felt similar reticence.
"I'd like to take Mabel to Queensland with me for a year and let her have a good change, for a start."
"But don't you live with Bill?"
"Yes, but we're thinking of adding to the property by a place with such a first-rate house and orchards and garden that it would be a pity to let it go to ruin."
"You want a housekeeper?"
"Yes, and a heart-keeper too if..."
Kate adroitly changed the subject. She did this continually. It made Bob nervous. Sometimes he rode home under the stars connoting the evidence and deducing therefrom that Kate was all his. He felt he had only to speak. More frequently she would be so aloof that he was as timorous as a boy lest he be sent about his business. He now had a definite plan of procedure which he would follow unless Kate enticed him from it, and for that he would be on the alert.
He must really get back to Queensland after the picnic, taking Dora. Mabel decidedly refused his invitation. She had given him no further confidence about Mick. He thought she was waiting for Mick to come to a definite head. He, Bob, would foster the present friendly relations with Kate till the last day. If she accepted, he could then make new plans. If she refused, he would go off with Dora as intended, and leave people to think what they liked about him and Kate not finalising matters.
It was the best of plans to draw Kate from her wearing wavering. She had passed the age when a woman can plunge into marriage without reserves and hesitations. She was not pushed by the need to find a berth. She had her share in the station. Concertina Mick threw a shade against her acceptance of Bob. Nor did she altogether like the thought of migrating to Queensland. And there was her mother so dependent upon her care. On the other hand, she really desired the adventure of marriage before it was too late. The longer she waited the harder it grew to surrender deepening habits—to surrender herself. There were other men still in the offing—city men offering a city life, but she had rather a contempt for them, having been reared in the pioneer school as to what constituted manliness. Bob Barry seemed less besmirched by the repellent traffic in other women which has put marriage out of bounds for many a fastidious woman capable of self-support. His station in Queensland was not in those areas with gins available to the white man's prestige and virility. Yes, Bob was ever so decent. He was getting fat like his father, and his hair was thinning to put a curb on transports, but in marriage there was so many cons that when the pros were at all enticing, at thirty-five one had better plunge. Then she would fear that Bob had no thought of her beyond passing his holiday pleasantly with an old friend. It was then that she would entice him—almost over the brink.
Bob was completely satisfied with Kate: She was six years his junior and looked ten even in the sunlight. She had worn well. She had gone high in the social scale since he had left Bandicoot, and Bob liked that. He desired something in his wife to set against the English pretensions of Bill's wife and her brother. Oh, dear, oh dear, if only Mabel had kept up with Kate, Mrs. Bill's brother might have been won from bachelorhood by her, and he was much more presentable than Concertina Mick.
When Kate considered the matter she thought that should Dora marry Ross, as she undoubtedly would as soon as she recovered front her present cloud of depression, which made Ross more and more eager, this pair would naturally run Chesham Park while her father went to Sydney for the Parliamentary season. She could take care of her mother in Sydney. Her mother was so frail however, that any day might see her lamp go out, and Kate would be without a metier. She would like to be engaged to Bob Barry and delay marriage on the score of her mother.
Bob was enthusiastic about the possibilities of motor transport if only it could be rendered fairly dependable.
"But that's all coming," Lindsey would say. "Before another ten years, there'll be as many shops for repairing motor cat's as there are blacksmith's forges to-day."
Bob was as clever as his father with machinery and was a boon to Lindsey. Soon he could take the engine apart and give it skilled attention, and could drive as well as a professional chauffeur. "By George, I wish the Dad would take to one. It would be a hobby for him. He would be his own mechanic, but he has taken a dead set against cars just out of jealousy and stubbornness."
This observation, made to Kate, gave her an idea, which she passed on to her father.
There was a plan brewing to make a big presentation to Barry at the time of the opening of the bridge. This was a final attempt to placate the old man for political reasons plus genuine appreciation of what he had done in the big bush fire. A committee met. Various gifts were suggested such as a silver tea and coffee service for Pa, and a piece of jewellery for Ma Bandicoot, but there was money in the district that year and the response had been so liberal that a motor car became possible. The collectors went forth again, each giver pledged to secrecy, and as the secret was known to all but one man and two or three of his dependents, this time it was kept. Half a dozen graziers such as Slattery, McTavish and Lindsey contributed substantial sums, but the smaller settlers were now tapped and proved a mine. Scarcely any for a radius of many miles but had received service from old Bandicoot in one way or another—had been given grass for a last cow or horse in droughts, or lent a dray or horse, or presented with a load of fruit or a joint of beef, or Mrs. Barry's practical aid in child-birth, and they all wanted to contribute. One or two dances were organised in back localities to procure the final amount needed. Then Bob and the Lindsey men had business in Sydney, though Bob went down a day in advance for obvious reasons. He wanted to take Dora with him, but even this she refused.
The plan was to surprise Barry at the bridge celebrations when all the district would gather, and the onus of getting him there was laid on Bob.
"If he really jacks-up I'll have to rope him and bring him by force, or we should all look fools."
"Let us all make a family raid upon him and vanquish him once and for all before the thing is exposed to the public again," suggested Kate.
"I don't quite know where he stands in the matter since the fire," said Bob.
That was what Barry did not know himself, but it was crystallised to him and made plain to Bob in a family tornado a few days later.
Previous to the revelations about Mabel, Dora had never been rendered unhappy by her father's ravings. She had grown up to them, and having a lively wit and high spirits could hold her own and sometimes carry off polemical honours. Until the night of the ball it was the limitations of her life against which she had been in purposeful rebellion. Mother subconsciously enjoyed the turmoil. As with persons of low emotional pressure she had to absorb from the more highly dowered in feeling. She only grew tired of it when it conflicted with her own desires. It was on Mabel that the din had had a deleterious nervous effect.
Since the night of the ball however Dora was as wounded as Mabel by Father's invective and she was in a position to protest, which Mabel had lost. Father's storms were becoming more noisy with age and through having no outlet but his own family.
It had not always been so. His animadversions on Lindsey's character were once to be heard half the length of Crawford Street and up and down Monaro Street. Lindsey had been driven to put a stop to that. As he had ascended in the social scale it became insupportable to have Blastus bawling his alleged felonies to the wide and windy skies for every visiting aristocrat to hear.
He sued Barry for libel. He would have had no trouble in winning his case, and a few fat thousands in the overdrawn Lindsey coffers would have been as acceptable as those he had won by exhibiting Bandicoot sheep as security. Barry had the money and Lindsey had a water-tight case, but he also had Mrs. Lindsey, and no matter what Barry knew or suspected of him, Lindsey so deserved his high reputation as a devoted husband and father that it cannot be too often repeated.
Mrs. Lindsey intervened with tears and pleadings and a 'bad turn.' "Think what they have suffered. Oh, Alec dearest, never, never can we bring more sorrow to that house, no matter how foully he roars."
Lindsey maintained that he would be doing Barry as well as himself a benefit to shut off the slander. It called attention to the tragedy which reacted more heavily on Bandicoot Hill than on Chesham Park. This was quite true, but Mrs. Lindsey persuaded him to compromise. He let it be known to Barry's lawyer that he would be satisfied with a full and abject apology from the defendant to be published in the four adjacent papers of Goulburn, Yass, Queanbeyan and Cooma.
It was a bitter bolus for Blastus to swallow. He considered hard, but all his liquid assets and a good bag of his prime merinos in the balance was no light matter. He halted till reminded that failing the alternative the case would proceed. He blustered and delayed but common sense, plus the lawyer, suave but relentless, won. In spite of his high temper he was an unrivalled business man. If he paid he would nevertheless be debarred from expressing himself thereafter. Mulct or unmuleted, he had to restrain his tongue. His withers were wrung by the abject apology put forward for him to sign. Not only had he to withdraw all he had said as wholly untrue and brand himself as a liar, but also to express profound regret for the unnecessary pain he had given innocent people, and he could never again safely vent his spleen to outsiders. His family thereafter had it all.
He was compelled to insert the advertisement, but had an idea that took some of the sting out of the humiliation. The copy sent to the press had to be passed and proof-read by Lindsey's lawyer, there was no dickering there, but so long as he paid for it, and it contained nothing obscene nor libellous, the apologist was free to insert a line of personal advertisement in the same issue of the paper. He had this placed immediately under the black lines which guarded the apology. The various editors accepted it with glee. It ran:
IF I HAD THE MONEY I WOULD STICK TO WHAT I
(Signed) WM. BARRY,
Bandicoot Hill Station,
Four districts enjoyed that, and the story is told with gusto to-day by a few of the remaining old hands. The apology was defeated...Barry was a hero. He was one-up on Lindsey.
Lindsey's lawyer phrased a letter to Barry warning him that in case of further libels he would not be "given the option of an apology." Lindsey had to be content that at least he had silenced his enemy from roaring in the ears of that higher social clique into which he ascended.
When the gilt wore off the joke the abject apology rankled in Barry's craw. And not so long after that it was his turn to be put to confusion. At that date he was patronising McCarthy's Hotel, down near the bridge. After retiring one night he arose to put his boots in the passage to be cleaned. He did not make a light, and losing his direction, opened the door of a wardrobe and thrust in the boots. There was a great hub-bub next morning. The rouseabout who cleaned the boots swore he had not eaten them. Barry was for having the whole staff dismissed, but that was ridiculous. The publican did not believe any of them guilty and retained them all.
The fellow guests that night were all squatters of Barry's standing and above suspicion. A commercial traveller who departed at four in the morning to catch the train for Cooma was mentioned, but it was contended that he was a small man who would have no personal use for Barry's boots. The old man cast aspersions on a house where an honest man could not stay a night without the boots being stolen from his feet. The landlord offered to supply a new pair and Barry sat at breakfast, in his socks—no available slippers being large enough—and afterwards in the hotel parlour an assistant from Wright Bros. had the fun and the profit of supplying a new pair of hoots.
Barry's remained in the wardrobe till they came to light in a spring cleaning, and there was a rattling joke for the wags. Barry was one-down. The story is still told but the raconteurs cannot say whether Barry paid the publican for the new boots when the others were found—a question invariably put.
Ross sang with the birds
That his beautiful Dora was like the Aurora,
Transporting, amazing—such comical phrasing!
And others and others and others.
With ardour nigh crazing, and logic quite dazing
Such love oft-times smothers and smothers
In millions of words.
Those were the days, such a fleeting moment past, when Tumut was the choice of the House of Representatives and Bombala that of the Senate for the site of the Federal City. Bombala was nervous about being selected or not selected, and longing for a decision to stabilise business. There were imputations concerning this, town's capacity to grow wheat, but what bearing that had on its suitability as a site for the continent's political experiments is not apparent in casual reference to old newspapers. Tumut had kept itself to the fore by a new railway, opened by the Governor and Minister for Works with bunting and a banquet and all such conventional trimmings.
Blackett, the Federal Member, and other important elders were desirous of some stir in their area. There was nothing to hang it on but the bridge, and a low level bridge over the Bandicoot, though of service to various settlers, was a parochial structure. Had it been across the Murrumbidgee it would have been much better. The Minister for Works and the Governor could not, without loss of dignity, officially open the Bandicoot Bridge, especially as it had been in use for weeks.
But fortune—social fortune was favouring the district at that date. One of the seigniorial establishments of the Plains—such a perfect home from home for vice-regality that it was whispered of its chatelaine: "She tries to be quite vice-regal herself",—was to be honoured by a visit from the Governor of an adjoining State. The visit was announced in the Metropolitan press of the Mother State as well as of the Governor's own. Blackett and Smithers acted. The gentleman, though on holiday recovering from indisposition, nevertheless could attend the bridge picnic and attract attention to the district's claim to Federal consideration so zealously promulgated by the noted townsman, John Gale. The concensus of opinion among the graziers was that one Governor was much as another, no matter what State he represented, all being representatives of His Majesty's and equally the property of the taxpayers.
Viscount—the holidaying Governor expressed a wish to take part in a wallaby and hare drive. His nephew, at one time aide to a Governor of New South Wales, had spent a month's vacation on Brindabullah, and was permanently enthusiastic concerning the hospitality, horses and sport on that station. The bunyip being discredited, and widgeon, black duck. bustard, emu, kangaroos, wallabies and other charming natives having long since given place on Canberra Plains to seigniorial baa-baas, or to Mesdames Crinningan's and Sullivan's turkeys and geese, it was necessary, in pursuit of hares and marsupials, to meet the request of the lordly guest to farm him but on the Lindseys, the best substitute for Brindabullah.
The Lindseys, seizing opportunity, and inviting the neighbourhood's co-operation were to present the Viscount to a gathering at the bridge, have some old hand break a bottle on it, have an early picnic lunch, alias a banquet, dulled with speeches about the glories of Queanbeyan and Canberra, to be reported in the Metropolitan newspapers. Then to the wallaby hunt, the hosts astutely estimating that two or three hours halloing and riding the rough gorges back of Bandicoot Hill would meet requirements.
The visiting Viscount was desirous of seeing the real bush, as extolled by his nephew, the vice-regal aide, and eagerly accepted the Lindsey invitation to stay two or three days with genuine pioneers. Here Bandicoot could have come in most happily, but through the difficulties of approaching him, a happy issue out of old troubles was not to be achieved without a final storm or two.
The Governor expressed his intention to potter around informally among the real bush homes, and Bob and Kate were in a quandary.
"The Dad considers that he has the chief patent on pioneering. Old Cameron is the only man he admits to the same rank; so if the Viscount comes here to see the old pioneers and ignores Dad there'll be a noise. On the other hand we're so out of things that a visit from a viscount would cause such a flutter that the old people would exhaust themselves and smother the guests with fuss and feathers."
"Your father is the very person his Excellency would enjoy. Bandicoot has lots of pioneer fakements, and the merinos are such swells that it would be insulting to leave them off the visiting list. I'll take it in hand."
The result was that Kate and Ross were to bring the visitor for a surprise call at Bandicoot, and preliminary to his appearance Barry was to be confronted by his own family plus Kate and Ross, and forced to common sense. Bob could see that plans for peace at the bridge and the presentation of the motor car would be wrecked without strong measures, but he was uneasy about those measures taking his family by surprise. However he was so enamoured of Kate and her social ability that he had submitted, but he gave the women a hint to be in readiness for both deputation and vice-regal call.
Bandicoot homestead was a centre of work those glorious late March days. The Governor would have been in his element could he have stayed there, where the old ways still held and the orchard was yielding up its treasures for the winter. Apples, quinces, baking pears and, pie melons were packed carefully on great shelves and sometimes held till the following spring. Bandicoot was vigilant against codlin moth, and the less gentlemanly vermin that now destroy fruit before it can properly ripen, had not then appeared. Bottling, jam-making and drying were in full blast. Mabel shouldered the chief burden in this work and was invaded by homesickness to realise that this winter she would not be there to enjoy her preserves.
Upon such a scene Mick Bell once more intruded with the mail bag. He came often to Bandicoot now. He and Mabel had their plans fully laid. His beard was considerably trimmed since the fire, but the black pipe was generally in active service.
Bob had robbed the bee hives and a mass of comb in a canvas cloth the size of a blanket was straining into a wide milk pan at one side of the hearth. Dora was peeling and coring apples. Mother was covering jam in vessels ranging from a kerosene tin to a wine glass. Mabel was baking cookies and marshalling afternoon tea on a corner of the dresser, all other spots being requisitioned.
Arthur, Bob and Dad came from the orchard with clothes baskets full of choice fruit. Bob said he was thirsty. Arthur complained of being hungry.
"Your stomach must be of the best elastic," grinned Bob. "I saw at least a kerosene can of peaches go into it."
"Aw, fruit!" complained Arthur. "It only makes you hungrier!"
"Keep away from the honey! Who'll want to eat it after you lapping in it," said Mother.
Bob voiced his idea about a dash of cross breed being good for the frozen meat trade, and Father contended: "The pure merino for me. That Champion Vermont of mine has done more for the quality of wool about here this last few years than all your Romneys and Leicesters, and that ewe—twenty-four pounds of wool last shearing."
"Oh, Mick, did you see what they are doing at the bridge as you come by?" eagerly inquired Arthur, while Father unlocked the mail bag. Arthur had hopes that this year at last he would be permitted to attend sports and other celebrations.
"It's goin' to be quite a turn-out," began Mick. "They're goin' to have tree ferns all along the sides, and poles, and them little bits of flags."
"Bunting," suggested Mrs. Barry.
"That's it. Old McTavish and Slattery and a pack of others are all on the job. Old Mother Turpey is all atwitter. She's got an idea in her head that as she's such a old pioneer she'll be asked to cut the ribbon." Good old Grandma Turpey was only pretending this to put Barry off the scent of what was actually planned.
"Do spit it out," Arthur broke in. "Goin' to be any horse racin'? If Dad would let me run old Challenger."
"So you think you are going to be there!" said Dad from behind the Courier.
"This is the first I've heard of it."
"Why can't we?"
"Because you can't. Let me hear no more about it. Suit you better to dig those potatoes."
"Aw, be sugared! Just because old Lindsey will be there. He can't eat us, and it ain't his bridge. I think meself he's a nice ole bloke. If you arsk me, I think it's downright unfair."
Arthur had been firmly for going to work on Chesham Park after the fire, but Mick Bell had turned him from it with one thing and another. There was a first-class shaving kit and watch coming to Arthur from Mrs. Lindsey, to be given quietly so as not to arouse too much gossip, but that, Arthur did not yet know.
"There's whips and whips of things unfair to you and me, Arthur, and we've got to put up with it." Dora was working with tense energy. She had taken Arthur under her wing since discovering the blot on his birth.
"Dashed rag, there's never anything in it," murmured Father as he had murmured many a time before, and turning from the price of ewes and fats to the news column. "I don't know why I'm such a fool as to keep on paying for it." Suddenly he thrashed the paper. "Listen to this: 'His Excellency Viscount ——'" (He pronounced it: Ex-cellency Vizcount)...
"What's a Vizcount?" inquired Arthur. "I thought them old blokes w'at they make into Governors was Lords."
"You'll be a Vizcount if you slip into that honey," admonished Bob.
"Do you want to hear this, or do you not? God bless me soul, I can't be heard in me own house."
"Fire away, Father. We're all ears," encouraged Bob, who himself was on tenderhooks as well. He wanted to get away to Turpeys' and telephone Kate for a word or two. They had quite a code on the telephone to puzzle, if not defeat, the listeners-in. It might be this afternoon that the deputation would appear.
"Well, his Excellency Vizcount —— is to be at the bridge."
"He ain't our Governor," contributed Mick. "I heerd as I come along. He's one of the others come here for a spell and to see if it's fit for the Federal Capital."
"'The Vizcount who has several volumes of an historical character to his credit, is greatly interested in the pioneering days and is to spend a week or more in the vicinity interviewing the old hands. During part of his stay he will be the guest of A. Lindsey Esq. at Chesham Park.' Chesham Park! That'll show you!"
It was the real Hereford roar that of late had not awakened the echoes. "This Vizcount Governor comes here to write one of those bits of books—what in thunder would he know about the early days?"
"Some of those English lad-de-dahs couldn't tell the difference atween a old yeo and a bandicoot, but they give theirselves as many airs as if they knowed it all."
"I suppose the gentleman can find out," said Dora, severely.
"Yes, but do they come to those whose ancestors settled the place to find out—no! They come to people who don't know enough to—to—to..."
"Git in outer a wet thunderstorm," suggested Mick.
"Yes. Don't know enough to trail their fences in a dry season. If his Excellency came to me, but these English fools that we have to pay taxes for—and there's too blasted many of them eating their heads off:I could choose better men for the job of Governor at seven bob a day! God bless me soul, there would be no Chesham Park to come to, if it hadn't been for me."
"I expect the Viscount will hear all about that," said Bob soothingly, thinking what a mess it would be if Kate appeared with him that afternoon.
"He's coming to meet the real pioneers—blast it, the pioneering days are done now."
"A good thing, too," interposed Mother. "I couldn't live through any more of them."
"There isn't any more pioneering. There's only soft-handed sappy-headed fools leathering about in motor cars—in parks—parks! Does the Governor go out and meet the few real pioneers among the old hands? No, he stays with a low-down lying scoundrel with..."
"Goggles," said Mick with a wink at Mabel.
There was worse to come. Father read on and discovered that Lord —— longed above all things to take part in a wallaby and hare drive and that one was being organised in the back paddocks of Chesham Park at which in the usual way, each shooter was to appear attended by a driver. Father was so red in the face that Mother looked at him and said: "I'd be afraid to get so excited if I were you William, lest. I drop dead of apoplexy."
Dora stepped forward tense and white-faced. "Father, another word about the Lindseys and I walk out of the door and never come back."
Bob had had difficulty in extracting a promise from Dora to attend the bridge picnic. She consented only on condition that he would start for Queensland immediately following and take her with him. Kate said she understood how Dora would want to escape for the present and that that was the way for her to recover normality.
Dora's ultimatum to her father was received with surprise as she had been unusually silent for three months. Mabel stoked the oven and slammed its door unnecessarily.
"Things are coming to a pretty pass if I can't open me mouth in me own house without you jumping into it."
"The bargain was that there would be no more about the Lindseys."
"God bless me soul! You can't live in the same locality with people and not mention them. A pretty thing."
"You can mention them sanely when you have to. But don't run them down all the time. It shows a deplorable spirit."
"And by what authority do you set yourself up to judge my words?"
Here the fountain raised its voice. "My fountain's nearly boiled dry," exclaimed Mabel.
"I reckon I'd better give her a drink," said Mick, going for water.
Bob put a hand on Dora's shoulder but she shook it off nervously. "I cannot stand Father shouting continually about people who are no worse than ourselves."
"A pretty thing if I'm to be dictated to in me own house. What's the world coming to, I want to know. Here is Lindsey, a man of poor principle—I have proved him to be, and here he's chose for Parliament..."
"I want to go to the bridge sports," said Arthur discontentedly.
"I ain't goin' to the bridge," said Mick. "You better come with me that day. I'm goin' to Queanbeyan."
"Straight wire, do you mean it, Concertina?" Arthur was all agog. They went outside together.
"We ought to have cleared out years ago when poor Mabel went wrong and made a fresh start somewhere," said Mother, regardless of Mabel's feelings now that Dora no longer had to remain uninformed. Mabel tightened her lips and thought with satisfaction that she would soon be out of hearing of all their reflections.
"This 'poor Mabel' business makes me sick. Mabel is a jolly sight better than other people, if she only held her head up," said Dora.
"Cleared out, woman! Me clear out! My father came through the Gap back there at Dead Horse Creek—Chesham Park! It was our horse that died there—an old brumby with a white rump that carried the packs—I've heard my eldest brother say—about 1836 and this fellow doesn't come here till the seventies—and where did he come from—rared in some town most likely."
"It doesn't matter where you came from, William, it's where you go to that makes for success."
"I'll do without success if I can't come by it like a white man."
"It seems to me, William, that's it's not so hampering for a man to be a little shady in his own dealings as it is for him to be too concerned with other people's sins."
"Yes," agreed Bob, "the thing is to mind your own duck house and let the other fellow mind his."
"Man alive, haven't I been a good neighbour and husband and father? Did I ever give an example to my boys of anything dishonest?"
"I hope not. But if I had my life over again I'd pass over anything short of murder, before I'd be at outs with the neighbours."
"It's against nature, its against the Bible that he should flourish so. He lets his place run wild and is a menace to the whole district.I have to risk me life and have the beard burned off of me saving him, but the Governor goes to stay with him. I keep the rabbits clown and all vermin killed off, yet a lord comes here and old Lindsey gets up into the seventh heaven of society because he has a breeding ground for hares and wallabies to have a drive with. What do you make of that?"
Arthur here appeared with a piece of watch-dog news. "Some one is coming in Mrs. Turpey's old sulky, at least I'm sure it's her old mare, I could tell her hollow back a mile away, but it doesn't look like old Mrs. Turpey, it looks like Ross and Kate Lindsey."
"The flash motor car broken down again and they're crawling about with Turpey's old mare," said Father.
Vanity pleaseth as a flower,
Its fall hurteth for an hour:
Short the sweet and long the sour
Of oddly measured mortal dower.
Bob went down towards the main road to meet them and learn what had happened.
Lord —— was on his way to pay a call at Bandicoot. He was at Turpeys' talking of old times with the pioneer postmistress while Kate and Ross hurried on in the borrowed sulky to have the arranged interview with Barry. Lindsey Sr. was with the visitor and would bring him in the car to Bandicoot and then slip away in the sulky to keep a fictitious appointment, and leave the Bandicoot visit with Ross and Kate.
Concertina had instructions to keep Arthur well out of the way and Mabel had agreed to stand with the others in the meeting, though she had not budged an inch from her refusal to appear at the bridge picnic. Bob, recognising her as the one hero of the whole boiling, had eventually allowed her to keep to her own gait.
Bob entered with Ross and Kate and confronted his father in the kitchen. His sisters and mother were already there. Bob was spokesman. "Well Father, the whole district wants to do you honour and they want to be sure you will attend the bridge picnic the day after to-morrow."
"What's this about?" He glowered suspiciously at Ross and Kate, and noted that his own women, though protected by aprons, were quite dressed up.
"It's about what you did to save the district in the fire, Mr. Barry," said Kate.
"That's all bosh. A civilised man has to take his part against a fire, or in killing snakes when he sees them."
"You're dead right, of course, and have always practised what you preached," pursued Bob. "Still, the district wants to do itself proud, and Kate and I ask you for the sake of the young people, and the sake of Mother who used to be so friendly with Mrs. Lindsey, and for the sake of Mabel, who has been the mainstay of Bandicoot ever since she could bake a batch of bread, to let the old trouble die out and begin on a clean slate...Dora, that is what you want, isn't it?"
"Yes. I can't live under the old conditions, and shan't ever come home if they continue." Her evident nervousness impelled Ross to speak when his silence would have been more helpful.
"The Pater—beg pardon—I mean Dad, sends his compliments, Mr. Barry."
"So! It's your father is back of this, is it?"
"No," said Kate. "Father is only one of many who wishes to show public appreciation, and I cannot deny my mother's desire for peace."
"So your father sends his compliments—he does," persisted the old man testily. "His compliments! All the way from Chesham Park to Bandicoot Hill."
"Well, Father, why don't you go one better and send your compliments and best wishes for success at the next election to Mr. Lindsey," suggested Dora.
"That's what you want me to do, is it—send my compliments to Chesham Park. You're all very clever and smart now, but when you are my age—and I hope you will be able to carry your day as well as I've carried mine—you'll find it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Compliments!"
"It needn't exactly be compliments, but something decent and friendly," added Dora.
"Something decent. Have I ever been indecent?" He looked on them one by one and saw they were all of a mind. "So this is what you all want?"
There was a chorus of affirmation.
"So Bob, you want this?"
"More than I ever wanted anything in my life. I came home to bring it about and it is high time I was getting, back to my own place." He had taken his courage in his teeth a couple of days previously with satisfactory results. Kate would not consider an immediate marriage, she would at least have to await the result of the parliamentary election, still six months hence, and settle her mother in Sydney, but Bob felt sure of his future happiness.
The old man turned to Kate. "You have come here to demand this, to hold me up. Why?"
"It would help to restore my dear mother's health. She has prayed for peace continually. Surely she has suffered long enough."
"Why do you want this?" He turned to Ross.
"I want goodwill and peace."
"Do you want to marry this Ross Lindsey? Is he the only man in the district?" he asked Dora.
"I want to be able to meet him calmly without this silly hullabaloo. I don't want to marry anyone, but I do want peace:"
"Do you want this, Mabel? Are you ready to forget and forgive and kiss the Lindseys and send compliments?"
"You're piling it on a bit, Father, but I think it would be best. I'm sick of the thing being raw about me." Mabel, having fulfilled her undertaking insofar as the deputation was concerned, went out to see that her fountain was boiling and the tea in readiness for the approaching aristocracy.
"Not one of you has spoken the truth. The real reason is because Sandy Lindsey wants to get into Parliament and he thinks if he smoodges to me..."
"Oh, Father, for shame!" cried Dora.
"You do my father injustice. Mother doesn't want him to stand at all because it will take him so much away from her."
"We've had some trouble to get the Pater to toe the line," Ross added inopportunely. "You needn't be afraid of him loving you too dearly."
"I expect not, unless it suits him," said Father grimly.
"This suits us all." It was a chorus.
Father turned to Mother, not hitherto interlocuted. "Mother, what do you think?"
"I shall be thankful to have the row ended. I have always said so. I've missed Mrs. Lindsey's friendship more than I can say."
"You too! Everyone, even you are against me." He sat down, visibly overcome.
"Not against you," said Bob. "We simply want you to give over advertising Mabel's trouble for ever."
Expostulations and asseverations were stopped by Arthur, whom Concertina could no longer restrain. He rushed into the kitchen. Father's attitude meant nothing to him. The presence of Kate and Ross were insufficient to inhibit him. He was as impetuous as his grandfather, and vice-regality, a kind of deity, was at his gates.
"Old Lindsey's motor car is up there by the potato paddick, and there's a funny old bloke with a rag hat sitting beside old Lindsey in front. Mick says it's this other Governor."
"It's that Lord hisself alright," corroborated Mick. "I seed his picter in The Town and Country Journal down at Turpeys'."
"Bring me The Town and Country Journal," ordered Father, catching at the final phrase.
"You stopped it weeks ago when it printed the pictures of Chesham Park," said Mother aside to him, with her little flicker of satisfaction.
"Golly, I'm going to have a good squint at him," exclaimed Arthur. "How can he be the Governor! He just looks like any other old bloke, only for his funny hat." Such rare fauna had not hitherto appeared on Arthur's restricted beat.
"Don't go gawping at people like a yahoo," ordered Mabel.
Arthur darted to the door and ejaculated: "Holy Smoke!"
"Don't act like a wild thing, boy. Keep out of sight, unless you clean yourself. Mabel, bring your father his coat."
"What the devil is the Governor doing here?"
"He ain't our own Governor," said Mick.
"He's the representative of His Majesty just the same," said Mother. "And is deserving of respect."
"He wishes to see the old pioneers in their own homes without any formality," said Ross. "He's a whale on the real pioneers without any frill and the Mater told him this was the place to come."
"Any honest man is welcome at Bandicoot," said Father oracularly, "at any hour of the day or night, and he'll always find a feed and a bed for himself and his horse, whether he's the Governor or a black fellow. That's my idea of hospitality."
"A jolly good one, too, Mr. Barry."
"Yes, Father," said Bob, taking the reins. "Lord —— is calling on you specially because you are the leading wool-grower and pioneer. You must go to the bridge affair the day after to-morrow. You couldn't hold out without raking up things that must be let lie from now on. We cannot stand it any longer. That's why we came and had this understanding beforehand, to save you from making a fool of us all. You must join in the crowd. You must go with the times. Might as well be in jail as refuse to progress."
"Yes," said Kate, with equal firmness. "So while his Excellency was visiting old Mrs. Turpey we came on ahead. He expects to see you now. He is not interested in our past mistakes."
Barry bristled and gave a Hereford glare right and left, but Mother, regardless of the symptoms, summarily helped him into his coat, urgently insisting: "Come on! Come on! You always make a fuss when the grandees ignore you, and here's a Governor, one of the highest real lord ones, nearly here and you're busy roaring about something that will give you apoplexy one of these days. Mabel, see about tea. Come on, Dora."
The women had already discarded their aprons and were revealed in careful toilets.
Kate went out to receive and introduce the guest. Mabel went on duty with cakes and cups. Concertina helped with the boiling water. Arthur peeped openmouthed under a corner of the window curtainette. Ross detained Dora outside the door.
"Don't treat me as a stranger and as if nothing mattered. You haven't answered a single letter."
Dora shook her head but did not speak.
"Oh, Dora, that isn't fair. Did you only pretend to care because you thought I was going to peg out?"
"I know things now that I didn't know then:"
"Poor little kid. It wasn't fair the way it was thrown at you. But it should make you and me care more instead of less."
"Everything is changed and spoilt somehow," said Dora with filling eyes.
"Hang it all, I don't see why you and I should punish ourselves. There's been enough mess and suffering already to wipe out other people's old scores."
"But if I had known, I should never have gone to the ball."
"Oh, be sugared! That's a wash-out long ago. My black colt is a clinker now. He's waiting for you to ride him and name him:"
"I'm going away with Bob the day after the bridge." Ross's face fell. "Oh, I say, don't go, and you can have the colt for keeps."
"I want to go away," said Dora, beginning to cry softly.
"Oh, I say, don't cry. Everything is cooked-up to come right, better than before the Bally old ball. Don't go for a week or two at least." Dora still shook her head. "Perhaps it will be best for you to have a change, but please, if I write to you, will you promise not to send my letters back?"
An imperative call from Father terminated the interview. Lindsey was now approaching the house. He had halted for a quarter of an hour on the hillside so his guest could enjoy the splendid view, and Kate and Ross conclude their mission. Mrs. Barry, in company with Kate, was advancing upon the arriving representative of King Edward. She was dressed in a flowered sateen of the day, its high stuffed collar finished with lace, her hair carefully frizzed in front and confined in its unbeauteous bird's nest at the back, and she was sure of herself as a virtuous, industrious she-pioneer. While Kate introduced her, Lindsey excused himself and went to return Mrs. Turpey's vehicle.
Father was at a disadvantage, being taken completely without warning, but he advanced gamely in his working clothes and hastily applied coat, plucking for the moral and masculine support of his pioneer beard only to find it trimmed. He strode through Kate's introduction extending a great hand and wringing the Governor's. "Welcome to Bandicoot, your Excellency. I am proud to welcome you both for your own sake and mine, and because you are one of the representatives of His Majesty the King."
"It is very kind and generous of you to say that, Mr. Barry." The Governor took off the rag hat so exercising to Arthur. It was of stitched tweed. Arthur's glances moved from this to the snowy spats, even more astonishing, so that Mabel administered a thwack from the rear lest his ejaculations betray his presence.
Lord —— was thin, pale, clean-shaven, bald-headed, and mild-mannered to obliteration. He was the physical type of Englishman who in London would attract no more attention than a blackberry among its fellows on a branch. He lacked the aplomb and spectacularity which sits so well on high officials in the limelight. He was the type of Englishman which overseas has excited ridicule and caricature, and which, because so unimpressive personally; has been dismissed as either silly or stuck-up. Sometimes such an exterior has disguised the most insidious diplomats of the old regime, men who as a race and class have annexed the world and ruled the seas with a low voice and mild manner plus first-class guns and engineers. Other times in its unpretentious simplicity, which wears so well, are contained the human salt of the earth, men for ever holding aloft standards of justice and integrity, or relighting lamps of freedom. Of such was the first official Viscount ever to visit Bandicoot Hill.
He was led into the museum of the prize merinos. He was unaffectedly interested in each one and expressed a desire to see the originals. Bob went forth to round up those that were running at large.
Kate spoke of the great up-country fireplace, and Father conducted his guest to it on the way to the sheep stables. He ordered Dora to appear.
"At Bandicoot you'll see things just as they are without any fal-de-ral," he said. Arthur bolted into the storeroom, where he could see through an augur hole in a slab, which he preserved uncovered for his own purposes.
"Magnificent!" murmured his Excellency. "I should like to see it full of logs in winter."
"There's not many of the old fireplaces left," said Father. "They're getting these flash grates so that you can only warm one toe at a time."
"The old ways go. It is sad, but I suppose we must progress."
Father said they would inspect the prize winners and then have some tea. "If your Excellency had sent me word, you should have had a real bush damper."
They went to the stables through the flower garden bright now with cosmos, carnations, petunias, pentstemon, golden glow, phlox, canterbury bells, cornflowers, alyssum, chrysanthemums, dahlias, asters and the festive poles of giant hollyhocks. The Viscount halted in the orchard to eat a late peach and a wonderful seedling apple without a core, which melted in the mouth and about which he was most enthusiastic. Kate noted the trim order, the bristling prosperity. The place looked so substantial. With a few improvements and womanly touches it would be a home fit for anyone.
The subjugation of Bandicoot proceeded amain. The Viscount was not merely a composition of unsuspected tact, he was genuinely enjoying this surprise visit to an ordinary bush homestead.
"I must congratulate you that you are not snorting through the country like a dog with a tin can to his tail as most of the sight-seers do."
By the time they had seen the merinos, Lord —— knew a great deal about old Blastus, but old Blastus knew nothing of the nobleman except to consider him: "A real gentleman—no frill or nonsense—a sensible man that knows his business."
"He's Johnny on the spot for that all right," agreed Ross.
Father told about the fire and the loss of his beard. Dora so recovered in the ease of the vice-regal manners that she said: "The fire was very hard on beards, your Excellency. It was a blessing in that."
"I fear you weren't sympathetic about the casualties in beards," twinkled his Excellency, and turned to Father again. "Mrs. Lindsey tells me that their estate was not long since called 'Dead Horse Creek' after a horse of yours. I've made a note of that."
"Yes, your Excellency, my oldest brother, he was many years older than me, was the first white child born up the Murrumbidgee here. Pioneering—man alive, the tales I could tell your Excellency." He switched off from this to tell how he had stood in Macquarie Street to see the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York passing. "I wouldn't be surprised now if you would actually see His Majesty and the Duke when you return."
"I shall have that honour, Mr. Barry."
"Well, then, tell them from me that me and my wife and Dora here stood in the street for hours waiting, and saw them as near as I see your Excellency now. Would they be interested to hear that?"
"Oh, Father, how could they! They see millions of people," said Dora deprecatingly, but Lord—was equal to this. He had been efficiently educated to govern a bumptious democracy, and had a kindly nature.
He had another call to make in the nature of the one on Mrs. Turpey. Ross went with him for this. Kate waited at Bandicoot. As the motor car departed, the deputation reformed around Father.
He sat down heavily again now that the excitement waned. "I'm only the old way-backer, and pioneering has had its day. I've had mine. You all want things your way. I must go to the bridge because his Excellency commands it and he is a representative of the King."
"That's a good Daddy," said Dora. "I'd rather stay at home, but I'll go to keep you company."
"I've had my day," he repeated. "It's your turn now. Go and do as you want among yourselves and ignore me. We old bushmen didn't know enough to be good for us. We pulled through somehow by main strength and neighbourliness. It's your turn now. See to it that you carry your day as well as the old way-backers did who blazed the track for you. That's all."
"Daddy, you haven't sent any message to Mr. Lindsey."
"Compliments! No, I. won't send compliments. That's fal-de-ral. No compliments, but I don't mind sending my best respects to your mother."
"Thank you," said Kate. "It will make Mother very happy."
Dora ran to him and put her arms about his neck: "Oh, Daddy, that's lovely."
"Thank goodness," murmured Mother in the background. "Now I shall be able to go to Chesham again and not be shut like a rabbit in my own burrow."
Old Bandicoot rose up stiff and straight, turned about as if undecided and said: "Your mother is a good woman, Kate Lindsey. Always was from a girl. I might as well do it proper. Your mother—well, for your mother's sake, you can tell your father that he has nothing to fear from me in the election. I'll keep inside me own burrow."
"Thank you, Mr. Barry," said Kate, offering him her hand, which he took. Then she had to hurry away to meet the car.
Upon the range their hoofs wild music make,
And echoes clear in gullies dim below:
Where waterfall and night birds keep
Their ancient watch from dusk to break
Of day, by haunted tracks they know,
They pass where wild things softly sleep
Till the sunset's lingering glow
Has gone, and shadows velvet deep,
From bush and bough the colours take,
And o'er the world the star beams creep,
And in the homesick heart there sharply wake,
Poignant as youth the thoughts of long ago.
On the day of the celebrations, the sun quivered in bright waves across Canberra Plains and by Tharwa and Tuggranong as the neighbours far and near rolled up to meet the visiting Governor and take part in picnic or wallaby hunt, or both. The presence of vice-regality brought out the whole electorate plus folks from adjoining divisions. The wallaby and hare drive would be mostly rabbits, not that that entirely spoiled its novelty for the English visitors.
-Bandicoot Hill was well represented though not by the whole family. Mabel was absent. Arthur had partly adhered to Mick's plan and was to meet him at the cross roads at 1 p.m. This would give Arthur something of both worlds, and he was satisfied. He had a notion of persuading Mick to abandon the Queanbeyan trip in favour of returning to the hunt.
Bandicoot drove his prize greys. Dora rode Grey-gown, and Bob was on Challenger. The Governor was in the motor car, but Kate and Ross were on horseback. It was still the day of the horse.
As soon as the picnickers were out of sight, Mabel could have been seen running about with violent energy putting the house in faultless order for her departure. Her modest tin trunk was packed. The contents of the crock had been changed for more convenient ten pound notes and sewn in her stays, and no one knew of their existence but herself. She did not entirely trust premarital professions of affection.
She was taking only a few intimately personal belongings, and Arthur's working clothes and whip. Everything else was left untouched in her room, even the furniture which had been given to her on her fifteenth birthday, and the bed—that thorny bed she had made, which she was now deserting for Concertina's. He had managed to dispose of his selection quite profitably and had but few things for which to return later. He and Mabel were to be married in Queanbeyan and set out for the South Coast there to inspect one or two dairy properties that enticed them in advertisements, taking Arthur in tow. Mick recognised the lad's potential value on a dairy and did not want to lose him. Mabel was set that neither she nor Arthur should enter that dairy except upon clearly and legally defined partnership. So much for experience.
Mabel had been preparing silently each night. There remained only final touches. Everything was spotless, shining, perfect. She gave the pigs an extra helping so that they should not be too hungry. She went around the hen houses and gathered the forenoon eggs with a pang to realise it was for the last time on Bandicoot. She laid the table in readiness for the homecomers' meal that evening, and placed some match bark and small wood ready to kindle a fire.
When all was to her satisfaction, she took off her father's old hat, disclosing her front hair in curlers which she had not dared to use for nearly eighteen years. She put on a new dress, very plain and sedate, but well made recently by Dora. She applied the lace sent to her by Mrs. Lindsey. She put it on and off a number of times, fearing it too gay or that it might be considered "loud" in her in conjunction with frizzed hair. She was justified and set at ease by Mick's glances when he arrived with old Governor amiably drawing the lately-acquired sulky.
"By tripes! You are a swell. You look younger than flash Kate now. I allus said if you perked up, Mabel, you'd run rings round some of 'em."
To ease her self-consciousness she asked him to pen the calves while she made the tea.
She cleared away every crumb, put away their implements, re-swept the hearth, which needed no touch to its white perfection. She put the letter of explanation she had written on her father's plate, took a final look around and went out with Mick, filled with tremors that outweighed all sense of escape.
Father was greeted by cheers as he drove up to the bridge in his buggy drawn by the beautiful greys. This surprised him but put him in good tune. Lord —— had already arrived. He had not forgotten the pioneer of Bandicoot Hill and left some old timers and talk about wool, to greet him. These people could not go to Lord —— culturally or socially, but his education had been so comprehensive that profitably and entertainingly he could come to them. He was capable of absorbing new impressions, and he had crops and pastures, sheep and cattle on his own estate in the Shires.
His recognition of Bandicoot washed away the last of the old rancour and the old man strutted like Chanticleer recovered from a successful moult. There was better to come when he was chosen to cut the ribbon to champagne the bridge. He collected himself sufficiently to hand the little gold scissors to Mother, who accepted the honour without losing her composure.
Dora alone was perhaps not quite reconciled. Youth has its exaggerated sensibilities, its own conventions and snobberies, and it appeared to her that the old pioneer business was a little overdone. Her father was found to be entertaining rather on the order of a performing bear. This accentuation of the pioneerage had to her a touch of condescension from the peerage and was too obviously arranged to placate her father, who behaved so childishly.
There were speeches in the Governor's marquee built as a guard against the breezes of disciplinary temperature that rushed from blue mountains behind them right across Yass and Queanbeyan down to Goulburn and beyond.
Lindsey's candidature was vociferously received. Old Blastus, right in the limelight, was so exhilarated that he stood up and shook hands with Lindsey for all to see, the first time in years and years. The gathering was raised to a great excitement. Father, noting Dora's smile, went a little above himself, and placing his hand on her shoulder made his amende honourable for the humiliation he had brought upon her when last seen together in public.
"Me daughter and me here never do things by halves. We're not namby-pambies, are we?"
"No, Daddy," said Dora, wondering how much champagne he had taken and hoping he would not make too much of a fool of himself. Bob's happy expression reassured her.
"When all is said and done, Sandy Lindsey is a better man for the district than that sappy-headed gormoral they are trying to shove on us from the other camp."
This was greeted so noisily that Father went one better. He looked around till he caught Kate's eye: "Go and tell your mother, Miss Lindsey, that me and me wife and me eldest daughter will vote for your father at the next election."
Riotous excitement and calls by Bandicoot for three cheers for Mrs. Lindsey. "A lady for whom I have always had the highest regard, one of the best neighbours in the district."
It occurred to Bob that mayhap unrequited regard long ago lay at the root of his father's long-a-dying animosity towards a usurper.
"And, please, Father, can young Ross marry your youngest daughter?" inquired the district wag. This was the cap. Dora's blushes and Ross's mounted like flags, but Ross raised his hat with a grand sweep.
"I always believe in the ladies marrying any men who please them, and the men in marrying the girls they want, if they can," said Bandicoot handsomely. The speeches then turned on political points such as the Burren Juck water reservation plan and the still undecided site for the Federal Capital, and the district's claims.
As Barry was pledging his eldest daughter's vote, she was crossing the plains, nervous from long seclusion, regretfully looking back for a last glimpse of the comfortable, well-kept old homestead under the brow of its sheltering hill with its gardens and orchards richly spread about it. She hardly expected to see it again. She thought sadly of the calves penned so early, the pigs whimpering to sleep without their late draft, the fowls waiting about the back gate and going to roost disappointed. All these creatures had looked to her and never wounded her. There had been so much of her labour in maintaining the homestead that a great deal of her existence was amputated in those stores of dried fruits, the jams and jellies on the pantry shelves, and the neat offices.
Mick saw her wistful looks. "Lonely, old girl?" he said kindly. "We might have near as comfortable a place of our own afore we're ten years older."
The speeches were curtailed in the bush marquee as all were eager to get to the hunt. The Governor rose a second time. "I have a very pleasant duty to perform. It has fallen to my lot as a visitor on this delightful occasion..." These words led on to the announcement that the splendid new motor car—much out-doing the Lindsey Ford—that Ross was bringing right up to the banquet table, was the district's presentation to William Barry, Esq., and his family.
Father's voice for once failed him. Words, indeed, following what had gone before, would have been anticlimax. Lord —— patted the distinguished pioneer on the shoulder.
The old man came to his home on the hill—
A goodly place, the work of hands ne'er still,—
With all its rich and cleanly lands
Well-plough'd, and clear, and fenc'd and trim,
But futile seem'd his wealth to him.
That night he learned that firmer stand
The houses built sans human hand.
There remained the Bandicoot homecoming at dusk in the grand new car, which Bob drove. Mother sat beside him, half frightened of the new vehicle, but upheld by the thought of all she would have to tell Mabel. Mabel had her mother's enjoyment of gossip, the need for it as recreation, the crueler then that she should so many years have been shut off from its indulgence while being its object in major and unpleasant degree. One of Concertina's charms for Mabel was that he was a great gossip. Nothing on his own plane escaped him.
Father followed the car at a safe distance with his buggy and greys, feeling for them somewhat as for lovely twins displaced by a greater phenomenon. There was regret as well as triumph in possessing a machine so wonderful that it would banish the peerless saddle and harness horses.
Dora came after the buggy, leading old Challenger—grand old beast. Ross had wished to accompany her, but she dismissed him at the turn-off. He could not get beyond her promise not to return his letters. For vanity's sake if not for love's he must win Dora now. He was increasingly ardent and was glad that Kate and Bob had arrived at the engagement stage. It acted as a kind of insurance upon his connection with Dora. Bob would be coming back for Kate, the sooner the better, Ross felt, as, in case Dora should persist in remaining in Queensland, he could pay Kate a visit. There were all sorts of possibilities, and Dora would recover from her depression when she got away where no one knew of her family misfortunes.
He rode home full of renewed hope. Tom Harris on the contrary, was so dispirited by what had happened that he accepted Jean McTavish's invitation in preference to returning to a desolate hut.
Barry was thinking of Mabel as he turned off the main road. He was glad he had mentioned her, held his head up about her. She would be surprised when she heard he was going to vote for old Lindsey. So would Concertina, who had so loyally gone off to Queanbeyan and taken Arthur with him in preference to going to the bridge and watching old Lindsey showoff with this Lord Somebody. Concertina would be surprised to see him with a motor car. Ha! Ha! Life had some queer somersaults.
Dora was likewise thinking of Mabel as she neared home. Poor old Mabel, she must be made to come out of her shell. Dora would be willing to return from Queensland for part of the time before going to train in a hospital, if Mabel would consent to have some nice dresses and go to Queensland and have a good holiday.
It was Mabel's hour in all their thoughts.
Each in turn was surprised by the absence of a light in the kitchen window as they neared the house. They were more surprised to find no fire on the hearth, the fountain stone cold. Never for eighteen years had Mabel been absent when they returned at the end of the day.
Alarm gave place to consternation when they found all in order, the table laid and a letter addressed to Father. The letter was short and stiff. Mabel had written so few and was not practised in affectionate expression. She wrote that she was going to marry Mick Bell, and then they were going to look at some places on the South Coast. She had taken Arthur with her. She concluded: "I am sorry that I spoiled all your lives, and hope now that I am going away and will have a different name that it will be better for you all. The calves are in, and I fed the pigs before I left."
She asked nothing, offered nothing beyond the sentence quoted.
Blankness fell upon each member of her family, blankness that took all the warmth and satisfaction from the day's triumphs. That she could produce such an effect by her withdrawal, she no more than they could have conceived. In that cold, empty hour it was brought home to them all how much they owed her, how heavily Bandicoot Homestead and its comfort, its shining order rested on her thin and slightly stooped shoulders. They had so wanted to tell her about everything, and she evidently had not cared to hear, did not need them.
"What am I to do?" gasped Mother, feeling as if the underpinning of existence had given way. "There's everything in this great place to be done. It's very thoughtless of her to go off suddenly like this, very undutiful after all that's been done for her." Mother had never before acknowledged Mabel's indispensability. She herself had taken credit for being an unexcelled housewife.
"The ingratitude of her, when she had everything that she could want here, and after what she brought on us," Father tried to roar, but his utterances sank to a gloomy mutter.
"I think we brought it on ourselves," said Bob with honest bravery. "What have we ever done for Mabel but let her and her boy slave from daylight till dark and after, year in and year out, to make things comfortable for everyone else. You'll never get two men and two women at good wages to take their places."
"I never turned her out, when I might have done," faltered the old man.
"That's one good thing. We might have, we were so ignorant and cruel," said Bob.
Dora burst into sobs of deepest grief without any effort at dissembling. "I was always a pig to her. I never thought at all. I wish I could go with her," she wailed. She had never been without the indulgent and long-suffering Mabel in her life.
"It would kill me to take up all the responsibility and hard work again," said Mother.
Father broke down too. "What's the good of me flash motor car if I'm left alone. I've a good mind to set a light to the blasted thing."
"You'll have to set-to now," said Mother to Dora. "You are bigger and stronger than Mabel, and have run about idle long enough. You can't expect me to wait on you."
"I meant to be kinder to her," sobbed Dora, "and now I'll never get the chance or see her any more."
"She's put up with so much she might forgive us.
"What would you do, Bob, to get her back?" asked Father, the first time his family had ever seen him in a humble mood.
"Well, by George, if ever anyone has earned a thumping share in a place, it's Mabel in this one. You could make Mick a small partner and give Arthur decent wages. He wants a bit more schooling. It's not too late to make amends. Things could be better than ever if arranged on a business basis. You and Mother will need someone to keep you from being lonely as you get on in years."
"Well, let's have something to eat. I'll make the fire, Bob, if you'll let the horses out, and we'll have to cover that blasted car. Then we can lay out a plan and write to Mabel by to-morrow's post."
Father was subdued and amenable, but hopeful. Even Mother was cheered. "Dora, you make the tea, and see that everything is on the table, while I change my good things."
It was victoriously Mabel's hour.
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